Global News Blog
Everyone in Nigeria knows the claims of oil sector corruption, but it takes a special kind of public official to discuss them openly. One is Lamido Sanusi, whose efforts to blow the whistle appear to have prompted President Goodluck Jonathan to suspend him from his post as central bank governor last month. Still, Mr. Sanusi’s personal status in Nigeria and record of butting heads suggest that he will be difficult to silence.
While Sanusi is unlikely to stop talking, it’s not clear his claims will have repercussions for Nigeria’s oil sector.
“The sector will probably remain as opaque and nontransparent, avoiding reform as it did following previous investigations,” says our correspondent in Nigeria. “But it’s possible Sanusi’s criticisms will be used by officials such as Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as leverage to push through some reforms related to the sector.”
His moves have also stirred up speculation that he might have political ambitions of his own. Facing off against President Jonathan might seem a natural move. Sanusi’s criticism of late appears directed essentially by default at Jonathan and his party, even though he has avoided singling out anyone by name.
Certainly, Jonathan’s move to suspend him looks like an attempt to silence one critic and cow any others who might emerge. It’s also a further sign that Jonathan intends to run for reelection next year if his party chooses him as its candidate.
But Sanusi has declared himself unfit for party politics and ruled out running for political office. Some Nigerians believe that he wants to leave a legacy. For his part, he says that he wants to see Nigeria – and, more broadly, Africa – live up to its potential.
Sanusi descends from a traditional royal family. His grandfather was an emir and he is himself a prince. His calling, however, is banking. After working as chief risk officer for United Bank for Africa and First Bank of Nigeria, he was appointed central bank governor in 2009 by then-President Umaru Yar’Adua and charged with rescuing Nigeria’s decrepit banking sector.
Immediately, Sanusi started picking fights with Nigeria’s elite. Within four months of taking office he had fired eight executive officers of private banks after evidence was found against them of mismanagement and fraud. More recently ... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Growing insecurity in Lebanon and across the region has hit many businesses — from tourism to late-night shopping — hard. But entrepreneurs in the security sector are emerging with smart ideas to help residents get on with life. Their apps and products are proving popular not just in Lebanon, but in a broad swath of nations from Iraq to Egypt.
“Lebanon has this long history of conflict, and entrepreneurs are using this expertise to export to the region,” explains our Beirut correspondent, who recently followed several such businesses.
Take for example a new App called ‘I am Alive‘ – built to automatically tweet out that phrase when the user is near to an area where a bombing took place. Another new start-up app triangulates the sound of gunfire to help users avoid possibly dangerous areas. The idea for the latter emerged after a friend of its creator was hit by a stray bullet in Beirut’s shopping district of Hamra. The developer is creating the app in Lebanon, “but his plan to reach a bigger market is somewhere like the United States, where the incidence of gun deaths is actually higher,” our correspondent explains.
Established businesses are also getting into the game.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Tired of winter? Imagine being a school superintendent, in charge of closing (or keeping open) 22 schools. The decision of when to hold school and when to close down for bad weather means juggling a lot of variables. So says Joseph Roy, superintendent of Bethlehem Area School District in Pennsylvania, in an interview with his Time-reporter daughter Jessica Roy.
A snow-day decision can be a Catch-22, he explains. “Let’s say we have school and the weather gets horrible and then you’re sending buses home and kids are walking home in dangerous conditions – that’s not good,” he says. “On the other hand, if you make decisions to close or even have a 2-hour delay too lightly and too quickly, you really impact families because not everyone has child care.”
When snow is imminent Dr. Roy rises at 3:30 a.m. to cross-check several weather forecasts and consult with other superintendents in his area before making a final call. After deciding, there’s little time to relax before he braces for e-mails and calls from parents second-guessing his decision.
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A ‘Downton Abbey’ US economy
America runs the risk of becoming a “ ‘Downton Abbey’ economy,” one in which a tiny privileged class thrives while being served by workers struggling to make ends meet. That’s the conclusion of Lawrence Summers, a past president of Harvard University, secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, and former director of the National Economic Council for President Obama, in an essay on his website, www.larrysummers.com.
But there are solutions. “It is not enough to identify policies that reduce inequality. To be effective they must also raise the incomes of the middle class and the poor,” he writes.
“Tax reform has a major role to play,” he says. Current codes allow “the rich to shield a far greater proportion of their income from taxation than the poor.” Last year’s stock market boom increased the wealth of shareholders by about $6 trillion, but “the lion’s share went to the very wealthy,” he says. If loopholes that benefit only the wealthy were closed, taxes could be cut elsewhere. “Sooner or later inequality will have to be addressed,” he warns.
