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Geopolitics

Monsieur Obama's New Socialist Best Friend

Op-Ed: Barack Obama’s decision to align himself with François Hollande, the recently elected president of France, could cost him politically.

New pals: Barack Obama and François Hollande (whitehouse.gov)
New pals: Barack Obama and François Hollande (whitehouse.gov)

SANTIAGO - France's new president, François Hollande, made one heck of an international debut last week, traveling to the United States where he attended a G-8 Summit in Camp David, joining a NATO gathering in Chicago, and meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

Not only did Obama pose with his French counterpart, he also gave Hollande his resolute support, establishing an alliance that is no doubt rubbing German Chancellor Angela Merkel the wrong way.

Obama's backing of a European socialist isn't as surprising as it may seem at first glance. After all, his recipe for trying to boost the U.S. economy placed more emphasis on fiscal stimulus packages than on austerity measures. Hollande's approach for Europe promises to be similar.

By associating himself with Hollande, who is pushing for European growth, Obama is in essence saying no to austerity. His words were no doubt music to the ears of the Greeks, Italians, Spanish, Irish and other Europeans who have spent three years tightening their belts – to no avail.

How Europe's economy affects the U.S.

Obama has good reason to be concerned about Europe's economic wellbeing. Spain and the United Kingdom are once again in recession. Greece is threatening to default on its debts and abandon the euro. Europe's stock markets are down and its banks don't know where to turn for new funds. All of this poses serious potential problems for America's lackluster economic recovery.

The U.S. economy has been growing thanks to a rise in exports, an increase in productivity and growing demand for its products and services. A continent-wide recession in Europe – which is possible given Germany's insistence on austerity and more austerity – would no doubt dampen that demand and, consequently, hurt Obama's chance of reelection.

But Obama is also taking a risk by siding with Hollande. Doing so gives the president's Republican opponents more political ammunition. The Republicans have already spent years accusing Obama of being a socialist, a word that's politically taboo in the United States. Now they're accusing him of something even worse: wanting to turn America into a European country.

By throwing his lot in with the French socialist, Obama is taking a calculated risk that has much to do with the upcoming U.S. election in November. But it's also a courageous decision that positions him firmly as a global statist. Very few American presidents have been willing to go out on that kind of a limb. This alliance with Hollande, like the support he voiced a few weeks ago for gay marriage, shows that Obama isn't afraid to exercise his executive power, to define the agenda rather than simply react to the agenda of others, and ultimately to place himself on the correct side of history.

Read the original article in Spanish.

Photo - Whitehouse.gov

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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