Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jobs bloodbath at UBS London; How childcare bankrupts Britain; Turkey's dragnet; When part-time life is a way of life; What India yuppies want at the cafe; Bumpy ride to women's rights

1 Jobs bloodbath at UBS London (The Guardian) UBS will axe up to 3,000 jobs in its London offices, in one of the biggest banking bloodbaths since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The move to halve the Swiss bank's workforce in London is part of a global cull of up to 10,000 jobs, as UBS dramatically shrinks its troubled investment bank. The division suffered huge losses in the financial crisis and has since been engulfed in scandal, with the biggest rogue trading loss in British history and traders suspended amid a Libor-rigging probe.

The axe fell quickly with the bank immediately confirming 100 UBS staff in London lost their jobs on Tuesday. But, on a day heavy with rumour and speculation, sources said job losses in the capital were much higher, with at least 100 traders and half the bond sales team asked to leave.

In scenes reminiscent of the dark days of the financial crisis, some turned up at the office to find their passes no longer worked. They were escorted to a side room where they received an impersonal letter that began "Dear Colleague". In it they were told they had been placed on "special leave" and were asked to stay away from the office until further notice.

2 How childcare bankrupts Britain (Yvonne Roberts in The Guardian) Childcare costs have been an issue since the 1990s, with fees rising year after year, but the situation has reached crisis point. The cause is the combination of benefit cuts, wages flatlining and austerity pushing more people into part-time work.

The result is that for the first time, as thinktank the Resolution Foundation reports, even those on low to middle incomes, defined as having two children in childcare and earning between £17,000 and £41,000, are little better off than those on poor incomes, once the nursery or childminder's fees are met. Paid work has become an activity that some parents can no longer afford.

This is at a time, when it is vital that a million more women move into the labour market to restart social mobility, tackle poverty, improve living standards and reduce the benefits bill for taxpayers. "Daycare Trust hears from parents every day who are forced to make difficult decisions about their career and family life as a result of Britain's high childcare costs," says Anand Shukla, chief executive of the childcare charity, Daycare Trust. "If you want welfare reform to ensure that work does pay, you need high-quality provision that is affordable for all parents."

Good news isn't entirely absent from the childcare arena. According to Ofsted, standards are improving, with over three-quarters of providers rated as "good" or "outstanding". In addition, the free entitlement of 15 hours a week for all three- and four-year-olds, extending to two-year-olds in 2013 and beyond, has had a phenomenally high takeup rate (93%), and parents and carers report strong levels of satisfaction. The bad news is that in almost every other respect – capacity, costing, funding, sustainability, information for parents and value for money – childcare in the UK is in an almighty mess.

3 Turkey’s dragnet (Andrew Finkel in The New York Times) A 53-page report entitled “Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis’’ names and tries to shame the Turkish government as the world’s worst offender of restricting and intimidating members of my profession. It documents 76 journalists in jail, far worse than the “runner-up” Iran (42) and nearly three times the figure for China. Some three quarters of these Turkish prisoners have not been convicted, but are being held, some for as long as four years, while awaiting trial.

The government claims that the prisoners in question were not jailed for being journalists but for committing unrelated crimes. The CPJ counters this with documentation for at least 61 of the cases that shows the journalists are in the slammer for accusations “in direct relation to their work.” The evidence being used against these journalists, the CPJ points out, includes their writings or actions that they’ve taken that amount to journalism, like interviewing and collecting information.

4 When part-time life is a way of life (Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times) While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits.

“Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70-80% full-time to at least 70% part-time across the industry,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs. 

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers’ schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand. 

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. The agency found that in the retail and wholesale sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of small stores that rely heavily on full-time workers, about 3 in 10 employees work part-time. 

5 What India’s yuppies want at the cafĂ© (Kavitha Rao in The Guardian) Starbucks has just opened its first store in India, in central Mumbai. Days after the opening, Mumbaikars, mostly the young, were still queuing for up to an hour to grab their Frappuccinos, while madly updating their Facebook statuses.

