Monday, June 30, 2014

This is what free speech looks like to Google

Germans start challenging the internet search giant after a landmark EU ruling on internet privacy.

By Jason Overdorf
(GlobalPost, June 2014)

BERLIN, Germany — You may think anyone whose own company's search engine autocompletes his name with the phrases “is evil,” “is a douche” and “is creepy” would have some sympathy for lesser mortals who have somehow been damned to internet hell.

But in the case of Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, you'd be wrong.

Last month, the European Union issued a landmark ruling that redefined internet privacy by establishing a “right to be forgotten” enabling European citizens to demand Google and other search engines remove sensitive personal information from the results of searches for their names.

Now a looming battle is shaping up over which requests will be honored, and Schmidt’s company is sticking to its guns in a series of precedent-testing cases in Germany that are highlighting how radically the web is redefining the borders between privacy and freedom of speech.

Cologne-based lawyer Christian Solmecke's telephone has been ringing off the hook since the EU ruling.

“So far, about 100 people have contacted me so that we can help them to delete links to information about themselves,” he says.

Google has been even busier. Within a week of the ruling, it received some 41,000 requests for links to be severed, the company says. Nearly a third were related to frauds or scams, a fifth concerned serious crimes, and 12 percent were connected to child pornography arrests.

Google has always maintained that its search results are essentially the same as newspaper reports, meaning the words generated by its algorithms constitute protected speech.

However, the issue isn't as simple as its statistics suggest, Solmecke says. The EU ruling defines Google not as a printing press but a “profile building machine,” the lawyer explains.

That means the search engine's tabulation of information available on the web doesn’t necessarily enjoy the same legal protections as the information itself. Even if a newspaper article that mentions your name can’t be removed from the internet, you may be able to prevent Google from directing web users there when they type in your name.

The judgment also shifts the burden of proof.

Previously, individuals had to show information to be false or slanderous in order to force Google to remove it. Now Google must effectively prove not only that the information is true but also that it's important to the public interest.

That may make the defense of free speech an even stickier problem.

While individuals seeking to remove information will probably have strong personal motives to edit their pasts, Google's reasons for defending the public's right to know are more abstract. That may create an imbalance: The company’s motives for defending free speech are mainly financial, and it will cost the company money and effort to defend itself against each individual case, making that less likely.

That raises interesting debates in an age when Facebook posts can acquire lives of their own even after their authors delete them.

One of Solmecke's clients is a 23-year-old man currently applying for jobs. When a prospective employer Googles his name, virtually the first result that pops up is a 10-year-old newspaper article about a reading competition that he won — as part of a special-education program he doesn’t want mentioned.

In another case, a leading business executive who was convicted of data theft two decades ago argues that the information, although accurate, should no longer define him to colleagues, employers and casual acquaintances when they search his name.

Bettina Wulff, the wife of former German President Christian Wulff, has already won a cease and desist order against Google over its autocomplete function, which suggested terms such as “red light district” and “escort” when users typed in her name because of an unsubstantiated rumor about her past.

Her success shows it was possible to stop Google and other websites from printing false or slanderous information even before the recent EU ruling. But the hurdles were practically insurmountable.

Google required a court judgment from the countries where the source information was hosted, which could mean legal battles in Belize or the Cayman Islands.

Challenges could also be counterproductive. More than 80 percent of Germans learned the prostitution rumors about Wulff from her campaign to squash them, a recent poll found.

The newspaper report about the special education prize presents trickier problems.

It's not slanderous. It's not even incorrect. Prior to the EU’s ruling, there would have been no grounds for blocking it.

But the challenger believes it's discouraging prospective employers — and that it's difficult to make the case that keeping the article associated with his name is somehow in the public interest.

More from GlobalPost: Germans are drinking more non-alcoholic beer and less of the real stuff

“Everyone who Googles me thinks I'm a disabled person and that's not true,” his lawyer quoted him as saying.

The newspaper reports about the businessman convicted of data theft are also not slanderous. But it's more difficult to ascertain whether it's in the public interest for his conviction to remain associated with his name.

“There's always a stigma that I've done something wrong 20 years ago,” Solmecke quoted him as saying.

Now that he may be empowered to edit out that mistake, more legal problems may arise in the future: no one, including Google, currently has as strong a motive to fight for the public's right to know about it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Germany's renewables paradox a warning sign for China

As green energy in Germany grows, carbon emissions are increasing rather than decreasing

By Jason Overdorf
China Dialogue (June 2014)

From the hay field behind his house, Gunter Jurischka points out the solar panels glittering from the town's rooftops and the towering wind turbines spinning lazily on the horizon.

Thanks to Germany's now famous Energiewende (or “energy transition”) programme, this tiny village of 800 souls produces enough electricity to supply 15,000 households from wind, solar and biogas.

But in what should come as a warning signal to countries like China that are rapidly rolling out renewable energy projects, a ruling by the state government earlier this June promises to uproot these villagers. Proschim's green dream will be bulldozed to make way for a 2,000-hectare, open-cast coal mine.

“We don't have time for energy from the Middle Ages anymore,” said Jurischka, a weather-beaten former agronomist with piercing eyes and longish salt-and-pepper hair.

It's beginning to look like he might be right.

Hailed by environmentalists as a model for how the world's nations can stop global warming, Germany's Energiewende is designed to virtually eliminate emissions and convert 60% of the country's energy production to renewables by 2050. But as the concept catches on in nations like China – which now leads the world in green power capacity and investment in renewables – cracks are emerging in the foundations, suggesting focusing on renewables will not be enough.

“Going down the renewables route is good, but not enough to save the climate,” said Patrick Graichen, director of Agora Energiewende, an independent think-tank based in Berlin.

“The popular perception is [that] we're doing the renewables and that's what needs to be done.... [But] renewables are only half of the story. The other half is keeping coal beneath the ground.”

