2019
August
12
Monday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Welcome to your Daily. Today we look at U.S. guns crossing borders, a risky repositioning in the Mideast, new perspective on Guatemala, how Woodstock still reverberates, and what’s up with 5G

But first, a look at perseverance and adaptation. 

Thursday’s report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did more than lay out the sobering scope of desertification and land degradation and the implications for feeding the world. It also hinted at hope. 

“The good news is [that] there’s ample room for mitigation,” Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, told CNN. One key piece, he and others say: coaxing more productivity from land. Technological innovation will help. Both consumer and land-use practices will need to shift worldwide. What about local action? 

Last fall, the Camp fire burned more than 153,000 acres in Northern California and erased the town of Paradise (most of its population remains displaced). But as Martin Kuz reported in May, some residents emerged with renewed purpose. 

And more recently, ecosystem restoration there has become hands-on. In pockets, reports Yes! Magazine, residents are trying permaculture. In its fullest form that’s an approach where native crops and animals are positioned to help one another thrive – think nut trees surrounded by farmed pigs. The self-sustaining, soil-enriching cycle that results can dramatically boost per-acre yields.

“Welcome to the experiment!” Matthew Trumm, founder of the Camp Fire Restoration Project, tells those who have turned up to help. (His own work was inspired by an agronomist’s mid-1990s project in China.) 

Already taking root in parts of Paradise: a constructive outlook to pass along. 

“Because you’re bringing the next generation [into] thinking about this stuff,” said Mr. Trumm, “you’re healing that next generation.”

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1. Illegal border crossing: How U.S. guns wind up in Canada and Mexico

Security is a two-way street. The cross-border movement of migrants gets more media attention because of its direction; we asked our reporters to look at reactions to traffic in U.S.-originating guns.

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Guns bought from vendors in the United States and then smuggled illegally abroad are a fact of life across the Americas. But the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this month have emboldened foreign stances against lax U.S. gun laws and shifted conversations about what that means for crime and safety north and south of the U.S. border.

Weaker gun regulations in the U.S. have long undermined Canada’s much stricter rules, as guns get trafficked north. The U.S. massacres came the same weekend as 17 shootings in 14 different incidents across Toronto. Border Security Minister Bill Blair said Canada could reduce violence with more money toward stopping guns from the U.S., which he called “the greatest arsenal in the world.”

Some 70% of guns recovered by law enforcement in Mexico and sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) between 2011 and 2016 were originally purchased from a licensed U.S. dealer. And of course, more than a third of those killed were Mexican citizens – prompting a withering response from Mexico.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged U.S. leaders to reflect upon the “indiscriminate sale of guns.” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard went further, threatening to open up a terrorist probe across the border.

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1. Illegal border crossing: How U.S. guns wind up in Canada and Mexico

America’s neighbors have long lived with the cross-border creep of U.S. gun culture – sometimes with outrage, often with a sense of resignation.

But the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this month have emboldened foreign stances against lax U.S. gun laws and shifted conversations about what that means for crime and safety north and south of the U.S. border.

The shooting inside a Walmart in El Paso that claimed 22 lives in a matter of minutes was far more than just an American tragedy. More than a third of the victims counted in the death toll were Mexican citizens – prompting a rare, withering response south of the border.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged U.S. leaders from both parties to consider and reflect upon the “indiscriminate sale of guns,” he said in a press conference after the attack. Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard went further, threatening to open up a terrorist probe across the border.

“It is unusual in the sense that it’s trying to send a stronger message that the gun problem is a bi-national problem,” says David Ramirez, who heads the security program at México Evalúa, a Mexico City think tank that evaluates government action.

American guns bought from vendors in the U.S. and then smuggled illegally abroad are a fact of life across the Americas. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, using data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), some 70% of guns recovered by law enforcement in Mexico and sent to the ATF for tracing between 2011 and 2016 were originally purchased from a licensed dealer in the U.S. Some estimates put the number of U.S. weapons smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico at over 200,000 a year.

Mexican officials, in their fight against drug violence, have long pleaded with the U.S. to stem the southward flow of guns. Former President Felipe Calderón famously had a billboard erected in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, that read “No More Weapons,” spelled out with confiscated, destroyed weapons.

Alfredo Guerrero/Mexico Presidency/Reuters/File
Mexican President Felipe Calderón glances toward a sign reading “No More Weapons,” next to the Cordova-Americas international border crossing bridge in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, in February 2012. The sign was taken down in June 2015.

But most of his presidency – and the Mexican focus generally – has been on perpetrators and rampant impunity in Mexico. That’s especially true as the “drug war” started under Mr. Calderón consumed Mexican politics.

“When violence started in 2007, my perception was everything was drug-related. The drug war seemed to be everything, despite the fact that other forms of violence were also rising,” says Eugenio Weigend, associate director for gun violence prevention at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the analysis.

That is also despite research showing that when the U.S. assault weapon ban expired in 2004, Mexican municipalities on the border with the U.S. saw a spike in homicides, he says.

“I do see some recognition now that this is beyond drugs, and that guns play a major, major role,” Mr. Weigend says. That includes think tanks, students, and civil society groups speaking out more against the implications of U.S. gun flows to Mexico.

In Canada, attitudes about guns are toughening too – as Canadians have gotten spooked that the violence south of the border is moving north.

The El Paso and Dayton shootings made front-page news in Canada, but it came alongside domestic stories of Canada’s own gun problems. Over what was a long weekend in Toronto, local headlines were dominated by 17 shootings in 14 different incidents across the city.

Weaker gun regulations in the U.S. have long undermined Canada’s much stricter rules, as guns get trafficked north. Last week Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said Canada could reduce violence with more money towards stopping guns from the U.S., which he called “the greatest arsenal in the world.”

‘I think we are at a tipping point’

But as gun incidents have increased, especially in Toronto, the government is facing new pressure for more gun control, including with a ban on handguns.

One group on the forefront pushing for tougher laws is the Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns (CDPG), which was formally launched in February. The group’s leading voice is Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon in Toronto who says she is increasingly in the operating room dealing with gunshot injuries, including after a rare mass shooting on a Toronto street on a summer evening that killed two girls just over a year ago.

CDPG’s work would be aided by tougher American gun laws, Dr. Ahmed says, as a significant percentage of guns used in crime in Canada come from the U.S. “I certainly would like to see a decrease in the proliferation of guns in the U.S.; that would certainly make our job in Canada easier.”

But the group has applied pressure on politicians at home, calling for an outright ban on handguns and assault-style weapons. They support the passage of Bill C-71 this spring, which tightens record keeping requirements and other regulations for gun owners. But they say the government must go much farther, and that for too long Canada has compared itself to the U.S. instead of peers with similar restrictive gun cultures like the United Kingdom. “I think we are at a tipping point,” Dr. Ahmed says.

