compulsory reading, German Politics, oddly enough

Schultz, and Schulz

Schultz, and Schulz

Maybe Silvio Berlusconi had an overdose of the 1960s American tv series „Hogan’s Heroes„, in which a stereotypically imbecile Tscherman POW camp guard named Hans Schultz (played by John Banner) is the prime target of allied humour. Maybe he is just bad with German surnames and somehow mixed up Schultz with Schulz while not actually trying to offend the vice chairman of the socialist Parliamentary group in the European Parliament, German MEP Martin Schulz, by saying – according to the Guardian

„Mr Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of leader. You’d be perfect.“

Or maybe he did try to insult Mr Schulz. Mr Berlusconi was given the opportunity to retract his statement but refused to do so, even in light of MEPs shouting in the usually rather calm chamber. The row was caused by Mr Schulz wondering about the political effects of Mr Berlusconi’s media empire which, in conjunction with political control over RAI gives him a 80-90% share of mind in the Italian television market.

Welcome to Berlusconia.

I suppose a lot of people expected some sort of scandal along the way, but few will have expected it already on day two of the current six-month Italian Presidency of the European Union. One really has to wonder why he lost himself like this – he may be in control of televised opinion and the parliamentary majority in Italy and this may keep him from being criminally punished for the stuff he did to become what he became – but Europe is a different ballgame. The unique, and admittedly questionable, Italian balance of power, should have prompted him to keep as low a profile on the European stage as possible and silently manage affairs in a way that would somehow placate critics.

His presidency would have been severely scrutinized anyway – and rightly so – but following this start, he will either be forced to stay under deck entirely or face vocal critisicm every time he will open his mouth. Either way, his presidency will be ineffetive.

Mr Schulz‘ reaction following today’s incident is probably an accurate reflection of many MEPs‘ opinion – (quote according to the Guardian)

„My respect for the victims of fascism will not permit me to deal with that kind of claim at all … It is very difficult for me to accept that a council president [Mr Berlusconi] should be exercising this office at all when he comes out with this kind of statement.“

Well, we know he will. It’s bad timing, sure. But while he can’t do much damage to the EU, the amount of criticism he is likely to face in the coming months is likely going to strain his stand in Italy, too.

So maybe, one day, we will be able to say that, first, he lost his cool…

Update: Spiegel online reports that Berlusconi, speaking to the conservative Parliamentary party at the EP, stated that he was sorry „in case he had hurt the feelings of the German people.“

Update: Henry Farell thinks Berlusconi could have given the EP the opportunity to stage an institutional power struggle –

„It’s also leading to a test of strength between the institutions of the EU. The President of the Socialist party in the Parliament, who is coincidentally Italian, is painting this as a grave crisis in Parliament-Council relations, saying that Berlusconi needs to issue a formal apology to the Parliament on behalf of the Council. If the Parliament gets this formal apology (don’t hold your breath), it’ll be a major precedent – the Parliament will have succeeded in holding the Council accountable for its actions – just like a normal Parliament does. Even if the Parliament doesn’t get its way, it will very likely try to push this as far as it can. The Parliament’s current President, Pat Cox, is the same guy who engineered the en-masse resignation of the European Commission some years back, when he was head of the European Liberals. Cox knows how to use political crises to augment Parliament’s powers.“

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compulsory reading, Economics, German Politics, oddly enough

Strange Happenings…

Now at least the universe loves us ;-). From sixsixfive via Le Sofa Blogger

The Heal West Germans man

Entirely unrelated – the desk-cleaning action did take longer than expected, so I won’t be able to comment in lenght on this weekend’s exciting developments in German politics. The proposed accelrated tax break is quite remarkable in itself, as is the CDU’s refusal to do some serious subsidy removal business. Sure, the government will primarily target the oppposition’s target groups when proposing cuts – but why wouldn’t the CDU use this as a starting point to talk about cutting SPD-treasured subsidies as well, so that a substancial cut in subsidies would be the all-party compromise, instead of blocking change at all? This is clearly not going to help them electorally, but they may need some more time to figure this out.

