We are no chokers: Johan Botha

Don’t mention the ‘C’ word to any South African cricketer unless you want to choke on your words. There will be an exasperated intake of breath, a faraway look in the eyes and an expression of fervent denial. It’s probably the team’s worst kept secret, but they don’t like to be reminded of the ‘chokers’ tag, which has now followed the team since 1992, across eras and captains, through every major ICC tournament.
This time, too, there have been the usual protestations and defensive volleys, but they sound a tad believable. For one, the team sports an almost-new look from 2007, and rising to the occasion is something they are getting better at. Johan Botha, to many SA’s One-day captain-in-waiting and a limited but extremely resourceful player, too went through the wringer at the team’s nets here on Monday, two days before the team’s first Cup game against the West Indies. For a change, he started out with accepting past teams tended to choke.
“I think it (the tag) is overused by now,” he said, “You can say about past SA teams that they have choked, and they probably have. But the freshness that we have got in the squad now… the guys are free to play and do what they think, and the captain and the support staff back them.”
There’s no easy explanation for why SA choke. They’ve always had quality players, some of them even the best in the world, and they don’t seem to lack steel in tough situations. Yet, a mix of poor luck and awful judgment has ensured that they flatter to deceive. In 1992, a bizarre rain rule left them needing 22 off one ball and the jinx set in. In 1996 they swept everyone in their path and fell to West Indies in the quarters. A heartbreaking tie and complicated net run-rate equations saw the Aussies go through to the final in 1999. At home in 2003, Shaun Pollock lost his captaincy after a poor run. In 2007, it was the Aussies and the semis again. It hasn’t been just the World Cup either. Even in the Champions Trophy, the Windies, their first opponents here, have put paid to their hosts twice.”
“It’s quite interesting to say that only we are chokers,” said Botha, “Only the Australians have won the last three. The other teams have also not won it. So it can’t just be pointed at us. I know we have lost in tight situations but that could have happened with any team. Once we get over that hurdle, it will be perfect.”

Chinese Firms struggle to find workers

On one of the busiest recruiting days of the year, Yang Guowei of New Happiness Hair Accessory Company sits slumped behind a small table, one of many set up at a labour exchange in Yiwu, a city in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang.

Mr Yang is trying to recruit migrant workers as the Chinese New Year holidays wind down. He is offering a monthly salary of Rmb1800-Rmb3000 ($274-$456), and looking to hire 10 workers to make rhinestone-embellished hair baubles, but has had no takers in spite of offering wages 30 per cent higher than last year.

“I have been here for four days and I haven’t found anyone yet,” Mr Yang says.

Nearby, Langsha Knitting, one of the world’s largest sock producers which makes 1m pairs of socks a day, is having an easier time. Its human resources manager, Wang Lai, reports that he has signed up nearly all the 2,000 workers he needs.

Labour shortages for manufacturing workers have dominated headlines in the Chinese media as migrant workers return from their holidays, but some employers are proving more able to hire workers than others.

While smaller factories struggle with a nationwide tightening in the labour market, larger firms that offer better wages and benefits – those that are more likely to have HR managers – are able to recruit the staff they need.

Across the country, local governments have been raising the minimum wage. Next month, Guangdong province, home to a large share of China’s manufacturing, will raise the minimum wage by 18 per cent.

In Dongguan, a city in the province that is home to many of China’s light manufacturing factories, employers are promising an annual bonus, annual leave, and even rewards on their birthdays in a bid to sign up workers.

“Workers are God now,” complains Mr Yang.

His hyperbole underlines an important demographic shift. China’s once endless supply of workers is looking less infinite. The cohort of those entering the workforce, defined in China as those between 15 and 24 years old, peaked in 2005 at 227m and is expected to fall to 150m by 2024.

Chart: productivity growth in the Chinese apparel industry
William Fung, who heads Li & Fung, the largest supply chain company in the world with half of its manufacturing operations in China that makes everything from garments to furniture, says the world must brace itself for “a bout of cost-push inflation.”

Alongside double-digit increases in the cost of labour in China in 2010 and 2011, input prices are also soaring. The price of cotton, for example, is up more than 150 per cent over the past year.

“The reality is that [suppliers] will have to pass these costs on,” says Mr Fung.

