Category Archives: Europe

French and Dutch nationalists vie for the top


Two European politicians who share much in common with the racist, nationalist ideology of President Pussygrabber, most notably militant Islamophobia and an urge to cap immigration.

A wild-haired Dutchman holds the lead

Here’s how BBC News lead their 18 February story on the opening of Geert Wilders’s campaign for prime minister’s post in the Netherlands:

Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders has launched his election campaign by calling some Moroccans “scum”.

Mr Wilders tops opinion polls ahead of the 15 March parliamentary vote, but has seen his lead reduced in recent weeks.

He has vowed to ban Muslim immigration and shut mosques if he wins.

His latest comments come two months after he was convicted in a hate speech trial over his promise to reduce the number of Moroccans in the country.

Mr Wilders addressed his supporters on Saturday amid tight security in his party’s stronghold of Spijkenisse, an ethnically diverse area near Rotterdam.

Polls have him in the lead

Despite a campaign scandal involving the campaign security chief, still holds the lead, Bloomberg reports:

The Netherlands is holding the first of three major elections in Europe this year that will determine whether the populist surge that delivered the Brexit vote in the U.K. and helped Donald Trump into the White house will spread into the European Union’s core.

While some polls have suggested Wilders’s Freedom Party may be losing support, a regular survey published by Peil.nl on Sunday gave him a four-seat lead over Rutte’s Liberals for the second straight week. That raises the prospect of an anti-Islam party that wants to halt immigration and re-establish borders placing first in one of the EU’s six founding members, just as voters in another – France – make the anti-euro National Front favorite to go through to May’s presidential election runoff.

Almost all the established Dutch parties, including the Liberals and Labor, have excluded governing with Wilders, but that doesn’t stop them chasing his votes. Immigration to the Netherlands featured in a televised debate among party leaders on Sunday evening, with Labor and the opposition Christian Democrats both arguing for a halt to new arrivals.

So who is Geert Wilders?

The New York Times offers some background:

He wants to end immigration from Muslim countries, tax head scarves and ban the Quran. He is partly of Indonesian heritage, and dyes his hair bright blond. He is omnipresent on social media but lives as a political phantom under police protection, rarely campaigning in person and reportedly sleeping in a different location every night.

He has structured his party so that he is the only official, giving him the liberty to remain, above all things, in complete control, and a provocateur and an uncompromising verbal bomb thrower.

Geert Wilders, far-right icon, is one of Europe’s unusual politicians, not least because he comes from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, with a centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants.

How he and his party fare in the March 15 elections could well signal how the far right will do in pivotal elections in France, Germany and possibly Italy later this year, and ultimately determine the future of the European Union. Mr. Wilders (pronounced VIL-ders) has promised to demand a “Nexit” referendum on whether the Netherlands should follow Britain’s example and leave the union.

“The Netherlands is kind of a bellwether, a lot of trends manifest themselves here first,” said Hans Anker, a Dutch political strategist who has worked both in the Netherlands and the United States.

“I wouldn’t rule out that Wilders could be prime minister,” he added. “This one is fundamentally unpredictable.”

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Mass deportation is system rooted in racism


And until we grasp how fear of the Other has been used to stroke fear and resentment, it’s a tragedy we’re liable to reenact again and again.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Associate Professor of  History and African-American Studies at the University of California–Los Angeles, gives us a look at this less-than-grand-old propensity in this essay for The Conversation, an academic journal written for the rest of us:

A rowdy segment of the American electorate is hell-bent on banning a specific group of immigrants from entering the United States. Thousands upon thousands of other people – citizens and immigrants, alike – oppose them, choosing to go to court rather than fulfill the electorate’s narrow vision of what America should look like: white, middle-class and Christian.

Soon a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings could grant unrestrained power to Congress and the president over immigration control. More than 50 million people could be deported. Countless others might be barred from entering. Most of them would be poor, nonwhite and non-Christian.

This may sound like wild speculation about what is to come in President Donald Trump’s America. It is not. It is the history of U.S. immigration control, which is the focus of my work in the books “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.”

Historically speaking, immigration control is one of the least constitutional and most racist realms of governance in U.S. law and life.

