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Thousands in Germany protest NSA surveillance


AP)—Thousands of people are taking to the streets in Germany to protest against the alleged widespread surveillance of Internet users by U.S. intelligence services.

Protesters, responding to calls by a loose network calling itself #stopwatchingus, braved searing summer temperatures Saturday to demonstrate in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and up to 35 other German cities and towns.

Some wore tinfoil hats to shield themselves from the sun—and make a political statement about warding off unwanted eavesdroppers.

Others held placards showing support for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of the NSA’s alleged interception of Web traffic when U.S. President Barack Obama visited Berlin last month. But German opposition parties remain skeptical of the government’s claim that it had known nothing about the surveillance.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-07-thousands-germany-protest-nsa-surveillance.html#jCp

via Thousands in Germany protest NSA surveillance.

Has Legalized Prostitution Turned Germany’s Government Into A *Pimp*?


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Screenshot from the documentary “Sex – Made in Germany” – (Tina Soliman, Sonia Kennebeck)

BERLIN – “Money doesn’t smell,” says Wilfried Hombach, a former employee of the city of Cologne’s tax department, smiling somewhat apologetically.

Hombach was one of the first to collect taxes from the prostitution industry and he’s talking about what up to now has not been a focus of the debate about legalized prostitution in Germany: the fact that when women sell their bodies, the state earns a lot of money from it, either from a flat-rate sex tax or regionally levied entertainment taxes.

Just how much money was not something the two German TV journalists, Tina Soliman and Sonia Kennebeck, were able to find out in the two years they researched their documentary called Sex – Made in Germany. The documentary, shown on June 10 on Germany’s ARD channel, takes an in-depth look from various perspectives at the effects of prostitution legislation that came into effect in 2002.

For 45 minutes, the journalists examine the following question: what has resulted from the federal government having declared prostitutes small-business entrepreneurs who have health insurance and a right to the same social insurance coverage as anyone else? As their film reveals, apparently very little except for the fact that a lucrative economic sector – both real and virtual – has developed from what was once a shadow world.

Particularly frightening is the fact that as Germany’s neighbors tighten up their laws, brothel-keepers – particularly in the south of Germany – are increasingly catering to sex tourists from Italy, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden. Secretly filmed footage shows tourists from Asia and the United States on six-day package tours of German “clubs.”

A big favorite on the itinerary is the “King George,” a flat-rate brothel in Berlin where customers can get a sex-until-you-drop-and-drinks package for 49 euros. “There’s not a lot of margin on that,” says owner Sascha Erben, adding that making the package profitable is contingent on “high volume” of customers and the fact that most men overestimate how much sex they will actually be able to have. Erben says his customers come from Russia, Scandinavia, and Arab nations.

“Sex in Berlin is cheaper than anywhere else,” he says: Berlin is a sex paradise, no different than Thailand. A Danish customer who is a regular at a brothel in Flensburg (in northern Germany, near the Danish border) confirms that: “Germany is the biggest whorehouse in Europe, no question.” The value for money in Germany appears to be unequalled anywhere else in the world.

While Soliman and Kennebeck mostly spoke with supporters of legalized prostitution, they also interviewed some of its victims. What their interviews amply illustrate is that there are many different kinds of women willing to take money for sex.

For example 21-year-old Bettina, clearly delighted by the fact that she earns up to 15,000 euros a month at a Stuttgart “free body culture” (FKK) club. Or former part-time prostitute Sonia Rossi, who earned the money for her education. Also 22-year-old Nathalie, who auctions virtual sex on the Internet the way others might sell their couch on EBay, and pays 15% of her hourly 200 euros salary to the operators of the website.

“They treat you like garbage”

There is also Claudia, who works at the “King George” and earns 150 euros per night “for a maximum of ten guests” while her colleagues from eastern Europe – who their boss praises as being more “resilient and committed” – service at least 20 men in one night. “I need the money,” says Julia from Romania. In Germany she can earn in one evening as much as she can earn in a whole month back home.

