2021
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 16, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

The US immigrant ties that bind – from Cuba to Belarus to Haiti

The sidewalks outside the White House are teeming with life again, a welcome sight after more than a year closed to pedestrians. Cue the protesters, a reminder that free speech is a bedrock American value – and a sign that, despite its challenges, Washington remains a beacon of hope for Americans of many proud national origins. 

This week, it was Cuban Americans, shouting “Libertad!” – liberty – and wearing “SOS Cuba” T-shirts in support of the rare protests taking place on the communist island nation.

“We want a military intervention to throw out the regime,” says Havana native Camilo Sanchez, a Cuban flag draped over his shoulders. 

On Sunday, it will be Belarusian Americans staging a rally, on nearby Freedom Plaza. The former Soviet republic’s opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, will be in Washington next week for meetings, including at the White House. Her supporters view her as president-elect of Belarus, after strongman Alexander Lukashenko claimed electoral victory last summer amid allegations of widespread fraud. 

Belarusian immigrant Denis Baranov, who arrived here as a teen 20 years ago, tells me the best outcome of Ms. Tsikhanouskaya’s visit would be quick U.S. actions that “really hurt Lukashenko and his cronies” – say, stricter economic sanctions. 

Haitian Americans, too, are watching the Biden administration closely after the July 7 assassination of Haiti’s president. And even though Haitian authorities requested a U.S. military intervention to stabilize the country, Haitian Americans are wary of the idea, given the U.S.’s fraught history there. 

Each country’s situation is unique, but there’s a common thread: the deep connection many U.S. immigrants feel to their native land. 

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As birth rates dip, some conservatives warm to the child tax credit

A newly expanded child tax credit, while passed by Democrats, is an idea that also speaks to values held by many conservatives: supporting struggling families and countering a decline in birthrates.

Linda
Tom Brenner/Reuters
Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the child tax credit relief payments that began this week. He spoke in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, July 15, 2021.

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Thanks to a child tax credit passed by Congress in March, more than 35 million families with children began receiving their first monthly child credit payments this week. The credit, worth up to $300 a month per child for all but the highest earners, expires next year, but President Joe Biden has vowed to extend it.

Republicans have also promoted plans for more financial aid for families, including a proposal from Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah for a near-universal monthly child credit. Some conservatives support the bill, in part, as a way to address the nation’s declining birthrate.  

Last year, the birthrate fell to a 41-year low in the U.S., one of several countries that recorded fewer births.

Senator Romney has said his plan could convince some women not to have an abortion and nudge other couples to have children despite the cost of doing so. “For a civilization to survive and thrive, it must maintain its population,” he told the Deseret News.

But while Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass, a conservative think tank, shares the worries over declining U.S. birthrates, he says the main goal for Congress should be to relieve the financial stress on existing families.

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As birth rates dip, some conservatives warm to the child tax credit

Rebecca Woitkowski, a mother of two in Bedford, New Hampshire, says she imagined having four children until she realized how much child care costs. Her kids, ages 7 and 3, were spaced apart for this reason. “Paying for infant and toddler care for two children was out of reach for us.” 

For Ms. Woitkowski, a nonprofit policy advocate, the extra money she’s getting from the child tax credit passed by Congress in March will help pay for summer camps.

That’s likely true for others as well. More than 35 million families with children began receiving their first monthly child credit payments this week. Democrats have hailed the program, part of a pandemic relief bill, as a landmark $100 billion effort to reduce child poverty. 

As it stands, the credit, worth up to $300 a month per child for all but the highest earners, expires next year. President Joe Biden has vowed to extend it, and Senate Democrats included it in their $3.5 trillion budget proposal. As with other social spending plans, Democrats aren’t counting on votes from across the aisle, given the antipathy among Republicans toward welfare programs. 

But the child tax credit has a conservative lineage. Its original form – capped initially at $1,000 and later raised to $2,000 – was introduced by a Republican-run Congress in 1995 and passed in 1997 with the support of social and religious conservatives.

Now, some “pro-natal” conservatives have an additional reason to support child credits: cash transfers can help to promote family formation and child rearing at a time of falling birthrates. Other wealthy countries have tried this approach, with varying degrees of success, to reverse their own baby busts. 

These concerns, which predate the pandemic’s impact on birthrates, aren’t yet driving the mainstream conservative agenda. Some Republicans recoil at the idea that a government should play any role in personal decisions about childbearing. But families’ needs are coming into sharper focus as the debate over tax credits and child poverty raises questions about what it means to invest in parents and children as part of an effective pro-natal policy. 

