2021
June
24
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 24, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

How this unique ‘library’ fights prejudice

This past week, something odd popped into my social media feed. It caught my eye because it highlights the value we at the Monitor place on conversations that bridge divides – the kind we featured in our Respect Project. It’s called the Human Library, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. In the Human Library, volunteers are “books” with titles like “Muslim,” “Soldier (PTSD),” or “Young Mother,” and visitors can “check out” that book for a conversation.

The project started in Denmark 20 years ago, but it has since spread. Recently, major organizations such as Google, eBay, and the World Bank have turned to Human Libraries as a part of diversity training, according to an article in Forbes.

The goal is to allow “people to talk about issues that they normally would not talk about, or potentially don’t like to talk about, but that we need to talk about,” founder Ronni Abergel tells Forbes. Volunteers are trained not to push a specific agenda but rather to let the "reader" control the conversation. Research shows these sorts of interactions are one of the most effective ways of overcoming prejudice, misunderstanding, and hate. The project’s motto is “unjudge someone.”

For Bill Carney, a “Black Activist” in the library, the expectation is not instantly to change minds, but to plant a seed. The conversation “will at least force them to ask questions,” he told Forbes last year. And many of the conversations give him and others hope. Said one participant: “I now have the courage to go engage differently with my neighbors and my community.”

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Threatened by Taliban, Afghans who helped US race to leave

The uncertainty surrounding Afghans who risked their lives to help American forces raises urgent moral questions. They were promised visas, but 18,000 wait as American troops leave and the Taliban advance. In the first of two stories today, we profile those hoping they will not be left behind.

Mark

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Just weeks away from the withdrawal of the last American soldier from Afghanistan, the local men and women who worked with U.S. forces are afraid they may be left behind – at the mercy of the Taliban.

Support staff, such as interpreters, have been essential to the U.S. military during its 20-year war, and they were promised eventual safe haven in the United States with Special Immigrant Visas. But the U.S. Consulate in Kabul has a backlog of 18,000 applications for such visas, and it is not even processing any of them at the moment because the embassy has been closed by COVID-19.

In Washington, officials say they are preparing to help solve the problem. But the Taliban, which regard such support staff as treacherous collaborators with the “infidel” enemy, are making rapid strides as U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan, taking more and more territory and issuing threats.

“I think the obligation here is to be loyal to our allies ... to help those who helped us,” says Sunil Varghese, an American advocate for Afghan refugees. “We’re extremely worried,” he says. “We are running out of time.”

Threatened by Taliban, Afghans who helped US race to leave

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Kristin M. Hall/AP/File
Maj. Mohammed Aman Sabazad (center), of the Afghan National Army, talks through an interpreter to U.S. Army Capt. Blake Richter (left), at a military base in Nari district in Afghanistan's Kunar province, June 1, 2013.

Nazir Nazari ran many risks during the six years he worked as an interpreter with American forces in Afghanistan, surviving Taliban suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and ambushes.

“I was wounded several times, but I was very honest with the goal of serving my country,” says Mr. Nazari, who uses a pseudonym to protect himself, his tired eyes looking out over his pandemic face mask.

But his pride has turned to an angry sense of betrayal. Just weeks away from the departure of the last U.S. soldier from Afghanistan, Mr. Nazari and thousands of others like him fear they may be left behind to face Taliban vengeance, U.S. vows to evacuate them notwithstanding.

The interpreters had been promised Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) to the United States as a reward for their invaluable service under life-threatening conditions.

Instead, today they find themselves near the top of the Taliban’s target list, as U.S. troops rush to complete their final withdrawal, and the Taliban advance inexorably into territory controlled by the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani. Mr. Ghani is due to meet President Joe Biden in Washington Friday.

“I think the obligation here is to be loyal to our allies, to be true to our word, to help those who helped us,” says Sunil Varghese, policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project, a nonprofit based in New York.

“We’re extremely worried. We’re running out of time,” he adds. 

In Washington, administration officials hinted Wednesday that they were preparing to act on the Afghans’ behalf. “I am confident that at some point we’ll begin to evacuate some of those people soon,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a Pentagon budget hearing.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same hearing he considered it “a moral imperative to take care of those who have served along our side. We are prepared to execute whatever we are directed.”

Mr. Nazari is among 18,000 interpreters and other Afghan support staff whose applications for an SIV are still pending, along with an estimated 70,000 dependents. The U.S. Consulate in Kabul suspended all visa interviews June 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Race against time

Moreover, reports from Kabul suggest that the U.S. pullout could be completed by July 4, two months ahead of President Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline. Taking advantage of the withdrawal, Taliban forces have captured 50 of the country’s 370 districts since early May, bringing their total to 90.

Reporting those numbers to the United Nations Security Council Tuesday, the U.N.’s Afghan envoy, Deborah Lyons, warned of a “slide toward dire scenarios” and that the Taliban were positioning themselves to take provincial capitals “once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.”

The result is a race against time for Afghan interpreters, many of whom have been threatened by Taliban fighters for colluding with the enemy. Their chances of safe evacuation are dwindling by the day.

“With the escalation in violence coinciding with the withdrawal, it seems a bit doubtful that the SIV program is going to be a pathway for protection for people whose lives are in danger because they worked with or for the U.S.,” worries Mr. Varghese.

Interpreters are not the only Afghans at risk: The Taliban have recently been waging an assassination campaign that has killed hundreds of journalists, civil society activists, and government officials.

The Taliban said earlier this month that interpreters who “show remorse” and did not commit “treason against Islam and the country” have nothing to fear. But their threats persist.

Among the many people in danger is Mr. Nazari, who lives in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, and who says he gets regular threats from the Taliban even though his American contract ended in 2013.

“Every day the Taliban call me and tell me, ‘We have defeated America. You, who are only slaves to America, we will cut off your head as soon as possible,’” says Mr. Nazari.

