During my trip to Flensburg in May 2010, I did a pair of bike tours along the Flensburg Fjord, a bay area that is part of the Baltic Sea and enclaves the border city. On one day I toured the south end, finishing up at the eastern most point of the peninsula at Holnis. On another day, I toured the northern end, going through Denmark and biking past many small Danish towns en-route to my final destination of Sonderburg. On the way to the university city of 30,000 I stopped at a particularly interesting fast food stand in Sonderhavn called Annie’s Kiosk. This small stand resembles the appearance of a Dairy Queen ice cream stand in the United States during the 1960s and 70s and may not seem to offer anything spectacular in terms of its outer appearance. Yet one should not judge the book by its cover, especially when thousands of tourists- consisting of bikers, boaters and passers-by- stop at this restaurant daily. Apart from offering a wide array of typical Danish goods, like ice cream, Annie’s Kiosk serves the finest hotdogs in all of Europe. It is unknown what the secret ingredient of the hotdogs is let alone all the dressings you can put on there. But if compared to any hotdog served at a soccer or baseball game, Annie’s tops them all.
But there is an underlying reason why I’m starting this column with Annie’s. While the restaurant does not have any franchises neither in Denmark nor in Germany, it is possible that an Annie’s may be coming soon to a city near you. But if that was the case, it would not be in Sonderburg, Flensburg or even Schleswig, but in Kiel- the capital of Schleswig Holstein. A historic moment occurred during the state elections on 6 May 2012. Apart from Peter Carstensen, the former minister stepping down after ruling the state for seven years and calling it quits as a politician for the CDU, a change in guard occurred as the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Danish Party (SSW) managed to garner enough votes to form the Danish coalition. Yesterday the coalition contract was signed and today, the new administration under minister Torsten Albig will take office, making Schleswig Holstein the only state in Germany that has a coalition that is not traditional of the coalitions that are common in German politics (like the Red Green coalition, the Grand Coalition, the Jamaica Coalition with the FDP, etc.).
What makes the SSW different from the other parties in Germany? Founded in 1948, the party, which is headed by Flemming Meyer, represents the Danish minority that is living in the state, as between 15% and 20% of the population have a Danish background. The majority of them live in the former Duchy of Schleswig, which was once part of Denmark before 1866. The region consisted of the western two thirds of Denmark and the northern half of Schleswig Holstein. Since the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the northern half belongs to Denmark while the southern half belongs to Germany with a border located at Flensburg dividing the two regions. An agreement in 1955 between Germany and Denmark recognized the former region and its minorities and provided exceptions to the norm. Border controls no longer exist. The two divided regions are part of the EuroRegion and take part in cooperative efforts to foster economic growth. The Danish minority is allowed to construct schools in the northern half of Schleswig Holstein, and lastly, in accordance to the state laws of Schleswig Holstein, the five percent hurdle does not apply to the SSW Party. This means even if the SSW receives 3% of the votes in the state elections, they are allowed to participate in the state parliament, which is not the case for any political parties originating from Germany.
So what does the SSW Party have to offer in comparison to the traditional parties and why did the coalition with the SPD and Greens work out? For instance, they favor equality, not only within the gender but among people with ethnic and regional backgrounds. Therefore allowing foreigners to work for longer periods of time, providing equal pay for men and women, and stressing the importance of multi-culture especially among their people, like with the North Frisans, the Danes and the Germans are very important to them. Integration through establishing a general schooling system but providing free education to all are especially important. Unlike this concept, which is based on a Scandinavian model, the school system in Germany consists of elementary school followed by the separation of students into the Gymnasium (high school for those attending college), Realschule (for vocational training) and Hauptschule (for those wanting to work after 10th grade) after the sixth grade year. The party has been pushing for reforms of the education system for many years, stressing the need for education (both in and beyond school) to be user-friendly. The job market must be more flexible and family friendlier, according to their policies. This includes not laying off people in the event of an economic crisis, like we saw in 2008-9 and are still feeling the effects from it, but also cooperating with the schools to allow families to spend time with their children. They do favor improving the infrastructure to make the delivery of goods easier and safer. One of the projects they support is the extension of the West Coast Autobahn A 23, which starts in Hamburg and currently terminates in Heide. Some improvements are being made near Itzehoe but the plan is to upgrade the main highway B5 north of Heide so that vehicles can access the freeway. And lastly, environmental policies is based on the concept of regeneration of nature. That means existing areas that contain flora and fauna should be left alone and areas that were occupied by industry in the past should be given back to the nature. This includes supporting reforestation and establishing wildlife refuge areas.
The three parties agreed to focus on three main aspects during the five-year administrative period they have in Kiel: Social Equality, Education and Energy Reforms. Unlike the previous regime, where cuts in spending for social and education programs were frowned upon by the public, more money will be invested in programs that will help the residents succeed. The traditional German school systems will slowly but surely be integrated into a general school system similar to the Danish model. Energy policies will consist of producing more renewable energy than using it, while at the same time, ween its way away from coal, fossil fuel and nuclear energy. Even the underground storage of carbon dioxide was rejected by the public and is not in the program of the coalition. The West Coast Autobahn will be improved and extended, while another motorway A20, which starts in Prenzlau in Brandenburg and currently terminates near Lübeck in eastern Schleswig Holstein, will be extended to terminate at motorway A7 north of Hamburg by 2017. And lastly, the goal of allowing 16-year olds to vote before the next state elections in 2017 is also on the table. A brief overview of the plan can be found here.
Should the plan work to the advantage of the newly created coalition, it will not be surprising if Schleswig Holstein becomes greener, more culturally integrated and worker friendlier than it is right now. It is clear that these policies will make the state become more attractive, not only to the Danes living in the north but also elsewhere in Germany. Unlike some regions in the northern and eastern parts of Germany, the state has a consistent population growth of 2% annually, but the unemployment is about the same as the national average of 8%. But with this new set of policies to be implemented, it will not only make the northern half of the state with its minorities happy, but also the rest of Schleswig Holstein. And it would not be surprising if one day, we will find an Annie’s Kiosk somewhere in the state, along with the rest of the Danish delicacies, which many of us look forward to when visiting and living in Schleswig Holstein.
At the beginning of the year, I submitted a piece on the changes scheduled to take place in 2012, which included the end of many eras, like the Euro and Germany’s Dream Coalition. This included German President Christian Wulff stepping down because of his usage of the public’s money and private investments on his own indulgences. On Friday, he did just that.
In a move that was expected by many political analysts and people closest to the German President, Wulff, beleaguered by the pursuit of prosecutors and media alike and fresh from the latest setback he endured in Hannover, submitted his resignation as President effective immediately, resulting in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cancellation of her trip to Italy and early return to Berlin to hand pick the next president. This came as the request to lift his immunity against any forms of litigation was granted, providing prosecutors with a golden opportunity to take him to court and convict him. While the move was swifter than expected, it does raise questions about the future of the Dream Coalition and its ability to govern the country between now and the elections next year. Given the slew of scandals involving many of Merkel’s cabinet members, the rash decay of the FDP (Free Democrats) after suffering the most number of humiliating defeats in the party’s history last year, and the search for the second president in the chancellor’s career, one might consider the fact that the reign of the Dream Coalition may be over with earlier than expected. Why?
