2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

November 20, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

This reporter was laid off. Then she witnessed history.

Amid the tumult of the 2020 post-election period it’s good to stop and take a moment to remember some of the unsung heroes of the vote. There were the many election workers who did their jobs quietly and well amid a pandemic, for instance.

And there was Robin Kemp. She watched those workers count votes. And watched them. And watched some more.

Ms. Kemp is a member of a vanishing breed – local journalists. She’s the founder and sole employee of the Clayton Crescent, an online site that covers Georgia’s Clayton County, a suburban area south of Atlanta.

She started it after being laid off from the local paper last spring.

She was the only journalist to watch Clayton County’s marathon counting of absentee votes, beginning early Nov. 5 and stretching 20 hours. That was when a steady drip of absentee votes pushed Joe Biden closer and closer to President Donald Trump. Finally, it was the count in Clayton that catapulted President-elect Biden into the lead.

And Ms. Kemp was there, bearing witness.

Suddenly her Twitter feed and Facebook posts were drawing worldwide attention. She gained 10,000 followers in a day, up from a few hundred. Foreign news organizations wanted interviews. Money flowed into a GoFundMe site she’d set up in April.

Ms. Kemp knows local journalism is a tough business. But her father worked for CNN and the job is in her blood. She says she hopes to build the Crescent up and hire a small full-time staff.

"The political and geographical oddities of Clayton County, which has a larger population than Pittsburgh, require more than one person to cover it properly," she says in an email. 

For Afghans, US troops ‘home by Christmas’ is gift to the Taliban

To see how the U.S. political calendar affects the world, look to Afghanistan. President Trump’s decision to hasten the troop withdrawal has raised alarms: in NATO, and among Afghans seeking peace with the Taliban.

Peter

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When the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February, Americans spoke of a conditions-based withdrawal and said the Taliban privately committed to a reduction in violence. Also in the agreement: participation in intra-Afghan talks.

While the U.S. stuck to its incremental pullout schedule, the Taliban has escalated violence across the country, in attacks that have left thousands more Afghans dead and tens of thousands displaced.

With the talks in Doha, Qatar, now stalled, Afghan government negotiators are concerned that President Donald Trump’s decision this week to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces could have potentially grave consequences.

“The Americans will not stay forever, but I know in the meantime [withdrawal] has to be done properly, it has to be in a way that will help reduce violence,” says Fawzia Koofi, a women’s rights activist and member of the negotiating team.

She says the U.S. has led to a “wrong perception” among the Taliban that they are in a win-win situation. “It will give the Taliban a position that, ‘No matter if we don’t win at the negotiating table, we will win on the battlefield,’” she says. “So they will try to even further delay achieving something concrete on the negotiation table.”

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1. For Afghans, US troops ‘home by Christmas’ is gift to the Taliban

An American gift to the Afghan Taliban that portends more war and less peace?

That is how President Donald Trump’s sudden decision this week to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is seen by Afghan government negotiators at stalled peace talks in Doha, Qatar – even as Taliban insurgents talk peace but continue the fight.

Prior to the presidential election Nov. 3, Mr. Trump tweeted that all American troops, including those in Afghanistan, who are serving as part of a NATO force, should be “home by Christmas!”

Then, a week after the president fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who opposed the drawdown, the Pentagon announced Nov. 17 that the remaining 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be cut to 2,500 by Jan. 15 – five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

For Afghans, it’s the latest example of how American political timelines can affect their own battlespace – sometimes with deleterious effects – as the war has ground on since the U.S. toppled the Taliban and its Al Qaeda “guests” in late 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks.

For some at the Doha talks, the decision is a rushed bid to conclude America’s longest-ever war, with potentially grave consequences for the future of Afghanistan.

“When you see in the middle of this that there is a hurry from the American side which will not help the process, it is worrisome,” says Fawzia Koofi, a member of the government negotiating team who was wounded in an assassination attempt in Kabul, four weeks before intra-Afghan talks began on Sept. 12.

“The Americans will not stay forever, but I know in the meantime [withdrawal] has to be done properly, it has to be in a way that will help reduce violence,” says Ms. Koofi, contacted in Doha.

A NATO warning

Deep concerns were voiced quickly by NATO, as well.

“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement the day the withdrawal was announced. “But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”

“Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands,” he said.

Ms. Koofi, a former lawmaker and women’s rights activist who has participated in talks with the Taliban since last year, says the new U.S. emphasis on pulling out speedily has led to a “wrong perception” among the Taliban that they are in a win-win situation.

“It will give the Taliban a position that, ‘No matter if we don’t win at the negotiating table, we will win on the battlefield,’” she says. “So they will try to even further delay achieving something concrete on the negotiation table.”

The U.S.-Taliban deal

Last February, after a year of negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban insurgents – who today control or have influence in more than half of the country – the U.S. and Taliban signed a deal.

The text of the agreement trades a complete U.S. and NATO pullout by the end of next April – plus 5,000 Taliban political prisoners released up front – for Taliban promises to prevent Afghan soil from being used for militant attacks abroad, as well as participation in intra-Afghan talks, where a cease-fire is only “an item on the agenda.”

Americans have spoken of a conditions-based withdrawal, and say the Taliban privately committed to an 80% reduction of violence. While the U.S. stuck to its incremental pullout schedule – which has now been sped up – the Taliban has escalated violence across the country, in attacks that have left thousands more Afghans dead and tens of thousands displaced.

U.S. officials have chastised the Taliban for “car bombs, IEDs and targeted killings” against civilians, but not slowed the withdrawal. And, after an especially heavy Taliban offensive last month to seize Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province – which required U.S. airstrikes to push insurgents back – they claimed to have worked out a “re-set” and “strict adherence” of terms with the jihadists.

