2019
October
01
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In today’s issue, our five hand-picked stories explore what’s driving change in Hong Kong, President Trump’s influence over his party, how gun control politics shifted in one state, an all-natural answer to flooding in Houston, and newfound independence on the high seas.

First, California is famous for its earthquakes. On Monday, we saw the first cracks of a seismic shift in college sports: fair pay for athletes. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that allows California college athletes to accept outside endorsement money and hire agents starting in 2023. It means a football player can earn royalties from a video game, or a golfer can collect a check for wearing a Nike cap, or a soccer player can get paid for giving lessons. 

The NCAA – the governing body for college sports – decries this law as a violation of the principle that students should earn a degree, not money. But that ideal ignores the fact that college sports, especially football and basketball, are now a multibillion-dollar industry with colleges, coaches, and broadcasters reaping huge sums. Yes, college jocks often get a “free” education for playing, but that contract hasn’t changed as revenues have soared. 

The NCAA may try to prevent schools in other states from playing against ones in California. But the state law has a clever three-year delay, effectively making it a national catalyst for fair pay. At least seven states are already moving to pass similar legislation. No wonder, California now has a college recruiting edge. 

As California state Sen. Nancy Skinner said: “By restoring student-athletes’ rights, we’ve sent a clear message to the NCAA, our colleges and the entire sports industry: Equity must be the overriding value.

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1. In now-or-never mindset, Hong Kong protests keep up pressure

Our reporter in Hong Kong looks at how the deadline for a full handover to China in 28 years is shaping the pro-democracy protests today. Protesters ask, if not now, when? 

David
Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Pro-democracy protests on Hong Kong Island on Sept. 27, 2019. Last weekend's protests marked the anniversary of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which unsuccessfully pushed for more democratic elections.

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In Beijing, a song and dance pageant marked China’s National Day. But in Hong Kong, police used deadly force for the first time in four months of major pro-democracy protests, shooting one 18-year-old in the chest.

The escalation of violence manifests the determination of Hong Kong’s protesters, even as they confront heightened repression by Hong Kong authorities, backed by the mainland’s Communist Party-led government. Some in Hong Kong remain loyal supporters of the government. But from upscale business districts to traditional villages, people are expressing a willingness to take risks for a do-or-die bid to protect and expand their democratic rights – lest they face even greater suppression by China.

The do-or-die sentiment is heightened because the clock is ticking on Beijing’s requirement to protect the territory’s autonomy until 2047. Under a “one country, two systems” formula, Beijing pledged to guarantee and expand Hong Kong’s basic liberties for 50 years after China resumed sovereignty over the former British colony in 1997.

“We know we belong to China ... but if we can get universal suffrage, it will be hard to change in 2047,” says Connie, a petite marketing professional dressed all in black. “And by 2047, we will have an even greater political consciousness.”

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In now-or-never mindset, Hong Kong protests keep up pressure

As China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule in Beijing today with a huge choreographed military parade reviewed by top leader Xi Jinping, Hong Kong erupted in street battles. Tens of thousands of black-clad protesters defied a ban and staged demonstrations across the territory to mark what they cast as a somber day of mourning.

In stark contrast with the mass pageant of song and dance also on display in Beijing, China’s National Day here brought the bloodiest episode so far in Hong Kong’s uprising against what residents view as Beijing’s growing encroachment on their freedoms. But as violence and police suppression intensify, so does some protesters’ sense that this is a now-or-never moment to push for democratic reform.

For the first time in four months of major pro-democracy protests, police drew their pistols and fired live rounds – shooting and seriously injuring one 18-year-old protester. Police also shot tear gas and water cannons at protesters, who fought throwing sticks and petrol bombs. The two sides also beat each other in hand-to-hand battles in which police at times appeared overwhelmed. By the day’s end, scores of protesters and 25 police officers had reportedly been injured. 

Hong Kong Police Chief Stephen Lo defended the shooting, and said the protester was arrested for assaulting an officer. He said he did not know the protester’s condition, but said he was conscious when he entered the hospital. “I am sad. Our national day is supposed to be a day to celebrate and be happy,” Chief Lo said, denouncing the protesters as “rioters.” “We are in a difficult moment.”

The recent escalation of violence shows the solidarity of protesters’ broad base in the territory of 7 million people, even as they confront heightened repression by Hong Kong authorities.

“No National Day. It’s a day of grief!” shouted one protester, an information technology expert who identified himself as Mr. Ku, along with a crowd of other protesters marching down Hennessy Road today. Some carried black flags and balloons or made shrines of white chrysanthemums – a traditional flower of mourning.

“Of course, I’m afraid,” Mr. Ku said when asked how Hong Kong’s activists feel about standing their ground despite stern warnings from Beijing. “But if we stick together, we can be so powerful,” he said. “We have no choice – it’s about our future.”

Indeed, scores of protesters and residents interviewed over the past week across Hong Kong – from traditional clan villages and market towns in the New Territories to the teeming streets of Kowloon and the upscale business and shopping districts of Hong Kong island – expressed a willingness to take risks and sacrifice for what they view as a last bid to protect and expand their rights, lest they face even greater suppression.

Motivated by 2047

“Fighting is the only way we can survive. We don’t want to be silenced,” said Karen, a housewife and former social worker. “China may crack down, but we are not afraid because we are together,” she said, stopping to scatter fake paper money with other protesters in another mourning ritual.

The do-or-die sentiment gripping Hong Kong’s protesters is heightened by their knowledge that the clock is ticking on Beijing’s legal requirement to protect the territory’s autonomy until 2047. Under a “one country, two systems” formula, Beijing pledged to protect Hong Kong’s basic liberties for 50 years after China resumed sovereignty over the former British colony in 1997; what happens after that is unclear.

