2020
February
26
Wednesday

Today’s stories offer a nuanced look at how South Carolina’s black voters are viewing the primary, the shifting political scene in Venezuela, the Amazon through farmers’ eyes, questions about ride-sharing for kids, and a book on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Phantom Lady.”

An outbreak of anti-Muslim violence this week in Delhi might seem familiar – the latest flare-up in centuries-old religious tensions. But it matters far beyond India.

India is a miracle of the modern world. No other nation has a greater diversity of ethnicities, religions, and languages living peacefully and democratically. The British said it would collapse without them. But Mohandas Gandhi turned that into a challenge for his people: “No amount of speeches will make us fit for self-government, it is only our conduct that will fit us for it.”

From that challenge came India’s unique spirit of secularism – a deep-rooted commitment to respecting all religions. The riots this week, considered the worst in decades, point to the need to uphold that legacy unequivocally. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is expressly pro-Hindu and recently passed policies that hundreds of thousands of protesters have said are anti-Muslim. Now, BBC reports that local authorities did little this week to stop attacks against Muslims and Delhi-area mosques in which more than two-dozen people were killed.

Since independence, India has shown by its conduct how a respect for all can help a diverse nation stay together. This week suggests Gandhi’s message remains as urgent and universal as ever. 

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1. Cracks in Biden’s ‘firewall’? Black voters are split in S. Carolina.

In recent primaries, black South Carolinians have swung heavily for the eventual nominee. This time around, though, it’s apparent that they shouldn’t be viewed as a single voting bloc.

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Patrick Semansky/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (second from left) acknowledges attendees after speaking at a campaign event in Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 24, 2020. Standing with the Massachusetts senator are (from left) South Carolina state Rep. Wendy Brawley, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine of Columbia, South Carolina.

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As a Saturday primary vote approaches, South Carolina voter James Morrison says “Joe Biden is a good man, but my vote is not guaranteed.” The Jonesville resident is leaning toward Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

With African Americans including Mr. Morrison representing a growing share of the Democratic Party overall, South Carolina’s “First in the South” primary will offer this cycle’s first real electoral test of that clout.

What began as one of the most diverse Democratic fields in history has been winnowed to an all-white group of candidates. They are courting a primary electorate in this state that is two-thirds African American, and far from unified around any one candidate this year. 

“There are divisions of gender within the black community; there are divisions by age and generation,” says Todd Shaw, who studies social movements within the black community at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Those splits aren’t new, he adds, but with a candidate like Barack Obama they weren’t apparent, because there was consensus around his candidacy. “Those [divisions] certainly emerge,” Professor Shaw says, “when there’s greater uncertainty about which candidate could effectively challenge Trump and is electable.”

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Cracks in Biden’s ‘firewall’? Black voters are split in S. Carolina.

Sitting on a cluster of chairs next to an abandoned softball field, Deacon James Morrison and his after-church buddies are busy sorting out the next president of the United States.

The group of mostly older African American men, who get together every Sunday in a kind of makeshift social club, are united in their view that President Donald Trump has drawn the nation into a kind of playground sandbox. And they see him as affront to the legacy of President Barack Obama. 

But that doesn’t mean their support for Mr. Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, is a given.

“Joe Biden is a good man, but my vote is not guaranteed,” says Mr. Morrison, who is leaning toward Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “I’m in nobody’s pocket.”

With African Americans representing a growing share of the Democratic Party overall, South Carolina’s “First in the South” primary will offer this cycle’s first real electoral test of that clout. What began as one of the most diverse Democratic fields in history has been winnowed to an all-white group of candidates courting a primary electorate here that is about two-thirds African American. And the choices made on Saturday by voters like Mr. Morrison could foreshadow – as well as influence – what happens just three days later on Super Tuesday, when a slew of heavily diverse Southern states, as well as giants like California and Texas, will vote.

“What happens here is going to reverberate through Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and beyond,” says Harold Mitchell, a former member of the South Carolina legislature from Spartanburg, South Carolina. “It’s going to start a wave.”

For Democrats concerned about the rise of the far-left Senator Sanders, South Carolina could be their last chance to boost a moderate alternative. Vice President Biden has long cast the Palmetto State as a “firewall” for his campaign, thanks to the goodwill he enjoys among the state’s African American voters. On Wednesday, he got the official endorsement of influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I know Joe. We know Joe,” Congressman Clyburn said. “But most importantly, Joe knows us.” 

But while most polls still show Mr. Biden in front, the race has dramatically narrowed. Other candidates – such as billionaire Tom Steyer, who has been pouring resources into the state – have been growing their support in the wake of Mr. Biden’s shaky performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Most notably, Senator Sanders has risen sharply, particularly after his decisive victory last Saturday in Nevada. Trounced by Hillary Clinton in South Carolina in 2016, he now has a real shot at winning here, which could make him virtually unstoppable going into Super Tuesday, where 1,400 delegates are in play.

On the surface, a septuagenarian democratic socialist from Vermont may seem to have little in common with black voters in the South. Yet Mr. Sanders’ advocacy for the working class appears to be resonating with many in this industrial and agricultural state, where stark pockets of deep poverty abound.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
James Morrison of Jonesville says he has voted for both Republicans and Democrats, but is eyeing Bernie Sanders as his choice for Saturday's South Carolina primary. He bristles at the idea that black voters should fall into line with establishment Democrats like Joe Biden.

Mr. Morrison, for one, dismisses criticisms of Senator Sanders as a leftist radical. “Those labels just don’t stick with me,” he says. “They called Martin Luther King Jr. a communist, too.”

