Sunday, June 29, 2014

Isis rebels declare 'caliphate'; Honda's first business jet; Anger over Facebook secret study

1 Isis rebels declare ‘caliphate’ (BBC) Islamist militant group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. It also proclaimed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph and "leader for Muslims everywhere". Setting up a caliphate ruled by the strict Islamic law has long been a goal of many jihadists.

Meanwhile, Iraq's army continued an offensive to retake the northern city of Tikrit from the Isis-led rebels. The city was seized by the insurgents on 11 June as they swept across large parts of northern-western Iraq. In a separate development, Israel called for the creation of an independent Kurdish state in response to the gain made by the Sunni rebels in Iraq.

Isis (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) announced the establishment of the caliphate in an audio recording posted on the internet. It said the Islamic state would extend from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group said, would become the leader of the state and would be known as "Caliph Ibrahim".

In the recording, Isis also said that from now on it would be known simply as "the Islamic State". On Sunday, Iraqi government jets struck at rebel positions and clashes broke out in various parts of Tikrit, witnesses and officials said.

2 Honda’s first business jet (Straits Times) Honda's first business jet has logged its maiden flight ahead of its expected certification and delivery next year, the Japanese company said.

The 84-minute flight of the first production HondaJet took place on Friday near the world headquarters of Honda Aircraft, the aviation subsidiary of the automobile giant, in Greensboro in the US state of North Carolina, the statement said.

"With this first flight, the HondaJet programme has entered the next exciting phase as we prepare for delivery," Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino said. The HondaJet is currently offered for sale in North America and Europe through the HondaJet dealer network, the company said.

3 Anger over Facebook secret study (Colin Daileda/Mashable, Sydney Morning Herald) A recently published study that manipulated Facebook News Feeds has sparked outrage among users who are criticising the ethics behind the experiment, which was conducted by Facebook and several universities.

Researchers tweaked the feeds of 689,003 users to show a disproportionate number of positive or negative statuses for one week in January 2012. They found that the emotions of others on your News Feed can affect your mood, and published the results in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). However, the researchers did not inform users that they were manipulating News Feeds, and many questioned the study's ethics.

Legally, Facebook is allowed to do this. As soon as users sign up for the social network, they agree to give up their data for analysis, testing and research. In this case, however, it's not the research people are criticising — it's the manipulation of data without users' prior consent or knowledge.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Argentina nears second default; Japan inflation at 32-year high; Wondering if US is losing faith in universal democracy; Soccer World Cup's flopping rankings

1 Argentina nears second default (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) A US judge has blocked a $500m (£290m) payment by Argentina to creditors due on Monday, pushing South America's second largest economy closer to a second massive default in 13 years. New York district judge Thomas Griesa said Argentina was in breach of his decision that US vulture funds, which have pressed for full repayment of their loans, were entitled to bypass a longstanding debt restructuring deal.

