Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Is Boris’ Name Really Mud?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The Twitter-headline roughly translates to “Piss off, Boris!” and the lead to this piece reads:

Boris Johnson, the face of the Brexit Campaign, develops into the most-hated man on the Island – since it is only now dawning on many Britons what he has made crumble away for them.

Boris
Boris Johnson is certainly the flamboyant target for hate among those on the Continent – most of us, in fact – for whom Brexit is an unalloyed blunder. But this piece by Thomas Hüetlin tries to make the case that his popularity is plummeting among UK voters as well.

It’s well-known that one voter whom he has lost is the famed chef/restaurant entrepreneur Jamie Oliver, who in a widely-shared Instagram post (scroll down to read), begged his fellow countrymen not to make Johnson the new Prime Minister. What is more:

London, the city that he ruled for eight years as Mayor, he can now only enter under strong police-protection. His bicycle, with which he used to love to ride to Town Hall, he now has to keep in the garage. “If we see him, we’ll knock him from that silly bicycle,” worked-up citizens said last weekend.

All that very well may be. You can check here the latest odds offered by the UK betting establishments as to whether he is to be the next Prime Minister or not; taking a look right now (i.e. around 13.30 hours CET on this date), some show him ahead, while others show Home Secretary Theresa May ahead. Hüetlin’s piece also does a rather good job of skewring the outright untruths in Johnson’s column yesterday for the Daily Telegraph, but that’s rather easy prey.

Yes, that “£350 million/week to the NHS rather than to Europe” pledge has turned out to be a lie – but people associate that much more with Nigel Farage, who pushed it more publicly during the Leave campaign. And yes, it seems some Leave voters are now regretting their decision, but so far those have occupied only the realm of anecdote, not data.

We’ve seen the TV reports about how Boris Johnson is currently unpopular in the city whose Mayor he used to be, but there are no doubt plenty of Leave fans out there in the English hinterland, and in Wales, who still think pretty well of him. You can’t help but think that this Spiegel piece falls into the same old trap of assuming that London is but a microcosm of the rest of the country – a delusion into which many analysts clearly fell during the whole Referendum campaign, and one which arose out of the political divide existing in Britain which the Referendum result did so much to reveal.

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Para. 103: More Bark Than Bite

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Many Germany observers are confused these days by the so-called Böhmermann Affair: Jan Böhmermann has his own show, called Neo Magazin Royale, on the German public television network ZDF, and on March 31 he recited on-air a poem concerning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that was not so nice, including as it did i.a. several references to the President’s alleged sexual practices. Top officials of the Turkish government, including Erdoğan personally, lobbied the German government to press criminal charges against Böhmermann; Angela Merkel herself eventually announced that the German State would indeed give its required go-ahead for a criminal investigation of Böhmermann for insulting a foreign Head of State.

What is going on with Germany? Isn’t it the country which, for some time now, has topped all opinion polls for world-wide admiration. This abridgement of elementary freedom of speech seems to hark back to the bad old Nazi times.

Not really, though; if anything, it harks back to the mid-1950s, when after a decade of Allied occupation Germany was getting back on its feet as an independent Western country. The former Shah of Iran – were he still around – would be glad to remind us of how speech in modern Germany is far from fully free.

Shah
Indeed, that paragraph of German federal law under which Böhmermann might be prosecuted – paragraph 103 StGB, forbidding “the insulting of organs and representatives of foreign States” – was for quite a while known as the Shah-paragraph, so often did the Persian monarch use it in his relations with the Federal Republic.

But first back to 1953, when German criminal law, having been suspended since that country’s defeat in 1945, is being restored – and authorities take care to re-institute paragraph 103, which dates back to Second Reich, that is, to the rule of German Emperors following the country’s unification in 1871. The political system of post-WWII Germany naturally was carefully designed by the occupying powers to try to ensure that such dictatorship as was seen during the Nazi regime could never happen again; for one thing, the peculiar American concept of federalism was introduced, so that the country was broken up into individual states each having rights and powers at their own local level.

But this new Germany was by no means designed to be any sort of liberal paradise with the world’s greatest personal freedoms. People’s memories were still fresh in 1953, only eight years after the Nazis’ gross crimes against humanity had been ended, and Germany was still to some degree a pariah state. There was no room, in other words, for the inevitable satirists and smart-alecks which such a fertile culture would inevitably produce to spoil the German government’s attempts to get back into the world’s good graces by ill-conceived, badly timed and just plain rude cross-border insults. Indeed, in 1958 Konrad Adenauer’s government wanted to go even further to prevent that sort of thing, namely to adding a paragraph 103a which would have outlawed the spreading of any sort of denigrating reference concerning the private lives of foreign heads of state or their families – whether true or not.

That extension was rejected by the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s federal parliament. But even in rejection the proposed law had a name: Lex Soraya, or “Soraya’s Law,” after the Persian Empress who was the Shah’s second wife, whom he was busy divorcing.

Nobody Cares; Nobody Really Punished

So the Shah lacked that extra bit of legal machinery to go after critics in Germany who said something insulting about his wives. But paragraph 103 gave him plenty of leeway to file charges against those insulting him personally, and he did so in three instances, the first in 1958. The same stricture applied, of course, against insults directed at other countries’ representatives, but the interesting point in this taz.de article is rather how the very prospect of such a foreign head of state complaining often caused the German police to move in ahead of the game and start confiscating materials and even arresting people being rude to foreign political figures, as they did in the case of insulting materials directed at such figures as then-Chinese President Li Peng, against the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, against Pope Benedict XVI and against visiting American Presidents Ronald Reagen and George W. Bush.

In all of those latter cases the police then had to back off and apologize because one key element required to prosecute such acts – namely, an official complaint coming from the “insulted” party – was not forthcoming. Thus we see that it has really mainly been the Shah who has actively taken advantage of this paragraph 103 during its post-War history. It is also important to note that the harshest punishment that ever resulted was “low-level fines” collected from editors at a Cologne newspaper (after a three-year trial) which published a disrespectful set of cartoons about the Shah in the 1960s.

Now the Turkish government is seeking legal redress as well. (Vice President Numan Kurtulmus has even publicly characterized Böhmermann’s poem as a “crime against humanity.”) That fact has caused many to worry that President Erdoğan, buoyed by how dependent Chancellor Merkel is upon him regarding the refugee situation, is deliberately using these insults directed against him to force her to turn Germany into something it has not been since 1945. Such concerns are misplaced, however, for a Bad and a Good Reason:

  • The Bad Reason: Paragraph 103 has been there as part of German federal law since that law was resurrected in the mid-1950s, so it’s nothing new; and
  • The Good Reason: Over-enthusiastic policing aside (which has always eventually been called back), it seems clear that the modern German legal system does have a good understanding of, and sympathy for, the right of freedom of speech, as we can see from the minor penalties courts have issued even when Paragraph 103 cases have managed to go all the way to trial and judgment.

In other words, while for much of its post-War history German diplomacy has operated within a difficult and awkward framework, so that measures such as Paragraph 103 were useful to have when citizens “misbehaved” vis-à-vis foreign potentates, in the final analysis they have amounted to mere window-dressing. When necessary, “action” can be seen to be taken, whereas no one is seriously punished as a result, and nothing (including the German people’s right to express themselves, in particular) fundamentally changes. OK, Jan Böhmermann may now be under police protection, and he has had to cancel the taping of a number of his shows – but he should enjoy his new status as media martyr, history shows he won’t pay much for it, if anything, and it might even enhance his career.

One might well see a parallel here with the “promises” concerning a resurrection of Turkey’s EU membership bid that are part of the recent agreement concerning the refugees – but that would require a separate post.

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Flipping the Fried Finger

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Today we’re into day one of #BrusselsAttacks recovery and we’ll see how the city reacts as its airport remains closed and with major damage, as do the main thoroughfares through the European Quarter, while the metro reopens with major holes in its structure, and the like. Actually, even at what we could call the “day one-half” point – that is, yesterday evening – there was a heartening and spontaneous mass-gathering around the Bourse, the now-unused Stock Exchange building at the center of town, where people wrote encouraging and defiant messages in chalk on the pavement and otherwise showed general solidarity (considerably aided by the fact that that part of the city was turned into a pedestrian-only zone last summer).

Further, it seems that next Sunday, Easter Sunday, there is to be a “white march” through the city, to show more solidarity, an absence of fear, etc. In that link that is the spokesman for the European Parliament in the video who is announcing it; perhaps it will be organized by that institution (which would make it not so spontaneous).

