The World and Everything in It - January 13, 2022
China’s growing influence in the Middle East; the lack of progress in U.S. talks with Russia; and a preview of the upcoming third season of our standalone podcast, Effective Compassion. Plus: commentary from Cal Thomas, and the Thursday morning news.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Good morning!
The United States has a new adversary in the Middle East.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Russia doesn’t seem phased by sanctions threats either. We’ll talk about how likely Moscow is to invade Ukraine.
Plus, the power of the gospel in prison.
And Cal Thomas on a new opportunity in education.
BROWN: It’s Thursday, January 13th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
BUTLER: And I’m Paul Butler. Good morning!
BROWN: News is next. Here’s Kent Covington.
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: No breakthrough in NATO-Russia talks » The standoff continues between Moscow and the West. Neither side is backing down as NATO allies hope to stop Russia from invading Ukraine.
Top Russian officials sat down at the bargaining table with NATO leaders in Brussels on Wednesday.
Moscow once again demanded a guarantee from NATO that other ex-Soviet nations will not be allowed to join the alliance.
But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters…
STOLTENBERG: Allies on their side reaffirmed NATO’s open door policy and the right for each nation to choose its own security arrangements.
The allies also rebuffed Russian demands for NATO forces to pull back from Eastern Europe.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the U.S. delegation in Brussels. She said NATO leaders ended the meeting with a challenge to Moscow:
SHERMAN: To de-escalate tensions, choose the path of diplomacy, to continue to engage in honest and reciprocal dialogue …
The West wants Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull thousands of troops off of the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin has shown no signs of yielding.
NATO again threatened stiff sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.
Wednesday’s talks came two days after Russian and American diplomats met in Geneva.
Despite a lack of progress this week, both sides agreed to continue talks.
US inflation soared 7% in past year, the most since 1982 » Inflation jumped at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years last month. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The Labor Department reported Wednesday consumer prices rose 7 percent in December from a year earlier. That’s the biggest leap since 1982.
That as Americans ramped up spending and supply chains were squeezed by shortages of both workers and raw materials.
Some economists believe prices may cool off some as snags in the supply chain ease. But most say inflation will remain elevated throughout this year.
Rising prices have wiped out the healthy pay increases that many Americans have been receiving. That’s made it harder for households, especially lower-income families, to make ends meet.
Polls show that many Americans now see inflation as a bigger concern than the pandemic.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.
Labor, supply chain shortages leave grocery shelves sparse » And those supply chain shortages are hitting grocery stores hard.
Typically, at U.S. grocery stores, 5 to 10 percent of items are out of stock at any given time. But right now, it’s about 15 percent. That according to the Consumer Brands Association this week.
Breakfast cereal might be especially scarce with many workers calling in sick at companies like Kellogg and General Mills.
And Enfamil reported Wednesday that production and shipping delays have left retailers short of baby food and formula.
An aluminum shortage is impacting canned goods, and supplies are also tight for processing and packaging meat products.
On top of that, trucking companies say large portions of their staffs are out with COVID-19.
Walensky urges masks as scientists eye possible end of omicron surge » CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday addressed the nationwide sick-out fueled by the omicron surge.
WALENSKY: The sudden and steep rise in cases due to omicron is resulting in unprecedented daily case counts, sickness, absenteeism, and strains on our healthcare system.
With that in mind, she again urged Americans to wear masks in public for now. As for what kind of mask…
WALENSKY: What I will say is the best mask you wear is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings and can tolerate where you need to wear it.
And a little bit of good news on Wednesday: Scientists are seeing signals that the omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the United States.
That’s because the variant is so wildly contagious it may be running out of people to infect.
Professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Ali Mokdad said—quote—“It’s going to come down as fast as it went up.”
Leaders pay tribute to late Sen. Harry Reid at Capitol Rotunda » AUDIO: Ready, step. Ready step …
Eight U.S. service members carried a flag-draped casket up the steps to the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday. Inside, many of the nation’s top leaders gathered to pay tribute to former Sen. Harry Reid as his remains lay in state.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Reid “one of the most consequential Senate Majority Leaders of all time.” And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed.
SCHUMER: Few have shaped the workings of this building like our dear friend from Nevada.
Reid was instrumental in passing Obamacare in 2009. And he famously used the so-called “nuclear option” in 2013, changing the Senate rules to block GOP filibusters of President Obama’s judicial nominees. But that paved the way for the Republicans to change the rules for Supreme Court nominations four years later.
