2019
November
21
Thursday

Today’s stories explore how community is rebuilt after disaster, the role of women in the impeachment hearings, where Ukraine’s allegiances may soon lie, a shift in Georgia’s environmental regulation approach, and how a new film tapped into the universal influence of Mister Rogers.

But first, Ashleigh Bentz knows what it’s like to want a doll that looks like her. As someone who uses a prosthesis, “growing up, the only way my Barbie looked like me was if I broke her leg off,” she told KSDK News. “I can’t imagine what having one (with a prosthetic leg) would have done for my self-esteem back then.”

Earlier this year, toy company Mattel debuted a Barbie doll with a prosthetic leg and another with a wheelchair. Last Friday, Ms. Bentz donated nearly 600 such dolls to a St. Louis children’s hospital. Her reasoning? To give patients a gift that would meet them where they are.

Barbie, which turned 60 this year, has long been criticized for setting unattainable beauty standards for young girls. But as more parents have sought out toys they can connect with and that support the values they want to instill in their children, Barbie has had to change.

“Our goal was to really celebrate all types of beauty,” Evelyn Mazzocco, head of the Barbie brand in 2016, told Time Magazine when the company released dolls with different body shapes. The previous year, Mattel debuted 23 ethnically diverse Barbies.

Connor Maine, a patient who received a doll from Ms. Bentz, said he’s going to give it to his sister. “It can give an idea to my sister that no one is the same and everyone is unique.”

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A deeper look

1. Shepherds in uniform: Meet the cops ensuring that Paradise is not lost

One year after the deadly Camp fire threatened to wipe Paradise, California, off the map, the town’s police chief is helping to restore the bonds of the community.

Eva

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Eric Reinbold had just 51 days to settle into the role of police chief of Paradise, California, before the town ceased to exist. The Camp fire claimed the lives of 85 people, destroyed more than 14,000 homes, and forced the town’s 27,000 residents to flee. The blaze incinerated 90% of the housing stock, more than 500 businesses, and the unseen bonds of community.

Recovering from the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history presented an existential crisis for Mr. Reinbold and his department. How do you patrol a town that is no longer there?

Following the disaster, the role of his officers shifted from typical law enforcers to something akin to shepherds in uniform. They tended to shell-shocked residents returning to a town as ravaged as their emotions.

“There’s a bigger emphasis on making deeper connections with people,” Mr. Reinbold says. He instructs his officers to patrol Paradise in a manner that could be dubbed stop-and-chat as they drive through nearly deserted neighborhoods.

“The bonds are being strengthened because they know they’re not going through this alone,” he says. “I feel like the future does look brighter.”

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Shepherds in uniform: Meet the cops ensuring that Paradise is not lost

Eric Reinbold’s rise through the ranks of the Paradise Police Department peaked on September 17 last year. During a brief swearing-in ceremony, he became police chief of his Northern California hometown, 11 years after joining the force as a cadet. The native son had climbed a career summit in the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas.

The next 51 days brought little out of the ordinary as he settled into the job. On Day 52, the town he had known his entire life ceased to exist. 

A wildfire ignited outside Paradise early on November 8, and within hours, a day that had dawned bright and blue turned black with smoke and ash and anguish. The inferno claimed the lives of 85 people, destroyed more than 14,000 homes, and forced the town’s 27,000 residents to flee, along with another 23,000 who lived in nearby communities.

Recovering from the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history presented an existential crisis for Mr. Reinbold and his department. How do you patrol a town that is no longer there? 

“It was overwhelming,” he says, sitting in his office three days before the one-year anniversary of the blaze. The flames spared the police station but torched his home and those of several of his officers. “It’s one thing to lose a portion of your town. But when you lose basically the whole thing – the houses, the businesses, the hospital, most of the schools – there isn’t anything quite like that.” 

The story of his efforts to hold together the department parallels the larger narrative of Paradise’s struggle to reclaim itself. The Camp fire at once gutted the town’s landscape and its daily routines, and as Mr. Reinbold and his officers attempted to restore a semblance of order, the fallout engulfed them.

The police force represented one of the few aspects of Paradise that remained intact after the fire – at least for a time. In the ensuing weeks and months, 10 of its 21 officers departed, lured away by other jobs and the chance to leave behind their own sense of despair.

“They lived here, too,” Mr. Reinbold says, “and driving around and seeing the devastation day in and day out, that could be retraumatizing.”

He understood their reactions. He felt the emotional weight of the town’s sudden absence, the burden of its broken future. He realized the Paradise of his lifetime – the tight-knit idyll tucked into forested foothills – would exist only in memory.

The chief chose to stay. He wants to rebuild his depleted department on a foundation of empathy and resuscitate his hometown on the strength of belief and persistence. He resolves to move forward, gathering what he calls “little bits of hope” out of the shattered portrait of Paradise. 

“With so much in limbo, his presence has provided stability,” says Mayor Jody Jones, whose house burned down. “It’s not just a job to him. This is his home.” 

A somber anniversary

The morning of November 8 dawned bright and blue again this fall in Paradise. Almost nothing else that came after resembled the same day a year ago.

Last November, as ash rained from a darkening sky, the town emptied out in harrowing slow-motion, its four main roadways clogged with traffic as residents sought to escape.

Wind-swept flames devoured home after home, store after store. Pine trees and utility poles exploded like giant Roman candles amid booming detonations of propane tanks and abandoned cars. Sparked by broken power lines owned by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the Camp fire incinerated 90% of the housing stock, more than 500 businesses, and the unseen bonds of community. 

Two weeks ago, under a resplendent sun, Paradise filled back up. Thousands of displaced residents returned for a day of events to commemorate all they had lost. 

