Friday, August 29, 2003
The German disease?

Despite a German economic sentiment indicator rising for the eighth month in a row, German economy has been in a slight recession for the first two quarters of the year; further, German budget deficit will be 3.8 percent this year, clearly violating the 3 percent ceiling of the EU stability pact.

One might ask why the former European economic powerhouse is about to grind to a halt, and (probably) joins the ranks of Japan, i.e. plunges into a longer recession. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this. First, we have still the wide-spread mindset of the Besitzstandswahrer (those who defend their own benefits and possessions at all cost). In an interesting BBC report, Anne Steeb mentions:
They all say, "Please don't take money from me, I want everything to change but please nothing from me, give me more". I think that's the problem. We had this system with the benefits and everything for so long that nobody wants to get out of this. They say, "OK, after my generation you can do it but not now".
Indeed. Reforms? Great! But hands off from my money, or else. This is one fundamental thing that must be altered, either people get the clue™ now, or it will be hammered into their minds by economic realities. But then, recent German governments have often only reacted, but never anticipated. I know honesty about unpleasant realities is uncommonly wide-spread in all governments of the world, but the German government is particularly obstinate.

There is another reson that is more structural. Germany, as FAZ Weekly points out, is tied up like a Gulliver. Stefan Dietrich mentions:
But Schröder's Agenda 2010 reform project faced headwind from his own party and the unions. Coalition debates and the legislative process have not left much of his intentions. Whatever task he tackles, whether he tries to reduce taxes, payroll withholdings, social welfare spending or subsidies - the supposedly oh-so powerful chancellor is hindered by special interests: a Gulliver of our time.
Schröder is still clinging to the German "consensus" model, attempting to please everybody. Enslaving himself to the opinions of others, he gets nothing done; all of his (sometimes not too bad, though insufficient) ideas are shreddered and mangled, until nothing remains but ludicrous tiny changes. Schröder only discloses unpleasant truths in mini-steps, but this "salami tactics" only delays the civil tempest that certainly would arise if necessary steps were immediately implemented.

But Dietrich mentions another important point:
The wild growth of federal-state commissions and common responsibilities has clogged up the political machine and robbed voters of being able to identify responsibility. A key element of democracy was lost on the way: political competition. Although governments can still be exchanged, there are hardly any political alternatives on offer.
What happens if a voter not only is unable to distinguish concurrent parties (not due to his ignorance but due to the parties' lack of profile), but if he also does not note any change? Of course: he gets tired of politics. I must say I have followed politics here closely for a long time, but I've grown tired of the sheer incompetence and indecisiveness in the recent past, but I'm not the only one; Eamonn Fitzgerald states:
The thought of escaping from Germany is more appealing than ever before, which causes me to wonder what I am doing here. The grinding, pseudo reform debate and the prospect of another term in office of a chancellor whose duplicity is beginning to make Nixon look honest are taking their toll.
Absolutely. But to be honest, the secret why still nothing happens here is: people don't feel there is a crisis. People are, as usually, complaining that "things get more expensive", "taxes are too high" etc. - but certainly the living standards have not suffered here, or at least not significantly in the last years. Only when things really turn bad here, we will experience true changes. What evidence of incapacity for Schröder.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
German socialism watch

Lothar Bisky, chairman of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, what an oxymaroon...), the party which rose from the shambles of the GDR's Party of Undemocratic Socialism (which was named SED though...), has now changed his strategy, because voters somehow have figured out that socialism is uncool, and made their voting cross elsewhere (which led to the PDS' exclusion from the Bundestag last year, about the only positive result of last elections...): Bisky announced the PDS would drop the tendency to create a socialist state, instead the PDS would acknowledge capitalism and embrace democracy. (Cough)
It should be noted that the PDS is a phenomenon from and in Eastern Germany, where they got some pretty good results on state level in the past, up to 24% (in some Berlin districts, especially the former Eastern parts, they got even higher results). But last year, September 2002, when Schröder was ruthless enough to gain some votes on the back of our American allies and friends, the PDS only achieved 4%; 5% are necessary to enter the Bundestag. The reason for this was that the Eastern Germans suddenly realized that the other Germans helped them in times of crisis; the largest flood of the century had destroyed many roads, houses, and landscapes in the East just a few weeks ago, and there were enormous amounts of donations flowing into the East. Before, the PDS was seen as a kind of representative for Eastern Germans' problems (and indeed, some in the East yearned back for the good old socialist days, weren't they cozy!), as the only party who stemmed from the East and took that part of the country seriously.
I must admit this is a maneuver of a political genius, eh? Capitalism, a word that causes the PDS' not-so-secret guru, Marx, to ventilate in the grave! And democracy, this instrument of suppression! Engels would have cried, and now, all this is not hostile detrimental to the PDS anymore? Not even a tiny bit?
To be serious, I think Bisky will have large problems with a hard-core Communist group in the PDS, the "Kommunistische Plattform" (communist platform... you wouldn't have guessed, eh?); they are a minority, but have some followers and sympathisers. It will be interesting to behold the development of this party; if they get too close to the SPD, which is Schröder's party, they will lose their profile; but if they stay where they are, they won't gain anything either. Between Scylla and Charybdis, so to speak...

