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The other day I happened to be on a train seated next to a manager from UBER - the mobile-app car ride network.  He boasted to me that his company was now the most valuable transportation company on the planet - valued at $47 billion (by comparison, the largest airline - United (UAL) - has a market capitalization of $26 billion).  He was proud of the fact that UBER had disrupted the entire taxi cab industry, putting tens of thousands of cab drivers out of work.  Instead of cab drivers, UBER relies on freelance contract drivers, who provide their own vehicles.  But this army of contractors should not get to be too comfortable in their "jobs", for the manager told me that UBER was embracing the advent of driverless - self-driving - cars.  By the year 2020, he predicted, these self-driving vehicles would comprise 20% of the market; in the next 30 years drivers would vanish altogether.  I'm thinking about the millions of Americans who make a living driving trucks, school buses, delivery vans, taxis, etc.  What will happen to them?  Where will they find employment?

United Continental Airlines owns or leases billions of dollars worth of aircraft; UBER neither owns nor leases any vehicles.  What it does own is an algorithm for soliciting car rides.  And UBER is just one example of massive workplace disruption.  What happened to the 130,000 employees of Kodak?   They lost their jobs to a start-up company with just 13 employees: Instagram.

This disruption is not just an American phenomenon; it is truly global, affecting technologically advanced countries like Germany, as Henrik Müller, a professor at Dortmund University,writes in Der Spiegel (my translation):

A study by the Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne concluded that the Digital Revolution threatens 47% of the jobs in the United States today; the situation is no different in other western countries.  Examples? Taxi drivers will no longer be needed when self-driving cars become the standard. Fully automatic container ships will no longer require a captain or crew. Smartphones will use voice recognition technology for dictation and transcription; secretaries will need to find other work. Wars will be fought with drones and self-guided missiles. Robots will take over your homes, replacing maintenance and cleaning help. 3-D printing technology will make mechanics redundant, bicycle couriers by delivery drones, college professors by online universities... this is not science fiction.  All this already exists.  It just has not yet been fully implemented.  But that could quickly change.
What is the solution?  Find a job or career that cannot be easily digitized. Trouble is, somewhere some start-up is already working on an algorithm to make that job or career redundant.

Traditionally, Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU), the party of Angela Merkel, have been closely aligned with the Republican Party. Merkel even supported (initially) George W. Bush and the US invasion of Iraq.  Since becoming chancellor, however, Angela Merkel and her party have staked out a number of progressive positions - embracing renewable energy, implementing a minimum wage, fighting intolerance against immigrants, just to name a few - while the Republican Party has moved further to the extreme right, becoming the Party of Jefferson Davis.

Today the leadership of the CDU says it can no longer stand with the Republicans.  Instead, the conservatives will support Hillary Clinton:  (note: my translation).

After Hillary Clinton announced that she's running for president as the Democratic candidate, the CDU decided to abandon its traditional orientation with the conservative Republicans. "The fundamental message of the GOP is today no longer aligned with the Christian Democratic principles, " said Armin Laschet, leaders of the CDU in North-Rhine Westphalia and deputy chairman of the national party. "The Republicans fight against the social market economy; on the one hand they demand tax breaks for the super-wealthy while on the other they seek to eliminate universal health insurance.  Their aggressive rejection of multilateral diplomacy for resolving international conflicts is not appropriate for the 21st century.  [...] In the last presidential election the Republicans were only able to achieve a majority among older white men.  Immigrants, women and younger voters went with the Democrats."
While this shift in support from a traditional European ally may be disappointing to some in the GOP, they can still count on support in France from Marine Le Pen's neo-fascist Front National, whose anti-immigrant program mirrors the GOP platform.

Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 06:12 AM PDT

Günter Grass is dead

by DowneastDem

The New York Times reports that Günter Grass, Germany's greatest postwar novelist, has died:

Günter Grass, the German novelist, social critic and Nobel Prize winner whom many called his country’s moral conscience but who stunned Europe when he revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II, died on Monday. He was 87.

Mr. Grass’s publisher, the Steidl Verlag, said the author died in a clinic in the northern city of Lübeck, which had been his home for decades. No cause of death was given.

Mr. Grass was hardly the only member of his generation who obscured the facts of his wartime life. But because he was a pre-eminent public intellectual who had pushed Germans to confront the ugly aspects of their history, his confession that he had falsified his own biography shocked readers and led some to view his life’s work in a wholly different light.