Look on the bright side of (tech) life
The future looks quite different to techno-optimists than it does to techno-pessimists. Count Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee as head cheerleaders in the optimistic camp. In an essay in The Atlantic they argue that two revolutionary events – the emergence of “real, useful artificial intelligence” and “the connection of most of the people on the planet via a common digital network” (the Internet) – are causing changes not seen since the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago.
Self-driving cars, humanoid robots, and artificial intelligence capable of winning TV’s “Jeopardy!” game show are just “the warm-up acts,” they say. With more of humanity able to access the world’s knowledge via the Web, humans and machines will devise new wonders. “The second machine age will be characterized by countless instances of machine intelligence and billions of interconnected brains working together to better understand and improve our world. It will make mockery out of all that came before.”
A world of car-free passengers
Are ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and Gett a natural evolution for transportation in the Internet Age? Or as they circumvent the rules of a highly regulated taxi and limousine industry, do they compromise safety and gouge customers?
Those who use these services send out a text message that they need a ride. But it’s not clear what kind of a vehicle, or driver, will appear at the curb. Or how much the customer will be charged, which is based on an algorithm that measures demand for rides in that area at that moment.
“No one under the age of 40 with a smartphone is going out and getting a cab anymore,” explains a driver for Uber in an article by Brad Stone in Bloomberg Businessweek. Ride-sharing has already spread to 70 cities worldwide; it took in at least $1 billion in 2013.
Replacing taxis and limos may just be the start. Eventually most people may abandon their personal vehicles knowing they can quickly and easily hail a ride, perhaps even a driverless self-driving car. Traffic congestion could be greatly reduced. “One day we may be in a world where we’re all passengers,” says one industry visionary.
Why 18 hours of TV may be good for you
People usually confess to “binge-watching” a whole season of a TV series like “Homeland,” “Game of Thrones,” or “House of Cards” on DVD or via a streaming service with some embarrassment, as if it suggests overindulgence. But binge-watching may be good for you, a kind of “restorative experience” that recharges your mental batteries, akin to taking a walk in a park, going to the theater, or reading a good book, argues writer Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in the online magazine Slate.
Like other restorative experiences, good binge-watching transports viewers away from their everyday lives. They enter “rich and fully realized worlds,” he writes. The deep experience of bingeing is an antidote to the chaos of work and home life, full of constant interruptions. “It’s a way to reclaim their time and attention in a rushing, distracting world.”
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Rule of law in Venezuela is weaker than anywhere else world in the world, as measured in the World Justice Report’s annual index. More than half of all government officials are believed to be involved in corrupt practices, and three-fourths of Venezuelans feel unsafe or very unsafe walking in their neighborhood at night.
Not our correspondent in the South American country, who was robbed twice in the past month in his Caracas neighborhood – where he’d lived for the previous eight months without incident. Indeed, violence is escalating and law enforcement is spiraling out of control amid weeks of antigovernment protests and clashes with military police.
“My neighborhood is the epicenter of the protests and crime has risen substantially,” says our correspondent. “The local police have stepped back with the entry of the national guard, and a lot of thugs and gangs have capitalized on it.”
Our correspondent’s latest brush with crime happened last week around 11 p.m. when he opted to walk home two blocks rather than call a taxi. A band of motorcyclists passed him, then circled back and surrounded him, stealing his iPhone and about $10 cash.
“I started running but they trapped me,” he says.
Such motorcycle robberies are somewhat common in Venezuela, which is why the government in January imposed a nighttime curfew on two-wheelers as part of an attempt to crack down on crime. The move came after the shooting death of a former Miss Venezuela. Some international companies have imposed evening curfews on their employees amid the escalation in violence.
The Rule of Law Index, which is based on surveys with 100,000 households and experts to measure factors such as protection of fundamental rights and order and security, also found that Venezuela ranks ...For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
India’s election dates are set, setting the stage for the most dramatic election in the world’s largest democracy in years.
But it also means no policy pronouncements out of Delhi until after the polls close in mid-May.
Elections across the country will start April 7 and continue in phases, with ballots cast in various parts of the enormous country through May 12. The results will be announced May 16.
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Under Indian law, designed to ensure that elected officials don’t use the machinery of government for electioneering purposes, “the regular functioning of government goes on, but they can’t announce any new projects or policies” until after the election, notes our correspondent on the ground.
