As all of us realize who care to recall, that COP15 “Hopenhagen” Climate Summit of last December was a failure, despite the personal involvement of nearly all top world leaders, including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. No clear agreement on worldwide action to act against global warming and the emission of greenhouse gases – much less one with any binding force – was arrived at. Official commitment to such action on the part of most governments since then has mostly just dwindled away. The question naturally arises, “How could it have failed?”, but that is an inquiry that naturally invites a lot of finger-pointing. As for the host Danish government, the Prime Minister’s Office (Statsministeriet) has conducted its own classified analysis of the question – something which reporters Martin Aagaard and Mette Østergaard of the mainstream newspaper Politiken nonetheless managed to get a hold of and discuss in an article in that newspaper. (more…)
Archive for April, 2010
In the hysteria that continues to reverberate four months after the ill-fated flight of the “Underwear Bomber” from Amsterdam to Detroit last Christmas Eve, it has become clear that we cannot rely on our elected authorities to safeguard our fundamental rights to privacy while we travel. As we read in this brief piece from Trouw, probably our only remaining hope lies in the sheer bureaucratic incompetence of those same officials.
Back at the time, Schiphol management announced with great fanfare that they would install full-body scanners to screen all passengers with destinations in the US to ensure nothing like this embarrassing incident ever happened again. By now 73 of those things were supposed to be in place; in fact, only 23 are – and even some of those present are not in use. The problem apparently lies in obtaining security clearances for the workmen who are supposed to go perform the installation of the rest of the machines in those super-secure areas behind the passenger-screening stations.
At the same time, these machines – whether installed or not – remain hideously expensive. Interestingly, the Trouw article concludes with the sentence “It is not certain whether the powder [i.e. the explosive Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was concealing in his briefs] would have been detected by the scanners.” Rest assured, from one of the world’s leading security consultants: it would not have.
It’s often claimed that French farmers are quick to take to the streets – in the best French Revolutionary tradition – whenever they feel their interests threatened. And that is true, and has been for decades. But it’s only recently that video technology has evolved to the point where the blog-reader can be taken along for the ride almost as if s/he is right there.
L’Express writer Aurélien Chartendrault (Now, doesn’t that name convince you right there that we’re talking about things French? That’s a “he,” by the way.) hitched a ride yesterday on the tractor of farmer Nicolas Combes, one of 1,200 farm-vehicles invading Paris’ city streets in a protest-action of around 10,000 corn and grain farmers unhappy about the prices they’re getting for their produce. The resulting video is below; in it, M. Combes gets the only speaking part and uses it mainly to go on about how he feels he can barely make a living anymore, and apparently also about some pointy-headed officials who are trying to get him to farm without using pesticides.
But here it’s best to leave all that stuff aside – indeed, best if you can’t understand French, although his enunciation is perfectly fine and without accent – so you can just concentrate on the sensation of riding through the Parisian scenery in a tractor-convoy.
What comes next? Inevitably something like “Grand Theft Tractor,” in a Paris setting – soon available for PSP, Wii and the XBox 360!
Aygül Özkan: Ever heard of . . . Well, wait! In the first place, is it a he or a she? (No fair looking at the title. And don’t worry, I won’t ask you to try to pronounce the name; I can’t hear you from here anyway.)
Unless you live in Hamburg or in Lower Saxony, you probably don’t have a clue. Aygül Özkan is a she, 38 years old, of Turkish descent. And, as it turns out, she is the choice of Lower Saxony state president Christian Wulff (CDU) to be the Social and Integration Minister in his new cabinet. (She’s also rather pretty, check out the picture – but I’m not allowed to say that about Muslim women, is that right?)
