Tag: Germany

Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.


In the year of his first cigarette

Saturday, 24 June, 2017 0 Comments

In the year that the great Galty smoked his first cigarette, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, premiered in Hollywood; Francisco Franco assumed power in Spain; Flann O’Brien’s metafiction At Swim-Two-Birds was published in London; Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt married Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran; Billie Holiday recorded Strange Fruit; Italy seized Albania and King Zog fled; an Irish Republican Army bomb exploded in the centre of Coventry, killing five people; John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was published; Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics No. 27; nylon stockings went on sale in Wilmington, Delaware, and LaGuardia Airport opened in New York City.

Oh, and the opening shots of World War II were fired when Germany invaded Poland.

Galty


Trump week

Monday, 16 January, 2017 0 Comments

And it kicks off “mit einem Paukenschlag” (spectacularly), as our German friends say. President-elect Trump tells Bild, well, the truth. “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.” Ouch!

He emphasized that he is going to be a tough trans-Atlantic partner, threatening to slap a 35% import tax on BMW cars if the Munich-based company sticks with its plan to build a factory in Mexico. He also blamed the decision of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to welcome refugees from the Middle East and Africa, for endangering the stability of Europe. Snippet:

“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.

People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.”

Obama is history and his legacy is, in a word, Trump.

Bild Trump


Fast forward thinking at ING

Tuesday, 4 October, 2016 0 Comments

Revolutions are turbulent, gory affairs. “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets,” said Baron Rothschild, who made a fortune in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo. This time around, it’s the financiers that are filling the streets, driven out by the algorithms in the battle to capture the smartphone customer.

ING Last week, Germany’s second-biggest lender, Commerzbank, said it was planning to cut 9,600 jobs over the next four years and end dividend payments for the first time. Yesterday, Dutch bank ING says it intends to cut up to 7,000 jobs in Belgium and the Netherlands over the next five years as part of a plan to save €900 million a year, speed up the adoption of new technology and “continue to lead in digital banking”.

“Customers are increasingly digital and bank with us more and more through mobile devices,” said ING chief executive Ralph Hamers in a statement. “Their needs and expectations are the same, all over the world, and they expect us to adopt new technology as fast as companies in other sectors.” Quote:

“In order to continue to lead in digital banking, we need to offer a better customer experience, that’s instant, personal, frictionless and relevant. From 2016 to 2021, we intend to invest €800 million in our digital transformation, building a scalable platform to cater for continued commercial growth, an improved customer experience and a quicker delivery of new products.”

Heralding the revolution at ING, Ralph Hamers titled his strategy “Accelerating Think Forward.” It’s kind of instant, but it’s certainly not frictionless for those giving way to the new technologies.


Mrs Merkel and her Humpty Dumpty great fall

Saturday, 3 September, 2016 1 Comment

According to the polls, the anti-establishment Alternative für Deutschland party has overtaken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party in the run-up to tomorrow’s state election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. If the prediction becomes reality, it would represent a massive shock and setback for Merkel in her home state.

Why this now? Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan noted that Merkel, without consulting the people, opened up Germany to 800,000 migrants from the Middle East last year. In the end, more than a million arrived, and 300,000 are expected this year. Those who weren’t consulted are now left to deal with the consequences: Social unease, political division, increased crime, fear of terror, fear of burqas, sexual assaults by migrants and numerous other bits of nastiness that Merkel and her clique remain insulated from. As Noonan writes:

But there was a fundamental problem with the decision that you can see rippling now throughout the West. Ms. Merkel had put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections. Ms. Merkel, her cabinet and government, the media and cultural apparatus that lauded her decision were not in the least affected by it and likely never would be.

Nothing in their lives will get worse. The challenge of integrating different cultures, negotiating daily tensions, dealing with crime and extremism and fearfulness on the street — that was put on those with comparatively little, whom I’ve called the unprotected. They were left to struggle, not gradually and over the years but suddenly and in an air of ongoing crisis that shows no signs of ending — because nobody cares about them enough to stop it.

Falling off the wall The powerful show no particular sign of worrying about any of this. When the working and middle class pushed back in shocked indignation, the people on top called them “xenophobic,” “narrow-minded,” “racist.” The detached, who made the decisions and bore none of the costs, got to be called “humanist,” “compassionate,” and “hero of human rights.”

Merkel is falling in the polls, as Germans realize what she’s done to them. And around the world we see the rise of Trump-like populist campaigns, appealing to citizens who feel that their rulers despise them. If the rulers feel neither loyalty nor empathy toward the ruled, the ruled can be expected to return the favor. The results, unless the rulers change their ways in a hurry, are unlikely to be pretty.

When the people of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern go to the polls, Chancellor Merkel will be rubbing shoulders with the global elite at the G20 Summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Local concerns appear trivial from such a great distance and such a great height, but Humpty Dumpty did take a great fall, and neither all the king’s horses nor all the king’s men, nor a media and cultural apparatus could pick up the pieces again.


