'Die Zeit' Interviews an "Expert" About Police Tactics Without Telling the Readers He's a Convicted Criminal

Tumblr_o8iexsMOcJ1qav5oho1_500[New Yorker cartoon by Kim Warp]

UPDATE (17:45 PM): Sabine Rückert, an editor at the printed version of Die Zeit, responded to a tweet in which I pointed out the facts contained in this piece:

 

"That is true. The person involved is Wüppesahl. I have informed my colleagues at ZON." (Zeit Online, the online presence of the printed newspaper Die Zeit, which is technically an independent organization.)

And now, the original piece:

Yesterday, the German broadsheet weekly Die Zeit published an interview (g) in which a so-called "police expert" harshly criticized the tactics of German police during the G20 Summit, comparing them to the Turkish police. As I pointed out in a tweet just after reading the article, the man, Thomas Wüppesahl is not an "expert", he is an activist, founder of a group called Critical Police Officers.

Shortly thereafter, in response either to my Tweet or to some of the 600+ comments (many harshly critical) to the original interview, Die Zeit changed the online article. Wüppesahl was now identified as a "critic" of the police, not an "expert". Further, a line was added to his biography indicating that his views were "highly controversial" (sehr umstritten).*

I pointed out the changes in a blog post yesterday. Yet a comment to that post (thanks, Björn!) altered me to a much more astounding fact than the changes to the article.

The "expert" on police tactics to whom Die Zeit gave a long interview is a convicted criminal. He was convicted of attempted robbery and murder in 2005. Because Wüppesahl is a former member of the German Bundestag and a prominent activist (a decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court even bears his name (g)), his trial was covered at great length in the German media. 

Let me quote my translation (footnotes removed) of the relevant portion of the German Wikipedia entry (g) on Thomas Wüppesahl**:

On 25 October 2004, Wüppesahl was arrested on suspicious of preparing to commit a crime. The informant and main prosecution witness was a former policeman and colleague of Wüppesahl's, who was also a member of the Critical Police group [which Wüppesahl had founded]. This person brought a non-functional pistol and a knife from police storage to the meeting with Wüppesahl. These were to be used to rob a money transport van. Wüppesahl was arrested in the colleague's apartment just after the colleague gave Wüppesahl the pistol and knife. 

The trial began on 4 March 2005. Wüppesahl's defense was that the plan which the prosecution claimed he had developed could not have worked in real life. He participated in the preparations only as a maneuver to uncover his former colleague as a police spy, and the action against him as revenge by the Hamburg justice authorities for his criticism of them [as an activist].... The Hamburg Regional Court sentenced Wüppesahl on 7 July 2005 for preparing and attempting to conduct murder in the course of robbery and violations of weapons laws. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. After Wüppesahl's appeal was dismissed, the conviction became legally binding....

With an eye to rehabilitating his reputation, Wüppesahl filed a complaint against his conviction with the European Court of Human Rights on 27 December 2006. After four years of review, the complaint was denied as inadmissible in December 2010.

A Spiegel article about his conviction stated (g): "According to the prosecutor, Wüppesahl planned to confront a money courier in Berlin, shoot him, and hack his hand off with a meat cleaver in order to escape with the suitcase full of money handcuffed to the man's hand."

Ladies and gentleman, this is the police "expert" who was interviewed at some length by one of Germany's leading newspapers. Insert joke here about interviewing a vegan about his favorite veal recipes, a neo-Nazi about Yiddish poetry, etc.

I suppose it's just possible to imagine that it might be appropriate to print an interview with a convicted criminal about police tactics.

But printing the interview without telling the reader the man is a criminal? That is journalistic malpractice. This information was one short Google-search away.

Die Zeit (or at least Zeit Online) owes its readers an apology. 

Continue reading "'Die Zeit' Interviews an "Expert" About Police Tactics Without Telling the Readers He's a Convicted Criminal" »


German Joys Gets Results Again

OK, the headline may be a bit self-aggrandizing. But here are the facts: In the early afternoon, I read an interview with Thomas Wüppesahl, a German activist, about the police tactics used during the "Welcome to Hell" demonstration.

Wüppesahl was harshly critical of the German police, claiming they provoked the demonstrators unnecessarily and used excessive force. The title of the article is "That is just like Turkey!". In the sub-heading of the article, Wüppesahl is described as a "police expert".

Here is a snapshot of the original description of Wüppesahl's qualifications as of 12:30 PM today courtesy of the Wayback Machine:

Wuepopesahl 1

 

"Thomas Wüppesahl is a former policeman and and was a Green Party Bundestag delegate from 1987 to 1990. He founded the Working Group of Critical Policewomen and Policemen, which advocates for civil rights."

I found this description to be another example of the overuse of the word "expert" by German journalists. German journalists routinely refer to activists as "experts". This is two journalistic sins at once. First, it gives the activist an undeserved veneer of objectivity. Second, it preempts the reader's judgment.

So I tweeted this:

 

 

Including a link to the former version of the piece, I tweeted "Sigh. No, he's not an expert, he's an activist."

Later, a Facebook friend asked me why I had been so critical of Die Zeit. After all, they had warned readers that Wüppesahl's views were "extremely controversial."

