"The Paymaster of Europe"
European Union: In the course of almost half a century, what once started out as a small club for promoting the European coal and steel industry has evolved to become a vast subsidisation machine. There is hardly an economic or social sector that is not financed by the civil servants in Brussels. The billions in subsidies have repeatedly been a severe test to the European Union. This year the German finance minister Hans Eichel will be paying 22 billion euros into the European coffers, meaning that the German taxpayer covers over 20 percent of the EU's expenditures. No other country sends as much money to Brussels as the reunited republic, and at the same time no other member profits less from European subsidisation programmes. In view of Brussels' current financial plans, finance minister Eichel faces the almost impossible task of observing the European stability pact again by bringing his budget deficit below the three-percent mark, while at the same time the European Commission is demanding higher and higher payments from Berlin. Gerhard Schröder wants to keep the financial burden caused by Europe as low as possible in the long run. Hence the chancellor has flatly rejected the Commission's medium-term financial plans for 2007 until 2013.
"A World Full of Bubbles"
Capital markets: The central banks of the major industrial countries have been keeping interest rates low far too long. All the money they made available in order to lubricate the economy has had very little economic impact. Instead, new bubbles have formed - which now threaten to burst.
"Billions Seeping Away"
Afghanistan: Politicians want to see a swift success in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which has become an eldorado for international consultants and professional helpers. They have set up comfortable offices in Kabul, but their work is promoting sloppiness and corruption. Donor countries have already pumped more than four billion dollars into the war-ravaged country, more than into any other crisis-ridden region other than Iraq; and more business and reconstruction consultants are sent to Afghanistan than anywhere else. For most Afghans, however, even the simplest things have scarcely improved in the three years since liberation from the Taliban. Electricity is still only available a few hours a day, if at all; the sewerage system does not work to this day; and water only comes out of taps occasionally, even in better neighbourhoods. With a few exceptions, the roads have remained a string of potholes.
"The Power of Brown Gold"
Afghanistan: Kabul's President Karzai is in the grip of the narcotics mafia. A decisive repressive blow is to stem the exploding drug trade. In a grotesque quirk of history, the government of Pashtun chief Hamid Karzai, which was put in place by the USA, is achieving something that the Islamic Taliban and the partners of terrorist godfather Osama bin Laden, for all their contempt of decadent non-believers, refrained from doing: it is inundating the West with drugs from Asia's heartland. The Americans are well aware of the names of 15 drug barons, some of whom live in ostentatious villas in Kabul and have bank accounts in Dubai or Tajikistan. All of them have ties with the warlords and apparently the US military still needs the latter for its hunt on Al Qaida and the last cohorts of the one-eyed head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar. While that is so, it is willing to turn a blind eye on the blossoming poppy fields.
Eastern Europe: Since 1989, Eastern Europeans have been avoiding their own past - now the exposure of some prominent informers is forcing the new EU members to face up to the truth. Unlike in former East Germany, the records once kept by the state security services in Central Eastern Europe are gathering dust in gloomy archives. The people had more pressing matters to attend to: first of all the ailing economy needed to be privatised and invigorated, and the government and judiciary were to be made more democratic. But now more and more citizens are demanding that the radical political and economic changes should be followed by a moral about-turn too.
"Diving into the Font"
Religion: Throughout Germany churches are being closed because Protestants and Roman Catholics are having to economise. In some cases, restaurants or savings banks are moving into the buildings. Between 1990 and 2002 the Catholic church lost almost 2 million members, the Protestant church about three and a half. The income from church taxes has dropped accordingly; the problem is exacerbated by the population decline and a shortage in young Roman Catholic priests, putting the churches before a brutal choice: either they must continue to decrease their staff levels or they must get rid of buildings whose maintenance is eating up their funds.
