2021
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09
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 09, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Can you spell ‘amazing’?

That’s what 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde was Thursday night – amazing. Also “astounding,” “incredible,” and “victorious.” She became the first African American competitor to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and the second Black champion in the bee’s 96-year history.

Her winning word was “murraya,” a genus of tropical trees. She got it right and then twirled happily in a rain of celebratory confetti.

Spelling is not Zaila’s only talent. She’s a world-class basketball dribbler. She can divide four-digit numbers by two-digit numbers in her head.

But the national spelling bee final is full of talented teens and tweens. That may be its defining characteristic – it’s the Super Bowl of kids who read the dictionary, the Olympics of young Scrabble fans. Like the Olympics, it is both a competition and an opportunity for participants to make friends and form a community with like-minded people.

Bee organizers have long fostered this association with group activities. Entrants have received official autograph books and been encouraged to collect as many signatures as they can, given that some among them may grow up to be celebrities.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s bee was more limited. But many participants were happy it was held at all, after cancellation in 2020.

“Thank you so much for this opportunity. ... We really needed the spelling bee this year,” said Avani Joshi, an Illinois teen, after elimination on the word “gewgaw.”

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As pandemic wanes, border debate takes new twists

Ending Trump-era restrictions at the border while trying to chart a middle-of-the-road immigration policy, President Joe Biden has struggled to please either side.

Peter
Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent speaks with a migrant from Central America who was previously sent back to Mexico under Title 42, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on June 15, 2021. The Biden administration is planning to phase out Title 42, a pandemic-related restriction that has allowed the U.S. government to turn back most migrants before they can seek asylum.

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The southern border is becoming a political Achilles’ heel for President Joe Biden. 

Liberals are upset that, in their view, the administration hasn’t done enough to help those fleeing extreme hardship. Conservatives are focused on the integrity of the borders.

Soon, the administration is planning to phase out a pandemic-related, Trump-era restriction on United States-Mexico border crossings – one that allows the U.S. government to turn back most migrants before they can seek asylum.

That’s sparked concerns of a new surge of migrants at the border. Already, the U.S. is on track to see the most apprehensions on its southern border in 20 years. 

Meanwhile, seven Republican governors have pledged to send small but symbolic contingents of National Guard troops and state police to the southern border. And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to use state money and crowdfunding to finish building the border wall that former President Donald Trump started – another largely symbolic effort, given the cost and the fact that most Texas borderland is privately owned. 

“This is a winning issue for the Republicans,” says Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University. “It motivates the base, it’s a winning issue with the median voter, and it causes infighting within the Democrats.”

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As pandemic wanes, border debate takes new twists

After a surge of migrants into the United States captured headlines earlier this year, the politics of the southern border has come roaring back.

Perhaps most consequentially, the Biden administration is planning to phase out a pandemic-related, Trump-era restriction on U.S.-Mexico border crossings – one that allows the U.S. government to turn back most migrants before they can seek asylum. 

Plans to lift this public-health restriction, known as Title 42, have sparked concerns of a new surge of migrants at the border. Already, the U.S. is on track to see the most apprehensions on its southern border in 20 years – though many are repeat border-crossers, precisely because of Title 42. 

Meanwhile, seven Republican governors have pledged to send small but symbolically meaningful contingents of National Guard troops and state police to the southern border, after a request for help from the GOP governors of Texas and Arizona. In South Dakota, a Republican mega-donor is footing the bill for the state’s deployment. 

All of this follows a promise by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to use state money and crowdfunding to finish building the border wall that former President Donald Trump started. Like the border deployments, the wall effort is largely symbolic, given that any attempt to build a complete wall would be virtually impossible. The cost would be prohibitive, and most Texas borderland is privately owned.

The 2022 midterm elections are 16 months away – and the 2024 presidential election farther still – but the political jockeying is well underway, and the southern border is a topic of intense focus. It’s an Achilles’ heel for President Joe Biden, as his administration feels the squeeze from both the left and the right. Competing values undergird each side. 

