Monday, July 16, 2018

Joschka Fischer on the rise of China and "the descent of the West"

"The global Western era is coming to an end in our time." - Joschka Fischer, Der Abstieg des Westens: Europa in der neuen Weltornung des 21.Jahrhunders (2018)

Joschka Fischer's latest book is a broad sketch of the state of world politics. Obviously a very large subject! And the satellite's eye view inevitably involved in such an undertaking can induce dizziness at times. But as a former Foreign Minister of Germany and as someone who have been intensely engaged in politics since his youth, Fischer does a respectable job of it, with particular emphasis on the challenges the changes present for European foreign policy.

Fischer sees the rise of China toward being the world's leading power in the world as being the geopolitical consideration already defining the world in the 21st century. He looks at this development through a foreign-policy "realist" lens, viewing China's rise not as a threatening menace to be suppressed or some ideal to be supported but rather as a normal development in the relative power of nations in the world. He sees us as now being in a "global transition phase to a new, Asia-centric world order." (The quotes from the book in this post are my translations from the German original.)

Many Americans are inclined to see US predominance in the world as some kind of inevitable historical development, even divine providence. But that predominance didn't show itself on the world scene until the end of the First World War, and even then proceeded in fits and starts until the end of the Second World War. The "Westphalian" system of nation-states as we know it began with the Peace of Westphalia in 1848. Just two centuries ago, the dominant powers in the world were the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, Prussia, and the Ottoman Empire. All of those had ceased to exist by 1918.

Very mindful of the risks that the relative decline of the US in world power and China's rise to the leading role, his hope is that the process will involve more active, pragmatic cooperation than military hostility. He calls this option "Chimerica." Neither German nor English readers are likely to miss the suggestive ambiguity of that term because of its resemblance to "chimera/Chimäre." Unlike much of the current political conversation in the US, Fischer views Russia realistically as at most a secondary player for the foreseeable future. He sees three major options for Russia, due to its weak economy, retarted innovation, and heavy dependence on fossil fuel production: stay weak and isolated; become a junior partner to China; or, develop a cooperative relationship with Europe.

Fischer has a Malthusian streak that sees world population growth almost as a self-evident evil, to which he apparently sees no real solution in sight. In fact, urbanization and the growing demand by women worldwide for equal rights create a strong tendency toward the stabilization of the world population in the 21st century.

He also seems to have a bit of a techno-utopian perspective, although his general comments on the role of progress in "digitalization" seem pretty sensible.

I'm tempted to say that his observations about the need for greater EU political unity are fairly pedestrian. But they are downright radical-democratic in comparison to the notions of the far-right nationalists and their supporters. And he actually does advocate for an aggressive political strategy by EU advocates to win a solid popular majority in Europe for more substantive political integration: "it seems to me the moment has come to leave behind the bare integration-pragmatism and widen it to a political strategy to win back a wider political integration."

Which is very appealing. But it's how to see how any option, including the two-speed one he advoates, can reasonably move forward without at least simultaneously creating a eurozone that can survive as an "optimal currency area" and reaching a general European strategv for a real (not theatrical only) solution to the longterm immigration situation which no amount of magic conjuring will make go away. Fischer explicitly acknowledges the difficulty and urgency of the latter. National solutions "no longer make sense," he states in saying what should be obvious but the xenophobic parties are trying hard to deny. The euro's problems, though, he mostly skirts around.

Fischer optimistically views China's rise to its current position as the ascendent leading power in the world as having been "exclusively peaceful," though that might be overgenerous, unless we start the time count after China's armed incursions into northern Vietnam in 1979, aka, the Sino-Vietnamese War, the Third Indochina War.

The US, by contrast, achieved its role as world hegemon through two world wars and the Cold War, which included hot wars of various levels of intensity, most notably the Korean War and the US' own Indochina War. But Fischer stresses that US "soft power" also "played a very decisive role in its rise and, above all, for its roll as 'benevolent hegemon' through the decades."

One of the things I appreciate about Fischer's political perspective on the United States is that he stresses the central importance democratic traditions of the US, "the basic values of the American Revolution, [of] democracy, human rights, and the rule of law." But he also notes that the American tradition of "territorial conquest" is not one that should be perpetuated or defended. To me, this is a sensible and obvious perspective, one that has important differences from the Hamilitonian-Whig ideological version of US history that is currently dominant, remarkably not only on the left but if anything particulary on the left.

Fischer even credits the "idealistic committment" that has accompanied the hard-headed pursuit of American national interest in foreign policy. Although foreign policy realists like Fischer are also accutely aware of how easily and frequently the idealistic rhetoric has been used to justify brutal and unjust policies. He had direct experience of that as German Foreign Minister during the Iraq War.

He also makes an important historical observation that the US even prior to its overseas imperialism at the turn of the 20th century was nevertheless oriented to an internationalist outlook. And he attribues that in particular to its culture of immigration, which in the 19th century was primarily European immigration:
[The US] was, in contrast to other nations, almost from the beginning on founded as interally "globalized," despite the breadth and thin settlement of the huge country, through the immigration-related combination of its population from all dominant countries and parts of the world - on a universalism of values, and that had consequences for its popular culture. What made and makes the immigrant population "Americans" were the Constiituion and the value of the USA, all of them immaterial, normative values, and in their innner core an unparalleled freedom for the individual.
Fischer's general perpective in this book is describing the longer-term shift in world politics from the US as the so-called unipolar hegemon in the early 1990s to the current period, in which he sees China's process of rising to be the world's dominant power as defining world politics. And with that point, he is stressing how radically the Trump white nationalist view misunderstands so very much of what America's influence in the world has been.

I'm totally sympathetic to Fischer's perspective on that. But in terms of historical perspective, there are some obvious problems left unstated by Fischer's prsentation, which is not primarily focused on illustrating the major conflicts of 19th century US history. The United States was also defined, of course, by the exclusion of the indigenous Indian population and by a very particular treatment of immigrants of African origin. There were good reasons slavery was known as the Peculiar Institution. The Calhounian (not Jacksonian) political tradition from which Donald Trump and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III draw today is unfortunately also very much a part of the history of the American brand of internationalism.

Fischer understands Trump's America First blustering not as isolationism but as narrow nationalist belligerence. Presumably the book manuscript was finalized in late 2017. But even without the events of this year - US rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement, more intensely expressed hostility to NATO and the EU - Fischer sees Trump as already having made a decisive break with the previous level of commitment to NATO common defense, one that increases the urgency of better European cooperation on military matters and European security. Though he does not understand the latter to be Europe pursuing new and expanded military roles in the Middle East.

He describes the major US soft-power assets this way:
... the attractiveness of the US way of life, the popular culture of Hollywood, pop music, and jazz all the way to Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Starbucks. As well as a policy of open borders, which brought the best and most clever into the country and many more besides. The gigantic land simply needs people. Through immigration developed not only growth, but also a strong dynamic of upward mobility. And obviously there was also the language, an easy-to-learn and globally spoken English, which through the worldwide media dominance of the USA via TV and the Internet became the lingua franca of modern times.
(People who didn't grow up as native German speakers might have a somewhat different perspective on how easy English is to learn!)

Fischer doesn't see a comparable soft power potential for China on the historical horizon.

He closes the book with a chapter on the rise of 1930s style authoritarianism in the West today and another on the history of German nationalism and its immensely destructive and self-destructive consequences.

Fischer seems especially comfortable writing on political theory, as in the chapter on contemporary authoritarianism:
The ideological cadavers of National Socialism and fascism - and the previous "conservative revolution" of the 1920s - are being exhumed again and used by rightist intellectuals as the newest theoretical faschion [Dernier cri] of Western democracy and its fundamental values. An anti-democrat and intellectual henchman of the Nazis like Carl Schmitt counts these days as the pillar-saint of this New Right.
This Carl Schmitt.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Postwar immigrants to Germany and today's EU immigration issues

I've been interested in immigration issues for my whole adult life. As a very recent immigrant to Austria, as the spouse of an Austrian citizen, I have a new kind of immediate personal stake in the whole issue. That's not entirely new, though, since my wife was an immigrant to America during most of the nearly 25 years we've been married.

I've been posting for a while about the immigration issue in Europe, where rightwing populists have been making political hay with it. Opponents of xenophobia tend to say these days that the EU is not facing any kind of "crisis" on immigration. And that's true in the sense that the EU isn't facing a level of immigration (refugees and others) that they can't reasonably absorb. On the contrary, as long as economic growth in the conventional sense is a goal EU countries share - and it is - the EU needs immigration to do so. Births in the EU have been below replacement rates for a while. And for jobs providing personal support to the elderly, German and Austria are already heavily dependent on immigrant labor, a demand that will only grow with the much-discussed aging of the European population.

I prefer to describe the European immigration situation is a longterm crisis, a permanent crisis for all practical purposes, that has acute and less acute moments. In 2015, an acute moment occurred, connected particularly to the (internationalized) Syrian civil war. Immigration numbers are way down since then.

