US economy shrank in Q1; Iraq in free fall; Digital industry isn’t a boy’s club

1 US economy shrank in Q1 (BBC) The US economy shrank 0.7% in the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period last year. The Bureau of Economic Analysis significantly revised down its earlier economic growth estimate of 0.2%. The US economy last contracted in the first quarter of 2014, when it shrank by 2.1%.

As was the case last year, a harsh winter may have been partly to blame for falling goods and services production in the US. The strong US dollar has pushed up imports and lowered exports. At current dollar prices, GDP slipped further from 0.1% growth to a 0.9% contraction.

The revision in GDP prompted investors to shift to traditionally safer assets, such as bonds. This is why yields on US Treasuries have fallen as their price has risen. “From a policy perspective, the first quarter lull is already history; it’s the extent of the rebound that will be critical in determining the timing of the Fed’s first move on interest rates,” says Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. “Survey evidence is already pointing to a second quarter pick-up,” he added.

2 Iraq in free fall (Fareed Zakaria in Khaleej Times) US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter did misspeak last week with remarks that caused a firestorm in both Washington and Baghdad. He explained Daesh’s takeover of Ramadi by saying, “Iraqi forces showed no will to fight.” He just forgot to complete the sentence by adding the words, “for Iraq.”

The Kurds fight ferociously for Kurdistan. The Shias have been fighting doggedly for their people. Daesh are killing and dying for their cause. But nobody is willing to fight for Iraq. The problem really is not that
Iraq’s army has collapsed. It’s that Iraq has collapsed.

Daesh is, at heart, an insurgency against the governments of Iraq and Syria. And no insurgency can thrive without some support from the local population. It gets that support from the disgruntled Sunni populations of both countries, who feel that they are being persecuted by the Shia and Alawite governments.

The vast majority of Sunnis oppose Daesh and flee every place it seizes. But they cannot find towns where they can resettle. The ethnic cleansing of Iraq — with Shias moving to Shia areas, and Kurds and Sunnis doing the same — began with the civil war in 2006 but has accelerated dramatically. Even Baghdad, which was a diverse and mixed city, has been segregated into sectarian ethnic enclaves and become mostly Shia.

Iraq today no longer exists. In 2008, 80 percent of those polled said they were “Iraqi above all.” Today that number is 40 percent. The Kurds have taken every opportunity to further enhance their already considerable autonomy. Twelve years after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the Kurds and the Baghdad government still cannot agree on a deal to share oil revenues.

The sectarian divide is being exacerbated from the outside. Iran supports the Baghdad government and Shia militias. Others support the Sunni militant groups in both Iraq and Syria and have declined to support the Baghdad government, even in its struggle against Daesh. Washington can provide aid, training, arms, air power — even troops. But it cannot hold together a nation that is falling apart.

3 Digital industry isn’t a boys’ club (Donna Sepala in The Guardian) As a woman working in digital, I am part of the 30%. According to Digital Marketing Institute research that is, which found that while women are 11% more “digitally proficient” than men, they account for just 30% of the digital marketing workforce in the UK.

The digital industry attracts a lot of criticism when it comes to equality. The media is always willing to shout about high profile cases of sexism. These cases are indeed deplorable. However, anything tech and digitally focused tends to be pigeonholed as being a “boys’ club”, when in my experience it has been anything but.

Today, as the director of a UK digital agency, I understand the blood, sweat and tears that our team puts into their work, the outcome of which is judged solely on merit. If a client doesn’t like our ideas, we go back to the drawing board and come up with something until it’s right. Such is agency life. Ideas are gender free.

As a very young industry, digital, especially digital creative, has managed to forge itself from a blank canvas. It doesn’t face deeply ingrained and historical gender inequality like other more established career paths. I believe this gives talented women and men equal opportunity to shine. Nobody looks at a beautifully created website and wonders about the gender of the person who built it. They just enjoy the design and experience.

While I do believe that the industry as a whole doesn’t discriminate, I also understand that women may need reassurance that they will not be judged on the basis of their gender. I am also aware that despite being an exciting, dynamic and diverse industry, there is still that lingering whiff of male stigma associated with a certain aspect of digital: programming. Ironic really, as the very first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, was a woman.

Code has no gender. I urge both men and women considering a role in digital creative to be inspired by role models, explore the opportunities out there as best they can, understand where their skills are best suited and not to be deterred by the “introverted programmer” or “boys’ club” stereotypes. As a new industry, we have the chance to keep skill level and ability at the forefront of our hiring policies, and to hire the best person for the job, regardless of gender.


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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