Category: International Affairs

Image of Guy Fawkes taken from a video posted by the hacking group Anonymous when it hacked the Greek Justice Ministry website 3 February 2012
Anonymous has stepped up its attacks against US federal agencies

Hackers have claimed responsibility for making the CIA website inaccessible on Friday – the latest attack on a US federal agency.

A Twitter post on a feed used by hackers’ collective Anonymous said “CIA Tango down”, a phrase used by the US Special Forces after killing an enemy.

Anonymous said in another tweet that just because it reported a hack, that did not mean it carried out the attack.

This would not be the first time the CIA website has been put offline.

In June 2011, a group affiliated with Anonymous, Lulz Security, temporarily brought down the agency’s homepage.

The CIA site remained offline on Friday evening after several hours, and a spokeswoman said the agency was looking into the reports.

Hackers usually target such websites through a denial-of-service attack, which involves bombarding the site with traffic until its servers are overwhelmed.

There is no suggestion that the security of the CIA’s actual computer systems have been compromised.

Earlier this month, Anonymous managed to intercept a conference call between the FBI and British police as they discussed legal action against hackers.

And following the shutdown of the Megaupload file-sharing website last month, a statement attributed to Anonymous claimed responsibility for shutting down the websites of the Department of Justice and FBI, among others.


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Many Greeks think Europe is dictating totally unacceptable terms

Greece’s cabinet has approved fresh austerity measures demanded by the eurozone and IMF in return for a 130bn-euro ($170bn; £110bn) bailout.

The draft bill must now be passed by the Greek parliament and approved by European finance ministers.

Five ministers have resigned from the government over the issue, with one junior party in the coalition saying the demands were “humiliating”.

Unions began a 48-hour strike on Friday with protesters clashing with police.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has warned the country faces “uncontrolled economic chaos” if it fails to agree spending cuts and defaults on its debts.

“We cannot allow Greece to go bankrupt,” he told his cabinet, saying it was an “hour of historic responsibility”.

“A disorderly default would plunge our country in a disastrous adventure,” he said.

‘Tragic ramifications’

Ministers who disagreed with austerity measures could not stay in the coalition government, the Greek leader added.

Meanwhile, Greek conservative leader Antonis Samaras has said all his party’s MPs must vote in favour of the bailout law.

Mr Samaras, whose New Democracy party is a member of the governing coalition, said any rebels would face being dropped as parliamentary candidates.

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image of Mark LowenMark LowenBBC News, Athens

The political fallout from the austerity has begun with cabinet-level resignations. They are symbolically important, showing that solidarity with the cuts at a governmental level has been shaken. Increasingly, Greeks are questioning whether endless austerity is the right approach for tackling Greece’s financial woes, or whether a new, pro-growth strategy needs to be adopted.

But in practice, the rebellion among coalition members is unlikely to be significant enough to sink the package of cuts in parliament on Sunday.

The government still controls a large majority of MPs and the prime minister has warned that dissenters will be thrown out of office. The fear of bankruptcy is still what is driving this government to pursue its painful path, with the prime minister warning of a “catastrophe” unless Greece meets the conditions for its bailout.

A default and potential exit from the Eurozone strikes fear into leaders here and throughout Europe.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, who quit on Friday afternoon, is the most senior defection so far.

Her Pasok party, the largest in the coalition, also suffered the loss of a deputy labour minister on Thursday.

The cuts package will be put to the vote in parliament on Sunday, with some MPs from the governing parties expected to vote against, the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Athens reports.

But analysts say the package should still have enough support in parliament, because Pasok and its other coalition ally New Democracy account for more than 230 deputies out of a total of 300.

The austerity cuts include:

  • 15,000 public-sector job cuts
  • liberalisation of labour laws
  • lowering the minimum wage by 20% from 751 euros a month to 600 euros
  • negotiating a debt write-off with banks.

These were presented to a eurozone ministers in Brussels on Thursday evening.

But they want a further 325m euros in savings for this year and also insist that Greek leaders give “strong political assurances” on the implementation of the packages.

An estimated 17,000 union members and communists took to the streets of Athens on Friday, marching to mark the start of a two-day general strike.

