Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Skin Cancer Epidemic in Germany and The U.S.

Picture retrieved from:

Why risk dying to be tan? This is one question many dermatologists are trying to figure out and despite their efforts in campaigning about the risks involved with indoor tanning, young female adults ages 15-29 are flocking to the salons here in the United States.  The obsession with being tan is not a new phenomenon here in the U.S. and the fascination could have everything to do with how celebrities are praised in our society for their beautiful, flawless, bronze skin.   Young adults are tanning so much that the word tanorexic is now being used to describe an unhealthy condition.  Tanorexic people are like those who suffer from the eating disorder anorexia.  Anorexia is a disorder in which one is not happy with their weight no matter how much they lose and those who suffer from tanorexia are never satisfied with their skin complexion so they tan more.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Melanoma is the worse form of skin cancer and is the most common for adults ages 25-29 and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents 15-29 years old.  These statistics are no surprise to The World Health Organization because the sunbeds people use are artificial tanning devices that emit a great deal of ultraviolet radiation (UV) very harmful to the skin.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that skin cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women and there are expectations for this number to increase because young adults are ignoring proper tanning procedures and symptoms of skin cancer.   Despite the danger to one’s health, tanning is becoming prevalent across the Atlantic which worries The World Health Organization who considers tanning to be carcinogenic and an international problem on the rise.

In Germany, 144,000 people contract skin cancer every year and 20,000 have the most serious form.  According to the environment ministry, these numbers are rising because of the increasing amount of Germans who like to go tanning but why?  According to COSMOS, a study conducted at Southern Germany’s Stuttgart Media University found that out of 900 tanning bed visitors, 84% said that lightly tanned skin makes them look healthier and 90% said it makes them feel alive. In 2008, 2,500 people died of melanoma in Germany of the 17,800 cases reported.  These numbers are fairly good compared to the United States where melanoma accounts for almost 9,000 deaths of year and over 1.7 billion dollars in treatment a year. 
With all of these statistics, I am not sure why people are not following the proper procedures in regards to indoor tanning and why indoor tanning is on a rise.  There are so many other ways to get bronze skin such as creams and spray tans but people refrain from these alternatives.  The question is when will people recognize the dangers in indoor tanning and how will the Center for Disease Control and Prevention try to limit the usage of tanning salons? Should they intervene? Will a tax decrease the trend?

Too Much Public Lovin'?

Every person has witnessed and many have participated in this, whether in public, from a friend or significant other, seen in the media or advertisements, it's the infamous kiss. At the age of 70, a person on average spends 110,000 minutes or 76.4 days kissing. While in high school, one of my favorite math teachers, always stated 'kissing leads to babies' and would scold students holding hands or kissing in the hallways to break it up since PDA or public display of affection was not allowed in our high school. When is public display of affection okay socially, if ever?

The United States and Germany have similar agreements in that PDA or public display of affection should be minimized at all costs. Some cultural norms Americans have instilled over time are that a simple kiss are accepted as well as holding hands. However, in terms of social etiquette extensive 'making out' and groping makes others in public uncomfortable and is frowned upon.

Other issues that have arisen are FPDA's or Facebook public displays of affection. This is where social media has played into effect. Facebook is viewed as a public domain and those who post 'intimate' pictures or say intimate things are considered participating in public displays of affection whether in or not in a relationship, which is also frowned upon. Although there are certain laws restricting inappropriateness and give the users the freedom to send a message to the person partaking in display or even to corporate asking them to re-evaluate their profile.

People not only have problems with committed heterosexual couples partaking in PDA, but some people view those who have strong religious values, homosexuals, military, and youth who participated in this display as universally repulsive when exaggerated.

Kissing in Germany has been around since the 1950s and is still a social taboo. In Germany recently, there has been activist groups suggesting the government make the social greeting of kissing in the work place illegal. As opposed to other countries were a kiss is an acceptable and expected cultural norm like France and Italy. BBC has reported that the Knigge Society, which discusses social behavior and etiquette stated "the practice of greeting colleagues and business partners with a kiss on the cheek is uncomfortable for many Germans, and is even a form of terrorism." This group believes that it is in the best interest to "protect people who don't want to be kissed" and should stick to the traditional handshake. This group also believes there may some erotic underlaying component to kissing.

In December of 2007, the German parliament discussed passing a law banning PDA of all those under the age of 18. The purpose of this potential bill was to protect children against sexual predators. However, "critics fear that it will deprive teenagers of natural experiences and the fun of adolescent relationships."

Communicating through a kiss can mean various things. Stereotypically kissing is associated with intimacy, love, and eroticism. In more of celebratory form, kissing also symbolizes happiness and love like in Wedding Ceremonies. But a kiss can also mean humility or submission. Historically in various countries, to show a sign of respect, one will lower one's head and kiss the hand or rings of the one higher than themselves. According to  kisses can also send political messages, such as the 1989 kiss between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and East German Leader Erich Honecker, "it symbolized their political bond and affiliation- just one month before the Berlin Wall came down."

During the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s many attitudes towards affections have changed over time as inappropriate. Americans do not demonstrate their affections as much as Latin Americans or Southern Europeans but more so than the Northern Europeans. 

What does the similarities in attitudes mean for Germany and the US? What does the International kissing day symbolize on July 6th, contradicting the social norms? Adults, children, teenagers when does the line need to be drawn legally or socially? What is it teaching our youth?  Should the government be able to regulate our personal lives for the safety of those who want to be protected from these vulgar actions?

The Reality of The 8 Hour Work-Day

When we first started this blog one of the things we discussed the most were perceptions that Germans and Americans have of each other and how some of them might be wrong.  One stereotype that is often perpetuated in our thoughts of one another is that of the hard working, diligent German and the lazy American, perpetuated in pop culture in instances such as the video clip below.

While I think this perception is beginning to fade, it is safe to say that it still remains as prevalent as other stereotypes such as the "stoic German" or the "dumb American".  In fact, they kind of go hand in hand with these notions.  For this weeks post, I decided to look into the realities behind these cultural stigmas and as usual, the facts are very different from what we might expect.

