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The State of Emergency Infrastructure

"Snow grinds global empire to halt," wrote FP Passport on March 7, 2007:
When Hitler rained bombs on London for more than 50 consecutive nights in the fall of 1940, Londoners responded by tacking up "Business As Usual" signs on the city's streets. Life went on, and the Blitz be damned. Contrast that to this morning, when a light dusting of snow—less than one-eighth of an inch—fell on Washington. It was apparently too much for our federal government to handle. Business couldn't continue. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled to explain why the chamber was helpless in the face of a dusting of snow. Taking a vote on a homeland security measure would have to wait.
FP Passport makes tongue-in-cheek comments about terrorists getting cloud seeding technology and a pre-emptive strike against China. I am not linking to this American blog to make fun of Washington. Rather it seems appropriate to point out the vulnerability and lack of emergency preparedness, which US and German experts have assessed in some detail:

GERMANY: The Third Risk Report by the Advisory Board for Civil Protection ("Dritter Gefahrenbericht der Schutzkommission") presented to the German Interior Minister on 26 March 2006 "gives an assessment of both the broad spectrum of imminent threats facing Germany and the provisions needed to meet them. In this report, expert consideration of possible future events is investigated, a distinction between ABC and other types of risks is made, and a systematic assessment of existing gaps, or deficiencies, in emergency preparedness and response is carried out."

The six "most imperative gaps, or deficiencies," are: 
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Germany's Fast Aid after Katrina and "Role Reversal"

[Update: Anne Richard, author of Role Reversal, has published an op-ed in the IHT (PDF file at SAIS Transatlantic Center) describing how useful some foreign aid was and that others was rejected and others wasn't needed and concludes that much more international emergency response cooperation is necessary. The Washington Post quotes her saying "I think most Americans have little understanding about the extent to which other countries were moved and concerned" and mentions also the amount of aid Kuwait and Saudi Arabia donated. IMHO: Political motivations play a significant role, since those countries donated little for Darfur, whose people need the money much more...]

One year ago, ninety experts from Germany's Technisches Hilfswerk or THW (Federal Agency for Technical Relief) were quickly deployed to pump floodwater out of New Orleans and nearby parishes. The American Quaker Economist was "truly surprised by the silence with which this help has been greeted in the American media":
President Bush and Ambassador Timken have officially thanked the German government for this timely and effective assistance. But has any trace of these official communications made it into print, or into our wall-to-wall television coverage? (...) The only significant mention of the German effort that I found anywhere in the US media was an eight-paragraph press release from US Northern Command. As far as I can tell, no actual news stories were written based on that press release.
The Washington Times wrote about Germany's contributions as well. Was Germany's contribution significant? The Quaker Economist:
Remember those estimates that it would take three to six months to pump the water out of New Orleans? Just ten days after those estimates were made, the city is more or less dry. There is a story behind this news. It has to do with a large contingent of German volunteers who came to play a major role in the rescue of New Orleans.
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Germany's Economic Importance for the US -- Economic Reform and Poverty

Bruce Stokes, journalism fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, has written a feature article about Germany's economy for the National Review. He considers economic growth in Germany to be important for the United States:
Washington knows that Americans also need a successful German economy. As the largest European economy, Germany can be, and has been, the economic engine that leads all of Europe into faster growth rates and thus bolsters U.S. exports. Except for Germany's disagreement with the United States on Iraq, Berlin has been a reliable partner in Washington's European and global foreign-policy initiatives. And, looking forward, "Germany is the only dependable U.S. partner for the next 15 years," asserted Deutsche Bank's Walter. But the growing divergence in economic performance between Europe and the United States is rapidly eroding the economic conditions that have nurtured trans-Atlantic political relations and fostered U.S.-European joint leadership of the world economy.
The American Institute of Contemporary German Studies provides Bruce Stokes' in-depth article about many problems of Germany's economy as a pdf file. While Stokes argues that Germany's labor and economic reforms, although significant, have so far delivered only meager returns and that more needs to be done to remedy this situation, the Energy Banker Jérôme Guillet (European Tribune) is skeptical whether more of the same sort of reforms will help. The historian Tony Judt argues in The Globalist:
If anything, the rush of many contemporary commentators and public figures, particularly in the United States, to ignore the political origins of the welfare state reflects poorly on their understanding of Europe's difficult past. (...) The liberal welfare states of Europe were not built as a vision of a utopian future. They were built [after WWII] as a barrier to Europe's 20th century -- as it had just been experienced. In this context, bear in mind that most of the men who built the welfare states in Europe were not young social democrats. Most of the people actually implementing this program after 1945 in Western Europe were Christian Democrats — or liberals rather than socialists of any kind.
Is the US system better? After a decrease of poverty in the late 90s, "the number of Americans living in poverty has risen each year Bush has been president, increasing to 37 million in 2004 from 31.6 million in 2000. Overall, 12.7 percent of the nation's population lives in poverty, which for a family of four means an income less than $20,000 a year." writes the Washington Post.
Is poverty more accepted in the US? According to the same article in the Post, "poverty forced its way to the top of President Bush's agenda in the confusing days after Hurricane Katrina," but:
As it happened, poverty's turn in the presidential limelight was brief. Bush has talked little about the issue since the immediate crisis passed, while pursuing policies that his liberal critics say will hurt the poor. He has publicly mentioned domestic poverty six times since giving back-to-back speeches on the issue in September. Domestic poverty did not come up in his State of the Union address in January, and his most recent budget included no new initiatives directed at the poor. (...)
"The Bush administration has shown a total lack of leadership on this issue," said former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, who has made a new war on poverty his signature issue as he travels the country in preparation for an expected 2008 presidential bid. [HT: Edit Copy]

