David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Tareq Hadhad builds bridges with chocolate.

Let me explain.

Mr. Hadhad is a Syrian refugee who fled the war in 2013. After three years in a Lebanese refugee camp, he and his family went to Canada. At the airport, he says, no one called him a refugee. They called him a “new Canadian.”

That generosity of spirit, Hadhad says, prompted him to wonder how to give back to his new country. His father, once a chocolatier in Syria, started taking a few homemade chocolates to the farmers market in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. After a few visits, lines started to form.

Soon, about 50 neighbors helped build a barn for a backyard chocolate factory. Orders soared. A new, bigger Peace by Chocolate factory opened this fall.

“People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it,” Hadhad told the Gauntlet.

“We call it Peace by Chocolate not to be a business, but to be a message from the newcomers to the new homeland ... about how the Syrians … are giving back.”

So, the Hadhad family is creating jobs in Canada, and building bridges across chasms of bigotry, distrust, and fear. One chocolate at a time.  

Now, we've selected five stories intended to highlight security, integrity, and compassion at work.

1. Backdrop to Asia trip: China’s chess game in South China Sea

When it comes to Asia security threats, North Korea is top of mind now. But China keeps planting flags in the South China Sea, where it sees military control as key to its security. And that in turn is raising security concerns among its neighbors. How will Trump handle this issue?


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On Friday, China unveiled its latest piece of naval equipment: a “magic island-maker,” as designers nicknamed the ship. It’s a 460-foot dredger – and what it’s dredging is the South China Sea, where for years China has been building up once-barren reefs and atolls into island bases. Beijing claims much of the sea as its territory, and considers it key to its growing ambitions. In 2016, an international tribunal rejected those claims – but Beijing, in turn, has rejected the ruling. As President Trump prepares to land in China, Chinese officials may be hoping the disputed waters won’t come up – and with North Korea in the limelight, maybe they won’t. The sea appears to be a secondary priority for Mr. Trump, but American allies in the region are deeply worried about a rising China and what, if anything, the United States will do to help keep it in check in the era of “America First.” “China didn't build these islands to simply use them for tourism or for lighthouses,” says one analyst. “China built them as military outposts, and so it really is a matter of time before we actually see military assets operating out of them.”


Backdrop to Asia trip: China’s chess game in South China Sea

President Trump is expected to have a packed agenda when he arrives in China on Wednesday. In between a tour of the Forbidden City and an inspection of troops, he could announce billions of dollars in new deals for American companies and try to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to put more pressure on North Korea. 

Yet whether and how Mr. Trump brings up China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, an important arena for its bid for regional dominance, remains an open question. The issue appears to be a secondary priority for his administration at a time when American allies in the region are deeply worried about a rising China and what, if anything, the United States will do to help keep it in check in the era of “America First.”

There’s little doubt that China would prefer to have the US out of the South China Sea altogether, as it looks to exert more influence over the Asia-Pacific region. If Mr. Xi had his way, the issue likely wouldn’t come up at all during Trump’s visit, especially amid new reports of China having undertaken more construction and land reclamation in the disputed waterway.

With the US focused on North Korea – and looking for Beijing’s help – China has quietly continued transforming what were once seven barren reefs and atolls into island fortresses, complete with military-grade runways, radar facilities, and anti-missile systems.

And it looks like there’s more to come. Some analysts expect China to soon send its first deployment jet fighters to the Spratly Islands. Meanwhile, on Friday, China unveiled a new dredger, described by its designers as a “magic island-maker.” At 460-feet long, it’s the biggest ship of its kind in Asia – making it all the more likely to renew fears about Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

“China didn't build these islands to simply use them for tourism or for lighthouses,” says Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “China built them as military outposts, and so it really is a matter of time before we actually see military assets operating out of them.”

Watching and waiting

That such an outcome appears not only likely but perhaps even inevitable, has China’s neighbors in the region increasingly on edge. Their worries have been exacerbated by the lingering uncertainty over US policy under Trump, Ms. Glaser says. US allies and others will surely pay close attention to Trump’s speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Vietnam on Friday to see if he reaffirms American military commitment to the region.

But although Trump is expected to use the speech to call for a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, it’s uncertain what he will say about American engagement in Asia. Trump's five-nation, 12-day trip gives him the opportunity to clarify his long-term vision for the US in one of the fastest-growing, most dynamic regions of the world – one that largely revolves around the South China Sea.

An employee makes hand-held US flags at a textile factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, Nov. 6. President Trump arrives for his visit to China on Nov. 8.

“The problem is we have no idea what President Trump’s South China Sea policy will be moving forward,” says Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University in China. “We have to wait and see.”

In the meantime, countries in the region have been hedging their bets while trying to appease a far more powerful China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has stopped joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea and toned down his country's criticism of China’s territorial claims. Then there’s Vietnam, which, after emerging over the summer as one of the most vocal opponents of China’s maritime activities, has recently agreed to manage its disputes with China through friendly talks.

“Countries are quite worried about aligning themselves too closely with a United States that may not have the staying power that they want,” Glaser says. “But they all want a counterbalance to China. Every country is concerned about being vulnerable to Chinese coercion and pressure.”

Slow but steady?

In Xi’s vision of national rejuvenation, analysts say, China is destined to replace the US as the preeminent power in Asia. That Beijing has declared the South China Sea a sovereign “core interest” hints at Xi’s strategic priorities. In his opening address at the Communist Party congress last month, Xi called the building of artificial islands in the waterway a highlight of his first five-year term as China’s leader.

“Construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea has seen steady progress,” he said near the start of his report, leaving unclear when the construction will end.

Zhang Baohui, a professor of international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, says in an email that for now, Xi is unlikely to risk inflaming tensions in the South China Sea. After emerging from the congress as China’s most powerful leader in decades, he appears content with pursuing a quiet buildup while restoring his county to what he considers its rightful place as a global power. 

“It is quite obvious that Xi’s real love is to build Chinese global leadership,” Dr. Zhang says. “Soft power and things like ‘One Belt, One Road’ are far more important for China than taking additional actions in the South China Sea,” he says, referring to China’s initiative to build roads, railways, and other infrastructure projects around the globe.

While China says it doesn’t plan to restrict access to the South China Sea – which is rich in natural resources and carries $3.4 trillion in annual trade – it claims almost all of it as sovereign territory. Beijing has refused multilateral negotiations over overlapping territorial claims and ignored a landmark ruling by an international tribunal last year that rejected the legality of its claims within the so-called “nine-dash line.”

In response to China’s island building and militarization, the US Navy has continued the Obama-era policy of conducting regular freedom-of-navigation operations through the South China Sea. Still, many wonder whether Trump is willing to do more at a time when he is seeking Xi's help to rein in a nuclear-armed North Korea.

“Trump has been less outspoken on the South China Sea issue than Obama for different reasons, both his lack of interest in US primacy here and his need for China’s help on other issues,” Zhang says. “To enlist Xi’s help on the North Korean issue, Trump may choose not to discuss the South China Sea in Beijing.”

SOURCE: BBC, National Post
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

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Special report: Securing the Vote

2. Path to ensuring vote validity might just be a paper trail

In the Digital Age, how do you protect the integrity of the voting system from hackers? It turns out that part of the answer may be an old-school solution: paper.  


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It is no secret that voting machines in the United States are vulnerable to hackers. At the DEFCON hacker conference in Las Vegas last summer, event organizers invited thousands of attendees to test their skills on an array of touch-screen voting machines. Not one machine survived the challenge. What is most alarming isn’t that such machines can be hacked. Anything using a computer to record and count votes can be hacked. But what has election security experts on edge is that many touch-screen voting systems fail to create a paper copy of each cast ballot. Twenty percent of American voters in the 2016 presidential election voted on machines that produced no paper record of their selections. That is significant. Without a paper record there is no way to detect with certainty whether a hacker reprogrammed the tabulator to make a losing candidate win. Colorado has taken a close look at this problem. With Tuesday’s election, the state unveils a procedure that combines paper ballots and an innovative auditing system that could become a blueprint to safeguard elections in every state. Today, the Monitor concludes its three-part series “Securing the vote” with a look at how paper can help protect the democratic process.


Path to ensuring vote validity might just be a paper trail

When Logan Lamb visited the website of Georgia’s Center for Election Systems in Aug. 2016, what he found left him speechless.