When contrasting national averages of German and American workdays, it is apparent that Americans are actually burdened with a more stressful week.  According to the United Nations International Labor Organization, workers in the United States are putting in more hours than anywhere else in the industrialized world.  Americans have almost completely done away with the forty hour work week as a limit, whereas in Germany the average worker works less than forty hours a week.  According to the Center for American Progress, 85.8% of males and 66.5% of females are working over forty hours per week in the U.S..  This is very different from in Germany, where all sources report the average work week as well under forty hours.  Taking a look at this chart reveals not only that Americans work longer hours than Germans, but also most of the industrialized world.

Numbers can vary depending on the time at which the survey was taken over the last ten years, whether part time workers were included, and what is defined as a work day.  However, the average hourly difference was usually consistent with the above chart, which estimates Americans and Germans working thirsty-five and twenty-seven hours per week respectively.  Another interesting aspect of this comparison is that it is well known that many Americans work multiple jobs or work full time while attending school.  Working multiple jobs is unheard of in Germany, mainly because there are laws preventing people from working too much.  In Germany, it is a law that the work day must not last longer than ten hours and must average no more than eight hours over the course of the week.  Say what you will about American work ethic, it is clear that we are not afraid to put in the hours when compared to our European counterparts.

The American government also seems to drive its workers harder than is the standard in other countries.  Here is a look at a few of the differences:

  • The United States is the only country in the Americas that does not have a paid parental leave benefit, countries in Europe enjoy over twenty weeks.  That includes the legal requirement for new parents to take a leave, which the United States does not have.
  • The United States has no law limiting the length of a work week, 134 other countries including Germany do.  
  • The United States is also the only industrialized nation that has no legally mandated annual leave.

This graph compares the average amount of paid vacation times in industrialized nations:

Taken from

All I can say is that this chart is extremely depressing if you are an American, and it seems as though that sentiment is affecting how well we work.

It is clear that the perception of Americans as lazy holds no weight when looking at hours worked, but what about the quality of that work?  This is where all those long hours start to cause some problems for Americans as The Sleep Foundation reports that almost 30% of workers in the United States actually fell asleep of became very sleepy at work over the last month as a direct result of being overworked.  Firms looking to drive their workers harder will also find it disturbing that Germans are reported to have roughly the same productivity as Americans even while working less hours.  This hints at the idea that even though Americans work longer, the added hours are a hinderance to performance not a bonus.

A quick look at these statistics is enough to prove that Americans are not lazy, and if there should be any stereotype it should be that the opposite is true.  However, to do more than debunk this notion is to look at why there is such a difference in the working styles of Germans and Americans.  I think this is mostly a cultural difference, one that has also been somewhat cultivated by our modern societies.  One of the major influences has to be our traditional American spirit and the belief that long, hard work is the only thing that pays dividends.  This stems from our history as a country of pioneers and immigrants, something we don't share with Germany.  I think it also has to do with our capitalist mentality and the American quest to acquire more money.  The idea of individual economic success is more of a driving force in our culture, and several of the blogs I looked into support this subjective perception.  I know that when reading in other posts that Germans surrender roughly 50% of their incomes to taxes many Americans were shocked, and maybe this also has something to do with it.  From my own perspective, I am much more motivated to work knowing that most of that money is going directly into my pocket.  Is it possible that Germans don't feel the need to chase extra hours since they pay much higher taxes?  At any rate, it doesn't seem to be hurting German productivity, so maybe workers in the United States should ease up a little.


German Security Policy – Germanys role in IGOs

Recently Germany has been accused of not participating in several IGOs the way it should. An IGO is an intergovernmental organization, an organization composed of sovereign states for a certain purpose. In this case the focus is mostly on the European Union and the NATO. For the European Union Germany’s role in the Euro crisis is central, the German demand for austerity has caused much critique.

For the NATO Germany’s issues with military power are problematic. Due to the country’s history Germans feel uneasy about the military, especially about states exercising it.  Britain’s defense minister has demanded that Germany increases its military spending, which is a little below the British spending, however, Germany’s economy is doing much better than the British.     

'[It is about] a willingness to pick up the burdens that go with having a globally important economy... Germany recognizing that it can’t continue to be the dominant economy in Europe without also significantly increasing its military capability.' British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond

Hammond argues that it is necessary to further normalize Germany’s role in the NATO, since Germany will be of growing importance due to the US’ focus on the Asian Pacific.  In other words if Germany will not contribute more to the NATO it will weaken the EU’s role in Security Politics.

 Today Germany’s minister of Defense, Thomas de Maiziere published a guest article on the website of the Atlantische Innitative (Atlantic Innitative) in which he argues that further deployments of the German army will be an important part of Germany’s Foreign and Security Policy. De Maiziere points out that in Germany people will still give you questioning looks if you advocate for sending military forces abroad. He believes that Germany needs to get over this issue and that there needs to be a consensus on when it is necessary or required to act militarily. Germany will continue to be involved in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan for another year, providing 4900 soldiers. While that means that Germany will provide less soldiers this year than it did last year de Maiziere insists that Germany will continue to work with Afghanistan after the end of the ISAF mission in 2014. He argues that Germany should be more comfortable taking on responsibilities for security issues in International Relations- Germany regained its rights in the international community with its reunification, but that comes with a duty. De Maiziere explains that in the future this duty should shape the German foreign policy moving away from the shadows of the Nazi past.  He recognizes that this will cause much debate in Germany, where people continue to feel uneasy about military power. Germany needs to first be ready to grow and change, second take on its responsibility to the international community and third work with its partner’s, according to de Maiziere.