Hussein Sayed/AP
Members of the Taliban delegation head to attend the opening session of the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

Nevertheless, another offensive aimed at Kandahar earlier this month involved 3,500 Taliban attackers and required U.S. airpower to defeat, the Washington Post reported. It quoted an Afghan national police commander as saying the Taliban would not have been stopped were it not for U.S. airstrikes.

Taliban “all like Trump”

“The Taliban were very worried when Trump lost [the election], because they knew Trump just wanted to get out and didn’t care,” says a Western official in Kabul who asked not to be identified further.

“They all like Trump [because] they also felt like they had Trump in their pocket, because he’s so desperate to get out. He didn’t understand the conflict and didn’t bother understanding it,” says the official.

The feeling in Kabul is that 2,500 U.S. troops is “really bare bones.”

“The bottom line is: The more you drill down the numbers, the more you get to people who are not just logistics support, but people who actually have a day job,” says the official. “It will be very difficult for somebody to be a full-time mentor to the [Afghan] Special Forces, at the same time in the evening packing up his equipment.”

Indeed, the sense that the White House drafted a lopsided deal with the Taliban and is speeding the U.S. withdrawal at the expense of the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani – which has little leverage at the negotiating table without U.S. military force backing him up – is causing pushback in Washington.

One reason former Secretary Esper was fired by Mr. Trump was reportedly a classified memo he wrote arguing against a further pullout, given stepped-up Taliban attacks.

“I believe it was political. There was no tactical, operational or strategic merit to doing this,” retired Gen. John Allen, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until 2013, said at an online security event this week run by the Soufan Center.

Debate inside the Taliban

In Doha, Taliban leaders have routinely expressed their desire for an inclusive, negotiated solution to end the war. They have also publicly claimed that their views have evolved since the late 1990s, when they ruled Afghanistan with an uncompromising, hardline fervor, which forced women indoors and banned girls’ education.

And yet, along the front lines and among insurgent commanders and fighters, the Taliban message has been consistent: that the Doha deal means they achieved “victory” in war.

“The jury is still out,” says Michael Semple, an Afghanistan expert at Queen’s University Belfast who lived and worked for years in the country.

“But as far as the evidence that is readily available – like what’s happening on the battlefield – the Taliban seem prepared to have a go at grabbing [military victory]. They certainly haven’t done anything to prepare their base for political compromise inherent in a deal,” says Mr. Semple.

News of an accelerated U.S. drawdown to 2,500 – and fewer American military capabilities when the next fighting season rolls around – “strengthens the hand and the resolution of those inside the [Taliban] movement who would like to pursue military victory rather than a negotiated settlement,” he says.

One benefit of doing a peace deal is that any interim and new government will include the Taliban, and crucially have support – and sizable funding – from the U.S. and key donors. By contrast, “winning” on the battlefield means the Taliban standing alone, ruling over a population that widely rejects them, and almost certainly sparking another civil war.

“We shouldn’t dismiss this point that there will be counsel within the Taliban saying, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’” says Mr. Semple. “But those who say, ‘Look, we can wind this up now, we can sweep the board,’ they are going to be louder and more confident.”

So far, he adds, the Taliban have tried to “calibrate their violence, rather than reduce it,” to score gains while avoiding being declared in breach of the deal.

“If the U.S. accelerates its withdrawal, goes beyond that which it is committed to with the Taliban – it is essentially rewarding a breach of conditions, rather than punishing,” says Mr. Semple. “Back in the real world of hardball war and peace diplomacy, if you reward bad behavior, you are encouraging more of it. And hence, it is less likely that you can marshal the Taliban towards a negotiated agreement.”

That result adds to the exasperation in Doha, where peace negotiators like Ms. Koofi watch every day as the death toll climbs and the fighting continues. She recalls the maxim, often repeated in Afghanistan, that the Americans may have the watch, but the Taliban have the time.

“It is frustrating.... People from both sides are being killed for something that we could actually prevent,” says Ms. Koofi. “It’s just the people of Afghanistan who do not have enough time to be a continuous victim, and it’s the Americans who should have time enough to avoid a complete collapse, once again.”  

Trump ‘bromance’ broke Israel’s bipartisan rule. Will Netanyahu pay?

Bipartisanship is often held up as a political virtue. Though of late, it’s a goal not easily attained. For countries like Israel, dependent on a stable U.S. friendship, bipartisan support is a precious commodity.

Peter

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It’s a near-consensus in Israel that the second most important factor for the country’s defense, after maintaining a powerful army, is a strong relationship with the United States, predicated on bipartisan support. While most Israelis may not follow the nuances of American politics, they know that putting all of one’s diplomatic and security eggs in one basket is risky business.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has benefited from his close relationship with President Donald Trump, who enjoys higher popularity in Israel than perhaps anywhere else and has favored Israel heavily in his policies. But as Israel prepares for the transition in Washington, concerns are growing that the country is seen as a “red state.”

“Israel cannot afford to be a branch of the Republican Party,” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid warned the day before the U.S. election.

Shalom Lipner, a nonresident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council, spent more than 25 years advising several Israeli prime ministers. “Fawning over Trump in a way that almost no other country did, that comes with a cost,” he cautions. “I think that the Netanyahu government should have been more careful to not put Israel in a situation where it stands accused of playing partisan politics.”

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2. Trump ‘bromance’ broke Israel’s bipartisan rule. Will Netanyahu pay?

Well before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel made the calculated decision to align himself closely with the Republican Party.

So much so that he’s sometimes referred to as “the Republican senator from Israel,” and Israel itself has been called – only half-jokingly – “a red state.”

But as Mr. Netanyahu, a Trump loyalist whose sluggish congratulatory message to President-elect Joe Biden was noted by critics at home, adjusts to the impending transition in Washington, a question is being asked in Israel: Will the country pay a political price for breaking a cardinal rule from its own playbook, that preserving bipartisan U.S. support is sacrosanct, essential for Israel survival?