But that's partly an out-of-sight-out-of-mind illusion, too. The solution to the 2015 crisis was primarily two things: Germany unilaterally took something like a million refugees, for which the government was not adequately prepared in the short run, and Angela Merkel made a deal with Turkey to house refugees transiting to the EU in Turkey itself. It was a classic Merkel extend-and-pretend solution. It let politicians like Austria's then Foreign Minister Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz claim to have "closed the Balkan route." That claim helped him advance to his current position as Chancellor in the 2017 elections. But, like way too much of the alleged actions on the immigration crisis, it was largely fake political theater. A Kasperlespiel (Punch and Judy show), as they say here.

You don't have to go back to the Magyar invasions of the 9th and 10th century to find examples of mass immigration to German-speaking areas. One of the largest rapid relocations of people in history was that of the millions of ethnic Germans were driven out of eastern Europe in the years immediately after the Second World War.

The politics of this became incredibly complicated. The new immigrants formed their own organizations and pressure groups and generally counted among the most conservative elements of West German politics. The Florida Cubans who fled from the Castro regime could provide a useful analogy in the US context. And the massive wave of immigration was a mixture of some more-or-less voluntary migration (though not easily comparable to East German migration to West Germany in the 1950s), official expulsion (including the notorious Benes decree in Czechoslovakia), and forced-if-not-exactly-official pressure.

The postwar order also involved major changes to the borders of Germany. Significant territory that was German before the war went to Poland (Schlesien) and Russia (East Prussia). And the postwar Soviet occupation zone became East Germany. So there was complex and highly emotional questions of international borders in the mix, as well. The political power of the expellee groups were a major barrier to neogiating lasting peace arrangements and final borders.

One might think that these ethnic German refugees would be received and integrated into German society much more easily than today's refugees, mostly non-Germans from much poorer countries. After all, large numbers of the postwar expellees were actually German citizens. And in reality, millions were integrated into German society and contributed mightily to the German "economic miracle" in the 1950s.

But It turns out that ethnic German refugees were greeted with a great deal of hostility, too. Andreas Kossert is the author of Kalte Heimat: Die geschichte der deutsche Vertribenenen nach 1945-1949 (2008) about the German "expellees." An interview with him on that topic appears in 1945-1949: Die Nachkriegszeit (Spiegel Geschichte 1:2018). He says that "[Bedenken und Ängste] gehören zur universalen Geschichte von Flucht und Vertreibung, sie tauchen in untershiedlichsten Mustern immer wieder auf." ("[Preconceptions and fears} are part of the universal history of flight and expulsion, they always turn up again and again in the most diverse patterns.")

Putting numbers to the Vertreibung of the late '40s is tricky. My respect constantly grows for the historians who do the original research of picking through the evidence to make reasonable estimates of such numbers. Among the challenges here is that the Vertreibung is not a clearly defined event with a beginning and an end. And there is a significant amount of judgment involved in how to parse the various reasons for the outmigration, although it was overwhelmingly forced. Kossert's Spiegel Geschichte  interviewer cites a number of "up to 14 million," which seems significantly too high based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the history. The graffic immediately following the interview shows 11.9 million dated 1944-48 for refugees and expellees. And that figure seems to be estimating those who settled in Germany, which was most of them. It's also not clear if the 11.8 million are supposed to be ethnic Germans. During the last year of the war, it's worth noting, German propaganda painted the nature of Soviet occupation in the most lurid terms in order to strike maximum fear in the population and therefore encouraged and facilitated evacuation of Germans during that period. (The Soviet forces did provide some actual atrocities that lent credence to the propaganda.) How to view those evacuees in the context of the larger population movement of that time is one of the challenges.

Major contributing factors to German reluctance and hostility toward the new immigrants included the massive destruction of urban housing during the war, the devastating economic conditions facing millions of Germans including the loss of primary breadwinners in the war, and the food shortage that faced much of Europe immediately after the war, the latter exacerbated by unusally brutal winter weather in 1945. Those circumstances are a challenge in making comparisons between the reception of refugees in 1945-50 to today's immigration issues.

And there was a heavily ideological aspect of the reception, as well:
Die Menschen waren in der NS-Zeit immer wieder mit dem Negativbild vom „slawischen Untermenschen", vom Osten Europas als minderwertig konfrontiert warden. Diese Vorstellungen sind nach Kriegsende nicht einfach verschwunden.

Wir mussen fur diese unmittelbare Nachkriegszeit durchaus von einem handfesten Rassismus sprechen. Es ist nicht so, dass die Aufnahme der Fluchtlinge problemlos gelang, weil Deutsche zu Deutschen kamen. So fühlte es sich für die Menschen damals nicht an. Die Flüchtlinge und Vertriebenen kamen oft aus Lagern, viele hatten Gewalt erlebt, waren in einem erbärmlichen Zustand, als sie ankamen, verlaust, zerlumpt - und damit entsprachen sie in vielem den Klischees, die die einheimische Bevölkerung von Menschen „aus dem Osten" hatte. Es gab ihnen gegenuber ganz eindeutig Fremdenfeindlichkeit.

[People in the Nazi era were always confronted with the negative image of "Slavic subhumans," of eastern Europe as inferior. These conceptions didn't just disappear after the war.

For this immediate postwar period, we have to call it outright racism. It's not the case that the acceptance of the immigrants was achieved without problems, while Germans were coming to Germans. The people at the time didn't take it that way. The refugees and expellees often came from camps, many had experienced violence, were in a pitiful condition when they arrived, louse-ridden, ragged - and thereby fit in many ways the clichees that the native population had about people "from the east." There was clear xenopobia against them.]
The Nazi notion of the "Aryan race" turned out not to be so inclusive even of ethnic Germans!

Although many of these new immigrants spoke German, they often spoke different dialects from that of the regions where they settled. Many of them were Catholics moving into heavily Protestant areas, others Protestants moving into Catholic areas. Many were settled in rural areas, and local farmers often exploited them as cheap labor.

Over the years, understanding of the postwar refugee/expellee situation was clouded by the difficulty many Germans had in recognizing what happened during the Third Reich. So, many advocates for the Vertriebenen preferred not to discuss the plight of the postwar immigrants as a direct result of Germany's massive war of aggression in the east. In ethical, legal, and political terms, the expulsions were also unjust reactions to the consequences of the war. Advocates for the Vertriebenen preferred to emphasize the latter and largely ignore the former.

Kossert is cautious about drawing lessons for 2018 from the postwar experience with the German refugees and expellees, saying the "integration is a very long, sometimes generations-long process."

This is an interview with Kossert (in German) from the YouTube channel Ostpreußischer Rundfunk, which is managed in cooperation with the Landsmannschaft Ostpreußen of the German state Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia). As their website and newspaper indicate, they are very much on the right wing of the German political spectrum. "Kalte Heimat" von Andreas Kossert - Die Integration der Vertriebenen in West- und Mitteldeutschland YouTube date :10/04/2012:

One reviewer of Kossert's book suggests, though, that his account is problematic in continuing the narrative of vicitimization characteristic of the rightwing Vertriebenen organizations. Andrew Demshuk (The German Expellee as Victim: The End of a Taboo? H-Net Reviews Oct 2010) criticizes:
... the book’s attempt to uphold (rather than critically investigate) expellee victim status. Certainly, it is not hard to portray expellee suffering, nor to find that they saw themselves as victims; the evidence in the core chapters does this well enough. Unfortunately, in part because of Kossert’s heavy reliance on statements by contemporary expellee political leaders in the League of Expellees (BdV), he claims that all expellees still demand redress from their German neighbors for failing to recognize that they had discriminated against them and contributed to their real status as victims.

This claim is premised on a misreading of history, in which the causes of the expulsion are blurred. In a style reminiscent of the old German nationalist accounts, the two contextual chapters idealize a peaceful, prosperous German East, in which the violent aspects of medieval colonization by the Teutonic Knights and general ethnic conflict before 1918 have no place. Discussion of the interwar period emphasizes the suffering of the German minority in Poland, thereby establishing them as victims even before the expulsion. Only hinting at Nazi crimes with his statement that “the Poles also suffered terribly under the Nazi politics of occupation and Germanization” (p. 27), as well as with an earlier nod to Jewish suffering, Kossert fails to explain what could have motivated the expulsion, to which he grants extensive detail. While he is right that children who suffered as Holocaust victims or expellees bore “similar long-term psychological burdens”, the search to heal such burdens requires additional analysis of the distinct contexts that brought this suffering about (p. 349). And it is problematic to imply that Nazi guilt was equal to, or even less than, the guilt of the Allied powers who expelled Germans. Illustrating German crimes in the East would not have undermined Kossert’s argument that many expellees had played no part in these crimes, nor that most suffered consequences out of proportion with their own behavior during the war. Indeed, had he demonstrated that Nazis also persecuted German communists in East Prussia and Upper Silesia during the war, he might have further added to his claims about the utter lack of rationality in the expulsion of Germans from the East. [my emphasis]
It worth noting that the claim of German victimization by the supposedly threatening and grasping immigrants is a key feature of the rightwing populist xenophobic appeal. And the preferred self-portrayal of the Vertriebenen groups during the Cold War years is a very important part of the historical background of that pitch.

