Friday, August 11, 2017

German national elections in September - blink and you miss the campaign

So, there will be national elections in Germany in about six weeks, and the blogster almost missed the official start of the campaign season.

Exciting German campaigns tend to be extremely boring by American standards. No billion dollar extravaganzas spread out over more than a year, no competing lawn signs, no "honk for whatever".

And the current one is not even exciting by German standards.

Only orderly campaign posters in standard sizes fastened to light poles and trees with zip ties. To be recycled later.

The height off the posters off the ground varies with the height of the volunteers on the pickup trucks that slowly work their ways through towns and cities.

It also seems to depend on the attractiveness of a party to vandals.

Which means that the populist right AfD tends to go higher than the traditional mainstream Christian Democrats or Social Democrats.

None of the much dreaded Russian election interference has materialized either. Imagine that.

Even the Russians don't care.

Polls have the Christian Democrats of chancellor Merkel in an unbeatable lead, the second largest Social Democrats in the same pitiful spot somewhere below 30% that has been their home ever since the great disappointment of the turn of the century, when the supposedly social party took the chainsaw to several social security programs.

"Free market liberals", populist right, Greens, and the Left party fight over what remains of the voting share.

The populist right AfD had its day in the sun in last year's state elections and has been heading downhill when migrant numbers dropped and the country did not become Muslim within a few weeks.

The Social Democrats enjoyed a brief honeymoon with voters when they brought Mr. Schulz in from his cozy European job to tackle the seemingly immovable Ms. Merkel.

It didn't work.

The initial appeal to social justice and the aim to undo some of the "reforms" to the social system were quietly put on the back burner in favor of a half hearted attempt to copy Ms. Merkel's "We made Germany great" style non-campaign.

Calls for a quota for electric cars has replaced it.

So, yes.

Wake me when it is over.

In time for the asteroid the size of a house in October.

[Update 8/13/2017] Even the Germans are bored by this campaign and are now debating - yes - why the campaign is so boring.

And the up and coming Christian Democrat poster boy makes headlines by complaining about wait staff speaking English in Berlin cafes.

[Update 8/20/2017] The blogster was wondering if the main parties would even bother to put up campaign posters this year.


About four weeks before the vote, campaign posters are up.

By the side of the freeway, we saw one by the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) right next to one by the Social Democrats (SPD).

The CDU one shows a young man, safety goggles on, leaning forward over a workbench, measuring a long piece of wood he is working on.
The one word you need to remember of the bland slogan? "Arbeit" (work).

The SPD poster shows a young man sitting on a bench next to a small anthropomorphic robot. You know the type, big child like head, big eyes.
The one word you need to remember of the bland slogan? "Denker" (thinkers).

The meticulous hard working male, with protected eyes and not quite dirty hands versus the laid back thinker/tinkerer male.

No contest: Even the thinkers/tinkerers will vote for the guy with wood.

And the headshots of political leaders are dating site or LinkedIn quality, taking at least 10 to 15 years off of the faces, in the best tradition of venerating the powerful.

[Update 9/7/2017] Finally, a good vote hacking scare! A Zeit online article today says German elections can be manipulated. The article describes how a computer science student found that the software used to transmit results of the manual vote count of paper ballots to a state election board can indeed be easily hacked.

Again, this is a piece of software which simply sends vote tallies to the state commission.

The software has been around for 30 years with the flaws reported today.

Nobody has every certified the code, nor has the proprietary source code been checked by experts. A German court rejected a suit some years ago, simply saying that use of the software by a state election commission meant the software was fine.

The known issues of tampering with votes have all occurred in the manual counting after polling stations closed. Human error or, yes, outright collusion of polling workers appear to be the main threats to the integrity of the vote.

Oh, and the Russians?

They obviously either missed their 30 year long window.

Or don't care.

Maybe they achieved their ultimate goal: show German politicians their elections were not worth hacking.

[Update 9/16/2017] The German authorities knew of the reporting software flaws, ZEIT online and others reported today. Isn't it nice to have a country that uses paper ballots and keeps them for later recount?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Goodbye merit, hello inherit - how crime pays extremely well

The other day, German Zeit published a long article about the ongoing massive wealth transfer through inheritance in German society, currently standing at some 400 billion Euros annually, and growing.

