2019
September
09
Monday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Today we look at citizen confidence in a young Arab democracy, high-stakes symbolism in a U.S. state election, relief (and kinship) on a battered coast, a global accounting of a humanitarian concern, and a bold push for engagement with women’s sports. 

First, a look at three efforts to promote the exchange of perspectives.

Scholars have long endorsed openness to ideas. Now more colleges want to fuel that flow by discouraging students from using social media to over-engineer their choice of roommate. Risk may rise with random pairings. So can rewards.   

“As campus administrators have long argued, people (ought to) attend college not only to get a degree,” writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic, “but also to transcend their comfort zone – by engaging with people, disciplines, and ideas that diverge from what they are used to.” 

That’s no less important when students shift into “service years.” One response: a pilot program in San Jose, California, that encourages empty nesters to make room for housing-hungry kids whose stipends can’t cover rent, but who can provide companionship and exchange views.  

“It’s kind of a perfect, natural fit,” a program manager tells The Mercury News

And in the workplace, an “open hiring” ethos may be broadening. Greyston began as a bakery in Yonkers, New York. Last summer it became a center for promoting a leap-of-faith style of hiring that minimizes traditional tripping points like criminal records or a need for life-skills coaching – and deepens workplace diversity. 

“We’ve gotten a lot of inbound interest,” chief executive Mike Brady tells Fast Company. Fifteen organizations, including Unilever and NYU’s Stern School of Business, have signed on.

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1. 26 candidates, 2 weeks: Tunisia’s crash course in democracy

The cradle of the Arab Spring, Tunisia gets surprisingly little attention. As elections near, our reporter returns for a multimonth visit and finds a young democracy that may have lessons to offer established ones.

Taylor Luck
A volunteer carefully plasters an election poster on his candidate’s designated box in a row of 26 presidential candidates on a street in northern Tunis, Tunisia, on Sept. 5, 2019.

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Just eight years have passed since Tunisia’s Arab Spring uprising overthrew a dictator. Four enthusiastic but charged elections since have led to a rapid evolution in voters’ behavior. Observers and voters say Tunisians are looking beyond party and personalities and focusing on one thing: policies.

When President Beji Caid Essebsi died in office this summer, an unelected caretaker executive took over with a 60-day constitutional mandate. Tunisia’s parties and institutions agreed to push through elections at a breakneck speed for the sake of their country.

That meant sorting through 26 approved candidates in just two weeks of campaigning. Yet many here are suggesting that this up-and-coming democracy may have a lesson or two to offer established Western democracies under siege from populist strongmen, ideological divisions, and disinformation.

Seifeddine Makhlouf, a defense lawyer, is the race’s youngest candidate. “The lesson we Tunisians can teach the world is how to go beyond divisions based on ideology, race, and religion and get to the heart of the matter – the solutions,” he says. “People here have gone through a crash-course on democracy. ... We want a battle of ideas, not a battle of ideologies or personalities.”

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26 candidates, 2 weeks: Tunisia’s crash course in democracy

A death, a dictator, and a deadline. The combination has kicked off the world’s most whirlwind presidential elections.

But even as Tunisians race to choose among more than two dozen candidates in two weeks of campaigning, there are nevertheless signs that one of the world’s youngest democracies is solidifying in an unstable region.

Among the dynamics in play in the shortened contest: close regulation of media coverage is limiting outside influences on the election and driving campaigns into an intensive grassroots mode; and the sheer number of candidates is prompting voters to focus less on personality and party, and more on policy.

Many here are suggesting that having overcome initial growing pains, this up-and-coming democracy may have a lesson or two to offer to established Western democracies under siege from populist strongmen, ideological divisions, and disinformation.

“The lesson we Tunisians can teach the world is how to go beyond divisions based on ideology, race, and religion and get to the heart of the matter – the solutions,” says Seifeddine Makhlouf, a defense lawyer who at 44 is the race’s youngest candidate.

“People here have gone through a crash-course on democracy and are wiser and more skeptical,” he says. “We want a battle of ideas, not a battle of ideologies or personalities.”

Constitutional crisis

When 92-year-old Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi died in office on July 25, Tunisians, who just eight years ago ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a democratic revolution, found themselves in an uncomfortably familiar spot.

The country was suddenly ruled by an unelected caretaker executive with a constitutional mandate set to expire in 60 days.

With the still fresh memory of a dictator trampling constitutional norms, all Tunisian parties and institutions agreed to push through elections at a breakneck speed for the sake of their country.

On July 31, the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission announced the date for Tunisia’s presidential elections – September 15 – and gave candidates seven days to register and gather 10,000 signatures.

Impressively, 92 candidates applied; in the end, 26 were approved.

Name your politics and there is a candidate for you: socialists, communists, Islamists, neoliberals, military men, media moguls, billionaires, even a Ben Ali apologist who wants to bring back the former dictator’s party.

There are so many candidates, each has been designated a number. The digits are prominently placed on posters and billboards across the country, often larger than the candidate’s face itself.

Taylor Luck
Tunisian defense minister and presidential candidate Abdelkarim Zbidi (left) greets voters in a cafe in the town of Ras Jebel, Tunisia on Thursday September 5, 2019.

Media minima

But amid the mad dash to the presidency, something else unusual is happening in Tunisia.

Given the sheer number of candidates and the two-week campaigning period, media are barely having an impact.  

With Tunisians fatigued by nonstop television spots, radio ads, and Facebook posts, such factors as grandstanding, personal attacks, quips, and name recognition are barely registering. There are simply too many voices at once.

Following the meddling of Gulf Arab- and Turkey-backed media outlets and social media campaigns that polarized Tunisians in previous polls, the electoral commission is also closely scrutinizing campaign coverage. Outlets are not the only ones held accountable for infringements and fabrications – candidates too face suspension for violations.

