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The problem I have with that "think strategically" argument is that Merkel has so far crossed pretty much every line that she drew in the sand during the Euro crisis. She made so many concessions, and the entire Bundestag with her, that I simply don't see her change course. There is no other serious party that opposes this course. It's not a question of "it could be worse" - the goddamn plane has already crashed into the mountain.

 

As a thinking man and economist, there's just no way how I could possibly give Merkel (or any of her supporters) my vote. The FDP is Merkel's poodle anyway and has made clear that they will support anything that sails under the flag of "Europe - Think of the children!"

 

Merkel's policy follows no discernible principle except opportunism. She's an excellent tactician with a talent of eliminating all opposition around her. Commendable for a politician, yes, but insufficient for a statesman. The only area where she doesn't act completely opportunistic is when it comes to the financial crisis, and here she's steering a course that will prove disastrous in the long run. All the yapping about austerity is just some bizarre Kabuki show to distract from the fact that all the regulations so far have so many loopholes at Germany's disadvantage. And if the history of the European Union teaches anything, it is that these loopholes will be exploited to the widest extent possible.

The success of her entire campaign hinges on the gamble that no new major financial disaster will surface until September so we can pretend that everything's just fine. But the Magma below is hot as ever and the volcano can blow any time.

 

Sounds familiar somehow, yet I cant quite place it..... :unsure:

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Today it turned out his campaign manager Heiko Geue had himself put on leave from his post as a Saxony-Anhalt state secretary of finances by a colleague rather than quitting; according to a report by the state parliament adminstration, as a civil officer he should have only been allowed to go on leave if the public interest was greater than the requirements of his service, which they denied; as it is, a new state secretary was named, but Geue can always return into the state's service or retire on the state's cost. We will see how much traction that gets. Anyway, it's telling that the SPD recently announced they would put more effort into coordinating Steinbrück's campaign ...

 

The Steinbrück campaign defused this possible bomb some time ago by Geue quitting properly from his old job. But now he is being investigated for allegedly using his official car privately. This was actually legal for tours within the state of Saxony-Anhalt, but an anonymous charge from a purported former staffer at the state ministry of finances laid via a law firm accuses him of having himself driven between his place of work and his Berlin residence. Supposedly he also pressured the responsible department about changing the rules, and quarreled with his driver about what reason of use to enter in the car log.

 

The SPD campaign naturally claims the charges are politically motivated bogus, and Geue has filed countercharges for spreading false statements. It's not the first time a political figure comes under fire for alleged improper use of official cars; two years ago the Brandenburg state minister of education resigned over a similiar affair, in 2009 four federal ministers got into hot waters for use of their cars on holidays, and probably most famously in 1991 Bundestag Speaker Rita Süssmuth was criticized because her husband had made use of the parliamentary motorpool.

 

Meanwhile, Steinbrück has presented the first members of his shadow cabinet, or "competence team" as it is usually called here because due to the usual coalition governments, parties rarely get to fill cabinet posts entirely by their own will. Current construction labor union leader Klaus Wiesehügel is slated to become labor minister, which raised a few eyebrows because he is an outspoken critic of the labor and welfare reforms that were enacted under the Red-Green government of Gerhard Schröder; he is obviously meant to bring the SPD's left wing on board.

 

The right wing is supposedly integrated by the nomination of former Lower Saxony State Minister for Science and Culture Thomas Opperman for the post of interior minister, currently chairman of the Bundestag's intelligence oversight committee. The indispensable outsider and young female face is Berlin Technical University design professor Gesche Joost, announced to be responsible for internet policy as an obvious defense against the Pirate Party.

 

National tabloid "Bild" speculated on possible further members of a Red-Green cabinet under Chancellor Steinbrück today:

 

- Green top candidate Jürgen Trittin as minister of finances, a target he has been striving for for some time;

 

- Thuringia State Minister of Economy Matthias Maching of the SPD for transport or energy;

 

- Former Hamburg State and City Senator of Science Krista Sager of the Greens for education;

 

- Brigitte Zypries of the SPD might reprise her former office as minister of justice under the Grand Coalition;

 

- another Grand Coalition retread might be Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD as foreign minister;

 

- SPD parliamentary speaker for economy Hubertus Heil as minister of economy;

 

- Green co-candidate Katrin Göring-Eckardt as minister for development;

 

- SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach as health minister;

 

- former Green minister of agriculture in the Schröder government Renate Künast as environmental minister;

 

- Green party leader Cem Özdemir as minister for consumer protection;

 

- and former Grand Coalition foreign state minister Gernot Erler as defense minister. Of course he just got caught up in the excitement about MPs hiring close relatives as his partner works in his parliamentary district office.

