Trials Zurich Bankers Must Endure Having to Behave: Opening Line

Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland has 31.8 prostitutes per 10,000 people, according to a map of world prostitution published on Targetmap. Close

Switzerland has 31.8 prostitutes per 10,000 people, according to a map of world... Read More

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Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland has 31.8 prostitutes per 10,000 people, according to a map of world prostitution published on Targetmap.

To channel Captain Renault, we’re shocked -- shocked -- to find that sex was going on here.

“Here” is Zurich, the bastion of international banking and, we assumed, the destination for very serious business trips by very important finance professionals.

To believe Patrick Winters and Jeffrey Vögeli, all sorts of deposits were actually taking place. They report that bankers were big players in the city’s sex trade until recently, when their employers put spending accounts under extra scrutiny.

“The venues of Langstrasse -- or long street -- are closing, replaced by hipster bars, techno clubs and even a backpackers’ hostel,” they report. They quote a nightclub manager saying that bankers now are expected to show why they spent that much money in that establishment on that client.

Restaurants are feeling the pinch as well. But back to the sex.

Prostitution is legal in Zurich, at certain times and places. A year ago, the city created drive-in wooden "sex boxes" in a designated area on its outskirts, part of ongoing efforts to regulate the sex trade and move it away from downtown.

Back in the good old days, way back in 2010, swissinfo.ch, part of the Swiss Broadcasting Corp., reported on the higher-class escort trade in Zurich, which targeted “wealthy businessmen.” It said the prices at one agency began at 400 francs (about $437 today) for one hour and ran up to 2,000 francs (almost $2,200) for the whole night.

Asked for comment on the city’s reputation for sex, a tourism official told the website, “We do not believe that there is more sex business in Zurich than other metropolitan cities in Europe.”

Really. Do they have shag shacks?

***

Today’s U.S. economic indicators include personal income and personal spending at 8:30 a.m. EDT, Chicago purchasing managers at 9:45 a.m. and University of Michigan’s consumer confidence index at 9:55 a.m.

U.S. earnings reports take a day off.

Overnight, Japan said industrial production rose 0.2 percent, less than economists’ forecasts for an increase of 1 percent.

A short time ago, the EU said euro-area inflation slowed to 0.3 percent in August from 0.4 percent in July, and unemployment stayed at 11.5 percent.

***

- The JPMorgan Chase hacking started in June. - Missouri residents sue the city of Ferguson for violating their civil rights. - Beheadings by Islamic terrorists spread to Egypt. - UN working for release of 43 peacekeepers taken hostage in Golan Heights. - Experimental Ebola drug’s human-safety trial begins next week at NIH. - Poland’s Tusk emerges as a front-runner for job of EU president. - Feinstein seeks delay of CIA torture report’s release because it’s too redacted. - Search for MH370 turns to new analysis of attempted satellite-phone contact. - Doctored video of Lula backing Silva is irking Rousseff. - “Megadrought” foreseen in U.S. Southwest. - Utah’s ban on polygamy weakened by federal judge. - Google unveils drone initiative, Project Wing. - Police in Tacoma, Washington, are sweeping up records on phone calls, text messages and data from plain air. - Il faut acheter un “knee defender.” - “One of” Facebook’s youngest employees? - Tony Soprano lived, maybe, unless he died. - Pundits dissect the NFL’s new domestic-abuse policy. - Coitus interruptus. - The Houston Astros play the new “Moneyball.” - Even Payton Manning can get spanked. - Denny’s opens its first restaurant in NYC with Prosecco on tap. What? - “The audacity of taupe.” - Dude shoots Malibu Pier.

***

Apparently some people think Twitter is 2 hard to use and read and understand. h/t Sarah Frier + Brad Stone @BW #WhatIsWrongWithThesePeople

They don’t seem to get that everything in life can be boiled down to 140 characters or less without losing meaning or context. #TwitterRocks

For exmpl here’s Decl of Ind: ‘It’s true we’re all equal and should be happy so if govt stinx we change things.’ h/t J Hancock. #BaldEagles

Twitter is at its best summarizing politics: Obama wants open borders, Congress wants them closed. See? #ImmigrationMadeEasy plz retweet

Didn’t read full @BW story - waaay too long - but seems avg American spends just 7.2 minutes a day on Twitter. Crazy. #WhatElseDoTheyDo

***

Coming as it did on the eve of Labor Day weekend, the outcome of the Market Basket management-employee battle seems to cry out for some Bigger Lessons.

