‘Die Zeit’ Interviews an “Expert” About Police Tactics Without Telling the Readers He’s a Convicted Criminal

Tumblr_o8iexsMOcJ1qav5oho1_500[New Yorker cartoon by Kim Warp]

UPDATE (17:45 PM): Sabine Rückert, an editor at the printed version of Die Zeit, responded to a tweet in which I pointed out the facts contained in this piece:

 

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"That is true. The person involved is Wüppesahl. I have informed my colleagues at ZON." (Zeit Online, the online presence of the printed newspaper Die Zeit, which is technically an independent organization.)

And now, the original piece:

Yesterday, the German broadsheet weekly Die Zeit published an interview (g) in which a so-called "police expert" harshly criticized the tactics of German police during the G20 Summit, comparing them to the Turkish police. As I pointed out in a tweet just after reading the article, the man, Thomas Wüppesahl is not an "expert", he is an activist, founder of a group called Critical Police Officers.

Shortly thereafter, in response either to my Tweet or to some of the 600+ comments (many harshly critical) to the original interview, Die Zeit changed the online article. Wüppesahl was now identified as a "critic" of the police, not an "expert". Further, a line was added to his biography indicating that his views were "highly controversial" (sehr umstritten).*

I pointed out the changes in a blog post yesterday. Yet a comment to that post (thanks, Björn!) altered me to a much more astounding fact than the changes to the article.

The "expert" on police tactics to whom Die Zeit gave a long interview is a convicted criminal. He was convicted of attempted robbery and murder in 2005. Because Wüppesahl is a former member of the German Bundestag and a prominent activist (a decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court even bears his name (g)), his trial was covered at great length in the German media. 

Let me quote my translation (footnotes removed) of the relevant portion of the German Wikipedia entry (g) on Thomas Wüppesahl**:

On 25 October 2004, Wüppesahl was arrested on suspicious of preparing to commit a crime. The informant and main prosecution witness was a former policeman and colleague of Wüppesahl's, who was also a member of the Critical Police group [which Wüppesahl had founded]. This person brought a non-functional pistol and a knife from police storage to the meeting with Wüppesahl. These were to be used to rob a money transport van. Wüppesahl was arrested in the colleague's apartment just after the colleague gave Wüppesahl the pistol and knife. 

The trial began on 4 March 2005. Wüppesahl's defense was that the plan which the prosecution claimed he had developed could not have worked in real life. He participated in the preparations only as a maneuver to uncover his former colleague as a police spy, and the action against him as revenge by the Hamburg justice authorities for his criticism of them [as an activist]…. The Hamburg Regional Court sentenced Wüppesahl on 7 July 2005 for preparing and attempting to conduct murder in the course of robbery and violations of weapons laws. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. After Wüppesahl's appeal was dismissed, the conviction became legally binding….

With an eye to rehabilitating his reputation, Wüppesahl filed a complaint against his conviction with the European Court of Human Rights on 27 December 2006. After four years of review, the complaint was denied as inadmissible in December 2010.

A Spiegel article about his conviction stated (g): "According to the prosecutor, Wüppesahl planned to confront a money courier in Berlin, shoot him, and hack his hand off with a meat cleaver in order to escape with the suitcase full of money handcuffed to the man's hand."

Ladies and gentleman, this is the police "expert" who was interviewed at some length by one of Germany's leading newspapers. Insert joke here about interviewing a vegan about his favorite veal recipes, a neo-Nazi about Yiddish poetry, etc.

I suppose it's just possible to imagine that it might be appropriate to print an interview with a convicted criminal about police tactics.

But printing the interview without telling the reader the man is a criminal? That is journalistic malpractice. This information was one short Google-search away.

Die Zeit (or at least Zeit Online) owes its readers an apology. 

* It would have been better to alert online readers that the article had been changed. However, this does not appear to be a breach of journalistic ethics, since the German Press Council requires changes to be clearly indicated (g) only as to matters of fact, not to value judgments.

** Wüppesahl has a long and colorful history of political activism, including representing the Green Party in Parliament, protesting nuclear weapons, and suing and criticizing German police. As you might expect, he maintains his innocence of these charges, and has a website (html code era: mid-2000s) in which he has posed hundreds of pages of what he considers to be relevant documents about his trial (g).

German Joys Gets Results Again

OK, the headline may be a bit self-aggrandizing. But here are the facts: In the early afternoon, I read an interview with Thomas Wüppesahl, a German activist, about the police tactics used during the "Welcome to Hell" demonstration.

Wüppesahl was harshly critical of the German police, claiming they provoked the demonstrators unnecessarily and used excessive force. The title of the article is "That is just like Turkey!". In the sub-heading of the article, Wüppesahl is described as a "police expert".

Here is a snapshot of the original description of Wüppesahl's qualifications as of 12:30 PM today courtesy of the Wayback Machine:

Wuepopesahl 1

 

"Thomas Wüppesahl is a former policeman and and was a Green Party Bundestag delegate from 1987 to 1990. He founded the Working Group of Critical Policewomen and Policemen, which advocates for civil rights."

I found this description to be another example of the overuse of the word "expert" by German journalists. German journalists routinely refer to activists as "experts". This is two journalistic sins at once. First, it gives the activist an undeserved veneer of objectivity. Second, it preempts the reader's judgment.

So I tweeted this:

 

 

Including a link to the former version of the piece, I tweeted "Sigh. No, he's not an expert, he's an activist."

Later, a Facebook friend asked me why I had been so critical of Die Zeit. After all, they had warned readers that Wüppesahl's views were "extremely controversial."

Wait, what? No they didn't! I called up the page again, and sure enough, everything had been changed. The introduction to the piece now identified Wüppesahle not as a police expert, but as a police critic. The graf about his background now (as of 8 pm) reads as follows:

Wup2

The added sentence, highlighted, reads: "Wüppesahl is highly controversial as a police expert."

I don't know whether my tweet prompted this change, but it's for the better. It might be a good idea for Die Zeit to let its readers know about the change, no?

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Welcome the Skilled Workers of…Tomorrow? 2025? Never?