As groups have pushed for tighter gun laws, especially ahead of federal elections in October, gun advocates have pushed back in U.S.-style polarization around guns that is new for Canada.

Tracey Wilson, vice president of public relations for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, says a mass shooting in the U.S. always gets intertwined with the situation at home, especially when sharing attention with Toronto violence. “It sort of triggers people to be afraid that the violence that we see here could increase to that level. And I think it's valid that they have concerns about that, because I think we all do,” she says. “However, you know all the evidence is extremely clear, and Canadians know it's not sport shooters and duck hunters running around the streets shooting people up.”

The CDPG – who criticize the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights for adopting NRA-style harassment tactics, which the coalition denies – say this takes away from the issue at hand. “There's a simple irrefutable fact, which is the less guns there are in the country the less deaths and injuries there are in the country from guns no matter where they're from,” says Philip Berger, the former chief of family and community medicine at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and a founder of the CDPG.

According to Statistics Canada, firearm-related crime has gone up by 42% since 2013. Each year since 2009, about six in ten firearm-related violent crimes involved handguns.

An opportunity for Mexico?

Mexico has seen an uptick in gun violence too. It recorded its highest homicide rate in history in 2018. Mexico's Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection released a report showing over 33,300 intentional homicides last year. That was a 15 percent increase over 2017, which previously held the record. The Center for American Progress study also shows an increase in recent years in guns used in homicides in Mexico.

But it’s the current political climate that could firm up the government’s pressure on the U.S. The current Mexican government has ceded to President Trump’s demands that it staunch the flow of Central American migrants heading to the U.S. or face tariffs. Mexican officials want to show the public that they can get something back.

And the El Paso shooting in particular – an attack in a Latino city that the Spanish newspaper El País called greatest racist crime against Hispanics in modern United States history” – is a point of mobilization.

John Lindsay-Poland, a U.S.-based researcher and activist for stopping U.S. legal arms sales to Mexico, says it shifts attention among the Mexican public to the white nationalist threat that they face – and to focus attention on the gun politics that are changing in the U.S.

“The current of controlling guns and of preventing gun violence in the United States has grown enormously, so I do think there's a possible inflection point within the U.S. And for Mexicans I think that becomes an important piece because so many Mexicans are just resigned that things are never going to change,” he says. “But I think it is possible to achieve some changes that would be meaningful for Mexico and not just meaningful for the U.S.”

“They could begin to frame the violence in Mexico as around guns not, not just around criminal organizations, impunity, or drugs.”

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2. What Russian deal? Israel and Jordan cast wary eye toward Syria.

The setting of hard lines, with consequences, is as standard in foreign policy as it is in parenting. As one analyst says, citing southern Syria, it’s also “a game of brinkmanship where you can lose control.”

Ammar Awad/Reuters
Israeli soldiers stand at a lookout point near the cease-fire line between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 25, 2019.

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Russia, the main power broker in Syria, pledged to both Israel and Jordan in 2018 that security arrangements for the south would keep Iranian forces 70 to 80 kilometers from their borders. Israel and Jordan took that pledge to include Iran’s proxies, especially Hezbollah.

But one year later evidence is solidifying that the Lebanese Shiite militant group has become increasingly entrenched in the area. Former Free Syrian Army rebels who have returned to their hometowns in southern Syria after an amnesty agreement with the Assad regime say Hezbollah is effectively “governing” several towns and villages.

Now concern is growing among Israel, Jordan, and regional analysts that an unintended and potentially “devastating” escalation may be around the corner. “Russia promised that the Iranians and militias would be driven out from southern Syria, and Russia did not deliver the goods,” says Ely Karmon, at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel.

“We want the U.S. to maintain a presence in Syria, but also to provide diplomacy to give everyone an off-ramp,” says one Arab diplomat, who requested anonymity. “If the U.S. does not create that ramp, we don’t know who can.”

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What Russian deal? Israel and Jordan cast wary eye toward Syria.

With the United States increasing pressure on Iran, concerns are rising that southern Syria could be a flashpoint for growing tensions between Iran and the U.S., Israel, and the Arab world.

It became clear in 2018 that Syria’s Russia- and Iran-backed president, Bashar al-Assad, had emerged as the victor in his country’s civil war. And Russia, the main power broker, pledged to both Israel and Jordan that security arrangements for southern Syria would keep Iranian forces 70 to 80 kilometers (43 to 50 miles) from their borders.

Israel and Jordan took that pledge to include Iran’s proxies, especially the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

But one year later evidence is solidifying that Hezbollah has become increasingly entrenched in the area, and Russia now appears either unable, or unwilling, to deliver on its pledge.

With U.S. diplomacy also notably diminished on Syria, concern is growing among Israel, Jordan, and regional analysts that an unintended and potentially “devastating” escalation may be around the corner in which no one would be able to back down.

“Russia promised that the Iranians and militias would be driven out from southern Syria, and Russia did not deliver the goods,” says Ely Karmon, senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel.  

The alleged Russian response to Israel? The agreement concerned Iranian forces, not their agents.

Tit for tat

After Hezbollah sent thousands of fighters in 2013 to prop up President Assad, Israel began a campaign of surgical strikes against Hezbollah and Iranian military installations and leaders near the Israeli-held Golan Heights and weapons convoys headed toward Lebanon.

Unwilling to take sides in the civil war, Israel refrained from targeting Syrian regime forces, focusing instead on preventing Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards from establishing a second northern front on the Golan.

Iran and its militias, consumed with bolstering Mr. Assad’s flagging forces, refrained from responding in force.

It was a low-level tit for tat: Israel would strike Iranian bases or a missile convoy; Hezbollah would fire on Israeli military patrols or bases on the Golan.

“The Israelis have been careful with what they have targeted, and the targets have concluded that now is not the time to push back,” says Jon Alterman, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

The containment had worked. Until now.

Hezbollah cements its presence

Israel’s containment policy is now reaching its limits, with Hezbollah and Iranian proxies reportedly embedding themselves in southern Syria.  

According to security sources and analysts, Hezbollah has 7,000 to 10,000 forces across Syria, with another 8,000 to 12,000 Shiite fighters loyal to Iran from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen that coordinate with the Lebanese group.

But as Mr. Assad cemented his control over the country in the last year, security sources say Hezbollah’s presence in southern Syria has grown dramatically – with reportedly 1,000 fighters in the Daraa region near Jordan and in Quneitra, facing Israeli forces on the Golan.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
Uniformed men ride in a pickup truck in Quneitra, on the Syrian side of the cease-fire line between Israel and Syria, as seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, July 26, 2018. Hezbollah fighters in the area are said to wear Syrian uniforms to avoid Israeli fire.

Former Free Syrian Army rebels who have returned to their hometowns in southern Syria after an amnesty agreement with the regime say Hezbollah is effectively “governing” several towns and villages.

