The Detroit syndrome

Several years ago I was in Detroit. Americans call it a "dying city", but the airport is modern and the headquarters of General Motors dominates the skyline. It too is very modern. The urban area is dying out: abandoned homes, businesses and land. A city of 713 thousand inhabitants (still 1.8 million in 1950) is in the process of being recaptured by nature and is a ghost town at night. She symbolizes the conscious acceptance of decline into collective self-destruction. This 'Detroit syndrome' also threatens Europe, and especially France.

The bankruptcy of Detroit is necessary and even beneficial. The ruling Democrats in Detroit point to the population declining by 60 percent since 1950. Yet in 63 years leaders and government labour unions have done nothing to make Detroit adapt to the changing demographic reality. On the contrary: race riots chased whites out of town and crime did the same to the black middle class. Declining revenues were accompanied by structural over-spending. Detroit piled on huge pension deficits, forced by government labour unions which only supported Democratic candidates for City Council who clung to the 'old order'. This way the city built itself a debt of $ 18 billion (13.6 billion Euros). Detroit degenerated: the city leaders are incompetent and 47 percent of the population is illiterate.

King Philippe and the Flemish

King Philippe and King [of the Netherlands] Willem Alexander's reign are almost mirrored to one another in terms of country, style and political environment. Willem Alexander can, as long as he does not commit blunders, always fall back on the 'Orange sentiment' of a nation-state roaring down on itself. Two coronations: a celebration for the people versus establishment happening. Philippe has to navigate in an 'artificial state' with 3 languages, seven parliaments and bus-loads of ministers. Attempts to form a government in 2010-2011 lasted 541 days, a world record. In 2014 the political big bang will follow: elections at the federal and the state level on the same day. Does Philippe, King of the Belgians, have the gift to keep the country together? To do this he must win the Flemish over.

To the Dutch the southern neighbour has always been a rather chaotic country, a cartel of 589 villages. Brussels consists of 19 villages and Antwerp calls itself a city, but is it? Belgium is also the only country that I know of that has a sort of 'Belgian ambassador to Belgium'. Retired Ambassador Johan Swinnen mediates between the many governments (federal and states) all conducting their own foreign policy. Swinnen has the necessary experience on heavy items such as Congo (colonial past), Rwanda (genocide of 1994) and the Netherlands (Dutch pride).

Yet there is 'method' to the Belgian 'madness', and the king, with his advisors, is at the core of it. The King of the Belgians has to apply the glue that keeps his kingdom together. He glues in place prominent figures by elevating them to nobility; from businessman to sports hero, singer, astronaut or royalist journalist. Eddy Merckx for instance is also 'Baron Merckx'. Politicians can make it to 'minister of state', of which there are around fifty. A sensibility to honorary titles proves to be an effective binder.

The dwindling faith in Obama

Barack Obama, hailed in 2008 as the new Jesus, is now the malefactor in the Middle East and Latin America. Russia and China are laughing at him; Africa is disappointed. Leftist groups in the European Parliament want to summon Obama to Strasbourg. They demand an apology. They also want to invite 'whistle-blower' Edward Snowden, and offer him asylum plus a Freedom Prize. Obama on trial in a kangaroo court of his ex-devotees. Who would have thought?

Until recently, criticizing Obama was a solitary activity. In Belgium, I was allegedly the only politician who would not have voted for Obama last year, and I had to defend myself on television. Since then, it's not just a few individuals who have caught up, but busloads of them. Malte Spitz, a member of the German Bundestag for the Greens, wrote in the International Herald Tribune, in late June: "No American political debate got so much attention in Germany as did the spy scandal. It changed our confidence in Obama. As a green politician, I am not impressed by his focus on global warming. He cannot just change the subject." In 2008, Obama drew a crowd of 200,000 admirers in Berlin. Last month there were 6,500 people, which included protesters. Would he visit Berlin again there would once more be 200,000 people on the streets: to protest against him.

The criticism is so intense that I have to defend Obama somewhat. He lacked any administrative experience for the hardest job in the world. His ex-devotees should therefore take a closer look at themselves. They cannot simply project their own ideals on an American president. Machiavelli has already pointed out that many are cheating, but countless want to be deceived. The Obama myth was self-deception.

The House of Representatives abolishes itself

The House of Representatives sinks its teeth in the Fyra drama. The parliamentary inquiry is the only hard power which the Dutch parliament has left. Too little, too late. Europe has already eroded the power over budget law and parliamentary control in other policy areas is also waning. The only thing that remains to the House is the 'right to information'.

MPs are propelled by a 'fads', reinforced by limited collective experience. In 1990 the average number of years of experience was more than 8 years. Now it is approximately 3.5 years. Some subjects cause excitement, like the weed pass or the smoking ban. Even the senators interfere with the details, as was the case, for example, with the registration of prostitutes. Senator Ester of the Christian Union opposed the 'waterbed effect', the movement of prostitutes to municipalities with the most favourable licensing. Loose morals are attracted by loose regulations.

The commotion surrounding the 'waterbed effect' stands in stark contrast to the adoption of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which requires the Netherlands to support rescue operations of weak brethren in the Eurozone for tens of billions of euros. Dutch parliament approved a treaty that was changed the next day by European leaders. Not only countries, but also weak banks should be saved. Thus, the Netherlands ratified an old text. No one spoke up. The Fyra is small-fry (maximum damage 1 billion) compared with the zombie banks in Spain and Cyprus.

Obama: the new Nixon

U.S. President Barack Obama is trapped in a scandal atmosphere: lies about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the IRS intimidating critics of Obama and spying on journalists. According to foreign affairs commentator Paul Brill, the person making a comparison between Obama and former President Richard Nixon is "ill-informed on history". I'll take that challenge.

Exactly forty years ago, Washington was under the spell of Watergate. The turmoil in which Obama finds himself is obviously not identical. Yet there is a similar erosion of Obama's credibility. The symbol of Hope and Change wants to be remembered as a Kennedy. Now the image of the infamous Nixon pops up.

Like Nixon, Obama is a true campaigner. It's all about election campaigns and everything is legitimate. Like Nixon, Obama is touchy, blames others and sees 'enemies' everywhere. For Obama: Republicans. For Nixon: the 'leftist press'. Each scandal shows a Nixon-facet of Obama.