Europe and the Refugee Question, January 2016

I get to talk to lots of different people when I’m traveling around the world. Many have a great picture of Germany, whether it’s because of renewable energy or the openness to refugees. However, just like the Energiewende has been slowly coming under scrutiny by outside observers, I think it’s time to look at how open we actually are when it comes to welcoming refugees, the mismanagement of the entire issue, the consequences thereof.

Denmark has come under criticism for planning to seize assets from refugees to ‘cover the cost of each asylum seeker.’ What often goes un- or undermentioned is how that the same is happening in Switzerland, and yes, Germany: Possessions above €750 can be and are confiscated by the police. Even the Green MP Beck agrees to the confiscation measures, as long as they ‘don’t create the impression this is done in an authoritarian way.’ Meanwhile, the Left party is the only one to condemn this practice both from a legal reasoning point as well as by principle: ‘A basic human right should not come at a financial burden to the person seeking justice.‘

I’m appalled at the justifications that this is for financial reasons, to help offset the costs and ensure equality between the Hartz-IV recipients. So we are ripping off of one group just so the other ripped-off group feels that they are being treated fairly?

Giving financial support for basic necessities to refugees (or those suffering under Hartz-IV) doesn’t have any real macroeconomic consequences: It doesn’t hurt the economy since the money is actually spent in the local economy. This is much better than money in the accounts of the super-wealthy, which is not circulating and thus not contributing to the economy.

Secondly, proportionality. How much money do you believe you’re going to make from this? Here’s a quick thought experiment: There seems to be no statistical data, so let’s use some very high assumptions: Say as much as 10% of asylum seekers would need to give €2000 of the money they arrived with. Let’s use the widely-circulated yet inflated number of 1M refugees arriving to Germany last year. That would amount to €200 million. (more realistically we’re talking about 0.1% and €1000, leading to a mere €1 million).

Compare this to the €310 billion of the federal budget, or against the ‘financial predictions’ circulating in German media that refugees will cost €20 billion even though it was only €1.5 billion in 2013 (nevermind that this prediction comes from Hans-Werner Sinn, one of the economists in favor of the takeover of Greece, which was communicated as a bailout). And let’s not forget how quick we were to give the banksters a €650 billion bailout that cost the tax payer upwards of €50 billion.

Those banksters would probably call the potential ‘earnings’ peanuts. There are several orders of magnitude between the ‘taking away stuff from refugees’-measure and the real scope of the issue. Taking away a few possessions is not going to make a dent, financially. It’s not in line with German tax policies either, as we tax income and not wealth (I agree with Piketty that we should have a global tax on wealth, just probably not for those with less than €10K in assets.)

Why then do decision-makers condone this practice? Is taking away from the poorest really the measure we want to be taking? Or might this be exactly what those who lead this country want?

If you take a look at the dehumanizing situation e.g. in front of Berlin’s LaGeSo, you start to wonder whether these are just unintended consequences. Today, there were reports of an Syrian Asylum seeker that died after waiting for several days in the cold for his papers [EDIT: this information is still unconfirmed]. I know a lot of refugee initiatives, organizations and even municipalities whose work is obstructed by German regulations and suffer from a lack of funding and resources from the federal and state governments. The friendly and welcoming image of Germany last summer rests on the shoulders of private people who decided to act, while the states and governments provided too few resources. Yes, I am happy that our Chancellor stood up and said ‘wir schaffen das’, but from the official side, it has mostly been words, not action so far. At the same time, this mismanagement led to an enormous surge of right-wing extremists and a rising fear in the general cultural climate. It’s the worst basis for smart decisions, and it’s a real threat to the European continent – so much that even the WEF is concerned.

Everywhere I go, especially in Europe, I hear people calling BS on the narrative that we cannot help refugees or that it is a burden for our continent. They are calling attention to the mismatch between the words and actions of our governments, and that this should not be called a ‘refugee crisis’ but a ‘political failure’, perhaps the largest in the last 50 years.

Europe’s people may be united by culture or a moral guideline, but our political leaders certainly aren’t. It keeps on reminding me of George Carlin’s words, who I miss dearly.

