Monitor Daily Podcast

October 17, 2018
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Democracy keeps doing its job

“What’s wrong with democracy?” is a common question these days. We’ve asked it ourselves. No matter your political bent, there’s a fear that politics has become so polarized that democracy might be broken.

Two Stanford University professors, however, have a different take: Perhaps democracy is doing exactly what is needed. In a piece for National Affairs, David Brady and Bruce Cain note how different the America of today is from the America of 30 years ago. Back then, American voters leaned strongly Democratic; now they’re split fairly evenly among Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Equally important, the parties of today are a hot mess. What’s the Republican position on trade? The Democratic position on free college tuition? On an array of issues, the two parties have no unified idea who they are.

American voters have been radically reshaped by trends of globalization, immigration, religion, and race. The parties are only now starting to catch up and evolve. And historically, when America’s parties have been in flux, the country goes through a period of four-wheel-drive politics, the authors say.   

“Democracies cannot and should not resist change,” they add. “They need to enable it to proceed freely and fairly. That’s what our party coalitions do. And it seems to be what they are doing now, in their usual messy and uneasy ways.”

Now to our five stories for your Wednesday.

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Khashoggi affair chills dissent in Arab world. Who will control the narrative?

If human rights and a free press are fundamental values in the West, what obligations does it have to ensure the Khashoggi affair does not squelch voices of dissent across the Arab world, as many fear?

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Arab journalists are no strangers to intimidation. If the Arab Spring shook the foundations of monarchies and dictatorships across the region in 2011, strongmen have hit back since 2013, arresting journalists, analysts, and writers on charges of “terrorism” and “espionage.” Arab intellectuals and activists who wish to have their voices heard increasingly have gone into self-imposed exile for their safety. Other intrepid journalists who are not immediately in harm’s way have relied on the affiliation and protection of Western institutions; Arab regimes wouldn’t dare intimidate or target an American or European news outlet, or so they thought. But the disappearance and suspected murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi while in Turkey shattered this reality. “We are all living in fear,” says one Arab writer in exile. “All of us are suddenly within reach of regimes that will stop at nothing to silence us.” Yet press freedom advocates warn that the case is being watched well beyond the Arab world, to see how far the United States and the West are willing to go to hold a country accountable for the murder of a journalist for a US newspaper.


1. Khashoggi affair chills dissent in Arab world. Who will control the narrative?

Leah Millis/AP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday Oct. 16, 2018. Mr. Pompeo also met with Saudi King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The disappearance and alleged murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has done more than strike fear in the hearts of Arab journalists and intellectuals everywhere.

The affair’s outcome, they say, holds in its balance the future of access to information across the Middle East.

Arab academics and press freedom advocates warn of dire consequences if the United States and the West fail to hold Mr. Khashoggi’s killers accountable.

Not only will it encourage strongmen to target journalists abroad, they say, it will silence the voices of reason and analysis in the region, strengthening dictators’ control over the narrative for decades to come.

“We are all living in fear,” says one Arab writer and activist in exile who asks not to be named due to what he believes is a growing campaign against him. “All of us are suddenly within reach of regimes that will stop at nothing to silence us.”

Pattern of intimidation

Arab journalists and academics are no strangers to intimidation, kidnappings, and violence; according to Reporters Without Borders the number of journalists detained in the Arab world has grown from six in 2010 to 102 in 2017 and 133 jailed this year so far.

Twenty-three Arab journalists were killed in 2017; 19 have been confirmed to have been killed in the region this year as of October.

The Arab Spring shook the foundations of monarchies and dictatorships across the region in 2011, but strongmen have hit back since 2013, arresting journalists, analysts, and writers on charges of “terrorism” and “espionage.”

Arab regimes have shut down local news outlets or taken them over, while some regional satellite networks have reverted to being mouthpieces for various kingdoms and alliances.

Arab intellectuals and activists who wish to have their voices heard increasingly have gone into self-imposed exile for their safety – to Turkey, Europe, and the US. Other intrepid journalists who are not immediately in harm's way have relied on the affiliation and protection of Western institutions, such as news agencies, think tanks, and universities. Arab regimes wouldn’t dare intimidate or target an American or European outlet, so they would reason. Angering key allies who supply aid, weapons, and political support would be too high a cost to move against them abroad, they said.

The Khashoggi disappearance shattered this reality.

Not only did Khashoggi have a high profile and connections to the Saudi royal family and Western governments, but he was apparently killed in the heart of Istanbul, in the very country that has vowed to protect Arab dissidents.

Worries about a ‘hit list’

In Arab capitals, European cities, and even as far away as Canada and the US, Arab activists, journalists, and academics are worrying who may be next on an inevitable “hit list.”

Multiple Arab journalists and activists in the region and in exile say they have spent the past week checking their mobiles and computers for data breaches and re-reading threats via Twitter and email. They pore over old articles and Tweets wondering “are these the words that will get me killed?”

Multiple academics and activists who preferred not be named owing to the increased scrutiny they are facing, all voiced the same concern: If the US government does not stand up for a writer for The Washington Post, what hope do we have?

“If accountability for his disappearance is not achieved, the fear is that it will encourage autocrats and dictators everywhere – particularly in the Arab region but also much further beyond – to think they can target their opponents, irrespective of where they might be, without real consequences,” H.A. Hellyer, senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and analyst of the region, says in an email.

Many fear that Saudi Arabia or another Gulf country – with its oil supplies, vast wealth, and patronage network throughout the Middle East and beyond – may “call in its debts” and pressure allies to allow a similar “disappearance” in their territory.

Yet press freedom advocates warn that other Arab strongmen as well as Russia, China, and Turkey are likely taking note how far the US and the West are willing to go to hold a country accountable for the murder of a US resident and journalist for a US newspaper.

“The outcome of the case can make or break whether there will finally be transparency and accountability for the targeting of journalists both in the Middle East and the West,” says Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the US-based Center for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), who had previously advocated for human rights in Egypt.

Checkered past

Press freedom activists and diplomats admit that the West, including the US, has a checkered past in protecting the Arab journalists, researchers, and analysts who uphold the very democratic and human rights ideals they promote.

In recent years, several Arab academics, researchers, and journalists have carried out research on fellowships in the US and Europe, only to be arrested upon their return home for that very work.

Most recently, Samar Badawi, who was brought to prominence by receiving the State Department’s 2012 International Women of Courage Award – handed to her by no less than then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-first lady Michelle Obama – was arrested this summer by Saudi authorities on accusations of treason for her work. Although she faces 20 years in prison for treason,  there has been little pressure from the US for her release.

Western diplomats say they delicately ask and follow up on the fate of these detainees, but do not push hard for their release, often balancing their countries’ shared economic interests, security ties, energy supplies, and stability against one man or one woman’s freedom.

