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US TO INTRODUCE “SMART” POSTAGE STAMPS
The US Department of Homeland Security is pondering plans to embed information about individuals into postage stamps. According to a document published last month by the US Postal Service, the “smart stamps” will identify the sender, the destination and the type of mail sent by individuals. That information is already used for corporate senders of mail.More on this story here.
Full USPS report here (PDF file).
THE SAD TALE OF A SECURITY WHISTLEBLOWER
A new and unwarranted extension of the US computer crime law shows that you can go to jail for simply telling potential victims that their data is vulnerable. By explaining how the vulnerability worked, and why customer data was at risk, prosecutors asserted, a security specialist “impaired the integrity” of the affected network. It is now up to a federal appellate court to determine whether this interpretation of the law is to stand. If it does, it could mean a dramatic decline in postings to Bugtraq, CERT, or other public forums.More on this story here.
HAVENCO’S GILBERT & SULLIVAN JOURNEY
Back in 2000, the HavenCo datahaven project was all the rage for Net-ziens, carefully spun through skillful manipulation of sympathetic media -- such as Wired -- as a bastion of freedom on the Internet. Based on the (allegedly) sovereign “state”/gun platform of Sealand, the (supposedly) secure co-location facility (web hosting by any other name), the hyped theory was (almost) anyone could put data out of the legal reach of other (better funded, more stable, less flaky) governments.
If you were doing something in a gray area, such as an Internet casino, pay-per-view video streaming without the blessing of movie companies, or trying to start your own currency, HavenCo was the place on the planet to escape the Oppressive foot of The Man (i.e., anyone with a government). But please, no kiddie-porn, spammers, or hackers -- would not want to legitimately piss anyone off.
Ryan Lackey, one of HavenCo’s founders and its former CTO, stood up at DEFCON 11 and ‘fessed up on how dysfunctional the whole scheme was from a business and infrastructure standpoint. I think Ryan got a free pass in some areas. I was in the front row for the whole presentation and went back to look at both the presentation notes online and old HavenCo coverage.More on this story here.
US TREASURY CONTINUES TO PUSH FOR FOREIGN INTEREST REPORTING
The US Treasury is pushing to finalize an Internal Revenue Service regulation that will require domestic banks to report the interest earned by non-resident aliens to the tax authority in the country in which they are domiciled.
The unpopular proposal has been heavily criticized by the banking industry, as well as by conservative politicians and free market think tanks, who fear a mass exodus of foreign money invested in the country. Many observers have also expressed bemusement at the keenness of the government to push through a regulation that is a holdover from the Clinton government.
It is estimated that there is over $1 trillion invested in US banks by overseas residents, and around $200 billion of this is likely to be caught by the new reporting rules.More on this story here.
Center for Freedom and Prosperity: Dump the IRS NRA regulation.
Frequently updated CFP page on the issue here.
A YAWNING TRADE GAP COULD SWALLOW THE U.S. RECOVERY
After a year and a half of fits and starts, the U.S. economy finally seems on its way to a real recovery. Heading into the second half, consumers are spending more freely. Businesses are loosening up their capital budgets, and skimpy inventories and rising orders are lifting industrial activity. Sounds promising, right?
But there is a catch. True, the outlook for U.S. demand is the brightest in years, as tax cuts, lower interest rates, healthier financial conditions, and reduced uncertainty work their magic. But overall demand is getting little help from outside the U.S., and much of the pickup in American spending is going to imports. The question: Can the U.S. be the locomotive for world growth without derailing its own recovery?
Stronger U.S. demand amid stubborn global weakness is almost certain to cause the trade deficit to balloon further. A widening trade gap, which subtracts from real gross domestic product, may rob the economy of that extra dollop of growth so crucial to capital spending and hiring -- the two requirements for a lasting recovery.More on this story here.
WELL-HEELED SADDAM HAS GLOBAL STASH
If Saddam Hussein is indeed orchestrating an anti-American guerrilla campaign from a hideout somewhere in Iraq, he can count on the billions of dollars he stashed away all over the world to finance his hit-and-run operations.
The latest evidence of the fugitive Iraqi ruler’s ability to return to power by covering the costs of the requisite arms acquisitions and operational outlays is the discovery of a cache of gold bars in a Swiss metallurgic firm -- $5 million worth ready for meltdown.
It has been “frozen” by Switzerland’s government and the executives of Metalor who are reported to have engaged in illicit business dealings with Saddam’s half brother and finance chief, Barzan e-Tikriti. Several Metalor executives are being questioned by the Swiss police and Mr. e-Tikriti is under interrogation in Baghdad, where he surrendered to the U.S. military authorities.
According to Nicolas Giannakopoulos, head of Organized Crime Observatory (OCO), Saddam is a multibillionaire whose worldwide financial grid trades in gold, diamonds and drugs, and has links to important Russian and U.S. companies. The OCO is an independent Geneva-based investigative group specializing in dubious banking and money-laundering operations.More on this story here.
GOLD RUSH FEVER STRIKES SWITZERLAND
Naturally occurring gold may be in short supply in Switzerland, but this did not stop hundreds of the world’s top prospectors from descending on the alpine nation. The occasion was the World Goldpanning Championships, which were held for the first time in Switzerland. This year the event attracted 600 competitors, and Kauko Launonen, president of the World Goldpanning Association, admitted “it’s like trying to organize the Olympics”.More on this story here.
OVER 200 BUY HOMES IN GIBRALTAR AS LOW TAXES LURE MILLIONAIRES
Over 200 millionaires have homes in Gibraltar, lured by special tax deals. And more are coming, including royalty and celebrities, according to developers of an exclusive marina under construction. The developers say wealthy non-residents have already snapped up three quarters of the properties in a $50 million, 115-apartment project in a yacht marina in the tiny British territory which measures just six square kilometers -- even before the first brick is laid.
Not least among the financial “carrots” available to buyers are low tax limits which the Gibraltar government has introduced to encourage wealthy people to establish residence in the territory, which Spain formally ceded to Britain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrech. The Rock -- with its large naval base -- was once a strategic linchpin of the British Empire, but these days the territory is more noted as a financial services hub and a place where those with pockets deep enough can do business.More on this story here.
LIECHTENSTEIN PRINCE TO GIVE UP POWER
Prince Hans-Adam II, who generated controversy in Europe with his push for more power in the tiny Alpine country, announced that he would step down in a year and transfer power to his 35-year-old son, Alois. He made the announcement at a party at his castle in Vaduz to which all of Liechtenstein’s 33,000 residents had been invited to celebrate National Day.More on this story here.
