Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Germany Goes Mao on Free Speech: Investors Blanche

January 19, 2018

When asked how he went bankrupt, the venerable  American author of “Huckleberry Finn” Mark Twain said „Slowly at first, then all at once.“ It looks like that quintessential Western freedom to speak and write freely (within the already narrow parameters of incitement, libel and genocide denial laws) is heading down the very same path in Germany. Freedom of speech, that core practice that distinguishes the West from its competitors and adversaries, is curling up its toes between the Oder and the Rhine.

On New Year’s Day 2018, veiled government censorship detonated in the Teutonic Twittersphere as a new and eerily named hate speech law took effect – the Netzdurchsuchungsgesetz. I’ve covered the NetzDG ‘s slow dark creep and how it’s the antithesis of all that characterizes the West – arbitrary, without redress, full Mao.

As it seeks to make a thousand flowers bloom, the law also has the potential of spooking investors and even of damaging investor sentiment in Germany. That’s especially true for smaller urban tech start-ups and for downtown real estate, as I discovered at the latest Tech Summit in Lisbon. More on that later. First, here’s a bit of polit-drama to spice up a baleful tale.

Not Tried, But Immediately Tested

After the NetzDG went into effect on the first day of 2018, it was immediately tested by an arch-adversary of the sitting government. AFD MP Beatrix von Storch fired off a Tweet that entered the Shadowland of What is Acceptable. In emotive language, she lashed out at “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes”. The tweet was quickly scrubbed by Twitter. (In a prima facie example of how misguided the law is, a satire of her tweetwas erased as well.) Von Storch then used the censorship as a case in point – that the NetzDG was not about fighting hate, but was instead a cynical bid to ring-fence debate on the CDU/SPD’s Open Borders policy and its consequences. That policy is now facing mounting public rejection and is weighing heavily on tough exploratory talks for a coalition government.

Hate Speech Charges: Used to Smokescreen Policy Failures?

You can argue whether or not the AFD Co-Chair’s Beatrix von Storch’s Tweet was in good taste. But that’s not at issue. What is, is her fundamental right to express her own thoughts and sentiments where, how and when she pleases. Especially when it comes to public policy and police failures to protect the public. Taking it one step further, the very police department her Tweet criticized (Cologne’s) then put her under investigation for incitement for underscoring unpleasant facts that put them in a bad light!  Again, the question here is not whether von Storch stereo-typed a group, hurt feelings or even engaged in incitement. The question is about censoring political speech at the exact moment migration becomes the nation’s most emotional and divisive issue. The Twitter erasure and felony charges arise just as new crime stats point to a direct link between increased unvetted migration and soaring violence and crime in Germany and Europe.

Setting the Cologne police case aside, a public courtroom, not a corporate office for private media police , is the proper venue to judge if Von Storch broke the law. That’s been the democratic norm in the US since 1789 and the Federal Republic since 1949. The CDU/SPD Grand Coaltion has clearly dropped the torch.

A Law Unto Itself 

The NetzDG has been ripped apart by a cross-section of civil society. Even the UN, assorted NGO’s and the EU have expressed concern. And since the NetzDG has the whiff of political sulfur, it’s hardly surprising the AFD, seeing an opportunity, has gone in for the kill. The FDP and the Greens as well have made undoing the law part of their agenda. (The Greens, though, want more, not less, government intervention. According to the DTS News Service, leading Green Renate Kunast wants a national network of courts to convict offenders.) All of this has stoked the debate that Germany is sleepwalking backward into the bad old days of the Stasi in the Communist East. As a young journalist, I spent a number of tours in the grayscapes of the DDR. I never saw a thousand blossoms. But I did meet some of the earnest “Heroes of the Revolution” who were busy monitoring, censoring and arresting fellow citizens for aberrant thoughts and utterances, like the gentleman below.

The NetzDG is not Investor-Friendly 

The NetzDG is tarnishing Germany’ reputation as a progressive society. What it reveals is a jittery nanny state micromanaging Tweets with a legion of amateurs unsuited for their role, whose task is administering directives and whose judgment is final. That might work if your business partner is a sweatshop providing the only jobs in a malarial swampland. It does not work if you’re looking for the best and the brightest. What makes Silicon Valley shine for tech investors is the atmosphere of inventiveness deeply rooted in free thinking. Arabesques of creativity were not exactly the order of the day in the DDR. They will become less likely in a Germany where social media is tightly monitored for missteps.

And it sets Germany on a slippery slope. How long is the descent from censored tweets to China’s social media ratings that determine your employment or housing possibilities? Far-fetched? Some in the German elite are openly lobbying for pivoting to China as Berlin’s preferred partner rather than Trumps’ America. It’s not only perceptions of what Germany’s is becoming that’s worrying investors. At the Tech Summit in Lisbon, young founders also grilled me on security in business hubs like Frankfurt and Berlin in light of the arrival of thousands of unvetted migrants.

They’re Only Numbers 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t provide them with concrete numbers, and could only point to the anecdotal record. That, as mentioned, has changed as I write this, and the latest numbers confirm aggregated police blotter reports showing a connection and a causality between a spike in migrant numbers and a spike in certain types of crime. This topic has been largely ignored by Germany’s mainstream news networks. (Some of the questions raised at the Tech Summit were based on personal accounts of recent travelers to Germany.) I left Lisbon with the impression there are growing reservations among digital nomads about German cities, especially about my home, Berlin. For Generation Z, I discovered, it no longer enjoys a reputation as a  laid-back locale for hipsters looking to start up the next Spotify or Netflix. Now it’s Lisbon that’s topping the charts for groove and the buzz.   Not just because of its young tech scene, its modest prices and its stunning natural beauty and nostalgic architechtural beauty. It’s also one of Europe’s safest cities – especially for young women. (But watch out for the pickpockets on scenic Tram 28!)