Yet observers say the Khashoggi disappearance marks the first time that the US is being forced to make that realpolitik calculation over a US resident. In this instance, the US is weighing accountability for alleged murder versus billions of dollars in arms sales, as President Trump implicitly stated last week.

If the US chooses arms sales over accountability, observers say, a precedent will be set.

“This chilling effect will impact and silence anyone who contradicts Saudi Arabia regardless of what their nationality or location is, and other states will take notice,” says Mr. Mansour of the CPJ. 

Moreover, press freedom advocates and Arab intellectuals warn, impunity over Khashoggi’s alleged killing will encourage Arab journalists and analysts to revert to self-censorship, to avoid writing anything critical of the policies carried out by strongmen in the Middle East and across the world.

Already, some Arab journalists and academics say they are re-evaluating the cost of speaking to Western publications, institutions, and governments, with some considering “giving up” writing and commenting altogether.

“If all this ends in a slap on the wrist, then the message is clear: The Americans will not protect one of their own,” says one Arab writer from the region who refuses to be named due to security concerns. “If they will not protect one of their own, they will never even try to protect us.”

Controlling the narrative

Observers say the intimidation and gruesome killing are all part of attempts by Arab regimes to control the narrative.

“Arab regimes want to control the information coming from their countries, they will do anything to create barriers of understanding between the international community and their citizens to protect their interests,” Youssef Cherif, a Tunisian political analyst, says from Tunis, one of the last Arab capitals where intellectuals can speak freely.

If Arab intellectuals and journalists are no longer able to speak out even in the West, and activists stop meeting with foreign diplomats and journalists, as intended, less information will come out from the Arab world on developments on the ground.

Regimes wish to force Western states and media to rely instead on the official line from Arab governments; human rights abuses, economic inequality, environmental violations, and corruption will go unreported. Advocacy groups and citizens would no longer be armed with information to lobby their governments to adjust their policy in the Middle East.

Even diplomats stationed in these countries would increasingly find themselves isolated.

“If this happens, we will see a more ignorant and distorted view of the Middle East from the West, and Arab regimes will continue their violence, crackdowns, and corruption in their home countries with impunity,” Mr. Cherif warns.

This very outcome in mind, observers say, led the killers to target Khashoggi in the first place.

“Khashoggi was a voice for the voiceless, he was the one advocating for arrested Arab journalists who did not have a high profile and were being disappeared,” says Mansour.

“By silencing Jamal’s voice, regimes wanted to silence others. If they succeed, these voices of the region would have gone in vain.”

A deeper look

In Florida’s kaleidoscopic politics, a window into America’s future

Florida isn’t just a potentially pivotal state in this fall’s election. It also has emerged as a kind of microcosm of the nation’s politics, including sharp racial and generational divides.

Jayme Gershen/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
Hannah Klein and William Joel Bravo go door to door last month in South Miami Heights for the organization NextGen America, speaking with homeowners about Democratic candidates. The state’s electorate is becoming younger and, like the nation, more diverse.

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Many of the threads running through our nation’s politics seem woven right into the fabric of Florida today. A marquee governor’s race features a Trump-like Republican versus a progressive African-American Democrat. Then there’s the growing significance of the Hispanic vote, the issue of guns in the wake of mass shootings, and the burgeoning activism of young people in a state that is growing more youthful but where retirees are far more reliable voters. The outcome here could tip control of Congress ­– with a Democratic Senate seat and as many as seven Republican-held House seats hanging in the balance – and has enormous implications for the next presidential race. In the governor’s race, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, is the first African-American gubernatorial nominee in Florida history. Mayor Gillum's opponent, former Congressman Ron DeSantis, called him a “far-left socialist” for positions like support of “Medicare-for-all.” Infusing all the Florida contests is the politics of race, ethnicity, and gender. “It is the future of the country,” says veteran political analyst Susan MacManus. “This is the election to behold.”


2. In Florida’s kaleidoscopic politics, a window into America’s future

Yvette Batlle opens the door a crack and greets the young woman and man standing on her front step, clipboards in hand. Her initial suspicion melts into a smile.

For Hannah Klein and William Joel Bravo, paid canvassers for the liberal NextGen America, that’s half the challenge – getting people to open the door and engage.

Ms. Batlle is registered to vote, maybe as a Democrat – she’s not sure – and still hasn’t researched the candidates. But she’s certain of her No. 1 issue: health care. And she knows what she thinks of the president.

“I believe that as a woman, it is my moral obligation to vote for anyone but Donald Trump,” says Batlle, a Cuban-American native of Miami who works as a paralegal.

President Trump isn’t literally on the ballot Nov. 6, but really, he is. Mr. Trump himself says so.

More broadly, so many of the threads running through our nation’s politics seem woven right into the fabric of Florida today: From a marquee governor’s race that features a Trump-like Republican versus a progressive African-American Democrat, to the growing significance of the Hispanic vote, to the issue of guns in the wake of mass shootings, to the burgeoning activism of young people in a state that is growing more youthful but where retirees are far more reliable voters. The Sunshine State, the nation’s biggest political battleground, is once again a kind of microcosm of the United States.

The outcome here could tip control of Congress ­– with a Democratic Senate seat and as many as seven Republican-held House seats hanging in the balance – and has enormous implications for the next presidential race.

When hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10, political attack ads kept running at first – a sign of the campaign’s intensity. The aftermath, with tens of thousands of voters’ lives severely disrupted, could be consequential in tight statewide races, given the Panhandle’s Republican lean.

The governor’s race in particular, which features Andrew Gillum (D) versus Ron DeSantis (R), has captured national attention: two near-Millennials locked in a pitched battle, the outcome of which will shape Florida politics for years to come. Whoever wins will preside over the post-2020-census, once-a-decade legislative redistricting. 

If you squint, the Florida governor’s race looks like a proxy version of former President Barack Obama-meets-Bernie Sanders versus Trump. Certainly, the race could provide important clues to the 2020 presidential election in a must-win state that narrowly went for Trump in 2016.

Brendan Farrington/AP
Florida Democratic nominee for governor Andrew Gillum participates in the Florida A&M University homecoming parade in Tallahassee, Fla. Just a month before Florida chooses a new governor, Ron DeSantis is hoping to rebound from his campaign’s lackluster start by bringing in the woman who helped President Donald Trump carry the state two years ago. The Republican candidate’s campaign events are transforming from subdued to lively, fundraising is picking up and the attack on Gillum is becoming more focused.

Infusing all the contests here is the politics of race, ethnicity, and gender – and to the extent that it mirrors America’s growing racial and ethnic diversity, Florida may well be a harbinger.

“It is the future of the country,” says veteran political analyst Susan MacManus. “This is the election to behold.”

