Danish View: Chaos Ahead for US

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“The American people this evening flunked President Obama’s first two years as president,” runs the first paragraph of an analysis of the US midterm election results by the US-based correspondents for the Danish daily Politiken, Thomas Berndt and Jesper Vangkilde. Their headline even speaks of the president’s “big spanking.”

They summarize for Danish readers the fundamental numerical results: House lost for the Democrats, Senate retained (as Majority Leader Harry Reid “saves his political career”), and a Republican wave also taking over most state governors and legislatures. What this means for the future: “Over the slightly longer-term political chaos [awaits] in Washington, unless the parties can find a way to work together.” The authors also make mention of the “especially offensive” defiance directed at the president by “one of the election campaign’s absolute key figures,” Sarah Palin: (Translated back from the Danish) “We’re sending representatives to Washington to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough.”

Over at the opinion newspaper Information, their long-time American affairs commentator Martin Burcharth takes a more philosophical tone (Varied outlook for cross-political cooperation). All things will pass, he assures the reader; sudden shifts in American political fortunes are really “quite common,” citing history back to Jimmy Carter (hero in 1976; goat in 1980) to prove his point. This latest heavy midterms defeat for the Democrats and President Obama need not be regarded as any real sort of tragedy.

Rather, anything is still possible for the 2012 elections, and Burcharth offers the president two possible strategies for success. He can tack to the political center (as former Clinton political advisor Paul Begala recommends) and push a new program of extensive public works, pushed as a “jobs plan,” which Republicans would not dare to oppose. Or he can stay on the left (the advice of Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and launch a crusade against the Big Industry and Big Finance that got America into the economic mess it is in. That will also mean cutting taxes on the poor and middle-class, but not for the rich: the latter should be required to pay for their misdeeds!

Whichever he chooses, Burcharth recognizes that prospects for real cooperation between the president and the Republicans in Congress will probably last only until around the end of next year, when politicking for the 2012 elections begins in earnest. In fact, he offers the rather cynical recommendation that Democrats make full use of the “lame duck” period still open to them – i.e. when they still have majorities in both Houses, before the newly-elected representatives and Senators come to take their seats – to enact major legislation such as immigration reform and even new climate/energy legislation (always a leading Danish concern). No cooperation with political opponents even required!

It’s ingenious, in a way – except that Burcharth forgets that, even today, the Democrats’ Senate majority is only 59, which causes certain complications of its own in passing legislation, and in any event exploiting the “lame duck” session that way somewhat contravenes American ideas of political legitimacy.

UPDATE: What do you know, the Rude Pundit also sees great merit in that “use the lame duck session to pass some serious legislation” argument of Martin Burcharth’s, and develops it further. But beware: he’s rude! (Sample language: “No, you need to blow us, Boehner and McConnell.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

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Terror Threat Today in Sweden

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

While most of the world’s media is preoccupied today with the seemingly coordinated package-bombs shipped by air-freight from Yemen to the US and the UK, Sweden’s second-largest city, Göteborg on the country’s western coast, seems just barely to have escaped its own serious terrorist attack. This is according to reports appearing in the Danish press from the press-agency Ritzau, including in the opinion newspaper Information.

It’s all still very unclear, but the essence of the plot apparently involved setting off a massive truck bomb sometime today in the center of downtown Göteborg. “Several” suspects were arrested, this (Saturday) morning, but local police are not yet ready to say how many, who they are, or what lead to their being detained – only that a tip was received in time, from a trusted source, warning of the attack. That was enough to draw the Säpo – basically, the Swedish FBI – into the case as well, although it’s the local police who hold the suspects in custody and who are now beefing up their presence in town over the weekend.

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The French Cover Obama’s SOTU

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

President Obama faced a hard challenge with his State of the Union address to Congress of yesterday evening, given his recent series of political setbacks. That his speech came off well nonetheless is not just the conclusion picked by post-speech polling, but also one shared by observers from the French press, despite the discourse’s inevitable emphasis on domestic affairs. (This US-focus did not stop the French on-line papers from uniformly offering embedded videos of the entire speech, some even dubbed into French, so their readers could take a look at it themselves.)

