Sunday Roast: March 3, 2013 – Govern and be Governed, but do it right!

Good Morning, I hope you slept well (and long because I’m late again ;)  ).

Government: You’re doing it right:

The Swiss are governing today and how. One reason for my being late here is the coverage of the latest polls on tv. Three major propositions have been voted on today and a number of regional ones. One was to amend the constitution to protect families’ rights to reconcile having a job and raising kids. It is a draw, more or less. While big cities have voted for it in big numbers and the overall popular vote is for it, the cantons are divided and as it is a constitutional amendment, it needs a majority of both popular votes and cantons. The more rural areas are, predictably against it, kicking women in the teeth once again. (Sound familiar?)

Second vote is on getting land out of the building code, so the environment can be protected from uncontrolled and uncontrolleable building for profit. It got a majority. Easily, too.

The third and most internationally acclaimed vote is on the so-called “fat-cat” initiative. A whopping 68% of voters have voted for it. This after the initiative has been blocked and fought against for seven years.

Under the proposal, shareholders will be given the right to hold a binding vote on executive remuneration. Companies would also no longer be able to pay so-called “golden hellos” and “golden parachutes”, whereby senior managers receive a one-time cash lump sum, often running into millions of pounds, when joining or leaving a company. Polls show the majority of Swiss plan to vote “yes” in the referendum, despite businesses warning it will drive out companies from the country.(read more)

Add to that the cap on manager salaries imposed by the surrounding EU countries and you see things are moving in the right direction over here.

Government: You’re doing it wrong:

You think the Tea Party is  the most proficient government obstructionist of all times? They are not. They’re outright amateurs compared to the Italians: Our southern neighbors are blocking government right at the source. All Europe is frustratedly looking at what voters there did to their country. Outright distrust of government and politicians is in the Italian genetic code and not surprisingly so, given the corruption that is rampant in the country, but now they overreached.

IT IS hard now to recall that just three months ago the big threat Italy posed was of becoming boring. Its technocratic government, under Mario Monti, had regained the markets’ confidence. The spread of Italian government bonds over German ones was dwindling. The troublesome Silvio Berlusconi no longer led his fast-disintegrating party, and it seemed certain that the centre-left would win the next election. Mr Monti might then have become an economic super-minister—if he had not taken over the right with a mandate to make it more soberly European. (read more)

Let me add, Italy, unlike the US for instance has a fairly low constitutional threshold for new elections. They’ll be at it again in a few months, everybody agrees.

I wish you all a Happy and Relaxing (yes caps) Sunday. Enjoy some reading and our discussion. It is an Open Thread so join in.

 

Sunday Roast: February 24, 2013 – Sick Leave

 

Uuuuoooohhhh. I could use a sick leave. So please forgive me for an emergency post only.

Not enough austerity or too much of it? Great Britain has been downgraded.

Still not enough of the cavaliere or too much of him? Italy votes.

How much is too much? Switzerland has enough!

This is our Open thread, Join in!

 

The Watering Hole: Tuesday October 25th – Switzerland Voted

Two small centre parties – the Conservative Democrats and the Liberal Greens – are the winners of Sunday’s parliamentary polls ending years of increasing polarisation.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party and the centre-left Greens suffered the biggest losses in the House of Representatives compared with the 2007 vote. The two main centre-right parties also saw their support slip, while the centre-left Social Democrats registered a slight gain. (read more)

Obviously the Swiss were fed up with the fear mongering and the hate politics. I feel very sorry for the Greens. They are the ones who should have profited from the increased interest in environmental issues in Switzerland, but the Green Liberal Party, which is basically promising to build a greener capitalism, so everybody can keep their Porsche Cayennes, outstaged them. The SVP (Swiss People’s (Tea-) Party) just got their due. Good riddance to some of their MP’s.

Here’s Swissinfo’s comments page, so you can get a glimpse into the Swiss Psyche. See any similarities?

This is our open thread, so open up!

Support Bernard Rappaz

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Hemp pioneer and rebel  Bernard Rappaz is on hunger strike for more than 100 days now  and in seriously weakened condition.

Rappaz has been sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in jail for the production of hemp and on other charges. Swiss Authorities have now decided to transfer Rappaz to Berne’s Inselspital (sorry no english link available)  in order to “persuade him to stop his hunger strike”. Releasing him and finally stopping this ridiculous judicial farce seems, however, out of the question.

