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)

EU plans to accommodate Putin

Europe harshens its sanctions, but offers important concessions to the leader in the Kremlin: The free trade agreement with Kiev is said to be largely suspended

By Daniel Brössler, Cerstin Gammelin and Cathrin Kahlweit

Nonwithstanding its toughened sanctions the European Union is considering to accommodate Russia in a key point of contention. Europe’s plans concern a pivotal part of its association agreement with Ukraine which is fiercely opposed by Russia.  At the request of several EU member states numerous clauses of the free trade agreement signed  in June could be stopped from coming into effect for the time being, Süddeutsche Zeitung learned from sources close to the negotiations. Russia already sent a list with 2300 points it wants to be changed.

„The catalogue is so comprehensive as to render void the agreement“, a source said. Russia wants Ukraine and the EU to refrain from lifting custom and other trade barriers between them.  Representatives of the EU, Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet in Brussels this Friday to finalize the compromise. They are pressed for time since parliaments both in the EU and in Ukraine are set to ratify the agreement next week.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel in particular had  championed a settlement with Russia , but at the same time advised  toughness in the sanction regime. This double-edged strategy  intends to push Russia’s President Wladimir Putin into abiding by  his agreements with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that led to the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. During last week‘s Nato summit in Newport Merkel and other European leaders had urged Poroshenko and the president of the European commission Juan Manuel Barroso to show  more willingness to compromise.

Ukraine’s  government expressed its expectations  that a settlement would involve only „slender compromises“. Foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin confirmed that policymakers in  Brussels were negotiating how to delay the lifting of certain trade barriers.  But assuming this would mean changing the intent of the agreement would be a „misunderstanding“, Klimkin said.  The ukrainian parliament was still intending to ratify the agreement as planned on the 16th of  september. A few days ago the government in Kiev had announced it was preparing to implement the agreement within the next weeks.

New economic sanctions by the EU restricting Russia’s access to European financial markets are due to take effect this Friday. The decision to issue harsher sanctions was fiercely contested within the EU. Some member states expressed concern that this might disrupt the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. The EU for this reason declared that its sanctions could be reviewed at any time. „We have always stressed the reversibility and scalability of our restrictive measures“, the President of the European council Herman Van Rompuy stated. Russia announced new countermeasures.

When Beer Breeds Violence, Oktoberfest’s Help Center For Women

By Sabine Buchwald

image

Munich’s Oktoberfest has an ugly side. Alexandra Stigger (pictured) is all too familiar with it but says it’s nevertheless a great celebration. Stigger, 29, is a Munich native who grew up attending it every year, and now she works there — not in one of the beer tents but in a service center where the Red Cross, a lost-and-found and the women’s support center where Stigger works are housed. 

Known as the “security point,” the name is meant to speak to foreign visitors who don’t know about existing help centers in Munich. First created for the 2003 Oktoberfest, the security point’s financing comes from the Munich government and a growing number of sponsors. As a social worker who specializes in trauma therapy, Stigger joined the team in 2012 and now coordinates security point staff and acts as spokeswoman.

Stigger is the schedule planner for the center, where some of the staff are young women majoring in social work. A social worker and five to eight helpers work as teams. More teams are on duty on Fridays and Saturdays than on weekdays.

It’s when the tents are full, the beer flowing, when most incidents happen, requiring the point’s five qualified social workers and 45 female volunteers to spring into action. These vary from fighting couples, to emotional breakdowns and to women simply being overwhelmed by the hubbub. Women who have lost their handbags are also helped here.

Last year, the service point helped 156 women and girls, which may not sound like a lot in view of Oktoberfest’s 6.4 million visitors. Stigger suspects that a great many more women could have used help but didn’t know there was any.

When women have too much to drink, lose their money, or their cell phone batteries die, they may suddenly feel very alone amid the mass of revelers. This also applies to men, “but shame tolerance levels are much higher in men than they are in women,” Stigger says. Foreign women who may not be able to locate their group or manage to elbow through the crowds to get back to it may be particularly affected. Stigger says many Oktoberfest visitors underestimate the situation, especially first-timers.

