Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hong Kong leader rejects protesters' demand; Catastrophic decline in world wildlife population; California gets tough on grocery bags

1 Hong Kong leader rejects protesters’ demand (San Francisco Chronicle) Hong Kong's embattled leader attended a flag-raising ceremony Wednesday to mark China's National Day after refusing to meet pro-democracy demonstrators despite their threats to expand the street protests that have posed the stiffest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took part in the ceremony — marking the anniversary of the founding of communist China in 1949 — as thousands of protesters watching from behind police barricades yelled at him to step down.

China took control of Hong Kong under an arrangement that guaranteed its 7 million people semi-autonomy, Western-style civil liberties and eventual democratic freedoms that are denied to Chinese living on the communist-ruled mainland.

The protesters want a reversal of a recent decision by China's government to screen all candidates in the territory's first direct elections, scheduled for 2017 — a move they view as reneging on a promise that the chief executive will be chosen through "universal suffrage."

The growing protests have attracted worldwide attention, with British Prime Minister David Cameron saying he planned to summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it is essential that Hong Kong's people have a genuine right to choose their top leader. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threat to the Communist Party's hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to "steadfastly safeguard" Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.


2 Catastrophic decline in world wildlife population (Johannesburg Times) The World Wildlife Fund has released its Living Planet Report 2014, revealing catastrophic declines in the world's wildlife populations. The numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have fallen by an average of 52% over the last 40 years. The worst hit are freshwater fish species, which have seen declines of 76% since 1970.

The culprits for this are habitat loss, degradation, fishing, hunting and climate change. The Living Planet Report tracked the populations of over 10000 vertebrates from 1970 to 2010. The report stated that where habitat loss and the pressure of wildlife hunting were added, the effects on a species' numbers could be devastating.


3 California gets tough on grocery bags (Garrett Hering in The Guardian) There’s something about the act of sewing that is therapeutic for traumatized veterans, says Jim Cragg, a former US Army officer turned needlecraft entrepreneur. He should know: he’s the founder of Green Vets Los Angeles, a nonprofit sewing enterprise that makes T-shirts, medical kits, and reusable cloth shopping bags. Since 2009, the company has employed more than 100 former soldiers, some of them homeless and suffering from combat-related injuries.

“We have found that sewing is uplifting, like a form of therapy, and it makes vets feel like part of a team,” Cragg says. “To help people and to keep the environment clean gives them a sense of service. It brings value to their work.” The future looks bright for Cragg’s sewing therapy: on Tuesday, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill enacting the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

When it takes effect – in July for large retailers and in 2016 for small businesses – retailers will be barred from distributing lightweight, single-use plastic bags and will have to charge at least 10 cents each for paper bags. The ban covers the two-thirds of California’s population not already covered by 127 local ordinances.

 “The new law is a game-changer for the state,” says Cragg, whose Green Vets was one of several reusable bag producers to officially support the measure. “It is as much about new employment and business opportunities and new fashion accouterments as it is about the environment.”

The new law offers $2m in grants to in-state plastic bag producers to retool their equipment to manufacture reusable bags. Rather than seeking to profit from the new law, grocers are educating consumers on the importance of bringing their own reusable bags from home, he said. “The toughest part is changing consumer behavior, but it’s interesting to see it happening,” he said. “Customers are embracing the concept of reusable bags.” In other words, California’s plastic bag ban could bode well both for sewing – and shopping – therapy.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Record world debts stirs fear of fresh crisis; Hong Kong protestors hold the streets; YouTube stays king, but Netflix gains

1 Record world debts stirs fresh crisis fear (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Global debts have reached a record high despite efforts by governments to reduce public and private borrowing, according to a report that warns the “poisonous combination” of spiralling debts and low growth could trigger another crisis.

Modest falls in household debt in the UK and the rest of Europe have been offset by a credit binge in Asia that has pushed global private and public debt to a new high in the past year, according to the 16th annual Geneva report. The total burden of world debt, excluding the financial sector, has risen from 180% of global output in 2008 to 212% last year, according to the report.

The study accuses policymakers in many countries of failing to spur sustainable growth by capitalising on historically low interest rates while deterring exuberant lending. It called for Brussels to write off the debts of the eurozone’s worst-hit countries and urgently embark on a “sizeable” 
programme of electronic money creation or quantitative easing to push down long-term interest rates.

Chistine Lagarde, the IMF’s director general, is expected to warn that slowing global growth could encourage investors to take bigger, riskier bets to maintain their income, undermining the stability of the recovery.


2 Hong Kong protestors hold the streets (BBC) Protests in Hong Kong are continuing after tens of thousands of people defied calls for them to dismantle their camps and return home. Demonstrations grew after police tried to disperse crowds using batons and tear gas in the early hours of Monday morning. Riot police later withdrew.

The pro-democracy protesters are angry at China for limiting their choice in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership elections. China has warned other countries not to support the "illegal rallies". The protesters - a mix of students and members of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement - want Beijing to abandon its plans to vet candidates for the post of chief executive in the 2017 polls. They want a free choice of candidates. Until now the territory's chief executive has essentially been selected under a pro-Beijing mechanism.

The British government has called for the right to protest to be protected and for protesters to exercise their right within the law. That call was echoed by the US, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest calling on Hong Kong's authorities to show restraint. "The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people," Mr Earnest told reporters.