Wait, what? No they didn't! I called up the page again, and sure enough, everything had been changed. The introduction to the piece now identified Wüppesahle not as a police expert, but as a police critic. The graf about his background now (as of 8 pm) reads as follows:

Wup2

The added sentence, highlighted, reads: "Wüppesahl is highly controversial as a police expert."

I don't know whether my tweet prompted this change, but it's for the better. It might be a good idea for Die Zeit to let its readers know about the change, no?


German Journalists Avoiding the Obvious, Part 425

Not another post about migrants, you're thinking. Please. Haven't you banged on about this enough?

I sympathize. I don't like it any more than you do. I start thinking about something interesting and non-political to write about. Then I browse a few German news websites. Invariably, within 5 or 10 minutes, I encounter some piece of reporting makes me do a spit-take. And then, more in sorrow than in anger, I again take up my soiled spade to shovel out the Augean stables of German journalistic self-delusion.

Today's candidate is Vanessa Wu, who has written an article (h/t SW) for Die Zeit on whether migrants who commit crimes in Germany can be shipped back where they came from. Overall, the article is informative and reasonably balanced. But then we get to this passage (my translation):

According to the federal immigration ministry, at least 60 percent of all asylum-seekers arrive in Germany without any identity documents. The reasons for this are diverse. Some come from countries without reliable government ministries for identification and passports such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, or Nigeria. People from these countries may never have had personal identity papers. Others were considered members of the opposition and therefore were not given travel papers. Others lost their papers or gave them away during their flight. Smugglers often take identity papers away from their customers to prevent security agencies leaning about smuggling routes and networks. Some smugglers keep the passports as deposit for debts. Finally, some people destroy their papers out of fear that they may be rapidly sent back to their countries of origin. How many cases of missing identity papers are explained by each of these reasons, or the number of people in general who arrive without papers, have never been statistically measured.

I have no idea where the author gets the idea that Nigeria, Afghanistan, or Iraq don't have passport agencies. They do. They're probably not as efficient as Western passport authorities, but then again, that is true of every other institution in these countries. You can definitely get an Afghan passport. The German press, in fact, has published dozens of articles (like this one and  this one (g)) about people waiting for the passport agency in Kabul, Afghanistan to issue them passports so they can leave the country and go to Europe. I happen to know any number of Nigerians who have passports.

Further, the vast majority of people who reach Germany have transited at least 5-6 other countries before even reaching the outer border of the EU. How did they do this without passports? Doesn't the fact that Afghans know they need a passport to emigrate to the west, and are able to get one, raise any questions for the author?

Yet the main problem with this passage is the author provides a seemingly-exhaustive list of reasons why people show up without papers without daring to mention the one reason which almost certainly explains most of these cases. Can you think of that reason? I can! 

They intentionally destroyed or got rid of their passports. In Neuhaus, a German border town which became a key transit point for migrants in 2015, the mayor complained that toilets were being clogged (g) with all of the passports and identity papers migrants threw away before they were processed by intake authorities. (Once again, this shows that many migrants had passports, but threw them away as soon as they got to Germany.)

Why did they do this? For two reasons.

Reason One: So they could pretend to be Syrians. Everyone knew that the one nationality with the best chances of getting refugee status in Europe -- that is, Germany -- was Syrian. Even in the very newspaper Wu writes for, there have been articles (g) about how many migrants presented fake documents claiming Syrian nationality. A Dutch journalist showed how easy it was to get a fake Syrian passport for €750. For a picture, he used the Dutch prime minister (g).

Dozens, if not hundreds of cases of falsche Syrer -- "fake Syrians" are discovered in Germany every day. One family of Ukrainians even got residency papers by claiming to by Syrian. Since there was no personal interview or background check, they simply filled out a for claiming to be Syrian and and got recognized as Syrian refugees (g), despite not speaking a word of Arabic. They are now appealing their deportation order on the grounds -- believe it or not -- that they are entitled to rely on the government residency permit, even though they obtained it by fraud. The German government is now spending millions of dollars on specialized machines (g) and interpreters to detect fake passports and debunk false claims of Syrian nationality from Algerians, Tunisians, Egyptians, and even Pakistanis.

Reason Two: You can't deport people if you don't know where they came from. Wu just barely touches this reason when she mentions people who destroyed their ID papers to avoid "rapid" deportation. Of course, she knows, or should know, that there is no such thing as rapid deportation in modern Germany. As soon as a migrant pronounces the two syllables "Asyl" (asylum), this automatically begins a long, expensive administrative proceeding in which the asylum-seeker's claims are tested. If he loses at the first level, he can appeal. If he loses all his appeals and gets a deportation order, this begins a second set of court proceedings about whether the deportation order can and should be enforced (g). Even Green Party politicians (from the tellingly-named "realist" wing) complain that deportations take too long (g).

Wu observes that German law requires migrants who arrive without papers to "actively cooperate" with the authorities in proving their identities. She then notes that there are no real mechanisms for enforcing this theoretical duty. Why would you help the authorities find out that (1) you lied to them when you said you were a Syrian, and that (2) you're actually a Tunisian, when that means you will be (eventually) deported?

