2019
October
30
Wednesday
Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Today’s stories include a struggle to restore corporate trust, the complex nature of identity in the age of Brexit, the challenge of maintaining fairness in sexual assault cases, an effort to make professional growth more attainable, and a tightrope walk between cultural appreciation and appropriation.

But first, a look at people power.

From Chile to Lebanon, Iraq to South Africa, people are taking to the streets. Their demands vary from country to country, and often from protester to protester. In each case, the spark that set the people alight has been unique to that place, that time. But a common fuel courses through each movement: a desire for justice and liberty shaped by the people. 

Popular uprisings aren’t unique to this era, of course. “It feels a little like ’68 here,” says Monitor correspondent Howard LaFranchi from Santiago, Chile, where a flare of tempers over a hike in metro fares ignited into a full blown blaze of fury over disparities in health care, education, and living conditions.  

“It’s a watershed moment for Chile for sure,” Howard tells me. “What’s hopeful about it is a new sense of solidarity that people recognize is coming from the youth. That’s why the adults are behind the kids marching.”

Likewise in Barcelona, Hong Kong, and Beirut, young people have emerged as the collective force behind the surge in protests. Mixing lessons from previous generations with the tools of social media, they have given birth to a different kind of collectivism. Whether they can achieve their aims without any defined leadership remains to be seen. But what has become undeniably clear is that they will continue to fight for their own visions of liberty and justice, together.

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1. Boeing apologizes. Next test: Honing culture of safety.

‘Safety first’ is often avowed as a corporate priority. But in a marketplace that also values metrics like price, profits, and speed, Boeing has become a high-profile test case for that ideal.

Noelle
Andrew Harnik/AP
Boeing chief executive officer Dennis Muilenburg, right foreground, faces lawmakers as crash-victim family members hold photos of lost loved ones behind him during a Senate hearing on "Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing's 737 MAX" in Washington on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019.

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For Boeing, there is plenty to apologize for in the aftermath of the two fatal crashes of its newest jetliner, the 737 MAX. Various safety reviews have pointed out the airplane software’s overreliance on a single sensor, overoptimistic assumptions about pilots’ emergency response, and the fateful decision to push regulators to allow the plane to keep flying after the first crash in October 2018.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg acknowledged these problems in two days of congressional testimony this week. In a dramatic moment he turned and addressed victims’ families directly: “We are deeply sorry.”

The company has set up a fund for those families. It has also set up a new channel for safety concerns that, according to news reports, went unheeded before the crashes. But leadership experts say the task of cultural change isn’t quick or easy.

“You have to pause and do some form of moral audit and ask very deep questions,” says Dov Seidman, who heads a New York-based firm that advises companies on such issues. “Have we put in place incentives ... that had more primacy than our principles and doing the right thing?”

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Boeing apologizes. Next test: Honing culture of safety.

A month before Lion Air Flight 610 took off from Jakarta and promptly plunged into the Java Sea, killing everyone aboard, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg traveled to a Baptist church in southern Illinois to talk about faith and leadership.

He talked about his boyhood on an Iowa farm and what he learned from a particularly challenging two-year stint where he had to dismantle a business unit that Boeing had expected to be a growth opportunity. “I firmly believe I wouldn’t have the job I’m in today without that experience,” he told the lunchtime audience. “Part of being a leader, I think, is being willing to take risk, smart risk, and sometimes fail but then learn and become a better leader.”  

This week, Mr. Muilenburg had the chance to tell two congressional panels what he had learned from a much bigger challenge ​– the crashes of Boeing 737 MAX planes in Indonesia and in Ethiopia less than five months later. It was dramatic political theater, with families of some of the 346 victims sitting a few feet behind him. It was also his opportunity to demonstrate moral leadership ​– something he’s committed himself to, and that most American workers say is lacking in their own companies.

“The thirst for moral leadership, especially from individuals who occupy positions of formal leadership, senior positions ... continues to be high,” says Dov Seidman, the founder and chairman of LRN, a New York-based company that provides software and also advises companies on leadership and ethical cultures.

But only 17% of American workers say their managers normally tell the truth, according to an LRN survey last year. Only 14% of workers say leaders acknowledge their own failings, and only 13% say leaders make amends when they get things wrong, the survey found.

For Boeing, there is plenty to apologize for in the aftermath of the twin crashes of its new plane. Various safety reviews have pointed out the airplane software’s overreliance on a single sensor, overoptimistic assumptions about pilots’ emergency response, and the fateful decision to push regulators to allow the plane to keep flying after the first crash, which occurred in October 2018. 

Boeing’s Mr. Muilenburg acknowledged these problems over two days of congressional testimony, first at a Senate panel and on Wednesday, before a House committee. He said he met with some of the victims’ family members to hear their stories, and in a dramatic moment at the House hearing, he turned to them and addressed them directly: “We are deeply sorry.”

But the key to a true apology is not just acknowledging the offense and offering a genuine apology, writes Aaron Lazare, in his 2004 book “On Apology.” The follow-on is to “offer appropriate reparations, including a commitment to make changes in the future.”

Boeing has set up a fund to help families of the victims, and it has repeatedly stated it has made the changes to fix the current problem and will continue to learn. It has also created a new channel for employees to raise safety concerns. 

Is it enough?

From an engineering point of view, some experts say the answer is yes. “The problem is relatively well understood. The fixes are also well understood.… I actually don’t think it’s that productive to do much fingerpointing,” says John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. 

From a leadership point of view, it’s less clear that the company has executed a fundamental  change. 

For any company in crisis, “you have to pause and do some form of moral audit and ask very deep questions,” says Mr. Seidman. “Have we put in place incentives ​– such as being the biggest or being No. 1 or beating a competitor or making more profit than anybody else ​– that had more primacy than our principles and doing the right thing?” 

