2019
September
04
Wednesday
Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Today’s stories explore the motivations driving dissent in Hong Kong, the ethics of global trade, the public scrutiny of journalists in the U.S., freedom of religion in Ukraine, and access to education in India.

But first, while more than a million U.S. residents prepared to evacuate their coastal communities ahead of Hurricane Dorian, chef José Andrés was heading into the storm.

Mr. Andrés and his World Central Kitchen volunteers arrived in Nassau over the weekend and immediately began preparations to provide food to victims of the impending storm. As relief organizations struggled to find a path into the hurricane-thrashed Bahamas, the humanitarian chef was setting up pop-up kitchens.

The scope of the devastation in the Bahamas has yet to come into focus, but initial aerial footage of the islands shows submerged and flattened neighborhoods. At least seven people are confirmed dead, a number that is expected to rise with time.

In the wake of such devastation, I am always reminded of Fred Rogers’ urging from his mother to “look for the helpers.” It is heartening to see people rise up in unison to help those in need. 

Even as roof-stripping winds and waves lashed the islands, surrounding nations big and small began to set the stage for relief efforts. 

In nearby South Florida, residents had barely learned they were out of the path of danger themselves when they began to organize relief efforts to help their neighbors.

So far more than $210,000 has poured in through the Hope 4 Hope Town GoFundMe page.

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1. First young people, then bankers: How Hong Kong protests swelled

Most citizens want to be heard by their leaders. The lack of government responsiveness has spurred a surprising array of Hong Kongers to join pro-democracy protesters.

Noelle

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As Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters have acted more boldly in the face of government intransigence and harsh police tactics, they have gradually won broader public support. Ordinary citizens who earlier favored strictly peaceful demonstrations increasingly see the confrontations as both legitimate and necessary to bring about change.

Entire neighborhoods – including in normally conservative, pro-government areas of Hong Kong – have turned out to oppose police and shelter the mainly young protesters. Civil servants have also stood with demonstrators against the government that employs them.

But the wider support also brings new risks as the movement runs up against not only Hong Kong authorities but, increasingly, Beijing. China has stridently characterized the protesters as radical rioters backed by foreign forces who seek to separate Hong Kong from the rest of China. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered a key concession Wednesday when she announced she would withdraw a widely unpopular bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to China to stand trial. Opposition to the bill was the original cause of the protest movement that has been building since June. But critics immediately rejected Ms. Lam’s move as “too little, too late.”

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First young people, then bankers: How Hong Kong protests swelled

Five years ago, Hana volunteered with Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a nonviolent democracy movement that hoped to compel Beijing to grant unfettered elections to Hong Kong. The effort, subsumed by a mass student-led occupation, ended in failure. 

So, in June, when militant young people surrounded the city’s government center and tangled with riot police who sprayed the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, Hana, who requested we only use her first name, says she was initially repelled by what the mostly young protesters had wrought. But she acknowledges their efforts worked. The legislature canceled its meeting, and the government suspended a bill that would have allowed China to demand criminal suspects be extradited there. Weeks later, when young people clad in construction helmets broke into the city’s legislative chamber, defacing the emblem and spray-painting slogans, Hana was convinced their tactics had achieved what peaceful sit-ins had not.  

Which is why, on Sunday, after thousands of students tried to blockade the city’s airport, confronting police, she harbored five college students in her home.

“I have changed over the course of three months,” says Hana. “We’ve tried almost everything and the government doesn’t budge, at all. So even though I don’t agree to use violence, I think credit should be given to them. ... When it’s the people against the authority, you support the people.”

Hong Kong ignites

This summer, Hong Kong ignited. A peaceful campaign of mass marches to defeat the legislative bill burst into a violent and fiery struggle for democracy and human rights against a police force that protesters see as bent on harming civilians. Some protesters who once blocked roads and fended off police pepper spray with umbrellas are now hurling Molotov cocktails and bricks, and beating officers. 

Many activists and supporters who criticized demonstrators who obstructed police during the 2014 Umbrella Movement now concede that people who are ignored by their government or harmed by police must try other methods to defend themselves and compel an official reply. 

In a reversal, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Wednesday that she would withdraw the deeply unpopular extradition bill. But protesters and other critics immediately called the move “too little, too late.”

Increasingly, Hong Kong residents and scholars view Beijing, not Hong Kong, as the main opponent of protesters. With no resolution in sight, the risks to both sides are growing as protests grow more violent and young people far more agitated. Ms. Lam has warned repeatedly that she could enact a law that would allow her to assume emergency powers and impose curfews and censorship. That would enrage the international community.

A wide array of players

The current campaign has been bolstered by various interest groups, none of which is known for radical actions: insurers, bankers, teachers, accountants, financiers, civil servants. Only the most senior officials and police support the current government, says one city employee who attended a packed August rally organized by civil servants.

“There is no other way but to push the government,” says the trade office representative. “We’re supposed to support the government unconditionally. I’m on the side of the protesters.” 

For some activists, peace is the only way. “I don't blame them, but I don't support them,” says a woman from mainland China, who asked to be identified as Ms. Zhu. “There are some people who say only revolution can save Hong Kong,” she says, but adds she fears that will bring bloodshed.

Many residents believe Ms. Lam fanned the problem. Prior to Wednesday’s concession on the extradition bill, she had refused to meet any of the protesters’ five demands, which include introducing election reforms and an independent inquiry into police actions. She opened discussions with certain groups in closed-door sessions with hand-picked participants. On Tuesday, she denied a report by Reuters, based on a leaked audio recording, that indicated she wanted to resign because her tenure was causing “unforgivable havoc” in the city. In the taped address, Ms. Lam said the current crisis exceeded her brief to address it because it involved matters of national security and sovereignty.

Ms. Lam has steadfastly backed the police and their actions as lawful responses to riotous mobs. That’s not how international experts have seen it. The U.N. human rights office says Hong Kong police firing tear gas canisters directly at individual protesters risks causing death or serious injury.

