Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Taming of the Trump: NATO largely accomplished, domestic policy in progress

A couple of things first: Many a book and many analyses by experts and insiders much smarter than the blogster, much better connected than it*, will be written about the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. The blogster has time on its tiny hands, so it continues to blab.

The blogster is not interested in the person of Mr. Trump, a spoiled frat boy splashing around in the shallow pool of celebrity but in the mechanisms that make this presidency different from others.

The single most important aspect fascinating the blogster is what it has called "The Taming of the Trump", the ways and means to reign him in and make him conform to whatever standards the blogster believes it has recognized over time.

The "taming" of a president is nothing really new. It is just not called that. It is generally coached into a version of "the demands of the office", or "the realities of leadership", or similar.

Make no mistake, the Republicans so very opposed to Donald Trump are mostly not opposed to his policy plans - with the Russian relationship being the big exception - but to his style or lack thereof.

As the then outgoing president Obama said only last year: politics is also theater. And that's where Mr. Trump has upset so many Americans and people around the world.

Sure, Trump has attacked and offended women, Muslims, Mexicans and others, but make no mistake: it is the way he did it, the openness that made his fellow politicians cringe and run for cover.

There is no conceptual difference in Trump's famous period reference in the first attack on then Fox host Megyn Kelly and the concerns for the health of women cited as reasons for anti-abortion bills.

In fact - as we saw then and as we are seeing during the Women's March and the sit-ins at various airports going on right now - the rambunctious wild assertions coupled with typos on Twitter guarantee ripostes.

Compare any speech of Trump to any of Obama's, for example, their first speeches at the CIA. Both stand in front of the wall, the ritual place to commemorate "heroes". Obama talks values and democracy and valor - Trump talks crowd size and everything is "great".

The Obama administration talks "allies" and "support", Trump talks "American First" and "friends".

The actual difference?


Obama talks about defeating ISIS by strengthening allies and military advisors - Trump talks of bombing the hell out of ISIS.

The difference?

One is smooth, the other uncouth.

Trump calls NATO 'obsolete' and hands European militarists a wonderful argument for more spending. Leading NATO commanders have acknowledged that Russia can not fight a sustained conventional war, so where is the danger? Ukraine, of course, without any regard for history.

The truth is more complicated. Pressure on Russia used to work extremely well for over a decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The West sent in its carpetbeggars, worked with new Russian oligarchs, who may well have saved Trump's business empire from final collapse.

NATO needs the Russian threat to justify its existence although the true reason for its continued existence really is not Russia anymore but the Middle East and Africa.

And Trump has been tamed in this area. A combination of true and made up Russian hacking plus the interests of the ruling Europeans and the military industrial complex have brought Trump around to proclaiming the 'fundamental role' of NATO.

Reporting of this milestone on 28/29 January in the national German news was truly Soviet style: every single outlet ran the same headline. As if on cue, the German defense ministry has plans to buy six C130 transport planes from the U.S.

Domestically, the picture is a little more complicated because the U.S. elites are more fragmented on domestic policy than they are on international/foreign policy issues. While pulling Democrats and Republicans together on the Russian bogeyman was easy, U.S. domestic differences mean that the public, the people, play a bigger role.

The Trump administration itself comprises a variety of elements, anti-Semitic Zionists, anti-Muslim elements, anti-environment, anti-public schools, etc.

This creates some weird alliances, for example, unapologetic torture supporter Dick Cheney coming out against the "Muslim ban".

The blogster won't make any predictions regarding the success or failure of the domestic aspect of "the taming of the Trump". Up until now, the Democrats in the Senate have shown a remarkable absence of backbone in their votes on cabinet nominees.

The world is complicated and not very predictable, the election win of Trump being a good example. So, it remains to be seen if the remaining rapprochement with Russia will evaporate or be blown up. And it remains to be seen if a domestic opposition will form and be successful.

