A blog about business and economics.

July 2 2014 1:45 PM

Entrepreneurs Are Preparing for Burning Man

This story first appeared in Inc.

The festival doesn't start until Aug. 25, but already the tech-and-investor-packed utopian-hive that is Burning Man is already being assembled. San Francisco entrepreneurs are leading the charge to create souped-up art cars, hulking art installations, and a giant, musically controlled Tesla coil.

(Because, really: What would Burning Man be without a lightning-spewing Tesla coil lighting a massive dance floor on the playa?)

The annual festival of about 60,000, held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, is a de fact holiday—free from convention, currency, and most clothing—for the Bay Area's ranks of entrepreneurs. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a regular. So are Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who reportedly hired Eric Schmidt in part because he'd attended Burning Man. Facebook's Dustin Moskovitz ran into, and apparently made amends with, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss there last year. And Burning Man founder Larry Harvey is an entrepreneur himself. 

This year Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO, was widely quoted after a screening of the HBO show Silicon Valley, as being critical of a party scene in the show. "I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley," Musk said. 

But what inventive absurdities are these entrepreneurs planning for this year? Oh man. Glad you asked.

1. A massive, four-story-high zeppelin, powered by a bus.

Former Googler Casey Ho, an artist, software engineer, and entrepreneur, is working full time—not on a new company, but rather, a dirigible airship that doesn't actually fly. He's dubbed it the Zeppelin Mutant Vehicle. (How all-in is Ho? He lists "Zeppelin Mutant Vehicle" as his current employer on LinkedIn; previously he's worked at startups Smartizen and Notizi.)

The Zeppelin, which is funded through Kickstarter (it's raised more than $7,000) is billed as what will be "a massive airship made of color and light flying across the Burning Man playa at night." Ho's collaborators on the airship project? "The group is comprised of Burning Man veterans and non-burners alike, and hails from a multitude of theme camps- primarily Asian Fetish Camp, Domo Arigato, and *CATS. We're growing fast, with over 25 contributors. New participants are always welcome!" So come on down!

2. A freezer truck shaped like a technicolor iceberg.

Justin Kan, the entrepreneur behind Justin.tv, TwitchTV, and, more recently, Exec, is building something new. And it's going to be ice cold during the hot, hot days in the sandstorm-prone desert.

It's called Titanic's End, and it's being built with the help of friends, colleagues, and fellow founders out of Nimby, an East Oakland art-slash-event-slash-party-space-slash-massive-junkyard that's constantly under construction. (The airship is also being constructed at Nimby.) On Crowdtilt, where the project is being funded, Kan describes it as the "world's first mobile iceberg." Oh yes, there is more: "Built on top of a cold plate freezer truck used to deliver ice cream, we're adding polycarbonate panels, LED lighting and a kick-ass sound system to freeze your minds out on the playa this year at Burning Man 2014. Titanic's End will cruise around the playa, opening up our mobile ice lounge (which will be cold!) to visitors during the day, and becoming a mobile dance party at night." OK then!

3. A lightning-spewing party dome.

The lead engineer at Two Bit Circus, Daniel Busby, is part of a team building "a giant, musically-controlled Tesla coil sculpture for Burning Man 2014." The project's Facebook page reads: "When done, it will be a 10-foot-tall Tesla coil bolted onto a 20-foot dome, controlled by a DJ booth. Which means dancing under freakin' lightning, people." Trippy, dude. The project is more than $2,000 short of its $8,200 Kickstarter goal. If you want to be dancing under freakin' lightning, people, ante up!

4. A car that looks like a brain crossed with a jungle-gym. Also: technicolor! 

Yet another project out of Oakland, which is being funded on Indiegogo, is a "huge brain art car" being constructed by data scientists, engineers, animators, and brain researchers, and a couple of startup folks, including an employee of Misfit Wearables. Dubbed "Dr. Brainlove," the project is described as "a climbable interactive brain mounted on a modified biofuel-powered school bus." It's earned $14,700 of its $26,000 goal on Indiegogo so far. 

Let's repeat that: "A climbable interactive brain mounted on a modified biofuel-powered school bus."

5. A tall ship on wheels that you can ... sit on.

Michelle Taniguchi, a business consultant from Santa Cruz, wants to rebuild The Monaco, a Burning Man art car resembling a tall ship, replete with a multitude of sails, which, according to the car's Facebook page, was "lit on fire by a passing art car" some years ago on the playa. 