Via Steve Sailer, excerpts of a Financial Times articles entitled 'Most refugees to be jobless for years, German minister warns': 

Up to three quarters of Germany’s refugees will still be unemployed in five years’ time, according to a government minister, in a stark admission of the challenges the country faces in integrating its huge migrant population.

Aydan Özoğuz, commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, told the Financial Times that only a quarter to a third of the newcomers would enter the labour market over the next five years, and “for many others we will need up to 10”.

…Initially, the influx of so many working-age, highly-motivated immigrants spurred optimism that they would mitigate Germany’s acute skills shortage and solve the demographic crisis posed by its dangerously low birth rate. Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of carmaker Daimler, said the refugees could lay the foundation for the “next German economic miracle”.

But those hopes have faded as a new realism about the migrants’ lack of qualifications and language skills sinks in. “There has been a shift in perceptions,” Ms Özoğuz told the FT. Many of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Germany were doctors and engineers, but they were succeeded by “many, many more who lacked skills”.

Or, to put it another way, 'German minister finally abandons airbrushing propaganda'. Anyone with reasonable experience of the world could immediately see, in real time, that most of the 2015 arrivals weren't going integrate into Germany. All you had to do was use common sense and knowledge of the world, two aspects of the human condition which were declared to be verboten in Germany from August 2015 to January 1, 2016. 

Those of us who clung to them immediately saw that most of these young males were going to have a hard time integrating, based on the following evidence:

First, most of the new arrivals didn't look very smart or conscientious. Studies show (pdf) that complete strangers can make judgments about someone based only on a photograph with better-than-random accuracy. And of course, we do this all the time, every day, for very good reasons. If I showed you a photograph of people leaving a monster truck rally, and people leaving a classical music concert — showing only their faces — you'd be able to tell which was which. We make these sorts of judgments every time we leave the house, and they're generally pretty reliable. If they weren't, we'd soon notice.

Second, When they were interviewed, all but a few of the migrants showed complete ignorance of the countries they were bound for, which were invariably Germany or Sweden. They knew not a single word of either of those languages, and were ignorant of the history, climate, food, culture, or even size of these countries. When asked why they wanted to go to Sweden or Germany, they always responded because there is money, jobs, work there and Merkel invited us and they need workers and they're building houses for us (g). Occasionally, some would say they had 'relatives' in some German or Swedish city or another. What you almost never heard was "I have an affinity for German culture", or "I believe I can contribute", or "I studied German for five years in school", or "I heard Firm X needs 800 welders, and I have 10 years experience in exactly that kind of welding".

Three, Some of the new arrivals said they were fleeing war or persecution in their home countries. But for every one who said that, there were at least 5 who said they had left their home countries because there were "no opportunities" (keine Perspektiven) for them there. Since most of these interviews were conducted by notoriously gullible German journalists, no follow-up questions were asked. The average German journalist has only a liberal-arts education in which things such as demand curves, marginal cost v. sunk cost, economies of scale, amortization, etc. never come up.

Their only understanding of how national economies work comes from moralizing discussions by leftist sociologists and philosophers, who themselves are usually ignorant of basic economic principles. The journalists therefore graduate knowing as much about how the economy works as a theology student knows about quantum mechanics. The problem is that a theologian can do his job perfectly well without knowing quantum mechanics, but a journalist cannot do his without at least some basic understanding of economic principles. To most German journalists, the "economy" is just a mysterious black box designed by those in power, whether intentionally or not, to exploit the poor. Really, what more is there to know?

So when the "refugee" said they had no prospects at home, the German journalist just shook his head in commiseration at the injustice of the world, thinking of some suitable Brecht poem about how the working class are eternally screwed no matter where they live. While the sensible viewer at home said: Why don't you ask him why he couldn't find a job? After all, even in poor countries, most able-bodied males are able to find work. Why can't this guy? Perhaps because he has no skills? Perhaps because he can't read? Perhaps because he stole from his last employer? Perhaps because he's a drug-dealing murderer like Hamza?

But no, the typical German journalist will never ask these things (even though he would consider them very relevant for someone of his social class) because the poor are to be regarded as a fungible mass, not as individuals with agency just like him.

In any event, German is now stuck with these people. My personal 20-60-20 prediction hasn't changed much since 2015: The brightest 20% (mostly those who already have an education or job skills) will probably make a successful transition, learning fluent German, getting jobs, and living independently. The bottom 20% will never learn anything but a few crude phrases, and will drift off into the underworld of black-market labor, organized crime, prostitution, and/or drug dealing. The middle 60% will learn a functional form of pidgin German relevant to whatever work they find, which will be intermittent, low-paid labor on construction sites or in warehouses or in government-subsidized job programs. They will never master German grammar or general vocabulary, and will always speak their native language at home. Perhaps a few will find stable work which will actually get them off the welfare rolls, but most won't.

If only German politicians had accepted these obvious facts when they were evident to most people, we could have had a much more honest debate.

Quantifying the Public-Elite Divide on Immigration in Europe

The British think tank Chatham House just completed phase two of an interesting study. The first phase polled 10,000 Europeans on a host of public policy issues, including immigration. The top-line result — a whopping 56% of European oppose further immigration from Muslim countries — came out in February 2017. That took wind out of the sails of European press commentators, who were busy denouncing Donald Trump's plans to…stop further immigration from Muslim countries.

Perhaps inspired by this glaring disconnect between public opinion and published opinion, Chatham House decided to conduct a follow-up survey of European elites, which it defined as "individuals in positions of influence at local, regional, national and European levels across four key sectors (elected politicians, the media, business and civil society) – with 1,823 respondents (approximately 180 from each country) who were surveyed through a mix of telephone, face-to-face and online interviews."

