Drops the Other Electoral Schuh

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

A coming high point in European Union affairs is the elections to the European Parliament scheduled for the period 22-25 May, which will be for all 751 seats. They were made more exciting (if you find them exciting at all in the first place) by an extraordinary intervention a few weeks ago by the German Federal Constitutional Court, which struck down the 3% threshold that had been required of individual political parties for gaining representation in the European Parliament at all.

The reason that this made those upcoming EP elections a bit more exciting is that it means that the way is open now for representatives from all sorts of wacky parties to take their seats there come June, although be forewarned that these parties are more likely to be “wacky” as in “unsavory” – like the German neo-Nazi NPD, for example, and also quite likely indeed to be ideologically opposed to the very institution into which they are gaining admission – rather than as in “loony.” (There is no European equivalent to the UK’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party that I am aware of, for example.)

Nonetheless, five of the judges on that German Federal Court (out of eight) concluded that there was no more need for any such electoral threshold to “preserve the European Parliament’s ability to function.” Fine, then, but the legislatures of a handful of other EU member-states do still retain this sort of electoral threshold – in particular, Germany itself, with a 5% hurdle to gain representation in the Bundestag!

Inevitably, then, this has come along:

Prozenthurd
Yes, it’s Die Linke, or “The Left” which is the German political party now calling on that domestic electoral hurdle to be abolished. That’s the party representing the left-over of the old SED, i.e. the “unity” party which dominated the former German “Democratic” Republic (East Germany) in a far from democratic manner.

Let’s remember why that 5% barrier was inserted into Germany’s post-WWII federal constitution in the first place: because the constitution of the Weimar Republic before Hitler did not have any such rule, and it was the proliferation of pissant political parties in the Reichstag that made the State almost ungovernable and paved the way to power for the Nazis.

Indeed – and as you would expect – representatives of the more mainstream parties on the current German political scene reacted distinctly unenthusiastically to that suggestion from head of Die Linke. The deputy chairman of the governing coalition’s Bundestag faction, Thomas Strobl, for instance: “In the 65 years since this German republic was established, this clause has given us stability and predictability.”

The German President, Joachim Gauck, however, has indicated a willingness to see a debate on the point. What’s more, maybe “predictability” is not necessarily the characteristic you would most want to associate with any legislative body that is supposed to be accountable to the people through elections.

At bottom, though, we are left with a simple logical inconsistency. Could those five federal justices voting to abolish the EP’s 3% electoral hurdle please explain why that same calculus should not also apply to the Bundestag’s 5% hurdle? One suspects that the only answer they would be able to come up with is that the European Parliament is so much less important – has so much less real power – than the Bundestag that it is quite alright to maintain the former as a convenient hobby-horse for all of one’s best, and most idealistic, democratic intentions.

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Stasi Collaborator Without Peer?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

There’s a big election coming up soon, in no less than Germany, where on 22 September all 598 members of the Bundestag will be elected anew, meaning that the exact composition of the national government will be deternined as well. The Germans like to go away for vacation in August just like most of their European brethren, but as public life now straggles back to activity the election campaign is now getting started in earnest.

In a quite clever sneak attack operatives for the main opposition party, the SPD, managed to gain control over the URL of Chancellor Merkel’s own name and put a site stuffed full of their own party propaganda behind it. Undeterred, Chancellor Merkel’s own people merely turned to another, very close URL (sticking a dash between her first and last names) to set up her own site, filled with old family photos to provide a soft-tinged, nostalgic focus to her public image.

All well and good, and deliciously naughty. But it holds no candle to this:

Welt_SteinbruckStasi

Nelke, German for “carnation,” as in the flower. But it was also allegedly the Stasi code-name for Peer Steinbrück – who is merely the SPD’s candidate now running against Chancellor Merkel!

(And the “Stasi,” for those of you who need reminding, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or “Ministry for State Security” (cf. “Department of Homeland Security”) was the monstrous Communist East German secret police and spying organization.) (more…)

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What Is Romney’s Next Act?

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Maybe it’s a question you haven’t devoted much thought about. But the journalists at the Dutch paper De Volkskrant are on it:


“What does Romney do now?

Indeed: What do you do with yourself when you’ve basically spent the last six years running for president, but came up short at the finish line? “Spend more time with my family” – OK, of course, but once that starts to wear thin there aren’t really many firm answers about what comes next. Apparently wife Ann doesn’t want any more presidential campaigning, yet according to this piece “In the US there is a general consensus that the 65-year-old ex-governor will not disappear from the public eye.” There may nonetheless well be another attempt at the presidency; in any case, some future active role in the Republican Party seems likely.

BTW the Volkskrant web-editors have not been kind to Romney with their choice of picture to head this piece. Check it out: it’s Mitt smooching with Ann on-stage after he delivered his concession speech, but considering her expression it’s probably better described as an oscular assault!