"Typical clients at the service point are tourists who haven’t yet booked a hotel room in Munich,” Stigger says. “This may make the women more vulnerable.”

Stigger and her colleagues don’t take the attitude that women who need their services are to blame. In fact, “We believe that a woman should be able to walk through the festival naked and not be molested,” Stigger says. What an idea, especially given just how uninhibited the atmosphere can be — particularly on Saturday nights. But Stigger is dead serious when she repeats that predators are responsible for their behavior, not whatever they consider to be the trigger.

Violence amid revelry

Four women who visited the security point last year had suffered serious sexual assaults. Stigger accompanied one rape victim, a visitor from abroad, to the hospital and stayed with her until it was confirmed that that she could fly home to her family. The service point’s main aim is to impart a “feeling of security,” Stigger says.

Every year they make sure the center is cozy, with armchairs and plants, that there are changes of clothing available, and also something to eat. Just spending some time here is enough for many women to recover their strength. And for some, the opportunity to clear their head, recharge their cell phones and get in touch with their friends is all they need.

Stigger is also concerned for the security of the staffers. Two are usually sent out together when they drive a woman home, to her hotel or the railroad station mission if she has nowhere else to go, for example. This individual treatment is time-intensive, but no one wishes to leave clients to their own devices. If there isn’t so much to do, then teams of two go out and patrol the more dangerous areas on the festival grounds.

A grassy hill that is a sled run in winter is one of these places. During Oktoberfest some men try to sleep off their drunkenness here. But it’s not a safe place for tired women. Stigger relates how she found one female American soldier here suffering from traumatic memories of her tour of duty, which was apparently awakened by the festival’s intense sensory experience. Through gentle questioning, she was able to get the woman back to the present and reoriented, Stigger says.

But right now her main priority is the security point and the “Sichere Wiesn” (Secure Wiesn — Wiesn being another German word for Oktoberfest) campaign that has a free app, “Wiesn Protect.” It was downloaded 19,000 times in 2013.

Every year the services become better known and accepted, Stigger says. Women should feel safe knowing help is available if need be, and importantly, that feelings of shame are just not part of the equation.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Stephan Rumpf)

Mario Draghi Is Playing With Fire

By Ulrich Schäfer

An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is named such because it is supposed to prevent the wheels of a car from locking up when braking, thus avoiding skidding. The ABS is meant to avoid the worst: crashes, destroyed cars, and of course, injury and death.

But the three letters ABS also stand for another — very dubious — practice not invented by wise automotive engineers but instead by smart-aleck investment bankers. Asset-backed securities were among the credit packages for banks and funds created seven or eight years ago that made their way around the globe. They ended up contributing to the crash of the financial markets: Nobody actually knew who owed whom — and how much — and what risks they had incurred.

And now the European Central Bank (ECB), of all institutions, wants to make these dubious securities presentable again. ECB President Mario Draghi has announced that the central bank will be buying up these and other securities to the tune of up to half a billion euros — that’s 500,000,000,000 euros.

What the ECB hopes to achieve by this is to create the necessary space for banks to extend new credit. This is mainly meant to help European crisis states so that their banks can extend more credit to small- and medium-sized businesses.

It’s not that it’s unusual for a central bank to hold securities. When commercial banks want to borrow from the ECB, they often use top-rated securities as collateral. But it is something else entirely for the central bank to accept securities of questionable quality, especially because it puts the financial institution into a market that a serious central bank has no business being anywhere near, and one that has already led to full-blown global crisis.

Mario Draghi has been saying for months that the ECB would carefully monitor which asset-backed securities it buys. And it is true that not every credit package on the financial markets is a gamble. And yet the ECB is playing with fire.