Another young Romanian woman, who did not wish to be shown in the film, told the journalists that a few years ago a pimp lured her to Germany and she ended up at a flat-rate brothel called the “Pussy Club” where she was expected to service up to 40 men a day and could not eat or sleep on a regular basis. This went on until the authorities raided the place and arrested a group of human traffickers. “In Germany,” she says, “they treat you like garbage.”

The documentary makers do not address claims like this nor do they include interviews with politicians or human rights activists. They do include statements by customers, one of who says: “What I think is really great about the flat-rate brothels is that you don’t get the feeling that as a customer you’re being exploited.” He is one of 1.2 million men per year in Germany who pay for sex.

The sex business in Germany has become socially acceptable. Paying for sex is considered a “lifestyle,” and the businessmen behind the scenes are almost always relatively conventional older men who drive Mercedes, wear made-to-order suits, and spend a lot less time thinking about moral issues than they do about making money.

Men like Jurgen Rudloff, who owns a chain of FKK clubs called “Paradise” and is pleased at his growing customer base from Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands. Clubs located near borders are particularly lucrative, he says. A few months ago he opened a club in Graz, Austria, but the experience has shown him that “in Germany it’s much, much easier to run this kind of business.”

However on-going federal government discussions about changing Germany’s prostitution laws may in the future make setting up a brothel in Germany a little more difficult too by requiring brothel owners to apply for licenses. Rudloff complains that local governments have also cottoned on that there’s money to be made in the business. Another man, Armin Lobscheid, owner of Europe’s largest brothel the “Pascha” in Cologne, tells the journalists that his business has to pay taxes amounting to “seven figures” every year.

Added to that is the new special tax for prostitutes that brothel operators will tack onto the room rate charged to the women. That way, state coffers rake it in but the government doesn’t get its hands dirty, say the journalists adding that “the government has become today’s pimp.”

Soliman and Kennebeck reach the conclusion that the good intentions to strengthen the position of prostitutes through legislation in fact achieved the opposite. “Women have become a resource, to be used as efficiently as possible,” they say.

via Has Legalized Prostitution Turned Germany’s Government Into A *Pimp*? – All News Is Global |.

Protests Mar Opening of Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin


For some, it’s a dream in pink. For others, it’s a monument to misogyny. The Barbie Dreamhouse opened its doors in Berlin on Thursday, and demonstrators and journalists were out in force. Femen also made an appearance — to burn Barbie on the cross.

In the end, someone did get hurt — and in the center of the events at the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience on Thursday afternoon stood a gigantic, pink high-heeled shoe. The pump was actually a fountain of sorts, and the emblem of the life-sized dollhouse that opened its doors to the public on Thursday near Berlin’s Alexanderplatz square.

In the weeks before its opening, various groups voiced their disapproval of the temporary theme park. And on Thursday, demonstrators finally got their chance to show just how furious they are. In the early afternoon, an activist with the women’s rights group Femen climbed onto the gigantic shoe dressed only in a mini-skirt. She was carrying a burning cross on which a Barbie doll had been crucified. Parents and children stood nearby. The women screamed over and over again: “Being Barbie is not a career!”

When another protester became involved, going after a security guard, a brief scuffle ensued, a stroller tipped over and an elderly woman fell to the ground. According to police, the woman was slightly injured and went to the hospital for treatment.

It may sound relatively banal, but Barbie Dreamhouse personnel didn’t find it funny at all. “They were standing at the fence and chanting ‘Burn it down! Burn it down!'” one employee said. And then the Femen activist started running around with her burning cross. The employee said he thought she was going to light the building on fire.

‘Sexist Propaganda’

And the building is not made out of bricks and mortar — it is nothing but a tent. Almost nothing here is real: The walls are made of canvas, the columns of plastic, and the windows and curtains are merely painted on.

The answer to many a young girl’s dream was put up by EMS Entertainment not far from Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin, a theme park in pink and white. Children must pay €12 ($15), their adult companions €3 more. Berlin will be just the first stop on a larger tour for the exhibit, remaining in the German capital until the end of August.

