2019
October
10
Thursday

Today’s Daily explores the perils of Joe Biden attacking President Trump, how even legal migration to the United States is fraught with trouble, an Arab twist on populism and democracy, the Nobel Prize for new views of the universe, and museums reconsidering their mission.

But first, today I am thinking about Cameran Sadeq.

I met him a year after 9/11 to tell his story. He had been mistaken for a terrorist and imprisoned in Miami for 4 1/2 months. He had lost his job, his car, and – most important to him – his dignity, having to borrow $7,000 to settle down with his newlywed wife in Canada. He did not want to live in the United States anymore.

Cameran Sadeq is Kurdish. In Iraq, he had fought in a U.S.-backed rebellion against Saddam Hussein, who killed thousands of his fellow Kurds with poison gas. After that, he worked through Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus to get to the U.S. America, he thought, was a friend.

This week, the Trump administration is allowing one of its stronger friends, Turkey, to pulverize Kurds in Syria. The power dynamics and ethical fault lines in the Middle East are notoriously tangled. But without the Kurds, thousands of American troops would have been needed – and put in harm’s way – to defeat the Islamic State. America, they thought, was a friend.

Is it in America’s self-interest to allow the mutual unleashing of pent-up prejudice and fear? That is one view of power. But there is a different view. After my article, Monitor readers sent Cameran $1,600 to help with his debts; it changed his life. That goodwill and generosity of spirit is neither naive nor impractical but speaks to the forces that move the world out of darkness and into light.

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1. Caught in Trump impeachment storm, Joe Biden holds steady

In attacking President Trump, Democrat Joe Biden runs a risk – having his own résumé as a Washington insider turned against him.

Mark
Charlie Neibergall/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden works the grill during the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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On Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden became the last of the top-tier Democratic contenders to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment. It was his most forceful response yet to Mr. Trump’s apparent efforts to get Ukraine – and later, China – to investigate him and his son Hunter for corruption. “Trump will do anything to get reelected, including violating the most basic forms of democracy,” Mr. Biden said at a town hall in New Hampshire.

There’s no evidence that the Bidens did anything illegal in Ukraine. And so far, Mr. Biden’s collateral role in the scandal hasn’t appeared to hurt his standing in the polls.

But the situation is serving to highlight a key tension in Mr. Biden’s candidacy. To many voters, Mr. Biden represents a known quantity, a return to normalcy after the turmoil of the Trump years. “People are looking for something they can trust, something they can depend on,” says Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina. 

Four decades spent in the nation’s capital, however, inevitably bring some baggage. And as the Ukraine scandal continues to grow, some suggest he’s too much of an insider, too mired in “the swamp,” to bring about the kind of change that’s needed in Washington. 

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Caught in Trump impeachment storm, Joe Biden holds steady

As the impeachment fight between President Donald Trump and House Democrats escalates, it has largely pushed the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates out of the news. 

All, that is, except one. 

On Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden became the last of the top-tier Democratic contenders to call for President Trump’s impeachment. It was his most forceful response yet to Mr. Trump’s apparent efforts to get Ukraine – and later, China – to investigate him and his son Hunter for corruption. “Trump will do anything to get reelected, including violating the most basic forms of democracy,” Mr. Biden said at a town hall in New Hampshire. “It’s stunning, and it’s dangerous.” 

There’s no evidence that the Bidens did anything illegal in Ukraine. And so far, the former vice president’s collateral role in the scandal hasn’t appeared to hurt his standing in the polls. The Trump campaign’s focus on him may even be helping perpetuate his image as a front-runner. 

But it’s also serving to highlight a key tension in Mr. Biden’s candidacy: One of his main strengths – his many years at the heart of the Washington establishment – may also be his biggest weakness.

To many voters, Mr. Biden is respected and well liked, a known quantity. Wrapped in the halo of affection Democrats have for former President Barack Obama, he has presented himself as a return to “normalcy” after the turmoil of the Trump years. It’s one of the reasons his poll numbers have held steady despite months of attacks by Mr. Trump, his Democratic rivals, and the social mediaverse. 

Four decades spent in the nation’s capital, however, inevitably bring some baggage. Some younger progressives see Mr. Biden as an unwanted return to now-obsolete ways. As the Ukraine scandal continues to grow, some also suggest he’s too much of an insider, too mired in “the swamp,” to bring about the kind of change that’s needed in Washington. 

“He needs to fight the perception that his presidency could be a return to the status quo,” says Ryan Pougiales, senior political analyst at center-left think tank Third Way. “There is no appetite among voters for going back to the way things were. How can Biden be [seen as] an agent of change and still bring the country together?”

Nick Wass/AP/File
Former Vice President Joe Biden sits with his son Hunter at the Duke Georgetown NCAA college basketball game in Washington Jan. 30, 2010. Since the early days of the United States, leading politicians have had to contend with awkward problems posed by their family members.

Mr. Biden has made the past central to his campaign, often calling up his relationship with President Obama and advocating a return to a less partisan era. His primary rivals have used those same features to cast the 76-year-old as a relic who needs to “pass the torch” and to question his ability to “carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling.”

Mr. Biden’s rambling, gaffe-prone stump appearances haven’t helped. He has confused New Hampshire for Vermont, Margaret Thatcher for Theresa May, and his campaign’s text-message code for its website. His reliance on big-dollar donors when his opponents are raking in small donations online left him fourth in third-quarter fundraising, behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

Even his message of bipartisanship – that he can reach across the aisle and work with Republicans – feels a little dated, says Jim Manley, a veteran Democratic strategist.

