26 July 2019

Erica Salowe

26 July 2019

Good morning,

Tucked away in the gardens of the University of Barcelona is a small, shady enclave, lush with orange trees and exotic vegetation, walled off from the outside world by thick vines of ivy. The garden is home to a clowder of stray cats who graciously let university students occupy their black latticework benches in exchange for some tuna at lunchtime.

When I attended the University of Barcelona in the spring, my friend Shaina and I took a hazy afternoon to settle into this verdant refuge, and she gave me one of the greatest gifts one human can give another: perspective.

As light chatter shifted into more profound discussions, melancholy permeated the garden as Shaina described the education and employment conditions in her home country of India. Due to India’s incredibly large population, the race to enrol into a good university was cutthroat, and acceptance or rejection likely determined one’s life trajectory.

Employment prospects were even more grim, she explained, as the competition is so stiff that many people she knew from university settled on the first job they could find, even if it was a career totally unrelated to their aspirations. Just to give you an idea of how desperate the job situation is, in March 2018, as many as 20.8 million people applied for 90,000 available jobs within the country’s largest public-sector employer, Indian Railways.

Others who held steadfastly to their dreams sought education and employment opportunities outside of the country, including Shaina. However, if Indian students want even the chance at pursuing higher education either in-country or abroad, they must pass their school-leaving exams.

The pressure for students to pass these exams has become so intense that it is literally a matter of life and death. Last week, it was reported that 23 teenagers in the southern Indian state of Telagana committed suicide after receiving their school-leaving exam results in April.

Making matters worse, the private software firm which conducted the exams and processed the final scores admitted to technical errors which failed 320,000 students in Telagana alone.

Currently living in the UK, and coming from the US, I can’t help but juxtapose India’s dire straits to the education system and opportunities in the west. While I concede that things like a difficult job economy and stress-induced mental health problems also persist in western countries, it is difficult to argue they are to the same severity as in countries like India.

When I attended high school not so many moons ago, it was common practice for students to receive offers of admission from several universities well before we finished the school year and earned our diploma. Some offers of admission, like early decision, have a student’s acceptance and enrolment sorted six months before graduation.

On Monday, I discovered that UK universities also habitually offer places before students take their A-level exams. This practice is only just now coming into question, with admissions chiefs planning an overhaul that would mean students can only apply to a university after receiving A-Level results, which may spell the end of unconditional offers.

While the tranquillity of the University of Barcelona’s garden makes it easy to forget the outside world, my conversation with Shaina was a sobering reminder that opportunities to such resources and education at-large are not available to the majority of the world’s population. We have a mountain of work to do and a long way to go before the basic right to a promising future is guaranteed for all.

News

North Korea yesterday tested two new missiles as a “solemn warning” against South Korea. The short-range missiles were fired from Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast and landed into the Sea of Japan, with the North Koreans claiming the test involved a new tactical guided weapons system. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears have been angered by the decision of South Korea and the US to hold military drills next month.

US Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard is suing Google for at least $50 million due to claims that the tech giant “silenced” her speech in the first Democratic primary debate by suspending her campaign’s advertising account. Google has stated that the account was frozen due to the detection of unusual activity, but Gabbard’s lawsuit claims that Google gave inconsistent and conflicting explanations before reinstating her account hours later.

President Beji Caid Essebsi, the first democratically elected president of Tunisia, died at the age of 92 yesterday. The government has announced seven days of mourning and several Arab countries have offered their condolences. Mohamed Ennaceur, speaker of the parliament, will act as interim president until elections are held in September.