For the US a Germany that is willing to contribute more to the NATO would be very useful. The two countries share a lot of common security goals, after all. Germany’s parliament just agreed to spend 25 million Euro (around 31.2 million Dollars) on Drones for the mission in Afghanistan. From a US point of view, this is probably a step into the right direction.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Women in Senior Management: Underrepresented and Misrepresented

Hilary Corna
I am currently reading the book One White Face by former Toyota Motor Asia Pacific employee and current motivational speaker, Hilary Corna. Throughout the narrative, Corna discusses the challenges she encounters being not only a woman, but also a white woman working in the corporate world in the Asia Pacific region. As an aspiring business woman myself, I have already been able to identify with Corna and the challenges she encounters because of her gender. I am aware of the underrepresentation of women in senior management positions in both the public and private sectors, and found it interesting how the Norwegian government has attempted to control this disparity. The 2003 law states that publicly traded Norwegian companies must fill 40% of their senior management positions with women. Research from the 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report indicated that the US and Germany were among the countries with the lowest proportions of women in senior management, with women accounting for 15% and 11% of those positions, respectively. Other countries in the EU such as France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy have all followed Norway in the passing of gender quotas, but it is still a debate amongst law makers in Germany. While this quota undoubtedly empowers corporate women, I do not think that it entirely solves the injustices faced by women everyday.

Even if a woman was able to be in a position of power, there is such a double standard for the way in which she must act compared to a male. For example, women worldwide are viewed as weak if they are too quiet or aggressive if they tend to be loud. Men, on the other hand, are viewed as thoughtful when quiet and strong when they voice their opinions. How does a woman determine what is "appropriate" behavior in order to be respected by her peers? Liv Monica Stubholt, a Norwegian business lawyer, believes that this quota will help to address the issues associated with the view of women through a "masculine lens." She argues that if women account for more than 30% of senior management positions, masculine behavior will no longer be the only thing acceptable.

More barriers to a woman's rise to the top include the rights associated with maternity leave. Linda Esch discussed in one of her previous postings how the US is the only Western country that does not guarantee women paid maternity leave. The Norwegians seem to be tackling this issue head-on by granting paternal leave and a legal right to day care. More than 90% of fathers take at least three months of leave after their child is born, making it easier for women to balance their own careers and family life. The "risk" that is sometimes associated with hiring a woman of child-bearing age is now almost just as high for Norwegian men. Paternal leave is a concept that I think should be adopted and enacted in the US. Personally, I would find comfort in knowing that I could continue to purse my career aspirations without it conflicting with my personal life.

Should the Norwegian gender quota be imposed in Germany and the US? While I think it was created for all of the "morally right" reasons, I would not like to be hired as a result of this quota. I would feel as though the company is being forced to hire me, rather than hiring me based on my skill set. I would obtain more personal satisfaction from having worked my way to the top rather than placed there by default. Hilary Corna is a role model for all young women and is living proof that hard work and determination can lead to advancements in the workplace. Although the gender quota has proven to serve as a vehicle for the advancement of women in Norway, surely it is not completely necessary.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Where Have All the Rebels Gone? Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the New Europe From Below

Tom Hayden and Daniel Cohn-Bendit were directly involved in the events of the turbulent 1960s; Hayden in the U.S. and Cohn-Bendit in France and Germany. Both of them were student rebels at that time and came to be seen as personifications and leaders of the movements they participated in. But what are they doing today? This two-piece series wants to provide some answers.
Paris, May 1968. "Dany le Rouge" becomes one of the most ardent voices of a young generation of student rebels in France. Dany's real name is Daniel. He is the son of a German Jew who had barely survived Nazism with his wife in French exile. In 1968, Daniel is a student at one of Paris's numerous universities. As many of his peers, the self-professed anarchist Marxist strove for revolutionary change. They had started earlier that year by defying the dorm codes in their universities that prohibited them to see each other after 11pm. In May, the students wanted something more profound. After a larger protest for more student participation in university affairs, students and the police clashed violently in Paris's Latin Quarter. The clashes lasted several days. Almost immediately, French unionists supported the students. A general strike was called in and France's president at that time, Charles de Gaulle, defected to a military base in Germany. French pessimists feared the outbreak of a civil war. 
Dany le Rouge - Cohn-Bendit in Paris, 1968 © Freedom
Throughout all these events, Daniel stood out as a fiery orator and passionate organizer on behalf of the students. When the May unrests finally settled, French authorities were looking for the initiators but focused also on dissidents and student rebels. Instantly, Daniel was identified. French authorities ultimately expelled him to Germany, the country where his father had to flee from only 30 years earlier. In Frankfurt, Daniel met with older friends from the German students movement. Among them was Joschka Fischer, Germany's former foreign secretary. Eventually, Daniel joined the Außerparlamentarische Opposition (APO), a movement that championed participatory democracy beyond the traditional channels of Germany's political establishment.
Today, Daniel Cohn-Bendit is part of the very same establishment that he formerly defied. Since 1984, he is a member of Germany's Green Party which he helped to create in the 1970s. In 1994, Cohn-Bendit premiered in the European Parliament as a representative of the Green Party. Five years later, he was reelected. This time, however, he represented Les Verts, France's Green Party. Since then, Cohn-Bendit is involved in campaigns and initiatives of the European Green Party, a coalition of environmentalist parties from all over Europe that are represented in the European Parliament. Accordingly, nowadays he is known as "Dany le Vert". Recently, Cohn-Bendit made the news by putting forward a creative proposal. In the manifesto We Are Europe! which he co-wrote with the sociologist Ulrich Beck, Cohn-Bendit campaigns for establishing a one-year-long pan-European voluntary service for young Europeans. The idea is that when European youngsters have the opportunity to do voluntary work all over Europe, they are more likely to develop a European identity. The manifesto appeared in several European newspapers, was well-received and widely discussed. 
Dany le Vert - Cohn-Bendit 2012 © cafèbabel
In a time when not only Europeans question the integrity and character of the European Union, Cohn-Bendit's and Beck's proposal calls on an older ideal of the EU, seemingly lost today. Nowadays, many Europeans feel that the EU is solely about business and not people. As politicians frantically try to prevent Europe's economic system from collapsing, Europeans are doubtful. Why should they support austerity measures that will ultimately harm them? Cutting federal assistance programs or increasing sales taxes might restore economic stability. But understandably, Europeans widely see those austerity measures as sacrificing their social well-being. Even worse, most of them feel totally left out of the EU's process of decision making. Not only in Greece, the EU appears to be a 'troika' that dictates a policy to the people instead of pursuing a policy by the people; or at least one in their interests. 
In a political environment like that, one wonders if Cohn-Bendit's and Beck's idea has the potential to really help Europeans with establishing a European identity. Unfortunately, voluntary work does not pay your food or rent. And only when material necessities are satisfied are people able at all, to think about voluntary activities and their identity. Cohn-Bendit's idea can only prosper in a Europe where Europeans live in economic, political and social equality. Therefore, should "Dany le Vert" not rather remember his days in the Außerparlamentarische Opposition (APO) and campaign for a program that strives to include all Europeans in the EU's process of decision making? Since only when Europeans are able to participate in the workings of the European Parliament, would the EU lose its abstract and instructive appearance. In fact, it would become an economic, political, and cultural entity one could identify with.            

