'Spiegel TV' Trashes the Rights of Criminal Suspects

The German press usually takes some care to try to preserve the anonymity of people charged with serious crimes. They are identified only by their first name and last initial, and while they are still suspects in a criminal case, their faces are obscured either by a black bar or by pixelation. Whether this is required by law is a complicated matter (g) but usually even tabloids take steps to hide the identity of alleged criminal wrongdoers who aren't already the focus of major publicity and whose lives would otherwise not be newsworthy. While the foreign press broadcast the face and last name of Andreas L., the man who crashed a jet plane into the side of a French mountain, the German press declined to do these things. Even so, German press commentators were outraged (g) about the tone of the reporting.

In fact, the press and police often hide the face even of wanted suspects whom they are trying to identify, as in the case of this man alleged to have abused young girls (g).

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But apparently that all depends on what sort of person the accused is. A German channel, Spiegel TV, just broadcast a clear image of the face of an alleged criminal, and even hounded him over and over to confess his guilt of his alleged crime, right there on the street. The suspect allegedly yelled right-wing slogans and urinated on migrant children on the Berlin subway, and has been charged with various crimes for this alleged act. Needless to say, this is a despicable action, if proven, etc. etc. Despite what you may have heard, I strongly disapprove of urinating on children. On anybody, for that matter. Unless it's consensual, and really, not even then.

In this (so far unembeddable) video at the 11:30 mark, Spiegel TV urinates on this man's rights, if you will. The reporters (1) show his face clearly; (2) inform the viewers of all of his previous criminal convictions; and (3) pursue him and his friend, asking over and over 'Why did you urinate on those children? Why would you do something so inhuman? Why did you urinate on those children?' Obviously, any answer to this question could have serious legal consequences for the suspect. And since Spiegel TV chose not to conceal his face or voice in any way, the whole world now knows who he is.

Let's conduct a thought experiment. Just few weeks ago, a group of five foreigners allegedly gang-raped (g) a teenage girl in Mönchengladbach, Germany. We know they're not ethnic Germans because the police have announced they have a 'southern complexion', which is code for darkish skin. What if Spiegel TV found one of them, broadcast his unconcealed face, and pursued him down the street and into a building, yelling 'Why did you rape that girl? How could you do something so inhuman? Why did you and your buddies rape her?'

I imagine there would be a tsunami of twitter outrage and complaints to the German Press Council in seconds, and that would be completely appropriate. But in this case ...crickets. So far.


German Word of the Week: Engländer

The blog pommesbuddha teaches me something I did not know:

And even our toolboxes are full of our favourite islanders: the colloquial word for an adjustable wrench in German is Engländer.

An adjustable wrench (Verstellschlüssel) is called an Englishman (or person, if you prefer). According to Wikipedia (g), this is either because the first such wrench was patented in England, or because when German workmen encountered English nuts and bolts measured in inches, the adjustable wrench was the fastest and cheapest way to handle them.


On Charles Bukowski

A favorite in Germany. Dan Piepenbring:

I have for many years now actively enjoyed not reading Charles Bukowski. I want to say with conviction that Bukowski is not so much a voice from hell as a voice from Hell-Lite™, a kind of flimsy, adolescent imitation of true misanthropy—but I have no evidence to furnish in my case against him. How could I? I’ve never read him. All I know is that I’ve listened to a tepid Modest Mouse song about him; I have spoken to a stranger at a bar who told me she’d “snort his words off the page,” if she could; and I’ve sneered at the cover of Ham on Rye in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. If you asked me to mount a cogent defense of my antipathy, I’d have to say something pretentious like “I find his role in the culture banal.”


One Last Observation: Some Refugees Will Be Muslim Fundamentalists

One last observation before I switch to the one-post-a-week policy. Let's say Germany grants some form of legal residency status to millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

This is quite the decent thing to do. However, the mere fact that these people are fleeing conflict does not automatically make them good fits for German society. Now many, perhaps most Syrian refugees are from the educated middle classes (they have savings they use to pay for tickets and smugglers) and are relatively progressive, by Middle East standards. Their women don't wear headscarves and are eager for education.

