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  • Of Smug Germans and Sinful Australians: Global Warming Update

    Posted on October 4th, 2014 Helian No comments

    No doubt the outcome of the Nazi unpleasantness resulted in attitude adjustment in Germany on a rather large scale.  Clearly, however, it didn’t teach the Germans humility.  At a time when a secular mutation of Puritanism has become the dominant ideology in much of Europe and North America, the Germans take the cake for pathological piety.  Not that long ago the fashionable evil de jour was the United States, and anti-American hate mongering in the German media reached levels that would make your toes curl.  In the last years of the Clinton and the first years of the following Bush administrations it was often difficult to find anything about Germany on the home pages of popular German news magazines like Der Spiegel because the available space was taken up by furious rants against the United States for the latest failures to live up to German standards of virtue.  Eventually the anti-American jihad choked on its own excess, and other scapegoats were found. Clearly, however, German puritanism is still alive and well.  An amusing example just turned up in the Sydney Morning Herald under the headline, “Merkel adviser lashes Abbott’s ‘suicide strategy’ on coal.”  The advisor in question was one Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Chancellor Merkel’s lead climate advisor.  A picture of him posing as the apotheosis of smugness accompanies the article, according to which he,

    …attacked Australia’s complacency on global warming and described the Abbott government’s championing of the coal industry as an economic “suicide strategy”.

    Alas, we learn that Schellnhuber’s anathemas also fell on our neighbor to the north.  The SMH quotes him as saying,

    Similar to Canada, Australia for the time being is not part of the international community which is cooperating to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions.

    Tears run down our cheeks as Schellnhuber describes Australia’s fall from grace:

     …it had been disappointing to see Australia’s retreat on climate policy after it became “the darling of the world” when Kevin Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2007.

    As readers who were around at the time may recall, the Kyoto Protocol conformed perfectly to German standards of “fairness.”  It would have required states like The United States and Canada to meet exactly the same percentage reduction in emissions from the base year 1990 as the countries in the European Union, in spite of the fact that their economies had expanded at a faster rate than most of Europe’s during the period, they did not enjoy the same access to cheap, clean-burning natural gas as the Europeans in those pre-fracking days, and, “fairest” of all, they weren’t the beneficiaries of massive emission reductions from the closing of obsolete east European factories following the demise of Communism.  In other words, it was “fair” for the US and Canada to shed tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in order to meet grossly disproportionate emissions standards while Germany and the rest of the Europeans cheered from the sidelines.

    What is one to think of this latest instance of ostentatious German piety?  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  For one thing, the apparent concern about climate change in Germany is about 99% moralistic posing and 1% real.  Solzhenitsyn used a word in The First Circle that describes the phenomenon very well; sharashka.  Basically, it’s a lie so big that even those telling it eventually begin to believe it.  The German decision to shut down their nuclear power plants demonstrated quite clearly that they’re not serious about fighting global warming.  Base load sources of energy are needed for when renewables are unavailable because the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.  Practical alternatives for filling in the gaps include nuclear and fossil fuel.  Germany has rejected the former and chosen one of the dirtiest forms of the latter; coal-fired plants using her own sources of lignite.  She plans to build no less than 26 of them in the coming years!

    It’s stunning, really.  These plants will pump millions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that wouldn’t have been there if Germany had kept her nuclear plants on line.  Not only that, they represent a far greater radioactive danger than nuclear plants, because coal contains several parts per million of radioactive thorium and uranium.  The extent of German chutzpah is further demonstrated by a glance at recent emission numbers.  Germany is now the worst polluter in the EU.  Her CO2 emissions have risen substantially lately, due mainly to those new lignite plants beginning to come on line.  Coal-generated energy in Germany is now around 50% of the mix, the highest it’s been since 1990.  Even as the German government shook its collective head at the sinful Australians, telling them to mend their evil ways or bear the guilt for wars and revolution, not to mention the bleaching of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, her own CO2 emission rose 1.5% in 2013 over the previous year, while Australia’s fell by 0.8% in the same period!

    In a word, dear reader, for the German “Greens,” the pose is everything, and the reality nothing.

