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March 27, 2008

Uzbekistan legalizes money laundering until 2013

Attention, terrorists, drug dealers, and corporate criminals: The Republic of Uzbekistan has legalized money laundering until 2013.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) warned American banks about the threat on March 20:

The Government of Uzbekistan has taken a series of legal actions that undermine the jurisdiction's AML/CFT regime. Uzbekistan had made progress in addressing AML/CFT deficiencies by enacting an AML/CFT law that went into effect in January, 2006. However, the Government of Uzbekistan subsequently suspended implementation of the law through a series of decrees until January 1, 2013.

Among other things, the decrees suspend the authority of Uzbekistan's financial intelligence unit to collect and analyze information on, and monitor, financial and property transactions; identify possible money laundering and terrorist financing mechanisms and channels; share information on identified crimes with law enforcement agencies for criminal prosecution; and cooperate and exchange information with foreign agencies and international organizations on AML/CFT issues based on international obligations and agreements of Uzbekistan. The decrees also suspend reporting, programmatic, and customer identification/due diligence requirements for covered entities. Moreover, the decrees subject reports to secrecy legislation and call for the General Prosecutor to strengthen bank secrecy "to prevent interference with activities of banking and other credit organizations" (Presidential Decree No. PP-565, January 12, 2007). The most recent decree (No. PP-3968, February 20, 2008) prohibits financial institutions, law enforcement, and other supervising bodies from inquiring about the sources of cash deposits in any amount, upon threat of civil or criminal penalty.

Following the latest presidential decree, which criminalizes official inquiries about the source of cash transactions, a global anti-money laundering body known as the Financial Action Task Force issued the following statement:

"The FATF is particularly concerned that a series of presidential decrees in Uzbekistan has effectively repealed the anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime in that country and generates a money laundering/financing of terrorism (ML/FT) vulnerability in the international financial system." [FATF, February 28, 2008 (.pdf)]

These stark warnings have generated remarkably little media attention.

In the global financial system, loopholes in one jurisdiction can have repercussions worldwide. For example, if a wealthy Saudi Arabian wanted to discreetly sponsor some jihadis bound for Afghanistan, lax anti-money laundering laws in neighboring Uzbekistan might make his life easier. Or, suppose someone with suitcases of cash from the opium trade wanted to bank that money to buy some weapons. Uzbekistan might be a good place to do that.

This week, the US is sending a diplomat to Uzbekistan for talks:

But, in a possible sign of political relaxation in a country the West says tolerates little dissent, the government has pardoned six jailed human rights activists this year.

President Islam Karimov, ruling Central Asia's most populous nation since 1989, has also promised to liberalize Uzbekistan's rigid financial system and he has softened his critical stance towards the West.

Some Tashkent diplomats have linked the shift in Uzbekistan's stance to Karimov's bid to emerge from global isolation.

Uzbekistan has large gas and oil reserves and is also among the world's top 10 gold producers and the No. 2 cotton exporter.

Acting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia Pamela Spratlen was due to arrive in the Uzbek capital Tashkent for talks later on Thursday, an embassy statement said.

"We are convinced that the involvement of the Uzbek government in a discussion on a broad range of topics that are on our bilateral agenda," the statement quoted U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Richard Norland as saying.

He listed potential topics as regional safety, trade and investment, cultural exchange and human rights. [Reuters]

It's not clear whether the timing of the US visit had anything to do with the recent changes in Uzbekistan's money laundering laws. 

November 30, 2007

Mongoose and cobra Starbucks ad


August 29, 2007

Dear Heineken,

Women drink beer, too.

If you'd like women to drink your beer, perhaps you should rethink ad campaigns like this one

That's right up there with those Volkswagen "Fast" commercials.  Remember them?/a>

Count me as one consumer who will not be buying your sorry excuse for a beer.

Love, Zuzu

June 22, 2007

Pigs, condoms, STDs, and censorship

Fox and CBS rejected this Trojans commercial because it seemed to be geared towards pregnancy prevention rather than STD protection:

Fox said so in in so many words and CBS was a little more coy:

Fox and CBS both rejected the commercial. Both had accepted Trojan’s previous campaign, which urged condom use because of the possibility that a partner might be H.I.V.-positive, perhaps unknowingly. A 2001 report about condom advertising by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “Some networks draw a strong line between messages about disease prevention — which may be allowed — and those about pregnancy prevention, which may be considered controversial for religious and moral reasons.” Representatives for both Fox and CBS confirmed that they had refused the ads, but declined to comment further. In a written response to Trojan, though, Fox said that it had rejected the spot because, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.” In its rejection, CBS wrote, “while we understand and appreciate the humor of this creative, we do not find it appropriate for our network even with late-night-only restrictions.” [NYT]

I find Fox's ruling baffling. How do we know that the ad is selling pregnancy prevention rather than STD protection? Condoms can do both.

