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2019
February
04
Monday

The Afghanistan peace framework emerging from US-Taliban talks has already generated its share of dark headlines. It calls for a cease-fire leading to US withdrawal, and includes a Taliban promise not to harbor terrorists. Veteran diplomats have invoked Saigon in 1975. The Senate rebuked the plan. But others see it differently.

Graeme Smith, who covered the war for years, writes movingly in the Globe and Mail about missed opportunities for peace in the past, and states “this is the best chance at peace that Afghanistan has witnessed in years.” Anand Gopal, author of one of the most powerful accounts of the war, “No Good Men Among the Living,” said in an interview over the weekend that “this is the most optimistic moment of the past 17 years,” with a US president serious about leaving and the Taliban serious about negotiating.

Mr. Gopal, who covered the war for the Monitor for several years, argues a withdrawal and some kind of settlement may not hold, but is a necessary step. “At some point there would be a settlement if external powers weren’t propping up certain parties,” he says.

Many concerns loom, including about gains in education and women’s status. But conflict has severely constrained progress in broad swaths of Afghanistan, something that could change with peace.

Gopal says these moves are going to face resistance from those “who offer no plan to end the war.” But, you “have to end the conflict. Ultimately you have to have peace.”

Now to our stories looking at the dynamics between commentator Ann Coulter and President Trump, the demise of the INF Treaty, and why, instead of ragging on the New England Patriots, their antagonists should study more closely what has made the Belichick/Brady duo so powerful over so many years.

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1. Ann Coulter wants a wall. But does Trump actually need to deliver?

As President Trump prepares to address the nation Tuesday, he’s under withering attack over immigration from once-friendly conservatives. But some strategists say the president shouldn’t underestimate his own power to sell some sort of compromise. 

Amelia

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Tuesday’s State of the Union address comes at a crucial time – fresh off the record-long government shutdown, and midway through the three-week window President Trump and Congress have set to resolve their impasse over funding and the president’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall.

It also comes at an unusual moment of tension between Mr. Trump and some of his supporters in right-wing media, many of whom were irate that he “caved,” in ending the shutdown. On Friday, Ann Coulter, the usually pro-Trump provocateur, called Trump “lazy and incompetent” and a “lunatic” who could face a primary challenge from the right. That same day, Trump said there’s a “good chance” he’ll bypass Congress and declare a national emergency to fund the wall.

Yet some Republican strategists suggest Trump is wrong to be cowed by pundits like Ms. Coulter. To them, it’s as if Trump still doesn’t fully appreciate how much power he holds over the GOP base. “President Trump has enormous latitude to set the agenda for rank-and-file Republicans,” says Scott Jennings, a political adviser in the second Bush White House. “I don’t think they will abandon him.”

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Ann Coulter wants a wall. But does Trump actually need to deliver?

On Tuesday night, when President Trump gives his State of the Union address, issue 1 will be immigration.

The nationally televised speech comes at a crucial time, fresh off the record-long shutdown and midway through the three-week window Mr. Trump and Congress have carved out to resolve the impasse over government funding and the president’s demand for $5.7 billion in wall money.

It also comes at an unusual moment of tension between Trump and some of his strongest supporters in right-wing media – many of whom were irate that he “caved” in ending the government shutdown without getting any money for the southern-border wall.

Ann Coulter, the usually pro-Trump provocateur, has been working the talk-show and podcast circuit – conservative and liberal – trying to goad Trump into using executive power to build the wall. Ms. Coulter, along with other immigration hawks such as Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, were driving forces behind Trump’s hard-line immigration stance in the first place, and had pushed him toward the shutdown. 

Speaking on the Yahoo podcast Skullduggery on Friday, Coulter called Trump “lazy and incompetent” and a “lunatic” who could face a primary challenge from the right if he doesn’t build the wall.  

That same day, Trump said there’s a “good chance” he’ll bypass Congress and declare a national emergency to fund the wall.  

Yet some Republican strategists suggest Trump is wrong to be cowed. While these right-wing firebrands may have played a key role in promoting the Trump brand during the 2016 campaign, most need Trump more than he needs them. It’s as if Trump still doesn’t fully appreciate how much power he holds over the GOP base: He’s the president, and conservative pundits are not.  

“President Trump has enormous latitude to set the agenda for rank-and-file Republicans,” says Scott Jennings, a political adviser in the second Bush White House.

If Trump proposes a compromise for immigration and border security – and stresses that that’s what’s achievable in divided government – Republicans will follow, says Mr. Jennings, who calls himself a Trump supporter.

