Our five stories today look at the evolution of Rudy Giuliani, how Lebanon's fractured society is uniting to fight corruption, the return of Peronism in Argentina, why a Houston Rockets tweet has challenged the morality of a business relationship with China, and a possible collision between three black holes.

First, I’d like to tell a story about Rep. Elijah Cummings, Baltimore, and “The Lion King.”

Representative Cummings’ funeral was today in Baltimore. He’ll be sorely missed in the city where he lived most of his life. Former President Barack Obama spoke. So did Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Baltimorean.

But in Baltimore almost everyone speaks of Elijah Cummings. I know this because I’ve lived there 20 years. Many people have a Representative Cummings story. They’ve met him in church or at a fundraiser. He spoke at their school. He’s a friend of a relative. 

Here’s one story: A year ago he spoke at the funeral of a civic leader from my neighborhood. He saw her grandchildren there and he told them that when he thought about their grandmother he thought about “The Lion King.”

“I’m a ‘Lion King’ junkie,” Representative Cummings said.

He said his favorite scene was when the young Simba cries out for his father. He hears this simple reply: “He lives in you.”

Their grandmother lives in them, he told the grandchildren. She lives “within all of us,” he said. And now it’s our job to pick up her baton and “make the world a better place ... and she will look down, and say, well done.” 

Well done, sir. Well done.

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1. ‘America’s mayor’ to Trump proxy: the evolution of Rudy Giuliani

At the center of the impeachment probe into President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani has undergone a remarkable transformation as a public figure – though friends see the same no-holds-barred persona throughout.


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Over the long arc of his career, Rudy Giuliani has gone from Democrat to moderate Republican to Trump Republican; from mob-busting federal prosecutor to celebrity mayor to controversial personal lawyer for President Donald Trump. 

Lately, Mr. Giuliani has come under increasing scrutiny for his involvement in what effectively became a shadow foreign policy. His efforts to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in an alleged quid pro quo for military aid sit at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry into the president. 

For some who remember the old Mr. Giuliani, the New York mayor who personified bipartisan leadership after Sept. 11, 2001 – earning him an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II – it’s been a stark transformation. In some ways, it mirrors that of American politics writ large, as the post-9/11 high point of unity and resolve dissipated into increasingly bitter partisanship during the Bush and Obama presidencies and the tabloid ugliness of the Trump era.

Mr. Giuliani has “obviously evolved, and in some ways not for the better,” says Andrew Kirtzman, author of “Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City.” “Once he cast his lot with Trump, he went all the way, which is how Rudy Giuliani does things.”


‘America’s mayor’ to Trump proxy: the evolution of Rudy Giuliani

Peter King didn’t have much use for Rudy Giuliani when they first met in the summer of 1967.  

Both were 23-year-old interns at the Wall Street law firm of future President Richard Nixon. Another partner at the firm, future Attorney General John Mitchell, assigned them to work together on a municipal bonds project.

The two law students, though both graduates of Roman Catholic high schools in Brooklyn, didn’t see eye to eye on much. Mr. Giuliani was “pretty liberal” – a Bobby Kennedy supporter – says Mr. King, who was and is a Republican, currently in his 14th term in Congress. Mr. Giuliani rooted for the Yankees, Mr. King for the Mets.

They also had contrasting styles. “He thought I was very caustic or opinionated when I was writing; he was being more judicious,” Congressman King tells the Monitor. “Rudy’s very smart. He was much more into the law than I was.”

Decades later, the 9/11 attacks brought the two New York pols together, and they have been friends ever since. But over time, one has gone through a profound evolution. After those early days as a Democrat, Mr. Giuliani went from political independent to moderate Republican – so moderate he endorsed Democrat Mario Cuomo for governor in 1994 – to Trump Republican, and from mob-busting federal prosecutor to celebrity mayor to controversial personal lawyer for President Donald Trump. Still, longtime friends see “the same old Rudy,” a bit grayer but with the same no-holds-barred approach to life.

“Certainly everything he’s done from the time he became U.S. attorney has been either Page One or Page Six,” says Mr. King, referring to the New York Post’s gossip page. Mr. Giuliani’s third divorce, from wife Judith, has provided recent fodder.

Mr. King retains a strong bond with Mr. Giuliani – but the same cannot be said for some of the ex-mayor’s former aides, several of whom have been publicly critical of Mr. Giuliani’s work for Mr. Trump in what effectively became a shadow foreign policy. Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in an alleged quid pro quo for military aid sit at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry into the president. 

Carolyn Kaste/AP/File
Then-President-elect Donald Trump (right) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs outside the clubhouse at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey, Nov. 20, 2016.

“‘America’s Mayor,’ as Rudy was called after Sept. 11, is today President Trump’s bumbling personal lawyer and henchman, his apologist and defender of the indefensible,” wrote Ken Frydman, Mr. Giuliani’s 1993 campaign press secretary, in a New York Times op-ed. 

Mr. Giuliani “lost his way” after he became a lobbyist and insider, former political adviser Rick Wilson recently told Politico.

Top aides to Mr. Trump have also expressed reservations about the president’s lawyer. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” former national security adviser John Bolton was recently quoted as saying.

In the latest blow to Mr. Giuliani’s credibility, the same U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan that he once ran is now investigating him over his ties to two Soviet-born men arrested on campaign finance charges. The Justice Department, where he was once the No. 3 official, put out an unusual statement distancing itself from Mr. Giuliani. The former mayor has rebuffed congressional demands for documents.

While speaking to reporters Friday from the White House south lawn, Mr. Trump defended his friend. “He was the greatest mayor in the history of New York, and he’s been one of the greatest crime-fighters and corruption fighters,” Mr. Trump said. “Rudy Giuliani is a good man.”

