Aleppo After the Fall : One morning in mid-December, a group of soldiers banged on the door of a house in eastern Aleppo. A male voice responded from inside: “Who are you?” A soldier answered: “We’re the Syrian Arab Army. It’s O.K., you can come out. They’re all gone.” The door opened. A middle-aged man appeared. He had a gaunt, distinguished face, but his clothes were threadbare and his teeth looked brown and rotted. At the soldiers’ encouragement, he stepped hesitantly forward into the street. He explained to them, a little apologetically, that he had not crossed his threshold in four and a half years. The man gazed around for a moment as if baffled, his eyes filling with tears. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad had just recaptured the city after years of bombing and urban warfare that had made Aleppo a global byword for savagery. This frail-looking man had survived at the war’s geographic center entirely alone, an urban Robinson Crusoe, living on stocks of dry food and whatever he could grow in his small inner courtyard. Now, as he stumbled through an alley full of twisted metal and rubble, he saw for the first time that the front lines, marked by a wall of sandbags, were barely 20 yards from his house.

Can Anyone Be Truly ‘Independent’ In Today’s Polarized Politics? : Late in the 19th century, America was besieged by grave problems: rising economic inequality, violent labor struggles, deep conflicts over immigration and race. But the nation’s leaders seemed incapable of addressing any of these things; they frittered away their hours in disputes over tariffs and trade, and when election time came, they lined up in their respective parties, each one hoping for the chance to distribute the federal spoils to itself. Presidential elections were achingly close: In 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost to Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College, fueling a sense that the political process no longer worked properly. Some Americans demanded electoral reform; we can thank them, with mixed feelings, for inventing the presidential primary. Others turned to “populism,” a Western and Southern revolt against the East Coast elite. Still others embraced the idea that some “independent,” objective authority, standing outside partisan politics, might swoop into Washington and set things right.

Economic optimism is not just about the economy : ECONOMIC optimism is on the rise around the world. A new survey from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, finds that residents of America, Europe and Japan are more confident about their countries’ economies than they were before the financial crisis. Rising spirits partly stem from the return of durable growth. But differences in optimism between countries cannot be accounted for by growth alone—or, indeed, by economic performance.

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