Liberals are upset that, in their view, the new Democratic administration hasn’t done enough to help those fleeing extreme hardship. Conservatives are focused on an issue that goes to the very heart of what it means to be a sovereign nation, the integrity of the borders. Immigration was central to Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016, and will be key to Republican efforts to retake Congress in 2022 and the Oval Office in 2024.

Not coincidentally, Governor Abbott and two of the governors sending forces to the border – from South Dakota and Florida – may be eyeing presidential runs. 

“This is a winning issue for the Republicans in three ways,” says Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston. “It motivates the base, it’s a winning issue with the median voter; and it causes infighting within the Democrats.”

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows President Biden with an overall 50% job approval rating, but only 33% of Americans approve of his handling of the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/AP
Former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (sitting, left) attend a security briefing with state officials and law enforcement before touring the U.S.-Mexico border wall on June 30, 2021, in Weslaco, Texas. Governor Abbott has pledged to use state funds to continue building the wall.

Impact of waning pandemic

The anticipated Biden administration plan to effectively reopen the southern border by gradually phasing out the use of Title 42 public-health authority centers on the waning of the pandemic. 

In March 2020, when much of the U.S. went into lockdown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention invoked Title 42, sending most people crossing the border illegally – including asylum-seekers – back to Mexico. The idea was to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in crowded U.S. detention centers. Exceptions were made for unaccompanied minors on humanitarian grounds, which had the effect of increasing the numbers of children showing up at the border without an adult present. 

Advocates for migrants saw the Trump administration policy as a backdoor way to shut down the border and deny migrants what they see as the right to an asylum hearing. When Mr. Biden took office in January, he immediately ended the Trump-era national emergency on the southern border and the diversion of funds from the Department of Defense to border wall construction. 

On June 1, the administration officially ended the Trump-era program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols – dubbed “Remain in Mexico” – which had sent thousands of asylum-seekers back to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings. After the Title 42 border restriction was implemented, MPP was largely dormant, as few new asylum claims were being processed. But the point is that even as the Biden administration ended some Trump-era immigration policies, it held onto another – Title 42.

This middle-of-the-road approach seems to have satisfied no one. 

Ali Noorani, CEO of the immigrant advocacy group National Immigration Forum, argues that the administration needs better messaging. 

“They’re approaching border security in a new way – a way that keeps us safe and secure, and treats people compassionately. That’s what the public wants,” Mr. Noorani says. “They need to lean into and own the term ‘security’ and define it on their own terms.” 

But when it comes to GOP state efforts to take immigration matters into their own hands, analysts note a number of hindrances. 

In the case of governors deploying their own troops to border states, the numbers suggest it’s mostly symbolic: 50 National Guard troops from South Dakota and 125 from North Dakota, 50 state police from Florida, and 14 Ohio highway patrol officers. 

As for the Texas governor’s pledge to continue building the border wall, Mr. Jones of Rice University points to the major hurdles. 

“The state just doesn’t have enough money to build more than a couple miles of wall,” he says. “And in Texas, almost all the land is privately owned – which means the only way you can build the wall in Texas is through eminent domain or convincing ranch owners to allow you to do it.” 

With a few exceptions, he doesn’t see ranchers going for that. 

“They don’t want an insecure border, obviously, because they live on the border,” Mr. Jones says. “But on the other hand, they also don’t want a big wall running through their ranch, separating 500 acres on one side, 200 acres on the other.”

Mark Krikorian, a longtime hard-liner on immigration, agrees that the Texas border wall plan is unrealistic and that there’s not much state troopers and the National Guard can do to fight unlawful immigration. 

“But I wouldn’t describe those moves as pure theater,” says Mr. Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “They’re a vote of no confidence in federal immigration policy, and that’s important politically.”

Title 42 as political football

The Public Health Service Act, under Title 42 of the U.S. Code, was originally enacted in 1944, in part to establish the authority of the federal government to set a quarantine.

“It’s not necessarily a statute that was envisioned as being used for immigration control,” says Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. 

Between March and October 2020, more than 200,000 migrants were turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border under Title 42 without the typical process to claim asylum.

