2020
February
27
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

February 27, 2020
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

Reporting from the edge of a warming world

Today’s stories explore the challenge of detangling fact and fear about coronavirus, what due process means for asylum-seekers, the stakes at play in Israel’s third presidential election in a year, what to make of the swarms of locusts ravaging East Africa, and a compassionate bid to rescue wallabies in Australia.

As science editor, I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to communicate with Monitor readers about climate change. Last night, I spent the evening learning how another publication does it. I moderated a panel discussion featuring four key collaborators on The Boston Globe’s most ambitious – and successful – climate story to date, “At the Edge of a Warming World.”

The problem with much climate coverage, Globe narrative editor Steve Wilmsen told the audience, is that it focuses on either dire predictions for a distant future or current circumstances in remote corners of the world. In short, it is easy to feel disconnected – as if climate change is something that happens to other people in some hopeless future. 

That challenge is one we are familiar with at the Monitor. Those same principles guide our “Climate Realities” series. Where our reporters aim to transport readers into communities around the world, Mr. Wilmsen needed to bring the story home. So he took readers to a sacred place for many New Englanders: Cape Cod.

The end result, which took more than a dozen staffers over six months, is a 14,000-word immersive experience. It is an intimate portrait of a community struggling to hold onto a way of life that is slipping away. But it is also a call for hope. As lead reporter and writer Nestor Ramos wrote, “If we can still see it, we can still save it. But only if we look.”

Coronavirus puts health officials on messaging tightrope

If you want to fight a public health crisis, you need one thing in abundance: calm. But how do you keep fears at bay in a world saturated with social media?

Noelle
Riverside University Health Department–Public Health/Reuters
Evacuees from the China coronavirus outbreak toss their masks after finishing quarantine in Riverside, California, Feb. 11, 2020, in this image obtained via social media.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

At Irvine Valley College, which has many international students, acting President Cindy Vyskocil has been walking a careful line regarding the new coronavirus. Responding to social media rumors about the college, she was in frequent contact with health officials and for a time gave twice-daily updates to the campus community. 

With no known exposure at the college, “I kept coming back to, ‘Irvine is a safe campus and we are open for classes ... but also wanting everyone to take precautions,’ ” she says. 

It’s a widely shared challenge in what some scientists say could become the first pandemic in the social media era.

Alongside reports from scientists and news organizations, the public is hearing about the spread of the virus from a range of other actors. Those include average people sharing things they hear, advocates of isolationism or ethnicity-based discrimination, and people engaged in “information warfare” designed to undermine trust in official institutions.

Officials are also grappling with fast-evolving information, including about the disease itself. Health officials “don’t want to be responsible for creating a big epidemic in the country” by underplaying the situation, says disease expert Emily Blodget at the University of Southern California.

Collapse

1. Coronavirus puts health officials on messaging tightrope

After health officials in California’s Orange County announced that a patient was diagnosed with the new coronavirus on Jan. 25, social media lit up with speculation about whether the patient was connected with Irvine Valley College, in the heart of the county.

Cindy Vyskocil, the acting president of the college, got on the phone with the county health office. No, there was no known exposure at the college. If there had been, the office would have contacted her immediately. Risk of exposure in the county was low. Relieved, she sent out an account to the college community.

Twice a day she talked with health officials. Twice a day she updated everyone associated with the college, including with information about precautionary steps that individuals should take and that her administration was taking. Despite the communication early and often, she took calls from parents wanting to pull their children from the college, which has a lot of international students.

“I kept coming back to, ‘Irvine is a safe campus and we are open for classes ... but also wanting everyone to take precautions,’” she says. It’s a fine line to walk between preventing panic and being honest even with information that may be troubling. “It’s not easy at all,” she says, especially in the age of social media.

The story of the new coronavirus is unfolding in a world saturated with social media. This presents many more opportunities for misinformation, from willful distortion to well-intended ignorance. It also presents a challenge to health officials and others who deal with the public, especially when many questions about the coronavirus remain unanswered.

“This is the first social media pandemic, and that changes everything,” says Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who also researches misinformation.

A virus ... and viral information

People are watching the spread of the virus in “real time,” and instead of it being reported out by the scientific community, many other actors are involved, Professor Bergstrom says.

Those include people sharing what they hear, whether it’s reliable or not; “snake-oil salesmen” peddling their particular tonic; domestic and international opponents of China, where the outbreak started; people using the virus to promote isolationism and discrimination; and those engaging in the same kind of “information warfare” used in the 2016 U.S. elections to now undermine trust in governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the media.

“It’s a complex ecosystem, with a lot of different actors, with a lot of different motives, pumping information in,” Professor Bergstrom says.

Unknowns about the COVID-19 virus, as it has been termed by scientists, add to the confusion, he and others say. Now, for instance, the 14-day quarantine period is being questioned, and scientists and the medical community have a hard time evaluating the virus when they don’t know how many people in China were infected. Meanwhile, what the medical and scientific community does know is changing on a daily basis.

So far, the World Health Organization reports 82,539 confirmed cases in 47 countries, with 2,812 deaths. The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has fallen 10% in just six days, driven by rising concerns about the virus. On Thursday, the sell-off in global markets was accompanied by Japan’s prime minister calling for the nation’s schools to close during the next month as a precaution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscored the uncertainty this week. On one hand, it warned that it’s not a question of if the virus will spread in the United States, but when, given the spread in the rest of the world. American hospitals, schools, and businesses should prepare “in the expectation that this could be bad,” said the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. 

But the agency also can’t say whether the impact will be weak or severe, or when a wider transmission of the disease might occur.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump is flanked by members of his coronavirus task force, to be led by Vice President Mike Pence (left), at a news conference at the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington. Health officials have confirmed 14 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. so far.

The sharp warning, despite its vagueness about severity, stood in sharp contrast to the relative calm expressed by President Donald Trump, who on Wednesday appointed Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the federal government’s response to COVID-19.

