a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Time warp

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th March 2006

The Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland, of all people, walks off with (and even publishes) one of the most damaging quotes I’ve ever seen out of a White House that’s proud of them. On Thursday, Hoagland attributed the following to a White House aide who was “defending U.S. policies on Guantanamo Bay prisoners, secret renditions and warrantless eavesdropping”:

‘The powers of the presidency have been eroded and usurped to the breaking point. We are engaged in a new kind of war that cannot be fought by old methods. It can only be directed by a strong executive who alone is not subject to the conflicting pressures that legislators or judges face. The public understands and supports that unpleasant reality, whatever the media and intellectuals say.

Emphases added. 65 years earlier:

Our people do not know, and do not even want to know, what the Führer is planning and how he will gain victory. They simply trust him. He will chose the right way, as he has always done. […] Our people know that if the nation is loyal, obedient and dutiful, and if each does his job, Germany is unbeatable and victory after victory will accompany our troops.

— Josef Goebbels, “Our Hitler”, 1941

Maybe Goebbels was right. But I think — I hope — that White House aide is wrong. Bush’s lawlessness should be front and center now up to the elections — and impeachment should be part of the discussion, for the wiretapping, for torture, and for lying us into a war. There is a clear and present danger to the Constitution in this country, and it resides in the White House.

* NOTE: Goebbels translation by Randall Bytwerk.

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German blogger series: the Mohammed cartoons

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th February 2006

Many German bloggers appear more uncertain, angered or rattled about the cartoon controversy than they have seemed about other topics like the Iraq war or Abu Ghraib. There’s a fair amount of “don’t push us around” attitude even among the usually leftish, moderate sections of the German blogosphere. An unscientific opinion sample:

Jochen Bittner writes for the German weekly Die Zeit, and maintains the blog “Beruf Terrorist [Profession Terrorist] The Enemy of all the World” — Bittner is a knowledgeable reporter on the subject, and the blog name belies what is usually a calm, wry, analytical attitude. Nevertheless, in this case Bittner actually considers the cartoon a “justified provocation,” and is, I think, uncharacteristically dismissive of all Islam itself:

If proof was needed that the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper ‘Jyllands-Posten’ were a justified provocation, then it’s the reactions of broad parts of the Muslim world. […]

And [someone who reacts to cartoons with bomb threats] should — instead of accusing others of intolerance — start to ask oneself if a religion that can’t be laughed about might itself be responsible for a medieval attitude.

Schockwellenreiter, a very popular computers/Internet blogger with leftish/libertarian sensibilities, also dismisses anything but pure free speech concerns:

I actually never agree with Henryk M. Broder, but in the case of the monkey dance around the Mohammed cartoon controversy he’s simply correct: the case is Exhibit A for how a democratic public pulls in its tail before a totalitarian, religiously dressed up sensibility. And presumably only, because they’re afraid about their business with Petrodollars… [Spiegel Online]

Even if the cartoons (I’ve never seen them) presumably weren’t exactly a high point in satirical art, the basic right to freedom of opinion is being sacrificed on the altar of religious insanity. I therefore declare the Mohammed-Karikaturen [Mohammed cartoons] to be the “Google of the Day.”


Sven Scholz, on the other hand, sees needless provocations on both sides. He recommends a Frankfurter Allgemeine article by Nils Minkmar, provides an extensive link list of other blogger reactions, and writes

And it would be nice, if the press here and the mobs there would not let themselves be provoked, manipulated, or instrumentalized by anybody who comes along. Bigotry combined with banalities, regardless in which direction, and with obvious motivations, is really annoying. Tremendously.

Kuechenkabinett‘s (“Kitchen Cabinet”) Stefan (who provides another huge links roundup) writes:

The clash of cultures is warned against, but these days it seems to be an almost unavoidable Self-fulfilling Prophecy. Polemics reign, and moderating voices succumb often enough to the crude demands of Hardliners on both sides.*

The Bembelkandidat writes:

a quarrel about cartoons and freedom of the press became a projection screen for fundamentalist prejudices and aggressions, no holds barred thrashings for everyone, all against all.

In the end it won’t be good sense that wins out, but escalation, which in the West will be driven by the stigmatization of Muslims as seemingly hotblooded fundamentalists and carriers of the Islamic threat. Anti-Western sentiments irresponsibly fanned in the Muslim world help confirm the image of the reckless West.

Ulrich Speck (“Kosmoblog”), another Die Zeit pro-blogger, is more relaxed about it all:

But only a barely measurable, vanishingly small minority of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world have participated in the unrest. This small degree of mobilization, even in countries whose governments are seeking to heat up the situation — such as Iran — can be seen as a clear rejection of a clash of cultures.

On the other hand, hardly any of the commenters for this post agreed with him, “Wachtmeister” for instance: “Even if I don’t like it myself: the Clash of Civilizations is reality. Instead of denying it one should start dealing with it.”

Don Dahlmann:

My feeling is that the cause for the reactions here and there, besides the political motivated ones, is fear. Here the diffuse fear of economic calamities, an unknown religion and behaviors that one isn’t familiar with and can’t avoid, there the fear about one’s own identity and the loss of sovereignty to a superior military presence nearby.

Telegehirn (“Telebrain”), on the other hand, more or less says “bring it on,” and wants to start a “DU BIST DIE MEINUNGSFREIHEIT!” (“You are freedom of opinion”) campaign echoing the somewhat notorious “Du bist Deutschland” campaign. He writes:

Our times are not always perfect. No one denies that. Maybe the Islamists stand before Your newspaper building or the embassy of Your country is set on fire by fanatics. But we have kicked out the fires of total tyranny once before. Europe has enough free people who raise their voices against religious totalitarianism. You just have to open Your mouth.*

We have enough voices to drown out the chorus of fanatics. We are 425 million. You are the voice. Let’s use it. You are Europe.