Friday, July 13, 2018

NATO and the real interests of the US

All the talk about the 2% spending target for NATO countries, and now Trump's my-4%-is-bigger-than-your-2% nonsense, is beginning to get to me. Ewen MacAskill and Pippa Crerar report (Donald Trump tells Nato allies to spend 4% of GDP on defence Guardian 07/11/2018):
Trump left the assembled presidents and prime ministers [at the NATO summit] floundering, unsure whether he was serious about the 4% target, double the existing Nato target of 2%, which many do not meet, or whether it was just a ploy.

After making the announcement, Trump walked out.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, confirmed the 4% figure. “During the president’s remarks today at the Nato summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” she said.
A percentage of GDP target for defense spending is an entirely arbitrary number. What counts is whether the defense budget is appropriate to a foreign policy that takes into account realistic security risks. And also how well the money is spent. A country with a smaller GDP like Greece - and one that has shrunk incredibly due to the EU's austerity policies - may need to spend more than 2%, but countries like Germany and France maybe less. Greece actually is spending more than 2% now.

Markus Becker in Gerade noch mal gut gegangen Spiegel Online 12.07.2018 gives the following percentages for the five NATO countries that currently spend more than 2% of GDP on defense:

Britain: 2.1%
Greece: 2.3%
Estonia: 2,1%
Latvia: 2.1%
United States: 3.5%

This is the total percentage for the US, not a percentage spent only on European defense.

Über-Realist Stephen Walt in The EU and NATO and Trump — Oh My! Foreign Policy 07/02/2018 refers to the painfully obvious point that "Trump’s evident distaste for these institutions [NATO AND G-7] mostly reveals his own ignorance and lack of strategic acumen." That's actually putting it generally.

Walt is actually being generous in putting it that way. A desire to join in Vladimir Putin's foreign policy - for whatever reasons - probably also plays a major role. Even though he likely doesn't really understand that either. Not that he would act differently if he did!

Walt gives his realist-theory view of US interests in Europe, which despite myself I have to admit is persuasive as far as it goes:
The U.S. interest in Europe is fairly straightforward. In addition to their mutually beneficial trade and investment relations, the United States has long sought to preserve an overall balance of power in Europe. ...

There is no potential hegemon in Europe today, however — neither Germany nor Russia has the population, economic strength, and military clout to take over the whole place — and thus there is no serious threat to the regional balance of power. Thus, the United States could (and should) reduce its military role and gradually turn European security back to the Europeans. [my emphasis]
And in line with that view, he thinks that it makes practical sense for the EU nations to maintain cohesion in the Union and take on a bigger role in continental defense. And, "Given that the United States still has an
interest in a tranquil Europe, a strong EU would be even more valuable if the U.S. security role in Europe were to decline."

But he doesn't think Trump is making any kind of realistic evaluation of US interests in his foreign policy: "The national interest is irrelevant; it’s the Nielsen ratings that count."

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Varoufakis on extend-and-pretend solution to euro and refugee problems

Yanis Varoufakis in an 11-minute interview with Bloomberg News on the two mega-problems that endanger the future of the European Union: the flaws of the eurozone currency construction, and the long-term refugee crisis:

He talks about how the current extend-and-pretend pseudo-solutions to both are are a deceptive mess. (The more I hear about Angela Merkel's recent deal on refugees with her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the more I'm impressed with what vapid political theater it is, a non-solution to a non-problem.) Phony solutions are a staple of normal politics, of course. But the EU program for Greece and the Merkel-Seehofer deal are both classic examples of the genre. The first is far more significant, the second more dramatic in its obvious phoniness.

He deals with the extend-and-pretend "solution" to the Greek debt crisis in Profiles in European Denial Project Syndicate 07/29/2018:
When bankers try to cover up bad loans on their books, they extend new loans to enable their insolvent borrowers to pretend to be servicing the original loan. When the new loan is exhausted, the client is allowed to suspend repayment for a few years, with interest accumulating. This keeps the net present value of their asset (the loan) constant while postponing the day of reckoning (when they have to confess to their regulator that the loan is unrecoverable).

Since 2010, Greece’s creditors have been practicing this extend-and-pretend strategy as though they were training for an Olympic event. Instead of a courageous and therapeutic haircut, or the moderate GDP-indexing solution, the Eurogroup’s recent decision, proclaimed as the “end of the Greek debt crisis” boiled down to the apotheosis of this cynical practice.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The politics of fakery on European immigration

Immigration makes some people crazy. And crazy, as a general rule, is a bad basis for policymaking. (Marc Brost et al, Tage des Irrsinns Die Zeit 04-05.07.2018)

With both Putin and Trump eager to weaken the European Union, the EU countries are floundering on the twin dilemma of a "the obscenity of a currency union which imposes a strict system of rules to the benefit of its strongest member states but does not in compensation provide the latitude for joint political action on the European level" (Jürgen Habermas, Die Zeit 06.07.2018) and the inability to set up an effective and fair system for handling refugees and asylum-seekers.

The EU continues to deal with the problems of the eurozone by what amounts to magic conjuring with the holy phrases of Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics. And with the immigration crisis by staging bad theater. But since we're dealing with major government policies here, the fakery comes with real costs to real people.

In a recent lecture, Jürgen Habermas described how Angela Merkel's nationalistic posturing during the debt crisis fed nationalistic sentiments in the EU, a process that is backfiring on Germany in visible ways (Sind wir noch gute Europäer? Die Zeit 04.07.2018; English: Are We Still Good Europeans? 06.07.2018):
If you listen closely to the German chancellor, it is striking that she makes rather peculiar use of the words "loyalty" and "solidarity." During a recent appearance on a talk show hosted by Anne Will, Merkel demanded joint political action on asylum policy and in the tariff conflict with the United States, and in this context called for the "loyalty" of the EU partners. Generally, it is the boss who expects loyalty from her employees, while joint political action generally requires solidarity rather than loyalty. Depending on the constellation of interests, it is sometimes the one, sometimes the other, who must subordinate their own interests to those of the whole. When it comes to asylum policy, for example, not all countries – because of their geographical locations, for example – are equally affected by migration nor do they all have the same capacity to take people in. To take another example, tariffs on automobile imports threatened by the U.S. would hit some, Germany in this case, harder than others. In such cases, joint political action means that one party takes the interests of others into consideration and takes on its share of responsibility for the jointly approved political resolution. Germany's interest is obvious in these two examples, just as it is in the insistence on a joint European foreign policy.

The fact that the chancellor speaks of "loyalty" in such cases is likely a consequence of her having spent years using the world "solidarity" in a different, strictly economic context. "Solidarity in return for each country's own responsibility" is the euphemistic slogan that became familiar in the course of the [debt] crisis, a reference to the conditions imposed on credit recipients by those granting the credits. What I am getting at is the conditional redefinition of the term solidarity: that is the semantic breaking point where cracks are now showing in the certainty that we Germans are the best Europeans. Contrary to the raving clamor about transfer payments, which have never actually come to pass, what is slowly creeping into the public awareness is both the lack of legitimacy and the dubious effects of investment-hampering budgetary constraints, along with labor market reforms that result in entire generations being jobless. [my emphasis]
Habermas refers to the nationalistic demagogues and policies that are currently threatening the EU's existence as "the Trumpian dissolution of Europe."

There was a political confrontation the last few weeks between German Interior Minister Ernst Seehofer (CSU) over a narrow slice of the current set of immigration and asylum issue in which Austria's Chancellor Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz intervened in a reckless way that was over an issue whose substance seems almost esoteric. (Wolfgang Münchau, German refugee compromise ignores underlying issues Financial Times 07/05/2018; Andrea Böhm, Europas Flucht vor der Realität Die Zeit 07.07.2018; Max Fisher and Katrin Bennhold, Germany’s Europe-Shaking Political Crisis Over Migrants, Explained New York Times 07/03/2018)

But too much of the immigration debate - far, far too much - depends on symbolic posturing that translates into headlines the xenophobes can exploit for their own demagoguery.

I saw a small example in a local insert for the state/province of Upper Austria from the Austrian Neues Volksblatt ", Hoamatland for July 2018, which is associated with the politics of the Chancellor's conservative People's Party (ÖVP). The second half of page 6 carries three headlines: "Christliche Werte zu OÖ!" ("Christian values appertain to Upper Austria!"), "Zwei Moscheen in OÖ geschlossen" ("Two mosques in Upper Austria closed"), and "Bevölkerung für strikten Kurs" ("Population for a strict course"). Christian values, closing mosques, a strict course against "migration" - all are favorite framing constructs for Austrian xenophobes.

But if the reader bothers to look closely, something odd is happening. The first is a report about a new "integration" policy statement for immigrants by the Upper Austrian state government, featuring the leading government officials of the government coalition, Landeshauptmann (Governor) Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP) and deputy governor Manfred Haimbuchner, together with representatives of the opposition SPÖ and Greens, the same photo featured in this story at, „Kompass für das Zusammenleben“ 04.07.2018. It's about the release of a general policy statement called Integration Verbindlich Gestalten - Zusammenhalt Stärken. The "Christliche Werte" article certainly leaves the impression that all parties in the state Landtag were endorsing a policy that specified "Christian values" as government policy, which is understood in the present context as a anti-Islamic framing.