But more than 20 years along, Hong Kong people have yet to be granted democratic elections for the city’s leaders, as promised by Beijing, albeit without a timeline. This has heightened distrust of China’s intentions, even as Mr. Xi vowed to uphold “one country, two systems” in his National Day speech today.

“The [2047] guarantee seems to have run out already,” says Karen, citing repeated moves to impose unpopular national policies on Hong Kong. “The Chinese government always breaks its promises – they have no credibility.” (To protect their identities, Karen and other protesters disclosed only their first or last names.)

Hong Kong’s protests – the biggest since 1997 – ignited in the spring out of concerns over a proposed bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial in courts that are controlled by the Communist Party. Large-scale demonstrations, including one with as many as 2 million people, led Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to pledge to withdraw the proposed bill. But by that time, protester demands had morphed into a broader push for democracy and government and police accountability, as well as amnesty for the nearly 2,000 people arrested so far in the unrest.

Rising political consciousness

Hong Kong’s marchers believe that if they can fight successfully to protect their existing rights and gain new ones, such as universal suffrage, they will put themselves in a stronger position to resist any backtracking by Beijing come 2047. Political awareness is rising, they say, along with the constant refrains of Hong Kong’s unofficial new anthem, “Glory to Hong Kong.”

“We know we belong to China ... but if we can get universal suffrage, it will be hard to change in 2047,” says Connie, a petite marketing professional dressed all in black. “And by 2047, we will have an even greater political consciousness,” she says as she joins the flood of marchers moving through the commercial district of Wan Chai.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Protesters demonstrate in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2019, the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. In an escalation of violence in Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, an 18-year-old man was shot by police on Tuesday.

Indeed, important shifts in public opinion indicate heightened concern over fundamental political issues related to Hong Kong’s future. For example, the percentage of residents who place high importance on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, has risen 25 points from a year ago, according to the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.

And while public distrust of the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing has risen sharply, Hong Kong residents are feeling better about themselves – with those feeling “very positive” or “quite positive” about Hong Kong people rising from 50% to 63% over the past year, according to institute surveys. Protesters often voice pride and a forceful sense of their unique identity as Hong Kongers. 

“Hong Kong people are standing very strong. We are actually fighting the Chinese Communist Party, which is a big machine. It’s the largest dictatorship right now in the world, but Hong Kong people are not giving up,” said Tina, a public relations professional, as she joined a march on Saturday, the fifth anniversary of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, which also pressed for universal suffrage but failed to attain it.

Protest mood largely peaceful, festive

Some people remain supportive of the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. “China is good. Hong Kong should gradually change and get closer to China during this 50 years,” said Mrs. Chu, selling jade bracelets in an outdoor stall in the Chun Yeung Street Market of North Point, known as a pro-Beijing community. But among dozens of residents in North Point asked for their views on China’s government, she was the only one to speak up – others said they were neutral or apolitical, or simply declined to be interviewed.

Despite the crescendo of violence that often comes later in protests, as hard-core demonstrators directly confront police, the atmosphere of many rallies and marches is overwhelmingly peaceful and festive, with singing, chanting, and people from all walks of life willing to lend a hand. Doctors volunteer as medics; business owners contribute food, water, and other supplies; and pastors open the doors of their churches to provide places to rest. 

Alvin, a secondary school teacher, carried his 3-year-old daughter through today’s sweltering heat on the march as his wife held their 1-year-old son. “As parents, we are very upset that we have [gained] no more freedom since we went back to China in 1997,” Alvin says, as his daughter naps on his shoulder. “We are very worried the next generation won’t have the rights to go in the street – so we want to protect our rights. We really hope the government will listen to our voices,” he says.

Either way, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters are showing no signs of letting up.

“This time we stand firm. We know it may be the last time,” says Connie. “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

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2. Why impeachment is about more than Donald Trump

Regardless of the impeachment hearings, our reporter looks at how enduring President Trump’s policies may be within the Republican Party. 

David

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A fierce battle over the post-Trump direction of the Republican Party has been looming almost from the moment the president took office. But the impeachment inquiry has brought a sudden urgency to the question.

Overall, a majority of Americans now support the House impeachment inquiry. Among Republicans, however, the vast majority of voters stand by the president. For GOP lawmakers, the typical response so far has been to lie low and say little, if anything.

But some cracks in the facade have begun to appear. One House Republican voiced support for the inquiry, and another publicly criticized Mr. Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president as “not OK.” On Tuesday, a prominent GOP senator urged protection for the whistleblower who divulged the July 25 phone call. 

As Republican lawmakers are acutely aware, the decision to back or distance themselves from the president will not only have a direct effect on his – and their own – short-term political futures, but may well shape the image and electoral prospects of their party for years to come.  

“The Republican Party is at a crossroads post-Trump,” says Sarah Longwell, executive director of Defending Democracy Together. 

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Why impeachment is about more than Donald Trump

Sooner or later – whether in January 2025 or before – President Donald Trump will leave the White House. And when the dust settles, there will be a reckoning of sorts for the Republican Party. 

There is no question that President Trump has profoundly disrupted American politics – and the GOP. His diehard supporters voted for that sharp shift, on matters of both style and substance. 

Now, with an impeachment inquiry underway over Mr. Trump’s apparent solicitation of help from Ukraine in his reelection bid, Republicans are once again doing a gut check.

Overall, a majority of Americans now support the House impeachment inquiry, and support for impeachment itself is rising. Among Republicans, however, the vast majority of voters stand by the president. For GOP lawmakers, the typical response so far has been to lie low and say little, if anything, about the impeachment process underway. Perhaps fortunately for them, they are on a two-week recess.   