3 YouTube stays king, but Netflix gains (Los Angeles Times/San Francisco Chronicle) Netflix pushed out 7 billion hours of content from April through June, spread over the 50.05 million subscribers Netflix said it had as of June. That’s nearly 92 minutes of viewing per day per subscriber, according to a research report from the Diffusion Group.

But the research doesn’t reveal who is watching what, specifically. Netflix doesn’t break out those numbers, nor does it publicize hours spent by age range. Subscribers also sometimes share their account log-ins with friends and family members including children, who in some families spend many hours being babysat by Netflix cartoons and family movies.

Still, the Diffusion report is the latest to confirm that online viewing is chomping away at the time people spend watching traditional TV, which for now remains the most-viewed medium among US adults. The report found that Netflix streaming in the US has tripled since the end of 2011 and grown tenfold internationally.

Within the online video industry, Netflix remains dwarfed by YouTube. The Google-owned video website last reported in May 2013 that it streams about 6 billion hours of video each month, a figure that had risen from 4 billion in a few months. Analysts at Jefferies recently pegged YouTube’s value, separate from Google, at close to $40 billion. Netflix Inc., which doesn’t show ads, has a market capitalization of about $27 billion.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hong Kong democracy push turns violent; US growth revised up again; Leaders and one-liners

1 Hong Kong democracy push turns violent (San Francisco Chronicle) Pro-democracy protests expanded in Hong Kong on Monday, a day after demonstrators upset over Beijing's decision to limit political reforms defied onslaughts of tear gas and appeals from Hong Kong's top leader to go home.

And with rumors swirling, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reassured the public that speculation that the Chinese army might intervene was untrue. The mass protest, which has gathered support from high school students to seniors, is the strongest challenge yet to Beijing's decision to limit democratic reforms for the semi-autonomous city.

The scenes of billowing tear gas and riot police outfitted with long-barreled weapons, rare for this affluent Asian financial hub, are highlighting the authorities' inability to assuage public discontent over Beijing's rejection last month of open nominations for candidates under proposed guidelines for the first-ever elections for Hong Kong's leader, promised for 2017.

The protests began with sit-ins over a week earlier by students urging Beijing to grant genuine democratic reforms to this former British colony. When China took control of Hong Kong from the British in 1997, it agreed to a policy of "one country, two systems" that allowed the city a high degree of control over its own affairs and kept in place liberties unseen on the mainland. It also promised the city's leader would eventually be chosen through "universal suffrage."


2 US growth revised up again (BBC) The US economy grew at an annual rate of 4.6% between April and June, faster than the previous estimate of 4.2%, according to revised figures from the US Department of Commerce. The revision was due to larger rises in exports and business investment. Growth estimates are revised as more information about economic performance becomes available.

The strong growth - the fastest since the end of 2011 - follows a 2.1% contraction in the first quarter. This fall in economic output was blamed on harsh winter weather, which discouraged shoppers and hampered manufacturing.

Analysts said the new figures suggested the US economy was in rude health. "The data signals an even stronger rebound from the decline seen in the first quarter, when extreme weather battered many parts of the economy," said Chris Williamson at Markit Economics.

"However, the impressive gain in the second quarter looks to be far more than just a weather-related upturn, with evidence pointing to an underlying buoyant pace of economic expansion. Survey data in particular indicate that strong growth has persisted throughout the third quarter."


3 Leaders and one-liners (Neeta Lal in Khaleej Times) India’s prime minister Narendra Modi’s penchant for snappy slogans is getting increasingly evident ever since he stormed to power on May 26. “Shasak nahi sevak” (servants, not rulers) is how he described his job profile to people after taking over the reins of the world’s largest democracy.

The sexagenarian’s wit came to the fore yet again recently when Chinese premier Xi Jinping came visiting. Underscoring India-Chinese camaraderie, Modi quipped that India will “inch towards miles” of cooperation with China. In Japan, the prime minister offered the “red carpet, not red tape” to businessmen from the land of the rising sun keen to invest in India.  

In the snappy one-liners department, Modi isn’t alone. Many global leaders have used witticisms to get ahead in their careers, claw out of sticky situations or simply win the hearts of their countrymen. Just four little words helped Bill Clinton sail to victory over incumbent President George H.W. Bush in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton’s campaign slogan encapsulated a nationwide concern about an ailing economy while blaming his political rival for the domestic mess.

“Campaign one-liners are sound bites…which are mental shortcuts for the audience,” says Kimberly Meltzer, a communications expert. “And the reason they work is because they usually activate ideas or phrases that we already possess in our mental frameworks…That’s why they’re so easy to remember and likely to generate buzz.”

Ronald Reagan was quite the favourite when it came to witticisms. Reaganisms like “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?” or “Politics isn’t a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards. If you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book!” have been top of the charts for years.

However, if ministers can create mirth, they can also often be at the receiving end of public scorn. One apocryphal story goes that a famous statesman once commissioned a special postage stamp which was to carry his picture. However, within days of the stamp’s release, complaints began trickling in that the stamp was not sticking properly. The leader asked the stamp makers to investigate the matter. The latter reported back to the politician: ‘There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the stamp. The problem is people are spitting on the wrong side!’

