SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) EUROPE is turning on its tax dodgers. Next month a European Union summit will discuss how to recover some of the €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) in revenues lost yearly through tax evasion and avoidance. President François Hollande wants to eradicate tax havens. Nine countries have plans to share more tax information automatically. Even Luxembourg is giving up bank secrecy. In these days of austerity, there is no love lost for those who evade taxes. Perhaps the surprise is that action has taken so long.
Eye-catching revelations are one reason things are moving. In Britain it was the derisory corporate tax paid by Starbucks and other multinationals. In France it was the disgrace of the former budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, who stashed money in a secret Swiss bank account. In Germany tax authorities have been buying black-market data on accounts in Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The sheer scale of recent offshore leaks, with revelations of 120,000 companies and trusts in havens like the British Virgin Islands, demanded action. The EU bail-out that crushed two banks in Cyprus, stuffed with Russian money, is another warning that offshore havens are no longer safe.
The most important force for change is the least visible: America’s readiness to wield blunt financial power beyond its borders. Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, financial institutions must reveal details of American clients abroad or face a 30% withholding tax on any income earned in America. EU members are negotiating to provide the information, reducing the administrative burden and allowing a reciprocal deal for America to pass on information about European citizens.
Most EU governments (except Luxembourg and Austria) already swap information on bank interest earned by foreign EU nationals, under the EU’s savings directive. From next year a separate law will extend this practice to other forms of revenue—including employment earnings, directors’ fees, pensions, life insurance and rents. It also stipulates that, if an EU member agrees to wider co-operation with a third country, the same provisions must apply to its fellows: so if EU countries swap information with America they must also give it to others within the EU.
Luxembourg has bowed to the inevitable, and declared that it will apply the savings directive from 2015. German politicians’ poor jokes about invading Luxembourg as “in the old times” may have offended the Grand Duchy, but it was the threat of being cut off from the American financial system that forced it to embrace “white” money. “We can only thank America,” says Sven Giegold, a German Green MEP. But Austria, with a constitutionally enshrined right to bank secrecy, is holding out. Maria Fekter, its finance minister, calls herself a “hunter of tax cheats but also protector of honest savers”. The chancellor, Werner Faymann, seems readier to change. In Brussels the reckoning is that Austria’s resistance will not last much beyond September’s election.
Once these EU diehards are defeated, Eurocrats hope to conclude a broader version of the savings directive. And they want a strong mandate to negotiate automatic data-exchange with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and other non-EU tax havens. For the moment these shelters apply a withholding tax on EU citizens’ accounts and remit the money to governments anonymously; they also provide information “on request” if fraud is suspected.
The gradual death of bank secrecy in Europe will do little to confront legal tax schemes that allow big multinational firms to “pay only as much tax as they choose”, as one EU diplomat puts it. Part of the problem involves offshore havens offering secrecy, light regulation and low (or no) taxation. But part is onshore. The EU may have a single market that allows free movement of capital and goods, but it has 27 national tax jurisdictions. Whether through deliberate competition or inadvertent mismatches in tax rules, efforts to avoid double taxation often result in no taxation. Some of the best-known schemes are named after EU members: the “double Irish” and the “Dutch sandwich”. London tolerates many dodgy shell companies and limited-liability partnerships.
Tax policy is, for the most part, a jealously guarded national competence in the EU. The authority to tax citizens is seen as a central attribute of sovereignty. Critics say a refusal to pool powers at EU level risks creating a “race to the bottom”, with each country trying to outdo its neighbour. Yet if so, the danger in harmonisation must be of more oppressive taxation. Smaller, poorer countries on Europe’s periphery have every right to levy low rates of tax. Britain should not have to sign up to a financial-transactions tax it dislikes. If France insists on taxing its rich citizens at a rate of 75%, it can blame only itself when they leave.
Yet co-operation in an age of mobile capital is necessary to ensure that international companies pay their taxes. A tougher policy of naming and shaming tax havens is a start. More transparency on where companies earn money, employ staff and pay tax is desirable. Renegotiating double-taxation agreements could close some loopholes. But all this is best done globally. Agreement within the EU would help, but is held back by a mutual suspicion. At one end stand European institutions seeking to build their empires. At the other stands Britain, with its innate aversion to any arrangement that has a European label.