Noteworthy reaction flowed promptly in two articles from that pillar of the French journalistic establishment, Le Monde. One of them (Obama’s words: work, economy, and Americans; no byline) literally offers at its head a “word-cloud” of the speech’s most-frequent terms (actually, their French equivalents) and then, by way of analysis, a hyper-short summary of his essential message: “Don’t panic.” Yes, it’s true that the president’s emphasis was much more on the economy and creating jobs, rather than on that health care reform legislation that still sits tantalizingly close to final passage. But what was of far more interest to Le Monde’s writer here was those foreign policy topics to which Obama gave short shrift, as he only briefly discussed Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, skimmed China, Russia, Germany, India, the Koreas, and said nothing at all about Pakistan or the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process! (Nor about France, come to think of it.)

A companion Le Monde article (Obama like in the first days; also no explicit byline) notes how surprisingly sprightly Obama appeared before the assembled Congress (“with a rediscovered insolence and combativeness”), just like in the old days, oh so long ago, when he was eating John McCain’s lunch on the campaign trail. This writer also issues a fitting, if cynical summary of the president’s economic message: focus on jobs this year (an election year); focus on reducing the deficit only the year after that.

For its part, the conservative paper Le Figaro contributes a lengthy review of Obama’s SOTU speech from its Washington correspondent, Laure Mandeville (Employment, Obama’s priority for 2010). I’m pretty sure “Laure” is a French woman’s name, for Ms. Mandeville not only mentions Barack’s feistiness (“more resolute and offensive than ever”) but also gets in a reference to Michelle’s couture (she was wearing a jupe bouffant violine – some sort of fancy skirt). At the same time, she captures well the lecturing, lightly-scolding tone prevalent especially in his speech’s second half, and directed largely at the Republican opposition, reflecting his greater theme of “we [i.e. the country] just can’t go on like this!”

Bonus: The judgment on Obama’s SOTU speech is also out from the foremost Danish expert on American affairs, Prof. Niels Bjerre-Poulsen of the Copenhagen Business School (as reported by Ritzau, so it’s pretty much the representative Danish journalistic view; actually published in this instance in the opinion newspaper Information). With this excellent speech, opines the good professor, Obama once again showed his strong side to the nation: that is, in speech-making, in this case in a tight situation and with many contradictory points to make. But the resulting goodwill will only last so long, and it takes much different political skills to translate such fancy words into concrete results. We still have to see if the president is similarly gifted with those latter.

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Tight Danish Border Controls Demanded for Climate Conference

Friday, October 30th, 2009

The Danish opinion newspaper Information is now carrying this brief piece from the Ritzau news agency. Denmark only joined the EU’s Schengen Area of visa-free state-to-state travel with the other Nordic states in March, 2001, but now calls are issuing from some Danish politicians to temporarily re-impose border controls in the run-up to that “Cop15” United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Copenhagen starting the second week of December that you might have heard about.

Who specifically is making this demand? No surprise: it’s the Danish People’s Party, the influential and powerful party (although it’s not part of the current government) best known for its strict attitude towards immigrants, asylum-seekers, and foreigners in general. In particular, it was that party’s foreign affairs spokesman, Søren Espersen, who raised this demand when being interviewed on a Danish TV news show. “We want only proper (ordentlige) people come to Denmark,” he proclaimed – presumably referring only to the period around the climate conference, although you need to be careful because, if it could, the People’s Party would clearly raise that principle to general applicability. This is no idle request, either: Espersen made clear in that same interview that the People’s Party wants to see movement towards re-imposing those border controls before it will resume cooperating with the government in pushing an important new financial law through the Danish parliament, the Folketing.

The point is of course to try to keep out those elements who might try to come to Copenhagen to make trouble in the streets while all the international bureaucrats and heads of state/government are assembled for the climate conference. The Schengen Treaty apparently does allow for the sort of temporary re-imposition of border controls that the People’s Party is requesting (not that it particularly matters to the party’s politicians whether it is allowed or not). Their demand has also won support from the Danish Conservative Party, which is important since they’re actually in the government. (It has been dismissed, on the other hand, by the Socialist People’s Party – which matters less, since they are not.)

So are you planning to head to Denmark in the near future? (In particular: Are you planning to be in Copenhagen for the big conference? Really? How on earth did you find a hotel room, or do you have friends there?) If so, better be prepared for some extra checks as you cross the border.

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Obama’s Peace Prize: Danish Reaction

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Let’s take a quick look at what they’re saying in the Danish press about the awarding today to President Barack Obama of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize – “Danish” because that is as close as I can come linguistically to the Swedish deliberations behind its awarding (and the Norwegian arrangements for the conferring ceremony on December 10).

