Why German elections matter to rest of world

We’ve had our fair share of dramatic elections recently – the UK, France, the U.S. And let’s not forget Brexit. The German election on Sept. 24 may be generating fewer headlines, but it’s no less important.

Here’s why you should pay attention.

Why should you care?

If you’re in the US:

Germany is one of America’s staunchest allies. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is NOT a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump (remember the tense no-handshake during her White House visit?). And it seems like her main challenger, Martin Schulz, likes Trump even less, and he’s not shy about ripping into the American President. So it seems, no matter who wins this election, U.S.-German relations are likely to be strained.

If you’re in Europe:

To borrow a phrase, Germany’s the big man on campus. It has the biggest and strongest economy in the European Union. It’s widely seen, along with France, as a driver of EU policy and a powerful player in the Brexit negotiations. Speaking of which, both Merkel and Schulz (a former EU President) seem inclined to take more of a hard line with the UK over its impending exit from the trade bloc.

If you’re anywhere else:

Observers of politics everywhere want to see if populist passions will reignite. They burned bright last year in the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election, but have dimmed in 2017 with the loss of far-right candidates in France and the Netherlands.

The parties led by Merkel or Schulz aren’t populist movements by any stretch, but concerns over refugees and security could help propel the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) into parliament for the first time. And just like in France’s presidential election earlier this year, anyone in a war-torn country in the Mideast or Africa looking to Germany as a place of refuge might wonder what kind of welcome they’ll get there in the future.

How does this work?

Germans will be voting to fill seats in the Bundestag, the country’s 598-seat parliament. Whichever party wins the most seats will try to form a coalition government, and the leader of that party will then become chancellor (equivalent to the U.S. president).

OK, now stay with us, because from here it gets really complicated.

German voters will cast two votes on election day. On the first vote they will choose from a list of local candidates to represent their district. The candidate who gets the most votes in each district wins a seat in Parliament. Half of the Bundestag’s seats (299) are decided this way. For their second vote, they choose from a list of the political parties. The remaining 299 seats are then distributed among the parties based on the percentage of votes received nationwide. Only parties that get more than 5% of the vote nationally can send representatives to the Parliament.

What’s the point of this convoluted system? It allows voters to split their vote between parties. They can vote for a local candidate from one party and cast their second vote for a different party.

Merkel’s party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union, and its sister party the Christian Social Union, currently have 309 seats in the Bundestag. They’ve spent the past four years in coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party, which has 193 seats.

Who could be chancellor?

Angela Merkel

Who she is: Merkel, of course, is the current chancellor of Germany, an office she’s held since 2005. She’s the country’s first female leader, and she’s pretty popular right now (her approval rating stands at about 59% in one recent poll). If the 62-year-old Merkel wins, it’ll be her fourth term in the post. And if she were to serve a full term, she would tie with Helmut Kohl as Germany’s longest serving post-war chancellor (16 years). In her time in office, there have been three U.S. presidents, four UK prime ministers and four French presidents. For those who aren’t fans of current U.S. President Donald Trump, she’s now thought to be the most powerful person in the world.

What she wants: Merkel has a fairly liberal policy on refugees. She’s a big fan of the global economy. She wants to give Germans tax cuts (especially young families). She wants to lower unemployment, which would be a neat trick, since unemployment in the booming German economy is already at or near record lows. She also wants to hire thousands of new police officers at both the state and federal level.

Fun fact: She worked as a physicist before getting into politics.

Telling quote: “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.” (The “others” Merkel is referring to is the United States.)

Martin Schulz

Who he is: Schulz, 61, is a former president of the European Union (and, surprise, no fan of Brexit), and he’s relatively new to leadership in the center-left Social Democratic party. He was picked to lead his party back in January. He was elected mayor of his hometown of Wurselen in 1987 at age 31, but he’s spent more of his political life dealing with EU matters in Brussels than he has holding office in Germany.

What he wants: Schulz, dubbed by some as the German Bernie Sanders, wants to raise taxes on the rich and give tax relief to middle-income earners. He wants Germany to use some of its budget surplus for investments in infrastructure and to help boost the EU. He wants the U.S. to get its nukes out of Germany.

Fun fact: He dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player (a serious knee injury shattered that dream), and he once owned a bookstore.

Telling quote: “You have the choice between a chancellor who avoids every debate about the future and somebody who tells you what he wants.”

What are the big issues?

