2019
November
15
Friday

In today’s issue we look at why voters are suddenly eyeing the middle, the source of Lebanese resolve, how the smallest things in the world help build it, student journalists balancing fairness and empathy on campus, and new TV to take you away for your weekend (a galaxy far, far away).

First, a word on the value of every vote. We were reminded of that Thursday when Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky conceded that he lost his close reelection race last week. 

An extreme example of “too close to call” came two years ago, when a race for the Virginia legislature ended in a tie. Literally. The winner’s name was drawn from a bowl, giving Republicans control of the lower house.

Raunak Daga, then 14, was astounded. “To see that literally one vote can mean so much, I wanted to make a difference,” Raunak told The Washington Post recently. 

The teen also discovered from his father that the process for getting an absentee ballot was confusing. Last summer, Raunak and some friends, students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in northern Virginia, came up with a solution: start over. 

They built a website, eAbsentee.org. Then they enlisted a friend already in college to help them reach out to students, notorious nonvoters. After the Nov. 5 election, analytics showed that 750 people got absentee ballot applications from their site. 

Raunak and his friends were thrilled – and they look forward to the day they, too, can vote. 

Commitment to democracy is a bedrock American value, as also seen in our lead story today by Christa Case Bryant in Concord, New Hampshire. 

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1. Who can win in 2020? Voters shift focus toward centrists.

The perception has been that all the energy in the Democratic presidential race is on the left. Things may be changing as many voters focus on how to win key states in the general election.

Linda
Mike Segar/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar speaks to supporters after filing papers to appear on the 2020 New Hampshire primary election ballot in Concord, New Hampshire, on Nov. 6, 2019. The Minnesota senator sells herself as a Midwesterner who can appeal to swing voters.

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Who can beat Donald Trump? For many voters turning up at Democratic events in New Hampshire, that’s the No. 1 question on their mind.

Progressives are coming under greater scrutiny. Even liberal voters who love Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bold ideas like “Medicare for All” are questioning whether she can really win – especially in the heartland. The last thing they want is for Mr. Trump to eke out another Electoral College victory. For that, they’re willing to compromise on issues they care about.

“I’m more worried about [finding] the candidate that can beat Donald Trump than policy,” says John Keenan, a father in Concord, standing with his young daughter outside the Statehouse, waiting for Joe Biden to emerge. Though former Vice President Biden has been the go-to centrist candidate, Mr. Keenan is leaning toward Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, fellow Midwesterner, is also drawing larger, more enthusiastic crowds. “We need to build a blue wall around those states ... and make Donald Trump pay for it,” says Senator Klobuchar, who won reelection last year in 42 counties that went for Mr. Trump.

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Who can win in 2020? Voters shift focus toward centrists.

As the New Hampshire primary draws closer, and average voters start coming out to hear the presidential candidates in person, there’s a common refrain at Democratic events: We want someone who can beat President Donald Trump – and not just in coastal states like ours.  

Even some avowed progressives are expressing concern that, as much as they love Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s calls for systemic change, programs like “Medicare for All” might be more than fellow voters across the nation can swallow, especially in the heartland.

That may explain an uptick of interest in Midwestern candidates like South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, as well as the last-minute entry of former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the possible bid by a centrist like Michael Bloomberg. Despite the unusually large Democratic field, what’s emerging is a deepening sense that beating Mr. Trump will be no cakewalk.

A recent New York Times poll indicated that among the front-runners, only former Vice President Joe Biden would beat Mr. Trump in a majority of Midwestern battleground states – and only barely.

“We need to build a blue wall around those states ... and make Donald Trump pay for it,” Senator Klobuchar told a theater full of voters in Rochester, New Hampshire, so packed at lunchtime on a weekday that more than a few people had to stand. To do that, she emphasized, the nominee must reach out not only to Midwestern Democrats but also to independents and “Republicans of conscience.”

Elise Amendola/AP
Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks outside the Statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire, after filing to be placed on the 2020 New Hampshire primary ballot, on Oct. 30, 2019.

That message has won the support of Patrick Quinn, a Republican who credits President Trump’s tax cut with dramatically improving his income as a travel nurse but calls the president himself “vile.”

“For the first time ever, I started looking at Democratic candidates,” says Mr. Quinn, who paid $45 for a ticket to a recent Democratic gala in southern New Hampshire headlined by Senator Klobuchar. By the end of the night, he was sold on her – despite his friends’ reactions on Facebook. “I’m happy to donate to her campaign, support her in any way that I can.”

In particular, Mr. Quinn, who still plans to vote for Republicans in every race other than the presidential contest, says he’s impressed with the Minnesota senator’s bipartisan record. She has passed more than 100 bills as the lead Democrat and was the primary sponsor of a third of those, compared with a handful for senators like Bernie Sanders and Ms. Warren.

That no doubt contributed to her winning 42 counties in 2018 that had gone for Mr. Trump just two years prior. And what about in a face-off? A recent poll shows her beating the president by 17 points in the state.

“Not flyover country to me”

“The heartland is not flyover country to me,” Ms. Klobuchar told a packed audience at a retirement community in Exeter, New Hampshire, earlier that day. Demonstrating how she would spar with Mr. Trump on a debate stage, she added, “I don’t think about these farmers and workers in the middle of the country as poker chips in a bankrupt casino like you do, as you bankrupt the country – they are my neighbors and friends.”

The go-to candidate for centrist voters all along has been Mr. Biden, a Roman Catholic who comes from a blue-collar family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and is seen as having a more natural appeal to some of the white working-class voters who ditched the Democrats for Mr. Trump in 2016.

Charles Krupa/AP
Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick files to have his name listed on the New Hampshire primary ballot, on Nov. 14, 2019, in Concord, New Hampshire.

