GameStop has deja vu, Iraq reflects on oil and Martian winds blow

We gather the numbers to know from the week’s biggest economic and business news stories so you can impress yourself and your friends.

After landing their Perseverance rover on Mars last week, NASA scientists treated their fellow earthlings to a sound that has never been heard before: Martian wind [File: NASA/JPL-Caltech via Reuters]
After landing their Perseverance rover on Mars last week, NASA scientists treated their fellow earthlings to a sound that has never been heard before: Martian wind [File: NASA/JPL-Caltech via Reuters]

It’s the final week of February, and if you’re anxiously awaiting those first little signs of spring, you’re not alone.

There are plenty of reasons this winter felt longer than most, from the coronavirus pandemic to deep freezes in parts of the world where they’re usually rarely felt.

Add to that the fact that we would all like a little more sunshine in our lives, and you might be downright chomping at the bit. So pause your crocus hunting and daffodil gathering to catch up on the biggest business and economic news stories you might have missed this week. We promise warmer weather is just around the corner.

$16

United States retailer Costco, best known for its tasty free samples and huge packs of toilet paper, announced it is raising the hourly minimum wage for its employees to $16 next week. That’s more than double the current federal hourly minimum wage for Americans, which stands at $7.25.

Costco’s CEO announced the move during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Thursday. Costco’s $16 hourly wage now tops those of its rivals, Walmart and Target, which both pay $15 per hour.

The fight for $15, long a rallying cry for activists, unions and fast-food workers, also became part of the larger debate over US President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Congressional Democrats had tried to include Biden’s proposal to raise wages to $15 an hour by 2025 in the latest stimulus package, which they hope to pass via a simple majority through a process called budget reconciliation.

That effort was nixed by the Senate’s parliamentarian, who ruled on Thursday the minimum wage hike could not be part of the larger COVID bill. Republicans had always wanted to see it debated separately — with possibly a more modest increase. What’s clear is the fight for $15 is far from over.

Young Iraqis experiencing unemployment, such as Sally Mars, 24, want to see the government end corruption in the oil sector and use its profits to help people [Courtesy: Sally Mars]

36 percent

The youth unemployment rate in Iraq, according to United Nations estimates, making it more than double the national unemployment rate.

Some of Iraq’s unemployed young people – like musician Sally Mars, 24 – have joined protests against Iraq’s government, demanding the country’s leaders tackle joblessness, improve basic services and end corruption, particularly in the oil industry, which is the country’s main source of wealth but has rarely been used to benefit its people.

“It fell into the wrong hands, bad leadership and corruption – imagine so much money and power being given to the wrong people, what can we do?” Mars recently told Al Jazeera’s Sofia Barbarani at a Baghdad cafe.

Mars has been unemployed for more than a year after graduating from Baghdad University with a degree in business management. “Most people have lost hope,” she said. “Others still hang on by a thread.”

More than double

The surge in GameStop’s stock price after it once again became a favourite of Reddit-fuelled day traders this week, handing the video-game retailer its best week since January.

GameStop has been on a truly wild ride, just one of many stocks to see its value surge and then crater as amateur investors following social media stock tips play in the market sandbox.

“The sudden revival in left-for-dead stocks recalled an episode last month that captured the attention of Wall Street, regulators and eventually Congress, as members of Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum egged on retail hordes in an attempt to take on professional short sellers,” Bloomberg News reported.

And regulators aren’t done probing the phenomenon yet — so stay tuned.

Nearly 100 million

The number of people Chinese President Xi Jinping claims have been lifted out of poverty over the past eight years.

Xi cited the figure at a ceremony celebrating the achievement, which he has made a hallmark of his administration.

China sets its poverty line lower than the rest of the world does, however.

Under Chinese metrics, extreme rural poverty means living on about $1.69 per day or less at current exchange rates, versus the World Bank’s global threshold of $1.90 a day, Reuters news agency reported.

Eradicating poverty has been a hallmark of the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda since it came to power nearly 100 years ago. But advocacy organisations continue to criticise labour and human rights conditions in China, especially for Uighur Muslims and other minority groups.

The arctic freeze caused sweeping power outages in Texas and other states and ratcheted up pressure on energy prices , which were already trading at unprecedented levels. [File: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg]

Millions

The number of Americans who struggled without electricity in Texas and other parts of the central US last week after extremely cold weather blanketed the area with snow and sent energy producers into a deep freeze. The wild weather also sparked a debate about what it will take to prevent another disaster-level disruption to the US electric grid.

Progressives want a Green New Deal that prioritises renewable sources of energy, but in oil-is-king Texas, that’s been an uphill battle, writes Al Jazeera’s Ben Piven.

But while how to tackle the problem is — predictably — just as polarised as the stratospheric polar vortex itself, one thing is clear: the US was caught without its coat when the weather took a turn.

“This storm has shown that our facilities are not ready for the weather we’re experiencing,” John Hall, the director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Al Jazeera.

First

After landing their Perseverance rover on Mars last week, NASA scientists treated their fellow earthlings to a sound that has never been heard before — Martian wind.

Perseverance sent back its first audio recording, which captures a gust travelling across the Red Planet’s surface.

Scientists have said the rover’s sophisticated audio and visual gear — it is equipped with 25 cameras to take 360-degree colour photos — will make this mission a “feast for the eyes and ears”.

Perseverance will also bring back rock samples from Mars that could help NASA discover possible evidence of rudimentary life on the planet. For now, the sounds coming from Mars seem blissfully quiet, so if the hustle and bustle of Earth is getting you down this week, take a Martian moment of Zen instead.

Source: Al Jazeera

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