[Update 3/4/2017] February 28 marked the day of the greatest success of the enterprise the blogster called The Taming of the Trump. Yes, it was a shameless cheap reference to Shakespeare, but it meant something: politics is as much theater as any play by the bard.
The speech was just that.
And it worked. The traditional lego blocks of political discourse were called "presidential", yet another shameless exploitation of the grief of a fallen soldier set the tone.
Even the German press threw around the label of "presidential", though most German journalists don't seem to know the U.S. as well as they are paid to portray it.

Be that as it may, The Taming of the Trump now goes into its next act.

* Gender neutral, just because.

Friday, January 27, 2017

European militarism hides behind supposed Trump "isolationism"

The blogster waited several weeks to see how European public discourse, aka. the main media narrative, would settle around the outlook for Europe.

The findings, in short: advocates of European military expansion are having a blast.

As a candidate for president, Donald Trump's statement that NATO was obsolete set off a flurry of  NATO propaganda along two lines: imploring the candidates to back NATO and calling for more European military spending. The political figurehead of NATO, the Secretary General, was a busy man in the final months of 2016.

The blogster only commented in a couple of tweets, one of which said "O ye of little faith in the military industrial complex", another reading "The taming of the Trump (foreign policy only)".

It was simply inconceivable that schmoozing up to Russia and ditching NATO would be the new president's actual policy. This is a very strong statement, but it is based on experience. The blogster has an envelope full of commendations* to prove it.

Mr. Trump's nominations for several security posts confirmed the blogster's expectations. By now, the world even has a statement by the man himself that he fully backs NATO.

With NATO backing confirmed, a naive observer might have expected the calls for more European military spending to subside.

That's not how it works, of course, despite the main alleged reason for the increase gone. The German mainstream media, to the last reporter typing, simply changed tack to invoke a wider American "isolationism", derived from the catchy "America First" inauguration slogan.

Prior to the inauguration, they worked with "populism" and "nationalism", which have mostly been relegated to smaller publications by now, for example the journalism blog.

Using the concept "isolationism" is better suited to the agenda of European militarism because it is less well defined, requiring fewer facts. No one in the main European media bothers much to explain how "isolationism" is expressed by a country that has more than 700 military bases around the globe and continues to bomb six or seven countries without interruption as the government changes in Washington.

The apparent ease of changing the arguments for increased military buildup in Europe may well be part of a simple calculation: the validity of individual arguments does not matter any longer because the direction was established years ago.

The blogster wrote a fairly harsh assessment in the post German 2016 Munich Security Conference coverage like early 80s Soviet papers.

What still stands in the way of an unbridled European war machine is, of course, German history. But they are working on that.

The German government is also taking measures to boost recruitment.

* A commendation is kind of fancy military thank you letter.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Women's reproductive health: you can not out-crazy the crazies

From our I really miss George Carlin series.

Conservative American lawmakers regularly come up with wonderful laws to protect the rights of individuals and in particular with laws designed to put the health of women first. Well, first-ish because the rights of an unborn child trump those of the mother, but that's also for the best of the mother, so first-ish it is.

A couple of proposals will do:
Indiana House Bill 1210 required doctors to lie to women about abortion causing breast cancer despite medical evidence to the contrary in order to discourage women from having abortions. This was before the "post-truth era" officially started.
Texas Bill HB 15, called the Sonogram Bill, mandated a sonogram before abortion. Planned Parenthood described it like this: While a woman can opt-out of seeing the sonogram image and hearing the heart tone, she cannot opt-out of a medically unnecessary sonogram, nor can she opt-out of the fetal description except within very narrow parameters for situations of rape, incest, judicial bypasses, and fetal anomalies.

It is not that women have not fought back with pointed proposals beyond scientific arguments or a filibuster or two.

It is just that you don't hear about it.

For example, according to this web page, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner introduced SB 307, which requires men to visit a sex therapist, undergo a cardiac stress test, and get their sexual partner to sign a notarized affidavit confirming impotency in order to get a prescription for Viagra.

The blogster considers this a very reasonable bill, obviously designed to help men, while at the same time ensuring that any Viagra prescription won't end up on the black market if the beneficiary partner knows what's up. 

