Time for a Bike-Theft Crackdown

Yesterday I visited friends in Cologne and my bicycle broke down on the way without warning (the left pedal froze up). So I decided to park the bike near the Cologne Central Station so I could take a train to my destination. I was running late, so I didn’t have time to figure out how to use the ‘official’ Radstation bike parking, which is indoors. I parked my ride in a legal, official bike-parking stand next to the bus station and taxi rank, and went about my business, with a feeling of unease, since my bike was a pretty valuable Bulls Cross RS 1. Nevertheless, I reassured myself that at least the bike was in a highly-trafficked area. I looked around for video surveillance, but saw none.

When I got back a few hours later, the bike was gone, of course. Bike theft is endemic in Germany, so it wasn’t a stunning surprise, but it still makes one’s blood boil. I have dreams of finding someone riding the bike, tearing them off my precious steed, and inflicting exquisite tortures on them. But the bike’s almost certainly in the back of some truck, halfway to Latvia by now.

Fortunately, Germany’s crack police agencies have a sophisticated and well-funded system for recapturing stolen bikes called “BikeFinder 3.0”, so I’ll surely get it back in a few weeks. Just kidding! The chance of recovering a stolen bike in Germany hovers just over 0% (g). Once your bike’s gone, it’s gone, baby. German cops have much bigger fish to fry — in the 2000s, state and federal governments started slashing police budgets, anticipating a continuing decrease in crime caused by an aging society. Then, starting in 2015, federal politicians decided to allow almost a million young males from the most unstable parts of the globe into Germany without any background checks. The rest, as they say, is history (German prisons now have the highest proportion of foreign-born inmates in history (g)).

Endemic bike theft represents a larger policy failure. Germany wants to meet climate goals and reduce pollution by encouraging people to ride trains and bikes. But they’re simultaneously allowing trains and bikes to become ever more inefficient and risky. The German national train system, Deutsche Bahn, has been spiraling into crisis for years owing to relentless budget-cutting. On-time performance has decreased year after year even as ticket prices rise. Security on trains has also deteriorated, with attacks on train personnel sharply increasing (g) and many local train companies introducing police-like bodycams (g). After the first unpleasant incident on a late train, you might just chalk it up to chance. But after the 10th, or 20th, you will decide that investing in a car now makes sense.

German cities have created an increasing number of bike paths and bike infrastructure, but what good are those when you can’t park your bike safely, and have zero chance of recovering it after theft? If the chance of your bike being (1) stolen and (2) never recovered is more than negligible, and if you need ever-more expensive and inconvenient devices to prevent theft, the attractiveness of bicycles as a form of transport slowly erodes. And you’ll think longer about buying a car. After all, it’s getting harder and harder to steal cars.

German politicians don’t seem to perceive the links between safety and security and transportation choices. One sign of this is the embittered resistance to video surveillance. Video cameras are pretty much ubiquitous in private spaces in Germany because it’s cheap and it works. But when it comes to installing video surveillance in public areas, some left/Green politicians still trundle out antique arguments about Orwellian privacy loss and Stasi spying. It never seems to enter their minds that the trivial loss of privacy caused by your image being captured for a few fleeting seconds might be outweighed by the documented proof that video surveillance reduces crime and disorder and increases the reliability and success of criminal prosecutions.

There will never be 100% security against bike thefts, but it should be easily manageable to provide security for an open, public bike parking structure on public property with 100 bikes attached to it, like the one I used. Point some cameras at it, have someone actually looking at those cameras, and post large notices to announce the fact that it’s under camera surveillance. Even better, add an armed cop to patrol the public bike-parking areas every 30 minutes or so, on the lookout for suspicious behavior.

And right about now, with the loss fresh in my mind, I would be fine with giving that cop the right to beat bike thieves to death on the spot, and then hang their lifeless, flayed corpses on a nearby gibbet.

You won’t stop every bike theft, but you can at least offer ordinary citizens the reassurance that if they park a bike at a large open bike-parking lot near a main train station, it will be there when they get back. Shouldn’t that be the least we expect for the taxes we pay?

“Imagine There Are No Countries…”

Yesterday, under the motto “#Seebrücke” (sea-bridge), protests (g) occurred yesterday in various German cities to support the operation of NGO rescue ships in the Mediterranean.

As anyone will tell you, the point of these protests was to support the humanitarian rescue of people in emergencies in the middle of the sea. After all, who could possibly oppose rescuing people in an emergency? Do you want people to drown?

Here we see a protester with a sign featuring the #Seebrücke slogan:


This man is appealing to your conscience as a human being. All he wants is for people in need to be rescued. Really, it’s so simple, people. How can anyone opp– wait, what’s that on his sign?

“No nations, no cry”?

So he also opposes the existence of…countries. Hmm, perhaps there’s a bit more to these protests than meets the eye.

The European Convention on Human Rights is not a Suicide Pact

There’s a strain of pragmatism in American political discourse summed up by the phrase “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” The underlying idea is simple: If following some abstract constitutional principle in a particular situation would cause massive problems, then the principle should be ignored or watered-down in that case. This doesn’t mean the principle is abandoned; it’s just not implemented in one particular situation because the consequences could be destabilizing or dangerous.

This is the critical insight John Dalhuisen mentions in his interview, which I quoted yesterday. Throughout 2015 and long after — and still today — human-rights activists are insisting on an extreme reading of asylum and immigration law which would, in effect, result in open borders. His thought experiment is simple: Imagine what the world would look like if every demand made by groups such as Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders (“EU: Your Fences Kill. Provide Safe and Legal Passage“) had been met by European governments.

