North Korea used the Berlin embassy to procure technology for the nuclear program

North Korea used the Berlin embassy to obtain technology and equipment for its nuclear program, said on Monday the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, as reported by the German public broadcaster DW.

“We determined that procurement activities were taking place there, from our perspective with an eye on the missile program, as well as the nuclear program to some extent,”  the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, told NDR.

Maassen said the information gathered by North Korea could be used for both civilian and military purposes, although he didn’t specify what can of technology was procured.

“When we detect something of this sort, we prevent it. But we can’t guarantee that we will be able to detect and thwart all cases,” he said.  During the broadcast he also added “that parts for North Korea’s launch program were acquired via other markets or underground buyers had acquired them in Germany”.

People at the North Korea embassy in Berlin didn’t release any comments after the allegation.

The accusations come after a report by the United Nation, which affirms North Korea is bypassing the sanctions by exporting banned commodities, as coal, iron and steel.

 

 

Singapore is preparing for militant attacks

Singapore’s armed officers are making several simulated gunmen attack demonstrations, as the wealthy island-state will host this week the defence ministers from around Southeast Asia. The government is always worried over terrorist attacks on its territory, and during the inaugural Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released in 2017, the Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said “Singapore is very much on its radar”- referring to the Islamic State – , and that the threat against the country is “the highest in recent years”.

“Singapore continues to face a serious security threat from both homegrown radicalised individuals and foreign terrorists who continue to see Singapore as a prized target,” said the MHA, who replied to Reuters’ questions.

Singapore is one of the safest place of the world and it hasn’t received any attacks since 9/11, which is why it is at bottom of the Global Terrorism Index. But even so, over 70 percent of Singaporeans are still worried of terrorist attacks and believe it’s just a matter of time before terrorists hit their country.

The government is using a hardline approach to counter the terrorism, and any people, children included, is encouraged to report suspect activities to police officers. For this purpose has been designed a mobile app, SGSecure, which helps Singaporean citizen to alert the authorities for dangerous situations, but the app so far hasn’t been positively welcomed, as it’s poorly designed.

 

 

Saudi Arabia: Alphabet and Aramco in talks to make a Saudi Silicon Valley

Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, is in talks with Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco in order to reach an agreement to build a technology hub in the Arab country, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The details of the agreement are unknown at the moment.

Riyadh has been in talks also with Google’s rivals Apple and Amazon, as the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is looking for strategic partners to give his country an high-tech look.

The Saudi Arabia’s kingdom, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the front line, is trying to put in action an ambitious plan to diversify its economy, which relies almost totally on oil exports. All OPEC countries, as well as any other oil economies, have been suffering since oil prices crashed in 2014, forcing the oil cartel to reach a cut production agreement in 2016 in an effort to sustain the prices.

Mohammed bin Salman had put in action an ambitious plan, Vision 2030, which should help his country to became less dependent on oil exports. At the same time the kingdom is implementing important reforms in order to shift towards a moderate Islam (just to mention a few: on September 2017 Saudi Arabia announced on that it would allow women to drive; in 2015 women were allowed to vote for the first time).

 

 

Lebanon hires McKinsey to restructure its economy

Beirut

At the end of this week, the Lebanon government will sign a six months agreement with McKinsey & Co. to restructure its week economy, announced the Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury. The consulting firm will start to work with various ministries to implement a long-term strategy for the Lebanon, which has the highest debt in the Arab world and the world’s third highest in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio.

The government implemented over the course of 2017 a series of structural reforms to boost revenue and stop the debt rising, but they had little effects on the fiscal balance and weren’t enough to lift the previous Moody’s downgrade.

Over 50 percent of Lebanese are living abroad, especially in other Gulf and African countries, and the weak economy survives through the remittances that have kept flowing in from outside the country. This helped Lebanon to accumulate big foreign reserves and to avoid a fiscal crisis, despite the political turmoils that left the country without a President or Prime Minister many times.