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid was the first to assail Mr. Netanyahu’s “Republicans First” approach, in recent months talking about the virtues of bipartisanship.

“Israel cannot afford to be a branch of the Republican Party,” Mr. Lapid warned from the Knesset floor the day before the election. “Israel is losing the Democratic Party.”

Mr. Netanyahu has benefited from his close relationship with Mr. Trump, who enjoys higher popularity in Israel than perhaps anywhere else.

“Fawning over Trump in a way that almost no other country did, that comes with a cost,” cautions Shalom Lipner, a nonresident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council who spent more than 25 years working for several Israeli prime ministers, including as a foreign policy adviser.

“I think that the Netanyahu government should have been more careful to not put Israel in a situation where it stands accused of playing partisan politics,” he says. “To the extent that its relations with the U.S. are unscathed, it will owe in great measure to the fact that Israel will have plenty of friends in the incoming administration as well.”

Polling of Israelis from across the political spectrum has consistently shown a belief that the second most important factor for Israel’s defense, after maintaining a powerful army, is a strong relationship with the United States.

That’s predicated on bipartisan support, both in Congress and the White House. While most Israelis may not closely follow the nuances of American politics, they know that every four years a presidential election is held, and that putting all of one’s diplomatic and security eggs in one basket is risky business.

Damage control

Swift and effective damage control therefore is now of the essence, analysts say.

“Israel has a lot of work to do in establishing open and constructive communication lines with Democratic officials and in transforming Israel to once again become a bipartisan issue,” says Michal Hatuel-Radoshitzky, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank.

Some are urging the government to run, not walk.

“Israel needs to work immediately to start repairing relations and creating new lines of communication. Time is of the essence, and failure to do so will undermine Israel’s security in the Middle East,” wrote Yaakov Katz in The Jerusalem Post, the center-right newspaper where he serves as editor-in-chief.

Debbie Hill/AP/File
Joe Biden, then vice president, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not pictured, give joint statements in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, March 9, 2016.

Seemingly heeding that message, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, announced Tuesday he had spoken with Mr. Biden by phone to congratulate him. He sounded the theme of working with both Democrats and Republicans, telling the president-elect: “You know that our friendship is based on values that are beyond partisan politics and that we have no doubt that, under your leadership, the United States is committed to Israel’s security and success.”

Mr. Biden, who spent 40 years in the Senate, has a long pro-Israel voting record. He likes to tout a 1973 meeting he had in Israel with then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, as well as stories of his father’s emotional response to the founding of the state.

But underscoring the delicacy of the moment, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Wednesday on a three-day visit to the region. Among his stops Thursday was a winery in Psagot, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. It marked the first time a senior U.S. diplomat visited a Jewish settlement.

Secretary Pompeo, and others in the Trump administration, have been busy reversing long-held U.S. policy by extending de facto recognition of such settlements as part of Israel. On Thursday he also visited the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. President Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau in 2019.

He has “gifted” Israel with several other notable prizes, some more symbolic than strategic, like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and others significant, like brokering peace accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.

The last time Mr. Pompeo was in Israel, he addressed the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem, with the ancient walls of the Old City glittering behind him.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, says this is emblematic of both American and Israeli politicians using the other country as a tool to sway their own people.

“The norms of politics in both societies have led the politicians to instrumentalize relations, and that is not good,” she says.

Address to Congress

For Democrats, a searing symbol of this was Mr. Netanyahu’s 2015 speech before a joint session of Congress. It was an unprecedented move, a head of state invited by the Republicans without coordination with the Obama White House, to give a speech to persuade Congress to quash President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran over a nuclear deal. It was regarded as a brazen insult to Mr. Obama and remains an open, polarizing, partisan wound for Democrats, among them Obama aides. Some of those people will be working in the Biden administration.

In the Knesset, Mr. Lapid explained why he finds Mr. Netanyahu’s behavior reckless: “Until a few years ago, Israel was above politics in the United States. We were a bipartisan issue. All the governments of Israel preserved good relations with the Democrats and the Republicans. Netanyahu decided, mostly for internal reasons, to break with that principle,” he said.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks against the U.S.-led international nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. The speech infuriated then-President Barack Obama and remains a sore spot with Democrats.

Mr. Netanyahu later defended himself, also at the Knesset, citing what he said were his close ties to Democratic leaders, including Mr. Biden, who he has known almost 40 years, since the president-elect’s early days as a senator. “I don’t stand for Republicans or Democrats. I stand only for the State of Israel, and that will continue with the next [U.S.] government.”

Yet Mr. Netanyahu’s strategy has put him in a bind, argues Jonathan Rynhold, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University who studies U.S.-Israel ties.

“There has never been such hatred between [the American parties] as there is today, so to at this point decide to take sides is shooting yourself in both feet,” he says.

That said, Dr. Rynhold cautions against rushing to conclusions about the lasting impact, saying it’s still unclear if Israel will pay a price. Much of this will play out in what policies Israel chooses to follow, he says.

“Democrats can agree broadly on an underlying commitment to Israel,” he says, noting surveys have found that while Mr. Netanyahu is deeply unpopular among Democrats, support for Israel remains strong. He acknowledges that progressives in the party are more focused on Palestinian human rights and are more critical of Israel.

Settlements

Something that would certainly alienate even moderate Democrats would be settlement expansion, especially building outside the major settlement blocs.

On the immediate horizon, Israel risks angering an incoming Biden administration with the announcement that in late January, just as Mr. Biden is scheduled to begin his term, it will begin the process of building 1,200 units in a planned settlement near East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos.

Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, a close Netanyahu associate, said that “these days are an irreplaceable opportunity to establish our hold on the Land of Israel, and I’m sure that our friend President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to take advantage.”

