Category: Europe


Richard Nixon (The National Archives, via Wikipedia)

“But when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” That line from the Frost-Nixon interview famously showed the state of American democracy after Richard NIxon.

Elected the 37th President of the United States in 1969, he was re-elected to a second term. His presidency was not without accomplishment, as he signed the Clean Water Act and enhanced the Clean Air Act. He founded the EPA, negotiated a détente with the Soviet Union, ended the Vietnam War and connected with China. And he was a Republican!

Unfortunately, that was not the only lasting impact to Nixon’s presidential legacy. Machtpolitik played a primate role during his administration. Nixon’s soon to be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was sent to the Paris negotiations to scuttle a peace treaty by suggesting to the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal under the Republicans. The peace talks failed on the eve of the 1968 election. Kissinger also played a lead role in the CIA-assisted overthrow of democratically elected leader of Chile, plunging that nation into decades of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. (He was also involved in other similar activities during the Ford Administration.) Nixon authorized illegal military bombing campaigns and other incursions in Cambodia and Laos as well. His first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, resigned from office after it wsa clear that he had accepted bribes and evaded taxes while he was the governor of Maryland.

Despite all of that, what Richard Nixon is undoubtedly most famous for, however, is the Watergate Scandal, where his cronies bugged the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The event lead to Nixon’s resignation and also lead to every subsequent presidential scandal, real or imagined, to end with the syllable “-gate”.

The role of the US president became imperial under Nixon and his neo-conservative acolytes, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Dick Cheney carried his torch through the Reagan and Bush administrations. For everyone who wishes the American government would focus on the livelihoods of its citizens, Richard Nixon began the rolling snowball of “Unitary Executive Power” that impinges on democracy today.

Wikipedia: Richard Nixon

The USS Constellation (via Wikipedia)

Relations between the United States and France soured after the French Revolution. Royal France had been a vital ally during the American Revolution, but when the King was toppled, the U.S. stopped repaying its debt to France, claiming that it had owed the debt to the Kingdom of France, not the French Republic. The U.S. angered France even more when it signed a treaty with Britain that included trade items at a time that Britain and France were hostile with one another. By the end of 1796, France began seizing American ships in retribution and thus began one of America’s first undeclared (though still authorized by Congress) wars. Not listed in all history books, the war itself was largely fought at sea and is given any one of several names: the Half-War, the Pirate Wars, the Undeclared War (as if it were the only one), the Undeclared War with France, the Franco-American War, or the Quasi-War.

Wikipedia: The Quasi-War

Benghazi Cathedral (Libyan Tourism Directory)

Founded as the Greek colony of Ευεσπεριδεσ, or Euesperides, around 525 B.C.E., the city has been under the control of a number of empires since, including the Romans and the Ottomans. At one point, the greek colony was saved by chance while under attack by Libyan tribes in 414 B.C.E. A fleet from Sparta had been en route to Sicily to fight a battle against an Athenian colony there during the Peloponnesian War, but it was blown off course by strong winds. The Spartans helped to drive back the Libyan tribes, rescuing the city.

Today, the city is known as Benghazi is a stronghold for a democratic uprising against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and it is now under attack by the dictator. The UN Security Council has agreed to the institution of a no-fly zone over the country, primarily led by France. Will it be too little, too late? Good luck to everyone fighting for democracy everywhere.

Sunlight enters the main entrance of New Grange once per year on the Winter Solstice (Cyril Byrnes, via The Irish Times)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! As people all over celebrate all things Irish today, let’s take a look at a place as old as Ireland itself. New Grange is a huge passage mound in County Meath that dates to 3100 – 2900 BCE, during the Neolithic Period (the New Stone Age). It is part of the Brú na Bóinne archaeological complex, an expansive site that predates the Pyramids at Giza. Roughly 150 passage graves survive today in Ireland and 40 of them are locate at Brú na Bóinne.

The site is huge. Some 550 giant slabs, weighing a total of 200,000 tonnes were quarried from the riverside nearby in order to construct it and transported to the site, all under the power of humans and animals. Its use is uncertain, though most people believe it was a tomb. It does have some astronomical significance as well: Each winter solstice, the sun shines directly into the main passage of the monument, illuminating the far wall.

Wikipedia: New Grange

Danish Flag

According to Sarah Palin, American is at risk for falling into SOCIALISM! Oh no! Oh the humanity!
Oh if only everyone had the same problems as Denmark….

