Thatcherism May Not Take Hold in Germany Today

Edited from:

November 1, 2005. Landler, Mark. “German socialist to quit; coalition in Doubt.” The New York Times.

Note: The NYTimes title is misleading. The story’s subject, Franz Müntefering, is not a “socialist”. Rather he is a neoliberal politician aligned with elite US economic interests.

FRANKFURT, Oct. 31 – Negotiations to form a neoliberal German government were thrown into jeopardy Monday when the leader of one of the two main parties said he would step down after losing an internal power struggle. The chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Franz Müntefering, said he would not run for re-election next month after the party’s executive committee rejected his neoliberal candidate for its No. 2 position. Mr. Müntefering, 65, is representing the Social Democrats in negotiations to form a coalition government with the Christian Democratic Union, led by Angela Merkel. The parties had hoped to wrap up the talks in time to elect Mrs. Merkel on Nov. 22 as German chancellor.

The turmoil in the Social Democratic Party, however, suggests that date could slip. Some political analysts here said it could unravel the coalition entirely, because Mr. Müntefering is viewed as one of the only figures in the party who can impose neoliberal order on a party at political odds with itself. .

“This is a political earthquake, not only for the Social Democrats but for the coalition negotiations, too,” said Uwe Andersen, a professor of political science at Ruhr University in Bochum.

Although Mr. Müntefering said he would continue to take part in the coalition talks, analysts said his weakened status would make an agreement more difficult to reach. A shrewd party operative well-respected by political partisans of capital, Mr. Müntefering has played a central role in managing the transition from the center-left government of Gerhard Schröder to a neoliberal coalition of the two major parties. He helped broker the deal under which Mr. Schröder agreed to relinquish the chancellorship in return for his party’s holding several powerful ministries.

Mr. Müntefering had been expected to become vice chancellor and labor minister in the new government, which would make him Germany’ssecond-most powerful politician, after Mrs. Merkel.

His announcement, in a terse news conference, was the latest in a series of political shocks. Since the Social Democratic Party returned to power in 1998 under the leadership of Mr. Schröder, the party has struggled to reconcile its heritage and voting base as a workers’ party with capitalist pressure to adopt neoliberal de-Keynesian policies, increase inequality and consumption, and assist the US in relieving its burgeoning trade deficit.

The jolt reached other parties too. Edmund Stoiber, a leading conservative politician who has developed a good rapport with Mr. Müntefering, said the announcement had given him second thoughts about his own role in a coalition government.

Mr. Stoiber, the prime minister of Bavaria, is the designated economics minister under Mrs. Merkel, and he has been a constant presence at her side in the talks with Mr. Müntefering and Mr. Schröder. His defection would sting Mrs. Merkel, since he heads the sister party of the Christian Democrats.

“Angela Merkel’s position is not shattered, but it is undermined,” said Jürgen Falter, a professor of political science at Mainz University. “We are a step closer to new elections.” However, there is little appetite for a new election. Another alternative – cobbling together coalitions with Germany’s smaller parties – is no more likely to succeed now than it was after the election.

Germany’s two top leaders tried to sound confident, though both appeared shaken by the sudden developments. Mrs. Merkel insisted there was a strong will on both sides to form a grand coalition. Mr. Schröder expressed anguish at the defeat of Mr. Müntefering, one of his closest allies, but predicted the coalition talks would be brought to a successful resolution. “There mustn’t be any impact on the creation of a stable government,” he said to reporters in Berlin.

Mr. Schröder may not have much influence over the outcome, analysts said. His power within the Social Democratic Party has waned since he announced he would not serve in the next government.

Like Mr. Müntefering, Mr. Schröder, 61, represents an older generation of Social Democrats that is increasingly at odds with younger party members. Some of these up-and-comers are firmly leftist and opposed to Mr. Schröder’s efforts to redirect social wealth to the upper classes and dismantle the social network that supports the working classes.

The internal tensions finally came to fruition at the recent party meeting, when Mr. Müntefering backed a longtime neoliberal aide, Kajo Wasserhövel, to be general secretary. Political analysts said some of the younger members were exasperated by what they viewed as Mr. Müntefering’s pomposity in doing so.

Andrea Nahles, 35, a former leader of the party’s youth wing and an unofficial leader of its left-wing faction, emerged as an alternative candidate. She was chosen by a vote of 23 to 14. Ms. Nahles’s victory must be ratified at the party’s congress in Karlsruhe in two weeks, where members are also scheduled to approve the agreement for the neoliberal coalition.

