Thursday, November 16, 2017

Norway’s $1 Trillion Pension Fund Wants To Ditch All Oil And Gas Stocks

Via Business Insider:

Norway's trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund is proposing to drop oil and gas companies from its benchmark index.

The Central Bank of Norway, which runs the fund, sent a proposal to the Ministry of Finance today.

The aim is primarily to reduce the fund’s exposure to oil price fluctuations.

Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund is proposing to sell off all its holdings in oil and gas companies.

In a letter sent to the Ministry of Finance today, the The Norwegian Central Bank, which runs the Sovereign Wealth Fund, said the move would make it “less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil and gas prices”.

Around six percent of the fund’s holdings, or $37 billion, consist of oil- and gas stocks such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil. The fund’s exposure to fossil fuel markets is currently double that of a standard global fund, the Central Bank said.

"This advice is based exclusively on financial arguments and analyses of the government's total oil and gas exposure and does not reflect any particular view of future movements in oil and gas prices or the profitability or sustainability of the oil and gas sector", said Deputy Governor Egil Matsen in a press release.

Norges Bank further said a divestment would not affect the fund’s projected returns, nor would it raise its risk profile. The proposal is based on the oil and gas sector as defined by the FTSE reference index.

The decision now rests with the Norwegian Ministry of Finance. If the government and the parliament reach a unanimous decision on the matter, a final approval could take place next summer, reports Norwegian site E24.

The Government Pension Fund of Norway, which recently surpassed one trillion dollars in value, is the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. It invests Norway’s revenues from oil and gas production in stocks, bonds and real estate.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Top Banker: Here's Why The Nordics Should Form The "United States Of North" – A Global Superpower

Via Business Insider:

Eirik Winter is the CEO and Chairman of Citi’s Nordic operations. In a recent opinion piece in Swedish business daily Dagens Industri, Winter – representing himself in a private capacity – proposes that Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland should form a ‘United States of North’ - to win more clout in an unpredictable world.

In ranking after ranking, the Nordic region puts the rest of the world to shame. Whether it concerns social progress, economic dynamism or press freedom, the region's countries are held up as poster cases.

But the one thing missing, according to Eirik Winter – the CEO and Chairman of global investment bank Citi’s Nordic branch – is Nordic power on the world stage.

In a world marked by "Brexit anxiety, a fraying EU, American protectionism, Russian threats, mass immigration, and the increasingly dominant [emerging powers] China and India", the Nordic region needs to become more independent and united, Winter writes in Dagens Industri (in a private capacity).

To make "the Nordic voice heard and respected," Winter proposes that the Nordics form a close-knit political and economic union; what he calls “United States of North”.

On aggregate, the union would be the world's 10th largest economy, and a global superpower.

“27 million citizens, the world’s 10th largest economy, leadership within sustainability and digitalization. Global exports in shipping, energy, medicine, technology, heavy industry, music and telecoms. A sovereign wealth fund that owns two percent of the world’s [publicly listed company stocks]. A society that is founded on openness, equality, negligible corruption, respect, rule of law and tolerance”.

A seat at the G20

Although his idea draws inspiration from the federal model of America, Winter is not proposing a central state. Instead, he talks about a “confederation” - based on a rotating union government, which would form a unified Nordic voice in geopolitical affairs.

Winter sees the region’s shared history, values and languages as fertile ground for close co-operation, which, he notes, has historical precedents in the Kalmar Union under Margaret I of Denmark (14th century), or the union between Sweden and Norway that was ultimately dissolved in 1905.

Whatever differences the countries have – in terms of memberships in Nato or the euro, for instance – would be far outweighed by the countries' consolidated voice and reduced transaction costs in global affairs, Winter argues.

Even though Nordics have grown accustomed to running their political affairs via the EU, they would benefit more by banding together, he says.

“Let us take matters in our own hands and gain a strong voice that can make a real difference in [global affairs]. Everything else is just [peanuts]“, Winter ends the piece.

Here’s what Winter proposes as the key pillars of the ‘United States of North’:

Common voice towards G20, Nato, UN, EU,USA, Russia

Common voice and initiatives in foreign policy, EU-matters, defense-, migration-, energy- and economic policy matters

A united, high-tech defense that is built on neutrality, and co-operation with regards to common enemies and terrorism

A rotating union government

All countries remain independent, and maintain their cultural, linguistic and social heritages

Open towards immigrants who want to work and study in the region

A common central bank

The union would also comprise the autonomous regions of Åland, Faroe Islands and Greenland

The Baltic countries may also be invited into the union

All Scandinavian monarchies could stay intact

...Eirik Winter is not the first one to raise the issue of Nordic political and economic union.

Already, citizens of the Nordic countries enjoy almost equal rights in their neighboring countries. They are able to move, study and work freely – Finns in Sweden, Swedes in Norway, and so forth. The argument concerns to what extent the region should integrate – and whether co-operation should extend beyond just regional affairs.

Gunnar Wetterberg, a Swedish historian and author of the book “The United Nordic Federation”, has long proposed initiatives similar to Winter’s. In August, he wrote an opinion piece for Swedish tabloid Expressen, called 'The Nordic Countries should use their Power', in which he said:

“If the Nordic countries were to unite under common policies, then EU, Nato and G20 would listen – even at the Nordic countries that stand outside these organizations”.

Wetterberg also called for the removal of internal barriers in the Nordics, and a redesign of regulations regarding the movement of labor, taxes and social security. “[The legally gifted] should get the assignment to summon a Labor Market 2.0”.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Former Apple CEO John Sculley Explains Why Steve Jobs Was The Best Recruiter He Ever Met

Via Business Insider:

Steve Jobs was never one to hold back.

That's exactly what made him so adept at finding talent, according to John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple and Pepsi.

"The best recruiter I ever met was Steve Jobs", he told Business Insider. "He really set no limits to the talent he would go after".

Jobs' success was driven by his confidence in Apple's mission, Scully said.

"He felt what he was doing was so incredibly important to the world", Sculley said. "Why not get the best?"

Sculley would know. Jobs himself first poached Sculley from his role at Pepsi. Sculley told Business Insider editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell that Jobs won him over with a simple, pointed question: "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?"

Jobs unabashedly went after the top people in tech and business and never let the occasional failure trip him up, Sculley said.

"It didn't always work out, but the reality was that he never compromised on trying to go for the best talent he could", Sculley said.

For Jobs, his ability to passionately convey his belief in Apple - and his lack of qualms over going after prominent talent - was crucial. Scully, who is now chairman of startup RXAdvance, a startup that seeks to blend the fields of high tech and healthcare, said for most people, it's a lesson that's simply learned through time and experience.

"Those are things that only come through experience", Sculley said. "You've got to learn how to recruit a team, you've got to learn how to work with other people, and you've got to learn how to get good stuff done".

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tim Cook Just Visited The "Breathtaking" Forests Of Northern Sweden - Here's Why

Via Business Insider:

Today, Tim Cook started his day by visiting Apple’s headquarters in Stockholm, before disappearing in a black car. Speculation was rife about where the American tech executive headed next. Now we know: to the forests of northern Sweden.

Dagens Industri (Di) reports that the American executive was really headed to Iggesund forestry, near the mid-Swedish town of Hudiksvall, where Swedish forest industry company Holmen produces advanced packaging materials.

For more than a decade, Apple has had a “top secret” deal with Holmen, which has supplied the American tech giant with an ever-increasing volume of packaging for Apple’s iPad’s, Di reports.

Tim Cook was invited to Iggesund only last week, and perhaps it’s no surprise he accepted: Before becoming CEO of the world's most highly valued company, he was responsible for Apple’s supply chain.

Moreover, durable packaging is strategically important for Apple, as many customers save their boxes after purchase.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Newest Decluttering Craze Is "Swedish Death Cleaning"

Via Business Insider:

It's hard to tell when Margareta Magnusson is being serious.

Honestly, I'm still not sure if her intention with the forthcoming book "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning" is to poke gentle fun at all the self-help literature out there dedicated to cleaning and organization.

Either way, Magnusson - a Swedish artist "somewhere between 80 and 100 years old" - raises a good point when she suggests that, if you can't motivate yourself to clean for the sake of being clean, just think of how much of a burden you'll place on loved ones when you, um, pass on.

It's something she's personally experienced after the death of her parents, her in-laws, and her husband. And it's something that many millennials and Gen Xers are experiencing today, sometimes paying up to $5.000 for people to haul away their aging parents' furniture and other possessions.

Magnusson shares some solid guiding principles for organizing your home, no matter your age or life circumstance.

For example, if you have embarrassing items in your possession - say, letters from an illicit love affair - consider getting rid of them now. "If you think the secret will cause your loved ones harm or unhappiness", Magnusson writes, "then make sure to destroy them".

Note taken.

And if Aunt Cece gives you a gorgeous (read: hideous) piece of china and you hate it, don't keep it. Don't even put it on display when Cece visits, Magnusson says - that will just motivate her to give you more of the same. (Apparently, in Swedish, the word fulskåp describes "a cupboard full of gifts you can't stand to look at, and which are impossible to regift".)

