Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Follow-up

Smudged election poster
Ministerpräsident (governor) Mappus got the nuke issue right in his face. Last Sunday Fukushima in distant Japan decided the state elections in Baden-Württemberg with the Greens more than doubling their votes.

Distribution of seats in the state assembly. In percentage: Christian Democrats 39.0%,
Greens 24.2%, Social Democrats 23.1% and Liberals 5.3%
Look at the new distribution of seats in Baden-Württemberg's state assembly. Not only did many base voters switch to green but people who had never cast their votes in the past put their ballot-paper into the box. The turnout of voters in 2011 was 66.2% compared to 53.4% in 2006. Note that the Liberals with 5.3% had nearly missed their entry into the legislature a fate that happened to the right and left wing parties for they missed the minimum quorum of 5% of the votes necessary to be presented in the state assembly.

The intention of the Social Democrats had been to form a coalition with the Greens ousting the present black-yellow government. Now however the Greens having more than doubled their seats and gained one more than the Reds will form a green-red government with their leader becoming the new Ministerpräsident.

Suddenly the existing schedule to phase out nuclear power in Germany in the coming years without jeopardizing our electrical supply is questioned. Even the in the past pro nuke Liberals now try to jump on the "Abandon Nuclear" bandwagon. And there are those for whom Angst transforms into panic when they demand: Stop all nuclear power stations now!

Will they still be satisfied when Germany has to import "nuclear" electricity from France with prices per kilowatt-hour going up? As long as the Japanese do not come to grips with their reactor disaster the issue of nuclear power in Germany will overshadow all other problems.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Abwählen = recall?

If I understood correctly: it is possible to recall senators in Wisconsin before the end of their term by public vote. When you look at the black-yellow election poster for next Sunday’s vote in Baden-Württemberg you read the words: Jetzt abwählen (recall now) and you wonder. You can vote alright but how is it possible to recall the Christian Democrats (Conservatives or black) + the Free Democrats (Liberals or yellow)?

What actually is meant is do not vote in Sunday's election for nuclear power. The issue is loaded with German Angst since Fukushima and represented by the present coalition government of black and yellow here in the Ländle. Whilst it is impossible to recall deputies in Germany it is possible not to vote for them in the upcoming election.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Color Coding

During my recent visit to Madison when talking with the protesting people around the Capitol some of them wanted to know about coalitions between various political parties in the Old World and how they could possibly work. Even the UK, the motherland of the one party majority rule, is now governed by a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals in Parliament with the Labor Party in opposition.

In Germany, the situation is even more colorful since we have a whole "spectrum" of parties. The Christian Democrats (CDU with usual 30 to 40% of the votes in elections) are our conservatives where people have recently become uneasy about the adjective Christian as some of the great leaders are divorced and one has fathered an illegitimate child. The other Volkspartei, our GOP*, are the Social Democrats (SPD with 25 to 35% of the votes). They traditionally are the party of the working class. Recently, however, they renewed their pact with industry that had worked so well under the Schröder administration. The SPD eventually understood that elections are won only when firstly the party is appealing to the middle class and secondly is following the rule: thou shalt not kill the cow (industry) that gives the milk (jobs). Such an attitude however never pleased the traditional left-wingers. When the German Democratic Republic (DDR) was integrated into West Germany's Federal Republic in 1990 nostalgic Marxists in the East founded the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). The PDS in suffering great labor pains eventually amalgamated with the extreme left of the Social Democrats in the West to form the Left Party (Die Linke, 5% of the votes in the West to 20% of votes in the Eastern parts of Germany).
*Not ideologically but just what it literally means: the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands is our Great Old Party as it was founded in the 19th century and still exists. Due to Germany’s industrialization in the 2nd Reich, the number of voters for the SPD increased steadily. Bismarck tried to take the wind out of their sails in creating an old age and health insurance for the working class. When contrary to his plans the rollback did not work Bismarck had the Reichstag (parliament) pass the Socialist Act outlawing the Social Democrats. Later the SPD was admitted again because Emperor Wilhelm II needed the votes of the Socialists for passing the war budget in 1914. Following the lost war, the Social Democrats were the party whole-heartily supporting the Weimar Republic. It was the only political formation that voted in parliament against Hitler’s Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act) that eventually assured absolute power to the Nazi regime. Also today the Social Democrats present one of the backbones of German democracy.

Coming back to the party spectrum: the Christian Democrats traditionally are attributed the black color since they have their origin in the Zentrum, the Catholic Party in the Weimar Republic. You guessed it: the Social Democrats wear red. Since however there is no red redder than red the post-communist PDS is presented by magenta in pie charts. Green for the Green Party (10 to 20% of the votes) is obvious and the Liberals (5 to 10%) are painted yellow. New parties have to take what is left over in the spectrum. The recently formed Pirate Party asking in their program for free internet access to everybody choose orange.