“Sanders has a strong grassroots organization, legions of small donors, and he has that tailwind of being the major challenger to Clinton in the last election,” says Todd Shaw, who studies social movements within the black community at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia. “Biden, for one, certainly underestimated the strength of Bernie Sanders in South Carolina.”

Unlike 2008 and 2016

Saturday’s primary comes as African American voters have a growing voice in the Democratic Party. They made up 19% of the Democratic primary electorate in 2008; this year, they’re likely to reach 25% or more. In South Carolina, they have often broken decisively for a candidate – helping Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, respectively, secure their paths to the Democratic nomination in 2008 and 2016.

But this year, experts say the African American vote could splinter, particularly as there appears to be little consensus around who would be the strongest candidate to go up against President Trump.

“There are divisions of gender within the black community; there are divisions by age and generation,” says Professor Shaw. Those splits aren’t new, he adds, but with a candidate like Mr. Obama they weren’t apparent, because there was consensus around his candidacy. “But those [divisions] certainly emerge when there’s greater uncertainty about which candidate could effectively challenge Trump and is electable,” he says.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Presidential candidate Tom Steyer shakes hands at an event in Yemassee, South Carolina, Feb. 23, 2020. The California billionaire poured big money into this "first in the South" primary state, touting his "5 Rights" plan for addressing race-based inequities related to economics and the environment. Recent polls show him in third place.

Younger black voters, in particular, are evincing a broader frustration with the Democratic establishment, as reflected in a recent East Carolina University poll, which showed more than half of older African Americans supporting Mr. Biden, while those younger than 35 more likely to support Mr. Sanders or Mr. Steyer. Those trends are mirrored in the growing numbers of younger liberal voters in the South registering as “unaffiliated” instead of as Democrats, says J. Miles Coleman, a political analyst at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

Many of those voters did not cast a ballot in the last presidential election, where black participation dropped by 7%.

“These are voters who are not misinformed, not ill-educated, but registered voters who [in the past] have made an intelligent decision from their standpoint that, ‘My vote is not important, but wasted, and I’m not going to get involved,’” says Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the state’s Democratic Black Caucus.

Some of those disaffected voters, he says, are not only getting involved now, but becoming sounding boards for older voters. “I had a young lady call me in tears, sharing with me that her grandmother called her and ... said to her, ‘Baby, who should I vote for?’” says Mr. Cordero. 

In Tuesday’s contentious Democratic debate, Mr. Biden insisted he was taking nothing for granted. “I’ve worked like the devil to earn the votes of the African American community, not just here but around the country,” he said. He promised to put a black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly, he has also heavily emphasized his ties to former President Obama, says Mr. Coleman. Still, he notes that Michael Bloomberg – who is not on the ballot in South Carolina – has also been running ads that prominently feature Mr. Obama praising the former New York mayor. “Bloomberg, in particular, is trying to steal some of that nostalgic connection that Biden has to Obama – which, if successful, could be very hurtful [to Biden] in a state like South Carolina,” he says.

Race as a campaign issue

Black voters, of course, are united by a common history, one forged by prejudice and suffering. In South Carolina, that past is not that far in the past. In 2015, 150 years after the fall of the Confederacy, South Carolina finally removed the Confederate battle flag from the state grounds, after a white supremacist killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that summer.

Allegations of racism have been a persistent thread in the Democratic contest. Mr. Bloomberg has been attacked over the stop-and-frisk police tactic he once promoted. Mr. Biden has had to defend his support as a senator for an omnibus crime bill that disproportionately affected black people.

In Tuesday’s debate, Mr. Biden attacked Mr. Steyer for his hedge fund’s past investment in a private prison corporation that had been accused of mistreating prisoners. “They hogtied young men in prison here in this state,” he said.

Mr. Steyer responded indignantly, saying he’d sold the stock after investigating, and that he’d worked to eliminate private prisons in California.

On Sunday, reporters asked the California billionaire about allegations he’s been buying endorsements in the state (something Mr. Sanders has also been accused of doing). He told the Monitor that assuming African American lawmakers’ support is for sale “is racist.”

Wearing an Indian bead belt and a loose collared shirt, Mr. Steyer addressed a large crowd of mostly black parishioners at Family Worship Center, in Yemassee, South Carolina, the heart of the Lowcountry.

“We need to tell the truth about 400 years of injustice,” he told the crowd. “And there’s no other way to look at economic and environmental justice other than through race.” 

Mr. Steyer’s push for a race commission, reparations for slavery, and rural infrastructure funding has made him perhaps the most focused of any candidate on African American issues. And his speech resonated among some in the crowd.

Democratic voter Phyllis Grant says she hasn’t decided yet on her choice, but Mr. Steyer’s pitch made a solid impression. When it comes to “education, foreign policy, the economy, and race in America – this is our chance to say where we go next,” says Ms. Grant.

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2. Venezuela is stabilizing. So is Maduro. Too late for US sanctions?

Last year, Venezuela’s authoritarian socialist regime seemed ready to fall. Now, as it recovers, the question is: What will the U.S. do?

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Matias Delacroix/AP
People walk past a sculpture of a hand holding an oil well structure outside Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Jan. 3, 2020.

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For a few hours last April, it appeared that the Venezuelan military was switching its allegiance from President Nicolás Maduro to the country’s self-proclaimed “legitimate” president, Juan Guaidó. Now there are signs that a government that seemed to be on the precipice over the economy and civil rights might end up holding on.

To explain how, regional experts cite a combination of a U.S. policy too reliant on sanctions, a disorganized and uninspiring political opposition, and a population worn down by food shortages, repression, and mounting violence.

Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state, notes that President Donald Trump invited Mr. Guaidó to this year’s State of the Union address. The presidential spotlight, he says, “tells me they [in the White House] have elevated Venezuela again” as a priority, but “time is running short for the U.S. to have the impact it wants.”