Mariam Zuhaib/AP
Former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a recent protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, demanding the U.S. visas that they had been promised as a reward for their work.

He applied for a visa in 2013 but was rejected a year later because he supposedly had been fired from his job. That news surprised both Mr. Nazari and his American supervisor, who provided documents supporting his visa request, he says.

Mr. Nazari has waited ever since, as security deteriorated. His father was killed by the Taliban in 2016, after working with U.S. forces for eight years. And this spring, the Taliban ambushed him and shot him twice in the leg.

He now walks on crutches and is bitter about broken American promises. “I always arranged meetings with local tribal leaders,” he recalls of his role in America’s longest-ever war. “I told them that the U.S. had come to help us build our country, that they are not our enemies.”

“I have no belief in this [SIV] process,” he says now. “We risked our lives, but the U.S. government played with us, and played with our lives,” he says. “I will never forgive myself for endangering my family’s lives.”

Mr. Nazari’s story is common among Afghan interpreters, as their former employers race for the exit.

“A rude awakening”

Since its inception in 2009, the SIV program has been a Byzantine process “plagued not just with bureaucratic delays, but a plethora of administrative errors,” says Mr. Varghese.

It has become even more complicated as the U.S. and NATO dismantle their logistics apparatus, the coronavirus closes embassies, and the Taliban advance.

“The noose is slowly tightening, and I think a lot of people had a rude awakening because they didn’t realize how things are,” says a Western official in Kabul.

“The Americans have always been very stubborn, saying, ‘Well, we have a consular section in Kabul, so you need to go to Kabul,’ which is not an option for many people now,” says the official.

“A lot of people didn’t think about this ahead of time. They were all thinking, ‘Everything is going to work out, and they are going to take care of us,’” the official adds.

The U.S. military has in the past evacuated local support staff as its troops pulled out of countries such as South Vietnam, where interpreters and others faced retribution at the hands of their former enemies.

Most recently, the U.S. government issued over 21,000 SIVs to Iraqi staff members, offering them and their families a safe haven in return for their assistance during the war.

Mr. Varghese insists that the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to protect those in danger, as well as “a special obligation to help those who put their lives on the line for us.”

Among those is Gulab Sadozai, who says he “came back from the brink of death several times” after attacks that killed American and Afghan friends during his six years with the U.S. military until 2012. His house was burned by the Taliban in 2008, after villagers realized he worked with Americans. That year the Taliban killed his brother because of Mr. Sadozai’s job.

Telephone threat

The latest threat came a few days ago, when a caller told Mr. Sadozai that the Taliban would soon “control all Afghanistan,” and then “hang you and all those who worked for the U.S.”

“I call on the U.S. government to save our lives before it is too late,” urges Mr. Sadozai, interviewed by phone. “Be sure that if the SIV process is neglected, a humanitarian catastrophe will occur and all those who worked for U.S. forces will be killed, along with their families.”

He has waited eight years for his visa, and recently decided to go to Kabul to find out why it was taking so long. But a taxi driver warned him that days earlier, three young men dropped off at a Taliban checkpoint on the road were identified as having worked for U.S. forces, and killed. Mr. Sadozai stayed home.

Time has already run out for Gul Zabet, who worked with U.S. forces for 15 years until he was killed in a Taliban ambush on his military convoy in Khost last October.

“He was always afraid of the Taliban when he was alive,” says his wife, Amina, in an interview in Kabul. Several times the family moved houses, after Taliban warnings that he should leave his job.

The Taliban rocket not only killed him, but also destroyed the documents Mr. Zabet carried, to start his SIV application for a new life in America. Amina does not even know how to begin a new process. 

“I am asking the U.S. government to save my life with my two children,” says Amina. “We are in a very bad situation. Please issue me an SIV visa.”

They translated for US, and got out. Their relatives haven’t.

In our second story, we look at some of the thousands of Afghan interpreters and support staff who have made it to the U.S. Yet their thoughts remain with peers and loved ones back home.

Mark
Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Mohammad Salarzai, who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan, at home with his kids in the Seattle area. Mr. Salarzai served as a longtime interpreter for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, and worries about relatives' safety back home amid the U.S. military withdrawal.

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About 21,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. government back home have immigrated to the United States under a special visa program to protect them. Among them, the feeling of living in two worlds is strong, as they try to support relatives and peers back home – especially now, amid news of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

People who have worked with the U.S. and their extended families face considerable peril, and their loved ones fear the worst if the Taliban recapture the country. Those who have made it to the U.S. are doing everything they can to help friends and relatives get out, but the backlog of visa applicants is estimated at 18,000 cases.

Ghulam Mohmand, a former interpreter for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, now works in Seattle and is a father of five. 

“Every day, when I receive a call from my mother, my brother, my father, my hand shakes – I am afraid I am going to hear the news that someone is killed,” he says softly. “I feel guilty too, like my family might feel I am selfish for coming here with my wife and children. I struggle with that all the time.”    

They translated for US, and got out. Their relatives haven’t.

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On sunny June weekends, when the days are long, Mohammad Salarzai enjoys taking his children to hike in the pine-covered Cascade Range, pick fresh cherries, or barbecue and swim at a lake near their home. Soon, he’s looking forward to treating them with a trip to the cinema, to watch “Peter Rabbit 2.” 

An immigrant from Afghanistan and former longtime interpreter for the U.S. government, Mr. Salarzai has thrived since arriving in the Seattle area three years ago, despite the struggles of settling in a new country. Financially secure, he works in administration for a large contractor at Sea-Tac International Airport. His wife and six children are adjusting well and achieving fluency in English.         

Above all, he knows they are safe. “We have a peaceful life. My wife is happy. We are happy,” he says, sitting cross-legged on the floor in his modest Kent apartment surrounded by his frolicking offspring, ages 15 years to 7 months.