“Parents bear costs that nonparents don’t and they’re advancing the next generation. That’s the way to think about it,” says Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group. “The question is whether there’s a political constituency for this.” 

Baby bust sharpens focus on families

Democrats hope to extend the current child credit through the budget process, but Republicans have also promoted more financial aid for families. In February, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah proposed a near-universal monthly child credit. His bill won support from many conservative groups, including religious organizations and taxpayer groups, which applauded his plan for being deficit neutral. By not imposing work requirements or other conditions on eligible parents, the proposal broke with Reagan-era orthodoxy on welfare. 

The fact that a Republican lawmaker was going toe-to-toe with Democrats in crafting social policy that would help hard-up parents is significant, says Samuel Hammond, director of poverty and welfare policy at the Niskanen Center, a centrist think tank. “There’s a shift towards an openness to social spending on families, and that’s been driven in part by a realignment around working-class constituencies” who vote Republican, he says. 

Mr. Hammond, who helped draft Senator Romney’s plan, says there is another factor: the baby bust. “There is on the right a growing recognition that declining fertility is a problem.” 

Last year, the birthrate fell to a 41-year low in the U.S., one of several countries that recorded fewer births. The U.S. rate began falling after 2008 when economic uncertainty and job losses led couples to delay childbearing. But while the economy recovered, the birthrate didn’t. 

Senator Romney has framed his plan, which would initiate cash transfers to parents four months before a child’s due date, as a pro-natal policy. He has said it could convince some women not to have an abortion and nudge other couples to have children despite the cost of doing so. 

In an interview with the Deseret News, he expressed concern over the declining U.S. birthrate, noting that had it stayed the same since 2008, there would be nearly 6 million more children alive today. “For a civilization to survive and thrive, it must maintain its population,” he said.  

This rhetoric plays well with conservatives who see the family as the bedrock of society and fret over its fracturing. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says he would like to see Congress enact a child allowance. 

“I think making the child tax credit permanent would give Americans greater confidence when it comes to having and raising kids,” he says via email. 

What’s the impact of pro-natal policies?

Studies show that pro-natal policies can reverse declining birthrates, particularly when cash is coupled with other benefits, such as child care subsidies and paid parental leave, though such packages can be costly for taxpayers and may yield only a short-term boost. 

In 1988, Quebec began awarding first-time baby bonuses that scaled up significantly for additional children. Multichild families were also eligible for generous maternity leave and subsidized home loans. Quebec’s fertility rate initially rose, then tapered off in the 1990s, though it remains above Canada’s national average. 

In recent years, Poland’s conservative government has taken a similar approach in response to falling birthrates and mass emigration. Its monthly cash transfers, which are more generous for multichild families, are credited with a bump in the birthrate and have been copied by other governments in Eastern Europe trying to reverse falling fertility rates.  

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Rebecca Woitkowski plays with her son, Swayze, and daughter, Natasha, in Bedford, New Hampshire, Feb. 4, 2021. Ms. Woitkowski, a nonprofit policy advocate, supports extending the child credit.

By itself, making a $300 a month child credit permanent may not move the needle in the U.S., says Mr. Brown, a former staffer on the Joint Economic Committee in Congress. “The money that we’re talking about is helpful on the margins, but it’s not going to have a big bang for your buck,” he says. 

Some Americans question the need to move that needle, arguing that a baby bust is good for the planet and its finite resources and that slower U.S. population growth – the last decade (2010-19) was the slowest since the Great Depression – is an opportunity not a crisis. 

Supporters of pro-natal policy point to surveys of parents and would-be parents who say they want to have more kids than the current average of 1.6 per woman. In a 2018 Gallup survey, 4 in 10 adults said the ideal number of children in a family was three or more, suggesting a gap between aspiration and reality. 

“It’s harder than ever to support a family, and that’s why people report they’re not able to have the kids they say they want to have,” says Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass, a conservative think tank. 

President Biden also wants Congress to legislate other forms of support for families, including pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds and paid parental leave. But while social conservatives agree that families with children need more support, they look askance at Democrat plans to build out a federally funded child care system. Critics say this could penalize stay-at-home parents and those who arrange care for kids in their community.

The effects of a declining birthrate 

Until 2008, the U.S. fertility rate trended higher than in other rich countries, in part because of immigrants who skewed younger. But demographers warn that without immigration, the U.S. population of 330 million would flatline in the coming decades and start to resemble rapidly graying societies like Italy and Japan with low ratios of workers to retirees and sluggish economic growth. 

Mr. Hammond, of the Niskanen Center, says the U.S. fertility rate today is roughly where Japan’s was 30 years ago. “It may not seem like a problem now,” he concedes.

