“We Can’t Answer That”: Walther Charged for Illegal Exports of Firearms to Colombia

When I think of the phrase “black market”, I usually picture smoky rooms, secret sub-basements, trade-offs in the backs of unmarked vans- you know, the usual. To put it otherwise, I don’t picture a beautiful and historic Danube town such as Ulm.


Ulm, home of the world’s tallest steeple and illegal weapons exports

Regardless of what I think, however, Ulm is currently playing host to a black-market scandal on an international scale.

On March 3rd, Deutsche Welle  reported that international firearms giant Walther Arms was facing criminal charges for illegally exporting its weapons to Colombia, whose political, social, and criminal turmoil has rarely left the world’s attention.

Certainly, there is a lot of money to be made selling weapons to a war-torn nation, and that’s why Germany has a law against precisely that sort of business. German companies wishing to export firearms must secure an export permit from the government, and such permits are not issued if said country’s internal state is in conflict, say, like Colombia’s.

So, when a gun like this:

Note the prominent "Made in Germany"

Note the prominent “Made in Germany”

shows up in Colombia, there must be something fishy going on. Little information has arisen regarding these allegations, but in response to the question of just HOW these guns got to Colombia, Walther’s Managing Director had this much to say:”We Can’t Answer That”. Well, Herr Direktor, maybe you should try.

These allegations come hot on the heels of a raid by the German State Investigator’s office on SIG Sauer’s headquarters in the sleepy Baltic town of Eckernförde. According to The Firearm Blog, seventy of SIG Sauer’s pistols were sold to the Kazakhstan Republican Guard in 2010.

Peaceful Baltic town or haven for illegal arms merchants?

Peaceful Baltic town or haven for illegal arms merchants?

This was allegedly done using what is known as a bypass transaction. In this case, the official paperwork listed the pistols as being bound for the United States, where an unnamed compatriot obtained permission from the State Department to export the pistols to Kazakhstan.

Such transactions are understandably difficult to investigate, as the line which divides a bypass transaction from a standard resale is very thin and requires no paperwork to cross. The Eckernförder Zeitung reports that the German police seized documents, hard drives, and computers believed to contain evidence that may implicate SIG Sauer in a very illegal trade.

Information on both cases is still forthcoming, so be careful where you get your guns.


Kindred Spirits in Sochi… As Long As They’re Traditional

Plagued by everything from exorbitant corruption fees to terrorist threats, the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi have already focused plenty of attention on Russia, for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps most inflammatory, however, was the passage of a bill banning poorly defined “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors;” in essence, Putin has institutionalized homophobia in Russia by passing legislation which criminalizes gay rights advocacy. Although he signed the bill over seven months ago, the resulting fall out has yet to settle, and in many ways, has taken up even more of the limelight than the games themselves.

German National Team — Sochi XXII Winter Olympics

The new law has understandably garnered an outcry from across the globe, with most of the responses being firmly on the side of gay rights. Within Russia, protests have been made by everyone from 14-year old schoolgirls to professional activists; outside the country, they have taken the form of everything from Germany’s fabulous new uniforms to calls for an outright boycott of the games (such as those made by the Russian politically-minded punk rock group Pussy Riot).

To be fair, it hasn’t been an entirely uphill battle for activists. Despite Russia’s assurance that any foreigners can and will (and have) be fined, jailed, and/or deported if found violating the law, international pressures have ceded some acquiescence and the opening ceremony itself ironically featured the work of tATu, a Russian pop duo who gained their fame by feigning homosexuality.

Svetlana Zhurova, mayor of Olympic Village and former Olympic champion

Of course, some are asking what Russia’s political policies have to do with an international sports competition. Former Olympic champion and current Olympic Village Mayor Svetlana Zhurova, for example, has begged spectators and athletes alike not to protest the law. According to her, “we are going to applaud the straight people and the homosexuals just like the previous Olympic Games,” and Sochi is neither the time nor the place for activism.

The Olympics, however, have always represented much more than a medal. Our friends at Google perhaps posed the best argument by pulling up the Olympic Charter itself, and reminding the world of the true heart of the Olympic games: a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play — a spirit which has thus far been sadly lacking under Putin’s tightening iron fist.

(Shades of) Grün – Turning the Page of Nuclear Power

While the nuclear disaster in Japan acted like a wake-up call to the world’s growing dependence on nuclear energy, Germany is “the only country to abandon the technology to date.”