Although the cybersecurity researcher had no password or special authorization, he was able through a Google search to download the state’s voter registration list, view files with Election Day passwords, and access what appeared to be databases used to prepare ballots, tabulate votes, and summarize vote totals.

He also discovered a vulnerability that would allow anyone to take full control of a server used for Georgia’s elections.

It was everything a Russian hacker – or any malicious intruder – might need to disrupt the vote in Georgia.

“Had the bad guys wanted to just completely own the central election system, they could have,” Mr. Lamb told the Monitor in an interview.

It remains unclear how many months or years these vulnerabilities existed prior to the 2016 election. Even more alarming, say computer and election security experts, had a hacker exploited the website’s vulnerabilities, it might have been impossible to detect.

That’s because voters in Georgia cast their ballots on electronic touch-screen voting machines that produce no paper record of each vote. Without such a record, there is no way to verify that a computer hacker didn’t reprogram the vote-counting software to systematically assign more votes to one candidate or another.

More than 20 percent of voters nationwide in the 2016 presidential election cast their ballots on voting machines that did not produce a verifiable paper trail.

Aside from Georgia, four states – New Jersey, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Delaware – also rely entirely on paperless touch-screen voting machines. In addition, paperless machines were used in at least some jurisdictions in 10 other states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida.

To a hacker such voting methods are an open invitation to mischief or worse, security experts say. To officials and experts concerned with securing the accuracy of the US election process, the methods represent a gaping vulnerability.

Mindful of the US intelligence assessment that Russian-backed hackers sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, The Christian Science Monitor set out to examine key vulnerabilities in the election system. In two previous stories, we touched on the potential for manipulating voter rolls and the tensions between minimizing fraud and protecting voting rights. In this story, we conclude our series with a look at measures that could help secure the accuracy of the vote count.

Only a matter of time

In 2016, officials detected repeated attempts to gain access to voter registration databases, but they say they found nothing to suggest vote totals were manipulated.

“Although there is no evidence that any past election in the United States has been changed by hacking, it is – in my opinion – only a matter of time until one is,” says J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. “For that reason, the US needs to urgently reform and upgrade its voting infrastructure.”

Professor Halderman made his comments during a recent panel discussion in Washington sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Until the 2016 election season, few Americans contemplated the possibility that a hostile nation-state might launch a concerted attack against the essence of American democracy. Suddenly election security became a matter of national security.

Matt Rourke/AP/File
This Oct. 14, 2016 file photo shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's names printed on a ballot on a voting machine to be used in the upcoming election in Philadelphia. The federal government on Sept. 22 told election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their systems before last year's presidential election. The notification came roughly a year after US Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia.

“This threat is serious and real,” says Matthew Masterson, chairman of the US Election Assistance Commission. “It is going to take a coordinated effort from state and local officials, the federal government, and private-sector partners to respond.”

The US election infrastructure is a dizzying patchwork of grassroots America, with 52 different types of voting machines counting ballots in 187,000 precincts across the country.

Local officials who actually conduct the elections do not hold the necessary security clearances to obtain the latest intelligence briefings on foreign-source hacking trends and innovations.

Many rely heavily on the expertise of a small number of voting machine manufacturers, on election-service vendors, and on their own generally underpaid IT professionals.

In addition, it is not clear that the nation’s political leaders are fully committed to responding forcefully to address widespread election vulnerabilities. Resources and attention in Washington are currently directed more at politically explosive allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians than at efforts to fortify American democracy against foreign threats.

“It is not the all-hands-on-deck kind of response I would have expected after an attack on one of the key institutions of the country,” says Walter Mebane, an election forensics expert at the University of Michigan.

For many years a group of leading computer scientists and statistics scholars have been urging local, state, and national leaders to confront America’s election vulnerabilities. They have even identified an efficient and inexpensive way to address it.

Their solution boils down to one word: paper.

No matter what type of voting machine is used, a person’s vote should be recorded on a paper ballot, election security experts advise.

By preserving and protecting every paper ballot cast in an election, officials are safeguarding evidence that can later be used in an audit to verify genuine votes cast by real people.

It isn’t just the threat of hackers. A computer glitch or programming mistake could swing a close election or render electronic results useless.

The good news is that an estimated 77 percent of American voters cast ballots on voting machines that either use or create a paper record of each vote.

In addition, 31 states have passed laws authorizing post-election audits to help verify election results.

The bad news is that the vast majority of these states either aren’t conducting robust post-election audits or they are auditing the performance of the voting machines rather than verifying that the correct candidate was declared the winner.

Who won?

“The question that was being asked and answered is not the question that we really want to have asked and answered,” says Susannah Goodman, director of the national voter integrity campaign at Common Cause.

“The question is: Did the winner win? Is the right person in office?” she says. “That’s the question, but the question we were asking was, ‘Are these machines working?’ and let’s check that by checking some of the machines.”

Audits that check the machines are not useless. They can verify that the tabulator counted the ballots properly. And they can detect a machine miscount, particularly by using a different type of machine with different software that might better interpret certain kinds of marks on a ballot.

But a machine recount will not tell officials anything about whether a computer hacker reprogrammed a voting machine to steal an election.

“They test hard drives, but what’s on the hard drives?” asks Neal McBurnett, an election security consultant working with election officials in Colorado. “What’s on the hard drives is whatever some Russian attacker put there, or some Iranian, or North Korean, or whoever.”

The key to conducting a robust audit is that it relies on the ability to compare machine-counted vote totals against voter-verifiable evidence – actual paper ballots, Mr. McBurnett says. That is the solid foundation upon which a trustworthy audit must be built, experts say.

There are only a handful of states in the US that are currently performing audits that start with a voter-verified paper record. Many counties in California have conducted pioneering work with such audits. New Mexico hires an independent CPA to oversee an audit of a few key races in that state. And Rhode Island recently enacted a law to develop a voter-verified audit system.

But the single most important development in this area is about to take place in Colorado.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

'All eyes are on Colorado'

The election in Colorado is today, Nov. 7. More important for election security experts who will be watching closely from across the country, the key dates for the audit are Nov. 16, 17, and 18.

“All eyes are on Colorado. It is immensely important,” says Marian Schneider, president of the election integrity group, Verified Voting.

“This is going to be a blueprint for the rest of the country, hopefully,” adds Susan Greenhalgh, also of Verified Voting.

“A cool thing about Colorado is that we are going to gather evidence about every contest,” McBurnett says. That means that races and issues on the ballot in Colorado, large and small, will be subject to what is called a “risk-limiting audit.”

Such an audit is a systematic post-election comparison between actual paper ballots and the computerized vote totals that are produced by Colorado’s machine tabulators.

Colorado conducts its elections exclusively with mail-in ballots. The ballots are collected at the county level and organized into batches for counting.

The basic concept behind a risk-limiting audit is that it is not necessary to perform a full hand-count of all the ballots to reliably verify an election outcome.

The “magic” in this process – based on the science of statistics – is in the calculation of how many randomly selected ballots must be inspected to guarantee an acceptable level of certainty.

The advantage of a risk-limiting audit is that it sharply reduces the number of ballots to be counted and speeds up the process of election verification.

Here’s how it works:

First, election officials must set the parameters of the audit by deciding on an acceptable risk limit. The risk limit reflects the level of risk officials are willing to tolerate that the election process identified the wrong person as the winner during the initial uncertified tabulation of votes.

For example, a 9 percent risk limit would mean that election officials were willing to accept a 9 percent chance that the election result is incorrect. Put differently: If there is a discrepancy in the election process, the resulting audit could be expected to detect it 91 percent of the time.

Once the risk limit is agreed upon, officials must determine the margin of victory in each contest.

McBurnett uses the 2016 Clinton-Trump race in Colorado to illustrate the process. He calculates Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory as 4.77 percent.

Assuming a risk limit of 5 percent, factoring in the margin of victory, and using a unique algorithm, McBurnett concludes that auditors would need to compare 131 randomly selected ballots (out of more than 2.78 million votes) with 131 corresponding vote records from the computer tabulation to reliably confirm the outcome.

Moment of truth

This is literally the moment of truth in any audit. It is the point where the auditors would begin to notice any discrepancy between the paper ballots and the vote totals reported by machine tabulators. If a discrepancy is found, it would lead auditors to compare a larger sample of ballots against the corresponding electronic vote records.

If all goes well, it may also be the moment when skeptical voters watching this procedure begin once again to trust an American election process.