A transformation that mirrors U.S. politics

For some who remember the old Mr. Giuliani, the mayor who personified leadership on and immediately after Sept. 11, 2001 – earning him an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II – it’s been a stark transformation. 

After the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Giuliani seemed to be everywhere – comforting grieving families, standing in on at least one occasion for the slain father of the bride at a wedding. 

“He showed a humanness that he hadn’t exhibited in the past,” says Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College in New York City. 

In a way, the transformation of Mr. Giuliani from that post-9/11 period to today mirrors that of American politics writ large. The nation has gone from a high point of unity and resolve to increasingly bitter partisanship during the Bush and Obama presidencies to the tabloid ugliness of the Trump era.

Mr. Giuliani has “obviously evolved, and in some ways not for the better,” says Andrew Kirtzman, who covered the mayor as a local TV reporter and wrote a biography, “Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City.” 

“Giuliani was always a bombastic public figure, but as mayor, he used that bombast for tactical reasons,” Mr. Kirtzman says. His example: Mr. Giuliani’s “terrorizing” of the public schools chancellor until he resigned, so the mayor could take control of the school system. 

Mr. Giuliani’s Achilles’ heel was race relations, but he is widely credited with cleaning up Times Square, bringing down crime, and fighting corruption. 

“He was hardly an unguided missile,” Mr. Kirtzman says. “He was a very, very, very smart strategist, with a very tempestuous way of getting things done. I don’t see that this time around. I see less discipline in how he’s proceeding.”

Getting at the “why” behind Mr. Giuliani’s transformation is tricky, but there are theories. Some observers point to Mr. Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential campaign as a pivotal event. He wasn’t one to go off and write books. He wanted to stay in the game.

Advocating for Mr. Trump, it seems, was his ticket back to political relevance. And he plunged into it with gusto, if at times in embarrassing fashion. In one of his more memorable recent TV appearances, with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Mr. Giuliani at first denied that he had asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, then 30 seconds later stated he had. The past two weeks, he has been notably absent from TV.

Tale of two New Yorkers

The similarities between Messrs. Trump and Giuliani are obvious: both native New Yorkers, limelight seekers, increasingly conservative over time, thrice married. But they weren’t always allies or even friendly. In 1986, when Mr. Giuliani was a prosecutor and Mr. Trump was coming up in real estate, the two were on opposing sides of a corruption trial involving a Trump-connected public official. 

They didn’t become confidants until Mr. Trump began his march to the presidency, Giuliani observers say. 

Still, the two had traveled in the same circles for years. They attended each other’s third weddings. Mr. Trump donated to Mr. Giuliani’s aborted Senate campaign in 1999. The mayor spoke at the funeral of Mr. Trump’s father.

Perhaps their most memorable interaction – especially now, in hindsight – came in a video produced for a charity dinner in 2000. Mr. Giuliani is in drag, and Mr. Trump is himself, behaving in an aggressively flirtatious way.  

“Oh, you dirty boy, you!” scolds Mr. Giuliani as “Rudia,” before slapping Mr. Trump. 

“You can’t say I didn’t try,” the future president shrugs.

Years later, a month before the 2016 election, Mr. Giuliani would emerge as the GOP nominee’s most aggressive defender after an old “Access Hollywood” video leaked of Mr. Trump bragging in vulgar terms about sexually assaulting women.

Mr. Giuliani has been defending him ever since, and in April 2018 was named to Mr. Trump’s personal legal team – unpaid, it turns out. Not that Mr. Giuliani isn’t interested in money. When his time as mayor ended, soon after 9/11, he went into business, marketing his services as a management and security consultant and commanding high speaking fees. 

Public documents from his latest, ongoing divorce show the former mayor is worth many millions of dollars, with assets that include six homes. 

“That’s the funny thing about these New York folks,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll in Poughkeepsie, New York. “If you take Hillary [Clinton], Giuliani, Trump – what’s prominent for all of them was the idea that there was money to be made.”

Mr. Giuliani, who comes from working-class roots, didn’t always pursue the high life. As a prosecutor, “there was something very spartan about him,” says Mr. Kirtzman, the biographer. “He was never seen out at parties or nightclubs. In many ways, he was a scold back then.” 

Mr. King, the congressman, also remembers Mr. Giuliani during their summer law internship as not all that gregarious. Now, when Mr. King’s family is in Washington, they head over to the Trump hotel for drinks, and there’s Mr. Giuliani. On one occasion, “he comes over, and he’s telling my grandson how great I am,” says the congressman.

Mr. King says he isn’t all that surprised by Mr. Giuliani’s behavior today. “He’s playing a different role – the role of getting attention, and trying to get attention away from the Democrats.”

The congressman describes Mr. Giuliani – until recently, at least – as more of a TV advocate. “Rudy’s thing is, always be on offense,” Mr. King says. “He and President Trump are almost identical in that. Never back off, just keep going. No matter what they throw at you, you throw twice as much back.”

And what of the Giuliani-Nixon connection back in 1967? It is a point of historical coincidence that’s almost uncanny, given current events. (In 1974, President Nixon was heading toward impeachment when he resigned.) 

“We did have lunch with Nixon one day,” Mr. King says. “In fact, I saved the seating chart. All of us sat around the table. Richard Nixon was at the head, John Mitchell was at the other end.”

Mr. Nixon sat with the summer interns for about two hours, going around the table and asking questions, Mr. King recalls.  

Heading home on the train that night – Mr. King and Mr. Giuliani also lived near each other – the two argued about the session with Mr. Nixon “in a friendly way,” Mr. King says. At the end of the summer, after Mr. King returned to law school, Mr. Giuliani (who stayed on a little longer) sent him a letter on the Nixon firm’s stationery. 

“He said I had done a good job and he missed my brilliance,” Mr. King says. “I still have that letter somewhere.” 