A few days ago, the findings came out in a report called "The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes". The result: Europeans are hugely more skeptical about immigration, especially from Muslim countries, than the elites who govern them. Here are a few charts:

Attitudes 1

Attitudes 2The report concludes: "These views reveal latent public sympathy for the core messages of the radical right on these topics. There are big socio-demographic differences, however, between those who hold such views. Citizens aged over 60 and with a lower level of education are notably more likely to view European and Islamic ways of life as irreconcilable. On some questions, there is also significant support among the elite sample. One possible explanation for such views among the elite is anxiety over the perceived challenge from Islam to liberal values, a concern that has become manifest in debates in France and the Netherlands over moves to impose partial bans on Islamic dress that covers the face. It may also be a consequence of recent Islamist terrorist attacks and of the fears of an increasingly divided society."

A few observations. First, the authors of the report are using the term "radical right" in the sense of "outside the mainstream". That's obtuse. When only 25% of of Europeans think immigration's been beneficial overall, and nearly twice that number think it's harmful, these views are mainstream. The problem is not that voters have been somehow "seduced" into endorsing "radical right" views. The problem is that only the right has taken up mainstream thinking on this issue. The democratic problem is not the popularity of the "radical" right. The democratic problem is the failure of any mainstream party to reflect the views of a majority of citizens in many EU countries. In the long term, this is an unsustainable and potentially dangerous state of affairs.

Second, these numbers reflect the bubble in which elites live. When urban elites (and yes, I include myself) think about immigration, they spontaneously associate it with (1) great ethnic food and (2) the individuals they know who come from these countries. I can't count the number of times I've heard educated, prosperous Europeans (they have a lot of discreet charm, but they're pretty conformist) make exactly these two points at dinner parties. "Oh, there's a great new Ethiopian place which opened up just a few streets away. Yay immigration!" and "The Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program is so nice and smart. Yay immigration!" Sometimes, you hear both cliches in one comment: "The nice Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program brought in a delicious lamb dish for us all to share last week! Yay immigration!"

Unless they actually live in run-down, gritty areas of German or French cities (spoiler alert: they don't), these urban elites will be unfamiliar with the nastier realities of immigration. There is no chance of them living next to a run-down high-rise which is taken over by immigrants and turned into a garbage-strewn sinkhole of bottom-barrel prostitution and drug-dealing (g). Nor do they live in streets where spontaneous mobs of clan members beat and terrorize police and bystanders (g). Nor is anyone going to build refugee shelters (g) in the high-rent inner-city neighborhoods they love. If any of these things do happen, our urban elites will discreetly move to more prosperous surroundings, without ever admitting exactly why (not enough dog parks…need more room for the kids…a friend of mine told me about this great place that just came on the market…)

Some form of this divide has, of course, always existed. However, it seems to me that it is growing rapidly now, and that the willingness of elites to frankly acknowledge the divide — much less actually do anything to bridge it — is steadily decreasing. That spells trouble, methinks.

Do We Still Need Arte? Or License Fees?

Holger Kreitling in Die Welt has an amusing article (g) on Arte, the joint French-German public television channel. Arte is conceived as highbrow television, broadcasting classical concerts, operas, political debates, and documentaries on everything from Claude Sautet to Heidegger to the Thirty Years' war to Bolivian street artists to (as Kreitling puts it) obscure Slovenian bread-making techniques. It is financed by compulsory TV fees (administered by a company called the GEZ in German), yet never attracts more than a tiny fraction of highbrow viewers. As Kreitling notes, a member of the German or French urban haute bourgeoisie is required to announce his social position by declaring either that he has no television, or if he does, that all he watches is Arte. But even for all its failings and occasional pretentiousness, Kreitling still likes it.

And so do I. The only problem is the political programming, which is tiresomely left-wing. There's nothing more superfluous than holding a "theme evening" on Trump's first 100 days on Arte. Every person watching Arte already despises Trump, so all of the Trump-critical documentaries and interviews will have no effect. That's true of all the debate and political programming as well. I am not happy to pay mandatory licensing fees to sponsor the same old debates by the same aging hippies about "the future of ecological Europe" or what have you ("Red Danny" seems to be on every second time I switch to Arte), but I think there's a good case to be made for challenging music and arts programming. I don't have kids but I'm happy to pay taxes for schools because that's part of a healthy and thriving society. People who find classical music and museums boring should still pay taxes to keep them going for the same reason.

But the money should come from general taxes, not the outdated TV licensing fees that so many countries, including Germany, still use as a funding model. There is already a growing revolt against these fees (currently € 17.50 a month), which even includes prison martyrs (g) — people who refuse to pay the fees on principle and who are eventually sent to jail to serve time as a result. Technically, you don't have to pay the fee if you don't own a TV or radio or any comparable device, but the regulations on this point are baffling to most mortals.

There is endless online debate (g) about how far the government can go to determine whether you are receiving any form of broadcast programming which would trigger the fees. If Agents of GEZ™ knock at your door, which they are wont to do, do you have to let them in? The GEZ itself is a massive and expensive government bureaucracy as are all the myriad public television stations which it finances. This is the point where GEZ-defenders will step in and say "but it's not technically a government agency!" They're right, the GEZ is more of a Quango, but nobody really cares about this distinction. The bottom line is if they determine you have to pay the fees, and they don't, they will sic a team of lawyers on you, and you might well end up in prison.

All this money and bureaucracy might be OK if you got a BBC from it, but Germans definitely don't. The quality of the public television programming in Germany is the target of near-universal scorn. Everyone hates something about public TV: The urban haute bourgeoisie hates the folk-music and Schlager festivals and the exploitative shows made to compete with private-TV soap operas and scandal-fests. Conservatives hate what they see as the stifling one-sided political correctness of news coverage and talk shows. Everyone (including me) considers the vast bulk of German TV drama or comedy shows unwatchable.

It should come as no surprise 70% of Germans oppose the TV license fees (g). Seventy percent. That's a pretty high number in a democracy. Granted, when entrenched bureaucratic and governmental interests favor a policy — and they most certain favor a continuation of fee-based public TV — that policy can go on forever in Germany. Just think of the Euro, which was introduced over the opposition of 3/4 of the German population. Currently only the right-wing AfD party has staked out a clear position (g) in favor of abolishing the TV fee. Once again, the German "opinion cartel" funnels voters to the right wing: If you are one of the 70 percent of Germans who opposes the TV fee, the AfD is the only party which openly shares your view.