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hong Kong democracy push gathers steam; India's 'Great Power' game; Orange juice seeks a brand rebuild

1 Hong Kong democracy move attracts thousands (Juliana Liu on BBC) The leader of Hong Kong's Occupy Central pro-democracy movement has announced the launch of a mass disobedience campaign. Benny Tai addressed thousands who had gathered outside government headquarters in central Hong Kong. It comes a day after the arrests of more than 60 protesters who had entered a restricted area on the same site.

Students and activists oppose Beijing's decision to rule out fully democratic elections in Hong Kong in 2017. Mr Tai, a co-founder of the Occupy Central movement, announced the launch of a campaign to blockade the heart of Hong Kong's financial centre, in a surprise announcement on Saturday. The launch was originally due to be announced at the start of next month.

Saturday's demonstrations were joined not just by students, but by many others. The numbers swelled from the hundreds to the thousands, with police closing roads surrounding the area and urging demonstrators, especially minors, to go home. Occupy Central says pepper spray was used without warning, and has condemned the use of "unnecessary force" against "peaceful protesters".

On Thursday, about 2,000 university students held a night-time protest at the house of the Hong Kong leader, Chief Executive CY Leung. Hong Kong operates under a "one country, two systems" arrangement with Beijing, which means citizens are allowed the right to protest. In August, Beijing decided that candidates for the 2017 chief executive election would first have to be approved by a nominating committee. Activists have argued that this does not amount to true democracy.


2 India’s ‘Great Power’ game (Munir Akram in Dawn) The election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and geopolitical developments — particularly the US pivot to Asia and the Russia’s new Cold War with the West — have revived India’s prospects of achieving Great Power status. In quick succession, Modi has visited Japan’s ‘nationalistic’ prime minister; hosted China’s president; and is being received this week by the US president in Washington.

The US obviously wishes to embrace India as a partner in containing a rising China, responding to a resurgent Russia and fighting ‘Islamic terrorism’. The most proximate impediment to India’s quest for Great Power status remains Pakistan. So long as Pakistan does not accept India’s regional pre-eminence, other South Asian states will also resist Indian diktat. India cannot feel free to play a great global power role so long as it is strategically tied down in South Asia by Pakistan.

India under Modi has maintained the multifaceted Indian strategy to break down Pakistan’s will and capacity to resist Indian domination. In this endeavour, India is being actively assisted by certain quarters in the West. Insufficient thought has been given in New Delhi and Western capitals to the unintended consequences of this strategy. It has strengthened the political position of the nationalists and the Islamic extremists in Pakistan.

The combination of unresolved disputes, specially Kashmir, the likelihood of terrorist incidents and a nuclear hair-trigger military environment, has made the India-Pakistan impasse the single greatest threat to international peace and security. New Delhi’s bid for Great Power status could be quickly compromised if another war broke out, by design or accident, with Pakistan.


3 Orange juice seeks a brand rebuild (Alexandra Wexler & Leslie Josephs in The Wall Street Journal) Plagued by plummeting demand for their juice and a deadly tree disease, Florida's orange growers are calling on a higher power. His name is Captain Citrus. The Florida Department of Citrus has revamped its mascot with the help of Marvel Entertainment from a green-caped orange wielding a carton of juice to a muscular young man in a skintight yellow-and-orange suit, powered by the sun.

The agency, which is funded by a tax on oranges grown in Florida, hopes a series of custom comic books featuring Captain Citrus alongside the rest of Marvel's popular Avengers characters will help recruit a new generation of orange-juice drinkers.

With Americans giving orange juice the cold shoulder, producers and growers are looking for ways to refresh its image. As dietary awareness has grown, the sugar content of the onetime breakfast-table staple has damaged its reputation as a health drink. And it is getting crowded out of the beverage aisle by upstarts including coconut water, a├žai juice and energy drinks.

Per capita orange-juice consumption is down 45% from its 1998 peak, having fallen to 3.2 gallons a person in 2012 from 5.8 gallons 16 years ago, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Agriculture. Orange juice's waning popularity presents a challenge to PepsiCo, maker of Tropicana, and Coca-Cola, which produces the Minute Maid and Simply brands.

Orange-juice makers have been paying more for the fruit due to limited supplies after a bacterial disease—so-called citrus greening—ravaged the US crop. For the season that ends this month, Florida produced its smallest crop in 29 years. Meanwhile, consumers are having to pay more; for the four weeks ended Aug. 30, orange juice prices averaged $6.46 a gallon, up 4.5% from a year earlier, according to data from Nielsen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Coalition grows against IS; Saving eurozone through debt forgiveness; Smart phones, dumb users

1 Coalition grows against IS (Straits Times) Three more European countries on Friday promised warplanes to join the US-led air armada battering Islamic State targets in Iraq, as coalition forces seek to destroy the jihadists' oil business.

Britain, Belgium and Denmark approved plans to join the war in the air, but Washington warned up to 15,000 "moderate" rebels would need to be trained and armed to beat back the militants in Syria, where they have set up their de facto capital.

The Pentagon said air strikes - which continued for a fifth day in Syria - had disrupted lucrative oil-pumping operations that have helped fund the militants, but that a final victory, perhaps years away, would need local boots on the ground. The new European countries recruited to the Iraq operation are expected to add a total of 19 fighter jets in the air campaign over the country.


2 Saving eurozone through debt forgiveness (Bob Swarup in The Guardian) The eurozone debt crisis never went away. It merely acquired a misleading veneer of resolution thanks to grand promises, political chest-thumping and frazzled financial markets that were desperate to believe in happily ever after.