Noah Berger/AP/File
A vintage car among debris after the Camp fire tears through Paradise, California, November 8, 2018. California officials said November 19, 2019, that crews have finished removing millions of tons of debris left by the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history.

Most entered along Skyway Road, the town’s primary thoroughfare, where 85 American flags swayed in the breeze, one for each person who died in the fire. Old friends and onetime neighbors hugged, cried, and reminisced. City officials delivered speeches that blended somber homages to the victims and the hardships of survivors with spirited assurances that Paradise will rise again.

The surge of visitors created the illusion of a town that had already recovered. In reality, an estimated 3,000 people live here – barely one-tenth of its pre-fire population – and fewer than 20 new houses have gone up in the past year. Former residents list various deterrents to rebuilding, including battles with home insurers, California’s high construction costs, the town’s tainted water supply – and fears of another inferno.

“I don’t know if that feeling ever goes away,” says Megan Rawie, who had lived with her husband in Paradise for 19 years when the blaze reduced their house to rubble. The couple moved to a town an hour’s drive north and remain unsure about whether to keep or sell their vacant lot. “There’s always the thought that this could happen again.”

The gathering of Paradise’s refugees laid bare their enduring privations. The Camp fire cost Amy McFarland her nursing job and razed the home she shared with her husband and two children. They now occupy the cramped confines of a mobile trailer parked on family property 30 miles away.

“There’s still such a strong feeling of loss,” Ms. McFarland says. She paused to wipe away the tears behind her sunglasses. “Everything is just gone.”

Making deeper connections 

The distress of residents after the Camp fire reached as far as the police chief. Mr. Reinbold’s public stature provided thin armor against personal adversity.

The toll went beyond the home where he lived with his wife and three children. His in-laws’ house burned to the ground; they since have moved to Idaho. A cousin lost his place. Familiar family landmarks – his childhood home, his father’s old auto repair shop, his late grandmother’s house – wound up as piles of ash and gnarled metal.

“It feels,” Mr. Reinbold says, “like even your memories are stripped from you.”

The town’s collective vulnerability guides the policing strategy he has nurtured since the disaster. Isolation ranks as perhaps the greatest source of anxiety for residents scattered across the fire-scarred mountain ridge. So he instructs his officers to patrol Paradise in a manner that could be dubbed stop-and-chat as they drive through nearly deserted neighborhoods.

“There’s a bigger emphasis on making deeper connections with people,” Mr. Reinbold says. “Because when you talk to them, the thing you hear most often is, ‘I’m the only house left on my street. What can you do to help me feel safe?’” 

The sharp drop in crime following the Camp fire altered the role of his officers from typical law enforcers to something akin to shepherds in uniform. They tended to shell-shocked residents returning to a town as ravaged as their emotions.

If those duties proved too sedate for a handful of cops – “some decided this new normal just isn’t for them,” Mr. Reinbold says – others embraced the change. Perry Walters, who joined the force four years ago, realizes he might be the sole person a resident encounters on a given day.

“You’re showing compassion because people are struggling,” he says, easing his police SUV down a pitted road on the town’s east side. A year after the fire, most lots stand barren, the debris and dead trees hauled away by cleanup crews. “They’re going through something unlike anything most of them have gone through before.”

He notices a silver-haired woman standing outside the street’s lone house and opens his passenger window to greet her. He spends 10 minutes talking with Pat Zinn, a retired bank manager, whose ranch-style home survived unscathed. They discuss the day of the fire, a neighbor who died after refusing to evacuate, and her concerns about scavengers and thieves. 

“I’m the last one here – it’s kind of lonely,” she says. Mr. Walters nods and tells her that officers will try to devote more attention to her area. He hands her a business card.

“Call us anytime,” he says. “We always want to make sure you’re safe.” 

Stages of healing

Mr. Reinbold served as acting police chief for seven months last year after Paradise’s top cop retired in February. Town officials conducted a wide search for a successor before appointing him to the position in the fall. The calamity that arrived 52 days later revealed an unexpected benefit to choosing a native son. 

“If he had come here from somewhere else, he might’ve decided not to stick around,” says Lt. Anthony Borgman, a member of the department since 2016. “With all that chaos, it helped that he was somebody people could count on being here.”

Mr. Reinbold and his officers witnessed Paradise’s almost total obliteration as they worked to evacuate residents. The baptism by wildfire gave him insight into his own and his hometown’s capacity to bear misfortune. He suggests that communal ties will deepen as more people return and move through the stages of healing from a shared ordeal.

“The bonds are being strengthened because they know they’re not going through this alone,” he says. For the sake of stability and their kids, he and his wife bought a house this spring in Chico, a college town 15 miles away, but he continues to devote most of each day to Paradise. “I feel like the future does look brighter.” 

Evidence of slow progress has emerged even as questions persist about rebuilding in a fire-prone region. Stop lights and street signs have reappeared. The town has issued 300 building permits and some 200 businesses have reopened, ranging from grocery stores and restaurants to auto shops and beauty salons. The police department will add three cadets by early next year, and town officials authorized Mr. Reinbold to offer a $20,000 hiring bonus to recruit veteran cops.

He plans to boost his force from 11 to 17 officers to shoulder the dual roles of empathy patrol and law enforcement. A rise in crime since summer – the work of car thieves, burglars, property squatters – offers another, less desirable sign of gradual recovery. “It’s funny because people say, ‘Oh, it must just be dead in Paradise,’” he says. “Well, no.” 

Mr. Walters has found himself responding to more emergency calls in recent months. He crisscrosses town in his SUV, passing over shallow abrasions in the roads where abandoned cars melted as Paradise burned. 