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

German rapper Najafi has beef with Iran

Rap is one of the most influential, testosterone-driven music genres we have today. In the US, it has become widely accepted among young males partly because of its tendency to avoid politically correctness. Rap does not shy away from controversy, whether it be vulgar lyrics or animosity aimed at a celebrity or rival rapper.

This rivalry between rappers has brought us some classic moments between rappers in which one calls out a competitor in a particular track, called a “diss song,” and the rival rebuttals with one of their own. The most notable diss song battles include, Ice Cube vs. N.W.A., 2Pac vs. Biggie, Jay Z vs. Nas, and most recently Common vs. Drake. In rap the more people you upset the better.

Today in Germany, a Rapper is experiencing a battle with a different kind of rival - religion. In Germany, rap is done by immigrants. Najafi, an Iranian rapper living in Cologne, has recently incited the hatred of Shiite Muslims for his song which humorously criticizes the 10th imam.

In the song called “Naqi,”  Najafi poked fun at the Imam. The lyrics, like other Persian writings, have multiple interpretations. The context of the song appears to be an appeal for help from the Imam but blends the sacrosanct aspects of the religion with vulgarity so causally that it is seen as being disrespectful. 
Shiite Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless and that his authority is infallible. Shiite’s treat the Imams as saints and make pilgrimages to their tombs. So, Najafi’s insult to the 10th imam, Ali al-Hadi, can be seen as vulgar and offensive.

So offensive in fact that he has received a fatwa from an Iranian ayatollah. The Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, from the holy city Qom in Iran has said things about Najafi that could be interpreted as a call to murder. Gopyegani is a figure recognized by Shiite Muslims worldwide and with a power that mimic papal influence, his followers often interpret his suggestions more as commands. Since then, Najafi has received frequent death threats, the most frightening of which included a $100,000 bounty on the internet for anyone who can bring him to justice.

Najafi is a native Iranian who left in 2005. Before he left, he had built a following with the youth who opposed the ayatollah creating satirical songs such as “I Have a Beard.” He was punished to three years in prison and physical abuse before escaping to Germany. Now, amongst police protection and isolation, he has become an exile living in exile.

Since the Green Movement was stifled in Iran in 2009, Najafi’s music has become popular with the Iranian underground movement.

Compared to the rap in the US, dissing on a guy who has been dead for 1,143 years wouldn’t be considered provocative at all. Still, Najafi’s music was so crass it incited an entire nation and ethnic group to call for his assassination.

Jay-Z, the ball is in your court.

But Seriously, Where's The Doctor?

                    Picture retrieved from:
Can you imagine what it would be like to go to the doctor’s office one day and your doctor is not able to speak the same language as you? It is interesting to think about this issue because more times than not, I have an expectation that when I go see my doctor s/he will be an English speaker because how else could they diagnose my problems?  In Germany, however, many rural areas are experiencing a shortage within medical facilities and there are simply not enough doctors to treat patients.   The shortage is so prevalent, that many hospitals implemented a foreign-exchange like program that funds foreign doctors to practice and occupy the vast amount of vacancies in the medical facilities.  Citizens question these programs and wonder why there is even a shortage in doctors?

It comes to know surprise that there are not many students entering the medical fields these days. Many associate the degree with at least 12 years of intense study.  After one pursues the undergraduate degree which typically takes the traditional student 4-5 years, one has to consider medical school for another 4 years, a residency program 3-4 years, and if one chooses to practice a specific area such as surgery, then that typically means an additional 4-7 years in schooling.  In the United States, 19,230 students were enrolled in medical school in 2011 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. However in Germany, with a different type of education system that imposes competition, 50,000 high school students compete for the 10,000 first year medical degree seats available a year according to TheLocal.  Of these students, only 1 in every 6 finish their degrees and when they complete their course work they travel abroad to find jobs.  Doctor’s in Germany are beginning to feel the effects of the shortage.  They are working longer shifts, are on-call more often, and compensation for their efforts is low.   Earlier this year in January, roughly 50,000 doctors went on strike to demand a 6% pay increase and less on-call shifts decreasing from 9 per month to no more than 4. Because of these problems, many hospitals have been seeking neighboring countries to assist with the lack of help, but the language barriers create a serious problem.  If the doctor and patient cannot communicate with one another how will the patient be treated? As of now, people who come from other countries are offered scholarships and tuition reimbursement to take classes in the German language but that will take a long and difficult time and commitment.  Is there an easier way to deal with the unavailable resources?

The answer to this question is very complicated and it is important to note that Germany is not the only country facing this deficiency in doctors but the United States as well.  Many people of the Baby Boomer generation are at the stages in their career where retirement is a serious consideration.   By 2020, it is predicted that the United States will need some 24,000-200,000 physicians and in Germany, 51,774 physicians will have to be replaced.  The Association for American Medical Colleges is implementing new strategies to meet with future demands by accrediting more universities.  I am not sure if Germany can imitate the same initiatives.   It will be very interesting to see how foreign physicians will be welcomed in the country and some of the approaches Germany will take to meet with the high demand.   

Study Abroad Programs More Important than Governement Relations?

After a stressful preparation, a student who is studying abroad finally arrives at their long awaited destination. They carefully navigate through the country's confusing and unfamiliar terrain, to reach their living quarters whether its a college dorm, apartment or a home in a large city. The explicit purpose of studying abroad is to take classes at a specific university of choice to gain credits to assist the completion of a degree program and become a scholar on an academic level. However, other than the physical classroom education, students get educated on cultural, economic, social and political issues specific to their international experience.

