Digest: 28 October 2014




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In An Introduction to Essays on Character and Opportunity, Richard V. Reeves (for The Brookings Institution) presents a series of essays on Brookings’ website that discuss issues surrounding character, particularly its relationship to opportunity. Particular perspectives include discussions of the public role in development of character, the moral dimensions of character including the exercise of free will and individual development, gender and culture, social norms, and the effect of chronic stress early in development.



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In The Zombie System, Michael Sauga (for Der Spiegel) discusses several problems with industrial world economies and the risk of their failure. He argues that 21st century capitalism is steeped in uncertainty as a result of slow growth and depleted political and central banking tools. A boom in real estate, bonds, and global stocks reeks of unsustainable growth while the opacity of bank balance sheets and the failure of banks to self-govern suggests a failure of the system itself, not just the particular institutions or individuals within that system. Western industrial societies are currently going through a process in which certain few are extracting all of the resources and wealth. Sauga speaks with Daron Acemoglu who points out that this dynamic is known to cause social and economic decline.



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In Justice for Edward Snowden, Katrina vanden Heuvel (for The Washington Post) discusses why she believes President Obama should offer clemency to Edward Snowden. She considers Snowden’s view that patriotism requires loyalty to the country rather than to any specific government and points out the irony that James Clapper is still in office. Whereas Clapper lied under oath to Congress when he claimed that the US does not collect data on millions of citizens. Despite the fact that Snowden’s whistleblowing resulted in justifiable worldwide outrage and a Senate review of NSA practices, he is in exile and under indictment. President Obama needs to get on the right side of this issue. Until he does, the legitimacy of the government will be undermined.

In Freedom vs. Stability: Are Dictators Worse Than Anarchy?, Chritiane Hoffmann (for Der Spiegel) discusses why we need to stop thinking dictatorships are the worst thing going – they aren’t, civil war and chaos are worse. While it may have seemed a good thing to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Hoffmann argues, the resulting mess has been far worse. She discusses the role of the state, whether democratic or autocratic, as a break against the state of nature. In the West we may be used to democratic systems, but they don’t necessarily apply very well everywhere. In reality, sometimes a dictatorship is what is required to bring order and function to a state. We may not like dictatorships, but toppling them in the expectation of the establishment of a democratic system very often results in situations far worse than existed under the dictatorship.

In Nobel Peace Prize Winners Urge Obama to Release CIA Torture Report, Alana Horowitz (for The Huffington Post) discusses the letter from twelve Nobel laureates to Obama which argues that the US’s use of torture is particularly troubling for the precedent it sets.  The US has gone, they say, from a beacon to a violator of rights and freedoms in contravention of the policies set out in the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Convention. Horowitz points out that human rights advocates have been urging the White House for public release, but that they have had no luck so far.

In Nation’s Confidence Ebbs at a Steady Drip, Peter Baker (for The New York Times) discusses the disenchantment Americans feel with government and public institutions. While the recent failures of multiple government institutions give a basis for dissatisfaction, the feeling has been reinforced and amplified by modern news media. Paradoxically, Baker points out, despite single digit approval ratings for Congress, voters are expected to return more than 90% of incumbents.



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In US-Led Strikes in Syria Kill Nearly 500 ISIL Fighters, Al Jazeera America provides a report on US and Kurdish actions against ISIL around Kobane, Syria. US airstrikes are said to have killed ISIL fighters and damaged ISIL equipment, but the fighting remains intense in and around Kobane as Kurdish fighters attempt to keep ISIL from gaining further ground. However, while US airstrikes may have killed as many as 500 ISIL fighters, it is thought that as many as 6,000 new recruits joined ISIL in July alone.

In Intent on Defying an All-Seeing Eye, A.O. Scott (for The New York Times) discusses “Citizenfour”, Laura Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden. Scott regards the film to be a “tense and frightening thriller”, but considers more particularly the role Snowden plays – he comes across as anyone one might see at a Starbucks or on a college campus. That familiar role cannot help but be placed in juxtaposition with the role of those who built and maintain the security apparatus that Snowden exposed. But the film is perhaps most remarkable for its presentation of the modern state as something of a terrifying abstraction.