2019
July
12
Friday

Welcome to the Monitor Daily. Today we’re covering shifts in the U.S.-Iran confrontation, perceptions of sexual abuse allegations against the wealthy, what it’s like on-scene at the southern border, the culture and history of moon-related movies, and strange food at the Calgary Stampede rodeo.

But first, could President Trump lose Texas in 2020?  The state Republican Party is warning he could. It issued a fundraising email on Wednesday naming Texas “the most important swing state” in the next presidential election, Newsweek reports. If GOP voters don’t show up, the email said, Mr. Trump might lose the White House.

Part of this is hyperbole meant to open wallets. But it also reflects real concern. Democrat Beto O’Rourke nearly unseated GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last November. The state’s Hispanic population – and increasing numbers of educated whites – theoretically could turn Texas blue within a few years.

That brings us to the citizenship question and the census.

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 survey.

But Mr. Trump has ordered the government to glean that data from other records. And the underlying goal remains: eliminate noncitizens from the data used to draw political boundaries.

Republicans would benefit if the Supreme Court allows this switch. Texas is a great example why. Boundaries based on citizenship would enlarge the power of red rural areas. And Texas Republicans could gain two members of Congress.

Texas’ slide to the left could be slowed, or blocked.

Citizen-only districts probably won’t happen by 2020. But it’s an example of what’s at stake in battles over gerrymandering, voter ID, and other election issues. The structure of voting can determine whose voices count.

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1. US-Iran escalation: It’s message-sending, but the risks are high

The U.S. and Iran each want something. But they are expressing that through sanctions and military provocations. How high can they escalate tensions before it slips out of their control?

Peter
Jon Gambrell/AP
A pilot speaks to a crew member by an F/A-18 fighter jet on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea on June 3. In response to harsher U.S. sanctions, Iran has broken through uranium enrichment and stockpile limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

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While President Trump and Iran’s supreme leader have said they do not want war, the two countries have not been this close to open conflict since the 1980s. So what is the psychology of escalation at play? And how far can the tit-for-tat escalation go without spinning out of control?

Mr. Trump says the aim of his “maximum pressure” policy is to get Iran to negotiate a new deal that includes limiting its missile forces and curtailing regional proxies. For their part, Iranian officials vow that they will not negotiate under pressure and say America can’t be trusted.

“Iran’s strategy has shifted from strategic patience to escalation-for-escalation,” says Hassan Ahmadian, a political scientist at Tehran University. The Iranian aim, he says, is to impress a “realization of danger” upon the White House in a way that leads to “de-escalation at the end of the day.”

Wendy Sherman, chief U.S. negotiator of the 2015 nuclear deal, says Iran is “operating in a very careful way, both taking reversible steps, as well as doing this in a step-by-step process” to press Europe and others to break with the U.S. But, she adds, “this could spiral out of control quite quickly.”

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US-Iran escalation: It’s message-sending, but the risks are high

Another day, another step in the apparently inexorable escalation of U.S.-Iran tensions that has brought the arch-adversaries to the brink of war since President Donald Trump last year withdrew from the nuclear deal.

The escalation has included a U.S. “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign that has crippled Iran’s economy and targeted its supreme leader and elite Revolutionary Guard; incremental Iranian violations of the landmark 2015 deal; Iran shooting down a $130 million U.S. intelligence drone; and Mr. Trump at the last minute calling off a retaliatory surgical strike – while planes were reportedly mid-route.

The result: the U.S. and Iran have not been this close to open conflict since the 1980s.

Which raises two very pressing questions: What is the psychology of escalation at play? And how far can this tit-for-tat trajectory go without stumbling into a war that leaders on both sides say they don’t want?

Mr. Trump states that his aim is to pressure the Islamic Republic to negotiate a new deal that includes limiting Iran’s missile forces and curtailing regional proxies. But hawkish aides like his national security adviser, John Bolton, have argued for years for military strikes on Iran and regime change.

For their part, Iranian officials vow that they will not negotiate under pressure, state that America can’t be trusted, and declare – as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently did – that talking to the Trump administration would be poison “twice as deadly.”

And while Iran stuck to the nuclear deal for a year after the U.S. withdrawal – imploring the European Union, Russia, and China to uphold their side of the bargain, even if the U.S. did not, by providing Iran with economic benefits in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear program – analysts say the consensus has grown in Iran to take action.

“Realization of danger”

“Iran’s strategy has shifted from strategic patience to escalation-for-escalation,” says Hassan Ahmadian, a political scientist at Tehran University and research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“That’s because Iran cannot afford, I think, to live in a situation of strategic stalemate, so it has to change the situation, it has to create a way out of a stalemate that the Trump administration is trying to box Iran in,” says Mr. Ahmadian.

The Iranian aim, he says, is to impress a “realization of danger” upon the White House in a way that leads to “de-escalation at the end of the day.”

Iran “has no choice but to either accept U.S. diktats, so to speak, or do something to make the U.S. understand that [Iran] is not only sabre rattling, it can really turn ugly, and that Iran – though its power is not comparable with the United States, of course – can hurt the U.S. and its interests,” says Mr. Ahmadian. “It has decided to make that clear and very obvious for the United States. ... But we are on an escalatory road.”

Alex Brandon/AP/File
A year after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to increase sanctions on Iran, flanked by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, left, and Vice President Mike Pence, in the Oval Office, June 24, 2019.

And that road brings the risk of misreading signals and frequent miscalculation, of the kind that have plagued mutual U.S.-Iran hostility since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the pro-West Shah of Iran.

Yet rarely has the flow of vituperative rhetoric from both sides – a constant for more than four decades – been so closely connected to the risk of kinetic conflict.

