2019
July
22
Monday

Welcome to the Monitor Daily. Today, we look at how a hard-line conservative base is reshaping British politics and offer key context for the escalating U.S.-Iran dispute. We’ve also got stories on the dangers of “hostage diplomacy,” the power of a unified electorate in Ukraine, and what’s behind the plummeting U.S. high school dropout rate.

But before we get to that:

Over the past very hot weekend, a lot of people sought refuge in ... the library.

Libraries are oases at such moments, extending hours and reminding people they’re as much a community center as a place to find titles. They’re more than a bunch of bookshelves.

That helps explain why emotions run high when libraries are repeatedly on budget chopping blocks, or it’s suggested library staff are optional. In North London, for example, protests have broken out over “open” libraries, which some 150 British communities are testing. Residents get keypad access to the building and checkout is self-service. It may be better than nothing – though there’s concern about safety – and flexibility is a plus. Yet there’s a “but” in that idea. ...

As the Monitor has regularly explored, libraries are often extolled for high participation rates, popularity with students, and being a resource for learning new skills, finding jobs, or accessing computers, particularly in lower-income communities. They may even provide housing. They’re associated with vitality and gratitude. Helsinki residents call their new central library the city’s “living room.”

Harvard public policy Professor Robert Putnam (“Bowling Alone”) calls that social capital, which he sees as essential to community well-being. So the next time you see librarians at work, ask them a question. Or visit during a heat wave. You can see if you agree.

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1. How a ‘Tory tea party’ is reshaping British politics

Frustrations with government policies and elites can spur a retreat to hard lines – even if it’s unclear where that will lead.

Amelia
Dominic Lipinski/Reuters
Conservative leadership candidate Boris Johnson poses for a photograph at the Wight Shipyard Co. at Venture Quay during a visit to the Isle of Wight, Britain, June 27, 2019. It is widely assumed Mr. Johnson will become the U.K.’s next prime minister.

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In the United Kingdom, tension between the Tory base and the elite has echoes of the tea party revolt a decade ago that reshaped the GOP and blazed a path for Donald Trump’s presidency. Here, as in the United States, the revolt is as much about culture and identity as it is about economic policy. And in Mr. Johnson, an Eton-educated populist who became the face of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, it may have found its man – a bridge between a Brexit-at-all-costs base and a flailing party establishment.

Mr. Johnson has vowed that the U.K. will leave the EU on Oct. 31 “do or die,” and embraced a no-deal Brexit if necessary. Polling suggests that Conservative members, who are older, whiter, and less urban than the broad electorate, support a “hard Brexit.” In May, the Brexit Party polled first in largely symbolic European Parliament elections; the Conservatives finished fifth. 

Government forecasts suggest a hard Brexit may trigger a deep recession, and some say it will wreck the party. As one Conservative minister said in April, if the party advocates for a no-deal Brexit, “we’re saying goodbye to young people, goodbye to Remain voters, and goodbye to the center ground of British politics.”

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How a ‘Tory tea party’ is reshaping British politics

A quarter-century of agitating at the grassroots of Britain’s oldest and most successful political party has taught John Strafford a few tricks.

Meet regularly but not too often. Budget modestly: Rent a cheap space and serve a simple lunch. And always pack a spare kettle for endless cups of tea, just in case.

On a recent Saturday morning, Mr. Strafford, a retired accountant and entrepreneur, set out four rows of chairs in a small church hall in this leafy London suburb of million-dollar houses and stalwart votes for the Conservative Party, of which Mr. Strafford is a lifelong member. His small group of party activists was gathering to discuss, among other matters, a national leadership contest: It is widely assumed the winner will be Boris Johnson, who is set to replace Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.

But Mr. Strafford and his allies are not content with merely voting for their next leader. They want a much greater say going forward in how the party is run and who stands for office, particularly in safe seats in the heartland for the Tories, a center-right party which has its roots in a 17th-century parliamentary faction and styles itself as the natural party of government. And when it comes to the defining issue of Brexit, that means purging Conservative members of Parliament who stand in the way of a hard break from Europe.

Mr. Strafford describes a long war of attrition between the party establishment and its corporate donors, and activists in towns and suburbs like this one. “Brexit brought it to a head. It was going to implode at some point,” he says.

That tension between the Tory base and the elite has echoes of the tea party revolt a decade ago that reshaped the GOP and blazed a path for Donald Trump’s presidency. Here, as in the U.S., the revolt is as much about culture and identity as it is about economic policy. And in Mr. Johnson, an Eton-educated populist who became the face of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, it may have found its man, a bridge between a Brexit-at-all-costs base and a flailing party establishment.

Crucially, Mr. Johnson is also seen as a vote-getter who can take on Labour, the party’s traditional left-wing foe, and the upstart Brexit Party that is snapping at its right flank. In May, the Brexit Party polled first in largely symbolic European Parliament elections; the Conservatives finished fifth.

