Thursday, January 6, 2011

German realism on the economy

Yes, I know Spiegel is supposed to be this conservative right-wing rag, and by German standards, they may well be.  In USA terms, however, this puts Spiegel about ten clicks to the left of someone like Obama.  But their intellectual standards are VERY high and when they chose to investigate a topic, they will usually write something worth remembering.  This is especially true of their economic reporting.  While Spiegel can parrot the neoliberal bullshit with best of them, they cannot utterly repress that insatiable German lust for facts.

And they are especially dogged in their pursuit of facts in USA, and have now produced an amazing portrait of the mostly unreported economic catastrophes that have engulfed millions of Americans.  It's online but it is only in German (someone has discovered that USA is VERY touchy about having some else point out our flaws--imagine that).  Fear not, the Google plug-in for translations works very well (better than most college German majors in USA could manage).  First the German link, and then the translation.

U.S. recession
From Wall Street to the streets   
30.12.2010
For millions of Americans was 2010 the year of unexpected, new poverty - including Pam Brown. U.S. correspondent Marc Pitzk told her story and learned how the "American Dream" a nightmare.
To welcome you hugged me. We did not and we had previously spoken only once on the phone. But when we met in a cheap restaurant on West 14th Street, Pam Brown was overjoyed.
She was glad she finally listened to one. Brown had once worked on Wall Street, as Executive Assistant, annual salary $80,000. Then you took away the financial crisis the job. Since early 2009, she was unemployed, through the holey U.S. social network rushed to the edge of poverty and was homeless only through luck. "Overnight," she said, still as in shock, "I found myself on the wrong side of life again."
But no one cared. Offices around them ranged, social workers, rejected it. Your tale of woe did not fit into the success story of a Wall Street, which recovered slowly from the 2010 crisis of the century.
So it went, but millions of Americans for whom this was the year of the unexpected, the new poverty. While the big banks again vigorously rake in profits and salaries, slipped a large part of the middle class suddenly. The official U.S. unemployment rate was also adamant the end of 2010 more than nine percent - and the unofficial higher still in many ways.
For all the families of the "American Dream" became a nightmare. They fell into existential nothingness - and disappeared from the consciousness of politicians, which the campaign contributions of the financial sector were worth more than the concerns of the silent masses.  (Good Lord, what a sentence!  Send me an email the next time you see something like it in Wapo or the New York Times.)
America has a short memory. The market players celebrate the end of the crisis - while it begins to repeat just yet. Banks speculate so shameless as before the crash. The lobbyists are powerful as ever. The fact that the last two years is nothing but a monumental insider bank robbery were - long forgotten and repressed. more
But to prove their intellectual honesty, Spiegel takes a critical look at the loose talk about the new German Wirtschaftwunder.  What this is about is that neoliberalism has taken a heavy toll on the German economy as well.
Ship Building or Services?
Booming German Employment Masks Shrinking Industry
01/03/2011
German employment may be booming but the nature of work is shifting.
Last year a record 40.4 million people were employed in Germany. However, behind the strong figures lurks a worrying structural change. Industry, the traditional motor of the German economy, is seeing its importance dwindle.
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has emerged from the worst economic crisis in decades -- and it is in far better shape than most expected. Last year's job figures point to the extent of the recovery: More people than ever were employed in Germany.
In 2010, an average of 40.37 million people were working. That represents a rise of 197,000 jobs versus a year before, official statistics show. The previous record was struck in 2008. In 2009, the workforce shrunk by just 45,000 despite a severe economic downturn.
According to official estimates, the German unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent, down from 7.4 percent a year earlier and below that of many of the country's European counterparts. Yet despite these strong statistics, it is too early to celebrate.
Industry is Shrinking
On closer inspection, the impressive figures mask a less desirable trend: The job market boom has occurred in the more marginal and unstable parts of the economy.
For example, about 5 million Germans have a job which pays just €400 ($534) a month and more than 2.2 million people boost their earnings through extra work on the side. more
And while the Germans lead the planet in the use of renewable energy, the conversion to renewables is very much a work in progress.  And not surprisingly, this is about transmission lines.  Time for some serious progress in that field!
Pitfalls of Green Energy Revolution
Public Resistance Grows to New 'Monster' Power Masts
By Michael Fröhlingsdorf   01/05/2011
Germany's dream of converting to renewable power generation requires the construction of unsightly new overland power lines carried by masts 80 meters tall. Citizens' groups and local authorities are resisting the projects in a campaign that poses risks for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
The northern German state of Lower Saxony is bracing for a wave of public protests against plans to build new power lines with 80-meter-high (260 feet) masts that are needed to prepare the country for a future of green electricity generation.
The resistance being mobilized by local communities across the state poses a political risk for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) nine months ahead of local elections there.
CDU state governor David McAllister wants to avoid the public backlash suffered by the governor of the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, Stefan Mappus, who has seen his support slump ahead of a key state vote in March due in part to demonstrations against the deeply controversial "Stuttgart 21" project to build a new train station in Stuttgart.
The new high-capacity power lines are crucial to Merkel's plan to expand renewable energy to four-fifths of power generation by 2050 from 16 percent now. They will be needed to transport wind power down from northern to southern Germany and to develop a far more integrated, pan-European smart grid.
In order to stick to the timetable of achieving 40 percent renewable power output by 2025, a total of 3,600 kilometers (2,236 miles) of new power lines will need to be built, according to calculations by the German Energy Agency. The Lower Saxony government estimates that at least 1,000 kilometers of those lines will run through the state because of its size and its strong wind power generation, especially in offshore wind farms in the North Sea.
The green revolution will radically change the region's landscape. The sleepy spa town of Bad Gandersheim, population 11,500, is up in arms over a plan by network operator Tennet to build a 380,000-volt, 190-kilometer overland power cable nearby linking transformer stations in Wahle near Braunschweig with Mecklar in the central state of Hesse.
'Monster Masts'
Norbert Braun, the spokesman for a local campaign against the project, says the "monster masts," four times higher than Bad Gandersheim's church spire, will ruin the countryside. A total of 800 local people demonstrated in the town center in pouring rain in August in an unprecedented display of public protest. Fifteen further citizens' groups have been set up in villages up and down the planned route of the line.
In October, they lit 300 fires stretching more than 100 kilometers, with each fire marking the possible spot of a towering pylon. "It was a wonderful signal against the destruction of nature," says Braun.
In the nearby village of Billerbeck, every inhabitant signed a petition against the power line. The region is worried about the impact of the project on tourists, and Bad Gandersheim sees its reputation as a spa town under threat. Citizens are also afraid of the electric "smog" from the high-voltage cables, and are worried that real estate prices may fall. Local councils have joined in the campaign. "We're all together on this" says Ronny Rode, the mayor of the neighbouring town of Kreiensen. more

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