Thursday, May 25, 2017

Apartment Regulation Efforts

There's a piece in Focus today which talks on the issue of affordable apartments.

So for probably a decade, there's been this issue brewing in metropolitan cities in Germany...affordable apartment dwindling.  This goes toward three central issues.  First, while rural regions of Germany are decreasing in size....it's the opposite effect in cities like Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, etc.  Second, building owners have figured out that if you renovate a building (say for the first time since 1960)....you can probably double the rental income of 700 Euro a month (which tends to make the place unaffordable to half of the normal city residents).  Third, whether the politicians like to admit it or not....income levels over the past twenty years have been mostly stagnant....even in urbanized zones.

Up in Koln, folks have noticed this odd trend.  There are tons of applications to build apartments in the region.  If you look back two years ago as an example in Berlin, they had 22,000 apartments on the city books to be built.  A large majority of these would have been in the affordable category.

But here's this funny thing....just because you have a permit to build on such-and-such property....an apartment building, it does NOT mean that you will build in the time cycle that you described, and that you might take the slow path to such a degree....that maybe someone will see a better speculation deal, and offer to buy the lot, and get the permit with the deal....then build non-affordable apartments or condos.

So there is this suggestion....once you earn a permit to build...it needs to state a period (probably two years but that is only suggested).

The chance to speculate or stall?  Gone....if this were to be adapted by the city.

There are continual efforts to invent city regulations and rules throughout Germany....to satisfy the need for affordable apartments.  It's safe to say that very few of these efforts are working.

Getting cities to do their own investing and building (like they did decades ago in Vienna)?  You'd end up borrowing a fair amount of money via a bond program, and the affordability rates would be in relationship to what people can actually pay.  You might start to see ghetto-like neighborhoods go up because that was the customers that the housing was designed for.  None of the political parties really want that reputation hooked to them.

This rule change to hinder the companies hooked onto speculation?  I suspect that they'd go and find great legal ways to challenge the time limits and have the legal system draw this out for three to seven years.

The Six-Million Story

This week, BILD (the German daily newspaper that is fairly accurate on reporting) came out with a sensitive piece from an insider to the German government....with a BND (German CIA) report.  The report essentially says that roughly six-million migrants are massing in North Africa, and will be helped by smugglers in June, July and August....to reach Europe.

Accuracy?  Unknown.

How would this work?  I've sat and spent around four hours thinking over the process.

First, there's simply no way that the whole six-million group could be in the Libya coastal area at present.  There might be in the range of half-a-million there in some stage of waiting for the smuggler operation to start up.  The rest?  They'd have to be brought in by bus or truck from central Africa, over a period of four to eight weeks.

Second, the number of rafts required?  The smugglers tend to use 100-man Chinese-made rafts.  You can do the math....but they'd require 60,000 of these rafts on hand.  Whoever the manufacturer of the rafts might be....they'd have to have this order on hand at least a year ago, and in some process of March-April having sent the rafts into Libya for sales and positioning.

Third, the charity-rescue crowd don't have the capability of handing 750,000 people per week (my estimate in this possible scheme).  To be honest, the handful of ships in the region who are dedicated to this endeavor....at best....might be able to rescue 100,000 per week.  So, my guess is that the charity groups have insider information and have a dozen or more additional ships that they are preparing in some French or Italian port, for this massive rescue mission.

Fourth, the typical scenario of the smuggler is that they haul a hundred people out to some point near Lampedusa Island (about 300 km north of Libya).  You can figure at least 24 hours to get close to somewhat close to Lampedusa.  I suspect that the smugglers would have to run dozens of boats around the clock to dump 750,000 a week in the region.

Fifth, the 'take' for the smugglers?  If you figure the going rate of $1,000 per person and 6-million....they stand to make 6-billion dollars.  Course, you have to subtract the bribes on the Libyan officials to look the other way, the cost of the vessel operations, and the rubber rafts.  My guess is that they'd take home around 85-percent of the 6-billion dollars.

