2017
August
30
Wednesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 30, 2017
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TODAY’S INTRO

Monitor Daily Intro for August 30, 2017

On Wednesday, an estimated 2 million Muslims converged on Mecca to begin the annual hajj pilgrimage. As they make their way through the week, tens of thousands will turn each day to a help hotline for solving problems. And when they do, they’re likely to be surprised by what they hear on the other end of the phone: the voice of a woman.

For the first time in profoundly conservative Saudi Arabia, a handful of women are helping staff an emergency call center. Safety is a concern at the hajj, where more than 100,000 security personnel are on hand. Memories are still fresh of a stampede that killed more than 2,000 people in 2015, and the Islamic State has targeted Mecca twice in the past year.

But security comes in other forms as well – and Saudi Arabia is taking an eye-catching if small step to include women in providing it. Staff at the communications center answer needs that are both urgent and less so – and for the first time, female pilgrims who want a woman to address their need have a chance of finding one.

Even as tensions roil the region where they are gathered, hajj pilgrims strive to focus on the ties that bind the global Muslim community – Shiite or Sunni, Sufi or Salafi, Arab, Persian, Asian, or European. This year, women, while they may be operating well behind the scenes, are getting a new opportunity to add their voices to that worthy goal.

Like all of you, we’re watching the southeastern US grapple with Harvey, as other parts of the world cope with flooding of their own. On our website, we’ve assembled some worthwhile reads. (Click here.)

Now, to our five stories for today.

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In Myanmar, a persecuted minority drives need for reform

How do you quell social unrest and violence? That's the challenge Myanmar faces in one of its poorest states, where treatment of a Muslim minority has long been criticized. Many argue peace will emerge only with greater development and human rights. 

Amelia

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Many of Myanmar’s Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group of about 1 million, have lived there for generations – a minority in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country, also known as Burma, in Southeast Asia. Most of them are regarded as unauthorized immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, however, and their treatment has drawn international scrutiny for years. Human rights advocates cheered the release of a report urging reforms on Thursday, drafted by a commission led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan. But just hours later, Rohingya militants launched attacks on police posts: They were similar to attacks last October, which led to a harsh crackdown that sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the country, and likely included crimes against humanity, according to an earlier UN report. Some analysts fear the latest violence could derail more root-cause solutions, like greater rights and economic development – which could help quell future conflicts. “At the heart of this crisis are policies and practices that have a real dehumanizing effect,” says Yee Htun, an instructor at Harvard Law School. “If you don’t resolve these underlying problems, the chance of the violence erupting again and again is a real risk.”

In Myanmar, a persecuted minority drives need for reform

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Mushfiqul Alam/ AP
Members of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority cross a barbwire fence to return to Myanmar, at Ghumdhum, along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, on Aug. 29, 2017. Violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine state has driven thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing toward Bangladesh for safety, along with a smaller exodus of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

Last Thursday, just hours before Rohingya militants attacked more than two dozen police and border outposts in western Myanmar, the former head of the United Nations presaged the coming violence in an urgent warning.

“Unless concerted action led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalization,” former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a news conference in Yangon.

The news conference was held to promote the release of a new report on how to improve the lives of Buddhists and Muslims living in Rakhine state, one of the country’s most impoverished and conflict-torn regions, from which tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled violence in recent years. But it was soon overshadowed by the attacks that occurred overnight Thursday and left 89 people dead. Subsequent clashes between security forces and insurgents have raised the death toll to more than 100 and forced more than 9,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims to flee into Bangladesh.

The renewed violence appears certain to spur additional scrutiny of how closely Myanmar's government follows the report’s recommendations for improving economic development and social justice in Rakhine. Human rights experts argue those reforms would dampen the militants’ cause by improving living conditions for the Rohingya. The attacks may bolster the government’s position, however, that it needs tight control over a growing security threat. 

The contrast is underscored by the de facto leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy work during years of house arrest. Ms. Suu Kyi made bringing peace to Rakhine and other regions torn apart by ethnic conflict a top priority after her party won a landslide election in 2015, ending half a century of military rule. Yet critics say the recent clashes highlight how little progress she’s made – and how eager the military is to step in with often-brutal tactics.

Yee Htun, a human rights advocate from Myanmar and instructor at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., says the reforms outlined in the new report can’t come soon enough for Rakhine.

“At the heart of this crisis are policies and practices that have a real dehumanizing effect,” she says. “If you don’t resolve these underlying problems, the chance of the violence erupting again and again is a real risk.”

Recommendations derailed?

Although Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist, about 1 million Rohingya, who are Muslim, live in the northern part of Rakhine. Many Buddhists in Myanmar insist the Rohingya are from neighboring Bangladesh, although they have lived in the country for generations. The government denies them citizenship and many basic rights.

The recommendations proposed last week aim to change that. The report, which was written by a commission led by Mr. Annan, calls on the government to end enforced segregation of Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine; allow humanitarian groups full access to the region; and end restrictions on movement that curtail people’s access to work, public services, and religious freedoms. It also says the government should revisit a 1982 citizenship law that categorizes most Rohingya as illegal immigrants.

Human rights advocates, many of whom have criticized the government for its handling of the problems in Rakhine, applauded the report’s suggestions. Yang-hee Lee, the UN’s special human rights envoy to Myanmar, says the fact that Suu Kyi herself commissioned the report gives it additional credence and makes it hard for the government to ignore. 

Suu Kyi’s office said on its Facebook page that the attacks were intended to coincide with the release of the report. Whether that is true is difficult to verify, though experts say it seems unlikely to have been a coincidence. Regardless of what sparked the attacks, Dr. Lee says they provide the military a convenient excuse to emphasize security needs over developmental ones and delay the civilian government from implementing the report’s recommendations.

