Monthly archives: July, 2019

Nerve gas sarin used in Syria attack, says US as Obama seeks approval for military strike

Sarin: how a single drop of Nazi nerve gas can killSyrian crisis: full coverage
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Hair and blood samples from Syria tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in television interviews as he sought to build the case for Congress to authorise a military strike.

“It has tested positive for signatures of sarin,” Kerry said today on CNN. “So each day that goes by, this case is even stronger.”

The disclosure of potential forensic evidence in the August 21 attack, which Kerry said was obtained by the US from first responders in east Damascus, came one day after President Barack Obama slowed the path toward a military strike by saying he will seek authorisation from Congress.

Originally conceived as a pesticide, sarin was developed by Nazi scientists in 1938. It was used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime to gas thousands of Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988 and cult also used the odorless, paralysing agent in two attacks in Japan in the 1990s. It cripples the respiratory centre of the central nervous system and paralyses the lungs, resulting in death by suffocation. A single, pin-prick sized droplet can kill a human and is 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas, according to the World Health Organisation.

Kerry, who conveyed a sense of urgency in laying out the case for a military strike two days ago in a public address at the State Department, dismissed suggestions that his effort was undermined by Obama’s surprise decision to go to Congress.

“I did not advocate that the response had to be swift,” he said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation program. “There was an appropriate, deliberate process.”

Appearing on all five Sunday network news programs, Kerry made the case for why Congress should approve intervention in a Syrian conflict that has lasted more than two years and resulted in more than 100,000 deaths.

Hitler comparison

“Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein” who have used chemical weapons in times of war, Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press program. “This is of great consequence to Israel, to Jordan, to Turkey, to the region, and to all of us who care about enforcing the international norm with respect to chemical weapons.”

Kerry, who opposed the Iraq war while running unsuccessfully for president in 2004, has become Obama’s most visible advocate for punishing the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons. The secretary of state raised expectations for an imminent response when he said on August 30 that the US had amassed “clear” and “compelling” evidence that chemical weapons were used.

The US says the August 21 attack by the Syrian regime in a Damascus suburb with chemical weapons killed 1429 people, including at least 426 children. The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, saying elements of the opposition were responsible.

Obama made the decision to seek congressional authorisation late on August 30 as he walked around the South Lawn of the White House and talked for 45 minutes with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified.

The President didn’t consult Kerry or other cabinet members such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel before the decision was reached, the official said.

Kerry said today that approval from Congress would strengthen Obama’s hand in building a coalition to punish the Assad regime.

“Our democracy is stronger when we respect the right of Congress to also weigh in on this,” he said on CNN.

Kerry said a decision by Congress to oppose military action wouldn’t prevent the President from launching a strike.

“He has the right to do that no matter what Congress does,” Kerry said on CNN.

Even so, he said, “We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote ‘no’. This case grows powerful and more powerful by the day.”

Intelligence report

A US intelligence report released last week concluded with “high confidence” that the Assad government carried out the August 21 attack. Syria has a stockpile of chemical agents – including mustard, sarin and VX – and “thousands” of munitions to deliver them, it said.

Lawmakers offered mixed predictions today on whether Congress will authorise military action.

“If the vote were today, I think it would be a ‘no’ vote,” said Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who sits on the House intelligence and Homeland Security committees.

“The President has not made the case,” King said on Fox News Sunday. “When they see the President being so weak and vacillating, many members of Congress will vote no.”

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House intelligence committee, backed Obama’s decision to seek a vote in Congress.

“At the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion,” he said on CNN. “This is a national security issue. This isn’t about, you know, Barack Obama versus the Congress. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. This has a very important worldwide reach in this decision.”

More than 100 of the 435 lawmakers in the US House of Representatives, including 18 of Obama’s fellow Democrats, signed a letter last week saying Syria doesn’t pose a direct threat to the US and calling on him to seek congressional approval before any military action.

Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have long urged a more aggressive US role in Syria, have said Obama wasn’t planning to do enough.

“We have to have a plan,” McCain said on CBS. “It has to be a strategy. It can’t just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles.”

Regime change

He said the best way to eliminate the danger of Assad using chemical weapons “would be the threat of his removal from power.” Obama has said a military strike would be limited and wouldn’t include a goal of regime change.

Kerry said he spoke with McCain and Graham as recently as yesterday.

