David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Here are three true stories that might just challenge your assumptions about the homeless and integrity.

A year ago, Elmer Alvarez found a $10,000 check. He didn’t try to cash it, he searched for its owner and found her. In gratitude, New Haven, Conn., real estate broker Roberta Hoskie put a roof over his head for seven months and put him through real estate school.

When Kevin Booth found $17,000 in cash in a paper bag outside a food bank in Sumner, Wash., he didn’t pocket the cash. The homeless man turned it in. Police investigated, found no evidence of a crime and no one claimed it. The money was given to the food bank last month. After Mr. Booth was praised by police for his honesty, a GoFundMe campaign collected more than $14,000 for him.

In Milan, Italy, a vlogger who stages “Candid Camera”-style ethics tests, dressed as a homeless man in a park. After people walked by, he ran after them saying he’d just found a €20 bill on the ground. Was it theirs? The final honesty score: 11 took the bill, only five said the bill wasn’t theirs.

Would you pass that integrity test? Is your honesty worth €20 or $10,000?

Mr. Alvarez, the man who returned the $10,000 check, recently told CBS News that just because a person is without a home, it doesn't mean they're without character.

Now to our five selected stories, including a look at justice for those affected by sex trafficking, at collaboration with Canada, and at the power of play in Mexico.

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1. In Middle East, Pompeo and Bolton hash out US policy shifts in real time

Are abrupt changes in US foreign policy a sign of progress? We look at how presidential decrees are interpreted and what they mean to American relationships in the Middle East.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) holds a news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at the start of a Middle East tour in Amman, Jordan, Jan. 8.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton are in the Middle East this week, reassuring allies that the US commitment remains strong. But with contradictions between President Trump and his advisers continuing to surface, about the only certainty is that US Middle East policy is in flux: a chaotic transition in the US vision for its role in the region. On the pair’s itineraries: Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and more. Subjects include Syria, the Kurds, ISIS, and Iran. The administration’s goal: shrink the unsustainable commitment of the past two decades without it looking to the world (and regional friends and enemies alike) like a retrenchment. Regional experts say the confusion and unease besetting US allies in the region won’t end anytime soon. Says Jon Alterman, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington: “The Middle East is still trying to figure out how to understand the Trump administration, and trying to understand what is transient and what is likely to prove enduring – and it’s not obvious.” And he adds: “Pompeo can promise continuity and stability, but this president values his ability to constantly surprise people.”


In Middle East, Pompeo and Bolton hash out US policy shifts in real time

For months the State Department has been consumed by debate over whether presidential tweets constitute US foreign policy.

Now the consternation and uncertainty that lie behind that debate have taken hold among America’s friends and allies in the Middle East, after a series of tweets and White House pronouncements from President Trump over the last two weeks that suggested a new low in US interest in and commitment to the region.

Mr. Trump walked back some of those statements Monday. But the clarifications – what some saw as reversals – did little to clear up deepening confusion over US Middle East policy.

This week two of the president’s top foreign policy advisers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, are in the region reassuring allies that the US commitment remains strong.

But with contradictions between the president and his advisers continuing to surface, about the only certainty is that US Middle East policy is in flux, as the administration tries to figure out how to fulfill the president’s promise – repeated in a tweet Monday night – to bring America’s “endless wars … to a glorious end.”

Indeed, below the surface of a breakdown of typical foreign policymaking and of repeated administration shifts on US commitments in the region is a broad and chaotic transition in the US vision for its role in the Middle East. The administration’s goal: shrink the outsize and unsustainable commitment of the past two decades without it looking to the world (and regional friends and enemies alike) like a retrenchment.

That transition seems unlikely to conclude any time soon, regional experts say, and in the meantime the confusion and unease besetting US allies in the region will continue.

“The Middle East is still trying to figure out how to understand the Trump administration, and trying to understand what is transient and what is likely to prove enduring – and it’s not obvious,” says Jon Alterman, senior vice president in global security and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

The current consternation over US Mideast policy began with a surprise tweet from Trump Dec. 19, in which he said the 2,200 US troops fighting ISIS in Syria would be coming home in short order. The apparent policy reversal sent former Defense Secretary James Mattis packing. A few days later, the president announced that Iran could “do what it wants” in Syria – contradicting Mr. Bolton, who recently had appeared to expand the purpose of the US role in Syria to staying put as long as Iran had its own forces and proxies there.

Then last week a definitive-sounding Trump declared to cameras at the opening of a cabinet meeting that Syria was “lost long ago” and had none of the “vast wealth” that might keep the US interested. “We’re talking about sand and death,” he said. “I’m getting out, we’re getting out of Syria.”

Debunking a 'false narrative'

But now Secretary of State Pompeo and Bolton are in the Middle East, seemingly intent on reassuring key regional allies that contrary to appearances and presidential pronouncements, the US remains a committed partner.

Previewing Pompeo’s extraordinary eight-day, eight-country trip that began in Jordan Tuesday, one senior State Department official said the secretary of State’s aim was to debunk the “false narrative” that the US is withdrawing from the Middle East. “We are not going anywhere,” the official said.

Reinforcing that point, Bolton said before arriving in Turkey Monday that the US has no timetable for a Syria pullout and would not leave until its goal of crushing ISIS to the point where it could not reemerge was achieved. The president appeared to shift toward that depiction of policy Monday, saying the US would still be leaving Syria, but not until ISIS is defeated.

But Bolton also said the US troops would stay in northern Syria until Turkey guarantees the security of US Kurdish allies in Syria – angering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who snubbed Bolton by nixing an expected meeting with him in Ankara Tuesday. On Monday Mr. Erdoğan wrote in The New York Times that Trump was right to withdraw from Syria, and that Turkey could look after US interests there.

Presidential Press Office/Reuters
National security adviser John Bolton and his Turkish counterpart, Ibrahim Kalin (right), meet at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 8, 2019.

The Kurds, whose traditional lands spill across the region’s borders into parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, seek varying degrees of autonomy. Turkey sees that as a threat, and considers the US-allied Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, to be terrorists.

