Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Threat of WM2018?

After this aircraft shoot down by Russian separatists in Ukraine....there's talk of the necessity of punishing Russia....for it's participation in the whole matter.  Yesterday, it came out in various German press pieces the idea of just junking the 2018 World Cup games....which were to be held in Russia.

Roughly four years ago....FIFA (the organization that control the World Cup games) gifted the games to Russia.  There's prestige and tourism which come out of this deal for Russia.  You can figure at least 200,000 people would travel into Russia to be a part of the episode.

Taking the games away?  FIFA would have to make the decision, and by my humble opinion....there's zero chance that FIFA would do this.  First, there's the matter of the contract, and how you'd break it.  A legal battle would occur, and FIFA would go bankrupt.  Added to the problem is that FIFA's entire existence is tied to profits from the TV contracts.

So I see zero chance of FIFA standing up to make some courageous point.  The likely scenario?

Well....by January of next year, I'd expect the Dutch national team to meet quietly....vote, and just say that they won't participate.  Nothing personal.....it just won't happen and they won't bother scheduling their calendar for the event.  TV contract participation in the Netherlands?  Zero.  I don't think the state networks or the commercial networks will bid to show the games in the Netherlands.

Australia will be the second nation....meeting and conducting the same vote....same results.  By summer of 2015, Finland....Denmark....Sweden....and Norway go the same route.

Belgium meets and finds that half of the four-star players will refuse to participate in the games....and they settle to the idea of just not coming out for game seither.

Then you start to get into some interesting episodes.  France, Italy and Spain meet and half their star players decline to play along, but the these three decide to participate anyway.  Naturally, the TV contracts are somewhat less because there's talk that people will refuse to watch.

Germany will find several of their national players refuse to participate....but the team goes on with half the starters being three-star type players.

FIFA is standing there with minimum participation in Europe, and almost normal participation in South America.

The results?  The stadiums are barely half-full for any of the games.  Scalping of tickets just doesn't occur, with people losing vast amounts of money.  FIFA loses on TV revenue.  Russia is bitter over the cost and non-generation of profit.  The final four?  Brazil  and Argentina with all-star squads, Serbia, and Russia.  Zero interest in Europe over the game or its outcome.  The US might actually make it into the final eight participants.

FIFA can just play along and drag this out.  Russia can continue planning this and safely knowing that the games will occur.  It's just that things aren't worth much.....if the World Cup games are a collection of three-star players.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Airport Story

For a couple of decades....Zweibrucken Air Base quietly existed....at the very end of Germany, next to the French border....about an hour southwest of Ramstein.  When it closed in 1991....the locals wanted to transform the runway area (8,700 feet long) into a commercial airport. For the most part, it was not a bright idea because Saarbrucken Airport was just a twenty minute drive away.  Two low-budget airports just weren't going to support enough business.

For a lot of Americans who lived around Zweibrucken during the glory years....it was a great area and a quiet location with nothing much going on.

Today, the political figures met in Mainz and kinda agreed that Zweibrucken Airport is about to collapse and needs an infusion of cash....from the EU pot.  The number quoted by the Rhein-Zeitung?  Around fifty-six million Euro (figure roughly $65 million dollars).

The problem?  Neither Zweibrucken or Saarbrucken are pulling any good numbers, and the EU rules allow the emergency pot of money for only one airport within a certain region.  Zweibrucken will be the one that gets the cash.

How many passengers does Zweibrucken have potential for?  In 2010, there were 264,000 passengers that transited the airport toward some summer vacation destination.  The airport served as a package-tour hub for folks going to coastal areas of Spain or Turkey.  The open airport parking area was an attraction, and the ramp area having plenty of parking was a plus.

How will the fifty-six million Euro be used?  The political folks just hint that it's for marketing and operations.  I'm guessing they will try to get several tour package companies interested....maybe with a bus deal thrown in, or some deal to get new vacation get-aways enticed (maybe to Qatar, London, or Scotland).  Maybe even Icelandic Air might have some interest.

In the US....you'd just run regular daily operations to make an airport profitable, or you'd allow Congress to just give money to airlines to land at some spot....when there just wasn't enough passengers to make it work profit-wise.  In Germany.....there's too many EU rules over doing things like this now.....so some airports will start to fail, and just go under.

The Promi Story in German News

Bild (the German version of USA Today and the National Enquirer).....had an unusal brief piece yesterday in their paper.  A message of sorts has gone out from the German national customs office (Berlin) to all of their customs agents.

The message basically says that all VIPs, "stars", and known political figures are to be noted as quickly as possible to the Berlin customs authority for Germany (the national guys).  Did they mean just German VIPs, "stars" and political figures re-entering Germany?  No....they meant everyone, to include French "stars", English prominent characters, American movie stars, Hillary Clinton, etc.
The cause for this order?  Unknown.  No explanation was given, and so far....Bild has not gotten to the bottom of this episode.