“I am convinced that we can find common ground here with them and others so that they’re convinced that the strategy that is in place will, in fact, help the opposition,” he told ABC.

The US has warships on standby in the region that could launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. A Navy amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, arrived in the eastern Mediterranean yesterday, joining five destroyers. The San Antonio, which typically carries about 300 Marines, could be used to evacuate US personnel from embassies in the Middle East.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chided Kerry today for saying a military strike would be limited.

“We all know that isn’t going to be the case,” Inhofe said on Fox. “It’s going to be something that could be long and last a long period of time.”

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based policy group, said the decision to seek a vote in Congress threatens to weaken the US position.

“It’s important to do the strike,” Haass told CNN. “We’ve made it more difficult for ourselves with the delay and now with the need for congressional authorisation. We’ve raised all sorts of questions about our reliability. We’ve raised questions about our predictability.”

Vali Nasr, a Middle East scholar who is dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said Obama has been hamstrung in trying to deter Assad by US reluctance to intervene in Syria’s civil war.

“The critical deterrence is American decisiveness and commitment to the region,” Nasr said on ABC. “And unless and until that’s there, I don’t think we are either impressing our allies or we’re really threatening Assad.”

– Bloomberg

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

Grow your online business

Is this the response your business elicits from your customers?We all know that e-commerce is becoming an increasingly important part of the Australian retailing landscape. In fact, Australians have spent a mammoth $13.9 billion online in the past year, which signals great opportunities for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to build and grow their online presence.
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However, the latest findings of the Summary of IT Use and Innovation in Australian Business survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that SMBs are still quite slow in their uptake of online retailing – less than half (44.4%) of SMBs are engaging online, despite the fact that 91.9% of Australian businesses have internet access.

Why is this so? The complexity of website creation, the amount of time and administrative work involved, and a lack of computer literacy have been some of the reasons put forward by various business owners. While these concerns are not without merit, there are many effective and convenient services, solutions and marketplaces available to simplify the workflow for SMB owners. In fact, small businesses must start considering how they can use online sales to enhance and complement their existing sales models, or face being overtaken – and, more often than not, taken over – by the multitude of nimbler, more efficient competitors out there.

Looking beyond eBay

Small and medium businesses tend to start their online retailer journey on marketplaces, eBay being the primary platform. Low barriers to entry, and low set-up costs (all you really need are products to sell and the ability to fulfil them) make it a logical choice. If selling on eBay proves successful, businesses should look to push their products out in more places to reach as many potential customers as possible – after all, consumers have many different preferred shopping habits. ChannelAdvisor’s e-commerce software solutions provide customisable and consolidated e-commerce management across a comprehensive range of channels, from Amazon, Trade Me and Facebook to comparison shopping engines like Shopbot. We have to – it’s the only way to provide the maximal reach and control that our retailer customers need.

A great case study of this multichannel approach is RetailSplash – in just a few short years, co-owners Neville Samuels and Dov Herdan have grown their business from selling video games on eBay (via their Dungeon Crawl brand) to now running three online multichannel retail brands under the RetailSplash umbrella.

Each RetailSplash brand sells across multiple channels – revenue is generated through each brand’s own dedicated website, as well as third-party platforms like eBay and New Zealand’s Trade Me. By looking beyond eBay and developing a clear, consistent multichannel selling approach, RetailSplash achieved $10 million in sales turnover last year, and gained the freedom to focus on growing its business. Not bad for a niche retailer! RetailSplash is a perfect example of how smaller businesses can “look bigger” by using digital technology to do a whole lot more for less.

If you’re a SMB owner and wondering how to go online, start thinking about:Inventory management –If you are thinking about selling across multiple channels, you do need to maintain careful management of orders and inventory levels so that products are distributed on each channel effectively. For example, RetailSplash has its data distilled into one single data stream so that the company can quickly identify and make inventory decisions according to changes in demand levels.Information is king – You should spend the time and effort to publish as much information about your products or services as possible. Smaller retailers often struggle to do this. However, the more information you have and put forward, the easier it is for shoppers to find your product on Google, comparison shopping sites and eBay.If in doubt, get advice – There are several options that retailers can take up to kick-start or grow their online business. Web agencies or independent developers can help retailers get up and running online; some also specialise in different vertical industries. Affordable open source cloud solutions, and automation services like ChannelAdvisor, are also worthwhile options.Invest in your own website – For more seasoned eBay sellers, it’s worth considering investing in your own webstore, which lets you ‘take back control’ of the customer experience and control your branding. You will also own the customer data and thus be able to harvest these customer details for marketing purposes.

