Resettling Victims, not Persecutors

In just the past week, Germany has conducted huge raids in several different cities, and detained or arrested dozens of people on charges of aiding or joining Islamic extremist groups. The actions smacked of desperation. New York Times wonders whether Germany's laws and security forces are up to the task of preventing attacks from the hundreds of suspected jihadis (g) Germany allowed to enter its territory over the past few years:

Yet the modest yield [of one raid] — just one arrest and 15 placed under investigation and released — muted any chest thumping.

More disconcerting still, the man arrested, a 36-year-old Tunisian believed to be plotting an attack in Germany, was known to the authorities as a suspect in a horrific 2015 assault on a national museum in the Tunisian capital.

The case is already reviving familiar questions of whether the German system is riddled with loopholes and problems that pose a risk to national security and whether Germany’s post-World War II structures are outmoded for 21st-century terrorist threats

Like Anis Amri, the Tunisian suspected of killing 12 by plowing a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin last year, the latest Tunisian suspect, who was not identified, entered Germany as an asylum seeker. He then slipped through the fingers of the authorities while his deportation was thwarted by bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of documents, even after Tunisian authorities had alerted their German counterparts.

The good news this time was that the police, after thoroughly tracking their suspect, say they broke up a suspected plot in its early stages.

Yet that success did little to ease the pressures on Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a stiff election challenge this year, for her decision to allow in nearly a million migrants and refugees in 2015. Even as Ms. Merkel’s government praised the police for the crackdown, prosecutors conceded that the Tunisian’s tale exposed persistent shortcomings.

One of the problems with simply opening your country's borders to anyone who's capable of reaching them is that you're not only going to let in refugees, you're also going to let in the people who persecuted the refugees. After all, if the tides turn, someone who's a well-known terrorist or criminal will have just as much reason to flee -- if not much more reason -- as the people he once bombed, shot, or tortured.

Fortunately for the persecutors, Germany didn't require them to even show identification, much less disclose anything about their background. They just strolled across the border.

The United States (until recently, of course), has done a much better job of actually ensuring that the people who are resettled were the victims, not the persecutors. Natasha Hall, a former refugee screener for U.S. Immigration describes the process:

The process starts with the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR conducts a series of interviews and screenings, including home country reference checks and a biological screening such as iris scans. Then UNHCR has to decide if a case is suitable for resettlement and which country an applicant can apply to. (Out of more than 65 million refugees worldwide, about 0.01 percent were resettled to the United States last year.) Another international organization assists with resettlement processing by collecting documents and conducting more interviews with the families, looking carefully for discrepancies.

By the time Homeland Security steps in to conduct an interview, the officer already has a stack of biographical information on the refugee. Ironically, Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians, who are all now barred from entering the United States, are far and away the most well-documented refugees we interview. I typically had to review a stack of high school degrees, baptismal certificates, marriage and birth certificates, honors and awards, photos with U.S. service personnel, recommendations from American military members, and conscription booklets or cards, which every man in those countries had to carry. Since the United States has been in Iraq for more than 10 years, the government has a plethora of information on Iraqis — in many cases, terrorists, criminals and persecutors are recognizable and denied. In one instance, because we had this information, I knew that a man had worked with Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency for years and potentially tortured people and, because of checks already in place, that person’s application was denied.

The US process is arguably too strict -- Hall describes the case of one deserving candidate who became impatient with the length of the screening process and joined the overland route to Europe. But even if Germany had imposed a process only half as rigorous as that of the USA, Germany would be a very different place today.


Canada to Unaccompanied Male Migrants: Stay Out

The Canadian government has decided it will

accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away....

Quebec premier Philippe Couillard seemed to corroborate that report ahead of a meeting with Trudeau and Canada’s provincial leaders where the refugee plan was high on the agenda.

“All these refugees are vulnerable but some are more vulnerable than others – for example, women, families and also members of religious minorities who are oppressed,” he said, although he rejected the notion of “exclusion” of single men.

Faisal Alazem, of the Syrian Canadian Council, a non-profit group in talks with the government to sponsor refugees, told Radio-Canada of the plans: “It’s a compromise.

