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The US-Saudi relationship: Oil supply at the expense of US security and moral values

(11/04/05: Update at the end of the post)

Europe and the US seem to be addicted to oil and unable to pursue their security interests and moral values in regard to Saudi Arabia. US government reports indicate Saudi support for terrorism and the lack of counter-terrorism coopertation. The State Department determined the non-existence of religous freedom in Saudi Arabia and the non-compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. While countries without any oil were sanctioned for these violations, the Bush administration spared Saudi Arabia. And the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee canceled unexpectedly a hearing on Saudi incitement in U.S. mosques.

Now in more detail:
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News about Germany in English

Tanya Jones, a former Fulbright Journalism grantee in Berlin (1999-2000) and now editor at the German Embassy Press Department, recommends the embassy's news service Germany Info, one of the relatively few English-language sources of constantly updated information on German politics, culture, science and economics. Noteworthy are also their fact sheets German Aid for the Stabilization and Reconstruction of IraqGermany's contribution to the fight against global terrorism and Germany and America - A Strong Alliance for the 21st Century.

Call for revivial of cultural diplomacy to counter Anti-Americanism

While the US consulate lowered the American profile in Frankfurt by moving to a heavily fortified complex on the outskirts of town, US arts lobbies want to reach out more to the world by utilizing US cultural capabilities and talents. Writing for the International Herald Tribune, Alan Riding asks:

With Washington now dusting off public diplomacy as a strategy to combat rampant anti-Americanism, is it time to revive cultural diplomacy? The purpose would not be to mute American popular culture. In any event, that would be impossible: It is pumped out on an industrial scale and the world responds, often with delight, sometimes with disgust. Instead, rather than trying to compete for the attention of the masses, cultural diplomacy would aim to persuade elites of the virtues of American civilization.

This approach is now being quietly promoted by several arts lobbies in the United States. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in July, a group called Americans for International Arts and Cultural Exchange wrote: "Our coalition believes America has many cultural capabilities and talents that remain underutilized in the international arena and which can be effective in reaching out and telling our story to the world." (...)
Continue reading "Call for revivial of cultural diplomacy to counter Anti-Americanism"

NYT calls for raising the gas tax to fight terrorism and global warming

The NY Times/International Herald Tribune  editorilizes:

There's no serious disagreement that two major crises of our time are terrorism and global warming. And there's no disputing that America's oil consumption fosters both. Oil profits that flow to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries finance both terrorist acts and the spread of dangerously fanatical forms of Islam. The burning of fossil fuels creates greenhouse emissions that provoke climate change. All the while, oil dependency increases the likelihood of further military entanglements, and threatens the economy with inflation, high interest rates and risky foreign indebtedness. (...)

A bolstered gas tax would raise huge amounts of revenue, roughly $1 billion for every penny of additional tax. Some of that money would have to be used to provide offsetting tax breaks to low-income households (...) Economists assume that raising the gas tax - say, by a dollar or so - would not necessarily raise the price at the pump by the same amount. Rather, a tax increase could induce exporters to allow the price of oil itself to fall, in order to keep the price at the pump below the level at which oil alternatives begin to look attractive.  (Hat tip to medien und amerika)

EU rejects bold US proposal to cut farm subsidies; progress on "open skies"

World trade talks are getting hot and tense. The NY Times/International Herald Tribune criticizes the EU and Japan for rejecting the US proposal that

The United States would slash the allowable farm subsidies by 60 percent. In return, Europe and Japan would cut their subsidies by 83 percent - a higher percentage because countries in Europe, along with Japan, have higher subsidies.

Farm subsidies are a major burden for tax payers and the developing world:

The developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its own farmers, encouraging overproduction. That drives down prices and leaves farmers in poor nations unable to compete with subsidized products, even within their own countries. In recent years, American farmers have been able to dump cotton, wheat, rice, corn and other products on world markets at prices that do not begin to cover their cost of production, all because of politicians - and at the expense of American taxpayers. Europe's system is even worse: U.S. farm subsidies are equal to only a third of the European Union's.

The Washington Post's Paul Blustein opines that the global trade negotiations "appear to have reached their gravest moment since the collapse of a WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, two years ago" and blames primarily France for opposing the liberalizing of the EU's agricultural markets:

"We are now down to days," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said. "If something isn't put together by the end of this month, then I do really believe that this Doha Round is in real jeopardy. Certainly the Hong Kong meeting would be in jeopardy."

Meanwhile Reuters reports progress on solving the transatlantic aviation disputes:

The European Union and the United States have agreed key elements of a first-stage deal on an "open skies" pact, the two sides said on Friday, paving the way for opening aviation markets on both sides of the Atlantic. The talks, which restarted on Monday after fizzling more than a year ago, aim to loosen restrictions that determine where airlines can fly, boost competition, and possibly ease ownership rules to make international mergers easier to execute.

Interesting discussions in the comments section

Several of our recent posts resulted in interesting discussions in the corresponding comment sections. For instance, the post "Iraq: Is the US giving up?" motivated some readers to discuss in a very thoughtful manner how prepared the Iraqi military and police is. The post "Al Gore considers US democracy in grave danger due to news media" led to an elaborate discussion about hypocrisy and staged photo-ops.

Germany's designated new Foreign Minister

United Press International quotes prominent German foreign policy specialist Karl Kaiser's characterization of Frank Walter Steinmeier as the "the grey eminence behind Schroeder":

Everybody who knows him, who has had dealings with him, considers him extremely able, competent, very pragmatic, and the Christian Democrats are pleased with the nomination.

UPI continues:

"The chancellor has a lot of foreign policy scope in summit meetings and so on, and we still have to see how much muscle the chancellery intends to use," points out Helmut Sonnenfeld, foreign policy specialist at Washington's Brookings Institution. But the feeling is that even when Steinmeier steps into the international limelight as minister of Europe's most powerful country, he will opt for a more measured, low-key approach that also seems to be Merkel's. Germany's first woman chancellor has declared a strong commitment to the transatlantic alliance, but the best that Washington can expect is a change of style, with not much shift in substance.

Dialog International recommends interesting articles about Steinmeier and one of his rare speeches.

Opposition within the Bush administration

Our reader UG recommends TomDispatch's list of 42

beleaguered administrators, managers, and career civil servants who quit their posts in protest or were defamed, threatened, fired, forced out, demoted, or driven to retire by Bush administration strong-arming.

The list includes well-known names like former anti-terror czar Richard Clarke and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, but also less known managers:

In late August 2005, after twenty years of service in the field of military procurement, Bunnatine ("Bunny") Greenhouse, the top official at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of awarding government contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, was demoted. For years, Greenhouse received stellar evaluations from superiors -- until she raised objections about secret, no-bid contracts awarded to Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) -- a subsidiary of Halliburton, the mega-corporation Vice President Dick Cheney once presided over. After telling congress that one Halliburton deal was "was the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career," she was reassigned from "the elite Senior Executive Service... to a lesser job in the civil works division of the corps."