Just Above Sunset
September 18, 2005 - The Weekend's Election

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Tuesday, September 13, this, along with a flood of articles in German, arrived in Hollywood from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:


Saw the album of hockey photos.

What's next? All-star curling? Orange County senior horseshoes? The semi-pro donut league?

It's a slow night in Europe so I checked into Der Spiegel up in Hamburg, to see if reading German still makes sense. What's wrong with them? They haven't got their accents coded right. All those 'ä's and 'ö's and 'ü's have to be replaced by hand. I thought they were supposed to 'reform' themselves and do away with that muck because nobody under 29 has any of these letters on their PlayStation 3DIII.

What did I see? Well, Spiegel has a lot of NOLA coverage, also in English. But the big story is that Merkel dame going to blow away Gerhard next Sunday. Maybe not - she's got a finance guru who hot for a flat tax, one size fits all from the unemployed Turks to Prussian steel barons.

Then there's Pamela Anderson's photos in the museum in Munich, until the 15th, in the Haus der Kunst no less. Trouble is it costs 5 euros to get in and there's only about 20 photos, and well, Spiegel says Pamela might not be all real. And, to make matters worse, in the nearby Englischer Garten in the fine beer-garden weather, all the Munich honeys are lying around topless, and being what they are, some are bottomless too - on view for free, and most of them are all real.

I remember seeing this. It was a Sunday, the 31st of October to be exact, and the weather was breathtakingly fine, the sky was Bavarian blue and it was warm warm warm, and everybody was in the beer-garden under the Chineser Turm and the strings were zinging on terrace of the next-door teahouse, and further on all the honeys were stretched out on the grass like fresh trouts in the sun. So cool. Next day the temperature dropped 20 degrees to about five, the sky slate gray huddled overhead, and I started work at Seimens Hoffmannstraße, driving a Bulgarian electric lifttruck outside around in their elektro-kampus. By Wednesday it was snowing. It's not far from the Alps in Munich. And where I was - far, very far, from the Englischer Garten and further from that Sunday, that last day of summer in 1969.

Maybe Pamela is in the right place. There was a disco in the celler there. But there were always more girls in the gardens, up north beside the Schwabing end.


From here in Hollywood, back to Paris –


Curling. When living in Canada, and worn out from a long day at work managing a team of twenty odd computer folks at the locomotive factory, I would sit quietly in my hotel room and watch the all-curling channel. It was an end-of-the-world all-hope-is-gone so-this-is-exile thing. I cannot imagine photographing curling. December 2001 I caught some curling on television in my hotel room in Paris - in German, from Switzerland. A walk across the street to the Flore for a cognac fixed that right up. There was no such place in London, Ontario.

That Merkel dame gets a bit of press here - but such stuff is only for us oddballs who follow world events. Gerhard gets points with us lefties for stepping away from George's war - but otherwise, we know little. Merkel wants a flat tax? Here only the oddest of the right want that, and one of my conservative friends ("If I'm going to pay thirty-percent then the poorest of the poor will pay that too, damn it!).

As for Der Spiegel and diacritical marks, I downloaded a few pages of HTML code for every single one of them imaginable. Painful stuff.

Pamela Anderson's photos in the museum in Munich, until the 15th, in the Haus der Kunst no less. Wow. Yes, but with totally naked young women in the park outside daily, the five-euro ticket price may be too high. As I have mentioned, I dated Pamela Anderson's midwife for a bit a few years ago. Hard to imagine Pamela Anderson as a mom. Also hard to imagine this midwife's medical partner was a famous local OB-GYN, Heidi Fleiss' father no less. But was so.

Will work through the German emails in a bit.


Well, I didn't work through the German articles as I said I would. I was able to read German for about a week, long enough to pass a reading comprehension test in graduate school after a six-week intensive summer class, but that was decades ago. I've lost that all.

But there has been a flurry of comment stateside, like this in SLATE.COM

Das Flat Tax
The conservative economic proposal flopped with American voters. Now Germans are learning to hate it, too.
Daniel Gross - Posted Friday, Sept. 16, 2005, at 12:12 PM PT

His question? Will the flat tax do for Angela Merkel's campaign for German chancellor what it did for Steve Forbes' ill-fated presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000?



Until recently, Merkel, the leader of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party, enjoyed a healthy lead over incumbent Gerhard Schröder, whose Social Democrats are listing after eight years in office and a growing national malaise.

American conservatives hope that Merkel will turn out to be a Teutonic Margaret Thatcher: an up-from-the-bootstraps woman from a right-of-center party, an economic conservative who favors structural reforms of a bureaucratic welfare state. On everything from the war in Iraq to the potential accession of Turkey to the European Union, American conservatives had hoped that by electing Merkel, the German electorate would effectively abandon some of the policies that had recently put it at odds with the United States.


Yes, that's the reason there are any articles at all on this side of the pond. American conservatives need a Teutonic Margaret Thatcher person to prove what the claim about how the world should be run is right - a sort of anti-Chirac, someone who will get Germany revving up economically to prove their point about cutting taxes for the rich and services to the poor and going to war without any direct threat for abstract reasons. A hero would be nice - or a heroine in this case. They miss Reagan's ballsy British sister in unfettered low-tax screw-the-needy capitalism and elective war (remember Grenada and the Falkland Islands wars?) - so this Merkel dame is the darling of the guys who run the United States now. What with the hurricane embarrassment and the nearly three hundred dead in the streets of Baghdad this week, her winning this thing would raise their spirits.