Made in the American West

The modern system of U.S. immigration control began in the 19th-century American West. Between the 1840s and 1880s, the United States government warred with indigenous peoples and Mexico to lay claim to the region. Droves of Anglo-American families soon followed, believing it was their Manifest Destiny to dominate land, law and life in the region.

But indigenous peoples never disappeared (see Standing Rock) and nonwhite migrants arrived (see the state of California). Chinese immigrants, in particular, arrived in large numbers during the 19th century. A travel writer who was popular at the time, Bayard Taylor, expressed the sentiment settlers felt toward Chinese immigrants in one of his books:

“The Chinese are, morally, the most debased people on the face of the earth… their touch is pollution… They should not be allowed to settle on our soil.”

When discriminatory laws and settler violence failed to expel them from the region, the settlers pounded Congress to develop a system of federal immigration control.

In response to their demands, Congress passed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country for 10 years. The law focused on Chinese laborers, the single largest sector of the Chinese immigrant community. In 1884, Congress required all Chinese laborers admitted before the Exclusion Act was passed to secure a certificate of reentry if they wanted to leave and return. But, in 1888, Congress banned even those with certificates from reentering.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Then, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire in 1892, Congress passed the Geary Act, which again banned all Chinese laborers and required all Chinese immigrants to verify their lawful presence by registering with the federal government. The federal authorities were empowered by the law to find, imprison and deport all Chinese immigrants who failed to register by May 1893.

Together, these laws banned a nationally targeted population from entering the United States and invented the first system of mass deportation. Nothing quite like this had ever before been tried in the United States.

Chinese immigrants rebelled against the new laws. In 1888, a laborer named Chae Chan Ping was denied the right of return despite having a reentry certificate and was subsequently confined on a steamship. The Chinese immigrant community hired lawyers to fight his case. The lawyers argued the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court but lost when the court ruled that “the power of exclusion of foreigners [is an] incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States” and “cannot be granted away or restrained on behalf of anyone.”

Simply put, Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. established that Congress and the president hold “absolute” and “unqualified” authority over immigrant entry and exclusion at U.S. borders.

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The Cassandra Effect: When ignorance is cherished


We begin with some questions:

  • Suppose you were given the chance to know the date when your closest loved one would die. Would you want to know?
  • What about the chance to know the cause of your now-healthy loved one’s death?
  • How about the date of your own death?
  • The cause?
  • Would you want to know right after your marriage whether or not divorce would eventually follow?
  • Say you’re a big soccer fan who’s watching a video you’ve recorded of the big game and you don’t know the outcome. Then a friend who’s seen the game walks in. Do you ask her who won?
  • Do you want to know what’s in a wrapped Christmas present?
  • Do you want absolute knowledge of whether or not there’s an afterlife?
  • Say you were on vacation in Sri Lanka, famed for its gemstones, and you paid $2000 for what you were assured was a gem quality blue sapphire, and as steal at the price. When you got back home, would you be willing to shell out fifty bucks for an appraisal, knowing there was no way you’d get your money back if the stone turned out to be a fake?
  • And last, would you want to know the sex of your unborn child?

These where the questions posed to folks in Germany and Spain in a cross-cultural study examining the Cassandra Effect, the degree to which anticipation of future pain drives our choices.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Granada found some interesting responses, via their report in the Psychological Review, Cassandra’s Regret: The Psychology of Not Wanting to Know [open access]:

Prevalence of deliberate ignorance concerning positive and negative events in two national quota samples in Germany [n=1,016] and Spain [n=1,002]. For instance, 89.5% of Germans and 90.5% of Spaniards would not want to know when their partner is going to die.

Prevalence of deliberate ignorance concerning positive and negative events in two national quota samples in Germany [n=1,016] and Spain [n=1,002]. For instance, 89.5% of Germans and 90.5% of Spaniards would not want to know when their partner is going to die.

More from the American Psychological Association, via Newswise:

Given the chance to see into the future, most people would rather not know what life has in store for them, even if they think those events could make them happy, according to new research [open access] published by the American Psychological Association.

“In Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, had the power to foresee the future. But, she was also cursed and no one believed her prophecies,” said the study’s lead author, Gerd Gigerenzer, PhD, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “In our study, we’ve found that people would rather decline the powers that made Cassandra famous, in an effort to forgo the suffering that knowing the future may cause, avoid regret and also maintain the enjoyment of suspense that pleasurable events provide.”

