Ukraine: Bad Policy OR The Absence of Policy?

Posted September 5, 2014 on 5:03 pm | In the category Europe, Press, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy, Ukraine, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy;
it is an alibi for the absence of one.
Henry Kissinger

The Ukraine crisis has raised significant – some would say unnecessary – risks of international turmoil that could become much worse if not brought under control by the main participants, esp. Russia and Ukraine. Yet, it seems clear that a significant portion of the American foreign policy community and the American press has been unable or unwilling to discuss or even consider alternatives to what has become the de facto official narrative. Official in the sense of presenting a one-sided, American/European view of a situation that is a lot more complicated and that has roots in Western policies aggressively aimed at attacking Russia’s national interest under the guise of our never-ending and almost always futile attempt to install Western democracies in countries not ready for it. e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.

But most troubling is the almost total lack of debate minus the demonizing of the debaters. Without defending Putin’s actions in Ukraine there are, nonetheless, geopolitical realities that should not be ignored while blindly following simplistic thinking of the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham in calling for military action in some form (i.e. giving lots of weapons to the Ukrainian military) as the only answer to what is a complex political and diplomatic problem.

The behavior of the American press is reminiscent of its cheerleading for the Vietnam War with unquestioning acceptance of the government narrative of the dominoes theory. The press’s support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was similarly supported without substantive debate in the press, although there were a small number of politicians willing to voice their doubts. But the alternative narratives for the Ukraine are mostly being ignored or even ridiculed.

For example, two notable commentaries by respected foreign policy thinkers provide a very different narrative of how we arrived at the Ukraine crisis and both authors have been largely ignored. John Mearsheimer, a highly regarded University of Chicago political scientist published his views of “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, reiterating points he made in an earlier piece in Foreign Policy and again in the NY Times. Princeton and New York University Russian Studies Professor Stephen Cohen presented his views in a Conference in Washington but had published extensively on the crisis in The Nation Magazine. While writing in very different journals they come to similar conclusions: that the West failed to consider the importance of an unaligned Ukraine to Russia’s security and national interest; that the West continues to treat Russia as a “defeated” former enemy; that the West – specifically the EU – blundered when they offered Ukraine an economic agreement that would begin the movement of Ukraine into the Western sphere; then supporting the revolt that toppled the elected government of Ukraine. The West eagerly accepted the bonafides of the “revolution” and by picking sides in a battle of primary political importance to Russia contributed to the crisis. Consider the U.S.’s Monroe Doctrine and what the U.S. would likely do if a rival power decided to foment revolution in Mexico. Then ask whether the U.S. and European leaders bothered to put themselves in Putin’s shoes when they decided to foment revolution in Ukraine.

As for Cohen and Mearsheimer, rather than producing a transparent, robust debate, they have been vilified as Putin’s puppets, etc. by much of what passes for an informed press. But almost no one has seriously debated them on the merits of their arguments or – more significantly – on the facts of the case. And more importantly, there is no evidence of such a serious debate behind the scenes. Most commentators have taken the facts as presented by the U.S. and Ukraine governments and have been happy to demonize Putin. As for the political players, senators from both parties have bought the line with the Republicans criticizing Obama for the lack of “action” whatever that might be, when the real issue is his over reaching in the region that contributed to a major, dangerous crisis.

Finally, lest we forget, a significant portion of the Ukraine population does not support the movement to the West and in fact yesterday the NY Times reported that hundreds of thousands of citizens of eastern Ukraine are fleeing into Russia for refuge from the Ukraine army which, according to Human Rights Watch, has matched the rebels in killing thousands of civilians. Most of those “refugees” are now planning to remain in Russia. And are there Russian troops fighting with the rebels? Maybe so, or even probably so, but that does not give us the moral edge. After all, we have had our instances of sending troops – secret in many cases – into almost every Central American country in the past when our leaders had determined it to be in our national interest. much like Mr. Putin in the Ukraine. With a Ukraine cease fire tentatively agreed to by Russia and Ukraine this morning, the West (i.e. NATO) has announced its planned “Rapid Reaction Force for Eastern Europe”. We shall see how Mr. Putin responds.


