2019
October
31
Thursday

Today’s five hand-picked stories look at the Republican senators at the crux of impeachment, Russia’s environmental turn, Brexit’s potential impact on Britain’s most vulnerable, the gift of books to homeless people, and questions about how we see gangsters on film.

But first, so many people put so much thought into what they consume these days. As a meat-and-potatoes Midwesterner, I am often befuddled by Boston menus. Ras el hanout? Giardiniera? For a time, I wondered if “gf” meant “good food.”

But there’s good in this trend. It exhorts me to be more thoughtful about how things are produced and the cascading effects on the world around us. The same is true of the climate change debate, in many ways. It’s about more thoughtful energy consumption. Then I wonder: Why don’t we do the same with the news we consume, which is essentially thought-food?

This report by the Solutions Journalism Network is fascinating. It says journalism that focuses on being constructive – not papering over problems but focusing on how we can fix them – makes readers feel more informed, more empowered, and more hopeful.

Readers saw no drop in journalistic standards, and the positive effects crossed gender and partisan lines. When was the last time you read about news reporting that evoked a positive reaction among both Republicans and Democrats?

There’s a long-standing line of thinking that it’s not journalism’s job to heal the world. True. It’s everyone’s job. But since 1908, we at the Monitor have felt journalism is an essential part of that equation.

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1. Five senators to watch on impeachment

The spotlight was on the U.S. House of Representatives today, which voted on rules for an impeachment inquiry. But the Senate holds the final say. We look at how key senators view the goings-on.

Mark
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The impeachment saga presents a difficult tightrope walk for GOP senators who are facing tough reelection races, including Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

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The House of Representatives is ringing with loud debate about impeachment this week. But in the Senate? It’s mostly silence.

That’s because most senators see little benefit in saying anything on the explosive subject.

“I’m a potential juror,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, avoiding further comment as he hopped into an elevator on Wednesday.

If – when – impeachment passes the House, senators will indeed be trial jurors. But currently it appears unlikely enough Republicans would defect to produce the two-thirds majority needed to remove President Donald Trump from office.

Still, two groups of GOP senators are worth watching to see how the tides are running, say experts.

The first group consists of lawmakers who have announced plans to leave office. They may have legacies in mind. These include Senator Alexander, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

The second group is made up of senators from swing states who face tough reelections. Among them are Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah are wild cards. Senator Murkowski is known for independence. Senator Romney’s state is not particularly pro-Trump.

Senator Romney plans “to keep a completely open mind” regarding impeachment, he says.

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1. Five senators to watch on impeachment

The U.S. House of Representatives was alive with impeachment activity Thursday morning. Unusually, the chamber floor was half-full even before voting began on a resolution authorizing public hearings and the release of witness testimony. Members spoke with passion. The gallery was packed.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate, fiercely protective of its historic reputation as the greatest deliberative body in the world, there was ... silence.

Senators were mostly silent about impeachment, in any case. That’s been true for weeks, especially for members of the Republican majority. They have little incentive to be pinned down on the subject, especially prior to public House action and final votes. As a defense against inquiring reporters, they employ stock phrases that mean “no comment.”

“I’m a potential juror,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Wednesday, just before he hopped into an elevator. “We’re just going to have to see if it comes to trial,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, as she stepped into a private Senate room.

But the subject of impeachment is quite probably coming to all senators of both parties, whether they look forward to it or not. The developments in the House suggest the chamber is hurtling toward an impeachment vote. The action would then shift to the Republican-led Senate, which ultimately gets to decide whether or not to remove the president from office.

It’s very unlikely that enough Republicans will defect to produce the two-thirds majority needed to remove President Donald Trump from office. But if initially there were some rumblings that the Senate would force a quick vote to get impeachment out of the way, some Republicans now dismiss that possibility.

Indeed, there’s a chance that Republicans won’t want their impeachment trial to wrap up quickly. Unlike the House effort, a Senate trial would be GOP-controlled. It might allow them to reframe the narrative in the president’s favor just as the 2020 election kicks into gear.

“I haven’t heard anyone espousing a quick dismissal,” Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters this week. “I certainly think we need to hear it out from the House. This is a serious thing.”

Still, two key groups in the GOP caucus are worth watching as the impeachment saga moves to the Senate, political observers say. The first is made up of veteran senators who’ve announced their retirement in 2020. These lawmakers may be looking at how their achievements and decisions over the next year or so might shape the future of the Senate as an institution – and their place in history.

This group includes Senator Alexander of Tennessee, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina (whose current term lasts until 2022 but who announced that 2016 would be the last time he’d run for elective office), Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.

The second group consists of GOP senators who are facing close reelection races and have to navigate between pleasing President Trump’s reliable base of voters and the moderates and independents they may need to secure their seats.

These include: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Senator Ernst of Iowa, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah belongs to neither category, but has become President Trump’s most vocal Republican critic in the chamber. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has also regularly taken positions independent of the party line.

Here’s a look at some of these senators, their histories, and the forces that drive them as Congress moves toward a historic decision that could shape American politics for years to come.

Lamar Alexander

Senator Alexander’s decision to retire in 2020 after nearly two decades in the Senate was met with a slew of stories lamenting the loss of yet another of Capitol Hill’s “old guard” – lawmakers with reputations for reaching across the aisle. 