The move also demonstrates just how badly off the central bank is right now, as nothing it has done so far to combat the crisis has actually helped. It can’t even lower base interest rates anymore. The reduction from 0.15% to 0.05% is merely symbolic.

Yes, necessity is the mother of invention, but no, not all inventions make sense. And some of them, like Mario Draghi’s ABS emergency brake, are downright dangerous.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

What We Can Learn From Rabbits With Happy Childhoods

By Irene Habich

Beyond genetics, no rabbit is truly like any other whether in the wild or as a house pet. Every animal has its own character that develops along the same lines as human character. Recent studies show that the closeness a rabbit shares with its parents, and whether or not it gets along with siblings or views them as rivals, help determine the animal’s character later in life. The same holds true for rats, whose personalities also develop along the same line as human personalities.

Researchers working with Aron Tulogdi at the Budapest Institute for Experimental Medicine and published in Developmental Psychobiology tried to make aggressive rats more placid. These very social animals turn aggressive when they spend their childhood in isolation. Could this be reversed if they later were raised with other rats?

To find out, the researchers put three-week-old rat babies alone in cages. That left behavioral traces on the animals: The rats that had grown up in isolation turned out to be aggressive, displayed anxiety when they were put in cages with other rats and slept apart from them. This behavior is strikingly similar to that of humans who have experienced troubled childhoods.

But within a few days in a group, something changed in the behavior of the rats brought up in isolation. Very soon they were bedding down for the night with the other animals — although they remained more aggressive than rats that had been socialized normally. Once again researchers found astonishing parallels: In human behavior, while social phobias can be treated with a high degree of therapeutic success, this is more difficult when it comes to aggressive behaviors.

Pecking order

Uncanny similarities such as these are emerging ever more strongly from animal behavioral research. “We develop hypotheses that in many regards could apply to human beings,” Norbert Sachser, professor of behavioral biology at the University of Münster, says. “Although human characters are of course significantly more complex, our brains follow basic patterns that are similar to those of animals.”

In this way, early ties mark the nature of both animals and humans. The relationship of a person to his or her parents and siblings is decisive when it comes to the character that person develops. The same goes for animals: Their relationships to family members determine their personality development, says Sachser.

Rats who did not receive loving maternal care were more susceptible to stress. But other factors come into play as well: “With animals, even siblings play a role in behavior profile,” he says.

That is confirmed by research done at the University of Bayreuth and the University of California (Behavioral Ecology, online). Researchers showed that in behavioral tests, wild rabbits that weighed a lot at birth were braver and more curious than lighter siblings from the same litter. That held true months later when the weight of the animals had evened out.

One of the possible reasons for this, according to researchers, is the division of roles in the rabbit family. In games and pecking-order contests, the heavier newborns won more often than their lighter siblings did. They thus presumably developed more self-confident character traits that stayed with them as they got older, whereas the lighter, weaker baby rabbits had to deal with more setbacks and thus remained somewhat anxious.

Are there possibly other decisive phases in the personality development of rats and rabbits? “There are indications that personality can be marked throughout puberty,” says Sachser.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by dapd)

Moscow’s Booming Nightlife, A Haven Of Politics-Free Fun

By Julian Hans

It’s a typical summer night at Gorky Park on the bank of the Moskva River. The day has been heavy and humid, nearly 30° C (86° F), and then out of nowhere the clouds rolled in. The lightning started 30 minutes ago. It’s been like this for weeks in Moscow — scorching sun followed by nighttime thunderstorms. Anyone who’s lived through days like this can understand why, in Mikhail Bulgakov’s famous novel The Master and Margarita, literary critic Berlioz experiences hallucinations after drinking a glass of sweet lemonade in the Moscow heat.

It’s shortly before 10 p.m. and blaring from the speakers on the dance floor behind the Pioneer open-air movie theater is the music of Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy playing Wham (Re-Bop-Boom-Bam), a song that dates back to the early 1940s when it was an American hit. Two dozen couples perform their swing-out dance moves, promenades and circles, which could have continued for hours if the rain hadn’t begun to fall heavily. 