Countries need to find a middle way. Not all tax competition is “harmful”, even if in some forms it may be. Elaborate tax schemes can give big multinationals an unfair advantage over smaller domestic firms. Joint action should not be an excuse to force up Ireland’s 12.5% rate of corporate tax. But inaction that allows firms to engineer a rate more like 2.5% for themselves is inexcusable. In such a world, sovereignty comes at a cost that too often goes unrecognised.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- While hiking a lowland forest in 2009, not far from Ho Chi Minh City (map),Vietnam, "we came across a huge green frog, sitting on a log," said Jodi Rowley, an amphibian biologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney and lead author of a new study on the frog.
Rowley later discovered that the 3.5-inch-long (9-centimeter-long) creature is a relatively large new type of flying frog, a group known for its ability to "parachute" from tree to tree thanks to special aerodynamic adaptations, such as webbed feet, Rowley said. (Also see "'Vampire Flying Frog' Found; Tadpoles Have Black Fangs.")
Rowley dubbed the new species Helen's flying frog, in honor of her mother, Helen Rowley, "who has steadfastly supported her only child trekking through the forests of Southeast Asia in search of frogs," according to a statement.
The newfound species—there are 80 types of flying frogs—is also "one of the most flying frogs of the flying frogs," Rowley said, "in that it's got huge hands and feet that are webbed all the way to the toepad."
"Females even have flappy skin on their forearms to glide," added Rowley, who has received funding from the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.) "The females are larger and heavier than males, so the little extra flaps probably don't make much of a difference," she said.
As Rowley wrote on her blog, "At first it may seem strange that such a fantastic and obvious frog could escape discovery until now—less than 100 kilometers [60 miles] from an urban centre with over nine million people."
Yet these tree dwellers can easily escape notice—they spend most of their time in the canopy, she said.
Flying Frog On the Edge
Even so, Helen's flying frog won't be able to hide from development near Ho Chi Minh City, which may encroach on its existing habitats.
So far, only five individuals have been found in two patches of lowland forest hemmed in by rice paddies in southern Vietnam, Rowley said. The animals can probably tolerate a little bit of disturbance as long as they have large trees and temporary pools, she added.
But lowland forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world, mostly because they're so accessible to people, and thus chosen for logging and development. (Get the facts on deforestation.)
"While Helen's flying frog has only just been discovered by biologists," Rowley wrote, "unfortunately this species, like many others, is under great threat from ongoing habitat loss and degradation."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Flying has become safer than ever, with the aviation industry boasting a record low accident rate in 2012.
According to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), this is the safest year on record, without a single crash on modern western aircraft for any of its members, which comprise the world's 240 leading airlines.
It claimed that, statistically, a passenger could travel for 14,000 years without being in a crash.
By the Iata definition of "western-built jet hull-loss accidents" – or one where a modern aircraft is written off – the industry rate was at a new low of just one significant incident per 5.3m flights. Including all aircraft in service, the global rate is one crash per 470,000 flights.
Günther Matschnigg, Iata's senior vice president for safety, operations and infrastructure, said: "It's an incredibly safe industry, the safest way to travel – but we still need to make it safer."
He called for a rigorous safety audit programme for Africa, the only region where the air accident rate had worsened.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Blade Runner. Back to the Future. The Fifth Element. Science fiction classics that all have one thing in common: flying cars.
Whether it’s gliding taxi cabs or hovering DeLoreans, Hollywood has embraced the idea of a vehicle that is as happy on the motorway as it is in the clouds. But away from the silver screen, this science fiction staple has failed to take off.
Over the years, there have been ambitious and attempts – such as the Taylor Aerocar - but few would agree that the designs are in any way practical or user-friendly.
But the ever increasing number of cars on the roads means that a vehicle that can soar into the skies remains an attractive option. “We need to try to relive congestion on our road, and one potential solution is an aerial vehicle” says Dr Michael Jump, a lecturer in aerospace at Liverpool University in the UK.
He is behind one of a clutch of firms and projects that aim to ensure the flying car doesn’t remain grounded for another century.
One of the most high-profile attempts is the Transition, an aircraft that can fold its wings, allowing it to also operate as a street-legal road vehicle. Terrafugia, the company behind the machine, see owners driving their car to an airport where the wings can be deployed for take-off. Once in the air, the vehicle has a range of 740 km (460 miles) on a single tank of regular unleaded fuel and, can carry two people plus luggage.
The machine, which had its first successful test flight earlier this year, will cost around $300,000 and is scheduled for release in 2012. Wanabee pilots will only need to have completed 20 hours of observed flying time to take to the skies.
Hot on its contrails is the PAL-V (personal air and land vehicle), which looks more like a mini-helicopter than plane. The machine, developed by a Dutch firm, is actually an autogyro, with a propeller at the rear to provide forward thrust and a free-spinning rotor to give it lift. On the ground, it operates more like a streamlined tricycle that is able to lean into corners at high speeds.
