2019
November
27
Wednesday

Today's five hand-picked stories examine the fairness of the rules of war, how floods affect a sense of home, how Bedouins had a change of heart about their own history, a novel view of the Sixth Commandment, and a different kind of relief effort in the Bahamas.

But first, regular viewers of Fox News’ “The Five” will know that co-host Jesse Watters and his mother do not see eye-to-eye on politics. Yet viewers will also know something else: how much Jesse Watters and his mother adore each other.

On this Thanksgiving eve in America, when so many are worried about how partisan politics might poison the family dinner table, Jesse and Anne Bailey Watters offer something to be thankful for.

Mr. Watters, a conservative, first started sharing his liberal mother’s furious texts with co-hosts behind the scenes. “Everyone just got a kick out of it,” he tells The Atlantic. So then the idea was hatched: What if he read them on the air? "Mom Texts" was born.

Some are classic mom material. When Mr. Watters wore a pink blazer, mom texted that he looked like a “ferris wheel operator.” But many are politically pointed. “Do not name call and parrot Trump’s insults. That is beneath you,” came another.

What never changes, however, is the mutual affection, even during the recent impeachment drama. “Please be assured that despite your WRETCHED political orientation I love you forever!” Mr. Watters read on air. Just maybe, the Watters family points to how Thanksgiving can be an antidote – not a casualty of partisan anger.

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1. Does Trump's Navy SEAL pardon undermine military justice?

At the heart of a presidential pardon for a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes is the question: Do many American war fighters believe that the current rules of war are unfair?

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The ouster of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer this week may have capped the saga of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, but it has brought the debate over President Donald Trump's pardon of Chief Gallagher and other convicted and accused U.S. war criminals into stark relief. Critics warn that presidential pardons of war fighters could undermine the military justice system.

In a May poll of military service members, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 33% do not think “the laws and rules that apply to use of force for service members in a combat zone are fair,” says Maj. Lindsay Rodman, who served as a lawyer in the Marine Corps. Presidential pardons could reinforce this notion and for this reason “represent a potential existential threat to the military justice system,” she says.

Major Rodman recalls teaching law of war to young Marines in Afghanistan. “I knew in that room that there were some people who didn’t feel like the rules were just or fair, or should pertain to them. They would say it or whisper it” or ask questions like, “‘Who are you to put extra rules on me? This is difficult enough as it is.’”

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Does Trump's Navy SEAL pardon undermine military justice?

When the secretary of the Navy was forced out this week by the secretary of defense, it was just the latest and most high-profile fallout from the case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes – but championed by the president of the United States.

But while the departure of Secretary Richard Spencer may have capped the saga of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, it has brought the debate over Mr. Trump’s pardon of Chief Gallagher and other convicted and accused U.S. war criminals into stark relief. Though the president undoubtedly has the power to issue pardons, military officials are now grappling with the lasting impacts those pardons could have.

Critics warn that the notion of the need to protect war fighters from sentences their commanders and comrades in arms might impose could undermine the military justice system. It raises the question, too, of whether the impulse to protect the less than 1% of Americans who have been fighting the nation’s wars for the past 17 years – sometimes in the face of fear or under the strain of multiple deployments – also means pardoning the war crimes a small minority may commit.

Mr. Trump’s decision to intervene in the Gallagher case will have consequences, says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and now a visiting professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “This undermines chain of command in the military, and efforts to hold [troops] accountable – and it in effect undermines the righteousness of those young soldiers who have said, ‘My leader has done something wrong.’”

“We’re gonna protect our war fighters”

Chief Gallagher was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly stabbing to death a teenage Islamic State terrorist – who was injured and being held prisoner by U.S. forces – while deployed to Iraq in 2017. He was also charged with attempted murder for firing sniper shots at an Afghan schoolgirl, and with “wrongfully posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty” after texting a photo of himself and the ISIS teenager’s body to a friend with the caption: “I got him with my hunting knife.”

He was reported for this behavior by several members of his SEAL team platoon, whose concerns were initially sidelined by SEAL commanders. Chief Gallagher denied the charges, arguing that they were made by troops who resented his tough style.

President Donald Trump signaled earlier this year that he might preemptively pardon Chief Gallagher before his court martial hearing. He also weighed in periodically with supportive tweets and orders to move Chief Gallagher to less restrictive confinement as he awaited trial, which the Navy carried out. “He was one of the ultimate fighters – tough guy,” the president said this week. “These [insurgents] are not weak people. These are tough people. And we’re gonna protect our war fighters.” Mr. Trump added, “Somebody has their back, and it’s called the president of the U.S., OK?”

A military court of his peers ultimately found Chief Gallagher guilty in June of only one count – posing with a “human casualty.” They also bumped him down in rank, meaning he would get less retirement pay. In the aftermath of the ruling, the president restored Chief Gallagher to the rank of Chief Petty Officer, allowing him to retire with full benefits. Mr. Trump also objected to Chief Gallagher being stripped of his Trident pin, a prized symbol in the Navy SEAL community, and so he was allowed to keep it, despite initial Navy plans to convene another hearing of Chief Gallagher’s peers to decide whether it would be stripped from him or not.

Gregory Bull/AP/File
Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher was found guilty of “wrongfully posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty” after texting a photo of himself and a dead ISIS teenager’s body to a friend with the caption: “I got him with my hunting knife.” President Trump pardoned him.

Mr. Trump’s protections of Chief Gallagher, as well as his pardons of several other convicted and accused U.S. war criminals, appear to have stirred a considerable difference of opinion among service members. In a May flash poll of military service members, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) found that most veterans (52%) either “strongly disagree” (39%) or “somewhat disagree” with the prospect of the president “issuing pardons for service members who have been convicted under court martial.” A sizable minority (40%), however, either “strongly agree” (23%) or “somewhat agree” with the pardons.

