A German “Peace Corps” Comes to America

Posted May 30, 2010 on 12:37 pm | In the category Economy, Germany, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

With the U.S. economy still climbing out of its greed-induced recession, support for government services to the disadvantaged is hard to find. Trapped by reduced  revenues and laws  against deficit spending, states, cities and towns have been forced to  lay off  employees that provide   many of their most important services: teachers, librarians, mental health workers, social workers, homeless shelter staff, etc.

Historically the Republican party and conservatives in general have sought to limit the role of government under the mantra of reduced taxes without adequate consideration of long term consequences. Their strategy of “starving the beast’ is very simple: reduce support for basic services to the point where the services are hopelessly inadequate, blame the government providers for not being able to perform and then call for further reductions in taxes by eliminating “wasteful services”. It becomes an endless cycle in which schools get worse, libraries cut hours, and the disadvantaged of all stripes are left to fend for themselves.

It is in this context that we find help coming from Germany, a country that we helped rebuild after WW II and that now supports a small but helpful reverse Marshall Plan. Young Germans – unlike Americans – face mandatory military service or – if they are conscientious objectors, mandatory public service. The Boston Globe has reported that for at least one small group of young Germans this has meant coming to the United States to provide care to a group of Americans “with conditions such as autism, mental retardation and emotional disabilities.” While we can be grateful for Germany’s help, that we need that help is one small example of how the strategy of “starving the beast” can bear bitter fruit.

A day of reckoning is coming but it seems unlikely to be reckoned right. With groups like the Tea Party clamoring for more  tax cuts – as long as they don’t affect programs they benefit from  – America seems headed for a continuing slide into mediocrity. The tea party folk do not seem to be arguing for less defense spending and they sure as hell do not want to cut their medicare or social security – which leaves them to argue for cuts in the future. It may only be a matter of time before the future, in the  form of their  children and grandchildren, turn around and bite them in the ass by cutting the programs aiding the aging middle class in favor of their own short-term needs and wants. “Be careful what you wish for” would not be a bad mantra for the tea party ‘s members.

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Le déclin de l’empire européen

Posted May 16, 2010 on 2:45 am | In the category Europe, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

It should be Europe’s century. But ten years into it looks like the idealistic hopes imbedded in the idea of a united European state – first dreamed up half a century ago by its most powerful economic powers Germany and France – have shrunk as the stupendous debts of Greece grow. As it is, the European Union has the world’s largest economy, the largest number of soldiers under arms, and the largest budget for foreign aid. But you would never know it, as the economy does not work with any efficiency as the Germans once again found out as they were forced to bail out a profligate family member living far beyond its means with the lion’s share of the rescue, a tidy little cheque for $123 billion (yes, with a b) allowing Greeks to begin getting their pensions half a dozen years before Germans do. With much larger economies than Greece’s next in line – Spain, with 20% unemployment, Portugal, Ireland, all the East European states, maybe even Italy, and then there is the UK, which will have to learn to live with a massive debt – Prime Minister Merkel indicated in no uncertain terms that Germany’s patience with its unruly family, is running out. She had to be convinced that the bankruptcy of Greece could not be tolerated as the two countries share a common currency – the rapidly plunging Euro – and that Germany would have to pay the bill.

Similarly the EU military potential isn’t worth a tinker’s damn as all those soldiers are governed by individual national, not EU, structures and concerns, and there is no such thing as an EU armed forces. When one looks at Europe objectively these days, only Germany and the Scandinavian countries – and Norway has never joined the EU – and to a lesser extent France and the Benelux countries, are prospering economically and socially, and EU status has benefitted Poland. But the general effect has been an ever deepening gap between poor and rich members of what is supposed to be a united union, an expanding unwillingness for the haves to bail out the have-nots and an ever-growing suspicion that this will ultimately result in the decline and fall of a noble experiment.


America VS. The World

Posted May 12, 2010 on 10:00 pm | In the category Immigration, Obama, Press, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.
Pat Paulsen

As a nation of immigrants and descendants of immigrants the United States is having a hard time figuring out how to deal with immigrants. The state of Arizona has enacted a law that requires police to demand identity papers from anyone resembling their idea of whatever it is that an illegal immigrant looks like. That would tend towards demanding papers of anyone who might look Hispanic, African, or Asian but probably would not lead to police hassling Scandinavian looking blondes or worse yet, French speaking Canadians.

But lest our pals the Mackenzie brothers expect a warm welcome, the nuttiness is not restricted to Arizona. Minnesota House Republicans rolled out their own brand of Arizona-inspired immigration legislation last week, which they said was necessary in order to deal with the estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants in Minnesota. The bill, introduced by State Rep. Steve Drazkowski (a rather foreign-sounding name) (R-Mazeppa), is called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act” and like its Arizona cousin it would impose many of the most controversial measures put in place by that legislation. A quick look at a map indicates a rather lengthy, relatively unprotected border with Canada so clearly Rep. Drazkowski has Canucks in his gun sight.

The difficulties presented by foreigners became clearer when a Greyhound bus was pulled over in Portsmouth, NH because a passenger thought he heard the word bomb over a neighboring cell phone conversation. Passengers were told to leave the bus one by one, hands up, were handcuffed and led away, but one man remained on board for hours, refusing to leave. According to police reports later the bus was surrounded and held for hours because the remaining passenger was a “strange looking man who spoke a foreign language”. The man was African, was in the U.S. legally, but did not speak English and was terrified at the huge police presence surrounding the bus.  Now, there are not a lot of Africans or African-Americans in New Hampshire (ca. 1.2%) so we can suppose he looked “strange” and lord knows he spoke a foreign language. But what is going on when a bus is isolated and surrounded by police for several hours out of fear of such a person because of an inability to deal with a foreign language? You cannot make this stuff up.

Somewhat related is the belief – held by over 20% of Americans – that President Obama was born in Africa and is therefore not eligible to be president. Arizona added to its campaign for laughing stock of the Western World when its House of Representatives passed a bill requiring any candidate for President of the U.S. to show an original birth certificate in order to be allowed on its presidential ballots. We can assume that this was not aimed at anyone with the last name “Bush” – or “McCain”, just as we can assume that it is unconstitutional and would have been deemed so had it become Arizona law.

The state of Hawaii, having produced President Obama’s birth certificate for some 40 to 50 birthers each month for over two years, finally passed a law that allows the state to ignore most of such requests, all of which come from the mainland – particularly Arizona, South Carolina and Florida, according to state spokeswoman Janice Okubo.  (Aha! Another foreign-sounding name.)

The press tends to report on these kinds of events in a straightforward kind of way that would make sense if the events made sense. They do not; all they do is embarrass us.

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