But mentally and emotionally, Mr. Salarzai confides, he feels torn. “We are always, always worried about the family back home,” he says quietly, his voice falling. His concern has heightened with news of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. “So, I don’t know,” he says. “We have mixed emotions here.”       

The feeling of living in two worlds is strong and pervasive among Afghans who worked with the United States. About 21,000 have moved here along with some 53,000 dependents since 2008 under a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program created to protect them, according to State Department data provided by the International Refugee Assistance Project, a legal aid nonprofit organization in New York.         

Their extended families back home face considerable peril as a consequence of their decisions to serve the U.S. government. Many have already seen relatives killed by Taliban insurgents, who have fought since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to overthrow the government in Kabul and return to power.

Mr. Salarzai lost his father, who was shot on a path outside his home in Kunar province as he returned from praying at the village mosque in 2018. “He got killed because of us working for the U.S. government, my brothers and me,” says Mr. Salarzai, who spent 14 years in the service of the U.S. military and State Department. “[The Taliban] couldn’t reach us, so they found him at home.”        

They carry this burden of responsibility, made heavier by honor-based cultural traditions in Afghanistan that require men to defend their families at all costs. Many are doing everything they can to help friends and relatives get out, fearing the worst if the Taliban recapture the country. Two of Mr. Salarzai’s brothers, who worked for the U.S. State Department and military, are currently in Afghanistan waiting for visas. Facing constant threats, they dare not return to their home village in Kunar. One brother is in hiding, unable to work – an unsustainable situation. “He is always sending me messages, asking – ‘What’s going to happen?’” says Mr. Salarzai.           

An anxious wait

Indeed, virtually all interpreters fortunate enough to have made their way to safety in the U.S. are now being bombarded by friends and relatives with pleas to help them escape too, Afghans here say.         

Ghulam Mohmand, a former interpreter for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, settled in the Seattle area in 2015. Now a customer service representative at the Port of Seattle and father of five, he is anxious for the safety of his parents and siblings in Afghanistan – especially his brother, who worked for a U.S. private security contractor there.

“It’s getting worse there day by day,” says Mr. Mohmand, citing reports that Taliban insurgents are capturing more districts and conducting targeted killings and kidnappings in the city of Jalalabad, where his family lives.

“All they [the Taliban] know is to kill other people,” says Mr. Mohmand, dismissing recent Taliban pledges not to target Afghans who worked for the United States. “It’s a trap,” he says. “Why would they leave someone who was the eyes and ears of the enemy?”

The Biden administration has accelerated the processing of SIV applications for Afghans – up to 1,400 each month, compared with fewer than 300 in the last three months of 2020. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that officials plan to relocate thousands of Afghan workers awaiting visas, along with their family members, to third countries as their applications are processed, although where they would go was unclear.

But such efforts may not unfold fast enough, given an estimated backlog of 18,000 SIV applicants and the U.S. military withdrawal timeline by September. After American forces leave, Mr. Mohmand predicts the chances are high the Taliban will retake the country, making it extremely dangerous for anyone seeking a U.S. visa.

“Every day, when I receive a call from my mother, my brother, my father, my hand shakes – I am afraid I am going to hear the news that someone is killed,” he says softly. “My first question every time is, ‘Is everyone ok?’”

He pauses. “I feel guilty too, like my family might feel I am selfish for coming here with my wife and children. I struggle with that all the time,” he says.           

Double duty

Many of the Afghan SIV arrivals in the United States work doubly hard to support their families and communities financially both here and in Afghanistan. 

Sayed Amin served for 12 years with the DEA and State Department in Afghanistan, ultimately becoming a DEA investigator. “I wanted to help the people of Afghanistan and the U.S. government,” he says. “I also believe that I personally served the people of the United States. I worked on some sensitive cases that were leading into the United States,” generating arrests, he says.

Now, Mr. Amin puts in long hours as a security supervisor at Starbucks to provide for his wife and seven children and send funds to his mother and siblings in Afghanistan. “There has never been a minute I am not concerned for them,” he says in a break from an overnight shift. 

Seeking strength and self-sufficiency as a community, Mr. Amin and other Afghan SIV arrivals in the Seattle area pool their personal funds to help one another in emergencies. They also established the Afghan American Cultural Association, offering language classes and other events, says Mr. Amin, the association’s president.   

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Inamullah, a former interpreter for U.S. contractors in Afghanistan, outside Seattle Children’s Hospital after visiting his newborn child there June 17, 2021. Mr. Inamullah, who goes by only one name, must support his own family of six, as well as his brother and his family in Kabul.

          

Inamullah, who worked with U.S. contractors in Afghanistan for six years before moving to the Seattle area in 2015, must support not only his own family of six, but also his jobless brother and his family in Kabul.

Working as an account manager at a large security firm in Seattle, Mr. Inamullah, who goes by only one name, has spent years seeking the necessary documentation for a visa for his brother, Mohabat Qazikhil, who served with a de-mining company. Mr. Qazikhil, his wife, and two children are living in hiding in Kabul, unable to travel or attend family events in their home province for fear of a Taliban attack, Mr. Inamullah says.

Meanwhile, every day, Mr. Inamullah spends all his free time with his wife visiting their infant son, born prematurely two months ago, at Seattle Children’s Hospital, an hour from their home. 

“We all know the overall situation in Afghanistan,” says Mr. Inamullah as he pauses outside the hospital before leaving to pick up his three other children from day care. “It’s something on our mind right now.” 

(Editor’s note: Prior to rejoining the Monitor staff in 2019, Ann Scott Tyson served as a volunteer helping the Afghan SIV community resettle in Seattle.)

The case of the cursing cheerleader

For the first time in more than 50 years, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of students’ free speech rights. The decision comes as free speech is under threat from the right and left.

