Wednesday, June 25, 2003

[S]UPERSTAR HEALTH INSURANCE: For those living in Germany, by now you've heard of the reality-TV show "Germany's Searching for a Superstar." I'm not as hip as I sometimes seem, and this show really only came to light for me a couple weeks ago.

Here's the premise, as I understand it (not having ever seen an episode): A bunch of contestants are competing on television, over a span of months, to become Germany's next "superstar." Singing, I think, is the key category.

At the end of each episode, a Non-Superstar is voted out of the competition.

Anyway, Bildzeitung is reporting that one of the Superstars-Still-To-Be had breast implants. No big news really, except that she says Germany's health insurance paid for it. This, my friends, is the highly touted German Krankenkasse.

In the article, a German plastic surgeon explained:

The Krankenkassen only pay for such operations if there is a medical necessity. For example, if a woman severely suffers mentally from breasts that are too small.
Apparently, since this poor woman found her breasts to be a "sickness" and felt that she was "incomplete," we all pay ridiculously high premiums for rather lackluster service.

Remember: In case either your employer or your wife objects, women at the Bildzeitung website don't always have all of their clothes on. The article is here.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

[E]UROPUNDITS: Yesterday I officially joined the group of bloggers who call themselves Europundits. You'll find exclusive posts by a number of notable bloggers on European issues...

I posted on Chancellor Schröder's address to parliament on Friday morning. Go check it out...

...

We are still experiencing some technical difficulties with the template, but hope to have them resolved soon. The Schröder post is at the bottom of the page...

Saturday, March 15, 2003

[G]ERMANY SAYS JEIN TO HELP: It appears that German officials are beginning to soften their stance with regard to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Initially, Germany had said that its problematic no to confronting Iraq with force also meant a no to participating in any reconstruction.

This helped them land in a row with Cuba and Libya as countries that said they would not support reconstruction in any way.

Now, according to reports from dpa and AFP, "There is already an 'internal' discussion within the red-green coalition [Schröder and his enviro-partners] about reconstruction loans, as well as the deployment of as many as 1,000 soldiers for a peacekeeping force."

The news agencies are picking up on the "Weekend-Scoop" of Der Spiegel, which will first hit newsstands on Monday. The story is from the "Panorama" section, which is not available online.

According to the reports, though, "it depends on who's asking for help." If the United Nations, for example, looked to Germany for support, Germany could say no only "with difficulty," according an unnamed member of Schröder's cabinet.

There is no direct indication of what Germany would say -- with difficulty, I'm sure -- if the United States asked for support.

[± Steven Den Beste writes in with this comment: "Not to mention what Germany would say if the US does NOT ask for support..." He also sent a link to this post from September last year, where he wrote: "Keeping the faith with our servicemen is more important to me than the UN, or whether the Germans and French like us, or even whether 80% of the world thinks we're wrong." Thanks Steven.]

Meanwhile, the same press reports are citing a soon-to-be published article in Welt am Sonntag, where Defense Minister Peter Struck (SPD) said that any reconstruction efforts in Iraq would not be supported by the defense budget.

We'll be glad to help, the two reports seem to be saying, just don't expect us to help with our own money.

[S]PIEGEL DISCOVERS THE TRUTH: The title of the story is an oh so clever one: Brainwashington. The subhead: "The worldwide anger at the war-politicians and brain-washers in the White House is growing."

It's a long story, but it eventually turns to the role of the Internet in purveying information related to the confrontation with Iraq. Here's how Spiegel Online sees it:

While in the USA trust in much of the mainstream media is disappearing and the fear of becoming victims of the directed disinformation of the Bush administration is growing, many young Americans -- maybe "the best and the brightest" of their generation -- have started to create a counter-sentiment in the public that is startling from cover all of the crows and hawks, which are currently nesting on the Potomac.
Hunters for the truth. How poetic...
Their most important tool for producing information and for the dispersal of uncensored news is the Internet.
Young Americans are coming to German online sites and translating texts that are critical of Bush, in order to make them available to their friends at home -- "because the American press would never carry such a story," said a Susan per email, and because US newspapers cover "primarily the perspective of the administration," wrote a guy named John in pigeon-German.
It's a good thing Susan and "pigeon-German" John are able to translate German news for us, so as to provide the ultimate truth.

No mention in the Spiegel Online article of those translating ridiculous "news" stories in German for the ridicule of Americans. But anyway:

Of course there are also -- and particularly -- in the USA quite a few similar Websites, which have taken it as their task to disperse the suppressed news.
And who are these lonely voices of reason, according to Spiegel Online? It's always a treat when Spiegel writes about balanced and objective journalism...