For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
By all accounts, Oscar Pistorius never let his lack of legs slow him down.
Pistorius was born without fibulas (calf bones), and at 11 months old, his parents made the difficult choice to have both of his legs amputated below the knee, enabling him to be fitted with prosthetic legs. Within six months, he was walking.
As a boy, Pistorius was always athletic and played on sports teams at school, including cricket, wrestling, and boxing. He also played rugby at Pretoria Boys High School, but at one point, injured his knee. As part of his rehab work after the injury, he began running track at age 16.
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That choice set him on a path to become an Olympic sprinter known as the "Blade Runner" or as some media dubbed him: "the fastest man on Earth with no legs."
Six months after his rugby injury, Pistorius ran in his first competitive 100-meter race for Pretoria Boys High School. His time: 11.72 seconds, shattering the existing Paralympic world record of 12.20 seconds, according to Pistorius's own website.
About six months after that race, Pistorius was invited to the US offices of Össur, the company that manufactures Flex-Foot Cheetahs – a carbon-fiber, flexible limb designed for jumping and sprinting. In September of that year, while wearing a pair of Cheetahs, Pistorius won a gold medal in the 200-meter race and a bronze at the 100-meter race in the 2004 Athens Paralympics.
He soon began competing against runners with no prosthetic limbs – and that became a source of controversy.
In 2007, the International Association of Athletic Foundations banned Pistorius from competing, stating that his carbon-fiber Cheetahs gave him an unfair advantage. He fought the ruling and was eventually allowed to compete and qualified for the 400-meter race in the 2012 London Olympics. He was eliminated in the semi-finals of the race, but became the first amputee athlete to compete at the Olympics.
Now on trial in South Africa, charged with murdering his girlfriend, Pistorius's prosthetic limbs are likely to figure in the case.
Pistorius admits to shooting Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14, 2013, but he maintains he mistook the model and reality TV star for an intruder in his home and shot her in self-defense.
"If Pistorius' team can prove that he did not have his prosthetic legs on when he shot – and forensic experts may decipher that from the height of bullet holes in the door and the trajectory of the bullets – it will help his defense against the premeditated murder charge and hinder the prosecution, which initially insisted he fired after taking the time to put on his artificial limbs," according to the Associated Press.
Would Pistorius, a life-long user of prosthetic limbs, be more or less likely to put on his legs if he thought there was an intruder in the house?
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In winters past, majestic monarch butterflies blanketed 16.6 acres of Mexican forest with a patchwork of fluttering orange and black stripes. This year, the entire winter population fit into just 1.7 acres, a decrease of 90 percent, reports Tracy Wilkinson for the Los Angeles Times. While illegal logging in Mexico has destroyed the oyamel fir forests where the insects winter, herbicides in the United States have wiped out much of the country’s milkweed, the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat.
Scientists, artists, and environmentalists have issued a desperate plea to the leaders of Mexico, Canada, and the US to salvage the beloved butterflies’ breeding grounds in a letter delivered to representatives of the three governments last month. “As Mexico is addressing the logging issues, so now must the United States and Canada address the effects of our current agricultural policies,” the letter says.
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The other identity theft
While credit-card identity theft routinely makes headlines, another, more lucrative form of identity theft is on the rise, reports Michael Kranish for The Boston Globe. Thieves of all kinds have found a way to use stolen Social Security numbers to extract billions from the Internal Revenue Service in fraudulent tax refunds, according to a US Treasury audit.
The scam has become so common that the IRS has had to issue a special PIN to 1.2 million taxpayers who have previously been the target of such identity theft, up from just 250,000 in 2012. The problem persists because the IRS is required to pay all returns as soon as possible by a congressional mandate, Mr. Kranish reports. “Under the current system, the IRS cannot always be certain that a return is filed by the person whose name and Social Security number is on it, but it often pays the refund anyway.” In one instance, the IRS delivered 2,000 refunds to the same address.
Monsanto ditches GMOs for crossbreeding
Americans love to hate Monsanto. The Fortune 500 company has been blamed for the rise of rat poison as an artificial sweetener, the evolution of pesticide-resistant weeds, and the introduction of so-called Frankenfoods into the American diet. However, Monsanto’s latest foray into the produce aisle has taken a decidedly natural turn, writes Ben Paynter for Wired.
Monsanto’s newest “superveggies” – a sweeter and crunchier lettuce, an antioxidant-rich broccoli, and a less tear-inducing onion – “have all the advantages of genetically-modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor.” While these veggies are born in a lab, they are created using the same process of crossbreeding that farmers have employed for centuries. “Keep them away from pesticides and transport them less than 100 miles and you could call them organic and locavore too,” Mr. Paynter writes.