The intractable problem with trying to out-crazy the crazies in this manner is quite simply that US Democrats are not crazy enough to do it with the bible thumping relentlessness and outright authoritarianism the GOP has sustained for decades.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Trump administration: the return of the carpetbeggars

Note: No, this post is not about the oft quoted bromance of Mssrs. Trump and Putin. Nor is it about spying, hacking, or leaking of substances from paper to mystery liquid. It is simply about money, lots of it.

The point about Trump and Russia is money, as Time reported in August 2016 and others have since: But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him [Trump] money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions.

What this article as well as news about the dealings of his advisers, including Manafort's adventures in Ukraine, fail to address is that decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, the 2000s, created a carpetbeggar's paradise in Eurasia.

The term carpetbeggar comes from the era following the U.S. civil war when many Northerners took to the South and when the Southern elites scrambled to save their fortunes. Wikipedia explains Although the stated purpose of these initiatives was to empower freedmen politically and economically, many carpetbaggers were businessmen who purchased or leased plantations and became wealthy landowners, hiring freedmen and white Southerners to do the labor through the development of sharecropping. Within a year of Andrew Johnson's presidency, however, whatever was left of the South's white elite had been restored to power, with those whom had avoided bankruptcy regaining farmland or reestablishing businesses.

Sounds like bringing democracy and freedom to the former Soviet Union and creating lots of oligarchs, doesn't it?

There are indeed major similarities to what happened in the former Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries, except that the stakes were even higher, and the riches mindboggling:
Russia’s descent into gangster capitalism began in the early 1990s when Russian market reformers attempted to introduce capitalism in one fell swoop—on the advice of Western advisors, particularly Harvard University “shock therapist,” Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his capitalist provocateurs at the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID). 

Sachs’ reforms gave the “New Russian” entrepreneurs their freedom, to be sure. But instead of investments rationalizing the economy along capitalist lines, Russia’s new bourgeoisie just plunged into a hellish free-for-all of “grabification”—a brutal struggle to steal everything they could get their hands on. They plundered the nation’s wealth of natural resources, sold state-owned gold, diamonds, oil, gas, Siberian forests, even plutonium, and unloaded them on the West to amass their private fortunes. And, as we’ve seen in the money-laundering scandals of late, they also privatized billions of dollars of western aid.

Instead of "Northerners" in the post 1990s, read Westerners and returning exilees, for  "Southerners" read Russians, and you are pretty close.

Russian and other former Soviet Union country oligarchs have shown a tendency to move large amounts of money abroad, into countries like Britain, Switzerland, the U.S., and Panama. Being in real estate in some of the more corrupt countries in the world, see this map, makes it very likely that playing by the local rules involves practices one would not condone at home.

While many of the reports on dealings regrading the new carpetbeggars have involved Republicans or Republican leaning business people, the GOP does not have an exclusive.
When the son of former vice president Biden took a high profile position with a Ukrainian gas company, some observers wondered about the purpose of this arrangement.

There is still some carpetbegging to be done right at home in the United States, and the GOP has been on it for decades.

The effort comes labeled as "states rights", "better land management", and variants that include job creation or energy independence.

It involves the transfer of federally managed land to states or local communities to open up mining and oil drilling and other ventures. A recent change in federal rules making such transfers easier shows the direction in which the country is heading.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Election year Germany: GPS ankle bracelets for a phantom menace

Time for a quick German lesson. In the context of terrorism, the German media are going on and on about "Gefährder", people who are a potential threat to public safety.

There is no legal definition of the term. The closest verbiage that describes what it means is in the law on the German Federal Criminal Police (the BKA). Section 20 authorizes the BKA to collect information on people if there are "facts that justify the assumption" the person might commit an act of domestic terrorism. 

"Known to law enforcement", persons who fit definition can not be arrested, detained, or put to trial because there is no hard evidence.

Because of this vagueness, Germany's constitutional court declared the section 20 definition unconstitutional.

With the Berlin truck assault suspect classified as a "potential threat" and national elections coming later in 2017, German government ministers and the ever squabbling Bavarian conservative CSU are outdoing each other in calling for new anti-terror measures.