Germany announced earlier this year that it is phasing out nuclear power. In June, Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, passed the plan of decommissioning nuclear power and shutting down all nuclear plants in Germany by 2022. So far, eight out of Germany’s seventeen nuclear plants have been shut down, and the deadline for the remaining nine is within eleven years. Germany’s energy revolution also sets the goal of having at least 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Germany Nuclear Power Plants Map

Credit: Spiegel Online

The unprecedented decision makes Germany the leader of the world seeking the best energy resolution, but Germany’s decision also leaves itself with all sorts of obstacles and challenges.

Being the first nation in the world to discontinue nuclear energy production, Germany still faces the risks from nuclear reactors of its neighbours. Its neighbour France, for example, uses nuclear energy to meet 75 percent of its energy needs. People in Germany are still under threat at a time when the impact of a reactor catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan could reach the U.S..

Before Germany started to close down nuclear plants, nuclear power accounted for 23 percent of its energy needs. The pullout from nuclear power is disastrous for the nuclear industry and major energy companies. The energy company Vatterfall is planning to sue the German government because of the damage that the government’s decision has brought to the company.

Another critical question that is being asked is where to store the radioactive nuclear waste. Finland is building the world’s first repository of nuclear waste, the Onkalo. It is featured in the documentary Into Eternity. The Onkalo must remain undisturbed for 100,000 years to keep the waste from harming the earth.

It has also been said that the phase-out of nuclear power will cost the people. Individuals in Germany are having higher electricity bills. However, are Germans’ bills before the phase-out or our nuclear-generated electricity bills really lower? The hidden cost, including environmental cost, health cost and social cost, is not figured into the calculation. How much are people in Japan paying for the nuclear disaster?

Germany is not alone in the energy battle. The world needs an energy revolution. While Belgium is likely to join Germany to phase out nuclear power by 2025, the U.S., who is the largest producer of nuclear power, has got a plan to build new nuclear plants. The world’s 14 percent of power supply comes from nuclear energy. Should we build more Onkalos to sustain the 14 percent of our power supply, or should we follow Germany’s step to turn to the next page?

Traveling to Turkey… Visa Required.

Image: VBR

Are you wanting to travel to Turkey? Do you know the regulations to enter the country? Being a European can simplify your travel plans, but entering Turkey from non-European countries can be more complicated. A traveler from India, for instance, with a valid passport is also required to purchase a visa before entering the country. Further inquiry as to the details of how to obtain this visa reveals a dizzying array of advice on the best way to acquire the visa. 15 Euro / 20 USD seems to be the current going rate though other Half of the reports say that you must buy the visa in advance, half say that you get it at upon arrival and all have the first-hand experience to back it up. Accounts of the process makes one wonder if Turkish customs is not somehow a satellite office of the DMV. While Turkey’s official Ministry of Foreign Affairs website makes the process seem fairly straightforward it is notoriously outdated (even when it has “just been updated”) and the regulations are in a near constant state of flux, and are subject to change without warning. In reality it can depend on the particular official you get that day.

Fortunately, very few of the instances end in a traveler actually being denied entry into the country. There are a few general guidelines that will help streamline the experience as much as possible:

1. Bring cash! Visa fees are payable in most currencies – GBPs, Euros, and USD$. In true bureaucratic form, they do not accept their own national currency, Turkish Lira.

2. No dirty money – Turkish border officials are notoriously particular about the condition of the money: do not try to pay with torn, dirty, or defaced bills.

3. Most of the Turkish visas are single entry and once you exit the country re-entry is not allowed so plan accordingly.

4. Often tourist visas aren’t checked so whether you buy the visa upon arrival or in advance, if you are not asked to present the visa DO NOT SHOW IT!! This eliminates the process of being held up by any visa-related discrepancies or errors that may be present.

Traveling to Turkey can be very difficult, but some countries do no have it as hard as our above example India.  For instance, countries like Germany, Greece, France, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore, and as well as many other countries, have the right to stay in Turkey for 90 days without obtaining a visa.

But what about the United States?