Let’s compare the predicament of the Dream Coalition with that of the Red-Green Coalition (consisting of the Social Democrats and the Greens) under Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, which ran the country from 1998 to 2005. Both regimes got off on the fast foot and provided some rounds of success through their policies that reformed the job market and reduced the unemployment rate. The Dream Coalition went further by allowing Merkel to take the lead in straightening the European Union out in terms of its fiscal crisis, which is ongoing especially since Greece just recently received another 130bn Euros in relief funds to alleviate its own crisis. Yet as the years went on, the public started figuring out that some of the policies that were in place was to their disadvantage, and many politicians were removed from office because of dissatisfaction. With the Red Green Coalition, it was because of its inability to reduce the unemployment and its paltry sets of policies, such as the Hartz IV social welfare policy. For the Dream Coalition, it was because of its stance on nuclear power, which up to the Fukushima disaster, they were staunch supporters of that energy. Furthermore, the scandals that affected the politicians- in particular the plagiarism scandals- has eroded the confidence of the public in the government, even though the latest Political Barometer still shows the majority supporting Merkel and her party, the Christian Democrats, despite sustaining losses in key German states last year. Wulff’s downfall may signal the change that Germany needs to steer itself (and the rest of Europe) in the right direction for three reasons: 1. It would mark the first time in modern German history that a Chancellor has to appoint a President twice during his/her regime. While the President plays a figurative role by showing the outside world that Germany also has a president, one must not forget that he is the number two man should something happen to Merkel. 2. While the economy has been doing well despite sustaining some substantial blows caused by the ongoing financial crisis, people are questioning the way Germany has been handling its domestic policies in comparison to the foreign policies. While the government has been providing support to business and to European countries, as a consequence, austerity packages have been introduced, cutting aid to state-run institutions, such as universities, health care facilities, and other governmental offices, resulting in strikes and protests within the last two years. This has affected many people on multiple fronts and discouraged others from taking state jobs that pay little and provide only limited contracts. Lastly 3., the strive to return to morals and honesty has been picking up steam, despite the pleas from many supporters to have the likes of Karl Theordore zu Guttenberg to return despite his resignation from office because of plagiarism. These two key words (morals and honesty) are very common in American society for many politicians caught for their social ills (like extra marital affairs, homosexuality, etc.) are defamed by the public and forced out of office. While this type of behavior is almost uncommon over here in Germany, using the public’s money for indulgences and investing in private funds, while at the same time threatening the media with naming and shaming if it exposes the secret, is indeed morally wrong. It is just as wrong as plagiarizing a doctoral thesis or sexually harassing a state employee, the other two offences that are common over here. One has to ask whether Merkel is covering up the bad deeds, not paying attention to the inner-political strife, or both, but it does show significant weakness in her ability to rule the country.
The loss of Wulff to his successor Joachim Gauck as President combined with the restlessness of the Free Democrats and its question of identity are two key blows that she may not be able to swallow. While it is easy for her and the rest of the party to strongly encourage politicians with their own set of scandals and ills to resign from their post in the interest of the German population, it will not solve the problem of how the Chancellor will lead the country between now and the elections next year. Facing a crisis of her own and the growing uncertainty regarding 2012 as a whole, the easiest and most effective approach is to dissolve the Dream Coalition and have early elections this year. It was done by Gerhard Schroeder in 2005 when his coalition broke apart after a string of defeats and other mishaps. Perhaps Merkel should learn from her SPD opponent and make the right decision. Only then will Germany (and all of Europe) will go into the right direction with a new set of policies and especially a new set of morals for the public to follow.
FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT: Joachim Gauck is not officially the President of Germany, at least not yet. According to the German Constitution „Grundgesetz“ (EN: Basic Law), a candidate must be decided by the majority of the ruling party and the opposition. Gauck was nominated by the Dream Coalition together with the Social Democrats and the Green Party on the Opposition side. The Left-wing party abstained and is pursuing its own path. On 18 March, a Federal Convention will take place, where 1000 members (from the federal and state governments) will submit their vote for their new president. If there is no absolute majority after the first two votes, then the candidate may be endorsed through the third and fourth voting process, where the plurality of votes are casted. That means if no majority is found for Gauck, another candidate may be endorsed and could possibly win the post. The process is complicated as a lot of politicking is involved. If the president wins the post, he will hold this office for five years but can be reelected once after the first term. At president, Horst Seehofer is acting head of state until the Convention takes place on the 18th. As a general rule, when a president steps down, the German government has 30 days to elect a new president through this Convention.
If there is a year where judgement day will take place, where our actions of the past will determine our fate in the future and where justice will be served once and for all, this year is it and for a good reason. Many sources on both sides of the Atlantic have already touted 2011 as the worst year to date, as scandals hit the airwaves, many politicians were exposed for their wrongdoing, many countries faced default as they spent more than they could save, and most of the public was led to a false sense of security, resulting in protests against Wall Street in the US and other financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring, which is already in its second year. While 2011 exposed all forms of lies and deception, 2012 will definitely be the year of the truth- where people responsible for the scandals and corruption will be brought to justice, old institutions will collapse and a new world order will be created, and the public will finally start getting what they deserved (and what they have been longing for since 2000), which goes beyond the color of money and other forms of financial security.
Many have gone by the Mayan assumption that 2012 will be the year Earth ceases to exist and that we will all perish on 21 December, 2012. Speaking from our past experience with Y2K and Nostradamus and its connection with 11 September 2001, this theory will never happen in practice. It will be business as usual and we will all celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013, so you can rest easily. Yet we will see fundamental changes in our way of life as many institutions will cave into the pressure by the majority who have perceived them to be corrupt and dysfunctional. What has already occurred in the Middle East and North Africa will make its way to Europe and the Americas, both legally (through the election process) and illegally (through the coup d’ etat). It may not be like the hot summer of 1968, but it could be even hotter both literally as well as in the context. Here are some examples of changes that we may see in this year:
The End of the Euro and the Return of the Deutsche Mark: This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Euro, yet there is nothing to celebrate about given the events that occurred in the last year. Countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and now Italy have more debt than what their Gross Domestic Product can handle. France might follow and Germany is stretched at the breaking point after dishing out its share of money to help Greece. And now the UK wants to protect its British Pound and its own interest. It is hard to believe that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which were supposed to bind the 27 countries together (17 of which have the Euro currency), are becoming null and void, but given the problems the European countries are having to keep their fiscal policies in order, it is a sad reality. Despite attempts by Germany, France and now Denmark (which leads the European Parliament for the first six months of this year) to stabilize the Euro, elections in France and possibly elsewhere will make every attempt very difficult, if not impossible. Prediction: The Euro will fall and the national currencies, like the German Mark and the French Franc will return, but European policies will remain intact albeit as a loose-leaf political federation.
The End of the Dream Coalition: The sound defeat of the Free Liberals, combined with the scandals involving many members of the Christian Democrats and the lack of satisfaction among the Germans because of the Euro Crisis may spell the end of Angela Merkel’s regime as Chancellor of Germany. Already before the end of 2011 another scandal emerged with an ugly face involving the German President Christian Wulff as he was accused of obtaining a loan from a private bank, which has gotten the Opposition furious and the media happy to defame the former minister of Lower Saxony. Should he step down as president, it could create implications for possible early elections, which would not be a first in modern history. The last early elections of 2005 brought down Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and perhaps a beleaguered Merkel could face that possibility that her coalition may not last to the scheduled federal elections in 2013.