For Jon Stanley, a fellow at the Bow Group, a right-wing think tank in London, the Conservatives have no choice but to embrace Brexit and stop trying to hold Remain voters.

“These two groups are now permanently aligned and if the Tories don’t choose the obvious group, which is the Leavers, it will be in trouble really, really fast,” he says.

“Do or die”

Around 160,000 Conservatives were eligible to vote in the monthlong run-off race between Mr. Johnson, a former foreign secretary and London mayor, and Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary. Ms. May agreed to step down in May after failing to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union in March and being forced to negotiate a Brexit extension until Oct. 31.

Stefan Rousseau/PA/AP
Back row from left, Charles Walker, Bob Blackman, Dame Cheryl Gillan, Nigel Evans and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown announce the results of the fifth ballot in the Tory leadership ballot at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Thursday, June 20, 2019. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will compete to become Britain's next prime minister in a runoff vote by members of the governing Conservative Party.

Mr. Johnson has vowed that the U.K. will leave the EU on that date “do or die,” and embraced a no-deal Brexit in the event that the EU refuses, as it has done until now, to amend his predecessor’s contentious withdrawal agreement. Ms. May’s own government forecasts that a “hard Brexit” is likely to trigger a deep recession; many U.K. businesses have repeatedly urged Conservative leaders to abandon the threat.

But polling suggests that Conservative members, who are older, whiter, and less urban than the broad electorate, support a hard Brexit. Mr. Strafford says any economic setbacks, even a drop in living standards, would be justified by the freedom and liberty that a clean break from Europe affords. “This is a gut feeling among the British public,” he says.

This feeling is not shared, however, by Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general who since 1997 has represented the Beaconsfield constituency – in which Gerrards Cross lies – and has threatened to bring down any Conservative government that pursues a no-deal exit. Which is why Mr. Strafford and other disgruntled local members are trying to stop Mr. Grieve standing again as their candidate. He is one of several pro-Europe Tory members of Parliament, including current and former ministers, facing deselection campaigns, though few have been as outspoken on Brexit as Mr. Grieve.

At the church hall meeting, which is attended by 18 mostly gray-haired men and women, Mr. Strafford provides an update on their campaign and how they can keep up the pressure. “It’s critically important that we win this battle so that the voice of members is heard,” he says.

U.K. parties don’t hold primaries and the process of deselecting a sitting MP is complex. In the case of Mr. Grieve, who lost a no-confidence vote in March, the Beaconsfield Conservative association has asked him to reapply to stand in the next general election. Still, warns Mr. Strafford, that mechanism probably won’t work in time for a snap election.

Asked by a Monitor correspondent for a show of hands as to who would vote for Mr. Grieve as their candidate in such a scenario, none go up.

Older and whiter

In seats like Beaconsfield, a drop in the Conservative vote may not sink the party. But the rise of the Brexit Party, perhaps the closest analog to the tea party, could prove disastrous for any Conservative leader trying to win a fresh mandate, particularly if Brexit is unfulfilled, as was shown in May when droves of Conservatives defected in the European parliamentary election.

“If we don’t come out they’ll stay with the Brexit Party, and then the Tory party becomes a rump,” warns Mr. Strafford.

Allies of Mr. Johnson have suggested that he could strike a one-off electoral pact with the Brexit Party in order to avoid splitting the anti-EU vote, as happened in a by-election in Peterborough in June that Labour held, despite only polling one-third of ballots cast.

Such a strategy is risky, though, since it would jettison moderate Conservative votes, say analysts. And it doubles down on the ideology of a base that is out of step with modern Britain in its preference for a no-compromise Brexit even if it wrecks the party and its brand.

Rory Stewart, a Conservative minister who ran as a centrist in the leadership race and failed to make the run-off, said in April that if the party advocates for a no-deal Brexit, “we’re saying goodbye to young people, goodbye to Remain voters, and goodbye to the center ground of British politics.”

Ahead of the leadership race the party’s membership has grown, but at 160,000 is a fraction of its postwar peak. As recently as 1970, it represented over 3% of the electorate and Conservative social clubs and events were a mainstay of town life. Now it is less than 0.4% of Britons.

The raw numbers may be less important than demographics; Conservative activists skew older and whiter, while their fervor for Brexit is failing to win over the next generation of voters.

“They’re increasingly locked out of urban Britain, which is younger and more multicultural,” says Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London who has surveyed the party’s membership.

He points out that an aging Tory base in prosperous towns finds it easier to dismiss as fearmongering the forecasts of a no-deal Brexit recession. “They’ve got their house. They’ve got their pension. The state of the economy isn’t so much of a worry for them,” he says.

Maureen Holding, a Conservative councilor in the New Forest in southern England, says Mr. Johnson is the right leader for the party as he can speak to younger voters. Just as important, says Ms. Holding, who defended her seat in a May council election that saw a surge in votes for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, he’s committed to leaving the EU on Oct. 31.

Asked about the economic disruption of such an act, Ms. Holding raises her chin. “We are Great Britain,” she says.