Fee TV is a zombie policy. You can either wait until it falls apart, or you can drive a stake through it now. Knowing Germany, they'll probably opt for the former. It'll be a pretty ugly process.

In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law

The U.S. is famous in Germany for its 'runaway' juries which hand down zillion-dollar lawsuits against poor defenseless companies. Yet, as I told my dumbfounded students, Germany is a far more litigious society than the USA. In fact, according to a book-length 1998 study, Germany is the most lawsuit-happy country on earth:

Country Cases per 1,000 Population

• Germany 123.2
• Sweden 111.2
• Israel 96.8
• Austria 95.9
• U.S.A. 74.5
• UK/England & Wales 64.4
• Denmark 62.5
• Hungary 52.4
• Portugal 40.7
• France 40.3

My German students were dumbfounded by this fact. Most of them got their image of the world from the mainstream press. And, as usual, German journalists tended to obsess over the real or imagined failings of other countries, while remaining ignorant of what was going on in their backyard.

But aside from the good clean fun of this tu quoque response, it's interesting to think about why Germany is so litigious. I think there are 4 main reasons:

  • Legal insurance (Rechtschutzversicherung). Millions of Germans have legal insurance policies that pay for lawyers both to file claims and defend against them. This insurance is affordable because litigation costs in Germany are low. Legal insurance is actually an excellent idea, every country in the world could benefit from widespread legal insurance. What it means in Germany, though, is that if you have a policy, you don't have to think twice about filing a lawsuit. Granted, the lawyer is not supposed to file if you don't have a claim, but many do anyway. Legal insurance also provides a lifeline for many small-time lawyers — they can patch together a decent livelihood by having a constant docket of 40-50 small time cases going on at any time. None of these cases will generate a huge verdict, but a steady stream of small payments is enough.
  • Lawsuits are a fact of life. Nobody really takes them seriously. If your landlord hikes your rent, you use your legal-insurance lawyer to fight it. The landlord uses their legal-insurance lawyer to defend. After all, if you don't sue, you'll certainly have to pay the extra 10% in rent. If you do sue, you might end up with a discount. The landlord would probably do the same thing in your position, and knows this.
  • Close neighbors make bad blood. Germany is a small country packed with people. Everything you do in public is going to have some effect on your neighbors. If a potted plant falls off your city balcony, it's going to hit someone or something below. If your cat likes to relieve themselves on your neighbor's lawn, they're going to notice. And might just take lethal action. Your barbecue smoke is going to trigger someone's asthma 5 houses down. The list goes on and on. Every German state has a long, complex "neighbor law" (here's the one (g) for my state), and many lawyers do nothing else. And once again, these petty squabbles are going to end up in court because it's so easy to go to court because of legal insurance. 

And finally, no lawsuit is too tiny. As Wagner once said, a German is someone who will always do something for its own sake. Which means Germans will file a suit over anything. Why, here's a story (g) from the excellent criminal-defense blog lawblog. Two retirees went fishing for deposit bottles in Munich, a favorite pastime of poor Germans, or just ones who need some way to fill their days in the fresh air.*

They approached a large man-sized glass-recycling container, whipped out their grabbers, and started fishing around inside the container. Recycling containers are supposed to be reserved for bottles which don't have a deposit on them, like wine bottles. But many people don't care or don't know how to tell a deposit from a non-deposit bottle, and just toss everything in.

Sure enough, our two hunters found 15 deposit bottles with a total value of € 1.44. Two other Germans, who were certainly feeling very German that day, called the police and reported the bottle-fishers for theft. Wait, what? Two people minding their own business, helping recycle glass, augmenting their puny incomes, harming nobody, and their fellow Germans report them to the cops? Welcome to Deutschland, my friends.

Now German prosecutors are obliged to investigate every credible accusation of crime that comes to their attention, the famous "Principle of Legality"**. This they did. The first thing they had to determine was what the value of the theft was. Technically, this was a theft — once you throw a glass bottle into a recycling bin, it becomes the property of the recycling company. So you might think that the amount of the theft was the deposit value of the bottles. But no! It turns out that the recycling company does not separate out deposit bottles from other ones. Scandalous, I know. So all the bottles just get melted down. The prosecutor asked the recycling firm how much value the bottles would have as recycling material, and the firm said: basically, it's too small to even put a number on.

At this time, the prosecutor chose to halt the proceedings (einstellen) based on the idea that there was no public interest in prosecuting the offenders. The writer at lawblog thinks this was the wrong reason to stop the prosecution — he thinks a better theory is to deny the people had any attempt to commit theft, because they had no intent to take possession of the bottles — their ultimate goal was simply to transfer them to a different owner. 

Be that as it may, the main thing to notice here is that several different government employees spent hours of their time and used considerable resources to investigate an accusation of a crime which, at the very most, involved the lordly sum of € 1.44. It's probably only a slight exaggeration to say that the German state spent 1000 times more money investigating the theft than it was actually worth in the first place.

Now, am I going to snigger about this? Of course I am, and so are you. But at the same time, I'm not going to go too far. The most important thing to keep in mind about high numbers of lawsuits is that they are an important sign of social health. In the vast majority of societies, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive and courts are woefully underfunded and corrupt, so nobody trusts them. Germans and Americans trust courts to usually resolve legal disputes in a fair and equitable manner, otherwise they wouldn't seek them out so often. They're right to do so; both the USA and Germany have exceptionally fair and efficient legal systems, despite their imperfections. A fair, professional, and generally non-corrupt legal system is one of humanity's most important achievements, full stop. Most countries don't yet have one. If you happen to live in a country which does, take a moment and thank your lucky stars. 

* You'd be surprised how many Germans decide they just don't fancy showing up to work anymore and having someone boss them around and tell them to do things. So they develop something hard to pin down, such as a bad back or burnout stress, hire a good employment lawyer, and presto! They're still technically employed in a certain sense, but they don't actually have to, you know, do anything. Everybody wins: their former employers are free of someone who wasn't really contributing, the employee has all the free time he wants, and most importantly, the government doesn't have to formally add this person to the unemployment rolls. Northern European welfare states are notorious worldwide for using a million different tricks to lower their official unemployment rate, and this is just one.