The ruling, which enforces an earlier decision in favour of vulture funds seeking a $1.6bn payout, means that $539m of Argentina's scheduled debt repayments were stuck in Bank of New York Mellon, which as trustee was due to disburse the payments under the previous debt deal. A spokesman for the vulture funds called Argentina's attempt to pay rival creditors holding restructured bonds a "brazen step" that had forced them back to court.
Argentina has claimed it will default if the US courts insist the vulture fund bondholders – many of which bought their bonds at a steep discount – are repaid in full. The Argentinian government, led by president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, published adverts in most major local newspapers explaining why it had rejected the court's ruling and needed to press ahead with the original payments to meet its obligations.
Argentina defaulted on nearly $100bn of debt in 2001. It could decide to pay the vulture funds, but experts believe it would be unable to do that for all other bondholders and so be forced back into bankruptcy.
2 Japan inflation at 32-year high (BBC) Consumer prices in Japan rose at an annual rate of 3.4% in May, the fastest pace in 32 years, as the effect of the sales tax hike started to be felt. Japan raised its sales tax rate from 5% to 8% on 1 April. Japan has been battling deflation, or falling prices, for best part of the past two decades and that has hurt domestic demand and stifled growth. The Japanese government has taken various steps over the past few months to try and reverse this trend, and the country's central bank has set a target of a 2% inflation rate.
The measures, which include boosting the country's money supply, have started to have an impact and consumer prices in the country have now risen for 12 months in a row. Virtually the entire surge in the consumer price index (CPI) over the past two months can be attributed to April's consumption tax hike” Policymakers have been hoping that once prices start to rise, consumers and business will be encouraged to start spending and not hold back on purchases, as they may have to pay more later on.
The tax hike in April was the first in 17 years. The increase comes as Japan is facing rising social welfare costs due to an ageing population. At the same time, the country is trying to rein in its public debt - which at nearly 230% of its gross domestic product (GDP) is the highest among industrialised nations. The tax hike is expected to help ease some of the financial burden of the government. At the same time, the increase may also help to trigger inflation as businesses pass on the hike to consumers, resulting in increased prices of goods.
3 Wondering if US is losing faith in universal democracy (David Brooks in The New York Times) The Cold War settled the contest of historic visions. Democracy won. You would think the gospel of democracy would be triumphant. But, as Mark Lilla writes in an essay called ‘The truth about our libertarian age’ in The New Republic, the post-Cold War era hasn’t meant the triumph of one ideology; it destroyed the tendency to rely upon big historic visions of any sort. Lilla argues that we have slid into a debauched libertarianism. Nobody envisions the large sweep of events; we just go our own separate ways making individual choices.
He’s a bit right about that. When the US was a weak nation, Americans dedicated themselves to proving to the world that democracy could last. When the US became a superpower, Americans felt responsible for creating a global order that would nurture the spread of democracy. But now the nation is tired, distrustful, divided and withdrawing. Democratic vistas give way to laissez-faire fatalism: History has no shape. The dream of universal democracy seems naïve. National interest matters most.
Lilla argues that the notion of history as a march toward universal democracy is a pipe dream. Arab nations are not going to be democratic anytime soon. The world is an aviary of different systems — autocracy, mercantile despotism — and always will be. Instead of worrying about spreading democracy, we’d be better off trying to make theocracies less beastly.
Such is life in a spiritual recession. Americans have lost faith in their own gospel. Meanwhile, the country grows strangely indifferent to democratic heroes. Decades ago, everyone knew about Sakharov. But how many raised a fuss over the systematic persecution of democratic activists and Christians across the Middle East? If America isn’t a champion of universal democracy, what is the country for? A great inheritance is being squandered; a 200-year-old language is being left by the side of the road.
4. Soccer World Cup’s flopping rankings (Geoff Foster in The Wall Street Journal) Fans of the world's most popular game know of soccer's old and universally despised tactics. Turning a small foul into a death performance can draw cards for opposing players, kill time from the clock or just give one's winded teammates a breather. What's interesting about the World Cup is that not all national teams are the same. Some embellish all the time, some hardly at all.
So here are the "winners" of our first-ever international soccer injury-embellishment awards. The Team Most Commonly Seen in Anguish: Brazil. There were 17 incidents in two games when a member of the Seleção was seen on the ground in pain—the most of any country. The Overall Writhing-Time Champions: Honduras. Los Catrachos spent the most time on the ground or being tended to by trainers: seven minutes and 40 seconds to be exact. Naturally, five minutes and 10 seconds of that came in the first half against France when the match was tied (which would have been good enough for them).
The Team Most Likely to Grin and Bear it: Bosnia and Herzegovina. These World Cup newbies obviously don't get how this works. They only had two "injuries" in two games for a total of 24 seconds of writhing time. The Team With the Most Carnage in One Game: Chile. While they protected an early lead against Spain, the Chileans tallied 11 "injuries," more than 24 other teams had in two games. The Fastest "Injury" Yet: Enner Valencia, Ecuador. Against Honduras, Valencia was on the ground, clutching his leg after four seconds. Worst Use of a Stretcher: 5 players (tie) Of the nine players carried off in these matches, five returned—all in less than 90 seconds, including American DaMarcus Beasley.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

US economy shrinks 2.9% in Q1; World is now a safer place with less wars; Google's low-cost smartphone for emerging markets

1 US economy shrinks 2.9% in Q1 (BBC) The US economy suffered its worst performance for five years in the first quarter of 2014, latest figures show. The economy shrank at an annualised rate of 2.9% in the first three months of the year, the third estimate from the US Commerce Department showed. This was worse than the previous estimate of a 1% contraction, and also worse than economists' expectations.

However, the economy is expected to have recorded a sharp recovery during the second quarter of the year. The unusually cold weather in the first quarter of the year has been blamed for the poor performance of the economy.

BBC’s Michelle Fleury says, “On the surface, the latest US GDP number is unnerving. The first three months of this year were far weaker than expected. Many Americans may feel as if the recovery has taken one step forward and two steps back. But plenty of economists argue that the glass is in fact half full. The most recent data shows consumers are feeling better as job opportunities improve and business orders are picking up. If the optimists turn out to be right, the world's largest economy should show a return to growth in the second quarter.”

2 Well, there has never been less war (Jonathan Power in Khaleej Times) War is all over the place. It seems. Not just Syria and Iraq but now inside Pakistan. Not to mention Somalia and Sudan. Yet paradoxically there has never been less war.