Germany has already succeeded in boosting the share of renewables to 25% of its total power production, compared with around 13% in the US and around 20% in China, according to the latest report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). But in what Germans are calling the “Energiewende paradox”, the country's overall carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 1.2% last year. Meanwhile, instead of a phase-out of conventional power, Germany is expected to add more coal-fired generation capacity this year than it has in over a decade.

“It's a big step back,” said Anike Peters, a campaigner at Greenpeace Germany. “If the politicians want a real Energiewende, they should shift away from coal.”

The coming coal boom

The recent German increase in hard, or black, coal is a one-off, driven by low carbon prices in Europe prior to the economic crisis and a race to get projects approved before higher emissions set in, according to longtime Energiewende watchers Arne Jungjohann and Craig Morris. But without policy changes, the brown coal of Proschim – called lignite by the energy sector – could see a decade-long boom.

“Germany lacks specific policies to reduce lignite and increase natural gas use,” Jungjohann and Morris conclude in a recent article for the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “Unless that changes, the market is unlikely to bring about a reduction in power production from lignite until the mid-2020s.”

For China, which now burns nearly as much black coal as the rest of world combined according to a Bloomberg energy study, Germany's problems will come as grim news. China invested more money in renewables than all of Europe in 2013, and for the first time its investments in green energy surpassed its investments in conventional power. But due to rapid economic growth, the world's factory will more than double its overall power generation by 2030, adding the equivalent of the entire UK power grid every year, according to Bloomberg. Coal will fuel 58% of its production.

Germany's Energiewende helps to explain why.

The problem Germany faces is that the supply from renewable sources like the sun and wind comes in peaks and valleys, and subsidies for storage technologies have not kept up with those designed to drive green-energy production.

On cloudy, windless days, the country needs the steady electricity supply from coal- or gas-fired generators to keep the lights on and the factories running. Yet when there is an excess, the country can't use enough of the supply to pump water uphill for later use by hydroelectric plants or to convert water into hydrogen. So on sunny, windy days, windmills and coal-powered turbines alike must be disconnected to prevent the surge blowing fuses across the grid.

At the same time, while German consumers complain about high prices due to the green energy subsidy they see on their monthly electricity bills, the dramatic expansion of capacity has caused wholesale energy prices to plunge.

The combined result is that Germany's three main conventional power producers – Eon, RWE and Vattenfall – are often selling electricity for less than the amount it costs them to produce it. And paradoxically, as the US shale gas boom drives down coal prices without affecting gas prices in Europe and Asia, they are encouraged to turn to the conventional fuel least suited to supporting the drive toward renewables: lignite, or “brown coal”.

Abundant in Lusatia and the Rhineland, brown coal supplies around 15% of Germany's energy. Because it's close enough to the ground to be scraped off the top, rather than dug out in deep mines, it's the cheapest fuel available, located right next to the power plants that burn it. Moreover, Germany's grid operates by a so-called “merit order” that takes energy produced by the cheapest fuel first, using power from renewables first, then nuclear, then lignite, then hard coal and only then natural gas. So lignite plants are the last to be taken offline when the supply spikes.

Even then, while natural gas-fired power plants can be stopped and started without much lag time when the wind and solar supply peaks, the most modern coal-fired plants presently in use in Germany must burn at 35% of maximum capacity even when they are officially offline. Worse still, soft brown coal produces 50% more carbon dioxide per kilowatt than black coal and twice as much as natural gas.

“Lignite is the dirtiest fossil fuel, but it has many other disadvantages, because it's not a good partner for renewable energies,” said Greenpeace's Peters.

New policies needed

Clearly, both Germany and China need more than yesterday's feed-in-tariffs and ever higher green-energy production to fight global warming.

In the short term that means grid-preference for flexible but reliable natural gas-power plants instead of cheaper lignite, as well as subsidies for electricity stored in batteries or converted to hydropower or hydrogen – presaging a longer window for the add-ons to their bills that have turned many Germans sour on the Energiewende. German policymakers should also consider taxing carbon or banning new lignite mines, which would allow the producers to keep using the fuel for a decade or more, say experts like Graichen, Jungjohann and Morris.

But in the long term it could mean subsidies for the big conventional power companies today viewed as the enemy – effectively paying them to keep operating plants that will never make a profit because they only exist for the days that the wind doesn't blow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poland’s biggest rising star may have just flamed out

Meet the foreign minister whose bid for a top EU post is under threat from a tape scandal.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost (June 2014)

BERLIN, Germany — A major scandal consuming the government in Poland is threatening to derail the career of the brightest star in Polish politics as it exposes a hidden rift between Washington and a once-staunch ally.

Recorded surreptitiously in an opulent Warsaw restaurant and leaked to the swashbuckling right-wing magazine Wprost this week, the so-called Warsawgate tapes purport to reveal the country's central banker angling to pull strings in the government and a former minister negotiating with the head of the Polish equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service to quash a probe of his wife's dental practice.

But the most shocking revelation came in the crude language of Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski — a Twitter-savvy, Oxford-educated former journalist once thought to be among America's strongest supporters in Warsaw and a frontrunner in the behind-the-scenes race for foreign policy chief of the European Union.

“This is a wonderful instrument to undermine his chances this time around to gain an important European position,” says Konstanty Gebert, a veteran Polish political analyst associated with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“His job in Poland is safe, but if he tries for more, those tapes will re-emerge,” he adds. “They're bound to hound him for life.”

Sikorski eclipsed German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier during the early days of Ukraine’s crisis earlier this year, playing a main role in brokering negotiations between then-President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition, and claiming the lion's share of accolades for averting a Tiananmen Square-style bloodbath.

A former war correspondent who’s married to the Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Anne Applebaum and dined at the same Oxford old boys' club as British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, Sikorski's ambitions run high.

Poles believe he’s aiming as high as the presidency if not the prime minister's office.

Now he hopes — or hoped — to succeed the UK's Catherine Ashton as the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs or Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO secretary general.

But the tape scandal shows him to be more Rahm Emmanuel than Barack Obama.