IRISH REVENUE COMMISSION EARNS €650 MILLION FROM DIRT CAMPAIGN
The three year campaign’s intention has been to root out investors who placed their money in bogus non-resident accounts to avoid paying Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT). The latest stage of the campaign by the tax authorities saw 30,000 letters sent out to suspects last October, which was then followed up by a further 40,000 in January of this year.More on this story here.
WILL CRACKDOWN COME IN PARAGUAY?
The Bush administration hopes Nicanor Duarte Frutos will keep his promise to crack down on the smuggling of contraband and money laundering upon becoming president of Paraguay. His inauguration was this past Friday. Authorities in both countries believe that organized crime, especially along Paraguay’s eastern border with Brazil and Argentina, is helping to finance Middle Eastern terrorist groups. That is where Duarte’s vow to crack down on corruption and President Bush’s war on terrorism will intersect.
The so-called Tri-Border Region, home to an Arab community of about 50,000, one of Latin America’s largest, is under close watch by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence agency. In 1995, before most Americans could spell Osama bin Laden, his chief of operations, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was hiding out there.
Local merchants send millions of dollars back to Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, much of it laundered from proceeds of counterfeiting and smuggling contraband across Paraguay’s borders, according to U.S. and Paraguayan authorities.More on this story here.
PACIFIC REGION’S NATIONS GATHER TO FIGHT RISING TIDE OF WORRIES
As well as Australia and New Zealand, 14 of their Pacific Island neighbors will take part in the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland this week. Leaders of some of the smallest and most vulnerable countries in the world will meet New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and her Australian counterpart, John Howard, to grapple with regional challenges such as failures of governance, security, people smuggling, gun control, population growth, HIV/Aids, ethnic tensions, and growing gaps between the rich and the poor. A look at the nations and some of the issues facing them.More on this story here.
CHINA MOVES TOWARD CLOAKED CAPITALISM
SHANGHAI: It is the new narrative of China’s prosperity-minded leaders: inviting capitalists into the higher echelons of power and enshrining private property rights in the constitution. But as one Shanghai businessman has discovered, communist ideology is not going away just yet. This fall, the communist leadership plans to amend the constitution by drawing on the pro-capitalist ideology of recently retired party chief Jiang Zemin, state-run media reported last week.
In revolutionary leader Mao Zedong’s day, those with a profit motive were persecuted as enemies of the people -- “capitalist roaders”. Private enterprise was taboo. Today, evidence of the sway capitalism holds in this commercial center is abundant. Billboards of foreign multinationals dominate the neon skyline of the famed Bund, the turn-of-the-century row of majestic buildings fronting the Huangpu River in the heart of Shanghai. At sidewalk level, the churn of private enterprise is evident in shop signs that barely keep up with the rapidly changing businesses inside. The capitalist class has re-emerged in reality, if not in name.More on this story here.
China alters tack on Hong Kong’s plan for renminbi.
China’s initially positive response to Hong Kong’s plan to become an offshore renminbi (Rmb) center is coming under fire from Chinese officials, who fear it could destabilise the currency and unfairly advantage the territory and its banks. China may back the plan as a way to regulate and monitor the big and growing amount of renminbi already in circulation in Hong Kong, estimated at anything from Rmb20 billion to Rmb70 billion.
The renminbi is not a freely convertible currency but is widely used in Hong Kong -- in big sums for illegal share trading, and in small transactions by mainland tourists. China could also market the policy as another gesture of support for Hong Kong’s struggling economy, on top of its recent announcement of a bilateral trade accord.
Shanghai has been struggling to establish itself as a renminbi finance center and fears its role may be undermined by concessions to Hong Kong, which has a far more sophisticated infrastructure and skills base.
Government officials opposing the plan also contend that it could create a separate market for the renminbi, with interest rates and an exchange value different from the mainland. The renmimbi is pegged to the US dollar and interest rates are tightly regulated.More on this story here.
IRWIN SCHIFF FACES JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Irwin Schiff, the nation’s best-known proponent of the idea that people are not required to pay income taxes, has put that provocative question to Lloyd D. George, a federal district judge who held a hearing here on Thursday on a Justice Department request that Mr. Schiff be put behind bars for civil contempt.
On June 16, Judge George issued an injunction ordering the 75-year-old Mr. Schiff, who has twice gone to prison for tax offenses, to stop promoting his “zero tax return”, which he says allows anyone to legally list no income and so pay no taxes. At least 5,100 such returns have been filed in recent years, the IRS says, costing the government $51 million in taxes and tying up law enforcement resources needed to pursue the filers.
Judge George also ordered Mr. Schiff to stop selling his $38 book, The Federal Mafia: How the Federal Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Federal Income Taxes. Judge George found the book to be false commercial speech that incites people to evade taxes, although, contrary to Mr. Schiff’s assertion that the book had now been banned, the court did not prohibit its sale by people unconnected to him.
Five days later Mr. Schiff certified to the court that he was obeying the injunction, which also required him to post it prominently on his Web site. But the Justice Department says he has flouted the order, noting that he continues to assert on that site that zero income tax returns are legal. In addition, he provides only a link there to the injunction.More on this story here.
MICROSOFT “CELEBRATES” FIFTEEN YEARS OF POOR SECURITY
That the Blaster worm should spread as rapidly as it did was testament to one thing only, the poor security in Microsoft’s software. In the first few months of last year Microsoft spent about eight weeks in what was reportedly an intense effort to improve the security of their software. And what a joke that turned out to be, because within a just few months we were seeing security alerts about Microsoft products that had supposedly been thoroughly checked and corrected.
Microsoft has had more than 15 years to get it right and it still cannot create a secure operating system. In fact in 2002 Windows had the dubious honour of accounting for 87% of all virus infections reported to the Australian office of the Sophos anti-virus group. This came on top of about 130 vulnerabilities that were reported for Windows during the year 2000, which is an average rate of more than one every three days.
Other operating systems have achieved far better security and have done so since their very early releases, so why is Microsoft unable to?More on this story here.
KURT RICHEBÄCHER DISSES THE U.S. ECONOMIC “RECOVERY”
Mr. Greenspan has been hailing the wonderment of the U.S. economy’s new resilience, both to the bursting of the stock market bubble and to the various shocks from terrorists and the Iraq war. But the cause is obvious. What, for the time being, has prevented a deeper and longer recession in the United States is more and more of the very same consumer-borrowing–and-spending bubble, which has been propelling U.S. economic growth over the past several years.
