Archive for the ‘Denmark’ Category

Trump’s Military Flunky?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

This week German Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel returned from her three-week vacation in the Italian mountains. Her absence meant she had to miss the famed “Diesel Summit” on 2 August with all of the country’s auto manufacturers, but at least campaigning towards nationwide election happening next 24 September was set to a low simmer while she was away.

She returned still enjoying a healthy lead in the polls over her nearest competitor, former EU Parliament President Martin Schulz. Schulz represents the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, the country’s next-biggest political party after Merkel’s CDU, but also the one that is in the current government with her, as they formed a “Grand Coalition” together after the last election in 2013. That’s always an uncomfortable arrangement – having to cooperate within a government even as your colleagues from the other main party are your main election-rivals – and I’m sure both sides are looking forward to seeing it end after this next election.

From Germany’s northern neighbor, the Danish newspaper Politiken has identified something a little strange in the German campaign:

“Merkel wants to increase NATO funding.” “What’s so strange about that?” you might ask. After all, it’s well-known that Germany’s defense budget has long stood below the 2% of GDP that is prescribed (by 2024) for all NATO member-states; currently the figure is around 1.26%. It’s a rich country, and the economy (including tax-receipts) is now doing very well; indeed, it is the leading country on the European continent, at least politically and financially. No excuse, it would seem, not to hit that funding target.

But here you might forget who has been loudly demanding that Germany raise its defense-spending*: Donald Trump. And, already, Donald Trump is someone you don’t want to be associated with in the eyes of the German electorate.

Well, when you’re behind in the polls you’ll go with anything halfway-plausible that you can think of, right? Sure enough, Schulz and other leading SPD officials are now attacking Merkel for her stated intention to raise the country’s military spending, should she be re-confirmed in office (for the third time in a row) in the election. This sort of thing even comes from Germany’s current Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel (SPD):

For me, this means that Germany is subordinating itself to the American President. Up until recently I never believed that this was possible.

See what I mean about the awkwardness of Grand Coalitions? This is the person with whom Merkel still has to work closely – for another few weeks, at least – to formulate and carry out the country’s foreign policy.

Now admittedly, the military has always been a sore point in German politics, say, in the past seven decades or so. For example, it took the longest time even to overturn the law that once forbade German armed forces from being deployed outside the country. And we all know why that is, namely due to the rather unbridled use Germany made of its military some seventy-to-eighty years ago.

Still, it’s striking how Trump represents the Kiss of Death in Germany, even when it comes to policies for which you would think there would be general agreement. Here’s an idea: The German auto industry’s lobbying arm should try its best, at whatever cost, to get Trump to start singing the praises of electrically powered cars!

A final note: All of this could become academic. For the precise German election day is Sunday, 24 September, or the day after a widely accepted Internet meme claims the world will come to an end.

*Actually, in most of his statements Trump has made it sound like NATO members are required to pay 2% of their GDP to the US Treasury in exchange for defensive cover from the US military. It actually doesn’t work like that.

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Making Her Name in the West

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

A surprising summer TV ratings hit, in many countries, was the Women’s Football European Championship Tournament, just concluded this past Sunday and held at various stadiums in the Netherlands starting on 16 July.

As with all such tournaments, things only start to get really serious when it comes to the knock-out rounds, here the quarter-finals which were held on the weekend of 29-30 July. I tuned in then to the Germany-vs.-Denmark game, and was taken by surprise at the beginning when the stadium band played the Danish national anthem and – as is standard – the TV camera panned the line of starting Denmark players. One of them was definitely not like the others: not fair-skinned and blonde or standard brunette, but quite dark-skinned and dark-haired indeed. That was number 9, Nadia Nadim (also nothing near the typical Danish first or last name), who it turned out played as one of the forward strikers within Denmark’s 4-4-2 system.

Nadim actually scored, with a header, the goal that brought Denmark back to 1-1 against the Germans (cancelling out their goalkeeper’s terrible mistake that had allowed in a long-range strike for the Germans’ one goal), in a game the Danes would go on to win 2-1, a spectacular upset against the German women’s team that had won the last six such tournaments. She also scored Denmark’s first goal – an unstoppable penalty-kick – in the final against the Netherlands that the Danish team ultimately lost 2-4. And throughout the tournament (at least the games I watched) she was a dynamo of energy up there at the front of the Danish line.

But the equally interesting thing here is the back-story. Where is this lady from? This piece from The Local.dk explains things well enough, in English: She was born in Herat, Afghanistan, to a father who was an officer in the Afghan Army and was executed by the Taliban in 2000, whereupon she fled with her mother and siblings to Europe, to Denmark. (I believe hearing during a game broadcast that the original plan was actually to carry on to go live in England.)

Now 29 years old, she is starting striker for the Denmark women’s national team, as well as for the Portland Thorns in the (American) National Women’s Soccer League. But that’s not all: she ultimately will become a doctor, as she is also studying in Denmark towards her medical degree. (For those not in the know, that requires abilities in math and science.) PLUS, as this piece from the website of a Danish sports TV channel puts it, she speaks seven languages (Danish, English, German, French, Farsi, Urdu and Hindi) and can be interviewed in at least the first three listed. (Nadia quote from that sports-site piece: “I’m quite bright. You would hardly believe it – surprise!”)

Inevitably, then, she embodies themes that go far beyond the mere persona of Nadia Nadim herself, in several directions. There is the elevation of international women’s football in the general public interest that this particular tournament has helped achieve, with the related and important aspect that now, for once, girls interested in playing football finally have heroes there performing on TV to which they can relate, of their same gender. Except that these particular feats, of course, were pretty much achieved collectively by all the women players participating in that Euros tournament.

For Nadim, in addition, there is the refugee aspect, the fact that she certainly does not “look” very Danish – and indeed only became a citizen when she was 12-13 years old. I daresay, however, that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone calling for her to be thrown out of the country, even among Denmark’s most rabid anti-foreigner rabble (all tattoos, piercings and Viking-horns). Denmark has certainly had a problem within the context of the Europe-wide refugee crisis that exploded in mid-2015, and it’s fair to say the country has mainly tried to keep its doors closed; it’s anti-foreigner party, the Danish People’s Party, has had strong influence on each government since the turn of the century. In Germany, similar anti-foreigner sentiment has to some degree been tamped down through nation-wide delight at the success of the men’s football team, which features stars of Turkish, Tunisian, Ghanaian lineage and the like. Might the same thing happen in Denmark via Nadia Nadim?

Yet I feel there is an even greater point to be made here, by looking back to where she originally came from. My thoughts were turned in this direction when I recently came across this piece from De Volkskrant:


“In some parts of Afghanistan women aren’t even referred to by name.” First paragraph of the article:

Women in Afghanistan are often indicated as “mother,” “daughter,” “wife” or “grandma.” In some parts of the land the name is not even denoted on birth-certificates, and on the marriage license only the name of the groom and the father of the bride are to be read. It even happens that the name of a woman who has died is not put on her gravestone, but she is rather referred to as “wife of.” Certainly within conservative circles, it is just not done to use a woman’s name within the family environment.

That is what Nadia Nadim escaped when she fled with her family. Does anyone think she would have played football (there is no Afghan national women’s football team), learned seven languages, become a doctor had she stayed in Afghanistan? We all know that the chances are overwhelming that she would have been kept illiterate and barefoot, restricted her whole life long to the usual roles of child-bearer and household servant. For we know that one of the things the Taliban are quite serious about is that girls are not to be educated – just ask Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala. (Admittedly, Malala herself is Pakistani, but the point still applies. By the way, that sort of outside-imposed upholding of women’s rights still does not justify the continued presence in that country of foreign military forces, nor the trillions of dollars or many thousands of lives – native and foreign – that have been wasted there since 2001.)

