Germany “exporting” old and sick to eastern Europe and Asia


German pensioners in Berlin

Growing numbers of elderly and sick Germans are being sent overseas for long-term care in retirement and rehabilitation centres because of rising costs and falling standards in Germany.

The move, which has seen thousands of retired Germans rehoused in homes in eastern Europe and Asia, has been severely criticised by social welfare organisations who have called it “inhumane deportation”.

But with increasing numbers of Germans unable to afford the growing costs of retirement homes, and an ageing and shrinking population, the number expected to be sent abroad in the next few years is only likely to rise. Experts describe it as a “time bomb”.

Germany’s chronic care crisis – the care industry suffers from lack of workers and soaring costs – has for years been mitigated by eastern Europeans migrating to Germany in growing numbers to care for the country’s elderly.

But the transfer of old people to eastern Europe is being seen as a new and desperate departure, indicating that even with imported, cheaper workers, the system is unworkable…

Researchers found an estimated 7,146 German pensioners living in retirement homes in Hungary in 2011. More than 3,000 had been sent to homes in the Czech Republic, and there were more than 600 in Slovakia. There are also unknown numbers in Spain, Greece and Ukraine. Thailand and the Philippines are also attracting increasing numbers.

According to Germany’s federal bureau of statistics, more than 400,000 senior citizens are currently unable to afford a German retirement home, a figure that is growing by around 5% a year.

The reasons are rising care home costs – which average between €2,900 and €3,400 (£2,700) a month, stagnating pensions, and the fact that people are more likely to need care as they get older.

With Germany’s population expected to shrink from almost 82 million to about 69 million by 2050, one in every 15 – about 4.7 million people – are expected to be in need of care, meaning the problem of provision is only likely to worsen.

German politicians have shied away from dealing with the subject, largely due to fears of a voter backlash if Germany’s state insurers are seen to be financing care workers abroad to the detriment of the domestic care industry.

There are about 47 different topics one can entertain for discussion here. For a sound, political decision, only 2 questions need to be addressed:

1. Standards must be devised that fit other culture, other systems. I presume the essentials already exist – so, there ain’t much to be worked out.

2. Moving to a facility abroad should only be voluntary – and the right of return within a reasonable time period must be absolute.

Everything else is up for keeping a couple thousand civil servants and social scientists employed in discussion.

World’s longest high-speed railway debuts in China


The world’s fastest trains ready to roll — Click to enlarge

The world’s longest high-speed rail line, which spans over half of China, began operating on Wednesday, further cementing the country’s high-speed railway development ambitions.

Two trains departed from stations in Beijing and Guangzhou at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively, to mark the opening of the 2,298-km line.

Running at an average speed of 300 km per hour, the new route cuts travel time between Beijing and Guangzhou from over 20 hours to about eight.

A total of 155 pairs of trains will run on the new line daily and alternative schedules have been made for weekends and peak travel times, according to the Ministry of Railways…

There will still be 183 pairs of trains running daily on the old Beijing-Guangzhou line that runs parallel to the high-speed line, allaying concerns that the new line will increase passengers’ travel costs.

A second-class seat on the new high-speed line costs $138 while a sleeper on the old line sells for around half that amount…

With the opening of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed line, China now has more than 9,300 km of high-speed rails in operation.

The new line is one of four north-south lines expected to serve as a backbone for the country’s planned high-speed railway network, which also features four east-west lines…

Research by the Development Research Center of the State Council showed that the Beijing-Zhengzhou section of the new high-speed line will add $44 billion to the country’s GDP by 2030…

The full operation of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway will accelerate China’s urbanization progress, as it will help large cities to better perform their role as central cities, boost the development of medium-sized cities along the route and foster the birth and development of new small cities and towns, said Sun Shuli, a chief engineer responsible for designing sections of the new line.

I’m a fan of any kind of railroad that runs quiet and reasonably fast. Our own shiny new railroad connecting north/south in central New Mexico is quiet, on time, and not especially fast. Though it has a roadbed capable of high speeds.