            Taking a break at TechSummit17 with the Tall Ships

Can Germany Get Its Freedom Mojo Back?

Step One to a new German Mojo is dumping NetzDG on the scrap heap of history. Germany’s leading publications are already leaning that way. Editors are recalling Europe’s rich heritage: what has distinguished us, beginning with the Greek city-state until this very day, is the freedom to speak our minds publically and in assemblies, the Agora, without fear. The NetzDG imbues the Digital Agora with an atmosphere of denunciation and suspicion. The choice for Germans is clear: they can choose freedom, with all its nuances and responsibilities, or they can choose fear, the great paralyzer and destroyer. Let’s hope 2018 will see Germans reconnecting with the Freedom Mojo that was their glory in 1848 and in 1989. The world would be a better place for it.

Copyright 2018 by Brian Thomas All rights reserved. All photos thanks to Wiki Commons.

Feel free to use or quote any of this editorial. If you do so, please provide the appropriate attribution for your readers. Thanks!

Unstable Germany? Not if President Steinmeier Acts Fast

November 20, 2017

With the collapse of coalition talks, German has entered unchartered territory and many fear weeks if not months of political uncertainty set to cost jobs, give investors cold feet and undermine faith in Europe’s leading economy and in Berlin’s ability to shape the post-Brexit European Union. People are worried and they should be.

A fraying Europe – with Brexit, Catalaxit, challenges to the rule of law in Poland, corporate censorship in the form of hate speech laws for social media, a disingenuous Russia and a migration crisis that will be with us for decades – has just received another loud rip in its fabric.
There is a way, though, to save Germany and Europe from further damage

The wise authors of the nation’s 1949 Constitution, having lived through the associated horrors of weak institutions during the Weimar Republic anticipated exactly this moment. They’ve provided us with the excellent remedies within the guidelines of Article 63.

Sicherheitskonferenz - Munich Security Conference

 

How Article 63 Works

With the collapse of talks, following Article 63 means the Federal President, Frank-Walter  Steinmeier steps in. The political initiative and the power to decide who is chancellor passes to the Federal President. Frank Walter Steinmeier.  He’s already indicated he understands what is at stake.

Step One: The Bundestag Vote for Absolute Majority

„The Chancellor is elected by the Bundestag in accordance with Article 63. The Federal President is allowed to propose a candidate only in the first round of voting. Here the authors of the Basic Law learned a clear lesson from the Weimar Republic where the President was able to appoint and dismiss the Chancellor at will. If there is no absolute majority in the first round of voting the Bundestag has fourteen days time in which it can elect a Chancellor in as many rounds of voting as desired. Here again, an absolute majority is needed to win (Article 63, 3, Basic Law). „

Step Two: The Bundestag Vote for a Simple Majority

„If this second phase fails to produce the desired result the parliament must vote without delay in a third phase. If the candidate for Chancellor receives only a relative majority the President is required to step in. He must either appoint the candidate for Chancellor who received the largest number of votes or he must dissolve the Bundestag (Article 63, 4, Basic Law).In the 18 times a Chancellor has been elected since 1949 all the heads of government have received the required a majority in the first round of voting. However the candidate elected is not officially Chancellor until he has received a certificate of appointment from the Federal President (Article 63, 2, Basic Law)

Step Three: The Constructive Vote of No-confidence

A Chancellor’s term in office normally ends when the newly elected Bundestag convenes for its first meeting (Article 69, Basic Law). However, the parliament can express a lack of confidence in the head of government by electing a successor with an absolute majority (Article 67, Basic Law). Helmut Kohl is the only Chancellor in the history of the Federal Republic to have been elected in this way. He succeeded Helmut Schmidt as a result of a constructive vote of no confidence in 1982. At the request of the Federal President, a deposed Chancellor is required to continue to conduct the affairs of office until the appointment of his successor (Article 69, Basic Law).

The German President Should Act Swiftly, Today Would be Good

German President Frank Walter Steinmeier should act swiftly and begin the parliamentary process.

Now that the FDP is out, we can be spared the spectacle of similarly doomed negotiations. The FDP, Greens and the conservative CDU/CSU have demonstrated they can’t reach even the show of a workable compromise in the following areas:

1.) Migration and the prospect of bringing over hundreds of thousands of family dependents to join the hundreds of thousands of refugee already here. Non-starter.

2.) Fossil Fuels. Ending coal mining and coal-fired power plants is a no-go zone that was barely touched on.

3.) Tax Reform Never easy even when partners are ideologically close let alone at dagger’s edge.

AfD Bundesparteitag 23. April 2017 in Köln

 

If all else fails : New Elections 

With this in mind, and should the Bundestag vote fail, the Federal President then calls new elections. That’s not the end of the world. It will most likely, however, be the political end of the Angela Merkel. Under her leadership, her Christian Democrats have lost most of their conservative contours, especially regarding migration, open borders and a cap on asylum seekers and migrants. These issues, and whether refugees already in the country will be allowed to bring over their families from places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, will be at the heart of the next election campaign. The party most likely to benefit from the new uncertainty and new elections will be the Alternative for Germany which has made an anti-migrant stand the central plank in its platform.