Emily Blodget, an expert on infectious diseases at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says she is surprised by the CDC’s “somewhat alarmist” approach, especially given the small number of cases in the U.S. “The way they framed it, it made it sound quite dramatic.”

There are only 14 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of Feb. 26, according to the CDC, plus 45 cases among people repatriated from Wuhan, China, and a Diamond Princess Cruise ship. On Wednesday, the CDC announced another case in northern California, this time apparently not related to travel or contact with anyone known to have the virus.

Still, Dr. Blodget says the CDC is “approaching it the right way,” because “they don’t want to be responsible for creating a big epidemic in the country” by underplaying the situation.

Not a “pandemic” yet, officials say

“Unfortunately, science is messy,” with conflicting reports and many unknowns, says Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, the largest county in the country and a gateway to the U.S. from Asia.

And the language of science can be alarming or misleading to those who don’t work with it every day. “Pandemic,” for instance, means a disease that spreads quickly over a wide region or the world – but it does not indicate severity. “Virulence” indicates severity, but not spread. And “quarantine” refers to the isolation of someone who has been exposed to the virus but is not ill.

While the World Health Organization has declared a “public health emergency of international concern” – its highest level of alarm – it has not yet declared the new coronavirus a pandemic.

“Using the word ‘pandemic’ carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems. It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true. We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general, at a briefing on Wednesday.

Public officials, including the CDC and the Trump administration, need to coordinate their message, health experts say. They need to direct the public to official websites, including those of state and local health departments, and make their most urgent information easily visible and accessible.

“You don’t want to create panic, but you don’t want to make false assurances, either,” Professor Bergstrom says. “It undermines trust if you say it’s all taken care of, and you end up wrong.”

Telling people not to be scared, when they fear a new global virus that has no specific treatment or vaccination, is counterproductive, says Dr. Ferrer. “Better to say to folks, ‘We understand you’re scared; here’s some things you can do to protect yourself. Here’s my promise to you: As soon as I have good information, I get it to you. I don’t hold onto it.’”

Dr. Ferrer’s office had to firmly put down a hoax that falsely claimed on fake letterhead five cases in a majority-Asian community. She says she’s taking a “multipronged” approach to messaging, including almost daily updates to its website, teleconferences with the media and officials, and bringing thousands of information packets to trusted community organizations and businesses.

Long before the CDC made its announcement this week, Dr. Ferrer says the county has been preparing for widespread transmission and how that might affect people’s mobility, including school and office closures. “It’s similar to being prepared for earthquakes, fires, or bad weather. I think preparedness is the name of the game for everybody.”

A deeper look

Meet the immigration attorney trying to serve 2,000 asylum-seekers

Does a wall have to be physical to keep people out? Using red tape, shifting policies, and its southern neighbor, the Trump administration has created a nonporous barrier that has effectively changed the face of U.S. immigration. Part 1 of 3.

Noelle

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 10 Min. )

For the past four months, Charlene D’Cruz has journeyed six days a week from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico.

One of the only full-time U.S. immigration lawyers working in the city, she acts as the legal equivalent of a triage nurse racing from patient to patient, providing dozens of free consultation each day. If their case isn’t strong, she refers asylum-seekers to a Mexican lawyer. A “fair amount” of them give up and go back, she says.

That is one of the outcomes the Trump administration has hoped for as it has, as attorneys and advocates say, made the American asylum system unrecognizable from its post-World War II origins. While the physical wall President Donald Trump promised in his 2016 campaign as a way to deter illegal immigration remains largely unbuilt, these new policies have created an invisible wall of bureaucracy and secrecy that has made legal immigration into the U.S. through asylum almost impossible.

On a January morning, Ms. D’Cruz finds her first clients before even reaching the border. Dozens more are waiting when she arrives at the office. “We do have some challenges, but at least being on the ground – I mean, there’s no other way to do this,” she says.

Collapse

2. Meet the immigration attorney trying to serve 2,000 asylum-seekers

It often feels like the only certainty in Charlene D’Cruz’s life these days is uncertainty. But there are always ways to maintain some semblance of routine.

This late January morning starts like most others: with a pot of tea brought from her Wisconsin home steeping next to her hotel breakfast. She’s greeting the hotel staff she is now on first-name terms with, wearing a purple T-shirt from her daughter’s college, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Her black hair is streaked with gray, and as she pours some of her tea she jokes that she’s become her mother. It’s the calm before the storm.

An immigrant herself who, growing up, never wanted to be a lawyer, she is now decades into a career on the front lines of asylum law. In the past, those front lines have been in Guatemala and Greece.

Today, in a fundamentally transformed U.S. asylum system, it has meant working out of a former dentist’s office in Matamoros, Mexico. There are roughly 2,000 migrants (a specific number is difficult to pin down) in the city. Ms. D’Cruz commutes every morning from Brownsville, Texas. She is one of the only full-time U.S. immigration lawyers working in the city.

“We do have some challenges, but at least being on the ground – I mean, there’s no other way to do this,” she says.

She isn’t representing migrants in immigration proceedings, just providing dozens of free consultations each day and connecting them with lawyers around the United States – the legal equivalent of a triage nurse racing from patient to patient. If their case isn’t strong, she talks them through the Mexican asylum process and refers them to a Mexican lawyer. A “fair amount” of them give up and go back, she says.

That is one of the outcomes the Trump administration has hoped for as it has, as attorneys and advocates say, made the American asylum system unrecognizable from its post-World War II origins. While the physical wall President Donald Trump promised in his 2016 campaign as a way to deter illegal immigration remains largely unbuilt, these new policies and programs have created an invisible wall of bureaucracy and secrecy that has made legal immigration into the U.S. through asylum almost impossible.

On the border, attorneys say the year-old Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – also known as “Remain in Mexico,” which is requiring more than 60,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are pending – is being phased out and replaced with faster and more secretive programs. On Friday, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called MPP “invalid in its entirety” and ruled that asylum seekers must be allowed in the U.S. while their cases are heard.