Hezbollah and Shiite militias patrol areas dressed as uniformed Syrian regime forces in order to avoid being hit by Israeli airstrikes, they say, or, more frequently, deploy former rebel fighters to patrol areas and provide intelligence directly to the Iran-backed paramilitary group.

“Either you answer to Hezbollah, or you leave,” says Abu Mohammed, a former rebel who had previously lived in Jordan and did not wish to use his real name.

The claims, like most developments in regime-controlled Syria, are difficult to verify.

But multiple Syrians also report their homes and entire neighborhoods have been overtaken by Shiite militias and their families – part of a planned “demographic change” in the south.

More concerning for Israel is the fact that Hezbollah has gained urban warfare experience from the civil war, tactical planning knowledge from coordinating with the Russians and Iranians, and an extensive armory of ballistic missiles, guided missiles, and armed drones.

The Israeli daily Haaretz stated that Iran was transforming villages in southern Syria into “fortresses,” indicating that since the Russia agreement, “Hezbollah was actually more active in the region, and the organization was reestablishing its terror networks in southern Syria.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Escalation fears

With the U.S. upping its economic and military pressure on Iran, fears are growing in Amman and among the Israeli security establishment that Tehran may activate Hezbollah to strike back in response.

Previous flare-ups in Syria have been linked to pressure on Iran: On May 8, 2018, the very same day President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord, Israeli strikes hit Iranian targets at a military base outside Damascus.

Two days later, Iran-backed militias launched 20 rockets at Israeli military bases on the Golan Heights, leading Israel to strike yet again at several Iranian installations across the country.  

Moscow, which is looking to draw down its physical presence in Syria while securing the economic payoff of its involvement in the form of Syria’s natural gas reserves and reconstruction contracts, is trying to avoid conflict.

But Russia has proved ineffective at curtailing Iranian involvement and military activity in Syria, Arab and Israeli security experts say.

Instead, Moscow has given Israel a “green light” to slowly drive Hezbollah and Iranian militias away from the border without igniting an open conflict, refusing to deploy its missile defense systems in Syria against Israeli airstrikes.

Regional security experts have called the arrangement “careless” on Moscow’s part and “playing roulette.” 

Jordan too fears another conflict on its borders, and the blow it would deliver to an economy that has only just started to recover from the fallout of the Syrian war.

But a long-term Hezbollah presence on its borders is also seen as “unacceptable,” out of belief the militia will be an obstacle to Jordan-Syria relations and trade, and may attempt to smuggle arms and drugs into the kingdom.

Adding to the uncertainty is Israeli elections.

“There are always risks of miscalculations, and you certainly have that when Israel is engaged in an election campaign,” says Mr. Alterman of CSIS. “You don’t want to get sucked into a war that is unwinnable, but you also don’t want to look impotent in the face of confrontation.”

Wanted: an off-ramp

All agree that American leadership could be one of the few factors that could help prevent Iran’s Syria presence from igniting a regional tinderbox.

U.S. and Turkish officials reportedly are close to an agreement that would prevent hostilities on Syria’s northern border, near where U.S. forces are deployed. But according to regional diplomats, American diplomacy on nearly anything else related to Syria is missing.

“This is the central issue: not the U.S., not Israel, not the Iranians, not even Hezbollah know what will happen if there was an unintended provocation in terms of consequences and in causalities,” says Mr.  Karmon, the Israeli researcher.

“It is a game of brinkmanship where you can lose control.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. military withdrawal from Syria would allow Iran to control a direct land corridor running through Iraq and into Syria toward the Golan, further fueling the potential for conflict.

“We want the U.S. to maintain a presence in Syria, but also to provide diplomacy to give everyone an off-ramp,” says one Arab diplomat, who was unauthorized to speak to the press.  

“If the U.S. does not create that ramp, we don’t know who can.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. Why Guatemala’s next president is already bound by Trump

Stop migrants, or pay a price. That’s more or less the choice the U.S. administration has given Guatemala. But will it reduce migration – or just change whose problem it is?

Santiago Billy/AP
Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos party, stands before supporters after partial election results were announced in Guatemala City, Aug. 11, 2019. Mr. Giammattei, a social conservative, went on to win the presidential runoff election.

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Guatemala’s new president-elect, Alejandro Giammattei, won’t actually enter office for several months. But one day after the election, he’s already inherited a hornet’s nest from his predecessor: an unpopular migration deal with the United States.

Threatened by President Donald Trump with possible tariffs, taxes on remittances, and a travel ban, current President Jimmy Morales agreed to require asylum-seekers traveling through Guatemala to apply for asylum there, effectively cutting off requests from Salvadorans and Hondurans at the U.S. border. The U.S. administration has pressured Mexico to sign a similar agreement.

Critics argue that Guatemala, which is the No. 1 country of origin for people apprehended on the U.S. border this year, is in no position to give safety, or much opportunity. Last year, the country’s asylum system processed only 262 applications. 

In the border region of Huehuetenango, a highland state that has one of Guatemala’s highest migration levels, Helen Mauricio Palacios sat on a motorbike outside the polls with her 5-year-old and her groceries, deciding whether it was worthwhile to cast her vote – whether either candidate would bring change.

“If we were a safe country, there would not be so many people migrating from here,” she says. “If people could find the success here that they’re searching for elsewhere, they wouldn’t leave.”

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Why Guatemala’s next president is already bound by Trump

On Sunday, former surgeon and prisons director Alejandro Giammattei won something he’d sought three times before: the Guatemalan presidency.

Mr. Giammattei will not take office until January. But the conservative leader already finds himself caught in one of Guatemala’s most difficult diplomatic situations in years. On one side is the Trump administration, demanding the country take in Central American asylum-seekers and cut off their journeys to the United States. On the other are critics at home and abroad, insisting Guatemala doesn’t have the means to offer protection when hundreds of thousands of its own people have left their country in recent years.

In an election that reportedly saw the lowest voter turnout since 1996, Mr. Giammattei’s win was seen as a sign of lost faith in politics. Official results indicate 57% of voters did not cast a ballot, but of those who did, 58% voted for him. He will now be responsible for negotiating the implementation of the “safe third country” agreement the current administration signed in July, which would require people from El Salvador and Honduras to first seek asylum in Guatemala – the first country they enter en route to the U.S.

The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to push Latin American leaders into stopping migrants from ever reaching its border. The agreement with Guatemala would effectively block Hondurans and Salvadorans from requesting asylum in the U.S., and it could be expanded to include other nationalities. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have pressured Mexico to sign a similar agreement – unsuccessfully, so far, although the government has increased enforcement at the border with Guatemala. Economic threats from the U.S. make it difficult to avoid such agreements. But they do nothing, critics say, to change the realities that migrants and asylum-seekers say they are fleeing. 

“This is not going to stop migration. It’s just going to make it more invisible, and make the people who most need protection more invisible, too,” says Danilo Rivera, advocacy coordinator of the Central American Institute of Social Studies and Development.