It has a similar range (560km/350 miles) and speed to the Transition (110mph/180 km/h) and is also expected to cost around $300,000. The firm is still looking for investment to help with what it calls “the birth of a new class of vehicles”.
While projects like the Transition and PAL-V aim to slot into our current transport systems, a EU-funded project called myCopter is pushing for a complete rethink. Rather than driving a car that is compromised by a requirement to fly, or flying a vehicle that is compromised by needing to drive like a car, Dr Jump's team is looking to a future where we whizz to work in Personal Aerial Vehicles (PAVs) with dedicated highways in the sky.
“This project is looking at how the air transport industry might change over the next 150 years,” says Dr Michael Jump, a lecturer in aerospace at Liverpool University.
It has already identified a number of key problems that need to be solved to make personal air transport a success.
First, is the design of the craft. The team wanted to design something that had the “familiarity of a car”. But other than that, says Dr Jump, “all bets are off”.
Some of the design proposals for the exterior of myCopter show a suitably futuristic looking vehicle, that would not look out of place in George Jetson’s garage. The system is a hybrid of a light aircraft and helicopter. It has three helicopter type rotors, but they are embedded within the large triangular wing that makes up the top surface of the aircraft, one on each side, and one on at the back. These embedded rotors are known as ducted fans, which can create greater thrust at higher safety, albeit with less efficiency.
“We have gone for something that is capable of vertical lift, rather than having to drive to your local airfield, and requiring a runway,” says Dr Jump
“Vertical lift generally means rotors of some kind. We don’t believe the future is us all flying around in helicopters. You don’t really want lots of whirling rotors flying in your suburbs, so that really drives you to ducted fans.”
The team also want to reduce the level of skill required to operate an aircraft - the goal being a “highway in the sky”, where an individual is able to fly from point to point with the ease of driving an automobile. “Imagine getting in with your iPad, and plugging it in and just telling it where to go and away you go,” says Dr Jump.
The team believes this will require “an effective human machine interface” to allow people to easily control the vehicle. A simulator set up at the lab in Liverpool with just two levers shows the level of simplicity they are aiming for. One controls altitude, or up-and-down, and another controls direction. “If you can remember left and right that’s all you need to know,” Mark White, flight simulation laboratory manager of myCopter, recently told Discovery on the BBC World Service. The team are currently recruiting for a group of novice ‘pilots’ to test their design.
However, they will not be flying on their own. The team intends to draw on drone technology to automate as much of the flying as possible. Current fly-by-wire technology, as well as some of the features being used in the development of autonomous or robotic vehicles could all help fleets of these vehicles fly along predefined highways – and crucially avoid each other.
But perhaps the biggest problem the team aim to tackle are the regulatory and safety issues, as well as those of public opinion. “The technology is the easiest bit,” says Dr Jump.
Introducing flying cars raises a number of issues, many of which have probably already run through your mind. Who will govern where they fly? Will they interfere with planes? What will stop a drunk driver (flier?) crashing into my house?
“People get very annoyed by motorways at the bottom of their garden, what they will feel about motorways above their house?” he asks.
The team has until 2014 to answer that question. Then, could we finally begin to see the rise of the flying car?
When pressed about a likely launch date, the project scientists are reluctant to commit but have no doubts that it will come to pass.
“We are trying to apply rational scientific engineering approach to this problem” says Dr Jump. “What sounds strange and wonderful today can very often become tomorrow’s reality.”
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SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — Flying cars are years away from becoming a reality, but it turns one was built back in the 50s. The 1954 Taylor Aerocar N-101D was way ahead of its time and only five were made ever. Greg Herrick, the proud owner of one of these flying cars, is selling his for $1.25 million.
Herrick is a large aviation collector and has nearly 40 aircraft in his collection. The Taylor Aerocar was the first aircraft he ever owned when he bought it in the early 1990s. In order for the car to take flight, you’ll need to push the wings forward that are normally folded back in car mode. Although it looks difficult to assemble, it was originally marketed to be so easy that a women could do it “without soiling her gloves.”
The car has a take off speed and 55 mph and a cruise speed of 100 mph once in the air. Interesting enough, the car uses the same steering wheel for driving while in the air. Besides setting you back $1.25 million, you’ll also be required to purchase auto and aviation insurance for your new vehicle. Check out the following newsreel from 1951 on the Aerocar and let us know if you’d be interested in purchasing this dual-purpose vehicle.— www.shafaqna.com/english/