Hemp is not just THC and not only used to do a little recreational smoking, but one of the oldest cultivated plants mainly used for its durable fibre. It has been cultivated since the stone age. Why it is of the utmost importance to Switzerland to keep Rappaz in jail, even at the risk of his losing his life, just totally escapes me. Especially since the use of cannabis is more of a misdemeanor here in Switzerland than a crime and gets you a fine instead of a sentencing. (again sorry no english link found)

Obviously child abuse is a far less serious crime than growing weed. Director Roman Polanski was released in Switzerland yesterday.

The Adventures of Science: Theo The Pipe Smoker

Anthropology along with Archeology were  interesting to me even when I was still very young. I never had a horror of human bones, I grew up next to the cemetery and was watching graves being dug out all the time. Bones were just bones to me.

So, of course, I was intrigued, when I first heard about “Theo the Pipe Smoker”. The Natural History Museum of Basle, Switzerland came up with the project of trying to identify one of the skeletons that were unearthed from the church of St. Theodor’s (hence the name “Theo”) cemetery. One of the skeletons had a very conspicuous, round hole in its teeth, a sign that the deceased was a passionate pipe smoker.

But there was more to be found out. The cemetery was in use from 1779 until 1833,  4’334 people died in that part of Basle and were registered in a church book. Theo was most probably one of them. The skeleton was that of a male person, which can be easily determined examining the pelvis. That finding reduced the number of possible names to 2’200. Next, the age. Theo was fully grown, but still relatively young 28 to 32 years of age. Only 127 names fit the bill. Another 16 names could be taken out because their burial site was known.

In the end 12 names were identified through various processes who could be Theo.

Mitrochondial DNA samples had been isolated and the lucky fact that there is a certain mutation in two places of the genome, which is shared by only about 1% of the general population  in modern Europe, ultimately lead to the point where the public can help fully identify the person. The museum has through genealogical research identified 14 persons who may have been relatives of Theo and now asks the public to provide information on these people. One of the fourteen may have a relative out there, whose DNA will show he is related to Theo and thus, by going back through genealogy, tell us who really was the Pipe Smoker of Basle.

History and Science beat CSI any time IMHO.

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How a simple data CD may bring down Switzerland

A simple Data-CD is about to shake the foundations of  Switzerland itself. How come?

An unknown Data thief has offered German Authorities a CD containing valuable data about some 1’500 tax frauds, for some 2,5 Mio. Euros. Germany may generate a 100 Mio. Euros on back taxes and penalties and the odd bad boy will face jail. This is an impressive return on investment and Germany, as much under pressure financially as most other industrialized nations, does not really want to not use it. Moreover, it is a hard sell to tell your welfare recipients that they have to pay back the  €20, they erroneously received in January and then go on and graciously waive a hundred million. Poor people are voters, too and Angela Merkel is not a political suicide.

I personally have my doubts about the legality of the purchase, but one may well argue that a higher interest is at stake und thus the purchase is legitimate.

So this is an entirely German affair, is it not?

So why are the Swiss so very upset?

Here’s the math:

An estimated 3 Trillion Swiss Francs in Swiss bank accounts are Assets under Management owned by foreigners. 30% to 50% are at least from grey, if not black money, that is   approximately 1 trillion Swiss Francs.

“Switzerland has become a paradise for foreign capital on which tax is not paid. The uproar from foreign governments is understandable.” These are not the words of a critic of the banks, but of private banker Konrad Hummler. He says that around 30%, or CHF 1,000 billion, of the CHF 2,800 billion or so of foreign assets in Swiss banks is untaxed “black money”.

I’m still being conservative. Let’s say 30% of those funds are from German individuals, that makes it 330 billion Swiss Francs.

Let’s say German investors panic, because the only argument for having your money in Switzerland is the banking secrecy (they pay a measly 1% interest here). They are going to get their own money and transfer it elsewhere, or even repatriate the stuff and grudgingly pay the back taxes to avoid a hefty fine or in some cases jail.

More math:

The Swiss GDP is about 500 bn Swiss Francs (2008), the financial sector is generating about 12% of GDP, banks about 7.5% that makes it 37.5 bn. But they may lose 330 bn. They would stop contributing to GDP for almost ten years to refill their coffers.

But banks have equity capital, have they not? Well at least UBS, the biggest player, is still in a load of trouble and struggling to get it’s equity capital quota into a reasonable percentage.

Now add to that the fact that we are talking about bank accounts owned by Germans only, what’s more, we talk about German tax dodgers’ accounts. There are other countries’ citizens involved, too. This adds another hefty sum at stake. Then there are those who have put their money into Swiss accounts legally, but don’t want to be under the general suspicion of being a tax fraud. Again: In sum there are some 3 trillion Swiss Francs at stake. If only a third of it is lost to other markets, Switzerland goes broke.