– From the Danish Christian newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad (Obama gives Nobel money to a good cause): Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama intends to give the 10 million Swedish kroner prize-money to a good cause, which he has not yet had time to specifically identify, according to a White House spokesman. He will also travel to Oslo on December 10 to accept the award there; Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg has already discussed this with him. Ah, but you may also be asking: How will this sudden new Scandinavian appointment affect the US president’s involvement at the UN’s climate-change conference in Copenhagen which will be going on at the same time? According to this report, it does not necessarily increase the chances that Obama will actually decide to attend that climate change conference.

(Note: This is a report from the Ritzau news agency, so the identical text appears in several other Danish newspapers as well. But in one of those we get the added detail that the “expert” behind the above calculation that Obama’s appointment in Oslo in December won’t necessary mean he shows up for the climate conference in Copenhagen – which, by the way, I don’t believe for a second – is namely Aarhus University Professor of Contemporary History Thorsten Borring Olesen.)

– The daily Berlingske Tidende offers some commentary in one article (Obama: Both a certain and a controversial choice), but doesn’t bother to credit the journalist(s) involved. Anyway: Awarding the prize to Obama was certain (sikkert): he is popular everywhere on this Earth, the nearest thing to every man’s friend. Awarding the prize to Obama was, however, controversial: Obama has been all about promises so far, not results. Maybe the Nobel committee was impressed with the resolution calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons that he managed to have the UN Security Council pass a few weeks ago while he functioned as its Chairman – on the other hand, in reality none of the nuclear powers, including the US, has done anything to fulfill the promise they made to the rest of the world at the time of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, back in 1968, that they would work to reduce and then eliminiate their nuclear arsenals, in exchange for that rest of the world giving up any idea of developing nuclear weapons of their own. Or perhaps it’s about his efforts to counteract climate change, or to shut Guantánamo – except, again, there actually hasn’t been tangible progress in these areas, either. No, the purposes the Nobel committee had in giving this prize to the President was both to give him “a tremendous moral pat on the shoulder” and to pointedly remind other countries (the exact Danish phrase is “hint with a wagon-pole”) that the American president is going to need some help from them if what he has promised is going to come true – so that that Nobel committee doesn’t find itself embarrassed a few years down the road at what it did today.

– The preeminent Danish opinion weekly, Information hasn’t yet gotten around to providing its own judgment or study of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama. For now, it presents an analysis (again from Ritzau) from Prof. Peter Viggo Jacobsen, of the Copenhagen University Social Sciences Faculty (Obama is a highly surprising choice). Along with about a billion other people around the world, he interprets the prize as being awarded in anticipation of future achievements, not of past accomplishments since “he has not been able yet to carry out anything at all.” Further Jacobsen:

Normally there should be more then words [behind the award]. There should also be some action. And action is what we haven’t seen much of yet. This has to be in anticipation of something later, that the [Nobel] committee believes that he is capable of realizing some of the good intentions he has.

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A Simpler, Soberer . . . Las Vegas?!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

With a skewed, vertigo-inducing photo taken at the top of a Strip roller-coaster at the head of their piece, Julie Hjerl Hansen and Thomas Hebsgaard of the Danish commentary weekly Information recently presented an interesting profile of the recession travails of Sin City itself: Las Vegas, Nevada (An Amusement Park in Decline). Their lede here provides a good summary, here it is:

A bad hand. Las Vegas is used to pulling through even when the rest of the USA is in crisis. But it’s not like that anymore. The financial crisis has hit the casinos, while the housing market has collapsed – and these days Las Vegas is the city in the USA where the most people are put out on the street.

It’s easy to see why Hansen and Hebsgaard chose Las Vegas specifically for their “US metropolis in economic crisis” feature. Predominating above all must have been the way that city exerts a certain fascination upon most foreigners, in that it is literally impossible for them to find an analogue to it in their own countries (no matter where they may be from – the gambling paradise of Macao, off the southern coast of China, probably comes the closest), and therefore to easily understand the place. Like an unconquered peak to a mountaineer, Vegas must represent to the ambitious journalist the same sort of challenge, defying one to ever come to grips with it, to ever master what really makes the place tick. (more…)

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The Theoretical US Climate Change Advantage

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Interesting news comes from the Danish commentary weekly Information, best summarized by the lede from a recent article by Jørgen Steen Nielsen:

The EU punks the American government on climate questions, and the USA is behind due to the Bush administration. But when it comes to measures for the coming years, the EU has nothing for the Americans to hear, say experts.

(Yes, I have to assume that that Danish punker corresponds to “punks,” from “to punk,” as in “to rag on, to give someone a hard time about,” even though that meaning of “punk” is some rather obscure American street-slang – with which I myself am nonetheless familiar from the past, by the way. That’s simply the meaning called for by the context.)

