Dissing the Vatican

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

euro_papstTwo recent reports in German (on-line) publications suggest that Pope Benedict XVI is due shortly to find life there at the Vatican to be a bit more difficult.

The first comes from Der Spiegel: Ratzinger authorized text for a right-extremist book. “Ratzinger” is of course the surname the present Pope was born with; this report concerns an article published back in 1997, when he was merely Cardinal Ratzinger. That piece appeared in an edition of the monthly magazine Aula called “1848 – Heritage and Mandate,” published by an Austrian right-extremist organization that a few years earlier had ignited controversy there by publishing a denial of the Holocaust. His secretary at the time, a Vatican official named Clemens, did provide permission in writing to Aula to publish the Cardinal’s article, even though a spokesperson for the Vienna archdiocese tried to deny this. Aula had previously been the house-organ publication for Austria’s Freedom Party, the one headed by the notorious (and late) Jörg Haider, but had been cut loose by that party at the time of the Holocaust controversy.

We’ll see if this story gains any further traction – after all, it was only this Clemens guy, rather than Cardinal Ratzinger himself, who can be shown as committing the mistake of dealing with these right-wingers. Still, this controversy comes at a bad time, considering the recent fuss over Benedict XVI revoking the excommunication of the English bishop, and Holocaust-denier, Richard Williamson.

And then there is the coming blow to the Pope’s holy pocketbook, reported by Matthias Oden in the Financial Times Deutschland (Thou shalt not run riot). (more…)

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Opel Fans, Speak Up!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Parallel to the ongoing drama in the United States over the survival of two out of the “Big Three” automakers – whether to give GM and Chrysler the new money they have come back to the federal government to ask for, or just to cut off what looks like a never-ending money-drain but thereby administer a severe economic shock to the American Midwest – European auto-makers are also having a difficult time in the current economic climate, and so there has been discussion about various bail-out plans (and implementation of a few) over here as well. Of course, that comes as no particular surprise when the European auto-maker in question is actually a subsidiary of one of those American firms that are seemingly in terminal decline, such as is the case for Saab in Sweden (a GM subsidiary, which has already filed for bankruptcy protection) and Opel in Germany (full name “Adam Opel GmbH,” also belonging to GM, in fact since 1929 except during World War II, when its facilities were bombed instead). With Opel reported ready to run out of cash within a few months, the pressure is on to find some solution to save the firm, particularly given the fact that, as a foreign facility, GM is likely to afford it low priority as it scrambles to save its core operations in the US. Indeed, the current preferred solution is to detach Opel from its parent company entirely, possibly at that point to form a new multinational car company around it and Saab and Vauxhall (another GM brand, based in the UK). But that would be a complicated and contentious operation, given that GM is still the formal owner of not only the physical plant but other essential things like the trademarks and many technology-patents.

Nonetheless, it seems that a popular groundswell of sorts has arisen insisting that some solution be found to save the firm, one that goes beyond the Opel employees and shareholders who would be directly hurt by a shut-down, according to an article by Harald Blum in Der Spiegel (The Hour of the Fans). The lede tells me something that I didn’t really know, and still wonder whether I should believe: “Autos from Opel are for many grey and dull – yet hardly any other German auto-brand has the same loyal followership.” As proof Blum points to the website rettetOPEL.de (rettet Opel itself is German for “save Opel”), where you can find four separate 500-slide slide-shows of sentimental pictures sent in by Opel-owners of their cars and/or Opel-typical tableaus. And you do have to wonder: is anything similar happening in response to the seeming death-throes of General Motors or Chrysler, or at least in honor of any of those firms’ individual brands?

Of course, Blum’s claim about Opel’s “loyal followership” is still hard to credit when you remember that it is German cars that we are talking about here: I daresay that BMW, or Porsche, easily inspire at least a similar fanaticism among their owners, but then neither of those is (yet) in the same financial trouble as Opel. Still, he also uses his article to remind us of that auto-maker’s glory days: of the Rekord, for example, the long-time best-seller nicknamed “the Reliable,” or the GT, a sports car which provided a riding-thrill said to be second only to actually flying, and others. But he is also honest enough to make note of the firm’s disappointing recent performance, starting really right after it pioneered in the introduction of the catalytic converter in the early nineties (but such “green” features have never really been powerful arguments to buy any car), when its model-design lost its previous distinctiveness (its “identity”) and its market share dropped from 20% to around the 7% it enjoys today – “thereby lying under that of its arch-rival Ford, which especially rankles true fans.”