Sweden’s Uppsala University Conflict Data programme is about to publish its results for 2013. It reports that the number of conflicts in the world increased by one between 2012 and 2013- pace all the press and TV coverage which sometimes gives the impression that half the world is going up in smoke. There were 15 conflicts of this size in the early 1990s. Today there are only seven.

The number of democratic countries was 69 at the end of the Cold War. Today there are around 120. The number of autocracies has declined in that time from 62 to 48. The chances of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons are minimal. At the end of the Cold War many of the Soviet storage sites were poorly guarded. Thanks to US on-site advice that is no longer true.

The economic and social front is good too. All over the world life expectancy is climbing steadily. Child mortality has plunged. The rates of polio and malaria are falling steadily. Likewise crime in most countries is markedly down. In 1981 half the people in the developing world survived on less than $1.25 a day. Today it is down to one-sixth.

The populace is extremely badly informed on the world’s true picture. As Zbigniew Brzezinski told me this ignorance is a real problem. Instead attention and resources should be concentrated on malaria eradication, providing safe water and sewerage, health services and education to all, controlling pandemic diseases, ending the trafficking of women children and transnational criminal networks and fighting climate change. Good times should breed better times. Bad and narrow-minded people see only the worst.

3 Google’s low-cost smartphone for emerging markets (Straits Times) Google has announced it is working on a low-cost smartphone aimed at emerging markets as part of an initiative called Android One. The Android-powered handset will be built with a basic set of features including FM radio, have a screen slightly smaller than five inches and be priced at less than $100, Google senior vice-president Sundar Pichai said.

“We are going to be launching it around the world, but will launch in India first in the fall of this year,” Mr Pichai said. He added that Google was working with carriers in India to provide affordable telecom service packages to go with the smartphones, which could in many cases provide Internet access for the first time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Japan launches 'third arrow' of reforms; US home sales at six-year high; An Arabic Vietnam; Tweets, likes 'don't translate into buys'

1 Japan launches ‘third arrow’ of reforms (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has outlined his long-awaited growth strategy spearheaded by promises of expanded childcare to bring more women into the workforce and an investment boom. Abe said his "third arrow" of reforms would revitalise the economy and restore the country's global competitiveness.

Abe has already fired his first two "arrows" since taking office 18 moths ago, pushing through a series of spending cuts and tax rises coupled with hiring a new central bank governor with a mission to cut interest rates and drive down the exchange rate. But critics described the latest measures as resembling a dart more than an arrow with few of the more than 230 proposals likely to take effect, or have the desired impact, given resistance to change in Japan's business world and bureaucracy.

Among the most important of the reform measures is a cut to the corporate tax to below 30% from the current level of over 35%, promised for next year. To counter labour shortages due to the aging population and low birthrate, it also includes measures to promote greater gender equality and greater use of foreign labour and robots. It also calls for looser restrictions on white-collar overtime.

2 US home sales at six-year high (BBC) Sales of new US homes surged to a six-year high in May suggesting the housing market is beginning to recover from its recent slowdown. Sales increased by 18.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 504,000 - the highest level since May 2008, according to the Commerce Department. However, the S&P/Case-Shiller index, also released on Tuesday, found house prices increases slowed in April.

A combination of higher mortgage rates and a surge in prices due to a lack of properties available for sale have weighed on the US housing market since the second half of 2013. However, recent data suggests the housing market is beginning to improve again.

A report on Monday showed sales of previously owned homes, the largest part of the US housing market, recorded their largest increase in more than three-and-a-half years in May.

3 An Arabic Vietnam (Eric S Margolis in Khaleej Times) Back in 2002-2003, over 80 per cent of Americans believed the big lies spread by the Bush administration and its neo-con allies that Iraq had nuclear weapons and was behind 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. This writer was one of the first journalists to say on TV that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no ties to Al Qaeda.

President Barack Obama had the wisdom to pull most US forces out of Iraq, though at least 5,000-7,000 military personnel remain in civilian attire in the vast US embassy complex in Baghdad and two major air bases. Hundreds more Americans remain, running Iraq’s oil industry.

Saddam Hussein nationalised Iraq’s oil and kicked out its foreign owners. As soon as he was deposed, the US and other foreign oil firms moved back in to pump Iraq’s black gold. As Cheney said, Iraq was invaded for the sake of “Israel and oil.” Now, Obama faces an awesome decision. As Baghdad’s army wavers before extremists’ assaults, he is under pressure to use US airpower to blunt the Baathist advance. Obama knows that America must not be seen as the champion of Iraq’s one sect against the minority.

Few remember that the Iraq War cost over $1 trillion, all financed by loans from China and Japan. Those neo-cons baying for war have not so far offered to make personal contributions. Or that Vietnam also began with small numbers of US “advisors.”

