Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Regional Politics

There is a great piece via HR (my regional HR public TV network) today on Frankfurt, and the trappings of a metropolitan city.

For those who've never been to Frankfurt....I would classify in the category similar to Chicago.  It's a business city, which saw rapid growth since 1900, and today sits at roughly 740,000 residents within it's city border.  If you include the near-by areas of Wiesbaden, Mainz, Offenbach, Hanau, and Darmstadt....you'd be talking about three million people within a 30-minute drive of Frankfurt.  It's figured that that roughly a million people transit each day to work within Frankfurt.  Toss in the banking sector, industry, and the airport....Frankfurt in some ways is the driving engine of a major part of the German success story.

So HR looked at this trend with Frankfurt.  Most everyone will now say that traffic for the city is becoming a major problem, and that affordable housing is almost non-existent within the city.

If you were working-class and looking for reasonable rent....you'd have to go and look 30 kilometers outside of the city, and plan on riding the railway into work each day.  People complain about this strategy and being forced to live beyond the city.

Politically, this draws all of the political parties in an election to some stance of talking about solutions and fixing the mess.  Promises are made, and rarely kept.  All of this remembered each four years, and repeated for the general Hessen state election every five years.

The voting trend in Frankfurt?  In 2013, the last big national election, the CDU took around 52-percent of the vote in Frankfurt, with the SPD coming to almost half that number.  The Greens barely took 8-percent in that vote.  Darmstadt played out a different situation....with the SPD taking a win with 37-percent vote while the CDU took 36-percent of the vote.

The problem here is really a regional problem that goes beyond just Frankfurt itself, and touches on both Hessen and Rhineland Pfalz.  Frankfurt's urbanization issue has grown to such a pace that it's beyond one city council to handle or repair.

Oddly, the entertainment landscape, the local sports scene, the airport, the connections via the Frankfurt railway system, and the world-class local train network all make the city a very attractive place to live.  Toss in a hyped up education system throughout the entire region....and a large international population, and you've got one of the more dynamic cities of Germany.

The 'Golden Visa' Story

This story came out of N-TV this morning in Germany and has a curious twist to it.

Generally....to get a visa into any EU country....there are some written procedures and it's not a simple process....unless you claim asylum or migration issues.  If you were some wealthy Turk, or some high-political South Korean guy, or some corrupt Brazilian guy....you'd have problems getting such a visa.

So....someone came up to notice that Portugal has found various ways to allow non-EU folks to gain citizenship.  In the cases noted in this report....some Brazilian businessmen simply walked in and paid cash sums to get the visa.

More or less, it's just a copy of what has been going on in Cyprus.

The going rate for Portugal?  You come in and buy 500k Euro of property, and you get a visa.  Hold the property for five years, you go to the second tier.....full-up citizenship.  No, you don't have to give up your original citizenship.

Accusations of money-laundering in this process?  Well...it comes up.  For these businessmen involved in the Portugal episode....money was shifted around and it appears that Brazil may not have known about the money existing or had a chance to tax folks on the money.

Adding to the curious deal....Portugal even admits that a fair number of Chinese folks have entered the country via this program, and have visas....likely moving onto full-up citizenship five years later.  The N-TV folks even note that China has serious laws created that limit you to moving roughly 50k dollars a year in money....outside of the country.  How did all the Chinese come up with the 500k Euro to buy property?  That might be an interesting question to ask.

There must be tens of millions of Euro shifted around Europe each month in various money-laundering schemes for the purpose of getting visas or property acquisition lined up.  The EU folks?  Oddly, this isn't one of the hundred-odd things on their 'to-do' list to regulate.  Journalists?  They get all hyped up because it's just unethical in their mind....not right.

If you look at the Portugal gimmick....it's rigged to push up urban property prices, with foreigners buying the property and driving those prices up.

The odds that almost every single EU country has such a 'golden-visa'?  That's the thing about it....you just sense that it's pretty well accepted now.

The Coalition Woes

Once you get past all the hype on the German election (set for this coming Sunday).....you come to realize a major problem building up for the coalition game that must be played out over the next month.

The SPD will likely finish second, with a dismal 22-odd-percent.  They've said for weeks now that they now realize their brand-name has been screwed over by the way that they've done the coalition deal for the past four years.  They would prefer NOT to be part of the next coalition and go through a rebuilding process.

The 'Jamaica-coalition'?  This idea takes the CDU-CSU folks over to the Green Party and FDP.  It's the only other option to reach the 50-percent level.  A fair number of big-wigs within the CDU believe that the Greens can be a viable partner.  The FDP folks?  It's very few that think that this can be worked out.