2. In Lebanon’s protests, a radical surge toward unity

For good and for bad, Lebanon has been a model of sectarianism. For years its formula kept a fragile balance, and the peace. But demands for political and economic reforms are crossing barriers.

Alkis Konstantinidis/reuters
Demonstrators take part in anti-government protests in Beirut Oct. 23, 2019. In a departure, protesters are flying the Lebanese flag, not those of individual political movements.

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The protests roiling Lebanon for more than a week began ostensibly over government decisions to impose a tax on WhatsApp and raise the national value-added tax to 15%. But behind the broad demands for reforms was building anger over failed economic policies and rampant corruption that had pushed the Lebanese economy into a downward spiral of debt, unemployment, and income inequality.

In the diverse but tiny country, where scars from its 15-year civil war and sectarian lines have defined both its political and economic life since 1991, young people are rallying around a common cause: ousting their postwar political leaders, all of them.

Lebanon has seen protests before. But this time, in Beirut, Shiites, Christians, Sunnis, and Druze are protesting side by side. And protesters are waving only the red and white Lebanese flag and none of the multicolor banners of the political movements and sects that dominated previous rallies.

Kareem Chehayeb, a Lebanese journalist and analyst, is reporting on the nightly protests in Beirut. “People are proud of this new anti-sectarian nationalism,” he says, “because by binding together, we know the political elites can’t stop us.”


In Lebanon’s protests, a radical surge toward unity

In Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli, predominantly Sunni crowds tore down posters of Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In the largely Shiite towns in the south, protesters ripped down banners of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

In Beirut, Shiites, Christians, Sunnis, and Druze are protesting side by side.

As the protests bringing Lebanon to a standstill enter their ninth day, something is emerging even more powerful than the anger over economic malaise and political corruption that ignited them: national unity.

In the diverse but tiny country, where scars from its 15-year civil war and sectarian lines have defined both its political and economic life since 1991, young people are rallying around a common cause: ousting their postwar political leaders, all of them.

The protests began Oct. 17 ostensibly over government decisions to impose a $6 per month tax on the free messaging app WhatsApp and raise the national value-added tax from 11% to 15% within three years.

But behind them was building anger over a series of failed economic policies and rampant corruption that have ground the Lebanese economy into a downward spiral: Public debt is 150% of gross domestic product, the highest ratio in the world; some 37% of Lebanese under the age of 35 are unemployed; and the richest one-tenth of 1%, mainly political elites, account for 10% of income, the same portion earned by the bottom half combined.

To a degree, Lebanon’s demonstrations have mirrored the young, leaderless protest movements sparked by failed policies, corruption, and mismanagement in other Arab states.

And the protests have shared the hallmarks of civility in other peaceful Arab protest movements of the past decade: lawyers opening stands to offer free legal defense for arrested or injured protesters, medical clinics, and volunteer street cleanup campaigns each morning.

Other features are more distinctively Lebanese: DJs holding outdoor protest concerts in Tripoli and Beirut, yoga sit-ins, and the chanting of crude limericks to denigrate the prime minister.


But what is new for Lebanon is the universal frustration uniting the protesters. Protesters are waving only the red-and-white Lebanese flag and none of the multicolored banners of the various political movements and sects that dominated previous rallies.

In Sunni Tripoli, protesters sent messages of greetings to fellow protesters in the Shiite towns of Sidon and Tyre, urging them to “move, move, we want to bring down the government.”

Demonstrators in the predominantly Christian town of Jal el Dib made an impassioned plea to Hezbollah leader Nasrallah to stand with them and push for reforms.

A common cry among protesters has been “All of them means all of them,” underlining that their demand is that the entirety of the country’s political class – no matter their sect or affiliation – must step down.

Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
A demonstrator has her face painted in the colors of the Lebanese flag during an anti-government protest in Beirut, Oct. 22, 2019.

“People are proud of this new anti-sectarian nationalism because by binding together, we know the political elites can’t stop us,” says Kareem Chehayeb, a Lebanese journalist and analyst who is reporting on the nightly protests in Beirut.

Perhaps the sentiment is best summed up by a common image and banner held by protesters and shared online – a tombstone with the epitaph, “Lebanese civil war: 1975-2019.”

Divide and conquer

Lebanon’s 1990 Taif accords that helped end its civil war codified a fragile sectarian power-sharing system that has been intact until today, granting various groups and faiths certain positions: a Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, a Shiite speaker of Parliament.

Unofficially, various political groups and former militias played influential roles in different economic sectors, monopolizing state contracts or taking over the privatization of various industries. Along with their political dominance at both the national and municipal levels, this has made them the sole access point for many public services.

The result has been a mechanism to keep a nation divided and largely dependent on patronage networks.

“In other Arab countries, they have one dictatorship; in Lebanon we have 12,” says Mr. Chehayeb.

But hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign funds, from increasingly cash-strapped Iran and Saudi Arabia, that propped up these rival leaders and their patronage networks are drying up.

“Part of the problem for these officials in power is that they can no longer afford to sustain their cronies or distribute these perks to their followers,” says Muhanad Hage Ali, fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “But at the same time, they have not stopped their lavish spending or flaunting their wealth.”

“Now you are seeing even hardcore loyalists coming out to the streets saying, ‘I supported these guys for decades, but I have given up on them,’” says Mr. Chehayeb.

Economic crisis

In 2018, Lebanon was granted $10.2 billion in loans from the World Bank, Gulf countries, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on the condition it enact austerity measures. Those led to both service cuts and raised taxes.

Mismanagement has led to trash piling up across the capital chronically over the past four years, sparking smaller protests; this month, a lack of preparedness led to the worst wildfires the country has seen in decades.

With the government relying on foreign exchanges to keep the currency afloat, inflation is hitting local markets.

