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Tages-Anzeiger ("Daily Gazette") is a German-language Swiss daily newspaper based in Zurich. Founded in 1893, the newspaper is owned by Tamedia.
Dead people like Facebook too (Zombies)
Michèle Binswanger

Facebook For Zombies: Social Media For The Dead

A new Internet service allows dead people to communicate with their loved ones via social media. Is this crazy or just the thing to help us grieve in the 21st century?

It used to be called Second Life. But that early attempt at an alternative virtual life lies long forgotten in the Internet cemetery, with virtual living now taking place on Facebook or Twitter. And now, there's even a social media for life after death: a new, free service called Dead Social.

The idea is to open an account and start feeding in stuff that will be sent at specific times after one's demise to relatives and friends via services like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. If the idea works, it could become routine some time in the near future, say on your dead Dad's birthday, to get a Facebook message that reads: "Hey, it would have been my birthday today. Hope you haven't forgotten. Have a drink --on me!" That's one of the nicer possibilities. But since we're talking about virtual zombies it's not all going to be pleasant and could be more along the lines of: "I may be dead, but you still owe me four thousand. The goon squad is on its way."

Technically, it's quite simple: a legally responsible person must confirm that you have shuffled off this mortal coil, thus activating your Dead Social account which will then send out your messages at the times you've programmed. It's also possible to form groups on the site – such as Vegans and Vegetarians of the Afterlife ("For people who loved animals in life, and will continue to do so in death!").

Dead Social is the brainchild of James Norris, who launched his service in late April at the Next Web Conference in Amsterdam. Initial reactions were confusion and outrage, but he still believes he's on to a good thing: "Dead Social can also be therapeutic for the person writing the news, and for the one who reads it after that person has died."

And as absurd and macabre as is sounds, maybe the whole thing isn't so crazy. Death is one of social media's unsolved problems. What happens to the accounts of millions of people when they are no longer around? Among other issues, they use up a lot of computer space. Maybe in future they could all be closed except for the profiles of people who leave a digital will.

Dead Social could be of interest to celebrities as well. "Imagine if Amy Winehouse had had an account," enthuses Norris. "She could have included unreleased material or dished on her affair with Pete Doherty." Norris says he can easily see the day when music labels make it mandatory for stars to open a Dead Social account.

Read the full article in German

Photo - Zombies

Antonis Samaras, feeling victorious (Nea Dimokratia)
Mirko Plüss and Stephan Israel

Greece: Why Europe Doesn’t Trust Antonis Samaras

Even if he was considered a “pro-Europe” option, the Conservative victor in Greece’s Parliamentary election does not enjoy a shining reputation around the continent.

ATHENS - All eyes in Europe were turned on Greece this past weekend when millions of its citizens turned out in the boiling heat to cast their ballot in parliamentary elections for the second time in two months. In the early evening, the news was that the Conservatives and radical left were running neck-and-neck. But just before 10 p.m., Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza alliance, acknowledged his defeat and congratulated Conservative leader Antonis Samaras who is poised to become Prime Minister, and the most powerful man in the country.

Samaras had managed what only a few believed possible: putting his Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) party back on the path to success. In his victory speech, Samaras reiterated what he was elected to do by stating: "The Greeks have voted for a pro-European course and for keeping the euro."

For a long time it had looked as if the Conservatives would lose. The Greek party landscape seemed too fragmented, and Syriza leader Tsipras too charismatic. Samaras, meanwhile, is a man of the old Greek elite whose party ran the government from 2004 to 2009 and bears some responsibility for the country's desperate debt situation.

Put simply, Samaras opponents see him as an opportunist, while supporters admire his ability to always bounce back.

Samaras had already played a major role on the Greek political scene in the early 1990s as a hardline Foreign Minister, before forming a party called Political Spring that was more right-leaning than Nea Dimokratia and enjoyed considerable if short-lived success. By 2004 he was back with Nea Dimokratia, a move that paid off: the Conservatives garnered the most votes in parliamentary elections and remained the leading party until 2009.

Samaras, who'd risen to party chief and leader of the opposition, spent much of the last two-plus years making life difficult for then Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreou, and the resulting domestic political standoff contributed to the worldwide financial crisis. Samaras was a bitter opponent of the severe austerity measures that the European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) troika wanted to impose. But in November 2011, when Papandreou resigned and the Conservatives regained a role in government, Samaras ended up accepting the measures.

The 18.85% of the vote that Samaras got during the first elections on May 6 were interpreted by many as a slap on the wrist for his surprising turnaround, but Sunday's victory for Nea Dimokratia, which received just under 30% of the vote, showed that Samaras was on the road to the prize he'd always longed for: the Prime Minister job.

Not the time for discounts

Following Sunday's results in Greece, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was quick to announce that now that the pro-Europeans had won, there was no time to lose and reforms should be quickly implemented. In Berlin, an initial statement by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday evening seemed to suggest that the Greeks might be granted a little more time to meet their obligations to creditors. But that was quickly reversed, as a German government spokesman said this was "no time for any sort of discounts," with Westerwelle adding: "If I gave the impression that I was prepared to accept less stringency as regards to the need for reform in Greece, that is definitely a wrong impression."

