Monitor Daily Podcast

June 28, 2019
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What blue socks, cupcakes, and one amazing sprinter have in common

Welcome to your Daily. Today we look at what the Democrats’ debates revealed about the party, what outsiders (including diplomats) should know about the people of Iran and South Korea, the business ethics of the border crisis, and a collection of works from a master-class essayist.

First, is it time for some blue socks? Or a “freedom fighter” cupcake?

Maybe. Whatever it takes for you to realize you’re in a “magic moment.”

We say all this because it’s Friday, finally. The news in recent days seems to have poured upon us nonstop. It has been one of those weeks when it seems almost impossible to keep up.

This is when lighter stories help. Whatever they’re called – human interest, heartwarmers – they help put in perspective self-important “Who Won and Who Lost, Five Takeaways” list stories.

Thus blue socks.

Will Gladstone is an Arlington, Massachusetts, high schooler. He’s worried that the population of blue-footed boobies, a wondrous Galapagos bird, has dropped by 60% in the past 30 years. Since he was in eighth grade, he and his little brother have raised more than $80,000 selling blue socks to fund research on reversing the decline.

Michael Platt makes the cupcakes. At age 11, the Bowie, Maryland, teen started a bakery as a two-for-one charity. For every item he sells, he donates another to a homeless shelter. Every month, his special “freedom fighter” cupcakes honor a personal hero.

Julia Hawkins is a record-holding sprinter. She is also 103. At the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this month she competed in the 50- and 100-yard dashes. Her nickname is “Hurricane.”

“Have many passions,” she told The New York Times. “And look for magic moments.”

Our hot take: only winners here. No losers at all.

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Onstage, Democrats clash on ideas. Offstage, is there more common ground?

Yes, there were many – maybe too many – Democratic presidential candidates, as the first debates showed. But in their diversity they represent a party struggling to unify around new ideas and principles.

Mike Segar/Reuters
All 10 Democratic presidential candidates raise their hands to indicate that they would provide Medicaid benefits to unauthorized immigrants during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami June 27.

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When 20 candidates descend on a city to make their case to the American people, a special kind of chaos comes to life.

Onstage, the event threw into sharp relief the deep divides cleaving today’s Democrats – and the very real challenge they face in the search for a unifying figure to lead them in 2020.

On one side are those like former Vice President Joe Biden, who see President Donald Trump as the biggest threat to the nation’s well-being and are pushing for a return to the approach of the Obama years. On the other are those like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who argue that America’s problems are far bigger than the man in the White House and will require radical, systemic overhauls of government and the economy.

Some political observers argue that the clashes over ideology and identity, while real, aren’t necessarily as central as they’re often made out to be. Most Democratic voters can’t be compartmentalized that easily.

“You can’t just divide this party into left and center; you can’t just divide it into progressive and moderate,” says Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign manager, Addisu Demissie. Voters, he says, “have to find somebody who shares their values – whom they believe and they can trust is motivated by the right things.”


1. Onstage, Democrats clash on ideas. Offstage, is there more common ground?

The candidates came into the spin room just before 11:30 p.m. through a barricaded walkway surrounded by press. One photographer, trying to get a good shot, tipped over a light. Another fell off the chair he was standing on.

There was some awkward shuffling as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his entourage squeezed past former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who’d come in first and stopped to talk to reporters. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee held court off to the side of the ministage set up for the NBC commentators. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar later did the same, as campaign volunteers, bearing white signs printed with the candidates’ names, weaved in and out of the sea of people. When New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker walked in, mics and cameras swarmed around him – then dissolved and recongregated, like a school of fish, around Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And that was just the first night.

By the end of the second Democratic presidential debate on Thursday, it was clear that when 20 candidates descend on a city to make their case to the American people, a special kind of chaos comes to life. Offstage, the event drew an inordinate number of press and police, including some on horseback. There were protesters, campaign staff, volunteers, and flocks of engaged or simply curious citizens.

Onstage, the debates threw into sharp relief the deep divides cleaving today’s Democrats – and the very real challenge they face in the search for a unifying figure to lead them in 2020.

The question now isn’t whether the party has shifted left but just how much farther left it intends to go. On one side are the pragmatists, embodied by former Vice President Joe Biden. They see President Donald Trump as the single biggest threat to the nation’s well-being and are essentially pushing for a return to the vision and approach of the Obama years.

On the other are the idealists, like Senator Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who argue that America’s problems are far bigger than the man in the White House and will require radical, systemic overhauls of government and the economy.

“When you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption, pure and simple,” Senator Warren said, setting the tone on the first night. “We need to attack it head on.”

An even more uncomfortable fissure lies around the matter of identity. With young people and minorities making up a larger and larger share of the Democratic Party, many believe it’s crucial for the nominee to reflect the experiences of those demographics.

Wilfredo Lee/AP
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg poses with an advocacy group after the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts June 27 in Miami.

California Sen. Kamala Harris struck a sharp blow against Mr. Biden on the second night when she attacked his recent comments about having once worked with segregationists in the Senate. Speaking as the only African-American woman in the race, she told him: “It was hurtful.” She also criticized his opposition to busing during the 1970s. “You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day.” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

California Rep. Eric Swalwell hit on the issue of generational change directly, urging Mr. Biden to “pass the torch.”