So, then you come to this odd discussion about the EU and their reaction.  Frankly, I suspect it'd take at least a month (one-million-plus arrivals) before they'd wake-up and get fairly worried.  The fact that the BND report exists, and the EU has been likely warned?  Well....I doubt if they really believe it's possible to move six-million people in this manner.

It puts the EU into a difficult position.  At best, they might be willing to go and accept maybe a hundred-thousand.  Italy?  They aren't in any position to bring in six-million migrants for some refugee-camp mega-operation.

The odds that Erdogan of Turkey will watch this develop and release his held-back migrants and refugees?  Well....it's best not to bring this topic up with German political folks.

So you turn to Merkel and the Berlin leadership.  For a long time, they've just kinda gazed at this whole migrant-immigrant-asylum thing and pretended that you didn't need to manage it.  It would just handle itself.

At this point, how do you shuffle six-million around Europe?  The answer is that while five or six countries might be willing to take on a hundred-thousand each....the idea of two-million shuffling into Germany by October is a wild scenario that no one can imagine.

You turn and look back at this BILD news report and the suggestion of this BND secret intelligence.  True or not?  How did they come to arrive at the six-million number?  Sixty-thousand rafts ordered and delivered?  Trucks and buses being positioned back in March and April for a mass movement into Libya?  People within the smuggling operations feeding information to the charity operations and the Italian Mafia?  Something of a significant nature came into view of the BND if this story is accurate.

The problem with this whole scenario is that if the six-million did make to European shores....then you'd start to interest another six million or more for the summer of 2018.  This starts to bring up political unrest in Europe and people asking stupid questions over asylum and immigration.  It's not what you'd want for a stable environment.

Starting up shortly?  If you look at weather patterns in the Med and this kind of scenario....you'd think that numbers would start to creep up over the next ten days, and be obvious by the middle of June. Settle back and see if the BILD report is true.

Germany and Ramadan

Starting tomorrow night (Friday evening, 26th)....Ramadan starts up.  Up until three years ago, I wouldn't have really noticed or cared.  Here in Germany, I've started to note various things.

For the Muslim guys, it's a pretty difficult period.  From sun-up to sun-down each day (starting Saturday morning on the 27th and going to the evening of the 24th of June.....you can't drink liquids, eat or smoke during the daylight hours.

For years, I thought the rule was mostly over coffee, soda, beer, etc.  Then three years ago, I came to realize the rule meant even water.  So it presents a pretty difficult situation.

Imagine, the sun starts to rise in mid-June around 5:00 AM, and does not set until 9:35 PM in June around the middle of Germany.

To make this a successful Ramadan, if you were a strict Muslim, you'd have to get up by 4 AM.....sip off a ton of water (minimum of 1.5 liters), smoke as much as you possibly can, and eat a minimum of 1,000 calories.  Then you'd have to hope that the temperature didn't go past 32-degrees Celsius (89 degrees F)....avoid physical activity as much as possible....and make it to 9:36 PM where you could guzzle down 1.5 liters of water to re-hydrate yourself, smoke five or six cigarettes, and consume at least 1,500 calories.  You'd repeat this for roughly four weeks straight...every single day.

Provided that the temperature would stay at 32 C or less, and you did very little in terms of physical effort....you could probably slide through this with limited issues.  A 35 C day and two hours out in the sun walking from one point to another?  You probably will have issues.

If you described this practice to a health expert, without saying the term Ramadan....he'd tell you that this is severely taxing the kidneys and if you did this for thirty years....you'd likely have serious kidney problems by your fifties.  Once you utter Ramadan with the description, he'll likely avoid saying much of anything.

I sat and watched an interview of a guy who spent his first thirty years of life in Iraq and observed the Ramadan situation year after year.  In the old country, most all construction projects came to closure as Ramadan started up.  Trash and basic services might continue on but it typically started at 5 AM and halted by 10 AM.  Most guys that he knew....slept throughout the day....to preserve their hydration situation.  Upon arriving in Germany, this guy found that the German lifestyle, expected work hours, and general summer heat....made observing Ramadan a harsh experience.