Yet two things have changed. The first one is the collateral behind the consumer borrowing and spending binge. Rising stock prices have been replaced by rising house prices. The second is that it needs more and more rampant credit and debt creation to master just marginal GDP growth. Our highly critical assessment of the U.S. economy’s performance during the past two to three years, in fact, finds its major justification in the atrocious discrepancy that has developed between extremely promiscuous monetary and fiscal stimuli and their extremely poor economic effects.
Between 2000 and 2002, the federal budget has swung from a surplus of $295 billion into a deficit of $257 billion, heading for a $400–500 billion deficit in 2003. During the same two years, total nonfinancial credit zoomed $2,520 billion and financial credit by another $1,879 billion, both adding up to $4.4 trillion. What was the effect of this credit and debt deluge on the economy? GDP during these two years grew in real terms by $248 billion and in nominal terms by $621 billion. To us, this is an outright policy disaster.More on this story here.
BARBADOS CREDIT RATING STILL AMONG BEST
Standard & Poor’s said Barbados’ economic prospects in the short and medium term “are a little bit better now than in the past two or three years”. The rating agency says the island’s good showing is as a result of its “social cohesion”, its “very good economic management” and the prospects for modest growth.
Richard Francis, associate managing director of S & P, told the Daily Nation that Barbados’ assessment was based on a rebound in the tourism industry, the island’s ability to emerge from attacks by the OECD on “so-called tax havens” in a “relatively good position”, and on the stable outlook. Hence, the retention of the A- credit rating, one of the highest in the developing world. Barbados and Chile are the only two Caribbean and Latin American nations with such a score.More on this story here.
CARIBBEAN WORKERS MAY MOVE AND WORK FREELY WITHIN CARICOM BY MONTH-END
According to Desiree Field-Ridley, head of the Barbados-based CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) unit, five categories of persons will benefit from the development as the region moves towards CSME status: artists, sportsmen, musicians, media workers and university graduates.
The free movement will however be for specified terms and contracts and will not be an encouragement for “those intent on setting up residence,” Field-Ridley said.More on this story here.
US EXPATS URGED TO RAMP UP CAMPAIGN AGAINST REPEAL OF SECTION 911 EXEMPTION
US taxpayers qualify for so-called Section 911 exemption -- which allows them to exclude the first $80,000 of foreign earned wages from their gross income when assessing their taxes -- when they have lived outside of the United States for one complete tax year, or 330 days in twelve months.
However, research by the Congressional Budget Office has found that many consider this tax break gives employees based overseas an unfair advantage against their domestic colleagues, and the Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that repealing the law would generate $34 billion in extra revenue over the next ten years.More on this story here.
U.K. ACCOUNTANTS SUPPORT TAX REFORM FOR FOREIGNERS
Gordon Brown’s contro-versial pledge to secure more tax from wealthy foreigners living in the UK has received an unexpected boost from critics. Accountants and consultants who had previously attacked the drive are giving conditional backing to reform of the rules. They are putting forward ideas in the hope they can head off more radical blueprints for change.
Many are supporting an overhaul of the residence rules, while some are reluctantly backing more contentious change to the domicile arrangements. Current legislation enables wealthy foreigners, who are resident in the UK but claim their domicile is overseas, to avoid paying tax on their worldwide income and capital gains.
Although Mr Brown has made no commitment to reform, he promised before Labour came to power that he would close what he called the tax loophole surrounding people with non-domicile status.More on this story here.
BELGIAN EXPAT DUAL NATIONALITY PLEA
Belgian expats should have the right to dual nationality, according to the country's French-speaking political parties. At present Belgians who acquire another nationality are stripped of their Belgian passport. But MPs pointed out that some Belgian expats are obliged to change their nationality to get a job or avoid administrative complications in the country in which they live.
MPs said many expats still feel Belgian, but lose their passport and diplomatic protection if they adopt a new nationality. And if they adopt a nationality from outside the EU they lose the automatic right to work in the bloc.More on this story here.
THE DIVISION OF LABOR ... AND GOLD
A few years ago, everyone maintained an inventory of food. Only a fool would have trusted completely in his ability to buy what he wanted when he wanted it. But now we all seem to have an unshakeable faith in the division of labor ... and the supply channels upon which our lives depend. If it is no longer necessary to keep an inventory of food, does it make sense to store cash? Is gold, the ultimate store of value, no longer necessary?
The human animal, whether dressed by Kenzo or Benetton, is still subject to the same hard-wired instincts that beset and enabled his ancestors. And not just his close kin in the human species -- but the entire line of evolutionary tissue, from the lowest amoebic bacteria to the most highly refined matron in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. This animal, whose collective wisdom priced gold at $825 an ounce two decades ago, now considers it worth only $280 [and today, $355]. But, an investor’s view of what things are worth is not a consequence of rational, computer-like analysis. An investment may be worth $15 one day and $30 the next -- without any real change in the underlying asset. An ounce of gold is still the same element, occupying the same position in the periodic table that it did when George W. Bush was at Yale. It is not gold that has changed.
Our guess: when something has retained value for thousands of years, it is not likely to give it up anytime soon.More on this story here.
HEDGE FUNDS SAW RECORD INFLOWS IN 2ND QUARTER
These private investment pools pulled in $13.83 billion in the second quarter, more than in any other three-month period in the industry’s history, according to data compiled by TASS Research, a unit of Tremont Capital Management. By comparison, investors around the world added $6.98 billion to hedge funds in the first quarter. The first-half tally of $20.81 billion already surpasses the $16.28 billion that hedge funds pulled in for all of 2002.
The resurgent popularity of funds that use various tools to “hedge” against declines in the prices of securities comes despite the fact that global equity markets appear headed for a recovery. Hedge funds generally have failed to keep pace, with the CSFB/Tremont Hedge Fund Index returning 7.9% in the first half, compared with an 11% rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.
Robert Schulman, co-chief executive of Tremont, attributed the pickup in asset flows to strong interest from institutional investors such as pension funds and endowments, which generally take longer than individual investors to select new investments.More on this story here.
EDINBURGH BANK’S LIE DETECTORS SET TO TRAP INSURANCE FRAUDSTERS
HBoS will launch a three-month scheme starting in September analyzing phone calls to its insurance hotlines using the sophisticated technology. The new phone system will randomly test a selection of the calls it receives from its 1.5 million policyholders. Using voice stress analysis techniques to detect changes in speech patterns caused by stress, the machines will be able to make an initial assessment as to whether the caller may be lying.
