May 16, 2016 nº 1,744 - Vol. 13

"What a culture we live in. We are swimming in an ocean of information, and drowning in ignorance."

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  • Top News

Action urged on ‘global’ refugee crisis

The UN high commissioner for refugees has warned that asylum seekers have become a global phenomenon that requires a global response. Filippo Grandi said more nations had to help the "few host countries" shouldering the burden. He said that, last year, less than 1% of 20 million refugees had been resettled in another nation. More people are fleeing conflict and hardship than at any other time in recorded history. He said the burden of caring for refugees had so far fallen "on a few countries that host hundreds of thousands of refugees, usually those near wars, near conflicts and a few donors that alone, seven or eight of them, give 80-90%, of the funding". "This has to spread more, has to be shared more, otherwise the imbalances will cause knee-jerk reactions, closures, rejections and in the end we will fail in our responsibility to help refugees."

Computer security for banks demands a united effort

Banks that have been pooling resources on blockchain technology should apply their camaraderie in a different field: computer security. The hacking of an unnamed commercial lender, revealed by the financial messaging system Swift on Thursday, came after an $81 million digital heist from Bangladesh’s central bank in February. An industry utility — or at least better-coordinated defenses — is needed. Increased regulatory requirements and low interest rates, both legacies of the financial crisis of the last decade, have made it hard for banks to make an economic return. The distributed ledger technology that underpins bitcoin may help cut industry costs. That’s why more than 40 banks have joined the blockchain development group R3. Cybersecurity should be next on the list. It’s likely to be banks’ biggest cost in terms of financial crime prevention this year and next. Weak digital defenses might prompt a credit rating downgrade. Lenders may feel worried about sharing confidential data with rivals. But the aviation industry, long teetering on the edge of profitability, improved efficiency by sharing accident information via black box technology. And greater teamwork would help keep tabs on would-be criminals. Companies’ own employees represent a huge threat: the business investigations company Kroll said in its latest annual global fraud report that insiders were 81 percent of the wrongdoers. A shared database of suspects might be a safeguard.

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1 - South African court allows landmark silicosis suit against gold firms - click here.

2 - US gives directive to schools on transgender bathroom access - click here.


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  • MiMIC Journal

China ignores Cultural Revolution anniversary

On 16 May 1966 Communist leader Mao Zedong began a campaign to eliminate his rivals. At the same time he called on Chinese youth to "purge" society. What followed were years of tumult, bloodshed and class warfare that ended only with Mao's death in 1976. How to handle the era's contentious legacy remains a challenge to China.


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  • Brief News

Nissan faces South Korean fine over 'faked' emissions results

Nissan has been accused of manipulating emissions tests for its popular Qashqai model by the South Korean government. The allegations follow a probe of 20 diesel car models by the environment ministry. South Korea said it found a so-called defeat devices had been fitted to the Qashqai. It plans to fine the Japanese car manufacturer 330 million won ($280,000) and sue the head of Nissan's Korean operations. Nissan has denied any wrongdoing. Nissan is the second car manufacturer to have been found to use the so-called emissions cheating software after Volkswagen admitted cheating emissions tests in the US across its range of models in September.

Litigation financing attracts new set of investors

Commercial litigation financing only took hold in the US less than a decade ago. Now pension funds and other well-heeled investors are finding it an attractive investment.

Norway fund to sue Volkswagen over emissions scandal

Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, plans legal action against Volkswagen over the firm's emissions scandal. It said had been advised by its lawyers that the company's conduct "gives rise to legal claims under German law". Volkswagen admitted last year that it had installed secret software to cheat US emissions tests. The move, from one of VW's biggest investors, is the latest in a flood of legal actions over the scandal. It faces action from US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and its own dealers. Norges Bank Investment Management is worth $850bn and has stakes in more than 9,000 companies. The lawsuit is expected in the coming weeks. It will be filed in Germany, joining class-action cases, which are being prepared there.