A year ago, in the confusion and panic of a mass exodus, he aided some 250 people when traffic ground to a stop. He told them to leave their vehicles and follow him to a strip mall parking lot where the pavement would act as a buffer against the fire. They watched the orange flames approach in the smoke-choked darkness. Tense hours passed. The danger receded. 

“That day changed me. It made me feel more loyal to the community,” Mr. Walters says. As Paradise tries to mend, he waits for residents to return. “I definitely want to be here for them. I want to help them come back home.”

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2. Impeachment’s rock stars: Powerful women

One striking aspect of the impeachment hearings is how they’ve showcased the experience and intellect of professional women. Regardless of the political outcome, advocates say that’s significant.   

Eva
Julio Cortez/AP
Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Dr. Hill was testifying in the public impeachment hearings looking into whether President Donald Trump attempted to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

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When top Russia expert Fiona Hill appeared before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday, she became the latest in a series of powerful, professional women who have emerged as major figures in the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump.

From veteran civil servants to outspoken lawmakers, women have held a prominence that stands apart from other high-profile congressional hearings – in large part because their roles have had nothing to do with their gender.

Women were vital in breaking the Watergate scandal, but few ever saw national recognition for it. They were far more visible during the Clinton impeachment – and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh – but many had to wrestle with stereotypes of victimhood.

The contrast is all the more notable, because women have been among the president’s loudest critics, as well as his strongest defenders. It has been striking, observers say, to see women calmly showcasing their expertise and savvy in a high-stakes affair that isn’t centered on gender.

“It’s not a #MeToo situation. It’s something constitutional,” says Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “We see these smart, powerful, articulate women on both sides of the aisle talking about their professional insights.”

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1. Impeachment’s rock stars: Powerful women

When top Russia expert Fiona Hill appeared before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday, she became the latest in a series of powerful, professional women on both sides of the dais who have emerged as major figures in the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump.

From veteran civil servants to outspoken lawmakers, women have held a prominence throughout these proceedings that stands in contrast to other high-profile congressional hearings – in large part because their roles have had nothing to do with their gender.

Women were vital to breaking the Watergate scandal, but few saw national recognition for it (think: “All the President’s Men”). They were far more visible during the Clinton impeachment, but many had to wrestle with stereotypes of victimhood.

Gender dynamics were a primary feature of high-wattage confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees that featured women testifying: Anita Hill detailing charges of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas in 1991, and Christine Blasey Ford recounting an alleged past sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

The contrast is all the more notable, because gender has had particular resonance throughout the Trump presidency. Women have been among the president’s loudest critics, from the Women’s Marches that swept the country after his inauguration to the suburban women who led the Democratic wave during the 2018 midterms. They have also been among his fiercest defenders, including his daughter Ivanka and adviser Kellyanne Conway, who became the first woman to manage a winning presidential campaign.

The Trump era began with a female nominee failing to break the presidential glass ceiling, and now features a record number of women running for the White House. Misogyny has been uncovered in workplaces, government, and online, and a hashtag has taken down a number of powerful men.

Erin Schaff/Reuters
Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, speaks during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearing with Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 20, 2019.

In such a gender-sensitive environment, it has been striking, observers say, to see women calmly showcasing their experience, expertise, and political savvy in a high-stakes affair that has nothing to do with gender.

“It’s not a #MeToo situation. It’s something constitutional. It’s something that has to do with national security and foreign policy,” says Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “We see these smart, powerful, articulate women on both sides of the aisle talking about their professional insights.”

The civil servants

In her measured, no-nonsense style, Dr. Hill on Thursday laid out for House lawmakers the concerns she had over the Trump administration’s backdoor Ukraine policy, as well as her frustration with some lawmakers’ efforts to push a discredited theory that it was Ukraine – rather than Russia – who meddled in the 2016 election. Russia seeks to benefit from a divided United States, “consumed by partisan rancor,” she added, while reminding the committee multiple times of her nonpartisan role.

“I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction, except toward the truth,” said Dr. Hill in her opening statement.

Dr. Hill had long been among the nation’s top experts on Vladimir Putin’s Russia before she was appointed to the White House National Security Council in 2017. She recognized Mr. Putin’s enduring hold on the Russian state before many of her peers, says Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. And while it’s difficult to say that any single book can define an entire field, he adds, the two volumes Dr. Hill co-authored on the subject come close.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say she is universally respected in the field,” says Mr. Rojansky, himself a Russia expert who’s long admired Dr. Hill’s work. “She has been a real fixture in the intellectual discourse about Russia … [and] a serious policy practitioner. You just can’t say all of those things about many people, in any administration.”

Dr. Hill’s credentials make her a heavyweight in a witness lineup that has included top diplomats and government officials, like Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor.

Other women who’ve testified have also held their own. Jennifer Williams, who appeared Wednesday, is a State Department official who serves as Vice President Mike Pence’s lead Russia adviser. Laura Cooper, who also testified Wednesday, is deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia at the Pentagon.

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who spoke to the committee last Friday, is one of the longest-serving women in the U.S. Foreign Service. She worked as a diplomat under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as Mr. Trump.

“The women being called in are not administrative assistants who might have heard something” but accomplished experts, says Jennifer Lawless, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia who’s written extensively about women in office. “That matters, that level of growth.”

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify to the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Their qualifications haven’t spared them from attacks. While Ambassador Yovanovitch was on the stand, Mr. Trump sent a tweet that questioned her abilities, asserting that everywhere she went “turned bad.” The missive added weight to Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony that her unceremonious recall from Ukraine came along with an attempt to smear her reputation.

On Thursday, David Holmes, who served as Ambassador Yovanovitch’s chief policy adviser in Kyiv, testified in his opening statement about his “deep respect for her dedication, determination, decency, and professionalism.” He added that the “barrage of allegations” leveled against her were “unlike anything I have seen in my professional career.”