Wu notes the case of one rejected asylum seeker who missed nineteen (19) appointments to apply for a passport to enable his deportation. When authorities brought him to his home country's embassy, he remained silent. His punishment? A reduction of € 130 in pocket money. Housing, clothes, and food will continue to be provided gratis by the German state.

The case is a microcosm of the absurdity of German immigration law: The man came from Cameroon, which is a multiparty democracy and net oil exporter with "solid" economic growth. His asylum application was denied in...wait for it...

2004.

Yet when his welfare benefits were reduced (as allowed by German law) for failing to cooperate with the German authorities (as required by German law), he filed a complaint alleging that his constitutional rights to a minimum level of financial support had been violated. The case went all the way up to the highest social-benefits court in Germany, which decided the case in March 2017 (g) -- thirteen years after his asylum application had been denied. And he's still nowhere near being deported.

Every asylum-seeker knows that if you don't want to identify yourself, the German state cannot force you to, and you can live the rest of your years in Germany collecting welfare benefits (while augmenting your income, no doubt, with a variety of colorful black-market pursuits). 

This is why most people destroy their travel documents.

Wu's trying to be a Good German by avoiding any comment which might imply a negative judgment of migrants' conduct. They are coded as victims, after all, and therefore are sacrosanct and may not be judged (that would constitute "blaming the victim", a cardinal sin). But this reflects a kind of condescension toward migrants, whether intentional or not. They are portrayed solely as helpless, fearful objects and victims of anonymous social forces and bureaucracies, not as people capable of taking responsibility for their fate and their decisions.

Articles like this fail to take migrants seriously as responsible adults capable of rationally following incentives. As long as that mind-set dominates German politics and journalism, there can't be a productive debate on immigration.


Welcome the Skilled Workers of...Tomorrow? 2025? Never?

Via Steve Sailer, excerpts of a Financial Times articles entitled 'Most refugees to be jobless for years, German minister warns': 

Up to three quarters of Germany’s refugees will still be unemployed in five years’ time, according to a government minister, in a stark admission of the challenges the country faces in integrating its huge migrant population.

Aydan Özoğuz, commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, told the Financial Times that only a quarter to a third of the newcomers would enter the labour market over the next five years, and “for many others we will need up to 10”.

...Initially, the influx of so many working-age, highly-motivated immigrants spurred optimism that they would mitigate Germany’s acute skills shortage and solve the demographic crisis posed by its dangerously low birth rate. Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of carmaker Daimler, said the refugees could lay the foundation for the “next German economic miracle”.

But those hopes have faded as a new realism about the migrants’ lack of qualifications and language skills sinks in. “There has been a shift in perceptions,” Ms Özoğuz told the FT. Many of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Germany were doctors and engineers, but they were succeeded by “many, many more who lacked skills”.

Or, to put it another way, 'German minister finally abandons airbrushing propaganda'. Anyone with reasonable experience of the world could immediately see, in real time, that most of the 2015 arrivals weren't going integrate into Germany. All you had to do was use common sense and knowledge of the world, two aspects of the human condition which were declared to be verboten in Germany from August 2015 to January 1, 2016. 

Those of us who clung to them immediately saw that most of these young males were going to have a hard time integrating, based on the following evidence:

First, most of the new arrivals didn't look very smart or conscientious. Studies show (pdf) that complete strangers can make judgments about someone based only on a photograph with better-than-random accuracy. And of course, we do this all the time, every day, for very good reasons. If I showed you a photograph of people leaving a monster truck rally, and people leaving a classical music concert -- showing only their faces -- you'd be able to tell which was which. We make these sorts of judgments every time we leave the house, and they're generally pretty reliable. If they weren't, we'd soon notice.

Second, When they were interviewed, all but a few of the migrants showed complete ignorance of the countries they were bound for, which were invariably Germany or Sweden. They knew not a single word of either of those languages, and were ignorant of the history, climate, food, culture, or even size of these countries. When asked why they wanted to go to Sweden or Germany, they always responded because there is money, jobs, work there and Merkel invited us and they need workers and they're building houses for us (g). Occasionally, some would say they had 'relatives' in some German or Swedish city or another. What you almost never heard was "I have an affinity for German culture", or "I believe I can contribute", or "I studied German for five years in school", or "I heard Firm X needs 800 welders, and I have 10 years experience in exactly that kind of welding".

Three, Some of the new arrivals said they were fleeing war or persecution in their home countries. But for every one who said that, there were at least 5 who said they had left their home countries because there were "no opportunities" (keine Perspektiven) for them there. Since most of these interviews were conducted by notoriously gullible German journalists, no follow-up questions were asked. The average German journalist has only a liberal-arts education in which things such as demand curves, marginal cost v. sunk cost, economies of scale, amortization, etc. never come up.

Their only understanding of how national economies work comes from moralizing discussions by leftist sociologists and philosophers, who themselves are usually ignorant of basic economic principles. The journalists therefore graduate knowing as much about how the economy works as a theology student knows about quantum mechanics. The problem is that a theologian can do his job perfectly well without knowing quantum mechanics, but a journalist cannot do his without at least some basic understanding of economic principles. To most German journalists, the "economy" is just a mysterious black box designed by those in power, whether intentionally or not, to exploit the poor. Really, what more is there to know?