But the Hoamatland article doesn't include the quote cited in the headline. Nor does the longer Volksblatt are includes a statement supporting "Christian values and traditions," in a context which quotes the title of the Integration Verbindlich document and leaves a clear impression that it includes a Bekenntnis ("profession" or "allegiance to") "our Christian values and traditions." Here's the paragraph in German:
Unter dem Titel „Integration verbindlich gestalten — Zusammenhalt stärken“ bringe das neue Leitbild Ziel und Aufgabe der Integrationspolitik zum Ausdruck und stelle einen Handlungsrahmen für die zukünftige Integrationspolitik und Integrationsarbeit einschließlich des Förderwesens im Land auf, heißt es in einer Stellungnahme der Landesregierung. Und, so wird betont: „Wesentliche Grundlagen und Schlüsselfaktoren für ein gelungenes Zusammenleben sind unter anderem das Bekenntnis zur gemeinsamen Sprache Deutsch, das Bemühen um Selbsterhaltung und die Teilhabe am Arbeitsmarkt sowie das Bekenntnis zu unseren christlichen Werten und Traditionen.“
But the thing is, the Integration Verbindlich statement on the Upper Austria official website does not say that. A simple Cntl-F search shows 25 instances of "Werte" (values) in the 20-page document, none of which are identified as "Christian". Or "Islamic" or "Muslim" or "religious". The same combination of Windows keyboard, Adobe Acrobat, and my own eyeballs search combination finds only one reference to "Christian": "Österreich ist ein offenes, christlich geprägtes Land,
das dem Humanismus und der Aufklärung verpflichtet ist." ("Austria is an open country shaped by Christianity and which is committed to humanism and the Enlightenment.") And the document is explicit about what it assumes to be Austrian values in a section called "Central Basic Values":
  • Democracy and the rule of law ("Demokratie und Rechtsstaatlichkeit")
  • Separation of church and state/religious freedom ("Trennung von Staat und Religion/Glaubensfreiheit")
  • Integrity of body and spirit ("Körperliche und geistige Unversehrtheit")
  • The individual right to shape one's life and freedom of opinion ("Recht auf individuelle Lebensgestaltung und Meinungsfreiheit")
  • Equality of the sexes ("Gleichstellung der Geschlechter")
  • Educational opportunities and educational responsibilities ("Bildungschancen und Bildungspflicht")
In other words, like any official document passed through endless committees and designed to be acceptable to the entire ideological spectrum of the parties in a state legislature, it's a safely bland statement of general liberal democratic values of tolerance and mutual respect.

So why present the story with a headline that makes the whole thing sound like a defiant declaration of the primacy of Christianity as such in Austrian identity? Even allowing for Austrian journalistic practice of putting quotation marks in headlines around summary statements that aren't exact quotes, it's an odd presentation. I was unable to locate the quote from the Hoamatland headline in a Google search.

Briefly, the other two headlines have similar issues. Two mosques in Upper Austria were closed, it reports, a move announced in a June 8 press conference statement Chancellor Babyface, Vice Chancellor HC Strache, and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. The article leads with a quote from Landeshauptmann Stelzer to crow about fighting "political Islam," hostile subcultures ("Gegengesellschaften"), radicalization, and violence. All associated with the closed mosques.

In reality, there was much less to the June 8 announcements that the PR hype suggested. The announcement was about withdrawing official recognition from some small Islamic associations. As Austrian specialist on rightwing extremism, Thomas Rammerstorfer, explains in Der große Schmäh mit der bösen Moschee Falter 13.06.2018, not only were the grounds for the closures practically and legally questionable. But also their practical effect on Islamic affairs and "political Islam" in Austria is to strengten the relative prestige and influence of groups friendly to Turkey's authoritarian President Tayyip Erdoğan, which were not touched by the actions. Erdoğan is a favorite bogeyman for the Austrian far right despite the similarities between his autoritarian leanings and theirs. Turks form the largest group of Austrian Muslims, all of whom are regularly trashed by rightwingers. None of that would be conveyed by the Hoamatland piece.

The third article is an uncritical paragraph saying that 83% approve of German classes for children who haven't managed German sufficiently for their grade level in school. This sounds perfectly harmless, a liberal and generous measure. But the current national government has been pushing for a particular kind of German classes in publisc schools for foreign children that would tend to segregate them in schools from their native German-speaking peers, a position means to promote stigmatization of immigrant children and make it even harder for them to integrate successfully into Austrian society. That really is just a filler article. But it fits with the other two in promoting a very superficial picture of current policies on immigration and their practical effects.

There's quite a bit of discussion in American politics right now about whether countering far-right Trumpist with facts is effective, or even counter-productive. But as these Austrian examples illustrate, the left and pro-democracy centrists have to counter these propaganda claims with facts. But they also have to be very mindful of countering the framing of the issues as well. When the right peddles with deceptive framing and appeals to fear and hatred, their opponents also have provide attractive framing and persuasive emotional appeals at the same time as countering false claims with facts. A big part of the advantage of advocates for "reality-based" understandings and advocacy for realistic policies based on facts is that reality has a persistent ability to impose itself on crackpot theories and policies.

Friday, July 06, 2018

The Trump-Putin Helsinki summit and nationalism in Europe

The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki scheduled for July 16 is providing a focal point for political and foreign policy analysts to understand the current state of US-Russia and EU/NATO-Russia relations.

Several parties in power in European governments see Putin and his party as some kind of model for their countries. Viktor Orbán's government in Hungary is currently the leader in EU in moving to what Orbán calls "illiberal democracy," i.e., an autoritarian government validated through elections, on something like CKarl Schmitt's notion of validation through plebiscite.
In the German literature, for example the use of plebiscites was supported by Carl Schmitt, an apologist for the NSDAP-regime, who proposed that a dictator, as a “single trusted representative”, could use plebiscites to “decide in the name of the…people”[v], and it was denounced by democratically inclined writers like Robert Michels, who dismissed the plebiscite as it would allow “a Führer to lead the people astray through unclear questions, which he himself would be solely entitled to interpret afterwards”[vi]. (Encyclopedia Princetoniensis; accessed 07/06/2018)

No, even Hungary isn't that far gone yet. But, yes, Carl Schmitt is in fashion again, it appears. Schmitt would probably approve of Putin's manner of maintaining what is in fact a dictatorship while leaving the empty forms of democracy in place.

But it's also worth noting at this point that the Manichean notion that the US so often uses of democracy (Our Side) vs. dictatorship (The Bad People) is very often more slogan and propaganda than real understanding. Elections in Hungary, for instance, still do happen. And the EU rules do require free elections, which so far has put limits on how far toward authoritarian government EU member states can go. Though the Merkelized EU has far more diligent about enforcing Herbert Hoover-Heinrich Brüning economic policies than it has been about moving against "democractic deficits" in member states' governance. Not least because the EU has its own very real democratic deficits.

The point is that there is a continuum between democracy and dictatorship. And even dictatorships have to secure the practical support of some significant portions of their populations. In the case of "Putinist" parties and groups in Europe, the danger from such groups is not that they will suddenly stage a Putsch. Even Putin didn't come to power that way. The more immediate practical reality is that they are pushing for restrictions on democratic paticipation and seeking to further weaken or undermine the EU and NATO.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte heads a still-new coalition government of the left-populist Five Star Movement and the right-populist Lega. Wolfgang Münchau's Eurointelligence conveys the concerns of Alberto Nardelli, Europe editor for Buzzfeed, about the Lega and the Interior Minister of that party, Matteo Salvini (What to make of Salvini's relations with Russia? 07/05/2018))
The key issue is the partnership agreement between the Lega and United Russia, Putin's Party. It contains a clause on information-sharing relevant to bilateral and multilateral affairs. The question is whether there is a deeper level of communication happening between the two parties, or whether they are simply united in their distaste for the EU and their admiration for Donald Trump. The diplomats said that European governments were playing close attention to Italy's behaviour especially during international meetings. Nardelli notes that Giuseppe Conte did not make good on previous threats by Italy to refuse a renewal of the Russian sanctions. But Conte took time with the decision, and made the point in the discussions that the sanctions should not hit Russian civil society. The officials Nardelli spoke to expressed concern that Conte may not be his own man, but may be under the direct control of Salvini and [Deputy Prime Minister and Five Star leader] Luigi Di Maio. [my emphasis]

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), currently the junior partner in Chancellor Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz' government, also concluded such a partnership agreement with United Russia in 2016 (Austrian far right signs deal with Putin's party, touts Trump ties Reuters 12/19/2016):
Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and the FPO’s recently defeated presidential candidate Norbert Hofer attended the signing ceremony in Moscow, as did officials of Putin’s United Russia party including Pyotr Tolstoy, a deputy chairman of the lower house of parliament.

