Across the Pond: January 20th, 2013 – Sunday Round Up

Right. Well, I’m up anyway, so let’s check the webs.

The Hostage Crisis in Algeria seems to be over. But it ended in a bloodbath. The situation is still not quite resolved while I am typing this, but one thing is clear: All attackers and the hostages remaining in the hands of their captors are dead.

The Algerian government seems to not have thought twice about getting this done, never mind the cost. It reminds me of the Beslan massacre where a hostage taking by Chechen rebels in a school was ended by the Russian forces without any consideration of the hostages’ fate.

“The terrorists were prepared to commit a collective suicide; the army’s intervention led to their neutralisation. Unfortunately, the hostages were executed,”

said El Watan a local newspaper. Well, the public will hear the truth about this at some point.

There is, of course, the war in Mali headlining over here in Europe. You can find a very useful summary of the players involved on the BBC News website. The French are involved in a situation, which, in my humble opinion, may land them in their own version of Afghanistan. Germans are discussing what kind of contribution they can make but there’s the fact that this is a super election year which will be kicked off today in Lower Saxonia. Chancellor Merkel will, obviously, not be getting into any military adventures this year if she can help it at all. President Obama does not show any inclination to get the US involved either. 

Neu ist, dass die USA nicht instinktiv zu einer Führungsrolle innerhalb einer solchen «Koalition der Willigen» drängen. Bereits im Libyen-Krieg hatten sie nach aussen hin den Franzosen den Vorrang gelassen. Die Amerikaner übernahmen damals aber, ohne dies an die grosse Glocke zu hängen, einen beträchtlichen Teil der Lufteinsätze und halfen den Europäern aus, als diesen die Munition ausging. Obama nannte dies «Führung von hinten», was ihm einigen Spott eintrug – aber um einen Führungsanspruch handelte es sich gleichwohl. Davon kann in Mali keine Rede mehr sein.

(It is new, that the US does not instinctively claim a leading role in such a “coalition of the willing”. In the Libya war they had already let the French have the leading role, at least outwardly. The Americans, however, have at that time without making any fuss about it taken over a considerable number of airstrikes and helped out when the Europeans were running out of ammunition. Obama called this “leading from behind” which caused some ridicule, but – nevertheless – included the will to lead. In Mali there is no mention of it. Translation by yours truly

When it comes to foreign politics, looking at it from our side of the pond, New Obama, is naturally a topic of interest. The sudden change in his handling of the Republican opposition does not go unnoticed:

After being widely criticised in his first four years for a lack of savvy during negotiations with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Obama has suddenly taken a much harder line. In debates over the so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of last year, Obama’s team secured a deal widely seen as a victory. That tougher stance has also been matched by Obama staking out a strong position on forthcoming talks with the Republicans in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, only days after Obama gave a speech on the issue marked by stern language the Republicans last week appeared to cave in and moved to extend the ceiling for another three months. (read the whole post here)

About time, I’d say.

Have you finished your coffee? Not yet? Well, there’s more for reading found in the old world:

Oil and the interests of Canada’s First Nations

Catholic Hospitals refuse Aid to Rape Victim (Germany has its own bible belt, methinks)

Boeing’s Dreamliner is grounded

and

The Swiss are fretting over what will happen to their banks.

I hope you’ll enjoy your Sunday Morning reading.

This is an Open Thread! Join in. What is important to you today?

The Watering Hole: February 4 – Swiss Banksters

I’ve rarely had so much fun when watching news and tv-discussions as during the last two days. Switzerland already has had a bad 2009 and 2010 seems to start even worse.

Germany’s biggest post war tax evasion scandal is centered around…you knew it, didn’t you…a Swiss Bank.  So now, why would the Swiss be so touchy about Germans, living in Germany, having committed the offense of tax evasion in Germany, being prosecuted by means of a (admittedly stolen)  Data-CD obtained in Germany by German authorities? Because German Tax Authorities are going to buy that stolen CD.

The real reason behind the Swiss upset is not legality, they are using unlawfully obtained data themselves, if there is a higher gain at stake. It’s the estimated € 300 bn sitting in Swiss bank accounts (sorry german link only) a large part of which will maybe be repatriated to Germany. A huge blow to the Swiss Banks.

To be fair many Swiss nowadays know fully well, that the banking secrecy laws of the country are designed mostly to attract wealthy customers and their money, nevermind the tax laws in other countries, and are for abandoning the banking secrecy. Some loudmouths beg to differ. Believe me, it’s interesting to watch.

For the German tax frauds shivering in their shoes about this CD I feel only Schadenfreude. They felt so glib and superior when they told us taxpayers how stupid we were to pay taxes, that I can’t help but wallow in their panic.

This is out Open Thread, so please feel free to comment on this and on what else is on your minds.

Major Blow to Swiss Banking System

(HT: houseofroberts)

The Swiss banks are renowned for their secrecy and their lenient stance when it comes to tax evasion and this makes Switzerland into the top destination for money from all kinds of sources. Websites like www.swiss-offshore-banking.com praise the advantages of the system:

The Swiss Banking system is second to none. Revered the world over, Swiss Bankers are known for their privacy, professionalism and discretion. Swiss banking laws are very strict and it is illegal for a banker to reveal the personal details of an account number unless ordered to do so by a judge.

This is long established in Swiss law. Any banker who reveals information about you without your consent risks a custodial sentance if convicted, with the only exceptions to this rule concerning serious violent crimes.

Swiss banking secrecy is not lifted for tax evasion. (emphasis by me) The reason for this is because failure to report income or assets is not considered a crime under Swiss banking law. As such, neither the Swiss government, nor any other government, can obtain information about your bank account. They must first convince a Swiss judge that you have committed a serious crime punishable by the Swiss Penal Code.

No more. In a landmark development the Swiss Bank UBS has agreed to hand over data of about 300 US citizens and their banking accounts to the IRS and pay a $ 780 mn fine on top of that. This hit Switzerland where it hurts most. The finance industry is one of the most important contributors to Swiss wealth the outcry is immense: The Zurich based NZZ writes:

Wenn die Schweizerische Finanzmarktaufsicht (Finma) tatsächlich, wie das Gerücht geht, unmittelbar davorsteht, in einer bisher einmaligen Aktion Daten von einigen hundert Kunden der UBS an die amerikanischen Behörden auszuliefern, oder dies womöglich schon getan hat, ist dies ein folgenschwerer Schlag für den Finanzplatz Schweiz, aber auch für den Rechtsstaat Schweiz.

If the Swiss financial oversight agency  (Finma), as rumours have it, is set to hand out data on several hundred customers to US authorities, or possibly has already done so,  this is a severe blow to Switzerland’s finance market as well as it’s legal system. (my translation and in case of errors, my bad) (article)

Well, it’s not an “if” anymore here’s the text of the agreement.

Switzerland’s neighbours, namely the Germans are waiting for a crack in the armour of the Swiss banking secrecy for quite a while now and the pressure on Switzerland was growing during the last months. After the fall of the tax haven Liechtenstein in the wake of the arrest of former Deutsche Post boss Zumwinkel, it looks as if Switzerland could be next.  This comes at a most inconvenient moment. Swiss banks have suffered greatly from the banking crisis and there is a credit bubble in Eastern Europe on the verge of bursting which may lead to another wave of write-downs and will bring the Swiss economy and currency to the verge of desaster.

I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s newspaper and I brace for the opening of the Swiss stock exchange.

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