Conceding Ms. Nahles’ decisive victory, Mr. Müntefering said, “I can no longer be party chairman under these conditions.”

With Ms. Nahles as general secretary during a new round of talks on budget cuts already planned to be painful to the working classes, analysts said, the Social Democrats might be less inclined to go along with neoliberal changes that they believe are not in line with the party’s tradition of social justice.

Mr. Müntefering, a Catholic from a working-class family, has used populist language to appeal to his party’s faithful. He famously labeled foreign investors “locusts” intent on devouring German assets. But he also helped Mr. Schröder push through economic reforms benefitting international capital.

“Müntefering was the person who held things together,” Professor Andersen said. “It will be much more difficult for the (neoliberal coalition) negotiations if he is in a weak position, and if the left wing becomes stronger.”

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what were they thinking?: the germans

The neoliberal/capitalist class plan for reform in Germany does not vary in any detail from the de-Keynesian American political-economic scheme that has been implemented by Republicans and Democrats over the past 25 years. You have to wonder if Germans really cared so much about singlehandedly fixing the US trade deficit that they actually elected a neoliberal regime to hurry up and rape them–as if the SPD wasn’t doing it fast enough. Or if, like in America, elections are rigged by the bosses’ political employees. Having elected the Merkel-Schroeder coalition, strapped working Germans can now look forward to paying not only for increasing oil prices but also picking up the whole health care tab, all the while losing quality jobs and helping their capitalist overlords achieve a corrupt security based in severe social stratification. Neoliberals make many disingenuous claims. One, they claim they need the working class to consume more. Neoliberals, here’s a question for you: How are German workers going to increase consumption when they have to bear the whole burden of health care and other social goods as individuals? And apparently the neoliberal officialese bullshit about “job creation” is still in currency. Does anyone believe this “jobs” line anymore after all these years? Neoliberalism has nothing to do with job creation. That’s a flat lie. It has everything to do with redirecting wealth from the working middle and lower classes to the owning upper class. Since this classic neoliberal song and dance is no secret, we have to guess that the voting Germans just thought “Grevious inequality works so well in the US. Why not here?” I will soon review the excellent and well-written book The Impact of Inequality, which catalogs in excruciating detail the effects and causes of inequality-based social degradation. See Wilkinson, Richard G. 2005. The impact of inequality: How to make sick societies healthier. New York: The New Press.

From Rippert, Ulrich. 2005. “Big business lobbies step up pressure on Germany’s grand coalition.”
29 October, the World Socialist Website
(www.wsws.org).

“All power proceeds from big business and its lobbies.” This is not how the German constitution reads, but this is how it is interpreted by numerous economic research institutes and business groups that, under the guise of scientific research, lobby on behalf of the employers and major capitalist interests.

From the beginning of coalition negotiations between the Union parties—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU)—and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a wave of reports has appeared that demand lower wages, the dismantling of protection against dismissal, elimination of employer contributions for social security, introduction of educational fees, etc., etc.

They have a good chance of finding an audience. Those involved in the coalition negotiations have made no secret of the fact that business demands have top priority.

Over the past week, Germany’s prominent economic institutes have submitted their autumn reports. Their central prognosis is that there is no prospect in the foreseeable future for a turnaround or a noticeable upswing either in German economic development or the job market. Therefore, wages should be held as low as possible, the economists conclude.

They assert that wages regulated by Germany’s tariff agreements should rise by about 1 percent at most, “even if the economic situation improves and the job market situation eases somewhat.” The trade unions have to send “reliable signals that they are not seeking at the first opportunity to compensate for losses with higher wage agreements.”

“Top Institutes Demand Shrinking Wages,” was the headline of Spiegel-Online’s report, which points out that even as they demand wage restraint, economic researchers regard low private consumption as the “biggest problem.”

“Weak consumer spending since 2002 has not yet been overcome,” the article reads. Increased energy costs and contributions to health insurance still have a negative effect on purchasing power. Real consumption will therefore sink this year by 0.5 percent, and in the coming year by about at least 0.2 percent.

The economic reports call upon the government to cut state expenditures while lowering taxes for business, thereby reducing the budget deficit.

A few days previously, the chairman of the federal employers’ association, Dieter Hundt, issued a catalog of demands under the heading, “The Expectations of German Business from the Coalition Negotiations.” Germany’s main federation of business organisations prioritises two demands: first, further tax cuts for big business, and second, a “fundamental reorganisation of our social security system.”