It was only by escaping to the West that Nadim could develop and display her quite impressive personal potential – and only in these comparatively rich (could one say: “comparatively civilized”?) countries where the society that took her in could also benefit from her many gifts. Why are these other countries so poor? Admittedly, it is a complicated question, which certainly involves somewhat of a history of colonial exploitation. But Nadia Nadim shows that an important reason they are still poor is their unwillingness to allow women to contribute to society in all the ways that they can; and this has to be specified as a very grave problem centered around a certain religion, namely Islam.

P.S.: For those interested in hearing her speak English, here is an interview she did in Oregon as a Portland Thorns player. (When I have time, I’ll see if I can embed that here in this post – thanks for making it so difficult, WordPress.)

Also: It seems she mostly tweets in English, for whatever reason. Sure, that reason may be “because that’s not really her account” (it’s not verified), but take a look, it has pictures you imagine only she and her team-mates had access to, and the like.

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Not for the Faint-of-Heart Tourist

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

It’s that time of year now for making travel-plans, and so we see this from Vox’s Matt Yglesias:

voxdebt
Ah, but click through to actually read the article! (You do take care to do that every time, right?) Surveying the arguments actually presented there for going to Greece now, what one comes up with is: 1) Greece is cheap; 2) It’s the “right thing to do”; and 3) Greece is pretty safe (here citing figures from, of course, some past, more “normal” period that did not feature closed banks and a full-blown financial crisis).

Actually, Yglesias’ piece inadvertently presents some good arguments why not to go just now. “Bring cash to Greece” warns one of his section-headlines, and rightly so. First of all, more and more places won’t want you to pay with plastic, because current restrictions mean they can’t get quick access to that money. And while it may be true that cash-withdrawals for those using foreign credit- or debitcards are not limited, it’s likely going to be a struggle to find an ATM that has not run out of money.

When you do find one, do not assume that the Greeks’ supposed love for tourists extends to allowing them to cut in front of the long lines in front of those ATMs – so that it may well be empty by the time it is your turn. And don’t think that your efforts towards making it emptier by extracting your foreigner’s amount will be appreciated, either. Then consider the happy hunting-grounds for muggers made possible by the knowledge that everyone is carrying around so much cash, for burglars and room-thieves knowing that everyone has to store all that cash somewhere. (more…)

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Horror Flight 4U9525 On-Board Video

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

That story of that doomed Germanwings flight just will not die, and here is the latest revelation:

Mobilvideo
“Mobile video shows the last seconds before flight 4U9525 crashed.” Yes, while it is overwhelmingly likely that that Airbus 320 slammed into the side of a mountain at a typical airline-in-flight speed, it was still possible at least for a mobile phone’s removable memory-card (if not likely the mobile phone itself) to survive the impact and the resulting kerosene-fueled inferno (although the latter probably only by being thrown clear).

And so there has been a mobile-filmed video discovered of Flight 4U9525’s very last moments, filmed by somebody – whether crew or passenger – in a back row. It confirms much of what the French prosecutor’s office has been able to reconstruct by means of other evidence, for example that the airplane’s captain spent some time desperately trying to get back in the cockpit, including by hitting it with an axe. And that all on board were aware of their impending fate fairly early on; the video records all manner of anguished cries, of “My God!” and variations thereof in a number of languages. There is a new bit, though: apparently the airplane first hit the mountain with one of the wings, so that it was violently jerked to the side, or maybe swung around at high speed, before ultimate impact.

One quite curious thing here is the sheer phenomenon of someone whipping out their mobile in such a dire situation in order to film it. One could just say “Isn’t that just 2015 developed-country civilization for you?” although in my opinion the incident would only have truly reflected contemporary mores if what had been produced was rather a selfie-video, turned back on the phone’s owner to capture for posterity’s sake the facial expressions of his/her last moments on this Earth. We must offer heartfelt, if posthumous, thanks to that protagonist for resisting the temptation, turning the phone’s camera forward and thereby helping to fill in facts for the record.

Even more interesting, though, is the prospect of what happens next with this fortuitous video back in this world upon which the rest of us are left behind. Word slipped out about it in the first place after journalists from both France’s Paris Match and Germany’s Bild Zeitung were allowed to view it. The choice of the latter was particularly unfortunate, as the Bild has been an icon of (West) German culture for decades as the premier tabloid newspaper, by which I am not referring to physical form but rather to the rather older definition of “tabloid,” i.e. catering to a sensation-minded readership, featuring nude women upon its inner pages – that sort of thing.

Clearly, we “all” want to view that video, just as no one in the end turns out to be self-disciplined enough to avoid at least sneaking a peek while slowly driving past the site of a particularly gruesome highway accident. Yet “decency,” “responsibility” and, I suppose, respect for those who died militate against it ever being made more public than it already has been.

Early indications are not good: here is Paris Match’s “exclusive” account from that mobile-phone video, and here is Bild’s – both in English, as both publications have made sure that they have German, French and English versions on-line.

Again I ask: How long before the video itself is accessible to all on-line, somewhere? Probably not long.

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Switzerland = Star Climate Pupil

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Now about that Paris climate summit that is still scheduled to happen starting next 30 November . . .

Wait now, don’t nod off! I realize that coverage of such UN climate summits is supposed to intrude into our consciousness only when they are actually going on, and even then to confine themselves to newspapers’ back-pages, to some link way down at the bottom of the homepage.

But not in Denmark, at least. (Maybe that is due to some sense of guilt over the signal failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (“COP15”) at the end of 2009 – as if that were their fault. Or maybe it is due to the Danes actually being quite a bit more serious about renewable energy than most other lands.)

Schweiz
It’s a Danish article, from Politiken, but it’s not about Denmark: it’s about Switzerland, which “is first with a climate-plan” for that Paris summit at the end of this year. In the accompanying article by Politiken’s Ellen Ø. Andersen we learn some interesting things about how that summit will be structured that I did not know before. As she writes:

The idea to let countries themselves tell how much they will do [i.e. towards acting againt climate change] was thought up to prevent the same sort of fiasco as that which afflicted the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

When all the world’s leaders gather in Paris in December, in this way they will not argue about the amount of CO2 reduction – instead they can concentrate on other difficult questions such as financing and control mechanisms.

Sounds like a smart idea, although already the widely varying commitment among countries to this new set of rules has to be a little disheartening.

All countries in principle have to send in such a [national] plan before 1 April. In practice it is expected that only a smaller number of lands, mostly from among the world’s richest, will live up to that deadline. The other countries’ plans will be sent later, some even around the final deadline of 30 September.

But let’s shift our focus here back to the good news – Switzerland! Not only have the Swiss already sent in their plan – the first country to do so – but it seems mighty impressive: the Swiss want to halve their CO2 emissions from what was their 1990 level by 2030. This is even more than what it is anticipated will be proposed in a collective plan that the EU will draw up and submit on behalf of all its 28 member-states.

Then again: Switzerland is in a particularly favorable position to be able to set such a goal. It is a very mountainous country, of course, which means quite a lot of clean hydroelectric power is available. It also generates 36% of its power via nuclear plants, and apparently even boasts a culture in which storing long-term nuclear waste is considered a privilege which many local jurisdictions are willing to compete for.

As a result, as Ms. Andersen notes here, Switzerland already emits somewhat less CO2 than it did in 1990. So perhaps cutting that down to half 1990’s level within fifteen years is not so ambitious after all – indeed, that has been the gist of some criticism of its plan. Nonetheless, it’s the first hand-in of an assignment that every one of the world’s countries (or the EU collectively) has due, and so a handy reminder of both that task and the Paris summit’s greater task, which is nothing less than “to achieve . . . a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

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Seeing Freedom’s Light, Finally?

