Merkel wins but empowers a monster

Angela Merkel handily won the German elections today but also empowered a monster that has already upended domestic politics and could disrupt liberal democracy for years.

Her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) are expected to take around 34 per cent when results are finalized, followed by the Social Democrats (SPD) with about 22 per cent. Each has lost about nine points compared with the last elections.

The big winner was the hard-right – some say neo-Nazi – Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that could score about 13 per cent, up from just 4.7 per cent in 2013.

For the first time in 60 years, the hard right will enter the parliament. Worse, it may have 88 seats, making it the third most powerful force in German politics at the national level.

It is already a formidable force at local levels, where it sits in the parliaments of 13 out of 16 states.

Led by Alice Weidel, 38, a lesbian former banker from Goldman Sachs, the AfD rejects the neo-Nazi label but reportedly tolerates swastika-toting anti-Muslims and racists at rallies and quietly seeks their support. It is also anti-gay.

For Germany, with its troubled history, this is bad news. To prevent the AfD from becoming the main opposition, Merkel’s chief coalition partner, the SPD, immediately declared it will stay outside to be leader of the opposition.

So, Merkel has a serious problem on her hands. CDU is likely to win about 220 seats followed by the SPD with about 140. That leaves her with little choice but to partner both with the very liberal Greens and FDP, their probusiness ideological opposite.

If the SPD stays out, no other combination gives her the necessary numbers for a majority in the Bundestag (national parliament).

In effect, Germany’s admirably stable CDU-led system cannot avoid heading into storms because the identity of the smaller parties depends on their ideological purity and refusal to make compromises for political expediency.

Merkel’s negotiation skills will be sorely tested in coming days as she struggles to put together a reliable coalition to rule under her leadership. Then she will have to fight her way through myriads of little and big arguments during her term in power.

Weidel will surely beat her war drums at every turn because as the third power in German politics her acolytes will be in every important parliamentary committee.

Analysts are putting the blame for the AfD’s unprecedented triumph at Merkel’s door because she encouraged an influx of nearly one million Syrian refugees into Germany in 2015-2016. That gave Weidel the cudgels to strike telling blows in the elections.

Speaking after the exit polls, Merkel was already succumbing to the right wing’s pull. She promised to win back voters she lost to the AfD by getting tough on “illicit immigration” and “internal and domestic security”.

“There’s a challenge facing us for the future, and that is that the AfD has made it into parliament,” she said.

AfD leader Alexander Gauland retorted, “The government, whatever it will look like, should get ready for tough times. We’ll chase them. We’ll take back our country and our people.”

The AfD was created in 2013 by opponents of the European Union and giving more money to bail Greece and others out of debt. In 2015, Weidel leapt at the refugee issue that rocketed her to leadership and the party’s current electoral successes.

She repeatedly attacked Merkel saying that Germany “has become a safe port for foreign criminals,” especially Islamic criminals and called for prisons in northern Africa for deported “criminals” from those countries.

She wants to withdraw Germany from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and abolish current laws on asylum for refugees. She would ban minarets over German mosques and punish Muslim women for wearing head scarves.

Political correctness belongs on the “garbage heap of history,” she claims.

Such ideas are anathema to the majority of Germans but the election victory gives her a bully pulpit from which to scald opponents and entice fence-sitters.

The ever-courteous Merkel may have to do some bare-knuckled fighting in coming months and years.

A 21st Century Immigration Policy (Guest Voice)


by Anthony Stahelski

Perhaps the most controversial of President Trump’s executive orders was the ban against travelers from six Muslim countries. This ban reflected Trump’s anti-Muslim immigrant campaign rhetoric. The massive outcry and backlash against Trump’s order and rhetoric make a fundamentally important point: The potential antisocial acts of a few cannot be attributed to an entire group. The vast majority of any group want what most Americans want: peace, safety and security, a decent standard of living, and opportunities for their children.

However, lost in the backlash outcry is the ominous reality of 21st Century terrorism. Like other forms of technology, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) have been miniaturized, without loss of destructive power. It no longer takes missiles, planes or ships to deliver WMDs to targets. A single individual with a suitcase bomb can destroy an entire city. Added to this sobering fact is the continuing existence of many extremist groups that would love to inflict another 9/11 on the United States, with even worse consequences. These groups could use the camouflage of immigration to infiltrate a WMD-armed terrorist into the United States, analogous to the infiltration of the 9/11 hijackers. Consequently the agencies responsible for the safety and security of our nation have a ‘needle in the haystack’ problem. The vast majority of immigrants are innocent, but a few are not. How do we find and disarm those few without violating the rights of the many?

What follows is a data-derived potential solution to this problem, based on terrorism research. The vast majority of those who carry out terrorist acts are young, unmarried males. Very few terrorist perpetrators are females, and very few are married men with children. President Trump could have used this data to create a more nuanced travel ban and immigrant policy: Only allow married couples with children to travel to and to immigrate into the country. Married men and women with children are much less likely to be seduced by extremist rhetoric because they are focused on the practical realities of providing for their families.

As an example of an overly loose immigration policy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, attempting to demonstrate her global noblesse oblige, recently allowed over a million Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees into Germany with minimal vetting. This group included large numbers of young unattached males. Thanks to Merkel’s blazing stupidity, approximately 1200 German women were raped on New Year’s Eve, 2016, primarily by young male immigrants. Granted this is not the same as killing large numbers of people, but rape is both its own atrocity and a warning of worse to come.

Of course this use of profiling in the vetting process is not a foolproof method of preventing terrorist attacks. Clearly it would not stop attacks by individuals who are already citizens or residents of the United States, as demonstrated by the Boston Marathon bombing.

Nonetheless it is a data-based compromise between under and over-vetting. Unfortunately President Trump is not strategic enough to create or explain such a compromise policy. So instead he proposes a ‘one size fits all’ policy that of course arouses intense opposition, which leads to gridlock and a continuing impasse on the immigration issue. The President needs to explain the immigration issue in the context of the needle in the haystack problem, and, more generally, as a democratic tug-of-war between freedom and security, with unregulated immigration at the freedom end and no immigration at the security end. The immigration issue cannot be solved in an either/or, categorical fashion at either extreme end of the continuum.

Stopping legal immigration completely or allowing completely un-vetted immigration are equally bad ideas. A solution has to be found somewhere in between these extreme positions. The country is built on immigration and we still need immigrants, but in these dangerous times we must find the needles in the haystack before we use the hay.

Anthony Stahelski, is a a professor of psychology at Central Washington University in Ellensburg Washington.

Angela Merkel: Germany can no longer rely on the United States

At a time when President Donald Trump is letting associates know that he’s about to pull the US out of the Paris climate deal, his overall performance and impression he left with European leaders led German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say Germany can no longer rely not just on the post-Brexit UK but on the United States under Trump.

Speaking at a campaign event held in a Bavarian beer tent, the German Chancellor emphasised the need for friendly relations with the US, Britain and Russia, but added: “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.”

Ms Merkel said that as the traditional western alliance is threatened by the new US presidency and Brexit, “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely smiling and having a few extra chugs of Vodka this weekend: splitting up the United States and Germany has been one of Russia’s long term post-World War II aims, as has been splitting up NATO, which has been one of Putin’s goals. started 67 years ago by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations as collective security against the Soviet Union.

Although Trump is calling his trip a big success and some pundits do echo his opinion, by most other accounts, it was anything but a boffo performance.

In fact, the headline of this post should be TRUMP BOMBS (IN) NATO.Trump also wasn’t exactly a hit with Pope Francis. But Vladimir must be thinking his investment really paid off handsomely.

Word had spread around by then about his handshake domination game, and French President Emmanuel Macron came prepared. Trump had to let go first. He got a chilly response from some when he got there and it turned close to frigid when he lectured them on their contributions to the alliance and didn’t say what they wanted him to say: reaffirming the U.S. commitment to mutual defense. CNN:

“Diplomatically, the speech was inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst,” said Jeff Rathke, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Trump’s remarks Thursday, alongside his continued misrepresentation of how the alliance works and his failure to reaffirm US commitment to the group, is likely to further unsettle US allies, sowing doubt about US leadership and possibly making it harder for NATO leaders to convince their people of the need to spend more on defense.
Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO, said that “this was a perfectly scripted event to deliver a very simple message that every president of the United States has delivered at the first possible opportunity, which is that the United States stands firmly behind its commitment to the defense of NATO.”
“We signed a treaty, we uphold it. It was really easy,” Daalder said. “And the fact that he didn’t do it was disturbing and will take a long time to overcome in Europe.”

The Daily Beast’s Scott Bixby has a piece titled: “President Trump Turned International Diplomacy Into A Fistfight—And Lost.” It’s subtitle: “President Trump’s performance in the last leg of his first international trip has European leaders fuming—and American diplomats likening him to a ‘drunk tourist.’” A small part of it:

Rather than speak to leaders from the 28 nations of which NATO is comprised, Trump instead, it appeared, spoke to his base. Trump declined to recommit the United States to upholding Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which stipulates that an attack against one member nation is considered an attack against all. The omission—later downplayed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer—underscores threats Trump made as a candidate to treat Article 5 as conditional, based on whether a country was spending enough on defense.

The only form of offensive action Trump seemed to endorse during the event, it seemed, was shoving the prime minister of Montenegro.

“When it comes to diplomacy, President Trump is a drunk tourist,” a State Department official told the Daily Beast. “Loud and tacky, shoving his way around the dance floor. He steps on others without realizing it. It’s ineffectual.”
But far more concerning, the official said, was Trump’s “arrogance” in threatening to single-handedly thwart the Paris Agreement, which obliges member states to slash carbon emissions to combat global climate change. Trump’s reality-show declaration that he’ll make a final decision on his commitment to the accord “next week!” is, in the official’s terms, “an abdication of American leadership.”
“One hundred and ninety-five nations never agree on anything, so when they do, accepting the measure should be easy,” the official said. “The United States needs to be out front on this pact.”
Trump’s explicit skepticism of multinational diplomacy comes at a time when internal tensions within allied nations make stepping back from Europe particularly risky. As recent elections in France, Austria, and the United Kingdom have demonstrated rather dramatically, the European Union’s nationalist-vs.-globalist battles are threatening the world’s largest economic and political union from within.
Meanwhile, an increasingly bellicose Russia—whose post-Cold War ambitions of European expansionism have heretofore largely been contained by NATO—needs little more excuse than a crack in the facade of NATO’s collective defense agreement to encourage more aggression in the vein of past actions in Crimea and South Ossetia.

The Atlantic’s David Frum writes that Trump’s European trip was a “catastrophe” for U.S. German relations. If they were rocky when Trump took office then his trip was the equivalent of dumping a rock quarry on ties between the two once-warring countries:

Whoever was elected president in 2016 would face quite a challenge renewing and rebuilding the German relationship. Trump has instead done further damage.

Since the war, German politics has been founded on two fundamental commitments: to liberalism at home; to Atlanticism abroad. Only a tiny minority question the first, but a much larger minority doubt the second. Like Americans, the Germans remember the Nazi past. Much more than Americans, the Germans remember that British and American bombers burned the cities of Germany to the ground. Germans have gained voice to speak about their own history—and to express their own emotional distance from partners they no longer need so much as they used to. “We will never be family,” a semi-inebriated German Air Force general once insisted to me at a NATO conference in Tallinn. “Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders: You are family. We will never be.” That feeling is reflected in strategic decisions like the German hesitation to join the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement.

Donald Trump is giving permission to U.S.-skeptic elements in Germany.