Election authorities are even imposing a two-day “electoral silence” – a ban on campaigning and media coverage on the eve of polls and election day to prevent an 11th-hour bombshell from swaying voters.

“This time, the media can no longer give a candidate an advantage; the only way to win votes is through grassroots campaigning on the ground,” says Rihab Trilla, youth campaign coordinator for Moncef Marzouki, Tunisia’s first post-revolution president, who is running again after losing to Mr. Essebsi in 2014.

“People demand to see candidates in person and be convinced by what they have to say and their sincerity.”

Cafe culture

As in a U.S. primary, Tunisian candidates are crisscrossing the country to towns and villages many have never visited before, literally introducing themselves and fighting for each and every vote.

Yet while U.S. Democratic candidates glad-hand and eat novelty fried food at Midwest fairs and farmers markets, Tunisia’s candidates are descending on cafes.

With Tunisians’ affinity for sitting in cafes from dawn to midnight, they are the perfect place for a captive audience.

An outdoor cafe in downtown Ras Jebel, 40 miles north of Tunis, was the first stop on Thursday for Abdelkarim Zbidi, Tunisia’s defense minister, who despite being an ally of the recently deceased president is largely unknown to the public.

Mr. Zbidi, dressed in internationally recognized politician casual – jacketless, button-down shirt, open collar, no tie, and rolled-up sleeves – shook hands with curious cafe-goers one by one as 20 supporters donning white T-shirts emblazoned with his name chanted “Let’s unite over Zbidi.”

“Make this country safe again!” shouted one supporter. Mr. Zbidi nodded and smiled. “That is my vow.”

Sharif Rafrafi, 69, clasped Mr. Zbidi’s hand and pulled him close for an animated chat, urging him to “make Tunisia strong!”

Smiling politely, the candidate eventually broke free and sat at a table for a shot of espresso.

Mr. Rafrafi came away impressed.

“We want someone who will strengthen the president’s powers and bring back law and order,” says Mr. Rafrafi. He listed the woes plaguing his hometown: crime, smuggling, and drug abuse.

“After seeing Zbidi in action, I believe this is the person for the job.”

A group of four undecided voters who had come to see Mr. Zbidi in the flesh sat in the corner unswayed, nursing their glasses of espresso.

The four men say they have a favorite who champions their causes: firebrand socialist Hamma Hammami, who runs on a platform of nationalizing resources and guaranteeing a living wage.

But due to a number of similar left-leaning candidates borrowing Mr. Hammami’s socialist talking points, they doubt he will make the 500,000-vote threshold needed for a potential second round.

In their words, “he doesn’t have a chance.”

Instead, the four have a greater priority: selecting a candidate with the best chance of stopping front-runner Youssef Chahed. Or, as they call him, “the disaster.” The outgoing prime minister has overseen painful IMF austerity measures that many believe have caused unemployment, inflation, and currency devaluation.

“Unfortunately, we are not casting a vote for the candidate we want, we are casting a vote for the candidate who is the most electable, and least objectionable,” says Munaam Kawash, a 38-year-old science teacher.

“We are learning that having a choice is not the same as having a chance.”

Rapid evolution

Four enthusiastic but charged elections over the past eight years have led to a rapid evolution of Tunisian voters’ behavior.

In the wake of Mr. Ben Ali’s ouster, Tunisians rushed in 2011 toward the group the dictator oppressed the most, voting in the Islamist party Ennahda. Three years later, political paralysis and mismanagement led Tunisians to again vote for the opposite: the centrist, secular Nidaa Tounes party and Mr. Essebsi, a Ben Ali-era minister.

Now, with the government’s economic program failing, observers and voters say Tunisians are looking beyond party and personalities and focusing on one thing: policies.

“The political mood in Tunisia has gone from a pure ideological divide to a more sophisticated policy divide based on criticisms of economic policy,” says Youssef Cherif, a Tunis-based analyst.

There is plenty to debate: nationalizing Tunisia’s gas and phosphates, renegotiating foreign contracts inked in the Ben Ali era, Tunisia’s relations with Europe, climate change, job creation, and amending the country’s parliament-president hybrid system.

“For the first time people are making a vote based not on a reaction to the past or the present, but with an eye to our future,” says Ms. Trilla, the campaign organizer.

Not everything has been smooth. Nabil Karoui, a populist media mogul some have likened to Donald Trump, was arrested at the start of the campaign for allegedly receiving illicit foreign funds – a case he claims was politically motivated. He remains behind bars, but is still on the ballot.

Yet if candidates say Tunisia has lessons for more established democracies, even this up-and-coming model has no answer for one of politics’ age-old challenges.

Ali Qassem, a 58-year-old former police sergeant, shook his head as Mr. Zbidi and his supporters marched past his vegetable stand in Ras Jebel. Two more candidates were scheduled to pass through the town that afternoon.

“Democracy in Tunisia has been 33% successful,” says Mr. Qassem.

“We have won the freedom to vote for whom we want, but we still haven’t figured how to get them to show up after election season.”

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A deeper look

2. North Carolina’s ‘do-over’ election tests suburban revolt against Trump

Tuesday’s special election in a GOP-leaning district may prove a bellwether for 2020. But amid the intense politicking, our reporter found small signs of openness to talking across party lines.

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North Carolina has long flirted with being a purple state. It went for Barack Obama by a sliver in 2008, but went red in the next two presidential races. The governor is a Democrat; both senators are Republicans.

Which explains why both parties are treating Tuesday’s special election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District as a bellwether for 2020. The House seat has gone unfilled since January, after the midterm election results were thrown out amid allegations of election fraud. 

Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate who’s now been running for 27 months straight, is a political newcomer and military veteran whose pitch has centered largely on biography and kitchen-table issues, with the campaign slogan “country over party.” Republican candidate Dan Bishop has wrapped himself in President Donald Trump’s mantle, calling himself a “pro-life, pro-gun, pro-wall” conservative. Lest there be any doubt whom this contest is really about, Mr. Trump is holding a rally in Fayetteville Monday night. 

Given the composition of the district, Mr. Bishop should win, says Susan Roberts, a political scientist at Davidson College in Davidson, north of Charlotte. But if Mr. McCready ekes out a victory, “that will turn North Carolina into a battleground.” 

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North Carolina’s ‘do-over’ election tests suburban revolt against Trump

Sandra Perry always votes – usually Democratic, sometimes Republican – but has never been involved in a campaign, until now. She spent the weekend door-knocking for Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate in Tuesday’s hotly contested special House election in North Carolina. 

“I had to,” says the 60-something Ms. Perry, who lives in Indian Trail, near Charlotte. “I cried when Donald Trump was elected. I’m against everything he stands for – misogyny, racism, ecologically ruining the planet.”

This House election, in her view, is a chance to fight back. 

Suburban women were key to the Democratic takeover of the House last November, helping to flip Republican districts across the country. And it is suburban women like Ms. Perry – and the voters she hopes she’s persuaded to turn out – who could spell the difference in the toss-up race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. The seat has gone unfilled since January, after the midterm election results were thrown out amid allegations of election fraud on the part of Republican campaign operatives. 

Both parties are treating the do-over election as a bellwether for 2020. Outside groups have poured a near-record $10.7 million into TV ads. Republican candidate Dan Bishop has wrapped himself in President Trump’s mantle, calling himself a “pro-life, pro-gun, pro-wall” conservative. 

And lest there be any doubt whom this contest is really about, Mr. Trump himself is holding a rally in the district Monday night, in Fayetteville. Vice President Mike Pence held a rally earlier in the day for Mr. Bishop, a state senator. 

“This is a district Democrats should not win,” says Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, noting that Mr. Trump won the district in 2016 by 12 percentage points. 

The tight polls “show us that the dynamics in the 2018 midterms haven’t dissipated very much – that the suburban revolt against Trump is still going on at full force,” says Professor Heberlig. “That’s a red flashing danger signal to Republicans in those districts, and Republicans who need those votes to win statewide elections.”

North Carolina has long flirted with being a purple state. It went for Barack Obama by a sliver in 2008, but went red in the next two presidential races. The governor is a Democrat, but both its senators are Republicans. There are other signs the state is trending purple, including the fact that all nine county commissioners for Mecklenburg County, which encompasses Charlotte, are now Democrats. The 9th District includes south Charlotte. 

Tuesday’s race contains echoes of two other recent special House elections – one in Georgia, the other in Pennsylvania. The 2017 Georgia special, in a solidly suburban district, went to the Republican, but in the 2018 midterms, the Democrat won the district. 

The Pennsylvania special in early 2018 was in a district more like North Carolina’s 9th in its diversity, both economically and ethnically, with wealthier sections in and near the city and stretching out into rural, poorer areas. (In the North Carolina race, some 8% of the district is Native American.) And as in Pennsylvania, the Democratic nominee – Mr. McCready – is a young political newcomer and a military veteran. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb won a district that Mr. Trump had carried by almost 20 points. If Mr. McCready wins on Tuesday, he will be the first Democrat to represent the district since 1963. 

“Y’all, that’s like JFK times,” Mr. McCready told a get-out-the-vote rally in Charlotte last Friday. 

A fresh start for the GOP

For North Carolina Republicans, it’s a time of fresh starts. As of June, the state party has a new chairman, after the previous chair – a former congressman – was indicted on bribery charges. And there’s a fresh candidate running for the 9th District seat, after Mark Harris, an evangelical pastor who was the 2018 nominee, declined to run in the do-over election, citing health reasons. 

At a GOP unity event Saturday in a bucolic setting outside Charlotte, the new party leadership gathered with activists from the area and Young Republican leaders for a pep talk from Mr. Bishop and Tommy Hicks Jr., a Trump insider and co-chair of the Republican National Committee. T-shirts advertised “The Right Dan.” Carolina pulled pork was on the menu, followed by canvassing across the district to get out the vote. 

In an interview, Mr. Bishop addressed the challenge of winning back suburban women who have left the Republican fold. First, he pledged to comport himself “in a way that will be appealing.” Then he turned to the president. 

“Everybody has a different style, to the point that some have found President Trump’s rhetoric distasteful,” Mr. Bishop says. But “there’s a counterpoint to that: The hostility to him from official sources is so uniform that he must do something unusual.”

By “official sources,” he says, he means Democrats, the media, and agencies of the federal government itself.

“His personality – it’s almost like he’s uniquely suited to face that storm,” Mr. Bishop says. “And so I think all that has to be taken into context.”

Mr. Bishop also points to a key difference between Tuesday’s special and the original election. When Mr. McCready ran last November, he was part of the Democratic drive to retake the House. Now, having succeeded, the party has a larger, more diverse caucus, including new young members who aren’t shy about their left-wing views. Republican campaign ads have tried to lash the moderate Mr. McCready to Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“On the campaign trail, I hear consistently from people who say they’re shocked or frightened by the ideas that are emanating from the mainstay of the Democratic Party,” he says. “One is the open embrace of socialism.” 

Before this campaign, Mr. Bishop was best known as the author of the so-called bathroom bill in the state legislature, which required transgender people to use the restroom that correlates with the gender on their birth certificate. The law cost the state billions of dollars in lost revenue and was ultimately revised in federal court. 