The FPO has long taken a pro-Russia stance, calling for an end to European Union sanctions against Moscow imposed over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It has also denied allegations that it receives funding from Moscow.
Strache is now the Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister for Austria.

Here the questions of pragmatic foreign policy, political ideology, and subversion get mixed together in ways than can be confusing. These partnership agreements with United Russia have at least an analogous relationship to the role of the Soviet Communist Party to other Communist Parties. But historical analogies are often as misleading as they are clarifying. The USSR saw itself as the legitimate leader of the world Communist movement, with the idea that the Soviet leadership provided worldwide guidance for how Communist Parties could come to power in other countries. Not surprisingly, non-Communist governments didn't view that as an entirely friendly arrangement.

But also not surprisingly, the reality was much more complicated. As Communist Parties did come to power in other countries, they had disagreements with the Soviet leadership. Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet leadership in 1948. The split between the USSR and China would become far more significant. Having formal partnerships with parties in other countries did not guarantee the Soviet Union even consistent pro-Soviet foreign policies on their part.

Politics is politics, and countries are countries. So of course countries try to influence other parties and other international actors in their favor. Anyone who is of a mind to do so can paint those influences as subversive or espionage will find some audience for those claims. Although for most people in most circumstances, the difference in admiring a foreign party or leader and committing illegal acts of espionage or treason is a clear one.

All of which is to say that we can view Russian governmental interference in elections in violation of national laws as a legal and factual matter. And the appeal to some constituencies of the Putinist forms of government and doctrine as a political and ideological matter. And the question of a country's relations to Russia as a practical and diplomatic concern.

So, whether a "Putinist" party's position on relations with Russia is good or bad depends very heavily on how one views what national and international interests and goals should be protected. Austria, for instance, gained some definite national advantages from its role as a neutral country between East and West. It would be very much to Austria's benefit as a country if its government was able to contruct a similar arrangement that would enable it to play a genuine role of reconcilation on the lines of its Cold War practice.

But Austria's best chance to do that is to strengthen the EU. And they haven't been good at that for quite a while. Strache's FPÖ has a strong anti-EU bent. In that way, the FPÖ's nationalism and hostility to the EU are in line with Putin's goals of dividing and weakening the EU and NATO. (Austria itself is not a NATO member.) The FPÖ has been banging the drums of xenophobia and Islamophobia for years, something also in line with Russia's own nationalistic policies. But that is a sign of parallel ideological development and not manipulation by Russian "special measures," however much inspiration the FPÖ may draws from Russian-style nationalism. But a policy course that actively undermines the EU and tends toward the Union's dissolution would certainly damage Austria's real interests.

The other factor currently at work is the erratic American President, who has displayed considerable hostility to both NATO and the EU. It's one thing for Austria to act as some kind of diplomatic mediator among the US, Russia, and the EU. But joining the US and Russia in wrecking the EU is a whole different matter. That's not a mediating strategy. It's sucker diplomacy.

Sadly, Chancellor Babyface seems so focused on short-term nationalist demagoguery ("Close the borders!") that he risks squandering the chance to reposition Austria as a more significant European player. Especially since he's been recklessly intervening in internal German politics and is already drawing Angela Merkel's anger and retaliation because of it.

Stephen Walt observes (The EU and NATO and Trump — Oh My! Foreign Policy 07/02/2018):
It is no secret that U.S. President Donald Trump has an instinctive animus against the European Union and NATO. He supported the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron that his country should leave the union too, and last week falsely claimed that the EU was created “to take advantage of the United States.” (This last statement raises an obvious question: Does Trump know any history at all? The answer appears to be no.) He has long complained that NATO’s European members aren’t paying enough for defense and has offered only tepid support for the mutual defense clause that is at the heart of the NATO treaty.

So, it’s not surprising that both Europeans and Americans are now looking ahead to the NATO summit in July with a certain foreboding. Coming on the heels of Trump’s petulant tantrums during and after the G-7 summit in June, and taking place just before he is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the summit could turn out to be the diplomatic equivalent of a 29-car pileup.
Correction 07/15/2018: The Foreign Minister of Austria in the Kurz government from 12/18/2017 to now has been Karein Kneissl; Heinz-Christian Strache has not been Foreign Minister. Strache is Vice Chancellor and Minister of the Civil Service and Sport.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Empire (Angela Merkel) strikes back at Austria's Chancellor Babyface

The EU countries are going through their own version of coming up with non-solutions to not-really-problems of immigration.

The latest round was a compromise on Tuesday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU). Which seems to have resolved a power struggle between the two. (Angela Merkel's last-ditch migrant compromise under scrutiny Deutsche Welle 03.07.2018) At least for this week. Wolfgang Munchau suggests that Merkel's trademark extend-and-pretend solutions are having "rapidly declining half-life."

The EU's immigration crisis is real, in my view. It's a long-term problem since at least 2011 that will not go away any time soon. People fleeing war and civil violence and desperate conditions in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. There was a crisis moment in 2015, when a big surge of refugees headed north, most of which Germany absorbed.

The current EU solution - arguably the only one in place - is that Turkey, Italy, and Greece are holding large numbers of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East in camps of varying quality. Under the "Dublin" rules governing EU immigration, the EU country of first entry is responsible for processing asylum applications. So the burdens really are unfairly distributed to Greece and Italy, and other EU countries have not been forthcoming, to put it mildly, in accepting refugees that initially enter the EU through other countries.

But for the EU as a whole, the crisis is a longer one, and 2015 was an unusual event in terms of the suddenness of the influx for much larger numbers of refugees. In countries like Germany and Austria, the influx of asylum-seekers has declined year by year since the drastic high of 2015 and can't reasonably be said to be serious problems for either of those two countries in 2018.

But rightwing demagogues have made hay with the issue through anti-immigrant agitation.

While the long-term immigration crisis is a distinct issue itself, in the EU it is intimately connected with the ongoing euro crisis, which is currently in a dormant stage but can break out against at almost any moment. Joe Stiglitz gives a good description of the interconnection in How to exit the eurozone 07/02/2018:
The resulting schisms [in the EU over the euro crisis] have also made it harder to solve other problems, most notably the migration crisis, where European rules impose an unfair burden on the frontline countries receiving migrants, such as Greece and Italy. These also just so happen to be the debtor countries, already plagued with economic difficulties. No wonder there is a rebellion.
In the current situation, Italy is in a particularly volatile moment because it's a country where the immigration and eurozone crises intersect in a particularly visible way.

Ruth Wodak of the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right describes several factors on which people need to focus if we want to have a realistic picture of the current immigration issue in Europe in her The Revival of Numbers and Lists in Radical Right Politics 06/30/2018.

The German compromise on Tuesday was mainly a cosmetic one for (at the moment) a non-problem. Leading up to it, Austria's 31-year-old Chancellor Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz meddled in an unusual way in German internal politics. He very publicly supported Seehofer in his power play against Merkel. The provocative nature of this is compounded by the fact that Merkel's party (CDU) and Seehofer's party (CSU) are international "sister" parties of Kurz's Christian Democratic People's Party (ÖVP). And Babyface started on July 1 as the President of the Council of Europe the European Union, a position that rotates to different EU countries every six months.

I'm very critical of Angela Merkel in many ways. But she is one of the most accomplished politicians of my lifetime. And she knows how to shove the (political) knife. So I expected retaliation on her part. And part of it has begun. The Merkel-Seehofer deal said Germany wouldn't accept new asylum-seekers entering from neighboring countries. This is to be handled by bilateral deals. And other countries like Czechia or Poland who doesn't want to accept their return will be sent to Austria under a bilateral agreement with them. An agreement that, uh, doesn't yet exist.

This is the visible beginning of Angie's payback to Babyface. It won't be the last. She's telling him, hey, you want "closed borders" to Austria, fine. We'll close the German border and any people we get we don't want, we'll dump them back onto you, you silly whining twat.

If you take a political shot like this at Angie, you'd better makes sure it hits its mark. Otherwise, there will be repercussions.

This is mostly Kabuki theater at the moment. Because there aren't hordes of scary immigrants pouring over the border into Germany. Or Austria either.

The even the Kabuki illustrates some of the limits of trying to operate in an international movement of nationalists.

Stay tuned. There will be more. It's unlikely that Babyface will fare any better in the next rounds.

[Minor updates included]

Monday, July 02, 2018

AMLO in Mexico!

The reformist left-center candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly referred to by his initials AMLO, won a striking victory in the Mexican national election Sunday. And a woman from his Moreno party because the first female leader of Mexican City, a position previously held by AMLO and the source of much of his favorable reputation. This election victory wasn't some kind of fluke. It was a real political success for AMLO and his policies.

AFP reports (Leftist 'AMLO' sweeps to Mexican presidency 07/02/2018):
It is the first time in Mexico's modern history a candidate has won more than half the vote in a competitive election, and a resounding rejection of the two parties that have governed the country for nearly a century. ...

Lopez Obrador, 64, sought to downplay fears of radicalism, after critics branded him a "tropical Messiah" who would install Venezuela-style policies that could wreck Latin America's second-largest economy.