While Mr. Cass shares the worries over declining U.S. birthrates, he says Congress should first relieve the financial stress on existing families. 

Pushing a pro-natal agenda to support a permanent child allowance could backfire, he warns. “It’s a mistake to frame the policy in those terms, that the primary motivation is that people aren’t having enough kids and if we pay them they will have more kids,” he says. 

But changing demographics are already reshaping states like New Hampshire, which has the second oldest population after Maine. Last year, New Hampshire recorded more deaths than birth, as did half the states in the union. Fewer annual births mean smaller school-age cohorts: In the last 20 years, 1 in 7 public schools have closed in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. 

At a Democratic campaign event Thursday in a park in Manchester, New Hampshire, Ms. Woitkowski, the policy advocate from Bedford, spoke in support of extending the child credit, noting that working parents in New Hampshire struggle to find affordable child care and that many are also still paying off student debt. 

Also at the event was Stacy Brown, a high school teacher in Hampton, New Hampshire. She teaches a unit about population growth and why birthrates are falling in countries like Japan. She’s also a mom, with two children, ages 10 and 7, who were eating ice cream on the sidelines. Like other parents, Ms. Brown cited the high cost of child care as a deterrent to having large families.  

“It seems so simple to me: Make it easier for families, and people will have more children,” she says. “It’s not a mystery. But we can’t seem to prioritize or value that.”

In Senate, an urgent bridge-building effort

A group of bipartisan senators have agreed to a blueprint for overhauling America’s infrastructure, from roads to broadband; now they must overcome a lack of trust between and within their parties.

Linda

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How do you restore America’s infrastructure? By first building bridges in Congress, where trust between the parties and also among Democrats has been severely eroded. 

Two plans are slated to come before the Senate as early as next week – a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, and another $3.5 trillion budget deal that includes many key progressive policy priorities. The first covers traditional infrastructure initiatives, such as repairing roads, creating a national network of electric car charging stations, and replacing lead pipes for drinking water. The second includes “soft” infrastructure investments like Medicare expansion, universal pre-K as well as free community college, and making permanent a recently expanded child tax credit.

Underlying the high-pressure negotiations is a distrust between Democrats and Republicans, as well as between the Democratic Party’s progressives and centrists. However, the bipartisan group of 22 senators working over the weekend to try to meet a Monday deadline for the $1.2 trillion bill is no stranger to high-stakes negotiations.

“Most of us were kind of the nucleus of the group that came together in November for the COVID relief package,” said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “So we’ve been working together – we can talk, we can laugh, we can argue. And, hopefully, we can build things.”

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In Senate, an urgent bridge-building effort

Brittany Peterson/AP
A Denver Water crew works to replace a lead water service line installed in 1927 with a new copper one at a home on June 17, 2021. President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill proposes billions of dollars for eliminating lead pipes and water system improvements.

If America is going to get new bridges, one might first need to be built between Democrats and Republicans in Congress – and perhaps another within the Democratic Party, which is grappling with a gap between the priorities of staunch centrists and increasingly influential progressives.

A bipartisan group of 22 senators has agreed to a blueprint for overhauling America’s infrastructure, from repairing cracked roads and pipes to expanding broadband internet across rural America. Now they are working furiously to hammer out the details, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has given them a deadline of next week to prepare the bill for a vote. Senator Schumer could use that pressure to his advantage to pass a related $3.5 trillion budget plan that includes many priorities on the political left, including “soft” infrastructure items like home health care and manufacturing. 

Heading into the weekend, the Senate corridors were abuzz as lawmakers strode in and out of a tucked-away room in which representatives from the White House and the bipartisan group, dubbed the G22, worked to hash out details of the infrastructure bill. Most would not comment on the talks, marching resolutely through a gantlet of journalists waiting outside.

“I got nothing for you,” said Sen. Mitt Romney as he left the building, a herd of reporters sprinting after him. “Is this deal falling apart, sir?” one asked. “Absolutely not,” he said, before being spirited away by a waiting van.

Underlying the high-pressure negotiations is a distrust not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also between the Democratic Party’s left wing and centrists. Republicans don’t want to be seen as giving Democrats a bipartisan win on the eve of passing what the GOP sees as a wildly irresponsible expansion of government. But they don’t have much leverage; Democrats could pass the budget deal without a single GOP vote. However, Democrats also can’t lose any on their own side – and progressives have threatened to hold the infrastructure bill hostage unless Democratic centrists agree to vote for the $3.5 trillion budget plan. 