Now let us form coalitions. The hard part is to find a compromised common governmental platform allowing the survival for a whole legislature with a usual small majority in a coalition government against a strong opposition. The easy part is the colors. In the past traffic light (Ampel) coalitions of Red, Yellow and Green were quite popular. When in some of our State governments (Länder) the Social Democrats are replaced by the Christian Democrats a Jamaica coalition may be formed being my favorite only as far as the combination of colors is concerned: Green, Yellow and Black.

More common than three party coalitions are two parties forming a government like Black-Yellow as our present Federal Government in Berlin. The other proofed working combination is Red-Green. There have been successful cases of Red-Black coalitions too. These are called grand coalitions because of the normally large and comfortable majorities in parliament seats for the two parties concerned. In such a combination the Social Democrat Party generally is the junior partner and usually suffers a setback in the following election. On the other hand, an experiment of a Black-Green coalition in the State of Hamburg ended in an electoral disaster for the Christian Democrats.

If you have been wondering about some recent erratic reactions and decisions of our present Federal Government (the hectic dealing with the minister of defense Guttenberg's copy and paste thesis, the sudden about-face in the support of nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, and the negative vote in the UN security council about the Libyan no-fly zone) you should know that there are upcoming elections in three of our Federal States. Since their outcome is important for the majority in our Senate (Bundesrat) the Government avoids any unpopular decisions that could cause voters not choosing Black-Yellow.

Today is Election Day in the State of Thuringia. Will there be a new edition of a great coalition or are we going to see the formation of a Red-Magenta government?

Next weekend Germany is looking forward to a Super Sunday. I shall vote in the election for the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg. At the same time, people elect their State parliament in the Land of Hessen. For the latter, it is practically certain that Hessen will be governed by a Red-Green coalition. For my Ländle, however, the result of the election is a thriller: will the incumbent Black-Yellow government survive or will a Green-Red coalition take over. You read correctly: Green-Red means that for the first time in German history a green Ministerpräsident (Governor) would form a coalition State government. Stay tuned for a possible political earthquake in Germany’s South-West. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nuclear Power and No End?

In writing this I do not mean electrical power from nuclear fission that will surely come to an end. I mean the renewed discussion in Germany on nuclear power in view of the present catastrophe in Japan. The apocalyptic scenario we watch with great sympathy for the Japanese people in fact furnishes no new arguments in the debate about the safety of nuclear power reactors.

The explosion (©AP)
Let me say this clearly: Present power reactors are safe as long as a team of incompetent technicians does not mess around with the cooling system (Three Mile Island), an overambitious engineer does not play with the control rods (Tchernobyl) or an earth quake of magnitude 8.9 followed by a tsunami wave of 10 meters height does not hit a nuclear power plant. Whilst the last scenario can be excluded in Germany nobody is safe against human foolishness. This and the unresolved storage of nuclear waste are the main reasons that Germany has an established time-table for phasing out its nuclear power reactors. Let us face it: Presently there is no alternative for "cheap" energy as nuclear fusion still is in the stars only (in both senses).

There is a new generation of power reactors propagated by industry will be more compact and working at higher temperatures hence be more efficient than those we presently operate. Do not believe the people telling you that this new line of power reactors is safer than the old one. Due to the higher energy density and the higher neutron flux density inside the nuclear core the materials used for the reactor vessels will rapidly become brittle and fail much earlier than in present day reactors. Mother Nature presents us with marvelous elements that we melt into alloys showing properties our ancestors only have dreamt of. We have however approached the technological limit of stability of metal alloys as far as the combined influence of neutron bombardment and temperature is concerned.

So please, we want no new nuclear fission reactors and let the old existing ones eventually come to their well-deserved rest. What makes me nervous is that most people today are not aware that the energy they use still is too cheap and they moan if prices for petrol, gas, and electricity steadily go up. The increasing stress on their purses and wallets will hopefully trigger their consciousness for an economical use of our limited resources.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fabulous Fred

With Wisconsin's 14 Democrat Senators having fled their State, Republican Governor Scott Walker's contested budget repair bill cannot be passed. The Republicans have a majority in Wisconsin's upper house alright, but for passing a bill touching on financial matters, the quorum is needed. With the Democrat Senators absent, the upper chamber falls short of the number required by just one vote.

Among those 14 expatriated Democrats, Fred Risser is an outstanding person. Senator Risser has served Wisconsin for 55 years in the legislature and is the longest-serving state legislator in American political history. When in 2009 the Freiburg-Madison Gesellschaft had organized a trip to Madison Senator Risser - then 81 years old - showed us his working place in the Capitol and explained to us the working of the two-chamber legislature on the State and Federal level. Nobody could foresee that this personality now "hides" in Illinois out of the range of Wisconsin troopers who received an order to "escort" at least one Democrat Senator back into Wisconsin's Senate Chamber.

State Senator Fred Risser, primary democratic rock, addresses us, visitors, at Madison's Capitol in 2009, ending a tour of the building arranged by the Mayor's wife Dianne right to him.
The picture below copied from a local newspaper shows Risser end of February 2011 together with State Senator Robert Rauch changing hotels in Illinois (frequently) to avoid harassment by Tea Party activists. Fred wears a red cap, but all my American friends keep telling me that this has no political significance.