On Thursday, Barack Obama took a break from vacationing in Martha's Vineyard to address the ongoing crisis in Egypt, condemning the military's use of violence against pro-Morsy protesters and announcing the cancelation of joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises. It's a predicament presidents find themselves in more than you might think; as Bloomberg noted earlier this week -- before Egypt's bloody clashes erupted -- the world has a habit of going to pieces while presidents are getting their R&R, with the George W. Bush/Hurricane Katrina debacle being but one particularly memorable example. Here are some of the biggest international crises to hit the fan while U.S. presidents were out of the office.
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Anyone searching for a good summer farce to keep themselves entertained during these hot, meandering summer months should take a trip to Berlin, where an elegant little comedy is currently playing out inside Germany's Bundestag. On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, who oversees the country's intelligence agencies, was dragged before a parliamentary committee to answer for his government's involvement in NSA spying activities. But a hearing that was supposed to provide some clarity on the agency's activities in Germany instead turned into a sorry reflection of the political ineptitude of Merkel's opponents.
"Mr. PRISM is an important witness," Hans-Christian Ströbele, the senior Green Party member on the parliamentary panel tasked with overseeing Germany's intelligence agencies, intoned at the hearing. Ströbele concluded that he would appreciate the opportunity to ask Mr. PRISM a few questions.
Informed of his error -- he of course intended to refer to Edward Snowden -- Ströbele "grabbed his head," in the words of Der Spiegel.
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Barack Obama's visit to Berlin may have sparked a wave of commentary and analysis, but it was an offhand remark from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that gave birth to a meme. Responding to questions about the National Security Agency's PRISM program during a joint press conference with the U.S. president, Merkel noted that the "Internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us."
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama stood before the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday and tried to make some history.
In a speech that referenced a band of doomed protesters in East Germany, Immanuel Kant, and John F. Kennedy, Obama announced that he intends to cut America's nuclear arsenal by up to a third in pursuit of "peace with justice." The headlines from today's address will undoubtedly focus on this proposal, and whether the speech goes down as one for the history books will likely depend on Russia's willingness to shrink its nuclear stockpiles in tandem with the United States.
But the president's call for nuclear reductions was confined to a mere four paragraphs in an address that ran just over 30 minutes. The speech's real centerpiece was the idealist in Obama.
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A report produced by a group of 11 E.U. foreign ministers this week on the future of Europe focused, understandably, on how greater integration - or "more Europe" - could help resolve the ongoing debt crises, through greater oversight of member states' budgets, centralized bank supervision, etc.
But further down, the 8-page document also lays out a plan for how more federalism could boost the region's overall global clout -- and includes the possibility of a Pan-European Army.
"To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene we believe that we should in the long term... aim for a European Defence Policy with joint efforts regarding the defence industry (e.g. the creation of a single market for armament projects); for some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army."
The report makes clear that an all-Europe fighting force is only supported by some of the countries who helped produce the document; however, it also argues for a policy of more majority voting on security and foreign policy questions, meaning single states would no longer be able to veto defense policies they aren't in favor of. Alongside the European Army proposal, the report calls for an overall strengthening of the European External Action Service, the E.U.'s foreign policy arm.
The document has the backing of foreign ministers from Germany and France, as well as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and other major European actors, but not Britain, where news of the report has met with some alarm. The UK has opposed greater European military integration in the past, and the Daily Telegraph speculates that the new report could fuel current calls for a referendum on the E.U.
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Above, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will give the keynote address at Davos tomorrow, receives an effigy of a golden goose during Germany's annual carnival season. What you can't see is the crowd of Greek pensioners hovering in the background, plotting to steal the goose in the hopes of extracting magical golden eggs from within it.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Guenter Nooke told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau it was clear that "this catastrophe is also man-made".
"In the case of Ethiopia there is a suspicion that the large-scale land purchases by foreign companies, or states such as China which want to carry out industrial agriculture there, are very attractive for a small (African) elite," he said.
"It would be of more use to the broader population if the government focused its efforts on building up its own farming system."
He said that the Chinese investments were focused on farming for export which he said can lead to "major social conflicts in Africa when small farmers have their land und thus their livelihoods taken away."
