Little Brown Spots

The Frankfurter Allgemeine, whose web site could generally be better organized, gets it right in their main comments on the election of extreme right candidates to state legislatures in Saarland, Brandenburg and Saxony:

We hope the debate that the two big parties were at each other’s throats about after the election in Saarland will not be revived: Who strengthened the extreme right? The SPD, with its program of socio-political insecurity, or the Union [CDU-CSU], which withdrew when things got serious? This debate leads nowhere, because the truth is that voters strengthened the NPD – primarily notorious usual non-voters – and voters will make them weak again, when the profiteers of popular anger have made sufficient fools of themselves

(Rough and ready translation, original is below the fold.)
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But they’re kind to dogs and children, I hear

Some nazis won elections yesterday, and nobody in Germany is quite sure what to do about it. Should one adopt a tone of moral outrage? Or would it be better to make reassuring noises? (‘Germany is not moving towards extemism. This was merely a protest vote’. Repeat till you feel better.)

In the elections to the Landtage (state parliaments) of Brandenburg and Saxony, two eastern German states, the established parties took a bad beating1. The SPD in Brandenburg and the conservative CDU in Saxony remain the largest single parties in the parliaments of their respective L?nder, but saw an exodus of voters. The Saxon CDU was particularly hard-hit, losing 20 seats and their absolute majority.

Looking distinctly happy, by contrast, was the PDS, the successor party to the gang that ran East Germany in the old days. They’re now the second-largest party in both states, and in Brandenburg have only four seats fewer than the SPD.

But of course it’s the nazis who get the headlines. The NPD (‘National Democrats’) took 9.2% of the vote in Saxony, easily leaping the 5% hurdle that the Greens and Free Democrats barely managed to get past. In all, the NPD got only 0.5% less of the vote than did the SPD. In Brandenburg the browns’ success wasn’t quite so dramatic; the DVU (‘German People’s Union’), one of the NPD’s rival outfits, reentered the Landtag with 6.1%.

How could this happen? Well, if you’ve been following reports out of Germany at all, you’ll have heard that many Germans are scared and angered that the government, through the so-called Hartz IV reforms, is going to make it less attractive to be unemployed. The unemployed are not amused. On Friday Chancellor Schr?der called them ‘parasites’.2 On Sunday the parasites struck back. In Saxony, 18% of the jobless voted nazi (as compared with 13% of blue-collar workers and 6% of white-collar workers and civil servants).

So what is to be done? The very first thing, I should think, is for Wessis to carefully avoid congratulating themselves for being different to those awful nazi-electing Ossis. The prosperous burghers of Baden-W?rttemberg, for example, have put nazis in their state parliament more than once.

Guido Westerwelle, chief of the Free Democrats, put on his earnest frown and said the mainstream parties should deal with the extremists of both right and left in a constructive, rational manner. He’s wrong, I think, at least with regard to the nazis.3

So long as today’s nazi parties are careful not to cross the line that would allow them to be banned, those voters who wish to vote for them must be allowed to do so. That’s all they should be allowed, though. As after every election, spokespeople from all the parties were in the television studios last night for a round of questions. When an NPD man started to speak in Dresden, the representatives of all the other parties left the room. And they did the same thing when the DVU’s top candidate began to speak in Potsdam. Here, I think is the proper response to the presence of nazis in a democracy’s parliament. Let no one speak to them; let no one acknowledge them. Somebody will have to register their votes or abstentions, I suppose, but nobody need otherwise interact with them. Democrats of every stripe should make it plain to nazi voters that they have effectively spoilt their ballots.
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The Ryder Cup

When it comes to golf, I’m normally firmly in the ‘good walk spoiled’ camp, but I tend to make an exception for the Ryder Cup, which is currently taking place in the US.