.

John F. Kennedy Calling with a Free Speech Message this Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2017

This Saint Patrick Day I’m thinking about one of my favorite Irish heroes, the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy – a man of clarity, purpose, and courage. His speeches, written by himself, remain part of classic rhetorical training, as they were when I was learning to cut the cliches and mixed metaphors.

To celebrate Paddy driving out of the snakes, here’s the audio and text version of his oft-cited address to the American Newspapers Publishers Association on April 27, 1961. It represents the gold standard when it comes to style. But it’s often overlooked when it comes to its substance – namely that a vigorous and free press it essential to a lively democracy. Without it, debate and discussion withers to what is allowed and approved by the powerful and wealthy, not what is essential to a free and independent people. And the shield and sword that protects the press is the First Amendment.

Here in Germany, a bill is being crafted that would undermine free speech in this country. It’s the Hate Speech bill by Justice Minister Heiko Maas that I have warned about in other commentaries and will continue to report on. The German journalist Marcus Reuter has done some especially good reporting on the type of creeping government censorship it imposes, masked in good intentions. It takes aim at communications on social media, but can easily be applied to Bragh! services as well. The list of forbidden content includes the usual “hate speech” and “incitement” clauses which are famously elastic, as well legal sanctions for failing to delete illegal material like copyrighted images or text. At the same time, it contains no sanctions for failing to delete pornographic material that may be accessible by a minor.

But let’s put all this aside for today – it is, after all, Saint Patrick’s and that means, since everyone is Irish today, it’s time for a beer, and some corned beef and cabbage out of solidarity with the Emerald Isle. One last thought – just like Saint Patrick is the protector of Ireland, JFK told journalists that they, and the First Amendment, were the protectors of America’s freedom:

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution …”

Here’s to Saint Patrick and a snake free life: Erin Go Bragh !

Copyright by Brian Thomas 2016 . All rights reserved.

0 comments

Looking for more of the latest headlines on LinkedIn?

Discover more stories

Five Things Angela Merkel Can Do Before Inauguration Day To Warm Ties With the New Washington

January 12, 2017

6837053593_4b9dac07a8_z-2

Photo Credit: “DSC01763” © 2012 Maxence, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Germany and its political leaders may never learn to love Donald Trump. But they will have to learn to live with him, and to work with him over the next four, or even eight, years.

So why not get of to a good start?

Here’s five things Berlin can do today to get off on the right foot with the new administration.

Call the Point Man

Angela Merkel’s Press Spokesman Stefan Seibert can send a note of congratulations to Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s new Press Secretary, his counterpart in the White House, for being named to the post.

If he already did so, why not send a nice follow-up and underscore all the things they have in common? They’re both Catholics, married with children, familiar with the corridors of power and share a knack for working with high power bosses with thick agendas.

Stefan should invite Sean to Berlin for a beer and get those back channels of communication lubricated with some good German hops. I’m leaving their twitter addresses here and here in case either of them stumble on this and take up the idea on a whim. You never know …

Jared Packs a Punch

268468181_c89764954c_z-2

© 2006 Hamed Saber, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Merkel’s Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier should do a Skype hook up with Jared Kuschner. After investing so much time in getting the Iran nuclear done and dusted, the German Foreign Minister can get familiar with Trump’s son-in-law  and Special White House advisor. Kushner has known Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from childhood. (His father has cut the kind of deals in Israel his billionaire son has put together in New York.)

Maybe Jared can help  Steinmeier save the Iran Deal from the trash can? Trump has promised to tear it up and Kushner is set to be his “go-to-guy “for Israel.

Steinmeier will, of course, first have to convince Jared he didn’t mean it when he intervened in the US election (without hacking or fake news) and said the prospect of  a Trump presidency was frightening and likened then candidate now president-elect Trump  to a hate preacher.  Hans-Dieter Genscher is rolling in his grave.

As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has discovered – even knowing a friend of Jared can pay off. One such friend just told  Abbas Trump is serious about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jordanian government is calling Jerusalem a “Red Line”. I wonder how Saudi Arabia feels? Or Islamic State? Did I just repeat myself?

Crank up the Skype Steini and get going. There’s a lot to do before becoming German president. Are you training up a replacement? Remind him that foresight is is the hallmark of diplomatic greatness.

13971851166_446135e351_z

Past Support means Future Gains

German intelligence services need the NSA to work effectively. That’s according to no-one less than the SPD’s Thomas Oppermann. The Social Democrat grandee was once very busy with the parliamentary committee that looked into the NSA spying scandals in 2015.

Mr.Oppermann might want to consider a quick flight to New York to check in with Dan Coates, the man earmarked by Trump to oversee America’s vast, mulit-agency intelligence network. Coates is a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and under Bush the Younger tried, but failed, to get the Schroeder-Fischer Duo to kit up German soldiers and join in the Fake News fueled War Against Iraq.

Oppermann might want to leave out that German intell got it right about Iraqi WMD’s in 2003. Instead he can focus on how Angela Merkel backed George W. Bush in the run up to the war. That fact can be a bridge builder with Coates, who I’m sure hasn’t forgotten Merkel’s support from the opposition benches when most Germans opposed the war.

Saying You’re Sorry In the National Interest

Angela Merkel has made pre-inauguration comments indicating Europe should get used to acting on the world stage without the U.S. The statement is a political earthquake that has yet to send shock waves. No post-war president has ever called the trans-Atlantic Partnership into question. What Europe is she talking about ? Britain is going, and France, Holland and Italy want either out or a looser EU after elections this year.  And Spain and Belgium are both still facing secessionists. There’s always Luxembourg. They have banks.