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Back not so long ago, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, this weblog took up a brief examination of behavior on the part of the authorities which seemed to belie the commitment to freedom of expression which supposedly was what had been assaulted by the three Parisian killers, and for which – there can be no doubt – those many thousands of citizens marched in the streets of Paris (and other French cities, indeed other cities throughout the world) on Sunday, 11 January. Indeed, when it soon came to the gumshoes hitting the pavement there turned out not to be much loyalty to free expression, but rather to the enforcement of a quite lopsided expression regime under which it is quite OK to mock Islam, but beyond the pale – indeed, arrestable – to mock or denigrate those who mock Islam or to express any sort of sympathy or understanding for why those killers acted as they did.

This much was clear quite soon in France, but unfortunately the same syndrome was also evident in Denmark, where some 23-year-old guy (among others) who expressed approval of the Paris killings was arrested when the authorities found out, and his apartment thoroughly searched.

Now, as of last weekend, we saw the same variety of Charlie Hebdo terror strike Denmark itself, with the shootings at the public debate over blasphemy and the arts, followed by an assault at Copenhagen’s historic Grand Synagogue, that in the end left a total of two innocents dead and many wounded. And as sure as mushrooms pop up out of the ground after a rainstorm, there followed commentators ready to praise the “sacrifice” of gunman Omar al-Hussein:

AarhusAK
You see that the name of the Facebook account and its associated photo-avatar has been obscured, but the accompanying Jyllands-Posten article tells us most of what we’d like to know: 26 years old; head of a family; of Palestinian origin; and he doesn’t even live in Copenhagen but rather near Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus, located on the Jutland peninsula. He’s identified simply as “AK,” and if he doesn’t win any style-points for originality, he at least is multi-lingual: you see that this Facebook update has not only Je suis Omar but also Vi er alle Omar (Danish for “We are all Omar” – I’d beg to differ) as well as Allah yerhamak (properly: الله يرحمك) or “God bless you.” (more…)

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Charlie! Send In the PC Police!

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Remember when you were 23 years old? Didn’t you also say stupid things? (If you’re not there yet: don’t worry, you will.)

Talsmand
“23-year-old charged with rejoicing over terror on Facebook.” This guy is supposed to be a spokesman for a Danish organization named Kaldet til Islam – “Called to Islam” – and he wrote some asinine stuff on Facebook. Specifically – from what I can make out here, the problem is not language, it is the paucity of details the authorities are willing to release – he put a “smiley-face” next to a link to an article about the Charlie Hebdo murders and added, in Arabic, something to the effect that God had been honored.

Then the article continues:

The 23-year-old is charged according to Criminal Law paragraph 136. This prescribes that whoever “publicly condones” actions covered under terror legislation is to be punished by a fine or imprisonment up to two years. Copenhagen police have additionally made a thorough search of the residence of the man in question in Copenhagen’s north-west district.[!] . . .

The police and prosecution authorities have in the past months slowly and painstakingly sought juridical authority for charging and prosecuting Muslims with Danish backgrounds who have expressed sympathy on social media with terrorist attacks and the Islamic State, without having to be able to show that those in question themselves have been involved in carrying out or planning terror.

Indeed, this 23-year-old is only the latest target, the article goes on to list two other Danes awaiting prosecution on these grounds: one who put on-line a photo of himself in Syria surrounded by decapitated heads, another who published a video urging people to “terror.”

Actually, it is handy that Berlingske makes mention of these two latter cases, since those are the sort that do merit prosecution. Now, expression must be free – isn’t that what we’re all up in arms about after those Charlie Hebdo killings? But free without limit? No, of course not, but within very broad limits that only have to do with the maintenance of public safety. I happen to like the classic American First Amendment standard that only begins to bring the force of the law down on speech once it is equivalent to “crying ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”

So that Danish Muslim in the photo surrounded by all the severed heads should not be prosecuted for the sheer fact of the photo; rather, such a photo can easily be used as evidence that he violated national laws about fighting for a terrorist organization. And that other Dane who urges everyone on to terrorism? I see that as equivalent to “‘Fire!’ in a public theater,” so set loose the law.

On the other hand, consider the 23-year-old. He puts something stupid up on Facebook and then finds himself arrested, and his apartment searched! What happened to just being able to dismiss such people as fools? Why can’t people be allowed to make up their own minds about something, rather than having society – through the law – impose its opinions by forbidding the very utterance of any alternatives? Were you aware that – way back in 1977 – the American Nazi party won a court case, which went all the way up to the US Supreme Court, that allowed it to march in uniform through a Chicago suburb (Skokie) where one-in-six of the inhabitants was a Holocaust survivor? Don’t you remember that, only a few centuries ago, people were persecuted if they questioned the doctrine that kings were God’s true emissaries, sent to rule over their lands with divine right?

For it’s all “Je suis Charlie!” now, don’t you know? That has to apply to all of us, whether we truly feel it or not; all of us must take a proud stand against limitations to free expression – and if you happen to express your disagreement with that, we’ll send in the police! That 23-year-old – foolish asshole though he clearly is – should be lauded rather than imprisoned: to be sure, not for what he wrote on his Facebook account (c’mon fellah, give us a wink that you didn’t really mean it!), but rather for his gesture that exposes the hollowness of all the “Je suis Charlie!” sanctimony.

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Polar Role-Reversal

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Among the world turmoil occupying us in this run-up to the 2014 Christmas period, one alarming development that you may well have missed was Denmark’s filing of a formal claim on Monday to the area of the North Pole. For some years – and particularly now that the melting of the Northern icecap is laying them bare – the considerable oil & gas natural resources said to be just under the Arctic Sea floor have piqued the interest of those countries lying along its periphery in trying to extend their sovereignties as far as possible into that area, consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

You’re right, Denmark does not itself border the Arctic Ocean; what does is Greenland, whose foreign and defense policies Denmark still controls, even as it otherwise enjoys self-government. Indeed, it is an underwater ridge that extends from Greenland through the Arctic area that constitutes the legal basis for Denmark’s claim.

So now we have this self-reflective comment from the website of DR, or Danmarks Radio, the Danish government-owned national TV and radio network.

Forsker_Nordpol
You could say this is a bold, even audacious, move and those interests it challenges directly (aside from the well-known seasonal actors – Hello Santa!) are mainly Canada and Russia. Particularly Russia, as we realize from this quote in the linked DR piece from a Danish journalist who has written extensively about the Arctic:

This is a gigantic piece of the sea-floor that Denmark and Greenland are now claiming. This extends – and this is the surprising thing – the entire way over to Russia’s nautical border. Danish politicians have therefore chosen to use all means provided to them by the UN’s oceans commission.

It is a surprise; this is Denmark we are talking about here. Or, as the comedian Craig Ferguson just put it:

The Danes are causing a bit of trouble. The kingdom of Denmark claimed the North Pole as their own. Hey, you can’t just reach out and take something if you want it, Denmark. That’s Russia’s job.

Indeed. That DR Nyheder tweet literally reads “Russia as meek as a lamb in the Arctic – we are the aggressive ones.” How could this be? This is Putin’s Russia we are talking about, after all, and the Danes, whose neighbors haven’t had anything to complain about since Viking times.

Could it have something to do with the very recent drastic weakening of Putin’s geopolitical position brought about by the collapse of the oil price and the ruble? Is the lack (so far) of Russian reaction the first sign we have that these troubles will likely tone down Russia’s behavior after all? Not according to Jakob Busk Olsen, who wrote this DR piece; he instead reckons that Russian decision-makers are too aware how the region is so hostile to man that absolute lack of conflict is necessary for anyone to be able to safely make the substantial investments (in offshore drilling platforms, etc.) to exploit those resources. Better to not rock the boat.

And why is Denmark acting so aggressively to safeguard to itself access to those presumed oil and gas deposits, when that country is among the world’s pioneers in transitioning away from fossil fuels? The key thing to remember here is that the Kingdom is actually acting on behalf of its semi-ward Greenland; it clearly would like to be rid of its remaining obligations there, but Greenland will eventually be able to stand on its own feet economically mainly with its own trousseau of fossil-fuel assets.

