Saturday, October 25, 2014

The German Comedian Who Crossed the Line

As German comedians go.....I would give Dieter Noor a thumbs-up, but a marginal three stars.  He is a satirist.  His material is mostly thoughtful things....which a typical guy would come across....ponder....and then give his logical assumption of the real event at hand.  From the dozen occasions I've seen him....he's not in the top ten German comedian group, but you might put him in the top twenty-five group.

Dieter has gotten himself onto another group....top German comedian in trouble with the Islamic folks in Germany.

This week, it came out that Dieter's expected comedy act this Saturday night (25 Oct).....up in Osnabruck, Germany (north Germany).....is expected to have protests by various Islamic members of the community.

The accusation?  In Germany, there is a ultra-fine line about satire and religion.  You can say a handful of things, and the rest would get you into trouble.  Course, the satire crowd would sit there and waste forty-five minutes talking up Catholic priests.....child-sex and religion.....and blast away at dozens of religions in the world without any hesitation.  By the rule of the law, they've probably crossed some line, but the fact that no one says anything.....shows the public sentiment on this.

Well, in this case, Dieter picked up the Koran, and started to pull direct quotes out of it.  A local guy in Osnabruck has decided enough is enough....that crossed the line, and he's labeled the entire act as "stupid propaganda" against the Muslim religion.

What the cops will say is that they have received a complaint about Dieter.  The local prosecutor holds the complaint.  In general.....locals don't think much will come out of this.  If you go after Dieter, it opens up a can of worms, with dozens of mainstream comedians likely to then pick up where Dieter left off, and you'd have to imprison all of them for something.  The prison sentence if convicted?  The local newspaper out of Osnabruck indicates up to three years in prison for abusing free speech and dumping on religion.

All of this brings me around to the Islamic guys who talk up their religion and quote directly from the Koran.  If they quietly did everything within their local building or their home....no one would ever say much.  By publicizing on YouTube, the internet, and making public statements (often using direct quotes from the Koran).....you end up attracting more attention than you deserve.  Then you get the wrong crowd involved, maybe purposely.....and then you complain that people work against you.

I'm kinda reminded of a JFK-derived quote which might fit well into this mess.....ask not what I can do for my religion, but what my religion can do for me.

Over the past decade....I've yet to see one single act of goodness or kindness or charity come out of the Islamic community.....that got any notice.  Maybe there are such acts....but you tend to see a bunch of guys running around the globe....mostly hyped up on killing someone or destroying something.  Helping kids in new countries with homework and learning the language?  Never seen, and I doubt if there is such a device in Germany.

Maybe a dozen folks will show up tonight at Dieter's show in Osnabruck and protest.  Maybe fifty folks will show up.  But I'm guessing Dieter will go right back into his act, quoting the Koran, and asking for people to sit and think over what they actually see.

Another Fire

Off in the distance, as you look across the landscape of Wiesbaden, is our one and only skyscraper.  The old R + V building.

Last night, the fire department got called out again.  I've more or less lost count but since July of last year when I arrived....I'd take a guess that they've responded to at least a dozen fires in the building.  Last night was an episode on the 17th floor.  Several squads were called onto the episode.

The building is part of a complex....related to the old Movenpick Hotel, a upscale restaurant, and an old school.  All shutdown within the past ten years while owners have come and gone over the idea of tearing down the whole thing, and putting up some profitable building.

No one ever gets to the point where they've got the rest of the investment money, the entire plan, the approval of the city council, or the contract to tear down the whole complex.

I noted last week, the present owner has said they've got the plan almost ready to tear down the dilapidated building, but a comment out of the city council indicating this spring schedule....is more or less "wishful thinking".  No one expects anything much to occur.  The new building to go up?  The present owners only hint that it's a condo building for upscale residents.  I might speculate that it's on some level of planning for wealthy VIPs from the Middle East who fly in.....stay a week or two every six months....and fly out.

The whole complex was fenced in around five to ten years ago....when they already had security problems and could not keep teens out of the building structure.  While the elevator has been closed off and various security doors put into place.....nothing has really worked.  So punks show up....get to the top.....do some drugs.....set some things on fire in the process.....and it's a big episode for the fire department to react to.

