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Commentary | Five Moments That Defined 2018

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From the rapprochement between North and South Korea at the Winter Olympics in January to December’s frantic news agenda, 2018 has had no shortage of surprises. Below are my key picks for the defining moments of the year.

Elon Musk, Mars, and a roller coaster year for billionaires

On Feb. 6, Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket blasted into space from Florida and sent a cherry-red Tesla roadster hurtling toward Mars. It was a powerful statement about the influence and ambition of a new generation of tech billionaires.

Overall, however, 2018 would be a rough year for the group, and Musk was no exception. By July, he was embroiled in a high-profile spat with a British cave rescue diver over a miniature submarine he had hoped would help rescue 12 boys trapped underground in Thailand, just one of a series of increasingly negative headlines.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – once touted as a potential U.S. presidential candidate – had scarcely a better year, his firm plagued by its own stream of scandals and political headwinds.

Google, whose chief executive Sundar Pichai became the latest tech chief summoned before Congress, faces a mutiny from some workers on multiple topics, including his dealings with the U.S. and Chinese governments. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos faces mounting criticism over working conditions and low tax payments.

Yet none of this looks set to stop tech firms from continuing to radically disrupt the world – indeed, many of their founders appear to believe their mission is to do so. Expect these battles to grow in 2019, particularly if new technology such as artificial intelligence and driverless cars accelerate change.

Trump fires advisers, tightens his grip

One billionaire learning his way around the political system in 2018 was U.S. President Donald Trump. After reports of growing frustration with some of his most senior officials, March saw him fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Both had been viewed as moderating influences on Trump, with successors Mike Pompeo and John Bolton perceived as less prone to questioning him.

December’s departure of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly leaves Defense Secretary James Mattis the key restraining influence.

Overall, Trump seems increasingly keen to trust his own judgment rather than that of establishment-based gatekeepers or Republican insiders.

POTUS woos Kim and Putin. Elsewhere, diplomacy unravels.

In Singapore in June and in Helsinki in July, Trump upset many in his own administration with the warmth of his meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The friendliness of the summits stood in stark contrast to the G7 gathering of Western and Allied leaders in Canada, also in June. There, Trump appeared more isolated than ever before on topics including climate change, protectionism and relations with Russia. The G7 leaders were unable to agree on a communiqué, with the six non-U.S. members making their own statement independent of Washington.

Events at the G7 pointed to a wider malaise in international diplomacy. World leaders at November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea also failed to agree on a communiqué, this time due to divisions between China and the United States and its allies over trade.

Military posturing is also on the rise. Russia, China and NATO each held their largest wargames in recent history this summer, while confrontations between jets and warships in the South China Sea and Europe have also increased markedly.

Khashoggi killed as authoritarian states take the gloves off

The world’s authoritarian states appeared at least equally as focused on stifling dissent and opposition. Nowhere was that clearer than in the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered and reportedly dismembered in his own country’s consulate building in Istanbul. Like the suspected Russian nerve agent assassination attempt on a former double agent in the UK town of Salisbury the previous year, the killing sparked international outrage and some diplomatic isolation of Riyadh – but little in the way of convincing apology from those believed responsible.

A string of autocratic governments appear increasingly dismissive of human rights, openly taking draconian action against critics and enemies alike. Russia is continuing its ruthless military campaign against remaining rebel enclaves in Syria, and a Saudi-led coalition has persisted in its war in Yemen – at catastrophic cost to civilians, where millions now face starvation.

China is cracking down on its Muslim Uighur minority, with a U.N. report citing estimates Beijing has interned up to one million in “reeducation camps.” Such steps suggest authoritarian rulers like China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Putin may not feel as secure as they appear – or that they believe such brutal tactics are simply necessary to retain their grip.U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

G20 meets as Paris burns

November’s G20 gathering in Argentina was perhaps the year’s most successful multilateral gathering, with world leaders managing to agree on a largely bland communiqué on reform of global trade. Trump’s meeting with China’s Xi brought some temporary relief from the two countries’ trade war, even as Ukraine tensions and Mueller’s Russia probe made a Trump-Putin meeting impossible. There was still no shortage of disagreements on show, however – and as the leaders met, riots in Paris were grabbing global headlines.