Two nationally representative studies involving more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain found that 85 to 90 percent of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40 to 70 percent preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events. Only 1 percent of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held. The findings are published in the APA journal Psychological Review.

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A damning leak ignites another TrumpTantrum™


Two Associated Press stories reveal a classic case of abusive arrogance.

A leak reveals TrumpTeamTalks™ with Russian spooks

You really can’t fault Vladimir Putin if, as seems increasingly likely, he asked his former comrades in Russian foreign intelligence to see if they could find a friendlier ear in Washington.

After all, American presidents have used the CIA to gain friendlier ears in dozens of countries, with bloodshed often involved.

And no Russian politician could be unaware that Washington imposed the Russian political system in the wake of the fall of the U.S.S.R., itself a long-term goal of Washington.

The spark that ignited Trump’s tantrum, via the Associated Press:

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, according to three White House officials who confirmed the unusual contact with law enforcement involved in a pending investigation.

The officials said that Priebus’ Feb. 15 request to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe came as the White House sought to discredit a New York Times report about calls between Russian intelligence officials and people involved with Trump’s presidential run.

As of Friday, the FBI had not commented publicly on the veracity of the report and there was no indication it planned to, despite the White House’s request.

The White House officials would only discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Then came the explosion. . .

And that second Associated Press story:

President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of the news media Friday, taking direct aim this time at the use of anonymous sources. Reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” he declared, just hours after members of his own staff held a press briefing and refused to allow their names to be used.

“A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being, let them say it to my face,” Trump told a large crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Let there be no more sources.”

Members of Trump’s White House team regularly demand anonymity when talking to reporters.

Trump said he wasn’t against all media, just “the fake news media or press.”

“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”

And who decides what’s fake?

The Fake-in-chief, of course!

Chart of the day: EU second language learning


From Eurostat, a look at how many European second school students are studying languages other than their own [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-lingo

More from the report:

French: second most popular after English

Learning a foreign language at school is very common in the European Union (EU), with more than 17 million lower secondary school pupils (or 98.6% of all pupils at this education level) studying at least one foreign language in 2015. Among them, more than 10 million (58.8%) were studying two foreign languages or more.

English was by far the most popular language at lower secondary level, studied by nearly 17 million pupils (97.3%). French (5 million or 33.8%) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23.1%) and Spanish (2 million or 13.6%).

These data are issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.

Luxembourg, Finland and Italy on top for learning several foreign languages

In 2015, all or nearly all lower secondary school pupils learnt at least two foreign languages in Luxembourg (100%), Finland (98.4%), Italy (95.8%), Estonia (95.4%) and Romania (95.2%). In contrast, fewer than 10% of pupils were studying two or more languages in Hungary (6.0%) and Austria (8.8%).

English, French and German: top 3 foreign languages studied in the EU

English is by far the main foreign language studied during lower secondary education in the vast majority of Member States. In particular, all pupils attend English classes in Denmark, Malta and Sweden.

French is one of the two main foreign languages studied by all pupils in Luxembourg and is also the top foreign language studied in Ireland (by 60.4% of pupils) and Belgium (52.8%). In addition, French is the second most popular foreign language studied at lower secondary level in nine Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Cyprus (89.2%), Romania (83.6%), Portugal (66.6%), Italy (65.4%) and the Netherlands (55.6%).

Besides being studied by all pupils in Luxembourg, German ranks second in eight Member States, with the highest shares being registered in Denmark (73.6%), Poland (69.2%) and Slovakia (53.6%). Learning Spanish is notably popular in Sweden (43.7%) and France (39.0%), while Russian, the only commonly studied non-EU language, came second in the three Baltic States – Lithuania (66.2%), Estonia (63.6%) and Latvia (59.7%) – as well as in Bulgaria (16.9%).

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic. . .

Things are much more provincial here in the U.S., as the Pew Research Center noted in a 2015 report:

[T]he U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation, and primary schools have very low rates of even offering foreign-language course work. Some foreign-language learning standards can be met by taking non-language classes. For example, California requires one course in either the arts or a foreign language (including American Sign Language) for all high school students. Oklahomans can opt to take two years of the same foreign language or “of computer technology approved for college admission requirements.” Conversely, New Jersey students must earn “at least five credits in world languages” or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before they can graduate high school.

