Sunday, December 17, 2017

The 500-Euro Bill Story

A couple of years ago, the EU (through the ECB) decided that they'd dump the 500-Euro bill.  The chief reason?  A fair perception that it was readily used by criminals.  You'd still have the 100 and 200 Euro bills around.

It came up this week (via a Focus article) that the Bundesbank of Germany kinda disagrees with this logic of dumping the 500-Euro bill.

Some thoughts are that there's more security being added into the bill process and that customers (at least in Germany) want the 500-Euro bill to return.

There's a study mentioned in the middle of this article....65,000 Germans surveyed, and around 20-percent admitted that they handled 200/500 Euro bills on an occasional basis.  These people still wanted access to the bills.

What was really behind the dumping originally?  Some folks think that money-laundering, under-the-table payments, and black-market activities.  By dumping the 500-Euro notes, you simply pushed all the activity down to the 200-Euro level.  I'm not sure that really fixed much of anything.

Andrea-2021 Game?

There was a hefty Focus article for Sunday....telling the story of the SPD and the likely future trend for the next four years....with Andrea Nahles being the leader and emerging in 2021 as the next Chancellor (at least in their story).

The face of the SPD Party currently is Martin Schulz.  He gives the speeches....he hypes up the news media.....he gets himself invited to news forums.

But beyond that part of the party....is Andrea Nahles.  Some perceive that she's going to become some bull-dog-like character to Chancellor Merkel in this next period of the Bundestag.

So they've invented this term..."Andrea-2021", which is some agenda to get Nahles to the top in four years.

The suggested movement of the SPD with Nahles?  Further to the left.  As much as people see a dividing line between the CDU and SPD parties.....over the past decade, they've both become one single focus group and you can't really identify the SPD with much of anything.   So the idea is....go further left and regain lost voters.

The second element discussed about this Nahles agenda is that people who are working-class folks....don't think there's much to the SPD political talk.  So there's this suggestion that Nahles will become working-class friendly over the next four years.  The term....getting out of the 'ghetto' is used in this talk....meaning they know they've reached some 20-percent level and can't get working-class folks to vote for them anymore.

The slants of the SPD now?  Schulz has been leading folks around for a year on a pro-EU agenda, with immigration as a firm part of the talk.  Instead of hyping Germans up.....it's been mostly a no-sale agenda.  So the second agenda?  A working class agenda?  It's lacking. 

If you've watched interviews with Andrea Nahles over the past four years, you'd probably say that she's low-intensity....low-thrills....low-hype.  She is bright and clever, but she's kinda like a clone of Chancellor Merkel, and not likely to get folks all thrilled within the the SPD.  I would question this Andrea-2021 game plan, but at this point, they need something. 

Hessen Election in 2018

The state election for Hessen is about ten months out now....likely to be in either September or October of 2018.  Some observations:

1.  The last election had the CDU with 38-percent of the state vote.  The SPD managed to pull in 30-percent.  The Greens pulled 11-percent.  The Linke Party managed to pull in 5.2-percent....just enough to get seats but it was a marginal race for them.  Same for the FDP Party....with 5-percent.

2.  The AfD Party was not a factor in 2013.  It is a factor in the 2018 election.  No one says much but you have to figure they can manage a minimum of eight-percent....taking votes away from both the CDU and SPD parties. If AfD were to get near 12-percent, it would create problems for either the CDU or SPD in creating a coalition government. 

3.  How big a factor is asylum and immigration in Hessen?  In terms of negativity, I doubt if you can find more than a quarter of the population who have criticism of the program, or the results.  Most of the major cities of Hessen have a fair population now of immigrants. 

4.  The major topics for a Hessen election in 2018?  Affordable housing.  The Frankfurt Airport.  School buildings.  Crime.  Not enough cops.  Public infrastructure.  Traffic.  The asylum program.