Typically, there's a lot of peer pressure....even here in Germany....for Muslim guys.  They push each other to stay on course, and avoid hydrating. The smokers are the ones with the most problems.  A pack-a-day Muslim smoker is usually getting aggravated by noon and is often frustrated.

My general belief is that for the long-term effect, at least fifty percent of these individuals will be facing kidney compromise by age 50, and requiring some type of medical help for the remainder of their life....probably even shortening their life span by a decade.  If they had remained in the old country and observed the no-work philosophy for daylight hours, it'd probably less than 20-percent with kidney issues.

In a way, moving into Europe, which has a longer sun-up and sun-down cycle.....is a big deal.  In three or four years.....Ramadan will be in January, with only eight hours of sunlight, and the temperature will make hydration better.  But by 2025, we will be back to the August heat and another impossible-to-stand Ramadan period.

For the guys up in Sweden?  Well, it's really bad news.  Sun-rise starts to occur around 2:30 AM and it doesn't really set until around 10:30 PM.  Their hydration issues are probably even worse.

The fix?  There's a short sentence handed down by the Koran that says....if you were living around non-members, you could eat or live under their conditions.  You would think that after a while, this 'waiver' of sorts would be pulled out and prevent all these health issues and potential kidney damage, but the peer pressure thing kicks in and everyone wants to pretend the old country rules can still work in the new country.

It is an interesting health problem.

When News Isn't News

I sat last night and watch ZDF (Channel Two from the German public TV offerings) news.  At some point, they went and did a 7-minute piece on Trump.  About 30 seconds into it....you could hear the 'evil' music in the background.  Some enchanting but demonic-like music.  They'd move the sound up and down as they shifted through the interviews.  Then at some point, they went to demon-music number two.

Why the use of music in the middle of a news piece?  Generally, at least to me, that's one of the ten signs of a fake news piece via TV.

Since the end of 2015, with these Trump pieces by German public TV, I can probably count at least 15 episodes where they added the 'evil' or 'demonic' music into the extended news piece.

Most of the time, these are 7-minute or more reports.  It's where they've got a couple of days to compile various clips or interviews into one report, and there's some music designer who sits with the film editor to weave the music into the right points and mess with the tone enough to make it all fit.

Thirty years ago....it wouldn't have been done. We have progressed enough with news that it's always got some artistic slant or 'curve' to it.  News is no longer designed to just be simple and pure news.  They have pushed it into the art-zone and need people to admire the slant to the story.

At some point of innovation, I expect some German guy to devise a box that you attach to your TV and it recognizes images and plays your own soundtrack.  For example, an image of a Mercedes comes up....so it shifts to "Mercedes Benz" by Janis Joplin.  An image of Margaret Thatcher comes up, so it shifts to "She's a Lady" by Tom Jones.

The thing about this ZDF effort is that up until the early 1990s....it was just a simple nightly broadcast with some 60-year-old guy or gal reading text off his sheet and some marginal graphic display in the background (usually a map or a picture).  Today, it's like some minor Hollywood production piece with a soundtrack and fancy graphics. In some way, it's enhancing the news to the point where it's just not news anymore...it's some hyped up objective of some type.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Immigrant City

RBB posted an interesting short piece today.

Roughly 28-percent of Berlin is now an immigrant.....meaning from Russia, Poland, Italy, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, etc.

52,000 are from Russia alone.

An affect on Berlin?  It would be curious to ask the long-term residents (people living there since the 1960s) if this is changing the character of the city.

Politically, each of these groups are drawn to a particular political affiliation.....not necessarily SPD or CDU.  In the last election, a fair number of Russian votes were drawn to the AfD Party.

What happens if the trend continues over the next decade, and forty-percent of the city is immigrant?  No one really asks about the trend or the long-term affect.

