Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Trail and a Refugee

When I went into 'retirement' in the summer of 2013.....I slowly became introduced into the various trails around Germany.  Most are forest trails built for the loggers decades ago, and they've become over the past couple of decades....a heavily appreciated hiking trail system.

Just around the Wiesbaden area alone.....I'd take a guess that over a thousand kilometers of trails exist within thirty-odd miles of the city.  There are probably six different trails that I could take to exit my village and head off in various directions (Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Mainz, Mainz-Kastel, Limburg, the Rhine River, etc).

There are so many trails around Germany....that people have gotten into GPS-related data, travel advice (eating establishments, inns, and shops), and detailed analysis of the plant and animal life along each trail.  There are literally volumes of data out there, if you simply look for the trail in question.

Oddly, most of Germany's neighbors have done the same thing (Austria and Switzerland to a great degree, Italy and Hungry to a lesser degree).

Back in the 1880s, if you'd said you wanted to walk a trail from Frankfurt to Prague....it would have been difficult.  Assembling the information and getting the right maps.....a slight challenge....and people would have been suspicious of your intentions.

Today?  With so much information....you could plan a walk from Mainz to Athens, Greece.....and have every single detail laid out.  Coffee shops each mid-morning with a curious local pastry.  A grocery stop in the afternoon for some beef and items for tonight's camp-fire supper.  One stop a week at some inn or hotel for a full bath and comfortable evening's rest.

So, you could easily envision a refugee sitting there in Iraq or Syria and pouring over the data. You could plan a 2,000 kilometer walk from the beaches of Romania....to Mainz.  It'd take less than a day to get your plan up to a four-star level.  You might want a cellphone, a compass, a tent, some rain gear, some cooking gear, a wire-cutter device for security fences, a language book or two, and a sleeping bag.

Doing this the hard way and walking the whole way? Ok, it might eighty-odd days.  If you added in a bus everyday and rode the afternoon route?  Maybe fifteen days max.

In the 1880s, you would have needed a map and it might have been tough to acquire several of the maps required.  Today, that map is built into the cellphone.  GPS coordinates easily acquired and used to ensure no wasted time.

A complex walk?  Maybe if you had five or six people in the group who were over forty and in poor physical shape....but the younger kids would take to the hike with no problems.

When you sit and ponder over this impressive feat....it's really not remarkable.  In the summer of 2014, I probably hiked a thousand kilometers easily in the Wiesbaden region.  Dehydration might have been a issue on one or two days......but it's not that big of a deal if you plan out your water consumption.

In some ways....this trek that the refugees are accomplishing....turns into a life-changing adventure.  You've left country X and walked across half of Europe, and there's not much for you to worry about except some discomfort along the trail.  Whatever you find in Germany....will be better than what you left.  It would be different if there were no trails and you had simply a wilderness in front of you.  But there's this trail that thousands have walked and you've got some courage in your system.....if they made it.....so can you.

The Three Billion in Costs

Channel One (ARD) from the German networks.....had a short update piece last night over the Labor Ministry and immigrants in Germany.  What  Andrea Nahles (Labor Minister) said was that she'll need funding for a program to get refugees and immigrants into a job as quickly as possible.  It's taken months for the government to say this and admit there will have to be a special program in effect.

The amount for this program for the foreseeable future?  Three billion Euro.  Yeah.....a fairly big chunk of money.  Some people will be dazed by it, and some will just say it's the price of doing this sort of future-planning.

ARD's reporter laid it correctly....the economy right now in Germany....as much as people whine about it.....is actually robust and looking fairly good.  There are regions of Germany with high unemployment (eastern Germany for example).  But there are sections of the country that really look great and need new employees.

The one odd issue that this news report tossed out there?  Only a quarter of these accepted refugees/immigrants....are between sixteen and twenty-four years old, and the bulk of these people don't have certifications or identified qualifications.  We are talking about approximately sixty-percent and that's a tough number to just look past and feel enthusiastic about the future. It means you'd need an enhanced program.....more instructors....and figure a way to implement this across a broad country.

A smart person would look at this and think about the scheduling process.  You get through the hurdle of approval to stay.  Then you start the language and integration classes....figure six months minimum.  Then you get into a job-training program which might take a full-year as a minimum.  Help at the end to get the guy into an apprentice deal?  Probably so.

