Friday, February 3, 2012

The Truth About Triple-A Bond Ratings, Immigration, Women's Rights & More // EVOLVE: Subversive Art in Germany

UPDATE: Here we go again. Republicans are proposing cutting government workers so that we can prop up defense spending.

Maryland Juice in Dusseldorf, Germany
BACKGROUND: In case you couldn't tell, this week activists on both sides of the marriage equality debate started to throwdown for a showdown on the issue. Sorry for the erratic posting schedule this past week -- Maryland Juice has been lobbing bombs from across the Atlantic Ocean. The conservative bloggers at Red Maryland, for what it's worth, are now trying to make a punching bag out of me for calling out hypocrisy from public figures. Gee thanks.

ANYWAY -- now I'm back in the U.S. of A, and I have a lot to report back from my trip to Germany and the Netherlands -- starting with another meditation on subversive art. My second to last entry on subversive art was a dispatch from Seattle's EMP museum, which was designed by iconic architecht Frank Gehry.

This week, I stumbled upon yet another set of Frank Gehry-designed buildings -- but this time in Dusseldorf, Germany. My visit to Dusseldorf was completely by accident -- but as luck would have it, the experience provided me with multiple new insights about Maryland politics and the DC metro economy that I will share below.

Three new Frank Gehry designed buildings are revitalizing Dusseldorf, Germany
After submersing myself in EU news and policy perspectives again, I have two main points:
  1. By looking at the policy contrasts with European economies, it continues to appear that U.S. policymakers have been brainwashed by the Chambers of Commerce, and
  2. I continue to believe that subversive art can have a huge role in priming the public consciousness in positive ways.

GLOBAL LABOR UNREST: Last Monday, Belgian train operators launched the largest strike in the nation's history and shut down train service within and passing through the country for a single day. Not coincidentally, Belgian labor officials chose to strike on the day that tons of European officials were set to descend on Brussels for an EU summit on the economy. European officials were apparently going to be discussing more "austerity" measures -- aka cuts to services for ordinary families and workers.

Notably, I was trying to get from the Netherlands to Belgium, and I had to completely cancel that portion of my trip due to the train strike. So, alas, Maryland Juice was forced to go to Germany instead -- a country that, to be honest, I have avoided visiting for many years (much like I am currently avoiding Arizona). But, I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the visit.

POLICY DIFFERENCES: One of the great things about completely removing yourself from your surroundings -- even for just a few days -- is that it makes it so much easier to see media and policy bias in your own country. No matter how you feel about the individual issues involved, you can see that moral decimation and societal downfall have not plagued nations that have embraced a range of social policies (ie: marijuana for the Dutch) and economic policies (ie: higher taxes than the U.S. in practically all of the EU nations). Indeed, when I hit the road, I often spend immense amounts of time reading through non-U.S. news coverage and asking locals about their country. Here are a few interesting tidbits of contrast:

GENDER QUOTAS: France is trying to juice its economy and thinks that their potential is being kept down by latent sexism in large corporations. Their solution was to require gender quotas for corporate boards. This concept is now being discussed by other nations in the Eurozone. The "Q" word is toxic in the United States, and I'm not sure quite how we would approach increasing gender diversity in the boardroom -- BUT fighting for women's workforce equity/universal childcare is probably still the largest untapped social justice and economic development issue in America (in this man's estimation).

TRIPLE-A BOND RATINGS: Many residents of Maryland (and the U.S.) have likely heard a great deal about the need for the U.S. and its communities to maintain a Triple-A bond rating. The AAA honor means that investors can feel free to put their resources into a nation, state, county, city, etc, and feel confident that the officials in charge are responsible stewards of their economy (ie: they are credit-worthy). 

In the U.S.A., the need for a AAA-rating has been used to justify practically anything that the Chamber asks for (ie: furloughs and firings of government workers, more tax giveaways for multinational corporations, 0% effective corporate tax rates, and much more). But does anyone actually know what a government can and can't do -- if it actually cares about maintaining their AAA-bond rating?

While in Europe, I discovered that France was recently downgraded from AAA to AA. I'm sure the Chamber points to that as proof positive that evil French policies are to be avoided by the U.S. But then you realize that the French are starting out with a MUCH more benevolent government than the United States: France has a millionaire's tax rate of 50%, universal health care, subsidized or free child care for many, a 35-hour work-week, gender quotas for corporate boards, and tons more government services than in the United States. I'm actually shocked that it is possible to have a Double-A bond rating with such generous benefits, because the Chamber made that seem impossible. Upon further research, it turns out that practically every nation that has a AAA-bond rating is a social democracy, and the U.S.'s stingy policies put us in the minority:

The blue nations have the highest credit ratings.

XENOPHOBIA IS A COMMON PATTERN: While there are so many positive examples to learn from around the world, there are also many negative patterns out there. While the nativists in Maryland might find immigrants from El Salvador to be the greatest threat to the United States -- in France you can replace El Salvador with Tunisia or Morocco, in the U.K. it is Ukranians and Eastern Europeans who are often maligned, and so and so forth in practically every country in Europe.

Yet it seems clear that both in the United States and in the E.U., the global economic meltdowns are the result of cowardly political leaders and greedy multinational corporations -- not the workforce or immigrants. Think about this for a second. The outrage about immigrants around the world seems completely out of proportion with their true impact on the recession.

And, of course, let's not forget that in the last century in the United States it was the Chinese, Irish, Italian and Jewsish immigrants who were subjugated by earlier waves of immigrants. Humans sure do love repeating their mistakes -- cyclically, seasonally, and as often as possible:

Maryland Juice Nativist Workflow // Usable in Any Nation, Any Time Period
1) Group "X" identifies the latest immigrant group "Y" to scapegoat
2) Group "X" accuses group "Y" of draining finite resources from Group "X"
3) Group "X" Calls for new crackdowns on immigration and targeted "austerity" measures against Group "Y"
4) 10 Years Later, Group "Y" Joins Group "X" in identifying Group "Z" (aka the latest scapegoats)

So what does all this have to do with subversive art?

DUSSELDORF : In a sign of changing times, the German city of Dusseldorf recently added three iconic Frank Gehry buildings to its skyline. I have a theory about Frank Gehry's buildings and why they've captivated planners, residents and dreamers around  the world. You see, I think that having a jarring Gehry building in your hometown is a symbol and an acknowledgment that there is something to be gained by daring to be different. That's the way subversive art often works. Those who dream big and seek to innovate can take comfort in the sight of these daring buildings, that they are not alone.

Famed popular-"science" author Malcom Gladwell wrote about the famous broken windows theory many years ago. He noted that broken windows on your block could lead to crime and social disorder. The idea is that signs of disrepair in a neighborhood lead people to accept bad behaviors - a modern-day tragedy of the commons.

But Maryland Juice thinks this is a purely negative way to look at environmental stimuli. I think that if broken windows lead to dysfunction, subversive art can inspire creative reinvention.

Conclusion: It is time for policymakers to think outside the box, look at empirical evidence, and stop getting their talking points spoon-fed from industry lobbyists and polls. Politicians who use the mechanisms of government to "create value" for voters will often be rewarded for their work. No further slogan or gimmicks needed.

P.S. Even though I've gotten over my fear of Germany, I haven't gotten over my fear of the German language. The sound of the German accent still scares me. I can't help it! :)

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