Grass's novel The Tin Drum is the most important German postwar novel,and one of the great works of literature of the 20th century. Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999. Grass was a strong supporter of progressive causes and the SPD (Social Democrats) in Germany.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a far-off land caught in a time warp. In Orion Magazine James Krupa writes with eloquence and humor about one of the toughest jobs in 21st Century America: teaching science in red state. What is depressing is that Professor Krupa is not writing about some backwater christo-fascist campus - like Patrick Henry College -, but rather about one of the great state universities - the University of Kentucky.

It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”
Then again, should we really be surprised by the strong reactions by the the students?
We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.
Even when Professor Krupa points out that for many (most?) Christians science and faith are not incompatible, his students will have none of it.
I never say anything about my personal religious beliefs, yet it is assumed I am an atheist. One student told me she hoped I could find God soon. When I again pointed out that John Paul accepted evolution—and he certainly wasn’t an atheist—the student countered that Catholics aren’t Christians. Several simply let me know they will be praying for me and praying hard. One student explained that as a devout Catholic he had no choice but to reject evolution. He accused me of fabricating the pope’s statements. When I explained that he could go to the Vatican website for verification or call the Vatican to talk to a scientist, he insisted that there was no such information available from the Vatican. He then pointed his finger at me and said the only way he would believe me is if Pope John Paul II came to my class to confirm these quotes face-to-face. The student then stomped out, again slamming the auditorium door behind him.
This week Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, will announce his candidacy for the office of President of the United States. Is it his vision to bring creationism into the every university science department - to make the rest of county look like his home state?

Vladimir Putin has been supporting right-wing political parties in Europe for some time.  He is already a major financial backer of Marine Le Pen's Front National in France, which is poised to score major gains in regional elections. The Kremlin has nurtured ties with the neo-fascist Jobbik party in Hungary, and has been courting the German AfD (Alternative for Germany) party.  

Now the Kremlin has organized a major conference, starting on Sunday, in St. Petersburg, featuring extremist organization from across Europe.

German neo-Nazis will attend Sunday a Russian international conference aimed at raising support from EU far-right parties for Moscow's interests in Ukraine. The Russian Conservative Forum, which will be held in St. Petersburg, will host Udo Voigt, a European MP from the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), alongside representatives from 10 other radical EU parties, including the Greek Golden Dawn and the Italian New Force.
The purpose of the meeting is to establish a kind of "Comintern" where the Kremlin can coordinate efforts to undermine European unity:
The stated purpose of the Forum, which is organized by Rodina, the Russian National Patriotic Union, is the establishment of a pan-European movement which would lobby for Russia's interests, especially in the face of possible further sanctions against Moscow. The proposed council will allow coordination between conservative and nationalistic forces in Europe and Russia, and would enable Moscow to influence political processes in the European Union.
Putin needs all the friends he find. But with this conference he is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

You know, sometimes it's really refreshing when conservatives openly reveal what they really think.  Michael Strain, a "scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute, explains in the Washington Post why Republicans are hell-bent on repealing the Affordable Care Act.  No, it has nothing to do with the evil government taking away our "freedoms".  It's all about the money:

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.
I laughed out loud at the line that eliminating Obamacare would free up "more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor".  Doesn't the AEI advocate eliminating all programs that help the poor, since they lead to "dependency"?

And what does "slightly higher mortality rate" exactly mean?   As it stands, the United States ranks 36th in the worldfor life expectancy.  Just behind Slovenia and Costa Rica.  Since conservatives admire Vladimir Putin's "decisive leadership" skills, the goal is evidently to match Russia's life expectancy (rank: 127).  Just think how much more "liberty" we would have, and how much cash could be freed up for "other programs".

Some great readers' comments to Michael Strain's piece.   Here is my favorite ( from "Taxpayer 2")

Finally a conservative who tells the truth: it really is ALL about the money! What is the least amount that can be spent to maintain a stable society and maintain power! Never mind the questions of humanity or social responsibility. Forget all that rubbish about loving your neighbor and responsibility for your fellowman. And as well the baloney about one for all and all for one. It really is all about ME! In other words, it's ok for all of us to be sociopaths!

Presidents are usually not very good at predicting market trends, but back in the dark days of the global financial crisis, as we watched out retirement accounts diminish by 40% or more, President Obama made a an extraordinary statement:

Some investors may remember Obama’s previous equity valuation comment from March 3, 2009 when the S&P 500 traded at 696: ”On the other hand, what you're now seeing is profit and earnings ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you've got a long-term perspective on it.
This was just two months of taking office as former Bush economic advisors were warning that "Obama's radicalism is killing the Dow."

Yesterday the S&P 500 closed the year at 2,059, a 11.4% gain for 2014, and a solid 200% gain in under 6 years.  About half of all Americans own some stock, either directly or through their employer-sponsored retirement plans.  

