Friday, 2 November 2012

Consumer confidence at 4-year high

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Consumer confidence in October rose to its highest level in four years, boosted by improvements in the job market.
The closely watched index, which measures how Americans feel about the economy, edged higher to a reading of 72.2 from a downwardly revised 68.4 in September, according to The Conference Board, a business research firm.
It marks the highest level since February 2008, when the country was at the early stages of a long and deep recession.
The reading came in slightly higher than what economists were expecting, according to a consensus.
A key factor behind Americans' optimism, was the improving employment picture. The number of workers reporting that jobs were "plentiful" increased more than 2%. People who are expecting more jobs in the coming months increased to 19.2% from 18.1%.
Related: Obama's recover: a snapshot
This confidence in the job market comes on the heels of a positive report on Thursday, which showed that private sector hiring jumped in October.
These positive indicators land just a day before the closely-watched government's official monthly job report, which gives an expansive picture of national employment. It has taken on increased importance this month because it will give American voters one last snapshot into the health of the job market before the presidential election on Nov. 6.

The Great Superb Soccer Star - Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi celebrates with his Barcelona teammates after scoring his 300th career goal on Saturday. (Getty Images)

When Lionel Messi declared this week, at the relatively young age of 25, that he wants to spend the rest of his career at Barcelona, it provided an insight as to why the Spanish club has dominated world football in recent years.
A hot favorite to be named the world's best player for an unprecedented fourth time in January, Messi has already won every title that Barca have competed for - surely at some stage you'd think he'd like a new challenge?
Compare his stance to that of his biggest rival Cristiano Ronaldo, whose future at Real Madrid seems constantly under speculation - not least because of the Portugal star's comments earlier this season that he felt "sad" at the Bernabeu. The latest rumor is that he and his manager Jose Mourinho will join big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi has the football world at his feet, but he is happy to remain at a club where he moved from Argentina as a boy blessed with undoubted talent - but held back by a slight body that required growth hormone treatment if he was to make the grade.
He is not the only player so committed to the Nou Camp. The club's famed La Masia academy has produced a conveyor belt of talent that has helped win three Champions League crowns in the last six years, plus four Spanish titles.
Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were either in the starting XI or among the substitutes on each occasion for the European triumphs of 2006, 2009 and 2011, while Messi, Gerard Pique, Pedro and Bojan Krkic (now of AC Milan) featured in the latter two.
Add to that octet the 24-year-old Sergio Busquets - who like Xavi, Iniesta, Pique and Valdes was in Spain's victorious 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship squads - plus a new generation of La Masia graduates and you have a core of homegrown talent throughout the squad.
With such conviction from their star player Messi and such continuity in personnel, it begs the question – is loyalty the most potent weapon in Barca’s considerable arsenal?
The list of nominations for the 2012 Ballon d’Or suggests the answer is yes. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Piquet and Busquets are all in the 23-man shortlist.
Consistency has even been maintained in the dugout, with former assistant Tito Vilanova taking over when all-conquering coach Josep Guardiola ended his trophy-laden four-year reign at the end of last season.
Its a club where loyalty swings both ways - many coaching and administrative appointments are made from within the Barca family. Guardiola joined as a 12-year-old and spent more than a decade there as a senior player before finally moving overseas.
The familiarity which exists between the squad could also go some way to explaining why some big-name recruits have struggled to settle at Barca.
Samuel Eto’o may have scored for Barca in the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals but, despite his undoubted talent, Guardiola was eager to ship out the reputedly disruptive Cameroonian, which he did in a swap deal with Inter Milan in 2009.
In exchange for Eto’o and a reported €46 million, Barca received the equally mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is another undisputedly world-class goalscorer who was jettisoned from the Camp Nou after just one year in the famous scarlet and blue shirt.
Recent arrivals in the Barca dressing room who have succeeded include Pique, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Jordi Alba. It is not hard to see why.
Pique and Fabregas both rejoined their childhood club after attending finishing school in England with Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, while Villa has played alongside many of the Barca team in Spain's national team and Alba recovered from being released from the youth ranks in 2005 to make his name at Valencia.
Barca’s stability is at odds with archrivals Real Madrid, whose policy has been to buy up the world's biggest names and create a stable of "Galacticos" - and their coaches don't have much time to bring success.
Since missing out on the title in 2005, Real have been through seven coaches compared to Barca’s three, collecting just four trophies in that time: three league crowns and one Copa del Rey.
Last season Mourinho delivered Real's first La Liga title in four years, but now finds his team eight points behind Barca after only nine matches amid reports of dressing-room discontent.
The prize Real crave above all others is a record-extending 10th European crown, and first since 2002. In Mourinho, they have a coach with proven pedigree - he is seeking to become the first to win the Champions League with three different clubs - but his task has not been helped by constant reports of a split between the Portuguese and Spanish players in his camp.
If Real are to achieve their ultimate goal, they could do worse than than following the Barca blueprint.

China's 18th Party Congress: Why so secretive?

