Archive for the 'Politics' Category

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A Big Coalition?

The campaigns by SPD, Green Party, CDU/CSU, FDP and Linke turned up the heat. Three days to go, several politicians already announced they would rally until the last booth closed (which is going to happen at 6.p.m. on sunday). There’re still a lot of people – about a third of the electorate leo electorate – who haven’t decided yet who to give their vote to. Compared to a half year ago, when polls foretold the death of the SPD/Green Party coalition. Today, CDU/CSU lead by only a few percents, which is tremendously dissappointing compared to the expectations of a bold change and strong, new government.

Currently, chances are people vote for a big coalition between SPD and CDU/CSU: In a recent poll, 34% are all for it. The politicians are nowhere near this kind of enthusiasm. Angela Merkel (CDU) and potential (first female) chancellor already ruled a big coalition out. On monday evening, during the so called “Elephant Round” (with heavyweights from all major parties participating) she said that her party never could form a new government with a party they have criticized as much as they did in the last years. A reason fair enough, but there’s another reason as well. If both of the big parties are not in the opposition, then who is? A good government needs a good opposition. It’s the same in economics (a field I have to confess I know less about than is good for me, but this I do understand): If there’s no competition, sooner or later you get sloppy and unmotivated, the product you’re selling is not as good as it could be, but hey, you’re the only one who has it, so who cares? People will buy your product anyway.

In politics, accordingly you need someone who leads and someone who checks – and thus does the balancing. This is true on both levels, within the government and the opposition as well as on the government-opposition level. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good examples if you look around in the world what happens when you have a too strong government and an inefficient or even non-existing opposition, if too much power concentration leads to the whole ship leaning towards one side. In Germany, a big coalition of SPD and CDU would probably leave the Green Party, FDP and Linke in the opposition. In the case of the latter, having a party with extreme positions unbalanced by other parties in the opposition is certainly not a healthy thing – it is questionable the two other parties will be doing a good job in that respect.

Another problem with a big coalition: Traditionally, the SPD or the CDU form a coalition with a smaller partner. In a coalition, the big party is the People’s party in the positive sense of the meaning, the small party is responsible for the flavor. The major stream goes either more left or right, but it is the small party’s task to give it a certain spin, balancing the big partner’s motivation and aims in respect to reforms and new laws. Note that in the SPD/Green Party coalition the Green Party has a much smaller weight than the SPD, they never could push through everything they’d like to, but neither can the SPD – but the emphasis is on the latter’s political program in any case. In a big coalition, you have two People’s parties who are not used to have a tantamount partner, which would probably lead to even more friction than it is usually the case. In the worst case, the SPD and CDU would neutralize each other.

Trying to see it from another angle, there’s something politicians from both major parties certainly have thought about, but they’re not going to talk about it: If SPD and CDU form one government, they shoulder the responsebility equally. They couldn’t finger point as easily as they are used to do it one forming the government and the other being in the opposition. Most probably the concensus within the government would diminish to the smallest common denominator. In regard to the reforms which are neccessary to support the economy, a stalwart program needs to be pushed through, if nothing happens history could repeat itself. Germany already experienced a big coalition, and it didn’t go well. As it could happen again, SPD and CDU weren’t unable to tackle unemployment together. One result was that an opposition was formed outside the parliamentary structures and society was destabilized through radical factions as exemplified by the RAF, Germany’s left-wing terrorist group.

Ironically, Germany already had some kind of informal big coalition in the last few years. Most political decisions have to be accepted by the government and the Bundesrat (federal council) . It consists of the 16 Bundesländer (federal states) and is dominated by the CDU/CSU. After Chancellor Schröder lost North Rhine-Westphalia, the CDU/CSU was in the position to block any reform the government proposed. Interestingly enough, Merkel couldn’t do just that but had to agree to some of the ideas the government tried to put through since they were going into the right direction. CDU/CSU would loose all credibility if they blocked the government’s reforms just to suggest the same reforms later. In a big coalition, they would have to do just the same, cooperate instead of block and blame the other side. Problem is, it did’t work in the 60s, chances are it won’t work now. No party likes to blame its own government if the situation doesn’t improve, so a gridlock is the most likely outcome.

Thing is, if the people vote for it, they want it.