By Mark Gray, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, ChannelAdvisor

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

That’s ‘flawsome!’

Vicki Stirling says being honest in marketing helps businesses stand out from the crowd.Brands are being encouraged to flaunt rather than hide their flaws – to be “flawsome” – in a bid to appeal to consumer desire for authenticity and transparency.
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According to global firm TrendWatching, “flawsome” (a portmanteau of flawed and awesome) strategies walk hand-in-hand with “maturalism” (mature materialism, another Trendwatching neologism). They are both responses to the cynicism and disbelief traditional “flawless” marketing often elicits. We no longer buy ad campaigns that are too good to be true. Consumers now want honest conversations about products and appreciate brands that show some maturity, humility, and humour.

Think Marmite’s “Love it or Hate it” campaign, which plays up the fact many people think the English breakfast spread similar to Vegemite is disgusting. Or Moro’s “the fourth best chocolate bar in New Zealand” or Pot Noodle’s “Slag of All Snacks” campaigns. Similarly, the Samoa Air “A kilo is a kilo is a kilo” campaign draws attention to the fact that passenger ticket prices are calculated on the total weight they wish to transport.

It’s an approach supported by a market study published in early 2012 which found that 68 per cent of consumers trust a review that shows both good and bad points of the product.

Kironmoy Datta, senior brand manager for Novartis Consumer Health, which makes Buckley’s mouthwashes, it has  been successful not despite their bad flavour, but because of it, using the long-serving campaigns of “It tastes awful. And it works,” and “Open wide and say ‘@#$%&*!’.”

“One of our principles is to be honest and straightforward,” Datta said. “The brand has no qualms about stating it the way it is. Buckley’s isn’t for everyone. Large portions of the population will never try it if they can have a sweet-tasting product instead.

“We’ve made a conscious choice to not be everything to everyone. We believe consumers respect our honest approach.”

Australian company iiNet also decided to “get real”, launching their “No. 2” campaign in 2011 in recognition of the company’s position as the second largest DSL broadband provider in Australia.

An iiNet blog primed the campaign, quizzing readers what the company had in common with Shannon Noll, Buzz Aldrin and Dannii Minogue. The answer was revealed by company icon “Finn” holding up two fingers in a peace sign, which became one of the key campaign images.

iiNet marketing manager Adam Levin said the No. 2 campaign reflected the appetites and expectations of the contemporary consumer.

“The phrase we use is authentic engagement, as opposed to a fake interruption. Some of the ways that comes out in advertising might be an aside, a little quip, a look to the camera, or self-deprecating humour like in the No. 2 campaign. We don’t try to hide the fact it’s an advert. It’s self-referential and takes you into relationship with the consumer.

“Consumers are mature and knowledgeable and we want to acknowledge that. Generations of people  have grown up surrounded by marketing and are very adept at decoding it, very sensitive to anything that isn’t honest.

“Social media plays has made the world a very transparent place. iiNet benefits from that because we’ve always maintained a very open and transparent approach to marketing and communication in general,” Levin said.

Flawsome marketing is one way Sunrise Junction brand and business consultant Vicki Stirling believes brands can stand out from the crowd.

“The Amazon days really changed the face of consumer relationships with brands. They were suddenly able to provide feedback and responses to products. Smart brands started saying, ‘well, rather than spending lots of money on marketing campaigns, let’s talk about things that aren’t successful,’” Stirling said.

Stirling has been particularly inspired by outdoor clothing company Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign and similar initiatives by Nike that deliberately disclose the eco-footprint of their products, as a way of highlighting their commitment to environmental considerations.

“Patagonia told consumers that the making of their polo shirts generates seven times [the shirt’s] weight in waste. As a result, their perceived environmental credentials skyrocketed. It actually got consumers to become advocates for their brand. As well as being motivated from a genuine eco-consciousness, it was also very clever.

“I’m involved with some amazing sustainable businesses who are trying to do it all. I always tell them that it’s OK not to be perfect. As long as you are honest about your brand, customers will respect the open and transparent dialogue,” Stirling said.

“This strategy is really about building trust with consumers. Admitting mistakes and flaws are actually really good tools to encourage loyalty. It’s all about how you turn it around.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

Where will you be in 10 years?