“This is not the ideal scenario to protect vulnerable people – women and children and men too. But I think what happened in Paris has really changed the dynamic and public opinion,” he said.

Paris, you will recall, refers to the attack in which a "majority" of the attackers were young male terrorists whom Germany welcomed into the heart of Europe from Syria. Germany issued invitations and messages of welcome, swelling refugee flows to Europe. Germany then disobeyed its own law and EU law and allowed thousands of young males to enter the country with no background checks. ISIS saw its chance, and even bragged about exploiting the migrant flows to smuggle terrorists into Europe.

Germany did nothing to control the migrant flows, and its security officials misled the public, claiming there was no reason to believe terrorists were among the migrants -- despite many reports from migrants themselves that this was the case. We now know that those German security officials knew even then about the problem, and are now scrambling to identify and control around 400 jihadists whom they let into Europe before another attack takes place. (I should say 400 more jihadists, since a fair number have already died after attempting or committing terrorist attacks.)

Because accountability is a concept foreign to German politics, these security officials still have a job.

Am I criticizing Canada? Of course not, this is the only sensible decision if you're going to allow resettlement. If only Merkel had been this prudent.


Merkel and Trump are Both Wrong

In light of the chaos and protests at American airports, people ask me whether, as a mass-immigration skeptic, I support Trump's immigration ban.

The answer is a loud, emphatic 'no.' 

Let me make this short.

I oppose Merkel's immigration policy from Muslim countries because she has let in hundreds of thousands of random, unknown people, largely young males, from the most unstable parts of the world. She has let them in without doing any background checks, a reckless policy fueled by sentimental delusions. As a result, she has let in hundreds of terrorists and tens of thousands of criminals. When all is said and done, we will learn that the majority of the people she let into Germany had no legal right to be here. And even the ones who do stay and don't commit serious crimes will, to an unacceptable extent, lack the ability to successfully integrate into German society.

The US is vastly different. American Arabs and Muslim immigrants actually do quite well compared to Americans. Both due to policy and due to America's attractiveness to immigrants, the US gets a much better quality of Muslim immigrant, in terms of education and ability and skill. Plus, as I have pointed out again and again, the US screens immigrants and refugees with extreme care. It's not perfect, no policy ever is, but it does represent a sensible, responsible balance between humanitarian and national security interests. It also means that women and children are a much greater component of US refugee resettlement, as they should be.

Trump's improvised blanket ban on immigrants from only the 7 Muslim countries in which Trump has no business interests is idiotic, inhumane, and counterproductive.

There is a middle way between Trump and Merkel. The vast majority of Western countries already follow it. So should Germany, so should the USA.


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.


Background Checks on Refugees Are Not a Human Rights Violation

People find it hard to believe when I tell them Germany let hundreds of thousands of people into the country without any background checks. Germany is supposed to be one of the world's most efficient and bureaucratic countries, and in many respects it is.

And yet it's true -- Germany let people in without any idea who they were. Germany even let people in who obviously lied about who they were. And Germany still has no idea who thousands of these people are.

The sheer numbers of people entering Germany totally swamped a system that wasn't very effective even when dealing with smaller numbers of people. Thousands were let into Germany with obviously forged passports (g), even though this is a serious crime under German law, as it is under the law of every other country. Even when migrants arrived without any identity papers (hundreds of passports were found stuffed in the toilets of train stations (g) just across the German border), the federal agency didn't even look at the migrants' cellphones (g).

To this day, the precise identity of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants is still unknown. Only now a year and a half after they arrived, have all migrants been fingerprinted. The process has revealed hundreds of cases of migrants registering multiple times in different German cities (g) with different identities to obtain additional social welfare benefits -- the fraud is estimated to have cost taxpayers millions of Euros.

Contrast this with the process for resettling Syrian refugees in the United States:

...I received a call from the United Nations asking if my family would like to resettle somewhere else. Based on our documents, stories and circumstances — our large family, five girls, my husband’s potential as a healthy worker — we had been deemed eligible to apply for refugee status.

We could not return home to Syria. We could not continue living on the brink of starvation in Lebanon. A safe option was available: We began the application process to come to the United States.

