The ‘Other’ Pressure On Putin Is Internal: Russia Hardliners

By Julian Hans

Finally, an engagement that Vladimir Putin could enjoy. Wearing dark aviator glasses against the bright sun, the Russian president attended the Russian “Navy Day” parade last Sunday at the Norwegian sea port of Severomorsk. A warship recently put into service fired some salvoes, and sailors responded to Putin’s greeting with three cries of Hurrah!

Reactions like that have become thin on the ground for Putin recently. In his phone calls with Western government leaders the mood has turned steely, the tone sharp. When — even after the death of the 298 passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 — no decisive sign came from the Kremlin that it intended to distance itself from the fighters suspected of having shot the plane down over eastern Ukraine, Brussels too begun discussing tough sanctions against Russia.

Before his appearance at the recent “Navy Day” parade, Putin seemed edgy and tense. After a series of late-night phone calls last week, he offered an apparently improvised video message, struggling for words as he called for an independent investigation of the crash. The video was shown at 1:40 a.m. Moscow time on the Kremlin website and was apparently directed at a Western public and Americans who at that hour had not yet gone to bed rather than to Russians and the pro-Russian fighters in Ukraine.

Two days later, at a meeting of the Russian Security Council, Putin came across to other participants as awkward and stiff.

Some observers took these behaviors as a sign that Putin is also being pressured at home in Russia. Bloomberg had reported the previous week that Russian entrepreneurs were “increasingly frantic” in view of new threats of sanctions and increasing isolation. The 19 richest Russians have already lost $14.5 billion in the crisis, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

But does any of that really have to concern Putin? His popularity ratings are higher than they’ve been in a long time. According to the latest survey by the independent Levada Institute, 86% of Russians support their president’s course. That’s a result that would make any politician think twice before changing direction. There is no indication that the results could change if the European Union were to announce that it is halting all trade in arms, and limiting Russia’s access to European capital markets and technologies relevant to oil and gas production.

In confidential exchanges, high-ranking members of the president’s administration admit that the fear of sanctions is considerable. “Whoever claims that sanctions don’t matter to us is a complete idiot,” said one member of the inner circle with daily access to Putin. Sanctions would be “very painful” for Russia and would probably plunge the country into lasting recession, “but they would not be deadly.” What Russia needs to do is re-orient itself towards other markets, the insider said.

Putin himself appears to be unimpressed by the threat of new sanctions. He even said on Monday that Russia was the one considering limits on arms imports from the European Union: Russia’s arms industry was “entirely” in a position to produce everything it needed on its own, and needed to “insure itself against the risks of our European partners breaking contracts.”

Mikhail Fradkov, who was Russian Prime Minister during Putin’s first term as president, is all together more skeptical: “If sanctions were to affect the whole financial sector the economy would break down within six months,” he says.

The Kremlin insider also confirms that the president is under major pressure. Radical powers supported by patriotically revolutionized citizens are trying to get Putin to send troops to march across the border into Ukraine. In fact, state-run television networks are keeping such sentiment alive with reports on both verified and invented victims of Kiev’s anti-terror offensive, as well as alleged broken promises by European politicians, and the United States’ attempts at creating splits between Russia and Europe.

Moscow observers don’t currently see any powerful counter-voices within the Kremlin. Since the beginning of his third term in May 2012, Putin has surrounded himself with yes-men, says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist specialized in the Russian elite, who until two years ago was herself a member of Putin’s United Russia party.

She says she has no reason to assume that there has been any split in the inner leadership circle. “In our society, open discussion among the power elite is not something that’s done,” she says, adding that it is not in line with the country’s authoritarian traditions. “You either play along, or you leave.”

Yes, there is some disquiet in society and in the Kremlin as well: both regular folks and oligarchs worry about their prosperity. “But there are moments when people understand that a higher goal is at stake – the renaissance of a great power,” Kryshtanovskaya says.

So, even people in Putin’s closest circle — whose names are on the U.S. sanctions list — are prepared to endure the downsides to policy choices.

Liberals, however, don’t get much of a hearing at the Kremlin these days. When former Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin warned in an interview with the state news agency Tass last week that sanctions and other showdowns with the West could cost Russians one-fifth of their income, his remarks were kept off state-controlled TV, from which more than 90% of Russian citizens get their news.

It is only when remarks such as Kudrin’s also make it into TV news coverage that a possible change in direction could be underway, says Kryshtanovskaya. There has always been a right-wing, reactionary opposition in Russia even if it has received less attention in the West than the liberal, West-oriented opposition, she points out.

Indeed, what some in the West fail to calculate is that conservatives have been putting pressure on Putin since he came to power 15 years ago — only now there are hardly any liberals left to form a counterweight.

Ultimately, any clean break in Putin’s circle of power is unlikely, says political adviser Yevgeny Minchenko who has close ties to the Kremlin. There have always been various camps, between which Putin functions as a sort of moderator.

“I do not believe that an opposition is now forming against the president,” Minchenko said. “That is a naïve hope of the West.”


(Translation by WorldCrunch)

Route 66, Cruising The Most American Road Of Them All

By Robert Meiszies

The road to Seligman, Arizona, carries a famous name — the roadside sign reads Historic Route 66. This is the right moment to slide the CD into the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide’s music player.

“Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A., more than 2,000 miles all the way. Get your kicks on Route 66,” goes the song, blaring from the speakers over the noise of the road. The cliché has become reality, the dream come true for bikers and tourists traveling by van, bus or vintage car down what may be the most famous road on the planet.

Robert William “Bobby” Troup Jr. wrote “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” in 1946 as a tribute to the “Mother Road.” The refrain lists places along the way — among them St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Flagstaff, Kingman, and let’s not forget Winona — that today more or less sum up the history of Route 66.

Coming from Kingman, Arizona, you drive along one of the longest and best-maintained segments of the first transcontinental connection between East Coast and West Coast American cities. Interstate 40, which gets people to Flagstaff in a hurry, is far away. Back here you only find people with time — real fans — on the lookout for a genuine Route 66 experience and hidden memorabilia.

Like the Hackberry General Store. If you’re going too fast, you’ll pass it without noticing it. There are no signs, nothing to point to one of the major relics of Route 66 history. At first glance, the store looks like a shack — until you notice the huge glowing red sign in the shape of a flying horse on the roof and the shiny red 1956 Corvette parked out front and belonging to store owners Kerry and John Pritchard. The old Mobil gas pumps, the rusty Ford Model T, and countless old posters on sheet metal look exactly as they would have back in the day.

The road was once hot

What comes to mind is John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath about poor farmers, so-called Okies, fleeing on Route 66 from the sandstorms and drought of the Midwest, the dust bowls of Oklahoma and Texas, to work in the California fruit plantations that seemed to promise a better life. Another of these soldiers of fortune was Bobby Troup, who ended up in Los Angeles and went on to make a career in music.

The stretch of 2,448 miles (about 4,000 kilometers) between Chicago and Los Angeles has since become a clichéd symbol of freedom and independence for many adventurers and travelers. But what used to be the most important East-West link has long lost this status, having been replaced by interstates with multiple lanes that take travelers straight through the country in less time.

Since October 13, 1984, Interstate 40 has replaced the last 5.7 miles of the original Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. The old, curvy, one-lane 66 still exists (about 80% of it is still drivable), but much of it is hidden and unmarked. The longest contiguous segments are mainly located in the West, in Arizona and southern California.

Among those who didn’t let the Mother Road go was Bob Waldmire (1945-2009), a hippy from Illinois, who earned a living as a painter. Since the 1960s, he’d been traveling the highway in a Volkswagen bus selling postcards, stickers and pictures he’d painted of sights along the Mother Road. He happened on the rundown Hackberry General Store that had been built in 1934 just outside Hackberry, then a mining town. On Route 66, the store was a major hub for cattle transports and supplied travelers with gas and provisions. Both the town and the store lost their raison d’être after the interstate opened. Hackberry became a ghost town, and the store closed in 1978. When Waldmire re-opened it in 1992 as a Visitor Center, he was Hackberry’s only resident.

When the interstate killed culture

Most of the businesses, hotels, gas stations and diners that used to exist along Route 66 didn’t survive the change. They had to close, and have since been quietly falling into decrepitude. The Mother Road herself has suffered: Tufts of grass grow through cracks in the asphalt, while the wind and weather do the rest. Route 66 now survives because of the charm of disuse — and pretty well in some cases, such as New Mexico’s 66 Diner in Albuquerque and the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, both of which have achieved cult status.

But all that’s left of other places is pretty much the façade. Take Oatman in California, which became a ghost town in the 1970s. Located on one of the most beautiful segments of Route 66, this former gold diggers stronghold now attracts some 500,000 visitors a year, drawn by its Wild West Show and 66 souvenirs made in China. Thankfully, the drive over the Sitgreaves Pass is rich enough in experiences to make up for the tourist circus.

Even Seligman, Arizona, which calls itself the birthplace of the 66 revival, is more reminiscent of a souvenir shop than a serious repository of Route 66 history. Those unforgettable moments when Juan Delgadillo (who died in 2004) and his brother Angel, who is going on 90, held travelers spellbound in their Snow Cap Drive-In eatery and legendary barbershop with their tales of the rise and fall of Route 66 will soon be a thing of the past. Many of the hotels and diners, having used up their nostalgia bonuses, have had to be completely renovated. There’s nobody to take up the cause, and the present keepers of Historic Route 66 are slowly dying out.

Ever fewer of the institutions from the days before the advent of mass tourism survive. Exceptions are the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, and Roy’s Cafe in the no-man’s-land of Amboy, California. And if John and Kerry Pritchard hadn’t by pure chance stopped off in Hackberry in 1998, the General Store might well no longer be in existence. Bob Waldmire hadn’t been able to agree with the authorities on the use of this public land, and moved back to Chicago after the Pritchards agreed to keep the General Store as a Route 66 museum.

“We actually never planned to buy the store,” says John Pritchard, the businessman from Washington. “We just wanted to help Bob repair the roof.” The Pritchards then changed the whole store back to the way it was in the 1940s and 1950s, restored the old gas pumps and decorated the place with items found along Route 66 that they’d been collecting for over 35 years.

A uniquely American road

But the General Store is no sterile museum: Route 66 comes alive for visitors who wander through checking out the old books, jukebox, photographs, cast-iron heating stove, memorabilia and T-shirts mixed in among traditional food store items and traveler necessities like cola, crackers and chewing gum.

