US, EU slap sweeping sanctions on Russia; Israel bombards Gaza, targets Hamas centres; Why bad news makes headlines; South Africa unemployment at 26%; More divorces, fewer marriages in Singapore

1 US, EU slap sweeping sanctions in Russia (Julian Borger, Paul Lewis & Rowena Mason in The Guardian) EU governments have agreed to impose sweeping sanctions on Russia, targeting state-owned banks, imposing an arms embargo and restricting sales of sensitive technology and the export of equipment for the country’s oil industry, in response to Moscow’s continued backing for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

US president Barack Obama joined the EU in sharply escalating economic pressure on Moscow. He announced new measures, targeting major sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons, energy and finance. Three large banks – VTB Bank OAO, Bank of Moscow and the Russian Agricultural Bank – were cut off from the US economy.

The EU sanctions will hit Russia the hardest. The bloc does 10 times more trade with it than the US. The president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, and the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, issued a joint statement describing the EU measures as a strong warning that “Illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilisation of a neighbouring sovereign country could not be accepted in 21st-century Europe.

2 Israel bombards Gaza, targets Hamas centres (San Francisco Chronicle) Israel unleashed its heaviest air and artillery assault of the Gaza war on Tuesday, destroying key symbols of Hamas control, shutting down the territory’s only power plant and leaving at least 128 Palestinians dead on the bloodiest day of the 22-day conflict.

Despite devastating blows that left the packed territory’s 1.7 million people cut off from power and water and sent the overall death toll soaring past 1,200, Hamas’ shadowy military leader remained defiant as he insisted that the Islamic militants would not cease fire until its demands are met.

The comments by Mohammed Deif in an audiotape broadcast on a Hamas satellite TV channel cast new doubt on international cease-fire efforts. Aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Egypt was trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian delegations together in Cairo for new talks in which Hamas would be presented this time as part of the Palestinian team.

Israel’s final objective in Gaza remained unclear a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis to be prepared for a “prolonged” war. Netanyahu is under pressure from hawkish members of his coalition to topple Hamas in an all-out offensive, but has not let on whether he plans to go beyond destroying Hamas rocket launchers, weapons depots and military tunnels used to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons.

3 Why bad news dominates headlines (Tom Stafford on BBC) Perhaps journalists are drawn to reporting bad news because sudden disaster is more compelling than slow improvements. Or it could be that newsgatherers believe that cynical reports of corrupt politicians or unfortunate events make for simpler stories. But another strong possibility is that we, the readers or viewers, have trained journalists to focus on these things. Many people often say that they would prefer good news: but is that actually true?

To explore this possibility, researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, set up an experiment, run at McGill University in Canada. The team decided to try a new strategy: deception. Trussler and Soroka invited participants to come to the lab for “a study of eye tracking”. The volunteers were first asked to select some stories about politics to read from a news website so that a camera could make some baseline eye-tracking measures. It was important, they were told, that they actually read the articles, so the right measurements could be prepared, but it didn’t matter what they read.

After this ‘preparation’ phase, they watched a short video, and then they answered questions on the kind of political news they would like to read. The results of the experiment, as well as the stories that were read most, were somewhat depressing. Participants often chose stories with a negative tone. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news.

And yet when asked, these people said they preferred good news. On average, they said that the media was too focussed on negative stories. The researchers present their experiment as solid evidence of a so called “negativity bias”, psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news. It isn’t just schadenfreude, the theory goes, but that we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.

4 South Africa unemployment at 26% (Johannesburg Times) The unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percent between the first and second quarters of 2014 to reach 25.5 percent, Statistics SA said. “The increase in the number of unemployed has resulted in an increase in the unemployment rate above pre-recessionary levels,” Stats SA said.

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey revealed that almost 5.2 million people were unemployed. The survey also found that the expanded unemployment rate, which also included people not actively seeking work, reached 35.6 percent in the second quarter.

The survey revealed that 27.5 percent of women were unemployed in the second quarter, compared to 23.8 percent of men. The unemployment rate for women was two percent higher than the national average. The unemployment rate was significantly higher for youth (people aged between 15 and 34) at 36.1 percent, compared to adults at 16.3 percent.

5 More divorces, fewer marriages in Singapore (Priscilla Goy in Straits Times) There were more divorces and annulments last year, even as fewer couples tied the knot, according to Singapore’s Statistics on Marriages and Divorces 2013 report.
There were 7,525 divorces and annulments in 2013, a 4 per cent increase from 2012.

About 26,250 couples wed last year, a 6 per cent drop from the year before, when marriages here hit a 50-year high. While the number of Muslim marriages went up, overall registered marriages declined, due to fewer civil marriages. This was the first year that the number of marriages fell after rising in the previous two years.


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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