In the spin room afterward, rival campaigns downplayed the attacks on Mr. Biden – though most observers noted the strategy had had the intended effect. Which candidate or candidates stood to benefit most, however, was less clear.

“Clearly there were folks onstage who were saying that we’ve just got to sort of return to normal, that we can turn back the clock and go back to a pre-Donald Trump era,” said Lis Smith, the communications director for South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg – who is the youngest candidate in the race and the only one who is openly gay. But “normal isn’t working, and we’ve got to try something different.”

At Homestead

While party unity – and a consensus nominee – may be a long way off, a kind of camaraderie nevertheless emerged over the course of the two days as candidates and their staff were forced to interact and at times even work together. 

During daytime hours, between rounds of debate prep, most of the Democrats at one point or another made pilgrimages to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, the site of a controversial for-profit migrant children’s detention center located 30 miles outside of Miami. Though none of the candidates were allowed into the center itself, all took the opportunity to denounce the Trump administration’s immigration policy – particularly the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senators Warren and Klobuchar both went on Wednesday. On Thursday, Senator Sanders and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke each made visits. A video circulated on Twitter later of Mr. O’Rourke holding up a gigantic heart-shaped sign and yelling “We love you!” in Spanish to the children presumably on the other side of the chain-link fence surrounding the property.  

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Protesters rest in the shade outside the children’s migrant detention center on June 28 in Homestead, Florida, 30 miles south of Miami. Nearly all the Democratic presidential candidates – who were in Miami for the first primary debates – made a pilgrimage to the facility, where they denounced the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

On Friday morning, six candidates went there with Florida congresswoman Debbie Murcasel-Powell. They held a joint press conference there after also being turned away at the gates. Standing outside the chain-link fence, Senator Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Mr. Buttigieg, self-help author Marianne Williamson, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper took turns addressing a small crowd of reporters and volunteers in the sweltering south Florida heat.

“I cannot tell you how angry it makes me,” Senator Gillibrand said, “when you lock up a child and deny them the time they need to play outside, the time they need to be with loved ones and family members.” 

Activists welcomed the candidates’ presence as a chance to bring national attention to what’s been a longstanding community issue. Mariana Martinez, an organizer with American Friends Service Committee, said she hoped it would prove to be more than a photo op. “We need to see more,” she says. “We need to know these candidates are serious.”

It was somewhat remarkable to see a group of candidates who, less than 10 hours earlier, had been battling it out onstage now sharing a microphone and nodding together as each spoke in turn. And it was a reminder that, for all their differences, the Democrats still have more that unifies them than divides them.

Chatting briefly Thursday afternoon, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney underscored that point. “Some people want to dismantle the economic model of the United States, and I don’t have that goal,” he said. But on basic priorities like “universal health care, making school more affordable – I think we have those goals in common.”

The difference, he said, lies in how you get there. “Some people have practical, pragmatic ideas how to do it – and others don’t.”

“We need a competition of ideas,” Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet told reporters later. “It’ll be good for whoever the nominee is – I hope it’ll be me – to see this stuff clarified in this process.”

Overall vibe: Game 1

Outside the debate hall ahead of Round 2, professional arrow spinners swung giant cardboard signs that proclaimed “Delaney 2020” on one side and “#BetterCare,” referring to Mr. Delaney’s health-care reform plan, on the other. A trio of women in Marianne Williamson T-shirts laid a spread of her merchandise on a tarp on the sidewalk. There were pink Andrew Yang hats and yellow Harris signs and a pair of red, white, and blue beach chairs bearing Biden T-shirts.

Protesters, some in red Trump hats, gathered around a big banner that declared “No socialismo, no comunismo, somos capitalista” (“No socialism, no communism, we are capitalist”). An electronic signage truck, paid for by the New York Police Department’s union, which has a longstanding feud with Mayor de Blasio, circled the block flashing his face and accusing him of putting “working people last.”

For all the hoopla, the overall vibe was that of Game 1 in a long, competitive series. There will be no fewer than 12 debates, and as the candidates and their staffs are well aware, this round’s winners still have plenty of time to stumble – and the losers, potentially, to recover.

To that end, on Friday, Mr. Biden vigorously defended his “lifetime commitment” to civil rights during an appearance before the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago. “I will be a president who stands against racism,” he said. “We have a president who promotes hate and division,” he added. “Barack was a president our kids not only could but did look up to.”

Some political observers argue that the clashes over ideology and identity, while real, aren’t necessarily as central as they’re often made out to be. Most Democratic voters can’t be compartmentalized that easily. Many are simply looking for a candidate who speaks to them – someone who has conviction, who conveys compassion and authority.

“You can’t just divide this party into left and center; you can’t just divide it into progressive and moderate,” says Senator Booker’s campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, as a cluster of reporters and videographers bustle by. Voters, he says,” have to find somebody who shares their values – whom they believe and they can trust is motivated by the right things.”

Iranian leaders shun ‘chalice of poison’

There’s a painful remembrance in Iran about how broken it felt in 1988, when pressured to end the Iran-Iraq war. That emotional part of foreign relations is a reminder to see current conflicts from the other side.

Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency/Reuters
Iranian women hold flowers as they attend a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, June 27 to bury the remains of 150 ‘martyrs’ from the 1980-’88 Iran-Iraq war.

