Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why Merkel Remains in Positive Numbers

One of the mysteries that most Americans fail to grasp about Germany, and the immigration issues....is the lofty status of Chancellor Merkel, and how public criticism remains at low-throttle.  So I'll lay out the four basic reasons.

1.  No scandals.  You can go to various past Chancellors and find political or personal scandals brewing.  With Merkel, none.  Ethics wise, she pretty much maxes out.  She's aware of that and is kinda proud that her path is fairly clear.  You can go back thirty years, and find virtually nothing to write some scandal piece upon. She might sip an occasional wine or beer.  She has a particular list of hobbies or passions....none really drawing any attention.  Most of her public statements are carefully crafted.  In the simplest of words.....she's the professor-type but along the lines of a fairly boring professor with a clear path.

2.  She doesn't insult anyone.  You see a lot of US and Brit political figures who openly insult opposition leaders and occasionally members of their own political parties.  She's fairly careful about insults.  You can't find even a harsh word commented on Putin.  On public speeches, she might utter some disappointments about people....but it never fits into the insult department.

3.  If you dumped Merkel, then who?  This is one of the great problems of the German political system.  You can go through the whole next ten folks of the CDU Party (her party) and find that none will get public attention or draw massive appeal throughout the public.  I'm betting various polling instruments have been done by the party and readily prove that fact....hence the reason why she runs yet again.  From the opposition parties?  The SPD has a list of three possible people who will be the ultimate candidate for them....but none of the three push their numbers up by more than one or two percent.  The Greens have four characters in the running....same issue.  Linke Party....same issue.  It is a one-horse leadership situation, and the public has no problem with that.

4.  The general news media....from state-run/public-TV, to the commercial TV side....and onto print media....have either led with neutral stories or positive stories of the Merkel period. Some print-media sources have done criticism pieces of the immigration business...but never really connecting Merkel to the blame side of this.  I would agree...the pro-immigration tone set by state-run/public-TV has soften over the past two years....but no one does a blame-game situation (like you'd see in the US).

At present, I'd expect the election to conclude in late September with the CDU/CSU combination getting a minimum of 30-percent (maybe even 36-percent as it stands today), and things continue on. It would take a shocker to see any public shift and result in lesser numbers.  The second place crowd?  Presently the SPD, with 20-percent.  

Review of CNN Op-Ed

CNN put up a piece (an editorial) by Robert Verkaik....entitled "How Germany's Open-Door Policy Refugee Policy Helps to Fight Terrorism".

I sat and read through the piece twice.

It's not a news piece or one endorsed in anyway by CNN....it's simply an opinion piece over Germany, Merkel, the immigration strategy in place since 2013, and where Verkaiki thinks this is going.

The trail that Verkaiki discusses is this one where Germans will be able to influence and change the minds of those immigrating into Germany.  He does point at success stories within German intelligence and how the cops have stayed one-step ahead in most (not all) cases.  I do agree, it is a remarkable run of luck to have stopped as many terror acts as they have.

Verkaiki also discusses these recent Merkel changes (the burqa ban idea, and more stringent handling of violent gentlemen)....that these will lessen the trust of the Muslim community in Merkel.

The point of the editorial?  Trump needs to stay out of Germany's immigration problem talk.

Over the past four years, I've sat and watched the migration 'opera' unfold, and numerous stumbles by the Berlin leadership crowd.  I've watched journalists and intellectuals try to defend remarkable stupidity, and then chastise regular citizens for anxiety and spiraling distrust.  Every news item that comes up....has to be reviewed for accuracy and fact, because there's so much slant and fabrication built into pro-immigration and anti-immigration stories.

There are three basic issues or problems with the CNN's op-ed by Verkaik.

1.  To suggest that ALL of the immigrants since 2013 in this great migration to Germany are Muslim is not factual.  The immigration problem is not a Muslim-only episode....nor are the problems seen by the German public Muslim-only generated. One can simply look at the Koln New Year's Eve episode of 31 December 2015, and note immature and crude behavior demonstrated by a bunch of thugs.  The German perception....at least by the working class...is that it's not safe anymore in various urban areas, and that no-go areas have been created (something that journalists and politicians work day and night in Germany to advertise as not so).