“Now with this escalation of violence in Rakhine, I’m not sure if the government has the will or the power to even discuss which recommendations they’ll accept,” she says. “It’s a real setback for the Rohingya people. They’re in a worse position now and the majority of the people are just stuck.”

Lee adds that if the violence continues, “Rakhine is ripe for another major catastrophe” – and that there is precedent for what such a catastrophe could look like. When nine border guards were killed in a similar attack by Rohingya militants last October, Myanmar security forces responded with a deadly counterinsurgency campaign. Lee led an investigation into the ensuing violence.

A UN report released in February concluded that the attacks against the Rohingya “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity, including rape and the killing of civilians. Human Rights Watch said in its own report that the military burned down more than 1,500 homes between October and December 2016. Tens of thousands have entered Bangladesh since then. 

Thomas MacManus, a research fellow at the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, says there is evidence that soldiers have started to follow a similar pattern in response to last week’s attack. On social media, advocates for the Rohingya have reported soldiers killing civilians and burning down houses. Thousands of people have fled to nearby mountains or to the Bangladesh border in search of refuge.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said in a new report that Myanmar’s military had built up its forces in northern Rakhine since the attack. New satellite images show widespread burning in at least 10 areas across the region. The cause of the fires could not be determined, but some occurred in locations where witnesses reported deliberate burning of houses by Burmese soldiers, according to Human Rights Watch.

“This would follow the military’s modus operandi from the past,” Dr. MacManus says of the reports from Rakhine. “The military has learned that they can act any way they want and that nothing is going to happen to them. They’ve learned that there are no restraints.”

Leadership scrutinized

Myanmar’s power-sharing arrangement, created by the military junta’s Constitution, prevents Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders from having direct control over the military. Even so, MacManus says Suu Kyi was woefully silent during last year’s counterinsurgency campaign and that she should speak out more against military abuses – echoing common criticism from human rights groups who for years have lauded her as a champion of democracy.

“She is in the perfect position to give moral leadership,” MacManus says.

But the government's response since last week's attacks has already started to draw condemnation. A group identified as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which the government declared a terrorist organization last week, took responsibility for last Thursday’s attack on 25 locations. On Sunday, Suu Kyi’s office said in a Facebook post that authorities were investigating reports that staff members of international organizations had assisted the ARSA. It said biscuits supplied by the World Food Programme had been found at a rebel camp site.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, criticized Suu Kyi’s office for issuing “irresponsible” statements that could endanger international aid organizations. He also called on Myanmar’s authorities to issue clear instructions to security forces to refrain from using disproportionate force, adding that those who use excessive force should be held accountable.

“The State has a duty to protect those within its territory – without discrimination,” Mr. Al Hussein said Tuesday in Geneva.

The ‘paradox of tolerance’ meets a bedrock American value

Do you tolerate intolerance? It's one of the hottest questions of the moment as Americans assess what democracy allows – and what limits they think should be imposed.

Amelia
Michael Dwyer/AP
A supporter of President Trump (c.) argues with a counterprotester at a 'Free Speech' rally by conservative activists on Boston Common in Boston earlier this month.

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It’s called the “paradox of tolerance”: If a society is tolerant without limit, eventually it will be destroyed by intolerance it has allowed to flourish. First described by political philosopher Karl Popper in 1948, this is a theory some think newly relevant today as white supremacists and neo-Nazis rally in American streets. Should hate speech be controlled, and marchers carrying swastikas and shouting anti-Jewish slogans banned? The paradox of tolerance perhaps provides some justification. After all, as Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson once famously said, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” But critics of this approach argue that free speech is a bedrock US value. Once flawed humans begin deciding who can be silenced for intolerance, they may eventually get around to you. And in the end, intelligent listening may be as powerful as speech. “The real art of meaningful discussion and changing hearts and minds is not about who is yelling the loudest or getting the most attention,” says Kel Kelly, founder of Humanity Rises, a Boston-based humanitarian organization. “Rather it is about who listens, understands, and changes their perspective or actions.”

The ‘paradox of tolerance’ meets a bedrock American value

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Is there a point at which it becomes dangerous for democratic societies to tolerate intolerant speech and action? That’s an old question in political philosophy that’s relevant again today as resurgent neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups turn up the volume on efforts to publicize messages of hate in the United States.

The specific fear, of course, is that a tolerant government might be toppled via its own virtue. An illiberal faction could use freedom to attract adherents, rise to power, and then crush dissent. This has happened in real life. See: Germany, Adolf Hitler, 1933.

But veering too far in the other direction has its own risks. There’s a line at which a liberal nation that restricts angry and/or unpopular opinions becomes the intolerant oppressor it is trying to oppose.

This dilemma faces official and citizen groups alike. It’s trickier than it might seem, given the First Amendment to the Constitution and America’s general heritage. Consider the American Civil Liberties Union, which earlier this month defended the right of white supremacists to march in Charlottesville, Va. The ACLU leadership faced a blistering backlash from many members who felt that some speech might indeed be too offensive to protect.

“Where is the line between protected speech and that which is unacceptable in public discourse?” says Gordon Coonfield, an associate professor of communications at Villanova University in Philadelphia. “This is a question that we as a society have struggled with – not always to our credit – and we must continue the struggle.”

A reappraisal of free speech

The events of the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville are the context for this reappraisal of the nation’s approach to free speech. White supremacists feel emboldened by the national political response to their rally to protect a Robert E. Lee statue, according to posts on far-right websites. Rightly or wrongly, adherents of the so-called “alt-right” see President Trump’s assertion that “both sides” are to blame for the violence that led to the killing of counter protester Heather Heyer as a nod towards white identity politics.

“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about [Charlottesville],” tweeted white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke following Mr. Trump’s statements.