For many people, acceptance that force might be a useful option began on June 12, after police tried to clear the area around the legislative center by firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds, and flogging people with batons amid crowds that were doing little but standing in roadways.  

Profoundly unjust response?

On July 1, as hundreds of thousands of people finished a peaceful march, hundreds of young people hacked through glass windows and occupied the legislative chambers as the riot police moved in. One young man, Brian Kai-ping Leung, ripped off his mask and urged the crowd to stay as he demanded democracy for the city, an effort that many viewed as heroic and selfless because he will no doubt become a prosecution target. 

The decision by police to chase young people wearing black, the protesters’ favorite hue, or charge people carrying laser pointers with weapons possession, struck many activists as profoundly unjust, the actions of a police state. “What’s the difference between being jailed and being outside in a bigger jail?” asked Ho Chi Kwun, a longtime activist and retired social work professor who has always used civil disobedience methods.

Each weekend after, when protesters amassed, riot squads began lobbing tear gas indiscriminately – near apartment houses, inside subway stations, toward the backs of fleeing protesters. The breaking point came on July 21, when a mob of white-shirted rural thugs attacked customers inside a rail station, wounding more than 40 people. It took the police 39 minutes to arrive in force, a wait many saw as callous and cruel, if not criminal. 

Police have continued to say they use justifiable force in trying to suppress violent rioters. The police force’s actions during the mob attack are under investigation by the city’s watchdog agency.

Just four men have been charged in the attacks in Yuen Long, a district near the border with mainland China. The following weekend, police chased and beat protesters in that same train station. The next day, more than 40 young people, blocking roads on Hong Kong Island, were charged with rioting. Each faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. 

Such sentences have stunned many activists and supporters. Many people firmly believe the police response invites violence, and that people betrayed by their government have a legitimate right to defend themselves.

“We have to help ourselves. We are facing the most powerful autocratic regime in the world,” says Ma Ngok, an associate professor of government at Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Even with all that suppression, people keep coming out, and ordinary people keep coming out.” 

Beijing's view

As support spread in the normally conservative, pro-government quarters such as low-income housing estates, Beijing officials and newspapers tried to cast the campaign as an independence crusade bent on splitting the nation. Hong Kong protests were the work of separatists fomenting a “color revolution,” they said. But such efforts to divide the movement between “radicals” and ordinary marchers have failed. “There is a lot of tolerance,” Professor Ngok says. “We understand, strong solidarity.” 

As Ms. Lam remained intransigent, protesters stepped up their tactics. And many residents did not flinch – not when protesters ripped down surveillance cameras or blocked passengers at the airport, essentially paralyzing the air hub.

In frustration, police have employed new ways to contain and control crowds. The nights start with tear gas. A special tactical unit, nicknamed the raptors, race after members of the crowd, beating and sitting on them. 

“The extradition amendment caused all of whatever happened,” said Ms. Ho, the retired academic. “Lam’s reluctance, for whatever reason, is the real cause of all this violence. Her inaction … is causing all these escalations.”

Residents uninvolved in the protests were swept into the crackdown. Riot police have marched into many residential neighborhoods, housing estates, and rail stations to confront jeering crowds. Police shoot tear gas to disperse people who live on those same streets, drawing more people into the streets.

Entire neighborhoods have risen up. The working-class housing estate of Wong Tai Sin endured three nights as riot police tried to disperse residents who spent hours taunting officers and came back after they were gassed. On Aug. 11, residents in Sai Wan Ho, a middle-class area on Hong Kong Island, sheltered protesters before officers arrived. As more people amassed on the street, residents surrounded the police, screaming “black cops” and curses.

When the police began to retreat, some people banged on a police van, one witness recalled. As police charged, batons raised, hitting journalists on the head and shoving women wearing flip-flops, a few residents blocked the van. “I dare you to cross me! I dare you!” one shouted. Residents chased the van, tossing bottles, until the driver sped off.

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2. China’s trade practices have echo in America’s past

Human knowledge has a long history of fleeing walls and crossing borders. We look at lessons from the past for a U.S.-China trade war that threatens to escalate.

Noelle
Stew Milne/AP/File
The Slater Mill, on the banks of the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the first mill in the United States. It helped launch the American Industrial Revolution – with technology and know-how that Samuel Slater copied from Britain.

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Old Slater Mill in Rhode Island no longer churns out the cotton thread that helped start America’s Industrial Revolution. But lessons from the nation’s commercial rivalry with Britain two centuries ago still resonate in today’s U.S.-China trade war, which ratcheted up on Sept. 1 with new American tariffs and Chinese retaliation.

One lesson is that while it’s natural to try to protect intellectual property, efforts to halt the spread of technology are generally doomed. Back then it was a fledgling United States that benefited, much as China does today. People like Samuel Slater copied British technology. But if technology theft helped fuel America’s rise, the copycats also made improvements, fuzzing the distinction between theft and invention.

The danger today, some analysts say, is that trade tensions between two giant economies could escalate. Back in 1812, they helped spark a war and then unleashed a decoupling from the British economy. Today voices similarly are calling for disengagement from China, which would mark a U-turn from the globalists who wooed China to trade as a way to lower the risk of war.

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China’s trade practices have echo in America’s past

He pretended to be a farm laborer, slipping out of the world’s leading industrial power with high-tech secrets he wasn’t supposed to divulge, and came to a nation desperate to borrow or steal technology.

21st-century China? Hardly. It was 18th-century America.

The story of how Englishman Samuel Slater created a successful water-powered cotton-spinning mill here in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and helped usher in America’s Industrial Revolution has become the stuff of legend and spawned its own historical site just two blocks from city hall. But the history of early industrialization in the United States also offers parallels to the U.S. and China today as they struggle to resolve two radically different visions of trade and development.

Two lessons are particularly salient: Trade wars can contribute to the start of real wars. Attempts to halt intellectual property theft are doomed to fail.