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**SNIP**

The SPD campaign naturally claims the charges are politically motivated bogus, and Geue has filed countercharges for spreading false statements. It's not the first time a political figure comes under fire for alleged improper use of official cars; two years ago the Brandenburg state minister of education resigned over a similiar affair, in 2009 four federal ministers got into hot waters for use of their cars on holidays, and probably most famously in 1991 Bundestag Speaker Rita Süssmuth was criticized because her husband had made use of the parliamentary motorpool.

 

**SNIP**

 

- and former Grand Coalition foreign state minister as defense minister. Of course he just got caught up in the excitement about MPs hiring close relatives as his partner works in his parliamentary district office.

 

1. Does this include Ulla Schmidt - who managed to get her car stolen while she was using it in Spain?

 

2. Name please - and is this on-going in the Bundestag or is it overspill from the CSU Vetternwirtschaft affair in Bavaria

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Whoops - I was in haste to finish and clean forgot to type the name. It's Gernot Erler, and overspill from the Bavarian affair insofar as the press was keyed on to look for similiar cases, though he is from Baden-Württemberg; I mentioned earlier all Bundestag members promptly got an inquiry by "Focus" the week after the "scandal" broke. Will edit the previous post.

 

Yep, it was Ulla Schmidt who triggered the 2009 case. Again, the press started looking and found three other ministers from both coalition parties, though I believe in the end all were found to have stayed more or less within the rules; one was Ursula von der Leyen who is after all still in office.

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BansheeOne, may I just offer my appreciation and thanks for the fine work you do in keeping tabs on this subject for the benefit of those of us with an interest in the subject, but with too little time available to pursue it adequately.

 

Thanks.

 

--

Soren

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Well, I'll be glad if I'm simply not chasing off people riding my hobby horse. Or professional horse in this case. :D

 

Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière made a government statement on the implementation of the Bundeswehr reform yesterday that was planned for some time, the latest instance of the government showcasing this term's successes in parliament as elections approach. Rather unplanned though he had to use part of that in explaining why the Eurohawk project which was intended to give Germany a strategic reconnaissance UAV capability just came to a crashing halt with 650 million Euro already sunk.

 

We have been running a demonstrator for some time with four production aircraft planned, but problems with certification for flying in German airspace have been talked about for a couple weeks already. The Ministry of Defense finally concluded that cost where prohibitive due to an alleged lack of documentation of the airdrame's developmental steps by Northrop Grumman, and pulled the emergency break, unfortunately communicating this to parliament only last week after questions were already being asked.

 

Obviously the opposition blamed the government for messing up (notwithstanding that acquisition plans originated under the Red-Green government and contracts were signed under the Grand Coalition). But copartisans of the minister with a vested interest in the domestic industry were also quick to point to an alleged black box problem (which the ministry says doesn't exist) as it reinforces their lobbying for development of European UAV production capabilities - something that particularly pertains to the pending decision on a MALE UAV that will succeed the three Heron 1 currently leased from Israel for deployment in Afghanistan.

 

The Luftwaffe wanted Predator-B from the beginning but got the Heron 1 lease as an interim solution. There is the possibility of Heron TP as the follow-on, for which IAI would team with Rheinmetall as a domestic German partner; however, what the domestic industry lobby really wants is a 100 percent European solution, possibly co-developed with the French - who however have no plans of their own so far. They would probably also like EADS to fill the hole left by Eurohawk with Talarion, which of course is vaporware at this point too.

 

The press used this debacle to declare de Maizière Merkel's newest political liability, listing a string of previous but really minor controversies he created. He is generally considered Merkel's general purpose weapon who has been her chief of staff and interior minister previously, more a quiet worker and bureaucrat who can however become quiet harsh in his determination to get things done. Some blame him for needlessly saddling the government with a debate on the acquisition of armed drones ahead of the elections - which really interested only few people, but among them a large portion of the usual hysterics.

 

Earlier he pissed off the troops somewhat by stating that some soldiers seem to like complaining and crave attention when it comes to public recognition of their service. Not completely wrong IMO since the image of the Bundeswehr has actually improved by great strides over the last years, but probably somewhat insensitively worded. Anyway, it's not like he is the minister most likely to win or lose Merkel's reelection.

 

Merkel herself became somewhat of the center of scrutinity last week when a new biography of her early life in East Germany once more alleged she was secretary for agitation and propaganda in her university's chapter of the Freie Deutsche Jugend, the communist state youth organization. It is known she was a minor FDJ functionary at one point, membership of which was pretty standard fare for anybody who wanted to attend DDR universities, and most people don't hold it against her.