The gas pump in front of a mom and pop store is as much a part of American life as wheat beer and veal sausage are to a German’s. “We were always hanging around the gas station,” Pritchard says of his relation to this arch-American institution. “That’s where the coolest cars and the prettiest girls were. We practically lived there. And now I’m back, so the circle closes.”

Whether some road other than Route 66 could have achieved this level of fame, the answer is clear. “No, on Route 66 anybody going from Chicago to Los Angeles sees everything that characterizes the United States of America,” Pritchard says. “He sees the big-city lights of Chicago and St. Louis, the huge expanse of the Midwest, Texas, cowboys and Indians, deserts, the California coasts. All on one road. Where else do you get that?”

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by AFP)

Germany To Spy On U.S. Intel, Other Allies

By Christoph Hickmann and Georg Mascolo

The German federal government intends to start spying on the secret service activities in Germany of countries with which it maintains good relations, Süddeutsche Zeitung has learned. The decision is the result of months of discussion between the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Federal Foreign Office.

The so-called “360-degree-view” should make it possible to also keep tabs on American and British agents on German soil. Until now, the focus has been on the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians.

The decision is in direct reaction to the recent accusations against the CIA of spying in Germany. An employee of BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, has admitted working as an agent for the U.S. for two years, while a worker at the German Ministry of Defense has denied charges of doing the same. After these incidents came to light, the CIA station chief in Berlin was forced to leave Germany.

The plan to monitor the secret services of “friendly” countries was developed last year by Chancellor Merkel in reaction to the NSA affair and the tapping of her personal cell phone. However, the federal government hesitated for a long time to implement it, mainly because it was worried about a conflict with the U.S.

"But we now need to send a strong signal," a source close to the decision told Süddeutsche Zeitung, adding that the measures were purely defensive. The BND has no intention of spying on American soil.

What dimensions the surveillance will take has yet to be established. When asked, the Ministry of the Interior chose not to comment on such details. However, along with observation, a main focus will be monitoring communication in embassies and consulates.

According to the BND employee in custody, he communicated with the U.S. Embassy in Berlin via e-mail.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo of U.S. embassy in Berlin by AFP)

With Death Tolls Rising, Israel’s Options Start To Close

By Peter Münch

They’re now fighting through the rubble, and there are still no sign of things calming down in Shejaiya. At least 100 Palestinians have already died in that eastern suburb of Gaza since the Israeli army launched its house-to-house assault against Hamas

Images show corpses lying in the street and hospitals barely have room for any more of the wounded. People are fleeing, or wandering aimlessly around with no idea of where to look for shelter. Gaza has become hell on earth. How are the 1.8 million people who live there supposed to endure this?

On the other side is Israel, the government of which promised the Israeli people two weeks ago that it would put an end to Hamas rocket attacks. Since then the Israelis have attacked Gaza relentlessly, first by air, and now with ground forces. The army reports success upon success, with over 2,500 targets attacked. Yet on Monday there were still Hamas rocket attacks reported in the southern part of the country and air raid sirens were sounding in Tel Aviv.

Israeli newspapers featured long rows of pictures of young men in uniform whose lives ended abruptly in a single day. On Sunday alone, Israel lost 13 soldiers. Since the beginning of the ground offensive, Israeli losses have reached 25. And Hamas has proudly announced the capture of a soldier. How long can the nation stand the mounting toll?

What is clear is that this bloody war in heavily populated areas has reached a new stage. Originally, only the destruction of Hamas’s tunnel system was the announced goal of the ground offensive. Now however Israel’s army in Gaza is in the thick of a military and moral morass.

First doubts in Israel

With 100 dead in one day on the Palestinian side, international pressure on the government in Jerusalem is mounting palpably — gone are the days when Israel could conduct a “war of self-defense with relatively little criticism.”

On the other hand, Israeli leaders will have to quickly find a way to give meaning to the loss of the lives of its soldiers. That could mean turning up the heat, at great risk, in a window of time that is slowly closing. At some point, the home front is going to crumble as well.

For the people in Gaza, that will mean continuing to helplessly endure Israeli attacks. Hamas leadership has gone completely underground, and in their attacks on Israeli soldiers, the fighters in the al-Qassam brigades have also begun dressing as civilians. The figure of 600-plus dead threatens to keep rising sharply, as does the number of refugees. The United Nations has referred to more than 150,000 already now that have fled their homes as a result of the fighting. Eighty thousand found shelter in UN facilities and these are now beyond capacity.

With every day of war, the risk to Israelis of falling into one of the many Hamas traps increases. On Monday, an armed commando made it through a tunnel into the vicinity of an Israeli kibbutz. There the heavily armed Palestinians were discovered, filmed for propaganda purposes by the Israeli army, and fired on live. Ten Palestinians were killed. Here too, and despite the loss of life, all Hamas would need is a single successful terror attack to present itself as victorious.

So it’s a fine line that Israel’s leadership is walking as it continues to forge ahead with the war. With growing pathos, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges the nation to hold firm. “There is not a more just war than the one in which your sons, our sons, heroically fell,” he told grieving parents.

