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Monday, April 1, 2013

The Dark Side of Prophecy

Russia Not Obliged to Notify West of War Games

MOSCOW, April 1 (RIA Novosti) – Russia was not obligated to notify Western countries beforehand of its recent snap military exercises, a top Russian Defense Ministry official said Monday.

“The mechanism of checks today is such that we only need to notify Western countries when we hold planned events,” Sergei Ryzhkov, the chief of the ministry’s treaty implementation department, told journalists.

“If exercises occur suddenly, we may notify them [other countries] only when the exercises begin,” Ryzhkov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap drills on Thursday, as concerns persist over the combat readiness of the armed forces in Russia.

The Black Sea exercise, which ended on Sunday, involved up to 7,000 military personnel, including rapid deployment, airborne and special task forces, more than 30 warships, about 250 armored vehicles, up to 20 pieces of artillery and 20 aircraft.

The unscheduled exercise was the second in the span of two months and followed a major shake-up at the top of a military establishment demoralized by persistent evidence of rampant corruption.

Ryzhkov added that in line with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, other countries should be notified of war games only when at least 9,000 troops participate in the drills.

Furthermore, when the number of troops taking part in the drills equals or exceeds 13,000, such exercises should be subject to foreign observation, he said.

RIA Novosti

Farewell to the cash register


Ka-ching! The cash register may be on its final sale.

Stores across the U.S. are ditching the old-fashioned, clunky machines and having salespeople — and even shoppers themselves — ring up sales on smartphones and tablet computers.

Barneys New York, a luxury retailer, this year plans to use iPads or iPod Touch devices for credit and debit card purchases in seven of its nearly two dozen regular-price stores. Urban Outfitters, a teen clothing chain, ordered its last traditional register last fall and plans to go completely mobile one day. And Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is testing a “Scan & Go” app that lets customers scan their items as they shop.

“The traditional cash register is heading toward obsolescence,” said Danielle Vitale, chief operating officer of Barneys New York.

That the cash register is getting the boot is no surprise. The writing has been on the wall for a long time for the iconic machine, which was created in the late 1800s. The register was essential in nearly every retail location by 1915, but it now seems outdated in a world in which smartphones and tablets increasingly are replacing everything from books to ATMs to cameras.

Stores like smartphones and tablets because they take up less floor space than registers and free up cashiers to help customers instead of being tethered to one spot. They also are cheaper: For instance, Apple’s iPads with accessories like credit card readers can cost a store $1,500, compared with $4,000 for a register. And Americans increasingly want the same speedy service in physical stores that they get from shopping online.

“Consumers want the retailer to bring the register to them,” said Lori Schafer, executive adviser at SAS Institute Inc, which creates software for major retailers.

J.C. Penney, a mid-price department-store chain, said the response by customers has been great since it started rolling out iPod Touch devices late last year in its 1,100 stores. The goal is to have one in the hands of every salesperson by May. The company said that about a quarter of purchases at its stores nationwide now come from an iPod Touch.

On a recent Thursday afternoon at a Penney store in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Debbie Guastella, 55, marveled after a saleswoman rang up three shirts she was buying on an iPod Touch.

“I think it’s great,” said Guastella, who lives in Huntington, New York. “The faster the better.”

It’s been a long fall for the cash register, which innovated retail as we know it. The first register was invented following the Civil War by a little known saloon owner. Before then, most store owners were in the dark about whether or not they were making a profit, and many suffered since it was easy for sales clerks to steal from the cash drawer unnoticed. But by 1915, cash registers were ubiquitous in stores across the country, with more than 1.5 million sold by then.

More recently, stores have been looking for ways to modernize checkout. Since 2003, self-checkout areas that enable customers to scan and bag their own merchandise have become commonplace in grocery and other stores. But recently, there’s been a push to go further.

As a result, companies that make traditional cash registers are racing to come up with new solutions. NCR Corp, formerly known as the National Cash Register Co, was the first to manufacturer the cash register on a large scale.