  • German Media Update: The Honeymoon is Definitely Over

    Posted on March 26th, 2014 Helian 2 comments

    Times have changed in Germany since Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize and spoke before 200,000 enraptured fans in Berlin.  Only 6,000 turned out to hear him when he returned last year.  Meanwhile, the media there, particularly since the recent events in Ukraine, has been resurrecting themes that were familiar during the Cold War.  The political left is beginning to turn to Russia, and the political right is decrying the weakness of the Obama Administration.  For example, while the overall tone of the main news magazine, Der Spiegel, has been anti-Russian, Jakob Augstein, whose column “When in Doubt, to the Left,” appears there regularly, wrote a couple of days ago:

    Media and political pundits want to breathe new life into an old “face of the enemy” (Feindbild):  the evil Russian.  As far as Russia is concerned, the West is in once again stuck in the same rut as in the cynical days of yesteryear, when US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger publicly expressed his hope that the superpower in the East would go under “with a whimper, not with a bang.”  Hillary Clinton just compared Putin to Hitler.  That’s how one recommends oneself in the US as a potential Democratic presidential candidate.  Meanwhile, the Russia policy of the two East Germans Merkel and (German President) Gauck is as resentful as if they were exploiting their offices for private trauma therapy.

    Meanwhile the polls are showing that the public isn’t inclined to tag along.  A majority of Germans do not consider Putin unreasonable for viewing the Crimea as a Russian sphere of influence.  (As opposed to Putin) the tendency to ignore and violate borders is a characteristic of the West.  It constantly seeks to fish in troubled waters (“periklitieren”), to use one of Bismarck’s favorite expressions, outside of its own sphere of influence.  Or, more to the point, it claims the whole world as its sphere of interest.  That’s just the problem.

    The West can never get enough, and is therefore insatiable… The Asians have finally drawn their own conclusions:  the lamb must now itself become the wolf.

    It’s clear from the reader comments that appeared after a recent Spiegel article on the crisis that Augstein hasn’t misrepresented German attitudes.  The article itself, entitled, “The Ukraine:  Obama Expresses Scorn for Ukraine as a Regional Power,” includes the understated byline, “This isn’t how de-escalation should look.”   Some typical examples:

    The ineffectual US President dares to shoot his mouth off like this?  He never seems to come up with anything concrete and positive except stupidities… I demand that his Nobel Peace Prize be revoked. (whiteelephant1)

    The US is clearly on the path of escalation… It would be nice if the German media would adopt a more critical attitude, and not always just go along with everything the US/EU says.  Putin isn’t the danger.  The danger comes from those who now sense an opportunity to finish Russia once and for all.  That’s what this is really about.  (mc6206)

    Very nice, Mr. Obama, just keep playing with fire.  After all, thank God there’s a buffer zone between Russia and your homeland in case Russia loses its nerve.  It’s called EUROPE!  (Korf)

    If Russia is just a “regional power,” and one has more important problems to deal with, why these hysterical attempts to isolate Russia and portray her in a bad light.  Who is supposed to be swallowing such stupidities from Obama?  (itf)

    Well, we’re not exactly seeing a return to the last super-eruption of anti-Americanism in Germany that reached its climax about 15 years ago, but the honeymoon is clearly over.

    UPDATE:  Der Spiegel just published its take on an interview with former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that appeared in the weekly newspaper, Die Zeit.  Schmidt is a highly intelligent man whose memoirs are well worth reading, and who can hardly be described as anti-American.  Der Spiegel headlines the interview, “Former Chancellor Schmidt Defends Putin’s Ukraine Policy.”  The byline reads, “Helmut Schmidt finds the actions of Russia in the Crimea ‘completely understandable,’ and considers sanctions ‘dumb stuff’ (dummes Zeug).  No doubt the situation in Ukraine is dangerous – however, in the former Chancellor’s opinion, the West is at fault.”

    A few excerpts from the article in Der Spiegel:

    Schmidt was highly critical of the way in which the Crimea crisis has been handled in the West.  He referred to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union and the USA as “dumb stuff.”  In Schmidt’s opinion, attempts to impose further sanctions would be misguided.  For the most part they would have merely symbolic value, “but they would affect the West just as much as the Russians.

    Schmidt’s words provide support to those taking part in the debate in Germany who favor looking at things from the Russian point of view.  Former Chancellor and party colleague Gerhard Schröder recently spoke in similar terms.