Speaker Pelosi said most of all, she’ll miss her friend.
PELOSI: Those of us fortunate enough to know him and love him will remember also his character and compassion …
The Nevada Democrat served 32 years in Congress before retiring in 2015. He died two weeks ago at the age of 82.
I’m Kent Covington. Straight ahead: China’s growing influence in the Middle East.
Plus, an opportune moment for school choice.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 13th of January, 2022.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. First up: The United States has played a strategic role in the Middle East for decades. But now that U.S. troops have pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, alliances in the region are shifting.
BROWN: In the past, Russia has been a major player and U.S. competitor in the region. But now, governments from Tehran to Jerusalem are striking deals with another world power whose influence in the Middle East is growing and causing concern: China.
WORLD correspondent Jill Nelson reports.
JILL NELSON, REPORTER: Stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon has been a top priority for the Biden administration. And for good reason: Iran is far closer to a nuclear weapon now than it was a year ago.
MISZTAL: So 2022 could be a very critical year when it comes to figuring out whether the region and Iran go nuclear or not.
Blaise Misztal is the vice president for policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. He doubts whether re-negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran will stop Tehran’s progress. And he says China is part of that equation.
MISZTAL: That being said, there is also a longer term threat in the shape of Chinese activity and presence and interest in the Middle East, and the two are not unconnected. Which is to say, one of the reasons that Iran has been able to withstand the pressure of U.S. sanctions and perhaps is therefore less willing to compromise at the negotiating table is because of the economic support it receives from China.
Last year, China and Iran signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement that includes economic development and joint military activities. The $400 billion agreement has emboldened Tehran’s stance against the United States. Misztal says Iran has also been selling higher quantities of its oil to China … in violation of U.S. sanctions.
And he says China is already the largest importer of oil coming from the Persian Gulf.
MISZTAL: So China is looking effectively for a cheap gas station in the region. It wants to be able to not only continue to receive energy, but it wants to dictate the terms on which it buys that energy, which is part of the reason it made this deal with Iran.
This is just one of the many ways China has made the Middle East a primary battleground for U.S.-China competition. Here are two more:
First, Chinese investment in Israel.
MISZTAL: When we see China coming into Israel and investing in its infrastructure, building Israeli ports next to Israeli naval stations, or investing in Israeli startups that develop new cybersecurity solutions or work with artificial intelligence, there's a real fear that they're going to be stealing that intellectual property and exploiting it for their own growth and their own benefit, which is also going to be to our detriment.
Arthur Herman is an analyst with The Hudson Institute. He compares China’s relationship with Israel to that of a parasite.
HERMAN: They've been heavy investors there over the last decade to the point that the United States finally had to step in and say to Israel, this is becoming a problem for us, that we're seeing this sort of brain drain, technology drain, going to China from your best and brightest in ways that are only going to enhance the potency and reach of China's military and intelligence services. So Israel has backed off a little bit.
Another factor contributing to U.S.-China competition in the Middle East is China’s growing relationship with Saudi Arabia. The gulf country is a major oil and gas producer. But it’s also becoming a technology-oriented country under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Herman says the Saudis would love to have the United States as a partner in this development. But instead, the Biden administration has stiff-armed Riyadh.
HERMAN: I think a lot of it is because they worry about if they get too close to Saudi Arabia, it might adversely affect working out a final deal with the Iranians with regard to the nuclear program and missile program.
So Saudi Arabia is turning to China instead.
HERMAN: And what we've seen over the last couple of months is more and more initiative on the part of China in finding ways to encourage the Saudis to think about them as their strong partner in reshaping the Saudi economy and turning Saudi Arabia into really an economic powerhouse for the Middle East and not just in the energy sector, but across a wide variety of sectors.
Herman says the Chinese are already helping the Saudis build their wireless 5 G advanced technology network. And that leaves the country at risk of Chinese espionage. Beijing also built a missile production facility in Saudi Arabia that became operational at the end of last year.
Then, there’s the United Arab Emirates. Washington has repeatedly asked the gulf nation to drop China’s Huawei telecom network or risk the sale of U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets. Abu Dhabi last month decided to suspend the U.S. deal and stick with China’s inexpensive 5 G network.
Herman says the U.S. needs to do a better job using carrots, not just sticks.