Japanese Passivity

Ishihara does it again: A short article with long known platitudes and black-and-white thinking about Japan and its foreign policy …

It clings to a hopelessly idealistic and historically illegitimate constitution handed down by U.S. occupation forces nearly 60 years ago to block Japan’s reemergence as a military power. Japan now entrusts its survival to the United States, has forsaken independent thinking, and has become spineless.

If you’ve never heard about Tokyo’s governor, this article gives you a quick and direct introduction.

Foreign Policy: Japanese Passivity

American Red Cross – Response

The coverage about Hurricane Katrina and the desastrous reponse – or to say better – initial lack of it and slow start stirred up even conservative politicians and media, reading through the net last night really surprised me.

What I don’t understand is how the U.S. government could fail in responding to this catastrophy? After 911, there must have been myriads of people thinking about what could happen to America and how to prevent it or act. In 2001 a scenario like what happened in NOLA was mentioned among the top three dangers to America. There’s a lot of coverage at CNN, but the really interesting information is in the blogosphere. Take Metafilter, Dailykos, Boing Boing and Crooks and Liars. The latter also publishes excerpts from U.S. television media.

There’s information which is hard to believe, like this, this, this, this or this.

One thing about the story over at Dailykos: This is an important sign for so many people all over the world, not only in the U.S., people in Europe and elsewhere who talked angrily about and repeated so many times about high levels Anti-Americanism everywhere: America is in distress and dire need of help. According to many people involved, like New Orleans Major Ray Nagin, the US government is moving far too slow, but a long list of countries all over the world, even Cuba, which has not the best relations to the US, offered help, countries like Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Afghanistan (!), which are not among the well-off themselves, offered help, immediate neighbors like Canada and Mexico as well as the United Nations and Europe, OAS and WHO, China, Japan, India and South Korea are offering all kinds of help. When people are dying, it is not important whether the victims are black or white, rich or poor, what nationality they are, people from all corners of the world rush to help and grant relief. Does it matter that the US government is not popular? No, right now it doesn’t, not at all, right now the only thing that is important is to get clean water and food, clothing, transportation etc. whereever it is needed. Quick:

American Red Cross – Responding to Hurricane Katrina

US accepts offer of UN help in Katrina aftermath

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided that no offer that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the afflicted area will be refused.

Some 60 nations have offered help, from longtime American friends such as Japan, Germany, Canada, France and Britain as well as Cuban President Fidel Castro, who is willing to donate doctors and medicine and the Venezuelan government, frequently criticized by the Bush administration.

With the desaster unfolding and help still not arriving everywhere it should the offer of countries all over the world – and not only friends – it still good to know that international cooperation and the system and structures to facilitate it, namely the United Nations, are willing, capable – and exist.

US accepts offer of UN help in Katrina aftermath

Call for Help

Famine in Niger (source: AFP)The famine in Niger escalates: About 2-3.5 million people are affected by it, around 150,000-800,000 children already suffer from undernourishment and might die in the near future. The numbers vary a lot, but considering the situation it’s not surprising. Milton Tetonidis of Medecins Sans Frontieres has been quoted that response has yet been very low – spread the word.

German:

Spiegel Online
Ärtzte ohne Grenzen
Care
Plan Deutschland

English:

United Nations – OCHA IRIN Africa News
Doctors without Borders
Unicef
Allafrica
Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN
USAID
Relief Web

A Letter To The Terrorists, From London

From the The London News Review

London rocked by terror attacks

Just one day after London has been chosen to host the 2012 Olympics, a terrorist attack on the Underground network with an explosion and three blasts on busses left between two and a dozen people dead. The time of the first blast was this morning – the timing reminiscent of the September 11th attacks. A few minutes ago, the German intelligence service BND confirmed that a terrorist attack is very likely – also a claim of responsibility by a group called Secret Organization — al-Qaeda in Europe surfaced.

Spiegel Online published an article with 22 pictures of the attack.