Karen Norris/Staff
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2. Behind Iran spy drama, a broader escalation

As the hostility between the U.S. and Iran escalates, deeper context can bring greater insight. Here are three issues to keep in mind as you watch this story.

Amelia

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In the latest escalation of a U.S.-Iran covert intelligence war, the Islamic Republic announced Monday that last year it had arrested 17 Iranians trained by the CIA. As details emerge, here is some key background:

First, Iran’s declaration of breaking up a CIA spy network comes amid rising tension in recent weeks that has seen American sanctions bite deeper, Iran shoot down a U.S. intelligence drone, and President Donald Trump call off a strike on Iran at the last minute. Stepping up the covert war is one facet of that broader stand-off.

Second, Yahoo revealed last November that from 2009 to 2013 the CIA’s internet-based system used to communicate with operatives had been compromised, resulting in “catastrophic” damage to CIA networks in Iran, China, and elsewhere – including deaths and captures of spies.

And lastly, in February the Justice Department unsealed the indictment of former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer Monica Witt, who defected to Iran in 2013, and was charged with providing secret intelligence to Iran that revealed U.S. agents.

On Monday, Iran aired a new documentary trumpeting its “achievements” against the U.S. 

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Behind Iran spy drama, a broader escalation

In the latest escalation of a covert intelligence war between the United States and Iran, the Islamic Republic announced Monday it had broken up an American spy network last year by arresting 17 Iranian nationals who had been recruited and trained by the CIA.

Iranian intelligence officials produced a polished video that purported to illustrate how U.S. agents had recruited Iranians outside the country with promises of visas and cash, had delivered encrypted communications gear encased in bricks, and had tasked the agents with spying on Iranian nuclear and military sites.

Iranian media also published photographs they claimed were of American handlers, along with documents, business cards, and contact details purportedly of U.S. diplomats and their recruits. Of the 17 arrested, those who refused to cooperate as double-agents to work against the U.S. face the death penalty.

President Donald Trump rejected the Iranian claims, saying in a tweet that reports of Iran “capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iranian claims should be taken with a “grain of salt,” and that Iran had a “history of lying.”

While Iran does have a history of falsely accusing detainees of being spies – Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian was accused by his Iranian interrogators during 544 days in prison of being the CIA “station chief” in Tehran – there are also several signs that Iran may have, in fact, had access to U.S. intelligence networks targeting it.

As events unfold in the coming days and weeks, and U.S.-Iran tensions continue to escalate, here are several key points of context:

Part of a broader surge in tensions

First, Iran’s declaration of dealing a “heavy blow” to CIA networks appears timed to add to a surge of tension in recent weeks that has seen American sanctions on Iran bite deeper, Iran shoot down a state-of-the-art U.S. intelligence drone, and Mr. Trump call off a surgical strike on Iran with just minutes to spare.

In the narrow shipping channels of the Persian Gulf, through which 20% of global oil supplies pass daily, Iran last week seized a British-owned oil tanker, and since May half a dozen tankers have been damaged by explosions that the U.S. blames on Iran. The latest move was a clear response to British Royal Marines seizing a tanker full of Iranian crude off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month.

The escalation began one year ago, triggered by Mr. Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, and reimposing American sanctions.

Stepping up the U.S.-Iran covert war is one facet of that broader stand-off, not unlike the intense covert activity that preceded the nuclear negotiations. Actions then included President Barack Obama launching cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure through the Stuxnet virus, and the assassination – widely attributed to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency – of several Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran.

CIA communication system compromised 2009-2013

Second, Iran’s latest claims of rolling up a CIA spy network come after investigative reporting by Yahoo revealed last November that, from 2009 to 2013, the CIA’s internet-based system to communicate with far-flung operatives had been compromised. The breakdown originated in Iran, which started hunting for a mole after the Obama administration announced the discovery of a secret Iranian enrichment facility in 2009, and “spiderwebbed” to other countries, Yahoo reported.

More than two dozen American intelligence sources died in China in 2011 and 2012 as a result, and Iran also began to announce the capture of networks of spies working for the U.S.

Yahoo cited interviews with multiple former intelligence officials, who called the resulting damage “serious – even catastrophic” and likely to “persist for years.”

U.S. counterintelligence officer’s defection & new tactics

Third is the little-noticed story of the 2013 defection to Iran of former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer Monica Witt. A Justice Department indictment made public in February charged her with revealing classified information to Iran, and specifically with exposing U.S. operatives to being targeted.

An unnamed senior Iranian intelligence official told foreign news media in Tehran on Monday that there had been a marked intensification of CIA activity against Iran since Mr. Trump’s 2016 election and his appointment last year of Gina Haspel as CIA director.

The Iranian documentary, called “Hunting the Spies,” boasted of Iran’s ability to counter what it called a new American tactic of hiring spies to infiltrate key institutions. “The new mission of the U.S. was taking lessons from the past, particularly its massive intelligence defeats in 2013,” says the 19-minute Ministry of Intelligence film.