Now, Title 42 is being applied to a decreasing share of migrants, says Ms. Bolter, though the policy is still leading to expulsion with the majority of migrants. “That’s because so many single adults are still being expelled,” she says. The Biden administration is expected to begin phasing out the policy this month, but uncertainty lies ahead.

“Under Title 42, there are actually fewer consequences for single adults who illegally crossed the border than there were prior to the policy being implemented,” Ms. Bolter notes. The statute lacks the record-keeping of the formal removal process and returns migrants into Mexico – where they can reattempt entry into the U.S. more quickly and without the cost of being returned to their country of origin. 

The administration has discussed changes to the asylum system to allow cases to be processed more quickly. But any such change would go through an extensive public notice and comment period before implementation. That means, for a time, migrants arriving without an expeditious process in place.

“If something like that is implemented in the future,” says Ms. Bolter, it could “mitigate some of these periodic surges that we’ve seen.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Heat waves challenge governments to step back from ‘climate abyss’

Startling heat waves around the world have lent urgency to calls for action to slow global warming. Will they suffice to convince governments to change their fossil fuel ways?

Peter

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The recent extraordinary heat waves around the world, from the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Siberia to the Middle East and Africa, have startled meteorologists. And they are concentrating the minds of the world’s diplomats as they prepare for the most important climate conference since the Paris Agreement six years ago.

When they meet in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, the plan is that the nations of the world will all make binding commitments to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. If they achieve that goal of carbon neutrality, scientists believe, the world will be able to avert the risk of climate catastrophe.

But governments are still on the wrong track, experts say, still spending more money to support fossil fuels than on green energy projects. They are pinning their hopes on the Glasgow conference taking tough decisions.

“We are on the verge,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said recently. “When you’re on the verge of an abyss, you have to make sure your next step is in the right direction.”

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Heat waves challenge governments to step back from ‘climate abyss’

Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times/AP
During the record-breaking heat wave, the Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center on June 27, 2021, hosted a temporary city cooling facility with meals and beds for residents.

The headlines may seem familiar: health facilities overwhelmed, emergency services scrambling to respond, lives tragically lost – not because of an act of terror or war, but a force of nature.

Except that, this time, the culprit was not the pandemic.

It was the latest, starkest sign of climate change, a “heat dome” enveloping the northwestern United States and Canada and driving temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, 30 to 40 degrees above normal in some areas. Scientists have calculated that, before the age of man-made global warming, this might have been expected once in several thousand years.

And it’s raising the political temperature, too, as governments prepare for their most important climate conference since the Paris Agreement of 2015, due to convene in Glasgow, Scotland, this November.

Even before the heat dome, experts had been lowering their hopes for the Glasgow meeting.

Once, many of them had been optimistic, buoyed by a pandemic-related reduction in carbon emissions and by the way that China and the U.S., the world’s largest carbon emitters, had announced more ambitious carbon-reduction targets.

More recently, though, climate experts have begun questioning whether these and other governments will actually follow through on their pre-conference promises – and even if they do, whether those pledges might not be too little, too late, to stem the accelerating pace of climate change. 

Soaring Pacific temperatures are just one reminder of the knock-on, interlocking effects of global warming, which has also increased the frequency and intensity of other “extreme events” such as wildfires and droughts, tropical storms and hurricanes.

Sweltering temperatures have been recorded from Northern Europe and Central Asia to the Middle East and Africa. Siberia is experiencing an unprecedentedly hot summer for the second year running. Nearly 10,000 miles away, in Brazil, global warming has combined with deforestation of the Amazon to cause the worst drought in nearly a century.

And a report from NASA earlier this year stressed that it’s not just about yearly records: the last seven years as a whole have been the warmest ever. The director of its Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt, warned that “as the human impact on climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken.”

It’s that human impact that’s now focusing attention on the Glasgow conference.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/AP
Patrons line up at a splash park on a 96 degree F. day in Calgary, Alberta, June 30, 2021. A Canadian record was set at 121 degrees F. in British Columbia the previous day.