Instead of warning Trump on protectionism, she should be should somehow quickly make amends for her cool response to  Donald Trump’s shock victory.  The reintegrative shaming  she subjected him to will not work with Donald Trump. It’s a red bandana to a bull. Think Pamplona. A snappy apology would demonstrate strength of character,magnanimity and a desire to get down to work in the national interest. Trump has forgiven far worse slights and after all is a businessman. Simple flowers will do. No red roses.

30768755372_c447af957b_z

In Vino Veritas

Host an Open House (with open bar) for Europe’s Expat American Deplorables at the Chancellery. They were hard to find during the campaign season, but I have a feeling we’re going to learn that places like Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt are actually crawling with Trump Republicans.  Especially now that the MAGA forces are about to march into the White House in a few days.

If these recommendations for Berlin  start and end with alcohol, that’s because getting US-German relations back to where they were under Obama might just require a stiff drink.  Especially  with a new poll showing Germans more disenchanted than ever with the US after the Trump victory.

Thinking about it twice, maybe save the drink for afterwards. No use conmplicating an already difficult situation.

All copyrights Brian Thomas 2017

Fair Use: Please feel free  to share, quote or use in any way this article provided you give Brian Thomas credit as its author. Thanks!

Detect,Detain,Defund,Deport: Germany’s Mainstream Goes Populist

January 8, 2017

 

 

„Beware the fury of a patient man.“ The English playwright John Dryden could have been speaking about the ever forbearing German voter. How much they have carried!

Funding their spendthrift brethren from Ireland to Greece. Bolstering the Euro and the EU’s banks every time they get a case of the teeters.

Standing up for the opposition in Ukraine and Syria, even when they are not quite democratic.

Always there for Israel, settlements or not.

And then the 2015 tour de force – taking in over a million of the planet’s needy and fleeing, only to discover (surprise surprise) some among them harbor murder and mayhem in their hearts.

You’d think those German voters were made out of money and the patience of a mandarin sage!

Well they’re not. Not of either and not by a long shot.

And they’re letting the ruling class know it.

Their main concern after a Terror Christmas is security.

They’re tired of cynical bromides like „Terror? It’s the new normal.“ „We’ll have to get used to it.“ „There’s no 100% security.“

They’re not having it. And they’ll be voting for leaders who promise to rip out the terrorists in our midst, root, branch and limb,  and deliver on that vow.

Caving into terror and making excuses for failure are not a vote winner in the current climate.

The latest opinion surveys and the political reaction bears that out.

New polls show the AFD snapping at the heels of the governing coalition’s Social Democrats.  They stand at 15 % to the SPD’S 20 % and have gained more than any other party. And that even though the far right Alternative for  Germany  are extremely thin on experienced personnel, are hampered by relentless infighting, and have yet to convincingly cull their ranks of neo-Nazis. (And they’ve even signaled they’ want to spend 2017-2022 on the opposition benches.)

It appears those long forbearing voters are starting to lose their patience with mainstream politics.

And it looks like the politicians get it.  From the Left Party to the liberal Free Democrats, they’ve sensed the public mood and have spent the last few days falling over each other in their bid to convince the public they’re the sheriff with the quickest pistol.

Here’s a quick sampling of a few personal favorites:

Left Party leader Sarah Wagenknecht channels AFD leader Fraucke Petry and says Angela Merkel bears partial responsibility for the Berlin attacks.

The Free Democrats’ Christian Lindner wants Merkel’s „Wir schaffen das“ („We can manage it“ in reference to the Refugee Crisis) applied to the surveillance of potential Islamist terrorists.

Co-Chancellor and would-be full time Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel now wants radical Islamist mosques banned.

(Why aren’t they already?, one has to ask.)

Whoever said politics is boring didn’t live in an age groping for ways to defend itself from a ghostly enemy who appears from the shadows bringing death and terror. The man or woman who finds a way to bring the jihadists to ground will be celebrated. The politicians who fail to do that will bear the  fury of the no longer patient German voter.

All Copyrights ©Brian Thomas 2017

Fair Use: Please feel free to share, quote or use in any way this article provided you give Brian Thomas credit as its author. Thanks! If you like what you’ve found here, check my Youtube Channel : http://bit.ly/2eolQZh

 

Epiphany 2017: Terror in My Berlin Neighborhood

January 6, 2017

 

Epiphany 2017: Terror in My Berlin Neighborhood

Epiphany, January 6th, marks the official end of the Christmas season. As a Berliner who’s faith began with the star over Bethlehem, I find myself this Epiphany still grieving quietly, taking the time to stop and a reflect amidst the countless wreaths and candles lovingly laid out at the Gedächntnis Church, for the dead of the Christmas Market Attack. It was an act of terror that changed Germany, Berlin, my Charlottenburg neighborhood and me as well.

As the carnage unfolded, it was my job as a journalist to report on the bloodshed in my own back yard, at a market I had planned to attend just a few streets away the night of the attack.

My young son and I were set to go there that very night but were laid up with a sudden flu. Fate was kind. We wanted to buy matching father-son hats, an incongruous even silly idea when set beside the untold pain and anguish wrought by the Islamic State follower Anis Amri. As the police and security experts I talked to right after the attack had indicated, it now very much looks like he had help.

How far his jihadist network extends, which mosques and hate preachers it includes, is still being investigated. It appears some of them, like an apparent fellow Tunisian accomplice, are right here in Berlin. My Berlin.

