Friday, December 19, 2014

Remaking the News?

I sat last night and watched ARD (Channel One).  Later in the evening, they featured their news topic show.....Panorama.  It's a show which picks up top political and current event topics.....shines a bright light on the overall subject and generally lays out more facts.  Panorama and it's 'hosts' are capable of slanting the news but rarely do.  Last night was slightly different.

They sent a news team out to Dresden, covered Monday night's anti-immigrant march (the Pegida group).  Fifteen thousand local residents showed up for the march.

The intent of the Panorama news team was to confront the individual protest members, and throw facts out them.  An example.....getting the guy to stand and give some reason why Muslims are a problem, and then the news guy responds that only X-percent (a very small number of the immigrants over the past year) are Islamic in nature.  The German interviewed simply continues on with his complaints about the immigration problem. Next subject, half-way through the resident's tirade....another Panorama "fact".  There's around ten of these built into the segment.

Later in the evening....a regular news segment to discuss over why only people in Dresden are acting up like this....which I was amazed because it's generally occurring in a dozen German cities.  They wanted you to believe it was a Dresden-only episode.....when it is not.

But this brings me to an odd observation.  For months....maybe even a year, there were these news reports of immigration problems, refugee crisis episodes, and integration issues via state-run news.  Then suddenly....somewhere in mid-November....it just all vanished.  If you watch any state-run TV news service....doesn't matter what network or host they have....it's virtually gone from a nightly thing to almost nothing.

Four months ago, I wrote an essay over this odd thing that the news groups in Germany had created the whole wave of people hostile and frustrated over immigration and refugees.  By showing it nightly.....people got into it, and got hyper.  Well...the news groups woke and now realize the monster they created, and would like to undo it.

I'm not sure if you can undo it.....and if you did.....what would you be saying as a competent news organization?  Making up news, then unmaking it?

Overcoming Pfund?

Pfund is this unusual word that you come across almost daily in Germany.  If you walk into a grocery or order up at a take-place, and you walk out with a can of Coke or a bottle of Pepsi...you pay Pfund (a deposit) on the can/bottle.  It's generally twenty-five Euro cents and on up.  It's the same with beer or bottled water. Juice and milk are exceptions to the rule.

Pfund started in 2003.  The idea was carried over by the environmental crowd, and was supposed to decrease the tossed-can issue that Germans whined about.  The grocery and drink industry were pretty frustrated over this mess, but slowly adapted.  Most Germans would pat themselves over the back for the success that they've seen.

Today, because of the pressure that the industry put back on the government.....there's a requirement of all German drink-producers.....a symbol on the can or bottle to indicate it's a Pfund-item.

I bring all of this up because in the last month.....I've been at two food outlets here in Germany.....buying a soda can, and there's no Pfund involved.  I asked when I tried to return the can to the same stand or outlet, and they just smiled.  I looked at the can....no symbol.  It's Austrian-produced.

Yeah, someone finally figured out the whole angle to the gimmick.  Just avoid buying German-produced sodas or beer.  The law only applies to German-produced items.

I admit.....it might be just a local thing that someone dreamed up and has a couple of trucks of Austrian Coke driven up each month....but it's a good demonstration of free enterprise.

How many Germans hate the Pfund law?  I have no idea.  When it first started....I'd take a guess that half the public really didn't buy into this concept or appreciate the amount of pain that it involved.  You collect your cans or bottles now, and make a weekly trip to dispose of them at the corner grocery.  The grocery chains all bought into expensive machines to count and accept the cans/bottles.  There's a fair amount of money tied up into the end-product....empty cans/bottles.

Will they write more Pfund laws to outlaw non-German sodas?  Maybe.  But that's at least ten years away, I think.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Drinking Story

Alcohol consumption is one of those unusual topics that come up in German society and news.  Being an American, I'd typically say that we Americans have some heavy drinkers and can generally match up with what Germans do.  I would also make the comment that Germans have built up a resistance to alcohol and sometimes will surprise you with their ability to handle it.

This comes up today, after reading over an article from the Rhine Zeitung (the local Mainz newspaper).

Down in Speyer.....cops got called out.  A guy was noted half-way passed out and folks felt concerned.

The cops arrived and decided to use the analyzer that they carry in the car.

The older guy hal-way passed out?  He seemed to be agreeable to this and volunteered for the test.  As far as I know.....he wasn't in a car and there's no chance of points being taken away via the license business.

I suspect the cops were expect something around 1.5 to 2.0 on the alcohol testing....more than enough to say the guy was drunk.  The machine maxes out at 5.5.

Well....the guy maxed out.  Yeah.....5.5.

What the experts will say is that you ought to be dead at 4.0-to-4.5.  Alcohol poisoning ought to be in progress and you really need to be at the hospital....dying any minute now.

What the reporter put into the story was that this gentleman had wrapped up at least five bottles of vodka.  The time span was left out and maybe the guy had spread the five bottles over five hours, or maybe even ten hours.

The positive to the story is that the guy got over to the hospital and they checked him out.  He's alive and still ticking.

