These days, the photo-ops from newly opened girls' schools and women-empowering handicraft collectives that filled Afghanistan coverage in the first post-invasion years feel like dispatches from another century. Equal rights for Afghan women may exist on paper -- they're in Afghanistan's 2004 constitution -- but they hardly seem like a priority for Hamid Karzai's government and a U.S.-led coalition with decidedly diminished expectations.
Into the chasm between promise and reality steps Maria Bashir, the crusading chief prosecutor of Afghanistan's western Herat province. Ousted from her criminal-investigator job by the Taliban in 1995 -- after which she ran an underground girls' school -- and named to her current post in 2006, Bashir established herself early as both an idealist and a check on Panglossian hopes for Afghanistan's post-Taliban future, warning that a woman-friendly constitution wasn't enough in a country where judges often still rule by tribally infused sharia law.
The survivor of a 2007 bomb attack and the target of innumerable death threats, Bashir now lives under de facto house arrest, protected by an entourage of (U.S.-paid) bodyguards. But she has become if anything more driven in her work, prosecuting families that sell their daughters into marriage and pursuing 87 domestic-abuse cases last year alone. "I hope that Afghanistan will have a better future," she told Mother Jones, "but I know it won't come soon. It may take another generation. Or two. Maybe my daughter's daughter will have a good life."
With international action on limiting climate change seemingly stalled, it must be hard for Bjorn Lomborg to resist an "I told you so." The Danish environmental researcher has been a longtime dissenter from the conventional wisdom calling for international agreements to limit carbon emissions. Lomborg emphasizes the massive costs and argues that they would in any case have minimal effect on global warming-- inconvenient truths that help explain why the grand ambitions of the expiring Kyoto Protocol and sundry U.N. conferences have come to naught. As for climate change, Lomborg insists he's no denier and that his beef is with activists who hawk clearly unworkable solutions. Some have still labeled him a climate-change skeptic -- former U.S. Vice President Al Gore reportedly refuses to appear on the same stage as Lomborg -- but he continues to have an outsized impact in the public sphere.
His Copenhagen Consensus project was launched in 2004 to prioritize the world's most intractable problems, with efforts to solve climate change ending up well below what he considers more solvable challenges, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. As Lomborg told Salon, "It seems evidently moral to ask: How can I do the most that I possibly can with the money that I'm going to be spending?"
Muse As always, rationality.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus and then austerity.
America or China? America for what the future should be, China for what the future will be.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Definitely Arab Spring for its citizens.
Reading list Getting Better, by Charles Kenny; The God Species, by Mark Lynus; The Quest, by Daniel Yergin.
Best idea That we could screen all blood in sub-Saharan Africa for HIV for about $7 million over five years.
Worst idea That making energy more expensive though green subsidies will create green jobs.
Cem Özdemir has been at the center of two of the most significant shifts in European politics over the past decade: the influx of immigrants from the Islamic world and the rise of Green parties as a potent political force. In 1994, the former journalist and son of a Turkish gastarbeiter became the first person of Turkish descent elected to Germany's Bundestag and later served in the European Parliament. He has been vocal on the need for Europe to address its immigrants in a more humane fashion. "Unlike Americans," he wrote recently, "Europeans still have great difficulty identifying even second-generation immigrants as fellow citizens."
Özdemir became co-chair of the German Greens in 2008 as part of the party's new focus on appealing to Germany's ethnic minorities. The party's influence, once marginal, is on the rise, buoyed by voter disappointment with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the burst of anti-nuclear sentiment following this year's Fukushima nuclear disaster, when the Greens enjoyed their best-ever result in German local elections. Polls this fall showed that one in five voters supports the Greens, making it the country's main opposition party. As Özdemir wrote, "Time is on the side of the green movement." With federal elections around the corner in 2013, time is on Özdemir's side as well.
Muse My family.
Stimulus or austerity? Both, the answer strongly depending on each country.
America or China? Both for our economy. America, when it comes to values.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Still spring when it comes to Yemen, etc. But an increasing danger of winter in Egypt.
Reading list The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco; The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides; The Third Industrial Revolution, by Jeremy Rifkin.
Best idea A political union toward the United States of Europe.
Worst idea Throwing Greeks out of the eurozone or getting back the deutsche mark for Germany.