Merkel Hangs On But Trouble On Horizon

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Christian Democratic Party still holds the cards despite record losses. Free Democrats (FDP) back in the Bundestag, the Right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD) enters national politics as the third strongest party. 

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BERLIN- The German Federal Elections of 2017 will go down as one of the most controversial elections in modern history. While we have seen government coalitions being taken down because of the vote of no-confidence- the last one being in 2005- there has not been a time where the election campaign has been hotly contested, sometimes even corrupt as this one.  Before looking at the reasons behind this argument, it is best to look at the results.

Summary:

Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU remains the most powerful of the political parties in Germany, having garnered 32.9% of the votes, according to the polls. Unfortunately, that is a loss of 8.6% from the results in the 2013 Elections. Its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, barely finished second with 20%; with the loss of 5.1% of the votes, they set a new low for the number of votes. The director of the party, Martin Schulz, declared at the close of the polls that his party would no longer work together with Merkel’s party, thus forcing the chancellor to look for new partners to rule the country. A very difficult task given the fact that third place finisher, the AfD, finished with 13% of the votes. The party’s candidate, Alexander Gauland, vows to chase Merkel’s government and her policies, especially with regards to refugees and the environment. Gauland is one of many in the party who wishes to bring back policies once carried out by Adolf Hitler during his time in power, minus the holocaust. While Merkel will definitely discard the AfD and has vowed to win back the voters who have left her party for the far right during her next four years in office, she has the possibility of forming a coalition with the Greens (who won 8.9%), FDP (who returned to German parliament after a four-year absence with 10.6% of the vote) and the left-wing party Die Linke (which got 9%).  Most likely will Merkel form a Jamaika Coalition with the Greens and the FDP but according to information from German public channel ARD, all three parties would have to work together to create a joint mandate on several points. Given their hard stance on several issues, this will be rather difficult to achieve. But in order for the coalition to be realized, some compromises and sacrifices may be needed in order for the coalition to work for the next four years. Merkel will most likely face not only one but two sets of opposition. Apart from the AfD preparing to attack her policies at every possible convenience, she will have the far left in the Linke and SPD to contend with, especially with Martin Schulz, who tried to play down her policies during his campaign, but to no avail.

Critique Points:

So what exactly went wrong with the 2017 Campaign? Everything possible, but it would be difficult to point everything out without having to type until seven in the morning, so I will focus on one aspect and that is how the campaign was run.

Firstly, the campaign was very Americanized. Instead of including the parties in the debates, especially on television, it was merely a divorce battle between two coalition partners, the SPD and the CDU. Nothing from the Greens, FDP, Left, AfD and others that were running. Surely with the other parties taking part in the debates, we would have a better idea on the stances of each one plus their plan on how to tackle the problems facing Germany.

Secondly, there was only one TV debate with, as mentioned in the last point, just the two coalition parties. Normally in a multi-party elections, there would be more than one TV debate- better three: two with the main four parties and one with the remaining parties, pending on their performance in the Bundestag. Even in the past, there were at least two TV debates. And with that TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, it turned out to be the German version of the Hillary vs. Trump debate: 100% mudslinging and not getting to the point with the debate at hand. No wonder why Martin Schulz wanted a second TV debate as there were several themes not discussed during the first debate. A big plus for him.

Thirdly, the focus was for the most part on the refugee crisis and what went wrong. Merkel has been sandwiched between Schulz’s accusation of her not doing enough for them and the accusation of the AfD and even the sister party the Christian Socialists (CSU) in Bavaria for not enforcing restrictions on the number of refugees entering the country. There was almost no space for themes that are bigger than that, such as climate change, trade agreements with North America, the EU, the widening gap between rich and poor, etc.  While Merkel and Schulz were wrestling it out politically, the AfD fed off the lack of selection and frustration of the voters who eventually went for them to begin with.

Fourthly, there should have been a TV debate with the AfD, period. Following the Beutelsbach Consensus for Political Discussion in the Classroom (enacted in 1977), having Gauder, Höcke or even Petry as a spokesperson in the debate against Merkel, Schulz and other candidates would produce discussions for all to watch with the purpose of bringing out whatever they have for plans should they be elected. As chaotic as the party has been due to political struggles and controversial remarks from members of the party, this party could be a one-term party unless they have a clear platform that will win over voters, which the only platform they have up until now is to throw out the immigrants in favor of the uneducated- something that was seen 84 years ago.

Fifthly, the last argument has resonances from America’s elections last year: The election was based too much on fame and picking apart the candidates and not on the themes concerning the German and European population. We have Merkel whom many think she’s too old and naive. We have the Schulz effect which is like buying Levi’s jeans just because it is a brand. We have Petry who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We have Göring-Eckhardt, who is the brains but not the support. OK, to be blunt, we have several flavors of Dithmarscher Beer but they all taste the same! And that is what we see with our candidates, period!

What Happens Next?

It is clear that Merkel will start her fourth term and is on course to outgovern Helmut Kohl before the next elections in September 2021. It is also clear that Schulz’s declaration of the divorce from the CDU and going on the opposition is final and that Merkel has just the Greens and FDP to form a coalition. The question will be how she will manage two different oppositional groups: the AfD, who will do everything possible with its 13 representatives in parliament to make her life very difficult, and the SPD and Linke, who will use all measures possible to fight the AfD and keep Merkel in check. For the first time since 1945, we have a right-wing party in power with a potential to repeat history, but this legislative period will feature three factions fighting it out in the German parliament: the far-right, the far-left and the traditional center. This will make things very difficult for Merkel’s coalition to pass any policies agreed on that would satisfy the population.  It is certain that Merkel cannot afford to ignore the AfD and has already declared to win back voter who had left her party to join the far-right. But in order to do that, Merkel will not only have to change her mandate and appease the voters, but she will have to face the AfD directly, consistently, at every possible convenience and especially, proactively.  She will not be able to be passive to the party as she did during the elections and even before that.  She will need to present themes that are complicated for the AfD to comprehend, let alone far-left. And she will need to use all legal measures possible to ensure that there is order in Berlin. She doesn’t need to be Margaret Thatcher, but in order to succeed in the next four years, she will need to go away from her passive approach and go on the proactive to ensure that her policies get through and her oppositions are in check. Only then will she be certain to break Kohl’s record and keep her party the CDU’s reputation as the party that shaped Germany. All other approaches would have fatal consequences for Germany, Europe and Democracy, in general.