By now, though, I’ve learned to be leery of most post-terrorist attack public gestures. We saw how those could turn out with the Charlie Hebdo killings fourteen months ago, and in particular that incident’s own marche blanche down the Champs Elysées: an event meant to reassert freedom of speech in the face of murderous threats turned out to feature – in the marchers’ front row! – more national leaders responsible for beating down free speech in their own countries than you could shake a stick at. Thereafter, as treated on this very blog, the French authorities made clear that “freedom of speech” would thenceforth only be permitted along narrow lines that they allowed, namely only speech against Muslims. Sadly, I later noted how no less than Denmark seemed to be following suit.

Still, this looks like a cheeky gesture:

pommes
“Why many Belgians are posting pictures of french-fries, of all things.”

Black-yellow-red: the colors of the Belgian flag, of course. In front of that, “french” fries, which you might be aware were (probably) invented in Belgium. Finally, you might also recognize there a very familiar gesture of contempt, usually executed by the fingers of one hand.

Quite clever! – although, to be fair, the HuffPo Germany traces this original “meme” back to advertising by Burger King brought out around ten years ago – and quickly withdrawn, in the face of public outrage (in that commercial context). Still, the HuffPo piece goes on to report that “Garde la frite!” (FR: “Hold on to your french-fry!”) is French slang for “keep your chin up!”

So, all told, very appropriate, and shrewd. Nonetheless, when evaluating the effect these attacks have on Belgian society I intend to continue to focus on what is done rather than what is expressed, be it through social media emissions or city-marches. We all realize that to a large part such post-attack gestures of defiance serve to mask the fear that the attacked society feels; will that fear translate into restrictions on freedom (e.g. France’s seemingly never-ending state of emergency after the November Paris attacks) and/or useless security measures just for show, such as metal detectors stationed at the doors of subway stations? If so, then we will know that society has capitulated to what the terrorists were trying to bring about in the first place, no matter what that society says.

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SuperTuesday: Who’s Behind Whom

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Yes, it’s SuperTuesday today, the day when the world at large is sure to gain some clarity as to who are likely to be both the Republican and Democratic 2016 candidates for president. Time for a quick review of which cohorts of special citizens stand behind which candidates.

SupTsdy
Granted, this review comes from a German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, not from an American one. On the one hand, the FAZ is truly one of Germany’s most-respected newspapers, certainly in the top three. On the other hand, can you really accept an evaluation of US political conditions from someone named Winand von Petersdorff? (Plus, as I look at the FAZ website just now, the headline article is a report on an interview Syrian dictator Assad just gave to German television, in which among other things he “praises Germany for its refugee policies”(!). Groan . . .)

Let’s proceed anyway. The first thing to keep in mind is Marco Rubio’s unique policy proposal to completely abolish taxes on interest, dividends or capital gains income from stocks. This naturally means that most hedge-fund managers are wildly in favor of seeing him occupy the Oval Office come next January.

Supposedly Larry Ellison, Oracle founder, is also included within Rubio supporters. Otherwise, what can loosely be called Silicon Valley has some very nebulous and split allegiances. Anyone who pays attention now knows that Meg Whitman – formerly CEO of eBay, now of HP – did support Chris Christie, right up until he endorsed Donald Trump. Who she supports now? No clue. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are similarly cloudy as to their preferences – although, for different reasons, Herr Von Petersdorff is sure it’s a Democrat for both. Noted Libertarian Peter Thiel (PayPal) supported Rand Paul, as one would expect, and is now is said to favor Ted Cruz. As for current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella – well, how about some clues: He’s an Indian immigrant, and he satteth at the right hand of Michele Obama at the last State of the Union speech. This means Hillary.

Hollywood is also for Hillary: Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, and noted director Steven Spielberg. Maria Barra, CEO of General Motors, is also for Hillary – ’cause Obama saved her company’s bacon (and that of Chrysler, though the CEO there is Italian) a few years back.

Note that there is no such current American VIP who Von Petersdorff was able to find who supports Donald Trump. Neither can The Donald expect support from big Republican donors such as the Koch brothers, Harold Hamm (“King of the Frackers”) or Sheldon Adelson. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was clearly the candidate in the Koch Brothers’ pocket, but he withdrew from the Republican race quite a while ago. Now it’s said they are going for Rubio – makes sense. Same for Sheldon Adelson, and this we know because that Las Vegas paper, the Review-Journal, that Adelson bought a few months ago to be his mouthpiece (and tried to keep the purchase secret) has endorsed Rubio.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine there are certain supporters any candidate would not want, or at least would not be glad to have the support publicly known. That’s probably the case for those big Republican-supporting money-men just mentioned. Also, the degree of Wall Street support for Hillary is a very sensitive subject. The past record would seem to indicate both Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon are definitely friends-of-Hillary, but Von Petersdorff reports they have kept mum about their presidential preferences for quite some time now.

If you’re still intrigued about the Continental perspective on SuperTuesday – and can handle the German – the FAZ will have a live-blog today.

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German Finances in Cautious Clover

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Here’s some news that I have not seen reported elsewhere, and I really don’t know why:

14JANHaushaltsplus
That’s 12.1 billion, as in euros: it is a surplus, and it is the bottom-line result of the German Federal Government’s budget over 2015. Further:

The reasons for this are the good economic conditions and high level of tax-receipts. For Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) this surplus turned out to be double as much as was expected in November.

No wonder we see Schäuble there leaning on his hands with such a smug look on his face: for him, it’s job well done!

Actually, good economic conditions pretty much automatically mean high tax-receipts, at least for any government which has its act together in the tax-collecting department, which Germany certainly does. But where did those good economic conditions come from? Well, the Germans do what they do well, as everybody knows; among other things, that means a healthy Mittelstand or layer of mid-sized companies (usually privately owned) making all sorts of capital equipment held in such regard by the rest of the world that demand for it is largely price-inelastic (that is, that demand takes little or no hit even if prices rise, e.g. due to currency fluctuations). The result is Germany’s long-standing status as the world’s #1 exporter, these days contested only with China.

So there is all that, a set of character traits contrasting sharply with others said to be more typical of other areas of Europe (mainly to the South) now experiencing quite worse economic conditions. Germany also implemented its so-called “Harz Reforms” around ten years ago, consisting of a series of changes to labor market regulation which made it easier to hire and to fire workers, and which resulted in a suppression of German labor costs which made the prices for native manufactures even more competitive internationally. And finally there is the effect of the euro: No matter how much it might be derided there (e.g. as the teuro, from the German word for “expensive”), one thing that is clear is that, by taking away Southern European nations’ ability to devalue their currencies when their own products became too uncompetitive, the euro locked in a high degree of export superiority for goods from the North, and thus flows of money there – and so relative prosperity, and high tax-receipts. (This also can mean – to some extent – that the economic troubles afflicting Europe’s periphery are not these countries’ fault.)

So Where to Spend the Bounty?

That big pot of money is there – billions of euros, twice as big as had been expected – so the question naturally arises: What to do with it? Ideally, having accumulated in German Federal coffers, the money would be spent in such a way to recycle it back to the other EU states from which it largely came, in such a way to share the wealth and the prosperity a bit more broadly around the European continent. This could be something as simple as an accelerated raising of German workers’ wages, so that they spend more and some of that more they spend are goods and/or services from elsewhere in the EU.

That’s not what is going to happen, though. Rather, according to this piece, much of the money will go to the obvious need: Wir schaffen das!, i.e. “We can do it!” That is, it will be devoted to dealing with the flood of Third World asylum-seekers of which more than 1 million have shown up on Germany’s doorstep through 2015 (with many more expected still to come). The German government largely attends to this problem by sending money to the lower-level Bundesstaat and local governments that actually have to deal with the incoming refugees on the ground. So these elements will get more money. (Not that that will solve the problem; it has become clear recently that considerable political and inter-cultural obstacles also need to be addressed, with solutions that largely cannot only rely upon money.)

There is also another consideration. Successful governing in Germany necessarily means keeping in the back of one’s mind the Biblical tale of Joseph in Egypt, of the seven fat years followed by the seven lean years. German official have to be especially careful with their budgets, considering that an amendment they passed to their Constitution in the recent past mandates that the federal budget deficit be no more than 0.35% of GDP – and that provision comes into effect starting now, in 2016. That means any surplus – no matter how unexpected it may be – to some degree must be husbanded with a view for any bad times ahead (although that same amendment permits greater deficits than 0.35% of GDP in case of national emergencies, whether economic or natural-disaster in nature).

This mandated caution looks even more reasonable in light of some additional news:

14JANWIrtschaft2
Germany’s economic growth for 2015 is expected to come in at 1.7%. What is more, more-or-less the same rate is expected for calendar 2016. Many would see that as low – especially in comparison to economic growth in developing countries, especially China. It’s pretty much also low in comparison with rates that the US is starting to hit again.