What’s achievable in divided government, by definition, involves a willingness to allow both sides to claim a win. Two years into the Trump presidency, most of his supporters have proved durably loyal to him, and will likely be even more so once he has a 2020 Democratic opponent.

“I don’t think they will abandon him,” Jennings says. “He’s their leader.”

Indeed, when asked about the wall at rallies and in focus groups, Trump supporters often say they don’t take his promise literally, but rather see “build the wall” as more broadly symbolic of a tougher approach toward immigration.

Trump could potentially even be a “Nixon in China” when it comes to immigration, says GOP pollster Whit Ayres. President Richard Nixon was able to visit China in 1972 because of his strong anti-communist stance.

Immigration has dogged American presidents for decades, but “President Trump could actually get something accomplished,” Mr. Ayres says. “He can take risks other presidents couldn’t, and survive politically with his base.”

The question is whether Trump understands that, and is willing to use that power.

In the short term, any immigration compromise could, of course, create bigger cracks in Trump’s right-wing media “firewall.”

But there’s another way to look at it. High-profile pundits like Coulter are getting rich (or rather, richer) off Trump. Coulter has already published two best-sellers in the Trump era: “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!” in 2016; and “Resistance is Futile! How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind,” in 2018.

Controversy attracts eyeballs and listeners, and drives book sales and speaking engagements. In Coulter’s recent interview with conservative talk radio host Howie Carr about her blow-up with Trump, both host and guest reference her books early and often.

“She is an industry,” says GOP strategist and Trump critic Rick Tyler.

That makes Coulter a kind of female version of Trump. Be outrageous, attract attention, drive a narrative: Coulter loves Trump, Coulter bucks Trump, Coulter calls Trump a wimp. The next installment will almost surely be “Coulter and Trump make up.”

“Just keep your promise, and I’m right back in his camp,” she told Bill Maher on Jan. 25 on his HBO show.

The difference, of course, is that Coulter isn’t president of the United States. Neither is talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged Trump to “do the right thing” back in December, and allow the government to shut down if Congress didn’t give him wall money.

“Limbaugh would be the first to tell you that he doesn’t move people to the polls,” says Mr. Tyler. “That’s not his job. He doesn’t sit behind the microphone every day and try to move Republicans to vote conservative. He goes out and entertains people.”

For Trump, having allowed the government to partially shut down for 35 days after he rejected a congressional compromise to keep it open, the stakes have only gotten higher.

If Trump goes the national emergency route to build the wall, bypassing Congress’s “power of the purse,” that will ignite a new controversy. The maneuver would likely wind up in court, and split Republicans.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is eager to avoid both another shutdown and a national emergency. Many Republicans argue that true conservatism means not pushing the boundaries of presidential power, which risks setting a precedent for the next Democratic president.

Senator McConnell reportedly cautioned Trump last week against an emergency declaration. But key Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina has been pressuring in the opposite direction.

“If White House and Congress fail to reach a deal then President @realDonaldTrump must act through emergency powers to build wall/barrier,” Senator Graham tweeted last week.

Going forward, some suggest Trump could look to Republican President Ronald Reagan and the 1983 Social Security reform as a model. Form a bipartisan commission (after going it alone fails), then take its compromise plan and sit down with the Democratic House speaker (back then, Tip O’Neill) to finish the deal.

“Both could claim victory,” says Tyler. “With successful presidents, that’s the way it’s always been done.”

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2. After nuclear powers exit treaty, questions on future of arms control

If the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is truly entering its last days, it may signal that the world’s two nuclear superpowers' interest in arms control more broadly is waning.

Amelia

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In its day, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty set the gold standard for arms control accords. Signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, it banned an entire class of weaponry. But in recent years, the United States voiced concerns that Russia’s deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile left it in noncompliance. And the US stoked Russian anxieties by pursuing superiority in sea- and air-launched missile systems. 

On Saturday the US said it was suspending the INF Treaty, and Russia said it was doing the same. Now, experts say, the key test of whether the era of arms control by treaty is over will be what the Trump administration decides to do about the New START Treaty, which expires in 2021. Experts say the demise of the INF does not necessarily spell the end of broader nuclear arms reduction efforts.

But Thomas Countryman, chair of Washington’s Arms Control Association, says the decision puts us at a crossroads. “In the short term the focus should be, can the INF be saved?” In the long term, he adds, “We’ll see if this forebodes an end to the whole arms-control system built over 50 years.”

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After nuclear powers exit treaty, questions on future of arms control

When the United States informed Russia Saturday that it was formally suspending a landmark nuclear arms control treaty that had been a centerpiece of European security for three decades, it was more than just the demise of a cold war-era accord.