In the past 12 days alone, Iran took its first steps to violate the nuclear deal, by increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium beyond agreed limits on July 1, and then on July 7 edging up its enrichment level from 3.67% purity to almost 5%.

Those steps barely bring Iran closer to the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, analysts say. But they mark a crucial step away from the deal and come with a 60-day deadline from Iran that it will take more dramatic steps unless pressure eases.

“Reversible steps”

“Iran is, I think, operating in a very careful way, both taking reversible steps, as well as doing this in a step-by-step process to put pressure on Europe, in particular, and Russia and China to break with the United States,” said Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator of the 2015 nuclear deal, in a call with journalists organized by the International Crisis Group.

“This could spiral out of control quite quickly,” said Ms. Sherman. “Without a doubt, both John Bolton and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo believe it is important to use every piece of pressure they can on Iran. If that leads to military conflict, so be it.”

Military action, she said, “would be not only dangerous, but disastrous.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump claimed in a tweet that Iran had been “secretly” enriching uranium – contrary to multiple reports by United Nations nuclear inspectors – and vowed that sanctions “will soon be increased, substantially!”

Also Wednesday, three Iranian boats “attempted to impede” a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, the United Kingdom said in a statement. Iran denied any role, yet earlier in the day, President Hassan Rouhani warned the U.K. of “consequences,” after British Marines seized a Syria-bound supertanker loaded with Iranian crude oil last week off the coast of Gibraltar.

Those events come as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said the U.S. was in discussions with other countries to create a naval task force to “ensure freedom of navigation” in waters close to Iran and Yemen.

Half a dozen tankers were struck with explosions in the Persian Gulf in May and June, causing modest damage. The U.S. blamed Iran, which denied involvement.

One possible overture from Iran may have been the June release of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman with U.S. residency, after four years in prison. Reuters quoted Western sources suggesting it was meant to communicate Iran’s desire to ease tensions, though Washington did not pursue it.

Rouhani under fire

Iran’s decision to breach the nuclear accord is, for the time being, “more political signaling than proliferation [risk],” said Rob Malley, a former Obama administration official who is now president of the International Crisis Group, on the organization’s call.

Iran’s message is that “things will continue to get worse, that Iran will continue along this escalatory ladder of moving away from the [nuclear deal] if things don’t change,” said Mr. Malley, who recently met with Iranian officials in Europe.

“In other words, telling the United States that, if it is engaged in brinkmanship by violating the [deal], then two can play this game,” he said.

Yet in Iran, Mr. Rouhani has been targeted for not acting forcefully enough, amid calls by hardliners to immediately boost uranium enrichment to 20% or higher, to completely reject the nuclear deal, and, in the Persian Gulf, to seize a British oil tanker in a reciprocal measure.

The hard-line Kayhan newspaper said new talks under current circumstances would be a “signal of weakness and playing in the U.S. game.”

And the Mizan news agency said that Iranian “firmness” would “draw more concessions” from world powers. It said there was a “time when our enemy did not tolerate even a single centrifuge to spin” in Iran, in the early 2000s, and noted that years later, when Iran had amassed thousands of centrifuges, “they had no choice but to give in and accept it.”

“That was not kindness from the Americans toward us, it was an achievement that we gained thanks to our own power,” wrote Mizan.

“The U.S. and its allies are wise to think twice before escalating,” says Mr. Ahmadian, from Tehran University. “Because Iranians really got into a situation where they cannot not answer, leave the escalation unanswered, because it will harm them internally, will harm their legitimacy, will harm the unity this policy has brought up.”

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2. In high-profile sex abuse cases, is balance of power shifting?

Prosecuting cases against wealthy defendants has often been an uphill battle for sex crime survivors. The Epstein case suggests a change in attitude – and the potential for greater equity.

Peter

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Friday’s resignation of Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta bookends a week that started with new charges against financier Jeffrey Epstein, a registered sex offender.

Secretary Acosta brokered a plea deal for Mr. Epstein more than a decade ago when he was a U.S. attorney, one that is now being scrutinized for legal inconsistencies, particularly with regard to notifying victims about the deal. The willingness of authorities to prosecute Mr. Epstein now sends a strong message to survivors that if they keep pressing forward, they will be heard, advocates say.  

It also represents a shift in public thinking about such cases. Given the exposure of Catholic Church and other high-level sexual abuse, and the #MeToo movement that has revealed sexual assaults by a wide range of powerful men in Hollywood and beyond, “there is a difference in the culture now and then with respect to rich people and sexual abuse. There’s less tolerance of it,” says Kenneth White, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. “The same power that lets you off easy, when the culture changes, can bring the focus back on you in a way that sinks you.”

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1. In high-profile sex abuse cases, is balance of power shifting?

New charges against Jeffrey Epstein have not yet been proven in court – and it could be years before any final resolution of the child sex trafficking case brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan Monday. 

But when the financier and registered sex offender went to jail this week, relief was palpable among a growing chorus of people who say he avoided serious criminal penalties more than a decade ago because of his extreme wealth and social connections.

The new criminal charges – and the resignation Friday morning of Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta for his role overseeing a plea deal for Mr. Epstein when he was a federal prosecutor – have stirred their hope that the balance of power may be shifting when it comes to pursuit of justice against high-profile people.

The willingness to prosecute Mr. Epstein sends a strong message “to other survivors, which is, ‘Keep pressing forward and one day you will be heard,’” says Michael Dolce, a Florida-based lawyer who handles sexual abuse cases at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

The persistence of some of Mr. Epstein’s Florida victims to challenge the plea bargain in federal court there, and a deep-dive investigative journalism project by the Miami Herald late last year, encouraged New York officials to pursue their own investigation.

