Angela Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful women, appears on the surface to have a dual personality. On the one hand she has dealt a very tough hand to Greece through the German-led austerity program, a program that has not led to improvement in Greece’s economic situation while harming the Greek people immeasurably. On the other hand she has been the strongest voice in Europe for a compassionate, human rights program to assist refugees from the Middle East conflicts. While the Greek austerity program is politically popular in Germany, her proposed refugee program has mixed support among German voters, especially mixed among those in the former East Germany. And while she has had to back off from her initial willingness to accept signifiant numbers of refugees, she is apparently sticking to the basic effort to address the issue, and pulling the rest of the EU along with her.
While forced Greek austerity and welcoming refugees seem to come from very different places, it can be argued that they are both viewed by many in Germany as being in the country’s national interests. But it is perhaps better to view them in terms of her domestic political interests. There is a strong impulse among Germans to punish the Greeks for their past sins of profligacy as well as a view that hard working Germans should not be paying to bail out Greece. The refugees present a human rights issue that many Germans view as an opportunity to do the right thing, while also satisfying Germany’s need for workers in the face of the country’s falling birthrate. But as the numbers of refugees heading to Germany increases beyond original expectations Merkel is now risking a loss in her domestic political support. But having criticized her for her austerity policy it seems fair to give her credit for taking on the refugee issue in a humane and positive way, despite growing domestic uneasiness.
In addition to these major challenges Merkel is now faced with the the unpleasant story of Volkswagen’s deceit in hiding the true polluting effects of its diesel engines. The thought of Germany’s largest and most successful corporation knowingly poisoning the air people breath and hiding the fact of it has an especially ugly resonance and just might force Germans to look in their mirrors before forcing Greeks to continue to accept the destruction of their economy. While this introduces another tough issue for Merkel, I would not bet against her. Her political skills and instincts are simply too impressive to ignore.No Comments
In about 13 months the U.S. will have elected a new president. That is a long time away, but already it is not going well, with a Republican field of fact-resistant candidates and a Democrat field led by a candidate with a couple of self inflicted wounds. There is no useful purpose running through a list of candidates that until recently included a governor under indictment, another governor looking at possible indictment, a third who dropped out after his poll numbers disappeared, a couple of religious hustlers – one protestant, one catholic – a woman campaigning on a record of running a major U.S.company into the ground, a Southern governor who has destroyed his state’s education and health programs to kiss down to the GOP base, a former Lehman Bros. operative running on – yes! – economic expertise, a brain surgeon with zero political experience, and a narcissistic TV loudmouth.
Some initially saw the GOP race as an entertainment but with all candidates given a degree of credibility strange things can happen. And the press tends to provide that credibility to practically any candidate, regardless of their tenuous grasp of reality.
It is easy to criticize the press. While no one is innocent, culpability does vary from source to source. It is silly to complain about Fox News – serious news is not what they do. They are a propaganda machine and they feed the beast and are good at it. MSNBC serves a similar function for the left, with the important exception that people like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes (an actual journalist) maintain an attachment to facts and reality.
But what about the “serious” “objective” press, like the Washington Post, the NY Times and subscriber supported PBS Newshour? Would a serious press treat Trump seriously? Well, as it turns out – yes. His poll numbers are up therefore he gets an if not free, at least reduced fare, ride. Is there any reason to report that when Trump says we need to remove 11 million people from the U.S. he is suggesting an impossibility? Is there any reason when reporting that Carly Fiorina wants to defund Planned Parenthood because she claims to have viewed a video of alive babies being slaughtered by PP not to mention that no such video exists? Are climate change deniers entitled to a free ride away from scientific fact? Candidates’ statements typically are reported without filters of facts partly because it contributes to the narrative of political campaigns as horseraces and allows journalists to produce words without doing the real work of journalism.