“The trust within the U.S. Senate has been eroded so severely, it’s an obstacle in every direction,” says Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a member of the group of 22. However, the former governor adds, the trust the G22 has so far modeled in its discussion of policy disagreements could help bring about a deal that will stick. “My life experience is that that level of effort builds a sufficient relationship so you can actually change people’s positions – or you find you’re changing your own position.” 

Mike Blake/Reuters
Workers build electric buses at the BYD electric bus factory in Lancaster, California, July 1, 2021.

Divvying up $4 trillion investment 

This spring, President Joe Biden proposed investing a combined $4 trillion in infrastructure, child care, and education. The $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, announced in late March, included traditional infrastructure investments like roads and bridges as well as support for “soft” infrastructure like unions, veterans hospitals, and the care economy. The $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which the White House put out a month later, included extending the recently expanded child tax credit and providing universal preschool and two free years of community college for all Americans. 

In an attempt to get bipartisan support for America’s most pressing problems – something he had campaigned on – President Biden agreed to break off the traditional infrastructure components into a separate bill. The idea was that Democrats would then pass the other policies via a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation.

In late June, following negotiations with senators, the White House announced that they had arrived at a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure framework – the largest such investment in nearly a century. The framework included a record investment in public transit, connecting every American to high-speed internet, building a national network of 500,000 electric car chargers, and eliminating lead pipes in order to deliver clean drinking water. About half the cost would be covered by previously approved funding, including COVID-19 relief. How to pay for the remainder – $579 billion – remains a key sticking point for the bipartisan group. Amid a ballooning national debt and rising inflation, Republicans as well as moderate Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin have pushed to find ways to pay for all of it, rather than adding to U.S. deficit spending.

“I would support a bipartisan infrastructure bill that is responsibly paid for, regardless of what the Democrats would do on reconciliation – I figure that they’re going to try that anyway,” said GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, adding that the challenge will be coming up with how to pay for the infrastructure bill. “We always knew that was going to be the toughest problem and everybody wants to kind of whistle past the graveyard when it comes to dealing with pay-fors.”

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (foreground, left) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, meet on infrastructure with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors at the White House in Washington, July 14, 2021.

Many of the other social spending policies laid out in President Biden’s proposed $4 trillion investment would be contained in the $3.5 trillion plan announced Wednesday by Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Though details have yet to be worked out, it would encompass priorities such as universal pre-K, paid family leave, and the extension of several temporary tax-credit expansions agreed to in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed in March. 

In a virtual town hall Thursday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called the $3.5 trillion bill an “enormous victory.”

After a Senate Democratic Caucus luncheon with President Biden at the Capitol on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren – another key progressive – later said she thought all Democrats were on board. But some are worried that centrists – particularly Senator Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the Democratic lead on the G22 infrastructure negotiations – could torpedo it or reduce the overall price tag. 

Representative Ocasio-Cortez threatened to push back if they did, vowing to withhold support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House if Senator Manchin, whose state’s infrastructure ranks among the worst in the nation, did not support the $3.5 trillion budget deal in the Senate.

If both pass, it would give Democrats all their policy priorities and a bipartisan feather in their cap. Republicans don’t want to be seen as enabling what they feel is an irresponsibly large budget package, but if they try to exercise what little leverage they have to bring down the size of the budget bill, progressives could retaliate by holding the infrastructure bill hostage, as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has threatened to do. 

A looming deadline

Meanwhile, Republicans expressed confusion at Mr. Schumer’s move to force a vote on the infrastructure bill before the text had even been completed. He said he would move to hold a vote Wednesday to cut off debate. If that vote gets the support of at least 60 senators, a subsequent vote would be held on the legislation itself. 

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she found the deadline unrealistic. “I don’t understand what the [Senate majority] leader is trying to do,” she said.

GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who spearheaded an earlier effort at reaching a bipartisan infrastructure deal with President Biden, said Mr. Schumer’s deadline appeared to be a tactic to pressure his own members. 

Following a meeting to hash out broadband internet expansion, Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, another member of the G22, said Mr. Schumer’s move was “part of the game” and not unexpected. He also posited that if the pressure results in the deal falling apart, Mr. Schumer could potentially fold the more traditional infrastructure elements into what Senator Rounds calls the $3.5 trillion “boondoggle,” making the larger package more acceptable to some of the moderate Democrats. Still, even if securing infrastructure investments for their state might help justify the cost, some moderates may push back on the overall price tag. 