Today, there is an accentuated sense of deja vu. Europe faces the spectre of deflation. Some members, such as Italy, have toppled over the edge for the first time in more than half a century. Germany threatens recession, and France is a basket case. Enter quantitative easing (QE) as the white knight, as envisaged by the European Central Bank. This is fast becoming a modern-day rain dance. QE is not a cure. It is a shot of morphine that sedates an ailing patient while doctors figure out what to do in the long term.

Europe has a singular problem. It has far too much debt, and in a globalised world much of it is bound in a complex web, particularly among the weaker economies – namely Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – and their main creditors: France, Germany, the UK and the US.

This is a game of dominoes. Any solution that does not involve large-scale debt forgiveness is doomed to failure. In the 1920s, the Dawes plan - an ambitious scheme of credit easing to tackle the intractable debts left by the first world war - fuelled an enormous bubble that ended in the great depression, as the underlying reality of sovereign insolvency became clear. It also created a fertile political climate for the nationalism that ended so disastrously more than a decade later. Money is divisive when things turn sour.

Here is a solution for Europe that tackles the root cause. Write down the debt – not piecemeal, as events force you discordantly to that realisation, but rather coordinated and on an ambitious Europe-wide scale. This acknowledges that the system is saturated with debt, much of it bad, and restores the capacity for future economic growth. This is not unprecedented. The Brady bonds are an earlier example that successfully tackled the seemingly intractable Latin American debt crises of the 1980s. Europe needs its own Brady bond plan.


3 Smart phones, dumb people (Sushmita Bose in Khaleej Times) My smarty-pants phone is synced in with Facebook, and, apparently, one of my friends had posted something about her ‘birthday’ gifts already arriving on her wall; so Smarty picked up on the cues and decided to flag me, and I wished her on the wrong day. (Three days later, it again sent me a reminder — this time, for the socially-correct date/occasion).

It’s all very unnerving, this tendency of trying to second-guess in an attempt to make life easier for the customer — who is king (or queen). They are saying that there will be a time, soon, when smartphones will shape our thoughts, and one will be as smart as one’s smartphone is… we’ll be, literally, walking the talk.

I am not of a fan of technology and I firmly believe that Smarty and its ilk have had a dehumanising effect on homo sapiens, while holding the species in thraldom. Having said that, I have to admit there have been some rather nice interfaces. I’ve discovered an overtly social side to myself thanks to apps like Whatsapp and BBM. And I’m infused with a false sense of security about my filmmaking abilities when I create short snatches of moving pictures on Story Maker; maybe smartphones make me delusional — but, hey, more power to them.

Recently, I downloaded a free app (it actually happened by chance, when I touched an icon above the one I had to touch in order to play a round of Sudoku) that keeps track of the number of steps every day. Alongside, it also calculates the number of calories I am expending.

Smartphones, in the palm of our hands, are a manifestation of tech overtaking our lives. We’ve been copouts, willing genuflectors, happy to be guided and auto prompted. A couple of days ago, I read the bizarre findings of a survey: 77 per cent respondents (in a developing market like India, so imagine how far gone the figures would be if it were a developed one) said that, by 2025, they would have been to a house that speaks to them and reads their mind. My hand is already talking to me. And reading my mind.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Apple stumble brings Dow down; Climate issue has warm streets and a cold summit; Richard Branson and unlimited time off: Too good to be true

1 Apple stumble brings Dow down (San Francisco Chronicle) A stumble by Apple set off the worst rout in the stock market since July on Thursday. Apple dropped nearly 4 percent following its announcement late Wednesday that it had pulled a software update which prevented users from making phone calls. Other technology stocks also slumped.

By the close of trading, all 30 big companies in the Dow Jones industrial average and the 10 industries in the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost ground. Most investors said the drop wasn't a sign of worry because the forces behind the market's long rally remain in place. It was only a week ago that the S&P 500 touched a record high, and strong runs are usually followed by short breaks. The index has lost 2 percent this week but is still up 6 percent for the year.

Two economic reports out Thursday were little help. Claims for unemployment benefits crept up last week. But the less volatile four-week average fell. A separate report said businesses orders for equipment plunged last month, mainly a result of falling orders for commercial aircraft.

Apple, which closed at a record high of $103.30 on Sept. 2, sank $3.88 to $97.87 in heavy trading. It was the second-biggest drop in the S&P 500 index. In addition to the software glitch, some users of the new iPhone complained that the phone could be bent easily. The price of oil fell slightly on ample global supplies despite U.S. airstrikes against oil facilities controlled by the Islamic State group in Syria.


2 Climate issue has warm streets, cold summit (Khaleej Times) The United Nations Climate Summit 2014, held on September 23, can be considered as a study in two contrasts. On the one hand was the People’s Climate March - an enormous gathering of concerned citizens in New York which may have seen a combined total of some 400,000 people. The marchers delivered one message in many creative ways. That message was: we citizens can and will rid the planet of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

On the other hand was the Climate Summit.  This, said the UN, would serve as a public platform for leaders at the highest level. The gathering would “catalyse ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilise political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature”.

Did it succeed? No and yes. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed up the Summit as “a great day, a historic day. Ban said that the Summit “delivered” because the many leaders attending “reaffirmed determination to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius by cutting emissions”.