Monday is “politics night” on the PBS Newshour and last Monday their panel discussed the current GOP race and with a wink wink here, and a wink wink there, they disposed of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s removal from the race without discussing his real policy and personal deficiencies, which are considerable. It was the horserace – he could not raise enough money they said – well, there might be a reason for that and maybe that could be discussed. Stories like Walker’s claim that he is saving Wisconsin’s education system by cutting the state’s premier University’s budget and spending the money instead on a basketball arena, and Carly Fiorina’s manufactured story on Planned Parenthood are reported without comment. Overall too many journalists seem to believe that they are not to call a lie a lie when the liar is an”important” politician. And in the name of “balance” they seem too often to be able to find someone able to make up facts to denigrate Planned Parenthood or deny climate change.
PBS Newshour does a fine job when they bring in real expert analysts but they have a tendency to head toward the on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that face offs, sometimes providing opposing party politicians air time to exhibit what is frequently an appalling lack of substance, apparently aimed at pleasing their bases. Newspapers are improving their approach to analysis by opening opportunities for experts to write focussed oped pieces that frequently serve as correctives to developing myths. We would all benefit from more of this and less timid acceptance of all that comes out of a politician’s mouth.1 Comment
Like the fate of Humpy Dumpty, the decline and fall of the European Union – an event that has been long predicted by Euroskeptics – seems to be gathering steam from the southern Hungarian border to the English Channel. It is actually too early to proclaim that the Union, that had been so remarkably successful in tearing down the previously carefully guarded national borders of Europe, is just about to fall, but it has certainly moved closer to the edge, and if it goes over it is certain that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put Humpty Europe together again. And neutral observers are watching in horror as the walls between European states are being put back up, only 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it is not because of the economic crisis that threatened European unity in the face of the prospect of Greek bankruptcy (see the contribution of Mr. Jeff of July 14) which certainly didn’t help any sense of a united Europe, but was salvageable through masses amounts of money and also did not include the states that maintained their own currency, notably the UK and Scandinavia (minus Finland)
Now the fall is much more imminent because the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees – including many from the Balkans who are really economic refugees, and no doubt a fair number of potential terrorists from the war-torn Middle East and Africa – has literally torn away the platitudes that speak of European unity. For good reasons, the refugees want to end up in Germany or Sweden, or perhaps Austria, the only countries that have indicated they would welcome them, But to get there they would have to get across the dangerous Hungarian-Serbian border that is now clearly marked with a razor-blade fence. The United Kingdom, which never signed the Schengen accord that opened European borders, has been markedly uninterested in providing safe haven that is remotely similar to its actions during World War Two. Smaller wealthy countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have disrupted travel into or through their borders. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and others are understandably very unhappy with the inevitable growth on their soil of very right wing anti-immigrant parties. Amazingly, 70 years after the war that it organized and lost catastrophically, only Germany (and perhaps Sweden) has made a convincing public stand that it would welcome open borders for the refugees.
This is no doubt to a large extent because of the convincing insistence of its leader, Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, that it is its moral duty to show a human face to desperate people in need. But Germany too now seems to be reaching its breaking point as it foresees as many as 1 million refugees arriving on its soil by the end of the year and has made no progress in getting other European countries, other than Sweden, to share the burden. While a very right wing party still seems out of the question in once fascist-controlled Germany, the prospect of a truly welcoming arrival for so many refugees in one country also seems more and more to be a naive prognosis. Germany too will have a great deal of domestic (and economic?) problems hosting such gigantic numbers. There is still some time for Europe to get its act together, but it seems increasingly probable that the various performers will be able to act as an ensemble.1 Comment
So, the Eurozone and the Greeks have dodged a bullet…or have they? and should they have? Below is a slightly edited exchange between an American former expat retiree and his friend who has lived in Europe for over twenty years. The former (A) lived in Munich and Prague for ten years; the latter (B) an American lawyer/businessman who has lived and worked in Europe for over twenty years.
A: What are your thoughts on Merkel and her Finance Monster – ur – Minister?
B: Repulsion. Same as for Greek governments of all denominations. Lying #### the lot of them. . Plague on German Volk and Greek governments. Tyrants and enslavers. There are no tyrants but that there are slaves. Politicians (particularly Greek ones) are slaves to the indulgence of their own power and so sell their people into slavery to keep their personal indulgence. And Hollande, …. He is a nothing. He was fighting Merkel just so as to keep France punching far above its weight for another few years.