So why act to save it? you could therefore ask. The Ford German subsidiary regularly sells more cars and therefore, like Ford, Inc. itself, has managed (so far) at least to stay out of trouble enough to not have to ask for government money. Well, as Blum explains at the end of his piece, recent Opel models have been earning rave reviews from professional auto-testers and auto-magazines, so things seem to be looking up on the design front. And there are those thousands of Opel fans. But is all that enough?

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Toy Train Has Left the Station

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Sorry for the unrelenting bad news, but here’s a brand-new victim of the current financial crisis that you might be interested in. Märklin is bankrupt, Hasnain Kazim reports on Germany’s Spiegel Online. As his lede then continues:

. . . and millions of model-railroad friends grieve for the tradition-filled enterprise with cult-status. The majority-owner had announced a [financial] rescue not long ago. But now the firm has become a victim of the financial crisis, of management mistakes and of a societal shift.

I also looked at reports of Märklin’s recent demise from various other German on-line publications, but the Spiegel’s account is the best because of the interesting background information that it provides. Like how about this: the announcement that the firm would have to file for bankruptcy from Märklin’s chief executive Dietmar Mundil came yesterday, just prior to the opening of the annual International Toy Fair convention in Nürnberg. And this was only shortly after the company’s marketing head, already present in Nürnberg for the convention, had issued a statement for the benefit of his fellow convention-goers (i.e. worldwide toy industry professionals) that there was no bankruptcy on the horizon for Märklin. Embarrassing, that, but maybe top management should not be blamed too much here, since it seems the bankruptcy was also a surprise for them, something that suddenly became unavoidable after the recent unexpected refusal by the company’s banks to roll over the €50 million in credit it had outstanding.

Ah, but who was that management? Not the original families who had founded and built up this model-train manufacturing business over the course of 150 years (the Märklin family, yes, but also the Friz and Safft families); they sold out in 2006 to a consortium made up of Goldman Sachs and Kingsbridge Capital, a London-based private-equity firm. The company had been losing money since 2004, you see, and these new owners proceeded to do what such private-equity new owners do, namely make their new acquisition start producing profits again no matter what had to be broken in the process. Four hundred of the total 1,400 jobs were eliminated, along with two factories, toy retailers were instructed to pay their invoices more promptly, etc. But those new owners consortium also invested in developing the company and introduced imaginative new marketing wrinkles, such as model-train “starter sets” sold for €100 at the German low-cost supermarket chain Aldi, as well as the simple insistence that store-owners display the model trains more prominently. And indeed, turnover did rise through 2008, to €128 million by the end of the year, so that Kingsbridge head Matthias Hink could declare then that “Märklin is one of Germany’s best brands and has considerable potential,” and that they certainly never intended to sell it. From Kazim’s account, we probably need to take Hink at his word here; it does seem that the firm ultimately went under solely because it could not achieve a credit roll-over that would have been routine for it in normal times.

Out of Track in the Long Run?

On the other hand . . . maybe Märklin was actually doomed, sooner or later. Let’s face it: who plays with model trains these days? Kazim gets some interesting quotes on this subject from an expert, one Werner Lenzner, a toy-industry market researcher, who asserts that, starting in the 1980s, model trains were not for kids anymore but for adult collectors – typically male and between 40 and 60 years of age. The individual pieces were no longer relatively cheap toys meant to be kicked around; they had became expensive and were meant for display. This older cohort is now, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, to be found according to Lenzner “rather sit[ing] during their leisure time in front of the computer [ed. interjection: reading EuroSavant!] or at the fitness-center.” Lenzner is even willing to say for the record that those who still sit around building elaborate miniature train tableaus are now generally viewed as schräg – which my dictionary defines as “slanting, oblique” but I think we can figure out that term’s slang (and probably not so complimentary) meaning.