Indeed, Bolton left Turkey Tuesday afternoon without securing a commitment on the Syrian Kurds’ security – although some US officials remained behind to continue negotiations.

Continued uncertainty

So which is it: a presidential pullout from “sand and death,” or an enduring US commitment to the Middle East and friends and allies there?

The urgent Pompeo and Bolton forays into the region may calm some of the jitters, but regional experts say the uncertainties over US policy are unlikely to subside as the US moves by fits and starts to transition out of more than two decades of a hyper-commitment to the region.

Much of the Middle East, and above all US allies from Saudi Arabia to Israel, thought they were getting, in Trump, an American president who was on their side and would stick with them, says Mr. Alterman of CSIS.

But now a region that has “gotten used to a large-scale American commitment” is finding that the Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, is learning “we have to be judicious about the commitments we make and the resources we pour into the Middle East,” Alterman says.

Moreover, he says the region is being buffeted by an administration that has yet to figure out, any better than the previous one, “what a normal American presence in the Middle East looks like.”

For some observers, Middle East allies are beginning to realize like everyone else that while presidential tweets may not be hard and fast edicts, they do seem to point the direction in which Trump intends to take policy.

Aligning 'brain and gut'

“We’ve seen this happen before, where the president announces a broad goal that seems to suddenly shift direction and leaves his top aides with the urgent task of recalibrating US policy,” says James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “What we’re witnessing at the moment is both Pompeo and Bolton acting to realign the administration’s thinking with the president’s gut.”

This alignment of “brain and gut” can be a “hard slog,” Mr. Phillips says, and can require a round of “damage control” – which is how he characterizes the basic theme of the Pompeo and Bolton Mideast trips. But he adds that both advisers will encounter skepticism in the region – including over whether or not they actually represent the president’s thinking or are conveying presidentially vetted policy.

“There’s a nervousness [in the region] for sure,” he says. “The president has undercut his aides before and hurt their credibility.” But he says there are also signs that Trump’s aides are able to influence and soften Trump’s gut pronouncements – as with the president appearing to draw closer to Bolton’s slow-walking and conditioning of a US Syria withdrawal.

No one seems to know exactly where US Mideast policy is headed, but some clues as to the contours and priorities of that policy are likely to come out of a speech Pompeo is set to deliver in Cairo, probably Wednesday.

“The secretary will speak on the US remaining a force for good in the region,” says one senior State Department official. One likely subset of that theme: that the Trump administration priority of countering Iran’s “malign activities” in the region remains unchanged, with or without a Syria withdrawal.

Underscoring that priority is Pompeo’s itinerary, which will take him to each of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six members, including Saudi Arabia. The GCC countries will want to hear more about US intentions on Iran, but US officials say that in Saudi Arabia, Pompeo will also deliver the message (intended for congressional ears as much as for Riyadh) that the administration remains dissatisfied with the level of “credibility and accountability” in the kingdom’s deliberations on the murder of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi.

A reversal in tone

One thing officials and regional experts alike say Pompeo’s speech is almost certain to be: a reversal of the tone set by President Barack Obama a decade ago in his own Cairo speech, in which he announced a new beginning for US relations with Muslim countries, including respect for moderate Islamist political participation.

“I’d expect to hear a much different speech about Islam and the future of the Middle East from Pompeo,” says Phillips. “Rather than an Obama-esque opening to political Islam, it will be much more of a pro-Egyptian-regime, anti-Islamist-ideology speech.”

Alterman says he expects Pompeo to underscore “continuity and stability” in US policy in the region – including a reaffirmed commitment to countering Iran.

Pompeo may not name Obama in his speech, officials with knowledge of the secretary’s intentions say. But he will forcefully reject the previous administration’s engagement with Iran, including the international nuclear deal from which Trump has withdrawn the US.

It remains to be seen, however, just how far a speech that promises continuity in the US commitment to the region will go in reassuring allies who can expect to see more upheaval in US Mideast policy in the coming months, Alterman says.

“Pompeo can promise continuity and stability, but this president values his ability to constantly surprise people,” he says. “So Pompeo will try to reassure and the president will go on trying to surprise – and where the balance comes out, nobody knows.”


A deeper look

2. Trafficking survivors shed an unjust label: ‘criminal’

“Transformation should be accompanied by hope,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam when granting clemency to Cyntoia Brown. As attitudes about justice in sex trafficking cases change, more states are giving those survivors paths to a fresh start.

Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean/AP
Trafficking survivor Cyntoia Brown appeared in court during a clemency hearing at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville in May. State Democratic lawmakers were among those urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to grant her clemency for killing the man who bought her for sex when she was 16; he did so in January 2019.

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Most survivors of sex trafficking who live under the shadow of criminal convictions have paid fines or done time for much more minor charges than the murder conviction that put Cyntoia Brown behind bars. Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee commuted that sentence Monday, recognizing the injustice of a life sentence for a teen trafficking victim who feared for her life. But any criminal record can hold survivors back from future education and job prospects. The past decade has seen the majority of states passing laws to allow courts to clear prostitution offenses (and in some places, other nonviolent offenses), if survivors can show they were compelled because of trafficking. More than 150 survivors have had more than 3,000 records cleared in New York State since a law there took effect in 2010, estimates Brooklyn Law School professor Kate Mogulescu. More legislation and funding are needed, advocates say, to help lift the stigma. For survivor Barbara Amaya, that moment of recognizing her own innocence, after carrying around the criminal label for years, produced “a mental metamorphosis.”


Trafficking survivors shed an unjust label: ‘criminal’

Barbara Amaya was a few months into a new job when her boss called her over and showed her a stack of papers, asking, “What’s this?”

It was her criminal record – but she didn’t know how to explain that all those prostitution arrests happened because she had been forced by a trafficker. The single mother of a 3-year-old at that time, she had to start the job hunt all over again.