In my opinion Greece should vote itself out of the Euro and the currency would soar (to my benefit admittedly). That not good for Angela. Good for Greek people who could get on with their lazy ways and devalue their currency whenever it was convenient for them. Good for principles. Good precedent for Portuguese, Spanish and probably Irish people. Bad for their incumbent governments.
If the people do not want an EU then there should not be one. If they want one they should have fiscal and political union and give up nation states except during the World Cup. That is the point my favorite economist misses. Wolfgang Munchau (Financial Times) is usually better but I think he has never known a non=integrated Europe and often forgets that indeed it is a utility for the benefit of people. Mostly of little people. :
A: Most of what I have read leading up to last night’s “negotiations” started with the premise that the Euro without political unity of some sort was doomed to struggle if not fail. Pickety, Stiglitz and Krugman, and many other professional economists have suggested that the best answer for Greece is to leave the Eurozone and work out their troubles with a new Drachma. In fact as Munchau says, it might be good also for other countries. (i.e. Ireland, Portugal, Spain) I have felt that Germany had simply found a new way to dominate the rest of Europe for its own parochial benefit, this time in a less obviously malign way. And sure, the Greeks have been led by crooks for years and many Greeks don’t work as hard as they might….and of course not as hard as the Germans claim to work. But austerity is a self indulgent exercise designed by Schaeuble, implemented by Merkel for the self interest of Germany, and the rest of Europe ends up participating in their own damage. As for the Greeks sleeping in the street waiting for the ATM s to,open and picking through garbage, they are simply collateral damage.
It is especially galling for me to see Merkelmania produce a heroine out of a local politician playing to her Calvinist voters while humiliating a fellow European country and forcing that country to accept absurd, counter-productive austerity programs designed to impoverish itself so it can accept so-called bail out money, which they then give to German banks. Ergo, a perfect ploy by the Germans, who then applaud themselves for their moral stance. This is not going to end well.2 Comments
Has anyone ever produced more nostalgically beautiful music about the United States than the ultra-Canadian McGarrigle Sisters and their talented offspring Rufus and Martha Wainwright, especially in their communal album “The McGarrigle Hour”? If you don’t know what we mean, get yourself a copy of this splendid cd, listen to cut 17, “Talk to me of Mendocino”, the almost heartbreaking love song written by Anna McGarrigle to a California that will soon no longer exist, and move on to cut number 18, “Baltimore the Beautiful City”, listed as a traditional song that they sang as buskers in US cities.This song was of course not written about the fires that ravaged Baltimore, the northernmost of southern cities, in the spring, but it captures the essence of the emotional drain that followed in its wake and no doubt found resonance in the nightmare that followed in Charleston, South Carolina.
Strong Men in anguish prayed
calling out to the heavens for rain
while the fire in ruins laid
Baltimore their beautiful city.
Between March 23rd and June 30, 2015 there were 100 homicides in Baltimore. The excellent and historic Baltimore newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, recently published the basic facts about these 100 homicides: name of victim, place of residence, age, gender and race. Three of the victims were white, one Asian, and 7 female, all the rest were black males. and almost all of them were under 35. No doubt each one of these cases has a backstory worth hearing, but one thing is very clear: It is dangerous to be a young black man in Baltimore, and there is every reason to feel that you have very few prospects of an improved life through hard work or better education if you were born into this syndrome. There are of course exceptions, but such exceptions tend to move out into the safer areas of town or out of town, which is also where the white population has been drifting for years. The city centre is simply too dangerous and if you can afford to leave it, you do leave. There is no information given on this list about the perpetrators of the homicides, but it is certainly not the case that the police force, which has been too easily identified as the cause rather than the solution of Baltimore’s racial problems, (by most estimates about half of the police officers in Baltimore are black) was involved with many, or even any, of these homicides. Any serious improvement in this situation can only occur when the basic problem of an understandable feeling of hopelessness in young black males is met by a willingness in the population as a whole to deal with the underlying problems for it. Baltimore, the beautiful city, still has some of that southern grace at its northernmost outpost, but also much of an understood racial division that too often is a destructive part of it. The solution has to start in finding a way out of this social structure.