So when the "refugee" said they had no prospects at home, the German journalist just shook his head in commiseration at the injustice of the world, thinking of some suitable Brecht poem about how the working class are eternally screwed no matter where they live. While the sensible viewer at home said: Why don't you ask him why he couldn't find a job? After all, even in poor countries, most able-bodied males are able to find work. Why can't this guy? Perhaps because he has no skills? Perhaps because he can't read? Perhaps because he stole from his last employer? Perhaps because he's a drug-dealing murderer like Hamza?

But no, the typical German journalist will never ask these things (even though he would consider them very relevant for someone of his social class) because the poor are to be regarded as a fungible mass, not as individuals with agency just like him.

In any event, German is now stuck with these people. My personal 20-60-20 prediction hasn't changed much since 2015: The brightest 20% (mostly those who already have an education or job skills) will probably make a successful transition, learning fluent German, getting jobs, and living independently. The bottom 20% will never learn anything but a few crude phrases, and will drift off into the underworld of black-market labor, organized crime, prostitution, and/or drug dealing. The middle 60% will learn a functional form of pidgin German relevant to whatever work they find, which will be intermittent, low-paid labor on construction sites or in warehouses or in government-subsidized job programs. They will never master German grammar or general vocabulary, and will always speak their native language at home. Perhaps a few will find stable work which will actually get them off the welfare rolls, but most won't.

If only German politicians had accepted these obvious facts when they were evident to most people, we could have had a much more honest debate.


On Immigration, "Ruthless" Canada > Germany and America Combined

The main point of my immigration posts has always been that German immigration policy is self-defeating because it's dominated by discussion of refugees and asylum-seekers. Any debate about an immigration policy geared toward skilled immigration immediately gets bogged down in discussions about the supposed absolute claims of refugees regardless of their qualifications and the supposed elitism of a policy which favors educated immigrants.

The result of this confused thinking is clear for all to see: German imports huge numbers of uneducated people who have no relevant job skills and no German language proficiency. As the dismal results in language acquisition and job training make clear, probably at least half of recent migrants will never acquire either of these things.

Not only that, these unsuitable migrants often display values and attitudes -- such as anti-Semitism, or a belief in strict sex segregation -- which clash directly with German mores. The presence of these misfits then creates a vicious circle: Germans associate immigration with crime, backwards social beliefs, and welfare dependence, because immigrants are, in fact, more likely to show these characteristics. The more unsuitable immigrants are let in, the more likely Germans are to associated immigration, as a whole, with instability, cost, and social tension. They've never seen it work in the past, so why should they hope it will work in the future?

With very few exceptions, those on the German left completely ignore these problems, aside from lip service about "challenges" presented by certain "attitudes" in certain "communities". Their overall attitude is one of almost sensual, hair-shirt masochism; they seem to enjoy the social damage immigration is doing to Germany, as if only a policy which harms the country can be seen as truly selfless. It's as if you went in to give blood, and afterward asked the nurse to hit you, since only charity which inflicts pain signifies true nobility.

In any event, the German left argues that specifically targeting educated immigrants who can contribute to society from day one is reactionary and elitist. Which raises the question: Is Canada reactionary and elitist? After all it has a "ruthlessly smart" immigration policy, as a recent New York Times op-ed puts it:

Yet when it comes to immigration, Canada’s policies are anything but effete. Instead, they’re ruthlessly rational, which is why Canada now claims the world’s most prosperous and successful immigrant population.

The numbers tell the tale. Last year, Canada admitted more than 320,000 newcomers — the most on record. Canada boasts one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world, about three times higher than the United States. More than 20 percent of Canadians are foreign-born; that’s almost twice the American total, even if you include undocumented migrants. And Ottawa plans to increase the number in the years ahead.Far from producing a backlash, Canadian voters couldn’t be happier about it. Recent polls show that 82 percent think immigration has a positive impact on the economy, and two-thirds see multiculturalism as one of Canada’s key positive features. (They rank it higher than hockey. Hockey!) Support for immigration has actually increased in recent years, despite a slow economy and the specter of terrorism. Today in Canada, the share of people who approve of the way their government handles the issue is twice as high as it is in the United States....

Canada’s foreign-born population is more educated than that of any other country on earth. Immigrants to Canada work harder, create more businesses and typically use fewer welfare dollars than do their native-born compatriots....

But Canada’s hospitable attitude is not innate; it is, rather, the product of very hardheaded government policies. Ever since the mid-1960s, the majority of immigrants to the country (about 65 percent in 2015) have been admitted on purely economic grounds, having been evaluated under a nine-point rubric that ignores their race, religion and ethnicity and instead looks at their age, education, job skills, language ability and other attributes that define their potential contribution to the national work force....

[A]bout half of all Canadian immigrants arrive with a college degree, while the figure in the United States is just 27 percent. Immigrant children in Canadian schools read at the same level as the native born, while the gap is huge in the United States. Canadian immigrants are almost 20 percent more likely to own their own homes and 7 percent less likely to live in poverty than their American equivalents.