UPDATE: I've noted that backblog (the feedback section, which is located on another server, even less reliable than this one...) is still experiencing serious traffic problems. I hope they manage to cope with the situation soon, so comments can be written (and answered) again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Pipes clarifies

After Daniel Pipes was appointed to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace by President Bush last Friday, there were some voices of concern, as the Guardian mentions (all bold type by me):
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group, said Pipes is "known for his hostility to Muslims,'' and called the appointment "a backdoor move'' that is "an affront to all those who seek peace.''
This is a weighty statement which requires further examination. A short look at his biographical sketch reveals that he is a true ME scholar and expert, and he noted the threat of militant Islam in 1995 already:
Unnoticed by most Westerners [...], war has been unilaterally declared on Europe and the United States.
(Now, tell me again about unilateralism...) Is this a statement that is hostile to all Muslims? Only, and only if all Muslims identify with militant Islam. In a recent column in the NY Post, he debunks some rumors and fairytales concerning his person. For example, Pipes writes:
I've spent two-thirds of my life studying the Middle East, learned the Arabic language, traveled the Muslim world, lived three years in Cairo, taught courses on the region at Harvard and specialized on it at the State and Defense departments.
In short, my career has been exactly devoted to "bridging differences and bringing peace."
Obviously, it is nonsense to insinuate ignorance on Mr Pipes' side, he knows what he does, and what he talks about. Nevertheless, he makes a sharp and important distinction:
I believe this distinction - between Islam and militant Islam - stands at the heart of the War on Terror and urgently needs to be clarified for non-specialists. The most effective way to do so, I expect, is by giving voice to the Muslim victims of Islamist totalitarianism.
I fully agree with that. I've mentioned several times before in this blog how many people have a blind spot here, and immediately throw in "weighty" PC arguments when one mentions Islamism as a threat. But a clear distinction is to be made here, the most dangerous ideology of today is radical Islam, not Islam as a whole. But Pipes does omit one thing that I find very important as well: there must be an honest, clear dissociation between the average Muslim and terror organisations who claim to be operating in the name of Islam as a whole; this includes severe judicial punishment. All sources of support for those terror organizations must be cut.
It is exactly in the shadow of mental attitudes like "it's wrong to condemn a whole religion" and "we must be tolerant about other cultures" that radical Islam can be fostered and kept thriving; this is why ignorance and tolerance are so dangerous concerning this issue.

UPDATE: There seems to be a server problem with backblog, so the comment section is currently disabled due to too huge traffic. Sorry about that, I hope it will work again soon.