Magnusson's strategy is pretty different from the last big decluttering fad: "Kondo-ing" your home and office, named after Japanese organization guru Marie Kondo. Kondo encourages people to keep only those items that "spark joy" in their hearts.

But Magnusson also urges readers to approach death cleaning rationally. She recommends not starting with photographs and other emotional items: "You will definitely get stuck down memory lane and may never get around to cleaning anything else". Better to begin with your wardrobe, she says.

As for books, if you can't stomach the thought of donating or selling them to anonymous readers, Magnusson suggests having family and friends browse your collection first and take what they want.

But - and this is important - always keep in mind that what you consider a treasure may be to others a burden. Magnusson writes: "I often ask myself, 'Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?'"

In the book's introduction, Magnusson writes that one of her sons asked her if her book was going to be sad, given that it's largely about death. "No, no, I said. It is not sad at all. Neither the cleaning nor the writing of the book".

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Author Of "Funky Business" Told Us That "Anything That Can’t Be Digitized Will Become Profitable" — Here’s The Proof

Via Business Insider:

We often assume that today’s most profitable businesses must be digital. But Kjell Nordström, the co-author of global bestseller Funky Business (2007), begs to disagree. His advice to entrepeneurs is to look at what might seem boring, non-digital industries.

“The rule of thumb is easy: if it cannot be digitized it will create value and become profitable", Nordström said at the Nordic Busines Forum in Helsinki last week, at Business Insider Nordic's live studio.

Nordström gave some examples from the music industry, where many famous artists are touring to make money (as opposed to selling their records online).

“Look at the Madonna’s, the Justin Bieber’s, the Rolling Stones – what are they doing? They are on tour", he said, adding:

"Look at the spa business, which sells experiences. They are very profitable”.

To avoid fierce competition and have a better chance at creating value, Nordström says, one needs to look for the inefficient markets, the non-digital ones.

"If you can digitize something, there will be a lot of competition, for the simple reason that the market functions very well”.

When Nordström later sat down for an interview with your reporter, it happened in something called a smart meeting cube – which turned out to be a good example of his thesis.

Founded in November 2015, Smartblock has seized the non-digital market for professional meetings (and improved ability to focus at work).

Just two years after its founding, Smartblock's projected turnover is €3 million euros, or four times last year's. Smartblock also says it expects to turn a profit of €200k euros; a result your standard VC-backed app can only dream of two years after launch.

Among some recent Finnish success stories, there are further signs that Nordström may be on to something.

From phone booths to hairdressers

Take Smartblock’s indirect Finnish market competitor, Framery, which has become a leading producer of office phone booths.

The Tampere-based company had €17.6 million euros in turnover in 2016, with profits amounting to more than 3,5 million euros. Last year’s revenue grew almost 250 percent on the previous year, according to Finnish public company data.

When Finnish business daily Kauppalehti recently compared the performance of Series A-backed Finnish startups of the past five years, it found that among the 88 - mostly tech - companies surveyed, the best performer was SuperPark, a chain of indoor activity parks founded in 2012.

This year, Kauppalehti estimates, SuperPark will post €14 million in revenue, and is on track to double that amount next year on the back of an expansion to Asia.

Finally, Finnish hairdresser chain M Room's revenue has almost quadrupled between 2012-2016, to €2.4 million. The company is now expanding aggressively to the United States, where it plans to open some 200 franchises by 2020.

One way to claim an edge in mainly non-digital markets, beyond expanding globally, is to use digital components to make your product stand out. Smartblock's CEO, Janne Orava, gave an example:

“We are piloting IoT-sensors, and we have just introduced the Microsoft Surface Hub [screens] in our cube’s. We have also used the Microsoft Hololens - as the first company in the world according to Microsoft - as a sales tool”, he told BI Nordic.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Is Saudi Arabia's Grand Strategy Shifting?

Via ZeroHedge:

Most observers were taken aback by what to many seemed to be the inexplicable visit of Saudi King Salman to Moscow this week, wondering how and why the two long-standing Great Power rivals were able to get so close to one another in such a short period of time – and apparently without much public fanfare, too – in making this historic event possible. The usual Alt-Media demagogues decried this as a sellout of Russia’s fundamental national interests, with the most extreme pundit-provocateurs even ranting that it amounts to President Putin siding with “terrorists” such as Daesh and Al Qaeda, especially in light of Moscow’s decision to sell the much-vaunted S-400 anti-air missile systems to Riyadh and even set up a Kalashnikov production plant in the Kingdom.

Had the Saudi Arabia of 2017 been the same country as it was half a decade ago, or even last year for that matter as some could argue, then there might be some rhetorical substance to this outlandish claim no matter how false it would still be, but what most people don’t realize is that Saudi Arabia is in the process of comprehensive changes to its foreign and domestic policies, and that there’s a very high likelihood that it will moderate its traditional behavior in becoming a more responsible actor in international (and especially regional) affairs. A lot of this has happened away from the public eye, at least in the sense that the developments weren’t “sexy” enough to draw widespread attention from most media outlets and commentators, but these piecemeal changes have altogether contributed to the formation of what looks to be a totally new grand strategy.

Russia’s Rationale

Before getting into the details of the drastic policy changes that Saudi Arabia has been up to lately, it’s important to comment a bit on why Russia is embracing its erstwhile nemesis. For starters, Russia’s foreign policy is driven nowadays by the “progressive” faction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which believes that their country’s 21st-century grand strategic ambition should be to become the supreme balancing force in the Eurasian supercontinent. To this end, they’re diligently employing “military diplomacy” and “nuclear diplomacy”; the first in selling arms to rival states in order to preserve the status quo between them and prevent a hot war from transpiring (which is the opposite of the US selling weapons in order to tip the balance in favor of its preferred partner and spark the said conflict that Russia wants to avoid), and the second in utilizing its global leadership in nuclear energy technology to make important strategic inroads with non-traditional partners.

Multipolarity In Action

Concerning Saudi Arabia, this has seen Russia sign deals with it for the S-400 anti-air missile system and Kalashnikov production plant (“military diplomacy”), and Rosatom’s proposal to build Riyadh’s first-ever nuclear power plant (“nuclear diplomacy”). Of course, there’s also traditional and energy diplomacy at play here as well, the former as it relates to cooperation in uniting the Syrian “opposition” as a prerequisite to resolving the War on Syria, and the latter when it comes to both sides’ participation in the historic OPEC+ output deal from last year and subsequent renewal earlier in 2017. Moreover, none of this is occurring in a multipolar vacuum either, as Russia’s premier Chinese partner has been making great strides with Saudi Arabia in the same timeframe, including by inking two sets of deals totaling than $130 billion in the past six months alone.

Riyadh’s Reforms

Most of the Chinese-Saudi agreements were signed in the framework of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 project for diversifying away from his Kingdom’s present oil-exporting dependency and towards a more “real-sector” economy. This can’t happen unless crucial socio-cultural reforms are made in Saudi Arabia, and the young prince – who’s far from a fundamentalist Wahhabi in real life and therefore something like a “rock star” among his country’s majority “moderate-prone” youth population (over half of which is under 25 years old) – recently undertook the pivotal decision to allow women to drive in the future, understanding that this is a necessary step to increasing their future participation in the economy. It can be expected that more such reforms might follow in the future, such as the possible reopening of movie theaters and maybe even one day lessening the patriarchal legal restrictions placed on women’s freedom of movement.

Unipolar Pushback

Mohammed Bin Salman’s reforms aren’t without controversy, however, as they’ve produced a lot of resistance among the country’s ultra-fundamental clerical class, as was explained in the author’s recent analysis about “Why Allowing Saudi Women To Drive Is Very Dangerous”. The fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia isn’t a pure “monarchical dictatorship” in the structural-political sense, but a “dual dictatorship” between the monarchy and the clergy, but the Crown Prince’s socio-culturally modernizing reforms are being perceived of as an unprecedented “power grab” which de-facto constitutes a “soft coup” by the monarchy against the clergy. In turn, the most extreme clerics could become a pressing national security risk if they rally their followers against the monarchy in fomenting unrest, whether manifested through street protests, a royal coup, or terrorism. It’s the fear of this happening which explains the Kingdom’s recent crackdown and the author’s subsequent investigation into “Who’s Really Trying To Overthrow Mohammed Bin Salman?”

As the aforementioned article concludes, the only serious player with the clandestine competencies to pull this off is the US, which is considering the “Balkanization” of the Kingdom into a collection of emirates aided by the duplicitous connivance of its regional UAE ally. This was elaborated on more in depth by the author in his work a couple of months ago explaining “The Machiavellian Plot to Provoke Saudi Arabia and Qatar into a ‘Blood Border’ War”, but the overriding idea is that the US has had an interest in betraying its decades-long ally ever since the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal was agreed to, which the author predicted in his summer 2015 piece about a “Polar Reorientation In The Mideast” that also described the strategic contours that would eventually lead to the present-day Russian-Saudi rapprochement. It’s this Great Power convergence between Moscow and Riyadh, as well as the latter and Beijing, which is driving the US to wage an incipient but increasingly multifaceted Hybrid War on Saudi Arabia.

