Sunday, September 24, 2017

How Merkel’s Win May Hide Rising Discontent by Andrew SPANNAUS

EDITOR'S CHOICE | 24.09.2017

The citizens of Germany will head to the polls this Sunday, in the last of a series of elections in major European countries this year. Before the voting began, there were fears that populist, anti-system parties could actually win in some cases, in the wake of the victory of last year’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. That hasn’t happened, as Marine Le Pen of the National Front was defeated in a run-off in France, and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party failed to break through in Holland.

President Donald J. Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel on July 7, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Germany is also expected to weather the populist storm, with Chancellor Angela Merkel set to be re-elected. Her Christian Democratic Party (CDU/CSU) now holds a comfortable lead over its main competitor, the Social Democrats (SPD), with the other opposition parties far behind. That will give Merkel, a reserved but effective politician who grew up in Communist East Germany, the chance to approach Helmut Kohl’s record as the country’s longest serving leader.
Due to the parliamentary system, which allows numerous smaller parties to send representatives to Berlin, neither of the large parties can win outright, which means that Merkel will need to form a coalition. Her preference would be to take on her party’s historical ally, the Free Democrats, but it is possible she will be forced to continue with a “grand coalition” agreement between the CDU and SPD to share power in the name of stability, while keeping out the parties seen as more extreme.
The most feared of the smaller groupings is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a “populist” party that has grown rapidly in recent years, drawing on economic and social discontent in the mold of other anti-system parties around Europe. The AfD is expected to draw slightly more than 10 percent of the vote, well below the totals for Marine Le Pen in France (21 percent in the first round) or the Five-Star Movement in Italy (25 percent in 2013), and closer to the level of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland (13 percent in the March elections).
Nevertheless, the AfD’s growth has caused consternation around Europe, as the governing elites struggle to explain why even in the country with the continent’s strongest economy, where unemployment is low, and productivity and budget surpluses are high, there has been a rapid increase in populist fervor.
The standard explanation, of course, is xenophobia and racism. Indeed the AfD plays to nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment, and has increasingly identified itself with right-wing issues. As immigration from the Middle East and Africa has soared in recent years, European countries have struggled with accepting and integrating the new arrivals, causing considerable social tensions.
Germany was at the center of this crisis in 2015, when Merkel went against the grain of public opinion and announced that her country would accept hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers in order to do its part for those less fortunate, in particular refugees from the war in Syria.
It didn’t take long for that policy to change though, as less than a year later Germany was decisive in reaching a deal with President Erdogan of Turkey that ended up limiting immigration by closing the land route towards Europe through the Balkans. The result has been a shift of migrant flows to the sea routes from Northern Africa primarily to Italy and Greece, accompanied by a notable change in attitudes among the respective populations.
Economic Inequality
As with most populist movements throughout the Western world, the issues of immigration and race tell only a part of the story. The Brexit vote was fueled by a reaction against neo-liberal economic policies, effectively summed up by the headline of an article in the English newspaper The Guardian shortly after the referendum in June 2016: “If you’ve got money, you vote in… if you haven’t got money, you vote out.” Decades of economic decline had produced the desire to stick it to the governing elites, and the Brexit vote provided an excellent opportunity to do so.
Syrian women and children refugees at Budapest railway station. (Photo from Wikipedia)
In addition, there has even been academic research demonstrating the obvious, that racial attitudes are influenced by economic hardship, which provides fertile ground for the growth of extremist parties.
The same can be said for the United States, of course, as Donald Trump’s victory was based in large part on his appeal to voters who feel left behind by globalization, and left out by a political system that has favored those at the top. Racist and anti-immigrant sentiment is clearly present, but Trump’s decisive margin came from sectors of the population such as union workers in the Rust Belt, not pro-Confederates in the South.
As for Germany, the question is where the impetus comes for the rise of anti-system political forces, beyond the standard explanation involving immigration and right-wing social issues. With the country considered to be doing so well economically, the narrative doesn’t seem to fit as well.
A clear-eyed analysis, however, makes it clear that the conditions for a revolt of the voters based on economic hardship are present there as well. First there is the eastern part of the country, the former “German Democratic Republic” which belonged to the Communist bloc dominated by the Soviet Union. Despite the claims of great success in the years following German reunification, the reality is that much of the industry in the East was cannibalized by western companies, and a large segment of the population lives on welfare.
The economy of the former Communist country was obviously inefficient and required modernization, but the approach taken by the West was to shut down and sell off whatever was available, leaving the East in a perpetual state of inferiority.
Annual reports published by the German government show that significant disparities persist between the two areas of the country, with higher unemployment, lower wages and less investment in the East. The ownership and control of Germany’s considerable industrial capacity also remains principally in the West.
Exploiting the Unemployed
A second major factor is the system of labor market and welfare reforms introduced in Germany in the 2000s. The most famous is the “Hartz IV” law, which provides unemployment subsidies of just 280 euros ($330) a month, and forces people to accept whatever jobs they are offered, even at only 1-2 euros an hour.
German companies have done very well with this system, that allows them to exploit extremely cheap and flexible labor. Critics points to this as one – although certainly not the only – factor contributing to the great success of German industry in Europe.
For the six million citizens trapped in the system though, things aren’t so great. There are entire areas called “Hartz IV neighborhoods,” indicating widespread socio-economic difficulties among the local population. If we add the high level of “working poor,” a category that has reached 9 percent of the population in Germany, it becomes clear where the populist movements can look for votes on economic issues.
What scares the elites in Europe is that political parties that criticize European Union economic policies will eventually break through, thanks to support among these segments of the population. The E.U. is in fact rightly associated with the monetarist and neo-liberal policies that have contributed to producing greater inequality and thus causing hardship for many across Europe.