An aura of mistrust hangs over European reactions to the new reality in Greece -- and it is linked directly to Samaras. His intransigence as head of the opposition on the issue of reforms and austerity still rankles. Indeed, the European Conservatives in Brussels are most diffident, having long tried to talk him into acceptance to no avail.

However, after making their point European partners will have to come around to some adjustments in the timetable. Between the early May elections and the ones last Sunday, hardly any progress on reforms has been made in Athens. As soon as a new government is in place, representatives of the purse-string holding EU, IMF and ECB troika will come calling.

The first thing they'll do is check the finances, and they will undoubtedly find that Greece in behind in both cutting costs and collecting taxes. The corrections and adjustments the euro countries then press for will depend on the results of those checks. One billion euros in European payments to Greece had been delayed pending greater clarity in the situation, and these funds could now be released short term.

The hour of truth will come by the end of August at the latest. That's when the Greek government has to pay back 3.8 billion euros. It can only do that of the troika attests that the country is on an austerity course and the euro countries agree to release the next big chunk of the second bailout package.

Read original articles – here and here - in German

Photo - Nea Dimokratia

Fashion faux-pas (Zabowski)
Philipp Tingler

Hey Guys: Legs Matter

As summer approaches, some men might be inclined to show off half their calves with those "7/8ths" Capri pants. Don't. Just Don't. And If you want to wear shorts, please follow these simple rules.

BERLIN - Yes men, you need to worry about hem length too. That is a brutal truth the summer months force us to face. And it was brought home to me again recently by a snapshot I took on the streets of my hometown Berlin, showing one guy wearing pants cropped to the knee, and another guy wearing Capri pants, manpris.

Berlin will always (hopefully) be different from the rest of Germany -- big, rough, noisy, arty, its famous Fashion Week something of a contradiction in terms. But: that's no excuse for 7/8th Capri pants. Contemplating the photo, I realized several things. First of all: male legs are important. I know that it's very difficult to get an attractive leg shape (and particularly hard to achieve good-looking calves) by working out at the gym -- but that's no reason not give it the old try. Come on guys, I know for a fact you don't want to look like Larry the Lobster from SpongeBob Squarepants.

Secondly: Capri pants. I've said this time and again, but since I'm still seeing them all over the place, I'll say it again: the only people allowed to sport them are women under 35, of the Audrey Hepburn type. Did you get that? Women with an Audrey Hepburn figure. Seven-eighths pants do not work for anybody else.

On a man --and I don't care what age he is or what kind of body he has-- trousers cropped that length are the equivalent of a burqa. They make the wearer instantly and utterly unsexy. Some of my friends don't agree that the cropped pants in the snapshot are 7/8th, I'm hearing 3/5th: I don't care. You catch my drift. The only thing deadlier than 7/8th (or 3/5th) pants is 7/8th worn with sandals and ankle socks.

Hot Pants: only if you are Cristiano Ronaldo

On to shorts: The length issue is crucial here too, the perfect length being just above the knee. Tight shorts can be a little shorter, assuming the wearer has the body – and again, guys, legs – to pull them off. This might also be a good opportunity to mention the social context for wearing shorts. Shorts are by nature casual. Which means that on no formal occasions should other people be allowed to see your knees, and I don't care how attractive the latter are. So no shorts at theater premieres, baptisms/weddings/funerals, testifying in court – you get the point. And no shorts *ever* on the job. It doesn't matter where you work, a trendy PR agency, a funeral home: shorts at the workplace are an absolute taboo unless you're a parcel delivery-person or a pool attendant.

There's a myth about so-called City Shorts. Some men actually believe that they can wear their navy blue cotton Neil Barrett Bermudas in town as long as they wear a striped seersucker regatta blazer with them. My recommendation is: unless you're Ewan McGregor, just forget about it. And never make the mistake of thinking that you can compensate for the missing fabric and formality by wearing shorts of a dark color. At best, putting on a shirt and tie with black shorts makes you look like you're on your way to a stripper's funeral.

Now about age: per se, 50 is not too old for Bermudas. You can pretty much wear short pants at any age. There's a photo by Jonathan Becker of famous American writer Dominick Dunne standing in front of the Hôtel du Cap in Antibes on the French Riviera during the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Dunne was 81 at the time, and he was wearing cuff-less khaki shorts with a single-breasted yachting blazer, a formal shirt from Turnbull & Asser, and embroidered velvet Albert Slippers. Without socks, it goes without saying. Daring? I admit it all depends on the wearer. "You've got to have swagger," as Margot Light, my International Relations professor at the London School of Economics, liked to say --laid-back self-confidence, natural dominance and charisma.

That attitude unfortunately does not protect the wearer of shorts from mistakes and wardrobe blunders. One must keep in mind that faux-pas involving shorts often have to do with ...size. Do you remember when soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo's Hot Pants unleashed crowds of would-be imitators, men wearing too-tight, too-short shorts? One general rule could be distilled from that unfortunate situation: even if this is the time of year when Mother Nature pours her bounty forth unreservedly, that doesn't automatically mean that you have to --or at least not as long as you have two legs and a prostate.

Read the article in German in Tages Anzeiger.