I sort of knew the opening run of the bullet trains was happening, yesterday [US time], from mentions on the news on CCTV9; but, wasn’t paying close attention. It was a kick when I switched to the channel mid-afternoon and realized I was watching a live feed of the train setting forth from Beijing’s central RR station. Cameras along the track and inside the engine and passenger cars showed the kind of excitement I know I would have felt to be on such a trip.

Obama and his administration have a clear idea of the benefits of high-speed rail to our economy and logistics in general. Congress and conservatives owned pretty much lock, stock and barrel by motor freight and fossil fuel industries couldn’t care less. I doubt if we’ll see any success at repairing existing infrastructure much less upgrades to our rail network – in this century.

West Antarctica warming faster than expected — may increase the rate of sea level rising


Click to enlarge

West Antarctica is warming almost twice as fast as previously believed, adding to worries of a thaw that would add to sea level rise from San Francisco to Shanghai…

Annual average temperatures at the Byrd research station in West Antarctica had risen 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3F) since the 1950s, one of the fastest gains on the planet and three times the global average in a changing climate…

The unexpectedly big increase adds to fears the ice sheet is vulnerable to thawing. West Antarctica holds enough ice to raise world sea levels by at least 3.3 meters if it ever all melted, a process that would take centuries.

“The western part of the ice sheet is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought,” Ohio State University said in a statement of the study led by its geography professor David Bromwich.

The warming “raises further concerns about the future contribution of Antarctica to sea level rise,” it said. Higher summer temperatures raised risks of a surface melt of ice and snow even though most of Antarctica is in a year-round deep freeze…

The rise in temperatures in the remote region was comparable to that on the Antarctic Peninsula to the north, which snakes up towards South America, according to the U.S.-based experts writing in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Parts of the northern hemisphere have also warmed at similarly fast rates.

Several ice shelves – thick ice floating on the ocean and linked to land – have collapsed around the Antarctic Peninsula in recent years. Once ice shelves break up, glaciers pent up behind them can slide faster into the sea, raising water levels.

“The stakes would be much higher if a similar event occurred to an ice shelf restraining one of the enormous West Antarctic ice sheet glaciers,” said Andrew Monaghan, a co-author at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The Pine Island glacier off West Antarctica, for instance, brings as much water to the ocean as the Rhine river in Europe.

I think some of the Know-Nothings in American politics believe that glaciers calving into oceans produce something like plastic ice cubes. They just bob around and never melt. Cripes.

Israel considers moving from 19th to 20th Century at Western Wall


Anat Hoffman being arrested for praying

Jerusalem -— Amid outrage across the Jewish diaspora over a flurry of recent arrests of women seeking to pray at the Western Wall with ritual garments in defiance of Israeli law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews.

The move comes after more than two decades of civil disobedience by a group called Women of the Wall against regulations, legislation and a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that allow for gender division at the wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, and prohibit women from carrying a Torah or wearing prayer shawls there.

Although the movement has struggled to gain traction in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox retain great sway over public life, the issue has deepened a divide between the Jewish state and Jews around the world at a time when Israel is battling international isolation over its settlement policy. Critics, particularly leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, complain that the government’s recent aggressive enforcement of restrictions at the wall has turned a national monument into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue…

Mr. Sharansky said the Jewish Agency itself stopped having ceremonies for new immigrants in the plaza about two years ago after the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which controls the site, said that men and women could not sit together…

Asked whether he could imagine a day when women could wear prayer shawls and read a Torah at the wall itself, Mr. Sharansky said, “I imagine very easily a situation where everybody will have their opportunity to express their solidarity with Judaism and the Jewish people and the state of Israel in a way he or she wants, without undermining the other.”

Words, words, words.

While Anat Hoffman said the women’s group would be satisfied if it were allowed to pray at the wall once a month with full regalia, her religious action center wants hours each day, between scheduled prayer times, when the gender partition is removed and people can freely enjoy the site as a cultural monument.

“If in the end what happens is that the Robinson’s Arch area will be run by the Jewish Agency instead of the antiquities department, then we’re talking about who’s going to take care of the air-conditioning in the back of the bus,” she said. “I don’t care about that. I don’t want to sit in the back of the bus. I want to dismantle the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.”

Overdue. By decades.