Behind the scenes, however, a conflict has flared up about winding the engagement down. Minister of Defense Moshe Jaalon hinted at a possible way out when he noted that most of the Hamas tunnel system could be destroyed in two to three days. Other cabinet colleagues like Minister of Strategic Affairs Juval Steinitz, however, favor a longer engagement with even fiercer attacks on Hamas.

In this messy situation, hope can only come from the outside. The United States is feeling the pressure to get involved, while the UN Security Council is calling for a ceasefire. “Gaza is an open wound,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. ”We must stop the bleeding now.”

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo of grieving Palestinian woman with a baby by Reuters)

MH17, Costs And Consequences Of Open Air Space

By Jens Flottau

On Thursday, soon after the first news of the disappearance of Flight MH17 hit, a curious image appeared on the flight website. This service enables one to follow live, rather like a flight controller, where a plane is in a specific region, what direction it’s flying in and at what altitude. On Friday afternoon, the points on the screen started forming a large arc over the eastern part of Ukraine.

Some planes, like an Emirates flight from Dubai to Kiev, turned around and went back to the airport they’d taken off from. By now no civil flights are flying through that area at all. The question many people are asking is: why only now?

At the time, the Malaysian flight is presumed to have been shot down, flight restrictions were already in place over Ukraine but MH17 was in a part of airspace open for civil aviation.

As early as April 3, the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibited U.S. airlines from flying over Crimean air space and adjacent regions in southeastern Ukraine. MH17 however was hit by rockets far further north.

Last Monday, Ukrainian authorities themselves had ordered that flights over the region should avoid certain altitudes. They were no longer allowed to fly between 26,000 and 32,000 feet, or under a good 10 km altitude. MH17 was flying at 33,000 feet, just 300 meters above the closed airspace.

The Ukrainians had assumed that planes flying at that height were no longer within range of small portable rockets even if someone were to take aim at them. Apparently they didn’t take into account that the separatists have access to large surface-to-air rockets mounted on heavy vehicles.

Who closes what airspace to whom in a fairly complicated business. As a rule the authorities of a country are responsible for their country’s airspace. However as we’ve seen foreign aviation authorities can also order airlines from their area of supervision to avoid regions they consider dangerous. In those cases however it’s rare for there to be a real flying ban; more likely are various types of restrictions. As a rule these are issued internationally as so-called Notices to Airmen, or Notams for short.

The FAA also plays an international role in this: although responsible for U.S. airlines only, as a general rule other authorities tend to follow their recommendations, though not always as FAA decisions can also be politically influenced.

The costs of detours

When the authority prohibited US airlines from flying over the Crimea it was less due to the fact that Washington feared an attack such as that on MH17 but mainly because it wanted to send a signal to Moscow.

Notams are released by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN specialized agency. They are generally valid for a maximum of three months. If they are not rescinded then they automatically become standard.

Ukrainian airspace is right on the path of major connections between Europe and Southeast Asia. Flying around it usually means serious additional costs for airlines because this makes the stretch significantly longer. For most airlines, fuel has become the biggest single cost item.

The decision of Malaysia Airlines to use the airspace over Ukraine on Thursday was fully in line with international practice. Nearly all large Asian airlines and many European ones including Lufthansa hadn’t until then changed their routes significantly. Only Australia’s Qantas had taken the decision to fly around the region.

The airlines now face a dilemma. It is in their interests to fly the cheapest route, but they do generally respect restrictions set by Notam or other means. Since they are active worldwide, the large companies have their own departments that try to assess the security situation in a number of regions around the world in order to form an opinion that takes their own assessment and that of local authorities into account. However these departments are often swamped so the companies have to depend on the estimates of local authorities alone.

As the case of Flight MH 17 has shown, these can also be wrong – with fatal consequences.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

The Curious Case Of A Gifted Boy Comforted By War Games

By Lorenz Wagner

There’s that Timon again, skulking around. The kindergarten teacher spots him through the window, and her eyes follow his movements.

The boy is the talk of the whole neighborhood, she says. The look of him, with his camouflage military clothing, black face mask, gun in hand. He’s here, not Kabul. Here is Hoek van Holland, a peaceful Netherlands sea town near Rotterdam, with a drug store, a petting zoo, and a ferry that comes in from the UK every morning and evening.

The little boy is coming nearer and nearer. He makes a hand gesture that suggests he’s motioning to other soldiers to keep him covered. The kindergarten kids have their noses pressed against the window panes. This is fun! The teacher doesn’t think so. She runs outside, but the boy has already gone, disappeared into some bushes. Timon is 11 years old. What kind of child is this, and who are his parents?

That Timon is unlike other children is something his parents noticed when he was barely three years old. They were driving to Rotterdam, and Timon was sitting in the back looking out the window, jabbering away. At a traffic light, he uttered the word vloerbedekking. His parents were puzzled. The word means rug. They weren’t quite sure what to think, until they noticed the sign above a storefront. Their son wasn’t jabbering. He was reading.

Many parents would have been overjoyed at this. Their son was special! But Petra and Peter Persoon were silent. They knew what this meant. Timon’s uncle, his mother’s brother, had been able to read that early too. “And his life,” says Petra Persoon, “was a terrible struggle.”

Gifted but isolated

Highly gifted, the doctors said. Soon afterwards, Timon began to feel strange in his surroundings. He was different from other children. Instead of playing, he spent his time on numbers and reading. If he painted pictures, he tore them up before he finished them. He didn’t understand jokes or teasing. After their car broke down, his dad told Timon he was going to replace it with a tank, which the boy took literally. Timon was bitterly disappointed when the tank turned out to be an Opel.