When he arrives at the New Hampshire capitol to officially file his papers for the Feb. 11 primary, the narrow hallways are packed with firefighters and other supporters chanting his name. “J-O-E for 6-0-3,” they yell, referring to the state’s area code. As the former vice president walks with his wife past gilded portraits depicting New Hampshire statesmen, young staffers beat on upside-down plastic buckets hastily painted the day before, leaving a trail of blue paint chips behind them.

Outside, a modest crowd assembles in the frigid weather, awaiting Mr. Biden’s exit. They include voters who have just put the schedule of candidate visits on their fridge and are coming out for the first time, as well as people like John Keenan, who saw the crowd and stopped to see what it was about.

“I’m more worried about [finding] the candidate that can beat Donald Trump than policy,” says Mr. Keenan, who was shopping with his daughter to replace her pink Converse low-tops. He says he likes Mr. Biden but also Mr. Buttigieg and Senator Warren – and adds that he knows it will take someone really strong to beat the president. “When [Mr. Biden] is under the gun, he’s not as quick as he could be.”

Others dismiss the idea that Mr. Biden is too old or should pass the baton to a new generation, noting that he would be able to enter the White House on Day One knowing how to run it, and could leverage his many relationships with world leaders to repair America’s alliances.

“What better way to pass the baton than to right the ship and then pass it on to the next generation?” says Chris, a New Hampshire voter who didn’t want to give his last name because he is a federal employee.

“The character of our nation is on the ballot,” Mr. Biden said when he took to the stage before a modest crowd that had braved snow squalls on a frigid Friday afternoon. He indirectly addressed the president’s criticism around his and his son’s involvement in Ukraine. “I’ve learned two things the last several weeks: One is that Vladimir Putin doesn’t want me to be president,” he says. The other – “that Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”

“He’s scared of you!” shouts one woman amid more drumming and cheers.

In a five-minute speech, Mr. Biden presents himself as the only one who can bring the country together and make progress on key issues like health care, while still respecting Americans’ freedom to choose for themselves.

Mr. Biden is the only candidate who has a chance of beating Mr. Trump, says Dianetta Gilmore of Brooklyn, New York, when he finishes, pushing a cart of Biden buttons toward a line of protesters on the sidewalk with Medicare for All signs. Button sales haven’t been good today, though. “I tell you what,” she says, “Sanders and Warren are bringing them out in bigger numbers, and that’s not good.” 

Not an either/or choice?

Indeed, there has been tension throughout the campaign season over whether a crusader promising sweeping overhaul, like Ms. Warren or Mr. Sanders, is what’s needed to energize Democrats and get them to the polls in larger numbers. While some back that theory, others argue that it would be better to find a moderate candidate who can woo back former Obama supporters who went for Mr. Trump, win over disaffected Republicans, and help the country heal.

Mr. Buttigieg, the 38-year-old gay Harvard grad and Navy reservist, tells voters they don’t have to settle for one or the other.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that we’re going to have to choose – either solve the problems, or everyone is going to be united but we can’t get anything done. That’s not an acceptable choice,” he said, adding that the nation needs a president “who can stand on the rubble of what has been busted in our society and in our politics, pick up the pieces, implement bold solutions to get something done about those issues, and find a way to do it that’s actually going to unify the American people.”

Mr. Buttigieg has been raking in contributions lately, even as Mr. Biden’s fundraising machine has sputtered amid apparent donor worries about the staying power of his candidacy. The South Bend mayor now has more offices than any other campaign in New Hampshire, and has nearly doubled his staff since the summer, according to his campaign.

One voter from Boston, a 2016 delegate for Mr. Sanders who didn’t want to be identified because his clients come from across the political spectrum, says he likes Senator Warren’s policies but that recent polls have started to change his thinking. “[Mr. Buttigieg] might be the candidate that strikes the right balance [of] being inspiring without triggering fear of change,” he says. In particular, he’s concerned about the backlash Medicare for All could create, citing challenges with the Affordable Care Act’s rollout. “If you force that big a change ... you will upset a lot of people and eventually energize a lot of Republican voters in 2022 or 2024.”

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2. From shattered glass and broken tents, Lebanese draw resolve

Symbols inspire. In Lebanon’s protest movement, the national flag symbolizes unity above sectarianism. But in the smashed objects left behind after failed attempts to intimidate them, the protesters are finding resolve.

Linda
Hussein Malla/AP
Tania Saleh, a Lebanese singer-songwriter who grew up amid a civil war that she says robbed her of her childhood, takes pictures at Beirut's Martyrs' Square, the focal point of protests against corruption and sectarianism in Lebanon, Nov. 8, 2019.

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In retrospect, the most violent attempts to suppress Lebanon’s young anti-corruption and anti-sectarian uprising have created its most potent symbols of resilience.

The late-October attack in Beirut’s central Martyrs’ Square, by thugs armed with sticks and pipes, left behind broken tent frames and smashed chairs. But within hours, the protesters had erected their camp anew, and the debris turned into a monument that is inspiring the tens of thousands of Lebanese who take to the streets every day, demanding radical political change.

“At some point, the old guard has to do a calculation of what, realistically, can they do?” says Rami Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut. “They can’t stay in power, just by using force,” he says. “And political demonization doesn’t work; they tried it. So there needs to be some accommodation.”

“They had been given orders, but it’s not going to work,” says Anita Mansour, an architect from Beirut, of the would-be protest breakers. “We will be strong, we will not stop. We have changed our brains,” she says. “The most powerful force on earth is a soul on fire, and our souls are on fire.”

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From shattered glass and broken tents, Lebanese draw resolve

Soaring high above Beirut’s central Martyrs’ Square, the focal point of a month of nationwide protests against decades of corrupt and sectarian rule in Lebanon, is a signboard of a clenched fist and the Arabic word for revolution.