An institutionalist who started his career during the Watergate years under Senator Howard Baker, a fellow Tennessee Republican, he’s one of the few senators who has a relationship with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Both paid him tribute on the Senate floor when he announced his pending retirement. As chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he has worked with ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash., on legislation meant to lower the cost of health care. 

Susan Walsh/AP
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, shown here in a Sept. 24, 2019 photo, showed his support for the president by joining a small group of Republican senators at a lunch last Thursday at the Oval Office.

Mr. Alexander also hasn’t balked at criticizing the president. He denounced Mr. Trump’s recent use of the term “lynching” to describe impeachment, as well as the decision to pull troops out of Syria. He was also one of only 11 Republicans to support a resolution rebuffing Mr. Trump for using the National Emergency Act to secure funds for his border wall without congressional approval. 

That said, FiveThirtyEight’s tracker finds Mr. Alexander votes in line with Mr. Trump about 90% of the time. He showed his support for the president by joining a small group of Republican senators at a lunch last Thursday at the Oval Office. The next day, Mr. Alexander signed on to a resolution, introduced by the majority leader, Sen. McConnell, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, condemning the House inquiry. 

Mr. Alexander’s position on impeachment thus far has been measured.

“I’m a potential juror, so I’m going to wait until I hear all the arguments and all the evidence before I have anything to say about it,” he says.

Richard Burr

These days, Senator Burr is best known as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which for two-and-a-half years has been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. He and his Democratic vice chair, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, have been lauded for their quiet, bipartisan efforts, which recently involved the release of the second of five reports drawn from testimonies from more than 200 witnesses – including the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr. 

“We’ve got a very productive working relationship,” Senator Warner says. “We don’t always agree, but when we disagree we usually try to work it out in private.” 

Jose Luis Magana/AP
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, shown here in a Jan. 29, 2019 photo, is best known as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which for two-and-a-half years has been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

That wasn’t always the case. Back in 2017, Democrats in the committee threatened a boycott after Senator Burr – who had served as the Trump campaign’s national security adviser – announced that the panel wouldn’t look into allegations of collusion between Mr. Trump and Moscow. When reports surfaced that Mr. Burr, at the behest of the White House, had called reporters to challenge stories about contact between Trump campaign members and Russian operatives, Mr. Warner expressed “grave concerns.”

Despite the rocky start, the committee marched forward with its investigation. The committee is currently in negotiations about getting the whistleblower – who first revealed concerns about Mr. Trump’s relationship with Ukraine – to testify in closed session, even as the House has hurtled forward with its impeachment probe.

So far, Mr. Burr has said he won’t comment on the House’s inquiry until he knows more. Some say approaching retirement provides political cushion for lawmakers; Mr. Burr has said he won’t run again in 2022.

“When you’re not on the ballot and your career’s coming to an end, you make decisions that show you don’t need to continue to be part of the circus,” says Bill Sweeney, professor of government at American University.

Susan Collins

A moderate from Maine, Senator Collins has been smarting ever since she voted to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court a year ago. Since Senator Collins cast her decisive vote, her approval rating has plummeted and a Democratic challenger has raised millions in a bid to unseat the four-term senator in next year’s election.

Some political observers say Ms. Collins’ vote on impeachment could similarly spell disaster for her reelection chances, in either direction. Thus far, she has tried to walk a fine line. She wouldn’t sign the Senate resolution condemning House Democrats’ “closed-door” impeachment proceedings, but she’s also stayed mum when reporters have asked how she would vote in a potential Senate trial. 

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, shown here in a Sept. 19, 2019 photo, could be spurned by voters, regardless of which side of an impeachment decision she falls.

Josh Tardy, a top GOP operative in Maine, says her refusal to stake a position isn’t a product of a tough reelection campaign looming next year, but rather her character.

“You look at how she ultimately withheld judgment until late in the Kavanaugh confirmation process,” says Mr. Tardy, who co-chaired Ms. Collins’ 2014 reelection campaign. “The fact of the matter is that you can’t just determine where Susan Collins is going to vote based on what Washington GOP leadership says the party line is.”

In the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, Ms. Collins voted with him 77% of the time. This year, however, that number has dropped to 33%. But whether she breaks with Mr. Trump ultimately doesn’t matter, says Mr. Tardy.

“I think single-issue folks will look at any particular vote – Kavanaugh, a potential impeachment vote – as just reaffirming why they’re voting for Susan Collins or voting against her, but I don’t think it’s going to [determine] the outcome at all. I think you’re going to see Susan Collins doing particularly well with unenrolled voters, and she’s performed very well with her Republican base,” he says.

Cory Gardner

Senator Gardner has struggled to address impeachment, and no wonder: He’s a Republican running for his first reelection in a state that went to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and where Mr. Trump’s approval rating has been on a steady decline since he took office. Mr. Gardner’s own poll numbers haven’t been doing so great. Democrats have made his seat their top Senate target in 2020, and he’s one of four Republican senators that are the subject of new attack ads by the Democratic group Need to Impeach.

Like other vulnerable incumbents, his choice is stark: To side with the president to secure the support of the Republican base, even if evidence mounts against him? Or to break with Mr. Trump and risk losing that base in order to win over independents and moderates, who are increasingly supportive of impeachment?

In that kind of environment, “There’s very little to be gained politically by taking a firm position now,” says Alex Conant, a Republican operative who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Indeed, Mr. Gardner has refused to comment on impeachment before, as he puts it, all the facts are in. He’s also repeatedly declined to say whether or not he thought it was appropriate to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival, even walking away from an interview to avoid the question earlier this month.