The US pullout from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 was also a sign of the waning interest of the world’s two nuclear superpowers in arms-control agreements more broadly.

The Russia of Vladimir Putin had done little in recent years to address US concerns, first aired by the Obama administration, over its deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile that the US said left it in noncompliance with the INF Treaty.

Indeed, Mr. Putin wasted no time in informing the US Saturday that, in response to the US action, Russia too would suspend its participation in the treaty.

For its part, the US of Donald Trump has stoked Russian anxieties over American intentions by withdrawing from a number of multilateral accords – including the Iran nuclear deal – pursuing superiority in sea- and air-launched missile systems, and talking up development of a new ground-launched cruise missile.

The demise of the INF Treaty in and of itself does not necessarily spell the end of broader nuclear arms reduction efforts, arms control experts say. But if the INF withdrawal turns out to be more than a one off, and is instead another step on a path to a post-arms-control world, they add, then global security indeed just got riskier.

“Crossroads is a good word to describe where this decision puts us,” says Thomas Countryman, a former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. “In the short term the focus should be, can the INF be saved?” he says, and if it can’t, “In the medium term we’ll need to see what steps can be taken to protect European security.”

In the long term, adds Mr. Countryman, who is chair of Washington’s Arms Control Association, “We’ll see if this forebodes an end to the whole arms-control system built over 50 years.”

Saturday’s formal notification of Russia of the US suspension sets in motion a six-month period during which Russia could save the INF by coming into compliance with it in a manner that satisfies the US. (Russia insists its new ground-launched cruise missile falls short of the range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers – 310 to 3,400 miles – prohibited by the treaty.)

But the Trump administration has hinted it would only be interested in saving a treaty that was expanded to include not just the US and Russia but China and other countries that have deployed mid-range ground-launched cruise missiles. The list would include India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea – making the US condition for negotiating a new and improved INF difficult at best.

Next up: New START?

In its day, INF was seen as setting the gold standard for arms-control accords, since it banned an entire class of weaponry. But experts say the key test now of whether the era of arms control by treaty is over will be what the Trump administration decides to do about the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START Treaty), another jewel in the crown of US-Russia arms control.

New START, which mandates the mutually verified reduction in the number of strategic nuclear weapons each country has, is set to expire in 2021 if not renewed by then. Negotiations to extend such a complex treaty would not be easy and would require many months if not years, analysts say – at a time of little trust between the two nuclear powers and little sign of enthusiasm from either to reduce arsenals further.

“The Trump administration has to make up their minds this year on New START, whether they intend to go for modifying it, or simply intend to abandon it,” says Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia and NATO who is now a distinguished fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security in Washington.

“The bigger worry for many of us now is that withdrawing from INF is the forerunner of Trump abandoning New START as well,” Ambassador Vershbow says. “And that would be much more of a trigger for a nuclear-arms race reminiscent of the cold war.”

A world without both INF and New START conjures up a chilling scenario for arms control advocates. They see the rise of a revanchist Russia and heightened tensions in Asia due in part to an increasingly assertive China making for a more perilous world – and one that would be prone to a new arms race, only this time not limited to the two nuclear superpowers.

European leaders in particular are worried about their continent becoming once again the center of heightened US-Russia tensions and the staging ground for an arms buildup between the two.

But instead of envisioning new or updated agreements aimed at limiting each other’s arms buildup and nipping a nascent arms race in the bud, both the US and Russia seem to be interested in unconstrained arms development, some experts say – with China not far behind.

Role of John Bolton

Mr. Trump said last week after the INF pullout was announced that he hoped to “get everybody in a big, beautiful room and do a new treaty that would be much better.” But he has shown little interest as president in complex multilateral negotiations, whether on nuclear arms reduction or on other issues ranging from international trade to climate change.

Indeed many arms control experts see little prospect of major arms reduction efforts as long as Trump’s national security shop is run by John Bolton, whom analysts say never saw an arms control accord he liked.

“Looking ahead we have to consider the hostility of Mr. Bolton towards all arms control agreements,” says Countryman of the Arms Control Association.

“He’s had a major role in killing four signature agreements,” he says, listing those as former President Bill Clinton’s agreed framework with North Korea, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty scrapped under President George W. Bush, the Iran deal, and now INF. “He’s expressed similar hostility in the past toward New START,” he adds, “so I am concerned that he’ll find a pretext for preventing extension of that treaty as well.”

Still, some experts say there are ways to move forward even in the wake of INF’s demise that don’t require a big new treaty – if the will is there.

