2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 06, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Why saving economy and human life need not be in conflict

Today’s issue looks at the different ways Texas and California are handling reopening, how the world forgot half its workers, one place the pandemic hasn’t stopped protesters, a novel idea to get better rural internet, and baking without flour. (Yes, you can do it!)

Weeks into lockdowns that seem like lifetimes, the question is everywhere: How much longer can we wait? American states are reopening even as diagnosed cases of the coronavirus continue to grow nationwide. Both the president and the governor of Texas have argued, in different ways, that the economy needs to get moving again – even if that comes at a human cost.

Basically, the economy is seen as being in conflict with dramatically cutting cases. But as the world’s experience with the pandemic grows, it’s becoming clearer that, in the best cases, one supports the other. South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Greece, South Africa, and Vietnam have all severely curtailed or virtually eradicated the disease. That’s a broad list – some isolated, some near hot spots. Some run by conservatives, some by liberals. Some rich, some struggling.

But all share a common denominator: quick, decisive, coordinated action based on the best science. In South Korea, that wisdom came from bouts with SARS and MERS. But “they learned from it,” notes an Atlantic report.

This week, South Korea’s success had a conspicuous result: opening day for its baseball league. ESPN is even broadcasting games in the United States. Beyond balls and strikes, the games offer a glimpse at something more: hard-won lessons and the hope they bring.

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A deeper look

Texas and California reopen: different pace, similar pressure

Texas and California offer two different visions about how to handle the coronavirus lockdowns and end them. Here’s an up-close look at how they’re doing it – and the surprising similarities.

Mark
David J. Phillip/AP
Waiter Marcos Huerta (right) serves a grill of fajitas at El Tiempo Cantina in Houston on May 1, 2020. The restaurant reopened its dining room for table service, with limited capacity. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has eased coronavirus-related restrictions on many businesses.

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The nation’s two most populous states are culturally and economically a world apart. Yet for California’s Democratic governor and the Republican at the helm in Texas, what may be most interesting for now are some leadership similarities.

Both are pursuing a reopening of their economies amid a pandemic, though California’s opening will be slower. Both are balancing their own authority with some local autonomy. And both say data and science are driving their decisions, even at a time when a lot remains unknown about how to track and contain the COVID-19 disease.

In Texas, the phased reopening is being guided by science and data, the governor says, albeit with caveats that in a large and diverse state a one-size-fits-all approach may be counterproductive. In particular he points to a decline in the “test-positivity rate,” or the percentage of tests that have been returned positive, and hospital systems that aren’t overwhelmed with patients.

In California, as in Texas, public pressure is part of the political equation. “My civil liberties are to be able to come to our beach – the beach I pay taxes for,” says educator Penny Fraumeni in Newport Beach.

Texas and California reopen: different pace, similar pressure

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At what point does the nonessential become essential again? And what is essential, anyway?

Educated minds may disagree, especially if you’re leading a state during a pandemic. Just ask Gavin Newsom and Greg Abbott.

The governors of California and Texas, respectively, don’t agree on much – including how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. On May 1, for example, as the Texas governor was allowing some businesses to reopen, the California governor closed beaches in Orange County.

Still, in recent weeks they have found themselves following similar paths as they reopen in stages and lead their states into the uncertainty of a post-lockdown, pre-vaccine world.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Amid conflicting pressures from citizens, both governors are now pursuing a degree of reopening. Both find themselves balancing their own authority with some local autonomy. And both say data and science are driving their decisions, even at a time when a lot remains unknown about how to track and contain the COVID-19 disease.

Mr. Abbott, a Republican, has prioritized a quick reopening of businesses while Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, is taking a more cautious approach. California has seen more coronavirus deaths than Texas and many other states.

The reopening efforts could showcase the possibilities of regional flexibility within states, but also remain fraught with challenges.

“I’m very worried about the states,” says G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist think tank in Washington, which recommends that the U.S. triple its coronavirus testing capacity in the next several weeks. “Most states have opened up too broadly, too quickly. But digging down below the aggregate state level, and looking at counties and localities, obviously you get a different picture.”

A red-state governor reopens

The pressures facing governors around the nation are evident in Shelley Luther’s salon in Dallas.

Since she reopened her salon on April 24, in defiance of state and local orders, Ms. Luther has become a cause célèbre for people around the country demanding the easing of virus-related restrictions. Business has been busier during the pandemic than before it, she says.

“People are proud of what we’ve been doing ... and want to come and support us,” she added in a May 2 interview.

“The government was not helping us the way they said they would,” she says, citing the worries local businesses face about paying their mortgages and seeking emergency loans. 

On May 5, a civil court judge in Dallas sentenced her to a week in jail and a fine of at least $3,500 for defying state and county orders. Ms. Luther, who says she doesn’t know anyone who has contracted COVID-19, told Judge Eric Moyé that “feeding my kids is not selfish.”

“The rule of law governs us,” the judge said. “People cannot take it upon themselves to determine what they will and will not do.”

But the pandemic has decimated the Texas economy. And while 66% of Texas voters consider the coronavirus a serious crisis, 72% are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the national economy, according to a Texas Tribune/University of Texas at Austin poll.

This has seen Governor Abbott seize command of when and how the state returns to work, says Joshua Blank, research director at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Now the purpose is to limit the public health consequences to an acceptable level in service of restarting the economy,” he adds. “That acceptable level is going to be determined solely by the governor going forward, which I’ll say is a pretty big gamble on his part.”

Eric Gay/AP
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott holds the Governor's Report to Reopen Texas book during a news conference where he announced he would relax some restrictions imposed on businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 27, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

 

Since May 1 malls, museums, restaurants, and movie theaters have been allowed to reopen at 25% of their total capacity. Hair salons are being allowed to open on May 8, and gyms on May 18. This is a slight acceleration from Governor Abbott’s original plan of “Phase 2” starting “as early as May 18,” but it’s combined with social-distancing guidelines (though they can’t be enforced with penalties), scaling to 30,000 tests per day, and mobilizing a team of 4,000 “contact tracers” by May 11.