 

Our planned Christmas outing was exactly the kind of fun many others, celebrating the sheer joy of Christmas were looking forward to that night: buying gifts for loved one, sharing a mulled wine with friends and colleagues, taking in the nativity scene, the lights, the happy crowds. Dispelling the dark gloom of long winter nights.

Those who died that night, from this city and from around the world – from Italy, Israel, Ukraine, Poland – were not so fortunate. I pray for them, that the pain of loss their families will bear for a lifetime may ease with the years. Right now, I can’t lift this heavy feeling in my heart.  A similar pall shrouded me as I reported on the Islamist attacks in Brussels in March that left 32 dead and on the Paris terror attacks that left 130 dead. As an international journalist, sharing in collective grief comes with the territory these days.

Both cities I know well, especially Brussels where I have worked. But seeing Berlin, my Berlin, my neighborhood, my home for almost two decades, so brutally attacked, its citizens and guests murdered and maimed, caused a different quality of grief and rage:

I felt what it was like to have my life, my family, our home threatened by fanatics who hate us and would see us dead.

Terror has passed through my door and made itself comfortable at my fire.

It is a bitter realization – especially since the suspected attacker was a failed asylum seeker who flaunted German law for years and managed to gain a foothold here thanks to government policies and taxpayer support. The same no doubt applies to the men and women in the Islamist underground who groomed, supported and aided his vicious attack.

In a different age, my ancestors would have girded up their loins for war and sought revenge. Blood for blood. It’s still the response in many parts of the world. It’s primal and definitely not Christian or Enlightened, but it is no doubt extremely cathartic.

In our Global Age though, complete with an Internet of Things Islamist Network funded by oil-rich sheiks, vengeance, and divided societies, is exactly the response those who seek our destruction want to see.

Vengeance and blood debt are sad and failed chapters from their book, not ours.

Thes lack the self-reflection and self-criticism that has made European civilization, with ist science, medicine, art, music and culture the wonder and glory of the world.

 

This weekend, I will again be riding my bike down to the Gedächtnis Church to light a candle for the dead. I will be searching my heart for a forgiveness that is hard to find right now. I won’t be struggling with the rage that has subsided or with a vengeance that’s not part of my make-up or my culture. But I will be clearing my mind of the doubts I have that our society, our leaders, that we are in any way equipped to vanquish this vicious enemy.

For me, the holiday season came to an end well before Epiphany.

It ended with a jihadist murder spree on the Kudamm.

But there was no let up to the slaughter this Christmas season. It continued in short order with another Islamic State attack in Istanbul. Two cities, Berlin and Istanbul, now united in mourning and sorrow.

2017 will be the year we learn how to track down and stop the jihadists in our midsts.

Or we will have to learn to grieve like we did in 2016.

It’s a new kind of Epiphany in my Berlin neighborhood.

All Copyrights ©Brian Thomas 2017

Fair Use: Please feel free to share, quote or use in any way this article provided you give Brian Thomas credit as its author. Thanks! If you like what you’ve found here, check my Youtube Channel : http://bit.ly/2eolQZh

 

 

2016: My Three Top Political Interviews

January 2, 2017

2016: My Three Top Political Interviews

Looking back at 2016, I had the humbling opportunity to talk to so many insightful individuals and unique voices, and when I take this opportunity to thank them all, I know I’m speaking for my viewers as well.

This year I’m using their feedback (from various platforms) as a basis for my choice of 2016 Top Three Political Interviews. Enjoy !

1.) Jens Spahn : The Man Who Would Be Chancellor

MdB, Finance Ministry, Parliamentary State Sec.

Jens Spahn is often touted as the CDU’s young rebel to help the party regain its luster as the star of Angela Merkel fades with each passing terrorist attack committed by an asylum seeker, failed or otherwise. His threat is especially sharp in that he owes the Chancellor nothing for his stellar career and can only gain from her being toppled. He’s backed by a bevy of young conservatives chafing to take to the ramparts and fight for a hard conservative edge to replace the muddied contours of a conservative CDU party softened by its third Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats. He’s even been described as Merkel’s Gottesdämmerung.

He was open to all my questions, quick off the mark, and not afraid to make (at the time) controversial statements like his call for banning the burka in Germany.

Check out Jahn here.

2.) Ian Duncan Smith : The Brexit Sage Who Proved Right

Tory Luminary, Sec.of State for Work and Pensions (Frmr.)

It’s always a pleasure to talk with people fighting their corner when the whole world is against them. Those are my favorite interviews and frankly, my favorite type of individual as well: call it the Anglo-American love of the Underdog, cuddly and otherwise. Mr.Smith, a wily political operator, is hardly cuddly. When I interviewed him, the Brexit campaign was lagging so far in the polls that few thought it had a snowball’s chance in Hell. Duncan didn’t doubt it and eloquently held forth with his arguments for the Leave Campaign with a conviction that should make any other Highlander proud. It made him very cuddleable. In a way.

His cause won the day, and as every Remainer knows, Brexit wasn’t the snowball in hell, but the Monster Snowman from Hell (let’s hope the child with that Snowman isn’t Frexit waiting to grow up).

Thumbs up for Ian Duncan Smith fighting like a lion for his side when it was expected to be handed a humiliating defeat.

Check out Ian here.