A ‘woke’ Obama 2.0?

Mayor Gillum of Tallahassee seemed to burst out of nowhere when he won the gubernatorial primary Aug. 28.

With the barnstorming help of the democratic socialist Senator Sanders, support of two billionaires – Tom Steyer and George Soros – and a cadre of young and minority voters, Gillum took the nomination with just 34 percent of the vote. Now the hopes of Florida Democrats, locked out of the governor’s office for two decades, rest on his shoulders.

Gillum is the first African-American gubernatorial nominee in Florida history. If he can inspire Obama-level black turnout, percentage-wise, he could also help reelect three-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D), fighting for his political life in a contest against outgoing Gov. Rick Scott (R), and boost Democrats in competitive House races.

Like Obama, Gillum knows how to fire up a crowd. At the Miami-Dade County Democrats’ recent Blue Gala, Gillum had party elites on their feet as he confidently predicted victory.

“We’re gonna flip this country blue in 2020, and it’s gonna start right here,” said Gillum, who leads narrowly in the polls.

If Obama brought centrist impulses to his eight years in the White House, Gillum is a man of the left. He favors “Medicare for All,” a $15 minimum wage, stricter gun laws, and a hike in education spending paid for by higher state corporate taxes.

When former Congressman DeSantis called him a “far-left socialist” who would “monkey up” Florida’s economy, Gillum heard a racial slur, and accused him of taking a page from Trump’s playbook. Gillum, who rejects the “socialist” label, has also gone toe-to-toe with Trump himself on Twitter.

At The Grio, a website geared toward African Americans, Gillum is a “Woke Obama 2.0” – i.e., more “aware” about issues of social and racial justice. While Obama attended elite private schools, Gillum is a product of public education, including historically black Florida A&M University. The son of a construction worker and school bus driver, and the fifth of seven children, he was the first in his family to finish high school.

A cloud looms over Gillum: an FBI investigation into lobbyists’ influence at City Hall. The mayor says he’s been told he’s not a target, but the probe is still red meat for his opponent. Gillum is also vulnerable over Tallahassee’s reputation for high crime.

Then there’s a more profound question: Is Florida, like neighboring Georgia, ready to elect its first black governor?

Maybe. Obama won the state twice (barely). But this is the governorship, and Florida is tricky. The north is Southern; the Ku Klux Klan has been on the rebound there in recent years. South Florida is a patchwork of Hispanic, Caribbean, and Northern US transplants. The state’s I-4 corridor, cutting across the middle, is the political swing region.

Gillum’s upset victory in the primary sent him into the general election as an unknown to many Floridians.

“I just don't think a lot of independent or Republican voters had a clue who he was,” says Brad Coker, the Jacksonville-based managing director of the Mason-Dixon Poll. He isn’t sure Florida is ready to elect an African-American progressive Democrat as their governor: “That may be a bridge too far today.”

Where Miami meets Venezuela

DeSantis and his running mate, state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, paint Gillum as a left-wing autocrat in the making. In south Florida, where voters with roots in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are a force, the strongman politics of those countries loom large.

At a meet-and-greet for the GOP ticket in the Miami suburb of Doral – known as “Doral-zuela” for its large Venezuelan population – Representative Nunez speaks of “the evils of socialism.”

Wilfredo Lee/AP
Republican candidate for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, left, chats with Gladesman and former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioner Ron Bergeron during an airboat tour of the Florida Everglades, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“This Hispanic community,” says Nunez, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, “understands that Florida will not roll out the welcome mat for anyone who aligns themselves with Bernie Sanders and the likes of the radical left-wing socialism party.”

DeSantis, an Ivy League-educated Iraq War vet, builds on the theme, touting his 2017 congressional resolution urging sanctions against the regime of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. And he is sure to name-check Trump, whose endorsement in the primary was seen as critical to his upset victory over the GOP establishment favorite, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“I have urged President Trump to be tough against Maduro,” says DeSantis, adding that “options need to be on the table,” including military assistance to Mr. Maduro’s opponents.

Not all “Doral-zuelans” see Trump as the answer to Maduro. In fact, some see in Trump the very authoritarian tendencies that have devastated their homeland. And they decry the Trump administration practice of sending Venezuelan asylum-seekers home.

“If you say it’s a murderous dictatorship, why are you deporting people there?” says Carlos Pereira, a Venezuelan immigrant and Democrat running for Doral City Council.

But DeSantis is all in with Trump. In a breakout ad during the primary, he used blocks to show his toddler daughter how to “build the wall,” and read “The Art of the Deal” to his four-month-old son.

After the campaign event in Doral, DeSantis bristles when this reporter asks about his alliance with Trump.

“I am my own man,” he says. “It’s kind of a media game: If you do something different, then, ‘Oh, DeSantis breaks with Trump.’ But then if you agree with him, they say, ‘Oh, all DeSantis does is agree with him.’ ”

Last month, DeSantis did cross Trump on Puerto Rico, after the president claimed Democrats had exaggerated the death toll from last year’s devastating hurricane. More than a million Puerto Ricans live in Florida, a significant voting bloc.

Ultimately, DeSantis portrays his alliance with Trump as a plus. As governor, “I’ll be able to walk into the Oval Office and talk to the president about Florida’s needs,” he says. “Andrew Gillum wants to impeach Donald Trump.”

Enter Tom Steyer

Indeed, Gillum does favor impeachment, though it’s not a talking point on the trail. But for Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who has been running a national “Need to Impeach” campaign since last year, Gillum represents the future of the Democratic Party.

“He has an ability to think strategically about issues, as well as from a moral standpoint,” Mr. Steyer says in an interview at the Biltmore Hotel before introducing Gillum at the Blue Gala.

Steyer notes Gillum’s stand against the National Rifle Association in the wake of high-profile mass shootings in Florida, including at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February and the Pulse night club in Orlando last year.

All told, Steyer plans to spend $8 million in Florida this cycle helping elect Democrats, more than in any other state. (Billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group is spending $2 million on Florida races.)

For now, Steyer has rebranded his “Need to Impeach” town halls as “Need to Vote,” and enjoys registering students himself as he strolls college campuses. Some 400,000 Floridians have signed his petition supporting impeachment, but of those, he says, almost two-thirds don’t normally vote in midterm elections.

Jayme Gershen/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
Hannah Klein and William Joel Bravo go door to door for NextGen in South Miami Heights on Sept. 29, 2018, talking to Floridians about the race for governor and Congress.

“That’s 15,000 people per congressional district,” he says, “and you know how those can swing on 1,000 or 2,000 votes.”

Door to door, student to student

In south Florida alone, two GOP-held House seats are ranked as toss-ups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, and in a wave election, another could flip. NextGen is active in all three districts.