5.  Why the Frankfurt Airport?  Well....there's a tight bunch of folks who live in the shadow of the Airport, and are fairly negative.  They hate the noise, and feel that the Airport is running entirely independent of the community itself. The other side of this story is that over 50,000 people in the region are employed in some manner through the Airport.  The infrastructure of the region is now heavily dependent upon the Airport and continuing expansion.  There's already stringent rules over the operations (the 11PM curfew is pretty strict....with operations now starting up in the morning until 5:30AM). 

6.  The main faces?  For the CDU, they will likely keep Volker Bouffier around.  He's an older guy....65 years old....and tends to be very level-headed and capable of delivering good speeches.  For the Greens, most think that Al-Wazir will be around again, and there's not much of a negative nature to say.  The SPD Party appear to be going with Thorsten Schafer-Gumbel (their torch-bearer for the past two elections). 

7.  The difference between 2013 and 2018?  The SPD....at least nationally....has lost favor with their normal voting crowd.  Those folks either left for the Green Party, the Linke Party or the AfD.  There is a suggestion that the SPD might be lucky in this state election to get 20-percent, and that the Greens and AfD will pick up some serious votes.  Merkel's affect on the regional CDU?  It's hard to predict if the CDU can clear the 38-percent that they made in 2013. 

8.  The coalition factor.  If you examine the process on building coalitions....you tend to want this to be simple, and limited to two parties.  Once you cross the line and have to involve a third party....it starts to become chaotic and involves more intense negotiations.  If you throw in the scenario of the CDU getting only 25-percent of the vote but beating the SPD (maybe 22-percent), then you have to ask who the 3rd partner of this coalition will be (likely the Greens), and how they will script out the future for five years. 

9.  The AfD factor.  If the AfD clears the 8-percent point, they will have demonstrated competency in most of the German states.  If they can't manage to get the 5-percent necessary to have seating in the Landestag....it's a dramatic setback for the party. 

The Education Story

Around a decade ago in Germany, a battle of sorts was started within the German political arena.  The center of attention?  Education in Germany.

ARD put up an interesting article over the issue and where things stand today with the battle.

Most German parents will agree that schools are in some way....decaying.  Maintenance is haphazard and you go through a German state where some kids are in an ultra-modern building, and ten miles away....there are kids in some 1950s building.

The lack of teachers?  This gets brought up in several states now because interest isn't that great to become a teacher anymore.

The ARD article does point out a recent survey where German poverty parents don't think they have the same level playing field as well-to-do parents. 

Another dividing point is that education is generally regarded as a state by state issue.  With sixteen German states.....there are sixteen programs.  Some folks, especially in Berlin....want a national program, and for it to be led by German federal people (not the state by state authority as exists today).

About a decade ago, while living in the Kaiserslautern region and with my son in the local German school....I sat and watched the educational dimwits plan out their big solution.  My son was in a building which was regarded as the last of the 1950s-style buildings in the entire district.  For probably twenty years.....you could have watched various other school buildings going through renovation and the interest to bring this one building up....simply wasn't there.

So the day finally came....the master plan....probably half-a-million Euro to be poured into this building with new windows, new floors, etc. 

It was planned in a haphazard way....the kids were supposed to go ahead and use part of the building while they did various sections. 

In my son's case....he'd never see the end-result because this would take roughly three years to complete.

The day finally came and the school was done.  It looked ultra modern.  It looked great.

Then, the regional school board made the decision....they were hauling all of the kids out of this school and redistributing them to another building within Kaiserslautern.  The newly renovated school?  It was going to be for the high achiever school kids, who would be bused into the town (20 minute ride from Kaiserslautern).  Virtually every single parent from this village was frustrated at how this all came about.  You were basically shipping three-hundred-odd kids from this village into the city, and shipping three-hundred-odd kids from Kaiserslautern into this village....to a newly renovated building.

From my own observation, you've got various federal (Berlin), state, and local bureaucrats with varying agendas and unable to really connect to the students or the parents.  In some ways, it's just like the US at this point with lots of people claiming to have the solution but never seeming to have a solution which really fits. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

SPD Criticism?

The SPD Party former chief, Sigmar Gabriel, hyped up a speech yesterday.