Monday, August 25, 2003
Michael Walzer interviewed

Imprints recently conducted an interview with Michael Walzer, social scientist. Walzer, despite his criticism of the Bush administration (which I found pointless), implicitly criticises the Europeans harder - even though he is home on the left. Walzer says (all bold type by me):
Iraq would have nuclear weapons today, had Europe alone been making decisions about the inspection regime, the embargo, and the no-fly zones. And there would be many fewer Kosovars alive in Kosovo today had Europe alone been making decisions there. It is easy to criticise American unilateralism; I do that all the time. But European irresponsibility is an equally serious problem.
American unilateralism? Actually, I'm quite glad such an unilateralism exists if it prevents a mad regime with nukes. And this unilateralism should be in Europe's interest as well, which in a way renders the word "unilateralism" inappropriate. Appeasement cannot face fundamentalism, as Lee Harris notes in an article I mentioned earlier. I'm not talking about belligerent arbitrary intervention policy here, I just want to point out that Europe, with its appeasement ideology, is operating in a dangerous mental framework which is threat-insensitive, or rather, not grasping the situation at all. Back to Walzer, he says
Most of the just uses of military force in the last thirty or forty years have not been authorised by the UN: the Vietnamese and Tanzanian interventions that I just mentioned; the Indian war against Pakistan that resulted in the secession of Bangla Desh and the return of millions of refugees; the Israeli pre-emptive strike against Egypt in 1967, after the abject withdrawal of UN forces from the Sinai; the Kosovo war in 1999.
The UN should not and cannot be seen as the highest moral instance, I agree with that. And why? Well, because it simply is a playground for dictators. Lybia heading the UN Human Rights Body? No, it's not a joke, this did take place. The UN is respected by many (especially Old Europe) but obeyed by none. The UN tries to embrace and include everyone and the result is meek. At best, one might see the UN as a neutral ground, where countries can test their diplomatic moves, and anticipate reactions; otherwise, it serves no real purpose, except that it has a dangerous Israel obsession, as David Tell notes. Walzer makes another very interesting statement:
Since I have often been a critic of Israeli governments, I am reluctant to call such criticism anti-Semitic. But it does seem to me that there is an oddly disproportionate hostility toward Israel on the European left, [...]. Indeed, much of the criticism directed at Israel has more to do with the existence of the state than with the policies of any of its governments - which was, again, never the case with France or with Germany after World War Two or with China today. Something is seriously wrong here.
Walzer clearly articulates what has been clear for some time now: a wide-spread hostility, i.e. anti-Semitism, on the left. An enormous one-sidedness is taking place in the media here as well; suicide bombings are reported, but Israeli retaliation is much more in focus, creating a kind of implicit David (Palestinians) vs. Goliath (Israeli) metaphor. The fact is neglected that the aim of Hamas, al Aqsa et al. is the obliteration of Israel, while the aim of Israel is to protect itself and continue to exist. A "balanced" report on such an unbalanced situation is, in my eyes, grossly negligent. Another point concerning the left:
It is hard work trying to sustain an oppositionist politics in the US today - especially when part of what I feel I have to oppose is the idiocy of many of my fellow oppositionists: knee-jerk anti-Americanism, old left dogmatism, and the rejection of any fellowship larger than the sect of the politically correct and the morally pure. I live on the left, but quarrel with some of my neighbours, and in the aftermath of 9/11 the quarrels have gotten more intense.
Interesting point, I fully agree with Walzer. 9-11 was such a shock that it catalyzed many thoughts and emotions around the world, among them many that had been lurking around subsconciously and which only now surfaced. On the left in Germany, it spawned or unveiled anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, in some persons at least. But in others, it also catalyzed some other thoughts - the desire to defend freedom and democracy, and the friendship with the United States. This should not be forgotten.

Sunday, August 24, 2003
It's just fantasy

Via Dormouse Dreaming, I found this very interesting and thought-provoking article by Lee Harris in Policy Review, analyzing Al Qaeda and the threat that arises from its underlying ideological view, or rather, from politicians and persons who have an over-tolerant view of these ideologies. Harris notes:
Let there be no doubt about it. The fantasy ideologies of the twentieth century were plagues, killing millions and millions of innocent men, women, and children. The only difference was that the victims and targets of such fantasy ideologies so frequently refused to see them for what they were, interpreting them as something quite different — as normal politics, as reasonable aspirations, as merely variations on the well-known theme of realpolitik, behaving — tragically enough — no differently from Montezuma when he attempted to decipher the inexplicable enigma posed by the appearance of the Spanish conquistadors. Nor did the fact that his response was entirely human make his fate any less terrible.
Indeed, Al Qaeda and radical Islam consist of nothing else than rigid fantasy ideologies, which clearly must be seen for what they are: a serious threat whose goal is to destroy Western Civilization as we know it. It is very dangerous and foolish to play down this fact, or to have a blind spot here. It is frightening how many people turn a blind eye on this issue.

UPDATE: Europundits has a complete translation of the die Zeit article I mentioned in an earlier post, concerning "the moralism of the cynic".

Lest we forget

I recently found some pictures of an anti-war rally in Berlin, taking place on October 26th, 2002. I'll post two of them, lest we forget what a mindset is inherent to some protestors. The photos speak for themselves. If you want to see more photos, see here (courtesy of Leo Bauer).

courtesy of Leo Bauer

courtesy of Leo Bauer