Such announcements underline the contrast between the desire on the street and the cold comfort of summit announcements (now in their 22nd year). The UN tip-toed around the large global and regional corporations whose business practices have deepened environmental and socio-economic emergencies all over the world, and which are responsible for worsening the vulnerabilities of populations exposed to the risk of climate change. Instead of such expensive jamborees the UN should emulate the example of the marchers and encourage small, local and meaningful action.


3 Branson and unlimited time off: Too good to be true (The Guardian) When Richard Branson announces that Virgin employees can take as much holiday as they want, on the face of it, it appears attractive and generous but is in fact about as liberating for the employee as, say, hot-desking. It is just one more way of chaining the workers to their desks by intimating that if they go for a coffee someone will take their seat. Or their job.

Mr Branson scarcely troubled to disguise the flimsiness of his offer. The decision whether to take holiday, he said, would reflect an employee’s confidence that they were on top of their jobs, in complete control of all their projects, and that their absence would do no harm to the company – or their career. It is a souped-up version of turning off office emails, itself something all sensible employers should insist on, but which most employees fear would be seen as a possibly lethal breach of commitment.

The idea of untracked holiday is taken from Netflix, the company that has revolutionised video streaming. In a recent Harvard Business Review, Patty McCord, its human resources manager, gave the game away when she explained that it was the logical extension of the always-on work culture of a tech startup. No surprise that the policy is not available to Netflix employees in its call centres, any more than Mr Branson was proposing it for his air crews or train staff.

It is fashionable to argue that rights at work can be an unnecessary obstacle to efficiency, an impediment in an age of non-hierarchical company structures where creativity and initiative are valued more highly than suits, ties and punctuality. Rubbish.

Netflix draws the analogy that the company has no dress policy but no one turns up naked. Not having an official code doesn’t mean there isn’t one. By failing to spell it out, the management underlines the arbitrary nature of its power. Clear rules can protect the weak. Without mutual confidence, ultimately underwritten in law, there can be no mutual trust.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Global middle class nears 1bn; The strange revival of nationalism; Three acceptable lies in an interview

1 Global middle class nears 1 bn (Alberto Nardelli in The Guardian) The global gross financial assets - namely securities, bank deposits, and claims on insurance and pensions - of private households grew by 9.9% in 2013, the highest rate of growth since 2003. This brought total global financial assets up to a new record level of €118 trillion. Switzerland, the US and Belgium are the top-three countries in the world when it comes to net per capita financial assets. This is one of the main findings in the most recent edition of the Allianz Global Wealth Report.

Since the end of 2000, the proportion of global gross financial assets that is attributable to North America and western Europe has fallen by 6%, yet both regions still account for a combined total of almost 70% of the global asset base. In other words, more than four-fifths of global financial assets are still in the hands of private households living in the world’s richer areas, even though these households make up 18.8% of the earth’s population.

One of the most interesting sections in the report is on the growth of a global middle class - which is now nearing the one billion mark. Allianz defines this “wealth middle class” by taking the average global net per capita financial assets (€17,700 in 2013), as a basis, and then encompasses all individuals with assets corresponding to somewhere between 30% and 180% of this figure.

The flows between wealth classes are particularly interesting. The middle class includes both 65 million people that have been demoted from the “wealth upper class” since 2000, and 491 million new entrants. The share of the population that falls into the wealth middle class in global terms has doubled in Latin America, has almost trebled in eastern Europe and has increased seven-fold in Asia.


2 Nationalism’s strange revival (Gideon Rachman in Financial Times/Straits Times) In 1990 management consultant Kenichi Ohmae published a book called The Borderless World, whose title captured the spirit of globalisation. Over the next almost 25 years, developments in business, finance, technology and politics seemed to confirm the inexorable decline of borders and the nation states they protected.

But last week, 45 per cent of Scots voted in favour of setting up a nation independent from the United Kingdom. The referendum was watched eagerly by separatist movements in Catalonia, Tibet, Quebec and elsewhere. Separatist movements are one facet of the resurgence of nationalism. In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, nationalist politicians are on the march - even in well-established states.

The most dangerous nationalist in Europe is Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who has annexed Crimea, proclaiming his right, indeed duty, to protect Russian speakers wherever they live. The three most powerful Asian countries - China, Japan and India - are led by charismatic nationalist leaders. China's President Xi Jinping, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi use a similar rhetoric of national revival as a spur to economic and social reform at home.

What accounts for this strange global resurgence of nationalism when so many economic and technological forces push in the opposite direction? The disorientating effects of globalisation probably encourage people to look for reassurance and meaning in things that are more local or national, whether it is a common language or a shared history. Suspicion of globalisation and international finance also received a huge boost after the economic crisis of 2008.

Perhaps most dangerously, the sense that the global order is newly unstable may be stoking nationalist sentiment, as countries or separatist movements see an opportunity to push their previously dormant agendas. In a more optimistic age, it was a Japanese thinker - Mr Ohmae - who popularised the notion of a borderless world. For 25 years, his insight had seemed powerful and prescient. Sadly, it now looks increasingly out of tune with a world in which nationalism is resurgent.


3 Three acceptable lies in an interview (Belo Cipriani in San Francisco Chronicle) In a competitive job market, people sometimes stretch the truth to help themselves stand out from the pack. But while lying on resumes and cover letters is frowned upon, there are some instances in the interview process when it’s OK not to be fully honest. Here are three things that are OK to lie about during an interview.