The end of INF may be discouraging, “but this turning into a nuclear arms race in Europe is not by any means foreordained,” says the Scowcroft Center’s Vershbow. With intense dialogue with friend and foe alike – with NATO allies, as well as with Russia – the US can find ways to secure Europe and to reduce big-power tensions, he says.

For example, Vershbow says the US could negotiate with NATO partners on deploying a new sea- or air-launched cruise missile that could meet the provocation of Russia’s ground-launched missile without requiring missile stationing on reluctant allies’ territory. Or talks with Russia could produce a commitment to limit the ground-launched missile’s deployment.

“We don’t have to return to the high tensions and divisions we saw in Europe over arms deployments in the 1980s,” Vershbow says. “But clearly the nuclear order built since then with these agreements is shaking at its foundations,” he adds. “Our priority should be finding ways to stabilize it.”

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Briefing

3. In Nicaragua, a cycle of crackdowns and protests

President Daniel Ortega rose to power decades ago after helping to topple a dictator. For many Nicaraguans and observers abroad, that’s made it all the more painful to watch his monthslong crackdown today.

Amelia
Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters
A demonstrator stood in front of graffiti that reads "Ortega Out" during a march against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government in Managua, Nicaragua, in May 2018.

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Is Nicaragua still democratic? In the eyes of most observers, less and less. President Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary hero, has presided over a harsh crackdown against protesters and civil society, such as newspapers and NGOs. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, the country fell from a “hybrid regime” to an “authoritarian regime” last year, after the dismantling of checks and balances and civil liberties.

But after more than nine months of crisis, the international community is responding more firmly, and there are signs of division among Mr. Ortega’s supporters as well. Longtime supporter Rafael Solis, one of Nicaragua’s Supreme Court justices, stepped down in January and penned an open letter accusing the president of pulling the country toward civil war.

“I fought against a dictatorship,” he wrote, referring to the regime Ortega helped bring down in the 1970s, “and I never believed that history would repeat itself on account of those who also fought against that same dictatorship.”

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In Nicaragua, a cycle of crackdowns and protests

Nicaragua shot to international attention last spring when the government violently responded to protests. Demonstrations have quieted, but the government still says it’s facing coup attempts, and is responding with repression.

Q: What’s happening?

More than nine months have passed since a group of mostly student protesters took to the streets to speak out against a proposed social security reform in Nicaragua. An April 18 march was met with a harsh crackdown by state security that led to calls for President Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary hero, to step down. The proposed cuts to benefits were scrapped, but at least 325 people have been killed in clashes since then, estimates the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although street protests have subsided, chances for a negotiated end to the stalemate have decreased, and an estimated tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have left amid growing state repression. A January Gallup poll found that 54 percent of the country would like to see the presidential election moved up from 2021.

Officials raided and shuttered prominent nongovernmental organizations and news outlets in December, and they’ve said the government is fending off a right-wing coup. The government has stripped at least nine NGOs of their legal status, saying they “actively participated” in terrorism, hate crimes, and failed attempts to overthrow Mr. Ortega’s regime. In addition, the administration expelled two teams of international monitors documenting alleged rights abuses.

Q: Is Nicaragua a democracy today?

The overwhelming perspective, apart from a handful of regional allies, is that Nicaragua has moved into authoritarian terrain. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, Nicaragua fell from a “hybrid regime” to an “authoritarian regime” in 2018, following the dismantling of checks and balances and a crackdown on civil liberties.

Ortega first rose to power in 1979 after helping topple a US-backed dictator and fighting for equality and freedom. When he was elected president in 2006, his government focused on broad social programming and maintained a relative sense of calm and international-investor confidence, while Central American neighbors experienced sky-high rates of violence. But critics say he has centralized power and chipped away at democratic institutions for years.

Q: How are other governments in the region responding?

This July, the United States sanctioned three top Nicaraguan officials for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. US lawmakers have proposed further sanctions – in line with what the US has imposed on Iran. More recently, the Trump administration has threatened to remove Nicaragua from the US-Central American free trade agreement.

Other countries, near and far, have also weighed in. Protests calling attention to Nicaragua’s crackdown took place in December in nations ranging from Costa Rica to Sweden. And ahead of a scheduled European Union delegation visit to Managua, the capital, its lawmakers took on harsher tones. “Nicaragua under Ortega’s regime is turning into another Venezuela. If the regime doesn’t respect the ... principles of democracy and human rights there will be consequences very soon,” tweeted Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament.

Q: Who is being targeted?