A surge in asylum claims has made these programs necessary, immigration agencies have said. From the government’s perspective the programs have helped to relax the burden on border agents, close perceived “loopholes” in asylum law, deter future claims, and resolve existing claims as quickly as possible.

Yet migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. are entitled to due process much like U.S. citizens, and what was once a tough but fair system is being stripped down to a shadowy deportation machine, attorneys say. Even government asylum officers and immigration judges say they are increasingly shut out of proceedings.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Charlene D'Cruz, an immigration lawyer from Wisconsin, escorts a family of asylum seekers from Mexico, just paroled into the U.S., to a bus terminal. Recent policies implemented by the Trump administration have made securing asylum in the U.S. almost impossible.

“There is a crisis, but they’re making it far worse by doing stuff like this,” says Michael Knowles, the National CIS Council spokesperson, a union that represents asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “Our argument is, you don’t deal with a crisis by pouring gasoline onto it. You don’t deter people by being cruel to them.”

“If you go back to World War II and the genesis of the international refugee protection system, it was born in crisis,” adds Mr. Knowles. “You have to properly resource your system to deal with volume and complexity and everything that goes along with running a big program like this. You don’t just shut it down and turn them all away.”

Six days a week

Ms. D’Cruz has been working in Matamoros six days a week for four months. She’s been working in asylum law since the 1980s, when she volunteered in Arizona helping migrants who fled civil wars in Central America. It was similar to MPP, she says, except it was in the U.S., and “it wasn’t as cruel.”

“Not many of them won their cases,” she adds. “But there was an acknowledgement that, yes, there is a movement of people who are fleeing” serious violence.

The Trump administration has also raised the bar for successful asylum claims, including eliminating fears of gang and domestic violence as credible grounds for asylum. Last year, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security issued a joint Interim Final Rule barring asylum for any migrant who was not denied asylum in a third country first.

DHS did not respond to detailed questions from the Monitor.

In a January speech, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf outlined how the department is addressing the border crisis.“We have essentially ended catch-and-release, eliminating the insidious incentive to exploit children for entry into the United States,” he said. “We have more tools than ever before to quickly remove, return, and repatriate aliens who illegally cross our borders. We have cracked down on asylum fraud across the board.”

The number of migrants arriving at the southern border has dropped steadily for the past eight months, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics. Through December 2019, only 187 people had made successful asylum claims in MPP, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (TRAC).

Meanwhile, immigration courts have been slowly working through a backlog exceeding 1 million cases. Immigration judges decided a record number of asylum claims in fiscal year 2019 – with 99% of asylum-seekers attending their hearings – according to a TRAC report.

Almost 47,000 of those applicants, or 69%, were denied asylum or other relief, with applicants represented by an attorney twice as successful as those without representation. Through December 2019, just 4.7% of migrants in MPP were represented, according to TRAC.

Thus enters Ms. D’Cruz. On a late January morning, after leaving her hotel for Matamoros, she finds her first clients before even reaching the border.

A Mexican family – a woman, with two young boys and two girls – are looking for the bus station. They are carrying their belongings in plastic CBP bags, the laces have been removed from their shoes. They’re an indigenous family from Chiapas State, and they have tickets for Georgia, where they’ll be staying while their asylum claim is pending.

They don’t speak much Spanish, but Ms. D’Cruz guides them into the station and gets them situated before she crosses into Mexico. Asylum-seekers from Mexico are, understandably, exempt from waiting in Mexico under MPP. Instead they’re subject to “metering,” a policy that limits the number of asylum claims that can be made at ports of entry each day.

“When they started metering we were all angry, but then when MPP came in suddenly we were like, ‘Meh, metering,’” says Ms. D’Cruz. “It’s a race to the bottom.”

When she finally does cross the border, dozens more asylum-seekers are waiting outside her office.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
An encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, where roughly 2,000 migrants are staying while their U.S. asylum cases proceed, as required by the "Remain in Mexico" policy. Immigration lawyers on the border believe the policy is being phased out, with asylum seekers now being put into more secretive programs designed to resolve claims faster.

El campamento

The Resource Center de Matamoros, about 500 yards into Mexico, used to be a dentist’s office but is now rented out by Lawyers for Good Government, the nonprofit funding Ms. D’Cruz and a colleague, Kim Hunter. Across the street is an encampment where between 1,500 and 2,500 asylum-seekers have been living while their cases are pending.

Tents sprawl out under silk trees from the road to the bank of the Rio Grande, filling soccer pitches and a basketball court. Goal posts are now clothing lines. Smoke drifts up from small wood stoves and camp fires. Some people have been there for 10 months.

It looks peaceful and orderly – there are water purifiers and dozens of port-a-potties and new showers – but there are reasons why the U.S. State Department suggests travelers “exercise increased caution” in Matamoros.

“It’s not safe here,” says Edwin Alvarez in Spanish. He has been in the camp with his son for five months since fleeing their native Venezuela.

There are no lights in the camp, and anyone can walk into any tent at any time. When Ms. D’Cruz meets with asylum-seekers, they tell her they often expect to be kidnapped.

Yet one of the most urgent features of her work is helping migrants who should never have been put in MPP at all. “Vulnerable populations” like sick children are supposed to be exempt from the policy, yet Ms. D’Cruz regularly accompanies them to a border station to get them paroled into the country.

“I still see, and have seen, more due process in Greece – which is a poor country infrastructurally, economically, and everything. They seem to be stepping up, or trying to step up, to the task,” she says.

The U.S., she adds, “literally picks these folks up and dumps them [in Mexico] ... knowing full well that most of them are not going to stay there. It’s too dangerous.”

Shift at the southern border

The Trump administration says these changes are necessary to manage a crisis caused by a wholesale shift in immigration trends at the southern border.

In 2006, only 5% of unauthorized immigrants at the border expressed fear of being deported to their home country – the first step in the asylum process. In 2018, 42% of unauthorized immigrants at the border expressed that fear.