He would tell his parents that there was too much in his head. To maintain mental order, he had to plan everything. His parents could never say, “It’s a beautiful sunny day. Let’s go to the beach!” Something like that would anger him terribly. And no one could sit in “his” place in the car. There were tears and screaming if another child only counted to 18 instead of 20 during a game of hide and seek.

Other children started to think of Timon as stupid. And teachers didn’t know what to do about his habit of sticking his hand up before they’d even finished asking the question. So they left Timon to his own devices. They didn’t call on him anymore. They punished him. The child who had started out feeling alienated was now also feeling lonely. His parents would often look out the window and see Timon sitting alone in the garden after running away from school.

Then one day, a chubby neighborhood kid slightly older than Timon came along wearing an army jacket and asked him if he wanted to play. That was two years ago.

Soldiering on 

The retreat from the kindergarten war zone was a success. Neither the teacher nor his enemy — Mirco, Timon’s 10-year-old brother, chewing strawberry gum and armed with what is supposed to be a fully automatic carbine — had been able to capture him. Then there was Lidianne, his 6-year-old sister, who wears braids and holds a stuffed tiger wearing an army scarf under her arm. Tough opponents.

Should Timon and his men not go and get some additional weaponry in the arsenal (garage)? Along with roller skates and a deep fryer, also stocked here are a sniper rifle, a fully automatic carbine, a machine gun, a Browning, a Thompson — 26 weapons all told, and all home-made. There are also an anti-tank rocket launcher, hand grenades, desert camouflage, helmets, gas masks  and a defibrillator, all necessary in a war. Today’s job is to get the enemy’s flag away from them.

Timon’s parents were overjoyed when he found his soldier friends. They would have preferred it if the friends had been non-military — a soccer team, for example. In any case, they didn’t buy him any toy weapons. If he wanted weapons, they said, he’d have to craft them himself, out of wood. Doing something with one’s hands, the psychologists had told them, clears the head.

The therapy of creativity

His dad showed Timon how to use a saw, and the boy went on the Internet, printed out pictures of weapons, and then proceeded to fashion toy pistols and carbines that amazed everybody. From then on, he dressed in green and threw himself into his war games, which suited his lightly autistic compulsion: orders and obedience, firm rules. He led the games himself so perfectly that it made his parents uneasy.

It made Petra Persoon think of the Columbine massacre and all the other school shootings. And what would the neighbors think? During World War II, Hoek van Holland was part of the German Atlantic Wall. Many old people here had terrible memories from the war. “We didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings,” she says.

But the games were doing Timon so much good. Day after day, he played outdoors. His cheeks got some color, he laughed and talked more, and made one wooden weapon after another. There were so many of them he couldn’t carry all of them himself, so miraculously he let neighborhood kids play with them. They were curious about his doings, and soon he had companions. The whole area with its hedges and small gardens had been turned into a war zone.

A social trigger

Timon is the general here. And he makes more of an effort now to be nice to other children. He needs them to play with, because it’s much better when five kids play together than playing alone. When anybody is shot down, he rescues them with his first aid kit. And he forgives them when they leave the trenches for snack or fudge when they’re counting. 

Timon’s parents buy him genuine army trousers and helmets. They’re right to support their son in this way, says Michael Wolf, a psychologist at the Center for Highly Gifted Children in Cologne. He’s not afraid that Timon will grow up to be a perpetrator, although he says it does give him the creeps when Timon wears a balaclava. People who go on killing sprees, says Wolf, are loners and almost always isolated. Timon, on the other hand, saved himself from isolation with his games.

Things are even going better in school. The other kids tease him less, and the teachers are including him more. Now, after the other kids answer questions, he gets to say if they answered right or not. He even plays a soldier in the school play. “Since he’s been conducting war outdoors, we’ve had peace indoors,” says his mother. There are just two things at which they adamantly draw the line: no weapons in the house, and no, they can’t replace the Opel with a camo-colored jeep.

“We know that some people don’t understand us here,” they say. But what to do? They have other problems, like what Mirco and Lidianne could soon be getting up to. They’re both highly gifted too.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Peter de Krom)

Doctors Blame Factory Farming For Failing Antibiotics

By Silivia Liebrich

Citing the failure of antibiotics to work effectively in their patients, a group of German doctors and other healthcare providers are laying blame on the factory farming industry — and calling for reform.

The doctors say that antibiotics no longer work because of multi-resistant germs that patients carry, at least some of which have their origins in the way animals are bred. Germs from agro-industrial facilities that are resistant to antibiotics are a massive threat to human health, the campaign founders say.

The first nationwide campaign of this type is so far being supported by 250 doctors, carers and pharmacists. They are demanding humane breeding of animals, sharper controls, and sanctions against those who put antibiotics in animal feed.

If action is not taken, antibiotics may soon be entirely ineffective as a weapon against bacterial infections in both humans and animals, warns professor of veterinary medicine Siegfried Ueberschär. Doctors now often try in vain to save the lives and health of patients with weak immune systems, and there are no new antibiotics in sight, says Bremen-based internist Imke Lührs.