But perhaps the most tangible symbol of defiance and resolve in this protest movement is found at the base of that clenched fist.

Here, like a shrine, protesters have collected the broken tent frames and smashed plastic chairs and tables left over after thugs armed with sticks and pipes – and chanting pro-Shiite slogans favoring the powerful Hezbollah and Amal parties – attacked the square in late October.

Within hours of the attack, the protest camp was erected anew. And those tens of thousands of Lebanese who continue to take to the streets every day, demanding change in cities and towns from north to south in a cross-sectarian campaign of sustained civil disobedience, count it as one more victory – and one more source of inspiration as they raise their voices.

“They attacked everyone; they were not behaving like Lebanese,” says Anita Mansour, a 30-something architect from Beirut, speaking beside the pile of revolutionary debris.

“They had been given orders, but it’s not going to work,” says Ms. Mansour, as she waits for an evening candlelight vigil and women’s march. “If they will come back, we will come back even stronger. It won’t stop until they stop. This is the first time I feel this unity – we are proud of this revolution.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Architect Anita Mansour attends a candle-lit rally protesting corruption and sectarian government and calling for the removal of the country's entire political class, in Beirut's Martyrs' Square, Nov. 6, 2019.

The attempt to intimidate the protesters by loyalists of Hezbollah and Amal – even though Shiite Lebanese, too, have taken to the streets in anger at the lack of services and rampant corruption in the strongholds of those powerful parties – only helped consolidate the uprising.

The symbols of resistance are resonant. Among the crowds are nationals from across the Arab world who see the Lebanese fight as universal, part of a renewed Arab Spring that has this year alone boiled angrily into the streets in Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, and Egypt.

“This was a shameful act, but it will give us more courage to stay,” says Nawras Abou Fakher, a bearded hipster and architect from Syria who has lived in Lebanon for five years, as he gazes at the pile of broken tents.

“We feel sorry for the people who did this, who can’t see [our] vision. This problem [of corruption] is coming to them, too,” he says. “This is a big monument for the revolution. We succeeded, as seen by this pile of stuff.

“This makes us feel we need to push for more,” adds Mr. Fakher. “This gives us more energy, because we are on the ground and peaceful, while they tried violence and it didn’t work.”

Lebanon’s uprising has been largely nonviolent, and its moments of violence have been turned into emblems of resistance. From protest stages, between DJs playing electronic dance music, speakers declare their defiance: “You beat us, we won’t move.”

And painted onto the smashed windows of one building on the square are the words: “In Case of Revolution, Break Glass.”

“We have gangsters”

But the violence has nevertheless been felt by – and has galvanized the anger of – people like Nabil Zeineddine, a Beirut taxi driver who shows his passengers pictures on his mobile phone of Lebanese security forces, in the first days of unrest, arresting and beating 57 protesters, including his son Hadi.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Windows smashed from earlier protests are labeled "In Case of Revolution, Break Glass," in central Martyrs' Square in Beirut, Nov. 6, 2019.

Mr. Zeineddine shows images of his 19-year-old son after a severe beating. His bare back and head are covered with welts and wounds, his forehead bleeding.

“Look what they did to him!” seethes Mr. Zeineddine, describing how his son’s head was kicked.

“We don’t have a government; we have gangsters,” he says. “We’re going to make sure, when this revolution is over, to try them in a court of law, those who beat these kids.”

Many Lebanese are still in awe of their own actions on the street, convinced they can remove a sectarian system entrenched for decades.

“Optimism is in the air, but there is still political pressure, so it is up and down,” says Rita, a protesting filmmaker who would only give her first name. “If people didn’t have hope, you wouldn’t see them in the streets.”

“For the first time there is a sense of solidarity among Lebanese people, regardless of religion and sect,” says Rita’s friend Nasrine, a primary school teacher. “For the first time our voice is heard.”

Need for accommodation

Protesters argue about the risk of renewed violence, with one man overheard stating about the ruling class: “These people will never stand down. They will burn Lebanon to ashes.”

But analysts say the case of Lebanon – which still bears the scars of a sectarian civil war fought here from 1975 to 1990 – is unlike many others in the Arab world.

“At some point, the old guard has to do a calculation of what, realistically, can they do?” says Rami Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut and fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

“They can’t stay in power, just by using force,” says Professor Khouri. “The nature of the Lebanese system is not like Egypt or Syria, where the government can kill people, and beat them up, and arrest thousands, because the policemen you would send out on the streets to do this are being told to beat up their own brothers and neighbors and sisters.”

“So they can’t use force,” he says. “And political demonization doesn’t work; they tried it. So there needs to be some accommodation.”

But how will that play out in the future? All that Ms. Mansour knows is that Lebanon can’t go back to its old ways.

“We will be strong, we will not stop. We have changed our brains,” says the architect at the tent-rubble pile. “The most powerful force on earth is a soul on fire, and our souls are on fire.”

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A deeper look

3. Mini but mighty: How microbes make the world

People tend to seek out things that are bigger than themselves. But one of the most profound leaps in thought has been the recognition that life as we know it is made possible by the smallest creatures on Earth.

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In the 1954 microbiology textbook, “Horton Hears a Who!” the title character, an elephant, must convince his friends not just that the Whos living on a speck of dust are important, but that they exist at all.

The same was true nearly three centuries earlier for Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch draper who built microscopes that revealed an entirely new realm of life.

Leeuwenhoek’s revolution continues this week, as a pair of studies published in the journal Cell expand our understanding of ocean microbes, creatures whose behavior supplies us with the oxygen for one out of every two breaths. 