This increased confidence on the far right has put some historic advocates of free speech on the defensive. The ACLU has long protected the rights of Americans to say abhorrent things. In 1977, the group famously fought to allow neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, Ill., a Chicago suburb then home to many Holocaust survivors.

Yet Charlottesville proved a march too far for the group, in at least one respect. Following protests from members, the ACLU decided it would no longer represent armed hate groups as a matter of course. The sight of neo-Nazis openly carrying assault weapons was just too chilling.

ACLU leaders said they would now screen clients more closely for the possibility of violence at rallies, as the Monitor’s Henry Gass reported last week. The shifting legal landscape around gun rights may mean that a protest with armed participants cannot be treated, for First Amendment purposes, the same as a protest without firearms.

The First Amendment protects free speech, but in the same sentence, also says it protects the rights of the people “peaceably” to assemble. If marchers have assault rifles slung around their shoulders, are they acting “peaceably”?

“If people are gathering armed to the hilt and hoping for violence, I think the ACLU would be doing damage to our free-speech rights in the long term [by providing them legal counsel],” said ACLU senior staff attorney Lee Rowland to the Associated Press.

‘Paradox of tolerance’

The extent to which a tolerant government should tolerate intolerance is a venerable academic problem.

One famous answer to this question was provided by the political philosopher Karl Popper in his 1945 work “The Open Society and its Enemies.” Popper described something he called the “paradox of tolerance”: unlimited tolerance carries the seeds of its own destruction. If a tolerant society isn’t prepared to defend itself against intolerant factions, it will be destroyed, and tolerance with it.

In essence, he argued that a free nation should not necessarily put up with hate speech. As long as hateful words can be countered by rational argument and public opinion, it’s better to let them be, Popper wrote. But in the end a tolerant nation should reserve the right to suppress speech that threatens its existence, even if it’s necessary to use force to do so.

“We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant,” Popper concluded.

This theory would not necessarily mean that neo-Nazi and white supremacist marches and rallies in today’s US should be banned. Popper did not argue that people should be protected from speech that makes them uncomfortable or angry. He talked about suppression in the face of “fists and pistols” – actual violence, or the threat thereof.

The ACLU appears to have decided, in essence, that the guns carried by participants in the “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally meet these criteria. And radical leftist groups, such as Antifa, have felt that they need to provide a counterthreat to the rise of the far right – though critics say they have fomented violence themselves, not countered it.

But in general neo-Nazis are not an important voice in the conversation of American political ideas. The First Amendment protects their most extreme statements as free speech. Just because they’re legal, however, doesn’t mean they’re culturally acceptable today. 

“The parameters of public discourse in the United States are very broad, as they should be, but they exclude those who attack any racial, religious, ethnic, or gendered group as a group or any individual as a member of a group,” says Jerald Podair, professor of history and American studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc.

“ ‘I hate X, that dirty fascist,’ is vulgar but within our parameters. ‘I hate X, that dirty Jew’, is not,” Professor Podair says, via email.

When ‘good guys’ get to control free expression

Banning white supremacist hate speech in the name of protecting tolerance would also raise classic First Amendment issues, according to other experts.

Freedom of speech is the bedrock principle upon which all other Constitutional principles rest, says conservative cultural and political writer Donna Carol Voss. That’s best protected by a dispassionate standard of speech overseen by the Supreme Court, Ms. Voss argues. Once flawed humans gain the power to determine whom to silence, there will be no reason why they themselves can’t be silenced at another time by another group of people with other ideas.

“The real danger of Charlottesville is being lulled into a false sense of complacency that the world is divided into good guys and bad guys – that we can always tell them apart. And those who define themselves as ‘good guys’ get to control the free expression of those they define as ‘bad guys,’ ” says Voss. “Charlottesville shouldn’t change a thing.”

In the end, however, Charlottesville marchers who chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” in a public forum clearly transgressed acceptable free-speech boundaries, says Kel Kelly, founder of “Humanity Rises,” an organization focused on helping refugees, and of the Boston-based PR firm Kel & Partners.

But what matters is how society responds, says Ms. Kelly.

“The real art of meaningful discussion and changing hearts and minds is not about who is yelling the loudest or getting the most attention, rather it is about who listens, understands, and changes their perspective or actions,” says Kelly. 

Points of Progress

What's going right

US stuck in a ‘wageless recovery’? Not so fast.

A rising number of Americans are not only getting a paycheck, but seeing it start to grow.

Amelia

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American workers have seen median weekly earnings rise 4.2 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest gain since 2007. That’s some good news after years of concern about weak wage growth. And some evidence suggests the actual picture may be brighter still. Economist Mary Daly of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank cites two reasons. First, a stronger job market has been luring back lower-skilled people who were sidelined after the Great Recession. Many enter jobs that pay low wages, which pulls down the average. Second, well-paid baby boomers are retiring and being replaced in the labor force by younger and lower-paid Millennials. Again, this drags down the averages, even as pay for the typical person is rising. Overall, the pay hikes still don’t do much to alleviate the nation’s wide rich-poor gap. But “unions have had a good year,” says Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO labor federation, speaking at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast Wednesday. For US workers, the economy finally seems to be buoying incomes.

US stuck in a ‘wageless recovery’? Not so fast.

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Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail/AP
FedEx driver Franklin Vance as delivers a package to Sally Beauty shop in Charleston, W.Va. Wages are rising at their fastest annualized rate since a peak prior to the Great Recession in 2007, according to the US Labor Department.

Here’s a Labor Day quiz: Whose pay rose at the fastest rate in the past year – lawyers or truckers? PhDs or workers who didn’t graduate from high school? The top 10 percent of earners or the bottom 10 percent?