The End to Washington politics: Perhaps the most pivotal event taking shape in 2012 is not the Olympic Games in London, even though the city will be touted as the first one to host the Games five times since the inception in 1896. It will be the Presidential elections in November that will remake Capitol Hill and break the deadlock that has given President Barack Obama headaches in the past two years. Health care, the debt ceiling, spending cuts, reinforcing the nation’s infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce the unemployment has caused the Republicans and Democrats to harden their stances and the public to lose respect for Washington altogether. Even the President’s performance is considered appalling in the eyes of many Americans. Yet the challengers from the Republican side of the spectrum have not been able to come up with a clear cut plan as to tackle the problems the country has been facing since the Recession started in 2008. Unless the deference of responsibility ends and there is a unified plan to handle the problems that have been left behind from the era of President George W. Bush, we could see a very hot summer over the US which could change the landscape of the US once and for all. There are three ways that could happen: a Revolution like in 1968 marked by protests and violence, a Revolution of 1848 that includes overtaking Washington and New York, or a Revolution of 1936 in Spain, which marked the beginning of the three year civil war. None of these options are desirable. Prediction: Change will come to America but only through a President with a plan and the ability to relate to the needs of the Public and a Congress that will support every policy the President has to tackle the problems that are keeping the country from becoming the best.
The End of Big Oil and its influence: This theory may be far-fetched but is possible in practice. After facing lawsuits because of oil disaster after oil disaster (including the 2010 Disaster off the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent disaster in northern Spain), the increasing interest in renewable energy and electric automobiles and people becoming fed up with the monopoly, increasing oil prices and its cozy relationship with politicians, the influence of the big oil companies will diminish due to regulations and the need to keep their influence in check, something that people have been asking for since 2001 but have not had their wishes respected until now.
The End of Ignorance to the most pressing environmental problems: If the world ever was to come to an end on 21 December 2012, it will be because of the natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, similar to what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow. While 2011 was touted as the wildest weather in recent memory with unprecedented snowfall and blizzards, combined with flooding and extremely hot temperatures, this year will most certainly be considered hotter and wilder. Already, both the northern half of the US and all of Europe (minus the Alps) set the record for the warmest December in recent memory with a green and brown Christmas, and 2012 started off with spring weather in Germany and all places to the north. If one follows the trend, a warm December means a January full of hurricanes and an extremely hot summer with high humidity and storms. This was certainly the case in Winter 2006/07 in Germany, where a warm December was followed by hurricane Kyrill, which devastated northern Europe, brought travel to a total standstill, and coined the word kyrillize. If people do not realize the gravity of the situation with global warming and take action, no one will and the consequences will be unthinkable.
The End of Rush Limbaugh and Biased Media: In the past 10 years, we have seen the media veer away from becoming a neutral medium where people receive their regular dose of 60 minutes of news on the local, national and international levels and divulge into far left and far right media, influenced by celebs like Rachel Madow and Keith Obermann (left) and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh (right). With this divisive influence comes the split in family structure and value where members have been taking sides on certain issues and the ignorance of the most pressing issues that have been mentioned above. Fortunately, thanks to the likes of CNN and the BBC, German public TV, like N24 and ARD, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and lastly online blogs and columns, like this one, we are starting to see the influence from the extremes diminish. This is good as many people are really tired of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who has harassed one celebrity too many too much. Earning six years worth $400 million to host his own talk show, he has influenced the public with his own version of the news to a point where many have believed his propaganda and have tried to encourage others to refer to him for guidance. Whoever says that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease and that oil is a renewable resource must be way too insane to write a column or speak on the radio. Once the elections of 2012 are finish, we will also see the downfall of many people like him and the return to reality and real news with neutral information, something that will definitely help us become more informed and indeed smarter.
But before seeing what 2012 will really bring us, there are some memos worth noting that will help determine whether or not the theories brought forth will come true.
FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:
Operation Wulff: The background to the credit scandal involving German President Christian Wulff is as follows: During his time in office, he obtained a home loan from a private bank with low interest rate to purchase a house, which is considered illegal according to German law. He tried to avert the scandal by not mentioning it in his Christmas speech or in any of his interviews and apparently threatening the yellow press and other newspapers, which is also considered illegal. Support for Mr. Wulff is waning and it may be a matter of time before Chancellor Merkel will be forced to elect a new president- another torpedo hit to a Dream Coalition that has been battered with scandals since 2009.
Farewell to Arms?: 2011 was also a record year of deaths of famous people world wide, including those who passed on either shortly before or during the holidays. Among them include Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who led the revolution of Czechoslovakia (a.k.a. Velvet Revolution) in 1989 and granted a Velvet Divorce from Slovakia in 1993. He was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 at the time of the Velvet Divorce and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He died on 18 December at the age of 75. Dutch actor Johannes Heesters, a popular figure in the German film industry famous for Die Fledermaus (the Bat), Bel-Ami, and the Otto series passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 108. And Kim Jong Il of North Korea died on 17 December after a long illness at the age of 70. He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong un as leader of the country and hope is still there for the country to lay down its arms and hostility and embrace peace, although it still remains many kilometers apart. All three figures were controversial in one way or another because of political spats that were considered inappropriate in the public’s eyes, yet deep down realized that peace was important and to a certain degree have set the precident for the next one to enusre that peace and prosperity dominate the global playing field for the next generation.
Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6683647,00.html (Havel)
The Drive to End Nationalism in Germany: In response to the recent terrorist attacks by the right wing extremists in central and eastern Germany, the drive to consider the prohibition of the NPD in Germany is gaining steam, even though critics consider this futile and will fail at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. It is unclear if and when this will happen, but in order to successfully ban the party, one might want to consider rewriting the constitution, written while Konrad Adenauer was in power in the 1950s, and state that all parties that stress the importance of xenophobism, nationalism or nazisim are forbidden, and that law enforcement should be reinforced to ensure that the law is kept. A discussion on this can be found here:
Lowest Unemployment in 20 Years in Germany: Despite the Euro-Crisis, Germany had a record year as far as employment is concerned. During all of 2011, an average of 2.7 million Germans were unemployed, an average percentage of 8%. Of which, 10.5% came from the eastern half of the country and 5.6% from the western half. This is the lowest since 1991, the first year of a reunited Germany. Despite a slight increase of 67,000 people in December, the total number for the last month was 2,78 million. In addition, the Gross Domestic Product rose by 3% for the whole year, making it one of the most productive countries in the world. Unfortunately, despite the rosy numbers, dangers lurk for 2012 as the crisis in Europe may eventually drag Germany down thanks to cuts in programs and the country’s budget and companies’ planning on laying off employees, which could result in an increase in the number of unemployed. This was already announced by Chancellor Merkel during her Christmas Eve address, televised on German TV. It is unclear whether she will be right on her predictions or if Germany will buck the trend.
