2018
March
28
Wednesday

This evening in Paris, thousands took to the streets to stand in quiet but forceful solidarity with France’s Jewish community. The march paid tribute to Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Parisian who narrowly escaped the 1942 roundup of Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris but was brutally murdered last week in what is being treated as an anti-Semitic crime.

Her death has brought into sharp focus an often overlooked surge of anti-Semitic violence, vandalism, and discourse in France and around the world. In the United States, for example, such acts rose 60 percent last year.

As Patrick Debois, a French priest who has documented the mass killings of tens of thousands of Jews by the Nazis, recently told the Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana: “Today, if a Jew is attacked, there is not a thousand people in the street. Because people are used to it." 

The Paris march was a bid to challenge that narrative, which can be a harbinger for a rise in hateful behavior more broadly. One participant, actress Florence Darel, told the Monitor’s Peter Ford: “It’s time that we show that we are the French Republic, too – we who say no to a retreat of Republican values. It is intolerable that someone should die because of her religion in 2018 in France.”

That outlook resonated with a young Jewish student, who noted that the march began at Paris’s Place de la Nation. The locale, he said, lived up to its name today.

Monitor reporters are looking into what’s behind the troubling spike in anti-Semitic acts and language. They’ll be looking for how people are stepping up to combat it. Watch for that report next week.

Now to our five stories for today. 

1. ‘Headed to the unknown’: stark choices in eastern Ghouta exodus

Mere weeks ago, residents and rebels told the Monitor that they couldn't fathom leaving the besieged Syrian district of Ghouta. But changes on the battlefield have forced wrenching reevaluations of the steps needed to find safety.

Amelia
Ammar Al Bushy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Footage captured by an unmanned aerial vehicle March 27 shows the desolation in Arbeen, Syria, in eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege by the Assad regime and Russia. Many civilians are evacuating.

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After a brutal siege that has lasted more than a month, 90 percent of eastern Ghouta, the last rebel enclave in the suburbs east of Damascus, has fallen to Syrian forces. Many hundreds have died, and now thousands are leaving. If mere weeks ago most saw no way out of the area except by death, changes on the battlefield are forcing decisions like never before. Still, for most, the carnage has been so severe that it is premature to talk of peace and reconciliation, and most cannot imagine trusting the government. The remaining residents have three stark choices: evacuate with rebel fighters to a northern province that is likely the Assad regime’s next target; move to government camps closer to Damascus; or stay in the last opposition island of Douma, waiting for an inevitable defeat. Some who outlasted the siege want nothing more than to stay put, saying home is the highest value. “If there are guarantees, I can stay put and reconcile,” says Samira, who spoke to the Monitor over many weeks. “I would stop all work and lay low, not come and go. I would stay home.”

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‘Headed to the unknown’: stark choices in eastern Ghouta exodus

Three weeks ago, Amer Zeidan saw no way out of eastern Ghouta but death.

It was impossible, he said, for civilians to trust a Syrian regime that devoted so much energy to bombing and starving the opposition enclave into submission.

His grim forecast proved true for his sister, Marwa, whom he buried last week.

Barely a week after reporting this loss, Mr. Zeidan made the decision to leave. Between 3 and 7 a.m. on Tuesday, the Syrian aid worker types away at a new batch of messages documenting the start of a long-dreaded journey out of his neighborhood, Arbeen.

“All of us are entering into a dark tunnel, and we ignore what will happen to us,” he says. “We have left everything and are headed to the unknown.”

After more than a month of Syrian government and Russian bombardment that has claimed 1,700 lives and seen the loss of 90 percent of the last rebel enclave in the suburbs east of Damascus, the residents of eastern Ghouta have only three stark choices.

As the noose tightens, they can either be evacuated (with defeated rebel fighters) to Syria’s rebel-held northern province of Idlib, which will almost certainly be the next regime target; or fall under government control in camps closer to Damascus; or stay in the ever-shriveling last opposition island of Douma, waiting for the results of an inevitable defeat.

While changes on the battlefield are now forcing decisions like never before, for most the carnage has been so severe that it is premature to talk of peace and reconciliation. The Monitor heard voices from inside the enclave, who in recent days explained why they chose each one of those options, and the forces at play in their decision-making.

In February, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described eastern Ghouta as a “hell on earth.”

Despite an ensuing UN Security Council cease-fire, declared Feb. 24, relentless bombing and military advances translated into a civilian exodus and agreements to remove the anti-regime fighters who have controlled the largely Sunni enclave since 2012.

The evacuations started last week and gained momentum, with more than 101 buses leaving early Tuesday for Syrian rebel-held territory near the border with Turkey.

 

SANA/AP
This photo released by the official Syrian news agency SANA shows government forces overseeing the evacuation of rebel fighters and their families from eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, Wednesday, March. 28, 2018. UN coordinator Ali al-Zaatari says at least 80,000 people have fled the government's offensive in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.

Zeidan describes his fellow passengers as civilians: activists, humanitarians, and rescue workers known as the White Helmets. All felt they would not be safe or at ease living in an area controlled by the Syrian regime. Other buses transported fighters and their families.

From siege to surrender

The mass departures are the outcome of talks with Russia, trusted marginally more than the Damascus regime, although it has provided essential firepower to keep the government of President Bashar al-Assad in place and itself has contributed to breaches of cease-fire agreements. Critics call the mass departures a forced displacement and warn that such evacuations could amount to war crimes.

“A civilian committee of four people negotiated directly with the Russians twice in the areas of Jisreen,” Zeidan writes. “Leaving was the most difficult decision to make. The choice was either live under the shadow of a criminal ruler or get out of his land.”

For many observers, the script from siege to surrender has become chillingly familiar and borderline formulaic. This latest exodus is part of a long sequence of rebel capitulations masked as local cease-fires. They ultimately bolster the Russian and Iran-backed Assad regime at the expense of an armed opposition that enjoyed enough foreign backing to keep the fight alive but not win.