As Majority Leader Schumer exited the Capitol Thursday afternoon, he dismissed GOP concerns that he was forcing a vote prematurely. “Plenty of time to get it done,” he said, as he climbed into a waiting vehicle. “I’ve spoken to the members on all sides – plenty of time to get it done.”

The bipartisan G22, which is likely to continue working over the weekend, is no stranger to high-stakes negotiations under pressure. “Most of us were kind of the nucleus of the group that came together in November for the COVID relief package,” said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “So we’ve been working together – we can talk, we can laugh, we can argue. And hopefully we can build things.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

US exit leaves a roiling Afghanistan in China’s court

Afghanistan’s influential neighbors have never liked the U.S. presence on their borders. But the U.S. withdrawal has underscored a shared interest that now falls more heavily to them: a stable government.

Linda

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It’s a case study in being careful what you wish for. Afghanistan’s neighbors – China, Pakistan, Iran, and the Russian-allied states of formerly Soviet Central Asia – have been sharply critical of America’s Afghan war. But now, their interests jibe with what the United States hoped to create: a stable governing coalition.

That is a longer-term challenge. Their immediate focus is to avoid unchecked violence – a message they’ve shared in recent weeks with Taliban representatives. 

The Iranians held talks with the Taliban and Afghan government officials and stressed concerns about a potential influx of refugees. Russia spoke up after the Taliban took posts on Tajikistan’s border, sending hundreds of Afghan troops fleeing across the frontier. Even Pakistan, the Taliban’s key regional supporter, has shared worries about anti-Pakistan groups mounting cross-border attacks.

And then there’s heavyweight China. In the 1990s, the Taliban provided a base for Uyghur fighters opposed to Chinese rule in Xinjiang. It also has deep economic interests with Pakistan that unchecked Afghan violence could upend.

Ironically, the best hope for stability may lie in shared diplomatic engagement by two powers that are, themselves, on increasingly tense terms: America and China.

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US exit leaves a roiling Afghanistan in China’s court

China Daily/Reuters/File
Chinese police and border officers inspect the border with Pakistan in Xinjiang province in China in 2020. Xinjiang also borders Afghanistan, and in the 1990s, the ruling Taliban provided a base for a group of Uyghur fighters opposed to Chinese rule.

Two critical struggles are underway in Afghanistan on the heels of America’s withdrawal. One is the advance of the Islamist Taliban. Yet it’s the other that could ultimately determine the shape of a future government, as well as the balance of power in the region and beyond.

That one involves Afghanistan’s neighbors – above all, China – and a dramatic shift in their political priorities as a result of the speed of the American pullout, the Taliban’s capture of key border areas, and an escalating concern over the prospect of all-out civil war.

The ironic result: While all these countries – China, Pakistan, Iran, and the Russian-allied states of formerly Soviet Central Asia – have been sharply critical of America’s Afghan war, their interest now jibes with what Washington has been trying, and so far failing, to put in place. Their concern, too, is to secure a broadly acceptable governing coalition in Afghanistan capable of delivering political stability.

That kind of political settlement still seems a tall order, despite their own increasingly active diplomatic efforts and the planned resumption in the coming days of U.S.-backed talks between Afghan and Taliban representatives in the Gulf state of Qatar.

But the immediate focus among Afghanistan’s neighbors is to keep the violence from spiraling out of control. It’s a message they’ve been making clear in recent weeks to the Taliban’s representatives, especially since their capture of border areas with Iran, Pakistan, and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. 

Worry about refugees

The Iranians held talks with the Taliban and Afghan government officials earlier this month and stressed to the Taliban their concern to avoid an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees. They even secured Taliban representatives’ signature on a joint statement that, on paper at least, renounced attacks on schools, hospitals, and other civilian facilities and backed the idea of a negotiated settlement on the country’s future. 

Russia began conveying its concerns after the Taliban took hold of posts on the border with formerly Soviet Tajikistan, sending hundreds of Afghan troops fleeing across the frontier.

Significantly, even Pakistan has voiced its concern, despite having been for years the Taliban’s key regional supporter. The Pakistanis’ worry is not just a new inrush of refugees, but the risk of the Taliban advances emboldening anti-Pakistan groups to mount cross-border attacks. Pakistan has made clear it would not relish a return to the Taliban’s violently repressive rule of 1990s Afghanistan.

The key voice, however, is China’s. The Chinese have security concerns, too: Afghanistan borders the province of Xinjiang, where the government of Chinese leader Xi Jinping has confined hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims to “reeducation” camps. In the 1990s, the ruling Taliban provided a base for a group of Uyghur fighters opposed to Chinese rule in Xinjiang.