Today, a written statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the allegations. "China has never had plans to buy land overseas, and China has never purchased land in Africa," the statement said, adding that Nooke's claims stemmed from "ulterior motives." The Foreign Ministry also announced today that it would provide $14 million in emergency food assistance to the Horn of Africa.
Beijing's protestations aside, Chinese investment in African farmland has ratcheted up significantly in recent years, as the government seeks to quell concerns about long-term food security. One estimate puts the number of Chinese farm workers in Africa at 1 million. Meanwhile, the Atlantic quotes a June 2009 report in the Chinese weekly Economic Observer that describes how Beijing "was planning to rent and buy land abroad" to deal with "increasing pressure on food security."
That said, it's worth noting that China is far from the only foreign investor with major land holdings in Africa today. Private and public investors from India, the United States, and the petrostates of the Middle East, to name a few, have taken their piece of the African land grab, which brought 15 to 20 million hectares of the continent under foreign investment between 2006 and mid-2009. By way of comparison, that's equal to the size of all the farmland in France. If Nooke is right about the connection between foreign investment and famine, seems like there's plenty of blame to go around.
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Germany experienced its first Islamist attack on Wednesday when a man by the name of Arid U. (Germany withholds the last names of suspects in ongoing investigations) opened fire at the Frankfurt airport, killing two U.S. military personnel and injuring two others. The circumstances of the attack are grimly prosaic: A young man with Muslim background (Kosovar in this case) finds solace among extremists and violently rejects his Western surroundings, cloaking his rage in political-theological language. Arid claimed that in shooting the U.S. troops he was seeking "revenge" for the West's war in Afghanistan.
But if this type of terrorist attack seems familiar by now to Americans, it's still worth looking twice at the German government's reaction to it. According to a report in Der Spiegel [in German], German officials offered, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, a remarkably level-headed, if fatalistic, assessment of the case:
The German Federal Crime Office in Karlsruhe acknowledged astonishingly openly how little the department, despite changes in law and increases in personnel, can do about criminals like Arid U. "Such crimes can not be prevented," the director of department Sven Kurenbach said.
It's important to note that this wasn't considered a "gaffe" by either the German media or the political opposition. The German public, and their public officials, apparently prefer to be spared the circus of blaring media tropes that the United States is now practiced at rolling out on these occasions. There was no witch hunt in Berlin for officials who should have seen this attack coming, no threatening military or rhetorical gestures toward foreign groups who may welcome this kind of murder, no interpretations of whether and which religious texts justify violence, no hand-wringing about the pernicious effects of social alienation.
Just the refreshingly frank admission from investigators that they weren't lucky enough to prevent the attack. And the bracingly silent acknowledgement that it may well happen again.
Via Spiegel, Germany has finally tipped its hand as to how it plans to resolve the continuing crisis on the European periphery. With Berlin's blessing, the EU will soon help Greece buy-out its old debts at reduced cost:
At the moment, Greek state securities are being traded at a sizeable discount to their face value. A five-year bond, for example, is being traded at around 70 percent of its face value -- sometimes a little more, sometimes a tad less. Under the plan, in order to improve its debt position, the Greek government would offer to buy back securities from its creditors at a premium over the current market price. The transaction would be backed by the EFSF.
Investors would now face a choice: If they were to accept the bonds, then they would have to book a considerable loss. At the same time, they would have certainty that the losses would not be even greater.
Give credit to the policymakers for getting the central idea right: mere austerity is no match for the massive sovereign debt owed by Greece and its fellow PIIGS. Unfortunately, though, the EU hasn't dropped all its bad habits. This intervention, like its predecessors, seems destined to be a combination of too late, too weak, and too small.
The central problem is that the buy-out program is going to be entirely voluntary for the bond creditors, which raises the question of who, exactly, is going to participate in it. Bonds from Greece, Portugal and Ireland are held by hundreds of European banks, insurers and pension funds, few of which can afford to take the massive write-down on offer without being forced to declare bankruptcy (or seek bailouts) themselves. Getting the ledgers truly and sustainably straight across Europe will inevitably require a greater share of the pain being distributed to the institutions who were loaning all the cash in good times. But why would they abandon their leverage, and expose their massive vulnerability, without being forced to?