Immigration:

This is the big one. It’s been the top concern of German voters since 2015, when over one million migrants and refugees arrived. Merkel’s popularity took a drubbing during that time, but it’s rebounded. That’s a shock to many of her critics, including the far-right AfD party, which has capitalized on concern among some Germans by promising to clamp down on immigration. Issues such as family reunification, deportations and integration as well as border controls and a possible cap on asylum seekers (both Merkel and Schulz are against that) continue to make headlines.

Climate change:

Environmental issues always play a big role in German elections, but with Donald Trump pulling the US out of the Paris agreement, the topic is an especially hot one this time around. And despite Merkel’s impassioned fight for the environment, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions haven’t dropped much for close to a decade.

Social inequality:

Germany is a prosperous country with a good welfare system, but it still has some issues. Yes, unemployment hit its lowest point since reunification this year, but the poverty rate is way up too. In fact, the poverty rate is breaking new records in Germany, even as GDP continues to grow. Schulz has put inequality at the center of his campaign.

Security and terrorism:

Germany’s suffered a number of terror attacks the past couple of years — including a horrific truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people back in December — so security remains another high-ranking concern. Both Merkel and Schulz have promised to strengthen Germany’s security forces and hire more police.

So who’s going to win?

Merkel and her party seem poised to cruise to victory. Her Christian Democrats are consistently polling at 35 to 40%, while Schulz’s Social Democrats are at 20 to 25%. Germans seem to prefer the stability that Merkel’s run as chancellor has provided — especially with the rise of populist movements in other European countries and the increase in terrorism incidents on the continent. As one political commentator put it, Germans aren’t looking for a political revolution, so they probably won’t take the risk.

What happens afterward?

There’s the fun and games of coalition building. You see, to form a government a political party has to win more than 50% of the seats in parliament. This is highly unlikely, since there are 42 parties (42!) fielding candidates in this election. So the party that ends up with the most seats (and that, most likely, will be Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union) will negotiate with others to form the government. Those negotiations start on September 25.

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Elizabeth Warren courts civil rights leaders as 2020 looms

When Republican leaders shut down Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter condemning Jeff Sessions on the Senate floor in February, they unknowingly opened a door for the Massachusetts senator to broaden her appeal as a leader in the Democratic resistance to President Donald Trump.

In the months since then, Warren has increasingly added a focus on racism and cultural issues to her signature economic populism over several major speeches — while also developing new relationships with black leaders across the country.

Among them is Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The two spoke by phone, exchanged numbers and then met privately in Atlanta when Warren was in town for a progressive gathering.

“In order for us to make effective change, leaders have to be courageous. They have to be willing to take a stance … willing to lose some things,” King said in an interview. “And she was willing to risk some things in this process, being silenced on the floor.”

On Monday, Warren will meet King for a second time this month in Atlanta, where she’ll participate in The King Center’s “Beloved Community Talks” event, set for 6 p.m. ET at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The appearance follows a series of speeches in recent months where Warren has emphasized issues of race and culture — starting when the Rev. Wendell Anthony, the Detroit Branch NAACP president since 1993, saw Warren read King’s letter and invited her to speak at an April dinner attended by thousands. Warren sounded similar notes at a Rainbow PUSH Coalition event in July, and then in front of already adoring progressives at the Netroots Nation meeting in Atlanta this month.

The speeches have stoked speculation that Warren is angling to run for president in 2020. And while the Massachusetts senator is careful not to even hint at a run herself, she paused only briefly and smiled as chants of “Warren 2020” rose up during her speech at Netroots Nation.

“People talk about her in presidential terms often when I travel the country, and I think in the African-American community, it’s because they appreciated that she, in a very full-throated way, will speak to the issue of racism,” said Michael Curry, who chairs the national NAACP’s advocacy and policy committee and was until recently the NAACP Boston chapter president.

The Bernie Sanders problem

As Democrats search for new leaders in the Trump era, Warren’s long-held hero status among progressives and economic populists would give her a foothold should she seek the party’s presidential nomination.

But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appeals to a similar group of voters. And his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton was doomed in part by his inability to win older black voters in the South.

His failings have left Democratic operatives gaming out the 2020 race with a basic question about Warren: How is a white Harvard law professor who grew up in Oklahoma going to do what Sanders couldn’t?

Some black leaders say they see major differences in Sanders’ early 2016 candidacy and Warren today.

“When Sanders ran, he was very distant and had to learn how to relate to blacks,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Warren represents a more diverse state, and “she does not talk with a strain; she talks with a comfort level and familiarity” in speaking with black leaders, he added.

Jackson said he and Warren speak “semi-regularly” and that the two have “open access to each other.” In July, he hosted Warren in Chicago for a speech to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a civil rights and political activist group he founded, where Warren hammered a legal system that fails to deliver justice when “black men and women die at the hands of those sworn to protect them” and warned of GOP efforts to restrict voting access.