If you opted for the answers that may seem surprising – the second ones in each of those pairings – then congratulations! You’re especially attuned to a recent turn in the US economy. In percentage terms, the workers in category "b" outdid those in category "a" in the past 12 months. It’s a sign that after eight years of an unusually sluggish recovery, continued growth and very low unemployment are beginning to deliver pay gains across the board.

This turnaround does not make up for the years in which better skilled, higher educated, and wealthier workers enjoyed most of the gains after the Great Recession. And it’s far too recent to have done much to alleviate the growing inequality between the rich and the poor. Nevertheless, it does suggest that the current expansion is finally buoying the incomes of a broad swath of working Americans, from waitresses to union members.

“Wages are growing faster in the aggregate than you think,” says Mary Daly, director of research at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank.

“Unions have had a good year,” Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO labor federation, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday. “We raised wages for our members higher than we have for a while.”

Signs of stronger wage growth are popping up everywhere. This month, Elise Gould of the union-backed Economic Policy Institute found that average wages for workers without a high school diploma grew 1.9 percent in the 12 months ending in June; for PhDs, they grew only 0.3 percent. Ditto for those at the bottom 10 percent of the income ladder: 5 percent wage growth, versus 2.9 percent for those at the top 10 percent.

Similarly, truckers saw the biggest pay raises – 5.7 percent – in the past year ending in August, in a report from the job website Glassdoor this week. And it wasn’t just truckers. Among the top 10 with the biggest pay increases: baristas (also up 5.7 percent), bank tellers (4.9 percent), cooks (4.7 percent), and cashiers (3.7 percent).

The biggest losers? Lawyers, whose average pay was $92,000, saw a 3 percent decline, because too many law school graduates were chasing too few jobs.

The legal profession is an exception in today’s labor market. In most job categories, there’s a shortage of workers, which is driving up wages. Seven in 10 construction companies report they’re having trouble finding craft workers, especially carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, concrete workers, and plumbers, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Associated General Contractors of America. As a result, half of the firms have increased base pay for workers; 20 percent have boosted employee benefits.

When Missouri’s conservative legislature voted earlier this year to overrule cities that had passed their own minimum wage laws, more than 100 St. Louis companies vowed to keep paying the city’s $10 an hour minimum wage, instead of rolling back to the state’s $7.70 per hour minimum.

While the role of minimum wage laws in raising pay is open to debate – one recent study of Seattle’s minimum-wage hikes found they pushed workers’ earnings down because employers cut workers’ hours – most everyone agrees that the economy’s long expansion is finally forcing employers to pay more to attract workers.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka speaks at a breakfast for reporters, hosted by The Christian Science Monitor on Aug. 30, 2017, in Washington. He said it's been a "good year" for union bargaining on wages, but says more progress is needed for US workers.

Pay hikes and a paradox

Median weekly earnings rose 4.2 percent over the 12 months ending in July, the fastest rise since the prerecession peak of 2007, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the actual picture may be even better than that, argues Ms. Daly of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank.

That’s because two factors are dragging down the reported averages, according to her research. First, the strong economy is luring back lower-skilled people who were sidelined by the Great Recession. But they’re often entering jobs that pay low wages, which pulls down the average.

It’s a kind of happy paradox: The stronger the economy, the more it pulls in workers who lower the overall wage.

The second factor is what Daly calls the “silver tsunami” – the surge in baby boomer retirement. As this huge cohort of highly paid workers get replaced by lesser-paid Millennials, the average gets pulled down. But from the individual worker’s perspective, pay is typically going up. The growth rate for full-time workers who didn’t get laid off is already back to 2007 levels, she points out.

There are some troubling signs. Workers at the low end of the wage spectrum are only now beginning to recover from the Great Recession. So it will take some time for them to reap the benefits of the recovery.

“There is some improvement,” says Mr. Trumka, the labor leader. “But wages have lagged so far behind over 40 years, it's going to take a lot more than a year or two to get them back to where they need to be.”

‘The new normal will be tight labor market’

Another problem is that the more employers raise wages, the more it cuts into company profits. The only time that doesn’t happen is when their workers become more productive. And growth in labor productivity has been especially sluggish in this recovery. The last seven years have seen the weakest growth of any seven-year period on record, points out Gad Levanon, chief economist for North America at The Conference Board, in a recent analysis.

Lower corporate profits can rattle Wall Street. Higher labor costs without productivity growth can lead to inflation, which often precedes a recession. But those dangers do not appear immediate, according to Mr. Levanon. Corporate profits, while declining, are still above average.

“We are already in a tight labor market, and in the next 15 years baby boomers will continue to retire in large numbers,” he writes. “The new normal will be tight labor market. Workers are likely to get a bigger slice of the pie.”

Analysis

Poland offers toughest test yet of EU integration

When new members join a group, some accommodations are to be expected. But if they begin to openly defy founding principles, as Poland is doing, the question arises whether brighter red lines need to emerge.  

Amelia

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When Greece challenged the European Union over austerity, it roiled the bloc. But that confrontation may prove relatively easy compared with the current struggle shaping up as Brussels brings the first disciplinary action against an EU member: Poland. The EU accuses Poland of politically encroaching on the intangible principles of rule of law and democratic separation of powers that Warsaw vowed to uphold when it joined the EU in 2004. Warsaw’s populist defiance of the EU and its democratic norms violates the EU ethos in two ways. First, it mocks the old conviction that the EU’s quiet allure would naturally persuade even Central Europeans with no democratic history to embrace democracy. Second, the periodic demonizing of the EU and Germany by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party belies EU faith in constant progress toward the mandated “ever closer union” that should make future wars on the continent unthinkable. Now, the EU will have to decide whether it prefers the risk of igniting a hot new EU crisis by disciplining Poland or the risk of starting a slow-burning crisis if it does not defend its democratic bedrock of rule of law.

