Western European News Digest
White House Trials and Tribulations Covered in European Press
The London Financial Times Oct. 1 reported on New York Times reporter Judith Miller's decision to testify before special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury, and features an editorial, "Blow to the Hammer," which locates this in a long list of scandals around the White House, including the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The paper says this is the most dangerous of the scandals for the White House, and then poses the question: Will the Democrats seize this great opportunity, and come forward with "real alternatives" and a "powerful advocate" leading a "unified party"?
The London Times carries a full-page report the same day, titled: "Why Did Cheney Aide Stay Silent Over CIA Leak as Journalist Was Locked In Jail?" and the Guardian headlined its piece: "Cheney's Aide Revealed as Source of CIA Leak." They carry a profile of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, saying he "has been called Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney: a constant presence behind the scenes enforcing loyalty, providing the means to meet his boss's ends." The Guardian adds that Libby was key in compiling the case against Iraq for WMD, going to CIA headquarters at Langley with Cheney several times in 2002. Libby also "contacted the Pentagon before a substantial contract to repair Iraq's oil fields was awarded to Halliburton, Mr. Cheney's old firm." Finally, they note his having been groomed in Wolfowitz's Yale classes, before becoming one of the Vulcans.
Is Blair's New Labour Selling Nuclear Energy to Halliburton?
The Sept. 30 London Guardian reports that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), which is government-owned, has drawn up plans to sell Sellafield and other major British nuclear plants to the private sector for more than 10 billion pounds. "American companies such as Halliburton and Fluor are seen as likely contenders in any race to take over British Nuclear Group," the main operating arm of BNFL, reported the Guardian. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who has run up a huge deficit with New Labour spending, and of course the economic collapse, is very likely to approve such a selloff.
Angela Merkel's Friends Lose Big in Austria
In a political earthquake, in the state elections in Styria, a heavily industrial region of Austria, the parties of Austria's neo-conservative governing coalition lost, combined, more than 16%, compared to the last elections.
For the first time ever since 1945, the People's Party (OeVP) of Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel (who, in the recent German national elections, campaigned for Angela Merkel) lost its status as the biggest party in Styria, coming in with 38.7%, a loss of 8.6%, getting 24 seats. The "Freiheitliche" party (FPOe), which was recently split by its former chairman, neo-con loudmouth Joerg Haider, in order to preserve Schuessel's majority in the National Council, lost 7.8%, coming in with 4.6%, and was voted out of the state parliament. Haider's new party, the Alliance for Austria's Future (BZOe), fared even worse, coming in with 1.7%, the least of all parties running.
The big winners were the Social Democrats (+9.3%), who are now the biggest party, with 41.6%, getting 25 seats, and the Communist Part (KPOe), getting 6.3% (a gain of 5.3%) and four seats in the state parliament, becoming the third-biggest party. The Green Party stagnated at 4.7%, barely making it into Parliament, with three seats. One other list of a renegade OeVP Parliamentarian got 2.0%.
The result is a political earthquake, massively weakening Chancellor Schuessel. While it is very much in line with the recent German elections, where the parties representing the neo-liberal austerity policies were punished, it is even more devastating to the neo-con crowd, on both sides of the Atlantic, whom Joerg Haider represented in Austria.
De Villepin Takes on Neo-Con Sarkozy
Speaking during a meeting of the UMP group (French President Jacques Chirac's party headed by Nicolas Sarkozy), Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin stated that, "in the history of France, the only 'break' there was, was the French Revolution, and that ended up in blood. Never in history has this type of 'break' succeeded. We should mistrust our invented utopias," he added. Another UMP Deputy stated that Sarkozy "was pale" when hearing this. Villepin is referring to the speeches of Sarkozy, who is always raving in favor of a "break."
Nationwide Demonstrations and Strikes in France
More than a million persons demonstrated Oct. 3 across France in about 150 towns and cities, in a national day of action and strikes organized by the six largest trade unions to "defend employment, buying power and the rights of employees in the public and the private sector." Some 150,000 demonstrated in Paris in one of the largest demonstrations in the recent period. More than 100,000 demonstrated also in Marseille, where a strong protest movement has developed against the government's attempt to privatize the public SNCM, a ferry company operating between Corsica and continental France.
Demonstrations were strong in many other cities, with 25,000 people participating on average in the larger cities. Public-sector employees were the main contingent, with significant representation from education, transportation, utility and postal workers.
Many private-sector employees also joined their public-sector colleagues, coming particularly from those companies threatened by outsourcing, such as Hewlett Packard, which just announced major layoffs, electronics companies, Airbus Industry, Ford, Renault, etc. The social climate is particularly tense in France due rising unemployment over the last couple of years, sharp drops in living standards provoked by massive inflation in the housing sector, and considerable rises in transport and utilities costs.
SPD's Kurt Beck Visits Washington
German Social Democratic Party vice chairman Kurt Beck, whose trip to Washington, D.C. for a German Unity Day event at the German Embassy Oct. 3 had been planned for some time, extended his visit to five days, and, according to the very sparse press reports available, he said that "the situation in Germany after the elections was at the center of discussions."
Beck met with President Bush at the sidelines of an event at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington; he met with Nicholas Burns of the State Department as well as James Baker III; Gen. (ret.) Joseph Ralston, and Senators John Warner (R-Va) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb). Ralston, a leading U.S. military figure, had spoken out vehemently against the planning for the Iraq War in January 2002, warning against an "over-stretching of resources" after the Afghanistan operation.
The most paradoxical aspect of Beck's tour is that, being one of the leading Social Democrats, he would have been expected to meet with leading U.S. Democratsbut not even his staff back in Mainz (Beck is Governor of Rhineland-Palatinate) knows anything concrete.
Guardian Calls for British Debate on U.S. Preemptive Nuclear Policy
Citing the U.S. STRATCOM's preemptive nuclear war doctrine, Richard Norton Taylor, the security correspondent of the London Guardian, writing in the Oct. 5 issue, called for Parliamentary hearings on British nuclear policy.
Taylor quotes directly from the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations," which was posted, and then withdrawn from the Pentagon website, where it states, that "U.S. forces are determined to employ nuclear weapons to prevent or retaliate against WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction)." He writes that the document "significantly lowers the threshhold for triggering the use of nuclear weapons, notably America's 480 tactical nuclear bombs in Europe, including the 110 at the U.S. base at Lakenheath in East Anglia." After noting that "where U.S. nuclear policy leads, the UK generally follows," he calls for a Parliamentary debate on British nuclear policy, including whether any changes have taken place, and on the question of Britain's Trident ballistic missile submarines, which are up for replacement in the next decade. He warns that the British Defense Ministry refuses to answer any questions concerning this policy, saying that it is not in the "public interest."