A Scandinavian-style social welfare state, the nation routinely ranks ahead of the United States in terms of Human Development, Health and Healthcare, Education and Take-home pay (even after their ~55% tax rate!) With such high taxes, you may think that the people are impoverished and miserable. But no – Denmark is routinely considered the Happiest Nation in the World. Of course, that could be due to their 6 weeks of paid vacation per year or due to the fact that low-income groups receive 120% of their pre-retirement incomes for their pensions. This country with few natural resources has invested heavily in its own citizens. As a result, Denmark holds the most Nobel Prizes per capita of any nation. It also has one of the most uniform distributions of wealth in the world, coupled with a standard of living that is higher than that of the U.S. (a seemingly good mix). Yet with all of that social spending, in fact because of it and because everyone is on board, the nation has been able to create a national budget surplus, its unemployment is at an all-time low, and the Great Recession (now long gone) barely left a mark due to a strong regulatory environment in finance. In fact, there is currently a shortage of skilled labor. As you can see, Sarah Palin has been right all along – who in the U.S. would want any of those problems that are the scourge of the Danish state?

Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for the last time (Michael Berigan/Reuters)

Space

The Space Shuttle Discovery launched into orbit for the last time Thursday, carrying a new crew to the International Space Station. There will be two more flights before the end of the Space Shuttle program. The shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to make one more trip to space in April, followed by the last shuttle flight by Atlantis in June. The shuttle program was to be superseded by the Constellation program, a series of manned and unmanned missions that were aimed toward bringing the United States back to low earth orbit, then the Moon and ultimately Mars. Citing current private companies such as SpaceX that are developing manned orbital systems, president Obama cancelled the Constellation program. At the moment, it appears United States will not be the first country to Mars.

Developments in Libya

Mu’ammar Gadhafi blamed al Qaeda today for the uprising spreading through his country, saying that Osama bin Laden had brainwashed young Libyans who had been given hypnotic drugs in their milk. Opposition groups now control most of Libya, but Gadhafi’s stronghold is in the capital, Tripoli, where his forces are exacting a heavy toll, though some troops and pilots are refusing to fire on protesters. The death toll due to the government attacks on civilians is likely higher than 1,000. Opposition groups continue to make gains despite the government’s counterattack and they are massing in the opposition-controlled eastern portion of the country. The United States, after a generation of enmity and containment, has found that it has few options regarding the situation in Libya. It has few contacts with the leadership, no aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, and is forced to rely on nations such as France and Italy that have had friendlier relations with Libya. Even worse, once the opposition forces take over there may not be such a warm and rosy relationship with the new government because President Bush sold Gadhafi weapons. Yes, once again weapons emblazoned with “Made in U.S.A.” are firing at civilians who are trying to form a new democracy. So much for shoot first and ask questions later.

WikiLeaks

Julian Assange has lost his trial for extradition to Sweden. This was expected as most extraditions within the EU are granted. Assange has promised to appeal the ruling and has seven days to do so or else he will be extradited within 10 days.

Real News Network

The Real News Network discusses how the United States helped Swedish authorities to pass a law that allows the Swedish Government to spy on its own citizens, while helping the US to spy on countries in Asia. The discussion also raises questions regarding Swedish-American cooperation in Swedish efforts to extradite Julian Assange.

Save NPR and PBS!

President Obama released his federal budget proposal Monday. The proposal includes an 11% increase for education, but also possessed a large number of cuts across the board – including caps on funding for the war in Afghanistan. The Republican response from the one they tout as their budget guru designee, Paul Ryan, was a bit too quick not to involve posturing. During the next few weeks, Congress with hash the details with the Administration, but some noted economists are up in arms over federal fiscal policy this recession. The EPA gets big cuts in either case, while the security state is alive and well. Though Obama does criticize the Republicans for not investing in infrastructure and education, school superintendents in the state of Texas are about to face the largest cuts to education since World War II. The Republican cuts are so targeted and so draconian that some wonder whether this is all part of a Republican ploy to ensure that Obama fails? On a side note, other nations such as France and Germany, who spent a good deal on investment in infrastructure to get out of the recession, left the recession in 2009. We will discuss the corresponding lack of stimulus and investment in the US in a piece coming out later this week.

There are new protests across the Middle East today, in a “day of rage” in Bahrain, the fourth day of protests in Yemen, and crowds were dispersed with tear gas and possibly hired thugs in Iran. In Egypt, rifts begin to form as the military asks workers and students now protesting for higher wages and the right to unionize to disperse while Hosni Mubarak now faces the challenge to pocket his cash and run before European banks are able to freeze his assets for repatriation to Egypt. What is a dictator to do? The Middle East is not alone as thousands of Italians, especially women, protest Premier Silvio Berlusconi after a sordid sex scandal, involving a 17-year-old girl.

NATO ships have seized a major pirate ship off the coast of Somalia, a libertarian paradise. And in Ecuador, a court rules that Chevron must pay the nation $8 billion in fines due to the massive environmental harm done by Texaco, a company now owned by Chevron.

The day after: How did you celebrate your Valentine’s Day?