“He needs to step out of the reality that was the Senate in the 1990s and do a better job showing that he understands the concerns of today and he’s prepared to take them on,” Mr. Manley says. 

The Ukraine issue also could take a toll. Mr. Trump has suggested that the former vice president helped oust a Ukrainian prosecutor in order to protect an energy company where his son Hunter sat on the board. Mr. Biden’s defenders – and many independent experts – say the move, which was backed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, was spurred by the prosecutor’s failure to root out corruption. But these days, a claim doesn’t have to be proved, or true, to be damaging. 

Moreover, the story illustrates the kind of elite influence-trading that many Americans hate about Washington – the legal “soft corruption” that candidates like Senator Warren rail against. Some voters will likely recoil when they hear that Hunter Biden earned $50,000 a month thanks to his father’s political cachet (though of course, Mr. Trump’s children have been accused of doing the exact same thing).

“It’s not at all the same as asking a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, but let’s not pretend that this doesn’t feel swampy,” says political scientist Erin O’Brien, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Still, the situation hasn’t seemed to hurt Mr. Biden. While Senator Warren has crept up in the polls over the summer, cutting his lead in some surveys and even overtaking him in others, her rise seems to have come more at the expense of other candidates. Mr. Biden’s numbers have been stable, especially in crucial states like South Carolina. 

Terry Shumaker, a U.S. ambassador under President Bill Clinton and longtime Biden friend and supporter, says it reflects the fact that these are unusual times. Democratic voters, he notes, usually prefer the fresh and the young. The only three presidents to have been elected while in their 70s – Mr. Trump, Ronald Reagan, and Dwight Eisenhower – were all Republicans.

Now, after three years of Mr. Trump, “the revolution can wait,” Mr. Shumaker says, paraphrasing New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. 

“On Jan. 20 of 2021, somebody’s gotta go into the Oval Office with not a dustpan, but an enormous shovel, and start cleaning up the mess,” Mr. Shumaker says. Mr. Biden, he argues, “is ready to go on Day One. His bike does not need training wheels.” 

Research conducted by Third Way found that a majority of likely Democratic primary voters want a candidate who can unify the country more than they want someone who’s fighting for a cause, and who takes on urgent problems that Americans are facing rather than someone who’s shifting the national debate. While the nomination race is still “absolutely” anybody’s game, Mr. Biden can point to years of experience doing precisely those things, Mr. Pougiales says.

“People are looking for something they can trust, something they can depend on,” adds Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina. “He has the reliability factor.” 

What Mr. Biden hasn’t done effectively is take charge of the narrative. Few of Mr. Biden’s policy ideas – which include a proposal to invest $5 trillion in public and private money into climate change over the next decade, and a new education plan that calls for two free years of community college – have been able to break through the noise about his age or the chaos over impeachment and Ukraine. Doing so will be key to proving that he can take on Mr. Trump.

“The [Biden] campaign has to block and tackle more: Block out any distractions that may be coming their way from the left or from the right, and tackle the issues that matter to everyday people,” Mr. Seawright says. “The bubble wants to talk about Trump. But the people want to hear about the quality-of-life issues that Joe Biden is known for.”

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2. The cost of a guest worker visa? For some scam victims, years of debt.

Looking for jobs in the U.S. through legal channels can seem to promise safety to would-be workers. But even these avenues are rife with fraud, showing how hard it is to immigrate the “right way.”

Mark

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In Guatemalan towns along the Inter-American Highway, corn towers over the tallest men, and pickups swerve past small red fruits of coffee. But the crop has been ruined by fungus, with remaining beans selling for just half what they did five years ago.

So when supposed recruiters offered to help people apply for H-2A visas to the U.S., for short-term agricultural work, it seemed to many like a godsend: a legal route, without the perils of migration, that would have them back home in a few months. Some shelled out thousands of dollars in fees – only to learn, last January, that they had been scammed.

As U.S. immigration restrictions increase, the expansion of the agricultural visa program has quelled some concerns about labor gaps. But competition for visas, combined with weak regulation, has created a situation ripe for exploitation, migrant advocates say. Guatemala and the U.S. have taken steps to strengthen vetting of recruiters and warn would-be applicants of frauds.

“When they talked to us about a visa opportunity, we forgot how vulnerable we were,” says one man who lost money in the scam. “We were so excited about going there to work, of having that chance to go, that for a moment nothing else seemed to exist.”

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The cost of a guest worker visa? For some scam victims, years of debt.

Last January, more than a hundred people waited for their visas outside the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, only to find out that they had been scammed. 

They had spent nearly a year meeting with job recruiters, shelled out thousands of dollars in fees, and traveled through the night from farming towns. The recruiters had stolen all the money and abandoned them at a gas station in the capital, forcing them to scout out the embassy on their own hours later. It was like watching their life savings go up in smoke.  

Since last October, nearly 260,000 Guatemalans have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many seek asylum. Others come looking for jobs, since they could not gain permission to work in the U.S. through common legal routes – such as a business sponsor, a close relative’s petition, or a rare win in the diversity visa lottery.

One of the only other legal options is just what the crowd in Guatemala City had done: placed their faith in recruiters to secure a coveted H-2A visa, the ticket to short-term agricultural work.

For many months, the supposed recruiters’ offer had spread by word-of-mouth through towns along the Inter-American Highway, where corn towers over the tallest men and pickups swerve past small red fruits of coffee, but people struggle to make ends meet. It seemed, to many, like a godsend. 