 

However, there are those of various political stripes who just love to hate her for any number of reasons - probably not too unusual for any head of government - because she's too conservative, too liberal or too politically opportunistic, because she's a woman, an Easterner or even a Protestant. There is a happily-recycled rumor she even worked as an informer for the Stasi codenamed "Erika" at one point ever since a TV team researching the story of DDR dissident Robert Havemann found a picture of a young Merkel approaching his property in a Stasi file.

 

Within the CDU, some still have hard feelings over how she rose to national chairwomanship in the late 90s over the politically dead body of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl after he was revealed to have been involved in an illegal party donation scheme during his time in government. A former Kohl advisor and one-time minister-hopeful, Gertrud Höhler, published a book last year titled "The Godmother", in which she charged Merkel was slowly turning Germany into a socialist dictatorship along the lines of the DDR. Since she was kind of evasive on proof, she was mostly ridiculed though.

 

Merkel herself has never deigned critics of her DDR past with much of a response; she has stated she was a cultural referent in the FDJ, and her reply to the last book was that she "can't remember having ever done agitation and propaganda - but if something else turns out now, I can live with that, too". The author himself said he was not trying to attack her but merely illuminating life in East Germany of that time, and the Left Party of all has attacked her critics for prejudices against East Germans - a favorite bone of contention for them.

 

Meanwhile, the previously mentioned allegations of an Obama visit have solidified into a date of 18/19 June. It's supposed to be a working visit with no public events announced so far, but that didn't deter parlamentarians from ideas of rubbing off some international glamour. The SPD was first to suggest Obama could hold a speech in the Bundestag, gladly followed by the CDU. The speaker's office could merely state that they have not received an official request by either the German or American government or any political group in parliament.

 

I could just as well live without that too, because whenever a VIP of that threat level is in the house, security runs amok and we get threatened with being shot if we step too close to our office windows ...

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The Eurohawk debacle has become the political hot topic, with hindsight-blessed questions being asked about who should have known what when about the lack of conformity to European airspace requirements; even Germany's participation in the NATO AGS system has been called in doubt, since it would also use the Globalhawk platform. The opposition particularly latched on to the fact that after its inquiry, the Federal Auditing Bureau was given relevant documents about procurement with passages blacked out due to non-disclosure agreements with Northrop Grumman - which might be a Catch 22 situation of competing legal requirements. Reports that additional millions will be spent throughout the year to fulfill existing contract conditions (mostly however to proceed with testing of the SIGINT package built by EADS, which might be reused on a replacement platform) fueled the fire even more.

 

There is a widespread sentiment that heads need to roll, if not for a procurement cockup then for miscommunication with controling instances. The opposition is glad for a venue to attack Defense Minister de Maizière as a trusted mainstay of Merkel's cabinet; de Maizière himself has announced to comprehensively inform the Bundestag's defense and budget committees in their next sessions in the coming week and not make any public statements before that. Meanwhile, we see the usual media pile-on as other arms controversies get dragged out again, including the reports of the G 36 rifle losing accuracy in heat buildups; it seems there is an investigation against an official of the Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement who signed off on acquisition of 1,600 additional rifles last year while this matter was being looked into.

 

"Spiegel" also tried to invent another arms export "scandal" involving the Egyptian Fahd APC, which was developed by Thyssen-Henschel who still deliver critical parts; apparently this is really a thoroughly German "tank" (of course) merely license-produced by Egypt with the chief aim to run over protestors for democracy. Never mind that parts delivery was in fact suspended during the revolt against Mubarak, and only resumed after the protestors had chased away the government which had them run over.

 

Meanwhile, the SPD celebrated their 150th anniversary of existence, including their predecessor Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein founded in 1863. Media comments were mostly in the vein of them looking the part of a 150-year-old though. Chancellor candidate Steinbrück presented three more members of his shadow cabinet/competence team yesterday, including former federal justice minister Brigitte Zypries for the field of consumer protection, current Mecklenburg-Vorpommern State Minister for Social Affairs Manuela Schleswig as possible minister for family and women, and Bavarian state SPD chairman Florian Pronold for housing and infrastructure.

 

Pronold is another critic of the Schröderian welfare reforms, which makes him the second left-winger in the team after union boss Klaus Wiesehügel; overall, Steinbrück's crew so far is judged to adhere strictly to political and geographical inner-party proportionalities. The candidate himself wants to deal with the field of finances, his political core competency.

 

In other news, Green co-candidate Katrin Göring Eckardt - the only member of her Bundestag group from former East Germany - stated in an interview that she, too, had been a secretary for agitation and propaganda in her high school chapter of the Freie Deutsche Jugend, just like Merkel, and there had been really little outright political in that activity other than sometimes organizing meetings with WW II or early DDR veterans. In fact Göring-Eckardt, who suspended her office as the praeses of the German Protestant Church's synod, was in a protestant youth group at the same time, something officially frowned upon. Again, not too different from Merkel who was the daughter of a protestant minister.

