Euro crisis makes for jittery Germans
Germany has been hit with a series of bad economic news in recent months. On July 23, Moody’s warned that Germany could lose its pristine aaa credit rating. Two days later, it warned that several state- and government-owned banks could be downgraded. On July 26, several major German companies published their quarterly reports, which were quite gloomy. The chemical manufacturing giant basf announced that its profits had fallen 16 percent. Daimler’s profits dropped 11 percent compared to the same period last year. Orders from Siemens dropped 23 percent. ThyssenKrupp said it would have to reduce hours for 2,000 of its staff due to lack of demand.
Estimates by the German Institute for Economic Research show that the German economy grew in the second quarter by only 0.3 percent. “Germany cannot uncouple itself from the weak development of the eurozone,” explained Ferdinand Fichter, an economist from the institute.
“If our neighbors are gradually drowning, at some point Germany will be in deep water too,” warned Germany’s Bild tabloid. “But we can’t count on being rescued. We’re the only ones who can help ourselves. … For many, it’s an uncomfortable and bitter truth. But those who thought that Germany would be spared had their eyes closed to reality” (July 27).
This economic headache coincides with German politicians growing increasingly uneasy about Germany’s bailouts to the eurozone.
Moody’s blamed its downgrade warning on the fact that Berlin had spent too much money on eurozone bailouts. Germany’s rating was endangered by “the rising uncertainty over the outcome of the euro area debt crisis” and other risks “stemming from the increased likelihood of Greece’s exit from the euro area,” the agency said. It also cited risks that these countries will be called on to bail out Spain and Italy.
Some politicians are arguing that the recent news shows Germany must do even more to help the eurozone in order to help itself. Others say it proves Germany must grant fewer of the bailouts that are beginning to threaten its own economy.
To measure the effect of the negative economic outlook, consider the discussion within Germany about Greece’s future. Some senior German politicians have been unprecedentedly strong about Greece leaving the euro. The German vice chancellor and leader of the Social Democratic Party, Philipp Rösler, said that unless Greece obeys the conditions of its bailout, it will get no more money, adding, “An exit by Greece from the eurozone lost its horror a long time ago.”
Even politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, insist Greece must go. (The csu is virtually the same organization as Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union; it fields candidates only in Bavaria.) The csu’s finance minister, Markus Söder, has called for Greece to leave the eurozone. Party secretary Alexander Dobrindt has said, “With Greece we have reached the end of the road,” and that the country “must get a chance outside the euro.” Dobrindt even said the eurozone crisis would be the central theme of Germany’s elections next year.
Merkel’s coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party, adamantly oppose such a step. SüddeutscheZeitung claims Merkel agrees with her fdp colleagues that Greece must stay. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, “That’s a Rubicon we can’t cross.”
Such thinking has isolated the chancellor. csu chairman and Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer has gone so far as to threaten to turn against Merkel over the bailouts. Germany’s level of contributions to eurozone bailouts is “borderline,” he said. “The time will come when the Bavarian government and the csu can no longer say yes,” he said on July 3. “And I wouldn’t then be able to support that personally either.” He added, “And the coalition has no majority without csu’s seats.”
The public seems to support these hardline positions. A poll published in July by Bild am Sonntag showed that 71 percent of Germans agree that Greece should leave the eurozone if it doesn’t abide by its bailout conditions. Fifty-one percent said Germany would be better off if it left the eurozone and returned to the deutsche mark.
Germans are talking tough and considering drastic actions, all because of a comparatively slight downturn in their economy. With an election coming up, no party wants to be blamed for recklessly spending the nation’s cash on other countries.
What we saw in Germany this summer was just the beginning of the euro crisis’s impact on German politics. As the economy worsens, watch for it to destabilize German politics in the same way it has for other countries in the eurozone. Then watch for the Germans’ reaction.
Anti-Semitism: très chic
Anti-Semitism in France is intensifying, according to figures published by the Israeli legislature on June 27. The Protection Service of the Jewish Community, which gathered the data, said in its annual report that 2011 was a bad year, but 2012 will be worse.
