Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More Swiss Franc Stuff

I commented a day or two ago....about a county here in Hessen....Rhinegau-Taunus (the next valley over from me) who had the Swiss Franc loan, and went into absolute shock ten days ago as the Swiss took itself off the chained-exchange rate.  Overnight.....the Franc became twenty-percent more expensive, and everyone with loans were in serious trouble.

Well...there was supposed to be a press conference today in Rhinegau-Taunus, with the head of the county commission (an SPD guy), and it was cancelled as of this morning.

The state finance officer is blasting away that the whole gimmick used to get the cheaper interest rate....put the county into serious financial jeopardy.

Somewhere in the sixty-million Euro range....the county has acquired quick and unexpected extra debt.  No one can say for sure....how this will be fixed.

There's basically only three methods.  One, they could ask the Hessen state for more money, but it's zero chance they will get it.  Two, they could stall infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, renovation, public buildings, etc) for two or three years....upsetting the locals greatly but making up the loss.  Three, increase property taxes substantially.....probably by two or three times the current taxation rate....angering residents in the region for the next decade.  Without the ability to do sales taxes....they really are limited.

My humble guess is that the news conference to discuss this....will be rescheduled by next Monday.  I suspect that they will find a German bank to make the loan for now, and just try to pay off this debt as quickly as possible before the Swiss rate climbs even higher.  As for halting infrastructure projects?  I'd give it a ninety-percent chance of happening.  But we might be talking about more than two or three years of this.

It is one of those rare occasions when a German group of financial wizards really screwed up badly, and they have no way of fixing or solving the mess.

The Swiss Pegida Points

For most folks, they tend to view the news and come to some aspect over Pegida (the anti-Muslim group in Germany), and think it's a one-country deal.  It's not.

I noticed in the last couple of weeks that the Swiss also have their version of Pegida, which published a fourteen-point objective:

1.  They favor less asylum seekers.  The current number in Switzerland is roughly 200 seekers per one social worker.  There's no way that the social workers can stay on top of their individual and assist them.  Either more social workers need to be hired, or the number of seekers be decreased.

2.  Enforce the laws.  If the asylum seeker is on a temp entry visa and commits a crime....remove him or her from Switzerland.

3.  Zero tolerance for any asylum seeker who has committed crimes in the past and these get noted in the investigation process.

4.  Stop all asylum processes if a conviction is noted in the individual's past.

5.  No further processing of an entry person if they show anti-women tendencies or violent past actions.

6.  Absolute support of sexual freedom.  If an entry person is gay and wants to practice that life-style....the Swiss Pegida is in full support of their entry.

7.  Protection of existing religions.  They didn't go into many details, but it's safe to say that you can't practice a religion in Switzerland that has some rules against other religions.

8.  Against weapons exports to countries that show violent tendencies.

9.  Integration is tied to language ability to handle a situation at least through elementary school level.  You wouldn't get citizenship unless you show this ability.

10.  Swiss Pegida is against EU Court of Justice involvement in any immigration affair.  All asylum episodes are Swiss-run and to be no outside influence.

11.  No facial coverings in public.  Direct slam on Islamic groups who advocate such a covering.

12.  No religious members in government offices or voted into office for any position.  If you are a priest, minister, or religious scholar.....no government involvement.

13.  Against all radicals.....religious or political.

14.  Against all hate protocols, to include political or religious.

It's a curious listing because there's only two items which directed to Islam.  The rest have more of a connection to the running of a effective community, protection of society, and ensuring personal rights.

The last item puts the anti-Pegida groups into a difficult position....meaning they have to approve of hate protocols in going against Pegida.

A School Event?

Up in the far north of Germany....lies Lubeck...a coastal community on the Baltic.  This week, they got themselves into the news.  It won't be page one or page two....but it's a curious episode.

In recent weeks, there's been anti-Pegida demonstrations or events.  Everyone is hyped up to put on a freedom, tolerance, openness, diversity, and acceptance "show".

So, the teachers and management folks from the Lubeck school environment made a decision that "ENCOURAGED" (might be better said forced) roughly a thousand kids from the school system to be part of the show.

The local newspaper covered the event and wrote up on the fine episode.  The problem then occurred.....kids wrote onto the Facebook page of the newspaper....they were forced to the event.

Generally, it's believed that half of the kids simply did not want to attend....although you can't cite absolute evidence on anything.....it might be fifty percent....it might be eighty percent.

The episode came off to be seen as a mandatory-attendance event.  You had to show up.  In the states....a kid would have shown up....walked around for ten minutes and then quietly drifted off to the park to sip beer with his buddies or head back home to say 'sure, I was there' if anyone asked.

The school's reaction?  According to various newspapers....the director of the area's schools tried to defend this.  For practical purposes....they labeled attendance as a school event so that kids could attend easily (thus being dismissed out of class).  I think he's probably correct on that.....but as word goes down each step.....it probably got interpreted in different ways, and at the end-point.....kids understood this to be mandatory.