“Microbes are the stewards of the planet,” says Rutgers oceanographer Paul Falkowski. “They are the organisms in general that make life possible on Earth.”

The studies aim to establish a baseline for understanding the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans. They also reveal the diversity of creatures who, despite being in many ways the planet’s dominant form of life, are rarely seen.

“No matter what your religious background is,” says biologist Chris Bowler, an author on one of the studies, “life is beautiful.”

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Mini but mighty: How microbes make the world

In the 1954 microbiology textbook, “Horton Hears a Who!” the title character, an elephant, must convince his friends not just that the Whos living on a speck of dust are important, but that they exist at all.

The same was true nearly three centuries earlier for Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. A Dutch draper with a knack for grinding and polishing lenses, Leeuwenhoek built tools that could magnify objects up to 400 times, about 20 times greater than his contemporaries’ microscopes. With these meticulously crafted instruments, Leeuwenhoek became the first person known to directly observe bacteria and protozoa, sperm cells and blood cells.

At first, not everyone bought Leeuwenhoek’s claims that the soil, water, and even our own bodies were teeming with life too small for human eyes to see. His 1676 letter to the British Royal Society, his 18th to the learned academy, includes testimonials from a Lutheran minister, a notary, a barrister, and five other witnesses. With the help of another pioneer of microbiology, the English polymath Robert Hooke, Leeuwenhoek brought to light a world previously unknown to science.

Today, Leeuwenhoek’s revolution continues, as a pair of studies published in the journal Cell this week expand our understanding of the tiny organisms that inhabit the world’s oceans, the invisible creatures whose ancient metabolic machinery supply us with the oxygen for one of every two breaths. As the scientists and policymakers prepare for the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, a United Nations-backed effort set to launch in 2021 aimed at reversing the global decline in ocean health, many more of the world’s human eyes will be focusing on the oceans’ smallest inhabitants.

“Microbes are the stewards of the planet,” says Paul Falkowski, an oceanographer at the department of marine and coastal sciences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “They are the organisms in general that make life possible on Earth.”

Karl Bruun, Nostoca Algae Laboratory, courtesy of Nikon Small World/AP/File
Marine diatom cells, which are an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans, help soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Both papers rely on data collected by the research schooner Tara, which from 2009 to 2013 sailed the oceans of the world to undertake the largest systematic sampling effort of oceanic plankton. The expedition brought back around 35,000 samples and discovered 150,000 single-celled plants and creatures, 35,000 species of bacteria, and 5,000 new viruses.

“Plankton actually represent about at least two thirds of the biomass in the ocean,” says Chris Bowler, a scientist at the Institut de Biologie de l’École Normale Supérieure in Paris and an author on one of the studies. “They’re just microscopic, so we don’t appreciate them. But actually, they are extremely abundant.”

“Plankton” is not actually a taxonomic category like “amphibian” or “gorilla.” Rather, the word refers to any organism – plant, animal, bacteria, you name it – that is unable to swim against ocean currents. Some plankton, like small jellyfish, can be seen with the naked eye. Most cannot.

The studies rely on both advanced microscopy and high-throughput DNA sequencing. Like Horton’s keen ears and Leeuwenhoek’s sharp lenses these modern instruments are revealing a world that previously existed only in the imagination.

In one paper, Dr. Bowler and his colleagues found that most planktonic groups follow a gradient of diversity along latitudes, with the lowest level of diversity closest to the poles. This finding mirrors an observation made by Alexander von Humboldt in the early 19th century. It’s one of the first patterns discovered in what would become the science of ecology.

“On land, things are pretty fixed,” says Dr. Bowler. “Whereas in the ocean, things are very mobile. ... We thought that, maybe we wouldn’t see these big global patterns that von Humboldt first noted on land. But yes, in fact, we do see them.”

The other paper complements this discovery by looking at not just which genes were present, which can tell what an organism is capable of, but which genes were expressed, which can explain what an organism is actually doing.

This study, conducted by an international team of researchers, examined how microbial communities – mainly bacteria and another domain of single-celled organisms called archaea – adjust to environmental change. Using data from 126 sampling sites from the equator to the poles, the team identified 47 million microbial genes and found that the microbial diversity and microbial gene expression vary across geographies. In warmer waters, where genetic diversity is rich, organisms adapt by switching genes on and off. In polar waters, where diversity is lower, the organisms may be more hard-wired to their environment.

“It’s quite safe to say that the Arctic presents itself as a biologically very unique ecosystem,” said Shinichi Sunagawa, a researcher at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich and a co-author of the paper.

Taking a mental leap

It’s perhaps ironic that scientists ignored something so fundamental to biology for so long.

Most timelines of microbiology leave a huge gap after Leeuwenhoek.

“It took another 150 years almost before microscopes were rediscovered [by German biologist Ferdinand Cohn],” says Professor Falkowski, author of the 2015 book Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable and a science adviser for the Tara expedition. 

Even then, the so-called Golden Age of Microbiology didn’t really get going until the mid-19th century, as science came to accept the existence of microorganisms and their ability to interact with the larger world.

“Interact” is an understatement. The breathable atmosphere as we know it was constructed by single-cell organisms. 

About 2.3 billion years ago, there were no animals, no leafy plants, and, in the planet’s atmosphere, very little oxygen. Then, rather suddenly as these things go, bacteria that had evolved with tiny solar-powered machinery to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen – that is, photosynthesize – forever altered the trajectory of life on Earth. 

These ancient cyanobacteria began dumping free oxygen into the air, killing nearly all life on the planet. Our ancestors were among the hardy microorganisms that survived what scientists today call the Great Oxidation Event, the first of two ancient bursts of oxygen that allowed animals to evolve.

“We’re the fragile species,” says Professor Falkowski. “Cyanobacteria will go a long, long time, long after we’re extinct.”

