Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

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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Calling In Their Gold-Chips

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Gold: it’s not just for money anymore. Actually, it’s not much about money anymore! Yes, people always watch the gold price, but that’s more about gold as a commodity subject to price speculation. And gold remains a central bank reserve asset into which such national authorities can dip when they want to intervene in the currency markets – again, by selling their gold-as-commodity in order to gain supplies of the currency they want to strengthen – but they will sooner do that using reserves of other foreign currencies they have accumulated.

This is a far cry from those long-ago days of the gold standard, when the value of a nation’s currency was determined by the precise amount of actual gold it claimed to represent, so that balance of payments surplusses and deficits were settled by transfers of gold from one central bank to another. There was a dirty little secret there, however: it was rare that the gold was actually physically transferred when settling such national accounts. It’s heavy stuff, after all, and thus costly to ship, especially when you factor in the extra need for security. Plus, you could never rule out the trade winds reversing next year – so to speak – so that deficit country became surplus country and the gold would then have to be shipped back the other way.

No, it was much easier just to slap a new ownership-label on a certain section of a pile of gold sitting safely and cozily in some certifiably safe place – the vaults of the New York Federal Reserve, say, or a similar place in London, which has long been the center of the world’s gold market anyway and the source of the daily gold fixing that sets its price.

However, that may not be good enough anymore:

Bbank_Gold
This brief piece from Germany’s Huffington Post reports how the Bundesbank’s official in charge of transatlantic relations, Philipp Mißfelder, has demanded that all of his institution’s gold be shipped back to German physical control by the year 2020. Apparently, that has already occurred with the German gold that used to be held in Paris – note how we’re only allowed to find out about this after it already happened – and now Mißfelder is demanding a repatriation of the 674 tons of Germany’s gold in New York and London.

One has to wonder: Why this? Why now? Granted, it’s always a better feeling to have a valuable asset like that – even if less important than it was before – under your own lock-and-key, unseizable by others barring invasion, yet, again, the trouble and costs involved in that physical transportation are such that things were run up to this point in such a way as to avoid them entirely. It’s true that Germany itself is a bit safer of a place, now that it is not divided in two anymore with Warsaw Pact armies massed just on the other side of the inter-German border, but then that has been the case for over twenty years.

What it comes down to is Trust, right? And what sort of recent cellphone-listening, snooping-on-citizens* developments have we seen lately to throw Trust into question?

* Recall that this has involved both the US and the UK, the former operating from the privileged position of its embassy, allotted by the Berlin authorities upon reunification a high-status location right beside the Reichstag.

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Nemesis

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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Stasi Collaborator Without Peer?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

There’s a big election coming up soon, in no less than Germany, where on 22 September all 598 members of the Bundestag will be elected anew, meaning that the exact composition of the national government will be deternined as well. The Germans like to go away for vacation in August just like most of their European brethren, but as public life now straggles back to activity the election campaign is now getting started in earnest.

In a quite clever sneak attack operatives for the main opposition party, the SPD, managed to gain control over the URL of Chancellor Merkel’s own name and put a site stuffed full of their own party propaganda behind it. Undeterred, Chancellor Merkel’s own people merely turned to another, very close URL (sticking a dash between her first and last names) to set up her own site, filled with old family photos to provide a soft-tinged, nostalgic focus to her public image.

All well and good, and deliciously naughty. But it holds no candle to this:

Welt_SteinbruckStasi

Nelke, German for “carnation,” as in the flower. But it was also allegedly the Stasi code-name for Peer Steinbrück – who is merely the SPD’s candidate now running against Chancellor Merkel!

(And the “Stasi,” for those of you who need reminding, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or “Ministry for State Security” (cf. “Department of Homeland Security”) was the monstrous Communist East German secret police and spying organization.) (more…)

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Osama’s Traffic Violation

Friday, July 12th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kofi?! Not Kofi!

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

One leading complaint about the ongoing NSA data-collection scandal from those truly in the know is how the press has focused so much on Edward Snowden’s own story (e.g. his views towards his native land, his struggle to find asylum, etc.) to the detriment of setting out and analyzing for the public just what it is that American intelligence agencies have been getting away with and why that matters.