The FDP will likely walk into a room, and list out the draft laws they want (to include immigration) and the cabinet posts they desire.  The Greens will do the same.  The CSU will do the same.  For Merkel and company....it's a fairly tense period and the only way to get this to some conclusion....is to give in and allow a number of things to occur....with probably less than one-third of the cabinet posts ending up with them.

The odds that no coalition will occur?  A month ago, that idea would have been laughed at.  I would take a guess that 10-to-20 percent of the public are now considering the idea.

The FDP might shock folks and just say that they want one single cabinet post....the vice-chancellor position...but they want the immigration law totally re-written....something that the Greens just can't agree upon.

The Greens might walk in and want the diesel crisis to end....by massive regulation and harmful economic theatrics on diesel owners....something that most of the CSU won't agree to.

I suspect by the end of September....most news media sources will be discussing the pain involved in this coalition discussion, and the hint of a repeat election by January.

The Dead German Story

This came up in the German news yesterday and lays out a complex landscape from which Germans tend to react in different ways.

Months ago....at a bank operation in Essen-Borbeck (northwest Germany....urbanized region outside of Essen).....this older guy collapsed (83 years old).  No one has ever talked to why he collapsed....maybe a heart attack....maybe a blood sugar issue...but this part of the story has always been left out.

So he's laying there with no movement.

A couple and a guy (not associated with each other) enter into this area which has a surveillance camera after the collapse.  They walk around the guy, and proceed to do their business with the ATM machine or the bank receipt machine.  Then they walk out....without calling for help or rendering aid.

Reason?  They would be asked later and then just refused to cooperate with the cops.

Cops review the tapes and figure out who the three were.  Court episode starts up because of the non-rendering of aid (it's actually written in law that you have to provide some kind of help).

The guy on the ground?  He eventually was reported for an ambulance....made it to a hospital....then died a week later.  Some accounts suggest that he might have died more so from the impact of the floor to his head, than the collapse itself.  It was the 4th customer to enter the bank....that eventually called for a ambulance.

The German judge?  He decided the verdict yesterday.  All three of the individuals said they thought the guy was a sleeping homeless guy.  The judge didn't believe their story.  The woman's fine? 3,600 Euro....one guy was to pay 2,800 Euro, and the 2nd guy was to pay 2,400 Euro.  Why a different fee for each?  The judge didn't give any wisdom to that angle.

As you read through the whole court episode....one odd aspect comes out....a medical expert noted that timing here didn't really matter.  The guy on the floor with the concussion could have been helped with the first folks to enter the bank area, and help arriving twenty minutes earlier....but it didn't matter....the guy would have died anyway, period.

Yeah....all this court action....all this dramatic stuff by the German court system.....fines for the three individuals....but the old guy would have passed away anyway.

One of the first fifty-odd things I learned in 1978 upon arriving in Germany is that people have a general tendency to avoid getting into messy events that don't involve them.  German law dictates that on the autobahn....if an accident occurs, you must stop and render aid.  You have no choice about this.  If you asked a hundred Germans...a pretty fair percentage would admit that they'd really prefer NOT to engage in some emergency with folks they don't know.

In this case?  On an average day around Wiesbaden....you'd probably come across at least twenty homeless folks laying around on the street or park areas.  Should you call the cops on each one of them in fear that they've collapsed?  Well....no.

In Frankfurt? I'd take a guess that in a eight-hour period of walking around....I would probably find well over a hundred individuals just laying on the street.  Most of them sleeping off some alcohol episode or getting over their heroin-high. Calling the cops or some ambulance?  At least with the ambulance crews....they'd react and show up....but it'd just be some rescue event that they'd repeat in two weeks with the same guy again.

In the case of these three individuals with the fines?  I think all three will go to a higher court, and the fines will be dismissed eventually.  If the judge had assigned the same value to all three....it might have some wisdom attached.  In this case, I think that each of the three gave some verbal commentary that disagreed with the judge in some manner, and he handed out the fines based on the words and nothing else.

Electric Car Story

As I wandered through the Frankfurt Auto Show yesterday.....it's painfully obvious that diesel sales are ended.  The new era is electric.

The thing is....electric-car sales aren't worth bragging about.  Back in December 2016....the Germans were just about to hit 100,000 electric cars registered.  For 2017....they might get toward 25,000 sold.  It's just not that popular.