The trigger?  I might take a guess on two fronts.

First, a number of Hollywood-like characters will sign a contract to fly in....attend a function, pose for advertising of a German product, or spend three weeks touring Germany with their band.  The income from this project....I'm guessing....ought to be completely German-taxed.  I'm taking a guess that the vast number of visitors coming in, and claiming some VIP-status....aren't figuring German taxes into their project.

The recent Hillary tour?  I'm taking a guess that she got paid some minor fee for TV appearances.....but maybe a fair amount of a fee for some foundation dinners that she attended while in Germany.  The customs folks might be asking questions and trying to figure out the way that these people settle up taxes.

The other issue?  Well....some folks fly in and deliver bank-bonds for their friends from rich circles.....to some Swiss organizations that handle investments.  Rarely do the VIPs get checked intensely or have their bags checked completely.  If you remember the Don Johnson-affair from a decade ago.....roughly a billion in bonds was in the briefcase that the Germans examined prior to Don crossing the border.

Who makes the VIP list?  That's an interesting thing too.  There are thousands of US known prominent folks.  A lot of TV stars simply aren't well known in Germany. Same for country and western stars.

Will any German news media organization dig into this?  No.  They will simply let it sit there and become a lost story by this afternoon.  That's the curious thing about German investigative journalism.....unless some political figure walks in and spells out the mess in great detail....they just aren't willing to dig into stories.

Would the US customs folks react the same way?  Well....other than "Mutti" (Merkel), Steffi Graf, and Boris Becker (the former tennis star)......there's just about no German that would be recognized at JFK's entry point.  They might even confuse Heino as being some Texas Democratic Senator, or a Greek opera star.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Gangsters, the Missile, and the Inside Story

At some point, as the Soviet Union crumbled into nothing, and Russia was reborn.....mafia organizations and crime "families" began to become part of the new Russia.  If you run a multi-billion-dollar business in Russia.....you only survive because some part of the gangster element is helping your success.

Ukraine?

Well....in some ways, it's repeated the same successful pattern.  When the EU folks showed up in 2013 to get to some final point of negotiation over their open-door trade treaty.....the gangster guys were left out of the process (meaning most of the higher players sitting in Russia).  As the head of Ukraine attempted to slow everything down and then basically said it was "the wrong time" for the treaty.....the non-gangster players in the Ukraine started to ask stupid questions.  You can call them democracy players, or revolutionaries or just plain socialists.  It doesn't matter.....they were hindering the manner in which crime elements would run everything.

This split in Ukraine that you see currently, and the group who claim authority over the pro-Russian Ukrain?  In some ways, you can attribute the whole scene to a mob discussion or argument.  There's the same mentality over what is on the top level, who is climbing the ladder to the top, and who is working to take out the top level.

How the Russian authorities fit into this?  Simply as middle-men.  They make it all look legit....while guys sit in rooms and argue over the "take" and the head of some region or city.

The shoot-down?  The gangster element is in a screw-up that you don't typically walk into.  You typically shoot locals or folks in your element.  With the missile business....they've invited various countries to now start asking questions.  The guys who appear in front of the camera and claim authority status as 'heads of the region'......can't really ask stupid questions or fix issues that exist....because they are simply figureheads in this little 'gangster-war'.  Once the public figures this out.....the questions will go back to Putin.....what gangster bosses are you supporting and can we have access to them?  As long as Putin can limit his access to western reporters....the game will just be delayed.

As for an ending here?  Basically.....eastern Ukraine needs to shift itself around and just plain become a gangster state, and the world just needs to accept that.  After a week or two....the general parties of this gangster state will start a mini-war of one gang versus another, and in a year or two.....the mess will clean itself up.

Just my humble two cents on this whole mess.  It's best to just avoid Ukraine entirely now.....unless you really want some piece of a gangster war on your doorstep.

The German Who Deserves a Movie

There is an odd thing about this German art collector who got himself into the news in 2013, and died recently here in May.  Cornelius Gurlitt was around eighty when German customs agents stumbled across him on some train with a fair amount of cash....which alerted them to some suspicious status in life.  You see....once they sat down days later and looked at his name....it's an odd thing.  He's registered in Munich....but never has appeared to have earned a dime in his life, not listed in the phonebook (mostly because he has no phone), and never had a job in his life (meaning he's never never paid taxes).

So they came to his residence, and found the thirteen-hundred-odd paintings from the Nazi era.

Somewhere in an interview over the past year....Gurlitt came to admit a strange fact about his past.  He hadn't watched any TV since 1963.

