Posted tagged ‘Germany’

Foreign Relations, Bush League

October 11, 2018

The Trump Administration following the inspiration of their commander in chief have racked up quite a score card for foreign affairs.  Everything in the foreign affairs arena done in the Obama Administration was prima facia wrong (how about worst ever).  With this view, abandoning, walking away from, or reversing any and all Obama Administration policies was the Trump option of choice.

So, we have ended NAFTA (worst treaty ever), thumbed our nose at the Europeans by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, and roundly distanced the US from almost all other countries with our America First and indiscriminate use of new tariffs attitude.  President Trump said he expected each other country to act similarly, that is in the best interest of themselves.  Hmmm.

It is relatively easy to look good or at least get away with new policies regardless of how short sighted they may be, if you have actually inherited a good economy and a well defined foreign policy.  Deconstructing is much easier and for the short run less risky than for proposing and implementing sound, constructive longer term policies.  President Trump has and continues to show us how true that observation is.

Someone, however, with a “one off” set of tactics, runs a far ranging risk of “what goes around, comes around”.  Case in point, withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

A group of neoconservative hawks combined with far right Israeli supporters (remember the Iraq invasion in pursuit of non-existent WMDs) lobbied hard for President Trump to reverse the Obama Administration negotiated agreement with Iran.  With the most bellicose rhetoric the President could muster, with draw from the Iran Nuclear Agreement he did. 

Proud as a peacock, the President labeled the agreement “the worst ever”.  Hmmm.

The President then reimposed the economic sanctions which existed prior to Iran agreeing to halting their nuclear development.  Regime change (which Israel predicted) was just around the corner.  But…

The “but” is that the rest of the signatories (Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and China) did not wish to see Iran restart its testing.  The US cajoled and then threatened that dire consequences would befall them if they traded in violation of US sanctions.  For many businesses, the US market is extremely important and understandably these companies hesitated.

Making a straight up choice between the US and Iran as a trading partner would seem a no brainer.  The complication, however, was the US was not acting very trustworthy in its dealings with any other country forgetting about Iran.  Hmmm.

America First (or America Alone as it is practiced) will not work in todays global economy.  Supply chains are too intertwined to simply take a unilateral position unless one is willing to accept sharply higher costs of doing business and substantially lower economic growth.  So where does the US stand?

Russia and China are strategically challenging the US for world economic growth and strategic national interests.  Europe (the UK, France, and Germany) are simply unwilling to turn down trade with Iran on the basis of an unfriendly country asking them to.  Hmmm.

Reports this week that the other signatories to the Iran Nuclear Agreement were exploring a “barter” system with Iran as a means of out flanking the US squeeze on monetary based trades.  The details are not important but the fact that three important allies are openly discussing ways to circumvent US sanctions should send a huge message.

I wonder if anyone is listening?

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Spying On Germany

July 13, 2014

A new kerfuffle involving the sprawling US spy bureaucracy made news this week. The CIA station chief was deported by the German Government over charges the CIA had recruited German citizens to spy on their government.

Immediately two views were put into play… “friends don’t spy on friends” and “Everyone does it”.   Do either of these apply?

It may be true that most all nations do some type of spying on other nations. Industrial espionage has long been charged against countries like China and France. Recent NSA revelations makes it clear that the US spies on everyone at least to the point of collecting the data.  France and China (and a lot of other countries) have discrete connections between key government agencies and policy makers, and private industry. Government intelligence gatherings helps these businesses who in turn employ more French and Chinese citizens.

The key to this type of spying is “deniability”. In fact the first rule of spying is that the spy agency must deny any involvement in order to shield its government from consequences. The denial must be believable, however.

In the case of the German spying, the entire story may not have been leaked yet. The actual CIA involvement may have been as little as seeking very low level information and in no way aimed at undermining the German Government. Who knows. Local German politics could also have blown this situation out of proportion. Maybe.

What is the case, however,is the CIA got exposed with its hand in the cookie jar. On that basis, the CIA station chief should have asked himself/herself to be relieved or, if silent, should have been recalled by Washington immediately. The Station Chief needed a “time out” in order to refocus his/her priorities on how to conduct undercover work.

And while the Station Chief was in “time out”, what about his/her administrative head where ever that person resides? And while we are at it, it might be fruitful to follow the chain of command, maybe all the way to the CIA Director. Why?