Those criminal records “followed me in every way, shape, and form throughout my life,” Ms. Amaya says. “Even if they didn’t affect every application I filled out, they affected me mentally – carrying the stigma of being called a criminal.”

It would take Amaya many years to fully understand her own innocence. She had been labeled a prostitute and a criminal by a system that hadn’t recognized how young she was and how she was being manipulated. While she had been enduring years of rape, her trafficker had been profiting, and had convinced her everything was her fault.

Many people who have escaped trafficking have struggled to put their lives back on track while constantly running up against the barrier of criminal background checks. They get an education, but then can’t get work or promotions. They apply for housing and get solicited for sex by an unscrupulous landlord. They aren’t allowed to chaperone their child’s class trip.

“To have that record on the books, it’s like a lifetime of stigma,” says Meredith Dank, director of the Exploitation and Resiliency Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Survivors can’t get a license for nursing or social work, for instance, unless they “go in front of a committee and explain,… which is incredibly traumatizing.”

The past decade has seen a paradigm shift in the understanding of human trafficking. As survivors have spoken out about the abuse and coercion that traffickers employ, the majority of states have passed laws that give minors “safe harbor” from criminal prosecution for prostitution.

Advocates saw signs of progress in Monday’s decision by outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to commute the life sentence of Cyntoia Brown, who was being trafficked as a teen and was convicted in 2006 of murdering a man who had paid to use her for sex. Ms. Brown will be released in August and have supervised parole. In a public statement, Brown, now 30, thanked the governor and said, “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”

Brown’s case is an extreme, but the pardon is part of a slow-moving shift toward a more victim-centered approach. Yet some minors are still prosecuted, and many trafficking survivors have been living in the shadow of such records for decades. 

That’s where “criminal-records relief” laws come in – offering a chance to erase those unjust convictions. 

New York State’s pioneering law has been in place since 2010. And 42 states plus the District of Columbia have followed. The laws vary greatly, with some only offering the sealing or expungement of records. But some go so far as to provide for vacatur, which is basically an acknowledgment by the court that the person should not have been convicted.

A handful of states, such as California, Florida, and Nebraska, allow for many offenses other than prostitution to be cleared as well, as long as they stemmed directly from being trafficked.

Having the laws on the books is just one step. Awareness of the laws – by court clerks, advocates, lawyers, and even survivors themselves – is still ramping up.

‘It was like returning from Mars’

As a 12-year-old on the run from abuse at home in northern Virginia, Amaya was befriended by a girl on the street, but she quickly found herself in the grips of that girl’s trafficker. 

Lynn Savarese/Courtesy of Barbara Amaya
For trafficking survivor Barbara Amaya, that moment of recognizing her own innocence, after carrying around the criminal label for years, produced “a mental metamorphosis.”

He sold her to another man, who took her to New York City. “I remember the money exchanging hands,” she says. 

She accrued a dozen convictions during a decade under his total control. He didn’t allow her to read or write, and he constantly moved her around the city.

Eventually, she entered a drug treatment center to try to get off heroin. An alert intake worker helped her leave New York. She was the first person “to treat me like a human being” in a long time, Amaya recalls.

Too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, she bounced around the country and then cobbled a life together back in Virginia.

“It was like returning from Mars. I had been surviving – I won’t say living – in a criminal underworld,” she says. “Opening a bank account was like learning Japanese.”

Once she had to tell a traffic court her story after a cop pulled her over and got confused by records showing various aliases the trafficker had given her.

Then, in 2012, something on the local TV news caught Amaya’s eye. It was about human traffickers, a term she hadn’t heard before. “They started talking about the recruitment techniques that they used, and that’s when it hit me all of a sudden.… I realized, that’s exactly what happened to me.”

She quickly transformed from someone who avoided even talking on the phone to someone who shared her story publicly, connected with other survivors, and began advocating for change.

By early 2013, she discovered that her trafficker had been extradited to Ohio around the time she left New York. He had gone to prison and later died.

Soon after she connected with the Legal Aid Society in New York, which she had heard could help her vacate her criminal records. For nearly a year, lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb worked pro bono to document how she had been trafficked.

When she went to the courthouse with her request, she says, “I saw the same walls for sure that I’d seen when I was a drug-addicted child in New York City and arrested. The same marble floors … it was a very surreal feeling.”

This time, though, the judge commended her for her volunteer work and declared her records cleared.

“It took a while to sink in that I wasn’t a criminal,” Amaya says, but when it did, the change was profound – “a mental metamorphosis.” 

‘It can be incredibly healing’

Survivors sometimes hesitate to get involved with the courts again, but when the collaboration works well, they often say that “they feel heard, listened to,” says Kate Mogulescu, who helped Amaya when she ran the project at Legal Aid. Now Ms. Mogulescu operates a similar legal clinic at Brooklyn Law School, where she’s an assistant professor. 

When they are successful and a judge says, “ ‘I’m clearing this from your record’ … it [can be] incredibly healing,” Mogulescu says.

More than 150 survivors have had more than 3,000 records cleared in New York State since the law took effect in 2010, she estimates.

The nonprofit group Polaris investigates hotline cases involving 10,000 trafficking victims in the United States each year, and that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. There are no national statistics on how many have criminal records, but some advocates estimate it’s at least 75 percent.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Carolina Holderness says that when trafficking survivors want to vacate a conviction, it’s an opportunity to collaborate to right a wrong. Her office invites them to share their stories, and typically supports the motions before they even get before a judge.

In the 1970s and ’80s, police and courts saw prostitution arrests as a way of cleaning up “vice” that brought down the quality of life in the city. They typically didn’t explore “what was causing this individual to be on that street corner,” says Ms. Holderness, chief of the Human Trafficking Response Unit. “That’s a failure of the criminal justice system that we can remedy in some way by making sure the convictions that they got in that time period don’t follow them in the future.”

This is especially important, advocates say, for a wide array of people who encounter bias and are less likely to be identified as victims – including men, people of color, immigrants, and transgender individuals.

By building trust among vulnerable populations, Holderness says it has also at times helped her put traffickers behind bars.

