Common Sense updates

Recently three stories that we have been following in Common Sense have come to something of a climax. So this week’s column, unusually, has three diverse subject areas.

Dateline 14 October 2005

In Germany, Angela Merkel – Germany’s Margaret Thatcher – is to become Chancellor. The anti-American Gerhard Schroeder finally got the message of an election in which his party fell from first place to second and his allies slipped from third place to fifth. He is to resign and Merkel will head up a grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. The two main parties will have equal representation in the cabinet, but Merkel, as Chancellor, will be in overall charge.

The appalling Franz Munterfering, Chairman of the Social Democrats and the man responsible for the anti-Semitic “locust list” campaign in a state election earlier this year is to be vice-Chancellor and labor minister and another ally of Schroeder’s will be foreign minister.

A government headed by Merkel will be more friendly to the US than one headed by Schroeder, but Merkel will be boxed in by her coalition allies, so there is unlikely to be a major change of policy.

In terms of domestic reform both parties are agreed on some moderate measures, but don’t expect anything radical, such as a flat tax, yet. This government is likely to last around three years, after which there will be a new election.

In Syria the interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, has apparently committed suicide. It is widely believe that the investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will name Kanaan, or figures close to him, as being responsible. As Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon for 20 years Kanaan effectively ran the country. I am far from being the only cynic who immediately suspected that Kanaan was murdered as part of a power struggle within Syria. Possibly, but by whom? And who is winning the power struggle?

Only time will tell, but of the many unpleasant dictatorships in the Arab world, Syria is under the most pressure. We could see major changes soon.

In New York, AG Elliot Spitzer – AG, of course, stands for Aspiring Governor as well as Attorney General – has backed away from his spiteful campaign against former Wall Street Trader, Theodore Sihpol. Earlier Spitzer had charged Sihpol with 33 criminal counts. The charges against Sihpol were flimsy and a jury unanimously acquitted him of 29. One juror wanted to convict on just four of them. Instead of dropping these four as an obviously lost cause, Spitzer wanted to retry. No doubt to teach Sihpol a lesson.

Realizing that he has no chance of a conviction, and that he is attracting a reputation for bullying the little guy, Spitzer has finally backed down. Sihpol has paid a fine to the SEC, but has never been convicted of any wrongdoing.

If Sihpol was mega-rich, like his boss, Edward Stern, he could have paid to have the charges go away. This cost Stern $40 million.

This is not law enforcement. It is gangsterism, and New Yorkers should not forget this vindictiveness when Spitzer runs for governor next year.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 14 October 2005

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