Global News Blog
Over the last two years, Jordan's budget deficit has risen by two-thirds, to $19 billion and 80 percent of gross domestic product. Economic growth has hovered at between 3 and 3.5 percent, a value that the central bank governor has said it won't surpass for the foreseeable future.
The bad news only gets worse with an explanation: Jordan is buckling under the burden of accepting more than half a million Syrian refugees in just three years' time. The way our correspondent in Amman sees it, Jordan faces two choices: "either economic collapse, or the country shuts its border" to the 800 or so Syrians who cross each day.
Both those options would be negatives for the business community. Collapse would cause widespread uncertainty in which business could quickly dry up as consumers pull in their horns, even if an international rescue package came relatively quickly. Social stability, already fragile because of antigovernment protests, risks unraveling further. Closing the border would cause less direct damage to the economy, but would make Jordan a pariah and dry up what little funding it is receiving for its humanitarian efforts.
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When the Syrian conflict began, the international community besought neighboring countries to leave borders open. Jordan, which has a long history of accepting refugees – first from the Palestinian territories, then from Iraq – did just that.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Macedonia’s government looks on course for a double election victory this month after incumbent conservative Gjorge Ivanov triumphed in the first round of presidential balloting on April 13. The second round on April 27 will coincide with a snap general election in which Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's party aims to secure reelection.
But Mr. Gruevski will face some tricky parliamentary arithmetic even if his party wins the vote as expected.
Polls forecast another win for Gruevski, which the success of his ally, Mr. Ivanov, seems to confirm. But if Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party does not secure an absolute parliamentary majority, it will need to cast around for a coalition partner. It is at loggerheads with the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) and is now estranged from the ethnic-Albanian DUI, its former governing partner. This leaves smaller parties or the DPA, another ethnic-Albanian party that is more hard-line – and thus antagonistic toward the ethnic-Slav VMRO-DPMNE – than the DUI. Thus, Gruevski may seek to patch up differences with his former partner.
If he remains prime minister, expect more of the same from Gruevski – further lobbying for NATO membership and a formal start to European Union accession negotiations, in the face of Greek opposition, as well as a pro-investment stance that has seen the World Bank rank Macedonia as the best business environment in the region.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Many world stock exchanges fell Tuesday as traders kept an eye out for any signs that Russian tanks are about to roll into eastern Ukraine. But the calendar isn’t quite right for any major military moves by Russia, at least in the next week or so.
For starters, talks between the US, the EU, Ukraine, and Russia are planned for Thursday in Geneva. Then comes the most important religious holiday on the Russian Orthodox calendar: Easter will be celebrated both in Russia and the West on April 20 this year.
“Most people think that Putin is not going to make a major military incursion before Easter of all holidays,” says our correspondent in Ukraine.
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However, one date to watch is May 8, V-E Day. The holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany “has incredible resonance, much more so in Russia than it does in the West." ... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
In the court of public opinion, the verdict on a recent round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is already out: They're dead. Almost no one expects the parties to reach a "framework agreement" by a US-imposed deadline of April 29. "It looks like they're stuck," our correspondent in Jerusalem puts it plainly.
But from Israel's side, there is at least one quite convincing reason to try and keep the talks going past the end of the month. The economy is already jittery over the possibility that a boycott and sanctions campaign in Europe could gain momentum.
"We see some Israeli concern over the possible fallouts. Israel fears that if the negotiations do break down and they are the ones blamed for it, these kinds of boycott and sanctions arguments could get more traction," our correspondent explains.
The calls for economic measures against Israel have been around or years, but until recently, they seemed far fetched. That is slowly changing in Europe, where the movement has gained steam. Private investors, foundations, even pension funds have begun to pull some investments. The Palestinian authority has particularly asked supporters to boycott any Israeli products or firms located in settlements in the occupied territories.
That could accelerate if talks break down, our reporter says.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
The Russian gambit in Crimea has deeply affected geopolitical thinking beyond the United States and Europe. Japan, which had high hopes of negotiating a friendly settlement over Japanese islands seized by Russia at the end of World War II, now is bracing for life with a more aggressive neighbor to its west across the Sea of Japan. The result will “require Asian countries to strengthen their defenses and unite to demand adherence to international law,” writes Yuriko Koike, Japan’s former defense minister, on the website Project Syndicate.