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U.S. policy on Iran is to exert “maximum pressure” to force the Islamic regime into renegotiating the terms of its landmark nuclear deal with the rest of the world – a deal that President Donald Trump pulled out of last year.

That pressure includes harsh sanctions that are hurting Iran’s economy and threats of military action to “obliterate” certain targets.

But Tehran is not budging. Indeed, it seems to be digging in. And observers inside and outside Iran suggest that pressure is unlikely to work. They recall Ayatollah Khomeini’s painful decision in 1988 to accept a cease-fire with Iraq, taken only when he thought his revolution was in mortal danger.

At the time, he lamented that he was drinking from a “chalice of poison.” He never again spoke in public.

Ever since, the chalice of poison has been a metaphor in Iran for caving in under pressure – the last thing any leader can be seen to do.

“People are nervous,” says an analyst in Tehran. “But as for saying it is on the brink of implosion, that’s not true. It takes a lot more.”


2. Iranian leaders shun ‘chalice of poison’

Is President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran enough to make the Islamic Republic cry uncle?

Probably not, to judge by the most significant climb-down that Tehran has conceded since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

It was the spring of 1988, and after eight years of ferocious fighting, Iranian troops had reversed Iraq’s invasion and pushed deep into Iraqi territory. Saddam Hussein – supported by the U.S., Soviet Union, and European nations – unleashed one of the war’s heaviest chemical weapon attacks and threatened to gas Iranian cities if Iran did not agree to a cease-fire.

The Iranian military had lost some 60% of its hardware and could barely find new recruits, and the nation’s economy had shriveled. When the United States inadvertently shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 passengers, Tehran took it as a sign that the Americans were willing to do anything to defeat the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini finally gave in, shocking Iranians as he said, “I drink this chalice of poison.” The human toll had been unprecedented in modern conflict, with 1 million dead and wounded on both sides, in a war that hadn’t even changed the border, just soaked it in blood.

“The television was showing our soldiers and he kept hitting himself with his fists saying ‘aah,’” Mr. Khomeini’s eldest son later recalled of his father’s reaction. “After accepting the cease-fire, he could no longer walk. ... He never again spoke in public.”

Legacy of language

Ever since, in Iran, “drinking from the chalice of poison” has been a metaphor for caving in under pressure – the sort of pressure that Tehran feels today from the Trump administration.

Iranian officials are loath to be seen surrendering under such conditions; they vow to resist U.S. demands; and they swear, as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently declared – that “as long as the U.S. is what it is today, dialogue will be poison, and with this administration the poison will be even twice as deadly.” 

Official Khamenei Website/Reuters
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to deliver a speech June 4 during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran.

Analysts say that U.S. sanctions may be crippling the economy but they have yet to bring Iran to another “chalice of poison” moment. Instead of sparking popular unrest, they note, the pressure has consolidated a popular consensus that Iran is being unfairly targeted and that any rapprochement would be humiliating.

“If the choice is surrender or war, they [Iran’s leadership] would escalate to war,” predicts Ervand Abrahamian, a renowned historian of Iran now retired from Baruch College, City University of New York.

“If there is an economic crisis, they would also try to complement it with a military crisis, because once American bombs start falling, people are not going to criticize the government, people are more likely to rally around the flag,” says Professor Abrahamian.

Effects of U.S. levers

Though Mr. Trump this week called off a military strike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of a $130 million U.S. intelligence drone that Iran says violated its airspace, he later tweeted that Iran would be met with “overwhelming force” if its forces attacked “anything American.” In some instances, he warned, that would amount to “obliteration.”

U.S. officials say their “maximum pressure” policy is designed to force Iran to renegotiate a landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement last year, though European nations, Russia, and China are still committed to it. Washington added new sanctions this week, targeting Mr. Khamenei and eight Revolutionary Guard commanders.

But how close might Iran be to a “chalice of poison” capitulation?

“We are far from that point,” says a veteran analyst in Tehran, who asked not to be named.

“I remember, right before the ‘drinking from the chalice’ [in 1988], there were reports of young people complaining that they didn’t have enough batteries for their radios,” says the analyst. “There were shortages of everything, everywhere, and most important of all the shortage of [military] volunteers.”

These days, prices have rocketed and some Iranians struggle to pay their rent. “People are more nervous, they have less patience,” says the analyst. “But as for saying it is on the brink of implosion, that’s not true. It takes a lot more.”

“There are still some exports, some imports, some money coming; smugglers are doing their good job of providing anything in the shops and under the table, like alcoholic drinks. Life goes on, despite the harshest sanctions,” the analyst says.

“Iranian leaders will not capitulate ... unless the situation deteriorates very much, and I can’t imagine that,” he adds.

Some moderate and reformist politicians have called for dialogue with the U.S. to avoid a war. But they are being drowned out by hardliners who criticized the nuclear deal from the start.

“At a time when the poison of the earlier [nuclear] talks with the U.S. remains in the body of our nation, fresh negotiations are yet another dangerous chalice of poison for the heroic Iranian nation,” the hard-line Kayhan newspaper said in an editorial last week.

Iran’s ultimate unity

U.S. officials have said there is an “open door” for Iran to negotiate, but Washington is still insisting on the 12 demands it made last year that would require the Iranian government to give up all its domestic and regional levers of influence.