“The running joke at the Foreign Affairs Ministry is 'What's the difference between God and Sikorski?’” Gebert says. “’God doesn't think he's Sikorski,'”

Heard on tape excoriating his countrymen for their pride in giving “the Americans a blowjob,” Sikorski describes Poland's alliance with the US as “worthless” and uses a racist epithet to disparage what he calls the slave mentality of his fellow Poles.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk has so far declined to dump Sikorski or respond to calls for snap polls to re-establish the government's legitimacy.

As damage control, the foreign ministry has said that Sikorski was actually parroting what the opposition was saying at the time.

Experts point out that even if the recording does reflect the foreign minister's own views, the tapes date back to February, when Washington had yet to take a strong stance on Ukraine’s crisis and offer Warsaw the security assurances it wanted in response to the Kremlin’s aggression.

Still, the harsh words — which have drawn comparisons to the embarrassing recording of US diplomat Victoria Nuland that hit Youtube in February — suggest Obama's 2013 revision of a planned missile defense system in Europe and much ballyhooed pivot to Asia may have damaged relations with Poland more than previously believed.

More from GlobalPost: Germans are drinking more non-alcoholic beer and less of the real stuff
Some rumors blame the tape scandal on Russian spies, and Sikorski himself has said the recordings represent an attack against the government by “organized criminals.”

But in a country that attributes everything, including bad weather, to Moscow, blaming the usual suspects may not be enough to prevent a temporary damping of Poland's rising star even if Sikorski doesn't flame out altogether.

“These tapes are very damaging to the image that Poland has built for itself, with hard work, as a serious, responsible, normal country,” Gebert says.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mein Gott! Germans are drinking more non-alcoholic beer and less of the real stuff

It's not just for designated drivers. Now brewers are also competing for the sports drink market.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost (June 2014)

BERLIN, Germany — It's one o'clock in the afternoon at Bei Schlawinchen and the beer is already flowing.

Famous for keeping the taps running 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the past 35 years, this quintessential “kneipe,” or “dive,” is the last place you'd expect to find alcohol-free beer. But even this haven for hard-core drinkers offers two varieties, a Pilsener and a hefeweizen, or wheat beer, in deference to Germany's latest brewing trend.

While Germans are drinking less and less beer, sales of “non-alcoholic” beer, which contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol, have doubled over the past seven years, according to the German brewery association.

But not everyone’s a convert.

Seated at a table with Bei Schlawinchen's owner and several other afternoon drinkers, 59-year-old Gunter Schumann grouses about the new development.

“It's like sex without the woman,” he says.

“What's the point? It tastes like something’s missing, like sugar-free ice cream.”

“Maybe for when they're driving?” adds another perplexed drinker.

They may be a dying breed.

Although Germans still drink more beer per person than anyone but the neighboring Czechs and Austrians, consumption has fallen by a third over the past 25 years, as high production costs and low prices threaten hundreds of small traditional brewers.

The non-alcoholic variety represents an unexpected bright spot for the industry, says Carlsberg Germany spokeswoman Linda Boos.

“Not only is demand getting stronger, but they're bringing more women to the category,” she says.

Last year, alcohol-free beer consumption rose 12 percent as Germans slugged down 480 million liters of the stuff — meaning one bottle out of every 20 beers drunk nationwide was non-alcoholic.

While alcohol-free beer can still be difficult to find in the US, German breweries already offer more than 200 brands, including wheat beers, Pilseners, standard lagers, flavored beers and bottled “Radler” or “cyclist” — a mix of beer and lemon soda that's long been a beer garden staple.

Around for more than 30 years since the Radeberger Group first launched Clausthaler in 1979, non-alcoholic beer was held back for decades by its taste. As the market has grown more attractive, however, the brews have improved.

It's not just designated drivers and recovering alcoholics drinking it. Various brands including Carlsberg's Holsten, Krombacher and Warsteiner are aiming to compete with Gatorade for the sports drink market, emphasizing that alcohol-free beer, like the regular kind, is “isotonic,” says Birte Kleppien, spokesman for the Radeberger Group.

“Non-alcoholic beer is now not only a substitute for beer but also an alternative to soft drinks and even water,” he says.

Perhaps. But marketing beer as a health supplement these days isn't as easy as it may once have been.

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Across Berlin this summer, billboards advertise Krombacher alcohol-free as part of a marketing blitz that includes the distribution of variety packs, free samples and various other promotions in 25 German cities. But the “isotonic” brand's slogan, “We refresh Germany,” has already attracted the ire of the regulators.

Earlier this month, a district court in North Rhine-Westphalia ruled that promoting Krombacher as “revitalizing” violates European Union regulations requiring such adjectives to be backed up by proof of specific health benefits.

Racking his brain while hoisting back a regular old bottle of Beck's at Bei Schlawinchen, Schumann says he can think of only one advantage.

“I guess people can drink it the day after they've really tied one on.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Berlin bans Hell's Angels logo

Outlawing the motorcycle club’s symbols represents the latest weapon in a fight to stop Germany’s ‘biker wars.’

By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost (June 2014)

BERLIN, Germany — In the latest salvo of a battle to rein in outlaw motorcycle clubs, the authorities here are hitting the global Hell's Angels brand where it hurts most: the logo.

Last month, the signature winged death's head and “Hell's Angels” label featured on the motorcycle club's “cut,” or leather vest, were banned in the capital as the symbols of a criminal organization.

Although a tough-minded Hamburg judge outlawed Germany's first Hell's Angels charter in the city in 1983, the Hell's Angels as an organization have never been banned across Germany.

Now the prohibition of the iconic logo has come about through an ironic twist.

When a former member of the banned Hamburg charter appealed to the court in April to be allowed to wear the club's “colors,” the judge interpreted the original ruling to mean that the Hell's Angels logo is illegal not only in Hamburg, but throughout the country.