Then again, compared to European standards, 1.7% is pretty good, due to Europe’s (and especially Germany’s) continued graying and population loss, over-regulation and other factors. Further, as this FAZ piece adds, “comparatively few currently have to worry about their jobs: The situation on the labor market is at a historically favorable level.”

Still, in absolute terms you could say 1.7% is low. As we see, Germany has been able to extract from that a very nice federal government budget-surplus. But one must still be cautious.

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Polish Media: There’s More to Come

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Relations between the new right-wing Polish regime and the EU have taken a turn for the worst lately. Whether it’s doing so purposefully or not, the PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Law and Justice) Party now heading the government there seems to be following the route pioneered only a few years previously by Victor Orbán in Hungary towards making the country an “illiberal democracy.”

This has involved measures such as reducing the independence of the Supreme Court equivalent there, but what has caught the eye most has been the law recently pushed through the Sejm (the lower house of parliament) which converted the State radio and TV institutions from commercial organizations wholly owned by the government to governmental institutions – thus liable to having their top staff chosen by the government of the day. Once this law was passed and signed last week by the country’s president (also PiS), the government lost little time in putting in its own people.

As usual, I’ve tried to track that via my regular review of the Polish press, so that I can then pass on interesting bits of what was going to you via tweet and/or blog-post. But now that the law has been passed – and the Polish government and EU Commission have set out their antagonistic positions about it – what seems most interesting is a tweet I first picked up from last November, when the PiS government was getting ready to take power.

11JANUmbau
“Radical reconstruction planned: Poland wants to cut down on foreign influence in its media system.”

Here we got a first warning, from the influential Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, of the intentions of the incoming PiS government, in particular of Piotr Gliński who became Minister of Culture. Note the emphasis: “cut down on foreign influence” – now, what sort of “foreign influence” could there be within the State radio and TV institutions? As mentioned, even before the new law they were 100%-owned by the Polish government; some variation of this is the rule with all other European State broadcasters. So what could they mean by “foreign influence” – perhaps the foreigners who happen to work there?

No, that’s not it (although it wouldn’t be any surprise if the new bosses at TVP and Polskie Radio do fire the foreigners); rather, we’re speaking here of the print media. In Poland that is mostly foreign-owned (and that mainly from Germany) and Gliński wants to do something about it.

The new government wants to “change the ownership proportions” of local newspapers, Gliński said. To do this, they are considering “buying back” shares owned by foreign publishing companies, founding native Polish newspapers or further building up those fully Polish-owned papers that now exist.

Consider: “buying back” foreign ownership stakes in Polish publications. What if those foreigners who now own them do not want to sell, or demand what the new Polish government considers too high a price? It is easy to imagine here that the PiS government will not be willing to accept nein! for an answer. It’s easy to see we are talking here about the potential expropriation of business assets bought fair-and-square in the past. (more…)

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Volley-Boondoggle

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

This week sees the qualification rounds, to be held in Berlin, for the volleyball competition that will be part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games later this year. The German team coach, Vital Heynen (himself of Belgian nationality, as you can perhaps tell by the name), has a lengthy interview in the leading German newspaper Die Welt.

StolzDeutsch
By all accounts, he’s done a good job, and the German team is confident about its chances. Then again, I’m not so interested in volleyball, German or otherwise. I would have passed this bit of news entirely by had it not been for that text-fragment in the tweet: “You Germans are not proud of Germany!”

Yes, the quote comes from Heynen. What would cause him to say something like that? Here is the wider context from the interview:

The problem of Germany is that it is no sports-country, it has no sports-culture. Hamburg’s decision to not apply for the [Olympic] Games [of 2024] hit me right in the heart. I cannot understand it. The Olympic motto for 2012 was “Proud of Germany”; I’m telling you now, you are not proud of Germany, when you have a country of which one really could be proud.

(That 2012 motto must have been in connection with Leipzig’s application to host those particular summer games. Leipzig got nowhere in the bidding, which of course was won by London, for whose Games the motto was “Inspire a Generation.”)

No “sports-country”; no “sports-culture.” Because the German taxpayer has picked up a new reluctance even to bid for the right to host Olympic games!

Heynen may think that his position gives him a privileged platform to comment on German athletic affairs generally, but he is likely wrong. The citizens of Hamburg voted last September to withdraw their bid, but those of Boston had done the same thing just two months earlier.

Indeed, is staging the Olympic Games – whether summer or winter – something any reasonably democratically run polity is going to want to undertake from here on out? It’s an awful big drain on public monies, all for a bit over a month of concentrated world-attention – and then the long hangover of an expensive collection of white-elephant athletics buildings for which permanent alternative uses are hard to find. The 2004 Games certainly gave Greece a good shove down the path of public insolvency, while there has already been and will certainly continue to be widespread dissatisfaction in Brazil over all the public money spent on this year’s Summer Games, especially given the recent sharp downturn in Brazil’s economic fortunes – and given the strong whiff of public corruption whose revelation has accompanied that downturn.

Clearly, staging the Olympics is a project not for democratic localities but rather for the undemocratic variety, where there is no public accountability for the vast sums of public money required. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – the most expensive in history, by far – clearly had as their main function being a conduit for Putin to divert government money to his friends and supporters. The 2008 Peking Games, for all we know, fulfilled a similar function, as will surely the 2022 Winter Games, also to be held in that world-renowned center for winter sports, Beijing.

Of course, even if the democratic world sensibly starts to leave hosting the Olympics to the autocrats, that still means condemning a series of national populations to misappropriation of their tax monies. Far better to harken back to the Games’ original spirit, to the very name Olympics, and start hosting the Games (at least the Summer version) permanently in their spiritual country of origin, namely Greece, in Athens. There is a good collections of purpose-built buildings still there just dying to be properly used again.

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Germany Deals with Refugees (#Fail)

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

This month’s European crisis has without a doubt been the waves of refugees trekking their way from Turkey, through Greece and then northwesterly up the Balkans, whose eventual desired destination has generally been Germany. Germany itself has changed before our very eyes: first taken aback by developments, then taking a welcoming attitude, but now dialing that greeting back somewhat, with border controls and other restrictions, as the full reality hits of what that welcoming attitude has wrought.

Here are a couple of “under-the-radar” articles from the German press on how that country has been trying to deal with circumstances. First: gut gedacht, schlecht gemacht (“good intentions, terrible execution”).

aChaos
The goal was a noble one, if perhaps also serving as good PR for reBuy.de, a German site that functions as an on-line marketplace for used goods of all types. But what better company to launch an effort to solicit and coordinate used clothing donations for the refugees, right? So it made an arrangement with the German Red Cross; donors could send in their used clothing for free, using labels provided by reBuy.de, via the Hermes package-deliver service.

There was a major misunderstanding, however. For the German Red Cross, this was supposed to be a local action confined to its Berlin Wedding/Prenzlauer Berg affiliate. But reBuy.de understood it to be nationwide – and improperly used the nationwide German Red Cross logo on its website announcing the action. The result was the rest of the German Red Cross’ branches throughout the length and breadth of Germany being inundated with clothes they never expected, before the whole national organization abruptly withdrew from the effort. reBuy.de employees all over Germany gamely tried to push on anyway, accepting, sorting and distributing the clothing themselves, but things soon broke down entirely, with many recriminations.

Then there is this other interesting development in Berlin.

ALuxus
Even beyond clothing, a major concern for the German authorities in dealing with all the refugees has been finding them sufficient acceptable shelter, particularly in view of the oncoming colder weather. Already Berlin officials have taken some decisive measures to achieve this. Last month they pressed into action an old town hall, that of the city quarter Wilmersdorf (capacity: 500), for housing refugees, and the Berliner Morgenpost piece also reports they recently confiscated a former bank in the same area for the same use.

But now those authorities are ready to take things up another notch. Specifically, another Berlin quarter, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (known for decades for its many immigrants and left-wing politics) now wants to make use of the many apartments standing empty within its boundaries. These are generally higher-quality residences, and the reason they are not being actively used is either because they are being withheld by their owners for speculation or because they function as second homes for well-off people who usually live elsewhere. They are estimated to number up to 5,000.

It does look like those apartments are going to be pressed into service. Will it be confiscation, or some sort of money paid to the owners as compensation? Likely the former. Here we encounter the age-old conflict between private property on the one hand and taking care of people’s urgent needs, in an emergency situation, on the other hand. Those owning those apartments really should not be surprised; the squatting movement has been particularly active in Berlin and Hamburg for decades, way before any refugee crisis.

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Male Leather-Strutting Misplaced

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Here’s something you don’t see in the streets of the Chinese People’s Republic every day. However, if the Beijing police have anything to say about it, you won’t ever be seeing this type of thing again.