Photo - Zabowski

Samantha Cameron and Michele Obama have put their careers on hold (Pete Souza)
Michèle Binswanger

His & Her Success: When The Balance Of Power Shifts Inside A Power Couple

France’s First Lady Valérie Trierweiler’s troublesome tweet this week has been a public soap opera and the first real blow in the new presidency of her companion, François Hollande. But how much should a successful woman care about her man's prof

François Hollande was supposed to come with a clean slate, the "normal" President – ready to devote all of his attention to the citizens and country of France, not to himself.

And now his partner Valérie Trierweiler has put a spoke in the wheels – or, put more aptly, left a nasty little stain on his jacket. But this all came from a modern woman who could care less about looking after her partner's wardrobe.

The stain came in the form of a tweet in which Trierweiler expressed support for the political opponent of Ségolène Royal, Hollande's ex-partner. Since it's known that Trierweiler and Royal are enmeshed in an on-going private cat fight, this news already had the makings of a scandal – and was firmly cemented as one in light of the fact that Hollande himself supports Royal's candidacy for this weekend's parliamentary runoff.

Trierweiler, a journalist, has from Day One shown little interest in filling the role of France's First Lady, and would rather be judged by her own career accomplishments. And yet getting publicly mixed up in politics in quite this way, taking a swipe at Royal, has turned the French off. It would be an uncomfortable enough situation for a man in a far less important position. For Hollande, just elected to France's highest office, it must be a nightmare.

The French media have leapt on the story, dubbing it "Dallas in the Elysée Palace." It highlights a conflict that neither the powerful men nor the emancipated women of this world seem to have devoted much thought to: in power couples, how do the partners deal with each other's power? And more specifically: how strong can a woman be if she is at the side of a powerful man?

The former head of the Swiss National Bank, Philipp Hildebrand, was recently enmeshed in a scandal of his own involving some financial transactions allegedly made by his wife without his prior knowledge. "My wife," said Hildebrand, "has a strong personality."

This could be another way of saying: Look, I decided to marry a woman who thinks and acts independently. The Swiss media let it be: after all, in the supposedly enlightened 21st century, nobody can come out and say that a man should have his wife under control. In the Hildebrand case, it was about a joint bank account which is why he could also be held responsible for transactions made from the account. Indeed, the case eventually brought about his resignation.

Independence v. power

The Hollande/Trierweiler case is altogether different. Out of jealousy, she did something that damages his reputation. Does the French President have to answer for his partner's idiocy?

Winston Churchill wrote that, where power is concerned, women often have trouble keeping politics and feelings separate. Trierweiler's tweet is an example of that. However it should also be said that women who have their own power usually know what they're doing, and the consequences of their actions. But how about a strong woman faced with the fact that her partner is suddenly stronger? Should she insist on her autonomy? Or does she go all house-wifey, and look after his wardrobe, and make sure there are no stains?

Or put another way: how powerful can the companion of a powerful person like Hollande be allowed to be? If the issue can't be reconciled, is he better off separating from the woman – or the office?

Power couples are often considered role models for modern partnerships between equals. Ironically, the problems they run into are perfect examples of the anachronisms often overlooked in our understanding of love and partnership.

A marriage or partnership is never only just about love; it also – always – has an economic and strategic component to it. With regard to her role as First Lady, Trierweiler told the French magazine Paris Match where she has long worked as a journalist that she wanted to be independent of her partner Hollande. But maybe women in recent years have been thinking too much about their independence, and not enough about power.

Power is a system of dependencies, which also happens to apply to the partnership of a power couple. Like it or not, at the end of the day they're both in it together.

Read the original article in German

Photo - White House/Pete Souza

The Dalai Lama speaking at UCSD (Facebook)
Hugo Stamm

Ponder This: The Dalai Lama Is Brainwashing You

Essay: A Swiss writer settles his score with Buddhism, which he calls "manipulative" and "brainwashing." Facing reality is a much more *centered road to salvation.

ZURICH - The scandals plaguing Christian churches in Western countries are a manifestation of their state of crisis. Image problems and crumbling credibility are causing many to leave these churches. In Zurich, the figures speak clearly: in 1970, 94% of residents were members of a church; today, only 62%.

What happens to those who leave the church? Do they become agnostics or atheists? A small minority probably does, but spiritual or religious needs do not disappear altogether. Today many people prefer to piece together their own set of beliefs from many different sources, often esoteric. Others turn to Buddhism. The hype surrounding the Dalai Lama, who in his appearances in the West is honored as a kind of "God-King" and is received by top leaders, is an indication of the fascination this religion holds.

And there is no question about it: Buddhism has a friendly face. It isn't actually a religion – rather, it offers a spiritual worldview or path of life. What is also nice about it is that it has no God. The historic Buddha rightly recognized that greed, hate, and delusion drive people and that these three attributes cause a great deal of suffering. Today it might be a good idea to add power to the list.

To overcome suffering, Buddha came up with some fairly radical rules. Besides "kill no living being," and "take nothing that is not given to you" (monks begging for alms are essentially obeying this rule), these include: "avoid degenerate sensuality;" "don't lie;" and "don't consume consciousness-altering substances."

Brainwashed by Buddhism

To help achieve these and other goals, Buddhists meditate. The idea is to free oneself from outer ties and needs to find inner calm. What this amounts to is finding a way to shut up the Ego, the great "I", source of all greed. Tackled in a rigorous and consequent fashion, this could ultimately lead to renunciation of all worldly things and total immersion in the spiritual world.