Russia’s move may also embolden Japan’s other giant neighbor, China. “The days of an inward looking Japan are over,” Ms. Koike concludes. Japanese eyes have been opened to how events elsewhere in the world will affect Japan’s own security. The island nation already has signaled its new policy by becoming the largest donor to Ukraine, pledging $1.5 billion in economic aid, the most by any country, including the US.
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How an engineer solves world problems
Despite his concerted effort to give away his money, Bill Gates keeps making more, with his net worth now around $76 billion, making him the richest person in the world. And no ultra-rich person has probably ever worked harder at shedding the moniker of the “idle rich.” In an extensive interview with Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone, Mr. Gates talks about his efforts to solve some of the most pressing problems in the world, including diseases that hold back progress in the developing world, such as polio. He attacks these problems as an engineer seeking to fix broken systems.
In his worldview, he fits into no easy political category. He agrees with Democrats that the wealthy could easily pay a much higher portion of their incomes in taxes. But like conservatives, he’s not convinced that governments know how to run programs efficiently, calling them “a pretty blunt instrument” prone to “not doing things very well.” US immigration laws need fixing: They “are bad – really, really bad.... [T]reatment of immigrants is one of the greatest injustices done in our government’s name.” The top three problems in the US that he says need fixing? Political deadlock, the education system, and health-care costs.
Getting girls to like code
The US needs more talent in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. A great source would be women, who traditionally have not shown much interest in STEM careers. Under its president, Maria Klawe, herself a computer scientist, Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., has pioneered a three-step program to attract more women students to STEM studies, writes Manoush Zomorodi in Quartz, an online business journal.
It renamed esoteric-sounding computer science courses to sound more accessible and interesting, has arranged for women students to go on field trips to meet successful women working in tech fields, and created summer research programs that take place between freshman and sophomore years so the students can apply what they have learned. The result? The number of women pursuing computer science majors soared from 10 percent to 40 percent. Duke, Northwestern, and the University of California, Berkeley have also had success using similar schemes.
Floating utopias for a crowded planet
With sea levels on the rise, the once-fantastic idea of floating cities is getting a more serious hearing. While people have long lived on boats moored in city harbors, more formal floating neighborhoods are being developed in such places as London and Rotterdam, Netherlands, writes Jessa Gamble in Britain’s The Guardian.
The greatest need may be in the developing world: A Nigerian architect has designed floating houses that could provide homes for those now living in a slum. A floating school has already been built there. The most ambitious scheme? The “Freedom Ship” would be a mile-long, 3-million-ton barge with apartment buildings. It would tour the world, making stops just outside major ports, allowing onshore visits for its 40,000 permanent residents and 20,000 crew members. But is life on a fancy movable city feasible? “Many of our essential goods arrive by tanker anyway – a sea-based location would be all the more convenient,” she writes.
The best game of summer
With baseball returning to only recently defrosted northern US cities, the Boston Review has reprinted a classic essay on why America’s national pastime is “The Best of All Games.” Written in 1981 by the late John Rawls, an American philosopher and Harvard University professor, “The Best of All Games” recalls a conversation he had with another scholar, Harry Kalven. Among Mr. Kalven’s points: The dimensions of the baseball diamond (the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound and between the bases, etc.) have proved to be an ideal size to display an array of skills and “graceful exercise” in running, throwing, and batting, dimensions that have stood the test of time.
In baseball, unlike in sports such as football and basketball, players of average height or weight can be successful. And unlike in other sports, scoring is done without possessing the ball, creating simultaneous excitement both where the ball is in play and where the runner is trying to advance. Finally, Rawls wrote, winning doesn’t depend on time running out. This means that there is always time for the losing side to make a comeback. “The last of the ninth inning becomes one of the most potentially exciting parts of the game,” he says.
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If a presidential election takes place with only one candidate, can we still call it an election?
That’s the question facing Costa Rica after the ruling party’s candidate dropped out of the race last month after falling behind in polls, leaving only center-left challenger Luis Guillermo Solís campaigning for the second-round run-off Sunday (April 6), says our correspondent in San José. Both Solis and Johnny Araya will still appear on the ballot per electoral rules, but only Mr. Solís has actively campaigned in recent weeks.