He notes what he wrote in November:

Yet even in the face of all these strains and difficulties, German friends of the United States have retained one clinching argument and decisive asset on their side of the debate: a wide and deep public intuition that people highly critical of the United States were probably animated by extremist and illiberal ideas. So long as the Germans most hostile to the U.S. alliance espoused various shades of fascism and communism, then the mighty German middle would cling determinedly to the U.S. alliance as a bulwark of stability and liberalism.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency up-ends German political assumptions about the United States, at a time when Germans are already ready to have those assumptions up-ended. …

Ominously, the U.S.-Germany rift coincides with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union—an exit that will greatly weaken London’s clout versus Berlin. Britain will need to renegotiate access to the EU market; Germany will have power to approve or refuse. The post-1945 vision of a secure and liberal Germany joined in an intimate partnership to the United States and the United Kingdom will fail. In its place: a Germany more distant from its former English-speaking allies, more vulnerable to an aggressive Russia, more polarized and afflicted by extremism in the wake of Merkel’s welcome of almost 2 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants.

He concludes:

There’s an effort now to spin words to present this trip as something less than an utter catastrophe for U.S. interests in Europe. National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has insisted that President Trump did indeed affirm Article 5. Compare Trump’s words to those of his predecessors, and you can see for yourself how untrue that is. The Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, went on record to declare that he could not have been more pleased with the trip. If true, that would reflect poorly on Senator Corker’s judgment. I prefer to think that the statement reflects poorly on his candor.

Here’s what’s really true: Donald Trump is doing damage to the deepest and most broadly agreed foreign-policy interests of the United States. He is doing so while people associated with his campaign are under suspicion of colluding with Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies to bring him to office. The situation is both ugly and dangerous. If it’s to be corrected, all Americans—eminent Republicans like Bob Corker above all—must at least correctly name it for what it is.

But it’s a happy day for you-know-who:

Merkel photo Müller / MSC [CC BY 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Putin photo by Marina Lystseva ( [GFDL 1.2 ( or GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Trump stuns NATO leaders and reverts to scolding message of his campaign

BRUSSELS — President Donald Trump likely crushed anxious NATO allies’ hopes for an uplifting message and full-throated endorsement of NATO’s core missions Thursday. Instead, Trump lectured the group for failing to live up to its financial obligations and leaving it to U.S. taxpayers to shoulder the organization’s defense burden. During a ceremony opening the new NATO… [Read more…]

The Dream of Europe- Shattered?

While America is obsessed with the machinations and tweets by President Trump, Europe is sailing in uncharted waters. After the devastation of two world wars during the first half of the 20th century, with tens of millions of soldiers and civilians dying, there was a dream by some prescient Europeans of a united continent, tied together economically to eliminate the threat of future wars. There was the hope that citizens of individual nations would slowly shed their garments of nationalism and wear the robes of European citizens, retaining only weak links to their homelands.

The growth of the European concept started with the ECSC- the European Coal and Steel Community of six nations, including France and Germany, founded in 1951 under the leadership of Jean Monet, its first president. In 1967, it merged with Euratom, the European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Economic Community. Together, they had a single executive body, an institutional structure, and shared a Court of Justice and Parliamentary Assembly. The Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992 sought to integrate Europe into a single unified body, the European Union. The signees included twelves countries including the economic engines of France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain. Several other steps and treaties towards unification preceded Maastrict, among them the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the Single European Act in 1986. The Euro, a common currency for the EU was introduced in 1999, further binding the nations of Europe together, though England continued to use the pound.

Since the founding of the EU, it has grown to twenty-nine nations with the same currency and open borders, for goods, capital, and people (Shentgen Agreement). However, the common currency has made life difficult for the countries of southern Europe, whose productivity lags that of the north. Their debt levels have grown enormously, exceeding their ability to pay back their loans without assistance, given their GDPs. Unemployment has also surged since the recession of 2007-2008 and remains at unacceptably high levels, especially among the young. And budget deficits need to be brought under permanent control. Greece is the prime example of these dilemmas, though other nations have similar, though less onerous problems. The imposed solution of austerity, in order to receive loans from the IMF and EU, has caused great hardships for the population of these nations, with little improvement in their debt levels. The obvious answer prior to the advent of the Euro would have been depreciation of national currencies to make their products more competitive relative to other nations and to boost employment. But with the Euro, this was not possible.

The Shentgen Agreement has also caused problems for the countries of the EU. With refugees pouring in to escape wars in the Middle East and Africa, and economic migrants seeking work in the more prosperous EU, difficulties have arisen. A number of nations have refused to accept these new arrivals because of cultural and religious differences, economic concerns, and the threat of terrorism. This has caused a schism in the EU and has led to the rise of nationalism and populism, with political parties wary of the EU and opposed to globalism. Eastern European states in particular have come under the sway of populism and nationalism, with Hungary and Poland now ruled by nationalist parties. So-called illiberal democracies, with one man or one party control, have reared their ugly heads, with ethnocentrism the dominant philosophy. But every state has seen variants of nationalism and populism spread, mainly because of immigration, even in a liberal nation like Denmark.

Another factor that sticks in the craw of most EU countries are the rules and regulations that emanate from the bureaucracy and parliament in Brussels. Many of these conflict with standard practices in different states, forcing them to make unwanted changes. Nations feel this is an unnecessary infringement on their sovereignty over with they have no control.

Open borders, immigration, and Brussel rules and regulations are considered responsible for Brexit last year, with Great Britain the first nation to exit the EU. Britain left in spite of warnings of negative economic consequences and the likelihood that Scotland would split with Great Britain. Blatant nationalism won out over rational choice, with a majority of English citizens wanting control of the borders and immigration. Though a shock to the EU, with British separation yet to be negotiated, continental Europe is still joined together in the EU, at least for the moment.

But will the dream survive? Russian interference in European elections with campaigns of disinformation supporting illiberal democracies are doing damage and must be neutralized. The next major test is the French runoff election between the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right nationalist Marine LePen. Though Macron, who wants to keep France in the EU is favored, a victory by LePen is possible given the unpredictable emotional pull of nationalism and populism. A LePen victory would mean Frexit, with France pulling out of the EU and shattering the dream of a united Europe. If France stays, differences in the economies and debt loads of southern and eastern Europe and the prosperous north, still has to be worked out. But without France, there is no hope. An election in the fall also has to reaffirm Germany’s commitment to the EU. The tide of nationalism and populism with its support of illiberal democracies must be halted as well, if the advances in liberty and human rights realized in the 20th century are to be continued. The dream is fragile

Resurrecting Democracy

Photo by Shutterstock

Sean Spicer’s struggle of the tongue

WASHINGTON — What Sean Spicer has done is inexcusable, and I cannot forgive him.

I’m not talking about the White House press secretary’s claim Tuesday that Adolf Hitler didn’t use poison gas, at least not against his “own people,” even if the Nazis did send Jews to “Holocaust centers.” He has apologized profusely for that.

What’s unforgivable is Spicer’s brazen assault on spoken English.

“Tell us who you want to apologize to,” said CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Spicer’s father-confessor of choice Tuesday evening.

“I’m not looking to quantify this in any way,” Spicer explained.

“Why bring Hitler into this?”

Spicer repeated: “I’m not going to try to quantify it.”

Spicer was presumably reaching for the word “qualify”; nobody asked him to tally up his Nazi remarks.

Spicer also lamented that his gaffe was “a distraction from the president’s decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he is making to destabilize the region.” Destabilize the Mideast? Mission accomplished.

Spicer went on to condemn the Syrian leader, “Bashad al-Asi — . A — , A — , Bashar al-Assad.”

Blitzer intervened. “I know you’ve mispronounced his name a few times, but it’s Bashar al-Assad,” he coached.

Just the other day Spicer pronounced it “Bissaa al-Ashar,” as transcribed by my colleague Erik Wemple.

Spicer’s struggles of the tongue make me believe his Nazi talk wasn’t a premeditated offense but a lost connection between brain and mouth. If you’re spokesman for the president, that’s not entirely reassuring.

In his brain he may be thinking “concentration camps,” but from his mouth it comes out “Holocaust centers,” as if they were shopping complexes. In his brain he knows Canada’s prime minister is Justin Trudeau and Australia’s is Malcolm Turnbull, but from his mouth comes “Joe Trudeau” and “Prime Minister Trumbull.” His brain knows what time it is when, at his afternoon briefing, he bids the audience good morning or good evening.

Whatever the cause, Spicer’s miscues are an international sensation. In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald, inspired by the Turnbull mispronunciation, has a widget to “Spicer-ize” your name. Mine is “Danai Mildred” and Spicer’s is “Searby Spiedler.” GQ put together a video with an A-Z list of all the words Spicer invented on the White House podium. Highlights: Althewise, Drung Prices, Esigdesigejucation, Grobe, Inimpulintation, Kabalkabul-twi, Lasterday, Memererenrderm, Plarm, Transerptation, Wintofrom.

Some might think it unsporting to mock Spicer for his problem, but he did the same when he was with the Republican National Committee and Michelle Obama identified Iowa’s Bruce Braley as “Bruce Bailey.” “First lady botches name of Dem Senate candidate,” he tweeted.

As Spicer might say: What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gardener.

His mishaps on the podium are legendary. The inaugural crowd “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Trump’s unfounded claim that millions voted illegally are “based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.” Trump’s equally dubious claim that President Barack Obama had a wiretap on Trump Tower: “The president used the word ‘wiretap’ in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities.”

Thrice in January, Spicer referred to a terrorist attack in “Atlanta,” presumably meaning Orlando, 400-odd miles away. He has been portrayed to such devastating effect by Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live” — devouring gum, struggling with names and attacking reporters — that even now, when he shows up to briefings in jackets that fit, he sometimes appears to be imitating McCarthy imitating him.

He directed April Ryan of American Urban Radio to “stop shaking your head” when she looked skeptical at a briefing. Given control of the official White House @presssec account, he pocket-tweeted messages such as “Aqenbpuu” and “n9y25ah7.” He showed up at one briefing with his flag lapel pin upside down, prompting jokes that he was sending a distress signal.

Wemple believes Spicer’s collection of “spurts and blurts and polemical dead ends” is evidence that “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Wemple notes his tendency to say “at the end of the day” for just about every purpose. After Politico noted that Spicer uses “phenomenal” to describe everything from the failed health care bill to U.S.-Mexico relations, Stephen Colbert put together a video of Spicer saying “phenomenal” set to the Muppets classic, “Mah Na Mah Na.” I count him retreating to the adjective “robust” in 17 different briefings, once producing this amalgam of Spicerisms: “I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now, and I think there’s an unbelievable and robust dialogue between our two nations.”

Way better than our relationship with Bashad al-Whatshisname.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Unearthing photos and memories of life in the Lodz ghetto

In 1944, photographer Henryk Ross dug a hole in the ground and buried his negatives — more than 6,000 of them. Ross was the official photographer of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland. He also lived there. “His intention was really to preserve this record of the tragedy that they were living through, not knowing at… [Read more…]

Germany to Trump on NATO: Nope. We don’t U.S. owe any money

Germamy to U.S. President Donald Trump: Nope. We don’t owe the U.S. Any money. That’s not the way NATO works.

Once again it appears that Trump’s bumpersticker/talk radio slogans are at varience with reality:

President Trump’s Saturday tweet accusing Germany of owing the United States “vast sums of money” for NATO might have been an attempt to put pressure on the European ally. But Berlin has rejected his claim while also questioning his understanding of NATO finances.

On Sunday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen called the criticism “inaccurate,” without mentioning the president’s name.

“NATO does not have a debt account,” von der Leyen said, according to her ministry. In reality, NATO has only a small logistical budget, which relies on funding by all member states. The vast majority of NATO members’ total resources are managed domestically.