A hard sell

In Huehuetenango, a highland state near the Mexico border that has one of Guatemala’s highest migration levels, voters arrived on motorbikes and jumped out of their cars in the last hour of the election to cast their votes in local school buildings. They ducked under the crafts projects hanging from the ceiling to mark paper ballots. Many were concerned about the U.S. agreement, fearing that migrants would land in the streets and lead to higher rates of crime.

Karen Norris/Staff

The agricultural regions that make up the bulk of the state have been affected by drought, falling coffee prices, and land disputes over megaprojects. Voters pointed out that Guatemalans are leaving because of underemployment, violence, and corruption. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, roughly 250,000 Guatemalans have been apprehended on the U.S. border this fiscal year – more than any other nationality.

“We’ve had presidents who have failed us,” says Ingrid Torres, a stay-at-home mother, standing alone outside the center with the ink fresh on her finger after voting. “Giammattei has promised us a great deal, but we do not know what he’ll actually do; so many times, people have not followed through on their promises.” 

Oliver de Ros/AP
Electoral workers wait for people to cast their votes in Chinautla, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, on Aug. 11, 2019. Conservative candidate Alejandro Giammattei defeated ex-first lady Sandra Torres in the second-round presidential runoff.

Voters in struggling agricultural areas generally did not support Mr. Giammattei, though he courted them in his campaign. The backbone of his strategy was economic: developing the border with a “wall of investment,” courting foreign investors, and generating millions of jobs. 

“We’re looking for a way for there to be less violence, so that people can stay here,” says Virginia Samoyoa de Rodas, a retired merchant in a wide-brimmed sun hat who supported Mr. Giammattei. “We have put our hopes in the person we voted for, because we want change.”  

In his victory speech, Mr. Giammattei spoke of the country’s challenges and promised to bring about reform. “Together we can overcome malnutrition, to overcome violence and insecurity,” he said. “We can achieve a Guatemala where we can live in peace.” 

Some critics, however, have expressed concern that more foreign workers could actually prompt more Guatemalans to leave.

“Migrants are exploited here, because they work for lower salaries. Many Guatemalans could find themselves without work if there are more foreigners here,” says Gabriel Zelada Ortiz, the director of CEADEL, a local development nonprofit in Chimaltenango. “They don’t give them bonuses, or vacations, and they threaten to kick them out of the country if they file a complaint.”

Tougher terms ahead?

The president-elect has been critical of the outgoing administration for signing the safe-country agreement, and promised to seek better terms, but analysts believe he is unlikely to slam the brakes on the already in-motion plan. Before current president Jimmy Morales’ government signed the deal, U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened Guatemala with tariffs, taxes on remittances, and a travel ban.

“Nobody in Guatemala, given the current situation, can go back on the agreement that was signed” for fear of “significant repercussions,” says Marielos Chang, a political analyst and professor at Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City. “There’s little desire to change it.”

The Guatemalan high court ruled, before the agreement was signed, that Mr. Morales had to seek Congress’s approval before negotiating with the U.S., but his interior minister inked the deal July 26. Three groups have since sought an injunction. It is unclear when or whether the country’s Congress could eventually approve the plan.

When Mr. Giammattei met with the acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan earlier this summer, he said it was a “cordial” meeting in which “the secretary told us that when they have more information about how it’s going to be implemented, we’ll be informed.”

Some Guatemalans hope that at least Mr. Giammattei could, if not get rid of the deal, at least bargain for better terms than Mr. Morales. 

Mr. Giammattei “could try to renegotiate, but without making a show of it, and without hurting his identity as a conservative,” says Edgar Gutiérrez, one of several former foreign-relations ministers who tried to block the deal in court before it was signed. 

The president-elect was backed by many former members of the military and high-powered business leaders relieved that the agreement rolled back Mr. Trump’s economic threats.

“Trump has already [suggested] to the most powerful groups in this country, especially the businessmen, that this was not even up for discussion,” says Héctor Waldemar Barrera, a former human rights official and current lawyer who defends Guatemalan migrant workers. “They’re all calm now, but because they’re not grasping the scale of the problem.”

“What is ahead of us? In two, three years, in Latin America, we could have one of the biggest refugee movements. People will look for sea routes, or for any alternative,” he says.

U.S. officials have said the agreement’s rollout will be small at first. To begin the process, Guatemala’s government must expand its existing bureaucracy for asylum applications: The office processed only 262 asylum applications last year, and granted almost none.

For many voters who turned out on election day, it was clear the country had a long way to go before it could provide refuge.

“If we were a safe country, there would not be so many people migrating from here,” says Helen Mauricio Palacios, sitting on a motorbike outside the voting station in Huehuetenango with her 5-year-old and her groceries, deciding whether it was worthwhile to cast her vote – or whether neither candidate would bring change. “If people could find the success here that they’re searching for elsewhere, they wouldn’t leave.”

Karen Norris/Staff
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A deeper look

4. Woodstock at 50: How it shaped a generation

At a time of upheaval, one music festival defined an era with its counterculture spirit of protest, peace, and equality. Fifty years later, in the midst of similar unrest, its message, and mythology, endure.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A monument at the site today, 50 years after the gathering, includes the original graphics for the festival.

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Many Americans would dismiss the gathering as a bacchanalia in the mud – three days of drugs, nudity, subversive music, and psychedelic indulgence. But 50 years ago, Woodstock became a cultural touchstone that defined an era. A number of social protest movements of the 1960s – opposition to the Vietnam War, a push for free love and personal autonomy, a clamor for civil rights and equality – seemed to converge in that field in upstate New York. 

Nowadays, the hippie is an endangered species and the idea of music as a counterculture movement doesn’t resonate with a younger generation. Yet in some ways, there are parallels between the idealism of the Woodstock generation and the so-called woke generation. Like their grandparents, the millennials and iGen display a zeal to change the world. Like their forebears, they’re willing to eschew some of the status symbol comforts they grew up with, like cars and homes. 

David Crosby, a musician who performed at Woodstock, says the meaning of the festival remains with him. “Woodstock was a glimpse – a momentary glimpse – into what’s possible. Into us being able to live with each other decently and peacefully.”

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Woodstock at 50: How it shaped a generation

David Crosby’s most enduring memory of Woodstock isn’t going onstage at 3 o’clock in the morning. It isn’t the fear that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young felt at playing their second-ever show. Nor is it the gargantuan crowd, teeming like an ant colony on a field in upstate New York. No, the first image that comes to the musician’s mind is an incident between a policeman and an attendee. 

That summer of 1969, hirsute hippies such as Mr. Crosby typically viewed police with fear and suspicion. Blame the tumult of the times. During 1968, there’d been several incidents in which police had shot and wounded students and black activists. Most infamously, officers in riot gear used clubs and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Demonstrators routinely referred to the authorities as pigs.

At Woodstock, Mr. Crosby witnessed a decidedly different act by a representative of The Man.