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ISIL Child-Soldier Recruitment

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Check out this happy playground picture: that smiling boy in the foreground, the other ones playing on a balance-beam behind.

Rekruttering
Of course, it is not that at all. This picture was taken in Raqqa, the Syrian desert town now functioning as headquarters for the outlaw organization known as the Islamic State. The Danish there reads “IS steps up recruiting of children in Syria,” and what we see here is no less than military training, which for the young lad up front in particular involves crawling through that child-sized tunnel whose circular exit we see there.

The recruitment and use of child-soldiers in Syria is a growing problem, actually not isolated to IS but to almost all warring parties there, including groups such as the Free Syrian Army supported by the West. (I write “almost” because it’s possible that the forces of the Syrian government do not have to resort to recruiting children; they merely have a well-documented record of torturing and executing them.) But the IS forces take this beyond what has seen before, according to a child-protection advisor to UNICEF, Laurent Chapuis, who was interviewed for this Politiken article. Says Chapuis:

ISIS’ recruiting of children is possibly the clearest current example of of a new pattern of aggressive recruitment through ISIS’ use of social media. Social media are used to promote the group’s ideology, agenda and political vision, including the mobilization and use of children.

One obvious question, though: how do we really know about what the IS is allegedly doing with children at its own Syrian headquarters? After all, the deadly conditions for Western reporters wherever this Islamic group holds sway has been lamented for the “blindness” it results in, which both Western governments and publics have to deal with when trying to figure out what is really going on there.

It turns out, however, that there do exist certain information sources. That picture at the head of the Politiken article, and in the tweet, itself comes from a recently-formed group called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” consisting of daring local residents there who gather photos and other information and then get that out to the wider world (yes, mainly via social media). This organization is headed by a certain Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi; here is his Twitter-feed (click on the image to go there):

Raqqawi
(“Raqqawi,” by the way, is Arabic for “from Raqqa,” just in case you had any doubts that this is an alias.)

Lea Wind-Friis, the Politiken reporter who wrote the article, mentions trying to contact Mr. Raqqawi to gain information for it but failing, which is understandable. However, a writer for the respected American journal Foreign Policy did manage to speak with him earlier on, and his accounts of what is going on there form a substantial part of her article entitled Children of the Caliphate – in English, free, and published only last week, which recounts IS child recruitment and mobilization in detail – including teaching very young boys to behead people and to operate as suicide-bombers.

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Dispatches from the Front (& Behind)

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Yes, today was the day for that “referendum” in Eastern Ukraine, while towards the evening there was apparently some shooting incident involving a mob and some soldiers at a place called Krasnoarmiisk. No doubt we’ll all hear about that soon, but just as I write this Twitter is still trying to figure out exactly what went on there.

In the meantime a number of other interesting tweets have passed through the timeline. This from Danish Radio:

Lejesoldater
“German media: American mercenaries in Ukraine.”

We saw this at large scale in Iraq, namely US ex-military goons earning many multiples of their former soldier’s pay while basically doing the same thing – but with much looser rules about when they could fire their guns – out of uniform. It was Blackwater that was premier (although not alone) among companies that provided such services; those folks are clearly so ashamed of what they did there that they changed the company’s name to “Xe Services” in 2009 and then again to “Academi” in 2011! Oh yes, they’re in the higher education business now!

Rather, it’s “Academi” men, around 400 of them, who have been sighted now in Ukraine. That’s according to German sources, including Der Spiegel (in German). It’s said they are being paid by Ukrainian oligarchs (really the only ones around there who have the money); it’s further said that they are even now in support of Ukrainian units engaged against the rebellious town of Slovyansk.

Then there is this, from Die Welt:

T160
“Moscow’s vice-premier: Next time I’ll come with a Tu-160.” For your information, the Tupolev Tu-160 is Russia’s top-of-the-line strategic bomber.

What prompted this sort of outburst? It was emitted by Dimitri Rogozin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and therefore clearly one of Vladimir Putin’s right-hand men. His mission last Friday, Great Motherland Victory Day, was to fly to Transnistria, the Russian-speaking break-away region of Moldova which is to the west of Ukraine, in fact to pick up a petition and deliver it back to Moscow. (There’s little doubt that the petition had to do with ethnic Russians there pleading for help from Mother Russia and so seeking to open a Ukrainian Western Front. Ever since the region split away from Moldova in 1990 there have been Russian soldiers in place to protect it, and they currently number 1,500.)

If you look at the map, you have to wonder how Rogozin even managed to fly into Tiraspol, that territory’s capital. It’s not really on the coast; you’d have to fly over Ukraine or Moldova or Romania, none of which would be likely to give permission.

Rogozin did make it, even as Romania explicitly denied overflight authorization. That’s what prompted him to tweet about coming back next time in a modern bomber. Nasty words, but check out the Romanian reaction, according to the reporter (no byline; credited to several news agencies):

The [Romanian] Foreign Ministry issued a reminder that Romania is a member of the EU and of NATO. It demanded from Moscow an explanation whether Rogozin’s statement was the official position of the Russian government[!]

Meanwhile, according to this same Die Welt piece, while Rogozin may have made it to Tiraspol, he was thwarted when it came to the Transnistrian petition – somehow the Moldovan authorities had gotten to it first. But how could they do that, without staging their own mini-invasion of Transnistria? The article doesn’t say.

Ah, here’s the explanation, in English, from Thomson Reuters where they report that Rogozin did wind up returning triumphally with the Transnistrian petition after all.

UPDATE: Conveniently, the NYT has come out with a timely reminder-piece about Blackwater in Iraq and what I meant by “much looser rules about when they could fire their guns” – they perpetrated the “My Lai Massacre of Iraq.”

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Putin: Banish Smurfs into Exile!

Monday, May 5th, 2014

It’s the military clashes in eastern Ukraine that are deservedly getting all the media attention now, those between the Ukrainian “neo-fascist nazi’s” on the one hand and those pro-Russian “terrorists” on the other. But there is at the same time an undercurrent of reports about how Russian society itself has recently changed, and how it is changing as Vladimir Putin whips up war-fever to rally his citizens around his authoritarian rule.

It’s often very ugly, such as with the website that has been set up to list publicly the Russian Federations greatest “traitors” – check it out, the very URL (http://predatel.net) is the transliteration of the Russian word for “traitor” (предател). No surprise, at the top of the list you’ll find the anti-corruption blogger and Moscow mayor also-ran (but barely) Alexei Navalny, currently under house arrest and prohibited from communicating with anyone (including via Internet) other than his family.

But this can take a turn to the ludicrous as well:

Putin_noSmurfs
From the Czech Television website: “In the service of ideology. Putin wants to forbid the Smurfs.” (Šmouly – that’s “Smurfs” in Czech. I don’t know what their name is in Russian – reader tips are welcome! UPDATE: And they have arrived! It’s Смурфики.)

Of course, it’s not actually Putin himself. It’s rather the Russian Education Ministry which has proposed banning the Smurfs from Russian TV as “damaging to youth,” but Putin has given this his blessing. And that’s not all: other series such as South Park and the Simpsons are likely to be under similar review soon. (more…)

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Tracking the Mystery Flight

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

UPDATE: The BBC caught the “10 Theories about Flight MH370’s disappearance” meme around the same time as Gazeta Wyborcza (discussed below), so I would be remiss to not refer you to their piece, which of course is in English and also extensive (and fanciful, in places).

It’s amazing to realize that, come Friday, it will be a full two weeks since Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370’s complete disappearance from Southeast Asian skies, with a “Good night” from the co-pilot (local time was just past midnight) the very last message received, some forty minutes in. With some sources saying that finding the plane could still be a matter of weeks, one can only marvel at the patience of those actually sailing in or flying over the areas of the Indian Ocean now being searched, gamely putting up with what must be an excruciatingly boring needle-in-a-haystack ordeal.