Still, he’s been a vocal critic of the House investigation, calling it a partisan exercise, and he quickly signed on to the resolution attacking the inquiry.  

Mitt Romney

Senator Romney has disapproved of Mr. Trump since 2016, when he warned his party against nominating “The Donald.” When the news broke about the now-famous July 25 call, Mr. Romney described Mr. Trump’s interaction with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as “deeply troubling.” Then he rebuked Mr. Trump for publicly asking Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s family, which led the president to take to Twitter to call him “pompous” and “a fool.” 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, shown here in an Oct. 30, 2019 photo, has become President Donald Trump’s most vocal Republican critic in the chamber.

Now Senator Romney is widely viewed as Mr. Trump’s strongest Republican critic in the Senate. His state is primarily what lets him do that: Utah may be one of the reddest states in the nation, but Utah Republicans are much less enamored of the president than their GOP counterparts in most other states. Fifty-five percent of Utah voters overall disapprove of the president, according to a recent Utah Political Trends survey, for instance. By comparison, in next-door Wyoming, which is also heavily Republican, Trump’s disapproval number hovers around 40 percent.

There are some signs that Utah voters aren’t thrilled with Mr. Romney’s pointed criticism of the president, either. A few polls show his favorability dropping in the state. But Mr. Romney won’t be up for reelection until 2024. He’s also said he’s not planning a second run for president, telling USA Today: “I’ve had my two strikes,” which leaves him “free emotionally to do entirely what I believe is absolutely right.” 

Senator Romney (along with Senator Collins) did not sign onto the Senate resolution condemning the House impeachment approach. He’s since declared that he plans to keep “a completely open mind” if impeachment comes to a trial. 

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2. Russia joins the climate crusade – in its own way

Oil-dependent Russia seems to be showing signs of taking climate change more seriously. It marks a shifting of thought, but perhaps not yet a very deep one.

Mark

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Vladimir Putin once joked that a bit of global warming would be good for Russia because “we would spend less on fur coats.” But the Russian president doesn’t appear to be laughing anymore.

In September, Russia surprised everyone by ratifying the Paris climate agreement. According to Russian news reports, the Kremlin is planning to set up an officially approved Green Party to harness what polls show is a newfound public concern about environmental issues.

Experts are divided over the Kremlin’s newly discovered concern about global warming and even optimists complain that, at least so far, it doesn’t go much beyond rhetoric. 

Indeed, there is less than meets the eye to Russia’s commitment under the Paris agreement to keep its carbon emissions at least 25% below the 1990 level. The country is already more than 30% below the 1990 level due to the massive deindustrialization that followed the collapse of the USSR.

“Maybe I am a bit cynical,” says longtime environmental activist Vladimir Slivyak, “but it seems to me there is actually room to increase emissions under this commitment.”

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Russia joins the climate crusade – in its own way

Wildfires raged across Siberia last summer, breaking all records and blanketing an area the size of the European Union in thick smoke.

Arctic ice, receding at a record pace, revealed five new islands in the Russian far north this year that had been hidden under the ice sheets for all of recorded human history.

Russian scientists aboard a research ship near the northern coast of Siberia last week were amazed to discover a massive eruption of methane bubbles from the ocean floor. The huge clouds of the super-greenhouse gas suggest that the underlying permafrost is melting faster than anyone could have anticipated.

This year’s annual report by the national meteorological service found that the air temperatures over Russia’s landmass have been warming at up to 2.5 times the global average.

Those are just a few of the data points that have the Kremlin sitting up, taking notice, and perhaps for the first time, making steps to do something about the galloping threat of climate change. 

Russia surprised everyone in September by ratifying the Paris climate agreement, after years of dithering. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once joked that a bit of warming would be good for his country because “we would spend less on fur coats,” doesn’t appear to be laughing anymore. According to Russian news reports, the Kremlin is planning to set up an officially approved Green Party to harness what polls show is a newfound public concern about environmental issues.

Change in Russia – for better or worse – generally comes from the top. Experts are divided over the Kremlin’s newly discovered concern about global warming and even optimists complain that, at least so far, it doesn’t go much beyond rhetoric. Critics argue that Russian authorities are still in denial about the sweeping adjustments that will be needed to meet the challenge. Some Russian energy companies use global warming as a marketing opportunity in developing countries, advocating the replacement of coal with natural gas, and other fossil fuels with nuclear power – both major Russian exports.

“There is a new generation of advisers to Russian economic ministries, to the Kremlin, who understand the science much better than the previous ones did, and the president is taking advice from them. That is good,” says Alexey Kokorin, author of a report on Russia’s response to climate change for the World Wildlife Fund. “The problem is recognized, but the sense of urgency is absent. It’s mostly seen as a problem to be dealt with in the future.”

Mr. Putin has made remarks on the international stage lately that contrast Russia’s acceptance of the Paris agreement with the backsliding ways of the United States under President Donald Trump. But Russian authorities are still kicking the can down the road in terms of taking real action at home.

For example, the looming danger of melting permafrost should be ringing alarm bells right now, say experts. More than a million people live in big Russian cities, such as Yakutsk and Norilsk, which were built in Soviet times on piles driven into the icy ground. As the ground melts underneath them, those cities face destruction.