Since Mohamed Merah brutally murdered three children and a rabbi in the courtyard of a school in Toulouse on March 19, the number of violent attacks against Jews has grown. The Gatestone Institute reported that on June 2, three young Jews in Lyon were viciously assaulted by a group of 10 men armed with hammers and iron bars. The research found at least 150 other acts of a similar nature during less than three months.
Evidence indicates that most victims of anti-Semitic violence do not report the attacks to the police because they know from experience their complaints are likely to be dismissed. Police appear to be downplaying attacks on Jews out of fear of race riots, since prevailing racial attitudes in many areas of France are tense.
Crackdown! Islamists ‘have no place’
German police launched searches against extreme Islamist groups on June 14, raiding homes and mosques across the country. The raids prompted investigations into two Islamist organizations and a ban on a third. Authorities say the groups threaten national security by strict adherence to sharia law and promotion of violence. “Such an understanding of Islam has no place in Germany,” German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said. The landmark crackdown was a response to a spate of violent outbreaks in May when German Islamists attacked police and members of the anti-immigrant Pro nrw political group.
Vatican gets new ‘rottweiler’
On July 2, Pope Benedict appointed Gerhard Müller as the new prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, historically known as the Vatican Office of the Holy Inquisition. Benedict himself held the post for 20 years before his elevation to pope.
Müller was formerly the bishop of Regensburg, seat of the university where a young Joseph Ratzinger taught theology 40 years ago. He has authored more than 400 theological treatises and is a high-profile German theologian and academic in his own right. He is reportedly as doctrinaire as Benedict.
Müller sits on several Vatican committees and has been a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith member since 2007. “He is also president of Ecclesia Dei Commission, appointed by Pope John Paul ii, which is taking care of the ultra-conservative sspx and the Holocaust denier Richard Williamson,” Bild reported (July 27).
Perhaps Müller’s main strength in Pope Benedict’s eyes is his hardline response to criticism. “I’m not addicted to conflict—but not too addicted to harmony. I’m just dedicated to the path that one must follow,” Müller has declared.
Müller’s appointment comes at a time when Benedict needs a loyalist to watch his back in the wake of the Vatileaks and pedophilia scandals. The pope’s choice sends the signal that he is ready to fight back against the media campaign portraying him as unable to execute his job of vicar of Rome.
Müller will likely prove to be as tenacious an enforcer as Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger’s liberalism-purging stint as prefect under Pope John Paul ii earned him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.” With Ratzinger as supreme leader and Müller as enforcer, two Bavarian Teutonic minds will be imposing the same hardline vision on the Vatican, the clergy, and the Catholic Church.
Getting under the skin of Jews, Muslims
A regional court in Cologne ruled on June 26 that religious circumcision is a form of bodily harm and subject to criminal penalties. The case involved a Muslim doctor accused of carrying out a circumcision on a 4-year-old that led to medical complications. The legal decision has the much broader effect of criminalizing circumcisions performed by Jews and Muslims. The Conference of European Rabbis called the ban the “worst attack on Jewish life since the Holocaust.” The Merkel government responded by saying that Jews and Muslims will be allowed to continue the religious rite, but the details remain unclear.
Veto power on EU integration?
Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled on June 19 that its legislature needs to be involved in earlier stages of EU negotiations. The ruling requires Berlin to insist on more control over European Union decisions and makes it harder for Chancellor Angela Merkel to concede to the rest of Europe. The ruling specifies that Merkel must involve the Bundestag early on in any discussion of European integration, even when negotiations don’t directly involve EU institutions. In 2009, the court ruled that parliament must approve all German military deployments, even if they are on behalf of the EU. The ruling effectively gave Germany’s legislature veto power over EU military deployment. This new ruling may have a similar effect, giving it, in essence, a veto over EU integration.
Missile test puts EU, U.S. targets in range
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards test-fired several ballistic missiles on July 3, a move intended as a warning against the United States and Israel. A senior officer said the missiles traveled up to 807 miles and successfully hit their targets. With an 800-mile range, Iran can target Israel, southern Europe and American bases in the region. The acting commander of the Revolutionary Guards said the tests were Iran’s response to Israel’s and America’s consideration of using military force to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Gen. Hossein Salami said the main goal of the war games was to demonstrate the Islamic Republic’s political will to the world. Iran also announced it would stop any oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz that were bound for countries participating in the new EU embargo.