But sanctions alone “won’t do it,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas. “Sanctions are good for raising the costs of certain behavior and for causing pain,” he says, “but I’m not aware of any circumstances where sanctions have led to a change in government.”

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Venezuela is stabilizing. So is Maduro. Too late for US sanctions?

When the numbers came in last month on Venezuela’s oil exports for the last half of 2019, they told two stories.

One was of a national industry operating well below the heyday levels of a half-decade ago, when the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves was exporting nearly 2 million barrels of crude a day.

But the numbers also told of a modest recovery in exports that has helped buoy the embattled government of President Nicolás Maduro. Indeed, oil exports that had fallen to a dismal 800,000 barrels per day in August – under pressure of U.S. sanctions on the state oil company PDVSA – recovered to 1.1 million barrels per day in December.

The turnaround in oil sales is just one sign that a government that only months ago had seemed to be on the precipice over a collapsing economy, citizens’ ire over shrinking civil rights and democratic norms, and mounting international pressure, might end up holding on.

President Donald Trump declared a year ago, both in White House meetings and publicly, that Mr. Maduro “has got to go,” and the United States went all in on Venezuela’s young parliamentary leader and self-proclaimed “legitimate” president, Juan Guaidó. But today the Maduro government appears to have stabilized and achieved a new lease on life.

Mr. Maduro’s renewed hold on power could mean the Western Hemisphere has to adjust for the foreseeable future to another authoritarian regime and state-run economy in its midst, some Venezuela experts say. For others, a ramped-up U.S.-led effort to oust Mr. Maduro and return Venezuela to democratic rule can still work, but even they say time is running short.

“Everything suggests that Maduro remains firmly in control – until he’s not,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas in Washington. Fortunes can change precipitously for despots, he adds, “but for right now, if I’m Mr. Maduro I’m thinking I won. And what that portends for the hemisphere is a de facto second Cuba, but this time with oil.”

More in store from Trump?

Some hold out hope that President Trump will get serious about his “Maduro must go” pledge and order measures beyond sanctions before it’s too late.

“Time is running short for the U.S. to have the impact it wants,” says Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President George W. Bush.

Noting that President Trump invited Mr. Guaidó to this year’s State of the Union address, Mr. Noriega, now a visiting fellow on hemispheric affairs at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says the presidential spotlight “tells me they [in the White House] have elevated Venezuela again.” That and other indications from inside sources “give me reason to believe the administration has more in store that will be coming out in the very near future,” he says.

Matias Delacroix/AP
Members of the Bolivarian National Militia arrive to take part in an invasion drill at the 23 de Enero neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 15, 2020. President Nicolás Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, with the participation of civilian militias.

But Mr. Noriega, who is known as a hard-liner on U.S. intervention in Latin American trouble spots, says Mr. Maduro’s downfall will never come from sanctions and soft-power humanitarian interventions alone.

“If you want to dislodge this regime, you’re going to have to use some kind of force,” he says, conjuring up a past of U.S. military or covert interventions in the region that many analysts deem unlikely today.

But Mr. Noriega says he can imagine the U.S. undertaking what he calls “law enforcement” operations, with allies in the region like Colombia and Brazil, to seal off Venezuela and weaken Mr. Maduro by cutting off revenue sources ranging from oil and gold sales to the illegal drug trade.

“I’ve actually used the word ‘quarantine,’” he says, to describe how he believes the Maduro regime might be brought down.

“Sanctions won’t do it”

For a moment last year it looked like Mr. Maduro was indeed on his way out – for a few hours on April 30 it appeared that the Venezuelan military was switching its allegiance from Mr. Maduro to Mr. Guaidó.

To explain how Mr. Maduro has been able to recover, regional experts cite a combination of a U.S. policy too reliant on sanctions, a disorganized and uninspiring political opposition, and a population worn down by food shortages, repression, and mounting violence.

“The Trump administration has pretty much relied on sanctions to get where it wants to go on Venezuela, but sanctions won’t do it,” says Mr. Farnsworth. “Sanctions are good for raising the costs of certain behavior and for causing pain,” he says, “but I’m not aware of any circumstances where sanctions have led to a change in government.”

Last week the Trump administration announced new sanctions on a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosneft Oil Company, which has used its trading companies to throw Mr. Maduro a critical lifeline.

In announcing the new measures, a senior administration official told journalists that sanctions slapped on Venezuela so far have reached perhaps “50 to 60 percent” of a full “maximum pressure” effort, and that Venezuela and countries trading with it should expect a further ratcheting up of punitive steps.

Sergei Chirikov/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in the Kremlin in Moscow, Sept. 25, 2019. The Treasury Department has blocked U.S. companies from doing business with Rosneft Trading SA, accusing the Geneva subsidiary of the Russian state-owned oil giant of enabling Mr. Maduro to bypass U.S. sanctions.

But Mr. Noriega says the administration lost precious time relying on sanctions that were never fully enforced – and on a political opposition in Venezuela better known for infighting than for inspiring Venezuelans to action.

“The administration underestimated the regime and overestimated opposition politicians, who were incapable of fomenting an uprising and are better at seeking pacts and phony elections,” he says.

Buying elites’ loyalty

Another key to Mr. Maduro’s improved political prospects is the way he has managed to solidify the loyalty of Venezuela’s elites, especially the upper echelons of the military, through opportunities to build material wealth and live secure lives with international benefits. Most of those “opportunities” involve illicit activities, from siphoning off oil revenues to coordinating gold and narcotics smuggling, some experts note – allowing Mr. Maduro to trade well-being for loyalty.