What is The Monaco? Glad you asked. "She is approximately 45 feet long and holds more than 40 passengers. She's got 3 masts, a generator for music and lighting, a bar and plenty of room on the deck for both crew and passengers. Voyaging to Black Rock is hard on our lovely sailing ship, though, and she's in need of some repairs and improvements in port before she makes another journey." It's been funded beyond its $5,000 goal already on Kickstarter, but it still has dreams of becoming technicolor someday. Should an additional $2,500 be raised, Taniguchi hopes to add new LED lighting and color control, and undercarriage lighting.

6. A social club for the bitcoin mafia.

Yep, in the temporary village of Black Rock City, where money is basically verboten (though bartering is allowed), there's set to be a "Camp Bitcoin." Aside from being a camp where cryptocurrency evangelists can sleep and evangelize about cryptocurrency, what will it be? That's unclear. But the page is hosted on Hive Web's website, and is created by a couple of Hive employees, along with Erik Voorhees, a serial entrepreneur who is co-founder of the bitcoin company Coinapult, Josh Rossi, creator of Satoshi Square, an open-air bitcoin marketplace, and Charlie Shrem, the co-founder and CEO of bitcoin startup BitInstant. (Shrem, alas, won't be there: He's under house arrest after being indicted on April 10, 2014, on accusations of attempting to launder more than $1 million in virtual currency.)

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July 2 2014 1:01 PM

T-Mobile, the “Most Pro-Consumer Company in the Industry,” Might Have Stolen Hundreds of Millions From Consumers

John Legere, the infamously free-wheeling, trash-talking chief executive of T-Mobile, enraged the Internet earlier this month when he described competitors as "raping" their customers for "every penny you have." The tactless choice of words got Legere into hot water. But potentially far more devastating to T-Mobile are allegations that Legere and his company have been taking egregious advantage of customers on their own.

The Federal Trade Commission has slapped T-Mobile with a formal complaint that accuses the company of reaping hundreds of millions of dollars from phony charges it buried in users' cellphone bills. On numerous occasions, the complaint alleges, T-Mobile charged consumers for third-party subscriptions and services that they did not order or authorize—a practice known as cramming—and continued to do so even after consumers complained about the unauthorized charges. The bogus services have included monthly subscriptions to ringtones and wallpaper as well as text messages that deliver horoscopes, flirting tips, and celebrity gossip. They typically billed consumers for $9.99 a month, of which T-Mobile took a 35-40 percent cut.

The FTC says that third-party charges were not clearly identified as such in T-Mobile's bills to users and were often hidden beneath the labels "Usage Charges" and "Premium Services." In one sample bill cited by the regulatory agency, the most information a lengthy bill included about third-party charges was a line listing "Shaboom Media" under "Other Service Provider Charges" with a $9.99 usage fee and this illuminating description: "8888906150BrnStorm23918.” The FTC notes that other customers have prepaid accounts and do not receive monthly bills from T-Mobile; in these cases, the agency writes in its complaint, unauthorized charges were deducted in the form of minutes from the user's available balance.

Never one to stay quiet, Legere published a statement on Tuesday that condemned the FTC complaint as "unfounded and without merit." He said T-Mobile had stopped billing for premium messaging services in 2013 and was working to refund customers for unwarranted charges. "We are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors," Legere said. On Twitter, he promoted links to his statement and declared the government complaint "lobbying work of big greedy carriers!"

Despite Legere's typically vivid comments to the contrary, it might be hard to dismiss the evidence the FTC has pulled together on this one. The agency says that internal T-Mobile documents show the company was aware of numerous consumer complaints over unauthorized charges as early as 2012—long before it moved to end them last November. The FTC also alleges that T-Mobile frequently refused to provide refunds sought by customers and "has told consumers that there is nothing it can do about the unauthorized charges." That definitely sounds like something "the most pro-consumer company in the industry" would do. For sure.