What started out as a crackdown against mainly student protesters spread to encompass nearly any citizen seen as supporting opposition efforts (including giving food or providing medical care), and has hit media organizations and civil society hard. More than 50 journalists are now working in exile – including one of Nicaragua’s most renowned, Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The nearly 100-year-old paper La Prensa says it’s had 92 tons of paper and replacement printer parts withheld by customs officials since September. If the resources aren’t released, it says, it will have to cease publishing in print.

Q: Does Ortega still have staying power?

There are signs of division among Ortega supporters. In January, Supreme Court Justice Rafael Solis – a longtime supporter of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Ortega’s party – stepped down after 19 years on the court.

Mr. Solis wrote an open letter condemning Ortega for confronting protests with deadly force and accusing the president of pulling Nicaragua toward civil war. “I fought against a dictatorship and I never believed that history would repeat itself on account of those who also fought against that same dictatorship,” Solis said in his three-page resignation letter.

Part of Ortega’s staying power comes down to allies in high places, including the legislature. Now, the question is whether one high-level defection could cause others to consider the same.

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Point of Progress

What's going right

4. Behind a rise in educational achievement among immigrants

So much of the coverage of immigrants to the US focuses on their status, and on their needs. We decided to look at something else: their three decades of educational attainment.

Amelia

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The education level of immigrants in the US is rising. In 1980, about 16 percent of immigrants had earned a bachelor’s degree. By 2016, the number had grown to 30 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, virtually matching the level of attainment of US-born residents.

And while immigrants from South and East Asia are most likely to hold a bachelor’s degree, progress has been broad. For example, the number of Mexican immigrants 25 and older with a high school diploma has more than doubled since 1980 – from 11.4 to 25.2 percent. One driver, observers say, and the key to sustain progress: programs that provide long-term support – tutoring, mentoring.

“The whole process is so daunting,” says Sandra Cañas at Enroot, a nonprofit in Cambridge, Mass., that works with immigrant high school students. “We feel that it is important that students get the support they need for whatever they want to do.”

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Behind a rise in educational achievement among immigrants

At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) in Cambridge, Mass., students flood into the international student center after the bell rings, marking the end of the school day.

One of them is Nafis Rahman, a high school senior from Bangladesh who arrived in the United States in 2016. After spending his first year in classes specifically for English-language learners, he’s now able to take courses with the mainstream students at CRLS. His favorite: Advanced Placement Computer Science.

Greeting him and others are staff from Enroot, a nonprofit that works with immigrant high school students in Cambridge and Somerville, Mass. They pepper the students with questions: Are you coming to the leadership workshop this week? When was the last time you talked to your mentor?

It’s the kind of holistic approach that students like Nafis say they find helpful. He has received tutoring, mentoring, and an internship from Enroot – and is now applying to college.

“Tomorrow I’m going to submit applications to all the UMass [schools] and WPI,” he says, referring to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.

Across the country, the education levels of immigrants have been steadily rising over the past several decades, partly because of programs like Enroot that focus on providing long-term support. In 1980, about 16 percent of immigrants had earned a bachelor’s degree. By 2016, the number grew to 30 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. This increase has all but closed the gap between immigrants and US-born residents: 31.6 percent of those born in the US have a bachelor’s degree.

SOURCE: Pew Research Center
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Karen Norris/Staff

While immigrants from South and East Asia are most likely to hold a bachelor’s degree, and college graduates from those groups are more likely to remain in the US to work, educational attainment is rising among all ethnicities and origin countries. For example, the number of Mexican immigrants 25 and older with a high school diploma has more than doubled since 1980 – from 11.4 to 25.2 percent. 

Educators who work with immigrant students, especially at the high school level, say it’s necessary to take the long view to see those numbers rise even more.

Sandra Cañas, Enroot’s Cambridge program director, has found that many of the immigrant students who arrive at CRLS are highly driven and hold themselves to high standards but need extra resources as they adjust to a new learning experience.

“Some of the students come with one parent, and they don’t have the support or the guidance they need to make decisions in regards to school issues,” she says. “The whole process is so daunting ... we feel that it is important that students get the support they need for whatever they want to do.”

The Cabrillo Advancement Program (CAP) supports low-income students – primarily immigrants and first-generation Americans – in California’s Santa Cruz County. The Cabrillo College program accepts students in sixth grade and mentors them for the next six years, along with guaranteeing them a scholarship at Cabrillo College. The program looks to address two potential hurdles: Mindsets that may discourage students from pursuing higher education, and resource gaps that may prevent them from doing so.

