Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bild: Islam's Obsticles

Over the weekend....Germany's publication Bild (the German version of USA Today and National Enquirer).....put out an interesting commentary by one of it's chief editors.

Basically....the commentary went that Islam was an obstacle to integration into German society.  Between physical threats, vocal threats, violence, and intimidation....all hindered a new Muslim trying to integrate into German society.

This commentary quickly drew various upset Muslims and various political players of Germany.

On the other side of this.....a great number of Germans came to read the words and agree with the basic commentary.....there is an obstacle in existence, whether people want to admit it or not.

Years ago, I came to make some observations about immigrants coming into Germany.

First, most came because of crappy lifestyles, corrupt politics, miserable chances at getting ahead, unsafe neighborhoods for their families, and screwed-up priorities by the public-at-large in their native lands.  They left....coming to Germany....to find a better place.

Most people in search of this new land strategy.....come with no anchors.  They refuse to drag all the problems of their old homeland into the new "paradise".  When you look at Chinese nationals who've come to Germany....they carried no anchors.  Neither did the White-Russians.  Neither are the Africans dragging their anchors into Germany.

Curiously.....Muslims found the need for the anchor....never questioning themselves months later or years later.....why they left the old country, and why things got so bad or miserable in the old country.  It's a mystery why they left.  It's a mystery why they started to get back into old habits in the new country.  It's a mystery why they question the new country....even through they won't dare think about going back to the old country.

Second, generally if you walk up to a hundred folks on the street of some town and ask about their "status"....they usually answer they are a Hessen (their state) or a German.  You'd have to go through about ten thousand Germans to get one to answer he's a Catholic or a Mormon or a Scientology individual.

If you go up to a hundred individuals from Middle Eastern states....the answer gets complicated in probably eighty percent of the answers.  The answer might be a Turk-German, German-Turk, a Turk, a Muslim, etc.  Some will openly admit that since Dad immigrated here in 1983....they've only been back to Turkey on two occasions....speak almost no Turkish whatsoever....can't even name the President of Turkey....yet they will refer to themselves as Turk-German.

Third and final....it's an odd thing that I've come to notice off German forum shows....there just aren't any intellectual Muslims.  Maybe it's the fault of the TV show producers.  Maybe there's just a limited number and they are fairly busy with real questions to answer.  But you get the impression that it's a mighty small group.

Turkish comedians?  Well.....that's a totally different story.  Over the past five years, I've come to note several dozen Turkish or Middle-Eastern comedians who've made it big in Germany.  Their chief topic of humor?  Well....they will trash Germans, Turks, Egyptians, dimwits, intellectuals, etc.
The problem here is fairly identifiable.  There's some groups of Muslims who came into Germany....looking for the "American-dream" type environment.  They found it....but they never asked themselves why things got so screwed up in the old country....forcing themselves to leave.

If you look at Germans who left Germany.....they will list out the dozen reasons for leaving.  Usually taxes are high on the list.  More opportunity usually makes it.  More open land (the Montana mentality) is on the list.  Less regulation is always on the list.  They know why they left.  I don't get the same impression from the Muslim crowd.

Me?  I'm a guest in Germany....pure and simple.  I don't intend to take work away from a German....cause chaos or trouble.....trigger trouble with the cops.....violate German law intentionally, or insult Germans in a bold fashion.  If I do poke fun at Germans.....if you look a step deeper.....I tend to poke fun at Americans just as much.

In the south....guests are usually treated politely....offered a fine seat on the front porch.....offered fresh-made ice-tea with some ice....and they offer simple conversation on various topics of interest.  They might insult the local Baptist minister a bit.  There might be some harsh words over Democrats or Republicans.  Some ugly talk might come up about NCAA football and bowl committee choices.  But, a guest is kinda bound to act within reason....while visiting.

I've always taken this guest-mentality as far as possible.  Muslims in Germany?  My general advice is that it might be worth looking into the guest-mentality.  Germans might appreciate it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The BK Solution

Around two months ago....there was an investigative reporting episode here in Germany over Burger King.  The effect of the show?  Well....folks got the impression that most Burger King operations were unsanitary and lacked of hygiene standards.  What the public generally said in the days after that....questions were left unanswered.  No one was sure about their local Burger King operation and just how effective they were at serving quality food.

Burger King won't talk of the cost of that episode....but I would take a guess that they lost fifty percent of their profits at some locations, and just about every BK franchise in Germany took a five-to-ten percent profit cut.