“Trump may say that he’s willing to negotiate, but they are not actually offering anything to Iran,” says Mr. Abrahamian, the historian. The 12 American “commandments,” he says, amount to “unconditional surrender.”

The anti-Iran hawks in Washington pushing for conflict, he says, have little understanding of Iran.

“Their premise is that the regime is fragile, so sanctions are going to bring it down,” says Mr. Abrahamian. “If they don’t, then bombing raids on nuclear sites will bring the regime down. But I don’t think that will work so then the question is: What’s next?”

In such a scenario, he predicts a “mechanism of escalation,” in which Iranian forces and their proxies would target Americans across the Middle East.

“I know Iranian officials worry,” says the analyst in Tehran. “Moderates think we should do something practical to change the situation. ... Hardliners wish for a confrontation, a real war that they can go out and fight and perform that anti-Americanism ideal of the revolution.

“Under pressure, many Iranians find unity behind the government if there is an external enemy,” adds the analyst. “If the Americans make a military move, this would be accelerated.”

For South Korean youth, peacemaking is secondary to job growth

South Korea’s leadership is often viewed through a diplomatic lens as the U.S. seeks to curb North Korea’s nuclear program. But its economic performance counts more for ordinary Koreans. 

Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters
Job seekers attend the 2018 Japan Job Fair in Seoul, South Korea, November 7, 2018. Slower economic growth at home has spurred thousands of young Koreans to work overseas in recent years.

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When Moon Jae-in became South Korea’s president in 2017, he promised to tackle income inequality and help smaller companies compete with domestic conglomerates like Samsung. He also pursued intra-Korean diplomacy that paved the way for direct U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks. But trade tensions between the U.S. and China, combined with slackening global demand for electronics, has hobbled Mr. Moon’s economic agenda, particularly among young job seekers. 

Some of those job seekers are looking beyond South Korea for opportunities. A government program that since 2013 has placed thousands of young workers in overseas jobs also raises concerns about a brain drain if domestic job creation doesn’t pick up. “We have a huge number of educated youth,” says Jae-soo Yoo, a government official in Busan. “If they can’t find work here, they will take their dreams abroad.”

Mr. Moon’s allies hope that detente on the Korean peninsula could eventually boost trade and investment. That may be some way off, though, and Mr. Moon’s ruling party faces a tough fight in legislative elections next April. He also faces a petition calling for impeachment. An improved economy might lessen the pressure and give young workers more reason to stay in South Korea.


3. For South Korean youth, peacemaking is secondary to job growth

Two broad topics tend to dominate the news in this capital city of almost 10 million people. One involves the ongoing diplomatic talks between South Korea and North Korea and related coverage of the potential for another U.S.-North Korea summit. The other concerns President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to invigorate the South Korean economy.

For Ye-jin Choi, a second-year chemistry and nanoscience student at Ewha Womans University, the reports about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, amount to background noise. She wants Mr. Moon to spend less time courting his counterpart to the north and more time striving to create jobs for her generation.

“The president and his administration need to take one step away from foreign affairs and focus a little more on the country’s economy,” Ms. Choi says. An unemployment rate of nearly 11% for South Koreans ages 15 to 29 – more than twice the overall rate – has her worried about the job market she will enter after graduating in 2021.

“My first priority will be trying to work here,” she says. “But if after a year or so I’m still unemployed due to serious economic issues, I believe there would be better opportunities for me outside Korea.”

Her perspective reflects a gathering frustration with Mr. Moon among young South Koreans as Asia’s fourth-largest economy sputters. Sluggish job growth and a decline in exports of semiconductors and other Korean goods – a casualty of trade tensions between the United States and China – has intensified pressure on Mr. Moon to deliver on his economic agenda.

Mr. Moon pledged to enact reforms and redress income inequality when he won an election two years ago after the ouster of then-President Park Geun-hye amid a corporate corruption scandal. He called for improved wages and working conditions and a reduced reliance on Samsung, Hyundai, and other conglomerates known as chaebols to propel growth.

Since taking office, he has sought to spur hiring and production at small and midsize companies by offering tax subsidies, raised South Korea’s minimum wage by more than 25%, and cut the maximum working week from 68 to 52 hours.

The moves have failed to avert mounting job losses in manufacturing, construction, retail, and other sectors. The country of 51 million people added less than 100,000 new jobs last year, and the increased minimum wage has caused some small companies to freeze hiring for low-level and part-time positions. Others have closed.

The career forecast appears darkest for young adults in a country where more than three-quarters of high school graduates enroll in college. A recent survey by a South Korean recruiting firm found that only 1 in 10 graduating university students had lined up a full-time job, stoking concerns among public officials of a nationwide brain drain.

“We have a huge number of educated youth,” says Jae-soo Yoo, vice mayor of economic affairs in Busan, the country’s second-largest city. “If they can’t find work here, they will take their dreams abroad.”

Nuclear diplomacy

Mr. Moon will meet with President Donald Trump in Seoul this weekend after the U.S. leader departs the G-20 summit in Japan. The two leaders plan to discuss possibilities for reviving negotiations with Mr. Kim about ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The talks stalled after Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump held a second summit in Vietnam in February, following their initial meeting last year. Shin Beomchul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, argues that Mr. Moon has devoted his attention to nuclear diplomacy at the economy’s expense.