Indeed, the dirty secret of the whole EU financial crisis is that German banks are at the center of it, holding hundreds of billions of euros of questionable bonds. German policymakers have said little about that fact publicly, while, behind the scenes, they've used their influence to obscure it. They were abetted by the suspect stress tests applied to banks by the EU last year (these were the same stress tests that Irish banks managed to pass shortly before being nationalized).
But as Europe plans a new set of stress tests that it promises will be more stringent than the last, the day of true reckoning -- and the beginning of Europe's real healing -- might not be too far off.
At next week's EU summit in Brussels, you can expect the usual photos of backslapping European leaders sharing broad laughs and whispered asides. But behind closed doors, things are likely to be a lot frostier: by all indications, personal relations among EU power players are at a nadir. Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg, has just deployed the spikiest insult in the EU lexicon against German chancellor Angela Merkel: The German government, Juncker told the German newspaper Die Zeit, was handling its European business in an "un-European manner." Juncker added, "Germany's thinking is a bit simple." In über-diplomatic, consensus-obsessed Europe, where disapproval is usually expressed by arched eyebrows and significant silences, it's rare for someone to draw a line in the continental sandbox quite so clearly.
(And it's not only from abroad that Merkel is facing criticism. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt added some incendiary remarks of his own in an interview with David Marsh for German business newspaper Handelsblatt. Asked about the conservative German central bankers on whom Merkel is known to rely on for advice, Schmidt gave his harsh verdict: "In their innermost hearts, they are reactionaries. They are against European integration.")
Juncker's outburst came in response to Merkel's outright rejection of his proposal to allow establish joint "Euro bonds" that could reduce the borrowing costs of debt-burdened EU member states.
And, in truth, it is getting harder to see what the German endgame is. Berlin is professing that Europe's troubled economies can and should secure long-term growth by means of fiscal discipline and improved "competitiveness." That's fine in theory, but it doesn't explain how Ireland, Portugal and Spain are supposed to service their existing debt in the face of rising borrowing costs and sinking tax revenue.
Of course, what it does ensure is that Germany will maintain its relative economic dominance. Germany's hardball no doubt appeals to some of Merkel's domestic constituencies, but it may condemn the euro to history's scrap heap, while doing irreparable damage to Berlin's relations with its neighbors. Merkel should enjoy the pleasantries and chit-chat on the sidelines of next week's EU summit, but she shouldn't take them for granted.
As the G-20 talks get underway, we're thrilled to have Clyde Prestowitz guest-blogging for us over the next few days. Clyde is the president of the Economic Strategy Institute here in D.C. He served as counselor to the secretary of Commerce during the Reagan administration and as vice chairman of the President's Committee on Trade and Investment in the Pacific.
Be sure to check out his most recent book, The Betrayal of American Prosperity: Free Market Delusions, America’s Decline, and How We Must Compete in the Post-Dollar Era as well as his piece, Lie of the Tiger, from the November print issue of FP. -JK
First, Barack Obama was shellacked in last week's congressional elections. Then, the U.S. president was garlanded in India and Indonesia. Now he's in Korea, where he's about to be waterboarded by the G-20.
Oh sure, the G-20 will come up with some paper-over language that will allow everyone to sign on to some vague agreement that it might be a good idea to achieve global rebalancing at some undetermined time in the next century. But this is just what the Japanese would call tatemae -- the packaging or superficial appearance of things. The honne -- the truth or actuality -- is that whether he knows it or not, the U.S. president has arrived in Seoul to preside over the end of the Flat World.
In fact, the Obama administration is demonstrating a lot of schizophrenia about this. In India, Obama couldn't stop spouting the conventional wisdom about how international trade is always a win-win proposition and how those who express concern about the offshoring of U.S. services jobs to India are just bad old protectionists.
At the same time, however, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is calling for some kind of deal for the G-20 governments to take concrete actions to reduce their trade surpluses or deficits. To be sure, Geithner has quickly backpedaled from his original proposal that governments would set hard numerical targets for the allowable limits of surpluses and deficits at 4 percent of GDP. His first fallback position was that the numbers would be only voluntary targets or reference points. When that elicited a new round of incoming fire he retreated further to the current proposal for agreement that each country will take the measures it thinks necessary to reduce excessive surpluses and deficits. Hardly much of a deal at all.
