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American Pride to Pacific Northwest

Most river cruisers travel in Europe and Asia, but American Cruise Lines — the largest operator of small ships in the U.S. — is sending a second ship to the Pacific Northwest.

American Pride will be joining Queen of the West to sail the Columbia and Snake rivers next year.

The repositioning of American Pride is the latest in growth and expansion of this cruise company. The 150-passenger ship, built only three years ago, has been the leading cruise ship on the Mississippi River. To meet the high demand for cruising on the Columbia and Snake rivers, this authentic paddle wheeler was re-named and will offer 7-to-10-day cruises, beginning April 2.

The American Pride will be replaced on the Mississippi next year by the larger America, currently being completed at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland.

American’s reputation — according to the cruise line —rests on its service and attention to guests. Chefs source local ingredients, and programs are led by experts in the fields of history, nature and culture, sharing their knowledge and passion for the region’s best-kept treasures.

The American Pride will boast the largest staterooms on the Columbia and the Snake. All suites offer expansive views (from anywhere within the stateroom) of the Columbia River Gorge’s lush landscapes, volcanic Mount St. Helens and brilliance of Multnomah Falls, on the route pioneered by Lewis and Clark over 200 years ago. There’s an abundant selection of all-inclusive onboard features: finely styled mahogany clad lounges, complimentary cocktail hours and locally celebrated musicians.

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The CEO of one of South Africa’s largest mobile networks thinks Whatsapp is a freeloader

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No one likes a freeloader. Ask Mteto Nyati, CEO of MTN South Africa—the second biggest mobile network in the country. Speaking to South Africa’s Fin24 on Oct. 13, Nyati said that over the top (OTT) operators like the popular messaging service, Whatsapp, are making gains without any investment.

“You have to regulate them because clearly they’re making a huge amount of revenue on top of the infrastructure that the operators have paid for. Somehow they have to contribute towards the building of this infrastructure,” Nyati said.

Over the top (OTT) operators like Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype and WeChat offer their services—including voice calling, messaging and video calling—over a data connection, without having to use traditional mobile networks. OTTs are increasingly frustrating mobile service providers, who battle declining revenues in their SMS and voice segments.

MTN has set aside R10 billion ($76 million) this year to invest in improving its 3G and LTE coverage—outspending its rival, Vodacom, on capital expenditure, according to a Hilton Tarrant, a South African telecoms commentator. This is to support its growing data service business—nearly 30% of MTN’s revenues are generated from data—while revenues from prepaid and postpaid messaging has been declining over the past two years.

With a 31% market share among South Africa’s social networks, Whatsapp is giving South African mobile operators a run for their money. In South Africa, the average cost of an sending a sms is R0.80, while messaging via the app can cost as little as R0.03.

Whatsapp voice calling, introduced this year in South Africa, has also proven popular with the average cost of a call via the app ranging from R0.02 to R0.92 per minute.

While they may be eating into the messaging and voice revenues of mobile networks, OTTs like Whatsapp aren’t completely bad for business. They can help fuel data consumption—a growing revenue stream for network operators if exploited well.

South Africa’s third largest network, with 19.6 million subscribers by the end of 2014, saw an opportunity a year ago by zero-rating Whatsapp on its network for close to a year. Though the promotion came to an end on Sept. 1—with the network opting to charge its customers R5.00 for a Whatsapp bundle. Cell C’s CEO, Jose Dos Santos, says zero-rating Whatsapp has worked well.

“Cell C has seen such great success in our venture to embrace over-the-top players like Whatsapp, and we are pleased to now bring an incredible value proposition to our customers,” said Dos Santos to iTWebAfrica.

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China and Africa’s most unscrupulous middleman has been detained

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A secretive Hong Kong tycoon that has been at the forefront of China’s push into Africa’s resource markets has been detained in Beijing, according to the Chinese business news magazine Caixin.

Sam Pa is the mysterious founder of a complex corporate network known as “the 88 Queensway Group” or “the Queensway syndicate,” after the office address of its main companies in Hong Kong. Pa, a stocky, bespectacled man who uses at least seven aliases—most of his business associates refer to him as just “Mr. Sam”—is believed to have forged ties with African elites while working in Chinese intelligence.

Analysts say that the Queensway companies, connected to China’s ministry of foreign affairs, operate in politically isolated, resource-rich African countries (pdf) like Angola and Zimbabwe where business and government dealings are more opaque. Pa has been accused of bribing African officials, smuggling diamonds, and trafficking illegal arms. He was sanctioned last year by the United States for allegedly supporting Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.

Pa’s detention may be linked to the investigation of the governor of Fujian province, Su Shulin, according to Caixin. Su is the former chairman of the state-owned oil company Sinopec. He has been detained for “serious violations of discipline” as part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption crackdown. Su was the head of Sinopec when it partnered with a Queensway company to develop its oil business in Angola.

It’s not clear how closely Pa is still linked to Queensway or how its operations in Africa will be affected if he is felled by the Chinese communist party. (The company says that he is now only an adviser.) JR Mailey, an analyst who has been tracking the company for over seven years, told the Financial Times (paywall) that the sprawling corporate empire remains “dependent upon Sam Pa and his connections in Beijing and other capitals.”

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Russia Without BS (Beware of Bad Samaritans)

In the war against Ukraine there is one weapon more frightening than anything in the entire Russian arsenal. Sneakier than “hybrid warfare,” it is a weapon which is designed to be wielded by the Ukrainian people against themselves, and it helps the Putin regime both maintain influence in Ukraine while sustaining itself at home. That weapon is neo-liberal economic theory, and as Sean Guillory points out in this superb article, Ukrainians ought to think twice about heeding the advice of neo-liberal bad Samaritans, in this case Arthur Laffer.

There is an idea among some Ukrainians and Ukraine supporters that Russia is the biggest threat to Ukraine and the be-all, end-all when it comes to survival or defeat of Ukraine as a country. This is woefully incorrect. For one thing, Russia has managed to keep its thumb on Ukraine for so long largely due to the poverty and other effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union. When Russia’s economy soared in the mid-2000’s, plenty of Ukrainian citizens, mainly from the east, could look to Russia and see higher salaries and pensions, so that as one refugee from Donetsk told me, some locals thought annexation by Russia would bring “paradise.” It matters not whether they were wrong because the Russian system wasn’t sustainable, or if those economic benefits came at the cost of losing political freedoms. Poor people with few prospects are likely to embrace any system or regime that appears to be able to reliably put food on the table, and in the case of Russia, put iPhones in pockets.

Hanging out in Kyiv, and particularly in the center, it was always easy to miss the economic reality that faces Ukraine, especially now. It’s obvious when you go out to some place like Donetsk oblast, but in the capital it’s far more subtle. One clue is the increased presence of homeless people and people asking for money in and around Maidan Nezalezhnosti. In my most recent trip this was impossible to ignore. But there were other signs as well.

I don’t mean to sound like Thomas Friedman here, but on my last trip I had a long discussion about the local economy with a cab driver who drove me into the city from the Boryspil airport. The story is the same- lack of work, low wages, etc. I met another expat who explained to me how his friends in Odessa were now living on or below the poverty line. Now I don’t mean to level any accusations against any specific people, but this kind of poverty and desperation is vital for Russia to maintain control over Ukraine by other means. Just as how the Russian government can easily stifle dissent by paying people to support the government in public or harass dissidents, desperate people in Ukraine are a pool of cheap, willing agents for sabotaging progress. If one thinks that some sense of patriotism will keep these people from carrying out the work of the Kremlin, think again. For one, the Kremlin’s motives are not always obvious, nor do they always seem logical from the outside. The origins of the money used to pay these “agents” may be murky, if not totally obscure. Putin’s designs might be carried out by men claiming to be Ukrainian patriots. In fact, bet on it. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, after all.

Getting back to the economy, this is yet another reason why people should be more up in arms about the decommunization law. Proponents of this law essentially preach a sort of voodoo politics, whereby removing symbols and in some cases rewriting history will suddenly make all Ukrainians into patriotic citizens. Patriotic citizens, who, for example, will be less likely to resist in the face of coming austerity. You see, if trade unions and workers band together to protest austerity for them while the rich continue to live in luxury, the oligarch-controlled media can just tar them as Communists or Communist-like. They’ll be accused of wanting a return to the Soviet Union and Moscow rule. A good Ukrainian patriot endures the inequality and poverty, and in return gets flags, slogans, and fairy tales about “national ideas.” Same as the Russian patriot, incidentally.

Does that sound far-fetched? Well it’s already happened in America of all places. Nearly a quarter of a century after the fall of the USSR, America’s Republicans and conservatives have been screaming about Communism, socialism, and Marxism more loudly than ever, lobbing this accusation against a neutered Democratic party which long ago went full-on neo-liberal. Even during the Cold War they were less shrill than they have been since the election of Barack Obama. Take a look at this GOP poster from 1956, for example. That’s a Republican pro-labor union poster. These days the GOP portrays unions as at best, shiftless and lazy, and at worst, “thugs.” If, in America, the idea of requiring private citizens to buy health insurance from private providers can be repeatedly labeled “socialist” or “Communist,” it stands to reason that any significant push back against austerity in Ukraine will inevitably be similarly tarred with the same labels. I guarantee it.

To the people of Ukraine I will make this as blunt as possible. Not everyone in Ukraine is “Ukrainian”, which is to say you are not on the same side. It is not only the top oligarchs you have to suspect either. This has nothing to do with their nationality, their religion, what language they speak, or their sexual orientation, but rather their relation to the means of production and their ownership of capital. These people’s interests are irreconcilable to those of the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens, and they are veryreconcilable to those interests of their business counterparts in Russia. Some of them are having a spat at the moment, and their are some minor differences concerning Russia’s neo-feudal incarnation of capitalism, but capitalists are capitalists.

As these people continue to squeeze you more and more, they will crow more and more loudly about the horrors of “Communism,” and shed mighty rivers of tears for people who died decades ago. They will do this because mourning the dead costs them nothing, whereas actually caring about the Ukrainian people today, and those yet unborn, does cost them. Make no mistake- Ukraine is not a poor country. It possesses the land and resources to provide for the basic needs of every citizen and ensure a positive birth rate as well. Russia is even more endowed with such resources. But what Ukraine cannot do is provide that lifestyle for its citizens while simultaneously providing a life of opulent luxury for a small minority who are unwilling to earn by their own labor, and who use the political system and its monopoly on violence to maintain a system that denies people the means to obtain the necessities of life save for at the mercy of a capitalist.

Those in Ukraine who exploit their fellow Ukrainians have an incentive to keep people’s minds focused on the past and not present, and the effects of this distraction are extremely useful to the Kremlin as well. More equality means a stronger, more inclusive community, and that means a much smaller pool of potential agents for the Kremlin. By contrast, post-Maidan Ukraine’s circus of populism, far-right politics, and patriotic circle-jerks give Putin’s political technologists and intelligence operatives little reason to worry about losing influence in Ukraine.

Finally, it is high time to chuck the politics of opposites, whereby people in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries enthusiastically embrace anything that appears to be the opposite of what they think their enemies represent. Bad Samaritans like Arthur Laffer may seem like the polar opposite of the Kremlin, which presides over a much more restricted capitalist system. Do not be fooled, however. The Kremlin system is capitalist through and through, and what is more it is a system that thrived off of the 90’s and 2000’s amoral neo-liberal, let-the-market-decide mentality. The crisis of 2008 showed much of the West that the capitalist system is inherently flawed and cannot be fixed. Today, there are even progressive capitalists who envision an alternative system, that some are referring to as post-capitalism. There are many flaws in their vision, but they are onto something. With the rest of the modern world waking up to this reality, there is no good reason for Ukraine to listen to outdated dinosaurs like Arthur Laffer and the rest of the neo-liberal cultists.

Alright, I’m stepping down from my soapbox. As a related note though, I think Ukraine can take inspiration from another country that emerged in the 20th century after centuries of domination. I leave you with a key passage from Ireland’s Democratic Programme of the First Dail and a simple question:

“…we declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.”

So, people of Ukraine, to whom do your nation’s soil, resources, and wealth producing processes belong to?

*The title of this post is inspired by one of the books of South Korean economist Ha Joon Chang, which can be found here.

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Code42 Snares Huge $85M Series B Investment

Code42, the Minneapolis-based developers of the Crashplan enterprise backup tool, announced a massive $85 million round today. Code42 doesn’t do them small. It has had onlyone previous round for $52.5 million at the beginning of 2012.

The company could have gotten more if it wanted it, according to CEO Joe Payne. “This was the amount of money we needed for the next stage of our growth,” he said. They were reluctant to take more and risk diluting existing shares.

Code42 went with two big rounds separated by several years, but this could be it says Payne. “This is the last private round we need to do. It gives us years of runway and capital to invest in our business,” he said.

The round was led by JMI Equity and New Enterprise Associates, Inc. (NEA). Existing investors Accel and Split Rock Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total to $137.5 million over the two rounds.

Crashplan began life as a tool for backing up your laptop, pivoted to the enterprise and has been growing fast — 100 percent year over year, according to Payne. One of the advantages of Crashplan is that it’s easy to use, and rarely requires IT intervention after it’s in place. Files are backed up automatically and Payne claims end users can restore files themselves in most cases.

The tool is platform agnostic, so it backs up even Macs and Linux machines and it backs up to the cloud, so users can recover their files from anywhere, even on a new machine. It’s important to note that backup is different from storage. You store stuff on your hard drive. You back stuff up in case something goes wrong and you need to get your files back — and Crashplan is designed to backup from laptops and mobile devices, as opposed to backing up the entire datacenter.

While cloud storage can act as a backup in some cases, that’s not necessarily its primary purpose. That means in practice that Crashplan isn’t competing with Dropbox and Google Drive so much as DruvaDatto Backupify (which is designed for cloud to cloud backup) and EMC, HP and the traditional enterprise vendors.

The company typically sees either Druva or the traditional vendors in deals, according to Payne. Customers include Intuit, Adobe, Stanford University, Lockheed Martin and Mayo Clinic.

One of the ways Code42 plans to use the money is to expand its understanding of the data that comes through the system. Like many SaaS vendors, the company collects a tremendous amount of data just by the nature of its business.

It could potentially start to root out information such as when a file carrying a virus entered the system and who opened that file or show that an exiting employee who just gave you a clean laptop, actually transferred 500 files to a private Dropbox account earlier in the week.

This kind of information moves Code42 from a pure backup and restore service into something much more valuable. Being able to access and report on the data about the backup could transform the company in significant ways.

It’s not there yet, but the plan is to move in that direction, Payne says. That could result in an entirely new set of services for IT and security admins over and above what it offers today.

After braving death to reach Europe, this is the final test refugees must pass to win asylum

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Europe is in the middle of its biggest refugee crisis since World War II. As hundreds of thousands of migrants come to seek a better life, European governments have to determine who to let in and who to keep out.

In order to be granted asylum as refugees, they have to convince border agencies they are fleeing serious danger or persecution. There is also agrowing suspicion that the few documents refugees do provide are forged—and most don’t have any papers anyway. European countrieshave “safe” lists of countries (pdf) that they won’t accept refugees from,such as the Balkan states and many migrants trying to get in from those places are disguising themselves as Syrian in hopes of getting asylum.

To determine which asylum seekers are telling the truth about their country of origin, governments use what is called “language analysis.” The test is pretty simple: Do they speak like where they say they are from?

Some European countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium use in-house government departments. But Sweden, the UK, Denmark, and other countries around the world use private companies to carry out this delicate work.

 One Swedish company, Verified, has conducted over 24,000 analyses and insiststheir services provide robust “expert testimony” on an “individual’s linguistic background.” These experts include analysts who are native speakers of the language being analyzed and supervising linguists.

“The way we speak is shaped by our past experiences,” Roderick Martin, CEO of Verified, tells Quartz. “In cases where no documents to support the identity are produced, attributing a dialect to the claimant can greatly help assessing the veracity of the residential history given.”

sample Verified report (pdf) shows how it works. An asylum seeker claims to be from Syria, in the Aleppo province. A native speaker and a linguist are brought in to test for this claim. The native speaker interviews the asylum seeker for around 20 minutes, asking a number of questions, while using their “over-all intuition” to identify particular dialectical traits.

The analyst then compiles a report that looks at different aspects of the language: phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicology. The report will then arrive at a conclusion, in this case “the language analysis shows with certainty that the results obtained are clearly consistent with the linguistic community as stated in the hypothesis.”

Controversies abound

It sounds good in theory. But Verified’s rival, Sprakab, also from Sweden, has been embroiled in a range of controversies.

Last year, one of its key language analysts was accused of being a convicted drug smuggler that lied about his qualifications. Sprakab was also criticized by the UK Supreme Court for providing “wholly inappropriate” advice to the British Home Office, which may have contributed to the wrongful deportations of hundreds of asylum seekers. A Swedish immigration tribunal had also cast doubt on the work by a Sprakab analyst.

Sprakab denies the allegations, insisting the analyst in question’s work is “flawless.” In a statement sent to Quartz, it argues “a drug conviction 21 years in the past, which was erased 17 years back, has no implications of the work ea20 [the analyst] does at Sprakab.” As for claims on quality control, Sprakab says that several professors have failed its tests to become an analyst.

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Child refugees are subjected to genital tests to prove their age—and they may not even work

A young boy—let’s call him H—arrived in the UK in 2011. He had hoped his life would finally start to get better after fleeing Afghanistan. He was wrong.

Based on his physical appearance and demeanor, the UK decided H was “significantly” over the age of 18. Two social workers claimed H was “deliberately making himself look younger in his behavior” and was, in fact, in his early 20s. H was forced to live in adult housing and his mental health deteriorated. He was threatened with deportation.

Like so many people under the age of 18 seeking asylum, H was unable to produce documentary evidence of his age. Many simply don’t have time to grab these documents while fleeing, and others come from countries where births are not registered.  The sheer number of children traveling alone makes Europe’s current refugee crisis quite different to previous ones. In a recent report, the OECD described the 24,000 unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in Europe last year as “a particularly striking and worrying characteristic of the current refugee crisis.”

[pullquote]Some minors considerd intimate genital examination as abuse.[/pullquote]

Child asylum seekers pose a particular problem for European governments. There are advantages to being a minor in the asylum system as they’re entitled to housing, health, and educational support—and minors are much more likely to be given asylum. Butthat’s not the case for adults. Authorities therefore have an interest to ensure children are processed as children, and get the support they need, while adults are treated as such.

How do they do it? With no paper trail, several European governments undertake an age assessment to try and determine whether an asylum seeker is under 18.

These age assessments can vary widely across Europe, with some countries determining age just based on an applicant’s appearance or a series of interviews to see if they behave like a child. This is how it works in the UK, where age is disputed in 22% of young people’s asylum claims.

In the case of H, it wasn’t until a children’s legal center stepped in and ordered another assessment that H was finally declared to be 16—the age he claimed to be. H is just one case study (pdf) among many in the UK, where children as young as 14 (pdf) have been placed in adult detention centers.

The alternative is a medical age assessment.

Examining the sexual organs of children

This is common in many European countries, including Germany and Sweden, which have seen some of the highest numbers of asylum claims—with unaccompanied minors filing a large amount of these applications.

[pullquote]“We had problems because no doctors really wanted to do this.”[/pullquote]

It’s not always pleasant. Many unaccompanied minors undertake a dangerous journey when trying to reach Europe—often, they have to fit into small, uncomfortable spaces. Some become quite claustrophobic as a result. “These scans require people to go into a hole, which can be particularly traumatizing for asylum seekers,” says Juana Remus, a professor of law at Humboldt University in Berlin. “We had one case in Berlin where a minor threatened to kill himself if he was forced to undergo a MRI scan.”

In the majority of cases in Germany, an asylum seeker’s age is based on physical appearance and an interview. Then, if there’s any doubt, medical tests are also carried out. The consequence of refusing the age assessment in some cities, including Berlin and Hamburg, is that the asylum seeker will be treated as an adult.

A sample age assessment report from Saarbrücken, the capital of the German state of Saarland, shows how complex the process can be:

An asylum seeker’s sexual organs, pubic hair, body hair, facial hair, body type, their voice, and developmental disorders were all thoroughly examined. In the report, the youth officers note that the stage of development of the outer genitals was around that of someone aged 14.9 years, whereas the pubic hair was about an average of 15.2 years. The youth officers also examined the applicant’s penis, looking at the pigmentation, as well as his glans and testicles.

The report then goes on to detail a bone and dental age assessment, which included wrists and dental X-rays.

Some of the techniques used to determine age, such as radiographic imaging and physical examination to establish sexual maturity, are particularly distressing to minors who have already undergone a number of traumatizing experiences. According to a study published in the British Medical Bulletin in 2012, some minors considered intimate genital examination as abuse. This was particularly true for asylum seekers who have experienced sexual violence or female genital mutilation.

The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child released a damning report in 2014, where Germany’s age assessment process was criticized for involving “degrading and humiliating practices,” which didn’t necessarily produce accurate results.

A spokesman for the city of Hamburg said that the medical age assessment is voluntary and only conducted if there are doubts about age—but if a migrant doesn’t do it, then he is considered an adult. “Looking at genitals is a common procedure when visiting a doctor,” he added. Quartz also has reached out to the cities of Berlin and Saarbrücken and will update this post with any response.

In 2012, the British Home Office announced it would trial dental X-rays on child asylum seekers, but there was a significant backlash from many NGOs, medical bodies, and statutory agencies, who were concerned with the accuracy, legality, and ethical justification. The Home Office—which didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment from Quartz—later quietly dropped the plans.

Do the tests even work?

The medical tests themselves are a source of dispute, in any case. After deciding to conduct dental and wrist X-rays and pediatric examinations, for example, the Swedish Migration Board ran into a problem. “No doctors really wanted to do this,” Carl Bexelius, a spokesperson for the Board, tells Quartz. “They felt it was an ethical issue.”

Gunilla Klingberg, professor of pediatric dentistry at Malmö University in Sweden, tells Quartz that the reason she and her colleagues wouldn’t carry out the tests was simple. “Nobody wanted to do it because we as doctors take an oath that we should not harm our patients,” she explains.

Dental X-rays are used because, as with other skeletal changes, teeth develop throughout childhood growth. All of the teeth—except the third molars, or wisdom teeth—are fully formed by the age of 14-18 years. It’s the wisdom teeth that dentists examine when estimating age.

Klingberg says that while dental X-rays can estimate the age of children from three to 13 as they have more teeth developing, the room for mistakes increases significantly for young adults.

The margin of error for dental X-rays is estimated to be someone’s age is between 2-3 years, while for wrist X-rays the margin is between 3-4 years, she says. This margin of error can be particularly problematic for asylum seekers claiming to be 15 or 16. “You would never judge the age of someone by measuring their height, so why ignore the same biological variations that exist for teeth?” Klingberg says.

The medical age assessments also fails to take into account the particular variations due to ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, a young Somali asylum seeker may have significant developmental differences to their British, Swedish, or German counterparts, of which they’re being compared to.

Anna Bärtås, the vice-president of the Swedish Pediatric Society, tells Quartz that it asks all its members not to carry out age assessments for the time being. There’s a particular worry that the Swedish Migration Board would put too much emphasis on the X-ray results, as they demanded radiological results that clearly stated the skeletal age, while not making enough of an effort to ensure the process is more holistic.

“Since age highly influences the outcome of the asylum process, we think that it’s ethically and humanitarianly wrong to base the assessment on insufficient facts,” Bärtås says.

The standoff between the Board and Swedish doctors means the Board is now forced to tell asylum seekers to arrange their own age assessments and then hand in the results. “The Swedish Migration Board cannot advise them where to go because we’ve not been able to close any agreements with medical performers,” Bexelius says. This only harms the asylum seekers, he adds.

He says the Board is less concerned about the exact biological age, and more interested in deciphering if an applicant is 18 or under. If an applicant is unable to provide an age assessment, the Board has to decide on their whole case with the fact that the asylum seeker has not been able to meet the standard of proof to show their under 18.

When science is brought into legal proceedings like the age of an asylum seeker, it’s often seen as the arbiter of the truth—but there are limitations to how far medical assessments.

Gregor Noll, a professor of international law at Lund University, believes the asylum system is for erecting a boundary between a group of insiders and outsiders—a system that is enforced by violence. “We’re sending police in, we’re putting people on planes even if they resist their deportation,” Noll says. “So don’t expect it to transform itself to something objective and scientifically clean.”

Bank Guarantee & SBLC For the client’s Loan

This is a “collateral-first” procedure that is very rare to come by.

This Offer  will consider any type of project and fund it if the client can meet the criteria set forth. There are no restrictions as to size.

The minimum loan amount is US$150 Million (the larger the better).

The “Funding/Lending Source” can be any type of lender, i.e. Hedge Fund, Finance Company, Insurance Company, or other such entity. If the Lending Source is not a nationally or internationally recognized organization, it will have to be approved and must prove its ability to fund. The “bank” or “the funding/lending source’s bank” must be a bona fide bank listed in The Bankers’ Almanac.

It has been our experience that if the subsequent procedures are followed exactly in the following order, the transaction will probably be completed with a minimum of problems or frustrations.

If the client or the banker attempts to change this proven sequence, the entire transaction will become more complicated than necessary and seem confusing, and in all likelihood, will not be successfully completed.

When first approaching the client’s lending bank it is essential that the client addresses a specific sector of the bank. This is generally referred to as; “The Private Banking Sector”, or “The Wealth Management Sector”, the client can also ask for the “International Sector”, which deals with bank instruments. Beware, walking through the front doors of a commercial bank will not get the client to the right sector; usually the sector the client is seeking is in the corporate or divisional office of a bank.

Once the client finds the right sector and is speaking to the right bank officer, the client’s goal is to present himself and the client’s project for proper bank approval and underwriting process. First and foremost, the client’s lending bank is obliged to follow the rules and regulations of The Patriot Act. The Patriot Act requires all USA banks must first know their clients. All USA bank officials must be constantly on the lookout for any banking transactions which appear to be an attempt to get around the currency reporting requirements, for example, Laundry of Funds.


1)  First and foremost, the client must absolutely go to his bank and get himself and the project approved without relying on the collateral. The collateral will be provided only as an extra security and as additional collateral or cushion when the bank requests it. Remember, the bank is financing the project, not the BG or the SBLC, therefore the emphasis must be on the project, not the BG or the SBLC.

2)  Client bank’s evaluates the project, goes through the compliance and credit committee and finally the project is underwritten by the client’s bank.
Client’s bank gives full approval to fund the project, and as additional security requests from the client a BG/SBLC issued by a “AA” rated Western European or North American Bank. This must be provided in writing by the bank to their own client.


  •  99% of the times, the Client tells his bank that he HAS an instrument, whereas, he does not HAVE an instrument, he can obtain support for his project and an instrument to secure funds that the Bank or Private lender has conditionally committed to his project subject to the client being able to obtain the instrument.

Of course, the Banker sometimes assumes as much himself, which is why the verbiage of the “Approval Letter” is critical as it demonstrates that the Banker is clear on that point.

(The instrument is 99% of the time FIRST to either arrive or be on Euroclear etc. but the funds have to be there as a loan, so that the instrument is not hypothecated).

  •  Until this stage, all the KYC and due diligence need to be done by the client’s bank on their own client. This funding commitment must be gotten by the client using his and his project’s own strength AND his own close banking relationship. We can not either get involved or assist the client at this stage.

However, if at this stage the client needs our assistance then a fee will incur as per the level of service requested. The fee will be determined according to the service required from us. The type of service and the related fee amount inquiry may be requested in writing from us.

3)  Once the client’s bank is satisfied and the project is approved for funding- subject to the client providing an extra security in the form of an acceptable collateral- then, and only then, can the transaction move forward. The client must have a letter from his financing bank showing the approval to fund his project and the bank’s willingness to make the loan subject to receiving an additional acceptable security for the L/C, e.g. BG/SBLC/MTN issued by “AA” European or North American bank.

4)  Once the client’s bank has notified the client regarding the approval of the client and the project, the client then sends us the following:

  • The “Approval Letter”
  • Client Information Sheet
  • Passport copy of the principal
  • Corporate resolution
  • 3 to 5 page Executive Summary of the project including a 3-5 year financial overview, cash flow with income and expenses and profit and loss tables, must also include the drawdown schedule.
  • Signed and notarized “Letter Of Understanding” (LOU) (will be provided)
  • FPA for 1% (will be provided)

5)  Eventually, the bank will issue two letters and send them to our designated bank via swift MT799:

  1. One would state that they stand ready to provide a line of credit against BG/SBLC/MTN to be duly issued by at least  “AA” rated bank to be delivered to them via MT760. Furthermore this line of credit would be forwarded to our designated bank (in Europe or North America).
  1. The other would state that the funds would be sent  IMMEDIATELY, via MT103 upon receipt, verification and authentication of the BG/SBLC/MTN.

6)  After the client’s bank has executed the above mentioned 2 Letters, the bankers will contact one another and arrange all of the pertinent details for the delivery of the instrument.

7)  After the collateral has been sent as agreed, and the transfers have been honored, the transaction will have been completed and the client’s bank will be released from any further obligation.
The transfers  will be as follows:

For Transactions up to $499 Million:

94% to collateral provider
The remaining amount is for the Lending bank’s fees and interest.

For Transactions $500 Million and up:
90% to collateral provider
The remaining amount is for the Lending bank’s fees and interest.

How the project gets funded

The Funding Group is to fund the project on the basis of  equity participation, therefore the project will be fully funded and will have no debt burden or any loan repayments to make,  thus the project will be free and clear from any debts from day one. A buy-out (exit clause) may be negotiated and agreed to at the signing of the funding and ownership contracts.

The Funding Group, through their local major handling firms of accounts and attorneys, will remit the funds according to an agreed to schedule with the client until the project is completely funded.

All terms are negotiable.

If you need Loan, project funding, Bank Guarantee, SBLC, DLC or Letters of Credit please contact us immediately.






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Sweden’s liberal image is a mirage that hides a very ugly problem

Sweden is supposedly a liberal utopia: a land of generous welfare, substantial foreign aid donations, and green-fingered sustainability. But Sweden’s noble image is hiding an ugly truth.

Racism is blighting Swedish society, and people of African descent face daily harassment and hate crimes, according to a United Nations report presented to the UN human rights council earlier this week. Yet the country is so convinced by its tolerant reputation that it refuses to acknowledge the problem. The report found:

The Swedish philosophy of equality and its public and self-image as a country with respect for human rights, non-discrimination, and liberal democracy blinds it to the structural racism faced by Afro-Swedes and Africans in its midst.

There has been a 31% rise in reported “Afrophobic” hate crimes from 2010 to 2014, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (pdf). The UN Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent reported “a real fear within the communities, especially for young black men, that they could be violently attacked at any time.” Structural racism means that black people in Sweden have reduced access to health care and education, according to the UN report, while “the police view people of African descent as criminals rather than a vulnerable community that needs protection.”

But Sweden is so convinced by its own reputation that the government has removed the word “race” from the Discrimination Act—because the law assumes that all people belong to the human race. The United Nations was unimpressed:

The Working Group is aware that to delete “race” from the lexical corpus does not eliminate racism based on racial discrimination. Rather it may be a way to ignore, minimize, or obscure the reality of the specifically “racial” racism faced by a part of the Swedish population.

