Leftovers On The Menu, The World’s Most Sustainable Restaurant

By Marten Rolff

If you call the Copenhagen restaurant Rub & Stub to reserve a table, you may hear some unusual things. “In principle, with pleasure,” a friendly Sophie Sales, one of the restaurant founders, might say in response to your request, “but you need to take into account that we might not be able to serve you dinner.”

Luckily, it doesn’t happen often, but it is entirely possible that on the evening of your reservation the restaurant can’t round up enough staff. “Then we can’t open, and you have to eat somewhere else.”

No less unusual are the guest reactions. “It doesn’t matter,” most say. “We understand!” They often make a point of adding how great they think the project is. The benevolent attitude carries through any evening spent at Rub & Stub, regardless of whether waitstaff mix up a couple of orders, the vegetables are overcooked, or the kitchen is a little bit grimy. You can pretty much count on everybody being satisfied.

It’s been a little over a year now since Rub & Stub opened in the Huset alternative cultural center in Copenhagen’s Old Town. “We never expected” the rush to get in to be as big as it has been since the opening, Sales says. Guests most certainly do not come because they expect perfection or want to eat fantastically well. What they come for is a cozy evening with solid cooking, and a good conscience.

Nothing goes to waste

For years, sustainability and related issues have been one of the major trends in gastronomy. Regional cuisine, a selection of vegetarian dishes, organic products, fair trade ingredients and traceability have long become standard mentions on the menus of many establishments, if only for marketing purposes.

But Rub & Stub — the name translates loosely as “absolutely everything” — far exceeds such expectations. And if the people that operate it tended toward using superlatives, it could certainly be described as one of the most sustainable restaurants on the planet. That’s because they only use food that otherwise would have been discarded, because nearly all staffers work completely free, and because any profit is used to give young people in Sierra Leone computer training. You can hardly do more with a few bowls of soup, a little salad or a few plates of couscous.

The restaurant is located on the second floor of a former cattle shed with oak beams dating back to the 18th century. It has room for well over 100 guests. Anybody who wanders in here during the afternoon would think they’d stumbled on a bunch of students sharing a flat. In one sofa corner sit Sophie Sales, 28, and cook Soren Grimstrup, 33, talking to a couple of others about the evening planning.

How it all began

In three hours, a good 70 guests are expected, but there’s nothing stressed about this little meeting. The restaurant’s décor has mostly been thrown together — lamps from the 1970s, second-hand chairs, old cable drums used for tables. “We collected what we could get for free,” Sales explains. “A year and a half ago, we didn’t even know we would be opening this place. And we didn’t have any money.” Starting capital was little more than 1,000 euros.

Sales is a joyful woman with semi-long blonde curls. She laughs often as she recalls their beginnings. Everything went so quickly, and she knows most people who hear the story are a little bit incredulous. She’s actually a PR consultant, and Grimstrup the cook is straight out of university where he received degrees in statistics and nutrition. What all eight restaurant founders share is a history of working in restaurants as students and being shocked at how much food is wasted.

Western Europe and the United States are top-ranked in throwing out food, but the Danes lead the pack. “We’ve lost contact with our food,” Sales says. “For example, instead of smelling something to decide if it’s fresh, we look at sell-by dates.”

Rub & Stub’s founders originally intended to collect leftovers, which are often used in soup kitchens, and to create a non-profit catering service. Then the plan made the rounds of the million-inhabitant village that is Copenhagen, and an aid organization that ran two charity cafés suggested they should work together.

"We’ll support you if the money goes to Africa," they said. The people at the Huset cultural center said the second floor was freeing up and that they could have the space if they moved in within three months. "At that point, we didn’t have a lot of time to think," Sales says.

A strong embrace

Once it launched, the project’s momentum was difficult to control. It has been hugely popular, and the BBC suddenly came knocking on the door, followed by journalists from the around the world. Everybody seemed to entertain different ideas about what sustainability meant. One Asian paper wrote indignantly, “Unbelievable. European gastronomes are now taking leftovers from the poor and turning the idea into a business model.”

A French news agency recently insinuated that the Danes had started serving garbage in restaurants and illustrated the item with a picture of a trash dump. “We were constantly explaining ourselves, but were nevertheless often misunderstood,” Sales says. Yet when they started out, the Rub & Stub team itself didn’t know how it was going to round up what everybody was calling “garbage,” even though it was actually food that had not yet perished but would soon be thrown out by stores and producers.

Our meeting having reached its end, the tables must now be set. Grimstrup heads for the kitchen and peels carrots or stirs a Moroccan meat stew as he continues talking. Staffers carry in crates of bread, including unsold loaves baked that day at some of the finest bakeries. They always get enough bread, which is why fake couscous made of dried baguette crumbs is being served with the stew. For starters, there are also nachos made out of sliced, gratinated rolls. An event company has sent 80 liters of salsa over that it wasn’t using.

Menus are mostly created spontaneously, as the team often finds out what ingredients it has at its disposal on the same day. Improvisation is par for the course. When they recently received an unexpected 500 eggs with a looming expiration date, they spent hours making crêpes to use both as dessert and in soup the next day. When ground meat comes in, it has to be cooked and frozen immediately. When they started, the public health department was a little skeptical, but it has come around to being “completely persuaded” by the concept, Grimstrup says.