ABChine
What is going on? Is it perhaps a casting-call for a Chinese-studio remake of 300? No, as the accompanying RFI piece explains, this was a marketing stunt, by a Beijing restaurant called “Sweetie Salad” – a marketing stunt gone bad for those taking part, as the local police swiftly moved in and conveyed at least some of the make-believe Spartans to the slammer.

ABBeijing
On the other hand, it was a marketing stunt gone good for Sweetie Salad – if you take into account that old maxim that no publicity is bad publicity – which according to this RFI report generated enormous on-line buzz about itself within China and was punished only to the extent of feeling obliged to post this message:

We have humbly recognized that, as a start-up, we lack a certain experience in the organization of large-scale events.

Where did all those buff foreign males think that they were – Amsterdam? In fact, the timing couldn’t be better: all they need to do is get out of jail (those to whom that applies), scrape up the funds for a half-round-the-world flight and find a hotel (admittedly a challenging proposition at this late point), and they then can all enjoy themselves royally this upcoming weekend at the yearly Amsterdam Gay Pride celebrations. They’ll feel right at home there, walking around Amsterdam’s streets in their Spartan suits (I assure you, that sort of get-up often verges comparatively on the tame side); yet they might very well impress the locals enough to be invited to join a boat for the infamous Canal Parade that kicks off this upcoming Saturday (August 1) at 1.30 PM CET. (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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Senatorial Children at Play

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

As the days wind down towards the March 24 self-imposed deadline for some sort of result from the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, one important truth seems to have gotten lost, or even one important bit of jargon: “P5+1.” That’s the term for the parties who are now negotiating with the Iranian government, and it stands for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (so “P”: US, Russia, China, UK and France) plus 1: Germany. It’s funny: especially in the wake of the brouhaha set off by Israel PM Netanhayu’s recent visit to address the subject before the US Congress, you would have thought that the whole affair was simply US v. Iran, eye-to-eye, straight-up.

But it is not. Granted, rejection of any deal on the part of the US government would certainly kill it, at least in its formative stages. (After an agreement has been reached and has worked successfully over a number of years – that would be another matter.) But, again, this is a multilateral process, and one would hope that any such failure of the negotiations to bear fruit would reflect a consensus among all negotiating parties. Even more basically, one would hope that each of those parties would enjoy a firm sense of just who they were dealing with – not only across the table from the Iranians, but also from other governments which are supposed to be on the same side.

That is not the case, unfortunately, something we now see in graphic form from the recent open letter from 47 Republican Senators to the Iranian authorities warning them against reaching any agreement with their own government.

Naturally, such gestures do not go unnoticed.

BriefAngriff
“An attack on Obama – of the childish sort,” is the opinion of longtime German foreign correspondent Hubert Wetzel, writing in the well-respected Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Wetzel doesn’t pull any punches:

The US Senate was once a well-respected chamber of parliament, perhaps the most respected from all the world’s democracies. Reasonable people debated there and came to reasonable decisions. It was part of the Senate’s proud self-image to be far from as nervous, obstinate and partisan as their colleagues in the House of Representatives, but rather moderate and deliberate.

These times are now past, and hardly anything shows that as well as the letter that 47 Republican Senators have now written to the Iranian regime – led by a freshman from Arkansas [freshman Sen. Tom Cotton], a man who in the old days would have been told that he should first warm the backbenches for a few years before piping up.

Oh yes, Herr Wetzel doesn’t think much of the letter, whose tone he paints as being as dummdreist as its contents are banal. (He may have gone to the trouble to invent an adjective here, in dummdreist, to adequately convey his scorn; dreist is “bold,” but with dumm it’s in a stupid way: so “stupidly bold.”) Further, “Within the letter there is nothing that any Iranian diplomat could not look up in Wikipedia.”

Or which that diplomat might possibly know even without Wikipedia – consider this fact:

IranCab
Of course the US Congress does have a certain role within US relations towards Iran – in the first place having to do with setting or lifting the economic boycott that has been imposed upon that country over the years as alarm over its nuclear program has grown. Otherwise, and by the US Constitution, foreign policy is largely left to the Executive Branch. This latest letter marks a disturbing violation of what used to be the norm against partisan sabotage of the President’s foreign policy – although it follows closely a more spectacular breach of that same norm embodied in Netanyahu’s invitation to speak before Congress with no notification to President Obama.

Still, the antics being employed to scupper any P5+1/Iran deal are becoming extreme and embarrassing. And we can be sure that the others within that P5+1 have noticed.

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Don’t Make Germans Like They Used To

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Perhaps it is untoward to quote oneself, but in this case my tweet of a few days ago has to be revised and extended in light of further information.

Aldi
In particular, I put there “after complaints,” but in that I was just being faithful to the original article out of De Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper.

Aldi received at the beginning of last week the first complaints. One customer asked them not to use anymore the mosque, a religious symbol, on the label. Then a discussion arose on the Internet, after which Aldi pulled the soap from the shelves.

Now another version of events has arisen, this time from an actual German source:

AldiSeife
According to this, it wasn’t “complaints”; it was one complaint about that mosque on the soap-label, from one guy on Facebook. This is backed up by this report from the local newspaper from the area where this Aldi store is located (North Rhine-Westphalia).

Shitstorm

The customer argued that the mosque and minaret of the Muslims were to be observed with respect and dignity. “And it is precisely for this reason that I do not find it suitable that one should put this illustration, so full of meaning, on just any consumer product.”

That was all that it took: off of the shelves those bottles of liquid soap flew! But in that last tweet you’ll perhaps have notice a recent addition to German public vocabulary: “shitstorm.” That is what ensued: Aldi promptly came under fire for its action (although I’m unaware that that has caused them to reverse it and start selling the soap with those labels again).

But that was last week – the first full week after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. This week saw something similar, in fact even more alarming. The usual Monday-evening march of the new, anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement in Dresden was canceled by the authorities – and of course the counter-demonstrations that had been planned for that evening as well – because of a threat that had been received against Lutz Bachman, one of the movement’s leaders until, just two days ago, he resigned after pictures of him posing as Adolph Hitler became public. (more…)

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Get Off-a My Cloud!

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Bitkom is a German IT trade association for small- and medium-sized businesses with an associated website, and that site is reporting something interesting, picked up by the national newsmagazine Stern:

Cloud
Cloud-Dienste: cloud services, with examples listed such as Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud and Dropbox. Turns out they’re not so popular there. A recent Eurostat study put Germany squarely in the middle of the pack of European countries when it comes to their use. While you would expect Germany to be somewhat ahead of the IT-laggards that study identified, such as Poland and Rumania (8 percent of population uses cloud services), it’s strange that country is not nearer the head of the class along with Denmark (44 percent) or Norway (43 percent).

Instead, 21% of German respondents to the Eurostat study reported that some of their data was in the Cloud. And the reason is very clear: “from concern of not being able to make use of regular data-security and data-protection provisions.”

It’s always handy to remember that a healthy chunk of the current German population, somewhere around under a quarter of it, had some experience of living in the old DDR or East Germany, with its intrusive Stasi secret police. Germany is also constantly at the forefront of efforts within the EU to shore up individual privacy protections.

It also has been leading in its agitation resulting from the Snowden revelations of the wide reach into Europe of the American NSA and British GCHQ, especially after reports emerged that Chancellor Merkel’s own mobile telephone had long been tapped. And what do we also find in common concerning those named cloud-data services that Germans are so loathe to take up? That’s right, they are American, run from America and therefore as we know subject to secret demands from the American authorities to give up their secrets, violate their customers’ confidentiality, whenever those US authorities deem that they need to do so.

The Stern article is too polite to mention the US, as is the lengthier Bitkom piece (where you can see the full table of country results). But it is clear the fears on the part of US high-tech concerns that their overseas market-share will suffer because of a loss of confidence brought about by the ruthless worldwide surveillance from the Anglo-Saxon authorities are by no means unfounded.

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European One-Armed Banditry

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

No, we don’t mean there’s been a new crime-wave perpetrated by cripples criss-crossing the Old Continent; nor (even though this is a little bit more likely) some illicit fund-raising campaign undertaken by ISIS fighters having had to return from their MidEast adventures due to grievous upper-body injuries.

Rather, for “one-armed bandit” here we are referring to the slot machine, that most-insidious piece of gambling equipment capable of enchanting for hours – and many dollars, euros, or what have you lost – on end quite considerable cohorts of people with the particular psychological disposition to be so captivated. Especially in it most-modern incarnation, i.e. those machines governed by internal software, far from offering players any “fair” game it is rather carefully programmed to manipulate the sucker sitting before it so as to extract the maximum of money.