Your future plans: We can prepare, outline, and even draft a five year plan; yet, life can take us on a completely different course. This is why, when asked about your future, it’s OK not to have a specific answer. It’s fine to alter your five year future plan to include the potential employer. And if it turns out you are not with them in five years, you can be sure it won’t be held against you.

Your weaknesses: When interviewers ask for your biggest weakness, they already suspect your answer will not be completely honest. For example, if you say your biggest weakness is being a perfectionist, the person doing the interview will be more interested in knowing how you cope with your perfectionist attitude. And if you do decide to be completely open about your pitfalls, keep in mind that what you identify as a drawback may not be what others see as a flaw and hiring managers may not take your confession to heart.

Your state of emotion: If you are nervous or anxious during the interview, admitting your feelings may make your symptoms worse. Telling others that you are doing great, even if you got no sleep, will help you feel better and help push negative feelings away.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rare US-Arab assault on Muslim extremists; India close to scripting Mars history; Meeting etiquette matters much

1 Rare US-Arab assault on Muslim extremists (San Francisco Chronicle) The one-two-three punch of American and Arab airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq was just the beginning, President Barack Obama and other leaders have declared. They promised a sustained campaign showcasing a rare US-Arab partnership aimed at Muslim extremists.

At the same time, in fresh evidence of how the terrorist threat continues to expand and mutate, the US on its own struck a new al-Qaida cell that the Pentagon said was "nearing the execution phase" of a direct attack on the US or Europe.

Obama said the US was "proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder" with Arab partners, and he called the roll: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, said four of the five had participated in the strikes, with Qatar playing a supporting role. US Secretary of State John Kerry said more than 50 nations are allied in the fight.

It was a measure of the gravity of the threat and the complex politics of the problem that Syrian President Bashar Assad gave an indirect nod of approval to the airstrikes in his own country, saying he supported "any international anti-terrorism effort." There has been concern among US officials that any strikes against militants fighting Assad could be seen as inadvertently helping the leader whom Obama wants to see ousted from power.


2 India close to scripting Mars history (Jason Burke in The Guardian) Those running India’s first Mars mission hope the satellite will reach the orbit of Mars at 7.30am local time on Wednesday. Failure is almost inconceivable. The prime minister, Narendra Modi, will be in the control room of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the southern city of Bangalore as the rocket bearing the satellite attempts to enter the orbit of the red planet. Tens of millions of people across the country are expected to follow the progress of the craft live.

However, there is a significant chance of failure. Of 51 previous attempts to reach Mars, more than half failed, Bagla said. Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi, took off from the island of Shriharikota, off India’s eastern coast, 10 months ago. The 1,350kg device first headed for an elliptical orbit around Earth, after which a series of manoeuvres and short burns of its rocket engines sent it on towards Mars.

Scientists from ISRO successfully tested the main engine on Monday and performed a course correction that put the low-cost project on track to enter the red planet’s orbit. Experts said reducing the craft’s speed from its current rate of 22km (13.7 miles) per second would be a key challenge. “It has covered 98% of the distance but the last 2% is the tricky bit. If it is too fast it will fly by Mars and be lost in space. If it is too slow it will crash into the planet,” said Bagla.

Some have questioned the $70m price tag for a country still dealing with widespread hunger and poverty. But India defended the Mars mission by noting its importance in providing hi-tech jobs for scientists and engineers and practical applications in solving problems on Earth.

Success would make India the fourth space power after the US, Europe and Russia to orbit or land on the red planet. The cost of the Indian effort is a tenth of that of an ongoing mission by Nasa that put a satellite into the orbit of Mars two days ago.


3 Meeting etiquette matters much (Khaleej Times) Meetings - and your meeting manners - are vitally important, especially in our ever-changing business environment. For better or worse, we learn and make judgments about our colleagues that are based on their behavior. Letitia Baldrige, former Social Secretary at the White House and my mentor, chaired superb meetings. She learned by sitting across from heads of state. Here is her recipe for making meetings meaningful, productive, efficient, and enjoyable:

Choose a convenient time for the meeting and provide necessary information. Invite the key people who will be involved or affected by the meeting’s outcome. No cast of thousands; yet no omissions. Distribute the agenda to everyone within a week of the meeting. Always arrive early to greet the participants, shake hands, and direct them to the conference table or coffee buffet. Begin the meeting on time, introduce everyone or ask each person to introduce himself, then briefly state the purpose and goal of the meeting and its time frame.

Always look good; dress authoritatively and colorfully, with perfect grooming. Consider the big picture: One international colleague of mine offered, “Try to predict the self interests of each identifiable subgroup. Watch, during the time just prior to the meeting, perhaps at water cooler or coffee, for the shy or unallied individuals who may hold back. Try to draw them out, gently, when the meeting gets going.”