Business & Economy

The United Arab Emirates estimates that trade with Iran will plummet by half due to tightening US sanctions on the Islamic republic, negatively impacting the Middle East’s main business and finance hub. Dubai has traditionally been the centre for Iran’s offshore business operations but heightened tensions in the region threaten to cause a sharp drop in bilateral commerce. (£)

Southwest Airlines has announced that it will cease operations at Newark airport due to expected fleet shortages following the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8. Southwest, the largest US customer for the 737 Max 8, estimated that extensive delays in the jets returning to service meant 2019 available seat miles would decrease as much as two per cent on last year. The Financial Times suggests that this is a sign that Boeing’s struggle to continue production will ripple through the industry. (£)

The BBC reports that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, delays at ports could affect the delivery of essential products like medicine, transplant organs and blood. The deadline to agree to a contract between the Department of Health and Social Care and a freight service, which would ensure the swift delivery of medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, has been pushed back by seven weeks.

Markets

What happened yesterday?

On Thursday, the S&P 500 dipped from a record high due to adverse reactions from various corporate results, as well as a tumultuous session for the euro after the European Central Bank’s latest assessment of monetary policy. Thanks to the continued grounding of the Boeing 737 Max jets, American Airlines shed 8.4% after announcing it expected a larger hit to pre-tax earnings. Boeing was down nearly four per cent when the company reported that it may have to cease production of the 737 Max jet that earlier this year was involved in two fatal crashes.

European stocks were generally unsettled after the ECB expressed concern of an economic slowdown, which effectively outweighed the hopes for fresh stimulus. Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax fell by 1.3%, forgoing earlier gains. In afternoon trade, eurozone government bonds rallied, with the yield on benchmark 10-year German bunds down by one basis point to minus 0.370%. Demand waned for 10-year Italian debt, drawing yields on 10-year BTPs up 2.4 basis points to 1.515%.

Whats happening today? 

Finals
Sports Direct

Interims
Aberforth Smaller Companies Trust Plc
Foxtons
Greencoat UK Wind
IMI
Kcell Regs
Rightmove

Trading Announcements
Vodafone

AGMs
B&M
Chaarat Gold
Mothercare
Redt Energy
Simec Atlantis
Smartspace
Triple Point E

Int. Economic Announcements
(13:30) GDP (Preliminary) (US)

Columns of Note

Fraser Nelson argues in The Telegraph that the election of Boris Johnson marks the end of the old rules of politics – “caution, compromise, complaint and inaction” – and beckons a new order subject to the will of radicals and liberals. Nelson suggests that Johnson has not selected a cabinet for government, rather a campaign team for a general election, which also strengthens his hand in parliament. If parliament tries to threaten Johnson with an election, Nelson reasons, Johnson would likely be able to win. MPs may not be able to block a no-deal Brexit but this may persuade the EU to negotiate. Determined to address any and all Tory electoral vulnerabilities, the piece stipulates that Johnson has taken a note from Trump and embraces the mantra of “governing means campaigning”. Overall, Nelson views the Johnson administration as the biggest gamble in recent political history, but prefers those odds to a government resigned to failure.

The New York Times editorial board contends that although the Federal Trade Commission’s $5bn fine against Facebook is a record-breaking levy, it barely makes a dent in the company’s share price and will not thwart continued privacy violations. After posting $15bn in revenue last quarter, Facebook intentionally set aside $3bn to pay potential fines and its stock even closed higher than at opening after the FTC’s announcement Wednesday. What is even more concerning about the deal, the piece suggests, is that the settlement order grants immunity to Facebook and officers regarding a range of misdeeds committed before 12 June. Worse yet, the FTC also promised not to hold Zuckerberg or anyone else liable for privacy violations caused by Facebook. The NYT argues that the FTC’s leniency toward Facebook allows the company to continually misbehave and calls for a combination of increasing the FTC’s digital privacy division and evolving antitrust laws if any repercussions on privacy violations are to be taken seriously by tech giants in the future.

Did you know?

In a study of 200,000 ostriches over a period of 80 years there were no reported cases of an ostrich burying its head in the sand. 

Parliamentary highlights

TODAY

House of Commons 
No business scheduled. 

House of Lords 
No business scheduled. 

Scottish Parliament 
On recess until Monday 1 September.