Thursday, April 16, 2009

Europe and America: Time to Reverse Roles for a While?



  1. By Tom Kando
I have been running around in Holland. I see many people from various countries - Dutchmen of course, but also lots of Germans and other Europeans. These people all appear so clean, well-dressed, healthy, prosperous. And the country also looks very prosperous, despite the economic crisis.Okay, there is some sleaze and decay in Amsterdam, a few beggars, etc. (although way less than in America's central cities). But the overall impression remains very positive. For example, there are few fat people, few slovenly people, few visibly poor people. Hardly any tatoos or body piercings, etc. The women are especially attractive and well dressed.

While this is very impressionistic, I take this to mean that Europeans are doing relatively well, which in turn means that they have been making good political and economic decisions for many years.

So when I think of the theme of this blog - European-American relations, here is what I have to say today: By 2009, the time has come for America to (1) listen more and to talk less, (2)to learn more and to preach less, (3)to follow and to cooperate more and to lead less. America, you must become the student again for a while, not the teacher. You do not have all the answers to the problems of the world and to the problems of all the other countries. Instead, they might have some answers for you. As to Europe: I detect, since Obama's election, the renewed feeling among many Europeans that America will once again bail them out, that it will lead them out of the recession, that America is, and has, the solutions to the world's problems. It's amazing how disproportionately the news is devoted to America, and how Obama is viewed not just as America's President but also as the leader - dare I say the savior - of the Western World. Well, let me tell you something, Europeans: America can't save you, or the world. America will be lucky if it saves itself. You will have to save yourselves - and I'm confident that you can, because you are rich, powerful and intelligent. leave comment here
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

The French are Desperate to Keep Lance Armstrong out of the Tour de France

By Tom Kando

This is about the current flap involving Lance Armstrong and the French anti-doping authorities. Here is what happened:A few days ago, Lance Armstrong was approached by a French anti-doping agent, demanding that he undergo a spur-of-the-moment drug test. This occurred just as Lance rode in from a race or from a hard training ride (I forget which). Such surprise tests happen all the time, and that's good, because it's the best way to prevent cheating. Lance has had his share of drug tests - several hundred over the years, two dozen already this year alone! He has never refused or dragged his feet. Why should he, since he doesn't take illegal performance-enhancing drugs? After Armstrong verified that the agent was bona fide, he asked him if it was okay to first take a quick shower, since he was grundgy and sweaty from the race he had just finished. The agent authorized the shower and 20 minutes later Armstrong passed the test with flying colors, as he has all the hundreds of other ones, since he doesn't take illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

But then, the shit hit the fan anyway: The French anti-doping authorities declared that Armstrong should have remained in sight of the agent at all times prior to the test. He should not have left for 20 minutes to take a shower.

It is now likely that the French will forbid Armstrong from entering this year's Tour de France. I seems obvious to me that the French are desperately trying to find an excuse to keep Lance Armstrong out of the Tour de France. They have hated him for years. He is the greatest bicycle racer in history. His record of 7 Tour de France victories will never be broken, least of all by a man from France, a country whose bicycle skills have deteriorated a great deal in the past. I have been an enthusiastic road biker and an avid fan of the "Grande Boucle" for much of my life. In July every year, I am glued to the television for every stage of what I still consider the greatest sports event in the world. But if the French keep Lance out of this year's Tour, using their sordid shenanigans, I swear to you, I will boycott the Tour, and I urge you all to do likewise.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why Do We love Obama?

By Thomas Kando

I have been in Europe for about a week. I got here the same day as Obama. So I saw and read a lot about the G20 meeting in London last week, then the meeting with Nato's 27 members in Strasbourg, then Obama's trip to Turkey, etc. It's quite clear that, apart from whatever policy differences exist between the American President and the Europeans, the man remains unbelievably popular over here. There is no doubt that if Europeans could vote for the US presidency, Obama would be elected with a far greater majority than the 53% or so he got against McCain. This is all very fine. It also helps a lot with the problem discussed by Madeleine in the previous post - European anti-Americanism. That sentiment is quite subdued, at least for the time being. So what is it with Obama's popularity? I voted for him enthusiastically, and I continue to support him wholeheartedly. Why? Simple. Because of his positions and because of the policies he is proposing and enacting. He has promised to reverse or undo his predecessor's policies, and to fix the previous administration's disastrous legacies - from a stupid, costly and unnecessary war to an economic debacle caused by plutocratic greed, to environmental irresponsibility and an arrogant unilateral foreign policy.