In the end, Holland, France and Germany will succeed in keeping the populist parties out of government this year. (Italy will vote in 2018, and the 5-Star Movement is still challenging for the top spot.) The risk is that the European elites may take this as an opportunity to continue with their neo-liberal policies of recent years, which will ultimately only make the situation worse.

Russia calls Trump’s bluff – Lavrov says US afraid of attacking North Korea


Lavrov cited the model of mutually assured destruction, which ultimately prevented nuclear conflict during the Cold War era.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dramatically called the bluff of the US President who just hours ago threatened North Korea with regime change after North Korea delivered a strongly worded rebuttal of Trump’s UN speech at the General Assembly.
The Tweet repeated a slightly modified version of Trump’s “Rocket Man” insult.
However, while many are panicking over a war of words between nuclear powers, Sergey Lavrov has stated that the “mutually assured destruction” model of deterrence will ultimately work out in the interests of peace.
The Russian Foreign Minister stated,“Americans won’t strike Korea, because not only do they suspect, but know for sure that Pyongyang has nuclear weapons”.
He continued,“Regarding this issue, President Putin has repeatedly said it was impossible to imagine that the US or someone else has 100 percent information on all of the (nuclear) objects”.
This remark implies that Russia believes North Korea’s nuclear capacity to be stronger than many believe it to be. This is crucial as no country is fully aware of the specific nature of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capacity.
He added words of extra caution however, given the unpredictable nature of the current US President.
Lavrove said,“…the situation could spiral out of control, so that thousands, dozens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands innocent people will suffer in South Korea, as well as in the North, certainly in Japan, with Russia and China nearby too”.
The deeply irresponsible remarks made by Donald Trump, threatening to completely destroy North Korea have many worried, but Russia’s Foreign Minister seems assured that the US is too scared to attack a country that can fight back with nuclear weapons.
This is in line with previous remarks of  Russian President Vladimir Putin who reminded the world during the recent Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, that North Korea’s weapons programme is a natural result of the very legitimate fears that if defenceless, North Korea could be invaded in the way the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011.
Sergey Lavrov previously referred to the war of words between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un as a fight between children in a kindergarten.

Zur nuklearen Krise auf der koreanischen Halbinsel

Stellungnahme des Präsidenten der International Progress Organization, Prof. Dr. phil. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Hans Köchler – Wien, 30. August 2017 