2.  This strategy here, designed by Merkel and associates, might eventually have some success.  But we aren't talking about in this next decade.  It could take twenty years before you really start to see success with the next generation of teens growing up in this atmosphere.  How much patience will people have to wait for this ten to twenty year period to pass, and this great experiment proven successful?  There's already fallout here in 2017, and if Merkel and the CDU/SPD 'team' does win in the fall.....they have only four years to prove their shift helped to work.  If it's a failure and more anxiety comes out of this period.....you can absolutely expect a right-wing government to arise in 2021 to face the perceived threat.

3.  There's a strong argument for immigration to exist in Germany.  Industry and business folks will advocate it.  But on the other hand, you don't need 300,000 new burger-flippers to arrive....having little to no craftsmanship or university degree in hand, and expect the Germans to pay for three years of training, housing, and social welfare before they are capable of working.  Even after three years, you can't be sure the guy won't up and leave....going back to his homeland, and the 150,000 Euro wasted on this guy was blown.  There needs to be some door existing, control of the door, and some judgement exercised to limit waste and time.  A lot of these individuals came to Germany with no clear idea of anything, other than thinking it was going to be better in Germany and they'd all be living great lives.  Six months of refugee living, moving into some ghetto-area of Frankfurt, and realization that half of what you make on income is taxed or gone because of Germany's social system....leaves some wondering about this great vision they had.

Back in 2015, there were a lot of journalists and intellectuals in Germany, along politicians....defending the Merkel strategy on immigration and migration.  That public attention for the most part has disappeared.  If you watch the same news....the same journalists....today, it's a bit different.  They were like Verkaik in that period, and defending the whole thing.  Today....much less so.  Public sentiment today goes against easy acceptance of journalists.  More than sixty percent of Germans question the news media (even the state-run/public TV crowd), with that statistic coming out in the spring of 2016....suggesting sentiment had shifted.

Maybe there are still some journalists around....within the US....who will fall on the spear to defend the Chancellor and the strategy.

I recommend reading the CNN Op-Ed....only to get an idea of the other side of this story.  For me, it's like some epic Lawrence of Arabia-like story, where good intentions didn't really achieve a great ending.

Wiesbaden Story

Four times a week, I head down into Wiesbaden to the old Lindsey Air Station area....which is today a flourishing neighborhood, and has the city's VHS (school) there.  Across the street from the VHS...is one of the five or six police stations in town.

Since October, I've come to note now....weekly....at least one car parked between the VHS and the police station....around 8:30AM, with some window broke out.

Yesterday's episode was a station wagon...business vehicle for some local electrical shop.  Cop was standing there with the car-owner....taking a picture and writing out a brief report.  My guess is that over the weekend, the car got broken into and the tool bags stolen from the back of the car.

They avoid statistics like this in the local press, but I would take a guess that robberies like this are a fairly regular routine now.  In a town of 280,000.....you have a lot of characters just looking for a quick and easy crime.

The thing is....you can figure some tool bags with electrical items....maybe having a value of 3,000 Euro minimum.  The thief?  I doubt if he gets more than 400 Euro after he goes to his property guy.  The property guy?  He'll look around and parcel this out....maybe getting 700 to 800 Euro for 'used' tools.  The guy with the broke window?  His insurance will likely cover this but demand a lot of paperwork to prove the tools lost and value.  In man-hours, he'll have to dig up paperwork, and that's probably six to eight hours of work to get the value assessed, and paperwork accomplished.

You just look at this and shake your head.

The Hermit Story

I noticed this little odd story from N-24 today.....region of Austria seeking hermit.  Hermits aren't usually a big-name job-field and so it had my curiosity.

If you head straight south from the Chemsee area of Germany (in deepest Barvaria), and cross the border, into a fairly wooded and mountainous region of Saalfelden.