July 2 2014 11:06 AM

New York Real Estate Is the Newest Way to Launder Money

If you haven’t read the piece already, New York magazine takes a fascinating look at the New York City real-estate market in its latest issue. “Stash pads,” as the magazine dubs them, are the hot new Swiss banks for wealthy foreigners. Aided by layers of shell corporations, as well as brokers and lawyers who turn a blind eye, foreign money has flowed out of deep pockets abroad and into luxury condos and apartments in New York. Once the funds find a home, New York explains, they can be nearly impossible to spot for what they are:

There is nothing illegal—at least from the destination nation’s perspective—about sending money from an anonymous offshore bank account to purchase property in America. On the contrary, it’s an everyday occurrence. That is precisely why experts say that property investment is a favored route for money laundering, a crime that depends on the outward appearance of legitimacy. The laundering process typically happens in stages: Illegal cash enters the world financial system somewhere and is funneled into a maze of accounts and shell companies, a process called “layering.” Finally, at the other end, funds are integrated into a seemingly respectable investment—like a luxury condo.

At the same time as New York real estate has become something of a financial haven for wealthy foreigners, the U.S. has increased pressure on its own citizens to come clean about their finances. On Tuesday, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, a law that the U.S. passed in March 2010, officially took effect. FATCA aims to clamp down on American tax evasion by requiring foreign banks and other financial institutions to report their U.S. account holders to the IRS or face harsh penalties. More than 77,000 have registered with the IRS so far.

In simple terms, FATCA could mean the end of Swiss banks as we know them, rendering obsolete images like the one New York offers of an “anonymous high-net-worth client of Credit Suisse” who took a “remote-controlled elevator” to a “bare meeting room where he and his private banker would discuss his money.” The biggest banks in Switzerland—UBS and Credit Suisse—have already been investigated and fined by the U.S. Justice Department for aiding tax evasion.

FATCA taking effect has hit expats especially hard, which may help explain why a record number of Americans renounced their citizenship in 2013. If that’s the case, maybe their funds will find their way back into the U.S., with the purchase of a nice little pied-à-terre on Central Park West.

July 1 2014 12:52 PM

Uber Offers New Yorkers the Flashiest Ride to the Hamptons

For the second year straight, ride-sharing service Uber is coming to the rescue of Hamptons-goers who want to hit the beach in style. This Thursday, Uber is teaming up with helicopter-booking app Blade to provide "Uber Chopper" rides between New York City and the Hamptons. You can book one of the five-seat copters for a flat rate of $2,500 (apparently a discount from the normal price of $575 per seat).

Uber tested this same promotion one year ago using services provided by Liberty Helicopters. Then the rides went for a slightly higher total fare of $3,000, though as Daily Intelligencer noted, "Pointing and laughing at the Poors idling on the expressway is free, of course." Uber also recently tried out helicopter rides in Mumbai and Bangalore, where you could get two seats on service provider Air Deccan for $85.

If casually flying into the Hamptons isn't quite your thing, Uber also offers flat-rate car rides from New York City to the Hamptons for between $75 and $100 per person. And there's always the train and the bus, where at least you can't hear the Uber Chopper patrons laughing at you from on high.

July 1 2014 11:52 AM

Bored at Work? That’s Not a Bad Thing.

This story first appeared in Inc.

These days there are more options than ever to avoid ever feeling truly bored. Got five minutes to spare? Whip out your phone for some gaming or trawl through Twitter. Have a bit more time? Thanks to the wonders of tech you can download your favorite music or TV show in minutes and fill the gap.

At first blush that sounds like a great thing. Who likes being bored, after all? But according to psychologists, if you're keeping yourself perpetually engaged, you may be missing out on the benefits of boredom—yup, you heard that right, boredom, it turns out, is actually good for us.

The Benefits of Boredom

How? Idle brains, scientists have found, aren't just a source of pointless pain. Being bored actually signals to the mind that you're in need of fresh ideas and spurs creative thinking.

Researchers recently confirmed the counterintuitive creativity-boosting effects of boredom by subjecting one group of study participants to the mind-numbing task of copying out the telephone book for 15 minutes. After attaining a state of utter boredom in this manner, the study subjects were then given a standard test of creativity in which they needed to come up with as many uses as possible for a common household item (in this case a plastic cup). Their results were compared to those of a control group that hadn't been pre-tormented with boredom. The telephone book copiers, it turns out, were more creative.