On Thursday, Mr. Epstein requested a mansion and a jet be used as collateral in order to convince a judge to free him pending trial. It was an unsurprising offer by someone who has come to symbolize the outsized role that wealth, power, and fame can play in what is supposed to be a justice system blind to such factors. 

The judge will rule on the request on Monday. But whether Mr. Epstein remains in pre-trial custody or not, his story could now symbolize another step in the trends of rising female agency and demands for more fair applications of law.   

The Epstein saga also falls at the intersection of public opinion about criminal justice from both sides of the political aisle: concern on the left about gender inequality (some of it tied to President Donald Trump’s own behavior toward women and apparent immunity) and rumblings on the right about rich and powerful insiders appearing to be conspiring against the common man or woman.

“When it comes to criminal justice issues, conservatives have different views than Democrats, but … the trend for both groups has been toward transparency, toward concern for vulnerable victims, and a little less concern about street crimes like robbery,” says Justin Pickett, who studies the role of public opinion on criminal justice policy at University at Albany, SUNY.

Just two days before his resignation, Secretary Acosta had held a press conference to defend his work on the case as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida: “We believe that we proceeded appropriately, that, based on the evidence, there was value to getting a guilty plea and having him registered” as a sex offender, he said.

Andrew Harnik/AP
President Donald Trump speaks with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta (left) on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, July 12, 2019. Earlier, Secretary Acosta submitted his resignation, the result of fallout from his involvement in a previous plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago.

The leniency of the jail time Mr. Epstein served for pleading guilty to state charges, which ended up being 13 months instead of the planned-for 18, and which included large portions of time when he was allowed to leave for work release, surprised his office, Mr. Acosta said. He also acknowledged that “we expect a lot more transparency today. It’s very obvious that the victims feel that this was not a sufficient outcome.” 

Yet the deal, struck without the victims’ knowledge, had highly unusual circumstances at the time, and showed “great power [was] being brought to bear” by Mr. Epstein and his team of lawyers, says Kenneth White, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, and an expert on white-collar crime prosecutions.

Given the exposure of Catholic Church and other high-level sexual abuse, and the #MeToo movement that has revealed sexual assaults by a wide range of powerful men in Hollywood and beyond, “there is a difference in the culture now and then with respect to rich people and sexual abuse. There’s less tolerance of it,” Mr. White adds. “The same power that lets you off easy, when the culture changes, can bring the focus back on you in a way that sinks you.”

An uphill battle 

That’s not to say there isn’t still an uphill battle often for victims of sex trafficking, particularly if their abusers have wealth and social power. 

“When someone is really well connected, I think there genuinely is a huge fear that whatever [victims who come forward] try to do in life, they are then going to be blacklisted … because the influence is too great. ... It’s hard not to think the cards are stacked against you, and this guy is too powerful,” says Meredith Dank, a research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “It takes those people who continue trying to push that forward to inspire other people to do the same.”

Some of those initial victims in Florida have made progress in a federal lawsuit, where the judge earlier this year agreed the non-prosecution deal for Mr. Epstein violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because the victims were not consulted. That judge is currently considering whether the deal should be tossed out, which would allow for a federal prosecution in Florida to take place. 

In court on Monday, Mr. Epstein’s lead attorney, Reid Weingarten, likened the new charges to a “do-over” of the old case. “There was a belief that there was a global agreement” to resolve all potential federal charges against Mr. Epstein, Mr. Weingarten said, referring to the time the agreement was made.  

Greater prosecution, but of whom? 

A growing awareness of sex trafficking has led to some strong state and federal prosecutions of such crimes in recent years. 

Yet it’s also worth considering the degree to which sex trafficking convictions may pattern broader disparate outcomes depending on the race and socioeconomic level of the accused, Professor Dank says.

Among the 283 people charged with sex trafficking, peonage, slavery, or forced labor in U.S. district courts in 2015, 60 percent were black, 18 percent were Hispanic, and 20 percent where white, according to a report last year from the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice.

During a study including interviews in 2014 with men in prison for sex trafficking, some of the men of color drew a parallel to a “war-on-drugs kind of attack, where they are focused on people of color, particularly with an issue that affects people of all races and backgrounds,” and they believed more white men should be also identified and convicted for such crimes, says Professor Dank.

Those who have fewer resources often ended up taking plea deals and getting much harsher punishments than those who can hire expensive defense attorneys, Professor Dank notes. 

But it’s also important to keep in mind that sexual predators who have status in their community are “often thinking of how they are going to perpetrate crimes and prevent a victim from reporting,” so they target people who they know might have more difficulty getting jurors to see them as credible witnesses, says Jennifer G. Long, chief executive officer of AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women. 

The prosecutor’s job is to receive reports of crime without bias based on the status of the victim or the accused, Ms. Long says, and to do thorough investigations that “unmask perpetrators and find other victims.” They also need to help juries understand that someone can have a positive persona and reputation of good works in the community and still be a victimizer.

Some change, but how much?

Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York did succeed recently in gaining a sex trafficking conviction against Keith Raniere, a white man who had amassed some wealth through a cult-like organization he operated in the Albany area. It had attracted some wealthy and celebrity women as adherents.

But other examples suggest not enough has yet changed, some observers say. Just this month, two New Jersey judges were reprimanded for disregarding the severity of sexual assault crimes in order to hand out lighter sentences to defendants of means, says Michele Dauber, a sociologist and law professor at Stanford University.

In 2018, Professor Dauber led a recall effort of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky, who gave a Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, a light sentence after he committed a serious sexual assault. A solid majority of county voters agreed to remove him from the bench.  

