2021
January
14
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

January 14, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Historic first: A shelter dog moves into the White House

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Insurrection. Impeachment. And a presidential inauguration protected by up to 20,000 National Guard troops. These are serious, challenging times in America. But this story brought a smile.

The Delaware Humane Association is holding an “indoguration party.” This Sunday, they’re planning an online event (and fundraiser) to honor Major, the first shelter dog to occupy the White House. The Bidens adopted the German shepherd as a puppy in 2018 to keep their other dog, Champ, company.

Presidential pooches have long been important political symbols and companions. President John F. Kennedy, for example, used to swim laps in the pool with Charlie. The Welsh terrier also reportedly had a calming influence on JFK during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. 

While Major is the first shelter dog, he’s not the first rescue canine to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. President Lyndon B. Johnson adored Yuki, a small mixed terrier who was found abandoned at a gas station in the president’s hometown. LBJ’s grandson later wrote that the “white mutt” and president “shared a very significant bond that personified the American spirit: Only in America could a poor boy from Johnson City end up in the White House,” according to the Presidential Pet Museum.

In my experience, the most endearing canine qualities are loyalty and unconditional love. And everyone, especially presidents, could use a little more of that in their life.

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Capitol assault: Why police showed up on both sides of ‘thin blue line’

The Capitol attack raises questions about police corruption. Our reporter looks at how to restore trust in law enforcement when insurgents and white supremacists infiltrate the institutions charged with public safety.

David

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Concerns about right-wing extremist groups recruiting police officers predate the presidency of Donald Trump. But the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, in which more than two dozen police officers are under investigation for their alleged participation, has cast a shadow on the seemingly hands-off approach to the threat posed by a pro-Trump protest. Critics say police departments are biased in how they handle protests by right-wing groups that claim to be pro-police. 

Larger failures of imagination, added to biases of individual police officers, is part of what analysts say makes radicalization among officers possible. Then there’s an apparent institutional discomfort to confront the problem publicly. In its reporting to Congress it has lumped in antifa, an anti-fascist movement, with right-wing extremists like Boogaloos. But in recent years, lethal threats to law enforcement have primarily come from right-wing extremists. 

“So often we tend to look at far-right militancy as something on the fringes of our society, tantamount to Al Qaeda and ISIS, without realizing that, no, these are members of state legislatures, police officers, military personnel,” says former FBI agent Michael German. 

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1. Capitol assault: Why police showed up on both sides of ‘thin blue line’

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Trump supporters clash with police at the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. The "thin blue line" flag wielded by a protester is a version of the U.S. flag that expresses solidarity with police officers.

In 40 years as an Appalachian cop, George Erwin Jr. came to this conclusion: Only “a thin blue line separates good from evil.”

But Mr. Erwin, the former sheriff of North Carolina’s Henderson County says he saw those lines blur at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“My whole thing is, that when you’ve got people who are going out here and saying they back the blue ... and the next thing you know you’ve got people carrying ‘back the blue’ flags dragging officers down steps and beating them with a flagpole and his own nightstick, you don’t go there with me,” says Mr. Erwin.

The vast majority of officers fought valiantly to protect lawmakers from harm. One officer died, 60 were injured, and the department lost another to suicide. But Capitol Police has opened as many as a dozen investigations into reports that officers aided the mob, and at least two have been suspended. Sworn officers were also on the other side, joining the rioters, a fact that has Mr. Erwin shaking his head. More than two dozen officers are under investigation for their participation in Jan. 6 events.

“If officers went up there and did that, that’s a criminal act, and you ought to be held accountable like everybody else.”

As the FBI braces the country for more trouble ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the attack on the Capitol revealed a troubling national blind spot: the political radicalization of police that predates the presidency of Donald Trump.

Many Americans are struggling to understand the dynamics of right-wing terrorism, including the role of law enforcement officers and military personnel, and how rhetoric and mass psychology help to answer a fundamental question: Who do police protect and who do they protect them from?

“So often we tend to look at far-right militancy as something on the fringes of our society, tantamount to Al Qaeda and ISIS, without realizing that, no, these are members of state legislatures, police officers, military personnel,” says former FBI agent Michael German, who infiltrated and prosecuted neo-Nazi groups in the 1990s.

He argues that the potential threat to public safety from the far right is much greater, given the cloak of authority under which these extremists can operate. “Their capabilities are actually on par with any foreign terrorist group, if not greater. They don’t just have the passion of their beliefs. What they have is government sanction.”

A failure of imagination?

Since 2000, more than two dozen states have unmasked police officers with connections to white supremacist groups. Hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have been caught expressing racist, nativist, and sexist views on social media, according to a September 2020 report by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

Those facts provide an uneasy backdrop to the Jan. 6 attack, where police leaders seemingly underestimated the threat, leaving the crucible of democracy vulnerable to a mob. The former chief of U.S. Capitol Police, who resigned in the aftermath, has said that security officials at the House and Senate declined to call in the National Guard in advance of a rally, which included remarks by President Trump, that had been hyped as a final showdown.   

Larger failures of imagination, added to biases of individual police officers, are part of what analysts say makes police reform so difficult – and makes radicalization among officers possible. Making the issue harder for Americans to see is institutional discomfort at the FBI, in particular, to confront the problem publicly. The FBI tells its agents, for instance, to not discuss white supremacy cases around local police for fear of tipoffs, says Mr. German.

Meanwhile, Congress has struggled to get data to compare the agency’s response to Black Lives Matter protests against right-wing extremist activities last year, which killed dozens of Americans, including officers. In 2019, the FBI established the Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell. But in its reporting to Congress it has lumped in antifa, an anti-fascist movement, with right-wing extremists like Boogaloos, an equivalency that critics say muddies the threat that should be prioritized.