I noticed Sweden discussed their electric car situation this week.  They got real aggressive....dumping all sales tax on the electric cars.  You could save around 5,000 Euro via their method.  Their complaint however.....is that they just don't have enough recharging stations around the country for the growing number of electric cars, and this is not going to get any better in 2018 or 2019.

A typical German will go to a show like this, and it'll plant a seed over the display, the look of the car, and then he'll go and investigate the whole electric car routine.

First, there's this range issue.  Talking gas here....an example is the Ford Focus with the 1.0 size engine and small tank, with 40 MPG....you can figure on one single tank that it'll get you 400 miles.  The BMW 320i has a small tank as well, with 35 MPG on average and you can figure that the car will get you around 550 miles.

For battery-cars?  The Nissan Leaf which people talk alot about?  It's about 110 miles on one charge.  The e-Golf from VW?  It gets you around 125 miles on one charge.  The Tesla gets near 295 miles on one charge.  If you go for the new Tesla-S model....it's around 330 miles.

A German would gaze at the mileage per charge and just shake their head for the most part.  It might make sense for a guy who is a urban-dweller or never drives more than 50 kilometers per day.

Second, you come to the weird scenario business and quicker consumption deal.  When the electric car folks talk about consumption....it's under average conditions.  So, lets throw in a snow-storm, which Germany is famous for....with high demand for heat while traveling....the mileage is likely decreased by 10-percent.  How about stop-and-go traffic in the mid-summer period, with a hot temperature situation?  AC going at max rate?  That's probably cutting the mileage by more than 25-percent.

Third, the recharge?  The guy who stops at some autobahn point for a electrical charge probably has a 90-percent charge situation, and will require a minimum of one hour....maybe even two hours.  Several of the electric cars out there and being sold need four to six hours to do a 100-percent charge.  Germans aren't that eager to go and waste two hours of their time just sitting around and waiting.

Fourth, the consumption cost factor?  Germany is on the high-end of grid cost for European countries.  You can do the spreadsheet analysis and find that you save nothing by going to the electrical car (hybrid might be a totally different case).  In Iceland, with the cheaper electricity?  Yeah, there's a vast savings.

Fifth, a German will get around to trust on the grid and its reliability issue.  On this, I have to admit that reliability is something that you come to expect out of the German grid.  In an average year, you might have a two-hour period where some storm knocked power out.  But for a German who has to base their whole lifestyle upon the grid.....can you trust it to that degree?

As much as the environmentalists, the political folks, and the car companies ready to get a return on their investment of battery-cars.....I don't see the enthusiasm there.  Germans ask too many questions and have a high expectation of return.  Maybe if you could get a full 500 kilometers on a one-hour charge situation, and you knew that there were 500,000 public recharging stations out there for you around cities and autobahns....it'd all make sense.  In my village, we've yet to put up a public recharging station.

I've sat and looked at the public recharging station deal.  Almost all of them have a charging rate price-scheme which might be slightly higher than what you'd pay for your home.  Most have some station-point usage charge associated with the re-charge....meaning that you pay a Euro or two for just using this one particular station. Credit cards required?  That's an interesting point.....all of the stations I've ever seen.....require the credit card.....no cash.

So I would conclude this with the observation that electric car trend has yet to take off, and I don't see this occurring unless Germany dumps the sales tax and makes it a national policy of building 2,000 charging stations every single month for several years.  Beyond that....it'll be impossible to sell this to a German.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Then, Poof, They were Gone

Toward the end of last week....down in the Brandenburg region....the cops pulled over this tractor-trailer rig...which had roughly 50 Iraqi refugees onboard....heading north into Germany.

Germans looked at the situation and did the standard checklist thing....removing them from the truck and taking them to a central reception facility near Eisenhuttenstadt.

So a couple of days pass, and Focus reported on this today.  It's rather odd....most everyone has disappeared.  Kids...women....and men....mostly all gone.

Two individuals left out of the fifty folks.  One was a juvenile....the other simply was hiding under a bed.

The German authorities?  They have this theory that all were destined for a particular area...like North Rhineland Westphalia....or Frankfurt.  They have no intention of allowing the German system to force them into one particular region or city.

As for them all being legit Iraqis?  Well....no one from the German side of things has said yes or no to that....just that they identified themselves.  Passports weren't mentioned and you kinda wonder if they were fake Iraqis or real Iraqis.

All of this unsettles Germans to some degree (not the political folks but the working-class folks).  Here were fifty-odd people in some compound situation, and a couple of days later....gone.  No one can even say that they are still in Germany, or if they want to be picked up on some visa.