HERMAN: We haven't really developed a good, strong alternative to Huawei in the five G technology arena.
China has also been building a secret military port near the country’s capital, according to a U.S. intelligence report released last year. The Chinese claim they’re using the port for commercial purposes only. But it is one of many ports Beijing is building across the region as part of its trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
Blaise Misztal says these revelations should remind us that we can’t ignore the wider geopolitical implications of China’s reach into the Middle East.
MISZTAL: I think there's a double challenge for the United States and its allies to not only try to make sure that China isn't sucking resources out of the Middle East or at least not doing so at sort of cut rate prices. But that it’s also not stealing their intellectual property and gaining an illicit foothold in the economies of our allies.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jill Nelson.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: fruitless conversations.
Russian leaders met with top U.S. diplomats in Geneva on Monday. Both sides said the aim of those talks was to ease tensions between Moscow and the West. But did they accomplish that?
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov answered that question.
RYABKOV: My answer would be a flat and plain no. No progress.
And Russia’s talks with NATO leaders in Brussels on Wednesday weren’t any more fruitful.
MYRNA BROWN ,HOST: That came as no surprise to many analysts, who say Russia may be simply using its demands in these talks as a pretext for an invasion.
Among those analysts is Alexis Mrachek. She studies Russia and Eurasia for the Heritage Foundation at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy. Alexis, good morning!
ALEXIS MRACHEK, GUEST: Myrna, good morning.
BROWN: Well, we heard the Russian deputy foreign minister say they made “no progress” in talks with U.S. officials on Monday. And again, nothing concrete really came out of NATO talks yesterday either. Was there any point to these talks at all? Could it lead to progress in the near future?
MRACHEK: I think there was at least some point to these talks. It is a clear priority of the Biden administration that diplomacy is at the forefront of Russian foreign policy from the United States’ end. So that was really the primary goal in going into these meetings. But as you stated before, nothing really came out of these meetings, despite the one on Monday lasting about eight hours, and the one on Wednesday lasting about four hours. And so it's hard to know what will happen exactly since no deliverables came out of the meeting. To be honest, I don't have much hope for any significant progress happening in the coming days. It looks like Russia could very well still further invade Ukraine in the coming days or weeks. Russia did not agree to take its troops away from the Ukrainian border, it still was pushing NATO to take back its promise to let Ukraine into the NATO alliance one day.
BROWN: I know you’ve said that Putin’s demands may simply be a pretext for an invasion. Some also speculate Putin could be creating a crisis in order to extract concessions from the West.
Do you think that’s possible? And if so, what do you think he might realistically hope to get out of this?
MRACHEK: I do think that Putin is testing President Biden, especially following the failed Afghanistan pull out last August. Both the U.S. and NATO have said that they will only negotiate with Russia if Russia de-escalates the situation with Ukraine, and withdraws its troops stationed along Ukraine’s border. But the important thing to remember is that the U.S. should not make any concessions to Russia. Especially because Russia is demanding things that really don't make much sense.
BROWN: You said that Putin is testing President Biden. What do you think he might realistically hope to get out of this?
MRACHEK: It looks like the main thing that Putin wants right now is for Ukraine to not get NATO membership in the future. But it's just weird that that desire on Putin's part is coming right now because Ukraine was promised NATO membership 14 years ago at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania. And so it's kind of weird. It's not like it was recently promised. And so I do think the timing is interesting. Another thing could be that maybe Russia is going to try to take advantage of the U.S. in these diplomacy talks in some way. But it's hard to say exactly what Russia wants right now. I think Putin really only knows what will happen.
BROWN: Mmm hmmm. Is there any chance at all that NATO could cave to his demand of guaranteeing that other ex-Soviet countries won’t be allowed to join NATO? And why or why not?
MRACHEK: I think there's very, very little chance that NATO would give in to Russia's demands that Ukraine not get NATO membership in the future. I mean, just Wednesday in the meeting between NATO and Russia, NATO made clear once again that it has an open door policy for countries that want to join the NATO alliance in the future. And that essentially, Russia does not have a veto on Ukraine's future NATO membership. And so I don't think that the alliance would cave in to Russia, which is fortunate.
BROWN: The Biden administration continues to warn of major consequences to Russia if it invades Ukraine. That does not mean a military conflict with the United States. But what does it mean exactly?
