Wulff steps down. Is the End of the Dream Coalition near?


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.

Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_Germany



The Fall from Greatness

I would like to start with a proverb that I learned from playing chess with my father when I was a teenager and listening to him talk about all his chess greats he grew up with (from Bobby Fischer to Gary Kasparov).  Every great was once a beginner. One starts his career as a novice, learning his way around and experiencing success and failure- success as a way of walking forward and failure as a way of learning from the mistakes made and moving on.  Milestones are reached and the pushing and shoving persist until the person is at the top and is looking down at the envious and the zealous.

The strive to get to the top may be a hard task to accomplish on its own. Staying on top is even harder, as even the most successful ones end up falling into an abyss and end up at square one again. The hardest part of all is when one tries to be the greatest again, for nine times out of ten, comebacks fail because of the mistakes not learned and the flaws not addressed properly. Many try to indulge in destructive behavioral patterns (alcohol, sex, drugs, you name it) just to quell the problems in their lives and ignoring the effects on their careers and even their lives. In the end, one falls from greatness for good and seven times out of ten into their own graves.

We have seen this pattern many times- especially those who were superstars in the 1980s and 90s, when the good times really did roll and everyone prospered in one way or another. But now what has happened to many of us? The greatness has failed, we have become a laughing stock of the paparazzi and the public, our fields of work are no longer appreciated or even needed, and since we do not know how to look left or right, we just slam our cars into the walls and walk away from this life, ignoring the people who still care a great deal about us (fans, friends and especially family). We’re too inflexible and not forthcoming with changes. We do not listen to what others tell us what they expect from us. The methods of success we presented to them in the past is no longer valid. Sometimes people want us to change professions even though we have been doing them really well for many years, as they want to see new faces. Sometimes the mistakes we make in the past come back to haunt us and in the long term have a negative impact on our careers. Sometimes we are a one-hit wonder and we walk away while on top. It all depends on who we are and what we want from ourselves and the people around us.

It is hard to think of us for our successes when we are haunted by our shortcomings and mishaps, but it does not mean we have to be jerks about it in order to succeed at any cost. Sometimes we go into cycles where we reach our peaks every few years and low points for longer periods of time. It does not mean that we are not forgotten. It means we go into stages of hibernation only to come out better than before. It is just a question of how we handle ourselves and what we can do for the better of the community and the environment. While this is possible with our careers, it is also possible when we take a few steps back from our careers, as a way of seeing what is out there and subsequentially reinventing ourselves.  When doing that we can look at ourselves in the mirror more often than before and be proud of ourselves and our morals. It will make for a good reputation with the public, and show that we do have character and a set of morals for people to follow. In the end, we can take better care of ourselves and have a fulfilling career and life.

I’m writing this column in response to the loss of one of the 80s’ Greats. Whitney Houston was one of the examples of an icon who was at the top of her game in the 80s and 90s both as a singer as well as an actress. She was the best supporting actress behind Kevin Kostner in The Bodyguard, which in my opinion, was the peak of her career. Unfortunately, she fell from grace through tumultuous times with drugs, alcohol, Bobby Brown, and in the end the once beautiful voice becoming that of a frog, almost losing it in its entirety. She died on 12 February in the hotel in Los Angeles on the eve of the Grammy Awards. Her funeral came six days later as thousands paid their last respects to a person whose life was cut short way too soon.  She’s one of many celebrities, whose greatness in the 80s and 90s was overshadowed by scandals that led to their downfall and the end of their lives. I hope that when today’s celebrities are at their top, they learn from the mistakes of those who were great before them. Some will read this column and take some thoughts with them. Others will find alternatives that will be useful to them. It is just a matter of how they conduct themselves and keep from falling from greatness and becoming the forgotten or worse, the persecuted.

The Flensburg Files would like to dedicate this column in loving memory of a true celebrity, Whitney Houston.


Normally at about this time of year, there would be snow ranging from six inches to a foot in the northern parts of the US and all of Canada, while Europe would thaw early because of its mild winters where temperatures are above freezing and if there is snow, then only in the mountain regions of the Alps and to a certain degree some mountain regions in the southern half of Germany, like Little Switzerland in southern Saxony and northern Bavaria and the Black Forest in Baden Wurttemberg. Not this winter!