The organizers had likely hoped the grand opening would make a different sort of headline. But protesters grabbed the limelight even before the opening. The place is nothing but “sexist propaganda” for children, a spokesman for the group Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse told the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung. The famous doll and her modelesque figure merely services misogynistic clichés, critics say. Some 2,000 people have joined the Facebook group since it was launched.

As such, media interest on Thursday was high. Hordes of journalists wandered through the pink Barbie tent to take a closer look at the miracles inside and, more to the point, to convince one of the relatively few families present despite school and summery weather to be interviewed on camera.

The inside of the Dreamhouse is poignantly harmless. There is a pink kitchen where children can bake virtual cupcakes using a touch-screen. A pink piano with colorful buttons instead of keys that must be pushed to make music. A sled in which they can sit to race through a virtual winter landscape. A table with pens where children can color in Barbie pictures and decorate them with glitter. And everywhere, in display cases, there are Barbies, all stylishly dressed, blonde and, of course, super-thin.

‘Totally Off Base’

Is it really all that harmful? “This house is only about beauty, cooking and baking,” says Susa Bruha, 34, one of the dozen members of the anti-sexist group Pinkstinks that showed up on Thursday for the opening, well before the crucified doll went up in flames.

“It is simply a very one-dimensional view of women,” Bruha says about the exhibit. The message, she says, is that girls can become either models or pop stars — and nothing else. “But there are other girls who are perhaps small or fat but can do other things super well.”

Christoph Rahofer, head of EMS Entertainment, sees things differently. “Personally, I think they are totally off base,” he says about the protesters. “I really can’t understand how playing with a Barbie doll is problematic.” There are, he says, certainly problems in the world that are more pressing than his exhibit.

In recent weeks, there has been no shortage of critique and insults aimed at Rahofer and the Barbie Dreamhouse, a fact which likely explained the watchful eye his personnel kept on the press. They followed journalists throughout the exhibition to ensure that no photos were made of Barbie’s four-poster bed, her bathroom or her tub.

Burned on the Cross

They had plenty of work to do. Journalists from around the world — from Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US were present. All of them wanted to see if Barbie Dreamhouse is really that bad — and if something newsworthy might happen outside.

For a long time, it didn’t. Until midday, the Pinkstinks people were the only ones holding their posters up to the cameras. “Barbie is not my baby,” reads one. And “Don’t just bake cupcakes, eat them too!”

The scene was almost idyllic. Leftist demonstrators, feminists and other anti-Barbie protesters sat peacefully on the artificial grass or on pink chairs enjoying the warm May sun while small children crawled around in front of the display tent.

And then, Barbie was burned on the cross.

ARTICLE…

via Protests Mar Opening of Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The Deficit is Stagnating, Just Like the Economy


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The rest of the world seems to be suffering from austerity fatigue – apart from the Berlin and Dublin governments (and London too – but no-one is holding it up as a model for anything).

The Department of Finance tells us that the deficit is improving. DoF reports that the general government deficit fell from €22.4bn in 2009 to €12.4bn in 2012. But it is widely known that the impact of bailing out bank shareholders and bondholders has had a hugely distorting effect on public finances. Unfortunately, DoF does not show these effects in the same release as the overall government finances, and you need to go to a separate database to get these data.

Adding the two together produces a measure of the underlying deficit, excluding both costs and revenues from the bailout. It is regrettable DoF doesn’t do this itself.

The table below shows the deficit excluding the effects of the bank bailout.

2009 2010 2011 2012
General Government Deficit -22.4 -48.3 -21.3 -12.5
Bank bailout net expenditure/receipts -3.8 -31.5 -5.7 +1.6
Underlying Deficit (excl. bank bailouts) -18.6 -16.8 -15.6 -14.1

Fig.1 – General Government Deficit Excluding Effects of Bailouts for Bank Shareholders and Bondholders, €bn. Source: Department of Finance

There is another factor to be taken into account. Hardly anyone suggests that the reduction in government investment is a welcome development. Even supporters of ‘austerity’ suggest it is nothing more than a temporary evil, or an unavoidable necessity. The government has pledged not to cut it further.