The phased reopening is being guided by science and data, the governor says, albeit with caveats that in a large and diverse state a one-size-fits-all approach may be counterproductive. Counties with fewer than five active cases – 108 of the state’s 254 counties right now – can open businesses to 50% their total capacity, for example. The governor has also issued special guidance for nursing homes and Texans over 65, who make up 70% of fatalities in the state.

In particular he points to a decline in the “test-positivity rate,” or the percentage of tests that have been returned positive, and that hospital systems aren’t overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

In that context, some have criticized his plan as too modest.

“If you look at the data, in Texas and most states it’s safe to reopen maybe even more aggressively than we have,” says Kevin Roberts, a part-time member of the governor’s advisory group on reopening the state and executive director of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“We’ve been told to watch data, flatten the curve. Well what have we been doing? Watching data, flattening curve. Now we’re here, the goalposts have moved,” he adds, referencing critics of the governor’s plan – notably local Democratic leaders.

The critics, however, say they’re using the same goal posts as health officials advising the governor and President Donald Trump.

White House guidelines for reopening recommend a two-week decline in documented cases before states start reopening. A paper co-authored by Dr. Mark McClellan, one of Governor Abbott’s advisers and a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, also recommends waiting for a two-week decline, as well as waiting until a state can test everyone with COVID-19 symptoms.

Over the weekend, the state added more than 2,000 cases – its highest increase since the outbreak began. To date, 884 Texans have died.

Texas is near the bottom when it comes to per capita testing in the country. But if the state expands testing and contact tracing as it plans to, those are good indicators to track as businesses reopen, says Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston. So are the social distancing guidelines – set out in the governor’s plan.

“If we follow these rules carefully we’re going to be successful, and if we don’t there’s a mechanism to scale back, as painful as it may be,” says Dr. Ostrosky.

Indeed, Governor Abbott has given himself the ability to accelerate or reverse on easing restrictions. His order also supersedes any local orders that may conflict with it.

David J. Phillip/AP
Nyha Carter (left) helps Brianna Fregia inside a Journeys shoe store in The Woodlands, Texas, on May 5, 2020. The Woodlands Mall reopened Tuesday with increased health and safety measures in place, as the state's governor eased coronavirus-related restrictions on the economy.

 

In Bexar County, which includes most of San Antonio, for example, face coverings are still “required” even though the governor’s order means such local ordinances can’t be enforced.

In Dallas County, home to Ms. Luther’s salon, County Judge Clay Jenkins worries Governor Abbott is moving too fast on reopening.  

“We have not seen the death and disease that [other major] urban areas have seen, but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t still have that,” he says. 

On the ground, the first week of Texas’s reopening has been fairly muted. Some restaurants haven’t reopened to dine-in customers, in part because of the time it would take to set up. Many movie theaters and museums have stayed closed – including the Governor’s mansion in Austin – and shoppers seem to be venturing out in trickles instead of droves.

“It’s going to take a while to build that confidence up. People are cautious with their spending, they don’t know what the future holds,” says Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “There’s going to be a reluctance to move forward, but we just have to deal with it.”

A blue-state leader focused on health data

In Newport Beach, California, you couldn’t miss the sign: “Beach area temporarily closed.” All caps. Red letters. It was posted on a sandwich board just steps from Penny Fraumeni’s front door on the corner of 35th Street and paradise.

Nor could you miss the police helicopters, which twice passed over the handful of scattered sunbathers on Newport Beach last Saturday, asking people to vacate the area.

Ms. Fraumeni, visiting her family’s oceanside cottage from her home in Hacienda Heights, did not move from her isolated beach chair. Nor did she cease reading “The 13-Minute Murder” by James Patterson.

“My civil liberties are to be able to come to our beach – the beach I pay taxes for,” says the educator in sunglasses. In her view, Governor Newsom violated those rights when he closed this and all beaches in Orange County on May 1, citing crowds at a time when Californians need to practice social distancing. For seven weeks, Ms. Fraumeni has obeyed the governor’s statewide lockdown – the first in the nation. But when he overruled the city council’s vote last week to keep the beach open, that was “over the top,” she believes.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
California Gov. Gavin Newsom gestures during a news conference at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova, California, on April 14, 2020. Mr. Newsom is allowing a degree of local autonomy in reopening, but this week criticized a few counties that have defied his baseline conditions.

The governor appears to have heard that message – to a degree.

On Monday, he announced that the Golden State would take the first steps to reopen California’s economy, beginning Friday with curb-side pickup for “lower risk” retailers like bookstores, clothing stores, and florists (it’s almost Mother’s Day, after all). Perhaps more notable, he’s loosening the reins on local communities, allowing them to open further if they meet certain virus-containment criteria. Counties less affected by the virus, including four with no confirmed cases, have been clamoring for local autonomy, and a few have gone ahead with reopening. They’re backed by swarms of vociferous protesters.

But while the governor has publicly empathized with the protesters, he maintains that it is science and data – not politics and pushback – that are allowing him to start to gradually reopen the state. That, and the vigilance of Californians staying home and practicing social distancing.

“He is a data-driven guy,” says Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles politician now with the University of California in Los Angeles. “In this instance, the data-driven approach is perfect for the crisis we have.”

When mayor of San Francisco, Mr. Newsom joined the management trend in cities like Baltimore and New York, measuring city services and budgets through a data system known as “SFStat.” 

He repeatedly comes back to key metrics guiding a gradual reopening of this vast and varied “nation-state,” as he often calls it. On Monday, he pointed to a “report card” that showed a two-week stabilization in hospitalizations and a slight decline in COVID-19-related stays in intensive care units. The state is “on schedule” with personal protective equipment, health care surge capacity, and testing and contact tracing capability, according to the report card.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Erin Crane holds her terrier-mix, Ridley, in front of her home in Newport Beach, California, on May 2, 2020. "I'm a rule follower. We do what we need to do for the common good," she says of the governor's recent order to close the beaches in her county.