Mark
David McKeown/Republican-Herald/AP
Larry Levy (left) and daughter Brandi Levy review the Supreme Court ruling that went in their favor on June 23, 2021, at their home in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. The court decided 8-1 in favor of Ms. Levy, who was a high school freshman when she used vulgarity on Snapchat in expressing her disappointment over being cut from the varsity cheerleading team.

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Breaking a decadeslong trend of siding against students, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in high schooler Brandi Levy’s favor. Not that they approved of the comments that propelled her to the court in the first place.

One weekend, shortly after being cut from the varsity cheerleading squad, Ms. Levy posted a profane rant on Snapchat criticizing the school. She was suspended from the cheerleading squad for a year, and sued the district.

The Supreme Court ruled that the district’s actions were unconstitutional, but also said that schools could have authority over off-campus speech in certain situations. While those situations are still to be determined, the ruling is a historic one in free speech and public education law.

And at a moment when the foundations of American democracy are being called into question, and when protests are erupting around the content of school curricula, some court watchers see the opinion as a timely one.

Free expression “isn’t a switch you can turn on when you turn 18,” says Sigal Ben-Porath, author of “Free Speech on Campus.” “We have to support young people in developing their voice, and we’re not very good at doing that right now.”

The case of the cursing cheerleader

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When Brandi Levy went with a friend to the Cocoa Hut in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, four years ago she didn’t plan on enshrining herself in American legal history.

Yet that is what has now transpired, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor this week in a landmark free speech case. For the first time in its history – in an opinion that ranged from 1940s case law to details of the Snapchat social media app – the high court considered when and how a school can regulate a student’s speech off campus.

Breaking a decadeslong trend of siding against students in constitutional challenges, the justices ruled 8-1 in Ms. Levy’s favor. Not that they approved of her comments that propelled her to the court in the first place.

At the Cocoa Hut on that weekend day, shortly after being cut from the varsity cheerleading squad, she posted a profane rant on Snapchat criticizing the school. She was suspended from the squad for a year and sued the school district.

A federal appeals court ruled in her favor, saying that schools have no purview over off-campus speech of any kind. The Supreme Court reached a narrower compromise in its decision. While it ruled that the Mahanoy Area School District’s actions were unconstitutional, it also said that schools could have authority over students’ off-campus speech in certain situations.

While those situations are still to be determined, the ruling is a historic one in free speech and public education law.

“This is a momentous decision on behalf of students’ rights,” says Justin Driver, a professor at Yale Law School and author of “The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court and the Battle for the American Mind.”

“Some of the language in [the majority opinion] is quite ringing,” he adds. But “it remains unclear what administrators can do in many vexing cases in terms of punishing students for off-campus speech.”

Danna Singer/ACLU/AP
Brandi Levy, shown in her cheerleading outfit outside Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania, on April 4, 2021, won a big victory for high school free speech – the first in more than 50 years – at the Supreme Court.

“Nurseries of democracy”

The case may seem trivial on the surface – a teenager posting some vulgarities on social media because of a high school slight – but in the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer emphasized the importance of the decision for every American.

“It might be tempting to dismiss [Ms. Levy’s] words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein,” he wrote. “But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.” 

“America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy,” he added. Thus, “courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech.”

Indeed, despite its historic nature the ruling leaves school administrators and lower federal courts with little more clarity than they had before. Off campus, where do student free speech rights end and a school’s authority to regulate student speech begin?

“The majority simply posits three vague considerations and reaches an outcome,” Justice Clarence Thomas criticized in his dissent. 

Those three “vague considerations” do provide some guidance. It will generally be down to parents to regulate the off-campus speech of students. Schools still have “significant” regulatory interests in “some off-campus circumstances,” including bullying, threats, and cheating. But they can’t have their free speech restricted everywhere at all times.

That aspect of the ruling broke with the federal appeals court’s opinion that schools have no authority to regulate any kind of student  speech once off the grounds. Because of that, educators say this week’s ruling will change little about how they handle student speech outside school. 

“Districts being able to still exercise their rights to penalize students when their actions are to harass or to bully or to threaten individuals, even though outside of school grounds, that seems to be left open,” says Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

In Burien, Washington, Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield says she doesn’t think they will change any of their policies because of the ruling. What she hopes it will prompt is a deeper discussion in classrooms about the rights and responsibilities that come with free speech.

“Just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should. Those are the conversations we should be having, especially in the age of social media,” she adds. “We can’t rely on court ruling[s] and draconian disciplinary practices to do [that] work.” 

Professor Driver, who used to clerk for Justice Breyer, says the court could have articulated a clearer guidance for schools and courts, but he has some sympathy. The case was argued in late April, and with just a couple of months to tackle the tough questions a broad ruling would raise, they chose to defer those questions for another day.

“This case is the first word on off-campus speech. But it certainly is not going to be the last,” adds Professor Driver.

Momentum shift?

How could this issue return to the Supreme Court? A recent controversy in Ohio could be a preview.

In February, an anonymous Twitter user posted a March Madness-style bracket designed to rank the attractiveness of female students at a suburban Cleveland high school. Within hours, the school’s principal had sent a schoolwide email describing the brackets as “bullying,” and promising “consequences” for the people who created them.

“A situation like that could potentially be something that could cause a material disruption under Tinker,” says Andrew Geronimo, director of the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, referring to a 1969 Supreme Court case.

That case was also the last time the Supreme Court issued a ruling defending a high school student’s free speech. The court decided that an Iowa school district couldn’t prohibit Mary Beth Tinker from wearing an anti-Vietnam War armband at school, and that a school could only restrict student speech if it would “materially and substantially interfere” with the operation of the school.