“We’ll have contests like this in real time. Anyone can watch 131 pieces of paper pulled out and verify that it was random and see that they just entered what the paper said and that it matches,” McBurnett says.

He calls the process a “new and complicated miracle.”

In addition to reassuring American voters, such an audit is likely to send a clear warning around the world.

“What Russian is going to say, ‘Wow, there is a 91 percent chance I will be found out. Even if I do everything perfectly, they will still actually notice this,’ ” McBurnett says.

But there’s a catch. Any deterrent benefit may not extend beyond Colorado. “It [also] says go hack Pennsylvania or Georgia where they don’t have voter verifiable paper ballots,” the security consultant adds.

Hackers tasked by a foreign power aren’t the only threat challenging election integrity.

McBurnett says audits like that in Colorado can also help deter election fraud in a small, rural county. He uses the example of someone who stands to benefit from a $100 million bond issue. The person may be tempted to employ a hacker-for-hire to guarantee the bond issue is approved at the polls.

A risk-limiting audit would likely expose the plot, he says, or deter it in the first place.

On the other hand, election security experts emphasize that an audit alone will never be enough to fully protect the election process.

For instance, a risk-limiting audit is powerless to detect old fashioned ballot stuffing. If someone fraudulently obtained and voted a large number of absentee ballots, the finest risk-limiting audit would misread the fraudulent ballots as genuine ballots since there would be no discrepancy between the paper ballots and the computerized cast vote totals.

Since audits aren’t a panacea, experts say, election officials must also upgrade their cybersecurity defenses by restricting administrative privileges, updating firewall protections, maintaining data backups, and performing regular risk analysis and penetration testing to anticipate an attacker’s next move.

There is also a broader threat to American democracy if voters embrace the suggestion that we cannot trust that the 2016 election wasn’t hacked.

“That cannot be the standard,” says David Becker, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“We could never be sure that any election wasn’t hacked,” he says. “What we can be is pretty darn sure that the election results were accurate and counted as cast.”

He adds: “This is probably the most investigated election in history.”

In many cases an audit alone won’t be enough to investigate elections. That’s where Professor Mebane enters the picture.

The election detective

Mebane is a professor of political science and statistics at the University of Michigan and a specialist in an emerging academic discipline called election forensics, which uses statistical analysis to identify potential manipulation of voting processes.

“My expectation is that forensic analysis might be able to tell you stuff like if voters were intimidated or had their votes bought or were paid to stay home,” he says.

These are election discrepancies that would not be detected by an audit. Mebane is hopeful that his brand of post-election sleuthing can help uncover such problems and ultimately help restore confidence in the democratic process.

Last year, Mebane and Matthew Bernhard, a PhD candidate in computer science at the University of Michican, used their expertise to investigate whether a computer hacker might have played a part in President Trump’s narrow victory in Wisconsin and Michigan.

In Michigan, Mr. Trump won by a 10,702-vote margin (.22 percent), and in Wisconsin by 22,748 votes (.76 percent).

An attempt to force a total recount of votes in both states was undertaken at the request of the Jill Stein campaign, but the counting was halted in the courts before it could be completed. Although they only had data from a partial recount in both states, Mebane and Mr. Bernhard set out to see what they could find.

“We were checking to see whether the original count and the re-counted count varied across different types of [voting and tabulation] machine technology being used in the particular jurisdiction,” Mebane explains.

“The idea was if the machines had been hacked then presumably they would have shown asymmetry in the way the two candidates were treated,” he says. “That could have been shown in the re-counted tallies versus the original tallies.”

If someone had hacked into the voting or tabulation machines during the election, there was a chance that the recounts might help expose it. But it would only show up if the recount was conducted by hand. In other words, a machine recount of hacked ballots would show no discrepancy.

“Of course there could have been hacks that were not picked up by that difference because they were not all manual tabulations of the paper [ballots],” Mebane says.

Their conclusion: They found no evidence that a hacker contributed to Trump’s victory in Michigan or Wisconsin.

“It was totally imperfect as a body of evidence,” Mebane concedes. “But it was better than nothing.”

Mebane’s research in the aftermath of the 2016 election illustrates the utility of having a uniform, protected voter-verified record of ballots in every election.

Nonetheless, there are other, more traditional ways to guarantee election security than risk-limiting audits or election forensics.

Counting by hand

In Columbia County, New York, voters fill out paper ballots that are fed into an optical scan voting machine. The ballots are tabulated by the machine, but then after the election county officials organize a small army of workers to manually count every vote cast in every contested election.

Columbia County is southeast of Albany on the east side of the Hudson River. It has about 40,000 registered voters out of a population of 63,000 people.

In the 2016 general election, 27,725 ballots were cast on Election Day. Election workers hand-counted nearly 21,000 of those ballots encompassing 65,000 separate votes for various candidates and issues.

Columbia County has been hand counting its ballots since 2010.

Virginia Martin is a commissioner on the Columbia County Board of Elections. She says she and her Republican counterpart on the board were concerned about allowing election results to be determined inside a computer.

“I can’t see inside a computer. I don’t know how a computer counts votes,” Ms. Martin says. “But I know exactly how our races are counted by doing this.”

Since paper ballots were already part of the voting process, they decided that they would simply hand count the ballots after they had been scanned into the voting machines.

The elections board reaches out to the community and creates bipartisan counting teams of two Democrats and two Republicans. Each team counts one precinct at a time. It took about a week to finish the count for the 2016 general election, well within the deadline to certify the results.

Martin says hand counting offers several advantages over relying exclusively on a machine. In some cases, the machines are unable to detect a vote because the voter placed their mark outside the bubble or wrote outside the designated area for a write-in candidate.

If the election results were based solely on the machine’s reading of the ballots, those votes would not be counted. Martin says when human eyes examine the ballot they can see the clear intent of the voter and count the vote.

“We want to make sure our local candidates get every vote they are entitled to,” she says.

This level of care in the counting is appreciated not only by the election’s winners, but more importantly by the losers.

“Isn’t that the point,” Martin says. “You want the losers to feel the result is accurate. The winners always feel the result is accurate, it is the losers you have to satisfy.”

Columbia County isn’t alone in its fidelity to hand-counted accuracy. According to the Pew Research Center about a million paper ballots in 2016 were hand-counted in 1,800 small counties, cities, and towns across the country.

Most of them were in New England, the Midwest, and the mountain region of the West, according to Pew.

A civic duty

Sheila Parks of the Boston-based Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, calls the process “democracy in our hands.”

“Sitting and counting ballots isn’t so hard,” Ms. Parks says. “It feels like a civic duty to me. Why wouldn’t somebody want to do it?”

But there can be a downside to hand counts. “Virtually every study on this will tell you that hand counting something is always much less accurate than machine counting,” says Mr. Becker. “People get tired and it is really hard to look at bubbles on a sheet.”

On the other hand, there is also a tangible upside.

Last year when allegations emerged that Russia might be trying to hack the US election, unlike many other election officials Martin felt confident.

“There would be no point in anybody trying to hack our voting machines because we count the paper and we keep our paper very secure,” she says.

Some analysts see the issue of election security as an investment, a kind of down payment on the ideal of representative government in America.

“I put this in the hands of the American people,” says McBurnett. “If you care about democracy, it only costs a little bit to do it right.”

Goodman of Common Cause agrees. “If you think about it as just an administrative function it probably costs some money. If you think about it as protecting our nation and preserving our democracy, it is not expensive at all,” she says.

“If you think about what we spend on our national defense, this wouldn’t even make a blip on the radar screen.”

Part 1: Could Henny Nelson, age 131, help Russia rig an election?

Part 2: How efforts to prevent fraud, and voting rights, collide


3. Riyadh roundup: What’s behind Saudi prince’s power play?

Our next story tries to peer into an often veiled Saudi kingdom. What are the true motives in the arrests of top princes: Is this really about tackling corruption to create a fairer, more liberal society? Or is that simply an excuse for a power grab?

In Mecca, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (l.), kissed the hand of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, shortly after replacing him as crown prince in a palace coup in June. The surprise dismissal and arrest on Nov. 4 of dozens of ministers, royals, officials, and senior military officers by the new crown prince is unprecedented in the secretive, 85-year-old kingdom, but so is the rise to the throne of a 30-something royal who, in another first, is succeeding his father.