Brian Corr, a past president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, says the history of U.S. slave patrols has cast a long shadow in Black communities. This contrasts with the story that cops tell themselves that “the public are the police and the police are the public,” he says.    

“Both of these are historically true. But part of what’s happening in our society is that people are unable to hold competing truths. For many, there is only one truth: Either police are corrupt and violent and racist or they’re heroes that run toward gunfire when we run away from it,” says Mr. Corr.

That divide has only sharpened under President Trump, who has at times attempted to blur the line between politics and policing. He invoked “law and order” when he sent federal police to quell protests in Portland, Oregon, against the wishes of local authorities and used them last June to clear peaceful protests from Washington’s Lafayette Square so he could be photographed holding a Bible outside a church. His militaristic rhetoric on the border has also energized Border Patrol members.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
A section of border fence behind law enforcement officers is seen during a tour by President Donald Trump on June 23, 2020, in San Luis, Arizona.

Right-wing threats 

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, right-wing groups were responsible for 41 politically motivated attacks and plots last year, including attacks that killed police officers in Santa Cruz and Oakland, California; Kimberly, Alabama; and Ely, Nevada. There were 12 left-wing attacks and plots in the same period. Police officers were also hurt and some seriously injured, at times by gunfire, during last summer’s social justice protests. Still, lethal threats to law enforcement have primarily come from right-wing extremists. 

“That is what is hard to understand about the apparent affinity in law enforcement for far-right militants at riots,” says Mr. German.

Analysts say the policing of Black Lives Matters protests and of protests by white and armed participants reflects that affinity. Last August, when pro-police groups rallied in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to face down racial justice protesters, police handed out water bottles to militiamen, including Kyle Rittenhouse, an armed white teen who allegedly shot dead two men and injured a third.

To many analysts, the preparation for pro-Trump protests at the Capitol was perhaps the ultimate expression of that bias in terms of which groups pose a threat to public safety.

Meanwhile, pandemic malaise, social unrest, and on-the-job traumas endured by police officers, particularly military veterans, have likely boosted radicalization in the ranks. While veterans make up around 6% of the population, nearly 1 in 5 police officers previously served in the military, according to a 2017 analysis of U.S. census data.

“Folks go into these dangerous places and come back disillusioned with their own government and come back with a counterinsurgency mindset and techniques,” says Boston University law professor Robert Tsai, author of “Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation.” “One of the potential consequences ... is that more [right-wing officeholders] demand that police join their political efforts, their political aims. And when law enforcement becomes politicized, it becomes radicalized.”

Former Baltimore police officer Peter Moskos agrees that the Jan. 6 attack likely caused a “reckoning” for police unions that tend to reflexively blame racial justice protests for endangering police.

But he points to how law enforcement, a naturally conservative institution that is often the target of progressive critiques, actually performed in the hourslong siege at the Capitol.  

“Yeah, there are racists in police departments, but that’s not the problem we’re facing now,” says Mr. Moskos, now a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “At some level they failed miserably, but, that said, one of them got killed and they literally fought, died, and saved our democracy. Those words aren’t often said.”

Matt York/AP/File
Former Graham County sheriff and U.S. representative candidate Richard Mack speaks with a constituent during the meeting of the state committee of the Arizona Republican Party, Jan. 27, 2018, in Phoenix.

Battered public trust 

Still, professionalism is key for police to maintain a public trust that has been battered over the last year, in part because of the anger stirred by the killing last May of George Floyd and the police response to months of protests across the country.

The FBI on Wednesday arrested two Rocky Mount, Virginia, police officers – both military veterans, including one who was injured in an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq – after they posted pictures of themselves inside the Capitol. The men said they were welcomed in, but also said in social media posts that they “attacked” the building. They face charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct, and using threatening or abusive language inside the Capitol.

The Seattle Police Department is investigating two officers for their role in the insurrection at the Capitol.

Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia that boasts of having military and police among its members, were also on hand last week. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Oath Keepers aim much of their propaganda at military and police, reminding them that their oath to the Constitution includes defending it “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Their propaganda is of a global order that must be resisted by patriots, lest they are disarmed and sent to concentration camps.

Among those who didn’t go to Washington last week was former Sheriff Richard Mack of Arizona’s Graham County, the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

“I was browbeat for not going, but I just had a bad feeling about it,” says Mr. Mack. “The bottom line is, a lot of people are frustrated in this country, and I understand that frustration, and that frustration comes from both Republicans and Democrats making a mockery of our Constitution. But I will never support violence. And my message remains the same to all police and all military: Keep your oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. That’s how we will fix this problem and restore the peace.”

Still, some point to Mr. Mack’s organization as a possible nexus for police operating outside the bounds of the Constitution. Constitutional sheriffs contend that they have the power to rebuff federal laws that they – not judges – deem unconstitutional. And they have vowed to not enforce gun restrictions and mask mandates.

“You see a lot of these self-described constitutional sheriffs also active in the militia movement,” says Mr. Tsai, who sees a slippery path to radicalization in sheriff activism. “They are now engaged in anti-mask, anti-pandemic actions, and they proudly say, ‘We’re not going to enforce these things.’ They are part of this broader right-wing politicization of law enforcement.”

Talk or fight? In Afghanistan, signs Taliban now prefer victory.

As U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, the Taliban continue peace talks. But rising Taliban assaults on civic society – public officials, activists, and journalists – suggest the group plans to take control and curb democratic freedoms. 

David
Rahmat Gul/AP
Afghan security personnel remove a damaged vehicle after a deadly bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 10, 2021. The attack took place even as government negotiators were in Qatar to resume peace talks with the Taliban.

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Like many Afghans desperate for peace, Shogofa Sediqi, chief director for Afghanistan’s Women’s TV network, had hoped the danger to civil society and women’s rights posed by the Taliban would recede when the insurgents and government began talks in September.