The purpose of studying abroad is a multifaceted issue involving the diversification of student experiences, that promotes linking the world with potential partnerships, that represent and secure the global future through an increase in progress of global collaboration. Currently there are over 110 countries that participate in study abroad programs. Some countries, particularly in the European Union, have created policies that "promote such mobility to foster intercultural contacts and help build social networks."

The strongest overall performance in the study abroad market is Germany and the United States is placed sixth. Germany has "promoted a deliberate policy of internationalization" which is one of the many factors on the reasons for their success. There are nearly 200,000 Germans that studies study abroad each year according to the New York Times.

Why does Germany push for the international experience of all students? An overarching theme for those students that participate in an international experience is it can serve as a bridge between countries. According to Adria Baker a writer for NAFSA, the national association for student advisors, "oftentimes countries may not have good diplomatic relationships; people of different religious faiths may not understand one another; people speaking different languages may not be able to communicate. However, an international education creates cross-cultural understanding when students work together on a project, meet each other in a dorm, conduct research, or study for a class together." Even though they have different backgrounds, religions, customs, political viewpoints, they are able to accomplish a joint goal of becoming educated. She also states "education is an avenue of which other entities in our world might not have the same positive impact."

Other than in diplomatic relations, the average person will associate and relate to those they come directly come in contact with. The international student becomes an ambassador for their university and country. They allow a global understanding and respect for those who live in a different part of the world to be reached.

"Many states now employ educational agents to lure foreign students their way." Even top universities are broadening their search according to the economist. Even though countries look for the best scholars to represent their country there are many other factors that are implicated throughout the duration of the international experience.

Looking at this chart, the number of students studying abroad has had an annual increase of nearly 12% the past decade and is expected to continue at this rate according to BBC.

According to the OECD, organization for economic cooperation, "this trend mirrors the globalization of economies and societies, universities' expanded capacity and a substantial increase in global access to tertiary education."

In Washington DC, this past week the German Ambassador, Peter Ammon speaks on behalf of the German Historical Institute about the importance of German-American relations. He states that there are more than 100 universities in America in the past 25 years, that participate in cultural enhancing study abroad programs focusing on past and future relations in a large array of issues with Germany and the United States.

In conclusion, are the citizen interactions and dialogue between the country's students more compelling and imperative for relations and do they triumph the trade laws, political interactions and economic treaties?

How does the high demand for higher education affect study abroad programs and what should the US and Germany do to continue this pertinent transatlantic relationship on an intimate level?

Look at this video for a basic overview of the importance of studying abroad according to the Institute of International Education.

Differing Perspectives on "Affirmative Action"

The debate over affirmative action policy in the United States is well known to most American students, as the ambiguous benefits of attempts to give disadvantaged minorities opportunities are felt in the schools possibly more than anywhere else in the country.  These policies are so divisive that the debate is sure to continue, as no amount of tweaking will fully satisfy both sides of the argument.  Some people firmly believe that advantages given to minorities are necessary, as statistics do show that institutional racism and bias still pose a significant problem to minorities looking to enter the job market, get loans, or go to school.  This stance creates problems and questions for the other side of the argument, starting with how much is enough?  Very few seriously try to argue that minorities are not at a disadvantage in our society, but many ask how much affirmative action is actually helping to fix the situation and whether it is fair to non-minorities.  Many see affirmative action as a treatment for the symptoms of inequality and doubt that it will have lasting effects on the position of minorities in the United States. It is also unclear when exactly it will be acceptable to stop affirmative action initiatives, as they clearly include unfair aspects from a non-minority perspective and can't completely conquer prejudice anyway.  Another major issue with affirmative action is that it often ignores poor applicants (both minorities and whites) in favor for financially capable middle class minorities. 

Here are a few statistics for people looking to asses the problem and take a side in the debate:

The number of minorities in the United States is climbing rapidly towards overtaking the majority population: just a few days ago it was announced that the number of minority babies born in America outnumber the majority.  

Women make .77 cents for every 1.00 dollar men earn in the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2010)

Compared to Whites, African Americans suffer roughly twice the unemployment rates, twice the infant mortality rates, and only have slightly over 50% the number of people attending four or more years of college. (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2010)

This graph shows a stagnating trend in living standards over the past 25 years:

What is interesting about this chart is that while it provides a strong indicator that a solution to minority disadvantage is necessary, it also raises the question of affirmative actions ineffectiveness.  Many are calling for a change in policy based just on this principal, most noting that a more income-based system would be more effective.

Taken from

By now you are wondering what this has to do with Germany.  As I was sifting through possible blog topics, I noticed that Germany has begun a completely different affirmative action program from what we have in America, and for completely different reasons.  I was surprised to find out that in Germany, affirmative action is being applied to the labor force to help out the government, not to make reparations to disadvantaged groups.

In Germany, the government is facing the problem of an aging and decreasing labor force that will lead to economic crisis in the future if it is not dealt with soon.  To combat this problem, the government has begun encouraging foreign minorities such as Turks to enter the job market.  The German government is actively supporting companies who apply positive discrimination for immigrants when hiring new people.  One method they have used is requesting that companies offer vocational training for Turkish youths and other minorities so that they can find a niche in the German job market.        

It is interesting to see that affirmative action, like fraternities and separation of church and state, doesn't hold the same association in Germany as it does in the United States.  I would be interested to find out how this type of affirmative action is looked upon by German citizens, and if they have any misgivings about it.  Do Germans feel that offering vocational training or giving preference to immigrant minorities is unfair?  I would imagine they feel differently than Americans would due to the aging labor force and the fact that Germans are educated for free, but it would be interesting to hear a German point of view.

Counterterrorism Policies- Definiting Terrorism in the EU and the US

 After 9/11 Germany solarized with the United States, much like the rest of the European Union and the World. German chancellor Schröder announced Germanys “unlimited solidarity” with the United States.
The United States proclaimed “war on terrorism”, beginning with war in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan was carried out with a resolution of the United Nations backing it up, and the European Union provided support. (Gottlieb 272). Things changed when the United States decided to also attack Iraq. The United Nations opposed an invasion of Iraq, the German government argued:
"In international conflict, we believe in the monopoly of power of the United Nations, (...) that is the basis on which Germany has been discharging its responsibility in the European Union, in the international alliance against terrorism.“ (Chancellor Gerhard Schröder Keynote speech to the German parliament, April 03, 2003 accessed via CNN)

It is clear that the US violated Iraq’s sovereignty, which is why the UN and most states around the world (excluding some US allies like Australia and France) were opposing the attack and saw it as a violation of state sovereignty, leading to human rights violations and war crimes that could not be justified through the need to counter terrorism.