Politically Incorrect (“Achtung! Pro-US blog!”) is a new one to me, but has apparently seen its readership climb to the top of the German charts lately. It seems to be a kind of LGF-lite, but they’re working on it. Showing a photo of a victim of an Abu Sayyaf attack in Philippines side by side with one of the Danish cartoons, it asks:

Only one of these two pictures provoked Muslims to hysteria, fiery demonstrations, boycotts and death threats against the perpetrators. Do you know Islam well enough to figure out which picture that was?

Hinterding prefers a kind of scientific approach:

hello. this is a survey for Muslims who believe it is sinful to attempt to draw the Prophet Muhammad. in your opinion, at what point do these images start to become sinful?

Seems a fair question.

Of course many German blogs have reacted sparingly, if at all. Jens Scholz observes that “burning down embassies is a form of expression too, if you look at it that way.” Andreas Schaefer simply links to a cartoon showing Muslims running out of stuff to burn and opting for Legos. Praschl et al at le sofa blog seem not to have mentioned the topic at all. — a kind of MediaMatters focused on the single German tabloid Bild, and the most visited German blog — has apparently found nothing in that paper worth mentioning about the cartoon story.

Still, on the whole, the shoe seems to be on the other foot here compared to two and four years ago: it seems easier to run across German bloggers who see their own rights endangered, if not their safety, in a way that was not as salient to them in the past. The riots in France last year may also have contributed to some of the palpably greater unease, “Schnauze” (lip), and belligerence on display.

Whether sadly, deservedly, tragically, or some combination thereof, it’s my (again, quite unscientific) impression that the picture of an undifferentiated and dangerous “Muslim enemy” is developing in Germany, just as it has in the U.S. in many quarters.

If so, that country’s allegiance to the rule of law and equal protection under the law of its own Muslim minorities may soon be tested. So far, German courts have seemed to be equal to the task of facing down pressures to cut corners in the “clash of cultures”; the question is whether that will continue when that pressure comes from Berlin, not Washington, DC. As the question suggests, it’s not like our country has shown the way of late.

* TRANSLATION NOTES: “Medieval”: voraufklaererisch, lit. pre-Enlightenment. The Kuechenkabinett writer used and capitalized the English phrases “Self fulfilling Prophecy” and “Hardliners.” Telegehirn’s “Your”s are capitalized to follow his/her use of the capitalized “Deine” in mid-sentence, signaling a slightly archaic, if not to say Voelkisch kind of polemic. Finally, I’ve taken the liberty of translating some sentences to a more active voice from the passive voice used by the German writer.
NOTE: German blogger series tag link.
EDIT, 2/12: “that pressure comes” for “the pressure not to is”.

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Ich bin Klowand

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd January 2006

Image hosting by Photobucket

It means, um, “I’m a toilet wall.” But far from being a bizarre form of self-loathing, the “toilet wall” phrase is being adopted as an ironic badge of honor by German bloggers after being coined by the head of a German ad agency.

On Thursday, Jens Scholz was forwarded an e-mail originally sent by one Jean-Remy von Matt. Von Matt is one of the principal architects of a slightly bizarre “Du bist Deutschland” (“You are Germany”) public service ad campaign, mentioned here last September, which is currently urging the German public to essentially buck up and show a little gumption so the old economy can get going.

The campaign is getting a decidedly mixed reception, and Herr Jean Remy von Matt was upset with his thankless audience; where was all this naysaying coming from? Sure, his envious competitors were one source, but von Matt — to the delight of German bloggers — didn’t leave it at that; the “glum response” was also

2. From weblogs, the toilet walls of the Internet. (What on earth gives every computer owner the right to secrete his opinion unasked? And most bloggers just secrete. This new low in opinion making becomes clear when one searches for: Du bist Deutschland.)*

“Spreading around unasked for opinions? That’s my job, you peons!” The attitude is ironic, given the ostensible goal of the campaign. From the “Du bist Deutschland” web site:

A positive self image is an important prerequisite for our economic and cultural development. The campaign invites you and everyone else in Germany to dare something new and to participate with fresh elan.

That Herr von Matt would denigrate precisely those Germans who are willing to think out loud for themselves, and who are often the very definition of “participation with elan,” illustrates just how hollow the “Du bist Deutschland” campaign really is. I suspect its only lasting legacy will be little “Klowand” chiclets all over the Internet.

* And lo, in an ad man’s dream come true, von Matt’s wish became Germany’s command — the search was #1 with a bullet over the weekend.
TRANSLATION NOTES: “secrete” for “absondern,” which can also be translated as “exude” (see here) or “excrete”…basically, not a complimentary choice of words; “glum response” for “Miesepetrigkeit”, which can also translated as “grumpiness.” The word “elan” — dash, vigor — was used in the referenced German text.
IMAGE NOTE: “Ich bin Klowand” banner by Roland Gruen, via Frank Kerkau.

UPDATE, 1/23: Von Matt e-mails Scholz (and German bloggers in general), apologizing for “thoughtlessly questioning [freedom of speech],” but adding: “But! Even if most of the criticism of my text was constructive and serious, I feel it’s a communications disturbance of the peace [kommunikativen Hausfriendensbruch] that an internal mail was driven like a pig through the [German blogging community].” Scholz responds, acknowledging it may not have been cricket [feine Englische Art] to publish the e-mail, but points out the e-mail was directed to co-workers and was simply more PR: “Internal PR, admittedly, so its publication was at least morally shaky, but one moral claim won out over another one with me… I continue to think [my decision to publish it] was correct in view of most of the past and continuing discussion.”
UPDATE, 1/25: Jens posts a list of blogger posts linking to his posts, mostly to the original item.