Between Ms. Tinker and Ms. Levy, high schoolers suffered a string of losses at the high court. The court upheld Matthew Fraser’s suspension for using lewd language in a speech at a school assembly. It also upheld a school principal’s decision to delete two articles from a Missouri high school newspaper before publication. And in 2007 the court upheld a school’s decision to suspend Joseph Frederick for bringing a banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” to a school-sponsored event.

That momentum had some free speech advocates concerned that Ms. Levy’s case would see the Supreme Court again ignore the Tinker standard, even in the off campus context. Instead, Tinker – and the First Amendment rights of students – were reaffirmed.

If that was a surprise, it may be less so that it was Justice Breyer – who often spends time speaking to students about civics and the law – who wrote a majority opinion that reads in some parts like a civics lesson. Schools, he wrote, “have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”

And at a moment when the foundations of American democracy are being called into question, and when protests are erupting around the content of school curricula and laws are being passed to restrict the same, some court watchers see the opinion as a timely one.

Free expression “isn’t a switch you can turn on when you turn 18,” says Sigal Ben-Porath, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Free Speech on Campus.”

“You ought to be able to practice this, you ought to be able to make mistakes, correct them, try out ideas – even outrageous ones, even profane ones,” she adds. “We have to support young people in developing their voice, and we’re not very good at doing that right now.”

Letter from a heat-parched West: How times and temps have changed

A heat wave has set temperature records across the western U.S. during the past week and more. It’s also prompting residents to ponder longer-term changes affecting their region.

Mark
Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG/AP
Alanna Clarke cools off under a mushroom fountain on the splash pad at Monte Vista Park in Chino, California, on June 16, 2021, as temperatures reached into the triple digits. Since mid-June, heat records have been set in multiple U.S. cities in the Southwest.

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Phoenix-area writer Kimberly Hosey moved from Buffalo, New York, to Arizona before she started grade school. It was definitely hot in summer. Record-setting days stand out – like the 122-degree scorcher on June 26, 1990 – when three sweaty kids were waiting with their mom in a car with no AC to pick up their dad.

But fast-forward. Now, she says, dangerous heat waves are almost becoming the norm. The West is in a severe drought, which contributes to the heat. No summer monsoon season refreshed Arizona last year, its second “nonsoon” in a row. Lake Mead, which supplies water to 25 million people, is at its lowest since it was filled in the 1930s. 

Between the temperature bubbles of air-conditioned buildings and political bubbles of partisanship, “there isn’t always the sense of urgency that there should be,” Ms. Hosey writes by email. 

But that is changing. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 52% of American adults think global climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress, up significantly from 34% just six years before. And 62% say climate change is affecting their local community at least some.

Letter from a heat-parched West: How times and temps have changed

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Last week, as millions of people from New Mexico to California to Montana wilted under an early and record-breaking heat wave, I posed a question to a few friends in the West: What have you noticed about the heat in your area over the years? I’m still a relative newcomer to “SoCal,” and was curious about changes over time, how folks were coping, and whether they noticed a sense of urgency around the subject of climate change.

Most of the responses came from Arizona, where heat is a serious health risk. Last year, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, reported 323 heat-related deaths – its most ever recorded. Excessive heat warning days doubled from the year before. Together, Arizona, California, and Texas account for about a third of the 700 average heat deaths a year in the United States. 

My friends tell of a different world from their childhood.

“I played softball in the summer for so many years. I don’t remember it being 100-in-the-teens in June. It could be 102, and that would be a normal day. Not 110, or 111, or 115,” recalls Rosemary Mitchell, who grew up in Phoenix and now lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Last week she was back in Phoenix to help her mother move into a senior living community. She was shocked at the record-setting heat. (Last Thursday topped out at a record 118 degrees.) She could also smell the smoke from wildfires about 60 to 70 miles away – now a more frequent occurrence in the West.

“The sky on Monday was a dark gray, and the sun looked like this orb of flaming red in the sky. I felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. It is so disturbing to me,” Rosemary says. The summer time warp from her childhood in the 1960s and ’70s – when Phoenix had roughly a fifth of its current population and a lot less asphalt and concrete – set off her inner alarm bell. 

But she doesn’t see that happening with Arizonans for whom the change has been more gradual. “There is no conservation mentality here,” she observes, upset at outdoor sprinklers running in the afternoon, streets lined with two-story mansions three times the size of the low-slung houses of her childhood, and so many gas-guzzler Suburbans. “I see more solar panels on home roofs in Bethesda.”

Changes in temperatures – and in attitudes?

Phoenix-area writer Kimberly Hosey moved from Buffalo, New York, to Arizona before she started grade school. It was definitely hot in summer. She grew up hearing “you don’t have to shovel the heat,” every time she whined about the temperatures. They would sit in front of box fans draped with wet dish towels in their mobile home until they eventually got a one-window air conditioner. Record-setting days stand out – like the 122-degree scorcher on June 26, 1990 – when three sweaty kids were waiting with their mom in a car with no AC to pick up their dad.

But fast-forward. Now, she writes, dangerous heat waves are almost becoming the norm. The hot part of the year lasts longer, there are more days over 100 degrees, and it’s been drier than normal. The West is in a severe drought, which contributes to the heat. No summer monsoon season refreshed Arizona last year, its second “nonsoon” in a row. Lake Mead, which supplies water to 25 million people in the Southwest and Mexico, is at 36% capacity, its lowest since it was filled in the 1930s. 

“This is a trend [that] should be obvious to a lot of people, but I don’t think it always is – though that could be partly my personal experience,” she writes. Abnormally hot days blur together, and between the temperature bubbles of air-conditioned buildings and political bubbles of partisanship, she explains, “there isn’t always the sense of urgency that there should be.”

But that’s rapidly changing – nationwide and in Arizona. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 52% of American adults think global climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress, up significantly from 34% just six years before. And 62% say climate change is affecting their local community at least some. 