It's an odd year. He doesn't really go into detail or explain why 1963 came to be the last year that he ever viewed a TV program.  In some ways, I wished he'd been tossed one more question and asked what drove him from German TV programming.

What happened in 1963?  Kennedy is assassinated and the coverage of the funeral is broadcast on most all European state-run networks.  One might guess that Gurlitt was heavily affected by this, but it's only an assumption.

But there's this other odd item which came up in the summer of 1963...."Dinner for One"....an 18-minute classic comedy piece was aired over West Germany.  It was taken to be a national bit of humor and comedy....which Germans today will say it's absolute tradition on 31 December of each year to view it at least once.

Is it possible that Gurlitt sat there and watched "Dinner for One" and felt this was the climax of TV entertainment....that nothing could beat it?  Oh, perhaps....did he see this as the pit of TV entertainment and showed the moral decay of society....refusing to never watch public TV ever again?

It's an odd situation.  An old guy admits he hasn't seen TV for over fifty years, but the journalist doesn't seem to ask why.

Gurlitt in my humble opinion....is a guy who deserves a five-star movie over his briefly noted career.  A guy who went through almost eighty years and never noticed by anyone....then only by some dumb luck....having a customs guy ask a few stupid questions and demand to examine his personal belongings on a train crossing into Germany....it's noted that he's got cash....more than what he ought to have. He's got no phone number.  He's noted to never have worked a day in his life.  And so begins a brief period of being recognized.....mostly for his art collection, which the Berlin authorities now admit....was actually his property (peeving the Bavarian state art guys greatly).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Happy Dane Story

There are always odd stories that pop up here in Europe....that make you want to ask more questions.

This week....a German economic institute sat down and laid out research that they'd done on Denmark and this happiness factor.  If you didn't know....for a decade or two....various polls had been indicating Danes are awful happy people....in good times and bad.

Naturally, the general journalist explanation was that Denmark had sufficient taxes and made sure everyone in society there equally suffered.....thus the poor were non-existent and this all led to socialist values being wonderful....if you'd just do it the Danish way.

All through the years that I'd heard this explanation and the general polling data....I'd just shake my head.  It just didn't make a lot of sense, and someone ought to do a real poll, with Danes who left Denmark years ago and see if they were the same happy way in their new country.

Well...the is Center for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) did the research with Danes who left the country figured into the mix, and the German economic group IZA published it.

It's kinda shocking.  Danes have this DNA additive that some other cultures lack.  Danes have this extra bit of gene that helps the brain produce the mode happiness chemical of Serotonin.  So, you can take a Dane out of Denmark for years and years.....putting him into Italy, New Jersey, Oklahoma, or even Columbus, Mississippi......and he's still pumping out this Serotonin, and in a fairly happy mood.

So, they went into another part of the research.....genetic distance from Denmark.  The further away from Denmark....the lower your happiness.  Folks near Denmark were awful happy.....those in distances away like Greece or Turkey....lesser happy.  The same goes for Spain, Russia, and various Middle Eastern cultures.

A person could sit here now and see several observations.

First, there are around 1.5 million Americans who can claim some type of Danish gene or ancestor.  The majority of which live in Utah, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (only slightly in one area of the state).  If you notice.....rugged areas of the US where people are usually positive and happy.

Second, there is some reason that triggered the people clustered around Denmark 50,000 to 100,000 years ago....to have more of this gene producer of Serotonin.  Just an accident?  Maybe.  But you'd figure something was a trigger in this.

Third, this talk for a number of years of socialist lifestyle and distribution of taxation making people happy?  All bogus.  You can throw out the various studies which simply kept looking just short of physical and gene data.

Fourth?  A large segment of folks who live in Iceland.....came originally from Denmark.  If you look around Iceland always come up on the happiness scale and folks want to "blame" this on the social lifestyle in Iceland.  Sadly, it may have nothing to do with taxation, redistribution of government funding, or a big fish diet.

Fifth and final?  There's this odd thing which most Danes will discuss away from the table....about the number of Muslims who are immigrating into Denmark.  Danes will question the wisdom of this.  Using the old logic of taxation and socialism.....then you'd think that Muslims would generally get happy after a decade or two of living in Denmark.  But if you look at this study....Muslims will likely never reach this happiness stage....because they lack the same Serotonins.  So, you will forever have unhappy Islamic people in Denmark.

The happy Dane?  Well....he or she....is really in a naturally doped-up stage, and it doesn't matter if you took him to New Jersey to live, or taxed him at a fifty-percent rate or a five-percent rate....he'd still be happy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Germans, In the Heat of the Summer

Summer has apparently finally arrived in Germany.  Some folks in the eastern part of Germany would say it was here a month ago....but for central Germany....we are about to hit 36 degrees Celsius in the next day or so....meaning 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are ten things that you might come to notice at this point.