Today, ocean plankton serve as the lungs of our world, absorbing carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Scientists estimate that half the oxygen we breathe has been produced by microorganisms in the ocean. 

“There really are important ways that organisms, and in fact mostly very small microorganisms, can influence large-scale chemical cycles on Earth,” writes Zanna Chase, an oceanographer at the University of Tasmania, in Hobart, Australia, who studies the relationship between microbes and global climate, in an email to the Monitor. “The key mental leap is to recognize that they may be small, but there are lots of them, collectively they can do many things, chemically speaking, and they’re everywhere – in soils, in freshwater, in the surface ocean, the deep ocean, even in deep sea sediments and in the atmosphere.” 

Mighty microbes

Microscopic life can be found everywhere, from the upper stratosphere to miles deep in the Earth’s crust. Near-microscopic animals may even inhabit the moon as marooned colonists: A population of tardigrades – a kind of eight-legged animal that can measure up to the thickness of a credit card – is thought to have survived the crash of an Israeli lunar mission.

Even your own body is home to an entire ecosystem of microbes. Overall, scientists estimate that your microbiome – the 100-trillion-strong population of protozoa, viruses, bacteria, and fungi that make their homes in various parts inside and outside your body and are thought to be essential to your well-being – has 200 times the number of genes that you have. It may weigh up to five pounds. 

“We tend to focus on their immediate health effects on the human body, but microbes have so many more roles in our world,” writes Amy Lam, a postdoctoral fellow in bioengineering at Stanford University, in an email to the Monitor. “It’s kind of humbling to think that we humans could not exist without microbes, but likely a majority of microbial species would continue fine without us.”

Dr. Lam created an exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium that allowed visitors to interact with light-sensitive water-dwelling organisms called Euglena. Using projectors, the single-celled Euglena were scaled up to human size.

Dr. Lam’s single-celled participants didn’t always behave as expected, but, she writes, “when interacting with the completed exhibit, I definitely feel more kinship with the cells. Seeing them at my scale and being able to directly stimulate them (interact with them) makes them seem (falsely?) more relatable.”

An ocean of life

When it comes to microbe hospitality, the oceans lay out the welcome mat. In a single millimeter of seawater, one can find 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 protists, and thousands of fungal cells. 

“In the upper ocean, microbes are extremely ubiquitous,” says Professor Falkowski. “In every drop of water, there are millions – literally millions – of microbes.  They’re everywhere. There’s no place on the planet where there are not microbes.”

These creatures form the basis of marine food webs. Phytoplankton and algae are consumed by zooplankton, small fish, and crustaceans, which are in turn eaten by larger fish, all the way up to top ocean predators like sharks, dolphins, and seals. 

As for humans, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1 in 10 depend on fish for their primary source of protein, meaning that the nutritional prospects of nearly three quarters of a billion people rest on the well-being of microscopic marine organisms.

Saving the oceans, then, means saving not just the whales, seals, and other animals that grace the marketing materials of ocean conservation advocacy groups, but also looking after all creatures, as Dr. Seuss would say, no matter how small.

Professor Bowler argues that microfauna can be just as charismatic. “No matter what your religious background is, life is beautiful, be it microscopic life, be it larger life.” he says “Life is beautiful with beautiful patterns, beautiful structures.”

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4. Just the facts, but whose facts? College papers face student ire.

How do journalists protect a free press in an era when the job is misunderstood? That’s playing out on campuses, where listening to the other side is regarded by many as being complicit. It’s also one of the principles of journalistic fairness.

Linda
Dustin Duong/The Daily Tar Heel/AP
Editor-in-Chief Maddy Arrowood (background center) with other staffers at the editorial office of The Daily Tar Heel, the independent student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Oct. 30, 2019.

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At Harvard and other campuses the preference for information that supports already held beliefs is challenging press freedoms. More than 1,000 students signed a petition to boycott their student paper, The Crimson, for trying to present both sides of an immigration debate. After covering a campus “abolish ICE” rally, the paper requested comment from the agency – a decision some say put student activists at risk. 

Entrenched viewpoints and increasing criticism of media outlets have converged on college campuses. Student journalists are weighing freedom of the press and the expectations of the communities they serve. If a person, group, or issue is perceived as a threat, does that disqualify the subject from media coverage? If readers think certain groups don’t deserve a voice, does listening to that group make journalists complicit?

“A lot of people … [think] students on campus today are snowflakes,” says Kathleen Bartzen Culver, a professor of journalism ethics. “I just don’t see it that way. I see this within that larger context of many, many people wanting journalism to be on their side. They want it to reinforce their worldview.”

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1. Just the facts, but whose facts? College papers face student ire.

When Harvard freshman Ellie Hamilton thinks of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she thinks of harsh, headline-grabbing immigration tactics – such as the family separation policy.

While the agency is often criticized for being overfunded and abusive in its own facilities, ICE is not, in fact, responsible for detaining children at the border (Customs and Border Protection is). Asked why she’d never heard of the agency’s other responsibilities – things like fighting drug trafficking and terrorism – Ms. Hamilton says she leans left, consumes like-minded news, and rarely seeks out the other side. 

“There’s so much news out there that we kind of select the ones that just echo what our views are already,” she says. “So it’s kind of hard to even think that there are other views that are just so contrary to what I think.”

At Harvard and other campuses, the preference for information that supports already held beliefs is challenging press freedoms. More than 1,000 students signed a petition to boycott their student paper, The Crimson, for trying to present both sides of an immigration debate. After covering a campus “abolish ICE” rally in September, the paper requested comment from the agency – a decision some say put student activists at risk. 