There is also likely to be a divergence between the fortunes of multibillion-dollar companies like Li & Fung, which saw half-yearly sales as of June 2010 rise by almost 20 per cent, and the small, low-tech Hong Kong firms many of which are based in the Pearl River Delta that are not well integrated into their developed world customers’ businesses.

Guangdong is not the only region facing labour shortages. In poor provinces like Anhui, which has traditionally been a source of migrant workers, higher wages nearer home mean more migrant workers are opting not to travel long distances to seek work.

Li Weining, 23, left his job at the Honda parts plant in Guangzhou that had a strike last year and chose instead a factory in Zhanjiang, 400km from the city, because it is closer to his home town and living costs are lower.

“I earn Rmb1,600, which is almost the same as at Honda,” says Mr Li.

Mr Li’s calculus for moving closer to home is simpler than that of multinationals comparing costs of production in different countries. Most companies are unlikely to shift manufacturing operations in China to countries like India or Bangladesh.

Dragonomics, a research consultancy, calculates that labour productivity in China grew by 13 per cent annually in apparel manufacturing between 2003 and 2010, offsetting most of the increase in wages. China’s rate of labour productivity growth comfortably outstrips that of Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey, it says.

Moreover, for industries such as the assembly of electronic components, efficient and tightly knit supply chains passing products from factories in Japan or Taiwan to the Pearl River Delta for labour-intensive work make it difficult to move manufacturing facilities elsewhere.

And behind the headlines about China’s exchange rate lurks a more lethal secret. China’s infrastructure is on a par with South Korea, according to the World Bank. Dragonomics says than means China combines “Third World wages with First World infrastructure”.

Source: FT.com

Want to ditch AT&T for a Verizon iPhone? It may cost you

(CNN) — Fans of the iPhone are practically foaming at the mouth at the idea of being able to use the popular Apple device on Verizon’s network, which many consider the nation’s most reliable.

Verizon Wireless held a much-anticipated news conference Tuesday in New York to announce a deal with Apple to begin carrying their version of the iPhone, which will go on sale next month.

So amid speculation of a mass exodus from AT&T, we wondered: What would it cost you to buy out of your AT&T contract?

That depends on when you signed up. But no matter how you cut it, it’s not cheap. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect:

Remember that contract?

It’s common practice for cellular carriers to require that customers sign two-year contracts when they buy new phones. They say the fee is used to subsidize the cost of the hardware and thus save people money upfront at the store.

For AT&T customers who want to jump ship, the early-termination fee costs $325 for those who bought a smartphone, including the iPhone, after June 1, 2010. The fee is prorated, so subtract $10 for each month you complete on your contract.

So let’s do the math.

If you got an iPhone 4 for the holidays during the first week of December, it’ll cost you $315 to get rid of it and switch to Verizon. But if you stood in line with the thousands of Apple fans on launch day in June, you can buy out of your contract for $265.

Still rocking an iPhone 3GS from summer 2009? Canceling that contract could cost $85. Why the big discrepancy? AT&T raised the cost of ditching a smartphone contract in June last year. Before then, it cost $175, prorated by $5 for each month completed.

Are your high-school algebra skills a little rusty? Try this handy widget for calculating AT&T early-termination fees, which CNN built with the help of Wolfram Alpha’s development tools.

Thinking about jumping from AT&T to Verizon? Tell us why.

Oh, and if you get an iPhone on Verizon Wireless and don’t like your service for whatever reason, it’ll cost you $350 to get rid of that contract. That’s good to know if you find that reception on the largest U.S. carrier isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Is Verizon worth the fees to switch?

Many longtime iPhone users view Verizon’s network as the pinnacle of cellular service. But is the grass really greener?

“In terms of AT&T defectors, some of that will be human nature — that whatever lane I’m sitting in in traffic is moving slowly and the other will move faster,” said Michael Gartenberg, a consumer-technology analyst for Gartner.

Another question for Verizon: “As iPhone users proliferate on Verizon’s network, will Verizon users have to deal with the same thing AT&T users are dealing with?” Gartenberg asked.

AT&T has been the exclusive U.S. carrier of the iPhone since it launched in 2007. In that time, the company has been plagued by accusations that its cell infrastructure is too weak to handle iPhone owners’ heavy data usage.

In Apple-congested cities such as New York and San Francisco, iPhone owners have long complained of weak signals or dropped calls. (But maybe that’s not AT&T’s fault. Maybe you’re just holding the phone the wrong way.)

But analysts have long wondered whether Verizon would have fared any better had that company gotten the iPhone instead.

Verizon says it’s ready

For now the Verizon iPhone will not take advantage of Verizon’s new 4G network but instead will use the 3G CDMA network, which is generally slower than AT&T’s 3G network.

“The iPhone is built for speed, but that’s not what you get with a CDMA phone,” said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. “I’m not sure iPhone users are ready for life in the slow lane.”

Because the new phone uses 3G, it won’t be able to make voice and data calls at the same time.

Regardless, Verizon says it’s ready for the boost in usage demand expected from iPhone customers. It’s had time to study AT&T’s stumbles and to test its network against data-hungry Droid users.

When asked about the rumored iPhone in an interview last week, Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead stressed the network is prepared to handle the type of high data load that an iPhone would require.

Are AT&T customers unhappy enough to bear the costs?

Even for those convinced that Verizon would provide a happier mobile life, the costs of switching can seem daunting.

AT&T added 5.25 million new Apple phones to its network in the three-month period surrounding the launch of the iPhone 4. “And that means that those folks have signed two-year contracts,” Siegel pointed out.

At that time, AT&T allowed customers still tied to lengthy contracts to renew, which helped the carrier add the most new iPhones compared with any previous business quarter.

Besides the contract-cutter fee, people on family or business plans would have to abandon those cost savings to switch carriers. AT&T says 80% of customers using keyboard-and-internet-capable devices are on those types of plans.

Casual smartphone users can get a cheap $15 internet plan for their iPhones with AT&T. It wasn’t clear Tuesday morning whether Verizon will sell the iPhone with an unlimited data plan, which would be more expensive. (AT&T recently stopped offering unlimited data plans.)

“The supposed impact of the loss of iPhone exclusivity has pretty much been vastly overstated,” Siegel said. “We expect to keep the vast majority of our iPhone customers.”

Gartenberg, the Gartner analyst, agrees that defections from AT&T won’t be enormous.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a huge influx,” he said. “If I just bought an iPhone 4, and I’m on a two-year contract with AT&T, I’d have to be pretty unhappy to break that contract to move over.”

Where would Verizon iPhone customers come from?

So if AT&T customers don’t end up leaving the carrier in droves, Verizon will have to find iPhone buyers from other places.

“I think what we’re going to see, should the iPhone be on Verizon, is the years of pent-up users who have been waiting,” Gartenberg said Monday. “The initial demand will be staggering.”

Those people could be Verizon customers twiddling their thumbs with older, out-of-contract phones. Customers could also come from smaller networks, such as Sprint or T-Mobile.

“The iPhone has proved to be a super-iconic device,” Gartenberg said. “Any network that doesn’t offer the iPhone is going to be at somewhat of a disadvantage and is going to look for more devices and more ways to differentiate.”

T-Mobile has taken aim at the iPhone in a recent ad campaign by criticizing AT&T. That gag won’t work once the iPhone is available on Verizon.

Sprint Nextel takes a defensive approach.

“We do feel very confident in our product lineup right now,” Teresa Kellett, Sprint’s director of 4G, said in an October interview. “We feel very strongly about our Evo. We feel it can stand head to head with the iPhone.”