Die International Progress Organization begrüsst die Erklärung des Präsidenten des Uno-Sicherheitsrates vom 29. August 2017, in welcher er das Festhalten des Rates am Konzept einer atomwaffenfreien koreanischen Halbinsel bekräftigt und zu einer friedlichen und umfassenden Lösung der Krise durch Dialog aufruft. 
Unter Hinweis auf die von der International Progress Organization mit unterstützte Erklärung von Nicht-Regierungsorganisationen vom 14. Juli 2003, betreffend den Korea-Konflikt und die Gefahr der nuklearen Proliferation, bekräftigen wir unseren Standpunkt, dass die vom Sicherheitsrat verfolgte Politik der Wirtschaftssanktionen vor allem die Zivilbevölkerung trifft, nicht aber die gewünschten politischen Ergebnisse bringen wird. Die laufend verschätften Strafmassnahmen, die der Sicherheitsrat seit 2006 gegen Nordkorea verhängt hat, haben die Spannungen nur erhöht und diplomatische Verhandlungen schwieriger gemacht. Nach den wiederholten Atom- und Raketentests von Nordkorea und den vielen grossen, gemeinsam mit Südkorea abgehaltenen Militärmanövern der Vereinigten Staaten – beides begleitet von kriegerischen Stellungnahmen der jeweils anderen Seite –, könnte ein Zwischenfall oder eine Fehleinschätzung eine umfassende militärische Konfrontation auslösen – mit verheerenden Folgen sowohl für Nord- und Südkorea als auch für Japan. 
Forderungen nach einer Verhandlungslösung – wie sie wiederholt vom Sicherheitsrat geäussert wurden – werden nur glaubwürdig sein, wenn alle Seiten von weiteren Provokationen Abstand nehmen und sich der Sicherheitsrat selbst mit dem Kernproblem der Krise befasst: dem ungelösten Konflikt und der Teilung des Landes als Folge des Korea-Krieges von 1950 –1953. Es ist daran zu erinnern, dass, solange es keinen Friedensvertrag gibt, das Waffenstillstandsabkommen vom 27. Juli 1953 weiterhin gilt. 
Wenn man die Situation sachlich analysieren und zu brauchbaren Kompromissvorschlägen kommen will, muss man sich der historischen Tatsachen bewusst sein und die Abfolge der Ereignisse verstehen, die zur gegenwärtigen Krise geführt haben. Gemäss Paragraph 13 (d) des Waffenstillstandsabkommens, das gemeinsam von US-General William K. Harrison Jr. (für das Kommando der Vereinten Nationen) und General Nam Il (für die Koreanische Volksarmee und die chinesischen Freiwilligenverbände) unterzeichnet wurde, dürfen keine «weiteren Kampfflugzeuge, gepanzerten Fahrzeuge, Waffen und Munition» nach Korea «eingeführt werden». 
Indem sie im Verlauf von 1958/1959 atomar bestückte Raketen und atomare Geschütze in Südkorea stationierten, haben die Vereinigten Staaten diese Bestimmung einseitig ausser Kraft gesetzt und somit das  geltende Abkommen verletzt. Dieser Völkerrechtsbruch stand am Anfang des nordkoreanischen Atom- und Raketenprogrammes. Als Teil der «Presidential Nuclear Initiative» von Präsident George H. W. Bush zogen die Vereinigten Staaten 1991 ihre taktischen Atomwaffen von der koreanischen Halbinsel ab. Darauf folgte die «Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula» [Gemeinsame Erklärung von Süd- und Nordkorea zur Entnuklearisierung der koreanischen Halbinsel], die am 19. Februar 1992 in Kraft trat. Gemäss Artikel 1 der Erklärung «dürfen Süd- und Nordkorea Atomwaffen weder testen noch herstellen, empfangen, besitzen, lagern, einsetzen oder nutzen».
