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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Foreign firms continue to come to Switzerland despite problems in "paradise"


Mar 24, 2011 - 21:27

Cracks showing in business oasis Switzerland

There are not many empty flats left in Swiss cities
There are not many empty flats left in Swiss cities (Keystone)

by Matthew Allen, swissinfo.ch

A shortage of affordable homes and international schools, along with a prolonged row over tax, threatens to weaken Switzerland's magnetic pull for foreign firms.

Lured by low tax rates and a high standard of living, a steady stream of overseas companies have set up operations in Switzerland in recent years. But there are signs of growing discontent from new arrivals.


Top of the grumble list is the astronomic rise in house prices in Geneva, Zurich and Zug – a trend that has already priced many locals out of the market, and threatens to do the same for foreign workers.

"The new Eldorado has become even more of a magnet and there is a risk that this could result in a social crisis," Emmanuel Fragnière of Geneva's HEG School of Business Administration told swissinfo.ch earlier this month.

"Politicians are very happy to collect the new taxes, but they need a coherent policy to promote the location that takes into account structural difficulties."

Problems are also showing up in Zug and in Rolle, situated between Geneva and Lausanne.


Noise control

"No one imagined what would happen with so many people from outside Switzerland coming here to work," Rolle Social Democrat politician Patrick Bréchon told swissinfo.ch.

"They are not really creating local jobs. The housing market is like a jungle. House prices have shot up unbelievably and infrastructure – transport, roads and schools – is really behind."

Local complaints have also been matched with anecdotal evidence of foreign workers finding it tough going in their newly adopted country. The British magazine, the Economist, interviewed newcomers complaining of boredom and a lack of places in international schools.

"You need muscle to get kids in international schools," said one financier named only as Alex. "Otherwise it's a Swiss school, where your kids will find it hard to settle."

Others experienced problems adapting to stricter Swiss regulations on noise and refuse collection than they were used to at home.

Geneva-based relocation expert Francois Micheloud acknowledged that the huge influx of foreign firms and workers had created some structural problems, made worse by slow planning and construction rules.


Tax uncertainty

But he firmly believed that solutions could be found to ease the pressures, such as developing rural areas north of Lausanne or in canton Vaud.

"We are not like Monaco – a small piece of rock where you cannot build any more," he told swissinfo.ch. "Bottlenecks will be resolved by companies spreading out to areas that are still within reach of Geneva airport."

Switzerland's vaunted tax competitiveness is also coming under sustained pressure from the European Union. The Swiss authorities have made noises that the corporate tax system could be revamped to meet some EU demands, but nobody knows how this could be done.

"Companies interested in relocation to Switzerland should know what the tax rules will be like in future," tax expert Stephan Kuhn of Ernst & Young told swissinfo.ch. "They would not come to Switzerland if the tax system is unpredictable and subject to major increases."

British-based companies, on the other hand, received a boost from Wednesday's budget announcement that tax rates would be cut by two per cent in the next three years, a full percentage point more than previously thought.


Incentives remain

This prompted advertising giant WPP to consider relocating its tax base back to Britain from Ireland, where it had recently moved.

In a recent interview in the British Observer newspaper, the chief executive of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, chided British firms for heading to cheaper tax regimes, saying they had broken their bond with society.

"We could go, in theory, anywhere for a low tax rate. But first of all, how do you know that country isn't going to change its tax rate in ten minutes?" he said.

However, Britain's new 23 per cent rate would still be higher than the Swiss burden. Depending on where a company is based, combined effective federal and cantonal rates vary between 24.5 and 14 per cent.

Francois Micheloud is convinced that the relocation of foreign firms to Switzerland will continue "for many years to come".

"The incentives for companies to come to Switzerland remain the same as before: competitive tax rates, excellent transport links, a central European location, access to a highly skilled work force, clusters of business competence and flexible labour laws," he told swissinfo.ch.

"And Switzerland is still a delightful place in which to live."


Matthew Allen, swissinfo

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rare dinosaur found in Canada's oil sands



Rare dinosaur found in Canada's oil sands
By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian oil sands, a vast expanse of tar and sand being mined for crude oil, yielded treasure of another kind this week when an oil company worker unearthed a 110-million-year-old dinosaur fossil that wasn't supposed to be there.

The fossil is an ankylosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur with powerful limbs, armor plating and a club-like tail. Finding it in this region of northern Alberta was a surprise because millions of years ago the area was covered by water.

"We've never found a dinosaur in this location," Donald Henderson, a curator at Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is devoted to dinosaurs, said on Friday. "Because the area was once a sea, most finds are invertebrates such as clams and ammonites."

The ankylosaur that was found by the oil worker is expected to be about 5 meters (16-1/2 feet) long and 2 meters (6-1/2 feet) wide.