To be sure, Mr. Trump often treats his perceived enemies this way, regardless of their gender. But observers say there was a certain force to seeing a successful woman gracefully fend off such attacks in real time.

“No one would say that Yovanovitch’s testimony was anything less than a master class in integrity-led leadership,” says Jenna Ben-Yehuda, founder of the Women’s Foreign Policy Network, a global organization for women in foreign affairs. “It shows that leadership takes many forms. I hope we hold on to that.”

When Ms. Yovanovitch’s hearing wrapped on Friday, she received a standing ovation from the audience.

The politicians

Women lawmakers have also been front-and-center in the impeachment drama.

Florida Rep. Val Demings, one of three Democrats on the panel, came out hard against Ambassador Sondland on Wednesday, pressing him on the details of a phone conversation he had with Mr. Trump at a restaurant in Kyiv. California Rep. Jackie Speier – who as a congressional aide in the 1970s came under gunfire while investigating the Jonestown cult in Guyana – played a key role in the depositions of Ambassador Taylor and State Department official George Kent, according to transcripts. And Rep. Terri Sewell, the No. 3 Democrat on the panel and the first black woman to serve Alabama in Congress, has also been a vocal interrogator.

Yet it’s New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the lone Republican woman on the committee, who has drawn the most attention.

On Friday, she sparred with Democratic committee chair Adam Schiff after he shut her down for trying to ask a question before her designated time. She came back with a jab: “Will you be prohibiting witnesses from answering members’ questions, as you have in the closed-door depositions?” Mr. Schiff responded that he was protecting the identity of the whistleblower who first brought attention to Mr. Trump’s now-famous July 25 call with Mr. Zelenskiy.

“We are here to talk about impeachment – and nothing in that room today, and nothing in that room this week, nothing rises to the level of impeachable offenses,” Ms. Stefanik later told reporters.

The episode earned Ms. Stefanik public praise from the president, who called her “a new Republican star.”

“Elise has been a rock star,” agreed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel at a Monitor Breakfast Thursday. “She’s been incredibly succinct in her questioning. She’s come prepared. ... I think she’s been excellent.” She added: “And I think she drives Adam Schiff nuts.”

Indeed, Democrats have roundly criticized Ms. Stefanik as a partisan warrior. But others say her credentials make her a powerful messenger for Republicans. Ms. Stefanik was the youngest woman in Congress when, at 30, she was first elected in 2014. She went on to develop a reputation as a moderate, voting against the GOP tax cuts in 2017, and sounding the alarm about the growing gender disparity in her party’s congressional caucus. She also has not been afraid to criticize Mr. Trump.

“They recognize that she’s a different voice and she has some credibility – not just because of gender or her younger age, but because she’s not been that falling-in-line sort of member,” says American University’s Ms. Fischer Martin. “It’s not at all a tokenism kind of thing.”

Behind the scenes

Less visible since the public hearings began has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But it’s hard to overstate the part she’s played in these events. Her hand is in every decision the Democrats have made, from whether or not to move forward with the inquiry, to which committee would lead the investigation, to the scope of the probe.

“If we think of impeachment as the biggest, or most significant, check that Congress has on the executive branch, then we have a woman orchestrating that check,” says the University of Virginia’s Professor Lawless. “That’s not something we’ve seen before.”

In terms of the political impact, the impeachment hearings have been – and will likely continue to be – highly divisive, a process that may only confirm Americans’ impression of Washington as a partisan swamp. But “in terms of gender dynamics,” Professor Lawless says, the impact may be far more positive.

“If for nothing else, they’ve proven that women on the left and the right are asking the tough questions, and are getting answers,” adds Olivia Perez-Cubas, spokesperson for the Winning For Women Action Fund, which recruits Republican women to run for office. “Between the women who have testified, between Elise, between Pelosi – they are shapers of this entire argument.”

“Kudos to them.”

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3. Ukraine in play: How Chinese investments change the game

Ukraine has been cited in impeachment hearings as a critical U.S. ally. But its industry is ailing. With the West showing little interest in helping, China is stepping in – and could shift Ukraine’s allegiances.

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Even as U.S. diplomats describe the importance of Ukraine as an ally in impeachment hearings in Washington this week, the former Soviet state may be getting pulled back into an Eastern orbit, as China buys up critical Ukrainian industry.

According to the National Bank of Ukraine, China this year became the country’s single largest trading partner. China is currently planning to invest up to $7 billion in Ukrainian infrastructure. But it is the possibility that the crown jewels of Ukraine’s former-Soviet military industry may fall into Chinese hands that has belatedly set a few U.S. alarm bells ringing. Ukraine’s legendary aviation company Antonov, helicopter and jet engine-builder Motor Sich, and about 400 other military-industrial units, some with sensitive technology, have languished since the cut-off of strategic economic relations with Russia.

“Chinese investment has become important for Ukraine because, frankly, there is no other investment to speak of,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies in Kyiv. “The U.S. and other Western countries have their own military industries, and aren’t interested in helping us preserve our own. It’s only the Chinese who need our engine know-how and other technologies.”

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Ukraine in play: How Chinese investments change the game

Ukrainians have watched nervously over the past couple weeks as a parade of professional United States diplomats and security officials have extolled Ukraine as a vital U.S. ally, one whose security was imperiled by President Donald Trump’s alleged withholding of aid in return for personal political favors.

The political spotlight has been unwelcome for Ukrainians. Most say they appreciate American backing, and wouldn’t want to say anything to jinx that. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to get Ukrainian analysts to comment on the hearings in Washington. 

But there is another critical challenge to Ukraine’s hopes of integrating with the West that Ukrainian commentators have a good deal to say about. Yet it has gone largely unnoticed, even as Ukraine becomes a prime topic of conversation in the U.S.

