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Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there

Marla RuzickaToday, December 31st, was supposed to be Marla Ruzicka's 30th birthday.
Marla has founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund
. Lawmakers realized that financial compensation for families of civilians accidentally injured or killed by the U.S. military is important for helping them cope financially. A compassionate response might convince the families that Americans feel sorry about their loss; therefore they might not hate Americans, i.e. Marla was advancing US interests. Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief wrote that "Marla was alienated from much of the human rights community because she chose to work with the military instead of always against it." As Peter Bergen wrote in the Washington Post:
Ruzicka initially came off like a blond surfer girl (she was much given to exclaiming "Dude!" and "You rock!"), but underneath the effervescent exterior was a tough-minded humanitarian advocate who had little tolerance for leftist anti-war demonstrators. Ruzicka understood that wars happen despite the demonstrations, and she wanted to do something concrete to alleviate the subsequent damage to human life.
Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism." It's a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article.
 
Continue reading "Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there"

Germany in Numbers

From the Federal Statistics Office:
Less income in real terms: "Households in Germany had a net income of EUR 33,700 on average in 2005. Compared with 1991 (EUR 26,000), this was a 30% increase. In real terms, that is after deduction of consumer price rises, the income households had at their disposal on average in 2005 was 2% less than in 1991."

Less road traffic accidents: "Based on key data available for January to October 2006, the number of persons killed in traffic accidents in 2006 will reach an all-time low of 5,000. That would be 7% less persons killed than in the previous year and less than a quarter of the traffic deaths registered in 1970."

Less divorces: "Just under 201,700 couples were divorced in 2005, which was 5.6% less than in 2004. This means that eleven out of 1,000 married couples were divorced."

Less abortions: "The number of abortions notified was about 28,800 in the second quarter of 2006. That was a decrease of 1,500 (–5%) compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year."

More prisoners: "A total of 64,512 persons served a sentence of imprisonment or youth custody in a German jail on 31 March or were held in preventive detention. As reported by the Federal Statistical Office, the total number of convicted prisoners had thus reached a new high in unified Germany. Some 90 prisoners and persons held in preventive detention were in jail per 100,000 persons of the population having attained the age of criminal responsibility (from 14 years)"

"Anti-Americanisms in World Politics"

Professors Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, who are two leading international relations experts at Cornell and Princeton, have just published Anti-Americanisms in World Politics (Amazon.com, Amzon.de). According to the book description, they have "assembled a distinguished group of experts, including historians, polling-data analysts, political scientists, anthropologists, and sociologists, to explore Anti-Americanism in depth, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The result is a book that probes deeply a central aspect of world politics that is frequently noted yet rarely understood."
   
Policy Review has published the essay "Anti-Americanisms: Biases as diverse as the country itself" by Katzenstein and Keohane, adapted from their new book. In the book and the essay they discuss four themes:
First, we distinguish between anti-Americanisms that are rooted in opinion or bias. Second, as our book's title suggests, there are many varieties of anti-Americanism. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that what is called anti-Americanism varies, depending on who is reacting to America. In our book, we describe several different types of anti-Americanism and indicate where each type is concentrated. The variety of anti-Americanism helps us to see, third, the futility of grand explanations for anti-Americanism. It is accounted for better as the result of particular sets of forces. Finally, the persistence of anti-Americanism, as well as the great variety of forms that it takes, reflects what we call the polyvalence of a complex and kaleidoscopic American society in which observers can find whatever they don’t like -- from Protestantism to porn. The complexity of anti-Americanism reflects the polyvalence of America itself.
Another one of their conclusions:
Perhaps the most puzzling thing about anti-Americanism is that we Americans seem to care so much about it. Americans want to know about anti-Americanism: to understand ourselves better and, perhaps above all, to be reassured. This is one of our enduring traits. Americans’ reaction to anti-Americanism in the twenty-first century thus is not very different from what Alexis de Tocqueville encountered in 1835: "The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise... They unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes." Perhaps we care because we lack self-confidence, because we are uncertain whether to be proud of our role in the world or dismayed by it.
         