One of their favorites is the use of ankle bracelets for persons deemed a potential threat to public security, i.e. the people on the BKA's list of potential threats.

The ever handy "sources and methods" excuse for rejecting freedom off information requests ensures that getting on this list seems to be about as transparent as getting on the no-fly list.

As to numbers: out of the about 550 persons on the list, "many" are not currently in Germany, and some 80 are currently incarcerated.

The allure of ankle bracelets for the remaining 200 or so may well prove irresistible to the German government.

German media discover hillbilly tech: hot water to remove ice from windshield

The blogster's household members consider themselves hillbillies in both the real sense of Ozark dwellers and the tongue in cheek sense. In the days of "fake news", the blogster briefly thought about disambiguating tongue in cheek. Just go by the dictionary definition, please.

As steadfast hillbillies, we was [sic] pleased to see a major German newspaper dedicate a column to the hot take of the winter: Is it a good idea to defrost a windshield with hot water?

In defense of German quality journalism, the blogster would like to praise the article. Rarely has it* seen a better researched and focuses example of journalistic writing.

The author clearly describes the context ("after a frosty night"), he links to the more standard removal technique using a scraper. The best information, though, is the link to the German triple A version ADAC -- the link brings up a Doener/Kebab party rental service. To the hillbilly blogster, this link represents an almost spiritual Freudian link, given that the ADAC has been at the center of scandals of epic proportions without any regulatory consequences.**

After the standard techniques, including chemicals ("cost money") and a big warning by the auto club regarding potential problems with different expansion of the layers of the windshield, the author goes high tech and searches Youtube for a fail video.

Not finding any, he finishes off the subject with the common sense tip to use lukewarm water instead of hot water.

Which is exactly what we mean when we talk about hillbilly tech. We (the parents, actually) used this procedure back in the Ozarks decades ago.


Which is the true definition off hillbilly tech: simple, wacky looks, and works!

* We goes gender neutral here at ye olde K-Landnews.
** The blogster twitted @zeitlonline before the post was done. So, the link may be gone, but we give you a screenshot:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

They called him "Institution M.": Germany's most famous former undercover spook has a website

Note: Institution M. apparently was a nickname given to Mr. Mauss by German officials during his several decade long work as the favorite off the books agent for several German governments and the German Federales.

A couple of the many aliases used by Mr. Mauss showed up on a  CD of foreign account holders in the tiny country of Liechtenstein, bought - ironically undercover - by the German state of North Rhine Westphalia several years ago.  

Mr. Mauss' defense in the trial in September 2016 was that the money was legitimate and was serving humanitarian causes.

Brushing off this statement as a lame excuse by a tax dodger was easy, but in yet another twist in the life of a man who would give Jimmy 007 Bond a run for his money, former minister of the German Chancellery Mr. Schmidbauer (CDU) confirmed the existence of a secret fund used by Mr. Mauss to finance his operations.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mr. Mauss officially no longer worked for the German government, although the minister acknowledges unspecified subsequent "cooperation". Mauss claims that the money in dispute over unpaid taxes is in fact this secret fund.

Would you like another twist?

According to Mr. Schmidbauer, the fund was called "international reserve". Not only was it not controlled by the German government, the money in the fund came from a number of different governments, including the U.S. government.

Mr. Mauss, now 77 years old, continues to defend himself saying "I have always fought crime", there is nothing illegal about the funds.

Compared to Mr. Mauss, Bond comes across as a trigger-happy drunk, a very bad driver who has crashed countless cars.

And unlike the dandy, Mr. Mauss has a website here, where you can find fascinating information:  All operations carried out worldwide over several decades, in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East, have always been effected in cooperation with German governmental agencies and authorities, under their direction, and with their full collaboration.

If you would like to find out more about our lives, please read on.

Even the L.A. Times acknowledged his humanitarian work when it reported on Mr. Mauss problems in Colombia: The German private investigator is known to some as a humanitarian who helps free foreign executives kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas. But police allege he is really a party to the plots.