Some reports estimate the Maduro government has looted $350 billion of Venezuela’s wealth to keep the military and others, including oil industry elites, in line. “Three hundred and fifty billion dollars will buy you a lot of wiggle room if the cadres at the top can muddle through with their AmEx cards and overseas accounts and properties,” Mr. Noriega says.

Despite what looks like new interest in the Trump administration in bringing change to Venezuela, the Council of the Americas’ Mr. Farnsworth says he sees little reason to think things will be much different a year from now.

Average Venezuelans who have decided to stay put – unlike the nearly 5 million, or about 1 in 7 Venezuelans who have already left, creating Latin America’s largest refugee crisis in modern history – will continue to look for ways to scrape by, he says. A new report from the United Nations’ World Food Program this week finds that 1 in 3 Venezuelans live with hunger.

Mr. Noriega warns that the status quo, as dire as it would be for Venezuelans, would also very likely mean worrisome repercussions for regional stability and eventually even U.S. national security.

“This is not just a regime abusing its people, it’s not just an island [like Cuba] that’s going to be a nuisance,” he says. “This is really now a narco-regime that is a pillar of organized crime and of the spreading instability in the Americas.”

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3. Who owns the Amazon?

The world is keenly aware of the environmental value of the Amazon. But many farmers in Brazil don’t see it. This story looks at the forest – and paths to conservation – through their eyes.

Mark
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
People pass by a mural on an underpass Feb. 1, 2020, in Sinop, Mato Grosso, Brazil. The mural, which was painted in the fall of 2019, was controversial because it showed young climate activist Greta Thunberg. Her image was later painted over with parrots.

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The Amazon has long sat at the crossroads of development and preservation. In the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, one of the world’s agricultural powerhouses, tensions between these two motives have deepened since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro enacted policies that critics say encourage deforestation. At the same time, mounting urgency around global warming has many looking to the preservation of the world’s largest tropical rainforest as a global, high-stakes battle.

Yet current polarization threatens to alienate some of the most important players in the Amazon: farmers, who are under pressure from environmental interests. 

The PCI Institute – which stands for produce, conserve, and include – in the state capital Cuiabá aims to incentivize farmers using statewide carbon market strategies. The program could keep 4 billion tons of CO2 in Mato Grosso’s trees, says Daniel Nepstad, founder of the California-based Earth Innovation Institute.

“A lot of [farmers] went to the Amazon because they weren’t making ends meet,” he says. “They’re there because they love wildlife, they love forests, they love being in the countryside.”

“If we make them into villains,” he says, “they will become villains.”

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Who owns the Amazon?

When local artists this fall painted a portrait of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on the underpass of a notorious highway that slices across the Amazon, the backlash was swift. As one of the most recognized figures in the international environmental movement, the teen’s portrait was so covered in graffiti that authorities had it painted over.

Today, as trucks carrying soy and corn rumble down the BR-163 in the town of Sinop at a gateway of the Amazon, the mural now depicts red and blue macaws. They may be perched tranquilly in the flora, but they stand as a symbol of fraught Amazonian politics.

Ever since settlers carved out the rainforest and turned this state, Mato Grosso, into one of the world’s agricultural powerhouses, tension between development and preservation has persisted. But the gulf has widened since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came into office with a pro-development stance on the Amazon that critics say is emboldening legal and illegal deforestation. At the same time, mounting urgency around global warming has many looking to the preservation of the world’s largest tropical rainforest as a global, high-stakes battle.

Yet current polarization threatens to alienate some of the most important players in the Amazon: conservation-minded farmers who say their preservation work is underappreciated and crucially underfunded.

“The people say, ‘The forest is not bringing me anything. It has no value. Everyone says it is important, but we don’t see it,’” says Fernando Sampaio, the executive director of the PCI Institute – which stands for produce, conserve, and include – in the state capital Cuiabá. The group is devising statewide carbon market strategies to incentivize conservation at a time when clearing remains far more profitable. “So that is the question, how can we create a kind of economy where these environmental assets, like standing forests, are able to generate opportunities for them?”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Vehicles travel on the BR163 highway Feb.1, 2020, in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The road was first constructed in the 1970s to settle the Amazon.

The BR-163 passes Cuiabá as it cuts through the state of Mato Grosso, across the Amazonian biome at Sinop, and finishes at the Amazon River, where products are loaded for export. It was built in the ’70s by Brazil’s military dictatorship to settle the vast territory; the last of the paved portion of the highway was completed in November, helping fill the commodities demand, mainly to China. Today the highway is a constantly nerve-wracking drive around and between heavy trucks.

Brazil’s leading producer of soy, cattle, and cotton, Mato Grosso has spent lots of time in the limelight as environmental pressure has grown. In the decade between 1995 and 2005, its expanding cattle ranches and soy farms were the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon. While the rates have dropped by 80% since 2005, many fear a new era of vulnerability.

That concern was at the center of a diplomatic spat between President Bolsonaro and France’s President Emmanuel Macron this summer. The latter raised alarms over fires in August and demanded more protection of the rainforest. Mr. Bolsonaro shot back, calling out France’s “lamentable colonialist stance.”

Many here appreciate Mr. Bolsonaro’s point of view. Mário Wolf is the owner of Fazenda Gamada, a large-scale soy, feed, and cattle farm in Nova Canaã do Norte. He came here in 1975 at the age of 24, when it was so remote that their only means of communication was sending letters on buses to Cuiabá. He cut through thick rainforest to clear his first 100 hectares of farm. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Mario Wolf, owner of Gamada farm in the Amazon, poses by some of his cattle Jan. 30, 2020, in Nova Canaã do Norte, Mato Grosso, Brazil. The farm is certified by Aliança da Terra's 'Producing Right' platform. Alianca da Terra helps farms meet standards for certification, enabling them to command higher prices from meatpackers.