Then again, what Matthias Hink from Kingsbridge said about the staying-power of the Märklin brand remains true, I think, and no brand really ever has to die unless for some reason it is explicitly put to death. Someone else will surely buy up that brand and the company’s other assets and carry on. Lenzner again: the main mistake was “to make very costly [train] models, in extreme detail, which only a well-to-do collector could afford.” So the new Märklin probably should go back to manufacturing true trains for the kids. Or maybe expand further the product-line to which it can apply its powerful brand: Märklin “train engineer” sunglasses, anyone?

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Polar Bear Knut Gets Unexpected Holiday Company

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

It looks like the pressures of the holiday season are flipping some people out already. Der Spiegel has a report up now about an incident in Berlin’s zoo: Man jumps into polar bear Knut’s enclosure.

You were aware of the Knut-the-polar-bear sensation of 2007, right? (Yes, that’s the link to his very own fairly-long Wikipedia page; feel free to go there and review!) EuroSavant was basically inactive for most of that time, and so remiss in its task of bringing to you all the German-press Knut coverage that you were dying to read about. Oh, and there was plenty of such coverage, believe you me. No less than Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel was crazy about Knut, along with everybody else. (more…)

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Patently Wrong ;-)

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Ah, the Wild East! For a while there yesterday in Russia there threatened to break out a veritable virtual land-rush on smileys. (You know, the “emoticons” you can make using various punctuation signs. Like = D means “large laugh,” : s means “confused,” etc. A recent one I heard of is //8-=) which is “stoned Hitler.”) That’s because the Russian patent authorities had granted a patent on “;-)” (without the quotation-marks) to Superfone, which is some sort of mobile telephone-advertising firm in Russia. (Strangely, though, www.superfone.ru does not exist.) Anyone wanting to use that particular “smiley” in Russia henceforth would have to pay Superfone for a license.

Or so claimed Oleg Teterin, a manager at Superfone, according to an article on Spiegel Online. But if the patent had truly been granted in the first place, it did not last long. The sort of public uproar ensued that you would really rather expect would be forthcoming, leading the state press agency RIA Novosti (here it is in English) to make inquiries, to which a spokesman for the Patent Office responded that no, it could not have granted any such patent because “;-)” (without the quotation-marks; maybe with the quotation-marks the case is different) is clearly an example of a “generally accepted” symbol that no one can make exclusive claim to.

The Spiegel article goes on to point out that such considerations did not seem to faze the US Patent Office, which in 2001 awarded “:-(” (without the quotation-marks) as a trademark (note: different than a patent) to Despair, Inc. – the perfect motif for its extensive line of “demotivator” merchandise!

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Arrrr, Matey! Somali Pirates!

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Avast Daniel Craig! Avast Marc Foster (film director)! Avast the Broccoli family! And especially avast to the corps of James Bond scriptwriters! Move out smartly! Quantum of Solace, the 22nd and latest entry in the long-running James Bond series of movies, may have set a box-office record (at least for James Bond films) in its opening weekend, but now is not the time for the powerful Bond movie juggernaut to be resting on its laurels. Somali pirates are running rampage, having just captured their biggest prize yet, a fully-loaded supertanker, and the adventure-movie possibilities are just endless!

“They have the most beautiful women, the fastest autos and the best weapons.” Now, doesn’t that sound like the sort of challenge to Bond and his equipment supremo, the enigmatic Q, that just cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged? That quote starts off coverage of this Somali pirate phenomenon in an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel (“The pirates have hit the jackpot!”). (more…)

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Thoracic Jurisprudence

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Large breasts are not a malady: that’s what we literally read as the headline of an on-line Der Spiegel article. (Yes, of another article from Der Spiegel; what we have here again is the dreaded serendipity effect, where I just happened to chance upon yet another interesting on-line article – it helps a lot when their headlines/links have particularly eye-catching language – as I originally zeroed-in on the Somali pirates piece that is the subject of the blogpost above.)