The Lebanon’s Economic and Trade minister said this model is no longer sustainable, and that the debt-to-GDP ratio could rise to 170 percent in the next years if no actions are taken. The country is changing its demography quickly, especially due to the Syrian civil war, which produced at least 1,5 million refugees who have fled to Lebanon to escape from war atrocities. Khoury thinks Singapore is the model to follow for the Lebanon, as the two countries share a similar demographic structure.

Lebanon’s economy has many grey areas,  as the money controlled by the Hezbollah group, and will be difficult for McKansey’s consultants to analyze them.

Heavy rain and cold temperatures are hitting hard many Palestinians

Heavy rainfall and extreme cold are hitting the Gaza Strip region very hard, and the situation is getting worse for many Gazans living in precarious conditions. Weather forecasters said on Thursday heavy rains and strong wing, accompanied by a cold wave, will hit region, which is not new to extreme weather phenomena. Heavy storms had been hitting badly the Gaza Strip in the last three years, and thousands of residents were evacuated due to massive floods.

Local authorities said the extreme cold could lead to humanitarian disasters, due to a shortage of fuel and poor infrastructures. In the Gaza Strip several families live in makeshift houses or houses sheltering, and fearing the floods hundreds have already left their homes in many parts of the Strip.

Rescue teams were ready to deal with the natural disaster, and using fishing boats they were able to move residents to safe places, said the Palestinian Ministry of Works.

Gaza Strip’s residents are living in desperate state due to poor economic conditions, and Israeli media warned that the severe deterioration of living standards may lead to another war.

The situation in the Gaza Strip deteriorated since Israeli military offensives damaged sewage, water and communication infrastructures, while Israeli authorities don’t allow the import of many machinery, including pipes, pumps and steel cables.

Many structural reforms are increasing economic inequality

Inequality

Generally there is a high consensus that structural reforms boost growth and, after the economic crisis that hit many advanced economies, many governments have been implementing these reforms to accelerate the growth.

In Europe the need for structural reforms is particularly stressed by Germany, which reminds often they are necessary to achieve a strong Europe. European creditors imposed a reform agenda to all peripheral countries – Greece,Italy, Portugal and Spain – and the respect of the terms are mandatory to extend bailouts by the European Union and European Central Bank (ECB), and most of all to avoid higher yields, which equates to higher borrowing costs for the country in crisis.

The correlation between structural reforms and GDP growth is well documented, however few analyzed the effects on wealth distribution. A recent paper published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows evidence of a growth-equity tradeoff for some important reforms. The authors (Jonathan D. Ostry, Andrew Berg, and Siddharth Kothari) collected data across countries to find a relation among growth, inequality, and reforms, using panel regressions and an event-study approach.

IMF’s researchers assembled a comprehensive dataset of reform indices, including financial and real reforms, updating a dataset made by Ostry in 2009, while for inequality they used data from the Standardized World Income Inequality Database developed by Solt.

They find the the growth-equity tradeoffs varies across reforms and the effects are not homogeneous across the countries, however in most cases the structural reforms increase the inequality.

Financial reforms and capital account liberalization lead to both growth and inequality increase, but the effects on inequality are greater. In particular, the growth benefit from liberalizing capital account restrictions seems to very limited, but there is a clear increase in inequality.

Network reforms don’t increase growth and in countries with a high level of corruption they lead extractive monopolies. In general, the effects of network reforms are negative for wealth distribution and they increase inequality.

Institutional reforms, aimed at strengthening the impartiality of and
adherence to the legal system, don’t have any tradeoff effects and they are good for both growth and distribution.

The overall result of the paper is in favour of structural reforms, as the net value of their implementation is positive, but the results need to be interpreted with caution. The authors stressed that “specific reform packages, in order to gain support and deliver enduring broad-based benefits, need to be designed with distributional consequences in mind”. The paper wants to serve as a warning for the policy makers to design the reforms with distributional effects in mind, especially in those countries where inequality is already high.

Nintendo Switch is now fastest selling console in US history

Nintendo had a brilliant year with its new console, Nintendo Switch, which sold over 10 million units worldwide during 2017, whose 4,8 million in US alone. Now the Japanese hardware house has broken another record, and Nintendo Switch is the fastest-selling home console in US history.