He was kinda dumped back twelve months ago by the head figures of the party, and they went on with Schulz.....with some fairly negative numbers. His comment?  "Environmental and climate protection were sometimes more important to us than the preservation of our industrial jobs, data protection was more important than internal security."

Then he went onto the historic prospective: "Seen from that point of view, it does not really matter whether we go to the government or not, for the survival of social democracy in this country, there are good arguments for both, and the SPD need not be afraid of both. For more than 150 years, the idea of ​​social democracy has been based on shared interests, on collective action and on a solidarity-oriented society. Little is left of it. The nation-state could no longer fulfill its welfare promises. Almost all conditions for social-democratic success in the second half of the last century have disappeared If we fail to find convincing answers to these questions and challenges, then the decline of the Social Democrats in Germany will continue - within a new government the CDU / CSU , but also outside the opposition. "

Over the past twenty years, the SPD Party left its bread-and-butter group.....the working-class guy, and went onto special interests, environmentalism, climate change, etc.  Most working-class folks over the age of forty will suggest that it's not their party anymore.

The odds that Gabriel will get anyone's attention?  Zero.  He's been more or less pushed to the side, and they've set up their agenda for the next year....with little patience for looking back at the working-class German. 

BER Opens in 2020? Maybe?

Back in 2003, in the planning stage of the new Berlin Airport (BER)....folks sat at the table and were all hyped-up and enthusiastic.  Everything was falling into place.  Construction would start in 2006 (almost 15 years of planning put into this), and it would be completed by the end of 2011.

Today?  It is still unfinished.  But this week, the folks in charge said that the repairs (to fix the repairs of the repairs) will be done by the end of 2020, and that they are now planning on air operations and flights for that anticipated day.

What really happened here to screw things up?  You could write a 500-page book over this, but I tend to put this down to three essential issues.

1.  This was supposed to be a private airport situation.  The Berlin city leadership put up the proposal, and there were only two bids.  One was the FRAPORT folks (Frankfurt), and the other was group affair with IVG, Flughafen Vienna AG, Dorsch-Consult, the German Commerzbank and Caisse des Dépôts.  Both had experience at airports, and their construction.

The bid was won by the FRAPORT folks.  Naturally, the second group felt things were run wrong, and sued.  It took around five months but the court agreed.....the method of handling the bid was screwed-up.  Six months later, the two groups realized that this process could require another year, maybe even two years.....so they combined effort into ONE single bid. 

Now....with no competition, you'd think this would be the end of the discussion.  Well....no.  The city sat down and reviewed this and said 'no'.  Not a lot is written over the 'no'.  Some folks think that the price or cost of the bid was beyond what the city wanted.  Some suggest that with no competition.....there was no money flowing under the table to political parties. 

So, at this point....the city said they would build the airport themselves....it'd be a public airport project.  Most planning folks would shake their heads.  Maybe if you'd hired an outstanding staff to do this....it might work.  The city of Berlin just didn't know the mess that it'd created by this decision.

2.  The original construction estimate?  Roughly 2.6-billion Euro.  It took only two years of work to convince everyone that the estimate was way off.  By 2012, they were at 4.3-billion.  Along the way, the Airport got sued by the railway folks who'd built a major station under the airport, and anticipated profits to occur.  The court said 'yes' and allowed that lawsuit to continue on.  Local folks got into the court action and sued to have sound-proofing added to their homes.  That situation will figure into about 25,000 homes getting some type of renovation done.

3.  Safety issues.  Around 2012, as they noted the delays to occur, they came to admit various fire codes that in non-compliance.  There were literally hundreds of construction issues sitting there, and requiring additional man-hours and cost. 

Will it open in 2020?  I'm guessing that they've reached a point where there's just not much left to go wrong.  Some folks believe that both Tegal and Schonfeld (the other present airports of Berlin) will NOT close, and both will have operations continuing because BER is now considered too small for all of the flights planned.  Even those closure plans are being discussed. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Bankruptcy Story

It's a page one story in Germany today, and it deserves some explanation on how it reached this point.