“This government focuses too much on North Korea. The focus should be on this country’s economic relationship with the U.S. and Japan,” he says, referring to two of South Korea’s biggest trading partners.

Yet the fate of Mr. Moon’s economic strategy might depend on his ability to coax Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump toward a diplomatic resolution. A nuclear deal could fortify inter-Korean ties and, over time, boost bilateral trade and economic development.

Supporters of Mr. Moon, who replaced two of his top economic aides last week, assert that he could quiet his critics by emphasizing the link between his diplomatic and economic policies.

“Having better relations between South and North Korea would have significant impact on the economy and create jobs,” says Spencer Kim, co-founder of the Pacific Century Institute, a nonprofit policy and research firm that works with countries throughout Asia. “Now, is the Moon administration doing a good job of explaining that? No.”

A mile from the Blue House, the president’s official residence in Seoul, Hyun-woo Park works in a gift shop in the cultural district of Insadong. After earning a degree in mechanical engineering last year, he sent out more than 50 applications to companies in the capital and other cities. A handful of interviews yielded little more than disappointment.

“I think trying to have peace with North Korea is the right thing,” he says. “But I didn’t go to university because I want to be a cashier.”

A public relations loser 

Mr. Moon’s approval rating has fallen from a high of 83% soon after the first summit between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump to below 50%. Much of the public discontent arises from an economy expanding at its slowest pace since 2012. Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to the president, disputes the portrayal of Mr. Moon as preoccupied with North Korea but concedes a political reality.

“Talking about denuclearization is a public relations gain in South Korea,” he says. “Talking about the economy is a public relations loser.”

In 2013, South Korea launched an overseas jobs program that has helped almost 16,800 adults under age 29 find work in Japan, the U.S., and dozens of other countries. Officials cast the initiative as a short-term antidote to unemployment that enables recent graduates to gain experience that they can parlay into a job back home in a year or two.

But the program’s rising popularity as the economy stagnates – the number of workers placed abroad has more than tripled since 2013 – suggests that holding a job outside South Korea could turn into a long-range solution for a generation of educated workers.

“We have a lot of unemployed young people in Busan,” says Mr. Yoo, the vice mayor. The city’s 20 universities attract students from across the country, and after graduation many return home, work unskilled jobs, or head abroad, unable to find a foothold in their preferred fields in South Korea. “We are no exception to what’s happening across the country.”

Busan operates the world’s fifth-busiest shipping container port. Last year, Mr. Moon announced a plan to spend the equivalent of $3.7 billion to create 50,000 jobs for young adults and for laid-off workers in Busan and elsewhere in the country’s southern region, where a yearslong decline in trade has hurt the shipbuilding and auto industries.

Mr. Yoo, who supports the president’s overtures to North Korea, speculates that improved relations could lift Busan’s economy through an increase in manufacturing and shipping traffic to and from the north, widening the job market for young workers. “But right now,” he says, “we don’t know when that will happen.”

Testing support in legislative election 

Voters will offer judgment on Mr. Moon’s policies next April, when his liberal coalition will try to retain power in the National Assembly. Given the president’s sagging approval ratings, analysts predict that a shift in the legislative balance would end his chances of reviving and expanding trade with North Korea.

“If there’s not a [trade] deal soon, the door will completely close by early next year,” says Jeonghun Min, a professor of American studies at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

The exasperation of young adults over the economy serves as a kind of backhanded compliment to Mr. Moon, who has handled the North Korean crisis deftly enough to allow them to fret about their careers instead of war.

Ms. Choi, the second-year university student, credits him for raising the minimum wage despite its adverse effect on some businesses and his plan to subsidize hiring of young workers. At the same time, she takes the measure of the country’s job market – and her future – without illusion.

“If the economy is still very unstable by the time I finish my education,” she says, “I am definitely considering moving out.”

Reporting for this story was made possible by a travel fellowship provided through the East-West Center.

Workers look for clear line in murky border issue

Ethical issues are rarely easy for companies. Wayfair, targeted by its own employees for alleged complicity in a humanitarian crisis along the U.S. border, is the latest example. 


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When the furniture retailer Wayfair faced a protest by its own employees this week, it hinted at rising concern about human rights at detention centers for migrants who have crossed the U.S. border into Texas. Wayfair workers planned their walkout after learning that their employer had sold beds and mattresses to a nonprofit running one of the border facilities.

The protest also reveals a more general trend. In an era of rapid sharing on social media, many workers expect their employers to take stands on moral issues. Young employees like Wayfair’s Emily Garbutt are driving the change, expecting that their voices will be heard – even if it sets up difficult policy choices for companies.

“People have said, ‘Oh, it’s a slippery slope. If you won’t sell to these guys, then who else will you not sell to?’ But I think this is a good place to draw the line,” she said. “This is one we can get out ahead of and say, ‘Yeah, we shouldn’t make money off of people imprisoning children. We shouldn’t benefit from that in any way.’”


4. Workers look for clear line in murky border issue

Katie Penfield/The Christian Science Monitor
Kelsey Barowich (l.) and Maria Blanco hold signs in Boston's Copley Square to support the walkout by Wayfair workers June 26 over the company's sales to a detention center holding migrant children.