Stopping The Saudi “Deep State” Conspiracy

Mohammed Bin Salman must masterfully manage to tame both the radical clerics and domestic terrorists if he’s to have a chance at avoiding a US-backed royalist coup against him. He already has the support of the majority-youthful masses who could come out to the streets to support him in the event of a sudden coup, just like they did for Turkish President Erdogan during last year’s failed pro-US coup attempt, so this infers that he needs to win the backing of the military-security services in order to preemptively suppress clerical-terrorist destabilizations before countering the royalist conspiracy that’s taking form. However, Saudi forces are embroiled in the bloody War on Yemen, which was one of the first decisions that he made as Defense Minister and is therefore attributed entirely to him, but would have probably happened regardless of whoever was in power at the time due to the geopolitical dynamics involved.

In fact, the author forecast that a forceful Saudi response could be expected to developments in Yemen as early as September 2014 in his article about “Syria’s Yemeni Opportunity and the Rise of the Shia Circle”, which deliberately analyzed events from Riyadh’s sectarian perspective in an attempt to better understand the Kingdom’s future response. Likewise, the follow-up piece in January 2015 about “Yemen: The Saudi Coup That Totally Backfired” presciently concluded that “the Saudis are expected to hit back as hard as they can against the phantom ‘Iranian menace’ that they’re attributing their Yemeni failings to”, and that “no matter which form it takes, it’s not going to be pretty.” In any case, the only way for Mohammed Bin Salman to be confident in the support of his military-security services is to downscale the disastrous War on Yemen and eventually follow the Syrian peace format in resolving the conflict there in as much of a “face-saving” way as possible.

That, however, won’t necessarily endear him to any of the conspiratorial royals who are plotting his ouster, many of whom are reportedly irreconcilably opposed to him for his high-profile foreign policy failings in the aforementioned War on Yemen and Qatar Crisis, which is why the young prince so urgently needed to make up for them with a dramatic success elsewhere, ergo the reason why he decided to commence his country’s now-successful rapprochement with Russia. Conversely, it’s precisely because of his pivotal role in carrying out this game-changing foreign policy rebalancing that the US wants him out, and Washington sent a very clear message to Riyadh of its displeasure just the other day when it announced that it will be halting some of its military exercises with “Gulf countries” until the Qatar Crisis is resolved. Reading between the lines, this is the Pentagon voicing its strong opposition to King Salman’s visit to Moscow and Saudi Arabia’s S-400 deal with Russia, thereby signaling to its in-country proxies that it’s time to commence their planned regime change operation.

Moderating The Monarchy

All in all, Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to compensate for his earlier errors of judgement in “moderating” his country’s foreign policy to the most realistic extent possible under the present circumstances, which in an historical comparison amounts to an unprecedented pivot of sorts towards the Multipolar World Order. This doesn’t just have geopolitical implications, however, as there’s the very real possibility that Saudi Arabia might de-dollarize new Vision 2030 and energy contracts with its new non-Western partners, which would in effect equate to the death of the “petrodollar”. The author predicted this in a late-September forecast after it became abundantly clear that the country was no longer as solidly in the American camp as most observers had considered it, especially following its fast-moving rapprochement with Russia and the $130 billion’s worth of deals that the Kingdom signed with China.

The combined effect of these two multipolar realignments, as well as the likely downscaling of the War on Yemen and the “Damocles’ Sword” potential that Saudi Arabia has for dealing a deathblow to the dollar, are increasingly turning Mohammed Bin Salman into the “Saudi Saddam”, in that he’s now being targeted for elimination by the US because this one-time American subordinate was brave enough to chart his country’s own sovereign path in the world. If he can successfully withstand the US-encouraged “deep state” coup against him being waged through the Hybrid War mechanisms of a rebelling clergy, a possible domestic terrorist insurgency (as partial blowback from Saudi Arabia’s support for such groups abroad), and a royalist plot, among whatever other means might soon make themselves available, then it’s expected that the end result will be a considerable moderation of the Kingdom’s destabilizing activities in the region.

Irate Iranians

Background Concepts:

While the welcoming of Saudi Arabia into the multipolar fold as a responsible member of the international community would be celebrated by many because of the far-reaching consequences that it could have in altering the entire course of the New Cold War, there’s one multipolar party which would actually be incredibly irate at this happening, and that’s Iran. The Islamic Republic is caught in an intense security dilemma with the Kingdom, inspired partly by the centuries-old but previously long-dormant Sunni-Shiite split, and also the US’ efforts since the 1979 Revolution and especially after 9/11 to exacerbate this into taking on geopolitical dimensions all across the international Muslim community (“Ummah”). Iran and Saudi Arabia both conceive of international affairs as being a “zero-sum” game between them, and it’s very likely that Riyadh and its media surrogates will intentionally misportray King Salman’s visit to Russia as being against Tehran instead of epitomizing Moscow’s skillful geopolitical balancing act.

It’s understandable if Iran feels uncomfortable with these optics, though it should recognize that Russia’s overall intent is truly apolitical and driven by neutral Great Power considerations, not anything directed against it personally no matter what the forthcoming Saudi psy-ops might infer. That being said, it’s very tempting to perceive of events through the aforementioned “zero-sum” prism in seeing any betterment of Russian-Saudi relations as being to the overall detriment of Russian-Iranian ones, which in turn might prompt an asymmetrical response or set thereof from Tehran in countering what some of its leadership might truly believe is Russia’s “unfriendly” and “humiliating” gesture by hosting the Saudi King, selling him S-400 anti-air missiles and state-of-the-art Kalashnikovs, and bidding to produce the Kingdom’s first-ever nuclear power plant. This isn’t speculation either, as Iran already isn’t happy with the de-facto alliance that Russia has struck with “Israel” in Syria, which is explained in detail in the author’s earlier work rhetorically questioning whether “Anyone Still Seriously Thinks That Russia And Israel Aren’t Allies?”

Phase 1: Syria

Moreover, Iran doesn’t like how Saudi Arabia is the main reason why it hasn’t been invited to join BRICS, and while the other four members are in a technical sense equally responsible for this too, it’s only Russia which is courting Saudi Arabia in a way which could make Iran uneasy given how impactful the latest rapprochement will be for Syria. Therefore, even though Iran’s official media has been largely silent on the implications of the Russian-Saudi rapprochement, it can’t be ruled out that the millennia-experienced Iranian diplomats are preparing one of their stereotypically asymmetrical responses to what’s happening, and that it could most immediately have consequences for Syria. For example, Iran could make the Astana talks more difficult by siding more closely with Damascus in attempting to rebuff the joint Russian-Turkish efforts to get the Syrian government to enter into certain political-administrative concessions (e.g. a “phased leadership transition” and “federalization”) as part of a comprehensive peace plan that would meet the interests of most external parties to the conflict and therefore maximize Moscow’s geopolitical “balancing” capabilities.

Phase 2: Caucasus

Apart from that and stepping its response up a notch, there’s also the possibility that Iran could work with India to redirect the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) from Azerbaijan and Russia to Armenia and Georgia instead, the latter route of which was predicted in the Mideast chapter of the author’s book-length analytical series about “The Chinese-Indian New Cold War” and would allow both on-the-fence Great Powers to pioneer a trade route to the EU. This would be a geopolitically troubling development for Russia and contribute to its perception that Armenia has become an “obstructionist” actor vis-à-vis Moscow-led Eurasian integration processes and has probably been totally taken over by the powerful American-based diaspora lobby, though China’s latest inroads in building its second-largest embassy in the post-Soviet space in Yerevan might help to “balance” everything out in preventing this potential move from being completely disastrous for multipolarity. Nevertheless, if Iran takes this step in rerouting some or all of the NSTC to Armenia, Georgia, and the EU, then it would probably mean that it’s also seriously considering expanding its asymmetrical response to the third phase of operations in the Balkans.

Phase 3: Balkans

The third and final escalatory phase of Iran’s most realistic responses to any perceived “security dilemma” with Russia after Moscow’s rapprochement with Riyadh would be if Tehran seeks to broaden its asymmetrical measures to include energy and geopolitical dimensions in the Balkans. The author wrote about the future role that post-sanctions Iranian energy exports to Europe could have in challenging Russia’s present market dominance in certain regions, and while this might not happen if the EU reimposes sanctions against the Islamic Republic in compliance with American pressure, it still can’t be entirely discounted that Iranian LNG exports to Croatia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and even Poland could be in the cards, as well as its exit from the OPEC+ output agreement. However, the most destabilizing consequence of Iran’s irritability with Russia could be if it decides to return to its post-Yugoslav role in breaking up Bosnia, using the Serbs as stand-ins for the Russians in a new proxy war. That’s the most extreme step that Iran could take and there’s nothing right now which indicates that it will happen, but it should nevertheless be included as the worst-case “dark scenario” forecast.