Yet even this is a revolution. No matter how watered down, Geithner's proposal is a call for managed trade. It is an implicit admission that contrary to 50 years of the preaching of economists, trade deficits matter. Even bilateral trade deficits can matter if they are big enough because they distort capital flows and exacerbate unemployment in the deficit countries. Further, it is an admission that unfettered, laissez-faire free trade is not self-adjusting and therefore not really win-win.
This implicit admission by Geithner has been manifested even more strongly (but still implicitly) by some of our leading free-trade economists and pundits. Thus, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner and long a champion of conventional free trade has called for tariffs on imports from China. So has Washington Post columnist and eternal free trader Robert Samuelson, and even the Financial Times' economics columnist Martin Wolf has suggested that some offsetting response to China's currency manipulation might be necessary.
But Obama isn't going to get agreement to any of that in Seoul. None of the other countries want to face the fact that the United States cannot be Uncle Sugar and the buyer of last resort forever. In fact, Obama has asked both the Germans and the Chinese to help out a bit by consuming more and exporting less. The Germans told him bluntly to get lost and the Chinese told him somewhat more politely to get lost. So the honne is that the Germans, because they're Germans, and the rest of Europe, because it is in terrible financial shape and can't borrow any more, are bent on creating jobs by dint of export-led growth. Essentially, they are saying they are going to create jobs by taking U.S. jobs. The Asians are saying and doing the same thing. Neither Asia nor Europe is likely to take steps that will achieve significant rebalancing in any reasonable period of time. That, of course, means no new jobs for Americans.
The big question is whether or not Obama will respond to that refusal by taxing foreign capital inflows, imposing countervailing duties on subsidized imports, matching the tax holidays and other investment incentives used by China and others to induce off-shoring of U.S. production, and challenging the mercantilist practices of many Asian countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO). These are all measures that he could take himself in an effort unilaterally to reduce the U.S. trade and current account balances and thereby create jobs for Americans.
If he does, he is sure to be harshly criticized by the apostles of the conventional wisdom. But if he doesn't he is sure to be toast in two years.
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German history can be a tough minefield for visiting dignitaries to navigate, but Chilean President Sebastián Piñera should still have known better than to write "Deutschland uber alles" in a government guestbook on his trip to Berlin:
The phrase Sebastian Pinera wrote was "Deutschland uber alles," or
"Germany above all." It became infamous under the Third Reich and after
World War II was excised from Germany's national anthem as too
Piñera says he learned the
slogan in school during the 1950s and '60s and understood it to be a
celebration of German unification under Otto von Bismarck.
He adds that he was unaware it was "linked to that country's dark past."
Piñera said Monday he's sorry, and asked to be forgiven.
I guess we can also safely assume Piñera isn't a Dead Kennedys fan.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Britain's deep cuts in defense spending mean it's far less likely that Her Majesty's armed forces will participate in future military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it will also reduce Britain's footprint in another part of the world, Germany:
Britain is to pull the last of its troops out of Germany 15 years ahead of schedule as part of a wide-ranging program of defense cuts.
Some 20,000 British service personnel are set to leave Germany in the next decade. The troops, originally stationed in the aftermath of the Second World War, had previously been set to remain until 2035.
Between this and Germany settling up its World War I debt, it does appear that Europe's 20th century wars may actually be over now.
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Yesterday I mentioned the odd fact that Japan still sends China around $1.2 billion in aid every year to make ammends for the damage done during World War II, but it's not the only country still paying for its (long) past wars. This Sunday, Germany will finally put the 1919 Versailles Treaty behind it:
Oct. 3, the 20th anniversary of German unification, will also mark the completion of the final chapter of World War I with the end of reparations payments 92 years after the country's defeat.
The German government will pay the last instalment of interest on foreign bonds it issued in 1924 and 1930 to raise cash to fulfil the enormous reparations demands the victorious Allies made after World War I.
The reparations bankrupted Germany in the 1920s and the fledgling Nazi party seized on the resulting public resentment against the terms of the Versailles Treaty.[...]
The debt payments were halted during the Great Depression and the Nazi era, then resumed in 1953. The final installment comes to €69.9 million.