If there is a sure sign that climate change is in full swing, here is a short one sentence summary to describe what we are still going through: It is spring in the US while Europe has converted itself into its own form of Antarctica, or as the title puts it, Germanarctica. In the past week, temperatures here in Europe have plummeted by up to 40°C from a balmy 10° above zero and lots of green to -30°C and snow cover, forcing many people to seek warm shelters and travellers to reconsider their plans as many airlines and railines have been crippled. At the time of this entry, as many as 400 people have died of cold exposure, most of them being the homeless and residents with either no heating or one that malfunctioned.  It is unknown how many have died in Germany except reports have indicated at least a dozen bodies have been found, but according to Deutsche Welle, the hardest hit area seems to be the Ukraine and points to the south and east. 135 dead have been reported in the country with more to come as many areas in the south and east are not only trying to survive the cold but also dig out of snowfall of up to a meter (3 feet) high in Serbia, Bosnia and Romania, just to name a few areas.

While this cold snap is nothing compared to the cold snaps that occurred last winter and even more so in 1994 to 1997 (where Tower, Minnesota broke its own record by posting a low of -60°F (-51°C) in 1996), it is bad enough that many places in Germanarctica have set records for low temperatures. A couple nights ago, no city in Germany, not even the northern part could escape temperatures of at least -20°C, with some places in Hamburg and Kiel reaching -28°C. Even the waterways, like the Elbe, Danube, Rhein and the Main are frozen solid thus suspending shipping indefinitely. And the cold snap has not been kind to diesel-operated cars, as many of them have not functioned properly because of the fuel’s inability to adapt to the cold. This has forced many to carpool or take the train, the latter of which are either overpacked or delayed by up to an hour.

To provide you with an example of how bad this cold snap has been here in Germanarctica, I conducted an experiment involving pouring  salt water in a cup and setting it outside. While theory has it that salt water never freezes over, despite putting excessive amounts of salt in the water, this weather proved the theory dead wrong, for the salt water did freeze over within a span of eight hours! This is how severe the weather has been, and sadly it will continue for another week before we finally see a sign of spring weather.

Surprisingly though, the salt water experiment did get the author to think whether the cold snap could freeze alcohol, as bad as it was. Trying that experiment, it was proven that it was not the case (which fits to the argument that alcohol never freezes, even in this extreme cold weather), and combining it with the salt water, it can even reduce the ice to water. In case if one runs out of salt or sand for the sidewalk and has a bottle of vodka in their possession, one might want to think about that as an alternative, although be forewarned: alcohol, like salt, needs time to work and should be added a few hours before leaving.

NOTE: Over 30,000 were taken to the hospital for frostbite and many villages in the southeastern part of Europe have been buried with snow to a point where many residents were cut off from the world completely. Work is in progress to dig the villages out.

Links:   http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15725176,00.html



