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State of the Union: "We Revitalized NATO" and "We Do Big Things"

"With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense.  We've reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India." declared President Obama in yesterday's State of the Union Address (Enhanced video).

The focus of his speech was of course domestic rather than foreign -- "and perhaps properly so, given Americans' continuing preoccupation with the economy. Even in that context, though, President Obama's portrait of U.S. engagement in the world was thin -- and weak. By Obama's account, the most important American foreign initiatives in 2011 will be retreats," comments Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post.

Still, I very much like his speech. I felt inspired afterwards, and I assume the speech moved many Americans as well. An optimistic yet realistic message during tough times.

My favorite quotes:

This is our generation's Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -- (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people. (...)

That's what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves. (...)

Continue reading "State of the Union: "We Revitalized NATO" and "We Do Big Things""

Plutocracy: US Media Concerned about the Political Influence of the Super Rich

Conventional wisdom used to be that Europeans envy the rich, while Americans hope to emulate them. Now, Americans are increasingly concerned about rising inequality and the influence of the tiny elite of the super rich.

Plutocracy is a very popular topic of discussion in the US media at the moment. I am quite surprised.

It can't be a coincidence that even mainstream and center-right publications like Foreign Affairs, The American Interest and The Atlantic write about it extensively right now:

Continue reading "Plutocracy: US Media Concerned about the Political Influence of the Super Rich"

Who Wants to Dream?

"Germany in Need of a Dream" is the headline of John Kornblum's op-ed, that I discussed earlier in: Has Germany Changed to the Worse? The former US ambassador to Germany adds to the mantra that 200,000 young fans of Obama attended his campaign speech in Berlin in 2008:

But as Germans will themselves often tell you: They have forgotten how to dream. Younger Germans feel this lack of inspiration as well. Dreams were what 200,000 of them were waiting to hear when they rallied to hear Barack Obama in Berlin two summers ago.

I was there. The crowd was a mix of all generations, not just young people. Not just fans, who "rallied". A few thousand Obama fans came hours before the speech and were able to stand in the front and smile and cheer into the TV cameras. Not just people in need of dreams came to see the new global superstar. Most folks were just curious, I think.

My colleague Ben Heine and I interviewed quite a few attendees after the speech:

Read Ben's article Obama in Europe: Continuity We Can Believe In: "Generally favorable towards Obama, many of the attendees we spoke to during the rally indicated they had come to hear the speech out of curiosity and interest in politics, rather than a specific desire to admire the presidential nominee."

Anyway, is Germany in need of a dream and are Germans waiting to hear dreams, as Kornblum is saying? I tend to disagree, but I agree to the extend that we need to overcome political cynicism and revitalize politics at the grassroots level. This requires much more than a charismatic leader, who would raise suspicions for historical reasons.

Related posts: Germans Learned Nothing from Obama and Campaign Slogan in Germany: "Yes, Weekend". Favorite quote from another post: "Obama might be as popular as Elvis, but even the King couldn¹t wean Germany off of Russian energy." And don't forget to read Nanne's analysis of what Obama said in Berlin: Obama Keeps it Global

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

The health care debate in the United States has recently spurred a tangential conversation among pundits: Is America's or Europe's economy better? The controversy was initiated by Jim Manzi who recently wrote that Europe's bloated welfare state has destroyed its competitive advantage:
From 1980 through today, America's share of global output has been constant at about 21%. Europe's share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition - going from a little less than 40% of global production in the 1970s to about 25% today. Opting for social democracy instead of innovative capitalism, Europe has ceded this share to China (predominantly), India, and the rest of the developing world.
Paul Krugman has responded in kind, arguing:
The story you hear all the time - of a stagnant economy in which high taxes and generous social benefits have undermined incentives, stalling growth and innovation - bears little resemblance to the surprisingly positive facts. The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.
Economists and journalists have been busy debating the question. Greg Mankiw cites GDP figures to question Europe's wealth, Mark Perry compares European countries to US states, Noah Millman asks why we are asking this question, and Clive Crook says the question is unanswerable.

The debate over the economic prowess of the US and Europe recurs at regular intervals. But it rarely leaves us with any new information. To some extent, the debate sounds like two teenage students trying to prove which one is at the top of the class. At the end of the day, the economies of European countries and the United States are closely intertwined, as the recent financial crisis has demonstrated. Unfortunately, the debate over the "right" economic system may cloud the bigger opportunity: how will Europe and the United States lead the global economy in coming decades?

What do you think? Who has the better economic model? Is that the right question to be asking?

"Obama Effect": increased diversity in global politics?

“Prejudice in Europe is more than skin deep”, writes Columbia University historian Mark Mazower in the Financial Times:
Europeans find it hard adjusting to a colour-blind world. Indeed their hesitancy is growing. In Austria, the extreme right carved out big gains in September’s general elections. Pope Benedict weighed in over the summer to warn against a possible resurgence of fascist values in Italy. Europe as a whole, according to recent polls, has become significantly more xenophobic over the past few years. Fears of Islamic terrorism and anxiety about globalisation have fed this trend. So has fervent anti-European Union sentiment, strongly correlated to populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. By contrast, Mr Obama’s story is that of the immigrant dream, a tale of upwardly-mobile success that cut decisively across race lines. Immigrant voters played a decisive electoral role in Mr Obama’s win, yet immigration – for all the prior public debate – figured little as a campaign issue.
It will be interesting to see if a black president in America will reverse the trend of rising xenophobia in Europe cited by Mazower.  Al Jazeera also poses an interesting question, "Will the 'Obama effect' encourage more diversity in global politics?"