For many Indian taste buds, including mine, nothing beats strong frothy "filter" coffee from Coorg, India's premier coffee producing area. However, coffee snobs are missing the point entirely. The Indian yuppie does not want to stand on a street corner, however good the coffee. Most streets here are awash with sewage, garbage and gaping manholes, so why would he or she? Sure, there are also plenty of darshinis and dhabas (basic cafes and teahouses) across India, where you can get excellent coffee or chai for a few rupees. But the potential Starbucks customer doesn't want that. That's what their daddy drank.

What he or she wants is a clean, quiet, comfortable, air-conditioned space, to work, meet friends or linger for hours, no questions asked. Such hangouts are scarce in India, and with the urban chaos outside, boy, do we need them. India's women, desperately short of safe public spaces, want to sit by themselves without being leered at, as they might be in dhabas.

India has an estimated 200 million people between 18 and 25. The young, who usually live with extended families in cramped houses, want to chat, date and escape their prying parents. The growing number of entrepreneurs who work from home are looking for venues to network and meet clients. And everyone – absolutely everyone – will be looking for that scarcest of commodities in India: a clean toilet. It's not about the coffee. It's about the coffee house.

6 Bumpy ride to women’s rights (Rupa Subramanya in The Wall Street Journal) Well-intentioned and indeed vital legislative changes do sometimes carry unintended harmful consequences. A recent study by economics professors Siwan Anderson of the University of British Columbia and Garance Genicot of Georgetown University explored the relationship between improved property rights for women in India and the incidence of suicide among both men and women. A 1987 study by sociologist Stephen Stack of Auburn University using US data documented a positive relationship between the labor force participation of women, which is one important measure of economic empowerment, and an increase in the suicide rate of both men and women. Similar results are found in other countries.

Ms. Anderson and Ms. Genicot found that this pattern also exists in India. They found that strengthened property rights for women correlated with a narrowing in the difference between female and male suicide rates (there were more female suicides relative to male suicides), as well as an increase in the absolute numbers of both male and female suicides. Over the period of study, 1967-2004, average suicide rates were 11 per 100,000 for men and 7.3 for women, giving a male to female suicide ratio of about 1.5.

Why do improved property rights for women lead to worse outcomes in terms of suicide for both men and women? Consistent with sociological research, Ms. Anderson and Ms. Genicot suggest that strengthened female property rights increase the bargaining power of women in the household, which leads to greater conflict between husbands and wives. This in turn leads to more suicides by both husbands and wives.

While it is impossible to test this theory directly, the researchers were able to show that strengthened property rights for women increased the incidence of wife battery. And if more wives are being beaten by their husbands, it’s reasonable to assume that conflict within a household has increased. That’s the sense in which higher incidence of suicide among both men and women is, in my judgment, yet another manifestation of the wider phenomenon of violence against women.

Paradoxically, a frustrated husband committing suicide because his wife is now empowered is in itself a reflection of women’s unequal social status. The correct lesson to take from this new research by Ms. Anderson and Ms. Genicot is that the process of women’s empowerment is necessarily going to be a bumpy road and there will be bad news along the way. Far from being a patriarchal and misogynistic finding, it suggests instead that we must persevere until society changes to the point where women’s empowerment becomes a non-issue. But as the recent accounts from India and even the US suggest, we still have a long way to go.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Microsoft and Apple in tough new world; Management shake-up at Apple; Smartpen gets smarter

1 Microsoft and Apple in tough new world (Jason Pontin in The Financial Times) There is a smug maxim in Silicon Valley and the places that imitate it: “To survive, you must destroy your company every x years” (where x varies according to how much the speaker wants to stress the pace of technological change). Sometimes attributed to Intel’s former chief executive Andy Grove, it is a maxim more often repeated than observed. But it can be a lovely and startling thing when a large, publicly traded company takes a big bet by replacing its core product.

Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system, which went on sale last Friday, is the most dramatic gamble by a technology company since Intel abandoned the memory market to make semiconductors in the 1980s. Windows is a civilisational tool; there are more than 1bn Windows users around the world but when, after being given a new personal computer by their IT manager or buying a new device for themselves, those users boot up the new OS, they will recognise nothing.
Gone is the familiar “Start” button and user interface Microsoft has used since it launched Windows 95, 17 years ago. In its place, users will find a screen of shifting colourful tiles. To its new users, Windows 8 will seem as personal – and as non-corporate – as their smartphone or tablet computers. That is the whole idea. The operating system works best with a touchscreen, where users can swipe tiles and icons. To show off the new functionality, Microsoft is selling its first computer, the Surface – a $499 touchscreen tablet whose cover is a small keyboard, so that the device can also function as a small laptop.

It is instructive to compare the launch of Windows 8 and Surface with Apple’s most recent release, the iPad mini. There’s nothing wrong with the mini: for Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, it must seem to fill an important niche – the market for tablets that can be held comfortably in one hand, where Amazon’s Kindle and devices based on Android now dominate. But there’s nothing innovative about Apple’s small tablet. It’s just more of the same. One cannot imagine the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s departed CEO, taking any pride in the thing.

It is an interesting historical moment for the two founding companies of the personal computing revolution. Microsoft knows it is slowly dying but declines to accept its fate. Apple, flush with cash, does not yet have to admit that with the death of its tutelary genius, it has lost its way. But secretly, its executives, designers and developers must fear that something is badly wrong. Jobs always said that technology companies began to die when salespeople and bean counters started making the decisions.

2 Apple’s management shake-up (BBC) Apple has announced a major shake-up of its management, with two senior executives to leave the company. The announcement follows embarrassing problems with its new mapping software and disappointing quarterly results. Scott Forstall, head of its iOS software, will leave next year. He will serve as an adviser to chief executive Tim Cook in the interim. Head of retail John Browett, the former Dixons boss, is also leaving after just six months in the job.

Apple said the moves were a way to increase collaboration across its hardware, software and services businesses. The company faced a barrage of criticism after its new mapping software, introduced last month, showed inaccuracies and misplaced towns and cities. The debacle led to Mr Cook issuing an apology to customers, while some critics called for Mr Forstall's head as he was the executive behind the panned app. No specific reasons were given for either man's departure.

Apple's fourth quarter profits of $8.2bn reported last week, also missed Wall Street forecasts, while the 14 million iPads it sold in the quarter fell short of analysts' expectations. The management changes come a little over a year into Mr Cook's reign as chief executive.

3 Smartpen gets smarter (Benny Evangelista in San Francisco Chronicle) Writing meeting or classroom notes on paper with an ink pen might seem anachronistic these days when there are easier digital alternatives, such as typing on a laptop. But an Oakland company called Livescribe is trying to bridge the gap between analog and digital with what it bills as the first Wi-Fi-enabled pen that automatically stores paper notes and drawings in the cloud.

Livescribe  is selling the Sky Wifi Smartpen, which automatically uploads notes, drawings and graphs written by hand on paper, along with the audio it records, to the user's online Evernote account. Those paper notes and audio recordings then become accessible over the Internet by desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet computer. "We've completely broken down the walls between pen and paper and the digital world," said Gilles Bouchard, Livescribe chairman and chief executive officer.

The Sky costs $169.95 for a model with 2 GB of audio storage capacity, $199.95 for a 4 GB model and $249.95 for an 8 GB model.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

US jobless rate seen rising; Australia's new vision; Samsung's success is its biggest weakness; Life after another reshuffle; The fine line of marriage

1 US jobless rate seen rising (Khaleej Times) The jobless rate probably rose in October as US employers kept a tight rein on payrolls with the nation closing in on the so-called fiscal cliff, economists said before a report this week. A net 125,000 workers were added to headcounts following an increase of 114,000 in September, according to the median forecast of 72 economists. The unemployment rate climbed to 7.9% last month from a three-year low of 7.8%, the survey showed.

“We’re just treading water, getting the labour market to grow fast enough to cover population growth,” said Joshua Dennerlein, a US economist at Bank of America in New York. The “drop in unemployment was probably not sustainable.” Hiring may stay restrained as concern mounts that an economy growing at a two per cent pace is not strong enough to weather the tax increases and spending cuts slated to take effect if lawmakers fail to act by year’s end. Prior to September, joblessness had exceeded eight per cent for 43 months, the longest such stretch since at least 1948. At 7.8%, unemployment last month matched the rate at the time Obama took office in January 2009.