There are roughly 200,000 Africans and people of African descent living in Sweden, who make up 2% of the country’s 9.6 million population. But the UN found that Sweden did not properly address or acknowledge its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.

A xenophobic political party, the Swedish Democrats, won almost 13% of the national vote in 2014 and became the third-largest party. Yet Sweden continues to cling onto its “self-perception of being a tolerant and humane society,” according to the UN report.

Sweden has the world’s best reputation for its social and economic policies, and is understandably proud of its status. But if Sweden’s benevolent reputation is unfounded, it risks becoming a mask for the very intolerance Sweden claims to avoid.

This post was updated with details of the Swedish Democrats’ results in the 2014 general election.

How to cope in volatile markets

Turbulence in asset prices can be unsettling for investors. A diversified portfolio and a focus on the long term are better defences than trying to time the market.

Periods of high volatility can be unnerving. We’re told that long-term returns are the only thing that matters, but it’s difficult to remain calm when our investments’ short-term performance looks bad.

Stock markets worldwide have been more volatile this year, but investors have suffered from particularly painful falls in share prices in recent weeks.

The recent turmoil in global financial markets was triggered by data suggesting weaker economic growth in China, the world’s second largest economy, following a surprise devaluation of its currency earlier this month.

Chinese stock markets suffered some of the biggest declines in share prices, adding to the significant sell-off that began in June. However, fears about the wider implications for the global economy, including companies that sell goods and services in China, led share prices to tumble around the world.

As a result, the FTSE 100 index of British shares dropped to below 6,000 at one point, having surpassed 7,000 earlier in the year, while commodities markets, which are heavily dependent on demand from China, also fell heavily.

Some investors fear a weaker Chinese Yuan could lead to the spread of deflation, or falling prices, across the developed world. Falling asset prices are worrying because it can depress consumer spending and proves painful for debtors. They see the cost of their borrowing rise in real terms.

Following weeks of volatility, the Chinese authorities stepped up support for share prices with a series of measures, including cutting its benchmark one-year lending rate by 25 basis points to 4.6% and the one-year deposit rate by 25 basis points to 1.75%. The moves have led stock markets around the world to rally, recovering some of their losses.

But a broader reason for the turmoil could be worries about an impending increase in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve. Central banks in both the US and the UK are moving to normalise monetary policy, ending a period of record-low interest rates and quantitative easing (QE) that has resulted in unusually calm bond markets and rising share prices. This has pushed up the cost of equities around the world.

Janet Yellen, chair of the Fed, has hinted that US interest rates could rise next month, although this isn’t likely to happen until March next year now following the setbacks on stock markets.

Even so, volatility is likely to continue. So how should investors respond?

Whenever the prospect of a sell-off seems to be particularly severe, there is a temptation to reduce exposure to the market. Once the threat has diminished, we can buy back in, hopefully at lower valuations.

However, it is almost impossible to distinguish between a genuine, imminent crisis and a mere market wobble over an event that proves far less serious than anticipated. As a result, investors who spend too much time waiting for the right moment to invest may miss out on many of the gains.

For example, over the last five years, some investors have kept part or all of their cash on the sidelines. In waiting for the global economy to become a safer place, they have missed out on very significant gains in most asset classes.

The implication is that unless markets are clearly extremely overvalued, your best approach may be to stay invested and try to manage the psychological effects of high volatility. That’s assuming, of course, you are investing for the long term.

If your goal is to retire comfortably in several decades then you have more time in which to regain any losses resulting from short-term volatility. But if you need to access your money sooner, you may wish to rebalance your portfolio. For example, you could move towards asset classes that have historically been less volatile or move into cash.

Focusing on the long term is more easily said than done, but adopting a sensible strategy of diversification should temper the volatility of your portfolio. This means both diversifying within asset classes and among asset classes.

For example, a fully diversified portfolio of stocks will be less volatile than holding just a handful of stocks. No matter how effectively you diversify though, your investments can still fall in value so you may get back less than you invest.

Investors should also consider whether they want to diversify their stock holdings globally, rather than confining themselves to the UK market. In doing so they could benefit from the different performance of international markets.

Note, however, that international diversification can expose investors to another form of volatility: foreign currency risk. This is where the value of investments can fall owing to a decline in the sterling value of foreign currencies.

Contact Us today for all your funding needs, including Loans, International Project Funding, Lease/Rent Bank Guarantees, SBLC, DLC, MTN, Letters of Credit….
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