What in theory appears very honorable and worth working towards, however, on deeper examination reveals itself to be out of touch with life. Unrealistic. In Buddhism, daily life is rendered negative, devalued. The bottom line is that people are full of greed and hate, so they should chastise themselves. Instead of learning how to deal with impulses and hedonistic drives, the idea is to repress them, to overcome them through meditation. Basically, it's a kind of brainwashing, albeit a "nice" kind since the goal is to banish evil from the world. But it's nevertheless autosuggestion and no less manipulative.

More important though is the question: do I really want to define reality as the epicenter of all ugliness, the source of all evil? Does it really make sense to adopt these values, to consciously pursue inner calm to the extent of giving up my Ego?

No, I do not. The Ego has to deal with a world that is full of greed and hate – a power-driven world. It's also not an either/or situation: it doesn't exclude acknowledging an inner place of calm in my consciousness, in my body, which should be nurtured and cared for.

Nature is a miracle. I don't want to turn away from it, or demonize it as the source of all dangerous cravings. The senses, and feelings, are powerful things in life: they shouldn't be tamed, much less kept entirely at bay. I don't want to hide. What I do want is to communicate with the world. In any case, the inner and outer are intermeshed; one is not possible without the other. They mutually enhance each other, in a healthy balance. And this is something that Buddhism neglects – but the fact is that to seek the inner to the exclusion of the outer results in bloodlessness.

I personally also have my doubts about the serenity that Buddhists strive for. Of course it's wonderful to be able to face some difficult life event stoically, to write it off as a meaningless outer-world phenomenon. But isn't there then the danger that -- if I don't look out for myself and take measures to avoid a recurrence -- the same thing will happen again?

I want to mix with the outer world; to revolt against injustice; to denounce abuse. Because let's face it: injustice and abuse are going to be out there even if the whole world turns Buddhist.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Facebook

Obama at work, June 8, 2012 (Pete Souza/White House)
eyes on the U.S.
Martin Kilian

Where's The Change? Obama Gets Big Thumbs Down From Once Enamored Europe

Analysis: A Swiss correspondent in Washington, like others from the Old Continent, has concluded that Obama lacked the leadership skills necessary to meet the challenges of his times. He also made one crucial error from Day One.

WASHINGTON - Five months before the American presidential elections, people are taking stock of what Barack Obama, the United States' first African-American president, has accomplished since his historic election in 2008. Unfortunately for him, he's not getting high marks at home or abroad. Indeed this week's cover story in top German news weekly Der Spiegel calls Obama's presidency "failed." What a shame, the German news magazine writes.

It's a fact that Obama might not be re-elected. Perhaps as a man near the center of the political spectrum he is unsuited to lead at a time that needs more than a radical touch. After all, his presidency began during the worst financial and economic crisis the US has known since the 1930s, but unlike Franklin Roosevelt he was no match for the situation.

Obama made an astonishing cardinal error by actually believing that he could rely on compromise to overcome the deep political divide in Washington. There was no way the Republican opposition was going to go along with that, which is why Obama, although he promised change and hope, finds himself after nearly four years in office facing a body politic that is frighteningly polarized and unable to compromise. And, of course, the political system is the weaker for it.

If the Republicans bear the brunt of responsibility, it's fair to say that Obama didn't properly size up the opposition and its extreme ambition. He didn't really understand that, since Ronald Reagan, modern American conservatism has developed into an ideological movement prepared to use every means -- kosher or not -- to achieve its political goals. And it doesn't help matters that in trying to find a way forward while fighting over deficits, a balanced budget and government debt, Obama was at several points prepared to relinquish historic achievements and principles of his own Democratic Party.

Along with wrongly gauging Republican motives, Obama showed a complete lack of leadership on health care reforms. Instead of overseeing them from the White House, he turned everything over to House Democrats and then had to watch as the Senate pulled the reforms apart until they were Tea Party fodder.

Obama alienated former supporters from the ideological left by pursuing many of George W. Bush's policies on the war on terror, failing to keep his promise to close Guantanamo -- and by not abolishing the controversial broad executive power instituted by Bush. He let Latinos down over the issue of deportation of illegal immigrants. His wobbly stance on gay marriage turned homosexuals and lesbians off. And his flirtations with Wall Street were ineffectual: the plutocrats are streaming to the camp of Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in the forthcoming election.

It's entirely possible that Barack Obama practiced the politics of the possible in difficult times and saved the United States from far worse. But this cautious president didn't bring about the change that the country so urgently needs.

Read the article in German.

Photo - Pete Souza/White House

Swiss Kantonalbank (Emerald Ann Bonzi)

Why Swiss Banks Might Not Want Your Money Anymore

A new tax agreement signed with Germany, Britain and Austria has the smaller Swiss banks thinking about "phasing out" customers from these countries, while bigger banks like UBS and Credit Suisse are rubbing their hands with glee.

ZURICH - Swiss financial institutions are starting to think about which foreign clients are worth keeping – and which ones aren't.

If clients aren't rich enough, or the potential number of clients in a certain country is too small, it may not be worthwhile for banks to keep them on. Switzerland has signed agreements with Germany, Great Britain and Austria to levy taxes on undeclared assets held in its banks as well as a withholding tax on future client income. These new rules could cost banks as much as $518 million according to the Swiss Bankers Association (SBVg).