To do nothing sends a confusing message. The US could be saying “we didn’t spy”, so there is no reason to recall anyone. The evidence and past revelation of NSA spying strongly indicate otherwise. Or, as it appears in this case, “yes we did spy but there was no harm so there should be no foul”. But good spy craft would not have been uncovered and weakened spy organization does not portend good things for the future.

Saying nothing also implies a lot and tells Germany it does not count. Nothing short of an official apology will do.

Stepping back from the specifics of this issue, another troubling example of US government agencies operating without sound leadership and governance. While examples of this happen with all Administrations, it seems that President Obama’s has produced more over a wider range of departments. It suggests that the role of chief executive is far more difficult when political appointees are added to existing bureaucracies. Without clear direction and accountability, these political appointees will find it easier to “go along and get along” than provide governance. And, when a line is crossed, unless the chief executive holds the department head accountable, the next excursion is likely to be worse.

Hmmm.

 

Barack Quixote

June 19, 2013

The President spoke today from the shadows of the Brandenburg Gate.  Berlin has been the site of previous Obama speeches and welcomed him warmly again.  He spoke of spirit, of how great nations respect the rights of individuals, and the triumph of freedom over tyranny.  (All great messages for places like Russia, Syria, Turkey, and the Middle East in general.)  He stood tall like a Statesman and gave a serious speech.    One wonders why?

It could be that White House aides are seeking to put the President back in leading position.  The IRS and Benghazi kerfuffles have pretty much been shown to be non-events and the political opportunists who ranted about them now appear exposed for who they are.  But why Berlin?

Barack Obama is at his best with a prepared speech and a teleprompter to lead him through it.  The Brandenburg gate, a sunny day, and flags galore, all make up an inspiring picture.  But why Berlin now?

Just a few days ago, the G-8 met in Northern Ireland.  These leaders discussed economic issues in public and the Syrian conflict in private.  From public statements, not much was accomplished, most probably because progress on any of these issues would involve more risk and sacrifices than any G-8 member wants to take.  So, once again why Berlin?

While enroute to the G-8, the House of Representatives decided to vote on previously Supreme Court established abortion limits.  The Republican majority decided that restricting the right to an abortion to the 20th week was more important than the budget or debt extension, or any legislation on job creation.  The GOP decision is more befuddling when one realizes the bill die in the Senate and that women opposed this type of thinking in the last Presidential election.  Of course, less surprising, it is the same legislative body that has voted to repeal Obamacare 37 times, each time without a proposal to deliver the same benefits.  Is this why Berlin?

As George W Bush said, history will judge where my 8 years rate.  Time has a way of moderating the emotions of the present and putting in perspective the hills and valleys of a Presidency.  Certainly no speech in Berlin is going to amount to much in any evaluation by history.

The “why” about Berlin, I think, lies in the nature of Barack Obama.  He may be a modern day Don Quixote.  President Obama has concluded that governing in Washington is like being a cafeteria monitor during a food fight.  Congress is totally self absorbed, dysfunctional, and uninterested in steps to advance the US economy or our quality of life.  The President has become frustrated and is seeking other platforms where he can speak out on “how the world should be”.  The German Reichstag and Bundestag are not going to speak against anything he says.

With two unattractive choice, deal with Congressional Republicans the way they are dealing with the President (that is getting into the gutter), or making speeches in historic settings, I think Berlin is surprisingly perfect.

 

Es Gibt Kein Kostenlos Mittagsessen

November 29, 2012

Germany has one of the best health care delivery systems in the world.  It normally ranks number 1 or 2.  Germany’s system covers all residents, regardless of age or a history of pre-existing conditions.  Their medical expertise is leading edge and the care is compassionate.  And, lest we forget.  The German health care delivery system cost about one half the per capita cost found in the US.

Germany has a national health care system.  The Germans recognized that “es gibt kein kostenlos Mittagsessen” (there is no free lunch).  Health care must be paid for, but health care should not be a place whose objectives are profits.

In their national system, doctors, hospitals, and drug companies remain private.  They have both private and national insurance but the role of both is to administer and pay claims.  Everyone participates through taxes they pay.  All Germans (and their health conditions) are “pooled”.  Rates are set on the entire pool reflecting no difference between sex, age, or marital status.

Wait, you mean that all Germans must have health care coverage?