The piece described how inter generational inequality has been on the rise in the country, and how politics is actively promoting this detrimental development through extremely advantageous wealth transfer rules with low or next to no taxes, if done right.

One short line in the article said some people turned to crime to keep up with the Muellers.

The authors meant "regular" crime, missing out on the the vast swath of hidden, yet extremely remunerative crime tied to the act of inheritance itself.

Over the years, the blogster has heard many stories in our picturesque neck of the woods about illicit or outright illegal inheritance schemes by close family or other people.

It* has come to the conclusion that snatching an inheritance, or part of one, is the most under reported and most profitable crime average Germans engage in.

Chances of getting caught appear pretty much zero. Probably on par with money laundering.

Even if a whole town knows.

All you need to have a shot at getting wealthy is a brief hand written note that says an estate shall be yours. Dated, and with some sort of semblance of a signature, and you are in business.

A photocopy is sufficient. So, if you collect a few hand writing samples from the dear relative and invest in Photoshop, you can earn what amounts to an hourly rate of thousands of dollars.

Contest, you said?

German law favors the piece of paper to a degree that creates hurdles most people who are defrauded can not overcome, as long as that paper is more recent than any you may have.

Their paper even beats a nice notarized one you may have been sent from the court because it was kept there.

The demographics of the country only compound the issue. Many Germans get as old as few did even a generation ago. And those old people often have few or no immediate partner left.

The spouse died decades ago, much of the rest of the family is scattered to the winds, just an enterprising middle aged couple is present a few towns over.

It is a perfect setup.

Visit a few times, make nice, get the paper, make sure potential rivals did not sneak in and pull off the same trick, and when the health of the dear, beloved relative begins to decline, get out of the way.

Actually, you don't even have to make nice. You can coax, coerce, threaten, even beat up the person if he or she is sufficiently isolated without fear of prosecution. Elder abuse is part and parcel of the problem, and - again - largely ignored.

Let the helpers swing into action and care for the frail relative until he or she finally passes.

Then pull out the will at the family and town gathering after the funeral.

You may lose a family but you earned the money.

This, by the way, is a true story from a few towns over. And they happen every day all over Germany.

A version of this, even more elaborate, is to let the heir you are going to boot handle all the work that comes with a death, and only then whip out your paper.

While the helper, or as you would call him or her, the sucker, is arranging the funeral, is dealing with government agencies, utility companies, insurance companies and others, you should take a vacation.

This way, you won't be caught letting slip you have a will. Because the law requires you to submit it as soon as you have knowledge of its existence.

Once the sucker has cleaned out the house or apartment of the deceased, you hand the paper to the court.


Okay, maybe not fully done. You may have to endure a few attempts at shaming you into sharing or stepping back from the will.

But you can avoid meeting the others, ignore phone calls, and become aggressive if that doesn't work.

If they go to a lawyer, they will be advised to let go of small inheritances, the peanuts sort of up to 100 000 dollars.

It is a win-win situation.

You win.

And then you can deploy again and win again.

Of course, the sort of thing described above is not limited to Germany, far from it. But unlike the U.S. where elder abuse and wills have been discussed and some actions taken, German governments are turning a blind eye.

[Update 8/20/2017] When people start talking, you will get an earful. The variations on the theme of close and not so close relatives getting their hands on estates big and small are fascinating to someone as trusting as the blogster.

One of the most vile stories we have heard in the past weeks is the drugging of an old lady in the last months of her life. In this case, the niece caretaker and her doctor husband allegedly added sedatives to the old lady's diet. The prescription was  not in her name, so nobody could claim diminished competence. Then the lady wrote a will, again one of those handwritten things that any investigator of a "real" crime would immediately label highly suspicious and not trustworthy.

The friend who told us that one decided to let it go.

Another local recounted how family members converged at the residence of a deceased who had valuable antiques. The obvious suggestion to make a list was shot down by several vocal relatives, and the group decided to reconvene the next day to divvy up the estate. 
The next day, of course, the apartment was empty.

Almost everyone we talked to had bad to evil experiences about inheritances to tell in their families.

* We are gender neutral at this publication.