A follow-up study compared those who were given passive but boring tasks (just reading the phone book, i.e. the rough equivalent of hearing someone drone on stultifyingly at a meeting) to those completing the original active but boring task of writing out telephone numbers. Boredom plus daydreaming while passively bored, the psychologists discovered, was an even greater productivity boost (may that be some comfort to you during your next interminable meeting).

PsyBlog points out that writers have long known about and exploited this reality, offering a quote from comedy writer Graham Linehan as an illustration: "I have to use all these programs that cut off the Internet, force me to be bored, because being bored is an essential part of writing, and the Internet has made it very hard to be bored. The creative process requires a period of boredom, of being stuck."

The Takeaway for Bosses

The author of the telephone book study, Dr. Sandi Mann, commented that "boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity."

Bosses, she notes, who demand constant busyness may actually be inadvertently denting their team's creativity. "Employers, who are under the misguided notion that boredom is a problem to be eliminated in the workplace through increased activities and tasks, should look to embrace it in order to enhance employee creativity," she advises.

Are you going overboard with your efforts to eliminate boredom?

July 1 2014 11:08 AM

Former Tinder Exec Files a Bombshell Sexual Harassment Suit

The annals of virulent tech-world misogyny have a new chapter this week, thanks to everybody’s favorite hookup app, Tinder. Whitney Wolfe, the company’s former vice president of marketing, filed a sexual harassment and discrimination suit against her former employer on Monday, and it’s a stunner. “Tinder’s Chief Marketing Officer Justin Mateen repeatedly called Ms. Wolfe a ‘whore,’ including in front of CEO Sean Rad, and he told Ms. Wolfe that he was taking away her 'Co-Founder' title because having a young female co-founder makes the company seem like a ‘joke’ and ‘devalues’ the company,” the complaint alleges. And all that’s just in the first paragraph! (Check out the complaint here.) 

Valleywag’s Sam Biddle has already excerpted some choice bits of sexism, racism, and apparent sociopathy from the suit. But the story seems to have two major threads. First, there’s a romance gone horribly wrong. According to the suit, Wolfe began dating Mateen after he joined the company as her boss. But once their relationship soured, Mateen (allegedly) became jealous and sexually controlling, and picked up a habit of spewing sexist vitriol at her in public, all while Rad sat by and watched. This instance from the complaint is illustrative:

At a company party in Malibu on April 6, 2014, Ms. Wolfe noticed that Mr. Mateen was unwilling to say “hello” to her, while he eagerly greeted Ms. Wolfe’s friend, Kate Wilson, who accompanied her to the event. When she eventually asked him what was wrong, Mr. Mateen responded: “You’re a whore.” He accused her of being with a boy and insisted he knew all about what her “disgusting self had been up to.” He said this in front of Mr. Rad. He went on call her “a gold digger,” and “a disease” and “disgusting.” As Ms. Wolfe began to head toward the exit, she was accosted by Mr. Rad’s guest at the party who spat in her face. This was witnessed by Ms. Wilson. Mr. Mateen went on to ask Ms. Wilson if it were true, referring to Ms. Wolfe and her possible involvement with another man. Mr. Mateen’s younger brother repeatedly accused Ms. Wolfe of not being “a good girl.”

The suit also contains a whole bunch of abusive text messages Mateen allegedly sent to Wolfe, including one in which he accuses her of trying to “social climb with middle age Muslim pigs.”

Aside from the emotional violence, Wolfe alleges she was stripped of her status as a company co-founder explicitly because of her gender. First, she was kept out of the media.

When Tinder-related articles appeared in more traditional business outlets, Wolfe’s name was often nowhere to be seen. When she would ask why only her name of the five founders was absent they would tell her “you’re a girl.” They stated that they couldn’t include her name in the business press, because it “makes the company look like it was an accident.” According to Mr. Mateen “a girl founder,” who at the time was 24, devalued the company.

Then she was demoted officially.  

[I]n early November of 2013, Mr. Mateen and Mr. Rad informed Ms. Wolfe that they were removing her “co-founder” designation. Mr. Mateen told Ms. Wolfe that the reason she could no longer hold herself out as a co-founder was that she was a 24-year-old “girl” with little experience. Once again he said that holding her out as a co-founder “makes the company look like a joke” and “devalues the company.” Mr. Mateen tried to justify the situation by saying “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders, it just makes it look like Tinder was some accident.” Further, as Mr. Rad informed Ms. Wolfe, IAC would not let her be publicly recognized as a co-founder.