At the beginning, they only had 25% food donations. A year later the figure is some 40%. “Our goal is 60%,” the cook says. “Anything more than that is unrealistic. The rest will be bought,” he says, adding that otherwise he couldn’t really turn out decent meals.

Finding food

Getting things was tough in the beginning. Supermarkets didn’t want to be associated with the restaurant, and the best bakers still ask them not to let on where their bread is coming from. One large dairy factory offered them 10,000 liters of milk with an expiration date of the next day. Rub & Stub only needed 30 liters. “Not worth it. We’ll throw the whole thing out,” was the factory’s reply.

There are often logistical problems, but the restaurant has started working with food banks that ensure distribution. Other food comes to them because it doesn’t meet norms. One farmer brought in a half a ton of new potatoes which were slightly too big to sell in supermarkets.

The cook has now sped up his preparations, stirring, delegating, distributing ingredients, stirring some more. The first volunteers for kitchen and front-of-house service have wandered in and have to be given instructions. Four will stay in the kitchen, five will serve. To help out here, the only condition is to commit for six months and work at least three shifts a month. Only the two cooks and restaurant manager are permanently employed (and paid little).

With some exceptions, the volunteer system works well. Many students work here, and when asked, all say it’s because they wanted to be involved in something that has meaning. Grimstrup says the volunteers “are highly motivated.” The dishwasher’s day job is as boss of a small computer course company. He puts in five hours every Friday night and has done so for a year.

It’s early evening, and the restaurant is slowly filling up. People wear everything from hand-knitted sweaters to business suits. There are tourists and students alike. Politicians and people who work in city administration also often eat here and like to bring visiting foreigners since it makes a good impression. The Ministry of the Interior has a reservation for 20 a few days from now. By the end of the evening, guests will be expressing satisfaction with slightly gluey nachosand industrial salsa and a surprisingly good Middle Eastern stew.

The Rub & Stub team have long realized they don’t need any marketing for their concept, because there are plenty of advocates without it. Grimstrup is working on a book of recipes for leftovers. And soon a team delegation will go to Amsterdam to check out a Rub & Strub imitation that just opened there.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Alexander Banck-Petersen)

The Vast But Delicate China-Germany Alliance

By Stefan Braun

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's podcasts have so far had very limited impact, although she continues to address the public regularly via the Internet. And just about as regularly, there is very little reaction.

So it’s very interesting that just a few days before last week’s consultations between the Chinese and German governments, Merkel chose that medium to comment on the Hong Kong democracy protests, saying she was happy that “the protests have been peaceful so far” and adding that she hoped “the police would also react judiciously.”

The remarks were harmless, and it’s unlikely that the demonstrators in Hong Kong or China’s critics in Germany took much notice. But shortly before Friday’s meetings began, rumors were flying around Beijing that the German ambassador had been called in for a talk as a result of Merkel’s comments.

As it turns out, the rumor was just that, a rumor. But the anxiety that inevitably emerges on the subject of Beijing’s human rights policies demonstrates just how wobbly the supposedly stable strategic partnership is between the two countries. And for that reason these government consultations are also going to be a balancing act.

Although links between the governments and the economies have perhaps never been as tight as they are today, the most subtle of nuances can offend. Maybe that’s why Merkel mentioned Hong Kong days beforehand on the Internet. The reference and its venue were insignificant enough not to unleash open conflict. And since then no China critic can claim she left the subject unaddressed.

A unique arrangement

China doesn’t conduct high-level consultations that include prime ministers with any other country. On Friday, 14 Chinese ministers met with 12 of their German counterparts to discuss more than 100 joint projects, the focal point being the so-called innovation partnership. But what’s supposed to sound particularly clever harbors risks. While Beijing mainly understands innovation partnership to mean more exchange of high tech, Berlin is trying to extend the term to include the environment, climate protection, agriculture, food, but also social policies, education and democracy.

In the context of innovation partnership, the German federal government even hopes to discuss whether “a society can only really be innovative if its people can think freely,” as a member of the Berlin government put it. Will it work? The word is that the Chinese are at least “prepared to talk.”

That could of course be because Beijing, like Berlin, has to deal with worsening economic data, and the two countries need each other more than ever. Their economies have complemented each other well over the last 10 years, although the situation is slightly tenser now. A poll of German companies by the Berlin-based Mercator Foundation shows that business conditions are becoming increasingly difficult and that more companies are seeking alternatives to the Chinese market.

That is in part explained by the fact that many Chinese companies are trying to compete with the Germans in areas where the latter lead world markets. China is increasingly going “from junior partner to competitor,” says Mercator’s Marc Szepan.

Espionage plays a role in this too. According to German intelligence circles, there are hacker attacks from China on medium-sized German companies every week. But despite all the aggravation, it remains clear that the Chinese market is still irreplaceable for many German companies.