In the few states that don’t offer criminal-records relief laws, some attempts have run up against resistance from police or prosecutors, some of whom argue that survivors can approach the governor for a pardon.

Resources now scarce

Having laws on the books is one thing, but resources to implement criminal-records relief can be hard to come by.

In previous years, the US Department of Justice supported it through grants as part of its multimillion-dollar support for combating trafficking and aiding survivors. Under the Obama administration, its Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) funded a project through the American Bar Association to train people around the country to give legal aid for such efforts.

But last spring, the Justice Department surprised grantees with a sudden policy shift, saying money from OVC cannot be used for direct legal services to vacate or expunge criminal records.

OVC has prioritized more immediate needs “such as shelter, medical care, mental health counseling, and basic legal assistance,” a Justice spokeswoman noted in an email to the Monitor.

Survivors and advocates say the restriction is shortsighted. “A little bit of investment in a lawyer’s time now means the person can have complete freedom and autonomy and achieve professional success,” says Jean Bruggeman, executive director of Freedom Network USA.

Meanwhile, advocates like Amaya continue to push for state and federal legislation. In 2016, a bipartisan group in Congress, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York, introduced the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act, which applied to both sex and labor trafficking. The bill did not get far, but a member of Senator Gillibrand's staff told the Monitor in an email that she is considering reintroducing it with some changes.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at 1 (888) 373-7888 or by texting HELP to 233733 (BEFREE).


3. As shutdown’s impact grows, pressure rises to end it

Our reporter asks: Who pays the price for a government shutdown? Often it’s the most economically vulnerable American workers.


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Matthew Charlesworth is normally out in the woods preparing contracts for private timber harvests and other Forest Service operations. But as a “nonessential” federal employee, the Bend, Ore., resident is on furlough and has applied for unemployment insurance. “I've got enough to float the mortgage and a few bills in the bank account,” he says. With the partial federal shutdown now on Day 18, and President Trump preparing a prime-time address to make his case for a US-Mexico border wall, the impacts of the shutdown are spreading. Within weeks, funding could begin to run dry for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), cutting food stamps for some 38 million lower-income Americans. Public-housing programs could have to put upkeep of buildings on hold – or expose tenants to eviction. “Some of the deepest impacts will be on the most vulnerable people,” says Susan Popkin of the Urban Institute. The dent to consumer spending will be especially noticeable in the nation’s capital. “I Metro in, and it’s half empty, and I think ‘Wow, how much money are they losing?’ ” Ms. Popkin says.


1. As shutdown’s impact grows, pressure rises to end it

With a government shutdown now 18 days old and coming into sharper focus with the end of holiday season, its impacts on Americans are spreading.

An estimated 800,000 federal workers across the nation are on furlough or working without pay, uncertain when they’ll get their next paycheck and sometimes turning to side gigs to cope.

It means that pandas and other animals at the National Zoo in Washington are being fed, but the public isn’t getting to see them. Applications for federally backed mortgages face delays due to untended inboxes. And Forest Service workers like Matthew Charlesworth in Oregon can’t move forward preparing timber-harvesting contracts as usual.

The chaos reflects a political impasse that’s affecting a large chunk of federal activity. Some government operations (including the military) still have funding. And from the Coast Guard and air-traffic control to the FBI and Secret Service, others have many “essential” workers who are being asked to show up without pay.

All this takes a toll on the individuals and the wider economy – and could create political pressure on both major parties to resolve their budget rift.

That’s because the longer the shutdown persists, the more the effects deepen and become visible. Within weeks, funding could begin to run dry for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), cutting food stamps to some 38 million lower-income Americans. Aspiring young companies may have to postpone public-stock offerings. And public-housing programs will see funds dwindle – or in some cases expose tenants to eviction.

“There are wide ripple effects that I think we’re experiencing.... But some of the deepest impacts will be on the most vulnerable people,” says Susan Popkin, an Urban Institute fellow who focuses on housing policy. “The parts of the safety net that seem to be most at risk are SNAP and housing assistance.”

Already, when federal workers themselves are pinching pennies and staying home due to the partial federal shutdown, the ripple effects include a dent in consumer spending. It’s a nationwide phenomenon, but one that’s especially noticeable in the nation’s capital itself.

“I Metro in, and it’s half empty and I think ‘Wow, how much money are they losing?’ ” Ms. Popkin says.

It’s not just Washington

The unfunded agencies, with operations sprinkled across the 50 states, span from the Agriculture Department to airport security and the immigration courts that feature prominently in the stand-off between President Trump and congressional Democrats over immigration policy and border security. Mr. Trump has been insisting on at least $5.7 billion for a wall to help secure the US-Mexico border, and Democrats have stood firm against that idea.

For now, what that means is that Mr. Charlesworth, a single dad, has no income.

A resident of Bend, Ore., he’s normally out in the woods preparing contracts for private timber harvests and other Forest Service operations. But as a “nonessential” Agriculture Department employee, he’s on furlough and has just applied for unemployment insurance to help tide him through however long the shutdown lasts.

“I've got enough to float the mortgage and a few bills in the bank account,” he says, describing how he’s starting to juggle carefully to make sure he prioritizes the right order to pay his bills.

He’s seen a shutdown or two before – typically, once the impasse ends, workers get the paychecks they would have ordinarily received. That in turn gets used to reimburse state jobless-insurance funds that were tapped. There’s no guarantee, however, that the current shutdown will repeat that pattern.

Younger workers hit harder

For now, the immediate pinch of lost paychecks may fall hardest on younger workers with modest pay. That may explain rising reports of airport-security workers calling in sick to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). They’re expected to be at work but have dwindling resources for living and commuting.

“It’s a little stressful,” says one TSA worker at Reagan National Airport in Washington, who has just her own income to support herself and her 5-year-old son, who is now old enough to be in school. “I’m glad I don’t need to worry about day care.”

But even two-income households are affected.

“We do live paycheck to paycheck,” says one National Park Service employee, married to another furloughed federal worker, who asked that their names not be used. “The first few weeks were not as bad because we got one paycheck. But the second the [other] paycheck stopped, that was more stressful.”