U.S. backs Brotherhood
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on July 14. Her meeting indicated a drastic political about-face: a newfound friendship with Cairo’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. Clinton expressed the Obama administration’s support for Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and indicated that she would help pressure Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces into yielding power to his government. Secretary Clinton called for “the full transition to civilian rule, with all that it entails.” She also said she was working to deliver the billion-dollar aid package the Obama administration had previously promised, despite Congress predicating such aid upon proof of Egypt’s commitment to democracy.
Seeking a new ally?
Turkey deployed troops and weaponry to its border with Syria on June 28. The move came almost a week after Syrian forces downed a Turkish military jet, exacerbating tension between the two countries. On June 26, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey had changed its rules of military engagement toward Syria. He warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that “every military element” approaching the border that might be a threat would be “treated as a military target.” Turkey has repeatedly called on the Syrian president to step down, and it now appears that its patience with Assad is thin. A post-Assad Syrian government, beholden to Syria’s Sunni majority, would likely ally with Turkey, which is also predominantly Sunni. Turkey already hosts 33,000 Syrian refugees, civilian opposition groups, and members of the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting Assad’s regime. When Assad falls, watch for an alliance between Syria and Turkey.
Parliamentarians without parties
Libya’s first free parliamentary election in 42 years was held on July 7, eight months after strongman Muammar Qadhafi was overthrown. The National Forces Alliance won the most party seats, beating Libya’s largest Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood. However, candidates on party lists make up only 80 of the legislature’s 200 seats. The rest were won by independent candidates, whose allegiances can be hard to determine. Many loyalists to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, as well as other parties, ran as independents, but will vote with their parties in the assembly. Will that be enough for the Brotherhood to take control? In one voting district, though the National Forces Alliance won all seats on party lists, the winning independent candidate is a Brotherhood member. Both the nfa and the jcp are now working to form alliances with independents and smaller parties to gain a two-thirds majority in Libya’s legislature.
Murder in the Sinai
Terrorists crossed over from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and opened fire on civilians in Israel on June 18. The civilians were working on a border security fence, and one was killed. Israeli troops responded and killed two of the attackers. The incident underscores the growing lawlessness in the Sinai desert since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
A hostile military move
China will build a military garrison in the newly established Sansha City in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Beijing’s announcement of the plan on July 21 is China’s latest move into waters also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest against Beijing over the establishment of Sansha City, saying the decision “violates Philippine territorial sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc and infringes on Philippine sovereign rights over the waters and continental shelf of the West Philippine Sea.” Filipinos have been settled on the islands since 1978. Altogether, China claims territory in 20 neighboring nations.
West, go sanction yourself
Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on July 19 that would have imposed a new batch of sanctions on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Western nations have been angling for a resolution against Assad if his forces continue attacking Syrian citizens with heavy weaponry. However, Russia has opposed any international action that would fault, punish or overthrow the leadership of the Syrian government. The decision marks the third time Russia and China have vetoed draft resolutions in the UN Security Council. It shows the Asian giants’ growing strength and independence, not to mention their staunch determination to undermine Western interests.
Time for a bigger role in Afghanistan
On June 5, Chinese President Hu Jintao said his country, along with Russia, will assume a bigger role in stabilizing Afghanistan as the United States leaves. The U.S. has tried to set up India as its successor after it pulls out, but Beijing and Moscow are keen to fill the void, as is Europe. China has already invested over $3.5 billion in Afghanistan’s mining sector, and Russia views Afghanistan as its backyard and still has extensive ties to the country. Afghanistan is home to mineral resources estimated at up to $3 trillion.
Arming a wild card
A Chinese company provided North Korea with vehicles capable of moving and launching missiles, according to June 13 reports by Japanese media. The transaction is a possible violation of UN sanctions against the nuclear-armed rogue state. China is Pyongyang’s only formal military ally, and it supplies the state with 90 percent of its oil on easy terms or for free. “If it weren’t for the Chinese, there would be no North Korean missile program, no North Korean nuclear program and no North Korea,” Forbes wrote in 2009. Beijing continues to support the regime because the North Korean wild card serves its purpose. The existence of an unpredictable, volatile nuclear aspirant is a distraction to China’s competitors in the region. Meanwhile, North Korea’s ambitions align perfectly with China’s aim to undermine the U.S.