The transformation of the Schröder governments approach to the “War on Terror” from “unlimited solidarity” to announcing that Germany refuses to support the US in the 2nd active combat in the name of counterterrorism is striking- it can be understood by looking at the European Union’s legislative stance on counterterrorism and the balance between civil liberties, human rights and the effort to fight terror.

The UN does not agree on a definition of terrorism, thus the state’s unique definitions are of extreme importance to their counterterrorism efforts. The US government employs various definitions of terrorism ,the one provided by the Department of State’s United States Code (U.S.C.) is: “ (...) the term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents“ (U.S.C: Title 22, Chapter 38).

Germany as a member state of the European Union signed the Council Framework of Combating Terrorism in 2002. Article 1 defines terrorism as a criminal act against a person or a property that
 “may seriously damage a country or an international organisation where committed with the aim of: seriously intimidating a population; or unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; or seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.“.
The Council Framework on Combating Terrorism states that each member state of the European Union should ensure that such acts are defined as criminal under national law.
 Differences in the approach to defining terrorism become more striking when looking at the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted in 2005 after the terrorist attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005).   The EU commits to “combating terrorism globally, while respecting human rights and allowing its citizens to live in an area of freedom, security and justice.” (page 6). The strategy centers on preventing people from turning to terrorism, protecting citizens from attacks, pursuing and investigating active terror plans and responding to attacks in a coordinated way to minimize the consequences for victims. It is certainly striking that after the EU is attacked they agree on a definition that emphasizes human rights, while the US embarked on a “War on Terror” after the events of 9/11.

Germany’s criminal code defines a terrorist group as a group whose goal is murder, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, intimidating the population, forcing a state department or International organization to make policy changes or damaging the structures of the state (§129a StGB). After September 11 the definition was expanded to include organizations in foreign countries so that members or supporters of terrorist organizations can be arrested and put on trial in Germany if they enter the country. 

Looking at these definitions it can be concluded that the European Union already incorporates the aim to include human right in their definitions whereas the US definition does not include any mention of human rights or civil liberties. Why is this the case and will it prevent the EU and the US to coordinate their counterterrorism efforts? The US and the EU after all have the same goal: to end global terrorism, which is a threat for the whole world, and thus demands a collaborative effort.

It is important that the transatlantic community manages to find a way to agree on a common policy to combat terrorism, ideally one that incorporates and respects human rights and civil liberties. Sacrificing civil liberties to counterterrorism is a way of letting the terrorists win. 

So is the EU-US cooperation in terms of counterterrorism in danger of falling apart over disagreements regarding the importance of human rights and civil liberties? Far from it. The US has made significant changes in their policy since the early days of the “War on Terror”, changes that have made US policy more agreeable for the EU. Several failed terrorist attacks in Europe every year keep reminding the EU how central counterterrorism is to their agenda. It should therefore be the shared goal of the US and the EU to become the providers of a global counterextremist narrative by promoting cross-cultural dialogue and through efforts to address the root causes of terrorism, such as extreme poverty (Gottlieb 298). 

Counterterrorism policies need to be respectful of human rights in order to accomplish the goal. Through close cooperation both the US and the EU will gain. It is essential for them to negotiate and agree on shared counterterrorism policies. Terrorism is the biggest current threat to the western world; the US and the EU/Germany cannot afford to be up against each other on this issue.

Works Cited
2005 European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy. European Union. 2005. Web. March 7,
                2012. <>
CNN Schroeder: ’Overcome Dictatorship’. Cable News Network. April 3, 2003. Web. March
                5,2012. <
European Union. Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism. Statewatch. Web. March 3,
                2012. <> European Union. Treaty of Lisbon. Official Journal of the European Union. December 17,
                2007. Web. March 2, 2012.
Gottlieb, Stuart, ed. 2010. Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism. Washington, DC: CQ
                Press. Print.
USA PATRIOT Act. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, United States Department of
the  Treasury. Web. March 2, 2012. <>

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Islamic Banking the Way of the Future?

In light of JPMorgan's recent trading loss, I thought it would be interesting to explore the future of the financial industry. As a result of this multi-billion dollar loss, consumer confidence has obviously been shaken as JPMorgan has often been regarded as one of the "safest banks." For U.S. banks, more strict regulations are almost an inevitable result of JPMorgan's losses, but what does this mean for the consumer? 

If a bank that falls under the category of "too big to fail" can suffer so tremendously, consumers are likely to reconsider where they are investing and storing their excess funds. For those who tend to be more risk averse, such large financial institutions may not provide that sense of security for their investments anymore and they may turn to firms like CIMB-Principal. Malaysia-based CIMB-Principal, an Islamic investment firm, has prided itself in its ability to avoid "unnecessary risk associated with delegation of funds management" for the benefit of its clients, and is looking to expand into the German financial market. 

CIMB-Principal CEO Noripah Kamso
Source: Bloomberg
CIMB-Principal is looking to capitalize on the roughly 4 million Muslim residents of Germany, as well as the non-Muslims, with the different policies that it employs. The way in which Islamic investment firms operate is quite different from American firms, and this could prove to be beneficial for CIMB-Principal in the rapidly changing financial industry. Some of these differences include the prohibition of interest, speculation and betting, as well as an investment strategy that functions in accordance with the Koran. Islamic investment firms do not place money into companies that make alcohol or deal with pornography, gambling, or pork. 

There appear to be several benefits to banking and investing with Islamic firms. While these firms do not provide interest to their customers, many provide a sum of money at the end of the year that accounts for the lack of interest payments. Additionally, Daud Abdullah, president of the Global University of Islamic Finance in Malaysia, stated that the lack of highly speculative instruments in Islamic finance would ultimately allow countries to avoid deep debt and "the world would not have such problems."During the financial crisis, Islamic financial products actually showed profits. 