Double Storm to pummelt Europe: For those wanting to celebrate Epiphany this weekend and take down the Christmas tree, one will have to calculate Ulli and Andrea crashing the party and leaving a mess for Europeans to clean up. On Tuesday, Ulli produced winds as high as 150 kmph (75 mph) in places along the North Sea coast and the Harz Mountain region in northern Thuringia and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and creating traffic chaos. Thursday and Friday, the storm’s sister will wreak havoc on the region with much higher wind gusts, combined with hail and snow in many areas, making it one of the strongest storms since Kyrill invaded Europe in 2007. More information will come soon.
The German-named “Superwahljahr 2011” (Super Elections of 2011- if one wants a rough translation) reached its climax on Sunday, as half of the 2.5 inhabitants of the city-state and Germany’s capital of Berlin went to the polls and voted to keep Klaus Wowereit (Social Democrat- SPD) in power as the mayor. His toughest challenge now is to find a new coalition partner that will help govern the city. His party’s coalition partner, the left-wing Linke Party was unable to obtain enough votes to continue the Red-Coalition and therefore, the Social Democrats have the option of having the Greens as a partner to form the common Red-Green coalition, which can be found in states like Rheinland Palatinate, Bremen and Baden-Wurttemberg (the third state of which brought the state’s first Green prime minister to power). The other option would be to join the Christian Democrats (CDU) to form the Grand Coalition which has dominated the political scene in Germany in states like Mecklenburg Pommerania, Thuringia, and Saxony-Anhalt. Talks began Monday and speculation points to the Red-Green coalition although some issues have to be resolved first in order to ensure that continuity and transparency exists. One of the issues on the table is the extension of the city-autobahn 110 through the southern and easter end of Berlin’s city center The Greens are against the proposal, the SPD are for it.
As for the voting results, the SPD remained a powerful party with 28.5% of the votes, followed by the CDU with 23.4%, the Greens with 17.6%, the Linke with 11.7%, the Pirates Party, a newcomer to the elections with 8.9% and the FDP with 1.8%. The new make-up in the Berlin city senate will consist of 47 seats for the SPD, 39 for the CDU, 29 for the Greens, 19 for the Linke, and 15 for the Pirates. A pair of notes to point out from the Berlin elections:
The end of the FDP?
After recording five losses in a row and losing its presence in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Rheinland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurttemberg, the liberal democrats once again failed to reach the 5% hurdle to stay in parliament in Berlin. As a consequence, talks are underway in the German government and within the FDP regarding the party’s future. The party has been marred with scandals this past year (including that involving plagiarism), and the miserable results have led to the resignation of Guido Westerwelle as the head of the party in May. While Philip Röseler, currently Minister of Finance has taken over his place, he has come under fierce fire from his counterparts of the CDU for the party’s lack of direction and the resulting poor performance. With the FDP losing influence, it could spell doom for the Dream Coalition of the CDU-FDP under the direction of Chancellor Angela, who may have to consider early elections in order to find a more suitable coalition partner to lead the country. German elections will take place in 2013 unless early elections push it up to next year, the second time in 7 years that has happened. Should that be the case and the losses continue to mount, the FDP may disappear from the political landscape within five years, and with it, its campaign for free markets and less regulations.
What is the Pirate Party?
Founded in 2005 and headed by Sebastian Nerz, the Pirate Party has raised some eyebrows among Germans, after it made the 5% hurdle and will make its debut in Berlin’s city parliament. The Pirate Party is the most independent of the common parties serving the country for its campaign platform is simple but down to earth; especially for the younger generations born after 1975. Most of the themes covered during the elections are those that were not discussed thoroughly among the common parties (the main ones dominating the German political landscape). This includes unlimited access to public transportation in Berlin, loosening up of copyright regulations, free internet access for all, improving basic rights among Berliners, and more importantly, reforming the government so that they are transparent and there are no loose ends in the regulations. These topics have been a major agenda for the party for they feel that they have not been discussed in detail by the government. This is especially true with basic rights, as Nerz mentioned in an interview that some of the laws requiring surveillance and reducing the rights of citizens were not thought through thoroughly nor discussed with the public. Whether the party will be successful or not depends on how Nerz and company will push through their agenda when they enter the city hall for the first time. They have five years to show their true colors and perhaps win the hearts and minds of those who never thought they would take that step.
FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT: There are 29 countries that have their own Pirate Party. In Germany alone, apart from having one serving the country, two state pirate parties serve the states of Hesse and Bavaria. In the United States, while there is no official party serving the country, there are two state Pirate parties that exist in Massachusetts and Florida. An international Pirate Party was founded in Brussels, Belgium last year.
Politics is like going through a natural cycle: You have two main parties where one party takes over the podium because of a concept that makes sense, only to find that it does not make sense to the public. In the end that party is replaced with the other one- its opposition- because it has a better idea. However it does not please the public, so it is removed in favor of the party they had unseated previously. This badminton match which includes all the grunts, ranting and raving, and political trash talking, continues until another party comes to bring down the political forum with a digger and bulldozer. When this happens, everybody knows about it and runs for cover- even the deer are affected as they are the most sensitive to change and noise and run when they feel change is inevitable.
It is unclear what to make of the recent state elections in Germany, where the Dream Coalition- the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Liberals (FDP)- are losing support as rapidly as one loses sand through his own fingers. After being routed in Hamburg on 20th February, failing to overtake the Social Democrats in Rheinland Palatinate, being forced to form the Grand Coalition with its rival party the SPD after losing the majority in Saxony-Anhalt, and being unseated as the majority party of Baden WÃ¼rttemberg after 60 years in power (the last three elections being on 27 March), change is becoming more and more inevitable as a long 2 years is ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel for two reasons:
1. She lost her right hand politician and potential successor to the throne, Guido Westerwelle on Monday, as he announced that he was stepping down as the head of the FDP after 10 years in power and was not going to step in for Angela Merkel effective immediately. While he will continue on as foreign minister until the next elections in 2013, the opposition and members of his own party are pushing that he resigns from that post as well and leave politics after the poorest showing in the state elections in its history, where the party did not even make the 5% mark in Saxony-Anhalt and Rheinland Palatinate and barely made it over the mark in Baden WÃ¼rttenberg, making him as the scapegoat. While health minister Philipp RÃ¶sner, who is of Vietnamese origin and one of the youngest ministers in the German Bundestag, is poised to take over Westerwelle’s duties, a power struggle is inevitable as the Liberals are struggling to find an identity which would be appealing to the voters. This is sensible given the fact that almost two years ago, the party had 11% of the votes in the federal elections, which was enough for the Dream Coalition with the CDU. Before that it was averaging 8-10% of the votes in the state elections.