It's safe to say that Saalfelden is God's country (Bama slang for a fairly religious community).  There's not much industry there, but they make up for that with tourism....mostly around winter sports, summer hiking, and tourists who just want solitude.

This hermit job?  Well....they've got this tourist type trail that goes by a mountainside, and has a cave and Christian theme attached to it.  Call it a test of faith or whatever, but people come for the solitude and an appreciation of faith.

So this hermit job mostly revolves around you being there at the cave area....welcoming tourists and hikers, and talking up pro-spiritual feelings.  Happy talk....calming of the chaos in the world....conversations that lessen stress.  Well....and you could talk on soccer, the weather, diesel engines, beer choices, favorite card games, or the state of politics in Germany....if you wanted to.

The two harsh realities of this job?  Well, the committee searching for the right candidate states up front....there's no pay.  And the location on this remote hillside?  There's no electricity, heat, running water or internet.  It's just a little hut, which you (the hermit) would operate from April to November. As the committee hints strongly, things are awful tough in the winter....so it's not a place you'd want to hang out.

The chief thing on your resume?  You need to have some relationship to the Christian faith and be able to handle living at 4,500 ft approximately.

I sat and pondered over this deal.

First, if you haven't ever hung out at 4,500 ft in altitude....in the Alps....it means you need to watch the weather around the clock.  Storms, even in June and July....move in and out rather quickly.  Some days might be perfect with fifteen hours of sunshine, and others might be awful windy and stormy, with lightning coming in at maximum power.

Second, the no-pay thing means you need to have some kind of hobby or background....where you have some cash flow.  But then you have to remember this odd feature.....no vehicle or transportation,  So if you did want coffee or sugar, or some fresh bread....well, that might be a four-hour hike to some marginal grocery shop.

Third, you are playing the character of the hermit to help folks with silly problems or serious life issues.  This means listening to some women talking about a lost partner, or some guy whining about bad decision-making, or hearing out some German all hyped up about Trump.  Being a Hermit is pretty demanding.

Naturally, if I were asking about the job....I'd ask what happened to the last hermit.  Maybe he just passed on, or maybe he got stressed out as a hermit.

A profession without any real future?  Well....yeah, that's one problem with the hermit-trade.  You can be a four-star hermit, with charm and character....yet never really progress in this world.  Or you could be a one-star hermit, who is a nutcase and voted Best Hermit of 2017 for Austria....just because you wrote a 600-page book on hermit lifestyles.

No one says much over applications....if any women have applied, or if there's a long list of questions about this whole deal.  My chief question would be what the heck do you do from November to April?  Do you lounge around Graz and sip coffee at the coffee shops?  Do you head off to Thailand for several months of rest with the other hermits of Europe?  Do you go and work for some Austrian ski-operation and serve hot coffee?  Or do you head down to Vienna and spend your free time on TV political forums?

It's an interesting topic.  By the end of March, the committee will have picked their candidate, and toward the first week of April.....as snow starts to melt....our new hermit will head up to his operation and start to welcome folks.  Maybe after six weeks, he may decide this was a foolish idea and quit.  Course, how would you explain this brief period on your resume?  A couple of months of hermit-duty in central Austria?  Yeah, that might not be good start on your next job.

Dutch 2017 Election

On 15 March 2017, a parliament-type election will occur in the Netherlands.  Normally, it doesn't mean much outside of the country.  In this year's case....it might send signals to a dozen-odd countries within the EU and be a sign of public discontent.

At present....the VVD Party holds 40 of the 150 seats of the Dutch parliament.  They ended up in 2012 forming a coalition with the PvdA Party (35 seats) and run the current government.

The VVD folks?  They would be classified as slightly left-of-center.  The PvdA folks? They would be classified as a left-of-center group.

In the current polling (mid-January 2017)?  VVD is ranking at 23-percent of the public sentiment, and PvdA at 10-percent.  Together, they took 79-percent of the vote in 2012.....presently, with the Pell polling instrument, they will take 33-percent...a significant downward spiral.