Pro-Assad forces now control more than 90 percent of eastern Ghouta. The Damascus suburb served as a launching pad for rebel attacks on the Syrian capital. It also endured more than five years of air-strikes, chemical attacks, shelling, and siege that killed thousands of people and left vast areas in rubble.

Civilians stuck in the middle have paid the highest price.

“Assad and his allies have used local cease-fires, de-escalation zones and freeze zones to increase civilian suffering, perpetrate demographic re-engineering, and advance militarily,” wrote Mohammed Alaa Ghanem in an analysis for Chatham House this month, describing the “bogus” cease-fires as integral to Assad’s military strategy.

One of the major Syrian rebel groups in the area, Failak al-Rahman, an Islamist group that has taken part in UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, agreed to evacuate last Friday. Its fighters have been boarding the buses of defeat ever since.

Brief talks with Russian 'victors'

Abu Akram, a brigade commander who was fighting in the town of Zamalka and gives only his nom de guerre, describes talks with the Russians as little more than a one-way street.

“Everything went very fast,” writes Mr. Abu Akram, who boarded a bus with a group of his men. “The negotiating committee couldn’t get a word in. They approached it as victors and set the terms. Show up at this place, at this time, and go.”

Russian and Syrian forces launched a full-scale assault on eastern Ghouta Feb. 18, dividing and defeating one rebel pocket after the other despite the UN cease-fire. The campaign was so intense it reduced residential areas to rubble and pushed the population into basements for weeks on end to survive.

The journey out has been traumatic and humiliating for many. As part of the deal, thousands of Syrian opposition fighters and their families, as well as civilians, have been heading to Idlib, a province in the north and the largest remaining area outside government control.

“The first buses to leave endured a lot of harassment,” says Zeidan. “Today we only had to give our names. We waited on the bus for seven hours before starting. It’s been 15 hours with no one allowed off, not even the children who need to pee.”

Abu Akram says the buses to Idlib drove through the pro-Assad Alawite heartland along the coast, giving an opportunity to regime supporters to curse the vanquished fighters. The commander says he joined the revolution early, defecting from the army after his younger brother was killed by a stray bullet fired from a regime checkpoint.

With 50 of his men around him on arrival in Idlib, and nursing a serious leg wound, the commander ignored even where they would spend the night after a 23-hour-long journey. “My soul is broken because the fatigue of seven years was a lot for nothing,” he writes. “The tears won’t leave my eyes. I have lost all hope in life.”

He believes the best option for his own future is to find work, make money, and pay a smuggler fee to leave Syria and cross into Turkey. He fears Idlib, the main recipient of various vanquished elements of the Syrian armed opposition, will suffer a fate as brutal or worse than eastern Ghouta.

“Idlib will end up with a massive massacre because it is under the control of [Al Qaeda-linked] Nusra Front,” he says. “They will commit genocide with the pretext of eliminating Nusra.”

'The terror of being outside'

Others have fled to government-held territory by the thousands, making use of humanitarian corridors. Among them are Noor and Nemaat, civilian women from the neighborhoods of Douma and Sabqa, respectively, who have spoken to the Monitor regularly throughout their ordeal.

Reflecting the climate of fear synonymous with the Syrian regime even before the war, both shunned communications for days after their arrival and felt ill at ease to report much beyond their immediate survival.

“I have replaced the terror of being inside (eastern Ghouta) with the terror of being outside,” writes Noor, six days into her stay in government-controlled Damascus. “I feel completely estranged.”

Her decision to leave had been largely shaped by a sense of responsibility for her father, who needed medical treatment, and her toddler and unborn child. However, on the day of departure, Noor was separated from the men in her family and she has had no news of them since.

Syrian state TV estimates that more than 110,000 people have been absorbed into regime-held areas. More than half of them are held in temporary shelters near Ghouta, according to the UN. Writing about her first encounter with the Syrian Army and aid workers, Nemaat recalls: “I doubt they even consider us as human.”

A video circulating on YouTube showed a Syrian government minister handing out water to thirsty crowds only after they chanted pro-regime slogans. Other images on social media appeared to show Syrian soldiers taking selfies with the vanquished population, crowds of thin veiled women and children in the background.

Only one pocket in eastern Ghouta remains now outside of government control. Talks are underway with the Islamist rebel group Jaish al-Islam. A spokesman for the group, Hamza Bayraqdar, says the rebels are talking about staying put in Douma, not evacuating. Syrian troop movements suggest a fresh onslaught is in the cards in the absence of a deal.

'I would stay'

Civilians who outlasted the siege want nothing more but to stay put, but say no one is consulting them.

“The most important thing for me is to not leave my Ghouta,” says Douma resident Samira, who spoke to the Monitor over many weeks. She describes a horrifying day of bombardment in which taking advantage of an unusually calm morning to take out her 9-months-pregnant daughter for a walk ended with both of them running for their lives through rubble and into a basement. Surrounded by death, she prays for a smooth delivery of her now overdue grandson.

Samira, who has been active in the opposition and in local relief efforts, is one of tens of thousands left in Douma, unwilling or unable to abandon their land. Home has the highest value. “If there are guarantees, I can stay put and reconcile,” she says. “I would stop all work and lay low, not come and go. I would stay home.”

Young aid worker Alaa Abu Zeid in Douma fields questions from his mother and friends all day long about what to do next. He doesn’t know whether they should try to leave for Idlib like his fighter brother or stay put. To avoid overthinking, he throws himself into online English lessons at night.

“People right now are open to the idea of reconciliation because they have lost all the things they treasure most, but people are scared,” he says.

“We are unable to make a decision because we ignore what is next,” he writes. “All the choices before us take us to hell, whether it is leaving our land or staying put with people we do not trust.”