DJ Anastasia Murashko, a stout woman with a ponytail, turns the music down and calls out to the crowd, “OK, guys and gals, dancing’s getting too dangerous!” It’s not that the rain would make a difference to the dancers, who have sweated through their shirts and summer dresses. Many of them have come here straight from the office, bringing their dancing shoes with them. It’s that the wooden dance floor gets dangerously slippery when it gets soaked.

A different side to the city

That’s the downside to open-air partying. Just when things are getting really good, the skies break. But a visit to Gorky Park is the best way to avoid what many hate about Moscow nightlife — the astronomically high prices, the condescending looks of Dior-clad women, the spatially intrusive men with thick briefcases, the aggressive bonhomie of vodka tourists, and the scowls of beefy bouncers. The park is open day and night, to everyone, and the three dance floors are free, although the DJs are always happy for tips. If people are thirsty, there are free water coolers all over.

There is no better place to spend a summer’s evening than Gorky Park, near the water and on the open air. But it wasn’t always this easy to get close to the water. Although the Moskva flows through city center in narrow strips, the concrete-covered bank was formerly home to factories and six-lane roads. That’s changed in the past few years. Cafés and restaurants have opened on the bank, along with numerous clubs with terraces for dancing that overlook both water and the city. The city government has banished cars and converted old factories into nightlife areas. And nothing is closer to the water than Gorky Park, which has two dance floors right on the bank.

Anastasia’s DJ console is her laptop protected by an open umbrella. All the dance floors have the rest of the necessary equipment built-in. The DJ just needs to bring the music along to plug in. This is the second summer Anastasia has been working here on Friday nights. “When the park was converted, the new management asked us if we’d like to dance here,” she says. The DJs don’t pay any rent, and park management gets a free set. “It’s win/win, and a lot of people see us, and some of them are curious so come down.”

The various dance associations rotate, and the program is posted on a board at the edge of the dance floor. Sunday afternoon, Cuban dances; Sunday night, rock ‘n’ roll; Wednesday night, ballroom dancing; Thursday night, Argentine tango; and today, Lindy Hop and Balboa with Anastasia.

No place for politics here

Here in this urban middle-class reserve, there aren’t Russian flags hanging everywhere, or T-shirts that say, “Crimea Belongs To Us.”

A quarter of an hour downriver is Balchug Island, located between the Moskva River and its old riverbed. There, on the grounds of the former Red October chocolate factory, a nightlife area consisting of restaurants, bars and clubs has been created. The biggest and best-known venue here can be seen (and heard) from the bank. The music is mainly techno and house. The Gipsy has a huge veranda with chaises longues that give it the feel of a cruise ship deck. As in many Moscow clubs, the dance floor, bar and restaurant are all under one roof.

In the other direction, two bends upriver behind the famous Hotel Ukraina, steep stairs lead to the “Roof of the World.” Krysha Mira, on the roof of an old brewery, owes its reputation to the fact that it started as an underground club to which only those who knew the code word were admitted. The old trick worked, although for an underground club, Krysha was remarkably exposed and poshly decorated. Today, strict selection at the door serves to maintain the club’s reputation as a place for the select few. But going through is worth it for a night with a view of the Moskva and the impressively lit Hotel Ukraina, one of the seven high-rise buildings that Stalin had built and that have left their mark on the city.

Because Moscow is a part of the global carousel that sees the same big-name DJs rotating around London, New York, Tokyo and Ibiza, other aspects of nightlife here have become interchangeable too. Anyone seeking to party with the rich and beautiful should get themselves invited to the Soho Rooms on the other side of the river. This is where the children of oligarchs — and sometimes their parents — celebrate birthdays with spectacular goings-on, glitter and fireworks.

Along with the bar and disco, there is a dining room in classic British style and a library with books, a fireplace and heavy leather armchairs. There is also a roof terrace with a swimming pool. This elite establishment makes it possible for people whose money is probably invested in London anyway to spend it London-style at home. If you’re not invited, you can always admire the toys parked outside — Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Porsches.

