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Samuel Breidbart and David Schlussel: Climate Diplomacy and the Poor

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh urged Hillary Clinton to back off on climate change mandates when the two met in New Delhi last month. "There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have amongst the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions," Ramesh brazenly told the secretary of state. Not quite the Bollywood ending Mrs. Clinton was expecting. Certainly not the ending desired by scientists and policymakers as they look ahead to December's Climate Conference in Copenhagen as a last-chance-dance for a meaningful international accord. But Bret Stephens, the former editor of the Jerusalem Post, sees the Clinton-Ramesh exchange as a perfect outcome for an unsuspecting group: the billions of humans living on less than $2 a day. “The poor told the warming alarmists to get lost," he writes in his August 4 Wall Street Journal column, describing Ramesh's shut down of Clinton, whose climate policy, Stephens believes, will threaten India’s access to the free market.

Jonathan Power: Democracy Gone to Seed?

The confused situation in Honduras, where elected president Manuel Zelaya has been shown the door by the army and the supreme court, and in Iran, where thousands in the street protest an election they view as bogus, are not especially easy to solve with the simple shout: "Obey the rules of democracy." To many across the developing world, it seems that the West once again is being holier than thou. But is democracy such an intrinsic wonder? “Democracy,” wrote historian Norman Davies, in his monumental study Europe, “has few values of its own: it is as good or bad as the principles of the people who operate it. In the hands of liberal and tolerant people, it will produce a liberal and tolerant government; in the hands of cannibals, a government of cannibals. In Germany in 1933-4 it produced a Nazi government because the prevailing culture of Germany’s voters did not give priority to the exclusion of gangsters.” The Nazis, in three out of the five elections they contested, increased both their popular vote and their election of deputies. In time, they became the largest party in the Reichstag. Despite the party’s street violence and the murders of its opponents, the then-chancellor, Franz von Papen, decided to make Hitler chancellor and himself his deputy. Two years later, Hitler called a plebiscite to approve his elevation to the new position of Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor. He gained 90 percent of the vote—a democratic means to facist ends. Maybe Berthold Brecht was right. We have to change the people. Democracy was a Greek idea. But it did not last and was forgotten for some 2,000 years, until Enlightenment thinkers resurrected the idea, blending their classical knowledge with a romanticized image of ancient Athens. But not all were so taken by these new thoughts. De Tocqueville wrote about “the tyranny of the majority.” Edmund Burke called the democracy of the French Revolution “the most shameless thing in the world.”

Kavitha Rajagopalan: China's Architect of the Good Life

I did not know who Ben Wood was when I pulled up the cushy, black barstool at his chic martini bar, DR, in the Shanghai entertainment playland he has built. He immediately set out to educate me. “Let me tell you a crazy story,” he said, leaning into my personal space and draping a thick, soft hand on the nape of my neck. He proceeded to describe, in leisurely tones, how he had stopped for a sandwich at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kunming Airport when a man sat down next to him and began smoking a cigarette. He paused for effect. It should be noted that people in China regularly smoke in restaurants, and with little or no concern for the anti-smoking sentiments of their fellow diners. But Wood didn’t like this guy’s nerve. And so, he recounted, he asked the guy to refrain. The smoker continued to chatter away on his cell phone. Incensed, Wood reached over, grabbed the man's wrist, plucked the cigarette from his mouth, and ground it out into the table. The smoker finished his phone call, and then stood up and began screaming. So Wood stood as well, drawing himself up to his full American-built height and thrusting forward his barrel chest, and offered to fight the man. Good thing the guy finally stood down, said Wood. "The poor guy didn’t stand a chance, he was about half my size.” Story completed, masculinity firmly established, Wood leaned back and wrapped his arm around the waist of the indifferent, slender Asian woman smoking and sipping cocktails at his side. Ben Wood is famous here in Shanghai, and increasingly, throughout the world. Once based in Boston, the architect was hand-picked by billionaire Hong Kong developer Vincent Loh to turn the site of the first conference of the Communist Party of China into a capitalist playground for wealthy adults, called Xintiandi, or “New Heaven on Earth.” Wood received only one vote at the board meeting to develop the place, he told me, but that vote was Vincent Loh’s. Six years after its opening, the wildly successful boutiques and cafe district has become the model for similar entertainment complexes all over China. Flanked on all sides by looming glass buildings, investment properties of the likes of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, and the shells of would-be five-star hotels begun but not finished by overeager American-born investors, Xintiandi is a maze of stone pathways, restored traditional shikumen buildings, and European-style plazas. On any given night of the week, leggy models and moneyed expats gather in its bars, restaurants, and cafes, seeing and being seen. With its sleek, packaged, restored historicity, Xintiandi seems like a cross between Colonial Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. (Colonial Williamsburg was something of a vanity project for the Rockefellers, who “restored” the former colonial capital city to an imagined former glory, replacing hardscrabble vegetable plots with manicured English-style gardens and transforming dank roads festering with sewage and manure into sandy, tree-lined promenades.) This reference is not lost on Wood, as Shanghai and its surrounding cities are rife with new Chinese Rockefellers, who need just a little bit of guidance into how to live the good life, à la Americain. “Shanghai has always been a world city. A world city dormant, asleep for 40 years, and it has just woken up.” And Wood is well-placed to be China's crowing rooster for the pleasures of extreme wealth. On the evening we met, Wood had just returned from signing a lucrative deal for one of these Rockefellers—a power tools magnate, who had asked Wood to design him a private luxury island. Most of China’s billionaires, said Wood, were unschooled in the art of living, staining their teeth with cheap tobacco, pouring cheap cognac down their throats, entertaining themselves with tawdry karaoke parties. But this man, he said, was different. He wanted to know how to live. He had built a successful company, made scads of money, and now he wanted to do something else. Wood was impressed at the man’s interest in self-improvement. But the billionaire in question had never driven a British sports car, ridden in a private plane, or owned a yacht. Heaven forbid. Wood has taken him on as a personal charge. “I’m his lifestyle coach,” he grinned. The following morning, he and his charge would be flying to a yacht show, where he was going to show the man how to select a “real” yacht, not the tacky white plastic abomination he had originally planned to buy. This is, of course, mere philanthropy on Wood’s part. “I already have all these things.” Which things? Well, all of them: the fancy cars, the private planes, the luxury yachts, homes on Martha’s Vineyard and in Shangri-la.



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