A handful of Boeing whistleblowers have raised issues with the 737 MAX and its safety. And the House committee says an internal company survey showed roughly one-third of workers described “potential undue pressure” from managers regarding safety-related approvals by federal regulators across an array of commercial planes. Workload and schedule were cited as important causes. The plane is still grounded, although U.S. clearance to fly could come in the next few months.

Mr. Muilenberg has defended the company culture as putting safety first. But in his testimony to Congress, he repeatedly earned rebukes from members of Congress for not answering questions directly.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois accused the company of pushing “half-truths.” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas suggested the corporate culture was too complacent or too scared to alert its CEO to potentially damning documents.

“There’s been a lack of candor through all this,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said in his opening statement.

“I can’t say whether he’s sincere or insincere,” says Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, an AFL-CIO union representing some 11,000 Federal Aviation Adminsitration (FAA) inspectors as well as technicians who maintain and certify air-traffic-control and national defense equipment 

The union is pushing for a pause in the expansion of the FAA program under which Boeing workers increasingly certify their own components and systems. “Let’s take a breath; let’s figure out what’s broken,” Mr. Perrone says.   

Mr. Muilenburg’s interest in leadership extends beyond Boeing. He also is chairman of a nonprofit in the St Louis area called Biblical Business Training. “With the growing crisis of character of leadership in the workplace, I believe that God expects me to glorify Him to the benefit of others,” he writes on the group’s website. “As a Christian, I take God to work with me every day and strive to lead in a way that is faithful.”

“There are different paths to values,” says Mr. Seidman of LRN. Some get there through religion; some through universal humanist values; some through a natural empathy. “The values that moral leaders have in common is that they put values at the foundation.”

He adds: “Often, we know that somebody is doing the right thing because they’re doing something inconvenient, unpopular, unprofitable in the short term, or dangerous. And I yearn for a world where doing the right thing doesn’t take so much courage.”

[Editor's note: One quote has been corrected, making clear that beating a competitor could be an incentive.

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2. As UK sets poll date, a voter’s dilemma: Vote on party, or vote on Brexit?

Brexit is perhaps the most divisive issue in Britain today, but it isn’t one that is neatly split along party lines. So when it comes time to vote, which is more important to Britons: Brexit identity or party identity?

Noelle

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In the Rhondda Valley district of Wales, locals joke that you could pin a red rosette on a sheep and win it for Labour, the center-left party that grew out of the union movement that organized the valley’s miners. Thus the district’s tilt to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum, a campaign led by anti-EU, right-wing Conservatives, was a shock.

Now the loyalties of Leavers in Labour, which has struggled in opposition to straddle both sides of Brexit, are set to be tested again in a poll on Dec. 12. When voters go to the polls, which political loyalty will shine brightest: Brexit or party? It’s a question on which Britain’s political equilibrium could turn.

In the 1960s, nearly half of voters identified with a political party. That identification has fallen away, says Julian McCrae, managing director of Engage Britain. Since 2016, Brexit identities have been blamed for polarizing the public. But Mr. McCrae argues that on key issues, there is more that divides than unites either of the Brexit camps – suggesting to him that it may not harden into U.S.-style polarization. “These Brexit identities are new and not ideological and issues-based,” he says.

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As UK sets poll date, a voter’s dilemma: Vote on party, or vote on Brexit?

As secretary of the rugby club, a social pillar of his village, Brian Newman has heard it all. Leave versus Remain. In versus out. Three years on, Brexit is still a topic of conversation at the clubhouse bar, an argument and a riddle that never quite ends.

On this frosty Sunday morning, however, the minds of the 50 men packed into an upstairs room are focused on Wales playing South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. Some wear the maroon shirt of Penygraig RFC, one of the oldest rugby clubs in Wales, tucked into a coal-rich valley. Broomsticks and cobwebs from the previous night’s Halloween party hang on the walls.

Like many in the United Kingdom, voters here are perplexed by Britain’s protracted departure from the European Union, which extended Monday an Oct. 31 deadline after Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to rush legislation through Parliament. This district voted 60% for Leave in the 2016 referendum, and many of its residents have grown frustrated with the delays – the latest until Jan. 31, more than three years after 17.4 million voted to leave the EU in a referendum.

Mr. Newman is among those who voted Leave. He’s grown sick of delays and excuses from politicians. He compares the referendum mandate to a rugby coach’s instructions to his team on game day. “There’s no wiggle room. We have to leave,” he says.

But the Rhondda Valley, where Penygraig lies, bears no love for Mr. Johnson or his Conservative Party. In this district, an election has long foretold a single conclusion. Locals joke that you could pin a red rosette on a sheep – Wales has many – and win it for Labour, the center-left party that grew out of the union movement that organized the miners in the collieries which defined and disfigured these valleys. Thus the district’s tilt for Leave in 2016, a campaign led by Mr. Johnson and other anti-EU Conservatives, was a shock comparable to Donald Trump’s electoral success among Democratic voters in the U.S. Midwest.

The loyalties of Leavers in Labour, which has struggled in opposition to straddle both sides of Brexit, are now set to be tested again in scores of districts. Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party won approval Tuesday in Parliament for a poll on Dec. 12 after opposition lawmakers switched sides following a failed election motion a day earlier.

When voters go to the polls, which political loyalty will shine brightest: Brexit or party? It’s a question on which Britain’s political equilibrium could turn, with lasting consequences.

What will voters be voting on?

Labour has dominated Wales for a century, underpinned by seats like the Rhondda Valley, a bastion of working-class leftism. “They have been very predictable. But they also voted for Leave,” says Roger Awan-Scully, a politics professor at the University of Cardiff.

