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Christian Democratic Union

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The Berlin Provocation

Twelve people were killed in a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, mown down by a terrorist in a big truck. Elsewhere in Germany, if it was an average day, another ten people were killed in or by motor vehicles. They are all equally dead; the only difference is the motivation of the man in the truck.

Oh, sorry, there’s another difference too. On Tuesday, if it was an average day,
another ten people were killed on German roads, and another ten on Wednesday, and another ten on Thursday, and so on ad infinitum — 3500 in the average year. So is traffic a bigger threat than terrorism?

Does this comparison offend you? Why? Would you be offended if I said that driving is more dangerous than flying, because 3500 Germans die on the roads each year and only fifty a year die in plane crashes? Of course not. Yet if I say that traffic accidents are a much bigger threat to human life than terrorism, it sounds almost transgressive.

Three other people have been killed in terrorist attacks in Germany this year, so the total this year will be probably end up at fifteen. That’s the highest number since 1972, but there are 80 million people in Germany, so the average German’s risk of being killed in a terrorist attack is considerably less than the risk of drowning in the bathtub.

The sensible response to such pinprick attacks is prevention: good intelligence-gathering and smarter security measures, not mass arrests and foreign wars. That will reduce the number of attacks and hopefully keep them small (no more 9/11s). It’s not possible to eliminate terrorism entirely, any more than a “war on crime” can end all crime. It can, however, be kept down to nuisance level.

Terrorism is a very small threat that is designed to look very big. It achieves that goal by attracting massive media coverage that inflates it into an apparently huge threat.

The media provide that coverage because they know that people are fascinated by violent death: a single murder is more newsworthy than ten thousand peaceful deaths. I’m contributing to that massive media coverage right now. It’s not the content that matters, it’s the volume of coverage. (“If everybody is writing about it, then it MUST be very important.”)

Terrorists want that wall-to-wall media coverage because it may provoke a huge over-reaction that ultimately serves their own purposes. In the case of the current wave of Islamist terrorism, they hope it will build support in the Muslim world for their revolutionary project and ultimately bring them to power.

In the early phase, they wanted to provoke Western invasions of Muslim countries that would drive more Muslims into their arms (as in the case of the 9/11 attacks). Now they are trying to panic Western governments into abusing and oppressing their own Muslim citizens. The basic strategy remains the same, and it has proved very successful.

Without the Western over-reaction to the 9/11 attacks (especially invading Iraq), there would be no Islamic State today. And they aren’t doing too badly with the present attacks either.

Chancellor Angela Merkel knows that, and her response to the Berlin attack was deliberately low-key: “I know that it would be particularly difficult for us all to bear if it turned out that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum in Germany.”

But Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian Social Union, the permanent political partner of Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union, urged the chancellor “to rethink our immigration and security policy and to change it.” He was implicitly saying that she was wrong last year to give shelter to almost a million refugees, a majority of them Muslims.

Frauke Petry, the co-leader of Germany’s far-right ‘Alternative for Germany’ party (AfD), said it more plainly: “The milieu in which such acts can flourish has been negligently and systematically imported over the past year and a half.” Angela Merkel is now under great political pressure to “crack down” on Germany’s Muslims, including millions who have been born there.

As for Donald Trump, he was tweeting within hours: “Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!” (He says he has a “big brain”, but even so he should attend the intelligence briefings. The Swiss attack actually involved a Ghanaian-born Swiss citizen shooting Muslims in a mosque.)

The US Precedent-elect later expanded on his thoughts: “Isis and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the Earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.”

So how will he do that? Invade some more Muslim countries? Round up Muslim Americans and put them in camps, like they did to Japanese-Americans in World War II? If he did anything like that, he would only be serving the purposes of the Islamist terrorists. He would be, in Lenin’s famous phrase, a “useful idiot”.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 7. (“Does…transgressive”; and “The media…important”)

A Bluffer’s Guide to the Eurozone Crisis

Political parties rarely commit suicide. The current crisis in Greece, which has led to today’s referendum on the terms of a deal with the European Union, is mainly about the survival of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza Party. But it is also about the electoral future of Germany’s governing party, the Christian Democratic Union.

Almost all of Tsipras’ time since Syriza was swept into power in last January’s election has been devoured by negotiations about Greece’s foreign debt – at 175 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest in the developed world. But the negotiations did not focus on what to do about that staggering burden, which is so big it can never be repaid.

Four-fifths of the money is owed to official European bodies like the European Central Bank, with a relatively small role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but the ‘eurozone’ authorities just want to kick the can down the road. Why? Because 90 per cent of the money they have lent Greece in successive ‘bailouts’ goes straight back to the German and French banks that financed Greece’s 10-year party on borrowed money.

So Greece got the money, but to justify these bailouts to voters in the richer eurozone countries (who were really footing the bill), the Greeks had to accept severe austerity measures. So severe that the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter in the past five years and 25 per cent of Greeks are now unemployed.

Yet during that time Greece’s debt has continued to grow. Greece’s only hope of escape from perpetual austerity is a ‘restructuring’ of the debt that writes off as much as half of it. But Germany and the eurozone’s other big creditor countries will not even discuss that, because their own taxpayers would rebel.

So five months of negotiations about Greece’s debt haven’t even touched on ‘restructuring’ it. They have just been about what new austerity measures Greece must accept to get the last tranche of the last bailout, which would give Athens enough money to pay the loans that are coming due this summer.

Tsipras was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and the Left of his own Syriza Party would rebel if he gave in to all the demands for further cuts in Greek government spending. He came close to his ‘red lines’ in June, but he would not cross them – and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel still won’t discuss writing off some of Greece’s debt. So in the end, Tsipras walked away and called a referendum.

The last eurozone offer, which only crossed Tsipras’ red lines a little bit, is no longer even on the table, but the referendum today asks Greek voters if they will accept it. The eurozone leaders say it is, therefore, a vote on whether Greece wants to leave the euro (and quite likely the EU as well), but Tsipras insists that a ‘no’ vote will just strengthen his hand in another round of negotiations.

If the Greeks vote ‘yes’ – and they may well do so, because they really want to stay in the euro and the EU – then Tsipras says he will simply quit and let somebody else take the blame for accepting the terms. His own party’s unity will be intact, and he will be a hero to the Greek Left. There would have to be a new election, and he might even win it. (A referendum win requires 51 per cent of the vote; you can win a Greek election with 35 per cent.)

If the Greeks vote ‘no’, Tsipras will stay in power. Maybe there would then be further negotiations, but that depends mainly on whether Angela Merkel can be moved on the question of debt relief. That could be very costly politically for her, but after the talks collapsed, both the European Commission and the IMF put out statements saying that writing off some of Greece’s debts could be part of future negotiations.

If Tsipras doesn’t get a solid promise on that after winning a ‘no’ vote, he might end up leading Greece out of the euro and the EU. That would open several new cans of worms, but let’s see what happens later today before we get the can-openers out.