Last year, the company that also makes ATMS, self-service checkout machines and airport check-in kiosks, launched a program that merges its software with the iPad. This allows store clerks to detach the iPad from the keyboard at the counter and use it as a mobile checkout device

“Retailers have more flexibility and more opportunities to change the shopping experience,” said Mark Self, NCR’s vice president of retail solutions marketing.

Stores themselves also are taking their cues from the success of Apple. The nation’s most profitable retailer moved to mobile checkout in all of its stores in 2007. In 2011, Apple began allowing shoppers to check out their purchases using their iPhones.

Take upscale handbag maker Coach, which is using iPod Touch devices at half of its 189 factory outlet stores. The company also is testing them in a handful of its 350 regular stores.

The move has enabled Coach to start slimming down its registers to the size of small podiums, freeing up space on walls to build shelves to showcase more product, said Francine Della Badia, Coach’s executive vice president of merchandising.

Della Badia, who says the additional space will be used for new shoe salons and other purposes, said most importantly, the mobile devices allow store staff to build “a more intimate connection with the customer.”

Some retailers have decided to go completely mobile. Urban Outfitters, which operates more than 400 stores under its namesake brand, Anthropologie and Free People, announced in late September that all sales eventually will be rung up on iPods and iPads on swivels located at counters. The company didn’t give a timeframe for when it would go completely mobile.

Urban Outfitters had given iPod Touch devices to its sales staff two years ago and the move has been very well received by shoppers, said Calvin Hollinger, the company’s chief information officer in his address to investors.

Nordstrom, an upscale department-store chain that’s considered within the retail industry to be the gold standard in customer service, also plans to get rid of registers altogether.

The company handed out iPod Touch devices to its staff at its 117 department stores nationwide in 2011. And by late last year, it did the same for its 110 Nordstrom Rack stores that sell lower-priced merchandise. Nordstrom, which already has removed some of the registers at its Rack stores, said it aims to phase out registers by next year.

Colin Johnson, a Nordstrom spokeswoman, said it’s too early to draw any conclusions on how mobile checkout has influenced buying, but the company is learning about which technologies work best.

“We see the future as essentially mobile,” Johnson said. “We don’t see departments in our store as being defined by a big clunky cash register.”

Not every retailer is quick to ditch registers, though. After all, there are still logistics to figure out. For instance, most retailers don’t accept cash payments on mobile devices. But if they start to do so, where will they put the cash that would normally go into a register?

Additionally, sales staff walking around stores armed with mobile devices could turn off shoppers who would prefer to be left alone in aisles. Richard Robins, a 67-year-old semi-retired investment fund manager from Redonda Beach, California, says he would like the convenience of mobile checkout but wouldn’t want to be pressured from a sales clerk while he’s in the aisle.

“I don’t want to be hustled,” he said.

To guard against making customers uncomfortable, some retailers including Penney are training their salespeople on when to approach shoppers — and when not to. For its part, Wal-Mart is putting checkout in the hands of the shoppers themselves.

The retailer is testing its “Scan & Go” app, which can be used on Apple devices such as iPads, in more than 200 of its more than 4,000 stores nationwide.

The app, which is aimed at reducing long checkout lines, requires that shoppers pay at self-checkout areas. So as it tests the app, Wal-Mart also is expanding the number of self-checkout areas in its stores.

“Our goal is to give choices to all of our customers however they want to shop,” said Gibu Thomas, senior vice president of mobile and digital initiatives at Wal-Mart’s global e-commerce division.”

Japan Today

What Are North Korea’s Intentions?

The U.S. denounced North Korea for its “long history of bellicose rhetoric” after the totalitarian state said a state of war exists with neighboring South Korea, and threatened to close a joint industrial zone.

“We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an e-mailed statement on March 30. “But we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats” and the latest statement “follows that familiar pattern.”