The ultimate point here is a counterintuitive one. As Nielsen notes, the EU in particular loves to upbraid the American authorities for dragging their feet on anti-climate change measures, and it’s true that there was absolutely no progress on this during the George W. Bush years while the Europeans already succeeded in reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions somewhat compared to the 1990 baseline. But going forward, US “ambitions” for addressing climate change can actually be regarded as superior to those of Europe. (more…)

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Further Iran Opinions and Fantasies

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

So now Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made his long-awaited speech, on Friday, making it clear that any further street demonstrations would draw a ruthless crackdown by the security forces. And those further demonstrations, which nonetheless took place over the weekend, have duly resulted in pitched street-battles, with many among the protestors (and innocent by-standers) killed and wounded. What happens next?

Andreas Relster, writer for the Danish opinion newspaper Information, certainly has no idea. Still, at least he has that forum in which to raise the subject, and can resort to a strategy of canvassing the opinions of every Iran-expert out there whom he can get to respond to his inquiries. This is essentially the method behind his current piece, Iranian mirage. (more…)

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Kindling Interest in Denmark

Monday, June 8th, 2009

The Kindle – Amazon.com’s answer to the electronic book-reader – is now winning influential converts over on this side of the Atlantic. This includes Nikolai Thyssen of the Danish commentary newspaper Politiken – although you have every right to doubt that just from looking at the title of the article he has just written about it, The wolf in Kindle-clothing. Rest assured, though, that after spending one month and six e-books with a Kindle he is ready to concede that the electronic book breakthrough that experts have been predicting for decades is finally upon us.

The main reason for this, he declares, is Amazon’s “e-ink” technology, which succeeds in making the Kindle’s screen behave just like the regular ink-on-paper we are all used to from time immemorial: you can read a Kindle directly in sunlight, and, indeed, in the evening you better have some external source of light available somewhere nearby, as usual. But another reason the Kindle seems to have some momentum behind it is that, just like the iPod with iTunes, this content-delivery device comes with an on-line store already stocked with many thousands of bits of content for sale – this time e-books, of course, of which Amazon offers 300,000 and counting – many of which you can certainly assume that you would be interested in reading, if you are into books at all in the first place. And you can even beam them into your Kindle, after purchase, wirelessly. (more…)

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That’s It, Then: It’s All the Chinese’s Fault

Monday, May 11th, 2009

It looks like World Bank released an interesting publication a few weeks ago, the “Global Monitoring Report.” Jørgen Steen Nielsen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information has got it covered, albeit with a title for his review-article that the World Bank bureaucrats would never have dared to formulate themselves: The Chinese saved up for the American binge. Likewise, Nielsen’s lede would probably have not passed muster with the World Bank editors:

The large developing country [i.e. the PR of China] through its loans financed the overconsumption in the USA that launched the global recession and now forces millions in undeveloped countries into unemployment, hunger, and extreme poverty, said the World Bank.

How many millions exactly? The report does provide these numbers: 55-90 million more people in undeveloped countries driven into extreme poverty, 50 million in addition to that made unemployed, and the ranks of the world’s chronically hungry growing to over one billion. China did this (that’s the implication Nielsen draws out from the report) by recycling its dollar earnings from exports to the US through the amassing of incredible quantities of US Treasury debt – $696 billion by the end of last year, now grown to $744 (out of a total amount of foreign-owned US Government debt obligations of $3.1 trillion).

Again, this is probably not the slant that the writers of this report originally intended. It seems clear that their point was rather to warn how the UN’s Millenium Development Goals are in danger of not being achieved by the target date, which is 2015. You probably don’t remember this (I don’t either), but back in September, 2000, there was a “Millenium Summit” held at the UN’s headquarters in New York City, the largest gathering of world leaders in history as of that date, when those leaders committed their countries (192 states in all) to certain anti-poverty/anti-disease goals. But now, the report writes, “it is improbable that most of the eight global goals agreed to can be achieved – among these the goals having to do with hunger, child- and childbirth-mortality, education and progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other serious diseases.” In particular, the report writes off entirely sub-Saharan Africa’s chances of achieving these goals.