It is the rapid economic penetration of China – not the West – to fill the vacuum left behind after Ukraine slashed most of its strategic economic cooperation with Russia five years ago, which threatens to alter Ukraine’s Westward-leaning geopolitical calculus.

According to the National Bank of Ukraine, China this year surpassed Ukrainian neighbors Russia and Poland to become the country’s single largest trading partner. China is currently planning to invest up to $7 billion in Ukrainian infrastructure, including ports like the struggling Sea of Azov outlet of Mariupol, roads, rapid trains, and the Kyiv metro. This year Ukraine became the largest supplier of corn to China, replacing U.S. corn exports that were disrupted by Mr. Trump’s U.S.-China trade war.

But it is the possibility that the crown jewels of Ukraine’s former-Soviet military industry may fall into Chinese hands that has belatedly set a few alarm bells ringing in the U.S. Ukraine’s legendary aviation company Antonov, helicopter and jet engine-builder Motor Sich, and about 400 other military-industrial units, some with sensitive technology, have languished since the cut-off of strategic economic relations with Russia and are in danger of suffocating without fresh investment and new markets.

Gleb Garanich/Reuters
China is currently planning to invest up to $7 billion in Ukrainian infrastructure, including ports like the struggling Sea of Azov outlet of Mariupol, shown here on Dec. 2, 2018.

“Chinese investment has become important for Ukraine because, frankly, there is no other investment to speak of,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kyiv. “Nobody else is interested in our industries. Russia has launched an aggressive program of import substitution to replace former Ukrainian goods, and regards Ukraine as an unreliable partner now. The U.S. and other Western countries have their own military industries, and aren’t interested in helping us preserve our own. It’s only the Chinese who need our engine know-how and other technologies.

“It’s a real problem for Ukraine. If we want to join NATO, then the countries of NATO should be helping us to integrate our military industries into the Euro-Atlantic system. They have certainly made it clear they don’t like the idea of selling shares in these industries to China. But who are we supposed to sell them to?”

Hard times for heavy industry

Kyiv-based Antonov, the former giant of the Soviet aircraft industry, has fallen on hard times. Ukraine’s rift with Russia after the 2014 Maidan revolution against Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych forced the company to abandon several joint ventures, including a new military transport, commuter aircraft, and other projects. The Monitor visited its main facilities in Kyiv almost five years ago and found its production lines idle and its management almost desperate to find new partners in the West.

“We really need the West to turn its face to us. We understand that we urgently need to change the vector of our cooperation,” Dmytro Kiva, the director at the time, said.

Little interest from the West subsequently materialized, but the Chinese did show up. Antonov is famous for its powerful transport aircraft, and the Chinese have purchased large numbers of them. They have shown particular interest in acquiring new copies of the company’s An-225 Mriya – the world’s largest cargo plane. Only one copy of the Mriya, which can haul twice as heavy a load as the largest U.S. freighter, the giant C-5 Galaxy, has so far ever been built. Earlier this year a Chinese aerospace company filed a bid to buy an undisclosed stake in Antonov’s engine-building unit.

But the most controversial Chinese investment ploy involves the Motor Sich conglomerate. The company used to supply about 80% of all engines installed in Russian helicopters, and two Chinese aviation companies have tried to buy a controlling 50% stake. The deal, which reportedly involves a $100-million above-market value inducement to Ukraine, is presently being held up by Ukraine’s Anti-Monopoly Committee due to security concerns and strenuous objections to the sale from the West.

In August, former national security adviser John Bolton flew to Kyiv specially to warn against the sale. “Military and sensitive technologies should not reach enemies or potential enemies,” Mr. Bolton reportedly said. “We inform friends and partners about the danger of Chinese investment.”

Mr. Bolton’s warning raises a follow-up question: What happens to Ukraine’s aspirations of joining NATO if its major military industries fall to China, which is rapidly developing a multi-sided strategic partnership with Russia? At present, no one in Kyiv, Washington, or Moscow appears ready to openly address the elephant in the room. 

But holding up a Chinese sale is of little help to Motor Sich, a company that employs 30,000 people in the eastern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia, and which reportedly lost 40% of its business when contracts with Russia were broken off five years ago.

“The owner of Motor Sich, Vyacheslav Boguslayev, is a good steward of his company. He wants it to survive, and the Chinese are offering a lifeline,” says Alexander Parashiy, head of research at Concorde Capital, a Kyiv-based brokerage firm. “The West doesn’t need this unique company, and our government does nothing to save it.”

Mr. Parashiy blames the Ukrainian government for failing to support the country’s foundering military industries. Indeed, he points out, the Ukrainian interior ministry recently placed a $615 million order for 55 French-made helicopters even though Motor Sich has developed a similar product.

“It’s hard to ask outsiders to back Ukrainian designs when our own government won’t,” he says. “This Chinese attempt to acquire Motor Sich is a logical consequence of our government’s inattentiveness.”

Sergei Karaganov, a senior Russian foreign policy hand, says that Moscow probably doesn’t care about the Chinese efforts to penetrate the best parts of the former Soviet military industrial complex.

“If there is something still functioning there and the Chinese are buying,” he says, “why should Russia mind?”

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4. Why business-friendly Georgia got tough on environmental regulation

Should public health be weighed against support for jobs and businesses? In Covington, Georgia, the choice was made clear with mounting evidence of toxic emissions by one medical tech plant.

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The company said its toxic gas emissions were within legal limits – and the state took its word. Then, citizens got involved and started testing the air themselves, prompting the city to do the same. That's when Georgia officials moved to shutter the medical sterilization plant for a week.