Callers selected to be part of the trial will be read a short script outlining responsibilities under the Data Protection Act before they give details of their claim. And a bank spokesman said there will be measures in place to make sure only fraudsters are trapped, rather than those who naturally find making such phone calls difficult.
Rival insurers, who will be sure to watch whether the system is a success, have already cast doubts on whether the lie-detectors are reliable.More on this story here.
PERSONAL BANKRUPTCIES CONTINUE TO SURGE IN U.S.
The American Bankruptcy Institute said that personal bankruptcy filings totaled 1,613,097 in the 12 months ended June 30 -- an all-time high for any 12-month period. The figure was up 10% from the 12-month period that ended June 30, 2002.
The institute, which is based in Alexandria, Virginia, is an association of bankruptcy judges, lawyers and experts. It analyzes bankruptcy data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Samuel J. Gerdano, executive director of the institute, said that the main reason for the surge was consumers’ growing debt.More on this story here.
190,000 ISRAELI BANK ACCOUNTS BLOCKED
190,000 bank accounts were blocked Monday as the prohibition on money laundering order came into effect. Account-holders who failed to sign the accounts without beneficiaries declaration, under the Prohibition on Money Laundering Law (5760-2000), were affected.
The Banking Supervision Department stated that 60,000 private bank accounts that lacked vital data, such as the owners I.D. number or date of birth; 70,000 accounts of foreign residents; and 60,000 company accounts, whose owners had filled a controlling shareholders declaration were blocked. Most blocked accounts were dormant accounts.More on this story here.
IRS ABUSE REPORTS PREPARED FOR THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS
“Warning: These IRS Abuse Reports start mildly and slowly. After a while, these reports build into such a crescendo of sickening horror, criminal destructiveness, and unbearable evil that a sedative may be required to read them all.”More on this story here.
IRS Class-Action Announcement here.
PITCHMAN ASHCROFT HEADLINES PATRIOT ACT DEFENSE ROAD SHOW
The Bush administration, under increasing criticism over its terrorism policies, is beginning an unusual counteroffensive this week in an effort to shore up support for the prized legislation that grew out of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The pitchman for the campaign-style initiative is Attorney General John Ashcroft, a politically divisive figure who plans to deliver more than a dozen speeches around the country in defense of the administration’s terrorism efforts.
The campaign will take Mr. Ashcroft to states that are considered central to Mr. Bush’s 2004 re-election effort and where some political strategists say the administration’s tough antiterrorism tactics play well.
The USA Patriot Act, as the sweeping legislation is known, has formed a cornerstone of the administration’s antiterrorism policies in giving law enforcement agents expanded powers to identify, track and apprehend suspects. But the legislation has also become almost a dirty word in some circles in recent months. The increasingly vitriolic concerns over the measure and its future have thrown the administration on the defensive, according to people close to the administration.More on this story here and here.
America fights for freedom to read.
The Bush administration, Congress and civil liberties groups are heading for a showdown over Patriot Act provisions on library searches. Unfortunately, the Justice Department is using a blizzard of fabrications to defend its new post 9/11 powers. Public libraries are rapidly becoming the front line for determining how far the Feds will be permitted to intrude into Americans’ lives in the name of anti-terrorism.
A secret court now has jurisdiction over the reading habits of the American people. Section 215 of the Patriot Act empowers FBI agents to go to any library or bookstore and demand a list of what people have borrowed or bought -- or even what people have asked about. As part of a terrorist investigation, the FBI need not have any evidence of wrongdoing, only a blanket authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which never holds public hearings and always grants the government’s request for search warrants and other intrusions.
The American Civil Liberties Union last month filed a federal lawsuit to get Section 215 struck down as an unconstitutional violation of Americans’ freedom of speech and freedom from warrantless searches. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont, proposed the Freedom to Read Protection Act to repeal Patriot Act provisions which subvert library patrons’ privacy.More on this story here.
Feds demanding more info about companies’ customers.
Private businesses such as phone companies, banks and retail stores are facing more requests from law enforcement agencies for information about their customers, forcing many to deploy staff and upgrade equipment to meet the demand. The subpoenas and court orders, many stemming from new government powers to search for terrorists, have alarmed civil rights groups and privacy advocates, who say that the government is secretly snooping on innocent citizens.
“It’s very scary,” said Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, a nonprofit group that represents 2,000 businesses.
The government requests for information have led some private companies to spend a lot of money to upgrade their software to make it easier to pull customer data and conduct wiretaps. Businesses are also being advised to rewrite customer privacy agreements to avoid liability and to keep data in their systems longer in order to facilitate access.
Last year, BellSouth received more than 32,000 subpoenas for customer information, about half of those from law enforcement. In addition, the telecommunications giant received 636 court orders, mostly from the government, including requests for wiretaps.More on this story here.
POINDEXTER LEAVES, SENATORS VOW TO END HIS PENTAGON PROGRAMS
Two congressional critics of Pentagon research initiatives such as the terror futures market said they would continue to try to block federal spending on such efforts even though an architect of the program, retired Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter, will leave the agency on August 29.
“I am still determined to shut the entire program this fall,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Wednesday after Poindexter’s letter setting the date for his retirement became public this week. “I want to close the Poindexter umbrella.”
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said: “The issue wasn’t Poindexter. The issue was preposterous ideas that in some cases threatened the privacy of the American people.” [Ed: They are a little late here.]More on this story here.
UAV’S TO SUPPLANT UFO’S?
In the coming years, the skies are going to be increasingly dotted with all types of uncanny aircraft; identified flying objects of the terrestrial kind. They are better known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and these robotic policing craft are loaded with high-tech sensors and other snooping gear.
Spotting border penetration by terrorists, or catching a view of illegal immigrants, are among feasible duties for UAVs, their surveillance and interception capabilities having been showcased in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) study groups say that one by-product in using any UAV the expected rise in flying saucer sightings. To the uneducated eye, UAVs just look weird.
According to one tally put together by NASA, there are some 50 U.S. companies, academic institutions, and government groups developing over 150 UAV designs. And those are just the ones stamped “unclassified”, never mind a bunch of top-secret vehicles.More on this story here.