Germany’s health and nursing care insurance must be completely freed from its current “financing based on an employer-employee relationship,” the strategy paper reads. In other words, the employers’ portion of social security financing is to be transferred to the workers—a massive shift in favour of big business. As the first step, Hundt demands a “freezing of the employer contribution to health insurance.”

At the same time, the pension age must be raised to 67 years. “Even if that was not a component of the election programmes of the CDU/CSU and SPD, prominent politicians from both parties have repeatedly referred to this necessity,” stressed the employer’s chief spokesman, who then told the press, “[N]ot political maneuvering, but rather economic necessities” must dominate the coalition negotiations.

The constantly recurring formula reads, “for more growth and jobs,” followed by the demand that unemployment insurance contributions be lowered and the value-added tax increased. The VAT is levied only on final products, that is, retail goods. It is a consumption tax. As it replaces progressive taxation, the working-class consumer takes on a larger share of the tax burden. The fresh revenues resulting from the VAT increase are to be used to lower owners’ social welfare contributions and thereby cut costs for entrepreneurs.

The formulation, “We cannot avoid introducing further job market flexibility,” is aimed at abolishing protections against dismissal for all enterprises with less than 20 employees. In larger enterprises, a weakened form of protection against dismissal is to apply, but only after the third year of employment. The existing laws protecting workers against dismissal are, according to Hundt, the chief obstacle to the creation of new jobs. Only if entrepreneurs are given free rein, as is the case in America, with its culture of “hire and fire,” will it be possible to create new jobs.

Even more extensive and detailed are the suggestions—perhaps more accurately, instructions—issued by the German Economic Institute in Cologne. The institute presented its comprehensive 75-page “Reform Concept for the New Federal Government” just a few days after the September 18 elections to the parliament (Bundestag). The text bears a title that reads like an ultimatum—”Vision Germany: What Must Be Done Now”—and reads like a blueprint for the programme of the incoming government.

A 100-day programme of immediate tasks and a 1,000-day programme of longer-term concepts are set forth in accordance with the demands of big business and the employer associations.

The table of contents gives the game away: lower contributions for unemployment insurance, the abolition of social solidarity-based tax systems, increased value-added tax, lower taxes for enterprises, dismantling of job-protection measures, cuts in ancillary wage costs, an intensification of the anti-welfare Hartz IV measures, competition in the health insurance and care system, modernisation of labour and tariff laws, family policy to be adapted to employment requirements, fundamental reform of the tax system, and so on.

In addition, the document proposes the dismantling of state assistance programmes, the slimming down of the state, increasing flexibility in the field of education, and a “more efficient organisation of student fess.” (I don’t know what a student “fess” is.)

It is worthwhile looking at the individual chapters more closely. Each subsection is devoted to a particular problem, followed by a detailed suggestion for reform and the arguments that should be made in favour of its implementation. Thus, the chapter “Lower Business Taxes” explains that the extension of the European Union to the East has weakened Germany’s position in the field of international tax competitiveness, because business tax in the new European Union member states averages about 20 percent, while enterprises in Germany pay rates of 38.6 percent.

Therefore, the corporation tax should be lowered from its existing level by 6 percent—a measure that was already agreed on, but not yet implemented by the Union parties and SPD at the so-called “jobs summit” held in the spring of this year. The resulting reduction in tax income, estimated at 5.3 billion euros, is to be compensated for by the “abolition of tax write-offs” and the dismantling of unspecified subsidies.

In this connection, the axing of tax rebates for commuters and the cancellation of premiums for Sunday, holiday and night shift working was discussed last spring. Such measures shift money directly from the pockets of employees into the coffers of the employers. An additional demand is the cancellation of death duties for family enterprises.

In the chapter “Facilitate Job Creation,” the demand is raised for the legalisation of the practice of employing workers initially on short-term contracts, and then continually renewing such contracts, instead of employing them on the basis of a proper full-time contract.

Under the headings “Cuts in Ancillary Wage Costs” and “Cuts in Active Labour Policy,” a series of demands is raised for a further intensification of the measures begun under the Hartz IV legislation, including even more draconian requirements before unemployed persons can receive any benefits. Payments for those retiring early are to be cut, and the document also demands the elimination of existing training and job-bridging schemes.

Germany’s health insurance system is to be further curtailed, in order to force workers to take out additional private insurance. One demand is for an increase in practice fees and payments for medicine—measures that hit the poorest social layers hardest. The list of cuts is almost endless, and extends to the “abolition of child benefits for pupils or students over 19, as well as the abolition of financial assistance for students in favour of study fees amounting to 2,500 euros annually.”