In some ways, the decision runs headlong against a deregulatory mood in Washington, where the Environmental Protection Agency has spent the past three years rolling back pollution controls in the name of business-friendly deregulation. Yet the situation has highlighted a countercurrent. The same values that led many voters here to support President Donald Trump – suspicion of an elite government, a nostalgia for the past – is merging with the dynamics of an American Deep South grown increasingly wealthy, politically diverse, and sensitive to environmental dangers.

The government's muscular response suggests, to some, a recognition not just of potential voter backlash, but ethical duty. “We are now detecting a little bit of shift in that attitude ... that they [are now] actually going to do something to protect Georgians,” says one activist. “At least I have not felt hopeless about it.”

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Why business-friendly Georgia got tough on environmental regulation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had known for a year that Covington, Georgia, had become a hotbed for a toxic gas by the time Mayor Ronnie Johnston and the city council hired a company to test the air.

The delay wasn’t foot dragging on the city’s part. But it was residents, alerted by a WebMD article, who found “strange hot spots” using their own sensors which suggested ethylene oxide (EtO) was escaping from a medical sterilizing plant that used the gas.

Becton, Dickinson and Co. (BD) insisted that its emissions were well within its permitted limit, even as another company, Sterigenics, voluntarily closed its plant in Smyrna to address the same gas concerns. 

At first, state regulators took the company’s word for it. Residents weren’t that surprised, since Georgia has a reputation as the No. 1 business-friendly state in the country.

But this fall, the state’s tone shifted as the disparity between the plant’s safety claims and the results of independent tests grew ever starker. In late October, the state filed suit against BD for noncompliance, forcing a temporary shutdown.

Mayor Johnston, who has focused on economic development to relieve local poverty, called it a “real booger of a situation,” pitting a powerful jobs-creator against the health of the community. The plant, which employs nearly 900 people at solid wages, “has been an excellent partner with us for 27 years,” he says, “but this was about the future of our town.”

In some ways, Georgia’s decision to shutter a noncompliant polluter runs headlong against a deregulatory mood in Washington, where the EPA has spent the past three years systematically rolling back pollution controls in the name of business-friendly deregulation.

Yet the situation in Georgia has highlighted a countercurrent. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the same values that led many voters here to support Mr. Trump – suspicion of an elite government, a nostalgia for the past – is merging with the dynamics of a Deep South grown increasingly wealthy, politically diverse, and sensitive to environmental dangers.

“There is no doubt an element of conservative populism is at work [in the plant closings]: the suspicion of those in power, the belief that the system isn’t working to protect regular folks,” says Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, who says he has never seen such a muscular response to a polluter during 20 years working in Georgia.

To be sure, says Mr. Ebersbach, Georgia regulators still see polluting industries as “customers” in need of permitting service. But the crackdown suggests “a growing sense among conservatives in our state that support for industry and jobs need not come at the expense of public health.”

Some states – mostly blue ones – had held public hearings about the dangers of EtO and plans for remediation. But in Georgia, residents sounded the alarm. Through this past summer, the state maintained that the company was in compliance with state regulations. The city’s testing, however, found amounts at some locations in concentrations over 200 times the EPA’s level of concern. 

A thousand boos

For residents, a growing sense that regulators may be holding industry interests above those of the public has fueled outrage in Covington and beyond. When Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division Director Rick Dunn appeared at a recent town hall on the EtO emissions, he later told friends he faced “a thousand boos.”

“The public carries around this idea that these men and women are supposed to be working for us, and protecting us, that’s their job,” says Sid Shapiro, a regulatory law professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. “So how do those agencies get away with ... failing to protect the public? The answer is, out of sight, out of mind. It is so hard for the average person to monitor the activities of a state regulator that these things go unnoticed until ... it blows up, sometimes literally.”

In 2016, residents in Jesup, Georgia, in rural Wayne County, brought out the figurative pitchforks when a newspaper published quiet plans to ship toxin-laden coal ash to a local landfill. A subsequent investigation showed that 800,000 tons had already been shipped, and that some of that had seeped into the groundwater. Much like in Covington, the coal ash scandal was dominated by people with some of the same complaints that animated Trump voters: A sense of communal loss due to government malfeasance and disdain for the plight of average Americans. 

“The paradoxical thing is Wayne County is ultra-conservative,” says retired Jesup teacher Peggy Riggins, who led an effort to stop the permit for the coal ash dump. “Eighty percent of the voters were for Trump. Many associate environmentalism with liberals or Democrats. But when our community was threatened by toxic coal ash ... they weren’t going to have the second largest landfill company in the United States, run out of Arizona, come in here and ruin our community.”

Still, there is little evidence of a political groundswell for more proactive environmental regulations, says Mr. Ebersbach. But Gov. Brian Kemp’s muscular response suggests, to some, a recognition not just of potential voter backlash, but ethical duty.

The plant closures suggest that “we are now detecting a little bit of shift in that attitude ... that they [are now] actually going to do something to protect Georgians,” says Ms. Riggins. “At least I have not felt hopeless about it.”

Rebuilding trust

The closures in Georgia came after more liberal states – Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan – had confronted polluting industries in the wake of the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment, released in 2018. In Michigan, air testing found far higher concentrations of EtO than industry had been reporting. Concerned about liability and public panic, regulators nevertheless publicized their findings in public hearings.

Given “the studies that have been done showing increased concerns to exposure and then the noncompliance issues, we thought it was in the community’s best interest to have that conversation – to let them know what we had found and also what we were planning to do to address it,” says Chris Etheridge, a regulator in Michigan. “And, yeah, I would argue that the community did freak out.”

Evidence suggests that Georgia lawmakers are learning similar lessons about transparency and faith in the public – that withholding information is worse than risking confusion or hysteria. “We screwed up,” the Environmental Protection Division admitted at a recent public hearing. That public admission took many residents aback – and helped rebuild trust, says Mayor Johnston.