4 Tweets, likes don’t translate into buys (Kirsten V Brown in San Francisco Chronicle) Back in March, the San Francisco food delivery startup Eat24 staged a "breakup" with Facebook. The company had poured $1 million into Facebook advertising in 2013 alone and picked up more than 70,000 fans, but it wasn't clear the investment was really getting anything. A new survey from Gallup confirms what Eat24 learned by trial: Social media just doesn't hold much sway over consumer decision making.

US companies spent $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013. Those efforts, though, may be in vain. "Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be," concludes Gallup, which released the research as part of its State of the American Consumer report.

Of the more than 18,000 American consumers polled, 62 percent said social media had no influence on their buying decisions. Just 5 percent said it had a significant influence. Already some brands are shifting gears, viewing places like Facebook and Twitter as a medium for conversation with customers who are already fans, rather than a place to push brand awareness.

Monday, June 23, 2014

US manufacturing grows faster than thought; Breaking the cycle of violence in Iraq; Women's helpline fights sexual violence in India

1 US manufacturing grows faster than thought (Dominic Rushe in The Guardian) The US manufacturing sector grew faster than expected in June reaching levels unseen in four years, according to a key industry report. After shaking off the after effects of the US's unusually harsh winter, financial data firm Markit's preliminary US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index rose to 57.5 in June, above economists' expectations of 56.5.

Any rating above 50 represents expansion in manufacturing and the latest reading is the highest since May 2010. A the end of May the commerce department said the US economy shrank at an annual rate of 1% during the first quarter – dragged down by the freezing winter in some of the more populous states. It was the first time in three years that there had been a contraction in US gross domestic product (GDP) – the broadest measure of the economy's health.

Last month the US added 217,000 new jobs, the fourth month in a row that the economy has added over 200,000 new jobs, and the most robust pace of change since 1999. The bureau of labour statistics will release its June report on 3 July. The manufacturing news came as the National Association of Realtors reported a sharp rise in existing-home sales in May. All four regions of the country experienced sales gains compared to a month earlier, according to the NAR.

2 Breaking Iraq’s cycle of violence (Straits Times) The world needs to acknowledge that the retaliatory acts of persecuted Muslims in West Asia - regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shi'ite - are a continuation of internecine religious warfare that goes back more than a millennium, beginning with the Sunni and Shi'ite schism. A resolution in modern, charged circumstances is much less likely than an accommodation, under which the politicisation of Islam is downplayed, if not avoided.

This is where the efforts of the US and like-minded mediators should be directed. There is still a chance a dissolution of borders and the creation of balkanised states can be avoided. But time is running out as authoritarian rule or outright persecution is reasserting itself, most recently in Egypt. Mr Obama is doing his part in persuading Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, to treat Sunni Iraqis more fairly by giving them a political role which they last had under Saddam Hussein.

Mr Maliki's harsh treatment of the Sunnis after American troops departed in 2011 is blamed for the brutal insurrection. The Shi'ite leadership of Iran and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar in Cairo, the supreme authority in Sunni Islam, have a role to discharge in calming their followers and urging mutual respect. The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iran has made a welcome gesture in asking Mr Maliki to reach out to the Kurds and Sunnis to create an inclusive Iraq. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation should lend its voice. Approaches such as these can bring better outcomes than the use of force to put down what fundamentally is a breakdown in a social compact.

3 Women’s helpline fights sexual violence in India (Shanoor Seervai in The Wall Street Journal) Some of the first calls to a new women’s crisis center in central India were from six women who said they were being hunted in their villages after being branded as witches. In response, the center sent an emergency team of social workers to investigate the claims and rescue the women, who have gone into hiding, said Sarika Sinha, regional manager of the non-profit Action Aid India, which helps run the center called Gauravi.

Among the minefield of issues that women in India navigate, including abuse, violence and torture, single women in rural India who inherit property are sometimes branded witches so that male members of their community can seize the land, said Ms. Sinha.

The Gauravi center, which was inaugurated by India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan is the latest in a string of initiatives to protect women that have started to operate since New Delhi created its own 24-hour helpline for women a week after a 23-year-old student was gang-raped and murdered in December 2012.

Existing crisis centers for women have also started to operate with renewed vigor. Victims of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment from across the country can call a 24-hour toll-free number, 1800-233-2244, set up at the Gauravi center to ask for help, or visit the center to seek medical care, counseling, legal aid, and assistance with filing a police complaint.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Isis captures more Iraqi towns; China manufacturing picks up first time in six months; India's delayed monsoon and pressure on investors

1 Isis captures more Iraqi towns (Martin Chulov & Rory Carroll in The Guardian) Jihadist fighters in Iraq seized three border crossings into Syria and Jordan and four nearby towns over the weekend, giving the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) control over much of the country's western frontier and directly threatening the country's main power supply.