Poland offers toughest test yet of EU integration

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Adam Stepien/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters
Marek Suski of Law and Justice (PiS) (C) party scuffles with Miroslaw Suchon (2nd L) of Modern party (.Nowoczesna) as Michal Szczerba of Civic Platform (PO) (L) party holds up a copy of the Polish Constitution during the parliamentary Commission on Justice and Human Rights voting on the opposition's amendments to the bill that calls for an overhaul of the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland, July 20, 2017.

Poland is testing the limits of Europe’s 70-year-old experiment in conferring peace and democracy on this once bloody continent by the soft power of cooperative integration.

The European Union’s confrontation with Warsaw concerns nothing as tangible as austerity (as with Greece) or taxes (as with Ireland).  What has brought the first-ever disciplinary action against an EU member is Poland’s political encroachment on the intangible principles of rule of law and democratic separation of powers that Warsaw vowed to uphold when it joined the EU in 2004.

Far from contesting specific charges, the ultranationalist government of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) revels in its expanding influence over the judiciary, media, military, civil service, education, and civil society since it won the general election of 2015. PiS achieved a 38 percent plurality in votes, which gave it a parliamentary majority. That then gave the PiS, in its own eyes, majoritarian rights. It is increasingly exercising these rights to police both state-owned and private media; to form a new branch of the armed forces that resembles a political militia in embryo; and, in legislation that came into force in mid-August, to appoint and dismiss local judges with no vetting by the professional judicial council. 

For Poland’s most powerful politician, PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the opposite of authoritarian Russian rule is not democracy, but authoritarian right-wing Polish rule, say critics

Warsaw’s populist defiance of the EU and its democratic norms violates the EU ethos in two ways.

First, the manifest vulnerability of Poland’s infant democratic institutions to political expropriation mocks the old conviction that the EU’s quiet allure would naturally persuade even Central Europeans with no democratic history to embrace democracy. And the government’s denunciations of the EU for meddling in Poland’s internal affairs flouts the EU’s innovative trade-off of “pooling” small states’ sovereignty to buy a more powerful global voice (and get vastly richer in the process).

Second, the PiS’s periodic demonizing of the EU and Germany belies EU faith in constant progress toward the mandated “ever closer union” that should make future wars on the continent unthinkable. Last spring, the weekly Wprost portrayed Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on its cover in Nazi-style uniforms, in a pastiche of an iconic photo of Hitler and Mussolini, with the caption "They want to control Poland again." And in August, Mr. Kaczynski again demanded reparations from Berlin for World War II damage; one pro-PiS weekly suggested a sum of $6 trillion. 

Poland’s other feuds with the EU include Warsaw’s noncompliance with a European Court of Justice ban on logging in the primeval World Heritage Bialowieza Forest and its refusal to accept a token 6,200 asylum seekers the EU asked the 38 million ethnic Poles to absorb during the upsurge of a million new refugees in Europe in 2015.  

Illiberal problem child

How did Poland, which three decades ago spearheaded Central Europe’s democratic revolt against Soviet hegemony, morph into the EU’s illiberal problem child of today? How could the fierce Catholic patriotism – which in the 1980s galvanized a moral Solidarity coalition between pious Gdansk ship-welders and Polish intellectuals – slip into a polarization that rivals that of the United States? How could the country that has so far received EU development funding of some $200 billion and risen in one generation to become the 24th richest country in the world, bite the hand that feeds it?

One Solidarity veteran, who asked not to be named because of the polarization, offered some tentative answers. He noted that it’s easy enough for a catchall protest movement to agree on opposing a common foe – in this case, the half century of Communist, anti-West domination of Poland by Moscow. After a victory, however, it’s very hard for a movement to agree positively on a common way forward.

Moreover, after Solidarity’s historic triumph in breaking up Moscow’s external empire in Central Europe, the next generation of young Poles grew up taking their own freedom as West Europeans for granted. They disliked the tactical political maneuvering of the technocrats who brought about the Polish economic miracle in the early 21st century, regarding them as the fusty establishment. A majority of them turned apolitical and simply did not vote in the 2015 election.

More broadly, Polish politics has become volatile in playing out against the backdrop of the West’s crisis of confidence in democracy. China’s meteoric rise, under autocratic rule, from extreme poverty to the largest economy in the world in purchasing power has dented Western assumptions that only democracies can produce mass prosperity. And while Russia, stuck in the rut of oligarchy and an extraction economy, seems incapable of replicating Beijing’s feat itself, the Chinese model validates Moscow’s aggressive propaganda in Europe about the flaws of democracy and the superiority of authoritarianism. The virtues of liberal democracy are no longer self-evident in Poland and near-neighbor Hungary.

Two Polands

Many Poles trace their domestic political chasm today back to the divergence between “Poland A” and “Poland B” that arose in the 17th century, when the Polish state was extinguished for the next 123 years by powerful neighbors, and Polish lands were parceled out to Russia, Prussia, and Austria. In the west, an urban, pro-West Poland A modernized and grew more prosperous. In the east, a rural, anti-Europe Poland B stagnated and remained poor.

By the time the 20th  century’s East-West cold war ended in 1989, Poland A emerged ready to take advantage of generous EU subsidies to triple GDP and make Poland richer than Belgium. Poland B’s left-behinds recoiled against all the turbulence and gave PiS its 38 percent plurality in 2015. Kaczynski saw as his main enemies Poland A – as personified by outgoing Prime Minister Donald Tusk of the centrist Civic Platform party and Lech Walesa, the electrician who led the Solidarity shipyard strike in 1980 but is today reviled by PiS partisans as a supposed Russian agent.