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Denmark’s Rasmussen To Head NATO

Monday, April 6th, 2009

You likely missed it in the thick series of happenings and photo-ops that have flooded the world’s front pages since Barack Obama first took flight last Tuesday for London, but there was a bit of a mini-crisis brewing at the NATO summit (his next stop after the G20 meeting in London) even as he addressed all those German and French students in Strasbourg at that “town hall” meeting on Friday. It wasn’t very complicated: the current Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was lined up to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary-General at the summit, but there was a serious monkey-wrench in the works: the top Turkish leaders did not want Rasmussen in that post, and they were ready to insist that he not get it and so exercise the effective veto they and every other one of NATO’s 28 members have on such a top position. (The Turkish complaints against him related to the late 2005/early 2006 Danish cartoons affair, plus a Kurdish-language TV station – “Roj TV” – that broadcasts in Denmark.) Things even reached the point that – horrors! – the news conference scheduled for 1:00 PM on Saturday afternoon did not happen until a good two-and-a-half hours later, which is when De Hoop Scheffer could finally appear on the stage shaking hands with his Danish successor.

As befitting its status as one of Denmark’s best-regarded daily newspapers, Berlingske Tidende has some good coverage of this affair (NATO’s declaration-of-confidence in Denmark), written by Ole Bang Nielsen. First off, Nielsen makes it clear just what this appointment means to the Danes themselves, namely a recognition that Denmark is no longer just a “footnote-nation and hesitant member of NATO,” as well as a personal vote of support to Rasmussen himself. To get there past the Turkish opposition, though, truly took a tremendous diplomatic full-court press – “the large European NATO lands finally threw in all their political ballast against Turkey,” as Nielsen writes. Breaking up that NATO meeting without having Rasmussen in place as the Secretary-General would have been a humiliation – especially for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who basically had announced the day before that Rasmussen would be named – so those European countries did indeed throw in everything, including Turkey’s prospective EU membership. Yes, EU matters generally do not belong being linked to NATO issues (the memberships of the two organizations don’t match very exactly, anyway), but Nielsen writes that certain threats were made nonetheless against Turkey’s EU membership process should it continue to hold out against the Dane. It seems even that the EU enlargement commissioner (Olli Rehn, a Finn) was on-hand personally to utter authoritative remarks toward the Turks such as “This does not look good from a European perspective, if Turkey does not give way.” There you have it: ordinarily Rehn did not even belong there at the NATO meeting at all, since he is an EU official, and because Finland is not a member of NATO anyway. (more…)

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A Dane Doubts Afghanistan Mission

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Iraq is over with now, basically; what with the elections that took place today, in a seemingly peaceful and successful manner, little remains for the US involvement there but a withdrawal of forces. But some of those forces, rather than heading home, will instead be diverted to Afghanistan, about which the Obama administration has made clear its intentions to devote on the order of an additional 30,000 American troops – both for the reinforcing effect they are expected to have there per se and as a gesture of increased commitment that can be used to cajole the NATO allies to increase their own contributions of men and matériel to that front.

But things may not necessarily follow that simple script. There is certainly resistance in Germany, for example, to the idea of sending any more of its soldiers to Afghanistan, or even to allow a redeployment of the ones that are already there to areas of the country where they could be more useful in suppressing the Taliban (and so where, by definition, they would be more exposed to actually taking casualties). As for the Danes, they do already have around 550 troops operating in the more-dangerous south part of the country and have suffered 22 killed-in-action since the Danish military’s initial deployment to Afghanistan in 2002. And now we encounter on the pages of Denmark’s leading commentary newspaper, Information, probably the Obama administration’s worst nightmare in this regard: an opinion-piece from a leading Danish writer asking “Why are we in Afghanistan?” (more…)

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Spidey Bush

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Here’s another retrospective analysis of the George W. Bush years that I have come across, this time from one of the foremost USA-experts within the Danish journalist ranks. I refer here to Martin Burcharth, correspondent in America since 1996 for the Danish weekly commentary newspaper Information; his piece is entitled An obsessed Bush read each morning about new terror threats.

The key element of Burcharth’s analysis here, as he assesses the two Bush presidential terms, is the radical change brought to the course of that presidency by the attacks of September 11, 2001. (more…)

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Putin for Obama

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

The US presidential election is coming up soon, less than two weeks away. That means, among other things, that it’s endorsement season now, and lately those have taken somewhat of an international flavor. You might have already heard about al-Qaeda’s “endorsement” of McCain – perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to write more about that soon. As such, that nod of terroristic approval goes counter to pretty much the whole rest of the world, which prefers Obama as next US president by about a four-to-one margin. (But you’d sort of expect that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen would be inclined to go against the grain, now, wouldn’t you?) More conventional is Russia’s choice, or at least Russia’s seeming choice, as reported by Per Dalgård in the Danish opinion weekly Information (McCain asks Russia for help). (more…)

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Twenty Reasons for the Chaos

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Wow – another EuroSavant post that simply writes itself! This time that delectable characteristic arises from the particular format employed (as you will soon see), and the article in question comes from Information, the Danish intellectual weekly newspaper, with the pungent title 20 reasons for the chaos we find ourselves in (and yes, it’s someone else’s fault).