Protesters also gathered near the parliament building.

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What went wrong in Greece?

An old drachma note and a euro note
Greece’s economic reforms, which led to it abandoning the drachma as its currency in favour of the euro in 2002, made it easier for the country to borrow money.

Some demonstrators threw stones and petrol bombs at police, who responded by firing tear gas. A small number of people from both sides suffered minor injuries.

Efi Daridi, a teacher and union member who was protesting, said the results of further cuts would be “tragic”.

“In schools we didn’t have books up to the middle of the school year and not only that – we have children that do not really care about the lessons, because of all the problems at home.

“The ramifications in the whole society are immense,” she told the BBC.

The country is already reeling from the effects of an earlier round of austerity that followed a previous bailout – it is deep in recession, with unemployment rising above 20%.

Greek PM Lucas Papademos (right) with Laos party leader George Karantzaferis (centre) and Socialist party leader George Papandreou Lucas Papademos (right) put on a brave face on Sunday, saying limited progress was achieved

Party leaders in Greece’s governing coalition are to resume crisis talks on new austerity measures.

The measures are in exchange for a 130bn-euro (£108bn; $171bn) EU bailout and a 100bn write-off of private sector debt. Athens needs the money by March to avoid a debt default.

Talks on Sunday between Greek PM Lucas Papademos and the leaders of three parties ended without agreement.

Meanwhile, the German and French leaders are due to hold talks in Paris.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy – who have worked closely on resolving the eurozone debt crisis – will take part in a joint Franco-German cabinet session in the French capital.

Investors reacted cautiously to the latest developments. The euro fell 0.7 cents, just over 0.5% against the dollar to 1.307 in early trading.

‘Unable to bear’

A man eats food distributed by Athens' city authorities Many Greeks have been hit hard by austerity measures

Mr Papademos had hoped to reach a deal with the leaders by Sunday night – but the talks ended without agreement on the painful reforms demanded by the EU and also the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“Political leaders should give a response in principle tomorrow [Monday] afternoon,” Socialist Party (Pasok) spokesman Panos Beglitis told Reuters news agency.

The leaders of the other two parties in the coalition said after the end of Sunday’s talks that they were still opposed to further austerity measures.

“I am not going to contribute to a revolution that will humiliate us and that will burn Europe”, said Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of the far-right Laos party.

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A date is approaching, however, when – if there isn’t a deal – Greece faces bankruptcy. On 20 March Greece has to find 14bn euros (£12bn; $18bn) to service its debts. As things stand it does not have the funds.”

image of Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt BBC Europe editor

Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, said the country was “being asked for more austerity, which it is unable to bear,” AFP reports.

However, the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Athens reports that Mr Papademos’s office has put out a statement saying some agreement was reached on the reduction of public spending by 1.5% of GDP, and on bank recapitalisation.

But there was no deal on cuts to the minimum wage or to holiday bonuses, he said.

If there is no agreement, then Greece’s international loan will be blocked and the country would be staring default in the face – something that could send shockwaves through the global economy, our correspondent adds.

Athens faces loan repayments to private lenders of 14.4bn euros on 20 March.

Eurozone ministers had hoped to meet on Monday to finalise the bailout – Greece’s second – but that meeting had already been cancelled.

High stakes

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Mark Lowen BBC News, Athens

Greeks have lived with austerity for much of the last two years and the country is now in its fifth straight year of recession. Unemployment is nudging 20%, businesses are closing and homelessness is increasing.

Two of the three party leaders in the coalition say they are still resistant to the new austerity measures. They fear that they could be stabbing themselves in the back just weeks before possible early elections in the spring.

The cost of failure would be extremely high. If Greece does not reach agreement on these EU and IMF proposals, it could be staring default in the face within weeks. That could send fresh shockwaves through the global economy.

EU officials have expressed frustration with Greece over delays in backing the terms of the latest rescue package.

Reforms that international lenders want to see include a lower minimum wage, the removal of a “13th and 14th month” extra salary which is paid to workers as an annual bonus, and the liberalisation of workplace regulations.

Opponents say that more cuts will worsen living conditions which have already been affected by two years of austerity measures.

Unless Greece promises to implement reforms, the eurozone ministers say Greece will not be able to go ahead with a plan to restructure its privately-held debt.

Greece has prepared a debt plan with private creditors to halve the value of Greek debt and in return receive new, 30-year bonds with an average interest rate of less than 4%.

The restructuring is to help cut Greek debt to 120% of GDP in 2020 from 160% now.

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Global Economy

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4 February 2012 Last updated at 18:52 GMT Help

An Arab and Western-backed resolution condemning the violent crackdown in Syria has been vetoed at the UN Security Council by Russia and China.

Speaking shortly after the vote in New York, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said that Washington was “disgusted” and that the Security Council was being “held hostage by a couple of members”.

Moscow and Beijing rejected the draft resolution despite strong international condemnation of recent violence in Syria.

The vote came hours after activists accused Syrian security forces of killing at least 55 people at Homs.

Speaking shortly after the vote in New York, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said that Washington was “disgusted” by the move.

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The River Swale near Reeth in Yorkshire is frozen in places
The Met Office has issued weather warnings for across the country

Most parts of the UK are due to see heavy snow later, bringing disruption to roads, rail and air travel.

Snow has fallen in south Scotland, the West Midlands and north-east England, with the Met Office issuing severe weather warnings for much of the UK.

Forecasters say 5-10cm (up to 4in) will fall in central, eastern and southern England, including London, with the heaviest falls expected after dusk.

BAA has cancelled one-third of Sunday’s flights from Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow’s chief operating officer Normand Boivin said the decision to introduce a revised flight schedule before snow had fallen was taken in an effort to minimise disruption to passengers.

A list of which flights will operate will be available on the Heathrow website from around 1800 GMT on Saturday.

Passengers at London Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are advised to contact their airline for more information.

Sporting postponements

Air travel has already been disrupted across the whole of Europe – flights from Rome and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airports to UK destinations, and Saturday morning flights to Amsterdam from Birmingham, Manchester and Heathrow were cancelled or delayed.

A snow plough clears the A93 near the Spittal of Glenshee, Tayside Treacherous driving conditions are expected on Sunday morning

Due to the worsening conditions, British Airways says it will allow passengers booked on Sunday flights to re-book for journeys between Monday and Thursday.

A spokeswoman said the airline would assess flying conditions throughout the weekend.

Sporting fixtures have been badly affected, with many football and race meetings cancelled.

The Met Office has issued amber “be prepared” warnings for snow and ice across most of Britain, with yellow “be aware” alerts for the Highlands and Northern Ireland.

Ice danger

Light snow flurries began falling in Manchester around midday, leaving a covering over rooftops.

The icy conditions prompted North West Ambulance Service to ask people to stay indoors following an increase in fall-related 999 calls.

Forecasters say there is potential for transport disruption and warn motorists to take shovels, warm clothes and fully charged phones.

The Highways Agency has extended its amber alert until 09:00 GMT on Sunday, meaning there was a “high probability” of severe snow affecting the road network.

BBC forecaster Louise Lear said a band of wet weather would fall as snow as it moved south and east, with the bulk falling after Saturday teatime.

“We could see five to 10cm of snow quite quickly across central and eastern England, and maybe as much as 10 to 15cm on higher ground.”

Ice would become an added danger on the roads by Sunday morning, she added.

The RAC’s Kevin Andrews said the situation was likely to deteriorate throughout Saturday and urged drivers to stay at home where possible.

“It looks like we’re going to get a dangerous cocktail of driving conditions this weekend, with heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures making the roads extremely treacherous.”

‘Gritter Twitter’

The motoring organisation was attending 70% more breakdowns than usual. An AA spokesman said it was dealing with around 1,500 vehicles per hour on Saturday morning and was expecting double the normal level of callouts.

February, traditionally the coldest month of winter, has seen daytime temperatures plunge four or five degrees lower than average over the past few days.

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A temperature of -12.4C (9.7F) was recorded in South Newington, Oxfordshire, overnight – the lowest this season, the Met Office said.

The cold conditions are likely to continue into the early part of next week.

The Local Government Association said motorists were being advised to check the latest weather and gritting updates on council websites and “gritter Twitter” feeds.

British Gas said its engineers were on stand-by in all-weather 4x4s, and the Department for Transport said Britain’s salt stocks stood at more than 2.4 million tonnes – a million more than last year.

The charity Age UK said it was a dangerous time for older people with low temperatures raising blood pressure, which put people at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as the risk of flu.

Racing off

In Championship football, Saturday’s games at Portsmouth and Doncaster have been postponed.

In League One, frozen pitches meant only matches at Carlisle, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe survived. All League Two fixtures bar Plymouth’s with Southend were postponed.

A man ice skates on the frozen fens in Welney, Norfolk The cold weather is expected to continue into next week

Falkirk’s Scottish Cup match at Ayr was called off and, of the league programme, only the Third Division games at East Stirling, Montrose and Queens Park went ahead.

Horse racing fixtures at Ffos Las, Sandown and Wetherby on Saturday were called off. Sunday’s meeting at Kempton will be subject to an inspection at 08:00 GMT.

Wolverhampton’s all-weather meeting was abandoned after four races because of snow.

The weather warnings in Britain follow a freeze across many parts of Europe, where temperatures have fallen as low as -30C in some parts, and scores of people have died, including more than 100 in Ukraine.

Freezing weather has led to a shortage of vital Russian gas supplies to several countries, and Italy has seen its coldest week for 27 years.


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A shy personality won’t hold you back in these five great careers.

By Lynda Phung

Small talk. Schmoozing. Networking. Buzz words like these can send shy people into a panic.

The good news is that there are careers out there that don’t necessarily require tons of chit-chat or after-hour networking.

In fact, there are quite a variety of career options open to people who fall on the more bashful side of the spectrum, according to Lisa Andrews, director of career services at the University of Maryland University College.

“Any position where you work with data and ideas instead of people would be ideal careers for introverted people,” she says.

Keep reading to learn more about five careers for shy people.

Career #1: Graphic Designer

Creativity can be a solitary process – and it’s not unusual for graphic designers to spend time alone thinking up big ideas for clients. Another plus for shy people: according to the U.S. Department of Labor, graphic designers could have the opportunity to freelance or work from home.

Related degrees: Graphic designers often have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or fine arts, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which adds that an associate’s degree is sometimes enough to start a career in the field of graphic design.

Average earnings: $48,140*

Click Here to Find the Right Graphic Design Program for You

Career # 2: Accountant

Accountants, who ensure that financial information is correct, typically spend more time with numbers than clients, making this career track a nice match for people who enjoy data as opposed to office gossip.

Related degrees: Most accountant positions require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Some employers might look for applicants with a master’s in business administration (MBA), with a concentration in accounting.

Average earnings: $68,960*

Click Here to Find the Right Accounting/Finance Program for You

Career #3: Computer Programmer

Computer programmers are changing the way we interact with devices of every kind from iPads to automobiles as well as online services and business applications. “I think one of the perfect jobs for a shy person is computer programming because programmers tend to work independently, and with little to no interaction with customers,” says Casey Miller, assistant director of professional practice at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Related degrees: According to the U.S. Department of labor, a bachelor’s degree in an area like computer programming is often required in this career, while for some positions a master’s degree is preferred. Closely related degrees include network administration and IT & information systems.

Average earnings: $74,900*

Click Here to Find the Right Technology Program for You

Career #4: Actuary

Actuaries, who specialize in risk assessment, often spend their days pouring over statistics involving people – not talking to them. “Actuaries and mathematicians are usually up to their necks in databases and algorithms,” says Miller.

Related degrees: Actuaries often have a bachelor’s degree in areas like mathematics and statistics, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Other related majors include finance and business administration.

Average earnings: $98,620*

Click Here to Find the Right Business Administration Program for You

Career #5: Dental Technician

Dental technicians often work behind-the-scenes, assisting dentists and hygienists, working with a model of a patient’s mouth rather than the patient themselves.

Related degrees: Dental technicians must have a high school diploma. Formal education is available in the form of accredited dental laboratory technology programs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Average earnings: $37,980*

Xstrata intraday chart

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Mining giant Xstrata and commodities trader Glencore International have announced they are in talks over a possible merger.

Xstrata shares jumped 10% as it said it had been approached by Glencore regarding a “merger of equals”.

Glencore shares rose 5.4% in London. The company has annual revenues of about $90bn (£56bn).

Earlier reports had suggested that a merger between the two would create a firm with a combined value of $80bn.

However, Xstrata – which has annual revenues of about $30bn – said in a statement that there was no certainty that any offer would be made.

Glencore now has until 1 March to make a formal offer under UK takeover rules.

BBC business editor Robert Peston summed up the deal as: “One trades, one digs, often in poorer countries.”

Trading giant

Charles Cooper, an analyst at Oriel Securities, noted that Glencore would have to offer a “pretty significant” premium for the deal to go through.

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For Glenstrata the question is whether the rise in price and increases in demand for copper, iron and coal and all those other feedstocks of the still fast-growing Chinese economy can go on forever.”

image of Robert Peston Robert Peston Business editor, BBC News

This is because Xstrata currently has a bigger market valuation than Glencore, because Xstrata makes its profits from its lucrative mining operations rather than trading commodities.

Xstrata is currently worth about £36.5bn, whereas Glencore is worth £31.5bn.

“If the deal happens, Glencore would go from making its money primarily from its trading arm to a copper/coal company,” he told the BBC. “That would be broadly positive for Glencore’s shareholders.”

The histories of both firms are intertwined.

Glencore already has a 34% stake in Xstrata, which was formed in 2002 when it bought Glencore’s coal assets.

Xstrata mines copper in South America, zinc in Spain, and ferrochrome and vanadium in Australia and South Africa.

Glencore extracts, ships and refines raw materials from coal to corn.

Mr Cooper noted that any deal would probably not face regulatory hurdles – the combined company would still only be the world’s fourth-largest miner.

The Financial Times reported that a deal could be announced as soon as next week, before Xstrata’s annual results on Tuesday.

Glencore raised about £6.8bn in May last year when it floated its shares in London and Hong Kong.

The listing was London’s largest initial public offering.

Glencore is the world’s largest commodities trader, employing about 54,800 people in 30 countries. It made a profit of $3.3bn last year.

It trades metals and minerals, as well as energy and agricultural products, and has benefited from the recent growth in demand for commodities, especially from China.

The Mona Lisa and the replica The restored painting (right) offers more detail than the original (left)

A painting thought to be the earliest replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has been discovered at Madrid’s Prado Museum.

The Prado said it did not realise its significance until a recent restoration revealed hidden layers.

The artwork features the same female figure, but had been covered over with black paint and varnish.

The painting is thought to have been created by one of Leonardo’s students alongside the 16th century original.

There are dozens of surviving Mona Lisa replicas from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mona Lisa replica The Prado’s copy of the Mona Lisa had been overpainted black

The Art Newspaper, which reported the discovery, said the “sensational find will transform our understanding of the world’s most famous picture”.

The original painting, which currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris, is obscured by several layers of old, cracked varnish.

However, cleaning and restoration is thought to be too risky because the painting is fragile.

The Art Newspaper said the removal of the black paint on the replica had revealed “the fine details of the delicate Tuscan landscape”, which mirrors the background of Leonardo’s masterpiece.

Martin Bailey, who reported on the discovery for the paper, told the BBC: “You see Lisa’s eyes, which are quite enticing, and her enigmatic smile. It actually makes her look much younger.”

In fact, the new painting has led experts to speculate that the woman who sat for the Renaissance Masterpiece was in her early 20s – much younger than the Louvre’s original appears to show.

As the replica remained hidden for so long under the overpaint, experts had believed it was painted long after Leonardo’s death.

But after using x-rays to analyse the original drawings underneath, conservators have concluded the work was carried out at the same time as Leonardo’s original.

The museum presented its findings at a conference on Leonardo da Vinci at London’s National Gallery.

There is still some restoration to complete on the painting but, once it is finished, it will be exhibited at the Louvre in March, allowing visitors to compare the two works.

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It’s hard to become the leaders of tomorrow without jobs today. The International Labor Organization estimates that around the world, there are nearly 75 million unemployed youth — a new “Lost Generation,” in the words of panelists discussing the problem at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Nobel-winning economist Peter Diamond, Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh, and other panelists talked about the mismatch between our education system and the job market, as well as potential solutions such as corporate incentives for hiring young people and a youth stimulus package. As for the millions who are young, unemployed, and frustrated, they want less talk, more action, and most importantly, more results.

While the U.S. is hardly the worst country when it comes to youth unemployment, there is no denying we have problems. Approximately 18% of young people are out of work in the U.S. Two-thirds of young Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of youth employment, reports Generation Opportunity, a non-profit that educates young people on the challenges facing America. Youth unemployment affects not just those out of work, but Americans of all ages, and the economy as a whole. The White House Council for Community Solutions estimates that each unemployed youth costs society $37,000 each year.

If you’re young and worried about your future, the last thing you should do is sit back and wait for others in Washington, D.C., or Davos to sort things out. Here are five pieces of advice to be proactive and maximize opportunities now and down the line, no matter what economic setbacks you face today.

1. Create multiple income streams. With all the layoffs taking place and the fact that many companies aren’t even hiring, it’s imperative that you have a backup plan. One way to offset months of joblessness is to create additional revenue streams. By finding freelance work using sites like, you can manage multiple side projects and capitalize on your technical abilities.

(MORE: Consumers Expected to Spend $11 Billion on the Super Bowl)

2. Approach your job search as you would a new client. Most job seekers submit standard resume templates and regurgitate old cover letters— and it’s highly ineffective. If you want to prove your value to a company, demonstrate your knowledge of their business needs and then build your resume and cover letter to reflect how you can support them. By displaying the return on investment they’ll get from hiring you, you will have a major advantage over other applicants, especially if your value is greater than the cost of hiring you. Also, figure out what distinguishes you from others applying for the same jobs. As The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote in a recent op-ed column about stubborn unemployment in the U.S., “average is over.”

3. Have a positive attitude and be confident in yourself. Out of 20,000 new hires surveyed for the book Hiring for Attitude, 46% of them failed within 18 months, and of those, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons. There are millions of other job candidates in the same boat as you. With a positive attitude, it’s far easier to attract new opportunities, ace an interview, and last at a company longer than six months. People want to hire and work with those who are optimistic, likable, and eager.

4. Become a lifelong student. To survive and thrive in this economy, you have to constantly stay relevant. As business author Harvey Mackay puts it: “You don’t go to school once for a lifetime, you’re in school all of your life.” Learn as much as you can about your field, your industry and the world by subscribing to blogs and major news websites. Spend some time at the Khan Academy’s website, where you can learn anything from hedge funds to economics to statistics. You can also search for free online tutorials using Google, and find lectures from popular teachers at MIT and Stanford on YouTube.

(MORE: U.S. Beef Prices Rising Thanks to Drought in Southwest)

5. Find mentors and start building relationships with them. According to the 2011 Global CEO Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 98% of millennials see having a mentor as necessary to their career development. Yet a lot of young people I speak with are afraid to tap into the people around them for answers, connections and resources. Aside from the people who you are already associated with, get in the habit of using social networking sites to reach out to respected industry leaders, experts, and authors. Don’t immediately ask them to help you get a job. Instead, figure out ways to support them in their goals. Do free work for them, or promote them on your blog or social networks in exchange for their mentorship. Even if some of your messages are ignored, you are bound to receive at least one positive return email — and one is all it takes to move in the right direction.

Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a full-service personal branding agency. He speaks on the topic of personal branding, social media and Gen Y workforce management for companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, CitiGroup and IBM. Subscribe to his updates at

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UK PM David Cameron gets a warm greeting from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a handshake from French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The EU’s 27 leaders are discussing how to create jobs and growth amid calls to go beyond enforcing budget discipline.

The EU has more than 23 million unemployed people and there are fears that wide-ranging budget cuts will harm enterprise and training.

The eurozone crisis is dominating the EU summit in Brussels, with debt-laden Greece still at risk of defaulting.

A budget treaty for the eurozone has been drafted. But Poland’s prime minister said it lacked ambition.