But an unprecedented surge in targeted assassinations in Kabul and other urban centers since autumn – which have left dozens of journalists, civil society activists, and officials dead – combined with sluggish peace talks and an accelerating U.S. troop withdrawal, is deflating her hope in a peaceful future.

The killings are one more signal to analysts, too, that any initial Taliban calculation to negotiate peace with the Western-backed government has been replaced by renewed determination to seize full control of the country after American troops withdraw this spring.

“The best way to make sense of what the Taliban are doing by taking out civil society, is it’s part of them preparing for power,” says Michael Semple, an Afghanistan expert. “The Taliban are not going to brook any criticism, either in their campaign to topple the government, or once they are busy putting in place their own regime. Don’t expect freedom of speech, when they are back.”

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2. Talk or fight? In Afghanistan, signs Taliban now prefer victory.

In the streets of Kabul, Shogofa Sediqi knew she was being stalked by Taliban killers.

As the chief director for Afghanistan’s Zan TV (Women’s TV), she had grown accustomed to militants sending her threats, telling her in real time what she was wearing and what time she left home, and warning her to stop her work as a journalist.

“We know you are back, at the airport,” read the first message that popped up on her phone last summer, after a month in India. Later, men waiting in a car outside her house rammed her vehicle as they tried to run her over.

Ms. Sediqi, like many Afghans desperate for an end to such threats and decades of war, had hoped that the danger to civil society and women’s rights posed by the Islamist Taliban would soon recede when the insurgents and government began intra-Afghan peace talks last September.

But an unprecedented surge in targeted assassinations in Kabul and other urban centers – which have left dozens of journalists, civil society activists, and officials dead, in almost daily killings since autumn – combined with sluggish peace talks and an accelerating U.S. troop withdrawal, is deflating her hope of a peaceful future.

The killings are one more signal to analysts, too, that any initial Taliban strategy to negotiate peace with the Western-backed government – whose freedoms and existence the Taliban reject as un-Islamic – has been replaced by renewed determination to achieve military victory and seize full control of the country after American troops withdraw this spring.

The Taliban “have not changed”

“They are targeting journalists and civil society because they are the loud voices of the nation,” says Ms. Sediqi, whose network has been forced by a multitude of threats to stop live broadcasts and switch to recorded programing, while most staff work from home.

“The Taliban is the same Taliban as before. They have not changed. They do not accept women’s activists and civil society,” says Ms. Sediqi. “The situation has become worse; we’ve lost so many. ... We don’t know who is our enemy. When we come out we don’t trust anyone.”

Few of the assassinations have been claimed, and the Taliban officially deny any role. But on Jan. 4, for the first time, the U.S. forces spokesman in Kabul explicitly blamed the Taliban, stating that its “campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killings … must also cease for peace to succeed.”

Rahmat Gul/AP
Villagers pray over the coffin of Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed, a journalist and executive director of the nongovernmental Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, at his funeral in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2020. He was shot dead by unknown assailants in Afghanistan's central Ghazni province.

And this week Afghan commandos reported discovery of a bomb-making center in Logar province with hundreds of mortar rounds and homemade magnetic “sticky” bombs – a tool favored for use on cars stuck in traffic – which they linked to a Taliban assassination cell known as Obaida Karwan.

Ahmad Zia Saraj, head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, told lawmakers Dec. 29 of the existence of Obaida Karwan, tasked with carrying out targeted killings, and said 70 suspects charged with that mission had been arrested. Blindfolded suspects have also been put before cameras at press conferences, to describe their role in Taliban-ordered assassinations.

Preparing for authoritarian rule

“The best way to make sense of what the Taliban are doing by taking out civil society, is it’s part of them preparing for power,” says Michael Semple, an Afghanistan expert at Queen’s University Belfast who lived and worked for years in the country.

For the Taliban, the killings both spread panic and undermine confidence in the government.

“It may also be about silencing civil society,” says Mr. Semple. “The Taliban are not going to brook any criticism, either in their campaign to topple the government, or once they are busy putting in place their own regime. Don’t expect freedom of speech, when they are back.”

And the Taliban coming back, in total control – as they ruled their self-declared “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in the late 1990s, with an iron hand – is the premise of current Taliban thinking, he says, despite past public statements about moderating their strict policies.

“They are setting about imposing the Taliban version of Islam … forced at the barrel of a gun,” says Mr. Semple. “From what I pick up, on their political thinking about when they take over later on in the year, they are looking at authoritarian rule. The Taliban will be solely in charge, and that means any of the old freedoms and guarantees will be gone.”

Targeted killings of officials and members of the Afghan security forces have been a frequent Taliban insurgency tactic since the jihadists were ousted from power by the United States in 2001. The Taliban now control or have influence over half the country, and field a wide network of loyal agents.

Justification for the shift to high-profile civil society targets – even as peace talks continue – is clear in recent Taliban propaganda videos. One posted by a Taliban spokesman on Twitter on Dec. 28 shows five rifle-toting, thickly bearded fighters standing in a row. One of them – citing a verse in the Quran – declares that “it is permissible to kill the [U.S.-backed] puppet regime of Kabul” because it has taken “Jews and the Christians as allies.” He says jihad against them is obligatory.

Accelerated U.S. withdrawal

Contributing to the apparent change in Taliban calculations – and slow progress at intra-Afghan talks, which resumed this week in Qatar after a recess, but without two top Taliban negotiators who failed to return – is the accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops to 2,500 by Friday.

A U.S.-Taliban withdrawal agreement signed last February committed American and NATO forces to a complete pullout by May 2021, in exchange for Taliban counterterrorism steps and ending cooperation with Al Qaeda, which the U.S. and United Nations say the Taliban have failed to do.

The U.S.-led withdrawal is meant to be conditional on the Taliban lowering levels of violence by as much as 80%, but President Donald Trump sped up the pullout, despite the Taliban’s unabated attacks, which included two massive assaults on southern provincial capitals Lashkar Gah and Kandahar last fall.