Let’s go through these twenty reasons, then, shall we? – and see where we agree with the article’s author (with a very German name, I must say), Anna von Sperling. We might even keep a sort of running score; that nice, tapered, obviously feminine, nude (i.e. no rings) finger there pointing accusingly to the right at the article’s head starts us out with “one” . . . (more…)

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“Friendship Ends When It Comes To Money”

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The big news today is the Bush administration’s proposed $750 billion+ plan to address current turmoil in the US financial markets by giving the Treasury Department authority to purchase bank assets. Even as this is being written, hearings are taking place before the US Senate’s Banking Committee featuring the two main agents of the American government’s rescue plan, namely Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

As befits this blog’s name, though, we like to take a Euro or at least international perspective on things whenever we can, and there are certainly such angles to this story. In fact, the two I can detect are attractively symmetrical. On the one hand, Treasury Secretary Paulson announced that foreign-owned banks active in the US capital markets will also be eligible to exchange faltering financial assets for American cash via the proposed “bail-out” facility. On the other, administration officials are starting to look to foreign treasuries to contribute funds towards this bail-out.

As the New York Times reports today, that effort does not seem to be doing well in its early going. (more…)

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Pakistan Behind the Taliban

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Information is Denmark’s leading mainstream commentary newspaper, and now its writers have responded to the recent report of President Bush approving American military actions within Pakistan without any need for permission from or warning to the Pakistani authorities with a pair of analyses: USA moves the terror-war to Pakistan, by Graham Usher, and USA’s war against terror lies in ruins, by Martin Burcharth. (more…)

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Politics Trumps Intelligence

Thursday, April 7th, 2005

Just freshly back into the weblogging fold – if only on a week-by-week basis – ¿and I’m already dictating what sort of news should be covered more and what sort less? The sheer noive! (That “¿” was taken from the Spanish to let you know up-front that a question was coming. Thoughtful of me, ¿eh, amigos?) OK, so coverage of the late, great pope and/or his earthly remains belongs in the latter category; what should be in the former?

Consider that Thursday of last week saw the release of the report of the the commission on intelligence, assigned to evaluate culpability in light of the US intelligence community’s utter failure (together with most of its foreign partners) to correctly evaluate the extent of Iraq’s holdings of weapons of mass destruction. But by that point the pope was already seriously ailing – and then he died two days later, and the world’s journalists began their own professional pilgrimage to Rome! Is George W. Bush a lucky son-of-a-gun, or what?

But actually, the requirement would have gone beyond simple coverage of the face-value of the commission’s report, for that report focused on the supposed mistakes of the various intelligence agencies, the CIA at the forefront, and largely exonerated Bush administration officials from the charge of having tried to influence what the intelligence community reported to it over Iraq. So it’s a tall order: coverage that can discuss the report, yet disregard its more blatant presentations of sheer horsefeathers. (On the other hand, you might ordinarily consider the task simple, comparable to simply pointing out the obvious fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes.) Fortunately, there are journalists in the world up to the task, and newspapers willing to publish them, as in this case is Dorrit Saietz (who’s preferred by-line is simply “DS”) and her employer, the Danish commentary newspaper Information (Political Spies). (more…)

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Catastrophes in Human Memory

Sunday, January 2nd, 2005

Back today to devastating tsunami flooding off the Indian Ocean, with hundreds of thousands dead. Wait: no, I’m not referring here to the tsunami flooding of Boxing Day, 2004. I’m referring to the cyclone-driven big waves that inundated Bangladesh back in 1991, killing around 135,000. You say you don’t remember that disaster? Well, that’s the point here: what makes you think that you’ll remember the Boxing Day 2004 tsunamis for very much longer as Time resumes its inexorable advance? You may be concerned and alarmed now, but who (or what) is to say that for most of the world’s population (except those who have suffered losses, of course) this event in short order will simply be relegated to some list of disasters chronicled on an obscure (and, perhaps, a bizarrely olive-drab-colored) webpage?