The process started with a series of meetings with U.S. government representatives — at least five in-person interviews with each of us and countless phone conversations. The questions were very detailed: about my family, my friends, how I spent my time. The interviewers often knew the answers to the questions before they asked them. They asked about my life going back to the day I was born; they even knew the location of the hospital. My story is my story, so I knew that the details would match their information. But I was stunned by the level of scrutiny and the length of the process.

Each member of the family told their story, and those stories had to be consistent with interviews given by other people who knew us. If our answers didn’t match information U.S. officials already had, or if they couldn’t validate our information, we didn’t progress to the next step. I had only a glimmer of hope that this would work — and that we could have a safe life for my daughters. We lived on that hope.....

Now my daughters, who previously spoke no English, are in school, and my husband has a good job as a driver for a clothing company. My biggest dream is for them to have a good education and good careers, and for us to be part of this society: to learn the language, to do something productive, to integrate. That’s exactly what Trump believes is impossible.

The irony is that Trump thinks the U.S. system for vetting refugees is lax, and he's wrong. The country that is actually making the mistakes he thinks the U.S. is making is Germany. It's Germany, not the U.S., which ignored its citizens' legitimate interest in known who is entering their country.

Trump notoriously referred to Merkel's decision to open the borders as a 'catastrophic mistake'. That may be one of the the only things I agree with him on.


I'm Big in Israel!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist from the Israeli business daily TheMarker, who wanted to know my views about German immigration policy. I thought that might be a reasonable way to sum up my thoughts all in one place, since the questions were quite wide-ranging. The article was just published. It's in Hebrew, but it seems to contain quite a bit of my interview, if Google Translate can be trusted.

Just to ensure nothing gets lost in translation, here are my original answers. I've edited a few parts for clarity, but no major changes.

There's not much happening on the immigration front right now, so I've largely moved on to other subjects. I'll let this stand here as my (quasi) last word on the subject.

You are an immigrant yourself, born in Brussels and grew up in the US. what differentiates you from Muslim immigrants? 

I’d say there’s not much difference between myself and a “culturally” but not especially religious Muslim immigrant who has an advanced degree, speaks fluent German, participates in community life, and is employed and pays taxes. In fact, I know quite a number of people like that here in Germany. Immigrants such as myself and my Muslim friends contribute positively to German society. We have never needed welfare or committed a serious crime, and have consistently been employed and paid our taxes.

The two question when it comes to immigration is: How many? Which ones? A manageable number of people like us is a benefit to any country.

But that’s not what Germany’s getting. Hundreds of thousands of young males (about 65-70% of the 2015 arrivals were males under 35) with little education and no job skills were allowed to enter Germany in 2015. Those people chose Germany not because of any affinity for the country or knowledge of its culture, but simply because they thought they might be able to find a place here, and had been told by smugglers that Germany ‘needed’ and ‘invited’ them.

The German borders should be open for all, shouldn't they?

Definitely not. There is a fraction of left-wing extremists who do not believe countries should be allowed to have borders, but they’re no more than 5% of the population of Germany, at most. A 2009 Pew poll found that 25 million people worldwide would like to permanently relocate to Germany. If that happened, Germany as we know it would vanish.

This is why no country in the world has ever voluntarily had unregulated open borders since the formation of the modern nation-state. Germany’s existing laws – including Article 16a of the Basic Law (Germany’s modern Constitution) and its Asylum Law set out a reasonable legal framework for who gets to enter the country. The problem was that Angela Merkel decided to order that these laws be ignored.

What is your main criticism against the German immigration policy, especially in the past couple of years?

The fundamental flaw in German immigration policy is that there is no overall German law for permitting the orderly migration of people with education, job skills, and motivation to adapt to German society. This means that much German immigration is regulated by asylum law: someone shows up in the country illegally, and then claims asylum. These are not people Germany has invited or whom whom Germany needs. Rather, they are people who happened to want to relocate to Germany and could afford the smugglers’ fees. Some have valid asylum claims, many do not.