As for the IG Metall’s ending the Summer Of Discontent, aka the most pointless metalworker strike ever, Papascott and Eamonn Fitzgerald have some coverage. To add something they can’t tell you…

When I was in Prague two weeks ago, I had un coup de rouge in a rather hidden little garden restaurant close to the Charles bridge where – at the table behind me – a group of German trade unionists was having a ball – drinking Moravian red and smoking cigars while discussing how to handle the strike and the press. At some point, one of the men at the table laughingly told the group that BMW had allegedly complained to the chancellor about the economic sideeffects of IG Metall’s strike…

When I shyly turned my head to look at the table behind me, I am almost certain I saw the profile of Juegen Peters, chairman to be of IG Metall, and now held responsible for the disaster by most commentators, laughing and zipping on his cigar – a scene slightlyreminiscent of those caricatures of cigar smoking capitalists.

Pulling off an unreasonable strike in the worst possible economic climate was probably intended to boost his – already agreed on – election as chairman in November this year. I suppose he wanted to demonstrate that the union does still have the power to go all the way.

Well, it looks like he might have smoked that cigar a little too early, like he was a little too cocky. But let’s face it – his mistake does have positive side effects – now everybody has understood that this time, change is for real – that is, maybe apart from the CDU. But they will get there eventually.

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almost a diary, compulsory reading

My Good Old Desk.

My Good Old Desk

I don’t know if you have heard about the commercial that won this year’s Cannes advertising festival’s grand price. In this spot, developed for Ikea by the Miami based advertising agency Crispin Porter we are encouraged to take pity on an old lamp that’s being tossed on the street as garbage. Then, from the perspective of the old lamp out in the pouring rain, through the window, we see the former owner sitting in an armchair, reading a book – in the light of the lamps’s replacement. Suddenly, a man appears to confront our brains with our emotions – „Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you are crazy – It has no feelings. And the new one is much better.“

It is a spot most people will instantly be able to connect to, for it is telling us a fundamental truth about ourselves. It may strike us as strange when rationalising about it, but furniture does become emotionally charged over time, just like the famous old leather jacket.

It may no longer be beautiful, or even no longer fulfilling the function we initially bought it for. But it’s been with us in good times and in bad. Just like the scientists, say cultural anthrolpologists, who conduct garbage research to find out about other cultures‘ lifestyle, we know that the things we own(ed), are telling. But while the things we own can tell others something about us, for ourselves they are containers of our idiosyncracies, only for us they retell the stories of our life.

They can connect us to ourself – something no new, beautiful, functional jacket, lamp, or desk can achieve. So is it really surprising that replacing something this close creates cognitive dissonances? Should I really? Who actually knows the new stuff will be better…

Yes, my gentle readers, I am telling you this because right now, I am emptying my old main desk to replace it with a new, bigger, hopefully even more functional, and clearly more beautful model. It’s something I somehow really want to do – my credit card bill is sufficient proof thereof. But then again, just as the clever ad agency realised, it’s not easy to part when emptying a drawer is somewhat like going through your childhood boxes in your parents‘ attic.

So I thought the least I could do was write this little hommage to my old desk. And to promise I won’t put it out in the rain.

Actually, it has a new and hopefully exciting professional challenge in the basement :). But it will not be the first to read my comment’s on this weekend’s government proposals, which I will write later.

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compulsory reading

A Common Sense Of Inevitability.

What made the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the agreement that started the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, possible? I believe, above all, it was shared expectations about the demographic future. True, there are still more problems than solutions to most practical, especially procedural questions of a truly open-ended devolution in Northern Ireland. But despite serious, sometimes violent, setbacks and the continuiing suspension of the Stormont government, mostly due to loyalist and nationalist splinter groups‘ non-compliance, IRA decommissioning, and party system induced radicalisation tendencies in the run-up to any important decision, serious people on both sides – Northern Irish Unionists and Irish Republicans alike – realised that a democratically concluded reunification of Ireland can not be ruled out in the long run given current and expected birth rates. The common expectation that the current minority could well become the voting majority in the medium term, regardless of the electoral system used, has thus tempted both parties to agree on power sharing now – as well as when the tables will have turned.

Even with shared expectations of the fundamental trends there are innumerable obstacles on the way to build the most important prerequisute of true peace – trust – just as the the British and Irish governments stated in paragraph 3 of their April 2003 joint declaration intended to overcome the current suspension of the Good Friday agreement.

