Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Obituary on America

Yesterday night Red Baron went to a reading of and a talk with Klaus Brinkbäumer, former editor in chief of the renowned magazine Der Spiegel. As you may imagine - even though people had to pay an entrance fee - the auditorium was fully packed with listeners eager to learn whether America will become great again and that in spite of the dark title of Brinkbäumer’s thick book: Nachruf auf Amerika.

In her usual competent and charming way, Friederike Schulte, director of the Carl-Schurz-Haus, introduced the speaker who had spent many years of his career as a journalist in New York traveling the States as correspondent of Der Spiegel.

To whet the appetite of the auditorium Brinkhäuser started by mentioning that he had interviewed Donald Trump at his NY Tower in 2004 but the outcome of the meeting had been so meager that he renounced to write an article about the real estate mogul. Then suddenly in 2008 Brinkbäumers telephone rang and Trump was on the other end of the line. He wanted to speak to the young journalist hopeful from Germany.

This second story actually was Brinkhäuser‘s beginning of his reading but then he continued going into the differences and similarities between the German and English language citing well-known examples of the wrong use of English words in German as there are the public viewing for watching television in a group or body bag for a lady's purse.  He stretched Mark Twain’s complaint about the terrible German language and read about neologisms like Handy in German for a cell phone. According to him, Wellness is a German neologism too, i.e., a short form of "well being" and "fitness".

By that time some unrest had developed within the audience. Suddenly a distinguished lady got hold of a microphone and told the speaker - as only a distinguished lady can do - that she knew the States well and in coming here had expected to be informed about the aftermath of the midterm elections.

Suddenly both reading and the talk were forgotten and the speaker and his audience entered into a lively discussion. While Brinkbāumer mentioned that Hillary‘s flying over Wisconsin had been a big mistake* I could get my message in that Madison was Freiburg‘s sister city and that Wisconsin now has a Democrat governor.
*Red Baron still remembers, watching television in the early morning hours (CET) on November 9, 2016, when the results of Wisconsin finally tipped the balance in favor of Donald Trump.

In his answers to the questions from the audience, Brinkbāumer often remained vague and imprecise. When he said that Trump‘s tax reform privileged the already rich so they may consume even more he forgot to tell that above all the reform lowered the US corporate tax inviting American firms to repatriate jobs and money.

 I said that the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller by Jeff Sessions‘s successor Matthew Whitaker would disturb the US system of checks and balances or - as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put it - even evoke a major constitutional crisis. When Brinkbäumer answered that the firing of Mueller was not excluded but in view of the consequences rather unlikely I, like Faust‘s famulus, was no wiser than before.

Somewhat disappointed I left the auditorium.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Luther and No End

Last Sunday night Red Baron was at the Konzerthaus (concert hall) to listen to the one and only performance of the pop oratorio Luther - Das Projekt der tausend Stimmen in Freiburg.

Rather than 1000 voices, here at the Konzerthaus we  listened to five local choirs with just 300 singers aged between 6 and 85 years clustered on stage. A permanent ensemble of fourteen professional singers and six instrumentalists who had toured Germany performing the oratorio throughout the Luther year 2017 completed the setup.

The participation of as many local lay persons as possible is the main aim of composer Dieter Falk and librettist Michael Kunze. So the music, a mixture of gospel, soul, pop, rock, and old church music, was simple, easy listening, and repetitive.

Introducing the singers. Sitting in row five I couldn't get them all in my photo.
First Mayor and Freiburg's culture man, Ullrich von Kirchbach, welcomes the audience.
Indulgence preacher Johann Tetzel picturing the tortures of hell.
Indulgence for sale. Note the nearly filled money box.
Enter Martin Luther.
Emperor and playboy, Charles V, is bored by the religious quarrel.
Luther confidently holding the letter to the Romans 3:28 and quoting:
For we reckon a man to be justified by faith alone without deeds of law
while the original Greek text leaves out the word alone.
Some of the professional actors
with little Luther recruited locally and trained on the job.
Post-finale: Singers and actors are waving and clapping hands with the audience.
So in the end, the audience was invited to clap its hands and sing the catchy melodies in a medley.

All in all, it was a pleasant evening.

For your listening experience here are three trailers on YouTube of performances in DortmundBerlin, and Munich.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

E pluribus unum?

This morning I read an article by Florian Harms on German T-online news headed, “Aus vielen eines”. This is the proud motto of the United States in Latin adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782. Sixty-seven years ago in school, I learned, “The USA is a  melting pot of people”. In the 1950s America was the measure of all things in Germany.