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Germany: It’s Merkel — and the Social Democrats

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2005

The German elections appear to have resolved into a “great coalition” — with a new chancellor at the helm. The New York Times’ Judy Dempsey and Katrin Bennhold report:

Conservative leader Angela Merkel announced today that she will become Germany’s first female chancellor, three weeks after a near-dead heat election that forced the two biggest parties to negotiate a power-sharing agreement.

The agreement, which Ms. Merkel called ‘good and fair’ during an afternoon news conference, will end Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s seven years at the helm of the government; but it will apparently give his Social Democratic Party a majority of cabinet posts, including the top jobs at the foreign and finance ministries, party officials said.

So much for my prediction that neither Merkel nor Schroeder would win the chancellorship — although the Times reports that it appears to have cost Merkel a cabinet post or two to cement her claim on the top position:

Details of which cabinet posts would go to which party were still pending confirmation, but officials, speaking on conditions of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said the Social Democrats were likely to obtain 8 of 14 ministries, including the foreign ministry, the finance ministry, the labor ministry and the development brief.

Paul Katzenberger of Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung (a newspaper with a generally left-wing outlook on the news) comments — under the title “Etikettenschwindel” (“Brand fraud”):

The now agreed on great coalition has hardly anything to do with the will of the voter expressed on September 18th.

Although a great coalition appeared more desirable to most people than the black-yellow option [conservative CDU/CSU, centrist FDP — ed.] But most citizens are probably not really happy with the great alliance of the Union [CDU/CSU] and the Social Democrats.

One view of German politics of the last several years is that the far left giveth and the far left (or, if you prefer, the progressive left) taketh away. In 2002, PDS party leader Gregor Gysi may have helped Schroeder win a very close election when he weakened his own party by not standing for election himself.

Even this time, the new Linksbuendnis (“Left Alliance”) led by Gysi and former Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine could have formed a mathematical majority with the SPD and the Green Party following the mid-September election. But the Linksbuendnis apparently ruled out entering into a governing coalition with any party — which was apparently just as well as far as Schroeder and his moderate wing of the SPD were concerned. The result, however, was arguably that a majority of German voters whose views could be expressed as “go very slow with your so-called economic reforms” has lost to a minority more committed to shaking up the German economy.

Accordingly, German newsweekly Die Zeit reports that CSU coalition partner chief Edmund Stoiber (who lost to Schroeder in 2003) will head the key Commerce [Wirtschaft] and Technology department in Merkel’s “coalition of new possibilities.” Die Zeit also reports that “the partners announced Germany must invest at least 3 percent of gross national product annually in research and development. […] CDU/CSU and SPD agree that income taxes will be simplified to achieve more transparency, efficiency and fairness. We will reduce [tax loopholes]…” However, many SPD rank and file are not yet resigned to the division of labor. The German newsweekly SPIEGEL reports that party moderate [Parteirechte] Johannes Kahr, reacting to the CDU/CSU getting the Commerce cabinet post while SPD settled for Labor, spoke of “‘plain horror’, called the results ‘suboptimal, and announced ‘the thing isn’t over yet’…”

Otto Schily, the former Interior Minister, is thought to be Joschka Fischer’s likely successor as Foreign Minister. A February 2005 interview with him discussed in this blog displays a man deeply but thoughtfully concerned with Islamic immigration and assimilation and Islamist radicalism in Germany and Europe. He has reportedly got on quite well with Ashcroft and other US officials, but has also ably represented German demands for US evidence in German trials of Islamic radicals.

Merkel’s instincts are to reforge closer ties between Germany and the United States. In 2003, as the Iraq war loomed, she even wrote a (widely criticized) op-ed for the Washington Post stating that “Schroeder doesn’t speak for all Germans,” and also asserted that she supported Bush’s Iraq policies “in all their consequences.” Her conservative allies are often a little more circumspect, but seem less inclined than the SPD/Green coalition to push the European Union as an alternative to the old transatlantic relationship. Back in 2003, Wolfgang Schaeuble — another likely CDU/CSU cabinet minister — said:

I hope that we in German politics can maintain or rebuild the basic consensus between the great political groupings, that Atlantic partnership and European unity aren’t alternatives, but different sides of the same coin, that are inseparably connected. European unity doesn’t succeed as an alternative to the Atlantic partnership.

So there may be a little less overt strain on the relationship between Germany and the Bush administration. On the other hand, Iraq in particular has proven to more of an adventure than an accomplishment since 2003, so that it’s probably (even) less attractive to Germans now than it was then. As pointed out on this site, Merkel is no Bush — she helped negotiate the Kyoto Treaty, and seems too cool and calculating to jump headfirst into a quagmire. I wonder if Merkel will choose to accomplish a less fraught relationship with the current administration by simply keeping that relationship out of the headlines altogether.

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Du bist Deutschland

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st October 2005

Barcelona Olympics and 'Du Bist Deutschland' logos
Du bist geklaut (“You’re ripped off”)
Originally uploaded by Tobi Bauer.

It means “You are Germany,” and it’s a rather odd, pointless, 30 million Euro media campaign — complete with its own cute little logo — that’s just kicked off in Germany.

The campaign’s organizers — a consortium of “over 20 German media enterprises… together with advertising and public relations agencies”explain:

The message: every individual needs confidence in his own strength and capabilities.

A positive self image is an important prerequisite for our economic and cultural development. The campaign invites you and everyone else in Germany to dare something new and to participate with fresh elan.

This ostensibly puts the media organizations in the vanguard of those “working for Standort Deutschland” — Business Location: Germany. One ad series says “You are [famous German]”, from Goethe to Helmut Newton to … wait for it … Albert Einstein — who had to leave Germany for the U.S! So much for “Standort Deutschland.”

I suppose this is all kind of harmless, but I would find it more than a little patronizing, too. Apparently, some German bloggers agree; Tobias Schwarz (“almost a diary,” “Fistful of Euros”) has even started another blog about it (this one in German), and Johnny of Spreeblick has developed a Photoshop countertemplate. One of his own sendups features former chancellor Helmut Kohl musing about his stubborn refusal to go with the crowd and obey election finance laws.