Pfizer acts to stop its drugs being used in lethal injections

The largest US pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, recently took steps to prevent its drugs being used in lethal injections. "We strongly object to the use of any of our products in the lethal injection process for capital punishment," the company said. It stressed that its products were meant to save the lives of patients. The move reportedly shuts off the last remaining open market source of drugs used in executions in the US. Lethal injection has long been the most common form of execution in the US. Traditionally states relied upon a combination of drugs to put the inmate to sleep and restrict his breathing, leading to a cardiac arrest. A European Union ban on the export of such drugs in 2011 prompted American drug manufacturers to follow suit, leaving officials in search of new drug cocktails by which the lethal injection could be achieved.

Brazil’s chance to save itself

A defiant Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff left the presidential palace through the front door on Thursday morning after the senate voted to begin her impeachment trial. According to Brazilian lore, the president’s chosen exit was a political statement that she intends to return. The senate vote, in which over two-thirds of 80 senators said yes to the trial, suggests otherwise. Rousseff’s greatest hope for a comeback lies with Vice President Michel Temer. He is a member of Brazil’s largest party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), which has been in a coalition with her Workers’ Party (PT) since her re-election in 2014. Temer will take the reins of the presidency during her trial. If she is found guilty, he will take over as president until 2018. Rousseff has to hope that Temer will do a bad job as interim president and that the nation will want her back. But with an approval rating hovering around 10% and members of her party caught in a corruption scandal involving the state-owned oil company Petrobras, she faces long odds. Her mentor, Lula, also is under investigation.

Philippines president-elect vows to bring back death penalty

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he will seek to return the death penalty, in his first comments to reporters since last week's election. He added that he would also seek to give security forces shoot-to-kill powers for suspects who evade arrest and those involved in organized crime. It is unclear how easily he could enact such proposals, but analysts credit his success to his tough stance on crime. He is set to be sworn into office on 30 June for a term of six years. While official election results have not yet been announced, Duterte has an unassailable lead. He will need the backing of Congress to see through his plans.

Uber settlement attacked by drivers saying lawyer sold out

The lawyer who struck a $100 million deal with Uber Technologies Inc. is being accused of greed by some of the drivers covered by the accord who want her bumped. “She has single-handedly stuck a knife in the back of every Uber driver in the country,” Hunter Shkolnik, a New York lawyer who’s pursuing his own cases against the ride-share service, said. “The entire class was thrown under the bus and backed over.” Shkolnik asked the San Francisco federal judge who’s weighing approval of the class-action settlement to remove Shannon Liss-Riordan as lead attorney, saying she sold out her clients by accepting a payout for California and Massachusetts drivers that’s less than 10 percent of the value of their claims “while she walks away with $25 million.”

Start-ups embrace arbitration to settle workplace disputes

As new companies grow, they are relying on a tool used by big corporations to shield themselves from potentially expensive class-action court cases.

Venezuela threatens seizure of closed factories

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has threatened the seizure of factories that have stopped production, and the jailing of their owners. In a speech to supporters in the capital Caracas, he said the country had to recover the means of production, to counter its deep economic crisis. On Friday, he introduced a new, nationwide state of emergency. Opposition protesters have been rallying in Caracas to push for a recall vote to eject him from power. Maduro said the state of emergency was needed to combat foreign aggression, which he blamed for Venezuela's problems. And he said military exercises would take place next weekend to counter "foreign threats".

A major law firm will soon be using a robotic lawyer

An “artificial-intelligence attorney” created using technology from IBM’s Watson has snagged its first customer, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be appearing in the courtroom anytime soon. Law firm Baker & Hostetler said this week that it will use the “AI lawyer” ROSS as a resource for the 50 lawyers in its bankruptcy division, which has helped advise proceedings related to the Bernie Madoff case. Essentially, ROSS is an advanced a research tool. It reads and draws inferences from existing laws to answer questions about specific cases or guidelines that users can ask using natural language. Its machine-learning capabilities allow it to continue improving its answers, and the system can also help keep lawyers up-to-date about new rulings. ROSS could save time for lawyers who need to master a huge, and growing, body of literature to do their job. Instead of reading carefully through every single case that might be relevant, lawyers could quickly get information from ROSS, leaving them free to spend more time analyzing complex details of the most relevant cases and laws.