Catherine Cooper, a psychology professor at University of California, Santa Cruz and the director of the Bridging Multiple Worlds Alliance, has worked with CAP’s coordinator and leader Elizabeth Dominguez to study the resources – or capital – that immigrant and first-generation students can leverage to succeed. Many students have family support and their own dreams to push them forward. In the program, they learn skills – like leadership – that can help them turn those dreams into reality.

“The whole idea of navigational capital is what we teach in our summer [leadership] institute, which is, how can you navigate the bureaucracy and find out how to get that scholarship, or … can we get a fee waiver to take the SAT?” Dr. Cooper explains.

Programs like Enroot and CAP can help immigrant students feel more confident.

Deborah Midy, a junior at CRLS from Haiti, has visited colleges with her mentor and discussed the future over coffee. Like Nafis, she started with classes for English-language learners but is now taking honors classes with other students. In college, she wants to study architecture. She credits the English classes for preparing her, particularly because of a good teacher.

“[The classes] helped because the teacher took her time and she was patient with me,” she says. “She wouldn’t rush or be nervous when I didn’t understand.”

SOURCE: Pew Research Center
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Karen Norris/Staff
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Essay

5. They’re the team everyone loves to hate – but Patriots offer much to emulate

From their famous work ethic to their steely mental discipline to their success working together as a team, the NFL champs have given a model for how to succeed.

Amelia
Mike Segar/Reuters
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrated his team’s win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Feb. 3.

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With six Super Bowl rings, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady now needs both hands to display them all. And Coach Bill Belichick, who already held the record for most Super Bowl victories as a head coach before Sunday, is now tied for all NFL championships, including those before the advent of the Super Bowl.

I’m not gloating, but here’s the point: Forget for a moment how obnoxious Patriots fans can be and how boring it’s become to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl year in and year out (almost). Instead, try to tap into what makes them so great. Study their work ethic, their ability to bounce back after a bad play or a loss, their success working as a team.

Brady is famous for his conditioning, his diet, and his competitive spirit, undiminished at the age of 41. Brady knows there’s nothing he can do about the haters. And when asked by a young fan last week how he deals with them, his answer was simple: “We love them back.”

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They’re the team everyone loves to hate – but Patriots offer much to emulate

This is a gloat-free zone. I promise.

Super Bowl LIII was a tad anticlimactic (boring, even) after all the hype – and for most of the nation, a huge disappointment. Jared Goff, the Los Angeles Rams’ young quarterback, and Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in the National Football League, were no match for the seasoned savants of New England, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

At 13-3, the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, at least it wasn’t a blowout. But there’s no denying the other records: Now with six Super Bowl rings, Patriots quarterback Brady needs both hands to display them all. And Coach Belichick, who already held the record for most Super Bowl victories as a head coach before Sunday, is now tied at six with George Halas and Curly Lambeau for all NFL championships, including those before the advent of the Super Bowl.

Again, I’m not gloating, just setting the stage. Here’s the real point: Don’t hate; emulate. Don’t waste all that time and mental energy wishing curses upon the Patriots. Study their work ethic, their ability to bounce back after a bad play or a loss, their success working as a team.

Or to quote Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, appearing on CNN Monday morning after staying up all night, “Why you gotta hate? Collaborate.”

Dale Zanine/USA Today
New England Patriots linebacker Brandon King lies down in the confetti after winning Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Feb. 3.

Team owner Robert Kraft is another key ingredient. He loves his players and coaches and lets everyone do their job. He also sees parallels between his success with the Patriots and with his other ventures.

“Even when you’re running a business, keeping continuity and having people keep their egos under control” is key, Mr. Kraft told CNBC last week. “It’s almost two decades we’ve been able to keep this thing running together.”

The Patriots drafted Brady and hired Belichick in 2000, and in just their second season together, they brought home the Vince Lombardi Trophy – the first NFL championship for a long-benighted team in a city spoiled by sports success. Suddenly, they were worth watching. I will never forget going to my one and only Patriots game, pre-Brady/Belichick, sitting in the stands in Foxborough in miserable sleet and watching them lose and thinking, “Never again.” Now, assuming Brady comes back next season as promised, I’d fly up from DC in a nanosecond.

Kraft also points out that Brady isn’t the highest-paid player in the league – far from it. Forbes ranks him at No. 8.

“The most important thing to him is to win and not to make money,” said Kraft, who is limited by the league’s salary cap in what he can pay his players. “It’s not like, whatever we don’t pay him, we put in our pocket. We use it to make the rest of the team better.”

Not that Brady is hurting for cash. In the 2018 season, he stood to earn $29 million, including salary, bonuses, and endorsements.