In “You are complaints: mixed echo“, Schwarz googled around German blogs to try to gauge reaction. He found ample criticism, but also considerable support for the campaign: “enthusiastic … it was high time,” “touching,” “really impressed.”

Elsewhere, Anke Groener says that “a new name can give a bar new life,” citing the Clinton 1992 campaign as an example of a successful campaign that was as much about intangible atmospherics as it was about policy. I think that campaign was a teensy bit more policy oriented than that — but even if the atmospherics were important, at least it culminated in the tangible outcome of electing someone who then measurably did the job. This campaign, on the other hand, seems mainly designed to say “buck up, Deutschland! If things suck, maybe it’s your fault.”

It’s a little disconcerting to see Germany heading down the PR/self help/motivational route that’s always seemed one of the phoniest parts of American life to me. Not that PR and what not are all that foreign to Germany, but I can’t recall a campaign quite like this one.

But relax, America! If Germans want to pull even with us when it comes to empty public relations schtick, they’ve got some catching up to do. Exhibit A: Karen Hughes on tour in the Middle East. They’ve got nothin’.

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German election campaign very close

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th September 2005

The German election today will likely be very close. Recent polls slightly favor a center-right CDU/CSU/FDP coalition over a theoretical SPD/Green/”Left Alliance [Linksbuendnis] coalition by 49.5 to 48 percent; the governing SPD/Green coalition commands only an estimated 39.5 percent of the vote.*

German president Koehler dissolved the German Bundestag in August at Chancellor Schroeder’s request. The decision was controversial — Chancellor Schroeder’s tactic met with strong opposition within his own party before it largely supported the paradoxical no-confidence vote.

The decision has seemed a strange one. Schroeder’s SPD party struggled, while a new “Linksbuendnis” (“alliance of the left”) surged to as high as 12% in polls this summer. Led by former SPD leader Oskar LaFontaine and East German PDS leader Gregor Gysi, the group benefits from left wing disenchantment with the “HARTZ IV” benefits cuts that tightened rules for drawing unemployment. The PDS, hitherto a purely East German party with roots in the old Communist Party there, has made gains in West Germany as high unemployment continues.

However, the Linksbuendnis has fallen back to 8.5% in the latest surveys (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9/16). Also, voters seem to prefer Schroeder over right wing CDU/CSU party chief Angelika Merkel (53 to 40 percent, ZDF German TV, 9/9), which could be an important factor in the final moments of a close election.

Josef Joffe wrote that a combination of arithmetic and the desire by almost all major parties to “freeze out” the Linksbuendnis may pave the way to a “great coalition” electoral result. In this scenario, the two largest parties (the SPD and the CDU/CSU) would join together in governing the country, leaving smaller parties like the Greens, the FDP (centrist/free market), and the “Linksbuendnis” out in the cold. But that would still leave them in the Bundestag — all three parties appear likely to clear the 5% threshold for participation in the federal legislature.

Die Zeit’s Corinne Emundts, on the other hand, pointed out in August that while SPD party leaders Schroeder and Muenter have ruled out their own participation in a coalition with the “Linksbuendnis,” that doesn’t mean their party is bound to that pledge.

If Angela Merkel does assume the chancellorship, you’ll find a fine bio of her by Jane Kramer in the September 19 New Yorker: “The Rise of Angela Merkel.” The upshot is perhaps what one might expect: Merkel comes off as patiently ambitious and politically vague, without nostalgia for her former country of East Germany, and with an ability to seize the moment — such as when a graft/campaign contribution scandal engulfed her mentor Helmut Kohl in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the article does not appear to be online.

There’s also at least one story of her gift for repartee. In a meeting with an Iranian diplomat, the Iranian gave a long and well argued account of why his country was entitled to pursue nuclear energy research, concluding “Why don’t you trust us?” Instead of answering, Merkel asked for his opinion on Israel/Palestinian relations. Kramer writes: “When he told her, she said sweetly, ‘Now you can understand why we’re skeptical.'”

Still, I think Americans shouldn’t expect a noticeable lurch to the right in German foreign policy if Merkel assumes power. Kramer notes that Merkel was the chief German negotiator of the Kyoto Treaty. And as far as I can tell, she does not appear inclined to undo Schroeder’s and (Foreign Secretary) Fischer’s popular foreign policy of near complete noninvolvement in Iraq.

* Poll results all via SPIEGEL “Election Barometer.”

UPDATE, 9/20: Neither major pre-election coalition achieved a majority, a result which may mean neither Schroeder nor Merkel will be the next chancellor. SPIEGEL reports that the final percentages for parties clearing the 5% threshold were CDU/CSU 35.2%, SPD 34.3%, Linksbuendnis 8.7%, FDP 9.8%, Greens 7.1%. Netzeitung reports that a variety of possible coalitions are being ruled out: (1) the FDP has ruled out a coalition with the SPD/Green coalition; (2) the SPD is open to any coalition except with the Linksbuendnis (3) the CDU/CSU rules out a “great coalition” with the SPD if Schroeder is at the helm; (3) the Greens say they won’t be part of a CDU/CSU/FDP government (the so-called Jamaica option because of the colors traditionally used as proxies for the parties are those of the Jamaican flag) if Merkel is the chancellor.

Obviously something’s got to give, and I’m guessing it will be the current nominal head of the winning coalition. I’m most surprised about (2); take Schroeder out of the equation, and you’ve got a government with a slim majority that has shifted to the left — maybe not what policy wonks and economists would like, but arguably the result best reflecting German opinion. Tough for him, but those are the breaks. Alternatively I wonder who the Greens would suggest instead of Merkel, but that may be moot; she’s been resoundingly re-elected as head of the CDU/CSU delegation to the Bundestag.