 

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in California has declined for the first time, week over week. With more than 2,400 such deaths reported so far, California is in far better shape than New York (more than 24,000). 

But there’s “a lot we still don’t know” about the data and science of the virus, says Emily Blodget, an expert on infectious diseases at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Political leaders may look for a decline in cases for their guide, but more testing is bound to reveal more cases, says Dr. Blodget. The most reliable guides for decision-making are hospitalizations and ICU stays, she says.

Californians broadly back the governor’s cautious, data-based approach, with 70% of voters approving his job performance, according to one poll released on May 1. Similarly, 70% say they are more concerned that the shelter-in-place orders will end too soon, causing the virus to spread more, than are worried the orders will go on for too long, causing greater economic damage. More than 4 million people in California have filed for unemployment benefits – with more coming.

“I’m a rule follower. We do what we need to do for the common good,” says Erin Crane, holding her terrier-mix Ridley in front of her home in Newport Beach. The mother of two resides just paces away from a stunning cliff view of the ocean. She wears a mask on her walks, though many residents don’t.

The Southern California heat wave that sent people seeking ocean sun and fun two weekends ago – and which prompted the governor’s crackdown – caused chaos on her street of closely packed homes, she says. The beach itself was less of an issue, but with the beach parking lot closed, cars and maskless pedestrians crammed the streets and sidewalks. She’s glad the governor closed the beach. “It’s unfortunate, but we need to stay healthy.”

In some cases, communities that want more freedom to open up are throwing their own data back at the governor. Orange County has experienced 61 COVID-19 deaths so far – out of a population of 3.2 million. The local hospital has a 475-bed capacity, with never more than 25 people in beds at any time, maintains Mayor Will O’Neill. There is no ventilator shortage.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Newport Beach Council member Joy Brenner points to Corona Del Mar beach in California on May 2, 2020. California Gov. Gavin Newsom had closed the beach the day before. Although she supported closure for safety reasons, she believes locals should have a say in such decisions.

 

“I know this governor has talked quite a bit about ... putting data over politics. So if he needs more data, we’ll be happy to provide more data,” said the mayor, after a special council session Saturday. 

Now the state and oceanside communities are working together, and this week reached agreements to open up several major beaches, including Newport Beach. The agreements allow activities such as walking, surfing, and jogging, but no passive games or sunbathing.

Orange County was once a GOP bastion, and many people here feel like the Democratic governor is sticking it to them. Some local politicians are playing up the division through legal action. Regrettably, “it’s now getting really political,” says Newport Beach council member Joy Brenner. Still, she agrees that localities should have more say in reopening. “I don’t think one-size-fits-all is the answer.” 

That seems to be where Governor Newsom is headed – with limits. This week he criticized a few counties that have defied his baseline conditions and are allowing higher-risk businesses like malls, gyms, and full-service restaurants to open. “They’re making a big mistake. They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

No jobs, so what future? Half the world’s workforce on the edge.

We’ve focused a lot on those who have lost formal jobs during the pandemic. But just as important are those who were working on the margins to begin with. How they recover is much more uncertain.

Mark
Jorge Saenz/AP
Jose Alcaraz checks a list of residents who receive free meals in Asuncion, Paraguay. He belongs to an organization founded by restaurant workers who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. They say they serve 300 meals a day, paid for by donations.

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The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked economic havoc, shuttering businesses and destroying jobs across the globe. In the United States alone, over 30 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in recent weeks.

But around the world, 50 times more people than that have lost their jobs and have no unemployment benefit to fall back on. They are the 1.6 billion workers on the margins of the economy – migrant workers, gig workers, and service industry staff who make up half the world’s workforce. They are in immediate danger of losing their livelihood and finding it precariously hard to make ends meet, according to a report last week from the International Labor Organization.

Even if the world finds its way out of the COVID-19 crisis reasonably soon, it is not certain that these workers in the “informal economy” will be able to quickly find jobs during the slump that most observers are predicting.

Depression-era levels of mass unemployment would be bound to bring social and political upheavals. But if governments recognize that this is a global problem, says the International Labor Organization, and work together to solve it rather than put their domestic interests first, they might be able to avert the worst.

No jobs, so what future? Half the world’s workforce on the edge.

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The figure is jaw-droppingly large: 1,600,000,000. One-point-six billion.

Even amid the torrent of statistics surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, it stands out. And while it’s received only scant media attention, it matters. A lot. Because it highlights a critical and truly global challenge almost sure to outlast the pandemic itself.

That 1.6 billion is the number of people on the margins of the world economy, from migrant workers to those employed in the gig economy, who are in immediate danger of losing their livelihoods. They make up half the world’s workforce and it is far from certain that their jobs will reappear even when the crisis is over.

Hundreds of millions of jobs have been put on hold by coronavirus shutdowns around the world. That’s been especially true in countries already hit by the pandemic. But other areas, like Africa and much of South America, are suffering from the international economic fallout and are likely to face heightened job losses if the pandemic strikes harder there.

In the United States, more than 30 million people, over 15% of the workforce, have applied for unemployment benefits in recent weeks. In Western Europe, joblessness is also increasing. Only government wage-support subsidies have staved off a U.S.-scale spike, by keeping idle or furloughed workers notionally employed. In China, official statistics have reported only a slight uptick in unemployment. But that figure excludes a migrant workforce of nearly 300 million people.

That’s where the 1.6 billion figure comes in. Released last week by the International Labor Organization, it covers the so-called informal economy – whether migrant, agricultural, or shift workers in the developing world, or the gig workers and service-industry staff increasingly predominant in wealthier economies. The ILO found that COVID-19 had left almost all 2 billion of them finding it precariously hard to make ends meet.

The immediate challenge for governments essentially involves budgeting, or printing, more money: for multitrillion-dollar stimulus programs like those in the U.S., or salary-support schemes favored in Europe and elsewhere. And there is every likelihood that the sums needed for such schemes will grow further.

But that may turn out to be the easy part. An even tougher challenge lies ahead.