In Warren, Jackson said he sees an economic message — and a delivery — that carries few cultural limitations. “The best news is that these issues affect whites in Appalachia and blacks in the Delta,” he said.

Still, Warren has made few trips South, to states like South Carolina, which votes third in the Democratic presidential nominating contest and is the first real gauge of candidates’ support among black voters.

“These communities don’t forget who their friends were,” said Jaime Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “They don’t suffer fools — they have a test when they know that people are just coming in and they haven’t spent the time to build the network and the connections,”

“Harping on anti-trust and Wall Street is not going to cut it,” Harrison said. “In some communities, the economic anxiety is not talking about how much money people are making on Wall Street. Economic anxiety is, no infrastructure, therefore no jobs, and the schools are crap. Therefore their kids, if they get any education, they leave the town and then the state and they never come back.”

Attacking Trump in Detroit

Warren’s increasing focus on racial and cultural issues began to emerge in April, when she spoke at a major dinner hosted by the NAACP’s Detroit branch.

There, Warren said Trump has “stirred up some deep ugliness in the United States,” and she accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions — the subject of the Coretta Scott King letter — of being on “a mission to turn the clock back 157 years.”

“The fight against racism and inequality and ugliness in all its forms is a righteous fight,” Warren said. “I came to Detroit to say I will be part of that fight.”

The remarks struck Warren’s allies, who saw her aggressively confronting issues of race in front of an audience of thousands of black leaders from across the country.

“I saw in her speech an intentionality to speak to our communities — to say, ‘I’m here for you, and I plan to be a champion on the issues you care about,'” said Curry, the NAACP board member from Boston.

“I think being on that particular stage gave her an opportunity to deliver that message to a larger group of African-Americans,” Curry said.

Steering the Democratic Party

Warren moved her cultural messaging beyond a defensive, anti-Trump posture and toward guiding the Democratic Party forward during a closely watched speech at Netroots Nation, the progressive gathering in Atlanta in early August.

Since the 2016 election, an emerging divide within the Democratic Party is between those on the left who prefer the message of all economic populism, all the time, and liberals who see issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and other identity issues as central.

“In the wake of the last election, I’ve heard people say we need to decide whether we’re the party of the white working class or the party of Black Lives Matter,” Warren said.

“I say we can care about a dad who’s worried that his kid will have to move away from their factory town to find good work — and we can care about a mom who’s worried that her kid will get shot during a traffic stop,” she said. “The way I see it, those two parents have something deep down in common: The system is rigged against both of them — and against their kids.”

Warren also took a dig at Bill Clinton-era policies that are largely seen as corrosive among black voters, declaring that “the Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill.”

In every speech, Warren doesn’t mention Trump’s nickname for her, “Pocahontas” — a jab at her Native American heritage. But she harkens back to the moment on the Senate floor, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said that Warren had been warned against reading the Coretta Scott King letter, but “nevertheless, she persisted.”

Warren, who is up for reelection in Massachusetts in 2018 and has been careful not to feed into 2020 speculation, declined to be interviewed for this story, emailing a statement instead.

“Divide and conquer is an old story in America — the idea that whatever worries you, the answer is to blame others who don’t look or talk or worship like you do,” Warren said in the statement.

“But when we turn on each other, we can’t unite to fight back against a rigged system,” she said. “President Trump’s divisive actions don’t reflect our values. We need to say so — and we need to keep fighting every single day to help build opportunity for every single American.”

The view from Massachusetts

In Boston, black leaders credit Warren with accessibility and say she is eager to dive into the details of issues with a disproportionate impact on minorities.

“There is almost no issue that impacts communities of color that many of us have not had a conversation directly with her,” said Curry. “She is abnormally accessible to stop on the street or to catch her in DC and have really detailed conversations around issues that African-Americans care about.”

“What you’re seeing on the national stage is what I’ve seen many times in intimate rooms and spaces with Sen. Warren,” said Ayanna Pressley, a Boston city councilwoman.

Pressley said she has worked closely with Warren to combat “predatory business practices” at for-profit colleges. She also spoke with Warren recently about the stigma about the cannabis industry that prevents banks from lending to minority small-business owners in the space.

“She does not marginalize the community,” Pressley said. “She sees an African-American in their totality, and I appreciate that. She is inclusive. So I don’t only get a call to come sit at a table about an issue that is disproportionately impacting communities of color. I’m invited into any room where she believes that my office … or my lens could add value.”