Die Bestimmungen dieser Erklärung sind jedoch toter Buchstabe geblieben. Trotz seines öffentlichen Bekenntnisses hat Nordkorea sein Atomprogramm heimlich fortgeführt. Zunehmende Spannungen und Misstrauen auf beiden Seiten haben jetzt eine Situation geschaffen, in der ein atomar bewaffnetes Nordkorea offen die nukleare Grossmacht USA herausfordert. 
Trotz immer härterer Sanktionen, die vom Sicherheitsrat seit dem 15. Juli 2006 verhängt wurden, hat der andauernde Streit sich jedem diplomatischen Kompromiss entzogen und ist statt dessen der Logik der Abschreckung gefolgt. Die Tatsache, dass Länder wie der Irak und Libyen, nachdem sie ihre nuklearen Ambitionen aufgegeben hatten, Opfer einer Politik des sogenannten «regime change» geworden sind, hat die Situation auf der koreanischen Halbinsel noch viel schwieriger gemacht. Bei fehlendem Vertrauen auf allen Seiten scheint die nukleare Abschreckung für manche die einzige Option zu sein.
Während Nordkorea, das sich von den Resolutionen des Sicherheitsrates nicht abschrecken lässt, seine Nuklear- und Raketentechnik weiterentwickelt, haben die Vereinigten Staaten auf der Grundlage des Vertrages zur gegenseitigen Verteidigung («Mutual Defense Treaty» vom 1. Oktober 1953) Südkorea die «Fortsetzung der erweiterten Abschreckung, die durch den nuklearen Schutzschirm der USA gegeben ist», zugesichert. (Joint Communiqué, 38th Security Consultative Meeting between the United States and South Korea, Washington DC, 20 October 2006)
Unter diesen Umständen, die nicht von normativen Überlegungen, sondern von der internationalen Realpolitik bestimmt sind, muss eine glaubwürdige Friedenspolitik, wie unerfreulich auch immer dies erscheinen mag, die Mechanismen der Abschreckung zur Kenntnis nehmen, bevor ein Weg in Richtung Dialog eröffnet werden kann. Wir dürfen nicht die Tatsache ignorieren, dass die führenden Atommächte, die dem Vertrag über die Nichtverbreitung von Kernwaffen (NPT) beigetreten sind, trotz aller Lippenbekenntnisse zum Anliegen der atomaren Abrüstung, zu der sie sich nach Artikel VI des Vertrages selbst verpflichtet haben, bisher keine glaubwürdigen Schritte in diese Richtung unternommen haben. Diese Staaten sind auch nicht dem Kernwaffenteststopp-Vertrag (Compehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty/CTBT) beigetreten. 
Wenn die an Nordkorea gerichtete Forderung, seine Atomwaffen aufzugeben, glaubwürdig sein soll, sind vertrauensbildende Massnahmen auf der Grundlage der Gegenseitigkeit – der Reziprozität – unverzichtbar. So lange das Gefühl der Unsicherheit vorherrscht, sind sinnvolle – und das heisst sachliche, rationale – Verhandlungen nicht möglich. (Dies ist auch beim Scheitern des Projektes, den Nahen Osten im Rahmen des NPT zu einer atomwaffenfreien Zone zu machen, schmerzhaft deutlich geworden.) Ob auf der koreanischen Halbinsel oder in anderen Regionen – nukleare Abrüstung kann nicht auf unilateraler Basis erfolgen. Sie muss umfassend sein und sowohl den Abbau der nordkoreanischen Kapazitäten als auch die Beendigung der Politik eines sogenannten «nuklearen Schutzschirmes» der Vereinigten Staaten für Südkorea mit einschliessen. Dies muss schliesslich zu einem Auslaufen der Sicherheitsallianzen auf beiden Seiten und zu einem gemeinsamen Bekenntnis von Nord- und Südkorea zur Neutralität in der Aussenpolitik führen.
Der vom Sicherheitsrat geforderte «umfassende Lösungsansatz» muss – zusätzlich zu den Zwangsmassnahmen nach Kapitel VII der Uno-Charta – diese globalen politischen Aspekte berücksichtigen.      •
Wien, 30. August 2017/26574c-is
(Übersetzung aus dem Englischen: Zeit-Fragen)