The leader at present?  PVV....the Geert Wilder's Party of Freedom.  They are sitting at a comfortable 34-percent lead.  At present, there's little doubt that they will end up winning.

Forming a coalition government?  Well....Wilder's Party of Freedom has some problems.  Both the present partners in the current government are saying they won't partner up.

To reach the fifty-percent point?  It presents a challenge.

Sitting at the 4th place now is the Christian Democrats....at 16-percent.  They are considered a centralist party or slightly leaning to the right.  They haven't said no, but they haven't said yes.....to a partnership.

Sitting at the 5th place now is the Socialist Party of the Netherlands....at 11-percent.  There are hints that they won't partner either.

In the mix is the D66 Party, which is a centralist party.....sitting at roughly 15-percent.

Getting one single party to agree with Wilder's platform will be tough enough, but if they have to reach down to two parties....to engage and talk a coalition....it will become nearly impossible.

What to expect by early April?  I think Wilder's Freedom Party will win, and find some partner, and get a five-year mandate to run the country.  Right-wing?  Yes....although this partnership deal might weaken some of the far extreme points of Wilder's strategy.

The thing is....it puts the Netherlands into a new atmosphere, and likely challenges the EU.  It also pumps up the French legislative election to some degree....coming up in mid-summer.  More signs of a new European political slant?  More than likely.

Merkel and Trump

Last week, no urgency with Chancellor Merkel meeting Trump.

This week, lots of urgency to meet Trump.

What happened?  Well....Bild went out and scored an interview with Donald Trump.  It should be noted it was a combined interview with the London Times and German Bild (an odd couple of journalists to put into a small office area at the New York apartment, but life is that way).

So, they went and asked numerous questions, and Trump laid things out.  One of the topics.....BMW is going to build a car plant in Mexico, and ship cars across the border into the US.  The question was asked if this tariff that Trump is talking about with Mexico....to help pay for the wall among other things....would affect BMW.  Trump, well....yes of course was the answer.  Thirty-five-percent tariff.

Oh, my...said the BMW officials back in Germany.  Quiet unfair. Germans are very angry over this BMW slam.

So, Merkel will now have to make a quick trip to the US and iron this out.  Why not wait for Trump's visit to Germany?  That's a good question.  If you remember the first thirty days of Barrack Obama, Germany was on his 'must-visit' list.  I'm only guessing here, but I suspect that Berlin called up the Trump team and learned that Germany is NOT on the visit list for the first thirty days.  In fact, they might have learned that it might be between a hundred and two-hundred days before he visits.  So, the urgency factor is maxed out for Merkel now.

What of this meeting between Merkel (the professor-type) and Trump (the business-type)?

You can imagine this meeting.  Merkel will be ushered in and readily speak English...conveying the big world and how things need to fit into a certain path/pattern.  Trump will give her five minutes, and kindly note that he's on a different path....to correct past problems.

So Merkel will then get to the BMW issue.  It's quiet unfair to force BMW into this thirty-five percent tariff deal, and then try to lecture Trump on economics.

After the 'professor' has wrapped up her economics lecture....Trump will lecture her on actual business.

Why would BMW build cars in Mexico?  Well....to avoid the big union costs of manufacturing.  The BMW X-1 costs $33,000 (base model) in the US.  The BMW 2 will run from $33,000 to $55,000.  The BMW X-3 runs from $33,000 to $47,000.  The BMW M2 will run around $52,000.  The BMW 4 runs at $61,000 or more.

Trump will get down into cost per location.  For example....if you made the BMW X-1 in Germany....it'd cost this much to make each model.  If you did the same car in the US....you could trim off 10-percent (cost of living and such).  If you did the same car in Mexico....you could probably carve off 20-to-25 percent of what it costs compared to the German situation. Trump will say that BMW picked Mexico for a reason....to slide manufacturing cost down, while selling at the same cost.