“It’s a fool’s errand,” says Doron Ben-Atar, a Fordham University historian and author of “Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power.” “We maybe delay it by six months, maybe by 10 years. [But] China will not fail in acquiring the knowledge that it wants.”

It’s hard to bottle up knowledge

Fearing that the newly minted U.S. might develop into a rival, Britain jealously guarded its industrial technology, especially its state-of-the-art textile factories. It imposed heavy fines on those who would reveal details to rival British mills or take them out of the country. But after seven years’ apprenticeship in England as a kind of management trainee, and no prospects for getting the management job he craved, Mr. Slater ignored the penalties and made his way to America to make his fortune. Eventually, he landed in Pawtucket where, according to legend, he re-created the key British spinning machine from memory.

China and other developing nations have periodically pointed to America’s theft of British technology and subsequent tariffs to protect its budding manufacturers as justification for their own protectionist measures. There’s no question that Mr. Slater and other early American industrial heroes copied British ideas. But the reality is more nuanced than that. In copying the technology, they also made improvements – which happens with all technology.

This doesn’t mean nations like the U.S. should abandon efforts to protect intellectual property. In theory, it may make economic sense to define some knowledge as property so societies can encourage inventors to make new things by temporarily protecting their profits, Mr. Ben-Atar says. 

But in practice, he adds, it also pays to remember that humans have been copying and improving on other people’s ideas from the beginning. “It’s never quite clear where innovation begins and imitation ends,” he adds.

The difference in today’s China

There’s a difference between early America and 21st-century China. The Chinese program to acquire Western technology is more far-reaching and government-organized than anything the U.S. did, points out Douglas Irwin, a trade economist at Dartmouth College. When Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton got the U.S. government to sponsor the financing of giant mills in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1791, his plan failed. Instead, America’s development relied mostly on entrepreneurs and private capital to speed ahead. 

Tariffs helped. In 1812, the U.S. doubled tariffs to an average of about 25% on imported goods. But since the American market was large and growing, foreign and even British firms began moving manufacturing plants to the U.S. in order to sell their goods. The policy has parallels with today as multinationals and even Chinese firms move plants out of China to Vietnam and other developing nations to avoid U.S. tariffs.

This week, President Donald Trump’s latest round of tariffs took effect – on $100 billion of Chinese imports from footwear and clothing to consumer electronics. If he carries through with all his threats, the president will have doubled tariffs on China in six months to an average 24.3%, according to Chad Bown, a trade specialist at Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Development hinges on people, not just patents

Another lesson from America’s early history: Immigration – or at least cultural exchange – may be key to economic success. The myth surrounding Mr. Slater is that he came to the U.S. and built from memory the key machinery that he’d apprenticed on in England. The reality is that knockoffs of that machinery were already kicking around America. As the Old Slater Mill Association points out, what Mr. Slater really brought was a knowledge of factory management – how the system worked as a whole – that allowed labor and machinery to operate profitably. 

Skilled people make the difference, not the actual technology, says Mr. Ben-Atar of Fordham. “What works is that people who had the knowledge wanted to live here. As long as you are attractive to people with skills, they will come.”

Between 1790 and 1850, the U.S. population grew more than fivefold. China’s population, by contrast, is set to shrink over the next 60 years, according to the United Nations. A big boost in salaries for Chinese researchers, as well as a recent U.S. crackdown on U.S.-based Chinese scientists suspected of transferring technology out of the country, has curbed China’s so-called brain drain to America, according to some Chinese scientists. Aside from that, it’s not clear that China will be able to draw in foreign talent. 

China’s sheer size and burgeoning consumer economy will make the nation an economic power to reckon with. But demographic decline and a slowing economy suggest that China’s government-directed approach may not turn that nation into a juggernaut that overtakes the U.S.

“It remains a question whether China can avoid the middle-income trap,” at which some other developing nations have stalled, says Mr. Irwin of Dartmouth. “They still have a lot of headwinds.”  

From trade war to armed conflict?

Early American history also offers a warning: Unresolved trade tensions can lead toward war. To fight Napoleon, England blockaded French ports in 1807 and wouldn’t let in ships of neutral powers, including the U.S. Worse, it was so short of experienced sailors that it started to board U.S. merchant ships and press into service any British-born sailor, whether he was an American citizen or not. 

In an attempt to force Britain to back down, President Thomas Jefferson got Congress to pass an embargo against all British goods. It failed. Five years later, the U.S. declared war, at least in part because of Britain’s trade and impressment policies.

The War of 1812, which ended in a draw, redoubled American efforts to reduce their economic dependence on Britain. Today, U.S. columnists and technology advocates are sounding a similar theme, saying the nation must decouple its economy from China in order to remain strong.

Such a decoupling, if it is carried out, would represent a U-turn from the ideals of globalists, who sought China’s participation in the world trading order as a further step toward peace. Their idea: Nations that trade with each other are far less likely to fight each other, especially with a set of agreed-upon rules.

“Although many of Trump’s policies can be reversed, the tariffs on China are a game changer,” writes Mr. Bown in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs. “The Trump administration, together with China, as it retreats from pro-market reforms, may be moving the world back to the historic norm of political and economic blocs.”

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3. Target: journalists. Will personal probes undermine media?

A new conservative group is investigating the social media backgrounds of mainstream media journalists. Is turnabout fair play – or an attempt at intimidation?

Noelle

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Mohammed Elshamy posted anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter in 2011, when he was 16. A conservative group looking for negative information about journalists found and published them this August – and Mr. Elshamy, a CNN photo editor, lost his job.

“I think that it was very unfair, because I should not be punished as an adult for things that I said as a child,” he says.

Turnabout is fair play, says the pro-Trump group that uncovered the messages. It promises there’s more dirt on mainstream journalists to come.