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2. Beyond Facebook, a broader clash over ‘surveillance capitalism’

Nothing in life is free: It's a cliché we're all familiar with. But recent revelations about the price we may unwittingly pay for seamlessly connected online lives is spurring a new conversation about transparency as well as boundaries.

Amelia

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The latest flaring of concerns about privacy on Facebook began with an isolated revelation: that a political consulting firm had gained access to Facebook data on millions of Americans. But even as details keep emerging on that political front, there’s a larger trend at work, what researcher Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.” Facebook is just the most prominent example of companies tracking and analyzing people’s digital footprints to predict their future behavior: what they'll buy, where they’ll travel, even how they’ll vote. The practice was pioneered on search platforms and social media but is increasingly used by all kinds of nondigital companies from insurance to finance. The public response to this loss of privacy is complicated. Despite a #deleteFacebook movement, most US adults are on that platform. Americans like the convenience of all the data-empowered digital tools. “There’s no one silver bullet,” Ms. Zuboff says. “Ultimately, we’re dealing with a new situation, and my view is that this will take new forms of collective action that will be 21st-century solutions.”

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Beyond Facebook, a broader clash over ‘surveillance capitalism’

In 2007, over lunch with Google officials at a conference, Shoshana Zuboff asked a question: How could she get her house removed from Google Earth, the company’s mapping program.

The whole room fell silent. “It was like I had just announced that I was going to murder somebody,” the Harvard social scientist recalls. The executives responded by asking why she would want to stand in the way of its mission to organize the world’s information and make it accessible to people.

That moment contributed to her growing realization that the digital economy – about which she had once had so much hope – had a hidden side, something she would come to call “surveillance capitalism.”

Although Facebook is currently at the center of a backlash against its sale of users’ personal data, the trend is much larger than that. It involves Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and a growing number of firms with nondigital roots, who are building tools to track and analyze how people act and where they go in the physical world as well as online.

The reason? If they can predict what consumers will do – what they’ll buy, where they’ll travel, even how they’ll vote – their data becomes extremely valuable.

These predictive insights “have been magnetic for offline businesses: insurance, retail, finance, a whole variety of services that are tapping into this,” says Professor Zuboff, whose new book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power,” comes out in September.

Suppose, for example, that Amazon or Google put their voice-activated digital assistant into a car dashboard, she says. “Then the assistant tells you: ‘Hey, there’s a McDonald's on the next corner’ or ‘I know you’re hungry, why don’t you go to McDonald's?’ ”

Such notions of surveillance can quickly conjure up fears of sci-fi dystopias, like “1984” or “The Matrix,” where governments or machines track people to control them. But the reality is at once more mundane and more subtle: Companies aim to understand you so they can make money by capitalizing on your behavior or influencing it.

Tech’s big benefits

So far in the digital era, consumers have focused largely on the substantial benefits of services that are often free. Imagine driving to a new location without Google’s maps or keeping up with friends without Facebook? This story would have taken far longer to research without Google search.

The tradeoff is that people give away tons of personal information with little idea of where it goes, how it’s used, or how long it’s stored. Researchers are asking: Are the benefits worth the costs to society and democracy? And what does it say about the role of people? They’re no longer consumers in the 20th century conception of the word: people who are catered to by companies selling products and services. You might say that, to surveillance capitalists, people aren’t even the product. They are the providers of raw materials – the data to be mined, analyzed, and sold. “We’re the stuff that’s left behind after the excavation equipment has moved on,” Zuboff says.

The internet companies “are making the market more efficient,” says Vibhanshu Abhishek, an information systems expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “There’s a strong economic rationale for doing this” digital tracking. But “it should be done with transparency so that consumers can know what personal data is being made available.”

The current flashpoint is Facebook. Recent revelations that the social media giant gave access to sensitive user data to an outside researcher, who then gave it to a political consulting firm hired by the Trump campaign, have rocked the company. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has reportedly agreed to testify on privacy before Congress while turning down a similar request by Britain’s Parliament (which is investigating the same firm for its role in the Brexit campaign).

The Facebook backlash

Facebook has come in for specific criticism because of its loose data security. “I’m surprised by the fact that they allowed third-party applications to collect that information,” says Mr. Abhishek. “Companies like Google and Amazon don’t do that. They’re very secretive.”

Attorneys general in at least 37 US states and territories are investigating Facebook, as is the Federal Trade Commission. That probe could prove costly to the social media giant, because in 2011, it signed an FTC order and promised to give consumers clear and prominent notice and obtain their express consent before sharing their personal information beyond the consumers’ privacy settings. In the current scandal, the political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, appears to have gotten access to records on up to 50 million Facebook users without their consent.

On Wednesday, the company announced new steps to make it easier for users to control the use of their data or even delete it.

A wider trend of surveillance

But if Facebook is the biggest target for criticism now, it's just part of a vast industry that deals in consumer data. The firms that track and use personal data range from makers of smartphone apps and cable-TV companies to large data brokers that scoop up or buy information from a variety of sources and resell it.

Among the results: customized or almost personalized online ads, based on consumers' recent digital history. A 2013 congressional report highlighted how data can be used to target consumer segments with precise profiles. Examples of such marketing segments, given in the report, included financially vulnerable populations labeled "retiring on empty," "rural and barely making it," or "rolling the dice."

Often the lines can blur between loss of privacy and a gains of safety or convenience.

Last year, for example, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America wrote a House subcommittee asking for “reasonable” access to data from cars with automated driving systems. The issue is: If an accident happens, who was in control of the car: the system or the driver? And already, insurance companies like Progressive and General Motors Assurance Company (GMAC) have introduced usage-based insurance, which monitors car and GPS data to offer the best rates to the safest drivers.

New rules needed?

Many privacy advocates say government oversight is needed. 

“There’s a lack of control of your personal data,” says Jeramie Scott, a surveillance expert at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group in Washington. “There’s a lack of understanding of how that info is used…. There needs to be some rules and protections in place that allow the market to innovate with those protections in place.”