For many small-business owners it’s enough to focus on where they will be next month, never mind where they will be 10 years from now. But it’s not a bad idea to occasionally think about where you’d like to see yourself in a decade, if only to remind yourself why you went out on your own to build a business.
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Oliver Lee, founder of Office Athletes, which runs corporate games, says in 10 years he wants to have made as big an impact on the world as he can. “I call myself as a social entrepreneur,” he says. “Everything I do has to have an altruistic motive and therefore everything needs to reflect my passion.”

Lee came to Australia from Canada 18 months ago after deciding he wanted to live abroad and start a business. He established Office Athletes, where corporations compete against each other in a range of sports while giving back to the community. The goal is to also provide these organisations with the tools to break down communication barriers within their workplace.

“The sports aspect is only a vehicle,” he says. “What I’m trying to do is help people to communicate better. Giving back to society is also something that is very important to me.”

Lee says it’s very important to plan when you’re in business but you also need to take the opportunities as they present themselves.

“Entrepreneurs are passionate about learning and they need to learn how to adapt to challenges as they present themselves,” he says. “Many entrepreneurs, for example, don’t think about an exit plan, they think only about growing the business.”

What separates successful and not-so-successful companies, Lee says, is a vision. “I’m a start-up and if you are a start-up you already have a plan in place. The timeframe in which you then operate isn’t as important.”

Penny Spencer, founder of Spencer Travel, says in 10 years’ time she would still like to be involved in the business but probably more as a strategist. “I’d like not to be as hands-on in the business ,” she says. “I’d like to take more of a helicopter view of the company and maybe sit on a few boards.”

Spencer believes planning is key to get to where she’s going. “I plan for everything; I believe you need a map to know where you’re going,” she says. “If you don’t have a map you’re winging it. I have one year and three-year plans and my annual plans are tracked monthly to see that they are on track.”

She adds that when you’re thinking about 10-year plans then you are really talking about succession planning. “You can’t plan 10 years ahead for what you want to happen in your business but you can plan for succession or for an exit strategy,” she says. “Businesses change too much in that time.”

Spencer Travel has been established for 15 years. Ten years ago, Spencer says she was five years into the business and just stepping up to the next level.

“I had three to four staff and was moving to employ 10,” she says. “Five years ago I did have a succession plan for 10 years’ time. If I didn’t plan then my business would still be in existence but it wouldn’t be doing as well. I would be working in the business not on it.”

Elisa Limburg started the events and marketing business, elevents, during the recent financial crisis while she was looking for work and what she’d be doing in 10 years’ time was far from her thoughts.

“I didn’t have many ideas when I started; I created a business plan and the first year I was really trying to find my feet,” she says. “While I initially had a plan it wasn’t a 10-year one – one to three years is a more crucial time period for small businesses. In the industry I’m in a five to 10-year plan would need to be vague as this industry changes so much.”

Limburg agrees planning is important no matter how near or far in advance you do it. “Businesses that don’t plan can often be taken by surprise and find themselves with unnecessary stress and sometimes last-minute expenses while scrambling to pull things together,” she says.

“It’s important to be flexible and adaptable to change or your business won’t survive. Businesses also need to be innovative in order to appeal to new and existing customers. I always say ‘same, same’ doesn’t always cut it; you need fresh ideas to keep customers and clients on board.”

Limburg says from a personal point of view, in 10 years’ time she hopes to have a family and be winding back a bit with less control in the business.

“I am entrepreneurial by nature and I have another few ideas for businesses that aren’t necessarily in this industry,” she says.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

Promises, promises, promises: The pork that funds the real election campaign

Federal Election 2013 coverageHave your day at YourViewElection Live with Stephanie Peatling
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From a distance, the so-called “greens” of the Karratha Country Club in the far north of Western Australia look like sand traps. Eighteen tarns of sand pock the ends of long green strips etched in the Pilbara dust.

A torrent of recycled water maintains the fairways, but “it’s like having a pool table that you haven’t dusted in five years,” says club president David “Harry” Hipworth. “It slows the ball down.”

But, thanks to federal Labor, all that is about to change.

On August 16 the Labor party dedicated $400,215 already in the budget to green the “greens” of the club. The dollars are among dozens of small, local spending initiatives announced by the Labor Party and the Coalition over the past three weeks.