“Now, all the other regions in Germany are thinking about that judgment,” said detective superintendent Matthias Frohn, deputy head of the Berlin police division responsible for curtailing the city's motorcycle gangs. “Some, like Berlin, said, 'If that deadhead is forbidden, then I guess it's forbidden.'”

Since the ban of its first charter, the Hell's Angels have taken advantage of an organizational structure that mimics global chains such as McDonalds and Starbucks to gain a big following in Germany. Just check out their website.

The California-based motorcycle club immortalized by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson has charters across Germany and boasts as many as 1,000 members, according to Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office.

The police allege that the loose-knit organization is involved in human trafficking for prostitution as well as dealing in drugs and guns.

Although specific charters have been banned in a handful of cities besides Hamburg, prosecutors have been unable to push through a blanket ban on the parent organization.

As soon as local authorities bring the hammer down on one outfit, another one crops up.

“You have individuals who work their way through different outlaw motorcycle gangs,” said Frohn, whose bearish build and thick beard make him look a little like a biker himself.

“Nowadays, they even sometimes switch between the Bandidos and Hell's Angels,” he added, naming another biker club.

As with other groups allegedly involved in organized criminal activities, bikers, or “rockers,” battle for control of legal and illegal businesses mostly among themselves. The US-headquartered Hell's Angels, Bandidos, Outlaws and the homegrown Gremium motorcycle club all compete.

Over the past five years, however, a “rocker war” between the Bandidos and Hell's Angels — reportedly fought not only with chains and knives but also guns and hand grenades — has spilled into Berlin’s streets.

In the latest case, the Berlin state prosecutor this month indicted 10 Hell's Angels members for the alleged murder of a 26-year-old rival in a sports betting parlor.

Video footage from a surveillance camera shows the perpetrators striding purposefully into the establishment and gunning down the victim as “civilians” nearby plugged euro coins into slot machines.

“It’s become pretty dangerous for the regular person,” Frohn said.

More from GlobalPost: How to be a good World Cup host

“We don't like the term 'rocker war,'” he added, “but when the Bandidos and Hell's Angels started stabbing and shooting each other in 2009, that is something that does affect the general public.”

If convicted, the alleged killers could face life in prison. The Hell’s Angels Berlin-City charter has already been banned under laws that allow German states to prohibit groups that are expressly organized for criminal purposes.

Frohn says it remains to be seen whether the broader ban on the club’s logo will be enough to finally scatter the gang.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Here's what World Cup teams would look like if immigrants weren't allowed to play

Europe is resounding with cries of 'immigrants, go home!' Here's what would happen to the World Cup if they did.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost (June 2014)

BERLIN, Germany — It's not just morons throwing bananas on the field.

Far-right political parties are gaining ground in France. Most of Germany's soccer hooligansare now neo-Nazis. And this spring, Switzerland voted to curb immigration, defying the spirit of laws that allow citizens freedom of movement across the European Union.

But amid all the bad blood, has anyone thought about how sending immigrants packing would affect the teams playing the world's greatest game? Broadly defining “foreigner” as anyone with at least one foreign-born parent, Switzerland would lose two-thirds of its players. France and the Netherlands might be knocked out of contention. And Algeria, Ghana, Turkey or even Suriname could win it all.

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Here's how the world's best would stack up in a World Cup with no first-generationimmigrants. A couple of caveats: First, this list isn't comprehensive, hence the ommission of teams like England and Mexico, even though they do have immigrant players. Instead we've highlighted only the group favorites and the "big losers." Second, not all players on every squad are represented here — we've focused on those who were slated to make a difference for the team.

(Odds come from here, and stats from here.)
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Favorite: BRAZIL

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

A heavy favorite in their real-world group, Brazil retains all of its star players in the no-immigrants-allowed version. Better still, Brazil picks up a few more of its nationals from other country's teams: Shakhtar Donetsk striker Eduardo Alves da Silva and Getafe midfielder Jorge Sammir Cruz Campos from Croatia, and Real Madrid defender Kepler Laveran Lima Ferreira and Fenerbahce S.K. Defender Bruno Alves from Portugal.

Sleeper: CROATIA

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Croatia has only a slim shot at winning the real Group A, and it doesn't fare much better in the no-immigrant tourney. It keeps Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, and Hull striker Nikica Jelavic. As noted above, it loses da Silva to Brazil, along with Jorge Sammir Cruz Campos, who was born there. Queens Park Rangers midfielder Niko Kranjcar didn't make the squad because of an injury.

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Favorite: SPAIN

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Despite its proximity to Africa and a decade-long boom that saw immigrants swell from 2 percent to 12 percent of the population in 2010, Spain retains more than a 50-50 chance of winning Group B in our immigrants-barred game. It keeps Barcelona striker Pedro Eliezer Rodriguez Ledesma, Barcelona defender Jordi Alba Ramos, Atletico Madrid striker David Villa, Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata, Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, and Manchester City striker David Silva.


(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

The Dutch keep Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, Hamburger SV midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, and Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. But we're taking back Dynamo Kviv striker Jeremain Lens, Swansea City goalkeeper Michel Vorm, and AC Milan midfielder Nigel de Jong — all of whom have roots in Suriname (which, as one commenter pointed out below, gained full independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1975). And we'll grab Feyenoord defender Rolando Maximiliano "Bruno" Martins, born in Portugal, and Swansea City midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, whose father was born in Jamaica.

Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece

Favorite: COLOMBIA

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Colombia remains the favorite in Group C, retaining River Plate striker Teofilo Gutierrez, AS Monaco midfielder James Rodriguez, and Atalanta defender Mario Yepes and West Ham United defender Pablo Armero, who's of African descent but not an imigrant by our definition. It lost AS Monaco striker Radamel Falcao from the squad because of an injury.

