Markus Feldenkirchen

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Following up on the recent post about contracted and temporary work proliferating in America, putting citizens on an insecure and downward path, there are a couple of just-published pieces about the same dynamic in Europe.

Part of this new normal is the result of the aftershock of the 2008 collapse, which may have been even worse in Europe due to that region opting for austerity, but other factors like poor Labor policy, wealth inequality and technological change are also playing a role. Perhaps as much as anything the corporate mindset that workers are disposable has had a corrosive effect. As we’ve seen, this instability has done much to provoke increasingly risky political choices.

It’s not only those in the manufacturing sector facing a steep climb but also oncologists and nanotechnologists, the type of high achievers who were supposed to be largely impervious to such vicissitudes. The generation may not be completely lost but it’s certainly being underutilized.

Liz Alderman of the New York Times has an excellent article that profiles some Europeans lost in the shuffle, and Klaus Brinkbäumer, Markus Feldenkirchen and Horand Knaup of Spiegel address the topic in an interview Martin Schulz, SDP candidate for the German Chancellery. Two excerpts follow.

From the NYT:

After graduating with degrees in accounting and finance from a university in Finland, Ville Markus Kieloniemi thought he would at least find an entry-level job in his field. He studied potential employers, tailoring his applications accordingly.

He wound up churning through eight temporary jobs over the next three years. He worked variously as a hotel receptionist and as a salesman in men’s clothing stores, peddling tailored suits and sportswear.

“It’s hard to manage your finances or even get housing, let alone start a career,” said Mr. Kieloniemi, 23, who added depth to his résumé by accepting unpaid office jobs and internships in New York and Spain, mostly at his own expense. “You feel pressure all the time.”

Meet the new generation of permatemps in Europe.

While the region’s economy is finally recovering, more than half of all new jobs created in the European Union since 2010 have been through temporary contracts. This is the legacy of a painful financial crisis that has left employers wary of hiring permanent workers in a tenuous economy where growth is still weak. Under European labor laws, permanent workers are usually more difficult to lay off and require more costly benefit packages, making temporary contracts appealing for all manner of industries, from low-wage warehouse workers to professional white-collar jobs.  

For those stuck in this employment netherworld, life is a cycle of constant job searches. Confidence can give way to doubt as career prospects seem to fade. Young people talk of delaying marriage and families indefinitely. And though many were grateful for any workplace experience, they were also cynical about companies that treated them like disposable labor.•

From Spiegel:


In the early 2000s, SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced tough and controversial cuts to Germany’s welfare and unemployment aid programs, a reform package known as Agenda 2010. Was that a mistake in hindsight?

Martin Schulz:

In the Old Testament, Solomon preaches that “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” In 2003, 14 years ago, the Agenda was the correct response to a phase of stagnation. On that issue, I always supported Gerhard Schröder. The fact that today we have record employment is also thanks to Gerhard Schröder. But we have also made mistakes. We should have introduced the minimum wage at the same time and taxed the super-rich at a higher rate. Because we didn’t do that, many got the impression that the reforms were unfair. The Agenda was advantageous for the country, but the SPD suffered significant collateral damage as a result. It is now time to focus on fairness.


In times of globalization and digitalization, where politics can no longer exert influence in many areas, how can you promise greater fairness?

Martin Schulz:

I cannot guarantee people absolute fairness. I can only promise that I will do everything in my power to secure fairness or create a greater degree of fairness. The old fundamental principles must continue to apply, even in our changing society: Democracy knows neither master nor slave. Equal education opportunities for all, no matter where they come from and no matter who their parents are. Equal access as well when it comes to digitalization.


That sounds nice enough, but it’s also rather ambiguous. Let’s be a bit more concrete. How do you intend to limit the number of temporary jobs and limited contracts?

Martin Schulz:

Labor Minister Andrea Nahles (SPD) has already achieved a lot in that regard. We could limit the admissibility of temporary and limited work to a much greater degree if we had the necessary parliamentary majorities to do so.


How do you intend to limit the number?

Martin Schulz:

We need to roll back precarious employment models. Temporary and limited contracts were initially seen as a way of introducing more flexibility so as to bridge periods of need in certain phases of production. Some employers have taken advantage of the model to push down wages. In general, we must strive for equal pay for equal work.•

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Let me say this one more time as clearly as possible: A 70-year-old sociopath is not going to change for the better, especially when his most disgraceful behavior hasn’t cost him anything in life, has actually helped him.

As someone who grew up in Queens watching the Lampanelli-Mussolini mash-up that is Donald Trump grow increasingly bizarre, belligerent and bigoted, I cringe every time I read or hear that the gravity of the primary, the general election, the White House, will somehow mitigate this man. He’s beyond palliation–far beyond. I joked at one point that Trump might land in the Oval Office or a prison cell, but I thought both were possible. Seems even more likely at this point. 