What should in any case be addressed are the cases of two Germans sitting in Chinese jails and facing possible death sentences. That goes too for easing visa requirements for both sides, and the difficulties faced by German policy foundations operating in China. Along with economic interests, Berlin’s diplomats are also pursuing political goals, urging Beijing to pressure the Russians to stay moderate in the Middle East and Ukraine. Since Russia has been in conflict with the West over the Ukraine crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin has become more dependent on good relations with China. Berlin sees an opportunity there to weigh on Putin via Beijing.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

Muesli In Bulk, Vodka On Tap: This Package-Free Berlin Store Could Change The World

By Nataly Bleuel

There’s a new store in Berlin. And I’m not talking about the mall on Leipziger Platz that’s being opened with such fanfare. There are already 65 malls in Berlin, one as ugly as the next, selling stuff from retailers like H&M, Wormland and Toys R Us that’ll land on the junk heap soon enough — along with the 16 million tons of garbage produced from packaging alone every year in Germany.

The new store is notable most of all because it doesn’t have any packaging, but you can still  buy muesli, spaghetti and washing detergent. And of course fruit and vegetables just as you can in any store selling food and household items. And because it’s in the city’s Kreuzberg area, the stock is largely organic too. The store is called Original Unverpackt (Original Unpackaged), and unlike Berlin’s 66th mall, it is very original indeed.

When you buy, here you bring your own packaging. Just like my grandma, who used to smooth out paper sacks over and over until they were slightly greasy and then used them some more until they tore. If you don’t have anything to bring with you, you can buy cloth bags, cans, bottles and jars there. And then the fun begins.

The first time I went, I have to admit I felt anxious about the new experience. More precisely, I felt nervous about unscrewing all those lids, turning the little faucets on and off. Uncomfortable, I stood in the store for a while to wrap my mind around this new reality. I thought again of my grandma and what a wonderful thing it is to put your purchases in a basket instead of coming home, unpacking everything and throwing out a whole garbage bin worth of packaging.

Original Unpackaged is a little like a kid’s vision of paradise. On the walls hang batteries of receptacles, so-called bulk bins, that look like gum machines, except they contain things like nuts, noodles, spices, even gummy bears. Turn a faucet and you get milk, wine and made-in-Berlin vodka. Everything is weighed at the counter, and if you’ve taken too much because you’re not accustomed to the system yet — no problem, leave those 17 grams of muesli right there. Apparently, they’ll be given to store staff.

Then I thought of markets in other countries where they sell spices and nuts and washing powder out of large sacks sitting on the ground. I also questioned why in a store where items are weighed and packed individually for each customer — in the containers they bring with them or the ones they can buy right there — they don’t have staff to serve you. The way people in stores served my grandma back in the day. Now you help yourself the way you do at any self-service discounter.

I think that would be cool. It would of course cost more. That’s why I don’t drive a car anymore — so I can pay fair prices for the really important things you need to live.

But maybe that’s an old-fashioned grandma thought, and Original Unpackaged is going to become huge just the way it is. Apparently there’s already a lot of interest in franchises. Anyway, I left the store with a washing-up brush, and near me was a guy buying one zucchini, one eggplant and six eggs. He seemed very satisfied.

More satisfied than those who got caught in the weekend crowding at the Mall of Berlin. Too many cars, apparently. Could it be that there were so many cars because shoppers didn’t want any packaging and were stowing all their buys directly in their vehicles?

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Reuters)

Achtung! How Oktoberfest Looks From The First-Aid Station

By Anna Fischhaber

This year’s edition of the world’s favorite beer party, Oktoberfest, is underway in this southern German city. For a unique perspective on the darker (and drunker) side of the annual event, Suddeutsche Zeitung monitored one day from the celebration’s state-of-the-art Red Cross first-aid station, where 100 volunteer paramedics and 10 doctors look after the inebriated and otherwise wiped-out, worn-down and beat-up.

Here’s an hour-by-hour chronicle:

Noon. The security man at reception shows his damaged thumb, saying “more and more guests pinch and bite.” Right now it’s still quiet, and most patients can still stand.

1:10 p.m. A man wearing lederhosen and a bloody headband is brought in. He fell off a bench. Behind a grey door marked “Akutbehandlung” (Acute Treatment) lies an older man hooked up to a lot of tubes – heart trouble. He’s going to have to go to the hospital. More complicated cases can’t be dealt with here although last year they did reanimate a man whose heart had stopped.

2:05 p.m. English-speaking Lucy, in a red dirndl and “Kiss Me” necklace, arrives ripe for a lie-down, although she claims not to have drunk all that much. Are there really people willing to spend their free time looking after drunks? The station’s head of operations looks offended by my question. We like to help people here, she says. Anyway guests are nicer here than they are in the beer tent, where she used to work. “Sure, you need to be determined,” she says. “But hardly anybody is aggressive. On the contrary: I’ve never seen so many men crying before in my life.”

2:10 p.m. In the monitoring area, only 13 beds are showing green lights. Green means not occupied. Yellow means occupied. Red means: send home. Blue means: hospital.

2:20 p.m. The paramedics are in constant radio touch with colleagues working the Fest grounds with stretchers. Bulletins come in non-stop, like “Moritz 3 – over.” Moritz is the code word for poisoning; Moritz 3 stands for an inebriated person.

2:25 p.m. A team in the beer tent radios. They need a rescue vehicle. Spine injury. The Red Cross has been working the Oktoberfest for 130 years. They wore uniforms in the old days, and pushed wheelbarrows. Nowadays things are more comfortable for patients – stretchers are usually used, covered so that the patient has some privacy, unless as in this case an ambulance is needed.