The Asylum Story

It's a curious German story over immigration that has a lot of implications.

It's been cited over numerous German newspapers, and lays out some significant problems for future migrants.

So, Mr X was a Syrian.  He made his way to Greece.  By the Dubin Agreement, if you declare yourself for asylum in any member state or signee of the agreement, then that's your country, and you remain there.

Generally, most of the news sources are careful not to say when he arrived in Greece, but it appears to have been in 2014.

After a while, Mr X came to discover that the Greeks don't offer much of anything to an asylum seeker.  The benefits package is marginal at best.

So, Mr X took off and in 2015.....arrived in Germany (where they have outstanding benefit packages for asylum seekers).  He did admit to having been in Greece, and having signed some asylum papers there, but he just couldn't survive with what they were giving out.

Time passed, and the BamF folks (the immigration crowd) said 'no'.  You can't stay because you've already signed for asylum in Greece.....that's your home country until you become a citizen.

So court case has been brewing and yesterday came to a semi-conclusion.  The German court says he must stay....because if Greece doesn't provide enough to survive, then it only makes sense to leave.  Then the court did an odd thing.....they handed the case back down to a lesser court and instructed them to find proof that Greek benefits were non-existent for migrants.

How long will this phase last?  I'm guessing a minimum of a year.  The Greek response will probably be that they want people working immediately upon arrival, and that Greeks don't believe in hand-outs.  If the guy wants charity in Greece, he needs to go to some charitable organization.

The Germans?  The lesser court will report back with this info, and a remarkable situation will have been created.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of immigrants sitting in Greece and having signed the papers for asylum there....will probably pack up and head off to Germany.  If you look strictly at 2016 numbers for Greece, there's roughly 40,000 applicants noted (Eurostat numbers).

But this opens up this whole discussion.  There are two countries in Europe generally noted for five-star benefit programs for migrants and asylum-seekers (Sweden and Germany).  After that, comes the four-star crowd (UK, France, Netherlands, Austria), then the three-and-two-star crowd, and you will eventually reach the one-star crowd (Greece).  This has been noted a lot over the past four years.

The EU probably would like to have one single benefits program but the bulk of the EU will absolutely not agree to that type of situation.  Even the Germans might be shocked that the EU might settle upon a scheme that is half of what the Germans hand out presently.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Speeding Tickets

In the twenty-odd years that I've been around Germany (off and on)....I've gotten a total of two speeding tickets.  Oddly, both have occurred in the same village and within the past twelve months.  Today, the second ticket came in the mail.

Back in the 1980s....you'd usually have a German cop with a speed-gun and he trip you up on some curve.  Whatever he said....was the final word.  He'd write out a ticket and you'd usually just pay him on the spot.

At some point in the late 1980s....blitz cameras became very popular.  You'd go out as a community, village, or city, and do a contract.  The camera would be installed and the shots would be recorded on film and the cops would develop the film and check the database....mailing you the photo and the fine. Around fifteen years ago....the cameras all started to go digital.

In Wiesbaden now, where there were five or six cameras in the 1980s....there must be near 30 cameras now.

In my little village of 4,000 people....zero cameras.  It's one of those topics that no one wants to have come up....no one wants cameras.

But over the hill, into the next big suburb of 20,000 people, there's four cameras now set up....on each access road into the city.  For a long time, the main entry that I would take to enter that village would be set at 50 kph (31 mph).  About 300 feet past the 'welcome' sign to the village, is that blitz camera.

Well, back in early April, this village went and did an unusual thing.....they reset the speed as you enter the village.....from 50 kph to 30 kph (18 mph).  I never noticed the speed sign change, and blasted through at a few klicks less than the 50...then I saw the flash of light.

The ticket today?  15 Euro fine.

I'm guessing since April, the village there has picked up at least 6,000 speeding tickets.  Some were 15 Euro, and some were 50 Euro.