The video includes audio from purported wiretaps, with incidents from Afghanistan to Thailand to Sweden, where an Iranian with her face blurred out, who is apparently a student, describes how she was recruited by the CIA there. Among other scenes, the video also shows an unidentified blonde woman speaking Persian with an American accent, who says she is in Dubai, saying it is “dangerous” because Iranian intelligence is “spread everywhere.” 

“We decided that we shouldn’t wait to be targeted by their spies,” Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi says in the video, which describes a shift from passive defense to active defense. “We infiltrated the very source of their attacks, when they were working on their plots.”

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3. ‘Hostage diplomacy’ spat between China and Canada hits home

Diplomacy creates space to resolve differences through familiar frameworks. Aggressive moves outside those parameters may undercut the power of careful calibration.

Amelia
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
China's ban on Canadian beef is having an immediate effect on those in the beef industry like Ballco Group, which runs this feedlot in Strathmore, Alberta.

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A diplomatic spat between Canada and China has gone well beyond the arrest last December of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, British Columbia. After that arrest, China detained two Canadians on espionage allegations – and that, in turn, has led Canadians with various China dealings, including farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, and professors, to alter their paths.

“I decided to stop going there. It’s not worth it,” says Jeff Ball, president of a beef production company in southern Alberta.

China, moreover, has targeted other foreign nationals, whether on drug charges or with “exit bans.” The moves have many worried that the country is engaging in a new form of aggressive diplomacy, one that goes against international law and diplomatic practice as it vies for superpower status.

“Canada is in a difficult spot because the world is in a difficult position of figuring out how to adapt to a changed China, a China that is more assertive internationally, more interventionist in its economy, and tighter politically,” says Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.

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1. ‘Hostage diplomacy’ spat between China and Canada hits home

For years Jeff Ball, the president of a 20,000-cattle beef production company in southern Alberta, has been pushing their high-end Wagyu brand into China, visiting often to set up a network of distributors on the ground.

Those trips have come to an abrupt end, however, after a diplomatic spat between Canada and China has made a market that once seemed the most viable alternative to the United States much more fraught. The arrests of two Canadian men in China shortly after Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, in December are widely perceived here as a form of “hostage diplomacy.” And they have altered the paths of Canadian farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, and professors.

“I decided to stop going there. It’s not worth it,” Mr. Ball says. “You just don’t know what local law enforcement would do.”

The arrest of Ms. Meng on an extradition request by the U.S. has generated an angry response from Beijing directed squarely at Canada. But the targeting of other foreign nationals, whether on drug charges or with “exit bans” that the U.S. State Department has cautioned its travelers about, has many worried that China is engaging in a new form of aggressive diplomacy, one that goes against international law and diplomatic practice as it vies for superpower status.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Jeff Ball, president of Ballco Group, says the Chinese ban on Canadian beef is having an immediate effect on ranchers and those in the industry.

While “hostage diplomacy” itself is not the general norm, it could fit into a larger pattern of asymmetrical responses that China is employing to test the limits of the Western alliance, says John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society think tank in the United Kingdom. “I think the long-term strategy is to begin to weaken the bonds between the U.S. and its allies,” he says.

China’s moves

China detained the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on espionage allegations, and has also sentenced a Canadian to death for drug trafficking and has banned imports of Canadian canola, pork, and beef, all since December. And in mid-July, Chinese police detained or arrested more than a dozen foreign citizens – including at least one Canadian and four British individuals – as part of alleged drug cases involving students and teachers.

Western allies have defended Canada, but it’s unclear how robust their support has been, which may owe to a changing global order. When Canada sought U.S. support for the detained Canadians ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in late June, Geng Shuang, a spokesman at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded with derision. “Canada shouldn’t naively think that gathering so-called allies to put pressure on China will work,” he said.

Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was confident that the issue of the detained Canadians was raised by U.S. President Donald Trump in a bilateral meeting there with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Mr. Trudeau said little else.

“Canada is in a difficult spot because the world is in a difficult position of figuring out how to adapt to a changed China, a China that is more assertive internationally, more interventionist in its economy, and tighter politically,” says Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

The treatment of detainees in China doesn’t compare with Ms. Meng’s reality, as she continues to live on bail in her multimillion-dollar home in Vancouver, free to visit most of the city except during a nightly curfew. Canadian officials say Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are enduring a difficult situation in detainment. They are allowed no family or lawyer visits. They get only a brief, monthly consular meeting.

Colin Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says that Ms. Meng’s stature among the Chinese elite accounts for Beijing’s harsh response. But there are also geopolitical calculations. “With the ongoing dispute on trade with the U.S., Canada becomes a kind of surrogate for the U.S. You make an example of Canada, [like] the Chinese expression ‘you kill a chicken to scare the monkey,’” he says.

And making an example of Canada carries far less risk. “It’s much easier for them to turn the screws on Canada than on the United States,” he says. “The Chinese and the Americans want to avoid out-and-out confrontation.”