A modern-day societal plague, in short; yet thereby irresistible to those businesses, and occasionally even governments, which can manage to gain permission to make the investment into equipment and then set them up so as to start preying upon the passing parade of suckers.

In terms of the latest news from Europe on this score, as is so often the case we witness one step forward together with one back. Starting in Austria:

WienGamble
Ralf Leonhard is the Austrian correspondent for the Berlin newspaper the taz (Die Tageszeitung), and he reports about how, as of January 1, das kleine Glückspiel – “small-scale gambling” – has been banned within the city of Vienna. That basically boils down to one-armed bandits, which previously numbered some 2,600 in the city, spread out among 505 locations of which 69 were Spiellokale, that is, pure slot-machine halls. (The other establishments were places like bars and cafés; they’re now banned there, too.) (more…)

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Supermarket for Human Rights

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

The German government has lately been on a charm offensive towards the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, is today finishing a visit to Berlin which, as is pointed out in this piece in Die Welt by reporters Robin Alexander and Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, marks no less than the fourth time Chancellor Merkel has met with high-level Chinese officials this year.

LiInBerlin
“Merkel, China’s Minister-President and the Supermarket”: the notable bit of this get-together thrown out for appreciation by the public is the joint visit to a local Berlin supermarket made by Chancellor Merkel and her guest Li just yesterday (Friday) afternoon. You can see a photo of both of them at the check-out at the head of the article: Li is pointing at Merkel’s hand as she gathers her purchases there, having paid cash. (Good move: paying with any sort of card would naturally leave readers wondering who it is who provides the stock of money standing behind it.) At first glance, the absence of any sort of Secret Service-like figures is notable, although they must be those suited gentlemen – without sunglasses or earpieces – with their backs to the camera just behind the cigarette rack. And where is Li’s interpreter? I don’t think he is very fluent in English, let alone German.

All in all, a jolly, down-home moment. Meanwhile, you can be sure that other members of the visiting Chinese delegation were hard at work with their German counterparts in near-by government buildings, working out what are said to be no less than forty business/economic agreements that are the true purpose of this summit, including contracts worth billions of euros. What is more, it is sure to be full cabinet members that fill out much of the rest of that Chinese delegation: Merkel has taken a liking to staging cabinet-meets-cabinet get-togethers with neighboring countries (indeed, I recall one such with the Dutch cabinet earlier this year – not in Berlin, but over in northwestern Germany, close to the Dutch border) and clearly decided on the same format for meeting the Asian economic superpower.

Er . . . Human Rights?

That’s fine, but with China you get more baggage into the bargain – particularly now that Hong Kong demonstrators are still flooding the streets there demanding a democracy worthy of the name. Of course, Germany does have a robust free press, so that Premier Li at some point found himself  directly confronted by the question why citizens in Hong Kong should not be able to truly pick their own political representatives. As reported here, he looked impatiently at his watch as the query was translated for him, only to reply that that was a matter of “internal Chinese politics” only.

There was another question in that same vein, about local employees at the Chinese bureau of the renowned German newspaper Die Zeit who were recently arrested. This one Li ignored entirely. Merkel herself had called these Die Zeit incidents “news that really makes you think” (durchaus bedenkliche Nachricht) on an earlier occasion; it’s not clear from the article whether this interrogation of Premier Li happened in her presence. Alexander & Böhmer’s piece does point out that, at the joint news conference, the German authorities resisted Chinese pressure to disallow any questions, such as those above, which might be too awkward for the honored guest to handle. Other countries that top Chinese officials visit, it is said here, often cannot bring themselves to do so.

In the end, German President Joachim Gauck – famous for his past as a prominent East German dissident – was brought in to play “bad cop” to Merkel’s “good cop” and reproach Li for China’s human rights record at a one-on-one meeting. At least that session was scheduled at the very beginning of the two-day conference, and it did last about an hour. But economic times are hard in Europe, including – for an unwelcome change – in Germany; the worry has to arise that German interest in doing business with China will soon trump any influence that country could wield on the human rights situation there, if it has not done so already.

I think we can safely predict that 2014 will not see any fifth meeting between Chancellor Merkel and high Chinese officials, though. For this  year marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the self-liberation of most of Eastern Europe from decades of Communist dictatorship. Meeting the Chinese against that backdrop would just be too awkward, no matter what new profits any such meeting could promise. Better to get the year’s remaining Chinese business done, cabinet-to-cabinet, by early October.

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MEPs Infiltrated by the KGB?

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Boris Kálnoky, a Hungarian foreign correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, has quite a scoop today. So he’s been tweeting up a storm to make sure the world knows about it – also in English:

Kovacs
The Die Welt article in question is of course in German. (As usual, you can feed it through Google Translate for what good that will do.) So what’s this all about?

It’s all about some dogged investigation that has been undertaken, not by Mr. Kálnoky himself, but by another Hungarian journalist called Dezső András. At the center is Béla Kovács, a founder of the rabid anti-foreigner, anti-EU, right-wing Hungarian political party Jobbik and also a Member of the European Parliament. The accusation is that Kovács is a spy working for the Russians, that he has been that for quite some time.

Apparently there were suspicions that Kovács was a spy even in the period leading up to last May’s MEP elections; already there were calls then for the European Parliament to lift his immunity to prosecution as an MEP. But nothing yet was crystal-clear; so Mr. András did some more investigation. Now he has put his findings on-line (although in Hungarian; odds are very good this won’t be allowed to stay on the Net for long), and has even been able to confront Kovács with them.

The substance of those findings are a bit messy, occasionally seamy. What they amount to was that Kovács was a child given away for adoption while an infant, but whose father was likely Russian; that while living in Tokyo as a young man (his step-parents were minor staff there) he met and married a Russian lady who definitely was and continued to be a KGB agent (and who somehow managed to marry at least other two men while never divorcing Kovács); and that, when he started working back in Hungary to help found Jobbik starting in 2006, Kovács never lacked for money to accomplish whatever was needed. In explanation he claimed he had founded and run successful businesses in Japan and while studying in Moscow; no evidence of these exists.

It’s all rather good raw material for someone like John Le Carré to get to work on, and of course Kovács has denied everything. (Who knows? Maybe he really was not aware of some of the deeper secrets of his past, of his ancestry.) But it also has several severe implications arising from the facts that 1) Kovács was instrumental in setting up Jobbik, and 2) He is now trying to become a big cheese at the European Parliament by pushing the “Alliance of European National Movements” of which he is Chairman, which is a would-be faction of right-wing parties (recently abandoned by Marine Le Pen’s FN as too radical!) but which is as yet too small to be formally recognized as such by the European Parliament and thus to receive subsidies from the EU budget.

The clear question: Is Kovács just a Kremlin tool, being used first to up-end Hungarian and now European politics? As Mr. Kálnoky puts it: “Does Russia now use the European Right for its purposes, as it once did the Left?”

The Hungarian authorities are by now interested themselves in looking further into the matter of Kovács’s history and motivations. But he still holds MEP immunity.

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Alibaba Not Skidproof

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

One of the many harmless on-line diversions for those of a linguistic bent is “Chinglish”: those comic failures by the Chinese when it comes to properly translating English phrases. The subject is a sure-fire winner for newspaper Travel Section editors looking to fill some space. Here’s one example of a treatment by England’s Daily Mail, featuring photos of signs found in China printed with things like “Don’t Forget To Carry Your Thing” (a reminder not to leave one’s personal possessions on the train), “Advert Skidproof” (difficult: must be a warning about slippery conditions) and “When old man’s child go up hand ladder temporary need the family to accompany” (i.e. children must be accompanied on the escalator).

Amusing, but all this just comes from provincial officials too cheap to afford a proper translator, right? Maybe not.

Wegwerf
That’s a tweet referring to an article in the German paper Handelsblatt by reporter Anis Micijevic about how the German-language version of the Alibaba website is supposedly rife with whatever you might like to call the German counterpart to “Chinglish.”

This is where things aren’t quite as funny. As the article’s lede puts it:

With its record-IPO the Chinese on-line business Alibaba ensured worldwide attention. Still, the German version of the site was apparently chased through Google Translate. Much silly nonsense ensued.

The piece headlines with an eBay-style entry for Neues populäres Wegwerfbaby (minimum required order: 10,000 pieces) – that means “new popular disposable baby,” even as it apparently is trying to sell baby-wipes. Elsewhere you can encounter an offer of “body parts” for your shower, and other absurdities. Indeed, Micijevic claims that “[m]ost of the German product-descriptions are linguistically wrong and raise more questions than they answer.”