 

The Greens actually seem to experience a slight dent in polls following their controversial plans for tax hikes; their current thorny subject however are the attempts of pedophiles to use them for their puposes back in the 80s, when they latched on to calls for liberalization of laws on sexual conduct. It has gotten used against them from time to time, but got new traction recently when the chief judge of the Constitutional Court declined to attend a price ceremony for Green member of the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who once alleged in a book to sexual experiences in some revolutonary kindergarten back in the wild 60s. He has since stated these remarks were a stupid attempt at provocation.

 

Subsequently another serving Green MP, gay rights activist Volker Beck, was once more put in the spotlight over an article which appeared in a pro-pedophile book in the 80s; he has always claimed it was altered by the publisher without his consent, likely true since another contributor has stated he never gave an interview that also appeared in the volume, despite not even dealing with pedophilia. But overall, the campaign climate seems to have put a little pressure on the party, so they decided to do what every institution does if accused of a history of sexual abuse: They commissioned an independent review, headed by a politics professor from my old uni of Göttingen, Franz Walter. The results will potentially be interesting, but likely not come about anytime soon.

 

There is still little other movement in polls with CDU/CSU at 39-41, SPD 24-29, Greens 13-14, FDP 4-6 and Left 6-8. The Euro-sceptic AfD seems to not go anywhere after a month on the official political market, remaining at 2-3 percent. Their long-term problem of course is that their core demographic is in the 50+ age bracket; unless the Euro really melts down, they will probably find few voters below 40, and if proposed the return of the D-Mark, those under 20 will likely ask "D-what?"

 

State races: Despite the nepotism affair over the Bavarian state parliament centered on conservative members, the CSU is still in reach of a new absolute majority at 46-47 percent in polls, with SPD at 20, Greens 12-13, FDP 3-4, Left 2-3, Free Voters 8-9. Hesse looks less promising for the Conservatives with CDU 39, SPD 29, Greens 17, FDP and Left both 4. On the European level, the Constitutional Court threw out the five-percent admittance threshold used in most German elections in 2011 for the May 2014 EP polls on the grounds that it disadvantages small parties (apparently more so than in national races); now all parties in the Bundestag except the Left seem to have agreed on introducing a three-percent threshold before this term ends. Small parties are sure to sue against the new legislation, too.

Edited by BansheeOne
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"Funny" how they pretty much ignore the EU ruling, that a threshhold for EU parliament elections is verboten anyway. I wonder why there was not earlier a court process, as only in Germany there was the 5% rule in use in spite of all the other EU countries having none such rule.

 

€dith just looked it up and obviously several countries have threshholds between 3 and 5% for their election process.

But the German constitutional court ruled it out. And then the established political parties reinstate the rule in modified form. Oh yeah just ignore the highest court. :rolleyes:

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I'm just confused why there should be a different standard for European elections from those on the national level. The court ruled 6:3 that it was a disparate disadvantage for small parties because the EP didn't have to support a government and thus needed less stability in coalitions, but given that we are trying to give the parliament more controling powers vis-a-vis the Commission to remove the democratic deficit of the EU, I find that a precarious statement.

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yes a weird reasoning to apply two different standards to elections based on "importance". And by that once again labelling european politics as unimportant compared to the national. Well, maybe we should go for a drink with the judges and maybe one spills the beans when drunk as to really why this decision was done this way?

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Yesterday was interesting, with the defense minister in full self-defense mode over the Eurohawk debacle. Grilled by the defense committee in the morning, the press at noon and the budget committee in the afternoon. The government coalition then called a current affairs hour in parliament on the issue which according to the house rules prevented him being grilled in the regular weekly questioning hour, too; late in the evening he then went onto shows on both public national TV channels.

 

Fortunately for him, the Federal Auditing Office had issued its own report the previous day after finally having been given all relevant documents, judging that the polical leadership of the MoD acted as soon as they became aware of the problems, though the information flow at the working level was critizized. De Maizière himself was critical of that too, declaring he was only informed of the problems on 13 May. This was portrayed by the opposition and media as trying to shift the blame on his underlings, particularly the two state secretaries concerned; however, in parliament he made it clear that while he reserved the right to fire people if applicable, he had only to blame himself for failing to organize the ministry appropriately, even while stressing that the reorganization of procurement processes already enacted as part of the current armed forces reform would largely prevent the same mistakes being made today.