Dmitry Solovyov/Reuters/File
An aerial view shows thermokarst lakes outside the town of Chersky in northeast Siberia, Aug. 28, 2007. For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost. Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

“The melting permafrost is still being seen as a gradual process, one that can be managed,” says Dr. Kokorin. “Of course infrastructure will become much more expensive, and it’s hard to see how planned railroads can be built.”

Indeed, there is less than meets the eye to Russia’s commitment under the Paris agreement to keep its carbon emissions at least 25% below the 1990 level. Even though Russia is the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it is already more than 30% below the 1990 level due to the massive deindustrialization that followed the collapse of the USSR almost 30 years ago.

“Maybe I am a bit cynical, but it seems to me there is actually room to increase emissions under this commitment,” says environmental activist Vladimir Slivyak. “Russia is lagging behind other countries in actual deeds to combat global warming for one major reason: Nobody wants to confront fossil fuels. It seems that Russia intends to rely on fossil fuels for as long as possible, and do the absolute minimum in terms of investing in renewable energy, and that means no real action on climate change.”

According to a recent poll by the state-funded Public Opinion Foundation, 55% of Russians believe their ecological surroundings are worsening, while 68% think the authorities aren’t doing enough about it. Global events, such as Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s rousing speech to the United Nations General Assembly, have inspired mostly youthful climate protests in dozens of Russian cities in recent months.

Mr. Putin chided the teen activist as “poorly informed” and launched into a defense of fossil fuels as the key driver of development in the modern world. He acknowledged, however, that it is right for young people to “focus their attention on today’s challenging problems, including environmental protection.”

Which may be why the Kremlin is reportedly planning to put resources into creating a Green Party to adorn Russia’s largely ceremonial spectrum of political parties with an ecologically conscious one, say experts.

“Civil society is paying more and more attention to ecological issues, so this would be an obvious way for the Kremlin to steal that thunder,” says Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

Mr. Slivyak says there have been several attempts to establish a Green Party in Russia, and all of them failed.

“There are Green parties in Europe, that are actually part of decision-making, and if you ask if I’d like to see something like that in Russia, the answer is yes,” he says. “But, in the past, when independent activists tried to set up such a party, it failed for lack of resources. It is very hard to get a nationwide party of any kind off the ground in Russia without a lot of backing.

“On the other hand, in the couple of cases where the authorities supported attempts to create an environmentally oriented party, it has failed due to reliance on those authorities – because they want to maintain control,” he says. “This idea is to create a green-flavored party that is otherwise a copy of other parties. In other words, just a state-sponsored PR instrument for elections. Who is going to vote for that?

“So, even though we are facing a climate emergency, it is very hard to see how our existing political process can ever square this circle.”

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3. While MPs feud over Brexit, food banks wonder how to feed the hungry

It’s easy to get fixated on the political drama of Brexit. But we’re also trying to focus on potentially overlooked consequences. Today, we look at its effect on Britons in need.

Mark

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On one Tuesday afternoon, 20 clients visit the food bank in Bognor Regis, a small seaside town on the southern coast of England, seeking three days’ worth of emergency food supplies. Among them: pensioners, teenagers, and young families with children.

“In the past, this would have been an extremely busy day,” explains Sue White, the manager. But in 2019, she says, this volume is normal.

While poverty rates in the United Kingdom have gone down since the 1990s, government figures suggest an uptick in recent years. Food banks in Britain have become emblematic of the problem. A parliamentary report from January noted that food insecurity is growing, with U.K. levels “among the worst in Europe.”

Brexit could make things worse. Parliament has yet to ratify Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement – the deal negotiated with the European Union setting the terms for Britain’s exit from the bloc. Under his deal, Britain would no longer have access to a mechanism designed to facilitate frictionless trade between member states, decreasing food supplies.

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While MPs feud over Brexit, food banks wonder how to feed the hungry

It has been days since Dave, broad-shouldered and in his mid-30s, has eaten a proper meal. A delayed welfare payment means he has no money for food. With dull pain in his stomach etched onto his face, he hands over a voucher to a smiling volunteer and waits.

Dave, who requested his last name not be used, grew up in foster care. At the age of 18, he left home and started working in security, making money on the side as a boxer and cage fighter. After 10 years, he threw in the towel after a friend was killed in the ring.

Dave later found work in the construction trade, but received irregular shifts and wages. He briefly ended up homeless but has recently made it into charity-funded housing. Now, he is hungry.

Over the course of the same Tuesday afternoon, 19 other “clients” – as volunteers call them – visit the food bank in Bognor Regis, a small seaside town on the southern coast of England. Among them: pensioners, teenagers, and young families with children. Like Dave, they are here for three days’ worth of emergency food supplies.

“In the past, this would have been an extremely busy day,” explains Sue White, the manager. But in 2019, she says, this volume is normal.

Food banks are supposed to be a temporary fix for people in crisis. Guidelines from the Trussell Trust, the biggest food bank network in the country, state that clients should be limited to three emergency food pickups every six months. But for many, this is not enough. “We use our discretion,” says Ms. White.

While poverty rates in the United Kingdom have gone down since the 1990s, government figures suggest an uptick in recent years. Last year the United Nations noted that a fifth of the British population, or 14 million people, lived in poverty. “For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity,” the U.N. report reads.

Food banks in Britain have become emblematic of the problem. Increasing fourfold since 2012, there are now more than 2,000 food banks in the country, delivering record numbers of emergency food supplies. A parliamentary report from January noted that food insecurity is growing, with U.K. levels “among the worst in Europe.”