„A key impediment to completing the evolution to such a society in Northern Ireland is that both major traditions have lacked confidence and trust in each other. A major factor contributing to the erosion of the confidence and trust of law-abiding people throughout the community has been the continuing active manifestations of paramilitarism, sectarian violence and isorder. While it would not be possible to complete the transition to longer-term peace and stability by dwelling forever on the undoubted wrongs and associated hatred of the past, neither is it possible to create a new beginning without taking account of, and addressing, its legacies.“

Now imagine a situation in which the opposing parties/peoples do not (yet?) believe in the same version of the future. Welcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A conflict in which neither party is absolutely sure that the „two state“ solution will be the eventual outcome of conflict, and, moreover, a conflict, in which perceptions of the discounted future are highly volatile.

Too many Palestinians in charge as well as on the streets still believe that demographics are on their side. After all, the population of the occupied territories tripled over the last thirty years to more than three million now. Even within Israel, the percentage of the Arab population doubled from 10 percent in the 1950s to 20 percent today – quite achievement given the Jewish population of Israel rose tenfold from only about 500,000 in 1948 to about five million today. Too many Palestinians are poor, hopeless and fanatic. And they don’t have any real political leadership or civil society.

Seeing this, it is not too surprising that the mainstream Israeli society is eternally undecisive and devided about how to deal with the ongoing threat of being blown up simply for boarding a bus or shopping at the wrong store at the wrong time beyond „tightening security“, which is, in turn, strangling the Israeli economy, thereby also hurting the prospects of the many Palestinians who need this economy to earn a living for their families. Sealing of „the territories“ means less Palestinians in Israel and is thus probably increasing security in the short term, but withdrawing even the slightest benefit of cooperation is probably not going to do the same over the long term.

Will there ever be true peace based on the UN resolution 242’s mantra – „Land For Peace“ – that has been repeated innumerable times since 1967 – including the latest effort, the Akaba agreement? Or to frame the question differently, in the way most Israelis will see it – will there be peace,after a Palestinian state has been founded? Not knowing the answer to this question is not a good reason for any Israeli politician to even contemplate taking on the fanatic settler movement – a move that would very likely lead to intra Israeli sectarian violence.

Why risk this if even the most influential „external“ party in this conflict is not (at least publicly) clearly signalling which way to go?

Sure Mr. Bush boldly said that Akaba (ie UNSC 242) is the way to go. But then there are other powerful Americans like Dick Armey, the former US House of Representatives Majority Leader, who, apparently without any real political consequences, called for an ethnic cleansing of the occupied territories on US television last year, assuming that Jordan would be the better Palestine anyway. Given the electoral importance of American Evangelical Christians for the Republican Party as well as their obession to have a biblical size Eretz Jisrael in order to speed up the „Battle of Armageddon“ (and thus the annihilation of all but 144,000 Jews), this ambivalence might be explainable – but it is certainly not helpful.

However, any two state-solution needs two states, and governments. And that is a problem.

Currently, the Palestinian authority resembles a government to the extent that the West Bank and Gaza resemble a state. Clearly, a state’s „monopoly of power“ will have to be interpreted differently in the Middle East, but as long as other, more radical groups are seriously able to challenge the authority’s authority, there’s no need to negotiate. On the other hand, even if the Palestinian Authority were materially able to seriously fight extremist groups, this would clearly not increase its popularity among the Palestnian people, many of whom still are not so sure about the benefits of a political process, as outlined above. So, and I am serious here, the Israeli government has to weaken the more extremist groups because it is necessary to have a true Palestinian government at some point, but the Palestinian authority could not do it for political reasons, even if it technically could, which is very much in doubt.

Thus, fighting extremist violence, even through coordinated assassinations of sectarian leaders, is probably creating more anger in the short term, but in the long run, it is taking extremist organisations apart, hopefully, without seriously undermining the standing of the Palestinian authority among its people. If Hamas offers a ceasefire, it’s probably not because they have suddenly begun to believe in a UNSC 242 resolution, but because they need a break from fighting to restructure and redeploy.