    According to Schmidt, the situation in Ukraine is “dangerous, because the West has worked itself into a frenzy.”  (literally, “has become terribly excited”)  As a result, “the overwrought reaction in the West has naturally led to a similar overwrought reaction in Russian public opinion and politics.”  Referring to the (reserved) policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel the 95-year old said, “In this case praise for the caution of the German Chancellor is appropriate.”

    So far the editorial narrative at Der Spiegel has been mainly anti-Russian.  However, there has been a shift to a more circumspect approach lately, with articles critical of right wing nationalists in the current Kiev regime, taking note of western media darling Yulia Timoshenko’s hateful tirade against Putin in an overheard telephone conversation in which she said she was “ready to pick up a machine pistol and shoot this piece of crap in the head,” suggesting the use of nuclear weapons to kill Russians, and so on.  It is noteworthy that the German Green Party, which has tacked to the right in recent years, immediately condemned Schmidt’s comments, while the Party of the Left, positioned to the left of the German Socialist Party (SPD), praised his remarks.

     

  • German “Greens” and the Poisoning of Eastern Europe

    Posted on April 22nd, 2013 Helian No comments

    A while back in an online discussion with a German “Green,” I pointed out that, if Germany shut down its nuclear plants, coal plants would have to remain in operation to take up the slack.  He was stunned that I could be so obtuse.  Didn’t I realize that the lost nuclear capacity would all be replaced by benign “green” energy technology?  Well, it turns out things didn’t quite work out that way.  In fact, the lost generating capacity is being replaced by – coal.

    Germany is building new coal-fired power plants hand over fist, with 26 of them planned for the immediate future.  According to Der Spiegel, the German news magazine that never misses a trick when it comes to bashing nuclear, that’s a feature, not a bug.  A recent triumphant headline reads, “Export Boom:  German Coal Electricity Floods Europe.”  Expect more of the same from the home of Europe’s most pious environmentalists.  Germany has also been rapidly expanding its solar and wind capacity recently thanks to heavy state subsidies, but the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, especially in Germany.  Coal plants are required to fill in the gaps – lots of them.  Of course, it would be unprofitable to let them sit idle when wind and solar are available, so they are kept going full blast.  When the power isn’t needed in Germany, it is sold abroad, serving as a useful prop to Germany’s export fueled economy.

    Remember the grotesque self-righteousness of Der Spiegel and the German “Greens” during the Kyoto Treaty debates at the end of the Clinton administration?  Complying with the Kyoto provisions cost the Germans nothing.  They had just shut down the heavily polluting and grossly unprofitable industries in the former East Germany, had brought large numbers of new gas-fired plants on line thanks to increasing gas supplies from the North Sea fields, and had topped it off with a lame economy in the 90’s compared to the booming U.S.  Their greenhouse gas emissions had dropped accordingly.  Achieving similar reductions in the U.S. wouldn’t have been a similar “freebie.”  It would have cost tens of thousands of jobs.  The German “Greens” didn’t have the slightest problem with this.  They weren’t interested in achieving a fair agreement that would benefit all.  They were only interested in striking pious poses.

    Well, guess what?  Times have changed.  Last year U.S. carbon emissions were at their lowest level since 1994, and down 3.7% from 2011.  Our emissions are down 7.7% since 2006, the largest drop among major industrial states on the planet.  German emissions were up at least 1.5% last year, and probably more like 2%.  Mention this to a German “Green,” and he’s likely to mumble something about Germany still being within the Kyoto limits.  That’s quite true.  Germany is still riding the shutdown of what news magazine Focus calls “dilapidated, filthy, communist East German industry after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” to maintain the facade of environmental “purity.”