The whole package represents a massive reallocation of social wealth from the poorest to the richest, and is justified in a thoroughly demagogic fashion by most political parties and a majority of the media as a “campaign for job creation.”

Germany’s outgoing SPD-Green Party government had already saved 30 billion euros taken from the poorest layers of the population via social cuts, and handed this money over to the rich and super-rich in the form of tax gifts. Over the same period, many German enterprises have recorded record profits while at the same time wiping out huge numbers of jobs.

Along with the destruction of legally regulated tariff jobs, the attacks on Germany’s welfare system are aimed at forcing the unemployed to accept low-wage employment. Within the space of a few years, a huge low-wage sector has been established with up to 6 million such jobs. Now this sector is to be systematically expanded.

Big business associations and their institutes are determined to introduce American-type conditions in Germany and Europe. Recent events should serve as a warning. A few weeks ago, the management of Delphi, America’s largest auto supplier, with more than 35,000 workers in the US and many works in other countries, demanded wage cuts of 60 percent for its American workers and then filed for bankruptcy protection in order to impose its demands.

The preface to the dissertation “Vision Germany: What Must Be Done Now” recommends that the state should take less responsibility and give more freedom of choice to the individual. Privatisation and competition are regarded as the basis for growth and prosperity.

A glimpse across the Atlantic shows the real meaning of such clichés. The recent hurricane disaster in New Orleans was testimony to the devastating consequences of privatising social life and subjecting every aspect of society to the profit motives of a privileged minority.

The fact that the Cologne Institute had a finished economic programme for implementation by all governing parties just a few days after the election throws light on the forces behind the decision for early elections in Germany. In view of increasing public opposition to government policy, the most influential business groups were vehemently opposed to any “standstill” until scheduled elections due in autumn of next year. They are determined to impose their anti-social policies at all costs and without delay.

Germany’s new chancellor, Angela Merkel (CDU), has already made clear where she stands. Last Sunday, she assured communications professionals that there would be “no return to social romanticism.”

Neoliberal = zombified

Can anyone answer me this: How did Schroeder become a neoliberal putz? How did the South African socialists become neoliberal stooges? What the fuck? Do politicians like Schroeder pose as progressives to rise up the ranks of the SPD and then just huddle with a little cabal of neoliberal fucks to sell out a whole society’s achievements to their capitalist masters? A trojan horse for a new round of primitive accumulation?

I got news for you deaf, dumb & blind Europeans: What do you get with neoliberalism? Economic dynamism? A solution to US-centric trade imbalances? I don’t think so. You get the US itself: a crapola, Louisiana-style lotto society, and a one-way ticket down the fascism chute.

Congrats to Oskar Lafontaine and the Linkspartei for their excellent showing. It’s a fucking pity that that old goat Schroeder blocks a left coalition, which could help differentiate the SPD from the rightwing Xian Democrats and Liberals. Apparently Schroeder prefers to imagine that the most important accomplishment he can achieve as the leader of the SPD and Germany is to just implement a bunch of national degradation policies that the Christian Democrats could fix up without him or any social democrats.

I now know why leftists the world over spit when you mention European social democracy. Where the fuck is it going? Why bother? Why call it social democracy? Why not “This Old Political Network (Including Working Class Votes) That We’re Using”?

Why have social democratic parties at all, if they can only come up with right wing coalitions? They’re going to bury themselves, preening their suits and egos, beavering around, smoking hash under the tuteledge of their neoliberal Rasputins from Harvard and Oxford.

And now the Swedes are polling for the neoliberal right parties. Why? What do they think they’ll achieve?

The American Gulag

Remember the Martin Niemoller quote.


Panel Ignored Evidence on Detainee

By Carol D. Leonnig
The Washington Post
Page A01 March 27, 2005

A military tribunal determined last fall that Murat Kurnaz, a German national seized in Pakistan in 2001, was a member of al Qaeda and an enemy combatant whom the government could detain indefinitely at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The three military officers on the panel, whose identities are kept secret, said in papers filed in federal court that they reached their conclusion based largely on classified evidence that was too sensitive to release to the public.

In fact, that evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities.

In recently declassified portions of a January ruling, a federal judge criticized the military panel for ignoring the exculpatory information that dominates Kurnaz’s file and for relying instead on a brief, unsupported memo filed shortly before Kurnaz’s hearing by an unidentified government official.

Kurnaz has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since at least January 2002.

“The U.S. government has known for almost two years that he’s innocent of these charges,” said Baher Azmy, Kurnaz’s attorney. “That begs a lot of questions about what the purpose of Guantanamo really is. He can’t be useful to them. He has no intelligence for them. Why in the world is he still there?”