MRACHEK: I think the thing that the Biden administration has said that would most likely happen if Russia were to further invade Ukraine would be strong sanctions on Russia, Russian authoritarians, or Russian cronies who are close to Putin. Sanctions could be implemented. The United States could also provide more weaponry to Ukraine and defense against Russia. And the U.S. also could continue to provide financial military assistance to Ukraine. And so the U.S. has made it clear to Russia that if it further invades Ukraine, there will be significant consequences well beyond what it faced in 2014. So that's important to keep in mind.
BROWN: Is that enough to at least give him pause about the idea of invading? How great of a deterrent is this threat to Putin?
MRACHEK: I think that Putin probably isn't threatened much by it, because the United States has sanctioned Russia in the past few years. And I think Russia very well knows how to evade the sanctions now. And so I personally don't think that sanctions are the best way to go. But it's hard to say what exactly would be the right way to go. I also think that Putin just keeps thinking that Biden looks weak following the Afghanistan pull out. And so I don't think that Russia feels very threatened at this point by the United States or by NATO.
BROWN: Okay, Alexis Mrachek has been our guest today. Alexis, thanks so much!
MRACHEK: Thanks so much for having me.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Hawaiian surfer Ingrid Seiple has a big bite mark on her surfboard, but she is unharmed after a close encounter off the coast of Oahu’s Kaena Point.
Seiple told KITV that she was sitting atop her board when she spotted it nearby.
SEIPLE: And then it just started swimming toward me as fast as it could. I was pretty shocked. I tried to paddle away.
She was able to escape, but not before it sunk its teeth into her board.
This was her first close call with a wild boar.
Yup. Not a shark! A boar out for a swim!
At first, she thought it was a seal, but this fella, as it turned out, was a little less friendly.
Perhaps the star of the next Jaws movie!
It’s The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, January 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: life behind bars.
Season three of our stand alone podcast Effective Compassion launches next week. This year, we’re focusing on prison ministry. Here with a preview is Managing Editor Leigh Jones.
LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: Michael Hallett has spent a lot of time behind bars. Angola in Louisiana. Parchman Farm in Mississippi. Sing Sing in New York.
Some of the largest, toughest prisons in America. He’s interviewed hundreds of inmates.
HALLETT: What I didn't appreciate, before I spent 10 years and so much time in maximum security prisons, is the hopelessness and the lostness. And the heartbreaking stories of men and women in prison who have a much longer story of personal collapse than before they went to prison.
And no part of the U.S. prison system is designed to fix that brokenness.
HALLETT: Where we find ourselves today is in a deep crisis in American corrections, and across the board in terms of concerns both about serving inmates as well as protecting society.
Nearly 1.5 million people are locked up in U.S. prisons. Every year, about 40 percent of them get out, only to come right back in again.
Within three years of their release, two thirds of paroled prisoners are rearrested. More than half of them will go back to prison.
JOHNSON: I'm always amazed when people complain about recidivism rates being high, I'm thinking, are you kidding?
That’s Byron Johnson.
JOHNSON: You would expect that they would be significantly higher considering the conditions under which we now find ourselves. And so, again, if it weren't for the faith community, I shudder to think what, what we'd be experiencing in our prisons right now.
Johnson is a sociologist at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. Michael Hallett is a criminologist at the University of North Florida. Together they’re studying the effect of faith-based programs behind bars. Their main focus is on transformation.
HALLETT: The main power of the Christian message is 'forgiveness is at the center', right? Sinfulness is prerequisite to Christianity, it seems to me. And so that's what it brings to the story. And what we found is that in prison after prison, empirically documented, a profound transformation that looks a lot like rehabilitation, you know, abrupt behavior change, complete transformation in terms of self expression and self identity.
Transformation. Rehabilitation. That’s the power of the gospel in prison.
And that’s what we’ll be exploring over the next 10 weeks.
We’ll start with ministries working to keep people out of prison in the first place. People like Jackie Turner. She grew up mostly in foster care. And by 19, she was on a trajectory that would put her behind bars for a long time.
Then she found a group of Christians who offered to teach her a different way to live.
TURNER: My whole life before here, was all destruction, chaos, pain, abuse, trauma and all types of stuff. I got here in rage, I left here with full hope.
We’ll visit a drug court in Mississippi where addicts are getting a second chance to kick their habit and stay out of jail.
People like Rachel Williams.