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Petition Factories

Monday, January 9th, 2012

The next Russian election, the one that will inevitably elevate Vladimir Putin back to the presidency, is not until next March, but from a Czech source we see the political machine is already hard at work.


tiscali.cz: Předvolební kampaň na ruského prezidenta má první skandál: http://t.co/QasPJgmv
@Zpravy
Zpravy

“Preliminary campaign for Russian president has its first scandal.” Yes, it’s scandalous, if not quite entirely straightforward, as explained in the accompanying article about the discovery made by opposition activists in Moscow of the wholesale fabrication of signature-petitions being perpetrated in local universities. (more…)

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DEEP VOTE

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

I may run the risk of lowering the usually elevated tone of Eurodiscourse that I try to uphold on this blog. But the following is not really pornographic. (A tip for those of a certain age: the 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally” – relevant here, as you’ll see! – got an “R” rating, which many considered too strict.) Anyway, this comes to us from the Young Socialists of Catalonia, via Reuters and the hyperactive Czech Twitter-feed Zpravy:

There is a point here, and it concerns the regional elections due to take place there next Sunday (28 November). The Young Socialists want people to be sure to turn out to vote – the “tag-line” message at the end of this clip is “Voting is a pleasure” – and preferably, of course, for Socialist candidates. That’s about it for any serious purpose, though, so the whole thing is rather overboard, a clever idea, but one that probably never should have been actually carried out. It should be no surprise that the clip was roundly condemned by spokesmen and -women from the more conservative parties on the political spectrum, as well as by some Socialist members of government in fact. The BBC website captured probably the best quote, from Joan Herrera, leader of the Catalonia Greens (and a man: “Joan” is a man’s name in Catalan): that it would be “very difficult to reach orgasm voting for any of the candidates, myself included.”

But Spain: how could something like this come from Spain? However, this is not your father’s (or at least your grandfather’s) Spain, that dictatorship of the Caudillo propped up by an unreformed and reactionary Catholic Church. It has changed, dramatically, and the watershed was in 1975, when dictator Francisco Franco’s death and the resulting return to democracy (institutionalized in a new constitution of 1978) prompted Spain to some extent to swing way to the other extreme and become an “anything goes” society. Abortion was legalized as well as divorce – together with, more recently, gay marriage. Cinema aficionados can refer to the award-winning films of Pedro Almodóvar for a series of (slightly exaggerated) portraits of this new prevailing culture – prevailing in Spanish cities, at least.

So, you say you’ve never been to Spain
But you kinda like the music?
Well, the ladies are insane there
And they sure know how to use it
They don’t abuse it
Never gonna lose it
You won’t refuse it!

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Obama Has Lost the French, Too

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

The reverberations of the Democratic Party’s grand defeat in Tuesday’s midterm elections continue to echo from various foreign observers. Now Le Monde Diplomatique (a monthly, strictly speaking) contributes a trenchant commentary, written by no less than the paper’s editorial director, Serge Halimi: Electoral rout for a president without a plan.

The verdict? Bitter disappointment, as you can tell from the headline. For we have to remember that, in reality, Obama’s real mission as American head of state has always been to make the country more like the France epitomized precisely by Le Monde Diplomatique – just ask any Tea Partier. (Well, they’d probably leave out that very last part, having never heard of the publication.) Halimi writes in a despairing tone that Obama since his inauguration has “missed the chance to profoundly reform his country by pointing it in a progressive direction.” What’s more: “That the Republicans are returning to the front rank two years after the debacle of President Bush says enough, in any rate, about the ravaging power of national dissatisfaction.” Ouch!

Now, perhaps the president feels the “frustration” he can sense in the electorate is all down to a mere failure of communication. Not so, writes Halimi, and here I must quote at length to do justice to his comprehensive indictment:

In reality, the American people have just expressed more than “frustration” or unhappiness ascribable to deficient “pedagogy.” They have punished a hesitant and cowardly economic policy when it came to reviving [economic] activity; the economist Paul Krugman has never ceased to prove that the level of federal budgetary reflation was insufficient to assure recovery, taking into account the austerity policies undertaken at the same time at the state level. The electorate equally disavowed a health reform which was the visible result of compromise and bad faith bargaining, including with the main pillars (pharmaceutical lobby and insurance lobby) of an unfair and onerous system. Finally, the young, the militants, turned away from a presidency that, even though it had assured legislative support, never knew how to demonstrate either “leadership” nor the will to make a drastic break on the question of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, nor on the closure (promised but endlessly put off) of the Guantanamo prison, nor on the climate change front, nor even towards bringing to an end the discrimination that hits homosexuals serving the colors.

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Danish View: Chaos Ahead for US

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“The American people this evening flunked President Obama’s first two years as president,” runs the first paragraph of an analysis of the US midterm election results by the US-based correspondents for the Danish daily Politiken, Thomas Berndt and Jesper Vangkilde. Their headline even speaks of the president’s “big spanking.”