Obama’s Stunde Null

Posted July 14, 2014 on 11:32 pm | In the category Canada, Europe, Germany, Public Diplomacy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Is Obama trying to become the least trusted president of the US in recent memory? If he is, he doing a very good job of it. Just in the last couple of months he has managed to alienate many of his formerly most reliable friends, none worse than Germany, although Canada would also have a good case of feeling most offended. Perhaps the Canadian irritations seem to be small matters, but they have certainly added up, and do nothing to bring about any sense of harmony among the second and third largest countries on earth, not to mention a feeling of solidarity in North America. There is no doubt that Canada is quickly drawing away from its long-standing position of being a close ally of its smaller southern neighbour, whose arrogance in such matters as the naming of ambassadors, the paying of obviously-due bills, the willingness to co-operate on border issues, and the inability of Washington to understand that spying on your friends and neighbours is considered unacceptable by respected governments, and the simple absence of courtesy visits is simply rude by Canadian standards. The two US ambassadors to Canada appointed by Obama have both been non-diplomat bagmen for Democrats with no experience in foreign affairs or for that matter in Canada. The US seems to be unwilling to pay for the building and maintenance of a new border crossing on the desperately needed new bridge to Canada near Detroit, but has plenty of money for drones cruising along the once so-called longest unarmed border in the world. The almost total absence of visits by the Candian Prime Minister to Washington and the US president to ottawa does nothing to dispel the feeling that these two countries are not getting along well.
But the situation with regard to Germany has deteriorated even more rapidly. Any North American liviing in Germany has long had the feeling that the Germans basically ten d to look at eh US through rose-oloured glasses, no doubt because of the US eole in t he Second World War and its aftermateh. (These same German almost never know anything about the role of Canada , whose army played a major part in the D-Day invasion and fought its way on its own through northern France and the Netherlands.) But that good will has almost been destroyed by the revelations about Washington’s tapping of phones of the leaders of government there, including the private cell phone of Prime Minister Merkel, who seemed honestly taken aback by this revelation . As she was brought up in the DDR, she is more or less the last person on earth who has to be reminded of the awful reaction of citizens who hear that their private communications have been listened to by threatening governments, in this case a foreign one. And now the head of the CIA in Berlin has been kicked out of Germany as the proof of illegal spying that came out of his office continues to widen . What birdbrains allowed this to happen? did they really think the Germans, by far the central power of Europe. would take this affront without acting? And there we can see it: Merkel talking with Putin in Rio about the Ukrainian situation, which has left the US once again all at sea, German Foreign Minister Steinmeyer icily confronting an outmatched US Foreign Minister Kerry in Vienna. It’s all unnecessary, if there were only some sense of diplomatic skill coming out of Washington . But there isn’t and we shall see what the consequences are of such amateur behaviour.



Ukraine and the war that threatens to end peace (again)

Posted March 4, 2014 on 6:15 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

And so the Crimean crisis seems to have settled down a bit. The Russian military has taken control of the Crimea, encircled Ukrainian army bases on the peninsula, and warned the two Ukrainian war ships out on the Black Sea to not even think about confronting overwhelming Russian power at its naval base in Sevastopol. Russian solders show no sign of leaving an area the size of Sicily in which 70% of the population speaks Russian and welcomes their presence. There is no doubt that if a plebiscite were held, which the Russians are demanding , the people of the Crimea would vote to join Russia. Needless to say, this is a complicated situation, demanding patience and knowledge.
Meanwhile Putin says he has called back the dogs of war out on the Russian-Ukrainian, where 150,000 Russian troops happened to be holding training exercises near Russian-speaking cities in eastern Ukraine, which might well also vote to join Russia. These areas pose a much greater threat to stability in Europe if Russian troops move in “to protect a Russian minority in a former USSR republic” stranded there by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has no treaty connection with western Europe and has no chance of joining the EU or Nato in the near future as some really ignorant commentators in the west seem to think. But Estonia and Latvia do an d include with large Russian populations still unhappily stranded after twenty years of living in independent Baltic states. They are both in the EU and Nato and any Russian movement to recover them would automatically bring all EU nations into a military confrontation with Russia. For many this will recall the way that Europe stumbled unknowingly into a carnage that killed 60 million people exactly a century ago in “The War that Ended Peace (the title of Margaret Macmillan’s fine new book on the topic) would make a lot of experts who know the complicated history of Eastern Europe very nervous indeed. If Russia should cross the Russian-Ukrainin=an border near Donetsk or Kharkov, it is unclear what might happen, and nobody is taking bets on the future of the Crimea, but Estonia is another matter. That would bring war.. And so the poobahs are assembling again, this time in Kiew, which has proven to be a very unwelcome place for good government, no matter who won the democratic elections, in the twenty years since Ukraine became free. Western commentators have found it easy to forget (or not know) that the recently deposed Prime Minister of Ukraine, who even the Russians don’t like, won an election that was deemed to be fair and square by the UN observers. He may have acted like a corrupt despot when in power, but he did win an election in which the current temporary Prime Minster, got 7% of the vote and seems to be unimpressing almost everyone.