Some of the more naive here reckon banking secrecy can still be saved. The naivest of them all, the right wing SVP (Swiss People’s Party), even think they can win the next elections by harshly defending the status quo. The Swiss are not so stupid. Still sore about the UBS bailout, they are not prepared to ruin their country to protect a couple of foreign tax frauds and their banksters.

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Big Pharma Wins – You lose I&II

There have been two stories in the Swiss newspaper “Tagesanzeiger” lately, which get my goat. I do not deny the benefits of modern pharmaceuticals. Compared to my childhood days, modern medicines are way more efficient and ailments, that constituted a death sentence then, can now be cured or at least made more bearable. But I refuse to think of the pharma industry as a big benefactor of humankind. Here’s why.

Big Pharma wins, you lose I

Medicines are there to cure you.

Wrong. Medicines are there to treat your chronic condition for as long as possible for a prize as high as possible. Thousands suffer from neurodermatitis here in Switzerland and millions more, of course, elsewhere. The affliction goes from mild to almost unbearable. From small ulcers if you eat the wrong stuff to inflamed excema that cover most of a patient’s body. I have a very mild form, which can easily be controlled by good skin treatment products and avoiding food such as shellfish or nuts. I’ve seen other cases much worse.

There is a cure. Two students Karsten Klingelhöller and Thomas Hein have developed a skin cream made from Avocado oil and vitamin B12. A pink coloured ointment, which has no side effects and was successfully tested in clinical tests. The product has been patented and even given a brand name “Regividerm” the patent’s worth is estimated at 936 Mio US Dollars.

Those two have made it! Helped the suffering!

Not.

Not a single parmaceutical company contacted was interested in taking the cream into their product portfolio. The thing is: You don’t earn money by healing the chronically ill at a low price.

Big Pharma wins, you lose II

If you want to put health reform under the microscope, why not use Europe. We all have a public health care scheme, but to different degrees. And the differences show. Take today’s headline on one of Switzerlands most popular newspapers the “Tagesanzeiger”: “The Swiss pay thirty times the price for generic medicine as the people in the Netherlands do.”

So why would that be?

Switzerland’s public health system mandates insurance for everybody, but is run through private insurance companies. There is no public option, however and the control of drug prices is not in the hands of the insurers.

The Netherlands’ system is not so very different today, but they have reformed it only three years ago from a public option system.

What is the difference now?

Switzerland is the home of pharmaceutical industry giants Novartis and Roche. The fact that Switzerland is a small country makes two giants like that huge contributors to the GDP.

The Health Ministry is in charge of drug prices and asks for prices of generic medicines to be 40% – 50% lower than the listed prices of the originals. But: The listed prices are a phantom. No insurance company in the Netherlands, nor in Germany or in Denmark, nor France or England accepts those prices, they have long since negotiated much lower ones with the drug industry. They either get a rebate on the originals or mandate the use of generics, unless the doctor prescribes the original. They got there (The Netherlands, too in the recent past) by using the power of a public option. Which affects, of course the price of healthcare.

The Swiss authorities refuse to change their method of determining  prices and we are paying the higher insurance premiums.

The thing is: No public option, you pay the price!

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Top Secret Drum Corps At Edinburgh Military Tattoo

These men sacrifice all of their free time to be accepted into the Drum Corps, and they practice every single day.  As you will see in this video — not only is their performance brilliant, it is breathtakingly flawless.   There are no words to describe their talent, I guess magnificent will have to do.

The Top Secret Drum Corps is based in Basel, Switzerland.  It consists of 25 drummers and flag twirlers, the precision drum corps became an international sensation after performing a challenging six-minute routine  at the Edinburgh Tattoo in 2003.

Since its success in 2003, Top Secret was invited to return to Edinburgh in 2006 with a new and improved routine. Under the leadership of Erik Julliard, the band is also responsible for the founding of the Basel Tattoo, a military tattoo show similar to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, now held annually in Basel.

Top Secret has its roots in the rich drumming traditions of the band’s home city, Basel, Switzerland, which is known for its annual carnival called Fasnacht. The city is said to have over 3,000 active drummers at any one time.