What most inflamed Kaczynski’s wrath against Mr. Tusk was the death of his identical twin brother, then President Lech Kaczynski, in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, in 2010. All official reports on the crash of the Polish Air Force TU-154, with almost 100 senior Polish officials on board, called it an accident in thick fog. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, by contrast – without offering evidence – labeled the crash a political assassination involving Tusk, prime minister at the time.

A veteran Polish journalist explained, “He is obsessed with avenging his twin’s death. He lives alone and has no other, normal life. He lives only to avenge his brother.” The journalist asked not to be named, since he is already on his editor’s purge list as PiS pressure builds on media to sack reporters deemed deficient in nationalist passion.

This year Kaczynski’s first act of revenge on Tusk, who is now president of the European Council of EU member states in Brussels, was Poland’s sole nay vote as the 28-member European Union reappointed Tusk to that post last March. Simultaneously, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, a confidant of Kaczynski, accused Tusk of treason in mismanaging the investigation of the Smolensk crash.

The most recent replay of the PiS-centrist feud came in August, when the Polish state prosecutor summoned Tusk to come to Warsaw to answer questions about the plane crash. The prelude to this hearing was Kaczynski’s appearance on the Sejm dais (even though he is not himself a member of parliament), to shout at the centrist opposition, “You are scoundrels! You murdered my brother!” 

As of this writing, the EU deadline for some sign of judicial restraint by the Polish government has just expired, with no response from Warsaw. The European Commission still hopes that Kaczynski might show some flexibility after the summer parliamentary recess, perhaps by postponing enactment of the pending bills that would let the government fire not only local, but also Supreme Court and judicial commission judges. Yet even if the PiS does defer further curbs on judicial independence, the European Commission could on present evidence legally suspend Poland’s voting right inside the EU or trim EU financial aid to Warsaw.

Now, the EU will have to decide whether it prefers the risk of igniting a hot new EU crisis by disciplining Poland or the risk of starting a slow-burning crisis if it does not defend its democratic bedrock of rule of law.

Elizabeth Pond is an author and former European Bureau Chief of The Christian Science Monitor.

Difference-maker

For an island of non-swimmers, a lifesaving lesson

Are swimming skills one gauge of inequality? That's true in Grenada, where volunteers and donors are pushing to change attitudes about who should have access to lessons – and the fun that goes with plunging confidently into the water.

Amelia
Ellen Ingwerson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Deb Eastwood teaches Sefoore Patel the basics of swimming in the shallow water off Grenada’s Grand Anse Beach.

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While leading a youth group on the island nation of Grenada, Deb Eastwood made a surprising discovery: The local children in her group could not take a cooling plunge – because they couldn’t swim. She soon learned that 90 percent of Grenadians lacked that ability. And she learned why: Swimming lessons are too expensive for all but the elite, and instilling fear of the water is a traditional parenting tool, reinforced by the local adage, “The sea has no branches” to hang onto. But economics and culture did not daunt the energetic Ms. Eastwood. Her mission now: to teach this entire nation of 111,000 what she calls a “life skill,” relying on volunteers, donations, and partners such as the hotels that offer the use of their pools. Her organization, Grenada Youth Adventurers, has taught 2,500 children and adults to date. Its aim: teach 8,000 more by 2021. “I like being a kid,” she says. “This is not retirement for me, by any means.”

For an island of non-swimmers, a lifesaving lesson

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Ellen Ingwerson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Sefoore Patel learns the basics of swimming from Deb Eastwood at Grenada’s Grand Anse Beach.

It was a steamy Caribbean day six years ago when Deb Eastwood took a group of local youths on a hike in the hills of Grenada. When they stopped at the 30-foot Annandale Falls, her plan was for everyone to cool off in the pool below.

But Ms. Eastwood, a newcomer to this 20-mile-long island and founder of Grenada Youth Adventurers (GYA), was dumbfounded when only two of the eight children jumped in. The rest stayed cautiously back, despite stewing in perspiration.

“The whole reason to go there isn’t to look at the waterfall; it’s to jump in the pool,” she says of her quick realization that the youths didn’t know how to swim.

In fact, she soon learned, 90 percent of those in this island nation did not know how to swim. Two powerful economic and cultural factors are at work: Swimming lessons are too expensive for all but the elite, and instilling fear of the water is a traditional parenting tool, reinforced by the local adage, “The sea has no branches” to hang onto.

But economics and culture did not daunt Eastwood, whose high-wattage and youthful personality is reminiscent of Peter Pan’s. “Swimming is a life skill, and every Grenadian should have the opportunity to learn to swim,” she says.

Her aim: teach this whole nation of 111,000 to swim. Free, year-round weekly lessons and two intensive National Learn to Swim Weeks rely heavily on volunteers and donations from abroad through the nonprofit Friends of GYA. The organization also trains and pays several dozen local residents to teach at beaches and hotels that offer the use of their pools.

Eastwood estimates that 2,500 children and adults have been taught by GYA, and her next benchmark is to teach 8,000 more by 2021. That number is not unrealistic, given Eastwood’s pace and success so far, says Veda Bruno-Victor, general secretary of the Grenada Olympic Committee, who herself didn’t swim until age 30. The GYA learn-to-swim program has jump-started interest in swimming here, she says.

It’s Eastwood’s “sales ability” that has “ignited” the swimming culture here, agrees Nataly Sihera, head swim coach at the Grenada Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Religious Affairs.

In 2005, Ms. Sihera started the first government swimming program, busing children from schools to the country’s sole public pool, a patched four-lane tank. Eastwood’s push has helped her program, Sihera says.

On a Monday morning in mid-July, nearly 400 youths of all ages – some jittery, some overconfident, all excited to meet their teachers – converged on beaches and pools around Grenada for National Learn to Swim Week.