The fallout for them extends from grocery shopping to their aspirations to buy a home.

“My husband and I were in the process of buying a house, and we lost the house,” she says. “You can’t close on a house during a shutdown, so another buyer came in and our contract disappeared, basically.”

Their belt-tightening, she adds, now includes putting clothing items up for sale online, and learning “to eat the same meal and stretch it out with rice for a week, and that’s been interesting.”

Some of their friends, who are also furloughed, are filling in the income gap by doing food delivery for UberEats.

Clock is ticking

Perhaps mainly as a negotiating tool, Trump has talked about being willing to let the shutdown go a “long time,” months or longer, if Democrats don’t cut a deal on border-wall funding. Some analysts predict that pressure will mount for officials to end the current shutdown.

“Imagine the optics and the real hardship if members of the United States Coast Guard are not paid for a year,” writes Jeffrey Neal, former chief human capital officer at the Homeland Security Department, in a commentary published Monday. “Do we really think Americans are going to stand by and watch members of one of our military services living on food stamps and welfare while they are carrying out their mission?”

The list of pressure points from the public also includes things like closure or littering of national parks, and concern about whether Americans will receive tax refunds on time.

Shutdown-related dysfunction adds urgency to bargaining in Washington, and that can serve a purpose – albeit with an air of needless upheaval – when two sides are at loggerheads. It’s happened before.

What’s different this time is the president’s apparent lack of concern about how long the shutdown might run. Such bravado can be a bargaining chip but also risks drawing public blame on himself.

Trump’s stance softening?

Already there are signs of Trump perhaps starting to walk back an air of recklessness.

His administration has pledged that tax refunds will happen on time (without explaining how a partially shuttered Internal Revenue Service will do that).

“I don’t care that most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 5. “I want to stop the Shutdown as soon as we are in agreement on Strong Border Security! I am in the White House ready to go, where are the Dems?”

In remarks to reporters at the White House Monday, Trump said he “can relate” to the pain of federal workers who aren’t getting paid. He added that “many of those people agree 100 percent with what I'm doing.”

Many federal workers, whether in agreement or not, are simply trying to soldier through a difficult situation. Trump will try to use a prime-time televised address tonight to gain additional leverage, casting border security as both an emergency and a mandate from his 2016 election victory.

But time may not be on the side of anyone who pushes a government shutdown much deeper into the new year.

SNAP, also known as food stamps, could face shortfalls in February and be largely tapped out by March without new appropriations for the Agriculture Department.

And housing authorities have already stopped the flow of repair funds for public housing, with deeper potential funding challenges for the Housing Department looming after March, says Popkin at the Urban Institute. Delays in contracts for privately owned low-income housing could cause tenants to be evicted as the landlords seek income for their properties.

"It’s going to leave people in potentially unsafe situations," she says, and even before the shutdown there wasn’t "enough assistance to go around."

Americans step in

Some nonprofit groups and volunteers have stepped up to try to ease the shutdown’s widening effects.

Citizens have arrived with mops and sponges to maintain bathrooms at places like Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

In Washington, experts at American University have been holding seminars to offer career-skill coaching to federal workers while they're furloughed, from “kindness in management” to tips that might help them keep up their spirits and health while sidelined.

“There’s just been an amazing response,” including 550 people signing up for the mentoring, says Vicky Wilkins, dean of the university’s School of Public Affairs.

Many federal workers say they learn to check their own political views at the door amid the political debates swirling around the government.

Paul Bamonte, a branch chief with the Department of Homeland Security who turned out for the university event on Tuesday says: “It’s that idea of, what can I do to get back to work, continue to care for my family, continue to do a wonderful job at work, and serve my country.”



4. To bring refugees west, Americans look north – to Canada

We know that the US lets in fewer immigrants today. But this story explores how Americans are collaborating with Canadians to find new ways to help war refugees from the Middle East.


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For many Americans, showing compassion to refugees has been much harder lately. Resettlement numbers in the US have plummeted in the past two years. Just 22,491 refugees were resettled during fiscal year 2018, about a quarter of the number from two years prior. That drop is primarily due to Washington’s rolling up the welcome mat; refugee resettlement in the US is a government, not a private, venture. But those among the public who still wish to help are channeling their humanitarian spirit northward. Through Canada’s private sponsorship program, which allows community organizations and individuals to apply for resettlement for refugees, Americans have been able to funnel resources to partners north of the border, enabling the Canadian groups to do more than they would be able to alone. “In our circles it wasn’t enough, what we could raise between ourselves,” says Vania Davidovic, who lives in Oakville outside Toronto and has directly sponsored nine families in Canada. Connecting with Americans such as Leslie Meral Schick in Boston has helped Ms. Davidovic’s group expand its network. “I am hugely frustrated with the situation in the US,” says Ms. Schick. “Canada is the only way that we can really help locally.”


To bring refugees west, Americans look north – to Canada

When Ed Wethli, a Pittsburgh coffee company owner, learned of a Syrian family in Saudi Arabia facing deportation back to their war-torn homeland, he says he simply had to help.

He brought the couple and their two elementary-school boys to his home in December 2014. They applied for asylum, and settled nicely into their new American, middle-class suburb. But all was not well. Their extended family remained in Syria. They – and Mr. Wethli – listened with growing angst as stories of bombs, sniper attacks, and beheadings mounted.

Then came the day that the photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned when his family tried to reach Europe, circulated in September 2015. Spurred into action, Wethli texted 60 friends and told them to show up at his home that night. Twenty did, and they founded Ananias Mission, a nonprofit aimed at doing what they did for the first Syrian family for the rest of it still in harm's way. But they couldn't find an avenue for private efforts to bring refugees to the United States.

“I thought, ‘We’ll talk with senators and congressmen, we can make this happen,’ ” he says. “The situation was a mess. Now I know we were pretty naive. That’s when we found out about Canada.”