But while weakening the more extreme forces of Palestinian resistance could strenghthen those on the political front, they still need real hope for a real solution. After all, there is no guarantee those supporting a political process today will still do that tomorrow should they believe it to be ineffective along the lines Ignatz Bubis, the former chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, explained to me back in 1993 with respect to the nascent Oslo agreements – that any Likud government would negotiate them to death: The Palestinians could always decide to revert to the current status quo: conflict management by cradle & stones.

Real hope for a real solution would include not only the cessation of illegal settlement construction along the familiar lines of creating facts by building three initially illegal settlements, and later destroying only the two more problematic one. It would have to include a real „step back“, a removal of a substantial part of „legal“ settlers from the West Bank, a move that, again, is certain to lead to Jewish extremist violence. Thus, any real removal would have to be backed by a broad coalition within the Knesset as well as „on the streets“. For such a coalition to emerge, there must be faith that a real Palestinian government and state will really lead to peace, or, at least, absence of violence. In the course of the last 55 years, Israel’s Defense Forces have successfully managed to ensure the Jewish state’s existence against outside enemies. The next important conflict – hopefully not too violent – will be an internal one.

Only Nixon can go to China, some said when he went to Bejing in 1972 – meaning that only a true conservative was able to politically survive ending two decades of silence with the People’s Republic. Now one might be tempted to argue that it only a hawk with Ariel Sharon’s credentials could believe that he stands a chance to survive such a battle – should he indeed have come to the conclusion most people around the world have long arrived at – that a Palestinian state is indeed inevitable.

I hope he did.

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compulsory reading, oddly enough, USA

American Girls Are Easy. German Guys Are boo-ZAH.

For the better or worse, in my experience it’s the same with American girls as with girls from anywhere – some are easy, most aren’t.

However, two self-proclaimed easy ones, Erin and Meghan, who are „young enough to pay an added fee on rental cars, but old enough to feel uncomfortable in college bars„, have written an internet travel diary during their not-exactly-back-pack trip to Europe last summer. And after that they sat down and compiled their experiences with „semi-disposable [male] EUrail-friends“ (Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet) into a handy guide for easy American girls touring Europe – old and new – whose title slightly reminds of Kate Hudson’s latest movie effort (in which she played a certainly non-easy American girl) – „How to Find a Man in Europe and Leave Him There„.

Obviously, I was interested how the two Las Vegans on the run verbalised the impression my people (meaning German guys) made on them. Writing this kind of extrapolatory generalisation, especially tongue-in-cheek-writing this kind of extrapolatory generalisation is clearly difficult because you have to find the right balance. The balance between stereotypes and „grain of truth“ as well as the balance between witty writing and inclusion of facts.

And Erin and Meghan do it quite well, although I have to say their verdict is overly strict sometimes as the travel dictionary indicates how much fun they had over here. Their essay is certainly much more about witty writing and stereotyped fun than about inclusion of data points and scientific generalisation. But that doesn’t hurt, and moreover, doesn’t come too unexpectedly – how many data points could one actually expect after a few weeks‘ journey, even for easy American girls?

So after having read my (actually quite unnecessary) disclaimer, you can now go on to read their assessment of my breed in the entirety. Or just stick with some goodies…

„… A German man thinks arguing is fun. Just argue back for a while and before you know it you’ll have him laughing (maybe) and buying you a beer for being such a good sport. …

All the hype about German efficiency comes to a halt at four-way stop signs. Europeans do not understand the concept of line formation or one-at-a-time and Germans are no exception. Instead of smashing into one another, as is customary in many countries, Germans yield to car on their right. As you know, a four-way stop is a square, so there’s always someone on the right. As they can’t break „the rules,“ there is often a long, confused delay….

Germans also save time when speaking. Every language cuts corners when it’s spoken, but German takes corner-cutting to another level. When ordering from a restaurant, a German would not say: „I’d like to have the schnitzel and fries, please.“ He’d simply demand, „Schnitzel and fries.“ Germans have weeded most niceties out of their language; being polite takes too much time….