‘Return to the days of Stalin’
On June 11, armed Russian police raided the homes of anti-Putin activists in a major new clampdown on dissent. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opponents compared the wave of arrests with the purge tactics of infamous former Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. “I never thought we will go back to be a country of such repressions,” said television reporter Ksenia Sobchak, who was targeted by one raid. In May, Putin returned to the Kremlin with more power than any Russian since the collapse of communism. He has set himself up to take on an increasingly dictatorial role.
World’s biggest military show
Military supply companies from countries around the world assembled in Paris June 10 to 15 to show off weaponry at Eurosatory 2012, the world’s largest international military technology show. This year’s show revealed a surprising shift: The number of weapons companies from non-Western nations in attendance jumped—especially those from Russia and China.
Mark Phillips, head of land warfare for the Royal United Services Institute defense think tank, explained the new trend. “Western armed forces generally, and land forces in particular, are facing significant cuts in capability,” he said. “The expanded participation by Russia and China was therefore a challenging juxtaposition: These countries … are increasingly producing high-specification equipment.”
Among the new weapons China revealed was the Sky Dragon missile system, which can destroy a fighter jet as far as 12 miles up with a single shot. Russia’s new armaments included hunter-killer tanks and mrap (mine-resistant ambush-protected) vehicles.
Latin America, Africa
Drug wars intensify
Seven Mexican state police officers and four gunmen died in a clash on July 2 in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa. Local media reported that one of the slain gunmen was a lieutenant for the Beltran Leyva drug gang. This area has suffered under a recent surge in violence between members of the gang and their former allies in the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. As cartels battle each other, the police and the military, parts of Mexico are becoming war zones. In the past six years, drug-related violence in Mexico has claimed the lives of more than 47,000 people. In 2006, there were just over 2,000 cartel-related homicides. In 2010, there were more than 15,000. Last year, approximately 17,000 were murdered. Meanwhile, Americans continue to consume massive amounts of narcotics and send an estimated $40 billion a year to the cartels.
Islands must be ‘decolonized’
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attacked Britain’s control of the Falkland Islands once again on June 14 as she addressed the United Nations decolonization committee. Kirchner argued that the islands are a key part of Argentina, despite the fact that they were colonized by Britain in 1833, have been held by it ever since, and are populated with a majority of people who want to remain under Britain. The Argentine government is growing increasingly combative in its long-held anti-Britain stance.
Before World War ii, Britain and the U.S. controlled the world’s most important ports and straits. These geographic gateways proved crucial to Allied success throughout the war. Since then, Britain and the U.S. have progressively forfeited their possessions, including Suez, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Panama Canal. Expect the Falklands to soon follow suit.
Zuma: Push more whites out of economy
South African President Jacob Zuma said on June 26 that his country’s economy is still largely under the control of whites and that South Africa needs a “second transition” to put the wealth balance in favor of the black majority. Zuma considers the first transition to be when blacks took over political power in 1994. But after controlling the government for nearly two decades following the end of apartheid, the African National Congress (anc) has not done enough to take wealth from whites and give it to blacks, according to Zuma. The black majority still suffers from deep poverty, widespread unemployment and poor health. Zuma is facing a challenge to his leadership and wants to shore up support among young black voters. His anc youth wing is pushing the government to nationalize mines and seize white-owned farmland.
Police fail, vigilante mobs rule
The lack of police protection and action against crime is causing a resurgence of mob rule in South African slums, where rates of robbery, rape and murder are among the highest in the world. In the township of Khayelitsha, for example, there has been a growing number of mob vigilante slayings known as necklacing. The mobs have shoved a car tire over the shoulders of their victims, then poured in gasoline and ignited the tire, causing a gruesome and cruel death. Accused of theft, Ncedile Gigi and two others were necklaced in March by a mob that was fed up with poor police practices.
For South Africans, the violence brings back memories of when suspected collaborators with the apartheid government were executed in the same torturous manner. Since January, more than 10 young men have been murdered this way based on mob accusation and hearsay. “But the wheels of South African justice grind slowly at the best of times, and few Khayelitsha residents are going to go out of their way to put the agents of an accepted vigilante justice system behind bars” (Reuters, July 12).
