Category Archives: Europe

#NEVERMYPRESIDENT

 

This is the winter of my discontent.

This is the winter of my discontent.

 

Just two weeks ago, the cosmic cycle, at least as we Earthlings see it, reached its end and immediately began its course anew. Our sun rises and sets. And the planets orbit that sun, oblivious to the species that dominates Planet Earth and continues the self-eviscerating process of destroying its own living, breathing environment, as well as slaughtering other species, even its own. Why do we do this? For wealth, for power? I suppose they are one and the same.

The above probably would not seem a promising start to a holiday letter. But it was what I spontaneously wrote as I contemplated our annual missive to friends and relatives.

Fortunately, I thought better of using it and attempted a more upbeat version.

Unfortunately, it reflects the writer’s state of mind this winter.

With massacres in Syria and the countless other atrocities that are causing the refugee floods from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere; with Europe weakened by Brexit, populist movements and insufficient leadership; with the new tenant moving into the White House, chosen by less than 25% of the electorate, having won (or actually LOST by 3 million popular votes) on a message of hate and division – no, sorry, neither my brain nor my heart can muster a message of optimism for the New Year 2017.

I have read that clinical depression is diagnosed when a person finds him/herself depressed for no apparent reason. So I can breathe a sigh of relief and begin the year with the certainty that I am definitely not clinically depressed.

No, for much, if not all my pessimism, can be explained by one huge event that will be sending shock waves through the planet for the foreseeable future: the election of Donald J. Trump to the American presidency. As most of my readers know, I don’t live in the US but in Germany. This year, for the first time since 2000 (when another Democratic candidate was cheated out of this post), I was in the US in November and experienced the circus firsthand. I became addicted to watching quality news broadcasting and following incredulously little t’s path to the Oval Office. I must say, any belief I had in the democratic election process has been thoroughly shaken, if not completely destroyed.

Now back home, I am still following as best I can, the way the US and the rest of the world have reacted to t’s alleged election victory. Since then, I’ve been participating enthusiastically in the fireworks ceaselessly exploding on Facebook, sharing articles that reflect my opinions – and it would seem, the opinions of many. It isn’t easy, but I try to stay away from name-calling FB users with views contrary to mine. (Many of them do not reciprocate the courtesy.) But I do not spare little t. He deserves any name that anyone calls him, except President.

It is true, I have not listened to the news on Fox nor read Breitbart online to discover if I have somehow missed little t’s good side: his presidential demeanor and diplomatic prowess, his magnanimous spirit, revelations of his much-touted “secret plans”. However, to this day – three days prior to his inauguration – the content of those secret plans to fix the Affordable Care Act or to end the war in Syria, have remained just that: secret. Why, even the Republicans who hold sway in both Houses of Congress are not that big on content either. In regard to repealing Obama Care, what are they going to replace it with?  They have no idea; they just know, it has to go! Who cares if millions of Americans lose their health care coverage!

I must confess that, rather than tuning in to Fox or Breitbart, I have relied solely on listening to t’s very own voice on TV, expounding his great, fantastic, big ideas, plans, programs, etc. Unfortunately, so far there is still no discernable content. Or to reprise an earlier presidential campaign: Where’s the beef? Gee, back then, voters actually asked that question. Now, it would seem many were satisfied with any empty hamburger roll.

Of course, it’s been hard to avoid the charming Kelly Anne Conway and her attempts to interpret the “World According to DJT” to the real world – what did little t actually mean when he said X, Y, Z? She has told us that we shouldn’t listen to his words but see what is in his heart.

This is about the time when I find myself gagging.

In fact, this is when we can change the station. We needn’t bother listening to her blather, for when she is done, we are none the wiser.

The biggest – in reality, the only hurdle to returning to normality is DONALD J TRUMP. With every Tweet he alienates anyone who voted against him. He widens the abyss and digs it deeper. No, you don’t have to watch CNN or MSNBC to become afraid of what t will do to the US, Europe, NATO or the UN. Not to mention the damage he will do in relations with Russia*(!!!), China and North Korea. All you need to do is read or listen to the unfiltered, unedited pronouncements emanating from his own mouth.

IMHO we have a right to worry.

So what lies ahead for 2017? Impeachment? Constitutional crises? Only the stars know.

*That’s a kettle of fish I’m going to leave the lid on right now. Can’t wait to find out what’s really in the pot. But one thing is for sure: it will stink.

The winter sun sets on my discontent.