They'll fit right in, no problem.

However, some fraction of the refugees are going to be conservative Muslims. A smaller portion of them will be extremely conservative Muslims. Some may even be Salafists. They will be grateful to Germany for giving them refuge, but they will not change their fundamental beliefs, because that's not how humans work.

Consider, for example, the al-Nusra Front. It's a Syrian Sunni Jihadist group with links to Al-Qaeda. It's not the most radical opposition militia in Syria, that dubious honor belongs to ISIS, which considers al-Nusra to be too soft. Al-Nusra has carried out suicide bombings, and is considered a terrorist organization by about 10 foreign governments, including France and Turkey. It's also by most accounts the strongest component of the anti-government Syrian opposition. According to Wikipedia, al-Nusra is a "formidable force with strong popular support in Syria".

It's hardly far-fetched to supposed that thousands of those strong popular supporters have already fled and may flee in the future if their territory is taken over by government forces or ISIS. Once they reach Germany, what are their opinions going to be about gays? About women wearing headscarves? About pop music? About multiparty secular democracy? About swimming lessons for girls? About religious education? About cartoons mocking Mohammed?

About -- ahem, cough cough -- German policy toward Israel? (remember that Palestinian refugee girl who cried during a town meeting with Angela Merkel and then said in a follow-up interview that Israel shouldn't exist?)

About Jews? 

Germany's record on assimilating conservative Muslims (or, if you prefer, the record conservative Muslims in Germany have in integrating into German society) is mixed, to say the least. According to a recent study (g), 60% of European Muslims would not befriend a homosexual, and 45% say Jews cannot be trusted. I wonder if a fresh influx of 100,000? 200,000? 300,000? is going to make things easier?


One Migrant Post a Week

Well, I've been having a bit too much fun with the migrant issue. Not at the expense of the migrants, they're the victims of German and European leaders' decades-long refusal to face reality. Fun, rather, at the expense of German politicians and commentators, who are discovering every day that pixie-dust arguments and self-righteous posturing don't solve real-world policy problems which require the mature acceptance of trade-offs, constraints, and distinctions.

But events are making my case for me -- dozens of news stories a day confirm the train wreck that is German migrant policy. My work here is done. So from now on, I promise to post a maximum of only one (1) post about the migrant crisis per week.

I know most of you will be breathing a sigh of relief.


Germany Can Handle 800,000 Refugees This Year. And Next Year?

Germany's currently predicted to receive 800,000 refugees this year. German politicians confidently proclaim Germany can handle this amount. I think that's true.

But I don't think the refugee flow will drop to 0 on January 1, 2016, do you? And, as the head of Germany's refugee agency notes, the refugees Germany has already let in under current law will be eligible to bring 200,000 more people from their homelands under the rubric of family reunification. That number is sure to rise as well. 

If refugee flows drop by 50%, which seems unlikely absent dramatic, concerted action by all EU governments, that means by the end of 2016 Germany will have to find places for 1.2 million migrants. And if refugee flows remain steady in 2017, 1.6. Let's assume half of them are granted refugee status. That's 800,000 refugees. Assume each is allowed to bring in 2 more family members -- mothers, grandmothers, brothers, wives, etc.

That's 2.4 million new residents of Germany. They won't speak German, many of them won't be able to learn it, and the extent to which their job skills will fit with the needs of German employers will be a matter of random chance, since they weren't selected to fill needs in Germany.

If something can't go on forever, it won't. The crackdown is coming. 


Hungary to Germany: They're Your Responsibility Now

Deutschlandfunk reports (g) that officials in Budapest, instead of registering thousands of migrants just arrived from parts east, instead just let them board a train to Vienna. Out of approximately 3,500 migrants in total, a grand total of ten (10) chose to apply for asylum in Austria. The remainder got on the next train to Germany. Both Austria and Germany have loudly denounced Hungary's political leadership for failing to enforce EU law, which requires migrants to be registered in the first EU country they arrive in. In other news, German firms which specialize in shipping containers and temporary housing are making millions from the German government (g) in hastily-approved contracts with little oversight. One temporary housing firm reaping large profits is run by an ex-Stasi official.