 

The main line of defense for the government is that the project was mishandled over three terms, plans starting in 2001 under the Red-Green government, contracts for development being signed in 2007 under the Grand Coalition and work being mostly done under the current government in agreement of the respective coalition partners. The problems were recognized early on, but warnings about huge cost overruns alternated with hope they could be solved until the state secretary level in the MoD was finally advised in early 2012. The issues seem to be the following:

 

- First, different certification philosophies. Apparently Global Hawk development progressed pretty much under a wartime stance in the GWOT, with subsequent blocks directly deployed on waivers without too detailed documentation on changes. I also understand the US will certify the complete system, while we will certify every last part and component in the typical anal German way.

 

- It was hoped the eventual full US certification of the Block 20 platform used for the Eurohawk could simply be "restamped" for Germany; however, the Americans seem about to retire the Block 20 and 30 already and will not do a full certification anymore. Our demonstrator currently runs on a waiver too, but this is no permanent legal basis; obtaining a full certification to German standards would require disassembling the thing and certify every last nut and bolt to the tune of 600 million Euro (though the industry claims it can be done for "just" 200). Also, with the US retirement of the Block 20, our platform would be pretty much an insular system with the resulting logistics problems and cost increases.

 

- Second, ITAR reared its ugly head again. Documentation came only forth after signature of the developmental contract and then was insufficient for the German demands. This was also responsible for the failure to forward available documents to the Federal Auditing Office, since MoD officials would be threatened with criminal prosecution in the US; OTOH, stamping them officially secret would apparently have excluded the relevant German industry from access, and it took some time for a solution to be found. A particular problem was the mission control system, a variant cleared for export not declared available before 2017. Until that time, operations would have meant requesting any mission four weeks in advance to then have it controlled from the US.

 

- As a result, after being advised in early 2012 the state secretary level decided to look for alternative platforms for the ISIS ELINT package developed by Cassidian. However, in-flight tests of the latter will be done on the available demonstrator until the end of September (convenienty just around the national election date). This saves about 360 of the 660 million poured into the overall project so far, but it seems not clear yet what an alternate platform might be, and whether it will be manned or unmanned.

 

With those details out, de Maizière looks likely to keep his office. He has announced to create a dedicated military flight authority that would be responsible for certification of all military aircraft in Germany, and indicated close cooperation and Italy specifically about joint certification standards for UAVs, pertinent to the NATO AGS Global Hawks which are to be based in Sigonella. Procurement organization will also get another look, and the minister has promised to inform himself as well as parliament regularly about the status of all major armament projects.

 

Of course, SPD and the Left still demand his resignation and the Greens are making noise about another parliamentary investigative committee (which would be rather short, seeing that we have only a month left before summer recess and the subsequent official campaign phase) and parts of the media have declared him a liability for Merkel now rather than a possible reserve chancellor for the Conservatives. SPD chancellor candidate Steinbrück made another bold statement which could be construed as "Germany doesn't need any UAVs at all", which the coalition promptly used for counterattacks. There will be a special session of the defense committee next Monday to debate the MoD report presented yesterday in detail, and then we shall see.

 

There was a corollary attempt by some media to seize upon the overall UAV debate by scandalizing the alleged control of US drone attacks in Africa via USAFRICOM in Stuttgart and Ramstein AOC. Reading the reports in detail though, they pretty much acknowledged that Obama himself was deciding on each strike and the pilots were in the US. Their main charge therefore was that AFRICOM was providing information and surveillance to enable the attacks, and that command and control were routed via a satellite relais station in Ramstein and a glassfiber link from there to the US (which I would find a strange technical solution).

 

Of course, the opposition was duely outraged and demanded to know what the government knew about possible violations of German and/or international law by US personnel supporting targeted killings outside proper armed conflict. The government declared they were assuming that US personnel was adhering to the rules of the NATO SOFA obliging allied forces to adhere to the laws of the guest country, and had expressed that position to the American government. The End.

 

Luckily for the government, all but yesterday the real headlines are currently about floodings in Eastern and Southern Germany after heavy rainfalls, giving cabinet members the usual opportunity to don rubber boots, visit afflicted areas and look active and compassionate. Back in 2002, Gerhard Schröder famously was at least in part carried to reelection by the Oder River flood, in addition to railing against the US plans for Iraq. Angela Merkel was duely mocked for walking the walk and promising 100 million in aid ahead of elections, particularly since the latter came on top of financial promises to families and retired mothers worth another 100 million. She is also facing some inner-party resentment over her proposal for a cap on housing rents.

 

In various other news: The Constitutional Court just ruled that homosexual couples have indeed the right to file jointly for taxes. The Greens have promised an apology for letting themselves be hijacked by pedophile activists back in the 80s. And Obama has now been confirmed to speak at the Brandenburg Gate during his visit on 19 June. I guess that means the city will get locked down again. Oh well, between the Pope, Saudi princes, French presidents and Israeli prime ministers, I'm getting used to it.