** Some German lawyers, or wanna-be lawyers, believe a lot of adorably misguided things about the principle of legality. If you begin talking about the American legal system, they will get up on their hind legs and begin intoning something like this: "Well, you see, in America most criminal cases are resolved by plea-bargains, where the defendant admits a crime — quite possibly not the one he actually committed — in return for a lighter sentence. This shows the irresponsible, frivolous gamesmanship of the system, where the objective truth of what happened can be bargained away as if justice were nothing more than a poker game. Here in Germany (string music starts swelling in the background), we believe in the principle of legality, which means the prosecutor must investigate all crimes and must prosecute based on the objective facts of what the defendant actually did."

It's at this point that I usually interject to point out that this speech is, not to put too fine a point on it, a crock of shit. First, German prosecutors are absolutely not obliged to bring every case to prosecution. As with all German legal principles, the principle of legality has a pragmatic loophole so big you could fit Saturn through it. A prosecutor is always permitted to "suspend" (einstellen) a prosecution if it is deemed a petty offence (§ 153, Criminal Procedure Code). Suspend is yet another German euphemism, it means the case is dropped. Although there may be a tiny theoretical chance of it being re-started, this basically never happens.

There are many other sections of the Code that permit the prosecution to suspend the investigation or to not bring charges on a variety of different grounds, the most frequently used being the prosecution's belief that bringing charges is "not in the public interest" for some reason. As you might guess, there are hundreds of stories of prosecutors suspending prosecution of high-powered or well-connected people for vague reasons. In fact, there's a whole book (g) ("Prosecution Unwanted!") about this, although it's not very convincing overall.

Also, if you believe plea bargains don't exist in Germany, I've got a bridge in Moscow I'd like to sell you. Even before plea bargains were legally allowed in Germany, it was common knowledge that prosecutors used their huge discretion to plea-bargain all the time. Like American prosecutors, German prosecutors are hopelessly understaffed, and the entire justice system would collapse if cases couldn't be resolved informally.

The practice became so notorious that eventually the federal legislature decided to stop pretending and legalize it. In 2009, it passed a law which, for the first time, legally recognized plea-bargaining in Germany. The law was full of procedural safeguards meant to ensure that the defendants' rights were respected and the principle of legality was not undermined. Would the law pass constitutional muster? The German Federal Constitutional Court held that it did, in 2013:

The ‘New Statesman’ on the German Opinion Corridor

The Swedish term for the Overton Window is the "opinion corridor" (åsiktskorridor). Germany has one too, well-described by this piece in the New Statesman from a year ago:

What is interesting about the AfD is what it tells us about the changes afoot in Germany. Its rise is a product of the constrained and elitist nature of German politics, in which – after the experience of Nazism – many subjects are declared to be outside the realm of political competition. All the mainstream parties are in favour of EU membership, the euro and the Atlantic alliance, and against war, inflation and nationalism.

What this leaves is a restricted political sphere where politicians have often been able to act against public opinion without fear of challenge – as in the decision to replace the popular Deutschmark with the strikingly unpopular euro in 1999. But those who dare to cross the threshold of political correctness tap in to a vast reservoir of pent-up popular frustration. And because the establishment cartel turns them into outcasts rather than arguing with their views, this reservoir continues to grow. A CSU minister recently told me that the German debate on refugees reminded him of the old East Germany, where there was a fundamental disconnection between what people thought and what they thought was acceptable to say in public. According to a recent poll, nearly half of all Germans are afraid to voice their opinion about the refugee crisis.

Leonard is not a right-winger, and the New Statesman is not a right-wing publication. But even Leonard finds German taboos childish and counter-productive. For an informed German-language critique, see this fine piece by Heribert Seifert in the NZZ.

I am tempted to say Leonard's comments show the typical divide between German and Anglo-American ideas about speech, but that's not quite right. America and England also have their taboos, they're just difference from the ones in Germany, or for that matter France.

The main difference, I think, is the structure of the press landscape. The line between topics that are considered proper for "tabloids" and the "respectable" broadsheet newspapers is enforced much more firmly in Germany. The same goes for tone. Every self-respecting English Bobo (f) obediently professes to despise — despise!! — the Daily Mail, whose lively, detail-rich, copiously-illustrated reporting should be a model for journalists everywhere. Yet you will often see the same topics covered by both the Daily Mail and the Guardian — often in the form of the Guardian noticing and attacking something the Daily Mail wrote.

German respectable broadsheets, by contrast, simply pretend that German tabloids (and their readers) don't exist. They never mention them except to use their names as an insult, and scrupulously avoid topics (such as celebrity gossip, onerous EU regulations, or crimes by foreigners) which are associated with the tabloids. When they do address "tabloidy" topics they consciously choose a vague, euphemism-clogged manner of reporting which seems intended to put the reader to sleep.

Then, often as not, they quote some professor, all of whom understand the Bobo party line, and many of whom helped create it. The professor will then duly recite more euphemisms about "context", a "nuanced perspective" and "not jumping to conclusions". Often, what the prof says contains minor or even major distortions and distractions, but the reporter (even assuming he knows) doesn't care, since the point of the interview is not to spark a debate but rather to instruct right-thinking people which opinion they are expected to hold.

I call it Respectable Waffle, and Leonard's phrase "constrained and elitist" is a pretty good way of characterizing it.

This is why, in my experience, it is incredibly easy to flummox German Bobos who get their news only from the Respectable papers — they are simply unaware of anything which isn't considered worth knowing by Die Zeit or the FAZ. They have never been exposed to thoughtful, informed challenges to the party line which Leonard describes, and therefore have no way to defend their views.

European Welfare States and Immigration

Christopher Caldwell's 2009 book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, is the best book on the European experience with Muslim immigration out there. It avoids the hysterical doom-mongering that plagues North American neo-conservatives and geriatric European reactionaries on this issue. But because Caldwell is an American and is therefore not bound by European taboos, he makes a lot of points which are rarely addressed in Europe.