What’s more, there is as yet no sort of confirmed explanation for what exactly happened. But at least accessing the foreign press can help one plug into that greater “hive mind” out there in the world to at least start evaluating possibilities.

Zloto
10 hipotez – that’s 10 hypotheses, the ten most-likely possibilities for the story behind Flight MH 370 based upon facts and analysis Piotr Cieśliński of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has been able to gather. (more…)

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“We’re Watching You in Sochi!”

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Sochi, Sochi, Sochi – yes, here comes that particular subject again, but after all, today are the opening ceremonies. Not that I care to write about those here; far more entertaining are the travails of those showing up to that “sub-tropical” town on the Black Sea coast only to confront the sad fact of how little that is tangible the equivalent of $51 billion will get you in Russia these days.

I already referred you in the last post to the excellent Twitter-feed @SochiProblems. That is already a roaring success, as we can see from the fact that 1) It already has more followers than the official @Sochi2014 feed; and 2) It has attracted a competitor, @SochiFails, which is smaller in its own follower-dom but still quite amusing and not all that redundant from what you see on @SochiProblems.

But the truly amusing development is the push-back to all these reports of “Sochi is not ready” recently offered from Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Kozak:

Minister_Afviser
That’s “Minister rejects criticism of Olympic Games hotels: We are monitoring the rooms by video.” Imagine that! Now, it’s not too long in this article that DR makes reference to its source in the Wall Street Journal, so feel free to go there to get all the details in English.

Still, even before you do that, let me give you this from that WSJ piece:

Dimitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, seemed to reflect the view held among many Russian officials that some Western visitors are deliberately trying to sabotage Sochi’s big debut out of bias against Russia. “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” he said. An aide then pulled a reporter away before Mr. Kozak could be questioned further on surveillance in hotel rooms. “We’re doing a tour of the media center,” the aide said.

Whew, looks like that aide got Kozak out of the way just in time before he could insert foot-in-mouth further!

A spokesman for Mr. Kozak later on Thursday said there is absolutely no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by guests. He said there was surveillance on premises during construction and cleaning of Sochi’s venues and hotels and that is likely what Mr. Kozak was referencing. A senior official at a company that built a number of the hotels also said there is no such surveillance in rooms occupied by guests.

Let’s see, that last would be a “senior official at a company” whose friend-of-Putin owner certainly received lavish overpayments in exchange for delivering up this late and sub-standard performance, right? As for there being “no such surveillance,” it has long been established that any electronic means of communication anyone takes there is going to get hacked.

And then all this alleged deliberate sabotage by people hell-bent on tarnishing Sochi’s reputation! Verily, the pressure is on now and these high Russian government officials are showing their true colors.

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“Super Bowl” in Danish

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

From the homepage of DR, Denmark’s state TV and radio broadcaster (which, even in Denmark, by no means exhausts the radio or even TV choices available there through the airwaves):

DK_SuperBowl

Be there: Super Bowl for beginners

One of the world’s biggest sporting events goes on this evening, when the Super Bowl is played. Get answers to your most important questions here.

But there is a particular line of inquiry about which DR feels visitors might be particularly interested. We’ll soon see just what that is below, but first:

Sports economists: Super Bowl is a gigantic advertisement-show

VIDEO: Super Bowl can set a record for cold

American football is created for the Americans.

Peyton Manning picked as the NFL’s best player.

Finally, here we go:

READ ALSO: Brain injuries are a threat for American football

READ ALSO: Why concussions are dangerous

Gee – mentioned at the end not once but twice! Bunch of wimps! American football was indeed made for Americans,* and not for these cheese-eating . . . er, foreign weaklings! At least the DR writers were astute enough to put forward the topic of advertisement much nearer the top, as that truly gets much closer to the essence of what the entire phenomenon is about.

* Which is not to say that the NFL is not doing it’s very best (e.g. multiple regular-season games played at London’s Wembley Stadium) to widen the pasttime’s appeal outside of North America.

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DONGed in Denmark

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Did you know that the largest energy company in Denmark (76% owned by the Danish State – for now) is named DONG (formerly Dansk Olie og Naturgas A/S)? That’s just the tasty opening tidbit to an interesting tale currently resounding within that country’s halls of power, as reported on the webpages of Denmark’s public broadcast company, DR (formerly known as Danmarks Radio).

DONG
The problem is, DONG needs money for further infrastructure investments. Fortunately, it seems to have found an outside investor willing to purchase an ownership stake. Unfortunately, that investor is rather too “outside,” as in from “outside” the country.

In today’s European Union that should not really be any sort of issue. Cross-border investments are supposed to be able to proceed unimpeded; indeed, public tenders are to be awarded blind to the nationality of the bidding companies (as long as they are from EU member-states).

Still, especially when it’s about the company that heats so many national homes – and in a cold Scandinavian climate – it’s natural to have a preference for business dealings with fellow nationals. That preference is further sharpened here from the fact that it’s no less than Goldman Sachs who is the foreign party lined up to do the investment. And wouldn’t you know it:

One of the [deal’s] points of criticism is that Goldman Sachs has placed the investment in a tax haven, so the State would lose tax receipts in connection with payment of dividends from profits.

The Vampire Squid doesn’t miss a trick!

OK, but the tale does not end there: four Danish pension funds have now collectively come up with the money to make the investment instead. But the problem is that their bid might simply be too late, maybe: it’s hard to interpret the rules here.

In any case, the Danish Finance Minister, Bjarne Corydon, will chair a meeting on Tuesday to make a decision. Goldman Sachs representatives likely expect things to be all arranged then, but Minister Corydon – and even the Danish PM herself, Helle Thorning-Schmidt – are getting pressure to go with the pure-Danish alternative, however last-minute. This lobbying is coming in particular from the Danish People’s Party, (in)famous for its generally ultra-nationalist policy stances and general contempt for the EU, but for all that still quite influential within Danish politics.

While hardly the most enthusiastic EU member-state, Denmark still has a good record for keeping to the rules. Here, though, the argument for national chauvinism seems strong, considering the counterparty.

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RIP For The Castaway

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Oh, did he ever spend a long, long time stuck on that Pacific island, with prospects for rescue always so distant and remote. Still, he managed to hold out for many years, and all that while to be a source of support and strength for those stuck there with him, and perhaps that’s what we should recall now as we mourn his death.

Wait . . . you say you completely agree with me about the Professor? From Gilligan’s Island? Sorry, my friends, I know everyone – in the US, at least – is talking about Russell Johnson. But here I’m afraid you’ve run once again into one of the favorite tricks of any columnist, the Think-it’s-about-one-thing-then-it-turns-out-to-be-another gambit.

Stndrd_Japaans
Or, if you like:
DR_Japansk
The “islander” I’m talking about – and the Philippines are after all a bunch of islands – is LT Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army, recently dead of a heart attack at 91, who was one of that crazy band of left-behind soldiers who got the word much too late that Japan had surrendered, and who himself only stopped fighting and came out of the jungle some 29 years after the war’s end, in 1974. And even after he was discovered there by an outsider – the Danmarks Radio piece says it was by a Japanese “hippie” – he refused to actually lay down his arms until his superior officer in the War, a Major Taniguchi who in the meantime had become a bookstore-owner, came to the Philippines jungle to order him to do so.

This is quite a character, although take a look at the full head-shot featured at the top of the piece from De Standaard. Doesn’t he look like the kindly old Japanese granddad-in-law you always wanted to have? (more…)

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Nemesis

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

That’s the name for the spirit of divine retribution in Greek mythology, we are told, which exacted its vengeance against those exhibiting hubris, another classic mythological concept.