The tariff hurting BMW?  Trump will likely point out that it's not exactly a regular car that typical Americans buy.  On this, he's right.  If you go and look at the client list of some BMW operation in Dallas or Vegas....it's mostly doctors, lawyers, and business owners.  Throwing the tariff on a X-1 would mean the $33,000 asking price will slide up to $44,000.  Will the same folks buy the car?  Some will....some will compare against other cars and state the value isn't the same.

But Trump will then go back to the wall business.  You see....someone will pay for the wall, and it'll come from folks beyond the US.  Trump will suggest that Merkel might want to chat with the Mexican president and get him to cooperate with the wall business.  Merkel will be frustrated because this whole conversation is about business.....not the standard economics lecture that she'd deliver.

The amusing thing, which Trump might point out....is that BMW can still manufacture these cars, and sell them in Canada, Mexico and throughout all of Latin America for the pricing scheme that they were intent upon....with no tariff effect.  In fact, they can even manufacture and ship these cheaper made cars back into Germany and sell them there.  Oh my....that will freak out the German car manufacturing folks that BMWs would come back into Germany....cheaper-made.

The profits?  Trump might drag this out.....where exactly do the profits of BMW-Mexico go?  They will pay Mexican taxes there, and what profit that does exist and makes it to Germany....goes to BMW share-holders....NOT the German government (except when the share-holders declare their taxes).

This meeting will end with Merkel grasping the realization that the whole tariff thing is mostly about a cheaper-made BMW....selling at the same price....and BMW was attempting to walk away with more money in their pocket.  Trump might even go and suggest that if they'd put their plant in Honduras, or Panama, or Venezuela.....they'd avoid the tariff.  This wall business is the driving factor, which isn't something you'd want to bring up with someone who grew up in DDR (Merkel).

Trump might not be this international affairs geek, or political hack....but he knows business and how all these models work or pretend to work.  On this....Merkel cannot argue.

Upon returning to Germany, I imagine the path will be clear....the US and Germany are going separate paths and Trump will be the chief topic of the election period.  Snowden being brought into Germany?  I think it's virtually guaranteed to happen by this fall, and he'll give testimony to the 'truth commission on the NSA business'.  All of this will play out for a Germany-versus-US opera.

The problem with this?  The French President and legislative elections are coming up....with a right-wing win in both expected.  There's talk of Le Pen maybe winning....and she'd like to stage a Franc-comeback and push the EU back a step.  Same deal in the Netherlands.  Same deal in Austria.

This European community standing behind Merkel and against Trump?  I don't see this occurring anymore.  England, France, and the Netherlands will lean against Germany by this fall, and it'll be obvious that the EU-mechanism that Germany so gracefully pushed and manipulated is now mired in the mud and can't move ahead.  NATO will shift to a lesser landscape, with US troops on some move back to the states or into England. The center of this Merkel-constructed universe is gone.

Merkel might still win the election but the landscape in 2018 is greatly different from today.  And the future meetings of Trump and Merkel?  They might bump into each other at various G-meetings but I doubt if Trump stops off in Germany more than once over the next four years.  Oddly, the US and Russia, and the US with England/France.....will end up for the next four years being better relationships than with Germany.

My humble analysis at this.  It's not that pretty of a picture.  Oddly, you might go back to that fateful day in the late 1800s when Grandfather Trump tried to come back and settle back into the Pfalz and find the locals weren't that pleased with him.  So he left a second time, never to come back.  A hundred years later....the German locals still aren't pleased.  And the grandson isn't looking back.

Footnote: I should add....BMW isn't the only German company on this Mexico angle...Audi and Mercedes were both on the same Made in Mexico game.  So all of the big car-makers of Germany would suffer to some degree with the tariff put into effect.

Path of German News Press

Hans-Hermann Tiedje is not a page one name around Germany, but he is well known within the news media circles.  He has an interesting history.

In the late 1960s.....he gave up on law school and got an journalist-intern position at the Hamburger Abendblatt.  By 1975, he was an editor, and went to Bunte in the late 1980s...whre he was the deputy of the magazine.