The success of the Islamic finance in recent years has attracted investors from all walks of life, and 60% of investors worldwide are not even Muslim. In the UK, firms similar to CIMB-Principal have been in existence for some time, but the lack of Islamic firms in Germany does cause some concern when targeting potential non-Muslim customers. But a good investment is a good investment, regardless of one's religious beliefs. What do you think about the future of CIMB-Principal in Germany? If US financial institutions continue to experience losses, do you think US investors would turn to Islamic banking? In the increasingly globalized world in which we live, I think anything is possible for the future of the financial industry.  


Monday, May 21, 2012

When Walls Have Eyes – The Leipzig Scene

After writing about CCTV in London, this is the second part of a series on cultures of surveillance in a transatlantic context.

In 2004, the URBANEYE project prepared a comparative study on public surveillance for the EU. The multidisciplinary research team from the Technical University of Berlin investigated how CCTV is deployed and perceived in seven European countries. Their reports included studies on CCTV in London, Copenhagen or Berlin. Apart from assessing public surveillance's state of the art, URBANEYE also did case studies on specific public spaces like shopping malls and examined what Europeans think about CCTV. In their final report the experts concluded that public surveillance has become an essential part of the daily life of millions of Europeans in those cities.

When you read this report that focuses on London, Oslo, Berlin or Madrid and you don't live there it is easy to distance yourself from the topic.You might think that, 'Yes, I have been there once or twice as a tourist, so I might have been surveyed too. But so what? It's not part of my everyday life, so what do I have to do with it?' Let's be frank here. Most people only start to worry about certain things when they are directly affected by them; and they are not to be blamed for that. When things happen right in front of you they immediately become much more tangible. In the context of public surveillance it is hard to become aware of that though, since secrecy is CCTV's trump card. Although CCTV providers are legally bound to make people aware that they are currently surveyed, it is easy to overlook the tiny signs are simply to forget. Public surveillance is almost omnipresent however; not only in Europe's capitals but also right in our neighborhoods. 

Sign in Leipzig announcing the use of CCTV in the area.
If we take a look at Leipzig's surveillance scene, for instance, we see how CCTV has in fact become a part of our everyday life. In Leipzig, widespread surveillance systems can be found at the city's central station, the tram hub Roßplatz, and along Leipzig's beltways, the so called Ringstraßen. Security experts justified the implementation of CCTV there at the end of the 1990s with an effort to decrease the crime rates of those public spaces. As Eric Töpfer pointed out, nowadays the main motivation to install surveillance systems is however no longer to protect people from crime but to protect the image of a whole city. Only if a city can prove that it is safe, it can attract investors and companies. Apart from providing a creative and tolerant setting, security has thus become a main selling point for a city. Therefore, city official in Leipzig and beyond strive to let their city appear as safe as possible. Every crime committed does not solely harm an individual but the economic chances of the city as a whole. Although security experts widely question CCTV's potential to prevent crime, public surveillance systems can at least create an image of safety. In this regard, the camera has become a trusted symbol of a sanitized, crime-free city. 

As Leipzig's city officials decided to also trust in the power of this symbol, other actors in the city did so, too. Plagued by constant acts of vandalism and petty crime, Leipzig's main public transportation provider , Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe, has equipped all its vehicles with cameras. Additionally, shopping malls, the city's huge hospital complexes, private estates and office buildings have installed their own surveillance system. Leipzigers have however not always welcomed the spreading of CCTV in their city. When the police installed a camera to monitor Connewitzer Kreuz in 2000, they sparked Leipzig's first protest week against public surveillance. The police had justified their move with the effort to fight crime in the area. The people that lived there though, felt themselves criminalized by the very presence of the camera. After a week-long series of demonstrations, the police finally decided to put the camera down. Recently Leipzigers have protested against public CCTV systems that are filming private spaces and demanded one of Leipzig's biggest housing cooperative, Leipziger Wohnungs- und Baugesellschaft, to put down their cameras at apartment building entrances. 

Thus, other than in London where people mostly accept public surveillance as an irrevocable part of their everyday life, some Leipzigers seem to defy the logic of the 'surveillance society.' In this regard, they provide a perfect example for the fact that Europeans' opinion on public surveillance widely differ.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where Have All the Rebels Gone? Tom Hayden 50 Years After Port Huron

In another post a couple of weeks ago, Gerald wrote about the influence of an old German intellectual on American students of the now (in)famous '68 generation. This inspired me to look a little bit into on what has become of two other important figures of this era.
Other than Herbert Marcuse, Tom Hayden and Daniel Cohn-Bendit were directly involved in the events of the turbulent 1960s; Hayden in the U.S. and Cohn-Bendit in France and Germany. Both of them were student rebels at that time and came to be seen as personifications and leaders of the movements they participated in. But what are they doing today? This two-piece series wants to provide some answers.

On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) published a longer interview with a key figure of the 1960s student revolt in America, Tom Hayden. Hayden was a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He provided the first draft for SDS's most influential contribution to the cultural and political revolution of the 1960s, the Port Huron Statement

In the SZ interview Hayden talks about the impact and chances of the Occupy Movement and what has changed in America since President Obama was elected. His tone is cautious but optimistic. He calls on Occupy activists to be patient, toss away "sectarian" ideologies and trust in the slowly working reform measures of the federal government. His views are that of a wise liberal who appeals to a younger generation he admires for their democratic spirit. At the same time, Hayden warns them not to make the same mistakes as his generation. What he fears is that old ideologies, especially anarchism, will once again ruin the movement. Instead of falling prey to ideological temptations, Hayden advises the current generation of protesters to uphold the spirit of the 99%. For him, the Occupy movement functions as a pressure group that will ultimately convince the Obama administration to react to their grievances. Apparently, he has no problems with the fact, that those grievances have not been clearly formulated so far.