News reports and the group’s social media messages describe GOP consultant Arthur Schwartz, a friend of Donald Trump Jr., as a central player in the organization. Its goal: undermine the mainstream media that President Donald Trump often decries.

Will that work? So far they’ve exposed youthful internet misbehavior by Mr. Elshamy and a New York Times editor. Their promised flood of damning information has yet to surface.

Journalists shouldn’t get a pass on bigoted behavior, say press critics. But they shouldn’t get dragged down and examined as if they are part of political warfare, either.

“If we lose the power of the press, we’re going to lose it all,” says veteran newsman Marvin Kalb.

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Target: journalists. Will personal probes undermine media?

Hit with tear gas and rubber bullets, the CNN photo editor was already having a rough week. In late July, Mohammed Elshamy was covering protests against the Puerto Rican governor on San Juan’s streets. Then his phone erupted with alerts.

Anti-Semitic tweets Mr. Elshamy had posted in 2011 as a 16-year-old in revolution-rapt Egypt were resurfacing on right-wing accounts. Reactions poured in. 

The next day, he apologized to the Jewish community and beyond on Twitter. “I will continue to hold myself accountable for my actions, and work to correct any harm I have caused,” he wrote, noting he no longer relates to the hateful comments made as an uninformed minor. The death threats kept coming. Some reached him by phone. Anti-Muslim slurs mounted against him as the online shaming spread.

“I think that it was very unfair, because I should not be punished as an adult for things that I said as a child,” he says. “I just think it was very easy for those who were attacking me to target someone called Mohammed.”

Mr. Elshamy’s youthful anti-Semitic comments didn’t just reappear by happenstance. A pro-Trump network of conservatives – loosely organized, its funding sources unknown – appears to have found and posted them as part of an effort to undermine individual journalists at mainstream media organizations deemed antagonistic to the president, according to The New York Times, Axios, and tweets from some involved in the effort.

Such public airing of past off-color statements points to a new reality that has already felled politicians and kicked students out of university. Now journalists increasingly find their pasts politicized under similar scrutiny, at a time when the media faces rampant distrust.

For some media watchers, this is fair turnabout for an industry that runs on scrutinizing the moves of others. The question remains how newsrooms will deal with reporters whose muddy digital footprints track in potential liabilities. For Mr. Elshamy, the Twitter blowup cost him a job. 

“As a free speech advocate ... I agree with the people who say that journalists shouldn’t be thin-skinned,” says J. Alex Tarquinio, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. 

“On the other hand, it’s equally absurd to chastise them for remarks they may have made on social media years ago, possibly before they were professional journalists.”

A politicized press 

Marvin Kalb knows press intimidation well. As a CBS correspondent, the veteran journalist earned a spot on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.” Later the founding director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Dr. Kalb says the conservative discrediting campaign speaks to a larger concern: Journalists “have become part of the political warfare of this country.” 

Along with the Times, CNN and The Washington Post are reportedly the main targets; Mr. Trump has called them out for liberal bias. Besides Mr. Elshamy, another casualty of the campaign so far is Tom Wright-Piersanti, a Times editor who was slammed following the discovery of old posts disparaging Jews and Native Americans, for which he has apologized.

Ms. Tarquinio says politics has always been full of partisans digging up negative information about opponents. It’s turning those same tricks against journalists that’s new.

“It’s difficult to say how much of that is the political moment since the last election, and the hyperpolarization” versus “how much is simply the culture growing up on social media, which is this desperate competition for attention,” she says.

Axios reported Tuesday that a “loose network” involving GOP consultant Arthur Schwartz, a self-described internet “troll,” hopes to raise $2 million to investigate employees at outlets they accuse of “bias and misinformation,” according to a fundraising pitch.

The project will track reporters and editors at not just CNN, the Times, and the Post; it will also pull MSNBC, BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and broadcast networks into the crosshairs. Discovered dirt will get passed to “friendly media outlets” like Breitbart for airing. Ironically, the group is capitalizing on exposure from the Times story to get information, Axios reports.

The White House has reportedly denied involvement or awareness of the campaign. But PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and other media advocates charge Mr. Trump with setting a tone that implicitly encourages such an effort.

“The president should call for an immediate end to all such schemes, and insist that his supporters and all associated with his administration and campaign refrain from any interference whatsoever with the role of the press,” she said in a statement. 

Mr. Trump’s labeling the press “the enemy of the people” has become a hallmark of his presidency. His loyalists’ latest operation signals that even lesser-known newsmakers are easy prey. Allies like Mr. Schwartz echo Mr. Trump’s attitude toward what he calls “mainstream media.”

A conservative consultant and friend of Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Schwartz has a history of online hate-baiting. Besides shaming some of the journalists targeted by the conservative campaign, Mr. Schwartz spread a false personal rumor about former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, for which Mr. Schwartz later apologized. He’s also close to Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s ex-chief strategist, and Breitbart, the online “alt-right” platform that has published takedowns of journalists like Mr. Wright-Piersanti.

“If the @nytimes thinks this settles the matter we can expose a few of their other bigots. Lots more where this came from,” tweeted Mr. Schwartz, who also resurfaced Mr. Elshamy’s tweets.

The takedowns appear aimed at those who produce critical coverage of the White House. This week Mr. Schwartz attempted to crowdsource dirt on Phillip Rucker and Josh Dawsey, two Washington Post journalists who he claims have behaved unethically on the job. On Twitter Mr. Schwartz called for screenshots of texts and photos of the reporters “that will embarrass them.” He promised senders, “Your identity will be protected.”

“Shocked and floored”

In July Mr. Schwartz resurfaced Mr. Elshamy’s old tweets that referenced victims of a 2011 Jerusalem bombing as Jewish “pigs.”

“I was shocked and floored at the decision by CNN to force a resignation onto me at this point in my life,” says Mr. Elshamy, who believes his minority status as an Arab and Muslim held him to a higher standard on the job and played a role in his exit. He says the success of the Trump allies’ campaign “depends on how the [media] outlets react.”