For more on the election results, please check out ARD online, which will show you the results and the predictions of what will happen in the coming months. Link:

http://www.ard.de/home/ard/ARD_Startseite/21920/index.html

 

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Wir Schaffen Das: How the Christian Democrats Have Made German History

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A couple years ago, I had a political discussion with another expatriate residing in Germany about Angela Merkel’s willingness to open the gates of Germany to refugees fleeing the regions of Syria, Iraq and North Africa- areas that were decimated by war- just so they can start a new life in a different place, where they can be peaceful and not have to worry about war. A couple days ago, after having posted my preview of the German elections, where Angela Merkel is making a quest to run for her fourth term (and break Helmut Kohl’s record in the process), that same person asked me if her policies of allowing refugees into Germany have done the country good or not, especially with the social and cultural problems that they may have, which were his reasons for opposing opening the gates. We all remember her comments in an interview with Anne Will that has carried a lot of weight around Berlin:

and this in addition to her persuasion of her counterparts to not be afraid of the refugees but to help them…..

But in order to answer that person’s questions, I’m going to take the Taylor Mali approach and give it to him with a little history- not about her or the refugees, but about her party, the Christian Democrats and their slogan “Wir schaffen es!”

Since the creation of the Bundesrepublik in 1949, the CDU has had a chancellor ruling Germany for 48 of the 68 years of its existence. Of which, if we count Merkel in the mix, three different politicians have ruled the country for 42 of the 48 years!  Before Merkel, the previous CDU chancellors had been the late Helmut Kohl, who ruled from 1982 until his defeat in the hands of Gerhardt Schroeder in 1998. The first chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, ruled what was then West Germany from 1949 until his resignation in 1963. He died four years later at the age of 91, having won the Award for eldest statesman to ever govern a country.  The secret to the successes of the CDU under these three people had been until now made their promises of “Wir schaffen das!” (translated bluntly as We Can Do This) realized through calculated risk-taking, realizing the consequences of these actions and providing a buffer zone between external factors on one hand and Berlin and the rest of the country on the other. It is like the game of chess- the situation is presented on the chessboard, and it is up to the politicians to take the risk that will produce the maximum result to their favor, while figuring in the possible consequences that could happen. Of course any foolhardy move could be fatal, as we are seeing with many far-right politicians in eastern Europe, Turkey, North Korea, the UK and even the US. But each chancellor has had their longest chess game during their time in office; each of which has its own theme. Let’s have a look at each legend’s ability of making it work and bringing Germany to fame.

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Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963) Photo courtesy of the German Archives (Bundesarchiv)

“Wir schaffen das allein!”

When Adenauer took office on 15 September 1949, Germany was still in recovery mode after having been in shambles because of World War II and was all alone with the European countries and the US all hesitant in building any relations with the country. Furthermore, Germany was already split between the democratic western half that had been occupied by the Americans, British and French and the eastern half that was controlled by the Soviets. While Germany was considered a chessboard between communism and democracy, Adenauer began to redevelop the country economically, thus making it the economic miracle and later the powerhouse of western Europe with one of the lowest unemployment rates in history (averaging around 2%). The population got jobs and could spend money on new items, including the TV and modern furniture. His policies were based on liberalism and thus showed Germany’s willingness to ally with the US, Britain and other western countries, thus making the country’s integration into the United Nations, NATO and the European Economic Community easier to achieve. His mentality of “Wir schaffen das allein” (we will do it alone) had to do with the fact that Germany’s metamorphisis from a state in shambles to an economic miracle with a modernized socio-economic infrastructure and westernized institutions with policies that are based on conservatism and no experimenting with anything that is new and foreign. Even the elections of 1957, which he won his third term in office, his campaign slogan of “No Experiments!” won overwhelming support because of three factors that led Adenauer to win the hearts and minds of the German population: 1. The reestablishment of relations with neighboring France which used to be the country’s archenemy. With that came the reintegration of the Saarland and the recognition of minorities on both sides of the border. 2. Despite having zero interest in reuniting with East Germany or even having contact with the communist regimes, Adenauer made  agreements with the Soviets to release as many as 10,000 Germans who were prisoners of war, so that they could return home.  That combined with encouraging immigration from parts of the Middle East and Asia to fill in the gaps left behind by the fallen soldiers contributed to Germany’s success as a country as a norm. And thirdly, the people followed Adenauer’s policies because they enabled them to restart their lives again and not allow for external influences and military conflicts to rule and ruin their lives again. If it meant integrating people from outside willing to work in the country- making them open-minded- make it so.  Adenauer’s idea was in order to make the country a powerhouse again, it must work to restore its identity while mending ties with and reassuring other countries that it is different than the Germany under Hitler: It was not power-greedy but a democratic country willing to cooperate for similar causes. Anything that is fattening or potentially risky- anything that does not match Adenauer’s vision of Germany- was simply left behind. This was the reason why Adenauer went with his slogan West Germany first, then we’ll talk about the East. His hard-line policies against Communism combined with his willingness to grow together with other countries made him the most influential politician of modern German history.