#Brexit: Alan Posener plays the German card

Monday, 20 June, 2016 0 Comments

“Brexit would be irresponsible. The EU — and liberal Germans EU — need Britain in order to help contain a Germany that may have little to do with the ‘new Germany’ I saw celebrating falling borders not quite a decade ago.” So says the Anglo-German journalist Alan Posener, who writes about politics and society for Die Welt, which describes itself as “liberal cosmopolitan” but is generally labelled as conservative in the German media spectrum. In a new twist of the so-called Project Fear meme, Posener warns that “German nationalism can only be contained by a united Europe” in the Guardian today. To support his case, he cites Margaret Thatcher liberally:

“By its very nature, Germany is a destabilising, rather than a stabilising force in Europe,” Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, explaining why she had tried to get Mikhail Gorbachev to oppose German reunification. She also met with leading historians in order to understand the German “national character”. According to the memorandum of the meeting, this included “angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complexes and sentimentality”.

Note: Poesner is to be thanked for his translation of “abendländisch,” a word that’s tossed around a lot by the German talking class. It is, says Posener, “a term which is hard to translate, but basically means anti-Anglo-Saxon.”

Demanding that Britain save Germany from itself and that Britain save Europe from Germany is a big ask of the voters, but Posener seems convinced that unless they put a cross next to “Remain an member of the European Union” on Thursday, “Germany could become a danger to itself, Europe and the west.”

Germany_Britain


The other European crisis: milk

Saturday, 21 May, 2016 0 Comments

“Dear Representative of the Media,

The severe turbulence in the milk market makes it increasingly clear that the current reckless EU policy has drastic negative consequences for man and beast alike in the countryside… It is essential to systematically counter the extreme overproduction in the milk market. Political institutions and representatives of producers and industry will be addressing this issue at the hearing in the European Parliament on 25 May.”

So goes the invitation from the European Milk Board. How bad is the situation? In Germany, discount supermarket Aldi has cut the price of milk in its outlets from 59 cents a litre to 46 cents. Other chains have followed, the Hamburger Morgenpost reports. Milk is now cheaper than some brands of mineral water and dairy farmers are getting as little as 18 cents a litre. They say they need at least 40 cents a litre to cover costs.

Having decided to phase out their extravagant support for the coal industry, Europe’s leaders are now under pressure to pump billions into another bottomless pit of sorts: the dairy industry. But the iron law of supply and demand cannot be wished away with handouts. Market rules should apply as much for farmers as for fitters and flight attendants, who must endure disruption, too. The price for cheap milk comes with a significant cost, however. An entire way of life is dying and the ruins of Europe’s abandoned dairy farms will serve as memorials for a lost rural culture. Those of us who were reared in dairyland are familiar with the words of Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Pints of milk


Angela’s ashes: The decline of Merkelism

Monday, 14 March, 2016 0 Comments

On Friday, Japan paid tribute to the 16,000 people who died in the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the Pacific coast in 2011. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit the country and the ensuing tsunami permanently damaged three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Chancellor Angela Merkel, 8,900 km away in Berlin, decided that Germany would end nuclear energy production, even though nuclear provides 16 percent of its energy and is still its largest low-carbon energy source by far. The result is that Germany’s electricity costs are now among the highest in the world, and its electricity production is still primarily from coal (45 percent). Wind, biomass, solar, natural gas and hydro comprise the remaining 40 percent, in that order.

Mrs Merkel’s unilateral resolve to end nuclear energy production was typical of her increasingly absolute ruling style and this tendency reached its high-water mark last year with her unilateral decision to open Germany’s borders, which has resulted in over 1.1 million migrants and refugees entering the country in the past eight months. The euphoric welcome given to many of the arrivals last summer at Munich’s main train station has been replaced by seething rage, especially since the events of New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where hundreds of women were sexually harassed and assaulted by men of largely north African and Arabic background.

The bill was presented yesterday when the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party made dramatic electoral gains, entering state parliament for the first time in three regions off the back of rising anger with Merkel’s open-door migration policy. The AfD was founded in 2013 by a group of economists and journalists calling for the abolition of the euro; now it’s a platform for a public that has become increasingly polarised by an establishment that’s seen as out of touch with the people. Angela Merkel’s popular decline is proof of the wisdom of term limits. Germany should consider enacting them.

Merkelism


Angela Merkel: idiot or fool?

Tuesday, 12 January, 2016 0 Comments

The “open borders” migration policy instigated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s could create a Germany with half its under-40 population consisting of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants and their children. The impact of such a demographic disruption would be explosive writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in “Germany on the Brink.” He calls on Merkel to close her borders to new arrivals, asks Berlin to give up “the fond illusion that Germany’s past sins can be absolved with a reckless humanitarianism in the present,” and declares:

“If you believe that an aging, secularized, heretofore-mostly-homogeneous society is likely to peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference, then you have a bright future as a spokesman for the current German government.

You’re also a fool.”

Douthat’s fulmination has shocked Germany’s chattering classes, who regard the New York Times with a kind of childlike awe as if it were a composite of Das Kapital, the Koran and the Bible. The main prints have rushed to translate the column and reader reaction has been enthusiastic, in part because the politically-correct mainstream German media dare not utter or think such thoughts. In the case of the highbrow weekly Die Zeit, the comment sections is filled with endorsements of Douthat’s positon, but part of the discussion is given over to the issue of how to translate that key word “fool”. In the original, “Idiot” was used, but this was later erased and replaced with “Narr.”