Fewer British voters align today with a political party. In a 2018 poll, fewer than 1 in 10 said they identified with one of the parties. But 44% identified as either Leave or Remain, an indication of how strong feelings have been running over Brexit.

That complicates the pitch of Labour politicians like Chris Bryant, the member of Parliament for Rhondda and a strong Remain supporter. With Mr. Bryant winning 64% of the vote in 2017, nobody is predicting his upset. But for Labour MPs in competitive seats in Wales and other Leave-voting regions, the risk of losing loyalists over Brexit is palpable.

“Labour identification is not what it was in many parts of the U.K. and particularly in post-industrial communities,” says Dr. Awan-Scully.

Mr. Newman, who works in human resources, says he no longer trusts the delivery of Brexit to Labour, the party that he’s voted for all his life. Unlike other disgruntled Leave voters here, he isn’t just threatening to stay home on election day. He wants to send a message: Brexit first.

“I will vote Tory. One hundred percent. Boris is the only person who will get it done,” he says.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

By any measure, Rhondda is stony ground for the Conservative, or Tory, party. In 2017 it polled the lowest number of votes – 3,333 – of any constituency on mainland Britain; Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, got twice as many votes and finished second.

To win a majority in Parliament, Mr. Johnson needs to pick up seats in Leave-voting regions in England and Wales. But that may be harder than it looks, given the electoral geography, says Joe Twyman, director and co-founder of Deltapoll, a social research company.

Of 50 seats where more than two-thirds voted to Leave, 24 are already held by Conservatives. The rest are Labour seats, half of which could be in play, says Mr. Twyman. But the others are in regions where the Conservatives have rarely won and Mr. Johnson is unpopular. “Winning any of those is going to be a big stretch,” he says.

For pollsters, the biggest uncertainty is what will voters be voting on: Brexit or domestic policy? In 2017, Theresa May, Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, called a snap election ahead of Brexit negotiations with the EU, seeking a larger majority in Parliament. But what was expected to be an election about Brexit ended up being about anything but, and Ms. May’s wooden style and unpopular manifesto fueled an unanticipated Labour resurgence that in turn led to a hung Parliament.

“People snapped back into their party identifications once that was the situation they were in,” says Mr. Twyman. “The same may happen this time around.”

David Lammy, a Labour MP in London, says that all prime ministers call elections on the belief that they can define campaign themes. “This will begin as a Brexit election. But it will not end a Brexit election. It never goes that way,” he told the Foreign Press Association in London.

“Nobody listens to us”

Brexit has proven as divisive in Rhondda as elsewhere. Jack Dando says his extended family are at it most days, sniping across the kitchen table. “My grandparents are out, out, out. My sister is in, in, in,” he says.

Mr. Dando, a salesman for a construction company, says he voted Remain and points to EU grants that paid for regeneration projects in Rhondda, which is in one of Europe’s poorest regions. Still, he’s not impressed by opposition MPs in Parliament who are throwing sand into the works. “They’re like a bunch of kids,” he says. “Get it sorted.”

He votes Plaid Cymru and feels no allegiance to Labour, unlike his grandparents and other village elders who worked for the coal mines until the 1980s when Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher faced down a national strike, earning her lasting enmity in these valleys.

“I may be a multimillionaire. I still would never vote Conservative,” says Terry Morris, a self-identified socialist and pro-European. Mr. Morris, a former union activist who works as a gas fitter, voted Remain. But he understands why many of his fellow club members identify as Leavers after decades of economic and social decay. The club’s rugby pitch across the street is built on one of the 58 pits that used to provide steady jobs and community pride up and down the valley, all closed now.

“Nobody listens to us. Nobody is fighting our cause,” he says.

In the 1960s, nearly half of voters identified with a political party. That identification, which mapped onto British social class, has fallen away, says Julian McCrae, managing director of Engage Britain, a civil society organization. “It’s a cohort effect. Younger groups are less likely to see the political world through that lens.”

Since 2016, tribal party loyalty has given way to Brexit identities that have been blamed for polarizing the public and straining democratic institutions. Mr. McCrae agrees that Britain is divided on Brexit. But he argues that on key issues like tax policy and public spending there is more that divides than unites either the Leave camp or the Remain camp – those fragile bonds suggesting to him that it may not harden into U.S.-style polarization that scorches common ground.

“These Brexit identities are new and not ideological and issues-based,” he says.

Mr. Newman says he’s fed up with Brexit and the arguments it generates. Still, he finds himself listening to an hour of news in the car on his daily commute, catching up on the political push and pull that reminds him of a rugby scrum. And he may be an outlier in switching sides here, given the residual strength of antipathy toward the Conservatives.

“Labour has been dominant here for a century and that doesn’t happen here by accident. No one should underestimate the resilience of the Welsh Labour Party,” says Mr. Awan-Scully.

Upstairs in the clubhouse, the Welsh national team goes down fighting to South Africa, ending their hopes of making next week’s final in which England will play. Fans groan at the final whistle, then stream out into dazzling morning sunshine.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. Accused on campus: John Does push for right to cross-examine

What’s the fairest way to get at the truth in a sexual misconduct investigation? Courts, college officials, and student advocates are considering how to ensure that disciplinary hearings do more good than harm.

Noelle

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When two students have opposing accounts in a sexual misconduct investigation on campus, should they be able to cross-examine each other? 

It’s a question coming up increasingly as accused students – some 500 of them since 2011 – take universities to court, claiming Title IX disciplinary processes are unfair to them. 

The push for cross-examination comes from some people’s conviction that it is the best way to get at the truth. But to others it raises concerns about witness badgering and causing a chilling effect on the reporting of sexual violence. 