Mr. Bishop says his only regret about the bill is that “the city of Charlotte precipitated an unnecessary controversy.” He also came in for criticism over a $500 investment in 2017 in a “free speech” website, Gab.com, popular with white supremacists. Mr. Bishop denies he knowingly invested in a site that promotes hate. A group of anti-Trump conservatives known as Stand Up Republic, started by former presidential candidate Evan McMullin, has publicized the Gab controversy with advertising in the district. 

‘The other Dan’

If Mr. McCready wins election to the House, he will hardly join “the squad,” which includes Ms. Omar and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. The Democrat’s pitch has centered largely on biography and kitchen-table issues, foremost health care, with the campaign slogan “country over party.” Before he got into politics, he co-founded a successful solar energy fund, and before that, he served two tours in Iraq as a Marine captain. In the 2018 midterms, he was part of a slate of moderate Democratic military vets to run, with many taking over Republican districts. 

On the stump, Mr. McCready doesn’t mention Mr. Trump. But allusions to the president suffuse his campaign. “This is a character election, as all elections must now be,” said Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson, also a military vet, in introducing Mr. McCready at the Friday rally. 

Mr. Jackson also jokes that Mr. McCready has been running for this congressional seat so long – 27 months now – that the candidate’s fourth child was conceived, was born, and has learned to walk, all during this seemingly endless campaign. 

Mr. Bishop claims that he started at a disadvantage, as “the other Dan” has been running for so much longer. But “everybody has plenty of money,” says North Carolina Republican strategist Larry Shaheen. “This is a turnout battle. Identify your voters, and get them to turn out.” 

In early voting, more Democrats have cast ballots than Republicans by several thousand. That’s typical: Democrats tend to vote early, and Republicans tend to turn out on Election Day. In the 9th District, almost as many independents as Republicans have cast early ballots. It’s anybody’s guess how those ballots will go, but strong early turnout by independents is unusual, especially for a special election. 

One early voter, an older woman named Sonia, wouldn’t reveal her choice for the 9th District or her last name, but did identify herself as conservative. Is she optimistic about the future?

“I have to be; things can’t get much worse,” she says, hefting a watermelon at the Union Market farm stand in Waxhaw, 12 miles from Charlotte. “Obama did his best to destroy us.” 

Ahead of Tuesday, the airwaves have been chock-full of inflammatory ads aimed at both candidates. Republicans have dubbed the Democrat “McGreedy,” claiming the solar energy entrepreneur cost consumers millions of dollars by backing regulations that helped his business and raising utility rates. The Raleigh News & Observer rated the charge “mostly false.” 

Prominent Democrats have not stumped for Mr. McCready, who has tried to keep the focus local. “Will Mr. Trump’s visit help or hurt your campaign?” Mr. McCready is asked by a reporter after the Friday rally. 

“I’m not a pundit, but people are tired of the partisan politics,” he says. “You turn on Twitter, and it looks like our country is impossibly divided, but most people aren’t there. People are ready for leaders who will bring this country together.” 

Mr. McCready predicts Tuesday’s vote will be “extremely close” – just as it was last November, when his opponent “won” by just 905 votes, before the results were invalidated. 

For now, North Carolina is still more red than purple, says Susan Roberts, a political scientist at Davidson College in Davidson, north of Charlotte. Mr. Bishop should win, she says, given the composition of the district. But if Mr. McCready ekes out a victory, “that will turn North Carolina into a battleground state.” 

Meeting division with dialogue

In Indian Trail, Scarlett Hollingsworth’s home doubles as the McCready campaign’s field office. It’s a beehive of activity, as canvassers varying in age and ethnicity come and go to get their marching orders. Two cats and a dog, plus the Hollingsworths themselves – Scarlett, her husband, and two of their children – are also in the mix. 

Ms. Hollingsworth, an IT specialist, is communications manager for the local chapter of the progressive group Indivisible, and she has taken the newcomer, Ms. Perry, under her wing to do door-knocking. 

Union County, where Indian Trail is located, voted heavily for Mr. Trump in 2016, but no matter. A Democratic vote is a Democratic vote, no matter where in the 9th District it’s cast. 

After two days of canvassing, Ms. Perry reflects on her experience. The first day, they targeted Democratic voters in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, and on Sunday, in a more lower-middle-class area. They had a target list of homes with registered Democrats, but Ms. Perry quickly discovered that some households are “mixed.” 

At one house, “the husband outside made clear he was not a Democrat and that we were not welcome,” she says. “We backed away. We’re not there to argue with people.” 

At another home, it seemed the mother was the only Democrat. But the canvassers talked to the whole family for an hour. “I don’t know if we persuaded them, but it was great that they were open to dialogue,” Ms. Perry says. “Even Scarlett said that never happens. There’s just so much divisiveness.” 

What did Ms. Perry get out of the experience? 

“It filled me with hope,” she says. “It helps to engage people. It helped me to know that we’re not alone, in a heavily red area, which Union County is. I would smile, introduce myself, remind them to vote, and hand them a leaflet. Usually we got big smiles. I felt empowered – and hopefully we empowered them.” 

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3. In Dorian’s wake, flood of relief overwhelms Outer Banks

We sent a writer to assess flood damage on a fragile stretch of U.S. shoreline, and he found something promising in the debris: Gratitude for help received had led to heartfelt reciprocity.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Cedar Island carpenter Jeff Styron surveys damage to a camp on Hog Island, North Carolina, after Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 8, 2019. He joined a flotilla of charity aimed at helping the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island after it was inundated by a 7-foot storm surge.

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It is perhaps a truism of dire times: The more remote the place, the deeper the kinship. Even as the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island remained under evacuation after Hurricane Dorian, the flotilla of charity – many ordinary citizens who loaded their own boats with supplies – was so overwhelming that emergency managers on Sunday warned that craft would be turned back.