More recently, says Mr. Ebersbach, Georgia conservatives have begun demanding clean energy “as a matter of self-determination, property rights, and a distrust of monopoly energy providers.” Bubba McDonald, a Republican and chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission, is a major booster of solar power. And the Georgia House speaker rebuilt the budget of a gutted chemical response team.

On Nov. 7, Governor Kemp held a luncheon for State Rep. Bill Werkheiser, who is pushing a transparency law to alert residents of public health issues posed by industry.

The post-World War II economy “started lifting the South out of the Depression,” says Mark Woodall, legislative affairs director for the Sierra Club’s Atlanta office. “And the attitude was, ‘Come on in. We’re not going to be too picky. We’re not going to be pro-union and not too much about environmental regulations.’ But that has changed. People are no longer willing to take just anything.”

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On Film

5. Near-perfect ‘A Beautiful Day’ captures the wholeness of Fred Rogers

What does it take to counter cynicism? A new movie explores the effect Fred Rogers has on a jaded journalist, a transformative experience that film critic Peter Rainer says extends to the audience, too: It’s “about the difficult passage from dark to light and the transcendence that takes you there.”

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Lacey Terrell/Sony-Tristar Pictures/AP
Matthew Rhys (left) stars as Lloyd Vogel, a journalist, and Tom Hanks as children's TV personality Mister Rogers in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."
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Near-perfect ‘A Beautiful Day’ captures the wholeness of Fred Rogers

If nothing is more difficult in the movies than convincingly portraying authentic goodness, then “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” can be counted near-perfect. It’s about a dirt-digging journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, excellent), who grudgingly accepts an assignment from his Esquire magazine editor to profile children’s TV icon Fred Rogers (a perfectly cast Tom Hanks) for a special issue on heroes. Caught up in Rogers’ tranquil presence, Vogel’s resistance breaks down. What began as a job becomes a kind of spiritual communion for both men.

This is not a biopic of Rogers, for which I was grateful. Morgan Neville’s terrific 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” already tilled that territory. “A Beautiful Day” is primarily about Vogel – a new dad with a fraught relationship with his own father (Chris Cooper in top form) – and yet in essence it’s about the beneficence bestowed by Rogers upon all in his orbit.

It was exceedingly smart of director Marielle Heller and her screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster to frame this story through the eyes of an inveterate cynic. (Hearing of his assignment, Vogel’s wife, played by Susan Kelechi Watson, only half-kiddingly tells him, “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”) In effect, Vogel is acting as our surrogate, and, as his encounters with Rogers deepen, we, along with Vogel, experience the healing transformation.

The film’s inspiration is the 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod, in which he writes about Rogers, “There was an energy to him … a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy, and though I tried to ask him questions about himself, he always turned the questions back on me.”

It is this “unashamed insistence on intimacy” that comes through so unmistakably in Hanks’ performance, which is no mere cardigan and soft sneakers impersonation. The touchstone to his characterization is Rogers’ intense desire to listen to others and not sound off himself. The way Hanks plays it, this never seems like an evasion but, rather, the height of selflessness. It’s his way of bringing out the best in people. (His performance is most eloquent in its silences.) It is also his way of bringing out the best in himself. To the adults in this film, Rogers is no simple caregiver or homespun father confessor. He asks others to pray for him as readily as he prays for them, and he means it. 

Photos by AP
Tom Hanks (left) as Mister Rogers in a scene from "A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood," and Fred Rogers as he rehearses the opening of his PBS show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" during a taping in Pittsburgh June 28, 1989.

Rogers disdains the public perception of himself as a “living saint,” and of course he is right to do so. The authenticity of his goodness derives from the fact that he is a man and not some sort of haloed icon. On his long-running TV show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” he brought up such issues as divorce, racism, assassinations, and death because he wanted to comfort his young audience and let them know that they were not alone in their fears.

What gives Hanks’ performance its ballast – what elevates it far above the realm of the touchy-feely – is the suggestion that the comforts he dispenses are hard won because they have come through fire. Rogers doesn’t deny life’s desecrations. His conviction, as stated in the movie, that “each one of us is special” carries moral weight because, in spite of everything, he holds to the belief that people are inherently good.

It is not even necessary to wholeheartedly sign on to this belief to experience this movie’s glow. For the time that we are in the theater – and for some time after, too – the aura holds. At least it did for me. Who can fail to smile at the scene (based on fact) where Vogel and Rogers, in a subway car, are regaled by its passengers with the theme song from Rogers’ TV show? It’s irrelevant to complain, as some commentators have, that Vogel’s reconciliation with his father is predictable. Predictability is the point. This is a movie about the difficult passage from dark to light and the transcendence that takes you there.

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The Monitor's View

In 2019, whistleblowers get their due

Two ways to read the story

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Congress has yet to determine the guilt or innocence of President Donald Trump over his alleged wrong behavior with Ukraine. Yet one thing is sure: The world has witnessed the powerful impact of a whistleblower calling out his or her boss. On September 18, an unnamed official in an intelligence agency blew the whistle on Mr. Trump over a July phone call with the Ukrainian president, setting in motion the impeachment probe by the House.

The impact of this complaint may go far beyond determining the president’s future. Ukraine, in fact, approved its own whistleblower law last week. In October, the European Parliament approved a directive to protect employees who report crime, corruption, and public health dangers from retaliation.

When historians look back on 2019, they may decide that the world crossed a threshold in making it safe for individuals to speak out about wrongdoing. Acts of integrity should not be acts of courage. They should simply be normal.