How drunk was the guy?  He might have been 6.0 and maybe even on up to 6.5.  Normally, under all conditions.....a guy ought to be dead.  Yet this guy survived on.

So I come back to my German associates and note the following.  Germans consume a fair amount of alcohol and beer.  They build up a slow reaction to it.  When you hang around a German....especially in a bar setting.....you might want to think about this, and just keep your own consumption under control of what you consider is normal.  Don't try to out-drink a German.....I just don't think it's possible for American to win at such a competition.

Nothing Much Worth Discussing?

The political news for today is rather in Germany.....over SPD's Sebastian Edathy.

The basic introduction?  Somewhere in 2011....some Canadian cops busted a guy for kid-porn.  The guy had some kind of listing of customers.  Several hundred were Germans.  The German cops were given the list and started an investigation. Days led onto weeks, and onto months.

Somewhere on that listing of several hundred Germans was the name of Sebastian Edathy.  To this point, it's all factual.

Somewhere in the fall of 2013....the name of Edathy got pushed around and the investigation crowd knew his position and where this was leading onto.  The rest of the story is merely speculation, with unknown but presumed dates.

Someone finally came around October of 2013 to brief the Secretary of State (of Germany).  Around this same time period, the election occurred.  The results of the election meant that the CDU and the SPD needed to meet....discuss a joint Bundestag effort....and cabinet-level posts.

What we generally know is that the CDU head who'd likely know of such investigations because of his job.....decided to tell the head figure of the SPD about the investigation.  In the practical sense....he was doing the SPD a favor.  But legally, everyone keeps hinting that it was unethical and wrong.

All of this comes out in early December of 2013.....with the CDU guy who passed the info to the SPD.....fired by Chancellor Merkel.

A year has passed, and they've finally to a point where the Bundestag (particularly the Linke Party and the Greens)....would like to know who knew what and passed what info around.

A normal person would ask how a whole year passes and this is the most pressure-driven topic of the day....but this is Germany.  As for the cop investigation over Edathy?  No one is saying much.  The cops are really shut down on comments....fearful of making it a bigger mess.  The news media won't say much.  There may never be a full-up court case.  The laptop which might have evidence to build a case?  It's commented widely that it was stolen while Edathy was riding a train from point A to point B. Yeah.....that's what he told them.

Does it sound like some witch-hunt with political parties after political parties?  Yes.  Anything much to expect out of this?  If one single guy gives testimony and it conflicts with the comments of another guy......I'd expect this go into round-two.  Beyond that.....there's not much of a worthy nature from this whole mess to sit at a pub.....have a beer over.....and discuss for more than six minutes.

The SPD would like for the whole thing to go away.  And I'm kinda surprised that Edathy hasn't disappeared off into some woods in Bavaria.  Beyond that?  Nothing.

The Horse Tax

The high court of Hessen (my local German state) moved to agree that a town's efforts to tax horses....is legal.

This all centers around a town in north Hessen.....Allendorf.  The city council noted a number of folks who live in the local area, and have horses which are used for commercial purposes (racing, shows, etc).  So, they invented a local tax of 200 Euro a year on each horse.

The non-commercial use horse owners?  They get an exemption, as long as they can prove that their horse is just a regular horse without any economic benefit.

This started back in 2012, and was seen as an infringement upon local horse-owners.  They took up the line and so far....no court has gone against the community's new tax.  An attempt at the national level?  I'm taking a guess it'll happen, but they may decline to even hear the episode.

What happens in an episode like this?  I'm guessing that several folks own stables and grazing property at the end of town.....where these commercial-use horses are kept.  It's probably high-value property.  The town has around 5,000 residents, a local airfield, and noted for historical houses within the center of the town.  The city probably would like to build or attract new real estate players....so the stable property has great value but would never be sold.  With a tax on each horse....I'm taking a guess that the stables are reviewing options to pack up and leave the local area.....thus putting the property up for sale eventually.

I'll take a simple guess here....by 2016....there's not a single horse within the city district that is being taxed.  They vacated the town, and have moved onto greener pastures elsewhere.

Figure new property development by 2018 at the latest.....all quietly done, and accomplished by a simple tax on horses.  Pretty nifty work....using the system to force-transfer property from one owner to another.

The "Red Hats" Decision

Yesterday in Germany, came the announcement from the German Supreme Court over an order to the Bundestag.  There's been a case sitting there which concerns taxes, and the rules which determine taxation.  The "Red Hats" (the symbolic uniform of the court) said it wasn't fair or right.....so they are giving the Bundestag roughly eighteen months to figure up a new way of handling this taxation issue.

The issue?

Germany has a very high number of family-run business operations.  The number often quoted is 2.7 million which are in some way owned by a family and will pass from one member to another.  Out of a population of eighty-million Germans.....it's a fairly high rate.

Somewhere in the statistical data.....you will find somewhere between 150 and 200 of these family-run companies.....make a billion Euro a year.

