Sunday, May 23, 2004


today is the 55th birthday of germany's basic law, our constitution.
i love our basic law; reading its first 20 articles is one of the few things that make me feel patriotic. reading it always makes me proud of the "fathers and mothers of the basic law", about their wanting to learn from the past, and build a better future for germany. it rocks. it's pure constitutional poetry.

today was also the 11th election of the bundespräsident, germany's head of state, an event held on the birthday of the basic law, every 5 years.
i watched the procedure on the telly, as i've done before: it's always a good show, that election. the pre-reports that focus on all the famous folks invited into the bundesversammlung, info on the nominees, that sort of thing.

of course, the standard bundespräsidenten-wahl question was in order, too, same as everytime:
why not let the people elect the president directly?

it was so funny really, to hear all those sportsmen and women (who the conservatives invited to come along and vote) asking these bizarre questions and telling the reporters they would like to see the präsident take up a more active role in everyday politics.
it made me shudder. read the law, you morons, take a look back in history, and realize why.

fact is, the role of the bundespräsident was specifically crafted in the basic law as a mainly representative one, and the non-direct election of the präsident is an essential part of that.
our präsident is supposed to be above day to day politics, to be non-partisan. he is supposed to give impulses to current politics, without being directly involved in them.
an actual election campaign could taint that. fighting for voted could taint that. it would open the office to populism. - and quite simply put, we just haven't had too good experiences with directly elected heads of state round here.
not that i think we germans would be on the verge of falling into a dictatorship again, if we let the people vote, but i just don't want bild to decide who will represent this country.

i know the whole representation thing makes the office of the bundespräsident sound pretty useless, but i've found all our presidents to have offered invaluable impulses and ideas to the country, its people and politics. some more, some less, obviously, but in my opinion its the transcendence of the job, that made it possible for them, to give those impulses.

theodor heuss, our first präsident, shaped the job he was the first to have. he showed that being without direct responsibilities (apart from signing laws and swearing in ministers and chancellors) didn't have to mean being un-important. he was a father figure to a whole generation, lovingly called "papa heuss". he visited every country that germany had occupied in the previous decades, as a dignified, open, interested man, presenting himself, and the country he represented, as intellectual people who did not ignore the past, but who were, at the same time, looking forward into the future.
no german who has ever heard it can forget richard von weizsäckers speech on the 40th anniversary of the end of wwII; i even own it as a book. no one can disregard the important work roman herzog did in re-uniting germany.
just our current president, johannes rau, was never to my personal liking, mainly because he was the head of my home state and because of his preacher-like rhetorics: many believe though, that he has served our country well these past 5 years. i don't really, but thankfully, his time is over in a few weeks anyway.

considering the bundespräsident is supposed to be above all party politics and be an identification figure for the people, and considering this has worked well these past 55 years, as all presidents have scored exceptionally high approval rates within a few weeks of their election, the election process itself has always been an awfully partisan affair, and this year was no exception.
strangely enough though, both candidates ended up being both to my liking. for the first time, none of the usual suspects, long serving supreme court judges or politicians made the short list: both horst köhler and gesine schwan are professors.

i liked horst köhler right from the start, even though i hated the way he was selsected. i saw his first tv interview wth his wife, and his bio, manners, smile, internationalism and former position as head of the international monetary fund were very impressive. knowing about the make-up of the bundesversammlung, i had little doubt he'd be elected anyway. so why not someone who has spend the last few years on the outside, looking in? in a time were germany needs a lot of input, new directions, that's surely a good position to have been in.

gesine schwan seemed strange at first, but she grew on me. today to be exact.
i watched my first thorough reports on her today, shortly before the voting started. i hadn't known that she had been thrown out of the spd for being to "middle of the road", hadn't known about her family actively opposing the nazis, about her ideas on society.
i realised today, that there were more reasons to elect her than just her gender; some of the things she said were absolutey fabulous. where köhler used economics as arguments, she used sociology. i totally agree with her that blindly supporting a totally flexible society causes indifference, un-attachment and loss of societal bonds, and that that can not be a goal of society. i realised, as the votes were already counted in berlin, that she would have been a totally new kind of president, not just because of her gender, but because of her unbelievable drive, energy and smile, because of her complete un-attachement to current politics (that being something she shares with köhler) and even more so because of her focus on society, not politics. she frequently said that politics was more than economics, that is something i can only second.

