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Bush, Neocons, Patriotism: Opinion Pieces Round Up

•  "Bush doesn't get it": John Burke for Nieman Watchdog: "The handling of suicides at Guantanamo, the killing of Zarqawi and Bush's trip to Baghdad are linked by foreign news organizations and widely seen as gross PR efforts"
•  Praising President Bush: Christoph von Marschall in Der Tagesspiegel about US environmental policies: "Die grüne Versuchung und der Öl-Junkie -- Präsident Bush ruft den größten maritimen Naturpark der Erde aus und will das erste emissionsfreie Kohlekraftwerk der Welt bauen."

•  Unhappy Neocon: Richard Perle explains in Wash Post "Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)" and calls on President Bush  "to redeem our honor."
•  Democratic Neocons?
  Jacob Heilbrunn opines in Der Tagesspiegel that the Democrats wouldn't change US foreign policy much.
 
•  New German Patriotism? Berlin Corresspondent Richard Bernstein in International Herald Tribune about "flying anew, the German flag."
•  Wrong U.S. Patriotism? Washington Correspondent Thomas Klau blames American patriotism for failures in Iraq in Financial Times Deutschland, because he thinks that certain patriotism clouds the judgement:
Im patriotischen Morast -- Die USA scheitern als Besatzer im Irak, weil zu Hause Politik und Medien als kritische Kontrolleure versagen. (...) Eine Gesellschaft, die in einem für Europäer unvorstellbaren Maß auf den Kult von Vaterland, Fahne, Soldatentum und Männlichkeit eingeschworen ist. (...) Doch im Ganzen betrachtet schwimmt Amerikas Öffentlichkeit auf einer seit September 2001 kaum abgeebbten Welle patriotischer Gefühligkeit, die Selbsterkenntnis und Urteilsfähigkeit allzu oft im Morast überemphatischer Vaterlandsliebe versinken lässt.
•  Anti-Americanism: Robert Kagan writes in the Wash Post that the current "wave of hostility will ebb, but this is about more than the Iraq War.
•  Transatlantic Counter-Terrorism Cooperation: Olivier Guitta writes in TCS that the US and European governments are cooperating well behind the scenes. Some skepticism is due concerning his conclusion that Germany "would react vigorously using military means" if it would be hit by a 9/11 kind of attack.

U.S. Soccer Captain Praises Party Atmosphere in Germany

The Associated Press describes the World Cup as "a world-class party":
Combine the Super Bowl's hype, the rising cool factor of the NBA finals and the quaint charm of the World Series, and it still wouldn't come close to the World Cup's euphoric atmosphere.  "They're putting on an incredible show for the World Cup," U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said Friday, a day after the Americans were eliminated. "The way the tournament's been run and the games, everything, it's really becoming one of the great World Cups ever, and the German people have been really amazing. You can see that every day is just an amazing party throughout the country," Reyna added. "It's been really a lot of fun for all of us."
Fans fill the streets laughing, singing, whistling and having an infectious good time. People wear their flags and colors with pride, and there's friendly banter between fans from opposing countries. Aside from a few minor incidents, there's been little of the feared hooligan violence so far. Restaurants are hopping, shops are bustling and train stations are party central.
AP continues to quote many American soccer fans, who enjoy the party atmosphere and describe the differences to US sporting events.
And the Chicago Sun Times writes about an American impromptu parade from an Irish pub in Nuremberg to the soccer stadium, where the U.S. then lost against Ghana:
The journey, led by a couple of drummers, will last more than two miles. Traffic stops. Germans pause along the sidewalks and take out their cell phones to snap photos. They salute the Americans, offering a thumbs-up or a smile. Those stuck in their cars while the Americans pass through have varying reactions. Some look frightened; others roll down their windows for handshakes and high-fives. The American fans are now a spectacle. The parade, which started with about 200 fans, reaches about one city block deep. And the Americans don't stop their singing when they enter the subway stations, continuing during the brief train ride to the stadium. (...) Earning one point in the World Cup is anything but impressive. But creating a home-field edge against the Italians and stopping traffic in a metropolitan city is quite a feat for Americans.