Here in South Miami Heights, a Hispanic neighborhood of modest homes and incomes, moderate GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo faces a stiff challenge from former university administrator and Ecuador native Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Ms. Klein and Mr. Bravo, the NextGen canvassers, wield lists of registered voters, and go door-to-door hoping to make contact.

It’s hot and humid, and there’s no shade, but they’re young and upbeat. Their conversation with Batlle was encouraging, as was another with a Cuban immigrant named Teresa Gomez, who became a citizen a year ago and isn’t registered to vote. She intends to register as a Democrat, she tells Bravo in Spanish.

Over at Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus, on the recent National Voter Registration Day, students set up “Carna-Vote” – food, games, prizes, a guy dressed up as school mascot “Finn” the shark, and lots of paper: voter registration forms, campaign literature, questionnaires, postcards.

The only table with a clear Republican tilt was for Maria Elvira Salazar, the GOP nominee to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R). It’s a high-profile House race, one that initially filled Democrats with confidence. In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the 27th District by almost 20 percentage points, and it had stayed in Republican hands in recent years, it seemed, only out of love for longtime Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American and first Latina elected to Congress.

Then the Republicans nominated Ms. Salazar, a well-known correspondent on Spanish-language TV. The victor in the crowded Democratic primary, with only 32 percent of the vote, was former Clinton-era Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

Ms. Shalala, too, has a strong local profile; from 2001 to 2015, she was president of the University of Miami. As former HHS secretary, she can speak authoritatively about health care, a top concern for many in south Florida. But Shalala is in her late 70s, and doesn’t speak Spanish.

As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, Salazar may be a more natural fit for the 27th District, whose electorate is 57 percent Hispanic. At Carna-Vote, Miami-Dade College freshman Jose Arencibia says he’s making calls for Salazar, and asking people to post signs.

“I agree with a lot of what she has to say,” says the Cuban-born forensic science major, mentioning immigration. Salazar supports legal status for non-criminal undocumented immigrants – a less hard-line position than Trump’s.

Miami-based Fernand Amandi, Shalala’s pollster, acknowledges his client’s demographic challenge and the damage she sustained during the primary. But he insists Salazar’s somewhat hands-off approach to Trump isn’t fooling voters.

“They recognize that a vote for Maria Elvira Salazar, whether she runs to or from Trump, is a vote for Donald Trump,” says Mr. Amandi. 

Other political observers say Salazar is a force – and could win the 27th District even if Democrats win statewide, “A lot of times, it’s who can speak your language,” says Professor MacManus, recently retired from the University of South Florida, Tampa. “Party is less relevant.”

The young and the independent

Florida is famous for its sun-loving retirees. But the Sunshine State is getting younger – and that has political impact.

The youngest cohorts – Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z – now account for 52 percent of registered voters in Florida, according to data from the state. And with each succeeding generation, the share who register as “no party affiliation” is rising.

Millennials, aged 22 to 37, have now fully come into their own as a political force. And in Florida, 35 percent of them are independent, up from 30 percent of Gen X-ers. Among the youngest voters, 39 percent are independent, more than are Republican or Democrat.

Long term, that trend spells trouble for both major parties. Even now, it means the parties have to work harder to turn out their voters, especially in midterms. Older voters are more reliable; younger voters less so. People who register as independent are also less likely to vote than people who affiliate with a party.

Back at Carna-Vote, Nicole Rayon squeals with delight when she spins the wheel at the Engage Miami voter registration table, and wins a T-shirt. Ms. Rayon, a 19-year-old business major, says she’s a Democrat, but ask her about issues and she pauses: “To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to news.”

That, in a nutshell, is the Democrats’ challenge. They can win over young and minority voters, but they can’t force them to turn out.

Two days later, 5,000 people pack the University of Miami basketball arena to see former first lady Michelle Obama headline a rally for the group When We All Vote. The message: “Register – and then vote!”

Even though the group is nonpartisan, nobody is fooled. It’s a young, diverse crowd, and they’re there to see the most popular figure in the Democratic Party. T-shirts for Gillum, UnidosUS, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High dot the crowd. When Mrs. Obama takes the stage, the cheers are deafening.

But who knows if these young people will actually vote? They get busy, and can be hard to reach. They also don’t watch much TV, so traditional campaign ads don’t work. Social media is key, as is the personal outreach funded by Steyer, Mr. Soros, labor unions, and local Democratic committees.

On the Republican side, voter registration and turnout efforts are less visible, but they’re happening – in local party committees, houses of worship, neighbor-to-neighbor. The Koch brothers-funded Libre Initiative conducts voter outreach in the Hispanic community, and the related Libre Institute runs citizenship and English classes for new immigrants. Guest speakers talk up free-market economics and limited government.

Democrats burst with exasperation over their side’s perceived failure to get organized with Florida’s crucial Hispanic population, now more than 16 percent of the state’s registered voters. Cuban-Americans – long the state’s dominant Hispanic bloc – are no longer overwhelmingly Republican, and Florida’s fast-growing Puerto Rican population, now equal in size to the state’s Cuban-Americans, leans Democratic.

Newly arrived Puerto Ricans, many of whom settled around Orlando after hurricane Maria, are still getting their lives in order and aren’t necessarily focused on the November midterms. But 2020 could be another story.

Sid Dinerstein, what’s your prediction?   

In March 2016, Sid Dinerstein, the former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, told me with absolute certainty that Trump was the next president of the United States. I marveled at his confidence.

So, what’s your prediction for November? I asked Mr. Dinerstein recently. “Too soon to say,” he replied. But he’s certain the Supreme Court fight, involving sexual-assault allegations against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, helped the Republicans.

“Politically, the Kavanaugh show was a gift that Republicans could never give ourselves,” he says.

Nonpartisan analysts tend to agree. Suburban women, riled up over the allegations against the judge, were already energized against Trump in a way that has helped Democrats all year. But Republicans who may have sat out the elections – including never-Trumpers and moderates – are now more united.

That could help both DeSantis against Gillum, and Governor Scott in his close race to knock out Senator Nelson. Hurricane Michael could also give a political boost to Scott, if his performance on the ground as the state’s chief executive is deemed successful.

Florida’s strong economy should help Scott and other Republicans on the ballot, but so many other factors are at play – not least Trump. The president’s job approval in Florida has sunk from 56 percent when he took office to 49 percent.

Trump visited Orlando last week and the Panhandle Monday, and another visit to the state before Election Day is entirely possible. But whom would it help?

Maricel Cobitz, president of Federated Republican Women of North Dade, which sponsored the DeSantis meet-and-greet in Doral, jumps at the question: “Tell Mr. Trump to come to Miami!”

Amandi, the Miami Democratic pollster, is just as certain: “The more Donald Trump, the better it is [for Democrats].”