The winter sun sets on my discontent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Disasters, Donald Trump, Europe, Politics, Syrian civil war, US Election 2016

FEAR AND LOATHING IN NEW JERSEY The 2016 US Election

This not-so-courageous blogger has ventured into the lion’s den to visit her sister as the US presidential election approaches its climax.on decision day: November 8th. To date, I have not broadcast my views on this platform, not for lack of strident opinions, but for more prosaic reasons. I have kept my political expression limited to outbursts on my private Facebook page where I have shared articles and news flashes about this brawl, also know as the Clinton – Trump presidential race.

Every election cycle brings with it far too little concentration on policies and problem solving and far too much mudslinging and defamation of the opponent. However, this time the vitriol is beyond vicious, the stakes are infinitely higher.

The US is poised on the brink of a precipice. If it now takes a wrong step, all the principles this country was built on will be shattered as they plummet into an abyss deeper than the Grand Canyon.

When in the past has the GOP succeeded in nominating a candidate it cannot support, where  elder Republican statesmen have declared they are voting for the Democratic opposition? This is unprecedented (No pun intended?).

No need for me to regurgitate all my reasons for opposing Trump and supporting Clinton. Thinking voters across the country – across the world! – have known for months exactly what these candidates represent. But with a choice between a seasoned, hard-working if flawed professional and a ranting, racist populist, well, there is just no contest.

I consider myself a student of history and have spent my entire adult life in Europe, where plenty of it happened in the 20th century. After World War II, the Americans were at the fore of rebuilding Germany into an exemplary democracy. The US, allied with Europe in NATO, stood as the guarantor of freedom in the face of the Soviet threat in the Cold War. Now, the great European democracies look west with horror in their eyes at the prospects of a Trump presidency, while Putin is rubbing his hands in glee.

My American friends and I in Germany have felt it necessary to apologize to the Germans and Brits we know for what has been going on in the US. It is as if their greatest mentor, their role model is outing itself as a charlatan.

Please, thinking fellow-Americans, get out there and vote for the only candidate who will  keep America great – Hillary Rodham Clinton!

 

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Filed under Europe, US Election 2016, World Wars

GUILTY PLEASURE

A time-out from the cares of the world?

Monday morning I headed out to Frankfurt for an appointment made a couple of months previously. Thank God for my sat-nav which would guide me to the location in a city where I rarely drive. But even with that support, I felt up-tight about the trip which was actually to take me to a place to relax.

The moment the car was parked I sighed with relief. And the closer I got to the 18th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel, I began to feel more at ease. Entering the Heaven Spa, I found the place empty but awash in the kind of all-world piano / flute music that sounds vaguely oriental and is meant to relax you immediately. It was working.

I don’t often allow myself this kind of decadent pleasure, but I’d received a gift certificate from my son D for my birthday. Or was it Christmas? Hard to say since they happen on the same day. At any rate, I had to take advantage of it before it expired and there I was, in a deserted spa, as if I were their only customer and they were only there to meet my needs.

I can’t deny finding that idea attractive. And yet, out in the world around me, hell had broken loose. Weeks before, Britain had decided to leave the EU for all the wrong reasons and was struggling to find a path forwards. The USA was in the grip of a divisive presidential election campaign that was pitting one megalomaniac against the first woman candidate who, unfortunately, has more than her fair share of detractors.

Not to mention that all over the place people were being murdered in the name of Allah, or by individuals feeling at odds with their world. Bullets were flying, bombs were going off, throats being slit, and trucks driven into crowds celebrating liberté, egalité and fraternité. How could I just let myself be pampered while across Europe people mourned their loved ones and faced shattered lives?

Good question. Nevertheless,  on that Monday morning I found myself in that enviable situation. The music started having its way with me and lured me into a separate place where a talented masseuse massaged away the cares of the world. Or tried to. And to an extent she succeeded. My eyelids closed, my limbs relaxed, my thoughts were set free for a blissful one and a half hours to think more pleasant thoughts than those I’d brought with me.

I started mentally composing a blog post – for me, that passes as relaxation. I pondered how I could write about the massage, of the physical release I feel when warm hands stretch and knead muscles. About what an ephemeral experience it was. The relaxation, I knew, would be fleeting. If I were lucky, I would benefit from it the rest of the day, until gradually all the nasty news bytes would catch up with me again. And heaven forbid, another tragedy could flash up as breaking news. After all, what right do I have to let the sorrows of the world go by without taking at least some notice?

