American Views Abroad

Saturday, February 20, 2010
New Location
American View Abroad will continue blogging from the new address Please join us there!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Snow Falling on Hamburg
It's been a cold city since a week before Christmas. Lulled by years of uncommonly mild winters, this city has all but forgotten what winter can bring, what it used to be like. Snow started falling in December and at first everyone was enchanted with the idea of having a white Christmas. No one bothered to clean the streets. After all, it's a freak of nature in these times of global warming and it wouldn't last more than a few days. Temperatures continued to drop. News reported very cold weather on the way before New Year and indeed it began to snow, and it got colder and it snowed more. Eventually the ground became so cold, the snow turned to ice, and winter, it seemed, just continued to reinvent itself.

Hardly anyone bothered to clean the streets. Around twenty years ago the laws changed. No side streets were to be cleared of snow, only the main ones. Since the city no longer considered side streets worth the effort, some people living on those streets decided to take the same stance. Why bother shoveling, hacking, throwing down some sand. Even on main streets in front of shops there was far too little effort shown. Small paths were cleared but getting from the car to that path means surviving very thick layers of ice. Hundreds of citizens have been rushed to hospitals with broken limbs. Hundreds more are literally being held hostage, confined to their apartments, fearful of venturing out onto the ice, particularly the elderly. Driving on side streets is next to impossible, biking is not an option and walking is far too risky. Six weeks and counting.

What has the city government done? It finally got around to having a crisis call this past Monday. First, most government agencies here are hardly in any better shape than the rest of the city. Why? A number of years ago, someone, most likely with a MBA, decided Hamburg should sell off lots of its buildings and then rent them back. Most citizens never understood what the city was to gain from this, other than short term profit. What everyone now understands is the new owners of these buildings are not interested in shoveling snow. Certainly not more than a small path. Getting from the subway across large swatches of very thick ice to these buildings is risking serious falls and injuries. Add to this the 'joys' of privatizing winter services instead of using the Sanitation Department. Let's face it: it's much cheaper not to use any one in a union. Pay the private ones six or seven euros an hour and one thought the outcome would be the same. It's not. They often don't bother to show up. Even right in front of City Hall. Subcontracting city services to private firms has proved to be a disaster.

There is, however, one side street fully ice free, compliments of the Sanitation Department. It's the one where the president of the Hamburg Senate lives. It's very cold in Hamburg these days with temperatures dropping even more, on many levels.

According to weather reports this severe cold spell does not disprove global warming. Most of Europe is locked in between a high in Siberia of -35C and a high over Greenland of -20C which is not letting the milder air in.

Saturday, January 30, 2010
The Corruption in Washington is Smothering America's Future by Johann Hari:

.....But corporations are not people. Should they have the right to bear arms, or to vote? It would make as much sense. They are a legal fiction, invented by the state - and they can be fairly regulated to stop them devouring their creator. This is the same Supreme Court that ruled that the detainees at Guantanomo Bay are not 'persons' under the constitution deserving basic protections. A court that says a living breathing human is less of a 'persons' than Lockheed Martin has gone badly awry.

The 'Devastating' Decision by Ronald Dworkin:

The conservative justices savaged canons of judicial restraint they themselves have long praised. Chief Justice Roberts takes every opportunity to repeat what he said, under oath, in his Senate nomination hearings: that the Supreme Court should avoid declaring any statute unconstitutional unless it cannot decide the case before it in any other way. Now consider how shamelessly he and the other justices who voted in the majority ignored that constraint in their haste to declare the McCain-Feingold Act unconstitutional in time for the coming midterm elections.

Sunday, January 17, 2010
The tragedy of Haiti leaves one stunned silent. In sixteen seconds a country has imploded. It staggers the imagination. The hurt goes deep. and

Thursday, December 31, 2009
A decade of our discontent ends, limping out at midnight. Somewhere among the many articles written about these last ten years, one commented on the end of surprise. Certainly there are no surprises in politics where respect for the ideas of others, the art of compromise and working together are, well, Missing In Action. To be fair it isn't only the politicians who disgust but the finance world, big business, personal greed, and those who stubbornly refuse to get the facts straight, look at the bigger picture and demand higher standards in our dealings with each other.

There are those who try in their own way to change things. There is George in Washington, DC at who has decided to take a good look at climate change and set up A Resource Center for getting solid facts.

There is a translation website at which was portrayed in the IHT recently. Their aim is to bring non English literature to the US. US readers probably don't realize how much they are missing since literary translations tend to be a one way street much like TV programming or films. It's basically the US to the rest of the world market. Yet one of the most difficult tasks is to sit down and translate someone's literary work: its art, culture and sublime emotional message.

Surely there are many others out there. What this site will try to do in the new decade is find them out and pass it along.

Let's hope the new decade ringing in tonight is a more promising one.

Friday, December 04, 2009
From someone who knows what he's talking about: Stretching Out an Ugly Struggle by Graham E. Fuller .....

I had hoped that Obama would level with the American people that the war in Afghanistan is not being won, indeed is not winnable within any practicable framework. But such an admission -- however accurate -- would sign the political death warrant of a president to be portrayed as having snatched defeat out of the jaws of 'victory'.

America has inadvertently ended up choosing sides in this war. US forces are perceived by large numbers of Afghans as an occupying army inflicting large civilian casualties. The struggle has now metastasized into Pakistan -- with even higher stakes.

....So the ugly struggle continues with little prospect for genuine improvement. There are no good choices. Obama has only kicked the can down the road.

Monday, November 09, 2009
There are rare moments in politics so riveting people struggle accepting them, at first. Immediate reactions are disbelief and shock though signs of change were there. However, most don't expect change to happen at a fast pace. The US has been trying for 50 years to get some sort of health care for all its citizens to no avail, until now perhaps. Then there are those scenes that defy the imagination. The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of them. Basically most of Europe was asleep and the news the next morning on the radio was simply not believed. It took a couple of hours to get it to seep in and it took more than words spoken, it took images on TV before one realized it had happened. The Wall was opened ---- by normal everyday people. Opened almost by political exhaustion, it seemed. A movement too great to stop and it wasn't only a German one. The central eastern Europeans paved the way that summer.

They are now taking a well deserved walk down memory lane this week and why not. It's rare to have something good and peaceful to celebrate. It was the end of the Cold War which was painful and dreary and called for sacrifice, but it was certainly better than a devastating military one. A couple of years after the fall, in Cottbus, a town in the eastern part of Germany, and one is sitting around a table discussing what life was like on both sides of the Wall. He had been in the East German army on the border. On the other side was the US military. Strict orders were given never to return any basketballs which landed on the wrong side. The urge was too great. When the officers weren't looking, they made a point of returning them.

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