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In 2019, whistleblowers get their due

Congress has yet to determine the guilt or innocence of President Donald Trump over his alleged wrong behavior with Ukraine. Yet one thing is sure: The world has witnessed the powerful impact of a whistleblower calling out his or her boss. On Sept. 18, an unnamed official in an intelligence agency blew the whistle on Mr. Trump over a July phone call with the Ukrainian president, setting in motion the impeachment probe by the House.

The impact of this complaint by a government employee may go far beyond determining the president’s future. It is also a highly visible example of America’s long history, especially since the 1970s, of encouraging individuals driven by conscience to shine a light on malfeasance in order to protect the integrity of their company or government office.

Not all complaints are valid, of course, yet enough of them expose wrongdoing that Congress and most states keep adding protections for whistleblowers in both government and business. Ukraine, in fact, approved its own whistleblower law last week. The move, just one measure among many anti-corruption efforts under a new president, may have been pushed along in part by the role of the Washington whistleblower.

But Ukraine is also being swept up in a global trend of whistleblower laws. In October, the European Parliament approved a directive to protect from retaliation employees who report crime, corruption, and public health dangers from retaliation. Countries in the European Union have two years to implement the law. The mood in Europe shifted after a French accountant, Antoine Deltour, exposed widespread tax evasion by multinational businesses operating through shell companies in Luxembourg. Despite attempts to punish him for his actions, he endured. “The worst thing for a whistleblower,” Mr. Deltour said, “is not to be heard. The world then makes no sense.”

In February, Australia passed a new standard for whistleblower protection. Also this year, Lebanon and Tunisia became the first Middle East countries to pass such laws. And in June, the Group of 20, made up of leading rich and developing nations, further cemented a global norm by endorsing a set of principles for “effective” protection of whistleblowers. One reason: An estimated one-third of foreign bribery cases were the result of a whistleblower.

Whistleblowing provides more than a backward-looking effect in punishing corruption. A landmark study at the University of Iowa in 2016 showed a significant decrease in financial irregularities at companies after a whistleblower incident. Both bosses and employees reacted by becoming better guardians of their company’s integrity.

When historians look back on 2019, they may decide that the world crossed a threshold in making it safe for individuals to speak out about wrongdoing. Acts of integrity should not be acts of courage. They should simply be normal.

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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.

Confident compassion and comfort that heals grief

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Losing a loved one is never easy. But getting to know God as infinite Life and Love brings the assurance that life can never truly be lost, and that we are never without the love of God.

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Confident compassion and comfort that heals grief

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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At one time or another, every one of us has been in a position to lend comfort to a friend who is struggling or grieving. There is no rule book for what to say or how to react when someone has passed away. But anyone who has ever struggled with sadness or grief has wondered, How can I feel and express more comfort, joy, and compassion?

Several years ago my brother was killed instantly in a car crash. No one plans how he or she will react to news of such a tragedy. Looking back, my first reaction was to pray to understand what had happened. And there was an immediate answer to that prayer in the form of what felt like a mental hug. It felt as if divine Love, God, was right by my side, letting me know that my family was embraced in love and that my brother was still being cared for and loved too.

But as the days went on, interacting with others was difficult. As well-intentioned as their concern was, I could almost feel the weight of their sorrow and pity pulling me down. Some expressions of sympathy even seemed to imply that God had had some hand in my brother’s death or that his life was unfulfilled.

Of course these suggestions were motivated by love, but they just made me feel sad and confused. These were concepts of life as defined by matter, or of God as causing bad things to happen. They were not at all in sync with what I had learned about God in my study of the Bible and Christian Science, which was discovered by Mary Baker Eddy, who also started The Christian Science Monitor.

The Bible reveals God as Love itself. To illustrate this fact, Christ Jesus used the metaphor of God as a Shepherd – a reliable, wise, and ever-present caregiver who would not let a single one of His children wander off, get lost, be injured, or die. He explained that it wasn’t God’s will “that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14). And in those moments right after my brother had passed, I had palpably felt the care of this tender, always present Shepherd, assuring me that my brother had not perished but continued to experience and express divine Life, God.

Jesus also explained that life is eternal. With the remarkable healing that he brought to so many, Jesus also proved the truth of this spiritual reality. He showed that our true identity is immortal – spiritual and unlimited – and that as the spiritual idea, or creation, of God, no one’s life is ever really gone. Life doesn’t end, because the eternal God, our creator, is Life. As we gain new views of Life and Love as infinite and divine, we realize that life can never really be lost, and that we are never without the love of God.

A few days after my brother had passed, some visitors came to our family home who understood this and truly expressed that strong and tender nature of our heavenly Shepherd. My mom was part of a tightknit group of women at church who had supported each other through prayer over the years and had loved and laughed together through thick and thin. These “church ladies” briskly walked into our house.

To me it seemed as if they were on the wings of divine Love. They came in bearing dinner and loving smiles that radiated confidence and kindness. Above all, they embraced us with a strength that seemed to say, “He’s just fine, and you are just fine, and we know it!” We all felt lifted up by their love, and it was a real turning point in our moving past the grief and on to brighter days. It wasn’t a personality thing. It was the comforting touch of God’s love, expressed by these dear women, bringing the conviction that my brother’s true, spiritual identity was untouched and whole.

Whether we ourselves are mourning or we’re desiring to comfort others who are, we can let the all-encompassing love of our divine Shepherd light our path forward. Then we can share that love through compassion stemming from confidence that none of God’s children is ever alone or lost.

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Viewfinder

An ancient threshold

Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Bedouin young man sits in the Siq, a narrow gorge leading to the ancient city of Petra, south of Amman, Jordan. The ancient Nabatean city welcomed it's 1 millionth visitor on Nov. 21, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 22nd, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’ll look at the underlying frustrations – and persistence – fueling doctors’ strikes in Zimbabwe.

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 21, 2019
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