That increase could be a result of “push” factors like political crises in Venezuela and Honduras, gang violence in El Salvador and Mexico, and Guatemala’s worst drought in 40 years.

But it could also be a result, as DHS wrote in an October 2019 assessment of MPP, of asylum becoming “nearly a default tactic used by undocumented aliens to secure their release into the United States.”

So with its new policies, the government has made some subtle but significant tweaks – including not asking migrants if they fear being sent to Mexico.

“Affirmatively drawing out this information from aliens rather than reasonably expecting them to come forward on their own initiative could well increase meritless fear claims,” the assessment said.

That feature alone should render MPP illegal, says Mr. Knowles, spokesperson for the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council 119, a union that represents some 13,500 USCIS employees, including asylum officers.

Specifically, the policy could violate non-refoulement – an obligation under international law that forbids the involuntary return of refugees to a territory where their lives or liberty might be at risk.

They are undoubtedly helping to turn away people with frivolous claims, says Mr. Knowles, “but it’s also deterring people who do have a [legitimate] claim from having their cases fairly heard.”

Asylum officers feel they are being “made to be complicit in” programs that may not be legal, he adds. MPP “flies in the face of our humanitarian traditions, the character of our country. It also violates international and U.S. law.”

A new era

Lawsuits challenging MPP’s legality are working their way through the courts, but the program is already being phased out, attorneys say.

Hundreds of migrants, before making an asylum claim in the U.S., are now being flown to Guatemala to have their claims heard there, under an asylum cooperative agreement (ACA) between the two countries. (The U.S. has also signed ACAs with Honduras and El Salvador, but they haven’t begun taking asylum-seekers.) Unaccompanied children are not subject to these agreements, nor are migrants who can show they will be more than likely tortured or suffer persecution in the third country.

CBP also launched the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) program and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) in the El Paso sector in October 2019, with PACR expanded to the Rio Grande Valley last month.

Under PACR, according to reports, after being apprehended migrants are taken to a CBP facility, where they will receive a decision on their asylum claim in 10 days or less. They are given one day to call family or a lawyer, and then they have a credible fear interview with an asylum officer. (HARP operates in a similar fashion, though that program is used only for asylum-seekers from Mexico.)

Lawyers are not allowed to access CBP facilities, so migrants removed under the new programs never see an attorney and never talk with an immigration judge.

They’re “rapid deportation machines,” says Erin Thorn Vela, a staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

“PACR and HARP and ACA, they all happen, from start to finish, under the auspices of CBP,” she adds. “I don’t think that that’s a mistake. I think that’s intentional, to keep lawyers away from this.”

“Taking its toll”

MPP was implemented in part to reduce dangerous overcrowding in detention facilities, conditions that saw five migrant children die in CBP custody in late 2018 and early 2019. The policy “naturally lessens the number of detainees in CBP stations,” the government argued in a lawsuit targeting the overcrowding late last year.

Lawsuits have been filed challenging PACR and the ACAs as well, but as those lawsuits work through the courts, the policies remain in place.

“We were angry at MPP, and now I’m like, at least with MPP I saw folks. PACR, HARP – I don’t even see folks,” says Ms. D’Cruz.

It’s another late January morning, and another hotel breakfast. Her tea is again steeping by her plate. She misses Wisconsin, the snow especially, but she is buoyed by the prospect of her kids visiting – and helping – her over spring break.

“This has been their lives,” she says. “When they were young they thought camping meant that we had to go camp and give free legal services.”

“I signed up for it knowing this. This is not something I was surprised about, it just takes its toll,” she says. “We’re just trying to stay loose, and do what we need to do now, with an eye to what’s going to happen.”

Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 28 to include the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against MPP.

Israel’s Gantz is not Netanyahu. Is that enough?

In politics, is it enough to run against someone without advocating a positive alternative? It’s a question for Democrats struggling to present a united front, and for Israelis looking to unseat Netanyahu.

Noelle

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

The dilemma of how to face down a polarizing incumbent is hardly unique to Israel’s election cycle – it has also flummoxed Democrats arguing over moderate versus progressive messages, and establishment versus rebel candidates.

On March 2 Israelis vote for a third time inside of a year, after the centrist Blue and White party led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and the rightist Likud led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, known as “Bibi,” finished neck and neck in the last two rounds.

Mr. Gantz has tapped into what’s known in Israel as “just not Bibi” sentiment, uniting Israelis on the center-left who for years have disdained Mr. Netanyahu, now indicted on corruption charges, as well as moderate right-wingers who have grown tired of the longest serving prime minister’s domineering style. But so far, Mr. Gantz’s pitch has not been enough to win, and he and his party, occupying the tricky political ground of Israel’s center, face the question of what principles they stand for.

The polls show an enduring deadlock.

“It’s going to be hard to convince someone who has been voting for Bibi for years with an anti-Bibi message. They need some substance,” says Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion expert.

Collapse

3. Israel’s Gantz is not Netanyahu. Is that enough?

The Blue and White party billboards adorning Israel’s thoroughfares neatly distill the essence of centrist prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz’s pitch to voters.

On one side stares the chiseled visage of the former military chief of staff alongside the caption “Looks After Israel.” On the opposite panel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted on multiple corruption charges, glances sideways into the text “Looks After Himself (Court Trial April 2020).”

With Mr. Netanyahu, known as “Bibi” by friend and foe alike, clinging to power, Mr. Gantz, a former army chief of staff and a political neophyte, has mounted the most serious threat the Israeli leader has faced in more than a decade.

On March 2 Israeli voters will go to the polls for a third time inside of a year, after Blue and White and Mr. Netanyahu’s rightist Likud finished neck and neck in the last two elections.

Mr. Gantz achieved parity in part by tapping into what’s known in Israel as “rak lo Bibi” (“just not Bibi”) sentiment, uniting Israelis on the center-left who have disdained Mr. Netanyahu for years, as well as moderate right-wingers who have grown tired of the longest-serving prime minister’s domineering style.