Well, who ever said that they were? Certainly no man, that’s for sure. But that’s not the point here; that headline would have been better phrased as “Large breasts are not an official malady,” that is, are not what a given nation’s national health system recognizes as something that it should step in to fix without charging the (unfortunate?) carrier of same. Here it is the German national health system that we’re talking about, of course, and Der Spiegel is simply passing along word of a decision from the Social Court of the German state Hesse that, if a certain anonymous woman (born in 1971) wants to go under the knife to have the size of her breasts reduced, she’s going to have to pay for it herself. (more…)

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Potted Plant

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Germany’s Der Spiegel has interesting news on the rock-n-roll front: Led Zeppelin looking for a new singer. You remember that the surviving band members, plus John Bonham’s son Jason, just had to get together for that charity concert in honor of deceased Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegün that was such a hit last December. Well, it seems that the fellows had such a good time with that, that the experience spurred a hankering to go play together some more on tour – at least among lead guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist/keyboard-man John Paul Jones.

But singer Robert Plant was the exception, who proved stubbornly resistant to the idea of hitting the road again, even though he is the band’s youngest member (now at 60 years). So now, as the unnamed Spiegel journalist (whose initials are “bor”) would have it, Page and Jones are ready to find someone else. Says Jones: “We want to perform again – and we’re not going to hang around and wait for Plant to change his mind.” (more…)

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John McCain’s Wunderwaffe

Monday, September 8th, 2008

His “wonder-weapon”: that would be Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, whose personality dominated the Republican National Convention last week, and who apparently has much to do with the McCain campaign lately coming up neck-and-neck in the opinion polls with Obama.

That’s at least how Marc Pitzke, New York correspondent for Germany’s Der Spiegel, assesses the situation (Palin-effect turns forecasts on their head). He even maintains that the Obama campaign is now in Alarmstimmung – i.e. in a state of alarm – as the final, and toughest, 58-day period of electioneering up to November 4 gets underway. (First, however, there will be a brief non-partisan interlulde as both candidates appear on Thursday at New York City’s “Ground Zero” for a 9/11 anniversary commemoration.) (more…)

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The Speech: From Berlin to Denver

Friday, August 29th, 2008

He came out to the podium, he gazed out upon the 80,000 upturned faces aglow – and then last night Senator Barack Obama laid out his vision for his presidential campaign and for the presidency presumably to follow.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying here to push any Republican-inspired “Messiah” or “Moses-parting-the-seas” irony to cast last evening’s events in a disparaging light. Indeed, it was an impressive spectacle – complete with letter-perfect weather! – that itself rightly dominated the news-cycle and to which reactions still dominate that news-cycle this morning.

The same is not quite true in Europe, which has plenty else to talk about today, but Barack Obama’s speech has still gotten plenty of attention even now (i.e. as your EuroSavant writes this), less than 12 hours after it was delivered. Let’s again start with reactions from those who were vouchsafed their own up-close look at the Senator’s speechifying, last July in Berlin, namely the Germans. (more…)

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China’s Little Olympic Tricks

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

First of all, here’s confirmation of the point James Fallows made on his Atlantic Monthly weblog, namely that Chinese Olympic officials pre-recorded the spectacular chain-of-exploding-fireworks display that allegedly happened during the Olympics’ opening ceremony last Friday. From the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny we have an account (A Small Chinese Deception) of how it’s even true that some of those sensational explosion effects did not even actually happen, but were merely animation effects of the sort you would expect out of an animated movie from DreamWorks. That much Wang Wei, vice-chairman of the Beijing Olympic Committee admitted today to reporters. Incidentally, the caption to the one picture accompanying the article at the top, showing the Olympic flame, speculates “Perhaps the lighting of the Olympic flame was also only from a recording.” (more…)

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Pimp My Golfcart

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Pimp it purple!

Pimp it purple!