Such comments lay bare the sense that Mr. Trump is indeed still seen as Israel’s “best friend ever,” as Mr. Netanyahu has called him. But even more than that, it points at Israel’s shift rightward, perhaps the greatest indicator of the future of Israel’s relationship with the U.S. under Mr. Biden.

As Native freshman enrollment falls sharply, tribal colleges respond

Among students of color in particular, freshman enrollment in colleges is down significantly due to the pandemic. But schools serving the Native American community are working hard to get students back on track.

Peter
Courtesy of Kate Oviok
The pandemic upended Alaska Native Ebony Oviok's plans to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks this fall, but she expects to enroll in a tribal college in the spring.

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Across the country, students who had planned to begin college this fall are at home instead, waiting out the pandemic. For Native American students, freshman enrollment at public, four-year colleges is down 22%; at community colleges, it’s fallen by almost 30%.

Some of these students have lost jobs, or have family members who have, and can no longer afford college. Others are uncomfortable with online education or lack the technology to access it. And some, like Alaska Native Ebony Oviok, worry about bringing the virus back to vulnerable family members.

In response, colleges and access groups are scrambling to get students back on track, with some offering discounted or free tuition. Along with extending its 50% discount, the Navajo Nation’s Diné College plans to improve access by offering evening classes at high schools this spring to avoid long commutes to the college campus.

Though disappointed not to be at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as originally planned, Ms. Oviok is moving forward. She expects to enroll at her tribal college in the spring – and even sees some benefits in that. “I like my culture, the whaling festivities, how close our community is,” she says. “In the city, you don’t know anyone.”   

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3. As Native freshman enrollment falls sharply, tribal colleges respond

Ebony Oviok, an Alaska Native from the state’s North Slope, thought she’d be spending this fall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studying for her nursing certificate.

Instead, like thousands of would-be college freshmen, she’s home, waiting out the pandemic.

Nationwide, there are 13% fewer freshmen enrolled in college this fall than last, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The steepest declines have occurred at community colleges among students of color. At public, four-year colleges, freshman enrollment among Native American students is down 22%; at community colleges, it’s fallen by almost 30%.

Some of these students have lost jobs, or have family members who have, and can no longer afford college. Others are uncomfortable with online education or lack the technology to access it. And some, like Ms. Oviok, are scared of bringing back the virus to vulnerable family members.

“I was worried that some places might not be hygienic,” says Ms. Oviok, whose mother, brother, and boyfriend all have been diagnosed with asthma. “I thought about me coming home and infecting them.”

This fall’s drop in freshman enrollment is likely to have long-term consequences for students, colleges, and the economy at large. Students who postpone enrollment are far less likely to graduate from college than those who enroll immediately after high school. And without a degree, they’re more likely to get stuck in low- and middle-wage jobs.

So colleges and access groups are scrambling to get students back on track. They’re reaching out to applicants asking why they didn’t enroll and reassuring parents that their campuses are safe. Some are offering discounted or free tuition and other incentives.

In Point Hope, Alaska, high school counselor Cathy Williams is urging Ms. Oviok and other students who sat out the fall semester to enroll at the tribal college, Iḷisaġvik College, this spring.

“I’m trying to build a bridge to the community college,” she says. “Even a certificate will help you get employment.”

A digital divide

Point Hope is located near the tip of a triangular spit of land that juts out into the Chukchi Sea. It is reachable only by sea or air. The local economy revolves around subsistence hunting, fishing, and whaling.

The isolation and self-reliance of Point Hope have insulated its 700-some residents from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. But the town’s remoteness has also made the pivot to online courses and services difficult for its aspiring college students. Though high-speed internet is available in Point Hope, it’s expensive, and most families can’t afford it, Ms. Williams says.

Without high-speed internet, students couldn’t participate in the virtual tours and chats that replaced in-person visits to college campuses last spring. They also couldn’t commit to online classes if their college opted for remote-only instruction.

It’s not just Point Hope that is seeing the effects of the digital divide on students’ college plans. Nationwide, more than a quarter of Native American students attending a tribal college lack reliable internet access at home, according to a survey by the American Indian College Fund. For many of them, access is not just a matter of cost, but availability. In vast swaths of rural America, “there are literally no lines,” says Carmen Lopez, executive director of College Horizons, a New Mexico nonprofit that helps Native students enroll and succeed in college.

At the Institute of American Indian Arts, in Santa Fe, freshman enrollment fell by a third this fall, a drop that admissions director Mary Silentwalker attributed to the school’s decision to offer most courses online.

“We had a good group accepted, and they just started falling by the wayside,” she says.

More than three-quarters of the nation’s tribal colleges have lost first-time students this fall, with an average reported decrease of nearly 75%, according to a survey by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).

Brian Leddy/Gallup Independent/AP/File
Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, is the oldest and largest tribally controlled college on the Navajo Reservation. Everything from the placement of the buildings, reflecting the shape and concept of a traditional hogan, to the college's arrowhead emblem, symbolizing protection, has the Navajo philosophy embedded in it.

But a handful of institutions appear to be benefiting from the shift to online learning. Tohono O’odham Community College, in Arizona, grew its freshman class by almost 150%, in part by adding students from Phoenix and other parts of the state who live too far away to commute. In a typical year, the college serves students from 10 tribes; this year, it has students from 45, says Paul Robertson, president of Tohono O’odham.

“Pre-COVID, tribal colleges were serving students who lived within the geographic area,” says Carrie Billy, president and CEO of AIHEC. “Now, because they’re offering online, students from anywhere can enroll.”

Deep discounts

The dramatic decline in freshman enrollment isn’t due to technology challenges alone. In many communities of color, high unemployment rates are forcing young people to put off college to work to support their families.