Ah yes: as the profile in the FAZ by Frank Pergande is careful to explain, Ms. Özkan is Muslim, or at least nominally so, the daughter of parents who both emigrated to Germany in the 1960s from Turkey, of which the father has long run his own tailor-shop in the Hamburg suburb of Altona. As it turns out, the “C” in that “CDU” that describes the party of which both she and her boss Wulff are members stands for Christlich, or “Christian”; it’s the mainstream party of the conservative Right that is also in power (under a coalition arrangement) at the federal level in Berlin. It’s the party of Chancellor Merkel – indeed, the Bundeskanzlerin certainly knows who Aygül Özkan is, and a picture of them together has appeared in the press, including in Germany’s leading Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. (more…)
Starbucks: there have already been whole books written about this international marketing phenomenon, and that should be no surprise. Perhaps only George W. Bush himself better illustrates how a product, however average, can successfully be sold to the masses if you just have the ad money to spend and get the promotional campaign right. For me, Starbucks’ success in making an outright fetish out of coffee – so that people are willing to line up at a counter to spend on the order of $5.00 for a single cup – is emblematic of the American go-go years of not so long ago, before the big Crash, as innumerable people stuck a Grande Caffè Mocha into the drinks-holder of their SUV as they set off to visit the properties they had bought no-money-down to “flip” for a profit as soon as possible.
The company’s progress within Europe is of particular amusement, especially Central Europe which, after all, originally introduced the café/coffeehouse and coffee culture in general to the world a little less than four centuries ago. It’s a bit as if GM were to establish a high-performance automotive division in Northern Italy, with the explicit mission of showing Ferrari, Lancia, etc. how the game should be played. Belgium, at least, has heretofore largely avoided this scourge, but apparently not for long, as we see from the recent article by Caroline Boeur in La Dernière Heure with the breathless title Soon a fifth Starbucks? (more…)
I know that my readers don’t tune in to this weblog to read “meta” blogposts about the blog itself. So I keep those to a bare minimum, and “bundle” such announcements into one such post whenever possible. That’s what I’ve managed to do this time. Astute readers will have noticed the recent accretion of a number of physical changes on this blog’s layout, so now I’d like to point them out – and the additional features and capabilities they make available to you – explicitly.
I’ve had a Twitter-feed associated with this blog for more than a year, but up until recently its function was limited to echoing the titles and (shortened) links to the blogposts. It still does that, but as of a few weeks ago I have also started posting unique Twitter content (the last five “tweets” of which are echoed on the homepage) that fishes from the same broad pool of European non-English-language sources to alert readers to developments for which 140 characters (including link to the original) provides sufficient room for discussion. Such tweets are distinguished by the abbreviation of the information source at their very beginning. Or else the re-tweet source: In something of an analogy to what I do with my regular blogposts, I also often re-tweet news items from other foreign-language Twitter-feeds, discussing them in 140 English characters with original link.
I realize that many of you simply read my blogposts via your RSS reader and so may not be aware of this new Twitter feature; I think that it does offer a new dimension of information, so you should check it out, at least by taking a look at the current last five on the EuroSavant homepage.
Also, I now have a EuroSavant Facebook fan page. You’re encouraged to visit that – just click on the icon towards the top of the right-hand column – especially if you are on Facebook yourself. In particular, this affiliation with Facebook marks a change to my previous policy of not displaying readers’ comments to my blogposts; such comments can now be made when and as you like on the “Wall” of that fan page, and I might even respond. (Direct e-mail is still always welcome.)
In a related development, I have also registered EuroSavant with NetworkedBlogs, an application that enables Facebook users to subscribe to blogs within Facebook itself. Feel free to “follow” EuroSavant to make use of that; you’ll find the widget that provides one way to do so in the right-hand column of the EuroSavant homepage as well (although you’ll need to scroll down; it’s just below that big alphabetical tag cloud).
On second thought, forget the Roman Catholic Church: it’s the music industry that is the institution really going down the drain these days! (Not only that, you just know that the latter has many more instances of depraved sexual abuse hidden away in its dark closets – but do you ever hear of journalists or the authorities getting upset about those?)