“Emigrating to another country is difficult and risky, and the route is full of suffering,” says Jeremías*, a victim of January’s scam. “My intention had been to return home, after a limited period of time.” [Editor’s note: Jeremías, like other names followed by an asterisk, is a pseudonym used to protect the source and his family.]

Jeff Abbott/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Towns in the state of Huehuetenango, such as Todos Santos Cuchumatán (pictured), have grown thanks in large part to remittances sent by migrants in the United States.

At a time of increasing immigration restrictions, the expansion of the agricultural visa program has quelled some U.S. growers’ concerns about labor gaps. But competition for visas in the 85 countries where they are offered, combined with laws that favor employers and weak regulation of middlemen, has created a situation ripe for exploitation, migrant advocates say.

“It’s just the wild west. There’s no oversight to it. The recruiters can charge anything they want,” said Cathleen Caron, founder of Justice in Motion, a nonprofit that protects migrants’ rights.

The State Department declined to release statistics on scams, which have existed for years. In Guatemala, the public prosecutor’s office was investigating cases that included almost 5,000 victims at the end of 2016, according to a report from a coalition of migration organizations.

Some critics see the temporary visas system itself as a recipe for abuse. But Osmeri*, one of the victims of January’s scam, says at a minimum, H-2A visas help people invest in their hometowns, without the hazards of unauthorized migration. “How many people have instead risked their lives, and those of their children?” she asks.

Fraud fees

This year, as apprehensions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border have reached a 13-year high, the U.S. government has touted temporary work visas as an alternative for immigrants, while moving to restrict asylum. It has proposed expanding the definition of “agriculture,” and even eliminating a rule that makes employers hire qualified American workers if they apply in the first half of each season.

But the State Department is also aware of the pitfalls. In July, the same week Guatemala signed a controversial “safe third country” agreement – which would require asylum-seekers who travel through it to apply there instead of in the U.S. – it also promised to strengthen vetting of farmworkers’ recruiters.

A State Department official wrote in an email that consular representatives meet regularly with community leaders to warn against “fraudulent recruiters,” and work closely with law enforcement to assist in criminal prosecutions. Past information campaigns, organized by the embassy and nonprofits, have peppered municipal offices with posters warning of fraud.

Jeff Abbott/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A fungus called "la roya" has heavily impacted the coffee farmers of La Libertad. A young woman holds up leaves of a coffee plant on Aug. 21, 2019.

The visa petition has a flat rate: $190. People might have to pay for transportation to the U.S. out of pocket, but they’re supposed to be reimbursed once they’re on the job. Yet even real recruiters, hired by U.S. companies, often illegally charge much more, which makes it easier for scammers to ask for money without raising red flags.

In the coffee-growing town of La Libertad, where many of the scammed people lived, the crop has been ruined by a fungus called la roya. Remaining beans have sold for as little as 86 cents per pound, less than half what they did five years ago.

Weeks before the Guatemalan recruits went to the embassy, there was already a whiff of a scam, according to Osmeri. Crowds of prospective laborers swelled at meetings the four Guatemalan recruiters convened in soccer fields, private homes, and schoolyards. But nobody knew how much they would be paid. Nobody knew the names of the companies they’d be working for. 

The scam may have affected as many as 300 people, who each lost about $1,300, according to Guatemalan officials with knowledge of the investigation. Carpenters, teachers, nurses, bill-collectors, and farmers responded to the calls.

“When they talked to us about a visa opportunity, we forgot how vulnerable we were,” says Raúl*, who also lost money in the scam. “We were so excited about going there to work, of having that chance to go, that for a moment nothing else seemed to exist.” 

He snapped when he learned, at the embassy’s door, that it was fake. “I started laughing, because I wouldn’t gain anything from being angry.” The recruiters had already made their escape.   

So far, only one person in the case has been apprehended, and is facing trial. According to Guatemalan prosecutors, it’s rare to recoup money. Average earnings in Guatemala are about $280 per month. For those who have put up their homes or their land as collateral on loans, the cost can be staggering.

Marcelino Pablo Martín, a lanky farmer who lives in a rural wood-slat home a few hours from La Libertad, is in debt to three people, and nearly lost the title to his land, because of a scam in 2015. He had picked strawberries on a farm in California for four months; when he took out a loan to pay the recruiter an illegal fee to go again, he never got a visa.

Jeff Abbott/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Josefa Pablo Martín started selling her weavings when her family fell into debt. She shows the work she is doing on a new blouse, known as a huipil, which takes weeks to complete.

“Where am I going to get that kind of money here in Guatemala?” he says. “I want to go back and work in the U.S. – it’s beautiful there – but getting there is the hard part.” 

Four years later, his case is still under investigation, but he cannot afford to go to the state capital, Huehuetenango, to talk with prosecutors.  

Roadblocks to justice

In August, a U.S. official said the number of H-2A visa slots for Guatemalans could triple from the nearly 4,000 granted last year. Cindy Hahamovitch, a history professor at the University of Georgia, says that temporary worker recruitment programs tend to expand during periods of national uproar over immigration.

“Guestworker programs are devised essentially as a state-brokered compromise between employers, who want the immigrant workers they’ve already had, and nativists, who say there are too many immigrants,” she says. “You’re telling the nativists … we don’t have to educate them. We don’t have to deal with them when they’re old. And we can deport them at any time.”

Laborers hesitate to complain about abusive conditions or stolen wages if they know they can be replaced in a heartbeat. Reporting recruiters for charging fees can bring threats, as well.