An “even more concerning finding” in the same poll was that 33% of IAVA’s members do not think “the laws and rules that apply to use of force for service members in a combat zone are fair,” says Maj. Lindsay Rodman, who served as a lawyer in the Marine Corps and is now IAVA’s executive vice president for communications and legal strategy. The presidential pardons could reinforce this notion and for this reason “represent a potential existential threat to the military justice system,” since “implicit in these pardons is a lack of faith” in it, she says.

Major Rodman recalls teaching law of war to young Marines in Afghanistan. “I knew in that room that there were some people who didn’t feel like the rules were just or fair, or should pertain to them. They would say it or whisper it” or ask questions along the lines of, “‘Who are you to put extra rules on me? This is difficult enough as it is,’ and treat it like just another briefing from an out-of-touch officer who doesn’t understand what life is like on the ground,” she says. “Of course, 99% of Marines have no problem following the rules. It’s that 1% we have to deal with.”

That minority of service members tends to “underestimate, I think, how thorough the system is,” General Barno says. The result of the Gallagher case, which resulted in a conviction only on the least charge, demonstrates the worries of the minority are often taken into account, he says.

Exploiting the system?

Mr. Trump has indicated he may intervene in a number of pending cases involving U.S. troops accused of war crimes. The fear is that Chief Gallagher’s case may teach lawyers of the accused to “set themselves up to lobby” their cases through television, rather than the military courts, General Barno says.

“It’s worrisome that the president seems disproportionately influenced not by senior military leadership, but by Fox TV,” he says, and now lawyers, family members, and other organizations may learn to “exploit this.”

While the lobbying is troubling, it is important “to remember that pardons and clemencies are not rogue actions, but integral to the Constitution’s scheme of criminal justice, to include the military’s,” notes retired Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap Jr., a former military lawyer and now executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University School of Law.

And moving forward, it’s not likely that anyone with a penchant for committing war crimes will mistake a presidential pardon for a license to kill, he adds. “I very much doubt that there are any troops who think that because of the president’s actions, they can now commit a crime,” General Dunlap says. “Overwhelmingly, U.S. troops do the best they can to follow the law because it’s the right thing to do.”

At the same time, they are adhering to laws of warfare that are far stricter than at any point previously in history, says retired Col. Peter Mansoor, who served as the executive officer to Gen. David Petreaus in Iraq, and is now chair of military history at Ohio State University. “We’ve gotten more disciplined today.” And with good reason, he says, given that the laws of warfare are designed not only to protect civilians, but also to minimize the risk of moral injury to troops. “The military is a lethal business – it’s violent, there’s killing and destruction – and you want to minimize the damage to our values as much as possible, so you don’t go over the edge.”

And on the off chance that troops are tempted to hurt people they shouldn’t, there are ways for commanders to respond, Colonel Mansoor adds.

“You tell troops, ‘If you want to take the chance that the president will look at your specific case and grant you leniency, then good luck with that, because I’m going to make the law apply to all of us,’” he says. “And, ‘Oh by the way, Trump won’t be here forever.’”

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A deeper look

2. Mississippi’s forgotten floods: When nation looks away, locals unite

Of course there’s no place like home. But following a flood that upended scores of lives this year, one Mississippian asks, “Should people be able to live anywhere they want and be protected?”

Mark
Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Anderson Jones Sr. walks through the living room in his home in Fitler, Mississippi, on Oct. 3, 2019. Black mold grew on everything in the house during months of flooding this summer. A watermark from flooding in 1973 is also visible on the beams.

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Anderson Jones Sr. had lived through floods before, but he says, “2019 outdid all of them.”

More than half a million acres of land in Mississippi went underwater in late February, and remained submerged for more than six months. Two people drowned, hundreds of homes were affected, and about 220,000 acres of farmland went unplanted. Beyond the black mold, destroyed homes, and empty fields, the flood also left its mark on how residents see themselves and their place in the nation.

Locals dubbed this year’s flood the forgotten flood, as the wet months garnered little national attention amid flooding and other natural disasters elsewhere. The phrase also echoes many residents’ complaints that the federal government broke a promise of flood protection.

“I don’t like politics,” says Victoria Darden, a farmer in Onward, Mississippi, who mostly kept her opinions to herself before the flood. “But I know that it matters and if you want change, you’ve got to speak up, you’ve got to be involved in it. That’s the only way.”

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Mississippi’s forgotten floods: When nation looks away, locals unite

His house had become an island. A ring of sandbags protected it from the stagnant water that filled the surrounding fields and covered the dirt road. But it didn’t keep out invaders. 

Marooned at his Fitler, Mississippi, home for days at a time, Anderson Jones Sr. had to mount a defense. So he set up a metal folding chair under the carport, grabbed his shotgun, and waited.

It didn’t take long for them to come. Enticed by the dry land, snakes – usually cottonmouths – slithered over the sandbags. Crack, crack, the shots rang out. On one day, Mr. Jones says, he shot 12.

When the flood began in February, Mr. Jones’s family escaped to higher ground. But he was determined to defend his home. 

That wasn’t a simple task. Mr. Jones has diabetes and was in a car accident in 1990 that left him walking with a cane and a brace on his leg. With his car parked on high ground a couple of miles away, a trip to the store for food or medication became an ordeal. He’d wade, boat, and sometimes drive a four-wheeler through the water. 

But come mid-May, snakes were the least of his worries. The water was rising again, quickly this time, and threatening to breach the sandbag levee. Mr. Jones had lived through floods before, but he says, “2019 outdid all of them.”

More than half a million acres across several counties in Mississippi went underwater in late February, and remained submerged for more than six months. Two people drowned, hundreds of homes were affected, and about 220,000 acres of farmland went unplanted. 