Word would quickly spread that Europe had decided not to turn anyone away, and the result would have been an influx of millions of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. In the three years since 2015, 5 million, 10 million, perhaps 15 million people would have emigrated to Europe. This is no exaggeration; see the video above.

If you ask activists whether this would be good for Europe, or for the countries which the migrants left — and I have asked them this — they are usually surprised by the question. Because they have never considered the real-world consequences of their positions. They simply insist on a de facto open borders policy because they believe that human-rights treaties, or European “principles”, require this policy. Political backlash? Not their problem. Conflicts over scarce housing and jobs? Not their problem. Exploding welfare budgets? Not their problem. Culture clash? Not their problem. The treaties (or “humanity”, or “European principles”) demand it, and therefore it must happen. End of discussion. Europe can find some way to deal with all these new arrivals. That’s not our problem. We’re activists, not politicians.

This approach is short-sighted and dangerous, as Dalhuisen points out. I would add: childish. Yes, human rights are important, and activists play a vital and necessary role in enforcing them, etc. But most questions of human rights have few broad policy implications: whether a country does or does not execute criminals is not an issue of national survival. Whether press freedom laws allow hate speech is not an issue of national survival. Whether accused criminals are kept in custody for years pending trial is not an issue of national survival. In these cases, arguments based on pure principle are appropriate, necessary, even vital.

But when activists enter the realm of immigration, they are entering an area with huge policy implications, including national survival. Germany would not cease to exist if 7 million Africans entered in any given year, using the “safe and legal” migration routes activists demand. Maybe. But even if it did, it would be a Germany nobody would recognize. And by the time the last of the 7 million arrived, there is not a single chance the EU would still exist. The European Convention on Human Rights, if it still existed, would have been gutted beyond recognition.

For human-rights activists to ignore the implications of their demands on immigration is irresponsible, perhaps even inexcusable. If they insist that the only permissible interpretation of refugee laws and treaties is “suicide pact”, Europeans will soon teach them that they’re not interested in sacrificing themselves on the altar of moral purity. In fact, they’re sending this message right now.

John Dalhuisen Switches Tactics, Not Sides

Just a year ago, John Dalhuisen was the director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia division, and was saying things like this about the deal to stop illegal migration into Europe from Turkey:

Today marks a dark day in the history of refugee protection: one in which Europe’s leaders attempted to buy themselves out of their international obligations, heedless of the cost in human misery,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.

And this:

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes….  You will see us in court.”

But shortly after issuing these rhetorical broadsides, Dalhuisen joined the very organization that created the Turkey deal, the European Stability Initiative. And today, an interview with him appeared in German in the FAZ in which he explains why he left Amnesty.

Although he takes pains to stress his former colleagues are admirable, hard-working people whose hearts are in the right place, he faults them for rigidly adhering to a no-compromises, maximalist rhetoric about human rights and migration which leaves no room for compromise and risks a massive political backlash (my translation):

It was the migration debate which spurred Dalhuisen to reflect on the question of whether the human-rights movement had grasped the scale of the challenge it faced — and whether Amnesty was still the right place for him. “Many Europeans have been unnerved by the arrival of a large number of migrants in the past years. Nobody should ignore this fundamental fact. Yet the human-rights movement tends to do just that.”…

Dalhuisen…believes that Amnesty and Western liberals share a risky conviction of the irreversibility of human-rights achievements. He is surprised by the untroubled self-confidence with which many supporters of open borders — and these include Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors without Borders, whose demands would create de facto open borders — take the right to asylum for granted, as if it were somehow immune from any interference by political forces. They seem to treat the Geneva Convention on Refugees or the asylum articles of European constitutions as written in stone, a sort of law of nature. But this is simply not the case. The law of gravity cannot be abolished, but the Geneva Convention can, and so can the asylum rights guaranteed by national constitutions. Humans can destroy what they once created….

Dalhuisen’s complaints can be illustrated by a thought experiment: Imagine what Europe’s parliaments would look like today if European politicians had given in to all the demands of human-rights organizations during the past three years. If Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and other states had built no fences. If the EU had not signed the agreement with Turkey. If “safe and legal migration routes” had been created, as demanded by Doctors Without Borders, among other groups. If the stream of more than one million people per year not only continued, but perhaps even increased. If European reality had become a sort of endless loop of summer 2015. How would the elections have gone in France, Germany, or Italy?

“In that situation,” Dalhuisen suggests, “established parties who could not offer any solution to control immigration would have been swept away by the first party which could.”…

“It is a…political reality, that citizens in Europe want to see borders brought under control, and if necessary will elect parties which promise to meet this demand. The question, as a human-right activist, is whether I accept this reality and attempt, under these circumstances, to achieve the best possible conditions for protecting refugees — in the hope that some political actors will adopt these policies? Or do I insist on my perfect solution, without any concessions?” Dalhuisen thinks the path of compromise is correct because, in contrast to maximum demands, it offers a possibility of success. But established human-rights groups reject this view. They want to see the EU-Turkey agreement abolished, immediately. But what would happen after that? “Many human-rights activists tend to overlook the suffering imposed on the people they are especially interested in protecting by their own unwillingness to compromise.”…

He no longer wants to be a part [of the mainstream human-rights movement], because he did not join the human-rights movement to take comfort in the purity of his ideals, but rather to implement as many of them as possible. “Amnesty International and the human-rights movement have done an enormous amount of good in general. But if they don’t adapt to the challenges of our time, they will sink into obscurity, while human-rights treaties which took decades to achieve will be swept away.”

If large majorities of voters want X to happen, but lawyers and activists claim that X is prohibited under existing laws, then voters will change the laws to get X. That’s a feature, not a bug, of how democracy works. Kudos to Dalhuisen for making these arguments publicly. Presumably he will soon publish something in English.