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why fears about islamic expansion in europe are misplaced Pp5-7
FINDING THE FUTURE IN COPENHAGEN
PHOTOGRAPHIE GALERIE MAEGHT – ADAGP
ALEXANDER CALDER – ‘Teeth of the saw’ (1969)
Obama, straight down the middle
Political combat sometimes stresses personal antagonisms and obsessive antipathies too much. The need for an all-out attack on an opponent makes for diverse alliances motivated solely by the desire to destroy the common enemy. But once that enemy has been brought down, the problems begin. What next? To make political decisions, the grey areas which in opposition had made an alliance possible have to be dispelled, and that brings disenchantment. Before you know it, the hated adversary is back in power, made no more appealing by his time in opposition.
That scenario has already been played out in Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy. Berlusconi was defeated in 1995 by an insipid ragtag left that lacked a plan, only to be returned to power six years later. In Sarkozy’s France, marriages of convenience have been made between parties (ecologists, centrists and socialists) and also between individuals (Dominique de Villepin, prime minister under Jacques Chirac, has made common cause with the revolutionary socialist Olivier Besancenot, with whom he has almost nothing in common, long enough to attack the government). Their common target is Sarkozy; but what comes next?
The combination of casual coalitions, uncertain policies and then disappointment also describes the current US political landscape. A year ago the rout of the Republicans and the end of George W Bush’s presidency brought a moment of jubilation.
Even if some of the electorate whose lot has not improved continue to put their faith in Obama (see report on Detroit), their jubilation seems to have evaporated. Pacifists despair over the intensification of the war in Afghanistan, health reform has fallen short of reasonable expectations, as has environmental policy. The general verdict is less than great, but better than nothing. That contributes to a mood of despondency. Political passion is once again changing sides.
Such a stalemate strengthens the power of the lobbies and raises questions about the real power of the US president. Obama isn’t Bush; Romano Prodi wasn’t Silvio Berlusconi either. But not being Bush isn’t enough to tell you where Obama is heading, or to make you want to follow him. The US is suffering: the unemployment rate has risen sharply, there are whole neighbourhoods of repossessions. The president is not short on talk and explanations, and the desire to convince. But what does it add up to? In Cairo he condemned Israeli settlements then resigned himself to the fact that they continue to expand. He backed an ambitious health care reform, but when Congress watered it down, he put up with it.
One day he tells West Point cadets he is sending reinforcements to Afghanistan, the next he accepts the Nobel peace prize. But there is a remedy for this dissonance: a stream of words to balance each pronouncement with its opposite. The refrain almost always turns out to be “my progressive friends say this; my Republican friends reply that. The first are demanding too much and the second aren’t conceding enough. Therefore, I’m opting for the middle course.”
Obama encouraged the West Point cadets to “show restraint in the use of force”. And he told the Oslo jury that the fact that “force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism: it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason”. The jury members were also invited to ponder the example of President Nixon who, despite the “Cultural Revolution’s horrors”, agreed to meet Mao in Beijing in 1972. Being so very particular on the question of human rights, Nixon had to get over the experience by ordering the bombing of Vietnamese cities shortly after, and backing General Pinochet’s putsch in Chile… Obama made no mention of this in his speech. Ever the impeccable centrist, he preferred to pay tribute to Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan.
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inside this issue Can the new US approach to foreign policy actually deliver? page 2 Detroit, a shrinking, segregated city in desperate decline page 4 Sanitation: the global health crisis that can hardly be talked about page 8 Mozambique’s riches in demand page 10
What apocalypses are you nostalgic for?
The failure of national governments in Copenhagen doesn’t mean there is no future with them. Much was accomplished – even the refusal to be bullied into a devastatingly false ‘solution’ accord by the global south. Tiny countries stood up to China.
A global movement found its ties
By Rebecca Solnit For Isaac Francisco Solnit, born December 17, 2009
It’s clear now that, from her immoveable titanium bangs to her chaotic approximation of human speech, Sarah Palin is a Terminator cyborg sent from the future to destroy something – but what? It could be the Republican Party she’ll ravage by herding the fundamentalists and extremists into a place where sane fiscal conservatives and swing voters can’t follow. Or maybe she was sent to destroy civilisation at this crucial moment by preaching the gospel of climate-change denial, abetted by tools like the Washington Post, which ran a factually outrageous editorial by her on the subject on 9 December 2009. No one (even her, undoubtedly) knows, but we do know that this month we all hover on the brink.
I’ve had the great Hollywood epic Terminator 2: Judgment Day on my mind ever since I watched it in a hotel room in New Orleans a few weeks ago with the Superdome visible out the window. In 1991, at the time of its release, T2 was supposedly about a terrible future; now, it seems situated in an oddly comfortable past.
What apocalypses are you nostalgic for? The premise of the movie was that the machines we needed to worry about had not yet been invented, much less put to use: intelligent machines that would rebel against their human masters in 1997, setting off an all-out nuclear war that would get rid of the first three billion of us and lead to a campaign of extermination against the
Rebecca Solnit is the author, most recently, of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (Viking Adult, 2009), written as a tool for preparing for climate-related disasters. She works with 350.org and other climate action groups such as Climate Justice Action. This article is published online at TomDispatch (http://www.tomdispatch.com)
Count down to Ukraine’s presidential election page 11 Will ambitious rebuilding plans help Vladivostok? page 12 Fifty years on, France is still divided on Camus’ legacy page 15 Afghanistan’s soft-spoken rebel page 16
remnant of the human race, scrabbling in the rubble of what had once been civilisation.
By the time the film was released, the news of climate change was already filtering out. Reports like Bill McKibben’s 1989 book The End of Nature had told us that the machines that could destroy us and our world had, in fact, been invented – a long, long time ago. Almost all of us had been using them almost all the time, from the era of the steam engine and the rise of the British coal economy through the age of railroads and the dawn of petroleum extraction to the birth of the internal-combustion engine and the spread of industrial civilisation across the planet. They weren’t “intelligent” and they weren’t in revolt, nor were they led by any one super-machine. It was the cumulative effect of all those devices pumping back into the atmosphere the carbon that plants had so kindly buried in the Earth over the last few hundred million years.
The Superdome is, of course, where thousands of New Orleanians were stranded when Katrina, the hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, broke the city’s levees and flooded the place. A maelstrom of institutional failures left people trapped in the scalding cauldron of a drowned city for five days while the world looked on aghast. It was a disaster that had been long foretold, and no one had done much to forestall it. No one had repaired those crummy levees or bothered to create a real evacuation plan for the city – and, unlike the revolt of the machines in T2, the future actually arrived. Like climate change.
For many, it was a foretaste of our new era. It may not be clear what role, if any, climate change played in the generation of that particular hurricane, but it is clear that, in this era, there will be, and indeed already have been, many more such calamities: the deadly freak rainstorms in Sicily, Britain, and the Philippines in Autumn 2009, the increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes in the North Atlantic in recent years, as well as in the intensity of droughts, floods, heat waves, crop failures, and the displacement of populations, as well as the massive melting of glaciers and sea ice in the cold places, rising waters in the coastal ones, and oceans going acidic with devastating effects on marine life.
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