The attackers aimed at the public transportation service for several reasons:

  1. to hurt as many civilians as possible during rush hour
  2. spread fear among the population
  3. hurt a modern society there where it’s most vulnerable: its openness

BBC: London rocked by terror attacks

Afghanistan: ISAF

Afghanistan: convoy in the countrysideGermany’s Bundeswehr has currenty some 7000-8000 soldiers sent out all over the world. The biggest operations are Enduring Freedom (1800 soldiers), ISAF (2500 soldiers) in Afghanistan (English Link), KFOR (2700 soldiers) and EUFOR (1000 soldiers) in the Balkans beside UN observer missions, support of Allied stabilisation efforts for Iraq and operations in Ethiopia & Eritrea and the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast to other armies, the Bundeswehr is a conscript army with 257,000 military and around 125,000 civilian personnel. Its role is described in the Grundgesetz (German Basic Law) as being defensive only (Article 87a (1): The Federation shall establish Armed Forces for purposes of defense.), but since the end of the Cold War the Bundeswehr is undergoing a transformation to adapt to the new and fast-paced changing global security issues.

Afghanistan: ISAFOne of my friends I know since highschool times decided to join the Bundeswehr right after school. It’s not his first time abroad, but he’s currently in Afghanistan with the ISAF. Last week I recieved several interesting pictures and videos, of which I added three images to this post. If you’re looking for other – officially approved – pictures about ISAF, try their website. Stationed at Camp Warehouse, which is the is the operations center for the multinational force in Kabul (????)- it’s hot, dusty and every now and then a rocket hits a camp as on May 30th. I’m following the news about ISAF closely, like two days ago, when the two German soldiers who got killed last week, arrived at Köln-Wahn airport. I hope my friend will come back in one piece.

My friend also told me that lots of mercenaries are hired to replace military U.S. troops. PBS published an indepth report about private warriors. Right now, around 120,000 mercenaries are in Iraq – outsourcing call centers and support desks, alright, but outsourcing troops is not in the same league. War is too important to be left to companies – where’s the legal framework for private military firms anyway – if they loose control who’s liable?

Plans to split the forces into three major parts – intervention, stabilization and support forces – are accompanied by a strong reduction of the overall size. Right now, it happens that draftees sue because the equity of conscription for all male youths is not kept – if you’re 23, married or have been categorized as T3, you’re not drafted anymore. Also, since the European Court of Justice opened up military service to women, there are around 12,000 women serving in the Bundeswehr.

Afghanistan: mercenariesFor years, there have not only been developements to transform the Bundeswehr to a more modern army, but also to change its very basic structure and abolish the conscript system. The FDP as well as the Green Party are for it, the SPD and CDU want to keep it. While some seem to think a professional army would cost less, experiences of other countries have shown that cost is not a factor. The major difference between a conscript and professional army is the purpose and the intended effect on society. A conscript army can’t provide as many ready-for combat troops, since most soldiers serve as draftees for a certain time (nine months in Germany) and are not fit for deployment, but a citizen in uniform has a positive effect on the society a professional army never could. A conscript army comes with another perk: Youths who don’t want to
join the army do civilian service – loosing that support, many social institutions would have extreme problems to keep up their service for elderly, handicapped people etc.

On the other hand, a professional army would enable Germany to increase its participation for global security, affirm its claim for a seat in the UN security council, but at the same time “locate” the army outside German society, compared to the current condition and would probably be even more expensive (German politicians who want to raise the budget – say, for a bigger contribution on the international stage – have a hard time defending their stance). Professional soldiers have a different motivation and such troops basically make more sense in regard to the current global political situation. Nevertheless: As long as the issue of a looming omission of the civilian service and the overall political and societal impact is not properly addressed to, a switch to a professional army is probably a bad idea. It needs to be done, but done the right way.

N.B.: Since most links in this posting lead to German sites, you might want to try Babelfish to translate the content into English or French.

Blogging under Pressure

Buzznews reports that Hossein Derakhshan from hoder.com decided to return to Iran to watch the upcoming elections. Since his critical reporting about the Iranian government, it is probable, if not likely, that his plan will get him into jail as this was the case with Sina Motallebi, an Iranian journalist. Hoder asks for help on his website for his trip and in case he gets into trouble. Keep an eye on his weblog, publicity is one of the things that could keep him safe.

The Death Penalty in Japan

Charles Lane, staff writer on national affairs at The Washington Post published an insightful article about the death penalty in Japan at Foreign Policy. A few excerpts:

Unlike capital punishment in the United States, Japan’s death penalty is on the rise. Japanese officials keep state executions out of public view and shrouded in secrecy. Not even the condemned prisoners know the day they will die. Step inside the gallows for a rare look at how Japan takes a life.

[…]

Not only is Japan the only member of the Group of Seven industrialized countries other than the United States to retain capital punishment, it is also increasing its use of the death penalty.

