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100 Million US-Americans Don't Vote

While the American primaries make the headlines on a daily basis even in our Swiss newspapers, more than a hundred million Americans usually don't vote, which means about 40% of eligible voters forego their right to elect who's to become (arguably) the most powerful political leader in the world. Find an interesting "mini-movie" about these missing voters here.

This is what the filmmakers write about themselves:

A year before the presidential elections of 2008 a crew of young European filmmakers goes on a journey all across the country in a little old motorhome to search for America’s missing voters. Who are they? Why don’t they vote? Can a young and fresh presidential candidate as Barack Obama make them vote? How would American politics change if more young people, single women, poor white people, African-Americans and Latino’s would start voting?

"You usually end up with [a] disproportionate number of minorities not voting and more young voters not voting," according to Project Vote, a  not-for profit organization that tries to get more people to vote. Also featured in the movie: Thomas E. Patterson, Harvard professor and author of the book The Vanishing Voter (Amazon.com; Amazon.de). His conclusion is very clear:

If you enlarge[d] the electorate in the US, you'd be pushing it to the left.

Historically, only 10-20 % of all eligible voters take part in the primaries that are occupying so much of our attention at the moment. Oh, and by the way, guess which country besides the US has a very low turn-out on election day? Correct: it's  Switzerland.

The First Big Book On The Credit Crunch

According to the Economist, Charles Morris is the first to really assess the current crisis of the financial market in his book The Trillion Dollar Meltdown:

He describes three trends converging to create the bubble: By 2006 the growing trend towards deregulation had pushed three-quarters of all lending outside the purview of regulators. Securitisation created a serious agency problem, leaving loan originators, who were paid up-front, with no incentive to avoid bad credits and every reason to piggyback inappropriate products onto good ones [...]  Banks and rating agencies were gripped by the pretence that all finance can be calculated by risk-modelling eggheads. It did not help that many investors blindly accepted the rating agencies as a kind of “financial Supreme Court”.

In addition, the "Federal Reserve fuelled the housing boom by sharply cutting the cost of short-term money. Mr Greenspan ignored warnings about subprime excess, while eagerly championing 'new paradigms', from hybrid mortgages to credit derivatives." As for the solution:

He offers a raft of suggestions: originators should retain the riskiest portion of securitised loans; prime brokers should stop lending to hedge funds that fail to disclose their balance sheets; trading of credit derivatives should be brought onto exchanges for the sake of safety, even if this raises costs; and some version of the old Glass-Steagall act, which separated commercial banking and capital-markets activities, should be re-introduced. Ultimately, he argues, after a quarter-century of “market dogmatism” it is time for the regulatory pendulum to swing the other way.

Howard Zinn's "A People's History Of The United States" in German

Looking for a Christmas present? Here’s a hint: Atlantic Review editor Sonja Bonin has translated Howard Zinn's bestseller "A People's History of the United States" into German. Her translation was presented at the Frankfurt book fair this fall and selected second-best non-fiction book on the highly esteemed recommendation list (“Bestenliste”) by NDR, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Buchjournal and Börsenblatt in October.

Howard Zinn’s classic, which was first published in English in 1980 and has reached more than one million readers so far, has become an all-time favorite of both students and the intellectual left in the US. The octogenerian author, a historian, WWII-veteran and civil rights activist, has become quite famous in the US, but (unlike his friend and occasional co-author Noam Chomsky) is not well-known outside America yet. Zinn’s German publisher, Schwarzer Freitag in Berlin, is run by German Fulbright Alumnus Andreas Freitag.

You can order the book directly via the publishers or support the Atlantic Review by ordering it on Amazon.de. Schwarzer Freitag has also published the DVD “You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train”, a documentary about Howard Zinn with German subtitles. For more information on Howard Zinn, visit Wikipedia (German, English) or the following websites: www.howardzinn.org; www.howardzinn.de.

If the complete edition puts too much of a burden on your financial or time budget (700 pages, € 28.80), consider buying one or more out of nine slim volumes that comprise two to three chapters each (circa 100-150 pages, € 7,80).

Kosovo: Is the EU Home Alone in the Balkans?

The UN deadline for negotiations between Serbs and Kosovars expired today. Writing for the Washington Post (Nov. 23), Richard Holbrooke predicted this failure and expressed his pessimism regarding the Balkans' future:

The United States and most of the European Union (led by Britain, France and Germany) will recognize Kosovo quickly. Russia and its allies will not. Kosovo's eight-year run as the biggest-ever U.N. project will end with great tension and a threat of violence that could spread to Bosnia.

A bit "hidden" in brackets within a paragraph full of praise for Clinton's Balkan's achieve and criticism for Bush's neglect of the region, Holbrooke opines:

(However, the State Department did not prevent Rumsfeld from prematurely turning the NATO command in Bosnia over to a weak E.U. Force, a terrible mistake.)