Sixty miles of killer dust
Once considered to be once-in-a-century events, giant dust storms have been pounding the U.S. state of Arizona. In June and July, five major dust storms plagued Arizona’s famous valley area.
On July 29, Phoenix looked more like Saharan Africa than the well-manicured American Southwest when a massive dust cloud blanketed the metropolitan area. The cloud was 2,000 feet tall and nearly 60 miles wide. Tree limbs and power poles were snapped, causing 9,000 homes to lose power.
These huge dust storms form during the monsoon season that runs from June through September, and they are becoming more frequent. “This means more deadly accidents, more harmful pollution and more health problems for people breathing in the irritating dust particles” (USA Today, July 27).
These fine dust particles permeate everywhere during a storm. They can carry a poisonous mix of fungi, heavy metals from pollution, fertilizers, stockyard fecal matter, chemicals and bacteria. These can cause cardiovascular disease, eye diseases and other illnesses such as valley fever, which can be fatal. Cases of valley fever in Arizona rose 36 percent in 2011 over the previous year; medical experts believe dust storms could be one cause.
Teens see, teens do
Teens’ behavior can be altered by watching people have sex in movies, researchers from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College have concluded. The study, based on 700 popular films, found that watching sex scenes can “fundamentally influence” a teenager’s personality. The statistics of the study confirm common sense. Sadly, movie directors rarely include “tragic consequences of promiscuous sex” scenes.
Off the screen, into the theater
On July 30, mass killer James Holmes was formally charged with murder counts. Ten days before, wearing a gas mask, helmet and body armor and carrying two pistols, a shotgun and an assault rifle, the 24-year-old walked into a suburban Denver movie theater and shot 70 people, killing 12. The audience was viewing The Dark Knight Rises, a Batman movie known for its dark and realistic violence. When police arrested Holmes, he reportedly told them he was “the Joker,” a demonic character from director Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman film, The Dark Knight.
Among mourning and confusion, the carnage also sparked an outcry against violent entertainment. A Batman comic slated for release on July 25 included a specific scene that the company said “may be perceived as insensitive in light of recent events” and was “too close for comfort”—either for the victims or for the company’s publicity. Meanwhile, previews of The Gangster Squad, another movie full of slayings that showed at many screenings of The Dark Knight Rises, have been pulled. The preview includes a scene in which four gangsters walk through a shredded movie screen as they fire machine guns into the packed audience.
Happiest place on Earth?
Protesters in Anaheim, California, lit fires and damaged businesses on the evening of July 24 as they reacted to two police shootings that occurred over the weekend. On July 21, a police officer shot and killed Manuel Diaz, whom law enforcement officials say was a gang member. Diaz’s family has sued the City of Anaheim and the Anaheim police, claiming he was unarmed and shot from behind. Another man was shot and killed by an Anaheim officer on July 22. That incident also sparked protests from residents, resulting in the arrests of 24 people. Anaheim, the sunny Southern California home of Disneyland, boasts a beautiful climate and upscale hilltop homes. But it also suffers from clogged apartment blocks filled with impoverished people and percolating unrest.
‘Flash robs’ wreak chaos
A troubling criminal trend continues to grow among teenagers: Groups of them have been planning and executing bold robberies, or “flash robs,” using Twitter and other social media to organize themselves. Police say the suspects select a time and place and enter a store en masse, stealing what they want and then leaving before security or police can catch them. Some “flash robs” have taken place in daylight, adjacent to busy streets and completely visible to employees and security cameras.
Between January and March, seven flash robs took place in Minneapolis’s Nicollet Mall area. They started in the shopping district with a large group, from which smaller groups splintered off and spontaneously began robbing, chasing or assaulting passersby. Minneapolis police witnessed a group of people attacking two cyclists, one of whom suffered a broken jaw. The same group of people moved on to cause commotion at a local restaurant. In early June, a group of 40 teens targeted a Troutdale, Oregon, grocery. From surveillance videos, it appears the teens ranged in age from 13 to 15. Customers in the store at the time said the store employees were overwhelmed and outnumbered.
These chaotic events well fulfill the end-time prophecy of Isaiah: “[T]he child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient … As for my people, children are their oppressors …” (Isaiah 3:5, 12).