Solís is expected by all forecasts to win the presidency, but the greater risk now is whether he can also win the popular mandate.
“If nobody comes out to vote and Solís wins, that looks much worse than if many people showed up and Solís barely won,” says our correspondent.
There is also a risk that Solís supporters could feel overly confident, stay home, and not vote, which could raise the rate of absenteeism and give die-hard supporters of the ruling National Liberation Party’s Mr. Araya a chance to eke out a victory, adds our correspondent. It’s no wonder then that Solís has continued knocking on doors, paying for television spots, sitting for interviews, and publicly announcing a drive for more than 1 million votes – nearly half of total eligible voters.
Expect a President Solís to focus on boosting medium- and small-scale enterprise in Costa Rica, according to our correspondent. Solís has said that the country relies too heavily on foreign employers and exports rather than supporting local jobs with local businesses. But also don’t expect a sudden cold shoulder toward foreign investment, as Solís recognizes the value of US firms such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard who have turned this tiny Central American nation into a top global producer of microprocessors, adds our correspondent.
“He’s walking this line between wanting to court foreign business and finding a way to develop other sections of the economy left behind,” says our correspondent.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Helen Apio used to start her day with a mile-and-a-half predawn march to stand in line waiting for water, Becky Straw writes on the community blogging site Maptia. Then she would turn around and head home, hopefully with two full five-gallon jerrycans.
Ms. Straw met Ms. Apio when she visited a small village in Atek, Uganda, with colleagues from charity: water, a nonprofit water relief organization. When the charity: water crew arrived, Apio and other women swarmed the truck and began cheering and dancing, Straw writes. Apio told them about the village’s new well. The well meant that she no longer had to choose between watering her garden so she could grow food for her family and washing her children’s uniforms so they would not be sent home from school, Straw writes. It meant that she could take care of herself, too. “Now, I am beautiful,” Apio told Straw.
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Not Putin’s pawn
On March 5, RT (previously known as Russia Today) correspondent Elizabeth Wahl tendered her resignation on the air. “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of [President Vladimir] Putin,” she announced during her final evening broadcast.
Ms. Wahl outlines on Politico.com how she came to report for the English-language international cable network funded by the Russian government. The network had lured her with an opportunity to tackle “stories the mainstream media ignores” and a company mantra of “Question More,” she writes.
She joined the network shortly before discontented protesters started setting up tent cities all across the United States as part of the “Occupy” movement. She and her fellow correspondents covered the protests heavily, especially the protesters’ complaints about the US government, she writes. But there was no interest in comparable coverage of protests in Moscow, she adds. When Russia annexed Crimea, the network pushed for “Kremlin-driven coverage … with propaganda and censorship like I’ve never seen it before,” she writes. She soon decided that she had to resign publicly. “I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth,” she said in her closing statement.
Where mountain women live as men
In the mountains of Albania, a dozen or more women live out their lives as men. While some of these burrneshas always felt they were male, even when they were small, the majority did not, GQ’s Michael Paterniti writes. The practice dates back hundreds of years as a way for daughters to inherit family land.
A medieval canon of laws, known as the Kanun, outlines strict rules of patrilineal inheritance, he explains. The only way for a woman to inherit property is to become a celibate burrnesha. While the practice has fallen out of favor, there are still burrneshas living out their lives alone in the Albanian Alps. Most Albanians have no idea they exist, he reports.
One burrnesha, Haki, told Paterniti that “he” (his pronoun of choice) had survived some very hard times. “But he’d always had the barn, the garden. He’d always had the well, and the fresh water in it. And he had relative peace.” That’s a valuable commodity in a region where 20,000 people are entangled in blood feuds.
The majestic tuna
The bluefin tuna has traversed the world’s oceans for thousands of years. Classic author Ernest Hemingway called the 14-foot, 3/4-ton giant “the king of all fish.” Archaeologists have found the bluefin’s hulking silhouette etched on Stone Age cave paintings and on Greek and Celtic coins, Kenneth Brower reports for National Geographic. “Bluefin helped build Western civilization,” Stanford University professor Barbara Block, a bluefin scholar, told Mr. Brower. Today, bluefin are still beloved, perilously so.