Mr. Gantz frames Mr. Netanyahu’s criticism of Israeli law enforcement authorities and his battle to avoid trial as a threat to Israel’s democracy and a regression toward authoritarianism. The former general assails the prime minister’s polarizing politics as eroding an element of national resilience – domestic social solidarity.

“We are at a critical hour for democracy. The danger is that we’ll change the government to one of a ruler,” Mr. Gantz said at a campaign rally this week in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, invoking the authoritarian rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“Instead of having a prime minister, we’ll have an Israeli version of Erdoğan, who is above the law,” he said.

But so far, his pitch has not been enough to unseat Mr. Netanyahu.    

Even as Mr. Gantz has sprung up to become the most viable alternative personality to Mr. Netanyahu, he and his party nevertheless face the question of what principles they want to stand for.

A call for substance

Formed a little over a year ago from the merger of three parties – two of which were brand new – Blue and White is a collection of politicians from the left, right, and center, opening it up to criticism that it is thin on vision and lacks ideological cohesion.

Analysts note that several of the party’s policy positions don’t actually mark a dramatic difference from the Likud.

And on issues of Israel’s national security and relations with the Palestinians – arguably his strongest suit – Mr. Gantz has been vague. At the Ramat Gan rally, he mentioned national security issues only in passing at the end of his speech.

Ahead of the release of President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan, Mr. Gantz endorsed Israel annexing parts of the West Bank, but said he wanted to do it in coordination with the international community – a seeming contradiction that prompted criticism.

“They got the entire anti-Bibi crowd [in the last two rounds] in April and September, but it’s not good enough in order to convince people from the right to change sides,’’ says Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion expert and an adviser to the predominantly Arab Joint List campaign. “It’s going to be hard to convince someone who has been voting for Bibi for years with an anti-Bibi message. They need some substance.”

The dilemma of how to face down a polarizing incumbent is hardly unique to Israel’s election cycle – it has also flummoxed Democrats in the United States as the presidential field argues over moderate versus progressive messages, and establishment versus rebel candidates.

Oded Balilty/AP
An election campaign billboard for the opposition Blue and White party depicts its leader, Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Ramat Gan, Israel, Feb. 20, 2020.

“There is a parallel,” says Bernard Avishai, a visiting professor of government at Dartmouth College and an author of several books on Israeli politics. “In both cases you have heads of government that have violated norms of democratic process by attacking the judiciary, the police, and even the procedures in the [military].”

Blue and White, he says, represents the cosmopolitan secular values of Tel Aviv, and respect for government institutions, such as the Supreme Court, that have been assailed by politicians on the ideological right.

Turnout looming as key

But Mr. Gantz’s campaign is more about finding an alternative to the prime minister than deep-rooted political ideology, says Moti Noyman, a 66-year-old campaign activist at the rally. 

“Most of the people are rak lo Bibi,” he says. Mr. Gantz’s campaign is about an appeal to “people who want a return to sanity – from corruption, polarization, and hate.”

In the final week before the election, a trio of polls have shown Likud overtaking Blue and White by a small margin. Despite the momentum swing, the same polls still show a deadlocked parliament, with neither Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing parties, nor a combination of center, left, and Arab parties, controlling an absolute majority.

Experts say public opinion has barely shifted over the successive campaigns, and victory will be determined by which side has the best turnout on election day. With the Israeli public increasingly exasperated with the stalemate, voter participation, which ticked up in September, could take a hit.

Mr. Netanyahu has spent the last two weeks barnstorming the country to sound the call to his base.

At the Blue and White rally, supporters criticized Mr. Gantz for not coming up with a more energetic response and for not doing enough to seize the agenda. The party has tried to get more aggressive, releasing a TV ad splicing Mr. Netanyahu’s voice into a video of Turkish President Erdoğan.

“I don’t know if they are up to [the challenge of] fighting against Benjamin Netanyahu,” says retiree Smadar Shiff, saying Mr. Gantz is too reluctant to become involved in mudslinging. As to what Mr. Gantz would bring to office, she says, “Liberalism and getting things done.”

Occupying the center

Over the three consecutive campaigns, Mr. Gantz and Blue and White have tried to occupy the tricky political real estate of the Israeli center and trained their sights on appealing to moderate right-wing voters.

That is in part because a plurality of Israeli Jews identify themselves as right wing, and the left wing never recovered from the collapse of successive Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, says Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. 

“Given that there’s an ideological void waiting to be filled with centrist ideals,” he says, “it was a business opportunity waiting to be exploited.”

But outside of attacks on Mr. Netanyahu’s character, that has forced the party also to largely avoid sensitive and alienating issues, such as negotiations on a two-state solution with the Palestinians, or accepting support from the Joint List, and to speak almost in code on socioeconomic issues to distinguish Blue and White from Likud.

For example, it has highlighted promises to invest more in Israel’s health and education systems, and solve the country’s clogged transportation system. “That’s code for: ‘I’m not investing in the settlements,’” says Professor Avishai.

According to Ms. Scheindlin, the public opinion expert, Mr. Gantz has missed an opportunity by focusing almost exclusively on rak lo bibi. Blue and White’s conservative positions on national security have largely failed to lure right-wing voters, but a deeper focus on shared democratic values might work.  

“To think you can talk smack about Netanyahu and woo right wing voters is clumsy,” she says. “People on both sides of the partisan divide can agree on the ground rules for liberal democracy.”

The Explainer

As risk of hunger rises, three questions on the locust swarms

Some disasters seem so epic, so vast, that they almost seem out of our control. But human activity has played a hand in how quickly the locust crisis developed in East Africa – and can try to stop it before it multiplies again.

Noelle
Ben Curtis/AP
Desert locusts jump up from the ground and fly away as a cameraman walks past, in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya, Feb. 1, 2020. As locusts descend on parts of Kenya in the worst outbreak in 70 years, small planes are spraying pesticides.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Normally, the life of a desert locust is lonely and short – out of sight, and for most of the world, out of mind.