Well, here in America, that would be taking away my rights to choose.  Suppose I don’t want to buy insurance?  Suppose I don’t want to pay higher rates when I am in great shape and hardly ever visit a doctor?  Suppose I don’t want to pay for others who can’t pay for themselves?  Suppose I want to go to the doctor (or hospital) when I want to and not have to wait?  Suppose, suppose, suppose.

The deficit debate that is raging now is coming awful close to making Americans wake up and realize their health care delivery system is not as good as they think it is.

The spotlight has been on raising taxes on the top 2%.  Neither party has proposed how to address the largest single component of the deficit, Medicare and Medicaid.  The GOP’s “Ryan Plan” has proposed block grants to States as a method of slowing the rise in Medicaid costs.  In essence, the GOP plan just passes the problem on to States who may solve their problem by changing qualification requirements.  This could be done at the Federal level just as easily.  Block grants also misses the point on whether citizens are entitled to health care coverage (access) and how that care should be covered (costs).

This week, a few GOP members have offered ideas aimed at lowering Medicare costs.  Their solution would be to change the onset age from the current 65 to maybe 67 or so gradually over the next few years.  The math guys confirm that over a 10 year window, the amount of government spending on Medicare would shrink.  Is that the “kostenlos Mittagsessen” solution?

Critics are quick to point out that there would be many problems.  First, as the age where Medicare began increased, those people not covered would still need coverage.  Where would they get it and how much would it cost?  Ironically the rest of the Medicare pool, say those older than 67 would generate even higher per capita health care costs (since it was an older group).

So, if the goal is to lower what the government spends (in excess of what is collected in wage taxes), the solution of raising the beginning age for Medicare might make sense.

It is tempting to say that there is another approach.  For example, tax working citizens more.  The concept behind Medicare is in fact that workers pay in and when they retire and are on fixed incomes, their health care costs are covered at a rate they can afford.  So why not just increase Medicare taxes?

Back to “kostenlos Mittagsessen”.  Asking everyone to pay more in taxes might be fairer to those suddenly without Medicare (ages 65-67) but that approach is not without problems.  If increasing Medicare taxes was the only tool used,  the medical industry would be delighted knowing that what ever they charged, Medicare would pay.  Even worse, the US would be missing world class cost information.

US Health care costs, regardless of whether one compares per capita costs or costs are a percent of GDP are off the charts.  The deficit is the canary in the mine.  Our politicians need to stop fighting over tax levels and look for permanent solutions to the underlying problems.  Transitioning from the US health care delivery system to one like Germany’s will be complicated and take some time.

Wasting time now looking for the expensive “free lunch” is time poorly spent.

Romney’s Magic Kingdom

June 13, 2012

Mitt Romney doubled down on his Obamacare position.  Mitt says he will “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, if elected, and if the Supreme Court has not already struck it down.  The math, however, doesn’t seem to be there.

Romney has promised that his plan would be a real “consumer” driven health care marketplace.  In Romneyland, consumers will use their buying power and drive down the cost of healthcare plan options.  Competition is the element that has been missing and Bain Capital’s former leader will take America back to it.

Romney’s speech sounds good, almost too good to be true.  And it almost certainly is too good if you take what he says at face value.

The first hurdle is the reality that healthcare is not a normal consumer item like blue jeans or breakfast cereals.  You can’t outsource nurses to China and deliver care in Baltimore.

In addition, most people when they get sick do not have a clue how to negotiate with doctors or hospitals or later with drug companies.  People are so worried about whether they will get better they follow the first advice they hear.   Most of us lack depth in medical knowledge, we hear the doctor, shake out heads, and do what the doctor says.

What a Romney “consumer market” will really look like is a place where insurance companies offer a wide variety of insurance plans with varying degrees of coverage.  Many will be watered down plans, some which may cost less, but you will get what you paid for.  These watered down plans will be inadequate when a person really gets sick.

The average American deserves at least the coverage a Congress members or federal workers receive.   In such a case, the insurance will cost every bit as much as today and no amount of calling it a consumer market will lower the price.

Romney also made a point that he does not want pre-existing conditions to put insurance out of reach for Americans.  This should make us take notice.  Does he think we are stupid?

Why in a free market economy would insurance companies reinstate equal coverage for men and women, pre-existing conditions or not, without a full enrollment of all Americans?  The individual mandate is out in Romneyland so where are the insurance companies going to get enough enrollees to offset these costs?  I hope Romney doesn’t expect the insurance companies to suddenly shave their profits.