Its goal is that all the 150-plus countries represented will make binding commitments to so-called net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest – meaning that all the carbon they release into the atmosphere must be mitigated by measures such as reforestation or technology to capture and store emissions.

That would put the world on track to meet the aspirational goal set in Paris: to turn back global warming before temperatures reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That point, says the scientific consensus, marks the threshold beyond which the planet would risk climate catastrophe.

But holding temperature rises to that level won’t be easy, and there have been signs it’s getting harder.

Chief among them is that with the pandemic easing in the world’s richer countries, their governments’ main focus isn’t on climate change. It’s on getting their economies up and running.

At the height of the pandemic, many of these countries announced plans to prioritize low-carbon investment as they relaunched their economies. A study last month by the economic development charity Tearfund confirmed that the G-7, the group of economically advanced countries, did pump a total of $147 billion into green energy projects between January 2020 and March 2021.

But they spent even more, $189 billion, over the same period to support oil, coal, and gas, the report said.

This week, the International Energy Agency added that demand for gas – which fell steeply last year amid pandemic lockdowns – is rebounding strongly. The IEA said demand will continue to grow, and that unless governments acted to stem the trend they could not possibly meet the target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Politically, however, there does remain some reason to be hopeful – especially in the three countries likely to be critical to a new world climate agreement: Britain, China, and the U.S. 

For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, having led the drive to pull Britain out of the European Union, the Glasgow summit will offer a high-profile opportunity to demonstrate international leadership. He won’t want it to fail.

China, the world’s largest carbon-emitter, long resisted setting a net-zero target at all. But last September, Chinese leader Xi Jinping did so, committing his country to aim for carbon neutrality by 2060. In a further signal China sees a role for itself in Glasgow, he also accepted U.S. President Joe Biden’s invitation last April to a virtual summit on climate change. 

Mr. Biden’s interest in getting an agreement there is especially strong. On taking office in January, he reversed former President Donald Trump’s move to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. And ahead of last month’s G-7 summit, he pointedly declared that America wasn’t merely part of the Paris process again. He saw it as being “back in the chair.”

Still, the pressure to deliver results is building. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said recently that the world was at a “make-or-break” moment on climate change.

“We still have time,” he said. “But we are on the verge. When you’re on the verge of an abyss, you have to make sure your next step is in the right direction.”

A letter from

London

In England’s Euro success, so much more than just a soccer win

After more than a half-century, England is in a major soccer championship final, and the country is overjoyed. But for Britons like correspondent Shafi Musaddique, it’s not just about the football.

Peter
Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Fans show a flag of St. George's Cross atop a bus as they celebrate England's victory over Denmark in the European Championship semifinal in London's Piccadilly Circus on July 7, 2021.

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Euphoria has swept Shakespeare’s sceptre’d isle, thanks to the English men’s soccer team reaching its first major final in 55 years.

At Wembley Stadium, a 30-minute journey from my north London home, England beat Denmark 2-1 in extra time in the European Championship semifinals. After a year and a half of some of the toughest restrictions on daily life since World War II, delirium – joy in excess – filled British living rooms and fan zones. Cars honked their horns, strangers embraced, and people waved from their balconies.

Joy is an incredibly important feeling at this point of the pandemic. Italy and England – two countries that have suffered more than many from COVID-19 – will face off in a final riddled with poignancy for Europeans. But the joy is riddled also with some guilt, rooted in a year and a half of shared pain, public and private, national and regional.

There is much anger and polarization in both British politics and society. England’s magical soccer ride will not permanently heal divisions. But this moment of euphoria, led by a squad who all (barring three players) claim a foreign-born parent or grandparent, has unified a nation at a time when it was most needed.

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In England’s Euro success, so much more than just a soccer win

Some things don’t change, and sometimes they change without warning. English weather is inconsistently erratic. Sunshine only reveals itself in glimpses. Take it when you can.

The same could be said about joy. This spontaneous emotion, most keenly experienced only in the present moment, was seemingly lost in the past 18 months of lockdowns, social isolation, and COVID-19 cases. Joy hibernated under the snow.