From the U.S. vantage point

The U.S. is not untouched. A State Department advisory in January urged Americans in China to exercise increased caution “due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws,” the warning reads, including “exit bans.”

The State Department is advising U.S. private sector organizations operating in China to conduct business through a Chinese employment lawyer, “especially when laying off workers, cutting off a supplier, or any business operation that may have negative consequences,” a State Department official said in an emailed response to questions. U.S. travelers in China should carry a copy of their passport with them “at all times,” the official said.

The Chinese government “frequently deploys extralegal tactics to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes,” including the use of exit bans that prohibit the departure of an individual from China, the official says. It has also imposed exit bans on U.S. citizens “not accused of any wrongdoing ... in an attempt to lure others, typically family members, back to China from abroad.”

“U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, regularly raise the issue of exit bans with the Chinese government and will continue to do so until we see a transparent and fair process,” the official said.

China’s detention and questioning last month in southern China of a U.S. executive from Koch Industries was seen by some analysts as a not-so-subtle warning to other foreign executives that Beijing could make things very difficult for foreigners and their firms if they choose.

“The number of foreigners being explicitly harassed has not risen a lot ... but there are enough additional incidents for those to be lessons to others to be aware that China could make examples of them,” says Mr. Kennedy of CSIS. “The Chinese are making a lot of people nervous.”

For now experts on U.S.-China relations say that despite the tensions, overall business exchanges and travel are relatively unhindered. “People are still trying to find ways to build bridges and to create businesses,” says J. Norwell Coquillard, executive director of the Washington State China Relations Council, a Seattle-based organization dedicated to strengthening ties with China.

Mr. Coquillard, who lived in China for 18 years, says his friends there tell him that official scrutiny of foreigners has increased, for example with police knocking on the doors of foreigners and asking to inspect mandatory residence permits. “It’s making people a little uncomfortable,” he says, “but it’s not serious enough that anybody who’s trying to build a business ... is going to take it as a major problem.”

Increased harassment would be self-defeating, says Mr. Coquillard, because the U.S. business community historically has comprised some of China’s biggest supporters. It also confuses the country’s message of reform and opening, as it seeks to draw investors and international students.

Canadians’ opinion

Already China’s moves have worsened public perceptions in Canada, with a new Research Co. poll showing 67% of Canadians think the country should not work to establish closer ties with China.

Even though many Canadians have lamented being squeezed by an American decision – and perhaps wish in hindsight that Canada had turned a blind eye – they wouldn’t support a government that “kowtows” to Chinese demands, says Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute in Edmonton.

In fact, when Jean Chrétien, the former prime minister, suggested the Canadian government drop extradition proceedings against Ms. Meng to end the diplomatic rupture, he faced a backlash. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, said it would set a dangerous precedent that could encourage other countries to detain Canadian citizens as bargaining chips.

In the meantime, universities, businesses, and individuals struggle with how to minimize their own risks.

Kee Jim, managing director of Feedlot Health in southern Alberta, says that many ranchers, like Mr. Ball, have hesitated about dealing with China, both for their personal safety and because of the uncertainty China has thrown into their market with the beef ban from last month. “It’s very frustrating when you are building a market and it’s suddenly gone,” Dr. Jim says. “We are collateral damage to other issues.”

David Wright, a senior fellow at the Centre for Military, Security & Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, says that Canada is stuck in a modern Cold War – but this time it’s much more personal. Mr. Spavor is his student and good friend, for example.

In Alberta, the Chinese have invested significantly in the oil sector. They form significant immigrant communities in Calgary, as well as Vancouver and Toronto. Professor Houlden notes that Canada’s relationship with Asia, in terms of percentages of population, compares to the U.S.’s with Latin America.

“China is here. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was not here. There was no economic integration. People weren’t studying Russian in schools. There were no Russian restaurants,” Dr. Wright says. “The world is in fact getting smaller. And great power confrontations are going to distress many lives.”

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4. Ukraine votes for reform. Will president seize opportunity?

Ukrainians have shown surprising unity in giving their new leader the political tools he needs to fulfill his promises. It’s rooted in confidence he is listening to them and can deliver.

Amelia
Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena, go to cast their ballots at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday.

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Ukraine is a country that has experienced fresh beginnings before, notably in the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 EuroMaidan revolt. Neither of those revolts ended up bringing about lasting reforms. But Sunday’s parliamentary elections could break with that tradition.

Recently elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party captured 43% of the votes and is projected to win a comfortable majority of the parliament’s seats, the first time that has happened in Ukraine. That gives Mr. Zelenskiy the ability to implement sweeping change – and the Ukrainian public is optimistic that he will.

“What we have seen following Zelenskiy’s election [three months ago] is a huge increase in optimism and expectations across the country,” says Ian Woodward, Ukraine co-director for the National Democratic Institute. “Zelenskiy is well liked all over the country, and he is seen as a person who can deliver. We have never seen that before.”