But some cracks in the facade have begun to appear. A few GOP members have broken with the president, though not supporting impeachment. One House Republican voiced support for the inquiry, and another publicly criticized Mr. Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president – which is at the heart of the controversy – as “not OK.” On Tuesday, a prominent GOP senator urged protection for the whistleblower who divulged the July 25 phone call. 

Even conservative Fox News has shown an uptick in on-air discord, as when host Ed Henry and commentator Mark Levin mixed it up Sunday over the inquiry. 

A fierce battle over the post-Trump direction of the Republican Party has been looming almost from the moment the president took office. But the impeachment inquiry has brought a sudden urgency to the question. As Republican lawmakers are acutely aware, the decision to back or distance themselves from the president will not only have a direct effect on his – and their own – short-term political futures, but may well shape the image and electoral prospects of their party for years to come.  

“The old Republican Party is pretty much dead,” says Cal Jillson, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

By “old Republican Party,” Professor Jillson means the party of President Ronald Reagan, which has been the standard for GOP conservatism since his first election in 1980. Until 2016, the party stood for free trade, fiscal and social conservatism, a welcoming view of immigrants, and U.S. global leadership.

Mr. Trump has turned much of that on its head, alienating some party stalwarts but attracting new adherents – most important, white working class voters, many of whom used to vote Democratic or not at all. That group had been steadily moving away from the Democratic Party for years, but under Mr. Trump’s tenure the drift has become an avalanche. 

Many longtime Republicans have come to see the value of Mr. Trump’s aggressive use of tariffs, new strictures on both legal and illegal immigration, and his “America First” approach to the world. Even some Democrats see value in casting a new eye on the old way of doing things.

But some Trump-supporting Republicans suggest that a return to a more “normal” presidency – in the literal sense of following the usual norms of conduct – may be a relief. The turmoil of the Trump White House, as seen in record-high turnover of top aides, and his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric sent straight to the public via Twitter have left even sympathetic observers exhausted.

But that may mostly be a question of ZIP code, says Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman during the second Bush administration. 

“In Washington, absolutely, there’s a sense of exhaustion,” says Mr. Fleischer, a Trump supporter. “Outside the Beltway, they don’t care about staff turnover. They love the fact that he’s shaking Washington up.” 

For the president’s opponents, the Trump era can’t end soon enough. And for Republican “never Trumpers,” when the time comes it will be an opportunity for stock-taking. 

“The Republican Party is at a crossroads post-Trump,” says Sarah Longwell, executive director of Defending Democracy Together, a conservative group that opposes the president. “It will either remain a Trumpist party driven by populism and nationalism, or it will course correct and realize it doesn’t have an electoral path forward with that kind of agenda.”

But at that moment of reckoning, there’s a danger of learning the wrong lesson, other Republicans say. 

“Trump got some things right: a huge segment of the electorate that felt unheard,” says Republican strategist Liz Mair. “The elites were forgetting about the little guy.”  

That translated, she says, into undoing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had cost some working Americans their jobs, and cracking down on illegal immigration. 

Still, Ms. Mair sees “Trumpism” mainly as a matter of style, not policy. One of the things supporters like about Trump, whether they agree with him 100% or not, is his chutzpah.  

“He doesn’t dance around, or try to do things nicey nicey. He says what he thinks,” says Ms. Mair. “Frequently I disagree with him a lot on policy, but he does have guts in the way that he communicates with people and he has conviction.” 

Alternatively, whoever tries to succeed Mr. Trump could copy him policy for policy, but if they can’t grab voters in a visceral way, they won’t succeed. 

As for the latest maelstrom, centered on Mr. Trump’s request of the Ukrainian president to look into former Vice President (and current 2020 candidate) Joe Biden and his son Hunter – possibly as part of a quid pro quo arrangement – the president has again violated conventions that most American politicians wouldn’t. 

But did Mr. Trump’s request amount to an impeachable abuse of power? That’s for the majority House Democrats to decide. If they impeach, the action moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required to convict the president and remove him from office – a mighty hill for Democrats to climb.

Impeachment followed by acquittal could help Mr. Trump win reelection. And a reelected Mr. Trump who has survived impeachment could grow even bolder in busting the norms of presidential behavior. Such a turn of events would send the Reagan-era party even further into the rearview mirror. 

Staff writer Story Hinckley contributed to this report.

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3. NRA too fearsome to cross? Not for this Republican governor.

Here’s an example of how long-held positions can change, in this case, within a state where voters have traditionally resisted gun-safety legislation.

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Last year, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed the most restrictive gun measures in the history of the Green Mountain State. He cast the move as a common-sense tightening of rules on firearm sales and possession. But this was a politically risky step for a Republican in a state where voters put a premium on gun rights.

Yet Governor Scott was reelected last November, and now he says the story of GOP governors like himself working on gun control holds a message for the nation. In a September letter, he urged U.S. Senate leaders to rise above ideology to “find real and meaningful solutions.”

In seeking reelection, Mr. Scott had to fend off opposition from the National Rifle Association, which had downgraded him to a D rating. 

“It was indicative to me of the outing of a myth,” says Phil Baruth, a Democratic state senator in Vermont who supports gun control. “The myth was that the NRA was so strong here, and voters were so against any gun safety legislation, even mentioning it would get you thrown out of your seat.”

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NRA too fearsome to cross? Not for this Republican governor.

A year and a half ago, angry gun owners jeered Vermont’s Republican Gov. Phil Scott at an outdoor ceremony as he signed into law the most restrictive gun measures in the history of the Green Mountain State.

While he cast the move as common sense – tightening some rules on firearm sale and possession – the step was politically risky in a state where voters put a high premium on gun rights.

Yet Governor Scott was reelected last November and now, he says his story and that of other Republican governors working on gun control hold a message for the nation.

