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Journal Archives

Three Different Prisms? Parliament Seeks Clarity in NSA Scandal



(Sm)art Investing: Rich Move Assets from Banks to Warehouses (Switzerland)

To avoid paying taxes, the rich are emptying their bank accounts in Switzerland and investing in art. This has spawned a new business of storing such works tax- and duty-free in warehouses across the world.

The Nahmad dynasty of art dealers reportedly has 300 Picassos in storage in Geneva. Countless Degas, Monets and Rothkos are also stored on the inhospitable premises. The estimated value of the works is in the billions. Hardly any museum can boast such a valuable collection.

Those who use the warehouse are genuinely wealthy. According to the Capgemini World Wealth Report, there were 12 million millionaires in the world last year, with combined assets of $46.2 trillion (35 trillion), or 10 percent more than in the previous year.

But even if the world's rich are getting richer, many of them are also worried. The financial crisis isn't over yet, and tax havens worldwide are under pressure to disclose the identities of people whose assets are parked in their banks.


Antarctica Conference: Deal Could Preserve Pristine Waters

Urging success, German Agricultural Minister Ilse Aigner recently said the meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) offered a "unique opportunity" for representatives of 24 countries and the European Union to "write history" by designating the world's largest marine reserves on Tuesday.

On the one side, the Western nations have proposed marine reserves. The United States and New Zealand are proposing to protect the Ross Sea area along Antarctica's east coast. In some areas, fishing would be banned; in other areas, strict limits would be imposed. But China, Japan, Ukraine, Norway and and Russia, in particular, have shown little interest in an agreement. All have considerable business interests in the region.

If a marine conservation area were established in Antarctica, it would be unique in the world. The Antarctic seas are considered some of the world's most pristine. The extreme climate unites a very special community, with habitats for penguins, seals, whales, dolphins, squid and albatross, to name but a few species. Antarctica's nutrient-rich water is also the breeding ground of myriad species of krill, which is used not only to feed very diverse stocks of fish on the continent, but is also exported all around the world for use at fish farms or in health products.

But human cravings are now threatening this idyll. "The flora and fauna of Antarctica are under increasing threat from fishing and natural resource extraction," said Onno Gross, director of the marine conservation organization Deepwave. Norwegian ships also catch vast quantities of krill off the coast of Antarctica to feed large salmon farms back home. The government in Oslo has little interest in major marine reserves on the southern continent.


An Awkward Truth: Bangladesh Factories a Way Up for Women

At the age of 11, Nazma Akhter started work in a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. At 14, she was beaten up by hired thugs and tear-gassed by the police when she joined fellow garment workers in a protest against working conditions in her factory. Today, 39-year-old Akhter is one of the most respected and influential labor leaders in Bangladesh.

The subject of Bangladesh's textile industry and its relationship with global capitalism, argues Akhter, is much more nuanced than the way it is largely being portrayed in the West. If worker conditions can be addressed, she says, the garment factories present a unique opportunity to move women from the margins to the center of Bangladeshi society.

'When a Woman Knows Her Rights, She Can Demand Them'
For starters, Akhter has absolutely no patience for campaigns that target certain Western companies. "Garment workers earn the same salary regardless of whether the factory is supplying a discounter like KIK, Lidl, Aldi or Primark or a high end brand like NIKE or Hugo Boss," she says. "A campaign against a few companies doesn't help. Western consumers should pressure all the brands."

In addition to teaching women their basic rights, the Awaj Foundation also works together with major clothing companies to improve their practices in Bangladesh. Since 2008, for example, Akhter and her colleagues have worked closely together with German discount clothing chain KIK to provide health care to garment workers. The company has been a lightning rod for criticismabout the conditions for workers in the companies it contracts to produce its dirt cheap clothing, and working with the Awaj Foundation has provided it with a needed opportunity to burnish its image.


Latvia and the Euro: Meet the EU's Newest Tax Haven

European finance ministers on Tuesday gave the Baltic country the go-ahead to join the common currency union on January 1 next year. Furthermore, new tax laws are set to go into effect at the same time. These laws, says Suharenko, will put his country "on a level with Ireland, Malta and Cyprus."
"It is a seal of quality for Latvia as a financial marketplace," [Rietumu Bank Manager] Suharenko says. "The euro is coming and capital will follow."

Many observers don't share Suharenko's euphoria, though. Riga's planned reform has been designed to transform Latvia into the euro-zone's next tax haven. And it highlights the degree to which rhetoric and reality diverge in the European Union.

Ever since the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposed the vast scale of tax evasion undertaken by multinationals around the world, the European Commission has made combating financial trickery a top priority. Theoretically, at least. In practice, exactly the opposite has happened.

"Instead of eliminating established tax havens, we have added a new one to the euro zone," says Sven Giegold, a financial expert with the Green Party in the European Parliament.


Diplomatic Fallout: Experts Warn of Trans-Atlantic Ice Age

Leading trans-Atlantic analysts have reacted with shock and horror to the weekend revelations by SPIEGEL regarding the extent to which the American National Security Agency (NSA) spied on Germany and on European Union facilities.

A statement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday further indicated the volatility of the situation. "The monitoring of friends -- this is unacceptable, it can't be tolerated. We're no longer in the Cold War," the chancellor said through a spokesman. Merkel confirmed that she had already voiced her displeasure to the White House over the weekend and has demanded a full explanation.

Trans-Atlantic observers see the planned US-EU free-trade agreement as being a potential victim of the spying revelations published this weekend by SPIEGEL and on Monday by the Guardian. Known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), economists on both sides of the ocean hope the deal will provide a significant boost to European and American economies.

But the fury in Europe over NSA's overreach -- and ensuing suspicion -- could ultimately endanger the project. Already, European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has called the deal into doubt and concerns have been voiced that the US has also engaged in industrial espionage. Furthermore, the accelerating spat has clearly shown that Europeans have a radically different attitude to digital privacy and data protection than do Americans. Europeans, for example, have long been demanding stricter regulations for Facebook and Google.

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