American Views Abroad

Thursday, September 30, 2004
I hate to bump Gloria's excellent post from the top of the blog but I promised this update on my adventures with registering to vote and receiving the absentee ballot. I called the toll free number for Germany. They couldn't really tell me anything except the number to call in my home town, Cincinnati, in this case. After several calls to several different people there, mostly to see if I'd get the same information each time, it came down to this: They had no record of my registration. My name wasn't in their system. I asked them if there were any possible reason why a correctly filled out application may have been rejected. No, they told me, there was not. I could still register and apply for the absentee ballot but it all had to be postmarked before Oct 4th (or was it the 6th - I wasn't hearing straight anymore). This can be done with the federal "Registration and Absentee Ballot Request" which I've filled out and will mail via registered post tonight. Sorry for not looking up a link, but it's all over the Internet.

No one could tell me what went wrong. My speculations: 1) The consulate sent my forms to some central Ohio address, possibly Columbus, and it all just got lost at some point in passing it on to the county of my former residence. 2) Filling out Democrat as party affiliation was not too wise. I'm filling out Republican this time, and will change it later. BUT NO! this idea 2) is cynical and I refuse to believe that had anything to do with it, still, in these times...

My advice to anyone who has no confirmation yet whether or not they are registered. Call that toll free number (0-800-1007-428), press 3, get the number of your home town Board of Elections, and call them for a confirmation of being in their system. I realize I should have done this months ago. I wouldn't feel so frantic about it now, if I had.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Der Untergang - The Downfall

Much has been written about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and its effect on U.S. viewers. Der Untergang (The Downfall), a film produced, written and acted by German speakers has brought a record number of Germans of all generations to the movie theaters. A quick review of comments in the English language media concentrate on what effect this film - which purposely aims to demythologize Hitler, for here he is not only a demon but also a man - will have on viewers. Might it lead masses of them to feel dangerous sympathy for a sick man who loved his dog and even managed to show kindness to his secretary? Jefferson Chase writing in last Sunday's Boston Globe's Idea section ("Ready For His Closeup") discusses the debate raging in Germany about it and takes the position of one German journalist who dismissed the film as "Hitler for the children of CNN and Big Brother." Chase claims it doesn't shed much light on why intimates stuck by his side at the end or why Germany as a whole followed him so eagerly into ultimate doom and destruction.

To a certain extent he is right. Why does Albert Speer in those last horrifying days chose to travel from Hamburg to Berlin to inform Hitler personally that he has not been following his orders? Why this sense of obligation when he could have been killed on the spot? The viewer is left playing guessing games about the ebb and flow of power between individuals. Speer is free to leave, albeit without a handshake; Eva Braun's brother-in-law is killed on orders despite her pleas to save him. Her instant about-face and acquiescence is not something you willingly want to be confronted with. One sits in this film shocked at the lack of any plausible explanation while being confronted with its juxtapositions of life inside the bunker where food and wine seem plentiful, the talk of total victory by armies and planes no longer existent is insane and the rituals of serving Hitler's whims and moods appear unreal are followed by the absolute horror of the Fall of Berlin outside. The scenes portraying the devastation brought upon the civilians of Berlin in those last days should give anyone vaguely arguing for pre-emptive war nightmares.

It isn't the Germans and how they react to this film that gave me such a jolt. It is the juxtapositions of what is happening in Iraq on the news one sees here on German TV daily and what one is not seeing in the U.S., or as one American friend who just returned from Minnesota observed, you have to look very hard to try to find news of the war. It's the myths and tall tales of Weapons of Mass Destruction never found in Iraq; it's the cruel, mindless, unfounded attacks on Kerry's Vietnam War experiences and a strange lack of asking hard questions about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. It's the obsession with a bunker mentality that will soon photograph and finger-print every non-U.S. citizen entering the U.S. It's the reluctance to look into the untruths and to concentrate solely on swagger and poses of leadership.

The Washington Post reported yesterday in Poll Shows Bush with Solid Lead: "Majorities say Bush is a strong leader, has taken a clear stand on issues, has an appealing personality and will make the country safer. A plurality gives Bush the edge on who is honest and trustworthy and who `shares your values'." The International Herald Tribune quotes a Pew report today that claims "Bush's gains in support are being driven more by perceptions of Kerry's weakness - especially in leadership and other personal traits - than by improved opinions of Bush."

If there is anything in the film to make viewers cringe at the thought of strong leadership and taking a clear stand on issues it is Hitler's fanaticism on ridding Europe of the Jews and on the question of unconditional surrender. Just how can anyone "stand up" to a "strong leader" in an emotionally laden time? The fog of innuendoes, the total misrepresentation of Iraq's (non) connection to 9/11 and the war on terrorism, Cheney's game of a vote for Kerry is a vote for terrorism makes the hurdle for Kerry in the upcoming debates almost out-of- reach.