He considers himself a conservation-minded farmer but is tired of the stigma, especially as laws – among the strictest in the world – have tightened around him. “From the outside people say the Brazilian farmer is a destroyer of nature. We are the best preservers in the world,” he says, wearing a straw hat and bluejeans behind the wheel of his mud-splattered pickup truck on a recent day.

In accordance with Brazil’s Forest Code, his farm is 50% pristine forest, and wildlife abounds. An owl sits perched on a fence post; a coati scurries across the road into a soy plantation; macaws fly overhead. When talking about this summer’s dispute between Presidents Macron and Bolsonaro he stops his car and his voice rises. Why, he asks, isn’t Mr. Macron scolding Australia as wildfires rage? “The world wants the Amazon for itself but doesn’t want to pay anything for it.”

He is working with a group called Aliança da Terra, which has worked with PCI and promotes sustainable farming through a membership platform called Producing Right that guarantees buyers, like supermarket chains, the highest environmental and labor standards. 

The PCI Institute sees a vibrant carbon market as a way to amplify that kind of incentive to the residents across this state. Current initiatives include monitoring illegal deforestation, intensifying production on cleared pastures, and fostering sustainable production.

More than 60% of the forest remains intact in Mato Grosso. But 41% of preserved forest lies on private property – an estimated 7 million hectares of which could be legally cleared, says Mr. Sampaio. That’s tempting to residents as demand for soy is projected to grow by 65 million metric tons by 2029, 50% of that expected to come from Brazil, according to projections from the Dutch banking firm Rabobank.

“[Residents] bear all the costs, and are producing a benefit for climate and biodiversity that is for everyone else. But they don’t have any compensation for that. That is what makes them angry,” he says. “If you go to Texas and tell a farmer that they have to dedicate 50% of their property for conservation, that’s unthinkable.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Cattle graze in a clearing in the Amazonian rainforest at Rio da Mata farm Jan. 29, 2020 in Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso, Brazil. The farm is owned by a family that has legally protected Amazonian rainforest plots on their land under the Forest Code.

The PCI Institute is receiving financing from some European countries for their emissions reduction work. But they are also eyeing a new standard that was approved by the California Air Resources Board in the fall that could potentially include them in a carbon offsets market down the line. 

The Tropical Forest Standard takes a more jurisdictional approach than other big carbon offset models. Rather than focus on single projects, California’s program encompasses entire states or countries.

It’s a framework that could inspire projects that meet, in California’s view, global best practices. It’s already helped foster subnational cooperation, such as the Governors’ Climate & Forests Task Force, which includes 38 states and provinces, including Mato Grosso, since the network formed in 2009.

If successful, the PCI strategy could keep 4 billion tons of CO2 in Mato Grosso’s trees, says Daniel Nepstad, founder of the California-based Earth Innovation Institute, which supports both the PCI strategy and the Tropical Forest Standard. “I think that we’ve sort of lost the support of conservation-minded farmers for the forest issue,” he says. “And this is the first real concrete sign that policy and this network that was launched in 2009 could translate into real incentives for these states and for the farmers in those states.”

Steve Schwartzman, senior director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, says the Mato Grosso strategy has similar win-win potential to the amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1963, which reduced sulfur dioxide emissions even as production grew. “That’s really the holy grail of emissions reductions,” he says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
José Ailton Faris, who is the supervisor at Rio da Mata farm, chats about his work Jan. 29, 2020. He says he has worked on this farm for 18 years because the owners are preservation-minded.

The Tropical Forest Standard, the PCI, and even carbon offsets are not at the front of minds in and around Mato Grosso. They are abstract notions and feel far off. But historic baggage is very much alive – as is the need for solutions to the current cycle of shaming and blaming, argues Andre Pagliarini, an expert on Brazilian politics at Dartmouth College. 

“The best way for the international community to deal with the issue of the Amazon in Brazil, perhaps ironically, is to talk in some ways less specifically about the Amazon,” he says, “but about sustainability, about the commitments that all countries have to each other in fighting climate change, to diffuse the potency of the Amazon as an issue.” 

Otherwise would-be allies could be lost. Or as Mr. Nepstad puts it: “A lot of them went to the Amazon because they weren’t making ends meet, and they’re there because they love wildlife, they love forests, they love being in the countryside.”

“If we make them into villains,” he says, “they will become villains.”

Set off a potholed dirt-track road, where wooden planks traverse brooks, stands the Fazenda Rio da Mata. At 5,000 hectares, the cattle and soy farm belongs to the family who founded Alta Floresta; the first outpost of the town sits inside the property. Four thousand hectares are preserved here, running all the way to the edge of the Teles Pires, one of the most important rivers in the Amazon.

José Ailton Faris, the supervisor here, says his parents, like so many others, came from the south, as poor Brazilians lured by cheap land and the hope of better lives. He supports President Bolsonaro like many here, but that doesn’t mean that he wants the forest destroyed. In fact, he says he’s worked here for 20 years because of the farm’s preservation ethos.

He trudges through thick forest of açai, banana, jatoba, and Brazilian nut. “This,” he says, looking up at the canopy, “is for the world.”

“And,” he adds, “it’s the responsibility of the world to preserve.”

This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

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4. Parents need help driving kids. Are ride-hailing apps the answer?

Would you put your child in a car with a stranger? What if it was a ride-share designed for kids? In an age of endless extracurriculars, some parents are cautiously giving it a try.

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With increasing demands on working couples, a growing number are turning to ride-sharing companies, akin to Uber or Lyft, to transport their children so they can keep up in a culture that thrives on extracurricular activities and extra hours at work.