Unfortunately, we can today see a further example of this from no less than Die Welt. The headline to their particular piece reads “Kofi Annan was also spied upon”, and the lede:

The NSA eavesdropping scandal continues to enrage minds. But the past shows us that large-scale spy-actions are nothing new. Even UN General Secretary Kofi Annan was spied upon.

And sure enough, there he is: a head-shot of Annan looking serious and pensive is right there at the top.

It’s really rather bizarre if you go on and read into the article that reporters Ansgar Graw* and Julia Smirnova actually wrote, though. “Kofi”? Who’s that? It’s Snowden, Snowden, and more Snowden. Will he get asylum? Will he just stay in Russia? What has happened to change Ecuador’s mind about accepting him? Did he himself even write the letter which was recently made public in which he complained about how the US government was treating him? (It is riddled with British spellings which he presumably would not use.)

In short, there is this strange, wide cleft between headline and lede (and picture) on the one hand, and the article’s actual body of information. Of course, it is editors who generally provide the former as a piece is whipped into shape for publication. It’s also true that the fact that Kofi Annan (and all other UN Secretaries-General) were spied upon by US authorities is returned to at the article’s very end (under the section-heading “Eavesdropping happened always and everywhere”).

But that attitude of “nothing new here” itself seriously downplays the sheer ignominy of the new surveillance developments that Snowden revealed, e.g. how wide-ranging the survellance abuse was (including its coverage of leading European allies), to what lengths Obama administration officials were willing to go to lie about them, and the like. As does of course the People magazine-style obsession with Snowden’s own personal tale – we are being let down by our journalists, in whichever language.

* Doesn’t his name seem like it got mangled in a spelling-machine somewhere? Or that perhaps it should really be spelled backwards?

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Croatia: Not Even Two Cheers

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Hooray, the Union is now 28! Surely Croatia’s accession should be the occasion for great rejoicing! Well, here at €S we go against the flow whenever possible, and in this case that is rather easy. Here’s TINA, in case you were never introduced to her by Margaret Thatcher:

Croatia_SZ

Right: “there is no alternative.” Not the most cheery attitude to take, is it? Nonetheless, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Balkans correspondent Florian Hassel, that is the prevailing outlook behind all the ceremony – and for both sides.

For the Croats (George W. Bush would call them “Croatians”), polls now show only 45% supporting accession, as they reason that the new freedom to move wherever in the EU they want won’t really help against the much greater incoming economic competition they will face, which henceforth cannot be warded away by tariffs and other restrictions. Hassel: “In contrast to Europe of a decade ago, before the crisis, the EU is no longer a shining guarantee for personal and economic success.”

True, they can now look to pressure from Brussels to help drag the country into the 21st century economically and administratively – for example, there is widespread corruption, Croatian courts routinely take years to settle cases, etc. – but that is not likely to be painless. Similarly for the EU Hassel sees no alternative but to take in Croatia, help make it a success as a member state, and so go on from there to include the rest of the Balkan countries. It is a troubled region that cannot be allowed to fester.

Another German daily, Die Welt is scarcely more enthusiastic to see the Croats as new EU members.

Croatia_Welt

Talk about a party-pooper: what else can you call it when the headline reads “Croatia is already the EU’s next problem-child” and the top of the article is dominated by a chart listing its current 4.0% government budget deficit? (Admittedly, that is placed next to another graph showing that its government debt as percentage of GDP, at 53.7%, compares quite favorably to the current EU average of 92.7%.) (more…)

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EU Commission on Weapons Kick

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Question: In what line of work, when business is booming, is it really & truly BOOMING?

Answer: In the weapons industry, of course – making things blow up, or at least go *bang*! This double-“boomness” is now in full force over in the US, according to Handelsblatt:

Handelsbltt_Waffen

Check it out, the editors pull no punches here, with a title that translates to “Earn that money ’til things blow!” and a classic pic of Clint Eastwood in full firing-position up top. The article is mainly about how Springfield, MA-based Smith & Wesson just can’t keep up with current demand for its wares – oh, and how this revenue-flood now stands threatened by looming gun-control measures pushed by the Obama administration in the wake of last December’s Newtown massacre. Naturally, with that last part reporter Nils Rüdel merely betrays his ignorance of American political realities.