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Helmut Kohl (1982- 1998)           Archiv für Christlich-Demokratische Politik (ACDP)

“Wir Schaffen das Miteinander:”

If there was one description that would best fit Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who came into power after the fall of Helmut Schmidt in 1982, it would be that he was the Face of Europe, not just a Unified Germany but simply a Unified Europe. While Kohl was perceived as folksy in terms of his appearance and manner, his ability to be eye-to-eye and down-to-earth with many of his international constituents made him more of an international celebrity than that of his German counterparts in Bonn, which was the federal capital during his 16 years in office. It also helped him in terms of working together with his international colleagues for two of the most important goals on his agenda: To end the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and to reunify West Germany with its eastern counterpart.  While the former was beginning to unfold from within, thanks to the revolutions in the east that toppled the Communist leaders and quickened with the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989, the latter Kohl proceeded to do through cooperation with Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachev, US President George Bush Sr., British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand. Despite the hesitation that was expressed by Mitterand and the rejection that was made clearly by Margaret Thatcher, Kohl’s actions in reuniting Germany within a year between the Fall of the Wall and the date of 3 October, 1990 (which we still celebrate this date today) received full support and cooperation from Gorbachev and Bush Sr. for several reasons:

  1. Kohl acknowledged that he had no intention of expanding his country to include the Suedetenland in western Czech Repubic and areas in Poland that  had once belonged to Germany before 1945. This Oder-Neisse Agreement confirmed the eastern border and resulted in good relations with the two eastern neighbors.
  2. Kohl agreed that Germany would be a full participant in NATO and the European Economic Community (later the European Union) just like it was when it was West Germany. Furthermore, it would maintain strong economic and political ties with ist allies and be ready to play a larger role on the international stage.
  3. Kohl provided start-up funding and financial support for the former eastern states. With much of the industries in ruins, Kohl presented a program to encourage business development, modernization of the infrastructure, educational support and further education training for the unemployed and reform the retirement system- all with the purpose of bring it up to the level of the western half.  This process has been long and painful, but it has been working to the advantage of People in the East; especially the younger generations born right before the Fall of the Wall.
  4. With a reunified Germany, Gorbachev and Bush Sr. agreed that having a Cold War no longer made sense. Gorbachev wanted the eastern countries to go their own way, and Bush provided those who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain with an opportunity to have a better life without the political connections and influence from the state security police. All they needed was someone in Germany with the same point of view and they found that in Kohl.

The German Reunification and the concessions needed to make that a reality came with criticism from within the German Population and his own Party, the CDU, claiming that the process went too fast and that many displaced Germans from the east were unable to reclaim their regions back. Furthermore, the recession of  1995 as a result of the cost for Reunification resulted in the rise of unemployment. Yet when looking back at this, Kohl looked for the people who were willing to go through with the plan of reunification, taking all the risks that are involved and cementing the Germany that we know today. With that in mind, the idea of “Wir Das Miteinander ,” became “Wir Schaffen Das Zusammen” over time, for whatever the crises, Germany was able to pull through with the support of its people, the CDU and its allies from outside.

Helmut Kohl was given a European send-off at the time of his death on 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87. The procession, which was on 1 July, took place in Strausborg and Speyer, where he was interred.

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Angela Merkel (2005-present)  Photo by Armin Linnartz

“Wir Schaffen Das:”

It is very difficult to describe this theme with Angela Merkel without having to overlap on her counterpart’s slogan, but perhaps it doesn’t need a preposition to describe how she has overcomed her challenges as Chancellor and key player in the CDU. Merkel was presented with three challenges that reshaped her party, Germany and the population during her 12 years in Office. First was keeping Europe together and the Americans happy, something that for Germany as a central power in the EU it could be done by pulling on the leash of the members- in writing. Yet in the praxis, especially in the past 3-4 years, some member countries have tried to go their own way, especially in terms of the refugee policy and the deficits of some countries. The next was satisfying the Americans and finding common ground to carry out the policies that affect both countries and the rest of the world. This depended solely on who was in the Oval Office, and while she has isolated Donald Trump because of his erratic behavior (just like the other countries who have followed suit), her relations with George Bush Jr. was lukewarm at best but with Barack Obama, it was a dream team. 🙂 From an American expatriate’s point of view, Merkel achieved a lot with the right people in Washington, which has been received as a blessing, especially when it comes to the environment and the conflicts out in the Middle East, which has been ongoing for seven years now.  And while we are on the theme with environment, there is the refugee crisis and her handling of it, which makes it the third and most important point. The logic behind her policy of “Wir schaffen das” was quite simple: regions in the north and east needed workers and experienced professions because of the younger people moving to cities in the western and southern parts. The population balance in Germany has been very unequal since 1990 with the population in the north and east getting older, despite attempts to modernize the region. With this decline came the brain drain and the best way to end it is to fill in the gap with people wishing to live and work in Germany, even if it was for a limited time until they were able to return home. Learning from Adenauer’s success in bringing in immigrants and integrating them and Kohl’s success in restructuring the eastern half of the country, Merkel sent them to the regions where work was waiting for them, along with a better life. This has been met with partial success mainly because of the lack of forthcoming to accept them among residents in regions who are older, inflexible and lack the basic knowledge needed to get to know and even help them. This is one of the reasons for the creation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the main challengers that Merkel has faced and will be dealing with for years to come. However, if asked for why immigration has been successful in Germany, I can look at personal success stories of families who have taken German classes to get by, young people getting training at companies to learn a profession and even refugee children getting along with school children. Granted one doesn’t need to be best friends, but by having a peaceful co-existence and helping out when needed is something that Merkel had in mind, which has been a success if one subtracts the likes of the far-right.