See also from Atlantic Review:
* Five Reasons Obama Would not be Elected in Europe

Huckabee: United States Does Integration Better than Europe

Mike Huckabee is a political rockstar in the United States.  Even atheist Democrats who disagree with many of his policies cannot help but be charmed by the former governor.  My friend and a fellow blogger Kevin (one such atheist Democrat) gives his take on this phenomenon at the blog Wyatt Gwyon:
Of the Republican candidates, Huckabee is the most straightforward in presentation and generally the most rigorous in his analyses… I certainly do not concur with the majority of the political positions that stereotypically come with his fundamentalist Christian system of belief, but I am clear on what he believes and can respect his convictions to those beliefs for their principled consistency. Huckabee is a profoundly known factor.
IMHO, style is what has buoyed Huckabee’s presidential bid.  It is not a coincidence that his campaign picked up momentum only a week after he became “Chuck Norris Approved” in a humorous commercial run  prior to him sweeping the Iowa primaries last week.

Huckabee has nonetheless been criticized for lacking a solid foreign policy platform.  This week, he dabbled on the issue of US-European relations by speculating who is better at cultural integration.  As reported by the National Review Online:
It is also difficult for us, with our culture of assimilation, to understand that life for European Muslims is different from life for American Muslims.  Muslims in Britain or the Netherlands or Germany are second-class citizens because those countries have more homogenous populations that don’t readily integrate outsiders.  Instead of melting pots, Europe has separate pots boiling over with alienation and despair. In some countries, like France, it is more a lack of economic integration, while in others, like Britain, it is more a lack of cultural integration, but whatever the reason, Europe is a much more fertile breeding ground for terror than the United States. Unintentionally, some of our closest allies are producing some of our clearest threats. 
I agree with Huckabee that Europe does a poorer job of integration than the US, and that this can breed violence.  However, I find it difficult to pin exactly why the US is a more successful 'melting pot'.  Perhaps one factor is upward mobility: I suspect an individual can transcend their parentage easier in the US than in most European countries, which in turn mitigates social and cultural stratification.

German Paper: "America Remains Model to Emulate"

Obamamania has reached Germany a few months ago and produces quite a few positive news reports about the United States. Thomas Klau, the Washington correspondent of the Financial Times Deutschland, for instance, concludes his column about the rise of Senator Barack Obama with:
America continues to function as a model for the world. The son of an African immigrant and the representative of an ethnic minority is considered a legitimate candidate for the nation's leadership. No European country would be capable or ready to give a politician with such a biography the chance to reach the highest and most powerful public office. To fact that the U.S. developed as a country of immigrants explains the generosity of America, but it doesn't explain the narrow-mindedness of Europe. The continent has been a destination for immigrants for too long to condone the exclusion of minorities from leadership positions in society. One can criticize the U.S. for the Iraq War without misjudging its greatness, especially when Europe needs such a role example.
Read the original article in German at Financial Times Deutschland, the German publication by the famous UK business daily. English translation at Watching America.

Senator Obama has written the bestseller "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" available at

UPDATE: Reader Pat Patterson points out that Obama is not "the son of an African immigrant," because his father
and came to the US on a student visa and then left two years after the future Senator's birth. He also writes that Nicolas Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian father and has a bigger chance to become France's next president. 
A few children of immigrants are members of the German parliament, but in in contrast to Sarkozy and Obama, they are not (yet) considered candidates for top government positions.

Brain Drain: German YouTube Founder Enjoys the American Dream

Observing Hermann writes about the third YouTube founder, Jawed Karim, who was born in East Germany in 1979:
Ironically, Karim's family (his father was originally from Bangladesh) left Germany in 1992 after the infamous post-Wall racist incidents in Hoyerswerda, Rostock and Mölln; not the first time that Ausländerfeindlichkeit (hatred of foreigners) has led to the brain drain from one country and to the benefit of another. That's entrepreneurial power that Germany could be using right now, too (should we Americans say thanks to Germany now or later?)."
In spring 2006, Jawed Karim left YouTube for graduate studies at Stanford. He remained an informal advisor and major shareholder. The NYT writes:
Mr. Karim said he might keep a hand in entrepreneurship, and he dreams of having an impact on the way people use the Internet -- something he has already done. Philanthropy may have some appeal, down the road. But mostly he just wants to be a professor. He said he simply hopes to follow in the footsteps of other Stanford academics who struck it rich in Silicon Valley and went back to teaching.
UPI writes about the brain drain (HT: Observing Hermann):
Some 145,000 people in 2005 emigrated from Germany to other countries, the highest emigration total since 1954, according to latest numbers. Mainly young and well-educated people leave Germany, often for better working conditions, such as scientists researching in the United States; a higher pay check, like teachers working in Switzerland; or better chances to quickly find a job, for example in many of the Scandinavian countries.
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Germany loses the brightest minds to the US and Racism in East Germany.