however, as expected, köhler won the election, and will be our new bundespräsident.
he won on as small a margin as possible, a little coup doubtlessly organised by rampant cdu electors, but i have no doubts that he will do a good job, even if i already see myself disagreeing with him; he mentioned somewhere, that we need a new discussion on abortion law. we surely don't. in general though, he seems like an interesting, well-educated man, who gained a lot of insight into global politics in his last job. in addition, his family seems fabulous, too. he has got an interesting wife, they are parents to a son who was a teenage parent, and to a daughter who is severely disabled. i think that surely makes him someone who can speak first hand about a wide variety of issues.

it was great watching this today, seeing our democracy in action, both fantastic candidates being so thankful, so honored to have been nominated in the first place, for this highest office of our country; köhler being totally fluttered and happy and shy when the results came in, when history had been made.

but still. it would have been nice if it would have been a woman this time, a woman as qualified as gesine schwan. if even more history had been made today.


more politics:

nytimes: susan sontag - "regarding the torture of others"

sontag makes a large number of excellent points in her fantastic essay on the power of pictures and words.
it made me realise that fuck, the rhetorics of the bush administration have tainted my view of reality, too: what happened in abu ghreib was torture. not humiliation, abuse or mistreatment. as a lawyer to be, i should be more aware of my words. at least this language ain't mine, so i got an excuse: i've always accurately referred to it as "folter" during discussion in german, after all.
sontag effectively and captivatingly puts into words what i have found myself unable to express about the torture by american soldiers as well.

"looking at these photographs, you ask yourself, how can someone grin at the sufferings and humiliation of another human being? set guard dogs at the genitals and legs of cowering naked prisoners? force shackled, hooded prisoners to masturbate or simulate oral sex with one another? and you feel naive for asking, since the answer is, self-evidently, people do these things to other people. rape and pain inflicted on the genitals are among the most common forms of torture. not just in nazi concentration camps and in abu ghraib when it was run by saddam hussein. americans, too, have done and do them when they are told, or made to feel, that those over whom they have absolute power deserve to be humiliated, tormented. they do them when they are led to believe that the people they are torturing belong to an inferior race or religion. for the meaning of these pictures is not just that these acts were performed, but that their perpetrators apparently had no sense that there was anything wrong in what the pictures show."


"shock and awe were what our military promised the iraqis. and shock and the awful are what these photographs announce to the world that the americans have delivered: a pattern of criminal behavior in open contempt of international humanitarian conventions. soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send off the pictures to their buddies. secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given nearly anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. what is illustrated by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality."


(on attempts of the administration to prevent the release of more torture pictures)
"but the real push to limit the accessibility of the photographs will come from the continuing effort to protect the administration and cover up our misrule in iraq -- to identify 'outrage' over the photographs with a campaign to undermine american military might and the purposes it currently serves. just as it was regarded by many as an implicit criticism of the war to show on television photographs of american soldiers who have been killed in the course of the invasion and occupation of iraq, it will increasingly be thought unpatriotic to disseminate the new photographs and further tarnish the image of america.

after all, we're at war. endless war. and war is hell, more so than any of the people who got us into this rotten war seem to have expected. in our digital hall of mirrors, the pictures aren't going to go away. yes, it seems that one picture is worth a thousand words. and even if our leaders choose not to look at them, there will be thousands more snapshots and videos. unstoppable."

one of the best things, if not the best thing, i have read so far on this.

speaking of pictures of american soldiers who have been killed, i came across
the washington post: faces of the fallen - us fatalities in iraq today. shocking. totally shocking. now imagine a similar database with all the iraqi victims. yeah. that would be the start of a revolution against bush. or at least i hope it would be.

also at the washingtonpost: in iraq, the job opportunity of a lifetime - managing a $13 billion budget with no experience.
young us conservatives, fresh from grad school, have made decisions in iraq they were totally not capable of doing. scary shit.
aaron posted that the article reminded him "why enthusiastic young white conservatives shouldn't be allowed to leave the us without adult supervision, let alone being put in charge of rebuilding a country". right on.

and lastly: i am happy for michael moore. in a war like his, a war against stupidity, all weapons are allowed.