That is the long-term background problem. The more recent problem is the government’s total failure to prepare for the migrant influx in 2015. Chancellor Merkel and other leading politicians sent out inviting signals of ‘welcome’ which induced over a million people – 65-70% of whom were young and male – to start on the path to Germany. The majority of the 2015 arrivals were not Syrians. They came from Albania, Afghanistan, Serbia, Georgia, Kosovo, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, India, and dozens of other countries which are not at war, although they are poor and some have regional insurgencies. The proportion of Syrians went up in 2016, but the overall numbers (around 200,000) are much lower, since Germany has re-introduced some border controls.

This huge influx of people all at once in 2015 completely swamped the German immigration system. Hundreds of thousands of young males from the most unstable parts of the world flooded into Germany. There were no backgrounds checks, no fingerprint records, no attempt at verification of their identity or background. A majority of them claimed they had no identity papers or presented fake ones. Germany still has no reliable information about who thousands of these people are.

Can’t Germany just send them back? No. The slow, cumbersome German deportation laws have broken down completely: there are now about 500,000 people whose asylum claims have been rejected but who are still in the country. There are literally dozens of ways to avoid deportation: get a certificate of illness from a sympathetic doctor, argue your homeland is too unsafe, physically resist when you get on the deportation plane, claim asylum in a Christian church, or simply go underground. Some Afghans have even avoided deportation by claiming to be Taliban, absurdly enough. This claim automatically starts a complex legal process, during which the migrant is permitted to stay in Germany and move freely.

Another problem is that the countries from which these men come don’t want many of them back. Migrants from North Africa are committing crimes at such a high rate that it’s become clear that a large portion of the criminal underclass of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco came to Germany. Those countries can keep their undesirables in Germany by simply failing to issue the necessary deportation paperwork. Thousands of deportations are stalled for this reason alone. The Tunisian truck attacker, Anis Amri, was already known to be a criminal and dangerous radical Islamist, and was supposed to be deported, but Tunisia refused to issue the paperwork confirming his nationality -- until two days after the terror attack. Germany, by the way, provided € 215 million in development aid to Tunisia (g) in 2015.

Less spectacular crimes have also been committed by migrants. This is understandable: they are mostly young men, the group most likely to commit crime in any society. They have nothing to do all day, do not speak German or English, the majority do not have even the equivalent of a high-school education. They are now living in a culture where alcohol is cheap and available everywhere, women dress in a ‘revealing’ fashion, and the cultural controls of their community and family are gone. The predictable result has been an increase in crime near migrant shelters. Most of the crime has been nonviolent property offenses, but there have also been dozens of killings, thousands of assaults and sex crimes, three completed terrorist attacks, and one serious attempt (Jaber al Bakr, a radicalized Syrian who committed suicide in prison after being arrested for creating 1.5 kg of high explosive and planning to bomb a Berlin airport).

The federal government does not keep accurate statistics on the number of crimes committed by recent migrants, but claims that migrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than Germans of a similar demographic background – i.e. disproportionately young and male. Backers of the political consensus see this as reassuring, critics of German policy point out that even if this assertion is true, it still means thousands of crimes are now happening in Germany because of the migrant influx. Further, migrants tend to commit different kinds of crimes than Germans. In particular, they have committed hundreds of sexual assaults in public against random strangers (including many against children), a type of crime that was much more uncommon before the migrants arrived, and which has a particularly strong impact on quality of life.

Since migrant shelters are located in poor and working-class neighborhoods (which lack the political power to oppose them), it is poorer Germans – including many established immigrants – who are bearing the brunt of migrant crime.

Do you think Islam the worst threat on Europe? If so, why?

I would distinguish between Islam and Islamism. I don’t see Islam itself as a threat to Europe. The vast majority of European Muslims are in fact peaceful and law-abiding, and don’t pose a ‘threat’.

However, if we talk about adapting successfully to European societies, there is a problem. Once again, it’s a question of how many? And which ones? Most Muslims in Germany were imported from Eastern Anatolia as factory labor in the 1960s, or as refugees during the Lebanese civil war. Their numbers then steadily expanded by chain migration and family reunification. These persons were originally intended to be temporary manual labor, and were not chosen because they were likely to adapt successfully to Europe. Muslims have come to shape the character many neighborhoods in Germany and France, and continue to gain both in numbers and political power. Some immigrant communities now effectively work according to their own rules.