 

3.) Pavlo Klimkin : David versus Goliath

Ukrainian Foreign Minister

No matter where you stand on the Ukraine debate, no matter whether you are a Putin-Versteher or a Putin-Hater, you have to admit Ukraine occupies an unenviable place in history, geography and in its leadership. I found Pavlo Klimkin to be a refreshingly open man and a bright light in a region that has known so much deception and so many disappointments. He was here in Berlin for consultations with the Group of Four Foreign Ministers on the Minsk Agreements and was willing to engage me on issues that are anathema for Kiev, like autonomy for the breakaway pro-Russian region. Ukraine can use more men like Klimkin. He’s a trained physicist, a capable diplomat, and a dedicated patriot. He seemed to be willing to stand up for the rights of Ukrainians as Russia, especially after its victory in Aleppo, is likely to push hard for its strategic goals, including in eastern Ukraine.

Check out Pavlo here.

Thanks again to all my guests, and to all my viewers and readers. Together, we can keep the torch of free speech burning, one spark at a time.

May your 2017 be filled with health, happiness, and many blessings.

 Don’t miss more articles by Brian Thomas

Looking for more of the latest headlines on LinkedIn?

Discover more stories

Did Russia help out the Trump campaign?

December 11, 2016

 

putin

© 2014 Global Panorama, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Barack Obama, in the fading days of his tenure as head of the world’s indispensable nation, has, in effect, called into question the legitimacy of America’s bitterly contested elections.

He’s alleging foreign interference by none other than his nemesis, the man who thwarted his „red lines“ in Syria and caught him back footed in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin.

It was a claim also put forward repeatedly and forcefully by his former heir apparent, HRC. „The Woman the World Thought Would Rule,“ Hilary Rodham Clinton, began making the charge once a Trump victory seemed possible.

You don’t have to be a Republican to raise the possibility that Obama’s charges against Moscow are politically motivated.

New Hope for the Restoration

Even after Green candidate Jill Stein’s failed recount, millions of Democrats continue to hope for a deus ex machina to put their choice in the White House. Half the nation, vengeful and sullen after an acrimonious election that handed them a defeat, want a Restoration.

The new charges against Moscow coming from the White House give hope to those who believed a recount could, in the end, nudge Clinton into the Oval Office.

Clinton, after all, did win the popular vote.

There are questions about counting  irregularities in some districts.

And some electors to the Electoral College have indicated they may change sides.

Could the sum of these parts, together with the new claims by Obama, keep Donald Trump from claiming the office of the president ?

The possibility is not as outlandish as it sounds.

 

caveat-emptor

Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware

Until you closely examine the latest documents and  individuals that soon to be Citizen Obama has quoted that call the election into question.

They do not hold up to scrutiny.

The source is Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning bastion of liberal press freedom. There According to Politifact:  “Based on the evidence, it seems highly unlikely that actions by the Russian government contributed in any decisive way to Trump’s win over Clinton.” There’s also a word of caution, though.   Researchers point out that “policymakers should still be concerned about the possibility that a foreign government might have attempted to meddle in a domestic election.” So the conclusion is, we need more evidence and more openness before we can make a decision.

 

constituon-new

 

„A First, a First! My Kingdom for a First! „

Here in Berlin, where we enjoy neither the shield of the 1st Amendment nor the Anglo-American tradition of a fair and free press rooted in the toppling of an empire two centuries ago, „unnamed sources“ are viewed with less suspicion. Not just in Germany, but across the Continent at large, which has lurched from one Empire to the next, an American-style free press remains a distant dream. Let me fill you in on France’s new speech law  regarding pro-life sentiment. Unthinkable for Americans.

And so the German press, led by what has been a reliable source for many, the FAZ, gave the front page of ist digital edition this weekend to unnamed sources in Berlin claiming the Russians „could“ influence the German elections in September 2017. The release of this story coincided with the statements from the White House. It was a strong tailwind from the German capital, which is home to a Chancellor Brack Obama has referred to as „my closest friend and ally.“

Here’s the original link in German and one in English. It cites „unnamed sources in the Chancellery, the Interior Ministry, and intelligence community“, They claim  Russia is planning „a disinformation campaign“ and possible „cyber attacks on computer infrastructure.“

Timing is Everything

Was the timing of the Berlin announcement coordinated to bolster and   corroborate the unnamed sources in the US intelligence community ? The German report certainly gives added weight to the idea that  Russia is committed to undermining US elections, and western elections in general.

It’s a question that a vigorous and skeptical press must ask.

And does it not, ironically, amount to the German government or its intelligence arms, stepping in and trying to influence the outcome, if not the aftermath, of the US election ?

Either intentionally, or unintentionally ?

As Obama claims Russia sought to influence the election itself, we find Germany in effect weighing in on the side of Obama and the Democrats in this still very messy affair.

It would have served German interests better for these „unnamed sources“ to have remained silent or to have laid out an iron cast proof for their claims.

Otherwise, they are nothing but rumors seeking to serve one of two parties in what is for them, a foreign affair.

The Stakes are too High

If Obama can prove Russia influenced the vote, or simply call the validity of the vote into question, could that tip the scales in the final weeks before Trump’s inauguration for a second vote ? Could the election even be deemed null and void ? The prospect is daunting and horrific. America would be ripped apart by a second election.

So where is Barack Obama going with his charges ?

The stakes are too high not to name the sources.

Do so Mr.President – or remain silent. The same applies to German intelligence officials.

A free people can not see a smooth transition of power jeopardized  by statements that in a court of law would be tossed out as baseless rumors.

And so we must view them.

It’s not a matter of believing the Russians more than our own intelligence services.

