Den Anschein der Käuflichkeit erweckte

“Awoke the appearance of purchasability.”

What Germany’s penultimate Bundespräsident, Christian Wulff (C.D.U.), is on trial for in Hanover, to determine whether he did this by accepting ~700 euros in gifts from someone in the film industry during a weekend at the big Munich Oktoberfest in 2008 while Mr. Wulff was still governor of Lower Saxony. It was because of corruption charges from his days as governor that Mr. Wulff was forced to resign from office as president of Germany.

Germany’s president is supposed to be apolitical, party-neutral. They give speeches, judging and encouraging people in Germany and abroad. They attend funerals. If Germany were the U.S.A. the Bundespräsident might also take over some of the permanent fundraising work that can keep a leader from governing, but perhaps the proceeds would have to go to all (both) parties to preserve neutrality.

Great Bundespräsidents include Richard von Weiszacker and apparently Joachim Gauck.

There is only one Bundespräsident jokes are still told about: Heinrich Lübke. Famous Lübke quotes include, on a trip to Africa, “Ladies and gentlemen, and dear Negroes, …”

(Dane   ON shine   dare   COY flichh kite   ehh VECK teh.)

Volksbegehren gegen Studiengebühren

“Referendum against tuition fees.” The states run the universities in Germany. Usually they charge very low tuition fees by US standards or university is free and students just have to pay registration and student union fees and buy subsidized cheap universal health insurance (includes dental and medicine). After some states experimented with introducing tuition fees in the 1990’s, almost all the states unintroduced them except Bavaria and Lower Saxony. In 2012, Bavarian citizens collected the 25,000 signatures required for a referendum to let people vote directly to eliminate college tuition throughout the state.

Though Bavarians have the Volksbegehren option, it’s hard to pass a referendum in practice. In 1968 the Bavarian state parliament (Landtag) made conditions for passing direct referenda much tougher, reducing the time frame from four weeks to two, banning public solicitation of signatures in the street or door-to-door, while requiring signatures of 10% of all registered voters for passage and, writes Hans Herbert von Arnim, making mail-in ballots much more difficult [von Arnim, Die Selbstbediener, pp. 162–3].

Before the voters had a chance to decide on the anti-tuition referendum however, Bavaria’s Interior Ministry (CSU) filed a complaint against it with the Bavarian constitutional court or Verfassungsgerichtshof in Munich saying the referendum was unconstitutional because it would affect Bavaria’s budget. The Bavarian constitutional court has interpreted the state’s so-called “budget caveat” or Haushaltsvorbehalt to mean that referenda that would cost money, i.e. most of them, can be kept from a vote if they will impact the state budget in a way that isn’t slight [von Arnim, p. 173].

Bavaria’s supreme or constitutional court is a bit unusual in Germany [von Arnim, p. 27] and possibly one reason voters might be glad to have a direct referendum option. Federal German constitutional court judges have to be elected by a 2/3 parliamentary majority, to prevent judiciary dominance by one party; they have a 12-year term; and they cannot be reelected. Bavarian constitutional court judges have been mainly elected by the CSU party, because it has governed the state since 1946; they have an eight-year term; and they can be reelected an unlimited number of times.

In October 2012, the Bavarian constitutional court decided eliminating college tuition would not affect the state budget and allowed the referendum to proceed. In January 2013 the referendum passed with over 1.3 million signatures. In response, the Bavarian Landtag or state parliament quickly passed a law eliminating college tuition on 24 Apr 2013.

(FOKES beg AIR en   GAY gen   SHTOO dee en geh BOO ren.)

Schellackraritäten

“Shellack rarities,” rare old records. Hildesheim University is working with Teheran’s Music Museum of Iran to digitize thousands of old Iranian records, preserving them, cleaning up the recordings and making it possible to share them on a large scale. The first recording devices were brought to Iran by caravan about 100 years ago through Istanbul, reports the F.A.Z.

Hildesheim Uni’s Center for World Music has done this before. They worked with Germany’s Foreign Office to collect old records of popular music from markets in Ghana, Malawi and Sierra Leone, saving them and digitizing them. Now African radio stations can play their countries’ old music.

(Shell OCK rawr ee TATE en.)