"It is pretty amazing that it survived in such good condition," said Henderson, noting the fossil was three dimensional, not flattened by the heavy rock sediment.

"It is also the earliest complete dinosaur that we have from this province."

The fossil was found on Wednesday by a Suncor Energy shovel operator who was clearing ground ahead of development. By a quirk of fate, the worker had visited the Royal Tyrrell dinosaur museum in southern Alberta just the week before.

Henderson suggested he may have had dinosaurs on the brain. "Maybe his mind was subconsciously prepared."

Suncor has suspended work at the site and has given scientists a three-week window to remove the fossil and ship it to the Royal Tyrrell museum.

The last major fossil find in northern Alberta was a giant reptile called an ichthyosaur, which was found 10 years ago near Fort McMurray.

(Editing by Peter Galloway)

IRare dinosaur found in Canada's oil sands found this article on Reuters Mobile (us.mobile.reuters.com) and thought you might find it interesting:

Rare dinosaur found in Canada's oil sands
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE72O4TZ20110325

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tokyo with the dimmer switch on

Tokyo with the dimmer switch on

By Tyler Brûlé
FT.com / Life & Arts -

Published: March 18 2011 17:19 | Last updated: March 18 2011 17:19
This isn’t the column I wanted to write this week – or ever. It’s late Thursday afternoon in Tokyo, I’m sitting in the JAL lounge at Haneda airport and I’ll soon board a Cathay Pacific flight for Hong Kong and then carry on to Milan. The airport isn’t chaotic, the queues aren’t anything out of the ordinary and I really don’t want to go. I was originally supposed to fly on Friday but all the flight changes forced an early departure and I’m staring out across the bay to Tokyo and taking stock of the past few days.
I arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday. The 4.35pm ANA flight from Seoul’s Gimpo airport to Tokyo Haneda usually operates at close to 100 per cent capacity – with business class frequently wait-listed. When I walked up to the counter at Gimpo on Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t a passenger in sight in the ANA check-in zone and as I approached the desk a manager eagerly popped out from behind to assist his staff with the check-in procedure. While boarding passes and bag tags were being printed, I asked how full the flight was. For a brief moment he instinctively smiled and then shifted his lips to a frown and said flight NH1164 was “empty”.
For the better part of 96 hours I’d been corresponding with staff in our Tokyo office to gauge their moods while also monitoring the behaviour of the five London-based colleagues with me in Seoul. Originally, four of us were due to travel on to Tokyo but by mid-afternoon on Monday a photo-shoot scheduled for Wednesday had been shelved, there were frequent questions about the necessity for the trip by others, the Tokyo team was continuously updating and assessing the viability of the schedule, and all along I was getting a strong sense that my cohorts weren’t keen on making the trip to Japan. Between meetings I took the opportunity to fire off a quick e-mail explaining the situation and advised that anyone uncomfortable about travelling to Japan could return to London but that we also had a moral and professional responsibility to support our colleagues in Japan if they were still going about their normal business and working as usual. By the time I reached the gate, I was alone.

Read the rest here: FT.com / Life & Arts - Tokyo with the dimmer switch on


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Monday, March 14, 2011

Qualifications that still count

Qualifications that still count

By Tim Harford
Published: March 11 2011 22:23 | Last updated: March 11 2011 22:23

The Guardian’s highly respected “Bad Science” columnist, Ben Goldacre, is a doctor and a medical researcher. But The Guardian’s highly respected economics editor, Larry Elliott, has a degree in history. What does this tell us about the state of economics journalism – or about the state of economics?
Elliott is not alone in writing about economics without the obvious academic qualification. The Guardian’s economics leader writer, Aditya Chakrabortty, also has a degree in history. James Surowiecki of The New Yorker has a degree in history too, and studied for some time for a PhD. David Leonhardt, economics columnist at The New York Times, breaks the pattern: his degree is in mathematics. (His Nobel-garlanded colleague Paul Krugman has a greater claim to academic excellence in economics.)
Some financial journalists do have obviously relevant qualifications. Greg Ip of The Economist has a degree in economics and journalism; Neil Irwin of the Washington Post has an MBA. Stephanie Flanders and Evan Davis of the BBC both worked for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The Financial Times practically has an economics faculty (I have a master’s degree in the dismal science).
Perhaps such educations are a disadvantage. When I had the temerity to raise the subject on Twitter, many replies claimed that formal training in economics was simply brainwashing us into docility. According to this view, the perfect economics commentator should have been carefully protected from academic economics until old enough to see through the nonsense. One celebrated economics columnist told me, off the record, that he sympathised with this view. Larry Elliott was kind enough to dismiss it out of hand. “It would be stretching the point a bit to say an economics degree is an impediment to writing about economics,” he said.
That seems like good sense, but the fact that anyone thinks otherwise should make economists nervous about the sudden diminution in status of their subject. Science journalism provides an interesting contrast: while there are some respected science journalists who lack science degrees, few people would regard that lack as a badge of honour.
Perhaps good journalism has nothing to do with formal academic achievement. “The thing that divides people is not background knowledge, it’s motivation,” says Ben Goldacre. Academic experience can be helpful in reporting a subject, he argues, but if reporters can be bothered to think and do their homework, they’ll do a good job. If not, they won’t.
The challenge for economics journalism, then, is not to send the top journalists back to school for reprogramming; it is to raise the basic economic literacy of generalist reporters who don’t ask the right follow-up question of a politician who spouts some absurdity, or who swallow and regurgitate a dubious press release without carefully chewing over the contents.
“The level of ignorance in the press corps about economics is just enormous,” says Gabriel Kahn, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and former Wall Street Journal bureau chief. David Leonhardt goes further: “We need more numerate journalists,” he told me, in an e-mail, “people who aren’t afraid of numbers but who understand their factual power.”
As for the reputation of academic economics, the pendulum swings back and forth. At the height of the Freakonomics boom, merely being an economist conveyed an air of genius, and newspapers were hungry for new tales of economic derring-do. Today, the working assumption is that economics is in crisis and its theories are absurd. Perhaps if academic economists simply wait, they will find themselves fashionable again in due course.
Tim Harford’s latest book is ‘Dear Undercover Economist’ (Little, Brown)
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Jewish Texts Lost in War Are Surfacing in New York