The spread of so-called hospital germs, known in medical circles as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has become alarming, the movement’s supporters say. In areas with a high density of breeding farms, some 30% of the MRSA germs in high-risk patients come from the agricultural environment.

Laced feed

Antibiotic-resistant germs can also be found in the food chain. They come from the water of defrosting frozen poultry and from fresh chicken and turkey, up to 42% of which has been affected by resistant germs. In a screening in May, controllers also found antibiotic-resistant germs in fresh Mettwurst sausage.

The main cause of the problem is the large number of antibiotics used by animal breeders. Over three-fourths of pigs and poultry are given a great deal of antibiotics during their life — “the approximate equivalent of 20 years of permanent medication in a human.” Just how many antibiotics German breeders use has only been monitored nationwide since 2011. Legislation that makes it mandatory for breeders and vets to register the antibiotics they use has only existed for a short while.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) also sees increased risk from factory farming. “Resistance by pathogens in animals and food are a serious problem in consumer health protection,” says BfR President Andreas Hensel. Specialized authorities are working on remedying the situation. “Further improvements in animal breeding conditions are inevitable — difficult to implement, but they have to have priority,” says Bernd-Alois Tenhagen, BfR expert for antibiotic resistance.

The goal for animal farmers has to be to keep livestock in such a way that they don’t get sick in the first place. “And for that to happen, the animals need enough room, fresh air, and good food,” Tenhagen says.

The Federal Association of Practicing Veterinarians has reacted with reserve to the initiative, and has so far not lent its support to the campaign. Its position is that it is the job of politics, not vets, to ensure better conditions for farm animals.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

Craft Beer In Germany: Microbrews Finally Spread In Land Of Oktoberfest

By Sebastian Herrmann

At a simple café near the main street, a group of mountain bikers comes in, and they’re thirsty. “What kinds of beer do you have?” one of them asks the server. He starts reciting: Amber Ale. India Pale Ale. Summer Ale. White Ale. Porter. Stout. Then he adds Lager — a little sheepishly, as if lager doesn’t quite cut it. As if anybody’s going to order that lame stuff brewed by the big brands.

Welcome to the land of beer: the U.S.A. The food on offer at this place in the Alaska mountains is nothing special. Nor is the choice of beers particularly exotic. In many U.S. establishments, there’s a variety of draft beer to choose from. A large selection of unashamedly good beers is normal.

The idea of the United States as the country of dishwater beers has been out of step with reality for a long time. In fact, it only exists in the minds of German beer drinkers.

And how does the picture look in the Pale-Pilsener-White-Beer country of Germany? Things at the tap are finally starting to move. For a long time, brewers in this erstwhile famous beer country were just producing more of the same, ever more efficiently, ever more inexpensively, and ever more boringly.

But now, just as American beer enthusiasts rose up against big-brand sameness 20 years ago, resistance is now growing to all those lame TV beers in Germany. The craft beer (or microbrew) movement has finally made it to Germany. It’s not mainstream yet, but it’s here.

Back in Munich

At a high rise in the eastern part of Munich, start-up firms rent offices along with software companies and PR agencies. Timm Schnigula and Richard Hodges’s start-up is one such enterprise. Both men have beards and are wearing trucker caps. Among some computers, boxes and crates, there’s a refrigerator where they keep their product samples — beer.

"If people only knew how awesome beer can be, there would be a lot more enthusiasts," says Schnigula, co-founder of the small brewery baptized CREW AleWerkstatt ("Crew Ale Workshop"). And that’s really the problem in Germany, he adds. The average German beer drinker firmly believes that the beer world ends with Pale, Pils and White, that there’s nothing besides Augustiner, Astra and Krombacher.

So selling craft beer in Germany is first and foremost a question of setting the record straight. Customers must come to see that craft beer is not liquid poison, nor is it impure, and they need to understand why a 0.33 liter bottle costs at least double as much as a half liter of pale. Getting this across can require some or all of the following: unusual bottle/label design; high alcohol content; many different kinds of hops listed on the bottle, the way grape varieties are listed on wine bottles. The hops varieties have names such as Cascade, Simcoe and Amarillo. Sometimes they are very exotic. Sorachi Ace, for example, has notes of ginger and lemon grass, which are originally Japanese and are now only grown worldwide by one company in Oregon.

Out with the pint glass

The new trend also has accessories that strike many traditionalists as off-putting. Beer is served in Teku glasses that look as if they’re meant for red wine. Companies like Spiegelau produce expensive series with a different glass for every type of beer, a practice that has worked just fine in the wine world. But is it a sin to drink Pale Ale from a stout glass? These beers can also be consumed straight from the bottle thus bypassing all the gastronomic hoopla. On the other hand, beer called “Hopfen Royal” that costs 10 euros per bottle is also available in Germany, offering beer snobs the perfect opportunity to wax expert about first sips through the finish, not to mention all the caramel notes.

The craft beer trend is livening up Germany’s sorry beer selection and bringing with it some pleasant side effects. “The movement has re-awakened enthusiasm in brewers,” says Wolfgang Stempfl, managing director of the Doemens Brauakademie (Doemens Brewing Academy) in Gräfelfing. “Once again it’s about creating unusual products, not just efficiency and technical issues.”