But here they come to lay flowers , deliver some platitudes and hopefully solidify votes at home. The Canadian foreign minister John Baird does his job well, knowing there are i,3 million ethnic Ukrainians in Canada and that Ukrainian affairs play an very significant role in the settlement of the Canadian prairies,,an d the determination of elections. But before he leaves, he does mention that Canada is not considering any kind of military response. (The US might consider recalling their ambassador to Canada to give them insights into the history of Ukraine but they can’t do that since they haven’t had an ambassador in Canada for many months). John Kerry, the US Secretary of State follows Baird by several days but takes the same trail and states that Russia will have a price to pay if it doesn’t stop its aggression. Unfortunately a tired and confused-looking Kerry cannot answer any questions about what that price would be. Lat time Obama used football talk to warn about crossing a line drawn in the sand in Syria the result was no response from the US when someone did precisely that and a very clever chess move from a surprisingly wily Putin. The US certainly cannot be contemplating a military response, but it doesn’t exactly want to admit it. Putin knows it and looks like a cat who swallowed a canary in his press conference. H e also know that while the US can’t do much but bluster, he can cut off the fuel lines which heat most of Ukraine and a great deal of western Europe. How do you like dem chops? Let’s hope Putin is also a pragmatic figure and knows that he too certainly does not want a war, and that he steps back and considers what to do on the Crimea.. And th at will take serious negotiations by a number of parties. One figure who seems to be placing himself and his country in a position of mediation is German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Whether he likes it or not, he may have to step in and play a big role as this (very fine) German Foreign Minister has a unique insight into the dangers that come up like ghosts from the past when countries get carried away thumping nationalistic big sticks out on the borderlands of Eurasia.


Turkey: The Rise and Fall of Secular Democracy

Posted February 23, 2014 on 2:13 pm | In the category Erdogan, Europe, International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Abdullah Gul, President of Turkey, has signed into law a government proposal designed to give the government extraordinary powers of censorship over the Internet, including blocking of specific sites viewed as a threat to the Turkish government and collecting the histories of web searches of individuals’ computers. This is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest attempt to eliminate free speech in a country that until recent months had served as a model of secular democracy in the Muslim world.

While Turkey’s economy and its people’s overall quality of life had flourished for 11 years under Erdogan, the very personal nature of his leadership had for some time been moving the country toward a less democratic culture in which religious Islam began to play an increasing role, personal and political corruption began to flourish, and freedom of expression began to suffer. The root of the problems is a competition between Erdogan and his brand of Islam and that of Fethullah Gulen the leader of a Sufi-based brand of Islam. Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan operates a large Turkish social, political and educational enterprise from his current home in Pennsylvania. He became disillusioned with Erdogan’s personalized Islam-centric approach to leadership which at best can be characterized as arrogant; at worse as megolamanic.

Political moves by Erdogan during the past year have placed the country’s commitment to secular democracy as well as his power at risk. It began with a public demonstration against Erdogan’s move to replace a public park in Istanbul with a shopping mall but it was clear that much of the demonstrators’ incentive was Erdogan’s increased authoritarianism. The demonstrations grew in size and led to a brutal police crackdown that was abrupt and violent, leading to at least 7 deaths and thousands of injuries. Erdogan’s response included a clumsy attempt to blame the U.S. and Israel for inciting the demonstrations. What followed included street riots, and police arrests of Erdogan allies for crimes of vast public and private corruption. Erdogan responded with take-overs of the police and judiciary, censorship of news, arrests of journalists and academics for speaking out, and the new restrictions on access to Internet content. All of this has contributed to a decline of the Turkish economy, and the erosion of the Turkish model of a secular democracy into a state with two Islamic sects fighting for power while secularists struggle to regain influence.