It has now arrived when the nation needed it most. Euphoria has swept Shakespeare’s sceptre’d isle, thanks to the English men’s soccer team reaching its first major final in 55 years.

At Wembley Stadium, a 30-minute journey from my north London home, Danes and Englishmen and women enthusiastically mingled, chatted, and bonded before Wednesday’s semifinal in front of 60,000 spectators. Denmark, charged with emotion since star player Christian Eriksen nearly died from an on-field cardiac arrest in their opening game of the European Championships, felt it was their time.

But no one, not even the plucky Danes, could take England’s moment of joy, as the home team won 2-1 in extra time. After a year and a half of some of the toughest restrictions on daily life since World War II, delirium – joy in excess – filled British living rooms and fan zones. Cars honked their horns, strangers embraced, and people waved from their balconies.

The chant “It’s coming home” – a reference to England as the birthplace of football, and a helpful hint as to where championship trophies belong – rings at every opportunity, on every street corner. It’s a song originally created more in irony than certainty, a mocking satire of England’s desperation and longing hope, but to some degree it has achieved its prophecy already.

A flicker of hope came and went in the 1990s with England hosting and almost winning the 1996 European Championships (though the twin nemeses, penalty shootouts and Germany, stopped the “Three Lions” in their tracks). Hope turned to despair in the 2000s, mostly due to the failure of a national team crushed by tabloid culture’s toxic expectations and a team of individual stars, some transcending the game itself such as David Beckham, but never a collective.

Joy is an incredibly important feeling at this point of the pandemic. Italy and England – two countries that have suffered more than many from COVID-19 – will face off in a final riddled with poignancy for Europeans. But the joy is riddled too with some guilt, rooted in a year and a half of shared pain, public and private, national and regional. 

There is much anger and polarization in both British politics and society. Sadness and tension have eaten at this island; not just from the devastation of COVID-19, but from the identity-wrenching battles of Brexit and competing national visions. Centuries-old notions of class remain, as do questions about race and racial prejudice.

England’s magical soccer ride will not complete social progress nor will it permanently heal divisions. But this moment of euphoria, led by a squad who all (barring three players) claim a foreign-born parent or grandparent, has unified the nation at a time when it was sorely needed. It is a rare milestone in the generational markers of life, bringing overwhelming pride to the St. George’s flag rarely seen in public life; so long used as a symbol by the far-right, now embraced by all – myself, a child of immigrants, included.

In 1998, commentators predicted that a World Cup win for the multicultural French national team would accelerate social change. It never did. And it may not do so in England either.

But unlike that 1998 French zenith, England’s soccer players – much like their U.S. women’s team counterparts – publicly avow and fight for social causes, from fighting child poverty to ending racial discrimination. There is a growing public sense that those responsible for English joy also appear to be top quality role models.

Scott Heppell/AP
England's coach Gareth Southgate, far left, along with English technical staff and substitutes, take a knee before the international friendly soccer match between England and Romania in Middlesbrough, England, June 6, 2021. Mr. Southgate has publicly backed players' kneeling in support of Black Lives Matter.

And that includes the English team’s manager, Gareth Southgate. An eloquent, unassuming man, he wrote an open letter before the tournament backing his team taking the knee in support of Black Lives Matter even as a vocal portion of English fans booed the players doing so. And he has won over hard-line skeptics with his calm, composed manner. Britons would quite like their politicians to take heed.

Mr. Southgate and this team have allowed those with myriad identities to share the moment. I recently buried the man who started off the whole chain of migration for my family some 60 years ago, in a socially distanced funeral on the outskirts of London. My uncle’s legacy, and that of all the pioneers like him, lives inside those of us born British – our accents, our education, our opportunities, and our multiple identities. We are the lions and we’re home.

There’s so much to identify with and be proud of in the current England team. And we’re a part of it.

Parents, everywhere I turn

Young adults strive to be independent, but this author finds parents hard to escape – whether his own or host parents in Senegal. Is it love or obligation he feels? Perhaps it’s joy, too?