It is about demanding a high standard of transparency befitting a country that calls itself „free“.

The Road Ahead : Ari Please Phone Home

Are Obama’s comments paving the way for the smooth transfer of power and an atmosphere of reconciliation?

Hardly.

And as to intelligence reports being used, misused or commissioned to achieve political ends, we have only to recall American journalism’s catastrophic failure in confronting the false claims of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

Years after the error or deception as you see it,  then Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleisher, mockingly called American journalists covering the administration’s outrageous claims, „complicit enablers“ of the unjustified war on Iraq. Their shame hangs heavy upon them still.

 

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis paid for that free pass by the press with their lives. The effects of that ignominious conflict are still being felt today in the form of Islamic State and the migration crisis.

Looking at the evidence on hand at the moment,  my response is the same as when German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fisher confronted US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld just before the Iraq War. The issue in 2003 as now was CIA intelligence reports. My assessment  :

Excuse me, I am not convinced.“

 

 

 

 

 

Green Austro-Knight to the Rescue! Now Merkel must Shore Up the Euro

December 5, 2016

 

 

 

What a difference a season doth make!  From standing at the centre of a new post Brexit alliance  bravely leading New Europe – Angela Merkel is now the Lone Admiral. Gone the sunny weather, the sailing friends. Gone the glow of glories yet to come. Matteo  Renzi is now joining Francois on the lower deck in tourist class. He deserves to. Like David Cameron last summer – he’s lost touch with a majority of those he would serve as captain. The winds are changing. The captains of  Britain, France and Italy didn’t adjust course quickly enough and have paid the price. David. Francois. Now Matteo. Could the doughty Ms.Merkel be next ?

 

 

 

Most probably not 

Unlike the others, Angela Merkel commands an export based economy that continues to grow and create jobs.  The future is good. Berlin is even looking at cutting taxes for the middle class if the CDU is returned to power next year. The migration deal with Turkey is holding up, though always at risk from the Mad King in Ankara. Merkel is unchallenged in her own party. The possible threat from the far-right Alternative for Germany has yet to materialise with the AFD leadership in disarray and the party’s contours still unclear. Merkel’s power is only magnified by the weakness of  Germany’s neighbours as they seek a way out of debt and the limitations it creates – both for citizens and the state.

Meet the New Boss –  Same as the Old Boss 

 

Whether its Marine LePen or Francois Villon  in Paris or Beppe Grillo in Rome, neither will be able to stand up to Angela Merkel on the issues  they so passionately champion. Merkel’s made clear she’ll have no deep deficit spending or  the building of  higher border walls . Grillo wants out of the Euro completely – which will put him at  daggers ends with Angela Merkel. True – he  might not become Italy’s next Prime Minister, but his party will have a big say in the next coalition. Rome needs credit to make up  for the growth austerity failed to deliver. France is even deeper into deficit spending. Both electorates are angry and  want to see action. The irony: Grillo and LePen/Villon will need Merkel to get things done.

Push or Shove 

After Renzi’s failed referendum, European bank regulators are under even more pressure  to grant exemptions to state aid rules. They demand bondholders must share the burden of taxpayer-backed bank rescues.  Eight Italian banks are on the  ropes. In the months ahead – Angela Merkel will be sitting down with new leaders  in Italy and France. Both countries are in debt and at the same time have ailing banks.  The populists and right wingers on their way  to power  know they need Germany to be successful with these and other challenges. It’s a bitter realization.

Cash is King  – Debt is Slavery

 

She might be a tad lonely, but like the dowager queen of Byzantium, she still has plenty of money to spend, while her southern neighbours groan under austerity, high jobless rates and stagnation. Germany can help there, but will it ? German tax payers have credit fatigue. They just got an additional Migrant Crisis Bill of € 2.9 Billion. Total costs for new migrants for 2016 are now at about € 30 Billion. Still cheap compared to the € 40 Billion Italian banks need. But Germans have just been told by the Bundesbank to work longer and get by with less.  The public generosity of the last few years can no longer be guaranteed. Not when Germans fear penury in their Not So Golden Years, with no family to fall back on. Even the German Institute for Population Studies is warning pressure on pensions will fuel political polarisation and radicalization. Ms.Merkel ignores that at her own peril.

 

Moving Francly Along 

 

LePen has already indicated French Freedom means a return to the franc and an exit from the EU.  Villon is a mainstream politician – but at some point he could question  Euro zone membership. Many of us recall how Paris could always devalue against the D-Mark to make governing easier.   Might a Villon in the Elyse do the same?    The temptation could  be too much to resist.  The credit restrictions facing both  Paris and Rome’s new leaders will  make them seek alternatives. Grillo  wants a national currency. Will Villon/LePen follow him? And what about the possibility the Euro could manage an amicable divorce and form a Northern and Southern Euro ? It was a vogue idea  during the height of the  banking crisis.

Enter the Green Knight :  A Signal for a CDU-Green Government ?

It’s one of those delicious  ironies that political connoisseurs savor slowly: Angela Merkel rescued by a Green Knight.  After months of a Chancellery resembling  a funeral parlor for the  wake of old friends, finally some good news. A resurrection in Austria! Hope lives! After many a pundit, including this one,  predicted a Höfer victory in Austria, the turn-around. Or is it? I’d call it a tactical victory in a larger fight.  There are many more to come.  They include  German parliamentary elections in  10 months.  Good relations with Vienna will boost the prospects of a CDU-Green alliance with Merkel at the helm in ’17.It’s working well enough in rich Baden-Würtenburg, although there is a potential rebellion brewing. Socially conservative, educated and well earning  parents (an important Green demographic)   see the Green Party as not being in step. The party base, not the leadership, have reacted by jettisoning the flambouyent if undiscerning Volker Beck, a gay politician whose appeal faded after a meth bust (that was never prosecuted)  and some amateur comments that shout “Deep Disconnect”.  The  Green’s instincts for power, at least at the base, are still healthy.