State Department Uses the World Cup to Improve U.S. Image

From the United States Mission to Germany:
A delegation of 30 young soccer players participating in the World Cup Sports Initiative organized by the U.S. State Department will travel to Germany June 21-23 to attend the FIFA World Cup match between Ghana and the United States and engage in program activities in Nuremberg and Frankfurt (Main). The boys and girls, ages 13-18, represent the following 13 countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bolivia, China, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda, and Uzbekistan. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes will join the young soccer players in Nuremberg to attend the Ghana-USA game on June 22.
The U.S. lost its last World Cup game against Ghana a few hours ago. The U.S. game against Italy ended in a draw, which has been a remarkable achievement. Before that game the Chicago Tribune wrote that one player of the US national soccer team made some stupid remarks that will not improve the US image:
Eddie Johnson says he sees similarities between his team and the soldiers he will be surrounded by when the United States stays in the Ramstein Air Base for Saturday's match against Italy in Kaiserslautern. "It's like us in the World Cup," the 22-year-old Johnson told reporters in Hamburg. "We're here for war. We came here to battle. We came here to represent our country. Whenever you put your jersey on and you look at your crest and the national anthem's going on, and you're playing against a different country, it's like you do or die, it's survival of the [fittest] over 90 minutes-plus."
Fortunately the German press -- which many consider biased against the U.S. -- did not use these unsportsmanlike and for the U.S. team untypical comments to reinforce Anti-American stereotypes, i.e. our media is not so bad. Unfortunately one Italian player apparently took those comments seriously and hit U.S. player Brian McBride and caused a "cascade of blood" to flow down his face. The Italian player was promptly set off by the referee. All other games have been much more fair and less violent.
The obviously wrong image in the U.S. of soccer being a girlie sport is declining, man's soccer is increasingly popular in the U.S., and large numbers of Americans traveled to Germany. J of Germany Doesn't Suck took the photograph below and kindly allowed the Atlantic Review to use it.

There is a slight difference in the official English World Cup theme A Time to Make Friends and the German version Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden, which translates as "The World Is Visiting Friends", but both slogans turned out to be true. The World Cup is a peaceful, friendly mega party for millions of fans from around the world. There is much much less racism, violence, prostitution and sex trafficking than some Americans and others expected. Republican Congressman Christopher Smith's predictions turned out to be wrong. He should note that prostitutes complain about the lack of customers. Soccer fans are too busy celebrating. Let's hope that the next two weeks will be as successful as the first two and that we will continue to see more of the following joyful pictures, while not forgetting the refugees: Continue reading "State Department Uses the World Cup to Improve U.S. Image"

The American Dream and the Future of Employment

The recent Economist article The rich, the poor and the growing gap between them looks at the often quoted American Dream.  The author critically remarks "The fruits of productivity gains have been skewed towards the highest earners, and towards companies, whose profits have reached record levels as a share of GDP."  Here, after adjusted inflation "the wages of the typical American worker - the one at the very middle of the income distribution - have risen less than 1% since 2000."
It comes clear that overall statistics are smoothened by top earners whereas the middle class worker is losing out.  Moreover, income disparities are often passed on to the next generation.  According to a poll in Foreign Affairs, Americans look for the culprits outside of their country: almost 90% worry about their jobs going offshore. A main contributor to the uneven distribution of income growth has been the greater demand for skilled workers relative to their supply. But there are also measures that at least indicate a narrowing gap for low-wage employees: During the 1990s "real wages rose faster for the bottom quarter of workers than for those in the middle." The income of the top 1% continuously rising is what some scholars call "a polarisation of the labour market. The bottom is no longer falling behind, the top is soaring ahead and the middle is under pressure." But whatever the statistics, it seems that the trend of a strained middle class will not be reversing soon.
So who is to be blamed?  Is it China, India or globalisation?  Experts disagree.  Will further inequality cause any reaction by the American public?  According to the author this will depend on the speed of change, the health of the economy and a tolerance for ongoing inequality.
Analysis: The article refers some interesting phenomena:  Not only do statistics prove some staunch believers in the American Dream wrong; it also indicates that the US, who has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of free trade and globalisation, is turning towards greater protectionism as a result of global trends such as outsourcing to India and offshoring to China. The author's conclusions of how the American public might react to a challenge of the American dream are rather weak.  Basically, the question remains whether the speed of change can be met by changes implemented by policy makers or balanced with adaptations to a globalising world. The increasing societal rift, in part caused by the knowledge economy", enhanced by technological innovation, may be a causal effect similar to the one that occurred when the Industrial Revolution brought a shift from the agricultural societies.  Changes brought by the Industrial Revolution overturned not only traditional economies, but also whole societies.  So perhaps, this is only the beginning of such a paradigm shift towards a more complex system that demands more complex answers.
So what does this mean for the American Dream? To perpetuate the rags-to-riches story the US has to reclaim its strengths that has made her a superpower and the wealthiest nation (in absolute terms) in the first place: openness to immigration in general and specifically directed at attracting the "best and the brightest", playing by the rules of the international market, a level playing field and equal chances for everybody. Only such an environment provides the right climate for innovation in which new ideas can prosper and hence promote the ideal that at least those (few) can make it knowing how to take advantage of market conditions that encourage entrepreneurship and creativity.

Importing the American Spirit of Civic Responsibility to Germany

Koerber Foundation: Adopt an IdeaOver the last two years, I have ran a marathon, enjoyed Bumbershoot, Folklife and the Seattle International Film Festival, gone to museums founded by local billionaires and salvaged some really cheap stuff from the salvation army store. I have bought school fundraising chocolates from my poker buddy's daughter and delicious girl's scouts cookies in the store. I have hiked dozens of National Park trails, went to parties that asked for donations to the local food bank instead of presents, and volunteered for the Seattle Public Library.
None of the most exciting community events and many social services in this city would be possible without the help of thousands of volunteers donating their time, creativity and money year-in, year-out. And that's not unusual in a country more famous for its hardcore capitalism, coarse meshed social net and sink-or-swim mentality.
 