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Addendum to the last: The Bundestag's speaker sent out invitations to attend the Obama speech to all members of the house today, advising that access regulations and speaking times were not yet clear. My boss told me deadpan to reply she would be content to get two minutes. I haven't laughed quite so hard at the office in a non-hysterical way for some time. :D

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Oh, cute. The defense minister was grilled by the committee for four hours again this morning, mostly about the bit where he said he was only informed about the decision to stop the Eurohawk project on 13 May. Since last week an interview from 7 May has surfaced in which he stated that "it doesn't currently look like" the project would become a success, along with various allegations about when he might have been informed to what extent. He has since clarified that he knew of problems, but they were presented as solvable to him, and there was no written memorandum before 13 May.

 

Anyway, the opposition seemed to have their minds made up even before today's session, and a couple hours ago the SPD joined the Greens in requesting a parliamentary investigative panel which secures the 25 percent of votes to install such. Which means we will seriously turn the defense committee into another board of inquiry with just three and a half months to go to the September elections - and that's providing we disregard summer recess.

 

 

The coalition promptly announced they would roll up the whole history of the project going back to 2001 under the Red-Green government, and also subpoena the finance minister in office at the point the contracts were signed in 2007 - who happened to be Peer Steinbrück, the current SPD chancellor candidate.

 

The latter fired his campaign speaker today who seems to have been made the scapegoat for everything that went wrong so far. New speaker is a former Berlin office chief of leading national tabloid "Bild"; actually a conservative paper, but then Gerhard Schröder considered it one of his most important mass media outlets - he once famously stated he needed only "Bild, BamS (Bild Sunday issue) and the tube" for public relations, and Schröder's former speaker is now actually their editor-in-chief.

 

Steinbrück also presented the rest of his shadow cabinet today and the week before. Former Saarland state health minister, later state minister for economy and Berlin senator of finances Christina Krajewski was tagged for economy; Oliver Scheytt from Steinbrück's native Northrhine-Westphalia, former CEO of the management agency for the 2010 European Cultural Capital project in the Ruhr area, for culture and arts; Protestant minister Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, currently president of the "Bread for the World" and Diaconic Disaster Aid charity organizations, for developmental cooperation; Karl Lauterbach, doctor and the SPD's parliamentary speaker on health, for the same field; Yasemin Karakasoglu, political science professor at Uni Bremen, for education and science; and Thuringia state minister for economy Matthias Machnig for energy and environment.

 

Again, the nature of coalition governments makes it unlikely that all of them would fill the minister post they were tagged for even in case of an SPD win, so this is mostly for campaign purposes. Steinbrück himself wants to deal with the fields of finances and foreign relations. He's certainly quite competent in the former.

 

Steinbrück strikes again. Just as the Conservatives are embroiled in some public infighting about the homosexual partership issue which the opposition has tried to exploit for their gain, he goes and comments on the outcome of the Italian election with "two clowns have won", referring to Berlusconi and comedian-turned-anti-establishment-leader Beppe Grillo.

 

Getting at untaxed German money in Swiss banks (as well as other tax havens) has long been a bone of contention between both countries as well as between political camps in Germany, SPD candidate Steinbrück having notoriously compared the Swiss with indians who ought to be scared of "the Seventh Cavalry at Yuma" in his time as the finance minister of the Grand Coalition.

 

 

However to his credit, he refuses to join in on the current disaster circus in the flooded areas, though apparently some advisors would like him to prance before TV cameras in a windbreaker and rubber boots, too.

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The Left had their program convention on the weekend, the last of the parties currently represented in the Bundestag as far as I can see. You could sense they are trying very hard to get over the internal quarreling which has cost them dearly over the last few years; there was no controversial debate at all. Their former front face Oskar Lafontaine, pretty much sidelined these days, had made recent headlines with the demand to get out off the Euro, but this was quietly buried at the convention. Their arrogance remains intact though; there were the usual calls for SPD and Greens to change sufficiently for a possible Red-Red-Green coalition after the elections, rather than entertaining the tought of changing themselves.

 

Facebook remains the bane of latecomers in politics in this age: SPD candidate Steinbrück's new campaign speaker Kleine promptly caught some flak over a post he made several months ago, showing an ancient medal-bedecked Vietnamese veteran with the caption "The FDP is back!" - an obvious reference to liberal chairman Phillip Rösler's Vietnamese origins. The subsequent happy outrage from the coalition about leftist racism was not quite the same as some time ago when a Young Social Democrat posted a photoshop of the famous picture of Saigon's police chief shooting a suspected Vietcong in the head with Rösler's face transplanted on the shooter and his own on the shootee, but of course Kleine's earlier articles in conservative tabloid "Bild" have also come under scrutiny - obviously they were not always in line with social democratic politics.