Germany and the Refugee Question, August 2015

70 years ago, germany only managed to get back on its feet because of the goodwill and $$ of other countries, even after having just cause an atrocious amount of death and destruction. today we are the 3rd largest weapons exporter and actually making $$ from death and destruction in the world.

yet we’re showing none of the goodwill that put us in this comfortable position: we let the victims of our weapons exports drown in the mediterranean to deter others from coming and we remain silent about police violence at our boarders, illegal push-backs, right-wing terrorism against asylum centers, violent racist attacks on people, and burning refugee homes. just the official support structures are kept understaffed, and there’s a very tangible move to the right in the air and on the ground. even in berlin, usually a pretty tolerant place, there’s ugliness: to pick just one example, on saturday two known neonazis threatened and urinated on children in the subway.

our politicians are busy with a weird competition on delivering the most pathetic reaction instead of getting anything done to help. instead of trying to solve the causes of the problem or even just properly helping the victims of their politics, they side with and protect those openly defying international law and the humanitarian values we love to display so proudly. all while demanding crippling austerity from our greek brothers and sisters so that the banks that made foul bets get away unscathed. it gets even more absurd considering that sooner or later, we need migrants to keep our entire social system running and that we have been the biggest profiteers of the european union.

blood on our hands, everywhere we look. is this still not enough to make a generation stand up and say ‘no more’?

I wish this video was in English, so non-German speakers could understand this. There is a world-class scandal happening in Germany at this moment: It is just absolutely outrageous how the life of whistleblower Gustl Mollath is being destroyed.

For seven years he has been held detained against his will – not in a regular prison, but in a Bavarian psychiatric ward, pretty much a mental asylum. I wonder how long a person can be in there and actually keep her sanity.

Why is he being detained? Because he spoke out against his ex-wife and her employer Hypo Vereinsbank, who were laundering money through Switzerland. In fact, physically driving money from Germany to Zurich for their clients. The thing is, in 2012, journalists uncovered an internal bank report from 2003 (!) that shows that Mollath was in fact right all along!

However, this was still not enough to set him free: The court ordered that Klaus Leipziger, the psychological expert whose first evaluation was the basis for the detention, re-evaluate the case. But the expert, who evaluated Mollath as insane without having ever personally met him, is now feeling ’negatively influenced’ and refuses to do his job – so Mollath remains in custody for another year!

There are numerous other egregious inconsistencies in this case, such as witnesses that have testified that the ex-wife unmistakenly threatened to destroy Mollath’s life and put him in the ‘loony bin’ if he talked about the money laundering. Or judge Otto Brixner that called the investigators of the (as we know today: valid) tax fraud claims and convinced them to drop the case because Mollath was supposedly insane. Then in court, the judge used the fact that there was no investigation as a proof for Mollath’s insanity. Brixner even admitted to the investigation committee that he had never fully read the 106-page defense.

Yet Mollath remains locked up. Beate Merk, the Bavarian minister of justice, continues to cover for all the atrocious mistakes in this case, justifying the fact that there were never any investigations of Mollath’s claims, and still keeps to her story that there were no mistakes made and she had never been untruthful about any detail of this case.

This is the only English article I could find on this so far. This case needs to get more international attention.

But as if the story has not been scandalous enough, a harmless tweet by a professor (and conservative (!) party member) that there might be an opportunity to ask Merk about Mollath’s release during one of her public appearances got her a visit by the police, suggesting she delete the tweet and stay away from the event.

Our government likes to criticize judicial processes in other countries, but we don’t need to look very far to see incredible injustice happening.

How shameful, Bavaria. How shameful, Germany.

[EDIT: German speakers might also appreciate this fantasticly sharp-tongued piece on Beate Merk who is responsible for Mollath’s continued imprisonment and the post-tweet police visit. Thanks, Christoph Süß at quer:  ]

nice reuters article as well. and germany ranks high on the tax evasion list, in GDP percentage it’s even twice the rate of the US!


The corporations that occupy Congress. – David Cay Johnston