The best-case scenario envisages a fairly early exit from COVID-19, through a combination of treatment or inoculation advances and a staged reboot of the world economy. It’s a hope shared on all continents, by governments democratic and authoritarian. A number of U.S. states, as well as COVID-affected countries in Europe and Asia, are now tentatively beginning to reopen for business.

But there’s a key question, even in a best-case scenario: How many of the jobs lost to COVID-19 will be lost for good, or at least for a long time after the economic reopenings? That question is particularly acute in the service economy – restaurants, leisure businesses, small retail shops – and for the ILO’s 1.6 billion strugglers in the informal economy worldwide.

Much will depend on the longer-term effects of the blow COVID-19 has dealt to the world economy, through major slowdowns in the world’s two leading economies, the U.S. and China, and huge disruptions to international trade.

Two very different examples: Across Asia, millions work in garment and other factories that have thrived largely on exports to Europe. Many were suddenly made jobless by COVID-19 shutdowns. The question now will be whether, or how quickly, demand for their products will rebound in a post-pandemic world economy.

In Europe itself, Greece has so far confounded predictions by avoiding the kind of mass outbreaks that have claimed tens of thousands of lives in Italy, France, and Britain. But the tourism sector is critical to Greece’s economy, employing a fifth of the workforce. The country can only hope not just that airlines and airports reopen, but that the tourists recover a pre-pandemic appetite for air travel.

Yet beyond the economic imponderables, long-term mass joblessness – possibly on the scale of the Great Depression in the 1930s – could pose major social and political challenges.

Work, especially for those living payday to payday, is essential to economic survival. But it’s also central to people’s identity, their sense of self-definition, even self-worth. The human cost of the Great Depression – a period that, like many of great suffering, also produced great insights and works of art – is perhaps chronicled nowhere as searingly as in the pages of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

While work can form a core part of a person’s identity, worklessness can depress and embitter. A more recent example – the political fallout from the 2008 world financial crisis – is a reminder that one result can be a growth in the kind of anger and resentment on which populist strongmen often feed.

The good news, or so organizations like the ILO are emphasizing, is that the employment crisis caused by COVID-19 is not limited to one country or region. Their hope is that, rather than focus only on the domestic imperative of getting each national economy back on its feet, governments will take shared, international action to address the needs of the “1.6 billion” in a post-pandemic world.

Why Lebanese protesters are risking a return to the streets

In the Middle East, just protesting is brave. But protesting in a time of the coronavirus points to something more dire. As patience with regional despots wears thin, Lebanon is being pushed to the brink.

Mark
Bilal Hussein/AP
A police officer gestures to firefighters as they extinguish a police car set on fire by anti-government protesters in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, April 28, 2020. Hundreds took part in the funeral that day of a young man killed in Tripoli in riots the night before.

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Last fall it was anger against a corrupt political elite and decades of sectarian rule that sparked hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to rise up in a wave of dramatic protests that led the nation’s prime minister to resign. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, the government disbanded the last protest camps only in March.

But in recent weeks the virus lockdown has triggered additional pain: massive job losses and a falling currency that have wiped out savings, sent prices soaring, and heightened desperation. The result is that Lebanon’s legions of protesters have arrived at a breaking point, where anger at the lack of political change overcomes the fear of infection.

People “have been hungry for a while,” says Rami Khouri, a prominent journalist and a professor at the American University of Beirut. But it is the combination of wide poverty, work stoppages, and no apparent end to “dysfunctional management and corruption” that have made COVID-19 appear to be the lesser danger.

“They say, ‘Let me die from the virus, but if I have a chance to bring about a better government, and have a better life for my kids, then [let me] risk that,’” he says.

Why Lebanese protesters are risking a return to the streets

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Nisrine Hammoud, a veteran Lebanese protester, could not believe what she was seeing last week in her northern city of Tripoli.

Enraged anew at a swift economic collapse that deepened both their poverty and their hunger, fellow demonstrators broke the country’s COVID-19 curfew and took to the streets.

While the anger against a corrupt political elite and decades of sectarian rule that sparked hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to rise up last October have not disappeared, the government wasted little time citing the pandemic to dismantle remaining protest camps in late March.

But in recent weeks, the virus lockdown has triggered additional pain: massive job losses and a currency in free fall have wiped out savings, caused a dollar shortage and soaring prices, and sparked new levels of desperation.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The result is that Lebanon’s legions of protesters – furious, and more widely poor and hungry than ever before – have arrived at a breaking point, where anger at the lack of political change overcomes the fear of infection. While only the latest episode in a decade of dramatic, regime-changing unrest across the Arab world, analysts note that Lebanese protesters are the first to disregard the virus in their demand for wholesale change.

The anger spilled over first in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city in one of its poorest regions, where protesters risked infection, tear gas, and live fire from the army – which left one man dead – to burn banks, battle security forces, and declare their fresh uprising a “hunger revolution.”

“For them, it’s a lose-lose situation,” says Ms. Hammoud, a 20-something activist from Tripoli, about those who are demonstrating again. “They will tell you, ‘We’re going to die of hunger, so it’s either coronavirus or hunger.’ They don’t even care anymore. They are going to lose anyway; that’s why they are on the street.”

On top of quarantine job losses and a currency that lost 60% of its value in just weeks, there is additional stress during Ramadan. The holy month of fasting has been transformed by social distancing requirements that limit family gatherings and by high prices that cap meal size.

“The first time they did a protest [breaking the lockdown], everyone was complaining,” says Ms. Hammoud, who first spoke with the Monitor last November, a Lebanese flag draped across her shoulders, at a cluster of protest tents in Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut.

“Even we, the people that usually join the protest, were complaining, saying, ‘This is not the right time for it. There is a virus; what are you guys doing?’” says Ms. Hammoud. “But then, with time, we couldn’t complain anymore, because we knew that they are going through hell.”

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
Demonstrators with masks depicting the Lebanese flag gesture during a Labor Day protest against growing economic hardship, in Beirut, May 1, 2020.