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When Saudi Arabia announced recently that women would be given the right to drive, some analysts suggested the news, while welcome, was a cover for other changes in the desert kingdom. The argument was that the ambitious young prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was giving women’s rights activists at home and abroad a cause for celebration even while he consolidated power by clamping down on dissent among the media and clergy. Now the dynamic prince has done it again, perhaps in even more dramatic fashion, by arresting 49 princes, ministers, and tycoons on corruption charges. Without question, corruption in the royal family has been a bone of contention among Saudi citizens, and news of the purge has been well received on social media. But analysts note, too, the speed at which Mohammed bin Salman has amassed power since replacing the previous crown prince in June. “I think a major factor is anxiety,” says Bruce Riedel, a Saudi Arabia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “I think he knows that he stirred up a hornet’s nest … with his bold policies and … knows if he doesn’t consolidate power now, it will slip away from him.”


Riyadh roundup: What’s behind Saudi prince’s power play?

It was a scene never before seen in Saudi Arabia: 49 princes, ministers, and tycoons – the untouchables – being arrested on corruption charges.

While some analysts have portrayed the move as a chilling purge of political rivals, others say Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making good on his promise for no less than a new social contract for Saudi Arabia.

In fact, both appear to be correct. Mohammed bin Salman is killing two birds with one stone, observers say: ingratiating himself with a public that is sick of royal family excess, while moving swiftly to eliminate the last vestiges of opposition within the kingdom to his growing power.

The 32-year-old crown prince, who has styled himself as a modern reformer, has in less than a year pushed through radical economic, social, and political changes in the static conservative kingdom, notably loosening strictures on women and tightening the regime’s constraints on hard-line clerics.

Now he is making the argument that reigning in Saudi Arabia’s previously untouchable super-elites is part and parcel with modernizing Saudi’s economy.

With Saudi Arabia looking at life beyond oil, a $52 billion budget deficit, and inevitable cuts in government welfare and jobs, gone is the era where princes and princesses could siphon billions of dollars from the treasury with impunity, his supporters argue.

Sure enough, corruption has long been a much-talked-about issue among citizens behind closed doors in Saudi Arabia. With the dramatic drop in oil prices in 2015, the talk was only amplified.

Where is the money going?

Driving through the neighborhoods of Riyadh, middle-class Saudis would point out the various palaces of princes and princesses and their staff, discuss how much funds they took, how much land and investments they have in Jeddah and London, down to the dollar.

“I think there is probably a general sense in Saudi society of royal inefficiency, and corruption is a part of that,” says Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“People look at their poor infrastructure and say: We have all this money, where is it going?”

The sense of corruption is compounded by the fact there are no clear lines between royal allowances and public funds. With members of the royal family numbering more than 12,000 – many living a lavish lifestyle – some average Saudis privately see many royals as “parasites” living off of Saudi Arabia’s wealth.

The crown prince’s ambitious Vision 2030 calls for increasing the private-sector contribution to the gross domestic product by an additional 25 percent, cutting unemployment to 7 percent, and scaling back government spending.

However, an attempt to cut back special allowances and bonuses for civil servants and military personnel, which account for 45 percent of government spending, was reversed last year after fierce opposition.

If the crown prince is to finally follow through on the pledge to cut back government handouts to revolutionize the economy, supporters say he will first need to show his willingness to crack down on the royal family.

It is more than a crackdown on graft, supporters say. It is the drawing up of a new social contract.

“It was always that the prince comes before the citizen, the minister before the ordinary employee,” writes analyst Jasser Al Jasser in today’s edition of the pro-palace Al Jazirah newspaper.

“Therefore, the response of King Salman to the scourge of corruption means that a real war has been declared on the corrupt, whatever their position in society.”

Reaction to the crackdown has been pronounced on social media. Many Saudis have been rejoicing on Twitter with hashtags such as #Saudifightscorruption and #Saudibecomingfirstworldcountry.

Despite tapping into populist sentiment and his promises to redistribute wealth, Mohammed bin Salman has taken no vow of poverty, and with his anti-corruption campaign he opens himself to criticism and potential accusations of hypocrisy.

He has a personal wealth of untold millions and owns several palaces and a private army. His splash purchase while on holiday in France shortly after being named deputy crown prince in 2015 – a $550 million yacht owned by a Russian vodka tycoon – is talked about in Riyadh and other Arab capitals.

Power play

Yet with the selection of the targets of the corruption crackdown, the crown prince sent a clear message to his royal rivals, Saudi citizens, and the rest of the world.

By arresting Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, one of the wealthiest businessmen on the planet, billionaire businessmen Mohammed Al Amoudi, and media mogul Walled Al Ibrahim, Mohammed bin Salman signaled that no-one would be above the new set of rules he is laying out.

The other targets of his roundup were clearly political.

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, son of the previous Saudi king and contender for the throne, was detained and then replaced from the National Guard, the only check on Mohammed bin Salman’s control of the army and security services. With Prince Mutaib out of the ministry, and the arrest of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the descendants of the late King Abdullah have been all but purged from official posts.

Observers note the speed with which Mohammed bin Salman is moving.

Having orchestrated an in-palace coup in June by replacing then-crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and pushing through rapid social change such as allowing the women the right to drive and pledging to return Saudi Arabia to “moderate” Islam, the ambitious young prince is set to stamp out dissent within the royal family before it has a chance to respond.

“I think a major factor is anxiety,” says Bruce Riedel, senior fellow and Saudi expert at the Brookings Institution.

“I think he knows that he stirred up a hornet’s nest, and that with his bold policies and the removal of Mohammed bin Nayef a few months ago has caused a lot of rioting in the royal family,” says Mr. Riedel.

The crown prince “knows if he doesn’t consolidate power now, it will slip away from him.”

“This is the final sweeping of the deck; he has already removed real challengers,” says Carnegie’s Mr. Wehrey. 

“The question is: Is this ambition sustainable?”

Atmosphere of disbelief

No matter the motivations, among some in Saudi Arabia, where the royal family kept disagreements away from the public eye and behind closed doors, the sight of princes being arrested and their properties taken away has created an atmosphere of disbelief bordering on paranoia.

Unsubstantiated reports have circulated on social media that Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, favored son of the late King Fahd and a young rival to Mohammed bin Salman, was shot and killed while resisting arrest Sunday.

With no official reports on the prince’s whereabouts or health as of Tuesday, Twitter has been awash with conspiracy theories on why the prince was “eliminated.” Palace intrigue has now become a spectator blood sport.

“Everyone in the family now has to fear that they might be next,” Riedel says.


4. Sanctuary fight: how to enforce immigration at ‘sensitive locations’

Are there places and age groups – such as hospitals and children – where the rule of law should be exercised with more care? A recent immigration case suggests the boundaries of this issue are being tested.


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For the US Border Patrol agents standing outside her hospital door, moving a young unauthorized immigrant with cerebral palsy into deportation proceedings after she received emergency surgery was a matter of following policy. For the girl, 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, an already traumatic few days had taken another confusing turn. For immigration attorneys, medical professionals, and advocacy groups, the aggressive pursuit of unauthorized immigrants ordered by President Trump has crossed into territory once thought unacceptable. (The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit last week, and the government released her Friday.) Hospitals, schools, and places of worship are among the “sensitive locations” identified by federal immigration agencies as places where arrests should be avoided. After incidents like Rosa Maria’s arrest, however, officials are now wondering just how sensitive they really are, and whether they need more formal legal defenses against immigration agents. “The underlying theme of all these things is there are certain things we value more than immigration enforcement: education, health, and religion, faith,” says Lance Curtright, an immigration attorney in San Antonio. “So when someone sees what happened in [Corpus Christi, Texas] they feel rattled.” Jerry Robinette, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in San Antonio, says he is glad he wasn’t in the agents’ situation, but stresses that their hands were tied by the law. “It’s a no-win situation, unfortunately.”


Sanctuary fight: how to enforce immigration at ‘sensitive locations’

Updated: This story was updated at 7:20 p.m. after Rosa Maria Hernandez was released to her family.

For the US Border Patrol agents standing outside her hospital door, moving a young undocumented immigrant with cerebral palsy into deportation proceedings days after she received emergency surgery was a matter of following policy. 

For the girl, 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, an already traumatic few days – which had seen her rushed from her home in Laredo, Texas, to a hospital in Corpus Christi a few hours away – had taken another confusing turn.

For immigration attorneys, medical professionals, and advocacy groups, the aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrants ordered by President Trump has crossed into territory once thought unacceptable. (The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit this week, and the government released her today.)