Romney also threw Medicaid gratuitously into the mix.  His proposal is to provide block grants to States and let them deal with those who qualify for Medicaid.  In other words, without any standards of care, someone in Maine could receive far different Medicaid health care than someone in Texas or Kansas.  How can we accept health care that varies by where you live?

Romney needs to look at the fundamentals if he is serious.

The US spends more than twice as much as Germany or France on a health care system that is not as good and does not cover everyone.  At an estimated $7500 per person per year, the US is spending on health care $2.4 trillion or almost 17% of the national GDP.

The ACA addressed one half of the US problem.  ACA provided a route to insuring almost everyone.  It is unclear where it made the cost problem better or worse but it certainly did not lower the gap between German and France.  In this sense,the ACA is a wounded duck from a cost reduction perspective.

For the many who have already concluded they are against the Affordable Care Act or simply against President Obama, Romney’s words, when said quickly, sound pretty good. They are, however, hollow and are an enormous disservice to Americans.

Oh, if only in Romneyland they could speak the truth supported with data.

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Me Think…

April 9, 2012

It seems a general rule that when some government denounces someone for writing or saying something, the truth usually lies close if not right on top of what that person has said or written.  Israel seems now to be trying to demonstrate this type of reaction one more time.

Gunter Grass wrote a poem titled “What Must Be Said”.  In this poem, Grass pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of both his native Germany and of Israel with respect to their public positions towards Iran.  In short, how can Israel denounce Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons (which Iran denies) when Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons (Israel neither confirms or denies), and how can Germany equip Israel with the means to deliver nuclear weapons by selling submarines?

The poem is about the hypocrisy and the horrors of war.  In no way is it an endorsement of Iran or its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Israel’s reactions has been swift and furious.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly weighed in elevating a poem to an international issue.  Now, Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, has announced that Grass is not welcome to visit Israel.  All of this reaction for a poem saying what most people think a bit compromised about Israel’s position.

To be sure, Israel does see Iran as an imminent threat.  They believe that Iran will not only use the weapons to attack Israel but they will proliferate them into the hands of even more irresponsible groups.  This concern is also held by most of the rest of the world including both Germany and the US.

What underscores this issue and makes one question the strength of Israel’s reaction is the current “no go” status of the negotiations with the Palestinians.  Israel has its own clear view of what is “right” in the Palestinian negotiations and a two State solution based upon the 1967 borders (even with agreeable swaps) is not part of it.

Grass, while not addressing the Palestinians, has pointed out a similar type of hypocrisy with possession of nuclear weapons.  Why should Israel not have to give up its nuclear weapons if the Iranians must?  For that matter, why should Israel not have to give back the West Bank (even with agreeable land swaps)?

Israel does not want to answer these questions and doesn’t like anyone asking.

Writing What Others Think?

April 7, 2012

Gunter Grass has opened the proverbial can of worms with his poem “What Must Be Said”.  Grass pointed out the hypocrisy Israel displays when it speaks of a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Grass also criticizes his native Germany for its condemnation of Iran and support of Israel including the sale of submarines.  The 84 year old writer has gained center stage one more time.

While there is no proof, most analyst believe Israel already possesses nuclear weapons.  Israel’s policy is not to confirm or deny its real capability.  It is this possibility that undercuts Israel’s position and its efforts to deny Iran nuclear capability as it previously did to Syria and Iraq.

Grass’s poem does not endorse Iran as an example of modern Statehood.  He simply says Germany should stop supporting one side in this Middle East struggle.  Amongst the “Western Allies”, this is not what any want to hear.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons (which they deny) does pose some dire threats to the Middle East and the rest of the world.  Proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons capability is feared by most others.  The question is why would a sane country do such a thing?  That begs the question, can Iran ever be considered a sane country?

Israel also carries another burden.  While Israel has been since its inception the point of numerous Arab attacks, the shoe has been on the other foot for some time.  The most basic burr with Arab neighbors remains Israel’s negotiation (or lack there of) position with the Palestinians.  With the two State solution off the tracks, Israel remains exposed to the charge that they take and do not give.  As a result, even a patently backward nation such as Iran can gain enough international sunlight to level charges against Israel.

Grass’ poem leads any thoughtful person to the conclusion that Israel should settle with the Palestinians and Iran should abandon its nuclear weapons research.  It is hard to see, however, how either outcome can result if that outcome is the only one to occur.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s angry words denouncing Grass offer the strongest indication that Grass has struck very close to the truth.