Most of us agree that getting undivided attention is a relic. Frank Catalano, a tech consultant and columnist, addresses the issue this way: “One of my favorite tricks is when the meeting chair asks everyone to take out their tablets and smartphones, and put them face down on the table. The first one to pick it up to check it has to put a dollar on the table beside the device. The fact that they are upside down and visible to everyone else seems to work. I’ve never seen anyone have to pay.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Grim struggle for US long-term jobless; Rockefellers to divest from fossil fuels; 'TV-free days to combat obesity'

1 Grim struggle for US long-term jobless (Andrew S Ross in San Francisco Chronicle) As of August 2014 three million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months. Over two million have been unemployed for more than a year. The only incremental improvement: the percentage of those out of work and looking for the past six months or more has declined, from 46% of the total unemployed in 2010, to 33 percent now.

The plight of the long term unemployed — highest in the 45-59 age group – remains “among the most persistent, negative effects of the Great Recession.” In percentage terms, it’s still the highest since the Great Depression, says the John J Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in a report published today.

The long-lasting trend indicates “that the ranks of the long-term unemployed may remain high for months or years even if the economy continues to improve,” says the report. Close to half of those who have found jobs are being paid less, working part-time, or otherwise experiencing “a step down” from their job 5 years ago.


2 Rockefellers to divest from fossil fuels (BBC) Heirs to the Rockefeller family, which made its vast fortune from oil, are to sell investments in fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy, reports say. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is joining a coalition of philanthropists pledging to rid themselves of more than $50bn in fossil fuel assets.

The announcement was made a day before the UN climate change summit opens on Tuesday. Some 650 individuals and 180 institutions have joined the coalition. It is part of a growing global initiative called Global Divest-Invest, which began on university campuses several years ago. Pledges from pension funds, religious groups and big universities have reportedly doubled since the start of 2014.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund director Stephen Heintz said the move to divest from fossil fuels would be in line with oil tycoon John D Rockefeller's wishes. The philanthropic organisation was founded in 1940 by the sons of John D Rockefeller. As of 31 July 2014, the fund's investment assets were worth $860m.


3 ‘TV-free days to combat obesity’ (Sarah Boseley in The Guardian) Draft health advice on obesity has recommended taking TV-free days or setting two-hour limits on the amount of time spent sitting in front of screens. The advice, aimed at helping the population to keep weight off as well as losing it, says the long hours many of us spend watching TV or staring at screens prevent us being active – and many people snack as they watch.

The guidance from Nice (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) urges people to set limits for the sake of their health. “Any strategy that reduces TV viewing and other leisure screen time may be helpful (such as TV-free days or setting a limit to watch TV for no more than two hours a day),” it says.

The Nice guidance, which now goes out to consultation, is aimed at public health advisers. With 62% of the population overweight or obese, there is great concern for the nation’s health. Excess weight carries increased risks of heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, including breast cancer. Obesity cost the NHS an estimated £16bn in 2007 and is forecast to rise to £50bn by 2050.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Global protests over climate change; 'Dubai World debt restructuring soon'; Obesity is Africa's new crisis

1 Global protests over climate change (Roger Harrabin on BBC) Street protests demanding urgent action on climate change have attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers in more than 2,000 locations worldwide. The People's Climate March is campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York next week.

In Manhattan, organisers said some 310,000 people joined a march that was also attended by UN chief Ban Ki-moon. Earlier, huge demonstrations took place in Australia and Europe. "This is the planet where our subsequent generations will live," Mr Ban told reporters. "There is no 'Plan B' because we do not have 'Planet B'."

New York hosted the largest of Sunday's protests, drawing more than half of the 600,000 marchers estimated by organisers to have taken part in rallies around the world. Another protest, another climate conference - will this time be any different? Well, the marches brought more people on to the streets than ever before, thanks to the organisational power of the social media site Avaaz.

Next year world leaders are due to show up in Paris to settle a global climate deal based not on a bitterly-contested chiselling negotiation in the middle of the night, but on open co-operative offers of action to tackle a shared problem. But some big players may continue the game of climate poker, holding back their offers until they see what else is on the table. So there is no guarantee that Ban's idea will work - but at least for weary climate politics watchers it will be a change.


2 ‘Dubai World debt restructuring soon’ (Khaleej Times) One of Dubai’s top government officials has said that he expects state-owned conglomerate Dubai World to reach a deal on renegotiating its debt repayment schedule in the near future.

“I can say for sure we will reach it. It is there and you will hear about it soon,” Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai’s Supreme Fiscal Committee, who is also President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman and CEO of Emirates airline and Group, said when asked whether Dubai World has reached a deal with creditors.

Returning confidence has led to a number of new projects to be announced, including plans to build the world’s largest Ferris wheel and the world’s largest shopping mall. Shaikh Ahmed added that many of the new residential projects which have been announced were needed to help boost supply and dampen big increases seen in prices.  Property price rises, at close to 30 per cent year-on-year, were among the highest in the world during 2013 and the first part of 2014.


3 Obesity is Africa’s new crisis (Ian Birrell in The Guardian) Fat is no longer just a developed world problem. Today more people in poorer countries go to bed each night having consumed too many calories than go to bed hungry – a revelation that underlines the breakneck pace of change on our planet. A landmark report by the Overseas Development Institute earlier this year showed that more than one-third of the world’s adults are overweight – and that almost two-thirds of the world’s overweight people are found in low and middle-income nations.

The number of obese or overweight people in developing countries rose from 250 million to almost 1 billion in under three decades, and these rates are rising significantly faster than in rich nations. South Africa typifies this alarming new trend, with nearly double the average global obesity rates, and according to another report has become the world’s third fattest nation.

