Tagged: Germany

Currency manipulation leads to unintended consequences

Switzerland’s decision to lift the cap on the franc’s value against the euro has had unexpected consequences – in the form of intercepted pizza deliveries.

Swiss people looking for a bargain have been dialling up restaurants across the border in Germany, but now the authorities have had enough…

Uli Burchardt, the mayor of Constance, which borders Switzerland to the northeast, told the publication that German vans have been stopped by Swiss customs officials after it was discovered they had been delivering up to 60 pizzas at a time. And fast food is not the only thing the Swiss have been seeking elsewhere, as people cross the border to do their weekly shop and even visit the dentist.

Cripes. There are dentistas in Mexico who have public school contracts in Arizona and California.

Following the decision to lift the €1.20 cap last month, the franc shot up by 40 per cent against the euro. The franc also rose 30 per cent against the dollar and 15 per cent against sterling. In short, the Swiss can now get more for their money.

However, there is concern that businesses will be negatively impacted by the strong franc. Eurozone companies that buy their products in Switzerland are at risk of being priced out of the market, while Swiss businesses situated on the border may find themselves passed over in favour of their perceived better-value eurozone counterparts.

Interesting – and eventually acceptable when the situation stabilizes. Not out of line with long-term commerce in cross-border towns along the US-Canadian border or the US-Mexican border.

Of course, hypocrites in government can’t pass up an opportunity to whine for domestic political advantage. So, both the White House and Congress whine about so-called Chinese currency manipulation when the biggest fraud in Asia comes from the Bank of Japan. As it always has.

35,000 Germans rally in Dresden against ethnic, religious, hatred


Anti-bigotry rally in Berlin

A rally against racism and xenophobia on Saturday drew tens of thousands of people in the eastern German city of Dresden, which has become the center of anti-immigration protests organized by a new grassroots movement called PEGIDA.

“We won’t permit that hate will divide us”, Dresden’s mayor Helma Orosz said in front of the 18th-century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).

Around 35,000 people attended the rally that was jointly organized by the state government of Saxony and the city of Dresden…

The movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) is holding weekly rallies in Dresden with a record number of 18,000 people attending last Monday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the anti-Muslim demonstrations, urging Germans to turn their backs on the movement and calling their organizers racists full of hatred.

The Paris attack has fueled fears that it could boost anti-immigration movements around Europe and inflame a culture war about the place of religion and ethnic identity in society.

Speaking after a party meeting of her Christian Democrats (CDU) in Hamburg earlier on Saturday, Merkel stressed the need for intercultural dialogue and warned against prejudice.

Good to see this. If there is a nation in the world capable of taking the lead in opposing rightwing populism, opportunist ethnic hatred. it is Germany. They know the potential results almost as well as the nationalities murdered by German fascists in the mid-20th Century.

Germany’s biggest energy utility dropping coal and gas!

Germany’s biggest utility firm, E.ON, has announced plans to split in two and spin off most of its power generation, energy trading and upstream businesses, responding to a crisis that has crippled the European energy sector.

E.ON said it wanted to focus on its renewable activities, regulated distribution networks and tailor-made energy efficiency services, citing “dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations”…

Germany’s power sector has been in turmoil, hit by a prolonged period of weak demand, low wholesale prices and a surge in renewable energy sources which continue to replace gas-fired and coal-fired power plants…

The split will not be accompanied by job cuts, E.ON said, adding that about 40,000 employees would remain with the parent group, while the remaining 20,000 would join the new company…

By choosing to spin off power generation, E.ON rids itself of a sector that has been hard hit by Germany’s decision to boost renewables at the expense of gas, coal and nuclear power plants.

Anyone think that creeps like the Koch Brothers, stick-in-the-mud power utilities like our own New Mexico turd, PNM – would ever demonstrate the smarts, environmental understanding of an advanced firm like E.ON?

I applaud their decision and truly hope this will serve as guidance for those few of our own electric utilities capable of progressive change.

Which country just abolished college tuition — hint: Not in North America

Prospective students in the United States who can’t afford to pay for college or don’t want to rack up tens of thousands in student debt should try their luck in Germany. Higher education is now free throughout the country, even for international students. Yesterday, Lower Saxony became the last of seven German states to abolish tuition fees, which were already extremely low compared to those paid in the United States.

German universities only began charging for tuition in 2006, when the German Constitutional Court ruled that limited fees, combined with loans, were not in conflict the country’s commitment to universal education. The measure proved unpopular, however, and German states that had instituted fees began dropping them one by one…

Free education is a concept that is embraced in most of Europe with notable exceptions like the U.K., where the government voted to lift the cap on university fees in 2010. The measure has reportedly cost more money than it brought in. The Guardian reported in March that students are failing to pay back student loans at such a rate that “the government will lose more money than it would have saved from keeping the old $4,865 tuition fee system.”

UK students often compare their plight to their American counterparts, but most Americans would be fortunate to pay as little as the British do: a maximum of $14,550 per year. High tuition fees in the U.S. have caused student loan debt, which stands at $1.2 trillion, to spiral out of control. It is now the second-highest form of consumer debt in the country. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, two thirds of American college students will leave their alma mater in significant debt (averaging at $26,600).