Today?  It's an odd publicity gimmick in the paper by the Burger King franchise managers of Germany.  There's a portal that you can register and actually get a personalized tour of a Burger King near you.  Yep.....allowing you into the kitchen....to ask questions and understand the standards that the crew adhere to.  The portal will activate tomorrow, and run until 10 August.  The following weekend.....you will get a personalized invitation at a time for your local BK operation for a tour.

What will happen?

My humble guess is that less than a thousand folks will sign up for the tour.  Most all of the invited will show up to find the BK staff pleasant....the BK operation clean and operating in a professional manner....and quality burgers on the grill.

It's not a stupid idea.....but it just doesn't have a five-star solution tied to the intention.  The truth is that five million Germans probably used a BK menu at least once a year, and none of them ever got food poisoning or one-star quality food.  The BK menu may not be fantastic or top of the line....but since you are there only to spend seven Euro and simply to fill a hunger spot there around lunch.....you can't be too picky.

In my entire life in Germany (added up over twenty years).....I've only known of three cases of food poisoning.  Two centered around a German (around K-town) place pretending to be a Mexican-food restaurant, and were lousy at keeping fresh food in the kitchen or serving anything that was Mexican.  The third case centered around a German stand that centered it's operation on curry wursts.....and the curry solution was probably way past the point of expiration, when it came to the product that my associate picked up.

There's a general high standard by Germans when it comes to food.  It's the mark of death usually....if someone orders something, and it gets brought out....then you discover it's half-frozen.  Folks get picky....disturbed....won't eat the final product.....pay....and then talk about this for weeks with relatives, co-workers, or neighbors.  As a business owner.....you only one single unhappy guest to wipe out half your monthly business.....so it's in your favor to make a professional dinner.

Me going to a BK tour?  No.  I'm pretty confident over their act and what they try to do.  A few bad acts.....some video of the stupidity....and it's greatly harmed the product line.  Course, if they offered a free burger with the tour....I might change my mind.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why German Electricity Costs So Much

It's a nifty little article on Bloomberg today.  It tells a basic story over German electrical rates and why things have risen so much over the past decade.

Once upon a time.....folks got all hyper about nuke power and coal power in Germany.  Both were evil.  We were told this in the 1980s, and almost weekly....some German newspaper blasted away at the terrible price Germans were going to pay for a nuke accident or pollution from the coal used in running the electrical plants.

German usage of electricity?  The average average capita rate (per person) is 861 watts (Wiki's numbers).  Some countries like Sweden and Norway are way above that (2000 or more).  But Germany compares easily to Austria or Switzerland with the same per capita.

Various decisions were made over the past two decades....to rig up the plan to terminate German nuke plants, and to force dirty-coal power plants to close.  All of this....was going to lead onto more solar power and wind-generators.

There's an odd thing though.  On a daily basis.....there's simply not enough wind or solar generated power and the grid is on a minute-by-minutes shortfall situation.  Naturally....to prevent blackouts....you need to have plan "B".

In Germany....twenty companies are lined up to provide plan "B" coverage, when shortfalls occur.  Naturally, none of this "help" is free.  Companies who are in the government's circle to ensure adequate power because of the nuke and coal strategy?  They can sit there and on some days....charge up to four-hundred times the normal rate.  This leads onto a billion-Euro fund that the government set up.....to cover the current strategy.

How many Germans know of the shortfall energy fund (the billion Euro deal)?  I would take a guess that less than a thousand know of the fund and most don't talk much about it.  It's best to avoid discussions over it....because it's the only way that you avoid blackouts.

The odds of the billion-Euro fund rising in the future? It's virtually guaranteed as more nuke plants go off-line permanently, and the number of solar/wind generation plants operate.

The threat of blackouts?  The average German will tell you that most of the three or four outages that come per year right now....are weather-driven....and usually last two to five hours.  We are talking about a region thing, with maybe 100,000 residents in one area affected.

What happens on a calm August day...at noon....in a moderately high temperature situation....but almost no wind occurring....if regional grid for an entire state of Germany (say Hessen)....went out for twenty minutes?  And the response that evening was that they had basically burned through all normal power production, used up what plan "B" option they had, and still had a shortfall?  Some Germans would start to ask stupid questions.

It's one thing to have good dependable power and know a couple of times a year storms will take down your grid.  It's another to come to a non-storm event and admit you just don't have enough power to run the national grid.  The answer?  A two-billion or three-billion Euro fund to buy excess power from others who are just grinning over your own planned stupidity?  And this coming out of some tax pocket....meaning you pay really more for electricity....but the government never wants to call it the second bucket of revenue for energy consumption.  Eventually, the one-billion Euro fund, will double.....it's only a matter of time.