Brexit could make things worse. Parliament has yet to ratify Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement – the deal negotiated with the European Union setting the terms for Britain’s exit from the bloc. Under Mr. Johnson’s deal, unlike the one negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, the U.K. would leave the EU customs union. Britain would no longer have access to a mechanism designed to facilitate frictionless trade between member states, which could decrease food supplies.

Now a general election has been planned for Dec. 12, and the result will shape Brexit’s likely path, though current polling suggests that any cancellation of Brexit is unlikely. But if Parliament cannot ratify Mr. Johnson’s agreement (or a replacement) before Jan. 31, the U.K. risks immediately crashing out of the EU without any deal. Most experts say that would be an economic and social catastrophe.

Karen Norris/Staff

The problem with universal credit

But food poverty in Britain long predates the 2016 Brexit referendum. Changes to the welfare system have been the main driver.

In 2010, the then-newly elected Conservative-led coalition implemented widespread austerity policies to address the public deficit. Welfare payments were heavily targeted. In 2013, the government launched a landmark reform known as universal credit (UC). It sought to streamline the welfare payments for housing, child support, unemployment, and more into one combined benefit.

As it was rolled out gradually across the country, the Trussell Trust found that 12 months after implementation, local food banks saw an average 52% increase in demand. Even a former secretary of state in charge of implementing UC acknowledged that the reform “could have led to an increase in food bank use.”

That was not the aim, says Henry Smith, a Conservative member of Parliament. He says the objective was “to make people better off in work than on welfare benefits.”

Dave is an illustration of how that objective is playing out. Next to the welcome desk at the Bognor Regis food bank, he sits patiently on the sofa. “It has not been a good experience at all,” he says of UC. A few more clients walk in. It always gets busier at closing time.

Dave is there because his payment did not arrive when he expected. He feels “depressed” and “lethargic.” He hopes to get a job as a personal trainer and has been studying for a diploma. If his interview goes well, the job will start in a couple of months.

The town where Dave waits is represented by Conservative MP Nick Gibb. Mr. Gibb visited a food bank in 2015. He posed for photos and told the Littlehampton Gazette that such facilities were “very important” for people in crisis.

But as an MP, Mr. Gibb has largely followed his party line, voting to cut welfare payments while supporting the slashing of taxes on bankers’ bonuses and capital gains. His office declined multiple requests for comment. The constituency is in one of the most pro-Brexit areas of Britain.

Dave did not vote, but supports Brexit. “The British people have had enough of Britain not being Britain,” he says. “There are so many foreigners over here getting benefits and houses while veterans are on the streets. We used to be the great British Empire. What are we now?”

Most economists do not share this enthusiasm. The Bank of England has warned that a no-deal Brexit could trigger a recession comparable to the 2008 financial crisis and that food prices could rise by 5% to 10%. Even if a deal with the EU is eventually approved by MPs, the government’s own forecast has warned of a negative impact.

“The pound has already got weaker, which makes anything imported [including one-third of the U.K.’s food] more expensive,” says Rob Joyce, deputy director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies. “In the short term, an increase in prices would impact poorer people more.”

“To leave the EU without any consequences would be like trying to take an egg out of an omelet,” says Sir Peter Bottomley, a Conservative MP. “The people who voted to take us out of the EU knew they would take an economic hit.”

Food banks are alert to the danger. In a written statement, Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said, “Without government intervention to protect people already teetering on the edge, we are concerned that any form of Brexit will increase the demand for food banks in the future.”

Back at the food bank, Dave is handed four plastic bags full of canned beans, ultra-pasteurized milk, and other nonperishables. He has been threatened with penalties after missing an appointment with a work adviser and could receive reduced payment next time.

“We have a greedy government,” he says. “The people in power are the ones with all the money. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Stuffing his goods into a duffel bag and thanking the staff, Dave leaves the facility.

As he steps into the sun, Ms. White, the manager, calls after him: “Take care of yourself. I don’t want to see you in here again!” As with all the clients, she hopes his crisis is only temporary.

Karen Norris/Staff
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Books

4. Books on wheels: When the library comes to the homeless shelter

The bookmobile has a history of bringing the written word to people who can’t get to a library building. Queens has taken that ethos further, parking its mobile library at homeless shelters in the borough.

Mark
Photo by Ann Hermes/Staff
Gerardo Maza, Daniel Arroyo, and Lechelle Thornhill-Boothe, who work with the Family Shelter Mobile Library Literacy Tour, stand outside the Queens Library bookmobile as it makes a stop on Oct. 22, 2019 in Elmhurst, New York.

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A mother named Jessica smiles as she fills out the forms to get her two children, 10-year-old Malik and 3-year-old Kennedy, their first library cards. (To protect families, some of whom are being sheltered from situations of abuse, only first names are used.)

Today the Queens mobile library has come to her, parking outside the family shelter where she and 254 other families now live. The colorful bus, filled with books, DVDs, and free Wi-Fi, stands tall as dozens of children play outside.

Little Kennedy is in the kids section, a huge smile on her face as she pulls out a book of numbers and shows it to her mom. “I see it, baby,” Jessica says to her daughter. “The girl, she sure likes numbers.”

It’s hard to really explain what this visit means, a mom named Denecia says. “For the families here, this is just something that makes us feel like we belong, or like, we’re just not alone,” she says. “When you can connect with people, and with something as simple as reading a book with your kids – I really appreciate the library folk being involved in connecting us to the world, even in this new world that many of us are in.”