Perhaps because of these varying standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Of those who know a second language, 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals who are well-versed in a non-English language, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

It reminds us of an old joke we heard back in college some 44 years ago:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A. Trilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speak one language, and that badly?

A. An American.

Greek misery continues, no crash recovery yet


We begin with a dramatic graphic from Kathimerini, dramatic evidence that despite three rounds of bailout loans an ever-harsher austerity measures, the European economy hardest hit by the Great Recession is showing no signs of recovery as yet still more austerity is demanded:

blog-greece

The Greeks were left holding the string when the bubble popped, unable to pay loans to foreign banksters a lot of them in Germany. And the lenders wanted their money, even though the economy had crashed, unemployment skyrocketed, and the Greek industrial machine had ground to a halt.

To enable Greece pay the loans back, a Troika formed of the European Central Bank, th European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund imposed harsh austerity measures perfectly designed to ensure that the Greek people were reduced to serfs, sacrificing layoffs, pay, pension, and healthcare cuts for those lucky enough to keep their jobs.

Then there was the massive selloff of national assets, ranging from transit and power grids to ports and islands.

And still the troika wants more in exchange for another round of bailout loans.

From the London Telegraph:

Greece will need a fourth bailout as its debts remain utterly unsustainable despite years of austerity and attempted reforms, according to George Papaconstantinou, a former Greek finance minister.

A “radical liberalisation of the economy” is also necessary as the country needs to attract foreign investment because Greece lacks the domestic resources needed to grow its industries, he told an audience at the London School of Economics.

“Pretty much everyone agrees that Greek debt is not sustainable,” he said. “Is there a prospect of a fourth bailout? Yes. Even in the best case… I doubt that Greece will be able to stand on its own feet.”

Mr Papaconstantinou, who was Greece’s finance minister from 2009 to 2011, said that these measures have to be accompanied by serious economic reforms.

“Radical liberalization of the economy”?

Translate that as “more misery for the average Greek.”

The IMF lays down the law

Before taking the helm at the IMF, Lagarde served as Finance Minister for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In December a French court found her guilty of criminal negligence in her old job for arranging a payout of more than $400 million for businessman Bernard Tapie’s share of Addidas under questionable circumstances — though the court declined to impose either a jail sentence or a fine, rendering the guilt verdict moot.

The affair didn’t seem to bother either the French government or the IMF, so Lagarde kept her job.

More on her stance on the latest Greek bailout round from Bloomberg:

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde signaled that Greek debt restructuring can wait and the country should focus on overhauling its economy for the duration of its latest bailout, which expires in 2018.

Speaking in a German television interview after meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Lagarde said “the volume of restructuring will clearly depend on how much reform, how much progress, how strong the Greek economy is” when the aid program ends.

What will probably be needed is a “significant” extension of maturities on Greek bailout loans and a “significant interest rate capping,” Lagarde told ARD television on Wednesday. “That will have to be discussed in greater detail later on” and “implementation of the debt restructuring will have to take place at the end of the program.”

The Washington-based fund is demanding additional debt relief measures as a condition for participating in the Greek bailout. Its participation, in turn, is a condition set by Germany when it agreed to help underwrite the latest aid package in 2015.

So who benefits?

Therein lies the rub.

Because much of the money won’t go to the banks who lent it to Greece.

Any of those lenders sold off their delinquent funds at a deep discount to that unique breed of banksters called “vulture funds,” speculators who buy up sovereign debt, then set about collecting it using all the ruthless ploys they can martial.

From the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt:

The experience of the Greek debt restructuring of 2012 serves as a good example to show how vulture funds operate and the costs they can impose in a country and its population. The Greek case is quite interesting as not only involved the first major debt restructuring in Europe since 1953 but also it was the largest operation of its kind. The remarkable aspect of this episode is that the country decided to continue paying holdout creditors, and specifically vulture funds, in full. This was the case even though the process was organized with the support of the official creditors of the country. In this regard, it created yet another damaging precedent regarding the viability of the profits by litigation strategy followed by vulture funds.