Hospitals, schools, and places of worship are among the “sensitive locations” identified by federal immigration agencies as places where arrests should be avoided. After incidents like Rosa Maria’s arrest, however, officials are now wondering just how sensitive they really are, and whether they need more formal legal defenses against immigration agents.

“The underlying theme of all these things is there are certain things we value more than immigration enforcement: education, health, and religion, faith,” says Lance Curtright, an immigration attorney in San Antonio. “So when someone sees what happened in Corpus they feel rattled.”

'Frustrating,' but legal

Immigration arrests are up by more than 40 percent since Mr. Trump took office compared with the same period last year, and agencies like US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been making arrests that test the boundaries of policies like the one concerning sensitive locations.

In 2011, ICE disseminated a memo designed to ensure that “enforcement actions do not occur at nor are focused on sensitive locations” sucha as schools, hospitals, and churches, or events like weddings, funerals, and demonstrations. Two years later, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) implemented a similar memo.

It only took a few years for ambiguities in the memo to be exposed, immigrant advocates say. Hundreds of undocumented individuals were arrested in early 2016, including several students arrested not at their schools, but en route or at bus stops. Since Mr. Trump took office, these kinds of arrests have been increasingly common, advocates say.

In early February, ICE agents arrested a group of undocumented men across the street from a church hypothermia shelter they had been staying at in northern Virginia. Later that month, ICE agents took an undocumented woman from a detention center to a hospital in Texas after she collapsed. After doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor and put her on a surgery waitlist, they returned her to the detention center. A few days later, in Los Angeles, a young girl recorded ICE agents arresting her unauthorized father as he was dropping her off at school.

Rosa Maria’s case was the latest example – made all the more gut-wrenching, for everyone involved, by the many vulnerabilities of the immigrant at its center.

With her unauthorized parents unable to pass through an interior border checkpoint, she left Laredo in an ambulance with an adult cousin who is a US citizen. When Border Patrol agents stopped them at the checkpoint near Freer, Texas, they were required to take her into custody per a 2008 human trafficking law, a CBP spokesperson said in a statement. With no legal guardian present, Border Patrol agents remained with her until the hospital discharged her, the spokesperson added. The agents then, as policy for unaccompanied and undocumented minors dictates, transferred her to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Rosa Maria spent three days in a shelter for unaccompanied minors in San Antonio before being released to her parents Friday, though she could still be entered into deportation proceedings.

“We’re thrilled that she can go home to heal surrounded by her family’s love and support,” said Michael Tan, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. But the fact she was targeted at all "remains unconscionable," he added. “No child should go through this trauma and we are working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Since her case made national news last week, immigration officials maintained that they'd had no choice but to detain her.

“The agent is wrong if he lets her go. We don’t have the discretion,” Dan Hetlage, a CBP spokesman, told National Public Radio.

“It’s frustrating for us,” he added. “I’m a human being. The agents are trying to do their job as humanely as possible.”

Jerry Robinette, a former ICE agent in San Antonio, says he is glad he wasn’t in the agents’ situation, but stresses that their hands were tied by the law.

“Who do you turn that minor over to? Someone’s got to be responsible for that minor. It’s a no-win situation unfortunately,” he adds.

The sensitive locations memo also wasn’t applicable in this location, since the enforcement action began at a checkpoint.

A chilling effect

That is a lot of nuance that many of the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the US may not be able to appreciate, however. Thus, advocates say sensitive locations like hospitals and schools may need “sanctuary” policies, if only to reassure people that they will be protected from immigration enforcement.

“I don’t think the community that is impacted necessarily sees those semantics,” says Amy Fischer, policy director for Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). “The reality is is that a lot of these locations that are sort of accustomed to being sensitive locations are really needing to reassess what is actually happening and what they can possibly do to protect people.”

If they don’t, she adds, unauthorized immigrants and their families may be too afraid to seek medical care for fear of exposing themselves to immigration agents.

Schools represent a precedent for that outcome. The day after immigration agents arrested an undocumented teen on his way to school in North Carolina last year, one-third of students in his English as a Second Language class were absent. One day after ICE raided a trailer park in Las Cruces, N.M., there was a 60 percent spike in absences in the city’s public schools, including a 150 percent spike in elementary schools.

Medical professionals and attorneys are concerned about a similar chilling effect on community health from arrests around hospitals. If an immigrant avoids seeking medical care, not only could they be putting their own health at risk, but also the health of others, advocates say.

“The community as a whole is healthier when everyone can access health care,” says Mayra Joachin, a staff attorney with the National Immigrant Law Center.

'Uncharted territory' for hospitals

Dozens of school districts around the country have created or revised “sanctuary school” policies since Trump entered office, in districts ranging from Miami and Milwaukee to Des Moines and Portland, Ore. Some districts have trained staff on what to do when immigration agents come to a school.

Hospitals have been slower to adopt sanctuary policies, however.

California is the frontrunner in this respect, with hospitals declared “safe zones” in its new “sanctuary state” law – which limits state and local law enforcement with federal immigration agencies. Other states are now considering similar steps as well.

Joshua Abrams, an attorney for Partners HealthCare, the largest provider in Massachusetts, told WBUR that while it has no specific sanctuary policy, they “have advised clinicians not to proactively ask about immigration status, not to document it unless it’s for some reason necessary for the care being provided.”

Medical facilities already have some robust legal protections, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which requires them to keep certain patient information confidential. Individual facilities also regularly interface with law enforcement agencies and have policies for those situations.

But there are still ambiguities when it comes to immigration enforcement, says Altaf Saadi, a fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It’s important for hospitals to be proactive in implementing [sanctuary] policies to protect their patients,” she adds. “If you’re waiting until a situation happens, it’s too late at that point.”

Hospitals are chaotic places and rely on policy and procedure to run smoothly, but Dr. Saadi believes those policies and procedures should be adapted and codified for immigration enforcement situations. Hospitals are a mix of public and private spaces, for example, and hospital staff may not be sure where immigration agents may be allowed to go or what kind of signed legal permission they would need to go there.

“This is uncharted territory for a lot of hospitals,” says Saadi, who co-authored an opinion article in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month arguing for “sanctuary hospital” policies.

“Currently at a lot of places, if [immigration enforcement actions] were to happen, a lot of people wouldn’t know what to do,” she adds.

A very fine line

Some advocates are also calling for the sensitive locations memo to have certain caveats removed – like one allowing agents to enter a sensitive location with a supervisor’s permission – or to be enshrined in law.

“We have a sensitive locations memo, but it’s really [dependent on] who’s running which ICE office, and what they’re preaching to their ICE officers,” says Dominique Poirier, director of legal services for Just Neighbors, a Virginia-based immigrant advocacy group.

In Virginia, she adds, immigration agencies “have been more observant of their memo than other parts of the country, but it’s an office-by-office assessment.”

Indeed, many attorneys and advocacy groups interviewed by the Monitor said they hadn’t heard of any explicit violations of sensitive locations policies. But immigration attorneys and advocates say they’ve seen more reports of possible violations during the Trump presidency, something they attribute to the administration’s tough immigration policies and rhetoric.

Max Hadler, senior manager of health policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, says that while they’ve received more reports of possible violations, after investigating them they found them not to be true. “It’s entirely attributable to the culture of fear that the Trump administration has cultivated.”

Stories like Rosa Maria’s arrest, he continues, “point to the fact that ICE and [CBP] are walking a very fine line toward violating their own existing policy.”

One-time incident or new normal?

Mr. Curtright, the San Antonio immigration attorney, warns medical facilities to not overreact to Rosa Maria’s arrest.

“I’m hopeful this is just a one-time incident, but this is in the news and it happened, so I think hospitals need to take it into consideration,” he says. “I don’t think they should make policy changes, I just think they should be vigilant.”

Because while there may be few examples of immigration agents violating specific policies, what is considered a compassionate application of immigration law appears to be changing.

In Rosa Maria’s case, the border patrol agents “did show compassion by recognizing what the situation was and allowing her to proceed with her treatment, instead of immediately putting her into deportation proceedings,” says Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports strict immigration policies.

“It’s not like a Border Patrol agent wakes up and says, ‘Today I’m going to arrest 10-year-old girls,’ ” she adds. “This is a case that fell into their lap during routine enforcement.”