This doesn’t mean they are a threat – the mere fact that someone may have conservative religious beliefs and wear a hijab is not a ‘threat’ to anyone. But the stubborn reality ias that Muslims in Germany and France do worse on most measures of social integration and flourishing than native populations. The existence of many individual success stories cannot hide the fact that Germans of Turkish descent are only half as likely to attend university as native Germans, or that France’s prisons are up to 70% Muslim. (We have only estimates, since France refuses to record the religion or ethnicity of prisoners). And although there is a taboo against mentioning it, statistics show that foreigners and those with a foreign background commit crimes at a much higher rate than ethnic Germans. Two things are true: the majority of Muslims in Germany are law-abiding, but the rate of crime among Muslims is higher than among ethnic Germans.

Muslims also face discrimination. European countries are not nations of immigrants. Each has its own unique cultural identity and heritage. They are not new, young nations such as Israel or the United States. Neither their people nor their culture is accustomed to embracing large numbers of culturally-foreign outsiders. Yet that is what many of these countries have tried to do. The result is social tension, discrimination, exclusion, and distrust.

Muslims will not ‘destroy’ or ‘take over’ Europe, that sort of rhetoric is irresponsible and not supported by the facts. But the results of past mistaken immigration policies will burden Europe for decades.

What type of immigration policy should Germany adopt?

As I’ve written before, I advocate a two-tier system inviting skilled workers and asylum-seekers. First, Germany should welcome a certain number skilled, educated workers a year by using a Canada-style point system, where you get credit for being educated, having a job offer, knowing some German, and being ready and willing to integrate. Because of past mistakes in immigration policy, many Germans associate immigrants with social dysfunction, crime, and menial labor. Only a plan to import skilled immigrants who will immediately contribute from day one can overcome this negative impression.

I would also certainly keep Germany’s asylum policy. Because of its notorious history, German has included a right to political asylum in its very constitution, and has one of the world’s most generous asylum policies, if not the most. This is appropriate. However, the current system is open to massive abuse: people sneak into the country illegally, file an asylum claim using a made-up story, and often disappear underground before the claim is even judged. As I pointed out above, the system for deporting failed asylum-seekers is broken.

Asylum claims should be processed outside German territory. Asylum seekers should be subjected to a thorough medical check and background investigation, and their identity determined through fingerprints and DNA. Their stories should be verified as thoroughly as possible. Destroying documents of lying about your identity will automatically result in exclusion. Asylum seekers should be chosen on the basis of greatest need and danger, not on current basis, which favors those healthy enough to travel and rich enough to bribe smugglers. There should be an annual upper limit decided by the legislature.

Most countries already manage asylum this way; Germany should follow suit.

What do you say to left-wingers who claim that almost an absolute majority of Muslims immigrant are good hard working people who want to assimilate in the German society, and that they are very important to the German economy as well, as cheap labour for jobs that local Germans are not willing to do?

As I’ve said, most Muslims who have lived in Germany for some time are indeed hard-working and law abiding, although their overall net economic contribution (minus social welfare benefits, which they collect at a higher rate) to German society is modest.

The 1.2 million (the numbers are still imprecise, because the sheer number of arrivals has swamped recordkeeping systems) who have arrived since the beginning of 2015 are another matter entirely. Almost none of them has the preconditions for integrating successfully into German society. They don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture or customs, have very little education, and don’t have the kind of job skills Germany wants or needs. One recent study showed that only 34,000 have managed to find jobs so far, and most of those jobs are temporary menial labor.

If they are allowed to stay, these hundreds of thousands of new arrivals will compete directly with low-skilled German workers – cashiers, delivery drivers, nursing aides, warehouse workers, store clerks, gardeners, janitors and the like. This sector of the German economy has seen no growth in its real wages since decades, while prices and rents consistently rise. When financially-strapped Germans see a flood of cheap immigrant labor coming to compete for their jobs, they will be extremely angry. And they will vote accordingly. Already, studies show thousands of working-class Germans switching from the Social Democratic Party to the AfD. And this is happening during boom times with low unemployment in Germany. When the next business downturn hits, the resentment will only escalate.