No wonder this approach appeals to President Trump. He’s right to complain that America’s system makes no sense. The majority (about two-thirds in 2015) of immigrants to the United States are admitted under a program known as family reunification — in other words, their fate depends on whether they already have relatives in the country. Family reunification sounds nice on an emotional level (who doesn’t want to unite families?). But it’s a lousy basis for government policy, since it lets dumb luck — that is, whether some relative of yours had the good fortune to get here before you — shape the immigrant population.

Every critique of American immigration policy here applies with twice the force to German immigration policy. Perhaps even more, since German welfare benefits are drastically more generous than those in the United States, which means an immigrant who remains a welfare case all of his life costs that much more -- and generates that much more resentment among German taxpayers.

This is why you can have mass immigration or the welfare state, but not both.


Quantifying the Public-Elite Divide on Immigration in Europe

The British think tank Chatham House just completed phase two of an interesting study. The first phase polled 10,000 Europeans on a host of public policy issues, including immigration. The top-line result -- a whopping 56% of European oppose further immigration from Muslim countries -- came out in February 2017. That took wind out of the sails of European press commentators, who were busy denouncing Donald Trump's plans to...stop further immigration from Muslim countries.

Perhaps inspired by this glaring disconnect between public opinion and published opinion, Chatham House decided to conduct a follow-up survey of European elites, which it defined as "individuals in positions of influence at local, regional, national and European levels across four key sectors (elected politicians, the media, business and civil society) – with 1,823 respondents (approximately 180 from each country) who were surveyed through a mix of telephone, face-to-face and online interviews."

A few days ago, the findings came out in a report called "The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes". The result: Europeans are hugely more skeptical about immigration, especially from Muslim countries, than the elites who govern them. Here are a few charts:

Attitudes 1

Attitudes 2The report concludes: "These views reveal latent public sympathy for the core messages of the radical right on these topics. There are big socio-demographic differences, however, between those who hold such views. Citizens aged over 60 and with a lower level of education are notably more likely to view European and Islamic ways of life as irreconcilable. On some questions, there is also significant support among the elite sample. One possible explanation for such views among the elite is anxiety over the perceived challenge from Islam to liberal values, a concern that has become manifest in debates in France and the Netherlands over moves to impose partial bans on Islamic dress that covers the face. It may also be a consequence of recent Islamist terrorist attacks and of the fears of an increasingly divided society."

A few observations. First, the authors of the report are using the term "radical right" in the sense of "outside the mainstream". That's obtuse. When only 25% of of Europeans think immigration's been beneficial overall, and nearly twice that number think it's harmful, these views are mainstream. The problem is not that voters have been somehow "seduced" into endorsing "radical right" views. The problem is that only the right has taken up mainstream thinking on this issue. The democratic problem is not the popularity of the "radical" right. The democratic problem is the failure of any mainstream party to reflect the views of a majority of citizens in many EU countries. In the long term, this is an unsustainable and potentially dangerous state of affairs.

Second, these numbers reflect the bubble in which elites live. When urban elites (and yes, I include myself) think about immigration, they spontaneously associate it with (1) great ethnic food and (2) the individuals they know who come from these countries. I can't count the number of times I've heard educated, prosperous Europeans (they have a lot of discreet charm, but they're pretty conformist) make exactly these two points at dinner parties. "Oh, there's a great new Ethiopian place which opened up just a few streets away. Yay immigration!" and "The Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program is so nice and smart. Yay immigration!" Sometimes, you hear both cliches in one comment: "The nice Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program brought in a delicious lamb dish for us all to share last week! Yay immigration!"

Unless they actually live in run-down, gritty areas of German or French cities (spoiler alert: they don't), these urban elites will be unfamiliar with the nastier realities of immigration. There is no chance of them living next to a run-down high-rise which is taken over by immigrants and turned into a garbage-strewn sinkhole of bottom-barrel prostitution and drug-dealing (g). Nor do they live in streets where spontaneous mobs of clan members beat and terrorize police and bystanders (g). Nor is anyone going to build refugee shelters (g) in the high-rent inner-city neighborhoods they love. If any of these things do happen, our urban elites will discreetly move to more prosperous surroundings, without ever admitting exactly why (not enough dog parks...need more room for the kids...a friend of mine told me about this great place that just came on the market...)

Some form of this divide has, of course, always existed. However, it seems to me that it is growing rapidly now, and that the willingness of elites to frankly acknowledge the divide -- much less actually do anything to bridge it -- is steadily decreasing. That spells trouble, methinks.


Do We Still Need Arte? Or License Fees?

Holger Kreitling in Die Welt has an amusing article (g) on Arte, the joint French-German public television channel. Arte is conceived as highbrow television, broadcasting classical concerts, operas, political debates, and documentaries on everything from Claude Sautet to Heidegger to the Thirty Years' war to Bolivian street artists to (as Kreitling puts it) obscure Slovenian bread-making techniques. It is financed by compulsory TV fees (administered by a company called the GEZ in German), yet never attracts more than a tiny fraction of highbrow viewers. As Kreitling notes, a member of the German or French urban haute bourgeoisie is required to announce his social position by declaring either that he has no television, or if he does, that all he watches is Arte. But even for all its failings and occasional pretentiousness, Kreitling still likes it.