And, once again, a Trump assertion is questioned by several experts:

The criticism echoed that of other experts, including former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. “Trump’s comments misrepresent the way NATO functions,” Daalder told The Washington Post on Saturday. “The president keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.”

Von der Leyen also indirectly criticized Trump’s plan to reduce funding for U.N. peacekeeping missions. German defense expenditure was not exclusively dedicated to NATO missions, she emphasized, and additional German funding would be used for U.N. peacekeeping missions, for instance. “What we want is a fair burden-sharing, and in order to achieve that, we need a modern understanding of security,” von der Leyen said.

The rather unusual rebuke of Trump by a German defense minister indicates growing concerns in Berlin over transatlantic relations. The percentage of Germans who view the United States as a trustworthy ally has dropped from 59 percent in November to 22 percent in February. In recent months, Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s outspoken vice chancellor and foreign minister, has even called Trump a “threat.”

As the Washington Post notes, no matter what this has not deterred Trump & Co. from using this as a line to rally supporters:

Despite these critiques, this line of argument has been a near-constant refrain for Trump and his administration. Since the campaign, he’s argued that other countries aren’t contributing what they should for the defense alliance. NATO members are urged to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to defense spending. Germany pays 1.2 percent; the United States kicks in more than 3 percent. Four other countries — Greece, Estonia, Poland and Britain — also meet their obligation.

Those numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story.

Since World War II, Germany has intentionally kept its military small. The country defines itself by its pacifism and its commitment to the idea of “never again.” Germany’s defense spending — or lack thereof — has frequently been criticized and mocked in the past. In 2014, for instance, German forces made headlines when they were forced to use broomsticks instead of machine guns during a NATO exercise, exposing the state of its underequipped military.

And, as has been clear, Trump does not back down for an assertion — even one that could hurt a decades-long alliance vital to U.S. interests — in the face of facts that contradict political polemics.

Europe Continues to Troll Trump with ‘Wickedly Funny Parody Videos’

Last week, the Netherlands responded to Donald Trump’s ascent to power with a hilarious video introducing itself to Trump as — among other — the country with “the best tax evasion system God ever created” and poking fun at the new U.S. president, using Trump’s speaking style, words and mannerisms, frequently using Trump’s own words.

Not to be left behind, other European nations — six so far — have joined the Trump troll with equally funny, yet hard-hitting parody videos.

What makes the videos even more entertaining is how each country ribs the other countries, in addition to mocking Trump

For example, Switzerland boasts about being “the sexiest country in Europe…with big fat mountains,” in contrast to the Netherlands saying “we’re not flat like the Netherlands.”

And perhaps hitting Trump where it hurts the most, the video declares, “We have the best women. They’re all 10s. . . And we also love to treat our women badly. Love it. We didn’t let them vote until 1971. In some places, even until 1990. We grab them by the civil rights. And they let us do it.”

Denmark brags — rightly so — about its clean, renewable energy while Germany brags about “the best beer God ever created” — in addition to two World Wars, the Wall, Angela Merkel, etc.

Please watch the Danish and German videos below.



Focusing on Trump’s xenophobia and wanting to be “second to America,” the Portuguese testimonial admits: “Our founding father and first king fought his own mother—a total bitch—and kicked the Arabs off what was to become our land. Yeah. He totally kicked them off. The Arabs. We know what you’re thinking: our first king would be a great secretary of defense. He’s dead now. Sad!”

Have patience, Portuguese turns to English at 2:05.

Belgium joins the make-us-second-to-the-U.S. movement by recalling Trump’s “hell hole” remarks about beautiful Brussels, but does not let the opportunity go by to lampoon the “Walloons” and the Swedish.

Vanity Fair:

“This is true; Brussels is a huge hell hole…But the rest of Belgium is great. It’s truly great. Believe me. Except for the French-speaking part, of course, because we hate them. They’re like the Mexicans of Belgium.”

“ABBA is the most famous Belgian band in history,” the video continued. “Well, they’re Swedish, but according to alternative facts, they’re Belgian. I swear. Waterloo is in Belgium anyway.”

Vanity Fair summarizes the equally funny attempts by Lithuania to get on the good side of Trump.

Even Lithuania offered an entry into the canon: Internet channel LaisvesTV posted a Laikykites Ten video talking up everything the small nation has to offer, though it admits Lithuania probably doesn’t deserve second place in Trump’s eyes. Still, that doesn’t mean Lithuania doesn’t have anything to pique Trump’s interest:

“We’ve destroyed that nasty Soviet Union. We destroyed it by building a wall—a wall of people. . . It was a real human wall called the Baltic Way. It was the best wall. Enormous. Even Pink Floyd called and said that our wall was the best. It’s true. That doesn’t mean we don’t have walls now. We have Ten Walls. He is the best electronic DJ in the world. Believe us. He is also the best homophobe. You’d love him. Can you imagine? 10 walls? Not one. Not two. But 10.”


Lead image: Courtesy Slate

The Man in the High Castle – Season 2 review

Here is the thing, Westworld wasn’t the best television series of 2016 – it wasn’t even the most mysterious or… well, weirdest.

If it were up to me, I’d give every television award possible (maybe except from the comedy ones) to The Man in the High Castle. Amazon Prime Video (or whatever it’s called) finally has its flagship show.

The Man in the High Castle is basically a thought piece (or an extended Black Mirror episode) which imagines a world where Germany and its allies won World War 2. While I enjoyed the first season, it always felt like it was one big set up job, but season two is the happy ending.

This Philip K Dick adaptation is the slowest of slow burns. Nothing comes to the audience quickly, nor easily for that matter. It may feel pretentious to some people. It could also come off as irresponsible and dangerous. They are the only things that come close to negatives, and I disagree with every single one of them.

I love how this season doesn’t hold your hand and explain every part of the plot. It damn sure doesn’t give a fuck if you understand a character’s motivation – or how a character can travel between different realities.

Yeh, there are multi-realities in this show.

Oh, and I am in love with Alexa Davalos.

If I can pick one reason why I was utterly taken aback by this show then it would all come down to one word – Nazis.

The way The Man in the High Castle deals with the iconography, military and citizenry of the number two all time villain (number one being Satan) is awe-inspiring. It is the only piece of culture I have ever consumed that has made me see the ‘humanity’ of the most evil people to ever walk on this planet.

One minute you’re sympathising with a disabled boy and the very next moment you remember that he is a Nazi – a Jew and black-folk hating Nazi.

If there was ever a theme to this show it is simply that every one is flawed. Every one is human – even racist motherfucking Nazis.

And the result of this is a very uncomfortable, but thought provoking watch. And emphasis on uncomfortable. It is uncomfortably brilliant.


Angela Merkel to the Rescue


It was vintage Merkel. Neatly organizing her papers before speaking in her soft Berliner accent, the German Chancellor made the announcement everybody had been waiting for, “To stand as a candidate for a fourth time after 11 years in power is anything but a trivial decision, not for the country, for the party, nor for me,”… [Read more…]

When Elie Wiesel first smiled after the inferno

Elie Wiesel

We met more than once and even exchanged some letters in handwritten Hebrew. This was because he was eminently approachable and unimpressed with his fame. But it was our very first encounter that immediately came to mind when the news arrived of the death of Elie Wiesel—the poet laureate of the Jewish people.

He raised his eyebrows in recognition of a restored memory.

Dr. Wiesel was the featured guest on a community forum panel years ago dealing with the issues of Holocaust, survival, and hope.

No one has described the insanity of the genocide with more searing and unforgiving candor than this now-departed, remarkable, gentle writer and teacher.

I was privileged to be a participant on the dais. Towards the end of the program, we panelists were permitted ask Wiesel questions for the audience to hear. All evening, as I sat directly next to him, I noted the deep lines of suffering and experience that were woven into his still-benevolent face.

Looking into Elie Wiesel’s eyes was a mystical experience; there were wells of permanent pain that nonetheless conveyed a certain, tortured belief in humankind. Wiesel was soft-spoken, wiry, and uncompromising in his demand for compassion among all peoples and creeds. His very presence in a room, and the elegiac timbre of his voice, were the quiet evidence that Hitler didn’t kill everything.

I presented the following question to him: “Professor Wiesel, after the war ended and you were finally freed from the death camps, when was the first time that you were able to smile again?”

He paused momentarily but then raised his eyebrows in recognition of a restored memory. “Yes,” he said, his face lifted slightly higher than before. “I recall the moment.”

Wiesel proceeded to recount a long walk he took within a year or so of the close of the war. It was along a rural road in France.

He explained that, as he made his way along the road, he thought he heard the sound of singing voices. He then realized he was approaching a country church.

Wiesel, a Jew who suffered and saw unspeakable things in Nazi camps, felt drawn to the doorway of the abbey. Inside, he gazed at and heard an exuberant of children harmonizing together under the busy direction of their choirmaster.

“They were beautiful children,” Wiesel now told us, his eyes watering. “They sang like angels, in Latin. There was a pure and simple joy about them. I did not understand their musical words but I felt the utter truth of their expression. It was then, at that moment, that I felt myself breaking into a smile for the first time.”

Would that we could all now hear and see beauty in the forgiving words of strangers with music.

Cross posted from Spirit Behind the News

Photo by World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2003, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate, dies at 87

Hungarian-born Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel attends a symposium of Jewish-Hungarian solidarity in Budapest's parliament on December 9,2009. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Photo

Hungarian-born Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel attends a symposium of Jewish-Hungarian solidarity in Budapest’s parliament on December 9,2009. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Photo

By Bill Trott

(Reuters) – Activist and writer Elie Wiesel, the World War Two death camp survivor who won a Nobel Peace Prize for becoming the life-long voice of millions of Holocaust victims, died on Saturday. He was 87.

Wiesel was a philosopher, speaker, playwright and professor who also campaigned for the tyrannized and forgotten around the world. He died at his home in New York City, the New York Times reported.

The Romanian-born Wiesel lived by the credo expressed in “Night,” his landmark story of the Holocaust – “to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

In awarding the Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel Committee praised him as a “messenger to mankind” and “one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Wiesel as a ray of light, and said his extraordinary personality and unforgettable books demonstrated the triumph of the human spirit over the most unimaginable evil.

“Out of the darkness of the Holocaust, Elie became a powerful force for light, truth and dignity,” he said.

Wiesel did not waver in his campaign never to let the world forget the Holocaust horror. While at the White House in 1985 to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, he even rebuked U.S. President Ronald Reagan for planning to lay a wreath at a German cemetery where some of Hitler’s notorious Waffen SS troops were buried.

“Don’t go to Bitburg,” Wiesel said. “That place is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.”

Wiesel became close to U.S. President Barack Obama but the friendship did not deter him from criticizing U.S. policy on Israel. He spoke out in favor of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and pushed the United States and other world powers to take a harder stance against Iran over its nuclear program.

Wiesel attended the joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2015 when Netanyahu spoke on the dangers of Iran’s program.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Wiesel as a voice for a generation of the Jewish people who saw and suffered horrors no people should endure.

“His light in this world will be greatly missed,” Cardin said in a statement.

Wiesel and his foundation both were victims of the wide-ranging Ponzi scheme run by New York financier Bernie Madoff, with Wiesel and his wife losing their life’s savings and the foundation losing $15.2 million. “‘Psychopath’ – it’s too nice a word for him,” he said of Madoff in 2009.

Wiesel was a hollow-eyed 16-year-old when he emerged from the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. He had been orphaned by the Nazis and their identification number, A-7713, was tattooed on his arm as a physical manifestation of his broken faith and the nightmares that would haunt him throughout his life.