Tough times call for tough sacrifices. Economies everywhere, desperate to continue their uphill climb out of the global recession, have imbibed this sound logic, however grudgingly. The French, however, don't seem agree with the conventional wisdom: strikes erupted this morning across the country in response to President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to bump the retirement age from 60 to-gasp!-61 or 62.
Sarkozy has defended the new measure as a reasonable adjustment given increasing life expectancy. Indeed, he might be excused for merely following in the footsteps of his European colleagues-Germany recently raised the retirement age from 65 to 67. (Then again, these days any comparison to Angela Merkel may do more harm than help.)
So far, the French aren't buying the President's explanations, bringing the country to a near stand-still. 14 percent of teachers and 8 percent of hospital workers left work today to participate in protests, airport travel was disrupted, and even news agencies took a hit. NPR reported that "because there aren't enough journalists available to deliver news bulletins, the main public radio news channel in Paris is playing pop music intermittently."
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LUEBBENAU, GERMANY - APRIL 09: Jutta Pudenz, an employee of German postal carrier Deutsche Post DHL, arrives to deliver mail from her falt-bottomed canoe in the narrow canals in the Spreewald forest on April 9, 2010 in Luebbenau, Germany. Pudenz has been delivering mail via the waterways for 20 years and is the only postwoman in Germany to deliver mail door to door by boat. The Spreewald forest is interlaced with canals that are still used by locals for delivering goods, ferrying tourists and even collecting garbage. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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As you know, I, in my capacity as Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, am striving to ensure that personal data on the Internet is protected. Private information must remain private - I think that I speak for many Internet users in this respect. Unfortunately, Facebook does not respect this wish, a fact that was confirmed in the most recent study by the German consumer organisation "Stiftung Warentest". Facebook fares badly in this study. Facebook was graded as "poor" in respect of user-data policy and user rights. Facebook also refused to provide information on data security - it was awarded a "5" (= poor) in this category as well. It is therefore all the more astounding that Facebook is not willing to eliminate the existing shortcomings regarding data protection, but is instead going even further. [...]
Should Facebook not be willing to alter its business policy and eliminate the glaring shortcomings, I will feel obliged to terminate my membership.
I doubt Zuckerberg is trembling at the prospect of losing Ilse Aigner as a user, but she's probably the highest profile official to voice complaints that are shared by quite a few users. In any event, this case blurs the traditional battle lines of Internet privacy debates in that it's the popular company that wants to collect user data and the government that wants to protect it.
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
Which of these three countries has the highest annual death rate?
a) Germany b) Iraq c) Kenya
(The photo above is of half-buried headstones at Arlington National Cemetery during last month's D.C.-area "snowpocalypse.")
Answer after the jump ...
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Oskar "The Red" Lafontaine, the polarizing leader of Germany Left party is stepping down to fight prostate cancer. Der Spiegel explains why this could be bad news for Angela Merkel's Conservative coalition:
Lafontaine's departure has robbed the party of its biggest electoral asset and is set to provoke a power struggle between its pragmatic eastern German wing and the more ideological westerners. It has also raised the likelihood of a broad-left wing "Red-Red-Green" alliance between the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens to challenge Angela's Merkel's center-right coalition in the 2013 general election, and in a string of regional state elections leading up to it.
Lafontaine, a populist who called former President George W. Bush a terrorist and questioned Western efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program, is a hate figure in the SPD because he abandoned the party in 1999, when he ditched his job as finance minister in a dispute with the SPD chancellor at the time, Gerhard Schröder. [...]
Media commentators say Lafontaine's exit creates a power vacuum in the Left Party and removes an obstacle to Red-Red-Green alliances. But they warn that major policy differences remain between the SPD and Left Party, and that the SPD cannot expect a major rebound just because the Left Party's heaviest hitter has quit the stage. The damage, commentators argue, has already been done.
Even with all the Left's votes, a Red-Red-Green coalition still wouldn't have beat the alliance between Merkel's CDU and the pro-business Free Democrats in the last election, but given the fragility of Merkel's coalition, this is certainly not welcome news.
Sean Gallup/Getty Image
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle paid a surprise visit to Yemen today to meet with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and ask for his help in locating German hostages who have been held in the country since June. Do you think the Yemenis might have been trying to send a message by having Westerwelle give his press conference in front of this mural? Could they not fit in a picture of Saleh slaying a dragon or playing lead guitar for Kiss?