As a consequence of the agreements signed with Germany, Britain and Austria, which will come into effect in 2013, many foreign clients may find themselves being shown the door by their bank. According to Sindy Schmiegel of the SBVg, in the run-up to 2013, "it is up to each bank to design their own business strategy – deciding on concentrating on certain groups of clients, numbers of clients, or specializing in specific areas of business."

None of the institutions approached by Tages-Anzeiger wished to openly confirm that they were in fact weeding out clients. The Zürcher Kantonalbank (ZKB) said that it "couldn't generalize;" markets were being looked at individually. "But for certain customers it could mean ending the business relationship," said ZKB spokesman Thomas Pfenninger. A client's degree of wealth might be a determining factor; whether or not the client hails from a national market that is strategically relevant to the bank also matters.

Swiss Postfinance is expected to release a statement in the coming weeks announcing how it plans to deal with customers concerned. For now the general operative rule is that existing clients will be offered a choice either to disclose the existence of their Swiss accounts and assets to tax authorities in their country or to pay a withholding tax in their country of residence. The second option preserves client anonymity.

It is cheaper for institutions if clients disclose the existence of the account and the assets to tax authorities in their own country. Will other Swiss banks, such as Bank Sarasin, wind down the accounts of customers who don't wish to follow this route by year's end? "We have yet to make a final decision," said the bank's spokesman Benedikt Gratzl, but "will take all necessary relevant steps beforehand."

Good news for UBS and Credit Suisse

The crucial questions for each bank are: Should the customers be phased out now, or by the end of the year? What is cheaper for the banks? Should clients be told the disclosure option is the only one they have as far as the bank is concerned and that their account will be closed if they don't opt for disclosure?

The Swiss Bankers Association's Schmiegel says: "For banks that have only a few customers in these three countries, it doesn't make any sense to implement an involved solution for just these few customers."

The entire transition is cause for some disquiet on the Swiss financial scene, say market observers. Smaller asset managers could potentially stop some gaps by focusing on bumped clients and offering them a viable solution. Some institutions might even start specializing in clients from specific regions and jurisdictions.

The transition could lead to clients moving their accounts to big banks UBS and Credit Suisse, who have the wherewithal -- not only the money but also the necessary structures -- to switch over to the Swiss government's new white money strategy. But UBS speaker Dominique Gerster wasn't giving anything away other than: "We are preparing for the withholding tax."

Insiders are counting on clients who left UBS en masse for regional banks in 2009 (after it was threatened with bankruptcy and had to be rescued by the government) making a return to UBS and Credit Suisse. UBS speaker Gerster had no comment on this either, and Credit Suisse remained silent on the matter.

A lot of money is involved. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the assets that could leave Switzerland by 2014 at around $257 billion.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Emerald Ann Bonzi

What's in the cargo? (SWISS)
Ruedi Baumann

Is Your Airplane Carrying Radioactive Cargo?

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that we cannot proceed to takeoff because we are still waiting to receive papers for the radioactive cargo on board – please excuse the delay...."

GENEVA - If the captain of a recent SWISS International Air Lines flight departing from London hadn't been upfront about informing passengers on why their flight was delayed, they would have remained blissfully ignorant about the surprising cargo on board.

However, the captain of the Airbus A320 announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that we cannot proceed to takeoff because we are still waiting to receive papers for the radioactive cargo on board – please excuse the delay." Unperturbed, some passengers continued to leaf through their magazines, while others murmured questions about why a regular scheduled passenger flight would be carrying radioactive materials.

Fifteen minutes later, the captain's voice came over the loudspeaker again to announce that the papers still hadn't arrived due to a computer breakdown, and that SWISS was doing its utmost to expedite matters. According to the account of one passenger on the flight, most passengers were still not alarmed, although there was a lot of whispering.

An hour later the captain announced that since the papers had still not arrived, the cargo was being unloaded, and thanks to tail winds part of the lost time would be made up.

SWISS spokeswoman Sonja Ptassek confirmed the incident, stating that it was common practice for small amounts of radioactive substances -destined for medical use- to be flown by regular scheduled airlines. To be able to fly, the substances must be specially packed, so as not present a risk in the event of an emergency landing. SWISS did its best to brief passengers honestly, although the airline did aknowledge that in the specific instance the information could have caused consternation for some passengers.

Radioactive materials are used by hospitals and universities, and urgent delivery is often required. Through injection of the substances into the bloodstream, nuclear medicine makes it possible to diagnose tumors, or dysfunction of the thyroid gland, heart or lungs.

Read the article in German in Tages Anzeiger.

Photo - SWISS

Anti-ACTA protest in Zurich in February (floheinstein)
Lukas Meyer-Marsilius

Where There's No Such Thing As An Illegal Download

Call it the Internet's 'Neutral Territory' - Switzerland is one of the few places in the world where Internet users can take whatever they want from the Web, regardless of the source. But creators of content are fighting back.

ZURICH – Swiss rapper Bligg was recently quoted in Tages Anzeiger admonishing kids that "it's very important not to download music illegally from the Internet, otherwise it's going to be increasingly difficult for many artists to earn a living from their music."