WILLIAMS: I did my first hard drug when I was 19—cocaine. I did that in a closet with my best friend who was also a drug addict, had done it for years, you know? And she said, “Here, try this. It won't hurt you.” I was like, “Okay, you know?” And so I did. And that was it.
And we’ll take you behind bars, where prisoners are finding hope and freedom, even if they’ll never experience life on the outside again.
Men like Hubert Troup Foster.
FOSTER: And it was, I didn't realize it at the time. But I finally realized that was the day I surrendered. And I began trying to walk out my faith. Because something that was always missing was no longer missing. I was in a 10 by 10 foot cell, but I had more peace than I'd ever had in my life…
But prison ministry doesn’t end when a prisoner’s sentence is over. We’ll also meet Christians shepherding people as they make a start on new lives despite the stigma of their old convictions.
We call this work effective compassion. Gospel hope for life change, applied with wisdom and discernment. And just like other effective Christian help, prison ministry that truly works has three basic components: It’s challenging, personal, and spiritual. Only those three things together, through the work of the Holy Spirit, lead to transformation.
Byron Johnson admits, it’s tough work.
JOHNSON: I don't believe prison ministry is for everyone. And I don't think prisoner re-entry ministry is for everyone. But I do think that people are called to do unusually difficult things, like being a missionary. And so I do think that people that have that kind of a calling, need to respond to it. But I'm not naive. I think that these are real struggles.
Michael Hallett believes prison ministry has the ability to do more than just transform the lives of inmates. It could also be the catalyst for reforming the entire system.
HALLETT: Will prison ministry solve all our problems? Absolutely not. Is it for every prisoner? Absolutely not. Is it for every prison? Absolutely not. But does prison ministry offer us some rudiments of how to rethink the American prison system and how to equip it in such a way that people are left measurably better off than they were when they came in? At a time when it is not at all uncommon that people are made worse for their experience in prison rather than better.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leigh Jones.
BUTLER: The first episode of Effective Compassion Season 3 arrives Tuesday. Subscribe to Effective Compassion on your favorite podcast platform to make sure you don’t miss a single episode.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, January 13th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.
Commentator Cal Thomas now on a pandemic opportunity.
CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: Chicago teachers finally went back to work this week after throwing the start of the semester into chaos.
Critics saw their demand to return to virtual learning as nothing more than a teachers’ strike and power grab. All at the expense of children.
When Boston police officers went on strike in 1919, then-Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called the strikers “deserters” and “traitors.” In a telegram to Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, Coolidge wrote: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”
While the situation in Chicago is different from the Boston police strike, teachers’ refusal to return to classrooms caused no less harm to children and parents. There is the mental and emotional damage caused to children, in addition to challenges associated with learning from home and the financial and childcare pressure on parents.
The federal government has supplied $5 billion to Illinois to keep schools open and enable in-classroom teaching. As in many other states, Illinois used the money for other purposes. While that’s technically allowed, Congress should demand the money back if states and cities don’t use it for its intended purpose.
It’s worth noting that across the country, most private and religious schools remained open during the pandemic. Could that be because they didn’t have union bosses dictating their decisions?
The pandemic may have given us a golden opportunity to break the power of the teachers’ unions, and what is likely the last monopoly in America: the public school system.
Competition works in every other field. It can also work in education. According to the Education Commission of the States, there are 27 voucher programs in 16 states and the District of Columbia,. More are needed and now is the opportune moment for voters to pressure lawmakers into creating them in states that don’t have them. Illinois offers K-12 students and their parents several school choice options, including two private programs, charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and intra-district public school choice via an open enrollment policy. More parents should take advantage of them.
The intellectual, moral, and patriotic education of our children are keys to maintaining the country we have enjoyed for more than two centuries. Other countries, especially China, are way ahead of us when it comes to math and science. They send many of their top students here to be educated at our best universities. Many then return to China to apply what they’ve learned in ways that further the interests of their country, interests often counter to our own.
The education monopoly has long-exceeded its sell-by date. It’s time to break it up. That will allow parents—not government—to pick the system that best suits their children. Education choice puts children first, ahead of both government and unions.
I’m Cal Thomas.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Tomorrow: we’ll talk with John Stonestreet about the man with a pig’s heart on Culture Friday.
And, we’ll review a British crime drama captivating U.S. audiences.
That and more tomorrow.
I’m Paul Butler.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.
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Go now in grace and peace.
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