But there’s a more important life lesson in the Brady story: Work as hard as you can from Day One, and when given the chance to show your stuff, be ready. In 2000, he was drafted in the sixth round, 199th overall, and hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer. In the 2001 season, after an injury to the Pats’ starting quarterback, Brady got the ball and never looked back.

Now Brady is famous for his conditioning, his diet, and his competitive spirit, undiminished at the advanced age of 41. For both Brady and Belichick, the cliché that “age is just a number” truly does apply. Both have set records for being the oldest to win the Super Bowl in their respective positions, but instead of hating them for defying common beliefs about age, let’s do this: Forget for a moment how obnoxious Patriots fans can be and how boring it’s become to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl year in and year out (almost), and try to tap into what makes them so great.

In fact, Super Bowl LIII really should have been the Geezer Bowl: Brady versus the great Drew Brees (age 40) of New Orleans, if not for a missed penalty call in the Saints’ conference championship. Sunday’s game would have been a remarkable matchup by two men proving that time is an illusion.

I suspect another ingredient that fuels the “haters” is President Trump. Kraft donated $1 million to his inauguration and has dined with the president at Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Trump loves to love the winning New England team, a beautiful irony for a region that is hardly Trump country.

Then there’s the whole cheating thing. I won’t relitigate “Deflategate” or “Spygate” or that playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in 2001, when a controversial call in their conference championship game helped the Pats to their first Super Bowl win. No team could have come this far by cheating its way to the top.

Brady knows there’s nothing he can do about the haters. So when asked by a young fan last week how he deals with them, his answer was simple: “We love them back.”

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The Monitor's View

Why the pope was in Islam’s heartland

Two ways to read the story

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In a historic first, Pope Francis traveled this week to to the Arabian peninsula. The trip symbolizes two faiths, Christian and Muslim, trying to build bridges. Yet it was far more than symbolic. The pope was just one of many at the largest and most diverse gathering ever in the Arab world of religious leaders, including Jewish and Hindu clergy.

At the top of the agenda for the confab in the United Arab Emirates was a demand for a new listening. This gathering, called the Global Conference on Human Fraternity, builds on 17 years of hard work to find a commonality in different theologies that can counter extremist violence and protect religious minorities. 

Such grand conferences reflect smaller efforts at religious reconciliation. In Pittsburgh, for example, the Muslim community raised $200,000 after the massacre of 11 worshipers at a synagogue in October. Practical ideas often flow at these conferences. They may help communities of believers in deterring extremists from negating others to justify their own beliefs. The ideas are not new. But the level of listening is.

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Why the pope was in Islam’s heartland

This week’s visit of Pope Francis to the Arabian peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, is certainly a historic first. It symbolizes two faiths, Christian and Muslim, trying to build bridges. Yet the trip was far more than symbolic.

The pope was just one of many at the largest and most diverse gathering ever in the Arab world of religious leaders, including Jewish and Hindu clergy. At the top of the agenda for the confab in the United Arab Emirates was a demand for a new listening rather than a rehash of old debates.

The UAE, along with Jordan and Morocco, have been leaders since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in creating forums for interfaith dialogue. This latest gathering, called the Global Conference on Human Fraternity, builds on 17 years of hard work since 2001 to find a commonality in different theologies that can counter extremist violence and protect religious minorities. As the pope said before his trip, “Faith in God unites and does not divide, it draws us closer despite differences, it distances us from hostilities and aversion.”

Jordan, for example, which is a model of relative harmony in a religiously diverse society, found some success in 2007. It won global support from Christian and Muslim leaders for a statement on common values, such as “love of God” and “love thy neighbor.”

In 2016, a forum in Morocco issued the “Marrakesh Declaration,” a document that spells out how Islamic law calls for the protection of religious minorities. For its part, the United States launched an annual summit of religious leaders last year aimed at advancing religious liberty.

Such grand conferences are reflected in smaller efforts at religious reconciliation, especially after a mass killing. In Pittsburgh, the Muslim community raised $200,000 after the massacre of 11 worshipers at a synagogue in October. Similar responses occurred in 2016 after a mass shooting at a Quebec mosque and the killing of a Roman Catholic priest in a French church.

One scholar who helps define the theological threads that bind the great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain. 

“To be a child of Abraham is to learn to respect the other children of Abraham even if their way is not ours, their covenant not ours, their understanding of God different from ours,” he writes in a book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.”

“We know that we are loved. That must be enough. To insist that being loved entails that others be unloved is to fail to understand love itself,” he stated.