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German EU-extradition law invalidated, terror suspect walks

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th July 2005

Suspected Al Qaeda kingpin Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-German residing in the Hamburg area, has avoided extradition to Spain to stand trial for involvement in the 3/11/2004 Madrid attacks. He was immediately released from jail yesterday. The development followed a German Supreme Court (Verfassungsgericht, lit.constitutional court) decision invalidating a recently enacted German law authorizing his incarceration.

The law was designed to implement a European Union agreement requiring member countries to honor eachother’s arrest warrants via extradition. The “EU arrest warrant” [EU-Haftbefehl] was intended to make it easier to combat international terrorism and the drug trade across the many borders within the European Union — borders which are open to trade and tourism, but still define widely differing legal systems.

The German court could have potentially seen the German cooperation with (or acquiescence to) to the EU law as unconstitutional in and of itself, but pointedly did not do so, opting instead to require clearer guidelines about when extradition would and would not occur. Writing for the German newsweekly SPIEGEL, Mathias Gebauer reports:

The judges demand that legislators protect all Germans’ rights with an improved law supporting the EU-arrest warrant agreement. They did not call the idea of the EU law into question. They also did not consider national sovereignty damaged by it. The EU framework decision was only to be sparingly and proportionately implemented. In short: the idea is OK, its implementation was poor.

The judges provided the most important features of a revised law. Extraditions may not occur if there is a strong domestic connection to the alleged crimes. Conversely, someone who who is mainly punishable abroad may be subject to foreign criminal and trial law. The judges emphasized, that the foreign connection [Auslandbezug] was “also and especially assumed” “if the deed had a typically cross-border dimension from the outset,” such as in cases of drug trade or participation in international terrorism.

Looking on from the outside, it’s doubly annoying that the Darkazanli case seems to have fit all of these restrictions, even if the flawed law did not. Gebauer:

Darkazanli’s freedom is bitter for the government. The Hamburg businessman would presumably already be behind bars under new security laws passed by the Red [SPD]-Green coalition. But old deeds or proofs don’t suffice for the still freshly drafted Paragraph 129b, which makes membership in a terror network like Al Qaeda punishable since August 2002. And new proof has not turned up, despite long and intensive surveillance of the suspect by officials.

But the high court judges’ briefs were more about the general constitutionality of the law than about the particular case. Their verdict had the potential to put even more strain on EU integration, already under pressure following recent rejections of the proposed EU constitution in France and the Netherlands. While they largely ducked a head-on challenge, the judges did set some limits. Also writing for SPIEGEL, Dietmar Hipp reports:

Germany has “not surrendered nonnegotiable principles” in European cooperation until now, [chief justice] Hassemer said in delivering the verdict: even the “restriction of the formerly absolute proscription against extraditing Germans” does not lead to a “desovereignization [Entstaatlichung]” of the national legal system. So far, so good for Europe.

But the verdict specifically mentions two points, that could be a step too far on the path to Europe: the one would be if national citizenship is “surrendered,” “substantially devalued,” or “replaced with European citizenship,”; the other would be if the EU were to envision a “general harmonization of the legal systems of the member states.”

One may wish German legislators had gotten their extradition law right the first time. But then one may also wish the U.S. Congress or the U.S. courts were half as zealous as this German high court in preventing “extraordinary renditions” to other countries.

Darkazanli’s release is a galling setback. Gebauer reports that Darkazanli knew two of the 9/11 hijackers, and was the representative of convicted Al Qaeda treasurer Mamduh Mahmud Salim for a Deutsche Bank account, from which he was empowered to draw funds. He is also said to have purchased the freighter “Jennifer” for Osama Bin Laden in 1993. Evidence like this could now put someone behind bars in Germany under “Paragraph 129b,” enacted in 2002, but no new evidence or developments in Germany could be held against Darkazanli since then. It will apparently take another German “act of Congress” — i.e., revising that extradition law — before Darkazanli will finally face justice.

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German blogger series: EU Constitution referendum defeats

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th June 2005

As is well known, French and Dutch voters voted “no” against the proposed European constitution over the last week. I thought I’d scan German blogs for reactions to this development. All quotes are translations, unless otherwise indicated.

Kai Pahl (“dogfood”) — Pahl characterizes the French result as “basically a protest vote against Chirac,” and a protest vote against the rise of so-called “locust” or “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism in the EU. Pahl also sees the Iraq war as further aggravating this kind of protest voter, because it revealed “the divide between the ‘old Europe’ and the ‘transatlanticists'”:

The former want to position Europe as an independent power, the latter understand Europe as an economic alliance and seek partnership with the US in other areas. The Iraq war has made plain that there has been massive change in the center of gravity towards transatlanticism because of the addition of east European countries.

Turkey’s application for admission played an important secondary role, Pahl thinks:

I don’t think that the Turkey question was decisive, but was rather a further indication for many that the EU is heading in the wrong direction.

Pahl adds:

I probably would have voted against the referendum too. Purely as protest. I don’t like the way the politicians associated with the EU constitution expected that the thing would just be passed by acclamation [abgenickt].

Joerg Kantel (“Schockwellenreiter”) — Adopts a “Junge Welt” headline as his own: “Non c’est non: Europe says thank you, France!” Kantel’s quickie post lifts the theme of a second analysis (Bernard Schmid in telepolis), presumably to signal Kantel’s take on the event:

The rejection of the EU constitution points to a growing social polarization; the choice is between an economically liberal or a social Europe.

In the German usage, “liberal” has a different meaning, at least lately, from the “FDR/social safety net/civil rights” meaings it’s associated with in the U.S. It’s beome the word used to mean +/- free-market, “creative destruction,” sink or swim style economics.