Schweiz als möglicher Verhandlungsort?

zf. Bundespräsidentin Doris Leuthard hat am 6. September vor ausländischen Journalisten die Schweiz als Verhandlungsort für die Konfliktparteien in bezug auf die Korea-Krise ins Spiel gebracht: «Es ist nun wirklich Zeit, sich an einen Tisch zu setzen. Grossmächte haben eine Verantwortung.» ( vom 6.9.2017) 
In einem Interview sprach sich auch alt  Bundesrätin Micheline Calmy-Rey als ehemalige Amtsvorsteherin des Eidgenössischen Departements für das Äussere EDA dezidiert für Vermittlungen mit Schweizer Unterstützung aus. Man könne ähnlich wie bei den erfolgreichen Atomverhandlungen mit Iran eine initiative Rolle einnehmen. (Tagesschau srf vom 6. September 2017)
Immer wieder kann die Schweiz in der Tradition der Guten Dienste in zugespitzten oder verhärteten Konflikten zwischen ausländischen Mächten als neutrales Land Brücken bauen oder Konflikte entschärfen.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Deutschland eine US-Kolonie? (Phoneix 2013)

Trump’s UN speech heralds end of the American empire says Catherine Shakdam

Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising - Under The Banner Of The First Imam 
Trump’s UN speech heralds end of the American empire
The floor of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will long echo from US President Donald Trump’s military grandstanding against Iran and North Korea. In fact, it is likely his tirade will be remembered as the start of the sunset on the American empire.
While I’m sure Donald Trump intended his address to project America’s hegemonic power to the extent that all nations would come to understand the pointlessness of their resistance, I fear such bombastic bravado betrays Washington’s deep-seated insecurity. Whether the United States cares to admit it or not, the fact is its power is waning.
Whether it is Washington’s propensity to pursue foreign-policy making from a military perspective, or its inability to assert control on the many fronts it has opened up overseas, America is paying the price of its relentless ambitions.
Never mind the fact that a formerly gullible public is now becoming suspicious of the many lies the neocons have posited in the name of war: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen … how many wars can one country run before war becomes its sole raison d’etre - the very matrix upon which its existence is anchored? Therein I would say is the root of America’s demise.
America’s love affair with its military complex will prove to be its Achilles’ heel. Empires are bound to disappear, and territorial ambitions broken before that of others. The US, one may argue, is living on borrowed time now that other powers have emerged - pertinent to this article, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Allow me to offer a theory to America’s antagonism toward Iran. The context here is essential. Let us just assume that there is more to Washington’s ire than a democratic hungering, especially if we consider that Iran, despite what we hear in the media, is a well-adjusted democracy. If we are to be rational in our analysis, we must recognize that America’s fallout with Iran has very little to do with the fashion of its governance and everything to do with the fact that Iran proclaimed itself sovereign and independent in its territory.
Such independence of course translated into the nationalization of Iran’s natural resources and a revamp of its position toward Western capitals. While such a decision certainly left a sizable gap in Her Majesty’s coffer (aka Great Britain), one ought to be careful when denying a country the right to self-governance - especially since Western democracies thrived on the very principle of sovereign political self-determination.
The Washington-Iran binary exists out of a need to control natural resources and military waterways. I would ask here some license from readers as I am forced to simplify what otherwise would require several books. To better appreciate America’s profound antipathy for Iran, one must cast one’s eyes to pre-1979 Iran, when the Shah still entertained his Western guests to the tune of lavish parties and obscene displays of wealth.
A giant sitting at the heart of the Islamic world, Iran’s wealth guarantees that its leadership will enjoy tremendous political traction both regionally and on the global scene. It is how such traction would manifest which irks the United States.
Last month, Henry Kissinger argued that Iran would soon rise as an empire should ISIS be destroyed, betraying Washington’s innermost fear, and one may even find America’s direct ties to terrorism. It is rather clear from Kissinger’s comments that ISIS has acted somewhat of a buffer to Iran’s geopolitical reach in the Greater Middle East region.
He wrote“The outside world’s war with ISIS can serve as an illustration. Most non-ISIS powers — including Shia Iran and the leading Sunni states — agree on the need to destroy it. But which entity is supposed to inherit its territory? A coalition of Sunnis? Or a sphere of influence dominated by Iran?”
I read two things in those comments:
One, Kissinger still holds to the binary architecture he believes will best guarantee regional insolvency, and thus secure America’s dominance - that notion that Sunni and Shia Islam must absolutely exist in antagonism when really so very few differences set them apart. Sectarianism continues to serve as an asymmetrical weapon of war, it is not contextual to the Islamic world, and it certainly has nothing to do with how nations have defined their sovereign identity.
Two, Kissinger exposed America’s inherent fear that an independent Iran will serve as both a model and an inspiration for other nations in the immediate region to stand free within their borders. ISIS we might as well come to terms with is nothing but a valuable asset wielded by imperial powers to together justify military interventionism, and sow discord at the heart of a region with immense geopolitical power.
In short, America’s future relevance is reliant upon Washington’s ability to distort ideologies, explode territorialities and promote sectarian-based terrorism in the Mid-East. Iran’s re-emergence onto the regional and international scene is here but a by-product of America’s imperial folly.
Contrary to common belief Iran does not harbor colonial ambitions. Iran, in fact, has been a fervent advocate for political independence on the basis it has claimed its own away from tyranny. In a speech at a conference on Palestine in late February both Ayatollah Khamenei and Ali Larijani insisted on the need to promote independence and political self-determination as the bedrock of peace and stability.
Such a position was echoed by Seyed Ibrahim Raisi, custodian and chairman of Astan Quds Razavi when he insisted to me that “Iran does not seek to export its system of governance only our principles of justice and fair representation.”
He added: “Iran will always come to the help of those who call upon it.”
And NO, Mr. Kissinger, Iran is by no means radical in its makeup. It may still be a working democratic progress … which nation can claim to democratic absolutism? But Iran is nevertheless a far more progressive state than many of the US so-called ‘friends'.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Trump’s UN Speech: the Swamp’s Wine in an ‘America First!’ Bottle JAMES GEORGE JATRAS

Trump’s UN Speech: the Swamp’s Wine in an ‘America First!’ Bottle
 | 22.09.2017 | OPINION