In Arizona, although a partisan divide persists, about 70% believe the federal government and the state need to do more to combat climate change, according to a 2020 poll commissioned by the Nina Mason Pullium Charitable Trust. And increasingly they don’t just “agree” but “strongly agree” with that objective.

“Still time” to act

Urgency is necessary for action, says climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He believes that urgency will intensify over the next decade as Earth crosses the threshold into average temperatures that are 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than in the pre-industrial age. Climate scientists say the shift means worsening drought, wildfires, flooding, and heat.  

But it’s not hopeless, emphasizes this scientist, who was just awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize. There is “still time” to act, especially if drastic measures are taken to reduce “super pollutant” contributors along with carbon dioxide. Almost all of the focus is on carbon dioxide emissions, but these super pollutants – black carbon from diesel engines, methane from fracking, and hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants – make up almost half of greenhouse gases, he explains.

They are far more potent than carbon dioxide and also much more short-lived, lasting from weeks to 10 to 15 years. “If you cut these super pollutants, the warming curve will start to bend right away,” Dr. Ramanathan says. Fortunately, the world has the technology and know-how to do this, he says, including off-the-shelf filters for diesel trucks and options for reducing food waste. In the meantime, “we need to prepare people, build resilience,” because the heat waves will get worse, he says.

Helping people stay safe

On the blistering streets of Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona, government officials and nonprofits are trying to do that by building out their network of 240 heat-relief locations, says Brande Mead, human services director for the Maricopa Association of Governments. 

One of the main providers is the Salvation Army, which has 11 emergency hydration and cooling centers with air conditioning and shaded outdoor misters and “swamp coolers.” They offer water, sunscreen, and bandanas to soak in water and place around the neck, plus lip balm, lotions, and baby powder for skin care. They provide help to seniors and encampments of homeless people – two particularly vulnerable groups for heat. 

Heat-related illness and deaths are a “very big deal” in Arizona, which unfortunately leads the nation in the number of migrants who die in the desert, says Daniel Derksen, a health policy expert at the University of Arizona in Tucson. People often don’t realize they need to drink much more water, even after the sun sets and folks go out to play tennis or baseball, he says. 

Dr. Derksen remembers growing up in Phoenix, running barefoot to the neighborhood pool, touching down quickly on pavement to get to the next stretch of grassy lawn or shade tree. Now hospitals are treating significant burn cases from contact with asphalt and cement. 

In the rainy season when he was in college and medical school, he would drive through a quarter mile or so of lightly flooded dirt road to hunt duck and quail in a playa east of Tucson. That road water has been gone for 20 years, he remarks, and he rarely sees water in the playa. Quail and deer are hard to find, though ranchers provide water for animals. 

As for urgency, he sees it in a new administration in Washington that is pushing, for instance, to convert the postal fleet to electric vehicles and in his students, who are energized to contribute to problems that seem intractable, but are not. He points to telehealth – how pandemic necessity accelerated its use and turned a futuristic anomaly into a common practice.

“The same kind of energy can be applied to our drive to protect our environment,” he says. “It’s definitely within our reach.”

‘No stopping New York’: City’s recovery is in full swing

The road to full recovery continues. But as the Big Apple speeds up reopening, the city swells with joy and relief.

Mark
Ann Hermes/Staff
Elaine Jones takes a shot in a pool game against Sonny Evans at the ARC A. Philip Randolph Senior Center on June 17, 2021, in Harlem, New York. Staff and visitors were excited to see recent renovations to the senior center when it reopened in mid-June, following the pandemic.

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Snarled traffic, bustling sidewalks, fans flocking to Yankee Stadium – these are the signs of New York City buzzing back to life. Reviving a reputation as “the city that never sleeps,” midnight curfews for indoor dining ended last month and the subway resumed 24-hour service.

People are gathering again, in small groups and big celebrations. Becky Voorwinde, a nonprofit executive director, says her children have received a bevy of invitations for belated celebrations. “How excited my kids have been to fill afternoons and weekends with birthday parties again,” she says.

And this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a Central Park mega-concert planned for August to celebrate the city’s comeback. He also said there will be a full return to in-person learning in the fall. Lights will go up on Broadway in September as well.

The rebound is uneven, though. In February 2020, the city unemployment rate was under 4%, mirroring the national rate before the pandemic spike. Months into recovery, however, New York City lags behind the country: The national jobless rate fell to 5.8% last month compared with the city rate of 10.9%.

Generally, though, there’s a sense of elation and relief. As the mayor put it, “There is no stopping New York.”

‘No stopping New York’: City’s recovery is in full swing

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Like her city, Elaine Jones is back.

The New Yorker is back at the pool table, pacing the perimeter in white Reeboks to suss out her next shot.

“It feels great!” she says, pool stick gripped in a cobalt glove. “It came right back to me.”

For the past 15 months, the retired maintenance supervisor spent the pandemic alone. Holed up in her apartment, she filled her days with TV Westerns as she watched her world shrink.

“I had nowhere to go, nothing to do,” the octogenarian shakes her head. “I had a nervous breakdown, almost.”

Ms. Jones longed for what she calls her “second home” – senior centers. To her delight, the city allowed indoor activities at these venues to resume on June 14. Ever since a senior center in Harlem reopened last week, Ms. Jones has spent several hours a day there enjoying billiards and buddies. 

“Just to get out is a blessing,” says Ms. Jones.

As the city speeds up reopening, New Yorkers like her share an air of elation and relief. There’s more healing ahead for the former pandemic epicenter, and no new normal can replace some 30,000 lives lost. But many are reveling in what feels like a hard-earned homecoming: New York, in many ways, is back.

For Daniel Krane, it means embracing a friend, Becky Voorwinde, for the first time in over a year.

“Part of what makes New York feel like home is being able to hug the people you love,” he says, as they sit together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, their mask-free smiles on full display.  

Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor
Becky Voorwinde and Daniel Krane are pals who were able to hug last week for the first time in over a year.

Bagels and birthday parties

Snarled traffic, bustling sidewalks, fans flocking to Yankee Stadium – signs abound of a metropolis buzzing back to life. Reviving a reputation as “the city that never sleeps,” midnight curfews for indoor dining ended last month and the subway resumed 24-hour service. Vaccinated people no longer need masks in most settings, the state said in May, though businesses can require them. 

Fireworks glittered over New York Harbor on June 15 to mark a milestone: 70% of adults in the state had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, under federal investigation for his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, dropped restrictions like social distancing and capacity limits for several industries that same day.

“We’re no longer just surviving,” said Mr. Cuomo.

Political rivals, the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio have at times issued conflicting COVID-19 guidance, but both Democrats have ramped up reopening in recent weeks. This month the mayor announced a Central Park mega-concert planned for August, part of a New York City Homecoming Week.

“It will celebrate the summer of New York City, the comeback, and it will emphatically make the point there is no stopping New York,” said Mr. de Blasio, who plans to fully reopen the city by July 1. The mayor has also announced a full return to in-person learning this fall. And lights will go up on Broadway in September. 

The bursting of pandemic social “bubbles” is another hallmark of the new normal. Mr. Krane, a theater director, and Ms. Voorwinde, a nonprofit executive director, met up for bagels – and a hug – last week. In June alone, Ms. Voorwinde says her children received a bevy of birthday party invitations for belated celebrations.

“There’s just something really sweet about that, and how excited my kids have been to fill afternoons and weekends with birthday parties again,” she says, cradling her youngest, baby Alfred.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Visitors join their first in-person art class since the pandemic at the ARC A. Philip Randolph Senior Center on June 17, 2021, in Harlem.

A robust but uneven rebound

When the first COVID-19 cases emerged and storefronts began to shutter, New Yorkers united. They rallied around Chinatown businesses; leaned out of windows banging pots to cheer on health care workers exiting overwhelmed hospitals; began mutual aid networks to feed hungry neighbors; and volunteered in their communities once they, themselves, had recovered from COVID-19.

Now, the average daily positivity rate is low (under 1% at the time of writing), yet some New Yorkers remain cautious.

Rosanna Santana, who is vaccinated, says she feels confident skipping a mask outside. But she still covers up indoors, even among friends. She’s careful from experience. Around Christmastime in Queens, there came a point when Ms. Santana, grappling with symptoms of COVID-19, thought she would die. Two family members did. “Some people, they think of [the coronavirus] as a joke,” she says. “Everybody in my house had COVID, but thank God we’re OK.”

Early Monday evening, Ms. Santana sits overlooking the East River as a breeze breaks the heat. A maskless passerby comments to her on the strength of the sun, even as it sets. She smiles at the brief exchange.

“The city has a life again, you know?”

Similar to Ms. Santana’s hesitant reentry, the economic rebound in the Big Apple is encouraging but incomplete, says Lawrence J. White, an economics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

In February 2020, the city unemployment rate was under 4%, mirroring the national rate before the pandemic spike. Months into recovery, however, New York City lags behind the country: The national jobless rate fell to 5.8% last month compared with the city rate of 10.9%.  

The city economy is especially service-oriented, notes Dr. White, and jobs that relied on in-person transactions took hard hits under lockdown. Despite the newly relaxed restrictions, he says, “You can’t just flick on a light switch.” Businesses that temporarily closed may need to rehire and reestablish relationships with suppliers.

The leisure and hospitality sector has regained the most jobs so far, recovering 115,100 of the 298,700 it lost during the pandemic, according to a New York State Department of Labor analysis. The mayor announced in April a $30 million advertising campaign to help lure back tourism.

Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor
Zaina Elkordy helps run her family’s food cart in bustling Times Square.

Zaina Elkordy has her finger on the pulse of Times Square, which was crowded on a recent weekday afternoon. She works at her family food cart, Broadway’s Fire Food.

At the start of the outbreak, “it was deserted out here,” she says on the street. “We stayed here just to maintain our spot.”

Their persistence paid off as business began to pick up this spring. But not everyone made it – a nearby restaurant closed. 

“It’s just remarkable that we’re even smaller than this brick-and-mortar business, and we’re still managing to survive,” says Ms. Elkordy. She pauses to grill a kebab for a man painted head to toe in gold. 

“I just feel very grateful.”

In the Bronx, pink and ivory gowns line the walls of Bridal by Rosas’s. After a tough year for business, Rosa Tejada knows her livelihood is linked to the reopening of event venues. The business owner says she closed for about three months when the pandemic hit. 

But the past couple of weeks have brought hope: Ms. Tejada says she’s sold a handful of dresses for weddings, proms, and quinceañeras

“I think everything’s going to be OK,” she says, standing beside a display case of tiaras.

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Spain tries mercy in Catalonia

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Can forgiveness alter the course of nations? Spain is about to find out after nine leaders of Catalonia’s separatist movement walked out of prison on Wednesday, cutting short their 13-year sentences for sedition. The nine politicians and independence activists were pardoned for what Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez believes will allow “a new era of dialogue” between Catalonia, a region that feels it is culturally distinct, and the rest of Spain.

The nine were convicted for their role in a 2017 referendum on Catalan independence that a court ruled to be unconstitutional. The pardon is only a partial one, conditional on them not holding public office or trying to form a breakaway state.

The pro-independence movement has been Spain’s biggest political problem for decades. It has also influenced Europe’s debate over how to balance demands for independence by certain peoples with the sanctity of national borders, such as with Kosovo and Serbia, Scotland and the United Kingdom, and eastern and western Ukraine.

Spain’s act of forgiveness has yet to play out in a political solution. But the freedom for nine individuals is a sign of freedom from a cycle of bitterness and revenge.