Heiko Hebig — writing in English, Hebig comments:

A European Constitution should have less than 1000 words, less than 100 articles and should be easy to learn and understand by school children. […]

A European Constitution should establish a legal foundation for common principles and values. It should not establish red tape.

UPDATE, 6/7: In a second post, Hebig criticizes Schroeder and Chirac for trying to keep the ratification process alive, and writes, “I should start referring to the Draft EU Constitution as the “Terri Schiavo Constitution”.

Andreas Schaefer (“dekaf”) — Schaefer (profiled here in 2003) sounded disappointed, asking:

How many of the potential voters have any idea what’s at stake with the EU constitution constitution, or have even read it? And how many of the blowhards [Dummschwaetzern] in radio, television, and the weblogs, who think they have to comment about it?

His headline: “Why democracy doesn’t work.”

chief pedro (“Der Denkpass”) — this blogger regrets the French and Dutch votes, and thinks the “no” vote was driven not just by concerns about the constitution, but by concerns about the concept of a unified Europe itself –an issue pedro considers settled and out of bounds. Nevertheless, he (or she) acknowledges concerns about the proposed constitution:

It shouldn’t be surprising that this constitution isn’t able to generate much enthusiasm among the voters. A constitution that is supported by its citizens, must above all be understandable by these citizens. One of the fundamental prerequisites for that is a clear, terse statement, something which unfortunately eluded the European constitutional proposal. The American constitution may be a source of American patriotism for that reason, because every American can read and understand it without needing to take several weeks of vacation or needing a panel of experts to explain the most important concepts of international law.

Tobias Schwarz (“a fistful of euros”) — Schwarz, writing in English, puts his hopes in German foreign minister Joschka Fischer’s ‘glass half full’ spin on the defeat in France. Fischer, speaking in Berlin :

The real positive and new experience in the French campaign was that it was a European campaign…. The French (referendum) campaign was the first time that I was really campaigning for Europe.

And such a model (of campaigning for Europe) can work. This would mean that the next time the European Parliament is up for election, we have to raise issues not on a national level, but we have to form Europe-wide platforms created by European-wide parties. And we have to run with candidates representing not national programs, but European programs. I am not talking about a pie-in-the-sky European program with nice ideas that nobody is really interested in. But they have to have a substance. What about social justice in the European Union? What about the free market? What does it mean in France, in Germany, in Poland, in Lithuania, in Slovenia, in Portugal? And then (we have to) present candidates for the job for the president of the Commission and they must run for that position. Without that, I don’t believe we can really bridge the gap between the project of the elites and the reality of the people.

The dog that didn’t bark
Mainly, though, I found no comment at all about either election at most of the German blogs I checked. You can see a partial list under “german blogs” in the sidebar. It’s possible that something’s been added at the ones I looked at since then, of course.

Blogging is a personal thing done in one’s spare time, so I shouldn’t make too much of the lack of comment by any one particular German blogger. Also, the German blogs I frequent are more “mixed purpose” sites than mine, longer on personal reflections and experiences, and shorter on reactions to news of the day.

Still, it seems fair to say there was little deep anguish about the events in France and Holland or the fate of the European Union in this particular online scribbling class. Instead, I’d describe a strong minority of reactions as quiet satisfaction at the “non” and “nee” votes, with reluctant nods of agreement from those supporting the European Union and its proposed constitution. Even among supporters, there seems to be increased skepticism about a constitution, or at least this constitution, for the European Union. Overall, there’s a “wait and see” approach that doesn’t signal deep support for the kind of far-flung “United States of Europe” the constitution seemed to envision.

If my little sample were taken to be representative of German bloggers, their opinions seem to run somewhat counter to German public opinion — but with public opinion catching up. An ‘Infratest Dimap’ opinion poll in early May found that 59% of Germans would have voted for the European Constitution, given the chance — a chance which another poll found 77% of Germans wished they’d been afforded (Deutsche Welle). Instead, the constitution was ratified by the German Bundestag and Bundesrat. Following the French and Dutch votes, a June 4 Ipsos poll found that the margin of support had narrowed to 44% for, 39% against (SPIEGEL).

OTHER “German blogger series” posts: 2002: “German bloggers: an occasional series”; “Gedanken zum Thema Pirna” (East German anti-minority immigrant incident); 2003: “Reactions to Rumsfeld ‘Old Europe’ phrase”; Expatriates: Schaefer, siebenviertel, Klein, Hanson, Praschl; 2004: “Reactions to Abu Ghraib”; 2005:”Discussing German poverty at le sofa blog.”
UPDATE, 6/7: “Allerschaerfstes Willkommen,” Heiko Hebig and Schockwellenreiter readers! Please feel free to leave a comment!
EDITS, 6/7: “pregnant” to “terse” as per chief pedro’s comment. In the same quote, “Darstellung” was edited to “statement” (“exegesis” might have worked, too), and “cause” to “be a source of … for that reason” (deswegen). I will have a word with my editor for leaving translations in such sloppy condition.

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th May 2005

A few things I’ve found worthwhile, but couldn’t put together a decent post of my own about:

  • Jonathan Mermin: The media’s independence problem (World Policy Journal, via “realitique”).
    Mermin’s thesis:

    …journalists continue to be incapable of focusing on an issue or perspective on U.S. foreign policy that has not first been identified or articulated in official Washington debate.

    Read the article for candid admissions by Jim Lehrer, David Ignatius, and Judith Miller that they either might like to take back, or worse, might not want to. Mermin argues that the Washington press corps (or, as the “realitique” post title would have it, “corpse”) has let their dependence on officially and/or reputably sourced debate blind them to glaring cognitive dissonances right in front of them:

    Independent journalism would not have waited (and the wait continues) for an official source to point out that the failure to secure suspected WMD sites revealed, if not unfathomable incompetence, the fraudulent nature of the president’s purported concern about Iraq giving such weapons to terrorists.