The goal of due process advocates is not for the “pendulum to swing back” to when it was widely perceived that schools were “sweeping cases of sexual misconduct under the rug,” says Samantha Harris, a vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “It isn’t a zero-sum game where either the victims are not getting a fair shake or the accused are not getting a fair shake. It should be a fair process that is maximally aimed at getting at the truth of what actually happened.”

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Accused on campus: John Does push for right to cross-examine

“Risky Business.” That was the theme of the fraternity party where two University of Michigan juniors danced together and eventually made their way to his bedroom. Their accounts of what happened after that diverge sharply.

She filed a campus complaint, saying she had been too drunk to consent to sex. He told a campus investigator she didn’t appear drunk, and she verbally consented. After he was found responsible in a case where the evidence was split virtually 50-50, he withdrew from school just 13.5 credits shy of graduation.

But in this case – and about 500 other federal and state lawsuits since 2011 – the accused took the university to court, claiming the school’s Title IX disciplinary process was unfair. Echoing a concern raised in many of these suits, the University of Michigan student said he should have been allowed to cross-examine his accuser and her witnesses, to bring out possible inconsistencies, mistaken memories, or ulterior motives in a way a written report never could.

As the push for cross-examination accelerates, questions around the practice are far from settled: Is it the best way to get at the truth in some campus sexual misconduct cases? Or is it a threat to progress? Can there be a version that looks very different from the courtroom stereotype of badgering the witness?

The issue poses “very difficult tradeoffs,” says R. Shep Melnick, a politics professor at Boston College. “There are the dug-in advocates on either side … [but] I do think that in most universities, faculty and students are amenable to a middle ground.”

Adding to the momentum is a nod by the federal government. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new Title IX regulations last November, including a requirement that campuses allow cross-examination by students’ advisers. It was one of several shifts toward due process that she argued had suffered under the Obama administration’s Title IX enforcement.

After a contentious public comment period and any revisions that may have been made in response, the new regulations are on track to be released this fall, an Education Department spokesman said in an email to the Monitor. Questions have been raised about whether the regulations will take into account recent court decisions on cross-examination, but the department wouldn’t comment. 

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks about campus sexual assault and the enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination in education on the basis of gender, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University’s Arlington, Virginia, campus. The Department of Education is expected to release new guidelines related to due process and Title IX this fall.

Inconsistent practice 

Those who have spent decades trying to encourage more people to report campus sexual violence say the drive toward cross-examination is alarming. Rape has long been underreported to police because of how victims have been treated in courtrooms, they point out.

And the Title IX approach is supposed to be different, they add: Not a criminal trial, but a way for educators to ensure that students’ civil rights aren’t curtailed because of sexual harassment and assault. There are plenty of ways for campus officials to weigh people’s accounts without subjecting them to direct, adversarial questioning, these advocates say.

In the University of Michigan case, Doe v. Baum, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took the man’s side in its 2018 ruling: If there are competing narratives, public universities must allow the parties or their representative to cross-examine in front of a neutral fact-finder. Because of the court’s jurisdiction, its decision is binding on public campuses not only in Michigan, but also in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

But around the country, discipline practices on many campuses don’t include any form of cross-examination, and can be “very frustrating” for accused students who say their sexual interactions were consensual, says Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, which provides support for accused students and pushes for Title IX reforms.

Often they are asked “to prepare a list of questions in advance and hand them over to a supposedly neutral adjudicator,” she says. But then adjudicators skip a lot of questions, or ask “in a way that softens the question, makes it less adversarial, which completely undermines the purpose.”

Universities “owe a duty of care to both parties,” she says. 

Searching for a path to equity

Treating both sides fairly is important, but cross-examination isn’t the right way to define due process in this context, says B. Ever Hanna, policy director of End Rape on Campus (EROC), a national nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C. 

An accused student should be able to “have questions answered, but not necessarily in an adversarial way,” says Hanna. The lawyer or adviser who might represent the student wouldn’t necessarily “have the training required to cross-examine survivors of sexual violence with an eye toward not further harming them.” 

But school administrators would have the power to rein in anyone who crossed that line, Ms. Garrett says. And people could be questioned over video if they wanted to avoid being in the same room as their alleged assailant.  

A perception of being harmed by the process can cut both ways. For an accused student, “to have your school, whom you love and you’re loyal to, actually not believe that you would never do something so vile – it’s a huge emotional experience,” she says.

‘Not the right solution’

Bias favoring those who report sexual assault needs to be addressed on many campuses, but cross-examination is not the right solution, says Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators.

“I’ve seen every type of questioning process play out,” he says. Direct cross-examination has “an enormously harmful potential … and there’s absolutely no empirical evidence of a benefit.”

An August ruling by the 1st Circuit made a similar point, but didn’t dismiss the need for some form of probing questions.

In that case, James Haidak, a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, had been suspended and later expelled after allegations of physically assaulting a fellow student he was dating.

While the court did find that the school should have given Mr. Haidak a hearing before his suspension, it disagreed with his claim that he should have been allowed to directly cross-examine the other student. The ruling described how administrators reasonably carried out an “inquisitorial” method, “a non-adversarial model of truth seeking. It was the university’s responsibility, rather than the parties’, to investigate the facts and develop the arguments.” 

But when universities take on this responsibility, they must be willing to ask probing questions of the accusing student, the ruling cautioned. Administrators in this case did that so effectively, it noted, that even without Mr. Haidak’s involvement, they surfaced information that prompted them to drop some of the misconduct charges. 

In addition to Massachusetts, the ruling covers public universities in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico.