“It felt like it was never going to end,” says Victoria Darden, a farmer in Onward, Mississippi. “This has probably been the toughest year of my life.”

The floodwaters didn’t recede until early August, making the length of the flood one for the history books. But the flood left behind more than destroyed homes, empty fields, and black mold. It also left its mark on how residents see themselves and their place in the nation.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Victoria Darden, a farmer in Onward, Mississippi, stands on a small levee that shielded her parents’ house from floodwaters. The fields are dry on Oct. 2, 2019, but months of flooding prevented the Dardens from planting any crops this year.

“Ain’t no place like home”

The Mississippi River holds a special place in American lore – both historical and fictional. It practically bisects the country and is the main route to the sea for American agricultural exports. 

The river also drains 41% of precipitation that falls across the contiguous United States. That makes it the largest drainage basin in the world, covering more than 1,245,000 square miles across 31 states. 

That’s a lot of water flowing through the more southerly states. Every second, approximately 3.7 million gallons of water rush by Vicksburg, Mississippi. That’s on an average day. When the river is above flood stage, that volume can more than triple.

Vicksburg’s elevation places it well out of the flood zone, but the wedge of land to the north between the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers is flat and low-lying. Today, tall levees line both rivers, constraining them to their channels. Floodgates drain rainwater out of that wedge of land, dubbed the Yazoo Backwater Area. 

SOURCE: US Army Corps of Engineers
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The stage was set for the extended backwater flooding long before Mr. Jones sloshed to his car. The 12-month period from July 2018 to June 2019 was the wettest the nation has ever experienced on record, swelling the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers above flood stage even before 2019 began. With the rivers already above capacity, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the floodgates. So when rain fell in the backwater area, there was nowhere for it to go. 

“It just kept pushing up, kept coming,” Mr. Jones says. “By then it was too late to get anything out – I lost everything in the house.”

Mr. Jones and his son made a daring escape through the floodwaters at 2 a.m. on May 19. Water was rushing into the house, and Mr. Jones worried what might happen if it reached the electrical sockets. So in the dark and drizzle, father and son waded to the little boat, leaving their family home and everything remaining in it behind. 

Mr. Jones walks through the house on a steamy October day, using his cane to point out a watermark about a foot above the floor on the beams that remain. The house has been stripped of its mold-infested contents. The interior walls are just frames. While many residents are tearing down their destroyed homes and starting fresh, Mr. Jones is determined to keep his childhood home.

“Ain’t no place like home,” he says. 

Top of mind

Even after the land is dry, remnants of the flood linger in residents’ yards – and minds. 

“A month ago when it started raining after it dried up, I was on edge,” Ms. Darden says. “How much is it going to rain? What is going to happen from here? We’d just dried out. It’s very nerve-wracking.”

The most obvious reminder comes from an intentional display. Handmade yard signs, bumper stickers, and spray-painted rooftops scheduled for demolition declare #FINISHTHEPUMPS. The hashtag refers to a pumping station that was part of a federal plan hatched in response to devastating flooding along the Mississippi River in 1927. 

The plan included a system of levees, floodgates, pumps, and reservoirs to manage flood risk along the river and its tributaries. Bordered by levees keeping both the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers from overflowing into the land, the Yazoo Backwater Area came into being. There’s also a set of floodgates. They can be closed to keep river water from backing up into that wedge of land, or opened to drain rainwater from the land into the rivers. 

The floodgates rely on gravity: The land will only drain if the river is lower than the water levels in the backwater area. So when the gates are closed and a lot of rain falls behind the levees, the water has nowhere to go. (That’s what happened this year.) The original plan included a pumping station that would drain some rainwater from the backwater area into the swollen rivers when the floodgates were closed. 

But the pumps were never installed.  

“They built us a bathtub and never built the drain,” says Redwood resident Stormy Deere, who boated to her elevated home for months.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Stormy Deere holds her cat Zoom on the porch of her home in Redwood, Mississippi, on Oct. 3, 2019. During the height of the flood, she shot snakes from her bathroom window so they wouldn't find their way into the house through vents.

The 2019 flood renewed calls for the pumps. Disgruntled residents like Ms. Deere formed a nonprofit organization called Finish the Pumps. They’ve also dubbed the natural disaster “The Forgotten Backwater Flood” to illustrate their sentiment of feeling left behind among national priorities.

Following decades of delays, the Environmental Protection Agency under the George W. Bush administration vetoed the project in 2008, citing environmental concerns. That veto is challenging to overturn, but it appears advocates for the pumps are gaining some traction now. On Oct. 21, the EPA broke from its long-kept distance and joined residents in a listening session

“We have an ongoing dialogue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) regarding potential options for providing flood protection,” the EPA said in a statement provided to the Monitor. “We remain committed to working actively and cooperatively with the Corps concerning our Clean Water Act programs to support a long-term viable solution.”

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
On April 27, 2019, visitors to Stormy Deere's home wave at reporters from the porch. Friends had waded and boated to bring her company while she recovered from an emergency surgery. Floodwaters had receded some, but they rose again in mid-May.

A cropless year

The field in front of Clay Adcock’s house in Holly Bluff should be a sea of white puffs. Cotton should have been ready for harvest in October. Instead, the only crop the land is producing is dust devils. This year was the first time in 33 years that commercial farmer Mr. Adcock didn’t plant anything. 

The flood was a massive financial hit for the 6,000-acre operation, but Mr. Adcock says he’ll be alright. He built a levee around his home and much of his farm equipment that kept the water from causing extensive damage. 

“I’m fortunate, I’ve got room enough to build a levee and I’ve got the money to do it, and so I could do it,” he says, estimating that he spent about $30,000 building the levee. “But there’s a world of people out there that cannot do that.”