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Alternatives to the Google Colossus

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

It’s not just the Ukraine that is currently at the EU’s center of attention as officials return to Brussels from their summer breaks (and heads of state cross their paths returning home from there after an unprecedented August European Council summit). There is also a burning pan-European question on the business side, and that is what to do about Google. The issue is front page news on today’s NYT website, which gives a good overview of a surprising widespread “European backlash” against the company (together with a charming picture of the Google StreetView camera in a boat, doing its thing while sailing through one of Amsterdam’s canals).

Perhaps the key figure in that NYT report is that Google’s market-share for search is “close to 90 percent in Europe, excluding Russia” while even in its native USA it is only about 67%. This search omnipresence is the wellspring out of which Google’s on-line dominance originally flowed, and perhaps it’s fair to say that, in view of that 90% figure, Europeans to a great extent brought these problems upon themselves. I mean, it’s been so convenient, it’s right there in the browser – often aided by deals it has struck (e.g. with Firefox) to be default search-engine – and the results are fast and usually useful. Sadly, this 90% figure continues to apply even after last year’s Snowden revelations showed how Google – wittingly or unwittingly – makes up an important part of the ICT infrastructure enabling the US Government to spy on its own citizens and on the rest of the world to an incredible level of intimate detail.

It’s clear that some search-engine diversity is now called for if European authorities are ever going to be able to face down the Internet behemoth convincingly, and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung is willing to be our guide to the alternate search-engine wilderness.
DuckDuck
The lead to Julia Löffelholz’s article behind the tweet reads

Google and Co. earn billions – with the data of their users as well. Smaller search-engines are trying to establish themselves on the market by doing the exact opposite: They spend their takings or promise anonymous search.

Which are these smaller search-engines?

  • DuckDuckGo: First, consider the duck: the duck you see there at the bottom of the tweet, with the spiffy bow-tie. That’s the mascot of the alternate search-engine DuckDuckGo that, numbers-wise at least, seems to be making the greatest headway into the search space. It was established back in September 2008, and now handles 5 million search-requests per day (Google: 3.5 billion). It’s motto is “The search engine that doesn’t track you,” and it apparently has a feature enabling you to filter out commercial search-results, i.e. those trying to sell you something. Now, it is also based in the US and so within the NSA’s ambit, which might quite reasonably worry some – but as founder Gabriel Weinburg points out in this piece, it stores no user information, so there is no information for the American authorities to subpoena. FWIW it is certainly the favorite search-engine here at EuroSavant; occasions when I have been dissatisfied with the search-results it has returned have been few and far-between. And it doesn’t track me.
  • Ixquick: This alternate search-engine is based in the Netherlands, and handles an even-smaller load of search requests per day. Ixquick does offer the unique feature of enabling its users to go on to visit a page they has found via its search-engine anonymously, i.e. to the visited page it will look as if Ixquick itself is visiting it rather than the actual users. Like DuckDuckGo, Ixquick makes money by running ads along with its search-results – ads which, logically, cannot be too specifically connected to one’s actual interests because nothing is ever known about the user other than the search he is running at the time.
  • Qwant: This one is based in France. The unique thing about Qwant is the way it sorts its results in various columns, labeled “Web,” “News” and “Social.” It can be quite a valuable way to break down in an orderly fashion the search-results it returns; you should go there to try this out at least once.

Then there are the further alternate search-engines discussed in this piece that try to harness search to further the interests of some good cause. There’s Ecosia, “the search engine that devotes 80% of its income to a tree planting program in Brazil” (and economizes further by cutting back on its use of hyphens); or Benefind, that enables you to contribute to a charity of your choice from your search-requests (note: Benefind is in German); or Goodsearch, which basically does the same thing but is based in the US and is in English.

All admirable initiatives, surely. But here a crucial question must be posed: These are surely supposed to be Internet tools in the first place – can they be charitable vehicles at the same time without that somehow impinging on their effectiveness as tools? I doubt that; and surely, in line with the issues raised today in that NYT article, the focus needs to be on developing a search-engine whose effectiveness at least can rival that of Google, while not carrying with it the objectionable baggage the latter has accumulated over the years.

Again, the best candidate (i.e. as endorsed by user-numbers within the alternative search-engine world) would seem to be DuckDuckGo. Do try to find a time to have a quack at it.

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Revealed: Ukraine’s Weapons-Sellers!

Monday, September 8th, 2014

This might be considered as the most important “secret” result of that NATO summit at the end of last week that was held at some golf resort in Wales, and the EU Beobachter (“EU Observer”) has picked it up.
5staaten

Yes, in the wake of that summit five states intend to start selling weapons to the Ukraine, and they are: the USA, Poland, France, Italy and Norway. The notable absence on this list is Germany, whose weapons, notably its small arms, are particularly good in comparison to most others, but whose Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, made it clear at that summit that it was not ready to take that step. Understandable: the German government only in the past few weeks decided that it would break precedent and send arms to the Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, and that decision caused quite a bit of consternation on the German political scene. Merkel was not ready for the same again – not that that was the only reason for German reticence.

What’s really notable about these arms-sellers is just how hush-hush the whole subject is. None of these countries has been willing to announce these upcoming weapons-sales; indeed, all have officially denied they are ready to do so. So who knows? Against that we have – for what it is worth – an announcement yesterday by a close advisor to Ukraine President Poroshenko that these five countries would indeed be supplying his country militarily. That announcement notably appeared on the advisor’s Facebook page.

If we examine that roster, the sales from the US and from Poland are understandable: American weapons manufacturers are seemingly ready to sell anywhere, anytime, while Poland is the state leading the alarm over Ukraine developments. For France and Italy it is a bit harder to understand why they would want to be involved (indeed, the Italians have continually been suspect as too Russia-friendly) – until you realize, as this article states explicitly, that they mainly see this as an opportunity for their native arms industries to make some money. It’s only Norway whose involvement is totally mysterious: its economy doesn’t need the money, and to this point it has not seemed particularly alarmed about what is happening off to the East. Indeed, as a good Scandinavian land, it is supposed to have certain ethical pretensions of not selling war material into an active war-zone. (more…)

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Wikimisery

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Did you know that Wikipedia is in trouble? I wasn’t aware; for example, there has not been an appeal for money appearing there at the top of the Wikipedia page for some time now. And it still seems to get plenty of respect from PR agencies. From today:

WikiPR
Still, it is not the financial front where Wikipedia is encountering problems. Just what is the matter – the “biggest crisis” since its founding – is explained well in a recent piece in Germany’s Die Welt on the occasion of the arrival of a new chief for the Wikimedia Foundation, one Lila Tretikov, a computer scientist who, as her name suggests, comes originally out of Russia. She is said to be particularly motivated to right things at Wikipedia because of the way the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (which occurred when she was just 8) killed so many more people than it should have because of the way information was withheld from those who needed to know it.

Nonetheless, as that Welt article points out in its title, she herself represents what is troubling Wikipedia. As you probably know, the whole institution is set up as a volunteer effort – and the problem is precisely that the number of volunteers (or “authors”) has fallen by a third since 2007. What is more, that author cohort has tended to reduce to a typical, predictable group – namely white, Western, male, and usually expert in technical subjects. (But sometimes in others as well: the article makes its point by noting that the Wikipedia coverage of female pornstars seems to be particularly . . . uh . . . deep and well-organized.) Ms. Tretikov admits to never having written or even edited a Wikipedia article herself – so it is in that sense that she is part of the problem, since it is more participation, particularly on the part of knowledgeable women, that the project so desperately needs.

Unfortunately, that is not the only problem Wikipedia is currently experiencing, as we see here:

Wikiporno
Yes: “Porno!” The linked article is from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt and in fact these troubles only involve the German Wikipedia – for now, at least. There’s a webplatform in Germany for teachers called newsforteachers.de (yes, they use the English); the people there went hunting for pornographic links from Wikipedia and, by George, they found them. Under rubrics like “Piercing”; “Penetration”; and of course much worse than that. Really, if you read the Handelsblatt piece carefully, it does seem that they mainly found this stuff, not in the German Wikipedia itself, but on a related site called Wikimedia Commons. No matter: the president of the German teachers’ professional organization, the Deutscher Lehrverband (DL), is now advising teachers and parents that Wikipedia is to be considered “unsatisfactory” for schoolwork.

Indeed, DL President Josef Kraus is demanding an immediate removal of all pornographic content from Wikipedia and all related sites – which really makes you think that, even to this point, President Kraus has formed for himself but an incomplete picture of what the Internet is all about and how it works. (more…)

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Adidas and Sports Corruption

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Even as the every-fourth-year World Cup football spectacular is set to kick off
in Brazil later this week, there has been a wave of increasing concern about the event’s scheduled host for 2022, the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. This has largely been prompted by the eminent British newspaper The Sunday Times, which has somehow gotten its hands on a treasure-trove of internal e-mails and documents relating to what appears to be the concerted effort spearheaded by the Qatari businessman (and former FIFA vice-president) Mohamed Bin Hammam to buy Qatar the 2022 World Cup outright via the judicious parcelling-out of up to $5 million.

