Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Merkel Age in German journalism

Der Spiegel suffers visibly from the Americanization the German press seems to be undergoing, i.e., the descent of the "quality press" toward tabloid standards.

Critics of the the CDU/SPD austerity policies promoted for years by Angela Merkel in her stone-conservative response to the economic crisis and the subsequent euro crisis had to get a chuckle out of the latest Spiegel cover (13/21.03.2015) showing The Most Powerful Woman In The World with Germany officers in occupied Athens during the Second World War:

But the accompanying story, is actually a defensive piece seeking mainly to deflect criticism about Merkel's nationalistic policies that have been so destructive to the periphery countries of the eurozone. One of the several authors listed for the article is Dirk Kurbjuweit, who seems to be pretty much an Angie-bot. It is titled, "'The Fourth Reich'" ("„Das Vierte Reich“") in quotation marks.

It isn't a very good article, doing a mediocre job of sketching the background of the euro crisis.
And it includes superficial criticism of the Greek government of Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, talking about "die Verzweiflung einer Regierung, die bislang dilettantisch gehandelt hat" ("the desperation of a government that up until now has acted in a dilettantish way").

But it has a couple of worthwhile moments. Like these two Angie quotes I don't recall seeing before. One is, „Ich stehe ziemlich allein in der EU. Aber das ist mir egal, ich habe recht.“ ("I'm standing really alone in the EU. But I don't care,I'm right.")

And this one that I think describes her European view pretty well: „Wir sind in Europa, was die Amerikaner in der Welt sind, die ungeliebte Führungsmacht.“ ("We are in Europe what the Americans are in the world, the unloved leading power.")

It is followed by a decent article on something that's genuinely embarrassing for Merkel in this situation where Greek debt is a key issue: a forced loan that Germany extracted from Greece during WWII and never repaid. (Manfred Ertel et al, "Eine Frage des Friedens") Because the CDU/SPD position and the one generally echoed by Americanizing German press for years has been that Greeks are lazy and irresponsible and have been living about their means by borrowing too much. For Greece to confront Germany over Germany's having been a deadbeat on that Second World War loan is a good way for them to poke a few holes in the self-righteous and misleading CDU/SPD propaganda line about the Greek debt.

The article helpfully points out that it was the government of technocrats under Quisling Prime Minister Loukas Papademos that Merkel installed to run Greece and did so for six months in 2011-12 that began putting together a report on the Second World War loan on which Germany has been a total deadbeat nation. It was completely in April 2014 under the Merkel-compliant conservative government that went down to a crushing defeat in the January 2015 election.

Later in this edition comes a ridiculously bad piece, "Der Preis für das Comeback" by Christoph Pauly, that ludicrously claims that Ireland, Portugal and particularly Spain are examples of the great success of austerity economics! In a sentence you would expect from a press release from the German Finance Ministry, the article reports (or maybe that should be "reports"):

Das Vorbild für den Aufschwung ist unverkennbar. In der Krise kopierten die Spanier das Geschäftsmodell der Deutschen und setzten auf den Export – mit Erfolg.

[The example for the upswing {in Spain} is unmistakable. In the crisis, they copied the business model of the Germans and concentrated on exports - with success.]
If Pauly has any clue about how the debt crisis actually developed in Spain, he doesn't manage to work it into this piece. He seems to think it was all about reckless gubment spending. As Charlie Pierce often says, "Honky, please."

That doesn't stop him from gushing over a businesswoman who praises the post-crisis privitizations; she runs a business making robotic devices for a Mars mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). Which has nothing to do with gubment money, of course! Well, this is the ESA's own description of itself at its website: "ESA is an international organisation with 20 Member States. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country."

Pauly gets around to that, praising his model Spanish businesswoman for recognizing that publicly-funded business may not last forever. But this is CNBC levels of reporting. And, to be fair, the neoliberal model doesn't mind pumping tax money into private businesses. It just wants to make sure that the system works for the richest under the control of the richest and everyone else stays far behind.

The concept of "internal devaluation" finally appears in the final paragraph of Pauly's story, a concept and reality central to what Merkel imposed on Spain and other peripheral countries. It doesn't seem that Pauly considers worth explaining. Instead, he grumps about the ungrateful common people not having the good will to accept their problems passively; he also seems to think that Spain has experienced for only three years:

Mehr als drei Jahre interne Abwertung sind auch in einem politisch stabilen Land kaum durchhaltbar. Denn dann gibt es in der Regel Wahlen.

[More than three years of internal devaluation are hardly sustainable even in a politically stable country. Because then elections are held regularly.]
They at least acknowledge there are some tiny problems with the remarkable upswing in Spain, which for some remarkable reason doesn't seem to be apparent to the Spanish public: "Der Abbau der
Massenarbeitslosigkeit, die immer noch bei 23,7 Prozent liegt, geht einfach nicht schnell genug." ("The reduction of mass unemployment, which is still at 23.7%, is simply not fast enough.")

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Pauly writes, apparently in surprise, that opinion polls seem to indicate that the public doesn't appreciate all the good work accomplished by "the reformers" - "reform" in neoliberal vocabulary meaning high unemployment, low wages, privatization of public property, slashing of pensions and public services, etc. The general Herbert Hoover program, in other words.

Pauly seems to have a total crush on Álvaro Nadal, economic adviser to the current conservative Spanish government. He writes like he drools with joy every time he hears some conservative prick say something about national "competitiveness," which is pretty much a synonym in NeoliberalSpeak for what "reforms" also mean for them. As he puts it, "Spanien setzte auf ein Wunschprogramm der Liberalisierung" ("Spain decided to adopt the wish list of liberalization").

Pauly feels the pain of the Reformers: "Investoren fürchten populistische Parteien wie Podemos, die den Kapitalismus kritisch sehen" ("Investors fear that populist parties like Podemos that view capitalism critically"). No, dude, say it ain't so!

Pauly even reports, apparently in all earnestness, that one of his bitnessman interviewees was outraged about a Podemos supporter that had a Trotsky sticker on his computer! Dang, a Reformer just cain't git no love around here!

And as long as we're talking about suck-up journalism in the German press, Daniel Brössler's piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung is worth mentioning, Darum müssen es Merkel und Hollande allein machen 20.03.2015. It's about how Merkel and French President François Hollande met together with Alexis Tsipras to discuss Greece's situation. Brössler presents this as a wise statecraft on Merkel's part, recognizing that she can't run the eurozone with Germany as the openly dominant power. He seems to think this is a return to some mythical good ole days where France and Germany acted as the leading core of the EU, and piddly little countries like Belgium shouldn't grump about them doing things that way.

Because, you see, "Was Merkel und Hollande - endlich - gemeinsam in der EU tun, resultiert aus der Kraft des Faktischen und folgt der Macht des Notwendigen" ("What Merkel and Hollande are - finally - doing together in the EU, results from the power of the factual and follows the might of the necessary"). Merkel and Hollande as the world-historical agents of a hack Hegelianism - following "the might of the necessary" - is an interesting twist. But it doesn't change the more important fact that the Socialist Hollande is loyally backing Merkel in her pursuit of ruinous austerity policies for the eurozone. Hollande was elected in 2012 on a program of resisting Angie-nomics. But after election, he scrambled to capitulate to Merkel in a few days time. He made no attempt remotely like the Tsipras-Varoufakis government has made to reverse the austericide policies in their first several weeks in office.

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