    That’s small comfort to her eastern European neighbors.  Downwind from Germany’s coal-fired plants, their “benefit” from her “green” policies is acid rain, nitrous oxide laced smog, deadly particulates that kill and sicken thousands and, last but not least, a rich harvest of radioactive fallout.  That’s right, Germany didn’t decrease the radioactive hazard to her neighbors by shutting down her nuclear plants.  She vastly increased it.  Coal contains several parts per million each of radioactive uranium and thorium.  These elements are harmless enough – if kept outside the body.  The energetic alpha particles they emit are easily stopped by a normal layer of skin.  When that happens, they dump the energy they carry in a very short distance, but, since skin is dead, it doesn’t matter.  It’s an entirely different matter when they dump those several million electron volts of energy into a living cell – such as a lung cell.  Among other things, that can easily derange the reproductive equipment of the cell, causing cancer.  How can they reach the lungs?  Very easily if the uranium and thorium that emit them are carried in the ash from a coal-fired plant.  A typical coal-fired plant releases about 5 tons of uranium and 12 tons of thorium every year.  The German “Greens” have no problem with this, even though they’re constantly bitching about the relatively miniscule release of uranium from U.S. depleted uranium munitions.  Think scrubber technology helps?  Guess again!  The uranium and thorium are concentrated in the ash, whether it ends up in the air or not.  They can easily leach into surrounding cropland and water supplies.

    The last time there was an attempt to move radioactive waste to the Gorleben storage facility within Germany, the “Greens” could be found striking heroic poses as saviors of the environment all along the line, demonstrating, tearing up tracks, and setting police vehicles on fire.  Their “heroic” actions forced the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear plants.  The “gift” (German for “poison”) of their “heroic” actions to Germany’s neighbors came in the form of acid rain, smog, and airborne radiation.  By any reasonable standard, coal-fired plants are vastly more dangerous and damaging to the environment than the nuclear facilities they replaced.

    It doesn’t matter to Germany’s “Greens.”  The acid rain, the radiation, the danger of global warming they always pretend to be so concerned about?  It doesn’t matter.  For them, as for the vast majority of other environmental zealots worldwide, the pose is everything.  The reality is nothing.

    coal-power-plant

  • The German Media: “Freedom of the Press” from a Single Point of View

    Posted on August 31st, 2012 Helian No comments

    Niall Ferguson’s recent publication of an article attacking Obama in Newsweek generated a lot of useful data on the nature of political thought.  Consider, for example, the hundreds of comments left on liberal and conservative political blogs and websites.  They’re easy enough to find on Google.  On the former, the commenters are typically furious because of their conviction that Ferguson’s article is nothing but a pack of lies, and on the latter they are triumphant because of their conviction that Ferguson not only answered but demolished the charges of deception, and exposed his opponents as the real liars.  For the most part, the comments are morally charged, and seem to fully vindicate Jonathan Haidt’s point about the emotional dog with a rational tail.  To the extent that any of the commenters attempt to use reason at all, it is to vindicate intuitions about whether Ferguson is “good” or “evil” that are entirely predictable depending on whether they dwell on the right or left of the political spectrum.  There are virtually no instances of the apparent use of reason to weigh and balance the evidence before forming an opinion.  The more obsessed an individual is with politics, the more predictable his opinions become on any politically loaded issue.  If there is any good news in all this, it is that both sides are well-represented in the social media, at least in the United States.  The rare individual who is inclined to weigh the evidence on both sides and attempt to formulate an opinion informed by reason at least has easy access to both points of view.  The result is a salutary restraint on the ardent partisans of both sides that encourages them to occasionally temper their ideal worldview with doses of reality.  If only one point of view were represented, there would be an opposite tendency to replace reality with fantasy.

    The German media provides a good example of how this works in practice.  As in the U.S., the social media in that country has powerful voices on both the “left” and the “right.”  There are pronounced differences among the partisans of both sides, particularly regarding issues of local interest.  However, as regards, the U.S., the message from both sides is remarkably similar.  This was very evident in the most recent of the periodic eruptions of anti-American hate in Europe that reached its climax during the final years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush Administrations.  Coverage of the United States, whether in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the right or Der Spiegel magazine on the left, was uniformly anti-American and quasi-racist.  For example, Americans were universally stereotyped as prudish, religious fanatics, gun nuts, etc.  Occasionally the bitter attacks on the U.S. took up so much space on Der Spiegel’s website that it was difficult to find any news about Germany.  The anti-American wave only subsided when a few people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice (and be shocked) by what they were seeing.  Apparently the big dogs in the German media concluded that, profitable though it undoubtedly was, they would have to tone down what had become blatant hate mongering if they wanted to preserve some chance of continuing to win prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.”