Concluding Thoughts

Royal Pivot:

Saudi Arabia’s grand strategy is shifting away from its former Western-/unipolar-centric focus to a more diversified one of “multi-alignment’ with multipolar leaders such as Russia and China, motivated in part by the US’ hostile energy and geopolitical actions against it. On the domestic front, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is modernizing his country’s socio-cultural situation by enacting belated reforms that will complement his ambitious Vision 2030 project of multisectoral economic diversification away from its present dependency on oil exports. Taken together, the international and domestic dimensions of Saudi Arabia’s grand strategic shifts are expected to have game-changing implications in altering the global dynamics of the New Cold War, to say nothing of what would happen if the Kingdom de-dollarizes its future Vision 2030 and energy deals with its new non-Western partners, hence why the initiator of all of this, Mohammed Bin Salman, is now the “Saudi Saddam” in the sense of being targeted for elimination.

Iranian Reaction:

That’s not all that there is to it, however, since even in the event that the young prince is successful in thwarting his myriad Hybrid War adversaries and the wide variety of weaponized threats that they’re poised to utilize against him, it’s unlikely that this will result in multipolar stability in the Mideast, owing mostly to the fact that Iran is expected to be incredibly irate at its hated rival being feted as a privileged partner by Russia and China. The difference between the two Eurasian Great Powers, however, is that Moscow’s outreaches to Riyadh are having direct consequences for Syria, particularly as it relates to possibly “counterbalancing” or even “rolling back” Iran’s intended post-Daesh influence in the Arab Republic, or so it may seem, which is why Tehran looks much more suspiciously at Moscow than it does at Beijing. The problem, though, is that Russia isn’t doing any of this “against Iran”, but in the “larger multipolar interests” of becoming the supreme “balancing” force in the Eurasian supercontinent, which in and of itself necessitate having excellent relations with Saudi Arabia.

Scenario Forecasts:

If the Iranian leadership is misled into viewing Russia’s ties with Saudi Arabia as part of a “zero-sum” game and not the “win-win” strategy that it’s actually intended (key word) to be, then it’s very likely that the Islamic Republic will resort to one of its stereotypically asymmetrical responses honed by millennia of diplomatic experience in making its silent disagreements well known. This would be an unfortunate development because it would mean that Russia’s sincere efforts to balance and then mediate the Saudi-Iranian/Sunni-Shiite rivalry would be for naught, and that the US’ unstated goal of redirecting Iranian attention away from Saudi Arabia and towards Russia would have been partially successful. Nevertheless, should this happen, then it’s expected that the three-phase tier of escalatory responses could see Iran create “complications” in the Astana peace process; redirect the North-South Transport Corridor away from Azerbaijan and Russia and towards Armenia, Georgia, and the EU; and begin actively competing with Russia for part of the European energy market. At the worst, it might even try to restore its destabilizing influence in Bosnia and spark a proxy war against Russia’s Serbian partners there.

American Backup Plan:

None of Iran’s forecasted responses are certain, or even that it will negatively appraise the fast-moving Russian-Saudi rapprochement in the first place, but in the possible event that it does, then it would inadvertently be playing into the US’ intended strategy of indirectly using Iran as a backup plan for replacing Saudi Arabia in countering Russian interests in the Mideast, Caucasus, and the Balkans. In addition, Riyadh’s reversal from the unipolar camp to the multipolar one would leave the US without a regular source of jihadi recruits, thereby necessitating that it scout elsewhere in such countries as Sudan, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The most likely scenario to happen in the near future is that Iran’s suspicions of the Russian-Saudi rapprochement manifest themselves subtly in Syria, at least at first, while the US begins looking to non-Mideast “Global South” countries for mercenaries while concurrently commencing its regime change operation in Saudi Arabia.

The best outcome would be if Russia’s multidimensional diplomatic efforts could bring Saudi Arabia and Iran together in a “New Détente” like how Iraq’s Muqtada al-Sadr unsuccessfully tried to do, all the while assisting both of them in warding off the US’ Hybrid War threats, but the most likely result is that this wishful thinking eventuality is still a far way’s off, if it ever happens at all, since the US is well known for flexibly adapting its unipolar grand strategy to accommodate for any multipolar contingency such as this one.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Japan To Build A Space Elevator By 2050

Via Disclose.tv:

SPACE ELEVATOR WOULD GO 96.000KM INTO SPACE

The space elevator was said to go up around 96.000 km into space and it would be able to take people and shipments to a new space station. The company also plan on using the space elevator to transport astronauts to Mars and even beyond.

The process of construction is to consist of the deployment of a cable and then the construction of facilities. The cable dynamics would need to be analyzed so that estimation could be gathered of the characteristics of the cable, the facilities, counter-weight and the climbers so that the construction procedures could be determined.

The parameters for the dynamics of the cable are said to include displacement, tension and the elongation of the cable for ascending climbers, the wind, fixed loads of the facilities, the counter-weight and the cable.

The company said that the system has been designed using a computer simulation of the equations of motion, which allowed them to determine the construction process.

SPACE ELEVATOR COULD REDUCE PAYLOAD COST BY 90%

The video showed a cable going up into space from the ocean, with facilities and even people floating around in the facilities, peering out of windows looking down at what is presumably Earth.

Obayashi said that the space elevators could help to reduce the cost of payloads being sent into space by as much as 90%.

They pointed out that the elevator to space would do away with the need to build and use rockets. The company also plan on using the system as a port to allow space travel by astronauts over long distances.

CARBON NANOTUBE CABLE OR DIAMOND NANOTHREADS USED IN CONSTRUCTION

The space elevator would consist of a carbon nanotube cable of some 96.000km, carbon nanotubes are said to be lighter and stronger than the majority of materials known. An alternative would be to construct the cable from diamond nanothreads.

It was said that one of the ends of the cable would be attached to the surface of Earth, probably on the ocean, and the other end would extend around 36.000km in space.

The cable would also be attached to a counterweight weighing 13.000 tons to help with the stabilization of the elevator. The space elevator would then be able to carry up to 100 tons of people and cargo into deep space.

The company plan on beginning construction of the space elevator in 2025 and it is thought that construction would be complete in twenty years.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pacific Ring Of Fire Waking Up? Major Geological Events Trigger Concerns

Via Disclose.tv:

Something is going on in the Pacific Ring of Fire and everyone needs to be prepared.

In the past few months, the world has been inundated with stories of devastating natural disasters which have caused waves of catastrophe across parts of North and Central America and Asia. These events have brought into sharp relief how vulnerable and fragile humanity is when faced with the shocking force of the planet’s natural ebbs and flows.

THE 'RING OF FIRE' IS SHAKING VIOLENTLY - MASSIVE UPTICK IN EARTHQUAKES

According to experts, it is evident that the Earth is currently undergoing some major shifts. Potentially, the most vulnerable part of the Earth is the region known as the Pacific ring of fire which lies on the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean basin. The Pacific ring of fire is an area of intense seismic activity which is populated by an enormous circle of almost five hundred volcanoes, the majority of which are active to some degree. Signs suggest that this vast region of the Earth, which is responsible for the vast majority of earthquakes and volcanic activity on the planet, is about to undergo a major shift which could spell catastrophe for millions of people who live in its vicinity.

Recently, more than ten thousand people were ordered to leave their homes on the Melanesian island of Vanuatu which lies on the south western perimeter of the ring of fire owing to the serious eruptions of Mount Manaro. It is believed that this eruption will be the first in a series of volcanic explosions over the next couple of months with Mount Agung in Bali showing clear signs that it will also erupt in the very near future.

The news that Oceania is becoming affected by the shifts in the Earth’s core follows devastating scenes across North and South America following an unusual spate of volcanic activity. Mexico was recently struck with a catastrophic eruption of the Popocatépetl volcano which lies to the south-east of Mexico City. The eruption triggered two devastating earthquakes which caused significant damage to the city and an enormous loss of life. Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, there have been three significant volcanic eruptions in the past year and a series of earthquakes.