Yesterday we had occasion to examine the delightful article from the Frankfurther Rundschau by Dietmar Ostermann about the Hummer SUV. Sad to say, Ostermann could not avoid the conclusion that this Monster Car’s days seem to be numbered. But fear not! Hope for resurrection is at hand, as we learn today from Der Spiegel (With the Hummer to the Putting Green) – if you can accept a cut-down model designed to roam on the manicured grass of golf courses, and with electric drive, that is. (more…)

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Obama’s Private Prayer, Made Public

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Ben Smith, from Politico.com had the scoop first, about how the personal prayer-note that Barack Obama stuck into a crack in Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, according to long-standing tradition, was snatched up shortly afterwards by a “yeshiva student” and conveyed to the Israeli newspaper Maariv, which published it.

This led to the sort of furor you would expect, abroad but especially in Israel, since these sort of messages are supposed to be sacred and to be read by no one else than s/he who wrote them – and God. (more…)

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Obama in Berlin: A Serious German Press Review

Friday, July 25th, 2008

It’s all a bit bizarre: Here at EuroSavant we consider the Economist’s on-site blog Certain Ideas of Europe to be something of a watered-down competitor, in that its (anonymous) writers evidently command a few European languages themselves and take advantage of that often to remark upon noteworthy articles in the European press (really only the French and the German). Yet in its own day-after Obama-Berlin coverage, what else does Certain Ideas of Europe choose to highlight out of reaction to Obama’s Berlin speech from the German Fourth Estate than a breathless piece from the Bild Zeitung (Britons: think The Sun; Americans: maybe The New York Post but – as we’ll see – with a bit greater tolerance for female nudity.) The blog entry is entitled Obama and the ‘BILD girl’. Wow – 27-year-old Bild reporter Judith Bonesky (stifle the puns!) finds herself together in the gym of the Ritz Carlton hotel with HIM! Oh, he’s much taller than she had expected! They exchange some “How are you?”s! Then he goes and starts hefting some impressively-big weights, in such a manly fashion, without breaking a sweat! Naturally, when it’s time for him to go (he’s got a speech to deliver), she grabs her chance for a smugshot with the candidate. (more…)

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“Obama Is Correct – But I’m Not Endorsing Anyone”

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

The alert is out: the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel snagged a scoop in the form of an interview with Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, in which (according to a Reuters report) he explicitly endorsed the idea of a 16-month timetable for American troop withdrawal, a plan which has been the centerpiece of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s intentions towards US engagement there. Blogosphere reactions are already here and here (among many others, no doubt, including forthcoming).

Fortunately, your friendly neighborhood EuroSavant was carrying his pager, and was able to receive the emergency message and leap into the nearest – no, not phone booth, you don’t see too many of those anymore – Internet café to get on-line. Let’s take a look at the original German-language article itself, which is on the Spiegel’s website. (more…)

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Nike etc. Worker Exploitation Carries On

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Wasn’t this issue addressed – and, to some extent anyway, solved – around the turn of the century? I thought Nike, at least, had gained whichever Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the labor practices at its manufacturing plants in Asia. Yet the old problems with those very labor practices seem to be still with us, at least according to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel which is carrying a report entitled Unions Criticize Nike & Co. (more…)

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Meet the New US Foreign Policiy – Same as the Old US Foreign Policy

Friday, February 8th, 2008

“Whomever US citizens may choose: Europeans will wake up next year on a cold January morning – and find before them a government whose foreign policy decisions, although presented in new clothes, will appear almost like those customary to Bush.” That is the conclusion German-language readers of Spiegel Online get to digest today, in an article entitled Bush Leaves – His Foreign Policy Stays.

Crucially, though, take a look at who is the author: it is a certain Peter Ross Range, whose credentials are given in a short sidebar on the article’s first page: long-time Time magazine foreign correspondent, then editor-in-chief of Blueprint, the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council – in short, in all probability an American. That means this article is intended to be a warning from the west side of the Atlantic to the east, not to expect much to change in US policy with the next administration. (more…)

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Presidential Divorce?

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Maybe we can turn this resuscitated weblog into an international scandal-sheet! You heard it here first!