His 2009 interview in Der Spiegel remains as relevant as ever, since the problems remain basically the same, even as their scale increases: 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you suggesting there is no open discussion about Islam in Europe?

Caldwell: I think these things are getting much more openly debated than a few years ago. In the Netherlands and Denmark you do have a contentious debate. I think a lot of Danes and Dutch aren't really proud of the way their populist parties are discussing the issue of immigration, but it's generally much better if things are discussed openly….

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your book, "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe," you cast a skeptical light on Europe's relationship with its Muslim immigrants. In your view, do Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the Continent?

Caldwell: I don't speak of a threat, exactly. This is a very important distinction. The debate up until now has been marked by two extremes. On the one side you have the doomsayer extreme, the people who say Islam is "taking over" Europe. On the other, you have people with the point of view that there's no problem at all, except racism. I think both positions are wrong, and I have tried to set a new tone.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, when reading your book, one leaves it with the impression that you think Europe will have real trouble integrating its Muslim immigrants.

Caldwell: Islam poses difficulties that other immigrant groups do not. Part of it is the growth of political Islam in the world in the last half-century. A large minority of European Muslims feel solidarity with the Muslim community abroad, and they feel at the same time that the West is at war with this world. That makes the transition into a European identity more difficult. But I think the problems at the cultural level are more important.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Such as?

Caldwell: A lot of overly optimistic people expect Muslims to give up, or to modify, their religion over time. They're going to change in some way, but we don't really know how. And attitudes around religion provide a lot of potential for conflict — the attitudes towards women, towards family relations, sexual freedom or gay rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The percentage of Muslims in the European population is very low. The total is about 5 percent.

Caldwell: Right. The population of Western Europe is about 400 million, and there are about 20 million Muslims. Nevertheless, the population (of Muslims) continues to grow.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But to what extent is it really growing? You base this argument on a higher birth rate, but a number of studies suggest that in the second or third generations, immigrants have birthrates closer to the national average.

Caldwell: That is true. There are two things that will cause the immigrant descended population in Europe to grow in the coming years. One is that immigrants are still coming and the other is that birth rates, although they are falling, are still higher. But the real issue is not the size of the immigrant population. It is that their culture needs to be accommodated within Europe in a way that requires Europe to change its structures….

SPIEGEL ONLINE: To what extent are your views shaped by the fact that you're an American?

Caldwell: As an outsider, one has the advantage of seeing parallels between European countries as well as differences. I come from a country that has experience with a multiethnic society, and America's history has some lessons for Europe. Just because the European Muslim community is a small one does not mean it is uninfluential or that it can be ignored or that the problems surrounding it are trivial and will go away. Blacks have traditionally made up about only about 10 percent of the US population. But we have a horrible history of race conflict that has shaken our country for centuries.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is America more successful when it comes to integrating immigrants?

Caldwell: For now, yes. I think the first reason is the ruthlessness of the American economy. You either become a part of it or you go home. There are more foreigners in the workplace, and that's where a lot of integration happens. And because most immigrants are in the workplace, you never hear, as you do in Europe, that immigrants don't want to work. No American would dream of saying that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you think that's the case?

Caldwell: There is no welfare state on the scale of that in Europe, and I think welfare states are a bad fit for large-scale immigration. In an ethnically diverse society, people are less familiar with each other, and they are correspondingly less willing to pay taxes for social benefits. Two-thirds of the imams in France are on welfare. There is nothing wrong with being an imam. But I don't think the French are very happy about paying what is effectively a state subsidy for religion in that way.

The welfare state is a key distinction. I can't count the number of times people have asked me: "But you come from America, the nation of immigrants! How can you be so skeptical about Europe doing what America's been doing for centuries?"

The first answer is, of course, that European countries aren't nations of immigrants. Historians will often try to disprove this by pointing to ancient population flows, but they never convince anyone (not least because those population flows were usually accompanied by massive bloodshed). The fact is that European countries have established, centuries-old traditions and attitudes that are odd and opaque to outsiders, but which mean something to people born there.

More importantly, the European welfare state is an obstacle to integrating low-skilled foreigners, because it means they never have to work. Of course, most of them do eventually find jobs, but at rates lower than the native population. The U.S. gives immigrants nothing. They are expected to find jobs by themselves, without hand-holding by the state. Sink or swim.

Of course, immigrant Americans do end up on welfare more frequently than the native population, but America has an Anglo-Saxon welfare state that provides temporary assistance during down times. It is telling that the former U.S. welfare program called "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" was renamed in 1996 to "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families".

Temporary. You will get help for some time, but then it will stop, and you'll need to find another solution: Move in with family members, sell your possessions, beg on the streets. But preferably, you'll find a job. Will there be a welfare case-worker there to help you find it? No, you'll have to find one yourself. Same thing if you're an immigrant. 

Northern European welfare systems, by contrast, provide a permanent, unconditional lifelong cushion of support. (Southern European welfare systems aspire to this but don't have the money or organizational competence to genuinely deliver it). If you simply choose never to even try to find a job, you will continue receiving health insurance, rent support for a small individual apartment, and a basic income, no matter what. It will be anything but luxurious, but it can never be terminated, because the state must guarantee every person in its borders a basic level of existence required by human dignity.

Thus, Americans tend to look at unskilled immigrants as thrifty, God-fearing, hard-working types willing to do nasty jobs. Europeans tend to look at unskilled immigrants as yet another potential addition to the welfare rolls. They're not wrong: in 2006 every fourth welfare recipient (g) in Germany was a foreigner. And that number has skyrocketed: a recent government report leaked to the press showed that as refugees leave the program of temporary refugee assistance and enter the official government welfare rolls, the number only of non-European foreign welfare recipients shot up 132% from 2015 to 2016 — an increase of about 400,000, to a total of 698,872 (g).

That's a whole lot of people to support, potentially for life, with free government-financed education, housing, healthcare, and welfare. Of course, some of these people will seek and find jobs. But they'll be in direct competition with low-skilled native workers. Low-skilled workers have noticed that their wages have stagnated with decades. They are also going to notice fresh competition from hundreds of thousands of foreigners willing to work for a fraction of their wages.