And so do I. The only problem is the political programming, which is tiresomely left-wing. There's nothing more superfluous than holding a "theme evening" on Trump's first 100 days on Arte. Every person watching Arte already despises Trump, so all of the Trump-critical documentaries and interviews will have no effect. That's true of all the debate and political programming as well. I am not happy to pay mandatory licensing fees to sponsor the same old debates by the same aging hippies about "the future of ecological Europe" or what have you ("Red Danny" seems to be on every second time I switch to Arte), but I think there's a good case to be made for challenging music and arts programming. I don't have kids but I'm happy to pay taxes for schools because that's part of a healthy and thriving society. People who find classical music and museums boring should still pay taxes to keep them going for the same reason.

But the money should come from general taxes, not the outdated TV licensing fees that so many countries, including Germany, still use as a funding model. There is already a growing revolt against these fees (currently € 17.50 a month), which even includes prison martyrs (g) -- people who refuse to pay the fees on principle and who are eventually sent to jail to serve time as a result. Technically, you don't have to pay the fee if you don't own a TV or radio or any comparable device, but the regulations on this point are baffling to most mortals.

There is endless online debate (g) about how far the government can go to determine whether you are receiving any form of broadcast programming which would trigger the fees. If Agents of GEZ™ knock at your door, which they are wont to do, do you have to let them in? The GEZ itself is a massive and expensive government bureaucracy as are all the myriad public television stations which it finances. This is the point where GEZ-defenders will step in and say "but it's not technically a government agency!" They're right, the GEZ is more of a Quango, but nobody really cares about this distinction. The bottom line is if they determine you have to pay the fees, and they don't, they will sic a team of lawyers on you, and you might well end up in prison.

All this money and bureaucracy might be OK if you got a BBC from it, but Germans definitely don't. The quality of the public television programming in Germany is the target of near-universal scorn. Everyone hates something about public TV: The urban haute bourgeoisie hates the folk-music and Schlager festivals and the exploitative shows made to compete with private-TV soap operas and scandal-fests. Conservatives hate what they see as the stifling one-sided political correctness of news coverage and talk shows. Everyone (including me) considers the vast bulk of German TV drama or comedy shows unwatchable.

It should come as no surprise 70% of Germans oppose the TV license fees (g). Seventy percent. That's a pretty high number in a democracy. Granted, when entrenched bureaucratic and governmental interests favor a policy -- and they most certain favor a continuation of fee-based public TV -- that policy can go on forever in Germany. Just think of the Euro, which was introduced over the opposition of 3/4 of the German population. Currently only the right-wing AfD party has staked out a clear position (g) in favor of abolishing the TV fee. Once again, the German "opinion cartel" funnels voters to the right wing: If you are one of the 70 percent of Germans who opposes the TV fee, the AfD is the only party which openly shares your view.

Fee TV is a zombie policy. You can either wait until it falls apart, or you can drive a stake through it now. Knowing Germany, they'll probably opt for the former. It'll be a pretty ugly process.


In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law

The U.S. is famous in Germany for its 'runaway' juries which hand down zillion-dollar lawsuits against poor defenseless companies. Yet, as I told my dumbfounded students, Germany is a far more litigious society than the USA. In fact, according to a book-length 1998 study, Germany is the most lawsuit-happy country on earth:

Country Cases per 1,000 Population

• Germany 123.2
• Sweden 111.2
• Israel 96.8
• Austria 95.9
• U.S.A. 74.5
• UK/England & Wales 64.4
• Denmark 62.5
• Hungary 52.4
• Portugal 40.7
• France 40.3

My German students were dumbfounded by this fact. Most of them got their image of the world from the mainstream press. And, as usual, German journalists tended to obsess over the real or imagined failings of other countries, while remaining ignorant of what was going on in their backyard.

But aside from the good clean fun of this tu quoque response, it's interesting to think about why Germany is so litigious. I think there are 4 main reasons:

  • Legal insurance (Rechtschutzversicherung). Millions of Germans have legal insurance policies that pay for lawyers both to file claims and defend against them. This insurance is affordable because litigation costs in Germany are low. Legal insurance is actually an excellent idea, every country in the world could benefit from widespread legal insurance. What it means in Germany, though, is that if you have a policy, you don't have to think twice about filing a lawsuit. Granted, the lawyer is not supposed to file if you don't have a claim, but many do anyway. Legal insurance also provides a lifeline for many small-time lawyers -- they can patch together a decent livelihood by having a constant docket of 40-50 small time cases going on at any time. None of these cases will generate a huge verdict, but a steady stream of small payments is enough.
  • Lawsuits are a fact of life. Nobody really takes them seriously. If your landlord hikes your rent, you use your legal-insurance lawyer to fight it. The landlord uses their legal-insurance lawyer to defend. After all, if you don't sue, you'll certainly have to pay the extra 10% in rent. If you do sue, you might end up with a discount. The landlord would probably do the same thing in your position, and knows this.
  • Close neighbors make bad blood. Germany is a small country packed with people. Everything you do in public is going to have some effect on your neighbors. If a potted plant falls off your city balcony, it's going to hit someone or something below. If your cat likes to relieve themselves on your neighbor's lawn, they're going to notice. And might just take lethal action. Your barbecue smoke is going to trigger someone's asthma 5 houses down. The list goes on and on. Every German state has a long, complex "neighbor law" (here's the one (g) for my state), and many lawyers do nothing else. And once again, these petty squabbles are going to end up in court because it's so easy to go to court because of legal insurance. 