Through Canada’s private sponsorship program, which allows churches, community organizations, and individuals to apply for resettlement for refugees, his organization eventually helped get the rest of the family members – 23 in all – to safety. But not to Pittsburgh: rather, across the border in Ontario and sponsored by the Diocese of St. Catharines. And now the Pittsburgh-based organization plans to help raise funds to get more refugees to Canada.

In doing so, they join other Americans who, limited at home, are channeling their humanitarian spirit northward – and readjusting their views of America’s role in global crisis, as the US has rolled back its humanitarian efforts in recent years.

“To me it really is an expression of ordinary people wanting to do what is right,” says Sharalyn Jordan, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who sits on the board of Rainbow Refugee, an organization that helps LGBTQ refugees overcome barriers to accessing protection in Canada. “They want to show fairness and compassion to refugees, despite what governments are doing.”

‘Circles of hope’

For many Americans, that’s been much harder lately. Resettlement numbers in the US have plummeted in the last two years in the US. Just 22,491 refugees were resettled during fiscal year 2018, about a quarter of the number from two years prior.

In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order placing limitations on refugees and visitors from many Muslim-majority countries. In its wake, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a message that resonated around the world: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

Rainbow Refugee has been running a blended sponsorship pilot since 2011. It is partially funded by the Canadian government but relies on “circles of hope,” or private sponsors who commit to a newcomer’s finances and integration for a year, the cornerstone of Canada’s private sponsorship model.

To date they have sponsored 145 refugees across Canada from 13 countries, including refugees from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Jordan. The pilot has been renewed through 2020.

When the ban was put into place, Rainbow Refugee was contacted by Americans who were in the process of supporting an LGBTQ refugee to be resettled in the US but whose case was now stymied, says Ms. Jordan. “They reached out to us to see if there was anything that could be done. We started very small with just one,” she says.

US partners raised finances, while in Canada, Rainbow Refugee formed circles of hope, always with LGBTQ members and their allies to help with the specific challenges of integration for LGBTQ refugees. Now they are eyeing formalizing the binational partnership with California-based groups.

Stronger together

Sponsors in Canada say American support has been vital to their volunteer efforts.

Vania Davidovic, who lives in Oakville outside Toronto, has directly sponsored nine families in Canada, which includes more than 50 individuals. For that, she has tirelessly raised funds – currently estimated at about $16,500 (Canadian; US$12,400) for an individual or $28,700 for a family of four – appealing to co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family. But she says that given the needs of so many refugees, there is a limit on how much people can or are willing to give. “In our circles it wasn’t enough, what we could raise between ourselves,” she says.

She met Leslie Meral Schick, who lives in Boston, online. Like so many others, Ms. Schick was moved by the photo of Alan Kurdi. She channels most of her volunteerism to Greece, where she’s about to make her ninth trip in February. But when she connected with Ms. Davidovic and her circle of Canadian volunteers, she started helping closer to home, organizing fundraisers for Canadian sponsorship.

Once, Davidovic was short a sponsor to form what’s known as a “group of five” individuals required to support a refugee application. Schick, born in Turkey, contacted a high school friend from Turkey who she hadn’t talked to since 1977 and who now lives in Canada. He didn’t hesitate. The family arrived in Toronto in the fall. Schick couldn’t be there.

“I am hugely frustrated with the situation in the US, so you know Canada is the only way that we can really help locally,” says Schick.

Individuals are not the only ones looking north to circumvent limitations at home. Gideon Maltz, the executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees, which works with the private sector to mobilize refugee hires, says he talks with many American companies that want to support refugees.

“And obviously one of the barriers they are coming up against now is that there are so few refugees entering the United States that it's extremely difficult to at this point in time to hire them at any scale or support them in any scale,” he says. They are looking at ways they can make hires in their operations outside the US, whether that’s in supply chains in the Middle East or retail offices in Canada. Starbucks Canada, for example, says it is committed to 1,000 refugee hires by 2022.

Limits to the partnership

The refugee crisis has not played out without rebuke in Canada, generating some anti-immigrant sentiment as well as some anti-Americanism. After the US announced it would pull protected status away from national groups welcomed in the US during times of crisis, like Haitians and Salvadorans, some have sought to cross covertly into Canada – sometimes with the help of American guides – putting pressure on Canada’s politics.

But many speak of a deepening partnership, even if it’s one viewed with some discontent.

Wethli crosses the border to Canada often to visit the 23 members of the family now living there, backed by the Diocese of St. Catharines. But the family he supports back in Pittsburgh can’t go with him, as they still await a decision from the US on their asylum application. And most of their relatives in Canada have not been able to travel to Pittsburgh, denied the visas they need to enter the US.

Early on Wethli drove the families to either side of the border at Niagara Falls. They stood on the platforms across the river that serves as the international boundary; each family held binoculars and cell phones, waving to each other. “That is how they have seen each other. They were crying,” says Wethli, tearing up himself. “I still get chills thinking about it.”

He says he looks to Canada as a refuge, but remains troubled by where his own country stands. “Well, it needs to happen, so thank God Canada is doing it. And if we can support it as an American, let’s do it,” he says. “But we have always been the country in times of crisis in the world that has stepped up. We’re not leading anymore.”


5. Mexico tells early learners: You need to play more.

This story has echoes of the US debate about the value of recess in schools. A pilot program in Mexico seeks the best balance between work and play when it comes to learning.

Whitney Eulich
Suri Amaizani Gonzalez Peña meets with a physical therapist at the Federico Gómez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City in August. Suri, 5, is part of a pilot program in public health centers and preschools across Mexico that ‘prescribes’ play to improve early childhood development.