Taking a page from the work of Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald with the NSA documents, The Sunday Times is drawing out its revelations over a period of weeks, rather than dumping all of what it has learned on the public at once. Nonetheless, even what is has revealed so far has prompted some notable reactions. One of the latest was that of one of FIFA’s main World Cup sponsors, SONY, expressing its concern over the Qatar revelations. Then SONY was recently followed in that by the famous German sportswear firm Adidas. (That last link is to a Sunday Times piece – remarkable since usually they are inaccessible behind a paywall.)

But Adidas itself knows quite a bit about corruption in sports – as is apparent from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt with an article it republished from Die Zeit a little less than two weeks ago:

Adidas
That tweet reads “Adidas: The inventor of modern sports corruption,” with a question mark. But it is not really a question; in the article itself that title appears without any question-mark, and writer Oliver Fritsch’s purpose within the seven pages over which the piece is divided is to show how that is the case. As he writes:

“For decades the company has influenced sports-politics decisions such as marketing contracts, tournament expenses and personnel. The company’s methods are controversial. And that just not as of yesterday.”

You can tell that Adidas is a big player at least in the German sporting goods market from the fact that it is the official supplier to both the German National Football Association (and therefore to the national team, which first goes into action in Brazil against Portugal next Monday) and to German football power-house Bayern München. And you can similarly tell that Horst Dassler, son of the company’s founder Adi Dassler, was some kind of evil genius from the fact that he gets his very own chapter in the exposé-book recently written by Thomas Kistner, Fifa Mafia (unfortunately available only in German). (more…)

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No-Fly List Escapee

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Consider that face down in the lower-right.

RIbrahim
Could someone like that ever hurt a fly? Clearly a Muslim female; actually, she’s Prof. Rahinah Ibrahim, 48 years old, an Engineering Ph.D. and no less than Dean of Faculty at her university in Malaysia. As this article from Die Zeit puts it, “[s]he travels to congresses in Rabat, Eindhoven, Beijing, Bangkok, Milan and Kassel. It is only within the USA that she has not been able to fly for years.”

That’s because she has been on the US No-Fly List for years, and that for no good reason. She is supposed to be finally off of it, but there are still lingering doubts about that (see below). This extended Die Zeit piece is all about how she – maybe, probably – managed to be one of the few who finally got themselves off of it. And as Die Zeit writer Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt puts it:

It is an example of the extent to which the USA after September 11, 2001 got carried away in its War on Terror – and how a security apparatus based on secrecy attempts to hide its mistakes, with their serious consequences, from the Public.

This is, after all, a blogpost, so I’ll get right to the essential point: Prof. Ibrahim was guilty of nothing, she was the victim of a Homeland Security bureaucrat checking the wrong box. The momentous result of that was not only a Christmastime visit from FBI officials while she was still studying at Stanford; being placed on the No-Fly List while she was still studying there so that she was briefly placed in detention while trying to fly back home out of San Francisco International Airport; once back in Malaysia, finding herself unable to return to the US to continue her studies; but also a nine-year campaign (costing $4 million in legal expenses) to clear her name and get her off that list.

It’s all scandalous, that someone could be treated this way – she was allowed to look at her rejected visa application at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, only to see it stamped “TERRORIST” – but probably Weidmann-Schmidt’s most painful bit of text is where he describes how:

The [American] government did everything it could to block Rahinah Ibrahim’s process, with claims about state secrets and national security. For years it seemed as if they would succeed.

But they did not. She did get her trial, and after five years, last 15 April a federal judge ruled in Rahinah Ibrahim v. Department of Homeland Security that “Dr. Ibrahim is no threat to the national security of the USA” and that she should be removed from the No-Fly List.

That trial, by the way, was held in secret. Naturally, Prof. Ibrahim was not invited to testify at it personally – she could not enter the US! Rather, when it came time, her deposition (and cross-examination) was taken by video camera from a studio in London. What is more remarkable, though, is how obscure it still remains as an historical phenomenon: searching Google News for “Rahinah Ibrahim” right now yields only a reference to this Die Zeit piece about which I am writing and two others, in English, one from something called the Courthouse News Service, and the other from Al-Jazeera.

Weidmann-Schmidt’s piece does mention that Prof. Ibrahim does not like to speak with the press and was not particularly cooperative with Die Zeit’s inquiries. While perhaps understandable, that is surely not the way to help this case redound to the greater good – only by letting the outrage spread, one feels, will anything ever be done about this. For now, and for the question of why she felt it was worth nine years and $4 million to fight this, we have this from her video testimony:

I don’t want my children to hate America because of what has happened to me, without getting to know the America I have respected.

Well, I had to translate that last passage from the German – meaning that when it comes to that last verb in particular, it is ambiguous whether Prof. Ibrahim meant “the America I have respected [still]” or “the America I respected [but no more].” I’ll let you make your own guess as to her meaning.

(Oh, and Prof. Ibrahim still has not been granted a visa to return to the US. The reason is classified.)

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“Now Recep – BeHAVE Yourself!”

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

A heads-up for whoever is going to be in Cologne tomorrow, things could get interesting.

You might recall how we wrote on these pages about a month ago about German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to Turkey a month ago, and the waves he made there. Well, what goes around, comes around: the Turkish Premier Erdogan is due in Cologne on Saturday:

Erdogan_in_DE
“Cologne visit by Turkish PM: Merkel calls for restraint from Erdogan.” Now, this is no sort of state visit, neither Merkel nor Gauck will be anywhere near him, but rather the sort of sojourn Erdogan likes to make from time to time to go shore up his support among the many citizens of Turkish nationality living in Germany.

Unfortunately, the political situation back in the Motherland has been steadily deteriorating, hurried along by the deaths of 301 workers in the recent Soma mine disaster there and the public’s angry reaction to that. In a newspaper interview earlier in the week, Merkel said Erdogan was of course welcome to come give his speech, but “I insist that he does this on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity.”

Sensitivity, however, has rarely proven to be PM Erdogan’s strong suit. Indeed, his people seem not to be approaching the event in a very constructive manner:

RP_ErdoganFall
“Turkey fears a trap for Erdogan in Cologne.” But why? Because the German authorities also approved no less than eight counter-demonstrations in the city on the same day. No wonder the Turks are suspicious: they would simply forbid any such counter-demonstrations, and no doubt were ready to do so during President Gauck’s visit there last month – if anyone had actually applied to hold any.

Cologne streets could turn into quite a scrum on Saturday, but the latter Rheinische Post article at least has published the following almost military-looking map to help you make your way. FYI, the stadium-event where Erdogan will actually be speaking is the one the furthest to the right that says Veranstaltung UETD.

Koln
(For those asking, the title to this post was inspired by the Beatles, who even back in the early 1960s could sing remarkably presciently about world affairs.)

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Fishy Goings-On

Monday, May 12th, 2014

You remember that German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Washington to visit President Obama at the beginning of the month. Just this past Saturday she touched base with another important ally, namely French President François Hollande, by inviting him to her home turf (i.e. the parliamentary constituency she represents) at the historic city of Stralsund in Germany’s far Northwest. But things did not go completely smoothly, as Der Spiegel reports with this rather colloquial tweet. (I certainly don’t know what this means here in its entirety. Butterfahrt?)

Spiegel_fishy
Fass, or “barrel”: that’s what we see Hollande holding up there. It’s a barrel of herring, a proud local product, and the article tells us that everyone who visits Merkel there gets a barrel of fish: George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin (about whom Merkel and Hollande of course had quite a lot to say), everyone.

The thing is, for President Holland they probably should have made an exception and given him, say, a nice Mecklenberg-Vorpommern necktie or something. For those herring are Bismarck brand herring; and anyone who knows anything about 19th-century history knows that “Bismarck” is not a name likely to endear anyone who is French. Hollande gamely posed – as you can see there – but then, as the Spiegel reporter Alexander Demling notes, quickly passed the barrel off to an aide.

The Dutch are also particularly interested in herring matters, and De Volkskrant picked up this story as well:

VK_fishy
This piece raised the obvious question of why Merkel had not gone instead for Hollandse Nieuwe (“Holland’s New”) herring, fished out of the North Sea by the Dutch (starting right around this time of year, in fact), acknowledged to be the very-best (at least by the Dutch) – and also matching well with the French President’s own surname! I guess no one in the Bundeskanzlerin’s office thought of that – or else EU “nationality-blind” procurement regulations do not (yet) apply to the gifts heads-of-state/government give each other.