Carnival of German American Relations

Sixty-Four years ago today, Germany declared war on the United States. To reflect on the evolution of US-German relations and the current state of our alliance, GM's Corner and the Atlantic Review are hosting a blog carnival. Many Germans have had a high regard for the US for its support for (West-)Germany, civil liberties and the rule of law, its thoughtful political debates and critical press, and the establishment of international organizations. Many German friends of the US have felt increasingly estranged in the last couple of years due to restrictions on civil liberties and the rule of law in the US, an uncritical media during the run up to the Iraq war, and the perception of increasing unilateralism and of a bellicose foreign policy rhetoric of some politicians. Others just seized the chance to express their anti-Americanism more openly.

Many Americans have the impression that Germans are ungrateful, unsupportive, hypocritical and don't understand how the world has changed on 9/11 and that the war on terror requires new methods and thinking. The disagreements, however, are not primarily between Americans and Germans, but between liberals and conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic, and even within those political tents. Thus many liberal Americans and Germans argue that giving up moral values in the war on terrorism is surrender and does not defeat terrorists, but helps them to get more recruits.

The leading German weekly DIE ZEIT now calls the United States a "Torture State." The editor Michael Naumann even writes that legal executions could be considered torture. The Wall Street Journal hits back:

One of Europe's moral conceits is to fret constantly about the looming outbreak of fascism in America, even though it is on the Continent itself where the dictators seem to pop up every couple of decades. (...) More dangerous for the longer term, the Continent's preening anti-Americanism has also been duly noted on this side of the Atlantic. Europeans should worry that their moral hauteur may well be repaid by American popular opinion the next time they call on the Yanks to put down one of their homegrown fascists.

While these two venerable papers trade shrill insults and hurtful, exaggerated accusations, the 21 participants of our Blog Carnival have written critical, but much more respectful and thoughtful opinion pieces on a wide range of topics on our transatlantic partnership. Please continue to read here what they have to say:

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How to pay for Katrina and Rita?

Update: The Red Cross has not received enough donations after Katrina, reports the Washington Post today:

The American Red Cross asked Americans to give more to help hurricane victims, saying the $853 million donated for Katrina is less than half what's needed. Rita will require even more.

Congress has not yet agreed on how to pay for the estimated $ 200 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina's destruction, but NASA proudly presented plans to spend $104 billion to return to the moon. While Rita's destructions will increase the federal bill and the debate about national spending priorities considerably, Katrina has, according to the Dallas Morning News, already

reopened the fiscal and social debate about how the nation can care for the poor and pay for the retirement of the baby boom generation while maintaining tax and economic policies that stimulate investment and growth. Those concerns, combined with worries about chronic budget deficits, have spurred lawmakers and lobbyists to dust off their favorite ideas on taxes, spending and pork.

Pressure to get out of Iraq intensifies as well.... Here are some of the proposals to pay for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast:

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German relief experts at work in New Orleans

US Fulbright Alum Tanya Jones (Fulbright Journalism, Berlin, 1999-2000) wrote the following reading recommendation:
Ninety experts from Germany's Technisches Hilfswerk or THW (Federal Agency for Technical Relief) are helping to pump floodwater out of New Orleans and nearby parishes. The team arrived in the region last week [September 9, 2005] and immediately began work. German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger visited the team on September 12, saying "your effort in particular is valued and recognized as a special contribution to German-American friendship." Great photo gallery of the THW at work and the Ambassador's visit. The Washington Times article "Germans help clean up after Katrina" features the THW, as well as the many specialist teams from the US working on pumping out floodwaters:
'If you can help and you have the opportunity to help, you should,' said Jan Goerich, 29, from Speyer, Germany. 'We are here to help, that is all.' The team of Germans, volunteers with Technisches Hilfswerk, a German disaster-relief organization, arrived Friday [Sept. 9] at Belle Chasse Naval Air Base with 15 pumps that can move almost 6 million gallons of water a day.
The embassy lists Germany's assistance in a Fact Sheet (pdf). [The Atlantic Review wrote about German solidarity as well. The US Fulbright Association received letters of condolences and expressions of sympathy from Fulbrighters around the world.]

Some exploit lack of governance, while others step in to organize help

Fellow Fulbrighter Elisabeth Fraller recommends the Common Dreams Newscenter, especially an article in the Canadian Globe & Mail. It argues: "Every-man-for-himself ethos serves Americans poorly in times of crisis when people must pull together."

In much poorer societies, such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day tsunami, or in more polarized societies like Montreal during the 1998 ice storm, scenes of looting, violence and selfish desperation did not occur. But the large U.S. cities of the South have a very different sort of group psychology, in which faith in individual fortune replaces the fixed social roles that keep other places aloft during crises.

While the Katrina crisis brought out the worst in some people, it also brought out the best in many others, as Time Magazin columnist Tony Karon points out:

Continue reading "Some exploit lack of governance, while others step in to organize help"