Flynnism for the Arrogant and Cocky


This column includes some stories from the Flensburg Files News Flyer
There are some people who are born to greatness and prove it through word and practice, both as a professional as well as in private life. They set examples for others (especially in the younger generations) to follow, endure and prevail in hardships, and succeed the hardest way possible, through the four Ps of success: perseverance, patience, passion, and persistence.  Yet there are many who love to pretend they are the greatest, by showing off their greatness to the world with their words only and not showing the colors that fit the description. Many times, these marketing techniques can fail miserably through poor performance and scandals that can ruin ones popularity beyond repair. It is like buying a luxury car that has all the features a person could ever ask for (air conditioning, GPS computer, built-in cup holder and retractable seating), only to find that an important component (like the brakes or wiring) fails, and the driver loses control of the car, ending up crashing into a wall or a lake and paying a dear price for it.
This month so far, we have seen many promis who fell into that category as they showed off their greatness through their mouth but the exact opposite in practice.  Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos (in American football the National Football League) pretended he was Jesus Christ in leading the team to the playoffs, knocking out the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, and talking about his heroics and its connection with religion to the TV audience. This sparked a sensation known as Tebowmania, which many anti-Broncos fans were itching to see him eat dirt in humiliation. The New England Patriots under quarterback Tom Brady took care of that wish by not only burying him and his team 45-10 in the second round this past weekend, but also using him as a tackling dummy (and making him eat grass in the process).  So much for Tebowmania, huh?
Then there is another American football team that everyone loved to hate with a passion, the Green Bay Packers. For 15 out of 16 games, they pummeled every single mediocre football team by an average score of 35-7. Yet the only loss was to another mediocre team (Kansas City), and the cracks started to show. Still, the team was way too proud and cheesy to address the problems and still stressed their greatness to the public. Bring in the New York Giants, a team that won only nine games and were projected to lose in the second round in the playoffs, and the team under Eli Manning disrobed the Pack under Aaron Rodgers on their home turf at Lambeau Field. I guess Goliath can bring down David after all. After all, the telephone switchboards of 1-800 GET HELP were blinking like a Christmas tree full of despair Packers fans after the Giants walked off the field feeling glorious and preparing for the NFC finals game against the San Francisco 49ers next week.
I just know that there was the sound of Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor doing a solo for the Mozart Requiem the next morning when I found out about the Giants’ clear cut victory over Green Bay, because it can be heard clearly throughout all of Germany from the halls of the German Parliamentary Building in Berlin. Perhaps she is a Giants fan, but maybe it is because she is broiling in her own anger because of another scandal that has hit the Parliament; this time it involves the German President Christian Wulff and his private loan affair to purchase a house.
It is hard to believe that Wulff can hold the second most powerful post in the German government (behind Merkel), smile in the face of the public and have the nerve to inform the public on how to be frugal in our spending for 2012 during the Christmas Eve address, that was watched by over 20 million viewers, but at the same time, expose his own corruptive deeds through his own actions. And to exacerbate the situation further, he threatens the media with actions that are considered unlawful to today’s standards. Apparently he does not like the fact that the media is already writing him off for dead and that it is glorifying the Social Democrats for planning his successor for Merkel.  Perhaps if and when the Dream Coalition gets voted out of office in 2013 the future former cabinet members would rather take a trip on a cruise ship off the coast of Italy. After all, if they have a captain who can abandon ship after running it aground and tipping it over- before all the passengers leave, that is- they can relate their experience in the Bundestag to the events that occurred off the coast of Toscana.
That would be invincibility is a recipe for disaster unless you know how to deal with the people first and- in a proper way. Talk is cheap if you are unable to show your actions and impress the people first. Even my former math teacher and high school track and field coach once said that a person’s mouth and actions will determine one’s destiny. He is definitely right about that, yet people don’t seem to take that advice nowadays.
I would like to close this column by bidding farewell to a judge whose wit and charismatic actions have coined another terminology in the legal dictionary. Jeffery Flynn, the 5th Judicial Court Judge in Minnesota, whose residence is in Worthington, Minnesota, is stepping down after 27 years.  He provided students at high schools throughout the region with a whiff of what life in the legal business is all about, encouraging even some of my friends and former classmates to embrace the business, either as a lawyer, solicitor or even a judge.  His quotes to the convicted and to the audience helped coin the term Flynnism, and while some examples would take another page of my column (you can read the article here: https://secure.forumcomm.com/?publisher_ID=24&article_id=54414 ), it sometimes makes me wonder what he would have to say to the people who have fallen flat on their faces so far this month. Before I make my prediction on that, I will just leave this last part blank and hope that when he has the opportunity to read this column, he can close it with some comments on his own. Besides, his Flynnisms for the hot-headed whose air has been released (regardless of which side of the Atlantic they are on) can only be done by the person who has done his deeds to the criminals for all those years.

Flensburg Files News Flyer:
Apart from Flynn stepping down, the Giants have made it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2008 and will have a rematch with the New England Patriots. The last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, the Giants spoiled the Patriots run for a perfect record, which would have been the second time this happened. Game time is the 5th of February and given all the rumors from the audience and within the American Football league NFL, this could be the last time the Super Bowl is played on a Sunday. Proposals for a Super Saturday is in the making even as this column comes out.

Calls for German President Wulff to step down are getting louder, for despite him presenting his financial records that are in connection with the real estate scandal, the media organizations have accused him of making threats to the yellow press for exposing his housing loan and abuse of power, and his former press secretary Olaf Glaeseker is coming under fire for assisting him in some of the cover-up. The Opposition (SPD, Green and the Socialist party Die Linke) have been trying to work with Chancellor Merkel on finding a successor for Wulff, should he decide to step down sometime in the course of three months. And even some of the members of his own party (the Christian Democrats) are expressing their dismay and have recommended Wulff to step aside in the interest of the party and his own family. Currently, approval ratings have dropped from 72% to a sobering 30% in the course of two weeks. What will happen next remains to be seen.
As for the tragedy off the coast of the Tuscan Island of Giglio, 17 deaths have been recorded so far (six coming from Germany) with attempts to find the remaining 20 passengers being very difficult because of the capsized luxury ship slipping off the reef and into the water.  The captain of the ship has come under fire because of his inability to see the passengers off the ship and the excuses that were made, such as falling off the ship into the lifeboat. Needless to say, even if he is acquitted, his days of navigating the ship are finished after this incident.

More info here: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15683975,00.html and http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15705486,00.html