What did you hear? That the marriage between the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife Cécilia is on the rocks. Interestingly, it’s the foreign press, not the French, that is reporting that all that is lacking in the presidential couple’s break-up is the formal announcement. First of all, it was apparently American journalists (which ones or who they write for, however, are not specified) who picked up on remarks Nicolas Sarkozy made on 30 September to Georgian President Saakashvili – they were attending the France-Georgia match of the rugby world cup tournament – to the effect that he could easily see himself as a bachelor again in the near future. And the Nouvel Observateur reports that the Tribune de Genève maintains that the Sarkozys are essentially already separated. For one thing, the Sarkozy’s had been discussing all summer for the benefit of the press their detailed plans of finally moving into the presidential (Elysée) palace come September – yet September has come and gone, and nothing has happened. Then there was the recent state visit to Bulgaria, also noteworthy for Cécilia’s absence – and under normal circumstances she would have been very glad to go to Bulgaria, where authorities wanted to fête her there in grand style in thanks for the very personal role she played earlier this year in securing the release of five Bulgarian nurses, accused of infecting children in their care with AIDS, from their Libyan jail. (more…)

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Bring Back the Wall!

Sunday, September 19th, 2004

Turn the EuroSavant tables for once and consider the calculations of some beginning French blogger, say, who has to compile a sample of authoritative American media (available on-line) to regularly survey and report on, in order to explain to his French-language readers American events and attitudes. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and such like, yes – but what about choices from what you could call the parodic media? The Onion, for example? Jon Stewart’s Daily Show maybe? “You can’t be serious!” may very well be your first reaction (heh!). Except that the Onion does maintain a constant drumbeat of commentary (of its own unique sort, of course) on current affairs, and many Americans – especially younger Americans – rely on TV programs from that parodic sector even as their main source of news.

Snapping back to our customary €S European-to-English polarity, interest has welled up in me from time to time in European humorous publications which bear in some way on current European or world events. For my purposes such would surely be of interest and – if the humor could successfully be translated – also worth a laugh or two. But there’s still not much out there that I know about. There’s the famous French Le Canard Enchaîné (“The Chained Duck”), but that website definitely disappoints. It amounts to little more than giving a shot of the current issue’s cover and offering information about how to subscribe – i.e. just a sort of cyber-shingle. (But be careful lest you get what you wish for: In all my past contact with the paper Le Canard Enchaîné, I’ve found it’s humor to be largely derived from French slang – i.e. rather difficult.)

As you might imagine, the immediate motive for this particular post (other than simply to get a start at resuming my previous posting-rhythm) is that I’ve run across some more European “parodic press,” this time from Germany: Titanic – The Definitive Satire-Magazine (it calls itself). (more…)

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The Reagan Legacy in German Eyes

Tuesday, June 8th, 2004

Ronald Reagan died late last Saturday, just in time for reactions in all the big Sunday editions of American newspapers. But Sunday editions of European newspapers are rare (let alone – to temporarily borrow a term from McDonalds – “super-sized” editions; those appear on Saturdays, if at all). Rather, reactions and assessments of the meaning of Ronald Reagan’s presidency appeared on Monday, meaning that today, Tuesday, it’s time for EuroSavant to step in and give you a flavor of those.

From the other usual-suspect sources you can get briefed, scattered reaction from English, Arabic, French, and Spanish sources. (But really: only a brief mention from Libération for the French press? No Le Figaro, no Le Monde? We wouldn’t stand for that here at this web-site!) So let’s give the EuroSavant treatment to German coverage. That’s very appropriate, as Reagan’s relations with that country during his eight-year presidency were extremely interesting, with wild highs and lows. (more…)

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Chirac for Schröder? German Views

Thursday, October 16th, 2003

Yes, it’s true: Chirac wird Bundeskanzler, Chirac becomes the German Chancellor. For Friday’s session of the EU summit of heads of state/government in Brussels, neither Gerhard Schröder nor his foreign minister Joschka Fischer plan to be present. In their stead, French President Jacques Chirac will represent both French and German interests. The two German leaders feel that they’re rather more urgently needed back in Berlin in the Bundestag that day, where it seems every single SPD/Green coalition vote will be needed to pass a raft of labor-reform laws which some call “Hartz IV” (after the Hartz Commission, chaired by Peter Hartz, a Volkswagen executive, which called for such reforms).