Meanwhile, Gorky Park’s swing dancers, who have been enjoying themselves for an entire evening without spending a penny, are heading home in the rain.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Ekatarina Anokhina/n-ost)

Adidas – The Underdog’s Three-Stripe Comeback Plan

By Uwe Ritzer

Soccer isn’t everything. At least not in the sports equipment business. Adidas is learning that the hard way. The brand with the familiar three-stripe logo used the World Cup in Brazil to its advantage  far better than global leader Nike  but the hoopla died when the games ended.

Adidas is in big trouble, primarily because of the weak market for golf equipment and flucuations in exchange rates. The company has been forced to retreat from previously announced goals, and the stock has taken a corresponding nosedive. Meanwhile, the gap with Nike widens as the American company springs ahead.

"I’m a striker, and I want to win," Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer recently said defiantly when he presented his plan to steer the company out of its rut. The 60-year-old hobby soccer player said the company would have to fight hard to win back trust lost with the financial markets, investors and the public. 

The Americans may be No. 2 to Adidas in soccer equipment sales, but in all other product categories and many regions, they surpass Adidas. They’re also growing significantly stronger — even on Adidas’ home turf of Germany. The gap is largest in North America, the most important market for the sports equipment industry. There, Adidas is slumping despite the fact that it is the exclusive sponsor of the NBA, one of the most important U.S. sports leagues.

Adidas hasn’t been helped by its 2006 decision to narrow the gap with Nike by spending billions to buy the U.S. brand Reebok. Since the takeover, Reebok has been a problem child for Adidas.

It’s not as if business for the Adidas and Reebok brands is terrible. Allowing for exchange rate fluctuations, they showed increases of 14% and 9%, respectively, in the second quarter. Adidas shirts and shoes are strong sellers in Western Europe and do exceptionally well in South America.

Investors demand better performance

But investors are not impressed. The global problems appear to them to be too great, and management lost a lot of credibility by issuing three profit warnings within the space of a year. The Adidas stock price sank to 55.5 euros per share Aug. 7, its lowest in two years. At the beginning of the year, its stock price was down by a third, more than any other stock in the German DAX index. So something has to happen fast.

Hainer, who’s been CEO since 2001, believes the way out involves a mix of investment, savings and reorganization. He has announced more stringent organizational structures in marketing and sales. The jobs of those working with the TaylorMade golf brand, which has lost over a fourth of its business in the first half of the year, are on the line, although just how many will be lost is still unclear.

In view of the uncertain ruble and the Ukraine crisis, Adidas will open only 80 of the previously planned 150 shops in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States countries this year and next. The prices for shoes and jerseys have already been lowered in those markets.

The sports equipment manufacturer wants to invest primarily in marketing. Its efforts during the 2014 World Cup demonstrated how successful Adidas can be when it engages in intense, direct communication with its customer base, Hainer said. So the advertising budget is being increased. Hainer called the 1.8 billion euros that will be funneled into advertising and marketing next year “the most ambitious marketing campaign of all time.”

Still, a number of recent company predictions aren’t quite panning out. For example, 2014 profits are expected to be a fifth less than anticipated. Other key figures such as operating margins were less than projected as well, and figures for the second half of the year aren’t expected to be much better. The cost of restructuring TaylorMade alone will reduce profits by 50 to 60 million euros.

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by Bloomberg)

Germany Dumps McDonald’s From School Nutrition Program

By Silvia Liebrich

That fast food chain McDonald’s should be involved in giving nutrition advice in German schools sparked widespread anger when the program emerged a little over a year ago.

Now after repeated protests from both parents and experts, the German Consumer Protection Foundation has ended its cooperation with the U.S. chain in terms of food education in schools, Berlin-based foodwatch — an independent nonprofit organization that monitors the food industry — has just announced. 