To note....that three billion is for the first full year (not a multi-year).

I should also note that the ARD folks laid out this wild-card in terms of length and costs....this is the cheap end of the program.  By 2019....it could be seven billion Euro a year, depending on how the refugees keep arriving.

Public acceptance of the funding?  It's an honest approach by the ministry folks and at least the public understands there is a cost factor (something that the German government has tried to often avoid saying in public forums).  If you didn't agree with the refugee crisis.....it'll just be another ton of bricks on your frustrations.  If you did agree with the refugee crisis....at least you know there is a plan on jobs for these folks.

But there is one slight pondering left for me.  Let's say in four years....ISIS loses their 'thing' in Syria and is chased out.  A new government arrives in Syria, and people suddenly get charmed into the idea of leaving Germany and going home.  The ten-odd billion paid out over the period?  Totally wasted. The Germans are hoping in some way, that this won't be the scenario and this is a long-term situation. It's the best angle for the future, but I wouldn't want to be a political figure trying to explain how ten billion got spent and your trained folks finally packed up and left.....leaving nothing for your investment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The "Refugee-TripAdvisor"

I marvel at modern technology and innovation.  You can have a unique item with a broken part.  You need a diagram to explain how to take apart the device.....so you find one that some retired guy from Boston put online.  You need the part?  Some Chinese guy named Wang makes the parts which went out of stock more than fifty years ago.  Wang sells it to you and has it shipped, and it arrives in four days.

TripAdvisor?  I marvel at it.  You want details on some town in a place you've never been....then you type in the name and find the hotels, bars, restaurants, sites, and travel information.  It's shared to you by thousands.....for nothing.  Suddenly, something that was utterly complicated two decades ago....is simply and easy.

Last night, in the midst of a German refugee update piece.....the German reporters got onto this unique topic.  They had discovered this entire web site with all kinda of TripAdvisor-like advice for a guy wanted to make the trip from the edge of Turkey.....all the way into Germany.  Marvelous, would be the best term to use.

You wake up....make your decision on leaving X, and all you really need is a backpack, some basic camping gear (tent), a compass, and a smart-phone.

You cross the border and arrive on day one in Greece.  There from the refugee-TripAdvisor-like site is the note on the first town you come to.  There's a bakery and a recommendation to pick up bread and some water bottles there.  It advises you on a taxi on this street where the guy will take you to the major long-haul bus station for X-amount of Euro.  You arrive there and it recommends bus X to get you to the northern border.

Rest stops are noted, along with warnings of who to trust or who to avoid.

Train stations?  They will note the name, the restroom situation, and places to buy cheap food.

Border checkpoints? It'll advise on where to cross and who to avoid.

I sat in amazement and watched the simplicity of this refugee site.  Any idiot could use the information and make the whole trip in ease.

My humble guess....if I wanted to spend money and ride most of the way.....I could make the trip in fifteen days easily.....walking maybe ten-percent of the whole trip.  If I went the hard way.....walking maybe half of the whole trip......maybe four weeks.

Here's the thing....it's out in the open for millions to view.  A cousin comes over to your place tonight and you weren't eager to leave your homeland but he talks you into it because of various emails he's gotten from friends.  You gather up some cash from friends and relatives, and make the expedition.

If I were in the top levels of the German circle.....I'd be looking at this refugee-TripAdvisor-like site and contemplating the big-picture.  I'd be worried.  Everyone.....from Pakistan to Burma....can review the details and figure out a way to get on a freighter or aircraft, and somehow make it to Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey.  From there.....you just walk on over.  Same deal in Africa.....thousands of people could review the travel details and grasp the simplicity of this epic journey.

For 2016?  You could be looking at 1.5 million to 3 million people trying to make the journey. There could be forty or fifty different cultures or nationalities.....looking for entry.

I was sitting and gazing over the Wall Street Journal today.....indepth article over Chancellor Merkel and her frustrations with bordering countries who aren't enforcing the rules.  She wants them to stop refugees....register them in their country.....and thus face the consequences of handling them (paperwork , taking care of them, and doing their own support system).   The EU over the past two decades have dissolved borders and no one has enthusiasm to bring them back.....but Chancellor is making the threat that if countries can't enforce the rules.....border control will be reestablished.