Jeremías says that when he left the prosecutor’s office, he and others were followed by a pickup with tinted windows; it pulled over when they did, and they escaped through a local eatery. One of his friends later received a call from someone claiming to be police who asked to speak in person about the case, but investigators told him they had not sent anyone to conduct interviews. 

In other cases, fear has prevented people from coming forward. Liliam Poroj Fuentes, a stay-at-home mom who rented a patch of her backyard to a towering advertisement sign to make money after she was scammed, said she brought prosecutors receipts from the church and women’s-assistance organization that promised her a visa. But of the hundreds of people who came to recruitment meetings with her, she knows no others who filed a criminal complaint.

Jeff Abbott/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
People sit in the shade in the central plaza of the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán in the Guatemalan state of Huehuetenango, where most people speak the indigenous language Mam, on Aug. 14, 2019.

Prosecutors involved in previous cases say they do not have resources to investigate even more severe crimes. 

“Even if a hen were stolen from somebody, that’s their property and they deserve to be helped,” says Amanda Gutiérrez, a prosecutor in the government’s office in Huehuetenango. “But we have a mountain of cases to handle.” 

The impunity rate in Guatemala is 94.2%, according to a report by the now-defunct International Commission Against Impunity, a U.N.-backed body that the Guatemalan government shuttered last month.

Some victims dream of being compensated through U.S. courts. In one case being heard in the U.S., 19 people allege that they were forced to pay $1,000 to a recruiter in Georgia in 2014. Most illegal recruitment, however, involves local cash payments in Guatemala. There’s no paper trail. Amid debt, and fear of their scammers, many Guatemalans decide they have to leave.

Mr. Pablo Martín eventually left for the U.S., but was deported as soon as he crossed the U.S. border last year. Jeremías sought asylum and is now working to pay off his looming debt. Raúl returned to his day job for several months, but tired of never earning enough for the kind of life he had imagined. 

“If you don’t hear from me next week, it’s because I’m traveling by land to the U.S.,” he says.

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3. Professor vs. media mogul: Populism plays in Tunisia, too

As the Arab world’s only democracy, Tunisia is giving world politics a twist. Yes, populism is rearing its head here, too. But the anti-establishment fervor is driven by poverty not migration.

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In the eight years since their peaceful revolution ousted a dictator, Tunisians have turned to parties across the political spectrum. Yet a succession of governments has failed to tackle the issues that sparked the revolution: Unemployment is high, and inflation is rising.

So as Tunisians head to the polls Sunday for a presidential runoff election, the Arab world’s lone democracy joins the global trend of anti-establishment populism. The two survivors from an initial field of 26 candidates are outsiders.

One, the dark horse candidate and leader from the first round, is a constitutional law professor who had to borrow $3,000 to register as a candidate and is promising Tunisians radical political change: a bottom-up, direct democracy. The other is a media mogul who has promised to shake up the system and harvested popular anger toward “corrupt elites” despite comparisons to Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi.

“Tunisians are looking for people seen as not part of the system and who are promising new ideas, because it hasn’t worked out with those that went before them,” says Youssef Cherif, an analyst. “Populism is in our national mood.”

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Professor vs. media mogul: Populism plays in Tunisia, too

One is a constitutional law professor who had to borrow money to register as a candidate and is promising Tunisians radical political change: a bottom-up, direct democracy.

The other is a media mogul who has harvested popular anger toward “corrupt elites” and promised to shake up the system despite comparisons to Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi.

These are Tunisians’ choices for president on Sunday as the Arab world’s lone democracy joins the global trend of anti-establishment populism.

But unlike the identity politics or xenophobia emerging in American and European political discourse, these anti-politicians are pitching something uniquely Tunisian: a populism rooted in battling poverty, tackling corruption, and empowering local governments.

In the eight years since its peaceful revolution that ousted dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians have turned to parties across the political spectrum – the Islamist Ennahda party, technocrats, the liberal secular Nidaa Tounes, and coalitions.

Yet a succession of governments failed to tackle the issues that sparked the revolution: Unemployment still hovers at 15%, inflation has risen, and the Tunisian dinar has lost 25% of its value over the past four years.

Tunisians showed their disdain for parties at the ballot box in September’s first round of presidential elections, choosing two outsider candidates out of a field of 26.

“Tunisians are looking for people seen as not part of the system and who are promising new ideas, because it hasn’t worked out with those that went before them,” says Youssef Cherif, an analyst and head of Columbia Global Centers-Tunis.

“Populism is in our national mood.”

Law professor

This Tunisian shift to populism is perhaps best symbolized by Kais Saied, the dark horse presidential candidate who came out on top in the first round of polling and is widely tipped to become the country’s next president.

A constitutional law professor with no political affiliation and a disdain for party politics, Mr. Saied had a limited national profile in Tunisia; he was barely known outside his cult following of former students, leftists, and young revolutionaries drawn to his radical constitutional proposals.

As the campaign wore on, the legend of Mr. Saied grew large.

While other politicians spent millions on highway billboards, television ads, and flashy campaign concerts, Mr. Saied borrowed money from friends and supporters to pay the $3,000 candidate registration fee.

Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP
Supporters of independent law professor Kais Saied, a finalist in Tunisia's presidential election runoff, follow the results of the first round as it was announced on TV in Tunis, Tunisia, Sept.17, 2019.

His all-volunteer campaign relied on word-of-mouth and Facebook to let local residents know that Mr. Saied, who drove his own weathered Volkswagen to events, was stopping by their town.

