Thoughts on Britain

Waking up in Europe today, it is hard not feel a sense disbelief.  Britain’ decision to leave the EU is very troublesome and creates more uncertainty in world that is already unstable.  This vote undermines the entire European project that has sought greater integration since the Second Word War – a project established to prevent the continent from spiraling into devastating genocidal wars.

While Britain’s may have rejected it, the EU has stood for Liberal values (values based on liberty and equality born of the Enlightenment) that the “Exit” voters claim to be losing.  It is why nations like Estonia, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic and Slovakia), and Romania embraced Europe and the EU following the collapse of Soviet Union – it represents freedom of the press, open markets, and free elections.  With this simple vote, Britain threatens the entire European project and the vote could result in domino effect with other countries, such as Poland and Hungary, leaving the EU.  This hypothetical, though not unrealistic scenario, would leave the EU and Britain weaker in an increasingly unstable world.

The demand to exit the EU in Britain and other countries, like Poland under the Law and Justice party, is led by a growing Right wing populism.  The rise in Right wing populism is not limited to the EU and a frightening global trend. This Right wing populism in Europe believes the EU is the source of all its problems, mostly pointing to increased immigration, especially from the Middle East often blaming Angela Merkel for throwing open the doors last summer.

Yet vilifying immigrants as an “other” to stir up nationalism is not new in Europe – it is part of the reason why the EU exists.  Perhaps one can blame President Obama for failing to get intervene in Syria, leading to the refugee crisis, but this is not the only cause. Nothing is ever that simple.  Europe, at least for now, is a rich place and a destination for economic immigrants.  The immigrant crisis caused the by the Syrian civil war only exacerbated an already existing problem.  There is no question that integrating immigrants, especially of different cultural backgrounds, is difficult and expensive, but not impossible.

The large number of immigrants have fed the fear and hatred that these Right wing parties are thriving on.  This is surely not good for Europe.  The growing nationalistic movements, something Europe has tried to move beyond, can easily lead to war and ethnic cleansing, terrors the EU was established to prevent.  And war is not unlikely especially with a country like Russia threatening Eastern Europe, desiring the return of its status that it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The threat of a weakened shattered EU and growing Right wing populism shows an ever increasingly unstable world: political upheavals in Brazil and Mexico, growing violence in the Middle East, a volatile Pacific Ocean with China increasingly seeking to extend its influence and projection of military power.  At a time of growing instability, the British vote simply multiplies this uncertainty and leaves space for countries that eschew Liberal values, like China and Russia, to fill the void.

Without a strong unified Europe to help balance and check these strident powers, the threat of global conflict increases.  This is not stay that war will happen, but it makes it more likely.  In undermining one of the fundamental features of the European project, to prevent war and grow into a union of European peoples, Britain has in fact done the opposite.  Created greater instability, uncertainty, and growing possibility of war and the end of the EU.

Night Will Fall

Night Will Fall is a 2014 documentary that examines World War II film crews from the three Allied powers who captured the liberation of Nazi concentration camps and killing centers.  The chilling footage captured by these film crews was meant to be part of documentary film overseen by Sidney Berstein, but the contingencies of the Cold War prevented the documentary’s completion, though some of the footage was used by the U.S. Military in a short film titled Death Mills.  Until recently, this footage remained buried in the British archives, but scholars working at the Imperial War Museum pieced together the film using the original script and instructions left by the original staff.

For many, the draw is the fact that legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock was involved in the project, however, as the documentary makes clear, Hitchcock was involved and offered important advice to the staff, but he spent a very limited amount of time working on the project.  The advice Hitchcock provided though seems crucial –   to display long shots rather than short shots in order counter any criticism that might suggest the film was the product of Hollywood film making (Hollywood “magic”).

In presentation, Night Will Fall is documentary about a documentary.  It tells the story of the WWII cameramen, soldiers involved in liberating camps, survivors who can be seen in the original footage, and those at the Imperial War museum who reconstructed the original documentary.  While this story is important and demonstrates the overwhelming inertia of the Cold War, the crucial feature is the original footage. The images are grim.  Footage of former Nazi prison guards dragging the bodies of those they murdered to mass graves is particularity disconcerting.  This documentary is not afraid to show the barbaric results of the Nazi racial state.

Another important feature of the original film footage is the effort made by the British and Americans soldiers to walk German civilians through the camps – to show them the what the Nazi state did and prevent them from ever denying that they did not know what the Nazis were doing.  Yet, even though thousands of German civilians passed through these camps witnessing the criminal actions of the state they supported, it was not until the 1960s, when the youth of German challenged their elders, that Germans finally confronted their Nazi past.  The efforts needed to rebuild a state destroyed by war and the oncoming of the Cold War enabled German civilians to focus on reconstruction rather than Nazi crimes.