Hayden at a recent appearance on Democracy Now  © Democracy Now
Hayden wants to repeat his appeals at an Occupy-initiated protest against this year's G-8 summit. Although the Obama administration has decided to move the summit to Camp David, protesters still plan to gather in Chicago, the initial place for the event. And so Tom Hayden will return to a city that has a special meaning for him. In 1968, he was busted there as one of the famous Chicago Seven. Preceding Hayden's arrest was a protest against the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He and other student activists had helped to organize the protest. It was directed against the Democratic Party's backing of the Vietnam War. After violent clashes between protesters and the police erupted, Hayden was and six other organizers were arrested. A federal grand jury accused them of conspiracy against the U.S. government and inciting a riot. Initially threatened with a severe prison sentence, the presiding judge had to drop all charges in the end. Brett Morgan's movie Chicago 10 perfectly catches what was going in Chicago at the time.
Original cover of the Port Huron Statement 

Now, reading what Hayden has to say to a younger generation of protesters, one can hardly miss that something has changed; he has changed. Sure, Hayden was never a revolutionary. By organizing the protest in Chicago in 1968, he did not intend to overthrow the U.S.government. In fact, when a radical faction of SDS opted for a more revolutionary tactic and finally split from the organization in 1969 to form the Weather Underground, Hayden despised that. Nobody can deny though, that he used to be a rebel passionately revolting against apathy on American campuses and beyond. Back then, his message sounded a lot more inspirational. True, he still cherishes the ideal of participatory democracy as SDS has always done. Indeed, Hayden praises Occupy activists for living up to the very same ideal. But apart from that, his message sounds somehow stale and tame. It surely is a message that does no longer satisfy a generation of protesters which highly distrusts the very same agency that Hayden sees as the only possible initiator of real change, the federal government.

So today we might have to go back to the Hayden of 1962 and what he had to say in the Port Huron Statement. We will surely find some inspiration there because we are still "bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Walls Have Eyes - Caught on Tape in London

This is the first part of a series on cultures of surveillance in a transatlantic context.

Thousands of tourist are coming to London every year. The city is not only a financial hub but also one of Europe's cultural centers with a rich art and music scene. Bursting neighborhoods like Camden attract especially young people who are lusting for the hip products of an ever expanding 'creative economy.' Naturally, a trip to such a vibrant city needs to be documented. So day after day thousands of tourists are taking thousands of pictures. Alternatively, they use their video cameras to create some cinematic proof of their stay.

Street artist Banksy on surveillance © C. Gillon/Getty Images
British street artist Banksy's view on public surveillance 
© C. Gillon/ Getty Images  

What most of London's tourists don't know is that technically, there is no need for doing this. While you are walking, shopping or partying in London you are constantly caught on tape. In fact, London is Europe's public surveillance capital. In hardly any other European city do cameras monitor city dwellers as thoroughly as there. Indeed, there is barely any place where you can conceal your activities from the 14.2 million cameras that are planted all over London's metropolitan area  (an astonishing ratio of 1 camera per 14 people). According to a report of the Surveillance Studies Network (SSN) from 2006, you appear about 300 times a day on the monitors of London's watchdogs of public safety.

In a city that was rocked by terrorist attacks in 2005 and most recently troubled by a wave of riots, an increased concern for public safety is understandable. In fact, for people on both sides of the Atlantic security very much matters today; whether they live in New York, Madrid or London. The painful events of the previous decade have proven how vulnerable western societies are despite their military might. In an age of asymmetrical conflicts a small group of individuals can inflict enormous harm on the civilian population of a country. The city and its public spaces have become the major battlegrounds of the 21st century's variant of guerrilla warfare. Thus, as the SSN report has pointed out there are good reasons for monitoring public spaces. The most convincing one is the attempt to avoid terrorist attacks from happening. The question is: How far can we go? In London your everyday pretty much resembles that of Truman Burbank in the Trueman Show. Wherever you go, cameras follow you. Do we need to sacrifice privacy for security? Who has access to the data that surveillance systems mine? Do we really want to live in a 'surveillance society'?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Olympics Direct Reflection on Current Power?

In late July of this year, a world tradition of over 200 countries will commence; competing in the Olympics. The Olympics began in 776 BCE with the Greeks. The reformation of the Olympic games officially began in 1896 in France. Since 1896, globalization has played a huge factor in the Olympics and the perception of the Olympics. 

Each of these 200+ countries compete in the Olympic games for multiple reasons. It creates a healthy international competition between these countries and it shows nationalism. Today, there are over 11,000 athletes competing in over 300 events. 

One of the many facets to the mission of the Olympics are to "to encourage and support the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair pay prevails and violence is banned." Not only are the modern Olympics a tradition but also a direct reflection of the world's current economic and political powers and status of the world's current issues.

Russia (Soviet Union), Germany, and the United States have been the top 3 competitors in the Olympics since the creation of the modern Olympics in 1896. Russia starting in the 1950s has had a huge role only waning from the top 5 but a few times. The United States has always been in the top 3 for those who earn medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Today, China has been an outstanding player beginning in the 1990s and has had an increase in medalists since. In the 1920s Germany has always been in the top 5 countries including during the East and West divide. 

Here is an interactive map of every country and their medalists. CLICK HERE. 

Reason's these countries have been successful in winning the majority of the medals are because of multiple factors. According to a study done by Sanford in 2008, "country characteristics are associated with greater success in the Olympics at the macro level by considering indicators such as health, education, and especially three variables of information and access." In accordance with current events and social changes in the world like allowing women to compete, the Cold War, Post WWI, and other technological advances have contributed to the success of the many countries. Population has only a small role. "The greatest overachievements were recorded by Russia and Germany, both of which won more than four times as many medals as were predicted by their population share." 

Amartya Sen, a professor from Harvard and an Indian economist stated in the Olympics “the ability to participate depends on a variety of enabling social conditions. It is hard to participate in the expansionary process of the market mechanism (especially in a world of globalized trade), if one is illiterate and unschooled, or if one is weakened by undernourishment and ill-health, or if social barriers…discrimination…no capital…no access…exclude substantial parts of humanity from fair economic participation.”

Lena Schöneborn won a gold medal in Beijing
Those who compete in the Olympics are countries who are economically stable, have high literacy rates, approved political system, and low human right violations. Will the 2012 Olympics continue to be  a reflection for this? Are the Olympics a vehicle or reflection for political and economic gain? Now focusing on a micro level, should the United States and Germany be concerned of China and other rising countries roles in the Olympics?