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Mexicans work long days, limiting the amount of time parents have to play and interact with their children. Even when they do have time, they often don’t know where to begin. Now they are getting a hand from medical professionals, who are “prescribing” play for young learners. Last fall, more than 60,000 children at early childhood centers in 13 states in Mexico started receiving activities to encourage learning, including songs and interactive games. Preschool is mandatory at the age of 3 in Mexico, but the country has traditionally put very little emphasis or value around the idea of play. As advocates work on training parents – and educators ­– in the benefits of unstructured playtime, they hope the approach will have long-term effects on development and educational opportunities. Laura Brenda Peña Camacho, whose 5-year-old daughter has a speech delay, says the approach has been life-changing for her as a parent. “I have a better understanding about what’s going on with Suri, but I can also use the tools we’re learning for her back home with my other children,” she says. “I feel like she’s advancing, but so am I.” 


Mexico tells early learners: You need to play more.

Suri Amaizani Gonzalez Peña is trying to make her Lego brick “talk.” She knocks it lightly on the tabletop, giggling, and whispers “azul” (blue).

Two physical therapists and her mother, sitting at the same small, circular table, encourage her to try again – but louder.

“What color is that block? I can’t hear it!” cheers physical therapist Magdalena Ferrusquia, knocking her own red brick on the wooden table, announcing the color. 

Suri, age 5, who has a speech delay and trouble walking on her own, tilts her head to the side shyly and smiles. She tries again.

This is one of a series of exercises “prescribed” by Suri’s doctor. It’s a prescription to play, and last fall more than 60,000 children at early childhood centers in 13 states in Mexico started receiving a similar regimen of activities to encourage learning. The team behind the experiment – a collaboration between the health and education sectors and civil society – hopes that tapping into Mexico’s robust educational infrastructure, and focusing on training educators and empowering parents, will have long-term effects on development and educational opportunities here.

“We realized a lot of parents don’t know what to do [with their young children] and we wanted to strengthen their capacities,” says Dr. Antonio Rizzoli, who teamed up with the Lego Foundation in Mexico to launch the play prescription program beyond his private practice. “We have different threats [to learning and development] in the 21st century, and the most important thing is to promote love, interaction, and social engagement. There’s no other way to do that than through play.”

Early childhood development – and education – has received more international attention in recent years. Between the ages 0 and 3, experts say fundamental building blocks are laid for future learning and development. But a 2014 study released by Mexico’s leading education-advocacy group, Mexicanos Primero, served as a wake-up call for policymakers and families here. The report, titled “The Invisibles,” found that a large swath of children in Mexico are essentially overlooked by lawmakers and excluded from education or early childhood development opportunities in their key developmental years, whether because of poverty or the maze of bureaucracy involved in social security systems. 

Encouraging play 

The prescription approach is being piloted with pediatricians in a handful of states for Mexicans who are in the conditional-cash-transfer program known as Prospera, which requires medical visits for children. Each prescription, a small pamphlet, encourages parents and adults to interact with children in a way that promotes early childhood development via language and motor skills. They’re also being used as a training tool for educators within the department for child and family services.

Esteban Felix/AP
Jesus Rodriguez, 2, holds onto the hand of his mother Maria Fernandez, in a play area of La Raza Medical Center, in Mexico City, June 26, 2012. Play is not typically part of education in Mexico, but advocates are working to teach parents and educators about its benefits for young children.

Preschool is mandatory at the age of 3 in Mexico, but the country has traditionally put very little emphasis or value around the idea of play. 

There are “hidden curriculums” that come from the home on how one is supposed to educate children, says Robert G. Myers, director of projects at Toward a Democratic Culture (ACUDE), a nongovernmental organization that focuses on education and children’s rights in Mexico. “Obedience is still a very important trait Mexican families believe kids should have: Adults should be listened to; kids are talked at and told what to do,” Dr. Myers says. “There’s lots of love. That’s important,” he adds, despite the often rote relationship between educator and child.   

“I think we’re on the edge of change” when it comes to early childhood development in Mexico, Myers says. “The discourse is changing, but the practice hasn’t yet,” he says, pointing to a deadly fire at a preschool in 2009 that killed nearly 50 children as a central reason for the more recent lags. There’s often a bigger emphasis now on health and safety – hairnets on cafeteria workers and clearly marked fire exits – than child development in early childhood centers and preschools, he says.

The lack of play between adults and young children – or a misunderstanding of what play means, relying instead on screen time – translates to many children missing out on a critical window for development, experts say. Mexicans have some of the longest work days in the world, limiting the amount of time parents have to play and interact with their children. Others want to help their children, but don’t know where to begin, or how.

Tools for adults 

Back at Suri’s doctor’s appointment, mother Laura Brenda Peña Camacho says they are three prescriptions in and so far the approach has been life-changing for her as a parent.

“I wanted to help my daughter, but I didn’t know how,” Ms. Peña says. They live in Mexico state, and travel over an hour to get to the National Children’s Hospital Federico Gómez for their monthly consultations. “I have a better understanding about what’s going on with Suri, but I can also use the tools we’re learning for her back home with my other children. I feel like she’s advancing, but so am I.” 

Some activities in the prescriptions involve Lego bricks (which are gifted to families participating in the program), but most rely on singing songs, engaging parts of the body, or using common household items.

“Most of the things we do are things parents already know or have access to, we’re just helping them to organize activities and make play more intentional,” says Ms. Ferrusquia, the physical therapist. “Even something as simple as a metro ride to come to our offices can be turned into a developmental game – asking questions about colors or sounds the child is observing,” she says.

The importance of play is increasingly touted by medical professionals. “Parents have moved to devaluing play and thinking that it’s frivolous,” says Michael Yogman, a Boston-based pediatrician and researcher who co-wrote an article on play prescriptions in the journal Pediatrics published in August. 

In addition, there’s a misconception among some families in Mexico that children don’t begin to learn until they can speak, researchers say, creating missed opportunities for development in the first two years.

The benefits of play include “enhancing brain function, 21st-century skills like executive function, problem-solving, and collaborative play, and a chance in a guilt-free way for parents and children to engage and enhance their relationship,” Dr. Yogman says. 

A focus on quality

During a pilot program in Puebla state, researchers found that of the 300 students involved, 70 percent showed improvement in their development within the first six months – particularly with language and communication. 