This comes as Lebanese learn day after day of multimillion-dollar corruption scandals, without an independent judiciary or laws needed to truly hold officials to account. 

The WhatsApp tax was, quite simply, “the tax that broke the people’s back.”

“When you are living in this country and making ends meet with a few thousand dollars a month and see an official with supposedly the same salary hold million-dollar weddings or drive in convoys, you demand to know who is really paying for it,” says Mr. Hage Ali of Carnegie.

But what began as a protest over austerity measures has quickly become a rejection of postwar leadership’s stewardship of the country.

“They have run Lebanon as their personal bank, and left us paying the debts,” says Mariam Ali, a protester in Beirut, via social media. “Now we are saying no more – you all got to go.”

Way forward

Lebanon’s ruling class is struggling to respond.

Proposed economic reforms that Mr. Hariri announced on Monday, including halving salaries of members of Parliament and ministers and obliging banks to pay $3 billion into the national budget, fell flat – as did a speech by Christian President Michel Aoun Thursday in which he invited protesters to a dialogue, saying, “We are waiting for you.”

In a televised message on Friday, Mr. Nasrallah recognized Lebanese citizens’ right to protest, but rejected calls for the government’s resignation and early elections, saying the move would lead to “chaos.”

Lebanon’s protesters have yet to articulate clear proposals. Some demand a nonpolitical technocrat government to steer Lebanon out of its current economic crisis; others call for a populist upheaval of the political system and a socialist redistribution of wealth.

A majority are beginning to demand early elections – the current Parliament’s mandate runs to 2022 – and a strengthened judiciary to clean up corruption.

Yet they all have rallied around one common cause: an end to sectarianism.

“We just want people in power in government based simply because of their skills and merit, not because they belong to a certain group,” Mr. Chehayeb says.


3. Why young Argentines are signing up for populism

Is history repeating itself in Argentina? Peronism, so entwined with the country’s story, looks poised to take back the presidency. But in part, that’s thanks to a new generation’s view of the movement.

Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Argentina's presidential front-runner Alberto Fernández stands with his students at the end of an exam in his classroom at the University of Buenos Aires School of Law in Argentina, Oct. 16, 2019. Argentina holds elections Oct. 27.

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Four years ago, when Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s election, he vowed to make the country “normal,” free from the economic roller coaster of populist governance.

But today, on the eve of new elections, it appears that Argentines have decided to risk the roller coaster one more time – versus the “new normal” of high inflation, higher public service prices, and a widening wealth gap that emerged as Mr. Macri tried to resolve a financial crisis. The Peronist ticket of Alberto Fernández and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is projected to win on Sunday – thanks in part to young voters.

For this generation, Peronism is associated more with workers’ rights, human rights, and social justice of the Latin American left than with the protectionism and authoritarian leanings of a now-distant Juan Perón. At the University of Buenos Aires, students are focused on the income gap, opportunity, and poverty.

“My sister becoming a lawyer, that’s el peronismo,” says student Tomás Kontos, who describes himself as coming from a “modest” neighborhood of Buenos Aires. She was the first in their family to go to university. And now, he’s following in her footsteps.


Why young Argentines are signing up for populism

For Tomás Kontos, a first-year student at the University of Buenos Aires’ law school, there is no mystery to his enthusiastic support for a return to leftist, Peronist populism in Sunday’s presidential election.

“It’s simple. My older sister was the first in our family to be able to go to university, and now she’s a lawyer and I’m following her steps as a student here, and it couldn’t have happened without the benefits of el peronismo – including free studies at this university,” says the young man from what he describes as a “modest” neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

“My sister becoming a lawyer, that’s el peronismo,” Mr. Kontos adds. “Contrast that with the young people we now see gathering cardboard from dumpsters to be able to eat. We never had that in Argentina before.”

Four years after the center-right free-marketeer Mauricio Macri entered the Casa Rosada, the presidential residence, with a pledge to make Argentina a “normal” country free of the economic roller coaster of populist governance, all signs point to his scathing defeat.

Argentines appear to have decided in large numbers that, compared to the “new normal” of high inflation, ever more expensive public services, and a widening wealth gap, they’d rather risk the roller coaster ride one more time.

And if the Peronist ticket of Alberto Fernández and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (as vice president) wins Sunday, it will be due in no small part to overwhelming support from Argentina’s youth – and to the memory that slice of the electorate has of populism, which is more Kirchner than Perón.

In other words, analysts here say, young people associate populism more with the good times and emphasis on issues like workers’ rights and human rights of former President Néstor Kirchner and wife Cristina (who between them led the nation for 12 of this century’s first 19 years) than with the protectionism and authoritarian leanings of a now-distant Juan Perón.

“Young people just tend to be more to the left, and that’s the case in Argentina, but recent surveys have found that young people identify more today with issues like solidarity with workers and the poor, the environment, and feminist causes,” says Lucas Romero, director general of Synopsis, a consulting firm in Buenos Aires. 

“And on all those issues, we see young people associating them more with the peronismo of Cristina,” he adds.

Howard LaFranchi/The Christian Science Monitor
Azul Cavaleri (middle left) and Tomás Kontos (middle right) hand out election flyers for La Cámpora, a youth organization supporting the Kirchner wing of Argentina’s leftist-populist Peronist movement, with fellow law students at the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina.

“Fatal realities” for Macri

In this last week of campaigning, Argentine media have dedicated more space to the upheavals shaking some of the country’s neighbors, from Chile to Ecuador and Bolivia, than to national politics.

Some Peronist politicians have darkly warned that the unrest that has destabilized a normally orderly Chile and prompted a state of emergency for the first time since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship could easily cross the Andes, since the issues of a widening wealth gap, rising prices of services, and a general sense of economic injustice affect both countries.