The NDI found that, for the first time, a desire for an end to the war in the east is tied with rising prices as the No. 1 concern of Ukrainians. The five-year-old war along with mutual Russia-Ukraine sanctions have inflicted terrible damage on Ukraine’s economy.

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Ukraine votes for reform. Will president seize opportunity?

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Ukrainians woke up Monday morning to greet the dawn of a radically new political era.

For the first time in Ukraine’s turbulent post-Soviet history, the country’s voters have thrown enough support behind a single party to grant it a parliamentary majority that will now be capable of forming a government, choosing a prime minister, and backing the recently elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He has pledged sweeping reforms, a new path to peace with Russia, and strong action to curb the country’s endemic corruption.

Mr. Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party, which didn’t even exist a year ago, captured 43% of the votes and is projected to win 246 – a comfortable majority – of the unicameral Supreme Rada’s available 424 seats. Political parties that dominated the outgoing parliament, including those of former President Petro Poroshenko and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have been virtually marginalized with single-digit support. In second place with 13% is an unambiguously pro-Russian force, Opposition Bloc-Party of Life, which draws most of its support from the embattled east of Ukraine.

“What we have seen following Zelenskiy’s election [three months ago] is a huge increase in optimism and expectations across the country,” says Ian Woodward, Ukraine co-director for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which recently published a comprehensive survey of Ukrainian public opinion.

“Before this, there was at least one pessimist for every optimist. Now it’s 3-to-1 for optimists. People have firm expectations that the new parliament will represent their interests better, and they believe that the president is actually listening to their concerns. This is a big change from the recent past,” he says.

Ukraine is a country that has experienced fresh beginnings before, notably in the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 EuroMaidan revolt, both of which led to changes of government and sweeping hopes for reforms. But neither Maidan-centric revolt engaged the more Russified populations of east and south Ukraine. And both broke down amid infighting among reformers, the stubborn persistence of official corruption at every level, and regional divisions which in 2014 erupted into Russian-backed separatist war in the east.

“Now we are seeing a convergence of views across the country,” says Mr. Woodward. “Zelenskiy is well liked all over the country, and he is seen as a person who can deliver. We have never seen that before.”

People in Kiev’s overcast streets Monday mostly validated those views.

“I support Zelenskiy because he is new and has nothing to do with our past politics,” says Ruslan Akimov, a middle-aged security guard. “In the past, our situation has deteriorated with every single new president who came to power. Poroshenko was the head of the state and now we see that he worked not so much for the sake of Ukraine but for his own pocket. Zelenskiy’s party is called Servant of the People. I hope they will live up to that.”

Oleh Okhrimenko, a university student, says: “Zelenskiy is new, he is young. He is now selecting his team and I think the majority in the Rada will help him. I want the minimum wage to be raised and I want roads to be better.  And I want the conflict in Donbass to be over.”

The NDI survey found that, for the first time, a desire for an end to the war in the east is tied with rising prices as the No. 1 concern of Ukrainians. The five-year-old war, along with mutual Russia-Ukraine sanctions, have inflicted terrible damage on Ukraine’s economy.

“Right now it’s critically important that there be no flare-up of military action in the east. Voters want peace,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. “People want improved relations with Russia. To go on being at war with Russia is undermining Ukraine. But it’s easier said than done. What concessions would Russia accept? What would be acceptable to Ukrainians, especially in the west of the country? This is a huge challenge for Zelenskiy, and the clock is ticking on the perception that he is the man to deliver.”

Mr. Karasyov says that Mr. Zelenskiy needs to move fast to demonstrate that he can use his unprecedented mandate to deliver things the public wants. That might include some high-profile corruption cases, perhaps even against Mr. Poroshenko, the former president. Another step might be to go back to Ukraine’s main creditor, the International Monetary Fund, to get new funding and debt relief.

No essential changes in Ukraine’s foreign policy direction are to be expected, although the pro-Russian leaders of the Party of Life will be waiting in the wings with alternatives if Mr. Zelenskiy fails, says Mr. Karasyov.

Not everyone is happy. Alexander Chernenko, a former deputy in the outgoing Rada for Mr. Poroshenko’s party, warns that Mr. Zelenskiy has been handed all the tools to build an authoritarian regime in the image of Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of next-door Belarus.

“Zelenskiy deployed high-quality populism, using all modern methods, and promised so many different things to different people that it will be impossible for him to fulfill it all,” he says. “His honeymoon won’t last. Right now, Zelenskiy is a young Lukashenko with a smartphone. He scolds people on TV, fires them on the air. He’s riding high. But let’s see what happens in a year.”

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Point of Progress

What's going right

5. US dropout rate has plummeted. Here’s why.

Gradual progress is often difficult to see in the moment. But the power of a long-term commitment to fixing a problem is evident in the major gains in graduation rates.

Amelia

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U.S. high school dropout rates have fallen by nearly two-thirds over the course of 18 years. In 2000, approximately 1.6 million teenagers ages 16 through 19 were out of school – 11% of that age group. Today, that number has dropped to 669,000 teens, or 4%.