Justices hear case over punishing businesses that hire illegal workers

Washington (CNN) — The Supreme Court offered tenuous support Wednesday for an Arizona law that would punish businesses hiring illegal aliens, a law that opponents, including the Obama administration, say steps on traditional federal oversight over immigration matters.
It is the first high court challenge to a variety of recent state laws cracking down on illegal immigrants, an issue that has become a political lightning rod.
The outcome could serve as a judicial warm-up for a separate high-profile challenge to a more controversial Arizona immigration reform law working its way through lower courts. That statute would, among other things, give local police a greater role in arresting suspected illegal immigrants.
With only eight justices hearing the spirited hour oral of oral arguments, the very real possibility of a 4-4 tie could leave all or parts of the Arizona business-sanctions law intact.
A variety of worst-case scenarios were offered from the bench over the legislation and its impact.
“What Arizona says has occurred here is that the (federal) scheme in place has not been enforced, and Arizona and other states are in serious trouble financially, and for other reasons, because of unrestrained immigration,” said Justice Antonin Scalia. He called the Arizona law a “massive measure” of regulation.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested the law is mainly punitive in its intent, not purely regulatory, since companies violating the illegal hiring provisions would not be subject to financial penalties, but instead would have their licenses suspended.
She questioned the “anomaly that Arizona cannot impose a fine even in a modest amount, but it can revoke someone’s license to do business.”
Arizona passed the Legal Arizona Workers Act in 2007, allowing the state to suspend the licenses of businesses that “intentionally or knowingly” violate work-eligibility verification requirements. Companies would be required under that law to use E-Verify, a federal database to check the documentation of current and prospective employees. That database had been created by Congress as a voluntary, discretionary resource.
In its lawsuit, the Chamber of Commerce argues federal law prohibits Arizona and other states from making E-Verify use mandatory. It has been supported by a variety of civil rights and immigration rights groups. The state argues its broad licensing authority gives it the right to monitor businesses within its jurisdiction.
The Obama administration recommended a judicial review, and is siding with businesses and civil rights groups.
A 1986 federal act significantly limited state power to separately regulate the hiring and employment of “unauthorized” workers. An exception was made for local “licensing and similar laws.” Under the law, employees are required to review documentation to confirm someone’s right to work in the United States, including checking the familiar I-9 immigration form. Civil and criminal penalties were strengthened, but businesses making a “good faith” effort to comply with I-9 procedures were generally immune from prosecution.
The oral arguments centered on two fundamental questions: is the Arizona scheme a “licensing” law, and whether the E-Verify system could be made mandatory by states. An eventual ruling by the justices could split on the dual questions.
Carter Phillips, attorney for the plaintiffs, called the Arizona law a “death penalty” to businesses who could lose their licenses even for inadvertently hiring illegal workers. He pointedly said this is not a “licensing” law.
“States and municipalities issue all sorts of licenses,” said a skeptical Justice Samuel Alito, using the home of the Supreme Court to offer a hypothetical. “If the District of Columbia were, after having enacted this (business license) requirement some years ago, were to pass a new ordinance saying, ‘If you knowingly hire an illegal alien, your general business license can be forfeited,’ would that cease to be a licensing law?” He hinted it would not.
Chief Justice John Roberts went further.
“It seems to me that whatever wiggle room or ambiguity there may be in saying whether this is a license or not, Congress swept pretty broadly. It said, not just licensing laws, but licensing and ‘similar’ laws.”
The swing vote in the dispute may lie with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked tough questions on both sides but appeared to offer a greater measure of support for the Arizona law. On the “licensing” question he was clear: “I see no limitation on what the state can decide is a license in any jurisprudential principle that you cited,” he told Phillips.
On the other side, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer questioned the practical impact of the law, especially on those who are not hired by a business fearful of employing an illegal.
Breyer said the federal law offers a “careful balance” between avoiding discrimination and ensuring verification in the workplace. He noted separate $1,000 federal fines for businesses that knowingly discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or other factors — and for lax hiring of undocumented workers.
“So Arizona comes along and says: I’ll tell you what, if you discriminate, you know what happens to you? Nothing,” said Breyer. “But if you hire an illegal immigrant, your business is dead. That’s just one thing they do. Now, how can you reconcile that intent to prevent discrimination against people because of their appearance or accent with Arizona’s law? If you are a businessman, every incentive under that law is to call close questions against hiring this person. Under the federal law every incentive is there to look at it carefully.”
Gov. Jan Brewer, who attended the arguments, predicted a favorable outcome.
“The bottom line is that we believe that if the government isn’t going to do the job then Arizona is going to do the job,” she told reporters on the Supreme Court plaza. “We are faced with a crisis. And with regard to today’s hearing, certainly we do issue licenses, and if we giveth, we can taketh away. And that’s what we’re hoping and banking on the Supreme Court’s (upcoming) decision.”
This case could serve as a bellwether to how the court will view a larger, more controversial state immigration law from Arizona. Much of that statute was tossed out by a federal judge in August and is currently pending at a federal appeals court. It would among other things, give police authority to check a person’s immigration status if officers have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is in the country illegally.
Newly appointed Justice Elena Kagan has withdrawn from the E-Verify case because of her earlier involvement in the appeal process while serving as solicitor general in the Obama administration. She has recused herself in about two dozen current and pending cases so far, leaving the possibility of a split 4-4 high court. When that happens, the lower court ruling prevails but no precedent is set.
The case is Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting (09-115). A ruling is expected by June.

Source: CNN