Some 37,000 people had signed a petition to have the McDonald’s presence removed from schools. McDonald’s had described the company’s commitment last year to healthy nutrition for children as “a contribution, as a responsible company in the food industry, to society,” rather than offering hands-on education programs in schools.

News that it was booted off the project was not well received at McDonald’s HQ, a spokesperson told Süddeutsche Zeitung. ”We are extremely irritated at having been dropped from the program as well as with the way that was handled. No real reasons were given for the dismissal, nor was there any personal discussion,” said the spokesperson, who noted that the consumer foundation itself had invited McDonald’s to be part of the program.

Foodwatch considers the exclusion of the fast food chainto be the first in a series of steps that must be taken. “Schools should be fre e of commercial interests,” says foodwatch expert Oliver Huizinga.

The protests went beyond McDonald’s to include all other private firms that were a part of the “Bündnis für Verbraucherbildung” (Alliance for Consumer Education) program. In the food industry these include Metro, Edeka, Rewe and Tchibo. Other firms that are part of the alliance include Deutsche Telekom, Commerzbank and the ING-Diba bank.

(Translation by WorldCrunch)

America’s Police, Friend And Sniper

By Antonie Rietzschel

The images showing a wall of armed, helmet-wearing men in camouflage uniforms look like something from a war zone. A sharpshooter sits on an armored vehicle, gun at the ready, looking through the rifle scope as if he were about to fire.

But the photos weren’t taken in Afghanistan or Iraq, although comparisons of images taken in both places have an uncanny similarity. They were taken in Ferguson, the small Missouri town that, for all the wrong reasons, the world is watching. The men aren’t American soldiers, but officers for the local police force.

Since last Saturday’s police killing of 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown, who was unarmed and repeatedly shot, there have been daily demonstrations in Ferguson. People have lost faith in the police, who in turn feel threatened and are arming up. Heavily armed police have unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters.

While the scenes playing out there are disturbing, they are actually the manifestation of a trend that has been building for years in the United States. Since 9/11 and the fight against terror that it engendered, American police have become increasingly militarized, both in terms of their training and their equipment.

Rise of the Warrior Copa book byAmerican journalist Radley Balko, tackles this very subject. In a Wall Street Journal essay, he estimates that between 2002 and 2011 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) distributed $35 billion of equipment to federal police and local police stations.

Add to that the support of the Pentagon. The police in Ferguson are part of Program 1033, through which military equipment can be acquired. And not just protective gear or small arms, either. The list of available items includes heavily armored vehicles of the sort used in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also assault weapons. In 2013 alone, the program distributed equipment worth $500 million to the police.

That fuels some bizarre situations. The city of Fargo, North Dakota, where there are fewer than two murders per year, owns an armored vehicle with a gun turret. In Keene, New Hampshire, $286,000 was spent on a BearCat armored vehicle. Between 1999 and 2012, there were three homicides in Keene. The local police chief said that the BearCat was mainly for use at major events — such as the Pumpkin Festival.

Meanwhile, many police stations not only have heavy weaponry but also SWAT teams. These special forces originally were to be used in life-threatening operations such as shootings or hostage-takings. In the mid-1980s, 80% of towns with populations of 50,000 inhabitants had SWAT teams, but by 2007 over 80% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had such a team.

In 1980 SWAT teams across the United States were called in for 3,000 operations. That has since become 50,000, as researcher Peter Kraska tells The Economist. They are dispatched to make arrests or break up illegal poker games. In 2010, a SWAT team burst into a bar that was supposedly serving alcohol to minors. The special has become routine. SWAT teams have also been called in during the Ferguson protests.

Balko writes that operations involving the heavily armed SWAT teams often end with bloodshed. He himself has counted 50 cases in which innocent people died. Some of these people were bystanders, some were police that suspects thought were burglars.

Of the current situation in Ferguson, Balko says, “The police no longer see people as citizens with rights. They see them as a threat.”

(Translation by WorldCrunch, photo by AFP)