What started mainly in Silicon Valley is spreading to other parts of the United States – and to school districts – and is causing debate over how and if families should be utilizing new conveniences to help with harried lives. 

A number of the companies started in the past six years, including North Carolina-based GoKart, and several California-based companies such as HopSkipDrive, Kango, and Zūm. HopSkipDrive lets parents book rides for their kids age 6 and up in eight states and Washington, D.C. The company expanded to its 13th city, Las Vegas, in January. Kango expanded to Phoenix in January.  

Tara Vassallo-Soto, in Raleigh, North Carolina, says she felt reassured by the vetting GoKart conducts. She likes that most of the drivers are mothers or grandmothers. The service is less expensive than her prior babysitter, and she’s used it to take her kids home, bring them to gymnastics class, or to meet her at the office. 

“It’s been a godsend to us,” she says. 

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Parents need help driving kids. Are ride-hailing apps the answer?

Tara Vassallo-Soto and her husband knew something had to give. With both parents working full time and four children scattered among three different schools, after-school pickup was a logistical nightmare. 

When a friend introduced her to GoKart, a business specializing in transporting children, Ms. Vassallo-Soto decided to give it a try. The Raleigh, North Carolina-based mother now schedules rides ahead of time through the company’s app and depends on its drivers to pick up her middle and high-school aged kids three or four times a week. 

“You never want to be the parent that’s not able to pick your kids up from school, but we work full time and this is a really good alternative,” says Ms. Vassallo-Soto. 

With increasing demands on working couples, a growing number are turning to ride-sharing companies, akin to Uber or Lyft, to transport their kids so they can keep up in a culture that thrives on extracurricular activities and extra hours at work. What started mainly in Silicon Valley is spreading to other parts of the United States – and to school districts – and is causing debate over how and if families should be utilizing new conveniences to help with harried lives. 

“As a parent, I’d be uncomfortable using it myself,” says Erin Hatton, a sociology professor who studies labor movements and the gig economy at the State University of New York at Buffalo.  

Yet such companies highlight the pressures parents face, Professor Hatton says, with many overburdened with work and family obligations, undersupported by government and employer policies, and expected to enroll their kids in multiple extracurricular activities.  

“I’m not quite sure this [ride-sharing for kids] is the answer, but clearly there is a need to lighten the load and support working parents and working mothers in general,” she says. 

Options for parents grow

A number of companies providing ride services for children started in the past six years, including North Carolina-based GoKart, and several California-based companies such as HopSkipDrive, Kango, and Zūm.

Uber and Lyft ban drivers from giving rides to unaccompanied minors, although a recent poll from the University of Michigan found evidence that teenagers use the services alone. Public transportation isn’t always available for families. 

Fares for HopSkipDrive vary by market and range from a minimum fee for a single-passenger ride of $22 in Washington state to $15 in Colorado. Zūm rides start at $19.50 for solo kids, with cheaper options for carpools. 

Companies like these appeal to affluent parents who are caught in the crosshairs of the dueling societal trends of overworking and rigorous parenting, says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University and board member of the Council on Contemporary Families. 

“You might think if people are dedicating more time to work, then they would dedicate less time to parenting, but that’s actually not true,” says Professor Schoppe-Sullivan. Middle and upper-income parents face a culture of “intensive parenting,” where “parenting requires a lot of investment of time and money to give children every opportunity.”

HopSkipDrive lets parents book rides for their kids age 6 and up in eight states and Washington, D.C. The company just raised $22 million in venture funding and expanded to its 13th city, Las Vegas, in January. Kango expanded to Phoenix in January.  

“A lot of parents need a little extra help. They might not need a full-time nanny, but they don’t want to sacrifice their careers or limit their kids from being able to do activities or even just get to school on time,” says Miriam Ravkin, senior vice president for marketing at HopSkipDrive. 

To assuage parent concerns, HopSkipDrive and other companies highlight the strength of their security measures. HopSkipDrive requires its drivers to undergo multiple background checks including an FBI check, holds in-person interviews, and only hires drivers with at least five years of child care experience. Drivers and children can exchange a secret password, and parents can follow the ride in real time on an app. 

“This company was built by overprotective moms,” says Ms. Ravkin. 

This week, according to local reports, a HopSkipDrive driver appeared in court in Las Vegas. He has been charged with luring a child and unlawful contact with a minor.

“The safety and security of every rider is of utmost importance to us. We have always upheld and enforced stringent safety standards,” HopSkipDrive said in a separate statement to the Monitor. The company reiterated the steps it takes to check its drivers, adding, “We immediately address any allegation that is made and enforce a strict zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. ... We fully cooperate with local law enforcement to support any investigation.”

Still finding solid footing

Despite the growth of specialty ride-hailing companies, there are plenty of potential pitfalls. Several have folded, including the Bay Area’s Shuddle in 2016 and Newton, Massachusetts-based Sheprd in 2018. Both companies ran out of funding, and Sheprd faced permitting problems with the state. 

Another Massachusetts-based service for children, Zemcar, stopped facilitating rides last year, in part because operating costs were too high, says Juliette Kayyem, the company’s CEO. Zemcar pivoted to sell its proprietary technology, including audio and video feeds from inside the car. 

“There’s going to be a price point where parents will begin to balk, where it’s just cheaper to have a babysitter or leave work early,” says Ms. Kayyem, a mother of three who also lectures on security at Harvard University. 

“I think there is a market for it, but we could not figure it out,” she says. “Even if we were to raise $20, 30, 40 million dollars, we could not figure out scale and volume in a fast-enough time frame.” 

Several “Uber for kids” companies are diversifying their business model. HopSkipDrive started partnering with public and private school districts two years ago to provide rides for students in remote areas and for foster or homeless students who live outside the school district but are still entitled to transportation. 