The German law in place says that stability in jobs....was key to priorities.  So, they made a rule that said as one generation of ownership passed on....the new members were not going to be taxed via an inheritance tax.  The fear was....since a lot of this property is actual business structure, property, or things of a physical form.....people would have to sell off some or all of the property, thus creating a loss of jobs somewhere in the mess.

The "Red Hats" said you have to be fair to all.....so tax them.

You can imagine the hostility and frustration with the family-run business operations.  It's the beginning of the end.  Whatever comes out of the Bundestag over the next eighteen months....will be unfair.

The present problem?  It's a divisive point between the CDU and SPD.  Both groups kinda hinted that yesterday evening.  The two parties control the Bundestag and generally have to come to some mutual agreement to keep things progressing.  On this.....they aren't agreeable.

Oddly enough....the SPD has spoken up and said the simple solution is for the family-run operations to settle up with the government by just giving them a percentage of the business.  No one said the number.....but I'd take a guess at five-percent.

You can imagine the government guy standing there and accepting his five-percent ownership.  Some new German government office would be created to audit and control such ownership.  Thirty years would pass, and another owner would pass on.....requiring another five-percent of the organization to move into government hands.

The CDU?   They don't like this idea at all.....but they know what the "Red Hats" have done, will eventually have an effect on employment around the country. Family-run operations will be forced to sell or downsize as each generation moves with new ownership.....meaning job cuts.

My suggestion?  No one says that the owners must retain their German nationality.  The company can stay right there where it is and pay German taxes.....but if I were the old guy running my own company.....I'd go and find a new country like Czech where there's no stupid taxation rules like this.  I'd convince my son or daughter to join up with me and become citizens of a more friendly European country.  When dad passes on.....the business just moves easily to the son or daughter.

This won't rank in the top ten issues for Germany for 2015.....but the implications of what is done will sour a lot of business owners and create a hostile environment for the next generation of owners.  And somewhere in this mess.....more unemployment will loom.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Explaining the New Road Tax in Germany

It'll take a minute or two to explain the new German road tax deal.....for those of us affected.  Everything is now finalized as of this afternoon.

All residents in Germany must now pay for registered vehicles and RVs within Germany.....once a year, which will be deducted from your bank account (typically set up with the local authorities).  The max per vehicle is 130 Euro (roughly 165 dollars).

Depending on the size of the engine (100 CC).....with an emission class of three....you pay 6.50 Euro for a gas vehicle, or 9.50 Euro for a diesel vehicle.  For the emission class of four/five.....you pay two Euro for a gas vehicle or 6.50 Euro for a diesel vehicle.  For the emission class of six....you pay 1.80 Euro for a gas vehicle, or 5.2 Euro for a diesel vehicle.

The RVs will be based off the weight of the vehicle.....but most of the bigger RVs will easily reach the 130 Euro range.

Foreigners?  They made it as simple as they could.....you'd buy the sticker at the gas station, and it'd generally run ten Euro for ten days.  You can buy a two month consecutive ticket for twenty-two Euro....via the internet.

Start-up?  Right now.....they say 1 January 2016.  Course, they've yet to reach the court episode or have the EU get involved to stop it.  Most journalists are writing up the opinion that the EU court system will have a say in the final matter.

Oddly enough....electric cars have no requirement for the new tax deal.  And motorcycles/scooters also were waved off the tax.

Can you avoid the tax entirely?  That's the odd thing.  If you avoid the autobahn structure and all B-roads within Germany.....just using C-roads or city streets....your entire tax would be refunded.  The question came to how you'd prove this, and what they say is that you would "log" the trips you made throughout the year, and just present the log.

You can imagine explaining this to some guy.....having to keep a log book and show the five-hundred-and-ninety-six trips of the year with the car, and how none took place on a autobahn or B-highway.

How many Germans might reach the plateau of not paying the tax?  I'd take a guess that 100,000 electrical vehicles will easily reach this group.  And I'd take an estimate of a minimum of one-million Germans who keep the stupid log and actually present this to get their money back.

Talking Malls

There's a trend over the past decade in Germany....to build American style mall operations, and expect success to come easily.....then find that the shops are drawing marginal customer support, and the business plan is all screwed up.

Here in Wiesbaden.....they built a three story mall near the Bahnhof.  I'd guess that at least sixty stores exist in the building and it's a marvelous piece of architecture.  A couple of the shops have folded up over the last four years, and this past summer....they finally agreed that the food operations in the place need some type of pumping-up.....to attract more people at lunch from the surrounding areas.  In other words.....they are failing to reach their financial goals.

This week, out of Berlin....the Mall of Berlin finally was sold off.....for one Euro.  The place was finished off around three months ago, and it's having a hard time.  Numerous construction issues are not fully resolved, and various characters have not been paid for completion of work.

The new use of the Mall of Berlin?  A music/dance club.  Yep, imagine 200,000 square meters of club space, with ten thousand people hanging out on some evening.

All of this brings me back around to the idea of making American-style malls into a German shopping experience.  For some reason.....it barely works.  Old-style German shopping districts still attract people and have not been losing customers to the American-style.