3:01 p.m. “You need to take a cold tablet” – that’s been the most-heard recommendation at reception all day so far. Certain things the infirmary can’t help people with, but they do give out free headache pain relief and tampons, along with blister plasters. “There must have been another delivery of new shoes,” says a helper fetching another pack. In 16 days, the Red Cross hands out some 1,500 free bandages.

4:10 p.m. From the monitoring room, a girl calls out in English: “Oh, this is horrible.” She then falls asleep. Next to her Lucy wakes up and runs to a mirror. Not a good idea, but luckily there’s a bucket within reach. Lucy doesn’t want to go back to sleep, though; she wants to party. “No beer, just to socialize!” she says. She applies lipstick, jams some gum into her mouth, and is off before anybody can make her aware of the vomit stains on her dirndl. The team hopes they won’t see her again, but “we have a lot of regulars here,” says one doctor. “Some people come in several times a day.”

4:26 p.m. At the back entrance a surgeon, an orthopedist and a cardiologist wait for new patients to be brought to them. All three have been working here for three years, and they know all the horror stories: about the American who bit off his girlfriend’s whole lower lip, about the Australian who got his penis caught in his zipper. Or what happened just yesterday: the tongue that had to be disentangled from some braces. “It’s great working here, there’s always something going on,” says a young doctor. “Personally, I only go to Oktoberfest before 8 p.m. After that it’s just too dangerous.”

5:30 p.m. So far, reception has handed out five headache pills, 60 bandages, and seven “other” cases.

6:48 p.m. Space is getting tight outside the treatment room. A drunk American woman is looking for her boyfriend, then her cigarettes. One young girl feels so sick she’s crying. And “Julius-three-steins-found-lying-in-the-Bavaria-area” is delivered on a stretcher. Julius doesn’t look as if he’s going to wake up anytime soon. “You can still get through to him, he just can’t say a lot,” a paramedic explains. The gong signaling that a stretcher is needed is now going off regularly and the cleaning team has gotten very busy.

6.50 p.m. A man collapses onto a chair in front of the treatment room. His eye is watering. A beer stein hit him full on. “Cornea, this is dangerous. We can’t do anything here,” the doctor says. To the patient he tries to get across in English. “Eye. Krankenhaus [hospital]. You understand?” Anyone working at the station must speak some English. Most of the patients are Australian, the doctor relates, followed by Brits and quite a few hysterical Americans.

7.06 p.m. The police bring in a man with blood on his shirt. “Watch out, here’s the guy who threw the stein,” an officer calls as they lead in a brawny Australian in handcuffs. His ear looks mangled, and blood runs down his neck. Both he and the man he attacked require stitches and their beds are separated only by a blue curtain. It’s starting to get very tight in the treatment room, and the officers stay to make sure the men don’t start fighting again. Nobody can say what really happened, only that the Australian seemed to have started it.

7:30 p.m. Now it’s full out in the hall, too. An exasperated mother fetches her 17-year-old son who after several hours in the monitoring area appears surprisingly sober. The Australian with the bloody ear is led off. “He’s in for one hefty sentence,” a doctor says. The man is laughing, blows a kiss at a female paramedic and disappears singing.

8:15 p.m. Adam is pissed off and keeps repeating “Fuck.” Then he starts to cry. He has a black eye and his nose is bleeding. It is everybody’s fault but his, of course, and now his friend has gone and disappeared. Near him, two young men are looking for their British friend – she couldn’t get into the tent, she was too drunk. The WC attendant reports that she fell in the toilets and had to be carried away. “Name?” the person at reception asks the two men and looks at his computer screen. Then he says the station has five patients that weren’t in good enough shape to give their names, maybe she’s one of them. “Come back later,” he tells the men.

8:17 p.m. There’s a happy end for Adam. His friend suddenly shows up. The two hug and head off to the beer tent.

10:50 p.m. The beer tent may have closed, but not the first-aid station. The police are now bringing in all those found out cold on the ground. The day’s tally runs: 402 patients, 114 persons requiring stretchers, 36 cases of alcohol intoxication, 34 wounds requiring surgical procedures, 39 transfers to nearby hospitals. At the station they call this a quiet day, nothing special to report.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by lok)

The Best Thing Turkey Has Done In A While

By Stefan Kornelius

With little public fanfare, Turkey is currently in the process of seeing through quite a humanitarian and political feat. Some 1.5 million Syrian refugees have crossed its border and are either living in camps or have made their way through the countryside to the cities. In Istanbul, they beg on the streets. But on the whole, refugees in Turkey are looked after with devotion and at high cost to government administrations. Most of all, they are accepted and adopted on a human level.

Now Turkish leaders are admonishing the rest of the world, and particularly Europeans, for a lack of willingness to help. And indeed help is shamefully inconspicuous. While the European Commission just made the grand gesture of approving a further 215 million euros for the Syrian crisis region, only 50 million flows directly for humanitarian aid, and a fraction of that to Turkey.

This behavior is noteworthy because Turkey is an ally accorded the highest strategic importance in NATO, but also with regard to all European Union programs. The stability of Turkey, its political and military vulnerability and its influence in the region — whether on Russia or its Muslim neighbors — is of the highest relevance. So why isn’t this being discussed?

There are always reasons. The years since Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first elected prime minister have divided Turkey and its allies. The EU membership process is just that — a process. Turkey doesn’t want to join the Union, and the EU doesn’t want to accept it. Erdogan’s influence on other Muslim states is erratic and lacks transparency.