2. There is a new party that is taking the spotlight away from the two majority parties, the SPD and the CDU, in the form of the Greens. When Winfried Kretschmann takes over as Prime Minister of Baden WÃ¼rttemberg, he will become the first Green Party member to be elected to this post, let alone the first Green to hold a major post since Joschka Fischer was Foreign Minister and Gerhardt SchrÃ¶der’s vice Chancellor during the years of the Red Green Coalition in Berlin (1998-2005). How Kretschmann, who originates from Sigmarigen near Lake Constance and the co-founder of the Greens in his homestate claimed his post is simple: In the state elections, even though the CDU was able to obtain the majority of the votes with 39%, the Greens got 24.1% of the votes and the SPD got 23.2%. The FDP only got 5.3%. As a result, the SPD and Greens created the Red Green Coalition, making it the majority ruling party. As a general rule, the party with the majority votes in the coalition also nominates the candidate to run the state, which was the Green candidate Kretschmann. While he may not be the next Jesse Ventura ( the professional wrestler who won the governatorial elections inMinnesota as an Independent Party candidate in 1998 and held that post for 4 years), he is the symbol of what could be the Green Revolution, as the party has become clear winners in the state elections thusfar, winning an average of 8% of the parliamentary seats in the four states, a gain of 7%. This includes a 15% gain in Baden WÃ¼rttemberg, 10.8% in Rheinland Palatinate, 3.6% in Saxony Anhalt, and 1.6% in Hamburg. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the parties where they have been losing seats and votes in the last decade, with the FDP taking the brunt of the losses. The reasons for the trend is two fold. First and foremost, in light of the triple disaster in Japan- consisting of the Earthquake, Tsunami which completely obliterated everything in its path in the northeast part of the country, and the Nuclear Disaster at Fukushima which is on the level with Chernobyl in 1986- the party is pushing for the complete phasing out of nuclear power and 100% reliance of renewable energy by 2040. This includes phasing out all nuclear power plants one by one, something that the CDU and FDP have been opposed to even after the disaster in Japan, which has angered many people in Germany and elsewhere. Secondly it wants to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emmissions by 40% to 1990 levels by 2020, by introducing strict policies to encourage more electric and fuel-efficient cars and introducing other incentives to conserve energy. These are the main reasons to go along with other policies they have involving agriculture and family policies, something that many people are dissatisfied with the current trend by the Dream Coalition.
With three more state elections on the horizon (Berlin, Bremen, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania), the trend is pointing clearly towards the Greens, as the party looks at creating another Red-Green Coalition in Berlin and Bremen with the possibility of having another Green mayor in Bremen and Berlin, which would make history as the first city-states to do that. While the Greens have the votes to do that in Bremen, Berlin is banking on Renate Kunast, a former Agriculture Minister during the SchrÃ¶der days who is now the minister of nutrition and diet, to pull off the unthinkable, like in Baden WÃ¼rttemberg. As for the Greens in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the northeasternmost state in Germany, the party is looking at clearing the 5% barrier for the first time in a decade, while finding ways to squelch the most hated Nationalist Party (NPD) in the process. The party had only 3.6% in the last elections of 2006 in comparison to the 7.1% the NPD had.
As for the FDP, they are being looked upon as guidance to help the Grand Coalition through the most difficult times. While Westerwelle is no loner leading the party and may even leave politics, even with a new party leader, some fundamental changes need to take place in order for it to become a credible party. Should it fail to find a platform to attract the voters, there is a danger that the party may lose more than just its identity. It is possible that the FDP may bring down the CDU, thus marking the elections of 2013 as a watershed for the Coalition, as the campaigns of Merkel and company many fall on deaf ears of voters who demand change in the form of a new government, new policies, and a term that is rarely heard of these days in the world of politics, a new set of ethics; especially in light of what happened in Japan with Fukushima and its implications on the energy and environmental policies, touted as one of the best in the modern world, thanks to contributions by the Greens.
As recently as this past Saturday, there was a very intriguing article that was published by Germany’s tabloid magazine “Bild Magazin” that dealt with Germany’s 100 most spectacular resignations by some of the country’s most renowned celebrities. This was in connection with the most recent resignation of another celebrity, Germany’s most beloved politician and now former defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, which Thomas de Maiziere, the former Interior Minister has taken over his post while thousands of demonstrators throughout Germany on Saturday rallied behind the embattled CSU politician picked to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.
While going through the article, I was amazed at who stepped down but also the reasons for them calling it quits. Some were understandable; others were scandalous; the rest were just dumb mistakes costing them dearly or just really dumb reasons- in either case, the Germans were not impressed with that at all. I decided to disect this article and pick out the celebrities that some of you know and categorize them based on the Top 5 of the most spectacular resignations up until Guttenberg’s exit, but not including Edmund Stoiber, who was mentioned too many times already. Then I chose five honorably mentioned candidates and two wild card candidates among the German celebrities. Each of the resignations will include a small comment on the part of yours truly. So without further ado, here we go.
THE TOP FIVE RESIGNATIONS IN GERMANY:
1. Horst KÃ¶hler, German President- From the 23rd of March, 2004 until his resignation on 31 May of last year, he held the second highest post next to the German Chancellor, a post in which Johannes Rau his predecessor once held. Despite his success in bringing unity to Germany, involving the troops in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and strengthening ties with Israel, he did not get the respect that he had expected from the German population and to a certain degree, the Dream Coalition (CDU and FDP) and therefore, he stepped down in May 2010. It was too bad, as he was really good at providing families with a good fireside speech around Christmas time and on New Year’s Eve. Tough call for someone holding a prestige office, who did a good job, but dissatisfaction in a job like that because of such circumstances does call for a change in scenery, and someone like Christian Wulff, the former minister of Lower Saxony, to take over.
2. Erich Honecker, Chair of the SED Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)- now part of Germany- From 1970 until 18 October, 1989, he led East Germany, and every classroom and workplace had a portrait of the SED Party Chair for people to look at and praise. He was famous for his comments “The Berlin Wall is going to last for another 100 years,” mentioned in January 1989 and “”Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism,” an excerpt from an adage by August Bebel he used during his speech on the occasion of the GDR’s 40th Birthday on 7 October, 1989. However the progress towards democracy was too strong for East Germany to withstand and it only lasted until the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. Honecker did not even last before that as he was removed on 18 October. The official reason was his poor health. However, literary sources indicated that he was forced out thanks to influence by Michail Gorbachev, who coined his famous words, “Life punishes those who wait,” also at the 40th anniversary celebrations. Â Egon Krenz took over and allowed for life to change course in the interest of both West and East Germany with the opening of the Wall and its eventual Reunification, one of the best events of all time. As for Honecker, Â he eventually fled to Chile to avoid arrest and prosecution by the German government, where he died in 1994.
3. Willy Brandt, Chancellor of (West) Germany 1969-1974- WillyÂ Brandt will always be remembered for his Ostpolitik policies, designed to improve relations between East and West Germany. This included a direct visit with Erich Honecker and a speech from the window of his hotel in front of the railway station in Erfurt in 1970, plus winning the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. Unfortunately, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Brandt’s popularity as Chancellor dropped to the floor when it was revealed that his personal assistant, GÃ¼nther Guillaume was arrested for being an East German spy. Brandt resigned from his post on 6 May, 1974, with Helmut Schmidt taking over from there, but he remained as the chair of the SPD until 1987. He died five years later. Still many places in Germany and Europe are named in his memory because of the legacy he left behind. This includes the hotel in Erfurt across from the central railway station, where Brandt spoke to a large crowd in 1970 (Named Willy Brandt ans Fenster- Willy Brandt at the Window). Even the university renamed the institute of political science The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, a name that has been carried since 2009.