The Kurnaz case appears to be the first in which classified material considered by a “combatant status review tribunal” has become public. While attorneys for Guantanamo Bay detainees have frequently complained that their clients are being held based on thin evidence, Kurnaz’s is the first known case in which it has been revealed that a panel disregarded the recommendations of U.S. intelligence agencies and information supplied by allies.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Borgquist, said the government will not answer questions about the decisions made by the tribunals. “We don’t comment on the decisions of the tribunals,” he said.

About 540 foreign nationals are detained at Guantanamo Bay as suspected al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, or associates of terrorist groups. In response to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that allowed the detainees to challenge their imprisonment, the military began holding new review tribunals last fall.

During tribunal hearings, a panel of military officers considers public and secret evidence, and the detainee is offered an opportunity to state his case and answer questions. The military panel then decides whether a captive should be designated an enemy combatant and be further detained. A second panel later reviews how dangerous the detainee would be if released.

According to the Defense Department, 558 tribunal reviews have been held. In the 539 decisions made so far, 506 detainees have been found to be enemy combatants and have been kept in prison. Thirty-three have been found not to be enemy combatants. Of those, four have been released.

In January, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that the tribunals are illegal, unfairly stacked against detainees and in violation of the Constitution. The Bush administration has appealed her decision.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who, like Green, sits in the federal district for the District of Columbia, has ruled that the tribunals provide an appropriate legal forum for the detainees. Detainees are appealing his ruling.

In Kurnaz’s case, a tribunal panel made up of an Air Force colonel and lieutenant colonel and a Navy lieutenant commander concluded that he was an al Qaeda member, based on “some evidence” that was classified.

But in nearly 100 pages of documents, now declassified by the government, U.S. military investigators and German law enforcement authorities said they had no such evidence. The Command Intelligence Task Force, the investigative arm of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the Guantanamo Bay facility, repeatedly suggested that it may have been a mistake to take Kurnaz off a bus of Islamic missionaries traveling through Pakistan in October 2001.

“CITF has no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with Al Qaida or making any specific threat against the U.S.,” one document says. “CITF is not aware of evidence that Kurnaz was or is a member of Al Quaeda.”

Another newly declassified document reports that the “Germans confirmed this detainee has no connection to an al-Qaida cell in Germany.”

Only one document in Kurnaz’s file, a short memo written by an unidentified military official, concludes that the German Muslim of Turkish descent is an al Qaeda member. In recently declassified portions of her January ruling, Green wrote that the panel’s decision appeared to be based on this single anonymous memo, labeled “R-19.”

The R-19 memo, she wrote, “fails to provide significant details to support its conclusory allegations, does not reveal the sources for its information and is contradicted by other evidence in the record.” Green reviewed all the classified and unclassified evidence in the case.

Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington-based expert in military law, said Green appropriately chided the tribunal for not considering the overwhelming conclusion of the government that Kurnaz was improperly detained and should be released.

“It suggests the procedure is a sham,” Fidell said. “If a case like that can get through, what it means is that the merest scintilla of evidence against someone would carry the day for the government, even if there’s a mountain of evidence on the other side.”

Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who supports the tribunal process, said the lack of evidence against Kurnaz is “very troubling” and should prompt a military review of this particular tribunal. “Failing to do that would undercut the argument that the military, in times of war, is capable of policing itself.”

Azmy, Kurnaz’s attorney and a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law in New Jersey, asked, “Having concluded long ago that he has no links to terrorists, what is keeping him there (at Guantanamo Bay)?” Azmy said the Pentagon seems unable to admit it was wrong to detain someone so long. “Or perhaps it’s just a bureaucratic trap that Murat cannot get out of,” Azmy said.

Justice Department lawyers told Azmy last week that the information that exonorated Kurnaz may have been improperly declassified and should be treated in the foreseeable future as classified.

Uwe Picard, the German prosecutor who investigated the case said, “As far as I’m concerned, this group (that Kurnaz was accused of belonging to) is just a series of letters that means absolutely nothing,” he said. “And as I see it, the Americans really have no reason to hold Mr. Kurnaz. That wouldn’t be allowed under German law.”

Washington Post staff writer Dita Smith and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

“I still think today as yesterday that the color line is a great problem of this century. But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color, lies a greater problem which both obscures and implements it: and that is the fact that so many civilized persons are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance, and disease of the majority of their fellowmen; that to maintain this privilege, men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous, and the excuse for this war continues largely to be color and race.”
W.E.B. Du Bois