The seismic events in Mexico were followed by a burst of earthquakes in the United States, with several being detected off the coast of California giving rise to fears that the build-up of pressure on the San Andreas fault is coming to a potentially catastrophic conclusion. The United States is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the shifts in seismic activity owing to the presence of the super volcano in Yellowstone national park which has been showing signs of unusual activity with a swarm of minor earthquakes in recent months. In addition to the presence of Yellowstone and the San Andreas fault line, the United States is also home to the Cascadia subduction zone which has the potential to produce a mega-thrust earthquake reaching a magnitude of more than nine on the Richter scale which could devastate the coast of Washington State, Oregon, and British Colombia.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The renewed bursts of seismic activity all over the world could prove catastrophic for human beings and serves to demonstrate how fragile human beings truly when confronted with the forces of nature and how helpless even the most powerful governments in the world are to protect their citizens against the power of the Earth. Given the potential for serious disaster all over the world, it would now be wise for everyone to prepare for worst case scenarios to protect themselves and their families from the destruction caused by natural disasters as recent events have shown that the governments of the world are simply not equipped to deal with the protection of their citizens in the midst of devastating natural disasters.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Preacher And Vietnam: When Billy Graham Urged Nixon To Kill One Million People

Via CounterPunch:

There’s a piquant contrast in the press coverage across the decades of Billy Graham’s various private dealings with Richard Nixon, as displayed on the tapes gradually released from the National Archive or disclosed from Nixon’s papers. We’ll come shortly to the flap over Graham and Nixon’s closet palaverings about the Jews, but first let’s visit another interaction between the great evangelist and his commander-in-chief.

Back in April, 1989, a Graham memo to Nixon was made public. It took the form of a secret letter from Graham, dated April 15, 1969, drafted after Graham met in Bangkok with missionaries from Vietnam. These men of God said that if the peace talks in Paris were to fail, Nixon should step up the war and bomb the dikes. Such an act, Graham wrote excitedly, “could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam”.

Graham lent his imprimatur to this recommendation. Thus the preacher was advocating a policy to the US Commander in Chief that on Nixon’s own estimate would have killed a million people. The German high commissioner in occupied Holland, Seyss-Inquart, was sentenced to death at Nuremberg for breaching dikes in Holland in World War Two. (His execution did not deter the USAF from destroying the Toksan dam in North Korea, in 1953, thus deliberately wrecking the system that irrigated 75 per cent of North Korea’s rice farms.)

This disclosure of Graham as an aspirant war criminal did not excite any commotion when it became public in 1989, twenty years after it was written. No one thought to chide Graham or even question him on the matter. Very different has been the reception of a new tape revealing Graham, Nixon and Haldeman palavering about Jewish domination of the media and Graham invoking the “stranglehold” Jews have on the media.

On the account of James Warren in the Chicago Tribune, who has filed excellent stories down the years on Nixon’s tapes, in this 1972 Oval Office session between Nixon, Haldeman and Graham, the President raises a topic about which “we can’t talk about it publicly,” namely Jewish influence in Hollywood and the media.

Nixon cites Paul Keyes, a political conservative who was executive producer of the NBC hit, “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” as telling him that “11 of the 12 writers are Jewish”.

“That right?” says Graham, prompting Nixon to claim that Life magazine, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and others, are “totally dominated by the Jews”.

Nixon says network TV anchors Howard K. Smith, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite “front men who may not be of that persuasion”, but that their writers are “95 percent Jewish”.

“This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain”, the nation’s best-known preacher declares.

“You believe that?” Nixon says.

“Yes, sir”, Graham says.

“Oh, boy”, replies Nixon.

“So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it”.

“No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something”, Graham replies.

Magnanimously Nixon concedes that this does not mean “that all the Jews are bad”, but that most are left-wing radicals who want “peace at any price except where support for Israel is concerned. The best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews”.

“That’s right”, agrees Graham, who later concurs with a Nixon assertion that a “powerful bloc” of Jews confronts Nixon in the media.

“And they’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff”, Graham adds.

Later Graham says that “a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country”.

After Graham’s departure Nixon says to Haldeman, “You know it was good we got this point about the Jews across”.

“It’s a shocking point”, Haldeman replies.

“Well,” says Nixon, “It’s also, the Jews are irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards”.

Within days of these exchanges becoming public the decrepit Graham was hauled from his semi-dotage, and impelled to express public contrition. “Experts” on Graham were duly cited as expressing their “shock” at Graham’s White House table talk.

Why the shock?

Don’t they know that this sort of stuff is consonant with the standard conversational bill of fare at 75 per cent of the country clubs in America, not to mention many a Baptist soiree?

Nixon thought that American Jews were lefty peaceniks who dominated the Democratic Party and were behind the attacks on him.

Graham reckoned it was Hollywood Jews who had sunk the nation in porn.

Haldeman agreed with both of them.

At whatever level of fantasy they were all acknowledging power. But they didn’t say they wanted to kill a million Jews.

That’s what Billy Graham said about the Vietnamese and no one raised a bleat.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Norway’s Giant Pension Fund Hits One Trillion Dollars – Here Are Its 10 Favorite Stocks

Via Business Insider:

The gigantic sovereign wealth fund of Norway passed a milestone this week. Its market value reached one trillion dollars for the first time on Tuesday.

Statens pensjonsfond utland, as it is called in Norway, is actively managed and invests in a wide range of asset classes.

The fund is betting heavily on stocks, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the portfolio (65.1 percent). The rest is divided between fixed-income (32.4 percent) and unlisted real estate (2.5 percent).

Perhaps Norway should send a thank you letter to Apple after reaching the one trillion dollar mark. It has contributed a lot during a successful year, while the stock has gone from being the third largest position to number one.

In August, the fund released its report for the second quarter of the year where one can find the largest stock holdings.

Here are the top 10 stock holdings (as of June 30th):

1. Apple. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 58.2 billion kroner (USD 7.5 billion).

Silicon Valley’s most iconic company has increased its market value by a whopping 38 percent in one year. Now, hopes are high for the upcoming models Iphone 8 and Iphone X.

2. Nestle. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 50.6 billion krone (USD 6.5 billion).

Swiss food and drink company and owner of global brands such as Nespresso, Smarties and Kit Kat.

3. Alphabet. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 42.7 billion krone (USD 5.5 billion).

Google’s mother company which together with Facebook dominate online advertising.

4. Royal Dutch Shell. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 40.1 billion krone (USD 5.1 billion).

Ranked as one of six “supermajor” oil companies in the world and headquartered in the Netherlands.

5. Microsoft. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 39.3 billion krone (USD 5.0 billion).

The late 1990-s biggest company by market cap is now one of Apple’s toughest competitors.

6. Novartis. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 37.4 billion krone (USD 4.8 billion).

The Swiss pharmaceutical company is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies and manufacturer of well-known drugs, including Ritalin and Lamisil.

7. Roche Holding. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 35.6 billion krone (USD 4.6 billion).

Also a Swiss multinational pharma company known for drugs such as Valium and Rohypnol.

8. Amazon. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 29.7 billion krone (USD 3.8 billion).

Jeff Bezo’s startup has grown to become the largest online retailer in the world.

9. HSBC. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 28.5 billion krone (USD 3.7 billion).

British multinational bank with 4,000 offices in 70 countries.

10. Johnson & Johnson. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 26.9 billion krone (USD 3.5 billion).

Global pharmaceutical consumer goods company based in New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

You Can Now Buy A Garlic Press Or Other Kitchen Tools From An IKEA Vending Machine In Central Stockholm

Via Business Insider:

Ikea is serious about its foray into central Stockholm. In its latest stunt, aimed to raise awareness for its newly opened kitchen pop-up store, the Swedish furniture giant has placed a vending machine selling kitchen tools in the subway station of Hötorget, in the city center.

“We want to show in a playful way that Ikea is available wherever, not only in our department stores", says Miki Tabakovic, deputy country sales director for Ikea Sweden, to retail site Market.se.

Although its main job is to nudge bypassing commuters to a visit in the 400 square meter Ikea kitchen showroom just a stone's throw away, the vending machine is a pop-up store unto itself. Among the products sold is Ikea's classic garlic press KONCIS.

“It’s a fully functioning vending machine. You can pay with card and get your product instantly. We sell garbage presses, egg slicers and other small items”, says Tabakovic.

The vending machine, due to stay up for a couple more weeks, is outfitted with a message encouraging customers to "get a kitchen to go with their garbage press", and offers the exact address to the showroom. In a related stunt, Ikea has outfitted a Stockholm archipelago ferries with the punchline: “Ride the ferry to the kitchen”.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why Are Women Banned From Mount Athos?

Mount Athos is the capital and heart of the Orthodox Christian world, and it consists of 20 monasteries and approximately 2.000 monks.

Women are not allowed within 500 meters of the shore, and even female animals are somewhat prohibited from walking on Mount Athos.

Now, why is this?

Why would a region bigger than Albania and richer than Greece be prohibited for women?

After the resurrection of Christ the disciples of Christ were given different parts of the world to evangelize.

The part given to the Mother of God to evangelize was Mount Athos, and that is one of the reasons why the Holy Mountain is very special to this day.

But there is also another reason for banning women, connected with Orthodox tradition.

One of the traditions is that the Virgin Mary was blown off course when she was trying to sail to Cyprus and landed on Mount Athos. And she liked it so much that she prayed to her son that she should be given it as her own and he agreed.

Mount Athos or Agion Oros is called "the garden of the Mother of God", dedicated to her glory, and she alone represents her sex on Mount Athos.

