Magazine article Newsweek International

Periscope: Rule of Law

Magazine article Newsweek International

Periscope: Rule of Law

Article excerpt

Byline: John Sparks David Ansen Tara Weingarten Kurt Soller John Sparks

No Longer Quite So Supreme

The legal empire of the United States is in retreat, too. Last month's EU court ruling against Microsoft is just the latest exhibit. Antitrust law is an American invention, but the EU ruling will restrain the American software trusts worldwide. The precedent set by the case also cements Europe's new status as a global forum for attacking monopolies -- even when both parties are American. Microsoft of Washington was sued in Brussels by Adobe Systems of California.

Trustbusting isn't the only area where America no longer sets the standard. The EU set out clear rules to protect information privacy nearly a decade ago, but U.S. firms still find themselves lobbying Washington to follow suit. The deregulation of Britain's financial markets during the same period is now drawing so many deals to London that Washington faces pressure to back off its tough post-Enron rules. Britain's lack of U.S.-style First Amendment press protections also makes it the go-to spot for libel suits. Even tough U.S. criminal law is starting to bow to overseas influence; Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has approvingly cited European rulings in landmark death-penalty cases (to the chagrin of conservatives).

One key force dispersing global legal power is the Internet. Since plaintiffs can now be virtually "present" anywhere, it's much easier to shop for favorable venues and jurisdictions. Meanwhile notions of universal rights are weakening national sovereignty, both in politics and in commerce. One key front in that erosion, say experts, is a new push by Europeans and other foreigners burned by the bundles of subprime mortgages they bought from American sellers to sue in international forums rather than in U.S. courts. The Microsoft lawyers aren't the only U.S. attorneys who face a struggle to stay on top.

-John Sparks

Emerging Markets: Danger Zones

In most poor economies, cash is king. But that does not necessarily mean they are protected from the still-unfurling global credit crisis, says Walter Molano, head of economic research at BCP Securities of Greenwich, Connecticut. "The Philippines is the most vulnerable country in Asia," he warns, for a simple reason. Like other poor nations (and not only in Asia) the Philippines relies on cash remittances from workers -- nannies, maids, doctors, engineers -- who have gone to work in richer countries. Those expats now count for as much as 10 percent of the population, and the cash they send home makes up 15 percent of the Philippines' GDP. This has fueled a consumer boom and the highest overall growth rate in 20 years. But the economies where the expats work -- whether as construction workers in the Middle East, white-collar professionals in the United States or domestics in Hong Kong -- are places where further credit-related troubles would bite hardest. If there's a slowdown, the Philippines could see its remittance cash flow dry up with little warning. Other vulnerable, remittance-dependent nations on Molano's list: Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and Turkey.


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