Turkey has to fight major contradictions where its approach to the war in Syria is concerned. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad became an enemy. The rebels were overwhelmed by terrorist militias, yet Turkey itself is allegedly one of the major recruiting countries for the Islamists.

In any case, Turkey has become a transit country for international terrorist “commuters” — who can cross back and forth across borders at any time. But if Ankara sides too much with one faction or the other, it becomes an easy target. If Erdogan strengthens the Kurds, then he’s bound to help usher in the separatist problem.

All of these are well-founded concerns that mean Turkey would really prefer to deal with the refugee problem on its own. But it won’t go well. That is why Erdogan’s speech to the UN General Assembly must be understood as an invitation to get involved.

Turkey needs money? That shouldn’t be a hindrance, but money alone isn’t enough. NATO should talk openly with its most important allies about the security of alliance borders. The EU can not only change its refugee policy, but must take the lead with Turkey about controlling the jihad “commuters.”

Turkey has to know now that it has allies. Otherwise, the allies are going to have to live with the charge that they let the country down — and, perhaps, lost it to the enemies.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

China’s Worst Hong Kong Fear: A New Tiananmen

By Kai Strittmatter

Hong Kong is seething. But no, this does not mean that all Hongkongers are rising up in pro-democracy protests against Beijing. Hong Kong’s entrepreneurs, some of whom are worth billions, are showing solidarity with China’s leaders. There’s a good reason why Beijing has made partners of these rich elites: They all have business interests in China, and no doubt they can be bought or blackmailed.

What’s more, the coalition — which is remarkable only at first glance — shows what China’s Communist Party, formerly a vanguard of the disenfranchised, has become. Not long ago, a Beijing delegation informed Hong Kongers that they unfortunately couldn’t guarantee the desired democracy because it is Beijing’s job to safeguard “capitalism” in Hong Kong.

Even if Beijing is serious about that, protecting capitalism and protecting its richest representatives are two different things. Hong Kong in particular is a good place to observe how bad governance can slowly break a former model of efficiency, constitutionality, and free and fair enterprise.

When school kids and university students boycott their classes, when the good people of Hong Kong take to the streets, it is because they feel betrayed. Beijing doesn’t want to keep the promise it made in 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to China — the promise of free, general elections.

But it’s not just an abstract love of democracy and idealistic demands that are driving Hongkongers into the streets. It is the concrete experience of the past few years. They feel they are being miserably governed. Beijing appoints marionettes as government heads, and they are beholden to the Communist Party, not Hong Kong’s citizens. Encroaching nepotism and corruption have by now become widespread. Real estate tycoons will get a hearing, but not the simple citizen. Social inequality has increased inordinately.

It’s a David-and-Goliath fight. Beijing has the power, and Beijing has the arms. The question is going to be just how wisely it reacts. Everything is possible. On other fronts, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership is currently showing a frightening lack of willingness to compromise. In Hong Kong, his administration’s harsh rhetoric and threats have in the past few months mobilized citizens and turned a whole generation of young people into opponents. It is the young people who are driving the protests.

It’s worth asking what’s driving the Communist Party, which is in the process of making itself new enemies for several decades to come. And what is it capable of? Is there the threat in Hong Kong of the sort of violence seen in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square? The answer will depend on just how contagious Beijing believes the protests can be. Hong Kong has in the past been a test lab for China, and that’s exactly what the Communist Party now fears.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

The Aborted Origins Of The First Hunt For Osama Bin Laden

By Richard Whittle


Some of the drones the United States used to hunt for Osama bin Laden were once piloted out of Ramstein Air Base in Germany, apparently without the knowledge of officials in Berlin.

It was known that the data for all drone attacks flowed through Ramstein, but according to both internal documents and U.S. officers, the drone pilots themselves were located there for at least part of the time (pictured: ground control station in New Mexico).

In the summer of 2000, (more than a year before the Sep. 11 attacks) a team from the U.S. Air Force 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate began a remote-controlled drone hunt for Osama bin Laden. At the time, the CIA and the National Security Council were developing various plans to capture or kill bin Laden. The idea of armed drones was discussed, although at the time this was thoroughly new ground and the military was skeptical of their use.

Supporters pointed out the advantages: Predator drones — still used by the U.S. military today — can stay airborne for over 24 hours and can send videos from several kilometers in real time. These drones are piloted from a ground control station (GCS) that looks like a shipping container and is full of technology inside. The pilot sits in the GCS and flies the drone with a joystick. Next to him is the “sensor operator,” a kind of co-pilot, who runs the cameras.

In 2000, American intelligence thought bin Laden was in Afghanistan at an al-Qaeda camp called Tarnak Farm south of Kandahar. At the time, the applicable rule for the U.S. military’s most recent combat apparatus, the Predator drone, was that it couldn’t be launched or piloted from more than 800 kilometers (497 miles) from target. A circle around Tarnak Farm with a radius of 800 kilometers went through Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Even if one of these countries had given the U.S. permission to use their territory for a secret mission against bin Laden, there would have been nowhere to place the GCS, the necessary satellite terminals, and a mobile command center without drawing attention. And the hunt for bin Laden was meant to continue to be top secret.