AIR TRAVELERS HAVING NAMES THAT MATCH THOSE OF SUSPECTS CAN LEAD TO DETENTION
MIAMI: When 700,000 -- or 641,000 or 457,000 or even 358,000 -- people in America alone share your last name, you should not be surprised if Department of Homeland Security personnel at airport international arrivals terminals want to talk to you. Such is the lot of certain Garcias, Martinezes, Gonzalezes and Sanchezes who travel abroad and invariably find themselves escorted to a detention room for questioning when reentering the United States.
Their complication: a name that matches or is similar to that of someone sought by authorities for, usually, criminal activity. Jose Luis Alvarez has been detained at Miami International Airport perhaps 50 times because a fugitive shares his name. After a recent Herald report detailing the mistaken-identity travails of Alvarez, a frequent international business traveler, similarly afflicted South Floridians were eager to share their frustrations.More on this story here.
WHEN LEGAL PRIVILEGE HAS A COMMON INTEREST
The doctrine of legal privilege is easy to define, but not always easy to obtain. Privilege flows from the right of a person to obtain skilled advice about the law. The rule is one of fundamental justice. A person cannot properly obtain legal advice if he or she does not have confidence in the sanctity of communications -- untrammelled by any apprehension of disclosure -- with the legal adviser. Thus, privilege flows from the lawyer’s duty of confidence and the client’s right of privacy.
The law presumes solicitor-client privilege to exist in communications between a lawyer and his or her client. Thus, the onus is on the person who wishes to dislodge the privilege to show that it no longer applies in the particular circumstances. A person can lose solicitor-client privilege by waiving it or disclosing the privileged document to third parties. For example, disclosure of privileged documents to an accountant may result in loss of privilege, unless the accountant is an agent of the lawyer. Governments are the prime detractors of the rule of client confidences.More on this story here.
LAWYERS IN U.S. CONSIDER SNITCHING ON CHEATS
Lawyers who learn that a client is cooking the books or looting a company’s till could snitch to authorities with a clear conscience under proposed changes to lawyers’ ethical rules in the United States. The American Bar Association traditionally has refused to place society’s concern over financial crimes above a lawyer’s duty to keep client confidences.
However, corporate scandals such as those at Enron and Tyco, which have harmed the finances of many thousands of workers and shareholders, might now force a change. The ABA’s policy-making board is considering changes to ethics guidelines during the organization’s annual meeting in San Francisco. The changes do not go as far as regulators want, but would bring the nation’s largest lawyers’ group in line with state rules that already bind many lawyers.
The association’s model ethics rules are not law, but they often are the basis for state mandates and policies on lawyer conduct.More on this story here.
SOFTWARE CAN TRACK KIDS’ EVERY ONLINE MOVE
A UK firm has launched snooping software that can record all email and instant messaging correspondence as well as every keystroke typed on a target computer on which it is installed and immediately forward the information to remote computer for the client to browse through. Nöstrad, an IT auditing company, has been using the software -- now called eBlaster -- to monitor employees’ Internet activities at work. Now the company has developed a commercial version designed it says to inform parents of what their kids get up to online.More on this story here.
OBTAINING A NEW OR RENEWING A PASSPORT IN THE U.S.
Americans are required to have a passport when entering most foreign countries, and it is the preferred proof of citizenship when visiting Mexico and many Caribbean islands. Here is what the U.S. State Department says you need to do to get one.More on this story here.
The State Department maintains a list of country visa requirements on its Web site here.
CHINA READIES SUPER ID CARD, A WORRY TO SOME
For almost two decades, Chinese citizens have been defined, judged and, in some cases, constrained by their all-purpose national identification card, a laminated document the size of a driver’s license. But starting next year, they will face something new and breathtaking in scale: an electronic card that will store that vital information for all 960 million eligible citizens on chips that the authorities anywhere can access.
Officials hope that the technologically advanced cards will help stamp out fraud and counterfeiting involving the current cards, protecting millions of people from those problems and saving billions of dollars. Providing the cards to everyone is expected to take five or six years. But the vagueness and vastness of the undertaking has prompted some criticism that the data collection could be used to quash dissent and to infringe on privacy.
The project comes at a time when China is doggedly remaking itself into a leaner economic machine in line with the standards of the World Trade Organization. But China is also struggling to track a restless and poor rural population that continues to gravitate toward the cities. So officials are no doubt gambling that the cards can help them juggle two important if conflicting interests: promoting economic liberalization, while monitoring citizens in an increasingly fluid society.More on this story here.
NET ANONYMITY SERVICE BACK-DOORED
The popular Java Anonymous Proxy (JAP), used to anonymize one’s comings and goings across the Internet, has been back-doored by court order. The service is currently logging access attempts to a particular, and unnamed, Web site and reporting the IP addys of those who attempt to contact it to the German police.
We know this because the JAP operators immediately warned users that their IP traffic might be going straight to Big Brother, right? Wrong. After taking the service down for a few days with the explanation that the interruption was “due to a hardware failure”, the operators then required users to install an “upgraded version” (i.e., a back-doored version) of the app to continue using the service. “As soon as our service works again, an obligatory update (version 00.02.001) [will be] needed by all users,” the public was told. Not a word about Feds or back doors.
Fortunately, a nosey troublemaker had a look at the “upgrade” and noticed some unusual business in it.More on this story here.
SOBIG-F IS FASTEST GROWING VIRUS EVER
Sobig-F has taken the record as the world’s most rapidly spreading virus to date, according to managed services firm MessageLabs, which stopped more than one million copies of the email-borne nuisance since its first appearance earlier this week. Sobig.F has surpassed the infamous LoveBug, Klez and Kournikova viruses.
Sobig-F, first detected on 18 August, is the sixth variant issued in the Sobig series and appears to be the most sophisticated to date. The current Sobig virus to email ratio is approximately 1 in 17 and the virus is spreading at such a rate it is expected to continue to stay at high-level status for the next few weeks. However, like past Sobig viruses, the Sobig-F virus has an expiry date and is set to deactivate on 10 September. “The Sobig virus writer’s use of an in-built expiry date indicates that he is committed to inventing new and improved versions,” said MessageLabs’ CTO.
Sobig is a mass-emailing virus that can spoof the sender’s address, fooling the user into believing the email is from a legitimate source and then opening the email.More on this story here.
Auto-responders magnify Sobig problem.
Bounced messages from auto-responders in receipt of the prolific Sobig-F worm are feeding a flood of useless and malicious messages that threatens to swamp legitimate emails for many users. Sobig-F, like viruses such as Bugbear, Fizzer, Mimail and Klez before it, spoofs or forges the name in the From: field in infected emails sent out from pox-ridden PCs. This forged email address is often randomly plucked off the infected computer by the virus.