If you’re lucky enough to find a good-looking guy in Germany, we recommend approaching him first because Germans aren’t the most brazen men. If you lack guts, you can easily manipulate the situation and give him a reason to approach you. For instance, crossing the street without the proper pedestrian green light will make him yell. And yelling can ignite a great conversation. … You’ll find it surprisingly effortless to get your German man target riled and screaming at you. Just keep smiling and keep cool and before long you’ll have a date Saturday night.

We advise against asking any questions about your appearance because you may get harsh answers. In fact, you may get harsh answers without asking any questions. If he dislikes the clothes you’re wearing, he’ll tell you. If he thinks you look fat, he’ll tell you. The same brutal honesty goes for questions directed at him. If you ask how he’s doing, be prepared for an extensive discussion about his gastrointestinal problems the night before.

A German man will know many gory details about your country. In fact, he can probably name more American state capitals than the majority of Americans. He’ll assume you know basic history (Everyone in his country does.), so to stop from coming across as a moron, try to fake your way around things you’re unfamiliar with…

If you want to give a German guy the cold shoulder, good luck. If you think his sense of humor sucks, wait until you see his people reading skills. He’s used to dealing with practical, direct Germans so he’s not going to pick up on your desperate subtleties. If you pull the, „I’ll be right back, I’m going to the bathroom“ stunt, you’ll find him waiting outside the ladies room. If you try the bathroom trick eight times in one night he’ll think you have a small bladder. You’ve got to be direct.“

Oh, and of course – they have this pocket phonetic dictionary that will help you survive over here, certainly in these rough times of the transatlantic rift… and it proves the Erin and Meghan do really seem to understand German culture a little…

„A beer from the tap, please – Eye-n beer here.
Can I drive your car, please? – Gib meer dee shh-LOO-sell YET-zst.
Does your dog bite? – Bice-t dine who-nd?
Does your wife bite? – Bice-t dine-uh fr-OW?
Just because I’m blond doesn’t mean I’m perfect. – Halt dine moon-d.
Please don’t invade my country. – Hill-f mish.
Where can I recycle this? – Ish ha-BUH mule.
Why are you yelling? – Vuh-ROOM bist doo so boo-ZAH?
You should laugh, the joke was funny. – K-eye-n on-gst, eye-n fitz ist goot.“

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compulsory reading

Jane Galt on Signal And Noise

Megan McArdle has an interesting post about the difficulties of gaining useful data through polls. She correctly states that – however carefully chose your sample may be – some people will always lie, that is, she implies, a lot of people will lie.

Personally, I think that questionnaire framing in conjunction with the reality construction effect of increased statistical attention to a particular issue (if you increase statistical research of domestic violence, chances are you’re going to see a huge – statistical – increase simply because you’re asking more often) is the bigger problem with respect to reliable idea of what’s going on in people’s minds – as it is usually done with the result in mind.

But Megan is right: people will lie for the pure fun of it, because they want to be in compliance with what they believe are societal expectations, or those of the person asking them, even in anonymous surveys, they will „lie“ because they don’t really get what the pollster asks and feel it is embarrassing not to understand, and they will lie for a whole lot of other reasons I haven’t thought of and for which a poll would probably not be helpful. But on the other hand, sometimes „lying“ is too big a word for a different perception of reality… just ask the PR people in the US Department of Defense, they would probably agree these days ;-) Megan writes –

Surveys are bad because people lie. And the more important/interesting the subject, the more they lie. Imagine you did a survey: would you hide Jews in your basement if you lived in Nazi Germany? You’d probably get a „yes“ response 90+ percent of the time. Yet if you transported all the people you surveyed to Nazi Germany, where they would actually have the opportunity to dedicate an unknown number of years to hiding a dangerous person in their basement, feeding and clothing them, emptying their chamberpots, and putting their entire family in danger from the kind of people who roll up to your door in the middle of the night and carry away even your smallest children to a location where their fingernails may be pulled out, their eyes gouged and their bones broken without disturbing the neighbors, you would find that your „yes“ response dropped to a tiny fraction of 1%. The 90% yes response is what we call stated preference, and it doesn’t correlate very well with revealed preference, which is what we call what people actually do, rather than what they say they would do.