Typically, privacy is a bipartisan issue. Mr. Scott hopes the Facebook fiasco along with last fall’s breach of credit agency Equifax will be enough of a tipping point to get privacy advocates on both sides of the aisle to take action.

But it’s complicated, because consumers are conflicted, especially over social media. Seven in 10 Americans say they use some kind of social media, according to Pew Research. And while roughly half of Americans don’t trust social media sites to protect their data, according to a 2016 Pew survey, a nearly identical share don’t trust the federal government either.

Politicians are conflicted, too, because data from Facebook and Google are transforming election campaigns.

“They have a huge conflict of interest,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which advocates new privacy safeguards. “They all know that they won their most recent campaign ... using these very tools and techniques.”

Developing the rules of the road for surveillance capitalism will take some time, Zuboff says, just as it took time to develop protections such as collective bargaining and limits on working hours to rein in the industrial capitalism of a century ago.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” she says. “Ultimately, we’re dealing with a new situation and my view is that this will take new forms of collective action that will be 21st century solutions.”

Staff writer Mark Trumbull contributed to this story from Washington.

SOURCE: Pew Research Center. Polling done in January 2018 (left chart) and spring of 2016 (right chart)
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Karen Norris/Staff
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3. Where children of the Velvet Revolution lead a new corruption fight

When pushing for reform, how do people know when their demands have been met with meaningful reform rather than symbolic placation? That's a question facing a new generation of protesters in Slovakia.

Amelia

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On March 23, about 25,000 protesters gathered in downtown Bratislava, Slovakia, in a display of discontent that could be a turning point for the region. What began as an outcry over a young journalist’s murder has in the past month morphed into a mass general movement to end cronyism in this post-communist state. A youth-fueled movement has already brought down Slovakia’s prime minister. But protesters aren’t stopping until they see evidence that the changes in Bratislava are not just cosmetic. Many of the protesters were teenagers during the Velvet Revolution and saw their parents take to the streets in protest of an authoritarian regime. They see the current struggle for transparency both as a continuation of battles waged decades ago and a reaction to an illiberal tide rolling through Eastern Europe. “Strange things are happening in this region,” says one protester. “In the Velvet Revolution we thought we were fighting for the end of communism, but we can see how all of the problems today are still rooted in that era.”

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Where children of the Velvet Revolution lead a new corruption fight

Marian Kulich is one of tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of Slovakia in the biggest show of people power since the Velvet Revolution. What began as an outcry over a young journalist’s murder has in the past month morphed into a mass general movement to end cronyism in this post-communist state.

The call “For A Decent Slovakia,” as the protests have been dubbed, has already taken down three-term Prime Minister Robert Fico and his administration. But Mr. Kulich is determined not to stop there. A change at the top of government is not the time for people to let down their guards, he says. 

On Friday afternoon he joined 25,000 protesters in a candlelight vigil in downtown Bratislava, the fourth mass gathering in a row, in a display of discontent that could be a turning point for the region.

“I have to be here, I can’t stop,” he says, as he passes around a petition for the president to hold a referendum on fresh elections. “When I look at what is happening in this region, I feel very worried about the future.”

As Russia exerts its power and influence over the West, and the European Union struggles to overcome populism and anger at the political establishment, it’s the newest, post-Soviet members that have posed some of the most complex challenges to Brussels in recent years.

Some nations have rolled back democratic checks or allowed unchecked corruption; others have cozied up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The allegations of state capture in Slovakia by the Smer party seemed the lesser challenge – until the February murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak, who had been digging into state corruption and mafia ties, and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. For many here the murder, still unsolved, proves how “pathological” corruption has become, says Jozef Bátora, a political science professor at Comenius University in Bratislava, and the reaction to it shows an overwhelming desire for normalcy.

“We have been part of the EU for more than ten years now, it has been almost 30 years since the Velvet Revolution,” Mr. Bátora says. “It is time to be a normal society.”

A new generation of revolutionaries

Young people have taken a leading role in the movement, in large part because they can identify with the victims. Buttons worn on lapels in Bratislava feature a snapshot of the couple. Mr. Kuciak is in a tie, but his baby face reveals his age: he was just 27.

On Friday night students called for an impromptu vigil, in a sign of resistance that they refuse to stand down after a larger nationwide protest was canceled.

“We want a transparent government that we can trust,” says 19-year-old high schooler Bronislava Garčárová. She says she sees her role as a continuation of her parents’ fight against communism and says she is restless for a higher quality of life.

“We young people want to stay in Slovakia but we can’t, we have to go abroad to have a better life,” says Ms. Garcarova. She is planning on studying theater and language at a university in the Czech Republic.

Sara Miller LLana/The Christian Science Monitor
Protesters spontaneously marched to Parliament in Bratislava, Slovakia, jangling their keys like this woman here, and calling the ruling party Smer the 'mafia,' March, 23, 2018. Young people have taken a leading role in a movement sparked by the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, who had been digging into state corruption and mafia ties, and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova.

The disillusionment among young people has boosted the far right in Slovakia as EU enthusiasm has waned. Analysts have worried that the generation, far removed from the struggles against communism and fascism, has failed to learn from the past.

But the protests seem to have underlined how and what youth stand to lose by veering too far from EU norms and standards, says Tomáš Valášek, the Slovak director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels. “They are 18, or 19, and are saying, ‘I live in an open, borderless Europe, and I can see societies much better managed than ours,’ ” he says. “Yet people are no less hardworking than anyone else out there. They are asking, ‘Why should I not see the benefits of my tax money?’ ”

'Strange things are happening'

In spirit and ethos, the movement “For a Decent Slovakia” has drawn some comparisons to the pro-EU protests in Kiev’s Maidan, except that Slovaks are fighting for accountability inside the bloc, while Ukrainians were fighting to move closer to it.