Group D: Italy, Uruguay, England, Costa Rica

Co-favorite: URUGUAY

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Facing even odds in the real cup, Uruguay remains even with Italy in the no-immigrants tourney. The South American side keeps Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani, and West Bromwich Albion defender Diego Lugano. We'll also let them keep Diego Forlan, whose father and grandfather both played for Uruguay, though they're technically of Basque descent. Atletico Madrid winger Cristian Rodríguez has roots in Spain, and Sao Paolo striker Alvaro Pereira and Palermo striker Abel Hernandez have roots in Africa, but none of them meet our definition of immigrants. However, they do lose Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who was born in Argentina.

Co-favorite: ITALY

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Co-favored to win the group in the no-limit cup, Italy loses less than you might expect in the no-immigrant version. It keeps Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo. However, the Italians do lose a couple guys. Fiorentina forward Giuseppe Rossi was born in New Jersey (though in the end, he didn't make the final squad, anyway). And AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, born in Palermo, has parents who immigrated from Ghana. Meanwhile, an injury knocked Riccardo Montolivo to the sidelines in early June.

Group E: France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras

Favorite: FRANCE

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

The favorite in the real Group E, France can hardly field a team without its immigrants. It retains a shot at getting out of the group with Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud. It drops Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna and Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, whose parents were born in Senegal, and Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, who was born there himself. It also loses Paris St.-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi, whose father was born in Angola; and Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala, whose parents were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. France also gives up Lille OSC midfielder Rio Mavuba, whose father was born in Zaire and mother in Angola; Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko, whose parents were born in Mali; and Marseille midfielder Matthieu Valbuena, whose father was born in Spain. And don't look for as much flash without Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, whose father was born in Algeria. France also loses Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, whose parents were born in Guinea. Topping off all that, they've lost Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery because of an injury.


(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

“No more immigrants” Switzerland loses about two-thirds of its players if it goes all-Swiss, all but erasing its chances of getting out of Group E. It keeps Grasshopper Club Zurich defender Michael Lang, FC Basel defender Fabian Schär, and Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner. But it loses a lot more. Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta is of Italian descent and holds dual citizenship. Napoli midfielder Gokhan Inler's parents were born in Turkey. Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Granit Xhaka, Napoli midfielder Blerim Dzemaili and Bayern Munich midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri were all born in the former Yugoslavia, while Real Sociedad striker Haris Seferovic and FC Zurich striker Mario Gavranovic are of Bosnian descent.

Bigger Loser: ECUADOR

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Wee little Ecuador has a slim chance of getting out of Group E in the real cup. But its odds look much better against the almost-empty rosters of France and Switzerland in the no-immigrants version. Monarcas Morelia winger Jefferson Antonio Montero hails from one of Ecuador's indigenous tribes. Al-Hilal midfielder Segundo Castillo ended up being dropped from the squad because of an injury.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran


(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

A strong favorite in the real Group F, Argentina leads the group in the no-immigrant tourney, too. It keeps Barcelona striker Lionel Messi, Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano, Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. However, Argentina loses Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain, of Basque descent, who was born in France. On the plus side, it picks up Juventus striker Pablo Osvaldo from Italy.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana

Favorite: GHANA

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Ghana keeps Al Ain striker Asamoah Gyan, Rubin Kazan midfielder Wakaso Mubarak, Vitesse Arnhem striker Christian Twasam Atsu, AC Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari and Juventus midfielder Khadwo Asamoah, and Rennes defender John Boye, not to mention AC Milan midfielder Michael Essien. The team also keeps Schalke midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and gets back Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng from Germany — their father was born in Ghana, though the brothers were born in Berlin. The same goes for Marseille striker Jordan Ayew, whose parents were born in Ghana though he was born in France. As a final bonus, Ghana picks up AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, whose biological parents were born in Ghana, from Italy. It also gets Danny Welbeck, whose parents were born in Ghana, from England.


(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

The Germans get our moral support in honor of their recent decision to allow dual citizenshipto the children of immigrants. But their football team doesn't look too good without the guys that the red-faced chap at the end of the bar still calls “foreigners.” Germany keeps Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker, Bayern Munich midfielder Thomas Mueller, Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos, Bayern Munich midfielder Mario Goetze, and Chelsea winger Andre Schuerrle. They retain Schalke defender Benedikt Howedes, whose parents were born in Germany though the family has roots in Norway. But they lose superstar Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, whose father was born in Turkey; Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, whose father was born in Tunisia; and Lazio striker Miroslav Klose, who was born in Poland. They'll also take the field without Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, who has roots in Ghana; Sampdori defender Shkodran Mustafi, whose parents are Albanians born in Macedonia; and Lukas Podolski, who was born in Poland. And they lose Marco Reus regardless, to an injury.

Bigger Loser: PORTUGAL

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Lesser-known colonizer Portugal keeps Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao, Valencia defender Ricardo Costa, Besiktas J.K. forward Hugo Almeida and Lazio striker Helder Postiga. But it loses Real Madrid defender Kepler Laveran Lima Ferreira, aka Pepe, to his native Brazil. It loses Fenerbahce S.K. Defender Bruno Alves, whose father was born in Brazil. It also drops Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha, aka Nani, who was born in Cape Verde (independent from Portugal since 1975), and FC Porto winger Silvestre Varela, whose parents were born there. Lucky for them, Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo, whose great grandmother was from Cape Verde, isn't an immigrant by our rules.

Just Because: US

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Team USA gets to keep San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski — half Native American, with a grandfather from Poland — as well as Seattle Sounders midfielder Clint Dempsey and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron. However, the melting-pot nation loses Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore, whose parents were born in Haiti; Tim Howard, whose mother is Hungarian; AZ striker Aron Johannsson, who was born to Icelandic parents in Alabama; and Rosenborg midfielder Mix Diskerud, who was born in Norway. We'll also take away LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, whose parents were born in Mexico, and Nantes midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, whose father was born in Colombia. Finally, we'll take back Hertha defender John Brooks, Nurnberg defender Timmy Chandler, Bayern Munich winger Julian Green, Besiktas midfielder Jermaine Jones, and 1899 Hoffenheim defender Fabian Johnson — all of whom were born in Germany or have a German parent.

Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea Algeria

Favorite: RUSSIA

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Bookies say Russia has an outside chance of winning the real Group H. But Vladimir Putin's men become the odds-on favorite when we take away the immigrants. Among scorers, the Russians keep Zenit St. Petersburg striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Dynamo Moscow striker Aleksandr Kokorin, Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Viktor Faizulin, Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Igor Denisov, Spartak Moscow midfielder Dmitriy Kombarov and Spartak Moscow midfielder Denis Glushakov. We'll also let them keep CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev (3 goals). Strictly speaking, Dzagoev is of Ossetian descent — his parents moved from Georgia in 1989. But we've seen Putin without his shirt, and we don't want another Crimea-type situation. The Russians did lose one team member, FC Krasnodar midfielder Roman Shirokov, due to injury.

Big Loser: BELGIUM

(Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

A strong favorite to win the real Group H, Belgium loses some stars without its immigrants. Among scorers, the Belgians keep Vfl Wolfsburg midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen and FC Porto midfielder Steven Defour. But they lose a lot. The fathers of both Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku were born in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. Everton striker Kevin Mirallas' father was born in Spain. Marouane Fellaini's parents were born in Morocco. FC Zenit Saint Petersburgmidfielder Axel Witsel's father is from France. And Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele's father was born in Mali.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rebuilding the palace where Germany declared war in 1914 is pretty controversial

Meant to reunite East and West Berlin, the ‘last piece’ of post-War reconstruction is only dividing the city.
By Jason Overdorf

GlobalPost (June 2014)

BERLIN, Germany — A brass band played under a bright sun earlier this month as thousands of Berliners streamed into one of the city's newest construction sites. Not just any real estate project, it was for a recreation of the demolished Prussian palace where the Kaiser declared war in 1914.

Intended to bolster support for the billion-dollar reconstruction project that still needs millions in private donations, the open house drew a whopping 35,000 visitors.

Supporters say the rebuilt Berlin City Palace will fill a physical and psychological hole in the capital’s center, marking the completion of Berlin's transformation from a divided, backward-looking Cold War city into a booming rival of Paris and London.

“To reconstruct this building, which created in a way this town in the 15th century, is to reconnect the two parts of Berlin,” says spokesman Bernhard Wolter. “It may be one of the last stones in the mosaic of the reunification of Germany.”

However, critics see the project as part of a battlefield for the city’s soul.

The Berlin Palace-Humboldt Forum Foundation has already raised about a third of the $142 million in private donations needed for the facade and “options” that include interior portals and the reproduction of the decorations on the central dome.

Currently a thicket of cranes and scaffolding, the project is set to be completed in 2018. Construction began in June last year, when the Berlin city government claimed that most Berliners backed the project.

Never mind that a poll conducted at the time suggested that as many as two-thirds of Germans opposed the plans because of concerns about its symbolic resonance and the potential for mammoth cost overruns.

That the June 2 unveiling attracted so many visitors testifies to its significance — and contentiousness — as a symbol.

Among the opponents, artist Marion Pfaus is already raising funds for the new palace's demolition with a humorous online campaign.

“It shows a lack of imagination and symbolizes German chauvinism,” she says.

Many former East Berliners also see rebuilding the palace less as a way to reunite the city as more as another step toward erasing all vestiges of their communist past.

It was from the palace’s balcony that Kaiser Wilhelm II declared war on Russia in 1914, and many still see the Berlin City Palace as a symbol of German imperialism.

Unlike many cultural landmarks, the building was still standing at the end of World War II despite being hit by bombs and gutted by fire in 1945.

After Berlin was divided following the fighting, it ended up in the eastern zone, where the communist government of the German Democratic Republic deemed it too badly damaged — or too fraught with symbolism — to repair.

Instead, the GDR flattened the imperial symbol and replaced it with an anachronistic glass-and-steel “Palace of the Republic,” which was torn down in 2008.

Nicknamed “the lamp factory,” the unprepossessing modern structure looked out of place amid other grandiose pre-war buildings that East Germany had deemed worthy of reconstruction.

Nevertheless, as the venue for rare concerts by decadent Western bands and cheap bars that accepted local currency, it helped sustain a certain nostalgia for the past after the communist collapse.

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To help quiet critics, instead of being seen to glorify Germany, the new palace will exhibit art from Africa and Asia and host debates about the role of globalization in the developing world, Wolter says.

Like the demolished Palace of the Republic, it will remain open to the public as a center for concerts and other cultural events. To counter claims that it is a monument to the West's Cold War victory over the East, it will also include a permanent exhibition of art from the former communist republic.

“In five years, it will once again be the most important point in the capital of Germany,” Wolter says. “Not as a Prussian king's palace but as an open space for citizens and visitors.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dressing up as cowboys and Indians is big in Germany

Native Americans aren’t amused.

By Jason Overdorf
(GlobalPost, June 2014)

RADEBEUL, Germany — Dressed in buckskins and a flowing, eagle-feather headdress, a ruddy man holds up a fake war club as he gazes proudly at the rolling green hills in front of him.

This isn’t America or even a film set, but the site in Saxony of an annual festival celebrating the Western novels of Karl May, this country’s most beloved author.

Inspired by his pulp novels and the movies they spawned, many Germans are fascinated by the Wild West and a romanticized stereotype of “the Indians.” But with tens of thousands of German hobbyists donning feathers and camping in teepees on the weekends, real Native Americans have begun to wonder whether some Germans love them just a little too much.

“It gives him power,” says Norman Jimerson — an actual member of the Onadaga Nation also in town for the festival — observing the man with the war club.

Stocky and charismatic, Jimerson wears a bead-and-mirror medallion over a western shirt. “You can tell how he feels by looking at him,” he adds.

Like Civil War re-enactors, some are so obsessed with authenticity that they know more about the cultures they admire than the Natives themselves. They perform Native songs, dances and even religious rituals with scrupulous accuracy — refusing to see that their imitation may not always be welcome.