Most commentators, by the way, agree with Douthat’s conclusion: “It means that Angela Merkel must go — so that her country, and the continent it bestrides, can avoid paying too high a price for her high-minded folly.” The Duden, the standard dictionary of the German language, translates “folly” as “Narrheit f, Torheit f Verrücktheit f“. The “f” there, by the way, stands for “feminine”. Interestingly, “folly” is preceded in that dictionary by “follow-the-leader”. For many Germans, that’s the dilemma now.


Industry four point oh/zero

Sunday, 3 January, 2016 0 Comments

Backgrounder: For people learning English, the pronunciation of the number 0 can be a challenge. Consider: tennis 30–0 (“Thirty love”); phone number 504 7721 (“five oh four double seven two one”; soccer: 3–0 (“Three nil”); temperature 0C (“zero degrees”), and, of course, the number 0.4 (“zero point four” or “nought point four”).

This brings us to what Germany calls “Industrie 4.0,” which is going to be big in 2016, especially in Davos later this month. By the way, Industrie 4.0 can be translated and pronounced as “Industry four point oh” or “Industry four point zero”, depending on one’s preference. Then there are the #hashtag rules: because spaces or punctuation in the words preceding or following a hashtag will break the link, we’re left with “#Industry40,” which looks awfully like “forty”. Oh dear.

So what is this Industry 4.0 that everyone is talking about? The German Academy of Science and Engineering, acatech, offers this definition:

“The first three industrial revolutions came about as a result of mechanisation, electricity and IT. Now, the introduction of the Internet of Things and Services into the manufacturing environment is ushering in a fourth industrial revolution. In the future, businesses will establish global networks that incorporate their machinery, warehousing systems and production facilities in the shape of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). In the manufacturing environment, these Cyber-Physical Systems comprise smart machines, storage systems and production facilities capable of autonomously exchanging information, triggering actions and controlling each other independently. Smart factories that are already beginning to appear employ a completely new approach to production. Smart products are uniquely identifiable, may be located at all times and know their own history, current status and alternative routes to achieving their target state. The embedded manufacturing systems are vertically networked with business processes within factories and enterprises and horizontally connected to dispersed value networks that can be managed in realtime – from the moment an order is placed right through to outbound logistics.”

A shorter definition might go like this: “The next stage in the organization and management of the entire manufacturing value chain process.”


Own the robots, rule the world

Wednesday, 9 December, 2015 0 Comments

According to Marx, it’s simple. Ownership of the Means of Production is in the wrong hands and this has led to the class differences that bedevil the planet. Individual ability, religious or cultural factors are irrelevant to the Marxists — all that’s needed is to wrest the machines from the capitalists, give them to the proletariat and the world will be as one. The disciples of Karl Marx have been preaching this “gospel” since the mid-19th century with spectacular calamity for the masses, most recently in Venezuela.

Is there a better way? And if so, who should own the modern Means of Production? The question is increasingly urgent in a world where Google is replacing librarians and professors are being eliminated by massive online courses. As computers and robots eat up the tasks being done by humans, workers need to do something or they’ll end up doing nothing. One solution would see governments taxing the Zuckerbergs and the Musks punitively and redistributing the “take” to the workers, but that’s the Venezuela way. Better: workers own shares in tech firms, have stock options in the AI start-ups and be paid in part from the profits generated by the robotics companies.

Who says? Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University does. Recently, Germany’s Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH, better known as the Institute for the Study of Labor and abbreviated as IZA, asked Freeman for his thoughts on technology, work and capital. For the Bonn-based non-profit, Freeman wrote “Who owns the robots rules the world” and in it he argues that the best model is an American one in the form of the Employee Stock Ownership Plans introduced in 1974 and which have since energized a sector that now employs some 11 million workers.

“The EU has endorsed such schemes in its various Pepper Reports and encouraged these forms of organization, though with, at best, modest success,” notes Freeman, ruefully. The continent of Marx is not too fond of worker ownership, unless the state is the proprietor, that is. On the other side of the Atlantic, which remains Marx resistant, despite the best efforts of the elites, Freeman points out that “enough firms in the US have extended some form of ownership stake to their workers that on the order of half of American employees get some part of their pay through profit-sharing, options, or stock ownership.” This is the way forward because, “In the US, at least, people with widely different ideological and economic views find attractive the notion of spreading ownership. One can imagine governments giving preferential treatment in procurement to firms that meet some basic ’employee ownership’ financial standard.”

As we enter the age of Industry 4.0, a priority of every developed economy should be encouraging worker ownership of capital to provide income streams from the technologies changing the world of work. Otherwise, Richard B. Freeman warns: “If we don’t succeed in spreading the ownership of capital more widely, many of us will become serfs working on behalf of the owners. Who owns the robots rules the world! Let us own the robots.” Aye!

Robots at work