North Korea threatened March 30 to shut a jointly run industrial zone in its border city of Gaeseong in response to flights over the south by U.S. stealth bombers. Tensions have risen since North Korea detonated a nuclear device in February, defying global sanctions.

“It seems there are no more cards left for North to pressure South now, and Gaeseong seems to be the last resort,” Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said by phone yesterday. “Chances of them closing it are very slim, almost impossible.”

About 200,000 North Koreans, including workers and their families, depend on the Gaeseong industrial zone for income, Yang said.

North Korea, with an economy of about $29 billion according to the latest estimate by the South’s central bank, generates about $100 million profit annually from the joint project, Yang said. The South’s economy, some 38 times larger, makes quadruple that amount, according to Yang.

KCNA via KNS / The Associated Press fileNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, walks with military personnel as he arrives for a military unit on Mu Islet, located in the southernmost part of the southwestern sector of North Korea's border with South Korea.

Warship Sinking

Tensions last rose to this level between the two sides in 2010, following the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors, and North Korea’s shelling eight months later of a South Korean border island, in which four people died.

“Every issue raised between the North and South will be dealt with in a war-time manner,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said March 30, citing what it called a special statement. U.S. stealth bomber flights over South Korea this week are “unacceptable” and North Korea’s statement is a “final warning” to the U.S. and its allies, KCNA said.

The North Korean news agency said in a statement yesterday that “nuclear armed forces represent the nation’s life which can never be abandoned as long as the imperialists and nuclear threats exist on earth.”

HONG JIN-HWAN/AFP/Getty ImagesA giant floating crane lifts the stern of a South Korean warship to place it on a barge on April 15, 2010. The 1,200-tonne patrol combat corvette PCC-772 Cheonan was split in two by a big external explosion on March 26 near a disputed Yellow Sea border, with the loss of 46 lives.

Hot Line Cut

Kim Jong Un’s regime last month cut off a military hot line with South Korea, put artillery forces on high alert and threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes, drawing condemnation from U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

“It’s part of what I call March Madness on the Korean Peninsula,” said Kenneth Quinones, professor of Korean studies at Akita International University in Japan. “Every March when the U.S. and South Korea hold military maneuvers, North Korea goes on full alert and makes similar threats. The only difference is the rhetoric has intensified, and the situation certainly merits concern and close monitoring.”

North Korea may “ban the south side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” an unidentified spokesman for the General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone said March 30 in a statement carried by KCNA.
National Post

Tax on Deposits Means Stealing Your Money-Gerald Celente

The dawn of biological computers is at hand

The dawn of biological computers is at hand. In a major first for synthetic biology, Stanford engineers have used genetic material to create a biological transistor. Called the "transcriptor," the creation is the final, missing component necessary for the creation of a biological computer that could enable researchers to program functions into living cells.

Modern computers rely on three standard functions. One: they must be able to store information. Two: they have to be able to transmit information. Three: they need a basic system of logic – a set of rules that governs how they should function given one or more forms of input. A biological computer would implement all three on a cellular level, using proteins and DNA in place of silicon chips.

The first two functions have been demonstrated with cellular materials before. Several labs have now demonstrated the ability to store digital data in DNA, some of them at jaw-dropping densities; and last year, a team led by Stanford bioengineer Drew Endy developed a system for transmitting genetic information between cells. Now, in a study recounted in the latest issue of Science, Endy's team has developed what it calls a "transcriptor" – the biological equivalent of a digital transistor – and with it a system of logic that can control cellular function.

In your standard computer, transistors govern the flow of electricity by playing red light/green light with electrons along a circuit. Similarly, a transcriptor regulates the flow of a protein called RNA polymerase along a strand of DNA. Transistors and transcriptors are, at their most basic, on/off switches – the gatekeepers of information transmission, storage, amplification, and so forth.