Italy birth rate forces benefits review

Italy's health minister has outlined plans to double child benefit to combat what she described as an "apocalyptic" decline in the country's birth rate. Beatrice Lorenzin said the monthly bonus for lower income families should be twice the current €80 ($90). Lorenzin also called for higher payments for second and subsequent children to encourage big families. Just 488,000 babies were born in Italy in 2015, fewer than in any year since the modern state was founded in 1861. "If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births a year in 10 years' time, 40% less than in 2010 - an apocalypse."

Donald Trump warning over UK relationship

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has warned he may not have a "very good relationship" with David Cameron. He was responding to the prime minister who called Trump "stupid, divisive and wrong" over his call for Muslims to be banned from the US. Trump said that he will remember Mayor of London Sadiq Khan's "very nasty statements" that he was "ignorant". "I am offended, he doesn't know me. They are vey rude statements," he said. On David Cameron's comments, Trump said: "It looks like we're not going to have a very good relationship, who knows.

India high court upholds defamation laws

The Supreme Court of India upheld a set of defamation laws Friday, finding them to be constitutionally valid. The laws were challenged by opposing politicians as an impediment on free speech. The ruling recognized a legitimate interest of the state to restrict free speech to protect from "defamatory or libelous speech or expression," saying "[t]here is a correlative duty not to interfere with the liberty of others." The court emphasized the relationship between free speech and the reputation of each individual, holding that the criminal penalties imposed by the defamation laws are an appropriate tool to uphold the value of an individual's reputation.

SEC accuses ex-State Street executive of fraud over hidden fees

The US Securities and Exchange Commission brought fraud charges against Ross McLellan, a former executive of Boston-based State Street Corp., accusing him of engaging in a scheme to defraud investors. McLellan and others deliberately charged customers of the bank hidden markups on certain transactions, generating about $20 million in additional revenue for State Street, the SEC said Friday in a news release. When confronted by a customer about the markups, McLellan directed others to describe the extra costs as a “fat-finger error” and as “inadvertent commissions,” according to the agency’s complaint.

Senate committee approves use of video conferencing for Guantanamo detainees

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure that would permit detainees at Guantanamo Bay to plead guilty for their crimes through video conferencing, and would also allow the transfer of detainees to third-world countries to reduce the population of the prison. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA) was approved on Thursday. The provision was included in the hopes of increasing transparency in the transfer and detention of detainees while also increasing military efficiency. The NDAA still prohibits funding to close Guantanamo Bay. The bill does permit the transfer of detainees to the US, but only for urgent medical care.

New crowdfunding rules let the small fry swim with sharks

Starting Monday, new regulations will permit anyone, not just the moneyed, to invest in small companies in exchange for a stake in the business. This change, years in the making, represents an enormous shift, one that essentially permits anyone to become a venture capitalist — with all the attendant risks of losing one’s shirt on a company that fails. Until now, only accredited investors, meaning those with an annual income of at least $200,000 or a net worth of at least $1 million, have been permitted to take equity stakes in most private companies. The wealthy “sharks” of the ABC reality television series got to risk their money, while the rest of us watched the action from the couch.

  • Weekly Magazine Review

American Capitalism’s Great Crisis

Trump warns over poor relationship with David Cameron

Business Week
How to Pull the World Economy Out of Its Rut

The Economist
The breakdown of Arab states: The war within

Der Spiegel
Die Doesel Luege (Schmutzige Geheimnisse)

Gran Circo Roma


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