Not that my thoughts will bring anyone back to life or ease the pain of those left behind. Nor will my single vote ensure that the American people do not destroy themselves in this election. However, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite poems and feel that in these perilous times, I mustn’t forget this message. Amazing, how timely it is.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624

An excerpt from Meditation 17

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Filed under BREXIT, Disasters, Europe, Great Britain, Poetry, Terror

Frans Timmermanns’ View of Brexit

 

I would like to share Frans Timmermanns’ Facebook article, elaborating his view, and indeed his sorrow, at Britain’s choice of leaving the EU.

Timmermanns is the Vice-President of the European Commission, and as we read in this piece, we recognize a true European in education and outlook.

Some of the comments/reactions to his words are also quite illuminating. I have not commented on his page, but as you may well assume, my sharing this is my way of agreeing with his views.

https://m.facebook.com/notes/frans-timmermans/when-in-rome-learning-to-understand-the-english/1132734193416105

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Filed under BREXIT, Disasters, Europe, Great Britain, Migration, Politics

POST-BREXIT BLUES

https://scontent-vie1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/13532954_927445477378417_7592389639846091400_n.jpg?oh=f8a9a08c1c6388b457c88fadea7c8fcb&oe=57EF95F0

The Continuing Saga of a Land Cursed

By Getting That for Which It Voted

 

Keeping up with the press in the last 10 days has been an exercise in head shaking, if not outright head banging. Two days after the Brexit debacle, the country was already in denial, and the disaffected were calling for a repeat referendum. And a lot of them had voted for Brexit!

All of a sudden, all that the leave campaign had promised if the UK left the EU became relativized. Like the 350 million pounds that would go straight into improving the National Health system. No, sorry, they couldn’t guarantee that. Well heck, just because they wrote it on the sides of big red buses and drove them non-stop around the land, that didn’t mean it would happen.

And well heck again, maybe that’s NOT what we pay into the EU every week any way – as the remain side told everybody, but no one seemed to want to hear it. It was the gross payment, and not the net payment, which is calculated after all that Britain gets back as support for various projects and the rebates that they jealousy accrued over the decades. In the end the figure was more accurately stated as closer to the 190 million pound mark that was paid for services rendered.

Then there was the claim that Britain could, on its own terms, stay in the EU single market but without the free movement of workers, i.e. immigrants from other EU states. During the campaign EU politicians had already burst that bubble. But the leave campaign wouldn’t listen and kept promising this. On day one after the vote, I heard the only UKIP (the right-wing anti-Europe party) Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, holding forth to a BBC interviewer that Britain could now demand this and demand that and would get it. On which planet does this man reside? (Or what is his drug of choice?)

All sorts of other important facts, like the actual relationship of the EU to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, seem to have fallen by the wayside. That these states also pay their dues to the EU for the privilege of access to the market – without any right to participate in making the laws that regulate that trade – seems to have got lost in the rhetoric on how Britain would determine the future set-up. Doesn’t that sound like a bargain for the Brits? Just the ticket?

Then there are the Scots and the Northern Irish. The former are already looking for a date for their next independence referendum. They are devoted believers in the European project. The Irish are considering their options. Somehow reunite with the Irish Republic? Will the entire United Kingdom disintegrate over this issue?

An issue that should have never been brought to vote in a referendum?

On Saturday tens of thousands demonstrated in London to stop Brexit. London voted clearly to remain – let’s face it, of all parts of the UK, they have the most to lose – but at this demonstration, people from all over the country came to protest what was about to happen. The petition for a second referendum already has more than 4 million signatures.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/02/march-for-europe-eu-referendum-london-protest

Then of course, with David Cameron stepping down, the race for the next Tory (the currently ruling Conservative Party) leader got into full swing. After Theresa May (current Home Secretary and a remain supporter) and Michael Gove (Justice Minister and Brexit campaigner) announced their bids for leadership, everyone waited with bated breath for Boris Johnson to throw his hat into the leadership ring. BoJo’s speech reflected his personality, albeit somewhat subdued. He had canvassed the Parliamentary Tories and found that at this juncture, he would not be vying for the leadership post after all – and thus, he would not be the next Prime Minister. It would seem that the Parliamentary Tories – who would have to elect him – were more remain than leave. He found no support. That’s the tricky thing about power poker.

BTW, Gove, after maintaining religiously that he was not interested in the top job, basically stabbed BoJo in the back with his declaration. (New nickname: Brutus.)

This was a while after BoJo assassinated Cameron by means of a late switch to the (dark) Brexit side.

Oh yes, I must not forget to mention that the leavers seem to have been totally overwhelmed by their success and seem to have no idea of what to do next. Cameron is leaving it to his successor, sometime in the autumn, to initiate the exit process by activating Article 50 of the EU contract. But the EU wants them to start the process today.

