German Animal Rights Leader on Trial for Fraud

At the beginning of April the former head of a German animal rights foundation, the German and European Animal Relief Organization, was arrested and charged with embezzling more than $45 million in donations which they allegedly laundered through a series of dummy corporations. The alleged fraud took place from 1994-1999.

Wolfgang Ullrich, 57, fled to Thailand when authorities were on his trail, and was extradited back to Germany in February of this year. He had been imprisoned in Thailand for refusing to pay a $1.8 million fine for illegally importing a yacht into that country.


Former animal rights foundation head goes on trial for alleged fraud. Associated Press, April 2, 2001.

That IBM-Holocaust Book

ArsTechnica recently linked to one of the better (though short) reviews of Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust. Reviewing the book for The New York Times‘s, Gabriel Schoenfeld wwrites of the book,

The key question, in any case, is not whether I.B.M. sold Germany its equipment but whether, as alleged, it made the Final Solution part of its ”mission” and whether its relationship with Germany in any way ”energized” or significantly ”enhanced” Hitler’s efforts to destroy world Jewry. On the first point, Black never even attempts to substantiate his accusation — a scandalous omission considering the gravity of the charge. As for the second, his shaky evidence leads him to oscillate between two completely irreconcilable positions.

On the one hand, Black argues that I.B.M., through its German subsidiary, ”designed, executed and supplied the indispensable technological assistance Hitler’s Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before — the automation of human destruction.” On the other hand, he maladroitly hedges, noting that even if Germany had completely lacked I.B.M.’s efficiency-enhancing tools, ”the Holocaust would have proceeded — and often did proceed — with simple bullets, death marches and massacres based on pen and paper persecution.” But if that is so, in what sense were the punch cards and the tabulating machines ”indispensable”?

Women Join German Combat Units

After losing its case in the European Court of Justice, Germany allows women to serve in combat position.

In January 2000, a female electronics specialist sued in the European Court of Justice claiming that the German armed forces’ policy of not allowing women to join combat units violated the European Union’s principle of sexual equality. She won and in July Germany changed its constitution to allow women in combat positions.

According to the BBC, 1,900 women have applied to join the German armed forces since the constitutional change. The first 244 women were accepted on January 2, 2001, most of whom joined the German army and air force.


Women join German fighting forces. The BBC, January 2, 2001.

Germany’s Statist Policies Coming Soon to a Web Near You

Wired has one of the better stories I’ve seen about Germany’s laws that forbid the distribution of hate literature. Such laws are coming into conflict with the free wheeling Internet. Germany went after Amazon.Com for selling Mein Kampf to German citizens, and now a Munich prosecutor is investigating Yahoo! sold copies of the book to German citizens.

Some in Germany simply want racist, xenophobic, and/or hate literature to be banned outright on the Internet. Here’s a quote from Michael Friedman, who Wired describes as a leader of Germany’s Jewish population, to that effect.

We believe that the distribution of anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic literature through Internet services has to be forbidden. The case of Yahoo in France showed us that in the next weeks and months there will be a new view in Europe on that. There must be a new legal structure in which distribution of hate literature is not allowed. I believe that this is a global, humanitarian message that hate literature is not distributed.

Now the German state is quick to point out that it does not actually ban the sale of Mein Kampf. Rather, the sale of such books are restricted to the right people. Here’s a German Justice Ministry spokesman explaining how this works,

If you go to a bookshop, the bookseller can have a look at you and decide if you are really interested, like if you are a student. It’s not the book that’s forbidden, it’s selling it to everyone. If you sell it through the Internet, you don’t know who wants to buy the book; you give it to everybody, and that’s forbidden.

Or as another Justice Ministry spokesman told Wired, “It’s a criminal offense to sell it to persons who are interested in Nazi things and symbols. It’s a problem of the different standards. I know that Mein Kampf is sold in the U.S., but it can’t be sold here. The Internet makes it possible for everyone to get it. So you have to talk about standards and find a way of dealing with it.”

So the German state essentially turns booksellers into mind readers. If you look like you might be a white supremacist, forget it — you’re not going to be able to buy the book. On the other hand, if you look like a nice respectable anti-Fascist, no problem.