They summarize for Danish readers the fundamental numerical results: House lost for the Democrats, Senate retained (as Majority Leader Harry Reid “saves his political career”), and a Republican wave also taking over most state governors and legislatures. What this means for the future: “Over the slightly longer-term political chaos [awaits] in Washington, unless the parties can find a way to work together.” The authors also make mention of the “especially offensive” defiance directed at the president by “one of the election campaign’s absolute key figures,” Sarah Palin: (Translated back from the Danish) “We’re sending representatives to Washington to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough.”

Over at the opinion newspaper Information, their long-time American affairs commentator Martin Burcharth takes a more philosophical tone (Varied outlook for cross-political cooperation). All things will pass, he assures the reader; sudden shifts in American political fortunes are really “quite common,” citing history back to Jimmy Carter (hero in 1976; goat in 1980) to prove his point. This latest heavy midterms defeat for the Democrats and President Obama need not be regarded as any real sort of tragedy.

Rather, anything is still possible for the 2012 elections, and Burcharth offers the president two possible strategies for success. He can tack to the political center (as former Clinton political advisor Paul Begala recommends) and push a new program of extensive public works, pushed as a “jobs plan,” which Republicans would not dare to oppose. Or he can stay on the left (the advice of Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and launch a crusade against the Big Industry and Big Finance that got America into the economic mess it is in. That will also mean cutting taxes on the poor and middle-class, but not for the rich: the latter should be required to pay for their misdeeds!

Whichever he chooses, Burcharth recognizes that prospects for real cooperation between the president and the Republicans in Congress will probably last only until around the end of next year, when politicking for the 2012 elections begins in earnest. In fact, he offers the rather cynical recommendation that Democrats make full use of the “lame duck” period still open to them – i.e. when they still have majorities in both Houses, before the newly-elected representatives and Senators come to take their seats – to enact major legislation such as immigration reform and even new climate/energy legislation (always a leading Danish concern). No cooperation with political opponents even required!

It’s ingenious, in a way – except that Burcharth forgets that, even today, the Democrats’ Senate majority is only 59, which causes certain complications of its own in passing legislation, and in any event exploiting the “lame duck” session that way somewhat contravenes American ideas of political legitimacy.

UPDATE: What do you know, the Rude Pundit also sees great merit in that “use the lame duck session to pass some serious legislation” argument of Martin Burcharth’s, and develops it further. But beware: he’s rude! (Sample language: “No, you need to blow us, Boehner and McConnell.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

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Speaker No

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The US midterm election returns are now in, for the most part. The result? Greater-than-expected Democratic losses in the House of Representatives – and a loss of their majority in that chamber – together with somewhat less-than-expected losses in the Senate, capped by the unexpected electoral survival of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

His counterpart as most powerful official of the House now becomes Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, someone relatively unknown to this point even within the US, and certainly internationally. The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung steps into the breach today with a brief portrait entitled The Patriot.

“Patriot”? That’s taking Boehner at his own word. President Obama is of a slightly different opinion; as the election neared and he started sharpening his rhetoric against his political opponents, he began to zero in on Boehner as the face of the Republican Party – “the Party of No” – as a whole, often singling out his name multiple times in campaign speeches. (That face, FAZ correspondent Matthias Rüb adds, which is always “tanned brown.”) He also was the presumed target of the President’s now-infamous remark during an interview with a Spanish-language radio station about how Latino voters needed to start voting to “punish their enemies” who stood in the way of legislation they want, like immigration reform. No, I’m a patriot, is how Boehner responded in his own campaign speech soon afterwards, since he is against high taxes and high government indebtedness.

Be that as it may, it will no longer be possible simply to dismiss John Boehner after 3 January when he becomes Speaker of the House, so Obama and the rest of us need to get to know him better. (Naturally, Obama is way ahead on this.) He is said by author Rüb to be “amiable,” and renowned as a “renewer and clean-up man” (Erneuerer und Saubermann) within the halls of Congress, which he first started to prowl in 1991. Since that freshmen term his rapid rise to the top came about through close association with, first, Newt Gingrich and then with Tom Delay, whom he succeeded as House minority leader after the latter resigned his seat in February 2006 over corruption allegations (only now coming to trial). Interestingly, before that point his main legislative accomplishment was probably the “No Child Left Behind” education act, which he maneuvered through Congress in cooperation with then-President George W. Bush and noted liberal grandee Senator Ted Kennedy.

But there is also no need to idealize the man. For one thing, there was his own remarkable admission in a recent interview that, as far as he was concerned, the chief Republican legislative goal was to ensure that Obama becomes a one-term president. At the same time, he is by far the champion fund-raiser for Republican electoral coffers, largely because of how especially “amiable” he is towards lobbyists for financial and big business concerns, as noted in this NYT piece of only a couple months ago. But we probably cannot expect the FAZ – even the paper’s dedicated Washington correspondent – to be able to fully fathom the increasingly commercial nature of American legislative deliberations.