“What is especially encouraging,” says John Farden, associate vice president for U.S. programs at Save the Children, “is that we have also seen some changes in the disparities.”

In the 18-year span of the study – which reflects the duration of a childhood – the report found a 75% reduction in the dropout rate among Hispanic youth, and a 69% reduction among black youth.

He points to public investments in education, as well as various movements to encourage teens to stay in school, as playing a role in driving the sustained reductions. 

“We are definitely seeing improvement,” says Shanan Chappell Moots, a research fellow with the National Dropout Prevention Center. Still, she sees a continued need, particularly in communities where high school graduation rates can be as low as 60%. Graduation rates have grown just over the past 10 years, she says, “but we want to do better.”

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US dropout rate has plummeted. Here’s why.

Rico Gonzalez dropped out of high school the summer before he turned 16, and he didn’t have the motivation to return and earn his diploma. 

That changed when a friend brought him along to a college English class. The visit sparked a desire in Mr. Gonzalez to hit the books again. 

“I was kind of blown away that there was a place where people wanted to be,” says Mr. Gonzalez. “It wasn’t until I actually had a desire to do something, to be part of something, that I said ‘OK, it’s time.’”

He finished high school, moved through college, and even returned after earning his bachelor’s degree to take additional courses. And today, he’s an English teacher at Southport High School in Indianapolis where he shares his story to help his students find their own motivation to learn.

Mr. Gonzalez’s story is perhaps less common today than it was a generation ago, according to a new report from the international humanitarian organization Save the Children.

The report reveals that U.S. high school dropout rates have fallen by nearly two-thirds over the course of 18 years. In 2000, approximately 1.6 million teenagers ages 16 through 19 were out of school – 11% of that age group. Today, that number has dropped to 669,000 teens, or 4%.

SOURCE: Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, Save the Children
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“More and more jobs in our economy require degrees – high school degrees and even higher education degrees, and we know that is key,” says John Farden, associate vice president for U.S. programs at Save the Children. “What is especially encouraging is that we have also seen some changes in the disparities.”

In the 18-year span of the study – which reflects the duration of a childhood – the report found a 75% reduction in the dropout rate among Hispanic youth, and a 69% reduction among black youth.

“If you think about education as an equity issue, we had some progress in changing that gap over the last generation,” says Mr. Farden. 

He points to public investments in education, as well as various movements to encourage teens to stay in school, as playing a role in driving the sustained reductions. Additionally, he says, “a high school diploma is a prerequisite” for a lot of jobs and career paths.

“We are definitely seeing improvement,” says Shanan Chappell Moots, who serves as director for research analytics and as a research associate professor in The Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. “Not a whole lot of people talk about dropout rates anymore. They are definitely on the decline.”

Dr. Moots is also a research fellow with the National Dropout Prevention Center and has conducted extensive research on the topic. She attributes the decline in the U.S. dropout rate to a multitude of factors, especially the greater availability of training for career, technical, and vocational skills.

Many practitioners, she says, are also encouraging holistic support services that could address behavioral, mental health, and personal challenges that often present obstacles to academic success and can otherwise lead to a student dropping out.

Still, Dr. Moots sees a continued need, particularly in communities where high school graduation rates can be as low as 60%. Graduation rates have grown just over the past 10 years, she says, “but we want to do better.”

Beyond reducing teen dropout rates, Mr. Farden believes there can be improvement on both ends of the educational spectrum: for younger children to enter school at an earlier age, and for high school graduates to pursue further education.

“While we have greatly increased high school education, access to early childhood education has largely remained stagnant over the last generation,” says Mr. Farden. “There is more and more of a sense nationally that we have to look at this continuum of services – the cradle to career continuum.”

SOURCE: Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, Save the Children
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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The Monitor's View

Saving dignity of equality in Hong Kong

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China’s odd concept of rule of law is under scrutiny in Hong Kong. The territory enjoys special limited freedoms but on Sunday, a mob of pro-Beijing thugs attacked hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy protesters. The violence immediately raised a difficult question for China’s ruling Communist Party. Does its version of rule of law include Hong Kong courts punishing the party’s most avid supporters?

If the attackers are not caught and fairly tried, then the party’s claim to equality before the law is as thin as a wonton wrapper. In addition, allowing the masked, baton-wielding thugs to go free would give the people of Hong Kong even more reason to demand direct elections, independent courts, no extradition treaty with the mainland, and all the other means to protect civil rights.

Hong Kong people still embrace the universality of equal standing before the law, which is rooted in the dignity and goodness of individual conscience. Unlike the Communist Party, natural rulers are those who respect such equality and do not use law as a tool for power. Equality is one more incentive in a society to do unto others as they would have them do unto them.

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Saving dignity of equality in Hong Kong

As an aspiring world power, China is coming under greater scrutiny, especially in how it treats Hong Kong. The small territory of 7 million currently enjoys special limited freedoms from the mainland. On Sunday, that spotlight on China became even harsher.