Interestingly, I remember reading about a recent poll in which Germans were asked about their ancestor’s behavior during the Nazi period (unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read that) and such an astoundingly large part of their ancestors were actively involved in saving oppressed people that someone commenting on the figures wondered what happened to all the people who looked the other way when Nazi thugs came to pick up their neighbours. Some were clearly lying for one or the other reasons above, others just stressed the part of reality they found more convenient to convey. Think about it, could „my granny told me how she did not report someone/something to the authorities“ not be interpreted as „active“ protection? As reality is so complex, there’s no clear-cut way to differentiate what’s true, and what’s not. If you define cut-off points, ie categories, you once again run the risk of creating reality instead of reporting it. Gosh, Werner v. Heisenberg was a wise guy indeed…

A statistical problem relating to more recent German politics are the poll results for fringe parties in any election. Believe it or not, but the figures reported for fringe parties on tv are basically just made up. They are informed guesses, but if my information is correct, they are essentially made up. The reason for this is that the polling institutes simply do not get any useful number of responses for these parties – because of small, „representative“ samples as well as the reasons cited above. They know that these parties do get some votes – you can count them, after all, later on.

But in the meantime, they’re just guessing. And as it’s only fringe parties, it usually doesn’t make a real differencein most cases. But it’s nonetheless interesting to know how the tv presenter arrived at „other parties: 3,9 percent“.

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compulsory reading, German Politics, media

Skydiving. The Life and Death of Juergen W. Moellemann.

There are a lot of things one could say about Juergen W. Moellemann. And I am pretty sure that the German media is going to say pretty much all of them in the coming days and hours of reporting the details of the circumstances surrounding his dramatic death earlier today, when he – in what clearly looks like suicide for an experienced parachute enthusiast who often performed jumps as campaign events – jumped, then separated himself from his main parachute and did not use the spare one. Only fifteen minutes before this happened, the German Bundestag had lifted his Parliamentary immunity and police had entered several of his houses and his company’s offices with search warrants investigating several charges, especially tax related campaign funding fraud.

Despite his political record as federal minister, his self-declared role as vocal advocate of Palestinian cause, and last year’s unfortunate and eventually unsuccessful attempt to push the German Liberals even further to the non-economic right than they had gone on their own – including some forays into what many said was a verbal anti-semitism previously unheard of in post-war German politics that caused a huge stir of protest, and ultimately led to his latest political downfall, the sort-of-forced resignation from the party whose deputy leader he once was – most people will probably remember Juergen Moellemann for his abilty to crash and rebound. The teacher-turned-politician’s all-too-evident desire for public attention was certainly helpful to achieve this. And his ability to perform a good political show is hardly matched by anyone in the German political arena.

Political commentators in Germany have often dwelt upon how Moellemann’s high-risk hobby reflected his high-risk political life. Today, it seems the latter one was indeed the riskier activity. He had manoevered himself into a situation where he apparently felt that no parachute would assure a safe landing.

So he decided he did not need one anymore.

PS:
Check Stefan Sharkansky’s Shark Blog for English coverage of the story.

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compulsory reading, Iraq, US Politics

Body Language. N’Sync.

Tonight, CNN dug out footage from the „scandalous“ Munich Security Conference from February this year where Joschka Fischer lashed out at Donald Rumsfeld in English – „You have to make the case, excuse me, but I am not convinced.“

Back then, Michael Kelly [who tragically died in Iraq as embedded journalist] excused Fischer in the Washington Post by saying that there is no need to convince Fischer because of his violent 1968 past. CNN is not alone these days to remember Fischer’s skepticism. Less and less people, journalists included, are inclined to trust the US government’s statements.

In particular, a lot of British MPs who supported Tony Blair after his pro-war speech on March 18 are less than happy with the renewed public uncertainty about the true reasons for the war the British forces just had to fight. It’s a long way to go to November 2004, the next US Presidential elections, but if the Bush administration cannot contain the „they lied to us“-tsunami, given their abysmal economic policy they might well be swept away when the wave hits the shore. And how could they possibly contain the British outrage? Wolfowitz might actually have handed the Democrats the opportunity they had hoped for to escape the post 9/11 „patriotism“-trap. Maybe now there’s a chance that it will once again be „the economy, stupid.“

As for Wolfowitz, in my opinion the whole confusion stems from the fact that Wolfowitz inadvertently crossed a fine line. He spelled out the secret subtext everybody had „agreed“ never to tell.

