Iran deal brings oil down; Silicon Valley resembles 1999 again; Pope Francis for radical church reform; If not govts, people must act on climate crisis; The rise of misconduct





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1 Iran deal brings oil down (Russell Lynch & Ben Chu in The Independent) Oil price has tumbled sharply in the wake of Iran’s weekend agreement to curtail its nuclear programme in return for partial relief on sanctions, boosting selected shares and fuelling hopes of a recovery in the West. Brent crude sank as much as $3 a barrel to a four-week low of $108.05 on Monday after the White House announced a six-month deal offering Iran about $7bn in relief from sanctions in exchange for nuclear curbs.

The preliminary agreement leaves in place banking and financial measures that have hampered Iranian crude exports – as well as the EU ban on Iranian imports. Sanctions have cut Iranian oil sales by 60 per cent since the beginning of last year, costing the country more than $80bn in revenue. This has helped keep world oil prices above the $100 a barrel level, even though global demand has been weak. However Maria van der Hoeven, the head of the International Energy Agency, said it would be hard for Iran to quickly bring its oil output back up to former levels.

Thomas Pugh, an oil specialist at Capital Economics, reckoned Brent crude could finish this year below $100 a barrel and finish next year at $90, offering hints of relief in Western economies labouring under high oil prices for the past three years. American and European Union sanctions that prevent energy companies from investing in Iran will remain in place for now. These have slashed Tehran’s oil exports from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to about one million bpd.

2 Silicon Valley resembles 1999 again (David Straitfeld in The New York Times) These are fabulous times in Silicon Valley. Mere youths, who in another era would just be graduating from college or perhaps wondering what to make of their lives, are turning down deals that would make them and their great-grandchildren wealthy beyond imagining. They are confident that even better deals await.

Snapchat, all of two years old, just turned down a multibillion-dollar deal from Facebook and, perhaps, an even bigger deal from Google. On paper, that would mean a fortyfold return on Benchmark’s investment in less than a year. Benchmark is the venture capital darling of the moment, a backer not only of Snapchat but the photo-sharing app Instagram (sold for $1 billion to Facebook), the ride-sharing service Uber (valued at $3.5 billion) and Twitter ($22 billion), among many others. Ten of its companies have gone public in the last two years, with another half-dozen on the way. Benchmark seems to have a golden touch.

No one here would really mind another 1999, of course. As a legendary Silicon Valley bumper sticker has it, “Please God, just one more bubble.” But booms are inevitably followed by busts. Opinions differ here about exactly what stage of exuberance the valley is in. “Everyone feels like the valley has been in a boom cycle for quite some time,” said Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief executive of Yelp. “That makes people nervous.” John Backus, a founding partner with New Atlantic Ventures, says he believes it is more like 1996: Things are just ramping up.

3 Pope Francis for radical church reform (BBC) Pope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican, in the first major work he has written in the role. He says he is open to suggestions to changes in the power of the papacy. He also warns that rising global economic inequality is bound to explode in conflict. In his “apostolic exhortation”, Pope Francis said he preferred a Church that was “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”.

However, the papal document reiterates the Church’s opposition to the ordination of female priests, saying this is “not a question open to discussion”. The document also touches on inter-faith relations, urging Christians to “embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition”.

He also says he does not believe that the papacy “should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world”. Pope Francis also expands on his concerns about economic inequality. “Today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” he says, going on to castigate the “new idolatry of money”. “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” he goes on.

4 If not leaders, people must act on climate crisis (Kofi Annan in Khaleej Times) It is essential that governments start phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which currently account for about $485 billion a year, and are far greater than the global investment in renewable energy. While cutting subsidies is an issue for developed and developing countries alike, it remains true that the Group of 20 countries accounted for 78 per cent of global carbon emissions from fuel combustion in 2010.

What now? If governments are unwilling to lead when leadership is required, people must. We need a global grass-roots movement that tackles climate change and its fallout. In Australia, one initiative aims at getting one million women to take small steps in their everyday lives to cut emissions. In India, there is a project to bring solar energy to slums, which also creates green jobs. In Guatemala, women farmers are planting trees to sequester carbon and improve cultivation techniques. In Mexico, the “ecocasa” programme is unlocking funds to build energy-efficient housing.

Despite these encouraging initiatives, citizens need to press their governments to come up with ambitious sustainable solutions, not just makeshift ones. Climate change must inform any new policy, whether in the development or the energy sector. It must determine the way we build our houses and the way we structure our economy. Green thinking cannot be the sole responsibility of a few environmentally minded activists, while the rest of us go on living as if there were no tomorrow.

Let me conclude on a note of cautious optimism: If science tells us that human activity is the main driver of global warming, then human action can also reverse it. But this must happen before the climate consequences become irreversible. Failing to act will be nothing short of catastrophic.

5 The rise of misconduct (David Shapiro in Johannesburg Times) If the risk of being caught is lower than it should be, the risk of misconduct shoots up. Developers unlawfully build shopping malls that collapse; criminals brazenly hijack vehicles in peak-hour traffic, while high-ranking ministers shamelessly thwart investigations into the alleged misuse of taxpayers’ funds.

Misconduct is not confined to the developing world. In Greece, the cradle of modern civilisation, it was the doctors, lawyers and other intelligentsia who contributed to the treasury’s ruin by swindling the taxman. And have you ever noticed how, in the aftermath of a flood, earthquake or other tragic upheaval, folk in generally law-abiding countries flagrantly plunder unprotected stores. I bet even in a nanny city like Sydney, the residents would park all over the place if the police went on strike for a few days. In South Africa, people seem intent on taking delinquency to anarchic levels.

South Africa has an abundance of opportunity. It is blessed with astonishing natural beauty, a developed (if somewhat decaying) infrastructure, a vibrant private sector, a first-world financial system, a friendly and eager population and neverending sunshine. But if it can’t offer people security in their homes and safety on the roads, all that promise is worthless. The young will depart with their skills, the elderly with their wealth.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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