He was fully exonerated by the Colombian authorities, and he managed single-handedly to get peace negotiations started between the Colombian government and the ELN guerrillas.

There have been a couple of German documentaries about Mr. Mauss, but one thing is for sure: if he had been American or British, you would all know his name from a Hollywood blockbuster.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The benefit of the Fake News debate: a temporary disruption in the pundit bullshit continuum

The blogster is both happy and exasperated about the recent 'fake news' debate, mostly happy though, because it caused "a temporary disruption in the pundit bullshit continuum".

How and why?

For all intents and purposes, the term "fake news" behaved like all buzzwords. Which means, someone with clout - this time the president of the United States himself - used it, and everybody pounced on it. Buzzwords come in many forms and with varying degrees of misdirection, dishonesty or vapidity. Some are political, like the infamous "death tax" for inheritance tax, others are consumerist, like "metrosexual", yet others are vaguely technical, such as "cyber", some starkly euphemistic, for example "kinetic" as a replacement for "killing people with guns or missiles". 

Most buzzwords involve some explaining while they spread through public discourse. Providing an explanation of the meaning may be necessary or not, but it is done even if there is not much need to do it. Another one hundred words of effortless copy in a column or comment section is hard to resist, as is showing the author understands his or her subject matter. Many buzzwords go away at some point, some are resurrected briefly a decade or more after falling out of use, such as the term "super predator" from the tough on crime 1980s/90s. which made an appearance in the US presidential elections in 2016.

Fake news is more interesting than most because it exploded into public discourse and caused intense fights over its meaning.

The combination of speed and not fully defined and accepted meaning makes "fake news" special.

To some, "fake news" describes completely made up publications like TheOnion, America's Finest News Source, or Der Postillion in Germany. The initial focus in the U.S. and much of Europe were sites that featured completely made up news that were - unlike the Onion - not easily recognized as fake and were blamed as influencing, or trying to influence, the US election.

Almost immediately, the definition "a site of completely made up articles" saw so-called "propaganda sites" included (one frequently mentioned site was Russian Sputnik News). Given that Sputnik and others have been accused of being nothing but purveyors of false news and narratives, it is easy to see that labeling them "fake news" requires no effort.

"Fake news" describes largely political reporting, thus having much higher stakes than, say "metrosexual".

Even better, calling something "fake news" allows us to dismiss a whole publication, eliminating any need to evaluate articles. While the terms "propaganda" or "lies" are often used in the same manner, calling something propaganda or a lie still implies some degree of evaluation and debunking, "fake news" does away with this - however superficial - requirement.

From here, it is yet another small step to call individual articles in mainstream media "fake news" if they contain factual errors or conclusions you cannot substantiate or simply disagree with.

And so it happend, as this and other Twitter users state:
17h17 hours ago

Really striking how fast "fake news" -- a phrase that initially had specific meaning -- has come to mean "anything with which I disagree."

The blogster has seen numerous examples of this in the wild, for example one blogger calling all the reporting on the Snowden documents "fake news".

"Fake news" is also being used as a slightly less offensive replacement for "conspiracy theorists".

A great example of this is an article on Breibart News in the German mainstream conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ). With respect to the "Free Syrian Army" [FSA], FAZ says: Outside of extreme right wing or "fake news" sites, they [FSA] are seen as relatively moderate Syrian rebels....

With 'fake news' now a catch all for anything you might dislike, it became even more toxic when hate speech was introduced into the already badly defined term.
We have talked about this in the earlier post German government opens pathway to internet censorship: lumping together Fake News and hate speech.

For a more philosophically polished discussion of the role of technology, The Guardian has an article Moral panic over fake news hides the real enemy – the digital giants.

Monday, January 2, 2017

German New Year's Eve: a blown up garden gnome & an almost all Middle Eastern event security crew

The blogster noticed it some time ago but didn't feel like mentioning it: lots of Middle Eastern males doing event security in Germany.

While noticeable, it didn't seem eventful until pretty recently.