2 Australia’s new vision (Khaleej Times) The down under is looking up to Asia. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in a major policy shift, has decided to align the continent with Asia, in her endeavour to open up with the world’s most populous markets, China and India, and subsequently its enterprising business dynamics. 

In an appraisal of foreign policy, Gillard has made a realistic point of view by saying that Australia’s traditional inclination towards Europe had insulated its vibrancy and sense of accommodation with other countries and cultures of the world. The 312-page paper, Australia in the Asian Century, will serve as a landmark as the country readies to embrace multi-ethnicity and revises its domestic priorities. Gillard’s attempt is laudable as it would be inspirational in ending the so-called racist essence that had set in Australia, and which was squarely evident with the lack of accommodation with the Asian youth in academic institutions.

3 Samsung’s success is its biggest weakness (Aaron Back in The Wall Street Journal) Samsung's mobile-communications business accounts for more than half of revenue. The Galaxy S III, with its eye-popping 4.8-inch screen, has been one of the best-selling smartphones in the world and Samsung has become the global market leader for smartphone sales. 

But fashion is fleeting, especially for gadgets. A hot product today is no guarantee of future success. Just ask Samsung's rival HTC — its phones sold like hot cakes last year but have since fallen out of favor. HTC's revenue fell 48% from a year earlier in the third quarter. For phones like Samsung's that run on Google’s Android operating system, the only way to differentiate is through hardware and design. Samsung has done that mainly by producing phones with larger screen sizes. As rival phones get larger and rival tablets get smaller, Samsung's gizmos are starting to look less distinct.

Apple's iPhone 5, which has a bigger screen than its predecessors, was released late in the third quarter, and sales were held back by supply restraints. It will encroach much more on Samsung from here on. Plus, Apple's new iPad Mini with its 7.9-inch screen is aimed squarely at products like Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab and its 5.3-inch tablet-phone hybrid, the Galaxy Note.

4 After boom & bust, a new vocabulary (Heather Stewart in The Guardian) For politicians weaned on boom and bust, recession and recovery, such a long period of pain will require a marked change of policies – and language. "Pre-distribution" is Ed Miliband's first stab at a response to an economic world in which growth is weak or non-existent and government is too busy paying down the debts of the past to borrow any more from the future.

Cameron's remark that “the good news will keep on coming” at prime minister's questions last week sounded distinctly like the clapped-out old politics of riding recovery to seal an election victory. But Osborne's more measured response to the GDP figures suggests that he's well aware the improvement may be short-lived; that even if it comes, it may not improve families' fortunes as much as they hope; and that in order to win over voters, he will have to stress instead the long-term, more nebulous project of building a better economy.

The panicked "back us or we'll turn into Greece" rhetoric of the 2010 election can hardly be applied to an economy that's been flatlining for years. Instead, expect to see politicians at both ends of the spectrum reaching for a different vocabulary – stressing aspiration, wellbeing and fairness over clear-cut, mathematically measurable concepts such as recession and growth.

5 Life after another reshuffle (MJ Akbar in Khaleej Times) I would be surprised, but not stunned since nothing is impossible in politics, if Rahul Gandhi joined Dr Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet in the latest reshuffle.   Barring one exception, no member of the Nehru family - now known as the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty - has served either at the regional level, or in some other leader’s government.

It was far from certain in 1937 that India would be free in 1947, but Jawaharlal Nehru, the most famous leader of United Provinces [the British name for the area now broadly Uttar Pradesh], did not ever consider the possibility of heading the first Congress government formed in the state, even as a stepping stone to post-Raj Prime Ministership. It is either the Delhi penthouse or nothing, no matter how long the wait or how bleak the political circumstance. The one exception was when Mrs Indira Gandhi became Lal Bahadur Shastri’s information and broadcasting minister. She quickly tired of this middleweight portfolio. She was born to fight in a higher division.