“A girl cut her foot,” recounts Mr. Crosby. “She’s standing around on one foot, bleeding badly. And this cop, who’s just come on duty and he’s got a razor-sharp crease in his pants and his shoes are as shiny as mirrors – he is really turned out – sees her. Walks over into the mud. Gets the blood and the mud all over himself. Picks the girl up and carries her gently and sweetly to his car where he lays her on the back seat, again getting the blood and the mud all over himself and his uniform and his car. He doesn’t care. He’s taking care of the girl. And then about 14 hippies push that car out of the mud.”

After a brief pause, Mr. Crosby’s voice softens. “I thought to myself, ‘You know, that’s working,’” he says. “‘That’s a bunch of humans being good to each other.’”

John Dominis/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images/File
Young people with their shaggy manes and uninhibited clothing sit on cars, buses, minivans – any perch they can see from – at the three-day Woodstock event in upstate New York.

Fifty years on, Mr. Crosby isn’t the only boomer wistfully recalling the seminal events of those three days. It isn’t just nostalgia for halcyon days when they had more hair. Nor is it just a celebration of great performances by iconic musicians. For the baby-boom generation, Woodstock is a cultural touchstone that defined an era. A number of social protest movements that bubbled up during the 1960s – opposition to the Vietnam War, a push for free love and personal autonomy, a clamor for civil rights and equality – seemed to converge in that field in upstate New York. 

In the decades since, the festival has taken on something of a mythological status. That’s why the original site, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is the rock-music equivalent of a Civil War battlefield. Every day, visitors come from all over the world to see it. Some dress appropriately for the encounter, with tie-dye splattered across their T-shirts like melted Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

More than a dozen books about Woodstock have been released in recent months. A big-screen documentary “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” is scheduled to air on PBS in early August. 

Today, there’s little evidence this bunny slope was once a mudslide that accommodated a stage, speaker towers, and a biblical-scale multitude. It’s now as verdant as an Irish meadow, but with a large peace sign subtly mowed in the grass. A team of archaeologists from Binghamton University, State University of New York, excavated the site earlier this year, but the only shrapnel they dug up were pull-tabs from cans.

What lingers is the legacy. On one side of the field, a stone monument lists all the performers. Duke Devlin, formerly a guide at the Woodstock museum just up the road, dubs it “the Tomb of the Unknown Hippie.” 

Diane Armstrong made the pilgrimage here from Snowhill, Maryland, because she missed out on the festival when she was a young teen. “There was a lot brewing back then, a lot that’s in common with what’s going on today,” says Ms. Armstrong, who feels a kinship with the people putting aside differences in a loving community. “It gives me hope. And it also makes me feel like, all those people, who are now in our political system, don’t they remember? Because they were all my age. What did they forget? Because even if they weren’t here, it was global, it was countrywide.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
“There was a lot brewing back then, a lot that’s in common with what’s going on today. It gives me hope. And it also makes me feel like, all those people, who are now in our political system, don’t they remember?” – Diane Armstrong, a Maryland resident who recently visited Woodstock

Many Americans then and now, to be sure, would dismiss the gathering as a bacchanalia in the mud – three days of drugs, nudity, subversive music, and psychedelic indulgence by a lost generation of hippies and flower children. But to vast numbers of others, such as Mr. Crosby, Woodstock was an epiphanic moment of pure idealism.

Despite the challenges posed by a poorly organized music festival, the multitudes spent the weekend embodying the peace and love they espoused. To them and others who shared the spirit of the moment, Woodstock represents the apotheosis of lofty ideals that still resonate. 

“This was a shift of a whole generation of people watching that phenomenon and identifying with it in some way,” says Mary VanderGoot, author of “After Freedom: How Boomers Pursued Freedom, Questioned Virtue, and Still Search for Meaning.” “It was protest music, but honestly, it was deeply optimistic in the sense there was a belief that, if you speak the truth, life will get better.”

The birth of Woodstock

To coincide with Woodstock’s 50th anniversary, event co-founder Michael Lang had wanted to stage a commemorative festival Aug. 16-18 near the original site. The lineup was to feature some performers from the gathering 50 years ago alongside newer acts such as Halsey and Chance the Rapper. (One imagines boomers asking, “Who?” And their progeny responding, “No, The Who’s not on the bill, Granddad.”) But multiple permit applications were denied, forcing Mr. Lang to consider a new venue, in Maryland. Many of the musicians, however, were uninterested in performing at a site so unoriginal from the original. Ultimately, the festival was canceled. A half-century ago, Mr. Lang faced similar travails trying to stage a concert. 

In 1967, he and his cohort Artie Kornfeld, formerly a vice president of Capitol Records, set out to establish a recording studio near Woodstock, New York. They had financial backing from the heir to a pharmaceutical company and a young venture capitalist. Two years later, the four men decided to hold a music and arts festival on the site of the proposed recording studio. But locals rejected the idea. Two other venues were considered, but officials refused to issue permits. The situation was desperate. The festival had already been advertised in publications such as The New York Times. During a ride through Bethel with a local real estate agent, Mr. Lang dipped down a side road past Max Yasgur’s dairy farm and spotted the ideal venue: a bowl-shaped meadow. It was July. They only had a month to prepare the site.

With just days to go before the event, Mr. Lang’s team faced a stark choice given their limited workers and time. They could either build the stage or erect fences and ticket booths around the festival grounds. They chose the staging. The festival had pre-sold 186,000 tickets via mail order. Without fencing, the organizers would have to let the additional people who showed up in for free. They were expecting 15,000. Their predictions were off by only 200,000. The organizers ended up going heavily into debt.

Marty Lederhandler/AP/File
More than 400,000 people pack around the stage in a farmer’s field in upstate New York for what would become one of the most iconic music festivals in U.S. history.

The “Aquarian Exposition,” as it was called, tapped into a counterculture movement that was sweeping the United States. Two years earlier, in 1967, Time magazine had run a cover story on hippies. The Woodstock organizers apparently didn’t read it, or if they did, weren’t aware of the number of hippies, peaceniks, rock aficionados, and others who would be drawn to a meadow in upstate New York. 

“In 1965, by some estimates, there were roughly a thousand prototypical hippies living in the Bay Area,” says cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken, author of “Chief Culture Officer.” “By 1969, you’ve got a half-million people showing up for entertainment in an open field. So it’s a tremendously rapid acceleration. And I think one of the ways it gets accomplished, culturally speaking, is that people just simply define themselves in very careful opposition to the cultural model that was in place by the mid ’50s.”

That postwar period was a time of remarkable economic growth, epitomized by the rise of the suburbs and what they symbolized for material comfort and the competition for social standing. As a 1950s Ford television commercial put it: Why have one car, when you can have two? But many members of the nonconformist ’60s generation spurned status and individualistic competition in favor of egalitarianism and social solidarity. 