You would think Merkel would be too canny to allow such a slip-up, in a land where apparently one needs to use certain numbers very carefully to not be accused of being neo-Nazi (h/t Jonathan Turley). Still, if you examine closely the top photo in that Volkskrant article, what you see printed on the barrel itself is “RASMUS.” Could that be “Erasmus“? Now, there’s a scholarly figure out of European Renaissance-period history that neither Merkel nor Hollande should have a problem with!

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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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Conduct Unbecoming a Guest

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The current sojourn by German President Joachim Gauck in Turkey has turned out to be far from your garden-variety Head-of-State visit (quite apart from the strange paranoia against mobile telephones exhibited by security services there that I tweeted about earlier). These sorts of occasions tend to be scheduled quite far in advance, but in this case you wonder just how far ahead – before the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan started to see videos pop up on YouTube implicating him and those around him in corruption, before he started to get all sorts of nasty back-talk on Twitter, for example? Before he went so far as to ban – or to try to ban – both YouTube and Twitter in Turkey, for example?

Yes, before all those developments, you’d have to think. But the show must go on, and Gauck is a trooper for Germany. Let me hasten to add: not THAT kind of trooper for Germany, not at all, really rather a trooper for Truth and Justice. I am serious, he was a civil rights activitist in the former East Germany, which is one of the most unpleasant, pain-inducing job-descriptions you can come up with. But this also means that, although Gauck easily agreed to fulfill his previously-scheduled duty to visit Turkey, he did not intend to shut up about what he found there.

And so we have this:

Gauck in Turkey
“Erdogan rejects Gauck’s criticism.” Mind you, this is while Gauck is still in Turkey.
And the situation is rendered even more awkward by the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan is just one of a pair of Gauck’s official hosts for his visit, the other one of course being Turkish President Abdullah Gül, once almost as politically close to Erdogan as a brother, but now clearly worried about the anti-democratic direction his prime minister is taking the country. (And in addition, completely dismissive of Erdogan’s attempted Twitter-ban – an attitude he communicated via a tweet from his presidential account.) (more…)

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Drops the Other Electoral Schuh

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

A coming high point in European Union affairs is the elections to the European Parliament scheduled for the period 22-25 May, which will be for all 751 seats. They were made more exciting (if you find them exciting at all in the first place) by an extraordinary intervention a few weeks ago by the German Federal Constitutional Court, which struck down the 3% threshold that had been required of individual political parties for gaining representation in the European Parliament at all.

The reason that this made those upcoming EP elections a bit more exciting is that it means that the way is open now for representatives from all sorts of wacky parties to take their seats there come June, although be forewarned that these parties are more likely to be “wacky” as in “unsavory” – like the German neo-Nazi NPD, for example, and also quite likely indeed to be ideologically opposed to the very institution into which they are gaining admission – rather than as in “loony.” (There is no European equivalent to the UK’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party that I am aware of, for example.)

Nonetheless, five of the judges on that German Federal Court (out of eight) concluded that there was no more need for any such electoral threshold to “preserve the European Parliament’s ability to function.” Fine, then, but the legislatures of a handful of other EU member-states do still retain this sort of electoral threshold – in particular, Germany itself, with a 5% hurdle to gain representation in the Bundestag!

Inevitably, then, this has come along:

Prozenthurd
Yes, it’s Die Linke, or “The Left” which is the German political party now calling on that domestic electoral hurdle to be abolished. That’s the party representing the left-over of the old SED, i.e. the “unity” party which dominated the former German “Democratic” Republic (East Germany) in a far from democratic manner.

Let’s remember why that 5% barrier was inserted into Germany’s post-WWII federal constitution in the first place: because the constitution of the Weimar Republic before Hitler did not have any such rule, and it was the proliferation of pissant political parties in the Reichstag that made the State almost ungovernable and paved the way to power for the Nazis.

Indeed – and as you would expect – representatives of the more mainstream parties on the current German political scene reacted distinctly unenthusiastically to that suggestion from head of Die Linke. The deputy chairman of the governing coalition’s Bundestag faction, Thomas Strobl, for instance: “In the 65 years since this German republic was established, this clause has given us stability and predictability.”

The German President, Joachim Gauck, however, has indicated a willingness to see a debate on the point. What’s more, maybe “predictability” is not necessarily the characteristic you would most want to associate with any legislative body that is supposed to be accountable to the people through elections.

At bottom, though, we are left with a simple logical inconsistency. Could those five federal justices voting to abolish the EP’s 3% electoral hurdle please explain why that same calculus should not also apply to the Bundestag’s 5% hurdle? One suspects that the only answer they would be able to come up with is that the European Parliament is so much less important – has so much less real power – than the Bundestag that it is quite alright to maintain the former as a convenient hobby-horse for all of one’s best, and most idealistic, democratic intentions.

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If It Ain’t Broke . . .

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

That’s right, repeat after me: If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it! Yet that is what it looks like the EU Commission is ready to do to the apprenticeship system in Germany and Austria known as duale Ausbildung or “double education.” Here are a couple of alarmed tweets arising from the German media.

Ausbildung_Welt

Ausbildung_Newsticker
Duale Ausbildung basically embodies the principles that make this sort of training a much-envied example for the rest of the world. Intended for young people who by temperament or lower test scores do not intend to go on to university, it initiates them into advanced technical skills and the sort of (often high-paying) jobs in industry that those can bring through a dual regime of theoretical instruction in a school classroom combined with on-the-job training at a firm that has taken on that person as an apprentice.

This system is certainly no secret, and has been studied on-the-spot by legions of scholars – and of politicians, including some from America, most of whom have thereafter pined after the prospect of bringing the same sort of regime home to address shortcomings in technical training and in employment prospects there. (more…)

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Snowden “World Exclusive”

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

You may know that notorious whistle-blower Edward Snowden conducted an interview last Friday in which he responded to questions submitted to him on Twitter. Or you may not: what a surprise, any coverage of that was hard-to-find on the main US Internet media outlets.

That’s not the case in Germany, where they just LOVE Edward Snowden and can’t get enough of his doings and pronouncements. In fact, German Snowden-mania went on to reach a peak of sorts shortly thereafter.

Snowdon_ARD
OK, tief in die Nacht, or “deep into the night”: the exclusive Snowden interview (filmed in Moscow, of course) shown in the name of the ARD, which is the German national association of public broadcasters, did start at 23.00 hours on a Sunday night. Yet, as this piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung describes, executives at Germany’s first public television channel pulled out all the stops to ensure a sizeable audience, such as scheduling it in the period after the Sunday evening news and just after a six-person panel-discussion show at which Snowdon (“Hero or Traitor?” – with a former US Ambassador to Germany present to argue for the latter) was topic #1.

That having been accomplished – and viewer figures were around 2 million – afterwards they have turned rather protective of their vaunted “world exclusive.” If you click through the tweet to go to the SZ article, you immediately see the YouTube video of the interview, but you can’t watch it (nor on YouTube itself) because the ARD has taken care to restrict it geographically, likely only to viewers in Germany.

On the other hand, this SZ article provides a link to a transcript of the interview (only in German, of course), and the piece itself is itself a précis: it summaries what it views as the highpoints, eleven of them. (more…)

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EU: Stop the Generosity!

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

On Twitter, it’s always possible – if you’re obsessed enough to keep a close eye, or are at least blessed with serendipity – to pick up the occasional golden nugget that passes everyone else by. Like this one, for example:

Reding
Viviane Reding is one of the EU Commission’s Vice Persidents, but her specific remit is Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. It would therefore appear that she is doing a bit of freelancing beyond that portfolio, not that that phenomenon is unknown among EU Commissioners.

What’s remarkable here instead is her message, as appeared a few days ago in the relatively obscure business paper Deutsche Mittelstands Nachrichten (or “News for German Medium-Sized Firms”). Are you worried about poor people from elsewhere in the EU (read: Romania and Bulgaria) coming to your countries to “steal” jobs and freeload on your social welfare provisions? Reding asks. Well, the real problem here, she says, is those “generous welfare systems” themselves: cut them back, she says, and problem solved! Moreover, the problem would be solved by the member-states doing what they should do – i.e. cutting back – and not by the EU, whose problem it isn’t anyway.

Now, this is something new. Indeed – although Ms. Reding would undoubtedly deny any connection – it’s something that philosophically is straight out of the contemporary American Republican Party, whose partisans in Congress have done rather well lately to reduce food stamps (i.e. food assistance) and cut off extended unemployment benefits for US citizens. But, back in our European context, those Western European social welfare edifices, built up over the decades since the Second World War, are usually immune to criticism – at least from those outside the national borders. (more…)

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