But hundreds of thousands of these newcomers with either never look for a job, or never find one. And plenty of Germans will ask a simple question:

"How does it benefit Germany — or me — for politicians to import hundreds of thousands of foreigners who will simply live here on welfare until they die?"

Of course, many members of the urban haute bourgeoisie, and probably all church officials, will react with outrage to this question. But that's not going to stop people from asking it, and demanding answers.

The Students Without Qualities

The German newspaper Die Welt reports (g) on the case of a 14-year-old Jewish student from in the Friedenau suburb of Berlin who was harassed and attacked by his fellow students after he revealed he was Jewish. According to him, one of his fellow students told him: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.” He eventually had to leave the school.

A Jewish student being harassed, beaten, and insulted in the capital of Germany? This should be a major scandal, right?

Well, no. It has gotten some press coverage, as the Welt article shows, but not very much. Does this mean Germany really doesn't care about violent anti-Semitism?

Well, yes and no. To explain the response, we need, as always, to ask the question: Who is engaging in anti-Semitism? The Welt article, of course, never tells us. In that story, the young man is being attacked "by other children" or "by his classmates". Male? Female? Older? Younger? Ethnicity? Nope, none of that, thank you very much. All the Welt thinks you need to know about these violent anti-Semites are that they are "students".

They're the Students Without Qualities. Fans of the American sitcom Community might be reminded of the Greendale Community College mascot, the "Greendale Human Being": 

Only at the end of the story do we get a brief hint of who might be behind these attacks: "According to Tagesspiegel, 75% of the students at the school do not speak German as a native language, and many come from Turkish and Arab families."

Let's now turn to Tagesspiegel, the Berlin newspaper that first reported on the case in German. There, we come gingerly closer to the truth. After indeed reporting that there were many Turkish and Arab students at the school, the Tagesspiegel states (g) laconically, almost in passing: "According to the school's principal Uwe Runkel, this is also true of the criminal suspects [in the anti-Semitic harassment]." Blink and you might miss it, but here we finally have the truth: the anti-Semitic harassment did not come from Germans.

Fortunately, in this case we don't have to rely on the cloudy abstractions of the German press. The incident was originally reported in the English-language Jewish Chronicle:

Emma, who is British, said her son, Phillip (not their real names), 14, had been moved to an English language high school in Berlin .

Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural.

She said it had never occurred to Phillip to deny his Jewishness, and one day he mentioned it to his classmates.

One of them responded: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.”

The verbal abuse escalated to physical violence, until earlier this month, “when he was attacked and almost strangled, and the guy pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken.”

“It was terrible,” Phillip said, “but I didn’t have time to think what’s happening at the time. Now when I look back, I think, oh my God.”

Emma said she decided then and there that “I am not sending him to this school any more, and that was it.”

The case underscores concerns that educators and parents have expressed for years in Berlin about the antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children.

Berlin’s Jewish high school receives between six and 10 applications a year from parents who want to move their children away from schools where they are being subjected to antisemitic harassment, said Aaron Eckstaedt, principal of the Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin.

The requests generally are “in reaction to antisemitic statements coming overwhelmingly from Arabic or Turkish classmates,” he said, adding that “in most cases, the families complain about the relative lack of response from state schools” to the problem.

Being the target of anti-Semitic attacks seems to motivate people to actually want to know who's behind them. Indeed, the sub-head of the article reads: "Case illustrates long history of antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children."

Now, to be fair, the principal has expressed dismay and regret:

When contacted by the JC, [the principal] Runkel said he regretted the antisemitic bullying of Phillip. He added he had hoped to help the student feel safe and also to make perpetrators face the consequences of their actions, but that obviously “for the parents it wasn’t fast enough”.

He said “a general approach in the school to antisemitism” was clearly needed, and was being developed.

Ahh, the "general approach" — the Gesamtkonzept! You can't do anything in Germany without one. I am sure the principal actually is disgusted by a Jewish student being insulted and "almost strangled" at his school. But things get quite awkward when the anti-Semites in Germany turn out to be, er, not so German after all.

Although Turks and Arabs are allowed to point out the fact that anti-Semitism is endemic in Turkey and the Arab world, ethnic Germans can't really come right out and do so, for fear of being charged with stoking prejudice against Germans of Turkish and Arab descent. And there are a lot more of those than there are Jewish residents of Germany.

It's delicate, you see. Very, very delicate.

The problem with all this delicacy, though, is that sometimes people need clear information: "Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural." Apparently, nobody informed these folks that sending a Jewish child to a German school with a large Muslim population might not be such a good idea.

Euphemisms can be dangerous.

In any case, Phillip got the message: "As for Phillip, he would not necessarily recommend that other children reveal their Jewishness to classmates unless it’s 'a nice, quiet school.'"

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Over at the Washington Post, an American and a Swedish professor team up to write an op-ed entitled "No, Sweden isn't Hiding and Immigrant Crime Problem, This is the Real Story". They run through the litany of excuses and explanations (expanded definition of rape laws, a culture which encourages crime reporting) without providing any relevant citations or links which I can see.

But the most remarkable claim is that Sweden provides its citizens with much more information about crime than American does because of Sweden's ideal open-information laws, which go back to the 18th century. Let me provide a few quotations — not in the original order:

[T]he government of Sweden is a model in making data accessible and actions transparent…

Sweden’s information landscape [is] a model for other countries to emulate…

Citizens in Sweden can use this information to hold their government accountable…

…Swedish police do not collect information on the ethnicity, religion, or race of perpetrators or victims of crime, which means there’s no evidence for claims that Muslim immigrants are committing crimes in record numbers.

Can you tell which of the four statements is not like the others? 

Mark Blyth on The Origins of Neo-Nationalism

It's not often you stumble across some professor who says he's going to explain the world, and then watch him actually do it.

I stumbled across Mark Blyth via MetaFilter. Mark Blyth is political science professor at Brown University — Wait! I know, you're thinking Brown University, the tiny, ultra-expensive US liberal arts college which is a hotbed of the most demented form of political correctness? Can any professor there be capable more than soft-focus P.C. pieties?