When Mrs Sonia Gandhi could not become Prime Minister in 2004, there was no question of serving instead as home or finance minister. Curiously, no heir has even been a member of a parent’s Cabinet. Mrs Indira Gandhi became Congress President when Jawaharlal was alive. Nor did Rajiv Gandhi believe that he ought to join his mother’s ministry, if only to train for her job.

At the moment Congress is leaking like an upturned water sprinkler. Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to add tar to the party’s keel by improving the Youth Congress base have mostly failed, but he needs to persist till the cadres understand. Mrs Gandhi saved Congress from 1977’s desolation because of two reasons: her own unparalleled relationship with the underprivileged, and the fact that the Congress organisation had not yet withered. Rahul Gandhi has neither of these advantages. It is going to be a hard life ahead, and no shuffle or reshuffle can ease its pain.

6 The fine line of marriage (Akif Abdulamir in Khaleej Times) It occurred to me only last week that the holy institution of marriage is mostly supported by a woman. Men enter it with different objectives although we may not like to admit it.  Husbands tend to loosen the knot when the pressure grips the nerves while wives like to tighten it to tidy up the loose ends. 

When anxieties hit a married life, men would readily blame their wives. Women, sensing the drawing of the curtains, would unwittingly take responsibility. With some matrimony, it is like a private war where the man acts like a general pushing the wife to the front line. In the line of fire, a woman takes the bullets and shelters her man from harm. Keeping the rocking boat steady has never been a man’s job in most marriages. Ironically, it is the same boat the man is supposed to steer to safety.  

Men would also try to exploit the maternal instincts of their wives to get more attention. It is all about them, isn’t it?  To a large degree, men want their wives to be an extension of their mothers. I guess that is where we men sometimes take advantage of the gentler side of a woman. 

A woman leaves her home to assume a new life as a wife and mother to her children. A man never leaves homes, he just change houses. He takes his set ways to his new life and being pampered by a younger woman is one of them. I think it is one of the perks of being married, as far as a man is concerned.  However, having said all that, it still takes two to make a successful marriage and men need to understand that better than their wives. In conclusion, I have no doubt that a woman plays a pivotal part in most marriages, whether men agree or not.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

UBS shake-up may cost 10,000 jobs; Apple's $120bn cash pile problem; Spain's jobless cross 25%; India's activist politician; Impressive US recovery

1 UBS shake-up may cost 10,000 jobs (The Guardian) Thousands of City jobs could be on the line as Swiss bank UBS prepares to announce a restructuring of its investment bank. The bank will publish third-quarter figures on Tuesday and could concede that as many as 10,000 of its 60,000 staff will be shed in the coming years. UBS announced plans to cut 3,500 jobs to save £1.5bn just over a year ago. The changes are part of a strategy devised by the new management team in the wake of the Kweku Adoboli allegations.

Banks are under pressure to hold more capital at a time when revenues are falling – putting pressure on profitability. As a result many banks are cutting staff to maintain profits. Sergio Ermotti, the new chief executive, is also said to have been under pressure form Swiss regulators to reduce the risks being taken by the bank. He is reported to be planning on splitting the investment bank into a non-core division and a continuing investment bank comprised of equities and corporate finance among other activities.

2 Apple’s $120bn cash pile problem (Juliette Garside in The Guardian) It is one of the world's largest hedge funds, with $121bn under management, but its name is virtually unknown in financial circles. Braeburn Capital is not operated from the top floor of a Manhattan skyscraper or a plush Mayfair townhouse. It is located in a quiet suburb of Nevada's capital, Reno, and it belongs to Apple.

In a nondescript building opposite an abandoned restaurant, a small number of advisers have been charged with investing the cash pile Apple has amassed. That pile has grown from $9bn when Braeburn was established in 2006 to more than $120bn. That is a shade less than the $130bn Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in America and probably the world, has under management.

Much of Apple's money is trapped overseas, sheltered from the US taxman, who would demand a 35% cut were the money to be repatriated. But it can be invested at home. Apple's financial reports show it holds $21bn of US government debt – a vast sum for a single private investor. Foreign governments like investing in US securities, but Apple owns more than the $19bn held by Malaysia, and just $4bn less than Spain. Braeburn's team may be modest, but its scope is galactic.