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
Y2K has finally hit... about ten years late. Millions of Germans are currently coping with the effects of a systemic breakdown in the country's credit and debit card services. The episode is -- amusingly, except to those affected -- reminding many of the much-feared millennium computer bug.
"A piece of software on the affected cards, programmed by our suppliers, is defective, and cannot correctly recognize this year's number, 2010," the German DSGV banking association said on Tuesday.
Germans have been caught without massive supplies of bottled water, canned food, flashlights and first-aid kits -- but it seems life will go on. Fewer than half of German cards are affected, though that's little comfort to the many that've had their credit card eaten by the ATM.
Banking officials are claiming the problem will be fixed by next week.
JOHN MACDOUGALL AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Guido Westerwelle is currently visiting Israel for his first official trip as Foreign Minister. His last visit, in 2002, didn't go so well:
Westerwelle's trip follows another he made to the region in May 2002 when he was criticized by top Israeli politicians for failing to condemn anti-Israeli comments by his FDP party deputy, Juergen Moellemann.
Moellemann had sympathized openly with Palestinian suicide bombers and had invited Green party member Jamal Karsli, who had expressed anti-Israeli sentiments, to join the FDP.
Moelleman had angered Germany's the Jewish community -- a taboo if there ever was one, for German politicians -- by voicing support for Palestinian suicide bombers and accusing German Jewish leader Michel Friedman of contributing to anti-Semitism. Westerwelle's response to the controversy didn't exactly help:
Westerwelle said that Friedmann had "no higher moral authority" in the debate. When asked about his position on Germany's Nazi past during a visit to Israel, Westerwelle said: "We want to ask questions in a different way and answer them differently." He neglected to explain what he meant.
In response, Westerwelle endured the public criticism of Sharon during a joint press conference.
Westerwelle has changed his tune since then, emphasizing Germany's "special responsibility" to Israel as he tured Jerusalem's Yad Vashem this week. Hardline Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was also the first of Westerwelle's counterparts to call to congratulate him on his appointment. It seems possible that Westerwelle's visit was a way for Angela Merkel's new foreign minister to bury the hatchet with the Israel's before she meets with Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin next week.
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They're the kind of citizens any cash-starved government would want: a group of wealthy Germans have launched a petition this week calling for higher taxes on wealthy Germans. The group claims that Germany could raise €100 billion if the richest people paid a five percent wealth tax for two years.
Germany is not known as a low-tax country--tax revenues were 37% of GDP in 2007, in line with other EU countries, and above countries like South Korea (29%) and the United States (28%). The petitioners claim, though, that those who "made a fortune through inheritance, hard work, hard-working, successful entrepreneurship, or investment" should put their money into an economy that, while better off than some other EU counterparts, is still facing rising unemployment through next year.
But deficit hawks shouldn't start dreaming of a shift in worldwide tax perceptions: the petition has fewer than fifty signatures, and, after their most recent rally, one signatory told the AFP that it was "really strange that so few people came."
After German voters sent the Christian Democrats -- led by Chancellor Angela Merkel -- back to power with 13 more seats, it seemed appropriate to ask: In a secular country, what exactly makes it "Christian?"
The Christian Democratic Union says its "policies are based on theChristian view of Man and his responsibilities before God." HoweverGermans shy away from being connected with other versions of politicalChristianity.
Christianity Today recently interviewed Merke's minister of state on this issue. "Germans don't want to be called evangelical because theyare labeled by an image dominated by American evangelicals," Grohe said. He does want to see more German Christians discussing their faith in public, mixing personal with civil life, citing the United Kingdom as an example where religion and politics mix well.
Fighting abortion rights is an important issue for German Christians, but Grohe said fighting poverty and climate change are also imperative.
Talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification, Grohe said, "We are still struggling to put together two very different societies." This is especially evident looking at the electoral map from the recent election. (Sorry it is in French, scroll on the semi-circle to see how each party did in each region)
The former East Germany had the strongest support for The Left and the least support for the Christian Democrats. This is paralleled in East Berlin and West Berlin. The difference is more for political reasons than for religious reasons, but anti-religious feelings in Eastern Germany are prevalent.