Congratulations to the Boston Globe for publishing an article with the above title that underlines a festering problem which has only begun festering more in the 6 years of the Obama regime. It is yet another disappointment for those who thought Obama would bring in a fresh breeze after the Bush years, which is when the border problem began festering. But Bush did have a desperate security problem on his hands after 9/11 and clamping down on border crossing was a reasonable, if apparently, temporary, step. Instead as The Globe put it:
“Since the 9/11 jihadist attacks, the 5,525-mile-long border between Canada and the United States has been transformed from the world’s friendliest to a high security zone marked by fortified crossing points, thermal “body detectors,’’ swiveling surveillance cameras, and the occasional low-skimming Blackhawk helicopter or spy drone.”
Anyone who got stuck in the four-hour long waits at the US/ Canada crossing at the so-called Peace Arch on the Victoria Day long weekend was surely asking why and how this could happen in a century in which no such border checks interrupt the flow of economic, regular and tourist traffic in all of western and central Europe. You can drive from the UK to the Ukrainian border without encountering a single checkpoint but if you drive from Vancouver to Seattle you could well be stopped after 40 minutes for four hours by a checkpoint which costs many millions of dollars in economic terms and more than that in lost friendliness, while serving no real purpose. What is now called the mexicanization of the Canadian border will be a legacy of the Obama years. Let’s hope someone now comes in to put an end to the increasingly hostile border, before it’s too late, and grounds the drone planes which continue to spot no terrorists but many moose crossing a border in the wilderness.
It’s been a long dry spell for sports – a Marx Borthers so-called Super Bowl, a good Grey Cup after a Marx Brothers season, overhyped US semi-pro (i.e.) college football and basketball tournaments, and now the US tv moguls are trying to add semi-pro hockey of all things, of zero interest in real hockeyland, no soccer of note except when the Faroe Islands beat Greece in the European Championship prelims, baseball struggling almost pitifully with drug abuse, and with a potential summer race of interest a long way off, And all the while an overly long regular season NH L hockey agenda , half to it played in southern or near southern US cities with little or no interest in ice, and then – poof – suddenly the premier playoff schedule blazes forth in today’s papers. The real season of hockey begins – and finally a playoff scenario for the next 6 weeks is in store that will be terrific.. This time lady luck played its hand beautifully in forming the schedule.
Some of the usual suspects are present:New York Rangers have won the President’s Cup as the league champions, and their former world’s best goalie is just coming back from a lengthy injury (watch out!), the Detroit Red Wings, after a scare, are right in the middle of things, where they always show up at a minimum, and they are always welcome. They may be a bit old, but they have tons of skill and some young studs are working there way in nicely with the big boys (watch out!). Ditto for Chicago. The Pittsburgh Penguins, should by all rights be out of the playoffs, after a complete collapse, but just managed to stagger in as the last team on the last day, despite the fact that they think they have the best star players in existence – they’re wrong and will make a quick exit. The untalented but ruffian Boston Bruins are out and deservedly so – too old, too tired, too unskilled. And the incomprehensibly incompetent Toronto Maple Leafs outdid even their own seemingly endless disappointing seasons with a total turkey. Their supposed big scorer scored one goal after new year. Most of the rest of the country began to feel sorry for them. But not very. What is with that city? Maybe the endless snow got to them.