“I want to swim to that ball!” yelled a goggled 7-year-old girl straining against an instructor’s grip toward a buoy bobbing in deep water off Grand Anse Beach. But, the child admitted, she’d never put her face in the water before.

By the end of five one-hour lessons in blowing bubbles, floating, and kicking, she and most of the students will be safe if they find themselves in water over their heads.

Pool noodles and goggles

More than 40 volunteers – including American college students and medical students from Britain – and several paid Grenadians taught three shifts a day for the weeklong intensive course. Eastwood unloaded dozens of donated kickboards, pool noodles, goggles, and lifeguard kits at several sites and then waded in at Grand Anse to support a couple of students learning to kick. Her cheerful bullhorn voice was discernible above the din: “Kick! Kick! Kick!”

Individual and institutional donors – such as the regional Republic Bank, the Grenada Olympic Committee, the New Zealand High Commission, the local Sandals resort, and the US-based Isabel Foundation – have helped keep Eastwood from going too deeply into the red. Donations have funded a 19-passenger van, lifeguard kits, swimming equipment, and marketing projects, and they also pay for local teachers and a South African part-time professional swim coach for the competitive team. Eastwood, aided by her husband, Phil Vermiglio, operates out of a rented home, relying on her pension and Social Security.

Six years ago, Jackie Joseph-Coutain was growing uneasy with her 5-year-old daughter Jalena’s exuberant efforts to swim, which included climbing into an oil drum full of water. A nonswimmer herself, Ms. Joseph-Coutain needed help. She had heard about “Miss Deb,” as well as “Beach Friday,” a weekly GYA playtime.

Eastwood taught both of them to swim. Jalena, now 11, even qualified for the Grenadian team going to an eastern Caribbean meet in Guyana this month. But Joseph-Coutain says that when she first saw Eastwood – a tiny, 5-foot, 2-inch blonde – jumping and playing with the youths, “I thought, ‘How come she come to Grenada to teach people to swim – what causes this woman to do this?’ ”

It’s a common question, says Lotten Haagman, a Swede who is on the GYA board and runs the SeaBreeze Hotel where many volunteers stay. Eastwood is unusual in her focus “on a group of children nobody ever cared about before,” Ms. Haagman says. She also respects Eastwood for openly praying for spiritual support to defy limits, whether they be financial, cultural, or related to age and gender (the latter two are persistent in this traditional culture).

So why does Eastwood do this? “Because I like being a kid,” she says. “This is not retirement for me, by any means.... I love Grenada because it reminds me of my childhood. The lifestyle here is so much freer and easier [than the one in the United States today].”

A longtime youth leader

Even in her early career as one of the first women jet-engine mechanics in the US Air Force and as a sales manager at Xerox Corp., Eastwood was a leader of faith-based youth groups, and along the way she “adopted” children in need.

In her 40s, she decided to take a one-year leave from her job at Xerox and her six-figure salary to work with Adventure Unlimited, a program based near Denver for Christian Science youths. She never went back, instead creating and running a teen leadership program for the organization and, while leading a teen group to the Caribbean, she discovered Grenada.

In 2007 she moved here to teach school, and she originally created GYA to offer free youth activities of all kinds.

With an athlete’s metabolism for the uphill push, she easily handles the small challenges such as mothers who tell their children not to get their hair wet when learning to swim or swim teachers who show up at 9:20 for a 9 a.m. class. And she cheerfully grapples with larger issues, such as funding ebbs and flows and her own high-gear, can-do style that can grate on this slower-paced business culture.

Ms. Bruno-Victor says she might advise Eastwood to “slow down, watch the [local] mentality, and [not ask] too many ‘whys.’ ” But, the Olympic chief adds, even if people do say, “ ‘Oh, it’s Deb again,’ ” pushing her programs, “she has been a tremendous benefit to the country – and people should just look at her style of teaching,” which has youths clamoring to come back.

Indeed, says Keith Johnson, managing director of the Republic Bank here, at first the establishment gave a small amount to support Eastwood. But he was so impressed with the huge turnout at a Beach Friday and the “optimistic energy” Eastwood exhibited that the bank doubled its original support.

The program, Mr. Johnson says, raises the international profile of Grenada through volunteer tourism, and it has increased the number of Grenadians with the swimming skills so important to marine and tourism industries.

Her biggest ‘problem’

Her success has created Eastwood’s biggest “problem.” GYA’s competitive swim team now has 40 members – four of whom made the national team last year. But, Eastwood says, “[an off-island meet] for one kid costs $1,000. For $1,000, I can run a Saturday morning beach site for the whole year teaching 60 to 100 kids. So I feel torn.”

She is looking for someone to hive off that competitive part of her program, because looking back, “I only wanted to teach learn-to-swim [classes],” she says.

And what keeps Eastwood chugging are memories such as that of a 70-something woman bellowing “Woo-hoo!” as she floated on her back for the first time.

For more, visit nltswgrenada.com.

How to take action

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to three organizations that help other groups of people with various issues:

BiblioWorks gives communities in need tools and resources to develop sustainable literacy programs. Take action: Be a videographer for this group in Bolivia.

Nepal Orphans Home attends to the welfare of children who are orphaned, abandoned, or not supported by their parents. Take action: Volunteer in a Nepalese community.

EcoLogic Development Fund works with rural and indigenous peoples to protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico. Take action: Help preserve an old-growth forest.

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The Monitor's View

Harvey’s lesson in weather forecasting

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The forecasts ahead of hurricane Harvey were not yet perfect enough for first responders to know every neighborhood that might be inundated. Still, the improved precision did take much of the equivocation out of the planning in Texas and Louisiana and, notably, the critical call not to evacuate millions of people from the Houston area. That progress reinforces the very purpose of ongoing advances in forecasting: Storms need not be seen as mortal danger if their timing, intensity, and effects are better known in advance through the intelligence of meteorologists and other atmospheric scientists. The might of a storm is little match against the right information delivered in time. After Harvey, Congress is unlikely to agree to budget cuts that would hinder even more improvements in the science of forecasting.