First, old guys in apartment buildings with balconies can be readily seen all day long....walking around in their underwear on the balcony.  They don't care, and the cops aren't going to get calls on this type of humble behavior.

Second, a heck of a lot of ice cream will be sold between noon and 6PM.  For some shops....the next six weeks will be half their yearly income.

Third, when the new and modern train pulls up and you get onboard for a three-hour ride, and you notice that there's AC symbol for the train....don't get peppy and think it'll be cool onboard.  Generally, most Bahn trains will have AC units now (at since the late 1990s it's been the practice to buy only such trains).....but the units basically chill the air as long as it's 30 degrees Celsius.  Once you get over that point.....air is simply circulated, and it's like a sauna.  Halfway through this trip, you will question the wisdom of staying onboard, and if you might be suffering heatstroke soon.

Fourth, apple wine and beer is consumed at a fairly high rate in the afternoons.

Fifth, roughly ninety-nine percent of all German homes lack AC units.  So when you notice your neighbor all tense, frustrated, and hostile after a day of 36 degrees Celsius....you might understand their mood.

Sixth, German teens usually escape the heat by heading off to the local pool complex.

Seventh, it's always interesting to wander by a road construction site under the summer heat, and observe almost every single guy without a shirt....dark tanned....no sun-tan lotion being used.....looking like some Bruce Willis character.

Eighth, the effect of the heat on concrete houses?  Well...the concrete absorbs the heat.  So by day six of a prolonged heat period.....the interior temperature generally stays up around 35 degrees Celsius even at 11PM, and barely cools off by sunlight the next day.  Hence, the reason why so many Germans are miserable a week or two into the heat period, and it's very noticeable.

Ninth, thunderstorms?  Well....for some reason, the general tendency in heat like this...especially in later afternoons....is massive thunderstorms.  Naturally, the humidity goes up and you get twice as miserable as you were three hours prior.

Tenth, the only general relief you can find is either shopping in stores with AC units and just pretending to look for a bargain.....at three hours a whack.....or parking yourself under a shade tree in a local park.  Otherwise, it's a tendency to sit and complain about the heat.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Burka Story

The EU has a court of sorts....whose chief job is to monitor EU countries and render verdicts over human rights violations. To be honest, with the standards of most EU countries....there's not a hotbed of activity for this court to handle....at least until the last year.

You see....those pesky French folks went out and got hostile over the Burka....the traditional head and facial covering of Islamic gals.  In 2011, the French made up this rule....you can wear a covering over your hair, but that's it.  No full facial bukas.  No Niqab, which allows only the eyes to be seen.  So you only have two options, the Tschador (which shows the outline of your face), or the Hidschab (which shows the face and the neck).

The EU Court for Human Rights....got dragged into the French debate, and finally decided in the last week or two that there wasn't any rights violated.  The French simply stated what you had to do....to comply with accepted society expectations.

Almost immediately, Catalonia (the northeastern state of Spain) announced that they'd run up the same regulation.

Naturally, a curious American watching all of this....would ask stupid questions.  How did the court make it's decision?  Well....they said that we all "live together"....which means you need to fit within your local society and culture.  Hiding yourself.....just won't work.

Is this a big deal?  That's the curious thing.  What the French say is that at best....there's roughly two thousand women in all of France....who did the full-up Burka thing.  Yeah.....just two thousand.

Here in Wiesbaden?  In a full year that I've been around in Hessen (Mainz, Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, the airport, etc).....I've seen a total of four women in full-up Burkas.  I will admit that the Hidschab is fairly popular....I've probably seen two thousand such women in that attire.  If you walk around the shopping district of Wiesbaden.....you might notice twenty such women on a typical day.

For me personally, the Hidschab attire isn't a big deal.  I think the whole thing is kinda hot/sweaty on a July afternoon with temperatures in the 35 Celsius range (90 degrees).  I'd have to drink an awful lot of ice tea after I walked around shopping if I wore this outfit.  Otherwise, it's Ok.

Muslims upset by this EU ruling?  No.  I'd suspect that ninety-eight percent of all Muslims in Germany don't care.  Most Turks that came in over the past forty years.....never wear the Burka.  I'd say the same thing for most Syrians that have immigrated into Germany.  So, it's only a few oddball groups that are extreme in their beliefs and press the wives to continue on.  Yet, the guy who is in this environment.....observes the open-blouse situations of various German women and just grins.

Where does this lead onto?  Comments in various German newspapers indicate that several states are reviewing their own dress regulation, and likely to go the French-way.  Bavaria....I'm guessing will lead on this.  Hessen?  Dead-last....because of this Greens-CDU relationship running the state government.