Of course, the "men are pigs" trope is sexist--especially if you read it as a slur against men in general and not just men who go cruisin' without condoms. The copywriters clearly meant to say that guys who go out unprepared are pigs compared to the more evolved fellows who buy their product.

We have to change the perception that carrying a condom for women or men is a sign they’re on the prowl and just want to have sex,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive of the Kaplan Thaler Group, the New York advertising agency that created the “Evolve” campaign. “It’s a sign of somebody being prepared — if the opportunity arises — to think about their own health and the health and safety of their partner.” [NYT]

Somehow, I don't think the TV execs turned down Trojan's money out of concern for gender equality. I think they really were afraid of enraging the anti-birth control zealots.

I bet it was the slogan "Evolve!" that really made them nervous. Linking evolution, sexual liberation, and urban chic would have been too much for the reactionary pinhead contingent.

June 19, 2007

O-ring malfunction: Althouse on the Clinton/Sopranos ad

Dinner plate 1, originally uploaded by Fant.

Ann Althouse critiques that new Hillary Clinton campaign spot/Sopranos homage:

4. Bill says "No onion rings?" and Hillary responds "I'm looking out for ya." Now, the script says onion rings, because that's what the Sopranos were eating in that final scene, but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the "O" of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. She's "looking out" all right, vigilant over her husband, denying him the sustenance he craves. What does she have for him? Carrot sticks! The one closest to the camera has a rather disgusting greasy sheen to it. Here, Bill, in retaliation for all of your excessive "O" consumption, you may have a large bowl of phallic symbols! When we hear him say "No onion rings?," the camera is on her, and Bill is off-screen, but at the bottom of the screen we see the carrot/phallus he's holding toward her. Oh, yes, I know that Hillary supplying carrots is supposed to remind that Hillary will provide us with health care, that she's "looking out for" us, but come on, they're carrots! Everyone knows carrots are phallic symbols. But they're cut up into little carrot sticks, you say? Just listen to yourself! I'm not going to point out everything.

Via Alicublog and Instaputz.

Granted, the ad is bizarre. I know everyone's talking about the Sopranos season finale, but why would Clinton want to play up the parallels between her own marriage and that of Tony and Carmela?  Tony is a psychopathic mob boss and Carmela is the outwardly dutiful wife who ignores his crimes so that she can continue to live in a nice white house. Worse, the original TV scene closes with an implied hit on Tony.

Maybe the ad is a dig at those crazies who think that Hillary killed Vince Foster with bathroom fixtures she stole from the White House. If so, the joke is way too subtle.

March 29, 2007

Heeere fishy, fishy, fishy

A montage of a can of Russian fish. Tuna? Mackerel? Mmm, extra calcium.

I don't know if everything pictured came in the can, but if it didn't, whoever made those pictures could work as a high-powered food stylist.

Hat tip to Suzib and Loren.

March 09, 2007

Pharma spam

My_canadian_pharm_1 I love the heroic pose of these "Canadian pharmacists." According to the unsolicited bulk email I received this morning, these selfless professionals will supply me with high quality prescription drugs "instantly."

"Order anytime, even if is 3am. Buy and cure yourself!"

February 19, 2007

Outsourcing bones: Emaciated models in the global economy

Emily Nussbaum has an interesting feature in the latest issue of New York Magazine about the ever-shrinking runway models at Fashion Week.

Svelte but healthy supermodels are being replaced by a large and interchangeable cast of teenagers, often from poor countries:

Raise the issue of eating disorders during Fashion Week, and someone will inevitably bring up that lost, glorious era of the supermodel: Christy, Naomi, Cindy, Linda, the four-headed stompy-legged beast with big shiny hair, the one that wouldn’t get up for less than $10,000. Those were the days when models took up space. They were stars. They made demands. And their faces were everywhere. To paraphrase from Sunset Boulevard, sometimes it feels like it’s not the clothes that have gotten small, it’s the models. (Although, of course, the clothes have shrunk, too, sample sizes dwindling from a 6 to a 4 to a 2 and below.)