 

The SPD looks increasingly nervous about their wreck of a campaign less than a hundred days before the election; candidate Steinbrück and national chairman Sigmar Gabriel have had a rather dynamic relationship anyway, and on Sunday Steinbrück publicly criticized Gabriel in a TV interview for the latters internal criticism of the campaign. Some measures smack of desparation; Steinbrück wanted to keep his family out of the race, but on the same Sunday, his wife appeared with him at an SPD convention that was to kick off their "official" campaign and promptly made him choke up on stage by talking about his motivations and the impact on their private life. Whether the new strategy will soften Steinbrück's tough-talking bulldog-faced image that makes him particularly unpopular with female voters remains to be seen.

 

The Eurohawk issue has gone a bit quiet over the last days after another heated debate in parliament as the opposition now seems set on installing an investigative committee, and the coalition has resorted to deflecting all accusations for treatment therein as the proper forum. The Conservatives hastily dealt with the fallout from the Constitutional Court verdict on joint tax filing for homosexual couples by nodding off a cabinet proposal for an appropriate change of law, accompanied by "told ya so's" from the CDU/CSU's liberal wing which warned against looking like being driven by the court once again.

 

Also, liberal top candidate Rainer Brüderle, of recent notoriety for chatting about female reporters' breast sizes at hotel bars, fell down some stairs after an FDP event and managed to break both an arm and a leg. My boss had something quite similiar happen to her last year, but of course she didn't get national headlines like "Brüderle Toppled" and the accompanying online mockstorm ...

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So we survived the Obama visit. The speech at the Brandenburg Gate was no public event like back at JKF's or Reagan's famous speeches, but invitation only; security-wise, American paranoia met German meticulousness, with everything locked down for two blocks around, so random pedestrians couldn't even get within earshot. Plus on what has been the hottest day of this year so far, the audience wasn't allowed to bring any bags, bottles or umbrellas/parasols but had to show up an hour before the speeches, so even many of those invited cancelled, including my boss.

We also noted at the office that while Reagan had armored glass panels mounted behind him when he spoke on the Western side of the gate, on this occasion on the Eastern side they were mounted in front of the speakers, which we found plain ridiculous - though looking at pictures from the 2011 9/11 commemoration where both the Obamas and Bushs attended, it seems to be the standard lately. Me, I was just glad that the First Lady's lunch plans at the Reichstag building didn't interfere with mine. About half of the Secret Service drove past my office window though.

Ever since JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner", US presidents visiting Berlin have been saddled with two things: Embarrassing themselves with some badly-pronounced German phrase, and delivering some visionary initative. To his credit, Obama dispensed with the former save for a simple "danke" at the end, but Reagan was the last one who really had the opportunity to do the latter since the Wall promptly broke down two years after his speech. Obama started off well and won the audience by his second line when he shed his jacket, but after his nuclear disarmament proposal - which had been communicated in advance and is not given big chances considering the Russian stance - he was merely ticking off boxes he knew would resonate with the locals. The overall media echo has been that it was a lot of nice but largely inconsequential phrases.

The NSA affair was actually the hot button of the visit, far more controversial over here than even in the US; obviously Obama's domestic line of "we only spy on foreigners" didn't win him any friends abroad, particularly in Germany which has apparently been targeted above average - and where, frankly, he had a lot of lovers to be spurned. He was grilled accordingly by the media at the joint press conference after the talks with Chancellor Merkel, but defended the program as being balanced considering it supposedly prevented about 50 instances of terrorist attacks. There has long been speculation that the arrest of the Islamist cell consisting in part of German converts who plotted bomb attacks here in 2007 was enabled by American intelligence which German authorities were barred from getting themselves. He was also asked about the recent allegations of US drone strikes in Africa being steered from Ramstein and Stuttgart and said this was not the case. Well, glad that's cleared up then.

 

Domestically, of course Merkel stood to gain most from the celebrity event, since she was the only one to speak there besides Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit from the SPD who is past his best-use date; in a way, beyond all else she has also taken Obama's glamour from the opposition. The latter was oscillating between trying to remind everybody that she was close to GWB and against Obama speaking at the Brandenburg Gate when he came here as a candidate in 2008, and demanding that she take him to task over the NSA scandal.

 

Per good custom, Obama also met with her contender Steinbrück, though somehow a visit to the SPD headquarters didn't fit his schedule and the 40-minute talk was moved to a location near the speech - namely the building of a major bank, which fits right in with all the other bloopers of the SPD campaign given Steinbrück has tried to run on criticism of the international banking system. OTOH, Obama packed his stance of less austerity into his speech, over which he is at odds with Merkel, so they had that going for them. Well, that and Obama's shout-out for homosexual partnership rights which was recently controversial here as mentioned in earlier posts, though it was probably aimed at Berlin's large gay scene which includes aforementioned mayor, but also Merkel's own foreign minister Guido Westerwelle of the Liberals.