Many have a false presumption by thinking Americans can travel as they please.  Even though it is not as hard for an American to acquire a visa into turkey, as it is for an individual in India, one should still do some searching before going abroad.  Most likely, if you are a traveler from the United States, you pay for a tourist permit or visa ($20) in order to enter Turkey.  One can do this right before entering the country.  There is an exception to this rule.  If a traveler is “arriving by cruise ship for a day trip to Turkey, you do not require a visa as long as you are not staying on shore overnight.”

Other rules apply to individuals who want to stay longer than a day, or longer than 90 days.  Staying for longer than 90 days requires a visa from a Turkish Embassy or Consulate before arrival.  And if one is planning on working or studying there, one “must also apply for a residence/work permit or Turkish ID card within the first month” of arrival.

Important! – Be sure to check the stamps on your passport, because you do not want to overstay.  Overstaying can cause serious problems, like a fine or being deported.

For more information, contact a US Embassy and check with specifics including the laws that may be foreign to you.

Safe travels!

Co-Written with Josh Cochran

Deposit to Stay Alive

Many see the United States as being wasteful, compared to the “green” Germany.  Germans take pride in recycling by separating their trash, bringing their own reusable shopping bags to grocery stores, and using color-coded trash cans to help the recycling system.  Although recycling is not required by law, deposits are.  Since 2002, buyers of soft drinks, milk, juice, or any other container are required by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany to pay “Pfand” (deposit) before buying.

Scenario: You go into a grocery store and pick up a case of water.  You go to the check out counter, and pay for the water, and additionally to that charge, you pay Pfand.

Some may think this is a hassle, but the buyer is able to return these bottles to any grocery store and get their money back.  This not only helps Germany stay “green” but it also helps the homeless survive.

Picture taken by: Dina Imsirevic

While being abroad in Germany this summer, I noticed how many homeless individuals go through trash bins outside of museums, airports, and other various public places.  They did this in order to collect glass or plastic bottles that others threw away.  And why not? By returning bottles that were found, the homeless can feed themselves.

Prices that one pays on deposit varies on the type of bottle or container.

Glass bottles for most beer and beer mixed drinks (usually up to 0.5 litre): € 0.08
Reusable glass and plastic bottles for most soft drinks (usually up to 2 litres): € 0.15
Reusable glass bottles of a special kind and design (usually flip-top bottles for beer): between € 0.15 and € 0.50

Returning a bottle for €0.50 (≈$0.70) can buy a homeless individual a small snack or drink.  And by collecting more bottles, more food and  can be bought.

Recycling helps save families money, keeps our environment green, saves energy, conserves natural recourses, and of course, feeds the homeless.

Germany banning Muslim tradition?

Currently in Germany, there is a law being proposed by Angela Merkel’s cabinet designed to criminalize forced marriages.  However, this presents a huge controversy since forced marriages are prevalent in the Arab/Turk communities and are considered a Muslim tradition. Adding to the controversy, there are a lot of Turkish (along with other nationalities) immigrants living in Germany.

As an American who very much values my freedom, I was initially for the banning of these marriages. As I delved deeper into the subject, I began to question the right that Germany has to do away with a tradition that has been around longer than Germany has officially been a country! I came across compelling evidence which well supported both sides.
Obviously, the woman in the video had an extremely negative experience with her forced marriage and I think it is safe to assume there are many more like her. Also, different rights groups have said that young immigrants in Germany are beginning to identify with Western values and value the freedom of choosing their own partner.

However, it is important to note the difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages. In an arranged marriage, the bride and groom are matched by a third party but consent is given by both people being marries. In a forced marriage, the partners are matched without consent (usually from the woman) to marry.

This video is a bit lengthy, but shows that arranged marriages can be very successful in terms of both people being happy.

I believe banning forced marriages is a great move on Germany’s part. However, if they were looking to ban arranged marriages that would be an entirely different story. On the other hand, does a government have the right to ban something that some (a vast minority of Muslims) people consider part of their religion? My answer is yes.

My final position on the subject was that this issue was that it is a human rights violation to allow people to be forcefully married. Too often, this results in the bride being victimized in a variety of ways.

The Dead Creating the Living

On the 15th of October, Fabienne Justel, a 39-year-old French widow, was denied the chance to use the sperm of her late husband Dominique to be artificially inseminated. Dominique died three months after their June 2008 wedding of cancer, but had his sperm stored before his death.

