The Powerful and Complicated Angela Merkel

Posted September 28, 2015 on 12:41 pm | In the category Germany, Greece, Human Rights, Merkel | by Jeff

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.

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The Press, Facts and Reality

Posted September 24, 2015 on 11:01 am | In the category Election, Politics, Press, Republican Party, Uncategorized | by Jeff

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.

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Is Humpty Europe going to fall?

Posted September 17, 2015 on 5:30 pm | In the category Europe, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

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.

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