A mob of pro-Beijing thugs attacked hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, injuring 45. The violence immediately raised a difficult question for China’s ruling Communist Party. Does its version of rule of law include Hong Kong courts punishing the party’s most avid supporters?

If the attackers are not caught and fairly tried, then the party’s claim to equality before the law is as thin as a wonton wrapper. In addition, allowing the masked, baton-wielding thugs to go free would give the people of Hong Kong even more reason to demand direct elections, independent courts, no extradition treaty with the mainland, and all the other means to protect civil rights.

In recent years, the idea of equality before the law in China has itself taken a beating. Party chief Xi Jinping has clearly placed the party above the law and the state in contrast to his recent predecessors. He sees law mainly as a way to ensure party rule, not enhance individual freedoms or prosperity. China’s justice system is noted for its arbitrary detention, use of torture, and forced confessions. Mr. Xi even promotes the model to other nations.

Yet he is facing pushback, especially now in Hong Kong. Some pro-Beijing officials are demanding the arrest of those who attacked the innocent people on Sunday. Police said they would not tolerate “violent behavior” and were investigating the incident “in order to bring the offenders to justice.”

Hong Kong people still embrace the universality of equal standing before the law, which is rooted in the dignity and goodness of individual conscience. Unlike the Communist Party, natural rulers are those who respect such equality and do not use law as a tool for power. Equality is one more incentive in a society to do unto others as they would have them do unto them.

This is why Hong Kong’s pro-democracy advocates must continue to rely on nonviolent tactics. Peaceful marches are a signal of equality. Violence against the protesters only exposes those who see themselves as above the law. Once exposed, they lose legitimacy and, perhaps someday, power.

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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.

Learning to be morally courageous

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There can never be too much moral courage in the world. Here’s a spiritual take on this quality and how each of us can nurture it in ourselves in a way that brings healing and solutions.

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Learning to be morally courageous

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Recently, I’ve read stories in this newspaper about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in China, the 75th anniversary of the World War II Allied D-Day invasion in Europe, and the millions of people in Hong Kong protesting against a proposed extradition law that would have violated Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy. I’ve been struck by a common thread through all of them: the expression of moral courage.

Moral courage enables us to expose what’s wrong and to take a stand for the truth that corrects it. Mary Baker Eddy was certainly a morally courageous woman, as the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this newspaper, and she writes in her seminal work “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “Moral courage is requisite to meet the wrong and to proclaim the right” (p. 327).

But what is moral courage, and what does it mean to express it? Studying the Bible has offered me a thought-provoking take on these questions.

For instance, I think of Christ Jesus as the most morally courageous individual who has ever lived because of the stand he took for God, for good. He rebuked oppressive religious laws that dishonored God, divine Love, and helped people see what they truly are: the blessed children of God, made in the spiritual image and likeness of the Divine. This understanding has brought healing, freedom, and reformation to so many people.

Jesus faced intense hatred for taking this stand for good, but instead of reacting emotionally or being content in righteous indignation, he expressed compassion. The basis of all this was his realization that he was the Son of God, and his obedience to God. He said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19, New International Version). He acted in accord with His divine Father’s loving nature, expressing a higher understanding of our God-given dominion and harmony, which overcomes evil.

Jesus’ example has served as a wonderful guidebook for me to nurture this kind of moral courage. It helps me overcome the temptation to react adversely, rather than to respond thoughtfully, to unjust situations or personal attacks. It has shown me how to uncover an underlying problem and acknowledge God’s law of good as able to bring about healing results in a challenging situation.

A few years ago, shortly before I was to go on a trip, I became ill and incapacitated for a few days. Based on previous healings experienced through Christian Science, I turned to God in prayer to gain a clearer sense of God’s love and care for me.

As I prayed, I saw clearly that the tumult I was experiencing in my body was related to a sense of righteous indignation and uncertainty I felt about a number of things going on in my life.

I realized I had a choice to make. I could indulge my righteous indignation, or be morally courageous by taking a stand for God’s goodness and governance of His creation. I could affirm that evil is not real or powerful, because God’s goodness is infinite. The more we discern this spiritual reality, the more we see and experience evidence of it around us.

In this case, the tumult in my thinking ceased, and I was healed. I also felt a sense of peace and joy that I just couldn’t contain; I had to share it with others. I was able to get on a plane and enjoy the trip.

Each of us can take a stand for God, good, even in the face of things that don’t seem good at all, and act accordingly – following Christ Jesus’ example. Expressing moral courage in this way opens the door for comfort, healing, and solutions.

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Viewfinder

See you on the ‘dark side of the moon’

Indian Space Research Organization/AP
India successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft to the far side of the moon on July 22, 2019, a week after aborting the mission due to a technical problem. If successful, it will become the second country to land a craft there, after China.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 23rd, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, our California bureau chief, Francine Kiefer, will look at what it feels like to be in the political superminority – in this case, Republicans in Huntington Beach.

Monitor Daily Podcast

July 22, 2019
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