Yes, as US Navy helicopters and other assorted equipment finally start moving in aid to those in Sumatra, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, etc. who need it, some of those of us left behind here in the West, with little else left to do to help (presumably after giving money), have already taken up the intellectual exercise of trying to assess the likely place of the Boxing Day floods within the world’s historical memory. Here EuroSavant once again resorts to Denmark’s excellent commentary newspaper, Information, and specifically to Mette-Line Thorup’s recent article The Catastrophe’s Metaphysics. (more…)

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Cost/Benefits of Early-Warning

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

Oh, what might have been! . . . what might have happened on the coasts ringing the eastern Indian Ocean last Sunday, as the killer tidal waves launched by the undersea earthquake approached them, if there had been better warning! Yes, people would still have died, but it’s reasonable to think that far fewer would have than those enumerated in the ever-rising death-toll (now over 40,000, and still rising).

Many of you will have already seen today’s New York Times editorial on the subject, which quite reasonably points out that, while the Pacific Ocean has long had a tsunami early-warning system (based in Honolulu), the Indian Ocean has nothing like that. But Iver Houmark Andersen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information has a bit more to add in Vital Minutes Were Lost. (more…)

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Getting Out the Vote in Fallujah

Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

How are things these days in Fallujah? – you remember, that hotbed of Iraqi resistance activity that needed to be rooted out by the USMC to clear the way for Iraqi citizens peaceably to go to the polls on 30 January? Oh fine, just fine now, reports the US military, even as it denies access into the city to Red Cross officials, not to mention to returning city-residents. The discerning reader is likely to feel rather less-then-fully-informed about the state of affairs there if this is all he has to go on; where is the alternative press when you need it?

It turns out that Jørgen Steen Nielsen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information has managed to cultivate some good sources in Iraq, so that his recent article (No Election in Fallujah) helps to fill in some of the blanks about what is really going on there one month after the massive US Army-Marine assault. (more…)

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Europe’s Own Voting Mess

Thursday, October 21st, 2004

Uh oh: looks like some funny business with the counting of the ballots. And don’t you find it a little suspicious that all the local election officials, the ones in charge of recording and counting the votes, are all professed partisans of the incumbent?

Yes folks, it’s the old bait-and-switch tactic again. All of this has truly been going on, but not (yet?) in Florida. I’m referring here instead to the recent “elections” in Belarus, commonly known as “Europe’s last dictatorship,” where to no one’s great surprise President Alexander Lukashenko managed to get passed the amendment to the Belarussian constitution that allows him to keep on running for re-election as long as he is physically able.

The key, of course, is that now that the Belarussian constitution allows him to run, it’s overwhelmingly likely that he will always win. This is not due to any special place Lukashenko occupies in the hearts of his countrymen, but rather to his efficiency in finding ways to win, irrespective of what may be the voters’ preferences. Johnni Michelsen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information managed to infiltrate the country to observe the Belarussian election process himself and send back a report: Chaotic Election Day in Belarus. (more…)

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The Najaf Confrontation: A Danish Evaluation

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

When I recently expounded my own evaluation of the settlement of the Najaf stand-off, naturally I was serious about presenting it “for . . . refutation.” You can’t escape that in this medium, anyway, and no definitive answer that I’m aware of as to “winners” and “losers” has emerged as of yet in any case, or may ever. In the meantime, an interesting contribution to the debate comes from “M.”, writing for the Danish commentary newspaper Information (Once al-Sadr, always . . .). (more…)

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Who to Send Home

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

The Danish (female) politician Pia Kjærsgaard gave an interesting interview, published yesterday (The Next Election Campaign Should Also Be About Foreigners), to David Rehling of the commentary newspaper Information. Now, Kjærsgaard is not even in the current Danish government, but the tacit support of the Danish People’s Party (Danish abbreviation “DF”) that she leads keeps the present governing coalition in power and has enabled it to go forward with its electoral program.

That’s only as long as the governing liberal-conservative coalition includes in that program the DF’s pet initiatives, of course, which mainly have to do with making Denmark a more unfriendly place for the non-tourist non-Danish. (more…)

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Foreigners Dominate Denmark’s Criminals

Friday, July 16th, 2004

Results of a recently-released survey conducted last May 4 among the population of Denmark’s jails by the Institute for Prisoner Welfare (Kriminalforsorgen) and the Danish State Statistical Bureau (Danmarks Statistik) have raised some eyebrows. That study found that a full one-quarter of Denmark’s imprisoned criminals (specifically: 955 out of 3,741) are either of foreign nationality or the direct descendants of foreigners. (more…)

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Is There Such Thing as a Free Train?