In his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump invoked the terms “sovereign” and “sovereignty” 21 times. In a manner unimaginable coming from any other recent occupant of the White House, the President committed the United States to the principle of national sovereignty and to the truth that “the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.” More, Trump rightly pointed out that these pertain not just to the US and the safeguarding of American sovereignty but to all countries:
“In foreign affairs, we are renewing this founding principle of sovereignty. Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens -- to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.
“As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”
Then he took it all back.
Listening to the president, one would almost think Trump was giving two different speeches, one rhetorical and one substantive. The rhetorical speech (reportedly authored by Stephen Miller) was the most stirring advocacy one could hope for of the rule of law and of the Westphalian principle of the sovereign state as the bedrock of the international order. The substantive speech, no doubt written by someone on the National Security Council staff, abrogates the very same Westphalian principle with the unlimited prerogatives of the planet’s one government that reserves the right to violate or abolish the sovereignty of any other country – or to destroy that country altogether – for any reason political elites in Washington decide. 
Numerous commentators immediately rushed to declare that Trump had dialed back to George W. Bush’s 2002 “Axis of Evil” speech. (The phrase is attributed to then-speechwriter David Frum, now a moving figure behind the “Committee to Investigate Russia,” which in the sage opinion of Rob Reiner and Morgan Freeman claims “we are at war” with Russia already.) Trump has now laid down what amounts to declarations of war against both North Korea and Iran. On both he has left himself very little room for maneuver, or for any compromise that would be regarded as weakness or Obama-style “leading from behind.” While hostilities against both countries may not be imminent (though in the case of North Korea, they might be) we are, barring unforeseen circumstances, now approaching the point of no return.
With respect to North Korea, some people assume that because the consequences would be patently catastrophic the “military option” must be off the table and that all this war talk is just bluster. That assumption is dead wrong. The once unthinkable is not only thinkable, it is increasingly probable. As Trump said: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” This is exactly backwards. Threatening North Korea with total destruction doesn’t equate to the defense of the US (forget about our faux allies South Korea and Japan, which contribute nothing to our security), it positively increases the danger to our country and people. The Deep State would rather risk the lives of almost 30,000 American military personnel in Korea, of hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of South Koreans, and of even more millions in North Korea – not to mention prodding Pyongyang to accelerate acquisition of a capability for a nuclear strike on the United States itself – than pry its grip off of a single square meter of our forward base against China on the northeast Asian mainland.
With respect to Iran, the relevant passages of Trump’s speech could as well have been drafted in the Israeli and Saudi foreign ministries – and perhaps they were. Paradoxically, such favoritism toward some countries and hatred for others is the exact opposite of the America First! principle on which Trump won the presidency. As stated in his Farewell Address by our first and greatest president (wait – are we still allowed to say that? George Washington was a slave-owner!), a country that allows itself to be steered not by its own interests but the interests of others negates it own freedom and becomes a slave to its foreign affections and antipathies:
“The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.”
Not to belabor the obvious, at least as far as foreign policy goes, the would-be Swamp-drainer has lost and the Swamp has won. We can speculate as to why. Some say Trump was always a liar and conman and had no intention of keeping his promises. (Let’s see what he does on the “Dreamers” and throwing away his wall on the Mexican border. As Ann Coulter says, “If Trump doesn’t get that wall built, and fast, his base will be done with him and feed him to Robert Mueller.”) Others say Trump meant what he said during the campaign but now surrounded by generals and globalists that dominate his administration, and with populists in the White House now about as common as passenger pigeons, he’s a virtual captive. If so, it’s a captivity of his own making.
To be fair, Trump’s populism was never based on consistent non-interventionism. In 2016 he promised more money for the Pentagon and vowed to be the most “militaristic” president ever. Still, he seemed to understand that wars of choice unrelated to vital national interests, like Bush’s in Iraq and Obama’s in Libya, were a waste of untold billions of dollars and produced only disasters.
His acceptance of the Swamp’s continuation of the war in Afghanistan was his first major stumble towards the dismal path of his predecessors. War against North Korea or Iran, or God forbid both, would wreck his presidency and his pledge to “Make America Great Again!” even more surely than Iraq ruined Bush’s.
Still unanswered: does Trump know that, does he care, and does he have the wherewithal to do anything about it? At the moment, it doesn’t look good.