And some Germans apparently want this sort of standard to apply to the Internet. Thanks, but no thanks.

Putting the state in charge of determining who can and cannot read books in an attempt to combat fascism is absurd. Censorship and the classification of people into “correct” and “incorrect” categories is at the heart of fascism and other totalitarian political systems.

Moreover, the laws clearly don’t work. I can think of dozens of ways to get around this law, as I’m sure right wing hate groups in Germany have. In addition, Germany and France (which has similar laws) have both been the scene of some of the most right wing violence in Europe. The laws against hate literature have done little to prevent a small minority of dedicated hate mongers.

In the long run, the way to stop racism, xenophobia and other irrational ideas is to move toward more openness in a society rather than restrictions and censorship of the “wrong” ideas. Strengthening the state and state control will almost certainly backfire. Europeans seemed in shock at the electoral victory of right wing extremists in Austria, but the right wingers there have the left-liberals to thank for preserving the strong state and keeping Europeans used to censorship.

European Governments: High Prices Are Good for Consumers

    If you thought gasoline was high in the United States for much of the summer, you can be thankful you weren’t living in Europe where gas prices dwarf the U.S. prices. Throughout Europe many consumers recently said “Enough” and engaged in protests and civil disobedience to urge governments across the continent to do something.

    And in Europe government is definitely the source of the problem. In Great Britain, for example, the market price of a gallon of gasoline isn’t that much different from the United States — currently about $1.31. But the UK government then tacks on almost $3.40 per gallon in taxes, so the cost per gallon to consumers is a whopping $4.71. The case is similar in the other European nations. Italians pay $2.53/gallon in taxes, and Germany $2.56/gallon. Fuel taxes in the United States are too high, but in Europe they’re downright exorbitant.

    And the response of European governments boils down to a simple sentence: live with it. French truck drivers won a temporary 15% cut in the fuel tax, but other countries are holding the line. Both the UK and German governments have said they will not be lowering fuel taxes.

    German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had to be helicopter in to an event in the city of Schwerin after protesters blockaded the land routes with trucks and tractors. Schroeder wanted protesters to “drop this dangerous game because it could threaten the growth and employment prospects we currently have.” If the German state blocks growth with confiscatory gas taxes, that’s okay with Schroeder. Let the consumers who bear the brunt of idiotic tax policies dare to protest, however, and they become a threat to the entire nation’s economic prospects.

    European governments in general seem to view end consumers of goods as annoying pests who don’t understand the joy of government intervention in the market. Germany, for example, recently took the bizarre act of ordering Wal-Mart and several other large grocers to raise their prices in that nation. The German Cartel Office complained that Wal-Mart as well as grocers Aldi and Lidl were selling some products such as milk, butter, flour and cooking oil below cost which is illegal in Germany (in the United States such actions are legal or illegal depending on the prevailing winds of antitrust politics, with the U.S. going after Microsoft for allegedly under pricing while simultaneously going after record companies for overpricing the cost of goods).

   The Germans apparently think the grocers are lowering prices to drive smaller concerns out of business, after which they will raise prices, but I have yet to see any concrete example of this happening in the real world. Much more likely is that the sort of economies of scale enjoyed by advances companies such as Wal-Mart have made in inventory management allows them to offer some basic goods that have mature pricing schemes at a slight loss since they more than make up the small loss on the wide range of other products such huge mega-markets sell.

    The sheep weren’t buying the justification, with one man telling the Associated Press that, “Life in Germany is expensive enough as it is. When the likes of Wal-Mart come along and force the others to pull down their prices, that’s a good thing.”

    Leave it to Europe’s pseudo-socialist governments to enter the new millenium championing the fine art of screwing the consumer with high prices.


World ‘faces oil crisis’. The BBC, September 12, 2000.

Fuel crisis grips Europe. The BBC, September 12, 2000.

European leaders remain defiant over fuel protests. CNN, September 13, 2000.

Germany targets Wal-Mart. Stephen Graham, The Associated Press, September 9, 2000.