In 2000, the Bush v. Gore presidential election hinged on just 537 Florida votes. Today, the Sunshine State is still all about nail-biters.

On Nov. 6, says MacManus, we could well see some “classic Florida 1 percenters.”

Why Russia’s once shadowy spies are suddenly being publicly outed

Few intelligence agencies are immune to scandal. But the foibles of elite secret forces tend to be kept under wraps. Recent Russian fiascos have thrust the notoriously secretive GRU into public view.

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The GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, is squirming under a storm of revelations about its misdeeds. And the Kremlin is learning the hard way that old cold war methods of international espionage no longer work in the new online world. This realization comes amid an unprecedented public outing of GRU agents by Western officials and journalists. The revelations are coming through mundane means: for example, via an open-source database that revealed hundreds of potential GRU agents who registered their cars at the Moscow headquarters of the GRU. Experts say the GRU has not yet adapted to the easy availability of such information. But it is also falling prey to a new approach by Western governments, which in the past would have remained quiet when it uncovered spy activity. Now they are publicizing it. “There were similar problems with the Chinese at some point, but what seems to have stopped them was public ‘naming and shaming,’ ” says Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian security services. “[Naming] names and [calling] out particular GRU activities in detail is aimed at deterring the Kremlin from doing this sort of thing in future.”


3. Why Russia’s once shadowy spies are suddenly being publicly outed

Dutch Defense Ministry/AP
Four Russian GRU officers are escorted to their flight after being expelled from the Netherlands on April 13 for allegedly trying to hack into the UN chemical watchdog OPCW's network, in this image released and edited by the Dutch Defense Ministry on Oct. 4.

For lovers of spy lore, the past few years have brought unprecedented glimpses behind the curtain of international espionage.

In part thanks to the unpreparedness of many intelligence agencies to grasp the implications of rapidly advancing information technology and the ubiquity of social media, more than one has seen some of its most precious secrets spilled over newspaper front pages.

The latest to suffer this fate is Russia's largest spy agency, the Main Directorate of the Russian General Chief of Staff – still widely known by its traditional acronym, GRU.

If a growing body of official indictments, police reports, diplomatic notes, and journalistic exposés are to be believed, the GRU has been caught red-handed carrying out a range of reckless and aggressive operations against Ukrainian and Western targets. These include the swift and efficient Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the 2016 hacking of the Democratic Party and other cyber-meddling in US elections, and the attempted murder of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military nerve agent in Britain earlier this year.

It's not likely that skulduggery has gotten worse. But in the past, agents would have been able to operate more effectively in the shadows. Opposing intelligence agencies tended to keep what they learned about adversaries’ operations secret, in order to maximize their own advantages. The public was kept in the dark, often until decades later. But the tidal wave of new information technologies has changed that in many ways.

“The world is becoming more open, and all the special services are lagging behind,” says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. For intelligence organizations, the new technologies are a double-edged sword which open up unprecedented opportunities to spy, sabotage, and meddle, but also make them more vulnerable than they have ever been to exposure.

“With a little ability, almost anyone can view the whole world through the prism of their browser,” he says. “Cold war training and trade craft are of little use in this new world. In Russia, since the 1990s, almost any database can be found for sale. Search for almost anything, and you will find it.”

‘How on earth can the GRU work this way?’

The Kremlin and Russia's military heads are learning that the hard way as the GRU squirms under a storm of revelations about its misdeeds – and also what looks like epic incompetence. The scandal has directly touched the Kremlin, since Vladimir Putin himself addressed British allegations that the two men who tried to kill the Skripals, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, were GRU agents. Mr. Putin insisted that there was “nothing criminal” about the two men, and seemingly nudged them to appear on the state-funded RT network for what turned out to be a disastrous interview that left many Russians shaking their heads in amazement over the apparent ineptness of it all.

“There has appeared a mass of jokes, memes, comments, and curses over this,” says Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB officer turned opposition politician. “People of my circle can't believe this is happening. How on earth can the GRU work this way?”

A British-based investigative group called Bellingcat has collaborated with some Russian journalists to comb through social media posts and open-source databases. So far they have identified Mr. Boshirov and Mr. Petrov as heavily-decorated GRU officers, found a third GRU collaborator in the Skripal operation, revealed the methods used by the GRU to generate passports for its secret agents, and also unmasked hundreds of other potential GRU agents who were all foolish enough to register their cars at a single address: the Moscow headquarters of the GRU.

The GRU is only the latest international intelligence operation to get caught in the headlights. Almost a decade ago, Chelsea Manning, then a lowly US intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq, was able to download 750,000 classified diplomatic and military files onto a thumb drive and hand them to a new kind of organization, Wikileaks, which publicized them to the world. A few years later Edward Snowden, a contract worker in an outsourcing facility, made off with the crown jewels of the US National Security Agency, and some of those revelations are still driving news cycles.

And the GRU isn't the only Russian agency to get outed. Like the United States, Russia has several different intelligence bureaus. The GRU is the equivalent of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and in theory it shouldn't even be engaging in sophisticated political subversion and active measures in Western countries. That would be more the domain of the SVR, Russia's external spy service, which had its own painful moment in the sunlight eight years ago when ten of its “deep cover” agents in the US were exposed and returned to Russia through a classic cold war-style spy swap.

Then there is the FSB, technically the equivalent of the FBI in the US, but which experts say maintains a major presence abroad through anti-terrorism operations, and keeping tabs on Russia's far-flung diaspora.

Unprepared for a new mission?

But things don't necessarily work that way.

“What we see today is a lack of responsibility at all levels. That is a general feature of the present regime,” says Alexei Kondaurov, a former KGB major general and ex-deputy in Russia's parliament. “I am a member of the old guard, I guess. In Soviet times there might have been different clans, but we didn't have a system based on personal loyalty as we do today. If something happens now, there is no punishment. If failures like these we are seeing happened in my time, heads would roll.”

The GRU was severely trimmed after Russia's lightning summer war with Georgia in 2008 revealed massive military shortcomings, especially in intelligence gathering. But experts say that after Putin protege Sergei Shoigu became minister of Defense in 2012, replacing the scandal-tarnished Anatoly Serdyukov, many of the reforms were reversed.

“Shoigu had a new idea, a new modus operandi,” says Andrei Soldatov, author of “The Red Web” and one of Russia's top experts on the security services. “He brought in waves of new people, especially from the spetznaz [special forces], to fill the ranks of the GRU. These are military people, used to doing military stuff, but now they were sent to do new things such as political subversion. The Army has become very politicized under Minister Shoigu. But these new GRU people do not have the sophistication of officers of the SVR or FSB, who are trained to work in foreign countries, learn languages and customs. But now you have these new people doing very ambitious things.”