As a result, while it has a significant bearing on the economy, it is not strictly part of the ideological offensive supporting austerity at all. Therefore it is worth looking at the underlying deficit (excluding both bank bailouts and the effects of growth) after taking into account the government’s own reduction in investment (Gross Fixed Capital Formation). Without cutting investment sharply the deficit would not have been on much of an improving trend.

2009 2010 2011 2012
a. Underlying Deficit (excl. Effect of bank bailouts & growth) -18.6 -16.8 -15.6 -14.1
b. Govt. GFCF 6.1 5.5 4.0 3.3
c. Underlying deficit, (excluding investment & bank bailouts) (a-b) -11.5 -11.3 -11.6 -10.8

Fig. 2: Underlying Current Deficit (excluding bank bailouts), removing cuts in Government GFCF, €bn. Source: Author’s calculations, Department of Finance

On this measure the trend in the deficit is still downwards, but only marginally so. Once both the effect of the bank bailouts and the cuts in government capital investment are stripped out, the decline in the deficit is a paltry €700mn since 2009.

Unsurprisingly, while the economy has stagnated since the slump so has the underlying deficit. The chart below shows the trend in GNP and the underlying deficit since 2007. In effect, a slump has been followed by stagnation. The deficit is a mirror image of growth; a sharp rise has been followed by a flatlining deficit. The modest improvement in 2012 as whole reflected the moderate uptick in economic activity, which gave way to renewed recession at the end of 2012.

1_aMBGraphGNP_underlyingDef

The underlying deficit is not really on an improving trend. It remains dependent on growth, which itself remains elusive.

Supporters of austerity in Ireland maintain that export-led growth will be the salvation of the economy. But recorded exports have already risen strongly without lifting the economy out of Depression and there is a question mark about the continued strength of exports in the period ahead.

There is also a larger question looming. Ireland is a capitalist economy and set to remain so for a considerable period. Yet its capitalists have stopped producing capital. The implications of that startling fact will be addressed in a further post.

 

via Irish Left Review | The Deficit is Stagnating, Just Like the Economy.

Crooks, Carpetbaggers and Ireland’s Sovereignty – Changing the Paradigm


At the risk of being tedious once again on the subject of history there are plenty of examples of small nations using their brains to balance competing powerful dynamics around them. The island and city states between ancient Greece and Persia being one historical example.

Ireland has one good natural industry which provides a national income stream and that is agriculture and its related exports. There is another provided by our location that is criminally underutilised and that is ‘blue farming’ or sustainable marine farming. We’re not short of raw material there either. Other than that, it has a high profile in the world for tourism – an industry that has been known to be abusive to its potential customer base in the past, it has to be said. Most of the ‘service’ sector of the Irish economy is fake – an accountants’ trick.

We have no reason by our location to come into conflict with the BRIC countries.  It should be perfectly possible for us, provided we form the habit of thinking along these lines and drop the insecure paranoia about how close to Berlin or Boston we happen to be on any given day, to be able to steer a path for ourselves.

We have the worst of all worlds at the moment  no self-governance over finance, the balance of trade destroyed because we are exporting large sums of money regularly out of the Irish economy to pay currency gamblers and their mates abroad, a financial centre which has no interest in paying any kind of meaningful rent to be in the country and serves only to distort the domestic economy, a professional class incapable of undertaking any national project without robbing as much of whatever budget can be robbed and an utterly dull secretariat convinced of its own importance but unable to take on any major initiative without expensively buying in ‘expertise’.

Mineral wealth  corrupt backhander deals enriching state negotiators with the result that that potential income stream has been delivered to looters.