The Euro and Elections 2017 :  Their Fate is Intertwined

Austria’s Green Knight can not save Angela Merkel from the storm brewing in the South. And  not just in  Italy.  Greece is volatile as well. But Alexander van der Bellen can help Angela Merkel as she calls for fiscal discipline in the Euro zone. And he can present an Austrian fig leave as well, should she move to further tighten migration controls and begin significant deportations of those not eligible for  asylum. Simply by doing that, the shine of  Van der Bellen’s armour might be enough to help  light the way to her fourth term in the Chancellery.

 

 

Sunday’s Vote in Austria and Italy : The Next Banking Crisis and What the EU must do Monday Morning

December 3, 2016

It’s about to get lonely on the EU Bridge for Angela Merkel 

The „No“ camp will succeed in the Italian referendum on Sunday, which will mean the end or near end of Matteo Renzi and new political pressures from his leftist nemesis Beppe Grillo to restructure Rome’s debt deal. Grillo’s looking long-term. If you go to his blog, he’s has an entry on the need to prepare now for civilization’s collapse. I wouldn’t go quite that far. Not quite yet anyway.

As many as eight Italian banks will though be teetering Monday morning and thousands of worried citizens could start pulling out their cash and wondering if their private pensions and savings accounts are safe as well. What kind of banks are we talking about ?

The world’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, along with Popolare di Vicenza, Veneto Banca, Carige, Banca Etruria, CariChieti, Banca delle Marche, and CariFerrara could all end up without enough capital funding if customers and shareholders sense weakness.

Italy’s banks could require an infusion of € 40 Billion after the „No“ Vote. That’s not exactly a new boost of confidence in the Euro zone for German tax payers. Formerly  unassailable Deutsche Bank  will be hit by the referendum. It has a web of Italian exposure and has already lost half its value this year.  The threat of contagion to German banks will further undermine faith in the Euro zone and further European integration among German voters. And that means more pressure for the beleaguered Ms.Merkel. Her ally Francois Hollande is on the way out, the nationalist Francois Villon could be on his way in.

Enter Norbert Höfer and “Austria First”

Across the border in Austria, voters are also going to the polls and my political instincts tell me there will be a victory for the far-right’s FPÖ under  Norbert Höfer by a small margin. Any larger margin will mean the forces of deglobalisation are gathering strength  much faster than thought. He’s been described in the British press as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and his election would be the first time a far-right  politician has risen to power in Austria  – since – well ahem – you know when. Höfer bristles at being called an “extremist” with his views on de-Islamization,  deportations, border walls, and “Austria First”. Ironically, it’s Austria’s Serbian minority that looks set to tip the  vote’s balance in Höfer’s favour. Another “global aspect of deglobalisation.”

A “No” to  Renzi, a “Yes” to Höfer and a Yawn in Berlin 

Ms.Merkel will understandably play down the results. She’ll give  Höfer the Trump Reception and call him at the netherworld ends of diplomatic acceptability. She just lost the loathed  Monsieur Holland in Paris,  she’s not communicating well  with Theresa May, ex-pal Vladimir’s not feeling the love and Donald is cutting bait in a new way.

The  Charles  De Gaulle  sails into the Sunset 

It was just August when the New Big Three announced a New Europe. On a sunny day in the Mediterranean , Matteo and Hollande who stood shoulder to should with Angela Merkel on  France’s only air craft carrier the Charles De Gaulle, pledging to be the New Trio that would lead Europe into a brighter post-Brexit  future. They laid a wreath at the tomb of  Altiero Spinelli, communist who was an early backer of the European Project.  It wasn’t a reassuring spectacle at the time for the small and medium business owners in the three countries. They will be among those thrilled that Hollande is gone, and  the Renzit  will be a reality or close to it.  Where does that leave Germany?  The Charles De Gaulle has just sailed away.

Battleship Austria has sailed in to take its place.

Even if Höfer fails to win (which I doubt) the Right is ascendant across Europe. And it wants to gut the EU.  The Post-Maastricht EU is in real danger of falling apart not only from the Brexit and votes like the one today, but there is massive pressure for a Nexit and a Frexit as well. This will be accelerated by the next banking crisis which is waiting in the wings. To “reduce the shrinkage” –  Brussels and Berlin must act now, and decisively to shore up the gains of the last fifty years.

The EU’S  Reform Summit : Now Before it’s too Late

Angela Merkel should announce a major EU Reform Summit while she still has the currency to do so. To restore public trust and gain good will, she should announce this is being done in  response to shifting public attitudes towards deeper integration, which has  already called into question by the German President. The summit can take place in the Spring and have two goals  1.) a return to pre-Maastricht Europe 2.) securing external borders and restoring Schengen.   Europe has overreached.  She does not have the resources, will nor cohesion to successfully manage the challenges we’re confronting from the rise of Russia and China to collapsing economies in the MENA region and the threat of radical Islam. We can find new strength in decentralisation and secure borders. This is not a step back. It is a way to protect past gains and future prospects.final-brian-shooting-2016-08-30-052