Not to worry, though: Belgium is on the case! Minister for Culture Fadila Laanan – that’s right, she’s of Moroccan extraction – has just unveiled a twenty-point plan for coming to the rescue, as the mysterious journalist “S.L.” discusses in La Libre Belgique. (You can get the 13-page PDF of Minister Laanan’s plan – in French, bien sûr – here. Yes, in the meantime the Belgium government has fallen, but it takes so long to put a new one together that you can be sure that Ms. Laanan will remain at least in a caretaker capacity for some time.) (more…)
In case you were wondering how we were coping here in the Netherlands with the flights shut-down stemming from the volcano-ash, a recent article in De Volkskrant by Carien ten Have lays out all the effects pretty well. The executive summary would read: Dutch life has suddenly gotten a lot less romantic for a while, and just when Spring has come and the trees are in bloom!
Even if you don’t read Dutch, that article might be worth a click anyway due to the attractive, if “canned” (i.e. from one of those photo agencies, in this case Colourbox), photo of roses at the top. ‘Cause if there’s one thing everyone associates with Holland, it’s flowers, and that business is heavily dependent on air transport for product-delivery that usually has to happen within a span of a few days, at most. What may come as a surprise is that much of that flower product-delivery to buyers is within the Netherlands – or within the immediate vicinity in Northwest Europe – and sourced with flowers usually flown in from more exotic locales like Kenya and Ecuador. Those are of course now cut-off, and that is the main cause for the steep price-rises now seen here for flowers, whether for foreign ones that got here anyway (or were here before the Eyjafjallajökull volcano blew) or the domestically-grown variety. Still, never fear (if you’ve got the money to pay): “There are sufficient Dutch flowers to supply the European market,” declares Herman de Boon, who is the Dutch answer to Mr. Bean even as he serves at the same time as Chairman of the Dutch Association of Flower Wholesalers.
The situation is similar when it comes to other exotic things that have to be flown in: fruits & vegetables, for instance. There’s still enough in stock, just don’t expect to be able to take your Spring sweetheart to a restaurant to enjoy things like Peruvian asparagus or Egyptian green beans for a while. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical and medical sectors have also felt the flight-ban’s effects; for example, apparently some radiation-based medicines for fighting cancer must be used within 24 hours or they go to waste.
Here’s an informative English-language run-down from Global Post on how the Dutch flower industry has been dealing with a difficult week – including some good news at least for those hospitals, mentioned at the very end.
It’s no surprise that the issue dominating European news over the last week has been the fallout – in the literal sense – of the Icelandic volcano eruption that has paralyzed most of Europe as an air-flight originator and destination. What has been the surprise is the substantial and expensive impact such an unexpected natural phenomenon had on the very fabric of the economy and other aspects of European life.
Naturally, now that previously-shut airports throughout the continent are gradually starting to resume operations, the sentiment of “Never again!” is taking hold as eyes are cast about in the search of people to blame. In such situations, the temptation becomes overwhelming to avoid having to point fingers by simply blaming a machine, in this case the computer simulation that supposedly was the sole basis for shutting down flight operations once the volcano-ash started to spread. Various aircraft that the European airlines sent up to test actual conditions – including one reportedly dispatched by British Airways with CEO Willie Walsh, a trained pilot himself, aboard – encountered no problems or damage, so that has to constitute conclusive evidence that the flight-bans were panicked overreactions. (more…)
I reported a couple months ago about what I termed Potemkin Shanghai, that is, about the authorities in that city applying what we could call the “Chinese Treatment” in advance of the 2010 World Exposition due to kick-off there on May 1. I go so far as to call it that because we already witnessed this in Beijing prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, namely city administration and police going to ridiculous lengths to present the city’s “best face” to the hordes of foreign visitors they expect to welcome. In Beijing, for example, whole city blocks were razed to make way for the erection of more eye-pleasing buildings; in Shanghai attractive women are reportedly being shipped in from the countryside to man – excuse the expression – bus-ticket sales counters.