And finally, no lawsuit is too tiny. As Wagner once said, a German is someone who will always do something for its own sake. Which means Germans will file a suit over anything. Why, here's a story (g) from the excellent criminal-defense blog lawblog. Two retirees went fishing for deposit bottles in Munich, a favorite pastime of poor Germans, or just ones who need some way to fill their days in the fresh air.*

They approached a large man-sized glass-recycling container, whipped out their grabbers, and started fishing around inside the container. Recycling containers are supposed to be reserved for bottles which don't have a deposit on them, like wine bottles. But many people don't care or don't know how to tell a deposit from a non-deposit bottle, and just toss everything in.

Sure enough, our two hunters found 15 deposit bottles with a total value of € 1.44. Two other Germans, who were certainly feeling very German that day, called the police and reported the bottle-fishers for theft. Wait, what? Two people minding their own business, helping recycle glass, augmenting their puny incomes, harming nobody, and their fellow Germans report them to the cops? Welcome to Deutschland, my friends.

Now German prosecutors are obliged to investigate every credible accusation of crime that comes to their attention, the famous "Principle of Legality"**. This they did. The first thing they had to determine was what the value of the theft was. Technically, this was a theft -- once you throw a glass bottle into a recycling bin, it becomes the property of the recycling company. So you might think that the amount of the theft was the deposit value of the bottles. But no! It turns out that the recycling company does not separate out deposit bottles from other ones. Scandalous, I know. So all the bottles just get melted down. The prosecutor asked the recycling firm how much value the bottles would have as recycling material, and the firm said: basically, it's too small to even put a number on.

At this time, the prosecutor chose to halt the proceedings (einstellen) based on the idea that there was no public interest in prosecuting the offenders. The writer at lawblog thinks this was the wrong reason to stop the prosecution -- he thinks a better theory is to deny the people had any attempt to commit theft, because they had no intent to take possession of the bottles -- their ultimate goal was simply to transfer them to a different owner. 

Be that as it may, the main thing to notice here is that several different government employees spent hours of their time and used considerable resources to investigate an accusation of a crime which, at the very most, involved the lordly sum of € 1.44. It's probably only a slight exaggeration to say that the German state spent 1000 times more money investigating the theft than it was actually worth in the first place.

Now, am I going to snigger about this? Of course I am, and so are you. But at the same time, I'm not going to go too far. The most important thing to keep in mind about high numbers of lawsuits is that they are an important sign of social health. In the vast majority of societies, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive and courts are woefully underfunded and corrupt, so nobody trusts them. Germans and Americans trust courts to usually resolve legal disputes in a fair and equitable manner, otherwise they wouldn't seek them out so often. They're right to do so; both the USA and Germany have exceptionally fair and efficient legal systems, despite their imperfections. A fair, professional, and generally non-corrupt legal system is one of humanity's most important achievements, full stop. Most countries don't yet have one. If you happen to live in a country which does, take a moment and thank your lucky stars. 

Continue reading "In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law" »


Danish Social Democrats Abandon Mass Immigration as a Matter of Survival

Over at Social Europe, the Danish political scientist Peter Nedegard notes that the Danish Social Democratic Party finally admitted its core supporters (1) don't like liberal immigration policies; and (2) cannot be lectured, browbeaten, or bribed into liking them.

So the party did something shocking, irresponsible, and populist:

The Danish Social Democratic Party (SD) has recently changed course on immigration policy in a more restrictive direction. This change of policy is marked and should attract international interest. There are also certain indications that a similar change is in the pipeline in the other Nordic Social Democratic parties.

This policy change already seems to have borne fruit for the SD. While support for other European Social Democratic parties is generally in free fall, the Danish party is gaining in favour. The odds point to a Social Democratic take-over by the next general election (replacing the present center-right government) with the party chair, Mette Frederiksen, as prime minister.

Several factors lie behind the Social Democratic policy change on immigration.

First, welfare state ideology. SD believes itself to be the prime sponsor of the Danish welfare state. As various scholars have pointed out, there is a fundamental contradiction between a very liberal immigration policy and the survival of the welfare state. A welfare state simply cannot afford anything other than a restrictive immigration policy if welfare arrangements are to remain at a reasonable level. This has now been fully agreed upon by the Danish Social Democratic leadership.

The contradictions between a liberal immigration policy and the continued existence of the welfare state has most recently been emphasized in an analysis from the Danish Ministry of Finance, which shows that immigration from third world countries costs the Danish exchequer more than DKK 30 billion (€4bn) a year. This, of course, means a loss of public money which cannot at the same time be spent on the welfare state’s core activities....

Another factor behind the policy change is due to the party’s history. A leading SD member of the Danish Parliament, Mattias Tesfaye, (trained as a mason and with a Danish mother and an Ethiopian father) has recently published the book Welcome, Mustafa where he reconstructs the history of Social Democratic immigration policy. In this reconstruction, genuine Social Democrat grass-roots favor a tight and restrictive immigration policy, which, according to Tesfaye, regrettably was departed from in the period from the early 1980s until today. According to this reconstruction, a very liberal immigration policy and true social democracy relate to each other like fire and water.