I have a lot of respect for Dick Holbrooke, who negotiated the Dayton Accords and wrote the terrific book "To End a War" (Amazon.com, Amazon.de). The book was so well written, it reads like a good thriller. But: Is Holbrooke right about that "terrible mistake"? Is the EU force still to weak or can the EU manage to send in sufficient reinforcements, as promised?

In 1991, soon after the start of the Yugoslav civil war, Luxembourg's foreign minister Jacques Poos thought that Europe could stop the fighting on its own and famously declared: "This is the hour of Europe." I wonder how much has changed in the last decade and a half?

Given the little European support for Iraq and Afghanistan, quite a number of Americans have said that the United States should not come to the rescue of the West Europeans the next time they (we) get into trouble.

Will the Bush administration indeed stay out of this issue, if -- or rather: when -- the s*** hits the fan? I doubt it, because President Bush has been pretty vocal regarding Kosovo independence and expressed concern about Russian sphere's of influence.

The Return of Fear

This is a guest blog post by Don, who lives and works in England:

I am an expat American who has been a staunch advocate of free-market capitalism for many years, and still mostly believe that. In recent years I have come to believe that the pressures of globalisation have opened certain fissures in the free-market model and have come to better appreciate certain aspects of the welfare state.

I have come to see definate advantages to certain aspects of the welfare state over the past few years as I've come to know the National Health Service (NHS) better and have observed the problems that Americans have with the health care insurance system in the US while being thankful that I don't have to deal with it personally. British historian Tony Judt wrote an essay masquerading as a book review in the New York Review of Books which contains some interesting analysis. It is a review of Robert Reich's recent book: "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life" (Amazon.com, Amazon.de).

Judt first takes Reich to task for penning a trenchant critique of the current state of the world but wimping out in the end by refusing to identify the villains of the story, but his most interesting point comes late in the book review when Judt writes about the return of fear to the citizenry of Western countries:

Thanks in large measure to the state-provided public services and safety nets incorporated into their postwar systems of governance, the citizens of the advanced countries lost the gnawing sense of insecurity and fear that had dominated and polarized political life from 1914 through the early Fifties and which was largely responsible for the appeal of both fascism and communism in those years.

But we have good reason to believe that this may be about to change. Fear is reemerging as an active ingredient of political life in Western democracies. Fear of terrorism, of course; but also, and perhaps more insidiously, fear of the uncontrollable speed of change, fear of the loss of employment, fear of losing ground to others in an increasingly unequal distribution of resources, fear of losing control of the circumstances and routines of one's daily life. And, perhaps above all, fear that it is not just we who can no longer shape our lives but that those in authority have lost control as well, to forces beyond their reach.

I agree. In the case of the US I might add the fear of being overwhelmed by illegal immigrants and the fear of losing one's property due to catastrophic health problems. I think this deserves some discussion.

Related post in the Atlantic Review: Using the United States to Scare Germans

Transatlantic Dialogues in Berlin

"Europe has to lead and America will follow," according to Jeremy Rifkin, author of the recent best-seller The European Dream. How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. (Original: Amazon.com; Amazon.de; Deutsche Übersetzung: Amazon.de;) Rifkin recently spoke at the House of World Cultures in Berlin as part of the Transatlantic Dialogues series. Find more information on the program and on Rifkin's book as well as an open blog for discussion here.
For a review of The European Dream by Tony Judt see The New York Review of Books.

WSJ Recommends Books about Germany

The Wall Street Journal lets Harvard Professor Steven Ozment list five books that "excel in their portraits of Germany and the German people." Via Clive Davis.
I have not read any of these books, thus I can't comment on them. Question to readers: How much can history books (like those recommended by the WSJ) help to understand
today's Germany and the Germans?

Farewell, Hello, Mr Vonnegut

On April 11th, Kurt Vonnegut, “one of the defining voices of post-war America”, as The Economist calls him, died at the age of 84. He was the son of an American father and a German mother and witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945 as a prisoner of war there.
“Although Mr Vonnegut's experience in Dresden shaped his world view, it took him 24 years and seven novels before he wrote the “famous Dresden book” he had promised. “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Amazon.com, Amazon.de), published in 1969 against the backdrop of racial unrest and the Vietnam war, propelled him from science-fiction writer (a label he abhorred) to literary icon,” the Economist continues in its obituary.
It is this novel, The Guardian further elaborates, that “contained the phrase that became most closely associated with him and that could most fittingly serve as his epitaph: 'So it goes.' The words recur throughout the book each time a death is recorded.
“Slaughterhouse-Five” reached No. 1 on best-seller lists, making Mr. Vonnegut a cult hero”, and ‘so it goes’ became a catchphrase for opponents of the Vietnam war,” adds the New York Times.
Showing his typical dark humor, Kurt Vonnegut himself wrote in an introduction for a special edition of his most famous work ten years after its first publication:    
The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.
Let’s hope that Kurt Vonnegut’s death has one single benefit, too: causing lots of people to (re-) read his fabulous book.