Some gateway applications that scan email attachments for viral content email auto-replies when a virus is found. If the “Sender” name has been forged, the auto-reply can be received by an innocent party, causing undue confusion and stress. A false accusation may even harm an organization’s relationship with clients and partners.More on this story here.
21 August: Microsoft issues three Windows security warnings -- one very serious.
Microsoft issued three warnings about its software that could compromise peoples’ personal computers. One of them is very serious, a security firm tells the Inquirer. You should download the second patch immediately. According to Thomas Christensen, at the company, it is easily exploitable by people with not a great deal of technical knowledge.
The first relates to Microsoft Data Access Components, which come with Windows 2000, Office 2000, and SQL Server. The second relates to Internet Explorer. Microsoft says bugs in 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0 could let people take over your computer. The third relates to the component of Windows that allows one to run graphically sophisticated games, Direct X.More on this story here.
UPHOLDING LIBERTY IN AMERICA
In the aftershock of September 11 2001, there is a greater awareness among most Americans of how precious their freedom is. They also realize the need for better government intelligence work to fight terrorism. But they should not let the government usurp basic liberties.
This is a danger as more and more anti-terrorist laws and rules strait-jacket the nation. There is a congruent danger: the rise of neo-conservatism on the right. The neo-conservative agenda is a particular threat to liberty -- perhaps greater than the ideologically spent ideas of left-liberalism. The movement is using the threat of terrorism to expand government at home and abroad. America must safeguard its freedoms in the fight against terrorism, but protect itself from pernicious policies that erode freedom in the name of liberty.
Under no circumstances should an American be held captive in the US indefinitely, with no charges filed and no legal representation afforded. Yet this has happened under the Patriot Act. And now there is talk of a Patriot II. James Buchanan, the Nobel laureate, argues that governments will acquire more power when the opportunity arises. History shows this to be true, and the Patriot law reflects it. Today, with the war on terrorism, the opportunities for the state to expand are ubiquitous. Both liberals and conservatives are turning a blind eye to unnecessary usurpations of power, if not openly calling for them.More on this story here.
GOP bill would add anti-terror powers.
As Attorney General John D. Ashcroft begins a barnstorming tour of the country to shore up support for existing anti-terrorism laws, Senate Republicans are discussing legislation that would expand the Justice Department’s powers to investigate terrorists and drug criminals.
Recent drafts of the “Victory Act”, which carry the names of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and four other Senate Republicans, would provide extra penalties for drug dealers alleged to be connected to terrorist groups and would dramatically expand the government’s power to seize records and conduct wiretaps in connection with “narcoterrorism” investigations.
The proposal also targets alleged “interstate currency couriers” by making it a crime to carry more than $10,000 cash in a vehicle in connection with illegal activity. Prosecutors also would be able to freeze the assets of defendants arrested on money-laundering charges for 30 days, regardless of whether the assets are connected to a crime, according to the draft legislation.
But critics wasted no time taking aim at the measure. A Democratic aide for the House Judiciary Committee said: “It really seems to be more about a political agenda to jail drug users than a serious attempt to stop terrorists.” “The Victory Act represents a major expansion of federal surveillance, asset forfeiture and other powers under the guise of linking the war on drugs to the war on terrorism,” said Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU.More on this story here and here.
Patriot Act II resurrected?
The draft legislation -- titled the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003, or Victory Act -- includes significant portions of the so-called Patriot Act II, which faced broad opposition from conservatives and liberals alike and embarrassed the Justice Department when a draft was leaked to the press in February. While this draft legislation’s focus differs significantly the Patriot II draft, Hatch’s bill contains several passages from that draft.
The Victory Act also seems to be an attempt to merge the war on terrorism and the war on drugs into a single campaign. It includes a raft of provisions increasing the government’s ability to investigate, wiretap, prosecute and incarcerate money launderers, fugitives, “narco-terrorists” and nonviolent drug dealers. The bill also outlaws hawalas, the informal and documentless money transferring systems widely used in the Middle East, India and parts of Asia.More on this story here.
SWISS GOVERNMENT REIGNITES DEBATE OVER EXCESS GOLD
The Swiss cabinet has put forward plans to share the proceeds from the sale of its excess gold reserves between the federal government and the cantons. Last year, voters rejected two proposals to use some of the money to fund humanitarian projects and to boost the state pension scheme.
The Swiss National Bank holds 1,300 tons of excess gold in its reserves, estimated to be worth from SFr18 billion to SFr20 billion ($13 billion to $14.4 billion). Some 840 million tons had already been sold by the end of July, netting SFr12.7 billion.
The proposal split Switzerland’s political parties. The center-right Christian Democrat and Radical parties said they supported the move. Meanwhile, the center-left Social Democrats and the rightwing Swiss People’s Party came out against the plan. Both parties said some of the money should go to the state pension fund instead. But the government has opposed that proposal.More on this story here.
CROOKS ON THE RUN LOOK TO CAPE TOWN AS A CITY OF REFUGE
Cape Town is fast becoming known internationally as “Fugitive City” -- the destination of choice for crooks from around the world wanting to quietly disappear from their pursuers.More on this story here.
PACIFIC UNION PROPOSAL WORRIES SOME
The Australian government has made a dramatic U-turn on its Pacific foreign policy and is pushing for a European-style economic union, but it will have to tread lightly to gain support from the island nations, academics warn. Australia wants increased cooperation among Pacific states and Prime Minister John Howard used last week’s Pacific Island Forum (PIF) summit to present the proposals to the region’s leaders.
Under an Australia initiative, the intergovernmental body of 16 countries agreed at the Auckland meeting to establish a regional police training college in Fiji’s capital Suva. Howard has also advocated the pooling of resources among the island countries to boost Pacific economies, many of which are floundering.More on this story here.
S&P upgrades Cook Islands sovereign rating.
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services announced last week that it has raised the Cook Island’s long term sovereign rating from “B” to “B+” reflecting the government’s improved control of its fiscal situation and tighter rein on the country’s debt burden. The ratings agency has also maintained a positive outlook and affirmed a positive short term rating of “B”.
However, S&P noted the Cook Island’s continued vulnerability to economic shocks, particularly weather related disasters, which can potentially have a large impact on the jurisdiction’s economy. It also observed the country’s dependency on tourism. Despite this, S&P highlights the advantages of the “special relationship” that the Cook Islands has with New Zealand including monetary union.More on this story here.