Isis can now add large swaths of the Iraqi border to a 300km stretch of land it already controls along the Euphrates river, from Mosul in the north to Saddam Hussein's home town, Tikrit, which now gives the group a launching pad for potential attacks on strategic sites, including the lifeblood of Iraq's electricity generation, the Haditha dam. The gains also bring the crisis in Iraq to the doorstep of Jordan, a key ally of the US.

The latest Isis offensive comes as Iraq's polarised political blocs face a week of intense lobbying to form an inclusive government that could unite the fracturing country. The latest Isis offensive in western Anbar province has seen the group take four towns in recent days.

2 China manufacturing up first time in six months (Straits Times) China's manufacturing activity expanded in June for the first time this year as the effects of Beijing's mini-stimulus on the world's second-largest economy gradually kick in, HSBC has said.

The bank said in a statement that its preliminary purchasing managers index (PMI), which tracks activity in China's factories and workshops, came in at 50.8 this month, the highest since November's identical figure. It was also the first time since December that the index has been above the 50-point break-even level, suggesting the sector is expanding.

3 India’s delayed monsoon and the pressure on investors (Neena Rai & Debiprasad Nayak in The Wall Street Journal) The delayed onset of India’s monsoon rains has been attracting attention from commodity market participants. Sugar prices are already reacting to these fears and woes could even hit gold demand, say analysts.

Crucial for the irrigation of India’s many crops, the rains this year have so far fallen short. ANZ Bank says monsoon-related precipitation is currently running 45% below usual levels. That will hit the October harvest. India is the world’s second-largest producer of sugarcane, and over half the country’s workforce is employed in agriculture.

A delayed monsoon and a strong El Niño could hit sugar output by as much as 7%, says Citi. Sugar futures in London for August delivery were trading 0.3% higher Friday at $490 a metric tonne—their highest level in just over a month. The delayed monsoon isn’t the only cause; there are also ship queues at Brazilian ports which is hindering sugar loading and transit.

More than half of India’s gold purchases occur in rural regions, with demand heavily dependent on agricultural income. Traditionally, India farmers ramp up gold purchases after a good monsoon and harvest season, using the yellow metal as a store of wealth. With income from farming hit, the funds simply won’t be there to support gold demand.

YouTube tutorials turn global skills teacher; Lots of education without jobs means nothing; Learning from career mistakes

1 YouTube tutorials turn global skills teacher (Benson Ang in Straits Times) Do not know how to do something? Chances are, you would turn to YouTube these days. People worldwide have turned to the online video-sharing platform in droves to master tips that make their lives easier.

Even professionals - from chefs to leather crafters, music instructors to photographers - have picked up a trick or two. Mr Yeo Chern Yu, 22, the chef and co-owner of Stateland Cafe in Bali Lane, learnt how to make the cafe's signature dish, its classic honey toast, from YouTube last September. The dish, comprising bread baked with honey and salted butter that is served with berries and a scoop of honey yogurt gelato, costs $11.90 at his cafe.

Thanks to these 24/7 tutorials, some have been able to hone certain skills without formal training.Part-time guitar instructor Ian Kwan, 21, has been giving lessons at music school Drumstruck Studios at PoMo shopping mall in Selegie Road since March. Four 30-minute lessons with him costs $150, and he has six regular students.

Wedding photographer Ida Marz, 39, who runs photography and videography company Ministry Of Moment Singapore, turns to the platform almost every day for inspiration on how to create various looks, such as a glamorous effect or a tender moment.

YouTube was founded in 2005 and these tutorials started mushrooming soon after. They cover almost every topic one can imagine and are uploaded by almost everyone, from individuals to companies and organisations. Assistant Professor Jude Yew, 42, from the National University of Singapore's department of communications and new media, says some people may upload videos to show off their skills. Companies may also want to promote their brands and create communities around specific interests.

2 Lots of education without jobs means nothing (Katie Allen in The Guardian) Ed Miliband was trying to make a simple argument when he braved the subject of welfare reforms. "Britain's young people who do not have the skills they need for work should be in training, not on benefits," he said last week, as he outlined proposals to end jobless benefits for roughly 100,000 18-to-21-year-olds and replace them with a means-tested payment dependent on training.

Fair enough: if someone needs help getting ready for the world of work, better to provide that help than hand out benefits. The coalition is trying to do this too, with its traineeships, and has been supporting apprenticeships. But neither those schemes nor Labour's proposed reforms should distract whoever wins the next election from a much bigger question: why are there so many young adults who need training before they can get jobs? How did they get to 18 without gaining useful skills?