Asked about Mr. Elshamy’s departure, Matt Dornic, CNN World’s vice president of communication, told the Monitor the company doesn’t publicly discuss individuals’ employment details.

“It’s quite possible to oppose the retaliatory tactics being employed by this administration and its allies while maintaining an expectation of accountability among your staff,” Mr. Dornic said in an email.

Michelle Ferrier, dean of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University’s journalism school, has seen a sharp rise in right-wing and white supremacist online networks over the past two years that attempt to derail stories by contradicting facts and attacking individual journalists. Their ultimate goal is eroding public trust in the media, she says.

“Unfortunately we also see some significant retaliation by media organizations [against] people who are experiencing this kind of harm online,” says Dr. Ferrier, who founded TrollBusters, a website offering support for targets of online abuse. 

Dr. Ferrier argues that using journalists as the face of media organizations for brand development and visibility puts them at significant risk of harassment. Dealing with trolling diverts their attention from their actual reporting. 

Dr. Ferrier says women and people of color take considerable heat based on their identities. As an African American, she received racist hate mail as a columnist for the Daytona Beach News-Journal in the 2000s. A decade later as dean of FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, she encourages young journalists to consider using a pen name in order to separate their online clips from their private life. 

Echoing other media advocates, Dr. Ferrier highlights the need for news organizations to take social media policies seriously and “really monitor their own talent.” It’s all about preempting the next digital storm.

“It’s not a matter of if it happens, but when it happens,” she says.

Fair scrutiny?

In a public memo to staff, Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger thanked “the journalists at The Times and elsewhere who brave this type of pressure daily to bring essential information to the public.” He also underscored that the Times isn’t above scrutiny.

“If anyone – even those acting in bad faith – brings legitimate problems to our attention, we’ll look into them and respond appropriately,” Mr. Sulzberger wrote.

Conservative media have called out the Times and other mainstream news organizations for hypocrisy on this issue.

Old social media posts have “been an invaluable resource for showing how histrionic, partisan, arrogant, uneducated, and ignorant far too many in our political media are. Their work product shows the results of these traits. And as we all can see, it’s not pretty,” tweeted Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway on Aug. 25.

Media writer Jack Shafer also tells the Times and its fellows to toughen up.

“Journalists don’t deserve a get-out-of-bigotry-jail free card just because they’re journalists,” Mr. Shafer writes in Politico Magazine. “If their past tweets, however ancient, undercut their current journalistic work or make them sound hypocritical, they can’t blame their diminished prestige on Trump’s allies.”

Mr. Shafer argues that deep scrutiny of the media – and embarrassing discoveries that ensue – help uphold professional standards that newsrooms say they esteem.

“Instead of damning its critics for going through its staffs’ social media history with tweezers, the Times and A.G. Sulzberger should send them a thank you card.”

Dr. Kalb has heard this argument countless times over his 60-year career.

“I totally agree – go ahead and examine us. But don’t examine the reporter as if the reporter is part of political warfare,” he says. “If we lose the power of the press, we’re going to lose it all.”

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4. Why religion and politics are a fickle mix in Ukraine

Religion and politics can make for uncomfortable bedfellows. Patriarch Filaret’s ambitions for a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church were disrupted when they became enmeshed in a presidential platform.

Noelle
Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept. 28, 2018.

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Patriarch Filaret has sought for decades to unite Ukraine's Orthodox believers under one church aligned with the state. But his efforts have come undone, brought down by changing political realities.

At its peak last year, Patriarch Filaret’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate had approximately a third of Ukrainian believers. And time and historical dynamics certainly appeared to be on Patriarch Filaret’s side.

But last year, then-President Petro Poroshenko sponsored the creation of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and made the new church into a central plank of his reelection campaign. Then come the election, Ukrainian voters elected Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a TV personality who downplayed hyper-patriotism and seemed to call for social reconciliation. That appears to have put the brakes on momentum for a united Ukrainian church.

In a silver lining, it also brought a halt to the parish-by-parish battle for control that had been shaping up. Before communities were being torn in half over whether to maintain ties with the older Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church or to switch to the new church.

“When Poroshenko lost, the turmoil basically stopped,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kyiv. “Things have quieted down for the time being.”

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Why religion and politics are a fickle mix in Ukraine

For nearly three decades, Mykhailo Denysenko, best known today as Patriarch Filaret, has waged a battle to unite Ukraine’s 25 million Orthodox believers under a single Ukrainian church aligned with an independent Ukraine. His primary obstacle has been the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which is home to the lion’s share of Ukraine’s divided Orthodox communion.

At its peak last year, Patriarch Filaret’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) had approximately a third of Ukrainian believers. And time and historical dynamics certainly appeared to be on Patriarch Filaret’s side to consolidate the rest.

But that all got turned on its ear last year when the struggle between the Kyiv- and Moscow-aligned patriarchates became ensnared in Ukraine’s presidential politics.

Then-President Petro Poroshenko sponsored the creation of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), made “canonical” by a patriarchal charter issued by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The problem was that Mr. Poroshenko made his sponsorship of the new church into a central plank of his reelection campaign, which focused heavily on the patriotic themes of “Army! Language! Faith!” Patriarch Filaret now complains that he was strong-armed into folding his own hard-won parishes into the new church, accepting the title of “honorary patriarch,” and even appearing at election events to campaign for Mr. Poroshenko.

Come the election, Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly rejected Mr. Poroshenko, and elected Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Russian-speaking TV personality who downplayed hyper-patriotism and seemed to call for social peace and reconciliation. That appears to have put the brakes on momentum for a united Ukrainian church.

But in a silver lining, it also brought a halt to the parish-by-parish battle for control that had been shaping up under Mr. Poroshenko. Where before communities were being torn in half over whether to maintain ties with the Moscow-affiliated church or to reorient to the Kyiv-affiliated one, the frustration of Patriarch Filaret’s vision also meant a return to a peaceful status quo.