"Our new national project seeks an authentic democracy. We are not looking to construct a dictatorship, either open or hidden," he told cheering supporters, promising to safeguard freedoms, respect the private sector and work to reconcile a divided nation.
The endless War on Drugs that the US has promoted for decades, is key reasons for the grievances of the Mexican electorate:
Lopez Obrador successfully tapped voters' anger over a seemingly never-ending series of corruption scandals and horrific violence that left a record 25,000 murders last year -- an orgy of bloodshed fueled by the country's powerful drug cartels.

His coalition -- led by the Morena party he launched in 2014 -- appeared to be on track for a strong showing in state and congressional races as well, winning six of the day's nine governor's races, according to exit polls.

That included Mexico City, where a woman was elected for the first time ever, the scientist and environmentalist Claudia Sheinbaum.
John Ackerman (El día después La Journada 02.07.2018) notes that AMLO summarizes his political project as, "No mentir, no robar y no traicionar." ("Don't lie, don't steal and don't betray." And he writes:
No podemos dejar solo a López Obrador. Si bien la crítica al poder gubernamental es siempre esencial, también tenemos que tener claro que los gobiernos de izquierda se enfrentan a enormes retos con respecto a su relación con los poderes llamados "fácticos" que operan fuera de la institucionalidad democrática, como los oligarcas, los narcotraficantes y los grandes medios de comunicación.

La sociedad mexicana ha dado una enorme muestra de valentía, de fuerza y de dignidad el domingo, primero de julio. Celebremos la victoria. Nos la merecemos después de tantas décadas de luchas constantes por la justicia y la democracia, en las cuales han ofrendado sus vidas miles de héroes ­anónimos.

[We cannot abandon López Obrador. Certainly, criticism of governmental power is always essential, but we also have to be clear that governments of the left confront enormous challenges in respect to their relationship with the powers called "real" who operate outside of democratic instutitionalism, like the oligarchs, narcotrafficers, and the big communications media.

Mexican society has displayed an enormous show of courage, strength, and dignity on Sunday, the first of July. Let's celebrate the victory. We deserve it after so many decades of constant struggles for justice and democracy in which thousands of anonymous heroes have offered their lives.]

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Othering" immigrants with lies

Josh Marshall provides a succinct guide to understate a couple of key points on today's anti-immigrant hate-mongering agenda, with particular reference to the United States (Please Bookmark This Post. Seriously. TPM 06/25/2018). There's the "open borders" accusation the Republicans make against the Democrats:
... in 2013 the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the most recent iteration of so-called ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’ ... it included a huge amount of money and laws for border security and efforts to prevent illegal immigration. It is demonstrably not an ‘open borders’ bill. All 52 Democratic Senators voted for it as did the two independents who caucus with the Democrats. This is the clearest, most concrete and dispositve [sic] evidence that this repeated claim by Trump, Sanders et al. is a provable lie. [my emphasis]
Then there's the scare talk about immigrant criminals:
The evidence is consistent and overwhelming. Immigrants commit crime at dramatically lower rates than the native born. And large influxes of immigrants actually appear to bring the crime rate down in areas of high concentration. Immigration does not drive up crime rates at all. If crime is our guide we should bring in more undocumented immigrants and boot some native scofflaws. The entire premise of Trump’s immigration arguments are based on a demonstrable lie. [my emphasis in bold]

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Obama and the child kidnapping policy of the Trump Administration

It's nothing new for Trump and his minions to blame Obama for whatever Trump himself is doing. So they first claimed that Obama passed a law requiring them to kidnap the children of asylum-seekers (not true) and that the Obama Administration also practiced family separate (unfortunately true).

On Michael Brooks Show for 06/19/2018, Michael has a discussion about how Democrats and the left should approach discussing the conservative immigration politics that Obama practiced in connection with Trump's. Michael stressed the viewpoint that, yes, Obama's policy involved detention of minors, too, but his purpose was to practice a restrictive and punitive immigration policy as part of a strategy to get the Republicans to agree to comprehensive immigration reform. He argued that our legitimate criticism of Obama's policies detract the qualitatively worse and more cruel than Obama's. His concern is that a purist left harping on Obama's policies can function as a kind of concern trolling, validating Trump's claims that his child kidnapping policy is a continuation of Obama's approach.

Jimmy Dore and Abby Martin make the case that Michael Brooks probably considers more in the purist lane, Hillary: Undocumented Children "Should Be SENT BACK!" Jimmy Dore Show 06/21/2018. The Hillary anti-immigrant clips they feature are important to keep in mind. Hillary was set to play the same game on immigration that Obama did, despite the failure of the fundamental premise that harsh anti-immigrant policies by Democrats would persuade the Republicans to agree to something better.

Sam Stein in this clip calls the Obama Administration's family detention policy and its very explicit purpose to act as a deterrent to asylum-seekers "abhorent," while also characterizes the Trump kidnapping policy as "another level of disgustingness." Does Sam Want Completely Open Borders? Majority Report 06/22/2018. Michael Brooks is also part of that discussion on that clip, noting that the Trump policy has a "fundamental[ly] different premise behind" it.

Digby also joined Sam Stein on Friday to talk about the Trump Administration's child kidnapping, Casual Friday w/ Digby and Film Guy Matthew 06/22/18. Diby appears about 15 minutes into the show.

They also discussed the conservative political calculation behind Obama's related policies. What Digby emphasizes is the progressive critics were criticizing Obama's immigration and detention policies in real time. And also pointing out that the ConseraDem political strategy would not work. The critics were right.

Franco Ordoñez and Anita Kumar, Yes, Obama separated families at the border, too McClatchy Nenwspapers 06/21/2018:
No numbers on children separated from their parents under Obama is available because the Obama administration didn’t keep them, according to Trump DHS officials.

Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general under Obama, who defended that administration's use of family detention in court, acknowledged that some fathers were separated from children.

Most fathers and children were released together, often times with an ankle bracelet. Fresco said there were cases where the administration held fathers who were carrying drugs or caught with other contraband who had to be separated from their children.

“ICE could not devise a safe way where men and children could be in detention together in one facility,” Fresco said. “It was deemed too much of a security risk.”

One of the most controversial measures that Obama took was to resurrect the almost-abandoned practice of detaining mothers and children to deter future illegal immigration. [my emphasis]
Those of us who criticized Obama's immigration policies in real time obviously want to reject the attempts by Trump and Sessions to use Obama's bad policies to justify or excuse their own qualitatively worse child-kidnapping program.

But I said when Obama took office, his most important Constitutional responsibility was to make sure that the torture crimes of the Cheney-Bush Administration was properly investigated and prosecuted. The torture policy had been approved and implemented by very senior Administration officials. Not only under American law but under the obligations of the Torture Convention signed by St. Reagan when he was President, the US Government was obligated to pursue those crimes. Here again, whatever failings of the Obama Administration in this regard, it's not a serious as the original crimes themselves. And it doesn't change the fact that the Justice Department was obligated to pursue those prosecutions, too. And didn't.

But Obama and Eric Holder did give Dick Cheney the one thing that his own Administration couldn't give itself: a subsequent Administration of the other party that granted the torture criminals de facto immunity. And now the mobsters and grifters of the Trump Administration are driving a fleet of trucks through that de facto immunity.

And, as despicable as the Trump-Sessions child kidnapping policy is, the Democrats should remember and reject the Bad things that Obama did on immigration. And if his motivation really was to get a good comprehensive immigration reform bill with Republican cooperation, it failed. And Hillary Clinton was wrong in her support of the same harsh policies. After the Clinton and Obama Administration, I don't see any excuse for Democrats to pretend that such an approach by future Democratic Administration is anything but bad.

Will Bunch in this column reminds not to be sentimental about Obama's immigration policy, because some of it really was bad. Some of the pictures of border kids that haunt me most are from 2014. Here's why Attytood 06/24/2018:
The immigration lawyer [R. Anderew Free] had been to two large detention centers in Texas where U.S. officials were holding hundreds of migrant families from Central America, often for months at a time. Free said some of the conditions at these makeshift detention camps were appalling.

“I remember hearing the constant, violent coughing and sickness of small children, and the worry of their mothers who stood in the sun outside the clinic all day only to be told their kids should ‘drink water,'” Free tweeted. “I remember nearly doubling over when I saw the line of strollers.”

When Free had a chance encounter with the president at a political event, he warned him that the detention centers would be “a stain on his legacy.” He said the president wanted to know if Free was an immigration lawyer — implying that everyday citizens weren’t worried about what goes on at the border — and then said, according to Free: “I’ll tell you what we can’t have, it’s these parents sending their kids here on a dangerous journey and putting their lives at risk.” The message that Free took away was that the president saw family detention as a deterrent to keep more refugees from coming.

This happened in 2015. The president with the looming stain on his legacy was Barack Obama.
Bunch also makes the important observation that he and Democratic critics generally concentrated at the time on the nasty rightwingers agitating the immigration issue.