But a new piece from the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad (Thousands of arrests for Expo Shanghai) brings an altogether new and sinister tinge to this. It’s not just those arrests, totalling 6,042 from the massive police-sweeps conducted so far, and said to be for the offences of “theft, gambling, prostitution, sales of pornographic materials, drug trafficking, and swindling practices.” It’s also the bodyscan machines that the authorities plan to place at each of the 870 entrances to the Shanghai metro while the Expo is going on (1 May through 31 October) – and they’ll be looking not just for weapons but for anything they don’t happen to want people to have. And then there’s the security guards that will be riding in all the buses for which those Sichuan sweeties will have sold you a ticket.
He doesn’t live there anymore, but when he did James Fallows of the Atlantic painted a convincing picture of a Middle Kingdom that, far from being some monolith state of worker-ants bent on world domination, was actually still rather poor, somewhat diverse rather than uniform, and very messy in daily life as people there actually had to live it. Still, this “Chinese Treatment” stuff also convinces me – together with their infamous Internet “Chinese Wall” – that the Communist Party authorities over there are hell-bent to recreate George Orwell’s Oceania.
The Catholic Church is in serious trouble. That much is clear if only from the never-ending series of revelations of priests’ abuse of children put in their care that have sprung up in a number of countries. The situation cries out for someone willing to think clearly about finding an appropriate and effective response, above all one that could in some way work against such abuses ever happening again. Unfortunately, so far such a reaction has been forthcoming only from outside observers, such as from the (non-official) theologian and priest Hans Küng, and in an earlier blog-post I discussed his suggestion about abolishing the centuries-old requirement that priests stay celibate.
That was back around the beginning of March, but in the meantime even more abuse-revelations (from Germany, from Norway, etc.) have surfaced in the world’s press, and Küng has apparently felt the need to radically re-think – with the emphasis on “radical.” Yes, the occasion of the five-year anniversary of Benedict XVI’s accession to the papal throne earlier this month has clearly concentrated his thoughts, but what has clearly moved him even more to write publicly again is his sense of the Catholic Church now “in the deepest crisis of confidence since the Reformation.” The result is his recently-published open letter, addressed to all Roman Catholic bishops – thus going under the Pope’s head, so to speak, to appeal instead to his direct constituency within the Church hierarchy. That’s a rather audacious approach to take when the head of that hierarchy is held by official dogma to be infallible, even more so when what you’re advocating is a far-reaching reform program that goes far beyond the sexual abuse of children. (Kung nonetheless does term those abuse revelations himmelschreiende Skandale, or “scandals crying to Heaven.”) (more…)
The Cologne Smoking Study (German only): An examination of why your after-shave seems to give off fumes? No; I’m afraid it’s nothing more lively than a study on smoking carried out by the Humanities and Medical faculties at the University of Cologne, covered here by Der Spiegel.
Still, it produced a surprising conclusion. Conventional wisdom has people smoking more the more they are under stress, but this study turns that on its head. How can that be? Silly, do keep in mind the wave of anti-smoking restrictions imposed in most EU countries from around 2005 on: these people are simply not allowed to smoke there in the office where they are struggling to meet deadline, and they don’t have time to get away somewhere where they may. So maybe they make up for it later, when the crisis is over? There’s no evidence for that.
Smokers should at least be relieved that this study stops well short of recommending any heightening of the stress-quotient among one’s employees as a means to get them to cut down on their tobacco consumption. Perhaps the thought in the back of their minds of the various diseases to which they are making themselves susceptible by their behavior – I won’t bother to list them here – has always been stressful enough.
That’s the title of the speech that Polish President Lech Kaczyński was to have delivered at the Katyn Massacre commemoration ceremony to which he and his party of almost 100 important officials were heading when their plane crashed on Saturday. That title is now heavy with irony.