Emily Garbutt says her work for online retailer Wayfair is “the best job I’ve ever had” and describes the workplace as inclusive and collegial. But this week, she also helped organize a protest against the company’s sale of beds to an organization managing one of the controversial detention centers housing migrants apprehended at the U.S. border in Texas.

Those detention camps have drawn heightened attention in recent days after news reports of appalling conditions for young children, separated from their parents and lacking basic needs such as soap, toothbrushes, or diaper changes.

“People have said, ‘Oh, it’s a slippery slope. If you won’t sell to these guys, then who else will you not sell to?’ But I think this is a good place to draw the line,” Ms. Garbutt told the Monitor Wednesday as she and co-workers staged a public protest in Boston’s Copley Square. “This is one we can get out ahead of and say, ‘Yeah, we shouldn’t make money off of people imprisoning children. We shouldn’t benefit from that in any way.’ ”

Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
Outside U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol station facilities in Clint, Texas, June 27, a child holds a placard during a protest against the treatment of children in immigration detention.

Wayfair isn’t the only company caught up in the storm of public concern about what many Americans see as a humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, as migrants largely from troubled Central American nations stream northward faster than U.S. authorities can process pleas for asylum. This week, Bank of America said it would cut ties with companies that run private prisons and border detention centers.

The focus on how private companies intersect with U.S. border policies reflects a wider trend. Increasingly, businesses are being nudged to take stands on questions of societal values or justice, driven not only by customers and advocacy campaigns but also by their own workers. The reasons, experts say, range from generational changes in attitudes to the way social media has accelerated the ability for people to communicate and organize.

This changing societal ethos can create challenges for corporations. If staying neutral on an issue has often felt like the safest course in the past, today in at least some cases it carries reputational costs.

“It’s clear that companies cannot afford to sit on the sidelines when it comes to taking a stand on [a] trending issue,” says Ericka McCoy, chief marketing officer at Resonate, a provider of consumer intelligence for marketers, based in Reston, Virginia. In an interview by email, she adds a caveat: “It’s critical that the issues they choose to take a stand on align to ... their core brand values.”

A complex reality

That can be a delicate distinction. 

“Decisions on whom not to do business with shouldn’t be made on an ad-hoc basis. They should be guided by a set of principles and applied with a case-by-case review of the customer,” Boston Globe columnist Larry Edelman wrote this week. And “just because there is a process, it doesn’t mean that choosing whom to blacklist is easy.”

He noted that the nonprofit that Wayfair sold beds to “doesn’t make fighter planes, bombs, or assault rifles. It doesn’t peddle cigarettes to children and in foreign countries.”

Overall, Americans are conflicted over immigration policy, with considerable support for both border security and for avoiding harsh treatment of immigrants who arrived without authorization.

“There’s a large contingent of American people that support border enforcement,” says Jim Copland, an expert on legal policy at the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York. “If people want to make a good faith argument for open borders, let them do it,” he says. But for now “we have to figure out what we’re going to do with people who come across the border. And to suggest that we don’t want to create adequate housing facilities or bedding for these people is inhumane on its face.”

It’s a discussion that flared this week independent of the Wayfair protest. As the two parties sparred over dueling bills to add funds on the border, Republicans blamed Democrats for being slow to deal with border needs. And Democrats, although they have backed away from alleging the crisis is entirely “manufactured” by President Donald Trump, argue that Trump policies have made it much worse.

Even within Wayfair, Mr. Copland notes that not all employees joined the protests, a signal of Americans’ mixed views on the issue. 

Some onlookers to the protest, which crowded a well-trafficked section of Boston, disapproved.

“I would make sure, when they got back to their desks, that each one of them can vacate their desk by 5:00. Remove whatever personal belongings they have. And I would bring in a new wave of employees,” said Cevin Hynes of nearby Arlington, Massachusetts. 

Wayfair takes a step

For many of the protesting workers, a core point is that the detention camps shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Madeline Howard, a protest organizer, points to Wayfair’s own values as a company that markets furniture. “The core one that we’ve been naming is ‘Everyone deserves to live in a home that they love.’ Right?”

Wayfair has pledged to donate $100,000 to the Red Cross, a bit higher than what employees say were the profits from the sale of beds and mattresses. The company hasn’t publicly changed any policies on sales.

“It’s a start,” says Tyrone Jackson, a Wayfair software engineer, referring to the donation. “At least the profits are going somewhere.”

Protest organizers had asked that the profits be donated to RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), a nonprofit providing legal services to immigrants and refugees in Texas. 

Some investor groups, including the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, are pressing companies to cut ties with border camps and privately run prisons, among other issues. Nadira Narine, a senior program director at ICCR, sees rising public concern about such moral concerns rooted in today’s quickening flow of information.

“It’s in your face these days, and in your face in the worst ways,” she says, “when you’re seeing a father and daughter washing up on the shore” after drowning in the Rio Grande. And when people choose to organize in response, “new technologies … are available to rally up in a short amount of time.” 

Travis Ellis, a Boston-area resident who was in Copley Square to support the employee walkout, acknowledges that a protest is “outside of the normal realm of what we’re used to.” 

But he wants companies to be politically minded, in the sense of understanding that “everything we do affects everybody else. So we have to be careful that we don’t end up hurting other people in the process of going about trying to make a buck.”

Hannah Harn, Thomas Shults, and Danny Jin of the Monitor staff contributed to this story from Boston.