Yet there were numerous opportunities for the CBP agents to exercise discretion in Rosa Maria’s case, wrote Edward Alden this week for the Council on Foreign Relations, including the decision to stop her ambulance and the decision to place her in removal proceedings.

The fact those decisions were made, he added, indicates that the US Department of Homeland Security (which includes ICE and CBP) “now appears intent to all but eliminate even the narrow use of prosecutorial discretion.”

“This is an extreme interpretation that is unjustified by both the history of US treatment of undocumented migrants, and by American public opinion,” he continued, citing an October Fox News poll that found 83 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as children.

On Friday evening, Rosa Maria was able to return home to her parents, the ACLU announced. But Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) of Texas warned that her ordeal may not be over.

“The Trump Administration has not made clear whether they will proceed with deportation proceedings against her," he said in a statement. "I urge the Department of Homeland Security to abide by its claims that dangerous criminals are the agency’s priority and reinforce its sensitive locations policies to employees. A case like Rosa Maria’s should never happen again.”

And while Rosa Maria's release resolves the lawsuit, one major question still remains unanswered.

“Is this the new normal?” Mr. Tan asked in an earlier phone interview. “That’s the question raised by these kinds of events.”


5. At revolution’s 100th, Russian family shows divergence of views

Our reporters spoke to three generations of Russians – in one family – as they explained how their country’s turbulent history has taught some to value stability over democracy or freedom.

Denis Sinyakov/Reuters/File
A Russian communist held placards with portraits of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin during a celebration of International Workers’ Day in Moscow in 2012.

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As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, perspectives from within Russia on its consequences and costs are complicated. Splits can be seen in opinion polls, in history exhibits – even at family dinner tables. Two mighty Russian states have collapsed in the past century, bringing the destruction of ideology and institutions and the supplanting of social and economic systems. Not surprisingly, Russia today finds itself in a state of “blurriness” about the past, with many, like the Medvedko family – members of three generations spoke to the Monitor – in agreement only about wanting to see no further upheavals. That longing for stability goes a long way toward explaining the support for the new version of Russia’s traditional autocratic state created by President Vladimir Putin. And it undergirds public acceptance of the Kremlin’s contentious relations with the West. Olga Medvedko is a university professor with a very different view than her father, an octogenarian who was a member of the Soviet intelligentsia. “Putin is criticized in the West because of his leadership, because he is different than what you have,” Ms. Medvedko says. “But your history is your history, and our history is our history. I don’t want any more revolutions. I want only evolution.”


1. At revolution’s 100th, Russian family shows divergence of views

Leonid Medvedko, a Russian historian, was born in 1928 on the winning side of history. His father, after returning from the front lines of World War I, fought victoriously with the Red Army in the Bolshevik Revolution and rose steadily up party ranks. His eldest brother, born the year Lenin died, was named Vilor after the communist revolutionary. It was one of many odd-sounding names of the era: Vilor is the acronym for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, organizer of the revolution.

Leonid, like his father, led a privileged life in the Soviet Union. A journalist and author of several books on the Middle East – and an intelligence adviser to the Soviet military – he traveled widely, developing a sophisticated view of the world and Moscow’s place in it. “Everywhere I traveled in the world, I was treated with respect. I felt myself a person who was representing something outstanding,” says Leonid from his home library in Moscow, which is brimming with his own works and those of friends, poets, and authors, a testament to his life as a member of the Soviet intelligentsia. At age 88, he has the look – and the wild wisps of hair – of a man with much more to say.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Leonid Medvedko, a former Soviet adviser, and his daughter, Olga, a university professor, hold differing views on the Bolshevik Revolution but both support President Vladimir Putin.

Yet as Russia tiptoes toward the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on Nov. 7, his perspective on the consequences and costs to Russia of that earthshaking event is deeply complicated. And the view gets even more tangled and conflicted with each generation of his family.

Such splits are everywhere – in opinion polls, at family dinner tables, in the commentary of guides at history exhibits in the capital. Hence, as the world prepares to mark that seminal moment of the 20th century – the Great October Socialist Revolution, as it was known in Soviet times – the conspicuous silence of the Kremlin about the centenary and reluctance to stage any sort of formal celebration may be understandable.

Two mighty Russian states have collapsed in the past century, leaving vast dislocation in their wakes. These were not mere “regime changes,” but the complete destruction of a nation’s ideology and institutions, and the supplanting – in the first case amid extreme violence – of its former ruling classes and economic system. The second convulsion, the USSR’s traumatic demise in 1991, was followed by a brief and chaotic experiment with democracy that is recalled mainly for the social and economic devastation that accompanied it. Not surprisingly, Russia today finds itself in a state of “blurriness” about the past, with many, like the Medvedkos, in solid agreement only about wanting to see no further upheavals. 

This longing for stability goes a long way toward explaining the support for the new version of Russia’s traditional autocratic state created by President Vladimir Putin. It also undergirds public acceptance of the Kremlin’s current contentious relations with the West.

Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti/Government Press Service/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a service in the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow after his inauguration for a third term in 2012. Mr. Putin, who has been in power 17 years, is expected to run for a fourth term next March with no real opposition.

Ultimately, the lack of any official effort to mark the Bolshevik Revolution’s 100th anniversary speaks not only to the unrelieved controversies of the past, but provides clues about the values and ideals of Russia today – and perhaps tomorrow. 

“When Putin became president, he presided over a country in a state of turmoil and misery ... and over a society torn by all kinds of differences,” says Maria Lipman, the Moscow-based editor in chief of the journal Counterpoint. “His task to begin with was in calming down passions.... And this is [why] the centennial of the revolution is hard to interpret in terms that would be acceptable to everyone. It in a sense remains divisive to everyone.”

On a recent rainy day in St. Petersburg, tourists mill about the Winter Palace of the State Hermitage Museum, the official residence of czarist rulers from the House of Romanov for nearly three centuries. 

In the palace’s Malachite Room, named after the precious stone from the Urals, a simple plaque notes the events that transpired here on Oct. 25, 1917. (The anniversary now falls in November because the Bolsheviks switched to the Gregorian calendar.) The Aurora, a naval cruiser moored on the Neva River nearby, fired a shot that signaled the start of the revolution. Hordes of Bolshevik-led workers and soldiers swarmed into the palace, down the Corridor of Portraits. They seized the building and arrested members of the provisional government, who had taken up residence here after a revolt a few months earlier had forced the abdication of Czar Nicholas II.

The Bolshevik uprising triggered three years of civil war between the Red Army and the pro-monarchy Whites. Nine million people died in the upheaval, mostly of starvation and disease. The Reds’ victory led to the formation of the Soviet Union, whose aim was to modernize, educate, and industrialize what had been the most backward and agrarian country in Europe, under the rubric of revolutionary socialist principles.

Tumult engulfed Russia in 1917, as this scene shows, when, first, Czar Nicholas II was forced to relinquish power and, later, the Bolsheviks took control of the country, establishing a communist state.

The following decades were tumultuous, punctuated by bloody political purges and mass famine caused by the collectivization of agriculture. Yet the country did undergo a fundamental transformation.

“The revolution in the short term made people literate,” says Lev Lurye, a historian and teacher in St. Petersburg. “It created socialized medicine for everyone.... They forced all Russians to read Tolstoy and Chekhov. Putin himself was a kid from a working-class family. Before the revolution, he wouldn’t have had any chance of becoming president of the Russian Federation.”

In 1917, fully 85 percent of the people of Russia were rural peasants. By 1991, some 80 percent of Soviet citizens lived in cities, were universally literate, and enjoyed Western levels of higher education and professionalization. The Soviet Union had borne the brunt of defeating Nazi Germany in World War II, had put the first man in space, and was globally acknowledged as a military and scientific superpower.

Many residents remain proud of those achievements, which form the foundations of modern Russia. But others harbor profound doubts over the horrific price the country paid in its forced march to modernization, and the lasting political, economic, and other restrictions imposed on the country in the name of communism.

Surprisingly, Lenin’s reputation has been burnished by time. Thousands still line up each year to pay homage to the founder of the USSR, whose embalmed remains, bathed in red light, lie in a granite mausoleum next to the Kremlin wall. Some 56 percent of Russians today regard his role in history as “positive,” according to a survey by the Levada Center, a research firm, compared with 40 percent a decade ago. Joseph Stalin has seen a bump in popularity, too.