3 Spain’s jobless cross 25% (Raphael Minder in The New York Times) Friday’s report that Spain’s unemployment rate had surpassed 25%t was bad news for a government that recently trumpeted a streamlining of its labor market rules. The ranks of the unemployed swelled to 5.78 million people at the end of the third quarter, compared with 5.69 million a quarter earlier and 2.6 million four years ago, when Spain’s property bubble burst, the report said.The jobs data signaled a deepening recession and raised the likelihood that Spain would again miss budget targets agreed to with other euro zone countries.

There was, however, one perversely positive element to the report: the labor picture is so bleak that it could help Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy make the case that Germany and other lenders cannot risk imposing further austerity measures on Spain’s economy in return for providing more European rescue funding.

4 India’s activist politician (Neeta Lal in Khaleej Times) In a development that was symbolically significant, on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, social activist Arvind Kejriwal, 44, who has been spearheading a high-profile anti-corruption crusade, launched a new political party. The yet-to-be-christened political institution received a hearty response from a corruption-fatigued India and sent political temperature soaring. 

Kejriwal, who was a former associate of Anna Hazare before their group ‘India Against Corruption’ splintered due to ideological differences, says his driving force is the overriding graft in the system. His political agenda is centered on transforming politics, moving from popular protest to people’s power, changing governance methods, ending the VIP culture and empowering local communities.

It is propitious at this juncture for Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer from the blue chip IIT and a Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, to foray into politics. Thanks to him, probity and accountability in public life are now the new buzzwords. Kejriwal’s rise also accentuates a glaring Opposition deficit. With the Opposition parties failing in their duty to act as watchdogs of democracy due to their ideological bankruptcy and inner fractiousness, it is now left to revolutionaries to expose systemic rot.

But any enduring crusade needs a wider cachet; a multifaceted program and a vision of the world which Kejriwal’s singular agenda — i.e corruption — lacks. But despite these handicaps, the activist may well be on his way to reshaping the contours of the Indian polity.

5 Impressive US recovery (Fareed Zakaria in Khaleej Times) The International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook makes for gloomy reading. Growth projections have been revised downward almost everywhere, especially in Europe and the big emerging markets such as China.

And yet, when looking out over the next four years — the next presidential term — the IMF projects that the US will be the strongest of the world’s rich economies. US growth is forecast to average three per cent, much stronger than that of Germany or France (1.2%) or even Canada (2.3%). Increasingly, the evidence suggests that the US has come out of the financial crisis of 2008 in better shape than its peers — because of the actions of its government.

The good signs come with caveats. Europe continues to weaken. The fiscal cliff looms ominously. But the fact remains, compared with the rest of the industrialised world and the arc of previous post-bubble recoveries, the US is ready for a robust revival. This is partly because of the dynamism of the US economy but also because of the timely and intelligent actions of the Fed and the Obama administration.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

CEOs urge tax hikes, spending cuts; South Korea slows; The menace of slavery; Euro survives, but future is shaky; Chinese leader has billions in hidden wealth

1 CEOs urge tax hikes, spending cuts (San Francisco Chronicle) CEOs from more than 80 major US companies are pressing Congress to reduce the federal deficit by raising taxes and cutting spending. They warned that the uncertainty spawned by the deficit, which has topped $1 trillion for four consecutive years, is dampening businesses' hiring and investment and stifling the fragile economic recovery.

The CEOs said the solution requires a combination of higher taxes and reduced government spending including on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. They also seek federal investment in infrastructure and math and science education. "What it really comes down to is if we still have the political will to be a great country," Dave Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell International, said in a statement. The group endorses the proposals of a special bipartisan commission that called for about $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases to save around $4 trillion.

2 South Korea economic growth slows (BBC) South Korea's economy grew at its slowest pace in nearly three years as the global slowdown hurt demand for its exports and firms cut their investment. The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.6% in the July to September quarter. That is down from 2.3% in the previous quarter. Compared with the previous three months, the economy expanded by 0.2%.