Well, Mark Blyth can. Perhaps because he's Scottish. Very Scottish, if you listen to him. In 2016, Blyth accomplished a pretty impressive trifecta in 2016: he accurately predicted Brexit, the Italian constitutional referendum, and Trump. His big idea is Global Trumpism, which involves defections both to the right and the left from the globalist neoliberal consensus. Whether it's Podemos in Spain or Trump in the U.S., middle-class voters in the West are reacting to 30 years of tectonic changes in the global political and economic landscape which have seen their quality of life being gradually eroded.

The end result is a sense of seething frustration in the middle and lower classes of Western countries. Unions have been crushed, more and more risk shifted onto the shoulders of individuals, job security is a thing of the past, international competition and automation are destroying millions of jobs which will never come back, the small luxuries of middle-class life are drifting out of reach, and each generation is seeing a decline in its standard of living compared to the last one.

All the while, the rich are getting almost exponentially richer, and mainstream politicians — whether center-right or center-left, there is no meaningful difference — seem at best helpless or disinterested at worst actively corrupt.

Here's some remarks he published in Foreign Policy (previous link), which are a bit heavy on the economics but still get the point across:

Back in 1943, [Michal Kalecki] he argued that once you target and sustain full employment over time, it basically becomes costless for labor to move from job to job. Wages in such a world will have to continually rise to hold onto labor, and the only way business can accommodate that is to push up prices. This mechanism, cost-push inflation, where wages and prices chase each other up, emerged in the 1970s and coincided with the end of the Bretton Woods regime and the subsequent oil shocks to produce high inflation in the rich countries of the West in the 1970s. In short, the system undermined itself, as both Goodhart and Kalecki predicted. As countries tried harder and harder to target full employment, the more inflation shot up while profits fell. The 1970s became a kind of “debtor’s paradise.” As inflation rose, debts fell in real terms, and labor’s share of national income rose to an all-time high, while corporate profits remained low and were pummeled by inflation. Unions were powerful and inequality plummeted….

But if it was a great time to be a debtor, it was a lousy time to be a creditor. Inflation acts as a tax on the returns on investment and lending. Unsurprisingly in response, employers and creditors mobilized and funded a market-friendly revolution where the goal of full employment was jettisoned for a new target—price stability, aka inflation—to restore the value of debt and discipline labor through unemployment. And it worked. The new order was called neoliberalism.

Over the next thirty years the world was transformed from a debtor’s paradise into a creditor’s paradise where capital’s share of national income rose to an all-time high as labor’s share fell as wages stagnated. Productivity rose, but the returns all went to capital. Unions were crushed while labor’s ability to push up wages collapsed due to the twin shocks of restrictive legislation and the globalization of production. Parliaments in turn were reduced to tweet-generating talking shops as central banks and policy technocrats wrested control of the economy away from those elected to govern.

Seen this way, what we see is a reversal of power between creditors and debtors as the anti-inflationary regime of the past 30 years undermines itself—what we might call “Goodhart’s revenge.” In this world, yields compress and creditors fret about their earnings, demanding repayment of debt at all costs. Macro-economically, this makes the situation worse: the debtors can’t pay—but politically, and this is crucial—it empowers debtors since they can’t pay, won’t pay, and still have the right to vote….

The traditional parties of the center-left and center-right, the builders of this anti-inflationary order, get clobbered in such a world, since they are correctly identified by these debtors as the political backers of those demanding repayment in an already unequal system, and all from those with the least assets. This produces anti-creditor, pro-debtor coalitions-in-waiting that are ripe for the picking by insurgents of the left and the right, which is exactly what has happened.

In short, to understand the election of Donald Trump we need to listen to the trumpets blowing everywhere in the highly indebted developed countries and the people who vote for them. 

The global revolt against elites is not just driven by revulsion and loss and racism. It’s also driven by the global economy itself. This is a global phenomenon that marks one thing above all. The era of neoliberalism is over. The era of neonationalism has just begun.

Blyth actually shines in videos; he's an outstanding and engaging speaker. I switched this video on to run in the background while I did some housework, but found myself repeatedly rushing to the computer to replay something I didn't quite get. This video is the best exposition of his theory as a whole. You'll have to get used to his Scottish burr:

Although his main critique is aimed at the technocratic managers of national and international economic policy, he also directs withering critiques at center-left politicians, who hurl accusations of politically-incorrect thoughtcrime to appear "left" while simultaneously suckling at the teat of the financial and technological elite and doing nothing to improve the lot of the middle class.

Blyth thinks the U.S. will stumble through, but Blyth believes that the outlook for Europe is much bleaker (this discussion starts at about 41:00). The Euro is a disaster which cannot be fixed, but European technocrats still refused to understand this, and continue to inflict crippling austerity on the European South in a doomed attempt to save it.

‘Lessons of History’ Taught to Empty Classrooms

Many aspects of German life, people will tell you, have been shaped by the 'lessons' Germans have learned from things which happened 80 years ago.

'We' learned, you'll hear everywhere, that state killing is wrong, which is why 'we' adopted Art. 102 of the post-war German constitution, which bans the death penalty. And which is why 'we' lecture other countries on why they, too, should end executions.

Whenever you hear a German saying something like this, ask them: Who's 'we'? They'll be puzzled at first, never having given this question a moment's thought. But then you can Socratically lead them to the realization that 'we' refers only to the educated upper class. When the Basic Law was being debated in the late 1940s, the death penalty was still wildly popular in Germany, with approval routinely between 70 and 80 percent. And the man who proposed that abolishing the death penalty be part of the German constitution was Hans-Christoph Seebohm, a right-winger who also wanted a constitutional ban on abortion.

Which brings us to video surveillance of public places in Germany. Once again, the amorphous 'we' raises its head: 'We' suffered through two dictatorships during the 20th century in which governments spied relentlessly on their citizens, which is why 'we' don't trust or want surveillance cameras. 

Except that a recent poll shows 83% of Germans do want more surveillance cameras (g) in public places.

When History was teaching its Lessons, the people — like German university students today — skipped class.