While most of the damage done to date is to the Turkish people and their democratic state, Turkey’s importance to the West raises the international stakes. Turkey’s geography, its importance for stability in the Middle East, and its unique ability and position to blend secular democracy into a 99% Muslim population with a rich history of power and influence lends it an importance beyond the merely symbolic. It has benefitted from a successful, growing economy, a commitment to education for all (including women), a thriving tourist industry, an agricultural output that is the envy of its region, and the second largest military among NATO members.

While its efforts since the late 1980s to become a full member of the EU have been rebuffed, that became less of an issue as EU countries’ economies have suffered through years of an ill-advised austerity while Turkey’s thrived. There is, in fact, little incentive or interest now in Turkey in becoming an EU member. As a further indication of Erdogan’s movement away from the West, he gave a contract to China to build its missile defense system, provoking alarm among fellow NATO members – especially the U.S. – while signaling his desire to shift turkey’s interest away from the West and towards greater influence in Asia.

Western democracies have held up turkey as a model of what can be accomplished in a Muslim country committed to secularism and democracy. As Erdogan continues on his current path that model may cease to exist. While the future of turkey lies in the hands of its people the West needs to do whatever is possible to short circuit Erdogan’s autocratic limits on free expression. The U.S. has begun to play a small role in that effort by supporting various “pirate” radio stations run by Turkish expats dedicated to providing a free flow of information currently being kept out of Turkey’s tradional press and media. While clearly premature for the U.S. to add Turkey to its official international surrogate broadcasting efforts the time for a Radio or TV Free Turkey may well be approaching. The European Union also needs to take a hard look at Turkey’s limited membership role in the Union and begin to apply pressure for the return of basic human rights, including a free press and unfettered access to social media and the Internet in general.


Speak loudly and carry a tiny little stick

Posted September 2, 2013 on 3:31 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Middle East, Obama, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now let’s get this straight. Ten years ago, the neatly attired Secretary of State of the United States told the UN Security Council that his security experts had definite proof that the nasty Arab dictator of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that council should therefore  approve a military action that would remove them from his control. Okay that turned out to be a fib – there were no such weapons and it may even be that the poor secretary didn’t know it – and the results are very much central to the problems of the middle east today. Iraq is a dangerous place, its minorities have fled or are hidden in holes and the once legendary city of Bagdad is a disaster zone.  The nasty dictator was executed, but chaos rules in his absence and for the normal Iraquis, if they managed to survive the ensuing war, life is no better or worse than before.   My brother was at the Baltimore Ravens football game when that attack was announced by then President George Bush and explains  that the president waited until half time to announce the news on  the giant jumbo screen that the invasion had begun.  Didn’t want to interrupt the game when it was on.  The 80,000 spectators cheered.

Now we have the next president announcing in best sports lingo that he was drawing a line in some kind of sand (beach volleyball?) and if anyone dared venture  over that  he would take out his big stick and thump them, just like the Ravens’ defense did that afternoon a decade ago.  Now it seems clear that somebody did  that recently by throwing poison gas across the line, and the current Secretary of State, very nattily attired,  is haunting the talk shows to announce that the security aces of the United States, who know everything about you, also know who is guilty of crossing the red line, namely the nasty dictator of Syria this time.  He denies it, though it may well be the case, but it is not yet proven and the Iraqui past haunts this present like a ghost.  The powerful president of Russia says he doesn’t believe it ,  and then the British parliament cut down their prime minister at the knees by voting against his decision to join the attack with the US, apparently forgetting that in the UK the Parliament has to approve such an action.  The Prime Minister of Canada, which did not join the attack on Iraq,  says he is a”reluctant convert” to this one (whatever that means), and won’t contribute any military help.  Germany says it will never join a military action not sanctioned by an international body like the UN (as they well know,this one doesn’t have a chance there).  Even Israel is not taking sides on this one, afraid of the results of any such invasion, no matter who wins.  The only real military power answering the call to use the big stick is France, which, according to Secretary of State Kerry, is the longest-standing ally of the US.  (He said that with a straight face, but many thought he remembered the French contributions in the Second World War,  Vietnam, NATO, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. and meant it ironically).

