How others see the USA

Canada, Britain and Germany are also high on the list before America.

What I find interesting and worrysome is the fact that these opinion are only to a degree related to George W. Bush. The article states that “the Pew polls provide strong evidence that anti-Americanism is more than a blip associated with Mr Bush or Iraq.” And “more than half [of the people] think of them [Americans] as greedy and violent and, in the Middle East, as immoral.”

I have been living in the USA for ten years now, and sadly, I have to agree with the article. I met many wonderful Americans here, and many have actually quite a harsh opinion about their own country. But the big middleclass certainly things of America as the greatest country in the world, and many sincerely believe that the whole world is knocking on America’s door, trying to get in. Well, not any more.

Sell your house NOW!

Here are some tidbits from the paid-for article that worry me particularly:

What happened to other countries where the bubble burst? The Economist gives two examples: Australia (last year) and Japan (15 years ago):

    “In Australia, according to official figures, the 12-month rate of increase in house prices slowed sharply to only 0.4% in the first quarter of this year, down from almost 20% in late 2003. Wishful thinkers call this a soft landing, but another index, calculated by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which is based on prices when contracts are agreed rather than at settlement, shows that average house prices have actually fallen by 7% since 2003; prices in once-hot Sydney have plunged by 16%.”
    “Japan provides a nasty warning of what can happen when boom turns to bust. Japanese property prices have dropped for 14 years in a row, by 40% from their peak in 1991. Yet the rise in prices in Japan during the decade before 1991 was less than the increase over the past ten years in most of the countries that have experienced housing booms. And it is surely no coincidence that Japan and Germany, the two countries where house prices have fallen for most of the past decade, have had the weakest growth in consumer spending of all developed economies over that period.”

And last, it’s scary what situation some people get themselves into by accepting irresponsible mortgage terms:

    Interest-only mortgages are all the rage, along with so-called “negative amortisation loans” (the buyer pays less than the interest due and the unpaid principal and interest is added on to the loan). After an initial period, payments surge as principal repayment kicks in. In California, over 60% of all new mortgages this year are interest-only or negative-amortisation, up from 8% in 2002. The national figure is one-third. The new loans are essentially a gamble that prices will continue to rise rapidly, allowing the borrower to sell the home at a profit or refinance before any principal has to be repaid. Such loans are usually adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), which leave the borrower additionally exposed to higher interest rates. This year, ARMs have risen to 50% of all mortgages in those states with the biggest price rises.

Just the right time then to sell my house and to move back to Europe.

Economist calls Bush “incompetent”

To be fair, they call Kerry incoherent, but endorse him nevertheless. The Editorial talks about “two deeply flawed men”. Interestingly, they think that Bush’s biggest mistake was “in dealing with prisoners-of-war by sending hundreds of them to the American base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, putting them in a legal limbo, outside the Geneva conventions and outside America’s own legal system.” On the other hand they state that “invading Iraq was not a mistake” – something I disagree, because in my opinion, American military force could have decreased the risk of terrorism elsewhere much more effectively – namely to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the Economist acknowledges that “Israel and Palestine remain in their bitter conflict, with America readily accusable of bias.”

Kerry, on the other hand, receives some harsh words, too, and on foreign affairs they consider him a “ruthless opportunist.” Nevertheless, they acknowlege that his actions (rather than his words) “speak well of his judgment.” I wish him good luck on Tuesday.

MIT Student wins “Miss Massachusetts” Title

While initially surprising, one interesting bit of information from the article is that the Miss America title has different criteria than the Miss USA title (Erika’s next goal is the Miss America competition): “Forty percent of the evaluation is based on extensive interviews with judges, who ask you an array of questions relating to your education, your public service platform, and your background. Thirty percent is based on talent, twenty percent on public speaking, and just ten percent on swimsuit.”

MIT vs. RIAA

The big issue, of course, is privacy and the undermining of constitutional rights. What bugs me the most is that the RIAA is ruthlessly trying to fight for a dying system, rather than to embrace the new status quote; they consider copyright to be a “right”, not a “bargain with the public”, as coined by Eric Raymond. Well, MIT and BC are not the only ones fighting – Verizon is fighting as well. Of course it’s in their interest to have plenty of traffic, but it’s nice that they are fighting nevertheless.

Dinner with Noam Chomsky

Note: Check out the picture of us with Noam Chomsky.

So there were four of us, besides Maha, there were Jessica and Alma, both were working for Lawrence Community Work, a local non-profit dedicated to the development of the city of Lawrence.

It turns out to be a fun, casual evening. Chomsky was not lecturing, but very approachable. Yes, we talked about politics, about client states, community work, drug policies and incarceration rates, but also about his kids, rents, neighborhoods, and our lifes. We learned that he and his wife email each other from one floor in the house to the other. He spends a lot of time answering email, and like everybody else, he has to fight spam pretty hard.

We touched on Germany, a topic I was very interested in, obviously. While Germany seems in much worse shape than the USA, at least from my perspective, Chomsky put them more or less in the same league (for example unemployment: He pointed out that the official number hardly reflect reality, e.g. the 0.7% of the population that is in prison in the USA is not counted as unemployed). Similar arguments go for the state of health insurance, pension plans, etc. To put things into perspective: To judge the severity of a situation, it’s important to look at who is affected. In Germany, the population as a whole is affected to a larger degree (due to the social nature of the Germany system). In the USA, it’s limited to the poorer groups within the population. Personally, I still think that there is a significant difference. In Germany, these issues are more likely to affect the economy, as politicians are unwilling to allow social hardship (at least to the degree it happens in the USA). German politicians are willing to make different trade-offs than their American counterparts. Add the EU to the picture, and right now specifically the stability pact, and Germany is endangered to end up with deflation, and a recession similar to the one happing in Japan for the last ten years. At the same time, the USA approach certainly generates much more poverty and resentment than the German system.

At some point Chomsky said: "That’s what people always did, it’s human nature." We can’t change nature completely but we can try to make this world a better place. That’s what Chomsky is about. He was completely unjudgmental, but tries to make us aware of our surroundings.

Chomsky on 9-11

“[…] What happened on September 11 has virtually nothing to do with economic globalization, in my opinion. The reasons lie elsewhere. Nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11, but we can think of the United States as an ‘innocent victim’ only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of its actions and those of its allies, which are, after all, hardly secret.” (Noam Chomsky)
This quote is from a little booklet by Chomsky about 9/11. Not everybody likes Chomsky, but if you are interested in a non-mainstream perspective that tries to go beneath the surface, check this book out.

Lessons the Soviets learned in Afghanistan

Here is a great article from a Soviet Afghanistan veteran. “And though veterans of the Afghan conflict point out that the U.S. bought the bullets for the moujahedeen who killed their comrades, Lisinenko said most wouldn’t wish an Afghan war on their worst enemy”

Foreign Affairs background on Terrorist attack

In order to understand the recent terrorist attack on the United States better, Foreign Affairs Magazine put together a collection of past articles that will provide you with a comprehensive background on what happened during the past years. This magazine is one of the best sources of this kind of information.