Recently, HopSkipDrive CEO Joanna McFarland told TechCrunch that 70% of the company’s revenue comes from school districts. Zūm has also rolled out partnerships with more than 4,000 school districts in six states and Washington, D.C. 

Some parents and members of the public remain skeptical about putting children in strangers’ cars, no matter how highly vetted. In Raleigh, Ms. Vassallo-Soto says she felt reassured by the vetting GoKart conducts. She likes that most of the drivers are mothers or grandmothers. The service is less expensive than her prior babysitter, and she’s used it to bring her kids home, take them to gymnastics class, or to meet her at the office. 

“It’s been a godsend to us,” she says. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the court appearance of a driver for HopSkipDrive and a statement in response from the company.

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Book review

5. Joan Harrison emerges from Hitchcock’s shadow in ‘Phantom Lady’

She was a graduate of the Sorbonne. Then she answered telephones for Alfred Hitchcock. Then she helped him produce some of his most iconic films. A new book seeks to give a forgotten visionary her due.

Mark
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Joan Harrison emerges from Hitchcock’s shadow in ‘Phantom Lady’

The barrier-breaking career of film and television producer-writer Joan Harrison is notable for its mix of favorable circumstances and dogged persistence.

Lacking any connections to the film industry in the United States or her native England, Harrison found her way into the business through sheer happenstance: A friend showed her a newspaper ad for what turned out to be a secretarial job for legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. 

Harrison parlayed the job with Hitchcock – which, at first, involved such tasks as opening mail and answering the telephone – into work as a producer-writer on his most distinctive films of the late 1930s and early ’40s. Later she asserted her independence by producing her own series of memorable movies for other directors.

Harrison’s staying power in Hollywood can be attributed to her strong-mindedness in an industry that, then as now, seldom made opportunities readily or easily available to women behind the scenes. Despite the imprint she left on the films that bear her name, Harrison has never been the subject of a book-length biography, until now. Film scholar Christina Lane has written “Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock” both as a tribute to Harrison and also as a testament to the large shadow cast by famous directors in Hollywood, especially if they are male.

While acknowledging Hitchcock and Harrison’s creative work together, Lane does not gloss over what can only be described as an at-times toxic work environment. Hitchcock could behave boorishly towards Harrison, notably during an incident in which he read off-color passages from James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” with the intention of breaking through her seemingly steely demeanor. Lane makes no excuses, writing, “His orchestration served no apparent purpose but to provoke a one-sided emotional striptease, intended for his erotic gratification.”

Harrison was accustomed to overcoming obstacles placed in her path. Although born into a family that published a weekly newspaper, Harrison was discouraged when she expressed interest in newspaper work and she was also met with surprise when she announced her intention to go to college. She persevered on the latter front – attending Oxford and the Sorbonne – but found few professional outlets for her enthusiasm for storytelling, particularly stories that had an element of mystery. “All I’m after for twenty-four hours a day is a good story,” she said.

The position Harrison won based on that newspaper ad – secretary to Hitchcock, who was then best known for churning out such reliably unsettling entertainments as “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” (1927) – could hardly have sounded like a dream job, but, as a fan of the director’s movies, she recognized its possibilities.

And, in Harrison, Hitchcock had seized on a second woman collaborator on whom he would depend for help in assembling the puzzle pieces – script, casting, visual design – that made up his iconic films. Along with Harrison, Hitchcock also relied on the taste and talent of his wife (and only occasionally credited collaborator), Alma Reville. 

Although women in Hitchcock’s mature films are often frustratingly passive – think of the way Grace Kelly exists on the periphery of most of the action in his masterpiece “Rear Window” (1954) – the female characters in his films made with Harrison usually have depth and dimension. 

It’s an impressive list: Harrison received credit as a screenwriter on a shelfful of Hitchcock’s best films, including “Jamaica Inn” (1939), “Foreign Correspondent” (1940), and “Rebecca” (1940) – the latter two of which netted her Oscar nominations – but that job title somehow seems insufficient. A memo that made the rounds in the office of Hitchcock’s talent agent emphasized the nonpareil role of Harrison, described as “invaluable to him in connection with his ‘peculiar system’ of writing, his shooting schedule, camera angles, etc.”

In Lane’s artful telling, Harrison was a kind of cinematic utility player, responsible for reworking scenes to accommodate the last-minute casting of Madeleine Carroll in “The 39 Steps” (1935) and pressing producer David O. Selznick to allow her to bring out stronger, less meek qualities in the heroine in “Rebecca”; Harrison even lobbied for the casting of the headstrong Margaret Sullavan in the title role over Joan Fontaine, who ultimately starred.

Yet, despite the prominence of Hitchcock in this book, Lane does not dwell unduly on his role in Harrison’s life. Instead, Lane devotes chapters to the films Harrison produced outside of his shadow, including the boldly conceived and brilliantly executed film noirs “Phantom Lady” (1944), the source of the book’s title, and “Ride the Pink Horse” (1947). Although these movies are not as well known as her work with Hitchcock, Harrison broke serious ground with them. Actress Carol Lynley said, “But for Joan, I don’t think we would have had Gale Anne Hurd, Kathleen Kennedy, or Amy Pascal.”

In the late 1950s, Harrison again entered Hitchcock’s orbit thanks to her work producing the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Hitchcock may have been the star, but Harrison, as usual, was the one who shined. “The show was beautifully run,” said Norman Lloyd, also a producer on the series. “It was a dream, which is why it was seen as an honor to work for her.”