Not this year. Since mid-2019, swarms have devastated farmlands across the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa, which is already one of the world’s most food-insecure regions. Today, more than 20 million people are at risk of going hungry, according to the United Nations.

Images of swarms crowding the sky seem practically biblical, recalling the plague of locusts in the Book of Exodus. But some of the factors that caused today’s crisis, experts say, are far more earthly. 

Fighting in Yemen and Somalia has made it difficult for governments or humanitarian organizations to kill the insects, and they are now crossing into South Sudan, whose instability could create similar challenges. Some experts also note that climate change is contributing to the extreme weather locusts thrive on.

“This crisis is both natural and man-made,” says Baldwyn Torto, at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya. “There is a natural cycle of cyclones in this region, but there’s also so much insecurity in some parts of the region that the surveillance systems for locusts and other pests have broken down.”

Collapse

4. As risk of hunger rises, three questions on the locust swarms

The images are striking: millions of bright yellow locusts descending on farms and floating over cities in thick, dark mats – some of them several miles wide. Since mid-2019, record-setting locust swarms have devastated farmlands across the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa, where more than 20 million people currently risk going hungry as a result of the swarms.

To many, the swarms of today seem practically biblical, recalling the plague of locusts described in Exodus, “cover[ing] the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen.”

But these locust swarms have more earthly and modern reasons for being: a dangerous alchemy of bad weather and human conflict, which has created the rare circumstances needed for the locusts to cause widespread devastation.

Why is this happening now?

In normal times, the life of a desert locust is lonely and short. They live, breed, and die mostly in isolated bands across a parched tract of land stretching across the Sahara desert in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and northwest India – out of sight, and for most of the world, thoroughly out of mind. 

But every so often, it rains in the desert, and when it does, deserts locusts multiply and migrate. That’s what began to happen in 2018, after two cyclones struck the Arabian Peninsula in quick succession, leaving behind stagnant pools of water that formed perfect locust breeding grounds. Within months, the population had swelled to many times its normal size and began to travel in search of food, carried by the winds – sometimes as quickly as 60 miles per day – toward Yemen and later, Somalia. 

Feisal Omar/Reuters
A desert locust is seen feeding in a grazing land on the outskirts of Dusamareb in Galmudug region, Somalia, Dec. 22, 2019.

In both countries, the insects were helped along by violent conflict, which meant many of their breeding grounds were inaccessible to governments and humanitarian organizations looking to kill the insects before they hatched and spread. The swarms continued to grow, and have since spread across parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania, where unusually heavy rains have given them potent new breeding grounds. They are now crossing into South Sudan, where instability and civil war will also make it difficult to stop their spread.

“This crisis is both natural and man-made,” says Baldwyn Torto, a principal scientist specializing in locusts at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya. “There is a natural cycle of cyclones in this region, but there’s also so much insecurity in some parts of the region that the surveillance systems for locusts and other pests have broken down.” Other experts note that climate change is also contributing to the extreme weather locusts thrive on.

What do locust swarms do?

Mostly, they eat. A desert locust can eat its own body weight (about 2 grams) in vegetation every day. That means a swarm covering a square kilometer – which contains about 40 million locusts – can consume the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Across East Africa, swarms have decimated farms and grazing lands. That has left more than 20 million people at risk of hunger, the FAO warns, in a region that is already one of the most food-insecure. And when they are not eating, locusts are breeding. The current swarms have laid eggs across the region, and if they are not destroyed, experts say their numbers could grow 500-fold by June. 

What can be done?

The most effective way to kill locusts is to spray them with pesticides from airplanes – optimally, before the locusts mature. But that’s difficult in the current crisis for many reasons.

For one, “these swarms are happening in countries that see locust swarms very rarely,” Dr. Torto notes, and therefore often lack the resources or technical expertise to combat them. For another, the locusts are still breeding in difficult-to-reach areas.

Finally, the FAO says it has received just $33 million of the $138 million it needs to clamp down on the locusts before regional harvests begin in April and May. The World Food Program says it will cost 15 times more to feed those whose food sources are destroyed by swarms than it will cost to prevent the swarms from forming now.

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

‘The antidote to despair is action’: Finding purpose after Aussie fires

After heavy rains doused Australia’s massive wildfires earlier this month, they revealed widespread devastation. But for Chris Pryor, they also revealed a sense of purpose and a hardened resolve to value our environment. 

Noelle
Tracey Nearmy/Reuters
A wallaby sits among burnt trees at Kosciuszko National Park in Providence Portal, New South Wales, Australia, Jan. 11, 2020. The government has air-dropped hundreds of pounds of carrots and sweet potatoes to help the animals survive in the barren landscape.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Chris Pryor steered her SUV down a dirt road on a blue-sky morning three weeks after the blaze that destroyed her home in Australia’s Kangaroo Valley. She pulled into her driveway and stepped out into the rectangle of ashen debris that was once her house. 

In addition to torching thousands of homes, the country’s bushfires have burned more than 27 million acres and killed an estimated 1 billion animals since September. 

Though the fires have taken most of what she owns, Ms. Pryor focuses less on what she’s lost and more on the plight of the country’s wildlife, in particular that of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby. Listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union, these marsupials exist almost exclusively in Australia, and bushfires scorched much of their habitat.

Ms. Pryor leads a nonprofit group called Friends of the Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby that works to revive the species, whose numbers have dropped below 20,000 adults. For her, devoting attention to wildlife deprived of habitat lends a parallel purpose to her days, as she and the wallabies attempt to recover from sudden homelessness.

“These fires are the most enormous wake-up call for everybody,” she says. “They’ve increased my desire to help because if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.”

Collapse

5. ‘The antidote to despair is action’: Finding purpose after Aussie fires

A bushfire turned the house where Chris Pryor had lived for a decade into a rectangle of ashen debris. She escaped with her two cats and little else as the inferno approached in early January, and when she returned a few days later, she braced herself for the sight of her ruined home. Only after arriving did she notice another dimension to the destruction.