Back in the costal U.S., event crews are a mixed bunch anyway, consisting of people of all shapes, sizes, ethnic backgrounds, and gender.  Over here, you still find 99% white at small local events, but once you get into the cities and the airports, the folks who work as security guards for a living are more of the almost stereotypical mix of minimum wage workers.

In this regard, New Year's Eve (NYE) 2016 in the city was a blast. Venturing out of the mountain compound into the big city on NYE makes for some of the easiest driving you will ever have in Germany. If there is no snow or ice - which there was not this year.

The country roads are deserted, the freeways have traffic so sparse that you can even use the high beams. With a stereotypically sober blogster driving, early champagne en route was part of the entertainment offered in the vehicle.

The city public transport agency was proudly running buses and trains all night.

But in typical German fashion, nobody published the schedules and the routes in an easy to find location on that German internet thing.

So, the blogster ventured downtown with the vehicle. The few other cars out there drove so cautiously, you could have thought you are in Utah. Finding parking was so easy that a confused blogster scouted the vicinity of the parking area for some well-hidden but rigorously enforced signs that forbade parking on NYE. 

On a normal night, the sight of a pedestrian shining a flashlight up and down the street could well have alarmed German residents. But they were either already out celebrating or tipsy at home.

With parking done, we made our way on foot into the depth of a German inner city, into the heart of the pedestrian zone.

Bars and restaurants along the way were filled with German couples and groups of people dining and drinking. Groups of people were crisscrossing the pedestrian zone, and a bored traffic warden was happy to explain how to get to the main event on a downtown square: turn left, follow the street, and in about 300 meters, you'll see the security fence and lots of people.

And he was right.

Standing in a short, kind of clustery line, the blogster looked at the security folks. All of them Middle Eastern, likely the children of Turkish immigrants.  The website had announced that no fireworks were allowed in the square, and that visitors would be checked for fireworks.

Yes, you read that right: fireworks.

No mention of guns, knives, glass bottles.

Males got a pat down. Women's purses were inspected.

That was it.

The blogster, of course, started to wonder: Are any of the Germans going through Middle Eastern security voters of the "populist right" AfD? Or even closet neo-Nazis? How much outrage could one generate with a photo of an all Middle Eastern security crew patting down middle aged or elderly Germans who just want to get into a German square and celebrate a German New Year's Eve?

But everybody was nice. Just nice.

The only harsher sounding words were between the Middle Eastern crew chief and one of the Middle Eastern patters downers in a language the blogster did not understand.

Once inside, there was music, there was fun, there was dancing - under the artificial lights.

The music on offer consisted of some really old German hits and lots of American music. Which the band obviously preferred because their energy level went way up when they launched into, say, a super long rendition of Sweet Home Alabama.

Shortly before midnight, we ventured out of the safe space to a park where fireworks would be happening. By then, attempting a conversation with a few of the security guards had shown that several didn't speak German, so, yes, they were probably recent refugees from Syria, Iraq, or somewhere near there. One woman seems to have been a native.

There were a couple of thousand or so people in the park, and they were packing all sorts of fireworks in quantities that would drive officials in American fireworks-free zones crazy.

Continuing with some brazen racial profiling, the blogster determined there were dozens of nationalities there. Some with booze, some without. But most with fireworks or at least sparklers for the not so noisy ones.

The first rockets started going up about twenty to midnight. And around midnight: pandemonium, smoke, and laughter.

Not s single policeman, no city workers.

Just several thousand people setting off explosives and having fun.

A group of head scarf wearing middle aged women was experimenting with small firecrackers, and they had so much fun that the blogster stopped and watched a bit.

The quality of the fireworks is not far from professional, at least as good as the official Irish Paddy's Day ones - sorry Dublin.

Fast forward a day to the gnome.

The gnome is in a small German village up in our hills. It was a small terracotta statue in someone's front yard, with a small body and a huge head. The head was shattered into small pieces, the trunk lay on its side.

Quick on-the-spot forensics revealed the presence of "big bang" cardboard wrapper pieces.

There are no refugees in that village.