Germany’s Dismal Election

Complacent elite rejects all change even as Germany’s problems mount

epa05730233 German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the commemoration of the victims of the Berlin Christmas market terror truck attack in the German Parliament, in Berlin, Germany, 19 January 2017. EPA/CLEMENS BILAN

On Sunday Germany votes in an election from which Chancellor Merkel’s CDU party is universally expected to remain the largest but which none of the underlying problems which affect Germany have been addressed.
One of the problems involved in discussing Germany is that the image of the country as a runaway economic success story is so powerful that it makes objective analysis of its problems difficult.
The reality is that Germany is indeed a very rich and economically successful country.  However there are growing problems that put its long term prospects in doubt, and these are being ignored rather than addressed.
Briefly, the German system as it evolved after the Second World War involved a political and financial system heavily geared towards high business investment.
The secret of German economic success was the close collaboration of decentralised regional governments and banks with a partially cartelised business community, with the whole system underpinned by high savings and a well trained and well organised workforce.
Key to the success of the system was a monetary policy geared towards creating low inflation and high savings, and a fiscal policy that avoided deficit.
The result was indeed high business investment drawing on high savings in conditions of extreme price stability within a strictly controlled competitive environment, enabling German business to remain continuously competitive even as German wages and living standards steadily rose.
Over the last decades this system has slowly unravelled as German banks have become less focused on Germany’s domestic economy and more involved in the international financial system, and as Germany has integrated itself ever more deeply into the EU’s institutions and has replaced the Deutschmark with the euro.
The result is that savings and investment in the German economy have fallen from their historic post war highs, so that the total rate of investment in the German economy has fallen from around 30% of GDP in the early 1980s to around 19% now, with the two biggest falls taking place in 1990 (at the time of unification) and in 2000 (at the time of the introduction of the euro), with the rate of investment unchanged since then.
Moreover recently pressure on savings has been increasing further because of the zero interest rate/quantitative easing policy of the European Central Bank, whose lax monetary policy is also causing Germany to experience for the first time in its post Second World War history on a sustained basis a property price boom, something which the Bundesbank, Germany’s own central bank, always anxious to direct investment towards businesses rather than fixed assets, had previously always acted to choke off.
The Germans have responded to the fall in investment in their classic way, striving to keep their economy internationally competitive by compensating for the fall in investment with downward pressure on wages.
In addition Germany has sought to continue to run a budget surplus – operating its economy ‘within its means’ as it is called – a policy whose intended and actual effect is to choke off imports.
Taken together with the relative weakness of the euro (as compared to the strength of any currency Germany might have had if it still had the Deutschmark) these policies have kept the German economy internationally competitive, causing it to run a massive surplus.
However the continued downward pressure on wages, the action taken to make the German workforce more ‘flexible’ (the so-called Hartz IV reforms), the refusal to run a budget deficit (causing public investment to collapse), and the property price boom, are making German society more unequal, and are increasing pressure on living standards.
Needless to say that feeds resentment and It is anyway debatable how sustainable a system, which compensates lower wages for lower investment, in the end is.
At this point it is important to make some qualifiers.  The German economy remains exceptionally strong and the standard of living in Germany remains by international standards extremely high.  The problems, though real, are still in their infancy, and there is time and space to turn things round.
Germany’s real problem is not that its problems are intractable.  It is that under Angela Merkel, who became the CDU’s leader in 2000 – just as the second big fall in the economy’s rate of investment took place – and who has been Germany’s Chancellor since 2005, no serious attempt to address these problems has been taking place.
At a time when Germany needs purposeful policies to turn things round, Merkel’s complacent “keep calm and carry on” approach is leaving them as they are.
The result is that behind the facade of contentment there is growing unease.  Some of the consequences have been well described in a recent article by Andrew Spannaus
A …. major factor is the system of labor market and welfare reforms introduced in Germany in the 2000s. The most famous is the “Hartz IV” law, which provides unemployment subsidies of just 280 euros ($330) a month, and forces people to accept whatever jobs they are offered, even at only 1-2 euros an hour.
German companies have done very well with this system, that allows them to exploit extremely cheap and flexible labor. Critics points to this as one – although certainly not the only – factor contributing to the great success of German industry in Europe.
For the six million citizens trapped in the system though, things aren’t so great. There are entire areas called “Hartz IV neighborhoods,” indicating widespread socio-economic difficulties among the local population. If we add the high level of “working poor,” a category that has reached 9 percent of the population in Germany, it becomes clear where the populist movements can look for votes on economic issues.