The second book Ueberpower: The Imperial Temptation of America (Amazon.com, Amazon.de) was published in the summer of 2006 and is written by Fulbright Alumnus and ZEIT editor Josef Joffe, who is very pro-American and even supported the Iraq war. The title is a bit misleading since the book examines Anti-Americanism at great length. I have read an interesting essay in the American Interest by Joffe based on his book, but that essay is no longer available online. Joffe presented and discussed his book at Carnegie.

Dollar versus Euro

"The dollar is not what it used to be. Over the past three years it has fallen by 35% against the euro and by 24% against the yen." writes The Economist (HT: Influx):
America has habits that are inappropriate, to say the least, for the guardian of the world's main reserve currency: rampant government borrowing, furious consumer spending and a current-account deficit big enough to have bankrupted any other country some time ago. This makes a dollar devaluation inevitable, not least because it becomes a seemingly attractive option for the leaders of a heavily indebted America. Policymakers now seem to be talking the dollar down. Yet this is a dangerous game. Why would anybody want to invest in a currency that will almost certainly depreciate? (...)
America's current-account deficit is at the heart of these global concerns. The OECD's latest Economic Outlook predicts that the deficit will rise to $825 billion by 2006 (6.4% of America's GDP) assuming unchanged exchange rates. Optimists argue that foreigners will keep financing the deficit because American assets offer high returns and a haven from risk. In fact, private investors have already turned away from dollar assets: the returns on investments in America have recently been lower than in Europe or Japan (see article). And can a currency that has been sliding against the world's next two biggest currencies for 30 years be regarded as "safe"?
In another for subscribers only article (excerpt at European Tribune), The Economist explains: "Contrary to popular perceptions, America's economy has not significantly outperformed Europe's in recent years. And to achieve this not-much-better-than parity, America has had to pump itself full of steroids."

The Foreign Policy Magazine lists the news that "Petro Powers Drop the Dollar" as one of the "Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006:"
If you thought record oil prices this year were a pain in your wallet, there’s more bad news on the horizon. The latest Bank for International Settlements quarterly report, which tracks the investment trends of oil-producing countries, indicates that Russia and OPEC countries are moving their holdings out of dollars and into euros and yen. OPEC cut its holdings in the dollar by more than $5 billion during the first and second quarter of 2006. And Russia now keeps most of its new deposits in euros instead of dollars. That decrease is swift and significant—and helps to explain why the dollar recently fell to a 20-month low against the euro and a 14-year low against the British pound. Holding dollars while other currencies gain strength means less profit for oil producers. But if they rapidly divest themselves of dollars, it may weaken the currency and push up inflation in the United States. "This new trend may be bigger trouble for the United States than high oil prices and surging Chinese exports," says Nouriel Roubini, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. If this year’s move away from the dollar is a sign of future thinking by oil producers, the pain felt at the pump may soon be the least of our worries.
The other Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006 include "Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks" and "United States Funds the Taliban."

Endnote: "German business confidence soars" titles the Financial Times:
"German business confidence has unexpectedly surged to the highest level for at least 15 years, highlighting the strength of Europe's largest economy despite a stronger euro and a big VAT hike looming next month." Will this business confidence last? I doubt it. Will the US dollar continue to be the world's main reserve currency? Probably yes, but not as dominant as it used be. What do you think?

Some US Comedians Still Associate Germany with Nazi Past

Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien and an American blogger make jokes expressing concern for German troops going "on tour again" and suggesting that today's Germans could turn into Nazis anytime.
US News and World Report quoted NBC's Conan O'Brien in its Late Night Comedians round up on November 29, 2006:
The Pentagon is, of course, making some decisions on Iraq. The Pentagon is trying to convince Germany to send more troops to the war in Iraq. Yeah. This marks the first time anyone has asked the Germans to send more troops.
Does US News and World Report find this joke funny? Such jokes are a good excuse for Germany not to send troops anywhere. I could use this joke to argue that many Americans still associate Germany primarily with our Nazi past (see poll at the end of this post) and don't want us to participate in military missions abroad: "Sorry, Germany is not going to support America, because we don't want anybody to think of us as Nazis." 
Conan O'Brien's joke is not even accurate: The phrase "to send more troops" suggests that Germany already has some troops in Iraq. Thus, anybody who finds this joke funny lacks some information.