Why the city won't step in and tear it down themselves?  I don't know.  If I were the fire department, I'd just notice that I won't react to any fires within the structure anymore, and hope it burns to the ground.  But then some civic-minded guy would respond that some poor doped up kids might still be in the building and that wouldn't be right.

The Paving Episode

I sat and watched a regional German network last week (HR) on a curious development with taxation.  Here was a community where the mayor and city council had signed onto a paving contract  to fix up a significant street in this smaller town.  This was likely planned out in 2013 (they left this part out of the story), and I doubt if anyone from the town attended the meeting, heard the whole story, and grasped what was coming down.

Anyway.....the road project is nearing an end.  They showed the pavement and it's a nice piece of work.

The way that things typically work in Germany for city paving episodes....there is a balance of three inputs of cash.  You the property owner, pay a certain amount of money into the city via property taxes.  The city takes a portion of that money, along with a state portion, then comes to you with a bill.  Your personal contribution....if this is a side street along your house and not a full-up city avenue.....is part of the deal.  So, typically, your bill for the paving along your house goes from a couple hundred Euro to maybe three thousand Euro.

Germans typically view the new pavement as an infrastructure thing, which adds value to the house, and makes the whole neighborhood look better.

In this case here?  The city came to property owners and handed a general bill of roughly 20,000 Euro.  Yeah, kinda shocking.  Unbelievable was the term used by some folks meeting with the news team and talking over this.

They didn't have this kind of money, and just couldn't see how they'd ever afford this.  20,000 Euro equals roughly $24,000.

The news team went around, and found a couple of other villages in the region....who'd done the same thing.  One gal speaking for her elderly parent....noted their paving bill was closer to 50,000 Euro.  The parent was totally frustrated and it was harming their health to even discuss the matter.

The city mayors involved?  Generally, they just say that state money didn't come as they wished....and the private resident has to make up the money.

Germans get by with a marginal property tax when compared against Americans.  The place I live in....has a yearly property tax of 650 Euro ($800).  For what is a half-million dollars in value.....it's a fantastic deal when compared to what you'd pay in Miami or Atlanta.  But the other side of the coin is that the city relies greatly upon state money, and if it's not there.....the city can assess some fee down upon you.

From what I could figure out of the story....legal options were being pursued, and the city expected legal challenges over these fees.  In the case of the guy owing 50,000 Euro.....I'd take a guess that he'll be forced to sell his house....just to cover the bill.  The folks owing 20,000 Euro?  They might be able to take loans, but if they are over the age of sixty.....I don't see German banks offering up this type of situation.  So they might be forced to sell.

This brings me back around to city hall meetings, and why it's of absolute importance to attend these, and grasp what the idiots there are going to do.  In this group of cases.....they proceeded with a contract....when they did not have the state funding guaranteed and in place.  Someone should have stopped them and noted that no one in the village can afford a personal bill of 20,000 Euro for paving their street.

Down the road?  I anticipate that when city elections come around next time.....everyone is fired, from the whole city council, and the mayor himself.  The new folks?  They will likely raise property taxes drastically, and use that to pay for the paving project. This will make ninety-percent of the village hostile because their measly 300 Euro a year for property taxes, has now gone to 1,200 Euro.  The odds of any new paving projects in this type of town?  Zero.  It'll be ten years before they agree to the next type project.....that's my humble bet.

From an American prospective......this would make an entire community hostile, and really destroy the political career of some mayor.  I'm guessing Germans might feel the same way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Partnership Story

There is this odd bit of political news out of Germany this week.  Political talks over in the eastern side of Germany (the state of Thuringia) led to a newly formed government....consisting of SPD and Linke Party members.

Since they were formed in 2007, the Linke Party has been this political group that most political parties in Germany felt were too different, too connected to the old Communist Party of DDR, and too much to accept within the public or the news media.  Forming a government with them?  It was simply out of the question for a partnership of any kind.