Summary:

Taking a look at the three politicians in summary, one can see how Germany has been shaped. It is a country whose population has been taught to be calculated risk-takers, while at the same time, be open to not only people from different cultures and backgrounds, but also to the changes that are taking shape and affecting the Bundesrepublik. The idea of “Wir Schaffen Das,” regardless of form and circumstances has something to do with the will to try something new but doing it with insurance. That means the risks will be taken under one’s own conditions and with the assurance of a Plan B if all else fails. Many of the policies carried out by the CDU had been tried and true, learning from the successes of the forefathers and implementing them adaptedly to the situation. Germany has learned to adapt to the situation by looking at the options carefully, calculating the risks and benefits and carrying it out with some insurance protection.  Adenauer knew the risks of forming relations with other countries and rebuilding Germany and ensured that Germany wanted to be part of the international theater, by accepting the conditions imposed, bringing home the prisoners of war and encouraging immigration to repopulate the country.  Kohl knew the risks of German reunification and came up with a comprehensive plan to satisfy its neighbors and the population, especially in the East.  Merkel knew the risks of integrating the refugees and the opposition from both within the EU and its own country. Still she found ways for immigration to work in a convincing way.  Whenever there were the risks, they were calculated and carried out in an attempt to create a balance that satisfies everyone.

And this has made it difficult for candidates, like Martin Schulz (SPD), Christian Lindner (FDP), Frauke Petry (AfD) and others to overcome the German Iron Lady and the rock which has become the CDU.

Thanks to this notion of “Wir Schaffen Das,” Germany has become what it is- a nation that loves calculated risks, just as much as the people who live there- which includes the refugees, expats and other immigrants. There is still a lot of challenges ahead, but should Merkel win term number 4, it will most likely be due to the success of her in general, her party, and the forefathers who helped shape Germany to what it is today. If Merkel breaks Kohl’s record for longetivity as chancellor, then her theme will most likely be “Wir haben das geschafft.”

Better have that sherry and champaign ready for  Merkel’s fifth term on 26 September, 2021. 😉

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2017 German Federal Elections: A Preview

Germans go to the polls on 24 September to elect their new Chancellor- A lot of questions still exists

After the US, Dutch and French elections, the German elections, which will take place on 24 September 2017, will be the decisive factor on how Germany will be governed for the next four years. Yet like the Presidential Elections that brought Donald Trump to power, this election will decide the fate of the European Union as well as the rest of the world, going forward, as there are several factors that will influence the voters’ decision on which party should rule the Bundestag in Berlin. Furthermore, given Germany’s economic, social and political leverage on Brussels as well as the United Nations, people are praying that whoever is elected Chancellor will be the one that will shape the country and take it into the direction that is the most desirable both nationally as well as globally.  Factors influencing the political decision among the voters include:

Germany’s role in terms of environmental policyamong other things, renewable energy, climate change and protecting flora and fauna

Germany’s role in terms of refugee policy, which includes integration of those qualified to live in the country and quick deportation of the unqualified and criminals

Germany’s role in international relations, especially within the EU and with the US. While President Trump would rather have Frauke Petry of the AfD (even though she is now on maternity leave) instead of the incumbent Angela Merkel of the CDU, Germany is trying to shore up relations with countries still loyal with the EU, while fighting fires caused by the far right governments of Poland, Turkey and Hungary, as well as Great Britain’s Teresa May.

Germany’s role in domestic policies and how it can close the ever continuing widening gap between the rich and the  poor, as well as improve on the country’s education system

Even more important are some thought provoking questions that are on the minds of all Germans, Americans living in Germany (including yours truly) and other foreigners living in Germany, for whoever rules the country for the next four years will have an impact on the lives of others, for each party has its own agenda that is different than that of the policies of Chancellor Merkel up until now. For some parties, this election could be make or break because of their struggle to win support. Here are some questions that are of concern as we bite our nails and worry about 24 September:

  1. Will Angela Merkel win her fourth term, thus be on the path to break the longest power streak of serving 16 years, set by the late Helmut Kohl (1982-1998; he died in June of this year)?
  2. Will the Martin Schulz Effect save the Social Democrats (SPD) or mark the beginning of the end of the centralist party?
  3. Will the Free Democratic Party return to the Bundestag after breaking the 5% barrier?
  4. Are too many windmills too much for the Greens?
  5. Will the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) continue its winning streak and roll into parliament? If so could it even overrun the CDU and even govern Berlin?
  6. Will the Leftist Party (Linke) serve as the counterpunch to the AfD or will it need help?
  7. Will this election mark the last for the Nationalist Party of Germany (NPD)?

These questions will be answered through my observations of the election, which will be after the tallies are counted and we know which parties will form a coalition and elect our next leader. We need to keep in mind that the German elections are different than the American ones as we elect two parties- one primary and one as second vote, and the new Chancellor is elected after a coalition is formed between two or more parties. Currently, we have the Grand Coalition, which features Merkel’s CDU and the SPD. Yet we have seen coalitions with other smaller parties. A party can have the absolute majority if more than 50% of the votes are in their favor.

To better understand the multi-party system, there are a pair of useful links you can click onto, which will provide you with an insight on the German election system. Both are useful for children, and both are in German, which makes it useful to learn the language.

Checker Tobi:  http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Die-Checker/Checker-Tobi-extra-Warum-w%C3%A4hlen-wichtig/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=39903768&documentId=45989192

logo! on ZDF: https://www.zdf.de/kinder/logo/bundestagswahl-aktuell-100.html

Fellow American collegial column Leipzig Glocal produced an article on the multi-party election system and the number of parties that could run in the elections. Details on that can be found here:

http://leipglo.com/2017/09/19/federal-elections-2017-party-roll-call/

While I cannot vote on the count of my American citizenship (though ideas of switching sides have lingered since Trump’s elections) like other American expats, I can only stress the importance of going to the polls on the 24th. Your vote counts because we are at the crossroads. Can we do it, like Merkel said with taking on the refugees in 2015? Or can we afford to experiment and if so at what price? Only your vote will make a difference. So go out there and vote. And allow me to comment once there is a new Chancellor, be it another four years of Merkel (and the flirt with Kohl’s record) or with someone else……

Viel Glück und Glück auf! 🙂

To the Americans who are frustrated with Donald Trump

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Dear Fellow Americans,

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump because you wanted change in Washington.