    Today things are significantly more subdued although the media still throws a chunk of red meat to the Amerika haters now and then.  However, the one-sided nature of the reporting is still the same.  Consider, for example, the recent coverage of the Republican National Convention.  Whereas, after a brief honeymoon, the Obama Administration is now generally portrayed in the German media as merely ineffectual, the Republicans are decidedly bad guys who are typically described as “radical,” “extreme,” and “crazy.”  They are, of course, “racist” as well.  Thus, for example, there was heavy coverage of incident in which two unknown individuals threw nuts at a black CNN correspondent and told her that was how they “fed the animals,” but no mention of the seemingly more egregious racism behind the defacing of Republican Mia Love’s Wikipedia entry, and little, if any, notice of the fact that persons of color were prominent speakers at the convention at all.

    Paul Ryan is described as an “extremist” in both the “rightist” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (“Ryan is known as a proponent of budget slashing and massive cuts in the area of social welfare”) and the “leftist” Der Spiegel (“Romney’s choice for Vice President has prepared a plan of battle that includes more explosive for America’s democracy than all (Sarah) Palin’s vices – nothing less than a declaration of war on America’s social solidarity”), based on either grossly distorted and one-sided portrayals of his record, or, more commonly, no evidence at all.  In spite of the fact that the federal budget proposed by Ryan calls for increased spending every year for the next decade and beyond, he supposedly wants a “skeleton state.”  In condemning Ryan, Der Spiegel goes so far as to provide its readers with a fairy tale version of “history” that would never pass the “ho ho” test if there were anyone around with an interest in bothering to challenge it:

    Ryan sees himself as a tribune of the people.  He likes to quote Ronald Reagan’s remarks to the effect that, if the rich had more, their riches would “trickle down” to the rest of the citizens.  The result of this experiment is well known:  Reagan had to massively increase taxes in 1982, because the U.S. budget deficit had become gigantic.

    In fact, Ryan couldn’t quote Reagan’s remarks about “trickle down” economics, because the term is a straw man used by his enemies.  English speakers can easily Google the facts about economics in the Reagan years, and see for themselves that the 1982 tax increase was not “massive” by any reasonable definition of the term, and particularly not when compared with the tax cut of 1981, that it represented a compromise in return for spending cuts, that there was a net overall decline, not increase, in the tax rate during the Reagan years.  Furthermore, in spite of tax cuts, as noted by economist M. T. Griffith,

    As a result of the Reagan tax cuts, tax payments and the share of income taxes paid by the top 1% climbed sharply. For example, in 1981 the top 1% paid 17.6% of all personal income taxes, but by 1988 their share had jumped to 27.5%, a 10 percentage point increase.  The share of the income tax burden borne by the top 10% of taxpayers increased from 48.0% in 1981 to 57.2% in 1988. Meanwhile, the share of income taxes paid by the bottom 50% of taxpayers dropped from 7.5% in 1981 to 5.7% in 1988.

    The “gigantic” U.S. budget deficit of 1982 was only about half what it is today as a percent of GDP.  The arguments and interpretations of the legacy of the Reagan years continue in the U.S. to this day, with lots of spin on both sides.  The point is that the version in the German media is generally a great deal more crudely one-sided than one typically finds in the U.S., even among the most ardent partisans on either side.  Only one point of view speaks with a significant voice in the social media.  “Fact checking” by the other side is not a concern, because there is no other side, other than a few brave but insignificant bloggers.

    The Eastwood speech was another prominent feature of the convention that was portrayed one way by the Right, and an entirely different way by the Left.  In Germany, it was portrayed only one way, more or less in lockstep with the version you’re likely to find in the New York Times or Washington Post.  Which version you happen to prefer is beside the point.  The point is that, on this as on so many other complex issues dealing with the U.S., in Germany, you only get one version, and it’s usually a great deal cruder and tendentious than its equivalent here.

    According to Marx, a monopoly of the social means of production in the hands of a single economic class is a bad thing.  In practice, it seems to me that a monopoly of the social means of communication on behalf of a single point of view may be a good deal worse.  That was the state of affairs that prevailed in the U.S. in the 60’s and 70’s.  With respect to “news” about the United States, it is a state of affairs that prevails in Germany, and probably a good number of other countries to this day.  Where such monopolies exist, formal “freedom of the press” is meaningless.  Keep that in mind the next time you feel like whining about Rush Limbaugh, Foxnews, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the right, or about George Soros, MSNBC, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the left.  As long as both of them exist, it’s a good thing.  They keep each other honest.