At the end of the film, Hitler's secretary - the film is based on her book - is forced to leave the bunker. Suddenly she is directly confronted with the devastation all around. When the film is over she, the real secretary and close to the end of her life, comments on those years. She never saw what happened as her responsibility. She always thought of herself as too young and too in awe of him. It took many years and an accidental walk down a street of Munich for her to come across a plague dedicated to Sophia Scholl who paid with her life for resisting Hitler. There for the first time she realizes that she and Scholl were born in the same year. Youth, she then said, is no excuse for not knowing. Neither is being afraid of another terrorist attack.

In today's New York Times online edition: Hurdles Remain for American Voters Who Live Overseas --- Voters living abroad face an unwieldy system of absentee balloting that could prevent their votes from being counted. The article includes a graphic: Overseas Ballots in Swing States The International Herald Tribune runs the article on page one under U.S. voters overseas being left out in cold

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
This summer I applied for my absentee ballot at the voter registration drive sponsored by the American Women's Club, in cooperation with the U.S. Consulate here in Hamburg. As I haven't yet received my absentee ballot (for Ohio) and am about to go on a two week vacation, I will have to go through all the channels to make sure my registration is in order. The lady who assisted me with the application told me that Ohio sends their ballots out in September and that if there was a problem I could check with the consulate. They kept a record of who registered. So I just phoned the Consulate about that and they gave me this toll free number within Germany to call to check my registration status:

0-800-1007-428 (Federal Voting Assistance Program)

I tried but could not get a live person. It was however possible to leave a message. I'll try again tonight and post my experiences.

Monday, September 27, 2004
Voter Site Block Lifted
In the International Herald Tribune's special section At Home Abroad there is a complete review on all procedures needed to cast an absentee ballot. The Pentagon reported last Wednesday that the blocks imposed on foreign internet service providers have been lifted. Thus overseas Americans should be able to access the Federal Voting Assistance Program again. However, if problems still exist, a Pentagon spokesperson said the voting assistance site can be accessed via the following address:

Most states impose an October 2 deadline for receiving applications for an absentee ballot. Once a ballot is received, it is advised that it be completed and sent out immediately. For those who do not receive their absentee ballot two weeks before Election Day (November 2), the FVAP as an ombudsman service that can assist in determining whether and when the ballot was mailed. The number from overseas is +1-703-588-1584.

According to a Democratic Party advertisement in the IHT to request an absentee ballot, point your browser to If you have requested a ballot and do not receive it by mid-October, contact Democrats Abroad to receive an emergency write-in ballot: or call + 1-202-863-8103.

In an article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine Is Voting Worth the Trouble?, Jim Holt pointed out that the ancient Greeks had a word for a person who is indifferent to public affairs in this way: idiotes, or idiot. Right on target!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Wednesday, September 22
The Web site maintained by the Deptartment of Defense and responsible
for assisting all overseas Americans to register and vote has been
blocked from several foreign Internet service providers used by
non-military U.S. citizens. Three newspaper articles report on the lack
of access to the Federal Voting Assistance Program
( The International Herald Tribune at and USA Today at
In Salon Farhad Manjoo asks why the Pentagon would do this and if it is
worried that non-military overseas voters are leaning towards Kerry.
The official explanation is that the blocked ISPs could be havens for
"hack" attacks. However the Defense Department maintains many sensitive
Web sites and has no problem protecting them from hackers. According
to the Salon article an unnamed Defense Department official stated
"This is a completely partisan thing." The official further described
the Pentagon as "extremely diligent"in registering soldiers abroad and
has ignored its mandate to help overseas civilians. Private citizens
who live abroad are considered particularly progressive. One Zogby
survey showed them supporting Kerry over Bush by 55 - 33 percent.

One important resource for private citizens is
Members of American Voices Abroad have contacted the ACLU and are
exploring the possibility of getting an injunction . Private citizens
are urged to write their Senator and Congressman about this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
If we recognize the horror and the gravity of lying, we would persecute it with fire more justly than other crimes --- a quote by Montaigne and used by Jimmy Breslin in his column A Key Question from a Slain G I's Mother on September 19th. Breslin: The center of the election should be the dead of Iraq. This is something that Bush and his lackeys will do anything to dodge.

A close American friend here in Hamburg emailed today: ....Four more years of this insanity is just too devastating to even comtemplate...yet when I was in Florida and Kentucky last week, I noticed a total news blockage on the Iraq War.....believe me you (in the U.S.) are not seeing the pictures of the war that they bombard us with here in Old Europe. For good reason, because it is hard to stomach. I guess Fox and CNN have it all under control. Oh well....the lemmings seem to be following shrub over the cliff.

Thus this first hand report from a woman blogger in Baghdad. From

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