The whole Nintendo line up for the Switch is also performing very well:  Super Mario Odyssey has been launched at the end of October, but it already sold over 2.88 million copies;  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Switch’s big launch game sold over 2.60 million copies;  Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sold around 2.4 million copies.

The company increased production to meet the strong demand, and in March 2018 Nintendo Switch will already top lifetime sales of Wii U worldwide. Nintendo stock benefits from the Switch phenomena and it’s now sitting on level we haven’t seen since 2008, after a crisis that seriously damaged the investors confidence toward the company.

No, China is not going to shutdown Bitcoin mining activities

A report published on 4 January on finance.caixin said The People’s Bank of China is planning to shutdown Bitcoin mining activities. The rumor was leaked out to the web by Guo Hong, a celebrity in the cryptocurrency world, who stated with a Wechat screenshot that all mines will close by January 5th. Lately, Guo Hong replied that the screenshot was photo shopped and denied all those claims.

Afterwards, other media reported that The People’s Bank of China held a meeting to demand Bitcoin miners to close all their activities within a limited time period, however officials of the Bank denied the meeting, and told Caixin reporters they just want to phase out preferential policies.

Officials wanted to clarify their stance toward Bitcoin is neutral, and they don’t want to encourage nor hamper mining activities. Bitcoin mining is very prosperous in China and it accounts for nearly 70 percent of the global hash power in bitcoin. The power consumption of mining is very high and it equals on 1 year the power supply to 50 million households, consuming 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide. Pollution in China has become the leading cause of death, and the government is fighting against its environmental issues cementing the global dominance of renewable sector. China has no intention to prohibit mining of cryptocurrency, but in the future is high probable the government will regulate the electricity consumption behind this activity. 

 

Solved the mystery of the strangest star in the sky

A crowfunding project on Kickstarter helped a team of 200 scientists to solve the mystery of the stranger star in the sky. This star, located fourteen hundred light-years from Earth, emits a light like a big neon sign drifting through the constellation Cygnus.

There’s no other star acting like KIC 8462852, nicknamed “Tabby’s star” after Boyajian, and many speculations arisen on the phenomena. Jason Wright, an astronomer Pennsylvania State University, said extraterrestrial made a titanic array of solar panels around the star, a concept already proposed years ago by physicist Freeman Dyson. However, Wright’s theory have been dismissed by other astronomers, who aimed their radio telescopes at Tabby’s Star and heard no signs of life.

The team of scientist says the culprits are not aliens but probably a cloud of dust, each particle less than a micrometer across.

 

Russia announced a new anti-aircraft artillery system

Russia’s Ministry of Defence announced on Wednesday a new anti-craft artillery system is being developed in the Ground Forces. The new system, whose name was not mentioned, will replace the old ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” system, in service since 1962.

Russia’s new New anti-aircraft artillery system. Credit: © Russian Ministry of Defence/Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

“This complex is designed to engage air targets such as tactical UAVs, single rocket launchers, cruise missiles, shock elements of WTO systems and tactical aviation aircraft, fire support helicopters, as well as surface and surface lightly armored targets,” said Russian Ministry of Defence.

“In addition, in 2018, equipment was planned with modern weapons and equipment, including: two military formations of air defense – short-range antiaircraft missile system Tor-M2; an air defense unit operating in the Arctic and the Far North conditions with a Tor-M2DT short-range anti-aircraft missile system; air defense units of combined-arms formations – a portable anti-aircraft missile system “Verba”, added the Defense Ministry.

Russia is in the middle of military renewing, and in late 2017 President Vladimir Putin approved Russia’s State Armament Program (SAP) for 2018-2027. The SAP will give “specific attention on precision weaponry, as it is a present-day tendency in the development of all armed conflicts”, said Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov on 23 November 2017. “Top priority, naturally, will be given to the development of nuclear deterrence systems as a key type of armed forces which guarantees security of our country in conflicts of any kind,” he added.

Russia used Syria’s ground to test some of its most advanced new weapons, including SU-34 fighter jet and cruise missiles.