Jewish Texts Lost in War Are Surfacing in New York
NY Times
By SAM DOLNICK
March 7, 2011

In 1932, as the Nazis rose to power in Germany, a Jewish librarian in Frankfurt published a catalog of 15,000 books he had painstakingly collected for decades.

It listed the key texts of a groundbreaking field called the Science of Judaism, in which scholars analyzed the religion’s philosophy and culture as they would study those of ancient Greece or Rome. The school of thought became the foundation for modern Jewish studies around the world.

In the tumult of war, great chunks of the collection vanished. Now, librarians an ocean away have determined that most of the missing titles have been sitting for years on the crowded shelves of the Leo Baeck Institute, a Manhattan center dedicated to preserving German Jewish culture.

The story of how the hundreds of tattered, cloth-bound books with esoteric German titles ended up in New York includes impossible escapes, careful scholarship and some very heavy suitcases. And while the exact trails of many of the volumes remain murky, they wind through book-lined apartments on the Upper West Side, across a 97-year-old woman’s cluttered coffee table and into a library’s cavernous stacks.

For Jewish scholars, the collection of Science of Judaism texts (in German, Wissenschaft des Judentums) is a touchstone marking the emergence of Jewish tradition as a philosophy and culture worthy of academic study.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tchenguizes arrested in Kaupthing probe

Tchenguizes arrested in Kaupthing probe
By Brooke Masters in London and Daniel Thomas in Cannes
Published: March 9 2011 10:09 | Last updated: March 9 2011 21:22
Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz
Vincent (left) and Robert Tchenguiz 
Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, the high-flying UK property entrepreneurs, and seven other people were arrested as the Serious Fraud Office extended its probe into the 2008 collapse of Kaupthing, the Icelandic bank.
More than 130 investigators and City of London police officers on Wednesday staged dawn raids on eight homes and two London businesses, including the Mayfair offices of Rotch Property, the investment vehicle that controls the brothers’ property portfolio. In a co-ordinated action, Icelandic police also arrested two men and searched two properties. No charges have been filed.