Entrenched viewpoints and increasing criticism of media outlets have converged on college campuses. Student journalists are weighing freedom of the press and the expectations of the communities they serve. If a person, group, or issue is perceived as a threat, does that disqualify the subject from media coverage? If readers think certain groups don’t deserve a voice, does listening to that group make journalists complicit?

“A lot of people … [think] students on campus today are snowflakes,” says Kathleen Bartzen Culver, a professor of journalism ethics at the University of Wisconsin. “I just don’t see it that way,” she adds. “I see this within that larger context of many, many people wanting journalism to be on their side. They want it to reinforce their worldview.”

Certainly, student-run papers have been caught up in eras of turmoil dating back at least to the Vietnam War. And the widespread lack of understanding today about how reporters do their jobs extends well beyond college students. But the question of how best to balance learning their craft while extending empathy, particularly to marginalized groups, is one student journalists are grappling with at colleges and universities across the country. And it’s taking place at a time when campus newspapers, like the press broadly, are facing existential budget crises and institutional pressures from their own universities.

The campus newspaper at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, faced blowback from students when reporters at the Daily Northwestern covered a Nov. 5 appearance of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and protests of his visit. In that case, the student journalists apologized – sparking deep consternation among professional journalists who pointed out that covering a public event is one of the most fundamental tasks of reporting.

Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/AP
People stand near the entrance gate to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, April 29, 2016. The university's student newspaper is under fire after student activists questioned journalists’ coverage of protests. Within days, editors decided to write a statement apologizing but their editorial prompted a second round of criticism from journalists around the country.

The criticism directed at campus newspapers at Northwestern and Harvard fits into a broader pattern of suppression of speech by students, particularly by those on the far left and right: 

  • On Oct. 23, students at the University of Pennsylvania shouted down Thomas Homan, a former acting director of ICE, ending his panel discussion on immigration policy before it could begin.
  • At Boston University, about 200 students protested conservative pundit Ben Shapiro’s Nov. 13 lecture on campus. An online petition decrying his visit received more than 2,200 signatures.
  • Members of a far-right group heckled Donald Trump Jr. off the stage during a Nov. 10 appearance at the University of California, Los Angeles, after he said he wouldn’t take questions.

The Northwestern case spotlights a challenge faced by student journalists today. Many of their peers consider certain opinions inherently harmful, which would prevent covering all sides of a story. Campus newspapers feel caught between the code of ethics of their craft or loyalty to a large portion of their student bodies. 

Northwestern students censured the paper for its coverage of Mr. Sessions’ visit. When the paper published an apology letter promising “reform and reflection,” professional journalists criticized the Daily Northwestern for hypersensitivity. Charles Whitaker, dean of the Medill School of Journalism, issued a statement defending the student reporters, who he said were subject to “vicious bullying and badgering” for “the ‘sin’ of doing journalism.” The apology, however, “sends a chilling message about journalism and its role in society. It suggests that we are not independent authors of the community narrative, but are prone to bowing to the loudest and most influential voices in our orbit.”

Instead of apologizing, the Harvard Crimson doubled down on traditional ethics. In a note to readers, the paper’s editors defended their “belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.” Still, the petition continued adding signatures, and on Nov. 10, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council voted to “[stand] in solidarity” with the student group that started the boycott. 

This kind of stonewall, experts say, is often worse for activists than it is for reporters – setting a dangerous precedent and distracting from protesters’ real message.

Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., asks students boycotting The Crimson to consider what reporters should do if they were to cover a new ICE policy. Should they request comment from pro-immigration groups?  

“If [activists don’t provide comment] because they are somehow trying to punish The Crimson,” he says, “they’re really just punishing their own communities and their own efforts to try and have their voices heard.”

The example of ICE

The specific debate over ICE also shows that isolation can lead to misunderstanding. 

October polling from Pew Research Center labeled ICE the only government agency with a higher unfavorable than favorable rating, at 54% to 42%. Experts say this animus toward ICE – not limited to college campuses – reveals wider frustration with U.S. immigration policy, which the agency has come to embody. 

Part of what fuels this resentment, says Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program in New York, are two common misconceptions: All immigration enforcement is carried out by ICE, and ICE’s only role is immigration enforcement. The agency also limits cross-border criminal activity and terrorism. But Ms. Patel says its role in arrests and deportations – especially under the more “brutal” policies of the Trump administration – is more visible and thus a magnet for discontent.

“Being kind of the front-line agency that people see doing things,” she says, “[ICE] naturally is the focus of this unhappiness.” 

Richard Rocha, a spokesman for ICE, says the agency doesn’t make the rules, it just enforces them. “One of the hardest things for ICE is that there are so many misconceptions about the work that we do,” he says, adding that their goal is to “make sure that the public is safe.” 

ICE wants to address those misconceptions with the public directly, Mr. Rocha says, and stonewalling the agency does those willing to listen a “huge disservice.”

On Harvard’s campus

Harvard senior Cecilia Nuñez, president of the Phillips Brooks House Association, a community service group that signed The Crimson petition, says it’s important to stay informed, but students’ feelings of safety should take precedence. When it comes to The Crimson, she says she expects a more nuanced approach and “making sure that … getting both sides of a story doesn’t come with putting people at risk and putting people at danger.”

Other students, such as Harvard senior Gabe Fox-Peck, disagree. “The best arguments take into account the counterargument,” he says. “I don’t think that just speaking to an oppositional force, even if it’s dangerous, is a problem. I think that’s a good thing.”

For her part, Ms. Hamilton, the Harvard freshman, just wants a “middle ground.” Learning more about ICE didn’t end her disagreements with the agency, or U.S. immigration policy, but it did show her where those disagreements lay. She thinks a neutral news outlet – one that doesn’t just tell her what she wants to hear – would help remove those “blinders,” for her and the country. 

