February 18th, 2011
05:53 PM GMT
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As an active observer and a consistent visitor of the Middle East, one asks a simple question: Why does it have to be this way?

I am not talking about Shiite/Sunni divides, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict or Iran’s growing influence in the region, but persistent and unacceptable levels of poverty in a region blessed with nearly half of the world’s oil and gas reserves.

First it was Tunisia, then Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Libya and stretching into the Gulf with Bahrain.

There are major historical and cultural differences, of course, and even vast differences in per-capita income – Bahrain for example is high at $38,400, Yemen low at $2,500. But a few common threads can be found: the region’s youth lack opportunities, power is concentrated at the top and the inner circle around them, and most waited too long to embrace the winds of change brought on by globalization.

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February 18th, 2011
08:04 AM GMT
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(CNN) – In Shandong Province in northeastern China, the nation's grain heartland, the worst drought in 60 years has raised the specter of shortages for the world's largest wheat producer.

Russia - still reeling from a drought that slashed wheat harvest by nearly 40% and spurred Moscow to ban exports last summer - hopes new, resilient strains of the crop will lead to a resumption of wheat exports. However, soil damaged by the drought means nearly 10% of Russian wheat fields couldn't be planted this year.

Social media may have fanned the flames of revolt which toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt and triggered demonstrations across the Middle East. But the tinderbox was built on high unemployment, corruption and rising food prices. It's a telling sign that the trouble in Tunisia started with the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor protesting the police seizure of his produce cart.

"I think that we have to be careful, as an international community, not to let food prices become not [only] a national security threat in countries, but a global security threat," Ngozi Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, told CNN.

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February 18th, 2011
05:58 AM GMT
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February 18th, 2011
05:53 AM GMT
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New York (CNN) – We knew it was coming.

Sooner or later the austerity protests that swept through Athens, Madrid, Paris and London were bound to show up here in the U.S. and they have.  Thousands of teachers and supporters stormed on the state house in Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday to protest deep spending cuts.  The scene, which lit up Twitter (#Wisconsin) and social media, may just be the spark that inspires public employees across the country to take to the streets.

Why now?  It is budget time and officials in cities and states coast to coast are proposing huge cuts and higher taxes in order to try and close a collective $125 billion budget gap.  On the chopping block this time were areas traditionally off limits: Teachers, firemen, police and garbage collection.  We profiled a town in New Jersey caught in this very budget squeeze.

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