Archives for category: Europe
We’ve painted ourselves into a corner with the outbreak of Covid-19 (aka Coronavirus). How much manufacturing previously done in the West is now (not being) done in China and other countries in Asia? We made a decision in the 80s that American manufacturing was too expensive and that we’d do better as industrialists and consumers to move production to Mexico and Asia. This, I suppose, is fine, save that we stopped paying living wages to America’s (former) manufacturing employees and increased their credit lines as a sort of compensation.
That’s three of several dozen problems that have been building up in the US over the last 35 years or so. How we handled American purchasing power is a different part of the discussion. China raised its own game in the years following the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. You can’t have democracy but if you’re a Chinese citizen you are entitled to some more of these trappings of capitalism. And it seemed to work. Many Chinese got filthy rich, casinos opened on Chinese real estate, for example, and if you weren’t used to democracy, it did work. Hong Kong? Different question. (Fairport Convention’s Jewel in the Crown seems appropriate.)
Anyhow, US and to a lesser extent, I think, European purchasing power went up, because a lot of Chinese made a lot of stuff very cheaply. So it didn’t matter that real wages in the US haven’t shifted much in 40 years. The decline of unions in post-Reagan America pushed workers into so-called service industries where real wages are kept artificially low much of the time.
Bottom line: We don’t MAKE anything, and as a result we’re in a position where the place that does make all our stuff is on lockdown for we don’t know how long. And creating a manufacturing sector out of whole cloth can’t be done so easily anymore. (It could be done if we were willing to pry a little bit of money and commitment out of the 1%. Not in the cards at the moment.) The same is true in Europe. We have the tools to create that self-sufficient situation, but it means retraining the populous to buy what they need and a lot less of what they want. We’re going to learn mighty soon that the old watch, phone, and TV will last a little longer. (A little less of the planned obsolescence would go a long way.) Clothes and everything else we buy might be more expensive, but part of what we need to do to recover, sustainably, from this crisis is to rebuild the industry and rework how we as people and consumers and industrialists relate to industry.

The Guardian’s Northern Ireland page has nearly a dozen articles right now related to Lyra McKee, the journalist shot dead by the so-called New IRA on Holy Thursday. (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) I’ve got several different kinds of grief over this murder that I’m not sure what to do with.

I think credit goes to Belfast TelegraphMany are expressing hope that in the wake of her death, some collaboration might occur between the various groups in NI and that perhaps the political parties will see through their differences and get something done. Talks between the DUP (the party that’s also propping up Mrs May in Westminster) and Sinn Fein broke down almost two and a half years ago and the province has been without a government ever since. (Though it seems talks may yet happen. Link at the bottom.)

I’ve been jabbering in support of Irish unity for decades, generally without enough of a grasp of the history or of human nature to make more than an emotional dent in the matter. Today, however, I say that the New IRA, the Provisional IRA, the straight-up old-fashioned IRA and any other group using terrorist measures to achieve their goals have got to go.

First: These measures don’t work. All through the Troubles and even in the 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, these organizations (with the help of Unionist groups, don’t get me wrong – ain’t no love lost between me and the folks who foist Marching Season on us every year) have only succeeded in keeping much of NI from seeing any kind of dividend from all the years of fighting. (Note my earlier comment about my grasp of all the history surrounding this being weak. I can analyze the bejesus out of James Joyce, but I’m honestly buggered if I can makes sense of the last 200 years in Ireland.)

Second: I know that the immediate (hypothetical) disappearance of these groups will do nothing to heal literally hundreds of years of pain associated with the occupation of Ireland. Occupation. Complicated word, that. Civil War? Police Action? This is too short a rant to address what the situation should be called. I’m pretty sure that dissertations have been written on just that.

What has to go is mealy-mouthed bull like that coming from New IRA. The statement quoted by the Guardian reads:

“On Thursday night, following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our volunteers to engage. We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this.