It is also believed that the presence of women might distract the monks, tempting them away from true celibacy, and lead them into sin.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Anti-EU Parties Face Funding Cuts

Via EUobserver:

Anti-EU parties and their affiliated foundations may see their EU funding reduced by over half, amid a broader push by the European Commission to revamp internal European Parliament rules.

Frans Timmermans, the EU commission vice-president, told reporters on Friday (15 September) that the reform is designed to address loopholes and allow authorities to more easily claw back taxpayer money, in case of fraud.

"These proposed amendments in the existing regulation in no way, I want to stress that, in no way dictate what programs European parties should follow", he said.

The move is part of a so-called democracy package presented by Timmermans, ahead of the 2019 European elections.

It follows a series of scandals over the past two years that have seen top-ranking MEPs embroiled in fraud allegations, as well as virulent anti-EU parties and foundations accused of siphoning off and illegally spending public money.

It also follows public uproar amid revelations that the far-right Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF), which includes neo-nazis among its ranks, received €400.000 from the EU parliament.

The plan now is to reduce the EU parliament's budget for European political parties, in what Timmermans said would then increase the share of the total funding distributed in proportion to the number of MEPs elected.

"The budget for European political parties is distributed equally among of all them, no matter how big or small. This in our view is not proportionate to true democratic representation in parliament", he said.

European political parties were granted over €30 million for 2017. Fifteen percent of that was distributed equally, with the remaining 85 percent distributed in proportion to each party's share of elected MEPs. The plan now is to reduce the 15 percent share to five percent.

But such a system would cut EU money to the APF by over 44 percent.

The ultra-nationalist Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), the right-wing European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), and the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) would all also register a 44-percent cut.

The biggest loser, at over 66 percent, is the anti-abortion and catholic nationalist party, Coalition for Life and Family (CVF), which has received almost €300.000 this year alone.

Meanwhile, the more mainstream parties like the centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, and liberal Alde would see little to no reduction and even some gains.

The Greens would drop by 0.8 percent, Alde increase by 1.5 percent, and no change for EPP and S&D.

Money blues

Pan-European parties and their political foundations are also required to raise at least 15 percent of their own money before they can access EU funding.

Many are finding it difficult to reach the minimum threshold and have instead inflated their figures by using "contributions in kind", a practice that is nearly impossible to audit.

"We also uncovered a number of very questionable practices, blatant conflicts of interest, retrospectively paid commissions", said Didier Klethi, the EU parliament's director of finance, over the summer during a discussion in the constitutional affairs committee.

Other dubious methods include getting people to donate money in exchange for lucrative contracts.

Such tactics were used by the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE), a think tank linked to the Ukip-dominated Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe.

One Swedish organisation donated €12.000 to IDDE in return for a €20.000 contract. Another from Iceland gave €10.000 and ended up a with €36.000 contract, according to internal EU parliament documents seen by EUobserver.

The EU commission's solution "to reduce incentives for questionable practices" is simply to make it much easier to get EU grants.

In practice, that means cutting the co-financing threshold from 15 percent to 10 percent for European political parties and to 5 percent for European political foundations.

2019 election deadline

Given the slow pace of the EU legislative process, it is not clear if such reforms will be ready for the 2019 elections.

German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, who is steering the reforms at the EU parliament, expressed some doubts over it in July.

"We should do everything that we can to ensure that by 2019, the year of the elections, these rules can be applied", he said.

A more realistic scenario, he added, would be to have the rules in place in early 2020.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Swedish Pop-Star Turned Philosopher: “Bitcoin Is A Bubble That Will Ruin Millions Of Small Savers”

Via Business Insider:

Philosopher and former pop-star Alexander Bard has been right before when making predictions on the future of capitalism. This time he sees a paralyzed bitcoin community and worries about the prospects of millions of savers "who stand to lose everything when the bitcoin bubble bursts".

The sudden surge in popularity of bitcoin, the world’s first and biggest cryptocurrency, has been nothing short of spectacular. In the last five years, its value has spiked a whopping 15.400 percent. This has no doubt made some investors rich, including programming expert Alexander Bottema, who told his story to VA Finans recently.

On the other hand, the warning bells are tolling. Among the sceptics is the Swedish philosopher and futurologist (and earlier synth player in the band Army of Lovers) Alexander Bard.

“Bitcoin has developed into a classic tulip bubble. The price has been pushed up by hoards of Chinese and Japanese small investors who have bought bitcoin with borrowed money at low rents. It’s clear that the currency is now very unstable and could crash soon”, he says to VA Finans.

“The Chinese market is super sensitive for crashes, and the question is how we will be able to handle millions of small savers in Japan and China, who have had their assets wiped out”.

Bard thinks the bitcoin community needs to get its “shit together”, and that there are two big problems.

One of them is slow transaction processing speeds: “Bitcoin can only manage seven transactions per second, which is way, way too slow if [the currency] is ever to have a decisive influence”.

The other in is the community’ inability to make decisions.

Not surprisingly, Bard is certain there will be many booms and busts in various cryptocurrencies, and warns people from relying on them for things like pensions and savings for grandchildren.

Despite all the gloomy predictions, Bard sees long-term potential in cryptocurrencies, and thinks that their underlying technology, the blockchain, could revolutionize just about everything.

“We have built our entire civilization on contracts. That was the first thing we did when we discovered writing. To suddenly be able to create safe contracts with thousands of strangers, and trust them – that could change everything”.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

China Focus: China Steps Up Building Science And Tech Power

Via Xinhuanet:

China has made a series of achievements in science and technology over the past month as the country quickens its pace in becoming a leading science and tech power by the middle of the century.

China has been a leader in quantum technologies, which eliminate the possibility of wiretapping and secure communication. In early September, it was announced the Beijing-Shanghai quantum communication network has met requirements to open for service.

The 2.000-km network, the world's first, will be used for secure data transmission in the military, finance and government affairs fields.

The country has also completed a test of its high-throughput satellite Shijian-13, designating it as Zhongxing-16. With a transfer capacity of 20 Gbps, the satellite is capable of providing better Internet access on planes and high-speed trains, as well as in less-developed regions.

In a step toward launching a Mars probe around 2020, planners have mapped out a 400-million-yuan (61 million U.S. dollars) development plan to turn a red rock basin in Qaidam basin in northwest China's Qinghai Province into a Mars scientific research base and eco-tourism site.

The base is expected to consist of a "Mars community" and a "Mars campsite". The campsite will have a number of experimental module-like accommodations.

Underground research has also moved swiftly. Researchers recently acquired hot dry rock (HDR), with temperatures of 236 degrees Celsius, from 3.705 meters below Gonghe basin in Qinghai Province.

HDR is usually buried 3.000 to 10.000 meters under the earth's surface. It can be used to generate clean electricity via its high temperatures. The breakthrough means China is a step closer to easing environmental problems related to the greenhouse effect and acid rain.

China has made innovation the core of its 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), with the aim of becoming an "innovation nation" by 2020, an international leader in innovation by 2030, and a world powerhouse in scientific and technological innovation by 2050.

"We will accelerate R&D and commercialization of new materials, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications, and other technology to develop industrial clusters in these fields", said a government work report issued this year.

Such efforts will help the country improve convenience of transportation, raise living standards, resolve energy resource shortages, and boost economic development.

Developers said on Wednesday that track has been laid for China's longest high-speed railway at high latitudes, and the railway is scheduled to open in June 2018.

Running at 200 km per hour, the 343-km railway linking Harbin, capital of the northeast province of Heilongjiang, and Jiamusi in the same province, runs through four tunnels and over 120 bridges. It will cut travel time to 1.5 hours from 7 hours.

On the environmental front, an in-orbit test of China's first orbiting carbon observatory satellite was successfully completed in September. Scientists will convert magnetic signals received from the satellite into visible spectral signals, and then calculate the concentration of carbon dioxide.

While development of science and technology promises a better future, it also saves the lives of millions of people today.

According to a study published in late August, Chinese scientists have found a compound that helps a tumor-targeting virus kill liver cancer more effectively while sparing healthy cells, offering new hope for treating the world's second most common cancer killer.

A therapy that uses viruses to selectively kill cancer cells is rapidly progressing through clinical evaluation, but the therapeutic efficacy in humans has been less than expected from pre-clinical studies, according to the study published in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine.

China needs science and technology more than ever and the country's scientists should occupy the world's science and technology high ground, said Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The quickest and easiest way to achieve innovation is through a global cooperation network to boost innovation.

The G20 Blueprint on Innovative Growth, adopted at the Hangzhou summit in September last year, commits governments to creating a favorable environment for creativity and development.

Scientific innovation was also a central topic at the Belt and Road forum in Beijing in May, with China proposing a Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan.

A science and technology cooperation network along the Belt and Road will be completed in 2030, Bai said.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The "Warren Buffett Of Sweden" Shares 5 Pieces Of Saving Advice That Will Help Anyone Become A Millionaire

Via Business Insider:

Roughly one in ten Swedes are millionaires today (in the local currency). Per H. Börjesson, the founder and CEO of investment company Spiltan, thinks there could, and should, be many more.