"Animal Sacrifice in the Penalty Area"
Tanzania: East Africa too has its own soccer scandal. Professional witch doctors earn a great deal of money with their stadium magic. The powers are so sinister that Tanzania's football association felt it was necessary to deal with the problem, to finally get the daemons under control and exorcise them, and so to make orderly play possible once again.
Thailand: Following the flood disaster, investors have sensed that there is big money to be made with beach-side property and are trying to drive away the local inhabitants. The battle for the best locations along the white beaches of the Andaman Sea had already begun before the disaster. It is made even more difficult by Thailand's complicated land laws. The local inhabitants had rarely bothered about property rights and land registers. Often they did not even know that outside investors were securing titles to their land. Now the tsunami is giving the businessmen a chance to actually take control of the land. Some non-government organisations and politicians are trying to help the victims rebuild their houses again quickly. However one senator considers it unlikely that the villagers will be able to stand their ground in this conflict in the long run.
"Opening Fire on the Patriotic Heart"
Film business: More than 1500 US soldiers have already died in Iraq, and as a result fewer Americans are signing up for military service. Now Hollywood is to help change all that. New movies such as Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" extol the heroic struggle for the fatherland. And the Pentagon is enthusiastically taking a hand. Every film director asking the Pentagon for its support enters into a Faustian pact: tanks in return for propaganda. Anyone who wants to show expensive military equipment in action can only do so under the conditions imposed by the military. Every film script is edited, sometimes rectifying minor issues of jargon, sometimes putting right facts; and sometimes it is a matter of historical misrepresentation. Phil Strub is a powerful civilian in the Pentagon and the watchdog in overall charge of all Hollywood projects. Former film student Strub once described what a film should do for the troops as follows: The armed forces must be presented in realistic and positive terms. The films must help to win over new recruits and to reassure soldiers in active service. The movie images are meant to repair the damage that has been done by television images from Iraq.
"God's Marathon Man"
Cover story: The Pole in the See of Rome is the most political Pope ever, but probably also the most rigid in moral terms. His public life and sufferings on divine behest have made him the biggest media star of all time. John Paul II has been heading the Roman Catholic church for 26 years, and his fans dread the day when his era will come to an end.
"Explorers in the World of Sounds"
Medicine: Deaf children have recently started being given prostheses which are placed in their inner ears in early infancy; often they learn to speak similarly well to children with unimpaired hearing. Nevertheless, the value of the implants is highly controversial. In noisy classrooms and on school playgrounds, wearers of cochlear implants have trouble filtering out background noise. Some such children do not feel properly integrated, either in the world of the hearing or within the deaf community - also because many deaf people consider the neuroprosthesis superfluous and reject it vehemently. The triumph and rapid spread of the high-tech hearing aids has sparked an argument among the deaf and educators: should deaf children also be taught in sign language?
"Treasure Island for Elite Researchers"
Biotech: A unique biotechnology centre has emerged in the authoritarian city state of Singapore. This Biopolis has already attracted hundreds of scientists from all over the world to Asia, including many leading minds from Germany who are tempted by the prospect of being able to do basic research without financial worries. With state-of-the-art laboratory technology, an environment in which no one voices any ethical concerns and, in particular, with ample research funds, Philip Yeo is luring top representatives of the Western biotech brotherhood to the authoritarian island nation. Young scientists of local origin are a rare species in Singapore; because so far local students have regarded engineering subjects, such as information technology and electrical engineering, as holding the greatest promise for a future career. The country's scientific organisations are therefore offering a sort of bounty in their hunt for foreign researchers.
"Cool - A Terrible Word"
SPIEGEL interview with star baritone Thomas Quasthoff, 45, about the dwindling pleasure of Germans in singing, and his late operatic success:
"I am not going to become a busy opera singer. After all there are limitations to my presence on stage. ... If I am to believe my parents, and I do of course, then people used to sing a lot more before and even during World War II, than afterwards. The experience of the war and all the burdens imposed on people afterwards from the outside, have soured the joy of singing for my fellow countrymen."