Lebanon’s protests have brought the country to the brink of chaos before, forcing a prime minister to resign. They’re part of a revival of Arab world anti-government protests – a so-called Arab Spring 2.0 – that began last autumn and took hold from Algeria and Sudan to Iraq and Lebanon.

Rami Khouri, the renowned journalist and a professor at the American University of Beirut, says the latest outburst in Lebanon is a “turning point” – defying a pandemic to challenge entrenched and uncaring politicians – but should be seen as part of a longer-term Arab transformation.

The greater danger

“It really is one regional wave in which government or political authorities – most of which are military-linked, or sectarian oligarchies – have steadily lost their credibility, efficacy, and legitimacy,” says Professor Khouri, who is also a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The citizenry, in the meantime, in tandem, has been steadily pauperized, marginalized, and treated with disdain.”

It’s not just that they are hungry, because people “have been hungry for a while,” says Professor Khouri. But it is the combination of a large majority that is now “officially poor,” work stoppages, and no apparent end to “dysfunctional management and corruption,” that have made COVID-19 appear to be the lesser danger.

“They say, ‘Let me die from the virus, but if I have a chance to bring about a better government, and have a better life for my kids, then [let me] risk that,’” he says.

“For many people, life has lost its meaning. That sounds crazy, but people don’t do what they are doing lightly,” he says. “They don’t confront armies firing at them lightly, or the virus, or the power of the sectarian militias that are unleashed on them every once in a while.

“They need to be driven by some kind of really intense, almost insane force to get them to do this,” he adds. “And that, as far as I can see, is their own sense of dehumanization.”

Indeed, even if demonstrators are not making an explicit virus-versus-bullets computation, Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis now overshadows all else.

“Protesters who have been arrested have spoken of being tortured in custody, beaten viciously and electrocuted by army intelligence units,” Lina Mounzer, a writer and translator in Beirut, wrote today in The New York Times. “Against these horrors and the everyday despair of no longer being able to afford the simplest things, the threat of the virus, despite 741 cases and 25 deaths in Lebanon so far, has faded into abstraction.”

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
A demonstrator gestures near Lebanese soldiers standing guard during a Labor Day protest in Beirut, May 1, 2020.

Lebanon’s protests managed to force the resignation of one prime minister, but a long-awaited five-year economic recovery package, promised months ago and heavily dependent on winning International Monetary Fund aid, was only announced last week.

The small nation’s vital statistics are as bad as at any time since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. Lebanon shoulders more than $90 billion of debt and defaulted on sovereign debt payments for the first time in March.

Those factors, and the clear unwillingness of Lebanon’s political elite – whose sectarian rule for decades has been based on plundering national resources to benefit party clients – have made international donors wary of helping without seeing reforms first.

Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said Monday that Lebanon’s plan was “an important step forward,” and that talks would begin on “much needed reforms.” But Maha Yahya, head of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, wrote in an analysis days earlier that most of the obvious reforms “would undermine the vested interests of the politicians and the parties, who thus far have proven unwilling to accept the pain of adjustment.”

The renewal of street protests, despite the coronavirus, “implicitly assumes that the public has no expectation that the politicians will address the root causes of the country’s financial crisis,” writes Ms. Yahya. “What Lebanon is facing today is likely to last for years, and the chances of recovery are thin.”

Post-pandemic plans

That is the calculation anti-government activists are making, as they prepare for the next round of post-pandemic protests.

“People think that, after the lockdown, we are going to go back to universities, schools, and jobs, but we know that’s not going to happen,” says Ms. Hammoud in Tripoli. “We’re all going to hit the streets again. It’s going to be even more aggressive this time.”

In the meantime, she and her fellow activists are gathering donations for food distributions, so far to hundreds of families, to prevent them from being catered to during Ramadan by political parties that will demand support in return.

“That’s what we are afraid of, because [people] are so, so vulnerable that they can be easily controlled all over again,” she says.

Indeed, the coronavirus has been used as an excuse by the political elite not to act quickly or decisively on economic reforms, says Professor Khouri.

“That’s the danger: A lot of action happens, but no change happens,” he says. “The question then becomes: If the protesters then go back home, how long can they withstand this? We don’t know. Nobody knows the answer to that.

“What is clear is that when you get millions of people in desperate situations, they eventually do something,” says Professor Khouri. “And they’ve started to do something.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Rural America lags on fast internet. Now small co-ops are building it.

Amid the wide open spaces of the Great Plains, some communities got tired of waiting for others to connect them to the modern economy. Instead, residents are getting more bandwidth by banding together. 

Mark

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In the 1930s, co-ops brought electricity to rural America; in the ’50s, telephone service. Today, co-ops are providing fast internet.

While federal and state governments have been trying to help close the digital divide between city and country, many rural communities aren’t waiting. After hearing “no” from both their local phone and internet provider and the county, people in the town of Winthrop, Minnesota, started a cooperative. They laid fiber optic cable serving about 2,400 customers, both in towns and in the surrounding countryside. It’s helping farmers monitor their fields, workers toil from home, and local businesses find new opportunities. 

According to a 2019 report by the Federal Communications Commission, 73% of rural Americans had access to broadband internet, up from 45% in 2013 but still well below the 98% in cities. But experts say the problem is worse than the numbers suggest, in part because what the federal government defines as broadband service really isn’t fast enough.

Allen Bartels owns a trucking business in Winthrop. “In the world of business today, if you don’t have fiber in rural areas, you’re obsolete,” says Mr. Bartels. “You’re a dinosaur. People don’t want to work with dinosaurs.”

Rural America lags on fast internet. Now small co-ops are building it.

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Kylie Rieke/Courtesy of Jacob Rieke
Jacob Rieke is chairman of the board of a rural co-op that provides broadband internet. Broadband facilitates "precision agriculture," which allows farmers to use fertilizer according to the productive capacity of a particular area. Mr. Rieke applies fertilizer in a field in Fairfax, Minnesota, on April 19, 2020.