Red Haircrow, an Apache poet and entrepreneur who lives in Berlin, says many hobbyists have gone far beyond a love for Winnetou, the Apache chief of May's novel and a classic example of the ethnocentric idea of the “noble savage.”

“It's as if they believe their knowledge gives them some kind of authority over you or your culture,” he says.

Born in Radebeul, May produced much of his work here. A prolific author, he wrote dozens of stories and novels between 1874 and 1912, selling as many as 200 million copies of his various works.

Like the Africa of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the American creator of Tarzan, May's Wild West bears little relation to reality.

But it speaks volumes about the preoccupations of his late 19th-century readers, who fantasized about a return to nature amid the alienation of industrialization.

The sense of fantasy endures—and not only about nature.

At weekend camps held in remote locations and closed to the public, sexual liaisons are common, and there's an attitude of “what happens at the Indian camp stays in the Indian camp,” says a longtime observer.

In Radebeul, however, most of the visitors aren’t hobbyists, but parents with small children.

Near the town's modern train station, families troop across the tracks to board an old-style train pulled by a steam locomotive that travels a mile to the festival grounds. Boys with cap guns snap shots out of windows. Some children wear headbands and feathers and a few of the adults wear cowboy hats and spurs.

At the fair, the organizers have purposefully separated a cultural performance by visiting members of the Oneida Nation from the ersatz town of “Little Tombstone” and booths where kids don war paint and try their hands at archery.

Even though Oneida performers like Dale Rood of the Turtle Clan say any “insult” is tempered by good intentions and that the interaction enables them to teach Germans about how they live in today's world, it's still a little uncomfortable when real-life Native Americans come face to face with white guys in war paint.

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Canadian Leela Gilday, a singer of the Dene Nation who says she took the gig on short notice not knowing quite what she was getting into, says she was stunned the first time she saw one of the hobbyists, and still isn’t sure how to feel about it.

“It's a strange situation,” she says. “But I don't feel the same way I do when I see people dressed up [as Natives] for Halloween. Here I feel like it's more of a tribute.”

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Germany’s green dreams turn brown

A growing reliance on coal is overshadowing the country’s record on renewable energy as the crisis in Ukraine prompts a search for new sources.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost (June 2014)

PROSCHIM, Germany — There’s nothing extraordinary about the picture of Johannes Kapelle mowing hay with his tractor in a field behind his rustic village house. Except for the dozen wind turbines towering behind the nearby trees, the slow turning of their blades matching the ambling pace of Kapelle's brindle cow. And the glittering of solar panels on the roofs of houses along the main street.

This tiny village near the Polish border in the east may be an unlikely frontrunner in the fight to wean the world off fossil fuels. Like many small German towns, however, it has capitalized on generous green energy subsidies to create a cottage industry in renewable power production.

But not for much longer.

Ongoing problems with pricing structures and new concerns about energy security — thanks partly to the crisis in Ukraine — have prompted plans to bulldoze everything in sight in order to expand strip mining of the world's dirtiest fuel: brown coal.

That makes little sense to Kapelle. The stout 77-year-old with a ruddy face and bushy eyebrows says Proschim produces enough electricity for 15,000 households.

“Bringing coal back here isn’t progress,” he says.

The return to coal is overshadowing Germany’s ambitious plans to virtually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and boost the share of renewables to 60 percent of total production by 2050. In contrast, the American plan unveiled by President Barack Obama on Tuesday targets a 30 percent cut in emissions by 2030.

Unveiled shortly before Japan’s nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in 2010, the “Energiewende,” or “energy transition,” evoked German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall, known as “die Wende” or “the transition.”

For Chancellor Angela Merkel, it also echoed John F. Kennedy's 1962 declaration that America would soon put a man on the moon.

Then Fukushima prompted Merkel to speed up plans for Germany to shut down its nuclear power plants.

Like the moon landing, the Energiewende was never going to be easy or cheap. But despite early successes in places such as Proschim — which have enabled Germany to get 25 percent of its power from renewables — the program faces mounting challenges.

Many Germans believe the emphasis on renewables has increased prices for consumers. And lobbyists from the nuclear and conventional power industries are proving to be tougher adversaries for Merkel than the Soviets were for Kennedy.

As Obama announced his plan to take on America's coal industry and the EU touted a supposed breakthrough in climate change negotiations this week, the government of Brandenburg, the state where Proschim is located, approved plans to relocate 800 villagers and level the town for a 5,000-acre open-cast coal mine.

Critics say it will result in an additional 200 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere.

That's a fifth of Germany's total emissions for 2013.

The plans would also flatten two wind parks, a thicket of solar-powered houses and businesses and a biogas plant that collectively account for about 15 megawatts (15 million watts) of green energy capacity.

Were it a one-off decision, the scheme might be explained away by the disproportionate influence of the Swedish power firm Vattenfall, virtually the only investor in the fading former East German region, or the local population's historical ties to the coal mining industry.

But brown coal mining is coming back across Germany — billed as a “bridge” to the renewable future by the Brandenburg government that approved the Proschim mine — and it’s erasing the gains made by Merkel's green energy drive.

Although renewables account for as much as three-quarters of Germany’s energy supply on peak production days, the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions actually rose 1.2 percent last year — largely because of a matching increase in the consumption of brown coal.

Local environmentalists call it the “Energiewende paradox.”

This year, Germany is expected to add more coal-fired capacity than it has in more than a decade.

The reasons are clear.

The brown coal projects already cleared for the Lausitz area surrounding Proschim would alone provide enough to cover German demand through 2050 if not for energy exports, says Thomas Burchardt of Klinger Runde, a grassroots group that opposes the expansion.

“Once the question was what would happen to Germany when the wind didn't blow and the sun didn't shine,” he says. “Now the question is what will happen to the coal industry when the wind and sun are strong.”

Renewable energy, on the other hand, faces a complex set of challenges.

Building vast amounts of green energy capacity isn’t enough because the supply from wind and solar farms comes in dramatic peaks and valleys.

