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Adamant Populism

Enrico Letta, the prime minister of Italy, in an interview with The New York Times on Oct. 14 after triumphing over the machinations of his rival Silvio Berlusconi in a recent parliamentary showdown and on the verge of his meeting in Washington with President Obama, was unusually frank about his political views. He identified the problem of governance with the rise of populist anger and intransigent populist politicians around the world. Ironically, Mr. Letta identified the political impasse in the United States as one example of the brick wall facing many governments, and his remarks placed the adamant Tea Party populists, though he did not explicitly name them, with the likes of the surging fringe elements in France, Greece and other European countries. Mr. Letta noted that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s big achievement in the German elections in September was her defeat of populism, and he added that the next big risk could be the election next May of an “anti-European” European Parliament.

The strength of populist movements dramatically increased worldwide with the economic recession in 2008. In Europe the recession was exacerbated by austerity measures demanded by German financiers in at-risk economies like Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Italy. That austerity has done little to bring down double-digit unemployment rates across most of Europe (more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain).

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The parallels with the United States are telling, and the solutions seem equally obvious: improve economic growth, create jobs, focus on the flourishing of the middle class and strengthen safety nets for the poor instead of bailing out banks and giving a free pass to wealthy elites. If this happens, the populist fury might subside amid sighs of relief.

‘Anonymous’ Justice?

The loose collective of Internet hackers and activists known as Anonymous has made a name for itself with its high-profile cyber-attacks on corporations, government agencies and religious institutions. The movement’s aims range from “getting laughs” to promoting online freedom and toppling authoritarian regimes. Its targets have included the Church of Scientology, PayPal, the Federal Bureau of Investigation—even the Vatican. But in the past year they have moved into surprising new territory: bringing justice to victims of bullying and rape.

The horrific case of young teens in Maryville, Mo., will sound all too familiar: two freshmen girls snuck over to the house of a senior football player, where they were given alcohol and allegedly raped, while another boy videotaped part of the act. The senior boy, age 17, who admitted to having “consensual” sex with the 14-year-old, was charged with sexual assault, only to have the prosecutor dismiss the case two weeks later, citing a lack of evidence.

Enter Anonymous. The “hacktivist” collective posted a message calling for an investigation into the handling of the case, warning, “If Maryville won’t defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if the justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them.”

How are we to judge this sort of online vigilantism? In cases like Maryville, and others before it, it is natural to sympathize with Anonymous and its support for victims of sexual exploitation. But as a society we cannot outsource justice to the online equivalent of a mob, an unaccountable collective that plays judge, jury and executioner and pays little mind to the concept of innocent until proven guilty. If our system is not working, we must fix it. Those who are fighting against injustice should not need to wear a mask. 

Marathon Spirit

Almost 17 hours after starting the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 2013, Maickel Melamed, a 38-year-old Venezuelan man with muscular dystrophy, crossed the finish line, placing last among more than 40,000 participants.

Born in Caracas, Mr. Melamed was diagnosed at birth with muscular dystrophy, which makes a person’s muscles unusually vulnerable to damage. Many people who live with the condition have difficulty walking, and most ultimately require wheelchairs. In the first week of his life, this appeared to be Mr. Melamed’s fate; doctors informed his parents that the chances that he would ever walk were almost nil.

Mr. Melamed, however, defied this prognosis and learned to walk. He went on to study economics and psychotherapy and eventually created a volunteer organization dedicated to helping young people achieve their dreams. Two years ago, he began following his own: competing in marathons.

With the help of his friend and trainer, Federico Pisani, Mr. Melamed began a training regimen that focused on strengthening his muscles through swimming exercises and gradual walks. Before his most recent marathon in Chicago, which he described as “the most challenging,” he also participated in marathons in New York City and Berlin. Mr. Melamed insists that one must never give up on a dream. “If you dream it, make it happen,” he said after the race in Chicago. “Your life is the most beautiful thing that can happen to you. So make the best of it.”

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