4. Walter Mixa, Bishop of the Augsburg (Bavaria) Cathedral- This was a classic example of a scandal involving the Catholic Church in Bavaria, which costed this gentleman his post as well as his post as the military bishop in Germany- child abuse scandal plus fraud involving taking money from an orphanage. At least a dozen scandals involving priests and bishops popped up in this traditionally Catholic state in the past two years, raising the question about the credibility of the Church in that region, plus the moral values that exist as a whole. Furthermore there are some speculations that Pope Benedict XVI may be involved, even though he has not raised this issue nor has there been enough evidence to indict him as of present. More scandals in Bavaria? To be continued…..
5. Thomas Gottschalk, actor- At 61, the person had a nice well-rounded career as an actor, was a spokesperson for the Haribo gummibears Â as well as moderator of his TV show “Wetten, dass….” (I bet you that….). That was until a freak accident involving a stuntman attempting to roller blade over an oncoming car left him paralyzed and Gottschalk’s career in limbo. On 12 February, 2011, he stepped down, taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing to his audience. Perhaps he took a lesson from Clint Eastwood, when he quoted in the second Dirty Harry film: “Man’s gotta know his limitations.”
HONORABLY MENTIONED Â RESIGNATIONS:
1. Margot KÃ¤ssmann, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Chuch of Germany (EKD)- The 52-year old from Marburg (Hesse) had a promising future until she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2010. She resigned from both posts after that. Smooth move, wasn’t it?
2. Wolfgang Petry, folk music singer- Celebrities can be sick and tired of being a star to a point where they just want to call it quits. While we’re seeing that with the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in American football (NFL) who claims he has more than enough money that he can walk away and never play for the team again, he probably took that line from this German folk music singer. Petry suddenly stepped away from the scene in 2006 after many years of singing, claiming he had enough of the show business. What he’s doing now is unknown at present.
3. Rudi Voller, former German national soccer team head coach- Sometimes (but not always) great players make bad coaches. This was a textbook example. While Voller excelled as a soccer player for Bayer Leverkusen and helped the German national team win the World Cup in 1990, he could not convey his success as a coach to his players and resigned after Germany was eliminated in the 1st Round of the European Championship in 2004. A consolation however was the fact that the team did finish second in the World Cup, years earlier, so all was not lost for him. He now is athletic director for his former team, Leverkusen.
4. JÃ¼rgen MÃ¶llermann, Minister for Agriculture; President for the German-Arabian Society; Chair of the FDP in North Rhein-Westphalia- A problem child for the politicians, MÃ¶llemann got himself in trouble for using the ministry’s paper to apply for a job at a company of his relative’s in 1993, which costed him his post as Minister for Agriculture under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Tax evasion on various counts plus his anti-semite comments during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002 led to a legal hunt by the police and other authorities. However, before he could be arrested, he died in a tragic parachutte accident on 5 June, 2003; it is unclear whether his death was an act of sabotage, an accident, or suicide attempt. The case has not been solved as of present.
5. Axel Schulz, boxer- Having a successful career as a boxer and picked to be a heavy favorite to beat Vladimir Klitschko in 1999, everyone was expecting him to win the EM Boxing match, right? Not unless you have life insurance! Not only did Klitschko beat him romped him in the boxing ring through a technical knock-out in September 1999, but Schulz resigned right away after the match. Despite a comeback attempt in 2005, he never won any international titles, despite many attempts to win the belt in his 17 year career, counting his six year hiatus between 1999 and 2005.
1. Gregor Gysi, Economics Minister for the City of Berlin- Resigned for using the bonus miles on his company car for private purpose in 2002. And this for a city that has been broke for years…..
2. Marlies Mosiek-Urbahn, Family Minister for the State of Hesse- Resigned from her post because she divorced her husband in 2001, and it affected her credibility as minister. Curious.
While Germany has been and is still famous for its high quality products and service, a strong health care and social welfare system, and for greats like Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, it cannot escape the scandals that have been growing by the numbers in the past two years. Regardless of whether they come from Bavaria, Hesse, or even the northern parts of Germany, they have been leaving questions about the credibility of the politicians in the Bundestag among Germans and those looking in from the outside. Yet the problem is universal, as one can see the scandals going on in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries and they are even weirder than what I mentioned here. But the question is, should we follow their lead or clean up our reputation and lead by our example. This is the question that will come up in the upcoming elections in 2013, together with another question: Do you elect someone by popularity but marred by scandal or do you go with someone unknown but gets the job done anyway? Â Since the identity of the US is in question because of the number of crises that has erroded its credibility as a superpower, countries like Germany are stepping up to set an example for others to follow. But that is accompanied by these scandals that can and will potentially hinder that success. The best solution to this problem is to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly. Only then will one find out whether that decision was the right one to begin with. And that decision will affect those who look up to countries like Germany, as a role model, a teacher, and a mentor of high morals and principles….
(Update on the Guttenberg Scandal)
(Demonstrations for Guttenberg’s Return to Politics)
(Der Bild’s 100 most spectacular resignations in detail- and in German!)
After two weeks of being bombarded with news headlines involving his plagarism scandal, an increasing chorus of politicians, academics and even people in general demanding that he relinquishes power, and a further erosion of power among the Dream Coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) and of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s credibility for supporting him from the start, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday announced his resignation from not his post as minister, but from all political functions in Berlin. Â He cited that the decision was the most painful in his career, but he claimed that his resignation was not just based on the plagarism scandal that has rocked the German parliament “Bundestag” in the past two weeks, but because he was unable to fulfill his functions any further.
The reaction was well received by those who claimed that Guttenberg was no longer a credible man at his post and that his resignation was long since overdue. Â This included not only the oppositional parties of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Socialist Party (Die Linke) and the Greens, but also tens of thousands of academics at German universities, 23,000 of whom presented a petition to Chancellor Merkel demanding that he step down as soon as possible. Â Even some members of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialists (CSU), lost respect for the 39-year old who was the front runner to become the next German Chancellor, if and when Merkel decides to step down. What is next for Guttenberg is unknown, but after the University of Bayreuth last week revoked his PhD title for not citing the sources in his thesis properly, it began a chain reaction where many people, including even his own supervisor Â of the thesis Prof. Peter HÃ¤berle of the University of Bayreuth lost respect for Guttenberg and distanced themselves from him, joining the ranks of those who wanted him to step aside and let someone else take over.
While his resignation was not accepted by many Germans per say, according to recent polls, this was the second Bavarian politician to resign from a top post (regardless of state or national level). As mentioned in the previous column, Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber stepped down in September 2007 amid his own set of scandals and a year later, the CSU lost absolute power in the state elections for the first time in over 20 years. Â With Guttenberg stepping down as defense minister in Berlin, could this happen with the Dream Coalition in the coming elections in 2013, where we have the return of the Christmas coalition, consisting of the SPD and Green parties? Â This remains a distinct possibility; especially after Angela Merkel had been supporting Guttenberg from the time the scandal broke out two weeks before until he finally decided to call it quits, thus damaging her credibility as the German Chancellor, a trend that is comparable to two infamous scandals in the USA, which plagued two presidencies: the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s under the administration of President Warren G. Harding and the Watergate Scandal of 1973-4 under President Richard Nixon. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 before he could be indicted on fraud charges, while Nixon became the first president to resign in 1974, right before Congress was going to impeach him. Both scandals did damage the credibility of the Republican party to a point where in the long term, the voters turned to the Democrats as they were more credible; Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Jimmy Carter in 1976. Â In this case, since plagarism is a serious crime which can result in the revocation of the title or even prison time, the “Googleberg” Affair (as many have coined the term) involving the now resigned defense minister could create a chain reaction, which could bring down the Dream Coalition in two years’ time. The only way to reverse the trend is if Merkel finds a way to win back the hearts and minds of the Germans and remove the stain, which has been caked into the fabric of Germany and will take lots of time and efforts to remove.