“Our value add doesn’t come from infrastructure or building schools. What we are good at is adding quality,” says Diego Adame, former director of the Lego Foundation in Mexico, on why they got involved in this project. “Mexico has a lot of infrastructure, lots of government resources, and good access to education. But it has a big, big quality problem.”

Mexico is also home to one of Lego’s largest factories, in the northern city of Monterrey. Mr. Adame says launching in Mexico was a way of directly giving back to the nearly 3,000 Lego factory employees and other citizens. For families involved in the play prescription program, each month when they graduate to the next prescription, they are gifted a few new Lego blocks, something Adame and Rizzoli see as an added incentive for participants.

Meyers says he’s interested in seeing the results of the play prescriptions and particularly the training of educators in using play in the classroom. But he thinks it might take more than a few training sessions for preschool and early education professionals to really implement the spirit of the idea.

“In the centers where we observe, something like playing with blocks is still kind of restricted and it’s slotted into something like, ‘Now we are going to learn’ instead of something that’s truly about play,” Meyers says.

Still, he says, he’s not entirely without hope. “This is part of a long process that I think has to occur in changing mind-sets and experiences of the people in charge of early childhood education.”


The Monitor's View

A light of moral legitimacy in Congo, Venezuela

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Last week, a dozen countries in Latin America announced they would not recognize President Nicolás Maduro as he prepares to begin a second term as Venezuela’s leader because Mr. Maduro’s election in May was not “fair and transparent.” In Congo, the results of a Dec. 30 election have yet to be announced. The United Nations, the African Union, and other institutions have put the outgoing leader, Joseph Kabila, on notice to ensure an accurate count and a peaceful transfer of power. In a globalized world, the methods of measuring the moral legitimacy of rulers are changing fast. A society sets its own norms, which are quickly made known via the internet. Most of the time, those norms are rooted in the wisdom of a deliberative democracy based on public reason, equality, transparency, and accountability. The world’s despots, or would-be despots, are up against faster flows of information that can easily put one spotlight on their flaws and another on a society’s norms. With enough light, the norms of dignity and mutual respect eventually win.


A light of moral legitimacy in Congo, Venezuela

In a globalized world, the methods of measuring the moral legitimacy of today’s rulers are changing fast. A good case can be found in Venezuela. On Jan. 10, President Nicolás Maduro is set to begin a second term. After years of violating so many democratic norms with ruthless power grabs, here is how his reputation measures up:

Last week a dozen countries in Latin America announced they would not recognize him as the country’s leader because Mr. Maduro’s election last May was not “fair and transparent.” This week, a Supreme Court judge who was to be involved in the swearing-in ceremony fled to Miami, saying the election “was not free and competitive.” A new poll shows only 12 percent of Venezuelans are happy with how their “democracy” functions. Meanwhile, at least 3 million people have left the country, a result of mass poverty and repression.

Rigged elections cannot cover up for lost legitimacy, as Maduro has discovered. A society sets its own norms, which are quickly made known these days via social media and the internet. Most of the time, those norms are rooted in the wisdom of a deliberative democracy based on public reason, equality, transparency, and accountability. Maduro still holds power by dint of a clever security apparatus. But that shallow sort of power is ebbing as the values held dear by Venezuelans and their neighboring countries are revealed.

Legitimacy is not just a matter of perception.

Another window on the notion of moral legitimacy are recent events in Congo. The results of a Dec. 30 election have yet to be announced. Yet the United Nations, the African Union, the Roman Catholic Church, and many other institutions have already put the outgoing leader, Joseph Kabila, on notice to ensure an accurate count and a peaceful transfer of power.

The Catholic Church, which monitored the polls, says the opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, won. Mr. Kabila cannot fool his people now by claiming his handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, was the winner. His shutdown of the internet during the vote count only further damaged his credibility. The United States is so worried about mass protests in Congo that it has deployed some 80 soldiers to neighboring Gabon.

The world’s despots, or would-be despots, are up against new and faster flows of information that can easily put one spotlight on their flaws and another on a society’s norms. With enough light, the norms of dignity and mutual respect eventually win.


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Prayer for righteous government

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With news swirling about the ongoing US government shutdown and political turmoil in Gabon, Congo, and elsewhere, here’s an article on the role each of us can play in supporting just, wise, and compassionate government.


Prayer for righteous government

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In response to the question, “What are your politics?,” Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, answered: “I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 276).

In my own prayers to support righteous government, I have found great inspiration and empowerment from a passage in the Bible, from the book of Revelation: “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (19:6).

To reign is to govern. I love the first word, Alleluia. It grounds that statement in gratitude, joy, and expectation, by acknowledging the impact of an all-powerful, divine government. It has the power to cut through any governing that does not appear to be just, wise, or compassionate, with the assurance that the all-knowing God, divine Mind, supersedes the human picture. God’s harmonious universe – the only true universe – includes all of us, God’s spiritual creation.

Using Truth as a synonym for God, Mrs. Eddy writes in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “The ‘still, small voice’ of scientific thought reaches over continent and ocean to the globe’s remotest bound. The inaudible voice of Truth is, to the human mind, ‘as when a lion roareth.’ It is heard in the desert and in dark places of fear” (p. 559). Prayer based upon the conviction and understanding of God’s power at work is so much more than wishing, outlining, or willpower. It is an affirmation of our divine right to bear witness to the supremacy of God, good.

Despite any picture that appears discouraging or fearful, we can eagerly make space in our day to pray for righteous government. By joining this army of prayer warriors, we are a great force for good in a world in great need.

Previously published in the Christian Science Perspective column, Aug. 24, 2017. A version of this article also aired on the Aug. 10, 2017, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.



Powder-dusted Parthenon

Snow covered parts of the ancient Acropolis in Athens Jan. 8. Schools in the Greek capital and many surrounding areas were to remain closed due to rare weather conditions after snowfall blanketed the city, with temperatures in some parts of the country plunging well below freezing.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( January 9th, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about a global trend inspired by the Swedish pastime of plogging – that’s picking up litter as you jog.

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