If you are one of the 47% who own stock, pat yourself on the back.  If not, consider putting some money in a stock index fund through a discount brokerage ( I happen to like Vanguard, since it is owned by us, the investors, and has the lowest expenses in the industry. But Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and others  also offer many good index fund options.) For most people, investing in an index fund is better than trying to pick individual stocks. (An index fund mirrors the performance of market indices such as the S&P 500 and is therefore less risky than buying individual stocks).

Will the stock market continue its extraordinary performance in 2015? The outlook is reasonably positive with low inflation, low interest rates, strong company profits and the windfall from falling energy prices. There are always risks and unknown factors that could spook the market.  Still, studies have shown over that, the long term, investing in stocks is a good way to build wealth for yourself and your family.


Russian media portrays the events of last spring in the Ukraine as a US-engineered coup that put the "fascists" in power.  But Putin is playing a dangerous double game as he accuses the US and NATO of destabilizing the region, while Russia is covertly stepping up its support of right-wing extremist groups in Europe.  

So far, the biggest beneficiary of Putin's support has been Marie Le Pen's Front National in France:

The financial and political firepower of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) is to be transformed by a €40m (£32m) loan from a bank with links to the Kremlin, it has been alleged.

Ms Le Pen confirmed earlier this week that a Russian bank was lending her cash-strapped, far-right party €9m. This is part of a growing pattern of connections between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and far-right and Europhobic parties in the European Union.

But Putin's assault on the EU doesn't end in France:
There have been unconfirmed allegations in the United States that Moscow is funding the virulently xenophobic Hungarian party Jobbik and the avowedly neo-Nazi Greek party, Golden Dawn. A discussion paper from a Putin-supporting Moscow think-tank, leaked to the German press this week, urged the Kremlin to find ways of funding other Europhobic parties such as the emerging Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The admiration of hard-line nationalist parties for Mr Putin is not only based on money. The Kremlin has gone out of its way to establish friendly ties with European political parties that share its view of the European Union as a meddlesome, US-controlled enemy of national sovereignty and destroyer of traditional religious and family values.

One of the ironies of European politics is that many of the leftist parties - such as Germany's Die Linke ("The Left Party") are vocal supporters of Vladimir Putin and urge acceptance of his Anschluss of Crimea.  

Putin and the European far right are united by ideology: hatred of parliamentary democracy, xenophobia, homophobia and antisemitism.  Marine Le Pen put it best:

Ms Le Pen, who has made two visits to Moscow in 18 months, says that Mr Putin is a “defender of the Christian heritage of European civilisation”.

Sat Sep 27, 2014 at 07:16 AM PDT

Everyday anti-Semitism in Europe

by DowneastDem

This week the New York Times had a front-page article on the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in Europe (Europe's Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows).  Of course the article mentions the high-profile violent incidents, like the murder of four visitors to a Jewish museum in Brussels and the firebombing of a synagogue in Wuppertal.  But much more sinister is the casual acceptance of anti-Semitism across broad swaths of European society:

"But there is also concern about what some see as an insidious “softer” anti-Jewish bias, which they fear is creeping into the European mainstream and undermining the postwar consensus to root out anti-Semitism. Now the question is whether a subtle societal shift is occurring that has made anti-Jewish remarks or behavior more acceptable.

“The fear is that now things are blatantly being said openly, and no one is batting an eyelid,” said Jessica Frommer, 36, a secular Jew who works for a nonprofit organization in Brussels. “Modern Europe is based on stopping what happened in the Second World War. And now 70 years later, people standing near the European Parliament are shouting, ‘Death to Jews!’ ”

In Germany, the Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung reports that a woman working in the Israeli embassy in Berlin has to spend the weekend deleting hate messages that pour onto the embassy's Facebook page and YouTube site. Typical comments are "Hamas should use Zyklon B","The world would be so much better without Jews."  "Hitler, where are youuuu?"  "You filthy Jews need to be gassed!."
Another category of hate mail:  the recipients are not simply compared to Nazis, they are threatened with the same fate as the victims of Nazi violence.  A commenter named "Jochen" writes: "Up to now I didn't like what the Nazis had done, but now I see that they left too many of you alive! I just hope that Iran can wipe you all out some day!" (My translation)
But what really discourages me is  this report  coming from a "West German trade school." Apparently teenagers regularly use the term "Dirty Jew" as a casual insult among themselves.
"Jew" has become a customary insult in the West German trade school   19 year-old explains that Jews are usuers and extortionists, they drive people to ruin. I'm astonished by how often in class I hear remarks like "Shufa - they're all Jews". ("Schufa is the German credit bureau).  When a student shouts out "the Jews control Aldi"  the teacher responds "I could say something. But?"  He lets it go."
When the class discusses the history of National Socialism in Germany, a student comes up with a response that is all too common:
Ein Schüler verteidigt die Wehrmacht gegen den Vorwurf, sie habe einen verbrecherischen Krieg geführt. Sein Großvater habe ihm erzählt, wie es wirklich war. In dieser familiären Geschichte sind offenbar die Deutschen die Leidtragenden. Und Juden keine richtigen Deutschen.