In the latest puzzling display of surprise over the continued freak show of the Man With No Brain But Two Mouths, a Spiegel article by Markus Feldenkirchen, Thomas Hüetlin, Nils Minkmar and Gordon Repinski carries this display copy: “The hope that Donald Trump might become more presidential as his inauguration approached have proven misguided.” Such hopes will continue to prove so.

Insufficient Dignity

For months, many have been talking about Trump’s lack of maturity and his insufficient dignity for one of the most powerful and honorable political offices in the world. And yet his press conference on Wednesday left even party allies stunned.

He showed himself to be a man with more faith in Russian President Vladimir Putin than in the findings of America’s own intelligence agencies. A man who reacts aggressively to all forms of critique. A man who sought to intimidate CNN reporter Jim Acosta and refused to answer the reporter’s questions because he doesn’t approve of the broadcaster’s coverage.

It was an appearance that lacked everything that one has come to expect from U.S. presidents: self-control, diplomacy, reserve and restraint. He spent much of the press conference praising himself and his team and there wasn’t a moment of irony or self-doubt. Even in the U.S., where referring to one’s own strengths is much more common than it is elsewhere, such a degree of conceit is unusual.

For many, victory is paired with humility. Trump, by contrast, hasn’t passed up a single opportunity since Nov. 8 to boast about his “big” election victory and he continues to cast insults at his defeated opponent Hillary Clinton. Those who thought that Trump’s almost conciliatory Christmas address meant that the president-elect was changing his tune were quickly disabused of that notion.

On the weekend before last, actress Meryl Streep used her speech at the Golden Globes to criticize Trump for his mocking of a physically disabled New York Times reporter during the campaign. The incident was Trump’s revenge against the reporter, who had exposed one of the GOP nominee’s lies. Trump was quick to strike back at Streep. He claimed that he was not making fun of the reporter’s disabilities, even though videos make it clear that that is exactly what he was doing. He then took to Twitter to call Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” and “a Hillary flunky.” It was yet another tweet-storm showing how far removed Trump is from reality.

His reactions have become totally predictable, no matter whether he is responding to a perceived slight from an employee, a reporter, an actress or the intelligence community. There is no nuance in his retribution; it is always excessive.

Trump’s behavior can often be reduced to a simple question: Was somebody nice to me or not? It usually doesn’t get much more complex than that. As such, the key to understanding the new U.S. president lies less in his political pledges or in the hopes of his followers and more in the make-up of his personality.•


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There are numerous reasons for the surprising success of Donald’s Trump’s racist bumfight of a campaign, something even the hideous hotelier himself didn’t really want. He impetuously entered the race to “burnish his brand,” which stinks like a cheap cologne concocted from sewer water. A troll NEVER really wants to be king.

The emotional homunculus was subsequently aided by myriad factors: the the drift into the fringe by the GOP base, the initially overcrowded field of lacklustre candidates, a racist backlash to the first African-American President and struggling media companies gladly accepting free content, no matter how ugly or inappropriate the Reality TV show was. It’s not that cable news should have ignored the rise of Trump, but it shouldn’t have abetted it to erase the red ink, either. But there was CNN, Jeff Zucker’s clown car of infotainment, pretending populism in the name of the bottom line, and Maureen Dowd realizing far too late that Trump had never been a “fun brand” and had actually become something fascistic. They were not alone in their opportunism or blissful ignorance.

Two passages about this Baba Booey of an election season, one from Markus Feldenkirchen in Spiegel and a couple of David Remnick quotes from The Hollywood Reporter.

From Feldenkirchen:

The political culture that is emerging here is a mixture of primary school, mafia, and porn industry. It alternates between cries of “He started it!,” brawls, misogyny, and penis size comparison. It’s almost as if guests at a formal dinner, where basic table manners were a given, suddenly began to belch and break wind without restraint. America is currently experiencing not only political but also moral bankruptcy. Dirty tricks are not new in US election campaigns, but the new lows to which the candidates are currently stooping are unprecedented.

It’s not just the two bullies at the top who are to blame. Their rise was made possible through a decline in values such as decency, honesty, tolerance and fairness — a process that has been hastened by the Republican Party more than anyone else. For too long, it has pursued fiscal, economic and social policies that served only companies and the rich, the financial backers of their election campaigns. At the same time, millions of Americans slid into precarity. Cultural declines are often the consequence of real economic decline. Propriety isn’t the primary concern of those with financial worries, those who are embittered and living without hope. Instead, the neglected long for a culture of radicalism and coarseness. Destruction, they believe, may presage something better.