Warren, a former Sunday school teacher, also makes regular, unpublicized church visits.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if she was in churches and worshiping and people didn’t know she was there. She is just that consistent about her presence in these spaces,” Pressley said.

At the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Roxbury in February, Warren discussed the Senate’s admonition over reading the Coretta Scott King letter criticizing Sessions.

“No one got up to defend his record and what he has done in the years since,” Warren said about what transpired in the chamber, according to a Boston Globe account of the visit. “All they said was, ‘Be silent, be silent, be silent,'”

‘You have to show me’

In an interview ahead of Warren’s visit, King said Warren’s reading of her mother’s letter about Sessions left her “filled with joy.”

“I said, you know, ‘Wow — my mother’s voice is coming forth, and she’s been gone for 11 years now.’ I’m always worried, are people going to remember her and her contributions?” King said.

King recalled that when her father was assassinated in 1968, he was planning a “Poor People’s Campaign” for economic justice that was aimed at alleviating poverty across racial barriers. She said the fights that progressives take on today for an increased minimum wage, college affordability and mass incarceration are all issues that connect to a broader battle against economic injustice in which she sees Warren as a leader.

“Her having a strong economic message, combined with some of the cultural language and sensitivity to how these things play out in the African-American (community), is certainly critical,” King said.

But, King added: “You also have to show me, as well.”

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Who is Kelli Ward, Jeff Flake’s GOP primary challenger?

Kelli Ward calls herself a “conservative champion.”

The doctor and former Arizona state senator, who failed to unseat Sen. John McCain in a 2016 Senate primary, is now taking on Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018. Now, all eyes are on the red state as President Donald Trump, who appeared to encourage Ward by name in a tweet last week, heads there Tuesday for a rally in Phoenix.

Still, there are two other Republicans — State treasurer Jeff DeWit and former state party chairman Robert Graham — who could still enter the race and are broadly regarded as standing better chances of defeating Flake should they jump in the race.

Here’s a look at Ward’s political past:

‘Arizona deserves better’

Ward has said she aspires to be the “conservative voice” in the Senate.

“I have been selected by the people of our state and the people of our country, who are looking for a conservative voice in the United States Senate,” she told “Fox & Friends” Monday. “And unfortunately for us in Arizona, we don’t have a conservative Republican senator. We don’t have a senator who supports the President at all. And so 2018, it’s time for a change.”

Ward told Fox she believes “the biggest contrast” between Flake and her is that the incumbent Republican “believes in open borders and amnesty.” Where as Ward said she believes in “building the wall and stopping illegal immigration.”

She also touched on health care, calling it “appalling” that the House, Senate and White House “couldn’t get the job done for the American people.”

“People in Arizona are suffering with high deductibles, and skyrocketing premiums, and they can’t access high-quality cost-effective health care,” she said. “I have a track record in the Arizona state Senate of being very conservative. and doing what I say. I’m a person of action, not a person of talk. And so I look forward to getting there and getting the job done we all want done.”

On Monday, Ward released a new campaign online web video called “Arizona deserves better,” which will be “distributed digitally across Arizona this week, including in the downtown Phoenix region via digital geographic targeting prior to the President’s campaign rally on Tuesday evening,” her campaign said in a statement.

Critical of McCain

But the publicity may not help, as Ward has been controversial in the past.

While in the Arizona state legislature, she tried to outlaw enforcement of federal gun laws in Arizona.

In 2016, she did an interview with Alex Jones, a notable far-right radio show host and conspiracy theorist who believes the September 11 attacks were an inside government job.

Last year, she made headlines after calling McCain “old” and “weak.” More recently, in July, she sparked social media backlash after she said McCain should step aside as quickly as possible following the news this week of his brain cancer diagnosis.

“I hope that Senator McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible,” she said on Indiana radio WOWO 1190 AM. “So that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward.”

Tweet of approval and big money coming in

Though she has not been favored by many, Trump appears to have thrown support behind her — at least via Twitter.

“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted last week.

Although Flake has generally sided with Trump and the Republicans on Senate votes, he has been vocal about his criticism of the President. In his recent book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” Flake compared Trump’s campaign to a “late-night infomercial” with an agenda that is “free of significant thought.”

Ward — a longtime proponent of Trump — has expressed enthusiasm about Trump’s positive words.

“President Trump doesn’t support Jeff Flake for good reason — he has opposed and insulted him for the past two years and that’s a huge liability for Arizona,” Ward said in a statement Monday.

Her campaign has received both manpower and money from Trump supporters.

Eric Beach and Brent Lowder, of Great America PAC, which were supportive of Trump, are on Ward’s campaign team.

