American Views Abroad

Saturday, July 30, 2005
An urgent appeal for donations to help pay the unbearably mounting medical expenses of an uninsured American citizen in the U.S. fighting advanced colon cancer was sent out by a member of the Munich American Peace Committee. Damu Smith, a community organizer and social activist, who spoke at the American Voices Abroad conference in Prague in 2003 is fighting the battle of his life and needs help from others. Information about his plight including a Washington Post article about it can be read at

Coincidentally, today's IHT carries Paul Krugman's column on French Family Values. He starts off by pointing out how
Americans tend to believe that we do everything better than anyone else. That belief makes it hard for us to learn from others.

It doesn't get any truer than that. Have I ever been asked, when back in the US, what life is like in Europe; is there anything they do better than we do; when comparing both societies what are the pros and cons of different ways of doing things? No, not really. Once in a great while an individual is interested in one aspect or the other. Overall, there is a disconcerting lack of curiosity about other places. If anything, it seems to get worse instead of better. My accent is the main topic of conversation, at first, since it takes me about a week to get back into sounding true blue American. Later, people are confused that I live in Germany but don't sound like one. Very often when I hand over a European issued credit card, I get asked with some disbelief 'What are you doing over there?' Last time around the question 'Do they all hate us?' was posed a number of times. Troubling for me was the absence of any dialogue on the war in Iraq or the prison abuse scandal, but lots of talk about hurricanes and the weather. Of course, I do get ribbed on the lack of Sunday shopping, no 24 hour supermarkets open, on the smallness of it all over here. Krugman points out the big difference in priorities between the French and US societies: ' the extent the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice.' He then goes on:

The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out. But there are compensations...... schools are good across the country and .....with guaranteed access to excellent health care, no worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.

Choice and convenience are two words most used to describe the American way of life. Yet, I am perplexed at the sore lack of choice in the political arena in the US. Here in Germany where new elections will most likely take place on September 18th, there is more choice than at home. A new left party has just been organized of disgruntled SPD members and the former Communist Party, there is the SPD of Chancellor Schroeder, the Green Party, the center right Christian Democratic Union and its sister party in Bavaria, the CSU, and a small liberal party, the FDP and assorted other parties which, by the way, all have equal share of advertising time on TV. It's most interesting watching the very minor parties and their not so professional spots.

One thing none of the above parties will make any attempt to do is privatize health care. There is a national dialogue on the changes that need to be made within a society that is growing older and with high unemployment. However, the debate is whether to convert to the Swiss model of individual citizens all paying the same fees into it or restructure the present system. One of the most convenient aspects of life here is being able to sleep at nights because you don't have to worry about going bankrupt in case of illness. My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's last year. It took six weeks from his initial visit to his primary care doctor for him to see a neurologist, have two brain scans, and more appointments with other specialists. His extra cost for all this was 10 euros. He missed no day at work, was encouraged to have a positive outlook because his is easy-to-manage at the present time and he can continue working for a number of years. The very high price of all medicines he has to take for it are paid for by his public health insurance, with the exception of the first 20 euros. Last, but not least, he made the choice of which doctors to consult. Twenty years ago when he started up his own company, he could have transferred over to a private health insurance. However, he has always believed in a good, solid public one and he has never regretted his decision.

Krugman's column can be read at:

Friday, July 29, 2005
An action alert on FAIR takes on NYT columnist Thomas Friedman who proposed a blacklist for 'excuse makers'. Let him know that opponents of the Iraq War do not deserve to be on a government blacklist --- even if they oppose the war because they believe it encourages terrorism. Read his column and FAIR's rebuttal at

Monday, July 25, 2005
Stunning words on the op-ed pages of today's NYT ---- David Douglas Duncan, a former Marine, writes:

Today, in Iraq, where nearly every dawn is lacerated by mounting carnage - local and foreign - American troops are hemorrhaging among the wounded and the dead, pawns in an unspeakable farce, for the United States of America is not at war.

Only 135,000 men and women in American uniform are fighting - volunteers, members of the National Guard, reservists. There is no draft. No threat of a uniform hangs over the citizens of a nation of nearly 300 million who, in polls, support the invasion of a remote country upon whom our government would pin guilt of 9/11...and then attack. An invasion that was ordered by an expertly trained but combat-innocent fighter pilot and a draft-deferred character with 'other priorities' during the Vietnam War.