Ousted, beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas -- “Artie T.” to the supermarket chain’s 25,000 employees -- was restored to power in a deal between feuding family factions. That delighted the company’s (non-union) workforce, which had protested and picketed, and its loyal customers, who had stayed away in droves. In their story, Tom Moroney and Chris Staiti quote a customer who participated in the boycott and now planned to buy gift cards to get the company’s “cash flowing again.”

So, everybody’s happy, right?

Thomas A. Kochan, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, sure is. Writing on Fortune magazine’s website, he says “the biggest labor story of the year” could also “turn out to be the most important workplace event to come along so far in this century.”

“Business executives should take note that American workers, indeed the American public, are fed up with owners and shareholders who try to maximize their short-term gains at the expense of employees and customers,” he writes.

On the less-rosy side, “the lessons of Market Basket and the feuding Demoulases might not be as pure and simple as we would like,” writes Boston Globe business columnist Shirley Leung.

Yes, the “power of workers and customers” was on display, she writes, as was “the importance of being a benevolent CEO.” But supervisors went easy on workers -- “at times, clerks and others got paid for showing up and protesting,” she writes -- and the customer boycott became almost irrelevant as the stores ran out of produce and other perishables.

“Business schools everywhere will hash out whether employees anywhere else can replicate what just happened here. It’s doubtful -- let’s be honest, if this were Bank of America or McDonald’s, 25,000 people long ago would have been out of jobs and replaced with other warm bodies,” Leung writes.

***

As ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/whatever rapes, pillages, plunders and slaughters its way across Syria and Iraq (for now), the world has been wondering where the hell this came from, and why. Moreover, we ask, how is the rest of the Muslim world tolerating this and to what extent are they themselves in peril?

There’s an answer, laid out in an exhaustive (for the Internet) history of Islamic doctrine and patrimony stretching back to the 18th century and the time of caliphs that I.S. (we’re going with I.S.) intends to emulate.

Writing for the World Post, an offshoot of the Huffington Post in collaboration with the Berggruen Institute on Governance, Alastair Crooke takes us back in time even further, to the 14th century, the days of Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. It was Taymiyyah who was perhaps the most influential force behind Jihadism, Salafism and, as we’ll see, Wahhabism.

In a sense, what we see in the I.S. is Wahhabism, named after Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), who brought Taymiyyah back to life, and it is the I.S. who is bringing Wahhab back to life, according to Crooke, founder of the Conflicts Forum and a former British intelligence agent.

Channeling Taymiyyah, who had taken aim at Shi’ism, Sufism and Greek philosophy, Wahhab “despised ‘the decorous, arty, tobacco smoking, hashish imbibing, drum pounding Egyptian and Ottoman nobility who travelled across Arabia to pray at Mecca,’” Crooke writes (though we don’t know who he’s quoting there).

“In Abd al-Wahhab’s view, these were not Muslims; they were imposters [sic] masquerading as Muslims” by “honoring of saints, by their erecting of tombstones, and their ‘superstition’ (e.g. revering graves or places that were deemed particularly imbued with the divine).”

Sound familiar?

Long story short, because this is Opening Line and if we get too academic here, we run the risk of surrendering the patina of ignorance that we’ve cultivated carefully: The house of Saud used Wahhabism to accumulate its power as the 20th century, then gradually phased out its marauding element when oil, the wealth that followed it and the U.S.-U.K. interest that followed both, transformed the kingdom, and vice versa.

But Wahhabism never died, it just scattered to the wind and the desert sands, waiting to reformulate, which it has now done -- with one crucial exception: The former adherence to the “three pillars -- one ruler, one authority, one mosque” has lost a pillar, and that pillar is “one ruler,” i.e., the Saudi king, Crooke writes.

So, basically, what you’re seeing there has been about 80 years in the making. And that’s where the rest of the Middle East starts to get a little freaked.

Next week we’ll try to figure out Putin’s issues.

***

It’s kind of charming to remember the days when the sound and spectacle of a slot machine meant you had arrived in one of two exotic outposts among American travel destinations, Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

Now, slot-machine fever is becoming a nationwide overdose. Today’s version of the one-armed bandit -- typically a pinging, ringing, cash-chewing electronic machine -- has expanded way beyond the casinos that once held them.

As Christopher Palmeri reports, in the two years since Illinois authorized bars, truck stops and fraternal clubs to install video gambling machines, some 4,400 locations -- including a scuba store, a shop that sells swimming-pool supplies and a florist -- have jumped at the offer. The number of video slots has soared to more than 18,000 -- or 60 percent more than the total in the state’s 10 casinos.

Casino revenue in Illinois fell 5.3 percent in 2013 and, as of July, had declined 11 consecutive months, and the intra-state slots competition is cited as a leading cause.