Post modified: Sorry, it was rather Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell who stated the bit about making Obama a one-term president being the Republican Party’s #1 objective.

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Obama After His (Predicted) Setback

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Tomorrow’s the Big Day! It’s mid-term election-day in the US, the occasion (as usually is the case) for the party-in-power in the White House to lose its dominance in Congress to some degree, in this case probably to the extent of seeing a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and possibly even in the Senate as well.

All that Congress stuff is not so often the focus of foreign coverage of American politics, however. Generally, it’s the President foreigners are interested in – the American executive in charge of the country’s relations with other governments, after all – and especially this one who broke once and for all the 200-year-plus color barrier to the office.

So we have, for example, a piece from France’s left-wing Libération (Midterm: Obama launches the final assault). There is a disappointed tone here even as journalist Fabrice Rousselot goes into detail about how Barack Obama (together with Michelle) has stepped up his campaigning in the last weeks before the election, using his electoral support organization Organizing for America to go after young voters especially aggressively and get them to the polls tomorrow. After all, Rousselot also notes how, this time, the President’s campaign is not about “Yes we can”; this time it’s more like “It’s hard, and we have to persevere.” That’s not quite so inspiring as a slogan, and so he doubts Obama will be able to do much to ward off a serious electoral defeat for his party.

Then again, that might be a good thing. Such, at least, is the speculation of Chritoph von Marschall writing in the (also left-wing) Berlin paper Der Tagesspiegel (Liberating defeat for Obama). The President’s lack of progress on the foreign affairs front, the author admits, is even more noticeable than his domestic performance (despite the Nobel Prize): Iran, the MidEast, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo still operating. Is he fated to do even worse in the second half of his term after these elections?

Actually, probably the opposite. Here Von Marschall either draws on his own rather sophisticated study of American presidential affairs or else has access to good academic advisors, as he brings forward the insight that, after all, presidents have much more freedom of action in foreign affairs, and so it has repeatedly been the case that they have devoted themselves to these whenever they have felt stifled on the home front. After all, every president must build his own “legacy” for the history books one way or the other; the presidency is not just a matter of warming some historic seat for four or eight years.

Furthering this line of argument, Van Marschall also points out how there is also greater scope to ignore the demands of his own party in the area of foreign affairs, because of that greater freedom there to do what he sees fit. Supposedly his positions on Afghanistan and Iraq in particular are even closer to what Republicans prefer. Then again, this does not guarantee any sort of cosier cooperation between the Executive and Legislative branches coming in with the new Congress; keep in mind the almost pathological determination by Republicans to oppose anything Obama might want to do, seemingly even if at some fundamental level they agree with it. And Obama will still need a 2/3 vote of the Senate to ratify treaties, including the update to the START nuclear weapons treaty he recently signed with Russia. It’s easy to imagine that that, too (and, with it, American-Russian relations generally), could fall victim to the new congressional intransigence likely to be elected tomorrow and installed at the beginning of next January.

UPDATE: Renowned MidEast expert Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan weighs in with this closer examination (in English) of how a Republican-dominated Congress (even if it’s just the House of Representatives) could still hamper the President’s conduct of foreign policy, e.g. by calling hearings on the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan (and even from Iraq) as a means to pressure him to slow them down.

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The Latest from Dr. Doom

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Never heard of him? No, I don’t mean Dr. Demento. “Dr. Doom” is the monniker borne (probably proudly) by NYU economics professor Nouriel Roubini, famous for foreseeing – among other things – the gigantic collapse in the US housing market beginning in 2007 that kicked off this worldwide Great Recession. Back then Roubini kept adding to his fame by forecasting further disastrous developments in one aspect of national or international economic performance after another; people would never believe him that things could get that bad, yet most times events proved him to be spot-on.

Now he has further comments which he contributed to the Financial Times. Unfortunately, that paper has a rather restrictive readership policy – i.e. it likes to force you to pay – but luckily we can resort to Denmark’s business newspaper Børsen instead. There it’s a brief piece, and Roubini’s message is clear, simple, and expressed in the title: The catastrophe commences on Tuesday.

Tuesday? That’s election day in the USA, of course, and according to Roubini that will unleash a new economic crisis because the Republicans are expected to make significant gains, recapturing control of the House of Representatives and maybe the US Senate as well. This will inaugurate paralysis in Congress as Democrats and Republicans block everything the other side tries to do, even as the US economic situation remains dire and in need of fiscal initiatives of one sort or another.

True, this insight is hardly blindingly original, and it has also certainly been advanced recently by other commentators, and then even rather more eloquently. (“In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.”)