Hussein Sayed/AP/File
Taliban negotiator Abbas Stanikzai (center front) and his delegation attend the opening session of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 12, 2020.

Amid that violence, the intensified assassination campaign brings its own messages.

“All these [assassination] groups are under the control of the Taliban,” says retired Brig. Gen. Abdul Raqib Mubariz, a former commander of the Afghan Crisis Response Unit who has dealt with scores of Taliban and Islamic State attacks.

The Obaida Karwan cell – named after a Taliban commander in Logar province – is “very small,” he says, but includes many “professional people.”

The killings aim “to show the Taliban have become important, to show the world they are strong,” says General Mubariz, speaking in Kabul. “Even if there is peace, there will still be violence. The Taliban are focused on conflict … on making their own separate government.”

A woman on Taliban’s target list

Despite such concerns, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Jan. 2 about “incredible progress” in Afghanistan. Experts were surprised that Mr. Pompeo boasted “We did it,” given the ongoing high levels of Taliban attacks.

“The Taliban are going around saying, ‘We got all these things from the Americans, and gave them nothing in return. We understand the art of the deal,’” says Mr. Semple at Queen’s University Belfast.

One prominent women’s rights activist, who asked not to be named, says she received so many Taliban threats that she recently moved away for her safety.

She appeared last week on a list of 100 names, labeled the “primary target” hit list of Obaida Karwan, which circulated on social media.

“In the beginning of peace negotiations my analysis was that the Taliban changed, especially for women’s rights and lowering violence, but unfortunately my analysis was wrong,” says the activist in Kabul.

She waited in vain for a cease-fire, and now her name is published as a target.

“Every day all civilian activists and journalists receive new threats,” she says. “We are calling on the U.S. and international community to take a guarantee from the Taliban to make peace with the Afghan government, otherwise they will not accept each other, and there will be a new crisis.”

Hidayatullah Noorzai contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Listen

Can the vote be trusted? A conversation on US election integrity.

The 2020 presidential election has been called “the most secure in American history.” But what does that mean? Our reporters speak with two election security experts in our latest episode of “Rethinking the News.” Part 1 of 2.

David
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Americans remain divided over the integrity of the election. This is despite Congress having certified the results, and officials across the political spectrum assuring the public that the 2020 election was secure – perhaps “the most secure in American history.”

But what does it mean to have a secure election? Is it ensuring that our systems are protected from cyberattacks? That we have ways to independently verify every vote? What about consistently investing in new technologies and resources for election officials?

For Mark Lindeman, interim co-director of the nonpartisan organization Verified Voting, it’s all of the above – and then some. 

“Doing better objectively and technically does not automatically translate to protecting American elections,” he says. “Voters need to have some fundamental belief that election results are trustworthy. And we can’t congratulate ourselves to the extent that we’re failing to provide that.”  

In this episode of “Rethinking the News,” we delve into what truly makes our elections free, fair, and secure. We interview Mr. Lindeman and Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. 

This is the first of two episodes on trusting our elections.

This story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears (audio player below), but we understand that is not an option for everybody. A transcript is available here.

Trusting Our Elections: What makes our elections secure?

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

Transatlantic alliance due for a reset. But what about China?

The European Union’s embrace of “strategic autonomy” means it’s less likely to consult with the U.S. on its dealings with China. It also suggests, writes our London columnist, the Biden administration has work to do to repair transatlantic trust. 

David

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President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to restore America to its place as a world leader, and a key plank in that platform is a closer relationship with Washington’s traditional European allies.

But that may not be as easy to build as the next administration hopes. When Mr. Biden’s team signaled clearly last month that they wanted the European Union to hold off on a big investment treaty with China until the new president had had a chance to discuss it with Brussels, they got the brush off.

European governments feel relief to see President Donald Trump leave office, and genuine goodwill toward Mr. Biden. But the last four years, when Europe has felt Washington to be unpredictable and uninterested, have spurred European efforts to better safeguard the continent’s own interests.

In a world increasingly defined by U.S.-China rivalry, Europe is trying to build what it calls “strategic autonomy.” And that means that its interests will not always align with Washington’s.

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4. Transatlantic alliance due for a reset. But what about China?

Sebastien Nogier/AP
French President Emmanuel Macron attends an EU-China video-conference on Dec. 30 2020, at which the two sides agreed on a bilateral investment deal. This will open big opportunities to European companies, but has the potential to irk the new U.S. administration.

As tweets go, certainly by the standards of the outgoing Trump administration, it was downright benign, the cyber equivalent of a tap on the shoulder. Yet it heralds a key diplomatic challenge that awaits President-elect Joe Biden: forging a united response with America’s allies to the growing ambition and assertiveness of China.

The tweet came from Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s choice for national security adviser. He was reacting to news that the European Union was poised, after nearly seven years of negotiations, to reach agreement in principle on a major new investment deal with Beijing. Mr. Sullivan chose his words carefully, but he left little doubt he hoped the EU would hold off.

“The Biden-Harris administration,” he wrote, “would welcome early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China’s economic practices.”

The EU went ahead with its agreement anyway.

The motivations of the two leaders who were key to getting the deal over the line – China’s leader Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – underscore the delicacy of the foreign policy task facing the new administration. And they suggest that Mr. Biden’s pledge to “bring America back” and repair the post-World War II transatlantic partnership could prove easier said than done.

Mr. Xi’s interests were straightforward. He has made clear his determination to couple increased authority – and authoritarianism – at home with a drive for widened influence abroad.

In that context, the EU agreement represents a diplomatic win for Beijing. It lessens the risk, at least for now, of a coalition forming among the major economies that have accused the Chinese of a range of trade malpractices such as market restraints, intellectual property theft, and unfair subsidies.