US foreign policy in Latin America, including under Obama when it was pretty straightforwardly conservative (and that' not mean to be a compliment), has had and still has a major role in generating refugees and other immigrants to come to the US. This is something we need to keep in mind always on this issue. Because, as Bunch also notes:
But Obama also amped up deportations to record levels — which, in some cases, separated families here in the United States — and he did little to radically alter the sick culture of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that would be “unshackled” the moment that tinhorn despots like Trump and AG Jeff Sessions arrived on the scene. And, probably fearful of midterm election politics, Obama didn’t treat the 2014 event as what it really was: a humanitarian refugee crisis. [my emphasis]
Obama was also moving to phase out the use of privately-for-profit detention centers in immigration, which Trump and Sessions have dramatically reversed. This is a central problem in the child-kidnapping issue. We have private prisons companies with lobbyists who make money off excessive detention and child kidnapping. Private Prisons Cashing In On Migrant Crisis - But Who’s Paying? | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC 06/22/2018:

Stephanie Ruhle reports that three of the biggest private prison contractors for the federal government are The Geo Group Inc., CoreCivic, and MTC/Management & Training Corp.

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton carried on much of the Obama the last several years.

Clinton: Send some immigrant kids home CNN 06/18/2014:

Clinton on unaccompanied children arriving in the US PBS Newshour 02/11/2016:

See also:

Immigration is still really dead this time PBS Newshour 07/01/2014

New surge of familes from Central America prompted immigration raids PBS Newshour 01/12/2016
Such concerns helped prompt the Department of Homeland Security, with the close involvement of the White House, to initiate crack-downs on migrants in several states over the holidays, picking up 121 people for deportation. In some instances people were detained during surprise early-morning home raids that have spread fear across immigrant communities and infuriated the president’s Democratic allies.

“Having people afraid to open their doors to strangers, not going to work, etc., is not a healthy development,” said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who is attending a news conference Tuesday where House Democrats will release a letter signed by around 90 lawmakers demanding an end to the raids.

Lofgren said she shares concerns about a renewed Central American border crisis, but like other Democrats argued that the migrants should be treated as refugees. Many are fleeing brutal gang warfare in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the same countries whose violence and instability forced women and kids to make the dangerous trip north two years ago, overwhelming U.S. facilities and producing disturbing images of frightened children huddling in Border Patrol facilities.
Obama was wrong on this issue in important ways. And progressives, including some Democrats in Congress like Zoe Lofgren, were criticizing him for that in real time.

Stephanie Canizales, How unaccompanied youth become exploited workers in the US The Conversation 03/13/2017

Reunification process for immigrant children uncertain as court cases continue
Corpus Christi Caller Times/WZZM13 06/21/2018
Family separation is something that happens constantly, said Diana Abrego, who works at Clinica De Immigracion De San Jose, an organization in Del Rio — about halfway between Brownsville and El Paso — which offers help with legal services such as applying for citizenship and completing legal forms.

“You’ll see those situations happening off and on. (Separation of families) has always been a continuous thing, but it’s just got a little more intense,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that get deported and one half stays here and the other in Mexico. You see that a lot in the border towns.”
And the Washington Post has a new report (Maria Sacchetti et al, Separated immigrant children are all over the U.S. now, far from parents who don’t know where they are 06/24/2018) describing:
...a converted Walmart where each morning they are required to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, in English, to the country that holds them apart from their parents.

Why must they say those words, some of the children ask at the shelter in Brownsville, on the Mexican border in Texas?

“We tell them, ‘It’s out of respect,’ ” said one employee of the facility, known as Casa Padre, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Digby on the value of incompetence - for the rightwing Republican cause

Digby Parton has it right in Donald Trump’s staggering incompetence: Is this terrifying bumbler the GOP’s secret weapon? Salon 06/22/2016:
One might be tempted to think this incompetence is a blessing in disguise, considering Trump's authoritarian impulses. But as we've seen with the travel ban and the manufactured border crisis, his incompetence is no protection against cruelty and inhumanity. An unfit president is no less powerful.

The good news for Republicans is that when all is said and done, this train-wreck of a presidency will be repurposed as yet another example of how government can't do anything right. They'll tell us that the only solution for that problem is another round of tax cuts, the cure for whatever ails you. It's quite a racket.
That's an updated-for-the-Trump-Age version of the old Democratic saying, now more accurate than ever: Republicans run on the idea that government can't do anything right, then they get elected and prove it.

In a separate post, she warns about the Democratic leadership unbelievable tendency to duck-and-cover in these situations (Don't make trouble. Pretend Trump doesn't exist and everything will be ok. Hullabaloo 06/22/2018):
The story [from Susan Glasser] goes on to handwring about how this [kidnapping immigrant children] is the one wedge issue that really works for Trump and how dangerous it is for Democrats to stray from their positive message of health care and the minimum wage. The implication is that talking about Trump's incompetence and malevolence will just make his voters love him so we need to complain about the Republicans trying to repeal Obamacare and pretend it's 2008 and say "yes we can!" (Don't say si se puede, though. That might rile up the Trumpies and we need to keep them as happy as possible at all times.)

Trying to appease these people and motivate the Democratic base by re-running their old campaigns and presenting a sunny vision of America is delusional. Republicans can't be appeased by Democrats because they are completely delirious that their Dear Leader is holding a national hatefest. That's what makes them happy. Meanwhile, Democratic voters will think these Democratic politicians are as depraved as Trump if they don't describe this grotesque insanity for what it is.

Pretending that what is happening isn't happening will simply not work. Trump is going to spend the next few months doing what he always does: spew racist to thrill his racist base. The only thing Democrats can do is get their own base out and acting like a bunch of cynical cowards isn't going to get the job done. [my emphasis]
Amen to that!

Steny Hoyer, the second highest Democratic leader in the House, sees it differently: Ashley Killough, Top House Democrat: Congressional Hispanic Caucus protest of Trump was 'not appropriate' CNN 06/21/2018. That's exactly the kind of clueless instinct about which Digby is warning.

This is the problem that Democratic leader Steny Hoyer thinks we should all be strictly polite in protesting, Advocates say government gave no thought to reuniting children separated at the border PBS Newshour 06/22/2018.

My response to Steny Hoyer:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Should gubment be run like a bitness?

John Harvey shot down one of my most-disliked common cliches in Why Government Should Not Be Run Like A Business Forbes 10/05/2012:
To reiterate, the key issue is this: not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. The proper role of government is the latter. Those arguing for a business model for government must necessarily be ready to shut down all government functions that do not earn a profit, regardless of their contribution to our well being. And, if the public sector is being run properly, that should mean every single one. If it’s profitable, they shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place. There is no need for the government to start a chain of hamburger stands, hardware stores, or coffee shops. Rather, they run child protective services, the National Park Service, and the Air Force. Profit is the realm of business, while unprofitable but socially useful tasks is the responsibility of government.

This is not to say that every government agency is actually performing a useful public service or that it is not wasting resources (by whatever standard). Nor am I arguing that there are not many private sector activities that add greatly to our well being. The point, however, is that saying that government is inefficient because it does not turn a profit is the equivalent of saying that Peyton Manning is a poor quarterback because he doesn’t hit enough home runs. He’s not supposed to. [my emphasis in italics]

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Chancellor Babyface among the Visograds

Austria's not-quite-32-year-old Chancellor Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz has been hard at work promoting anti-immigration events that generate free publicity and enflame nationalist hostilities without committing Austria to actually have to do much of anything to actually address the chronic refugee crisis that the EU has been facing at least since 2011.

Kurz had more experience in political office before he became Chancellor in December 2017 than, for instance, Donald Trump. But he seems to be an opportunist with no particular principles other than promoting his own political career.

I attended a live event last September during the campaign when Kurz (ÖVP) debated his now Vice Chancellor and coalition partner HC Strache (FPÖ) and the then Chancellor now opposition leader Christian Kern (SPÖ). It was obvious in that appearance that Strache was clearly more experienced and at ease with retail politics than either Kurz or Kern. I've wondered since then if Strache as the junior partner in the national coalition, even though his far-right FPÖ is smaller than the ÖVP.

Kurz was clearly showing his opportunist side during the campaign by demagoguing against foreigners, something the FPÖ has been doing for Babyface's entire life. It's not yet clear after half a year if Kurz is clearly in command of the political direction of his coalition government. It may be. But he's still enthusiastic about the foreigner-baiting. And the FPÖ seems to be getting what they want on that front for the time being.

Kurz raised a lot of diplomatic eyebrows very recently by calling for an "axis of the willing" with Italy and Germany (or at least the German state of Bavaria) against immigration.

Thursday he was in Hungary for a meeting the Visegrad Group of states, which includes Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, three of which share a border with Austria. Hungary's President Viktor Orban is one of the main European models for what he calls "illiberal democracy," authoritarian government in nominally democratic form. Xenophobic nationalism has been one of his political themes. (Hungary PM says Visegrad countries and Austria to promote EU border defence Yahoo!/Reuters 06/21/2018; Visegrad-Gruppe und Österreich pochen auf harte Flüchtlingspolitik Salzburger Nachrichten 21.06.2018)

Quelle: © Salzburger Nachrichten VerlagsgesmbH & Co KG 2018)

A look at a map of the Schengen Area in Europe (this one from Wikipedia; Schengen area in dark blue) gives an idea of not only the geographic context but the political element, much of which is a PR scam.