Agricultural losses account for much of the financial hit of the flooding. As such, environmentalists like Louie Miller, state director of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, have expressed concern that spending federal money to install the pumps would be catering too much to the economic interests of a select few.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Clay Adcock stands in a field that was supposed to be filled with cotton ready for picking on Oct. 3, 2019.

Every dollar spent operating the pumps would yield $1.40 savings in flooding damage, according to 2007 Army Corps estimates. But that’s only after installation – which was priced at $200 million in 2008. That figure would likely be higher today.

A project of that scale would have to be federally funded. And getting approval for federal funds is tricky for such a sparsely populated area. It raises broader questions about our national infrastructure priorities, that resonate beyond the riverbanks of the Mississippi to coastal areas facing rising seas and intensifying hurricanes

“That’s kind of a question for America writ large: Should people be able to live anywhere they want and be protected, or at least have the feeling of being protected from floods?” says Martin Doyle, a professor of river science and policy at Duke University who grew up in the Mississippi Delta. 

“You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else”

For renters, a devastating flood can be especially destabilizing. Kenneth Parker had been saving up money to buy the land and the trailer home where he lived with his wife and their four children. But when water swept through his neighborhood in Eagle Lake, the trailer was destroyed and his landlady sold the plot to someone else. 

“I had nothing to fall back on,” Mr. Parker says. “We lost everything.”

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Kenneth Parker rented a trailer home in Eagle Lake, Mississippi, before flooding drove him and his family out. On Oct. 2, 2019, he sits at The Beechwood Restaurant after work before driving two hours to the temporary rental where he and his family still live.

The family found a temporary place to stay in another county, but Mr. Parker now drives two hours each way to work while his wife home-schools their children. But Warren County is home for Mr. Parker, and he hopes to return.

There’s a silver lining to this year’s flood, says Ms. Darden. Neighbors have become closer friends and teammates, piling sandbags together and organizing calls to elected officials.

“In an average year, you couldn’t ask for a better place to live. The community is wonderful, the people are very caring … everybody helps everybody. It’s just tightknit, small-town USA,” Ms. Darden says. “I personally had not seen this community come together like this. It was very moving, very emotional – but you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

The flood also left its mark on Ms. Darden. 

Before, she wasn’t one to rock the boat. As a young female farmer, she was shy and kept her thoughts to herself. But as the flood wore on, she attended many community meetings. Older residents like Mr. Jones and Mr. Adcock spoke about the pumps, and she began to do some research about the history of flood control in the region. That’s when something changed in her.

“I don’t like politics,” Ms. Darden says. “But I know that it matters and if you want change, you’ve got to speak up, you’ve got to be involved in it. That’s the only way.” She now serves on the board of Finish the Pumps. 

This story was produced with support from the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources and from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

 

SOURCE: US Army Corps of Engineers
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. In Jordan’s desert, ancient rock art finds modern defenders

Jordan's Bedouins once derided and even defaced precious stone carvings millennia old. But now, in defending them, these same people are finding a larger sense of pride and identity.

Mark
Taylor Luck
Mohammad Domian, Wadi Rum Protective Area official and lead rock art ranger, checks on 3,000-year-old Bedouin rock art, one of 45,000 examples of ancient inscriptions in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, November 19, 2019.

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The carvings of Wadi Rum are as diverse as the history of these sandy crossroads between Arabia, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. But until recently they didn’t resonate with local Bedouins, who saw only indecipherable scripts and primitive drawings. 

Now, armed with smartphones and fired by cultural pride, the Bedouins have become protectors of the past. The 278-square-mile area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is being mapped and monitored by participants in a U.S.-funded cultural heritage project in Jordan. 

With an app, rangers assign GPS locations, check on the inscriptions’ status, and list any threats they face. Experts say the valley holds as many as 45,000 inscriptions, some dating back to 10,000 years ago. 

Site managers have persuaded the local community that the artworks are their cultural heritage, not a foreign imposition. 

“There is a sense that in Jordan all these civilizations that passed through here were a series of foreign empires that came and went and had nothing to do with us,” says Nizar al Adarbeh, a senior official in the project. 

“But it was our ancestors who built these monuments and cities, left behind art and poetry. The names of the empires may change, but it is the same people.”

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In Jordan’s desert, ancient rock art finds modern defenders

Mohammed Domian positions his mobile phone over the car-sized rock, peering at the carved outlines of a hunter, an ostrich, a lion, and an obscure line of text chiseled millennia ago.

“‘Qamat son of Khalaf’,” Mr. Domian says, reading the script on his screen. “No change.” 

He clicks his phone. Upload sent. 

This vast and still valley in southern Jordan that T.E. Lawrence called “echoing and god-like” cradles a sandstone sea of rock art: waves of carved camels, hunters, poems and other writings in alien-looking hieroglyphics and ancient Arabic splashed across cliffs, boulders, and cave walls.

Once you notice it, you see it everywhere.

Or you can also overlook the rough-hewn art, as many local Bedouins did for many years, dismissing its indecipherable scripts and primitive drawings as “meaningless.” Or, worse, disfigure the ancient inscriptions with graffiti “I was here.”

Those days are over. Today, Bedouins admonish anyone who tries to write on the rose-red rocks and alert managers of sites that are at risk of damage. Armed with smartphones and fired by cultural pride, they have become protectors of the past.

“Don’t touch or write on these inscriptions,” says elder Mohammed Al Howaity. “That would be insulting our ancestors and destroying our inheritance.”

The carvings of Wadi Rum are as diverse as the history of these rugged sandy crossroads between Arabia, the Mediterranean, and North Africa.

Much of the art and inscriptions are in Thamudic, or Safaitic; the script, of Bedouin tribes who lived in northern Arabia over 3,000 years ago, a presumed precursor to Arabic and Aramaic.