“If people did tune into that,” she says, “then we wouldn’t have such polarized viewpoints.”

Staff writers Riley Robinson and Dwight Weingarten contributed to this report.

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Television

5. TV that takes you from an alternate Oxford to a galaxy far, far away

How well does science fiction and fantasy translate on the small screen? Our reviewer evaluates whether new takes on the “Star Wars” universe, book series “His Dark Materials,” and DC Comics classic “Watchmen” are worth your time.

Linda
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TV that takes you from an alternate Oxford to a galaxy far, far away

The launch of streaming service Disney Plus this week offers the latest addition to the “Star Wars” family, “The Mandalorian.” It joins other new lavishly budgeted science fiction and fantasy fare such as HBO’s new interpretation of “Watchmen,” from DC Comics, and “His Dark Materials,” the bestselling series written by Philip Pullman. What can viewers expect? 

“The Mandalorian”

For nearly all of its existence, the “Star Wars” universe has had a single lodestone: the Skywalker family. Be it the heroics of Luke, the transformation of Anakin to Darth Vader, or the turmoil of Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, “Star Wars” has always turned on the Skywalkers’ saga. Even a spinoff movie like “Solo” only fills out the backstory of the most important Skywalker in-law.

That makes “The Mandalorian,” the flagship show of Disney Plus, something quite special – for it has nothing to do with the Skywalkers. It’s its own story, about a lone, unnamed bounty hunter, played by Pedro Pascal, working in the lawless backwaters of the Star Wars universe. The Empire is in ruins, there are no Jedi running around, and the fate of the galaxy is not at stake (at least not yet). So far the only hint of a greater plot arc is in the reveal of the race of the bounty hunter’s target at the end of the first episode, which debuted Tuesday (new episodes will be released every Friday until Dec. 27).

But this is a very good thing. Unshackled from the Skywalkers and their wars, “The Mandalorian” has a chance to delve into Star Wars’ rich non-film backstory. For example, the bounty hunter is a member of the Mandalorian people, a culture extensively explored outside of the movies, and which the first episode begins to investigate. And the race of the bounty hunter’s target promises some very interesting discussion down the line.

Of course, it is a “Star Wars” show, and that means it needs to have action. And it very much does. “The Mandalorian” is basically a sci-fi Western, with no shortage of shoot-outs and bar-room punch-ups. The Mandalorian fights like a prototypical Man with No Name, a la Clint Eastwood, but equally fun is IG-11, a gangly assassin droid voiced by quirky actor-director Taika Waititi. 

In fact, the whole cast is entertainingly weird. Legendary director Werner Herzog plays a deep-pocketed client who hires the Mandalorian to bring in a mark. Nick Nolte is unrecognizable as a short, pig-faced alien known as an ugnaught. Carl Weathers is the liaison with the bounty hunters’ guild. With a cast like that, all overseen by showrunner Jon Favreau, of “Elf” and “Iron Man” fame, one can only expect the show to have an offbeat streak all the way through. (TV-PG)

“His Dark Materials”

Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally ended, HBO appears to be in the market for a new fantasy series to take up its mantle. Channel executives may be hoping that “His Dark Materials,” based on the series of books by Pullman, can fill the void, but early evidence is ambiguous.

The story revolves around Lyra, a young girl left to live among Oxford academics but who is prophesied for greatness. She is quickly thrust into adventure when her adventurer uncle, Lord Asriel, is caught up in the conflict between the Magisterium, the dominant religious authority, and his academic research into “dust,” an elementary particle that shapes the metaphysics of this world. More importantly, the world Lyra lives in is not quite our own – all human beings have a natural extension of themselves called a dæmon, which manifests as a sentient, talking animal. And dust plays a mysterious role in that.

Unfortunately, the show, like the first book in the series, “The Golden Compass,” rushes quite quickly into this world and can be difficult to follow. Moreover, the showrunners have chosen to remix the narrative, shaking up the order of events and adding a new arc with the Magisterium that introduces elements from later books early. So far, it’s hard to see this version of “His Dark Materials” engaging either newcomers or existing fans. (TV-14)

“Watchmen”

Despite sharing the same name as the 1980s comic classic, HBO’s “Watchmen” is not a retelling, nor is it a sequel. Rather, it is an extension of the original “Watchmen” universe: a place where men and women decided that putting on capes and masks was a good way to fight crime, until a real superhuman came along and changed the world.

This “Watchmen” attacks a theme that was largely unexplored by Alan Moore in the original: race. But it does so in a way that feels wholly believable within Moore’s framework. The late antihero Rorschach has become inspiration for KKK-like white terrorists in Oklahoma, and to fight back, the police have adopted masked identities themselves. Foremost is Sister Knight, played by Oscar winner Regina King, who is quickly drawn into a conspiracy when her friend and mentor Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) is murdered. (The show’s creator was influenced by the 1921 Tulsa race riots, which play an important role in the series.) 

“Watchmen” is filled with homages to the original comic, often just in simple shots that reference panels of Dave Gibbons’ art. But by the sixth episode (the last one made available to reviewers), deeper ties to the comic become clear in ways that make one rethink the original work. It’s still a minor revision of “Watchmen” canon overall, but it adds a new layer that wasn’t there before, and it doesn’t feel forced. That is high praise for this new addition to “Watchmen” lore. (TV-MA, including intense violence)

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The Monitor's View

Saudi Arabia sells an opening to the world

Two ways to read the story

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  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

On Nov. 17, Saudi Arabia’s often brutal monarchy will take a step toward transparency and accountability. It plans to sell shares in its state-owned oil company, Aramco. Private investors could start to make demands on the kingdom’s crown jewel – and perhaps on the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In many other Arab countries, from Algeria to Iraq, massive protests have recently challenged strong-arm rulers to hold them to account for basic rights and liberties. In Saudi Arabia, any challenges to the ruling Saud family are more subtle and slower, a result of swift crackdowns on dissent. The monarchy’s biggest vulnerability is the economy. After world oil prices fell in 2015, it launched massive reforms under a new crown prince to diversify the economy and create jobs for a massive youth population. The regime plans to transfer a quarter of its economy to private hands.