The newspaper Rzeczpospolita has posted a copy of that speech here – in Polish, oczywiście. Naturally, it mentions “21,000,” the NKVD, “Stalin’s will,” the “Third Reich” and the “Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact” within the first three sentences; Kaczyński wasn’t going there to use flowery diplomatic language.
If there happens to be a demand for a translation – and no one can find it elsewhere (I’ll be sure to post the link if I do) – then I’m open through the usual media (e-mail or Twitter) to requests to do it myself and post it here.
On the other hand, with all due respect to Poland’s tragedy of last Saturday, I can assure readers that neither this weblog nor the Twitter-feed intends to become “all Kaczyński plane-crash, all the time.”
One side-detail of the tragic plane-crash on Saturday that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with much of that country’s political, military, and even financial elite was that the reason all these worthies were headed to a Russian provicincial backwater like Smolensk in the first place was to participate in a very solemn ceremony there. That was to have commemorated the mass-execution, which began exactly seventy years ago, of around 20,000 Polish officers and other prominent citizens by the Soviet secret police, who had had them fall into their hands as a result of the USSR’s invasion of Poland (coordinated with Hitler’s Germany) in September, 1939. This prompted some commentators to write ponderously of a doom-laden Katyn parallel: Poland’s intelligentsia wiped out there in 1940, and then once again in 2010.
Unfortunately, these grim events are now totally obscuring the remarkable progress represented by the very fact that such a delegation of eminent Poles, headed by the President, was being allowed to go there in the first place – and by the no-less remarkable fact that Russian premier Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk had in fact participated in a commemoration ceremony there just last Wednesday. Looking back now at news coverage of these developments – that is, written before this past weekend’s tragedy – produces a very bittersweet feeling, especially from two articles on the Katyn legacy from among the elite of the German press, here the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt. In particular, the latter piece begins with the sentence “Seldom has the Polish public looked at Russia with so much hope as in these days” – on a webpage where, at the very same time, you can click over on the right-hand side (under “Current Videos”) to see a news-film of rescuers searching through the crash-site in the Russian forest!
(By the way, you could be sure that the German coverage of Katyn’s legacy was going to be thorough and high-quality, and not only because Germany’s sheer size of population and cultural inheritance ensures good journalism. Remember that, for decades, it was German soldiers who were alleged to have been at fault here, so you can be sure that German journalists will always be on top of this story to ensure the historic record remains set straight.) (more…)
I take this from the on-line article published by the respected Polish daily (if with an unpronouncable name) Rzeczpospolita. (UPDATE: RP modified that article! It no longer contains the list of victims, for that you click here to open/download a .doc file with the list – for as long as they keep that there and unchanged, anyway.)
Please note that I will use “RP” (i.e. the Polish abbreviation) to denote the Polish Republic. The “Sejm” is the lower house of the Polish parliament (upper house = Senate).
Victims that seem to be of particular importance (in my estimation) I have put in bold. Of further note is the sheer number of dead from among Sejm deputies – imagine how many special elections need to be called now to fill those places! (more…)
Northern Europeans are temperate and level-headed – can we accept that as a working proposition? (Except of course when they’re binge-drinking.) In the midst of all this iPad-hoopla, then, let’s just give one to a Scandinavian, say, and see the reaction.
Here at EuroSavant we have just the guy, someone whose commentary we’ve followed and commented upon many times before, namely Poul Høj, US correspondent for the excellent Danish daily Berlingske Tidende. And Høj has delivered his verdict on the latest Apple sensation, with a recent entry on his “USABlog” called iPad and machine-fanatics.
Don’t get him wrong: Høj is hardly some anti-tech reactionary. No, the introduction of the iPad certainly makes the world of technology a richer place. (Or at least the US part of it; it won’t be on sale over here in the Old Continent until 24 April.) He’s just finds much of the reaction rather disconcerting, like “Jesus!”, “gamechanger!” and (from Newsweek) “the iPad will change everything!”
