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Highlights from the Munich Security Conference 2014

The world's leading defense conference celebrated it's 50th anniversary this year and the debates were fascinating and met the expectations. I have curated tweets from participants and tweeted myself based on the livestream on Saturday. Here's a selection of what I think are the most interesting Tweets on Germany, China/Japan and general history lessons.

This is followed by some criticism about a lack of diversity as well as photos from a panel of 90+ year old statesmen, of four female defense ministers (less than half the age, I guess), an embarrassing selfie from a CEO, and of the demonstration outside.

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"Europe" is a Dirty Word in the United States

Mitt Romney's Anti-European rhetoric is stronger than the Anti-American statements by leading German politicians in the last few election campaigns. Romney seems to assume that Republican voters are so stupid, uninformed and Anti-European that he can get their votes with scaremongering.

His Europe bashing seems to be his response to the criticism of his "socialist" health care policy in Massachusetts and his French language skills. (Newt Gingrich released the attack ad "The French Connection".)

In Iowa Mitt Romney accused Obama of turning the United States into "a European-style welfare state," saying Obama's policies would "poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God," according to the Washington Post.

In his New Hampshire Primary Victory Speech he said Obama "wants to turn America into a European-style social welfare state society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity. This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America." (See video at 6:30 minutes.)

Well, Norway, Finland, Denmark and even Germany and France deserve the title "land of opportunity" more than the US does because social mobility is higher. The NYT writes about five such studies.

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Atlantica: A Threat to American Freedom

In Roland Emmerich's latest disaster movie 2012 the alignment of our solar system's planetary bodies during the winter solstice in three years will cause the Earth to topple from its axis. This leads to the end of the world.

And three years later it is likely to get even worse, because "there is a movement in the U.S. Congress to create a transatlantic free trade area by 2015." That's the impression I get from Rick Biondi's warning in The Examiner. Apparently the creation of such a free trade area will lead to a horrible "Europeanization of America:"

Europeans have always favored the rule of law and collective order over liberty. Worshippers of foreign philosophies in Congress are embarrassed by this rift, and are working hard with President Obama to reverse it through ideological capitulation.

To effectively unite Atlantica, many policymakers believe we need to meet our European friends in the middle. In essence, we must become more progressive, so our political and economic agendas can harmoniously merge on a transatlantic level. The Europeanization of America is a deliberate and calculated agenda. Once Americans are conditioned to accept and live under more socialistic ideals, a true Atlantic community can effectively be negotiated.

I find his choice of words hilarious ("Atlantica," ideological capitulation," "calculated agenda," and "conditioned to accept") and his concerns truly fascinating as they reveal such different values.

Political Segregation Increases Culture Wars in America

"Americans are increasingly choosing to live among like-minded neighbours. This makes the culture war more bitter and politics harder," writes The Economist
Residential segregation is not the only force Balkanising American politics, frets Mr Bishop. Multiple cable channels allow viewers to watch only news that reinforces their prejudices. The internet offers an even finer filter. Websites such as or help Americans find ideologically predictable mates. And the home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike.

Why is this voluntary segregation bad for politics? Because:

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Russian News: Less Objective than in the West?

The Moscow News Weekly has published an article on Kosovo's declaration of independence, which from its tone I assumed was in the "Comment/Opinions" section.  However, it turns out it was actually in the "World News" section.  Here is a snippet:
While burning KFOR checkpoints may not be the best of ways for Kosovo's ethnic Serbian minority to express its anxiety and anger over recent events, global democratic leaders should think twice before voting to award a chair to Kosovo on New York's East River. In the Basque country, Quebec, Belgium, northern Cyprus, Georgia and many other places across the globe, they have TV sets, too, and are watching. Telling them Kosovo is different and unique won't work. That's the price you pay for being a hypocrite, I guess.

Not to say western newspapers are completely objective, but at least you can read multiple perspectives on a story on this side of the Urals, without worrying about whether your favorite columnist may mysteriously die one day.

Of course this is only one article in one newspaper; it may not be fair to judge the entire Russian media based on this article alone. To get a better idea of press freedom trends globally and by country, you can check out an annual report produced by Freedom House titled "Freedom of the Press."  The 2007 version reported this for Russia:

Media freedom in Russia continued to be curtailed in 2006 as President Vladimir Putin’s government passed legislation restricting news reporting and journalists were subjected to physical violence and intimidation. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, authorities are able to use the legislative and judicial systems to harass and prosecute independent journalists.

Those Lazy Europeans

Comparing vacation days in the US and Europe, Reuters writes "Europe heads to beach, Americans head to work:"
Finland, followed by France, offers working people the most statutory vacation, at more than six weeks per year, the report, an international snapshot of how much paid leave people get by law and in practice in 21 countries, says. The United States is the only country where employees have no statutory leave, and they get about half as much time off in reality as Europeans get, according to the report, compiled by the Washington-based Centre for Economic Policy Research. 'The United States is in a class of its own,' the report says. 'It is the no-vacation nation.'
Liz Ryan writes in Business Week about the vacation customs in France and wrongly assumes that all of Europe is like France:
The Europeans Do It Right: I applaud a whole continent shutting down for a month. The only way we can really shut down and enjoy time off is with our colleagues' help.
All of Europe shutting down for a month? How silly is that? Why do quite a few Americans consider "Europe" synonymous with "France"?
Related: Longer vacations => more happiness?

Transatlantic Ranking: Happiness

Americans are much happier than Germans and French, but less happy than Danes and Swedes, writes Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post:
The America of 2007 is far richer than the America of 1977. Life expectancy is 78 years, up from 74 years. Our homes are bigger and crammed with more paraphernalia (microwave ovens, personal computers, flat-panel TVs). But happiness is stuck.
In 1977, 35.7 percent of Americans rated themselves "very happy," 53.2 percent "pretty happy" and 11 percent "not too happy," reports the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. In 2006, the figures are similar: 32.4 percent "very happy," 55.9 percent "pretty happy" and 11.7 percent "not too happy." Likewise, in most advanced countries, self-reported happiness has been flat for decades.
In international comparisons, the United States ranks lower in happiness than some smaller nations (Denmark, Ireland, Sweden) but much higher than many large countries with paternalistic welfare states (France, Germany, Italy). Governments can provide health care. But they cannot outlaw despair or mandate euphoria.
The Guardian:
Iceland is the leader in a league table judging the European country best able to give citizens a long and happy life. Estonia comes bottom of the 30-nation survey while the UK lurks below Romania, at number 21 in the chart.
The European Happy Planet Index used carbon efficiency, life satisfaction and life expectancy to rate the countries. The survey, published by the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth, reveals that Europe is now worse at creating well-being than it was 40 years ago.

A recent survey showed that vacation is a major factor for happiness in Germany, but apparently that does not make Germans happier than Americans. Or: Germans just don't want to admit how happy they are. Displaying happiness seems to be not all that popular in this country (Germany), while it is sort of mandatory to pursue happiness in the US. And you are a loser, if you are not happy...? That's probably an unfair, stereotypical assessment. What do you think, dear readers?