“When Poroshenko lost, the turmoil basically stopped,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kyiv. “There have been no parishes joining the new church since then, and things have quieted down for the time being.”

Mixing church and state

In three separate interviews with the Monitor over the past five years, Patriarch Filaret has outlined his purposes and his determination to bring the country’s divided Orthodox believers into a single church.

But today, after the charter (or tomos) from Patriarch Bartholomew, who is considered “first among equals” in the world’s 14 independent Orthodox religious communities, the patriarch is sidelined, angry, and waging a bitter legal battle to regain control of his church.

From the splendor of his Kyiv mansion, Patriarch Filaret now claims that he was deceived by Mr. Poroshenko, and by the honorary patriarch’s former deputy and new primate of the OCU, Metropolitan Epiphany. He now says that he did not understand that the tomos from Constantinople would place his independent Ukrainian church under the control of a foreign patriarch, even if he is in Constantinople rather than Moscow.

“Poroshenko interfered in church affairs. He made a deal we were ignorant of,” says Patriarch Filaret.

“Had we known that the tomos would have this character, we would never have agreed to it,” he says. “This tomos just changed one form of dependence for another. When we didn’t have the tomos, we were truly independent, even if we weren’t recognized. Now this new church headed by Epiphany may be autocephalous in the eyes of Constantinople, but all the other 13 Orthodox communities in the world still do not recognize it. ... They did not keep their word. Poroshenko and Epiphany deceived me. Before all this, the Kyiv patriarchate was united, independent, and strong. Now it is divided, and only the Moscow patriarchate is happy.”

Fred Weir
The Rev. Nikolai Danilevich, sitting in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, says that cases of “raiding” of the church’s parishes by proponents of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine have dropped to almost none since President Zelenskiy’s election.

He complains that the new status places the huge and influential Ukrainian diaspora under control of Constantinople, and limits the ability of the Ukrainian church to express its loyalty to the Ukrainian state. Patriarch Filaret says the cause of unifying Ukrainian believers has suffered a bad setback due to political meddling.

“If our Ukrainian Orthodox believers were united, it would be the second largest Orthodox community in the world, after Russia,” he says. “And Ukraine, as a state, will only be genuinely independent when it has an independent church. We will go on fighting for that.”

But religious scholars argue that church politics has always moved at a glacial pace, and that the new Ukrainian church created by the charter from Constantinople will survive and gradually grow. Once it has united most Ukrainian believers under one roof – a process that might take decades, or even centuries – it will be granted the right to have its own patriarch.

“Filaret is a great personage. Until recently, he was above criticism,” says Yevgeny Kharkovchenko, a religious scholar at Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv. “But from the point of view of Ukrainian experts, the tomos is a canonical document” that makes the new Ukrainian church truly autocephalous, or independent in a way that is recognized under church laws. “Whether it is under a patriarch, or a metropolitan, is just a detail.”

He says it’s impossible to know what was privately agreed between Patriarch Filaret, Metropolitan Epiphany, and Mr. Poroshenko, but that Patriarch Filaret should have known what he was doing when he took off his patriarch’s hat and accepted the title of “honorary patriarch.”

An end to the fight over parishes?

The new government under President Zelenskiy is unlikely to intervene in church affairs as its predecessor did, which will allow the process of Ukrainian believers choosing which church they want to affiliate with to proceed in a normal, peaceful manner, says Mr. Kharkovchenko.

“If you exist, go on developing by yourself without any state interference,” is Mr. Zelenskiy’s attitude, he says.

“There are now two different Orthodox communities in Ukraine, two different spheres of influence – Moscow and Constantinople – and both will carry on. Maybe Moscow will grant autocephaly to the UOC-MP, and allow it to be truly independent?” Mr. Kharkovchenko adds. “In any case, there is no longer any place between these two for Filaret.”

That appears to suit the heads of the UOC-MP, who have always denied any links with Moscow other than spiritual affiliation.

The Rev. Nikolai Danilevich, deputy head of external relations for the UOC-MP, says that cases of “raiding” of the church’s parishes by proponents of the new autocephalous church have dropped to almost none since Mr. Zelenskiy’s election. Some parishes that had switched under pressure have returned to the Moscow-affiliated church, he says.

“All this talk of autocephaly has stopped. You don’t seen anything in the media about it anymore,” Father Nikolai says. “We don’t want or need any privileges. We want the authorities to treat all churches as equally on the basis of law and order. Over the past five years we saw a lot of things that were far from that, but the atmosphere in the country has now become much better, much healthier. ...

“We wish we didn’t even have to know the name of whomever happens to be prime minister or president at any given moment, as it is in other parts of the world. But, alas, we still don’t have that luxury.”

Editors note: This story has been updated to correct a misstatement about the leadership needed for an autocephalous church.

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. The woman who’s appeared for 700-plus exams – to help disabled students

Pushpa Nagaraj knows what it’s like to fear your chance at an education could slip out of reach. Today, she’s helping students with disabilities take control of their future, one test at a time.

Noelle
Ganesh Vancheeswaran
Pushpa Nagaraj feared she'd have to drop out of school when her family experienced financial hardship. Today, those memories of having a question mark over her schooling motivate her to volunteer as an exam scribe for disabled students.

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When Pushpa Nagaraj was growing up in Bangalore, the glitzy high-tech capital of India, her father lost his job after an injury, and the family suddenly found itself struggling. Her brother dropped out of school to take odd jobs – and Ms. Nagaraj feared she’d have to as well.

Today, she has a full-time job at an IT firm. But she’s never forgotten what it’s like to have a question mark over her future.

Since 2007, Ms. Nagaraj has been a volunteer scribe, patiently reading exams aloud and recording answers for hundreds of students with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments.

Many disabled students “balk at the prospect of writing exams and drop out,” says Vijaya Sundararaman, a trustee at the Vinyasa Trust for Differently Challenged, who helped Ms. Nagaraj begin volunteering. “And so, their education comes to an abrupt halt, midway.”