Defying traditional European prejudices, American society is not based purely on the survival of the fittest. Quite on the contrary: public engagement here is much more common, volunteer services for the underprivileged are diverse and creative, and public-private partnerships usually work more smoothly than in my home country. The Körber Foundation in Hamburg has set their minds on importing this spirit of civic responsibility to Germany with their competition called USable. Every round, overall prize money of $180,000 is awarded to good ideas and best practices people have picked up in the U.S. to be realized in Germany, too. There is also a special text competition.

Since 1998, the Körber Foundation has thereby transplanted hundreds of "usable" ideas from the States to Europe, like "beginning with books" from Philadelphia. All over Berlin, volunteers now read regularly to kids in public libraries, helping especially non-native speakers to learn how to read and to enjoy books. Due to the support of celebrities like former congressman Cem Özdemir and former first lady Doris Schröder-Köpf, the idea has spread to many other German cities already.

Last year's competition carried the motto "Living Together. Integration and Diversity." One of the winners is a bilingual musical project in Berlin, initiated by the African-American musician Todd Fletcher, who out of personal experience stresses that "language is the key to integration." Other prize-worthy ideas include art projects for more mutual understanding between different cultures and religions, initiatives to get universities, corporations and citizens involved in their community, and programs to empower minorities. The winners of last year's competition will be announced on June 26, 2006.
This article was originally published in European Weekly

The German language book Adopt an Idea presents 200 ideas from the USable competition and can be ordered for 12 Euros at the Körber Stiftung Shop and at Amazon.de.

The Burden of Guantanamo

Guantanamo is an image problem for everybody who is considered close to the Bush administration. As soon as the news about the suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo spread, the German government stated that it assumes it will be briefed by the United States on the circumstances involved, although none of the three was related to Germany in any way. The press release continues:
The German government's critical stance with regard to Guantanamo remains unchanged. The German government was informed of the suicide death of the three detainees by President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. (...) In an interview granted to the news magazine "Der Spiegel" earlier this year Chancellor Angela Merkel urged that the prison camp be closed down, saying an institution like Guantanamo cannot and must not be allowed to go on existing. Ways must be found to deal in a different manner with the prisoners.
The government's press release, however, does not mention Murat Kurnaz. For background on him read our post about The Guantanamo detainee from Germany. About half a year ago, Chancellor Merkel promised to work on his release. There have been press reports in recent months stating that the US and Germany were close to a deal, but nothing happened so far.
 
Mr. Kurnaz' lawyer, Prof Baher Azmy, describes his visits to Guantanamo in an op-ed for Die Zeit (translation at Dialog International) and claims:
Continue reading "The Burden of Guantanamo"

Bullshit and Truthiness

A humorous philosopher and a philosophic comedian have redefined two terms to better describe shortcomings of the media and political debates. Harry Frankfurt, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, wrote a short book about Bullshit.
Bullshitting is distinct from lying and it is worse for public discourse in the long run. Liars make deliberately false claims about what is true, but they know the truth and they try to hide it. Bullshitters, however, are not concerned about whether anything at all is true, they are just indifferent to the truth. Excessive bullshitting can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. More in Slate and in this ten minute video interview with Prof. Frankfurt. Or just buy the book for less than 10$ (8 €) at Amazon.com or Amazon.de.
 
Many Bullshitters do not care about the truth, but about truthiness, which is stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. The American Dialect Society (pdf) voted "truthiness" as the Word of the Year 2005, because Stephen Colbert reinvented it on his first episode of his satirical television program the Colbert Report.
Wikipedia as a long entry:
Truthiness is the quality by which a person purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or to what the person might conclude from intellectual examination. (...) By using the term as part of his satirical routine, Colbert seeks to critique the tendency to rely upon "truthiness," and its use as an appeal to emotion in contemporary socio-political discourse.
Colbert is a liberal pretending to be a conservative, but truthiness -- as well as bullshit -- are common practice across the political spectrum on both sides of the Atlantic.
From Sonja: Comedian Stephen Colbert's biting satire at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner has been the talk of town for weeks. Watch the whole, original broadcast. "Finally, somebody from the press, somebody at all is speaking up! Bush was not amused", was a common reaction among my Seattleite friends.

Quick Op-Ed Reading Suggestions

•  Lord George Robertson, NATO's former secretary general from Scotland, published Iraq is Europe's Business, Too in the Washington Post. (HT: Joe)
•  Prof. Muqtedar Khan compares Islam in America and Germany. UPDATE: Read Omar 's take on this article in his German language blog Too Much Cookies.
•  Prof Ikenberry asks in America Abroad Is the European Union in Crisis?
•  Andrew Curry, Fulbright Journalism Fellow in Berlin, writes for Foreign Policy about Soccer's Sex Slaves, which is related to the Atlantic Review's Congressman Accuses Germany of "Complicity in Promoting Sex Trafficking."
•  UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote: Clear scores, level playing fields and global appeal: why the UN envies the World Cup.