Ireland desperately needs a serious insurrection and a unilateral nationalisation of resources plus a policy of refusing to sell off other assets with the threat of default if the vultures demand such sales.  For the first time in its history Ireland has a nuclear deterrent and that is around the possibility of taking the Euro area down by pressing the button marked ‘default’.

Our servile policies in this area maintained by a group of carpetbaggers called politicians result only in us being treated as the servant in the room. Looking ahead – who is going to respect Ireland in negotiations when we have our political leadership being patted on the head with his little photo on the front of a corporate rentboy publication and the designation ‘European Servant of The Year’?

History again – sovereignty is never achieved or held without demanding and insisting on it. There are no examples anywhere of a country being handed its self-determination as a gift by other nations and power blocs. It is something that has to be fought for and held.  Germany and the EU are not some fine day going to say ‘good lads, here you go, you’ve been very good and now off you go and enjoy yourself’.

Anyone who thinks Ireland will emerge as a sovereign nation again at some point given current conditions is a fool of the very worst kind.  The paradigm must be changed, whatever the pressures against. Failure to insist on sovereignty over time will result only in servitude.

Captain Con O’Sullivan 10th November 2012

via It’s a Political World.

via It’s a Political World.

Best Images of last Week


Best Image from last week Week

Actor and former Culture Ambassador Gabriel Byrne’s fresh and countercultural take on The Gathering 2013, accusing it of being a shamelessly-commercial sham aimed at fleecing Burberry-clad Yanks whilst at the same time, Ireland “didn’t a shit” about the Disapora including the plight of those Irish working illegally in Ireland. His words struck an authentic chord with some, and inspired the brilliant Japlandic who produced the best images of last week

Irony of last Week

On Thursday this week, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in Berlin to accept a statuette from a German media association after being named “European of the Year 2012”. The optics just look all wrong in the context of an uncertain bank debt deal, and Germany now presenting us with a new hoop to jump through where we have to demonstrate our uniqueness. But when you consider thatThursday was also the day when the utterly bust and zombified Anglo, or IBRC, paid €24m to bondholders, some or a majority of which commonly believed to have been paid to German banks. €24m will buy you a lot of kitschy statuettes. Or home help hours.

via NAMA Wine Lake.

via NAMA Wine Lake.

Kenny, Merkel release joint statement on bank debt deal – RTÉ News


The joint statement described Ireland as 'a special case'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel have issued a joint communiqué saying that Ireland’s banking crisis was “unique” and that Ireland was to be considered a special case in the forthcoming negotiations over the role of the new bailout fund the European Stability Mechanism in supported troubled banks.

The statement followed a phone call between the two leaders this afternoon.

It comes after two days of opposition attacks over Ms Merkel’s apparent rejection on Friday of the ESM being used for so-called legacy debt.

As the EU summit was winding up at the end of last week, Ms Merkel, in response to a question about Spanish banks, said there would be no retroactive recapitalisation of banks by the ESM.

Her remarks triggered a barrage of opposition attacks against Mr Kenny, who had hailed the summit as a success.

While Berlin confirmed that the chancellor meant that only future debts would be covered, over the next 12 hours the Chancellery issued two apparently mollifying statements supporting Ireland’s reform efforts and a return to the bond markets.

This evening, following a half hour phone call, the two leaders issued the joint statement reaffirming the commitment of 29 June, which said that Ireland’s bank debt situation would be looked at.

Encouragingly from the Government’s point of view, the statement described Ireland as a special case and the circumstances surrounding the banking crisis as “unique”.

This would be taken into account by eurozone finance ministers, the statement concluded, as they begin negotiations on how the ESM will work, once a banking supervision system is in place.

The statement did not spell out that legacy debt will be covered but it will provide the coalition with some badly needed cover following the criticism it has taken since Friday lunchtime.

via Kenny, Merkel release joint statement on bank debt deal – RTÉ News.

via Kenny, Merkel release joint statement on bank debt deal – RTÉ News.

The Implications of the German Court ruling on the ESM


To morrow in Misebogland The Implications of the German Court ruling on the ESM

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