So for Mr. Sullivan, the Chinese leader’s enthusiasm for the agreement will have come as no surprise.

Washington’s main concern – and a likely foreign policy focus from early in the new administration – will be the message conveyed by Chancellor Merkel’s decision to go ahead.

Some of it was down to domestic politics. Ms. Merkel, Europe’s most influential leader, is due to retire this year after more than a decade-and-a-half in power. Last summer, she assumed the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, and she was clearly keen to crown that term by securing the long-pending deal with China. Plus, for Germany itself, it gives greater access to the critically important Chinese market for German car manufacturers.

But there were important transatlantic factors as well.

One has been building for some time, gathering pace since former President Barack Obama launched his diplomatic and military “pivot to Asia” and away from Europe. It is the shared sense among many of the EU’s 27 member states – collectively, the world’s third-largest economic force – that they must do more to safeguard their own interests in a world increasingly defined by rivalry between the U.S. and China.

On its own, that probably wouldn’t have caused the EU to shrug aside Mr. Sullivan’s Twitter request. But Europe’s search for what it calls “strategic autonomy” has picked up steam in recent years, driven by the unpredictability, lack of interest, and often outright hostility America’s main European allies feel they’ve suffered at the hands of Donald Trump.

Significantly, defenders of Ms. Merkel’s decision to support the deal cited the fact that not long ago the Trump administration signed a similar agreement with China, and nobody thought of consulting Europe.

Even the German chancellor – born in the old East Germany and a longtime admirer of the United States – worried aloud in 2017 that Europe could no longer “completely depend” on America. Since then, she and French President Emmanuel Macron have championed the idea of a more independent EU voice on the world stage.

The challenge for the Biden administration will be to repair transatlantic trust sufficiently to deploy the U.S. and EU voices in concert.

Europe’s investment deal with China is not due to take effect until at least a year from now. It must still be ratified by the EU’s Parliament, where a number of leading legislators have already expressed opposition, criticizing its vague language on forced labor and free trade unions.

Yet the incoming U.S. administration is less concerned with the terms of the investment agreement than with its diplomatic impact on President-elect Biden’s goal of agreeing on a common approach with America’s allies.

Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team may well find Europeans more reluctant to make such common cause than they were a few years ago.

EU countries do feel genuine relief at the end of Mr. Trump’s administration, and goodwill toward Mr. Biden. They broadly share U.S. views on Chinese trade practices, and have branded China “an economic competitor and a systemic rival,” much as Washington has done.

But the EU’s China strategy also sees Beijing as “a cooperation partner” and “a negotiation partner” in other policy fields. Brussels is hoping that Mr. Biden will back away from the tariff war Mr. Trump has been waging with China, and pursue commercial engagement and even some political cooperation (on issues such as climate change), while maintaining Washington’s opposition to human rights violations and unfair trade practices.

The alternative – a kind of “new cold war” requiring Europe to take sides – is likely to worry EU countries. And it’s only just got over worrying about Mr. Trump.

As ocean empties, Senegal’s fishermen risk seas for new life in Europe

Misinformation about immigrants abounds. Understanding motives may produce better solutions. Our reporter shares a portrait of one man’s desperation and determination.

David
Shola Lawal
Fishermen set sail on Dec. 11, 2020, in Pointe Sarene, a fishing village in western Senegal. More and more fishers are leaving Senegal because they say it is increasingly difficult to catch much even after spending days at sea.

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At 10 a.m. on a weekday, the beach in Pointe Sarène, Senegal, is unnaturally quiet, with just a few fishermen out working. There’s rarely a good catch these days, points out Ababacar Mbaye, a father of five. For years, fishermen have complained of depleted stocks due to overfishing, in part by foreign trawlers.

Many of the fish are bound for Europe. And so, too, are thousands of migrants setting out for Spain’s Canary Islands. Some 20,000 migrants have arrived this year alone, as the pandemic deals financial blows to already struggling areas. 

More than 500 people are reported to have died on the risky Atlantic route. Mr. Mbaye himself set off for the Canaries, only to have a storm stop his journey in Mauritania. But despite the dangers, he’s hoping to try again.

“When we fishermen leave, it is because we can no longer live from our boats,” he says, dressed in a traditional gray caftan embroidered in white lace. “People should realize that what you’re going through is making you desperate.”

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5. As ocean empties, Senegal’s fishermen risk seas for new life in Europe

The ghosts often seemed to come after six in the evening. From where he sat in the cramped boat, Ababacar Mbaye watched the minds of the men with whom he had left the coast of Senegal start to run mad, the effect of seeing nothing but miles of sea for days and hearing only the waves.

One man said he saw his home in the sea. Another was sure ghosts were on the boat. Both had to be tied down to keep them from jumping overboard. A fisherman, Mr. Mbaye is no stranger to the sea, but even he felt the strain after days without food. It was the thought of a better life in Europe that kept the father of five’s hopes up.

But after a week at sea, just as the boat was closing in on Spain’s Canary Islands, violent winds forced the men to dock in a Mauritanian village, their mission a failed one. Of the 88 who had boarded, 17 died from hunger, including two young boys who lived close to Mr. Mbaye’s home.

That was in November. Now, he wants to try again.

“When we fishermen leave, it is because we can no longer live from our boats,” explains Mr. Mbaye, dressed in a traditional gray caftan embroidered in white lace, as he stands on the beach in the western Senegal village of Pointe Sarène. “When you go to sea, you witness someone dying, you hold your friends in your lap as they are dying and you come back and try again. People should realize that what you’re going through is making you desperate.”

Mr. Mbaye is one of thousands of Africans to brave Atlantic voyages in recent months, seeking a better life abroad as the COVID-19 pandemic batters livelihoods at home. More and more aim for the Canary Islands, a one-week journey away. For West Africans, the territory halfway between Senegal and mainland Spain is Europe’s closest foothold.