Current methods for storing excess power produced during the peaks — pumping water uphill for later use as hydropower or using the electricity to create hydrogen — are expensive. So turbines are often simply taken off the grid when they're producing too much power in order to stop them from creating surges that would result in brownouts.

Conventional power plants must provide a steady supply to make up the difference.

Plants that burn natural gas are relatively flexible. But coal-fired plants must also be disconnected from the grid when their electricity isn’t needed, because the heat required to create steam to power their turbines can’t be generated or stopped immediately.

Although the Energiewende's new policies succeeded in spurring a huge growth in renewables, the pricing structure hasn’t been adjusted to encourage conventional producers to focus on “flexible” plants that can be powered on and off to meet demand, power companies point out.

Nor does the price of brown coal factor in the cost of environmental damage, Greenpeace activist Anike Peters says.

“It's a big mistake to think that lignite [brown coal] is a cheap energy source because it gets a lot of subsidies and all the follow-up costs aren't integrated into the price,” she says. “Those costs are paid by the state or the people, not the energy companies.”

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As demand for cheap, reliable energy trumps the drive to cut emissions, another important factor is strengthening energy companies’ hand: the crisis in Ukraine. Russia’s standoff with Western countries is boosting calls to lessen dependence on Russia, which supplies Germany with 40 percent of its natural gas.

The conflict prompted Merkel herself to remark that “all of Germany's energy policies must be reconsidered.”

Although the country hopes to diversify its supply by building new terminals for liquefied natural gas imports from the US, its only real alternative now to Russian gas is brown coal.

“With ... Crimea, energy security became a new argument for lobby groups interested in prolonging the coal industry," says Malte Hentschke, a spokesman for Climate-Alliance Germany.

Without another big idea from Merkel, that spells certain doom for Proschim.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Tiny sculptures make big statement about climate change

By Jason Overdorf 
China Dialogue (June 2014)
When the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) unveiled its latest report in Berlin in April, the revelation that the world's governments are not doing enough to stop the world from getting steadily warmer came with a new feeling of deja vu, thanks to Spanish street artist Isaac Cordal.

A month earlier, the photograph of an installation Cordal had unveiled in his typical, quiet style in Berlin in 2011 had gone viral under a new title.  His installation comprised tiny figures in business suits huddled in an intent discussion – despite being up to their eyes in a puddle.  Cordal had called it “Electoral campaign,” but Twitter users called it “Politicians discussing global warming.”

To Cordal, it was simply another example of the serendipity – or life imitating art – that informs all of his work.

“Everything is politics. My art is a kind of combat, a way to reflect how the society is today,” Cordal told chinadialogue.

The 39-year-old artist's ongoing “Cement Eclipses” project centres around 15 centimetre-high figurines that Cordal molds in clay before casting duplicates in cement. Depicting absurd, dramatic or quotidian scenes, he places the figures in hidden corners of cities across Europe – in a puddle, in the mouth of a drainpipe, or atop a street lamp.

Ordinarily, he takes photographs of the installations, then leaves them to be discovered, ignored or even taken home. But “Follow the leaders” and other works have also been shown in galleries and festivals across Europe.

Like the piece now known as “Politicians waiting for climate change,” most of Cordal's works feature sad, balding men in business suits, obliviously clutching at briefcases as an apocalypse unfolds around them.  Sinking, destruction and collapse are recurrent motifs, reflecting the concentric failures of the systems that surround us – corporate capitalism, global consumerism and bureaucratic democracy.

In “Waiting for climate change,” for instance, an installation Cordal created for Belgium's fourth annual Triennial of Contemporary Art by the Sea, his trademark suited figures stand atop wooden poles on the coast, the water rising and falling around them with tides. Equipped with inner tubes and children's floats around their waists, they check their mobile phones or stare out into the sea – absurdly prepared, yet doing nothing.

“It's about the global inertia that we have and the decisions that our leaders take for us,” Cordal said. “I am optimistic, in the sense that I see a lot of people are making changes themselves. But it's very difficult to achieve a goal if the people who take the decisions are looking the other way.”

Our seeming helplessness to act against climate change – which scientists project will cause sea levels to rise as much as three feet before the end of the century – is for Cordal a symptom of a broader problem.

“Everything is sinking down. The foundation is sinking. Not only for climate change, but all things that are related to the politicians. In society, we have some freedom, but there are a lot of ways that we are slaves, and we don't know it,” Cordal said.

The tiny size of Cordal's figures underscores that feeling, exaggerating the ephemeral quality of his installations and exposing the vulnerability of the suited figures that we are used to viewing as all powerful.

Rather than announcing their presence, the works require the audience to discover them.

“Street art needs to be in public, where it can be discussed, attacked, or even removed,” said Philipp Ruch, a performance artist who heads the Berlin-based Center for Political Beauty (ZPS). “What Cordal's work shows is that it can be even more striking when it is small.”

Social media allows the works to reverberate with new interpretations, Cordal said.

“This was an ephemeral installation. [But with social media] it's a document that is there, somewhere, and suddenly it becomes alive.”

For a June 2013 installation in Nantes, France, for example, Cordal built a devastated miniature city – his briefcase-toting corporate "slaves" peering over the rubble from bombed-out buildings alongside faceless soldiers in gas masks and riot gear. Here and there figures engage in what appears to be a business meeting though they are already buried waist-deep in the rubble.

In another 2013 work, “Faim” (or “Hunger”), a series of mousetraps litter the floor. Some of them have been sprung, breaking the backs of Cordal's bald corporate drones. Surrounding them are more traps – baited with tiny briefcases -- still awaiting their prey.

Like “Electoral campaign” and “Waiting for climate change,” the humour of these works, along with their miniature size, offsets the bleakness of their message. The idea is to mobilise, not overwhelm.

“I think that art can change things,” Cordal said. “It helps us understand the enigma that is the world and what we are doing here. [But] it's not a button you can push to change something.”
Photos courtesy of Isaac Cordal