The 6th Circuit Baum ruling is stronger, but the Haidak case was on balance a victory for due process, says Samantha Harris, vice president for procedural advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The Philadelphia-based advocacy group filed a friend of the court brief in favor of Mr. Haidak. 

Most of the lawsuits have been brought against public universities, but rulings in two recent cases have raised the idea that cross-examination could be required for fairness under Title IX at private colleges as well, KC Johnson, a Brooklyn College professor who tracks such cases, wrote in an email to the Monitor.

As more cases work their way through circuit courts in the coming years, conflicting opinions could set the stage for a Supreme Court ruling. 

John Does are attempting to push the envelope even further in lawsuits against Michigan State University and the University of California. They are seeking class-action status and asking to overturn hundreds of Title IX decisions against students who did not have an opportunity to cross-examine. Those “strike me as a long shot,” Professor Melnick says.

The goal of due process advocates is not for the “pendulum to swing back” to when it was widely perceived that schools were “sweeping cases of sexual misconduct under the rug,” says FIRE’s Ms. Harris. “It isn’t a zero-sum game where either the victims are not getting a fair shake or the accused are not getting a fair shake. It should be a fair process that is maximally aimed at getting at the truth of what actually happened.” 

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4. 500 hours of training to braid hair? Work licensing faces scrutiny.

Sometimes paths toward economic progress aren’t that complicated. A bipartisan effort is underway to streamline occupational licensing rules, so consumer protection doesn’t stifle work opportunities.

Noelle
Mark Meranta/Courtesy of the Institute for Justice
Ashley-Roxanne N'Dakpri, manager of the Afro Touch hair braiding salon in Gretna, Louisiana, is suing the state's cosmetology board over its use of a state law to set licensing standards for hair braiders. Ms. N'Dakpri and two other plaintiffs claim a requirement for more than 500 hours of training is onerous and unnecessary.

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Across the country, state occupational licensing laws are being reexamined. Such laws, which affect about 1 in 4 American jobs, were devised as safeguards for consumers, but critics say they have ballooned into harmful restrictions on job-market competition and business opportunity. The result can be not just higher prices for consumers, but also career roadblocks for workers, with especially deep effects on minorities, immigrants, and people with criminal records.

The licensing laws are also inconsistent from state to state. In Gretna, Louisiana, the Afro Touch hair braiding salon is a plaintiff in a suit seeking to loosen or repeal Louisiana’s expensive requirement of 500 hours of training and a license in cosmetology. For Afro Touch, the rules mean not having enough staff to keep up with demand.

Only 19 people in the state are legally qualified to braid hair, while none of Louisiana’s border states – Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas – require such licenses.

Ashley-Roxanne N’Dakpri, manager of Afro Touch, learned hair braiding as a child from her aunt, an immigrant from Ivory Coast. She says of her case: “I feel good about it, because I am going to fight for what’s right.”

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500 hours of training to braid hair? Work licensing faces scrutiny.

If not for Lauryn Hill singing on the radio, the AfroTouch hair-braiding salon would be quieter than a knitting circle. On a weekday afternoon, the salon that recently filed a lawsuit against Louisiana only has two customers. 

Six of its swivel-chair workstations are shrouded in plastic covering. So when someone opens the door in this strip-mall location, manager Ashley-Roxanne N’Dakpri appears delighted to welcome a visitor. It’s an Amazon delivery man with a package of business supplies: dreadlocks.

Holding up the matted hair extensions, Ms. N’Dakpri explains how she’ll weave them into a customer’s hair. “It will look like they have been growing them for years,” says the smiling millennial.

Despite outward appearances, the Afro Touch salon can’t keep up with demand. Its customers are on a waiting list. But Louisiana has mandated such an expensive occupational license – 500 hours of training – that plaintiffs say only 19 people in the state are legally qualified to braid hair. Ms. N’Dakpri and two other hair braiders are suing the state in a bid to loosen or repeal the regulation.

Their litigation arrives at a time of nationwide reexamination of occupational licensing laws. Critics say such laws have ballooned beyond the role of consumer safeguards into harmful restrictions on job-market competition and opportunity in fields as diverse as tour guiding and making caskets.

The result can be not just higher prices for consumers, but also career roadblocks for workers, with especially deep effects on minorities, immigrants, and people with criminal records. 

The new efforts to relax regulations, rooted in the goal of fairness, span from court cases on specific occupations to broader reform efforts in state legislatures – a potentially significant shake-up in a nation where about 1 in 4 jobs currently require an occupational license or government approval. 

“In 2015, the Obama White House released a report on occupational licensing” and “it identified some of the barriers that it creates for different population groups,” says Suzanne Hultin, program director in the Employment, Labor & Retirement program at the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “On the heels of that report, the U.S. Department of Labor announced [its willingness] to work with states on this issue. ... Then that trend continued in 2018. The Trump administration also put out some money to work on this. So it’s a bipartisan issue.”

“It’s like an art”

For Ms. N’Dakpri, it’s a personal issue. As a child, she learned African hair braiding from her aunt, Lynn Schofield, an immigrant from Ivory Coast. As an adult, she’s still braiding hair alongside Ms. Schofield, the owner of Afro Touch. Standing behind a seated customer, Ms. N’Dakpri braids a rope-like hair extension with fingers that move as fast as those of a stenographer. 

“It’s like an art. A lot of mathematics,” explains Ms. N’Dakpri. “People come with different types of hair, different size heads, different textures. So you have to be able to give them what they want without overdoing it.” 