But China’s interests in Afghanistan’s future go deeper. A stable government there would be a potentially important boost in China’s move to expand its economic and political clout amid what Mr. Xi has called the “decline” of the United States and other Western democracies.

Caren Firouz/Reuters/File
A container is loaded on to the first Chinese container ship to depart after the inauguration of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar, Pakistan, Nov. 13, 2016.

The “corridor”

A flagship project in China’s nearly $1 trillion Belt and Road initiative, which finances infrastructure projects in developing countries, often in return for access to natural resources, has been the so-called corridor – CPEC, or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It skirts Afghanistan, between China and its main regional ally, Pakistan. Unchecked Afghan violence and political instability could imperil that.

China’s hope now seems to be to trade support for a Taliban role in a future Afghan government – with Pakistan keeping the Islamists from attempting a full-scale takeover – for the prospect of Belt and Road projects in Afghanistan.

China already has a long-term lease on a major Afghan copper deposit, which it has yet to develop. It also has interests in developing oil deposits and mining valuable rare-earth minerals there. 

The open question is whether this will work. Can China realistically hope to secure an end to the violence, much less the kind of political compromise necessary for long-term stability?

It does have a few things going for it. It is indisputably the major power in the region. One dramatic sign of its political and economic weight has been recent public statements by both the Taliban and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan – high-profile champions of Muslims worldwide – saying that they have no criticism of China’s mass incarceration of the Uyghurs.

But the main problem may turn out to be the first of the twin struggles raging over Afghanistan: the battle on ground.

There are growing signs of a divide between what the Taliban’s political representatives are saying and what their fighters are doing. Despite the conciliatory words that Taliban diplomats signed on to in Iran, Taliban takeovers of Afghan villages have included immediate restrictions on women’s rights, the burning of schools, and threats of violence against those who don’t want a return to the Taliban-governed country of two decades ago. 

There are also combatants on the other side: the revived mujahideen from the days of the Soviet invasion and, crucially, the Afghan army, trained, equipped, and still funded by the Americans.

And a final irony, perhaps: The best hope for a stable future Afghanistan may lie in some form of shared diplomatic engagement by two major powers that are, themselves, on increasingly tense terms: America and China.

Listen

Frontline worker, pandemic mom: How one nurse did it all

The pandemic dealt Yarleny Roa-Dugan her toughest challenges yet. But the nurse and mother of two refuses to let that slow her down for long. Episode 3 of our podcast “Stronger.” 

Linda
Photo: Ann Hermes, photo illustration: Jacob Turcotte

Yarleny Roa-Dugan is not easily fazed. In her life, she’s weathered young motherhood, an early divorce, and the daily pressures of her job as a labor and delivery nurse. But the pandemic was her toughest challenge yet. 

Along with all the exhaustion that parents and frontline workers were facing throughout the pandemic, Ms. Roa-Dugan had to run the household and care for her own family when they were diagnosed with COVID-19.  

“We’re going into the profession wanting to help out, take care of people,” she says. “But this pandemic put us all into a bind. Do you take care of other people, or do you take care of your family?”

Still, she’s forging ahead. And she’s planning not just to survive the pandemic, but to come out of it wiser – with her optimism and determination fully intact. 

“Sometimes you learn the hard way, and this pandemic was a lesson,” she says. “We came out of it stronger together.” – Jessica Mendoza and Samantha Laine Perfas

This is Episode 3 of our podcast “Stronger,” which highlights what women have lost to this pandemic and how they’re winning it back. To learn more about the podcast and find other episodes, please visit our page

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

The Nurse

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Books

Paging through summer: Cool reads for hot days

What better refreshment does one need than a good book? Our reviewers’ choices this month range from stimulating novels and absorbing memoirs to a timely exploration of the natural world.    

Linda

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“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else,” declared English author Neil Gaiman.

For avid readers, the world-building that goes on between the covers of a good book opens fresh possibilities and expands thought. 

The novels this month grapple with issues of loneliness, wartime survival, and living one’s conscience. Three memoirs offer insights from a Vietnam veteran, a female Afghan pilot, and a woman who was befriended by a wild fox.

And the nonfiction offerings include an exploration of the seafloor and a biography of two British commanders who led troops against the Americans in the Revolutionary War.  

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Paging through summer: Cool reads for hot days

Books can be almost as invigorating as a plunge in a cool lake on a scorching day. This month’s selections range from captivating novels to touching memoirs to eye-opening nonfiction.  