It’s still golf, of course, so the main activity is watching rich men with bad fashion sense hitting balls around, but the interest comes from seeing what’s one of the quintessential solo sports turned into a team competition. It’s also down to who those two teams are: the USA and Europe. While there are US teams competing in many tournaments, it’s a rarity for them to be competing in sports that are popular in the US and I can’t think of another sport in which a specifically European team competes, though I’m sure my ignorance will be corrected in the comments.

However, I don’t think the nature of the sides is what necessarily makes the competition so interesting. It’s watching sportsmen who normally compete solely for themselves having to learn to compete as part of a team that makes it interesting, knowing that their efforts are just one part of the whole. It’s also that it’s a contest purely for pride and a trophy – there’s no prize money on offer (though none of the players’s sponsors are particularly stingy), just a ?250 trophy (well, that’s what it cost in the 20s) for the winners.


The German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo have released the 2004 edition of “transatlantic trends”, an extensive survey of public opinion on a range of foreign policy issues. Polls were conducted in the US, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Great Britain, as well as in Slovakia and Turkey. So if you’re interested in the latest update on “the rift” in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Slovak, or Turkish, click here (.pdf plugin required).

Seen the Sri Lankan National Men’s Handball Team?

According to Sri Lankan authorities (and as reported in the German newspaper whose web site could really be better organized), there isn’t one. That didn’t stop 23 men — or maybe 25, accounts vary — from organizing a three-week tour through Bavaria, getting German visas, traveling to Wittislingen (an apparently charming place of about 1000 inhabitants), training for competition against the locals and playing a game in what looked like Sri Lankan uniforms. After Wittislingen, they were supposed to play in Dasing, Landshut, Eggenfelden, Karlsfeld, Schlei?heim and Freising. But at the first game, something didn’t seem right. The team was terrible. According to one account, they even asked the referee no to apply the rules so stringently, or they might never score.

After the game, the team and its coaches went back to their quarters at a local orchestral hall. Then they went … somewhere. At first, the good people of Wittislingen thought the team had gone on one of their regular runs through the woods, part of their athletic regimen. But they didn’t come back. No one has seen any of them for days.

There was, by all accounts, a very polite letter thanking everyone for their hospitality and saying the team had gone to France. But who knows?

So. Anyone seen the Sri Lankan men’s handball team?

Update: According to the most recent press reports, they have likely gone to Italy, where there is apparently a reasonably large Sri Lankan community, most of whom work in the shadow economy.

Ivan, ho!

Hurricane Ivan is drawing a bead on the area where I grew up – Mobile, Alabama from age four to eight and Baton Rouge, Louisiana from eight until I went off to university. Mom’s headed north to cousins’ in Vicksburg, Mississippi. True to form, Dad, stepmom and co. are staying put.

Ninety miles inland, where Baton Rouge stands, is probably far enough that the storm will have weakened considerably, and I don’t expect too much damage.
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German Wages War Hots Up

While Volkswagen’s long cold summer trundles on relentlessly there is more news on the wage reduction/increasing hours front.

Following the decision by workers at Siemens and DaimlerChrysler to work longer hours announced earlier in the summer, Volkswagen itself and construction company Bilfinger are looking for similar deals. (The Economist this week has a profile of VW’s head of personnel Peter Hartz – he who gave his name to the Hartz IV law – and a summary of the background to all this).

The numbers of workers likely to be affected are now no longer small: any VW deal would involve 100,000 workers, and the Bilfinger negotiations are said to be liable to affect up to 800,000 construction workers (similar moves are also in evidence elsewhere in Europe, the case of Alitalia pilots being only the most recent).

My take on all this is that while I feel there is an inevitability about it – many EU labour markets clearly need a shake-up – I do not share the rather ‘rosy’ picture most analysts are painting of the likely short and mid term consequences. These deals are clearly deflationary in the classic sense. They will affect consumption in the short, and possibly not so short – term. So when you add the wage reduction effect to the spending reductions implied by the need to reduce government deficits, and the likely 2005 slowdown in global growth which can affect exports, it becomes hard to see where exactly growth in an economy like Germany’s will come from.