An epidemic of gun violence compels political leaders “to rise above the political and ideological rhetoric to find real and meaningful solutions,” Mr. Scott wrote in a Sept. 9 letter to two fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham.

“Here in Vermont, the changes we made were not without controversy,” he wrote. “But it was the right thing to do.” 

For now, with the House of Representatives focused on an impeachment inquiry against the president, hopes for any federal gun control legislation seem futile. But Vermont’s political shift on guns has shown a possible path toward compromise on a highly partisan issue, whether for other states or for federal lawmakers down the road.

Notably, although the National Rifle Association (NRA) had downgraded Governor Scott to a D rating, he fended off a primary challenger who sought to leverage the issue, and every lawmaker who had voted for the gun safety bill won reelection in November. 

“It was indicative to me of the outing of a myth,” says Phil Baruth, a Democratic state senator in Vermont who supports gun control. “The myth was that the NRA was so strong here, and voters were so against any gun safety legislation, even mentioning it would get you thrown out of your seat.” 

For the majority of Americans who support background checks or other gun control measures, the deflation of that myth would be an encouraging sign. Today marks the two-year anniversary of the massacre at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in which 58 died, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. 

Before the impeachment drama escalated, President Donald Trump appeared to crack a door open toward federal background-check legislation on gun purchases. 

Still, if Vermont’s evolution on the issue reveals chinks in the gun lobby’s armor, it’s also a state with many avid hunters and gun owners. While Mr. Scott is widely credited for leading on gun control in 2018 at the cost of pro-gun votes at election time, he vetoed a bill passed this year that would have mandated a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, a measure designed primarily to reduce suicides. The NRA and other gun rights groups reject any delay in gun sales and lobbied hard to stop the Vermont bill. 

“There are more restrictions on gun sales now than there were two years ago. But I’m not sure the state is moving rapidly towards more restrictions,” says Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College in Vermont. 

Vermont’s history on guns 

Vermont’s Constitution goes further than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in safeguarding citizens’ right to bear arms for self-defense. The state has a strong gun and hunting tradition, along with a low crime rate, a point of pride for gun rights defenders. It’s also been the gold standard for freedom of gun ownership: no permits or licenses required. 

That’s long made gun control the third rail of politics in the state, one that cost Peter Smith, a Republican, his seat in the U.S. House in 1990. Former Representative Smith lost after his leftist opponent, endorsed by the NRA and running as an independent, outflanked him on guns by promising to oppose a firearm bill then in Congress. His name was Bernie Sanders.

In that context Governor Scott, a former stock car driver and state senator, was an unlikely agent of change. When he was elected governor in 2016, he had an A rating by the NRA, as had his predecessor, Peter Shumlin, a Democrat. It would take a national tragedy, and a local near miss, for Mr. Scott to cross the Rubicon of gun control. 

The tragedy came in Parkland, Florida, where a former student murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

The near miss came two days later, when a Vermont teenager was arrested and accused of planning a similar attack in Fair Haven.

In his letter to the U.S. senators last month, Governor Scott described how the teenager had prepared a kill list and surveyed the school and kept a diary, “The Journal of an Active Shooter.” (Studies have found that most mass shooters prepare their attacks far in advance.)

“It was not a question of if he was going to strike, it was a question of which day,” the Vermont governor wrote. 

At the time of the teen’s arrest, Mr. Scott told a news conference that he was ready to work with lawmakers on gun safety laws.

“I think everything should be on the table at this point. ... This situation led me to believe that we are not immune to what’s happening throughout the country,” he said.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Chad Hale, owner of Back Country Sports, poses behind a case of handguns in his shop on March 21, 2019, in Saint Albans, Vermont. The state has a strong gun rights tradition, and goes further than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in safeguarding citizens’ right to bear arms for self-defense.

At the State House in Montpelier, gun rights defenders geared up for a fight. 

Among them was Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (VTFSC)  and one of its three registered lobbyists. An NRA state affiliate, the federation works with the NRA’s national legislative arm to track relevant bills and advocate for gun rights.

“We’re the boots on the ground,” says Mr. Hughes.

The NRA has its own lobbyist in Vermont who handles three other Northeastern states. This is repeated across the country, giving the NRA a voice at the state level, where most gun statutes are written.

Mr. Hughes says that his federation sets its own agenda and works with, not for, the NRA. The VTFSC doesn’t endorse political candidates. But when lawmakers began in spring 2018 to debate a package of firearm restrictions, including mandatory background checks that go beyond federal requirements, raising the minimum age for gun ownership from 18 to 21, and “red flag” orders allowing law enforcement to take guns away under defined circumstances, the campaign ignited. 

A local and national battleground

Lawmakers fielded repeated calls and emails from gun owners alerted by the NRA and VTFSC. The message was simple: Don’t take away my constitutional rights. And when public hearings were held, the “orange people” – voters wearing hunting jackets – were out in force. 

But the NRA wasn’t the only national player in town.

Since 2014, Everytown for Gun Safety, a group funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has stepped up spending on state and national campaigns for gun control. 

In Vermont, it spent over $100,000 in 2017-18 on lobbying, roughly equal to the expenditures of the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Federation, a gun manufacturing association.

By contrast, in Vermont’s previous legislative sessions in 2015-16, gun control groups spent roughly half the $118,000 spent by gun rights groups.

On March 30, 2018, Vermont’s Senate passed a comprehensive gun control bill. The NRA urged its members to call on Governor Scott to veto “a historic gun control agenda” by an “anti-gun Legislature.” It added, “This is your last and best chance to be heard.” 

Two weeks later, Mr. Scott signed the gun safety bill on the steps of the State House under leaden skies. Dozens of gun owners looked on, booing and calling the governor a traitor. “You lied to me, Phil!” cried one. 