Friday, March 14, 2003

[C]OLD WAVE: Der Ami (me) has been knocked out for the past couple days with a 24-hour 48-hour stomach flu. This sort of thing has been going around in Germany:
The number of people who are "officially" sick [i.e., they have a note from their doctor: "Krankgeschrieben"] has doubled since the flu-wave started in middle February.
Each week, another 300,000 to 500,000 are getting sick. Unfortunately, the report doesn't say how many are getting better...

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

[G]ERMAN VICE: It appears that the German Customs Office is working overtime these days. In addition to keeping up with all of the German-based companies under investigation for violations of export laws, the customs officials are in hot pursuit of Don Johnson -- of "Miami Vice" fame.

Ok, so they're actually just examining some documents found in his car...

Johnson's car was stopped for a routine check as he entered Germany from Switzerland in November with two other men, said Wolfgang Schmitz, a spokesman for German customs.
Officials photocopied the documents, but they did not seize them and allowed the former "Nash Bridges" star to continue his journey without formally questioning him, Schmitz said.
Also according to Schmitz: "There is currently no indication of illegal transactions."

I read somewhere that a guy once dared suppose there was a treachery -- that "Nash Bridges" was influenced by earlier episodes of "Miami Vice." I'd link, but then some might conclude I'm making the same argument.

[M]ORE (AND LESS) TREACHERY: Let me first say that the post below is not accusing the German government of any wrongdoing, as more than a couple emails have charged. I do link to Steven Den Beste, though. You decide.

But to state it clearly: There is no evidence that the German government is inappropriately involved with any of these cases of illegal exports. This is not Iraq-Kontra.

Both Mrs T. over at T6I and Scott at PapaScott, two bloggers that I follow regularly, make some good points on this issue.

That being said, yet another report (via AFP) is stating that Germany's involvement in illegal exports to Iraq is even more treacherous than initially thought.

A television magazine program, "Report München," has said that the number of confirmed German companies fingered in Iraq's declaration to the UN has now reached 109. Again, the number comes from Baghdad, so it's accuracy should be viewed with skepticism. (And again, these are companies, not government representatives.)

But what is even more damning, because it puts the number in perspective, the TV show reported that the 109 companies from Germany are twice as many from all other countries combined.

Government involvement or not, I find it highly troubling (some might even be suspicious) that German companies represent perhaps two-thirds of those named in Iraq's declaration.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

[H]IGH GROWTH INDUSTRY: The German newspaper Die Welt has a damning story in Wednesday's edition about Germany's recent and quite extensive business connections with terrorist supporting states.

Yes, we all know that the US government supported the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 70s and 80s.

But that was before Iraq invaded Kuwait, before the Gulf War in 1991, before sanctions were imposed by the all-powerful and all-knowing United Nations.

What has Germany done since then?

Well, in addition to the two men convicted in January for selling industrial drilling machinery to Iraq -- one was sentenced to fewer than ten years less than Mounir Motassadeq -- it appears that Germany's internationally renowned engineers have been quite busy.

As has already been extensively reported, nearly 100 German firms were named in the Iraqi report submitted to the UN as part of Saddam's final chance to declare its WMDs. But this information came from Iraq, so can we really trust it?

Now, according to Die Welt, the German Customs Office [Zollkriminalamt] has compiled its own catalogue summary of Germany's proliferating companies.

With regard to Iraq, 137 people are currently under investigation or have been accused. They come from 65 German companies where preliminary investigative proceedings are underway.

At the moment, four separate court proceedings against German companies for illegal exports to Iraq are already in process.

But Iraq isn't the only country where Made in Germany is in demand. Die Welt reports that others, including Pakistan, India, Libya and Iran, "are fostering intensive business relationships" in Germany.

The participation of a German company in the construction of a poison gas factory in Rabta produced international headlines. But with that, the trade relationships to Libya weren't at all broken off. Completely the opposite. In the last year, 39 companies have come under the suspicion of the investigators. They are accused of delivering illegal weaponry materials for the construction of missiles, energy components for the missiles, as well as guidance devices.
Also coming to the attention of the Customs Office were 19 companies who have stocked Iran with, among other things, the most modern combat tanks and replacement parts.
Steven Den Beste once dared suppose there was a treachery... And to think, these deals weren't recorded by Germany's Federal Statistical Office?

That's a shame, because illegal exports constitute perhaps the only region where Germany's economy has actually grown in the past ten years.