A couple of years ago here in Hessen, the Linke Party got a fair percentage of the votes and there was this brief talk of a partnership between the SPD Party and Linke Party for the state legislature here.  The minute this talk got public....several of the key SPD members stood up and said they'd resign rather than accept the Linke Party into the mix.  We aren't talking of dozens, but just the sheer thought of a couple of ranking members leaving....tossed the SPD guys here locally into a media pit.  The idea was stopped and it was a brief embarrassment for the SPD.

As for the Linke Party?  They came out of a merger of sorts.....with the former Communist Party membership, and a second smaller grouping of people who belonged to the SPD but were far-left in nature.  If you went back to the starting period....what you found was public support amounting to roughly five to eight percent of the German public.  Union members liked their stance on public policy.....former communists from the eastern side of the country liked their stance on controls and regulations....and those on minimum wage felt that the Linke Party was the only party listening to them.

So, with this one state partnership with the SPD.....things are finally looking up for the Linke Party.  It might open doors over the next five years, and maybe the Linke Party will find other partnerships.

Affecting the national election in 2017?  Presently, the SPD is suffering a good bit on national votes and it's going to be impossible to break the thirty-percent point unless some major stumble by Merkel or the CDU occurs.  The SPD might find one great candidate.....push on a campaign with only three factors in the election...and then just barely beat the CDU but be sitting there with only thirty-five percent of the national vote.  They'd have to partner with the CDU under all normal expectations....but with the Linke Party option.....they might be able to partner with them and the Greens.....thus getting the fifty-percent number to control the Bundestag.

That's basically what this excitement is mostly about.  A previously forbidden partner on anything, now accepted to some degree.  As for some SPD members disliking this scenario?  Yeah, I could see a dozen national-level folks just saying they've had enough and just retire.  As they say.....we will cross this bridge when we come to it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Tax Trick from Hungary

It generally amazes me when you gaze around at Europe (beyond Germany) and note the naive nature of society.  This morning....Hungary came up and announced some interest in a new taxation gimmick.  It's an internet tax on IP providers.....roughly 60-US cents (roughly 50-cents in Euro) for each gigabyte of data traffic.

Naturally, this got some Hungarians peppy because they know that if you pass such a tax....it's not the company that ends up inventing the money.....it's the public that pays the tax into the side pocket of the IP company.

The term that a capitalist would use....sin-tax, fits appropriately into this.  You need to find something that people can't live without....likes smokes, booze, gasoline, airline tickets, etc.  We've reached the point now where internet usage fits this sin-tax scheme perfectly.  We download TV programs, video-clips, and music.  If you took the average sixteen year old kid and looked at gigabyte usage.....you can figure at least one gigabyte per day, so you can figure roughly $15 a month as a minimum.  Over a year, that's going to add up to a minimum of $120.

Where this goes?  The news people will only say that a anti-tax crowd are already forming and hoping to knock this down immediately.  Some political party will come out in opposition, and then chat forums will start to talk about this daily.  What were the tax revenue folks thinking when they invented this idea?  I'm not sure.  Maybe it was some non-computer literate guy, or just someone thinking sin-tax schemes that might work.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Six Euro Eighty a Day?

We had a brief court episode brew up here in Hessen, with two smaller towns suing the district budget folks for more funds to cover the foreign refugees then settled into the towns, and the allotment system that the District (really the state of Hessen itself) uses....is unfair.

The current allotment is 6.80 Euro a day, per refugee here in Germany.  The number of refugees forced onto the two towns with the court-challenge?  Twenty-seven.

The judge in the district threw the case out....saying the allotment of refugees was a percentage situation, and the towns have no choice but accept them and find adequate comforts for them.  As for the 6.80 Euro a day....a separate case already exists and will be discussed at another court.

What most say is that you'd need three times the 6.80 Euro a day per refugee to adequately feed and care for them.

The general problem is that none of these towns had any real plan in place or ever considered the idea of being forced to accept refugees.  Now that they've arrived and gone past the one single family that they kinda expected.....there's issues.  Personally, I think the 6.80 Euro per person idea might snowball into a separate issue with the welfare class of Germany, and this idea that they've been forced to accept a minimum level such as 6.80 as being normal.  If the refugees get 15 Euro a day, then you'd have to reshuffle German welfare (Hartz IV), and double the entire budget over the national program.