His crowd pleaser is his lifelong project: a bottom-up, direct democracy that would redivert much of the legislative powers to the local level. Or, as he says on the campaign trail, “bring power back to the people.”

The novel proposal would be based on directly elected local councils at the village or town level, which would in turn select regional councils and members of parliament.

Under the system, citizens would have the right to recall officials instantly should they abuse their office or mismanage funds. Officials would be selected on their merits, rather than political affiliation.

This resonated in a country where for decades resources had been funneled to coastal cities and the capital. And it converted many young Tunisians in outside provinces into true believers.

Tunisians such as Hassan Ben Mohammed.

Hailing from a village on the outskirts of Tataouine, 400 miles south of Tunis and near the Libyan border, he says that despite the provinces holding much of Tunisia’s mineral wealth, local residents saw little in return.

“Instead of us deciding on what our priorities were as a community for services, the elites in Tunis decide for us,” Mr. Ben Mohammed says while manning the entrance to Mr. Saied’s office in a nondescript building in downtown Tunis.

Mr. Ben Mohammed, who first heard Mr. Saied speak at a 2011 Tunis sit-in, left his wife and two children at their home in Tataouine to serve as one of Mr. Saied’s first unpaid volunteers in May, working as a bodyguard and head of security.

“Kais Saied is not just providing solutions, he is empowering us to make our own solutions,” Mr. Ben Mohammed says.

Mr. Saied also appeals to Tunisians’ more conservative inclinations, calling to reinstate the death penalty, warning of “foreign influences” corrupting Tunisia’s “traditional values,” and denouncing foreign funding for LGBTQ rights in Tunisia.

Observers say this has allowed him to appeal across ideological divides to leftists, urban secularists, Islamists, and even ultraorthodox Salafists.

“There is a prophetic aura because he is such an unknown quantity. Voters see themselves represented in whatever he thinks or says,” says Mr. Cherif, the analyst. 

The millionaire

Americans and Europeans, meanwhile, may see a more familiar story in the rise of Nabil Karoui, a multimillionaire businessman and media mogul who used his TV personality and household name to launch an outsider campaign.

Despite being a member of Tunisia’s elite circles and having co-founded the ruling party, Nidaa Tounes, Mr. Karoui spun a new narrative for himself on his TV network: an outsider, nonpolitician, and foe of the elites who was going to shake things up.

To highlight his common touch, he had his own secret weapon: charity.

For the past two years, Mr. Karoui has crisscrossed the country delivering furniture and food packages of pasta and canned tomatoes to impoverished families through Khalil Tounes, a charity he founded in memory of his son Khalil, who died in a car accident.

Interrupting its usual fare of popular Turkish soap operas, Mr. Karoui’s network would air clips of him visiting rural families and embracing older women who would kiss him on the forehead in gratitude.

In contrast to Mr. Saied’s bottom-up democracy, Mr. Karoui pledges to expand the powers of the presidency in Tunisia – blaming the parliamentary system for paralyzing the country.

That he was detained by authorities in August for alleged corruption and released just this Wednesday has only solidified his outsider status.

At a campaign rally in a working-class neighborhood in the capital last week, followers carried signs reading “Free Nabil” as Mr. Karoui’s wife, Salma Samawi, made her way through the winding Sidi Abdel Salem market, passing out flyers to vendors selling used electronics, shoes, and dinged aluminum pots and pans.

An old woman came up to Ms. Samawi and said, “May God bless Nabil,” hugging her. Another man posed for a photograph holding the candidate’s photo, shouting, “Lock up the corrupt!”

Oussama Khlifi, Mr. Karoui’s political adviser and right-hand man, had a simple answer to Mr. Karoui’s meteoric rise and Tunisians’ sudden pull toward anti-elitism.

“The people’s slogan during the revolution was ‘work, dignity, freedom’ – and after eight years the political class has failed to deliver on any of those,” says Mr. Khlifi, who was also running for parliament.

“What Nabil is offering isn’t populism; he is focusing on poverty, social development, marginalization, and infrastructure,” Mr. Khlifi says. “We are not out here talking about ideologies; we are talking about actions. That is why the people support us.”

But the man termed by some as “Tunisia’s Berlusconi” or “Tunisia’s Trump” evokes strong reactions from detractors as well. Mr. Karoui was a business partner of Mr. Berlusconi, had ties to ex-dictator Mr. Ben Ali, and allegedly paid $1 million for a Canadian lobbyist to open channels with the Trump administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He is just the latest in the long line of liars trying to take advantage of people’s economic worries and political ignorance,” says Abdelkarim Ben Garma, a shop owner in the Sidi Abdel Salem market, as the Karoui campaign paraded by.

“He is a friend of Berlusconi and is a friend of Trump,” he says, ripping up a leaflet with the candidate’s face and tossing it into the air. “What do you expect from a guy like him?”

Tunisia’s outsider trend is not stopping at the presidency.

In parliamentary elections this week, more than one-fourth of Tunisians voted for populist and independent lists, who grabbed 27% of the seats in parliament. Mr. Karoui’s list finished second with 17% of the vote.

“Some would say this is populism,” says Mohammed Ben Amo, a father of three and Saied supporter. “I would say: This is democracy.”

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4. A physics Nobel for seeking our place in the universe

The work of three scientists has helped launch a revolution in our views of the cosmos, grounding grand theories about the composition of the universe and planets beyond our solar system in hard data.