Germany needs skilled workers, not menial workers. Yet even if Germany wanted to import menial workers, the question arises: why from Muslim countries? There are millions of EU citizens from Eastern Europe who are eager for low-skilled jobs in Germany, and who come from nations which are culturally much closer to Germany than, say, Afghanistan.

Do you support Merkel? Where do you position yourself on the political map?

I support a strong social welfare state, so I would probably be a left-wing Social Democrat on this issue. I’d probably vote SPD if I voted in Germany. I am convinced, based on my review of the literature, that mass immigration poses a grave threat to the social welfare state: historically, support for welfare goes down the more diverse a society is -- or becomes.

Merkel has been a competent Chancellor overall, a sort of technical caretaker who governs by consensus. This no-drama approach is very popular among Germans. Merkel is a reasonable choice for times where everything is going well. However, I think she has made several critical mistakes, the most recent being the reckless migrant influx, and should step down. There will be little change in any case, since the German political landscape is so fractured that only a center consensus coalition has a chance of winning.

Do you fear that the terror attacks by Muslims and the hostility towards them in Germany would lead to the rise of the extreme right, represented particularly by the party ‘Alternative for Germany’?

This is already happening, all over Europe. In the Netherlands, France, the UK, Hungary, and Sweden, right-wing parties (or movements, such as Brexit) are gaining unprecedented support. Germany has long had a strong suspicion of nationalist conservative parties (for obvious reasons) which has kept the AfD’s support to under 15%, for now. But that is a very large number in Germany’s fracture political landscape, and represents a tripling in support from 2013.

The AfD currently easily outpolls the Green and Left parties. For years, the AfD profited by being the only party which clearly, openly opposed Chancellor Merkel’s open-borders policy. Many of its other positions are extreme by German standards, and unpopular among German voters. Now that many other politicians in Germany have basically copied many AfD positions on immigration, its support may drop. But right now, it is still climbing slowly in the polls, and may even soon pull equal to the collapsing Social Democratic Party, which would be a true milestone in German politics.

What are the changes you sense in the public discussion regarding Muslims in the past year? Do Germans feel more free to criticise Islam freely, or is it still considered a non P.C subject to talk about?

There has been a huge change. In mid-2015, an almost euphoric attitude of Willkommenskultur existed in the German media and public life. The entire mainstream press, including tabloids, referred to all the migrants as ‘refugees’. Volunteers arranged train convoys to carry them into Germany, often more than 10,000 refugees in one day. German volunteers distributed teddy bears to the children, food and clothes to the adults, and helped overburdened government agencies find a place for all the new arrivals to sleep. A prominent Green politician, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, famously exclaimed: “We’ve suddenly been given the gift of people!” (Wir bekommen plötzlich Menschen geschenkt!). The press was full of ecstatic stories about Germany becoming a new kind of ‘moral’ superpower. Mainstream magazines and newspapers published dozens of profiles of ‘poster child’ refugees. There were so many profiles of Syrian doctors that the very phrase ‘Syrian doctor’ became a meme. Germany basked in praise from Obama, EU officials, the UN, refugee rights groups, and other liberal internationalists the world over. People who raised doubts about the policy were often denounced and attacked as xenophobes, racists, or worse.

Now, of course, we know that the majority of the 2015 arrivals were neither Syrians nor doctors. Costs are running somewhere around €2 billion per month, since virtually all the migrants are on welfare for asylum seekers, which includes rent, food, housing, medical care, education, and a monthly allowance of between €150 and €400, depending on circumstances. Shelters housing young male refugees are notoriously chaotic, spectacular crimes by immigrants have horrified observers, local governments are facing huge financial strain, the statistics on migrant participation in integration and language classes are disappointing.