And getting caught. One reason Western governments have dropped their old methods of secrecy and spilled the GRU's secrets into the public domain may be that nothing else has worked to deter what are viewed as Kremlin-mandated aggressive operations in the West, Mr. Soldatov says.

“There were similar problems with the Chinese at some point, but what seems to have stopped them was public ‘naming and shaming.’ So the Mueller indictment of the GRU, and other public statements, which name names and call out particular GRU activities in detail, is aimed at deterring the Kremlin from doing this sort of thing in future,” he adds.

A change of tack in the West

Another reason for Western governments spilling large amounts of information that used to be automatically kept classified is that in the new era, they fear losing control of the narrative with their own publics. During the cold war, Americans and other Western populations automatically accepted what their governments told them, but that is no longer the case, says Mark Galeotti, senior non-resident fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, and an expert on Russian organized crime and security issues.

“The main reason [for the unprecedented flood of public information] is domestic,” he says. “Nobody imagines that those Mueller-indicted GRU agents will ever face an American court, but the indictment paints a picture that it's all done and dusted, there is no room for dispute. The Russians are really doing this. They are trying to counter the alternative narratives that take hold when there is a perceived lack of information.”

What effect it will have remains to be seen. Aside from blanket denials and evasions, there has been little reaction to the wave of allegations about the GRU from the Kremlin. There are unconfirmed rumors that the GRU chief, Igor Korobov, might lose his job. And this week an opposition news outlet called MBK, funded by exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, published a possibly fanciful account about a secret Defense Ministry meeting in which the GRU was described as “deeply incompetent,” “infinitely careless,” and “morons.”

Still, most experts doubt that any serious reform of the GRU is likely to happen.

“Sure, Putin can't be happy with the way this looks. But we don't know how much good stuff the GRU is bringing him,” says Mr. Galeotti. “Maybe there will be a few sacrificial lambs, but nothing much is likely to change. Real intelligence reform is very complex, and it basically takes an intelligence service offline for a period of time. If you think you are in a war with the West, why would you take your most aggressive organization off the field?”

To boost preschool quality, one state invests in degrees for educators

Demand for more education for early childhood teachers is growing, but the profession’s low pay puts that out of reach for many. What can be learned from a state approach that’s aiming to make it easier?

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty Images/File
Aiyauna Terry, a teacher at Ellis Memorial, reads to preschoolers at a Jumpstart Read for the Record event at the Boston Public Library in Boston in 2016.

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Calls to require a bachelor’s degree for early childhood educators in both the public and private sectors have increased over the last decade. In 2007, the US government required that at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers have a bachelor’s degree by 2013. (By 2015, almost 75 percent had them.) But many programs are having a hard time finding and hiring teachers who have attained one. In Massachusetts, officials recognize that the profession’s low pay has put higher education out of reach for many people. Would-be teachers are hard-pressed to take out student loans, knowing that their salaries as preschool teachers will probably not cover loan payments along with living expenses. To ensure that all children have access to educators with deep and practical knowledge, state officials are building multiple pathways to a bachelor’s degree in early education. It’s an effort that may also help with professionalizing the field. “If we say it’s OK for teachers to not know the canon of child development knowledge, our field is going to stay right where it is,” says Lisa Kuh, who oversees public preschool programs in Somerville, Mass. “It will continue to be seen as ‘just care’ rather than education.”


4. To boost preschool quality, one state invests in degrees for educators

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Preschool teacher Kayla Pinto works with a 4-year-old student at the Somerville YMCA in Somerville, Mass. Ms. Pinto is working toward a bachelor’s degree, with the support of state programs that aim to increase college access for early childhood educators.

Kayla Pinto knew she had found her calling from the first day she taught preschool at the YMCA in Somerville, Mass. Ms. Pinto had grown up attending programs at the Y in this small city just north of Boston, and she started working there when she was 14. But it wasn’t until her early 20s, when she was asked to fill in for an absent preschool teacher, that she realized how much she connected with young children.

“My heart sang,” she says, remembering that first day. She soon decided to get certified as an early childhood teacher and make a career in preschool. 

Now a veteran teacher with 11 years of experience, Pinto still has a passion for becoming a better teacher. One thing she doesn’t have is a bachelor’s degree. That limits the salary she can earn at a community center like the Y and prohibits her from working in the higher-paying public pre-kindergarten sector, where the qualifications required of a preschool teacher are similar to those needed to teach elementary school.

With a growing body of research showing that the early years are a critical window for cognitive development and learning, calls to require a bachelor’s degree for early childhood educators in both the public and private sectors have increased over the past decade. In 2007, the federal government required that at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers have a bachelor’s by 2013. (By 2015, almost 75 percent had bachelor’s degrees.)

And in 2015, after a comprehensive review of early childhood research, the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, recommended that all lead teachers in early childhood settings have a bachelor’s. But many programs are having a hard time finding and hiring teachers who have attained one.

In Massachusetts, Bay State education officials recognize that the profession’s low pay has put higher education out of reach for many early childhood educators. Would-be teachers are hard-pressed to take out student loans, knowing that their salaries as preschool teachers will probably not cover loan payments along with living expenses. Those who can afford a traditional four-year college pathway often opt for degrees in elementary education, so that they can work in the higher-paying pre-kindergarten classrooms that are increasingly available in public schools. But those programs, which tend to employ the most educated teachers, serve only an estimated 13 percent of preschool-age children in Massachusetts.

“This bifurcated system of early childhood education is a problem,” says Winifred M. Hagan, an associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and an expert in early childhood teaching. She notes that there are “different qualitative requirements for teachers of different kids,” depending on whether the children attend public pre-kindergarten, Head Start, or community-based programs. This, she says, could contribute to achievement gaps across racial lines and between low-income children and their peers.

To ensure that all children have access to preschool teachers with deep and practical knowledge, state officials are building multiple pathways to a bachelor’s degree in early education. One of them is an initiative called MassTransfer, which encourages students to earn an associate degree at a community college, then transfer to a bachelor’s program at a four-year school. The program, which offers a variety of majors, including early childhood education, guarantees that credits earned during an associate degree program will transfer to the bachelor’s.

Thinking differently about degrees

Not so long ago, the associate degree was seen as the end goal for early childhood teachers. Cheryl McNulty, the director of the Somerville Y’s preschool program, encouraged Pinto and other employees who started around the same time to focus on earning one. “Now we know it’s best practice [to get a bachelor’s],” says Ms. McNulty. 

Lisa Kuh, who oversees Somerville's public preschool programs, says that increasing the number of preschool teachers with bachelor’s degrees is also important for professionalizing the field so that it will be viewed on par with careers like nursing and law. That is a goal the early childhood field has been grappling with for decades, she says. “If we say it’s OK for teachers to not know the canon of child development knowledge, our field is going to stay right where it is,” she says. “It will continue to be seen as ‘just care’ rather than education.”