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump because you never wanted to see Hillary Clinton as President because of her own set of scandals.

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump even though your original wish was to vote for Bernie Sanders.

And lastly, we understand that you voted for Donald Trump because of his slogan of making American great again.

Going past the halfway point, our question to you is how do you feel?

Do you think that Donald Trump has exceeded your expectations?

Do you think that Donald Trump is unifying the country?

Do you think that Donald Trump is creating more jobs than you wanted?

Do you think that Donald Trump is the man to run the country?

 

Now be honest…………………..

 

These are rather simple questions, but they are questions that should get you to think about it for awhile. And maybe when all the answers come up with “No he hasn’t,” you can maybe do something about it.

Let us explain what the role of the President of the United States really is, so that you understand. The role of the President is:

To unify the country, regardless of ethnic, religious and social background

To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and condemn any group that tries to undermine this important document that has served this country for 230 years

To react swiftly to situations that harm the country’s population, regardless of background

To encourage people to move and live in the country, regardless of where they came from, and contribute to making America greater

To be sensitive to the feelings of the people and the issues affecting the country, including climate change and other environmental issues

To make sensible decisions that benefit everyone and not the select few, which includes issues involving health care, environment, economic growth and especially education

To foster growth for the country in not only the four aforementioned points but others as well

And lastly,

To ensure that equality is protected among the population, given to all and protected for all who live in the country.

 

The incident that occurred in Charlottesville on 12 August and the President’s reactions that happened afterwards showed the truest colors a person can ever show. It shows that:

Donald Trump has been abusing his power for his own political and business interest, not that for the American population

Donald Trump has been supporting the far right all along. It goes beyond having the likes of Jeffery Sessions, Mike Pence and Steve Bannon in the Oval Office; it includes supporting Neo-nazis and Ku Klux Klan groups who idolize Adolf Hitler and wish to reenact what would be the Fifth Reich in the US. Speaking from history, we saw how Hitler’s obsession led to war, destruction of biblical proportions and eventually the reconstruction of Europe thanks to you, France, Britain and the Soviet Union. While this took six decades, imagine taking that same road with the States, and how long that would take……

Donald Trump is bringing to the country what Hitler brought to Germany, Mussolini to Italy, Franco to Spain, Idi Amin to Uganda, Gaddafi to Lybia, Pinochet to Chile and Organia to Argentina, which is a one-person dictatorship, surrounded by family and people within his closest circle. The process of systematically dismantling the freedom of speech, especially with the media is one of many examples of Trump’s work. Another is attempts to eliminate programs that benefit the population, even those who voted for him.

Donald Trump is everything a person does not want. Unlike Obama, Trump is a sexist, bigamist, racist, egoist, fundamentalist and nationalist swine, whose greed and corruption will lead to the destruction of this country, as well as families, relationships, friendships, colleagueships, partnerships and one’s own self-identity. He made supporters naiive like sheep and he’s now slaughtering them, one by one.

And lastly, Donald Trump is the worst example of how people should behave towards one another. While fights and hatred are making the country as bloody red as possible, the role of the President is to enforce the laws and show people how to be decent to one another. If you don’t know what decency is, you might want to look at this speech by Morgan Freeman:

 

After reading all this, you are probably wondering “What the hell have I done?” We are all wondering that too.  While eliminating monuments that embody the Confederacy may be a solution, but it is only a short-term one. People distancing themselves from Trump is only a dressing to the problem and they will eventually come back to Trump after a while. If there is one solution to the problem, it’s this: impeachment followed by new elections.

Seriously!

Every constitution has a clause, let alone a history of “snap elections” (click here to read about it). We had three such elections, the last one has produced 12 years of success in Angela Merkel, who is bound to break the record of longetivy set by the late Helmut Kohl. While no such elections have happened yet in America on the federal level on the part of the Vice President being the successor, it does happen on the state level for governors, senators and even representatives.  Given the corruptiveness of the current administration (if we even can say that), perhaps it is time to write some history for your country.

How?

Contact your local senator, representative and any politician who is sick and tired of seeing Donald Trump use and abuse this precious office, which should represent the American public. Tell them that you deserve better in a leader of your own country, who also should lead the rest of the world in all other global affairs. Tell them the elections were rigged and we need someone who is not bought as president. Tell them even when Trump leaves, we will never be happy with Mike Pence or anyone else in line to take office. Snap elections are simple as 1-2-3. Trump is impeached and is gone. Pence calls for new elections for 2018. New candidates to do real campaigns. Elections to take place at the same time as the congressional ones. Very simple, even if you transcend the law.

By doing just what is described, you will have a leader who will save the country from disaster, mend the ties that are broken among families and friends and among people of different backgrounds. You will have someone who will right the country and work together with Congress and the Supreme Court while defending the rights of others. You will have someone who will be with the people, for the people and supporting the people.

It’s difficult to do, but giving someone who doesn’t need the White House a chance is no longer an option. Therefore, it’s time to write some history to get things right for once. If you’re not convinced, Jesus is by your side pushing you to do the right thing.

So just do it!

Thank you for your attention. God bless you and your blessed, beloved country.

Sincerely,

The people of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, with support from the EU, other countries in the world and lastly, your American ex-patriots.

 

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Facts about Germany: German Bureaucracy

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OK everyone, let’s be honest for a couple seconds. What is the number one annoying habit in Germany that you would love to see eliminated?  After living in Germany for over 17 years, there is one that has been number one on my hit list and it is the B-word.

BUREAUCRACY!!!

Bureaucracy is the engine of German efficiency. It helps keep the country running and people out of trouble. It ensures that people reach their goals legally and with no incident. It also gives people a daily dose of Aspirin, courtesy of Bayer, because of the number of papers to fill out, the search for information in a computer filled with letters from a can of Spaghetti-Os soup, the excessive travelling needed for an apostille (with -th, by the way) needed for a wedding, and the countless stops at a small local unknown church to pray intensively for the nightmare to stop.