Tug-and-pull forces in GOP

Predictions of political doom for Mr. Scott proved incorrect. And this year, buoyed by their success, gun control lawmakers debated ways to reduce suicide. In Vermont, as elsewhere, the majority of gun deaths are suicides, not homicides, and mass shootings, which galvanize public debate, remain rare.  

Advocates say suicide is often a temporary impulse and that restricting access to lethal weapons is a proven way, though not the only way, to help at-risk individuals. 

By July, a bill mandating a 24-hour waiting period on handgun purchases reached Mr. Scott’s desk. But he didn’t sign it, arguing that the gun safety laws passed in 2018 were sufficient to help Vermont to tackle the underlying causes of violence and suicide.

Lawmakers say Mr. Scott’s decision appeared to be a political calculation. He separately signed a progressive abortion rights bill that may cost him Republican votes and had already voiced reluctance to add more gun laws to the statute book.

Richard Sears, a Democrat and chair of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, says he was disappointed by the governor’s decision. “He tried not to reoffend the people who were upset at him last year,” he says. 

Rebecca Kelley, a spokeswoman for Mr. Scott, insists this isn’t the case and that his veto was based solely on an analysis of the bill’s efficacy in reducing suicides. “He’s not making any decision going forward to win back anyone he lost by signing the bills in 2018,” she says.  

Even as Mr. Scott points to other Republican governors who have made pragmatic strides on the issue, grassroots opposition to gun control remains strong in many states. Just a month later, New Hampshire’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, vetoed three gun control bills that would have tightened background checks and imposed a 72-hour waiting period for gun sales. The veto came less than a week after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio.

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Climate realities

An occasional series

4. Houston’s pocket prairies: Natural solutions to unnatural flooding

Humans tend to solve problems through technology. But nature can have better answers. We look at the return of prairies in Houston. This story is part of an occasional Monitor series on “Climate Realities.”

David
Courtesy of Flo Hannah/The Nature Conservancy
A boy runs through a pocket prairie outside the MD Anderson Cancer Center. While they are not exact replicas of original southern coastal prairie, they provide some of the same flood control and public health benefits, conservationists say.

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Houston is in the midst of a prairie renaissance. Four “500-year” flood events in five years have residents and city planners looking for new ways to deal with flooding. 

Rather than simply engineering “grey” solutions that aim to divert floodwaters off streets as quickly as possible, communities are increasingly looking to “green” solutions that tap into the natural functions of the land, says Laura Huffman, regional director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas.

“The silver lining of [these storms] is there’s a real desire to rethink how cities rebuild,” she says.

For Houston, that’s taking shape in the form of “pocket prairies” – miniaturized, tailored prairies that can be planted in highly trafficked and flood-prone urban areas. More than fifty of them have been planted around the Houston metro area since 2008.

“We tend to be biased towards technological solutions and engineering solutions rather than natural solutions. We don’t think of nature solving our problems,” says Jim Blackburn, co-director of the center on severe storm prediction, education, and evacuation from disasters at Rice University in Houston. It’s a “completely different way of thinking.”

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Houston’s pocket prairies: Natural solutions to unnatural flooding

Deep in the heart of the dense steel and glass jungle of Houston’s Medical Center district, you can catch glimpses of what the city looked like some 400 years ago. 

Tall grasses rise up from one corner, sheltering more than 70 different plant and flower species. It looks messy, swampy, and wild – especially compared to the pristine grass lawns that surround many Houston buildings. It looks like coastal prairie.

Prairie like this covered coastal Texas and Louisiana for centuries, stretching from modern-day New Orleans all the way to Corpus Christi. Covering 9 million acres and supporting iconic flora and fauna like bluebonnets, monarch butterflies, and longhorn cattle, it evolved to survive, and thrive, in a corner of the world subject to both frequent flooding and drought. 

The prairie couldn’t survive the growth of cities and agriculture, however, and today less than 1% of the original coastal ecosystem remains. But as the region has experienced four “500 year” rain events in the past five years – including this month’s Tropical Storm Imelda – a prairie renaissance has been blossoming in Houston. 

SOURCE: NOAA, HCFCD, The New York Times
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“Prairies are a completely different way of thinking,” says Jim Blackburn, professor of environmental law at Rice University in Houston. “We tend to be biased towards technological solutions and engineering solutions rather than natural solutions. We don’t think of nature solving our problems.”

But that’s starting to change in Houston, where local officials, conservation groups, and even developers have been talking up prairies and their benefits, from detaining and filtering stormwater, to nourishing wildlife, sequestering carbon, and improving mental health. More than 50 miniaturized “pocket prairies” have been planted around the Houston metro area since 2008.

“That alone is not the answer,” says Professor Blackburn, who also co-directs the center on severe storm prediction, education, and evacuation from disasters at Rice. “But I think it’s part of a long-term solution.”

“A touchy subject”

While pocket prairies effectively mirror the pre-settlement Houston landscape, in many ways they are pale imitations – prairies manicured and airbrushed for the modern age.

Some 20 miles east of the Medical Center, in the suburb of Deer Park, is the real thing. The 51-acre Deer Park Prairie, home to more than 400 species of plants, is “pristine” – never farmed, developed, or touched by humans in any way, according to Della Barbato, director of education at the Native Prairies Association of Texas (NPAT). To the west, in neighboring Waller County, more than 20,000 acres of original prairie has been protected by the Katy Prairie Conservancy. 

In addition to supporting native wildlife, native prairies can sequester between a half-ton and 2 tons of carbon per acre in its root systems, which can reach up to 15 feet underground.

They also can retain significantly more water during heavy rain events than residential and commercial land.