[H]OMESICK SOLDATEN: According to the Bundestag's annual report on German military forces [Bundeswehr], 2002 was a record year for complaints. A third more complaints from soldiers were recorded last year as compared to 2001. And for the first two months of 2003, complaints are already up a further 13 percent.

[Here are the news reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Tagesspiegel.]

The main reasons for complaints concerned out-of-country deployments, an area where the Bundeswehr naturally has less experience. The typical foreign deployment lasts six months and is not generally staffed with soldiers performing required civil service.

(± Here, I mean to say that enlisted soldiers (as opposed to conscripts) are typically deployed on foreign assignments. The SZ piece below, however, claims that "too many" conscripts are currently involved in such deployments, partly resulting in more complaints. In common parlance, civil service usually refers to those who reject compulsory military conscription and perform an Americorps-like job instead. Sorry for any confusion...)

Reforms are on the table, but the minister responsible for the report cautioned, "The huge ship tanker [that is the] Bundeswehr can't be maneuvered arbitrarily." Some reforms may have already gone too far.

An opinion piece in Wednesday's Süddeutsche Zeitung, though, sees the problem from a different light:

But can one conclude, like the minister [has], that too much reform cannot be expected from the Bundeswehr? Maybe it's even the other way around: The more consistently and transparently that the reforms of the Bundeswehr are driven forward, the more clearly the soldiers will see the tasks that [government] policy wants to give them.
Insert snide remark here about the German government's policy to consistently and transparently reject the use of any force to disarm Saddam Hussein...
[W]HAT'S THREE YEARS: I am certainly glad that the four Algerian men who plotted to detonate a bomb in Strasbourg have been found guilty in a German court. According to the story in today's International Herald Tribune, the presiding judge said the men they were planning a "bloodbath."

All four men were sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in prison.

Less than a month ago, Mounir Motassadeq was convicted in Germany for knowingly aiding the September 11 terrorists. His conviction carried 3,066 counts. He was sentenced to three more years in prison than his Algerian buddies.

[R]IGHT OF MIGHT: Not that Germany's unionized workers need an excuse to work any less than they already do, but they're currently planning to engage in a "work stoppage for peace."
(AP) Germany's largest industrial union is urging its 2.6 million members to stop work for 10 minutes Friday in a protest against the looming war in Iraq
I guess that's all fine and good, but here's what Klaus Zwickel, the union boss, had to say:
I still hope that efforts by the unions and their members will contribute to securing peace. International law must be strengthened. The right of might must not prevail.
Did he really say the right of might? But isn't that what unions are all about?!?

Monday, March 10, 2003

[I]LLEGITIMATE WORLD CUP: Amiland reader Matt writes in with this bit of historical context for international law:
I thought that it was funny that the articles about WM06 [World Cup 2006] and having the heads of state personally vote on any future resolution were next to each other.
If it had not been for a "rogue" voter, Germany would not be hosting the World Cup in 2006. Back in 2000 the New Zealand representative was supposed to vote for South Africa, but at the last minute (more or less) switched his vote to Germany.
So it appears that Germany had to do a bit of arm-twisting and bullying here. I guess that's what one would expect from a soccer superpower. If only they had consulted with their allies, we could've all agreed to cancel the tournament in the name of world peace.

But you know, just because they received enough votes to host it, Germany's sponsorship of the World Cup should still be seen as illegitimate in the world community. I'm planning a protest march for this weekend...

[T]ODAY'S HEADLINE: From the AP -- "Chief organizer says it wouldn't be a problem to have 36 teams."

I have to admit that I thought to myself, When are they going to realize no amount of inspection teams in Iraq can win the cat and mouse game with Hussein...

But then I read the rest:

BERLIN - Raising the number of teams by four to 36 at the 2006 World Cup would not be a problem for Germany, Franz Beckenbauer, president of the organizing committee, said Monday.
Oh... Ok.

You see, Germany is hosting the 2006 World Cup (for soccer).

[E]NTRY VISA: According to press reports here, Chancellor Schröder is backing the recommendation of President Chirac, that the heads of state from the UN Security Council should themselves vote on any further resolutions.

Schröder has said he is ready to make the trip to New York.

Does he perhaps not trust his own foreign minister to vote as ordered?

In the end and if left alone, Foreign Minister Fischer could still vote his conscience, regardless of what the chancellor tells him to do. He has always been the unknown in this equation, stating from the very beginning that 1441 alone provides legitimacy for a US war with Iraq. It would of course be an extremely bold (and career-risking) move by the foreign minister. But who knows...