But such a contagion is unlikely in Argentina, Mr. Romero says, in large part because of the safety valve of Sunday’s election.

“In Argentina, the sentiment for many is that el peronismo is about to return, so we can wait,” he says. An open primary vote in August left Mr. Macri 16 points behind Mr. Fernández, a surprise victory that sent the peso tumbling. Investors worry about how the next government will deal with the country’s massive debt.

Mr. Macri was almost doomed from the beginning because of the enormity of the task of weaning the country from its deep populist roots, some analysts say.

“I don’t know of any leader who could profoundly alter the political history of a country in three or four years,” says Juan Luis Bour, chief economist at FIEL, the Foundation for Economic Research on Latin America, in Buenos Aires. “What Macri set out to do was a restructuring of the Argentine economy, and that was never going to be easy.”

For Mr. Bour, Argentina simply spends beyond its means. With no ability to borrow to get out of the deep hole the Kirchner government left for him, Mr. Macri set about cutting subsidies and raising rates for public services, like electricity and Buenos Aires transit prices. (It was a rise in Santiago subway fares that sparked Chile’s mass protests.)

Joining the young in largely supporting a return to el peronismo are many of Argentina’s retired and elderly.

“This is a protest march but it is also a celebration, because Macri is going away as of Sunday,” says Eduardo Silva, a retired worker from Argentina’s social security administration, as he reveled in a recent “party” of boisterous retired Argentines bidding Mr. Macri “farewell” on a recent sunny morning.

“Pensioners are being hit in two ways, with very [high] inflation and higher deductions from our retirements,” he says.

President Macri faced two “fatal realities” that he could do nothing about, says Mr. Romero, the consultant.

One was economic, he says, with the country experiencing both a recession and high inflation at the same time. The other was political, with Mr. Macri confronting an uncharacteristically united coalition of populist forces.

“When the various groups and tendencies within el peronismo are united, they win,” says Mr. Romero. “And the misfortune for Macri is that for this election, the Peronistas are very united.”

Agustin Marcarian/Reuters
Presidential candidate Alberto Fernández and running mate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was president from 2007-15, attend a campaign rally in Santa Rosa, Argentina, Oct. 17, 2019. The pair's main competition is current President Mauricio Macri.

Youth appeal – or lack of

But the president faced another roadblock that was of his own making, according to Mr. Romero: He never had an attractive message for young people.

“It was pretty much ‘Be good, don’t act up, and we’ll handle the country,’” Mr. Romero says. He points to the Macri government’s message that “Argentina was like a house where there had been a big party” – with unsustainable subsidies and social-benefit party favors the previous government doled out – but that now it was time for the adults to put order in the party house.

“There was truth to that message, but it was also very moralistic and wasn’t well taken, especially by young people,” he says.

Mr. Bour, of FIEL, says Mr. Macri was never going to be able to compete with Cristina Kirchner for the youth vote, because of her close association with social justice and human rights issues that he says many middle-class youth still connect to the “luminous past” of the Latin America left, starting with Argentina’s own Che Guevara.

But the students at the University of Buenos Aires Law School who do support Mr. Fernández (and Cristina) in Sunday’s elections aren’t wearing El Che T-shirts or talking about Fidel Castro. They are, on the other hand, repeatedly citing a widening income gap and rising poverty. Argentina’s youth have been hit especially hard by unemployment.

“It’s not that we’re anti-capitalist, we’re not,” says Azul Cavaleri, who accompanies her friend Tomás Kontos in handing out flyers for La Cámpora, a pro-Kirchner Peronist political youth group. “But we do think the wealth the country generates should be more fairly distributed, and that the costs to be born in the hard times should be more evenly shared.”

In two political economy classes, a show of hands reveals that about half plan to vote for the Peronist Fernández, with a small scattering of hands supporting Mr. Macri, and others planning to nullify their vote (in Argentina, voting is obligatory).

“I do plan to vote Peronist, but it is a more modern peronismo of social works and human rights that I support, not the protectionist and heavily state-interventionist peronismo of the past,” says Sofía Sánchez, a third-year law student from the Buenos Aires suburb of San Martín.

But overall, in this very small slice of the youth vote, there is little enthusiasm for any candidate – or conviction that anyone will be able to quickly turn the country around.

Mr. Macri always faced tough odds, Mr. Bour says, because people associate him with lower subsidies and high inflation. Of el peronismo, on the other hand, Argentines have a very different memory, which he describes as “three years of happiness before the fall” – with many voters preferring to remember the three years.

El peronismo is a bit like magic,” says Mr. Bour, who notes that Argentina’s populist governments have found ways – such as the windfall of a commodities boom during Cristina Kirchner’s years – to make their spending seem painless, at least for a while.

“And of course,” he adds, “people like magic.”


4. American values or Chinese profits? US companies face crosswinds.

Western companies have long faced special pressures over doing business in China. But one American’s recent tweet about Hong Kong has ignited new debate over the trans-Pacific boundaries of free speech. 


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Can China curb Americans’ right to speak out? That’s the firestorm that China set off this month when it cut off broadcasts of the NBA in retaliation for a tweet from a Houston Rockets official supporting the protesters in Hong Kong.

U.S. politicians of every stripe denounced the move, although it was hard to tell if they were more irked at Beijing or at companies that accommodate Chinese political sensitivities, such as deleting mentions of Taiwan or Tibet.

Until the NBA incident, most of China’s demands involved products and websites marketed to Chinese customers. And some China watchers say Beijing is playing defense, not trying to challenge the West’s right to free speech. Still, the backlash adds tension to already fraught U.S.-China trade talks, and pushes many U.S. companies and organizations into a seemingly untenable balancing act between American values and Chinese profits.