Yet neither is considered the “founding father” today. The anniversary of the revolution, once a cause for national celebration, has been replaced by a holiday commemorating a popular uprising against Polish occupation forces in 1612. At the same time, the 300-year Romanov Dynasty that ruled Russia until 1917, once shunned in the national consciousness, has enjoyed a revival. Under Mr. Putin, historians have tried to weave the country’s history into a seamless narrative stressing “1,000 years of continuity.”

Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia, abdicated his throne in March 1917. Seven months later, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power.

The hope is to transcend ongoing divisions over monarchy, faith, and communism. That effort has been aided by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been returning to its traditional role as handmaiden to the Russian state since being freed from subservience to Communist Party rule. 

“I think we do have a feeling of continuity in understanding different periods of our history,” says Vsevolod Chaplin, a Russian Orthodox priest and former spokesman for the church. 

The Kremlin, in turn, has greatly helped the church. It has handed back thousands of former church properties that had been nationalized in Soviet times. For Putin, the church – the single enduring institution of Russian history – fills an ideological void left by the collapse of communism and legitimacy by association. It evokes a kind of “utopia of the past,” says Lev Gudkov, director of Levada. 

Olga Medvedko, the only daughter of Leonid and his wife, Elena Kalinnikova, was born the year after Stalin died, in 1954. Because her parents were both scholars, she led an advantaged life. She and her brother traveled outside the Soviet Union to the Middle East with them. It was a time of great expectation: Receding were the decades of Stalinist terror and just beginning was Nikita Khrushchev’s “thaw” in the 1950s and early ’60s, when repression and censorship were relaxed.

It was also a time when family secrets were revealed. Olga learned as a student that her grandmother’s brother, the artist Nikolai Zagrekov, was living in exile in Berlin, while her other brother Boris, a circus acrobat, had been accused by Soviet intelligence of being a spy because of his ties to Nikolai. Boris was imprisoned in a gulag and spent 20 years in forced labor.

Today Olga, a university professor of English, reflects on the stark differences between her childhood and that of her father. “My father was brought up with this bright idea of communism. They absolutely believed in that,” she says. “The revolution – I see it as the greatest tragedy of my country, because the whole country – its history, its development, its culture, everything – could have been absolutely different, and much, much more successful.”

This is a common critique, made by Russian thinkers and Western historians alike. Whatever the successes of the Soviet Union, its clash with the West – its self-imposed isolation from much of the world politically, economically, and culturally – weakened the country and eventually contributed to its demise. Some suggest that Russia’s current cold-war-like standoff with the West is a direct consequence of persistent Soviet thinking and the failure to integrate with Europe. 

Yet supporters of the revolution say that ignores real 20th-century traumas, such as the rise of Hitler in Germany. They argue that it was only the rapid, forced industrialization under Stalin that enabled the USSR to repel the Nazi invasion, and insist that the West has always been, and continues to be, hostile to Russia.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
An underground mall outside Moscow’s Red Square is crowded with people in January 2008.

“I would wake up and think, ‘what should I feed my children today?’ Shops were empty,” she recalls.

Political tumult endured, too. In late 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was the target of a brief coup attempt by Communist hard-liners rebelling against his political reforms. The revolt failed in three short days, with the help of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who organized popular resistance to the rebellion. Mr. Yeltsin would stay on as president of what became the Russian Federation, overseeing a difficult and ultimately disastrous transition from a planned economy to greater privatization.

Using presidential decrees, he awarded the crown jewels of the Soviet economy – such as oil companies – to oligarchs who seemed more interested in plundering than developing the assets. Russia’s gross domestic product shrank by 50 percent in the 1990s, life expectancy plummeted, and millions of ordinary people were reduced to living off their dacha gardens. In 1998, Russia’s financial system crashed. “I’m not afraid of anything today because I survived those years,” says Olga.

The stage was set for the arrival of a strong ruler. Someone like an ex-KGB agent with a black belt in judo. 

On a Sunday morning at her Mosow apartment, Olga makes Russian pie, a crispy pastry filled with vegetables. Her grown daughter, Natasha, is coming to help with the archives of her great-uncle Nikolai, the artist, about whom Olga has written a book. Her son is a successful businessman, part of the new Russia that has changed dramatically in two generations. Olga now feels stable, and if her views on the revolution diverge from those of her father, they dovetail on one other point – that Putin is the right leader for Russia today.

“Putin is criticized in the West because of his leadership, because he is different than what you have. But your history is your history and our history is our history,” she says. “I don’t want any more revolutions. I want only evolution....”

Russia’s political system has evolved over the past two decades. While it differs today in many ways from the Soviet one, it remains far from a thriving democracy. The Kremlin allows more than a dozen political parties to participate in elections, although only four “systemic” ones typically make it through the web of bureaucratic restrictions to take seats in the lower house of parliament (State Duma). The range of political debate in parliament and the media is far greater than was ever permitted in the Soviet Union. 

Andrey Volkov/Reuters
Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a Putin critic who is under house arrest, attend a rally near the State Historical Museum in Moscow.

Yet in some ways the results resemble the days of ham-fisted commissars. The vast expanse of Russia is ruled from Moscow by a largely unaccountable bureaucracy, and one undisputed leader – Putin – sits atop the state, wielding near-absolute power.

One important difference from Soviet times appears to be the uneasy tolerance of independent Kremlin opponents, such as Alexei Navalny, the Russian lawyer and political activist. Though he is under house arrest, Mr. Navalny still is able to mount an effective, internet-based anti-corruption campaign and, through use of social media, periodically inspire protests. 

On the eve of one such demonstration in St. Petersburg, Daniil Kotsyubinsky, a local historian and writer, sits in a trendy restaurant in the former imperial capital, feeling cynical about how much Russia has really changed. A harsh critic of Putin, he believes the president’s biggest opposition figure is actually a farce, stage-
managed by the Kremlin itself, to give society a place to channel tensions without actually threatening authoritarian rule.

In fact, after 17 years in power, Putin has returned Russia to essentially a one-party state, in which political loyalty is prized the way it was in the nomenklatura system of the Soviet Union, says Nikolay Petrov, a political science professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. Political monopoly is prioritized over economic gain, he says, and so far society accepts this trade-off.

A poll last year by Levada showed that 27 percent of respondents said they do not care what kind of government Russia has as long as they themselves are doing well. Two-thirds of Russians agreed that Russia needs democracy. But 55 percent said they believed the country requires a special form of democratic government, taking into account Russian “peculiarities.” Only 13 percent thought that Western countries were an example to be followed.

This marks a remarkable turn from the immediate post-Soviet era, when many Russians looked to the West as an ideal to be copied. More than anything, it reflects a fundamental gap between the political consciousness of Russians and Americans.

Mr. Kotsyubinsky notes that in the US, a president gains legitimacy through elections. In Russia, it’s the president’s top-down control that validates the election result. He says many view Putin’s ability to hold onto power for 17 years through essentially faux elections as a power to respect. “Americans think other people are just like themselves,” he says. “We are not Latin Americans, or Eastern Europeans. We are Russians.”

Alexander Ermochenko/AP
A Russian-backed separatist rebel guards a checkpoint near the village of Luhanska, Ukraine. Moscow’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, are broadly supported by Russians.

Putin’s foreign-policy ventures garner widespread support, too. Since he annexed the mainly Russian-populated Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014, the implicit rift between Russia and the West has become explicit. The US and European Union have slapped sanctions on Russia, diplomatic ties have deteriorated, and it has become common to speak of a new cold war.

Many in the West regard Russia’s actions as signs of a newly aggressive Moscow seeking to restore the Soviet Empire and drive wedges in Western unity. But Russians view the moves in Ukraine not as neo-
imperialism, but as the rightful return of a traditionally Russian territory to the motherland. Putin’s popularity hasn’t fallen below 80 percent since the annexation of Crimea.

Olga, for instance, refuses to even use the word “annexation.” Like her, many Russians see NATO expansion into the former Soviet sphere over the past two decades, right up to the borders of Russia, as evidence of Western aggression.

Similarly, Moscow’s involvement in Syria commands the support of many Russians as well. They agree with the Kremlin that it is necessary to fight Islamist terrorism beyond Russia’s borders, and accept claims that it helps counter US-backed “regime change” operations in the Middle East.

These foreign-policy ventures, as well as Western complaints about Moscow’s cybersecurity intrusions, benefit Putin in one other way: They deflect attention from the hardship that has come with international sanctions and the implosion of world oil prices.