“In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces. The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”

This won’t do. It simply won’t do. ‘Our volunteers’ killed indiscriminately. ‘Our volunteers’ went heavily armed into a riot zone and started firing, but couldn’t figure out how to hit the ones wearing the uniform of their enemy. And fired enough rounds that recordings show someone picking up shell casings.

This won’t do. Peace at this late date doesn’t come through the cowardice evidenced by this statement.

And what else won’t do? In the event the goals of the various IRAs are actually met, I’d like to believe that the government of Dublin would do its own utmost to make sure these folks hold no position and that the ones who lead these volunteers will see justice.

I probably hope beyond hope.

I composed the text above a few hours ago and now see (also in the Guardian – honest, I do read other news sources) that a deal has been reached for further power-sharing talks. As I say, hope springs eternal.

That phrase is displayed over a beautiful Danse Macabre in Fuessen, Germany. Spoken by Death, it means ‘Say Yes, Say No, Dance We Must. In the context of Medieval morality, it makes perfect sense. The rich, the poor, the virtuous, and the vicious all die eventually, and as such were taught what might lay beyond. 
I recently wrote about the town of Mittenwald in which a museum display indicated that the museum used to be on Jew’s Lane, but that in 1938, the name was changed. Walking through Rothenburg, Germany was a little bit different than walking through Mittenwald. At various places, one could see evidence of the former Jewish community there. Judengasse still exists – or exists again – with a plaque indicating the lane as the site of the community that was first expelled in 1520. A plaque in the garden that had once been the Jewish cemetery ‘commemorate[s] our fellow Jews who were expelled between 1933 to 1938 from Rothenburg’. Only since 1990, according to a few such plaques, has excavation of the town’s Jewish past been addressed in earnest. 
Note that Rothenburg is an ancient, well-kept town on the Romantic Road. It attracts a large number of tourists from around the world. For some reason, the region is very popular with the Japanese – enough so that signs indicating places or events of interest are posted in German, English, and Japanese. 

As Rachel and I wandered through this medieval town’s historical re-enactment weekend (commemorating since 1974 a victory that occurred in 1274), and relieved the Kathe Wohlfart shoppe of about 150 euros worth of Christmas tree decorations, and heard tourists speaking English, German, French and Japanese, I asked her ‘Why here and not Mittenwald? Why does this town pay more than lip service to its historic Jewish community (and that community’s destruction – at least twice)? Her answer was short and to the point: ‘American tourists.’ [Note: I’m a secular Jew from the US married to a secular Christian from England.]