On the same page David M. Kennedy, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning work 'Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945' writes:

Leaving questions of equity aside, it cannot be wise for a democracy to let such an important function grow so far removed from popular participation and accountability. It makes some supremely important thing too easy - like dealing out death and destruction to others and seeking military solutions on the assumption they will be swifter and more cheaply bought that what could be accomplished by the more vexatious business of diplomacy......War is too important to be left either to the generals or the politicians. It must be the people's business.

Thursday, July 21, 2005
Tapped to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Germany is William Robert Timken, Jr. former head of the Timken Company from 1962 - 2003 and according to two news sources he was a member of Diebold's Board of Directors since 1986 and stepped down from that position on June 30, 2005. Diebold Election Systems based in Ohio sells touch-screen voting machines not designed to produce a paper trail. In a Mother Jones Magazine on-line article from March 5, 2004 the importance of Ohio in the November 2004 election and the possibility of it being flawed and/or rigged are discussed. It points out that one of two companies selling such voting machines in Ohio is Diebold and it describes W.R.Timken as a Republican loyalist and a major contributor to GOP candidates. 'Since 1991 the Timken Company and members of the Timken family have contributed more than a million dollars to the Republican Party...' FinanzNachrichten also reported Timken retiring from Diebold's Board at The article can be found under 'suchen'.

The Hamburger Abendblatt informs its readers today that Timken has no diplomatic experience and does not speak any German. He had, however, contributed $200,000 to Bush's campaign. The articles explains how rewarding big-time political contributors has a long standing tradition in the U.S. dating back to Andrew Jackson in 1829. It concludes with a quote from Georgetown Professor Robert Lieber on how every third U.S. diplomat has no professional experience.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005
U.S. Soldier, Kevin Benderman faces a Court Martial on July 28th for refusing to serve another tour of duty in Iraq. Here are details on his case and why he needs strong support:

After serving in the military for eight years, including a tour of duty in
Iraq, Kevin Benderman filed for conscientious objector status in December
2004. His application was quickly denied, and on the weekend of Jan. 7,
2005 Benderman refused to re-deploy to Iraq with his unit.

'As I went through the process which led to my decision to refuse deployment
to Iraq for the second time, I was torn between thoughts of abandoning the
soldiers that I serve with, or following my conscience, which tells me: war
is the ultimate in destruction and waste of humanity.' As stated in
Benderman's article 'A Matter of Conscience.'

Subsequently Sgt. Benderman was charged with Desertion and Missing Movement
by Design (Articles 85 and 87 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice).

On May 11 the Article 32 investigative hearing (military equivalent of a
pretrial hearing) was overturned. The judge ruled the presiding officer had
shown bias in his investigation and ordered a new hearing.

Immediately following this hearing, the same command filed the additional
charges of larceny because Sgt. Benderman, due to an Army error, had been
receiving extra combat pay since his unit had re-deployed to Iraq. Seven
other members of his unit were also receiving extra pay due to an Army
error. None other than Benderman has been charged with larceny.

On Wednesday May 25 the military filed a new Article 32 court martial
against Kevin. The Investigating Officer for the new Article 32 hearing
STRONGLY recommended dismissal of the 'larceny' charge, citing the fact
that it was an accounting error that was rampant throughout Ft.
Stewart. The Army continues ahead with the larceny charge anyway. As far
as the other charges of Desertion and Missing Movement by Design, he
recommended that they both go forward to General Court-Martial, but with
qualifications on the Desertion charge.

The General Court Martial date is set for July 28.

Monica Benderman in One Soldier’s Fight to Legalize Morality at
hits the nail on the head when she writes:

'The Army has removed itself so completely from its moral responsibility, that its representatives are willing to openly demand, in a court of law, that they be allowed to regain 'positive control over this soldier' by finding him guilty of crimes he did not commit and put him in jail -- a prisoner of conscience, for daring to obey a moral law. It is hard work to face the truth and it is scary when people who are not afraid to face it begin to speak out.'

Interestingly enough William Pfaff, an author and columnist on foreign affairs for many years has this to say in Democracy and a Volunteer Army on his website at

'The irreducible argument for democracy is that people deserve to have a say in decisions that may kill or ruin them. That is what a professional army has renounced.'

Has it? If and it certainly seems to have, then it is up to all those individual citizens out there to turn the tide. It is easy to be opposed to the war in Iraq or, even worse, be disconnected from it. Now is the time to stand up and support those individuals who have served and have firm opinions and beliefs that say NO to it. It is not the time to hide behind legal terms or to misuse them.