But the problem of finding an appropriate way to pay artists for downloads of their work on the Internet isn't just a music business conundrum. It's a major question wherever copyrights are concerned.

The subject is being fiercely debated in neighboring Germany, where the press has been dissecting it on an almost daily basis of late. People in Switzerland are also trying to come up with solutions, though compared to in Germany, the conversation here is not only less fraught, but also more low-profile – much to the relief of those working on mapping out solutions. Ideas being aired range from criminalizing downloading to entirely new models such as a "cultural flat rate" that could be charged to all Internet accounts.

The problem has faced the music industry the longest. Because many people download music from illegal sources and pay nothing for it, industry earnings have taken a hit. In Switzerland – unlike practically everywhere else – it is not against the law to download music, although making copyright-protected content available is punishable. That's why the term "illegal download" has no relevance in Switzerland, but "downloads from illegal sources' does.

Intellectual property owners say they're also taking a hit from platforms like Google and YouTube, which make a lot of money from content but pay little or nothing to providers. "We view Google/YouTube as clients who need a license to use music," says Martin Wüthrich of SUISA, the Cooperative Society of Music Authors and Publishers in Switzerland. Wüthrich sees the imbalance between Google profits and whatever copyright holders are earning as too vast.

The problem also concerns filmmakers and the authors of e-books, since films and books are also increasingly being downloaded and shared. Newspaper publishers have also started to notice a substantial decrease in control over their material. Representatives of all these sectors have joined together in an "Alliance Against Internet Piracy" that is urging the government to come up with a strategy that both fights and prevents the phenomenon.

Musicians band together

Swiss politicians have not been entirely absent from the discussion, although two years ago the Federal Council ultimately decided against revising Swiss laws on the issue . A number of Swiss pop musicians, including Bligg, DJ Bobo, Yello and Züri West, responded to the Council's reluctance by forming an interest group. Together they addressed an open letter to Bern.

The letter itself was moderate, but an official statement that appeared later on the website musikschaffende.ch took a distinctly sharper tone, calling Switzerland "the copyright Guantánamo of Europe." Downloading should be declared illegal, the statement says, and guidelines created for a functioning market. A further demand is that Google be made to pay for music it makes available.

IFPI Schweiz, the umbrella organization of music labels in Switzerland, is asking the government to take another look at copyright laws. "Unlike the way it was when the laws were revised last time, today every kid in the country knows whether a download comes from a legal or an illegal source," says the group's CEO, Lorenz Haas. "Individual users now have to be made more aware of their responsibilities."

Swiss copyright law was revised a few years ago after a long consultation period. According to SUISA's Wüthrich, the law has enough teeth to defend the interests of copyright holders on the Internet, but is limited because of problems in how it's applied. "It is unclear just how much liability providers have, so it's difficult to actually move against illegal providers," he says.

Green Member of Parliament Balthasar Glättli has been very active on the issue. He is against repressive measures, and says the role of politics should be to find acceptable compromises. "We have to find a balance among the players and their interests," he says. "On the one hand, creators need remuneration. On the other hand, implementing restrictive copyright laws could lead to intrusive monitoring of Internet use on the part of the government."

Glättli has officially suggested that the Federal Council consider other measures, such as the cultural flat rate concept, to compensate copyright holders. Within the music industry itself, however, the idea of a flat rate solution doesn't have a lot of takers. "A cultural flat rate would amount to putting music under complete state control, turn it into a branch of the economy," says IFPI's Haas.

What's ultimately needed, according to Haas, is a mentality shift. "We really have to figure out if this mindset of getting things for free is sustainable. In any case, it's a good thing the whole subject is finally on the table, after having been ignored for so long."

Read the original article in German

Photo - floheinstein

Schäuble ready for the plunge? (WEF)
Simon Schmid

Is Germany Finally Ready For A Real European Fiscal Union?

A wind of change is sweeping through Berlin, as Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble declares the need for stronger banking cooperation in Europe. Is this the big shift that can save the single currency?

BERLIN – German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has declared the need for a "real fiscal union" in Europe. Schäuble said the lack of coordination between currency and financial policies in Europe needs to be addressed before there can be any joint debt management. The idea of a banking union, with a pan-European deposit guarantee and supervisory authority, he said in an interview this week, would be the next step.

The remarks signal a major shift in Berlin in the face of recent news that Spain needs more money but that the markets are de facto closed to it at present interest rates (7% for 10-year bonds). And yet, Spain has to recapitalize its banks, and looks increasingly likely it will need a bailout. Meanwhile, in Brussels, Berlin and Paris don't seem to be giving much thought to what's going to happen in Greece after the elections.

Because Germany imposed such severe austerity measures on Europe, it is feeling less and less loved. Chancellor Angela Merkel has started to let up a little: according to media reports, her government has put a package together that will supposedly inject renewed energy into fledgling Europe. The concept, called Mehr Wachstum für Europa: Beschäftigung – Investitionen – Innovationen (More Growth for Europe: Jobs – Investment – Innovation), includes shoring up the European Investment Bank to the tune of 10 billion euros, state guarantees for private-sector bonds, and funding measures to help reduce unemployment rates among young jobseekers.