We can assume his employer is rather more on top of the European scene, though. Indeed, that Smith & Wesson piece (oh – sorry, I meant the article!) looks suspiciously like mere lead-in for the Exclusive! that Handelsblatt touts elsewhere today:

Handelsbltt_EUCommsnWpns

“EU Commission wants to reform the armaments market,” with the brief article itself (by Brussels correspondent Thomas Ludwig) entitled “EU States spend a lot for armaments.” (more…)

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Want to Get to Know You

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Hey, as the recent Boston Marathon bombings made clear, the US and Russia are both beset by more-or-less the same terrorist threats, right?* So why shouldn’t Russia gain access to the same sort of detailed incoming airline passenger data – credit card numbers, names and addresses of contacts at their incoming destination, and the like – that the American authorities now get?

Russland will Fluggastdaten aus EU-Ländern – sonst droht Moskau mit Flugverboten, schreibt Javier Cáceres http://t.co/3tIMurrKif

@SZ

Süddeutsche Zeitung


That’s what the Russian government is now demanding, as we learn from that tweeted article from Süddeutsche Zeitung Brussels correspondent Javier Cárceres. And it wants such access beginning 1 July.

That’s a problem though: the important thing the Americans have that the Russians don’t is a data-protection agreement they worked out prior with EU authorities, so that at least some sort of control is agreed about where such data goes on to after it is delivered. In fact, it’s illegal in the EU to provide that without a data protection agreement in place – and it’s unlikely that such an agreement can be concluded in the less than a month that remains before that 1 July deadline. (By the way, this decree from the Russian Transport Minister applies to passengers of any vehicle entering Russian territory – airplane, but also train, bus, ship.)

So now airlines that fly to or over Russia have a problem: if the decree does go through, they won’t legally be able to deliver the data the Russian authorities will be demanding to authorize their flight. But perhaps top-level EU and Russian authorities were able to make progress on this question at the EU-Russia summit that concluded yesterday (4 June) in Yekaterinburg, Russia. We’ll presumably find out soon – but don’t get your hopes up. Before being blindsided by this Russian government announcement, the EU representation had expected to go to the summit in part to discuss measures to make EU visas easier to get for Russian citizens – and vice-versa. This goal has hardly been made any easier by the Russian move.

And remember the demonstration effect, as well: an MEP is further quoted in this piece about how Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also thinking about demanding similar information about passengers coming to their lands.

* Yes, of course this assertion is ridiculous.

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Name First, Questions Later

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

It’s “Europe’s greatest pain.” And finally European leaders are going to do something about it.

Arbeitslosigkeit: Der New Deal gegen die größte Pein Europas http://t.co/rSJUTZqbtY

@welt

DIE WELT


The problem at issue here is youth unemployment, the solution something called the “New Deal for Europe.” Sascha Lehnartz’s on-line piece for Die Welt is topped by a self-congratulatory photo of France President Hollande shaking the hand of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (sitting down not out of disrespect, but because he is confined to a wheelchair), with related Euro-dignitaries beaming just behind.

Look closer, though: that august assemblage gathered at the famed Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) merely to start a discussion. Yes, there is some sort of intention on the part of the German and French governments to put forward a policy proposal. This is largely due to President Hollande, who at that meeting – under the motto “Europe – The Next Steps” – called for “urgent action,” considering economic growth throughout the continent averages out at present to quasi Null, i.e. basically zero. Chancellor Merkel herself and Hollande will discuss the youth unemployment issue further tomorrow (Thursday, 30 May), with a view towards presenting proposals to the EU Council meeting scheduled for 27 June, with a follow-up conference of EU labor ministers in Berlin on July 3.

So that’s about the only “substance” there is to this thing now. But no worries, they have the grandiose buzzwords already picked out.

UPDATE: Luckily, maybe all this does not matter. Yes: maybe this “youth unemployment” really just does not matter. Daniel Gros, of the Center for European Policy Studies, makes that rather iconoclastic argument here, in English.