From my personal point of view, a person who commits a serious crime like plagarism, no matter what the excuses are, deserves to spend some time in solitary confinement, thinking about the actions and considering the situation where “sleeping up the career ladder” can produce some dire consequences for himself, the people who pampered him up the ladder, the institutions he worked for, and the people whom he hurt through cheating along the way. Once a person commits a crime like plagarism, his career is dead in the water, and he may want to think about a new career which would suit him better than the one he had. At the same time, he should learn from this experience the hardest way possible so that it is never committed ever again. The harder the labor in solitary confinement, the easier it will be to have this incident and the lesson learned from it engraved in one’s head forever.
So what will happen with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg now that he has thrown in the towel after being grilled in the Bundestag, losing his PhD title, giving the University of Bayreuth and all of Germany a bad reputation, and finally losing face to the German people? Who knows? I know the University of Bayreuth will need to clean up its reputation as a result of this mess, although speaking from my experience working there as a teacher, political games have always dominated the quality of education the students really deserve. Â Germany will have to rely less on Bavaria as a role model for politics as it has been plagued way too much by scandals in recent years and needs to reexamine and revamp its political, social and education systems, in order to produce not only the best and brightest people but those who are honest, moral and earn their degree through hard work, a set of personal ethics and solidarity to others- helping those in need be just as successful. The country has 15 other states with just as good or even better politicians as those in Bavaria. The social infrastructure is just as good or even better, and there are a lot of other aspects that people like about those states and this goes beyond the stereotype of Germany: Vita Cola, Frankfurt, Thuringian Bratwurst, Flensburger Beer, CEBIT Conference in Hanover, Volkswagon, Audi, Soccer, Deutsche Bahn, Â Forests, …. you get the picture.
I did have an opinion by one of my former students at the University of Bayreuth, who claimed that he will eventually become the next chancellor of Germany, despite stepping down as defense minister. I beg to differ on this for I have a question to pose to those who still support him: “Would you elect someone like Guttenberg, whose reputation has been permanently damaged beyond repair because of the plagarism scandal, to be the next German Chancellor, just because of his popularity, or would you elect someone who is unknown but has a clean record and can get the job done for the country?” Think carefully before you answer that question and go to the polls, should that be the case that Guttenberg is in the running for the highest office in Germany. Chances are, ethically speaking, who you vote for reflects on your own character and ethical values, and that will impact others who want to have the same lifestyle as you have at present….
In connection with the story that was written about the plagarism scandal that is affecting Germany’s defense minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, here are the latest developments:
1. Guttenberg has decided to relinquish his doctorate title for good. He sent a request to his alma mater, the University of Bayreuth asking them to retract his doctorate title permanently, admitting at a rally in Frankfurt on Monday that after taking a look at the thesis over the weekend that he discovered many major errors that were unintentional, but yet felt that the decision to give up his title, albeit painful, was the best course of action. The University however will continue to investigate allegations of plagarism in his doctorate thesis and will finish proofreading it until the very end.
2. Despite his decision, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will still keep Guttenberg on as Defense Minister, citing that he could head the ministry without the doctorate title in the hand. This is in light of the fact that Guttenberg is still one of the most popular politicians in the German parliament Bundestag and up until the scandal, he was in the running for either the post of prime minister or even the German chancellor. Still, surveys, like the one conducted by the Central Germany Broadcasting Group, MDR revealed that the majority (61% in this survey) believe that the scandal could tarnish his own image. As mentioned in the last entry, Guttenberg’s downfall as a result of this scandal could create a domino effect that could harm the future prospects of the Dream Coalition, let alone Merkel’s future as German chancellor. Already her party, the Christian Democrats suffered a royal beating in the city-state of Hamburg on Sunday as the Social Democrats manhandled the party and now has the absolute majority to govern the city by itself. The Guttenberg scandal could potentially produce a backlash where other states could follow Hamburg’s lead and unseat Merkel’s party in the upcoming elections, producing a wave change last seen between 2002 and 2005, the time when Gerhard SchrÃ¶der’s coalition of the Greens and Social Democrats were ruling Germany.
Now the question is whether Guttenberg’s course of action will suffice for the opposition. Already, calls for his resignation from his post have been echoing the halls of the parliamentary building and there are plans of holding a hearing by the opposition sometime in the course of the week. If and when it will take place, and how it will turn out remains to be seen. But the plagarism scandal will be watched closely. More later from the Files.
The Mid-Term Elections in the United States: At the Crossroads or the Beginning of a Revolution? Views from an Expatriate
Author’s note: This belated entry was due to non-blog related commitments plus I wanted to look at Â the elections from multiple perspectives before I decided to chime in, with the goal of keeping to my policy of neutrality with this topic. This includes not voting in the mid-term elections as it would not make much of a difference in the current US policies both domestically and abroad.
Well, it’s finally over. The election signs lining up along the streets of the residential districts have been taken down and put away. There are no more people going door-to-door to get the neighbors to vote for one party or the other. The cannons used to fire mud and soot at the candidates have been decomissioned. And most importantly, the people have spoken. The second of November, 2010 will go down in the history as the year of change- change in the political landscape as the era of the Democrats and in particular, the Kennedys have come to an end in place of full Republican dominance of the House of Representatives, the neutralization of the Democrats in the Senate, and the era of the Bush and Palin Dynasties arising over the dome of the Capitol, like the rising sun. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and the people at Fox News, who have all been in hiding since the elections of 2008, which brought President Barack Obama into power and resulted in the dominance of the Democrats on Capitol Hill, have now used the political flaws of the Obama administration and exploited the president’s youth and inexperience to influence the voters to “roll back America” and make his life virtually a living hell for the next 2 years. Using the old philosophy of too much governance, a socialist-controlled health care system, the unnecessary need for high-speed rail and most importantly, high unemployment, the people have said “no!” to change in their pockets and voted for change on the political scene. Â From a point of view of the American who has resided here in Germany since 1999, this ring is all too familiar, as we had an episode happen in the German elections last year.
There, the Social Democrats (SPD) were ousted in a brutal way, as the voters voted for “The Dream Coalition”, consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP). But this was despite the fact that this was the same SPD that considered Helmut Kohl of the CDU too old to govern the country and voted him out in 1998 in favor of Gerhardt SchrÃ¶der and the coalition with the Green Party, only to find that they got the shaft in 2005 through the emergency elections that brought Angela Merkel to power and created the dysfunctional Grand Coalition, consisting of the SPD and CDU. This coalition was replaced in 2009 with the Dream Coalition that kept Ms. Merkel in power and brought FDP Chairman Guido Westerwelle into the limelight, both at the expense of the SPD. Â In both cases, the voters did not need the radical talk show hosts, like Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow to show their displeasure of the SPD and found ways to bring the CDU back into power in its entirety, which has since then enjoyed the fruits of prosperity as the unemployment is low, the country is experiencing the highest growth in the gross domestic product in the world, and there is a sense of economic stability in the Bundesrepublik.