When people in the little farm town of Winthrop, Minnesota, grew tired of slow internet service, they approached the local telephone and internet provider and asked for something faster. The company couldn’t help.  

Next they went to the county board. They proposed that Sibley County, in the corn and soybean flatland west of the Twin Cities, install its own broadband network. The board declined.

So they did what rural Americans have been doing for more than a century: They started a cooperative and did it themselves. Called RS Fiber, the co-op has laid fiber optic cable across Sibley County (and parts of neighboring Renville) and is providing fast internet service to about 2,400 customers, both in towns and in the surrounding countryside. It’s helping farmers monitor their fields, workers toil from home, and local businesses find new opportunities.

“I realized that this is something we should have in our communities,” says Dave Trebelhorn, a retired corn and soybean farmer who helped lead the effort. “We’re connected to the world.”

Almost everyone agrees that rural Americans need to be better connected. Expanding higher-quality broadband service to rural areas figured prominently in the platforms of Democratic presidential candidates; President Donald Trump called for it in his latest State of the Union address. The coronavirus emergency, pushing more Americans to do things from home, has only amplified the need. 

Federal and state governments have been trying to help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Federal Communications Commission in particular have been committing ever larger sums to encourage the telecommunications industry to expand broadband in rural areas.

“The unsung heroes”

Many rural communities aren’t waiting. Rural cooperatives, some of them dating to the New Deal, are helping many rural areas close the digital divide between city and country, and often doing it with little outside help. Often no other businesses are willing to build networks. 

“Co-ops in my mind are the unsung heroes of broadband rural deployment,” says Christopher Ali, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia who is writing a book on the subject. “Co-ops are much more responsive to needs of their local communities.”

Co-ops are private businesses owned by their customers and governed by directors chosen from among them, often local business leaders and economic development officials. They are familiar institutions in rural America, especially in the upper Midwest, where in the 19th century farmers came together to establish cooperatives to better market their crops. But it was the New Deal and rural electrification that brought a wider flourishing of cooperatives across rural America, as hundreds of co-ops sprang up to deliver electricity. In the 1950s a new wave of cooperatives brought telephone service to rural areas.

Today, as then, co-ops are an answer when traditional market forces don’t seem to work. 

Pamela Lehmann is one beneficiary of the shift. Ms. Lehmann lives in Boyd, Minnesota, in the county where she grew up. “It’s a great place to grow up and live,” she says. But internet service was slow – “I could hardly get dial-up,” she says – until she and others persuaded a Minnesota telephone cooperative to extend its broadband internet service into their county. Ms. Lehmann, who was the county’s economic development director, now works from home, operating a consulting business that recruits medical personnel for dozens of health care facilities. 

“Without this technology,” she says, “it would never be possible.” 

In the Winthrop area, broadband internet service is new, but for some it’s already made a difference. When a Verizon call center in Mankato closed last year, workers in the RS Fiber service area were able to continue working from home after the RS fiber management convinced Verizon that it could provide high speed internet to their houses. 

Businesses have benefited, too. Bartels Truck Line, a family-owned company in Winthrop, employs 65 people and hauls refrigerated goods all over the country. Allen Bartels, the company’s president, says that fast internet has become essential for keeping track of shipments and meeting the expectations of clientele. The company is also taking advantage of RS Fiber’s faster internet service to build a refrigerated warehouse that could employ as many as a dozen more local workers.

“In the world of business today, if you don’t have fiber in rural areas, you’re obsolete,” says Mr. Bartels. “You’re a dinosaur. People don’t want to work with dinosaurs.”

Helping in farm fields as well as offices

Outside the towns, high speed internet is helping farmers practice “precision agriculture” using technological innovations that enable close monitoring of fields and crops and involve heavy use of data. “Once they try it, there’s no going back,” says Jacob Rieke, a fifth-generation farmer near Fairfax, west of Winthrop, where he grows corn and soybeans and raises hogs. Mr. Rieke, who chairs the RS Fiber board of directors, uses fast internet to map fields, share information with crop advisers, and upload photos from a drone he sends aloft to check his crops. He and his wife also are building her a pottery studio, and she hopes to sell her work online. 

RS Fiber stands out because it’s one of the few cooperatives that have been formed specifically to provide broadband service. That it was a cooperative helped it gain quick acceptance in the community. “There are more co-ops in Minnesota probably than any state,” says Mr. Trebelhorn. “A lot of people understand co-ops.”

Still, it wasn’t easy. The co-op struggled at first. “We couldn’t get people signed up fast enough,” says Kelly Pierson, Winthrop’s mayor. Three years in, it defaulted on its loans and had to refinance. It scaled back its plans. Its aim has been to offer fiber optic connections to everyone in its area – 10 towns and 17 townships. For now, however, the fastest service is available only in towns. In the countryside, the fiber optic goes to antennas on water towers and grain elevators, which send a high-speed wireless signal out to customers like Mr. Rieke.

Still, the number of subscribers has been increasing, and the co-op is seeking new ways to serve the community. Recently, for example, it began offering 60 days of free internet service for low-income residents as a response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“The goal is to make a sustainable business, to support the generations that come out here, and their internet needs,” says Mr. Pierson. 

Despite gains in recent years, rural Americans continue to lag in internet access. According to a new report by the Federal Communications Commission, 78% of rural Americans have access to broadband internet, up from 45% in 2013 but still well below the nearly 99% in cities. And experts say the problem is worse than the numbers suggest, in part because what the federal government defines as broadband service really isn’t fast enough.

Now, hundreds of telephone cooperatives are offering fiber optic broadband. In North Dakota, many rural areas enjoy faster internet than cities and towns. 

To advocates, the benefits are clear. They say better broadband is essential to the vitality of rural communities – to creating jobs, attracting new families, even increasing civic engagement.

 “If you care about rural places and access to opportunity, you have to care about rural broadband,” says Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy at the Blandin Foundation, which has aided the co-op activity in Minnesota. “Access denied is opportunity denied. If you don’t have access to broadband and the ability to use it, you simply can’t participate in the modern economy.”

