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Good Reads: From Putin's economic woes, to billionaire trusts, to gender equality

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes President Putin's energy challenges, the man at the center of the NSA eavesdropping controversy, a narrative of a Taliban sneak attack, 'Jackie O. trusts' for wealthy estates, and a gender experiment at Harvard Business School.

By Staff writer / September 29, 2013

President Vladimir Putin addresses the media after a G20 summit meeting.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP


Russian President Vladimir Putin recently appeared to have the upper hand in his dealings with the Obama administration, advancing a diplomatic plan to prevent a threatened US attack on Syria and providing refuge to National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

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But Brian Bremner in Bloomberg Businessweek argues that “beneath Putin’s swagger lies weaknesses at the core of the economy that threaten Russia’s future – and with it, his power base.” And, Mr. Bremner adds, “for that he can blame a familiar nemesis: the U.S.”

The threat to Mr. Putin comes from stiffer US competition for Russia’s key energy sector, which provides half of the revenue for Putin’s government. The prices Russia can get selling oil and gas have weakened as US energy production has soared. Key factors in the stronger US performance: growing use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing as well as projects slated to add 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to the nation’s annual production. The challenge for Putin,

Bremner writes, is to revive the energy sector while trying to reduce Russia’s dependence on hydrocarbon exports.

At the heart of NSA eavesdropping

Gen. Keith Alexander, the man at the center of the National Security Agency eavesdropping controversy, is profiled by Shane Harris in Foreign Policy. As NSA director, Alexander runs the nation’s largest intelligence organization, one that has been in the news for tracking Americans’ telephone calls and online activities. He also runs the US Cyber Command, which defends military computer networks and is charged with responding to hostile acts by potential enemies in cyberspace.

The profile describes Alexander as a patriot, introspective, self-effacing, and given to corny jokes. But critics cited in the lengthy piece also assert that he “has become blinded by the power of technology.” 

Alexander’s approach is contrasted with that of his predecessor, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden. “Hayden’s attitude was ‘Yes, we have the technological capability, but should we use it?’ Keith’s was ‘We have the capability, so let’s use it,’ ” according to a former intelligence official who worked with both men.

Enemy inside Camp Bastion

Taliban fighters, dressed as American soldiers, sneaked into a massive US air base in Afghanistan on the night of Sept. 14, 2012. Armed only with rifles and bags of raisins and nuts, the 15 intruders killed two marines, and destroyed six Harrier jets and an Air Force C-130 worth $200 million. In the latest issue of GQ, reporter Matthieu Aikins examines the battle at Camp Bastion, where the United States suffered the largest loss of aircraft in combat since Vietnam.


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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

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