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Books on wheels: When the library comes to the homeless shelter

As Denecia and her 9-year-old daughter Elianna browse through the rows of books in this special branch of the Queens Library, both begin to beam.

She’s actually kind of “old school” when it comes to books, Denecia says. Ever since she was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, she found the local library a special place, an escape both from digital noise and some of the other tumult in her life. 

“I would read, sort of to escape, just to be still, and to get a hold on the world that I was around – and to learn about things I didn’t know,” she says. Over the years, she’s often brought her children to some of the grander libraries in New York City – especially those with engaging “kids centers,” as an alternative to video games and TV.

“I want them to be in awe when they go into the library, I want it to be an experience, so even if they go to a smaller branch, they’ll already have libraries on a pedestal in their minds,” Denecia says. 

Today’s library is particularly small. A combination of factors, including the loss of her job and the costs of finding child care, left Denecia and her two children, including her 6-year-old Elise, without a home over a year ago. Today the Queens mobile library has come to her, parking outside the family shelter where she and 254 other families now live.

There are 2,000 books, 100 videos, and free Wi-Fi in the bus-sized bookmobile, its librarians say. Depending on its destination, they often change the titles on board, adding Spanish-language resources or others when needed. Since 2016, the mobile library has served nearly 1,400 children and adults who reside in family shelters in Queens, signing residents up for library cards and helping them learn more about what the wider library system offers. The shelter here has made the day a festive affair, and dozens of children play just outside the mobile rows of books.

Harry Bruinius/The Christian Science Monitor
Denecia and her daughter Elianna browse the rows of books in the Queens Library's bookmobile on Oct. 28, 2019. The library system's mobile library tour this year has helped bring services to a number of the borough's homeless shelters that serve mostly single moms and their children.

It’s hard to really explain what this visit means to her, Denecia says. “For the families here, this is just something that makes us feel like we belong, or like, we’re just not alone,” she says. “When you can connect with people, and with something as simple as reading a book with your kids – I really appreciate the library folk being involved in connecting us to the world, even in this new world that many of us are in.” (To protect the identity of families, some of whom are being sheltered from situations of abuse, only first names are used.)

Focus on outreach

Over the past decade, scholars and social workers have noted how public libraries around the country are particularly well-positioned to provide those without stable housing with the kinds of resources many take for granted, including computers and internet access, a dedicated place to think and work, and opportunities to learn.

“Libraries are always reinventing themselves, and what I love most about my job is connecting families to the library and to literacy,” says Kim McNeil-Capers, director of community engagement for the Queens Public Library system. “This is a way for us to bring the library right into the community – we can embed ourselves right here, right in the middle of a community, and talk to people directly.”

There were over half a million people without a stable home last year, according to federal estimates, and library systems in many U.S. cities have become more and more focused on serving their homeless patrons, sometimes partnering with social service organizations or even adding social workers to their staffs.

The Queens Mobile Library partners with social services agencies like Homes for the Homeless, hired by New York’s Department of Homeless Services. It operates the family shelter here near JFK airport, which is not only one of the biggest in New York, but the United States.

Mobile libraries aren’t new in New York, but the City Council provided the Queens branches with two new buses in 2016. Ms. McNeil-Capers helped organize a number of the outreach excursions to the mostly underserved residents in the sprawling borough, one of the most diverse places on the planet. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
The Queens Library Mobile Library makes stops with the Family Shelter Mobile Library Literacy Tour on Oct. 22, 2019 in Flushing, New York.

“When we got these brand new mobile libraries, we took them on a seven-day tour, and we went straight to schools, nursing homes, veterans’ homes, day care centers,” Ms. McNeil-Capers recounts. “We went to shelters, we went to parks, we went to beaches.”

In 2017, the mobile libraries went on an “Everybody’s Welcome Tour,” which focused on communities of immigrant families. Last year, the “It’s Time for Kind Tour” began to focus more on New York’s family shelters. This year, too, the “Mobile Library Literacy Tour” continued bringing books and other resources for the city’s homeless families, mostly single moms with children.

‘You could be a paycheck away’ 

A mother named Jessica is standing near the front of the mobile library, smiling as she fills out the forms to get her two children, 10-year-old Malik and 3-year-old Kennedy, their first library cards. 

Also a Brooklyn native, Jessica was living in Florida with her family three years ago when she flew back to New York for a family reunion. Malik, then 7, was struck and seriously injured by a car. Weeks of care in the hospital and a frustrating legal proceeding kept her in New York, and her family was unable to return home. It was the beginning of the many complications that left her and her children without a home, she says.

“People often don’t understand sometimes the difference between family homelessness and single adult homelessness,” says Linda Bazerjian, managing director of communications for Homes for the Homeless

“There’s a lot of different circumstances. Sometimes it’s just one hardship. You could be a paycheck away from being homeless. You might get injured, or have a huge dental expense, sometimes it’s domestic violence, and it’s hard to understand the trauma of these kinds of ordeals for the families here,” she says. “So one of the things that we like to do is provide a lot of resources that are on-site, to create a little bit of a community at the shelter.”  

Little Kennedy is in the kids section, a huge smile on her face as she pulls out a book of numbers and shows it to her mom. “I see it, baby,” Jessica says to her daughter. “The girl, she sure likes numbers.”