Political scientist Wichard Woyke of Germany's Münster University says, however, that all this signals a repeat of a known pattern. Bailout money for Greece was initially rejected in Berlin, for example, and then after some delay "Angela Merkel changed her position." Now she's surrendering on the growth issue, which Germany's European partners are pushing. Werner Weidenfeld, a political scientist at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU), also believes that the time has come for more cooperation: "A currency union doesn't work without political union."

According to Weidenfeld, the German government is aware of this – and has been for a long time. But Merkel and Schäuble had been letting the issue lie so as not to break the will to reform in troubled countries. Weidenfeld stresses that "the Germans have kept a positive basic attitude towards Europe," despite discontent about debt-driven economies and bailout funds, as regular polls show. But since March the DAX has been heading south, and that might also be a reason why Schäuble and Co. are turning to more Europe-friendly rhetoric.

Different visions of fiscal unions

As far as Europe is concerned, the German finance minister sees himself as something of a visionary. He is driven by the basic belief that Europe needs a closer political union. Two weeks ago, when he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize -- given to those who have served the European Union's cause -- IMF head Christine Lagarde said: "There is no greater advocate of European integration than Wolfgang Schäuble." The fact remains that since the beginning of the financial crisis hardly anyone has fought harder against financial integration in Europe than Schäuble.

So whether Schäuble's present stand helps the situation remains to be seen. "There are many different ways to accommodate a ‘fiscal union" formula," Europe expert Wichard Woyke points out. And the German finance minister did give some clue as to what he understands by it in Tuesday's interview. He stressed that "high levels of debt cannot be fought with even higher deficits." This is a familiar tune. Translated, it means that for the time being, a status quo should remain. Germany wants long-term growth through structural reforms – and a worsening economic climate due to austerity measures is an uncomfortable but unavoidable side effect that has to be taken into account.

So is what's presently coming out of Berlin just rhetoric? Werner Weidenfeld doesn't think so. "With the fiscal pact, Europe will already be half-way there," he says. Wolfgang Schäuble sees it that way too. The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, which was signed last December after two months of negotiations, should be incorporated into EU law within five years. By then, according to Weidenfeld, the German government hopes to have paved the way for a functional Europe, which also means signing agreements on issues like banking and fiscal unions.

European ideas on the latter diverge -- to France and Italy "fiscal union" means pan-European revenue sharing, while to Germany it means having more say in national budgets. But one thing is clear: before Europe has anything even close to a fiscal union, there will be more meetings. The next Euro summit is on June 21.

Read the story in German in Tages Anzeiger.

Photo - WEF

A row of houses in Copenhagen (Giam)
Philipp Löpfe

Look What's Not Rotten In Denmark

Using the same "toxic" assets that led to the subprime crisis, Denmark has created what they believe to be the best home mortgage system in the world. It's been 200 years since someone defaulted on payment.

COPENHAGEN - Danes have the reputation of being life-loving, friendly people with a developed sense of environmental awareness. They aren't known as particularly talented finance engineers – but this could all change. In the first four months of 2012, the OMX-C-20, the leading index on the Copenhagen stock exchange, took a sprint forward that left everybody else well behind. The Danes pride themselves on being the best in the world in one very specific area: mortgages.

They have a good reason for being so proud: the Danish mortgage model is truly worthy of admiration. It was created in 1795, following the Great Fire in Copenhagen. In its 200 years of existence, the mortgage bond market has never known a single case of default. Yet the market is relatively huge: the country's 5.5 million citizens have a collective mortgage debt of over 320 billion euros, which is about 50% higher than the national debt. By way of comparison, Switzerland with its 8 million people has 800 billion Swiss francs (666 billion euros) in property loans, amounting to 3.7 times the national debt.

And while Scandinavians in general have the reputation for being pro-state, the Danish mortgage bond market is a real market – but one that's intelligently constructed and sensibly regulated. It's based on a few simple principles. House owners take out long-term loans, with an 80% lending limit for residential property and 60% limit for business real estate. The terms of the mortgages are not negotiated between a bank and the borrower. Rather, financial institutions act as brokers, who bundle loans into obligations and sell them on to investors who buy directly or via general, specialized funds. The mortgage institutions earn a small margin on these transactions.

Collateral Debt Obligations don't have to be toxic

Bundling mortgages and selling them on the market as obligations? That idea should get a few alarm bells ringing. Because exactly that is the underlying idea behind Collateral Debt Obligations, the nefarious CDOs that made the American subprime market possible and led to the irresponsible sale of over-valued real estate to under-capitalized wannabee homeowners. CDOs relieved the banks of their control duties and contributed significantly to the US real estate bubble, the bursting of which unleashed the world financial crisis. Nowadays, CDOs are considered toxic junk that responsible investors won't touch. Yet this system is supposed to work in some miraculous way for the Danes?

The Danish mortgage bond market works because it differs from the failed American bond experiment in critical ways – the main one being the "balance principle" which stipulates that the needs of both lenders and borrowers have to be in synch. In other words, a borrower can only get a mortgage after a bank has established under what terms he or she could reasonably be expected to service that loan, and if the lender is agreed. Selling the debts to third parties is forbidden, as is granting mortgages to borrowers with low credit. Added to the 80% limit there is enough protection to prevent a U.S.-style real estate crisis.

Yet there's also enough room within the system to be able to use market advantages. Danish homeowners don't have to opt for long-term mortgages with fixed interest or LIBOR rates to get cheap interest rates. The can refinance, or pay a mortgage back and then take out another one at a lower rate.