But given the intertwined nature of the economies, any major decoupling looks unlikely. Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities says “there is a better chance of me playing in the NBA than that happening – and I’m 5’8”.”


American values or Chinese profits? US companies face crosswinds.

A quarter-century ago, President Bill Clinton took a gamble on China. Instead of punishing Beijing for its human rights violations, he decided to engage it.

The strategy seemed to work for a long time, with increasing trade paralleled by Chinese political reforms and, at times, cooperation with the West. But human rights violations and intellectual property theft didn’t go away, China began championing state-owned businesses again, and President Xi Jinping pulled China back toward its more authoritarian past, including forcing foreign companies doing business in China to bend to its will.

This thorny reality burst onto American consciousness this month due to one American’s personal tweet in support of antigovernment protesters in Hong Kong. The problem: That American happened to be general manager of a team in the NBA, which has legions of fans in China. 

The resulting tremors in both nations have elevated a question that may persist as China’s economic might grows: Does doing business with China mean silencing a portion of one’s moral soul? 

The financial and ethical stakes are apparent. Beijing canceled NBA preseason broadcasts and has demanded an apology for the Houston Rockets official’s tweet. Americans across the political spectrum condemned China’s move as an attack on freedom of speech.

All this adds tension to already fraught U.S.-China trade talks, strengthens the hand of those seeking a decoupling of the two economies, and pushes many U.S. companies and organizations into a seemingly untenable balancing act between American values and Chinese profits.

“The West needs to modify its approach,” Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), writes in an email. “The Trump administration’s approach of pressure is part of the broader search for a new strategy. They have not been successful, and the U.S. will eventually end up with a more nuanced mix of both engagement and pressure.”

A long-simmering issue

China’s attempts to muzzle U.S. entities isn’t limited to the NBA – nor is it new. In 2010, Google pulled out of China in part because of the regime’s requirements that it censor politically sensitive material for Chinese users. And Beijing has long censored scenes of violence and sex from Hollywood films for cultural reasons. But the censorship has intensified and expanded in the past two years, China watchers say.

Last year, Beijing pressured American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines to remove from their websites all references to Taiwan. 

The ongoing Hong Kong protests have caused even more hypersensitivity. In the past month alone, official pressure prompted Google to pull a mobile game about a Hong Kong protester from its app store. Apple deleted, reinstated, then deleted again an app that Hong Kong protesters used to track police. 

China also banned “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” after director Quentin Tarantino refused to change the portrayal of martial artist Bruce Lee in the film. 

China also deleted “South Park” episodes – and even online discussions of them on its version of the internet – after the Comedy Central show mocked Hollywood for making concessions to Chinese censors.  

Notably, those changes were demanded for Chinese-language versions of movies and websites meant for China’s domestic audience. What’s different about the current NBA controversy is that China clamped down on an English-language tweet on a website not even accessible in mainland China.

In doing so, it may have overreached. 

“The censorate is paying attention to behavior in any language on any platform anywhere in the world,” says Dr. Kennedy of CSIS. “I’m actually not sure this is sustainable for Beijing to do.”

And it may not be the intention of the Chinese Communist Party to try to curb the West’s free speech. 

“At home and abroad, the CCP is fighting a defensive ideological battle against liberal norms of democracy and human rights, but so far at least, it is not engaged in a determined effort to spread autocracy,” writes Jessica Chen Weiss, a Cornell University professor and author of “Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations.”

It’s also not clear that the negative reaction to the NBA tweet originated with the government, says Jennifer Pan, a Stanford University professor who studies Chinese political communication. “Usually, when protests happen against a foreign company, it’s started by Chinese consumers” and the government follows. (The push to change “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” reportedly came from Mr. Lee’s daughter, who didn’t like the portrayal of her father in the film.)

New backlash in U.S.

Nevertheless, the moves by U.S. companies to accommodate Beijing have created a harsh backlash across the U.S. political spectrum this month: from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York criticizing Apple in an open letter, to Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Mike Pence criticizing the NBA.

By “siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” Mr. Pence said in a major foreign policy speech Thursday.

The backlash could put new focus on the ideological currents beneath America’s economic and technological rivalry with China. On the right, former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, for one, has welcomed the sudden attention on China. He advocates a complete decoupling from China. Ms. Warren has put forward a trade policy with such high human rights and environmental standards that trade experts say it would amount to a decoupling from China.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is working on a trade agreement that would reform certain Chinese practices so the world’s No. 1 and 2 economies would remain intertwined. 

In his speech, Mr. Pence made clear the U.S. did not seek a decoupling.

All this leaves U.S. multinationals walking a tightrope, trying to preserve their business in China while not offending American politicians or consumers. The NBA, too, after apologizing to China, did affirm the Rockets official’s right to express his opinion. The outlook for its business in China, estimated at between $4 billion and $5 billion a year, remains unclear as China’s state-run broadcaster did not air the league’s first games of the season this week, but the NBA’s Chinese internet partner did livestream the opening game between the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles. 

“Companies are thinking very hard about how they are going to mitigate that risk,” says Andrew Polk, a founding partner of Trivium China, a strategic advisory firm based in Beijing. “But for most of them, it’s not an option not to be in China. The growth of the global economy is happening in Asia and it’s centered in China. And if you want to be a company that’s growing, you’ve got to find a way to tap into that demand. It is that simple.”

In a talk last week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cast his company as one that sought access to China hoping “we might help create a more open society.” But the narrative was telling. Facebook now has “more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in,” he said, after being rejected in those efforts. 

Decoupling? Not if you’re Apple.

The poster child for this quandary is Apple. More than 90% of its manufacturing and 20% of its sales come from China. Even if Apple wanted to leave, it would take three years to move 10% of its manufacturing production in the best-case scenario, says Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. 

And China is not eager to see Western companies leave. At times of peak iPhone production, such as now, Apple employs some 1.4 million Chinese.