    Many may say “so what else is new?” — and Mermin is one of them, pointing out that the same things happened during the Viet Nam War. Whether it’s new or not, Mermin describes the problem well.

  • Anthony Cox (“Black Triangle”): One study does not give the answer (via Harry’s Place)
    Discusses alternative Iraqi death count figures — Lancet (~98000, +/- 92,000) vs. UN (~24,000 +/- ~6,000). As the post notes, Tim Lambert makes the point that the Lancet study includes excess deaths from disease, while the UN study does not. While taking issue with Lambert’s title (“Lancet Study Vindicated”) Cox makes a good point here:

    It is important to note that the confidence intervals of the Lancet report completely encapsulate the confidence intervals of the UN report, which means the two studies are not necessarily contradictory. However, the UN report has a larger sample size in its favour making it more likely to contain the true number.

  • Carlin Romano: The Pope’s Sins of Omission (Chronicle of Higher Education, via Avedon Carol)
    Romano, a theologian who ran afoul of Ratzinger’s Council for the Doctrine of Faith, provides some details about Ratzinger’s desertion (later than I thought: after Hitler’s death), and recommends a book I’ll be looking for — “Hitler Youth”, by Michael Kater, who documents that there were a lot of German Catholic youths who were considerably braver in opposing Nazi Germany than Ratzinger was. True, no doubt. Romano’s verdict — buried in the text — may be a just one, but it also seems to suggest flaunting one’s moral outrage is mandatory: “Lack of indignation, rather than complicity, is the sin of omission in [Ratzinger’s] reminiscences.” He also concludes: “The biography of Benedict XVI should trouble any who believe the pope ought to be a morally inspiring figure, like Jesus himself.” That’s setting the bar pretty high, but maybe a pope deserves to be measured by it.I still stand by my defense of Ratzinger’s choices — or lack thereof — as a boy. But I’m also reminded that’s a fairly narrow argument. What is it Richard Lugar says of John Bolton? Oh: “There is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct.” (Actually, there is, but you get the point.)
  • Noah Feldman: Ugly Americans: The laws of a war against evil (The New Republic)
    On the pretext of reviewing of two reference books about Abu Ghraib and related issues, Noah Feldman manages to be calmly outraged and passionately analytical about the moral and practical dimensions of those failures. He’s particularly good in discussing and ultimately rejecting use of the principle of “reciprocity” — what I do/don’t do to you, you can/cannot do to me — as a justification for waiving Geneva Conventions for Afghan and Al Qaeda combatants (since they didn’t respect those conventions themselves). Indeed, he rightly turns the notion on its head:

    Reciprocity extends also to my desire to convince other parties, third parties, that agreements are worth keeping, even when such parties might be able to get away with violating them. Just as important, reciprocity includes the proposition that I have an interest to signal that I am the kind of person or entity who keeps agreements in spirit as well as in letter.

    The rule of law, understood from this perspective of reciprocal interest in keeping to the rules, is not only a good in itself. It is also a tool for promoting a habit of rule-following that serves the interests of stability. […]

    When it came to international law, detention, and interrogation, the Bush administration failed to understand why reciprocity is valuable, even when the immediate enemy is never going to comply. This was not only moral obtuseness. It was also something worse, for the consequentialist (and all strategists are consequentialists): a profound and damaging error of judgment.

    Human rights: not just a good idea, but one that worked for us — or used to. Excerpts don’t do justice to Feldman’s essay, I think; have a look.

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    Jeanne d’Arc on Ratzinger — a dissent

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th May 2005

    About a week and a half ago, Jeanne d’Arc (“Body and Soul”) wrote an eloquent essay about the new pope’s World War II past — and his current response to that past — provocatively titled “The German Shepherd and the Salvadoran Pastor.” However, while it is nicely written, I disagree with it.

    Ms. d’Arc contrasts what she believes is Ratzinger’s misevaluation of his past with the story of Oscar Romero, the beloved Salvadoran archbishop who was gunned down in San Salvador 25 years ago by a right wing death squad. Romero had been giving a sermon calling for soldiers to disobey orders violating human rights; he was a brave man, and he was a hero. Jeanne d’Arc contrasts this with Ratzinger:

    Joseph Ratzinger became a member of the Hitler Youth in 1941, at the age of 14, the year that joining became compulsory. Two years later — at only 16, a child soldier — he was drafted and served in an anti-aircraft unit which guarded a BMW factory that used slave labor from Dachau. … He was later sent to Hungary, and returned to Bavaria in 1944 , which is when he deserted. [the desertion happened five months later, in spring 1945 — ed.]

    To recap: a 14-year old is involuntarily drafted into the youth wing of what might be the most ferocious military and police state in human experience. Two years later, he is drafted into actual military service. He complies. Not blindingly heroic, it’s true. But he was a boy, for crying out loud, and certainly nothing suggests* he was part of any crimes.

    Finally, at 18, under a Nazi regime in the end stage toxicity of 1945, the very young man screws up his courage and deserts. And to desert the German armed forces was no small thing. From an Alan Paterson report** for the Independent:

    …[Ratzinger] suddenly decided to leave his unit, knowing full well that SS units had orders to shoot deserters on sight. He recorded his terror when, after deserting his unit, he was stopped by other soldiers: “Thank God they were the ones who had enough of war and did not want to become murderers,” he wrote in his memoirs.

    Ms. d’Arc compares the young Ratzinger’s actions to the (without question noble) behavior of an adult Salvadoran archbishop. But as fearsome and ruthless as Romero’s opponents were, he knew that they would either hesitate to kill an acting archbishop, or pay a lasting price in public opinion if they did.

    Young Ratzinger, by contrast, ran the very real risk of being summarily executed — and then simply forgotten like thousands of other deserters who suffered that fate in late World War II Nazi Germany.*** While his pointless death might have pleased some stern anti-Nazi sensibilities sixty years later, I feel greater empathy for the 16-, then 17-, then 18-year old’s indecision.

