Thursday 24 October 2013

gelauscht oder tapped-out

Though no justification nor condolence, pardon moi for thinking that it had already been established that nothing is sacred and not privy to prying eyes and ears, and duly elected and appointed official truly have little control over the the culture of aggregated accretion of powers that have grown and sprawled in the name of security, frankness aside—like Angela Merkel's own Intelligence Chief, who could not account for the native agency's collaboration with America's.
There is nonetheless a distinct chill in the air, what with the litany of complaints and welling distrust surfacing. Although just tremolo-outrage surfaced when it was first suggested that Germany as a whole was siphoned through the safety-apparatuses of the States, compared to the latest revelations, the upward-osmosis and excess of raw data is disturbing. As no terrorist, of course, she or any one of us have nothing to fear, or so we are schooled to believe at the edges of exchanging indignation for appreciation of small courtesies, but again the spectre is raised—beyond a reasonable expectation of privacy or respect and transparency—of economic espionage, a read-ahead, that pits European values against American national interests. It is hard to say what ramifications such affronts might present? What do you think? Could this kind of largesse lead to a mass retreat, withdrawal—from NATO, from other contemporaneous treaties?

Thursday 3 October 2013

full faith and credit

Survey says that many Americans have a negative—or at least skeptical opinion about the Affordable Care Act, probably because such a mandate to look out for someone's better interests is novel and has been subject to a lot of besmirchment by ideologues that disagree with its implementation.

And although the law and enforcement may not be perfect and all find it unsavoury to ransom America's already diminished reputation through a battle of the wills, there does not seem a more virtuous insistence than to champion universal health coverage and bring US public welfare more in line with the rest of the world. This contention seems even more righteous especially considering that that the plan is already law, vetted through the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government—and though without unanimous agreement (no Republicans supported the bill but that's part and parcel of the democratic process), negotiations and compromise have limned the act's final form, it being not entirely what the administration hoped to gift to the public, replete with exemptions for businesses and delays for being in compliance (for companies but not for individuals) strong-armed by the opposing party. It seems the Republicans got the concessions they demanded already and now want to do more to threaten the spirit of the law.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

limes or probeauffรผhrung, รฉchantillon, prova

Just prior to the plebiscite to keep in place mandatory military conscription in the Alpine nation, Swiss authorities revealed that the army staged some war games, called Operation Duplex-Barbara, whose scenario seems creative if not outlandish but contingencies for such threats probably are not too far-fetched if not outright prudent.

Planners imagined borders breached by hordes of citizens from a bankrupt and fractured France, desperate to retrieve pilfered treasure. The Swiss are not alone in these preparations— in company with America, who has been quietly protecting similar domestic fall-out should there be a economic collapse, and just last year, Switzerland carried out a larger scale, more public and political exercise, called Stabilo Due, to practice girding itself for potential waves of financial refugees should the surrounding monetary union of the euro become untenable. Meanwhile in Poland, former prime minister and architect of the Solidarity Movement, Lech Waล‚ฤ™sa suggests that Germany and Poland should unite, forgetting their pasts and an overture beyond his former calls for an Eastern Europe more oriented towards the West, musing that technological advances have made national less relevant and shuttle people, identities and activities far beyond their home countries.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

it could happen here

Dum, dum, dum—Slate Magazine introduces what promises to be a brilliant series of lampoons describing American politics in terms and with the tutting tone traditionally employed by journalists for limning the situation in distant lands, unfortunately inexhaustible as well.
The first vignette is of course on the curious case of the government shut-down, which probably seems to the rest of the world as it unfolds as some arcane, secretarial matter to be resolved directly. This spot of bother, which is in fact a manufactured crisis, does seem anomalous and dressed in peculiarities of national laws, sort of like day-light savings time being out of sync, non-residential taxation, or resistance to the metric-system, until the founding factors and very real repercussions are considered. A hand was forced, and not on principle alone, but to not make security for the least protected more of a slippery-slope—an inch for a mile, and the delayed, bemusement of the subjects' of America's customary critique speaks volumes.