“It was quite a sight, watching all those boats coming in from all over to help,” says Buddy Brittingham. On his skiff, he recalled a similar sight a year ago when boats from Ocracoke raced to the mainland to resupply communities that still bear heavy scars from Hurricane Florence.

The force of powerful storms along North Carolina’s coast is part historical, part geographical. But as climate scientists warn of increases in their frequency and intensity, there’s been an evolution in the response – and, locals say, exponential benefits to reciprocity.

“We have always had faith-based groups that have been great about helping neighbors, but now we are starting to see communities themselves creating organizations to assist in disaster,” says Frank Lopez, an expert on community resiliency. “And being as this is the new normal, we’re going to have to help ourselves.”

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In Dorian’s wake, flood of relief overwhelms Outer Banks

Buddy Brittingham filled his flounder skiff with bleach jugs, stacks of toilet paper, kitty litter, cases of water, and SpaghettiOs until it almost sank.

The fisherman-turned-florist then set his bow toward sea, racing to help some 800 hurricane-riders in desperate straits after Hurricane Dorian threw a high elbow to Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks as it skated off toward the Canadian Maritimes.

As he skipped the 22 miles across Pamlico Sound with his cousin Cayton Daniels, the duo joined a flotilla of charity so overwhelming that emergency managers on Sunday had to warn that craft would be turned back.

“It was quite a sight, watching all those boats coming in from all over to help,” says Mr. Brittingham.

And like many Cedar Islanders, Mr. Brittingham recalls a similar sight a year ago when a flotilla from Ocracoke raced to shore to resupply communities like Sea Level and Atlantic that still bear heavy scars from Hurricane Florence.

It is perhaps a truism of dire times: The more remote the place, the deeper the kinship.

The ticktock of powerful Atlantic cyclones along North Carolina’s coast is part historical, part geographical. But as climate scientists warn of increases in storm frequency and intensity, the humanitarian situation on one of America’s most storm-wracked communities highlights not just rising national challenges, but the evolution of response – including, locals say, the exponential benefits of reciprocity.

“The reciprocation has been tenfold,” says Ocracoke resident Helena Stevens. “What happened was monumental and unprecedented, and we have not dealt with this before. There is disbelief that this kind of storm happened and did the damage it did, which adds to the level of gratitude for the help and assistance.”

Islander character

Resourcefulness and ruggedness have defined life on Ocracoke since the Hatteras Indians used it for subsistence fishing and taught the colonists to brew a bracing tea from an island holly. It’s where Sir Walter Raleigh ran his ship, The Tiger, aground, and where the pirate Edward Teach – Blackbeard – met his end in a fierce battle with British sailors.

Early inhabitants were pilots who helped ships navigate treacherous sounds. Locals speak a vanishing brogue called High Tider – “Hoi Toider,” phonetically – and the town didn’t formalize its street names until 1999.

Everything from gales to major hurricanes – including megastorms in 1933 and 1944 – are recorded on the walls of the Hurricane House, a local residence that’s testament to barrier island survivalism.

Moreover, Ocracokers helped pioneer hydrostatic vents that allow water to flow into and then away from flood-prone buildings – a necessary innovation on a gale-prone island that averages only 5 feet above sea level.

But it’s not bravura that makes them ignore mandatory evacuation orders. “They simply believe in staying,” says Cedar Island fisherman Jeff Styron, who evacuated.

 

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Buddy Goodwin fills his skiff with water, kitty litter, and bleach at the Cedar Island Volunteer Fire Department in North Carolina, to bring to Ocracoke Island on Sept. 8, 2019.

But when Cedar Island resident Buddy Goodwin approached the Ocracoke dock on Sunday with supplies, he was met by an unusual sight – visibly shaken islanders, overcome by gratitude.

“There were tears to fill buckets,” he says.

“The islanders are overwhelmed not only with the incredible amount of destruction ... but also brought to tears by the incredible outpouring of love and donations,” adds Amy Howard, who manages the Village Craftsmen store on Ocracoke, in an email.

Dorian rode an infernal arc across the Atlantic, berating the Bahamas for 48 hours as a Category 5 storm before it marched up Florida’s east coast, past the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Islands before finally glancing off Cape Hatteras. In stark contrast to the lives lost in the Bahamas, no Ocracoker perished.

“Ocracoke Island is a very tight knit community and [people are] very proud of their island,” says Ms. Stevens, who is executive director of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association. “It’s a super-special place, one that you don’t find in today’s world. Families have been there for hundreds of years. But it’s a community now completely reliant on tourism, so it’s important that we get the assistance we need to rebuild.”

Yet the devastation is near complete. Homes, hotels, boats, cars, and belongings – all wrecked.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” says Gene Springle, who made the dash across the sound with his 12-year-old son, Dakota.

Recovery continued Monday as people who evacuated were allowed to begin to return despite lack of power and potable water. Hyde County emergency managers urged people to contact authorities before approaching the island with supplies.

Recovery resources for the new normal

A flood of people wanting to help may seem like a good problem to have, but it poses a challenge for emergency responders struggling to ensure that ad hoc crews of well-meaning volunteers don’t disrupt official rescue and relief efforts. As storms intensify, so too, it seems, does the desire of people to help one another.

“Given climate change and what’s happening with storms globally, this is probably our new norm, and what happens to a lot of local economies in these coastal communities is going to depend a lot on how we adapt to this,” says Frank Lopez, extension director for North Carolina Sea Grant, at N.C. State University in Raleigh, and an expert on community resiliency. “This is the condition we have to now deal with.”

“We have always had faith-based groups that have been great about helping neighbors, but now we are starting to see communities themselves creating organizations to assist in disaster,” adds Mr. Lopez. “That trend took off in the recovery from Florence and we’re seeing it again here. And being as this is the new normal, we’re going to have to help ourselves.”