Börjesson's bestselling book "Here's how all Swedes can become millionaires" has a simple message: The key to becoming financially independent is to follow a number of simple savings advice, and stick with them through thick and thin. The book had a big impact in Sweden, especially as it came out in the depths of the financial crisis.

Börjesson is an avid disciple of investor legend Warren Buffett, and often quotes his advice: "Everybody can become rich on stocks, but you need to be ready to commit for at least a decade". Börjesson's track record with Spiltan, one of Sweden's foremost investment companies, has earned him (along with a handful of other Swedish financiers) the informal nickname "Warren Buffet of Sweden".

Here are Börjesson's 5 key pieces of advice to young people starting out today (and to anyone else for that matter), according to Veckans Affärer (VA).

1. Start each month by saving 10 percent of your income

When some of his readers question the feasibility of this advice, he reponds: "I notice all the time how people spend money on things that are not necessary, such as eating lunch in a restaurant instead of preparing your own, buying coffee on your way to work, lottery tickets and cigarettes etc".

”Absorb the oldest and best investment advice there is: save 10 percent of your salary each month, before you do anything else. Don't wait", Börjesson told Dagens Industri.

2. Live within your means, i.e. don't let your costs surpass incomes

3. Buy shares or equity funds

"If you buy shares in a company, then investment companies are a good alternative. When it comes to funds, choose index funds with low fees, or active funds. You can also buy individual quality stocks".

4. Hold on to your assets

"The best thing is to never sell all of your shares. But you can use some of your assets for an apartment or for that dream holiday".

5. Be very careful when listening to investment advisors

Börjesson says that you shouldn't rely too much on "experts", but instead make independet decisions when it comes to your money. When buying your index funds, make sure that the fees are low. That way, you will be able to keep most of the returns.

"The most tragic thing is that even the people who do a good job saving each month, cannot become millionaires if they accept bad advice from advisors who are really just salesmen", Börjesson says.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

China Remains Persistent In Denuclearizing Korean Peninsula: Xi

Via Xinhuanet:

Chinese President Xi Jinping told his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, in a telephone conversation late Wednesday that Beijing remains persistent on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

During the phone conversation, Xi and Trump exchanged their views on the current situation on the peninsula.

Xi said China has been adamant in preserving international nuclear non-proliferation regime, maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and resolving the nuclear issue through talks.

The Chinese president said the general direction should head toward a peaceful settlement of the issue, adding that dialogue combined with a set of comprehensive measures is best for seeking a long-term solution.

Trump said Washington has been deeply concerned over the ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula, and attaches importance to China's essential role in resolving the issue.

He pledged to step up communication with the Chinese side in a bid to find a solution as early as possible.

Also during the phone talks, Xi noted that exchanges and cooperation between China and the United States in various areas have been moving forward.

He added that the two countries' diplomatic, security and economic teams have maintained close communication, and the two sides are preparing for the first round of dialogue on social and people-to-people exchanges, as well as on law enforcement and cybersecurity.

Xi said China attaches great importance to Trump's visit to China later this year, hoping both sides can work together to ensure the visit a success.

For his part, Trump said it is very important for him to keep close communication with Xi and strengthen coordination over major international and regional affairs.

The U.S. leader said he is looking forward to visiting China and meeting Xi again this year.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Nordea Is Moving Its Headquarters To Helsinki

Via Business Insider:

The Nordics’ largest financial group, Nordea Bank, decided today in a board meeting that it will move its headquarters from Stockholm to Helsinki, Finland.

Nordea announced the decision in a press release. Casper von Koskull, President and CEO of Nordea tried to downplay the effects of the controversial decision: "We will continue to deliver value for all customers, as we will keep on working with the Nordic operating model in the same way as we do today. We remain relentlessly committed to all of our four home markets and look forward to continuing to create strong products and solutions for our customers and contribute to the Nordic societies and economies", he says.

"The decision is the outcome of six months of careful study and analysis of the competitive conditions and challenges facing Nordea", says Björn Wahlroos, chairman of the Board of Directors.

The fact that Finland is part of the European Union's banking union, Nordea argues, means that it will be subject to the same rules as other European banks.

"We see the move as an important strategic step in positioning Nordea on a par with its European peers", Wahlroos continues.

Nordea employs some 31.600 people across Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It is currently Sweden's 12th largest company in terms of revenue. In 2016, it posted some 9.9 billion euros in operating revenue, of which 4.6 billion euros was operating profit.

At odds with the Swedish government

The trigger for Nordea's decision emerged this spring, when it argued that the Swedish government's proposed hike to resolution reserve fees — a pool of buffer money reserved for banking crises — would make it too expensive to stay in the country. Nordea said the new fee would see its annual costs rise by SEK 5 billion (∽$570m) per year, and said it considered a move to either Copenhagen or Helsinki.

The government subsequently lowered its original resolution fee proposal, but it was not good enough for Nordea.

Nordea's says in its press release that, depending on the exact time of the move "the net present value of resolution fees, deposit guarantees and other transitional effects will be positive by approximately EUR 1.000-1.100m". In other words, the move aims to save the bank a billion euros.

Some saw the bank's behavior as a veiled threat towards the Social Democrat-run government, which had previously taken aim at the financial sector by proposing raised taxes on salaries.

"I think they have been caught by their own greed", said Jonas Sjöstedt, the leader of Sweden's Left party, to Dagens Industri, referring to Nordea.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Xinhua Insight: Xi Sails BRICS Ship On Epic Voyage

Via Xinhuanet:

In stormy waters it is common for fishermen in southeast China to set out to sea in groups.

Each boat has its own captain, but they will discuss fishing strategies when they return from a voyage. Over cans of beer, they argue but soon find common ground and set the time for the next sail.

Leaders of the world's five major developing countries were doing something similar when they met in Xiamen for the annual summit themed "BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future".

The BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are like five boats on a fishing trip. Each has its own cause, but they sail in one direction with a common aim.

At this crucial juncture lessons need to be drawn, and the "captains" need to set the direction for the journey ahead.

In Xiamen, Xi Jinping chaired the BRICS summit for the first time as Chinese president. He debuted in the 2013 Durban summit on his first foreign trip as head of state, and has played an active role in the group ever since.

Xi summed up the work of BRICS over the past decade, "treating each other as equals and seeking common ground while shelving differences".

BRICS has always favored dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance, he said.

This wisdom has formed the spark of China's foreign policy with Xi at the helm. And it has been brought into BRICS cooperation.

Days before the Xiamen summit, a military standoff between China and India at the foot of the Himalayas ended peacefully, a clear example of using the wisdom.

Tarun Vijay, head of India-China Parliamentary Group of the Confederation of Indian Industries, said it is important for the world's two largest developing countries to speak with a common voice in multilateral arena.

He cited a Chinese proverb to describe the future of BRICS, "When brothers work together, their strength can break metal".

Meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Xiamen summit, Xi said China is ready to boost political trust with India. A healthy and stable bilateral relationship is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples.

At the summit, BRICS leaders are constantly reminded of the sea. The logo is a sail in five colors. The conference building, a nearby hotel and the city's airport terminal are all in the shape of a ship.

Xi knows this culture well, as he was Xiamen's deputy mayor in the 1980s. He loves to spice up his speeches with illuminating seafaring metaphors.

On Monday night, Xi invited his foreign colleagues to watch an evening gala, themed "Setting Sail for the Future".

"It is time to set sail when the tide rises", he said.

RESPONSIBLE BLOC

BRIC was coined by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to describe four emerging economies with fast growth and great potential. The framework took shape in 2006. Four years later, South Africa joined. BRIC grew into BRICS.

Initially formed on economic prowess, the group has increasingly found a common voice on thorny geopolitical issues.

In Xiamen, BRICS leaders were quick to respond to the latest nuclear test in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which detonated a hydrogen bomb the day the summit opened.

In their joint declaration, BRICS leaders expressed "deep concern" over the ongoing tension and prolonged nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, saying that it should only be settled through peaceful means and direct dialogue.

The declaration also touched upon issues in Syria, Yemen, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One day earlier, Xi called on BRICS countries to shoulder their responsibilities in upholding world peace.

"We should take a constructive part in the process of resolving geopolitical hotspot issues and make our due contributions", he said.

With Xi, China has emerged as a responsible power on world stage. Looking to help empower the emerging countries, China has increased its responsibility in global governance from climate change to peace-keeping.

In the years leading up to the Xiamen summit, China hosted the leaders of APEC, the G20, and countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Xi told the press after the summit that BRICS leaders agreed to deepen political and security cooperation and enhance mutual strategic trust.

Playing a bigger role in security was part of the four-point proposal Xi raised at the BRICS Business Forum. The president talked about creating new impetus for economic growth in BRICS countries, improving global governance and building extensive partnerships.

Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University of China, said the proposal had clear input from the governance wisdom and will help BRICS gain strength.