“They were committed to electing Donald Trump to be the president and now they are committed to helping me retire Jeff Flake,” Ward said of Beach and Lowder on “Fox & Friends.”

Robert Mercer, one of the President’s largest donors, sent a $300,000 contribution to a PAC that supports Ward’s candidacy.

Meanwhile, Flake deflected reporters’ questions on Monday about Trump’s tweets that he is “a non-factor in the Senate” and “toxic!”

“I don’t worry about it at all,” Flake said.

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1.8 million Chicago voter records exposed online

A voting machine company exposed 1.8 million Chicago voter records after misconfiguring a security setting on the server that stored them.

Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the Nebraska-based voting software and election management company, confirmed the leak on Thursday.

In a blog post, the company said the voter data leak contained names, addresses, birthdates, partial social security numbers and some driver’s license and state ID numbers stored in backup files on a server. Authorities alerted ES&S to the leak on Aug. 12, and the data was secured.

A security researcher from UpGuard discovered the breach.

The data did not contain any voting information, like the results of how someone voted.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections, said the leak did not contain or affect anyone’s voting ballots, which are handled by a different vendor.

“We deeply regret this,” Allen said. “It was a violation of our information security protocol by the vendor.”

Forensic experts are investigating the ES&S leak. A spokesperson for ES&S said in a statement the firm has no indication that the information had been previously accessed by people other than the researchers who discovered it.

UpGuard security researcher Jon Hendren found the cache of data exposed on an Amazon Web Services server Friday night. He handed it off to analyst Chris Vickery who downloaded the information to examine the content. Vickery shared his findings with local and Illinois state authorities Saturday morning.

Amazon buckets — where data is stored — are private by default. This means someone at ES&S misconfigured a security setting and exposed the data online.

“This data would be an identity thief’s dream to find,” Vickery told CNN Tech. He also said the leaked files contained some voting system administration credentials.

Researchers at UpGuard are responsible for discovering a number of major data leaks from publicly available databases online, including millions of people’s information from a GOP analytics company and Verizon. It also recently discovered critical infrastructure data exposed by a Texas energy firm.

Data breaches like this happen far more frequently than the public might realize.

Vickery said when he devotes one day to looking for exposed servers, he finds dozens of data breaches. Some are not as big as schematics on energy companies or millions of partial social security numbers, but he said it’s something companies need to be much more aware of.

“It’s really kind of an epidemic that people don’t have any idea about,” Vickery said. “System administrators leaving things open and exposed to the public internet is like a cancer on security.”

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1.8 million Chicago voter records exposed online

A voting machine company exposed 1.8 million Chicago voter records after misconfiguring a security setting on the server that stored them.

Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the Nebraska-based voting software and election management company, confirmed the leak on Thursday.

In a blog post, the company said the voter data leak contained names, addresses, birthdates, partial social security numbers and some driver’s license and state ID numbers stored in backup files on a server. Authorities alerted ES&S to the leak on Aug. 12, and the data was secured.

A security researcher from UpGuard discovered the breach.

The data did not contain any voting information, like the results of how someone voted.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections, said the leak did not contain or affect anyone’s voting ballots, which are handled by a different vendor.

“We deeply regret this,” Allen said. “It was a violation of our information security protocol by the vendor.”

Forensic experts are investigating the ES&S leak. A spokesperson for ES&S said in a statement the firm has no indication that the information had been previously accessed by people other than the researchers who discovered it.

UpGuard security researcher Jon Hendren found the cache of data exposed on an Amazon Web Services server Friday night. He handed it off to analyst Chris Vickery who downloaded the information to examine the content. Vickery shared his findings with local and Illinois state authorities Saturday morning.

Amazon buckets — where data is stored — are private by default. This means someone at ES&S misconfigured a security setting and exposed the data online.

“This data would be an identity thief’s dream to find,” Vickery told CNN Tech. He also said the leaked files contained some voting system administration credentials.

Researchers at UpGuard are responsible for discovering a number of major data leaks from publicly available databases online, including millions of people’s information from a GOP analytics company and Verizon. It also recently discovered critical infrastructure data exposed by a Texas energy firm.

Data breaches like this happen far more frequently than the public might realize.

Vickery said when he devotes one day to looking for exposed servers, he finds dozens of data breaches. Some are not as big as schematics on energy companies or millions of partial social security numbers, but he said it’s something companies need to be much more aware of.

“It’s really kind of an epidemic that people don’t have any idea about,” Vickery said. “System administrators leaving things open and exposed to the public internet is like a cancer on security.”

Follow this story