He got into politics in the early 1990s, and did some tme as Helmet Kohl's aide.  He bounced around with various jobs in 2000 to 2010....ending up with N24 for three years.

He's an expert on news and how it is formed/spread.

Today, he came out via Meedia.de and spoke of the negative Trump coverage sweeping Germany's news organizations.  His chief criticism?  "Catastrophic reporting of German journalists."

It's a long read (eight minute article) but Tiedje drives at the point that four out of every German journalists (his number) are left or left of center type of journalists.  As he points out, and I readily agree....no German journalist can explain the Trump phenomenon existing in the US.

One of the more amusing episodes I noticed with state-run/public TV in Germany was a case in April where they'd retrieved a 10-to-15 year old wrestling theme video, and Trump had shown up for one WWE episode, and they (the German news geeks) choose to use a cartoon-like voice for the 30 second Trump-talk.

The other side of the coin?  Rarely do Americans get some chit-chat from the big news media over Merkel and Germany.  I hate to suggest it but 10-percent of Americans probably still classify things as West Germany and East Germany....being that far disconnected.  With right-wing types....that track Merkel and Germany, big talk going to immigration problems and crime....so Merkel gets slammed and looks like a 'loser' with these folks.

One of the odd characteristics of the 1930s was a world news media that portrayed various 'other' leaders as incompetent or foolish.  It laid a foundation for various relationships to fail, and chaos to follow.  It doesn't matter if you talk over French, German, Brit, or American news media....it all came to same path.

So, if you have eight minutes....this interview of Tiedje on the site I noted above....is worth reading.

Monday, January 16, 2017

NATO and the Cold War Finale

As the wall came tumbling down in 1989 in Germany....you could sense that the Cold War was concluding.  There are argument about when the final day came. Some say as the German unification pact was signed.  Some suggest 1991.  Some give it in the mid-1990s.  The truth is...for almost twenty years....the Cold War has been finished.  It is....no more.

How NATO continues on?  There is this fake generation of threats....mostly from intelligence analysts who thinks Russia is a major threat....thus keeping NATO going and pinning hopes on some standing army.  Without Russia, virtually everyone in Europe would cut their military budget by fifty percent or more, and just aim for a marginal force to exist.

What happens in the coming months with the Trump administration?

I would speculate that the US nukes left in Europe will be quietly removed....without much discussion with NATO partners.

I would also suggest that US troops throughout Europe will be lessened to some degree.  It wouldn't surprise me if you see just one US installation left in Germany (Ramstein) in five years.  US installations in the UK?  They might stand around the same or take up some of the slack from troops being removed from Germany.  There are several UK bases on some closure list, and it might make some sense for the US Army to evaluate those and maybe ask for reuse.

Redford Cavlary and Infantry Barracks in Edinburgh, and Fort George, near Ardersier are both on a Brit closure list, and could be reused.

NATO to disappear?  No.  I think you are about to see an evolution occur, where people finally admit the Cold War ended.  There's no reason to keep the current strategy in place or waste tons of money.

How the Germans might handle in an election year?   Badly.

If they'd come up with the idea....it'd be a great idea.  Coming from a Trump administration?  No....not acceptable. The Brits?  Oh, they might like how this will evolve and some US German-based troops end up on some Brit bases.

The French?  Well....we edge into an election year where Le Pen just might win, and some weird alliance between France, the UK, and the US might come to exist.  As you might sit and think....it's a relationship that wouldn't necessary make the Germans thrilled.  It would sit into dynamics the idea of a lesser EU, and therefore a lesser emphasis with Germany in charge.

So in the coming weeks, if you happen to notice Trump continually on German news and cast as a negative for Germany....you might see this French and Brit trigger pulled and NATO going down an evolutionary path.  In the midst of summer and some hectic German political campaign.....you might be shocked just how far off the path that the campaign has fallen, and if NATO is recognized by the year's end.