While there are many government measures that could ease the massive burden of student debt, some straightforward steps could make higher education accessible to all. Tennessee, for example, recently voted to make two-year colleges free for all high school graduates. The U.S. as whole could take a note from Germany and make public universities free with relative ease. The government spends around $69 billion subsidizing college education and another $107.4 billion on student loans. Tuition at all public universities comes to much less than that, around $62.6 billion in 2012. By restructuring the education budget, the cost of attending public universities could easily be brought down to zero. This would also put pressure on private universities to lower their cost in order to be more competitive.

We might even consider [gasp!] doing without a few shiny new tanks, F35 fighter aircraft or Littoral Attack Seacraft. All that would be required is to cancel the next couple of countries Congress and our two political parties plan to invade.

Tip o’ the hat to Mike — Great minds and etc…

Brain health may be boosted by curry spice

A spice commonly found in curries may boost the brain’s ability to heal itself, according to a report in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy.

The German study suggests a compound found in turmeric could encourage the growth of nerve cells thought to be part of the brain’s repair kit.

Scientists say this work, based in rats, may pave the way for future drugs for strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.

But they say more trials are needed to see whether this applies to humans…

Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, studied the effects of aromatic-turmerone – a compound found naturally in turmeric.

Rats were injected with the compound and their brains were then scanned…Particular parts of the brain, known to be involved in nerve cell growth, were seen to be more active after the aromatic-turmerone infusion…

In a separate part of the trial, researchers bathed rodent neural stem cells (NSCs) in different concentrations of aromatic-tumerone extract…NSCs have the ability to transform into any type of brain cell and scientists suggest they could have a role in repair after damage or disease.

Dr Maria Adele Rueger, who was part of the research team, said: “In humans and higher developed animals their abilities do not seem to be sufficient to repair the brain but in fish and smaller animals they seem to work well.”

The research found the higher the concentration of aromatic-turmerone, the greater the growth of the NSCs…And the cells bathed in the turmeric compound seemed to specialise into certain types of brain cells more rapidly too.

Always worth studying folk medicine to see if apocrypha translates to useful modern medicine. Some myths are downright dangerous and unproductive; but, like digitalis research, aromatic-turmerone may benefit a lot more than the South Asian palate.

Tip o’ the hat to Mike – great minds and etc.

UBS urges investors to join the renewables revolution


Click to enlargeVillage of Eitting near Munich, Germany

Big power stations in Europe could be redundant within 10-20 years as electric cars, cheaper batteries and new solar technologies transform the way electricity is generated, stored and distributed, say analysts at the world’s largest private bank.

In a briefing paper sent to clients and investors this week, the Zurich-based UBS bank argues that large-scale, centralised power stations will soon become extinct because they are too big and inflexible, and are “not relevant” for future electricity generation. Instead, the authors expect it to be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and to store any surplus energy in their own buildings even without subsidies.

In language more closely associated with green NGOs, the bank with assets of more than $1.5tn says it expects a paradigm shift away from large-scale conventional power plants. “Power is no longer something that is exclusively produced by huge, centralised units owned by large utilities. By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, ie, not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities,” say the authors, who urge their financial clients to “join the revolution.”

“Solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology. The biggest drawback has been its intermittency. This is where batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) come into play. Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then, a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car. But it will save up to $2600 a year on fuel cost, hence, it will begin to pay off almost immediately without any meaningful upfront ‘investment’. This is why we expect a rapidly growing penetration with EVs, in particular in countries with high fossil fuel prices.”

The expected 50% reduction in the cost of batteries by 2020 will not just spur electric car sales, but could also lead to exponential growth in demand for stationary batteries to store excess power in buildings, says UBS. “Battery storage should become financially attractive for family homes when combined with a solar system and an electric vehicle. As a consequence, we expect transformational changes in the utility and auto sectors,” it says. “By 2020 investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe…”

By 2025, falling battery and solar costs will make electric vehicles cheaper than conventional cars in most European markets. “As a conservative 2025 scenario, we think about 10% of new car registrations in Europe will be EVs. Households and businesses who invest in a combined electric car, solar array and battery storage should be able to pay the investment back within six to eight years,” UBS says. “In other words, based on a 20-year technical life of a solar system, a German buyer should receive 12 years of electricity for free.”

But the bank does not expect power companies or the grid to disappear: UBS says they have a future if they develop smart grids which manage electricity demand more efficiently and provide decentralised back-up power generation.

But, hey, your SUV is running OK. Cousin Ernie’s Chevy pickup truck does everything it should do. If our public utilities need to be modernized – well, that’s what we have state legislatures and regulatory commissions to take care of. Right?

Leading Americans in the direction of renewable, cheaper, cleaner sources of electricity is probably as unnecessary as eventually converting the Affordable Care Act to a single payer system. This all may save money and improve our quality of life; but, isn’t it all a little too foreign for Americans to adopt?

Fossil fuel electricity under real threat from solar and wind power

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Click to enlargeStiftung OFFSHORE-WINDENERGIE

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States.

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.

Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

Professional naysayers, bought-and-paid-for skeptics, conservative ideologues rooted to political failures like Ayn Rand see the fruit of their labors rejected by economic reality – as usual. Solid facts, real advances are beginning to progress as predicted – or better. That won’t shut them up. The money tap remains wide open. But, ordinary folks, working class, middle class, however you slice and dice your class analysis, are starting to reap the benefits of the new means of renewable energy production.

No one is more tradition-bound than public utilities. They function like constipated manure machines. They’ve been producing cowshit for research and analysis for so many generations they are incapable of changing their business model to match a dynamic economic landscape.

Meanwhile, globalized competition encouraged by the group of nations acting responsibly to counter climate change are affecting the cash flow and profits of corporations sitting around like children in a temper tantrum – demanding the people who recognized the need for change now spend tax dollars to bail them out of their self-generated disaster.

They should be replaced by common sense, scientific, economic solutions. Send them away. Build them a leaky rest home next to one of the Koch Brothers coal heaps.

Germany 1 – 0 Argentina

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Mario Goetze scores the winning goal, 111th minute, 2nd of double overtime

I’m exhausted. The end of one of the best World Cups I’ve watched since [I’d say] 1982. Plenty of real sports columnists, proper football fans will write pages of stuff I’ll appreciate as much as you may.

Let me congratulate the German team, their coach, the national coaching scheme that brought them to this victory.

Political animal I am, let me note in passing a completely unremarkable moment in the stands photographed at the beginning of the match. Vladimir Putin sits next to Sep Blatter, Dilma Rousseff next to Angela Merkel. With the exception of Blatter all leaders in their own nations, all preparing for the BRICS Summit which starts tomorrow morning in Brazil.

The agenda ranges from trade to the establishment of a $100 billion commercial bank for the BRICS nations. Xi Jinping will probably kick in the lion’s share from China.

The folks in the photo below realize they all have something to gain in sorting economic and political futures together. Most educated adults in the world outside the United States are aware of the same. Our government, our nation continues down the primrose path of a dying imperial nation, a standard we took up from the Brits after World War 2. Our nation, our people, the TweedleDee and TweedleDumb parties that represent our wishes, our “style”, haven’t any more clue about what’s going on in this crowd than Fox & Friends or some Tea Party candidate in Texas. Football, economics or foreign policy.

The folks in the photo – know that.

Apologists say NSA spying won’t harm US business — Germany cancels Verizon!

Germany favors Deutsche Telekom AG to replace Verizon Communications as a network provider after deciding to end the American company’s contract in the wake of reports about spy surveillance by the U.S…

Germany is using an option in the current Verizon contract to end the arrangement next year, Tobias Plate said, declining to confirm whether the government had any evidence that the provider handed information from the network to the U.S. National Security Agency.

The move is the clearest sign yet that concerns in Europe about spying by the U.S. may harm the business of American companies in the region. The decision doesn’t bode well for communications providers such as Verizon and Dallas-based AT&T which have sunk billions of dollars into winning large clients outside the U.S., said Roger Entner…at Recon Analytics…

“Verizon is the victim here — they tend to be faster, more flexible and cheaper than local providers,” Entner said. “But now security is the trump card in the deck and that’s why Deutsche Telekom wins…”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government plans to combine three separate networks under one service provider, Plate said. A proposal to award the contracts to Deutsche Telekom has already been discussed in the parliament’s budget committee, though no contract has been signed yet, he said…

German prosecutors and lawmakers have begun investigating allegations that U.S. intelligence agents tapped Merkel’s phone, underscoring the effect on U.S.-German relations of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Merkel and President Barack Obama failed to end the dispute during talks at the White House in May, with Merkel saying “differences of opinion” persist and require further discussion.

It has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship” with Germany, Obama said…

It pains me to see how frequently our elected officials lie to the whole world, lie to our allies, lie to us. Yes, I know that’s nothing new; but, part of how Barack Obama was elected derived from his promises of change. Foreign policy and deceit worthy of a John Foster Dulles is not change. Protecting scum ranging from Countrywide Mortgage lenders to CIA torture specialists worthy of a Joe McCarthy is not change.

RTFA for a more expansive treatment. The fact remains that our liberal president is whining about the truth coming out, our corrupt practices exposed. That’s not progressive leadership. That’s business as usual in the White House.

Student gets stuck in giant vagina

What was meant to be a funny dare turned into an utter embarrassment for an American exchange student, who found himself trapped in a giant stone vagina in Germany.

Firefighters had to be called in to deliver the man, head-first, to safety after his feet became trapped in the large marble sculpture at Tubingen University in Germany.

The unnamed man is believed to have been dared to climb inside the sculpture, which sits outside the university’s institute for microbiology and virology.

But his legs soon became wedged in the carving and, despite labouring to free himself, the experts had to be summoned…

A total of 22 firefighters, five fire engines and a number of paramedics were sent to the scene, and quickly freed the man “by hand without use of equipment”, the newspaper reported… “The fire department was not really amused, and he was really embarrassed.”

The sculpture, by Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara, has sat outside the university for 13 years and was not damaged.

The few students of Freudian psychology remaining in the world get to use their smug looks.

Thanks, Honeyman