FT.com / Companies / Property - Tchenguizes arrested in Kaupthing probe

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fatboy Slim Rakes It In

March 9, 2011, 7:19 pm

Carlos Slim Widens Lead as World’s Richest Man

Jin Lee/Bloomberg News Carlos Slim Helú, picked up 420.5 billion in wealth in the last year.
When it comes to the race for money, Carlos Slim Helú, the world’s richest man, has surged even further into the lead. The Mexican billionaire accumulated an additional $20.5 billion over the last year, bringing his total fortune to $74 billion, according the Forbes annual rankings of the world’s billionaires.
Mr. Slim has held the top spot since last year, when he pushed aside the two past leaders, Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett. Still, both men added $3 billion to their wealth since the last Forbes billionaires survey. Mr. Gates, the richest man in the United States, is worth $56 billion, while Mr. Buffett is worth $50 billion, according to the magazine.
Forbes attributes the stunning gains in Mr. Slim’s estimated wealth to 19 percent rise in the Mexican stock market, a stronger peso and successful mining and real estate spin-offs from his conglomerate, Grupo Carso. The magazine notes that his family’s stake in América Móvil, the giant Latin American wireless operator, accounts for 62 percent of his fortune. Mr. Slim also owns significant stakes in other companies, including the retailer Saks and the New York Times Company.
Forbes notes that Mr. Gates, a founder of Microsoft, is no longer the world’s richest man because he has already given away $30 billion to his charitable foundation. He and Mr. Buffett, who runs Berkshire Hathaway, have pledged to give away a majority of their wealth by the time they die, as have 57 other wealthy people who have signed the Giving Pledge.
Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, easily remains the richest European at No. 4 on the list. Forbes reports his wealth jumped $13.5 million over the last year, to $41 billion. Earlier this week, the French luxury goods company agreed to buy Bulgari, the Italian jeweler, for $6 billion including debt.
Rounding out the top five is Lawrence J. Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, whose fortune surged $11.5 billion, to $39.5 billion.
The richest New Yorker on the list remains David Koch, who supplanted Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last year. Mr. Koch and his brother Charles Koch of Wichita, Kan., each have fortunes of $22 billion, as gains of $4.5 billion apiece pushed them up to No. 18 on the Forbes list.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bloomberg dropped to 30th place from 23rd on the list, as his fortune showed little gain at $18.1 billion. Like Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett, Mr. Bloomberg is a major philanthropist.
Among the Wall Street notables, the hedge fund manager John Paulson came in 39th on the Forbes list with $16 billion, a gain of $5 billion over 2010. The financier George Soros dropped to 46th from 39th, although his wealth rose moderately, to $14.5 billion. And the financier Carl C. Icahn came in 61st, down from 59th, even though his wealth rose $2 billion since last year, to $12.5 billion.
In percentage terms, the biggest gainer in the United States was Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, whose wealth rose 238 percent over the last year, to $13.5 billion.
All told, there are 1,210 billionaires on the Forbes list, the most ever, whose combined wealth totals $4.5 trillion.
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/carlos-slim-widens-lead-as-worlds-richest-man-2/?nl=business&emc=dlbka22

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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Curious Journey Of Curious George

The Curious Journey Of Curious George
Intelligent Life
curiousgeorge.jpg

curiousgeorge.jpg
The little storybook monkey had many big adventures, but none so dramatic as what his German Jewish creators experienced, writes Erica Grieder ...

Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
The little monkey had a happy life in Africa—eating bananas, swinging on vines. When he was captured, by a man in a yellow hat, his distress was written on his face. He gaped at his body, clearly shocked to find it trapped in a brown sack, winched at the neck. But the little monkey quickly recovered his equanimity. By the time he boarded the rowboat, he was sad to be leaving Africa, but a little curious, too.

Thus began the adventures of Curious George, one of the most popular and enduring children’s characters of all time. During the course of seven original stories by H.A. and Margret Rey, he moved to America, joined the circus, and became an astronaut. Those are big adventures for a little monkey. But none was quite as dramatic as what had happened to his creators in real life. “Curious George Saves the Day”, an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco through March 13th, makes that much clear.

Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein were German Jews from Hamburg. Hans, born in 1898, lived near the zoo and taught himself to draw there (also, how to bark like a seal). After the first world war he tried to scrape together a living drawing posters for the circus, but soon packed up and moved to Rio de Janeiro. He was there, selling bathtubs, when Margarete arrived. She was working as a photographer, and knew Hans as a family friend.

Hans and Margarete married in 1935, and shortened their name to make it easier in Portuguese. The next year, they packed up their pet marmosets for a honeymoon in Paris. Louise Borden, in her short biography of the couple, mentions that the marmosets died during the cold and rainy crossing, even though Margarete knitted them a pair of sweaters.

They planned to stay for two weeks. That turned into four years. The Reys, working together, were becoming established as the authors of children’s books. He drew the pictures, and she wrote the text (and occasionally modelled the animal poses). The monkey who would become world-famous made his first appearance as Fifi, in stories about a giraffe called Raffy who made friends with nine little monkeys. There was a brave one, a strong one, a good one; all were without tails, the Reys explained, because the illustrations were already cluttered with the monkeys and the gangly giraffe. Fifi was the curious and clever one. The Reys decided he should have his own book.

As the decade drew to a close, no Jews in Europe felt safe. The Reys were working, but in letters to his publisher H.A. made it clear that progress had slowed. In September 1939 the couple left Paris for the Chateau Feuga, tucked away in the Dordogne region. 'It feels ridiculous to be thinking about children's books,' wrote H.A. Rey. At one point French police turned up at the castle—they were suspicious about what the strangers were up to—but finding the illustrations scattered around, left them in peace.

The Reys returned to Paris several months later to find that the situation had grown more ominous. Refugees were streaming into Paris, and streaming out for safer destinations farther south. Ms Borden describes the preparations the Reys made for their escape: they tried to buy bicycles, but the only one they could find was a broken tandem. Hans bought spare parts, and spent an anxious few days fixing up a couple of single bikes. On June 12th 1940, the couple left Paris. The Nazis arrived less than two days later.

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