This is where, according to American government sources and American military sources in Germany, Germany came into the picture. A researcher for the “Big Safari,” an Air Force technology department, developed the technology to pilot a drone even from a great distance. Whether the ground station is nearby or thousands of kilometers away plays no role as long as there is a direct satellite connection.

Targeted located

With permission from Uzbekistan’s government, the U.S. military launched its Predators from a remote airfield along the Uzbek-Afghan border while the pilots were at Ramstein. The German government at the time apparently knew nothing about it, and when asked the Pentagon had no comment.

Only a few days after the first drone went into action, the Ramstein drone pilots located Osama bin Laden. The U.S. Air Force was already working on equipping drones with Hellfire missiles. But then, lawyers at the Defense Department found that should the pilot of a Predator in Ramstein fire the missile without prior permission of the German government, the United States would be in violation of the status of forces agreement as laid out by the host country, in this case, Germany.

Supporters of the project, however, apparently feared that the German government would not keep what was going on at Ramstein a secret if they knew about it. Americans who were part of the decision-making process at the time say that the German government was therefore not informed.

Instead of asking the German federal government for permission, the drone pilots preferred moving to another country. But where? There was no direct satellite connection between the United States and Afghanistan. To get all the data, several satellites would have had to be used, which would have slowed the connection considerably.

For various technological and political reasons, attempts to find a replacement for Ramstein proved to be unsuccessful. The architects of the U.S. drone program were about to stop the program before it had even really begun. But then the same researcher who had developed the technology to pilot drones from Ramstein had a idea: Theoretically, he explained, the GCS ground station could be located in the United States if the connection to the drones didn’t have to go via several satellites.

The system exists to this day. The signal sent to drones over the Hindu Kush, Africa or the Middle East is sent by satellite to Ramstein, then via fiber optic cable running beneath the Atlantic to the United States, where the pilots are. The data for all drone use continues to flow through Germany, but attacks are not launched from here. The problem was thus solved for the U.S. military.

And for the German federal government? When asked, officials said that Washington had confirmed that no armed drones “were either being piloted or given commands” from German bases. The answer concerned the present. About the past there was no comment.

Richard Whittle is the author of Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Reuters)

Delay On Climate Change Is Not Only Deadly, But Expensive

By Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

The numbers are new, but not the awareness: Worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases continue to grow. Data published Sunday by the Global Carbon Project shows that this year they will increase by 2.5%. That corresponds exactly to the trend of the last 10 years. And most people, including decision makers in politics and the economy, wave aside the information as something we all know. They consider the UN climate summit this week empty talk. And yet the incredible thing is that emissions from the burning of coal and oil continue to increase, molecule by molecule, percentage point by percentage point.

Is climate change too slow? Too slow to scare people into doing something about it in time? It’s usually said that a development is too quick for there to be time to do something about it. With regard to climate change, this appears to be juxtaposed in some fatal way. The impact of man-made warming will only really start to hurt in the second half of this century, so it sounds as if we still have plenty of time. But that’s not so.

Today’s weather extremes, melting glaciers and the inexorable rise in sea level, are unmistakable warning signs. The second half of this century isn’t actually that far away. What’s happening now will impact our kids, the very children that we supposedly want the best for. The right time to act is earlier, much earlier.

Let’s consider the not-so-radical idea that every person on the planet has the same right to use the atmosphere as a carbon repository. If we don’t want to exceed the two-degree warming limit, then the world only has a limited carbon budget at its disposal that has to be divided among the nations of this earth.

Even Germany, a supposed climate pioneer, shows a big discrepancy between the federal government’s actual climate goals and the necessary emission reductions. By 2024, Germany will have used up its carbon emissions budget, and historic emissions are not included in that because, since industrialization, Germany has emitted much more carbon dioxide than, say, India.

Time is short, and not doing anything is expensive. The later the world decides to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the steeper the emissions curve is going to have to be bent downwards. All studies show that acting late is going to be considerably more expensive than acting early. The risks grow with the emissions. Heat waves damage crops, extreme rainfall leads to flooding, the rise in sea level encourages storm tides. The later we systematically protect climate, the higher the final bill will be. In the worst cases, security and peace in many regions of the world are at stake.

UN climate summit

According to the Global Carbon Project, China’s emissions of greenhouse gasses were down by 4.2% in 2013 from the year before. But that’s small comfort because, during the past year, per capita emissions in China overtook European ones. American emissions grew further after a previous trend of decline. In India, the increase was all of 5.1% and not just because of economic growth. Carbon emissions per dollar of economic performance rose too. Emissions decreased in the EU, although Germany of all countries has increased coal use.

These figures give some people a sense of resigned relief: None of it matters, they think. We can’t do anything about it anyway. The facts do not support this outlook. This year a World Climate Council working group established that if swift action were taken, the economic costs for maintaining the two-degree limit would only be 0.06% of estimated average annual consumption growth in this century. Profits resulting from avoided climate damage were not factored into that. There’s no question that climate protection is going to cost a lot. But research clearly shows that our economy, our wealth, will continue to grow with more climate protection, and what’s more, it will be sustainable.

Can the UN climate summit in New York this week help drive a turnaround? UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is trying to make leaders accountable, which is good. Researchers will present the facts and figures. But at the end of the day, similar events have yet to lead to real breakthrough. What appears to be missing is a solid, load-bearing architecture of responsibility.