AUSTRALIA, UK SIGN UPDATED DOUBLE TAXATION AGREEMENT
Australia and the U.K. renewed Thursday a comprehensive double taxation agreement, designed to spur trade and investment flows between the two countries. Under the new rules, withholding tax on certain dividend, interest and royalty payments will decline, ultimately making it cheaper for Australian-based business to access intellectual property, equity and finance for expansion. It will also dismantle obstacles stifling Australian corporate expansion offshore, including greater flexibility for dual-listed company structures, Australian Treasurer Peter Costello said. Furthermore, it will make it tougher for multinational companies to avoid tax.More on this story here.
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: DEMOCRACY FOR HONG KONG
Massive demonstrations last month in Hong Kong in support of democracy and against a Beijing-backed anti-sedition law seem to have shocked China’s Communist rulers into the realization that they are out of touch with Hong Kong’s population. But they do not seem shocked enough to accept the remedy for such a dilemma, which would be more democracy. Instead, they are following a more familiar Communist script: Make short-term concessions to popular anger while vilifying and seeking to isolate democracy movement leaders. And, reflecting nervousness about freedom in Hong Kong, China’s leaders also have blocked the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from visiting Hong Kong, prompting the commission to cancel a trip to China. “This action on the part of the Chinese government suggests a degree of Chinese control over foreign access to Hong Kong that is unprecedented and in contradiction to the concept of ‘one country, two systems,’” commission chair Michael K. Young said.Rest of editorial here.
FORMER BERMUDA GOVERNOR DISMISSES LOOSER TIES WITH THE UK
Former governor of Bermuda, Lord Waddington, recently expressed the belief that the issue of the island’s independence from the United Kingdom is dead in the water, at least for the foreseeable future. “[A]s far as I know, [the independence] issue was not raised ahead of this election meaning that independence should be a non-issue for the next four or five years,” he said.More on this story here.
Survey: Bermuda No.1 for wealthy Americans.
Wealthy Americans would rather visit Bermuda than any other island destination, a new survey suggests. The government-commissioned survey found that 32% of the 500 people questioned would consider Bermuda if planning an island vacation in the next year. Hawaii came second with 26%, followed by the Bahamas (24%); Aruba (23%) and Jamaica (19%).
A government statement said the survey was designed to “measure both the effectiveness of Bermuda’s marketing and its perception in the marketplace.” Even with logos removed from both print and TV advertisement campaigns, 77% of respondents were still able to identify that they were created for Bermuda.More on this story here.
OFFSHORE TRADERS DEEM CALIFORNIA RECALL A TWO-HORSE RACE
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua: The race for the California governorship has boiled down to just two candidates, according to offshore futures traders, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante making up 87% of all possible outcomes. While survey and poll results have swung wildly over the past week, the futures market at offshore sportsbook World Sports Exchange has yielded a far more consistent read on the election outcome.
Schwarzenegger is currently a 52% favorite to win the governorship, down from 54% from the market opening on August 11th. Bustamante and Gray Davis fill out the field at 35% and 14%, respectively, while the chances of relatively high-profile candidates such as Bill Simon, Peter Ueberroth, and Arianna Huffington have been completely dismissed at 0% to 3%.
Such markets, where actual dollars exchange hands, are widely seen as having unique predictive accuracy. The Iowa Electronic Marketplace, for example, has consistently outperformed both polls and pundits over the last several presidential election cycles.More on this story here.
THE GOOD OLD AMERICAN WAY: HATING THE RICH
“Tax cuts for the rich...” “Those greedy rich folks...” “The rich don’t pay their fare share...” These are among the many mantras that are tirelessly distributed for mass consumption. Designed to foment class envy and conflict, such rhetoric serves only the advancement of the author’s agenda, while leaving a trail of insidious policies to redistribute the wealth of the citizenry. Such beliefs lie at the foundation of communist and socialist philosophies, and have significantly contributed to the success of the Democratic Party -- due in part to the size of the voting American proletariat, or working class, in relationship to the other socio-economic classes.
Nevertheless, the wealthy are a group that many (who are not wealthy) love to hate. Some of this hatred stems from the perception that most wealthy people inherited their fortune. Politicians, many of whom are among the affluent, often propagate this perception in order to achieve electoral success from the large non-wealthy voting population. However, the reality is that most of America’s wealthy, as the old Smith Barney commercial used to say, “make money the old fashioned way -- they earn it.” In fact, in 1997, only 28% of those listed on the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans list became so through inheritance -- confirming the notion that you do not have to be born into the “right family” to be affluent.More on this story here.
Opinion: Bush’s tax cuts unfairly favor the wealthy.
Since the installation of the current Bush Administration, there has been a consistent drumbeat for tax cuts. The reason given to justify these extensive tax cuts is that they will supposedly act as a much-needed stimulus to our economy. To date there has been no noticeable positive result. Our economy is still in the doldrums. I believe the reason for such sluggish results stems from improperly targeting these tax cuts.
Figures from the Brookings Institution make it abundantly clear that the wealthier you are, the greater is the percentage of your gross adjusted income which you save under these new tax laws. In the lowest income bracket, the savings amount to only 0.3% of adjusted gross income (approximately) but in the highest bracket (over $1 million) the tax savings are approximately 9.25% of that income.Rest of opinion piece here.
UBS SURVEY SHOWS CHANGING COSTS OF LIVING
The average worker in Nairobi must work more than three hours to pay for a Big Mac that workers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami can buy for a mere 10 minutes’ effort, UBS, the Swiss bank, says in its latest report on prices and earnings around the world. The UBS survey of living costs and incomes in 70 cities ranks Oslo, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Zurich as the world’s most expensive cities, followed by Copenhagen and London. Tokyo, the costliest city in 2000 when UBS carried out its previous survey, has become cheaper thanks to deflation and yen depreciation.
The calculations are based on a basket of more than 100 goods and services, excluding rents, reflecting “western European consumer habits”. Globetrotters should shop for household appliances in eastern Europe, men’s wear in Manila, Bucharest and Sofia, and women’s fashion in Manila, Rio de Janeiro or Mumbai, India.
The survey notes that while there has been some convergence of prices in the eurozone, purchasing power still varies widely, with a 60% gap between Lisbon, the lowest ranked European Union city, and Luxembourg, the highest.More on this story here.
Zurich citizens get good deal.
Zurich may be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but its citizens have more money to play with than anyone else. A recent study shows that even though prices in Zurich are the fifth highest in international comparison, the city enjoys the greatest purchasing power.