But at the last moment her lead has just about disappeared and Schröder was good in the televised debates. And the flat tax idea bombed. Gross says it has become a millstone around Merkel's neck.

The background:


The first clue that the flat tax is an unwelcome import: The Germans, who have a word for everything, don't have one for the flat tax. They call it the "flat tax."

As a childless professional woman from the East, Merkel is an anomaly in German politics. And she has conducted the campaign in an anomalous way. One of the radical things she did - a move that would strike U.S. voters as perfectly normal - was to look beyond political professionals for advice. In Germany, former CEOs and even academics rarely figure in campaigns or in governments. But Merkel brought on former Siemens CEO Heinrich von Pierer as an adviser. And in August, Paul Kirchhof, a former judge and professor at the University of Heidelberg, was enlisted as shadow finance minister. His task: to come up with a plan to kick-start Germany's large and lumbering economy into higher gear.

The result has been a disaster. Kirchhof had long recommended a serious reform of Germany's progressive and deduction-riddled income-tax system, which has a top rate of 42 percent. His preferred plan is to rip up the tax code, institute a flat 25 percent income-tax rate, and make up for lost revenue by boosting the value-added tax. An analyst for Hypovereinsbank dubbed Kirchhof "the miracle worker."


Ah, there, like here, turning to the theorists is always a bad idea. Remember the Laffer Curve - USC economist Arthur Laffer's idea that the more you cut taxes the more money pours into the government because the economy grows fast due to those lower taxes. Neat idea. Wonderful concept. Since the Reagan administration this has been the core economic theory of the Republican Party. Of course it's never worked, and there is good evidence it never will. But it's a great theory. It sounds like it could be so. See Samuel Johnson on the triumph of hope over experience. Substitute evidence for experience in the phrase. Of course note that the Republican Party is not big on the idea empirical evidence matters - consider global warming (the evidence is mixed, folks), evolution (the jury is still out on that, as Bush has said), democracy in Iraq (it could happen in a sort of way, maybe, if we stay the course), Terri Schiavo was not brain dead at all (Doctor/Senator Frist said so on the senate floor). So with tax cuts. They could fix everything. You never know. And there is talk in the right-wing think tanks that maybe we shouldn't tax income at all, only consumption, with a national sales tax, or a value-added tax (VAT) like some countries have. That way, the richer you are, the smaller the portion of what you pay in taxes! No one pays any income tax and Joe, the struggling Wal-Mart clerk, pays twenty-eight percent extra for a quart of milk, and so do you! Cool.

Is seems the Germans are a tad more skeptical than we are. They, and their leader at the time, thought our Iraq war was a monumentally bad idea. It made no sense to them. Where was the evidence that it would do any good?

But we've moved beyond the Enlightenment - a European thing that actually stared in France, of all places - with its reliance on experiment and evidence. We've moved on to the world of faith-based government, while those Europeans are still stuck thinking real events and facts matter. It's the old-fashioned fuddy-duddy realists versus the bold dreamers and idealists. Merkel is one of the new reality-doesn't-matter types. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld folks love her.

But the problem is she's stuck in a culture that doesn't get it - they don't see things her way:


Germans tend to see progressive income-tax rates as part and parcel of a democracy. The notion that a secretary would pay the same proportion of her income in taxes as a CEO doesn't strike Germans as egalitarian, it strikes them as unjust. What's more, the trade-off of taxing consumption rather than income seems counterproductive in a nation where the lack of domestic demand is a continual problem. Germans need more incentives to consume, not fewer.


What's more, they don't like pie-in-the-sky experts:


In the United States, the involvement of professional economists, Wall Street executives, and CEOs in political campaigns and the formulation of economic and tax policies is not only accepted, it's preferred by both parties. Not so in Germany. Although Germany has more than its share of world-beating, world-class companies - Siemens, DaimlerChrysler, SAP, and BMW, to name a few - its CEOs possess little juice. At a moment where there is a wide perception that the political system can't adequately address Germany's economic problems, there is still no room in Germany's political life for a Ross Perot, a Robert Rubin, a Paul O'Neill, or a Larry Lindsey. No wonder German executives are perpetually gloomy.

In the United States, anti-intellectualism generally flows from right to left, with conservative populists ridiculing liberal pointy-heads. In Germany this fall, it's flowing in the opposite direction.

Schröder has dubbed Kirchhof the "professor from Heidelberg." Even Merkel's own CDU has hardly embraced Kirchhof's proposal. Its platform calls for a more modest move on taxes, bringing the top rate down from 42 to 39.


So what does Merkel do? Wednesday she comes out and says, "Our program says nothing about a flat tax."


Ah, just as George Bush (or his advisors) finally realized, sometimes you do what you must. Bush grudgingly ended his vacation early and five days after the event went to New Orleans and did the hug-the-black-folks say-the-right-thing photo op, then three more, then a speech. Sometimes you just have to account for the public's ability to detect bullshit. It's often a dormant ability, but it's there, and it's real.


As of Friday night you can find about 4,300 news articles on the Merkel campaign in the English-language press using Google. It's hot. One of the best is the cover story in The New Statesman - far more detailed that any of this above. The war of the realists (the reality-based community) against the idealists (the neoconservatives who run the United States at the moment) has gone worldwide.

Sidebar: In the early eighties I found myself at USC in the same elevator with Arthur Laffer. He's a short guy. We didn't speak. No one speaks on elevators.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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