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Driving A Stake Through the DDR

Friday, May 24th, 2013

You would think such a question would be particularly easy for the Germans. They should even be the world’s experts in this sort of thing.

SED-Regime: Warum wir die Symbole der DDR verbieten sollten http://t.co/riAVcFhIGv

@welt

DIE WELT


State_arms_of_German_Democratic_Republic.svgWhat do you do with the legacy of a monstrous political regime? Particularly when you represent the successor regime, which in reaction rather understandably becomes hesitant to tell people what to think? Inevitably, there are going to be some partisan holdovers, even some misguided fans from new generations that never had to live with it. (See Russia: Papa Stalin.)

Do you refrain from banning the former dictatorial party and its symbols, confident that the voting public at large will have too much sense to ever let it get close to power again? That has been the Czech Republic’s approach to its Communist Party, which after the Velvet Revolution was allowed to survive and simply renamed (rebranded?) itself the Communist Party of the Czech Lands and Moravia (KSČM – that link is to their English page). This decision has not quite redounded in an unfortunate way on the Czech political scene – by which I mean, the Communists have never been back in government – but occasionally they have come close, even though all major political parties claim that they will never work with them. (I actually treated this question of the KSČM on this site back in 2003, in a somewhat over-long post.)

Or do you say “Yes, we believe in free speech, but sometime there have to be exceptions and this is one of them”? In particular, this is what Germany – or the Germanies, both of them – did with the Nazi Party once they were allowed to regain some measure of sovereignty after World War II: no swastikas allowed, no Mein Kampf, no organization calling itself National Socialist, all under threat of real legal sanction.

Now the question has arisen with respect to the DDR, that is, the Communist and Soviet-dominated “German Democratic Republic” that was the ruling regime of East Germany from 1949 until almost a year after the Wall fell – until Reunification on 3 October, 1990. That’s what this tweet, and the Die Welt article it links to, by Richard Herzinger, is about, namely a growing consensus (at least among Germany’s ruling coalition parties, the CDU/CSU and FDP) to try to get a law passed that would similarly forbid the display of DDR symbols. (more…)

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Green In Unlikely Places

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

A brief word on Austrian politics – it’s getting slightly weird there:

Österreichs Öko-Partei: Grüne Welle (von Stephan Löwenstein, Wien) http://t.co/7RuOGcMFU2

@FAZ_Politik

FAZ Politik


Grüne Welle: there is a new “Green Wave” in Austria, for the Green Party is doing quite well, as Stephan Löwenstein of Germany’s paper-of-record, the FAZ, lets us know. So far in 2013 there have been elections in four states – like Germany, Austria is divided into nine federal states – and the Austrian Greens made advances in each of them, spectacularly so in the state of Salzburg, where a Green party politician might even become state governor.

Maybe this isn’t so strange, you might say: the Greens have been very successful in Germany as well, just not lately. Famously, they formed a government at the national level with the Socialist SPD party of Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005 (winning re-election nationally in 2002), with party head Joschka Fischer serving as Deputy Chancellor and Foreign Minister. But Green Party success in Austria really is notable, since the political scene there is very different: basically, ever since emerging again as an independent state in 1955, Austria has been totally dominated by two parties, the socialist Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the right-wing People’s Party (ÖVP).

Yes, around 1999 you saw the rise of the right-wing xenophobic Freedom Party (FPÖ) led by Jörg Haider, but intrusions into this cosy two-party arrangement of Austrian politics – for decades the basis of insider patronage for government and business positions up and down the societal spectrum – have ordinarily been very rare. Granted, the rise of the Greens is frequently manifesting itself in that party entering three-way coalitions with the established SPÖ and ÖVP parties: this is in place already in Corinthia, might happen in Salzburg, and could even happen at federal level.

Now, why does this matter? Who is interested in Austrian politics, anyway? – maybe even not many Austrians themselves! Well, it’s interesting to see the stranglehold two traditional parties have had on Austria broken up this way. This is also a step forward – if small – for those trying to do something about the worldwide threat of global warming (hey, we’re now over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – not that there is any direct evidence that that subject is at all responsible for the Greens’ recent electoral successes).

