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Must Reads of the Week: Sochi Olympics, NSA Disputes, Arctic Access, and More

Author: CFR.org Editors
February 7, 2014

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"The Loneliness of Vladimir Putin"
By Julia Ioffe
New Republic

"The increasingly real threat of economic turmoil is already chipping away at Putin's power with more effectiveness than any protest movement. There is bound to be a vacuum when the forces of economics prevail. But a movement that is pulled in myriad different directions, that cannot decide on an identity, and yet lacks variety in its leaders cannot fill the void. By crushing the opposition, Putin has all but ensured that, once again, Russia's history will repeat itself, and only the wrong people will be there to step in—the ultra-nationalists, childlike faddists, and dangerous purists."

Russian security forces patrol the streets for the 2014 Sochi Winter OlympicsRussian security forces patrol the streets for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. (Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Courtesy Reuters)
"The Sochi Effect"
By James Surowiecki
New Yorker

"Sochi is emblematic of Russia's economy: conflicts of interest and cronyism are endemic. But the link between corruption and construction is a problem across the globe. Transparency International has long cited the construction industry as the world's most corrupt, pointing to the prevalence of bribery, bid rigging, and bill padding. And, while the sheer scale of graft in Sochi is unusual, the practice of politicians using construction contracts to line their pockets and dole out favors isn't."

"The Problem at the Heart of the NSA Disputes: Legal Density"
By Benjamin Wittes
Lawfare

"The complexity [of surveillance law], though perhaps inevitable, is also corrosive. It makes it hard, even with a great deal of declassification, to have a conversation with the public about what [the NSA] should and should not do—because there's no stable understanding of what this agency does and does not do now. It makes it hard to defend the agency accurately. It makes it hard to criticize the agency accurately. And it makes it hard for the agency itself to tell a young student what intelligence collection under the rule of law looks like in any language that does not risk inducing later a sense of betrayal."

"The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World."
By Nelson D. Schwartz
New York Times

"The current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust, according to Mr. Fazzari and Mr. Cynamon. Since 2009, the year the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1 percent among the bottom 95 percent."

"Manufacturing in Africa: An Awakening Giant"
Economist

"A construction boom is fostering access to high-voltage power. The spread of mobile telephony, including mobile banking, helps small suppliers struggling with overheads. IBM, an American computer giant with an eye on Africa, goes so far as to say that 'software is the manufacturing of the future.' Consumers will still want to buy hardware, but growing local demand is creating a market for African app and software developers."

"Flipping the Corruption Myth"
By Jason Hickel
Al-Jazeera

"Many international development organizations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this 'evil phenomenon' is 'most destructive' in the global South, where it is a 'key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.' There's only one problem with this theory: It's just not true."

"Japan and Russia: Arctic Friends"
By Stratos Pourzitakis
The Diplomat

"Through its warming ties with Russia, Japan seeks to exploit the Arctic's potential and to win support in standing up to what it regards as China's assertive policies. Working with Russia is a great opportunity for Japan to strengthen ties with the most important player in the Arctic and gain leverage within the Arctic Council. It will also give Japanese energy and maritime corporations and scientific institutions valuable Arctic access."

"It's Official: China Is Becoming a New Innovation Powerhouse"
By David Wertime
Foreign Policy

"The country is already more innovative than the massive, neo-Maoist factory assembly lines so prevalent in U.S. popular imagination might suggest. China's start-up scene is abuzz with new products, new ideas, and new investment, with some indigenous innovations like mobile messaging app WeChat offering a user experience that can rival that of any U.S. competitor."

"Obama Walks Into Crossfire of Asian Tensions"
By Geoff Dyer, Demetri Sevastopulo, and Simon Mundy
Financial Times

"The U.S. has been particularly frustrated at the deterioration in relations between Tokyo and Seoul, as it believes that relationship is important to help check the rise of China in the region, which is one reason that some high-profile Asia experts in the U.S. have been urging Mr. Obama to visit South Korea."

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