The difference is Monsanto brings to the lab extensive knowledge about each plant’s genome, and consequently can breed new strains more precisely than the farmer can in the field. “In nature, it can take a millennium. Monsanto can do it in just a few years.”
E.E. Cummings: the beloved heretic
“History has given us very few heretics who have not been burned at the stake,” writes Susan Cheever in Vanity Fair. E.E. Cummings “was our generation’s beloved heretic, a Henry David Thoreau for the 20th century.” As the daughter of acclaimed novelist John Cheever – one of Cummings’s entrusted friends – Ms.Cheever was privy to a three-dimensional version of the poet not usually visible to fans.
Cheever provides a glimpse of a man who ate burgers at White Castle, would “stand on his head for a laugh,” and managed “to live elegantly on almost no money.” Her father deeply admired Cummings and subsequently peppered his own life advice with lessons that he gleaned from the poet and his partner Marion Morehouse. Thus she learned not to be “so open-minded that your brains fall out” and that “being right was a petty goal – being free was the thing to aim for.”
What we don’t know about science
“Does the Earth go around the Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth?” Roughly, one-quarter of Americans incorrectly answered that the sun revolves around the Earth in the National Science Foundation’s most recent science literacy survey, reports Eleanor Barkhorn for The Atlantic. More than 15 percent of respondents were unaware that continents continue to shift location, and nearly half believed atoms to be smaller than electrons. According to the twice-a-year survey, Americans’ scientific literacy has remained relatively constant and on par with that of other developed nations over the past two decades.
Some of the responses may tell us more about Americans’ beliefs than scientific knowledge, Ms. Barkhorn writes. When statements about evolution and the big-bang theory were presented as facts, only 48 percent and 39 percent of Americans, respectively, responded that they were “true.” However, when the same statements were attributed to evolutionary theory and astronomers, 72 percent and 60 percent, respectively, responded “true.” “This seems to indicate that many Americans are familiar with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang; they simply don’t believe they’re true,” she writes.
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Editor's note: The original print version of this story incorrectly identified E.E. Cummings' companion Marion Morehouse.
You might imagine students to be the first Venezuelans at the beach this weekend as Carnaval celebrations kick off leading up to Mardi Gras on March 4.
Instead, many are organizing, blocking roads, and in some instances erecting barricades to create havoc and prevent their antigovernment movement from fizzling into a long weekend at the beach, says our correspondent in the capital. Yet that’s exactly what the government of President Nicolás Maduro seeks, having extended the national holiday to start Thursday (Feb. 27) and last until March 5, which will be the one-year anniversary of the death of former President Hugo Chavez and a likely rally point for pro-government forces.
“Maduro is extending the Carnaval holiday because he wants people to get out of Caracas and to reduce the tension,” says our correspondent, noting that Venezuelans would normally fill the coast for the long weekend. “I think you’ll see a big effort by [the] government to preserve memory of Chavez and reclaim major roadways.”
This is not the first time that opposition protesters have attempted to block roads and halt traffic in protest of the government, and the practice of burning trash and piling debris along main avenues has come to be called a “guarimba” – a makeshift barricade, usually unmanned. In addition to the guarimbas, a number of municipalities have also canceled Carnaval festivities in a show of respect for those killed in the protests.
“Students are blocking the streets to prevent people from getting out. The opposition is trying to hold onto rank and file hard-liners,” says our correspondent, who has closely followed the demonstrations and spoken with the students.
But he adds that the number of protesters in the streets appears to be dwindling: “There’s a sense in Caracas that protests are on the downturn.”
Official estimates puts the number killed at 13. President Maduro this week said that 50 people had died in connection with... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
Migration is as old as human history, the National Geographic notes in its January issue, but it is likely that today more people than ever before have traveled thousands of miles from home to take jobs that enable them to send money back to relatives in poorer countries.
While the United States is the place with the most international workers, the city with the highest concentration of them is Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where only about 1 in 10 of the residents is Emirati.
Author Cynthia Gorney tracks the experience of a Filipino couple, Luis and Teresa Cruz, working in Dubai while two of their children remain outside Manila in the Philippines. “[T]his isn’t a story about work and wages and GDP,” Ms. Gorney says. “It is a love story: about family bonds, colliding duties and loyalties, and the immense barriers to providing for loved ones’ material and emotional needs....”