As for more immediate concerns, Austria is firmly in the camp of northern EU “creditor” countries, in fairly good fiscal and economic shape themselves, whose attitude and generosity towards those Eurozone members struggling in the South and on the periphery (i.e. Ireland) will be decisive towards determining how – if at all – the EU can eventually emerge from its current sovereign debt crisis.

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Tough Going for Anti-Euro Party

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Zounds! When you finally get a bunch of people willing to stick their heads above the political parapet, why do people become so intent on shooting them down?

Anti-Euro-Partei: Alternative für Deutschland gerät in Turbulenzen http://t.co/ANI6ig97Dd

@welt

DIE WELT


For there’s a new political party in Germany, as of a week ago last Sunday, the Alternative for Germany. Here’s a taste of their homepage, so you can see what they’re about:

Chose the Alternative!
Enough with this Euro!
The Federal Republic of Germany is stuck in the most difficult crisis in its history. The introduction of the Euro has proved itself to be a fatal mistake, that threatens the prosperity of us all.
The old parties are all crusty and worn-out. They persistently refuse to recognize and correct their mistakes.
Therefore we have founded the ALTERNATIVE FOR GERMANY!

logo-afdWhether you welcome this development I suppose depends on what you think of the euro. At least it testifies to the openness of the German political scene, that a new party can be founded so easily. There are drawbacks to that as well, though, as any political scientist could tell you. Anyway, any party has to receive at least 5% of the vote in any German parliamentary election – state or federal – to get its members into that parliament. Lately it had seemed that the only new political parties being formed were from the Nazi fringe. (more…)

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Boston & The German Pseudo-Tabloid

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Hold on a minute, now – what is this I see?

Marathon-Tragödie: Nach Boston ist der alte Bush-Sound wieder da http://t.co/QH9MJEcmDA

@welt

DIE WELT


“Marathon tragedy: After Boston the old Bush Sound is there again”! The point Torsten Krauel of Die Welt means here follows directly in his lede:

When US President Obama publicly pronounced [on yesterday’s Boston Marathon double-bombing], many were reminded of his predecessor Bush twelve years ago.

What he is talking about here, apparently, is Obama’s promise “We will find who did this, and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.” You see, it sounds just like Bush with the megaphone, standing atop the World Trade Center rubble: “We will find out who destroyed these buildings . . . and they will hear from us soon.”

This is just a terrible article, really surprising coming from what is probably Germany’s most-respected national daily – not at all a “tabloid-quality” paper in its usual incarnation, despite my headline. Where is the well-deserved contempt for George W. Bush that we were used to hearing across-the-board from the European press (with maybe some Polish exceptions)? Where is the recollection that, in fact, the 9/11 attacks came about just over a month after the CIA and FBI had their “hair on fire” over increasing indications that something big was about to happen domestically – but August, 2001 was W’s vacation month, so he couldn’t be bothered to act? No, the only proper Obama-Bush link here would have to be, if any, the bizarre time-reverse one where Bush’s 2001 performance is said to come up short compared to Obama in 2013!

You want a better assessment of George W. Bush’s legacy in reaction to the 9/11 attacks? Conveniently, that’s also available to you today on the NY Times website, although overshadowed of course by the Boston news reports: U.S. Engaged in Torture After 9/11, Review Concludes.

But wait! There’s more! (more…)

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They Just Let Anyone In!

Monday, April 15th, 2013

If you haven’t noticed – and it’s likely you have not, attention has now moved on elsewhere – the financial task for Cyprus is now quite a bit steeper than was the case at first (that’s from the FT, so in English; free, but registration required). We had been talking about the country being asked to contribute €7 billion to get a €10 billion bailout; now the tab has risen to €13 billion for that €10 billion bailout.

Among other things, this is going to mean an even BIGGER hit to those holding accounts in excess of the €100,000 threshold at the island’s two biggest banks. Yes, many of these are Russian nationals. So that now, as Die Zeit reports, the Cypriot government has come up with a scheme to at least offer an easier path to EU citizenship for high-net-worth individuals.