“Ultimately, from a technology and from an ecosystem perspective, [China and the U.S.] rely on each other: One’s the heart, one’s the lungs,” Mr. Ives says. “As much as they’re in an old Western standoff, they both know what’s at stake.”

In the long run, the most likely way forward is a U.S.-China trade agreement that would be more broadly focused than what the Trump administration is negotiating, says Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “What the United States is going to have to grapple with is the middle ground: Is there a way to do business with China without threatening your national security and undermining your core values?”

And the prospect of decoupling?

“There is a better chance of me playing in the NBA than that happening,” says Mr. Ives of Wedbush. “And I’m 5’8”.”


The Explainer

5. Shedding light on black holes

Black holes may seem like exotic, far-off celestial objects – and they are. But they also illustrate, in the starkest way imaginable, the interactions of some of nature's most fundamental phenomena: space, time, light, and mass.

Jeremy Schnittman/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
In September, NASA released a simulation of what a black hole would look like, with a glowing disk of hot gas distorted as though in a fun house mirror.

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Last month, NASA released two images of objects that reflect no light: black holes. The first was an animated simulation of light bending around a black hole. The second was an image of three supermassive black holes on a collision course. Earlier this year a global consortium of scientific institutions published a now-iconic image of a black hole’s “shadow.” 

But what are black holes? While our scientific understanding of these mysterious objects is rapidly evolving, scientists today understand them as regions of the universe that are separated, in fundamental ways, from everything else. 

“It is a region of space and time that is hidden beneath an event horizon from which nothing can escape," says Manuela Campanelli, an astrophysicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology. 

Our modern understanding of black holes begins with Albert Einstein, who laid the mathematical foundations that showed how black holes were possible, and then spent the rest of his career dismissing their actual existence. 

“Black holes are predicted by the theory of relativity, but they also break relativity,” says University of Arizona astronomer Christopher Impey. “So that’s a little awkward.”


Shedding light on black holes

Last month, NASA released two arresting images of black holes. The first: a simulation of how light bends around a black hole surrounded by a glowing disk of infalling matter. The second: an image, gathered by optical, infrared, and X-ray telescopes on Earth and in space, of three supermassive black holes on a collision course. These images follow a slew of findings that confirm Albert Einstein’s model of gravity, from the celebrated Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detection of gravitational waves to the image, published earlier this year, of a black hole’s “shadow.”

Are black holes really black?

Yes and no. Because they exert so much gravitational force that even nearby light falls into them, black holes are very black. Compared with a black hole, any black clothing you have is actually navy blue.

Yet black holes are also thought to produce some of the universe’s brightest known lights. These include blazars, the extremely hot jets of matter produced by the gases orbiting supermassive black holes, and gamma-ray bursts, the explosions of high-frequency radiation thought to occur when a black hole swallows a binary neutron star.

And are they really holes?

That question is more complicated, because it involves Einstein’s geometric model of gravity, which imagines space and time as a single manifold, called spacetime. According to general relativity, mass “curves” spacetime, causing massive objects to draw together in a gravity-ish sort of way.

Incredibly massive objects, especially when they are very dense, can curve spacetime to the point where an area around it is pinched off from the rest of the manifold. 

In one sense, a black hole is “a mathematical solution to Einstein’s equations,” says Manuela Campanelli, an astrophysicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology. “It is a region of space and time that is hidden beneath an event horizon from which nothing can escape.”

Black holes come in all sizes, from the supermassive black holes found at the centers of galaxies to ones just a few times the mass of our sun. 

“Nature makes black holes of all masses ranging over a factor of a billion,” says Christopher Impey, a University of Arizona astronomer and the author of “Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes.” “Most people aren’t aware that black holes come in such a huge range of sizes.”

How were they discovered?

Black holes were first discovered with math. English thinker John Michell first proposed the idea in 1783 of an object so dense and massive that even light itself cannot escape. His conjectures were echoed 13 years later by the French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace, who calculated the point of no return for light around a “dark star.”

In 1916 the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild defined this boundary, called the event horizon, in his solutions to Einstein’s field equations.

Even though he developed the theoretical foundations for black holes, Einstein himself was skeptical of their existence.

But in 1939, the same year Einstein published a paper arguing against black holes’ existence, the atomic bomb-maker J. Robert Oppenheimer and one of his students demonstrated mathematically that, once a sufficiently massive star starts collapsing, it will continue to collapse indefinitely.

“Black holes are predicted by the theory of relativity, but they also break relativity,” says Dr. Impey. “So that’s a little awkward.”

These days, interest in black hole astronomy is surging, particularly since 2016, after LIGO detected the first gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime caused by the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. This discovery, which netted the scientists behind it the Nobel Prize in physics the following year, supports Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Earlier this year, the Event Horizon Telescope revealed the first image of a black hole’s “shadow,” a bright ring of light bending around the hole’s intense gravity.

“There’s a lot of fascination for this subject,” says Dr. Campanelli. “We have an image. I think you see more and more people interested in the field.”


The Monitor's View

Rediscovering Mr. Rogers

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A Hollywood movie about children’s television host Fred Rogers – “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks – arrives in U.S. cineplexes just in time for Thanksgiving.

It’s easy to imagine the program’s appeal to be nostalgic, a longing for a simpler, kinder time. But when the show launched nationally in 1968 the United States was in a convulsive, angry, and disillusioned state. It was a year that saw assassinations (Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy) and revealed a nation deeply divided over issues from the Vietnam War to racial equality. 

Mr. Rogers’ offer to his young viewers – “Won’t you be my neighbor?” – was both simple and subtly profound. It was grounded in his belief that all human relationships benefit from being based on the golden rule: Treat those around you the way you would like to be treated.