“The outcry in the Epstein case and the New Jersey cases, and other cases across the country, make it clear that when voters are given the opportunity to weigh in on the issue of sexual violence, they strongly want to remove perpetrators and enablers from office,” says Professor Dauber, who this year launched the Enough is Enough Voter Project, a political action committee aiming to unseat public officials who face credible allegations of committing or enabling sexual misconduct. “Women, younger people, people of color, in particular, do not support public officials who make exceptions for privileged sex offenders. It’s not an issue of right or left. It’s an issue of right or wrong.”

Yet prosecutors often use discretion about which cases to pursue based on their assessment of how realistic it will be to gain a conviction. 

Part of Secretary Acosta’s explanation Wednesday for agreeing to the deal was that “victims were hesitant. ... Today’s world treats victims very, very differently. Today’s world doesn’t allow some of the victim-shaming that would have taken place at trial 12 years ago.” 

That explanation did not satisfy critics of the deal, and some of his statements were being directly refuted in the press by Thursday.  “It really struck me as a poor excuse, to blame the culture,” says Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization. It’s true that attitudes toward women who report sexual assault have improved, he says, but Mr. Epstein was accused of abusing minors, and “the country has long been firmly opposed to sexual abuse of children.” 

The new prosecution of Mr. Epstein doesn’t bring a guarantee, but does bring hope, Mr. Berkowitz says, that “if he’s convicted, the punishment is going to come a lot closer to fitting the crime.”

For help or concerns about a crime please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 

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3. Drawn to the US border, volunteers weave a safety net

The immigration debate tends to revolve around government policy. At the U.S.-Mexico border, our reporter found an army of everyday citizens compelled to offer help where officials cannot.

Peter

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Juanita Salazar Lamb had been following the news coverage of the border crisis, but was unsure whom to believe – people who say the migrants need asylum, or people who say they’re exploiting loopholes in immigration law.

“I just got tired of that,” she says. “I got tired of myself just posting angry emojis or little sad emojis [on Facebook]. It’s like, ‘This doesn’t do anything.’ So I just decided that I needed to come down here and help.”

She’s now part of an unofficial safety net, stitched together by nonprofits and volunteers. A year on from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, volunteers in the Rio Grande Valley have settled into something of a manic groove. The zero tolerance policy is no more, but the flow of migrants – primarily families from the Northern Triangle of Central America – has only increased. 

Volunteers head for the border for many different reasons. But they share a common purpose. “We are united,” says a high school teacher from Mercedes, Texas. “What matters is in here,” he says, pressing a finger to his heart. 

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Drawn to the US border, volunteers weave a safety net

Luis Guerrero has been going to the central bus station here for six years now. He still hasn’t bought himself a ticket.

It started when he saw a nun trying to help newly arrived migrants passing through the station and offered to translate for her. The migrants have kept coming, so he has kept making the ride to the station.

Of course, migrants are crossing into this part of Texas in numbers not seen in over a decade. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has already apprehended more migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year than any other year this century besides 2014. Mr. Guerrero has responded to this latest surge with the calm enthusiasm of a retired firefighter who rescued children from a submerged school bus three decades ago.

More than a year on from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy – which led to thousands of family separations and long lines across international bridges, and has overwhelmed courthouses, CBP facilities, and migrant detention centers across the southern border – volunteers in the valley like Mr. Guerrero have settled into something of a manic groove.

The zero tolerance policy is no more, but the flow of migrants – primarily families from the Northern Triangle of Central America – has only increased. News and government reports of migrant deaths, as well as “dangerous” and “squalid” conditions in government holding centers, have thrust the issues back into the national spotlight in recent weeks.

Immigration agencies on the border have been doing their best to handle an “extraordinarily challenging situation,” Kevin McAleenan, acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said Sunday on ABC’s “This week,” as he defended his agency’s treatment of migrants. Immigration lawyers, local officials, and volunteers across the border have also been feeling the strain.

Bus stations have been a consistent area of need, and that is where Juanita Salazar Lamb found herself this week after driving down to McAllen from Benton County in northwest Arkansas. She had been following the news coverage of the border crisis, unsure of whom to believe – people who say the migrants need asylum, or people who say they’re exploiting loopholes in immigration law; people who say they’re being treated horribly, or people who say they’re being treated well.

“I just got tired of that,” she says. “I got tired of myself just posting angry emojis or little sad emojis [on Facebook]. It’s like, ‘This doesn’t do anything.’ So I just decided that I needed to come down here and help.”

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Susan Law (left) and Juanita Salazar Lamb talk with recently released migrants at the McAllen, Texas, central bus station. Volunteers in the Rio Grande Valley have been going to local bus stations every day to help advise migrants before they board buses to unite with family.

A classic example 

It’s hot enough to boil water, but Joyce Hamilton still can’t shake the cold she’s had for weeks.

Thirteen months ago she and four friends formed a group, Angry Tias and Abuelas, focused on helping migrants on international bridges and reuniting separated families. The group expanded to a core of eight regular volunteers, and six months ago got a fiscal sponsorship from an Austin-based nonprofit (so it can attract donors even though it’s not yet recognized as a tax-exempt organization). 

“By August [2018] I just really, I didn’t feel like I had a center. I was just shaky a lot,” she says of the toll her work has taken over the past year.

As government policies have changed, the group has had to shift where it devotes resources. Last summer the Trump administration began expanding “metering” at ports of entry on the southern border, a 2016 policy that limits the number of people who can request asylum each day. (Its legality is being questioned in court.) In addition, in January the administration began implementing Migrant Protection Protocols, a policy also being challenged in court in which migrants may be returned to Mexico while their immigration case is proceeding.

International bridges are now mostly empty, while shelters in Mexican border cities are overwhelmed with migrants. Ms. Hamilton’s group is now focused on helping at the bus stations and sending money and supplies to shelters in Mexico.