Staff members at the shelter have a routine in which they help pick up kids from the bus stop after school, and then take an hour to provide a small snack in the shelter. Staff members then provide another hour for homework help, before segueing into various educational programs. These include STEM activities, theater, and a communications club, where the children film and edit videos and create a hard-copy shelter newsletter. The shelter also has a youth basketball and flag football team, and a track club for girls.

“A lot of times our parents have so many appointments to keep, trying to get housing, going on a job interview, trying to get so many life issues underway, and then it’s difficult when you have to take care of your kids, too,” says Michael Chapman, director of after-school and recreation at the family shelter. 

“So I think the main thing is really the need for social and emotional learning and growth,” says Mr. Chapman. “A lot of the time, the parents, or anyone who winds up here, has been through an episode, some kind of situation.”

Denecia and Elianna took out a few books from the mobile library, and later on Jessica proudly held up the two new library cards she just received for Kennedy and Malik. They were part of a group of 80 residents at the bookmobile today – 16 of whom signed up for a library card.

“I can say now, after all these really hard years, we’re doing so much better,” Jessica says. She’s working to get certified as a security officer, she says, and the shelter provides her with a mentoring program in which she works with security officers stationed here.

“Malik’s crazy about the sports, and he’s an All-American here,” she says with a laugh. “That’s what I really like about it, they make it all about the kids, and help you get back on your feet.”

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On Film

5. ‘The Irishman’: Scorsese’s latest casts a sentimental eye at hit men

Moviegoers often have a soft spot for gangsters and the actors who play them, especially when Martin Scorsese is at the helm. Film critic Peter Rainer suggests bringing more balance to portrayals of those who pull triggers.

Mark
Netflix/AP
Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, left) introduces daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina) to crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) in “The Irishman.”
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‘The Irishman’: Scorsese’s latest casts a sentimental eye at hit men

Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2-hour gangster epic “The Irishman” isn’t the masterpiece many critics are calling it, but I do like it more than anything he’s directed in a long time. It’s more melancholy and deeply felt than, say, “The Departed,” “Goodfellas,” or “Casino.” Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, its three stars, all give performances with flashes of their best work. But there’s an aspect of the movie, common to all of Scorsese’s organized crime films, that I find troubling. To wit: Just how sentimental should we be about coldblooded killers?

There are a lot of them in the film. First among them is De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, an Irish American trucker and petty crook who rises in the ranks of the Philadelphia Bufalino crime family to the favored position of hit man. (In mob vernacular, he “paints houses.”) He is introduced in a long, languorous tracking shot in a nursing home. His intermittent voice-over narration then takes us through flashbacks spanning more than five decades. (The film utilizes de-aging technology, to mostly serviceable effect, on the three actors.)

We briefly take in his service as a soldier in Italy during World War II, his meetup in 1950 with crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci), his marriages, his children, and his hit jobs. Then, momentously, his fraught friendship with Teamster chief Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), whom he protects as a bodyguard until ordered to kill him. (Although the people portrayed in the movie, written by Steve Zaillian, are real, the facts in Charles Brandt’s 2004 nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” on which the film is based, have been much disputed.)

Unlike those earlier Scorsese gangster movies, the violence here is comparatively subdued. Frank’s hits are staged as wham-bam events. In one, the camera is mostly focused on a bouquet in a flower shop window. Despite, or perhaps because of this, the cruelty and pitilessness still come through loud and clear. And yet Scorsese wants us to comprehend these killers apart from their killings – as tragic figures caught up in a web of violence of their own making.

He is trying to expose the depredations of these people, but he can’t hide his affection for them. Part of the problem, of course, is that we feel emotionally close to his actors. De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci have such built-in audience rapport that no matter how horrible their characters behave, we are, not unwillingly, on their side. Our long and happy history with them is a species of sentimentality that the film inevitably mainlines.

Unregenerate murderers are people, too. And if one is crafting a work of art, to deny them their humanity is to deny reality. (Shakespeare knew this; so did Dostoevsky.) But it’s really not all that difficult to make movie killers sympathetic. It’s done all the time, even in far greater films such as “The Godfather,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “The Wild Bunch.” The more difficult achievement here would have been if Scorsese, surveying the havoc these men wrought, maintained a hard edge of horror.

To his credit, he does show us, if too briefly, the toll Frank’s violence takes on his daughter (played by Lucy Gallina and, as an adult, by Anna Paquin). But the regret Frank feels by the end, which he cannot even bring himself to confess to a priest, has mostly to do with offing Hoffa, and not with the many others he dispatched. He has no qualms about killing per se.

When Frank in his old age says, “You don’t know how fast time goes by until you get there,” the autumnal tone rings false. What about all the people he murdered? Time passed awfully fast for them, too.

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The Monitor's View

Celebrating the unlikely champs

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The past has provided some remarkable World Series. Two years ago, the Houston Astros gave their city a much-needed lift by winning a championship shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. And before that, long-suffering Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs fans were finally rewarded when their teams won titles after waits of 86 and 108 years, respectively.

But this year’s win by the Washington Nationals will surely go down as one of the most satisfying for its loyal fans, as well as among the strangest in the history of baseball.

Until now, Washington took a back seat to no other city for the depths of its baseball futility. The team had seen decade after decade of persistent losing. It barely squeaked into the playoffs as a wild-card team. But the best lay ahead.