The big beer brands are discovering variety as well. The Radeberger Group has long been selling special beers under the label “Braufactum,” Bitburger sells their Craftwerk brand, and companies like Veltins and Schneider are also addressing the craft beer market.

Boutique brewers

On the other side are brewers like Schnigula of CREW AleWerkstatt. He’s a former management consultant who discovered he enjoyed beer more than he did meetings. Or take Thorsten Schoppe, who has been brewing beer since 2001 in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Among his brews is “Holy Shit Ale,” and for two years now customers and journalists have been beating a path to his door. In Nesselwang im Allgäu, sisters Kathrin and Stephanie Meyer have breathed new life into their family’s brewery cum restaurant, thus rescuing a family brewing tradition that seemed to be on its way out. Their beer is a Pale Ale called “Braukatz.”

All of these brews are Pale Ale or India Pale Ale, so is this merely a replacement of one beer style by another? “The craft brew movement tends to base itself on India Pale Ale,” Stempfl says. That was the case in the U.S. too. And now something similar to what happened in the States is happening in Germany: Brewers are exploring the boundaries of this style of beer. This means that they are producing beers with higher alcohol content, or more hops, and playing around with International Bitterness Units (IBU) that indicate on a scale just how bitter a beer is. These beers are then called Double or Imperial IPAs and do raise the question: Who’s supposed to be drinking them? Is the craft beer scene in Germany headed in the direction of extreme beers?

No. What’s happening is that a number of beer styles are proliferating that perhaps can only come into their own in the wake of the IPA, hops mania. For example, beers that mature in wooden barrels, like those produced by the Camba Bavaria brewery in Truchtlaching am Chiemsee. These beers are stocked in whisky, bourbon or rum barrels and take on aromas of oak and spirits both.

Cologne-based Sebastian Sauer of Freigeist Bierkultur (Free Spirit Beer Culture) is on a different path. He combs archives and old books to find historic beer recipes. The German purity law (Reinheitsgebot) only came into force nationwide in 1906, so these recipes often have more ingredients than malt, hops, yeast and water. His Prussian White is, for example, a wheat beer spiced with ginger and juniper to which sugar beet syrup has been added. At first it tastes strange, then delicious. The brewer also produces what’s known as “Gose-Biere,” made in a sour beer style that originated in Goslar.

"In my opinion, these beers are the beers of the future," says Stempfl, admitting that it will take time before German beer drinkers accept that. It’s different in the United States, where an American investor recently bought a whole batch of sour beer from Germany and exported it, Stempfl relates. It’s easier to sell sour beer in the U.S. because beer drinkers there don’t require as many explanations as thirsty Germans do.

Still, things are finally happening in Germany too. Hopefully in 20 years’ time servers in Bavarian mountain pubs will be rattling off as varied a beer selection as was available at that little place in Alaska.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by AP)

Maliki, Portrait Of Another Failed Arab Leader

By Sonja Zekri

One of the nuggets of conventional wisdom frequently bandied about these days is that Iraq is entering a new chapter in the historic hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The Sunnis — old Saddam Hussein supporters and young jihadists of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) — are fighting the Shias. What that mainly means is that they’re fighting against Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It will be a war of religion that could rip to pieces not just Iraq but also its post-colonial borders and indeed the entire political architecture of the Middle East.

Another observation being expressed is that it’s no wonder this is happening, now that a dictator is no longer forcing heterogeneous groups together.

This all seems to make sense, but it’s only half of the truth. It is often the dictators who use, drive and sharpen religious and ethnic rivalries. That applies to Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, and it applied to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It also applies to Maliki, a Shia, who has driven the Sunnis into the arms of his enemies. 

Maliki is a creation of the Americans and the Iranians, and yet he may not survive this crisis. The extremists continue to gain ground. Barack Obama has sent an aircraft carrier to the region, but U.S. military officials say they won’t launch an air attack against ISIS, as Maliki has requested, unless the prime minister steps down.

Obama wants Maliki gone in order to create a united government of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. Theocratic, Shia Iran wants to have influence over the 60% of Shias in Iraq and exercise Shia dominance in the region, with or without Maliki.

Allies of convenience

Should Obama use the Iraq crisis to forge lasting links with Iran, that would be a true diplomatic master stroke. But it would be naïve to believe in that happening: The fight against ISIS may bring the two countries together for a while, but their respective visions for the future of the region are too different for chumminess to persist long-term.

Nouri Mohammed Hassan al-Maliki was born into a family of Shia activists on June 20, 1950 on the shores of the Euphrates, near the city of Hilla in southern Iraq. His grandfather fought the British, his father fought a new power, the Ba’ath Party — secular but Sunni-dominated — and both ended up in prison.

Maliki studied Arab literature, and it is said that he can still quote from pre-Islamic classics. As a student, he also joined Dawa, the secret Shia organization, and worked for the creation of an Islamic state.

He hadn’t yet turned 30 when the Islamic revolution in neighboring Iran both spurred Saddam Hussein’s rise to power and saw Shia (the second-largest denomination of Islam) gain political power. Iraq’s new dictator cemented Sunni power and persecuted the Shias during the war with Iran and after the Shia rebellion following the first Gulf War.