The rules that these gatekeepers follow give rise to the logic systems that dictate what problems a computer can solve. A transcriptor gatekeeper that lives by a code of "AND," for example, might allow RNA polymerase to continue along a strand of DNA when two predetermined conditions are "true" – if, for example, the transcriptor detects the presence of Enzyme-A ANDEnzyme-B inside the cell.

A transcriptor that abides by the code of "OR," on the other hand, would allow RNA polymerase to continue when either or both of the enzymes are present. In computer science, transistors that abide by AND-/NAND-/OR-/XOR-/NOR-/XNOR-rules (which you can read all about here) are called Boolean logic gates. Endy calls his transcriptor equivalents Boolean Integrase Logic gates. Or "BIL" gates, for short. Below, Endy provides an in-depth explanation of Transcriptors and BIL gates.

Here's the takeaway: if you line a bunch of these logic gates up, you form a logic circuit. Get enough logic circuits together, and you have a computer that can handle just about any computation you throw at it – whether it's addition and subtraction on a calculator, or gene expression inside a cell.

Endy plans on starting small. For now, he's working with bacteria, helping other researchers use his BIL gates to engineer E. coli that can be programmed to change color. And in a refreshingly practical take on the potential applications of his team's creation, Endy told NPR's Morning Edition that he doubts these DNA computers will ever outwit your iPhone; but this, he said, is missing the point.

"We're building computers that will operate in a place where your cellphone isn't going to work."


Russia Launches Surprise Military Exercise in Black Sea

Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised his defense minister in the wee hours of Thursday morning last week with an order for surprisemilitary drills to test battle readiness in the Black Sea. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was awakened at 4:00 a.m. local time with sealed orders to activate 7,000 troops, 36 ships, up to 20 fighter jets and helicopters and 50 pieces of artillery.

Aviation, paratroopers and special forces are involved in the exercises, which were launched immediately according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said “We are talking about major exercises, intended as a check,” according to Russian news agencies.

“According to international practice, exercises involving up to 7,000 people do not require us to inform our partners in advance,” Peskov noted. He added that the drills would take place on three military test ranges on Russian territory and are expected to last about a week.

Russia has been heavily involved in protecting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad from international ire at the United Nations Security Council, but as Assad's grip on power has increasingly weakened, and fragmented rebel forces gain control over more territory in the country, Moscow has begun to quietly evacuate its citizens from Damascus and surrounds. Likewise Putin has joined discussions over what may become of Syria's lethal arsenal of chemical weapons of mass destruction, a rising concern in the international community.

The Black Sea is a strategic waterway bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus, and connects to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and two straits known as the Turkish Straits – the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. The Bosphorus Strait, which flows through the middle of Turkey, connects it to the Sea of Marmara. The Strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean Sea region of the Mediterranean, which separate eastern Europe and western Asia. Countries with shoreline along the Black Sea include Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania, in addition to Russia.

Late last year Turkey requested -- and received -- authorization to deploy a number ofbatteries of Patriot missile defense systems along its border with Syria. The batteries, contributed by NATO allies that included the United States, were installed in January 2013.

Israel National News

Australia And China To Enable Direct Currency Convertibility...say goodbye to the Dollar

A month ago we pointed out that as a result of Australia's unprecedented reliance on China as a target export market, accounting for nearly 30% of all Australian exports (with the flipside being just as true, as Australia now is the fifth-biggest source of Chinese imports), the two countries may as well be joined at the hip.

Over the weekend, Australia appears to have come to the same conclusion, with the Australian reporting that the land down under is set to say goodbye to the world's "reserve currency" in its trade dealings with the world's biggest marginal economic power, China, and will enable the direct convertibility of the Australian dollar into Chinese yuan, without US Dollar intermediation, in the process "slashing costs for thousands of business" and also confirming speculation that China is fully intent on, little by little, chipping away at the dollar's reserve currency status until one day it no longer is.