Through it all, the Rio Grande Valley has been the busiest sector of the southern border this year, with over 266,000 apprehensions this fiscal year. The El Paso sector, which covers West Texas and New Mexico, has been the second busiest with almost 156,000 apprehensions. The vast majority have been families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

“We seem to be sustainable, but I think we’re going to need to do some reorganizing to keep ourselves healthy while we’re working,” Ms. Hamilton says.

Things have slowed down recently in her hometown of Harlingen, Texas. When she arrived at the local bus station on Monday morning – a station so busy on some days this summer she couldn’t hear herself talk – there was only one Guatemalan girl. It was her 18th birthday, so she had been released from the Norma Linda child detention center nearby and dropped off there.

The girl’s bus ticket – to Georgia, where she says her uncle lives – was for the next day, so Ms. Hamilton arranged for her to spend the night at Loaves & Fishes, a homeless shelter in Harlingen. The 18-year-old says she hopes to work in the U.S. and send back money to support her parents still living in rural Guatemala. After she had crossed the border into Arizona, she spent eight months in Norma Linda, an experience she had only a few complaints about.

“There were lots of rules,” she said in Spanish, fidgeting with a bracelet she had made at Norma Linda bearing the names of her grandparents.

“I made a couple of friends,” she added. “I’m going to miss them.”

The conditions that migrant children are being held in has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. In late June, doctors and lawyers reported that hundreds of children had been living for weeks without adequate food, water, and sanitation at a CBP station in Clint, Texas. A local pediatrician reported similarly dire conditions at a CBP station in McAllen, and this month the DHS inspector general reported “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention” of migrants in the Rio Grande Valley. Earlier this week, NBC News reported on allegations that migrant children had been sexually abused at a CBP station in Yuma, Arizona.

Border Patrol agents “are part of our community,” Ms. Hamilton notes, and she thinks that in some cases they’re being asked to do jobs they shouldn’t be. “If they started out with compassion,” she says, “they lost it somewhere along the line, because they’re overloaded.”

The immigration system needs to recognize immigrants as “our brothers and sisters, who come to us with a desire to be part of the community and a desire to work and contribute,” she adds. “I’ve met so many people like that in the bus stations and on the bridges.”

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Grace Gutierrez (left), Estela Cavazos (center), and Joyce Hamilton talk in a clothing storage room at the Loaves & Fishes homeless shelter in Harlingen, Texas. Volunteers have been mobilizing across the Rio Grande Valley over the past year to help the hundreds of migrants entering the region every day.

The Angry Tias, meanwhile, has developed into a kind of umbrella group. Donations have been pouring into the organization in recent weeks especially, as outrage over conditions in holding facilities has intensified, and the group is using those donations to support local volunteers. A 100-quart cooler for a bridge camp was bought with the money, for example.

At the same time, the Angry Tias is looking into getting support from national organizations. The Hispanic Federation, a New York-based nonprofit focused on supporting Hispanic communities, met with the group during a visit to the Rio Grande Valley this week while touring shelters.

“Joyce’s group is a classic example,” says Brent Wilkes, a senior vice president at the Hispanic Federation. Local people get upset about something, band together to do something about it, “and then gradually start to build an infrastructure,” he adds. “That’s really the story of all of the organizations we work with. Some of them [just did] that 30 years ago.

“What’s great about what’s happening in this area is they have pulled together to try and fill the needs that the government seems to be completely fumbling, and almost intentionally so,” he continues. “I mean, [Loaves & Fishes] wasn’t designed to host migrants, and yet here we are.”

Sunset on a bridge

Before the water is poured and the fried chicken shared, before boxes of ice pops are opened up and new board games passed around, Alejandro Rosel wants to make a quick speech on the Progreso International Bridge.

Mr. Rosel is, in a sense, where Ms. Hamilton was last year – a local doing what he can to help. He started bringing supplies to asylum-seekers on the bridge in January. Ms. Hamilton met him in April, when she began making trips, too. A cart that Mr. Rosel uses for the work was bought with donations received by the Angry Tias.

The setting sun continues to send boiling hot temperatures down on the bridge, and the two-dozen Cuban and Venezuelan asylum-seekers camped out on the Mexican end of the bridge gather round to listen to the high school teacher from nearby Mercedes, Texas. My family were immigrants too, he tells them in Spanish. In fact, my father was deported to Mexico 87 times, he says. My mother was deported five times.

“We are united,” says Mr. Rosel, whose T-shirt reads “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop.” “What matters is in here,” he says, pressing a finger to his heart.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify a statement by Brent Wilkes, a senior vice president at the Hispanic Federation.

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On Film

4. Movies that capture the moon’s wonder

Big-screen lunar offerings have grabbed the public's imagination. Our reviewer shares his thoughts on how they've influenced our perceptions of space.

Peter
AP/File
French magician and toymaker Georges Méliès’ semi-animated short film “Le voyage dans la lune” (“A Trip to the Moon”) is a genre favorite.

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Until the Apollo 11 mission, moon movies were primarily the province of the frazzled reaches of sci fi, with their stiff, stalwart performers and chintzy production designs and dunderheaded plots. Some of them, though, such as the 1950 Technicolor “Destination Moon,” weren’t half bad. (It won an Oscar for special effects.) 

The schlock mostly disappears from moon movies after Apollo 11, at a time when special effects technology had also vastly improved. On the ascendant were either documentaries that often relied heavily on archival NASA footage or dramas, such as Ron Howard’s 1995 “Apollo 13” and Damien Chazelle’s 2018 “First Man,” featuring more “personal” depictions. 

The reliance on humanizing the astronauts in, for example, “Apollo 13” was an attempt to provide what the documentaries didn’t: a theatrical framework for more personalized stories, employing actors, such as Tom Hanks, who were more emotionally expressive than their real-life counterparts. Similarly, “First Man” tried to demythologize Neil Armstrong, depicting him as a man of deep feeling, however submerged. Lowering Armstrong to the level of an ordinary man was a losing battle. The beauty of heroism will always reside in the extraordinary.