[…]

In Japan, death row prisoners are not told in advance of their execution dates—a practice international human rights organizations condemn as a form of psychological torment.

[…]

Perhaps the most notorious such miscarriage of justice involved Sakae Menda, who in 1948, at the age of 23, was convicted of a double ax murder. The conviction was based on the contradiction-riddled testimony of a prostitute and Menda’s own confession, extracted after spending 80 hours in a police station without sleep.

[…]

…it seems incredible that confessions are not given to the court as either tapes or verbatim transcripts. Rather, they are rewritten and summarized by the authorities themselves.

[…]

Toyoko Ogino, an interpreter I worked with in the coal-mining town of Omuta, was surprised when I told her that prisoners were hanged. “I thought that was just an expression,” she said.

[…]

Polls indicate that public support for capital punishment is even stronger in Japan than in the United States—more than 81 percent in a February 2005 survey.

[…]

Five guards press separate buttons simultaneously. Only one of these is the button that actually opens the trap door. And all of this takes place outside the witnesses’ field of vision—offstage, as it were. There is a hanging, but no identifiable hangman.

I’m really irritated by the Japanese people’ high support for capital punishment. I’ll try to find some information about what were the pro and con reasons given. Can’t say for sure whether it’s for real, but I found a picture of the gallows in the Osaka detention center here. I assume Toyoko Ogino’s misunderstanding of the expression was most probably a reference and mix-up to ???? (kubi wo kiru), which directly translated means something along the lines of to decollate s.o.. This expression is used when somebody loses his job, but ???? (koushu suru) doesn’t actually carry a metaphoric meaning except to decollate s.o..

There’s further information about the death penalty at www.deathpenaltyinfo.org. This information is from their website:

In 2004, there were at least 3,797 executions in 25 countries around the world. China, Iran, the United States, and Viet Nam were responsible for 94 percent of these known executions.

The vast majority of them in China, though. In regard to the death penalty, Japan and the United States are among countries such as China, Iran, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Egypt, Singapore, Yemen and North Korea. Amnesty International has more facts about the issue here.

The Turnout Report

Düsseldorf’s office for statistics and elections published their report (185 pages) about the Diet parliamentary elections a few minutes ago here.

Update:
The ratio of male to female delegates at the SPD was 43 to 31, CDU 78 to 11, FDP 9 to 3 and Green Party 6 to 6. As far as I know, no other party than the Green established full gender equality in their party manifesto.

The highest turnout was in Essen (area IV) with 72,7%, the lowest one in Duisburg III with 51,8%. The number for Düsseldorf, my area: 65,5%. The SPD recieved the highest percentage in Unna III – Hamm II with 55,9%, the lowest in Paderborn I with 21,3%. The CDU in contrast was most popular in Paderborn I 65,2% and only 28,3% in Cologne III. In the latter electorate area, the Green Party revieced their highest percentage with unbelievable 18,6%. Paderborn is obviously the conservative stronghold in NRW, I’d like to know why…

This election could not only have consequences for all of Germany, but also for the European Union. The close friendship between the French and German government is partly based on the relationship between Chancellor Schröder and President Chirac – with a CDU-led government in Berlin, this important pillar will vanish in thin air.

Yesterday was Yesterday

It looks like Chancellor Schröder’s strategy to deviate the voters’ attention from the outcome of the election to the big question of the CDU/CSU “K-Frage” (who is going to be the conservatives’ candidate in the upcoming election?). News at 9. a.m. this morning reported first about the advance of the national election, the outcome of the Diet election in NRW was secondary already. Prime Minister of Hesse Roland Koch has been quoted that It’s not a big surprise that we want to go into the campaign with Mrs Merkel as our candidate, the leaders of the CDU/CSU (Christian Social Union) will hold a joint session later this day. The CDU doesn’t have a manifesto for the election, so they’re under pressure to pass many internal compromises (between CDU and CSU). This might lead to new quarrels and weaken the opposition. As I wrote yesterday, Schröder has no alternative – beside that he seems to be convinced that against a candidate like Mrs Merkel, in direct comparison, he might have a better chance (49% vs 21%). Also, German magazine Stern reports that Lower Saxony Prime Minister Christian Wulff would be a more promising candidate than Angela Merkel. Yet, Mr. Wulff said “No” when asked whether he’d like to run for office, but that could change quickly, if the prospects are good enough.