Then again, everyone knows that Paul Krugman is a liberal (Nobel Prize-bearing) attack-dog. But this is the FT, BørsenDr. Doom, no less!

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2 Out of 3 Iraqis Intend to Vote

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Don’t look now, but there is another big election coming up in Iraq soon, on Sunday, 7 March to be exact. It’s the second nationwide election for that new democracy since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and of course it will determine whether Nouri al-Maliki gets to stay in charge as premier.

Come to think of it, maybe you did have some inkling that something like that was about to happen, from the recent disputes you may have heard about involving attempts by the current government to disallow certain religious/political groups from standing as candidates. But this article from the Ritzau news agency in the Danish Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad deals instead with the results of a recent poll among eligible Iraqi voters undertaken for the government by the Iraqi National Media Center. A total of 63% across the sample stated to the pollsters that they intended to vote. This compares unfavorably with the 79.6% that we do know turned out to vote at that first free-and-fair national election, back in 2005. The poll’s results broke down further to show that Kurds and Shi’ites revealed themselves to be rather more ready to make it to the polls on 7 March than did Sunnis.

Whoever wrote this brief piece’s headline – whether it was the Ritzau agency or the Kristeligt Dagblad – clearly showed displeasure at this news by making it read “Only two out of three Iraqis want to vote.” But wait: Infoplease tells us that only 56.8% of American voters turned out to the polls even back in November, 2008 to either elect or try to stop Obama as president! In that light, 63% looks pretty good! Then again, you can still understand the tenor of that Danish reporting when you keep in mind that Danish voter participation is always pretty high: this Wikipedia article puts it at usually around 87%.

UPDATE: If you want further confirmation that things are really going rather OK in Iraq, here’s a guest blog-post, in English, on the Foreign Policy site from someone who definitely knows what he’s talking about. Hey, 63% – those Iraqis are simply getting more American every day, that’s all!

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Baring Their Electoral Assets

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

busenAs we’ve mentioned before in this space, but in other contexts, there is a German general election due on Sunday, 27 September. To mention yet another context: that happens to be the middle-Sunday of the two weeks of Oktoberfest, so perhaps we can expect reduced electoral turnout among Munich polling-places and/or increased incidents of voting-while-drunk.

Berlin, on the other hand, is already having to deal with a new (yet also very, very old) method of trying to provoke a cleft within the body politic, as you can see from the above illustration, and as Die Tageszeitung columnist Ines Kappert – that’s a woman’s name – complains about in a brief essay entitled Aha, Titten (which I won’t translate for you from the German; I think you can get the sense on your own). Vera Lengsfeld is the lady with the green necklace, which stands in stark contrast to her more-natural adornments, on the right side of this electoral poster from Germany’s CDU, or Christlich Demokratische Union, also the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is the similarly-adorned lady to the left. Lengsfeld posed explicitly for this poster, while Merkel’s picture comes from her appearance last year at the ceremony for the inauguration of the new Oslo (NO) opera house, where her choice of apparel excited considerable comment in the German media. (more…)

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Afghanistan Disillusionment Grows in Germany

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Close observers of the NATO effort in Afghanistan (including EuroSavant) have always been aware that there is something strange about the deployment of German troops there, which now has passed the eight-year mark. For starters there is their exclusive placement in the north of the country, when all the meaningful anti-Taliban action is in the south (or at least used to be!), this deployment also features fairly absurd rules-of-engagement designed to restrict the German Army (or Bundeswehr) there to defensive duties only. Now you can add into this mix a strong and growing skepticism among the public back home whether the Bundeswehr should be there in the first place, if we can credit an article by Hauke Friederichs in the prestigious German opinion newspaper Die Zeit, entitled Germany’s self-delusion in the Hindu Kush.

That caustic title is actually the very same as that of a new book out by Stefan Kornelius, head of the foreign affairs department at Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. The expanded list he provides of “defense-only” rules under which the German troops have to work is truly ridiculous. They may fire at targets only after they have first been attacked, and even then may not pursue those enemy forces if they should then try to flee; no night flights are allowed by either fixed-winged or helicopters – and, in any case, anything German pilots may learn up there in the way of intelligence on the enemy cannot be radioed back directly (i.e. in “real-time”), but must be debriefed only after that aircraft is back on the ground. For the rule that takes the cake I almost chose the one reading “No counter-narcotics activity; you’re not here for that,” which among other things supposedly has resulted in opium poppies for harvesting being grown right next to a German base! But no, that has to yield pride-of-place to Friederichs’ mention that German government lawyers are still filing legal complaints against soldiers who fire their weapons in self-defense when it’s not clear that the Taliban have indeed fired first! (more…)

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Fateful Friday in Tehran

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Tomorrow shapes up as a very important day for the on-going internal conflict in Iran, as Friday prayers will be delivered by none other than Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who generally has aligned himself throughout the crisis on the reformers’ side and has spent much of the period since the election on June 12 in the holy city of Qom, supposedly trying to mobilize opinion among the Assembly of Experts (of which he is the Chairman) against Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad. Time Magazine’s Joe Klein gave us the heads-up yesterday in a post on his “Swampland” blog.

The Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung also released a Friday-preview piece yesterday (End-Time scenarios in Iran), which generally agrees with Klein’s evaluation, going on to provide additional supporting details. For one thing, Rafsanjani’s speech is to be televised on Iranian State Television; for another, both the main putative loser of that June 12 election, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, and another high-placed ayatollah who has been supportive of him (as well as formerly serving Iran’s president himself), Mohammad Khatami, will be sitting there in the first row, as we learn from Moussavi’s Facebook page. (more…)

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Twitter for the Peace Prize!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

That’s right: someone has publicly put Twitter forward as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing the impact of its supposed assistance to the protest movement in Iran against the results of the 12 June national elections. That someone is Mark Pfeifle, formerly Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor to George W. Bush, and he does so in an opinion-piece in the Christian Science Monitor (in English, of course). Although I have dealt with questions of Twitter here recently, I was unaware of this editorial until I was informed of it today by this German website intern.de. (And how did I find out about intern.de? Hey, you’ve got to let me have a few professional secrets!)

Naturally, I leave it to you, dear reader, to examine Pfeifle’s article itself as you may wish. Intern.de, though, has some reservations about it, like Pfeifle’s assertion that Twitter was mainly responsible for the emergence of the story of the assassination of Neda (Neda Agha-Soltan), who basically became the lead-martyr for the Iranian opposition’s cause. I also rather believe that it was YouTube, if anything, that figured most largely in spreading the news and horror of her killing. Pfeifle also conveniently ignores the very substantial defects to Twitter that emerged during those days of Tehran street-demonstrations, such as the sheer volume of “tweets” to be digested (221,000 per hour at their height, it says here) and the related problem of a high “noise-to-signal ratio” (i.e. it was difficult to glean out useful information – much less anything that could be verified – from that flood), as the audience for the “#iranelection” hash-tag eventually was even treated to tweet-advertising piggybacking on that tag from a UK furniture company! The intern.de blogger also detects a high level of sheer PR content in Pfeifle’s piece, whether it’s trying to spin for Twitter or for Mark Pfeifle himself. I agree, but again, you can go off to the Christian Science Monitor site and judge for yourself.

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Iran Presidential Candidate Withdraws Election Fraud Complaint

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Don’t worry, we’re not talking here about Mir Hussein Mousavi: The Flemish daily De Standaard is now reporting that one of the three defeated candidates in the 12 June Iranian presidential election, Mohsen Rezaei, has now withdrawn his official complaint of “irregularities” in the conduct of that balloting, as announced today by the official Iranian news-agency IRNA. Rezaei is quoted thusly: “The political and social situation in the country and security have become more important than the election.”

Could this be a sign that the authorities have succeeded in quieting down the opposition and convincing the country to forget about that election, accept Ahmadinejad, and just go back to work? Probably not; Rezaei is identified in that Standaard article as the “conservative presidential candidate,” i.e. the one closest anyway to the current government establishment. Juan Cole implies that, in the true tally of the 12 June votes, he probably came in dead-last.

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News from Tehran

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Fear not, all you thousands of EuroSavant fans, whether on Twitter, by RSS, or simply frequent direct visitors to the site! While I’m always on the look-out for news of quirky Euro-events that I can pass on to you (see, for example, immediately below), especially if they provide fertile breeding-ground for puns, I do also regularly treat the major news of the day when I can add to the discussion a new insight or perspective as gleaned from the European press.

As of this Sunday, the world’s burning news is of course the recent election in Iran, the apparent plot by the authorities in that country to steal it, and the people’s reaction thereto. Unfortunately, all of this is occurring so far over a weekend, which might be another dastardly trick by the current Tehran regime designed to limit take-up of the story by the regular European press, some parts of which do not work on Sunday at all (although there’s also word that the American MSM has been similarly slow off the starting-blocks). (more…)

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Høi Reax

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

As long as we’re still covering the various reactions to Obama’s presidential victory of last week, let’s be sure not to miss the musings of Berlingske Tidende’s Poul Høi, who in his reporting and now in his own blog Amerikanske Tilstande (= “American Conditions”; here is the homepage), has had interesting things to say about the US – inspired by his on-the-scene reporting – for a number of years now. And in reaction to this historical election result he doesn’t come up short: his latest post is even entitled Obama and Sambo.