That said, this latest development in global currency relations should come as no surprise to those who have followed our series on China's slow but certain internationalization of its currency over the past two years. To wit: "World's Second (China) And Third Largest (Japan) Economies To Bypass Dollar, Engage In Direct Currency Trade", "China, Russia Drop Dollar In Bilateral Trade", "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System", "India and Japan sign new $15bn currency swap agreement", "Iran, Russia Replace Dollar With Rial, Ruble in Trade, Fars Says", "India Joins Asian Dollar Exclusion Zone, Will Transact With Iran In Rupees", and "The USD Trap Is Closing: Dollar Exclusion Zone Crosses The Pacific As Brazil Signs China Currency Swap."
And while previously the focus was on Chinese currency swap arrangements, the uniqueness of this weekend's news is that it promotes outright convertibility of the Yuan: something China has long said would happen but many were skeptical it ever would. That is no longer the case, and with Australia setting the precedent, expect many more Asian countries (at first) to follow in Australia's footsteps, because while the developed world is far more engaged in diluting its currency as a means to spur "growth", Asian and developing world nations are still engage in real, actual trade, where China is rapidly and aggressively becoming the world's hub.

More from The Australian:

Former ambassador to China Geoff Raby, now a Beijing-based business figure, told The Weekend Australian: "The value of such a deal would be substantial for exporters to China, especially those that import a lot from China like mining companies, as it would remove business constraints including exchange-rate risks and transaction costs."

Businesses, like individuals when travelling, have to pay extra to convert currency since there are different rates for buying and selling.

So removing one step also cuts out the cost of paying for such a "spread".

Australia has undertaken significant lobbying for the deal and the direct conversion of the yuan, also referred to as the renminbi (RMB), is identified as a priority in the government's Asian century white paper.

"We have held preliminary discussions with the Chinese government to explore how soon direct convertibility can be practicably achieved," the white paper says.

"We are continuing these discussions, and also exploring other opportunities to work with China to support the internationalisation of the RMB."

Australia's banks increasingly arrange trade finance through Hong Kong, which has developed a special role as China's chief international finance centre.

Needless to say, China is eagerly looking forward to taking yet another bite out of the USD's reserve status.

New President Xi Jinping, a former Communist Party secretary of Shanghai, is a champion of that city's development as China's finance hub, and it is believed that the Prime Minister may fly there to sign the currency conversion deal.

Ms Gillard is expected to go on from Shanghai to Beijing, where she will open the third Australia China Economic and Trade Forum organised primarily by the Australia China Business Council, which will be bringing about 100 people from Australia for the event. Participants are likely to include Andrew Harding, Rio Tinto's new chief executive for iron ore; Warwick Smith, ANZ Bank's chairman for NSW and the ACT; Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten; Gao Hucheng, China's Commerce Minister; and Gao Xiqing, the acting head of China Investment Corporation, the country's vast sovereign wealth fund.

The ANZ Bank has been a strong advocate of direct convertibility between the dollar and the yuan. Gilles Plante, the bank's chief executive in Asia, said in a recent report that in the last financial year, China accounted for 29 per cent of all exports and 18 per cent of imports, but the value of that trade denominated in yuan was less than 0.3 per cent.

He forecast that cross-border flows of funds would be liberalised "to support Shanghai's plan to build itself as a global financial centre. At the time the whole world is digging out opportunities from the rise of the yuan, Australia should not lag behind."

It was significant the liberalising governor of the People's Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, kept his job during the reshuffle of China's leadership. He said last year at a conference: "The next movement related to the yuan is going to be reform of convertibility. We are moving in this direction; we need to go further, we will have some deregulation."

Most importantly, to China, Australia will serve as the Guniea Pig - should this experiment in FX liberalization work out to China's satisfaction, expect Beijing to engage many more trade partners in direct currency conversion.

Beijing appears to have chosen Canberra as its partner in this next movement for straightforward economic reasons, as Australia has become China's fifth-biggest source of imports and thus, the appropriate partner for the march of its currency.