Wiesel and his family had first been taken by the Nazis from the village of Sighetu Marmatiei in the Transylvania region of Romania to Auschwitz, where his mother and one of his sisters died. Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, ended up in Buchenwald, where Shlomo died. In “Night” Wiesel wrote of his shame at lying silently in his bunk while his father was beaten nearby.

After the war Wiesel made his way to France, studied at the Sorbonne and by 19 had become a journalist. He pondered suicide and never wrote of or discussed his Holocaust experience until 10 years after the war as a part of a vow to himself. He was 27 years old in 1955 when “Night” was published in Yiddish, and Wiesel would later rewrite it for a world audience.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed …,” Wiesel wrote. “Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.”

Asked by an interviewer in 2000 why he did not go insane, Wiesel said, “To this day that is a mystery to me.”

By 2008, “Night” had sold an estimated 10 million copies, according to the New York Times, including 3 million after talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey made it a spotlight selection for her book club in 2006.

In 1985 Wiesel helped break ground in Washington for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the following year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In typical fashion, he dedicated the prize to all those who survived the Nazi horror, calling them “an example to humankind how not to succumb to despair.”

Wiesel, who became a U.S. citizen in 1963, was slight in stature but a compelling figure when he spoke. With a chiseled profile, burning eyes and a shock of gray hair, he could silence a crowd by merely standing up.

He was often described as somber. An old friend, Chicago professor Irving Abrahamson, once said of him: “I’ve never seen Elie give a belly laugh. He’ll chuckle, he’ll smile, there’ll be a twinkle in his eye. But never a laugh from within.”

A few years after winning the peace prize, he set up the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which, in addition to Israeli and Jewish causes, campaigned for Miskito Indians in Nicaragua, Cambodian refugees, victims of South African apartheid and of famine and genocide in Africa.

Wiesel wrote more than 50 books – novels, non-fiction, memoirs and many with a Holocaust theme – and held a long-running professorship at Boston University. In one of his later books, “Open Heart,” he used his 2011 quintuple-bypass surgery as impetus for reflection on his life.

“I have already been the beneficiary of so many miracles, which I know I owe to my ancestors,” he wrote. “All I have achieved has been and continues to be dedicated to their murdered dreams – and hopes.”

He collected scores of awards and honors, including an honorary knighthood in Britain. Obama presented him the National Humanities Medal in 2009.

Wiesel was attacked in a San Francisco hotel in 2007 by a 22-year-old Holocaust denier, but not injured.

Wiesel and wife Marion married in 1969 and their son, Elisha, was born in 1972.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Diane Craft and Dan Grebler)

Hitler’s a bestselling author in Germany again. Why?


More than 70 years after the end of World War II, Adolf Hitler’s writings are suddenly popular again — and German state prosecutors are considering legal action to keep them in check. Not since the Nazi era has the dictator’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ been so freely available in Germany. The debate over ‘Mein Kampf’ goes back… [Read more…]

Last Nazi trial: Holocaust survivors won’t forget goodbyes, experiments and stench of burning flesh

DETMOLD, Germany – The Jews of Hungary would be the last to be murdered by the Nazis, but their genocide would come at an unprecedented rate. From May to July 1944, more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews were rounded up and deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in German-occupied Poland. They had been told they were being… [Read more…]

Libertarian Party’s Johnson, Weld should be wary of Holocaust analogies (Guest Voice)

"Never Again" -- A memorial inside the Dachau concentration camp

“Never Again” — A memorial inside the Dachau concentration camp

Johnson, Weld should be wary of Holocaust analogies
by Donald Harrison

SAN DIEGO – The Libertarian party, with two former Republican governors chosen Sunday to head its ticket, will be important to watch in the run-up to the November presidential election, because it may be a place where Republicans who are unhappy with Donald Trump can go and still feel good about their votes.

Such Republicans could solace themselves that they aren’t voting directly for Democrat Hillary Clinton, but nevertheless they could hurt Trump, especially in the battleground states.

The presidential nominee Gary Johnson is the former governor of New Mexico, and the vice presidential nominee is William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Johnson and Weld will need to be careful how they make references to the Holocaust if they don’t wish to inadvertently alienate important blocs of Jewish voters.

Before he won his party’s nomination, Johnson allowed himself to be trapped by an opponent, Austin Petersen, into making a wrongful Holocaust comparison. Debating Johnson’s support of laws requiring businesses to provide their services or products equally to gay and straight people, Petersen asked whether a Jewish baker should be forced to bake a Nazi cake. Instead of rejecting the analogy—which was specious—Johnson said yes, the baker should be so forced.

This caused an outcry from some in the Jewish community that Johnson is insensitive to the true meaning of the Holocaust, notwithstanding the fact that Johnson had served five years as an appointee of U.S. President George W. Bush on the United States Holocaust Commission.

Johnson should have replied that to compare the LGBT community to Nazis libels the LGBT community, who are people with God-given rights, and most certainly are not mass murderers like the Nazis. He further should have admonished Petersen for trivializing the Holocaust in an effort to win a debating point.

Weld faces a similar problem. When he heard of Trump’s proposals to deport all illegal immigrants and to build a wall to keep others out, as well as his call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Weld said he could hear the glass of Kristallnacht shattering.

Kristallnacht was the organized pogrom by the German Nazis against Jews, their places of worship, and their homes the night and morning of November 8-9, 1938. According to many historians, it marked the beginning of the Holocaust, which did not culminate until Adolf Hitler’s regime lay in ashes in 1945 at the end of World War II.

However bigoted Trump’s rhetoric may be, it thus far is talk, and not action. The windows of Mexican and Muslim businesses are not being shattered, places of worship are not being burned, and neither Muslims nor Mexicans are being attacked in their homes. Neither Trump, nor any of his advisers, are calling for genocide against either Mexicans or Muslims.

So Weld’s analogy doesn’t hold up. When we say “never again” and “never forget,” we are calling for the Holocaust to be remembered for the immense evil that the Nazi Germans and their allies were able to perpetuate. While we fear where nasty speech may lead, however despicable it is, it may or may not foreshadow horrible actions to come.

There are other ways to condemn Trump’s proposals without raising the specter of state-organized mass murder.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted via This article is reprinted from San Diego Jewish World which, along with The Moderate Voice, is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.

Photo by Elwood j blues (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

World of Trumps: What bombastic Donald Trump-style demagogues would look like in your country

It’s official; as per a count on Thursday, Donald Trump has officially claimed enough delegates to clinch the GOP nomination. For the millions of non-Americans gazing in stunned silence at the sudden rise of Donald Trump, it may be comforting to think that their own countries are immune to such a figure. But while wall-building protectionists… [Read more…]

Trumpism: Made in Europe


WASHINGTON — Here’s the irony of Donald Trump’s “America First,” immigrant-bashing, free-trade-averse, make-us-great-again nationalism: It is a European import.

The American right has typically been anti-government, reverent of the Constitution, suspicious of political strongmen and resolute in insisting that “American exceptionalism” makes us different from other nations.

But Trumpism is not an American original. Almost every plank in the candidate’s vaguely defined platform is derivative of the European far right. It is gaining ground on the basis of opposition to immigration, fears of terrorism and crime, economic nationalism, and promises of a government wielding a muscular hand against the forces of disorder.

While one would like to think that the copycat nature of Trump’s ideology will, in the coming months, make it increasingly less attractive to American voters, his rise is no less disturbing for being emblematic of what’s happening across so many democracies.

Trump’s emergence is a symptom of a larger democratic distemper roiling the world’s political parties on the center-right and center-left that have underwritten free government since 1945.

For all their differences, these parties have shared a commitment to institutions that combined liberty with welfare; created a reasonably well-distributed prosperity; respected the power of democratic government to do good but also accepted its limits; and embraced the need for compromise.

The weakness of these parties was brought home dramatically this week in Austria where Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Freedom Party that has explicit roots in the Nazi past, nearly won the country’s presidency.

Yes, it was good news that Hofer was edged out by Alexander Van der Bellen, who was backed by the Green Party. But Van der Bellen’s margin was unsettlingly small — he won 50.3 percent of the vote to Hofer’s 49.7 percent.

The fact that the alternative to the far right came from the Greens reflected the decline of the two parties dominant in Austrian politics since World War II. The candidates of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Social Democrats didn’t even make the runoff. (BEG Between them, they mustered only 22.4 percent in the first round of voting. Imagine an American election in which Republicans and Democrats were, together, reduced to little over one-fifth of the total.

The voting patterns in Austria closely resembled those visible on our side of the Atlantic. Polls commissioned by ORF, Austria’s public broadcaster, showed that Hofer (like Trump in the primaries and in the polls) led handily in rural areas, among men and among manual workers. Van der Bellen swamped the right-wing candidate in the big cities and among women, while also leading him among white-collar workers.

Mainstream parties, which can be infected by complacency, certainly bear some responsibility for what’s happening. The defection of working-class voters to the far right is a cross-democracy electoral phenomenon that reflects a serious failure on the part of social democratic and progressive parties whose historical task had been to represent citizens in blue collars.

At the same time, the moderate conservative parties have seen some of their own natural constituents drawn away by rising anti-immigrant feeling — this has hurt German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union — aggravated by Europe’s refugee crisis.

Here again, the Trump analogy holds: Mainstream Republicans winked and nodded toward a hard line on immigration; Trump has embraced it whole with his calls for a border wall and a temporary ban on admitting Muslims to the country.

Thus another cross-Atlantic similarity: Opinions that were once far outside the normal political discourse on immigration and nationalism are now expressed routinely. Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, captured this trend by pointing to the German word (BEG ITAL)salonfaehig(END ITAL), which literally means “passable for your living room,” i.e., socially acceptable.

Trump’s relentless attacks on “political correctness” are intended to break the barriers against what had once been beyond-the-pale sentiments on immigrants and race. His crude approach to campaigning (on Tuesday, he called Hillary Clinton “this low life”) reflects an indifference to norms that reinforces popular contempt for politics and traditional politicians.

Standing up against the new far right should be a shared task across the old political divides in all democracies. But Republican politicians are falling in line one-by-one behind Trump, choosing to ignore the threat he poses to political decency and his challenge to democratic values themselves.

The United States should not look to the European far right as our model. The land of opportunity and freedom with a long tradition of welcoming newcomers should be leading the resistance to the new authoritarianism.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

photo credit: Europe sept. 1938 via photopin (license)

Season 3 of ‘Trump’: reasons to be nervous about foreign policy

Donald Trump. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Donald Trump. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Season 3 of ‘Trump’: reasons to be nervous about foreign policy
by Ben Cohen/

The last time I wrote about Donald Trump in this column was back in December 2015, when the Republican presidential primary race was in full swing. Then, I voiced concern about what the Middle East policy of a Trump administration might look like, pointing out that his failure to address Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, along with his deference to Russian autocrat President Vladimir Putin, was perilously similar to the approach of President Barack Obama—whom the New York billionaire reviles.

Six months later, and in the face of endless high-minded, wonkish critiques like mine, Trump has overwhelmed his GOP competitors. The prospect of a Trump victory in the November general election is suddenly very real, and only a fool would claim otherwise.

Still, recognition of Trump’s extraordinary achievement hasn’t altered my worries about how he would shape American foreign policy. Before I explain why, I think it’s worth making some general observations about Trump’s approach to politics, so as to put all this in context.

First off, one has to distinguish between Trump’s sensibilities and Trump’s abilities. He is not a stupid man—far from it—and he flourishes when his rivals underestimate him. But he clearly distrusts intellectuals, cares little for history, and disdains the kinds of political speeches that are peppered with literary and philosophical references. For all his bombast about making America great again, the Founding Fathers, the U.S. Constitution, and the endurance of the American republic across nearly three centuries, all are conspicuous by their absence from his podium addresses. All we are told is that “it’s gonna be fabulous.” We just don’t know quite how.