Then came the Nabataeans, who built an empire from their third-century B.C. capital of Petra, and carved pictures and script in their own language that derived from Thamudic.

Cliff walls here also include messages and Koranic verses in Kufic – an early Arabic script. Then there are the primitive petroglyphs, stick men, women, animals and undecipherable symbols that predate all those civilizations by thousands of years.

These signposts of 12,000 years of continuous human desert life represent an evolution of human thought and language played out before your very eyes.

Taylor Luck
Wadi Rum – the desert valley in southern Jordan – is home to a sea of rock art and inscriptions stretching back several thousand years. Bedouin guides help protect the ancient works, November 19, 2019.

Global heritage

In 2011, UNESCO inscribed Wadi Rum as a World Heritage Site. It designated its 278 square miles as a mixed natural and cultural site of “outstanding universal value,” and said the inscriptions were “one of the world’s richest sources of documentation” of civilizations over millennia. To protect Wadi Rum, archaeologists adopted a Rock Art Stability Index to create an Arabic app-ready documentation tool and database of Rum’s rock art and inscriptions. 

For the past two years, Bedouin rock-art rangers have used their smartphones to document, photograph and measure over 12,500 pieces of rock art and inscriptions, supported by SCHEP (Sustainable Cultural Heritage Through Engagement of Local Communities Project), a USAID-funded organization for Jordanian cultural heritage.

Rangers were taught to read and write the various symbols and scripts; a translation guide has been shared with local schools. 

Project organizers – which include American Center of Oriental Research and Queen’s University at Kingston – brought scholars from Jordanian universities well-versed in Nabataean and Thamudic inscriptions to teach site staff and Bedouin rangers who can now read and write the various symbols and languages.

With the app, rangers are assigning a GPS location to each marking, tracking their current physical status, and listing near-term and long-term threats posed by humans, the environment, or tourism development. Experts say the valley holds as many as 45,000 inscriptions. 

Taylor Luck
Mohammad Domian photographs rock art with a new documentation app in Wadi Rum, Jordan, on November 19, 2019. The supporting USAID program is designed to promote education, employment, and economic development in Jordan.

Mr. Domian, a site manager and lead rock ranger, has taught 25 Bedouin tour guides from Rum and the surrounding villages how to read and interpret the rock art. He and others have also tried to convince the community that the artworks are their cultural heritage, not a foreign imposition

“There is a sense that in Jordan all these civilizations that passed through here were a series of foreign empires that came and went and had nothing to do with us,” says Nizar al Adarbeh, chief of party at USAID SCHEP, which is promoting a similar community-based approach to conservation at six other sites in Jordan.

“But it was our ancestors who built these monuments and cities, left behind art and poetry. The names of the empires may change, but it is the same people.”

All it takes is a little context and a few minutes over heavily-sugared tea with local residents to see how strong the links are to the past.

Most of the rock art shows ancient tribespeople hunting in a way very similar to that of today – with dogs, on a camel, using traps – and after prey such as rabbits.

Other inscriptions include devotions to religious deities such as the Nabataean god Allat and even Koranic verses. (Locals here, as in other rural communities in Jordan, write similar messages in Arabic on rocks, street walls, and highway signs.)

Some geometric shapes and lines are tribal symbols, signposts marking property to outside visitors; until the 1950s, a similar tradition was carried out by tribes here.

Love, actually

Rum’s ancient Bedouins also wrote on a subject that remains close to the hearts of young men and women: love.

“Most of these inscriptions are people’s names or declarations of love, just as young men today put a heart and their name next to their sweetheart’s,” says Mr. Domian.

“It shows that after all these thousands of years and after all this technology, things have not really changed at all.”

Bedouin guides and locals have also discovered that many of their Bedouin predecessors had names like Saleh, Omar, Ali, Saad, and Odeh, names that remain popular 2,000 years later.

The ancient art is a draw for tourists who number around 4,000 daily. Jazi al Manajaa has worked in the tourism industry for only a year but he already has a solid grasp on the importance of the inscriptions.

“The Thamudic era or the Nabataeans all lived a similar life to us today and left behind a guide to our shared way of life,” Mr. Manajaa says. “We have so much history to share with the world, not just our desert.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include mention of USAID SCHEP partners American Center of Oriental Research and Queen’s University at Kingston.

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The Ten

How people use the Commandments in daily life

4. Is saying ‘I’d kill for those shoes’ OK? One woman and Sixth Commandment.

For Marilyn Price, “Thou shalt not kill” points inward – to the importance of making her own life a gift to the world. Part 7 in a series looking at the Ten Commandments through modern lives.

Mark
Ann Hermes/Staff
Puppeteer and author Marilyn Price shows her studio at her home in Evanston, Illinois, on Nov. 15, 2019. “All of my puppets tell stories about living your best life,” she says.

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Marilyn Price’s favorite thing is puppeteering – using puppets to tell stories. She chooses stories, often classics like “The Little Engine That Could,” that show children how to make their own lives better.

In addition to being puppeteer for the Chicago Public Library for 40 years, Ms. Price is an author, educator, foundation head, networker, and all-around resource person to many. In everything she does, she sees herself as a “connector,” seeking out opportunities to engage in life. “People need to learn to live a good life,” she says.

Ms. Price shared her thoughts about the Sixth Commandment – “Thou shalt not kill” – as part of the Monitor’s series examining the ways ancient ideas like the Ten Commandments continue to matter in modern life.

“Teaching good choices is the closest we get to the Commandments these days,” Ms. Price says. Her aim is to show good choices in action – taking care of each other, showing loyalty, using time wisely, working together. But she doesn’t tell her listeners what to think about the stories she presents. “A good story is open enough that it allows you to put in your own thoughts,” she says.

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Is saying ‘I’d kill for those shoes’ OK? One woman and Sixth Commandment.