There are still a staggering 922,000 people aged 18-24 not in education, employment or training (Neet) – one in six of that age group. Before anyone dares to hope the recovery will eventually filter down to them and solve the problem, let's clear two things up: First, youth unemployment may have been severely exacerbated by the recession but it was already rising before the crisis struck. Second, a large group of school-leavers have been let down by the education system for decades. But it was not until recent changes in the labour market that this shortcoming was exposed.

The changes in labour market have left some people with a deep, and justified, sense that school did not help them prosper in adult life. Gone are the days of leaving school on a Friday and walking into a long-term job on the Monday. With the rise of service sector jobs and decline of manual, unskilled manufacturing work, this trend risks intensifying. The education system urgently needs to catch up. Schools should be a training ground for work, not just a launchpad into further education.

3 Learning from career mistakes (Kim Thompson in San Francisco Chronicle) Making mistakes is a part of life and can serve as a great teacher if you pay attention to what you learned from the experience. A business professional once described a painful lesson in making a decision to accept an offer based on wishful thinking versus the gut feelings he experienced when talking with his future boss. He had heard so many good things about the employer and the leadership that it overshadowed his reactions when the prospective boss was disrespectful to him during the interview.

In spite of the boss’s arrogance, he went right along with the interview process by ignoring the awkward signals. He was offered the position and accepted it on a hope that things would change. Six weeks later, he left the company when reality set in. While the misstep didn’t destroy his career, it did create a situation where he had to explain the sudden departure not only to future prospects but also to the colleagues who had cheered him on.  He will never forget that lesson and since then has accepted a really good offer based on acknowledging both the intuition and the facts.

The takeaway lesson: never discount your inner voice of caution in exchange for hoping and wishing; what others think is important, but it may not work for you. Here some common career mistakes: Accepting a job without conducting due diligence. Not saving at least 3-6 months of living expenses in case of an unexpected change in employment. Not asking enough clarifying questions (assuming rather than communicating). Using the “hoping and wishing” strategy that someone will give you another job.

Mistakes will inevitably happen at some point in your career, the key is learning from them instead of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Career mishaps will make you stronger by acknowledging areas of growth and trusting your instincts.

Friday, June 20, 2014

First time since WW II, conflicts drive over 50m from homes; Tide may be turning against Amazon; Apple smart watch launch likely soon; India's economic prosperity and patriarchy

1 First time since WW II, conflict drives over 50m from homes (Johannesburg Times) The number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syria hardest hit, the UN refugee agency has said. The UNHCR said there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013, a full six million higher than the previous year.

The protracted Syria conflict was largely to blame for the increase. Since the war began in March 2011, a total of 2.5 million people have fled Syria, with 6.5 million more displaced inside the country. The Central African Republic and South Sudan crises also sparked new waves of displacement.

The UNHCR data covers three groups: refugees, asylum-seekers, and the internally displaced. Refugee numbers reached 16.7 million people worldwide, the highest since 2001. A total of 6.3 million have been exiled for over five years -- that did not include five million Palestinians aided by the UN Relief and Works Agency, a separate body.

Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care came from Afghanistan, Syrian and Somalia, who together form over half the global refugee total. The world's top refugee hosts were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon. With most refugees hosted by poorer countries, human rights campaigners Amnesty International said rich nations must do far more to shoulder the load.

2 Tide may be turning against Amazon (Juliette Garside in The Guardian) The list of household names – Blackberry, Nokia, HTC, Motorola – that have almost bankrupted themselves trying to make a hit smartphone is long, but this week Amazon became the latest tech company to take on the challenge.

Jeff Bezos stepped on stage in Seattle to unveil his Fire Phone, with his mother in the audience. However, few expect it to take sales away from the two brands that now dominate mobile: Apple and Samsung. "This sequence of crazy initiatives in areas where they have no competitive advantage is about sustaining an unsustainable stock price," says Bruce Greenwald, professor of finance and asset management at Columbia Business School, who is betting on Amazon shares falling.

In recent years Amazon has moved from media to general goods retailing. On the west coast of America, it sells fresh food. Through Amazon web services, it rents out server space. It publishes books, and is also making TV shows. Bezos is famous for saying you earn a reputation by doing "hard things well". But there are those who believe Amazon is now trying to do too many hard things at once.

Today, it is Amazon's business that is being disrupted. The company that has made Bezos the world's 18th-richest man, with a personal fortune of $30bn, is now 20 years old and is being threatened by the very medium from which it evolved – the internet.

3 Apple smart watch launch likely soon (San Francisco Chronicle) Apple is likely to launch a computerized wristwatch this fall that includes more than 10 sensors to take health measurements and other data, according to a report. The Wall Street Journal also said that Apple Inc. is planning multiple screen sizes for the device, which some people have dubbed the iWatch.

Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm and others have already released smartwatches, but the gadgets have mostly functioned as companions to smartphones, offering email notifications, clock functions and the like. Samsung's Gear 2 line, released this year, added fitness-related apps and has a heart rate sensor.

There's been longstanding speculation that Apple has been working on a smartwatch. Apple has been under pressure to release new products, as investors question whether the company that popularized the smartphone and the tablet computer is still able to innovate following the death of co-founder Steve Jobs. CEO Tim Cook has hinted at new products coming this year, but the company hasn't provided details. Apple declined comment in line with its policy of not discussing future products.

4 India’s economic prosperity and patriarchy (Khaleej Times) Nothing in India appears capable of halting the epidemic of women being raped. Preventive measures where they exist seem powerless to stop the abuse, which all too often has led to the assaulted victim being killed. Are these simply individual crimes or the products of societal malaise? Is India’s economic growth and the subsequent rise in economic inequality fostering such extreme behaviour? Are sections of what is a conservative society being subject to stresses that are rarely spoken of and undocumented?

Beyond such questions is the matter of how Indian women are perceived and treated in a country whose rapid economic growth can be construed as the product of a patriarchy. This may help explain the embarrassing series of absurd and contemptible statements made by regional Indian politicians in their attempts to explain away cases of rape. These men have attributed the clothes victims have worn, their morals and attitudes, their social and economic backgrounds as being cause enough to attract the attention of violent, rapacious and criminal assaulters.

Such assault and speech may have been curbed substantially had the criminal justice system in India delivered what it has promised to victims of rape and sexual assault. After the New Delhi gang-rape and murder, the government set up 73 ‘fast-track’ courts to try cases of sexual violence against women. This much-needed judicial reform has worked fitfully.  If India’s women are to find again a sense of security and independence in public and private, swift penalty must accompany social soul-searching.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

India overtakes US as top Nigeria oil buyer; Death of the suburban shopping mall; Busyness need not equal productivity

1 India overtakes US as top Nigeria oil buyer (BBC) India has taken over from the US as the largest importer of Nigerian oil, the West African state's national oil company has said. The US has "drastically reduced" its demand for Nigeria's crude oil in recent months, the Nigerian National Oil Corporation said. US is currently buying about 250,000 barrels a day.

India now buys considerably more - about 30% of the country's 2.5 million barrels of production. US demand for imported oil has fallen sharply because of increasing domestic shale gas and oil production - so much so that the International Energy Agency and oil giant BP both forecast that the country will be largely energy independent by 2035.

2 Death of the suburban shopping mall (David Uberti in The Guardian) Dying shopping malls are speckled across the US, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts. Some have already succumbed. Estimates on the share that might close or be repurposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50%.

Americans are returning downtown; online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of brick-and-mortar sales; and to many iPhone-clutching, city-dwelling and frequently jobless young people, the culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, even cartoonish. Shopping culture follows housing culture. Sprawling malls were therefore a natural product of the postwar era, as Americans with cars and fat wallets sprawled to the suburbs.

Currently, the US contains around 1,500 of the expansive “malls” of suburban consumer lore. For mid-century Americans, these gleaming marketplaces provided an almost utopian alternative to the urban commercial district, an artificial downtown with less crime and fewer vermin. Various estimates project dozens to hundreds of struggling US shopping centres will close in the next 20 years.

3 Busyness need not equal productivity (Kim Thompson in San Francisco Chronicle) Productivity is what sets your career in motion. However, people often confuse being busy with being productive. In the marketplace, no matter how busy you are, the truth is that you will be judged on your effectiveness.
The two-fold problem with being busy is that it can be a state of mind as well as having an increased workload. Knowing the difference between being busy and being productive can transform your career growth. What are the habits of highly productive people?

They know how to prioritize their day. Start out your day each morning with a focus on you by eating a healthy breakfast, exercise or meditate on what you want to accomplish today. They know when to multitask. Multitasking can be helpful if you use it wisely; however, in the race toward being efficient, it can be overused. Giving yourself a few minutes to clear your head before entering a meeting and eliminating distractions helps you stay focused.

They know where they are spending their time. Productive people are aware of time and know when they are most effective. They take a lunch break. When you stay busy long enough without a mental break, there is a tendency to lose focus and lack the energy needed to be efficient. They ask good questions to help clarify goals. Knowing the exact time frame, expectations and objections helps you plan more efficiently, minimizing guess work.