I can remember the 1970s and 1980s when you crossed the border into Germany.  You hit a station and the border control guys would either wave you through or make you go through passport control. It could be a 30-second experience or five-minute experience.  Lines would form up on Friday afternoon or Sunday evening as you were entering a country.   All that went away as the EU came along.

The old border control stations?  Well....most sit there....empty....just sitting there....gathering dust.  If the Chancellor gave the order.....they probably could open every single station within a matter of a week.  But there's the odd problem.....all of the border control and customs folks....have been removed and sent onto new functions.  They aren't in place and the new functions would suffer greatly if these folks had to go back passport control and border protection.  Thousands of new hires?  Probably so.

Even if the border control went back into effect.....how many thousands of refugees would walk around the border each week?  Some guy would figure out a new angle and put the deal up on the refugee-TripAdvisor-like site.  As fast as they put it up....the border guys would try to figure a new gimmick.  Back and forth....like a chess match.

 As the German frustration level starts to rise with neighboring countries.....they can simply sit there and act innocent.  The EU in some ways....will find that the border and refugee crisis requires some kind of solution which is impossible to create and accept across all partners.

The Brochure

There's a brochure that got recently produced in Germany....entitled "Using Potential - Employing Refugees."  It came out of an effort between the German national office....the BAMF....which handles migration and refugees.....and the German Employers Association (BDA).

It's an interesting brochure which they hope to hand out to various German companies and get them charged up to hire new immigrants and refugees.

The push?  They say that refugees often are educated and qualified as they arrive in Germany, they have an expertise that can be utilized in most business environments.  Plus there's the language factor as well.  All of this.....with hyped up emotion for their new country and intercultural knowledge....makes it a win-win situation.

The curious thing is that the current German unemployment rate is hovering (for three quarters now) near 4.6-percent.....which is awful low.  But I was reading late last year from Fortune over a statistical divide in Germany.....where unemployment in the western side of Germany remains low.....in the former DDR-side (the eastern third of the nation)....it's closer to nine-percent (at least with 2014 data).

It might be true in some urban areas like Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg....that some type of commercial enthusiasm exists for new-hires and this job atmosphere would be a possibility for the new immigrants.  But then you'd have to have funding around for some certification program or retraining effort.  No one talks much about that issue.  A tax break for companies that went at this angle?  No one says much.  It might take a year for BAMF to convince the government that some gimmicks might be necessary to make this a success.

Final Use of the American Arms Hotel in Wiesbaden?

Over the weekend, the local news in Wiesbaden hinted that the usage of the former US Army-run American Arms Hotel....will be for refugees.

Yeah, a slight shocker.

For almost a year, there's been internal discussion of various uses, and I guess some pressure was brought upon the city to accept more people, and this was more or less an ideal property to convert over.

From the planning standpoint....the building needs only minor modifications or improvements.  I admit....there's no furniture in the old hotel....so they'd have to buy everything to refurnish it as a refugee center.  There was a central dining point in the old hotel....which could be put back into action.....if they buy the kitchen equipment.

The neighborhood?  I'm not sure of the enthusiasm.  This was a high-value neighborhood with million-Euro houses.  It is within five minutes walking of the down-town area.  I would estimate that the American Arms Hotel had roughly 150 rooms....some of a double capacity which would work for a four-to-six person family.  Total usage? Maybe in the 500 resident range.

At least there won't be any parking lot issues (they had one of the smaller parking lots in the region).

Long-term use?  I'm guessing for the next three or four years....it'll be used in this capacity and when the crisis period finally dissolves....the city will agree to tear the building down and convert it over to a park.

Of course, this would bring a logical person to ask this dynamic question.....where exactly will affordable apartments be found as each resident reaches the point of wanting to exit the center after getting finished with basic requirements?  Wiesbaden doesn't exactly have cheap apartments in abundance and the building scheme that you generally see around town....isn't for cheap apartments in the future.

An Evening of Immigration News and Chat

ARD (Germany's state-run Channel One) had two immigrant/refugee pieces on last night in the prime-time period.

They ran with a "Panorama" special at 8:15, which lasted roughly 45 minutes.  It was a wide collection of information bytes.

At one point, the journalists wanted everyone to know that Merkel's handling of the 2008 banking crisis.....to save the German banks....had cost X amount, and presently....with the immigration crisis in Germany was getting 1/28th of the banking amount.  It was hard to figure how the two connected or how they related in terms of money.....except the journalist wanted some massive funding increase to please their view of the situation.  The banking crisis in 2008...was solved by stabilizing a number banks and keeping the German economy surviving intact.  You can't really compare the two situations.