She had a good point. Mittenwald hosts a lot of tourists – any established town in the Tyrol region will do well with tourists from Germany, Italy, and Austria, but not necessarily beyond, except for the participants in the annual nordic sports competitions. Attendants at those won’t have much time for sightseeing, is my guess.
But we’re at it again. At the moment it’s the damning of refugees from the Middle East and Africa in the press and social media, not those fleeing the Nazis. Perhaps Rev. Niemoller’s cry about speaking out for the ones everyone is speaking against before there’s no one left to speak out for you will make itself heard through the din. Now the Germans are calling for the EU to divide up the refugees teeming (and dying) on its shores somehow equally, and take care of them. [Note: NOT migrants – they haven’t left their home countries by choice – nor are they likely to be able to return any time soon. They’re seeking refuge. The hint’s in the name.] 
Now there are a lot of reasons Germany is better equipped economically and otherwise to absorb a large number of refugees than Greece or some of the other member states. [An argument might be made that supporting large-scale refugee intake programmes in Greece in exchange for – I dunno – debt relief maybe, makes a lot of sense. It’s for another blog, however.] The quartet that gets on my nerves right now are the so-called Visegrad states: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. These countries are fighting both against the tide of refugees, but against EU efforts to address the issue. The former US ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Kounalakis, wrote an interesting NY Times editorial on the matter this week  in which she asserts that the Hungarian authorities have been stirring up anti-refugee sentiment since this crisis was in its infancy. The thing is, these countries have had native populations of Roma (aka ‘gypsies’ – a derogatory term) for centuries. When one speaks of the 11 million victims of the Holocaust, Jews made up the majority at six million, but the number of Romani victims is variously estimated at between 220,000 to 1,500,000. Since WWII, the Visegrad countries have made little or no effort to integrate this group into society, regularly demonising them and occasionally going so far as to engage in forced sterilisation. [Oddly similar to how the US has treated poor African Americans at various times and how Australia has treated its aboriginal population. Homework: Compare and contrast.] The main issue is that parties in these countries already have a history of demagoguing an underclass to cover for their various stances and policies. Or simply to whip up hate and drum up votes. We’re doing it in the US right now, and my adopted home of the Netherlands has its own bastards in this regard. They’re all playing the same game that’s epitomised in a joke making the rounds: A billionaire, six white unemployed white people, a black person stand at a table with a dozen donuts. The billionaire takes eleven donuts and tells the white people, ‘Look out – the black guy’s gonna take your donut.’
  Many Hungarians and people all over the world who are addressing refugee crises [we haven’t seen much of the US border with Mexico in the press lately, but trust me, that situation hasn’t changed] know what needs to be done now – normal people are offering up their homes and resources to help people in need. Of course these aren’t the ones in the news. While we have to hear from the Viktor Orbans, Donald Trumps, Nigel Farages, Petra Laszlos, and Rita Verdonks of the world first, we’ve danced this dance before and really don’t need to dance it again.

(Title nicked from a 70s-era compilation of Beatles covers.)

Last year the band Einsturzende Neubauten released Lament, an album commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. In interviews, frontman Blixa Bargeld advanced the argument that the first world war never actually ended – the parties that marched across Belgium and France in 1914 continued to battle in other forms in other locations. All the results of the Sykes-Picot Agreement could be said to be further battles in that war. (My favourite track on that album is The Willy-Nicky Telegrams, in which Bargeld and Alexander Hacke recite the texts of communiques between Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas that led up to the war. The two were cousins.)

Side note: This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first recorded chemical weapon attack on soldiers in Ypres and seems a good place to share the Green Fields of France.

Disclosure: I am neither a political scientist nor an historian.

That said, I have recently stated to whomever will listen; and possibly here, that I’ll be quite surprised if we get out of this decade without a world war. I think now that it’s too late for that if. I’m pretty certain it’s already begun; we just haven’t declared it yet. Peace has been on life support since we took down the World Trade Centre and I think it’s time, as they say on the hospital dramas, to call it.

KMFDM: World War III

On Rachel Maddow’s 20 April 2015 show, she discussed a variety of the conflicts in the middle east including Yemen and Libya. Iran is currently supporting Yemen against the Saudi forces there. (Note: The BBC now reportbattleships that the Saudis have concluded their air campaign in Yemen.) On that front, the US supported Saudi. In the fight against ISIL, a Sunni force, the US supports Shiite Iran.

ETA: NYT now reports that Saudi air strikes in Yemen have resumed.

Moving east, we have the smoldering war in Ukraine. Between that (admittedly large) country and the very hot war in Syria, there’s only Turkey, another front in ISIL’s advance.

In addition, recent reports of Russian ships cruising near Britain add credence to arguments that Putin’s hostility isn’t limited to former Soviet republics.

And trade wars – the sanctions against Russia over its recent hostile actions may be yet be enough to push us all into a much hotter war.

I’m not without hope in these matters, but the decisions lie with very wealthy corporations that don’t look kindly on efforts to slow the continued accumulation of wealth. This is why we defend oil fields to the death, but care little for those who try to live their lives farther from those natural resources or who fight the conglomerates whose extraction efforts also make such places unliveable.