Wait a second, he says: should I throw away my laptop now? Of course not. Frankly, in Høj’s eyes the iPad furore is merely something he has clearly seen before – and no, he’s not talking about the iPhone, he’s talking about Facebook, which was also supposed to be the next big thing that transformed everything, but which turns out still to have plenty of competitors (like Google Buzz).
Look, Høj writes, the iPad is ultimately just another gadget, just another machine, with its fans and detractors, its advantages and its disadvantages. The latter, by the way, are considerable and he provides his list:
- No printer;
- No USB ports;
- Famously, no Adobe Flash-video;
- No multitasking;
- No camera;
- No kitchen sink – sorry, that’s not Høj, I sneaked that one in;
- And most of all, no “apps” available that would pose any threat in the least to Steve Jobs or his company, since they all have to be Apple-approved to be available for download/sale in the first place.
It’s good to have the iPad, to be sure, but in Høj’s eyes it’s just another purchase-choice. Is it enough to tempt someone to replace his/her laptop+Blackberry combination? Quite possibly not. So enough with all the hyperventilation, already!
Next October 31 (a Sunday, of course) should be a rather interesting day indeed in Vatican City. According to articles in both Gazet van Antwerpen and De Tijd (the latter is actually Flanders’ main business/financial paper, but nevermind) two American victims of past sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests will be organizing a march then on St. Peter’s Square.
They don’t intend to be alone there. Rather, the two (Bernie McDaid and Olan Home, who also challenged Pope Benedict XVI on priest sexual abuse during the latter’s visit to the US in 2008) have been busy recruiting other Catholic lay organizations to join them. Between those worshippers, other sexual-abuse victims, and reform-minded individuals showing up (including, hopefully, current priests), they expect to be leading a 50,000-strong demonstration seeking to show “that their Church is in terrible trouble.” McDaid and Home will also be pushing their own four-point reform plan:
- Establish an independent commission to supervise how the Vatican deals with priest sexual abuse;
- Screen seminarians, priests, and bishops effectively against this sort of behavior;
- Involve lay influence in the selection of bishops;
- Include mandatory instruction about sexual abuse at every seminary’s program of study.
You might be asking: “I know that these guys need some time to get the word out, but why are they waiting all the way until next October 31?” No, it has nothing to do with Halloween; October 31 is also historically famous as the day when, back in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, and so effectively kicked off the Protestant Reformation.
Writing in the Walloon (i.e. Belgian-French) business newspaper L’Écho, in a piece somewhat sarcastically entitled The euro, our Savior, Marc Lambrechts makes a brief macroeconomic survey of the current European scene and comes up with a couple paradoxes. It looks like everybody is feeling better now about the business conditions, as surveys carried out within the Eurozone among both businessmen and consumers show. But this might be nothing more than spring-fever; Lambrechts prepares us for the shock that first-quarter 2010 economic reports are going to bring, showing a marked slowing-down then (e.g. German GDP drop of 0.4%) caused mainly by the severe winter weather and the sharp drop in auto-sales from the expiry of all those national “cash-for-clunkers” purchase-subsidy schemes.
Surely recovery will come about eventually, although with regard to Europe generally economists at the OECD are not optimistic about that happening until the second half of this year. One way for Germany to expedite that for itself, though (since the Germans earn so much from exports), is to get the euro to fall in value against the other major world-currencies – a process to which nothing has contributed more lately than the continuing confusion in the financial markets over Greece’s fiscal problems, which German obstinacy and tight-fistedness at the EU level has only prolonged. “A curious paradox,” Lambrechts calls this.
UPDATE: Strangely, the performance-vs.-confidence balance seems to be reversed in the US, as per this article from the New York Times.
Whoops, there’s another problem one sometimes is face with while trying to procure medical attention over in this continental “health care paradise” – at least in France, as Le Monde reminds us. You can probably guess it: your doctor can go out on strike, as it seems French GPs are doing this very day on a nationwide basis.