Spain tries mercy in Catalonia

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Catalan leaders pose June 23 near Barcelona after the Spanish government announced a pardon for those who participated in Catalonia's failed 2017 independence bid,

Can forgiveness alter the course of nations? Spain is about to find out after nine leaders of Catalonia’s separatist movement walked out of prison on Wednesday, cutting short their 13-year sentences for sedition.

The nine politicians and independence activists were pardoned for what Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez believes will allow “a new era of dialogue” between Catalonia, a region that includes Barcelona and feels it is culturally distinct, and the rest of Spain.

“There is a time for punishment and a time for concord,” said Mr. Sánchez, who faces strong opposition to the move from Spanish conservatives.

The nine were convicted for their role in a 2017 referendum on Catalan independence that a court ruled to be unconstitutional. As Mr. Sánchez pointed out, they were jailed for their unconstitutional actions, not their ideas. The pardon is only a partial one, conditional on them not holding public office or trying to form a breakaway state.

Still, says Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya, their freedom is an “expression of a society’s desire to forgive.” And it has led to the possibility of fresh talks on Catalonia’s future in coming days.

The pro-independence movement has been Spain’s biggest political problem for decades. It has also influenced Europe’s debate over how to balance demands for independence by certain peoples with the sanctity of national borders, such as with Kosovo and Serbia, Scotland and the United Kingdom, and eastern and western Ukraine.

The pardon, stated Catalan daily El Periódico, “is not an easy decision, but an essential one. It is not the solution, but a necessary condition to start finding it. It is not yet a reconciliation, but it is a sign that there is a willingness not to remain stuck in a sterile and indefinite confrontation.”

The pandemic played a part in the government granting a pardon. “We have all learned the importance of living together and working together,” the prime minister said. And in a speech directly to Catalans in their language, he said, “Catalans, us estimem” ( “Catalans, we love you” ).

Spain’s act of forgiveness toward the nine individuals – a form of love in action – has yet to play out in a political solution. But it may unblock a deadlock, as El Periódico put it. Their freedom is a sign of freedom from a cycle of bitterness and revenge.

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.

Governed by Love, not anger

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Sometimes anger can seem uncontrollable. But as a woman with a proclivity for anger found, we all have an innate ability to feel and express God’s love, which frees us from bad-tempered thoughts and outbursts.

Governed by Love, not anger

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

I grew up in a loving and good family, but a lot of anger was expressed by one member of the family. Being around yelling and anger was a frequent occurrence in my experience. As a teenager, I began to realize that I was also expressing anger, mostly at home, and that I was hurting the very people I loved the most. I did not want to hurt anyone, and I knew that it was wrong and that I needed to stop.

I asked God to help me stop having angry outbursts and trusted that God, divine Love, would show me how to do this. And He did!

Soon I began to recognize anger at its onset. And instead of releasing the anger by yelling, I was able to arrest it, knowing that this behavior was not impelled by God and was not right, and I did not want to express it. After some time, the angry outbursts stopped.

Several years later, however, I realized that although I had been healed of the outbursts, I was still often feeling angry, even if I wasn’t expressing it outwardly. I wanted to heal the anger completely.

I mentioned this to a Christian Science practitioner – in particular, that the anger seemed to be involuntary, and I didn’t seem to have any control over it. The practitioner helped me see that anger begins as a thought, which is really only a suggestion that can be rejected because it is not of God. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, explains: “Sin and disease must be thought before they can be manifested. You must control evil thoughts in the first instance, or they will control you in the second” (p. 234).

I knew I had both the ability to discern these thoughts and the authority to refuse them. God made each of us to “have dominion” and “saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:26, 28, 31). Anger and hurt are not good, and therefore are not part of our true nature as God’s children. We have a God-given ability to overcome such traits.

I began to be more alert to thoughts that would start small but that, if not stopped, would grow into angry feelings. Because I knew they were not of God, I was able to stop these thoughts from building up in my thinking. And the angry feelings stopped, whether I was in conversation, watching television, or thinking about the day. The thoughts that had spurred the anger also stopped.

As I have continued to grow in my understanding of Christian Science, I have realized that I can take this even further by replacing anger with the understanding of the reality of divine Love. There is only one Mind, God, and this immortal Mind is also divine Love. Therefore, the only legitimate thoughts we can have must come from God, not from a mortal or personal mind. God lovingly governs every circumstance, situation, and individual.

When we understand that God is omnipotent and omnipresent Love, we see that there is no place for anger because there is in reality nothing to fear, negatively react to, or be angry about. This understanding doesn’t mean ignoring issues, but rather so fully understanding God as Love that not only is our anger healed, but the circumstance or situation that would appear to justify an angry response is also transformed. We begin to see and experience that divine Love is what each one of us truly expresses.

Although the family member who had a bad temper passed on many years ago, my understanding of divine Love has given me a love for and understanding of his true identity as an immortal idea of God instead of an angry mortal. While this was not the original intent of my prayer, I am completely free from any anger I ever felt toward him or from him. I now discern the good and true qualities that have always comprised his real identity, and when I think about him, I feel only the love that comes from God.

God is the only Mind and the only valid source of our thoughts. This fact gives us dominion over anger and enables us to see that we are completely governed by Love – that “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is all around us and within us, always.

Looking for more timely inspiration like this? Explore other recent content from the Monitor's daily Christian Science Perspective column.

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Guarded diplomacy

Andrew Harnik/AP
Members of security staff stand guard as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (center left) and German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas speak together as they walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe following a ceremony for the launch of a U.S.-Germany dialogue on Holocaust issues in Berlin on June 24, 2021. Mr. Blinken is on a weeklong trip in Europe traveling to Germany, France, and Italy.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when we look at the ethics around “gain of function,” a process of making viruses more virulent to study them. Scrutiny of the nature of the research has grown during the pandemic.

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