1. All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

In this winning novel, Mike Gayle reveals how octogenarian Hubert Bird, a dapper Jamaican immigrant in London, slides from lively to lonely. New neighbors, old connections, and leaps of faith help Hubert rebuild his “once-full life” – and step into new roles. A late-story plot twist adds momentum to the tale; the cinematic conclusion is well earned.

2. A Song Everlasting by Ha Jin

What is the value – and cost – of freedom? Yao Tian, a fictional Chinese singer, grapples with this question, as he starts afresh in the United States after defying his government, igniting “a psychological duel from across the world.” Novelist Ha Jin paints in unaffected prose the struggles of immigrant life and the tensions between artistic drive and family duty. Tian, a kind man of conscience, ultimately triumphs.

3. The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel’s well-researched and compelling novel grapples with purpose, identity, and belonging. Yona, kidnapped as a toddler by a mysterious Jewish woman, is taken to the forests of Poland and taught to survive. Twenty years later, in 1942, she uses her skills to help Jews in flight from the Nazis, discovering her own courage.

4. The Parting Glass by Lissa Marie Redmond

Cold-case detective Lauren Riley pursues a long-missing Picasso painting, which takes her and partner Shane Reese to the coastal Irish town of Keelnamara. There, they confront skeptical locals, suspicious police, wild weather – and dead bodies. The writing moves briskly with smart twists. Fifth in a series, the mystery stands well on its own.

5. A Place Like Home: Stories by Rosamunde Pilcher

Fifteen charming tales, set in London and in the Scottish countryside, depict British life in the 20th century. The posthumously published collection captures the mysteries of romantic attraction, falling in love, and sustaining a long marriage.

6. Open Skies by Niloofar Rahmani

In a gripping account, the courageous Niloofar Rahmani tells of her early years in a refugee camp in Pakistan; her family’s return to Kabul, Afghanistan, under Taliban rule; and her extraordinary journey to becoming that country’s first female air force pilot.

7. The Brilliant Abyss by Helen Scales

The world’s deepest seas “make vital things happen without our knowing,” writes British marine biologist Helen Scales. She argues that the deep is not merely a place to exploit for its resources, but also a wondrous abode that requires protection – a precious realm that humans should care about.

8. Fox and I by Catherine Raven

In this thoughtful memoir, Catherine Raven finds herself out of sync with the world around her and retreats to a patch of property in rural Montana, where her job is online and her neighbors are a comfortable distance away. All neighbors, that is, except one: To Raven’s surprise, a wild fox begins visiting her regularly, and over time the two develop an unusual and touching friendship. 

9. Lieutenant Dangerous by Jeff Danziger

Jeff Danziger, a Vietnam veteran and former editorial cartoonist for The Christian Science Monitor, looks back on his experiences 50 years ago as a military officer. In this lightly illustrated memoir, he uses wry humor to describe his feelings of futility and regret about the absurdity and waste of the Vietnam War.

10. The Howe Dynasty by Julie Flavell 

William and Richard Howe commanded British troops during the American Revolution. This rich and vivid history tells their stories alongside those of the family’s women, who wielded their own quiet but determined power behind the scenes. It provides a fascinating window on aristocratic British society in the late 1700s.

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Is this the year of climate stewardship?

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Sometimes, just sometimes, climate diplomacy can lead to climate action. Last month, for example, Gabon became the first African country to be paid for protecting its forests. Such triumphs in eco-stewardship across borders are worth noting because this year has seen an extraordinary burst in climate diplomacy.

In recent months, the world’s major air polluters – China, the United States, and Europe – have stepped up their competition in setting climate goals. On Wednesday, for example, the European Union issued a very specific regulatory plan that could reduce greenhouse gases 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Much of this diplomacy is driven by the next United Nations meeting on climate planned for November. Countries want to put their best plan forward at the talks. The U.S. has also returned to the table after a lapse during the Trump administration.

Climate diplomats increasingly use the term “climate security.” While countries may be affected differently by climate change, they all must be on board to help secure themselves from harm. Stewardship of the planet must include stewardship of other nations. That’s why Norway is paying Gabon to save trees.

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Is this the year of climate stewardship?

AP/file
An anti-poaching patrol rides on the Oua River in Gabon.

Sometimes, just sometimes, climate diplomacy can lead to climate action. Last month, for example, Gabon became the first African country to be paid for protecting its forests, which cover 90% of the country. It received $17 million from Norway, part of a larger international plan to prevent tree-cutting in Central Africa and preserve the role of forests in absorbing climate-heating emissions.

Such triumphs in eco-stewardship across borders are worth noting because this year has seen an extraordinary burst in climate diplomacy, a professional field now as important as nuclear, trade, or peace diplomacy. This could mean the international talk-shops that regularly agree on voluntary climate goals might be closer to producing real results, perhaps leading to fewer heat waves, mass flooding, or super typhoons.