Closely related to that is that, again in France but likely elsewhere in Europe as well, your doctor is likely to belong to some sort of union. In fact, there are several French doctors’ unions, and they all have called for a strike today. Their grievance? They basically want the price doctors are allowed to charge for a consultation to rise to €23 (=$30.50); it seems the current price is €22. If that is all they’re getting angry about . . . citizens trapped in many other more privately-based health-care systems where a doctor’s visit tends to cost much more than €23 can only look on in envy.
A brief review here of an important European energy project: Nord Stream. That’s the natural gas pipeline currently being built under the Baltic Sea, connecting the Russian coastal town of Vyborg (Выборг, north of St. Petersburg, on the Finnish border) with a western terminal near the East German coastal town of Greifswald. But as the Nord Stream homepage explains, “[This] is more than just a pipeline. It is a new channel for Russian natural gas exports, and a major infrastructure project which sets a new benchmark in EU-Russia cooperation.”
All true, in a way. But the crucial fact that the website is in no hurry to mention is that this pipeline will deliver Russian natural gas to Germany while by-passing the countries through which a cheaper, overland pipeline would normally go, in particular Poland. To be sure, pipelines to Europe through Poland (and the Ukraine) already exist. But Russian relations with those countries are usually rather prickly; with the completion of Nord Stream, the Russian authorities will have the option within a few years to cut them out of natural gas transmission completely – literally to leave them out in the cold, with no gas, as has already happened this past decade during a number of winter-time confrontations with Ukraine. (more…)
But remember, this is above all a weblog with a European bent, so – if it makes you feel better – I can let you know (from an article in Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel) that a certain turbulence is also currently afflicting that model of social(ist) health care provision, the German Krankenkassen. Those are the non-profit, government-supervised insurance companies that cover the vast majority of Germany’s population and are restricted to basing their premiums solely on the insured’s income. (You’re required to have medical insurance coverage there, of course, with very few exceptions, although if you prefer you can buy it from purely-private, for-profit insurers instead.) As the article reports, the public Krankenkassen are now experiencing extraordinary customer-turnover, often in the hundreds-of-thousands. Why? Because the government authorized them in February to charge those they insure up to €8 (= $10.85) more per month in order to shore up their balance-sheets, and some of them took advantage of that.
That’s right: eight euros per month more! Apparently that’s a deal-breaker for many Germans, who in remarkable numbers have proceeded to resign from the Krankenkassen which implemented the measure (known as the Zusatzbeitrag, or “supplementary contribution”) to go join those which did not. It didn’t help that someone made an elementary mistake about how to implement it, in that they made any interested Krankenkasse have to bill customers directly for the extra amount, rather than just letting it be charged as medical insurance premiums normally are as a wage-deduction collected by employers.
Just a word here, then, to let all interested know that it is not always sweetness & light over where citizens need not worry about medical coverage. (Not that there’s any indication that the firms losing customers are in any danger of going bust – like I say, they are state-supported.)
The tales of mistreated youth at these institutions are continuing to multiply. There was sexual abuse coming from those who were supposed to care for them, to be sure. But far more pervasive was the intimidating atmosphere, often accompanied by violence: heads shoved down toilets; beatings; even confinement for extended periods in cells, like common criminals.
I’m not making any of this up, as I will shortly document, at least for those of you who read German. Yet long-time readers of this weblog – Hi Mom! – will remember my fondness for the “false lead,” where impressions about what a given blogpost is about gained from its opening lines turn out to be wildly off-the-mark. Surely I am describing here the Roman Catholic institutions, run by paedophile priests, whose reputations are now being blackened by accusations leveled against their administrators by former inhabitants? Actually, no; taking as my cue a new article by Alan Posener in Die Welt (Brutal daily life in DDR youth institutions), I am referring to the establishments for problem youths set up and run by the former Communist East Germany. (more…)