The author continued his article on the outcome of the midterm elections in Latin, “Tempi passati”, times have changed. The States are deeply divided not only between Republicans and Democrats but between "the poor against the rich, the whites against blacks, the whites against Latinos, the ultra-religious against atheists, city residents against rural dwellers, Trump admirers against Trump despisers." And the dividing ditch is deepening by the abuse of the media, fake news, and hate speech. It is to be feared that the results of the election with a divided Congress will accelerate the transformation of E pluribus unum into E pluribus collidum.

Two years of Trump rule saw the cancellation of balanced international agreements where POTUS steamrolled over diplomatic conventions. We had the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, the attacks against the European Union and NATO, the torpedoing of the laboriously negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran, and we are waiting for an extension of the starting trade war with more “great tariffs”.

In my opinion, the Democrats' win of the House is a Pyrrhic victory. Back to the wall, POTUS will now fight, and with him, his loyal supporters, increasing internal and external political tensions. A president can veto any legislation passed by Congress, and it requires a 75% vote to overturn his veto. Stormy times* lie ahead.
*No allusion to Daniels

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Tariffs Are the Greatest

On October 23, the Carl-Schurz-Haus invited to one of its successful luncheon talks. Last December Red Baron already reported on an interesting presentation on “Shielding Democracies from Hacking and Misinformation”.

On the inviting poster, I had rather recognized Bill Clinton but the following twitter indeed is that of the present POTUS.

"Without being well aware, Trump is bound in his ideas of international commercial trade to a reasoning from the Stone Age of economics," as Oliver Landmann, professor of macroeconomics at the University of Freiburg, wrote.

Another excusable slip was the wrong orthography of Schurz on Professor Tim Krüger’s introductory slide. Only in German. the "z” is sharp so that for the reason of pronounciation the French too must write quartz instead of simply Quarz as in German.

Professor Krüger started his talk by showing how the economic structural change has irreversibly hit the States over the last 160 years. Agriculture has become an economically negligible quantity while the employment in the service sector is steadily increasing. The industrial production in the States leveled off during the 1960ies and is on the decline since then.

Why is POTUS so excited about tariffs? Does he have in mind the decrease of people employed in industrial production as shown in the above graphic? Or is the reason for his excitation, “Ich sage nur China, China, China”, words our former Chancellor Kurt Kiesinger spoke as early as September 1969, while hammering with his knuckles on the speaker’s desk.
*I only say China, China, China.

The trade deficit with China indeed is huge
POTUS has accused the European Union of unfair trade practices too. Indeed, I became uneasy when I read that American import duties on European cars are only 2.5% while the EU charges car imports from the States with a 10% tariff. When in the past those percentages were negotiated the 10% were rather aimed to protect the European auto industry against car imports from Japan while the US with their big internal market for cars did not care.

Professor Krüger’s slide spoke for itself, but then he explained that the existing tariffs are the result of negotiations and compromises between trading countries in the framework of the World Trade Organisations (WTO) while in an ideal world there are no tariffs at all.

The US levies its highest duties on milk and milk products, pickups, sugar, and tobacco ranging from 20 to 50% while the EU imposes its highest tariffs on meat increasing from 21% for chicken and 26% for pork to 67% for beef. Although agriculture adds little to a national economy it still is politically extremely important. Nations must assure the feeding of their people and to this end protect their farming industries.

It still seems that the States when signing the last WTO trade agreement were more generous judging from the number of goods originating from the EU and imported into the States being exempt from any duty.

The world economy is dynamic and developing rapidly. So international trade agreements are already obsolete when they come into force. Updating existing treaties is a tedious process in particular with many countries involved in the negotiations.

WTO’s Doha Development Agenda started in 2001 and was supposed to update the existing trade agreement by 2005. But negotiations are still on and there is no end in sight. This is why POTUS prefers bilateral deals. Indeed although some punitive tariffs are already in force talks between the US and China, resp. the EU are presently taking place.

Here are the basic principles of the WTO. They explicitly allow punitive measures by one country in the case of unfair trade.

However, it seems that the States should reconsider their punitive tariffs for in the past those turned out to be detrimental for the national economy as shown on the following slide.

The impact of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act on the US economy
was eventually revoked by the Reciprocal Tariff Act of 1934.
Note the importance of midterm elections.
At the end of the talk - Red Baron sitting as usual in the front row (5th from the left) for better listening and watching - had learned a lot although he did not taste the luncheon lasagne but had a big plate of green salad instead.