Over the course of decades, the Republicans have likewise built up a culture of contempt for public goods and services. They argue for educational policies that exclude the non-privileged, instead pushing them towards stultification and barbarization. They allow billionaires like the Koch brothers to direct the party’s policy and appoint it’s key candidates. A few years ago, Republicans furthermore embraced the radical and destructive Tea Party movement, thus marking the party’s departure from any semblance of moderation.It is too late to turn back the clock.•

From Remnick:

“Donald Trump, for decades, occupied a kind of comic space in the New York ego-scape,” [Remnick] continued. “He was the guy who discovered, ‘If I just say outrageous things and behave like a cartoon of Louis XIV, I will become enormously famous. It doesn’t matter that I’m wrong or it doesn’t matter that I’m ill-informed and it doesn’t matter that I’m even racist. Some portion of people will find this hilarious.’ But now it’s not a question of whether or not he gets to put his name on the side of a skyscraper. It’s whether he has the nuclear codes.”

Not surprisingly, The New Yorker’s coverage of the presidential candidate has been withering. Remnick penned a piece in the March 14 issue of the magazine that dredged up some Trump bon mots that would make even the shameless billionaire wince (marveling about Melania’s bowel movements or his willingness to have sex with Princess Diana). “This is not a Seth Rogen movie; this is as real as mud,” Remnick wrote.

Regardless of the outcome, the 2016 presidential campaign will go down in the annals of politics thanks to Trump, Remnick told THR.

“I can’t believe that in 100 years, we won’t remember the bizarre, frightening, hilarious — did I mention bizarre? — quality of this race, and it begins and ends with Donald Trump,” he added. “You have an American demagogue getting very close to the Republican nomination. This is as close as an American demagogue has gotten to power in history. George Wallace, Huey Long, all those people never got as close as Donald Trump. We may laugh and find it all a gas. And for journalists, it’s a kind of welfare program. Everybody’s ratings get boosted and people read about it and everybody’s happy, but it’s pretty damn frightening.”•

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What a difference a day makes. Just before the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump was labeled by Spiegel the “world’s most dangerous man.” If he were to become President, you could make that argument since he is ridiculously unqualified for the job, but the first-in-nation voting put a crimp in his effort. New Hampshire could revise the script again, but on Tuesday morning he seems more Pat Buchanan with hair plugs than Pol Pot.

It’s deplorable that our new media equation used Trump as cheap entertainment, as if it were just one more tacky yet harmless reality show. Even worse are the supposedly serious journalists who depicted him as merely a somewhat irreverent entertainer when he was making fascistic noise in a very important arena. 

That being said, the Spiegel article by Markus Feldenkirchen, Veit Medick and Holger Stark is still really good. An excerpt:

‘It’s a Miracle Trump Didn’t Invent the Selfie’

Michael D’Antonio is sitting in an Applebee’s fast-food restaurant on Long Island, speaking quietly. He’s a cheerful, thoughtful man with a white beard, the polar opposite of Trump. D’Antonio has delved a lot deeper than most others into Donald Trump’s world.

D’Antonio recently wrote a biography of Trump, who was enthusiastic about the project and gave his cooperation — at least initially. Trump granted the author several interviews, which were usually held in his penthouse inside the Trump Tower, behind the kinds of double doors that would normally be used in castles. D’Antonio was granted free access to Trump’s family and associates, and spoke with his grown children and all three of his wives. But when Trump realized that D’Antonio was also one of his critics, he immediately canceled the project.

“What I noticed immediately in my first visit was that there were no books,” says D’Antonio. “A huge palace and not a single book.” He asked Trump whether there was a book that had influenced him. “I would love to read,” Trump replied. “I’ve had many best sellers, as you know, and The Art of the Deal was one of the biggest-selling books of all time.” Soon Trump was talking about The Apprentice. Trump called it “the No. 1 show on television,” a reality TV show in which, in 14 seasons, he played himself and humiliated candidates vying for the privilege of a job within his company. In the interview, Trump spent what seemed like an eternity talking about how fabulous and successful he is, but he didn’t name a single book that he hadn’t written.

“Trump doesn’t read,” D’Antonio says in the restaurant. “He hasn’t absorbed anything serious and profound about American society since his college days. And to be honest, I don’t even think he read in college.” When Trump was asked who his foreign policy advisers were, he replied: “Well, I watch the shows.” He was referring to political talk shows on TV.

In all of the conversations about his life, Trump seemed like a little boy, says D’Antonio. “Like a six-year-old boy who comes home from the playground and can hardly wait to announce that he shot the decisive goal.”

According to D’Antonio, American society revolves around two things: ambition and self-promotion. This is why Trump is one of the most appropriate heroes he can imagine for the country, he adds, noting that no one is more ambitious and narcissistic. “It’s a miracle Trump didn’t invent the selfie.”•

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