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Movies that capture the moon’s wonder

I remember watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on television as a teenager and thinking, “This is the most transcendent film I’ve ever seen.” I had, of course, watched many a moon movie over the years, but witnessing the real deal was a vastly different experience. 

Not that, prior to Apollo 11, I imagined the lunar surface was made of green cheese. But the moon, up until that time, occupied an especially pulpy place in the cinematic firmament. It was a genre for which I retained an abiding affection, for even sci-fi schlock is capable of conveying a sense of wonder.

This wonderment shows up from the very beginnings, in 1902, with the French magician and toymaker Georges Méliès’ charming semi-animated short “A Trip to the Moon,” with its iconic shot of a rocket landing splat in the eye of the unamused Man in the Moon. 

Many of the moon’s inhabitants turn out to be prancing pixies who, when clobbered by the arriving astronauts, vanish in a puff of smoke. As moon people in the movies go, these creatures are among my favorites, although a close runner-up would be the cat women in unitards in 1953’s “Cat-Women of the Moon.” But I digress.

The first moon movie with any kind of scientific credence was Fritz Lang’s 1929 “Woman in the Moon,” which had the input of German scientists and featured such innovations as a multistage rocket, cinema’s first launch countdown, and reclining astronauts restrained by foot straps in zero gravity. Of course, the film was also replete with scientific howlers, including the breathable atmosphere on the far side of the moon. Who knew?

Until the Apollo 11 mission, moon movies were primarily the province of the frazzled reaches of sci fi, with their stiff, stalwart performers and chintzy production designs and dunderheaded plots. Some of them, though, such as the 1950 Technicolor “Destination Moon,” aren’t half bad. (It won an Oscar for special effects.) The film’s premise is that private industrialists finance a spacecraft to the moon. Doesn’t seem so far-fetched now. Another favorite is 1964’s  “First Men in the Moon,” which is based on an H.G. Wells novel and features giant caterpillars and insectoids. 

The schlock mostly disappears from moon movies after Apollo 11, and this makes sense. Neil Armstrong, to my knowledge, never encountered any insectoids. Also, special effects technology had vastly improved. On the ascendant were either documentaries that often relied heavily on archival NASA footage or dramas, such as Ron Howard’s 1995 “Apollo 13” and Damien Chazelle’s 2018 “First Man,” featuring more “personal” depictions. 

The best of the documentaries are 1989’s “For All Mankind,” which blended the various moon missions into a single seemingly seamless flight; 2007’s “In the Shadow of the Moon,” which showcased remastered NASA footage along with interviews conducted with all the surviving crew members from every single Apollo mission (except for Armstrong); and, most recently, “Apollo 11,” which featured, without narration or contemporary interviews and utilizing newfound NASA footage, the entire mission from pre-liftoff to post-recovery.

The reliance on humanizing the astronauts in, for example, “Apollo 13” was an attempt to provide what the documentaries didn’t: a theatrical framework for more personalized stories, employing actors, such as Tom Hanks, who were more emotionally expressive than their real-life counterparts. Similarly, “First Man” tried to demythologize Armstrong, depicting him as a man of deep feeling, however submerged. But, as Ryan Gosling played him, he was a riddle who remained so.

Universal Pictures/AP/File
Tom Hanks (left), Kevin Bacon (center), and Bill Paxton star in “Apollo 13.” The 1995 film, directed by Ron Howard, is among those that personalize the stories of astronauts.

And yet, in all these movies, including even the schlock, a sense of awe still prevails. Especially the documentaries and post-Apollo 11 movies offer up an unapologetic vision of bravery and an unfettered idealism intended to unite the world. The title of “For All Mankind” is meant to be taken literally. 

Lowering Armstrong to the level of an ordinary man in “First Man” was a losing battle. The beauty of heroism will always reside in the extraordinary.

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5. Come for the rodeo, stay for the bug-covered ice cream

State fairs are all about weird, deep-fried midway food. But lemonade full of edible flowers? Octopus on a stick? Bug-covered ice cream? The Calgary Stampede pushes already extended boundaries even further.

Peter
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Brian Lokhorst eats a “Monster Bug Bowl” – ice cream with bugs on top, including a big June bug and silkworms – while his wife, Nancy, reacts during a food tour at the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta. About 30 bug bowls are sold each day.

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A decade ago, the food available to visitors to the Calgary Stampede, the annual rodeo that celebrates Canadian prairie culture, fell into two categories: traditional fair treats like mini-donuts or candy apples, and standard summer foods like hot dogs.

But today, the midway menu offers a rite of passage that fits perfectly with the spirit of barrel racing and steer wrestling. Food writer Gwendolyn Richards says she approaches the new foods list published prior to Stampede each year with equal anticipation and dread. “I can’t wait to see what insane concoctions the vendors have come up with,” she says.

Sometimes the quest for novelty creates a dish surprisingly tasty, like “The Pickle Pizza.” But it’s the extreme items that generate the most chatter. There’s the “Octo Lolly,” literally an octopus on a stick, and the spicy “Cherry Bomb Pizza,” which seems tame enough until the popping candy and maraschino cherries are added.

The “Monster Bug Bowl” is the most daring dish at the 2019 Calgary Stampede: ice cream topped with grasshoppers, silkworms, and a big June beetle. Customers either call it “not bad,” says stand owner Mark Noble, “or they are dry-heaving as they eat it.”

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Come for the rodeo, stay for the bug-covered ice cream

When the teenager scooping ice cream for his summer job at Monster Cones suggests chocolate chip cookie dough or Moose Tracks, it’s not for the flavors.