Another example: Jon Stewart interviewed Natalie Portman about filming Vendetta in Berlin in March 2006:  Continue reading "Some US Comedians Still Associate Germany with Nazi Past"

Advantages of the German Language

"To the romantic ear, the German language might sound cumbersome and perfunctory, yet beyond its tonal harshness, it is as efficient as its native speakers are reputed to be." writes DW World:
Ever felt wearied by the world, angst at the thought of the future or completely drained of energy? Chances are you have, but will have had to fish around inarticulately for whole streams of words to describe your state of being. Not so in German, where words like weltschmerz (world-weariness), zukunftsangst (fear of the future), kreislaufkollaps (circulatory collapse) and morgenmuffel (a person who is grumpy in the morning) have their hard-earned places in the national lexicon. Where then, are our succinct English equivalents? The short answer is that there are none. That language does not always translate tidily is no secret, but how is it that somewhere along the way, words which become an integral part of one language are deemed unnecessary in another. (...)
The thing about the German language is that whilst it is systematic, it is also highly flexible, and wonderfully efficient. It's like a huge tub of "Legos" offering endless opportunities for building words and concise means of self-expression. Weld together three completely unrelated words to make one new one which wastes not a single syllable in beating around the bush. As Albrecht Plewnia of the Institute for German Language says, the composite nature of German makes it much easier to invent new words to clearly reflect the issues of the moment.
Related: When German Words Travel, Our Zeitgeist Goes Oom-Pah-Pah

Resolve, Doubt and Flip-Flopping

One of John F. Kerry's better one-liners during his presidential campaign in 2004 was: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and wrong." On December 24, 2006 he picked up on this issue in his Washington Post op-ed "When Resolve Turns Reckless":
There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop. I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand.
Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute calls for flip-flopping as well ("dramatic change"), but his suggestions are very different from Kerry's: "Send more troops to Baghdad and we'll have a fighting chance" is the headline in his Sunday Times commentary.
Bertrand Russell's famous quote "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt" seems to be appropriate for the discussions about what to do in Iraq and for both liberal and conservative politicians and journalists.

Trans-Atlantic Cooperation: Are Europeans Unwilling to Share the Burden?

Ivo Daalder and James Goldgeier are disappointed by European contributions to the transatlantic alliance and want to globalize NATO to enhance burden sharing with other democracies. In their Financial Times op-ed "US and Europe must learn about alliances", the senior fellow at Brookings and the fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations point out:
In recent months George W. Bush has rediscovered the virtues of having allies and working within alliances. In every big challenge confronting the US – from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Iran to North Korea – he has sought to enlist the help of America’s traditional allies. But in many cases the very allies who bitterly complained about the US president’s unilateralism only a short time ago have been reluctant to do their part in helping multilateralism succeed.
Nowhere is this more true than in Europe. Last month's Nato summit should have been the time for a rousing call for the alliance to act effectively and transform itself into an organisation that would establish partnerships around the world to address common threats. But progress was minimal, because the Europeans were unable to seize the opportunity presented by an America that has realised it cannot solve these problems alone.
Personal opinion: The US chose multilateralism too late (and still does not embrace it fully in regard to the Iranian issue). If the US had accepted NATO's offer to help in Afghanistan right after 9/11, Europeans would be more committed to Afghanistan now. 
Re Iran: I believe the US has not been as supportive of the European negotiations as Daalder and Goldgeier claim. Besides, not the Europeans, but China and Russia are the obstacle for "real sanctions" on Iran. Sanctions only have a chance to work, if most countries support them. Still, Daalder and Goldgeier make many good points in their criticism of Europe, but they also exaggerate a bit, which is fine since it is an op-ed, which is available in their blog America Abroad. What are your thoughts about the Bush administrations "rediscovery" of multilateralism and the European response?

Related posts in the Atlantic Review:
Germany and the United States Failed to Train Afghanistan's Police,
Round-up of Opinions Before the NATO summit
Should Germany Send Troops to Southern Afghanistan? and
Afghanistan Intervention "on the cheap"

Endnote:
Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, discusses trans-Atlantic cooperation on Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and previews U.S.-Europe Relations for 2007. See article at the State Department.