The Die Zeit piece (no byline) states right off that this measure is meant as outright compensation for confiscation – i.e. for the monetary losses these people are incurring as Cyprus tries to grab the money it needs. And indeed, it further reports that President Anastasiades first announced the measure in a presentation he made yesterday before a group of Russian businessmen in Limassol (Cyprus’ second-biggest city, so filled with Russians that many just call it “Limassolgrad”!).

But does this move make sense? How receptive were those Russian businessmen likely to have been? “OK, you’ll never be able to trust our banks ever again, but do stay anyway for the sake of the nice warm Mediterranean sea-breezes and
the souvlaki!” (more…)

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No Happy Crowds for Obama Here

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Fresh off of his convincing electoral victory last November, Barack Obama is managing to hold his own against the Republican Party in Congress in a series of government-funding-crisis confrontations. He still gets pretty good mileage from campaign-like trips out to the boondocks beyond D.C. to gather political support, buoyed by his strong poll-numbers.

But that’s within the US borders. In the Middle East, on the other hand, he’s not so popular, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung reminds us:

Im Nahen Osten ist @ unbeliebt. Trotzdem steht er jetzt in der Pflicht, einen Kompromiss auszuhandeln. http://t.co/rHg20G086l

@SZ

Süddeutsche Zeitung


Yet that is where the President is currently off to, namely to Israel, where, as the journalist Peter Münch puts it

In the West Bank they have abused his pictures with shoes and set them on fire, in Israel a survey has shown that only 1 out of ten likes him.

Wait, doesn’t anyone remember Obama’s epic 2009 Cairo speech, reaching out to Iran and to the Arab world? Yet now he is disliked from all sides! Why is that?

Obama’s first foray into the Near East peace process failed because it was well-meant but not well-made. In the manner of an itinerant preacher he made loud promises that he could not keep, and added to them mild threats that he withdrew at the slightest resistance. This lack of consistency has exacted a bitter revenge: the region drifts towards new conflicts and the USA has lost influence there.

Yes, and there was the minor additional thing that Binyamin Netanyahu openly campaigned last year for Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney! (more…)

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No More “Dr.” In The House?

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Even for people coming from neighboring countries, moving to Germany involves making some cultural adjustments, and one of the main ones involves name-titles: Germans love them! They include them in their passports, for example; they even include them in raised-letters on their credit cards. Put another way: if your German counterpart has earned one (e.g. Prof., Dr.) you better be darned sure that you use it when addressing that person orally or in writing (until you get close enough to address him/her with “Du,” if ever) – and in writing, for the case of the particularly active academic, you are expected to keep track of them all (e.g. “Dear Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. Schmidt!”).

However, there are inklings that things might be about to change:

EXKLUSIV: „Dr.“ nicht mehr im Pass: Grüne starten Angriff auf Deutschlands Elite http://t.co/w8lctH7wI1

@handelsblatt

Handelsblatt Online


What this is about is that Germany’s Green Party has submitted to the Bundestag a proposed law that would would ban the “Dr.” title from official documents such as the passport and ID card.

Why this now? Well, the “Dr.” title has lost a bit of its luster in Germany lately due to a widely-publicized string of plagiarism scandals. First there was Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a politician of Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the CSU, and at one time German Economics Minister (2009) and then Defense Minister (2009-2011). But then someone discovered that he had committed widespread plagiarism in writing his doctoral thesis, and soon he was out of government.

(Hey, this guy’s full name is Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg – the “zu” alone tells you he comes from a noble family. So why did he feel he needed to insist upon adding to all that with a “Dr.” in the first place?!)

That was swiftly followed by more cases of plagiarism in high places. These involved two MEPs from Germany’s Free Democratic (FDP) Party, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (yes, of Greek descent) and Esther Silvana Koch-Mehrin. Both had their doctorates withdrawn; both, however, remain MEPs. When the same plague arrived last year at the doorstep of no less than the Federal Education Minister(!), Annette Schavan, she did – eventually – resign her position.