Illinois is one of the 39 states that now offer some form of legalized electronic gambling, which include video poker and bingo in addition to traditional slots, according to the American Gaming Association. Fourteen of those states put electronic games at racetracks, bolstering an old-fashioned form of betting with a more popular and lucrative one. Illinois is among seven states that have legalized slot machines outside racetrack, Indian or commercial casinos.

Without getting too preachy, we’ll just point out there are some concerns that electronic slots make gambling particularly addictive to some people.

***

Just what the heck happened with Pacer?

If you’re a legal scholar or law student or even a lawyer needing access to an historic case with legal precedent, you are looking at buying a plane ticket now if you want to read some of the landmark cases in U.S. legal history.

That’s because Pacer (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), the online repository of cases from the federal appeals courts, district courts and bankruptcy courts, lopped off online access to hundreds of thousands of those documents in the process of updating its national database system.

As described by the Washington Post, there was no notice, it was just announced. Even the BBC took notice, with the alarmist headline “Landmark civil rights legal records deleted from Pacer.”

We got Karen Redmond on the phone, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and we could almost hear her dread before we even got to asking the questions. No, she says, nothing was deleted. They still reside in the records systems of the courts where the cases were heard.

“We would never in a million years” delete records entirely, she said. “We’ve gone through a huge process, and it has involved retiring records on a very careful basis,” she said, before acknowledging the elephant in the room.

“I know where you’re going,” she sighed. “They are still accessible -- I say still accessible, but in our world, accessible usually means online.”

Right. So...

“Yes, you’re absolutely right, they’re there in the court. On paper.”

So, for the rest of the world, they’re not there.

“I know. I know, I know, I know.” Some of these cases have been closed for as long as 13 years, she explained. She wouldn’t tell us how many calls she’s gotten about this “new Coke” moment at Pacer but the fatigue in her voice gave us the impression it was somewhere north of “a hell of a lot.”

If you’re a legal reporter covering Chancery Court in Wilmington and you need access to some of these precedents, you’re not getting access.

“But nobody has even asked for access to those things in 13 years -- but now watch, everybody’ll want ’em,” Redmond said.

Any chance these cases will be returned to the national Pacer system at some time, or is there no hope for that?

“I wouldn’t say no to that. I just don’t know at this point. Nothing is being ruled out,” she said.

It feels like a part of legal history is closed off to the general public.

“I wouldn’t say that it is closed off,” Redmond said. “I agree (they’re) not as accessible as they were. But I can’t say anything more than that because I have no certain information about whether this will be reconsidered.”

We’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that with lawyers involved, this might not stick.

***

Thanks to the cinematic preferences of some in our extended family, we’ve watched the film version of “Mamma Mia!” more times than we dare admit. Even when deep into the Abba groove, we’re still caught short every time Pierce Brosnan breaks into song.

James Bond, singing a love ballad?

We’re not saying Brosnan is the quintessential Bond -- if pressed, we’d probably agree with the results of the 2012 Vanity Fair/“60 Minutes” poll that put him behind Sean Connery and ahead of Roger Moore. (Brosnan, by contrast, seems to be his own worst critic.) It’s just that the Bond role is so familiar, and so defining, that Brosnan seems to convey the Bond swagger whenever he appears on screen.

Which is why the trailer for “The November Man,” one of this weekend’s new films, feels as comfortable as mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. There’s Brosnan, snapping a clip into his handgun; steering a sports car, its top down, his sunglasses on; with a beautiful woman, in an exotic locale.

He plays an ex-CIA killer lured out of retirement -- as we know from Jack Bauer, these guys never really retire -- by a dangerous assignment.

“Brosnan, who was a better James Bond than he often gets credit for, doesn’t like to smile much,” Bilge Ebiri writes in his review at vulture.com, “but he still brings a weary likability to a grim part, just enough to keep us invested as the movie trots through its gauntlet of familiar twists and double-crosses.”

As for the title, Brosnan’s CIA agent earned the nickname “November man,” a former colleague tells him, “cuz after you passed through, nothing lived.”

If that’s a reference to the start of winter, shouldn’t he be the December man?

Maybe the hurricane man?

The drought man?

We’re not alone in wondering.

***

Catherine “CiCi” Bellis was defeated last night, ending the 15-year-old’s Cici-nderalla run at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York. After losing the first set 6-3, Bellis stormed back with a shutout to take the second set 6-0 before Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas proved too much for her and took the third set 6-2. Congrats to Diyas and congrats to the kid.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at larnold4@bloomberg.net; C. Thompson in Wilmington at cthompson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Marty Schenker at mschenker@bloomberg.net

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