Despite fears about weak health care, COVID-19 rates have been low across the continent. Most African countries were swift to act, shutting down borders and businesses. But the resulting market downturns have dealt severe blows, accelerating migration rates even further – especially among workers in Senegal’s fisheries sector, which employs about 1 in 6 workers.

Shola Lawal
Ababacar Mbaye, photographed in Pointe Sarene, Senegal, in December, tried to reach the Canary Islands in November. He barely survived, but the father of five says he's willing to try the perilous voyage again.

For years, fishermen have complained of depleted stocks due to overfishing, in part by foreign trawlers. Tons of the fish harvested in these waters are bound for some of the same countries migrants now risk their lives to reach. Last spring, pandemic lockdowns cut his income so badly that it became the final straw, Mr. Mbaye says, pushing him to exile himself or die trying.

The story is similar across the continent. According to the World Bank, 45% of households in sub-Saharan Africa report being worried about hunger, in a region where nearly 250 million already faced food insecurity due to a cocktail of conflict, climate shocks, and locusts.

Now, West Africans are arriving in the Canaries in numbers that stun experts. The Atlantic migration route is “the deadliest” because of the distance and turbulent seas, according to Michele Bombassei, who works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Since 2006, most migrants have taken their chances on the Mediterranean, but as the pandemic has shut land borders, closing off access to departure ports in Libya and elsewhere, the numbers taking to the Atlantic Ocean have skyrocketed.

About 20,000 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands in 2020, and more than 500 are reported to have died at sea.

Nothing to do in Pointe Sarène

Some of those who make it to the Canaries leave from Senegal’s Pointe Sarène, the breezy fishing village two hours south of Dakar, where the sea laps lazily at the sandy shore and children play in the streets all day.

At 10 a.m. on a weekday, the beach is unnaturally quiet. The docks have reopened as COVID-19 restrictions ease, but only a few young fishermen are out working. There’s rarely a good catch these days, Mr. Mbaye points out, crouching on the beach.

Five or six years ago, “we would take a little ride and we would catch enough fish to provide for our family and sell,” says Momodou Ngom, a friend of Mr. Mbaye’s who traveled beside him on the failed bid to reach Spain. “Now you see fishermen at sea for three days and you cannot even sell something worth 5,000 CFA [$9].”

The pair planned to get jobs in agriculture or on construction sites in Spain, where they could easily make 10 times their usual income, friends who had migrated told them. Economic reasons may be uppermost in the minds of the predominantly young men who make the dangerous journey, but they are not the only reasons, Mr. Bombassei of the IOM says.

“We tend to think these migrants leave because they don’t have anything, but that idea needs to be adjusted. These are not the wealthiest people but they are also not the poorest,” Mr. Bombassei says. “In some communities, the social status of those who have refused to migrate is so affected that they find it difficult to find a wife because the women don’t consider them respectable.”

Men have to take opportunities to help their families, says Mr. Mbaye’s sister Fatou, who sells fish at the Pointe Sarène market. Women are starting to join expeditions too, she adds. Why shouldn’t the men go?

Back to sea

Before Mr. Mbaye and his friend left in November, they sold their fishing boats to pay the smugglers’ 350,000 CFA ($650) fee. They boarded dug-out canoes, joining a bigger boat far out at sea to avoid Senegalese and Spanish naval patrol boats.

That migrants should be hounded by surveillance ships from Europe is painfully ironic, residents of Pointe Sarène say, because foreign trawlers have contributed to depleting their waters.

For two decades, the European Union has signed fishing deals with Senegal, and France and Spain are allowed to harvest thousands of tons of tuna and hake from Senegalese waters. And for almost as long, since 2006, Senegal has had agreements with Spain to enforce maritime controls and reduce migrant numbers.

Although the protocol signed claims to advocate sustainable fishing and protect local fishermen, sea activists have complained of massive illegal fishing in West African waters by Asian and European trawlers.

Shola Lawal
Mutala Cisse lost his son to the sea a few years ago, when he tried to migrate to Europe. But he says he cannot discourage young men from leaving, as there is little opportunity in Point Sarene.

Mutala Cisse, who is 60, says he can’t retire because he lost his son to the sea route a few years ago. But young men have little choice, he adds. “I’d like to tell these young men to stay and work but there’s nothing to do,” Mr. Cisse says. “I want the government to come and help them.”

There is little local authorities can do about international fisheries treaties, says Mor Fassa Ndiaye, a local government official. And though his office has carried out several campaigns about the dangers of journeying north by sea, numbers keep surging, he says, because migrants “are calling each other to say, ‘They may need workers in Spain. See how they have been affected [by COVID-19]. They may need more workers now so let’s go.’”

Some of the migrants embarking on the perilous journey are heartbreakingly young. Fourteen-year-old Doudou died en route for the Canaries last October; in response, a judge sentenced Doudou’s father, along with two others, to a two-year jail term for sending their underage kids on the turbulent voyage. Authorities hope the sentencing will deter other families from taking the same steps.

President Macky Sall has launched several initiatives to distribute money and food to people impacted by the lockdown, and his government has refused to allow more Chinese fishing trawlers to operate in Senegalese waters. But depleted fisheries and inadequate education and job opportunities will keep pushing men like Mr. Mbaye to migrate illegally, Mr. Bombassei says.

What’s more, “there are few ways for West Africans without contacts in Europe” to migrate legally, he adds. European countries should consider migration more positively, he says, taking account of the role that migrants’ remittances play in spurring local development in their home countries.

In November, Senegalese officials met the Spanish foreign minister to discuss the launch of employment schemes to allow more Senegalese to migrate legally. That gives him some hope, Mr. Mbaye says, but since his return, shame has pressed in from all sides.