Peter
Nick Roll
The author (left) sits with his host parents Mamadou Mbodj (center) and Senabou Ndour in Dakar, Senegal, August 2020.

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It’s not exactly cool to be living with your parents at age 26. 

In December 2017, I moved back to my parents’ house in Cincinnati to prepare for a stint in the Peace Corps. While I then swapped my childhood bedroom for a thatched-roof hut, I was still living with parents, this time with a host family in Senegal.

When the pandemic sent every Peace Corps volunteer home, I was back in my old bedroom. I’ve been here ever since.

Earlier this summer, caravaning to a family reunion with my biological mom, it felt like a more comfortable version of clambering into taxis, buses, and horse-drawn carts to attend host-family functions in Senegal. Here, as there, I could not come and go on my own, and I’d rearranged my schedule to attend. 

Is it love or obligation? In either place, the question is moot. No matter the answer, I’m there.

Soon I’ll move back to Senegal, this time to live in an apartment. When I visit either family, some things may still feel constraining. But when I’m alone in my Dakar apartment, I’ll miss that benevolent parental panopticon and the convivial joy it can bring.

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Parents, everywhere I turn

It’s not exactly cool to be living with your parents at age 26. 

The last time I lived on my own was for a few months after graduation, when I went to Washington, D.C., for a job. In December 2017, I moved back to my parents’ house in Cincinnati to prepare for a stint in the Peace Corps. 

But even after flying 4,000 miles from home to start my service in Senegal, I soon found myself snared in the international conspiracy of parents. I would spend most of the next two years living with a host family. And while I may have swapped my childhood bedroom in the suburbs for a thatched-roof hut in a village, I was still living with parents.

When the pandemic sent me and every other Peace Corps volunteer back to the States, I was once again back in my old bedroom. I’ve been here ever since.

Earlier this summer, as my biological mother and I caravaned to a family reunion, it felt like a more comfortable version of clambering into taxis, buses, and horse-drawn carts to attend host-family functions in Senegal. The destination this time was not a remote village or the bustling capital of Dakar, but a small cottage on a lake. Still, some things were the same: the second cousins with forgotten names but familiar faces; my inability to come and go on my own; trying to stay off my phone so as to appear polite and attentive; rearranging my schedule to be in town for the get-together in the first place.

That’s not to say I don’t love visiting family; it’s just different when it’s not my idea or on my terms – when you live with parents, host or biological, not a lot is. In Senegal, I’d alert my family to where I’d be, whom I’d be with, and when I’d return, even if I was just going into town for the day. I ate whatever was prepared, whenever it was put in front of me.

And here in Ohio? I may have swapped the village for the suburbs, but parental surveillance remains. No cows chew on the roof during the dry season here, and I have a bit more latitude about what we eat (so long as I prepare it), but each time I leave the house, my parents know where I’m going, whom I’ll be with, and when I’ll be back. 

Is it love or obligation? The same question applies to family events:

Rearranging my schedule to be in town for a family reunion to oblige my mom and dad seems no different from showing up out of pure love – at least on the surface. Either way, I’m there, making small talk, catching up with cousins, and discreetly asking my mom, “Who’s that again?” But am I choosing to be here? Or am I here because I can’t really say no? As in Senegal, so in the States: The question is moot. No matter the answer, I’m there.

The irony is, given a choice, I wouldn’t change much. I wouldn’t dare not tell my biological or host parents where I was going. Telling them may make me feel like I don’t have a life, but not telling them is selfish and cold. 

In the end, that lack of autonomy is a price I’m willing to pay. Over the past 3 ½ years – whether juggling the demands of Peace Corps service or the challenges of the pandemic – being surrounded by family of one kind or another has been a blessing. The cost of rearranging my schedule, keeping everyone informed, and eating whatever is served doesn’t come close to outweighing the benefit. 

Soon I’ll be moving back to Senegal, this time to live in the capital, in an apartment. I’ll no longer be parent-adjacent. When I visit my families, in a village or suburb, some things may still feel constraining. But I’ll finally have more say.