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

This may be counter-intuitive, but did you realize that instituting limited periods during which all passengers can ride on a train system for free is a measure that can actually pay for itself, and even turn a profit, from the increased numbers of paying passengers who will be attracted to ride the trains during the free period and beyond?

At least there is the strong suggestion that this is true in Denmark. In January train travel was made free for trains running in the region of Svendborg, located on the south part of the big Danish island of Fyn – the one lying between the Jutland mainland to the west and the island of Sjaelland (where Copenhagen is located) to the east. A subsequent study undertaken together by the Danish traffic ministry and the Danish State Railways (DSB) – and reported at length by journalist Rasmus Lindboe in the Danish opinion newspaper Information (Analysis: The State Can Make a Profit on Free Trains) – shows that ridership increased by 25% as a result of this initiative, even after January was over. What’s more, one third of the 150,000 new riders attracted to the trains would have ordinarily gotten where they needed to go using their cars. The DSB gained back the money it originally lost by not charging fares within three months from the resulting increased ridership. (more…)

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Danes on Edwards

Thursday, July 8th, 2004

Danish coverage of John Edwards’ selection as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate has turned out to be fairly substantive. There is even early commentary on the choice in the opinion newspaper Information, from that paper’s correspondent in Boston, MA, Martin Burcharth (Kerry Chooses a Risky Strategy). (more…)

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Denmark Contemplates the Iraqi Con-Man

Thursday, May 27th, 2004

And now to the latest Iraq-related scandal. No, really: this one centers around the person of Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress, long the Pentagon’s favorite anti-Saddam Iraqi exile, recipient of a monthly $335,000 payment from the (US) Defense Intelligence Agency, and, in return, the source of juicy intelligence from within the Hussein regime, most notably about its stocks of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The recent raid on Chalabi’s Baghdad house to seize computer records and documents, performed by Iraqi policemen under the protection of US soldiers, was a signal that perhaps this relationship is not so cozy anymore, something understandable given the record so far of those WMD actually turning up in practice. Now there is talk that Chalabi might have been an agent in the pay of Iran all along, feeding the Bush administration with the false information on Iraq that it wanted to hear as a justification to depose Hussein, while at the same time feeding his Iranian paymasters with truly exclusive top secret American intelligence information.

Yes, the suspicion is dawning that the United States might essentially have been hoodwinked into going to war against Iraq – and that officials at this administration’s highest levels might eventually have to answer charges of the unauthorized passing-on of choice information to their good comrade Chalabi, only to see it transferred right along to officials in Tehran. The broad outline of all this, at least, should be familiar by now to anyone who peruses the major American papers (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times) on a regular basis; I myself rather like the extensive account given here on the Parapundit weblog (and updated here). One interesting side-question that Parapundit’s Randall Parker raises is: How long before the rest of the world wakes up to the fact that, when it comes to international intrigue, we (i.e. the Americans) are nothing but “a bunch of country hick rubes”?

Well, the Danes probably are already aware of this, for one. (more…)

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Beware of Danes Baring Rifts

Wednesday, May 12th, 2004

Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen is scheduled to visit President Bush at the White House on May 28. Indications are mounting that the meeting might be a bit less friendly than usual, given the Iraqi prisoner treatment scandal that erupted last week. Of course, this top-level visit was planned months ago, so that latest unpleasantness is by no means the meeting’s motivation. But prisoner treatment is not the only burr under the Danish saddle, by far. To a great extent (although with less visibility, since there’s less world interest), the Danes are in the same boat as the British: having unreservedly backed the Americans in the approach to and conduct of the War in Iraq, they are now reaping that whirlwind, particularly in view of the failure to turn up of the weapons of mass destruction that were to many the war’s main justification. In April Danish defense minister Svend Aage Jensby resigned as pressure mounted within the Danish parliament, the Folketing, over the present government’s allegedly misleading behavior that led Denmark to support and participate in the war – although admittedly only to the extent of the dispatch one non-combatant ship. (Still: an example of the enforcement of public official accountability that other countries would be wise to follow? You make the call.) (more…)

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Damp-Squib Chemical Weapons Find in Iraq

Tuesday, January 13th, 2004

It seems that Danish troops over the past weekend uncovered in southern Iraq some artillery shells that quite likely were filled with the “blister agent” chemical weapon. I was first alerted to this by an entry in Joshua Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo site, where he also linked to a BBC report on the find. Naturally, this sort of thing called for a search on in the Danish press for word of what had gone on, and what it might mean. The answer: not that much. (more…)

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