Nemesis is now knocking on the door of the British government, specificallly the British Ministry of Defense, as is apparent from revelations over the past weekend from the Süddeutsche Zeitung:
Irak_gefoltert
Abu Ghraib, it would seem, was no isolated incident; if these allegations hold true, then the British Army was itself engaged in the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners – although not at Abu Ghraib, it had built its own prisons of horrors, most nearer to Basra. This included death while in captivity:

The 26-year-old widower Baha Mousa died after two days in British captivity. The autopsy reported 93 injuries – abrasions, lacerations and broken ribs. Listed cause of death: suffocation.

“A regrettable, isolated incident,” was the explanation for this from the British authorities. Others beg to differ, specifically the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), with offices in Berlin, which has teamed up with the Birmingham-based human rights law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), in particular to prove not isolated but systematic mistreatment of detainees in British custody in Iraq to the satisfaction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They’ve brought together testimony from 109 former prisoners, with complaints spanning various time-periods within 2003-2008, and at differing locations – which would seem to tend towards the “systematic.” (more…)

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Thais Just Wanna Have Fun

Monday, January 13th, 2014

It’s a whole ‘nother world over there, another culture, but among the public holidays they celebrate over in Thailand, New Year’s Day is one of the few a Westerner would be able to recognize. Perhaps then we can assume that today marked a similar “back-to-work-from-the-holidays” day there, meaning that anti-government protestors went back to work as well on what they called “Black Monday” to press their political demands by blocking key interesections and generally bringing normal life in Bangkok to a halt.

It’s just that things have not really turned out that way, as the reporter-on-the-scene for the Danish newspaper Politiken, Claus Blok Thomsen, recounts. (And note Bangkok is 7 hours ahead of GMT, Monday’s events there are now done.)

Bangkok_Roskilde

“The demonstrators have in any event not succeeded in closing down Bangkok,” he writes.

Traffic is functioning normally in most places, and one can in fact get around in the city. . . . So far the mood has been very relaxed. I have just been down to see the location, Silom Road, where the demonstrators have set up. There are crowds of people. One can best characterize the mood as a mix of a popular festival such as Roskilde* and a demonstration. There is loud music, people walking around with funny glasses in the Thai national colors, and there are foodstands and tents where people can spend the night.

Perhaps that’s only natural in a tropical paradise, on a day when it was 28°C with no precipitation. But that may perhaps also explain why Thai street demonstration campaigns never seem to end.

* That Roskilde reference is to Northern Europe’s biggest rock festival, occuring this year 29 June – 6 July just south of Copenhagen. Buy your tickets today!

UPDATE: OK, maybe fun time’s over. “Dozens wounded in Bangkok as a grenade explodes at a demonstration.”
Thailand_Granat

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Osama’s Traffic Violation

Friday, July 12th, 2013

One bit of news that mostly slipped under the radar earlier this week was the release of a report by leading Pakistani officials, said to be two years in the making, concerning how it could have been possible for Osama Bin Laden to have lived in Pakistan for so long – for around nine years, in fact – during a period when he was the world’s undisputed Public Enemy #1, with EVERY BIT of the humongous US intelligence establishment searching actively for him along with any number of allied intelligence agencies. Not to include the “allied” Pakistani intelligence agency, however, the ISI, the one that really would have mattered.

No, instead this report cites “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” for the failure of the ISI to realize that, for most of this period, Osama was holed up in a walled compound in Abbottabad, only 110 km north of the capital Islamabad and in fact the city where no less than the Pakistani Officers’ Academy (that is, the Pakistani equivalent of West Point) is situated!

It was a four-man commission that wrote this report, according to the New York Times account, namely a judge on the Pakistani Supreme Court joined by a retired police officer, army general and diplomat. In their report these eminent gentlemen “allowed for the possibility that some security officials had covertly helped Bin Laden,” stating at one point that “[c]onnivance, collaboration and cooperation at some levels cannot be entirely discounted.” The Washington Post account cites their conclusion that “[t]he failure was primarily an intelligence-security failure that was rooted in political irresponsibility.” Indeed, both news pieces state that this report from the so-called Abbottobad Commission was never meant to be made public, that the only reason we are hearing about it now is that al-Jazeera managed to get hold of a copy and publish it on their website.

That is all well and good. But all of us can understand how “secret” reports can ultimately and intentionally find their way to public exposure nonetheless. I’d like to suggest that that is what happened here: this is nothing but a whitewash, yet another distraction which has successfully kept the cruel truth from sinking in among the American public that a leading “ally,” to whom the US Treasury has paid some $18 billion in military and economic aid since the September 11 attacks, deliberately and systematically hid the main perpretator behind those attacks, and continuously lied in response to any and all enquiries. Here, I’ll let Jon Stewart explain, who as you’ll see had somewhat of a personal stake in the matter:

[Sorry, I removed this video – and took WAY too long in doing so, apologies – because it had the tendencey to “auto-play” when readers visited this page. The link is here, if you’re interested; the gist is that Jon Stewart remarks on how he had been lied to re: Osama Bin Laden when interviewing former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on a past show.]

Fine, then, this Abbottabad report is little more than a 336-page steaming pile of misinformation. That doesn’t mean that it can’t have useful bits here and there. Human interest angles, for example – like it seems that Osama Bin Laden himself was stopped in Pakistan for a traffic violation, for speeding, “but the police officer failed to recognize him and let him go.” That last bit is from the NYT piece, but that’s about all there is there about that. And there is nothing about any traffic violation incident in the Washington Post account. (more…)

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Debate As Fast Food

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

So tonight we have coming up the second debate between the two American presidential candidates. There is already great anticipation, since the first one reminded us all that these can indeed materially effect presidential races, as seen in the recovery of Mitt Romney’s poll numbers over the past two weeks. All the Obama fans out there will be desperate for the President to perform rather better this time.

But how about a reality check from the leading Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende?

Amerikanske seere vil ikke have saglig information, men en klar vinder i præsident-debatterne http://t.co/91hMGb0k

@berlingske

Berlingske


Yes, it’s Danish, let me give you a translation of the piece’s lede:

[TV] Viewers don’t want to have factual information in this sort of a debate, they want to have a winner, and the post-debate talk of TV commentators means more for the outcome than the debate itself.

C’mon, admit it! It’s true! The writer of this piece, Poul Høi (who was Berlingske’s US correspondent for a long time, and whom this blog has covered before), likens this to what people generally tell pollsters they prefer to eat – wholesome, organic food, of course! – versus the fast food a World Health Organization study has shown they consistently chow down instead. We’re all just fooling ourselves.

But the real problem is that Obama would definitely win re-election if the decision was up to Danish voters, and certainly if up to the Danish press. Høi makes no secret that he was terrified by Obama’s performance last time, and the related prospect that Mitt Romney could actually win the presidency. From the latter’s demeanor – reinforced by Joe Biden’s subsequent forceful performance in the VP debate – it’s clear to him that it doesn’t matter what one says, victory instead goes to whomever is perceived as the bigger “Alpha male.” That is what Barack Obama has to make himself into tonight.

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Not So Isolated

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?

The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.

The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.

But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:

iDnes: Klaus a Telička schvalují rozvážnost v Bruselu, ČSSD varuje před izolací: Prezident Václav Klaus označil … http://t.co/Qh043Qmm

@Zpravy

Zpravy


(more…)

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“People’s Shares,” Anyone?

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Here’s a “Wall Street” investment opportunity for you, brought to our attention by the Danish business newspaper Børsen:

Wall Street putter 10 dollar i Christiania http://t.co/mHIuhLHb

@borsendk

borsen.dk


“Christiania”? That’s the renegade area of Copenhagen which since its initial squat in 1971, on what had been an abandoned area of the city’s defenses, has styled itself the “Freetown” of Christiania, subject (by and large) to its own laws and maintenance of public order rather than those of the Danish state. (We’ve had occasion to cover this subject here before.)