Yet when it comes to the operational aspects of his campaign, Trump has proven himself a master communicator in terms of the timing of his messages. In every tussle and every confrontation, he has proved that whatever doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. If Hillary Clinton’s campaign believes that facing off against Trump is a political gift, then that is a potentially fatal strategic error, as all the eliminated Republican contenders—16 of them—can affirm.

Trump’s insertion of TV reality show values into the presidential contest is jarring and crude, but it has worked for him so far. Season 1 of “Trump” just ended with his assumption of the GOP nomination. Season 2—his contest with Clinton—is just beginning. If we get to a Season 3, it’s because Trump is in the White House. Season 4? That means a further presidential term. We have to hope that Trump has enough respect for the two-term presidential limit for there not to be a Season 5.

I make that last point because, in studying Trump’s style and discussing his campaign with friends and political contacts, I’ve noted a couple of observations that are regularly made. Firstly, that it is pretty much impossible to find a proto-Trump among the 44 individuals who have already served as president of the world’s greatest democracy. That therefore leads, secondly, to comparisons with foreign leaders, none of them remotely encouraging. I’ve seen or heard Trump invoked alongside Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan tyrant, Juan Peron, the former Argentine dictator, and Jean Marie Le Pen, the former leader of France’s National Front party and the most prominent of Europe’s postwar neo-fascists. Indeed, the respected political analyst Daniel Pipes, who is a conservative, has made a persuasive case that Trump is deserving of the neo-fascist label.

Trump has done little to allay these anxieties. Even though some of his advisers want him to be more “presidential,” which in his case simply means not tossing out bizarre conspiracy theories and puerile insults, he is not at this point prepared to transform his rhetoric. Nor is he willing to disavow the ravings of his supporters on social media, many of whom have descended into open anti-Semitism in attacking the their guru’s critics.

One of them was Julia Ioffe, a Jewish journalist who recently penned an unflattering portrayal of Trump’s wife Melania for GQ magazine. Ioffe quickly found herself the target of threats in the form of Nazi imagery and anonymous phone calls consisting of recorded Hitler speeches. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Trump about the baiting of Ioffe by his supporters, his response was, “I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that…You’ll have to talk to them about it…I don’t have a message to the fans.”

This is exactly the Trump whom many of us have come to know and dislike and even fear. This is also the Trump whom many of us believe will enter the White House if he wins in November, which is why we search desperately for signs that suggest the outcome will not be as dreadful as we anticipate.

In a purely abstract sense, it is conceivable that Trump could be more of an international statesman than seems possible at present; as in sport, in politics nothing should ever be discounted. Nevertheless, there is precious little evidence for the moment to back up such an assertion.

Trump’s speech following his victory over Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) in the Indiana primary was further confirmation that in his view, the rest of the world has kept American leaders from attending to American problems. As Trump presents it, we can either build world class airports at home, or waste the cash on ungrateful foreigners abroad.

When it comes to relations with America’s allies, it is deeply troubling that the only foreign leader of whom he speaks with consistent respect is Putin. Trump is still smarting from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of his unconstitutional proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Ditto for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called Trump’s demand “stupid and wrong.”

For his part, Trump has described German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a “catastrophic leader” because of her refugee policy. No other European or Western leader seems to even be on his radar—perhaps because politicians like Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” who would have been more than a match for Trump, are increasingly rare in the liberal democracies these days.

Entering office with a record of contemptuous remarks about the leaders of our traditional allies is hardly a solid foundation on which to build the relationships that a neophyte like Trump will need—and need them he will—in order to conduct foreign policy. His fetish for authoritarian leaders encourages the concern that it won’t stop at just Putin, but will lead to flirtations with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (led perhaps by Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star and friend-of-Kim who is also a stalwart Trump supporter) and the Islamist mullahs running Iran. Like Trump himself, these people aren’t stupid, and they would love nothing more than to humiliate the U.S. by flattering its new president in order to deceive him later on.

While I believe, therefore, that we need to prepare ourselves for a Trump presidency, I cannot find even a grain of comfort when it comes to projecting what his foreign policy will involve. One of his advisers recently told The Algemeiner’s Ruthie Blum, with regards to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, “I can’t think of a better guy who can sit at the table and try to bring everybody together.” This mantra from the Trump camp, and its underlying hubris, will be sorely tested should he be inaugurated in January.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014). This article is reprinted from JNS.

Germany is receiving way fewer refugees now, but the crisis isn’t over

Syrian-Refugee-Map (1)

More than a million asylum-seekers came to Europe last year. Now that a prime pathway, the Balkan route, is blocked, some officials are breathing more easily. That’s especially the case in Germany — Europe’s biggest destination for people fleeing war, poverty, disaster or all of the above. Its government recently reported a more than 60 percent… [Read more…]

The retreat, and rebirth, of socialism

The traditional center-left is in retreat in Europe, and to a somewhat lesser extent in the U.S. This could be seen as a failure of the centrist-socialist establishment, though it might make sense to see it from a different perspective: An attractive, modern alternative has presented itself. In France, President Francois Hollande’s erratic policies may have… [Read more…]

Now you can watch the Hitler comedy that has Germans laughing out loud

Germans have been laughing out loud about a Hitler film for a while, but now it’s available for the rest of us, on Netflix. “Look Who’s Back” (the German title is “Er Ist Wieder Da”) is adapted from a bestselling satirical novel by German author Timur Vermes. The conceit of the book is what would happen… [Read more…]


When it comes to Africa travel and the African-American travel market, it takes two to miss a golden opportunity.

On one side of the Atlantic, you can find a lot of Black Americans who say they’d love to see Africa someday. On the other side, you find a lot of African nations looking for more tourism that would love to welcome them.

In between, you find…not much.

Black Americans are traveling the world in growing numbers, but the numbers traveling to the Mother Continent are nowhere near what they could or should be — and the reasons why have nothing whatever to do with ebola.

So why haven’t the two sides hooked up in the name of travel and tourism?

On the whole, we Americans — and Black Americans, in particular — really don’t know Africa. What little we do know, we tend to draw from the crisis du jour menu served up daily in mainstream media and the world’s single greatest source of misinformation: “I heard.”

YouTube boasts a whole collection of videos devoted to asking people what they know about Africa, including African-Americans at HBCUs like Howard University. The answers range from head-shaking to embarrassing to downright cringeworthy.


Africa has always been an afterthoughtin the United States. Our social and business ties to the Mother Continent are sparse compared with the rest of the world.

America’s schools have never taught kids about Africa in the same way it teaches about all things European. And while African food, art, music, film are global staples, you find precious little representation of any of that in US mass media.

The gap of knowledge and understanding between Africans and African-Americans is huge. But the blame for that gap cannot be laid entirely on this side of the Atlantic. There are two uncomfortable realities here:

1.The nations of Africa have put too little effort into developing the US market.
2.Safari travel in Africa has been over-marketed and over-promoted, to the detriment of African travel and tourism overall.

You find the best evidence of the first point at travel trade shows.

The biggest ones are in Europe, and ITB Berlin in Germany is by far the biggest. We’re talking 10,000 exhibitors from 185 countries — and about 50 of those countries are African. Government tourism ministries, private tourism boards, tour operators, travel agencies. Africa represents at ITB Berlin.

Here in the United States, Unicomm annually puts on the Travel and Adventure Show series — seven travel trade expositions in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.

The perfect chance for African travel providers and tour operators to connect with travel agents and potential visitors here in the States.

The total number of African tourism bodies, public or private, represented at those seven shows: One. Rwandan Tourism, with whom I met in February at the LA show in Long Beach, CA.

The grand-daddy of US travel expos, the oldest and largest single show in the country, is the NY Times Travel Show. Their African exhibitors? Nine, maybe. Out of 55 sovereign African nations…nine.

Then, there’s the whole safari thing. Pick any ten people at random and tell them you’re contemplating a trip to Africa. At least seven out of ten will ask you: “Are you going on a safari?”

More likely, it’ll be all ten.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with safari travel. Done right, with respect for the environment and the local people who depend on it, it can be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. Small wonder that safari travel is the first thing that comes to mind among Western travelers.

The problem is that it tends to be the only thing that comes to mind.

Talk to Black Americans, especially younger ones, who have an interest in Africa, and you’ll find out that their interest often reach far beyond wildlife. They want to know about the history and heritage — not just as it relates to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but what happened before and what came after. They want a taste of Africa’s many cultures. They want to check out the music, the food, the styles. Everything.

And Africa has a mind-boggling amount of attractions to offer them in all of those areas. But Africa’s nations aren’t reaching out to tell them about it.

On the whole, the African and the African-American are much more culturally attuned to Europe than they are to each other, no surprise given our respective histories. And it shows in our disconnect when it comes to travel and tourism.

We’re like two blindfolded men sitting in a darkened room, each waiting for the other to get up and turn the lights on.

If Black Americans are going to take Africa seriously as a destination — and if Africa wants a bigger piece of the roughly $48 billion annual African-American travel market — that needs to change.

On our side, we need to insist that our schools and our news media do a better job of teaching us about Africa. And if they refuse to do it, then we need to start learning on our own. We need to reach out to the African expat communities we have in this country and start making some connections. They can teach us much, if we’re willing to listen and learn.

Meanwhile, Africa’s decisionmakers in the travel industry need to reach out to potential African-American visitors in the same way that they reach over to Europe. They need to show up at the trade shows here. They need to advertise on Black American media. They need to work with Black American expats in African countries and African-American travel professionals over here.

International travel markets don’t build themselves.

It’s time to close this great divide.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!.” This is cross-posted from his website. He is the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.

Merkel admits: Anti-Semitism is worse than we thought

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday admitted that anti-Semitism is “more widespread” in Germany than some believe. Speaking in her weekly podcast and quoted by Haaretz, Merkel called for action to “deal with [anti-Semitism] – especially among young people… from countries where hatred of Israel and the hatred of Jews is widespread.” Anti-Semitism, she stressed, is… [Read more…]

Is New ‘Mein Kampf’ publication ‘a slap in the face to Holocaust survivors’? (Guest Voice)

As Adolf Hitler’s last official residence, the German state of Bavaria has kept the copyright of the genocidal dictator’s “Mein Kampf” under lock and key since the end of World War II. Forced into the role of a taboo’s reluctant guardian and although most historians see it as an important source on the Nazi period, for… [Read more…]

Global Warming- Are We Out of the Woods?

shutterstock_155265725The Earth warmed more in the last three decades of the 20th century than in the previous 1400 years with rising temperatures accelerating at the start of the 21st century. Human activity has been mainly responsible. Changes in weather patterns, areas of drought, and heightened ocean levels can all be anticipated as atmospheric warming increases further. This will result in inundation of low lying portions of the Earth, with the possibility of numerous deaths from hurricanes, typhoons, and floods. And as the surface is flooded, more people will seek higher ground, crowding areas of perceived safety. There will also be less arable land available to produce food as heat and droughts are commonplace, with the likelihood of hunger and even famine stalking the Earth.

The vast majority of climate scientists (97 percent) agree that most of the planet’s warming is of man-made origin, primarily through the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as industrialization and the growth of the middle classes has spread everywhere. Climbing wealth in Third World countries has led to greater consumption and use of electricity, appliances, automobiles, air conditioning, and so forth. The burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil which releases CO2, along with the discharge of non-CO2 greenhouse gases are the two major factors responsible for the current scenario. Putting the climate genie back in the bottle will not be an easy task, but must be accomplished if the Earth as we know it is to survive.