Nearly two-thirds of the population is overweight and, unlike in the developed world, the problem afflicts more women than men. Incredibly, 69.3% of South African females display unhealthy levels of body fat and more than four in 10 are clinically obese (defined as having a BMI higher than 30). More than half the women in Botswana and one in eight Nigerian men are also obese, while Egypt saw one of the fastest rises among women.

A host of parasitical industries have grown up to feed off the obesity crisis, from quack diets and hypnotism at one end of the spectrum to fitness boot camps and bariatric surgery at the other. Television has also got in on the act, with reality shows encouraging people to turn their lives around by exercising and improving diet.

This is a global crisis. There are attempts to grapple with this crisis: restricting trans-fatty acids in Denmark, imposing taxes on fizzy drinks in Mexico, even fines for employers of overweight staff in Japan. But perhaps most frighteningly, not one of the 188 nations studied managed to reduce obesity levels over the period studied. Truly, as the fast-food joints and shopping malls of South Africa show, this has become a global health and social crisis of gargantuan proportions.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Europe car sales continue recovery; Lessons from Scotland; Making Isis fall on its own sword

1 Europe car sales continue recovery (BBC) European Union new car registrations showed continued signs of recovery in July and August, industry figures show. Sales of new cars were 5.6% higher in July compared to the same month last year, and 2.1% up in August, the Association of European Automobile Manufacturers (ACEA) said. France was the only market to contract in July, with sales falling 4.3%.

But in August, even Germany, the EU's leading market, saw sales fall 0.4% compared to the same month last year. Overall, sales grew 6% in the first eight months of the year, said ACEA, "continuing the upward trend that began 12 months ago". This equates to 8,336,159 new car registrations over the period.

VW group, comprising Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda, led the leader board, accounting for 25.4% of total sales between January to August. In second place, the PSA Group, comprising Peugeot and Citroen, achieved an 11.1% market share over the same period, with sales rising 3.9%.

European car manufacturers were hard hit during the global financial crises as consumer spending all but evaporated. However in the last year the industry has begun to recover. But in the UK, where car sales have been comparatively strong and the economy has been outperforming its continental neighbours, sales grew by 6.6% in July and 9.4% in August.


2 Lessons from Scotland (Dawn) On Friday, it emerged that Scotland’s just over 300-year-old political union with England will survive, with more than 55 per cent of Scottish voters casting their ballots against independence. The ‘yes’ camp, led by the ruling Scottish National Party, promised voters a more just welfare state free from Westminster’s influence, while the British establishment pulled out all the stops to convince Scots to vote ‘no’, saying that Scotland and the UK were ‘better together’.

We must appreciate the democratic manner in which the matter was decided. The issue was resolved through the vote; unfortunately, in countless other instances around the world we have seen attempts at separation either succeed or be put down by force after much bloodshed and acrimony.

However, while the Scots will stay with the UK, other independence-seeking regions the world over have been emboldened by the exercise. For example, Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region may opt for a similar referendum, but unlike the UK, the central government in Madrid has vowed to oppose such a move.

Scotland’s case is an interesting one. In most instances separatist feelings are fuelled when a region suffers from poverty and discrimination and the denial of rights, or receives step-motherly treatment from the centre. Though Edinburgh’s relationship with London was not quite perfect, Scotland did not suffer from the usual causes that encourage separatism. There are lessons in the referendum for the rest of the world. Firstly, even the most divisive of questions can be dealt with in a non-violent fashion provided democratic methods are used. Secondly, even prosperous and relatively peaceful regions will desire separation if they feel their voices are not being heard.


3 Making Isis fall on its own sword (Chelsea E Manning in The Guardian) The Islamic State (Isis) is without question a very brutal extremist group with origins in the insurgency of the US occupation of Iraq. It has rapidly ascended to global attention by taking control of swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq, including Mosul and other major cities.

Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq during the organization’s relative infancy, Isis cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets – even as the fight is taken to Syria, even if it is conducted by non-Western forces with air support.

I believe that Isis is fueled precisely by the operational and tactical successes of European and American military force that would be – and have been – used to defeat them. I believe that Isis strategically feeds off the mistakes and vulnerabilities of the very democratic western states they decry. The Islamic State’s center of gravity is, in many ways, the US, the UK and those aligned with them in the region.

Attacking Isis directly, by air strikes or special operations forces, is a very tempting option available to policymakers, with immediate (but not always good) results. Unfortunately, when the west fights fire with fire, we feed into a cycle of outrage, recruitment, organizing and even more fighting that goes back decades. This is exactly what happened in Iraq during the height of a civil war in 2006 and 2007, and it can only be expected to occur again.

As a strategy to disrupt the growth of Isis, I suggest focusing on four arenas: Counter the narrative in online Isis recruitment videos. Set clear, temporary borders in the region, publicly. Establish an international moratorium on the payment of ransom for hostages, and work in the region to prevent Isis from stealing and taxing historical artifacts and valuable treasures as sources of income.

Let Isis succeed in setting up a failed “state” – in a contained area and over a long enough period of time to prove itself unpopular and unable to govern. This might begin to discredit the leadership and ideology of Isis for good. But the world just needs to be disciplined enough to let the Isis fire die out on its own, intervening carefully and avoiding the cyclic trap of “mission creep”. Isis is wielding a sharp, heavy and very deadly double-edged sword. Now just wait for them to fall on it.