Local radio, Antenne Düsseldorf, reported that the CDU gained 13% with workers and unemployed. Also, looking at the results below, the Green Party and Liberals both recieved less votes than in 2000 – since the tune of the campaign of CDU was in the spirit of change, this seems to have hurt the smaller parties as well. The FDP lost one of its popular local political leaders, Jürgen Möllemann and didn’t build up new faces fast enough. The Green Party didn’t recover yet from the Visa Affair earlier this year.

The interim results of the election in NRW:

Diet election on 22.05.2005

number %
eligible voters 13 239 170 100,0
voters 8 334 561 63,0
invalid votes 91 189 1,1
valid votes 8 243 372 100,0
therefrom
SPD 3 059 074 37,1
CDU 3 695 806 44,8
FDP 508 354 6,2
Green 509 219 6,2
REP 67 282 0,8
PDS 72 982 0,9

Diet election on 14.05.2000

number %
eligible voters 13 061 265 100,0
voters 7 409 399 56,7
invalid votes 72 988 1,0
valid votes 7 336 411 100,0
therefrom
SPD 3 143 179 42,8
CDU 2 712 176 37,0
FDP 721 558 9,8
Green 518 295 7,1
REP 83 296 1,1
PDS 79 934 1,1

At noon, the office for statistics and election is going to publish a PDF-file with all relevant information.

Candidates, Manipulations and Wikipedia

CDU und SPD: absolute (dark color) and relative (light) constituency gainsLast update for today. As you can see, the major constituencies for the SPD were in the Ruhr Area, a metropolitan area (actually the most dense population area in Europe) and still the SPD stronghold in NRW. The rest of the state chose CDU this time, but it will probably take the SPD longer than the coming legislative period to retake it.

On another note, factor menos reports about a Reuters that the German Wikipedia entries for Jürgen Rüttgers and Peer Steinbrück have suspiciously many changes in the last days. German magazine Spiegel Online wrote about it, too. Taking a closer look, there are 50 changes only for today, but also revisions by other Wikipedia users – the encyclopedia cleans itself, as usual.

Last extrapolation update for today (it’s almost midnight): It’s identical to my former post. I guess the numbers won’t change much anymore.

Good fight, good night.

"Between Ingeniousness and Harakiri"

I just watched Tagesthemen at ARD. Ulrich Deppendorf, program director of WDR commented on the election Chancellor Schröder’s strategy to advance the national election is somewhere between ingeniousness and harakiri. I think it’s the former not only because there’s simply no alternative: Since it will be harder to run the country, the government would go down in flames and slowly lacerate itself – a political stalemate is the worst that can happen to any government. Also, Chancellor Schröder challenges the opposition, they have to act now and show that they’re fit for government. First they’ll have to agree on one candidate: Germany might elect its first female Chancellor (Mrs. Angela Merkel) this fall, but there’s still the possibility that one of her rivals tries to take over (as happened before the last national election). Another side effect is that people won’t be talking long about the election in NRW and more about the upcoming national one. A risky move, but the SPD is cornered.

updated extrapolation at 10:44 p.m.:
CDU 44,8% +7,9% and 89 seats
SDP 37,1% -5,7%            74
Green 6,2% -0,9%          12
FDP 6,2% -3,7%             12
others 5,7% +2,4%

The CDU's Plans for NRW

Excepts from the CDU program for NRW:

“Initiative for more economic growth and reduction of bureaucracy:

  • rejection of anti-discrimination law and against “Green” gene technology
  • 1:1 conversion of federal and EU laws
  • elimination of SPD-Green “commissary inflation”

Also, the CDU wants to initiate a law against heads scarfs by teachers in public schools and several laws in regard to universities and school education. The CDU also plans to support start-up enterprises by lowering legal obstacles and increase Public-Private-Partnerships. Another main point is the creation of 1,000 new traineeships (elderly nursing). They also plan to improve several laws for child care, re-introduce equestrian police squads, increase controls against graffiti (how is not clear though) and grow 100 avenues in NRW.”

updated extrapolation:
CDU 44,6% +7,6% and 86 seats
SDP 37,6% -5,2%          72
Green 5,8% -1,3%          11
FDP 6,3% -3,5%          12
others 5,7% +2,4%