The study found that people in Zurich have to work 14 minutes to buy a Big Mac whereas it takes employees in the Latvian capital Riga 50 minutes of labor to purchase the same item.More on this story here.
SWEDEN LOOKS SET TO VOTE NO IN A REFERENDUM ON JOINING THE EURO
When does it make sense to join a currency union? Nobel laureate economist Robert Mundell argued long ago that small, open economies, tied together by trade and investment, should adopt a single money. Sweden’s voters seem less impressed than the Nobel committee. On September 14th, the people of this small, open economy, tightly bound to Europe by trade and investment, will vote in a referendum on joining the euro. Few think it optimal. Many do not care for it at all.
A poll by Sifo, released last Friday, showed that 49% of Swedish voters want to keep the krona (crown) and only 34% are happy to see it disappear. On Monday, Gallup announced similar results. The “no” campaign has been gaining momentum since the end of last year, feeding on fears that the euro will bring price hikes and welfare cuts.
Swedes are whole-hearted internationalists but, as Swedish economist Lars Calmfors puts it, they are “half-hearted and unreliable Europeans”. Sweden joined the European Union less than a decade ago and has stayed out of the euro until now -- not by negotiating a formal opt-out, as Britain did, but by deliberately missing the Maastricht treaty’s entry criteria year after year. Still, many thought that Sweden would warm to the euro once it was in circulation. Instead, familiarity has bred contempt.More on this story here.
MONEY LAUNDERING IS FACING CLEAN-UP WITH NEW U.K. RULES
Big Brother is now watching over the accountancy profession, and the penalty for breaching the new money laundering regulations will not merely be eviction, it will be a fine and prison for up to five years. The new regulations are expected to be laid before Parliament after the recess and will come into force by December or January.
Once the regulations are in force, accountants and tax advisers will, for the first time, have to report to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NICS) where they have knowledge or suspicion of money laundering, and whether this involves a client or third party. Money laundering has usually been associated with shady activities such as drug dealing, arms smuggling or terrorism, but under the new definition it will apply to other crimes, including tax evasion. There will be no de minimis level in the new regulations, and even the smallest infringement could lead to severe penalties.More on this story here.
THE FUTURE OF U.S. ESTATE TAX LAWS
Irv Blackman has two predictions: 1.) The estate tax will not be repealed in 2003; 2.) If the Republicans do not kill the estate tax, the next time the Democrats get control in Washington, the estate tax will be reincarnated -- as it has been three times before. A better bet is that the $1 million unified credit (the first $1million of your estate escapes tax) will be raised. The exact single amount or multiple amounts is a guessing game. Larger unified credits will be phased in over a period of years. The outcome of the estate-tax-change game will be driven, as George F. Wills puts it, by “knowns, unknowns and unknown unknowns.”
For planning purposes -- the disposition of your wealth, business succession, asset protection and your family’s future -- there is a clear, straight and certain road. Steve Leimberg’s Estate Planning newsletter says it perfectly, “Our task as professionals -- regardless of the current or even future of this -- should be to make clients aware of the urgency and significance of action, even if there is no estate tax!”More on this story here.
TOTAL SURVEILLANCE EQUALS TOTAL TYRANNY
In the name of fighting terrorism a new kind of government is being implemented in Washington, D.C. We are witnessing the birth of a powerful multi-billion dollar surveillance lobby consisting of an army of special interest groups, Washington lawyers, lobbyists, and high-tech firms with wares to sell.
The personal rights of American citizens, protected until now by the Bill of Rights, are the farthest thing from their minds as they seek to fill their pockets while enabling government to monitor and control our lives to a degree unheard of prior to September 11, 2001. This army seeks riches as it pushes for laws and regulations to spy on and control the lives of law-abiding Americans.
The Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA) reports that there are more than 100 federal entities involved in forging the largest conglomeration of government-private contractor interests since the creation of the Pentagon. GEIA represents hundreds of corporate members seeking to cash in on the Homeland Security citizen-surveillance-spending spree. A key objective of the association is to win a piece of the action for the creation of national ID cards for travelers.
For those of you who feel the government is just doing its job to defeat terrorism, I am very sad to tell you that our government is not being honest with us. Terrorism is the excuse, not the motivation, for the massive drive toward Big Brother.More on this story here.
Home page of American Policy Center, “a grassroots, activist think tank”, here.
EUROPEAN LEADERS SET TO AGREE TO COMMON VISA REGIME
Thursday’s agenda of the European Council was dominated by discussions on external borders control and asylum policy. Although all sides agreed that asylum policy must be improved, a consensus on the British proposal for asylum camps outside the EU territory could not be reached. Germany and Sweden remained staunchly opposed to the controversial proposals.
However, Commission president Romano Prodi stated there was “great progress on coherent policies on immigration and asylum”. Greek premier Costas Simitis said “step by step we are coming out with an immigration policy”.
In its proposals for the European summit the Commission suggested measures to toughen up visa policy. The new Visa Information System proposed by Brussels would include biometric identifiers (including iris scanning and fingerprints) to lead to “overall efficiency of the system”. Several member states have already backed the blueprint.More on this story here.
PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT MACAPAGAL TO SIGN DUAL CITIZENSHIP LAW
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Wednesday she was ready to sign a law granting dual citizenship to Filipinos who have settled abroad. The dual citizenship act was passed earlier this week by Congress despite criticism it would weaken loyalty to the country. It would allow those who have gained citizenship in other countries to regain their Philippine citizenship. It would largely benefit the millions of Filipinos who have become naturalized citizens of the United States and Canada.More on this story here.
DON JOHNSON REPUTATION RUINED BY GERMANY?
Don Johnson is embarrassed. Not, as some might presume, for spawning the sockless-loafer-and-pastel-suit look. Instead, the erstwhile Miami Vice star is allegedly fretting about the damage to his rep ever since the German Finance Ministry leaked his name in connection with a possible money-laundering investigation.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Johnson’s German attorney, Matthias Prinz, was preparing a damages claim against the ministry over the November 2002 incident in which customs officials uncovered financial documents totaling $8 billion in a car driven by the actor. However, Johnson’s Los Angeles-based publicist has denied the suit, claiming the story is “bogus”. Elliot Mintz says his client “has not filed a lawsuit. He has not asked for ‘damages’.”
This much is known: Johnson has been irked (and has maintained his innocence) ever since the European road trip gone wrong.More on this story here.
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