“Spending a weekend in a muddy field seemed like a good idea, for starters, because it so affirmed the equality of all those people,” says Mr. McCracken. “Everything about the clothing and the hair was pretty deliberately an effort to efface differences.”

But what lay behind the sudden youthful attraction to Human Be-Ins (a supposedly humanistic version of the old sit-ins), Eastern mysticism, and drugs? And why did some flower children display a disregard for clothing that would make even the cast of “Hair” blush?

It was a desire for personal empowerment and expression. Earlier generations believed that if you lived in accordance with the social mores of your community, you’d be happy. But the boomers balked at that notion. First, they said, follow your bliss. Second, find a community that you fit into. 

This so-called Me Generation’s redefinition of freedom included a rejection of their parents’ conservatism and the morality of the middle class. Political upheaval – the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and two Kennedys, race riots, and fear of the draft – only fueled their disaffection. They challenged authority, agitated for civil rights and women’s rights, and embraced sexual liberation. At the time, the most potent messengers for change were musicians. 

A slapdash start – with heart

On a spring morning, Donny York surveys the field where his group, Sha Na Na, played just prior to Jimi Hendrix 50 years ago. The revivalists of 1950s doo-wop rock ’n’ roll have returned for a Woodstock commemorative show at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. They were unknowns the first time around. The festival and a subsequent documentary movie turned them into stars.

“My helicopter landed maybe between here and the stage,” recalls Mr. York, whose “West Side Story” garb, a leather jacket and rolled-up jeans, looks as anachronistic now as it did in 1969. “I’d never seen so many people in one place.”

The backcountry roads were jammed with cars and minibuses muraled with flowers. When Bob Mulvey arrived, he was dangerously hanging out the open back of a U-Haul truck that he and some friends had stuffed with mattresses. Most festivalgoers arrived far less prepared. “We had a bunch of food in the truck, so we gave away some,” says Mr. Mulvey, now a teacher at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Conditions deteriorated. First, food vendor supplies ran out. Then, their booths collapsed as a storm produced the worst mud since the Battle of Passchendaele. Upon hearing about the shortages, locals collected food donations (including 10,000 sandwiches) and airlifted them into the festival’s makeshift kitchens. Thousands of cups of granola were passed from hand to hand to those crammed near the stage.

“They had sort of a free food setup, which was really interesting,” says Mr. Mulvey. “I remember sitting down with just this huge group of people that we didn’t know ... and sharing food and laughing and joking about the size of the crowd.”

Sha Na Na’s Jocko Marcellino recalls venturing out among the masses because the artist hospitality pavilion had been turned into a medical station. At the top of the hill, he watched Creedence Clearwater Revival play “Born on the Bayou.” The band looked microscopic but the stage lights reflected off the drummer’s cymbals as shimmering halo rings. 

“It really was a great weekend of cooperation,” says Mr. Marcellino. “And that spirit made it so special that there wasn’t anybody fighting; there wasn’t anybody burning things. People took care of each other and it gave an important spiritual background to it.”

The good vibes emanated from the stage, starting with the acoustic guitar-oriented lineup on Friday night.

“Most folk acts were protest acts. I’m thinking obviously of Joan Baez, who was the headliner for that day, and Arlo Guthrie, the son of Woody Guthrie, and obviously very politically committed,” says Julien Bitoun, author of “The Story of Woodstock Live.” “There was the ‘Fixin’ to Die Rag’ by Country Joe McDonald with the ‘One, two, three / What are we fighting for? / Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn / Next stop is Vietnam,’ with the whole crowd chanting.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Musicians who performed at Woodstock are listed on a monument at the site in Bethel, New York.

The greatest protest song of the festival was entirely wordless. Hendrix’s instrumental version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” made the strings of his upside-down Stratocaster howl in distorted anguish. It was the aural equivalent of a flag-burning. The performance helped to establish the festival’s legendary status, says Mr. Bitoun. A few songs later, Woodstock was over. 

“That community was sort of engendered in that moment, and then dissipated afterwards,” says Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. “That’s the kind of thing you can’t really put into words or planning. All these people showed up, all this stuff happened, and they were sort of like a little Woodstock city for three days. And then it was gone. That’s the magic to me.”

An enduring mythology 

Mr. Mulvey remembers arriving home from Woodstock with his pants covered in dried mud. His father, who was pretty liberal, looked at him and shook his head. But for the young aspiring musician, those three days forged a shared cultural identity.

“Woodstock is sort of a pinnacle of that sort of value system being created and understanding that there were many, many others like me,” he says. “If there were half a million people there, that probably meant that another half a million couldn’t get there. Which means it was a million people who kind of shared those values ... and probably even more than that.”

The mythology of Woodstock began almost immediately. Joni Mitchell, who didn’t attend, wrote the famous song about it. The central refrain, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden,” conjured up images of festivalgoers dwelling in Edenic serenity.

It reinforced a narrative of Woodstock fitting into the centuries-old American impulse to create a utopian society, however briefly, as evidenced by the Shakers, transcendentalists, and others in early New England. 

Yet within months, those utopian ideals suddenly seemed far more difficult to attain. In December of 1969, Mr. Lang’s attempt to mount a “Woodstock West” at Altamont Speedway in California was marred by the death of an 18-year-old at the hands of a Hells Angels security team. 

The turn of the decade also brought fresh challenges for the boomer generation. “Almost as soon as people had decamped from that farm in Woodstock, the economy started souring,” says Joseph Sternberg, author of “The Theft of a Decade: How the Baby Boomers Stole the Millennials’ Economic Future.” “I mean you got into the oil crises of the ’70s. The culminating fiasco of that era was the stagflation of the late ’70s and then the deep recession in the early ’80s.”

Mr. Sternberg says a defining characteristic of boomers is that they’re always chasing the economic security that they grew up with in their childhoods. Only a slice of that generation identified as hippies, but many of them swapped their caftans for suits and ties. The generation’s politics, too, shifted, with many later voting for Ronald Reagan.

Now, in their twilight years, boomers are assessing their place in the world. Ms. VanderGoot says many of her contemporaries are gentle activists, no longer as strident as they once were, yet keenly involved in their communities and politics. 

“You get kind of a split between people who became more pragmatic about their idealism, but are still idealists, and then there are people who kind of gave in and said, ‘Hey, you know, I had a good run at it. I did what I could but now I just want to have a comfortable life as I coast through a few more decades.’”

She believes her generation still has spiritual impulses that challenge a proclivity to seek refuge in middle-class comforts. “They carried forward those deep values, the sense that life can’t just be purely material and be satisfying,” says Ms. VanderGoot. “We know that we won’t always be around. We want to believe that there’s more than just us.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Visitors look at the psychedelic displays and interactive exhibits at The Museum at Bethel Woods, which tells about the Woodstock festival held in Bethel, New York, 50 years ago.