Almost every Western leader in Argentina returned home to an existential political crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron has since bowed to some of the demands of the “yellow vest” protesters, particularly over fuel tax, but that has not been enough to stem the unrest. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signaled she will shortly leave politics, although she has seen some success in appointing a protegé to lead her party. Trump went back to Washington to face the fallout from former lawyer Michael Cohen’s admission of lying to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow; British Prime Minister Theresa May has so far failed to find a Brexit deal she can get through Parliament.

Many of these impasses stem from a much wider crisis in Western nations, with rising wealth gaps and often mounting discontent and hardship among the poorest. Solving those issues will be tough – and more disruption feels inevitable through 2019 and beyond. – Reuters

  • Peter Apps

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South Africa aims to finalize long-term energy plan next month: minister

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South Africa is aiming to finalize a long-term plan for the country’s energy mix next month, and once that is done it will launch another round of renewable energy deals, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said on Wednesday.

“We are aiming for February,” Radebe told Reuters, when asked when the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) would be completed. “Straight away after that we will launch more renewable energy contracts,” he added. -Reuters

-Alexander Winning

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The Happiest Companies To Work For In 2018

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Companies that keep employees happy aren’t just helping their workers—they’re helping themselves, since satisfied workers are more productive. In fact, a mutual fund that invests in companies with positive workplace ratings, Parnassus Endeavor, has beaten the market handily over the past 10 years.

What are the organizations with the happiest employees? Careers site CareerBliss launched its eighth-annual list of the happiest companies in America. It surveyed tens of thousands of workers and asked them to rate their employers on ten key factors, such as their relationship with management, workplace environment, compensation, satisfaction with job function and growth opportunities.

To see the top 10 happiest companies to work for, open the gallery below. For the full list of 50, see the end of this article.

Keller Williams Realty takes the top spot. The Austin, Texas company has 175,000 agents across more than 900 metro areas and claims to be the world’s largest real estate franchise by agent count. A Keller Williams Realty employee wrote on CareerBliss.com, “One of the greatest benefits is how our company promotes from within. All employees are encouraged and supported to be in control of their growth and career paths.”

Sneaker king Nike ranks second. It remains one of the most valuable brands in the world, and it’s navigating a big transition as more consumers shop online. In June it announced its “NIKE Direct” initiative—the company is trying to sell more of its products directly to consumers through its website and own stores, rather than rely on traditional retailers like Foot Locker.

Adobe is the fourth happiest company, according to CareerBliss. The Silicon Valley tech giant invented PDFs and launched them 1993. It claims PDFs have led to a 91% reduction in environmental impact and 90% cost savings when compared with paper-based processes. And Adobe’s Photoshop software is used by 90% of creative professionals. “The atmosphere is highly collaborative and energizing. People have always been friendly and helpful; very professional,” wrote one employee on CareerBliss.com.

Pharmaceutical giant Amgen ranks fifth. Arthritis drug Enbrel is its top-selling product, bringing in nearly $6 billion in sales last year. “The work-life balance is great, fantastic daycare on campus, lots of smart co-workers,” wrote one CareerBliss reviewer. “Working for Amgen was very rewarding to see the positive impact we made in patients’ lives,” reported a West Coast employee.