China contributes the most to global warming with a dependence on coal for much of its energy, with the United States second. However, on a per capita basis and in total emissions over the years, the U.S. is first. China, Russia, India, Brazil, Germany and the U.K. make up the rest of the dirty seven. India is also coal dependent like China and with a soaring population may soon surpass China in polluting. In fact, New Delhi’s air may already be the dirtiest in the world. Unhappily, an Indian minister has stated that the growth of its economy and lifting its populace out of poverty is more important than dealing with global warming.

However, the Conference on Global Warming that took place in Paris recently provides some hope. In a landmark accord, the representatives of 195 countries, including China, the U.S. and India, committed their nations to cut greenhouse gases enough to moderate the worst effects of climate change. Unfortunately, this pact did not have mechanisms to enforce its provisions and is dependent on voluntary adherence to the limitations to which countries signed on. And past deals to control the use of fossil fuels and curb greenhouse gases have not been successful, as many nations disregarded the agreements. Perhaps because of greater urgency and the epic pollution occurring now in China, India, and other developing states, this program will be followed.

There also remains the question, however, whether the accepted cuts in emissions will be sufficient to meet the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above the prevailing temperature prior to the industrial revolution. Keeping it below 1.5 degrees would be the preferred limit. It is believed by scientists that atmospheric temperatures above that level will cause enough destructive effects to impact hundreds of millions of people. European democracies in general are already taking steps to reduce their production of carbon dioxide by using more renewable energy. (Though after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Germany has been abandoning nuclear energy.) But alternative energy sources are more expensive than coal. India and other developing countries have been reluctant to drop cheap coal and have been pushing for the developed nations to subsidize alternative energy for them. Greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, such as methane, must also be reduced if the rate of climate change is to be altered significantly.

In addition to the above measures, deforestation must be halted since it is a major factor in global warming. Harvesting of trees and clearing of land for farming and grazing pastures must be ended and forests replanted as sinks for absorbing carbon dioxide. Brazil, Indonesia and other nations with large forested areas must be encouraged to keep them intact and even start to enlarge them.

A report issued by an international commission in September 2014 entitled The New Climate Economy, suggested that the cost of lowering greenhouse gases might be much less than had been estimated previously. Some other credible international groups have even claimed that efforts to restrict carbon emissions would not hurt economic growth and might even act as a stimulus. What these scientists and economists say is that the cost of curbing carbon in the atmosphere would be offset by the benefits that would occur. This is partially because of the steep drop in solar and wind energy prices, along with the use of nuclear power and carbon recapture. Either cap-and-trade or a carbon tax could be used to drive the reduction of fossil fuel use, or any other path that was shown to work. One of the offsets would be greatly improved health, survival, and productivity of the population with the most exposure to “dirty air” and carbon particles.

The surprising drop in fossil fuel prices at the end of 2014 may cause more difficulties convincing underdeveloped nations to lessen the use of carbon-based fuels and increase alternative energy. And the election of a Republican president in the U.S. in 2016, who reverses Obama’s steps on the environment, could “heat” up the atmosphere further. Unfortunately, most Republicans in Congress deny the dangers of global warming and are unwilling to take action to curb greenhouse gases. In fact, Senator Jim Imhofe of Oklahoma, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, has said that climate change is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” God, not humans, controls the weather. How do you deal with such ignorance, since it is likely Imhofe’s constituents agree with his statements.

Resurrecting Democracy

Photo by Shutterstock

The Berlin Wall: Where Is it Now?

Berlin wall signatures

On Thursday, August 13, a very special segment of the Berlin Wall was unveiled at the U.S. Diplomacy Center in Washington, D.C. (above), presently under construction.

It is one of approximately 54,000, 2.6 ton reinforced concrete slabs, each measuring over 10 feet high and 4 feet wide, that were used to construct the infamous Wall.

On the 25th anniversary of the night when “the Wall came down,” I wrote:

The Wall did not physically come down during that long night 25 years ago. It would take several more weeks and months for the massive, reinforced concrete wall to be chipped, pick axed and, eventually, bulldozed down. However, it soon became clear that, symbolically, the wall of oppression, fear and death had already fallen — forevermore.
The entire 30-mile-long* wall that ran through the middle of Berlin came down by the end of 1992* — a monstrosity, complete with anti-vehicle trenches, guard towers and mined “death strips” that resulted in the deaths of almost 200* people who were only seeking freedom. That Wall could not keep another 5,000 from escaping tyranny by climbing over or crawling under it through hand-dug tunnels.

Berlin wall guard watching

Unidentified man hacks away at the Wall while an indifferent East German guard looks on. (Photo by author)

But what happened to the massive 30-mile long wall?

Immediately after the Wall came down, at least symbolically, thousands of euphoric Berliners and tourists, like this author, flocked to the wall and, armed with hammers, chisels, even sledgehammers — mostly rented from young entrepreneurs — hacked at the wall and collected small chunks of concrete, reminders of the “Wall of Shame.”

But, no matter how many of these Mauerspechte –“wall (wood)peckers” — “pecked” at the Wall, it would take much, much more to take down the massive relic of the Cold War.

Berlin Wall 3

Enterprising “hackers” reach for “choice pieces” of the Berlin Wall. (Photo by author)

Serious demolition of the Wall — using the military and heavy equipment — started the summer of 1990 and most of the Wall was gone two years later. The majority of the slabs that were demolished were used for highway gravel.

One can still find short and longer segments of the Wall in and around Berlin that have been left intact or have been reconstructed for commemorative and historical purposes — some segments have even been returned to Berlin from abroad.

The longest stretch — almost a mile long — can be found at the Eastside Gallery in Friedrichshain and other long segments can be seen at the Topography of Terror memorial and at a memorial on Bernauer Strasse.

In my article on the Wall, I admiringly wrote about the entrepreneurship of young West Berliners who not only rented the hardware to tourists to hack at the Wall, but also made sure that, overnight, the coveted graffiti mysteriously reappeared on parts of the wall where the original graffiti had already been hacked away.

And it is that entrepreneurship that accounts as well for the final destiny of other parts of the Wall.

According to Philip Oltermann at the Guardian, a man named Volker Pawlikowski “snapped up” 30 wall segments from a recycling yard while the German government was “still working out what to do with the wall.”

Small pieces from those segments were selling last year for about $5 a piece at a souvenir shop at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie Museum. According to Oltermann, “Museum shop manager Wieland Giebel insists that Pawlikowski’s wall pieces are still genuine, though he makes no secret of the fact that they’ve been recently touched up with a spray can.”

Interestingly, while a few segments of the Wall are still in Berlin, the vast majority of remnants of a wall built by a Communist regime to forcefully and cruelly keep its citizens in captivity are now scattered throughout the free world, prized as reminders both of the price of freedom and of the irrepressible human yearning for that freedom.

Estimates of how many Wall segments are in how many locations vary, but according to Oltermann:

Around 600 segments have found a new home outside Germany, making up over 140 memorials worldwide, in places as far-flung as Australia and the Bahamas. There are five pieces of the Berlin Wall in Uijeongbu, South Korea, 30 kilometers from the North Korean border: a symbol of the hope that the two countries may one day be peacefully united.

In the U.S. alone there are more than 50 locations where parts of the Berlin Wall are displayed.

Among them, the John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush Presidential Libraries; the National Infantry Museum, Fort Benning, Georgia; the Virginia War Museum, Newport News, Virginia; the gardens at the United Nations headquarters in New York; at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, Dallas, Texas (below) and in many towns and cities throughout the U.S.

Berlin Wall Anatole Hotel

Berlin Wall segments at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, Dallas, Texas. Courtesy Anatole Hotel

They are also found at such unlikely places as the National Atomic Testing Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada, the Main Street Station Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada and at one of Mt. Rushmore’s visitor centers.

Ironically, even Russia, the Godmother of the abomination, is reported to have one segment of the Wall.

On the other hand, much more befittingly, a segment of the Wall has now found a home at the U.S. Diplomacy Center.

Berlin Wall Diplomacy Center

The Berlin Wall segment was hoisted over the State Department’s historic flag pole before being lowered into the construction site of the U.S. Diplomacy Center. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

The State Department:

This unique segment of the Wall is personally signed by individuals who played key roles, including former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Polish President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker. The Wall serves as a permanent reminder of our shared history and the indispensable role of our transatlantic bond for the future.

My small chunks of Wall are not autographed by celebrities, they do not have the original graffiti, yet these pieces of almost indestructible concrete are a treasured and constant reminder of how fragile freedom is.

Read more about the journey of this historic Wall segment, written by Kathy Johnson, Director of the U.S. Diplomacy Center, here.

* Notes:

1. Reported lengths of the Wall vary depending upon several factors. Among these: location(s) of wall being discussed; time period of construction (the “fourth generation” wall dividing East and West Berlin was the most sophisticated and strongest section of the Wall); whether the eastern part of the double wall, the so-called “hinterland” wall, is included, etc.

2. Estimates of how many people perished attempting to escape over, under or through the Wall range from 136 to well above 200.

3. In 2014, Anna Kaminsky published, on behalf of The Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship, the book, “Where in the World Is the Berlin Wall?” The book tracks down more than 240 Wall sections throughout the world and highlights “some exciting and strange, but also few tragic stories behind these pieces of the Wall…the many ways in which the Berlin Wall has been used to commemorate itself and the Cold War.”


1. The Guardian: “Where on Earth is the Berlin Wall?

2. The “What Happened to the Berlin Wall?

3. “List of Berlin Wall Segments” and “Berlin Wall.

Lead photo: Segment of the Berlin Wall that arrived at the U.S. Diplomacy Center on August 13, the 54th anniversary of the closure of the border from East to West Berlin.(Photo: U.S. State Department)

A version of this story appears at the Huffington Post.

Follow Dorian de Wind on Twitter:

How a Mandatory IAEA Mechanism Saved the Iran Nuclear Talks (Le Monde, France)

kerry-iran[1][icopyright one button toolbar]

What was it that saved the Iran nuclear talks from what seemed imminent collapse just over 24 hours ago? For Le Monde, special correspondent Yves-Michel Riols writes that when the deadlock over lifting sanctions on Iran seemed insurmountable, it dawned on negotiators that even if an immediate lifting of sanctions were agreed to, the IAEA will first have to confirm that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely non-military – a process that under the best of circumstances is likely to take some years. In other words – they fudged it!

Le Monde, correspondent Yves-Michel Riols begins by describing how the tensions over the issue of lifting sanctions seemed an impenetrable barrier to the deal, and how the inevitability of bureaucratic delay saved it:

Lausanne: In the final stretch of negotiations in Lausanne, the question of lifting international sanctions against Iran was at the heart of all the tension. And not just between Iranians and Westerners, but also within the “P5 1,” which includes the United States, Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany. That was particularly evident in the evening of Tuesday, March 31 to Wednesday, April 1, when the talks appeared to be on the verge of collapse.


Russia, discreetly backed by China, openly detached itself from the rest of the “P5+1” and advocated the immediate lifting of all sanctions against Iran in the event of an agreement, including U.N. sanctions. However, six U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted between 2006 and 2010 are precisely those that Europeans and Americans want to lift last as they focus mainly on nuclear proliferation activity.


Thorny issue of lifting sanctions


For Tehran, however, a lifting of sanctions has strong symbolic value because as long as they are in place Iran will continue to be treated with suspicion by the international community.


“To obtain a lifting of U.N. sanctions would allow President Rohani to present the nuclear deal as a victory by arguing that the country has regained respectability, which would facilitate additional concessions on its nuclear program,” says Ali Vaez, an Iran expert at the International Crisis Group.