The Night Will Fall tells a fascinating story and shows how geopolitics led the American and British governments to quickly sweep the Holocaust under the rug during the Cold War.  In fact, the Holocaust would remain dormant until the 1970s miniseries Holocaust reminded the public of the German crimes.  However, while this story is informative, the horror of the original footage is why this documentary is important.  It once again reminds us of the brutality of not just Nazi Germany but also of humankind.  What people can do to one another based on rigid ideologies that exclude other humans for being different, whether that be religiously, ethnically,  racially, sexually, etc.  The images show us how harsh rhetoric can lead to devastating actions and cautions us to take the language employed by world leaders, politicians, and businessmen seriously as they can have unimaginable outcomes.

Relationship Between Business Taxes and College Tuition in WV

Today, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy posted a story comparing the relationship between higher education tuition and business tax incentives.  They basically show and argue that state’s tax incentives used to attract business to West Virginia is rapidly increasing higher education tuition.

I agree that state’s across the country are doing a disservice by cutting funding for higher education, specifically in the case of West Virginia which has a large population of low income students. Wealthy businesses shouldn’t benefit off of these students and their families. Furthermore, if you consider this more broadly, by cutting business taxes and raising tuition, states are forcing students to take out loans which helps large financial firms at the expense of students and their families. This has created an explosion in students loans which many consider a significant threat to U.S. financial markets.

However, I think there are other issues at play here that need to be considered. First of all, the state of WV has done a terrible job at diversifying the state’s economy. Politicians remain beholden to the coal industry even as it employees fewer workers every year. Due to this lack of diversity, it seems wise to create incentives to attract new businesses, such as the Pietro Fiorentini Group of Vicenza, Italy which announced yesterday that it is going to build a new plant in Weirton. This creates jobs for those educated in WV which is crucial as many educated West Virginians leave the state due to a lack of jobs.

Thus, there is a negative and positive to tax incentives. What should probably be considered is a short-term tax that lasts for five-to-ten years, after which this tax expires. This would allow business the opportunity to invest in West Virginia and get their business off the ground. When this “grace period” ends, these businesses will have to pay the regular rate of taxation. Moreover, once this tax expires, business should want to support higher education as they will need an educated work force to operate their businesses.

It’s been awhile – Mass Review

Been very busy around here with work and vacations so I’m going to briefly summarize and opinionate my thoughts on these books.

1. A Women in Berlin by Anonymous – I was expecting  a lot out of this book and came away somewhat disappointed.  This work is actually a diary written by a female that describes here life from the last months of the Second World War until about the time the allies divided the city.  Having studied this period, I was expecting her life in the city to worse than she actually describes.  This is especially important period for women’s history as they faced not only bombing campaigns from the allies but mass rape by the Red Army and an extreme food shortage that left Germany with almost no food in the war’s immediate aftermath.  My studies, however, focused in the eastern regions of Germany (which eventually became modern Poland) and it seems that in these areas, the Red Army acted even more ruthlessly than they did in Berlin where estimates range from tens of thousands to two million. No matter the number it is still a little know human rights violation.  The diary by Anonymous does not reveal the brutality of the Eastern Front but still describes the mass rape of women and their struggles to survive in city devoid of German males and controlled by the Soviet army.

2. The Things They Carried by Tim O’ Brien – O’Brien’s book is a semi-autobiographical discussion own experiences with the Vietnam War combined with fiction.  No matter how much is fact and fiction, O’Brien did fight in Vietnam and his work feels much more personal than Junger’s.  O’Brien book describes many the challenges faced in going to the war – driving all the way to the Canadian border to escape but going anyway out of a sense of duty, losing friends and comrades, feeling responsible for the death of others, killing a man, and describing the war to his children.  It is an emotional book that reveals the power of story telling, and, as Esquire states, “No one else has written so beautifully about human remains hanging from tree branches.”

3Millennium Series with Lisbeth Salander by Stieg Larsson – Overall these three books are entertaining and good for sitting on airplanes, traveling, and sitting around the pool.  The plots aren’t completely believable and the character Lisbeth seems to have acquired every relevant skill she needs to survive sometime in the future before the plot of the book – she is just apparently equipped for any situation.  Another problem is the fact that Larsson was a journalist and he is extremely detail oriented.  I feel that all of these books could have been 150-200 pages shorter. But, as mentioned, all entertaining.

4. The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell – Again, another entertaining novel but from I was expecting a lot more.  Word of mouth and the number of copies sold had me convinced that this a good mystery but it just turns into a really long story about a several murders.  Let me be more clear – the story was good but the solving of the crime was rather long, drawn out, and predicable.  I was hoping for more suspense and surprise which this book had none.  Again for entertaining yourself on vacation.