Rumors and speculation are running wild, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prepares for its 18th Party Congress. So far, though, the most tangible thing about the Congress is the massive deployment of extended security measures in China, resulting in the cancelation of academic conferences, art exhibitions, performances and even private meetings.
In a way, the CCP is asking the entire Chinese nation to hold its breath until the Congress ends.

All this effort is expended over the transfer of power to the "next generation" of Chinese leaders. Indeed, these extra security measures indicate that the leaders of the CCP understand well their weakness: that the fragility of an authoritarian system lies in its transfer of pow

Bao Pu
Bao Pu

That is, despite its domination over the lives of the Chinese people, even the Communist party is not exempt from the general political axiom that a governing régime relies on popular acceptance of its authority.

The problem is that is no one, not even the Party's own members, voted for the next generation of CCP leaders. There are no laws -- or even any clear rules -- that govern the selection of leaders, leaving the matter of choosing the top leaders of the most populous nation on earth entirely at the mercy of the Party's forever changing internal logic. 

Even after a decade as the top leader of China, how exactly President Hu Jintao became Jiang Zemin's designated successor remains a mystery even to expert analysts and historians.

Retracing Chen Guangcheng's escape

The selection process is and will always remain at the highest level of state secrets, guarded even from the majority of Party members. The most important reason is that any detail, if known, could be used as ammunition for internal party strife and dangerously expose the leadership's vulnerabilities.

China censors NY Times after Wen story

On April 30, 1976, after Premier Hua Guofeng had accompanied Chairman Mao Zedong to a meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, Hua told Mao that he would summon activists from Sichuan and Guizhou provinces to Beijing for a conference to strengthen the "Criticize Deng Xiaoping Campaign."

Presidential candidates on China

Mao was already suffering from a neural disease that made him unable to speak, so he replied by jotting down a note that read: "With you in charge, I am at ease." Five months later, Mao died, and Hua became his successor as chairman.

That note became the main vehicle of state propaganda efforts to lend Hua legitimacy. And in order to keep its original limited context a secret, Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua, an eyewitness to the original exchange, was sacked.

It is unlikely that the public will ever know how Xi Jinping became the designated successor of Hu Jintao. Whether or not he was actually handpicked by Jiang Zemin, as rumored, will remain a secret, and even if Jiang were confirmed to have picked Xi, Jiang does not have the charismatic stature of Mao to lend instant legitimacy to his chosen successor, and the lack of public consent would only be highlighted.

In Hua's case, details surfaced only after he was politically sidelined and excluded from positions of power.

In addition to the selection of president and the party's general secretary, the selection of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee is another top level state secret, because the details of who nominated whom would allow political analysts to figure out factional affiliations and map out the complex web of entrenched interest.

Under certain circumstances, information regarding top leaders is released to the public only with intent. Deciding which details to release or not to release on the fallen Bo Xilai must have been a real headache for the Chinese leadership. When the case against his wife, Gu Kailai, was first announced, there was no mention of Bo himself.

Too many details would only confirm the longstanding public impression that families of high-level Party officials use their connections to rapidly accumulate millions and live their private lives in stark contrast to the Party's claims of altruism. Yet, some details needed to be released, as authorities built their case against him.

Thus, the decision of what and when to release information has seemed painfully slow and cautious, creating the perfect environment for rumors and speculation to feed public curiosity.

In today's global information environment, details on the Chinese leadership can now reach millions of people in a matter of minutes via online media and social networks. More than likely, Chinese leaders do not like the way the public reacts to news that is not carefully crafted by the state's propaganda machinery.

In March 2012, a young man driving a Ferrari 458 Spider with two young women aboard died in a fatal high-speed crash. Information about the incident went viral online before it could be suppressed. The driver was reportedly found to be Ling Gu, the son of Ling Jihua, President Hu Jintao's protégé, who was demoted six months after the Ferrari incident.

Recently, the New York Times Report of Premier Wen Jiabao's alleged family business ventures spread throughout the Chinese online network shortly after publication, even after Chinese authorities had blocked access to the newspaper's English and Chinese websites. The same happened after Bloomberg Reported on the wealth of Xi's extended family.

That is a far cry from September 13, 1971. When Mao's comrade-in-arms Lin Biao died in a mysterious plane crash in Mongolia, it took months for the news to ripple through widening circles of the population.

Thus, the Chinese leaders' response to the new age of information has been to make their political system ever more opaque and expend enormous resources on media censorship.

Such is the case with Xi, China's designated leader, of which little is known beyond official accounts. His personality too must be kept secret through a web of media censorship, because such information could be used by opponents to figure out his political tendencies and preempt his political actions.

If we have to make an intelligent guess about Xi, we might have to look at the CCP's recent "History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2 (1949-1978)," which covers the Mao years. This grand project was led by none other than Xi Jinping, according to official reports, and reportedly under his sole discretion. The result is another Party effort to cosmetically make over the disastrous events of the Mao era.

When Xi is in power, he will be turning Party history to its next page.

"He who controls the past controls the future."
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