Mark
Courtesy of ESO/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)
This artist’s view shows the hot Jupiter exoplanet 51 Pegasi b, sometimes referred to as Bellerophon, which orbits a star about 50 light-years from Earth in the northern constellation of Pegasus (The Winged Horse). This was the first exoplanet around a normal star to be found, in 1995. Twenty years later this object was also the first exoplanet to be directly detected spectroscopically in visible light.

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In just half a century, our view of the universe has gone from the realm of theory, fraught with unanswerable questions, to one in which scientists can probe for evidence and make stunning observations. On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physics to three researchers for their significant contributions to that shift in perspective.

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz share half of the prize for their 1995 discovery of the first planet orbiting another sun-like star: 51 Pegasi b. That detection opened the door to the field of exoplanet research. Since then, we’ve gone from knowing of just eight planets (or nine, if you count Pluto) to more than 4,000.

James Peebles shared the prize for his extensive theoretical work that underpins our understanding of the evolution and structure of the universe. His work rocketed the field of cosmology into relevance and prestige.

Taken together, these researchers were instrumental in helping us begin to understand our place in the universe. And it turns out, “we’re pretty insignificant,” says Lyman Page, a professor of physics at Princeton University. “This is all the Copernican Revolution taken to the next step.”

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A physics Nobel for seeking our place in the universe

It was Oct. 6, 1995, in Florence, Italy. The conference was wrapping up, and the tone in the room was subdued, recalls Natalie Batalha. As a graduate student studying sunspots at the time, Dr. Batalha selected a seat at the back for the afternoon panel. She saw just one TV camera there to document the occasion. So when a Swiss astronomer who wasn’t on the schedule stepped up to speak, the gravity of his announcement didn’t sink in immediately.

“Maybe I was just too young and naive,” she recalls. “I couldn’t even imagine how that discovery would change the course of my career. It did in a very dramatic way.”

That day in Florence, Michel Mayor announced that he and Didier Queloz had made the first detection of a planet orbiting a star like our sun. Today, the discovery of 51 Pegasi b (affectionately called 51 Peg b by scientists) is hailed as the catalyst for a flood of research into worlds beyond our solar system, called exoplanets.

“They opened up an entire field of study that didn’t exist,” Dr. Batalha says. She personally shifted her focus to exoplanets in the wake of the discovery and is now a renowned expert in the field. And she’s not alone. The field exploded and today more than 4,000 exoplanets have been detected and confirmed.

On Tuesday, the legacy of the discovery of 51 Pegasi b was etched in gold when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Dr. Mayor and Dr. Queloz half of the Nobel Prize in physics. They share the award with cosmologist James Peebles, whose theoretical work underpins our understanding of the universe. 

Taken together, the three scientists’ work triggered a revolution in our perception of the cosmos. Our view of the universe has gone from largely theoretical models to a complex picture of a dynamic system that is grounded in evidence. 

Written in the stars

The discovery of 51 Pegasi b was no accident. Teams around the world were sifting through telescope observations of stars hoping to glimpse some signal that might be explained by a planet in orbit. But many were skeptical that technology was capable of making unambiguous detections – until 51 Pegasi b. 

“It was kind of the turning point from believing ... to knowing. It’s transitioning from hypothesis to reality,” says Jessie Dotson, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and the project scientist for NASA’s K2 Mission. “For me personally, it was almost like, ‘Oh thank goodness, we finally found one. Let’s go find the rest.’”

Once it was proved possible, exoplanet science took off and NASA was more willing to fund exoplanet research and flagship missions like the Kepler space telescope. That, in turn, led to many more discoveries, which inspired further research. The door was opened.

“When exoplanets first started, it was obscure, fringe, even laughable,” says Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and deputy science director for NASA’s latest exoplanet hunting mission, TESS. “Now that the field was awarded a Nobel Prize, I think it forces everyone who didn’t take it seriously to take it seriously.”

Strange new worlds

Before the discovery of 51 Pegasi b, our only idea of what planets might look like and how they form came from our own solar system. And the new planet gave astronomers a surprise. It orbits its star closer than Mercury does the sun and is at least half the mass of Jupiter. Based on the worlds here, we thought there was no way a massive planet could be found so close to its star.

“It was so unusual that people could not believe it at first,” says William Borucki, the principal investigator of the Kepler Mission that launched in 2009 to determine the frequency of Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of solar-like stars. 

Dr. Borucki was another early exoplanet pioneer and worked for NASA for 53 years. “But ultimately it was proved that indeed it was a valid discovery. And so what [the discovery revealed] is that not only are there planets around other stars, but the planetary systems are very, very different from our own.”

Astronomers have discovered planets that orbit multiple stars, planets larger than Jupiter, lava worlds, ocean worlds, and worlds so unlike those that we know that scientists don’t yet know for sure what they look like

“The diversity of planets in the galaxy far exceeds the diversity of planets in the solar system,” says Dr. Batalha, now a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “There are so many mysteries and so much diversity out there that it boggles the mind.”

Where we fit in

What is our place in the universe? That is one fundamental question that drives the explosion of exoplanet research.

We don’t really know the answer yet, says Dr. Seager. Solar systems like ours don’t seem to be common. But 51 Pegasi b ushered in an age in which we may actually be able to determine where we stand.

Similarly, Dr. Peebles’ research revealed that ordinary matter – the stuff stars, planets, and our bodies are made of – is a vanishingly small portion of the entire universe: just 5%. The remaining 95% is thought to be made up of dark matter and dark energy which largely remains a mystery. 