You could say, then, that “Dr.” is not really all that it used to be, even in Germany. Thus the Green Party initiative, but the article goes on to point out that no less an Establishment figure than current Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble suggested the same thing back in 2007, to no success.

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Radiant Desert Megadeal

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Solar power: Sorry, but the US is not tops here, for one thing Congress is still mired in recriminations about the loan guarantees that went to the bankrupt Solyndra. As for the Chinese, they have made rather more progress, to the point of allegedly “dumping” polysilicon solar panels on the US market.

But it’s the Germans who are really into solar. They claim to be the world’s biggest solar market at present. And they have just scored a major coup, as we hear from Die Welt:

Erneuerbare Energien: Saudi-Arabien unterstützt Umsetzung von Desertec http://t.co/93C3FnEs

@welt

DIE WELT


Yes, there’s still a heck of a lot of oil in Saudi Arabia, but there is also quite a lot of sun constantly beating down on its desert sands. And the Saudi authorities are sensible enough to want to do something to exploit that. Well, that’s understating things somewhat: they want to invest $109 billion through 2032, so that by that time they want to be generating 25 gigawatts of power from solar-thermal plants, and a further 16 gigawatts from photovoltaics.

DesertecIt’s a German “civil society initiative” called the Desertec Foundation (site in English) that is about to sign an agreement with the Saudi governement to be in on the ground floor of this effort, by establishing a Saudi company to be called “Desertec Power” whose mandate will be “above all planning, execution, local value-added [Wertschöpfung] and running the installations,” but also the “closely related themes of education, training and employment.”

Apparently Desertec Power will rely mainly on so-called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology, which is not photovoltaic but rather uses parabolic mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays in salt-water tanks and thereby store the energy, so that it’s available even when the sun goes down – and also can contribute in some way to providing desalinated water, another thing the Saudis prize highly.

You can click through to peruse the photo at the top of the article if you need some idea of what CSP arrays look like. (It’s a picture of them in Spain; they’re not yet in Saudi Arabia, the contract hasn’t even been formally signed!) Here in this post I’ll give you instead the grip-&-grin photo of the two principals in this deal. And just as with a Saudi official you can expect a name along the lines of Ahmed al-Malik (whom we see to the right, in Arab garb), with Germans I’m afraid you sometimes run the risk of silly-sounding names: that’s Dr. Thiemo Gropp to the left. And Thiemo has got the desert-dollars.

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To Coin a Craze

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

The hashtag #mintthecoin is currently white-hot in the Twitterverse. In case you’re not following the discussion, it has to do with the idea that one option President Obama has, should House Republicans be determined to deny the necessary rise in the debt ceiling so as to force the US government to default on many of its financial obligations sometime around mid-February, is to take advantage of the statute allowing the Treasury to mint platinum coins of any denomination to fashion a, say, $1 trillion coin and present it to the New York Federal Reserve to, in effect, create that money to spend.

This is the idea advanced particularly vehemently these days by Nobel Prize-winning economist and NYT blogger Paul Krugman, who notes that while it might seem a silly idea on its face, any notion that the Republicans can be persuaded to stop holding the credit-worthiness of the US Federal Government hostage is “just ridiculous – far more ridiculous than the notion of the coin.”

Some do not agree, so that a full-fledged debate on the advisability of #mintthecoin has erupted among the American punditocracy. But don’t think no one outside American borders has also noticed:

Lese: Debatte um Eine-Billion-Dollar Münze in USA geht weiter – Wirtschaft – Süddeutsche.de http://t.co/ULhPNfzu

@blicklog

Dirk Elsner


This includes the prominent Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, as picked up by Dirk Elsner on his @blicklog feed.

The piece, by Jannis Brühl, is entitled “Heads or Tails,” and its essential function is to describe to German readers what is going on – or, rather, just what the heck is going on over there in the USA with this crazy-sounding coin-minting plan that, as Brühl puts it, beflügelt die Phantasie – basically, is mind-blowing. (more…)

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Beware the MOOC Erdrutsch!

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

You have heard of the MOOC, right? That stands for “Massive Open On-line Course,” truly the great Internet innovation of 2012. No less than on-line guru Clay Shirky has suggested that MOOCs – offered through sites such as Coursera, edX, Udacity and others, and surely more on the way – threaten to be to universities what Napster was to music.