Even migrants who wanted to learn German – and that certainly was not all of them – are finding it extremely difficult, and many have given up. German is a difficult language to learn, especially if you have never used the Latin alphabet and are illiterate in your own mother tongue, which is true of at least 30-40% of migrants. Most Germans who volunteered to teach German of help manage shelters have long since gone back to their normal jobs and lives. In February of 2016, two-thirds of Germans believed the refugees could be successfully integrated. Recent polls show only a minority – as low as 15% in some polls -- believes this. Politicians now routinely call for stepped-up deportations, a position that only the AfD held until recently.

The euphoria has worn off. Immigration and integration now top the list of concerns of German voters. The mood is hesitant and uncertain. Local communities continue to request billions from the federal government to provide for migrants, almost all of whom are still dependent on government welfare and charity. Nobody knows how the situation will turn out, but you don’t have to be a pessimist to see the potential for dark days ahead.


Melania Wasn't "Sad", She was Slavic

During Donald Trump's inauguration, his Slovene wife Melania looked sober and serious most of the time. This has led Americans to believe she was sad, depressed, horrified, anguished, perhaps even trapped in an abusive relationship.

What these slightly fatuous Americans don't understand is that the European conception of personal dignity and institutional respect demands that public figures taking part in official ceremonies look serious at all times. In Europe, there is no penalty for looking stiff, even scowling, during official ceremonies; that's expected. There can be a significant penalty for a smile, or for any sign of levity. So everyone plays it safe and refrains from all except fleeting smiles.

Let me make my point with pictures of Supreme Courts. First, the American:

US Supreme Court

By my count, we have a whopping six smiles: the entire back row (Sotomayor, Breyer, Alito, Kagan) and two in the front (Roberts and Kennedy). Justice Scalia, the balding Italian man sitting next to the black guy, is wearing a sort of half-smile. Justice Thomas, the black guy, is wearing an angry scowl, his resting face, which seems out of place in this photograph, but would be perfectly normal in Europe.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the far right, seems to be cringing in terror. In fact, she seems to be looking at the same thing which has attracted Justice Thomas' attention. Maybe this photo was taken just seconds after the naked knife-wielding maniac broke into the photo studio screaming about CIA mind control: so far, only Thomas and Ginsburg notice him. Fortunately, he was tased by security before he could reach the Legal Minds.

Anyhoo, where was I? Oh right, facial expressions. Since Melania is Slovene, here's the Slovenian Supreme Constitutional Court:

Slovene

The first thing you notice about this official picture from the Court's website is how shitty it is. It's only 71 KB in size, and 60% of that is the surroundings. The picture is so crappy that if you zoom in to try to see whether any of the Justices are smiling, their faces devolve into pixelblurs. You get the definite impression that the Justices probably thought the entire idea of having their picture taken is a ridiculous waste of time, and tried to make it as unrevealing as possible. Nevertheless, I think we can still safely say: no open-mouthed smiles, possibly a mild expression of amusement on the woman in the center's face. That's all.

Bundesverfassungsgericht-senat_2

Here's the Second Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court. Two open-mouthed smiles, the rest tight-lipped neutral expressions. Here's the First Senate:

Bvg_senat_1_2010

One open-mouthed grin. I can't even find a decent group photo of the French Court de Cassation (which has 85 members divided into a bunch of different groups), but the individual photos of the group leaders here (f) feature no open-mouthed smiles I can find.

And just to round things out, the European Court of Justice:

RTEmagicC_European-Court-of-Justice-Members-2013.jpg

A few smiles, a few scowls, but mostly neutral, purposeful expressions.

And in this particular respect, Slavs seem to be even more serious and scowly than Western Europeans. Here's the Polish Constitutional Tribunal:

Members-of-Polands-Supreme-Court

Being a Slav, as they say, is serious business.

So Melania wasn't "sad", you chirpy, fleering American flibbertygibberts. She was just showing respect by adopting a serious Slavic scowl.


German Word and Rule of the Week: Knöllchen

A Düsseldorfer on Facebook recently found this underneath her windshield:

Knoellchen

It reads:

"You're parked illegally!

Ticket!

Joke we're just kids playing

we're sorry"

I found this pretty adorable. Almost makes me want to reproduce.