Selbstanzeige

“Self reporting,” voluntary submission of an amended German tax return reporting money hidden in e.g. Switzerland. You can still report yourself to the German IRS, pay a low tax rate on the unreported funds, get immunity from prosecution and legally repatriate the money to Germany. The reason we know there are still Germans with Schwarzgeld, under-the-table or “black” capital, in Swiss bank accounts who have not taken advantage of the Selbstanzeige is because the German state governments, acting independently, buy CD’s of data about these accounts and use them to pursue tax sinners for fun and profits. The state of Rhineland-Palatinate recently bought another one, for the 500 million euros they expect to collect with its help and because no capital crimes were committed in the seller’s acquisition of it. ~200 apparently-related tax razzias took place on 16 Apr 2013. The RP finance minister is asking the other German states to show solidarity by contributing toward the purchase price because they too will be benefiting from the content. Lower Saxony has already announced they will contribute. Both states are ruled by SPD and Green Party coalitions.

The Selbstanzeige will soon be irrelevant because international negotiations are moving toward closing the loopholes, especially since publication of the “offshore leaks” financial data trove. Meanwhile, the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes in a wonderful history of bank account data sales to Germany, RP tax officials are “electrified” and say they’ve never had foreign bank account data this good before. “First class.” It sounds like enough years of transfers and other information are included that, after the tax authorities are done with it, the CD could form the basis of some interesting doctoral theses.

The top Rhineland-Palatinate tax agent now says he sees the recently failed tax agreement with Switzerland as disadvantageous, because it provides a partial amnesty and would destroy tax payment morale were it to be ratified now.

(ZELBST on ts eye geh.)

 

Das Crowdsourcing von Umweltanalysen

“Crowdsourcing environmental testing,” including sharing of software platforms used and the data resulting from the tests, for the efficiencies associated with wider availability and to prevent knowledge losses that can occur e.g. when you underfund and then destroy E.P.A. libraries. Many experiments with crowdsourcing chemistry and biology testing are ongoing right now. For example, for the past five years high school kids in Lower Saxony, ~10,000 students so far, have been learning to test food products for GMO’s in high school lab classes, often finding modified products in foods labeled GMO-free. The curriculum includes pro and con discussions that must be pretty interesting.

Silicon Valley companies and other communities are experimenting with creating open source software and hardware kits for crowdsourced environmental testing and pharmaceutical testing, according to an interesting new book by Institute for the Future director Marina Gorbis.

(Doss   CRRROWD sauce ing   fun   OOM veldt on ah LOO zen.)

Leihstimmen

“Loaned votes.” In parliamentary elections, where voters get a primary vote and a secondary vote, voters have more ways to demonstrate dissatisfaction. They can “loan” a vote to their habitual large party’s current or proposed smaller coalition partner party, for example, to maintain the status quo—by keeping the current coalition government in power—while ensuring there are at least some statistical consequences after bad policy. By strengthening minor parties, a loaned vote can have the additional advantage of preventing the two largest parties from forming a ruling coalition (a so-called “grosse Koalition“) during which parliamentary opposition is notoriously insufficient.

(LYE shtimmin.)

Verfassungsschutz

“Constitution Protection.” The name for a federal German police agency that has state branches. I don’t know much about it. The name might be intended to convey the idea that federal police are needed to keep a democracy from falling into dictatorship.

Wikipedia says the Verfassungsschutz offices are responsible for domestic intelligence, the Bundesnachrichtendienst for foreign intelligence, and the Militärischer Abschirmdienst for military intelligence.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung said federal Verfassungsschutz is responsible for defending Germany against spying.

Update on 28 August 2012: Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) has announced that he would like to reform the Verfassungsschutz, including a mandate that all state-level Verfassungsschutz organizations would have to send all their information to a central federal office (some state offices have already protested this) and that a central federal list be kept of all Verfassungsschutzmänner and -frauen who are providing information to these police in return for money. See V-Mann, V-Frau.

Update on 29 August 2012: The state and federal reps supposedly only discussed for one hour before agreeing on a framework for reform, which even the opposition SPD party now supports. Not only will state Verfassungsschutz offices be required to share all information with the federal office, but the federal office will be required to share all information with state offices as well (there are currently a total of 17 Verfassungsschutz offices). The state reps negotiated away Hans-Peter Friedrich’s proposal that the federal office be made the sole boss of  investigations of (potentially) violent groups. Angela Merkel’s libertarianesque coalition partner, the FDP, criticizes that these changes are just moving furniture around and the old system, with its redundancies, remains the same.