The problem is, Christiania needs money. The area is still government land, strictly-speaking, and the new strategy of the Danish government for cracking down on it is to have the residents buy it, for 76 million Danish crowns (a little over €10.2 million), if they want to stay there. They’ve got until 1 April 2012 to come up with the first installment of DKK 46 million (a little over €6 million); so far they have been able to gather together a little over DKK 4 million into their Freestate Christiania Fund.

In the spirit of Willie Sutton, then (“because that’s where the money is!”), the fund has dispatched a representative to Wall Street, an “economics advisor” named Risenga Manghezi, to push Christiania folkeaktien (“people’s shares”) there. But the piece’s headline (and the tweet) reveals what “success” Manghezi has had so far: she has raised $10.

That probably should come as little surprise. For what are these “people’s shares” exactly? An earlier piece in Børsen on Christiania’s buy-out plan (actually, a “leader” or opinion article whose title is “Good for you, Christiania”) fills in details on what writer Christopher Arzrouni calls “a nice initiative, but also a paradox”:

You decide yourself how much you want to pay, and people will not worry about how much the people’s shares rise or fall in value. It is in fact not a proper share. People receive a symbolic co-ownership and support something that is not commercial.

Maybe that meager success – so far – in gaining money from Wall Street is not such a surprise after all. Still, in the original article referenced by the tweet Manghezi declares him(her?)self delighted at the “fantastic” way things have been going: “This has been a big challenge to get through to these men in suits, but the most important thing is that the shares have been in Wall Street’s hands. This is really important symbolically.” Manghezi next plans to cross the tracks to visit the Occupy Wall Street protestors to see if she might get some interest in her folkeaktien for Christiania there.

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Denmark Looks On In Horror

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Some reactions from the Danish press to the Oslo bombing/Utøya massacre:

  • Here’s your connection between the two episodes: As Jyllands-Posten reports, the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who barely escaped injury in the capital, was scheduled today to be on Utøya to address the young people there at what was after all a summer camp run by the Labor Party, of which Stoltenberg is the head. (That article also has at the top a brief video giving a helicopter-view of the island itself – and of some swimmers desperately trying to get away from it.)
  • Another Danish mainstream paper, Berlingske, wields the obvious parallel: A Norwegian Timothy McVeigh. It quotes a few experts who maintain that the likelihood for violent incidents of this kind should have been apparent from extreme-right literature, imagining future race-wars and the like, that has been circulating in Scandinavia for a while. And it examines the alleged shooter’s social media trail and unearths his self-description as a conservative Christian fed up with the Norwegian Church’s hyper-modernism, wanting it to get “back to basics.” Right, back to Jesus and his disciples, presumably – a notorious gang of killers . . .
  • As for a Christian Danish paper, namely the Kristeligt Dagblad . . . well, they get it wrong. Very wrong. Their on-line article Here is why Norway became a target for terror, datelined today (Saturday, 23 June 2011), goes on and on about why Norway is logically a target for Muslim extremists, even as the caption to the picture up top mentions the arrest of “a 32-year-old strongly nationalistic man.” It’s hardly the only media outlet to fall into this trap – frankly, I was hearing a lot about “Muslim terror” on the BBC World Service during its initial coverage – but that’s no excuse. Don’t be surprised if the article is gone, or at least heavily modified, should you decide to click through to see it.

Finally, back on a somewhat lighter note, Prince was actually supposed to play Oslo today and tomorrow, in concerts that had long been sold out, reports Berlingske. Obviously, those can’t go ahead just now, but these performances are merely postponed, not canceled, and also not by much: just two weeks to 2 & 3 August. The Purple One might well be advised to avoid Controversy and bring along no Chaos & Disorder.

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Florida Forbids Sex

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

It’s been a warm Spring over here in Europe – global warming you know, April set some sort of record – which at least means early traffic on the beaches of the local coastlines and lakes. That’s something many areas of the United States enjoy almost year-round, like Florida, say – but it seems people there now have to keep their baser beach instincts in check now that the state legislature, in effect, has outlawed sex. And it has not gone unnoticed on Twitter how this could be ill-advised, in view of the state’s popularity as a honeymoon destination.

This rather startling news comes from David Tarp of the mainstream Danish daily Berlingske Tidende. No worries, though, if you’re rubbing your head and wondering “What the . . .” for he admits to having taken the news from this article in the Huffington Post that will explain everything. What the legislature thought it was doing was outlawing bestiality, but depending on how you want to interpret the word “animal” it might very well be that they outlawed all sexual intercourse, even between human animals.

That Huffington Post piece now carries an update making the case that judges will surely interpret “animal” in such a way that excludes humans. But for David Tarp’s Danish audience that’s almost irrelevant. The real point, of course, is to poke fun at what is seen as priggish American moral attitudes. He underlines his point with his choice as the piece’s illustration of a photo of the Florida governor on a beach checking out a couple young women – an image rated PG, I suppose, in that the rear of their bikini bottoms, shall we say, are in the Brazilian style. (Too bad that’s Charlie Crist, whom Tarp doesn’t bother to identify as the state’s ex-governor.) He also mentions at the end that, after all, laws banning oral or anal sex were in effect “in many American states” {i.e. not necessarily in Florida) until a Supreme Court decision of 2003 finally abolished them

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Udder Nonsense from Denmark

Friday, November 12th, 2010

“It will take more than bare breasts to keep away terrorists.” I should hope so! Believe it or not, though, that’s the observation attributed in a recent article in the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende to Manu Sareen, a local politician in Copenhagen for the Radikale Venstre (i.e. social-liberal) Party.

But don’t immediately write off Herre Sareen as some sort of pornographic-minded fool. Rather, in his parallel role (to that of politician, not fool) as expert on the question of integrating foreigners into Danish society he has been called upon to react to a proposal from a much more prominent Danish politician, namely Peter Skaarup, who is vice-chairman of the powerful (and immigrant-hating) Danish People’s Party – who actually might be the buffoon here. At issue is the Danmarksfilm, the film shown in Danish embassies abroad to those applying to immigrate to Denmark, intended to give those foreigners an accurate picture of what Danish culture is all about. According to Skaarup, it’s time to spice it up a bit, add a little of the ol’ T&A – because, after all, Danish women do like to go topless on the beaches (heck, even occasionally in city parks) in the summer, and maybe the prospect of having to encounter this will so put off Islamic fundamentalists that they will tear up their immigration applications right then and there in their local Danish embassy!

(BTW I understand that there is already something similar in the video that immigrants wanting to live in the Netherlands have to see when they apply, except that in this case it includes not women’s breasts but men walking around holding hands and kissing, to make clear the much more tolerant attitude to homosexuality that prevails here. As far as I know, the logic behind this is purely along the lines of “Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” and not any misguided strategy to dissuade people from applying to come here in the first place.)

This Skaarup guy may be a much bigger political hotshot, but local counselor Sareen has got his number, in fact two of them, in this matter:

In the first place, they’ve seen enough bare breasts before. In the second, it’s completely foolish to believe that fundamentalists who are so extreme that they want to blow Denmark up can be frightened away by bare breasts.

Here at EuroSavant we’ll try to stay in front of further developments along this line, if any. As for Danish policy, maybe Skaarup’s suggestion is not such a bust after all: the result could turn out to be increased demand in much of the Western world for admittance to the film rooms of Danish embassies, and maybe even to Denmark itself!

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Danish View: Chaos Ahead for US

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“The American people this evening flunked President Obama’s first two years as president,” runs the first paragraph of an analysis of the US midterm election results by the US-based correspondents for the Danish daily Politiken, Thomas Berndt and Jesper Vangkilde. Their headline even speaks of the president’s “big spanking.”