This situation explains the strong reaction of many Germans when Merkel, without much consultation, suddenly threw open Germany’s and Europe’s doors to the mass refugee flow in 2015.  Inevitably many poorer working class Germans, who have been under growing economic pressure for some time, resented the fact that Merkel and the political establishment appeared to care more about the refugees than it cared about them.  In my opinion this was a far more important factor in the widespread protests in Germany against Merkel’s policy in 2015 than the supposed xenophobic or racist attitudes of lower class German voters, whose grandparents had accepted mass immigration from Turkey and southern Europe in the boom times of the 1950s and 1960s without protest.
Unfortunately the problem is not just Merkel.  The entire German political establishment is locked into the same complacency, so that she has fought the election without coming under any serious challenge.
That a thirst for such a challenge is there is shown by the brief surge of support for Martin Schultz after the SPD nominated as its Chancellor designate at the start of the year.  In the event – as I and many others predicted – Schulz has however proved to have been a truly dreadful choice, with offering no credible alternative to Merkel, so that after his brief surge the SPD’s polling figures have spiralled down.
The result is a dismal election, with a sense of Germany treading water.  Even neoliberal admirers of Merkel such as the Guardian’s Natalie Nougayrède are dismayed
Having spent this week in Germany, I am struck by another inward-looking syndrome. The German campaign has paid very little attention to Europe, not to mention the world beyond it. It has practically dispensed with the question of how the country should relate to realities beyond its borders: the global shifts at work, how to define its role in a changing environment, how to strategically prepare for the future, and the external impacts that may lie in store…..
The Germans simply don’t want to hear much about the troubles of our times and how to face them: they just want to hunker down and keep on living the good life – which is one of Merkel’s CDU party slogans…..
…..I’ve just spent days in Berlin, Leipzig and Munich, meeting officials, members of the Bundestag, municipal and regional elected representatives, and civil society activists, on a study tour of the German elections with the Robert Bosch Academy. Here are some of the comments I heard. On Germany’s potential leadership role in the Trump era: “The expectations other countries have towards Germany are sometimes exaggerated. We are self-confident, but we don’t have any missionary zeal. We are intensely aware of our history”; “Trump is disturbing, but to take up a leadership role is just too much for us.”
On Europe: “It’s not a topic in this campaign because all the parties, apart from the AfD [the far-right Alternative for Germany], are convinced by the European project. Germans need Europe to forget they are Germans. It’s how we break away from our national historical burden.” On eurozone reform (said with a touch of irony): “Macron wants progress, but it might be expensive for us.” And on Brexit (when asked about it): “It’s like a satire show.”
One of the most fascinating developments in Germany is that, contrary to many predictions, the 2015 refugee crisis has not upended the nation’s politics entirely. How come? In Britain, it contributed to producing Brexit. In France, it helped Le Pen collect 10m votes. In 2015 the world’s huddled, desperate masses came to Germany – and yet, two years on, the country hardly seems to worry about the state of the world, or wants to even discuss it. “We are proud of what we did, the welcome culture, but it mustn’t happen again,” is the main answer you get when raising the question.
Into the gap opened up by the German elite’s complacency has moved the AfD, the new political movement originally created by a group of professors to challenge the twin orthodoxies of Germany’s Atlanticist foreign policy and the euro, but which has gained popular traction as it has redefined itself as an anti-immigrant party and has veered towards the right.
How well the AfD will do in Sunday’s election remains to be seen.  Here however I will restate a view which I previously made in connection with the role in French politics of Marine Le Pen.  Since in Germany as in France there will alway be a majority against a challenge to the status quo from the right, the eventual effect in Germany of the AfD, as of Marine Le Pen in France, will be to reinforce the status quo, not to change it.
On the subject of Angela Merkel herself, though she retains many of her political skills and a large reservoir of support amongst Germany’s large centre right Christian electorate, she has increasingly come across in this election (at least to me) as tired and stale, something which incidentally was never true of her CDU predecessor Helmut Kohl.
Almost everyone expects this to be Merkel’s last election, and I have no doubt this is right.  Not only is Merkel’s time as Chancellor drawing to a close, but I doubt she will be around for much longer, and I think it is unlikely she will see out her full term.  Had the SPD picked a more charismatic and popular candidate than Martin Schulz, I have no doubt she would have been in serious trouble during the election, though the nature of the German political and electoral system always gives the incumbent Chancellor a big advantage.
Germany’s and Europe’s problem – and potentially their crisis – is that in the desert which is what Germany’s current politics have become, it is difficult to see any change coming after Merkel is finally gone.