Sunday, July 17, 2005
A number of years ago at what everyone back then thought was the worst of the Balkan war's bloodshed, I attended a speech given by a German member of the SPD, Freimut Duve, who was also very involved internationally in the Balkan question. I recall how he compared the Balkans at that stage to Germany in 1945. He was upbeat that once money for construction and economic renewal started flowing in, all sides --- all completely exhausted from the worst of what war brings --- would not want anything more than peace, a decent way of making a living, and thus there was no other alternative than an end to that war. He spoke passionately about what war does to a people who live it day in and day out and I left thinking he has to be right. It was both logical and emotional but, unfortunately, it turned out to be totally wrong. The worst was yet to come. I can't help but think of his speech this week, particularly in light of those young children in Iraq who were slaughtered by a suicide bomber when accepting candy and toys from US soldiers. I could never tolerate the argument comparing Germany back then to Iraq today for many reasons, the primary one being it completely ignores the complexity of what the world is like outside US borders. Being a country of immigrants does not guarantee an intimate knowledge of the rest of the world. Rather it sees it within a highly selected prism. Add to that the fact that not everything can be won or controlled on economic or military terms. German children were not slaughtered in 1945 and thereafter when accepting candy from US servicemen. During the Berlin airlift, images of children on top of rubble with outstretched arms anticipating the daily dose of candy being sprayed on them is imbedded in history.

Yesterday on page 2 of the IHT in a news article on Falluja, I read the following:

'....Just as disturbing, even residents of Falluja who favored purging the streets of insurgents last November are beginning to chafe under the occupation. An Iraqi is quoted saying 'Some preferred the city quiet, purified of the gunmen and any militant aspect, but after the unfairness and injustice with which the city's residents have been treated by the American and Iraqi forces, they now prefer the resistance, just so they won't be humiliated.'

Just so they won't be humiliated. It's terrible to be humiliated. It's far too complex and one almost never talks about it. Yet I have learned one thing living here and it's that many things can humiliate, even the fact of being liberated by others and having to acknowledge you couldn't or didn't liberate yourself. Of course, the Germans were able to come to terms with that and take a very hard look at themselves or to be more refined the West Germans took a very hard look at themselves and their history and it was the East Germans who (finally) started their own liberation movement. One of the first things my German husband wanted to see in Prague in the early 90s was the German Embassy which thousands of East Germans stormed and he wanted to know exactly what it was like in Prague where thousands of those infamous Trabby cars were parked clogging up those old streets. Recently in Prague I passed that Embassy and saw a statue of a Trabby at the entrance. It was a true liberation, not an enforced one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Concerned Citizens vent their frustration on how the media, in this case the International Herald Tribune, has been covering Karl Rove's involvement in outing the identity of CIA agent Valerier Plame. These letters to the editor were sent out on 11 July 2005. Will any or all be published?

To the Editor:

The revelation that Karl Rove leaked the identity of a CIA
operative to the news media deserves more thorough coverage than The International Herald Tribune has devoted to it. Is the Tribune cowed by a repressive Administration, or is it simply patronizing its readers by assuming we consider it 'old news' since rumors of Rove's involvement have been circulating for a while?
Whatever the reason for failing to cover the facts and implications
of this critical story, it is a colossal failure of accountability to the readers you purport to serve.


Diana Shaw Clark

Subject: Rove & your coverage
Date: July 11, 2005

It's increasingly clear that Karl Rove was the source for the revelation that Joe Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA agent -- revelation of which is a federal felony. The story of this case is extremely important and so far the Herald Trib's coverage of it has been thin and patchy..

For example, your coverage of Newsweek's report on the matter was
buried on page 5 of the July 4th edition, given short shrift with 4 paragraphs under 'Briefly Americas' (and being a holiday, many Americans abroad probably won't even see that edition....). Yet on the same day, you deem a sensational story about a Romanian exorcist worthy of front page coverage, a photo, & jump to page 4 for a total of 29 paragraphs!

Which story do you think has more significance to the United States and
to your readers?

This is just one example of the IHT's increasing tendency to bury
important political stories while giving front page coverage to features that belong on your back page.

While you take up Judith Miller's jailing in an editorial and while the
inexplicably banished Frank Rich is happily back today with an excellent piece, your news coverage really warrants a more thoughtful and
comprehensive approach, especially concerning the Rove/Plame case and
all its ramifications.
We're living in times worse than McCarthyism and worse than Watergate. Please fulfill your duties as the Fourth Estate!