And yet I can’t help thinking that, when I’m alone in my Dakar apartment, I’ll miss that benevolent parental panopticon and the joy it can bring: recounting stories over dinner, seeking advice, telling jokes, or just shooting the breeze.

When I texted my host mom to let her know I was moving back to Senegal, she said she was excited. But before she told me how happy she was, she asked, “How are your mother and father?” An international conspiracy of parents, indeed.

Watch

Worked over by pandemic, these women reach for recovery

Most accounts of the pandemic’s effect on women focus on career losses and the depth of the setback. Our new podcast centers on stories of resilience, reinvention, and hope. Watch the trailer below. 

Peter

The American workforce – like most around the world – was hit hard by the pandemic. But more than any other demographic, women bore the brunt of the losses. Not only were professional women set back, 30 years by some estimates, but they were also leaned on heavily to figure out the chaos of pandemic life for everyone. 

In our new podcast, “Stronger,” reporters Jessica Mendoza and Samantha Laine Perfas follow six women in Las Vegas, one of the hardest hit economies in the country. Each woman shares her unique pandemic story, covering everything from job loss, burnout, and Zoom fatigue to the strength, resilience, and hope that keep them moving forward. In many ways, they hope that what they’ve learned during this time can be a lesson for all of us.

“Some things do really need to change,” says Yarleny Roa-Dugan, a labor and delivery nurse featured in the series.

Mariza Rocha, a utility porter at The STRAT Hotel and Casino, adds: “I don’t want it to be normal. I want it to be better than before.”

This is the teaser for our new podcast, "Stronger." To find and follow the series, please visit here.

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The Monitor's View

Water jaw-jaw is better than water war-war

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Two nations along the Nile’s waters, Egypt and Ethiopia, are preparing their militaries for what could be history’s first outright war over water. Tensions between the two are at their highest this week after Ethiopia began the second stage of filling its Grand Renaissance Dam, raising the risk of a water shortage for downstream Egyptians. The prospect of war even led to an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

The United Nations was able to accomplish little. But a spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said, “Solutions to this need to be guided by example ... by solutions that have been found for others who share waterways, who share rivers, and that is based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and the obligation not to cause significant harm.”

One good example showed up this week. On July 8, Israel sealed a deal with Jordan to sell it 50 million cubic meters of water, the largest such sale of water since the two neighbors signed a peace treaty in 1994.

Like water itself, it can extinguish the flames of conflict between nations. All that is needed are better examples of finding mutual interest in sharing a natural resource.

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Water jaw-jaw is better than water war-war

Reuters
The Blue Nile River is seen as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir fills near the Ethiopia-Sudan border in November 2020.

Two nations along the Nile’s waters, Egypt and Ethiopia, are preparing their militaries for what could be history’s first outright war over water. Tensions between the two are at their highest this week after Ethiopia began the second stage of filling its Grand Renaissance Dam, raising the risk of a water shortage for downstream Egyptians. The prospect of war even led to an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

The United Nations was able to accomplish little. But a spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said, “Solutions to this need to be guided by example ... by solutions that have been found for others who share waterways, who share rivers, and that is based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and the obligation not to cause significant harm.”

One good example showed up this week. On July 8, Israel sealed a deal with Jordan to sell it 50 million cubic meters of water, the largest such sale of water since the two neighbors signed a peace treaty in 1994. The agreement was finalized days after a secret meeting in Amman between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett. Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries with most of its aquifers declining fast. Israel is perhaps the world’s most water-efficient nation and a leader in desalinization technology.

The pact signals more than better ties between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors. It reflects other moves in the Middle East and North Africa where climate variability and access to water supplies are increasingly seen as central to security concerns. The region is home to 6% of the world’s population, yet less than 2% of its renewable water. It is also home to 12 of the world’s most water-scarce countries.

Frequent droughts, along with population growth, have made the region much more open to collaboration than to conflict. Last year’s peace accord between Israel and a few Gulf States, for example, has led to cooperation on building desalinization plants. Some experts say a severe drought in Iran could be making it more amenable to settling disputes over its nuclear program and ending the war in Yemen.

