Posts Tagged ‘debate’

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!

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

January 12, 2017

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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

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© 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.

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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.

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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!

Terror Shaken Germans Look For Leadership and Get a”Nafri” Debate

January 3, 2017

Anis Amri was A North African

Twelve families have been holding funerals and burying their dead from the Christmas Market truck attack just a few streets away from me in Berlin. Among them this young and vibrant woman from Italy. When I look at Fabrizia’s face, there is something so familiar. So alive. So aware. She reminds us, smiling somewhat shyly, we could have been among the dead. Or that she could have been our daughter, our sister, our wife, our friend. The victims are all too often forgotten. We need to stop doing that. We need to look at their faces. Again and again and again.

The man who killed her was, according to police, a North African. German media are still ablaze with questions about how they failed to arrest him before he killed and maimed so many innocents. Anis Amri was a rejected asylum seeker from Tunisia and had migrated to Italy and then to Germany. He was even under police surveillance, as are dozens of other North African men, as a terrorist threat.

Forgetting the Victims of New Year’s 2016

Instead of clear answers and a rigorous policy debate about the heightened threat we are all facing from radicalized Islamists like Amri, Germans are being treated to a fake news debate about police in Cologne using inappropriate language.

They have referred to young men from North Africa like Anis Amri as „Nafris.“ The Greens are up in arms.

The debate began in Cologne, where North African gangs ran rampant one year ago. It was sparked by an offended Green politician, upset that police used the designation „Nafri.“

It’s short for „North African.“ German officialdom is prey to neologisms, and this one refers to culprits, mainly from that region, who individually and en masse assaulted, robbed, groped, and even raped, hundreds of women last year in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

Cologne was not alone

A similar catastrophe befell female partygoers in other Geman cities, including Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin and Munich, as well. No other metropolis though saw the sheer level of depredation that Cologne did. We still have no comprehensive number, nor do we have a nationwide assessment of what happened that night one year later. That, not an inappropriate use of language, is the true national scandal. That is the true outrage. And that is the background to both the neologism and its use by police.

Who’s being insensitive here?

If this neologism is insensitive, so too is the failure by politicians and the media to acknowledge the role North African men had in the assaults of New Year Even 2016.

It is insensitive to the women of Cologne who were injured, robbed, assaulted and raped.

It is insensitive to their families and friends who have suffered with them, and continue to do so.

It is insensitive to the officers that night, who lacking support from their superiors, risked their own safety to help the victims and were injured in the process.

It is insensitive to the emergency teams, overwhelmed by the level of violence and the number of victims.

It is an insensitivity that, at this hour, is misplaced and mocks the suffering of so many not only in Cologne.

Here in Berlin, our thoughts are still very much with the victims of the murderous attack carried out by a North African.

The North African Jihadist Network?

A possible network of jihadist supporters is being investigated right now. Could it extend all the way to the large North African community in Cologne? Is there a connection between the criminality we saw in Cologne and the radicalization of North Africans? It appears there is. Amri spent four years in prison on charges like assault and arson before he murdered a dozen people in Berlin.

„Nafri“ – The Smokescreen

The debate about „sensitive language“ is a smoke screen to protect grave Green policy mistakes and is little more than pandering to the base. It needs to be called out as such. But far worse, it keeps us from rigorously discussing the Islamist and criminal threat we are facing from North African men who are here with no chance of asylum and who have yet to leave voluntarily or be deported. These individuals are a drain on our public coffers, and the worst of them are a threat to public safety and even our lives.

These are unpleasant facts. The debate will be difficult. It is overdue.

The Chancellor indicated she understood this in her New Year’s address, but there is still a widespread lack of determination to confront political Islam and the criminal world that harbors and feeds it.

Denying the facts and posing on some imagined moral high ground with issues of linguistic nuance amounts to cowardice in the face of the enemy. If you doubt we are facing a committed and implacable enemy, come with me to the sidewalk in Berlin where they still haven’t managed to scrub away the blood.

The Wrong Message

This contrived debate belongs to another era. It reeks of the 80’s. The Greens will discover that at the ballot box soon enough. The Free Democrats had a similar disconnect with the public five years ago and are hoping to return from their wanderings in the wilderness. They’ve learned their lesson – security is their new holy grail. The Greens will look back at this moment in befuddlement and wonder why voters worried about their physical safety abandoned them en masse them for the CSU, FDP and the AFD.

Cologne’s police chief has performed the expected ritual abasement and apologized for the term. He shouldn’t have. It sends the wrong message and removes the focus from the true victims. And it undermines the work being done by the police in Cologne.

And what about the North African jihadists and common criminals the police are trying to protect us from? They will see this disingenuous debate as yet another sign of our lack of unity in confronting them. It will serve to embolden them.

We must start the debate now as to how to return all North Africans with no legal right to be here to their home communities as humanely and as quickly as possible. The debate may have already started. Anything less is too grave a risk to all of us, including those who come here as our guests – like Fabrizia.

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