Friday 27 September 2013

aca, ada, abracabra

It is the Anti-Deficiency Act of 1882, as amended, that puts the American government in the precarious situation of dismissing some one-third, deemed non-essential—which has the interesting ring of the imagination of Douglas Adams (not a statesman)—of its workforce without compensation. The government will still discharge its duty to protect, duty to warn with a skeleton crew, who themselves will not see their salary until such time as Congress has set a budget, being legally bound against the incursion of further debts that it cannot vouch for. The last time a full government shut-down happened, notwithstanding many intermediate close-calls and political staring-contests, was in the winter of 1995 and 1996 and I remember being quite frustrated that the National Galleries were closed to visitors and I came expressly to see a special Rembrandt exhibit.
I was content, however, at the time with making snow-angels on the Capitol. There were dread inconveniences (a weak word) to public services and those employees embargoed, and this time we can only project the impact of disrupting the paper-push of bureaucracy the hardship of individuals just now starting to recover from the last rounds of an administrative-, as opposed to an emergency-, furlough, though the predictions of doom and despair did not come to fruition at-large and the output of the federal government is largely invisible and looks expendable until one is personally affected by the loss of a cog or two. Though the causes reach back much further and the US government has expanded into something unwieldy and self-serving—surely to be redressed by follow-on show-downs like the looming matter of America's debt burden that will make this intransigence seem like theatre, the major bone of contention that is keeping the legislative branch staunchly divided is over another Act, the Affordable Care Act (a new idea only to America, though, with most of the rest of the world having put universal health-coverage in place long ago), and not in costs, immediate nor long-term, but rather in perception and principle. The devil's advocate seems to keep company with a business-lobby not renowned for its fair labour-practices to begin with, and considering that all of the really awful and onerous laws that the US has implemented and unleashed upon the rest of the world (lately, at least, if not always) have been done so at the beck-and-call of this same cartel, perhaps it would be wise to consider careful what these groups through inflexible fear-mongering might be trying to un-write.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

appeasement, rapprochement

Though not exactly compelled to resign their posts—excepting by expectation and precedent, five senior ministers of the German cabinet, belonging to the junior, business-orientated coalition party, fell on their swords and took a hiatus from politics in a ballot that oversaw the ouster of the FDP (Freie Demokratik Partei) and overwhelming support for the incumbent—but not necessarily the status quo also.

Germany's leader is the sole-survivor of the financial crisis that overthrew all the other large-holder governments of Europe, and though the election results results suggest a clear victory for conservative policies (demonstrating those fickle hissy-fits of campaigning, like assuaged fears for privacy) and tough-love for malingerers that may not be exactly the case.  The regime of the CSU/CDU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern/Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) have not merely eliminated a gad-fly to cater to in the FDP, which was the force majeure behind the notion that Greece should be exiled from the monetary union, but likely gained another “pest” in the Green Party, the Left and the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) to check direction and present challenges that could transform into mutual and far-reaching opportunities.

Sunday 22 September 2013

photo-bomb or underwater

In the proud tradition of Cake Wrecks, which received a restraining order probably like this tumble-blog to cease and desist for poking fun at laziness and sloppiness, there is a fascinating collect of horrendous real estate photographs. Seeing these choice examples, some of which are not too far away from unenticing and rather inexplicable advertisements that we've encountered ourselves.
These disasters, with funny commentary included, do not just come from severely distressed markets or places with such a housing-storage that the mere whisper would draw interest but rather from contributors and readers of classifieds all over the world, and it makes me wonder if the down-swing in the housing-market isn't also due too bad presentation. There were too many awful and awkward pictures to list, causing genuine curiosity about what was hoped to convey by framing these images, and one should browse through the gallery in order to check the reputation of your scout and agent.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

polling place or fragenbogen

A section of the German electorate is gifting its ballots to expatriates and EU citizens unable to influence the outcome of the campaign via a social-media group called Electoral Rebellion in order to lend a voice to those outliers affected by Germany's stance in the European Union, like the Spaniards and Hellenes in the face of austerity measures and others further afield with the potential to be touched by new German policy. From a legal standpoint, it appears, that the volunteers are simply soliciting the advice of foreigners, and participants—with no expectation of quid pro quo, would have probably voted for the candidates most sympathetic to the views of those voting by proxy, but the action does raise a needed discussion on supra-national politics and infringements as well. What do you think? Is this action, stunt not far from buying and selling votes or a broader and necessary world-view?

Sunday 15 September 2013

laissez-faire is everywhere

There were several stories in circulation this week, echoing from many corners of the world and many times without deference to this being the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the too-big-to-fail financial house whose downfall placed economics internationally in chaos, that proclaimed real and shadow markets to be fully recovered and no longer in danger of relapse.