No flour? No problem. How to bake with workarounds.

Those who like to bake are often confounded by a lack of flour and even yeast in stores these days. But Americans have a long tradition of figuring out what to do when ingredients aren’t readily available, explains a Monitor editor and foodie.

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The eagerness to bake has meant grocery shelves have been swept clean. Figuring out what to do when ingredients aren’t readily available is a long American tradition. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books will recall in “The Long Winter” when Ma baked a green pumpkin pie after an early frost killed the pumpkins before they could ripen. Who can forget Ma’s delight when Pa swore he was eating apple pie

Families with knowledge of Great Depression recipes will remember the chocolate cake that uses no milk, eggs, or butter. Instead, vegetable oil, baking soda, and vinegar work together to make a light, moist cake. Rations may have made staples like eggs hard to come by, but Americans still figured out how to have their dessert.

The lack of flour seems a harder obstacle to overcome, especially when one is craving warm comfort during rainy spring days. But it’s still possible – deliciously.

No flour? No problem. How to bake with workarounds.

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Kendra Nordin Beato/The Christian Science Monitor
These scones made from oat flour have a wonderful nutty flavor. Oat flour can be made from old-fashioned oats ground in a food processor.

You’ve probably noticed the soft, white staple that has been missing from grocery store shelves for weeks on end: flour. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. The order to restrict errands to essentials somehow triggered what is being called “quarantine baking.” With hours at home, people are finding they have time to watch dough rise. 

Google searches for “sourdough bread” spiked the first week in April, and have remained high ever since. So much for gluten-free, low-carb culinary trends. My social media feeds have been filled with tantalizing images as friends share their own beautiful round loaves. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

But the eagerness to bake has also meant grocery shelves have been swept clean. Figuring out what to do when ingredients aren’t readily available is a long American tradition. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books will recall in “The Long Winter” when Ma baked a green pumpkin pie after an early frost killed the pumpkins before they could ripen. Who can forget Ma’s delight when Pa swore he was eating apple pie? It was a triumph of pioneer ingenuity!

Families with knowledge of Great Depression recipes will remember the chocolate cake, also known as Wacky Cake during World War II, that uses no milk, eggs, or butter. Instead, vegetable oil, baking soda, and vinegar work together to make a light, moist cake. Rations may have made staples like eggs hard to come by, but Americans still figured out how to have their dessert.

The lack of flour seems a harder obstacle to overcome, especially when one is craving warm comfort during rainy spring days. I got curious about an alternative, oat flour, after reading that one cup of old-fashioned oats can make about one cup of oat flour in a food processor. 

Because oat flour lacks the gluten to make dough rise in the oven, it isn’t an even trade. One option is to add xanthan gum, a powdery substance found in the baking aisle and a popular ingredient in gluten-free cooking. Xanthan gum is produced when sugar is fermented by bacteria. After being dried, it is ground into a powder. When added in cooking or baking it acts as a thickener to bind the ingredients in place of gluten. Fair warning: It is expensive. An eight-ounce bag can cost around $15. If you are not up for buying a bag of xanthan gum, and you have a bit of flour left in your canister, swap out half of the all-purpose flour for oat flour in your recipe. (The cakier the recipe, the less oat flour you should use.)

I decided to try using only homemade oat flour in my favorite scone recipe I’ve shared with Monitor readers before. They are a bit more dense but have a wonderful nutty flavor from the oats and keep for several days. I smoothed apricot jam on a still-warm scone – delicious. It was just the right fortifying treat before my midday walk in the brisk spring air.

Oat flour scones with currants

2 cups oat flour (Here is a version of the recipe with self-rising flour.) 

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 egg

1/2 cup milk, approximately

1/4 cup dried currants 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. and grease a baking sheet.

Measure out 2 cups of old-fashioned oats into a food processor and blend until you have a fine flour (you might need to add a few more oats to get 2 full cups). Sift oat flour over a medium-sized bowl to add air and remove any of the heavier grains. Add baking powder, xanthan gum, sugar, salt, and currants and mix until combined. Cut the butter into the bowl with a knife or pastry cutter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. (You can also use a hand mixer to do this.) 

Make a well in the center of the mixture and drop in the egg. Adding a portion of the milk at a time, stir the egg and milk into the dough using a rounded-edge knife. How much milk you use depends on the size of the egg. The dough will be sticky.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, or use a silicone baking mat. Gently pat out the dough to about a 7-inch round. Using a pizza cutter, cut into 8 equal wedges. Place wedges on the greased baking sheet and brush the remaining milk on top with a pastry brush. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

After removing the scones from the oven, put them onto a cooling rack covered with a tea towel. Place another tea towel on top of the scones to trap the steam and to keep the scones from drying out as they cool. Serve warm with jam. Makes 8 scones.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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Why stargazing is looking up

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Just when the world is feeling down, stargazing is looking up. Today, many people are taking comfort in searching the celestial scene. A few months of sheltering in place, after all, is nothing compared with the timelessness and immensity of the universe.

Yet there may be another reason for the increase in backyard astronomy. In April, the Hubble Space Telescope marked 30 years of sending back images from the far reaches of the universe. It has made numerous discoveries, such as revealing that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old.

More progress in space is scheduled for late May, when American astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley travel to the International Space Station. They’ll be the first astronauts sent into space from American soil since 2011.

More than six decades of space exploration has produced practical progress. Where would the world be without wireless communication and weather satellites?

On Earth, it might seem like a time to hunker down inside. But many are choosing to look up – and be renewed.

Why stargazing is looking up

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The moon sets behind the Taunus Mountains near Frankfurt, Germany, May 6.

Just when the world is feeling down, stargazing is looking up. It’s a simple activity for those stuck at home with a view of the heavens. All it takes is an inexpensive telescope, a pair of binoculars, or just the naked eye.

“The moon is still there. The stars are still there,” a British stargazer told CBS News.

Centuries ago, humans paid more attention to the night sky, especially to the moon as it shrank each month to a sliver of itself and then regrew to its glowing roundness. Stars moved in reliable patterns, providing seasonal and travel guides. Planets were a mystery unto themselves.