The American economist Herbert Stein once said, approximately, if something can't go on forever, it won't. A couple days ago I sketched out a pragmatic 11-point plan for dealing with mass migration to Europe. Right now, many of those suggestions would violate various allegedly sacred European principles. But as the crisis continues, I am certain that most of my suggestions are going to become law, either at the European or national level. Watch this space.


Watching Germany Get Real

For a long while, the discussion about migration into Germany was dominated by abstract principles, so beloved of German commentators: "Dignity", "Humanity", "Fairness", "Justice", "Compassion" and the like. It sounded like a theological seminar. These abstract notions, like Olympian Gods, demanded various concrete policies in the real-world, such as accommodating all migrants who make it to Germany, helping migrant boats across the Mediterranean, rejecting any distinction between refugees and economic migrants, etc. The absolute nature of these moral injunctions made trade-offs, constraints, and distinctions -- the Three Graces of real-world policy debates -- seem positively demonic.

What a difference a few hundred thousand people and some spectacularly acrid and volatile European summits make!

This latest interview with Manfred Schmidt, the head of Germany's federal Office for Migration and Refugees, allows us to see the discussion about mass migration in Germany rapidly becoming much, much more realistic. Among the proposals Schmidt puts forward:

  • Don't forget that all the Syrians who have so far been granted some form of residency in Germany (usually asylum), will be bringing about 200,000 family members with them in the next few years.
  • Immigrants from Africa can be divided into those fleeing genuine oppression in Somalia, Eritrea or Boko Haram parts of Nigeria and the rest, who are economic migrants.
  • Although some of these latter migrants may be needed in Germany, it's neither realistic or sensible to invite 'the entire workforce of Africa' to Germany.
  • As for economic migrants from the Balkans, we need to go further in reducing their numbers. We need to quickly process their asylum applications and once rejected, quickly deport them. This will work: after large numbers of Kosovars were deported, the number of new migrants has plummeted from 1600 to 60.
  • It may sound 'cruel' to prevent children of economic migrants from going to school while their hopeless asylum applications are denied, but it's even more cruel to dangle a false hope of permanent resettlement in front of their eyes.
  • Cash transfer payments to economic migrants from the West Balkans should be stopped entirely. Since all their necessities are already given to them for free in migrant hostels, the €140 per month each family member gets adds up to € 1600 if they are allowed to stay three months before deportation. This is enough for the entire family to live on in rural Albania (average monthly wage €200) for an entire year. So yes, some of these migrants are coming for the money, and that should be stopped.

About the only concession to abstract principles is Schmidt saying that there should be no upper limit on the number of refugees accepted. But in general, the discussion is rapidly taking on a much more pragmatic turn. Proposals that were denounced as Draconian and crypto-fascist a few weeks ago are now firmly in the mainstream. This is healthy, in my view. 

In one part of the interview, Schmidt notes that many migrants tell him want to make it to Germany because its economy is booming, and because it is a 'safe and orderly' society in which people 'actually stop at red lights'. 'Our reputation is better than we think', Schmidt says. Never underestimate how enormous an achievement an orderly society is.


Small German Leather Postal Bag from 1952

For funky charm, there's nothing like a German flea market. One of the finest is just a short bike ride away, in a street called Im Dahlacker (g). It's a covered indoor market open every Wednesday and Saturday. There, you can find anything from commemorative egg spoons to used letters to Richard Clayderman CDs. A large selection of eerie dolls. A pamphlet on how to make your own clown figurines. A painting featuring a black-painted banana being slit with a knife, with red paint oozing out.

And this square black leather case for a postman:

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Hard to tell exactly what it was for: I presume that even in the dire post-war year of 1952, the average German postman had more mail than would fit into this wine-bottle-sized square case. Maybe it was for a flashlight? Who can say? At any rate, based on the liberal use of stamps on the inside of the cover, I bet there are dozens of bureaucratic entries tracing the entire history of this piece of West German government property. In fact, I'm not even sure it was legal for me to buy it under the Government Property Registration and Transfer Act of 1973. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. 