Still, belonging to the EU, to the dismay of many in the region, has not guaranteed accountability of the democratic process, says Kulich. He hasn’t taken his pin of Kuciak and Ms. Kusnirova off since they were manufactured, days after the couple’s bodies were found in their house Feb. 25.

Kulich was a teenager during the Velvet Revolution. In the 1990s he protested with the nation against authoritative Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, whose rule prompted then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to call Slovakia a “black hole in the heart of Europe.” He says the fight for democracy is not yet won.

He travels around Eastern Europe for his job in IT, and worries about Mr. Putin’s reach in the post-Soviet sphere, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s concentration of power, the illiberal turn in Poland, and society’s resignation about corruption.

Mr. Fico, who had refused at first to step down, at one point alleged that Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros may have been involved in fueling the protests. Mr. Soros has been the target of populist leaders across Europe.

“Strange things are happening in this region,” Kulich says. “In the Velvet Revolution we thought we were fighting for the end of communism, but we can see how all of the problems today are still rooted in that era.”

There is some concern that Slovakia’s protests could amount to nothing more than a wintry month of discontent that brought down the prime minister but not the system, like in Romania, and that there are few political alternatives.

The canceled march Friday, after peak momentum the week before, divided protesters. “For a Decent Slovakia” organizers say they wanted to stand behind the “normal” constitutional process triggered by Fico’s resignation, and not turn into a generalized voice of anti-establishment sentiment. Instead they want to give the new government under Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini the space to meet expectations.

The newly sworn cabinet won a vote of confidence from Parliament on Monday, but many fear Fico still wields the power, and that the new government is not equipped to lead a fair and competent investigation into Kuciak’s murder. They continue their demand for fresh elections. “Right now the government is winning,” worries Peter Majerčák, a medical school student and Uber driver in Bratislava. “It’s a cosmetic change but not a change in mentality.”

On Friday evening, candles flickered in an icy wind as the silent vigil ended with the singing of the Slovak national anthem. But then protesters spontaneously marched to the doors of parliament, where the mood turned rowdier. “Mafia,” they yelled. “To jail!”

This shows, to many, that this movement won’t be ending soon. Grigorij Mesežnikov, the head of the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs, says the mood has changed. “We are following you,” he says the protesters are saying. “It is not like it was before. This seems, at this point in time, as a tipping point in the sense that people are no longer accepting the systematic nature of the corrupt regime.”

Hints of that sentiment are everywhere. At the protest, one sign read, “I am still angry.” Perhaps best capturing the mood is a sign taped up outside a storefront. “I don’t not care.” Or as Kulich puts it: “We just want to be normal people, with normal troubles.”

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4. For London’s Russian expats, fears of a lasting backlash

What's it like to be a Russian living in London? For many, there's a sense of being caught between two worlds, neither of which they can call home.

Amelia

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There are so many Russian expatriates living in the British capital these days that the place is sometimes known as “Moscow-on-the-Thames.” But they are facing an unsettled future in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, which London has blamed on Moscow. As part of diplomatic retaliation, the British government is threatening to start investigating the murky origins of the fortunes that some of these Russians have parked in London. It is the bling-laden billionaires, flashing their cash in swanky stores like Harrods, who attract all the attention. But the rich oligarch stereotype – and rising anti-Russian hostility – bother ordinary Russians such as Olga Ivanova, who works in a recruitment agency. She is one of an estimated 150,000 Russians who have made London their home, and few of them have anything to do with wealth or power. “It’s kind of frustrating,” she says, because the popular Russian image “is absolutely not what most Russians are like.”

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For London’s Russian expats, fears of a lasting backlash

In leafy west London, Olga Ivanova is spending her lunch break in a park near the recruitment agency where she works, but her mind is elsewhere.

She says it's hard not to dwell on the spy poisoning case that has dominated the headlines in her adopted country for the past three weeks and sparked worldwide diplomatic fallout; she can’t help but wonder what it all might mean for Russians like her who live in Britain.

Blaming Russia for poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a banned nerve agent, the British government has hinted it might retaliate by targeting the assets of wealthy Russians in Britain.

Ms. Ivanova is one of an estimated 150,000 Russians resident in London, sometimes known as “Moscow-on-the-Thames,” which is now home to Europe’s largest Russian expatriate community.

The mega-rich, flashing their cash at Harrods department store or eating calf's liver in Mari Vanna, a “nostalgic themed” Russian restaurant, attract all the attention. But Ivanova is not an oligarch, nor a dissident, nor a dissident oligarch; she is one of the tens of thousands of Russians who live a much more normal life in the British capital, but who fear blowback from the Skripal affair.

She is only too aware of the rich oligarch stereotype – and of the anti-Russian hostility that has heightened in the aftermath of the poisoning of Mr. Skripal – a former Russian intelligence officer who spied for Britain – and his daughter Yulia on March 4.

And she resents that stereotype. “It’s kind of frustrating, because it’s such a minority of Russians and they are absolutely not what most Russians are like,” she complains. “I don’t have loads of money and I still have debts to pay back, so the realities for most people are very different.”

“There are people here for a lot of different reasons and from a lot of different generations,” explains Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College, London. “The population is diverse.”

Ivanova has never been to Knightsbridge – the swanky district that is the indisputable heart of “Londongrad” – and with her Australian husband she prefers to steer clear of the Russian community.

“With other Russians in London, I’m always cautious because you don’t know what their political views are,” she says. “They could be on a completely different end of the spectrum to you.”

A shifting mood?

Wealthy Russians have been flooding into London since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the last 15 years the diaspora has snowballed as the city has become an increasingly fashionable destination, even for middle-class Russians. Their rising numbers have led to an explosion of Russian cultural events, balls, theatrical productions, restaurants, and niche shops, which all reinforce London’s appeal to expatriates.