According to the suit, Wolfe resigned after the night Mateen called her a “whore” at the company party.

A spokesman for media conglomerate IAC, which owns a majority stake in Tinder, told Reuters that Mateen had been suspended “pending an ongoing internal investigation.” However, they said the company believed “that Ms. Wolfe’s allegations with respect to Tinder and its management are unfounded.” Surely that will comfort all of Tinder's female users.

July 1 2014 9:53 AM

Starbucks Thinks It’s “Friendly” for Korean Employees to Have English Nicknames

Since we haven't written about Starbucks in at least a week, here's a Tuesday-morning update. In an effort to maintain an egalitarian culture, Starbucks encourages employees at its stores in South Korea to put English nicknames, written in the Latin alphabet, on their name tags.

The goal of the policy, according to the Korea Times, is to keep workers from being ID'd by formal titles, such as "boo-jang-nim" (manager) and "dae-li-nim" (midlevel manager). Better to be known by "Kat," "Bean," or even "Candy," apparently. A spokesperson for Starbucks Korea told the Korea Times that "this horizontal name culture creates a more natural environment for our partners and is part of an evolving culture that considers everyone from our customers to our partners."

OK, sure, but why does this horizontal name culture only seem to produce westernized nicknames? A spokesperson for Starbucks said the company does not require employees in South Korea to use such nicknames but that "most of them choose to include their English nicknames on their nametag as a friendly practice." The company declined to address whether workers are specifically encouraged to use English-language names versus ones in their native language.

Considering that Seoul beats out New York City for having the most Starbucks locations of any city in the world, many employees may be looking for a friendly new moniker. Should they need inspiration, we suggest they consult this Tumblr of hilarious name misspellings by Starbucks baristas.

June 30 2014 7:11 PM

GM Has Recalled More Cars This Year Than It Sold in the Past Three Combined

In the latest expansion of its safety crisis, General Motors said on Monday that it was recalling another 8.45 million vehicles worldwide. Most of those cars were recalled for the kind of ignition-switch defects that have plagued GM all year long and have been linked to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes. GM said it was aware of seven crashes, eight injuries, and three fatalities among the newly recalled vehicles but could not conclusively say whether they were triggered by the ignition troubles.

GM has now recalled some 29 million vehicles since the start of the year—more than the total number of vehicles it sold in 2011, 2012, and 2013 combined. It's also more than the 22 million vehicles recalled by all automakers combined in the previous year. Payouts to the victims of defect-induced crashes in GM vehicles and their families could end up costing the company several billions of dollars.

Shares of GM lost $0.32 in the afternoon, or a little less than 1 percent, after their trading was temporarily suspended on the New York Stock Exchange while the news broke. The stock has fallen more than 11 percent since the start of the year, despite being up overall in the month of June. It was downgraded dramatically by Morgan Stanley to "underweight" from "overweight" in April.

At this point, it's hard to know whether to be shocked, worried, or just unimpressed when GM initiates another tremendous recall—by now it feels like par for the course. And as I wrote in Slate earlier this month, consumers don't seem to be paying much heed to the news: GM's monthly sales in May rose to their highest level since August 2008.

June 30 2014 2:32 PM

How Many People Could the Hobby Lobby Ruling Affect?

The Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case exempts "closely held corporations" from providing insurance coverage of contraception if such provisions violate the company owners' religious beliefs. How many people could the decision affect? That depends mainly on how many people are employed by corporations considered to be "closely held."

The IRS defines a closely held corporation as one that, in general, has "more than 50 percent of the value of its outstanding stock owned (directly or indirectly) by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year" and "is not a personal service corporation." These corporations are thought to make up around 90 percent of companies in the U.S. Many are small businesses, but large operations such as Koch Industries can also be closely held—a fact Nancy Pelosi cited in her statement denouncing the decision. Hobby Lobby has 572 stores across the country.  

According to a 2009 research paper from NYU Stern School of Business, these corporations account for 52 percent of private employment and 51 percent of private-sector output in the country. Those percentages might be outdated now but still give a sense of just how many workers are employed at closely held corporations. Fifty-two percent of today's private sector employees comes out to approximately 60.4 million people, based on the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of course it's extremely unlikely that all of those companies are about to claim a religious exemption from providing coverage of contraception. Aaron Blake at the Washington Post points to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found that 85 percent of large employers offered contraception coverage prior to Obamacare requiring it. But the relatively narrow ruling on Hobby Lobby still has the potential to affect tens of millions of employees in the U.S.