The opposition Labour Party is also in disarray. Their leader Jeremy Corbyn, an anachronistic left-winger, is seen is a huge mistake. How fast can they get shot of him, just in case a general election winds up being called?? It’s difficult: He will not go softly into….

The campaign slogan that Brexiteers banged on about incessantly was: “Let’s get our country back!”

Well, now they’ve got it. And they have no clue what to do with it.

So dear readers, the dog’s dinner currently on the menu in Britain has been served. Enjoy your meal.

I trust this round-up gives you an idea of what’s been happening in Britain. Feel like shaking your head in disbelief? Feel like banging it against the nearest wall? I know the feeling. Sure, go ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under BREXIT, Europe, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Politics

BREXIT – Now a Done Deal

We woke up this morning to the news: The British had voted to leave the EU. Although I am not a Brit, I have been married to one for 41 years and I lived there for a few years, way back in the 70s. I feel a great connection to this country, its culture, history and people. I can’t help thinking that they have made a short-sighted and fatal decision.

After listening to David Cameron’s statement this morning, I initially felt sorry for him. He presented himself as professional and unemotional about the results, reflecting the consummate politician that he is. He announced his resignation, which seems right when losing such a vote.

My sympathy has been draining away in the hours since, as I reminded myself how unnecessary this entire circus was, that it was the product of Cameron’s wooing the EU sceptics in the ranks of the Tory party to ensure his election in 2010. So in fact, that promise has come back to deprive him of that very job.

Then there’s Boris Johnson, another talented politician, former mayor of the great city of London, who campaigned to leave with the full force of his personality. (I will refrain from making unjustified comparisons with a certain US presidential candidate – that would be wholly unfair.) As a contender for leadership of the Tory party, and thus prime ministerial candidate, he has everything to gain from the leave vote. But I wouldn’t dare suggest that his enthusiasm for Brexit stemmed from his own ambitions to higher rank.

While waiting for Boris to arrive at the venue for his statement, BBC World News showed briefly his departure in a taxi from his north London home. Surrounded by a retinue of police, a pack of news people and a crowd of London’s citizens, the sound of booing could not be overheard. After all, London was carried by the remain vote and it is London that will bear the brunt of the changes. So greetings to all those Londoners who once loved their eccentric Mayor!

To give his statement, Boris put on his most statesman-like air – not that he’d combed his trademark blond mane from his face. He does, after all, have the most to gain from the success of the leave campaign and his buddy David’s fall. He sees Britain’s exit from the EU as the opportunity to return to the country power over its own fate, to return to the democratic principles that made it into Great Britain.

I see no point in discussing all the consequences of this monumental decision. You probably are already aware of a lot of them. And there is also no doubt that the EU system is not perfect, but it must be improved for all members – not just for Britain – from within, for seen within the context of Europe’s history, it is the best thing that has ever happened to the continent.

My $ 64,000 question for Boris is: If you want Britain to rule itself democratically, how about initiating a referendum on abolishing the House of Lords? Create in its place a legislative body, elected according to proportional representation, that truly acts as a check and balance to the House of Commons. And of course, the people must be allowed to decide this. For neither House could be relied on to question the legitimacy of the present, albeit traditional, division of power, evolved over centuries. To me, it seems the next logical step.

Then there is, of course, the question of David Cameron’s successor. Today he is reckoning that the Tory Party Conference in October will choose a new leader, and consequently, a new prime minister.

NO, MR CAMERON! That may well turn into wishful thinking. An early election will have to be called! Just a shame that the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn are not in a position to take advantage of these developments.

This vote is also a game-changer on the issue of Scottish devolution. The Scots have voted with a huge majority to stay in the EU. Who could blame them for re-initiating their referendum to leave Britain? And this time round, I would be on their side. And the EU would probably look favourably on their application to join the club. It sounds like the Northern Irish may also get the hang of this referendum thing and start their very own movement for an independent north to either join the Republic of Ireland or join the EU as an independent country.

Is the great United Kingdom set to unravel in the next few years and become the dis-United Kingdom? How exactly will the divorce proceeding between GB and the EU go? I for one am curious as to whether Britain will really benefit from this move. It may turn into a Pyrrhic victory.

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Filed under BREXIT, Europe, Great Britain, Northern Ireland

MASS MIGRATION & THE NEXT PROXY WAR


After several months of silence, caused to a great extent by my inability to fathom the goings-on of our world, this blogger finally returns to cyberspace, with no solutions at all. But it is time to share my feeling of helplessness about all the current crises on our planet. Who knows, you may well also be suffering from the same syndrome and appreciate reflecting on it. Here I make a start by broaching the crisis that has Europe reeling.