"In East Germany, there's still a strong non-religious presence. Religion is for your grandma," Grohe said. "People say they forgot they forgot God."
Grohe said the pacifist aspects of the religion don't play much of a role in German politics, most people who want out of Afghanistan want out because they think it is unwinnable, not because of any feeling of religious necessity. However, a dislike for Islam is present in some German Christians.
"I'm very shocked when I see Christians talking hatefully about Muslims," he said. "When I talk about the need for freedom to build Islamic mosques, I receive shameful letters from Christians filled with hate."
Update: The link to the Christianity Today interview is down, but should be working again soon.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
When it comes to using Holocaust metaphors, the power of suggestion is a loaded and delicate thing. Striking the right chord becomes ever more slippery when, for example, you use the most recognizable image of Holocaust evil, Adolf Hitler, to illustrate the recklessness of unprotected sex. But you just about lose any hope of keeping that line clean and clear when you make a Hitler sex video for an AIDS PSA. Which is what a small German AIDS awareness group called, Regenbogen e.V, did.
While the Telegraph says the clip appears to be a "typical advert" at first glance, I imagine most American viewers won't agree. The act of intimacy being portrayed is basically soft-core porn. It shows two very naked hard-bodies engaged in some very steamy sex. (Warning: this video ain't for the kiddies and is probably not safe for work.) The commercial's obvious-to-the-point-of-insult message, that unprotected sex is very, very dangerous, is hammered home with a rather indelicate ... bang. As the couple reaches climax, the man's face is revealed -- it's Hitler. Scary, indeed.
Not surprisingly the ad, released in Britain to coincide with World AIDS day, has created a storm of controversy. A spokesman for the National AIDS Trust, the group that coordinates World AIDS Day in Britain, had this to say:
Of course there are many HIV organisations that run their own campaigns, however I think the advert is incredibly stigmatising to people living with HIV who already face much stigma and discrimination due to ignorance about the virus.
"On top of this it fails to provide any kind of actual prevention message (e.g. use a condom) and may deter people to come forward for testing.
"The advert is also inaccurate because in the UK thanks to treatment HIV is a manageable condition that does not necessary lead to AIDS.
Hans Weishäupl, creative director of das comitee, the group that created the ad for Regenbogen e.V, defended the work:
A lot of people are not aware that Aids is still murdering many people every day. They wanted a campaign which told young people that it is still a threat," he said. "In Germany, Hitler is the ugliest face you can use to show evil."
Provocative it may be, but successful? I doubt it. Would it be a gross and malicious misinterpretation to use this ad to say that people who have unprotected sex, or people with HIV or AIDS, are as evil as Hitler? Absolutely. Is it a stretch to say there are folks out there who will do just that? Nope.
Using the evil führer's personage for good is a tricky business, one that should perhaps be left to the Charlie Chaplins of the world.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück have been at the forefront of the international campaign to crack down on tax havens like Luxembourg and Switzerland. But they may be overlooking a problem much closer to home, according to Beat Balzli and Michaela Schiessl:
[T]he minister's rage against tax havens risks obscuring a much bigger problem: A completely legal tax avoidance industry is flourishing right at home in Germany. It is an industry that thrives on the mistakes made by ministries and the parliament in drawing up tax legislation. And hardly any other industry is as successful, irrespective of the current economic situation, or operates as efficiently.
While ordinary German workers are at the mercy of the tax authorities, millionaires and corporations use aggressive tax models to make themselves appear to be artificially poor -- and it's completely legal. In fact, seminars on "International Tax Structuring" are even tax-deductible in Germany as professional training.
What the national treasury loses in the process is far from insignificant. The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) has calculated that there is a gap of €100 billion between the demonstrated profits of corporations and partnerships and the profits they have reported for purposes of taxation. "This points to tax breaks and structuring options with which companies can lower their taxable profits or shift them abroad," writes the DIW.
In fact, German corporations structure their international subsidiaries in such a way that the most profitable ones are located in the countries with the lowest tax rates. Corporate tax paid by corporations makes up only 2.8 percent of the government's total tax revenues of €561 billion. Germany's army of wage-earners contributes the largest share.
"Germany is a tax haven for large companies," says Wiesbaden-based economist Lorenz Jarass. "People with normal incomes are being robbed."