Maybe some early optimists took the occasion to express a brighter outlook and the mimics missed the crux of the context and rather not let ancient history complicate an apparent slow-news day or revive unpleasant memories and fueled with the hopes of returning to simpler and more trusting times—an economic nostalgia when the labour situation in Greece had nothing to do with the price of eggs and banks were an insulating factor true to their word that tomorrow could only be bigger and better. Indeed, some the language was reminiscent of the patriotic overtures to just go shopping in the aftermath of the September 11 Attacks to restore the world economy. Never mind about confidences shaken and disintegrated, the disclosure of inflationary and unethical practices, the stark shift away from social good and board and bed lost and increasingly aggressive circling-of-wagons by the banking aristocracy and their court, their sophists—journalism being a big part of that estate, to keep the game going. Dwelling on the negative and preaching doom and gloom is only helpful as a reminder and urging precaution—not that pathological adventurers need inspiration, but I do wonder sometimes who sponsors such spin and de-programming.

Friday 13 September 2013

austausch, b-gosh

Long had European Union Commissioner for Internal Affairs Malmstrรถm held her tongue over the on-going revelations of the breadth and depth of indiscriminate intelligence gathering on the part of the US—not, I think, out of a lack of concern or zeal but rather to not bait controversy prematurely, but digesting the reported reach of the spying, suggested that the lack of transparency could lead to the EU's withdrawal from the SWIFTBanking Treaty with the United States.

The agreement provides that the signatories hand over certain financial transactions to America, in the name of combating tax-evasion and money-laundering and rooting out all imaginable evils. Malmstrรถm, after learning how the SWIFT clearing-house for international bank transfers is apparently already subject to eavesdropping, she questions why they are now asking permission. Her statements have galvanised the parliament in Strasbourg and several factions have agreed to join together with demands that all cards be laid on the table, including back-door practices. Quitting the treaty would be a significant affront US-EU relations and mark the first time that a bilateral data-sharing (Austausch) arrangement was challenged—a few of which the Swedish commissioner herself helped orchestrate.

Monday 9 September 2013

pro se or soi-disant

Shaking my head with a touch of disbelief over the way a German political party portrayed itself, I was totally unprepared for the stultifying display of ignorance and insensitivity that a senior delegation of legislators made, while on a fairy-tale princess reception in Cairo, as the New York Times reports.

Their message of solidarity, invoking 9/11 and a chorus of singing eagles was too revolting to stomach, and surely left a country already in flames and under martial law insulted, regardless of what political persuasion or whether considered rebels or patriots, and confused. “Stand strong, Egypt,” they said, promising to vouchsafe the some billion dollars in military aid the US gives Egypt annually. “Stand firm.” Not that this empty praise and grandstanding is not disgusting enough on its own, given that Congress is preparing to vote yea or nay on authority to attack another country in the region, or only give its tacit approval and thus relinquish any semblance of checks-and-balances with its authority to raise armies, make it all the more terrible. The unfortunate timing of the decision also has everything to do with the typical bailiwick of the legislature, having gone on recess and only affording themselves just a few days to tackle old and new business, including formulating a military operating budget and that has happened every year since 9/11.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

social mediation

It should come as no surprise, since nothing seems out of bounds—especially for the information that we've volunteered for scrutiny, but the revelation that lenders world-wide are using ones social media connections to supplement more traditional means of gauging creditworthiness. Apparently, the company that one keeps and their own credit-histories can have a significant impact, especially for those absent any track-record of loans and repayments, young people and first time-buyers, to reference. I wonder what repercussions that this sort of financial-intelligence might have on how one cultivates connections, friends of friends, realizing that anyone may prove a liability and probably not a source of collateral. Maybe it's better to sit out this dance.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

fiat geld or straw into gold

In response to the growing interest and esteem of the Bitcoin, Der Spiegel reports, the German

Finance Ministry has gone so far as describing the “private-money,” while not on equal footing with legal-tender, as a unit of account—a measure of market value, which economists hold as one of the three essential mechanisms of exchange along with a being surrogate for the commerce of goods and services and a store of value. It seems like a small concession and possibly bestowed ahead of move for regulation and taxation, but I think that the declaration, though not the first instance of government scrutiny of this virtual currency, also acknowledges that the credence that any form of money enjoys is based solely on the faith of believers and is subject to the ebb and flow of crazes (although there is a powerful contingency interested in maintaining confidence), just like passing fads and fashions, more quickly displaced, and their artefacts.