Water diplomacy has become a necessity in the Middle East. Like water itself, it can extinguish the flames of conflict between nations – like those possibly between Ethiopia and Egypt. All that is needed are better examples of finding mutual interest in sharing a natural resource.

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.

My ‘done’ list

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Sometimes to-do lists can feel overwhelming. But God has given each of us the grace, patience, and creativity we need to accomplish what we need to.

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My ‘done’ list

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

On a recent family video call, our adult children were celebrating the arrival of a sibling’s firstborn. As most of these brothers and sisters were parents themselves already, they had some advice to share, including, “Don’t keep a ‘to-do’ list, keep a ‘done’ list!”

I loved this idea! Too often we focus on what we have not accomplished, as opposed to acknowledging what we have. And it’s not just new parents who can feel overwhelmed by a demanding to-do list – life comes at us fast these days, especially as we get back into routines that may have been on hold during pandemic lockdowns. Sometimes it can feel as though there’s no end to the work we need to get done in a day.

This is when I’ve found it so helpful to turn to God, and find assurance that a mortal measurement, such as time, need not constrain our peace of mind or even our ability to accomplish what needs to get done. While it appears we are mortal beings living in a material universe and subject to the limitations of this existence, Christian Science explains that we are actually each an immortal idea of God.

As such, we have unlimited opportunities and capacities to accomplish all that comes our way. God, who is divine Mind, is never limited – this infinite Mind is omniscient (all-knowing) and ever active. As a child of God, a spiritual idea of divine Mind, each of us reflects this source of constant insight and activity.

Recognizing this spiritual reality, we find we’re able to accomplish more than we may have imagined previously – and in a more orderly, efficient, and successful fashion. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes: “The human mind, imbued with this spiritual understanding, becomes more elastic, is capable of greater endurance, escapes somewhat from itself, and requires less repose. A knowledge of the Science of being develops the latent abilities and possibilities of man. It extends the atmosphere of thought, giving mortals access to broader and higher realms” (p. 128).

Jesus Christ demonstrated this in spades. His daily to-do list was his prayer “Thy will be done,” and acting on God’s guidance included curing sick people, feeding a group of thousands when not nearly enough food appeared to be available, and calming a storm while at sea. Impelled by the divine Mind, Jesus accomplished it all with patience, poise, and trust that everything would get done in the right order, in the right way, and with the right outcome.

Of course, our daily to-do lists are more modest than that. Still, as we realize that all that rightfully needs to be accomplished can be done through the wisdom and guidance of divine Mind, we too find ourselves equipped to do whatever is demanded of us and to add or remove tasks from our list at Mind’s prompting.

A friend of mine recently shared that he had been praying about a business situation. He said that while everything was not yet 100% resolved, he was grateful for the progress made on many fronts and was confident things would continue to unfold to the benefit of all involved. He was not feeling burdened by all the details of the situation. Instead, he counted all progress as an accomplishment and continued turning to God, Mind, for inspiration. This approach was empowering.

When I’m making my own “done” list each evening, one of my favorite parts is giving gratitude to God for the divine goodness I had the privilege to witness and express that day, such as the opportunity to be kind and loving, including helping others through healing prayer. The more I focus on that, the more I realize which tasks have real merit.

God has given us the ability to do what we need to with grace, insight, and creativity. Recognizing this brings the courage and wherewithal not only to tackle the items on our to-do list, but to be open to, and act on, anything divine wisdom and compassion impel us to add to that list! Then we can do all that it comes to us to do with joy, peace of mind, and confidence.

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South Sudan turns 10

Samir Bol/Reuters
South Sudanese people celebrate as the country marks its 10th anniversary of independence, in Juba, South Sudan, on July 9, 2021. For a look at the role language plays in this young nation, click below to read our 2018 article "Voice of a nation: How Juba Arabic helps bridge a factious South Sudan."
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Come back Monday, when we’ll have a story on the many meanings of the Olympic Games for a Japanese town hit hard by the 2011 tsunami. 

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