Raven Culbertson, 18, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota, is among them. When the pandemic hit, her grandfather stopped working because underlying health issues put him at risk of severe illness. Ms. Culbertson thought she could balance online classes at the local tribal college with a full-time job at Walmart, but she was quickly overwhelmed. She quit school after just three weeks.

“I know school is important and stuff, but I needed a job because my family was running low on food,” she says. “I was really trying to juggle everything, and I couldn’t.”

Even before the pandemic, roughly two-thirds of tribal college students reported experiencing food or housing insecurity, according to a recent survey by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.

With so many of their students struggling financially, several tribal colleges offered free or reduced tuition this fall. Some of these colleges, including Tohono O’odham, saw their enrollment increase.

Others, like the Navajo Nation’s Diné College, which offered a 50% tuition discount, lost freshmen anyway. Monty Roessel, Diné’s president, attributes the 42% drop, in part, to transportation and child care issues. With the reservation’s bus system down, some students have no way to get to campus for those classes that remain in-person. Others must stay home to supervise siblings or their own children while schools are closed.

To entice them to enroll in the spring, Diné plans to offer evening classes at high schools to avoid long commutes to the Diné campus. The college is also extending its 50% discount.

But as the pandemic drags on, hope for a 2021 rebound in freshman numbers nationwide is fading. Compared to this time last year, fewer high school seniors have filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – a key signal of their intent to enroll and a leading indicator of enrollment. As of early November, FAFSA completions were down 20%  at schools with high concentrations of students of color, according to the National College Attainment Network.

In Point Hope, Alaska, where the polar night is about to descend, Ms. Oviok is planning to take her high school counselor’s advice and enroll in the tribal college in the spring. She’s a little disappointed not to be off to college in Fairbanks, but she doesn’t regret her decision.

“I like my culture, the whaling festivities, how close our community is,” she says. “In the city, you don’t know anyone.” 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the National College Attainment Network. As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.

Pushed by pandemic, Londoners answer call of low-cost country life

The pandemic has led to a realization that it isn’t necessary to work in urban offices. And many are questioning the urban lifestyle entirely. Young Londoners are taking the opportunity to remake their lives in remote towns.

Peter
Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
People walk on a beach in Margate, England, in April 2020. The seaside resort town has seen an influx of young newcomers.

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Now that remote work is the norm, many young London renters are rethinking where they want to live. 

A growing number of people under 40 are leaving London and other major British cities for larger homes, lower rents, and a slower pace of life. And, as they relocate, they are bringing little pieces of the metropolitan life with them.

Zoe Artingstall, a teacher-turned-artist, is one example. She and her partner moved from London to Margate, an old seaside resort town, where they enjoy a spacious apartment and a view of the beach, all for less than what they paid for a two-room flat in London.

“You start thinking about clean air, healthier skin, and to not be up at 6 a.m. every day, rushing to get to work for 8:30 a.m.,” she says.

The influx of newcomers is changing these towns’ characters. Margate, for instance, saw an 84% increase in creative businesses last year. But many locals are also wary of the long-term consequences, as Matt Mapleston, who opened workspace for local freelancers in Margate, points out.

“It’s a well-worn road when creatives find a new area. They start making it a different place to live and then others follow to live in the place made more desirable,” he says.

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4. Pushed by pandemic, Londoners answer call of low-cost country life

Zoe Artingstall wakes up to the sound of the sea and a view of luscious golden sand. Police sirens and garbage collectors at the crack of dawn no longer disturb a good night’s sleep ever since she swapped London for Margate, a coastal town to the southeast, just weeks before Britain reintroduced new coronavirus restrictions.

“When you’re in London you don’t realize the physical buildup of tension and the frenetic pace of life weighing on you. It’s only when you leave that you realize the toll London life has on your body,” says Ms. Artingstall.

A growing thirst for quality of life, traditionally associated with retirees rather than 20- and 30-somethings, and reassessing life in lockdown accelerated her decision.

“My partner and I are in our early to mid-30s now, and you start thinking about clean air, healthier skin, and to not be up at 6 a.m. every day, rushing to get to work for 8:30 a.m.”

The teacher-turned-artist is among a growing number of people under 40 leaving the metropolis of London, and other major British cities, for a slower pace of life. Dissatisfied with the squalid conditions and sky-high rents, they are taking advantage of being unshackled from the geographical requirements of their jobs by the pandemic to establish themselves in places better known for being suburbs, countryside, or old resort towns like Margate. And they are changing the character of their new homes, bringing little pieces of the metropolitan life with them.

Tamsin George left London spontaneously for Malton, near the Northern city of York, as the United Kingdom introduced a national blanket lockdown in late March. Unemployed and exhausted, Ms. George says the country air keeps her “alive” without the “frenetic chaos” of attending London events.

“Lots of young people in London don’t want to be there but feel like they should. They see salaries and the opportunities you have; these are the things that keep people there,” she says. “But you realize when these things are on pause that it’s not worth the money. People have taken lockdown as the push they needed to leave and lay out their priorities in life.”

A longer term exodus

Renters increasingly look to York, Bristol, and the Home Counties, a southern region with greenery and poorer transport links. Those home-hunting in the capital now look to suburban, fringe areas. According to Rightmove, the U.K.’s biggest property search engine, Chessington, a sleepy suburban town with infrequent trains, is the capital’s new rental hotspot, trumping hip inner-London districts such as Shoreditch and Lewisham, where young professionals in their 20s and 30s typically gravitate after university.

Ms. Artingstall and her partner had been paying just under £1,400 ($1,860) per month for two London rooms in shared accommodation. Now they have a whole apartment with two studios used for artistic work, replete with a view of Margate beach, for just under the same sum.