(A student defends the Wehrmacht against the accusation that they waged a criminal war. His grandfather told him what really happened. For this family's history the Germans were the ones that suffered in the war. Besides, the Jews weren't real Germans.)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana (1904)

Seventy years after the mass murder of Jews at the hands of Nazis the following chant could be heard at "Pro-Palestinian" demonstrations on the streets of Berlin, Frankfurt and other German cities:

"Jude, Jude, feiges Schwein, komm heraus und kämpf allein!”

("Jew, Jew, you cowardly pig.  Come out and fight!")

ABC News reports even worse:
BERLIN (AP) — The leader of Germany's Jewish community says he is shocked by an "explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews" shown by protesters at pro-Gaza demonstrations across the country   The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, said Monday that "we would have never in our lives have expected that anti-Semitic slogans of the worst and most primitive kind could be chanted on Germany's streets."                                                

Since the outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza, there have been demonstrations both for and against Israel in Germany. During some of those protests, pro-Gaza protesters have chanted "gas the Jews" and other anti-Semitic slogans.

At a pro-Gaza protest in Berlin last week, an Israeli tourist was verbally attacked and had to be protected by police.

Who are these demonstrators, protesting against "the Jewish state"?  For the most part, it appears to be an unholy alliance of Islamists, Neo-Nazis, and Leftists.  The outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza has been a convenient excuse to allow for the latent anti-Semitism to explode  in the open:
From Der Frankfurter Rundschau (my translation)

"The slogans that we can hear in German streets today indicate a new dimension of anti-Semitic hate. The latent anti-Semitism (researchers estimate 20 to 25% of the German population is anti-Semitic) has erupted in the open. This may be a minority, but we have not seen it taken to such an extreme perhaps in the history of the Federal Republic"

How ironic that neo-Nazis are coming together with Muslim extremists to make common cause.  Usually, the NPD (Germany's neo-Nazi party)  describes the Muslims in Germany as an alien bacillus, infecting the pure German Volk.  But when it comes to vocally hating or physically attacking Jews, these Muslim extremists and the neo-Nazis are bosom-buddies.

Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 05:21 AM PST

Who said these words?

by DowneastDem

“We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.”
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, in his September 11, 2013 New York Times Op/Ed Piece

As quoted today by Roger Cohen in the NYTimes: Putin's Crimean Crime


Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 05:50 AM PST

The Economy for the Common Good

by DowneastDem

I've been reading a number of diaries here that are basically rants against the capitalist system. We can agree the prevailing system is unsustainable and is leading the planet over a cliff, but what are the alternatives?  I have not not seen many solutions other than vague calls for "revolution."  It would be good to have more discussions on real options.

A couple of years ago an Austrian activist - Christian Felber - wrote a book outlining his vision for a different type of economy:Die Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie ("The Common Good Economy"), which has spawned a movement. Felber not only put forward his ideas of more just economy, he came up with a series of indicators which can be empirically measured and form the basis for a system of financial incentives and rewards. Companies that buy into the principles of the Common Good Economy publish an annual balance sheet, produced by an outside auditor. The principle is that the more common-good "points" a business achieves, the more legal benefits it should enjoy. For example, companies with a positive common-good balance sheet could benefit from lower taxes, obtain loans from national banks at lower interest rates and be given priority in public purchasing and the awarding of contracts. Companies would be rewarded for products and services that are environmentally sustainable and traded fairly (and penalized for nondurable, disposable products).

The principles of the Economy for the Common Good can be found on the movement Web site (multiple languages.)

The Economy for the Common Good places human beings and all living entities at the center of economic activity. It translates standards for human relationships as well as constitutional values into an economic context and rewards economic stakeholders for behaving and organizing themselves in a humane, cooperative, ecological and democratic way. The key instrument for this behavioral guidance is the Common Good Balance Sheet.
You can find the elements of the Common Good Balance Sheet in English here.

Lest we think this all just a nice, utopian idea, it should be noted that more than 1,400 companies have adopted the Economy for the Common Good principles, and many have already produced balance sheets.  One bank, the Sparda Bank in Munich (imagine a bank for the common good!) has been very successful and just published its second Common Good Balance Sheet.  If you read German, it can be found here.

Hopefully, this promising idea of an Economy for the Common Good can spread beyond German-speaking countries.

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