“We call them the hardest working ecosystems in the world,” says Laura Huffman, regional director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas.

When the NPAT bought the Deer Park Prairie in 2013, it was bordered by some homes, a cemetery, and fields. Today the fields have been replaced by subdivisions. Private land around the Katy Prairie that used to cost a few hundred dollars an acre can now cost tens of thousands. And while those prairies are protected, in a business-friendly state like Texas there is always a tension between environmental protection and economic development.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
As education director for the Native Prairies Association of Texas, Della Barbato teaches residents about the ecological services provided by prairies. Her organization purchased the Deer Park Prairie, shown here, in 2013.

It’s “a touchy subject,” Ms. Barbato admits.

“It’s really difficult to see the sprawl,” she adds. But “if we can preserve or restore prairie at the same time then that would be a win-win for everyone.”

“A new attitude”

There is a general consensus among ecologists and urban planners that prairies can be beneficial, though research has yet to quantify the benefits for Houston. There is likely a limit to their floodwater storage potential. During Harvey, for instance, Harris County’s prairie wetlands only absorbed about 5% of the rain that fell, according to one estimate.

But the importance of pocket prairies, advocates say, should also include their educational and symbolic value.

When Houston conservation groups began working together on prairie restoration in 2009, “one of the first things that people said is, ‘No one knows prairies around here,’” recalls Jaime González, who manages urban conservation programs in Houston for The Nature Conservancy.

“We knew that if we’re going to uplift this story [of prairies and their benefits] we needed to put prairies throughout the city,” he adds.

SOURCE: Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Schools and highly trafficked areas like Hermann Park – one of the most visited city parks in the country – were targeted as sites for pocket prairies. Local landscape architect Beth Clark worked with the Katy Prairie Conservancy to create a “nine natives” project identifying nine attractive native plants that the average Houstonian could find and plant in their garden – a way for locals to build prairie-like greenspaces that are easier to maintain and not as wild-looking as genuine prairie.

Tapping Texas pride

Conservation groups have also seized on the connection prairies have to Texas identity, focusing on what Ms. Barbato calls “heart-grabber species,” such as bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas) and milkweed (the exclusive nursery of the monarch butterfly).

“If you take these icons of Texas, and you can reconnect it with the landscape, that’s when people will become fervent defenders,” says Mr. González.

In a sense, advocates say, prairies offer Houston residents a connection to their past. Longhorn cattle historically grazed on the prairie. And the prairie’s tall grass even helped secure Texas independence, covering a sneak attack on Mexican General Santa Anna in the pivotal Battle of San Jacinto.

At the same time, advocates see the prairie as key to building resilience into Houston’s future.

A year after Hurricane Harvey, then-Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called on officials to “permanently preserve and protect what remains of the Katy Prairie.”

“Let it be a sponge,” he reiterated this past weekend during a panel discussion on Harvey recovery at the Texas Tribune Festival. 

‘’We can make ourselves as resilient as possible,” he said, “but we have to work with nature where we can.”

SOURCE: Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. ‘To feel the wind’: Blind sailors take the helm in Boston Harbor

Our next story takes you to the deck of a sailboat, where stereotypes about limitations are challenged and confidence is built.

David
Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
Tom Rowen has worked with SailBlind for 30 years as a sighted guide. He says the most valuable part of his role has been working with the sailors themselves.

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Jan Lindquist was born with a condition that limits his sight. But that hasn’t stopped him from sailing for almost 40 years.

“When I first started, I was very afraid of [the water],” he says. “But it wore off, somehow,” and now he loves being out on the water.

Mr. Lindquist learned to sail through SailBlind, which was the first structured program in the United States for blind sailors. Founded in 1979, it has helped get hundreds onto the water.

Many wrongly assume that blindness is the same as closing your eyes. Not only are there different gradations to visual impairment, but blind persons also rely on other senses to compensate.

For most parts of sailing, vision isn’t as crucial as it may seem. For example, like their sighted peers, blind sailors parse the wind on their faces. Still, every SailBlind crew includes a sighted guide to keep lookout and train new sailors.

Sailing “restores a lot of pieces for [blind] people,” says Dina Rosenbaum, chief program officer at The Carroll Center for the Blind, which runs SailBlind. “It gives them independence. ... It gives them confidence.”

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‘To feel the wind’: Blind sailors take the helm in Boston Harbor

Working on a master’s degree, Katherine Kern can’t make as many Saturday sails as she would like anymore. But on the last day of the summer season, she makes sure to arrive at the pier by 10 a.m. She’s set to cruise through Boston Harbor with Jan Lindquist and Peter Fay – her crew for the day. 

It’s cloudless and warm with an impulsive wind. Mr. Fay holds the tiller while Ms. Kern and Mr. Lindquist trim the sails. They tack, they jibe; sailing a Rhodes 19, they look like everyone else on the water. They like it that way, too.

“I think of this as a normal thing,” says Ms. Kern. “Other people, they’re like, ‘Wait, what are you doing?’”

Ms. Kern’s only vision is through the corner of her left eye, and Mr. Lindquist was born with a condition that limits his sight. Mr. Fay is their sighted guide, there to spot boats, help board, and dock. He is not their captain. Ms. Kern has sailed for 15 years, and Mr. Lindquist for almost 40. They both learned through the same Saturday morning program that brought them to the water that day: SailBlind. 

Founded in 1979, SailBlind was the first structured program in the United States for blind sailors. It’s run by the Carroll Center for the Blind, a vision rehabilitation center in nearby Newton, Massachusetts. SailBlind continues the center’s mission to empower people with vision loss by helping hundreds onto the water. 