That kind of neighborliness may seem hard to find in today’s headlines – just as it was in Mr. Rogers’ time. But it exists, and it will continue to break down barriers of resentment and hatred because the innate goodness Mr. Rogers saw in others still exists.


Rediscovering Mr. Rogers

A Hollywood movie about children’s television host Fred Rogers – “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks – arrives in U.S. cineplexes just in time for Thanksgiving. It follows a well-received documentary last year about the soft-spoken Mr. Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister whose influential “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” aired new episodes from 1968 to 2001 followed by numerous rebroadcasts.  

It’s easy to imagine the program’s appeal to be nostalgic, a longing for a simpler, kinder time (the last new episode ran just days before 9/11). But when the show launched nationally in 1968 the United States was in a convulsive, angry, and disillusioned state. It was a year that saw assassinations (Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy) and revealed a nation deeply divided over issues from the Vietnam War to racial equality. 

While Mr. Rogers’ core audience was children, his message was universal, and often timely. In one now-famous episode he asks an African American actor portraying a policeman to join him in cooling off by putting their feet together into a wading pool – this at a time when the racial segregation of some public swimming pools was making news. (Some also have seen a reference to the biblical story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, an act of humility and love.)

But were Mr. Rogers’ ideas saccharine and unrealistic, a childish view of the world? The new movie’s plot apparently tries to address that question by telling the story of a hardened, skeptical magazine reporter sent to write about Mr. Rogers who is won over by Mr. Rogers’ powerful sincerity and message.

Mr. Rogers’ offer to his young viewers – “Won’t you be my neighbor?” – was both simple and subtly profound. It was grounded in his belief that all human relationships benefit from being based on the golden rule: Treat those around you the way you would like to be treated. “Fred’s legacy reminds us … to try and forgive those who have hurt us and to see the innate goodness in all people,” his widow, Joanne, said recently.

Examples of that kind of neighborliness may seem hard to find in today’s headlines – just as they were in Mr. Rogers’ time. But they exist, and they continue to break down barriers of resentment and hatred because that same innate goodness Mr. Rogers saw still exists.

This week the nation marked the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings, a leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. House. Many Americans were startled to learn about his long and close friendship with Rep. Mark Meadows, a conservative Republican. 

“I was privileged enough to be able to call him a dear friend,” Mr. Meadows said. “Some have classified it as an unexpected friendship. ... Perhaps this place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships. I know I have been blessed by one.”

Earlier Mr. Cummings himself had hoped that they might become a model for others. “We need to get away from party and deal with each other as human beings,” he said.

It’s a friendship that Mr. Rogers would happily include in his neighborhood. And one that perhaps shows that that neighborhood is a bigger place, and nearer by, than we realize.


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.

Health that isn’t vulnerable

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Too often our health can seem susceptible to circumstance or chance. But the idea that true health is sustained by God, divine Spirit, brings help and healing.


Health that isn’t vulnerable

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Every day is a learning experience. From newspapers, magazines, books, and the internet to radio, television, and the people in our lives, we can be educated in a variety of ways. There are all kinds of information to assimilate.

At times, any of these sources may try to convey a feeling that our health is inevitably at risk, vulnerable. For instance, recently I read an article asserting our susceptibility to various material influences, such as age and other circumstances, which could degrade our health.

This brings us to a crossroads: We can go down the path of thinking that life is fundamentally material, with its fears that our health is always vulnerable to material threats. Or we can consider another path, one in which we take seriously the idea that life is spiritually formed, and is governed by laws that are not subject to material circumstances.

The writings of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, shed light on this spiritual view. In her key text, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she says: “For right reasoning there should be but one fact before the thought, namely, spiritual existence” (p. 492). This spiritual existence, or reality, is based in God, the supremely good divine Spirit.

This has real implications for us and our health. The Bible indicates that we are God’s offspring, or image. As such, our real nature is spiritual, good, and whole as well, and therefore not vulnerable to ill health. Perceiving something of this spiritual reality brings tangible help, as I experienced at a time I had lost my sense of balance, my equilibrium, for no apparent reason.

I realized I had a decision to make: I could choose to just go along with a matter-based view of life and the symptoms I was experiencing. Or, as a result of my study of Christian Science, I could give my whole heart to prayer, coupled with a spiritual view of reality, and trust it to bring healing.

So I prayed with this powerful idea in Science and Health: “There is but one primal cause. Therefore there can be no effect from any other cause, and there can be no reality in aught which does not proceed from this great and only cause” (p. 207).

This is how I reasoned spiritually based on this idea: God, as the only legitimate cause, is harmonious and good. Then, how could the spiritual offspring of the Divine ever experience anything but God’s harmony and goodness? How could I ever lose my sense of balance?

My prayers also affirmed that since Spirit is the only cause, a material body could not dictate my health, could not originate any kind of effect on God’s spiritual creation. Ultimately, our true health has its source in God, and therefore can never be lacking. God’s children are never vulnerable.

In less than an hour, the symptoms disappeared, and they have not returned.

A spiritual view of existence and our relation to God as His spiritual offspring can help us to overcome the fear of our health being at risk or susceptible to material factors and conditions. It’s true: We can each experience God’s healing power.



Shave and a haircut

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Workers in a small barbershop wait for customers in Old Delhi on Oct. 27, 2011. From Bujumbura to Boston and Japan to Afghanistan, whether with mullets or traditional braids, hairstyles can mark rebellious individualism or proud heritage. But no matter the final look, styling time can be respite from busy routine and an opportunity for quiet human connection. It’s a universal standard: Let someone else coax the tangles out. Let someone else care for you.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( October 28th, 2019 )

Come back Monday. We’ll have a terrific video about modern-day Creole cowboys – riders of color who challenge the false image of an all-white Old West.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 25, 2019
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