When he left, villagers awaited news that he had reached Europe. Now he is mocked, he says, the mark of failure permanently stamped on him. His options have gotten even slimmer because he is cash-strapped, but once he gathers some money, he wants to try again.

“I am praying that things get better,” Mr. Mbaye says. “If they do I will settle here, but if they don’t, I am nowhere near scared, because I’ve been at sea all my life.”

On Film

Dr. King was tracked by the FBI. In ‘MLK/FBI,’ filmmakers explore why.

This timely, new documentary probes the FBI’s motives for targeting Martin Luther King Jr., who was seen even by the federal agency as a moral leader of the nation, a Black messiah. As our film critic Peter Rainer notes, the movie also raises questions about the moral shortcomings of the civil rights leader.

David
IFC Films
The FBI’s surveillance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is the focus of Sam Pollard’s documentary “MLK/FBI.”
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6. Dr. King was tracked by the FBI. In ‘MLK/FBI,’ filmmakers explore why.

“MLK/FBI,” a new documentary directed by Sam Pollard, is about many things, all of them pertinent. But its central focus is how J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI relentlessly surveilled and harassed Martin Luther King Jr. throughout his career. Much of this documentation, which also draws on newly declassified files and restored footage, is already known. But seeing it so graphically laid out gives the whole sordid history a cumulative intensity. 

The FBI’s campaign against King kicked into high gear right after he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. An interagency memo called him “the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation.”

Hoover worried that King, who was widely regarded as the moral leader of the nation, would become the Black messiah. In particular, he thought Black people were especially susceptible to communist recruitment, a point King himself weighed in on when, in an interview clip in the documentary, he says, “It is amazing that so few Negroes have turned to communism in the light of their desperate plight.”

But the linkage between King and the FBI’s long-standing mission to expose communist subterfuge in America is something of a Red herring, since so much of what the FBI pursued with King concerned his alleged infidelities and not his politics.

Then, too, there is the salient fact that during Hoover’s reign as FBI director, which stretched almost 50 years, the agency was a nearly all-white bastion of G-men, many of them conservative, football-playing, frat boy types – the sort of men who, as pop culture icons, reflected the racial and societal biases of the era. In their minds, they were what saviors were supposed to look like. (Pollard dutifully includes clips from such Hollywood films as “I Was a Communist for the F.B.I.” and “The FBI Story.”) To those who might imagine that the FBI vendetta against King was an aberration, the work of a few rogue agents, Pollard makes it clear that the operation at that time was endemic in the agency.

IFC Films
Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence over civil rights protesters, among others, worried then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, according to “MLK/FBI.”

Pollard utilizes interviews, mostly off camera, with a range of King biographers and associates, including Andrew Young, Beverly Gage, Clarence Jones, and David Garrow, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1986 King biography “Bearing the Cross.” He also spoke with former FBI agent Charles Knox and former FBI Director James Comey, who tells about the time in 1964 when the FBI mailed audio recordings of King’s alleged affairs to his home with a note attached suggesting that King kill himself. Comey calls this “the darkest period in the bureau’s history.” The film also asks why, if the FBI so closely monitored King, it was unable to avert his assassination.

To his credit, Pollard does not shy away from the controversies surrounding King’s personal life, especially the bombshell from Garrow, which he first reported in 2019 after uncovering some FBI files, that King may have been present during the hotel room rape of a woman by a fellow minister. It should be noted that this charge has been challenged by such historians as Jeanne Theoharis, author of an acclaimed Rosa Parks biography, who said: “It is deeply irresponsible for a historian to cast such FBI sources, which can be deeply unreliable, as fact.”

Since a federal judge in 1977 ordered the FBI to turn over all of its King surveillance tapes to the National Archives and place them under seal until 2027, the clock is ticking on any damaging revelations.

Should these tapes see the light of day? That’s the looming question that closes out the documentary. To some, like former agent Knox, exposing them would “serve no purpose whatsoever.”

To my mind, if we are talking only about King’s extramarital affairs, this issue is something of a smokescreen. When it comes to assessing King’s legacy, it’s not exactly news that, in their private lives, great moral leaders have often failed to live up to their own ideals. As Young, one of King’s staunchest defenders, says in the film, “There’s always been this unresolved tension in who we are and who we say we are and who we want to be.” Comey says, “I’ve never met a perfect human. People are complex.”

King was not a perfect man. But as this film so powerfully demonstrates, he forced a reckoning with America’s racial history that, more than ever, resonates today. It’s a reckoning he gave his life for.

Peter Rainer is the Monitor’s film critic.

“MLK/FBI” will be available on Jan. 15 in some theaters, and on-demand via cable networks and streaming services, including iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, and GooglePlay.

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The deterrent to insurrection

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After the violence in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, governors in at least a half-dozen states have activated the National Guard. The FBI warns of more unrest at state capitols in coming days. In Washington, thousands of troops have been deployed in the run-up to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Yet amid this display of firepower against extremists, one invisible force cannot be ignored: The vast majority of Americans expect to resolve their differences peacefully.

That key pillar of democracy – peaceful deliberation – remains a mighty armor against violent protests. Even though 72% of Republicans don’t trust the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election, 80% of them oppose the actions of those who broke into Congress.

The truth of President Donald Trump’s election loss may be doubted by a third of the U.S. population but not the bedrock principle of civil discourse and nonviolent freedom of assembly. In the public’s mind, protesters who physically attack agents of government quickly lose legitimacy.

Curbing political violence requires Americans to recognize that peaceful persuasion has been a longtime norm. The bright light of peace can help melt the hate and fear behind violence.

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The deterrent to insurrection

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National Guard members walk in front of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 14.

After the political violence in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, governors in at least a half-dozen states have activated the National Guard. The FBI warns of more unrest at state capitols in coming days. In Washington, thousands of troops have been deployed in the run-up to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Yet amid this display of firepower against extremists, one invisible and largely unrecognized force cannot be ignored: The vast majority of Americans expect to resolve their differences peacefully, not by attacking property or persons.