Owning property and living in London, even part-time, lends status to the Russian elite, who under the "golden visa" scheme are granted British residency when they invest £2 million ($2.8 million) in the country. Many wealthy Russians have invested in London's booming property market as a way of protecting their assets, and those who find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities in Moscow feel safe: Britain has given political asylum to every businessman Russia has tried to extradite.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May has suggested her government may become less tolerant – and start paying closer attention to the expatriates’ financial affairs, as Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has proposed as a way to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The prospect of a backlash against Russians is creating “psychological tension” for wealthy members of the Russian community, says Alexey Firsov, who runs a social affairs think tank in Moscow. “There are rumors of possible checks by British authorities as to the origin of their property. Some are transparent but others are not, so there are risks,” he points out.

“These people have nothing to do with the Skripal story, [but] they might become a kind of bargaining chip,” he adds.

If they are targeted, says Roman Borisovich, the co-founder of political advocacy group ClampK.org, which campaigns against money laundering in Britain, they will have only themselves to blame.

Most of the wealthier Russians, surrounded by their personal entourages, “don’t want to assimilate or mix with Londoners,” he says. They have also antagonized locals by buying up trophy homes and leaving them empty, worsening London’s housing crisis.

“The fact that they don’t integrate makes them vulnerable because the Brits don’t see any need for them,” Mr. Borisovich says. “They are not anybody’s friends. When there are calls for the country to get rid of rich Russians, there will be no tears shed by Londoners. It will be completely self-inflicted if there is a real anti-Russian mood growing in London.”

But would a crackdown serve the government’s purpose, to hurt President Putin? Alexey Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, an independent think tank in Moscow, thinks not.

On the contrary, “the Russian government will be happy if rich Russians are squeezed out of Britain,” he argues. “When (officials’) money and families are abroad, that is unpleasant” for the Kremlin. “British authorities may doubt their loyalty to Britain, but authorities in Moscow also doubt their loyalty to Russia.”

Ignore the news

In north London, another Russian expat, Tasha Nova, 31, who is from Siberia, has just got back from work. She came to London in 2009 to study Industrial Design and has built her career here since then. She says many Russian expats have a difficult relationship with their country.

“I was raised in the Soviet Union, then we had the wild '90s, and Russia only started to really form its identity in the 2000s and then I left, so I’ve never been very patriotic,” she says. "But I am disappointed with my homeland," she adds, saying she pays little attention to news from home.

That apathy about Russian domestic politics appears to be widespread. Fewer than 3,700 people cast their ballots at the Russian embassy in this month’s presidential elections – less than ten percent of the estimated number of Russian adults living in London.

“This month I have seen there is a big political turmoil, but nothing has changed in my little bubble,” because of the Skripal poisoning, Ms. Nova says. “Russia has been in so many conflicts on a global scale and there is always a big scandal in the news, but then everything carries on the same. Nothing is going to change.”

Back in west London, Ivanova says she loves her country and feels very much “like an outsider” in Britain. However, as a former activist for LGBT rights – “the worst kind of activist you can be in Russia,” she says – she wonders where her future lies.

"I don’t feel threatened over here, but I am worried about where politics in Russia is going and whether it will still be a safe place for me to return to and be open about my political views,” she says. “I wonder how far the Russian government will go. It’s frustrating, it’s depressing, and it’s a bit scary.”

Like Ms. Nova, she is trying to avoid the news. There is an old Soviet joke, roughly translated, which she says has become her watchword: “Don’t read the news before lunch, it will ruin your digestion.”

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. A deeper fix: Her car repair shop helps those with limited means

Cathy Heying saw a gap in social services when she spent time working at a shelter in her home city. What she applied to the problem: compassion and – quite literally – elbow grease.

Amelia
Courtesy of The Lift Garage
Cathy Heying founded The Lift Garage in Minneapolis, which provides low-cost repairs, free pre-purchase inspections, and ‘honest advice.’

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Most car owners can recall a repair that turned out to be a wallet-squeezer. For low-income individuals, such a repair can be devastating. They might stop driving the vehicle, with repercussions for their work and their ability to handle errands. In recognition of such challenges, which she saw firsthand while working at a Minneapolis shelter in 2013, Cathy Heying launched The Lift. It provides low-cost repairs, free pre-purchase inspections, and “honest advice” for customers. And it fills a yawning space. “Minnesota … is a very giving and charitable state,” Ms. Heying says, “but we didn’t have anything in this arena.” Staff at The Lift take the time to explain to customers the situation with their cars – what needs repair right away, what can wait. The Lift keeps barriers low, asking customers for only one form of verification that indicates their income is below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines, a standard measurement of low income. “Dignity is a very high value for us here,” Heying says. “She didn’t talk down to me,” says Connie Hanson, a customer who paid The Lift a third of what other mechanics wanted to keep her Dodge Caravan on the road. “She treated me like one of the family.” 

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A deeper fix: Her car repair shop helps those with limited means

Cathy Heying never intended to work at an auto repair garage. But she runs one tucked behind Dan’s Nicollet Car Wash in Minneapolis.

And it’s not just any auto shop.

Granted, The Lift Garage may sound pretty typical: As cars are waved in and go up on lifts, staff members in maroon polo shirts file paperwork and assist customers in a room that serves both as a front office and waiting area. A few toys sit on a shelf to help keep children who are accompanying their parents occupied.

But The Lift has an unusual mission. It’s a nonprofit that aims to ease car troubles for low-income people.

Almost any driver, regardless of income level, can recall a car repair that squeezed his or her wallet. But for low-
income individuals, such a repair can be devastating. In many cases, instead of paying for the repair, they stop driving the vehicle.

That decision, in turn, could have repercussions for their employment and their ability to do other things, such as go grocery shopping.

It’s those kinds of challenges that Ms. Heying, founder of The Lift, is ready to take on. Her operation provides low-cost repairs, free pre-purchase inspections, and “honest advice” for its customers.