Update on 03 July 2013: Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and the head of federal Verfassungsschutz, Hans-Georg Maaßen, announced the Verfassungsschutz agencies will undergo fundamental reforms of structures and procedures, imposing uniform standards on the state and federal offices. The changes are to include: new guidelines for the use of V-people (“persons who have committed the most serious crimes are not to be acquirable as V-people” —Maaßen; informants are no longer to receive fees high enough that they could live on that income alone; handlers are to be swapped every five years at the latest to prevent friendships and Seilschaften; and a central file of state and federal V-people is to be created e.g. to prevent multiple Verfassungsschutz offices from paying the same informant); new rules for working with state Verfassungsschutz agencies (which will have to send the knowledge they acquire in unfiltered form to the federal office) and in future files are only to be destroyed after multiple-step reviews (with destruction training and a “file destruction officer” appointed for each department). “Cross-thinkers” [Querdenker] in the offices are supposed to observe, question and criticize what they see, hopefully spotting real trends and catching when departments are on wrong or slow tracks. These initial reforms are said to be in response to the failures discovered in the investigations of Germany’s decade-long serial-killing bank-robbing neonazi terror cell, not to the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Because there is a German election in two months it’s possible these announced reforms will not be enacted and/or funded, as has apparently been the case with some of Health Minister Daniel Bahr (FDP)’s pre-election reform announcements. The opposition criticized them as purely cosmetic and piecemeal anyway. Thomas Oppermann (SPD) called for a mentality change at these agencies and training employees so that they “have a sense of where the real dangers to our democracy lurk.” Hans-Christian Ströbele (Green party) said Verfassungsschutz should be eliminated “such as it is. We can’t let people just continue on who failed like that.”

Update on 19 Sep 2013: A state Verfassungsschutz office (Lower Saxony’s) was caught collecting and keeping information on at least seven journalists. Federal-level Verfassungsschutz was also caught cooperating with the C.I.A. and the Bundesnachrichtendienst to spy on a journalist, though Hans-Georg Maaßen issued a denial; the NDR journalist‘s name, passport number, mobile phone number and date of birth were on a U.S. list of names and data given to the German domestic and foreign intelligence agencies in 2010 with a request for more information about those people.

These reports showed that the German domestic intelligence Verfassungsschutz (state and federal) and foreign intelligence Bundenachrichtendienst agencies are supplying information for databases (now including ones named “Project 6,” “P6” and/or “PX”) that should have been inspected by data protection officers and subject to German data protection rules regulating among other things what information they can contain and for how long, after which the data must be deleted. However, the German data protection officers did not know about these databases, said Peter Schaar. He said this is no minor infraction, and “anyone running such a project absolutely must guarantee that all activities are completely documented and subjected to data protection control/inspection.”

The excuse for Lower Saxony Verfassungsschutz’s spying on journalists was fighting neonazis and the excuse for federal Verfassungsschutz’s spying on journalists was fighting terror. In his 2007 book Das Ende der Privatsphäre [“The End of Privacy”], Mr. Schaar said in the 1990’s the excuse tended to be fighting organized crime.

Update on 14 Mar 2014: New Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced the Verfassungsschutz will stop watching members of the Leftists party, which many S.E.D. politicians from the former East Germany joined twenty years ago, “unless they have good grounds for surveillance.” It will also “in general” stop watching Bundestag members, no matter what party they belong to. He said they reserved the right to investigate resumption of surveillance if they received new knowledge. Such as, that Bundestag members had connections to extreme milieux willing to do violence. Süddeutsche.de said this change of policy is in response to a case Bodo Ramelow (Leftists, and kept under observation for decades) brought to the supreme court, Bundesverfassungsgericht, in Karlsruhe. The court decided in October 2013 that “parliamentarians could only be watched who abused their mandate to fight against the free democratic basic order.” Süddeutsche.de said Mr. de Maizière’s formal statement did not say members of state parliaments would generally no longer be watched, and it noted that formally that his statement only commits the federal Bundesverfassungsschutz to suspend operations, not the 16 state offices.

Update on 08 Apr 2014: A company that represents companies in the Maschinenbau industry [“machine building,” industrial engineering] signed an agreement with federal Verfassungsschutz at this year’s trade show in Hanover. The agreement is supposed to encourage more German companies to consult Verfassungsschutz about suspected cases of industrial espionage. FAZ.net: “But Verfassungsschutz’s advantage is that unlike police they do not have to follow up on a crime, said the association. That is to say, the intelligence agency can pass on information to a company that’s affected; what happens with it after that is the management’s decision.”

(Fer FOSS oongs shoots.)

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