Nowadays, the hippie is an endangered species seldom spotted outside its natural habitat of Phish concerts. But Mr. Mulvey says some of his Berklee students, fascinated to discover he attended Woodstock, are curious about his generation’s values. His students often tell him that the hippies of the time had more things to protest. His rejoinder to them is that the issues of civil rights, war, gay rights, women’s rights, and the environment haven’t gone away. Progress has been made. But there’s still work to be done. Yet the idea of music as a counterculture movement doesn’t resonate with a younger generation.  

“Music has changed somewhat in terms of its importance to the students I work with,” he says. “Music is a commodity as much as it is an art form.” 

Mr. Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane, who has a 12-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son, wishes that today’s young musicians were inspired to write protest songs like his generation did. “It’s just a different world. I think the issues today are not as clear cut,” says Mr. Kaukonen, still an in-demand recording and touring songwriter. “The issues were so clear cut back then. There was really very little gray area between what you believed in and what you didn’t. And the music and the writing and the graphic art ... that were done by the people of that generation were inextricably intertwined with the current events of the time.”

Yet in some ways, there are parallels between the idealism of the Woodstock generation and the so-called woke generation. Like their grandparents, the millennials and iGen display a zeal to change the world. Like their forebears, they’re willing to eschew some of the status symbol comforts they grew up with, like cars and homes. They’re giving up security, says Ms. VanderGoot, because they’re saying, “I’m willing to pay the price, but I hope the future will be different.”

“A glimpse into what’s possible”

Most days, Mr. Devlin drives over to the shaded Woodstock monument in Bethel. He loves to listen to the conversations of all the visitors. On occasion he might share memories such as how he, as a museum guide, once drove Mr. Crosby in a golf cart to see the site.

“I parked right on the stage and I turned the cart around, pointed up the hill and I said, ‘David this is what you saw back in ’69, without people,’” says Mr. Devlin. “He looked and he was amazed and he says, ‘You know what, Duke? The vibe is still here.’”

In a telephone call, Mr. Crosby says the meaning of the festival remains with him. “Woodstock was a glimpse – a momentary glimpse – into what’s possible. Into us being able to live with each other decently and peacefully. It showed you what it could be. [That] we can do it.”

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The Explainer

5. What is 5G, and how will it affect me?

The tech industry touts its next-generation cellphone network as a giant leap in capabilities. But the industry jargon does little to explain it to consumers. We look at what “5G” really means.

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The name 5G stands simply for the fifth generation of cellphone service. In practical terms, that means a superfast and much more reliable service – plus the potential for the rise of an “internet of things” where items like home appliances are increasingly web-connected. 

Some analysts worry about drawbacks. Rising prices are one issue. Also, 5G carriers will have to build a much denser network of small transmitters to complement today’s cell towers. Some critics have raised concerns that exposure to so many radio waves could have health effects. The industry says no studies have uncovered any problems. The other big concern is privacy, as more data goes online and is tracked.

The positives: Download speeds will ramp up, so you could download a full movie to your phone in seconds rather than minutes. Wireless companies could begin competing with cable firms to offer home internet and TV service. Your city’s traffic grid would communicate with cars and vice versa to reduce bottlenecks and improve safety. All this won’t happen at once. By 2025, just under half of Americans will have 5G connections, according to Deloitte.

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What is 5G, and how will it affect me?

If the internet was the information superhighway – as Al Gore and others famously put it – 5G is a future where every street is an autobahn: no speed limits, no data bottlenecks. It’s a future perhaps as game-changing as the internet itself. 

What is 5G?

It’s the fifth generation of cellphone service, using three different portions of the spectrum to create a superfast and much more reliable service even if you’re sitting in a basement or stuck in an underground tunnel during rush hour. It’s this reliability of communications – wherever you are – that could lead to innovative products and services.

Like what?

At first, faster phones and new cable companies. Downloads will be more than 10 times as fast as a good 4G connection, meaning you could download a full movie to your phone in seconds rather than minutes. Also, wireless companies could begin competing with cable firms to offer home internet and TV service.

And eventually? 

Your city’s traffic grid would communicate with cars and vice versa to reduce bottlenecks and improve safety. Smart homes would become smarter and easier to set up. Since 5G would virtually eliminate any delays in streaming video, workers could operate bulldozers remotely and shoppers at home could “try on” clothes by watching a holographic 3D image of themselves dressed in the duds. Futurists call this “the internet of things,” where everything can communicate with everything else.

When will 5G be available?

South Korea, China, Britain, Kuwait, and others have set up limited 5G systems. In April, Qatar hosted the world’s first 5G phone call. In the United States, several cities are trying out systems. 

Some early testers in Chicago reported speeds up to 1,400 megabits per second, roughly 14 times the limit of what today’s 4G systems can usually deliver. And that’s just the beginning. Most observers peg 2020 as the year when 5G really begins to roll out around the world.

When will it be mainstream?

By 2025, just under half of Americans will have 5G connections, according to Deloitte. But only a third of Europeans and a quarter of Chinese will be hooked up to the new service.

Will it be expensive? 

Estimates suggest carriers in the U.S. will offer 5G as a premium service at first. Verizon, for example, plans to charge $10 a month extra for the service. Its 5G phones range from $1,000 to $1,300. The rewards to companies could be amazing, with one forecast predicting a $277 billion global market by 2025. 

Are there any drawbacks?

To achieve higher speeds, 5G uses radio waves in a new area of the spectrum. These radio waves don’t do a good job penetrating walls and buildings, so 5G carriers will have to build a much denser network of small transmitters to complement today’s cell-tower technology. Some critics have raised concerns that exposure to so many radio waves could have health effects. The industry says no studies have uncovered any problems. 

The other big concern is privacy. The more densely packed transmitters are, the more precisely users can be tracked. 

Other experts raise concerns that ­China-based Huawei, one of the most advanced, and cheapest, manufacturers of many 5G network components, will use its equipment to give the Chinese government a secret back door to the data. The Trump administration banned U.S. companies from selling equipment to Huawei, but is now considering exempting some companies from that ban. Britain shows little concern, since its carriers building 5G networks are reportedly using Huawei parts. India, by contrast, has shied away from using Huawei components, even after the company offered assurances there would be no back door.

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The Monitor's View

A seed for society’s safety: Gun buybacks

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Since July 13, more than 7,000 gun owners in New Zealand have handed over their firearms to police under the country’s first program to buy back guns. “We have to do for the greater good of our society,” said one man as he handed over his AR-15 firearm.

The voluntary nature of gun buybacks gives them a special place in the worldwide debate over gun regulations.

In the United States, buybacks have been very popular since the 1990s, even though most scholars say they do not curb gun violence over time. In the U.S. presidential race, several Democratic contenders now advocate for buybacks after the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

Yet about 70% of gun owners say they could never imagine themselves not owning some sort of firearm.

Buyback programs help bring gun owners in contact with police and others in a community, fostering a dialogue about the ways to keep everyone safe.