At another point, they brought up a video clip of a CDU political figure talking about empty houses and apartments throughout various regions of Germany.....with fancy graphics in the background.  It is basically true.....several 'counties' in eastern Germany and to a lesser extent in the western side.....have significant numbers of empty apartments.  The area around Pirmasens (not far from Kaiserslatuern) has roughly ten-percent empty houses/apartments. It'd be very easy to move people in.....but would the landlords fall into line and accept a situation like this?  The odd thing which the journalists left out?  All of these areas with high empty house/apartment situations.....have significant unemployment.  So, if you moved these people into these areas.....they'd have shelter, but probably never find employment.

They did a credible piece showing the complex nature of planning and executing a tent city.  As the German lady explained her exhausting episode.....it will come together but it's not a simple task.  She had to deal with at least twenty different people who are part of the construction and installation team, and they weren't all grasping their part in the episode which ought to normally take months and had to be done in a matter of days.

At some point, they put up the fencing situation....showing video of refugees overcoming the fence.  I admit....the fence was simply a simple and the guys who designed it.....probably knew that a guy with wire-cutters could beat the system.  Then the journalists spoke up on the bordering countries and their discussions to put up fences....showing a graphic with a minimum of eight different borders....all possibly having fences in the future.

So, this show came to an end, then a Hart Aber Fair episode started up....with a live political discussion panel.  You ended up with three pro-immigration enthusiasts, one journalist, and the CSU Bavaria Interior Minister (who wasn't anti-immigrant but he questions where all this is leading onto).

For one of the topics....they finally reached the economic refugee question.....noting that it's less than one-percent of these people who get approved to stay.  They carefully avoided to say the number (like for example of the 450,000-odd in 2014) that ended up being sent out.

If you knew of the 500,000 in the first six months of 2015.....there were only 200,000 that were going to be allowed to stay, it'd probably make a difference on public perception.  But they don't put these numbers out there, and you have to wonder why.  They will only say that a significant number of refugees are economic situations.

The more amusing piece of the show came up when they found a university professor who was an expert on personal conflicts and showed him X number of video clips with anti-immigration or anti-refugee Germans commenting.  He rendered a couple of opinions on why people act 'scared' or 'feel threatened'.  I thought they could have brought an ethics professor onto the show at that point and note that people are entitled to their opinion....even if journalists or political figures attempt to intimidate or challenge them.

At the end of this whole two-hour evening, I sat and pondered upon this reality.  ARD isn't exactly the network where most 18-to-45 year old Germans watch..  Most Germans aren't thrilled by news related shows and it's a rare thing that they flip over to such a programming evening.  So out of eighty million Germans.....how many ended up watching the full two hours?  I have doubts that it goes past two million viewers.  If you were anti-immigrant or anti-refugee....you probably flipped the channel after fifteen minutes because you disagree with the whole thing.

It reminded me of a social setting where you reinforce the perception of the attendees with the goal of the organization.  Two full hours of enthusiasm and news set to an agenda.

What was missing at the end of the evening?  They generally talk over 2015 and the past.  No one says a word about 2016.  You reach a point where you start to ask....where is the point where numbers go back to 100,000 to 200,000 a year?  What if larger numbers of people see the open-door situation and make a decision in September to pack up and make the trail to Germany?   Could the Germans handle 1.5 million refugees in 2016?  It's difficult to say.  All of this.....is fluid, and you can't predict much of anything or anticipate the end of the crisis.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why Some EU Countries Don't Want the Immigration and Refugees Issue

At some point over the past week, I've come to notice that some German journalists (a small number).....are asking this really tough question....why aren't all of the EU countries pumped up like Germany for more immigrants and refugees?  The less-than-thrilled crowd?  England, Slovakia, Czech, Greece, and it even has France to some degree.  Most of the Eastern European countries can be put on the list as well.

The issues?

Well, you can start with a cost factor.  Oddly, German government folks never (never ever is the best term) cite what the true overall cost factor adds up to with each 1,000 refugees/immigrants.  No one within the German system cites cop hours on non-cop duty.  No one talks about the logistical costs because they've dumped it onto individual states and individual cities.  The paperwork?  The language and integration classes?  The food and medical support?  The security involved?