“Bluefin are among the most overfished species on Earth,” he writes. High consumer demand and poor management have pushed the world’s fisheries to a new brink, he reports. The western Atlantic stock has declined 64 percent since 1970, a plight shared by Canada’s cod, Peru’s anchovies, the Pacific Northwest’s salmon, Antarctica’s Patagonian toothfish, and the world’s sharks.
The acoustic wonders of the world
Trevor Cox stumbled upon his “life’s grandest quest” while descending into a sewer, Joseph Stromberg reports for Smithsonian
mag.com. “I heard something interesting down there, a sound sprialing [sic] around the sewer,” the acoustic engineer told Mr. Stromberg. “It kind of took me by surprise, and it got me thinking: what other remarkable sounds are out there?”
Mr. Cox traveled all over the world to catalog acoustic wonders for his new book, “The Sound Book.” He recorded the melancholy groans of Iceland’s shifting glaciers, the guttural humming of Mojave Desert dunes, and the eerie songs of Alaska’s bearded seals. He captured the perplexing projection of sound within spherical whisper chambers and the endless echo within an abandoned oil tank. After all that hunting, he told Stromberg, Cox realized that acoustic wonders are everywhere, in the rumble of traffic, the song of a bird, and yes, even in the sewer.
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After an Egyptian court sentenced 529 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death after just one hearing on March 24, Western embassies reacted with “outrage and shock,” our correspondent there says. But it’s the reaction of investors, businesses, and high-spending Western tourists that might concern Cairo the most.
“For both tourists and businesses, I would say the court ruling is highly disconcerting,” explains our correspondent. “While analysts say the sentences are not final and will likely be reduced, the ruling indicates that courts can and will, when they see fit, issue decisions that are not based on rights to a fair trial.”
That perception is just the latest blow to the Egyptian economy, which is struggling to shake a malaise that hit three years ago, when then-President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office. The current, military-backed interim government has received pledges of $12 billion dollars from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. But private investors have been slower to return – as have the tourists. Ongoing demonstrations, a string of bombings, and stories of harassment of women have deterred many.
A seemingly politicized court system doesn’t help ease fears.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Investors in East Africa’s largest economy are used to the possibility of terror attacks, particularly after last year’s bloody shooting spree in Westgate mall. But these latest incidences show the continued struggles of Kenya’s security services, and could spark rioting in the port city Mombasa and retaliatory attacks in Nairobi.
“There’s been a rise in frustration of the government’s ineptness to stop this,” says our correspondent in the capital, Nairobi. “There’s been no improvement of the security situation [since Westgate]. In fact, it may be getting worse.”
Three blasts in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood killed six people on Monday, a week after six people were killed in a church near Mombasa. That was followed up on Tuesday with the murder in Mombasa of Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, a Muslim cleric popularly known as Makaburi. The United Nations and the United States had accused Mr. Ahmed of supporting Somali militant group Al Shabab, which has claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack.
Eastleigh is a bustling business district and home to large numbers of Somalis and Kenyans of Somali descent. It’s been the scene of several bombings over the past few months, but it’s difficult to say who is behind the bombings, our correspondent says.
But Ahmed’s murder is further worrying. His death could incite his followers to carry out waves of bloodshed, as occurred when two other controversial preachers were gunned down in similar circumstances.
According to one Kenyan intelligence source, a recent mantra in Ahmed’s mosque is “they do, we do,” our correspondent said.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
But they aren’t likely to scuttle the deal.
While President Ma Ying-jeou’s efforts to deepen ties between Taiwan and mainland China are contentious, the protests, including an occupation of the parliament, also highlight public discontent with his domestic policies and his governing style, says our correspondent on the ground in Taipei.
The protests stem from “an accumulation of frustrations about domestic issues, it’s not just China,” our correspondent notes. People feel “too many things are happening without the public review and public explanation that people want.”
The agreement itself, signed last July, would liberalize trade in services between Taiwan and China. That holds promise but also potential peril for smaller Taiwanese firms.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.