The one other aspect of this that might come out.....other kids throughout Germany will look at the comments and the mandatory directions given....seeing some similar characteristics.  This probably won't be the last "encouraged" event that got wrapped around the axle.  When you get to a point where freedom, tolerance, openness, diversity and acceptance is mandatory and demanded.....then they aren't so pure with their intentions.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Explaining Auschwitz, the Camps, and Eugenics

This is the week of the the 70th anniversary that Auschwitz was liberated.  Several documentary pieces will be featured on German state-run TV....trying to explain again (probably the 300th time for most Germans over the age of forty).  For Americans, it's a historical thing.....concentration camps really lay out a pretty negative piece of German history.

I've sat and read more than most people....trying to analyze how one gets to the point of this being 'normal and acceptable'.  I look around German society today, and there's simply no explanation that fits right.

So, I've come to some history items which start to make sense and lay out how you get from point A to point B.

In the early part of this last century.....there's a science that developed.  We might argue over this and say it was NEVER a science, or that it was a bogus science.....but it was regarded as an actual science by intellectuals and political figures at the time.  Various terms might be used, but the best I think.....is Eugenics.

Eugenics is where you identify that society has gone off the scale....allowed marginally intelligent people to be part of society....dimwits....incompetent fools....along with sleezy women who get pregnant when they aren't married, and you think society ought to clean itself up.

The idea was with Eugenics....they had the authority and the ability to finally clean up society.  It was their duty as scientists and intellectuals to do this.  So they believed it.

The general peak of Eugenics in Germany...came after WW I.  However, the growth period was from the 1860s to 1890s....where people openly advocated the idea of sterilization and castration.  Francis Galton was the chief proponent who pushed the idea on various forums, and medical establishments saw some wisdom in the deal.  The fact that we had medical abilities now to accomplish this...simply added more fuel to the fire.

By the 1930s in Germany....science had probably pushed it back as a legit thing....but along came Ernst Rudin. Rudin pressed the concept of Eugenics as a necessary part of life in Germany.  The Nazi Party studied the concept and agreed.  Pure Germans would be retained and continue society's progression....unpure Germans would be sterilized.

Here in the region where I live.....there was a facility which quietly became a sterilization point in the mid-1930s.  Men and women would be sent there, and it was commonly accepted in the region that this was all good and acceptable.  Buses would have schedules and local town mayors would ensure the 'right' people were put on the bus and taken to the Hadamar facility.

As time went by....the same intellectual crowd pressed that just sterilizing was not enough, and that elimination was the next step.  This included simply providing a solution to a doctor....administrating the shot....and letting the patient quietly die on the table.  Their body would be burned later to dispose of it.

Acceptance came as you went from step to step.  No one challenged the thought process.

So, once you got over that step....bringing the Jews into the mix was simple.  You already accepted the dimwits, and socially unacceptable people being eliminated....the Jews were simply the next step.  As you notice in time....gays also were brought in.  Had World War II not occurred.....society would have stepped through various groups....noting each violated some view of Eugenics.

This is how society evolved....changed....and just plain accepted the deaths of thousands.  They didn't start with the Jews....they were simply the next step (same as the gays).

Few talk today about Eugenics.  It's not a science.  It's really difficult to bring this up and explain the logic and how so many individuals......not just Germans, but British, French, and even Americans....bought into the idea.  The Germans just incorporated it into the massive program....added full-up camps....and decided that the Jews were part of the demise of society.

More Fake Cops

I bring this topic up a good bit.  Since early 2014, I've probably noticed at least a dozen fake-cop episodes.

Der Western (a German newspaper from around Dortmund) put up an interesting story.

Woman is quietly sleeping when her doorbell rings at 3:20AM.  She goes to the door. They are in civilian clothing but showing a fake police badge.  What they say is....they've got a warrant for her arrest, and the only way to avoid such an arrest is to pay the fine NOW.  The journalist didn't say the amount and I can only assume it's a minor amount like an hundred or two-hundred Euro.

You can imagine yourself getting up and answering the door.  You haven't had your coffee yet.  Cops with badges.  Your thoughts would not be clear.  Fear would be the instinctive reaction.

However, in this case....the woman stood there and began to assemble thoughts.....then gauged it as a scam.  The two guys realized this, and ran off into the night.  Other than a basic description of the two....nothing else.

I admit....it's remarkable that you'd do this at 3:20 AM and think that you'd get away with it.  But we've reached a point with fake cops....that people question things now.

Explaining Absurdistan

Absurdistan came up in German topics over the past week or two.

It's a word that loosely translates into the idea of the German government creating so many regulations....that it's impossible to run a business.

The new rules coming?

First, there's a rule being pushed and will be made German federal law....that says you must provide a lockable locker in the office area.  The cost?  It will be your own responsibility as the boss or owner of the company.  How big of a locker?  That hasn't been discussed and folks might be shocked to find a fairly small and marginal locker in place....thus requiring more rules to require a bigger locker down the road.