Whether this change of power in the US will help avert another round of recession and follow the success of the Germans remains questionable. But the results of the mid-term elections has led me to asking this one simple question, and that is “Why?” Â To answer that, I will look at the results from the view points of the Republicans and the Democrats before I proceed to interpret the implications of the mid-term elections. These are based on the discussions I’ve had with friends and family members from both sides of the big pond, as I try and make sense out of the whole deal. Let us start with the Republicans as they have been highly demanding the need for change:
There are many reasons why many people voted for the conservatives this time around. Many of the reasons that I’ve read and heard about can be bundled up into three main categories: The strive to keep the American Dream alive, The strive to put a cap on governmental spending, and finally most importantly, the strive for jobs but definitely not in areas that will not be beneficial in the long term. The first argument requires a brief explanation for those wanting to know what the American Dream means from an expat’s point of view. The American Dream stresses the importance of independence- the development of onesself and his own successes, while at the same time, have a family, house, career, and own car at an early age (say 25 years). It is what my late grandmother used to say: “Every man for himself.” And one must not forget the obligation to go to church on Sundays to pray and socialize. Â The problem with the American Dream is the fact that it is dying, from a conservative’s point of view, for reasons that there are not enough jobs to go around, there are too many regulations that restrict the activities of Americans, and that the government has been spending too much money on projects they claim are not needed and less money on the necessities. This includes spending too much on the health care system which many perceive to be functioning well and on high speed rail which many don’t want in the first place. Â The American Dream can only survive when there is less governmental involvement and more freedom to be independent, innovative, and successful. Â The second category definitely deals with too much money spent on projects that are not necessary. This includes the investment in renewable energy, high speed rail, and rehabilitating the health care. Renewable energy is understandable, but high speed rail to accomodate a handful of people is considered a waste, and health care, according to many, is a complex system which requires some incremental fixes, but not an overhaul to make it look like a European system. And last but not least, jobs. Many have touted the success of their own businesses and the ability to hire new people. Others are frustrated that there are no jobs to go around because they claim that either the immigrants have taken them or many companies have either outsourced their facilities or have relocated out of country. Many have pointed their fingers at Obama for allowing the unemployment to increase to 10% (although that argument is questionable). Others have taken job losses well and treated it like it was normal. In either case, many claim that with the Republicans in power, there is a potential for the economy to take off right away, like it was the case with the administration of Bill Clinton when the Republicans took control of Â the entire Congress in 1994. To sum it up, many wanted the Republicans to come to power because they wanted the US to be the US and not like anybody else. That means as Ronald Reagan put it, the government is evil and should be tamed by the private sectors and the American people, which is the secret recipe of keeping the American Dream alive.
The arguments of the liberal voters, on the other hand, represent a global awareness of issues affecting the US and the rest of the world. This includes global warming which in comparison with the conservatives, is a real issue that needs to be addressed post haste in order to ensure that the next generation would have the same quality of life as this generation. Henceforth many have embraced renewable energy technology, which would bring in jobs, and high-speed rails, which would relieve traffic congestion and pollution. Furthermore, many have seen the flaws of the health care system, which still exists even after the bill to overhaul it was passed. And lastly, many have seen the American Dream disappear forever, as the entire system is broke, thanks to the wrecklessness of the Bush administration, allowing for deregulation and free-wheeling politics in the hands of the big corporations, a trend similar to the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression that followed in the 30s. The reemergence of the Republicans in Congress through the mid-term elections was a big slap in the face as many see the problems President Obama has inherited as something that cannot be fixed overnight, nor within the first four years of office. More disappointing to the liberals is the fact that they see the US as going backwards into time and not moving forward, like the Europeans and Chinese. Hence the country is lagging far behind in the advancement of technology. Some have given up hope and are looking for an opportunity to flee the country, a place where they claim have way too many conservatives who are narrow-minded and ignorant of what is going on around them.
THE AUTHOR’S ARGUMENT
I recently read an article in “Der Spiegel” magazine about the crumbling American Dream and how the mid-term elections have been based on hatred because of all of the problems Americans are facing; including unemployment, homelessness, and an economy that is struggling to create at least a handful of jobs. The author of the piece claimed that all of this was the result of years of neglect of the real issues that are going on and too much focus on the American Dream and ways to keep it alive, even on credit. From my personal point of view, if there was an American Dream, for some reason it is at the crossroads in terms of its own future. The mid-term elections is like a revolution that is in the making. We’ve seen a lot of revolutions that have been carried out because of the need of change in authority and structure. The 1848 revolution brought down oligachy in many places in Europe (minus the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires) and brought social changes to improve the well-being of the continent’s inhabitants. The revolution of 1917 introduced communism in Russia, which spread throughout Europe and triggered counter-revolutions in the 1930s in France and Spain, 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Prague (former Czechoslovakia), and 1980 in Poland. The revolution of 1969 in the US was two-fold as demonstrators not only challenged the rule of authority of the older generations but also balked at the Vietnam War.
If the mid-term elections did serve as the modern version of 1969, then a revolution was long overdue. The country is divided up like never before, with the rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, extremists becoming more extreme and fundamentalists becoming more fundamental. We are seeing people taking sides in ways that was never dreamt of 20 years ago. The conservatives are carrying Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue” like the Bible, while trying to teach others to be “non-socialists”. Â Liberals are trying to knock some sense into these people with well-known facts about the real issues, while keeping themselves informed on these issues through CNN, Minnesota Public Radio, and the BBC to help justify their arguments. Never before have I seen the barriers being built up between these two sides and strengthened and armed for any attack. These differences have torn families and friends apart and are eating away at the fabric of the Constitution, which was created to establish democracy and protect the rights of the people. While the need to put aside the differences has been stressed and the President- facing even greater odds- is ready to compromise with the Republicans, it is impossible for Americans to come together and work on the issues that have been plaguing the country since George W. Bush took office in 2001. In fact, the differences will intensify, sparking a revolution between the conservatives and the liberals, the most dedicated Christians and the non-Christians, the rich and the poor, the Minorities and the Caucasians, which will reshape the way the United States looks like as a whole and will alter the American way of life forever. Â The only solution to this deep division is to do what the author of “Der Spiegel” article suggested in the end: “Be inventive and look for ways to succeed.” In this case, we need to find innovative ways to return to civilization, tear these walls down, open the gates, and look at reality from a neutral perspective. Once we all know what is wrong with today’s picture, we can take our course of action and find ways of solving the problems we are facing today, which is as big as Mt. Everest. But no problem is too big to handle, and we will thank ourselves once we determine which direction we will take and what measures we can use to make America what it is- for us and for our children and grandchildren.
It’s just a matter of starting right now…….
Link to article (in German): http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/index-2010-44.html