(Maybe I should have just stolen that title to make a more eye-catching heading for this blogpost, but I decided against it. By the way, the only other European columnist I can think of that I would want to watch specifically for any reaction to the election would be Agnès Giard, sex-blogger for France’s Libération, whom I have certainly covered before. But it seems politics generally lie outside of what she regards as her journalistic remit; the article she happened to post right after the election was actually entitled Declaration of love to the zombies. So there you have the link, although I’m not going to deal with that one, you’ll have to read the piece in French yourself. But no, rest assured that it has nothing to do with any politician, whether American or not.) (more…)

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Euro Election Reax

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

It’s Obama! Let’s take a broad range of European editorial responses to his historic presidential victory and look at each briefly in turn – using what we could even call the Andrew Sullivan format, but with translation. (more…)

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Four French Election Lessons

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The excitement is mounting . . . in less than a day we should all know who the 44th President of the USA will be! That is, unless we come up against another vote-counting disaster such as occurred in the state of Florida back in 2000, Patrick Sabatier reminds us in his article for the French news-magazine Le Point: The four lessons of an historic campaign. Thanks for that, M. Sabatier, and unfortunately what you foresee could well come true, what with the unprecedented flood of voters expected to show up at the polls today, even after the similar throngs that flocked to the early-voting sites opened by some (but by no means all) states.

If we do get some sort of definitive result out of the day’s proceedings, Sabatier points out that it can only turn out one way, if you pay attention to the pollsters and other experts, namely a victory for Barack Obama. So why not go ahead and offer “four lessons” out of the American electoral campaign, as seen from a French perspective? Although, that said, Sabatier at the same time does take care to factor the possibility of a surprise McCain victory into his conclusions. (more…)

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Longest – and Dirtiest? – Campaign Ever

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Tired of all the US election news? (“Obama, McCain, Obama, Palin, William Ayers, Rashid Khalidi . . .” and on and on.) Well, today is the day before Election Day 2008: here at EuroSavant I just can’t stop now – and you can be quite sure that I’ll be monitoring foreign coverage of the results later this week as well. Just be patient, all of this will soon pass . . .

In the meantime, you have the occasional foreign article about the US elections that you rather wish did not have to be there, like what we see today in the main Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes: You’ll be arrested at the polls, leaflets mislead American voters. The lede:

In the last hours before the presidential elections American voters are being flooded with dirty tricks. Misleading e-mails go to Americans, disquieting telephone calls occur, and people find under their doors slanderous pamphlets. Their purpose is to dissuade people from voting, to mislead and confuse them. A part of these tricks this year have a racist flavor due to Barack Obama’s dark skin.

The article (no by-line given) proceeds to give a pretty good list of the various don’t-get-out-the-vote schemes that have been uncovered so far; some of them I hadn’t even heard of yet. (more…)

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Iraqi Elections: First French Take

Monday, January 31st, 2005

Time for a quick “day-after” survey of French press coverage of the Iraqi elections.

As usual, “day-after” is sometimes too early when it comes to significant, multi-dimensioned world events, as journalists and editors get all caught up with the reporting and don’t yet have time to sit back and think about what it all really meant. If you want an example of what I’m talking about here, and can read French yourself, I refer you to Le Monde’s editorial this morning, The Iraqi Wager. Spotlight on young French-Iraqi student; for her and her mother, being able to vote for the first time is truly a moving experience. (And this in what Le Monde explicitly labels its “editorial,” written collectively by the editors.) Yes yes, and you know, Iraq has truly never had elections. These first were admittedly imperfect: Sunni underrepresentation, the threat of violence. Still, they were at least a relative success, and hopefully Iraqis can look forward to much less imperfect elections next December. Right, moving on . . .

Libération is a bit better in analyzing what author Jean-Pierre Perrin terms in his piece’s title The Lessons of a Confessionalized Election. (more…)

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Whisper It: Iran Likes the Iraqi Elections, Too

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

The proverbial fly-on-the-wall managed to give his report of the interesting discussions that took place last week in Davos, during the annual World Economic Forum gathering of the world’s movers-and-shakers that comes to a close tomorrow. That “fly” was one of the publishers of Germany’s Die Zeit, Dr. Josef Joffe, and the star of the show (actually, a private dinner) was the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi (whose name in German is apparently spelled “Charazi”). Joffe found that if he closed his eyes (and of course made allowance for the accent) he could just as well have been listening to George W. Bush or Condi Rice, as he writes in American-Iranian Unison.

The subject was tomorrow’s long-awaited (long-feared?) Iraqi general elections. And Kharazi was delighted about them. Not only that, but he was also glad to give the Bush administration props (strictly within what he thought was the limited scope of a private dinner party, you understand) for its grim determination that they were going to happen on 30 January 2005, and not a day later. Postponing them in any way, according to him, would have been a victory for the Baathists and the terrorists. (more…)

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UN’s Man: Elections in Iraq Impossible Now

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

If you keep tabs with the major American press outlets – in this case I’m talking specifically about the New York Times, although the usual line-up of blogs have thoroughly linked to it already – you will have already seen this article on the latest pessimistic assessments from in-country CIA personnel in Iraq. Ultimately though, as President Bush has already pointed out in this context, these folks are just guessing, and their guesses are pretty much as good or as bad as anyone else’s.