>snip<

Just a month after the debt restructuring was completed, the government made an initial payment of 436 million Euros to a group of holdout investors led by Dart Management. This hedge fund, which had a long story of suing governments to get paid in full going back to the Brady plan in Latin America in the late 1980s, made a massive profit as it had bought the bonds on prices estimated between 60 to 70 cents on the Euro. By making that initial payment, the Greek government set a negative precedent as the rest of the holdouts were now able to use that decision to claim for equal treatment under a foreign court. The payments to holdouts continued uninterrupted afterwards parallel to the implementation of harsh austerity measures. For example, during 2013 the country paid a total of 1.7 billion Euros to holdout creditors. To date, most of the holdout claims have been paid in full by Greece. It is estimated that private investors currently have a total of 36 billion euros in government bonds that were either issued under the debt exchange of 2012 or in the debt issuance that took place in 2014.

As the Greek population continues to struggle under the imposition of harsh austerity measures and the debt burden of the country remains “highly unsustainable”, as the IMF characterizes it, it is evident that the decision to continue paying the holdouts was a mistake. It represented nothing short of rewarding dangerous speculators while transferring the costs of their actions on to the Greek people. Even more troublesome is the fact that the relationship between Greece and the vulture has not ended yet. In the aftermath of the debt restructuring of 2012, it is estimated that hedge funds have bought nearly 15 billion Euros in government bonds. As a new debt restructuring, or even unilateral default, is simply a matter of time is worth nothing that the country can still set a precedent against the actions of vulture funds. The country could begin by enacting a law, similar to that adopted in Belgium in 2015, to limit the actions of vulture funds. Furthermore, given the dire social situation in the country, it should declare the non-application of the 3rd memorandum and non-payment of all illegal, odious, illegitimate and unsustainable debts. After all it is never too late to state that sovereignty and the respect of human rights will always precede debt.

So the troika is really all about making sure predatory speculators collect their pound of flesh.

Spicer erupts in Holocaust Day TrumpUmbrage™


President Pussygrabber grabbed a lot of attention when he omitted any mention of Hitler’s genocide in his statement issued to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Now we’ve criticized Israel for using Hitler’s mass murder of Jews as a Get Out of Jail Free card whenever justly criticized for lang grabs and bloody “incursions” across borders.

We’ve also faulted media and pundits for ignoring the genocides of Roma and Sinti peoples, homosexuals, and others, and for failing to consider other genocides, including those of Native Americans and Armenians.

But no Holocaust Remembrance Day remarks should fail to mention that awful event that sparked the creation of the day.

Omission of the mention of Hitler’s genocide did draw praise from one quarter, earnng high marks from the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi webasite that now bills itself  “The World’s Most Goal-Oriented Republican Website.”

The paper’s name is the translation of Der Stürmer, the pornographic racist rag run by whip-toting bloodthirsty Hitler henchman Julius Streicher.

This is the first time in history the President of the United States has made no mention of Jews, anti-Semitism, or the science fiction Zionist folklore about ovens and gas chambers so prominent in (((Hollywood))) narratives.

[We’ll leave it to you to doing a search for the quote; we simply don’t feel like driving traffic their way.]

Otherwise,  Agent Orange has been buried in criticism and he doesn’t like it.

From the Independent:

The White House Press Secretary has attacked the Anne Frank Center for its negative statement about President Donald Trump’s disavowal of anti-Semitism.

Asked about the Center’s statement, Sean Spicer told reporters that the President “has been very forceful with the denunciation” of people who are racist or sexist.

“The President has made clear since the day he was elected and frankly through the campaign that he seeks to unite the country. He has brought a diverse range of people into this administration,” he said.

“It’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this, it’s never good enough.”

He added: “I wish that they [the Anne Frank Centre] had praised the President for his leadership in this area. And I think hopefully as time continues to go by, they will recognise his commitment to civil rights, to voting rights, to equality for all Americans.”

Trump a racist?

An anti-Semite?

A racist?

How ridiculous!

After all, he’s the guy who admits he “probably” said this:

“Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

And sexist?

How can any man be sexist when he says things like this?

I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . .Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

You go, Sean Spicer.

Please.

Just go.

And what did the Anne Frank Center have to say that got Spicer’s knickers so twisted?

From the statement released today by Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect:

“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record. Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration.”