There are a few errors on the ticket, though. For one thing, there's no thorough explanation of your legal rights and the deadline for submitting an objection. For another, they describe the ticket as a 'Knolle'.

Knolle means bulge, lump, or more technically nodule. There is a slang expression for a traffic ticket here in the Rhineland, but that is Knöllchen, the diminutive form of lump. You get a 'little lump' on your windshield if you park illegally. Ain't that cool?

I'd be willing to bet the German kid who wrote this actually no-shit dreams of growing up to be a parking cop. Job security, civil servant status, reasonable hours, a tiny little bit of authority to exercise -- what's not to love?


The Feuilleton and Its Discontents

Alexander Stern has an essay on the feuilleton which is as readable as it is erudite, no mean feat:

“In the beginning was the press, and then the world appeared.” So begins a satirical 1922 poem by Karl Kraus. A ruthless critic who regularly excoriated the press in his magazine The Torch, Kraus blamed German newspapers for the outbreak of World War I. He reserved a special hatred for the feuilleton (pronounced “fuh-yah-tawn”) section of the paper, which included, along with art, literature, and reviews, short impressionistic pieces about city life and culture. And he was far from the only one to bemoan “the age of the feuilleton,” as novelist Hermann Hesse dubbed it. In 1929 the philosopher Theodor Lessing, who would be assassinated by Nazis four years later, reflected that “feuilletonist” had become “the nastiest insult in the German language.”

Whence all this contempt for light reading material?

The answer is complicated, but lies somewhere at the intersection of a volatile political climate, quickly modernizing cities, and the emergence of mass culture. In papers like Die Frankfurter Zeitung, Das Berliner Tageblatt, and Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse, German journalists attempted to come to terms with their fast-changing times, writing literary vignettes that reflected philosophically on culture, technology, and politics. The feuilleton section thus became a battleground over the meaning of modernity. The controversy it generated prefigured present-day concerns about the deterioration of attention and the media’s role in shaping—or, as Walter Benjamin suggested, generating—public opinion....

n modernity we are wrenched out of history, take up an “objective” viewpoint on our culture, and immediately find genuine connection to much of it gone. God dies, traditions wither, only the words remain. To the feuilletonist, in Benjamin’s view, this means we can finally think clearly. We can finally view religion, tradition, and so forth objectively—things that to premoderns were still obscure because they were too close to their culture, because the words meant too much.

The feuilletonist thus covers all his subjects with a finish of urbane, pseudo-philosophical detachment. Kraus wrote:

When a streetcar accident takes place in Vienna, the gentlemen [of the press] write about the nature of streetcars, about the nature of streetcar accidents, and about the nature of accidents in general, all with the viewpoint: what is man?

Glib generalization and a tone of seen-it-all skepticism seduces the reader and seems to lift them up into the writer’s realm of free-floating observation. Even when written in the first person, the feuilleton takes up a kind of third-person “I” that surveys the scene, wary and detached, hovering above the crowd. Judgments seem to emerge effortlessly. Individual observations always serve some unassailable universal point. Feuilletons were written with what Benjamin called a “false subjectivity that can be separated from the person and incorporated in the circulation of commodities.”

The feuilletonist is like a conversation partner who convinces you of something by assuming you already knew it. A tacit note of almost conspiratorial intimacy accompanies his opinions: This is just obvious to two people of our intellect and experience. The reader is, on the one hand, flattered without argument into accepting the view expressed, and, on the other, infantilized.

The result is the manufacture of opinion—not that the feuilleton necessarily indoctrinates its readers. Rather, it absolves them of having to think for themselves. “It is precisely the purpose of the public opinion generated by the press,” Benjamin wrote, “to make the public incapable of judging, to insinuate into it the attitude of someone irresponsible, uninformed.”

Read the whole thing, as they say. I love feuilletons, which don't exist in the English-speaking press. I've often thought of trying to import the genre, but there's probably a reason it doesn't seem to travel well. At first, the English-speaking reader is put off by the distinctive tone of amused, world-weary detachment. He's used to either facts or opinions, dammit, not some weirdly subjective mix of the two.

But once you get up to what masters like Roth and Kracauer and Tucholsky are up to, you're hooked.