But another “guess” you likely haven’t seen, unless you regularly read the Dutch-language NRC Handelsblad, is that of UN special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, given in the course of a recent exclusive interview (UN Top Man: Elections in Iraq Not Doable Now) to that newspaper’s editor Robert van de Roer. (more…)

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German Election – and Elector – Reflections

Friday, November 5th, 2004

It’s day two of the great George W. Bush re-election wake (since his victory only became definitive on Wednesday the 3rd – day Zero); time to search for some sort of intelligent word about what it all might mean from the German press, perhaps from the highly-respected Die Zeit. There we find, as lead article, what is basically a Teutonic riff on the “two nations” theme out of the election results, in Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff’s article The United Half-Nations. Maybe you’ve already drunk up all the English-language commentary on the 2004 presidential election that you have been able to find, and so are sick of hearing about this thesis and watching it quickly approach the status of a cliché. But if you can still stand it, the German perspective on it here is somewhat intriguing. (more…)

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Europe Faces Its New Challenge

Thursday, November 4th, 2004

The result is finally in – Bush wins – and most of the rest of the world is rather less than pleased. You would rather expect that, but can get filled in on the details here in the Washington Post. In that article there is a brief reference to a commentary from Le Monde; reason enough to go take a look at the full piece itself, in the original French (Electoral Archaism). It turns out that that Le Monde commentary is perhaps not the most definitive word to turn to from France’s newspaper of record, since at the time it was put on-line the presidential election’s final result was not yet known – it begins “Despite an advantage held by George W. Bush, the result of the American elections remains uncertain.” (more…)

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Europe’s Own Voting Mess

Thursday, October 21st, 2004

Uh oh: looks like some funny business with the counting of the ballots. And don’t you find it a little suspicious that all the local election officials, the ones in charge of recording and counting the votes, are all professed partisans of the incumbent?

Yes folks, it’s the old bait-and-switch tactic again. All of this has truly been going on, but not (yet?) in Florida. I’m referring here instead to the recent “elections” in Belarus, commonly known as “Europe’s last dictatorship,” where to no one’s great surprise President Alexander Lukashenko managed to get passed the amendment to the Belarussian constitution that allows him to keep on running for re-election as long as he is physically able.

The key, of course, is that now that the Belarussian constitution allows him to run, it’s overwhelmingly likely that he will always win. This is not due to any special place Lukashenko occupies in the hearts of his countrymen, but rather to his efficiency in finding ways to win, irrespective of what may be the voters’ preferences. Johnni Michelsen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information managed to infiltrate the country to observe the Belarussian election process himself and send back a report: Chaotic Election Day in Belarus. (more…)

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Notes from the French Underground

Monday, August 23rd, 2004

The account is published in Le Monde, but you almost expect that the message was smuggled out in microfilm, in the form of text requiring a secret decoder-ring to decipher. It tells the tale of a dangerous “mole” who has managed to penetrate one of the Organization’s high rituals: a correspondent from this leading French newspaper reports from on-the-scene at one of the “Ask President Bush” campaign appearances the Bush campaign has recently held around the country (Meeting George Bush, Half Rock Star, Half God). (more…)

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Whither Germany in Afghanistan?

Thursday, August 14th, 2003

Reviewing recent EuroSavant coverage, one subject clearly stands out: Iraq. “Democracy in Iraq,” “It’s Hot in Iraq,” “Iraq Through Spanish Eyes,” etc. Maybe I should just change the name of this weblog to something like “IraqSavant” – is the .com domain name still available? (If it was, it isn’t by now!) I do try to avoid excessive concentration on one subject, or on one particular national press. But to a great extent what continues to happen in Iraq remains of great concern and interest, especially in August (the “silly season” or “cucumber time,” etc., when little else that’s truly attention-worthy ever happens, except maybe for travel accidents: crashing airliners, the Russian submarine Kursk, etc.), and especially now that more nations are being drawn into involvement, having generously agreed to assist the Americans and the British in occupation duties.

So here’s a change: How about a fairly in-depth treatment from the recent German press about what’s been going on in . . . um, Afghanistan? No wait, this is truly interesting, especially from the German point of view. You see, the Germans and Dutch last Monday finally came to the end of their six months of joint responsibility for the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), charged with helping Hamid Karzai and his Afghan Transitional Administration with establishing security in the country. So were there sighs of relief all around last Monday from the Deutsch and the Dutch? Not exactly: next to take up the ISAF baton is NATO, and of course both Germany and the Netherlands are long-standing members of NATO. In fact, at last Monday’s handover ceremony German lieutenant general Norbert van Heyst formally handed over ISAF’s green banner . . . to German lieutenant general Goetz Gliemeroth, acting for NATO! (more…)

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