Hussein’s regime killed 150,000 people, and most of them were Shias. America first supported the rebellion, then let the Shias down. Maliki fled Iraq in 1979 and lived in exile for nearly 25 years. During that time, he supported various efforts to topple Hussein and nursed anti-American sentiment. After the fall of Hussein in 2003, Maliki returned to Iraq. Although the Americans supported him for prime minister in 2006, he never forgot their betrayal of the Shias decades earlier.

That it should be Maliki to pressure Washington to send in troops (if only to ensure the safety of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad) is certainly an unexpected twist. Overall, Maliki’s development closely resembles the traditional career paths of autocrats who start out making promises to all religious, political and ethnic stakeholders but then go on to use their power solely to acquire more power and persecute former comrades.

A family dynasty?

Now, after the victory of his State of the Law party in the April 2014 parliamentary elections, many Iraqis fear that Maliki may try to claim life incumbency as prime minister or, worse, name his already powerful son Ahmed as his successor in a new dynasty.

As late as 2009, Maliki brought some Sunni Iraqiya members into the government. But American troops weren’t out of the country a day when he issued a warrant for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the most prominent Sunni politician. Hashimi fled the country and has since been sentenced to death in absentia.

That marked both the start of Maliki’s ascendancy and a downward spiral for the young Iraq democracy. There has been corruption and nepotism among loyal Shias, and corroded oil revenues amounting to $90 billion in 2013. Tens of thousands of Sunni men are in prison, say human rights activists, and Sunni women have been abducted, tortured and raped.

Sunni tribes that Maliki and the United States had at one time helped chase out al-Qaeda feel betrayed. Additionally, in recent months Maliki brutally quelled Sunni protest in Anbar province, leaving hundreds dead. Meanwhile, the black flag of the radical Islamists was fluttering in Ramadi, and we now know that it was during this period that the rise of the ISIS militias was forged.

Not all Shias are with the prime minister. One of his biggest problems is his old rival Muqtada al-Sadr, the rabble-rouser theologian and anti-American militia leader. In 2008, when Sadr and his army were entrenched in Basra, Maliki sent in his army against them, forced American help with the endeavor, and a cease-fire was finally negotiated.

Now Sadr is calling for volunteers to defend the holy Shia cities of Najaf, Karbala and Samarra. While the state waffles, the hour of the militias has struck and the fate of yet another flawed political leader in the Middle East is more uncertain than ever.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by dpa)

German Industry’s Guilt In Nazi History Lingers On

By Joachim Käppner

They made it sound as if the big company was sinning against the public good. It was 1959, and both the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the Adenauer government warned steel giant Krupp about “going it alone,” which could have unforeseen and undesirable consequences.

At the time, Krupp’s chief representative Berthold Beitz, who had joined the company in 1953, was planning to compensate Jewish concentration camp inmates who had worked as slave laborers for the company during the war.

Beitz, who rescued hundreds of Jews from the SS during the Holocaust, gave the issue a new, civil face. But his compensation project was unfortunately crushed by a multitude of competing interests.

Even at that time, 15 years after the collapse of Adolph Hitler’s regime, West German industry saw no reason to examine its role or consider where it may have been at fault in the war of extermination.

It took Audi, the successful Ingolstadt-based carmaker, nearly 70 years to face the issue. It is honorable that the company now acknowledges that its predecessor companies used the slave labor of concentration camp inmates “to a scandalous degree” during World War II. But even though the company’s current leaders can’t help what went on, this should have been addressed many years ago.

A unconscionable defense

For decades after 1945, and even during and after the forced labor debates that took place around 2000, German companies acted as if the people who had been exploited, tortured and murdered providing slave labor for them weren’t the victims — but that they were.

At the outset, the line of defense was that the companies had no choice but to bow to the prerogatives of the Nazi state, producing for the war effort and using prisoners and concentration camp inmates to do so. When in 1957 the Frankfurt regional court decided that companies should nevertheless have shown concern for the well-being and lives of slave laborers, there was an industry outcry at what it called “this new collective guilt.”

Since then, the story of how German companies have dealt with their Nazi-era past is a sad succession of disconcerting chapters, along with an utter lack of empathy and sense of responsibility. 

There are some exceptions, but this was all too often the prevailing reality. With time, the steel manufacturer Krupp lost its “aura of particular reprehensibility,” as historian Ulrich Herbert described it. But not because Krupp didn’t deserve its blemished pre-1945 reputation, but rather because most other companies were no better.

Tyrants don’t just use terror and secret police to function. They require the agreement and collaboration of some areas of society. And who can deny that acceptance of Nazi dictatorship and its ideology was frighteningly high on the part of the “people’s community”? Everywhere, resistance and opposition were the exception.

Here, people — important people — espoused dark forces either out of opportunism, ideology, cowardice or greed. They had the choice, and they made the wrong one. They went along with a system of terror, and afterwards shoved all the blame onto “the Nazis,” as if the Nazis were aliens from another planet like the Martians in H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds.

What has been neglected cannot be made right, not least because so few victims are still alive. For some young company managers, the Nazi era may seem as far removed as ancient Rome. Still, it is not merely an academic exercise when Audi finally looks the past square between the eyes.

Although people in business often claim their world is far-removed from politics, it isn’t. There are moral yardsticks that apply to everyone. And there are times to defend human dignity instead of saying “it’s not our fault.”

(Translation by Worldcrunch, photo of slave laborers during instruction in a company by Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo)