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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Arianna Huffington: from bedroom to boardroom with the Uber woman | Observer profile

Last week, the media operator and Huffington Post co-founder joined the board of the taxi giant. So how will the huge online news site reconcile this apparent conflict of interests?

For a busy woman, Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, is a surprisingly committed champion of sleep. Not only has she developed a pre-bed ritual that features a candlelit bath with Epsom salts, writing in a diary what shes grateful for in life, and changing into a silk nightgown, she has also written a new book on the subject, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

But into this perfectly sleepy world of expensive soundproof windows, organic cotton sheets and pillows containing soporific hops has come the kind of problem that could cause a less becalmed woman to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.

For Huffington finds herself in a thorny position of conflict. Last week, Uber, the global taxi giant, announced that she had joined its board of directors. For a woman who lectures against too much work, that may be a little tricky, but thats not the problem.

Whats troubling is that Uber is a company that, by nature of its aggressive market strategy, attracts a certain amount of negative news coverage. The question now is will that find its way on to the Huffington Post site, given that this self-styled guru of the bedroom has planted one foot in the multibillion dollar-rated Ubers boardroom?

Early last month, one of the Huffington Posts reporters alerted her colleagues to a story in the New York Times about an Uber driver who took a nap while his passenger took over and became the subject of a high-speed police chase. But the reporter received a note from a senior editor informing her that they wouldnt be linking to the story because Huffington Post was partnering with Uber on our drowsy driving campaign.

As part of the campaign, Uber customers stood the chance of sharing a cab with Huffington while she conducted a sleep tutorial, a prospect that perhaps not all of us would find relaxing. And in any case, what better way to bring attention to the perils of drowsy driving than the story of a drowsy driver who hands the wheel to a fare, who happens not to have a driving licence and proceeds to accelerate to 86mph, while he catches up on some shut-eye? But the story didnt run.

The Huffington Post subsequently issued a press release insisting that the editorial decision had nothing to do with Huffingtons Uber appointment and that, indeed, she was entirely ignorant of the affair. Perhaps she was, yet the situation highlights the complications that come with the mutual back-scratching set-up of many corporate boardrooms, particularly when media figures are involved.

Even in the most benign circumstances, a conflict of interest is bound to occur at some point. And whatever accusations have been made against Uber, they have seldom, if ever, involved the description benign. As the Washington Post put it, the episode should end any fanciful thinking that somehow a news organisation can cover the news with a conflicted boss.

The safest policy, of course, would be for senior media figures to avoid boardrooms altogether, unless reporting on corruption and poor corporate governance. But safety first has not been the approach that has led Huffington to earn the title as the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus.

Born Ariadne-Anna Stassinopolos in Athens, she moved to the UK as a 16-year-old and studied economics at Cambridge, where she became the first foreign and only third female president of the Cambridge Union. A gifted networker, she befriended people such as John Selwyn Gummer and David Mellor and even entertained the prime minister, Edward Heath.

This was the early 1970s, when feminism was first being adopted by a generation of aggrieved young women. But not Stassinopolos. In 1973, she wrote The Female Woman, her riposte to Germaine Greers The Female Eunuch and an attack on the womens liberation movement, which, she argued, would transform only the lives of women with strong lesbian tendencies.

Her life had been transformed two years earlier by meeting the journalist and broadcaster Bernard Levin on the BBC TV classical music quiz Face the Music. She was 21. At 43, he was twice her age but, as wits noted, half her height. She fell in love and he became her cultural mentor, overseeing her writing. But nine years later, with Levin refusing to have children, she broke off the relationship and moved to New York, leaving behind the parochial concerns of little England and set about becoming an Upper East Side socialite.

It was one of many striking transformations that have shaped Huffingtons life. In the years since, shes undergone more iterations than the iPhone. In 1985, she met the Texan billionaire Michael Huffington, whom she married the following year. They had two children and moved to California for his political career. But they divorced in 1997, and a year later he disclosed that he was bisexual.

It was during the 90s and her marriage to Huffington that she first made a national impact in the US, particularly during her Republican husbands unsuccessful bid to join the US Senate. At that stage of her life, she was an unambiguous rightwinger. In a revealing profile, the New Yorker referred to her as a Republican Spice Girl and an endearingly ditzy right-wing gal-about-town. In 1998, she set up her first website, resignation.com, which called on Bill Clinton to stand down as president following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But by then her transformation was already underway. She had quit the Republican party in 1996, recognising, she later said, that government needed to be more active.

Her next venture was Arianna Online, which grew out of her syndicated newspaper columns. Then in 2005, with Kenneth Lerer and Jonah Peretti, and the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, she set up the Huffington Post.

The site became a platform for thousands of bloggers, none of whom was paid. In 2011, the website was sued by the political activist Jonathan Tasini on behalf of these uncompensated bloggers. The suit was eventually dismissed, and the bloggers received nothing. However, Huffington has certainly prospered.

That same year, she sold the website to AOL for $315m. She has never been troubled by the disparity between her wealth and the non-payment of many Huffington Post contributors. As she told this newspaper two years ago: Nobody made these people blog. They blog because it has a value to them. They want the distribution. They want to be heard. Dont we all, though some of us wouldnt be offended by a little payment too. Notwithstanding her reluctance to redistribute the Huffington Posts profits to its contributors, Huffingtons politics are said to have moved steadily leftwards since the end of her marriage, though it may be more accurate to say that the Republican party has moved steadily rightwards. She voiced her disillusionment in Pigs at the Trough, the ninth of her 15 books, which took aim at George W Bush.

Nowadays, with her wealth and social position firmly established, she proposes a more holistic approach to life. A recent book, Thrive, laid claim to a Third Metric. It argued that the first two metrics money and power were not enough in life, for a person also needed to create a life of wellbeing, wisdom and wonder. Shes always had a spiritual side, going back to her Levin period, when they both flirted with the Bhagwan Rajneesh. But her more recent commitment to yoga and mindfulness came after she fell over several years ago and cracked a cheekbone as a consequence of overwork and lack of sleep.

Ironically, the criticism Thrive received echoed her own of womens liberation: just as she suggested it only worked for lesbians, many felt it was a book whose insights were only really relevant to millionaire businesswomen.Perhaps her new book will have a more universal appeal. After all, even those of us who lack soundproof windows and hop-infused pillows still appreciate a good nights kip. And one tip from Huffingtons life for a restful night is not to suffer regret. She never looks back, she says. Nor does she look forward. She just tries to be here, now, whether thats in the boardroom, in the bedroom or, depending on your luck or lack of it, next to you in the passenger seat of an Uber cab.


Born Ariadne-Anna Stassinopolos in Athens, 15 July 1950, to a journalist, Konstantinos, and his wife, Elli, who devoted herself to realising her daughters dream to study at Cambridge University.

Best of Times Building the Huffington Postinto one of the worlds most successful online news aggregators. It was sold to AOL in 2011 for $315m.

Worst of times When she was 36 her longed-for first child was still-born five months into her pregnancy. I had never known a pain like this, she later wrote.

What she says Everything that happened in my life from my children to being here with you now, happened because a man wouldnt marry me, a reference to her relationship with the late Bernard Levin.

What others say The most ruthless, unscrupulous, and ambitious person Id met in 30 years in national politics. Ed Rollins, her ex-husbands former political agent.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/01/arianna-huffington-uber-directors-huffington-post

How to choose great wine at a hotel bar no matter where you’re traveling

The economics of hotel bars don’t lend themselves to many thoughtful selections but there are ways maximize your drinking pleasure.

If you’ve ever spent time traveling or entertaining friends and family who have traveled to your city or town you’ve probably spent time in a hotel bar or restaurant. And, if you’ve spent time in a hotel bar, you’ve probably noticed the wine sucks: the red gives you headaches or makes your cheeks flush immediately; the white has a subtle aroma of battery acid or is sweet enough that it ought to be kept away from children.

Sadly, the economics of hotel bars don’t lend themselves to many thoughtful selections: they’re often purchased in bulk by the corporate overlords (of either the hotel chain or the chain restaurant sited at the hotel); management is rarely concerned about customer loyalty based on their wine selections; and hotel bars are catering to either a clientele concerned about price point or not concerned with wine at all.

If the hotel at which youre drinking has crappy wine in a place such as New York City or San Francisco, it probably doesn’t matter: walk outside, throw a pebble, and youll undoubtedly find another place to drink. But if your hotel is the only option in walking distance like, say, an airport hotel along a rather desolate stretch of highway access road or your drinking companions refuse to explore, there are some tips to maximize your drinking pleasure in a field of almost assuredly mediocre options.

1. Drink by the bottle rather than the glass. Not only is this generally more economical in groups, but usually there are more and better options by the bottle than there are by the glass. And, in many states, the law allows restaurants to re-cork bottles for diners to take with them it reduces drunk driving by reducing the financial incentive to finish the bottle so, even if you’re not going to finish the bottle, it might still be worth taking it to go.

2. Be creative in your selection. I know, you always drink the pinot noir. Bar managers know that, too: they’ll tend to stock the wines most likely to get ordered, and usually at the lowest price point. It’s to your benefit to branch out, even a little: order the zinfandel instead of the cabernet sauvignon, or the sauvignon blanc instead of a chardonnay.

3. Ask for a taste. Nobody wants to be that picky wine drinker, but dont set yourself to drink something you hate: the bartender doesn’t want to discard a full glass that you wont drink, and you dont want to drink something you wont like. Be polite, remember that you tasted a couple when you tip (ie, put down nothing less than 20% and notch it up for each moment you get picky) and pick a couple things you think might be drinkable rather than asking for a taste of everything on the menu.

4. Be prepared to drink a beer or nothing at all. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. If youre stuck in a hotel with nothing on the menu but a bunch of one-year-old, corporate-made schlock, tonights sobriety might well be better than tomorrows terrible wine-infused hangover. (But if you don’t drink it, perhaps find one of those comment cards and leave a nice note about why you didn’t spend your money perhaps the person who comes in after you will find the selections differ.)

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/29/how-to-pick-wine-hotel-bar

Obama did avert financial catastrophe. But his economic legacy is mediocre | Michael Paarlberg

Telling us it could have been worse is not a very compelling legacy

Its hardly surprising for an outgoing president to be preoccupied with his legacy, or to gripe about low approval ratings. Its more surprising for a president to blame them on his lack of communication skills, especially when that president is Obama.

Obama has been on a legacy-building press tour lately, most recently talking up his economic record in an interview with the New York Times. His main regret, reminiscent of the classic job interview cop-out my biggest flaw is that Im just too hard of a worker! is that he failed to tell voters what a great job he did in managing the recovery: If we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter, then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.

Obama has been called a lot of things aloof, imperious, over-intellectual, secret Muslim but poor communicator is not one of them. No president has been a better orator, or more media-savvy, since the Great Communicator himself. Obama and Reagan, in fact, share a politically remarkable but economically dubious accomplishment, winning reelection with unemployment over 7%, a feat otherwise unmatched since FDR. Both presidents understood that economic voting is more a matter of how you feel than how youre doing, and even voters who are out of work can rally to your side if theyre convinced things are getting better, that despite everything, its Morning in America.

But the opposite is true as well. Voters who are better off in absolute terms can turn on you if they feel worse off relative to others, or to where they feel they should be at this point, now 8 years past the financial collapse. Sociologists talk about the J-curve; political scientists talk about revolutions of rising expectations. The lesson is that people who do better tend to demand more, and punish politicians who fail to deliver. Obama may feel its unfair, but its a healthy thing for democracies not to settle.

And when you think in relative rather than absolute terms, theres a lot of legitimacy to that discontent, more than Obama is willing to admit. The chief accomplishment Obama has been touting is job growth: somewhere between 9.3 and 13.6m new jobs over two terms, depending how you measure it, with unemployment falling from 10% at the height of the recession to 5% today.

Donald Trump has disputed these numbers, saying he heard real unemployment to be as high as 42%. But even the Labor Departments broadest unemployment measures, the U-5 and U-6 rates taking into account discouraged workers, those who have given up looking for work are around 6 and 10%, respectively, and have been declining as well.

But job growth isnt everything. Job quality matters a lot, and wage figures paint a less rosy picture. Real median hourly wages have risen as well, but barely: just 7% over the past 7 years. One can see this in where job growth is happening. Those jobs projected by the Labor Department to grow the most over the next decade are concentrated in low wage service industries: personal care aides (median income, $20,980), fast food workers ($18,910), retail salespeople ($21,780), customer service reps ($31,720). A greater share of jobs today are part-time than before the recession.

Then theres the question of how well those gains have been distributed. Over half of all income growth between 2009 and 2014 went to the top 1% of all income earners, who saw their incomes rise 27%, while the bottom 99% got a raise of 4%, according to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Median household incomes have only recovered to what they were in 1996, meaning for the vast majority of Americans, the recovery has been one in name only.

As a president who arrived at the White House in the midst of the worst economic crisis in generations, Obama deserves credit for staving off catastrophe. As one who leaves seeking a legacy, he might look for a more compelling one than it could have been worse.

Theres good reason for presidents not to pin their legacies on jobs: Obamas average job growth rate of 1.1% may not match that of Clinton (2.5%) or Reagan (2.1%), but all three pale in comparison to Jimmy Carter (3.1%) and Lyndon Johnson (3.9%): both enormously successful job creators, and both one-term presidents.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/28/barack-obama-presidential-legacy-economy

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