Meredith Wheeler
Lautrec, France

Dear Sir:

If American journalism faces today a so-called 'credibility crisis' it
is surely in no small part the fault of negligent reporting.

To treat the scandalous news of Karl Rove's career assassination of
Valerie Plame as a merely incidental footnote (as you did on the Fourth
of July, burying the piece in the BRIEFLY AMERICAS section) you
endanger your newspaper's reputation. Unless, of course, the exorcism
of Romanian nuns is to be believed of higher importance to the United
States, as one would believe, waking incredulously to the first page of
your July fourth edition.

This apparatchik-like complicity does more to soil the reputation of
journalism than a legion of delirious Jayson Blairs.


Matthew Hicks
Toulouse, France

Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005
Subject: The Valerie Plame affair

As a member of American Voices Abroad, I volunteered to be part of a
group that called itself 'IHT Watch.' Each day during the run-up to the 2004 Election, one of us would scrutinise the paper and disseminate our observations. It soon began to feel as if we were in Soviet Russia in the Stalinist era looking for signs of dissent in the pages of Pravda. The
IHT followed the official line of the Bush administration without hesitation, publishing in the pages of 'news' handouts from the US government as if they described actual events! It provided us with a first hand sense of the dismal state of the Fourth Estate. The press no longer functions as the watchdog. It has accepted the role of cheerleader. Further confirmation
of this has been provided by your recent burial of the [probable]
involvement of Karl Rove as the insider who revealed the identity of Valerie Plame in the 'yellow-cake uranium' fiction. That someone so highly placed in this Administration could have been involved in an act that constitutes treason is a matter that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. It is no wonder that the American people are not aware of what is going on in their government when the press chooses to join and encourage the national
state of torpor and denial.

Robert Higgins - France

Thursday, July 07, 2005
Horrible news about the terror attacks in London. The Guardian and Der Spiegel have up-to-date coverage on their sites. Painful memories of Madrid resurface. Deepest sympathy for the victims and their families.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005
A blog worth reading----Taking the Fight to Karl---- American Service Men and Women Mad at Karl Rove at

Michael Carmichael's essay Won't Get Fooled Again/Independence Day starts off on how Bush has become a deeply unpopular President. He points out how an ultra-conservative Republican congressman in North Carolina has seen the handwriting on the wall and has joined together with Democrats to sponsor legislation to start withdrawing US troops in Iraq in October 2006. Of course, this is a month before over 133,000 military voters cast their ballots in that state. He further discusses the Live 8 concert and Bush's adamant rejection of changing his policy on African poverty and global warming. Most interesting is his reading of the original Fourth of July in 1776 when the outcome was far from certain, but the cause was just and Jefferson on the spread of democracy by reason not by warfare. John Quincy Adams later wrote 'America should not go abroad seeking out monsters to destroy, lest she become dictatress of the world.'

Monday, July 04, 2005
This time around Independence Day here is truly a summer's day, when the living should be easy, but what is lacking is any enthusiasm to strike up a band. Travelling through France these last few weeks, I met a fellow American from Nashville, Tennessee who wanted to shake my hand because I didn't vote for the President. 'You are from the North,' he said to me, 'where they got it right.' Well, I suppose I am from the North in more ways than one. In the present New York Review of Books, Tony Judt's The New World Order sums up what really troubles me:

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially --- brutally, contemptuously, illegaly --- abroad while preserving republican values at home. For it is a mistake to suppose that institutions alone will save a republic from the abuses of power to which empire inevitably leads. It is not institutions that make or break republics, it is men. And in the United States today, the men (and women) of the country's political class have failed.

....At the outer edges of the US imperium, in Bratislava or Tiflis, the dream of republican America still lives on, like the fading light from a distant, dying star. But even there the shadows of doubt are growing.

....The American people have a touching faith in the invulnerablility of their republic.....But the twentieth century has taught most other peoples in the world to be less cocksure. And when foreigners look across the oceans at the US today, what they see is far from reassuring.

For there is a precedent in modern Western history for a country whose leader exploits national humiliation and fear to restrict public freedoms; for a government that makes permanent war as a tool of state policy and arranges for the torture of its political enemies....for a culture that asserts its unique destiny and superiority and that worships military prowess; for a political system in which the dominant party manipulates procedural rules and threatens to change the law in order to get its own way; where journalists are intimidated into confessing their errors and made to do public penance.
Europeans in particular have experienced such a regime in the recent past and they have a word for it. That word is not 'democracy.'

The complete article can be read at

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