Shafi Musadiqque
Zoe Artingstall sits in her new apartment in Margate. The teacher-turned-artist and her partner left London during the lockdown in search of lower rent and a better quality of life.

Living in London’s typically congested areas is exactly what Laurie McAllister did after graduating from university. Disenchanted by work (“slogging my guts out, what’s the point?” as she puts it) and events centered around alcohol and fed up with “booking with friends months in advance just to see them” pushed her to live in Norwich, East England, in her early 20s.

And she wasn’t alone. “Where I moved to East Anglia, there already were young people. It’s a myth that all the young people are in London. Lots never moved, or many moved for university and returned to live – if not in the countryside, in smaller cities.”

Ms. McAllister now runs online motivational courses, yoga lessons, and a blog inspired by her sobriety after leaving London in 2017. Moving to Norwich allowed her to pay the bills and be a freelance yoga instructor, a path “unviable” in London.

“The idea that all the good jobs are in London and the only way to be successful is in London is dated. We’re now all realizing that with Zoom and other technology,” she says.

Employment opportunities attract young renters to Cambridge. With average monthly rents of £1,319 – that’s £681 cheaper than London – software engineers between 18 and 40 years old in particular have moved to be near AstraZeneca and Microsoft offices. Sarah Bush, head of lettings at Cambridge-based property agent Cheffins, has noticed a shift in the past six months, with renters “seeing space is important, gearing themselves up to work from home.”

“The younger generation still want to be near to work. If they’ve got to go into the office, there’s a reluctance to go into public transport and Cambridge is walkable,” she says.

Londoners reshaping coastal communities

The growing influx of ex-Londoners has been so large in the past decade that locals give them a specific name.

“They call us DFLs, or ‘down from London,’” says Matt Mapleston. Inspired by London’s tech scene, he’s opened a workspace for local freelancers inside a converted warehouse since moving to Margate in 2017. It’s part of a tradition of “London ideas” brought by DFLs since Margate’s Turner Contemporary art gallery opened by the seafront a decade ago, creating a thriving art scene in an area that older locals say used to be a no-go zone for outsiders.

The equivalent of three people per day relocate from London to Thanet, the area comprising Margate and Ramsgate. In 2017, some 1,830 Londoners relocated to Thanet, while 26,380 people overall moved from London to Kent, the county in which Thanet lies.

Living in Ramsgate since birth from London-born parents, 21-year-old illustrator Molly Pickles believes newcomers act as “investors” bringing “new ideas and huge benefits to locals.”

Ramsgate has quickly grown into a celebrated music and festival venue. Margate, dubbed “Shoreditch-by-Sea,” saw an 84% increase in creative businesses last year. Locals are swept along by the regeneration spirit aided by ex-Londoners, but are also wary of the long-term consequences of an area equally split between DFLs and longer-term locals.

“Gentrification is the biggest topic on local minds,” says Ms. Pickles. “The majority of people who’ve lived here since being a child can’t buy a property here.”

“The primary positives of gentrification here is that it becomes attractive to outsiders for investment,” says Filipe Gomes, a local radio presenter hoping to reach underrepresented voices in the area. “We have to ask ourselves, how inclusive is that? Galleries look great on the seafront, but the young lad that’s grown up here, how much does he feel a part of that?”

Ex-Londoners are well aware of the Catch-22 they bring. “It’s a well-worn road when creatives find a new area. They start making it a different place to live and then others follow to live in the place made more desirable,” says Mr. Mapleston.

But Lilla Allen, editor for local magazine Ramsgate Recorder and a self-described DFL, says that the newcomers do value the locals and are building bridges with them. “Community is overused but it does exist and it’s healthy here between different people, young and old,” she says. “Small towns feel the impact immediately of new ideas, and there’s real pride around town.”

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

First Thanksgiving: How a Native woman is setting the record straight

Can we really ever know our history if we only listen to the victors? When it comes to the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, Linda Coombs, a Wampanoag woman and educator, sets the record straight.

Peter
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Linda Coombs, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, has been working for decades to tell the story of the nation’s founding through the perspective of Native Americans. This year is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage.

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It’s a rite of fall for many American schoolchildren. As the greens of summer give way to autumn oranges and reds, history lessons inevitably turn to the early days of Massachusetts Bay Colony and what has come to be called the first Thanksgiving.

“There’s so much that’s happened that isn’t in the history books. And [the] history that is there is distorted. It’s skewed,” says Linda Coombs, a museum educator and historical Native interpreter.

Most Americans know about the diplomatic alliance of Massasoit, a leader of the Wampanoags, offering food to the starving Pilgrims in exchange for protection against the powerful Narragansett Tribe. Few have learned about King Philip’s War – a conflict starting in 1675 that resulted in the collapse of an organized Native resistance.

Ms. Coombs’ lifework has been to bring the Native perspective back into the retelling of the founding of America – an undertaking that this year coincides with the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage.

“Linda can look at those [historical] accounts and ... add back in the things that have been omitted, the things that have been left out about Native people,” says Michele Pecoraro, executive director of the nonprofit Plymouth 400. “That is a huge job.”

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5. First Thanksgiving: How a Native woman is setting the record straight

In her 40 years as a museum educator and historical Native interpreter, there is one thing that bugs Linda Coombs the most: disbelief by white people that she is real.

“[Visitors] would just walk right up to you and go, ‘You’re not an Indian.’ The way we looked might not fit what they had in their mind of what an Indian should look like. We would constantly run into children who just couldn’t fathom that we were not 350 years old,” she says.

Ms. Coombs is a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag Nation, once made up of 69 villages, is most famous for its early alliance with the English settlers who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. But on the 400th anniversary of that event Ms. Coombs wants to set the record straight – there is more to the story. It has been her lifework to bring the Native perspective back into the retelling of the founding of America and broaden recognition of the roughly 5,000 Wampanoag citizens who still live in Massachusetts. But it hasn’t been easy.