While criminals or potential mass shooters are very unlikely to turn in their guns, their ability to find guns or their willingness to see gun use as normal can be diminished if enough owners decide society would be safer without guns.

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A seed for society’s safety: Gun buybacks

Since July 13, more than 7,000 gun owners in New Zealand have handed over their firearms to police under the country’s first program to buy back guns. The program is just one of several emergency measures taken since March after a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques. While the effectiveness of such buybacks is highly uncertain, one thing in New Zealand is for sure: As the hunters, farmers, sport shooters, and others sold their weapons at more than 90 collection points, many spoke of a change in attitude about what keeps a society safe.

“Anything that makes it safer is a good thing,” said one. “We have to do for the greater good of our society,” said another as he handed over his AR-15 firearm.

Police officials said they were “really happy” about how people engaged with the process. “We look forward to more people taking part in the buyback scheme over the coming months,” said one police commander, Mike Johnson.

The voluntary nature of gun buybacks – along with the incentive of being compensated – gives them a special place in the worldwide debate over gun regulations. In the United States, buybacks at the local level have been very popular since the 1990s, even though most scholars say they do not curb gun violence over time. Even after a program in Australia saw about 20% of privately owned guns turned in, gun ownership is back to similar levels as before.

In the U.S. presidential race, several Democratic contenders now advocate for buybacks after the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. At least two contenders want to make them mandatory. Such a confiscatory approach, however, would be up against a stiff wind in a country with an estimated 393 million civilian firearms. About 70% of gun owners say they could never imagine themselves not owning some sort of firearm, according to Pew Research Center.

The motives for turning in a gun to police or others are mixed. They range from concern for a child’s safety at home to simply wanting cash to buy a better gun. At the least, buybacks help stir the thinking of gun owners.

After the shooting in El Paso, Texas, one longtime gun owner in the city, Bill Vogt, told The Guardian newspaper that he plans to campaign for buyback programs. To most owners, Mr. Vogt said, guns are toys. “Why wouldn’t you be willing to get rid of a toy in order to make sure this does not happen again?” he said.

“I grew up on farms, I grew up in the military, and we were around weapons all the time,” he said. “It develops that kind of mindset that if we don’t have weapons to protect ourselves, we are doing something wrong.”

Buyback programs help bring gun owners in contact with police and others in a community, fostering a dialogue about the ways to keep everyone safe. While criminals or potential mass shooters are very unlikely to turn in their guns, their ability to find guns or their willingness to see gun use as normal can be diminished if enough owners decide society would be safer without guns.

Buybacks help bring a community together to look at the foundations of peace. Then the tough questions can be asked. Do people trust government to keep them safe? Which guns are clearly not useful for self-protection? What social or economic efforts can reduce incentives for gun violence? How much responsibility do gun owners hold in perpetuating a gun culture?

In New Zealand, such a debate has begun on a nationwide level thanks in part to a popular buyback program. Many of its gun owners, when given an opportunity to think about safety, took their arms to the police rather than taking up arms. It is a shift in thought that marks a start toward a consensus on what enables greater peace and safety in a community.

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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.

What has infinity got to do with healing?

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Understanding the concept of infinity plays a key role in the practice of Christian Science, as one man found out when he prayed for a horse in need of healing. As he turned to God for inspiration, a powerful sense of God’s goodness as infinite came to him. That changed the way he saw the horse, which was soon free of all the ailments.

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What has infinity got to do with healing?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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There was a horse I love that was having one physical ailment after another. I didn’t want to see him suffer, so I did what I’ve found helpful countless times in dealing with problems: I prayed. But I quickly realized that for my prayers to be helpful, they needed to be more than simply a plea for the horse to be healed.

So I turned to God for aid in helping me understand how to pray better. As I listened for divine inspiration, what came to me was a deep sense of God’s excellence and grandeur as infinite good. I saw that if God, ever-present divine Love and Spirit, is infinite, that doesn’t leave space for a single limitation.

The Bible describes God this way: “The Lord he is God; there is none else beside him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). And a book that throws revealing light on the all-important spiritual meaning of the Bible – “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy – builds on this concept. It says, “Allness is the measure of the infinite, and nothing less can express God” (p. 336).

The infinitude of God – of Spirit, which is entirely good and fills all space – isn’t a property that can be quantified with a measuring tape. There are no starting or ending points to infinite Spirit. Does this mean that for you and me living our everyday lives, God’s infinitude is too abstract to be meaningful?

Actually, it means the opposite. God’s infinitude has tremendous practical import. As the creations, or spiritual offspring, of God, divine Love, we are designed to show forth God’s limitless nature, expressed in qualities such as thoughtfulness, patience, purity, unselfishness, intelligence, and health.

These qualities are also boundless. Take thoughtfulness, for instance. Could we ever measure it with a ruler and tell other people that’s how much of it there is? No. Yet the quality of thoughtfulness certainly is substantial to us. We experience it ourselves and sense it in others, even though it isn’t a physical, measurable object.

Let’s take this reasoning forward another step. The nature of God’s children – you, me, everyone – is the outcome, or expression, of God, infinite Spirit, so it is not material. What must we do to become these creations of God? Nothing. Because we originated in God, we already are wholly spiritual.

Letting the infinite goodness of God inspire me was such a solid starting point for my prayers. God’s infinite goodness really became vivid for me, and I realized that this limitless goodness was expressed in all of creation. Science and Health explains, “The admission to one’s self that man is God’s own likeness sets man free to master the infinite idea” (p. 90). I felt this freedom in my prayers for the horse. I just loved taking the time to really feel and appreciate this spiritual truth.

One day, I came to an important moment of understanding. I couldn’t simultaneously believe in God’s infinite presence while also believing that the horse was experiencing God’s absence. Infinitude, I finally realized, really means what it implies – all presence. There are no vacuums in God.

Soon, everything that had ailed the horse was completely healed, and he went on enjoying his life.

God forever expresses His own infinite nature in His creation. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” said Jesus (John 3:6). As God’s infinite ideas, you and I are perfect representatives of God, good, the All-in-all. The infinitude of God is what makes us exactly what we are. Best of all, it is the only thing making us what we are. And when we glimpse that spiritual reality, we feel it in our lives, with healing effect.

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Viewfinder

History, in midair

Charlie Riedel/AP
Simone Biles competes on beam at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships Aug. 11, 2019, in Kansas City, Missouri. She became the first gymnast to land a double-double dismount on the beam and a triple double (three twists and two flips) on the floor exercise in competition on her way to her sixth national championship. The last (and only other woman) to be a six-time national champ was Clara Schroth Lomady in 1952.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( August 13th, 2019 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Come back tomorrow. Harry Bruinius is working on a portrait of a youthful bloc of voters in Queens – one with a distinctive take on how democratic socialism could look at the local level. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 12, 2019
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