Today, many people are taking comfort in searching the celestial scene. A few months of sheltering in place, after all, is nothing compared with the timelessness and immensity of the universe. Looking up, people see that.

Yet there may be another reason for the increase in backyard astronomy. In April, the Hubble Space Telescope marked 30 years of sending back images from the far reaches of the universe. It has made numerous discoveries, such as revealing that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old.

In a patch of space where the human eye sees nothing, Hubble has found thousands of galaxies, just part of 1.4 million such observations so far.

Hubble’s success serves as another guiding star for those in pandemic lockdown. Problems can be overcome. When it first began transmitting images in 1990, scientists discovered Hubble had a flaw in its large mirror. Its distorted photos were nearly useless. But scientists and technicians didn’t give up. In 1993 astronauts spent five days in spacesuits making crucial repairs. The result: spectacularly clear views ever since.

More progress in space is scheduled for late May, when American astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley travel to the International Space Station. They’ll be the first astronauts sent into space from American soil since 2011. After the end of the space shuttle program, the United States was forced to buy seats for its astronauts on Soyuz launches from Russia.

Domestic rockets are a vital step if the U.S. wants to return to the moon by 2024, the government’s stated goal. And beyond that, Mars awaits.

But the May launch has taken on greater meaning.

“It’s important that this agency do this now, because our country – and in fact the whole world – has been shaken by this coronavirus pandemic,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a recent news conference. “We need to give people hope.”

The astronauts will be test-driving a new type of spacecraft, the fifth one in a line of U.S. spacecraft – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and then the space shuttle.

More than six decades of space exploration has produced practical progress. Where would the world be without wireless communication and weather satellites? Imagine driving in unfamiliar areas without a GPS signal. Yet these feats have not diminished the deep need to explore. Thought marvels at the universe’s beauty and its mysteries. Curiosity demands to unlock them.

On Earth, it might seem like a time to hunker down inside. But many are choosing to look up – and be renewed.

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.

A distance-learning lesson in humility

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When parental frustrations about distance learning came to a head, a teacher felt affronted. But she soon found that the most productive, healing approach to the situation was to let God, rather than self-justification and ego, inspire her response.

A distance-learning lesson in humility

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

One of the geniuses of God – and I’ve found there are many! – is that divine Love always shows us when there’s more for us to learn. This includes gently guiding us into a deeper understanding of God and His love for us. I recently experienced how this gentle guidance can encourage and support qualities that help bring harmony to situations.

I am a kindergarten teacher and, like so many of my fellow educators, feel full of love, patience, and compassion for my students and their families. But these new and uncharted times of distance learning have brought unique challenges and frustrations. One evening my cellphone was lighting up as a string of text messages poured in. Some of my fellow teachers were discussing some social media posts by some parents at our school that expressed unhappiness and anger about distance learning.

The lists of complaints went on and on. It felt very personal, hurtful, and upsetting, especially since one of the most outspoken parents had a child in my class. Initially I wanted to reach out to this parent and justify my position by listing all I had done. But I knew that we were all, parents included, doing the best we could. By the time I went to bed, I had decided to just let it go.

But come morning, I woke up ruminating on the situation. It was clear to me that genuine healing was needed. I have often found prayer to be very helpful in troubling times, so I knew I had some spiritual digging to do!

Going back through my mental arguments with this parent, I immediately realized that each of my points started with “I.” It hit me full force that I needed to gain a deeper sense of humility.

A Bible story about humility came to thought. A great man named Naaman had leprosy, and summoned the prophet Elisha for help (see II Kings 5). Elisha instructed him to go wash himself in the Jordan River. Naaman felt insulted by this; he felt Elisha should at least send him to a better river than the Jordan. But Elisha had discerned Naaman’s need for greater humility, which ended up being a key part of the healing that followed. When Naaman finally did go to the Jordan, he emerged healed.

I realized that we are all God’s children. Our Father-Mother God loves everyone, including each parent and teacher, tenderly and completely. In fact, our real, spiritual nature is the very expression of God’s love and care. Wouldn’t it be more helpful, then, not to get caught up in self-justification but rather to acknowledge God’s view? Replaying events and having mental arguments do not lead to healing, and isn’t that what we all want? I certainly did! But instead of approaching the problem from a God-inspired, healing perspective, I was coming at it with ego and willfulness, like Naaman.

This revelation stopped me in my tracks, as I had never thought of myself as needing a lesson in humility. But as I prayed, our tender, loving God gently showed me that the one true Ego is the Divine, and we can never go wrong letting this Ego – God, good – lead us!

Desiring to remove fears about distance learning and the new territories we were navigating, I humbly asked God, divine Love, what He wanted me to do in my “classroom” that day. As I listened for Love’s always-present inspiration, an idea for an email to all the parents flowed out. As I wrote, I felt patience and humility, along with a spiritual love for all the parents, God’s beloved children, shining right through.

I heard from nearly every parent that day, each expressing gratitude for the message – including the one who had initially displayed such anger. While she continued to express her frustration, she acknowledged that the understanding and concern in my email had lessened it. And while it’s not always easy, the spiritual lessons I learned from this experience continue to help me in my work.

Whatever type of discord we see, be it physical, relational, emotional, or otherwise, we can find more harmony and healing by turning to God and following His loving guidance.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the coronavirus. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

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Time for bangs?

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Valentina Bacchin looks at Wilfy, a young Westie dog needing a haircut, in the Bottega di Zula pet grooming shop in Rome, May 6, 2020. Bacchin reopened her shop on Monday when Italy began stirring again after a two-month coronavirus shutdown. Some 4.4 million Italians were able to return to work in the first European country to lock down in a bid to stem COVID-19 infections.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Rampant unemployment and shortages? It might feel new to the West, but Russia lived through it as recently as the 1990s. Our Fred Weir looks at the lessons and the impact in tomorrow’s issue. Thanks for joining us today. 

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