As a rule, the return on Danish mortgage obligations is 100 to 150 basis points higher than the return on Danish government bonds.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Giam

Paths to the sea (Guillaume Baviere)
food / travel
Rita Flubacher

Volcanos And Vineyards: The Eternal Surprises Of The Azores Islands

Once home to a thriving whaling industry, Portugal’s Azores islands are now a hotspot for whale watching. The archipelago also boasts scenic hiking trails and unusual vineyards, which are protected from the wind – and warmed at night – by labyrinthian vol

FAIAL ISLAND - The exhibit at the museum near the Capelinhos volcano on the western corner of Faial Island in the Azores makes the 1957 eruption come alive. That's when a whole village was wiped off the face of the earth, large stretches of land buried in a lead-grey blanket of ash. Within days the island grew larger by 2.4 square kilometers. The museum building itself has been artfully built, sunk down in ash and its exhibit no less artfully tells the tale.

An older couple is examining pictures of haggard men and women, post-catastrophe, looking warily at the camera. Suddenly one of them lets out a cry: they've identified a relative of the husband's. Excited, the man, who introduces himself as Ernesto, tells how as a kid back in 1957 he was evacuated from his village along with more than 2,000 other people. The U.S. government offered a home to some of them, including Ernesto. Now a successful construction company owner, the Faial islander is back after 54 years in search of his roots.

The nine islands comprising the Azores belong to Portugal. For all intents and purposes, they are nothing but a collection of volcanoes, in all their variations, ranging from new, like Capelinhos, to fully-formed, like 2,351-meter-high Pico on the eponymous island. Pico is also Portugal's highest mountain.

To the unpracticed eye, Cabeço Gordo on Faial and Pico do Ferro on São Miguel might look like relatively flat pasture-land (there are even cows grazing) but an aerial view reveals craters sometimes as deep as several hundred meters. A lot is going on underground, where hot springs and spirals of steam emerge to the surface.

Business-savvy locals have even turned the volcanic fields of São Miguel into oversize cooking facilities: they place huge pots of meat and vegetables in a hole in the morning, and by lunch time the "cozido," as the stew is called, is ready to be dished out to tourists. Not only are the portions huge, but the wines served with it – made on Pico Island – are delicious.

Since the 18th century, vineyards on the west flank of Pico‘s volcano have been divided into tiny parcels surrounded by dry walls made from black volcanic rock. These walls protect the vines from the heavy winds that course across the island. They also absorb the warmth of the sun and thus keep the ground temperature stable, even through the night. The wall system – which looks like a massive labyrinth if you look down at it from a plane -- is used to this day. The entire area was placed on the UNESCO world heritage list in 2004.

Vines aren't the only plants that take well to volcanic soil. As any visitor can see, so do hydrangeas that border every road and hiking trail. Some of the bushes grow as high as trees, full of white and vibrantly-colored pink and purple flowers.

Another attraction is the sea, especially the waters around Pico, Faial and São Jorge, where several species of whale can be seen. Whales give birth and raise their young ones here, so whale watching is a must. There are plenty of dolphins around the islands as well.

Sipping a gin and tonic at "Peter's'

As the locals will tell you, there are a lot of boat tours, but only one Norberto Serpa, the best sailor and a diving pro. So at the appointed hour we show up in the port of Horta, the charming capital of Faial. A few minutes turn to half an hour. Our skipper still hasn't turned up, and with growing irritation we can see the other boats heading out. Then suddenly there he is: small, wiry, brown, with shoulder-length hair and a beard worthy of Captain Haddock in the Tintin comics.

When the catamaran finally leaves the port – after Norberto has greeted what seems to be every single person, on or off a boat, in the entire area – the "captain" revs to such high speed that tour guests are hanging on for dear life, some of them looking green around the gills.

In no time we've caught up with the other boats, all in the same observation area, passengers watching eagerly, cameras poised on the glittering waves, for the elegant leap of a dolphin, a whale fountain, or – most prized of all – the sight of a whale breaching.

Norberto and the other boat pilots listen carefully to radio communications and if there's word of a sighting all boats head in the same direction. This time, there really is a whale to be seen: a tip has been received from men who used to fish them until that was outlawed in 1984. They sit on the cliffs of Pico or Faial and search the sea with telescopes, radioing the boats when and if they spot something.

The Americans were the ones who introduced whaling here. Men on Pico and Faial had two possible ways of earning money: fishing or working in a whale meat factory. The Americans used big ships and high tech harpoons, but locals took their lives in their hands and hunted in small boats. Two museums on Pico show how the men in precarious vessels fought whales weighing tons.

Today, Peter's Café Sport in Horta is the best place to compare the size of whales sighted. Sailors on their way from Europe to the American coast have been stopping on Faial for as long as anybody can remember. One of their rituals is a gin and tonic at Peter's. Another is to write something on the harbor walls. The graffiti is supposed to ensure a safe journey. You'd be hard pressed to find a port more brightly inscribed than Horta.

Upstairs at Peter's is a small scrimshaw museum where drawings engraved on whale teeth tell the tales of adventures at sea. There are also portraits of women, pictures sailors carried with them of their sweethearts back home.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Guillaume Baviere