Justel had hoped that she could obtain the sperm and take it to another country to be impregnated because artificial insemination using the sperm of a deceased partner is illegal in France. Permission has to be given for procedure by the donor, and in Justel’s case, her husband obviously wouldn’t be able to provide consent. Justel was  even denied the simple opportunity to obtain the sperm to take elsewhere.

Although this is a major setback for her, Justel wasn’t surprised by the ruling, and plans to appeal. She tells the AFP (the Agence France-Presse, kind of like the French version of the Associated Press), “…I want my husband’s sperm given back to me. I have no time to lose.” She hopes that France will lighten up on the issue of artificial insemination because other countries have less restrictions when it comes to allowing post-mortem sperm usage. This makes me think. Can you be impregnated by a deceased individual here in the States? What exactly are our rules?

According to the West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, “Now that sperm can be frozen for future use, a woman can be impregnated at any time, even after her husband’s death.” Creepy…But I guess that it is the best option for women with husbands or partner’s who know that they may not make survive certain sicknesses such as cancer. This law was tested in the case of Nancy and Edward Hart of Covington, Louisiana. Battling with cancer and finding that chemotherapy could leave him sterile, Edward froze some of his sperm for his wife Nancy. After he passed in 1990, Nancy was inseminated with his sperm and gave birth to their daughter Judith in June of 1990. Much to her surprise, the state would NOT announce Edward as her father due to the fact that Judith had been born more than 300 days after his death. Facing the chance that she would not be allowed to receive Edward’s social security benefits, Nancy sued the state of Louisiana. It was finally decided nearly four years after the birth of Judith that Nancy and her daughter were owed a lump sum and $700 in survivors benefits a month. Simple DNA evidence (that took four years!?) proved that Edward was the father of Judith, forcing the Social Security Administration to pay up.

Although I probably wouldn’t want to have a child by my partner if he were not alive to see he or she, I think that the French courts should allow Justel to have her husband’s sperm. She’s not taking it to commit some form of biological terrorism crime (let’s not be paranoid, now), but to keep Dominique’s memory alive. It may be a little creepy, but if this is what they both wanted (obviously since Dominique purposely had his sperm frozen…), then his last wishes should be honored. If it makes people happy, and these folks choose to take care of their offspring, then by all means…

For more information on artificial insemination, check out the E-Healthsite Resource to have it broken down in simpler terms. Be sure to leave your thoughts below…

Public Enemy Number One Part 1

You’ve been told most of your life about the deadly bacteria invisible to the eye that hides in your home. You’re given a list of the usual suspects as to the source: critters in the carpet, mold in the air ducts and even your toothbrush.

The newest culprit in the line-up is your cell phone, you know that piece of plastic you can’t leave the house without, and France is taking extreme measures to protect its citizens from harm.

On October 7th, the French Senate passed a bill prohibiting the use of cell phones in nursery schools, primary schools and college. The bill makes it mandatory that researchers make public any new information about cell phone risks to others among other health requiremnts, mainly that cell phone manufacturers make amends to limit the amount of electromagnetic exposure to the brain.


This was not the French government’s first action against cell phones. In Januray of this year they banned the advertisement of mobile phones to children. Some of the guidelines mentioned:

  • Cannot sale a cell phone made for children under six years of age.
  • Advertising for mobiles cannot be directed to children under age of 12
  • New limits for phone radiation and the requirement of an earpiece.

The sudden crackdown has raised the question about dangers from electromagnetic waves across France as people ask: What are the real dangers? Studies have been conducted by various outlets about the dangers of cell phone use, with the results ranging from irregular sleep to blocking or decreasing agents that protect from cancer.

One French article goes even further and points out that the cell phones are not the only danger — it might be best to turn off wi-fi at night.

The problem of cell phones causing severe health risks reached the worldwide stage recently in a September International Conference in Washington D.C. The main focus in studies across Europe and America have been children as they are more suceptible to damage from the electromagnetic waves.

Throughout the tide of information about cell phone’s possible dangers, researchers put a possible bright side on the situation as they stress that the study of the cell phone’s effects is fairly new, as is the cell phone itself.

Food for Thought: The new laws bring up an abundance of questions but my main one: Was it really necessary to ban cell phones in classrooms, especially colleges? We’ve been told that things such as red meat, kissing and under arm shaving could cause cancer. How, if at all, will this affect the purchase of cell phones in France?