Ms Gillard and President Xi Jinping may also during the visit establish a "strategic partnership" between the countries. This will enable Australia to catch up in status with a large range of nations.

Why is this so very critical? For the simple reason that the free lunch the US has enjoyed ever since the advent of the US dollar as world reserve currency, may be coming to an end as other, more aggressive alternatives - both fiat, and hard-asset based - to the USD appear. And since there is no such thing as a free lunch, all the deferred pain the US Treasury Department has been able to offset thanks to its global currency monopoly status will come crashing down the second the world starts getting doubts about the true nature of just who the real reserve currency will be in the future.

Zero Hedge


For the first time, there are more Jews living in Israel than in America, making the Jewish state the home of the largest Jewish population in the world. There are 6 million Jews in Israel and 5.5 million in America, 2 million of whom live in New York. Roughly 500,000 Jews live in France and almost 300,000 live in the United Kingdom.

Among the 8 million residents of Israel, there are 1.6 million Arabs and 350,000 non-Arab Christians or other groups.

The number six million has obvious significance to Jews the world over, since six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. But for the first time in thousands of years, it can legitimately be claimed that a plurality of Jews live in Israel -- and if demographic trends continue, Jews in Israel will soon constitute a majority of Jews on the planet.


South Korea pledges strong response against North

South Korea has promised a "strong response" to North Korean aggression, amid high tensions on the peninsula.

Speaking to defence officials on Monday, President Park Geun-hye said that she took the series of threats from Pyongyang "very seriously".

North Korea said on Saturday that it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea.

On Sunday, the US sent stealth fighters to South Korea, as North Korea pledged to build up its nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, North Korea has announced it has appointed a new premier, Pak Pong-ju. He was sacked from the same post in 2007.Military drills

In her comments, Ms Park said: "If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations,"

In recent days North Korea has issued multiple warnings of attacks on US and South Korean targets - to which the US has responded with an apparent show of military hardware.

The communist state has been angered both by UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in February and the joint US-South Korea annual military drills.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is expected to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry this week in Washington to discuss North Korea, Yonhap news agency reports.

The US flew F-22 planes from Japan to South Korea's Osan Air base on Sunday, as part of ongoing joint military exercises with South Korea, officials said.

"[North Korea] will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," the US military command in South Korea said in a statement reported by Reuters news agency.

In March, the US deployed both B-2 and B-52 planes, which have nuclear capabilities, over South Korea. It said this demonstrated its "capability... to provide extended deterrence to [its] allies in the Asia-Pacific region".

It is not the first time F-22s have been used drills with South Korea, but the move came as North Korea's Central Committee held a rare high-level meeting on Sunday.

The committee described nuclear weapons as "the nation's life" and vowed to further develop its nuclear programme, state-run news agency KCNA said.

"Only when the nuclear shield for self-defence is held fast, will it be possible to shatter the US imperialists' ambition for annexing the Korean Peninsula by force," the report added.

North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly - the rubber-stamp parliament - convened on Monday for a day-long annual session.

While the group normally focuses on making economic decisions, this meeting will be keenly watched given the current high tension.

Few think the North - which last week cut a military hotline which was the last official direct link with Seoul - would risk full-blown conflict.

But in recent years there have been deadly incidents such as the sinking of a South Korea warship (in which Pyongyang denies any role) and the shelling of a South Korean island.

However the jointly-run Kaesong industrial park, which is located within North Korea's borders, remains in operation.

Workers from South Korea were crossing into the park - which is a key money-maker for North Korea - as normal on Monday, reports said.

The complex is seen as a barometer of North-South tensions, observers say, and a move to close it would be seen as an escalation of current tensions.

On Monday, KCNA reported that Mr Pak had been elected to the role of premier of the North Korean cabinet.

He was dismissed in 2007, reportedly after proposing the country adopt a US-style wages system.

The premiership holds little actual power, but analysts say his appointment indicates that he will again be taking a central role in economic decision-making.