The allocation issue?  Right now....these towns are simply fussing over 27 total refugees.  By spring of 2015, it might well be 100 to 150 refugees.  It would be curious how this plays out because none of the towns have internal structure for long-term refugees, their introduction to German society, or potential low-level entry jobs for people with minimum background or training.

You can predict down the line.....at various towns in Hessen....it's going to be an issue that frustrates the locals.


Teens Stopped at Frankfurt Airport

Just one of those odd pop-jihad stories that pop up now in Germany.

Here are three American teenagers.....15-to-16 years old, from Colorado.  Somehow, they get this idea to ditch school some day last week, get a ride over to Denver International Airport, fly out to Chicago, and then to Frankfurt.  Final destination plan?  Make it to Turkey, cross the border and become pop-jihad wives or solders.

The three were all of Islamic background, from Africa.

From what the German press will say is that the scheme was suddenly figured out somewhere in the midst of the trip....probably between Chicago and Frankfurt.  One report from Denver says that one teen had stolen $2,000 from Mom, and used that to pay for the tickets.  All three had passports, and no one in Denver said anything about a 15-year-old kid traveling alone.

Once alerted, the US authorities called Frankfurt's border patrol guys at the airport, and they figured out the three, and started to quiz them.  Then they sent them back to Denver.

The current investigation?  All the cops will hint is that they think someone was leading the girls....mostly online.....to develop this plan.

As far as I know, it's the first time that Germany has had to deal with a situation like this, with external residents trying to move through Germany to Turkey and become part of the civil war.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Junk Mail in the Box

This past weekend....I got "junk-mail" in my mailbox, from the local Green Party here in Hessen.  It was an update over local things that they support or fight.  Somewhere in the middle of the large colorful package.....was this cartoon over the Taurnus Ridge fight with the windmills. It involved the pesky anti-windmill crowd, global warming, and what might happen if they beat back the current project planned for the ridgeline here in Wiesbaden.  The Greens are heavily into supporting the entire windmill project....but some segments of their group.....feel the exact opposite.

I noticed in today's local newspaper from Wiesbaden.....fair-sized write-up over a poll conducted in the region.  What they found among 1,000 local residents (over the age of sixteen) was that a majority (roughly eight out of ten) favored windmills and the clean energy they brought.  The Wiesbaden Kurier even reported that barely thirty percent of the group were against the Taurnus Ridge project.

Around the third week of November, barring unexpected events.....the regional council will make the final decision if the windmill farms are allowed on the Taurnus ridge (the northern side of the Rhine River Valley).

It's an odd group with the anti-windmill crowd.  Some utilize large segments of environmental data to take apart the support.  There's the precious beetle which only is noticed on the Taurnus Ridge itself.  There's the acreage of trees which must be cut, which is a terrible thing for the tree-crowd.  There's also the group which talks up the number of birds killed weekly and how it'll be a disastrous event for mankind if the windmills are erected.  The landscape crowd?  Throwing vast amounts of support behind the entire idea of stopping the windmills from going up.

One segment of the Greens versus another segment of the Greens?  It would appear some elements of the Green movement have gotten up and grasped problems with renewable energy.

When I arrived in 1994, the trip between Kaiserslautern and Mainz was dominated by two or three windmills along the autobahn trip (a one-hour drive).  Yesterday, I made the trip and probably noted almost sixty windmills.  I noted at least five or six under construction, and would likely be functional within sixty days.  I would make a wager that by 2020, there will be a minimum of one-hundred-and-twenty windmills along this stretch of road between Mainz and K-town.

The landscape crowd might win, but it might make people think over how one region of a community can refuse windmills, but then feed itself into a frenzy about clean energy, no nuke power, and the need for more grid power.

Being an American in the mix, I tend to watch these kind of events because it involves two segments of society that regularly use and abuse the news media to tell their story.  I could actually sit and listen to both arguments and find both curiously supportable.  It'll be hard to imagine an entire ridge existing forty years ago, without anything beyond castles, towers, or houses, and now you have a dozen windmills potentially lining the ridge.  And in this case, the windmills will never go away.  But if you want clean power, you have no choice but accept this.