All of this.....while Germans start to toy with the idea of battery-powered cars....that require charging from mythical electrical production creation?  Yeah, this leads to a puzzling situation....but it's best not to discuss this with a German.  It's all good....you know.

The German Spy Business

Up until this week....Germany's secret agents watching foreign agents operate in Germany....had a certain list of countries that they didn't trust, and a certain list that they did trust.  That changed.  They now operate with a "360-degree view"....meaning no single country is given a free-pass to operate and conduct spying operations in Germany.

The intention?  Well....the US and Britain are both on the bad-boy list, and the CIA/NSA guys in Germany can now expect to have "Huns und Franz" on their tail as they drive around the German countryside.

How many spies are in Germany?  Well....no one really says much on that.  You see....there are economic spies, energy sector spies, news media spies, industrial spies, government spies, beer spies, bank spies, technology spies, spies watching spies, investment spies, scientific development spies, political spies, etc.

If you ever make a trip out to Berlin....one of the fifty-odd things that you might come across is the CDU headquarters in central Berlin (the plexiglass building).  If you walk around the block....there's the North Korean embassy.  It's an odd place from where most countries operate embassy operations in town (near the Bundestag or on the east side of town).  Use of the embassy to spy on CDU internal politics?  Well....I might wonder about that.

Chinese spies within the technology sector?  A number of smart Chinese German-university graduates have stayed and work on various projects in the private technology sector.  One might wonder about their relationships and how they shift discoveries back to China.

British spies within the banking sector of Germany?  It's a pretty good chance that dozens exist.  The data taken?  Well....it gets shifted around and various entities in Britain benefit in some fashion.

Russian spies in the energy sector?  It wouldn't take much to place a dozen spies at the disposal of the Russian Gazprom folks, watch for favorable trends, and ensure that profits stay high for the Russian natural gas giant.

US spies sitting around and trying to get Merkel's calendar for August?  Well....yeah, there might be some stupid idiots wasting time and resources to get a stupid Merkel calendar with almost zero value.  Twenty thousand Euro here and there....for worthless information?  Well....yeah....we aren't known for brilliant strategies or handling money well.

This 360-degree view business?  This is where it leads.  You can't do this type of operation with the current crew of German internal spy-watch team.  So, you will have to recruit....hire....and find more than a thousand new folks to be spy-watchers.  Overnight?  Zero potential.  It'll take a minimum of a year to hire enough folks to do this type of work, and figure training will consume another year.  So any real results from this....will be probably two years from now.

Where do you find these new spy recruits?  You basically put an ad in a couple of national newspapers....looking for "audit" people, but give a wide range for the job description....to include travel....long hours....opportunities for advancement.  Somewhere in the interview process, they will spring it on you.....you will be this German version of James Bond....watching spies within Germany.  You don't really care about the title or James Bond thing....you simply ask about benefits, pay and travel allowance.

At some point four years from now....some German political committee will wake up....realize that twenty-five of their spy-watcher crewmembers are working for France, China, Russia, Italy and the US.  So they will talk of a new crew.....spy-watchers of the spy-watchers.

Am I cynical of this whole thing?  Yeah....it's like a bunch of teenage kids who just woke and realized that the teachers at the school have a corrupt grading system, and they just can't believe it....and they want to fix it immediately. The kids wake up months later to find solution simply lead onto more corrupt grades.  

The Blood Test Story

An American in Germany rarely pays attention to German court judicial reviews or changes that suddenly pop up in German laws.  This week, there was a fairly important ruling that came out.

Some cops in Dusseldorf came across this driver that they felt had too much alcohol.  They wanted a blood test.  The guy was a lawyer.  They told this lawyer that he'd have to give them a sample of his blood for the test.....he declined.  He knew the law said that a person can only be forced to give blood....if a judge orders it.  This being evening hours.....it'd take an hour....maybe two hours, and his blood rate would decline by that point.

Well....the cops decided...NO.....they had authority and did the blood test without the judge's consent.  Normally, this would be a legal violation, and the test would be thrown out.

Well....the state judges in Dusseldorf were given the case, and the lawyer involved in this mess challenged the blood test.  The state judges said it was all fine and within the intention of the law....so the lawyer is fined (around 1750 Euro) and loses his license for six months.

The journalist writing the article didn't really ask a lot of questions, and one might suspect that this lawyer isn't finished and will go to the national court....challenging this further.  The general rule?  Well....up until this point, you could decline the blood test and wait for a judge's order.  I might reshape my attitude now and just go ahead to accept the test (awaiting what results might come out of this). The odds of the national court throwing out this current ruling?  It has happened before, and I might give it a fifty-fifty shot at a national court.

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.