Though she’s admittedly “well beyond retirement age,” there’s nary a rocking chair in sight for Marilyn Price.

Performer, author, educator, foundation head, networker, and all-around resource person to many, she keeps moving, her proudest distinction her 40 years as puppeteer to the 80-branch Chicago Public Library. This month alone, she is performing in a Utah children’s museum, performing again near Seattle, reading at a West Coast bookstore, and teaching California teachers about using the arts in education. This, after spending a weekend in New York City with her daughter and grandchildren, and before meeting up with her son’s family for Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.

In between, back home in Evanston, Illinois, she’s overseeing installation of puppet stages in each of the Chicago public libraries, and participating in end-of-life decision-making as part of her local hospital’s ethics committee. She describes herself as a “connector,” ever seeking out, learning about, and even eavesdropping (“peripheral listening,” she calls it) for opportunities to engage in life. She gobbles up interactions and lesson-illustrating experiences, absorbing stories and recounting them as she goes. “People need to learn to live a good life,” she says.

In the Judaism that underpins her decisions, the injunction against harming others also includes a moral imperative to make one’s own life matter. “I need to use it to make a difference,” Ms. Price says. “[Judaism] also commands you to judge carefully – not to judge the way other people live.”

She shared her thoughts about the Sixth Commandment – Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13) – as part of the Monitor’s series exploring how people of different faiths use the Ten Commandments’ ancient principles in their modern lives. The word “kill” in Hebrew translates as, roughly, “murder.”

In town for meetings, Ms. Price chatted one rainy night recently at a favorite Philadelphia hotel that she considers to be a place of calm amid her travels.

Her favorite thing is puppeteering – using puppets to tell stories. She chooses stories, often classics, that show children how to make their own lives better. “The Little Engine That Could” is a perennial favorite, she says.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Marilyn Price works with one of her puppets, Mrs. Goose, which was created for visits to children's hospitals, in her home studio in Evanston, Illinois, on Nov. 15, 2019. She has been puppeteer to the 80-branch Chicago Public Library for 40 years.

Ms. Price also runs a foundation helping teachers use the arts in school. So when she’s not talking “The Little Red Hen” with children, she’s talking “tri-braining,” multiple intelligences, and pedagogies with grown-ups.

A management consultant early in her career, she did her first puppet show at a holiday celebration at her synagogue, hiding behind an upright piano with a friend who, like her, was expecting her first baby. When, as a new mother, Ms. Price didn’t want to return to an office, she, along with her friend, pursued other synagogue gigs, and eventually she became the Chicago Public Library’s official puppeteer. She says she did “pieces no one wanted to do, in neighborhoods no one wanted to go into,” and before long, she got a break through Burr Tillstrom, of early TV’s legendary “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” show, for a children’s display as part of an exhibit about Pompeii at the Art Institute of Chicago. From there, she expanded into storytelling for adults – who tend to be a bit uncomfortable around the puppets, “at least at first,” she says.

Ms. Price, married 51 years, her two children raised, and now a grandmother, has a get-things-done approach that goes way back. She and her husband were raised in different movements of Judaism – she in the more liberal Reform tradition and he in Conservative – and as a compromise between the two traditions, the couple founded a Reconstructionist congregation in Evanston, which is still going strong.

“Teaching good choices is the closest we get to the Commandments these days,” Ms. Price says, overt religion being a non-starter in the mostly secular institutions where she makes her way. She taps sources as diverse as Hans Christian Andersen, Italian folklore, American classics, and the Old Testament of the Bible, whose stories are familiar to both Jews and Christians. Her aim is to show good choices in action – taking care of each other, showing loyalty, using time wisely, paying attention, remaining steadfast, working together. She doesn’t tell her listeners what to think about the stories. “A good story is open enough that it allows you to put in your own thoughts,” she says.

In moral decision-making, “one question people often find helpful to ask themselves is, ‘To what extent is your religious journey and your faith perspective affecting your ordinary life?’” says Rabbi David Teutsch, professor emeritus of contemporary Jewish civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. Dr. Teutsch, a longtime friend and colleague of Ms. Price, says that, of all the laws and commands governing Jewish practice, “the most central commandment is ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Marilyn is the embodiment of that kind of commitment. She has made a serious commitment to directly impacting for good the lives of people that she can reach.”

Ms. Price dislikes even the mention of violence. If you say, “I’d kill for those shoes,” you’ll likely rub her the wrong way. But using her Jewish tradition, as well as her own experience and reflections, she modifies and expands on the Ten Commandments to add dimension to her moral reasoning. When it comes to issues like self-defense, abortion, and end-of-life decisions, “there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ there,” she says, adding that she may have more ifs than others, a result of her tendency to overthink things.

“Everything I do is based on these precepts,” she says of her Jewish faith tradition. That tradition takes center stage in her current project, a children’s edition of “From Gratitude to Blessings and Back,” a book she co-wrote with Dr. Teutsch. The book wraps personal reflections and stories in with ancient Jewish blessings that highlight the presence of God in virtually every aspect of life, from eating and drinking to resolving conflict. She is especially fond of the awakening blessing: “Blessed are you, Eternal One our God ... who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids.”

Her favorite blessing, though, is prayed during times of gratitude, which she believes is the first step in passing good fortune forward:

“Blessed are you, Eternal One our God, the sovereign of all worlds whose name is Good and to whom it is good to give thanks.”

Part 1: The Commandments as a moral source code in modern life

Part 2: How does the First Commandment fit in today?

Part 3: ‘I have to have humility’: How Second Commandment helped man find freedom

Part 4: One woman embraces Third Commandment in feeding 1,600 at Thanksgiving

Part 5: ‘Remember the sabbath’: How one family lives the Fourth Commandment

Part 6:Growing up is hard’: How Fifth Commandment guided a child during divorce

Part 7: Is saying ‘I’d kill for those shoes’ OK? One woman and Sixth Commandment.