Citizens delegate the responsibility for stabilizing our climate to politicians. The state should deal with it. Many want to lay the blame for the environmental consequences of their lifestyle at no increase to their living expenses. What this leads to is politicians who don’t want to take responsibility. Why should they do something when other countries aren’t pulling their weight? Why should they make themselves unpopular with certain voters such as business leaders? With a few exceptions, most business leaders want no responsibility whatsoever for climate.

Yet there are possibilities. Harvard University has decided to no longer invest billions of dollars in endowments in the fossil fuel industry, which is to say oil firms or coal companies. The university isn’t going to go along with the usual schizophrenia anymore, which on the one side takes the results of climate research seriously and on the other makes money in fuel investments. This option, called “divestment,” is open to everyone paying into a bank account or private pension plan, every company, every institution.

If emissions of greenhouse gasses are to decrease instead of increase, everyone — consumers, investors, academics, business leaders, politicians — must assume responsibility, independently of the supposed willingness of others to do so. That’s the only way a risk for our civilization can become an opportunity for the planet and thus for us all.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is the founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and chairman of the German Advisory Council on Global Change.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by dpa)

Basic Income Crowdfunding? Germany’s Money-For-Nothing Campaign

By Lea Hampel

At first glance, they have nothing in common. Götz Werner is wearing rimless glasses, a suit and the kind of cropped hair typically favored by older men. Michael Bohmeyer (pictured) has a rather moppier hairstyle — long on top, short on the sides — and prefers T-shirts to suits. 

And yet, Werner, founder of the dm-drogerie markt chain of drugstores, has found a kindred spirit in 29-year-old Bohmeyer.

Both have the same mission: an unconditional basic income. They believe in the simple notion that every person in Germany should get the same amount of money from the state, irrespective of age, need or life situation.

In contrast to Werner, who presents his idea is a classic manner — book, talk shows, lectures — Bohmeyer has chosen a path more in keeping with his generation and has started a crowdfunding campaign.

The Berlin resident has been collecting contributions on startnext.de that will enable as many people as possible to forego the stress of earning a living for one year. To see how it feels to focus, say, on grandma instead of making rent, or on finishing that novel that’s been lying around in a drawer for years.

Talk of a basic income is hardly new. There have been initiatives at the European level, the Pirate Party supports the idea, and the Greens are debating it. There are trial models in Namibia. Meanwhile, sample calculations suggest that a basic income would actually result in less state expenditure, a happier citizenry, and rising salaries because people wouldn’t feel forced to take any old miserably paid job.

The classic argument against the idea is that nobody would bother to work if they received money for nothing. “That’s a very theoretical debate,” Bohmeyer says.

If basic income has become a “personal cause” with him, it’s in large part because of his personal experience. Eight years ago, he co-founded an online mail order company from which he still draws a salary, for hardly any work. So he actually has a kind of basic income. The other reason for supporting the cause is that he’s interested in new life designs.

He and his girlfriend blog together about what it’s like to share, truly equally, raising kids and doing housework. From dealing with his son, he says he’s learned that “results are always better when you trust somebody.” That would also hold true for a basic income, he argues, because loafers would represent a tiny minority.

He’s not alone. His fund-raising campaign has some 1,400 supporters. He raised 12,000 euros — which would represent a basic annual income for one person — in just 22 days, and a second has just been raised.

On Sept. 18, when the campaign is scheduled to end, the incomes will be raffled at a party. But he doesn’t believe this trial balloon is enough, so he plans to start a new round of fund-raising after the first incomes are raffled. He’s also been polling people on his platform, asking them what they would do with a basic income. The answers range from “finish my doctorate” to “reform sex education” to “support refugees.”

But the best answer comes from Bohmeyer himself, who actually characterizes himself as “lazy.” Since he started the project, he has been more active than ever. He organizes helpers, makes plans for the community, and stays in contact with Götz Werner. He estimates he puts an 18-hour “work” day, voluntarily and with no pay.

"I wouldn’t have believed it of myself," he says.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by dpa)

Why Revolution Is Impossible: On The Seductive Power Of Neoliberalism

By Byung-Chul Han

When a debate took place in Berlin last year between two opponents of capitalism, Antonio Negri and myself, Negri took the position that global resistance to “Empire” was a possibility. He presented himself as a communist revolutionary and called me a skeptical professor.

Negri apparently believes a “multitude” — the interconnected protest and revolutionary mass — can bring down the neoliberal leadership system. I felt that the position of communist revolutionary was naive and removed from reality, and I tried to explain why, today, revolution is no longer possible.

Why is our neoliberal system of global leadership so stable? Why is there so little resistance to it? Why is everyone led so easily into the void? Why is revolution no longer possible today despite an ever-growing chasm between rich and poor? To explain, we need greater understanding about how power and leadership function today.

Anyone trying to install a new leadership system has to eliminate resistance. And that includes the neoliberal governance system. To bring about a new system of leadership, you need established power often achieved through violence. But this established power is not the same as the stabilizing power inside a system.

It is well known that Margaret Thatcher, a precursor of neoliberalism, considered unions as “inner enemies” and fought them forcefully. Installing a neoliberal agenda via aggressive intervention will not, however, yield the necessary kind of stabilizing power needed to keep a system in place.