The calls of magpies and lyrebirds, the chirping of cicadas and crickets, the wind rustling leaves in eucalyptus trees – the familiar sounds of the wild had fallen mute. The charred forest around her 25-acre property was trapped within an unsettling quiet.

“You expect to see the devastation. But I didn’t anticipate the silence,” says Ms. Pryor, who moved to Kangaroo Valley more than 20 years ago. The tourist town of 900 residents lies between Canberra and Sydney in southeastern Australia in a region ravaged by this summer’s bushfires. “That’s when the immensity of what’s happened really hit me.”

Karen Norris/Staff

In that moment, she recalls, her concern focused less on her own losses and more on the plight of the country’s wildlife, and in particular that of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby. Listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union, the species exists only in Australia aside from small colonies in New Zealand and Hawaii, and bushfires scorched much of its habitat, further threatening its future.

Ms. Pryor leads a nonprofit group called Friends of the Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby that works to sustain and revive the fragmented population of the marsupial, whose numbers have dropped below 20,000 adults. Three colonies live in the Kangaroo Valley, where the government has air-dropped hundreds of pounds of carrots and sweet potatoes to help the animals survive in the barren landscape.

For Ms. Pryor, devoting attention to wildlife deprived of habitat lends a parallel purpose to her days, as she and the wallabies attempt to recover from sudden homelessness.

“These fires are the most enormous wake-up call for everybody,” she says. “They’ve increased my desire to help because if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.”

Martin Kuz/The Christian Science Monitor
Chris Pryor found a clay pot in the ruins of her home in Kangaroo Valley, Australia, on Jan. 25, 2020. Her house was destroyed in a bushfire earlier in the month. "You can replace things," she says. "You can't replace your life."

A lifelong love of nature

Heavy rains earlier this month doused the massive fires that had burned more than 27 million acres and killed an estimated 1 billion animals across Australia since September. Researchers have identified 113 species in need of urgent conservation action, and the brush-tailed rock-wallaby counts among the 19 mammals listed.

Muscular and compact, with brown, black, and gray fur, the marsupial resembles a smaller version of its cousin the kangaroo. Most of its colonies live scattered across the Great Dividing Range, a string of mountains that runs the length of Australia’s eastern coastline. The species faces perpetual threats from fires and development that reduce its habitat, and from foxes that prey on young wallabies.

Ms. Pryor’s simple rationale for seeking to save the animals – “because they’re here” – reflects an embrace of nature that dates to childhood in her native England. She recounts plucking earthworms from the family garden as a toddler and presenting them with beaming pride to her parents. Her fascination with ecology has remained in bloom ever since. 

In 1978, lured by Australia’s natural beauty, she immigrated to Sydney. Two decades later, weary of urban living and her career as an IT project manager, she semiretired and moved to Kangaroo Valley with her husband at the time. She arrived a few years after John and Susan Rowntree formed Friends of the Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby to preserve the species.

Ms. Pryor, who holds Australian citizenship, began volunteering with the organization to assist with fundraising and outreach. Five years ago, she stepped into the president’s role, and Mr. Rowntree credits her with raising the group’s visibility and fortifying its ties with national parks officials and private landowners to aid the wallaby’s cause.

“She is very committed and has inspired a new generation of members to join,” he says. “She has a passion for protecting the environment.”

The nonprofit has collaborated with park rangers to release captive-bred wallabies into the Kangaroo Valley and to thin the fox population through limited trapping and hunting. A decade after researchers feared the marsupial would disappear from the area, the programs have boosted its numbers from fewer than 30 adults to an estimated 40 to 60, and most appear to have survived a bushfire season that scientists describe as the worst on record.

The Australian Wildlife Society honored the 150-member volunteer group with its community wildlife conservation award in 2016. Patrick Medway, the society’s chief executive officer, lauds Ms. Pryor and the organization for averting the demise of the region’s three colonies as their habitat shrinks.

“As a wildlife conservation society, we’re indebted to people like Chris and her friends,” he says. “Their outstanding work will save the brush-tailed rock-wallaby in the Kangaroo Valley for the next generation of young Australians.”

“The antidote to despair”

Ms. Pryor steered her SUV down a dirt road on a blue-sky morning three weeks after the blaze that destroyed her home. The back of the vehicle held a clutter of clothing, towels, and other donated items she has received since the flames incinerated almost everything she owned. She has stayed with friends as she navigates a maze of insurance claims and mulls whether to rebuild.  

She pulled into her driveway and stepped out. The visit was her third since the fire, and her bright sense of humor provided a contrast to the blackened tableau. She pointed to the house’s utility meter on a singed section of brick wall that remained standing. “I’m probably still getting charged!” she joked.

The country’s bushfires killed at least 33 people and torched some 3,000 homes, including a half-dozen houses in Kangaroo Valley. In light of the death toll, Ms. Pryor views her losses with buoyant pragmatism.

“It’s just stuff,” she says. She stood in the ashes of her kitchen and reached down to exhume a trio of glass bowls that had melted together. “You can replace things. You can’t replace your life.”

Ms. Pryor works part time as a cashier at The Nostalgia Factory, a gift shop on Kangaroo Valley’s main street. Chatting with customers nourishes her spirit as she ponders her future and her adopted homeland’s in the aftermath of the bushfires. 

“The antidote to despair is to stay active,” she says, echoing the words of songwriter and activist Joan Baez. “If you feel hopeless, don’t retreat. Do something.”

The British expatriate wants Australia to respond with that kind of resolve to preserve its natural bounty and reverse the spiral toward extinction of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby and other species.

Ms. Pryor holds hope that the federal government’s initial pledge of $50 million (Australian; U.S.$33 million) for wildlife and habitat recovery marks only a first step. Countering the effects of climate change, she asserts, will require sustained cooperation across city, state, and political lines.

She invoked a quote attributed to Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” She peered toward the scalded hillside above her gutted home, where grass had begun to grow again. “We have to stop taking nature for granted,” she says. “All of us.”