The thing that bothers me is that I went years without getting a speeding ticket in Germany.  The first ticket?  About a year ago, entering this same village.....I was doing 54 in a 50-zone....same deal....another 15-Euro fine.  It's like a magnet now....I can feel a slight anxiety as I enter this one particular village.  I'm watching for every single speed sign in anticipation of another change....going down in speed, and catching me once again.

The 98-Percent Story

It was an interesting news item from the National Review.

The Harvard University Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy went out and did a research project....the tone of news media with the first hundred days of the Trump administration.  I expected someone to do a survey, it's just surprising in the end that it comes out of Harvard.

So their measurement was simple....either the news item was for Trump, or against Trump.

What they came to say in yesterday's announcement is that overall....it was a 80-percent negative slant on Trump news.

CNN and NBC?  Near 93-percent negative.  Fox News?  Near 48-52-percent negative.

ARD, Channel One, public-TV from Germany?  98-percent negative.  Yes, just two-percent positive.
Amusingly enough....ARD was five points more negative than CNN or NBC.

Why?  That explanation was left out.

I usually watch ARD's 8PM news piece nightly, and two or three nights a week will catch the 9:45PM news review (which goes into more detail and lasts around 30 minutes).   So I can speak to this odd negativity piece.

If you sat around from 2008 to 2012, ARD news carried a fair number of pieces on Secretary of State Clinton.  If she was making any kind of speech in Europe, the highlights would be featured on their nightly news.  At the conclusion of 2012, as she was leaving her job....she'd written another book and was doing a tour through Europe.  ARD actually put her on live for around an hour (two other guests with her) and did a pump-up on her book.

In my mind, the journalists of ARD were firmly set to the eventual 2016 election being a guaranteed thing with Hillary Clinton winning.  Their sister network...ZDF...did a couple of negative pieces on Trump in the spring of 2016....once even using a cartoon-like voice to translate his comments into German.

They were all set on election night to proclaim Hillary the winner, and prepared to show some 10-to-15 point win.

The tone of ARD's reporting was set on the day after the election....total shock, frustration, and anger.  Someone had cheated their candidate out of the election.

Within 10 days, fake news and Russian manipulation were the accused players in Hillary's loss.  For weeks, all you heard were negativity on Trump and fake news chatter.  It simply snowballed in January after Trump took office.

The fake news thing took off and they devote a fair amount of effort to proclaim fake news or to instruct people on how to recognize fake news.

The odd thing out of this whole episode is that you can go back to the summer of 2014 and view past news episodes from ARD on the immigration business.  That was 99-percent positive.  At best, maybe once a week, you might have viewed one single news item with some negativity.

At some point, ARD was accused by various anti-immigrant groups of being too-pro immigrant.  ARD simply went after the anti-immigrant groups and accused them of being xenophobic.  All through 2015, the xenophobic accusations came and went.  Then in the middle of the first week of January of 2016....the whole Koln riot episode from New Year's Eve came out and highly embarrassed ARD in their effort to avoid telling the story (over 1,000 police reports, all centered on immigrant bad behavior).  For ARD, their position eroded quickly.  All the 99-percent positive stories?  They rapidly disappeared.

Today, you might see six to ten stories per week on immigrants or migration.  They will be told by ARD in a way that simply lays out the story.  Occasionally, they will take a pro-position.  It's a massive change that occurred almost overnight.

The thing that you have to factor in with this whole ARD thing, is that there are a large number of Germans (particularly in the 15 to 25 year old age group) that don't watch ARD news.  Toss in skeptics of the ARD news media who do watch it....and you've got probably half the adult population who aren't exactly pro-ARD.

Where this goes?  It's hard to say.  Maybe ARD can keep the trend up (98-percent negative) for four years...maybe eight if Trump runs a second time and wins).  Trump visiting Germany?  I have my doubts that this will ever occur.  There will be state visits to countries like Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, and probably the UK....but I just don't see Trump visiting Germany.

The amusing thing out of this....is that as negative as CNN has been on Trump....they were actually beaten in negativity by ARD.  That says a good bit.