Book review

Is democracy necessary? E.B. White’s timely arguments against extremism.

“E.B. White was a master of conversational prose, excelling at sentences that seem perfectly balanced,” Danny Heitman writes in the Monitor’s review of “On Democracy,” a new collection of essays selected by White’s granddaughter. “To read his work is to feel balanced too.”


5. Is democracy necessary? E.B. White’s timely arguments against extremism.

Courtesy of HarperCollins
“On Democracy’ by E. B. White, HarperLuxe, 272 pp.

Elwyn Brooks White is best known as the author of children’s stories such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” that remain reliable classics.

But White, who died in 1985, is also celebrated as a writer for adults. He divided his time between New York City and a farm in coastal Maine, crafting personal essays that, more than three decades after his passing, endure as exemplars of the form.

White was a master of conversational prose, excelling at sentences that seem perfectly balanced. To read his work is to feel balanced too. With their underlying tone of moderation, White’s essays resonate with a subtly political dimension even when they’re supposedly about nothing more than an afternoon on the farm or a morning in Manhattan. They constituted, in their own way, an abiding argument against the extremism of White’s times.

When “One Man’s Meat,” White’s collection of commentaries about rural New England, was published in a special edition for members of the Armed Forces in the 1940s, it became a favorite among those fighting World War II. White’s unassumingly democratic voice – sane, sensible, self-deprecating, suspicious of cant – reminded them what they were fighting for.

The only challenge with White’s essays is that not enough of them are in wide circulation. He was exacting with his prose, selecting only a relative handful of his pieces from The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines to preserve in his books.

Martha White, his granddaughter and literary executor, has remained almost as judicious in drawing material from her grandfather’s archive for new book projects. Given the singularity of E.B. White’s literary art, the anthologies Martha White has brought out in recent years have been a cause for celebration. They include “E.B. White on Dogs,” an assortment of his prose on all things canine; and “In the Words of E.B. White,” a distillation of his pithiest observations.

Now comes "E.B. White On Democracy," in which Martha White surveys her grandfather’s thoughts on representative government. As with her previous anthologies, “On Democracy” is partly a curation of material from other White volumes, but it also includes items that haven’t been published in book form before.

White wasn’t a grand thinker about governance. “The Wild Flag,” his one attempt at a sustained political philosophy, was a forgettable argument for one-world government written near the close of World War II. White later dismissed the book as “dreamy and uninformed,” perhaps sensing that its vague theorizing worked against his natural gifts.

White was most eloquent when he grounded his ideas in the granular particularity of daily life, for he was, memorably, a reporter at heart.

The most persuasive selections in “On Democracy” riff on the headlines of White’s day, such as when he addressed the despotism of America’s opponents during World War II and the red baiting zealotry of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. This would seem, at first glance, to date “On Democracy” as a mere period piece. But in writing against fanaticism, White wrestled with challenges that seem, alas, still too much with us.

In “Freedom,” a 1940 essay included here, White dissects the tendency to gradually accommodate the erosion of democratic ideals, an ostensible exercise in pragmatism that inevitably proves corrupting. “Where I expected to find indignation,” he writes of his fellow Americans’ initial shrugging ambivalence about Adolf Hitler, “I found paralysis, or a sort of dim acquiescence, as in a child who is dully swallowing a distasteful pill.”

Against this sense of surrender, White offers his creed:

I just want to tell, before I get slowed down, that I am in love with freedom and that it is an affair of long standing and that it is a fine state to be in, and that I am deeply suspicious of people who are beginning to adjust to fascism and dictators merely because they are succeeding in war. From such adaptable natures a smell arises. I pinch my nose.

That passage points to White’s strengths as a stylist. The crowded first sentence seems to spill out its message, an analog to White’s ecstatic embrace of liberty. Then the next two sentences become progressively shorter, as if he’s descending from his soapbox to speak more intimately with his audience. At his best, White also emulates to good effect his hero Henry David Thoreau, who could use gripping physical imagery to make the theoretical more concrete. When White pinches his nose at extremism, he’s reminding his readers that such policies have tangible, real-world consequences.

In his introduction, journalist and author Jon Meacham takes pains to draw parallels between White’s cautions about autocratic values and our present-day concerns about political cults of personality. But it’s not really necessary for Meacham, however well-meaning, to connect the dots for us.

Although he left the scene a generation ago, White can still speak for himself, and he sounds thoroughly up to date. “Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble,” he wrote in 1973. “We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”

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Europe fortifies the independence of judges

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that liberal democracy has become obsolete in Europe. Not so, responded European Union leaders. To make the point, they cited a June 24 decision by the European Court of Justice.

The EU’s highest legal body ruled that Poland’s populist government had acted illegally by forcing a third of the country’s Supreme Court judges into early retirement, thus violating the principle of the irremovability of judges. The move by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party was widely seen as a power grab to end judicial independence.

The EU’s first disciplinary action against a member state sends a strong message to others in the bloc inclined to step on democratic values. While the bloc’s popularity may be based on its economic opportunities and the freedom to travel, it is rule of law that holds it all together. Contrary to Mr. Putin’s view, liberal values are not becoming obsolete.


Europe fortifies the independence of judges

Poland's Supreme Court building in Warsaw.

