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Taking democracy for granted

December 25th, 2014

Imagine that you are a mother of a very poor family in Udaipur, India, and that you want to have your children immunized. But now imagine — as the economist Esther Duflo once demanded of a TED audience — that because you are very poor, you have an infinite number of small things to do, from fetching water to cooking food from scratch to running a small shop. In order to get your child immunized, you have to walk several kilometers to a health center that turns out to be closed. Would you bother to return again? Probably not. Read on »


Another reason to avoid reading the comments

November 28th, 2014

LONDON

If you are reading this article on the Internet, stop afterward and think about it. Then scroll to the bottom and read the commentary. If there isn’t any, try a Web site that allows comments, preferably one that is very political. Then recheck your views.

Chances are your thinking will have changed, especially if you have read a series of insulting, negative or mocking remarks — as so often you will. Once upon a time, it seemed as if the Internet would be a place of civilized and open debate; now, unedited forums often deteriorate to insult exchanges. Like it or not, this matters: Multiple experiments have shown that perceptions of an article, its writer or its subject can be profoundly shaped by anonymous online commentary, especially if it is harsh. One group of researchers found that rude comments “not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.” A digital analyst at Atlantic Media also discovered that people who read negative comments were more likely to judge that an article was of low quality and, regardless of the content, to doubt the truth of what it stated. Read on »


Is Germany ready to assume a global role?

November 14th, 2014

BERLIN

Far from the main events — the balloons, the speeches and the 25th-anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Wall — last weekend I joined a panel discussion about the future of Europe, as one does so often in Germany. Asked to say a few words about “threats to the West,” I spoke about the relative weakness of NATO, about the failures of European foreign policy, about Russia’s use of money and disinformation to divide Europe and the United States. Read on »


Jews celebrate their place in Poland’s history

October 31st, 2014

WARSAW

There were ministers and presidents, and an audience full of people from around the world. But at the official opening of the beautiful Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw last week, there was one speech that stood out from all of the others. In the cold autumn sunlight, Marian Turski got up in front of the crowd and began with the following words:

“During the war years, Jewish partisans sang a song which later became the anthem of their resistance movement. It finished with the words ‘Mir zenen do’ — ‘We are here!’ ” After the construction of this museum, today I too, a member of the Jewish community in Poland, want to repeat after them: “ ‘Mir zenen do’ — ‘We are here!’ ” After he spoke, Turski, 88, took the arm of a 13-year-old Polish Jewish girl and the two of them — representatives of an old and new generation of Polish Jews — symbolically opened the museum doors. Read on »


The myth of Russian humiliation

October 17th, 2014

Looking back over the past quarter-century, it isn’t easy to name a Western policy that can truly be described as a success. The impact of Western development aid is debatable. Western interventions in the Middle East have been disastrous. Read on »


China’s explanation for the Hong Kong protests? Blame America.

October 3rd, 2014

More than 50,000 people have filled the streets of Hong Kong in the past few days, and at times the number has climbed higher. The photographs of these gatherings have shown a remarkably calm, remarkably disciplined crowd. Students do their homework on the sidewalk. Others stack up plastic bottles for recycling and sweep the streets.

That kind of organization is not unusual. In Kiev last winter — before the use of sniper fire turned the protests ugly — people would drive up to the demonstration, drop off food and then continue on to work. Something of that same spirit seems to be operating in Hong Kong. Local supporters donate food and water, which are then carefully distributed by protest committees. Read on »


Scotland sends Europe’s elites a warning

September 19th, 2014

LONDON

In Aberdeenshire, more than 87 percent of people voted on Scotland’s independence referendum; in Clackmannanshire, the number was above 88 percent; in the Western Isles, it was close to 90 percent. One remote Highland peninsula actually achieved a 100 percent turnout — meaning that all 98 residents showed up to vote. Read on »


War in Europe is not a hysterical idea

August 29th, 2014

WARSAW
Over and over again — throughout the entirety of my adult life, or so it feels — I have been shown Polish photographs from the beautiful summer of 1939: The children playing in the sunshine, the fashionable women on Krakow streets. I have even seen a picture of a family wedding that took place in June 1939, in the garden of a Polish country house I now own. All of these pictures convey a sense of doom, for we know what happened next. September 1939 brought invasion from both east and west, occupation, chaos, destruction, genocide. Most of the people who attended that June wedding were soon dead or in exile. None of them ever returned to the house. Read on »

Obama’s legacy could be a revitalized NATO

August 22nd, 2014

Not long ago, someone asked me about President Obama’s foreign policy “legacy.” I was startled by the question. There are two whole years left, I told my interlocutor; it’s way too early. She seemed surprised that I was surprised: “Can he really do anything significant in only two years?”
The answer is, yes, of course he can do something significant in two years. Two years is a lifetime in politics. Two years ago, no one imagined Russia would be at war with Ukraine. Two years from now, the map of the Middle East may be totally different. In 1948 and ’49, two years was plenty of time to conceive, negotiate and write the original North Atlantic Treaty, the piece of paper that set up NATO. Read on »

Russia’s blow to globalization

August 8th, 2014

While it lasted, globalization was a beguiling tale we told ourselves about the future. The world is interconnected and therefore getting not just richer but more peaceful. The technologies of international capitalism — outsourcing, insourcing, offshoring — would not only make the world’s businesses more profitable, they would make people less quarrelsome. We would play chess online with Indians, and thus become more like them. We would buy software from China, and thus never go to war with them. Even better, once they started trading, India and China would never go to war with each other. Read on »

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