Different actors had different bundles of motivations to go support the policy of ousting Saddam Hussein [or to oppose it] – just as Wolfowitz says in the interview (see left column for the link). For Tony Blair, being „America’s staunchest ally“ was probably an important element in his equation to go to war – and – legitimately so.

However, one fundamental ambiguity was never satisfactorily clarified prior to the war – the ambiguity between the US government’s body language and its words – the former was clearly „regime change – it’s strategically important [and the guy tried to kill my dad!], let’s find a rationale to sell it“, the latter one was, „regime change, if Saddam Hussein is guilty, so let’s talk about the burden of proof.“

[ note: this is something we should not forget over the Wolfowitz debate – according to the UN weapon inspectors Iraq never accounted for a significant amount of biological and chemical agents that could be used as weapons of mass destruction. So it would be equally wrong to suggest that Iraq never had, or never even tried to get hold of, weapons of mass destruction. The risk and the amount of these weapons posed were subject to diverse assessments and public statements, some of which seem to have been exaggerated. ]

Of course, all the relevant players knew they were probably playing the body language game. But formally, through the international system, they had to and they were in fact playing the „burden of proof“-game. That’s where so many of the diplomatic problems stem from.

And that’s why there is so much public outrage about the Wolfowitz admissions – someone who has taken the US government’s pre-war words literally and supported their policy simply must feel now that he was not told the whole story. As opposed to Condi Rice, whose recent stipulation that Iraq might have had „just-in-time“ WMD assembly lines was as much „admission“ as one could reasonably expect without revealing the subtext, Paul Wolfowitz has crossed the line.

Thanks to him, the US government’s body language is now in sync with its words. It was about time for the administration of a President whose personal mantra is one rather unusual for a politician – I say it, I mean it. Or could that be another body language trap?

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compulsory reading, German Politics, quicklink

The Slow End Of German Corporatism

Almost unnoticed by the media, an important part of the medieval remnants of German corporatism was silently buried by the Federal cabinet today.

The ‚Meisterprivileg‘ – master privilege – effectively keeping people from opening businesses in a lot of markets – mostly those with medieval guild-predecessors – by handing over the right to grant the permission to do so to the „guilds“ of those who already own one. It certainly kept the returns high for those who were in the business and thus it was not too surprising to hear them scream today that increased competition will cost employment.

In the short run, this is a possible scenario. In the medium run, this reform is a major step to help create the sort of entrepreneurial environment this country needs so badly, especially in conjunction with the small business tax simplifications about to be implemented. Go Gerhard, go!

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compulsory reading, US Politics, USA

Conspiracy theories in the FT?

Quite to the contrary argues Paul Krugman in today’s NY Times oped piece – the FT is just waking up to the cold and scary truth of how America is being turned into a „Banana Republic“ by a semi-feudalist governmental gang –

„The Financial Times suggests this is deliberate (and I agree): ‚For them,‘ it says of those extreme Republicans, ‚undermining the multilateral international order is not enough; long-held views on income distribution also require radical revision.‘

How can this be happening? Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They don’t realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they don’t read what the ideologues write. They imagine that the Bush administration, like the Reagan administration, will modify our system only at the edges, that it won’t destroy the social safety net built up over the past 70 years.

But the people now running America aren’t conservatives: they’re radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what’s going on, but when will the public wake up?“

It is difficult to assess the level of truth in his claims. But his interpretation certainly fits my perception of what’s going on. And if „those extreme Republicans“ believe John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira that demographic trends, especially increasing ethnic diversity among the American electorate, would inevitably lead to an Emerging Democratic Majority it would explain the hurry with which they are trying to grab for their constituency whatever they can get hold of as long as they are in power.

In a way, this is a long-run version of my initial interpretation of the Bush economic stimulus programme as bottom-up redistribution that signalled insecurity about the political consequences of the looming conflict in the Middle East and the prospects for a second GWB presidency (can’t access my archives for the link – I wonder when Blogger is going to be working normally again… the service has really been unreliable lately…).

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