Despite all the articles written about German bureaucracy (most of which you’ll find at the end of this article), the one variant that will never be replaced is the system where you look at a government official in the eye, when she provides you with an Amtsdeutsch (governmental German) word that you, as a normal person, don’t know the simple German equivalent. Or when you watch people at the Zollamt (customs office) walk around like Borgs bitching about politics while waiting for a package from the US- searched with contents confiscated because of their illegality. Or when you receive a response to a complaint saying “Das ist ein Käse!” (equivalent to This is Bullshit!)

In other words, you cannot escape German bureacracy, period! No matter how the Chancellor reforms the system, you must prepare for the red-tape version of the decathelon and have your endurance tested, let alone your sanity.

I found seven types of bureaucracy that are typical of Germany. As you live longer in the country, it is most likely that you will encounter one type each, at least once; more if you are a student, businessperson or a person about to marry someone in Germany. There are no known remedies to get around them. You just need to be clever and witty, calm and cool, and diligent and strong as steel to get through them. In the end, despite the grey hairs and the bruised ego, you will be wiser and stronger than when you enter the first office you see, asking for a form. 😉

 

Carousel-Style: This style of buraeucracy comprises of a person who is sent around to every single office to take care of a form- a way of deferring him/her to authorities, most of whom are unwilling to process the person’s request. Sometimes it is referred to a slingshot if Office A sends a person through several agencies before ending up back at the same office a couple hours later. An example of this:

Darius wants to apply for a German as a Foreign Language Class at a university in Hanover. He asks Ms. Schmidt, only for her to send him to five different offices who refuse to process his request (beginning with Mrs. Jürgensen, then Ms. Schneider, Mr. Neste, Ms. Mulder and lastly Mr. Kahn) before the last person sends him back to Ms. Schmidt, who reluctantly processes his application. Wonderful sling-shot as seen in a Star Trek film above!

Mine-Style:  This type of bureaucracy runs along the lines of Wile E. Coyote being blown to pieces while pursuing the Road Runner. A person is ambituous in starting a business only to fall into several traps because of certain guidelines to be fulfilled, let alone fees and taxes to pay and additional forms to fill out along the way. Half of German start-up businesses as well as individual pursuits of degrees and career ladders end up failing because of the lack of awareness of the mines that are in the way, ready to blow up. That is the main reason why Germans are really cautious in any affairs on the business and personal level- they have been there at one point of their lives.

 

Goal-Line-Stance Style: Named after a defensive play in American football, this style of bureaucracy consists of a request of forwarding an application to an agency via its subordinates being not only rejected, but sent back to the person requesting him/her to do it on one’s own. It’s a way of telling the applicant that they are too lazy to walk the 100 meters to the point of destination and they would enjoy having the applicant to drive 30 kilometers to the subordinates to do the job. This happened to me once when I requested the international office of a German university to forward a request to the student services center, only for them to send the request back via mail, asking me to do it myself! This despite the fact that instead of wasting 2 extra days, the person at the office could have walked the 50 meters to the destination to drop off the letter. Talk about irony for an institute wanting to be student and family friendly, especially to foreign students! However, such stances are common in many cases, so please have a couple extra envelops, stamps and running shoes ready should you deal with this type and fail….

 

Hanging Chad/ Cliffhanger Style: Also known as the Härtefälle, this type of bureaucracy is one to avoid at all costs if you are pressed for time and need a form submitted within a day or two of the deadline, before your own “judgement day.”  Here, you submit the form to a worker, only for him/her to forward the request to the superiors, despite pleas to hurry. Why? The form must be approved before the deadline although there is a clause denying that request. This applies to students wanting to apply for a third attempt of an exam in a subject or changing a subject after failing an exam twice, risking the possibilities of getting expelled from college. This is standard practice at a German university, especially for students pursuing a teaching degree. It is like a cliffhanger because your future depends on whether a form you desperately need approved will be accepted or not. Apart from the Härtefälle at a German university, examples of such burearcracy can be found with visa forms, last minute requests to book hotels and some emergencies, like this story, just to name a few. The terminology is named after a dispute over which chads should be accepted in the voting ballot in Florida during the infamous 2000 US Presidential Elections.

 

Collapsing Bridge Style: Your plan to succeed is like crossing a bridge. You may never know when it collapses. This style of bureaucracy presents some surprises that keeps you from achieving your goal because there are some missing components needed to realize your goal that you either don’t know about or you want to try to circumvent- in both times, failing in the process! It can happen during any course of the process, whether it is through wedding planning, immigration or even during your studies, just to name a few.

Take for instance your first state exam for education. You register for the exam for English and History, take part of the former and complete the education portion, but have to change the latter to Social Studies. Despite having completed your semester of practical training, you need to complete another semester for Social Studies. While German law requires you to register for the subjects studied, you cannot continue taking the exam for English until the practical training in Social Studies is completed, thus pushing your finish time back a semester or two. Annoying if you want to finish and earn some cold hard cash teaching, but there is a reason for spending a couple hours looking at the Prüfungsordnung (Studies Guidelines in this case) before embarking on the painstaking task of getting that teaching license!

 

Jesus Christ Lizard Style- This type of bureaucracy is the exact opposite of the Collapsing Bridge style, only to imply that shortcuts and other incentives are provided to ensure that a form you are filling out or a process that is taking place is completed quicker and easier than expected. However, these shortcuts are not taken for granted and you must have proof that warrant a walk on water. For instance:

Cora applies for a Master’s Studies program in Anglistik-Amerikanistik at a university in Berlin and finds that she needs 60 credits of classes in liguistics, cultural studies, history, literature and political science- all of which have to be taken in sequential order in accordance to the Prüfungsordnung. Fortunately, she majored in Political Science and English and thanks to the credits accrued, the examiner’s office accredited her points and allowed her to start at a higher semester, taking upper level classes instead of the lower ones for anything dealing with English and Political Science.