To one way of thinking, these spending announcements are the real campaign front line. They are used to convince voters at the local level, where ballots are actually cast, that one party or the other truly has their best interests at heart.

“Most of the polls we read about in newspapers are national or state polls,” says Nicholas Reece, a Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy at Melbourne University and one-time senior advisor to Julia Gillard.

“Of course, elections are not decided on national polls. Political parties know this so they target their initiatives at those electorates where it is likely to get them the best electoral response.”

Fairfax Media has been collecting every spending announcement released by the headquarters of the major parties over the course of the campaign. We have also trawled the websites of local candidates to collect as many announcements as we can apart from what head office distributes.

We have adjusted that list to focus only on dollars that seem positioned to influence votes in particular seats.

Labor has made 133 promises that meet our criteria, compared to 115 from the Coalition.

Our analysis excludes some massive projects, including the $1.5 billion the Coalition has dedicated to Melbourne’s East-West Link. It makes little sense to allocate the cost of such a project entirely – or even substantially – as a benefit to the electorate of Melbourne, beneath which it is located.

It does not exclude roads altogether, however. In Bendigo, north of Melbourne, a combined $131 million is on the table.

The Coalition has pledged $86 million to upgrade the Calder Highway/Calder Alternate Highway interchange near Ravenswood, a cause Labor has supported with $45 million of its own.

RACV Roads and Traffic Manager, David Jones, says the RACV welcomes the funding, and argues that the project will improve traffic flowing from Victoria’s north towards Melbourne. However, he says the RACV was not particularly aware of the intersection as a black spot.

There is little question, though, that the locals know it as such. It is a regular topic of local media coverage.

Our analysis also excludes some battlegrounds that have dominated the national debate. The Coalition’s $10 billion paid parental leave scheme and its $5 billion corporate tax cut are set aside not simply because they are national, but because their targets are so broadly diffused.

Under those caveats, the first announcement to emerge from the Coalition targeting the Green’s seat of Melbourne was $6 million to plant a million trees around the city. The strategy is clear.

Labor attacks Melbourne differently, with a $100 million pledge to redevelop the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. It is the second-largest promise we have found that we felt comfortable attributing to a particular electorate.

But pride of place goes to the Western Sydney electorate of Parramatta. The Westmead hospital precinct located there stands to benefit from $122 million promised by Labor. It is the largest single commitment on our list.

Held by Labor on a margin of just over 4 per cent, Parramatta is central to the fight for western Sydney. Marginal seats including Greenway (Labor by 0.88 per cent), Reid (Labor by 2.68 per cent) and Bennelong (Liberal by 3.12 per cent) all border it.

Both parties have clearly decided that justice and sport matter on the front lines.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has traversed the country delivering small millions from the National Crime Prevention Fund to localised legal services, and has been generating at least half a dozen press releases along the way.

At least 27 announcements have been generated by Liberal candidates, on their individual websites, promising CCTV cameras and other crime-prevention infrastructure to their electorates.

The press releases are nearly carbon copies of one another, and often the headlines are indistinguishable from one candidate to the next.

The Coalition’s headquarters contributes just over 20 items to our list. Announcements are largely left to individual candidates, who may or may not post the announcement online.

We cannot, therefore, claim to have a comprehensive list of Coalition announcements despite repeated requests for assistance to the Coalition.

Labor has made more than 100 such local spending announcements. Promises of $112,870 to help pay for the refurbishment of the Kalamunda Library, or $150,000 for a car park and landscaping at the Khmer Buddhist Association of South Australia’s Parafield Gardens site, are typical.

All of these are distributed through Labor’s campaign headquarters, alongside policy announcements of much larger scope and reach.

For example, on August 14, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd distributed $209.8 million for 137 new Trade Training Centres to be established around the country with a single announcement.

The announcement included the names and locations of the schools to receive the funds.

An analysis by Fairfax Media of those locations shows six such centres will be established in the marginal seat of Page, held by Labor’s Janelle Saffin. It is the largest number to be established in any electorate.

Only five seats receive more than three centres, and only one of those seats is considered “safe” by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Does this imply a cold calculation? Is this a policy that has been hijacked to gain votes? Mr Reece says things are rarely so simple.

“It is very rare for a political party to go out and promise something that nobody wants and nobody needs,” he says.

“What they will do is push things in a direction that happens to help them electorally. They are looking for an alignment between good policy and good politics.”

*The data in this story was correct as of August 30.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….