OPEN ECONOMY

Economic cooperation remains at the foundation of BRICS, and Xi has been calling for openness and larger representation of the developing countries in global economic governance since his first BRICS summit appearance in 2013.

With anti-globalization and inward-looking mentality on the rise, Xi in Xiamen repeated his support for an open global economy, multilateral trade and fight against protectionism.

"Emerging market will be hurt most by protectionism," Xi said. "Openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation are the only viable option".

Together, BRICS represented 23 percent of global GDP in 2016 and had contributed to more than half of global economic growth in the past decade. But it has not all been plain sailing, as demand shrank, financial risks rose and commodity prices slumped.

Larissa Wachholz, a partner at Brazilian consulting firm Vallya, said Xi's focus on economic growth, win-win development and equal partnership is important to Brazil.

The Brazilian economy just climbed out of recession in the first quarter of 2017.

Opening the BRICS Business Forum, Xi encouraged BRICS countries to pursue innovation-driven development created by smart manufacturing, the digital economy and sharing economy.

This came no surprise to Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing, who is all too aware that China is leading the world in Internet technology.

The digital economy, with a market scale worth 22.6 trillion yuan, has risen to take up 30 percent of GDP in China.

Meanwhile, leading Chinese tech companies are expanding overseas.

In India, Alibaba's subsidiary partnered with local mobile payment company Paytm and boosted its number of users from 30 million to 200 million, the company said.

"Chinese companies are willing to share their experience as they explore the overseas market", Yang said. "Seizing the opportunities of the digital revolution, BRICS can achieve impressive growth and overtake developed countries".

Xi said the new technological revolution has brought developing countries precious chances to play catch-up.

"Losing it, the developing countries will see the divide between them and the developed world grow wider", he said.

The first ever Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries became another bright spot at the Xiamen summit.

BRICS PLUS

Leaders of Mexico, Egypt, Tajikistan, Guinea and Thailand were invited by China to sit at a roundtable with BRICS leaders.

Though outreach programs have existed in past BRICS summits since 2013, it was the first time the program had such an extensive representation - from almost every region of the world.

Xi said BRICS cooperation was more than about just five countries, but carried the expectation of the entire international community.

He had earlier used an idiom to sum up the mindset behind such partnerships: "One should help others as he establishes himself and bear the well-being of the world in mind".

Xi said BRICS leaders supported the "BRICS Plus" approach proposed by China to strengthen South-South cooperation.

People all over the world are beginning to realize the sheer potential of BRICS for cooperation among developing countries.

"BRICS is really going to shock people in terms of what is able to achieve", said South African businessman Iqbal Surve.

Xi called out to his colleagues: "Let us set sail from Xiamen and join hands to usher in the second 'golden decade' of BRICS cooperation".

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Hydrogen Bomb In NKorea’s Biggest Nuclear Test Yet

Via Debka:

North Korea celebrated its sixth and most powerful nuclear test Sunday, boasting it had launched a hydrogen bomb outfitted for intercontinental ballistic missiles. The US Geological Survey recorded a 6.3 magnitude earth tremor, felt and confirmed in Seoul and China, from North Korea’s test side in Punggye-ri in the northeast region. It was manmade and attributed to this test, which seismic experts with Norway’s Norsar believe had an explosive yield of about 120 kilotons.

The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty said the test is evidence that North Korea's nuclear program is “advancing rapidly”.

Seismologists also noted a second tremor of a 4.1 magnitude, which occurred at the same location minutes after the first one and they categorized as a “collapse”.

As tensions around the peninsula ratcheted up further, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster addressed the test in an emergency phone call with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, for about 20 minutes after the detonation.

No response was forthcoming from the White House or the State Department.

The North Korean leader Kim Jng-un inspected the new H-bomb at his nation’s Nuclear Weapons Institute, according to a Sunday statement from the state-run Korean News Agency. The bomb was portrayed as part of North Korea’s stated program to build a nuclear arsenal capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

In July, North Korea conducted a pair of ICBM tests for the first time.

Weeks after a North Korean ballistic missile flew over Japanese air space, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a statement on Sunday saying “If North Korea has indeed gone ahead with a nuclear test, it is completely unacceptable and we must lodge a strong protest”.

Xi Stresses World Peace, Security At BRICS Business Forum

Via Xinhuanet:

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Sunday BRICS countries should uphold global peace and stability, stressing a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.

"We BRICS countries are committed to upholding global peace and contributing to the international security order", he said while delivering a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum scheduled for Sept. 3-4 in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen.

This year, the BRICS countries have held the Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues and the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Relations. The countries have put in place the regular meeting mechanism for permanent representatives to the multilateral institutions, and convened the Foreign Policy Planning Dialogue, the Meeting of Counter-Terrorism Working Group, the Meeting of Cybersecurity Working Group, and the Consultation on Peacekeeping Operations.

These efforts aim to strengthen consultation and coordination on major international and regional issues and build synergy among BRICS countries, Xi said.

"We should uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and basic norms governing international relations, firmly support multilateralism, work for greater democracy in international relations, and oppose hegemonism and power politics", he said.

He also called on BRICS countries to take a constructive part in the process of resolving geopolitical hotspot issues and make due contributions.

"I am convinced that as long as we take a holistic approach to fighting terrorism in all its forms, and address both its symptoms and root causes, terrorists will have no place to hide", he said.

When dialogue, consultation and negotiation are conducted to create conditions for achieving political settlement of issues such as Syria, Libya and the Palestine-Israel conflict, the flame of war can be put out, and displaced refugees will eventually return to their homes, he said.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finland's Prosecutor General Suspended Indefinitely On Suspicion Of Corruption

Via Business Insider:

For a country that prides itself on its honest character, the ongoing investigation into nepotism over a prolonged period by one of the country's top legal eagles has comes as a shock - or rude awakening, depending on the viewpoint.

Prosecutor General Matti Nissanen is the subject of scrutiny by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for conflict of interest and violation of official duties by hiring his brother's company for training purposes over the course of eight years.

Finland usually rank's high on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index and is currently ranked third out of 176 nations with a score of 89/100. Only Denmark and New Zealand score higher when it comes to the important morality stakes, though TDI says cuttingly, "No nation comes close to a perfect score," with the top two on 90.

The NBI was reported by state broadcaster YLE to have completed its preliminary sleuthing and given the brief to the Chancellor of Justice - not the Prosecutor general's office as would be the case in other circumstances.

The company involved, Deep Lead, has, as its Chair, Colonel Vesa Nissinen who also happens to be the Director of the Finnish Defence Research Agency as well as a majority owner of the company. YLE reports that Deep Lead has been paid €74.000 ($90.000) for providing training services up to 2015.

The story broke last February in Finland's highly respected current affairs weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti.

As the relationship started three years before Matti Nissinen became Prosecutor General in 2010, he refutes breaking any laws, but admitted that he had made, "A mistake in handling the matter". Accordingly, he requested to be put on leave in March with his deputy taking over temporarily. This leave has now turned into indefinite suspension and will in all likelihood be permanent as President Ninnistö is to name a new permanent prosecutor general soon.

The NBI for its part states that Nissinen should not have been involved at all in the decision to contract Deep Lead, which had rather suspiciously been his idea originally. Equally damming is a long complimentary appraisal of Deep Lead's work on the company's website by Matti Nissinen.

I feel badly for the whole prosecutor's office because of this, Matti Nissinen was quoted as saying, "As nobody else has done anything except me. I'm prepared to help as much as l can. It is now out of my hands, l don't have any skeletons waiting to come out and l expect justice to prevail".

Monday, August 07, 2017

Professional eSports Are Taking Off In Finland – Pro Players Now Officially Recognized As Athletes

Via Business Insider:

The Finnish Central Tax Board considers esports competitors to be athletes. According to a decision freshly issued by the board: "A broad interpretation of sports, in addition to physical competition can also mean mental games of skill, where success is primarily based on something other than physical performance".

The subject of the rendered decision is a Finnish tax resident playing videogames for an American organization. In the contract between the player and the team, the player is committed to participate in tournaments, practice games, marketing events, interviews and photo shoots. The player is paid a monthly salary and various other bonuses, such as part of the tournament winnings.

The ruling is not merely symbolic either, as earnings officially deemed to be income from professional sports activities can be partially invested in a tax-sheltered investment fund meant to smooth out the transition as one's sports career starts winding down.

In other esports news, major Finnish electronics chain Gigantti has announced their arrival to the professional gaming scene by picking up the entire former roster of Ninjas in Pyjamas – a Swedish esports organization – and reforming it as Team Gigantti. All team members are full-time players and Gigantti claims to be committing to esports for the long run.

While the squad failed to qualify for the Overwatch World Cup in an event held in Sydney, Australia a week ago, Team Gigantti didn’t take long to claim their first notable win: a 3-0 victory in the finals of ASUS ROG's Assembly Summer Overwatch tournament in Helsinki, Finland on 4 August.

Team Gigantti will next compete against Europe's top teams in the Overwatch Contenders league that begins the week of 14 August.