I got the “heads-up” about this from Tobias Schwarz’ mention in “Fistful of Euros.” But what are the Germans themselves writing about this? (more…)

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Israel Said to Plan Strike Against Iran

Monday, October 13th, 2003

The current most-talked-about press-scoop about current conditions in the Middle East belongs to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. A search on Google News indicates that scattered English-language periodicals have picked up on its eyebrow-raising report from last Saturday. (I first became aware of it via the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.) As before, when Al Gore cited in a speech a damning interview about the Bush administration’s economic policies in Der Spiegel by top American economist George A. Akerlof, EuroSavant is glad to step in to assist its English-speaking audience. (more…)

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Al Gore, George A. Akerlof (Nobel-Winning Economist), and the Bush Administration’s Disastrous Policies

Wednesday, August 13th, 2003

You might be aware that former Vice-President Al Gore emerged from the shadows last week to deliver a major speech at New York University (NYU) in Manhattan, his first such speech in almost a year. For this one, his theme was the repeated pattern of “false impressions” that the Bush administration has fed the American people: that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and has worked closely with al-Qaeda, that Iraqis would greet invading GIs as liberators, etc. – but he cited plenty “false impressions” in economic policy, too.

The speech seems to have been a success (cf. an account of the event in the New Yorker), although in the course of it Gore reiterated that he is not a candidate for president, but will eventually endorse one. You can get the speech’s prepared text here. In it, Gore makes reference to a recent interview published in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel with Nobel Prize-winning (2001) American economist George A. Akerlof, and includes in his speech some eyebrow-raising citations: “This is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history . . . . What we have here is a form of looting.”

So I had to go and find that interview on Der Spiegel Online. And a remarkable interview it is, too – the quotations Gore used in his speech were fully consistent with its general tone. Actually, Akerlof even goes further, advocating ziviler Ungehorsam – “civil disobedience” – against the Bush administration policies which he decries. (Although not pushed so far that people actually stop paying their taxes – he’s far too much of an economist through-and-through to go that far!) Ladies and gentlemen, here is the interview in English (the language in which it was originally conducted by Spiegel editor Matthias Streitz, of course); I recommend that you take a look at it.

(Note: “More” adds nothing more than an additional self-absorbed, personal note about this episode. Recommended only for die-hard €S fans or family members.) (more…)

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The “Godfather” Takes Up the EU Presidency

Tuesday, July 1st, 2003

It’s July 1, so the half-yearly presidency of the European Union changes hands again (for possibly the second-to-the-last time, if the EU Constitution, which changes this system, is ratified within the first half of 2004 as planned). Good-bye to Greece; ciao to Italy, specifically to Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minster. (more…)

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More Views on the Proposed EU Constitution

Thursday, June 26th, 2003

I’m continuing my coverage of the EU draft constitution, which was handed over last Friday by European Convention President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to EU member-states at the Thessaloniki European summit. Now it’s in their hands, to add to and subtract from as they see fit to agree (doing so formally in an Intergovernmental Conference which is due to start in mid-October), in preparation for ratification by all member-states separately in the spring of 2004. Considering now some of the German-speaking parts of Europe, reception of the draft here has been mixed – although, crucially, German Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder has endorsed it. (more…)

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The EU Gang of Four – Part III

Friday, May 2nd, 2003

Germany was the odd-man-out at the recent defense summit between the German and French presidents and Belgian and Luxembourgian premiers: Chancellor Schröder’s government has been the one trying the hardest for a rapprochement with the American administration after the divisions caused by the War in Iraq. Indeed, as Anke Bryson notes in the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung Weekly, both Schröder and his foreign minister Joschka Fischer wanted to keep this “mini-summit” a low-profile affair, out of respect for the sensibilities of the Bush Administration – “but the publicity damage had already been done.”

We’ve seen how elements of the French press took this meeting seriously, while the Belgian press was more cynical, doubting that anything would ever come of this summit taking place on its own soil. Whatever the sotto voce protestations of German officials, they did accept the invitation to attend the Brussels meeting and did show up there. It’s time to check the German press’ reactions. (more…)

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