Hence the intense debate that took place in Lausanne to reach a compromise on this difficult issue. France put forward a proposal that would consider lifting some U.N. sanctions in exchange for the adoption of a mechanism called Snap Back, which would reimpose sanctions if Tehran fails to keep its commitments. Russia, however, is reluctant to approve an automatic process that would deprive permanent Security Council members of their veto rights.

READ THE REST IN ENGLISH OR FRENCH, OR READ MORE GLOBAL PERCEPTIONS OF OUR NATION AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of global news and views about the United States.

Berlin Must Reveal U.S. ‘Blackmail’ Over Snowden Asylum (La Jornada, Mexico)

Snowden-US-German-flags-caption_graphic[1][icopyright one button toolbar]

Over the weekend it was reported that German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, when pressed by journalist Glenn Greenwald as to why Germany didn’t offer Edward Snowden political asylum, replied that Washington, ‘told us they would stop notifying us of plots and other intelligence matters.’ This editorial from Mexico’s La Jornada implores Germany to live up to its image as a ‘global benchmark of legality’ and lay out the facts of the episode without delay. The newspaper points out that if Washington can subordinate ‘developed countries of the greatest technological and economic strength’, one can only imagine the ‘fierce control’ the U.S. continues to exercise over ‘less advanced nations like ours.’

The La Jornada editorial begins with the report on the vice chancellor’s comment to Glenn Greenwald:

According to a report on the electronic portal The Intercept, the U.S. government told Berlin it would deny information on terrorist plans to the German intelligence services if it offered asylum to U.S. computer analyst Edward Snowden, who currently lives as an exile in Russia. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has assisted the former Central Intelligence Agency analyst screen and disseminate [classified] documents, said that information was revealed by German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. Washington, meanwhile, has denied the accusation and said that the relationship between the two secret services has saved lives.


In the case of Germany, public awareness of this demand for submission, which borders on blackmail, presents the government in Berlin with a difficult dilemma: reduce their response [to U.S. surveillance] to mere acts of pretense or present an explanation that will satisfy the understandable discomfort of its population to what has been exposed as an act of subordination to the superpower. In the context of the persecution launched against the former CIA analyst and in light of the obsequious attitude shown by several European states, the assumption that the U.S. pressured the German government is given added credibility. In the case of Germany, the revelations have the additional component of espionage, revealed by Snowden, carried out by Washington against the government in Berlin. Despite the assumption that the United States would have to pay a political cost in its relation to Europe’s most powerful country, all Berlin offered was a warm, ambiguous response that has been harshly criticized by its own inhabitants.


One must to weigh the profile of a world power which in recent decades has encountered planetary and regional counterweights in Brazil, China, Russia and Iran, but has established a domain in Western Europe hardly resistant to its plans. For Berlin, a government that has been depicted as a global benchmark of legality, it is imperative to as quickly as possible lay out the facts of this episode of presumed blackmail by a regime that has attacked not only the necessity of confidential communications on the part of the ruling class, but the privacy of millions of people and the security of the country.


In another sense, if this is the degree of subordination exerted by the United States on developed countries of the greatest technological and economic strength, one need not be a suspicious type to imagine the fierce control it can exercise over less advanced nations like ours, nor the immense power that gives impetus to such behavior.

READ ON IN ENGLISH OR GERMAN, OR READ MORE ON MASS SURVEILLANCE AND GLOBAL PERCEPTIONS OF OUR NATION AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of global news and views about the United States.

Mystery Again Surrounds Bundestag’s NSA Committee of Inquiry (Die Welt, Germany)


Chairman of the Bundestag’s NSA Committee of Inquiry Patrick Sensburg has led Berlin’s almost two-year long probe into the scandal exposed by Edward Snowden surrounding NSA mass surveillance. Last year Sensburg reportedly ordered music to be played at committee meetings ‘just in case’ and at least two moles were discovered passing information from the Committee to U.S. spies. Now, according to Germany’s Die Welt, Sensburg’s state-issued encrypted cell phone appears to have been hacked, although the culprits have yet to be identified.

For Die Welt, reporter Manuel Bewarder writes in part:

The Bundestag Committee investigating the NSA spying scandal may itself have been spied on. According to information obtained by Die Welt, there are suspicions that the so-called encrypted phone of Committee Chairman Patrick Sensburg may have been hacked. The device is therefore to be examined by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) in Bonn. The CDU politician is for the moment unwilling to comment.


An ominous course of events forms the backdrop of these suspicions. In February, the Committee Chairman Sensburg is said to have noticed a malfunction in his Blackberry Z30. The Bundestag’s administrative division then sent the device to Bonn in a sealed container for analysis by the BSI through the shipping firm DHL [a German firm]. It was the first time transport was arranged this way.


In response to inquiries by Die Welt, the Bundestag confirmed the facts surrounding the situation. The lead-sealed shipping container was opened upon arrival at its destination. According to Die Welt’s sources, the device had obviously been taken out of the container before being delivered. The Bundestag’s administrative division says that a complaint that the package had been broken into has been filed against “persons unknown.”


The BSI is now trying to ascertain if the device had been accessed. A detailed analysis will take several weeks. What’s behind all this remains completely unknown. Therefore, any involvement by an intelligence service can only be a matter of conjecture. Neither the federal government nor the BSI wished to comment.”


Patrick Sensburg is quite an interesting target for spies as he regularly deals with highly calssified documents. The investigative committee he presides over is trying – in the course of the revelations of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden – to elucidate possible violations by intelligence services at home and abroad. This week, committee members will be hearing testimony by a former section chief of the Bundesnachrichtendienst [The Federal Intelligence Service or BND.]


The security measures surrounding the committee are high, which is why committee chairmen and section chiefs were given encrypted telephones in the first place and safes were installed in representatives’ offices. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution urged committee members to use their encrypted phones more frequently and exercise more discipline in their communications. Security officials had early on warned committee members that they were attractive espionage targets so should expect to be surveilled.

READ ON IN ENGLISH OR GERMAN, OR READ MORE ABOUT MASS SURVEILLANCE AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of global news and views about the United States.

Justifiable Fear of a Creeping Police State (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany)

world-under-surveillance_graphic[icopyright one button toolbar]

The recently reported theft by American and British intelligence of SIM card codes for potentially billions of smart phones around the world may be a tipping point in thinking about how much crime a democracy is willing to allow its spies to commit. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung columnist Jasper von Altenbockum writes that ‘If even American or British intelligence agencies are so unscrupulous, others will be even more so,’ raising questions about whether and when such activity crosses the ‘police state’ threshold.

For Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jasper von Altenbockum begins by examining why the NSA and its British counterpart GHCQ would execute such a massive theft:

The “Gemalto hack” won’t be the last surprise Edward Snowden’s arsenal has in store for us. Even so, is the theft of SIM card codes a surprise to anyone? The American and British intelligence services that stand accused of this piracy would only have been choosing the easy path: Why go through the trouble of cracking encryption when stealing codes is so much faster and easier? Why bother to seek a warrant when the data can so easily be hacked and hijacked? For anyone surprised by all this, here’s a hint: that’s how intelligence services operate. They are even meant to operate that way. If they weren’t allowed to do so, we wouldn’t need intelligence services.


As with all of the Snowden revelations, the extent of this alleged state data theft isn’t quite clear, nor is it clear whether it even took place as claimed by the Web site The Intercept. Bloggers who are not as taken with Snowden as are “true believers” had their doubts when the Gemalto story broke, and now that Gemalto has denied the hack story, they can feel vindicated.


But since the intelligence services practiced electronic surveillance and systematically spied on the security firm’s employees in order to access as many records as possible – which Gemalto doesn’t deny – it is only natural to recall the image of the “haystack”: They may only be looking for a pin, but to do so they want the entire haystack, i.e.: everything.


This raises the old question of whether security policies based on the philosophy of the haystack undermine what it purports to protect: freedom and justice. It also raises the question of whether there are governments in Washington and London that can and desire to exercise even partial control over all the mischief committed in their names.

READ ON IN ENGLISH OR GERMAN, OR READ MORE GLOBAL PERCEPTIONS OF MASS SURVEILLANCE AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of global news and views about the United States.

Freezing Worker Eggs: Are Apple and Facebook Playing God? (Germany, France, Switzerland)


Over the past year and a half, as the scale of the global mass surveillance being pursued by the National Security Agency in collaboration with America’s tech giants has become clear, these corporations – Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – have become objects of derision for Americans and people around the world. Now it seems there is new cause to look upon these firms with suspicion. Over the course of the past few days as news emerged that Apple and Facebook have instituted plans to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs for later use, columnists in other nations have expressed concern that they are blithely playing God with life itself. Worldmeets.US has translated columns from three countries on the subject, all outlining the likely ramifications of these policies:

First, from Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a column headlined Employee Eggs and the ‘Cold New World’ Order, columnist Reinhard Mueller examines the creepy side of the latest fringe benefit being offered egg-bearing employees of America’s tech giants, wondering what might come next:

“Even if everyone calls it a fad – just a friendly invitation from an employer to please set aside the desire to have children, it makes East Germany’s Family Policy seem almost humane. … The delusional sense of feasibility among corporations knows no bounds, and it’s no coincidence that the Internet giants are at the forefront. In the battle for the supposedly best talent, they conjure up the illusion of being the masters of life – as if there were some guarantee of being able to bring children into the world if one waits ten years. Life as a purchase. Why not do the same for the organs of deserving employees in order to build up a stock of spare parts?”

Then from Le Figaro in a column headlined Apple-Facebook-Google: Egg Freezing Plans Imperil Humanity, philosopher and theologian Bertrand Vergely warns that Apple, Facebook and Google are ‘manipulating life by interfering with the reproduction of the human race’ and in doing so, they ‘are meddling with the future of the whole of humanity.’ He warns that companies like Google are playing God, leading to the ‘dehumanization of man.’

“Over and above the intrusion into the private lives of their employees, I think we need to discuss the manipulation of life itself! Google, for example, currently invests in extensive research into overcoming death. Now they want to interfere with the question of birth. Is there nothing that can resist Google? I want to add that the couple, even life itself, will no longer be able to resist, either. We are observing a stupefying seizure of power by these companies, which are meddling with the future of the whole of humanity.”

Finally, for Switzerland’s News in a column headlined Apple’s Frozen Eggs: ‘Eugenics’ by Any Other Name, columnist and author Regula Stampfli sounds the alarm over the egg-freezing plans of Apple and Facebook, reminding readers that what Apple and Facebook are doing today, the Nazis could only dream of doing. Stampfli writes that just because the private sector rather than the state is practicing eugenics doesn’t make it any less dehumanizing, and that, ‘taking a merely business oriented approach to issues as important as the freezing of human eggs and its defense by science leads directly to political, economic, and civil laws that legitimize (in)human reproduction and a contempt for and destruction of human life.”

“The rhetoric calls to mind the debates about ‘scientific progress’ in the 1930s. Any woman would reject state-sponsored eugenics – God forbid! On the other hand, eugenics practiced by the private sector – yeah! Freezing eggs is a highly political and economic policy decision that affects all people. Or would you – in retrospect – characterize the Nazi race laws as an exclusively private sector issue in line with the era’s understanding of biology, medicine, corporate law and sociology? Anyone who still dares treat medical reproductive technology as an ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ issue should be referred to the Nuremberg Code used to prosecute members of the German medical community.”

READ MORE GLOBAL PERCEPTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of foreign news and views about our nation.

Obama’s ‘Failed Experiment’ Proves Only America Can Maintain Order (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany)

How should the world react to America’s return to the role as world’s top cop? For Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, columnist Nicolas Richter writes that misgivings over NSA mass surveillance and past military adventures notwithstanding, the world is breathing a sigh of relief to see the United States return to the role of maintaining a ‘basic level’ of global order, particularly with a multilateralist in the White House keen on sharing this responsibility – not to mention the costs.