Part 8: Is chastity old-fashioned? An NFL veteran’s take on Seventh Commandment.

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. How to feed an island: Try World Central Kitchen.

In the Bahamas, one nonprofit is offering a different vision of disaster relief after Hurricane Dorian. Yes, it is cooking much-needed food, but it is also building new resilience among those it helps.

Mark

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Two months after Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas – the country’s worst storm – there is nowhere to eat.

Some people have food, but not stoves, or enough propane to power them. The first supermarket reopened Nov. 7 – but without jobs for two months, many lack the cash. There are no restaurants. There is the Haitian man who barbecues chicken at night, and the other man who dives by day and makes conch salad from a perch on a stone wall off the turquoise waters, a glimmer of what life here used to look like. 

For the most part, there is just World Central Kitchen: the global humanitarian nonprofit where cooks become disaster relief workers, and food assistance goes well beyond dried food rations and packaged meal kits. 

Today, relief chef Brian Myers is overseeing the stirring of 120 pounds of rice, cooking alongside the makings of a red beef curry. By the time this team is done, their location will have fed lunch to 5,674 people spanning 100 miles, some of them remote cays. But World Central Kitchen’s overarching goal is rebuilding food resiliency, not dependence. Here, that means training local staff, handing out vouchers for propane, and eventually setting up a farmers market.

“You work yourself out of a job, and that’s the goal,” says Mr. Myers.

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How to feed an island: Try World Central Kitchen.

In a makeshift kitchen – set up under a white tent in a parking lot – three chefs and another dozen volunteers and local hires are making lunch for those in need. But this is no soup kitchen. The crew is creating a fresh red curry beef for everyone remaining on this Bahamian island after Category 5 Hurricane Dorian struck here Sept. 1, sweeping homes out to sea, crushing others, and cutting up electricity lines and pipes that still aren’t functioning two months later.

“Fire’s on,” yells Brian Myers, a former Arabic linguist in the U.S. military. He was working as a pastry chef in Oregon when Dorian hit the Abaco Islands and took up the call from World Central Kitchen, the humanitarian nonprofit where cooks become disaster relief workers and food assistance goes well beyond dried food rations and packaged meal kits. 

Mr. Myers picks up a giant silver paddle and oversees the stirring of rice, which he calls “pushing,” all 120 pounds of it simmering in a giant paella pan. Another six are stewing beef, curry paste, fresh purple cabbage, diced carrots, squash, and wedges of green pepper. By the time they are done, this location will have fed lunch to 5,674 people spanning about 100 miles, some of them remote cays.

“There is no one we aren’t reaching, to be blunt,” says Sam Bloch, the director of field operations, who arrived on this island the day after the hurricane in a helicopter with World Central Kitchen founder and celebrity chef José Andrés. Since then, the group has prepared more than 2 million meals across the Bahamas, delivering them to central hubs like clinics or damaged schools. Food is brought by car into communities where residents don’t have transportation – driver Shirley Dorsett calls out “manje cho,” Creole for hot food, in the many Haitian immigrant communities that dot the island – and via speedboat to reach the archipelago’s cays.

The staff starts at 6 a.m. and lunch is served around noon. And then they start all over again – for dinner.

Sudden scarcity

In the wake of the worst storm to hit the Bahamas, there is nowhere to eat. Some people have canned or dried goods, but they don’t have stoves, or enough propane to power them. The first supermarket just reopened Nov. 7 – but without jobs for two months, many lack the cash to buy groceries. There are no restaurants. There is the Haitian man who barbecues chicken at night, and the other man who dives by day and makes conch salad from a perch on a stone wall off the turquoise waters, a glimmer of what life in Marsh Harbour used to look like. For the most part, there is just World Central Kitchen.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Sam Bloch, director of field operations for World Central Kitchen, talks about the logistics of feeding thousands of people for months.

The storm left an estimated 70,000 people homeless in the two northern islands hit, the Abacos and Grand Bahama. About half of all standing structures were damaged or destroyed. “This is something we’ve never experienced before. It’s not like where someone has a home, and everyone else can come to that home,” says local Diane Russell, who oversees paper inventory for World Central Kitchen. “There is nowhere to go.” 

Even those with the means to cook, or fly in their own food, eat with World Central Kitchen because it allows them to focus on other needs, like clean-up, rebuilding, and grieving. 

Anyone is welcome. On a recent day at the Central Abaco Primary School, residents are joined by military, police, and relief workers. “They don’t have to do this, but they care enough about the people to do this for us,” says Monique Green, who is waiting in line for lunch and says she lost everything, “except my car and my life, thanks to God.”

The World Central Kitchen, funded by donors, foundations, and businesses, was created amid the destruction of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and became a major player in disaster relief after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Many of those working in the Bahamas today met one another there. Today the group deploys wherever there is disaster, from Uganda to the U.S.-Mexico border to California, where they feed those displaced by the state’s raging wildfires.

Here, where Dorian killed 67 and left hundreds missing, the group mobilized 30 vehicles, five helicopters, two seaplanes, a 220-foot ship, an amphibious vehicle, and four speedboats, often partnering with other organizations for transport, distribution, and kitchen help. Supply chains have been destroyed, one of several logistical challenges they face daily. “Nothing is working the way it should – like have you ever thought about what the word windshield means?” says Mr. Bloch. “No, you don’t until you get in a car with no windshield. Oh, I get it. It’s a wind shield.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Food with a vision

Each of their meals is analyzed by an in-house nutritionist, but designed with a chef’s perspective, creating dignified, healthy food that makes people feel, essentially, human. “We usually try to put beans into almost every rice dish. But today we are making a nice red curry, so we want that contrast of color so we want some nice pretty white rice with that red curry over the top,” says Mr. Myers. They quickly learned about sòs, citrusy sauces favored by the Haitian community that migrated here for work, so they add citrus fruits where they can to make “comfort food.”