What I'd Do To/With/For the Immigrants

So, I've been rather hard on Germany's immigration policies lately. But it's not sporting to criticize the authorities without suggesting a workable alternative -- no magic pixie dust. Here's a rough sketch of one, off the top of my head. Let me know what you think in comments.

First, the pragmatic (or, to skeptics, cynical) principles and/or real-world constraints on which the policy is based:

  1. Immigration policy should put the interests of that country's citizens first. Other interests come into play, but in any democratic country, the will of the people should rule, as long as it is consistent with basic human-rights principles. There is no human-rights principle that says a national of one country has a right to live abroad simply because he or she wishes to. Uncontrolled free migration has never been and will never be a human right.
  2. Every country has a tolerance limit on the number of people from foreign cultures which it can accommodate without negative consequences. The more remote the culture from which the immigrant comes, the bigger the potential for problems. 
  3. The only successful, permanent solutions to the problems behind current refugee flows must come from within the affected countries, through a process of reconciliation and economic development. Germany should support these processes, and does so right now, however imperfectly and inconsistently. Germany's policies under the Nazi era were repugnant, and Germany has historical responsibilities growing out of them. Allowing uncontrolled mass migration is not one of those responsibilities. The difficulties of foreign countries thousands of miles away cannot be solved by German immigration policy, and can be made worse, for instance by brain drain.
  4. Germany cannot fix the root causes of current migration. Germany has no influence on the civil war in Syria. None of the state parties who are supporting proxies in Iraq or Syria (Iran, Russia, Gulf Arab States, etc.) cares about Germany's opinion, or the opinion of the EU. Conditions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Balkans cannot be remedied by any German or EU policy short of military intervention, which should not and will not occur.
  5. Those who are permitted to resettle temporarily in Germany for humanitarian reasons should be selected, to the greatest extent possible, on the basis of greatest objective need and/or danger, as determined by current international human-rights law.

With those in mind, here's my 11-point sketched-on-a-cocktail-napkin plan:

  1. International bodies should drastically increase funding for refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other areas near war zones. Funding is beginning to dwindle, causing conditions in those camps to deteriorate. For humanitarian and practical reasons, this must be reversed. No matter how many refugees the EU accepts, as a practical matter, most refugees are going to stay in those camps, and conditions need to be improved there.
  2. The EU should build a high-tech fence around its external borders with non-EU nations. The 'dream' of a borderless Europe cannot survive a reality in which large disparities in the standard of living exist. And in fact it is now dead. Sooner or later, fences will be built and patrols increased. Better sooner than later. And when I talk about disparities in standard of living, I am talking about northwest Europe. No MENA migrant is saying to herself: 'If only I could get to Moldova, Albania, or Serbia!' They don't even want to get to Greece, Italy, or Spain. They all want to get to places that have relatively sophisticated and tolerant societies and strong economies. Eastern European states are on the frontline, but they are not the destination. Routine traffic and train checks within the Schengen borders should be increased based on algorithmic modeling of human-smuggling routes.
  3. The punishment for someone convicted of human smuggling will be a minimum of 5 years in prison, followed by deportation, if applicable. If serious injury occurs to migrants, minimum 7 years. If death, minimum 10 years. No exceptions, unless you testify against the other members of the smuggling ring. These harsh penalties should be used as bargaining chips against small fry to get them to inform on higher-ups. Surveillance, sting operations and undercover informants should be used liberally to infiltrate smuggler groups. If these sound like harshly repressive methods, that's because they are. Governments can and should use severe methods against harmful, dangerous exploitation. And these methods work: they decimated the American mafia, which was once thought to be invulnerable. I bet a lot of cops currently enforcing pointless marijuana laws would prefer to fight human smuggling.
  4. None of these measures will stop migration, of course, but they will reduce it substantially, and will gather data for better interdiction strategies. To have controlled, humane, rational, fair system of migration, there is no alternative to a strong, secure border. In the era of drones, satellites, and GPS, this is actually not an insurmountable problem. Where will the funding come from? Some will come from reduced numbers of migrants. Other funding will have to be found. But since there will be overwhelming support for this project in places like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, I suspect the funding will be found. If you go to Hungary and say: 'Here's €100 million -- now please take tens of thousands of new immigrants from Africa and the Middle East', Hungary will say -- and has said -- no way. Never. Over my dead body. Not in a million years. Hungary will not change its mind on its own, and there is no way to force it to change its policy. If you go to Hungary and say: 'The EU wants to give you €100 million to build a secure, reliable, modern border fence so that you can better control who enters your country', the response will be 'Yes, please!'
  5. All states within Europe, perhaps with the exception of Belarus, should be declared safe countries of origin. All migrants from Albania, Kosovo, etc. should be swiftly deported unless they can qualify for refugee status, meaning they fear for their lives because of war, or other grave threats specifically directed at them personally. Relative poverty does not justify refugee status. Nor do allegations of discrimination, unless they directly threaten life. The stupid code of blood revenge in Albania is definitely not Germany's problem, and not a reason to grant refugee status. The tiny fraction of rural Albanians still involved in this foolish and illegal practice should be encouraged to abandon it, as their fellow citizens already have.
  6. All migrants who arrive in any Western European country should be fingerprinted and have a DNA analysis performed and stored in a secure EU-wide database. They're already fingerprinted, of course, but DNA analysis is cheap and much more reliable.
  7. Germany should set up stations in refugee camps near the Syrian border and at embassies and consulates in other problem areas. Applications will be processed there, at the site. If refugee status is granted, the person will be granted an entry visa into Germany and permitted to travel normally. They will be met at the airport and taken to housing and set up with benefits. They will be permitted to stay as long as the situation in their country of origin justifies. Once the situation stabilizes, they will be returned to their home country. Refugee status was never meant to be permanent. If they have spent a long time in Germany and made a successful transition to German society, they may apply for residency status or citizenship.
  8. Migrants who arrive in Germany without refugee status will be housed in humane detention centers. Their movements will be monitored with ankle bracelets to ensure they do not disappear into the illegal underground. If they do any serious lawbreaking during the period of detention, they will be immediately deported -- no questions asked, no appeals. They will be given lawyers and permitted to make a case for refugee status or another argument for being granted residency. If that is denied, and their appeals fail, they will be deported within one month. They will also be warned that if they attempt to return, they will be imprisoned. If they go underground, they will be subject to immediate deportation upon discovery -- no questions asked, no appeals.
  9. In consultation with other EU member states, Germany will set an annual upper limit on the number of humanitarian migrants, including refugees, which it will harbor. I'd suggest something like 250,000 per year. A million refugees a year is not sustainable for Germany. Some of those will be allocated for urgent humanitarian cases, such as people with medical conditions that can't be treated in their country, or people who are faced with immediate, deadly threats because of severe, government-sponsored persecution or war. Grants of refugee or humanitarian status should be based on selection for greatest need/threat. They should be rationed out so that the yearly maximum is not exceeded. The willingness of other EU countries to accept refugees will surely increase once secure borders exist and they know that they will be expected only to accommodate a set number of refugees known in advance.
  10. This will mean that thousands of people who do qualify as refugees under international law will be rejected by Germany because Germany has hit its yearly limit. This is unfortunate, but the number of refugees that Germany can handle should and must be determined by Germany, not by the number of refugees out there. Germany will debate about how many refugees it should accept per year, and those who get the most votes for their number limit should win. Those refugees who are rejected by Germany should be encouraged to apply for refugee status in another country, with a notice that Germany found their claims justified, but has no room under the quota.
  11. As for non-humanitarian policy, German should institute a points system to attract immigrants who have shown a specific interest in migrating to Germany and have relevant job and language skills. There should be quotas to ensure that this immigration is spread out among numerous countries, to avoid (excessive) brain-drain effects. If you want to foster a harmonious and welcoming attitude toward immigrants, the best thing you can do is make sure most of the ones you let in are well-educated, employed and productive, bringing ideas and skills that will make them an immediate benefit to everyone, including members of the native population.