And now the wielder of the big stick has run for cover and suddenly announced he will wait for approval from a Congress which won’t be able to deal with that for some weeks.  Obama will be meeting with Putin in a couple of days at a G-20 conference in St. Petersburg. As  a warm-up to the reception he will receive in St. Petersburg, he will spend his first European night in Stockholm where the frosty fall nights are already  well underway. Needless to say Sweden will not be supporting an attack on Syria.  When he sits down with  Putin, he must be prepared for the following difficult questions.  1. What will he do if the US congress does  not support him, as happened in the UK to the now lame duck PM Cameron?  It is clear that there is substantial bipartison opposition to the Obama attack proposal, though it seems  likely to pass.  2. Just how does he imagine  the attack?  Most observers think it can only be a brief attack on military targets, airfields , strategy centres,barracks, etc. The Syrian government now will have ample time to remove much of value from such targets in the next weeks.   Cruise missles are very accurate but not 100%, and any variance will inevitably land on civilians.  Is the US prepared for the reaction of the Moslem world if that happens?  3. Worst of all, has the US considered what the  consequences would be if the security information, much of it apparently gathered by tapped telephone calls, turns out to be planted information by the other side, a standard spy-ploy. Many suspect that’s what the Russians suspect – they are no novices at that – and it is not inconceivable.  What if it turns out the US with unmanned drones bombed the wrong targets in another legendary Middle-Eastern city out there in the cradle of civilization.  4. And finally, how does the US imagine the reaction  in the Arab world after an attack.

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Fracking beer

Posted May 29, 2013 on 8:51 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, internatinal Livability, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Finally some progressive optimistic news out of Europe.  It comes of course from Germany, recently voted the most popular country in the world (It remains unclear whether the pollsters reached many of the older folks in Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, etc. while gathering statistics), nudging out Canada for the #1 spot by the length of a keg of beer. And of course the progressive  development erupts out of Bavaria, the province  where virtually all Germans would like to live.   It involves the defence of the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot , which guarantees that Bavarian beer can be made only from hops, yeast  and water. which  was  signed  into law in 1516  in Ingolstadt, 45 minutes north of München, and remains in effect until the present day.  It also guarantees that tremendous amounts of money will pour into the coffers of  München, its splendid capital and surely now Europe’s most compelling city, where most of the people who would like to live in Bavaria would like to live, especially during the fall Oktoberfest . We are speaking, of course, of the  production and quality control  for the matchless beers enjoyed today by the the Audi worker of Ingolstadt on the banks of the beautiful blue Danube as much as by the workers at the Bayrischer Motor Werke factory (BMW), as they savour their afternoon refreshment just as happily across from the Olympic Stadium.

This law has guaranteed the overwhellming superiority of Bavarian-brewed beer over all its pitiful copycats, especially those who suddenly claim that they too produce beer under Bavarian purity law  (they sure don’t taste like it) and has so far withstood endless legal  mindless attacks by the European bureaucrats in Belgium who would like to  do away with an especially delicious  regional products which make a mockery of copycats, products such as  the beers of  München and the wines and cheeses of France, not to mention the kippers of England.  Now it has become a political issue that may come back to haunt Chancellor Merkel, as she tries to help maintain the traditional power of her sister party, the CSU, in Bavaria, though never in München itself.  She has had herself photographed  lifting (with two hands) the smallest vessel (the 1-Liter Mass) into which  Bavarian beer (none other is tolerated) may be poured in  the most pleasant place in the world to quaff a beer; the Bavarian beer garden.  You can take your pick, Hirschgarten, Augustinerkeller, Nockerberg, Aumeister, Thurn und Taxis Garten, Concordia, one could go on for hours naming them .   There you sit at communal tables under the chestnut trees in one of these splendid and  incomparable beer gardens of München while the kids run about doing what kids are meant to do, and the big lads in the Lederhosen roll out the kegs one after the other for the even bigger colleague who fills up your Mass when you pass by him.  But Chancellor Merkel always looks wary and uncomfortable when she tries to do this , and her similarly -inclined conservative political friends wonder whether she is the proper person to determine their affairs when it comes to th e question of the purity of their ber. . She is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor from way up in northeast Germany, not far fro the land of the Bavarians real enemy, the Prussians of Berli.   And she does not look she can overcome that background and finish that Liter of the world’s finest, even if she’d like to.  It is a matter of DNA.  And now she is facing  a  real crisis: the immensely powerful  Association of German Breweries, which also includes the breweries of northern Germany and the German breweries of the traditionally weak US brands, which nobody buys in Bavaria.  That association has demanded that Merkel ban fracking, already a highly controversial process for Germany’s powerful environmentalists, until it is proven that it won’t contaminate ground water, especially since more than half  German breweries use water from private wells drawn on ground water.   This a tough one for Merkel since the next election is less than 3 months away  and banning fracking (or not) for awhile could prove to be a crucial decision  for both conservative rural and hip urban Germany .  That is a coalition with  which  Merkel has not reckoned and one that could cause her one big load of trouble in  crucial ridings all over the country.  May th e power be with ?