 
It all started (or at least reached a new high) when, last summer, the floodgates opened. A rush of human beings, driven from their homes by lunatic IS jihadists or by the bombs their own governments were chucking, suddenly stood at the borders of the EU, seeking refuge and solace, seeking a safe haven from the hell their homelands had become. And it wasn’t even “just” Syrians, but also folk from Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and many other African countries that set off on a desperate exodus by land and sea in the hope of reaching EU shores.

 
I needn’t recap the events since then, for you are all literate. To have missed what’s been happening, you would have needed to have been on an extended vacation on a distant planet. But just to get us on the same page, and braving the risk of oversimplifying the situation, reactions to these developments have been mixed.

 
As I live in Germany, one of the countries that has been more welcoming than most, I have been reading daily of the ups and downs of dealing with this human inundation. We’ve experienced the rise of certain organizations, mainly in the east of Germany, that reject this migration out of hand as a dilution of their culture and a threat to life as they know it. Is it the fear that they will have less if these people receive help?

 
These groups hover on the verge of fascism; at best they are populists exploiting the situation. The number of attacks on refugee housing in the form of arson has risen greatly, but not just in the east. The only reason refugees have not been killed by these attacks is that they have been carried out on still-empty locations.

 
Is it only a matter of time before the perpetrators become murderous enough to burn down a building full of foreign families?

 
The only good news – but this is a biggie – is that in many, many areas of the country, private support for refugees flourishes. Local authorities have been overwhelmed with the task at hand but are doing what they can as fast as they can. Volunteers in every city and small town (yes, also in the east), who donate their time and efforts to helping these people, have taken up the slack and extended the limited reach of government. Refugees arrive with their world and their families destroyed; the personal involvement of locals like you and me puts a human face on the help offered. When communities open their arms, then there is hope.

 
MEANWHILE…

Russia joined the fray in September, unfortunately on the side of Bashar al Assad, and this has proven to be a game-changer. The bombing sanctioned by our dear and erstwhile best new friend, President Vladimir Putin, has augmented the torrent of migration to Europe. I can just see this character sitting in his office, rubbing his hands with glee at the chaos he has caused within the European Union.

 

And that Union is being sorely tested in its unity by this Völkerwanderung. With several former Soviet satellite states reacting with xenophobic zeal and NIMBY mentally, I can only guess that their exposure to the West has not yet been sufficient. That said, there are enough states in Western Europe that are not exactly opening their arms to the needy!

 
After World War II when Germany lay in ruins, 14 million German refugees from formerly German territories in the east inundated what was left of the country. Those in the west who had survived the war with their houses intact were forced to take refugees into their own homes, and that was the situation for years until more housing was built and people found work. This was not necessarily done cheerfully, according to local stories I’ve heard, but somehow the country was rebuilt, and by the 1950s, Germany found itself in the midst of an unprecedented economic wonder that is the foundation of today’s affluence.

 

The challenge now facing Germany – and any other European nation that takes up the refugee gauntlet – is far easier in some ways than it was in 1945. Even the least economically successful EU countries are in rather better shape than in the aftermath of WWII. Demographic concerns about ageing populations are actually eased by the prospects of an influx of young workers who could be trained and soon be paying into the social security coffers to pay the pensions of us oldies.

 

On the downside, these people come with cultures, languages and religious traditions foreign to most of us.

Is this a risk to society as we know it? YES. We are, indeed, at risk of expanding our horizons, of seeing beyond our own borders, of enriching our society with a fresh injection of vitamin C(ulture).
And those migrants? They, too, will have to learn our languages, learn about our customs and our religious traditions; they will have to accept the role of women in modern western society. Above all, BOTH SIDES will have to learn to live and let live, to respect each other’s differences, to even rejoice in the recognition that we are not all alike.

 
By the way, I obviously have a migration background, too. After 40 years in Germany, I still feel just a tick more comfortable speaking and writing in English, not to mention watching Hollywood and Brit movies in the original. We have plenty of German friends, but we also have a circle of English-speaking friends with whom we enjoy cavorting.

 
In other words, we shouldn’t expect newbies from wherever to renounce their heritage and forsake their customs. We should strive for a kind of integration that will build communities across the boundaries of nationalities and religion, integration that will tear down walls and build bridges. (Ah, bridges, a favorite theme of mine.)

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Filed under Disasters, Europe, Migration, Syrian civil war, Traditions