“We’re pretty insignificant,” says Lyman Page, professor of physics at Princeton University. “This is all the Copernican Revolution taken to the next step.”

AP
The Nobel Prize winners in Physics, from left, James Peebles in Princeton, N.J.; Didier Queloz in London; and Michel Mayor in Madrid on Oct. 8, 2019. Dr. Peebles, an emeritus professor at Princeton University, won for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology. Swiss star-gazers Mayor and Queloz, both of the University of Geneva, were honored for finding an exoplanet – a planet outside our solar system – that orbits a sun-like star.

A head for heights

Dr. Peebles is considered a giant in cosmology. His work rocketed the field into relevance and prestige, says Edward Kolb, a cosmologist and a professor at the University of Chicago as well as the dean of physical sciences. 

“When I came into cosmology it wasn’t something you would tell your mother, you’re a cosmologist,” he says. “It was somewhere between philosophy and astronomy and physics. It was not looked upon as a great thing to do. Jim really led the way in establishing cosmology as an anchor in modern astronomy and modern physics.”

Theory ruled in cosmology, and data was largely left to the physicists. But Dr. Peebles devised models that could be confirmed or denied by data. His models focused on placing cosmology in the context of the laws of nature and the laws of physics.

“He brought together a lot of classic physics and incredible deep insight to formulate what has become the standard model of cosmology,” says Dr. Page, whose office is next to Dr. Peebles’ at Princeton.

What resulted from Dr. Peebles’ work is the “Lambda cold dark matter model” of how the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago. It explains in detail the structure of the universe, and underpins our current understanding of our place in the universe.

But Dr. Peebles’ legacy goes beyond his work, Dr. Kolb says. “I got a letter from Jim Peebles when I was a graduate student about something that I wrote and it was a great inspiration to me. He inspired people,” he says. “Everyone looks up to him, not just because he’s a very tall person.”

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5. Can art help unite a diverse society? Museums aim to find out.

U.S. museums are rethinking how their walls can better reflect the communities they serve. That could change whose work gets shown.

Mark
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Among the works that visitors will see in the reopened Museum of Modern Art in New York is this 1954 painting by María Freire, from Uruguay.

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When the Museum of Modern Art in New York reopens on Oct. 21 after four months of construction, its galleries are expected to look very different. The presentation of MoMA’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions will include more art by women and artists of color. The shift is part of efforts by museums all over the country to embrace diversity and inclusion. 

Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture, explains that the reenvisioned MoMA will tell a variety of stories, “not a single narrative of one history.” 

The priority of museums today “is to connect the power of art to the power of people,” says Monique Davis, managing director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson. That entails mounting exhibitions composed of not just “pretty pictures on the wall,” she says, but programs that “build bridges of empathy” by reflecting concerns relevant to the community. 

“It’s like a sleeping giant awakened,” says Gregory Stevens, director of Seton Hall University’s Institute of Museum Ethics in South Orange, New Jersey. “Museums will never be the same.” 

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Can art help unite a diverse society? Museums aim to find out.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York reopens Oct. 21, its revamped and expanded gallery space will reflect something that’s trending in museums across the United States: a focus on those less heard from.

A shake-up of art history is happening, and MoMA is emblematic of this revision. The early narrative of modern art focused on white male “geniuses” mostly from Paris and New York. The MoMA 2.0 version will be, according to chief curator of painting and sculpture Ann Temkin, “not a single narrative of one history” but more “a collection of short stories rather than one continuous novel.” She adds, “It feels like a real change, part of a much larger shift that has been going on in art history academically and in museums.”

The presentation of MoMA’s permanent collection and of temporary exhibitions promises to be wide-ranging, including art by women and artists of color who were overlooked. The shift is part of efforts by museums all over the country to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

“It’s like a sleeping giant awakened,” says Gregory Stevens, director of Seton Hall University’s Institute of Museum Ethics in South Orange, New Jersey. “Museums will never be the same.” He notes their prior role was to conserve the cultural legacy, but today, “Museums need to be here in the present, sharing important ideas, information, and inspiration about the world we live in.”

Independent curator Lowery Stokes Sims, who has served on the curatorial staffs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, remembers that when she started her career, “We used to joke the curator’s first job was to make sure [visitors] had shoes on and didn’t touch the art.” The priority today, as Monique Davis, managing director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, says, “is to connect the power of art to the power of people.” That entails mounting exhibitions composed of not just “pretty pictures on the wall,” she says, but programs that “build bridges of empathy” by reflecting concerns relevant to the community. 

Courtesy of Iwan Baan/The Museum of Modern Art
Visitors descend the restored staircase in the Museum of Modern Art.

This initiative, percolating for decades, reached a boiling point in the last few years. It became a critical issue after the Black Lives Matter movement spotlighted racial injustice and in response to social issues like immigration, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. “Most art museums have been dominated by a white, male, Colonial perspective,” Professor Stevens says, “so the art displayed and interpreted has been seen through a very narrow lens.”

Ms. Stokes Sims, who is African American, is blunt: “The canon today is totally irrelevant, patriarchal, and racist.” Which makes broadening it all the more urgent. As one sign of change, for the first time in 70 years Columbia University is reforming its core-curriculum course in art humanities, which taught Western art to all first-year students. 

The current state of political polarization spurred the update, according to Noam Elcott, chair of art humanities and head of Columbia’s committee to overhaul the syllabus. He says that the more open embrace of white supremacy “called for a reckoning,” adding, “An all-male, all-white curriculum ceased to be viable.”

In Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists staged a 2017 march that ended with the murder of a counterprotester, the University of Virginia’s Fralin Museum of Art has resolved to devote half of its exhibitions to underrepresented art. “It’s important to make a real, discernible commitment,” says museum director Matthew McLendon. “There are difficult conversations our society needs to have. Mediation through the work of art, being respectful of cultures and experiences other than our own, adds a different tenor and a return of civility to the conversation.”

The Baltimore Museum of Art is a pioneer in community outreach. An initiative called “2020 Vision” replaces past myopia toward women artists with an entire year of exhibitions devoted to them. According to director Christopher Bedford, the museum’s holistic approach will “imbue the institution with a different lifeblood.” The contemporary wing now features works by artists of color “to establish a different canon that directly relates to the city of Baltimore,” he says. “As a cultural institution we’re attempting to move into social service and actually help people.” Mr. Bedford admits, “I’m not sure art changes lives. People do. But I think art changes people.”

The Museum of Modern Art, New York
African American artist Betye Saar created “Black Girl’s Window” in 1969. Her work will be featured in a solo exhibition when the Museum of Modern Art reopens.

African American artist Oletha DeVane, called “the matriarch of the Baltimore art scene,” whose installation “Traces of the Spirit” is on view at the Baltimore museum until Oct. 20, says she sees artists as visionaries and teachers who, by sharing their stories, can increase understanding in our pluralistic society. 

For Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, the thrust toward diversity and inclusion is not only a social necessity but also a savvy business move for institutions’ sustainability. More importantly, Mr. Walker terms museums “the most important institutions in our democracy.” 

“We need to be reminded of who we are,” he says. “Today, more than ever, we need museums to reflect and mobilize the idea of our identity as a people, to bring us together and remind us of what’s unique about us and what we have in common.”

At this point, the concept of museums as paragons of inclusion and diversity is more aspirational than actual. Recent studies have documented a dismally low number of acquisitions and exhibitions of art by women and people of color at the top 30 art museums over the last decade.

There’s a long way to go, and whether the pace will dawdle or accelerate is unknown. 

Ms. Stokes Sims says she is gratified to see “a new age dawning,” yet she is skeptical about the trend’s durability: “The canon is like a rubber band. You can stretch it, and it can always snap back.”

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The Monitor's View

The global bandwagon for tax transparency

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The Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven in the Caribbean, promises to publish the identities of everyone who owns a company there by 2023. Its premier, Alden McLaughlin, said the move is simply part of “a shift in the global standard and the practices used to combat illicit activity.”

Global norms are indeed moving toward stronger curbs on illegal tax evasion and legal tax avoidance by multinational corporations, the corrupt, drug cartels, and terrorist groups. The commitment from the Caymans, according to finance watchdog Global Witness, “shows how company transparency is now the global standard in financial integrity.”

For the past decade, international pressure has been building to eliminate tax havens. The 2009 world recession exposed major tax fraud and forced governments to retrieve revenue secretly squirreled away in other countries. Both Britain and the European Union have set high standards for accessibility and transparency in financial transactions.

The bright light being shined on black money in off-the-grid financial institutions will require more than changes in laws and procedures. Each tax haven must experience a shift in attitudes about corruption and sleight-of-hand accounting. The Caymans just set an example for others to follow.

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The global bandwagon for tax transparency

For a small place, the Cayman Islands just made a big give. On Wednesday, the notorious tax haven in the Caribbean promised to publish the identities of everyone who owns a company there by 2023. Its premier, Alden McLaughlin, said the move is simply part of “a shift in the global standard and the practices used to combat illicit activity.”

Global norms are indeed moving toward stronger curbs on illegal tax evasion and legal tax avoidance by multinational corporations, the corrupt, drug cartels, and terrorist groups. The commitment from the Caymans, according to finance watchdog Global Witness, “shows how company transparency is now the global standard in financial integrity.”

The former British colony was well known as a hiding place for billions in cash from such firms as Enron that set up empty corporate “shells.” Now Cayman accountants and law enforcement officials are being trained in making ethical decisions and spotting high-profile money laundering.

For the past decade, international pressure has been building to eliminate tax havens. The 2009 world recession exposed major tax fraud and forced governments to retrieve revenue secretly squirreled away in other countries. Both Britain and the European Union have set high standards for accessibility and transparency in financial transactions.

As a British territory, the Caymans along with other crown dependencies such as Isle of Man is slowly being forced to comply. To its credit, the Caymans has not made good on a threat to legally challenge a 2018 British law on disclosure of public ownership.

“In such a globally interconnected framework, transparency standards must be widely adopted and effectively implemented in order to have a tangible impact,” the government said in a statement.

The bright light being shined on black money in off-the-grid financial institutions will require more than changes in laws and procedures. Each tax haven must experience a shift in attitudes about corruption and sleight-of-hand accounting. The Caymans just set an example for others to follow.

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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.

Never helpless

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Here’s a hymn that could be considered a prayer: that all those around the world facing conflicts old and new can feel God’s presence with them.

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Never helpless

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
– Henry Francis Lyte, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 8

Evil is not supreme; good is not helpless; ...
– Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 207

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Viewfinder

A community in mourning

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
People mourn outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany, Oct. 10, 2019, after two people were killed in a shooting on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 11th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining the Monitor today. Please come back tomorrow when our Simon Montlake offers a profile of the gun enthusiast who is determined to take down the National Rifle Association from within – and explains why.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 10, 2019
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