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4. As global refugees hit record highs, US welcomes record lows

Many factors affect refugee admissions. In the U.S., tensions are growing over balancing humanitarian outreach with an increasingly closed-borders political climate.

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As the world’s refugees number a record 25.9 million, the U.S. is welcoming in historic lows since the modern refugee program began in 1980. This week, the Trump administration is considering another cut to refugee admissions for the upcoming fiscal year – or scrapping the program entirely. 

The White House’s consideration has raised worries among resettlement experts. Besides humanitarian concern for those who may never reach the U.S., experts also warn of consequences for already resettled refugees and implications for the communities they’ve helped revitalize.

Research shows that refugees’ economic contributions to American communities outweigh the initial costs to resettle them. Refugees in southeast Michigan generated around 2,000 jobs in 2016 alone, according to a recent study by Global Detroit. 

In fact, Global Detroit director Steve Tobocman sees local-level collaborations that root for immigrants’ success as an emerging trend. He says there’s a “huge growth of community and economic development leaders who are thinking of their own self-interest from the region … who have embraced refugee resettlement and immigration as a strategy really to revitalize their economies.”

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As global refugees hit record highs, US welcomes record lows

Salai Lungngam had two strikes against him in Myanmar: ethnic minority Chin and religious minority Christian. His activism against the Burmese government eventually led him to flee the country for his life. By way of India then Malaysia, he resettled as a refugee in the United States 10 years ago.

The Hoosier State has resettled at least 12,804 Burmese refugees since 2007. Mr. Lungngam arrived in Indianapolis with about $50. Now a real estate broker, he’s sold around 180 houses since 2016. He says 8 out of 10 of those homeowners have been fellow refugees. “These refugees are not draining the resources of the government,” says Mr. Lungngam, now a U.S. citizen. Instead, they’re “really helping the community.”

As the world’s refugees number a record 25.9 million, the U.S. is welcoming in historic lows since the modern refugee program began in 1980. The Trump administration is considering another cut to refugee admissions for the upcoming fiscal year – or scrapping the program entirely. 

“It’s hard to see how this can be advancing our nation’s foreign-policy goals or our humanitarian goals,” says Mark Greenberg, senior fellow at the left-leaning Migration Policy Institute.

Nayla Rush, a senior researcher at the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies, argues for capping refugee admissions at 15,000 to focus on the United Nations’ urgent and emergency refugee submissions.

The program “just needs to be rightly applied, as a ticket out only for those refugees who are genuinely at risk in the countries they’ve fled to,” Dr. Rush wrote on the CIS blog. 

The White House’s consideration has raised worries among resettlement experts. Besides humanitarian concern for refugees who may never reach the U.S., they also warn of consequences for already resettled refugees and implications for the communities they’ve helped revitalize.

Humanitarian concern

When President Barack Obama left office, the annual ceiling for refugee admissions was set at 110,000 for fiscal year 2017. President Trump reduced the cap the following year to 45,000, then down to 30,000 for 2019.

White House officials will convene Tuesday to discuss the refugee totals for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Some officials argue for lowering the cap to focus on security concerns and capacity to offer humanitarian protection to asylum-seekers, Politico reported.

SOURCE: The Associated Press, Migration Policy Institute
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“My focus right now is trying to manage the crisis at the border for us and keep those asylum backlogs from growing,” acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli told CNN. Border agents have been overwhelmed with immigration traffic at the southern border, and U.S. immigration courts face a backlog of around 1 million cases.

Unlike asylees, refugees apply for protection before they’ve reached the U.S. Some migration experts say the country must address the increased asylum claims while also responding to refugee resettlement needs.

“They should not be pitted against each other,” says Mr. Greenberg.

Economic impact

Cole Varga, executive director of Exodus Refugee Immigration in Indianapolis, sees a financial downside to family separation. Some refugee families are waiting for wage earners to join them, such as a spouse or other adult relatives.

“The more people you have locally relying on each other, building assets, building income, the more successful they will be long term,” says Mr. Varga. The reduction of refugee admissions under the current administration forced him to let go of 15 employees – nearly a third of his staff at his refugee resettlement organization. Similar nonprofits have shuttered entire offices.

Research shows that refugees’ economic contributions to American communities outweigh the initial costs to resettle them. Refugees in southeast Michigan generated around 2,000 jobs in 2016 alone. The study by nonprofit Global Detroit and the University of Michigan also found that within a decade refugees there generated between $229.6 million and $295.3 million in new spending – a boon to a region hit hard by the struggles of Detroit’s auto industry.

Global Detroit director Steve Tobocman sees local-level collaborations that root for immigrants’ success as an emerging trend.

Mr. Tobocman says there’s a “huge growth of community and economic development leaders who are thinking of their own self-interest from the region … who have embraced refugee resettlement and immigration as a strategy really to revitalize their economies.”

SOURCE: The Associated Press, Migration Policy Institute
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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5. More women are playing sports. Why is no one watching?

Why should inspiration be limited to one gender? Grassroots efforts are aimed at making the stories of all athletes, regardless of sex, known to the public. The first step: engaging fans.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Naomi Osaka representing Japan (left) consoles Coco Gauff of the United States after their third-round match on Day 6 of the 2019 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug. 31, 2019.

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Public interest in events like the soccer World Cup and the U.S. Open tennis tournament often belies the fact that women make up 40% of athletes, but are featured in 4% of coverage.

League after league has struggled to gain traction with fans, even as hundreds of thousands of girls and young women have growing access, training, and opportunity to continue and excel in athletic careers. 

For some groups advocating for change, the fans, rather than the media, are the target. SheIS, a group that debuted in 2018 to elevate women and their sports, is on track to send 5,000 fans to women’s professional matches this year, and hopes to grow that number to 50,000 by 2025. 