The sale of Aramco shares will not only provide needed cash for reforms, it will also be the ultimate example of the country being forced to open itself to the world – and to new values and expectations of the global market.

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Saudi Arabia sells an opening to the world

On Nov. 17, Saudi Arabia’s absolute and often brutal monarchy will take a crucial step toward transparency and accountability. It plans to sell shares in its state-owned oil company, Aramco. The public offering is only a small percentage of one of the world’s largest companies. And it is only on a local stock market. Yet if the sale meets expectations, it could lead to more Aramco shares being sold on global exchanges. Private investors could then start to make demands on the kingdom’s crown jewel – and perhaps on the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In many other Arab countries, from Algeria to Iraq, massive protests have recently challenged strong-arm rulers to hold them to account for basic rights and liberties. In Saudi Arabia, any challenges to the ruling Saud family are more subtle and slower, a result of swift crackdowns on dissent. They often show up on Twitter or in groups of women pushing the boundaries of rules that restrict their freedom. “The Saudi feminist movement has proved to be the most organized and articulate civil society in the country,” writes Saudi professor of social anthropology Madawi al-Rasheed in The Guardian.

Yet the monarchy’s biggest vulnerability is the economy. After world oil prices fell in 2015, it launched massive reforms under a new crown prince to diversify the economy and create jobs for a massive youth population. The regime plans to transfer a quarter of its economy to private hands. The sale of Aramco shares will not only provide needed cash for reforms, it will also be the ultimate example of the country being forced to open itself to the world – and to new values and expectations of the global market.

Saudi Arabia is the Arab world’s largest economy and Aramco is in charge of the world’s second-largest proven crude oil reserves. Both may soon need to treat private investors well by ensuring open, responsive, and clean governance. The shares being offered are available to both common Saudis and foreign buyers. With more public offerings worldwide, many investors may not like the arbitrary killing of dissidents or the way Saudi Arabia conducts its war in Yemen. Such troubling behavior could cause instability. Investors might also push the country to diversify more rapidly toward a post-oil future.

The Aramco offering is hardly a cathartic moment for Saudi Arabia. Yet it reflects a quiet revolution in Saudi identity, driven from both the top and the bottom. Young Saudis are not in the streets protesting. But many will be lining up to buy shares in Aramco.

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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.

Eye injury quickly healed

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When a woman was struck in the eye with a baseball, considering God’s truth about creation brought freedom from pain and quick healing.

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Eye injury quickly healed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Several years ago, I was employed as a full-time child care provider for a family. One day, two of the children and I were in the backyard practicing pitching and batting. The big brother was enjoying coaching his little sister in proper pitching techniques. His sister was listening to him and working so hard to improve her pitching skills. I was playing outfield and having just as much fun as the kids.

Then I was struck very hard in one eye with a baseball that had been hit. Immediately the boy, who had hit the ball, came running toward me to make sure I was OK. He was so concerned about my well-being and very apologetic. I remember saying, “I’m OK; just give me a minute.”

I turned wholeheartedly to God, silently communing with the Divine. I began to firmly, mentally declare what I’d learned through my study of Christian Science to be true about God’s creation, which includes everyone: that it is entirely good, spiritual, pure, and whole.

This statement from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy came to thought: “Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony” (p. 424).

Realizing that this is a present and operative divine law helped me feel safe and protected. We are always safe in God’s care. God is infinite, so there is no place we can be where God, good, isn’t present. I distinctly remember being very unwilling to witness anything but the truth according to God. I also affirmed that the same divine Love, God, that was comforting me was also comforting the boy, and that he did not need to feel guilty.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32, New Revised Standard Version). Science and Health states, “The spiritual reality is the scientific fact in all things” (p. 207). In looking back on this, I feel so clearly that the truth Jesus was referring to is the spiritual reality referred to in this statement from Science and Health. Our spiritual nature is our true identity as God created us, whole, good, and spiritual. Through our willingness to affirm our spiritual identity, we overthrow what the physical senses are telling us and experience the natural harmony that comes from God.

As I quietly affirmed the spiritual facts of creation, I felt we all experienced the spiritual reality that is always present, even where its opposite seems to be. There was very little pain as a result of this incident. There was also only minor evidence of harm around my eye, and the children quickly stopped focusing on what had happened. Within a few minutes, we had resumed our game with joy, and I was pain-free. It was truly as though it had never happened. Any remaining evidence of the incident was gone in a few days.

Each of us can learn more of the ever-present laws of God, good, and experience the healing and peace this brings.

Adapted from a testimony published in the Oct. 7, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Head of the class

Alexey Malgavko/Reuters
Uminur Kuchukova could have retired years ago, but she continues to teach at this remote Siberian village’s once-bustling school for the sake of its last pupil: a 9-year-old boy named Ravil Izhmukhametov. When she leaves next year, the school will close, and Ravil will travel to a neighboring village for lessons. It will be the first time he has classmates. “I’ve got nothing to compare it to,” he says. “But of course I’d like to have friends, so I’m looking forward to going to the main school.” Alexey Malgavko/Reuters
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 18th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us. On Monday, we’ll have a lovely feature by Henry Gass on former Houston Astros pitcher J.R. Richard, who was once homeless and has helped the city become a leader in combating homelessness.

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 15, 2019
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