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

Mexican women try the power of silence

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

On March 9, much of Mexico will become very quiet. The silence, in fact, is meant to be a purposeful pause that provokes the conscience. On that date, millions of women and girls in Mexico plan to simply withdraw from all public life. The 24-hour retreat from schools, workplaces, stores, public transport – even the internet – is a quiet protest against Mexico’s high rate of gender-based violence.

Past protests against femicide have done little to change attitudes in Mexico despite laws to prevent such violence. Women’s groups organizing the “stay home” day decided that an alternative tactic was necessary. They hope the withdrawal and silence of women will speak louder than angry demonstrations.

Sometimes quiet protest can bring thundering results. Mexico’s day off could finally force the changes needed to keep women safe.

Collapse

Mexican women try the power of silence

On March 9, much of Mexico will become very quiet. The silence, in fact, is meant to be full of meaning, like a purposeful pause that provokes the conscience. On that date – coming a day after International Women’s Day with all of its street demonstrations worldwide – millions of women and girls in Mexico plan to simply withdraw from all public life.

Known by the hashtag #UnDiaSinNosotras (#ADayWithoutUs), this 24-hour retreat from schools, workplaces, stores, public transport – even the internet – is not really a national strike. It is backed by the government and many businesses. Much of the male-dominated establishment actually supports the purpose of this mass nonaction: a mute rejection of femicide or other violence against women because they are women.

In a statement, Mexico’s Business Coordinating Council urged companies to allow female workers to stay home in hopes that everyone would support solutions to the problem. “We have all failed as a society,” the statement read.

Mexico still has one of the world’s highest rates of gender-based violence, which stands in contrast to its progress in other areas, such as more female political leaders. (About half of the president’s cabinet are women while Mexico City has its first elected female mayor.) In addition, about 90% of femicides do not result in a conviction, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

Past protests against femicide have done little to change attitudes in Mexico despite laws to prevent such violence. Women’s groups organizing the “stay home” day decided that an alternative tactic was necessary. They hope the withdrawal and silence of women will speak louder than angry demonstrations.

There is a good precedent. In Iceland 45 years ago, 90% of women took a “day off” from both work and housework to protest the low representation of women in government. Their one-day absence made men’s hearts grow fonder. The country began to implement egalitarian policies. Five years later, Iceland became the world’s first country with a democratically elected female president.

Sometimes quiet protest can bring thundering results. Mexico’s day off could finally force the changes needed to keep women safe.

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.

What sets the captive free?

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

The healing Christ that Jesus expressed is present at every moment to open the doors of thought and set us free from imprisoning ailments, even long-standing ones.

Collapse

1. What sets the captive free?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

That question, “What sets the captive free?” kept coming to me as I watched the recent documentary “College Behind Bars.” It’s an inspiring look at a group of incarcerated men and women earning liberal arts degrees through one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States. The students cultivate confidence and eloquence, some expressing deep regret for the crimes they’ve committed. One commented that when he reads and studies, he no longer notices his cell’s bars – he’s free.

That idea really resonated with me, since imprisonment can also take the form of mental or physical problems that seem to trap us. I’ve found that there is a deeper level of learning that can not only help us “not notice” limitations but actually bring freedom from them. I’m talking about spiritual education, including studying the Bible and practicing what Christ Jesus taught.

Jesus articulated his purpose best, quoting Isaiah: “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, English Standard Version). In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, a follower of Jesus and the discoverer of Christian Science, urges readers to “classify sickness and error as our Master did, when he spoke of the sick, ‘whom Satan hath bound,’ and find a sovereign antidote for error in the life-giving power of Truth acting on human belief, a power which opens the prison doors to such as are bound, and sets the captive free physically and morally” (p. 495).

I will be forever grateful for the release from migraine headaches that certainly felt as though they were imprisoning me. They began during my teenage years and continued for years into the early part of my marriage. When a migraine would come on, I felt as though I was enveloped in darkness, losing my ability to think clearly and go about my day normally.

I chose to pray about this rather than seek medical relief, because I’d seen tangible results from this approach in other areas of my life. And when I’d pray about the headaches, the symptoms often rapidly disappeared. But the episodes recurred. When I became a mother and had three young children to care for, I felt the urgency to be freed from this condition once and for all.

One day I mentally got down on my knees and asked God to show me the “life-giving power” of divine Truth that sets free. That moment of surrender marked the beginning of my permanent healing. It was an appeal to the scientific laws of healing that Jesus practiced and that are present and applicable to each of us today, too.

As I opened my thought to divine Truth, it was like a light dawning in my consciousness. I began to be more aware of dark states of thought that essentially bullied me into feeling separated from God, from good – such as stress, irritation, tension, impatience. And then I noticed that often those states of thought preceded the debilitating headaches.

So I prayed to more consistently feel the peace of God and live my true, spiritual nature as the child of God. The Scriptures explain, “In him we live, and move, and have our being;... For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28). God gives each of us the freedom and the understanding to live consistently with this real identity, derived from our loving divine creator. This includes expressing qualities such as patience, compassion, and balance.

I leaned on God, who is both all-wise and all-loving, with all my heart and mind. My prayers gave me a newfound freedom of thought as well as action. The fear faded away as I identified more and more with the freedom and perfection of my God-derived health. Within a short amount of time I experienced marked progress. The headaches occurred with less frequency and severity until they finally disappeared. They have never returned in the many years since.

I remain grateful for the healing of the chronic headaches as well as the character transformation I experienced, which epitomizes the true spirit of Christian healing.

If we find ourselves imprisoned by some ailment, even a long-standing one, we can rest assured that the spirit of the healing Christ, Truth, that Jesus so fully expressed is present to open the doors of thought and set us free – for good.

Viewfinder

The Trump train

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
A woman wears a dress supporting President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Feb. 27, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for spending time with us today. Come back tomorrow for a dispatch from Afghanistan, including an exclusive interview with members of the Taliban.

More issues

2020
February
27
Thursday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.