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The Monitor's View

The origins of world order – on the streets of Beirut

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What is often called “world order” usually refers to the rules imposed by powerful countries or global bodies. So it comes as a surprise when one of those bodies, the International Monetary Fund, sees order elsewhere. Last week, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told the leaders of Lebanon, a country deep in an economic and political crisis, to respond to “the call of the Lebanese people.”

By “call” she really meant the demands of a million Lebanese who have been protesting on and off since October in an upwelling for integrity in governance and against the country’s main power, the Hezbollah terrorist group. To these young people, who are fed up with electricity blackouts and other effects of entrenched corruption, “order” lies in accountability, transparency, and democratic equality.

The crisis in Lebanon, while small on a global scale, is big with meaning about the origins of world order. The IMF chief had it right. The call from people seeking to live under higher ideals than a division of power must be heeded.

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The origins of world order – on the streets of Beirut

What is often called “world order” usually refers to the rules imposed by powerful countries or global bodies. So it comes as a surprise when one of those bodies, the International Monetary Fund, sees order elsewhere. Last week, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told the leaders of Lebanon, a country deep in an economic and political crisis, to respond to “the call of the Lebanese people.”

By “call” she really meant the demands of a million Lebanese who have been protesting on and off since October in an upwelling for integrity in governance. To these young people, who are fed up with electricity blackouts and other effects of entrenched corruption, “order” lies in accountability, transparency, and democratic equality.

Often a theater for Middle East conflicts, Lebanon is largely controlled by an Arab terrorist group, Hezbollah. Along with help from the country’s other major religious and ethnic groups, the Shiite militant organization has corrupted both government and the banking system. On Tuesday, its deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said Lebanon will not accept any bailout money from the IMF to prevent a pending financial meltdown. Such a financial rescue would have come with too many troublesome conditions for Hezbollah, which acts as Iran’s primary guerrilla arm in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.

By March 9, Lebanon must decide whether to repay $1.2 billion to international creditors – or default for the first time. Total debt stands at more than 150% of gross domestic output, making Lebanon one of the world’s most heavily indebted countries. The leaders in Beirut stand little chance of receiving aid from wealthy Arab states or Europe. The only fire brigade is the IMF. That Washington-based institution, one of many keepers of world order, would probably demand – guess what – accountability and transparency.

To really stem corruption, Lebanon would need to end a system of governance that divides up power to the political parties of Sunnis, Christians, and Shiites. This system has led to “muhasasa,” an Arabic word for dividing up of spoils. The protesters have pointed directly at this sectarian system.

The crisis in Lebanon, while small on a global scale, is big with meaning about the origins of world order. The IMF chief had it right. The call from people seeking to live under higher ideals than a division of power must be heeded.

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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.

Facing down fear

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Illness, economic volatility, polarization and conflict, extreme weather events – reading the headlines, it can sometimes seem there’s little choice but to be afraid. But when we start from a spiritual basis, rather than judging what’s going on around us through the lens of materiality, we find that overcoming fear really is possible, opening the door to solutions and healing.

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Facing down fear

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When faced with what seemed like impossible odds – pursued by well-equipped Egyptian forces and with nowhere to go – Moses gave the children of Israel the following advice: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to-day” (Exodus 14:13). God’s power was then marvelously demonstrated in the parting of the Red Sea, and the children of Israel were delivered, walking across the seabed to where the Egyptian army couldn’t reach them.

During Moses’ day there clearly appeared to be a real cause for fear. The Egyptians were a formidable foe. How could he tell his followers not to fear?

Moses used his spiritual sense, which enabled him to trust in the power of God, divine Spirit. He saw and understood spiritual reality, which goes beyond a limited material perspective. And the spiritual reality is that even where a frightening situation seems to be, God, good, is supreme.

We, too, can refuse to let material sense shape our viewpoint. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes, “Spiritual sense is a conscious, constant capacity to understand God” (p. 209). The more we know and understand God and God’s all-power, the less we will fear evil.

It requires discipline to cultivate and utilize our spiritual sense, rather than judging what we see through the lens of materiality. But when our thought starts from a spiritual basis, we find that facing down fear really is possible.

What does it mean to “stand still” in order to do this, as Moses instructed? Does it mean to do nothing? No. Stillness is an actively receptive state of thought. In such stillness, one is humbly ready to hear the voice of God, divine Truth itself. As Mrs. Eddy explains in another one of her books: “The best spiritual type of Christly method for uplifting human thought and imparting divine Truth, is stationary power, stillness, and strength; and when this spiritual ideal is made our own, it becomes the model for human action” (“Retrospection and Introspection,” p. 93).

When one is truly mentally still, receptive to divine Truth, one becomes more aware of God’s presence and power. One hears the Christ, which Science and Health describes as “the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (p. 332). Christ fills our thought with God’s loving messages, assures us of God’s presence, and is our salvation. Christ empowers us to rise above fear and discern solutions to problems. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, New King James Version).

We cannot outline how things may be resolved when faced with what seem like impossible odds in our lives. The children of Israel could not have imagined crossing the Red Sea on dry land. But we can fearlessly trust and discern, through spiritual sense, how the law of God is operating to bring salvation. God’s love for each of us is bigger than any human problem.

We can rejoice with these words of Isaiah: “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee” (41:13). As we realize the presence of God, fear disappears, and through mental stillness we hear God’s healing, saving messages.

Adapted from an article published in the June 26, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Requiem for a strongman

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
Supporters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hold his photos near the main gate of a cemetery during his burial ceremony, with military honors, east of Cairo, Feb. 26, 2020. Mr. Mubarak ruled Egypt for three decades before his ouster in 2011 during the Arab Spring.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( February 27th, 2020 )

Thank you for joining us. Please come back tomorrow when Francine Kiefer looks at how public health officials in the U.S. are trying to convey information about the coronavirus without spreading fear.

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