 

Following the public display of infighting in the SPD leadership last weekend, several newspaper articles opined that the Social Democrats already consider the election lost and are maneuvering for the time beyond. It was also revealed that Steinbrück had been about to quit two days before the Lower Saxony state elections back in January and had to be talked into keeping on by national SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel in an all-night session - and even then only agreed depending upon the Lower Saxony outcome. Apparently Gabriel called up former Grand Coalition foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - who had already turned down the candidacy earlier - and Northrhine-Westphalia state minister president Hannelore Kraft to tell them they would have to step up if Steinbrück stepped down, because he was not going to run himself either.

 

Kraft has been the secret hope of many in the SPD since she is a popular minister president (though she too has taken a hit sympathy-wise ever since her previous minority state government won a majority of their own in early elections and started doing politics over various clientele groups). She seems to have no federal ambitions at this point though, and personally I think her public persona is too much like Merkel's - who has the nickname of "mommy" for her sometimes nannylike outlook - for sufficient distinction. Anyway, the SPD is doing as bad in the polls as it ever has at 22-26 percent, with CDU/CSU 38-41, Greens 13-15, FDP 4-6, Left 7-8.

 

The deadline for parties that have not been in the Bundestag or a state parliament for the full last term to register for the election expired on Monday, and a total of 58 signed in. This includes some of the newcomers like the Pirates and Euro-sceptic AfD, but also a rather colorful bouquet of eternal hopefuls. There are leftist sectarians like the Communist Party of Germany, the German Communist Party (splitters!) and the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany; right-wingers like the Republicans of early South German success and the Deutsche Reich (who subscribe to the idea that the Reich never ceased to exist and the FRG is an illegitimate occupation regime); religious groups like the Christian Center (For a Germany after God's Commandments) and Party of Bible-Abiding Christians, now complemented by the Muslim Democratic Union and Islamic Democratic Union (splitters!); various special interest groups for senior citizens (like The Greys), women's rights and the environment; and the straight nonsense parties, examplified by the Anarchist Pogo Party of Germany.

 

Realistically, none of them have a chance of entering the Bundestag with the possible exception of the Pirates and AfD, who however are still stuck at 2-3 percent in polls and don't have much time left to get in gear. But then the same is true for the SPD which seems to be in a process of slow self-destruction on the racetrack.

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It was cringeworthy. The disruption in Berlin must have been horrendous. I noticed the cordon sanitaire was insane.

High time presidents stop hiding behind 2 inches of armored glass. It is unbecoming and worse, it sends the wrong signals to the man in the suit. He IS replaceable. There IS a national chain of command. L'etat pas le president seulement.

He brought nothing to the table, spoke fluff and sought a cheap foreign policy score with his nuke reduction line. It's been quite a few decades since the IGB stood ready to be irradiated in the defense of Western Europe.

Perhaps he should have spoken of his association with Islamist governments that repress their citizens who do not conform to the Islamist ideal....? Oh...wait....that's what he does himself.

Why in God's name did Germany agree to this silliness?

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I am disappoint.

 

If Germans had any sense of humor, they would have dressed up as faux Tea Partiers and held a faux protest. Newspaper humorists could have gone wild with references to Hessians.

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If Germans had any sense of humor [...]

No, sorry, I'm not amused.

 

Heck, playing "I'm a peoples person" while canned in an armored glass container! What next?

 

I dearly suggest to do the next public speeches in a studio with a bluescreen. Some selected security personal in the foreground as "de public", the appropriate city as background, en voilà the next speech's ready and done.

 

But wait! This probably wouldn't take enough tax dollars, so it is Not To Be Done!

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I would guess that an animatronic robot is next. Doesn't need a teleprompter, never forgets what city it is in, is easily replaceable if shot, and doesn't try to get a leg over on pudgy interns.

 

Hell, it could function as a WiFi hotspot and espresso dispenser and make the journos real happy. Don't ask where the espresso comes out...

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BansheeOne, what do you think of our Vizepräsedentin being invited to speak at that CDU congress? Local press made quite a big deal of her endorsement by Merkel.

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Uh, I would say that 1. this is a typical case of an official visitor's domestic media having a much higher interest since not only hadn't I heard of this, but had to search long and hard before I found her mentioned in so much as half a sentence in a total of one (1) German reports - not too surprising really, since the CDU's Economic Council is not one of the higher-profile groups within the party; and 2., she's way cuter than Merkel. :D

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Thanks.

 

BTW, What was that thing about faint praise? :D

 

It also could be that German spoken with a female Spanish accent could be sweet enough to kill a diabetic.

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