June 28 2014 10:18 AM

On the Anniversary of Franz Ferdinand’s Assassination, It’s Time to Stop Blaming Germany

One hundred years ago today, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, setting off a series of events that led to World War I.* One year ago today, Matthew Yglesias looked at that historical moment and what it does and doesn't say about Germany, which assumed much of the blame for the war. The post is reprinted below.

I've been meaning for a while to have it out with Jonathan Chait on the subject of German responsibility for World War I, and since today is the 99th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, I thought today would be the day to do it.

My basic recommendation would be to read Christopher Clark's great recent book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, which is an amazing narrative history of the crisis and the larger context. For the purposes of historiographical ax-grinding, though, I would reconstruct his argument this way. From the standpoint of, say, 1960 or 1980, it was easy to look at World War I overwhelmingly through the lens of World War II and say that this was just another example of Germany's quest for continental hegemony and that European peace has only ever been achieved by German disunity. But from the present day, things look different. After the breakup of Yugoslavia and the massacres at Srebrenica and elsewhere, it's a bit harder to regard Serbia's irredentist agenda in the early 20th century as so benign. After 9/11 and the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a bit easier to regard a terrorist attack as very genuinely being a cause of large-scale political outcomes even if the broader geopolitical context is always relevant. Last and by no means least, after the Lisbon Treaty, it's quite a bit harder to regard the Habsburg dynasty's multi-ethnic Central European polity as inherently doomed and outdated. With Croatia's accession to the European Union, virtually all the Habsburg lands are now once again part of a loose but substantial political federation and it's not totally crazy to imagine the relevant territory having evolved in that direction without passing through the veil of world wars and communist dictatorships.

So Clark's viewpoint, I would say, is that we should take things a little bit more at face value. Serbia and its Russian superpower sponsor were genuinely trying to destroy the Habsburg empire. Franz Ferdinand's assassins really did have ties to the Serbian state. He was assassinated in part because he was known to be a moderate who favored further decentralization of imperial authority and concessions to the interests of South Slavs, and Serbian nationalists thought his rise to power would undermine their effort to incorporate Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia into Serbia.* The authorities in Vienna and Berlin had a legitimate interest in pushing back against the attempted dismemberment of the Habsburg state. And then things got nasty in no small part thanks to French politicians having persuaded themselves that a Balkan crisis would be the best possible shot at teaming up with Russia to wage a war against Germany and take back Alsace and Lorraine. Nobody is blameless in the whole affair, but it's much much more complicated than "Germans be starting wars." The Entente powers were essentially sticking up for a state sponsor of terrorism.

This is all worth bringing up, I think, because the specter of German war guilt very much continues to haunt European affairs and in a sense the global economy. Nobody discusses it aboveboard, but part of the subtext of a huge amount of European Union politics is a constant kind of checking over the shoulder to see if those dastardly Germans are trying to conquer the continent again. But while Germany certainly did make one effort to conquer Europe, how you think about World War I really drives the question of whether there's a pattern of German aggression or not. After all, Germany is hardly historically unique in terms of having once waged genocidal war in search of living space, but present-day American foreign policy initiatives aren't typically read through the lens of the expropriation of Native Americans.

I've been very critical of many of Angela Merkel's initiatives over the past few years, and agree with those who think Germany needs to show more leadership on the continent. But part and parcel of that is that they can't be constantly snarked at (or worse) every time they try to wield influence. And the best starting point there is to start getting the history right and not getting so sucked into what's now practically century-old wartime propaganda. There was plenty wrong with Wilhelmine Germany, but it's not as if the vast colonial empires of France and Britain or Woodrow Wilson's drive for white supremacy and Southern redemption were flawless models of democratic liberalism either.

* Correction, June 28, 2013: An earlier version of this post described Serbia's territorial ambitions as including Slovakia when in fact their goal was to incorporate Slovenia. (Return.)

*Correction, June 30, 2014: A recycled version of this post misspelled the first name of Gavrilo Princip. (Return.)