The labor-intensive process, which does not include the use of dangerous substances such as chemicals, averages eight hours per customer. At one point, Ms. Schofield had the staff to handle the workload. She owned four salons and employed 20 hair braiders. That is, until the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology unilaterally decided in 2003 that hair braiders require a license in cosmetology. (The board has not responded to the Monitor’s requests for comment.) Of the 51 cosmetology schools in Louisiana, only one has an active course in alternative hair design, aka hair braiding. It’s a 4 1/2 hour drive from New Orleans. 

None of Louisiana’s border states – Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas – require licenses for African hair braiding. That sort of disparity in licensing requirements across the states was noted in the 2015 Obama White House report

In July, Arizona and Pennsylvania responded by enacting universal licensure recognition so that those who’ve practiced occupations in other states can continue their practice, says Ms. Hultin of the NCSL. Utilizing a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the NCSL is helping to coordinate the Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Consortium. Sixteen states are participating in the project to examine common challenges of occupational licensing. 

But perhaps the most impactful pushback against occupational licensing laws stems from how they often discriminate against those with criminal records. Over the past three years, 20 states have reformed regulations that stipulated that “good moral character” is a requisite to be awarded occupational licenses.

Credit the burgeoning movement for criminal justice reform. 

“There’s at least some overlap across the right and the left on recognizing that it just doesn’t make sense to keep people with records from being able to access careers and good jobs,” says Beth Avery, senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, a think tank that advocates for liberal labor and employment legislation. 

Recidivism and jobs

Those sorts of regulations particularly affect former felons. People who learned a skilled trade while incarcerated may be prohibited from practicing it after release from prison. 

“There’s been so many studies that have correlated recidivism rates to employment rates,” says Kimberly Crawford-Buddin, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. “The reason that the ACLU has dug so hard into the issue of criminal records and occupational licensing is because of the racial impact that it has,” given the nation’s currently high rates of incarceration for black men. 

The Obama White House report also identified immigrants as one of the populations most adversely affected by occupational licensing laws. That’s true in the case of Afro Touch. Many of its onetime employees were legal immigrants from Africa who were still learning English – an additional barrier to attending cosmetology school. Ms. N’Dakpri says such training was also superfluous.

“Because they come from Africa, they already know how to braid!” she says.

The Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian legal advocacy group that is representing the hair braiders in the Louisiana lawsuit, has mounted multiple challenges to occupational licensing laws since 1991. Occupational licensing laws often result from trade associations lobbying to curb new competitors from entering the profession, says Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel of IJ. Sometimes those groups directly oversee the licensing process. In Louisiana, the cosmetology board includes owners of cosmetology schools – including one that teaches hair braiding. 

A proper role for licensing

Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, believes governmental licensing agencies are still key to consumer protections but agrees that they need to be independent from industry influence.

“The good about licensing laws for the various services that they cover is that they provide some modicum of information about the quality of the service provider to consumers,” says Mr. Gillis. “The real argument against licensing is that it’s inconsistent. It is often not enforced. And the requirements may not necessarily identify the good players. So if those three criteria are met then licensing can be a great thing.” 

Mr. McGrath of IJ sees a greater role for rating agencies and private certification as an alternative to governmental licensing laws. Does a lactation consultant group in Georgia really need a license in an age when consumer word of mouth travels faster over the internet?

More immediately, IJ believes economic liberty helps consumers. It has represented teeth-cleaning and teeth-whitening entrepreneurs who’ve challenged the idea that only licensed dentists can oversee such procedures. Similarly, some reform advocates say high costs in medicine could be curbed partly by allowing nurses to perform some regular tasks that only licensed doctors are permitted to do. 

Ms. N’Dakpri is heartened by IJ’s recent victories, but she’s taking on a state that still licenses florists and interior designers. For now, her case is pending. On Monday, a judge denied a motion by the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology to dismiss the case. 

“I feel good about it,” says the hair braider, who typically weaves hair with her eyes closed, a serene smile on her face. “Because I am going to fight for what’s right.”

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5. Why a $75 Barbie doll sparked Day of the Dead debate

Who owns culture? A new Barbie revives the debate about where the line should be drawn between cultural appreciation and appropriation – and offers lessons in getting it right. 

Noelle
MATTEL
The $75 Dia De Muertos Barbie sold out quickly on Mattel’s website. For some, the doll inspires pride in Mexican cultural traditions. For others, it represents cultural appropriation.

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A $75 Barbie is creating waves in Mexican communities on both sides of the border. The Dia De Muertos Barbie, whose face is painted in a skull mask and who wears a black embroidered dress and golden marigold crown, is currently sold out on Mattel’s website and lit up Twitter ahead of the holiday, celebrated Nov. 1- 2 in Mexico. Some people like its simple beauty and that it pays homage to one of Mexico’s profoundest cultural traditions. Others claim cultural appropriation at its worst – corporate America profiting from a spiritual expression that traces back to pre-Hispanic times.

The battle over who owns art, music, fashion, or storytelling has been amplified by social media, where “sharing” is easier, “borrowing” is more visible, and general awareness has grown. “There is certainly in some cases that fine line between appropriation and inspiration,” says George Nicholas, an archaeology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Mexico City archaeologist Martin Robles Luengas has no problem with the doll, especially as a countermessage to the criminality and corruption that dominate most news reports about Mexico. “Thanks to these artists, and to these movies, and to this doll, people across the world know the beautiful traditions of Mexico.”

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Why a $75 Barbie doll sparked Day of the Dead debate

Luis Manuel Piña has been stamping, punching, and pounding sheets of tin into decorative art, a craft called hojalata, for 40 years, since he was 6.

Among his bestsellers this time of year are the catrinas, or female skeleton figurines that symbolize Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). He creates them in metal or sells them in wood, dressed in bright, elegant gowns and equally bright hats.