However, this type of bureaucracy can occur if there are other circumstances that warrant it, such as the lines at the US border controls, where at all international airports, there is an express line for Americans and an ordinary line for the “other bunch.” This is just one of many examples of the style named literally after lizards walking on water, as seen in the film above.

Maze Style- This is perhaps the longest and most tortuous process a person can ever go through. Here, one has to go through every office and agency, filling out every paper and paying every fee in order to achieve your goal. Sometimes it requires trips covering hundreds of kilometers in order to obtain a single form. If you marry a German in Germany and are a non-German, prepare for a trip to Berlin for a couple of forms at your consulate, as well as a trip to the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office) for your three-year visa, which eventually turns into a permanent residency if you remain married after three years. It is more complicated when applying for a work visa or even an asylum because of proof that you have a job awaiting you or come from a war-torn region and pose no threat, because of the time needed for the forms of both to be approved.

 

What stories do you have involving bureaucracy in Germany? Share it here or on the Files’ facebook pages. In the meantime, check out the links involving German bureaucracy below and enjoy reading more about this unique feature and annoyance that will never go away:

http://www.dw.com/en/germans-and-bureaucracy/a-16446787

http://www.thelocal.de/20130814/51391

http://www.economist.com/node/2127649

🙂

 

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Refugee Crisis in Europe: A Chance or a Hindrance for Society?

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Refugees in Europe: a topic that has become the centerpiece of all discussions at home and in public. It’s a topic that we have tried to ignore for so long, but we can no longer do. It’s a topic where many of us have become ignorant of the feelings of those who came to Europe for a reason- to escape poverty and war. Instead we end up indulging in hate: hate towards them, those who help them and even the journalists who write or even talk about them. A famous example of how a journalist took the hit and fired back was a commentary by Anja Rescke of the German public TV station NDR recently:

In response to her comment, I as a columnist have to quote about about this situation: Many of us come to Europe because we are tired of the social and economic pathologies that we had grown up with and tolerated for most of our lives. This include political debates that tear families apart, racial violence that rips the fabric of society, widening gaps in between the rich and poor, and the exponential increase in paranoia because of a misdemeanor in school that is blown out of proportion and considered a felony in the eyes of police and the principal. If you have read about a child’s homemade clock that was brought to school and was considered a bomb, you would understand my reasoning there. 😉 We have tried so hard to tame society to follow the leader like blind naive lambs being lead to the slaughter house. End result: we have been deprived our right to freedom of speech, expression, movement and action.

And this is speaking from a point of view of an American who has been living in Germany for 16 years now.  Sad, isn’t it? 😦

The situation with the refugees in Europe is no different: their homelands are in shambles, terror groups are taking over the countries, starting a holy war and suppressing the population in a brutal way, and all hope is lost, despite intervention by the US and its allies which has been meagre at best. These people are fleeing to Europe not for the sake of imposing their ways on others or making lives of their residents difficult, but they want to make a living like the ones who move there from Asia, the Americas and Australia, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, the largest influx of refugees in European history has caused a strain in the social infrastructure, let alone violence from right-winged groups. Even pressure is being applied to politicians to put a cap on the refugees coming in. A video shown below, where German chancellor Angela Merkel breaks the heart of a refugee wanting to live in Germany, is a testament showing that not everyone can live and work in a country as they please, despite the need to integrate them into society and have them fill in the gaps in many areas of industry, left behind by many either retiring or emigrating Germany:

Germany is one of a few destinations for the refugees, and with over 800,000 coming in- the highest in German history. Whether this is a blessing or a curse remains to be determined, but one thing is for sure: The majority of the German population, as informed and open as they are, would rather have them in their society than the right-winged radicals who still believe Hitler was the greatest, when in all reality he was anything BUT that. Germany has lots to offer, speaking from personal experience, and the population understands that well. Hence the embracing of people so that they can start over. It’s a well understandable explanation. However….

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Why choose Germany instead of the USA or other countries in Europe. This is for you to answer. Here’s a few questions that you can discuss, even with your students in class. They include:

  1. What are the benefits Germany has to offer in comparison with other European countries?
  2. What drawbacks could the refugees imagine having when living in Germany, APART from the language barrier?
  3. Imagine this situation: A family of refugees decide to move into your village or town. How would you help them get integrated into society? Would you be open to their culture and way of life?
  4. (Continuing from Nr. 3) Would you take a class in a language of the regions where the refugees are coming from (Russian, Arabic, Persian)?
  5. Would you embrace their religion or keep your faith? Why?
  6. In your opinion, if the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan were to end and the areas would be rebuilt, would you help in the efforts? Do you think the refugees would return and why?
  7. In connection with the author’s quote below, imagine this situation: Do you think this refugee crisis would have been hindered had it not been for the anti-Terror policies of George W. Bush, which included wars in two countries where most of the refugees are coming from? Why or why not?

To end this article I would like to present a grim reality to George W. Bush- the man who started the war in Iraq to ouster Saddam Hussein in an attempt to finish the job started by Bush Sr. This is aside the campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was supposed to be short and sweet.   It was not necessary to start the war in the first place, and we really do not know if the arguments for justifying the war was relevant with the attacks of 11 September 2001. But we do know this: The mission has not been accomplished, as seen in the picture on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Not even close. Because if it had been accomplished, Iraq would have been completely rebuilt, as much as when Germany was rebuilt after World War II. We would not have terrorists chasing people out of their homes nor would we have this refugee crisis right now. In fact, we would not be drowning in hatred towards these innocent people looking for a better life than what they had. This war in Iraq, which thanks to ISIS, has spread into Syria,  is the longest war in the American history books so far, and one that has yet to be ended. Unfortunately, it is up to the other countries- not the US- to finish the job. My question to W. and those who still claim the Iraqi war was justified is this: Was this really necessary and why?