“Here, American and Western media play a positive role for Putin, calling him the biggest threat in any election, that Putin can decide the fate of American, of German, of French elections,” says Mr. Petrov. “Not only [are they] telling us Russia is great again but, look, everyone takes Russia seriously.”

Still, for all of Putin’s support and the resurgence of Russian pride, many educated middle-class Russians remain frustrated – particularly over the lack of genuinely competitive political choices in the country. 

In 2011, Natasha, Olga’s daughter, was one of thousands who poured into the streets for mass demonstrations against official corruption and electoral fraud. Her parents worried she would lose her job. “People were so angry,” says Natasha, a 32-year-old freelance journalist.

Today, six years later, Natasha doesn’t attend rallies anymore. “The problem is not Putin. It’s the regime itself,” she says. “In Europe and in the US, people think that the problem is Putin and he is just pure evil. Right now it’s not about just one person – it’s about the regime and the authorities who stand behind it who don’t want to have a dialogue with ordinary people.”

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
‘The problem is that we talk a lot, and people can't unite.... We love to complain – and then to do nothing.' – Natasha Medvedko, Olga’s daughter

Natasha sits in her mother’s living room, where Nikolai’s paintings hang on the walls. She doesn’t mind that the authorities aren’t celebrating the anniversary of the revolution. “I wouldn’t be happy to see posters of Lenin and Stalin hanging in the streets,” she says, adding that returning to the Soviet era would be a “nightmare.”

But she is still dissatisfied with her political choices in 2017. The opposition has failed to convince her that they’ll shepherd the country any better than Putin has, or that society is ready for the change.

“The problem is that we talk a lot, and people can’t unite,” she says.

“I think that we are very immature in a way, still,” she adds. “We love to complain – and then to do nothing.”

Back in his home library, her grandfather harbors his own sense of ambivalence, though for different reasons. Looking back on the centenary, he sees 100 years of conflict for Russia that ultimately gave more to the West than to Russia itself. Governments around the world handed rights to workers and took other liberalizing steps to avoid a repeat of Russia’s revolution at home.

“We involved ourselves in this eternal war,” he says. “So that’s why society in general, we have an antimilitary attitude.”

Indeed, if the West views Putin as an aggressor who could spark an unwanted war, he’s viewed at home as the man who can keep conflict in check. Still, Leonid sees old hostilities resurfacing. “Now it is starting,” he says. “A second round of the cold war.” ρ


The Monitor's View

The budding Saudi revolution

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A powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has upended old pillars of governance in Saudi Arabia with major arrests and the sidelining of religious clerics. In effect, he may be challenging the idea that Saudi Arabia must always be ruled by one family, by entrenched tribes, and by religious clerics under a consensual style of elite governance. He says he wants to end the “extremist thoughts” of political Islam in favor of what he calls a “moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.” Will he anchor new pillars in democratic ideas – equality before the law, respect for minority rights, transparency in government, and pluralistic politics? So far, Saudi Arabia has little of that. Prince Salman often states that his changes are based on the need to accommodate the country’s large population of young people, many of whom are unemployed, many of whom have tasted social freedoms. His would-be revolution may so far be top down. But it is racing to fulfill the idealism and the wishes for freedom of those at the bottom of Saudi society.


The budding Saudi revolution

A revolution not only changes who governs a country but the type of government. This is rare in history but may be happening right now in Saudi Arabia. For the past six months, the Middle East oil giant and guardian of Islam’s holiest sites has been in the early stages of what may be a top-down revolution, led by a powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

The key question for the young crown prince is whether he can also swap out the old ideas that have propped up the regime in favor of ones that will endure in modern times.

His latest revolutionary act came on Nov. 4 with the surprise arrest of 11 princes in the ruling royal family and three dozen other senior officials and wealthy businessmen. They were charged with corruption, all in the name of bringing transparency and rule of law to a country seeking to woo foreign investors and reduce its dependency on oil.

The arrests come after another key part of this budding revolution. Islamic clerics in the religious establishment have lately lost much of their ability to police the public mores of young Saudis. This has opened new social freedoms. Most notable is that women will soon be able to drive, mingle with men at public sports events, and not have a male guardian with them in accessing public services. 

In addition, the crown prince – with a nod from King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud – has consolidated his power over the security forces, including troops tied to the kingdom’s reigning tribes.

In effect, he may be challenging the idea that Saudi Arabia must always be ruled by one family, by entrenched tribes, and by religious clerics under a consensual style of elite governance. He clearly wants to end the “extremist thoughts” of political Islam in favor of what he calls a “moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.”

Many revolutions have ended hereditary and personal rule, or tribal dominance. But to succeed, any new pillars of governance must be based on solid ideas. These include equality before the law, respect for minority rights, transparency in government, and pluralistic politics.

So far, Saudi Arabia has little of that. In fact, many human rights activists and liberal journalists were recently arrested. It is not yet clear what model of governance the crown prince really seeks as he steadily dismantles many of the old pillars.

Prince Salman often states that his changes are based on the need to accommodate the country’s large population of young people, many of whom are unemployed. More than 70 percent of the population is under age 30. His would-be revolution may so far be top down. But it is racing to fulfill the idealism and the wishes for freedom of those at the bottom of Saudi society.


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

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

A higher perspective

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Life can sometimes seem to be helter-skelter, a jumble of activities and responsibilities. Contributor Deborah Huebsch has found that prayer – turning her thought to God, who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13) – provides a change in perspective that brings more peace and harmony to her life. It’s not about ignoring the bad things we see. But looking to God’s reality can help us realize that chaos and ugliness aren’t as overpowering as they may seem. This shift in thought brings a practical promise of order and goodness right here, right now.


A higher perspective

Having just taken off from a major airport in southern California, I was struck by what happens when you fly. On the ground, things can look like a disorganized jumble of planes, service trucks, and runways. But after takeoff, as the plane gains altitude, the scene begins to look different. What appears chaotic at ground level starts to make sense from the air. That day I could see how the runways were orderly. Planes were grouped around the terminal in what seemed to me beautiful designs that resembled daisy petals joined to a common center.

Observing the effects of a change in vantage point provides a useful analogy. Life can sometimes seem to be helter-skelter, a jumble of activities and responsibilities. Much as the view from a plane rising from the airport helps us make sense out of the crowded scene on the ground, I’ve found that prayer – lifting my thought to the Divine – provides a change in perspective that brings more peace and harmony into my life.

I like to think of prayer as allowing our thought to rise in order to glimpse how God sees. And how might that look? The Bible tells us that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). It follows that what God sees is entirely spiritual, a reality in which good is infinite and we are all created and sustained by that infinite goodness – spiritually, not materially.

This isn’t about just ignoring bad things we see – the chaos, ugliness, or disorder. Rather, looking to God’s reality can help us realize that these things aren’t as overpowering as they may seem. To strive to understand that all God created is good is to mentally rise higher and to more and more clearly see the harmony of God’s creation as the powerful reality. From this spiritual vantage point a sense of evil’s reality and power fades, even as the sense of disorder on the airport grounds disappears with the clarity of a higher perspective.

At one point I was asked to do a job I felt totally unqualified to perform. Because my initial view was of fear of failure and major self-doubt of my abilities, I asked God to show me how this looked from a higher perspective, a spiritual view.

As I prayed, I began to recognize that God was in charge of creation, and He gives every one of us all we need, including qualities such as intelligence and creativity. The fears and doubts vanished, and I was able to go ahead with my assignment and complete it successfully.

Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian healer who lived a life of prayer, writes, “The human mind will sometime rise above all material and physical sense, exchanging it for spiritual perception, and exchanging human concepts for the divine consciousness” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 531). Looking up from the chaos “on the ground” to spiritual reality opens thought to the ultimate view of existence, one that clarifies what is real and brings a sweet and practical promise of order and goodness right here, right now!



Particle filter

Saumya Khandelwal/Reuters
A man covers his face as he walks to work in Delhi Nov. 7. Amid severe air pollution warnings, many schools were closed and outdoor activities were curtailed, according to the Hindustan Times. India’s Central Pollution Control Board cited 'stubble burning' as the chief cause of high pollution in Delhi and neighboring areas.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

In Our Next Issue

( November 8th, 2017 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Please come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about domestic violence and gun ownership: What might the Texas church shooting teach us about improving background checks?

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November 07, 2017
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