I don’t have numbers but the worldwide refugee crisis is only getting worse. Syria is one hotspot. (Israel could have taken the moral high ground at the start of the civil war, but unsurprisingly, Bibi didn’t.) Libya currently has the headlines because of the horrific tragedies occurring almost daily in the waters between Libya and Italy. These aren’t new, but Berlusconi had an agreement with the Gaddafi regime to keep a lid on those trying to escape. With Gaddafi dead (and Libya on the verge of being a failed state) and Berlusconi no longer Italy’s autocrat, it’s no longer in force.

In a New Yorker book review (16 Feb, 2015), Nathan Heller describes the places of several nordic countries on various happiness indices. He offers some reasons why these peoples measure their own happiness so positively (good schools, free tuition, effectively free health care, an unfrayed safety net, before offering the opinion of Michael Booth, author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People, that the services one receives in exchange for an upper tax rate of over 70% are ‘patchy’.

Heller delves deeper into Booth’s arguments, pointing to alcohol consumption, employment rates, bureaucracy, and cuisine, and ultimately shreds both Booth’s approach (let an expert speak at length, then quote without fact-checking and present everything in a quasi-Innocents Abroad ‘aren’t these foreigners quaint’ fashion) and his conclusions. Finally he moves from discussing Booth’s take on Scandinavia to an assessment of the current changes to the social order in many of these countries as a result of immigration and rising inequality.

While it’s a shame that the welfare state aspect of many such countries is being undercut by US-style “free-market” “improvements” (see the privatisation of the rail system and tuition requirements at formerly free higher education facilities in the UK, for example, not to mention the pillage of the NHS that not even Maggie Thatcher would have dreamed of), these things are not trivial. I’m not the first to suggest that I don’t mind my taxes paying for education even though I don’t have children: I don’t want to live in a society surrounded by the uninformed. The review describes a Swedish couple, the wife of which didn’t pay any tuition to become a neurosurgeon. Fantastic. I’d rather any doctor I see to have gone through medical school on merit and without the worry of how to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars/euros/etc. in student loans.

The introduction of tuition to previously taxpayer-funded universities is a tradition pioneered by Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California and, as noted, now followed by Cameron and his cronies in the UK. Like the privatisation of the rails and the NHS, it is nothing but a transfer of wealth from the lower and working classes to the bankers and other members of the 1%. Calling it anything but a handover to the City of London is to miss the point.

Rachel Maddow this week told of how Wisconsin’s Governor Walker is on a quest to slash funding for his state’s renowned public university system by hundreds of millions of dollars. Same thing. Please the bankers, and your next campaign is funded.

At the same time, Germany is offering free tuition to its universities to anyone who can pass the entrance exams. My sister told me of a couple she knows with two kids, eight and ten, if I recall rightly, who are moving there, though this new plan does not require German residency or citizenship. Language, yes, but if you can get in, Berlin will pay your tuition.

This is the choice we’re after – we can educate and take care of the next generations or we can continue to mess it up. In the US, the war on education has taken a number of forms – one the age-old battle against teachers’ unions and the despicable salaries we pay to those who spend the vast majority of their waking hours either looking after our children or finding ways to make sure they know enough to get to the next level. Another is the fight against teaching science in all its forms, but primarily the teaching of evolution. I share the belief that no questions for which science provides an answer have been better answered by religion. (I’m sure there’s a better quote from someone like Sagan or Tyson, but that’s the gist.) In some regions, I’m distinctly in the minority and 90 years after the Scopes trial, we’re still fighting the same battle.

Yes, I’ve gone from discussing free education to useful education, but surely these things go hand in hand. We had a short period during which we as a culture recognised not only a right to an education, but a responsibility to educate the next generation. It’s possible that period ran only from the GI Bill to (in California) Proposition 13, but with the slashing of tax revenues from a variety of places (Governor Brownback’s Kansas fiasco being a major one), public education takes a big hit.

The upshot of this is that people in states with very high tax rates are still happier and better off by a number of measures than those in the low-tax United States. My guess is that a secure education and worry-free medical care play a very large role in that.