However, Obama turns out to be a lot more cautious than many of us would have expected (and hoped) him to be. He wants to de-escalate the war in Iraq, but he is escalating the one in Afghanistan. He is still trying to save the banks by bailing them out instead of nationalizing them, or letting them go bankrupt. He is still promising tax cuts, even though the government's deficit is out of control. And so forth. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks that Obama and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner are doing it all wrong, still beholden to Wall Street. Well, I'm no expert. For now, I still strongly believe in the new man. To me, his efforts at saving the world still look inspiring.

But I'm wondering: what makes him so incredibly popular with hundreds of millions of Europeans? I do not believe that his popularity is based on his substantive positions. I do not believe that most people know what those are. I believe that most people - certainly over here, and probably also to a great extent in the US - love the new American President in a visceral, emotional sense that has little to do with his policies. They love him because he is handsome, he possesses a Stentorian voice in which he delivers eloquent speeches, and because he is the first President to come from the ranks of "the other." He is black. He is not, as Brazilian President Lula Da Silva recently accused the architects of the world economic crisis of being, "white and blue-eyed." If I were mean, I would be tempted to say that many Europeans love Obama because they are snobs. But I don't want to say that.

I suppose it's okay for leadership to be based on charisma - that is, after all, what I am talking about. But its' dangerous. Take President Kennedy. His popularity was very similar to Obama's: he was - first and foremost - handsome and eloquent. What he actually stood for was entirely secondary to the electorate. For example, let's not forget that Kennedy was every bit as much of a cold warrior as Richard Nixon, and that he brought the world to the edge of nuclear extinction during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But okay, overall Kennedy was, like Obama, both charismatic and a pretty good President.

But what if the charismatic leader is really a bad person? Hitler, right? Or maybe Napoleon (a more ambiguous example). Or Juan Perron.So here is my main point: Charisma is not the best basis for electing our leaders. Information about their policies is. And I have a strong impression that a majority of the people who are so blindly in love with Obama - certainly on this side of the pond - don't have a clue about his policies and his intentions. But the good news is: The new President's policies and positions are fine - even though most people don't know what they are.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Anti-Americanism

by Madeleine Kando

I am leaving for Holland soon and I am bracing myself for yet another torrent of criticism, blame, accusations against my adopted country, America. This has been going on for so long now that I have started to look at it as a fact of life. But really, where does this hatred of America come from? How did it get to be so blatant?Anti-Americanism has gotten so bad that I could compare it to anti-semitism: it is not based on anything rational, like what America DOES, it is a general dislike of things that ARE American. People don’t even know why they are anti-semitic, they just know they don’t like Jews. In the same vain, they don’t know why they are anti-American, they just don’t like America(ns).

America is seen as too big and too powerful. Even though America saved Europe from Nazi Germany, created the Marshall Plan, I suspect that it is BECAUSE Europe could be saved by another country, that breeds resentment. After all, if another country can save you, it can also destroy you.

Let’s face it, anti-Americanism has a very long history. Originally anti-Americanism consisted of fear of a culture that was too materialistic, too much out to make money, too loose and decadent. It was the conservative European reaction to the American success story, a fear that their own cultural domination would be overshadowed by this new ‘independent culture’. People here didn’t have to abide by the social structure of the European countries. They were direct, out to make money, unencumbered by social rules. The European elite was shocked and pointed out to us commoners how inferior American culture really was, with its ageing women with purple hair, their fake jewelry, America’s tasteless art and kitchy Hollywood style movies.
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