Full List: The Happiest Companies to Work for in 2018

  1. Keller Williams Realty
  2. Nike
  3. Total Quality Logistics
  4. Adobe
  5. Amgen
  6. Chevron
  7. Intuit
  8. Bristol-Myers Squibb
  9. PNC Financial Services Group
  10. TruGreen
  11. CIGNA
  12. Starbucks
  13. Apple
  14. Quicken Loans
  15. Leidos
  16. Qualcomm
  17. iGATE
  18. The Vanguard Group
  19. Citrix Systems
  20. Kaiser Permanente
  21. Chase
  22. Pfizer
  23. Fidelity Investments
  24. American Income Life Insurance Company
  25. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
  26. American Express
  27. GE Capital
  28. Merck
  29. American Airlines
  30. Microsoft
  31. Cisco Systems
  32. Nordstrom
  33. Exxon Mobil
  34. Alcatel-Lucent
  35. CenturyLink
  36. Bank of America
  37. The Walt Disney Company
  38. Wells Fargo
  39. Oracle
  40. Citigroup
  41. Broadcom
  42. Farmers Insurance Group of Companies
  43. DirecTV
  44. Dell
  45. Symantec
  46. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
  47. ABC News
  48. CareFusion
  49. Spectrum
  50. Verizon Communications
    – Jeff Kauflin

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5 Questions You Should Never Ask During A Job Interview

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So, you think you’re acing your job interview.


Your interviewer seems to like you. You like your job interviewer. The camaraderie couldn’t be better.

Then comes the proverbial: “So, what questions do you have for me?”

Whether you’re interviewing for a job at Google or joining your local small business, the questions that you ask your interviewer matter. It’s your opportunity to showcase your talents, knowledge, and judgment.

Here are 5 questions that you should never ask during a job interview (and three more that you should).

1. “So, how much will I get paid?”

This seems like a no-brainer, but for some reason, interviewees still think the question is fair play.

That said, it is a fair question. After all, you need to know how much you’ll be paid before you take the job. While that’s true, the interview is not the time to discuss salary.

If you receive a job offer, you can discuss salary at that time.

2. “How much vacation time will I get?”

Again, your vacation and personal time might be an important part of your calculus when deciding to take a job offer.

However, asking how much vacation time you’ll get demonstrates you’re focused more on time off than working.

Like salary, your vacation and other benefits should be reflected in the job offer. You can ask all the questions related to salary and benefits at that time. You can also schedule a follow-up session with the human resources department for a benefits deep-dive.

3. “How quickly can I get promoted?”

Climbing the ladder of your potentially new organization is admirable.

However, don’t assume during the interview that you have the job. It’s important to understand options for movement – both upward and lateral – within the organization. If you plan to work at this organization, it’s essential to understand your career trajectory.

You don’t want to come off as entitled. This question may convey to the interviewer that you think you already have the job (when you don’t).

4. “Why did the company fire so many people last month?”

It’s never a good sign to read about layoffs.

This is especially true when you may be joining an organization after a big headcount reduction.

It’s a fair question, and you should understand the details. However, the job interview is the wrong time.

When you receive your job offer, you can have a frank conversation with your manager about the layoffs, the rationale, whether additional layoffs are expected and other related information to fortify your understanding.

Before accepting a job, make sure to understand if the headcount reduction is expected to be ongoing or if it was a one-time occurrence.

5. “So, who do you consider your competition?”

Instead of asking your interviewer about the competition, spend the time asking questions that demonstrate your interest in the company and also show that you’ve done research prior to your interview.

Before the interview, you should have conducted due diligence on the competitive landscape.

That includes understanding key competitors, relative strengths and weaknesses, the supply chain, key opportunities and threats, barriers to entry and other pertinent market dynamics.

You’re better off weaving this information into the interview, rather than asking during the question period.

3 Questions That You Can Ask During An Interview

Here are three potential questions that you could ask during your job interview:

1. “What are the best attributes of the company’s culture?”

  • Show your interest in company culture.
  • Understand the key values that set this company apart.
  • Learn more about the company’s mission and value proposition.

2. “How much is collaboration across departments encouraged?”

  • Determine whether collaboration is promoted internally.
  • Learn more about ways in which collaboration helps create value for employees and customers.
  • See if the interviewer can share concrete examples to further your understanding.

3. “What would you like the person that you hire to accomplish over the next 6-12 months?”

  • Learn about your interviewer’s goals for the position.
  • Understand expectations.
  • This will give you insights because the question is specific to the role and shows your ability to think longer-term.
  • -Zack Friedman

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