For Americans the team’s unexpected success provided a welcome diversion from the capital’s roughest sport: politics. Game after game, it was able to keep surprising – and intriguing – us. How often could the team stand on the brink of defeat without falling?

The Nationals serve as a needed reminder that anything is possible, perhaps even political comity.

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Celebrating the unlikely champs

The past has provided some remarkable World Series. Just two years ago, the Houston Astros gave their city a much-needed lift by winning a championship shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. And before that long-suffering Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs fans were finally rewarded when their teams won titles after waits of 86 and 108 years, respectively.

But this year’s win by the Washington Nationals will surely go down as one of the most satisfying for its loyal fans, as well as among the strangest in the history of baseball.

Until now, Washington took a back seat to no one when it came to baseball futility. In 1924, a team known as the Washington Senators won the World Series. But then came decade after decade of persistent losing. The 1950s Broadway show “Damn Yankees” portrayed a frustrated Senators fan who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a baseball superstar and guaranteeing a Washington championship. 

But the real Senators kept losing: “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” This twisting of a saying honoring the nation’s first president became a cruel joke.

In 1961, the Senators left town to become the Minnesota Twins. A new Senators team was created – and itself moved away in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers. In 2005, the Montreal Expos moved south and became the Washington Nationals.

Early on, that team wandered through its own baseball wilderness. But aided by the third-highest payroll in baseball (behind the Cubs and New York Yankees), according to USA Today, the Nats, as their fans call them, slowly assembled the talent needed to compete.

In an oddity that forever will be associated with the 2019 World Series, the visiting team won all seven games. Not only had that never happened in baseball; it had never happened in the championship rounds of professional basketball or hockey, either. 

The Astros had won 107 games, the most in baseball. The Nats had won but 93, barely squeaking into the playoffs as a wild-card team, though they were among the hottest teams in the second half of the season. 

As does every winning team, the Nats bonded with their fans, developing their own lovable traditions. Nationals Park swayed to the children’s tune “Baby Shark,” the team’s unofficial anthem.

Perhaps most important for Americans both inside and outside the Beltway, the Nats provided a welcome diversion from the capital’s roughest sport: politics.

Game after game, they were able to keep surprising – and intriguing – us. How often could they stand on the brink of defeat without falling? 

Their unexpected success can serve as a needed reminder that anything, even political comity, is possible.

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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.

It’s God’s day every day, including on Halloween

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Each day of the year, whatever holiday may fall on it, is an opportunity to acknowledge the goodness and allness of God. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24).

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It’s God’s day every day, including on Halloween

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When I was a kid, my friends and I would spend weeks before Oct. 31 planning and comparing costume ideas. My dad loved being a part of it, such as when he helped me put stubby whiskers on my face the year I dressed up like a pirate, and long horizontal whiskers when I dressed up like a cat.

The older I got, though, the more I became aware of the very gruesome images of evil and death associated with Halloween – ghosts, witches, devils, and skeletons, for example. And in my adulthood I became aware that there were groups of people who took witchcraft and devil worship very seriously.

That’s not to say that the innocent joy many children find in Halloween is wrong. But recently, when I was praying with the Lord’s Prayer and got to the line “Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9), I suddenly realized I had never before made the connection between the words “hallowed” and “Halloween” (which literally means “hallowed evening”). To be hallowed is to be holy, and in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, gives a spiritual interpretation of “Hallowed be Thy name” as “Adorable One” (p. 16).

So I decided that, for me, Halloween could simply be a prompt or reminder to honor God and only God, to acknowledge and affirm His holiness and allness, and to reject the claim of the existence of any darkness that opposes God, good. Here’s the gist of my thoughts as they unfolded to me the day I decided to do this:

“Hallowed be Thy name.” Wholeness is Your nature, dear Father-Mother God. Wholeness means whole, complete, entire, without any parts or pieces left out, so no opposite to good can exist in Your infinite allness. The oneness, wholeness, and allness of infinite Love don’t leave us cursed or cursing, victimizers or victims, haves or have-nots. As the Bible says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5).

The wholeness of light means that there are no dark and hidden places for evil plots, malicious purposes, or inevitable death. There is simply no life outside of the divine Life that is enfolding us all in one glorious, endless day.

Praying along these lines has helped me more clearly see that every day, including the day on which Halloween happens to fall, is actually God’s day. God’s day is constituted of spiritual light that dispels material darkness. It is full of goodness, safety, fearlessness. No one can be left out of the harmony of God’s day on any day, because, as the Bible says, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24). This day, in this holy consciousness, we can find healing and practical solutions to any problem that would mask God’s healing and redeeming power.

We can all offer our own simple prayer that honors God. And on Halloween – as on every day – this means refusing to curse anything or anyone, while acknowledging everyone and everything as held in the one truly hallowed sanctuary of God’s being.

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Life in a wildfire zone

This week, we’re adding voices to portraits of those affected by the California wildfires. Meet Bella Hayes. She’s the exhibits coordinator for the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds & Event Center. But this week, she has been serving as the livestock evacuation coordinator for animals in Sonoma County that cannot be housed in traditional evacuation centers. Hear her story below.

– Photo and reporting by Monitor photographer Ann Hermes

Ann Hermes/Staff

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

( November 1st, 2019 )

Thank you for sharing your day with us today. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a state takeover of schools in Providence, Rhode Island. There is hope of progress, but also questions about how local voices can be heard. Please come back and join us.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 31, 2019
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