They constantly practice being productive. Being productive requires good habits, which take time and practice. They focus on quality versus quantity. In “More Time for You,” authors Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson view the source of productivity as a quality issue. “Productivity isn’t the quantity of things that you complete; it’s completing the things that deliver the most quality for you, such as setting aside time for family with no distractions.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Argentina fears new financial crisis; Tech exports to drive US trade growth; Dubai grows from refueling stop to global crossroad

1 Argentina fears new financial crisis (Uki Goni in The Guardian) Argentinians, battered by decades of apparently cyclical economic crises, fear a new one following a US supreme court ruling this week that could make the country liable for up to $15bn owed to so-called "vulture funds". The vultures, led by a US billionaire, are mainly hedge fund investors who snapped up Argentinian bonds at rock-bottom prices following the country's $95bn default on its foreign debt in 2001. The court in Washington DC has ordered that they be repaid in full – and that ruling threatens a new default, possibly within weeks.

Argentina descended into chaos after the 2001 financial crisis, then the largest in world history. Violence erupted across the nation after Argentina declared itself unable to meet its payments in the last week of December 2001. Argentina had lived through hyperinflation up to 12,000% in 1989. There had been economic collapse in 1975 and decades of military rule. But what happened in 2002 was unique, even in comparison to those catastrophes. Bank accounts were frozen and withdrawals banned. Barter clubs sprouted like mushrooms after rain everywhere.

Although the situation in Argentina today is a far cry from that dismal crash 12 years ago, recent supermarket lootings that left 11 dead, caused by the economic slowdown of the last year, have triggered painful memories for those who lived through the 2001 default. But with the heady days of an annual 8% growth definitely behind Argentina now, Central Bank reserves are dwindling, inflation by some estimates is close to a yearly 40%, consumption is collapsing and Argentina's peso is steadily losing value against the US dollar.

2 Tech exports to drive US trade growth (Andrew S Ross in San Francisco Chronicle) The California Bay Area's global footprint is growing substantially, led by high tech. The sector's hard goods exports alone, worth $25 billion last year, is expected to grow to $30 billion by 2016, accounting for at least half of the region's total exports. By 2020, tech-intensive goods will "become the largest single contributor to US trade growth," according to a research report published by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

These numbers don't include the contributions of software and service providers, like Google, Facebook and the current wave of disruptors with ambitions to take over the world, like Netflix, Tesla, Uber, Yelp and Airbnb. All of which puts the Bay Area "in the catbird seat" tradewise, said the institute's CEO, Sean Randolph.

Lest we forget, California also has the highest poverty rate in the country, a bifurcated economy leaving millions of its residents behind, and, in the Bay Area, one of the biggest income gaps in the world. More generally, as Fortune notes, reflecting the top 500's haul, "the earnings story is still one mainly about squeezing more cars, semiconductors, and grocery sales from a barely rising workforce." And, of course, there's that niggling issue of tax-avoidance schemes involving many of these super-successful companies.

3 Dubai grows from refueling stop to global crossroad (Jad Mouawad in The New York Times) From its humble beginning as a refueling stop for travelers with no desire to linger in an inhospitable corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai’s airport has recently overtaken Heathrow Airport in London as the world’s busiest international air travel hub. Just a decade ago, Dubai ranked as the 45th-largest international hub.

Dubai’s rise as a modern crossroads connecting East and West — with the name of its hometown airline, Emirates, adorning the jerseys of the world’s best soccer teams and sponsoring Formula One car racing and the United States Open — is a tale of globalization and ambition, and an audacious bet on the future of air travel. Dubai received 67.3 million passengers in the 12 months through February, and expects to hit its capacity of 100 million in 2019.

With few natural resources, barely any oil of its own, only 168,000 Emiratis and average temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit from May to September, Dubai has taken on a hazardous gambit. But what Dubai lacked in climate it more than made up in geography. Situated within eight flying hours of two-thirds of the world’s population, Dubai has set up a global hub that can connect virtually any two cities in the world with just one stop. And despite the last economic downturn, it has stuck with grand plans to build a second airport that will eventually dwarf its existing one in the next decade.

The cornerstone of its strategy was creating a new airline and building an aviation infrastructure around it to support its growth. Dubai received 67.3 million passengers in the 12 months through February, jumping for the first time ahead of Heathrow’s 66.9 million international travelers, and Hong Kong’s 59.9 million. It trails Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and its 95 million passengers, though many of those are domestic passengers. Given Dubai’s growth rate, it should also overtake Atlanta within a few years.

Five years ago, the global credit crisis brought Dubai near bankruptcy. But the city has recovered its drive, helped partly by a $10 billion bailout from neighboring Abu Dhabi, and a return of investors from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Dubai’s government planners expect traffic to hit 100 million passengers in 2019, at which point the current airport will reach its maximum capacity. By then Dubai will be tackling a much bigger project, a second airport with five parallel runways, and an annual capacity of 120 million passengers. Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International Airport is expected to cost about $80 billion and should be completed in the middle of the next decade.