For the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Nicolas Richter starts by saying Obama tried and failed to behave like a German chancellor, then writes in part:

Should the world rejoice over the return of the United States as the world police? Obama’s reception at the United Nations was rather subdued last week. Since 2001, the U.S. has garnered so much suspicion that it could last for a half a generation. At the same time, there was an often-silent relief in New York that in this year of epidemics, war, and terrorism – the United States was interfering after all. This slow recognition is appropriate. It takes into account America’s weaknesses, but also her merits.


Had the United States not intervened against the “Islamic State,” no one would have. Obama could just as well have declared IS to be an Arab problem and focused on free trade with Asia. But then IS would have overrun the Kurds and soon been sending decapitation videos from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. IS would have continued to depict rape as good governance, fill its war chest and attract scores of young men who confuse the Middle East with an apocalyptic video game.


There is no evidence that Europeans or Arabs would have opposed this insanity on their own. Obama, While the United States now attacks the terrorists’ oil stores, the Bundeswehr is busy checking to see how many of its helicopters still fly. The quite legitimate German complaints with respect to NSA espionage have never been taken seriously in Washington, because everyone knows that after the next disaster at the latest, Europeans will again be extremely grateful for the U.S. security apparatus.


The deterioration of Syria was hardly of interest to anyone in the United States, but when the Islamic State murdered Americans, Washington’s right-wingers, the frequently refuted “hawks,” sounded as if they wanted nothing more than to bomb Syria personally. Then, instead of talking seriously about providing a mandate for a new intervention, lawmakers disappeared to their constituencies, where they presumably railed about Obama’s “weakness,” although it was they themselves who has slunk.”

READ ON IN ENGLISH OR GERMAN, OR READ MORE GLOBAL COVERAGE OF THE IRAQ-SYRIA CRISIS AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of foreign news and views about our nation.

Return to Sobibór


[icopyright one button toolbar]

“Sobibór ‘Himmelstrasse’,” by Jacques Lahitte

It was many years ago when I first heard about a Nazi death camp named Sobibór, nestled deep in the forests of the Lublin district of South-Eastern Poland.

Sobibór was one of three Nazi extermination camps — the other two were Belzek and Treblinka — that had received little notoriety compared to camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, even though an estimated 1.4 million Jews were annihilated at the three camps, more than at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The Sobibór death camp was one of the Nazis’ best-kept secrets. Even in the Netherlands, the existence and the history of Sobibór were not widely known.

That is surprising, because of the estimated 170,000 to 250,000 Jews and Roma who were systematically murdered at Sobibór over a short 18-month period, more than 34,000 were Dutch Jews. The Dutch newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, called Sobibór the “Dutch Auschwitz.”

It wasn’t until several years ago that Sobibór acquired a personal and sinister significance to me.

A Dutch uncle, Jan Roeland van Wisse de Wind, spent the last few years of his life researching and documenting the de Wind genealogy.

When I received a copy, I was not only struck by the number of de Winds and de Wind relatives who had been transported by the Nazis to various concentration camps, but also by how many of those lives were ended by Nazi murderers at that “little-known” camp, Sobibór.

Of the more than 100 de Wind family members who lost their lives at Nazi extermination camps, 22 were murdered in the gas chambers of Sobibór. The youngest, Hella Brechnel de Wind, was a mere 10-years-old, the oldest, Helena de Wind, was 67.

But, even after the evil purpose of Sobibór began to sink in, the remnants of that camp and its almost idyllic surroundings did not seem to match the cruel reality of some 70 years ago.

Five years ago, I quoted NRC Handelsblad’s correspondent Stéphane Alonso’s description of Sobibór and surroundings:

There is little in Sobibór to remind one of the former extermination camp… Anyone who didn’t know better would think they are in a typical Polish hamlet, where clean washing flutters in the wind, farmers on old tractors rumble by and lumbermen lug tree trunks.

When I recounted my fist impressions of the camp and surroundings, I also was taken in by the serene images, especially by the photo of “Himmelfahrtstrasse” — the “road to heaven.”

I wrote, “Perhaps it was the accompanying photograph of a blissful, peaceful, country path bordered on both sides by tall pine trees” that softened the impact of reading about such a ghastly place.

I learned that, in 1942 and 1943, this idyllic-looking “road to heaven” led to several gas chambers where the Nazis practiced their “Final Solution,” the “Endlösung der Judenfrage.”

Even several rusty railroad tracks, now overgrown with grass and weeds, and an equally rusty station sign with the single word “Sobibór” still standing across from the crumbling station platform looked innocuous enough.

Sobibor rails

Railroad tracks at Sobibor death camp, circa 2007. “Gare de Sobibor” by Jacques Lahitte.

However, these were the tracks over which dozens upon dozens of “train transports,” essentially cattle cars crammed with Jewish victims, came to a final stop after tortuous journeys from Westerbork in the Netherlands — a grueling 72- hour journey — and from various locations in Poland and Germany.

The men, women and children were then made to walk — naked, as they were told they were going to take showers — down the 300-yard long Himmelfahrtstrasse to the gas chambers and to their deaths.

Yes, the Nazis knew how to erase all traces — virtually all — of their heinous crimes and how to keep a secret.

On October 4, 1943, speaking to his senior SS henchmen in Poznan and referring to “the extermination of the Jewish people,” Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler said, “This is an unwritten and never-to-be-written page of glory in our history…”

And the Nazis certainly succeeded in keeping the Sobibór paragraph “unwritten” for a long time in that “page of glory.” In fact, it was one of the Nazis’ best-kept secrets of World War II.

Contributing to such a “success”:

• There are, or were, very few witnesses. According to some reports, only about 50 prisoners survived their imprisonment at Sobibór and the war to tell the horrors of Sobibór.

• Unlike what I saw at Auschwitz, there are no mountains of shoes, no roomfuls of eyeglasses and human hair, no obscene mounds of prostheses to reveal the secrets of Sobibór.

• The Nazis dismantled the camp, demolished buildings and structures — including the gas chambers — down to their foundations, “even carrying the rubble away.” They killed any remaining prisoners, exhumed the bodies from mass graves and burned all human remains.

• The Nazis destroyed plans, documents — anything that could reveal their top-secret Operation Reinhardt.

• Finally, they planted trees — entire forests — and established farms on the scene of their unspeakable crimes.

Nonetheless, the Nazis did not quite manage to commit the perfect crime.

Several years ago, human ashes and bone shards were found where the bodies had been burnt on grates in the open air.

But the existence and location of the gas chambers have eluded investigators for 70 years — until last month.

That is when two archeologists — one from Israel and one from Poland — after many years of research and excavations, uncovered the foundations and remains of walls of what are believed to have been the infamous gas chambers at Sobibór.

Pointing to gaps between the red bricks, Israeli Yorah Haimi says, “This is where they forced the Jews in.” Polish archeologist Wojciech Mazurek adds, “And that’s probably where the motor was placed that fed exhaust fumes into the chambers” writes Claus Hecking in Der Spiegel.

The two archeologists “constantly interrupt each other out of excitement over the historical importance of their discovery,” says Hecking and adds that the discovery by the two archeologists “some 71 years after the Nazis destroyed the extermination camp where between 170,000 and 250,000 people were murdered…. will help to make the atrocities committed at Sobibór become a more tangible reality.”

If there was ever any doubt about the enormity of the crimes the Nazis perpetrated at Sobibór, it should now forever disappear.

On behalf of Hella, Helena and the approximately quarter of a million innocent men, women and children who perished at the now tranquil Sobibór, thank you Messrs. Haimi and Mazurek for adding one more compelling reason for our “Never Again” promise.

Sources and References:

1. “A Voice for the Dead: Recovering the Lost History of Sobibór” by Claus Hecking, Der Spiegel

2. “History Sobibor” by the Sobibor Foundation

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

The Weak Sisters of Europe

140317-vlad-putin-cover-jsw-316p_950ff8280d19a2b4df5d93c11a7464deEurope refuses to remember its history. Perhaps it’s because that might entail doing something to prevent history from repeating itself. The Russian “invasion” of Ukraine with the goal of the eastern Ukrainian states achieving independence and becoming part of a greater Russia is reminiscent of Hitler’s grab of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938. Hitler’s pretext was that German speakers in the Sudetenland wanted to be part of a greater Germany, just as Putin wants eastern Ukraine with its Russian speakers to be part of a greater Russia. And European leaders sit and twiddle their thumbs. They have even been wary of labeling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an invasion as that might force them to act more decisively, almost afraid of displeasing Russia.

As the Russian speaking Ukrainian separatists were unsuccessful in battling the Ukrainian army in spite of Russian support and continued to lose ground, Putin found it necessary to have Russian troops and heavy armaments move into Ukraine to fight the Ukrainians. This reversed the Ukrainian gains. And still, the European leaders could not agree on any strong collective moves to penalize Putin and his Russian minions. Even the shooting down of a civilian aircraft by the Russians or their separatist allies did not move the Europeans to invoke punishing sanctions on the Russians that would significantly damage their economy. Additional sanctions have been just been debated at the NATO summit meeting but are yet to be announced. However, France did finally agree to hold off on delivery of the advanced Mistral warship they were constructing for Putin after long deliberation and pressure from the other European states.

For the first time since World War II, an aggressor nation is changing the boundaries of another state in Europe by military force and to this point, the Europeans have done little to counteract this change. NATO over the years has become increasingly weak, the military budgets of its member states shrinking, as the possibility of an outside armed threat to European stability was discounted. NATO members are supposed to spend at least 2% of their GDPs on their militaries. With economic problems at home, leaders have been reluctant to meet that objective and didn’t even want to consider the possibility of an armed conflict with Russia.

The countries in Eastern Europe previously under Soviet control and in most danger from Russian aggression, in general have spent the least on their armed forces, along with Germany and the Scandinavian nations. The Europeans tend to see the United States as their protector in dealing with Russia and militant Islam. The US spent 4.9% of its GDP on its military in 2012, France 2.2%, Great Britain 2.3% and Germany 1.4%. As the strongest European state economically, Germany could certainly have strengthened its military forces in line with NATO’s directive. And aside from Poland which spent 1.9% of its GDP on its military, the other Eastern European states spent 1.1-1.2%.

There are two ways NATO can respond to Russian aggression- economic sanctions or militarily. A military response is essentially a non-starter, though a military build-up and strengthening of NATO forces is certainly necessary to deter Russian actions in the future. The problem for Ukraine is that it is not a NATO nation and other European states are reluctant to take a strong stand to protect it. They have not even sent in replacement armaments or tried to build up the Ukrainian armed forces to resist the Russians. It appears that at the NATO summit, European leaders encouraged President Poroshenko of Ukraine to negotiate a cease-fire and an end to the war with the rebel leadership. Unfortunately, this gives the separatists credibility. It also provides Putin and Russia further cover and the ability to lie about their use of Russian troops to back the separatists. And it seems as if Putin’s seizure of the Crimea is accepted as a fait accompli by the Europeans. Win-win for Russia.

However, if Eastern European states (particularly those with a Russian speaking minority) that joined NATO are to feel less fearful about the risk of a Russian invasion with Russia just next door, NATO has to take further steps to bolster its military deterrence. The concept of a rapid response force of four thousand men is a joke compared to the strength of the Russian military. More money must be spent by NATO states on their militaries and the size of their ground forces must be increased. In addition, Russia must be hit with meaningful economic sanctions for their invasion of Ukraine, including their banking and financial sector, defense goods, and new investments in gas and oil production. European states must also free themselves from dependence on Russian oil and gas, in order for them to be truly free.

Resurrecting Democracy