Back in the mid to late 1970s....Beate Uhse became a household term.  It was a sex-shop franchise operation that went across West Germany.

In Frankfurt....1978....they opened up a two-story shop that was a block down from the train station.  In the midst of the glitter and lust....it was basically a 6,000 sq ft operation on two floors and featured just about everything you could imagine from magazines and toys, to clothing and 'gifts'.

The mind behind Beate Uhse?  Beate Uhse-Rotermund.  She was a pilot from WW II and a entrepreneur.  You could probably write a 600-page book on Beate...a remarkable woman who just never saw doors shut. 

After WW II....with her husband dead, she found a fairly demoralized German society....particularly with women.  Roughly three years after the war, she had started up a social media type group that got into eroticism.  In the early 1950s....she started a mail-order company that featured various sexual toys and erotic clothing.  By the early 1960s....she opened up a full-up shop.  Over the first year, there were tons of cop visits, and the authorities had at least 2,000 charges put up against her or the shops that she ran.

In the 1990s....in her seventies....she finally decided to turn the company into a 'AG' which listed itself on the Frankfurt stock exchange. You could actually buy stock in the company. Most significant towns in Germany by 2000.....had a Beate Uhse shop. 

You could probably suggest that it was at this point at the absolute peak.  Everyone in Germany knew the company, and it turned a profit.

Today.....they announced that the company is bankrupt.  They are asking for court help to rebuild it and it might survive, although in the size that it is today.

What happened?  I suspect the internet changed the whole game, and competition occurred. 

Uhse herself?  She died 16 years ago. 

Sitting somewhere in the middle of this bankruptcy story is an epic movie that ought to be made....over Beate, the WW II experience, the 1950s/1960s era on the sexual revolution in Germany, and the eventual bankruptcy that occurred.   

The Biker Gang Story

The basic story?

Someone within the German intelligence system (no one says it's a political figure....so it might be an intelligence officer)....went to ZDF (Public TV, channel Two) out of Germany and said the following:  folks within the Turkish AKP Party (Erdogan's group) are funding and arming gang members in Germany.  Money is moving into Germany....to pay for an escalation of criminal activities.

The chief group?  It's suggested that the Osmanen Germania group....typically a biker gang with some criminal elements....are getting the money and funding weapons.  The use of the weapons?  This is an odd part of the story....to go after Turkish critics of Erdogan in Germany. 

Reliability?  Unknown.  The German intelligence folks are not saying anything, and Merkel has yet to comment on the report. 

The news folks?  They have chatted with some experts who don't seem to doubt the story although you get the opinion from them that this opens up a lot of questions that ought to be on the desk of the Interior Minister and the coalition government.

First, is the report true?  Maybe there's some private AKP Party people involved, and it's not a massive Turkish conspiracy.

Second, how much funding are we talking about?  100,000 Euro?  Half-a-million Euro?  A million Euro?  If this were a small amount....it won't buy much of anything on the open market.  Course, if you just had a dozen weapons that were involved....that's a problem anyway.

Third, is it only this biker gang?  The group?  Cops noted their existence as starting roughly two years ago.  Prior to that?  Non-existent.  It's a rather odd thing.  Last year, cops noted that twenty of the 'club' organizations existed.  It was like a large membership drive.  Turks wanted to be part of the club.

The gang says....you can believe it or doubt it.....they have roughly 3,500 members at this point.  Maybe it's true....maybe it's half that number.

Germany alone?  No....they claim clubs in Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden now.

A year ago, the national club held a meeting here in Hessen....the first type where the top leadership all met in one building. 

A couple of months ago, the German authorities started to question what the chief targets of the group were about....against the PKK crowd?  Against anti-Erdogan folks?

My guess is that they looked at finances, and came to some funding issues....where they know weapons were purchased.

So this leads you to the fourth and last topic....if it did lead back to the Erdogan political party....then what?  What exactly would happen....if anything? 

In a way, by subsidizing the group....they are simply increasing the biker gang up to the level of the Serbian mafia, the Russian mafia, the Romanian mafia, etc.  The German cops already had a major problem and this just makes it worse.