Bill Gates: the Washington player
At a time when Bill Gates says he will spend more time at Microsoft advising its new chief executive, Politico takes an in-depth look at how Mr. Gates has expanded his influence on policymaking in Washington, D.C.
Using the vehicle of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with its $40 billion endowment, Gates has become a force on education policy, agricultural issues, immigration reform, and even clean energy, write coauthors Stephanie Simon and Erin Mershon.
The foundation itself does not lobby. Its enormous megaphone is powered by the $3.4 billion in grants it makes each year to a wide variety of politically active organizations. Gates’s influence is also cultivated by making trips to Washington to advise members of Congress and by donating to Bill Clinton’s foundation and appearing alongside the former president.
Gates got off to a bad start in dealing with Congress during 1998 antitrust hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When his performance before the committee was panned, Gates responded by sharply increasing the company’s Washington lobbying presence and its participation in electoral politics.
Teamwork appeal of Goldman Sachs
Anne VanderMey, writing for Fortune magazine, looks at how Goldman Sachs, a firm at which competition is fierce and 70- to 80-hour workweeks are routine, ends up 45th on the magazine’s list of the 100 best places to work. Of course, average pay of $380,000 (skewed by million-dollar paychecks at the top) is one reason Goldman Sachs ranks so well in the survey conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute for Fortune.
But 40,000 words of unfiltered employee comments revealed that more than anything else, Goldman workers said they valued being part of an ultra-elite organization; it’s twice as hard to be hired at Goldman than it is to get into Harvard. Other factors in high employee satisfaction, Fortune says: a tai chi club; Pilates classes five times a week; a champion dragon boat team; and a 10-week, internship-like program to help people return to the workforce after a voluntary career break of two years or more.
How to run the Pentagon right
“The troops are at war, but the Pentagon is not,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates once famously said. The Defense Department has a fairly good record of making smart, long-term acquisitions of weapons systems that give the US an advantage over potential enemies. But, as Mr. Gates’s acid comment highlights, the Pentagon proved less adept at meeting the immediate needs of troops on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the January issue of Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says, “the Pentagon is ill equipped to address urgent needs that arise during wartime.” He outlines steps he and others took to help remedy that problem on an ad hoc basis and calls for the Pentagon to “institutionalize those lessons so that it does not have to start anew the next time they are relevant.”
Stranger than fiction
Irony abounds in the Jan. 23 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Dune Lawrence examines the computer privacy software called Tor, which stands for “the onion router.” By disguising where computer messages originate, experts say, Tor is perhaps the most effective means of defeating online surveillance by intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency. Tor was almost certainly used by Edward Snowden, who stole and turned over to journalists massive amounts of secret NSA documents. In photos, Tor’s logo can be seen on the cover of Mr. Snowden’s laptop.
It turns out that Tor started as a government project with heavy involvement by the US Navy. Businessweek found that half of the revenue for the Tor Project, which updates the software and runs the system of 5,000 computers that conceal Internet traffic, comes from government grants. While the software can be used by criminals seeking to avoid detection, it also can provide privacy for potential victims. “Tor’s biggest problem is press,” says Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties advocacy group in San Francisco. “No one hears about that time someone wasn’t stalked by their abuser.”
The Austrian finance minister’s pro-sanctions comments Wednesday lend significant weight to European Union talk of targeted freezes on Ukrainian leaders’ accounts, says our correspondent in Kiev. But the EU would have to move fast before Ukrainian money is removed from Austrian banks and protesters grow even more frustrated with the pace of EU support.
“Austria is a favorite place for Ukrainian oligarchs to launder money,” says our correspondent. “What it would take to get an EU-wide freeze on accounts, and who would be on the list of accounts, that’s another matter…. I did hear last night that oligarchs may already be shifting their accounts out of Cyprus and Austria, out of the EU, into places like the Cayman Islands. So the EU probably would have to move fast if they want this to have teeth.”
The logic for targeting the money of Ukraine’s Russian-leaning oligarchs is to soften them toward a negotiated settlement to the crisis. Other outcomes strike our correspondent as less likely. While an army intervention is bandied about, Ukraine’s military is made up of conscripts who are unlikely to shoot on their own people. The army also does not command a lot of respect in Ukraine, making it an unlikely unifier. Neither is an actual splitting of the country likely – a Ukrainian identity has solidified in the post-Soviet years. “There is something called Ukraine, there is a there there,” our correspondent says, noting linguistic ties and the fading of Russian self-identification.
Negotiations, however, face steep hurdles. One is the increased radicalization of the protesters as... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.