That key pillar of democracy – peaceful deliberation – remains a mighty armor against violent protests. Even though 72% of Republicans don’t trust the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to a PBS NewsHour-Marist poll, 80% of them oppose the actions of those who broke into Congress.

The truth of President Donald Trump’s election loss may be doubted by a third of the U.S. population but not the bedrock principle of civil discourse and nonviolent freedom of assembly. In the public’s mind, protesters who physically attack agents of government quickly lose legitimacy.

Peaceful politics is also practical. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming – who tried to contest the election results – tweeted: “Today we are trying to use the democratic process to address grievances. This violence inhibits our ability to do that.”

Peace is not passive. It really can produce results and is an antidote to violence. According to a study of insurgencies worldwide from 1900 to 2006 by scholars Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, campaigns of political resistance that remain nonviolent are more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts. One reason is that nonviolent tactics carry moral power against the violence of an opponent. “We should meet abuse by forbearance,” as Mahatma Gandhi said. “Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop.”

Creating safe spaces for Americans to listen to each other is now more important than ever. “We have seen more mass mobilizations and mass demonstrations in the United States than in any other period of recorded history in the United States,” says Dr. Chenoweth. Last year, for example, an estimated 8% of Americans participated in rallies after George Floyd’s death in police custody in May. In 97.7% of those events, according to research by Dr. Chenoweth and others, protesters did not destroy property or harm others. While some violence did mar the Black Lives Matter movement, most Americans are still open to its pleas for racial equity.

Curbing political violence will take more than holding perpetrators accountable. It requires Americans to recognize that peaceful persuasion and deliberative democracy have been a longtime norm. They are vital expressions of patience, love, and strength. The bright light of peace can help melt the hate and fear behind violence.

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 help is here

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Sometimes it can feel as if we need to wait for the bad things to stop before we can experience the good. But we can trust in the biblical promise of God’s immediate help, right here and now.

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1. God’s help is here

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Used only occasionally today, there is a word found in the Bible that is quite comforting and encouraging: succor. It means to run to give assistance and support.

When facing hardship or distress, no one wants to wait around for help. At such times I’ve been encouraged by this biblical description of the kind of undelayed help that God provides: “In the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time” (II Corinthians 6:2).

Yes, the “accepted” time for God’s help is now, not then. God’s schedule isn’t a calendar of years. It isn’t a period of months, days, or even hours. It is the timeless eternity of now. This means that God’s essential goodness isn’t constricted by events, people, red tape, or luck.

How does God succor us? For starters, by changing our thoughts. A change of perspective prompted by God is answered prayer, because what we understand of God, good, greatly impacts what we experience. A clearer understanding of God and our relation to God brings tangible help and healing.

For instance, when the mother-in-law of his close friend was sick and feverish, Jesus “came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her” (Mark 1:31).

The immediacy of God’s succor is obvious there. Jesus’ understanding of God’s healing love opened the door for that love to be instantly felt. This holy assistance is the Christ, the comforting influence of God that transforms thought, revealing the universal presence of God’s goodness and wholeness. Jesus manifested this Christ-spirit so fully that he is known as Christ Jesus.

Everyone is able today, like Jesus did then, to turn to the Christ for a healing change of thought, which also changes our lives. More than willpower or positive thinking, Christ makes clear to us that God’s goodness is the only legitimate presence and force.

I experienced God’s succor in a striking way when I was playing in a college baseball game. As I was sliding into a base, I inadvertently jammed my thumb and found that I could only move it slightly. It also hurt, and right away I began praying.

I knew from reading the Bible that God is not just a future help, but “a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1). This “present help,” I realized, was right there to change my thought and outlook about this situation.

Mary Baker Eddy’s book about Christian healing, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” explains: “When an accident happens, you think or exclaim, ‘I am hurt!’ Your thought is more powerful than your words, more powerful than the accident itself, to make the injury real” (p. 397). Then Mrs. Eddy goes on to talk about how a prayerful, confident recognition of God’s allness brings healing.

During the game, I took exactly that approach. As I prayed, I soon saw that in God there are no accidents or dislocations, and this applies to God’s children, too. An injured thumb just isn’t part of the invulnerable spiritual goodness and wholeness that God is imparting to each of us, not just in a future time, but right now, immediately!

I felt gently succored by God’s boundless, unrestricted goodness and loving presence. I knew that I was on my way to healing. Indeed, complete healing came quickly: By the very next morning, the swelling and discoloration were gone, and I was able to play baseball comfortably – our team had a double-header, in fact. I still remember the joy of playing on that happy day.

On a broader scale, in a time when the world may seem filled with turbulence, God is still here to succor us. We don’t need to sit around waiting for the bad to end. God’s goodness is never suppressed. It is always present, and it’s always enough, because it is literally infinite, all. Through prayer inspired by God we begin to grasp that we have ceaseless God-given goodness, wholeness, ability, and opportunity. Mentally yielding to this Christ message empowers us to experience those qualities immediately and tangibly.

Some more great ideas! To read or listen to an article on elevating society through prayer, please click through to a recent article on www.JSH-Online.com titled “Counteracting chaos and disorder.” There is no paywall for this content.

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Truck stop

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Farm workers rest after transporting pumpkins amid a nationwide pandemic lockdown, in Eikenhof, South Africa, Jan. 14, 2021. The president extended the nation’s curfew, alcohol ban, and limits on gatherings, and the land borders remain closed amid a spike in cases.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. We have a bonus story today by columnist Jacqueline Adams. She interviewed former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who offered advice to the incoming Biden administration.

And please come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about how chronic Arab-Israeli distrust may be undermining vaccination efforts.

More issues

2021
January
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