After completing an associate degree in 2013, Pinto wanted to learn more to be the best teacher she could be. She is taking advantage of the chance to transfer credits she earned over seven challenging years of night classes at the end of her workdays at the Y. Because community college courses tend to be cheaper than those at four-year institutions, transferring credits saves students money. But for Pinto and many other early childhood educators, the cost savings from MassTransfer are still not enough to put a bachelor’s degree within reach.

In Massachusetts, the average preschool teacher salary, across settings, is just $31,000. Nationally, a preschool teacher with a bachelor’s working in a community-based program can expect to earn just over half as much as a similarly qualified teacher in a school setting (with salaries for childcare providers of younger children significantly lower). Nationwide, 35 percent of early childhood educators are eligible for public assistance.

To help teachers balance living expenses and school, the Massachusetts state legislature in 2005 approved the Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Program. It covers all or almost all of the cost of tuition for any Massachusetts early educator who is working in the field and obtaining a degree. Once applicants are approved, the state provides funds directly to the college or university so that students, who often live paycheck to paycheck, don’t have to pay out of pocket and wait to be reimbursed. Pinto is one of 539 students receiving the scholarship this year.

Support for diversity

The goal of these efforts is to increase the qualifications of early childhood educators while maintaining the current diversity of the workforce. Early educators are more likely than elementary school teachers to reflect the diverse backgrounds of the children they serve, especially in communities with high percentages of low-income families and children of color — in part because of the historically low barriers to entry into the field. Efforts to improve the quantity and quality of preschool teachers must honor and preserve that diversity, experts agree. Removing the financial barriers to higher education is one strategy for doing that.

Another strategy is an approach known as competency-based education. Based on the idea that learning doesn’t necessarily mean “seat time” in courses, this approach awards college credits for knowledge and skills already mastered. Massachusetts is testing out a new, competency-based pathway with a small group of early childhood educators who have already been in the field for many years. Those educators can earn college credits by successfully completing assessments demonstrating their knowledge or by completing online coursework.

While that approach appeals to some educators, others prefer the unique learning opportunities that college affords. Teddy Kokoros, a 34-year-old preschool teacher at Transportation Children’s Center in Boston, earned his bachelor’s after spending seven years dividing his time between teaching in the classroom and taking courses part-time, but he doesn’t regret any of that time. A big part of his education came from what he calls “incidental teaching moments” from faculty and peers between classes and during snack breaks.

Mr. Kokoros says he values the depth of knowledge he gained from taking courses outside his major in early childhood education. He uses what he learned in a course about the history and biology of Boston’s Charles River when designing science activities for his preschool classroom. And, he says, “having a broad base of knowledge of the world can be important” when teaching a diverse group of children, like those in his center.

Pinto credits the state’s initiatives with her ability to stay on the path to a bachelor’s degree. “I don’t think I would be as far along as I am without the scholarship,” she says. Still, it hasn’t been an easy road. She had to put her educational plans on hold when a romantic relationship ended and she moved out on her own. To cover her bills, she took a second job, working nights as a grocery cashier, and has had to stop taking evening classes for now. The Boston area is among the most expensive places in the country to live, so even with the scholarship covering her tuition, Pinto’s preschool teacher salary was simply not high enough to cover her living expenses.

Early childhood experts and officials know that for higher education initiatives to work, they must ultimately be accompanied by efforts to improve teachers’ salaries. While officials debate solutions to that issue, Pinto is counting on a salary increase once she finishes her coursework. But, she says she would want to earn the bachelor’s degree, even if it didn't lead to a pay increase. “[I]t’s been such a long road, like a boulder being shoved up a hill,” she says of pursuing diplomas for 10 years. “But it’s also something to aspire to.”

This story about preschool was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. 


The Monitor’s 10 favorite reads for October

A collection of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice columns, a new biography of Ronald Reagan, and a stunning memoir about “the quiet drama of the everyday adopted experience” are among Monitor critics’ choices for best reads of the month.


5. The Monitor’s 10 favorite reads for October

1  Reagan, by Bob Spitz

This comprehensive examination of America’s 40th president represents presidential biography at its best. Noted biographer Bob Spitz (previous subjects have included The Beatles and Julia Child) researches like a historian, writes like a novelist, does the hard work of providing ample and intelligent context, and remains able to take an evenhanded approach to his subject. He also provides excellent portraits of some of the lesser players in Ronald Reagan’s life.

2  If You Ask Me, edited by Mary Jo Binker

You owe yourself the treat of spending some time with Eleanor Roosevelt. While the former first lady is enshrined in public memory as a civil rights crusader and avant-garde feminist, it’s easy to forget that she was also an advice columnist for more than 20 years. This nicely curated collection pulls together examples of Roosevelt’s wit, warmth, and wisdom and allows those who miss her – along with those who never knew her – to sit down for a pleasant visit. 

3  Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

In her latest novel, celebrated author Barbara Kingsolver draws upon the past to illuminate the present as she tells the stories of two families set in different centuries. Each wrestles with the contentious issues of its day – politics, scientific theory, changing communities – as family members turn to truth and compassion to adapt and endure.

4  The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration, by Roger D. Launius

From the Babylonian astronomers to America’s first landing on the moon to plans for private space tourism, this comprehensive illustrated guide tells the story of mankind’s quest to investigate the planets. Space historian Roger Launius tells the story compellingly and clearly enough for both space buffs and more rudimentary learners. 

5  Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

Japanese megastar author Haruki Murakami isn’t to everyone’s taste, but for the hordes of fans who adore his complex, elusive, magical fiction, “Killing Commendatore” is more of an excellent thing. This story of a portrait artist who becomes obsessed with a painting found in an attic is quintessential Murakami. 

6  Gandhi, by Ramachandra Guha

This second and concluding volume of Indian academic and journalist Ramachandra Guha’s superb biography of the Indian leader picks up where Volume I (“Gandhi Before India,” published in 2013) left off, just before Mohandas Gandhi arrives in Bombay, and finishes with his assassination in 1948. Relying on previously untapped archival material, Guha tells the story of this unique thinker and statesman perhaps better than it has ever been told before. 

7  All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung

Born to ethnic Korean parents and adopted by a white US family, Nicole Chung believed she would never have more than a shadowy notion of her biological parents. This proves untrue, as Chung explains in her memoir, which offers a sharp, moving examination of the sometimes overlooked complexities of interracial adoption. 

8  The Big Fella, by Jane Leavy

Bestselling author and sports biographer Jane Leavy takes on one of the greatest sports icons of all time: Babe Ruth. From his contested racial roots to his still-staggering record of play to the swagger that enchanted a nation, Babe was the nation’s first sports celebrity, and Leavy does an excellent job of capturing his saga and his times.