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Whither Italy?

Posted February 27, 2013 on 9:49 pm | In the category Europe, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Italy is the third-largest economic power in Europe, and controls what is surely one of the most spectacular  geographical spaces in existence. It has at least two  of the world’s most splendid cities – Venice and Rome can’t be denied that, and who would exclude Florence – and it has a dominant place in the development of western art, and a very prominent one in literature art, and culture in general.  So what the hell  is going on as it appeared to be finally climbing out of a disastrous interlude and instead chooses to sink further  into a buffoonish and ever-deepening ing morass of self-destructive behaviour.    Now it is of course true that in the miserable European performances that culminated in World War Two, other countries outdid Italy in barbarous behaviour.  Germany leads that pack, but also is the one that has taken the most serious consequences of such thuggish national behaviour to heart and is anything but a clownish vulgar society these days.  But that can’t be said of its splendidly-endowed southern neighbour Italy, which  seems intent in proving that democracy is a political system ill-equipped to deal with serious problems, both of an economic and moral nature.

How else explain that an election that was supposed to finally finish off a corrupt and thuggish political generation offering bizarre governmental behaviour, and come up with one offering some stability and rational decision-making at the top should result in a potential  coalition run by a professional clown and another comic who was assumed to be a washed-up political and moral one?   And yet that is what they came up with, the people who spoke through their votes.  It is one thing for Icelanders to vote into power a true clown  as the mayor of Reykjavik in order to show their disdain for a simple-minded government that set into motion an economic fiasco.  (He turned out to be a pretty good mayor). But it is quite another to offer power to two  clowns to  take control of a relatively major economic and even military power, one working from an actual  circus background and the other from a circus government that he had indeed formed as acircus of a government.  These two working together  have no chance to rescue a collapsing economy and even social framework by bringing in laws to confront chaos.  These guys thrive on the comedy of chaos.  So keep posted annd see what happens when Italians will be forced to vote yet again.  Better luck next time..

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Quo vadis Europe

Posted September 5, 2012 on 1:47 am | In the category Economy, Europe, Immigration | by Mackenzie Brothers

The financial disaster called Europe sails on with no port in sight and with deadly reefs looming on a regular basis. Captain Merkel uses her delegated powers as the boss whos pays the bills to forge ahead on her chosen path with such a powerful and refined lack of charisma, in a political world otherwise run by charismatic lightweights and clowns, that no one can really challenge her spartan version of the financial globe. She demands sacrifices from European lands that have not been willing or able to live within their means, that ultimately mean a tremendous lowering of quality of life for the average Joe. Greece is the very small poster-boy for this campaign but bigger and much heftier combatants are falling over each other to try to keep out of the Merkelschiff’s course. Spain, no small piece in the European puzzle, now has higher unemploment (25% of the total population, 50% for those under 25) than does Greece. That is a recipe for disaster somewhat reminiscent of previous social catastrophes like the potato blight in 19th century Ireland (for a staggering fictional account see Peter Behrend’s The Law of Dreams) or the food failures of late 19th century Scandinavia (see Vilhelm Moberg’s epic The Emigrants). When 50% of the young people and large numbers of professionals cannot find work or feed their families, there is revolution or emigration brewing. And big players in  the economic puzzle like Italy and even France are running scared and Portugal is already staggering.