Unfortunately, according to Tesfaye, the Social Democratic Party missed this fundamental truth for several decades when it was seduced by academic proselytes....

The third factor behind the policy change is due to the simple desire for survival. The Social Democratic leadership has observed how traditional working class voters have gradually left social democratic parties for more anti-immigration parties in Denmark as well as in other European countries. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party (DF) has indeed taken a large part of the working-class vote, which would otherwise have been a safe bet for SD. At the same time, several Social Democratic leaders have mocked DF, which, among other things, has been called ‘not house-trained’. In many workers’ ears, however, it has been an insult directed against them.

Electoral research in Denmark has shown that many recent general elections have been decided on the basis of which parties voters expect to deliver the highest standards of non-liberal immigration policy.

European center-left parties have been massacred in election after election, and one of the reasons is that working-class and lower-middle-class voters don't trust them on immigration. Those voters are right.

In many of those parties, the idea (sometimes expressed openly, usually not) was to create a "new bloc" of social democratic voters by importing more immigrants, and publicly embracing immigrants and immigration.

It didn't work as well as they'd hoped, since it turns out that once they settle in, these immigrants: (1) have conservative social values; and (2) are no more eager than native Danes or Frenchmen to face fresh competition from new waves of unskilled immigrants willing to work for peanuts. Oddly enough, immigrants seem to have agency and a desire to protect their own bottom-line interests. Who could have known?

Meanwhile, the former social democratic base of low-skilled workers began to wonder whether the politicians who claimed to represent them cared any more about people actually living right now in France, England, or the Netherlands than they did about people who wanted to live there in the future. Not a good thing for voters to be wondering about.

Of course, a mere change in rhetoric won't be enough. Voters don't trust social democrats to do what they say, and that attitude is quite justified. It's probably too late.

We'll just have to see if this crazy experiment in giving your voters what they want, not what they hate succeeds.


The 'New Statesman' on the German Opinion Corridor

The Swedish term for the Overton Window is the "opinion corridor" (åsiktskorridor). Germany has one too, well-described by this piece in the New Statesman from a year ago:

What is interesting about the AfD is what it tells us about the changes afoot in Germany. Its rise is a product of the constrained and elitist nature of German politics, in which – after the experience of Nazism – many subjects are declared to be outside the realm of political competition. All the mainstream parties are in favour of EU membership, the euro and the Atlantic alliance, and against war, inflation and nationalism.

What this leaves is a restricted political sphere where politicians have often been able to act against public opinion without fear of challenge – as in the decision to replace the popular Deutschmark with the strikingly unpopular euro in 1999. But those who dare to cross the threshold of political correctness tap in to a vast reservoir of pent-up popular frustration. And because the establishment cartel turns them into outcasts rather than arguing with their views, this reservoir continues to grow. A CSU minister recently told me that the German debate on refugees reminded him of the old East Germany, where there was a fundamental disconnection between what people thought and what they thought was acceptable to say in public. According to a recent poll, nearly half of all Germans are afraid to voice their opinion about the refugee crisis.

Leonard is not a right-winger, and the New Statesman is not a right-wing publication. But even Leonard finds German taboos childish and counter-productive. For an informed German-language critique, see this fine piece by Heribert Seifert in the NZZ.

I am tempted to say Leonard's comments show the typical divide between German and Anglo-American ideas about speech, but that's not quite right. America and England also have their taboos, they're just difference from the ones in Germany, or for that matter France.

The main difference, I think, is the structure of the press landscape. The line between topics that are considered proper for "tabloids" and the "respectable" broadsheet newspapers is enforced much more firmly in Germany. The same goes for tone. Every self-respecting English Bobo (f) obediently professes to despise -- despise!! -- the Daily Mail, whose lively, detail-rich, copiously-illustrated reporting should be a model for journalists everywhere. Yet you will often see the same topics covered by both the Daily Mail and the Guardian -- often in the form of the Guardian noticing and attacking something the Daily Mail wrote.

German respectable broadsheets, by contrast, simply pretend that German tabloids (and their readers) don't exist. They never mention them except to use their names as an insult, and scrupulously avoid topics (such as celebrity gossip, onerous EU regulations, or crimes by foreigners) which are associated with the tabloids. When they do address "tabloidy" topics they consciously choose a vague, euphemism-clogged manner of reporting which seems intended to put the reader to sleep.

Then, often as not, they quote some professor, all of whom understand the Bobo party line, and many of whom helped create it. The professor will then duly recite more euphemisms about "context", a "nuanced perspective" and "not jumping to conclusions". Often, what the prof says contains minor or even major distortions and distractions, but the reporter (even assuming he knows) doesn't care, since the point of the interview is not to spark a debate but rather to instruct right-thinking people which opinion they are expected to hold.

I call it Respectable Waffle, and Leonard's phrase "constrained and elitist" is a pretty good way of characterizing it.

This is why, in my experience, it is incredibly easy to flummox German Bobos who get their news only from the Respectable papers -- they are simply unaware of anything which isn't considered worth knowing by Die Zeit or the FAZ. They have never been exposed to thoughtful, informed challenges to the party line which Leonard describes, and therefore have no way to defend their views.