At first, the program attracted curious participants – mostly from New England – who never thought they could sail. It has since spawned crews that have raced in regattas from Auckland, New Zealand, to Newport, Rhode Island. As the birthplace of the association Blind Sailing International and the training ground for some of the sport’s best, SailBlind put blind sailing on the map – or more appropriately, the chart. 

“This restores a lot of pieces for [blind] people,” says Dina Rosenbaum, chief program officer at the Carroll Center. “It gives them independence. It gives them control of an environment. It gives them a social environment. It gives them confidence.”  

Wind and waves

SailBlind began with Arthur O’Neill, a former employee of the Carroll Center and a sailor himself, who wanted to help blind people enjoy the outdoors. He started a package of programs – skiing, hiking, canoeing, biking, and sailing – adapted to allow for a lack of sight. 

Mr. O’Neill says the Carroll Center partnered with the nonprofit Courageous Sailing, because the latter’s founder had learned how to sail blindfolded from his father, and was the only person receptive to the idea.

Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
Katherine Kern learned to sail through SailBlind 15 years ago. She has gone on to race in giant regattas and world championships.

“There was a lot of concern by the general public ... on the liability of a blind person sailing and doing those kinds of things,” Mr. O’Neill says. “So we weren’t really met with open arms.” 

Many wrongly assume that blindness is the same as closing your eyes. Not only are there different gradations to visual impairment, but blind persons also rely on other senses to compensate for less visual information. 

“A lot of sighted people feel that if I close my eyes, I couldn’t walk down a flight of stairs,” Mr. O’Neill says. “Maybe you couldn’t, but you can be taught to do that.”

Every SailBlind crew includes a sighted guide to keep lookout and train new sailors. At first, the guides are teachers – then just passengers. 

For most parts of sailing, vision isn’t as crucial as it may seem. To trim the sails and set a course, you first need to sense the wind and its direction. To do this, sailors often rely on telltales – thin strips of yarn attached to the sails. Like their sighted peers, blind sailors parse the wind on their faces. And rather than checking a compass, they can feel the sun’s rising in the east and setting in the west to help with orientation during races. With practice, blind sailors can be in almost complete control.

“It really [feels] great to be on the water,” says Tim Vernon, a participant in his fourth summer with the program. “To feel the wind, to breathe in the salt air, and to be able to hear the ocean and the waves splashing against the side of the boat as you sail through the water – [it’s] really a great feeling.”

“I had to prove myself”

SailBlind coordinator Tom Rowen first joined the program 30 years ago, never having sailed before. Even after being certified as a sighted guide, he was “scared to death” the first time he took a crew out on his own. It took a couple of weeks to get confident. 

“Everything ... is verbal commands,” he says. “All it is, is communication.”

When giving directions, Mr. Rowen learned to be clear and direct, both gentle and firm. Not one for “long dissertations,” he prefers to teach by doing. 

Ms. Kern learned to sail from Mr. Rowen as a student at the Carroll Center. At first just a weekend activity, sailing is now one of the biggest parts of her life. She goes at least twice a week during warm weather.

“Everybody knows that summer is when I go sailing,” she says. “And I will not make plans with people if I’m going sailing.” 

Eventually, weekend cruises weren’t enough for her. She wanted to race. 

Competitive sailing, as opposed to recreational, is much different – like NASCAR compared with an evening drive. There’s little time for talking. It’s intense, focused, and precise. 

Even in a league for blind sailors, Ms. Kern wasn’t initially welcomed. “It was a struggle and I had to prove myself,” she says. With persistence, she did. Now having raced in giant regattas and world championships, she says she often beats sighted sailors.

“There is a stereotype that if you’re blind, you can’t do anything,” Ms. Kern says. “We can do things just like other people. They just need to be adapted.” 

It’s important, Mr. Fay says, for blind people to have the option to do whatever they want to do. Newly trained as a guide this summer, he’s told colleagues with visual impairments about the program. One was excited. The other, afraid of the water, was not at all.

Mr. Lindquist used to be the same way. It took him two years to build confidence. He loves being out on the water now. He says it helps him get away from troubles on land. 

“When I first started, I was very afraid of [the water],” he says. “But it wore off, somehow, and then I began to like it.” 

During the winter, he thinks of Saturday mornings and summer sails. “You look back on it,” he says, “and then you long for it, you get hungry for it. You can’t wait for summer to come.” 

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The Monitor's View

The antidote for China’s violent turn

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China marked 70 years of Communist Party rule on Tuesday with quite a display of state firepower. The focus was supposed to be a parade in Beijing that showcased to the world, for the first time, military weapons designed for offensive strikes. Instead, the world was focused more on Hong Kong. There, for the first time, police took a violent turn and shot a demonstrator as tens of thousands marched for democracy.

Some scholars within China have warned against a kind of statism that relies on violence. Even the father of post-imperial China, Sun Yat-sen, warned China not to develop “the cult of force” with weapons as the country’s outstanding feature. One Chinese historian, Xu Jilin, writes that China “has seen an unprecedented resurgence in nationalism and statism, with the potential for military conflicts to erupt at the drop of a hat.” He points to Europe’s attempt after the nationalist wars of the 20th century to create a union of states based on universal values. Such an “external order” of values exists beyond the sovereignty of the nation-state.

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The antidote for China’s violent turn

China marked 70 years of Communist Party rule on Tuesday with quite a display of state firepower. The focus was supposed to be a parade in Beijing that showcased to the world, for the first time, military weapons designed for offensive strikes. Instead, the world was focused more on Hong Kong. There, for the first time, police took a violent turn and shot a demonstrator as tens of thousands marched for freedom and democracy.

China had indeed warned the protesters of the “immense strength of the central government.” In fact, during the parade in Beijing, one guest of honor was Lau Chak-kei, a Hong Kong police sergeant who was photographed carrying a shotgun during a protest in July. He is touted as a Chinese hero.