Frankfurt Car Show

I spent the day at the Frankfurt International Car Show, which always has a number of interesting things.

1.  Diesel vehicle on display?  NO.  None.  It was very obvious.  The sales agenda appears to be completely dead now in Germany.

2.  TomTom, the navigational company, had a big display unit at the show.  It was surprising....lot of technology development, for both regular drivers and truckers. Worth ten minutes to look at the displays and what they are doing for future development.

3.  It's held at the Frankfurt Messe, and fairly easy to enter via the subway or S-Bahn system.  Cost?  Fourteen Euro.

4.  The model gals?  It's always interesting to note each car-brand, and the fashion-look that they use for this chat-girls.  Most have memorized forty lines of text.  In the background....are a dozen engineer guys who do most of the big-time talking, if required.

Hint....don't go asking in-depth questions over the cars to these gals.  They really don't know much beyond the tab that they tote around and refer you to the web site.

5.  Food.  Don't eat while there.  There are around forty different stands but it's lousy food.  I ate some fries which were fried up twice over.....they were about as crunchy as you can get fries and still be able to eat them.

6.  Battery cars?  I'd say everyone was trying hard to sell you on electric cars.  Probably forty-percent of the cars on display were electric.

7.  The Renault Twizy was on display....the two-seat battery car.

I'll say this for the car....seating-wise....it's just a fiberglass seat with some light foam.  If you were going to be sitting in it for two hours....you'd be in bad shape. A simple 40-minute ride to work?  Ok.  That back-seat?  It's mostly built for kids, your dog, or some young gal.

 It is fairly cheap, but you have to remember that it's not made to drive on autobahns....strictly state or local roads only.

The price deal? 8,900 Euro for the basic car....with NO batteries included.  Those come under a second contract where you LEASE the batteries and get a maintenance deal.  Distance on the battery?  This is the big negative, in my humble opinion.....roughly 100 km. You can figure it works well in the urban area....with one trip to work and back home.  That's it.

I liked the look of the vehicle, and just wish they had a gas-engine deal instead of batteries.

8.  They had one entire hallway just for parts-makers, which is an interesting twist to things.

9.  Tesla?  No, they weren't there, and that was obvious as well.  They say the show doesn't work well for them.

10.  Hard sell going on for battery cars.  They had that EU chart out on each car and telling you the sad issues with carbon or energy use.  Gas cargs look dismal.  This chart to the right was for the "Jimmy".  It's intended to push you to the green area and aim for a car with A-plus ratings on energy.

Frankly, this doesn't work well for me.

So, I highly recommend the show.....don't allocate the whole day....you just need for 3.5 hours max.  The Mercedes area is crowded.  About 20-percent of the show is out-doors.  Several drink establishments are there....with beer and soda offered.

It'll run until next Sunday.  Opens each day at 9AM.

As for the Chinese guys? That was a curious thing.....there must have been at least 500 Chinese guys walking around....looking at engine parts, undercoating, tire-rims, and seats.  Asking a lot of questions....taking a lot of pictures.  Back in 1979 when I went to my first Frankfurt Car Show...there might have been two Chinese guys there.  

Short School Story

My German wife brought up this story.....from her office.  A co-worker lives across the river (into the Hessen region)....from an industrialized town (I won't say the name).  It's a town of 60,000 to 65,000.

Typically, elementary schools exist in German with the general idea of the first-grade to the fifth grade.  You normally will have a small operation....a director....maybe one to two classes for each level.....to a max of ten teachers (in a typical operation).

So, this community has around four of these elementary operations.

This year, one of the elementary operations was drawn upon and told (because they had the extra space) to accommodate more kids.  So the first-grade opened up around six weeks ago with roughly nearly 300 kids....meaning a dozen classes now exist for the first grade. On top of that....only 25 of those 300-odd kids....are German.  The rest are all immigrant kids.

I sat there in some disbelief.  It's an industrialized area and has drawn a fair number of people for jobs in the local area.  That would make sense. But you just sit there and imagine teachers having 22 immigrant kids with varying German skills....and maybe two German kids...out of the whole class, and just shake your head.

My humble bet is that by spring of next year....the twenty-five-odd German parents in this situation will have found some other living arrangements and moved out of this town.  As for the future?  It would be curious what happens in six to eight years and how this group makes it.  You'd also have to wonder if the teachers and directors were smart enough to hire on some translator-temp folks.