The group’s overarching goal is food resiliency, being mindful that they don’t create dependence. In Abaco that means training local staff, handing out vouchers for propane, and eventually setting up a farmers market, where people can obtain their own fresh produce or bread. Ms. Green, in the lineup, says for as much as she is grateful for the food, she is eager to cook her own. 

“The people of the Bahamas are very resilient, and definitely it’s been amazing to see the evolution of being here from the beginning,” says Mr. Bloch, “when people were just in shock, to then ‘Brush off, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.’”

As Abaco slowly begins to rebuild, World Central Kitchen braces for the rhythm to intensify. After a crush in the beginning, meal prep waned after mass evacuations, and now is steadily increasing as people return home. And the kitchen keeps humming. Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” plays on the speakers. 

“You push hard for a period of four months, and you go home. You work yourself out of a job, and that’s the goal,” says Mr. Myers, who after a 24-year stint in the military became a chef and now a relief chief. “This organization comes in with a good plan. They come in fast, and they leave with an exit plan. It’s not, ‘Ok we’re done, thanks, bye.’ And when they make the [next] call and say, ‘When can you be there?’ I say ‘Tomorrow. I will figure it out.’”

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The Monitor's View

Rethinking farms and food in the AI age

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Artificial intelligence is rapidly reshaping agriculture with innovations like driverless tractors, robotic seed-planters, and drone crop sprayers. This shift could easily cause worry among those skeptical of technologies with little human touch and especially among those whose jobs get plowed under. AI, in fact, could radically change the current model of farm ownership.

This raises a question: If data-driven companies take over much of the actual agricultural work, will traditional farmers be a thing of the past? And how will today’s food consumers relate to farming by big data?

There’s reason not to despair. Technological innovation in agriculture solves numerous problems. AI farming promises fewer greenhouse gas emissions and higher efficiency – leading to more, healthier crops. Even though it will likely displace workers, there is already a notable skills gap in the agricultural equipment industry. Further development may open up more jobs and ease the load on overburdened farmers.

Regulation may not yet be robust, but it’s catching up. Those officials responsible for oversight – in the U.S. and abroad – must require a careful, responsible approach from tech companies. AI farming is no longer the Wild West of change, but it’s not the city quite yet.

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Rethinking farms and food in the AI age

Tomorrow’s farmlands will look very similar to those of today. Tomorrow’s farmers, though, will look quite different.

Artificial intelligence is already reshaping agriculture with innovations like driverless tractors, robotic seed-planters, and drone crop sprayers. Such inventions are driving a competition to develop the first farm with equipment that is fully autonomous, perhaps within five years.

This shift toward automation could easily cause worry among those skeptical of technologies with little human touch and especially among those whose jobs get plowed under. AI, in fact, could radically change the current model of farm ownership. Farmers may, for example, lease their equipment because of the high cost of new machines. Manufacturers, meanwhile, will want to track the data of their equipment to both refine their inventions and keep farmers as dependent customers. This raises a question: If data-driven companies take over much of the actual agricultural work, will traditional farmers be a thing of the past? And how will today’s food consumers relate to farming by big data?

There’s reason not to despair. Technological innovation in agriculture solves numerous problems. AI farming promises fewer greenhouse gas emissions and higher efficiency – leading to more, healthier crops. Even though it will likely displace workers, there is already a notable skills gap in the agricultural equipment industry. Further development may open up more jobs and ease the load on overburdened farmers. Thus, when a team of engineers launched what they said was the world’s first autonomous tractor in Britain two years ago, many farmers applauded.

In general, misuse of data by big data firms has given the public cause to question large corporations. Agriculture is no exception. Yet the shift toward high-tech farming comes at a time of higher public awareness. Regulation may not yet be robust, but it’s catching up. Those officials responsible for oversight – in the U.S. and abroad – must require a careful, responsible approach from tech companies. AI farming is no longer the Wild West of change, but it’s not the city quite yet.

Past disruption in other industries provides examples for how to manage this change. Government, consumers, and corporations can ask what kind of agricultural world they want to live in, even before there is a clear view of tech’s consequences. Even with the introduction of bigger, more central farming methods, some farmers are moving in the other direction. A recent Monitor article documented the rise in silvopasture, an age-old farming method that manages grazing, livestock farming, and tree cultivation, which is ranked as the world’s ninth most impactful climate change solution. It represents movement toward the local, to more responsible, personal relationships with the land on which farmers rely. It also signals that, while the agricultural industry as a whole may become more corporate, what will remain are farmers who still tend the earth and reap its fruits in return.

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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.

God’s love leads the way

Steve Ryf
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Each day we can be grateful for the presence of God that leads us forward and fills our hearts with hope and joy.

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God’s love leads the way

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Your Spirit consoles us. We’re safe in Your keeping.
When roads are uncharted, Your love shows the way.
Where new hope is springing You fill us with singing;
Your presence delights us with each dawning day.

—Ruth Duck, “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 593

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Viewfinder

Feeding 5,000

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Chefs add green peppers to a hot lunch prepared by the nonprofit World Central Kitchen for people affected by Hurricane Dorian on Great Abaco Island, Bahamas. Most people on the island lost everything – homes, cars, and belongings. The island has no electricity, no running water and no grocery store. Click the link below to see more images of their work.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 2nd, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. Tomorrow, on Thanksgiving Day in the United States, we’ll be sending you a special holiday edition of the Monitor Daily. Also look for a special edition of the Daily on Friday. The regular Daily will return Monday. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 27, 2019
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