Most countries have a definite spending plan and don't really care to spend more on something that doesn't support the national agenda.  They'd rather spend on schools, roads, bridges, and police security.

Then you come to this factor of slums.  Most British have this image of an immigration suburb of town being taken by a large group and transformed in a matter of years into a slum-appearance.  To be honest though.....you could travel into London and find all Brit-neighborhoods....that look like slums as well.  But folks have this opinion that low-income neighborhoods get pushed into a worse position.

Integration?  Some nations have the opinion that the new folks just don't fit.....not in two years or ten years time.

The hostility over religion?  I believe at least three or four of the EU countries have a negative opinion that Islam will become an issue in their country if they get into the Syrian business.  Last week....one nation hinted that they'd be willing to accept X number of Syrians....provided they were Christians.  That won't fly well with the German view of things.....but then Germans don't run the EU.

Then you come to this odd factor of experience with immigration..  Some nations have seen remarkably few refugees or immigrants over the past decade or two.  They kinda got used to the idea just a hundred here and there every quarter.  The idea of 10,000 arriving in one single quarter would make some of these countries go through huge anxiety frustrations.

Then you arrive to the big issue.....who exactly in some country will manage things?  Would you just force the problem onto cities or states and pretend it's not a federal problem.....like the way that Berlin handled it?  The British would just grin when the Germans explain this tactic, and they'd let you know right away that this attitude won't work on the isle.  The Greeks would just start laughing.....because a normal Greek city would hand the refugee a loaf of bread and a tent.

 There are twenty-eight members to the EU.  On the one far end....is Germany mostly by itself.  Somewhere from the mid-point to the German end.....there might be three or four countries with somewhat similar values.  The rest of the EU are beyond the middle-point and it's safe to predict that they will talk, and talk, and talk, and talk.  Little will be agreed upon.

The fear of right-wing extremism coming out of this situation in two years?  I'd take a guess that half of the EU members are in some fear currently and know it's a oncoming situation for elections.  For Germany, the national election is still two years away....so they might not be fearing much at this point.  But there are individual German state elections....five in 2016, and one of those is Saxony-Anhalt which presently has significant demonstrations occurring against the refugees presently.  If the Saxony-Anhalt state election goes negative....it'd likely cause more concern throughout the rest of Germany.

I suspect over the next week....some German journalists will try to tackle this discussion item and try to explain it to the German public.  But it'll be impossible to cover.....unless you had a Czech, a Dane, a Brit, or a Pole standing there....and actually doing the talking.  And the more they explain their fears....it'll just transform Germans a bit....to ask more and more questions.  Right now....it's a trust thing where the journalists and political figures simply say there's no problem.  As long as they keep it simple and pure, without more questions.....it'll continue on this trail.  But even Germans aren't that stupid.....they will eventually ask why their neighbors won't do it the German-way, and feel kinda shocked when the whole thing is laid out that others don't think that way.

Weekend Fire Story

Most folks say that people from Alabama are fairly creative in disastrous chaos.  This past week, we had someone who was fairly clever and creative....in the matter of chaos.

The fire department got called in Frankfurt.....smoke going through some apartment building in the Bornheim suburb.  So they arrive, and there is some smoke going on.....out of one particular apartment.

They finally get access and enter and it's a ready unusual event.  Some gal had decided that she'd use an actual coconut shell.....as a ash tray.  I'd admit....even in Alabama, we haven't reached this stage of ideas yet.

Somewhere in the effort of ashtray usage.....the coconut actually started smoldering and putting out a fair amount of fumes/smoke.  It was beyond her control, and that's how the fire department got called (all late on Sunday night).

Luckily, a small bit of water was the requirement, and they didn't ruin the apartment or building with fire axes or massive water.  Course, smoke was all around the hallway.....so they brought in some big fan and 'huffed' the air out.

Some doctor got called to treat the gal involved for smoke inhalation.  She was probably frustrated over the whole affair and hoping that the neighbors don't ask stupid questions.

Naturally, Germans are fairly curious folks and I'm guessing five or six professors over at the Frankfurt University are busy surveying if coconut fumes are toxic or hazardous.  And somewhere down the line.....some idiot German bureaucratic guy will say that a warning has to be affixed to grocery areas to say that coconuts should not be used as ask-trays.