For Brenda Andress, the former commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and founder of SheIS, it’s a place to start. “[W]e’re asking the entire population to ... not just say they are a fan of women’s sports but to actually purchase a ticket or watch it because that’s what makes the difference.” 

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More women are playing sports. Why is no one watching?

Something unprecedented happened at the U.S. Open – before the stunning upset that Bianca Andreescu delivered to Serena Williams on Saturday.

Defending champion Naomi Osaka invited Coco Gauff to the post-match on-court interview after she beat the 15-year-old in the third round. “I think it’s better than going into the shower and crying,” Ms. Osaka is heard saying as Ms. Gauff wipes away tears with her wristbands. 

Ms. Gauff, a rising star and fan favorite, appeared reluctant but agreed to address the 23,000 fans in the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York, and around 2 million TV viewers. “She’s been so sweet to me, so thank you for this,” she said, gulping down sobs. “I don’t want people to think I am trying to take this moment away from her because she really deserves it.”

It was a moment of compassion in a high-stakes arena – not unlike the year prior, when Ms. Osaka defeated Ms. Williams in the 2018 final amid controversial calls that brought boos raining down on the court. In that moment, it was Ms. Williams who consoled an overwhelmed Ms. Osaka. 

Women athletes supporting each other is a message that those working to expand women’s professional sports hope will continue, not only on the international stage but also as a grassroots, fan-driven movement.

If you were one of the millions of viewers who tuned in to the U.S. Open, you may have seen an ad aired by the United States Tennis Association. Narrated by Billie Jean King, the SheIS ad points out women athletes receive 4% of all sports coverage and invites viewers to use #womenworthwatching to “tag your videos and pictures of the indomitable female athletes who inspire you and together we can change not just how women are watched, but how they’re seen.”

The 90-second spot brings into sharp focus questions that have long troubled the business of women’s professional sports. League after league has struggled to gain traction, even as hundreds of thousands of girls and young women have growing access and opportunity to excel in athletic careers. With data showing that 40% of all athletes are women, some observers wonder why women’s sports receive minimal media coverage. Would a groundswell of fans at games draw sponsors and TV contracts – or do fans need the media to provide more stories in order to be drawn to regular-season matches? 

“That’s the million-dollar question,” says Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor of American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Purdue University. “The interest for women’s sports is there. It’s just a problem of how leagues and teams are marketed. … We don’t see the same amount of coverage. We don’t see the same investment in women’s sports.”

Interest is strong and growing

Consistent high viewership for major tournaments reaffirms interest in women’s sports. Coverage of this year’s final match between Ms. Williams and Ms. Andreescu earned ESPN its highest overnight ratings ever for a U.S. Open women’s tennis championship game. In 2018, the U.S. Open final between Ms. Williams and Ms. Osaka averaged 3.1 million viewers, according to ESPN. The men’s final, in which Novak Djokovic beat Juan Martín del Potro, drew 2.07 million viewers. (Numbers for the 2019 tournament have yet to be released.) This summer, the FIFA Women’s World Cup final match between the U.S. and the Netherlands outperformed the men’s 2018 World Cup final by 22% among U.S. viewers, according to Fox Sports. That’s in part because the U.S. men failed to qualify for the tournament.

International tournaments are strong pulls for fans. But translating that interest into day-to-day fan engagement with women’s professional sports leagues is proving difficult.

“When we look at the Olympic events, the coverage of men’s and women’s events is relatively equitable. So you get these really high-profile international events where people are tuning in. People are excited, fans are going, but then what ends up happening is that as soon as that event is over ... the cameras shut down,” says Professor Cooky.

A large part of sustaining fan interest, experts say, is accessibility – whether it is TV contracts that regularly air games, stories in the sports pages, or stadiums that are in close proximity to city centers.

Over 25 years of research, Professor Cooky says the amount of media coverage of women’s sports on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and other TV highlight shows has stayed at about 2%. However, she notes one recent positive trend: The objectification of women athletes has declined.

Grow the sport from the stands

Brenda Andress, for one, is tired of pointing fingers at low media coverage. The former commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League wants to grow women’s sports from the stands. In 2018, she founded SheIS to elevate women and their sports alike. Through a partnership with Adidas, SheIS encourages cross-pollination among women’s leagues by buying up tickets at 12 professional women’s sports events in North America – from hockey and basketball to boxing and surfing – and sending fans to the games. SheIS says it’s on target to send 5,000 fans to women’s professional sports matches this year. Ms. Andress hopes by 2025 that number will reach 50,000, more than enough to fill a baseball stadium. 

“[W]e’re asking the entire population to ... not just say they are a fan of women’s sports but to actually purchase a ticket or watch it because that’s what makes the difference,” says Ms. Andress. 

If anyone feels the urgency to help grow women’s sports, it’s Ms. Andress. In March, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded after 12 years – a surprise to its 150 players that came despite the sport’s growing popularity after the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, SBNation reported. A recurring criticism centered on the fact that games regularly drew only 400 to 500 fans on average.

But there are positive signs. The National Women’s Soccer League, still riding the high of the World Cup, reports league-wide attendance has increased 70% since the July tournament – a 53% increase from the 2018 season. Before the tournament ended, ESPN signed a deal, its third, to televise 14 matches – including all three playoff games – this season.

Staff writers Lindsey McGinnis, Riley Robinson, and Dwight Weingarten contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Brenda Andress is the founder of SheIs.

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The Monitor's View

The Afghan way to a deal with the Taliban

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After nearly a year of negotiations with the Taliban, President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks on Saturday with a string of Twitter messages. The reason: The Taliban killed 12 people last week, including an American soldier. With so little regard for life, the terrorist group could hardly be expected to make good on a deal that would have required a cease-fire leading to withdrawal of United States forces.