Harvey’s lesson in weather forecasting

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Officials at the Texas Emergency Command Center in Austin monitor hurricane Harvey Aug. 26.

 

An old cartoon from decades ago depicts a disgruntled man in a snow jacket writing a letter to a TV station. The letter states: “Dear weatherman, I just shoveled a foot of ‘partly cloudy’ off my driveway.” Such easy jabs at inaccurate forecasts are much fewer these days. Satellite imaging, sensors, and computer modeling now provide forecasts with a far better record than even a few years ago. And a good example of the strides in meteorology was the nearly spot-on forecasts for extreme flooding from hurricane Harvey.

The forecasts were not yet perfect enough for first responders to know every neighborhood that might be inundated. Still, the improved precision did take much of the equivocation out of the planning in Texas and Louisiana and, notably, supported the critical call not to evacuate millions of people from the Houston area.

That progress reinforces the very purpose of ongoing advances in weather forecasting: People have a strong desire not to fear the environment but to live in rapport with it. Storms need not be seen as mortal danger if their timing, intensity, and effects are better known in advance through the intelligence of meteorologists and other atmospheric scientists. The might of a storm is little match against the right information delivered in time.

Despite the complex variables of weather patterns, forecasts of today that are five days out are as accurate as the three-day forecasts of a decade ago. The steady improvement has not only saved lives but further aids businesses and individuals in planning and land-use decisions.

The United States is poised “to build a weather and water-ready nation where everyone is able to take appropriate action to be ready and responsive to impending extreme water events,” says Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service.

In April, President Trump signed a bipartisan bill, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which requires even more improvements in forecasting from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its National Weather Service, Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research, National Ocean Service, and National Water Center. But Mr. Trump’s funding proposals for NOAA would undercut the act’s goals. After Harvey, however, Congress is unlikely to agree to such cuts.

Also after Harvey, Americans can better appreciate how breakthroughs in weather science can steadily reduce the fear of wind or water from a storm – or any forecast that fails to foresee a foot of snow.

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.

Wise leaders

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When we look around the world today, we don’t always see leaders expressing wisdom, justice, and honesty. But each of us can contribute to elevating the mental environment of our country and the world. As the creation of God, divine Love, our nature is inherently loving and intelligent. We have the God-given ability to express qualities such as compassion, grace, and insight in our thoughts and actions. Each of us is empowered to bear witness to the power and goodness of the ever-present God, reflected by us, that uplifts the mental environment and leads to better government.

Wise leaders

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History has shown that a country and its citizens are more likely to prosper if the country’s leaders are wise, just, and honest. Clearly, if they’re not honorable and upright, the outcome may be corruption, poverty, or even war. There have been plenty of examples over the years of all types of leaders.

In one instance, a king – the biblical King Solomon, who understood God as the source of wisdom and justice – demonstrated how an insightful leader can govern with wisdom and grace (see I Kings 3).

Two women who had recently given birth came before King Solomon, both claiming to be the mother of the same baby. One woman claimed the other’s baby had died during the night, so the mother had secretly switched her dead child with the woman’s son. The other woman denied the accusation and said the living child was hers. The king was to sort it out. How would a ruler know what to do in such a case?

The idea that came to him was to call for the child to be divided in two, and he told both women they could each have half. Horrified at the thought of her baby being lost in this way, one of the women immediately cried out, asking the king to give the child to the other woman rather than see it die. The other agreed with the king’s suggestion to divide it. The king quickly noted that the real mother was the one who could not bear to see any harm come to the child, and the child was restored to her.

Unfortunately, when we look around the world, leaning on God for the wisdom to reign justly isn’t always a quality we see in our leaders. Yet a country consists of more than just whoever is in power at any given moment, even if a ruler or government seems to wield all the levers of power. Each of us can contribute, in some degree, to elevating the mental environment of our country and world and bearing witness to God’s wisdom and love.

Christian Science explains that the true nature of everyone is that we are the spiritual children of God, the expressions of infinite Love. God truly governs each of us, according to the Bible: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned” (Revelation 11:17, New King James Version). Therefore, it is our very nature to express divine qualities such as wisdom, fairness, insight, and compassion. By turning our hearts to God, we find we are empowered to act in a way that’s consistent with our true, spiritual identity – to magnify God’s goodness, justice, and love. This also gives us spiritual authority to insist that the goodness of God’s creation be made constantly more evident through leadership that reflects these qualities.

As we cherish and live these ideas, this supports an environment of integrity that in turn works as a divine influence in thought, encouraging more of this way of thinking and acting throughout society. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, observed, “The characters and lives of men determine the peace, prosperity, and life of nations” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 277).

This is more than individual human beings expressing good qualities; it’s about the power and goodness of the ever-present God becoming more clearly reflected by us, God’s creation. It is divine Love expressed that uplifts the mental environment and leads to better government.

It’s not to say that patience and a lot of persistence are not needed to further the goal of reasonable and fair-minded government around the world. But we can acknowledge the power of God, good, over evil, and bear witness to this truth, responding to and being led by an understanding of good’s supremacy. This nurtures the growth and flourishing of these modes of thought in our homes, communities, and the world.

Viewfinder

A fight on another front

Noah Berger/Reuters
A firefighter battles the Ponderosa Fire east of Oroville, Calif., Aug. 29. The fire, which began Tuesday afternoon, has destroyed as many as 10 homes and scorched some 2,500 acres as of this morning.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, we'll look at independent bids for the White House. Sure, they're nothing new. But could a strained political system and fed-up voters boost their prospects?

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