“I recommend something chunkier,” he tells the group earnestly. “To mask the bugs.”

If they were wary at that point, it gets worse when their sundae – rocky road served in a homemade waffle cup – arrives, and there is no mistaking the toppings for nuts or diced marshmallows. “We have silkworm here, we have grasshoppers over there, and this guy on top is a June beetle.”

Most of the tour steps back. But Calgary resident Brian Lokhorst spoons up the giant black bug – the “cherry” atop the “Monster Bug Bowl” – with a generous helping of ice cream. He puts the whole thing in his mouth, chewing slowly while the group shrieks, and then he swallows as bystanders look at him with awe, before breaking into hearty applause.

Welcome to the latest spectacle of the Calgary Stampede, the annual rodeo that celebrates Canadian prairie culture and bills itself as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Food vendors line the midway at the Calgary Stampede. There are 175 food vendors at the Stampede this year, offering 90 new foods.

In a 10-day fair that traces its roots to the 1886 Calgary Exhibition, invented as a forum of exchange for western agricultural practice, extreme eating has become part of Stampede culture, alongside the rodeo, free pancake breakfasts, and chuck wagon races.

A decade ago, James Radke, the manager of midway operations, says the food available to Stampede visitors fell into two categories: traditional fair treats like mini-donuts or candy apples, and standard summer foods like hot dogs.

But he says the Food Network and the burgeoning foodie movement inspired him beyond the usual fried fare, and the Stampede joined the race toward over-the-top foods. They started with simple fusions that are still on display today, like bacon pancakes or funnel cake pizza.

And it’s gotten wilder ever since, turning into a “Fear Factor”-esque rite of passage that fits perfectly with the spirit of barrel racing and steer wrestling. “People started to egg each other on,” says Mr. Radke. “That’s when it all started, when food became a sport.”

It’s now become a “thing,” says Calgary food writer Gwendolyn Richards. She approaches the new foods list published prior to Stampede each year with equal anticipation and dread. “I can’t wait to see what insane concoctions the vendors have come up with,” she says. But when she’s asked to be an official judge, like this year, “it means I have to put some of those things in my mouth.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
James Radke, manager of midway operations, tries a pickle pizza at Rick's Pizza on a dare with the writer.

Sometimes the quest for novelty creates a dish surprisingly tasty, like “The Pickle Pizza.” Tristan Ukmar, whose family created the pie with Mr. Radke’s input, says they experimented in the months before Stampede with various bases, from pesto to pickled olive oil. They settled on a dill ranch dressing, covered in mozzarella cheese and slices of pickles in the place of pepperoni. “My mom is eating a slice a day,” he says. “She never eats pizza.”

Mr. Radke says the midway has witnessed five years of falling pizza sales, but this year he suspects that trend is over.

The food tour, named “Take a Bite Outta Stampede” and available to the general public this year, stops at a stall selling fried artichoke hearts – even here in “Cowtown” the vegetarian movement is gaining ground, tour guide Lisa Conboy says – and at a lemonade stand that is offering an exquisitely prepared version with edible flowers. We stop at a dumpling truck, whose signature dish this year is a lobster-filled wonton with truffle mayo and a side of lobster tail encrusted in edible gold.

But it’s the extreme items, typically on offer just a year before being retired for new inventions, that generate the most chatter. There’s the “Octo Lolly,” literally an octopus on a stick, and the spicy “Cherry Bomb Pizza,” which seems tame enough until the popping candy and maraschino cherries are added.

There are deep-fried chicken skins and chicken hearts on a stick – influenced by Asian foods that Mr. Radke says are hot this summer. There’s also a craze for all things dill, hence pickle cotton candy and pickle ice cream served in a cone with a pickle sticking out.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Rose lemonade with edible flowers is offered during a food tour at the Calgary Stampede.

The food tour stops at Big CoCo’s Corndogs, made famous last year by their “Tornado,” a hot-dog-stuffed pickle with a deep-fried tortilla exterior.

“Delicious,” says Scott Dennis, who conceived of the item. “So then we thought, ‘Everyone loves chocolate. Let’s throw some chocolate in there.’”

And that’s the genesis behind this year’s “Snickle Dog,” which Mr. Dennis admits is less about the deep-fried hot dog-pickle-Snickers combination. “It’s the out-there-ness,” he says.

Indeed, Nancy Lokhorst seems to be his target audience. “I’m glad I tried it because it’s weird,” she says, “and I wanted to do something weird but that wasn’t disgusting.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
David Pelletier tries a cotton candy taco during a food tour at the Calgary Stampede. It was his favorite offering on the tour.

Her husband is not so concerned about the disgusting part. Indeed, the “Monster Bug Bowl” is the most daring of the foods at the 2019 Calgary Stampede.

Monster Cones owner Mark Noble says they’ve sold about 30 bug bowls a day. Customers either call it “not bad,” he says, “or they are dry-heaving as they eat it.”

He and his staff have given their toppings a try and agree the bugs taste like sawdust. Mr. Lokhorst, understated in comparison to his feat, says the beetle tasted “not good” and a little “leggy.”

There’s one person – besides this writer – who will have nothing to report back: Mr. Radke himself, the brainchild of the Stampede smorgasbord.

“Oh, I’m a traditionalist. I don’t even go near those foods,” he says. “I’m a bratwurst with sauerkraut kind of guy.”

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The Monitor's View

Why Amazon ‘upskills’ its workers

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In Hollywood rom-coms, a frequent plot twist occurs when someone suddenly realizes a helpful friend can be a true love. Scales drop from their eyes as they recognize what is right in front of them. Something like that is now happening in American companies seeking to innovate. With near-record low unemployment in the United States, executives realize their own workers, rather than new hires, may be the very talent they’re looking for. Employees just need to be “upskilled.”