In recent months, the world’s major air polluters – China, the United States, and Europe – have stepped up their geopolitical competition in setting climate goals. On Wednesday, the European Union issued a very specific regulatory plan that could reduce greenhouse gases 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. President Joe Biden is pushing a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan that is heavily focused on green energy and decarbonization. He also created the first Cabinet-level climate envoy, filled by former Secretary of State John Kerry. In March, China announced that it would begin to scale down coal use in 2026 as it scales up renewable energies. On a more cooperative level, the G-20 group of wealthy nations has collectively endorsed carbon pricing for the first time.

Much of this diplomacy is driven by the next United Nations meeting on climate planned for November. Nations want to put their best plan forward at the talks in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.S. has also returned to the table after a four-year lapse in climate diplomacy during the Trump administration. And the pandemic has served as a reminder that global cooperation is needed for global challenges.

Climate diplomats, who represent their respective national interests, increasingly use the term “climate security.” While countries may be affected differently by climate change, they all must be on board to help secure themselves from harm. Stewardship of the planet must include stewardship of other nations. That’s why Norway is paying Gabon to save trees. They both feel a bit more secure working together.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

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

A very special gift – praising God

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Have you ever thought of praising God as a gift – not just to God, but to us?

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A very special gift – praising God

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Years ago I went through a period of great mental anguish. I would often take my dog on long walks while pondering one line of the Lord’s Prayer at a time. I needed calm and assurance, and spending this time in deep prayer helped me.

On the day that I focused on the line of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Hallowed be thy name,” I realized that I was tempted to think too abstractly about the concept of honoring God. So instead, I considered what exactly this asked of me. What came to me was the following: respecting God as my Maker and as the creator of all, recognizing God’s grandeur and love, understanding that I was enveloped in that love, and feeling gratitude for God’s power to lead me out of anguish.

We read in the Bible’s book of Acts: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (17:24, 25).

I have always loved the sentiment this conveys to me that God is eternal and complete, “Lord of heaven and earth.” We don’t worship God with our hands – God, divine Spirit, doesn’t need material offerings or religious ornamentation. And God doesn’t need mortals’ respect to be God; the nature and power of the Divine is independent from anything humans may do or not do.

Yet the Lord’s Prayer tells us to honor God, and the Psalms are full of praise for God. Christ Jesus put the love and praise of God first. So, does God somehow need this praise from us? What is the value of spiritual worship that honors God?

As I was thinking about this recently, an analogy came to mind. If we make or buy a present for someone dear to us, we lovingly consider what that person might enjoy and cherish. Carefully deciding on a present, imagining how happy this person will be and how much he or she will love the item, brings us joy, too.

Similarly, the clarity and calm that come with being conscious of God’s goodness bring the concept of honoring God full circle: In praising God, we become more aware of divine goodness, and end up filled with gratitude. We see more clearly what it is that God gives us – our very identity as His spiritual offspring, created to feel and experience all the joy and peace that God, divine Love itself, expresses in us.

Actively praising in this way makes us feel more alive, more energetic, more connected. Anything we do as praise to God, good, comes back to us expanded and enlarged.

That’s what happened to me at that difficult time. As I focused on how to hallow God’s name, to love God in a way that would do Him most justice, I stopped being so fearful about the things that burdened me. It gave me the hope I needed to keep praying. And before long, the situation causing me such anguish was resolved in a most unexpected way.

Turning wholeheartedly to God, Spirit, as the source of our “life, and breath, and all things,” is how we can best praise God. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote: “This scientific sense of being, forsaking matter for Spirit, by no means suggests man’s absorption into Deity and the loss of his identity, but confers upon man enlarged individuality, a wider sphere of thought and action, a more expansive love, a higher and more permanent peace” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 265). Praising God, becoming conscious of what Deity has given us, deepens our happiness and increases our confidence that God is always with us.

We gain everything by opening ourselves to God’s goodness, and the best way to do this is by being conscious of the love we inherently reflect as God’s children, passing it on, and sharing the blessings God bestows.

Viewfinder

Navigating floodwaters

Valentin Bianchi/AP
A man rows a boat down a residential street after flooding in Angleur, Province of Liege, Belgium, July 16, 2021. Severe flooding in Germany and Belgium has turned streams and streets into torrents of water causing severe damage.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come again Monday, when we look ahead to Jeff Bezos’ historic spaceflight Tuesday – and explore whether “rules of the road” for space are needed.

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