From shotguns to new hypersonic missiles, China has decided to show that its state power rests mainly on its firepower. This is quite a shift from seeking other forms of legitimacy, such as increased prosperity. It hints at a party fearful of losing support, both at home and abroad, to maintain its sole right to rule. To its credit, China has not used violent force outside its borders since 1988, when it provoked a confrontation with Vietnam. For three decades its leaders have focused on adopting a semi-free market economy. Yet both the escalation of official violence in Hong Kong and the parade of offensive weapons reveal a new intolerant and raw assertiveness.

Some scholars within China have warned against a kind of statism that relies on violence. Even the father of post-imperial China, Sun Yat-sen, warned China not to develop “the cult of force” with weapons as the country’s outstanding feature. One Chinese historian, Xu Jilin, writes that China “has seen an unprecedented resurgence in nationalism and statism, with the potential for military conflicts to erupt at the drop of a hat.”

Mr. Xu suggests the party return to an ancient Chinese idea of tianxia, or a restraint on the powerful through the use of concepts such as equality in the treatment of others and a pluralism that tolerates social and ethnic differences. Such concepts have spiritual power, he states, at a time when “the noble spiritual basis of the past is gone.”

“China’s rise has made neighboring countries uneasy,” he wrote in a 2018 book. “They fear that the soul of the Chinese empire will be reborn in a different body.” He points to Europe’s attempt after the nationalist wars of the 20th century to create a union of states based on universal values. Such an “external order” of values exists beyond the sovereignty of the nation-state. It also exists beyond the power of weapons and helps define how a society should exist in peace.

This is the message that Hong Kong, along with Taiwan and China’s Uyghur minority, are trying to send to Beijing. The answer cannot be guns.

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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 real me

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From fake news to “deepfake” audio or visual content, one’s identity and integrity can seem vulnerable to manipulation. But realizing that our purity as God’s children can’t ever be tampered with brings more integrity to light.

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The real me

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Recently I’ve been reading about the growing problem of “deepfakes,” which are very realistic fake video and audio recordings produced using artificial intelligence. This and other ways our identity seems to be vulnerable to misrepresentation have prompted me to think about different times in my life where I’ve had the opportunity to learn about a very different sense of identity, one that is inviolable.

I’m referring to our identity as a child of God, and learning more about it has helped me in concrete ways. It has brought about a better sense of purpose and place, healings of illnesses and relationships, and resolutions to business problems.

There’s a story in the Bible that has always inspired and encouraged me in this direction. The Jewish people had been taken captive by the Babylonians some decades before. But a man named Nehemiah, servant to a king of Babylon, received the king’s permission to lead a team to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem, the sacred city of the Jews (and now also of Christians and Muslims).

The traditional enemies of the Hebrew people at that time didn’t want Jerusalem to be rebuilt and began a slew of rumor campaigns to destabilize the effort and destroy Nehemiah’s reputation. They also attempted to draw Nehemiah away in order to capture him, and to infiltrate the city with spies to undermine and hinder the work.

However, Nehemiah’s prayerful discernment of their intents and methods prevented their success. His inspiration galvanized the builders, whom he encouraged to pray. Nehemiah never wavered in his understanding that “the God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (Nehemiah 2:20). So the wall was completed and Nehemiah’s integrity remained unsullied.

The greatest example of someone who overcame persecution and attacks on his integrity was Christ Jesus. He came to show us all how God, Spirit, created us in His own image and likeness, forever intact, pure, upright, and harmonious. Even when vilified and ridiculed on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He knew that the truth of who he was as God’s Son could never be besmirched or tampered with.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Jesus’ example of overcoming the most extreme forms of hatred and unjust condemnation imaginable is that it helps us feel empowered when we face much more modest indignities in our everyday lives. For instance, I vividly recall the lesson I learned when a supervisor claimed I had not been fulfilling my professional duties. As this person continued talking, accusing me of many things that I knew to be untrue, I had to fight feelings of injustice and betrayal.

As I have consistently found helpful when in a challenging position, I prayed. But my prayer wasn’t a plea that I be vindicated and my supervisor proved wrong. My prayer was a silent, sincere desire to know that God knew what was true about me, that my integrity was intact. This was based on what the divine Science of Christ reveals as the true nature of each of us: made in the image of God, spiritual and pure.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1, New Revised Standard Version). God, the divine Mind, knows each of us as His creation. Our integrity and identity can never be lost.

As I quietly considered these healing ideas, I suddenly discerned that my supervisor was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure related to work. I felt a sense of compassion. I realized that I needed to recognize that not only was my own integrity as God’s child intact, but my boss’s was too. The true, spiritual nature of each of us (or anyone else, for that matter) can’t be manipulated or undermined by stress, anger, revenge, disappointment, or injustice.

Within a short time, the accusations stopped. Nothing more was said questioning my integrity. And there was never another situation like that for the rest of the time I worked in that position.

Even if our words or actions have been mischaracterized or manipulated, the truth is that what we really are can never be tampered with or taken from us. Recognizing that our integrity as the children of God is whole and intact enables us to experience this more and more fully in our experience.

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Viewfinder

In protest

Dita Alangkara/AP
Protesters with toothpaste smeared around their eyes to evade the effect of tear gas stand near burning debris during a clash with riot police in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 30, 2019. Thousands of Indonesian students returned to the streets on Monday for the second week of protests against a new law they say has immobilized the country's anti-corruption agency, with some clashing with police.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 2nd, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow; our senior education writer looks at the Harvard case and why today’s ruling in favor of affirmative action may not be the final word on race in college admissions.

You may notice in our Daily email that we’ve made improvements to our opening text to make it more readable. You asked, we listened.

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