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Germany Quiz 4: What to Know About Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)

Can you guess what this building is? It's located in Brunswick in Lower Saxony. Photo taken in February 2015
Can you guess what this building is? It’s located in Brunswick in Lower Saxony. Photo taken in February 2015

Saxony- considered one of the largest regions in Germany. Featuring a cluster of former kingdoms extending from the far north in Frisia to the mountains in the far east, the region makes up almost half the land mass in Germany. Yet the region is split up into three different states: Upper Saxony (or just simply Saxony), Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. This split-up was part of the plan to redesign Germany after World War II with the first two becoming part of East Germany and the third being part of West Germany. They maintained their borders when Germany reunited in 1990 and with that, their unique features.

One of which will be presented in this quiz on Lower Saxony. The state is one of the most populous in the Bundesrepublik and one that prides itself on history, tradition, sports and even its landscape. There is so much to see and do in the state, whose capital is Hannover, but this Quiz will provide you with a starting point as to where to go for visiting and other activities of interest. The rest will have to be taken care of by you as the tourist. 😉

So let’s provide you with a good whiff of what you can find in Lower Saxony. It has been broken down into three parts, but will provide you with a good challenge for yourself and those around you. Good luck! 🙂

Variety Pack Questions:

1. Eight German States and the Baltic Sea border Lower Saxony, making it the most bordered state in Germany. True of False?

2a. Lower Saxony was officially established after World War II in ________ and consisted of the mergers of four former kingdoms. Name two of the four kingdoms.

2b. Of the four kingdoms, which one was the largest?

3. Put the following cities in order based on population from largest to smallest:

Oldenburg    Brunswick (Braunschweig)   Stade    Wolfsburg    Hannover   Lüneburg   Uelzen   Emden  Osnabrück

4. Lower Saxony is ranked ____________ in size behind Bavaria and ____________ in population behind Bavaria, North Rhine Westphalia and Hesse, but is the state that is the most dense population of Germany.  True or False (just the points in cursive and bold print)

5. Which rivers flow through and/or in Lower Saxony? Name three of them.

6. Braunkohl is a German vegetable that is well known in Lower Saxony and can be served with a local sausage. True or false?

7. At Steinhuder Lake,located west of Osnabrück, you will find eels. True or false?

8. Das Alte Land, located in the vicinity of the Elbe River north and west of Hamburg is Germany’s fruit garden. Name three fruits that grow there annually.

Multiple Choice:  Choose only one city that has a unique feature.

9. Which city is home of one of the three automobile manufacturers in Germany. Choose the city and fill in the blank regarding the car brand. (Hint: Fahrvergnügend is still the most popular car brand in the world.)

a. Wilhelmshaven          b. Wolfsburg         c. Celle       d. Lüneburg      e. Hannover

The car brand?  ___________________________

10. Which city in Lower Saxony does not have a college or university?  How many colleges and universities does the state have?  ______________

a. Hildesheim     b. Göttingen     c. Hannover    d. Cuxhaven     e. Emden

f. Vechta      g. Bremervörde

11. In this town (A), you can try a drink with a spoon (B), but don’t forget to say your blessings first. 😉

A:

a. Bad Zwischenahn          b. Bad Brahmburg      c. Leer        d. Norden

e. Bad Oldesloe     f. Brunswick

B:

a. Braunschweiger Mumme      b. Löffeltee      c. Ammerländer Löffeltrunk

d. Angler Muck     e. Toter Bruder

12. Which city in Lower Saxony is not located in the Harz Mountains? (!: There are two different answers)

a. Goslar           b. Clausthal        c. Wenigerode        d. Osterode      e. Salzgitter       f. Braunlage

13. Which city does not have a premier league sports team?

a. Buxtehude     b. Hannover      c. Brunswick      d. Emden       e. Oldenburg

14. The New York Lions in the German American Football League is actually located in which city?

a. Hannover     b. Bremen        c. Brunswick       d. Göttingen     e. Celle

15. Germany has the only true transporter bridge in left the country. It is located in Lower Saxony in which community?

a. Ostende      b. Hannover     c. Wilhelmshaven     d. Stade     e. Brunswick

16. The only combination cantilever-suspension-swing bridge left in Germany (and perhaps on European soil) is located in Lower Saxony. Where exactly is this bridge?

a. Göttingen    b. Wilhelmshaven    c. Lauenburg    d. Stadland   e. Hannover         f. Wattenscheid

17. Which town in Lower Saxony will you most likely find in the US?

a. Emden    b. Bergen     c. Hannover     d. Oldenburg    e. Berne    f. Uelzen

Celebrities and Birth Places: Determine whether these statements are true or false. If false, correct the statements

1. Maria Furtwängler, an actress who plays Charlotte Lindholm in the Tatort-Hannover series originates from Hannover.

2. Heiner Brandt, head coach of the German National Handball Team, was born and raised in Brunswick.

3. In the film the Inglorious Bastards by Quentin Tarrantino, there were no German actors/actresses.

4. Gerhard Schröder, the successor of Chancellor Angela Merkel, was born in Mecklenburg-Pommerania but grew up in Lower Saxony.

5. Herbert Grönemeyer calls Göttingen home. No wonder because he was born there.

6. The band The Scorpions was established in Hannover with the lead singer originating from there.

7. The Creator of English for Runaways originally came from Emden.

8.  Chris Barrie, a Hannoverer  who starred in the Tomb Raider movie, grew up in Northern Ireland.

9. Prince Augustus of Hannover was born in Hannover.

Viel Spaß beim Quizzen. The answers to the Lower Saxony Quiz will come out on May 5th. At the same time, another quiz on Mecklenburg Pommerania will come out, providing you with just as much of a challenge as this one will give you. Good luck! 🙂

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