Practical ideas like that often flow at these world conferences among faiths. They may help communities of believers in deterring extremists who negate others to justify their own beliefs. The ideas are not new. But the level of listening is.

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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.

Learning our God-given identity, losing panic attacks

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Today’s contributor was freed from panic attacks, as well as an addiction to the drug she was taking to manage them, as she learned more about how God knows her.

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Learning our God-given identity, losing panic attacks

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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As it happens, I have almost the exact same name as a well-known politician. For this reason, some most unusual experiences have come my way. For example, I’ve been given political mementos with this individual’s name and received emails intended for her. I’ve even received a phone call from someone endeavoring to sway me to a particular side of a legislative bill. All because my name matches that of a famous someone else!

This has led me to consider a more substantial way in which we can also be misidentified. We become so very used to seeing ourselves purely in terms of personal characteristics, our human ups and downs and even our visible features, that we may not realize there’s another way of identifying ourselves – a spiritual way, and it actually gives us a clearer sense of our identity.

There are many ways the Bible reveals this deeper, spiritual identity, but I’ve been particularly inspired by a passage in the Scriptures that tells how, when Jesus was baptized, there was “a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). God knew precisely who Jesus truly was. Jesus pleased Him.

While Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was unique, there’s a lesson here for all of us. If God is our creator, as the Bible informs us, each of us too must be one of His beloved children, Her unique heir. And since God is Spirit, we are in fact the very expression of spiritual attributes, such as wholeness and beauty. I like to think of everyone’s true nature as analogous to a gorgeous bouquet or a harmonious symphony: We may each include the same flowers or musical notes, but we’re all arranged and composed differently.

This is to say, as the expression of divine Spirit’s nature, each of us is spiritual, incomparable, complete.

I’ve found that understanding how God knows us in this way is most valuable. It brings healing, taking us beyond confining, mistaken views of ourselves and others as flawed mortals.

At one time in my life I began to experience severe panic attacks. I never knew when they were going to happen. I’d begun to identify myself as a nervous mortal who was easily shaken and way too sensitive.

A doctor prescribed Valium, a rather potent tranquilizer, at quite a high dosage. Eventually I became addicted. Sometimes when a pill wore off I felt as bad as or worse than when I took it. It seemed like a vicious circle. This went on for a long time.

Then I learned of Christian Science, the Science of divine Love. It made such wonderful sense to me. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “Our proportionate admission of the claims of good or of evil determines the harmony of our existence …” (p. 167). I realized this wasn’t about just thinking happy thoughts but about grounding one’s thought in the spiritual fact of God’s goodness and love for all and our true identity as His children.

As I eagerly began studying these ideas, slowly, little by little, I became more and more confident that as God’s spiritual offspring I was being cared for by my heavenly Father-Mother at every moment and in every way.

Then one day I realized I no longer needed the Valium pills and poured them down the drain. What a relief that was! I saw I could rely on God for peace of mind, poise, and health. The ongoing loving, intelligent thoughts God communicates to all His children were my medicine. And the panic attacks completely stopped.

Later I learned that it was generally accepted that a Valium dosage such as I’d had, and with the duration of time I’d depended on it, required gradual withdrawal increments. I’d seen, however, that God’s way was the way of deliverance. My actions left no egregious side effects. My need was so meticulously met that I knew it had to be the result of my Father-Mother’s impeccable shepherding. God had kept me as He’d made me: whole and free. Just as the mistaken sense of identity with those who assume I’m the famous politician is thrown off when I show people who I actually am, the excitable addict view of myself that I had learned to live with was thrown off by the God-defined view and reality of my true identity.

We may have the same last name as multitudes of others or a voice or face that prompts others to say, Wow, you remind me so much of my Uncle Harry, or that Channel 7 weatherman. But our loving Father-Mother could never mistake us or anyone we know for another. He knows each of us as divine Love’s original witness and offspring – a distinctive, one-of-a-kind beam of God’s light – and this understanding satisfies and heals.

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Viewfinder

A new cold war

Dmitri Lovetsky/AP
A worker clears snow around the statue of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin at the Lenin Hut Museum near Razliv Lake, outside St. Petersburg, Russia, Feb. 4. Another storm delivered a week of snowfall around the city.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( February 5th, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. In tomorrow’s Daily, we’ll preview prominent appearances by two of the Democratic party's biggest stars: Stacey Abrams, who’s giving the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union speech, and Beto O’Rourke, who will be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Times Square. Both lost their most recent elections. But branding has become more important than actually holding office when it comes to politics.

Monitor Daily Podcast

February 04, 2019
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