Basel drumming style is militaristic, derived from the military drumming drills of Swiss soldiers dating back the Middle Ages. Top Secret in many ways adheres to the military nature of Basel drumming, but differs in many respects. Its drummers play at a much faster rate. Also, while traditional Basel drumming is somber and favors traditional marching tunes (accompanied by fifes during the Fasnacht), Top Secret’s drumming style is upbeat and playful. Segments of their routines feature a “rhumba”, a drummer’s duel, drumstick juggling, exploding flagpoles, and other humorous details. Perhaps because of their 18th Century uniforms and precision work, the band is often referred to a military band or a part of the Swiss Army, but it is not affiliated with any military unit.

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The Troubled Swiss Banks

The news, that UBS The Swiss Bank is going to reveal customer data to the IRS was not only a blow to the Swiss banking sytem, but to Switzerland as a whole.  There was a move to make banking secrecy constitutional and thus part of the political make-up of the whole country. It was renounced but the privacy provisions of the constitution in article 13 are decidedly meant to apply to banking matters, of course.

Then there is the law. The banking secrecy law is handled very strictly. Christoph Meili, the whistleblower in the “dormant accounts”-affair had to seek political asylum in the US after uncovering that banks illegally shredded papers that may have helped finding the owners of orphaned accounts, that is to say the legal owners of the money within those accounts. The name of Christoph Meili sounds to a Swiss banker like “Lord Voldemort” to Ron Weasley.

What is the big deal? It’s data of some 300 customers and it’s only one bank right? Wrong.

First of all the oversight agency has decided to go forth and order the release of the data even though the persons affected by this decision have not yet exhausted their legal procedural opportunities. This signals, obviously, that Swiss banks need not obey Swiss law and, if the pressure is heavy, won’t act according to law. Forget trust.

Second, the banking system itself, is, in part, working on the premise that people who have money don’t want to share it by paying taxes. Like bootleggers got rich because there will always be a demand for booze, the Swiss banks cater to the demand for tax havens. They use the fact that in Switzerland Tax avoidance is a misdemeanor and not a crime and argue only actual tax fraud requires legal assistance to foreign countries. Well, yesterday the US announced that a couple of hundred customers’ data wasn’t their idea of collaboration and are now asking for the details of 52’000 US citizens who have undeclared Swiss bank acccounts. The European Union used the moment and demanded the same treatment for their requests and British PM Gordon Brown just declared war on all tax havens.

The Swiss are in panic mode now. While their banks claim to have all the experience and professionalism that comes with being a high ranking banking place, noone knows how many possibly toxic accounts they are still holding and if they are prepared to switch to on-shore banking only, on short notice. The advantage of being an off-shore destination is gone, they will have to compete with all the other banks on an equal footing now.

The Zurich based index SMI is calculated from a list of 20 blue-chip companies, 30% are part of the Financial Industry. SMI at 12:46 CET: 4’851.70 (-2.78%)

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Hello from Europe – 403 Days too Many – Switzerland defends it’s Democracy!

For a change “Europeanview” was absolutely absorbed in Swiss politics. Largely overlooked by the world, a real revolution has taken place in Berne. Minister Blocher was not reelected by the Federal Assembly.

Huh? Well, bear with me for a sec. I’ll give it to you in a nutshell:

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Good Morning from Europe – Back in Business Edition

(Castelluccio)

Good Morning everybody! I can hardly believe the two weeks of Dolce Vita are finally over, but I am glad to be back here, too. So, let’s have a look at the news.

Switzerland: Yesterdays’ general elections brought a quite familiar result. Like in many democracies nowadays the right and left are growing while the center gradually diminishes. In Switzerland we have seen an almost unprecedented election campaign, dominated by the rightish SVP, whose maybe racist, but surely xenophobic campaign poster even caused international irritations.

Poland‘s elections put an end to the twins’ rule. There are still a lot of question on how the next government would look like, but the US administration has to brace for the loss of another 900 soldiers in their ill-fated coalition of the less and less willing. Mr Tusk is not a friend of the missile shield installations either.

No surprise actually, but the conflict on the Turkish-Iraqi border definitely starts to bring even more pressure on the US. The Kurdish People’s Army PKK is operating from Northern Iraq much to the dismay of the Turks and their Kurdish brethren in Iraq. Both Turkey and the Kurdish part of Iraq are doing business, many of the reconstruction projects in Northern Iraq are handled by Turkish companies. American calls for restraint remain unheeded. Moreover, Turkey decries the lack of support against the Kurdish separatists. This conflict may well put an end to peace in the only region in Iraq deemed relatively stable and peaceful.

And, finally, have a look at the dangers we face for our candid outspokenness ;-)

…Europeanview