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Today’s winners may be tomorrow’s losers

December 25th, 2015

George Washington and his troops spent Christmas Day 1776 along the Delaware River, preparing for a dangerous night crossing. The wind was blowing hard; the water was filled with floating chunks of broken ice. One 16-year-old soldier remembered that “it rained, hailed, snowed and froze, and at the same time blew a perfect hurricane,” although historian David McCullough observed that the wind was a blessing: It covered the noise of the crossing and allowed Washington’s army to carry out a victorious attack on the village of Trenton. Read on »


Mark Zuckerberg should spend $45 billion on undoing Facebook’s damage to democracies

December 10th, 2015

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he wants to give away $45 billion. I’m sure he needs some advice on how to spend it. Here’s mine: He should use it to undo the terrible damage done by Facebook and other forms of social media to democratic debate and civilized discussion all over the world. Read on »


How Turkey confounded Putin’s favorite narratives

November 25th, 2015

On Monday, two Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian plane which Turkey said had crossed into its airspace. Various interpretations could in theory be placed upon this event. Depending on one’s point of view, it could be described as an act of self-defense on the part of Turkey, a NATO member — or an act of aggression. But to Vladimir Putin, and to his claque in the Russian media, only one question matters: To which of his narratives should it belong? Read on »


Regaining control in an unsettled Europe

November 14th, 2015

AMSTERDAM — Objectively speaking, the unprecedented, bloody terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night were not related to the European refugee crisis that has rumbled on for many months. Certainly the attacks could not have been caused by France’s acceptance of refugees because France, unlike Germany and Sweden, has not been accepting large numbers of refugees. Nor is it credible to believe that recently arrived refugees from the Syrian war were primarily responsible for organizing a complex series of attacks. People who climbed mountains or crossed the Mediterranean on rafts did not arrive in France and transform themselves immediately into armed terrorist killers. Read on »


Ukraine battles a second enemy: Corruption

October 29th, 2015

KIEV — A year ago, the only topic of conversation in Ukraine’s capital was the war. Did Russia want to take half the country, or just a part of that? Would there be a full-scale invasion and, if so, when would it start?

Kiev today doesn’t feel like a city at war. Local elections were underway when I was there last week, and the city was plastered with posters. Politicians offering every conceivable opinion smiled benignly at pedestrians from billboards, kiosks and bus stops. Across the country, more than 200,000 candidates from 132 parties had registered to contest seats in 10,700 local councils. Read on »


Russia’s new kind of friends

October 16th, 2015

The World Public Forum’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” meets every year on the Greek island of Rhodes, under the patronage of its founder, Vladimir Yakunin. Until recently, Yakunin was the chairman of Russian state railways and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now he has been ejected from Putin’s inner circle, but he still opened the forum in Rhodes this month. When asked, he angrily denied rumors that a hushed-up corruption scandal had led to his fall from grace. Only an “idiot or a provocateur ” could possibly say such a thing, he told a reporter from Politico. A few minutes later, he showed the same reporter his 140,000-euro watch. “If you want to buy something, what’s wrong with that?” Read on »


Putin’s power plays

September 27th, 2015

It is always tempting, when writing about the Russian president, to lapse into geopolitical waffle. Though the Cold War ended a quarter century ago, we are still accustomed to thinking of Vladimir Putin as a global actor, a representative of eternal Russian interests, the inheritor of czarism/Lenin/Stalin, a man who inhabits a Kissingerian world of state actors who compete against other state actors for control over territory, all of them playing a gigantic game of Risk. Read on »


Jeremy Corbyn’s dangerous appeal

September 16th, 2015

LONDON

We went back and forth, all through dinner. Yes, my acquaintance admitted, Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plans — the renationalization of industry, the imposition of a “maximum wage” — were fantastical. Yes, it’s true, Corbyn’s fondness for the people he has referred to as “our friends in Hezbollah” hardly seemed sane or rational. And yes, of course, the new leader of the British Labour Party might well be unelectable. Then he sighed. “But at least we’ll be having fun again!” Read on »


Europe’s multi-layered hypocrisy on refugees

September 4th, 2015

LONDON

Picking apart the layers of irony and hypocrisy that surround the European refugee crisis is like peeling an onion without a knife. At a train station in southern Moravia, Czech police pulled 200 refugees off a train and marked numbers on their arms. On its eastern border, Hungary is building a barbed-wire fence to keep out refugees, remarkably like the barbed wire “iron curtain” that once marked its western border. Choose whatever image you want — ships full of Jews being sent back to Nazi Europe, refugees furtively negotiating with smugglers at a bar in Casablanca — and it now has a modern twist. Read on »


Donald Trump: Spokesman for birthers, truthers, and Internet trolls

August 21st, 2015

“It’s probably the same person, writing 16 different comments under 15 different names.” That’s how a friend’s son recently shrugged off a social media spat he’d been involved in at his university. There had been some nasty name-calling and a few violent threats, but he wasn’t bothered: He reckoned the anger, racism and vitriol he had encountered on Twitter and Facebook weren’t “real.” They didn’t affect real politics, or real life. Read on »


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