Saturday 17 August 2013


I took a train to spend the day in the city of Frankfurt am Main and though I had been through there numerous times, I had not taken the chance to scout of the metropolis without a specific agenda and destination—usually a transportation hub. That day, however, I got to wonder at the skyline and linger over the contrasts of a work-in-progress, becoming and the historic fait accompli—much of which had been lovingly restored with care and true to the original, and some of the grittiness, and I  had the chance to see quite a few sights. I saw the big euro sign, which the € always made me think of Uncle Scrooge's (Onkel Dagoberts) Money Bin, before the European Central Bank (EZB) building.
Later walking towards the East Harbour (Osthafen) learned that that towering spire—in every German community one sees scaffolding and construction cranes busy with something—visible behind the beautiful and hallowed Cathedral of Frankfurt (Dom Sankt Bartholomรคus), which is also under construction, and the Eiserner Steg, the footbridge across the Main River, is to be the future home of the European Union's financial institution, built on the grounds of the Wholesale Market Halls (GroรŸmarkthalle) of docklands.
Further, as home to Germany's stock market, the DAX, the city has attracted an ensemble of banks and other business headquarters, hence the modern skyscrapers. I thought it good luck to rub the bear's nose and hang on the bull's horns but I don't know if that's really the customary thing to do.
I'll have to ask one of those stock-brokers next time. In back of the timbered houses and medieval edifices that comprise the city's core, the old Rathaus and its extensions known as the Rรถmer—where emperors, newly crowned in the nearby cathedral had their celebratory banquets and is now a happy venue for civil marriages, lies the Pauluskirche (the Lutheran Church of St. Paul), which is an important political monument.
It was really only used as a consecrated place of worship sporadically.  The site is more renowned as the venue for Germany's first democratic national assembly, a convention that led to the creation of the Weimar Republic and, after WWII and the reunification.

I never had the chance before to visit the impressive upper, plenary chamber, the assembly hall, and learn about its history, as it was occupied on a previous visit with some awards ceremony. Surely, there is a lot more to discover and to learn about the city, and I am looking forward to my (and our) next chance to visit.

Saturday 10 August 2013

OCONUS or rub-a-dub

Despite codifying the right of expatriation as a fundamental right of all citizens and more contemporary words (and ironic) of criticism for the only other nation in the world to tax its people on income earning world-wide, Eritrea, accusing the practice of presenting a grave economic disadvantage to the country's diaspora, who fled over war, civil-unrest and political persecution, and whose revenue goes involuntarily to support the regimes and conditions that forced them to leave, with a mantle of citizenship not easily doffed, the United States, under the guise of combating tax evasion—though small-holders compared to the billions of untapped wealth that corporate persons shuttle across boarders without taxes or tariffs, is aggressive in their publican activities.

Though only a small but growing percentage of the US population and even a miniscule number when counted against the six million Americans living overseas, some are choosing to renounce their citizenship, willing to forego pensions and patriotism, usually pedigreed with the belief that one's homeland is the best, to the disdain and sometimes even damage of all others. I think this decision is not taken lightly by anyone and is never over the burden of paperwork or over taxation with dubious representation, but moreover that the task of repatriation is put squarely on those financial institutions willing to serve foreigners, specifically Americans, and many banks are refusing to take on new clients over this administrative embargo and reporting onus. In a parallel story of wanting to shirk potential liabilities, the client bank used almost exclusively by the diplomatic community in London suddenly decided to drop all its consular business, to eliminate risks of potential future cross-boarder disputes, should it be determined that any of those embassies front a banking system that does not play by the rules. The abrupt loss of a bank for payroll, rents and schooling has caused chaos on Embassy Row as they scramble to find banks willing to take them. It is a complex situation—though a matter of choice and a luxury for American migration, and probably unduly confounded by US policy when the diplomacy of living abroad, something important surely, knocks up against the kettling of taxes and forms.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

angel investors

Just days after the Pope condemned the “cult of money” and materialism before the masses on Copacabana beach and urged greater charity and above all a re-prioritisation of what counts, Archbishop Welby of the Anglican faith has posed a similar challenge to the predatory pay-loan business in the United Kingdom and around the world, whose loan-sharking has become the first and last opportunity for many the poor who fall behind on their bills. Welby goes the industry one better, throwing down the gauntlet in this article from Der Spiegel International and directly compete against these pawn-brokers with opening credit-unions after a fashion, a each of their branches—parishes to give the public more of a choice and better terms and conditions and without the usual or expect stint. It is difficult sometimes to separate church and treasure, but I think these open declarations of competition could prove significant and realise a surplus of good.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