Her staff shares her outlook. “We really strive to be there for people and to be hospitable, and I think that’s something that [Heying] cultivates and activates in all of us,” says Brooklyn Vetter, who has served as office manager at The Lift.

Heying was inspired to open her own garage in 2013 after volunteering at St. Stephen’s Shelter for the homeless in Minneapolis. She found that many of the men she worked with struggled to find a dependable means of transportation. If a shelter guest could afford a car, it was often faulty and unsafe, and auto repair costs could have impeded the person’s ability to pay rent, she says.

“Transportation is a huge barrier here for people getting and keeping work and housing, and all of that just kept getting clearer and clearer to me as I watched people struggle to try to move out of homelessness and poverty,” Heying says.

But she was surprised to find few organizations addressing affordable car repair in Minnesota’s urban areas.

“Minnesota – they say it’s the land of 10,000 nonprofits because it is a very giving and charitable state, but we didn’t have anything in this arena,” she says.

So she decided to do something about it.

Within a few months, she was enrolled in the auto technology program at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. She was the only woman in the class and a nontraditional student with a background in social work to boot. But what really made Heying stand out, says assistant professor Dave Duval, was her commitment to learning the material and her desire to help others. When she shared her vision for a nonprofit affordable car service, “it hit me to the core,” he says.

Now, Heying uses her degree to help her customers understand cars more and make better financial decisions regarding their vehicles. The Lift charges $15 per hour for labor and sells parts at cost, significantly reducing the amount that clients pay for repairs.
Poverty is prevalent in Hennepin County, where The Lift operates. The poverty rate there is about 13 percent, compared with the state average of 11.5 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

An appointment to the rescue

When Connie Hanson’s Dodge Caravan broke down on the side of the road, she thought she’d have to ditch the car because of the high cost of repairs.

Then a friend suggested Ms. Hanson call The Lift. Hanson, who didn’t know there was an auto garage behind Dan’s Nicollet Car Wash, immediately contacted the garage and scheduled an appointment.

“They got me in on an emergency visit, and it was really cool,” says Hanson, who lives about 30 miles from the garage in Anoka, Minn. “Without them, I wouldn’t have a car right now because I called around to different mechanics, and they’re talking in the thousands [of dollars for a repair].” Instead, Hanson paid The Lift $450, about a third of the price she would’ve paid elsewhere.
Hanson credits her ability to maintain a car to The Lift, which she visits every four months for a car checkup.

Ms. Vetter, the office manager, says Heying has infused the garage with a sense of hospitality, grace, and patience, which keeps customers coming back. Those who work at The Lift, Vetter says, take the time to explain to customers the situation with their car – what needs repair right away, what repairs can be delayed, or why it might be a good idea to forget about a repair and save for another car instead.

“We do car repair, but we’re also like social workers and therapists,” she says.

The Lift started small, operating out of one bay each Saturday. Word got around. A few months after Heying opened for business, appointments filled the calendar three months out – and it’s been that way ever since.

Today, The Lift operates four bays and is open five days a week. Heying says she could raise the eligibility standards for The Lift’s services, but she’d rather keep her doors as wide open as possible.

“There are other measures we could use that could make that list get shorter,” Heying says. “But one of the things I’ve seen in lots of years of working with people in poverty is that [nonprofits and society] make it really, really hard for people to be successful.”

Who’s eligible

One way The Lift reduces red tape is by asking customers for only one form of verification that indicates their income is below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines, a standard measurement of low income many nonprofits use, Heying notes. Customers can provide pay stubs, food stamp cards, Social Security award letters, or papers filed with a social worker or federal agency.

“One of my visions and hopes is always that we be as barrier-free as possible in how we treat and respond to our customers,” Heying says. “Dignity is a very high value for us here.”

For Hanson, The Lift isn’t just a place to get her car fixed. It’s a space where she feels welcome and appreciated.

“[Heying] didn’t talk down to me,” she says. “She treated me like one of the family.” Hanson is impressed that even as The Lift stays busy, employees and volunteers always seem to have time to go the extra mile for customers – such as buying Girl Scout cookies from Hanson’s youngest daughter.

The immediate difference that a car repair can make for a customer motivates Heying. She fondly recalls an experience involving a customer who wanted to visit her older mother for many years but couldn’t because it wasn’t safe to drive her car that far. And she couldn’t afford to fix it. Getting her car repaired at The Lift allowed her to visit her mother that very weekend.

“It’s tangible work, and I love that about it,” Heying says. “[It’s] different than many other kinds of social work or social services.... [Here] a car gets towed in, and we fix it and it drives away. That is a really great feeling.”

But Heying aims to provide customers not just with mechanical fixes, but with the sense of independence and freedom that comes with a functioning vehicle. “It’s about helping people survive, but then it’s also helping people thrive,” she says.

 For more, visit theliftgarage.org.

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 groups with business-related activities either for beneficiaries or volunteers:

Supporting Kids in Peru helps disadvantaged youths realize their right to an education. Take action: Be an economic development project officer for this organization

The Small Things creates care plans for orphaned children and at-risk families in the Meru district of Tanzania. Take action: Make a donation to provide business training, as well as education support, for these families.

• Highland Support Project works with community leaders to address environmental, social, and economic challenges. Take action: Be a volunteer in Guatemala, focusing on marketing and sales for this organization.

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The Monitor's View

Why Facebook must ‘like’ ethical investors

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The giant of “surveillance capitalism,” Facebook met its match last week in the form of another giant force – social capitalism – when investors knocked $90 billion off its market value. Facebook must answer for breaking the trust of its more than 2 billion consumers. Tougher regulation may be far off, and consumer boycotts can be fleeting. But many of today’s investors put their money where their conscience is. They expect long-term profits based on whether a company is operating under select social and environmental criteria. Meeting such criteria is considered a “sustainable” way to do business. And although not all investors agree on the criteria for sustainability, ethical investing is a looming presence over companies. Many “impact investors” are beating the market in profits. They are also challenging the idea that companies must be predatory and exploitative to earn money. Facebook may be learning that lesson very fast.