Word about Ms. Nagaraj’s volunteering has spread, and she now gets requests from people in Jaipur and the state of Sikkim, both located more than 1,000 miles from Bangalore. She’s also established a network of volunteers who help each other field requests.

It’s challenging work to maintain with her full-time schedule. But “I have no complaints,” she says. “Actually, I feel very blessed.”

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The woman who’s appeared for 700-plus exams – to help disabled students

Next week, Pushpa Nagaraj will appear for her 720th exam. But she won’t be taking the exam for herself. 

Since 2007, Ms. Nagaraj has helped hundreds of visually challenged students take exams by acting as their scribe, reading them the questions and then writing down the answers they give. Despite government guidelines, few schools can actually guarantee this service.

While Ms. Nagaraj’s vision is fine, she knows what it’s like to have a shadow cast over one’s future. When she was growing up in the South Indian city of Bangalore, the glitzy IT capital of India, her father lost his job after a back injury. The family suddenly found itself in dire circumstances. Her brother dropped out of school and took odd jobs, while her mother made a meager salary at a small factory. Ms. Nagaraj, then in seventh grade, thought she’d have to drop out as well.

After knocking on several doors, her mother managed to raise enough money to educate her daughter through high school.

“A few kind souls, including my teachers, lent us money for my school fees,” Ms. Nagaraj recalls.

Knowing that college was out of reach, she started working as a telephone booth operator. Today, she’s a project coordinator for an IT firm.

One day, as she was helping a few visually impaired children cross the road, it struck her how difficult even everyday tasks could be for them. Her home was next to Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, which advocates for visually impaired children, and she began to discuss their challenges with Vijaya Sundararaman, who was then a volunteer there. 

Ms. Nagaraj wanted to help others come at least as far as she had in life. “Since I had struggled to complete my schooling, I wanted to ease the journey of these children a bit,” she says.

“Given the hardships she had faced in school, she wanted to lessen the pain for other students as much as she could,” recalls Ms. Sundararaman.

“One step closer”

Ms. Sundararaman encouraged Ms. Nagaraj to record audiobooks for the children to use. Soon, she “graduated” to scribing for them during exams. She extends the same service to students with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, or broken arms.

Take Karthik Ramesh, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Ms. Nagaraj scribed for him once. 

“Before the exam started, she established a rapport with Karthik,” says his father, Ramesh Borappa. “She told him to be calm and just think of answers to the questions. She would take care of the rest, she said. This really put Karthik’s mind at ease. Often, she would have to read out a question to him several times before he understood it. But she did it patiently. For my son, Pushpa is indeed a godsend.”

Roughly 40 million people in India have some degree of visual impairment, and most children with sight challenges do not have access to specialized schooling. Many do not pursue formal education at all. But even for those who attend mainstream classes, timed exams – key for Indian educational institutions, where scores are especially important – present additional difficulties.

“Many of them balk at the prospect of writing exams and drop out,” says Ms. Sundararaman, now a trustee at the Bangalore-based Vinyasa Trust for Differently Challenged, which supports students with disabilities. “And so, their education comes to an abrupt halt, midway.”

Having a scribe, who can read out questions and record the student’s answers, can be the difference between passing and failing.

“In spite of working much harder than my sighted friends to learn the same topics, I used to be worried that I wouldn’t be able to convey my answers at the exam,” says Rakshith Nagabhushan, who is blind. Ms. Nagaraj scribed for him when he was a student at the Canara Bank School of Management Studies in Bangalore.

“When I pass an exam, I know I am one step closer to finding a job,” adds Mr. Nagabhushan, who has now applied for an advanced employability course, as a precursor to getting a job that uses his computer skills.

Scribing takes extreme patience, deep listening skills, and empathy. “Initially, I was very afraid. ... What if I misunderstood a student and wrote down a wrong answer? The student would suffer!” Ms. Nagaraj says.

But gradually, she shed her doubts. Over the past 12 years, word about her work has spread – so much so that she now gets requests from people in Jaipur and the state of Sikkim, both of which are located more than 1,000 miles from Bangalore.

“Knowing that Pushpa madam will patiently sit through the exam with me means so much,” says Veerendra Naik, a student at KLE College in Bangalore, for whom Ms. Nagaraj has scribed three exams. “She allows me to calmly think of the answers.”

Karen Norris/Staff

Growing reach

Without a formal system for scribing, students rely on informal networks of volunteers. Over the years, Ms. Nagaraj has built relationships with a few nonprofit organizations in Bangalore, where she coordinates requests. She has also set up a network of volunteers that posts requests through a WhatsApp group.

“If I can’t take on a scribing assignment, chances are someone else can,” says Kavya Thimmaiah, a member of the group. “It helps people like me channel our desire to help others.” 

The number of scribes is growing, Ms. Nagaraj says. She attributes this, in part, to more awareness of disabilities.

Meanwhile, she continues to do much of the scribing herself. She wrote 17 exams in June alone.

Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, she received the Nari Shakti Puraskar (The Strength of a Woman Award) – India’s highest civilian award for contributions by women, given by the president of India. It has deeply encouraged not just her, but the entire scribing community – and, she hopes, it will encourage more volunteers to come forward. 

Ms. Nagaraj is keenly aware of ongoing challenges, chief of which is that, every once in a while, she has to ward off requests from students to give them the answers during exams. Another challenge is to expand the circle of scribes. Despite these, she is immensely grateful for having the opportunity to help others. “I have no complaints. Actually, I feel very blessed,” she says.

Karen Norris/Staff
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The Monitor's View

Hong Kong busts a myth of foreign ‘black hands’

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For three months, as protesters in Hong Kong have demanded basic civic rights, China’s state-run media have depicted them as tools of outside powers. On Wednesday, however, the pro-Beijing leader of Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, popped this myth of a foreign conspiracy. And perhaps along with it, she challenged the Communist Party’s narrative of China as a continuous victim of foreign interference that needs the dictatorial rule of the party.