So far the solution of choice is emigration. This is a guaranteed right of all EU members and unemployed young Spaniards and Italians as well as middle-aged unemployed skilled labourers and professionals from all of southernEurope are moving north looking for jobs in Germany and Scandinavia. Portuguese engineers, with no work at home, are moving to booming oil-rich Angola or Brazil, as it suddenly pays to speak Portuguese in parts of Africa and South America. Who knows where it will end. Will the demographic map of Europe brcome seriously altered, probably to the benefit of already prosperous north european countries? Will the brain drain of southern europe to the richer EU countries or even to the former colonies, be long-lasting as was the emigration of the Scandinavians, Jews and Italians to North America a little more than100 years ago?  Or will, as Captain Merkel hopes, it all settle down relatively quickly and the EU will then reach an economic stability which is nowhere to be seen today?

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May Day: Europe and the United States Compete for Worst Economic Policy

Posted May 2, 2012 on 10:43 am | In the category Economy, Europe, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

In a battle for world supremacy for economic stupidity America’s Paul Ryan is taking on Angela Merkel in a battle for the ages. While Ryan is only one of 435 Representatives in the U.S. Congress he has become the intellectual leader of the party that gave us the $3 Trillion Iraq War, the huge Bush tax breaks for the wealthy, the unpaid for prescription drug benefit for Big Pharma, and unleashed America’s investment banks so they could sell paper crap around the world and bring the world economy to its knees. Having participated in creating a recession that barely missed becoming a depression, Ryan is now regaining his strength with Mitt Romney, much of the American press and virtually all of the so-called Tea Party singing the praises of the Man Who Would Destroy the American Economy as an homage to his heroine, Ayn Rand. Ryan’s austerity budget has even managed to create a negative response from elements of the Catholic hierarchy – a group normally focussed on how best to reduce women’s power.

Across the Atlantic Angela Merkel serves as Ryan’s powerful competitor for the title of Master/Mistress of the Recession. With the help of France’s embattled President, Frau Merkel has managed to force Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland (the list will surely increase) to adopt economic austerity policies guaranteed to force most or all into a lengthy recession with devastating unemployment rates, low or no actual economic growth and a near suicidal commitment to doing more of what demonstrably does not work in order to avoid admitting to their mistakes.

Ryan and Merkel have so far avoided being compared to David Cameron whose ongoing commitment to economic disaster seems to have been missed by much of the press, but that could change at any time as Britain has entered its second recession in four years. But before Cameron can be allowed into the field he must rid himself of the attention given to his love affair with Rupert Murdoch which has greatly diminished the attention given to his disastrous economic policies.

The next several months will determine the success of Ryan, Merkel and Cameron as they struggle – each in his or her own way – to bring national economies to their knees. The U.S. election, the budding resistance to Merkel’s stubborn commitment to folly among other Euro zone countries, and the shakiness of of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat ruling government in Britain will play out as the three head for the finish line in this race to the bottom.


Save a tear for Germany

Posted February 15, 2012 on 1:57 am | In the category Europe, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

Pity poor Germany.  It made such a mess of the twentieth  century that it just can’t do anything right in the twenty-first.  The truth is it is about the only country doing anything right in Europe these days, but no matter what it does, the folks it tries to help dig out Granddad’s old war memorabilia, and suggest that  that help is just another sign of Germany’s desire to laud its over poor European neighbours.  The passengers going down with  the Titanic curse the  German life boats ,that actually function,  rail on about how the war that ended almost 70 years ago was  making a comeback and of course don’t mean a word of it.  Places like Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain and even Italy don’t really want to go under and drown  and of course they expect the Germans to come to their rescue, but first they’s like to remind you of how nasty their rescuers are.

It’s an odd time in good old Europe.  Athens burns in protest, Portugal and Spain provide no jobs for their youth in protest, Cyprus makes no progress towards becoming a united and perhaps then viable island state, Italy votes for a leadership that is beyond mockery, and Hungary one beyond tolerance and even France displays an unheard-of humility in the face of the only European economy that works.  And they all expect the German rescue boat to haul them back on board.  God help them if the Germans decide they are not worth the effort.

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