These days, fashion people do not talk about models with awe. Instead, they speak of them with condescending affection, as if they were lovable circus folk. Again and again, I hear that they are “beautiful freaks,” “genetic anomalies”—girls born to be bone-thin, with giraffelike necks and the wide, pretty doll faces that are the latest visual sensation. But there is also pity for the models, who are, many people pointed out to me, basically high-school dropouts, teenagers from poor countries, whose careers last a very short time. They are infinitely replaceable. Although top girls can make up to $100,000 in a week of shows, the vast majority get nowhere near that; some of the more prominent designers pay the girls only in clothes.

Increasingly, top models are very young women from poor backgrounds, often far from home:

The models she had met on her way to the top, [model Natalia Vodianova] told the audience, were more malleable. "€œThey were very young, a lot of them were very lonely, far from home and their loved ones. Most came from poor backgrounds and were helping their families. They left their childhood behind with dreams of a better life, and for most of them, there was nothing they wouldn’t do to live those dreams."€

The prevailing aesthetic in high fashion is one that even naturally svelte models struggle to maintain as they move from early adolescence to adulthood:

Both Rieder and Hunter have known models who are naturally skinny. But many of these girls are exceptionally young: A model who is effortlessly flat-chested and hipless at 14 will start to struggle as she hits her late teens. If she’s already rising in the industry, she may find that she needs to take more- extreme measures to continue to fit the bony aesthetic. And that goes double for the new breed of models, many of whom come, like Vodianova, from the poorest regions of Eastern Europe. For these girls, pressures to stay thin may be a small price to pay for escaping the small towns they came from.

"€œOne of the interesting things about these models today is that they get used and spit out so quickly,"€ says Magali Amadei, a model who has been open about her recovery from bulimia. "The era of the supermodel is over, so girls working today don'€™t have the earning power. These girls come into the business young, and they are disposable. On top of that, people often talk about your appearance in front of you, as if you can't hear them."

Perhaps the most shocking implication of the article is that designers are seeking out girls from postcommunist countries precisely because they have a malnourished physique you seldom see on naturally skinny girls in developed countries.

"€œIt'€™s a far more complex issue than people realize,"€ Suzy Menkes, the fashion writer for the International Herald Tribune, told me. "You know, many of these girls were brought up in the postcommunist years on an extremely bad diet. From childhood, they've not been properly nourished. That may make them very appealing to designers, but they don'€™t start off with a healthy body. And nothing is simple. I think it must be incredibly difficult to come from a vegetable stall in the Ukraine and find yourself in Paris amongst Ladure macaroons. People have to accept that it'€™s a much bigger picture than terrible fashion folk starving to get into frocks.

I don't have much to add, except to say that Nussbaum's article is the best  discussion of the shrinking model phenomenon that I've read so far. She gets beyond the ephemeral cultural hand waving and examines the economic and physiological factors that are driving this trend.


February 17, 2007

Cycling race didn't test for sponsor's product

Amgen Here's a strange story from the world of professional cycling. The Tour of California now admits that it didn't test for EPO in last year's race. The race's lead sponsor, biotech giant Amgen, happens to make genetically engineered EPO.

The company claims to be outraged by the omission:

And now, organizers of the Tour of California, who boasted after last year’s race that no riders tested positive for banned substances, have acknowledged that riders were not tested for what has become the sport’s most abused drug — the blood booster known as EPO.

That failure is more surprising because the lead sponsor of the Tour of California is Amgen, the California biotechnology company that produces the genetically engineered version of EPO, which is sold primarily to help cancer and dialysis patients battle anemia.

A spokeswoman at Amgen, which had marketed its sponsorship as a way to educate people against improper use of its drug, expressed outrage at the failure to test for it, saying that the company had been repeatedly assured last year that EPO testing was done.

The spokeswoman, Mary Klem, said that when Amgen executives were informed of the oversight, they were angry and surprised. “Our understanding going into the race was that the test would be included,” Klem said. “And we were told afterward that no rider tested positive for EPO or for any banned substances.” [NYT]

Regardless of whether the Amgen crew is telling the truth, the very idea of Amgen sponsoring a long-distance bike race should is one of the dumbest plans in the history of marketing.

Amgen makes the most abused substance in the sport. The abuse problem is not under control, and it's only a matter of time before someone tests positive for Amgen's product at the Amgen Tour of California.

For Amgen to sponsor the Tour of California would be like OxyContin sponsoring the Rush Limbaugh Show.

February 13, 2007

The Phallic Logo Awards

The Phallic Logo Awards

[HT:William the Coroner.]

In the interest of parity, Deuce Seven, New York's hot new graffiti artist, doesn't shy away from the vulvic imagery.