Officials flicked on the switch at two of Germany's most important new solar energy sites on Thursday. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, the world's second-largest solar energy project went online. And halfway across the country, in North Rhine-Westphalia, a smaller scale but perhaps equally important facility launched -- Germany's first solar-thermal power plant.
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When is Nazi propaganda not Nazi propaganda? When it's in English apparently:
In a landmark decision Thursday, the Karlsruhe-based court ruled that using Nazi slogans translated into a language other than German would not, in general, be a punishable crime.
The ruling is linked to a case in which a neo-Nazi was prosecuted and fined €4,200 ($6,000) in 2005 for distributing clothing and merchandising bearing the slogan "Blood and Honour," written in English. With the ruling, the court overturned the verdict against the neo-Nazi, who was not named, but said it could still be possible to prosecute him under other laws relating to right-wing extremism.
Although "Blood and Honour," which is also the name of a banned far-right organization, alludes to the Hitler Youth motto "Blut und Ehre," the court ruled that translating the words represented a "fundamental change" in the slogan, meaning its use was no longer punishable under German law. The judges said that Nazi slogans were characterized not only by their actual meaning but also by the fact that they were in German.
This seems particularly ridiculous. The idea behind the ruling seems to be that it's the words themselves that are dangerous rather than the ideas they represent. There's similar thinking behind Bavarian authorities insistence on banning the publication of a critical, annotated edition of Mein Kampf, despite the fact that Jewish groups support its publication.
You can also not expect every neo-Nazi group in Germany to start printing signs in English, making a mockery of the original law.
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If you got it, flaunt it. At least that's what my grandmother used to say, and I imagine if she could see the campaign ads coming out of Germany this week, she'd probably laugh. And Vera Lengsfeld, who is running for a parliament seat in Germany's upcoming September elections, is banking on the fact that constituents will have a sense of humor.
The ad (shown above) pairs pictures of Lengsfeld and none other than Chancellor Angela Merkel, shoulder to shoulder showcasing the bountiful assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature -- two very ample bosoms barely contained by two seriously wide and plunging necklines. The line that runs across reads: "We have more to offer."
No doubt, where there's more chest, there's more attention. Lengsfeld, who did not clear the ads with Merkel, reports that traffic to her blog has increased, getting as many as 17,000 visitors since this campaign went public.
Her takeaway on all this?
If only a tenth of them also look at the content of my policies, then I will have reached many more people than I could have done with classic street canvassing."
It's an interesting acknowledgement on Lengsfeld's part, she's clearly aware that the show-stopping photos aren't appealing to the thinking minds of men and women, though it sounds as though she's hoping the ad's wit will trump the old T&A approach.
Many of those not laughing are likely to be women who find the posters, and the ploy behind them, cheap and offensive. The glass ceiling runs far and wide, thicker over some places than others, and apparently the profiles of men cast long shadows, even over the most powerful women in global politics. Truthfully, I'd like to see a man foolish enough to market his campaign "package" in the same fashion ... Or has Berlusconi kind of done that already?
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Five years before actually getting in trouble with the law for the first time, Michael Jackson was the most popular of a series of musicians doing gigs in and around Cold War Berlin. And as the most popular, and therefore most likely to turn East Germans on to "rock'n'roll and all the Western decadence it implied" (mostly amps that go to 11, I assume) the East German secret police decided they had no choice but to spy on Michael Jackson.
In a note from the Stasi, found in files revealed by German mass circulation newspaper Bild this week, the secret police were worried that the "youths will do anything they can to experience this concert, in the area around the Brandenburg Gate." And, they noted, "certain youths are planning to (use the occasion) to provoke a confrontation with police."
To be fair, the role of rock-and-roll in democratic movements was already well documented, such as after the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. More recently, East German musicophiles had already clashed with police a year earlier while trying to hear the loudspeakers on the other side of the wall during concerts by David Bowie and Genesis. And when given the powers of the moonwalk, who knows what these youths could have done? Why, they might even tear down the Berlin Wa...oh, wait.
Jackson, by the way, was not finished with Berlin: 14 years later, on a Berlin hotel balcony, Jackson confirmed once and for all that, yes, he was completely nuts.
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