Donald Tusk said the new treaty – a “fiscal compact” – was “not entirely ambitious and not brave enough”.

Poland, like other new EU member states in the former communist bloc, is preparing to join the euro and feels it should be fully involved in eurozone meetings.

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image of Chris Morris Chris Morris BBC News

The official summit agenda is growth and job creation, and it will be discussed in some detail. Unemployment will be perhaps the big issue in the French presidential election, and there are now more than five million people out of work in Spain – without reversing that trend the eurozone crisis isn’t going to ease.

Leaders will also try to finalise the text of the new fiscal treaty which all EU countries except Britain say they intend to sign.

Then there are the off-agenda items which always make an appearance on occasions like this.

Cometh the EU summit hour, cometh the Greeks… I’m sure they’d like to sit unnoticed in the corner for once, but Greece has developed an unwelcome habit of hogging summit headlines.

Mr Tusk said he wanted to be “participating in the decision-making process, in terms of how this fiscal compact is executed”.

Currently the draft treaty says signatories will hold summits at least twice a year. The attendance of non-euro countries is left to the discretion of the summit president, with the words “will invite when appropriate and at least once a year”.

The head of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, echoed Mr Tusk’s criticism, in a BBC interview. He said the treaty “says nothing on jobs, growth and [European] solidarity”.

All member states – apart from the UK – are expected to sign up to the fiscal compact.

The goal is much closer co-ordination of budget policy in the 17-nation eurozone.

As the summit got under way there were fresh fears that Portugal might need a second massive bailout, like Greece.

The yield (interest rate) demanded for Portuguese sovereign bonds rose above 16% – an unsustainable level.

Hard times

A general strike in Belgium reminded EU leaders of public discontent with austerity as they arrived for the summit. It paralysed most of the Brussels transport system and disrupted international trains and flights.

The leaders exchanged views on how best to tackle youth unemployment and support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), many of which complain of excessive administrative costs imposed by Brussels.

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In 2012, much more attention will be given to growth. Why? Because many countries are heading into recession just as austerity measures start to bite”

image of Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt BBC Europe editor

In a joint statement on economic growth they noted that cutting budget deficits was “not in itself sufficient”.

“We have to modernise our economies and strengthen our competitiveness to secure sustainable growth,” the statement said.

The EU will help to fund schemes to get young people into work or training in member states with the highest youth unemployment levels.

They pledged to speed up measures to develop the EU single market, including:

  • agreement on a common EU patent system by July;
  • better targeting of EU funds towards SMEs;
  • national legislation to create a functioning single market in services and energy.

The European Commission says 82bn euros (£69bn; $107bn) of EU money is available for countries to spend on projects to boost jobs and growth.

Greek debt mountain

The Commission also says it is confident a deal will be reached within days to reduce Greece’s colossal debt burden. But Greece could still run out of money as early as mid-February.

Private investors are being asked to take a 50% “haircut” (loss) on their Greek bonds in a complex bond swap, with the aim of scaling back Greece’s debt to 120% of gross domestic product by 2020.

A deal is crucial for the EU and International Monetary Fund to grant a long-awaited 130bn-euro second bailout for Greece.

In an interview for the Wall Street Journal on Monday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said only radical reforms in Greece could trigger the release of the funds.

“Unless Greece implements the necessary decisions and doesn’t just announce them… there’s no amount of money that can solve the problem,” he said.

The atmosphere remained tense at the weekend with a row over a leaked German proposal to put an EU budget commissioner with veto powers in charge of Greek taxes and spending.

Greece rejected the proposal outright, but its EU partners remain alarmed by its failure to meet tough fiscal targets.

At the summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down the idea of a special EU commissioner for Greece, calling it “a debate we should not be having”.

The EU is trying to put in place a bigger, more resistant “firewall” to prevent contagion spreading from Greece.

The eurozone plans to launch a 500bn-euro permanent bailout fund – the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – in July, a year earlier than first planned. It is expected to get the final go-ahead at the summit. The UK will not contribute to it.

Italy alone needs to refinance more than 300bn euros of debt this year and there are many voices urging the European Central Bank to boost the firewall to at least 1tn euros.

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