Her message was evident in her withdrawal of a bill that would have permitted China to extradite alleged offenders in Hong Kong for trial on the mainland, which lacks independent courts. She acknowledged the widespread grievances of people in Hong Kong. And she based her U-turn on the need to “fully allay public concerns.” No foreign “hand” was blamed.

Many authoritarian rulers have invented an evil enemy to justify their oppression or to divert attention from domestic problems. In the digital age, such lies are difficult to pull off. And with a bit of truth-telling, such as Ms. Lam’s admission that the protests are valid, the alleged evil loses its force.

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Hong Kong busts a myth of foreign ‘black hands’

For three months, as protesters in Hong Kong have demanded basic civic rights, China’s state-run media have depicted them as tools of outside powers. Its foreign minister warned “Western forces” to “pull back the black hand you have shown.” One American diplomat was targeted for allegedly instigating the demonstrations.

On Wednesday, however, the pro-Beijing leader of Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, popped this myth of a foreign conspiracy. And perhaps along with it, she challenged the Communist Party’s narrative of China as a continuous victim of foreign interference that needs the dictatorial rule of the party.

Her message was evident in her withdrawal of a bill that would have permitted China to extradite alleged offenders in Hong Kong for trial on the mainland, which lacks independent courts. She acknowledged the widespread grievances of people in Hong Kong. And she based her U-turn on the need to “fully allay public concerns.” No foreign “hand” was blamed.

Despite her concession on the extradition bill, protesters vow to keep pressing their other demands, such as universal suffrage. Yet at least now Beijing’s strong backing of the measure has been shown to be a mistake, damaging its credibility. And it can no longer claim a Western conspiracy behind protests that Ms. Lam deems quite legitimate.

Many authoritarian rulers have invented an evil enemy to justify their oppression or to divert attention from domestic problems. In the digital age, such lies are difficult to pull off. And with a bit of truth-telling, such as Ms. Lam’s admission that the protests are valid, the alleged evil loses its force.

In addition, Ms. Lam said Hong Kong needs “a common basis” to start a dialogue about public grievances and “this has to start with the chief executive.” This is a rare case of self-reflection for a leader so closely tied to the Communist Party.

Since 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, China’s party has pegged its survival on convincing Chinese they are vulnerable to foreign powers. In Hong Kong, however, that narrative has been challenged by protests that seek to keep the rights and liberties left behind by British rule before 1997, when the territory was handed over to China.

With the myth of evil forces now busted by one of its own, the party might want to follow Ms. Lam’s example and engage in self-reflection. False claims of enemies fall fast these days.

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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.

Giving brushoffs the brushoff

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One man’s acting pursuits increasingly came at the expense of his family obligations, until things reached a tipping point. As he prayed for clarity, a harmonious, loving, and fulfilling resolution followed for him and his family.

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Giving brushoffs the brushoff

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Not long ago, I came across a post on social media describing how a man in a store checkout line began taking handfuls of coins out of his pockets to pay for his groceries. But he repeatedly miscounted and finally got so upset that his hands began shaking.

It would have been easy enough for the cashier to stand back and let her customer solve his dilemma. But she took his hands in hers and simply said, “Let’s do this together.” In a minute or two his items were paid for and he was on his way.

Someone then thanked the cashier for being so kind. She replied, “You shouldn’t have to thank me. We all just need to love one another.”

Although this is a small example, it illustrates how selflessness and a genuine desire to help can overcome indifference and the temptation to brush others off. It reminds me of a statement in a book called “The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany” by the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. It says: “Love for mankind is the elevator of the human race; it demonstrates Truth and reflects divine Love” (p. 288).

Christian Science explains that Truth and Love are synonyms for God, who created all of us in His spiritual image. What does that suggest for us, then? For one thing, that we don’t have to give in to feelings of indifference or apathy that would distance us from those around us, because expressing love and warmth is natural. These are qualities everyone can cultivate by actively letting the grace of God, Love, inspire how we interact with others. When we do this, there simply is no place for indifference in us.

Early in my marriage, when our daughters were both still quite small, I became fascinated with community theater. I landed several parts in fairly quick succession over a couple of years. Evening rehearsals, extended performance dates, and cast parties were new and exciting – but only for me. They actually kept me away from my home and family. I missed some important family dates and events, and my wife spent many evenings and weekends home alone with our children.

Slowly I began to realize there was something very wrong here. The problem wasn’t that I had a hobby outside the home, but that the situation had become extreme, clouding my natural desire to engage meaningfully with my family. Although my wife and I never argued about the fact that I was brushing off my responsibilities of home, family, and marriage, it was clear that she and our daughters were moving forward and that I needed to decide whether or not to be an active partner on their path.

This was a wake-up call for me to pray for clarity. A statement I found in the chapter called “Marriage” in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy shone like a spotlight. It said, “Fulfilling the different demands of their united spheres, their sympathies should blend in sweet confidence and cheer, each partner sustaining the other, – thus hallowing the union of interests and affections, in which the heart finds peace and home” (p. 59). God’s children are made to feel and express love harmoniously, not distance ourselves from it.

Things changed as I considered these ideas: Soon my interest in amateur acting lessened, and it felt right to let it dissolve completely. I naturally and happily moved into a much closer and engaged sense of marriage and home.

We’re all capable of feeling the touch of divine grace, which supports us in putting others first and keeping them there. Recognizing God’s love for us naturally inspires a genuine desire to love and help others – and to reject whatever would pull us away from doing so. Then we actively lift each other up in our families and communities.

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Viewfinder

Why walk when you can roll?

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
A Pomeranian dog sits in a rolling pet carrier in Hong Kong on Sept. 4, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 5th, 2019 )

Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when we’ll explore how U.S. immigration policy is affecting Canada.

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