On Thursday, Amazon gave a good example in how to tap internal talent. It announced plans to retrain a third of its workforce in the U.S. by 2025. The company is showing a renewed faith in its workers to expand their skills. And for workers who participate, it shows a faith in Amazon’s knowledge of market and technology trends in forecasting the types of skills needed in the future.

Many countries are in an “innovation movement,” says British researcher Ben Ramalingam. Much of that innovation, he says, comes from improved qualities of thought, such as adaptation, humility, and patience in the workplace. The upside to upskilling is in recognizing what already exists in employees.

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Why Amazon ‘upskills’ its workers

In Hollywood rom-coms, a frequent plot twist occurs when someone suddenly realizes a helpful friend can be a true love. Scales drop from their eyes as they recognize what is right in front of them. Something like that is now happening in American companies seeking to innovate. With near-record low unemployment in the United States, executives realize their own workers, rather than new hires, may be the very talent they’re looking for. Employees just need to be “upskilled.”

On Thursday, Amazon gave a good example in how to tap internal talent. It announced plans to retrain a third of its workforce in the U.S. by 2025. The $700 million initiative will offer various programs for an estimated 100,000 workers to take on new careers – even if many later leave the company.

Amazon’s goal is quite ambitious given that its current retraining programs, which began in 2012, have attracted only about 12,000 of its U.S. employees. Still, the company is showing a renewed faith in its workers to expand their skills. And for workers who participate, it shows a faith in Amazon’s knowledge of market and technology trends in forecasting the types of skills needed in the future.

Such a “build, not buy” talent strategy takes a skill all its own. Employers must know the ambitions, learning capacity, and skill sets of current workers. They must ask workers for input and be transparent about the quality of retraining as well as the quality of their job forecasts. They must also fend off pressure from company shareholders who too often expect mass hiring and firing.

About a quarter of existing U.S. jobs will be disrupted by advances in artificial intelligence and other forms of automation, according to a recent Brookings Institution report. The affected jobs range from cooks to truck drivers. Yet organizations are also spending more on worker training. In 2017, they spent around $1,300 per employee, up 8% from 2013, according to the Association for Talent Development.

The higher spending shows workers may be more flexible, curious, and open to new ideas in today’s churn of occupations. Many countries are in an “innovation movement,” says British researcher Ben Ramalingam. Much of that innovation, he says, comes from improved qualities of thought, such as adaptation, humility and patience in the workplace. The upside to upskilling is in recognizing what already exists in employees.

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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.

Defending journalistic freedom

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As the Global Conference for Media Freedom that took place this week in London makes plain, being a journalist can too often be a dangerous vocation. The good work of revealing what’s true and exposing evil deserves our prayers to help give strength to those standing for truth.

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Defending journalistic freedom

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Each morning, I listen for a thump at my front door, which indicates the local newspaper has arrived. I don’t always agree with the paper’s editorial positions, but I never think about injuring or killing any of the writers!

Tragically, not everyone thinks this way. According to UNESCO’s tracking of journalistic freedom, from 2006 to 2016 close to 930 journalists were killed for reporting the news.

While some are “outsiders,” 9 out of 10 victims are citizens of the country where they are killed, and these figures don’t include the many cases of harassment or injury inflicted on journalists. This year the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed Nov. 2 as “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.”

As I’ve been praying about this issue, I’ve been reminded of the efforts of Jesus and his disciples in spreading the “good news” of God’s love for humanity. They weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms either. The local religious authorities weren’t very pleased by Jesus exposing their hypocrisy, nor did they care for all that he was saying about loving one another, rising above local prejudices, and his practice of healing the sick, even raising the dead. Jesus was persecuted for the truth he taught and proved, and so were his followers.

While not all reporters are equally committed to honesty and factual reporting, and while the reports of even the best of today’s reporters are not stories for all time such as the ones in the Bible, the best efforts of the world’s journalists are needed to expose wrongdoing, as well as highlight right-doing.

This good work of revealing the truth and exposing evil deserves our prayers. When done honestly and with pure motives, it actually has its source in God, divine Truth, which by its very nature reveals what is true and God-ordained, and gives strength to those who are standing for truth. Equally, it uncovers and destroys that which is not truthful, lawful, or principled.

Jesus said, “There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known” (Matthew 10:26). And Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, recognized from her own experience interacting with the press that accurate reporting is essential. She founded The Christian Science Monitor as a result, giving it the mission “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 353).

Despite the profound sweetness of that idea, reporters acting under its mandate recognize that to “bless all mankind” includes exposing evils that need to be recognized and addressed as well as finding green shoots of promise where good is breaking through.

In 1995, Monitor correspondent David Rohde uncovered the suspected mass graves of thousands of Muslims killed in Srebrenica. He was captured and held captive for 10 days until a flurry of diplomatic efforts won his release from a Bosnian Serb jail, and his exposé went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

As citizens – no matter what our country – we each can play a part in this work of praying to protect the world’s journalists. The Bible says, “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Psalms 62:11).

Our prayers for journalists can recognize God’s power as a protecting force in their lives and in our cities, towns, and countries. As another psalm puts it, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalms 91:11). Those angels are powerful thoughts that give strength in time of need. And they also guide us to right actions that support truth – whether we are journalists ourselves or praying in support of them.

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Viewfinder

Preparing for the storm

David J. Phillip/AP
Diana Moreno carries a sandbag to her vehicle July 12, 2019, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ahead of Tropical Storm Barry. The National Weather Service in New Orleans says water is already starting to cover some low lying roads in coastal Louisiana as Barry approaches the state from the Gulf of Mexico.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 15th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back Monday. We’ll have an on-scene report on weather recovery from the New Orleans region.

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