But look who is in and how they got there. Mordecai Richler can look down from above with delight on his beloved hometown Montréal Canadiéns . With the current best goalie on earth, an inherently modest First Nations chap from the splendid wilds of the Chilcotin plateau of British Columbia, and with plenty of help from a sassy Torontonian, of all things, this team has brought real excitement to the wonderful city where hockey really counts (watch out!!). And Vancouver, destroyed last year by self-destructive coaching, replied this year with a minor-league coach with major league talent, and a return to game-changing form by their superlative Swedish twins (watch out!!!). And this time no less than five Canadian teams are in the playoffs who will all be chomping at the bit, the last three after breathtaking final runs – none more than the Ottawa Senators who thumped Boston out of contention behind a supposedly mediocre minor-league has-been (or never was) goalie who was an injury call-up and then won 19 of the last 22 games. No matter what now happens, this team will be the sentimental favourite, but they shouldn’t be able to get past Montreal in the first round this year, though the do have the best defenceman in existence and home team support will be tremendous, but it also will be down the road. It is in any case easy to predict that this will be a great opening round series. Winnipeg hasn’t played a playoff game since 1996, so their new arena will be hopping, and their bigness and toughness may give Anaheim more trouble than they should expect from the eighth place team. And Calgary was picked for last by most pre-season experts, and came through in the end in hair-raising fashion game after game with a bunch of young guys who will make them a real contender in the future. The start against arch -rival Vancouver, and that too will be a sizzling series. Prediction, Vancouver vs Montreal in the final. Anybody’s series then, but the weather will be nicer in Vancouver. Bring it on!!!9 Comments
Anyone who has visited the great state of California in the last couple of years could not fail to notice dramatic signs of a rapidly approaching potentially disastrous problem. When you drive down from the north the reservoirs that used to be filled are shockingly low, even close to empty everywhere and in the east there is virtually no snow in the great Sierra Nevada Mountains, no sign of a snowpack that is crucial for almost all the water that has traditionally been pumped wastefully south to fill the golf courses and pools of southern California. It seems pretty obvious – California may be the seventh leading industrial power among the “states” of the world, but without water they cannot come close to maintaining that position. Ans now many experts feel that the aquatic demands of the great central valley which provides a significant percentage of the entire agricultural production of the US is in imminent danger of permanent serious damage as wells are dug ever deeper into the underground water supply.
Governor Jerry Brown has now ordered a 25% cut in water usage in most areas of the state. For those of you who who missed it, yes that is the same Jerry Brown who was called Moonbeam when he governed the state 40 years ago and who has done an excellent job of stabilizing the California economy now at 76, but this kind of drought may be unmanageable. Palm Springs – refuge of the very rich and famous – will lose its golf courses and swimming pools, Los Angeles its lawns and the glass of water in restaurants, not to mention anything but short showers. Wildfires will be a real threat all over the state. Agricultural production will drop like a rock.There is no doubt about it. This is the real thing, and only prolonged heavy rain and colder weather can bring things back to where they were not long ago. Much of California is a beautiful place and the rest of us can only hope that this is somewhere on the horizon. But the truth is that there is no sign of it.1 Comment
“The Armed Forces Are the Instrument of Foreign Policy, Not Its Master”, Hans Morgenthau
Some see war as a failure of diplomacy; others see it as a substitute. Twelve years after the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq those who prefer war to diplomacy are back and priming the pump for what could be the next exercise in American folly in the Middle East. This time it is Iran that looms as the target.
President Obama has chosen diplomacy joined with sanctions to reduce Iran’s likelihood of attaining a nuclear capability. And while success in this effort is by no means guaranteed, neither is the likely success of a military intervention despite claims by some that we should cease our diplomatic efforts and move apace to war.
In recent weeks our two major newspapers -the Washington Post and the New York Times– have published clear calls to bomb Iran on its op ed pages. In the once great Washington Post Joshua Muravchik, a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Politics, argued that “war [[against Iran] is probably our best option” and was explicitly critical of any diplomatic efforts. This is a reprise of his November, 2006 op ed in the L.A. Times which opens with: “We must bomb Iran” and predicts Iran’s creating conflicts all over the world, including Southeast Asia. He then urged then President Bush to attack at once, despite the “unpopularity” of his Iraq war.
Similarly, last week in the New York Times, John Bolton, analyst at he American Enterprise Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, provided an op ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. This is consistent with Bolton’s predilection to send other people’s sons and daughters to fight unnecessary wars in places like Iraq, and to view diplomacy as a sign of weakness.
Add to this mix the views of politicians like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and what seems to be the entire Republican membership of the House of Representatives and we have the seeds of an effort to move the country toward acceptance of yet another irrational attempt to change that part of the world in which we have been notoriously ineffective-even destructive-in the past. It is all too reminiscent of the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which has provided much of the impetus for an energized battle between Shia and Sunni forces throughout the Middle east.