The news brought a sigh of relief to many Afghans who worry Mr. Trump might be putting a U.S. pullout ahead of preserving the country’s progress in basic rights and democratic freedoms. Even more than relief, the breakdown in talks renews a focus on exactly what the Taliban most oppose: elections.

On Sept. 28, Afghans will cast ballots for president, the seventh election since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. For all the flaws of voting and infighting among Afghan leaders, the ballot box still confers a moral legitimacy far above that claimed by the militants. Negotiations with the Taliban will fare better the longer that group keeps seeing Afghans brave threats and line up for hours to cast ballots.

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The Afghan way to a deal with the Taliban

After nearly a year of negotiations with the Taliban, President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks on Saturday with a string of Twitter messages. The reason: The Taliban killed 12 people last week, including an American soldier. With so little regard for life or the equality of Afghans, the terrorist group could hardly be expected to make good on a deal that would have required a cease-fire leading to withdrawal of United States forces.

The news brought a sigh of relief to many Afghans who worry Mr. Trump might be putting a U.S. pullout ahead of preserving the country’s progress in basic rights and democratic freedoms. Even more than relief, the breakdown in talks renews a focus on exactly what the Taliban most oppose: elections.

On Sept. 28, Afghans of all ethnicities and religions will cast ballots for president, the seventh election since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. For all the flaws of voting in an insecure environment and infighting among Afghan leaders, the ballot box still confers a moral legitimacy far above that claimed by the militants, who rely on guns to impose unelected religious authority.

“Now the important question for the people and government of Afghanistan, and the international community, is what will happen to the elections,” says a spokesman for President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.

Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries and one with frequent terror attacks, Afghanistan still manages to pull off an election. In last year’s parliament elections, around 4 million out of 8.8 million registered voters showed up. Yet in rural areas controlled by the Taliban, voting doesn’t even happen. The country keeps learning how to improve the process. Many former warlords now compete for votes on the campaign trail rather than with bullets on mountain trails. And for the current election, as many as 18 candidates were in the running at one point.

Elections help Afghans realize they are inherently equal in civic life despite their differences. Women especially appreciate the new social norm. They occupy 27% of government jobs while 39% of school students are girls, a sharp contrast to life under the Taliban in the 1990s.

The country remains highly dependent on the U.S.-led international donor community. And its neighbors meddle in ways that hinder democracy. Yet the best answer to these challenges lies in Afghans steadily, if fitfully, gaining trust in their institutions by exercising a right to vote.

Negotiations with the Taliban will fare better the longer that group keeps seeing Afghans brave threats and line up for hours to cast ballots. Voting in Afghanistan is a sign of triumph over fear.

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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.

The power that remains when the hurricane leaves

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Atlantic communities, particularly the Bahamas, have been left reeling in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. But even when things seem hopeless, nothing can take away God’s limitless love, which arms us with peace, strength, comfort, and inspiration.

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The power that remains when the hurricane leaves

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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It’s been heartbreaking to see reports and videos of Hurricane Dorian’s devastating path in the Atlantic. Such disasters lend themselves to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.

And yet, those reports also point to something else entirely. Fortitude. Selflessness. Courage. Grace. Compassion.

This is no small thing. These qualities are a sign of something more enduring than ferocious winds and impervious to overpowering floods – a power that brings out the best in us, even in the worst of times.

The divine Science of Christ reveals that this power is our creator, God, who is ever-present good, and our capacity to feel and express such qualities stems from our true nature as God’s children. Grit can only get us so far. But as offspring of the Divine, we’re so much more than mortals whose compassion and courage can be exhausted. We’re the spiritual expression of God’s limitless love, of unending divine Life, of a truly compassionate power.

There’s a lot in the world to remind us of what’s unstable. But here’s some food for thought that takes things in a different direction. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, explains, “The relations of God and man, divine Principle and idea, are indestructible in Science ...” (pp. 470-471).

Not “susceptible to storms of some sort,” not “solid for as long as the levees or boards hold out,” but straight-up indestructible. Established and sustained by our divine Parent, our lives can’t be broken, our strength can’t be swept away, our peace can’t be blown about.

We can reverently pray to know that even those lost to the devastating blow of this storm are indestructible, as is the deepest sense of home of those made temporarily homeless by it. Because we are children of God, our life is in divine Spirit, not confined to a material body. Knowing this can temper and even help heal grief.

And spiritually understood, our home is a spiritual awareness of God, in whom we “live, and move, and have our being,” according to the Bible (Acts 17:28). We become conscious of this abode in divine Spirit as we pray to understand our spiritual nature. Many people have reported in magazines on Christian Science published by the Monitor’s publisher how perceiving this spiritual reality has helped them find solutions to the tragic loss of a home.

Each and every receptive heart can feel this assurance of the Christ, God’s tender, empowering message of love. God’s goodness and care remain intact, even when so much in the world around us does not. Nothing is more powerful than God, infinite Love, divine Truth.

Even the smallest glimpse of this spiritual reality shows us that we are not doomed to interminable chaos, that there is a solid basis for hope and progress. It brings to light more of the divine goodness and safety that are ever present. And it brings out in us the peace, strength, and selflessness that are our birthright as God’s children, helping us realize that we have all we need to deal with the issues at hand.

And that’s something that can never be taken from us.

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Viewfinder

Hang 20

Mike Blake/Reuters
Prince Dudeman (back) and Flofy ride a wave together as they compete at the 14th annual Helen Woodward Animal Center "Surf-A-Thon" where more than 70 dogs competed in five different weight classes for "Top Surf Dog 2019" in Del Mar, California, Sept. 8, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 10th, 2019 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Come back tomorrow for a special piece of storytelling: We’ve built a video using staff writer Scott Peterson’s vivid photos of the rebuilding of a war-ravaged palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

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