South Korea has cut interest rates to spur growth and the weak data may prompt it to take further measures. The Bank of Korea cut interest rates twice in the past four months. The latest of those cuts, announced earlier this month, saw the key lending rate lowered to 2.75% from 3%. 

3 The menace of slavery (Jonathan Power in Khaleej Times) There are more people in slavery today than in any time in human history. The best estimate is 27 million, and that does not include bonded labour. This is more than double the total taken from West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. However in percentage terms it is smaller than the African slave trade — with today’s massive global economy it has become only a tiny fraction of the whole.

US President Barack Obama has talked about how it works in the modern world. “It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off his debt to his trafficker. The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. The teenage girl beaten, forced to walk the street”.

Slavery takes many different forms. In Niger in central Africa girls and women of the “slave cast” are bought and sold as unofficial wives. They are referred to as “fifth wives” as they are additional to the four wives the law allows. Since they are not officially married they have none of the legal rights due a married woman. Thus they are exploited for domestic labour and sexual gratification. In Ghana young boys are brought by traffickers from interior African states to work in harvesting cocoa pods. They have no rights at all, rarely see their families again and are paid peanuts.

In India it is common. In Delhi it is found in the work of beautifying cloth-attaching sequins, beads and embroidery to garments to be sold often in international markets. According to the London-based Anti-Slavery Society, well known brands have been involved in marketing these products. 
International publicity has led to India making a more serious attempt to enforce its child labour laws and only recently passed a law strengthening the penalties. But it is not easy to enforce.

Despite this gloomy reporting there is an air of optimism among many of experts. The International Labour Organisation talks about the growing leadership on the part of key importing countries to take action. According to a BBC report, Kevin Bales of ‘Free the Slaves’ says, “Slavery is standing on the edge of its own extinction — if we give it a hard push. We need governments to work together and to enforce their own laws. But that’s do-able. It is a solvable problem within our generation.” So it should be — and in much less time than that.

4 Euro survives, but future is in doubt (Floyd Norris in The New York Times) Remember the euro crisis? Only a few months ago, it was front-page news. But in this week’s foreign policy debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the euro never came up. Europe was mentioned once, but the reference had nothing to do with economics. To a surprising extent, the perception seems to be that the European situation is under control. That is true if all you worry about is whether bondholders will get paid. It is false if you have a broader perspective.

The focus of the last couple of years on borrowing costs for peripheral members of the euro zone was, in retrospect, unfortunate. It was always clear that Europe, as a whole, had the ability to solve that issue if it wished to do so. The European Central Bank, like the US Federal Reserve, has the ability to print money, and that is what it finally did. But the real issue was — and remains — whether the peripheral countries could turn into successful economies while staying in the euro zone. On that issue, progress is painfully slow. 

5 Chinese leader has billions in hidden wealth (David Barboza in The New York Times) The mother of China’s’s prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao’s political campaigns. And during childhood, “my family was extremely poor,” the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year. But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind — she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister. Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives, some of whom have a knack for aggressive deal-making, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion. 

In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy. 

6 Ford shuts two European units (The Guardian) Britain's mixed economic recovery was starkly illustrated on Thursday as Ford closed two sites with the loss of up to 1,400 manufacturing jobs, while Debenhams lifted the mood of embattled high street retailers by announcing plans for 17 new department stores. The contrasting news underlined the difficulties facing George Osborne as he targets a rebalancing that will divert GDP growth away from debt-fuelled spending towards exports.

Ford gave a jolt to those plans on Thursday by signalling an end to more than a century of vehicle production in the UK. The US carmaker is closing its Transit van plant in Southampton and a panel-stamping operation in Dagenham next summer, 102 years after starting production of the Model T in Manchester. Ford will still produce and design engines in the UK but the Unite trade union described the shutdowns as "disgraceful".

Ford confirmed that the economic reality for mass-market car producers is a retrenchment that will cost thousands of manufacturing jobs across the continent, with the US firm shedding 6,200 positions in Europe this week alone. It is the latest mass-market automotive business to restructure its European operations as carmakers seek to eradicate a glut of capacity amid falling sales, which have left manufacturers with too many plants and too little demand.