“Watching her continue to come up against that kind of ignorance over and over and over again, she was just never deterred by it,” says Paula Peters, who sits on the Wampanoag Advisory Committee with Ms. Coombs and worked alongside her at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “I have grown up in our cultural community watching and learning from her. ... I greatly admire her for her knowledge, and the courage that she has to really stand by her interpretations of history from the Native viewpoint.”

The 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony comes during strange times: a pandemic and racial strife not seen since the 1960s. But they are also providing Ms. Coombs with a unique opportunity to fill in the true details about the interactions between the Wampanoag and English peoples in the 1600s. She serves on the board of Plymouth 400, a nonprofit dedicated to marking the anniversary with cultural events – many of which were canceled because of the pandemic.

Through Plymouth 400, Ms. Coombs has co-written “The Massachusetts Chronicles,” an inclusive state history textbook, with more than 60,000 copies distributed to 1,854 schools across the state. She also co-created the first Indigenous History Conference at Bridgewater State University, which featured 62 speakers over nine sessions and drew more than 1,600 remote participants during its first weekend in October.

“It’s difficult to find people like her who have done the research, who have credibility to tell their story,” says Michele Pecoraro, executive director of Plymouth 400. “Linda can look at those [historical] accounts and ... add back in the things that have been omitted, the things that have been left out about Native people. And that is a huge job.”

For instance, most history lessons of the early days in Massachusetts Bay Colony end with the diplomatic alliance of Massasoit, a sachem, or leader, of the Wampanoags, offering food to the starving Pilgrims in exchange for protection against the powerful Narragansett Tribe in 1621. But few people have heard of King Philip’s War or understand its significance.

What happened next

Massasoit’s son, Metacom, who had taken the English name Philip, felt threatened by the expansion of English settlers and sought to unite Indigenous peoples of southern New England against them in 1675. A violent conflict lasting 18 months resulted in thousands dead on both sides and the ultimate collapse of an organized Native resistance. Metacom’s severed head sat on a pike for 25 years in Plymouth as a warning.

“There’s so much that’s happened that isn’t in the history books. And [the] history that is there is distorted. It’s skewed,” says Ms. Coombs.

But even she hasn’t always paid close attention to her own ancestry and how it has been portrayed.

In 1970, on the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in Plymouth, local organizers had invited Frank James, a Wampanoag leader whose Native name was Wamsutta, to speak on Thanksgiving Day about that early alliance between Massasoit and the English settlers. The speech that Mr. James submitted, however, spoke of the incredible losses his ancestors suffered. When the anniversary organizers turned down his “inflammatory” perspective, he established a National Day of Mourning.

Ms. Coombs was in the audience for the alternative event held that day. The presence of hundreds of other Indigenous people from around the United States made an impression on her. “I hadn’t had any exposure to other Native people,” recalls Ms. Coombs, whose father was an Aquinnah Wampanoag and whose mother was white. “My awareness of what it meant to be a Native person was sparked.”

Four years later, an opportunity presented itself: an internship at the Boston Children’s Museum designed for Native Americans, which later led to a full-time position. It was there that she discovered she had a knack for analyzing the written word.

“We’d be reading different sources [to develop exhibits] ... and we’d hit something that just struck us as utterly ridiculous ... and we’d sit there and just laugh uncontrollably,” says Ms. Coombs. She recalls one text from the 1940s that described Weetamoo, a respected Wampanoag sachem who died during King Philip’s War. “[The authors] referred to her as a ‘dusky squaw.’ The word squaw is an insult. That’s right up there with the N-word.”

Broadening interest

After her time on staff at the Children’s Museum, Ms. Coombs helped to develop the Wampanoag Indigenous program at Plimoth Plantation over three decades, becoming the first Wampanoag person in the museum’s administration. Today, she continues to consult and help create exhibits and educational kits for historical societies and museums in Massachusetts.

But it is the Indigenous History Conference at Bridgewater State University, which Ms. Coombs co-organized with Professor Joyce Rain Anderson, that will likely have the biggest and most lasting impact, says university President Fred Clark. Already, he says, C-SPAN and other networks are interested in footage from the conference.

“We’re stepping on the same grounds that Native peoples have stepped on for thousands of years and we don’t know anything about that history,” says Mr. Clark. “[Ms. Coombs] is an educator, and even though we’re the state’s largest producer of teachers, she taught us here at Bridgewater quite a bit about the need to tell the full story of the Indigenous peoples in Massachusetts.”

Ms. Coombs says she is seeing broader receptivity to the Native lessons she is trying to deliver.

“Especially since I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked less and less with children and I’ve worked more and more with teachers. ... And the teachers ... have been asking for actual history and the real culture [of Wampanoags]. They want to give kids the right information,” she says. “If something happened in history, it deserves to be told and it deserves to be told in the right way and in the rightful context.”

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A focal point for Biden’s democracy summit

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As one of his first acts after taking office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to convene a summit of democracies. The aim is to advance individual rights around the world. His plan seems pointed at China. One guest Mr. Biden might want to invite is Justice Anderson Chow, of the High Court in Hong Kong.

On Thursday, Justice Chow ruled that the government in the Chinese territory had violated Hong Kong’s bill of rights. During pro-democracy protests last year, he said, it failed to have police wear ID badges and to provide an independent review of police abuses.

No matter how serious the public emergency, Justice Chow wrote, basic rights “must still be respected by the government and protected by the courts.” The ruling is a brave stand for what’s left of democracy in Hong Kong – its independent judiciary – 23 years after Britain handed the colony back to Beijing.

The people of Hong Kong, who have shown the world how much they love freedom, deserve a seat at any global forum on democracy. They know firsthand how much democratic rule of law – rather than the whims of personal rule – contribute to a flourishing society. 