For now, though, they simply offer fantastic (and free) on-line higher education opportunities (but beware, the required time commitment is usually considerable). Whether YOU are aware of these or not, rest assured that the Germans now are as well, after an article provocatively entitled Harvard For All appeared first in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and then, more significantly, on the website of Germany’s leading intellectual weekly, Die Zeit. The lede:

Study for free with the country’s most famous professors: The on-line courses of the US’ elite universities makes that possible. Only who will finance this hoard?

Well, financing for now is somebody else’s problem. This should really set off the landslide (GE: Erdrutsch) of German students into these MOOCs, for their capabilities in English are often excellent. I know that Coursera courses (of which I have taken/am taking a few) routinely attract students in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, but I bet this article alone will be responsible for at least a couple thousand more on an ongoing basis. Then again, these MOOCs are explicitly built to scale, so that should not cause any new problems in particular – the course’s discussion forum might just be a bit more crowded with student comment and response.

Also, there have already been some MOOC efforts in Germany. This article mentions an on-line IT course now being taught for the second time by an Institute at the University of Potsdam (seems to be in German) – but also (nota bene!) the course in English on “Ideal City [sic] of the 21st Century” given by the Leuphana Digital School of the Universität Lüneberg – free, of course, unless you want a paper certificate sent to you at the end – that will begin registration in a few days on January 9. Note that taking this course will involve being assigned to a workgroup of about seven fellow-students from all over the world within which you will be expected to collaborate to complete group assignments; if those turn out to be evaluated as the best, so that your team comes in as #1 in the course, you’ll win an expenses-paid trip to Berlin to meet your fellow group members in the flesh!

Finally, Iversity is a Berlin-based start-up (subsidized by German government funding, yet its site and most of its courses are in English) making a beginning in this MOOC space while also branching out to research groups and conferences.

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Dispatches from the Finanzklippe

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Uh-oh. It seems a certain American English expression is spreading overseas, and not one we might prefer:

US-Haushaltsstreit: “Go f… yourself!” – Washingtons Nerven liegen blank http://t.co/XlE06lIu

@welt

DIE WELT


This is of course the Twitter-link to Die Welt’s recent coverage of that ordeal of the “fiscal cliff” (Finanzklippe in German, if you’re interested). And, since it’s a reliable way to let others provide you with grist for your column (just ask the NYT’s Thomas Friedman, for example), journalist Ansgar Graw gives us here, right off-the-bat, a cabbie interview. The driver’s name’s Timothy, he comes from Jersey, and at least he’s capable of keeping a civil tongue as he transports Graw to his DC destination. “If I can’t make ends meet with my money,” he observes, “I can’t simply demand more from you [or “youse guys”?]. I have to start saving. But what does Washington do? They raise taxes, to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’!”

That’s quaint. First rule of Macroeconomics: the family budget is a faulty analogue for the financial issues of a government, particularly one in charge of its own currency. Back to the Congress, Graw attributes all that profanity flying around to the “frayed nerves” left over from the recent brinksmanship. He errs, however, when he tells his readers that John Boehner’s headline “request” to Harry Reid occurred “in the White House lobby” – accounts rather place the incident to just outside the Oval Office, as both Congressional leaders were waiting to confer with President Obama.

Maybe we shouldn’t begrudge Boehner his letting-off of a little steam, though, because (as Graw notes, and everybody knows) an equally fraught confrontation over the US debt ceiling is less than two months away. Speaker Boehner might even be out of a job by then: he was left high-and-dry when his House Republican majority refused to back his “Plan B” budget program of December’s last week, and his immediate deputy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was careful to vote “No” himself on that “fiscal cliff” legislation.

UPDATE: Goodness, goodness. Now this completely uncensored bit from Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza:


Apologies to anyone who needs them, this blog has never claimed to be G-rated. The occasion for this particular tweet, by the way, is a Gazeta twit – just click through to behold his mugshot – who needed an attention-getting title for his time-line editorial recounting the “fiscal cliff” craziness.

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