The press was instrumental in building support for the invasion of Iraq and that alone should be enough to warn us of the danger of accepting press reports and untested analyses without careful vetting. The fact that U.S. intelligence agencies participated in driving the argument to invade Iraq adds to the need to be careful whom we trust. The quality of the press is of fundamental importance and unfortunately there are reasons to be skeptical.2 Comments
“Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch. He promised vast new building projects in the Palestinian territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.” from,
“Israel The Stark Truth” by David Shulman, New York Review Blog, March 21, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s thinly veiled attacks on President Obama – and indeed on the office of the American Presidency – have opened the door to a long overdue reassessment of American policy in the Middle East, where we have invested a lot and gained little.
U.S. foreign policy is – or should be – based on analysis of what serves the strategic national interest of the United States. Most of the time that national interest is consistent with that of its allies — but not always. The United States has historically played a major role in the ongoing security of Israel and, in fact, Israel’s security has been a linchpin of American foreign policy since the post WWII years. It has included billions of dollars of military aid to Israel, and a Middle East foreign policy built on America’s commitment to Israel’s security. It has also been a forgiving policy. When Israel bombed the America ship U.S. Liberty in 1967, killing some 34 Americans, domestic politics led to the U.S. government joining in a pretension that it was simply a mistake by Israeli pilots, later proved to be false, and therefore arguably, a killing of Americans by Israeli pilots flying planes paid for by American taxpayers. Also, Israel’s nuclear force is at least partly a result of Israeli spies stealing secrets from the U.S. This is also largely winked at by the U.S. although one man remains in jail for that crime in spite of annual public relations efforts by the Israelis to get him released. While there have been other minor blips in the U.S.-Israel relationship over the years it has been largely collaborative until recently.
Domestic political pressure supporting Israeli interest in America is strong. Currently the U.S. provides annually ca. $3.1 Billion to Israel – a country of just over 8 million people. Israel supporters such as Sheldon Adelson have been willing to commit significant financial resources to politicians willing to support Israeli interests even when those interests are in conflict with U. S. interests. While America’s foreign policy has always been influenced by national or ethnic diaspora in the U.S., it is hard to imagine a more intrusive and negative influence on American foreign policy than what we have seen over the last several years with Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s Prime Minister. He joined forces with American extreme conservatives to help push American foreign policy towards the absurdly counter-productive 2003 invasion of Iraq and continues his attempt to destroy any hope of detente with Iran. And never mind peace with the Palestinians – both by 8 years of action and now open speech – Netanyahu has declared that a dead issue, while waffling slightly – and unbelievably – after he won reelection earlier last week. Netanyahu’s campaign was characterized by a not so subtle attack on Israeli Arabs and his spoken commitment to walk away from the possibility of a Palestinian state, the latter an open disagreement with long agreed Israeli-American Middle East policy.
Netanyahu meddled in American politics when he worked openly for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election – a foolish act mostly ignored by the American press some of whom now wonder why President Obama hasn’t been friendlier to Netanyahu. More recently Netanyahu worked with John Boehner in an attempt to join forces with the anti-Obama right wingers in the Congress to destroy a multinational negotiation with Iran. These negotiations involve France, Germany, the UK, U.S., Russia and China and represent the only realistic possibility to reduce the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear military capability. At this point Netanyahu’s arrogant bumbling has increased Israel’s isolation and raised the possibility of the U.S. – for the first time – supporting the concept of a Palestinian state in the UN. It puts at risk America’s historic relationship with Israel.
The U.S. has expended billions of dollars in the Middle East and has little to show for it other than a nuclear armed Israel that has managed to isolate itself from much of the Western world. The memory of the Holocaust and Israel’s strong democratic traditions have argued for almost unconditional love of Americans for Israelis but Netanyahu has managed to put that relationship at great risk to satisfy his narrow, personal political agenda. For many Americans this is now seen as an opportunity to loosen the ties that bind.No Comments