That power in the disciplinary and industrial society was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners, and the violent exploitation of workers led to protest and resistance. A revolution that would bring down the existing production system was possible then. In this repressive system, both the repression and the repressors were identifiable. There was a concrete enemy to address resistance to.

Better than repression

The neoliberal leadership system is structured entirely differently. Here the power needed to keep the system going is not repressive — it is seductive, alluring. It is no longer as clear-cut as it is under a disciplinary regime. There is no concrete “them,” no enemy, repressing freedom and against whom rebellion would be possible. 

Never has our society been as rich as it is today. And some people in it are richer than others. French economist Thomas Piketty warns that the disparities could become as drastic as they were in feudal times.

Neoliberalism turns the exploited worker into a free entrepreneur — the entrepreneur of himself. Everyone is now a self-exploiting worker in his own business. Everyone is master and servant in one. Class warfare has changed into a running inner battle with the self. Failing today means blaming oneself and feeling ashamed. People see themselves as the problem, not society.

Any disciplinary system that expends a great deal of force to repress people is inefficient. Considerably more efficient is a system of power that ensures that people voluntarily align with the system. The particular efficiency here is that it doesn’t work based on forbidding and withholding, but through pleasing and fulfilling. Instead of making people obedient it aims to make them dependent. 

Neoliberalism’s logic of efficiency also applies to policing. In the 1980s, there were many protests against population censuses; even school kids protested against it. From today’s standpoint, the easy availability of information about our educational and career backgrounds is a given, but there was a time now long gone when people believed that the state was trying to wrest information from citizens. Today we give up information of our own accord, perceiving this as freedom. And it is precisely that perception that makes protest impossible. Unlike the days when we protested population censuses, we do not protest this monitoring. What does one protest against? Oneself? American concept artist Jenny Holzer expresses this paradoxical situation with a “truism:” “Protect me from what I want.”

It is crucial to distinguish between the kind of power that activates and the kind of power that maintains. The latter today takes on a smart, friendly form that makes it opaque and unassailable. The exploited subject is unaware of his own oppression. He imagines he is free. This leadership technique neutralizes resistance most effectively. Leadership that oppresses freedom and attacks it is not stable.

The neoliberal regime is as stable as it is, immunized against resistance, because it makes use of freedom instead of suppressing it. Suppressing freedom leads quickly to resistance, whereas exploiting freedom does not.

A Korean case

The Asian financial crisis of 1997 left South Korea shocked and paralyzed. Then along came the International Monetary Fund to give the Koreans credit. Initially, the government had to battle against protests to press through a neoliberal agenda. This repressive power is the kind of power that mostly relies on violence and it is not the kind of power that can maintain a neoliberal regime passing itself off as freedom. To Naomi Klein, the state of shock societies find themselves in after financial crises such as those in South Korea or Greece is an opportunity for a radical reprogramming of society. Today there is hardly any resistance in South Korea. Instead, conformity and consensus are paired with depression and burn-out. The country now has the highest suicide rate in the world. One turns violence against one’s self instead of trying to change society. Aggression aimed outward, which would result in revolution, becomes self-aggression.

There is no cooperative, interconnected multitude to rise up in global protest and revolution. Rather, the solitude of the isolated, individual self-entrepreneur is what marks present-day production.

In the past, businesses were in competition with each other, but within individual companies solidarity was possible. Today, everyone is in competition with everyone else, even within companies. This absolute competition increases productivity enormously, but it destroys solidarity and the sense of public spirit. Revolution is not possible among exhausted, depressive, and isolated individuals.

One cannot explain neoliberalism in Marxist terms. It doesn’t even have the connotation of “alienation” from work. People today throw themselves into work euphorically until they burn out. Burn-out and revolution cancel each other out. So it is a mistake to believe that the multitude is throwing over a parasitic Empire in favor of a communist society.

Where do things stand with communism? Buzzwords everywhere include “sharing” and “community.” The sharing economy is supposed to replace an economy of ownership and property. “Sharing is Caring” runs the maxim of “circlers” in Dave Eggers’s novel The Circle but that should really read “Caring is Killing.” Even ridesharing service Uber, which turns us all into prospective taxi drivers, espouses the idea of community.

Capitalist circle

But it is a mistake to believe, as Jeremy Rifkin suggests in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society that the sharing economy means the end of capitalism and rings in a global, community-oriented society in which sharing is more valued than owning. On the contrary. Bottom line, the sharing economy leads to a complete commercialization of life.

The change from ownership to “access” celebrated by Jeremy Rifkin doesn’t free us from capitalism. Anyone without money doesn’t have access to sharing. Even in the age of access, people without money remain shut out. Airbnb, the community marketplace that turns homes into hotels, even saves on hospitality. The ideology of community or collaborative commons leads to total capitalization of the community. Aimless friendship is no longer possible. In a society of reciprocal evaluation, friendliness is also commercialized. One is friendly to get a better ranking online.

The harsh logic of capitalism prevails in the so-called sharing economy, where, paradoxically, nobody is actually giving anything away voluntarily. Capitalism comes full circle when it sells communism as the next piece of merchandise. Yes, communism as merchandise spells the end of revolution.

Byung-Chul Han is a Seoul-born German author, cultural theorist, and professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by dpa)