So if anyone should have an opinion on American toy company Mattel’s Dia De Muertos Barbie, whose face is painted in a skull mask and who wears a black embroidered dress and golden marigold crown, it is he, a craftsman whose livelihood depends on the customs passed down in his family.

The $75 doll, currently sold out on Mattel’s website, lit up Twitter ahead of the holiday, celebrated Nov. 1- 2 in Mexico, and also on Oct. 31 in the U.S. Some people like its simple beauty and that it pays homage to one of Mexico’s profoundest cultural traditions. Others claim cultural appropriation at its worst – corporate America profiting from a spiritual expression that traces back to pre-Hispanic times.

As for Mr. Piña, his view falls somewhere in between: He feels pride for the interest in a holiday that he says is the most important on the calendar for most Mexicans, but he also voices some regret. “It’s nice that the world has turned its attention on Mexican culture, but I wish it had been a Mexican company that put the doll on sale. It’s, after all, our national object,” says Mr. Piña, whose store is in Mexico City’s main folk art market, the Ciudadela, and is fittingly named The Roots of Mexican Culture.

The battle over who owns art, music, fashion, or storytelling has been amplified by social media, where “sharing” is easier, “borrowing” is more visible, and general awareness has grown. George Nicholas, an archaeology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, often helps artists who want to know if their work is considered appropriation. His definition entails damage – such as using imagery from indigenous groups that is spiritually inappropriate or watering down a cultural icon or rendering it less valuable. Sometimes charges of it are mistaken.

“There is certainly in some cases that fine line between appropriation and inspiration,” he says. “We respond to what we observe around us. It becomes part of our understanding of the world or part of that landscape that we navigate. And so sometimes we consciously or otherwise incorporate aspects of other people’s heritage into what we are doing.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Luis Manuel Piña takes a break in his shop, The Roots of Mexican Culture, on Sept. 19, 2019, in Mexico City. The artisan says he has mixed feelings about the new doll.

Day of the Dead has captured imaginations in recent years, with skulls and skeletons emblazoned on T-shirts and handbags or made into charms hanging off children’s necklaces – not to mention the 2017 Disney-Pixar movie “Coco,” about a Mexican boy determined to become a musician. Sometimes the tradition is capitalized upon with little regard for its origins. In 2017, streaming service Netflix irked many critics by erecting altars to deceased characters from its shows.

Mattel has said its purpose was to help educate people about Mexican tradition. “As a Mexican-American designer, I created Barbie Dia De Muertos to honor, celebrate, and pay respect to the traditions I grew up with and encourage people to celebrate who they are, their loved ones and their culture,” Javier Meabe, a lead product designer for Barbie, says in an emailed statement.

Back in the Ciudadela, Arturo Hernández Jiménez, a guitar maker, says American corporate interest in Día de Muertos doesn’t bother him. When “Coco” was released, a children’s guitar with “Coco” painted on it that he fabricated was all the rage, at least for a few months. “It was a good message about the beauty of our culture, and it’s the same message that the catrina Barbie brings,” he says. “We all learn culture from each other.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Artisan guitar maker Arturo Hernandez Jimenez works in his workshop in the Ciudadela craft market on September 19, 2019 in Mexico City. He says American corporate interest in Día de Muertos doesn’t bother him. “We all learn culture from each other.”

Some fear that a crusade against cultural appropriation could stamp out inspiration that artists have long drawn from others. The catrina itself is borrowed from Jose Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican lithographer. He etched “La Calavera Catrina,” a skeleton in an ornate, aristocratic hat, as a piece of satire in revolutionary Mexico in the early 1900s. Drawing on the relationship with death in Aztec culture, the sketch was a critique of those Mexicans who were denying their indigenous roots and wishing to be European.

Catrinas became popularized, and depoliticized, as a symbol of Mexican culture inside the country. Today they are a part of Day of the Dead celebrations, where families honor deceased relatives by setting up ofrendas, or altars, of their favorite foods and decorating gravestones with elaborate flower arrangements.

The catrina became known to the outside world, says Mexico City archaeologist Martin Robles Luengas, with Diego Rivera’s 1947 mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park,” which depicts a full-scale skeleton alongside famous Mexican figures like Posada and Frida Kahlo. Then came movies and Halloween costumes. Now there is a Barbie.

Mr. Robles Luengas has no problem with it, especially as a countermessage to the criminality and corruption that dominate most news reports about Mexico. “Thanks to these artists, and to these movies, and to this doll, people across the world know the beautiful traditions of Mexico.”

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The Monitor's View

Why we still drop a card

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Sliding a postcard into a mailbox to plod through the postal system would seem to be an antique idea when visual apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Marco Polo can show others what you’re seeing instantaneously.

But the 150th anniversary of the first postal system to adopt these simple pieces of cardboard (Austria, 1869) seems to have sparked a revival. Or maybe it just shows that when new technologies appear they don’t always drive out old ones. Postcards tell their story visually with the briefest of messages. The tiny writing space relieves the sender of the burden of long storytelling. “I’m thinking of you” is the hidden and powerful narrative.

While digital photos sometimes can be spectacular, postcards send another message. They bear the “fingerprint” of the sender: a rare handwritten message, whether in elegant swirls or messy scrawl. How many people print out and display a Facebook image?

Postcards end up in privileged places on corkboards, desktops, and refrigerator doors. Postcards send people’s thoughts traveling thousands of miles without getting on a plane. They say “wish you were here” – whether the words actually appear or not. It’s a message gratefully received any day of the week.

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Why we still drop a card

Sliding a postcard into a mailbox to plod through the postal system would seem to be an antique idea when visual apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Marco Polo can show others what you’re seeing instantaneously.

But the 150th anniversary of the first postal system to adopt these simple pieces of cardboard (Austria, 1869) seems to have sparked a revival. Or maybe it just highlights that when new technologies appear they don’t always drive out old ones.

Postcards tell most of their story visually with the briefest of messages on the opposite side. The tiny space for writing relieves the sender of the burden of long storytelling. “I’m thinking of you” is the hidden and powerful narrative. 

While digital photos sometimes can be nothing short of spectacular, postcards send another message: They’re actual things. “This was once held in my hand. It’s a bit of stuff that was with me and I chose for you.” They bear the “fingerprint” of the sender: a rare handwritten message, whether in elegant swirls or messy scrawl.

How many people bother to print out and display a Facebook image? Postcards end up in privileged places on corkboards, desktops, and refrigerator doors.

A website called Postcrossing, created in 2005 by a young Portuguese man, Paulo Magalhães, has made it easy to exchange postcards with people all over the world. After registering their address, people pick the address of someone else on the site and send a card. Though they send a postcard to that person, they receive one from someone else. The result: a surprise smile found amid a day’s junk mail.

“It’s like [you] have friends from all over the world. Although you don’t know each other, everyone who sent you a postcard has a special place in your heart. It’s [an] amazing feeling!” writes Julia in Ukraine in a testimonial on the website. “It has made me realize that there is so much kindness around the world, and I am thankful for this. I have come across many nice people. It makes me very happy!!” adds Martha in Mexico.

The site now claims more than 785,000 members in 209 countries who together have sent nearly 55 million cards. Some individuals have collected thousands from places both iconic (New York, Paris, or London) and remote (the Pitcairn Islands or Macau).

Postcards display almost any kind of image, from world-famous landmarks to local oddities, the artwork of Renaissance masters to obscure favorites. The brief messages offer news of families, hobbies, work, or pets, whatever makes the person who they are. 

Postcards can send people’s thoughts traveling thousands of miles without the need to get on a plane. To loved ones they say “wish you were here” – whether the words actually appear or not.

It’s a message gratefully received any day of the week.

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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.

Needed: Witnesses to God’s unifying harmony and love

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Judging from the headlines, bitterness, rivalry, and hatred may often seem to rule the day. But all of us can be active witnesses to recognize, take a stand for, and live God’s limitless, unifying harmony and love.

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Needed: Witnesses to God’s unifying harmony and love

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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It was 8 a.m. in a local donut shop. I sat at a table, waiting for my car to be repaired at the garage next door. After a while, looking up from my reading, I noticed something lovely. The atmosphere in this popular breakfast spot brimmed with lightness. A cashier traded jokes with some construction workers. A retiree sweetly offered his table to a mom with two toddlers. Police officers joked with a little boy. All the while, an employee kept bursting into full-throated song between orders – much to the laughter of his co-workers. Everyone was expressing such joy and kindness; it felt as if they were family.

As I watched and listened, I felt buoyed up, too. I thought, “If only the whole world could wake up each day like this!” The news reports I had been reading that morning certainly didn’t present anything like this kind of picture. I asked myself, Was this happy morning in a donut shop just an insignificant blip in the scheme of things? Or did it offer a glimpse of something deeply meaningful and genuine?

I intuitively felt that the latter was the case. Such currents of joy and lightness don’t always make headlines, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t present and ongoing.

In fact, such expressions of good, gratitude, warmth, joy, kindness, unselfishness – whether in our own neighborhoods or across oceans – point to a timeless, foundational idea I’ve come to learn about through my study of Christian Science: that we all come from one divine Parent, one supreme cause and creator. This primal source is God, who is universal, divine Love and created us as His offspring, or expression.

The Bible echoes this concept over and over, in such passages as “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) and “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (I John 4:7).

It is precisely this spiritual reality of our oneness in divine Love that comes to the rescue when bitterness, rivalry, or hatred seem to rule the day. It empowers us to realize that we don’t need to cynically accept that a lack of love is “just the way it is.” The true nature of each of us is the spiritual image of Love, God. When this truth is better understood and taken to heart through prayer, when we refuse to be mesmerized by discord and instead take a stand for the right, healing and resolution follow.

At one point, some people dear to me became estranged from one another owing to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Yearning to see harmony restored, I prayed about the situation, refusing to accept discord as the way things inevitably had to be.

I clung to what Christ Jesus revealed and demonstrated about our God-given capacity to love. He struck the keynote of this when he said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45). Certainly no one in this case was an “enemy,” but I was inspired by this idea that even the bitterest situations can be redeemed by the love God expresses throughout His creation.

I knew several of us were praying daily along these lines. Ultimately, loving communication was restored and normalized, which continues to this day.

The woman who discovered Christian Science and founded The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote, “I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 250). The love that originates in God is not a scarce commodity, no matter how it seems. It is infinite, unifying, and ever present. It can be genuinely felt in the smallest of coffee shops or in the grandest halls of government. But it needs active witnesses to recognize it, take a stand for it, and live it. In this way each of us can play a part in proving that harmony, love, and joy are not one-off, random qualities, but the ever-active, universally accessible reality of being.

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Viewfinder

Life in a wildfire zone

This week, we’re adding voices to portraits of those affected by the California wildfires. Meet Brooks Anderson. He's a painter and musician whose home borders the Kincade Fire evacuation area. After documenting his valuables for insurance purposes and packing his go bag, Mr. Anderson monitors the news and waits to see if he will be evacuated. Hear his story below. 

– Photo and reporting by Ann Hermes, audio editing by Alfredo Sosa, audiogram by Rebecca Asoulin

( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 31st, 2019 )

Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when Harry Bruinius will take readers along for a ride with the Queens Mobile Library as it delivers books to children living in homeless shelters.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 30, 2019
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