They summarize for Danish readers the fundamental numerical results: House lost for the Democrats, Senate retained (as Majority Leader Harry Reid “saves his political career”), and a Republican wave also taking over most state governors and legislatures. What this means for the future: “Over the slightly longer-term political chaos [awaits] in Washington, unless the parties can find a way to work together.” The authors also make mention of the “especially offensive” defiance directed at the president by “one of the election campaign’s absolute key figures,” Sarah Palin: (Translated back from the Danish) “We’re sending representatives to Washington to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough.”

Over at the opinion newspaper Information, their long-time American affairs commentator Martin Burcharth takes a more philosophical tone (Varied outlook for cross-political cooperation). All things will pass, he assures the reader; sudden shifts in American political fortunes are really “quite common,” citing history back to Jimmy Carter (hero in 1976; goat in 1980) to prove his point. This latest heavy midterms defeat for the Democrats and President Obama need not be regarded as any real sort of tragedy.

Rather, anything is still possible for the 2012 elections, and Burcharth offers the president two possible strategies for success. He can tack to the political center (as former Clinton political advisor Paul Begala recommends) and push a new program of extensive public works, pushed as a “jobs plan,” which Republicans would not dare to oppose. Or he can stay on the left (the advice of Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and launch a crusade against the Big Industry and Big Finance that got America into the economic mess it is in. That will also mean cutting taxes on the poor and middle-class, but not for the rich: the latter should be required to pay for their misdeeds!

Whichever he chooses, Burcharth recognizes that prospects for real cooperation between the president and the Republicans in Congress will probably last only until around the end of next year, when politicking for the 2012 elections begins in earnest. In fact, he offers the rather cynical recommendation that Democrats make full use of the “lame duck” period still open to them – i.e. when they still have majorities in both Houses, before the newly-elected representatives and Senators come to take their seats – to enact major legislation such as immigration reform and even new climate/energy legislation (always a leading Danish concern). No cooperation with political opponents even required!

It’s ingenious, in a way – except that Burcharth forgets that, even today, the Democrats’ Senate majority is only 59, which causes certain complications of its own in passing legislation, and in any event exploiting the “lame duck” session that way somewhat contravenes American ideas of political legitimacy.

UPDATE: What do you know, the Rude Pundit also sees great merit in that “use the lame duck session to pass some serious legislation” argument of Martin Burcharth’s, and develops it further. But beware: he’s rude! (Sample language: “No, you need to blow us, Boehner and McConnell.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

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Latest Danish Super-Bridge

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Denmark (see the adjoining map, click to enlarge) is very much, if not exclusively, an island-nation. And Denmark remains quite prosperous as well, having so far weathered the financial crises and “Great Recession” of the past few years with aplomb. These two facts have combined to produce a wave of bridge-building projects over the past fifteen years or so – after all, if there’s plenty of government money, why not use some of it to ease inter-island communications? First the Danish authorities built the Great Belt Bridge (almost 7 km long) connecting the island of Fyn with that of Sjælland (where Copenhagen is situated) in 1998. (On the map, it’s in the middle, linking up “Nyborg” on the left/West with “Korsør” on the right/East.) Then in 2000 the Øresund Bridge (almost 8km long) was opened connecting Copenhagen with the Swedish mainland city of Malmö.

The next project will be creating a link ultimately to connect Copenhagen with Hamburg, one that crosses that strait you see there at bottom labeled “Fehmarn Bælt” between the Danish Rødby Havn (North) and the German Puttgarden (South). Right now a couple of commercial ferries serve cars, trains, bicycles and pedestrians for crossing that distance of about 18.6km in about 45 minutes. But that is increasingly not good enough for the requirements of 2010, at least in the eyes of the Danish Transport Ministry which has taken over the project’s leadership – supervised, of course, by the Danish legislature, or Folketing. (more…)

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The Latest from Dr. Doom

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Never heard of him? No, I don’t mean Dr. Demento. “Dr. Doom” is the monniker borne (probably proudly) by NYU economics professor Nouriel Roubini, famous for foreseeing – among other things – the gigantic collapse in the US housing market beginning in 2007 that kicked off this worldwide Great Recession. Back then Roubini kept adding to his fame by forecasting further disastrous developments in one aspect of national or international economic performance after another; people would never believe him that things could get that bad, yet most times events proved him to be spot-on.

Now he has further comments which he contributed to the Financial Times. Unfortunately, that paper has a rather restrictive readership policy – i.e. it likes to force you to pay – but luckily we can resort to Denmark’s business newspaper Børsen instead. There it’s a brief piece, and Roubini’s message is clear, simple, and expressed in the title: The catastrophe commences on Tuesday.

Tuesday? That’s election day in the USA, of course, and according to Roubini that will unleash a new economic crisis because the Republicans are expected to make significant gains, recapturing control of the House of Representatives and maybe the US Senate as well. This will inaugurate paralysis in Congress as Democrats and Republicans block everything the other side tries to do, even as the US economic situation remains dire and in need of fiscal initiatives of one sort or another.

True, this insight is hardly blindingly original, and it has also certainly been advanced recently by other commentators, and then even rather more eloquently. (“In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.”)

Then again, everyone knows that Paul Krugman is a liberal (Nobel Prize-bearing) attack-dog. But this is the FT, BørsenDr. Doom, no less!

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Terror Threat Today in Sweden

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

While most of the world’s media is preoccupied today with the seemingly coordinated package-bombs shipped by air-freight from Yemen to the US and the UK, Sweden’s second-largest city, Göteborg on the country’s western coast, seems just barely to have escaped its own serious terrorist attack. This is according to reports appearing in the Danish press from the press-agency Ritzau, including in the opinion newspaper Information.

It’s all still very unclear, but the essence of the plot apparently involved setting off a massive truck bomb sometime today in the center of downtown Göteborg. “Several” suspects were arrested, this (Saturday) morning, but local police are not yet ready to say how many, who they are, or what lead to their being detained – only that a tip was received in time, from a trusted source, warning of the attack. That was enough to draw the Säpo – basically, the Swedish FBI – into the case as well, although it’s the local police who hold the suspects in custody and who are now beefing up their presence in town over the weekend.

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Flood Relief Bidding War in Pakistan

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The two biggest climate catastrophes going on now – namely the floods in NW Pakistan and the drought/forest fires throughout Russia – both threaten to have serious follow-on political consequences from the perceived incompetence on the part of the governments involved when it comes to reacting to these disasters in time and with sufficient effort and resources. The main difference between them – other than their finding themselves at opposite extremes of the wet/dry spectrum – is that in Russia there is no organized opposition present to take advantage of the situation politically.

In Pakistan on the other hand, and particularly in that part of Pakistan affected by the floods which happens to border Afghanistan, you have the set of varying Muslim extremist elements loosely characterized by the label “Taliban” (and in some cases even “Al-Qaeda”). As an article in the German commentary newspaper Die Zeit now reveals, those Taliban are indeed moving to profit from the situation, offering $20 million worth of flood-relief assistance on the condition that the Pakistani government refuse all other aid coming from foreign countries, particularly America.

According to the article, US aid on offer already totals $35 million and that has also now been raised by another $20 million, with the prospect held out for even more if necessary. (And it will no doubt be necessary: Oxfam has termed these heavy floods a “mega-catastrophe,” while a UN spokesman called their collective impact worse even than the Asian tsunami of 2005 or this year’s Haiti earthquake.) Then again, there are good reasons for any impartial observer to favor the Taliban’s offer nonetheless: as the Zeit article details, the inundations make sheer access to the area very difficult, while many of the helicopters that are supposed to be available don’t work anyway. (The article does not explain why.)

For now, it’s a “donkey or on foot” situation for getting help to where it’s needed, and of course the Taliban are already there in the area and offering to assist with distribution as well – provided that authorities promise not to arrest their personnel! And then this other article on the subject from the Danish daily Politiken gives another good reason: you can be sure that much of any outside aid will ultimately go to the bank accounts of corrupt local officials rather than to the victims for whom it was intended, while that is less likely to be the case with the local Taliban.

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