Second, there must be mandatory space in front of each keyboard....to allow the palms of your hands to rest.  Cost?  Back to the company.  Creating a huge mess?  Well...if you have limited desk space....there's no way to fix this except with an entirely new desk, and perhaps a new layout of the office.

Third, mandatory window breaks.  I haven't the precise direction that is given on this....but reporters tend to say that when break-time occurs....you should have a chance to see actual sunlight or landscape....not a plain break area.  For a warehouse operation....it'll be hard to see the method to fix this....unless you make a fake window with a fake sunlight device in the background.

All of this got tossed into the blender and noted as a negative by one major employer....saying "bureaucratic madness in Absurdistan".  The government office bringing this up?  The Federal Office of Labor....run by a SPD minister currently.

Debate to come?  It'll have to be brought up in the Bundestag and there's some question if the CDU will agree with this.  Naturally, you can envision the Linke Party and Greens in full agreement....so it will likely pass.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Explaining the Election from Greece

The quickly called election in Greece will occur today (Sunday).

To set the stage....Greece came through the 2008 world economic stumble....admitting it was bankrupt.  The books used to convince the EU that they were ready back around 2000 to enter into the Euro business?  Two book.....one looking good, and the real one which displayed substantial faults.

Most economic experts will say it's not a recent development.....that Greece has been screwed up on finances for a minimum of fifty years.....some will even go back to 1942 and say it started then.

To save Greece.....the EU and Germany to a great extent....gave them a loan of 240-billion Euro.  There's a pay-back plan.  Most all economic experts that I've seen interviewed over this in the past month have said that the loan basically did nothing except to stall or extend Greece to the next default.  The government has been unable to sustain any rebuilding and confidence.

So, what this election is about....covers three things.  First, whoever wins....will have to forge a collation....because it's doubtful that any party will get a majority.  The agreements forged in this team-building exercise might go from one extreme to the other.  Second, it's doubtful that the new government will want to repay the 240-billion Euro....perhaps asking for forgiveness over the bulk (this happened in the 1950s with Germany....where a massive loan was simply forgiven).  Third, the new government might say 'enough' and quit the Euro and the EU.  This act would be a serious episode and possibly trigger some talks in Europe over the direction forward.

In the last couple of years, the topic of Germany owing Greece has continually come up.  There are two views to this.  One.....Germany squeezed out a loan in 1942 as they invaded Greece....which by today's value is eleven billion Euro.  Pay-back of that loan has not occurred.  Even if Germany agreed to the eleven-billion Euro as part of some forgiveness package deal....there's still 220-plus billion left that they'd have to pay back to the EU itself.  The second issue here is damages caused to infrastructure from WW II.  From this....no one has ever sat down and assembled a list of bridges destroyed or buildings blown up.  Greece had a fair amount of damage done.

All of this revolves around the only significant gimmick of money coming into Greece....tourism....and two-million-odd Germans who come each year and spend money at resorts and seaside villages.  By the time you add in rental cars, shopping, food, booze, and a week or two at some resort....the typical German will probably spend at least a thousand Euro each.  In some ways, you have to be careful on the direction that this exit occurs and how many insults you can throw at Germans before they react and they start to skip Greece as a destination.  Germans aren't the only tourists.....but they do make up roughly twenty-percent (Wiki numbers) of the big picture.

The election results?  A big deal.  And likely to create some massive trend that is hard to steer in one direction or another.  The bottom line?  Greece will be center-stage for the next month on your nightly news as they try to assemble the government from this election, and launch toward the new strategy....which is currently unpredictable.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Numbers Game

Some statistics came out this week in Germany...which triggered a number of people to ponder upon the meaning of the numbers.

The federal office in Germany, responsible for all statistics, said that the current numbers for 2013 indicate that roughly three million Germans are on the upper edge of poverty....making just slightly above the Hartz IV rate.....thus becoming the working-poor.  These are people who make late payments, miss the apartment rental payment, and survive off marginal food supplements.

The office looked back at the number for five years prior and noted that there were roughly two-and-a-half-million people then.....so the number has grown.

They even came to note that roughly 600,000 of these people...don't have the financial capital to own a car.

The real story here?  Germany has done a great job in creating jobs and stabilizing the economy.  Salaries have been somewhat stagnant, and various tools have been invented to hire lower-income employees.  When you step into a store and the guy isn't that eager person you'd like to deal with as a customer.....you might want to think about the fact that he's probably making a marginal income and just doesn't care anymore....he's lost interest in the customers of the business.

The same is true when someone notes that they haven't really done anything in six years, with the six weeks of vacation they get each year....because they don't make enough to do anything.  Other than sitting at the city pool or just sitting at home and watching TV....that's their normal summer vacation.

The odds in five more years?  Unless something changes....it'll be three-and-a-half million people who are marginally surviving without Hartz IV, growing another half-million.

Just inventing jobs won't work.  Just telling people to slide the minimum wage into place won't work.  And bringing Bulgarians in to do the crap-work won't work.

In a way, there's going to be some type of way where things change, with salaries in some better fashion.  The question is....how to get from here to there.