In a comment Thursday about the drift toward authoritarian populism in Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin said liberal democracy has become “obsolete.” He implied that values such as individual rights had “outlived their purpose.”

Not so, responded European Union leaders. What began seven decades ago as a community of trading nations has since become a community of 28 countries integrated by transnational law. To make the point, they cited a June 24 decision by the European Court of Justice.

The EU’s highest legal body ruled that Poland’s populist government had acted illegally by forcing a third of the country’s Supreme Court judges into early retirement, thus violating the principle of the irremovability of judges. The move by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party was widely seen as a power grab to end judicial independence and stack the benches with loyalists. It is part of a broader crackdown since 2016 on media and anything else that might challenge the party.

The EU’s first disciplinary action against a member state sends a strong message to others in the bloc inclined to step on democratic values. In addition, it is a reminder that national courts are required to implement EU law. The ruling also sends a signal to seven countries on the edges of Europe that are candidates to join.

Poland could now face punitive measures, such as a cutoff of EU funding or an end to its voting rights in European bodies. Even before the ruling, Polish leaders had put on hold their scheme to retire the judges.

Rule of law requires the independence of judges. It is the basis for ensuring individual freedoms and equality before the law. Polls show two-thirds of Europeans have positive feelings toward the EU. In Poland, such support is very high.

While the bloc’s popularity may be based on its economic opportunities and the freedom to travel, it is rule of law that holds it all together. Contrary to Mr. Putin’s view, liberal values are not becoming obsolete.

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 how God directs us all

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For one mother, an unexpected request to direct a school play became an opportunity to turn to God for guidance. Along the way, she learned more about everyone’s God-given ability to express qualities such as joy, energy, and creativity.


1. Learning how God directs us all

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When my oldest child was in upper elementary school, she and her friends couldn’t wait for “theater season,” when students take to the stage to sing, dance, don costumes, and transport themselves and their audiences into another world.

Unfortunately, at that point the awesome volunteers who had run the program before had moved on. When I asked the principal if we could resurrect the program, she said, “Sure, and you can run it.”

I was dumbfounded. I knew nothing about directing a play!

Yet, it seemed right that my daughter and her friends have this opportunity. So I said yes, and immediately started doing what I’ve found helpful countless times: praying.

I knew I could depend on God for guidance, wisdom, and direction that would benefit everyone involved. Not that God knew anything of this specific situation, but the Divine does know each of us in our true, spiritual identity as His child. God recognizes our innate goodness and ability to glorify Him in all we do and say. Jesus put it this way: “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). As God’s children, we express His infinite, intelligent nature. That is how God made us.

Christian Science uses “Soul” as a synonym to help describe the nature of God, based on the Bible. To me, this idea of God as divine Soul is so helpful in thinking about what happens onstage. Everyone, including actors and stage crew, has a God-given ability to express qualities of divine Soul, such as joy, energy, and creativity. As we embrace these qualities, they bloom and harmonize in beautiful ways in our character and activities.

So when I considered these ideas and thought about the students in the play, I thought to myself, “What a wonderful opportunity for them to find their ability to express Soul!”

As I did this, a sense of burden about making the production go smoothly fell away. Instead, I felt joy and excitement.

There were moments when I would forget who was truly in charge and feel as if I had to be my own source of inspiration and creativity. At these times, I felt so worried that I couldn’t sleep at night and would wonder, What was I thinking when I took this on?

Then I read an article about a way to think of auditioning from a spiritual perspective. In the Christian Science Sentinel, an author shared an idea that had come to her while preparing for an upcoming audition: that she was there to express, not to impress.

“How true,” I thought. It’s the same for all of us. We are created to express our God-given qualities and talents – to show forth the glory of God in our own individual expression of God’s beauty, light, and joy, which are reflected by all of us.

In many ways, our lives are like a play, I realized. So many ideas and events come together, allowing us to bloom and blossom so that we can bless others as well. And we can turn to God for direction at every step of the way.

By putting my hand in God’s every day, I felt divine inspiration that guided my decisions, and I knew what to tell the kids. And I mentally acknowledged that each of them had an inherent receptivity to God’s guidance as well. God inspires all of us to be the fullest expression of our true, joyful, loving, spiritual selves on and off the stage.

The production was a resounding success! Not only was the play well received, but the students went away with a higher sense of their own capabilities and confidence. And I gained a deeper trust in God and that we can lean on divine wisdom.

That play was just the beginning. My oldest is now a senior in high school, and I am amazed at how theater has become such a part of our family’s identity. Each of my children now participates in all aspects of theater, whether onstage or behind the scenes. I’ve continued to direct for the upper elementary school in town and have even branched off into our local Boys & Girls Club. Clearly, something much larger than that one play was in store for all of us!

No matter what the “production” – whether a musical, a work project, or any of life’s other activities – we can let God, divine Soul, our universal divine Father-Mother, direct and inspire us.


The week in photos (June 24-28)

Thomas Peter/Reuters
Photojournalists strive to capture moments that tell a full story, bringing news from the remotest corners of the globe in an instant. Through them we learn more about the world, and ourselves. Here is a roundup of photos from this week that Monitor photo editors found the most compelling.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us. Come back Monday. We’ll have a story on climate change and impermanence as Alaska scrambles to relocate the village of Quinhagak to a safer location that may itself one day become uninhabitable.

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