    Look at him. Multiply him by a thousand, or ten thousand. Then take your leave of him, dead by a roadside or slumped against a courtyard wall, a child who had a gun thrust into his hands, who was sacrificed by his benighted society whether he died for the sin of being a deserter or for the one of being a soldier. You blame the child? You require penance, regrets, or humility of his surviving boy-comrades in arms, just for being there? Of course not. You know they deserve your pity and your love, not your condemnation..

    I hold no brief at all for Cardinal Ratzinger, now become Pope Benedict XVI. I think his opinions on homosexuality alone — indeed and especially his opinions on ‘unsurprising’ persecution of homosexuality alone — are both bigoted and strangely unprincipled for someone who claims to stand against “moral relativism.” But while I understand the temptation to draw parallels between his choices now and those he made as a boy sixty years ago, I think that is likely untrue and unjust.

    This may seem to miss Ms. d’Arc’s point. In the critical argument of her essay, she takes issue with Ratzinger’s statement (as quoted in a biography by John L. Allen, Jr.) that resistance was “impossible.” The contrast between this fatalism and Romero’s heroism is the wellspring of d’Arc’s essay. She writes,

    Nevertheless, I think talking about the pope’s past is — from a moral, if not a political standpoint — not only fair, but essential, because the way he interprets that experience says a lot about the direction the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is moving in…

    Certainly talking about the pope’s past is fair and essential. But if Jeanne d’Arc’s comparison and analysis fails, I think her conclusions fail with it. And it does fail. To contrast the decisions of an unknown minor with those of an adult archbishop can’t do otherwise. Ms. d’Arc writes:

    Failing to exhibit extraordinary courage is human and understandable. Denying the extraordinarily courageous their due is shameful. Denying moral agency is surely unworthy of a man who would be pope. The Ratzingers lie about this because if they admit that moral choices were involved, they’d have to explain their choice.

    But does Ratzinger do this? Only if he meant that what was impossible for him was impossible for everyone. But in the Times of London article Ms. d’Arc cites, that’s not really what his brother Georg was implying:

    “Resistance was truly impossible,” Georg Ratzinger said. “Before we were conscripted, one of our teachers said we should fight and become heroic Nazis and another told us not to worry as only one soldier in a thousand was killed.

    “Before we were conscripted….”; “One of our teachers…”; “we should fight…” — to me, these are explanations of the choices of two schoolboys, not sweeping dismissals of the possibilities open to adults, with adult appreciations of what was at stake.

    Are we now demanding children’s crusades, or do we still decry them? Yet if you do not demand them, what remaining relevance does the child’s reaction to oppression have to the adult’s opinions?

    To acknowledge why I bother with defending someone I don’t like all that much, I should say that I have (or had; they’re all dead now, and I miss them) uncles and a grandfather who served in the German military during World War II. One in particular, Uncle L, was in a similar position to Ratzinger’s, as I understand it, since he was drafted as a teenager into the pitiful last ditch militia called the Volkssturm during the final months of the war.

    I’m glad he didn’t refuse or get himself executed as a deserter, or I’d not have come to know him, his children, or, someday, theirs. He never owed the world an explanation, much less an apology, nor even a passing regret for being drafted as a boy to fight a tyrant’s war — his elders owed him one for letting that happen. That would be the case no matter what his opinions and actions were later on.

    Ms. D’Arc’s essay eventually gets where she wants to go: preferring Romero’s vision of a church fighting injustice over Ratzinger’s vision of one focused on upholding tradition. For what little it’s worth, I’d prefer Romero’s vision, too, if I were Catholic. But that has nothing to do with Ratzinger’s teenage military career, because he bore no responsibility for his situation. Absolutely none.

    Judging by the responses to “The German Shepherd and the Salvadoran Pastor,” it is right and meet and even “courageous” to pronounce any given Hitler Youth morally suspect for joining a mandatory organization, to ask of the later adult “[d]oubt, hesitation, awareness of one’s own fallibility,” and to require that he retroactively discover possibilities for schoolboy resistance that were not apparent to him at the time. Even if that means demanding of a teenage boy judgment, independence and heroism that are all too rare in adults. And even if that boy seems to have passed his own test of courage soon enough.

    As I said, I disagree. So while Ms. d’Arc has received many accolades for her essay, this is not one of them.

    * The Wikipedia entry for Benedict XVI cautions that “Nearly all information on Ratzinger’s wartime activities goes uncorroborated, sourced in Ratzinger’s own memoirs and accounts from his brother, Georg.” That said, I’ve come across no quarrels with the detailed account Ratzinger provided.
    ** As reproduced on a Jamaica Star message board. Paterson wrongly implies the desertion happened in 1944.
    *** Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, Max Hastings, p.168: “In the last months of the war, there was a drastic increase in court-martial sentences on delinquent German soldiers. Beyond 15,000 recorded executions — and many more unrecorded — tens of thousands of men were dispatched to penal battalions, where the possibility of survival was no higher than in their Soviet equivalents (I.e., nil — ed.). A total of 44,955 men were sent for trial in October 1944 alone, and many of these received long sentences at hard labour.” An endnote suggests the 44,955 figure may be an underestimate.

    UPDATE, 5/3: Billmon contrasted Ratzinger with the members of the White Rose — a group of Munich students and supporters (most prominently Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst) who were arrested for boldly leafleting against the Nazi regime, and executed for treason in February, 1943. As with Archbishop Romero, these were wholly admirable, heroic men and women who should be a model to us all. But as with Romero, the comparison with Ratzinger founders on the issue of age: these students were in their 20s, Ratzinger was a boy and a teenager. In other ways, Ratzinger was similar: Hans Scholl had been in Hitler Youth, and both he and Christoph Probst had served in the German military.

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