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A focal point for Biden’s democracy summit

As one of his first acts after taking office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to convene a summit of democracies. The aim is to advance individual rights and equality in both democracies and countries with few civic freedoms. His plan seems pointed at China, where people’s rights are subordinate to the rule of leader Xi Jinping. One guest Mr. Biden might want to invite is Justice Anderson Chow, of the High Court in Hong Kong.

On Thursday, Justice Chow ruled that the government in the Chinese territory had violated Hong Kong’s bill of rights. During massive pro-democracy protests last year, he said, it failed to have police wear ID badges and to provide an independent review of police abuses. No matter how serious the public emergency, Justice Chow wrote, basic rights “must still be respected by the government and protected by the courts.”

The ruling is a brave stand for what’s left of democracy in Hong Kong – its independent judiciary – 23 years after Britain handed the colony back to Beijing. Pro-democracy legislators have been sidelined, much of the free press has been muzzled, and many protesters have fled for fear of arrest. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam even said in September there is no separation of powers in the government.

Ms. Lam’s remark has stiffened the backbone of the court judges. In a rebuke, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li warned in a statement that the judiciary must not be politicized. While Mr. Xi has said rule of law means “the law of governing by the Communist Party,” the city’s judges see themselves – as independent law professionals working under a constitution centered on equality of all citizens – as having the power to interpret the law and to be a check on state authority without fear or favor to a party.

The two views are just what Mr. Biden’s democracy summit needs to address as he takes up the task of dealing with China’s promotion of its model of unitary – and arbitrary – governance.

“I will put values back at the center of our foreign policy, including how we approach the U.S.-China relationship,” Mr. Biden said in August. He also promises to “fully enforce” the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act signed by President Donald Trump last year.

China today is no longer the China of Deng Xiaoping, the leader after the anti-law Mao era . Deng said in 1978 that “democracy has to be institutionalized and written into law, so as to make sure that institutions and laws do not change whenever the leadership changes.”

The people of Hong Kong, who have shown the world how much they love freedom, deserve a seat at any global forum on democracy. They know firsthand how much equal rights and democratic rule of law – rather than the whims of personal rule – contribute to a flourishing society.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

God’s care, sufficient each day

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Some days can feel like one hurdle after another. But we can always count on God’s unlimited goodness, care, and inspiration to help us forward.

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1. God’s care, sufficient each day

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I have never been a hurdler in track and field events, but this past summer my days felt like one hurdle after another.

We were selling our home and buying a condo. Moving house during the pandemic had extra complication, as did the professional work I was scheduled to do on top of that. It involved housing three people on our original property in a way that complied with public health regulations, as well as an all-day presentation for a hybrid group of in-person, physically distanced attendees and others who would be joining via online video technology.

When feeling overwhelmed, I’ve found it helpful to pray. In this case, I turned to Christ Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s Gospel in the Bible (see chaps. 5-7). One verse that had a wry bit of humor for me was: “Don’t worry at all then about tomorrow. Tomorrow can take care of itself! One day’s trouble is enough for one day” (Matthew 6:34, J.B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”).

I could certainly relate! There seemed to be one hard task after another in my days. But I also sensed that there was something positive in this somewhat disparaging message. Echoing Jesus’ words, Mary Baker Eddy – a spiritual reformer and the discoverer of Christian Science – wrote, “We cannot boast ourselves of to-morrow; sufficient unto each day is the duty thereof” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 161).

This set me on a course of asking God each day, in fact each moment, What am I supposed to be doing right now? It prompted me to discipline my thoughts to stay in each moment, appreciating the duty at hand. Our fundamental job as God’s children is to reflect His nature, to express the qualities of goodness and peace he imparts to all of us. It’s about staying close to God and aware of God’s guidance, not just getting to the end of the task, the day, the week, the month, or the finish line. When this is our primary objective, we are able to do what we need to with more gratitude, creativity, patience, and love.

I began to find great joy and strength during each day’s chores. For instance, I felt tender appreciation for all that our home had provided as I raked the leaves from the original property, and gratitude for all who were helping with the move and the event planning.

Then we hit a really difficult patch. It had been a very dry summer in Maine, and with three visitors at our property, the cistern ran dry. Then the septic system sprang a leak in our new place, and I almost burst into tears. “I can’t do this!” I thought.

But even more emphatically, this reassurance came to mind: “God pours the riches of His love into the understanding and affections, giving us strength according to our day” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 5). It felt as if I was drilling down deep into a spiritual aquifer of strength and inspiration, way beyond what I could personally muster even as a “can-do” person. God, divine Love, is always here to support us.

Solutions for both problems quickly came to light. And the move and presentation were completed successfully.

The Apostle Paul talked about hitting a wall of adversity and praying to be delivered from it. God answered his prayer by saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (II Corinthians 12:9). No matter what hurdles we may face and how overwhelmed we may feel, God’s wellspring of care and support is full right now. We can always draw upon this unfailing resource and find that God’s infinite grace is truly sufficient for each day.

Some more great ideas! To read or listen to a poem in The Christian Science Journal titled “The sovereign God,” please click through to www.JSH-Online.com. There is no paywall for this content.

Viewfinder

Seen through the mist

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Scientifically speaking, mist is just particles of water suspended in the air – the result of matter crossing from gas to liquid or vice versa. But it often creates a rare science-meets-art kind of fascination. The atmosphere of mystery that accompanies that loss of perception has long been a favorite of writers and painters, from Charles Dickens to J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet. From Japan to Sweden and beyond, something about mist makes people want to look closer, hoping to divine something from the haze. – Nick Roll / Staff writer
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Come back Monday, when we’ll have tips for cooking Thanksgiving dinner for smaller gatherings, including a recipe for individual pumpkin pies.

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