Chancellor Babyface, Orban, and the other Visegrad states are demanding the "securing" of the EU's external borders. The diplomatic device that has been in place for years is the Schengen Agreement, which actually predates the EU though it has been expanded since . In order to abolish routine border checks for travel within the EU, the states on the outer borders of the Schengen Area enforce the commonly-agreed external entry standards. Those are shown in dark blue on the above map, with Switzerland and Liechtenstein being non-EU members that are in conformity with the Schengen standards.

Three of the Visegrad countries have external Schengen borders: Hungary with Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine; Slovakia with Ukraine; and, Poland with Ukraine, Belarus, Lituania, and Russia. Czechia has none.

Non-Visegrad Austria also has none. So when Austria and Czechia are fretting over the "outer borders" of the EU, they are talking about other countries' enforcement of the borders.

None of the Visegrad countries or Austria is currently dealing with anything that could reasonably be called a level of refugees that they can't handle. The European border and coast guard agency, Frontex, currently has figures on the January-April 2018 illegal border crossings into Europe:

This presumably doesn't include legal entrants, which include people applying for asylum that may not get it. But what this map of the significant immigration routes is that most of them involve people from the Middle East and North Africa. Those immigrants are not directly entering The Visegrad states or Austria. Italy and Greece are holding large numbers of refugees from Middle East and North Africa. And Greece especially has very legitimate complaints about inadequate solidarity on support and resettlement of immigrants from their fellow EU members.

But solidarity and support are not what the anti-immigrant policies of the Visegrad states and especially not from Austria and Czechia are about.

In Austria's case, Chancellor Babyface is trying to posture as the defender of Austria's borders by posturing over issues on which Austria has no direct control.

Starting in July, Chancellor Babyface will represent Austria, which holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Which is not the same as the President of the European Council, who is currently Donald Tusk. The lack of clarity of roles in the EU is one of the various reasons for the "democratic deficit" in the EU.

But Kurz, who will be formally one of the key leaders of the EU in the second half of 2018, is actively undermining the EU with his demagogic anti-immigrant policies and posturing. To him it must look like cheap political gains. Because Austria itself doesn't have to directly implement these tougher external border policies he's promoting because Austria is not a Schengen border country.

Most importantly, Kurz and his Visegrad buddies are not promoting real solutions to the refugee problem. Politicians like Kurz and Strache aren't interested in solving the actual problems, only in exploiting them to promote authoritarian rightwing politics.

The broad outlines of a real European solution to the crisis are actually fairly obvious: stop supporting American wars in the Middle East and engage diplomatically to avoid wars in the Middle East and other external military interventions like those of Russia (and, yes, that will damage the profits of some European arms dealers and that's a good thing); a fair and comprehensive program for settling prepare adequate emergency services to handle unexpected surges in refugees like those in 2015; sufficient or more-than-sufficient support for the refugee camps in Greece, Italy, and Turkey.

There's a lot of empty talk right now about setting up asylum center in Libya and other places to process asylum claims there. This is largely a joke. First of all, if you're trying to flee a country persecuting, killing, raping, or starving you, is anyone in their right mind going to go to the government doing that apply for asylum elsewhere? Asylum applications involved preparing legal cases. Are countries like Libya going to provide those? That's really a bad joke.

Chancellor Babyface has a great chance the second half of 2018 to use his diplomatic visibility in the EU to promote some real solutions and not just PR stunts. So far, there is no indication that he intends to do so.

And for Kurz and Strache to promote the fascist anti-immigrant and anti-Roma (Gypsy) politics of the new Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is about as destructive it can be for any serious effort to address the real (not imaginary) refugee problems of the EU.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Xenophobic theater - that does real harm to real people

Xenophobia sometimes makes good political theater for rightwing, authoritarian politicians and leaders. That's not to say that center-left and labor parties don't sometimes indulge it, as well. But it works particularly well for authoritarian parties.

We're certainly seeing that right now with Trump's policy of kidnapping children of immigrants at the Mexican border and putting them in makeshift prison camps. This report on flight attendants' reactions to serving on planes acting as the transport to the child prison camps is revealing, Anonymous Flight Attendant On Child Prison Plane Tells All The Young Turks 06/19/2018:

Trump is implementing a solution to what is in many ways a non-problem. Net immigration from Mexico has recently been negative, i.e., more Mexicans return to their country each year than those that move to the US. The American economy in many ways is currently dependent on undocumented workers, particularly agriculture but by no means only that sector. Trump's repeated claims that Mexican immigrants are rapists, murderers, and MS-13 gang members are just not true.

The children coming across the US-Mexican border are certainly not a significant threat to Americans. Even taking into account that some of them may end up in gangs, particularly if their opportunities to integrate into American society are restricted even more.

But dehumanizing immigrant children is a typical xenophobes' propaganda pitch. In Europe, the image of kindergarten kids wearing a hijab (Muslim head covering) is used by the far right and anti-immigrant politicians in Germany and Austria. It's a way of taking innocent or positive images - a headscarf can keep your head warm and dry in the winter, a kindergarten-age girl for most people is an image of someone who needs affected and be protected from harm - are transformed into a scary threat to Western white Christian civilization and a menace of terrorism in the form of a five-year-old girl in a hijab. Which is about as much of a non-problem as it can be. Because not only is a small girl no immediate threat to an adult man or woman in any remotely normal circumstance. But even devout, conservative Muslim families require their kindergarten-age children to wear hijabs.

The American term "anchor baby" serves a very similar function. Anchors keep your boat safe and stable, and babies are harmless and cute. But in the form of "anchor baby," they become a threat of undermining everything dear to white folks who understand themselves as the only Real Americans.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz (ÖVP) is currently promoting what he describes as an "axis of the willing" with Germany and Italy to promote anti-immigrant sentiment and policies in Europe. Kurz on Wednesday was meeting with Bavarian Landeshauptmann (Governor) Markus Söder (CSU) in the Upper Austrian capital city of Linz to promote the position of the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, head of the CSU and one of Söder's predecessors as Bavarian Governor, to turn back asylum-seekers at the German border. This is essentially a non-problem, as well. It just gives Seehofer and Söder a way to demonstrate their hostility to immigrants and promote anti-EU sentiment. Seehofer is also using it in the moment as part of a tricky political game with Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Nina Weissensteiner, Kurz und Söder machen im Asylstreit auf enge Spezln statt neutraler Nachbarn Standard 02.06.2018)

Matthew Karnitschnig reports (Angela rises from the ashes Politico EU 06/19/2018):
CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who is also interior minister, agreed to put off enforcing a new rule to turn back refugees at Germany’s borders until after the upcoming European Council summit, in order to give Merkel more time to negotiate with other EU capitals.

It’s a long shot that Merkel will actually succeed in securing a sweeping deal over the next two weeks to return refugees who show up at Germany’s border from Italy or Greece. Whether the CSU is ready for another face-off with Merkel is another matter.

Meanwhile, Kurz' far-right Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister HC Strache was down visiting with his comrade in the (informal) Nationalist International, new Italian Vice-Premier and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the far-right anti-immigrant League party. Salvini attracted favorable attention from xenophobes in his brief time in office by refusing to allow rescue ships carrying refugees from Africa to land in Italy, defying international law. Salvini declared himself and Strache to be "friends and allies in defending our peoples." Defending them, that is from taking refugees rescued from drowning int he Mediterranean Sea. (Vizekanzler Strache bei Vizepremier Salvini in Rom Salzburger Nachrichten 20.06.2018)

Salvini was also thereby "solving" a non-problem. Europe does face a continuing long-term crisis in emigration from the Mideast, Afghanistan, and North Africa, not incidentally places where the United States has been fighting wars for the last two decades, more-or-less. A surge in refugees in 2015 set off a political panic that has not yet ended, although immigration declined drastically the following two years and is significantly down even in Italy from 2018. "Despite recent immigration data from the Italian interior ministry showing a 76 percent drop in arrivals in the first few months of the year, the country’s new allies [Austria and Hungary] have migration [sic] as a prime-mover in common, though they differ significantly over what to do about it." (Jacopo Barigazzi, How Italy plans to blow up Brussels Politico EU 06/18/18)

But real harm to real people and real institutions can come from this kind of nationalist demagoguery. Salvini has also announced his taking moves to more closely monitor Roma (Eric J. Lyman, Italy's interior minister wants census for Roma; critics call controversy 'racist' USA TODAY 06/19/2018) in Italy and expel some of them.

Economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis tweets:

Correction 07/15/2018: The Foreign Minister of Austria in the Kurz government from 12/18/2017 to now has been Karein Kneissl; Heinz-Christian Strache has not been Foreign Minister. Strache is Vice Chancellor and Minister of the Civil Service and Sport.