9  Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

This captivating novel, based on the true love story of American writer Joy Davidman and British icon C.S. Lewis, follows the couple from their beginning as pen pals on to their soul-saving friendship, artistic partnership, and, eventually, marriage. Bonding over great literature, the two seek creative fulfillment. Treasuring faith and family, they find home. This novel depicts them with honesty and humor.

10  In the Hurricane’s Eye, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Pulitzer Prize finalist Nathaniel Philbrick (“Mayflower”) has crafted another compelling gem of popular history, this time focusing on George Washington and the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake. It’s a battle that Philbrick argues should be viewed as one of the most important naval engagements in history.

[Editor's noteAn earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the marital status of the birth parents in "All You Can Ever Know."]

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Helping Saudis be led by truth, not fear

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As facts emerge about a probable Saudi hand in the Oct. 2 disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a political critic in exile, one response is this: What might lessen the fear of dissenting ideas among the rulers in Riyadh? Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has defined himself as a reformist leader. He also brooks no dissent. He is a mix of noble ambition and ignoble insecurity. Perhaps most worrisome to him, the young prince reigns over a population that is largely under 30, wired to the world and less and less likely to be ruled by intimidation. In a visit to Saudi Arabia Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the crown prince to conduct a “transparent” investigation. It was perhaps the best initial response from an ally. In authoritarian regimes, fearing the truth is seen as a sign of weakness. If Saudi leaders can reveal the truth about Khashoggi’s fate, they will have shown they might be able to tolerate different ideas and pluralistic politics. Stepping out of the zone of fear takes courage and the kind of leadership that embraces openness and honesty.


Helping Saudis be led by truth, not fear

An official is seen at the Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, scene of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's alleged torture and slaying.

Leaders who fear ideas different from their own do not make very effective leaders. This bit of wisdom may help explain why someone in Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy may have wanted to silence a political critic in exile, Jamal Khashoggi, without understanding the dire consequences abroad.

As facts emerge about a probable Saudi hand in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2, one obvious response is this: What might lessen the fear of dissenting ideas among the rulers in Riyadh?

Since 2016, Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has clearly defined himself as a reformist leader, at least in social and religious areas, but also someone who brooks no dissent. He is a mix of noble ambition and ignoble insecurity. He has rivals in the royal family and among Islamic clerics eager to dethrone him. Perhaps most fearful to him, the young prince reigns over a restless population that is largely under the age of 30, wired to the outside world of ideas, and less and less likely to be ruled by intimidation.

Stepping out of this zone of fear takes courage along with the kind of leadership that embraces openness and honesty. Often this requires an invitation to change rather than a threat. In a visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the crown prince to conduct a “transparent” investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi. It was perhaps the best initial response from an ally.

In authoritarian regimes, fearing the truth is easily seen as a sign of weakness. If Saudi leaders can now reveal the truth about Khashoggi’s fate, they will have shown they might be ready to tolerate different ideas and pluralistic politics. 

Saudi Arabia is in transition from a society ruled by a tribe (the House of Saud) to one ruled on ideas, such as liberty and the rule of law. Its rulers have yet to accept one key idea, that of civil debate and the equality of all citizens to voice their dissent. Being honest about Khashoggi’s disappearance would be one big step in this transition. It would also be a step away from fear-based leadership.

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.

Brotherly love and fairness in education

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Today’s contributor headed an early childhood department of a Caribbean school system. She shares how prayer inspired her efforts to address academic inequality.


1. Brotherly love and fairness in education

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Maria Montessori, the distinguished early childhood educator, said, “Early childhood education is the key to the betterment of society.” I was contemplating this while reading a recent Monitor article highlighting a New Hampshire school district seen as a model of providing full-day kindergarten to schools with a majority low-income population (“On full-day kindergarten, policies still lag behind the promise,” Aug. 15, 2018). The article pointed out that this provision helps enrollees start first grade on par academically with wealthier classmates, thus putting them on track to become productive citizens.

This kind of compassionate care for students who are most in need of help brings to thought the biblical image of a loving God who meets our needs even in the most desperate circumstances. The book of Deuteronomy describes God’s redeeming love and mercy this way: “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (32:10).

Some years ago, I was the head of an early childhood department at a small private school system on an island in the Caribbean. The country had recently gained independence from colonial rule, and as was typical of private schools at the time, the majority of the students were from privileged white expatriate homes and were well prepared for kindergarten. Many of the native black children were not advantaged economically, nor were they as well prepared academically. The school’s response had been to “stream” the children based on their abilities, which in effect meant they were grouped primarily based on their race. It also meant that the native students received a less rigorous and academically stimulating education.

Feeling a deep desire to remedy the situation and having seen the value of turning to God in other challenging circumstances, I prayed. Christian Science teaches that God, our heavenly Father-Mother, is infinite, ever-present Love, embracing all creation in His constant care. The family of man – which includes each of us as the spiritual, innocent, capable expression of God – is created in Love’s image and likeness. Therefore our true identity is spiritual and “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17). We’re living this identity when we express the spiritual qualities of kindness, compassion, and fairness in our daily affairs.

When spiritual love for our neighbor impels a sincere desire to help those in need, we find that God provides opportunities for us to express brotherly love to our fellow men and women. Every opportunity to engage in acts of kindness that help lift others to a fuller sense of their God-given capabilities and value is evidence of the limitless love of God manifesting itself. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, writes, “The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 518).

My prayers acknowledged that God, divine Love, is impartial and loves all Her children immeasurably. I deeply trusted God to reveal a solution to help these young students.

Soon the idea came for me to offer a series of workshops that gave parents practical tips on how to support their children academically. Although this was offered to all, it was the parents who needed this support who responded enthusiastically to this new idea. This approach also led to productive conversations with colleagues at staff meetings, and over time the practice of streaming was discontinued, which meant that all students received equal educational opportunities. To me, the harmony and fairness expressed during these developments illustrated God’s loving guidance and tangible care.

We can all follow Christ Jesus’ example in humbly listening for and obeying God’s gentle commands to love and serve one another. Opportunities abound for each of us to help one another and to contribute collectively to the betterment of society!


Still picking up the pieces

Gerald Herbert/AP
Roxie Cline picks up items Oct. 17 near what remains of her home in the aftermath of hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. Recovery efforts in the Florida Panhandle have been slow.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks again for being here. Come back tomorrow. Jessica Mendoza will be reporting from Michigan on a citizens’ bid to take a decisive role in drawing voting district lines.

Also, a correction: Our story on Hot Springs National Park, which appeared in the Friday, Oct. 12 edition, misstated the temperature at which the water emerges from the ground there. It is 143 degrees F.

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