odyssey or ministry of public order

Greece's on-going troubles are not something to be overcome by merely a hair-cut, like Samson, or like the half-giant Antaeus of the further adventures of Hercules, who lost his invulnerability once lifted off the ground, but such solutions abound. To exacerbate general frustration, expecting a solution with a failed package of austerity and tossing more bales of money on the fire, Greece, via the island of Lesbos and the border with Turkey, is facing a crippling influx of immigrants with unanswered pleas for a more comprehensive EU policy on migration and financial help to support an infrastructure already strained to breaking by a series of unconditional austerity measures.
Far from a ploy to get added economic assistance or to buy time for debt re-negotiations, these overtures from the minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection and UN observers in the face of the scramble and chaos of the migrant camps, maltreatment and insufficient means for integration, is a sombre way of redressing the highly concerning trends in the voting public, which has taken a decided turn towards xenophobia, and attitudes—as important and intimately connected with the welfare of the refugees. Greece is not alone with this nascent predicament and it would be advisable to quell such a choice or excuse for intolerance before it escalates and transforms a country's hospitality and sympathy.  To ignore the problem or wall paper over it with freshly printed euro imperils everyone.

Thursday 18 July 2013

bad bank or off-shoring

While international agreements have framed regulations to persecute and burden smallholders and the domestic business entities and financial houses have employed in order to institution willing to accommodate the routine banking needs of US expatriates or those accidental Yanks, like the Lord Mayor of London, for example, who perhaps has not sufficiently renounced his dual-citizenship (due to being born in America to diplomatic parents) to the satisfaction of the tax-man and competent authorities to be able to forego the reporting requirements, unrequited as they may be, precious little attention has been paid to the lengths and loopholes that they will go to in order to mask their corporate citizenship. Via Boing Boing, here is a very thorough and interactive illustration to show the convoluted network, business apparently not subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the public when it comes to AMT usage or grocery shopping. Maybe a better stress-test (applied to banks operating in the EU exclusively) would be to subject them to a theoretical insolvency and time how long it took to them to make themselves whole, what kind of collateral would take to back up the mortgage against their demur pseudopodia. Such behaviour, faking right and left, is enshrined and even encouraged, not by business culture alone but also by omission on the part of the US government.

Monday 8 July 2013

tell or insider trading

I always thought those friendly games of poker that became quite a regular tableau for the senior crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation illustrated a sort of refined irony, sort of like those velvet paintings of dogs playing poker or fishing with no expectation of catching anything—since, after all the human players were at a clear disadvantage, facing the analytical skills of an android, a psychic and a Klingon who might rips ones arms out of their sockets if he didn't win. Though I think after wards there will be little danger of the of the accords not being agreed to in their present form, there is an important debate happening in the Bundestag and other parliaments of Europe concerning the US-EU free trade agreement.
How could any nation reach true compromise with the other bargaining unit knows exactly what the other wants to hear and what concessions to promise and how the future regulatory landscape will change? The thrust of intelligence gathering and snooping was certainly not limited to juicy gossip and blackmail-material but also extended into business-spying, and for production and labour standards worlds apart, very different cultural tolerances for employment protections, genetic dabbling with food, internet architecture, ecological stewardship, rigour of testing for pharmaceuticals and respecting privacy and proprietary information itself, it is hard to see a happy medium reached without someone taking the upper-hand. Go fish. Let the Wookie win.

Thursday 27 June 2013

painting the roses red or mezzoamerica

Though not necessarily enjoying the moral high-ground due to their own speculative surveillance practices, China and Russia have little reason to dignify threats from the US over harbouring a fugitive from Justice.
Ecuador's bold and unflinching withdrawal, however, from a export regime, instituted to curb cocaine production, with America in response to sabre-rattling over its willingness to grant Snowden asylum is an act of standing up to bullies and the system deserving of one of those slow claps that gallop to a round of applause. The US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee has moved to deny the South American country preferential treatment in trade—something like a Most-Favoured status which is accorded to some 130 nations. The defiance is more than symbolic, since though they will find other willing buyers for their oil and other natural resources, the vegetable and cut-flower industies will take a hit. Ecuador even does its tormentors one better—not only rejecting this framework to end the blackmail but offering to repatriate or render the equivalent millions of dollars it has realised in benefits to the US to fund institutions and programmes in support of transparency, civil liberties and protecting the right to privacy.