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Why Facebook must ‘like’ ethical investors

One way to get the attention of a company is to knock $90 billion off its market value. That’s what investors did to Facebook last week after news broke that the social network had allowed the misuse of personal data from millions of users. Among those that fled the stock, many equity firms that specialize in ethical investing, such as BetaShares, dropped the company’s stock from their portfolios.

As the giant of “surveillance capitalism,” Facebook had met its match with another giant force: social capitalism.

Of course, Facebook is also under scrutiny on other fronts for its breaches of privacy. From Congress to the European Union to the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook must answer for breaking the trust of its more than 2 billion consumers. And millions of Facebook users have weighed whether to delete or deactivate their accounts.

But tougher regulation of big data collectors such as Facebook may be far off. And consumer boycotts can be fleeting. That is not the case with many of today’s investors who put their money where their conscience is. They expect long-term profits based on whether a company is operating under select social and environmental criteria, such as privacy standards, reduced carbon footprint, and gender fairness on corporate boards.

In fact, meeting such criteria is considered a “sustainable” way to do business. Last week’s market pressure on Facebook from “sustainability funds” probably pushed chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg to speed up plans to simplify privacy controls and better safeguard the governance of personal data. Facebook users will be able to more easily choose not to reveal certain traits, such as a love of cats or dislike of guns, that can mark them for advertisers, foreign hackers, or political campaigns.

Not all investors agree on the criteria for sustainability, often called “environmental, social, and governance,” or ESG. Should a company, for example, be punished for creating a genetically modified crop seed that can prevent famine but might alter natural crops?

Still, ethical investing is now a looming presence over companies. And many “impact investors” are beating the market in profits. They are also challenging the idea that companies must be predatory and exploitative to earn money. Facebook may be learning that lesson very fast.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

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

‘Let patience have its perfect work’

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In today’s column, a woman shares how she found a greater capacity for patience in her interactions with others while patiently and persistently praying for the healing of a physical problem.

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‘Let patience have its perfect work’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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My daughter and I devoured episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” like warm slices of bread fresh out of the oven. The contestants delighted us with their creative baking, and the judges provided expert feedback with warmth and good humor. On one show, one of the judges, a master bread baker, gave a rare piece of advice to the novice bakers: Be patient. Their challenge that day was to make ciabatta, and it was soon clear why patience with the rising process was key to the “perfect bake.” The contestant who waited the longest before putting her bread in the oven ended up with the star loaf.

I came away from that episode thinking about the real-life implications of that advice. For me, an important part of daily life is prayer – communion with God and listening for and following the direction that comes from that practice. So I thought about how this analogy of patience and leaven might apply to prayer in a way that brings meaningful progress and even healing to our lives.

There’s a story in the Bible, a parable, by which Christ Jesus illustrates the nature of the kingdom of heaven. He tells of a woman taking leaven and putting it into three measures of meal. The result was that the entire mass of what was baked was leavened (see Luke 13:20, 21). One thing this conveys to me is that when we quietly seek to understand the wisdom that is from God – the infinite Spirit that created us in its likeness – and internalize the truth we learn, we can undergo a change in thought, transforming us from the inside out. The result is a clearer view of a heaven we can experience right here on earth.

That present possibility of heaven is explained in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy. It defines “heaven” in part as “harmony” (p. 587). So the natural result of prayer to see the spiritual reality of God’s love and care for all includes healing (restoration of harmonious functioning in the body) as a result of spiritual transformation (uncovering a harmonious mental state that’s inherently within us).

Sometimes it can take patience to see such a turnaround. But I’ve found that doesn’t mean there isn’t progress going on under the surface, and knowing that can encourage us to keep up the good work. I recall a problem I had with my leg and foot that prevented me from walking normally. This happened during an active time, when we had our children’s end-of-school-year activities to attend, including our son’s high school graduation. We also had family visiting from out of town.

I knew from experience the power of an understanding of God to resolve such problems, but this difficulty persisted longer than I would have hoped. Despite that, I recall those few weeks of prayer as punctuated by a sweet, growing sense of God’s loving care and protection. The Bible reassures us that “the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:3, 4, New King James Version). I felt the promise of this, along with a sense of God’s care for me and a confidence that this condition was no more permanent than rain clouds hiding the sun, because it wasn’t part of my real nature as God’s spiritual and whole creation.

As I prayed with these ideas, there was daily indication of progress. I became less concerned with what my body was doing and more interested in expressing Godlike qualities, such as kindness and joy. And it wasn’t long before I was back to my active lifestyle, participating fully in family events, hiking nearby trails, and moving about with my usual ease. One of the greatest gifts, though, was an increased capacity for patience in my interactions with others, which I’ve felt more consistently ever since.

Science and Health explains, “When we wait patiently on God and seek Truth righteously, He directs our path” (p. 254). Healing isn’t always about patience. I have experienced quick resolution of many problems through prayer. But when patience is required, it isn’t about putting up with untenable conditions. It’s about facing problems with a sense of confidence that God, divine Truth, is always active and helping us gain a higher, more spiritual understanding of life – just as leaven helps the dough to rise. And when patience has “its perfect work,” the result is healing.

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Viewfinder

A precarious pitch

Marius Vagenes Villanger/Kystvakten/Sjoforsvaret/NTB Scanpix/Reuters
Scientists and crew members from the KV Svalbard, a Norwegian marine research vessel, play soccer on the frozen sea around Greenland.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 29th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, Christa Case Bryant will offer us a front-row seat at a cyberattack simulation she attended at Harvard University this week. Election officials from 38 states learned how to better defend voting results from such attacks.

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 28, 2018
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