Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Moderate Republicans In Congress Starting To Rebel

Moderate members of the House Republican Caucus are starting to speak out about the direction that Speaker John Boehner has let the caucus drift in response to pressure from Tea Party representatives and conservatives:
As Republicans prepare for yet another show vote on abortion Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are facing a rising tide of frustration from Republican moderates angry over the rightward tack the conference has taken under his leadership.
Tuesday’s abortion vote – which would ban late term abortions in the District of Columbia – has rubbed a number of moderates wrong. Given that the bill may not pass the House – and would never be taken up by the Senate – moderates and even some conservatives have questioned leadership’s decision to force another vote on a divisive social issue rather than remain solely focused on the economy.
According to Republicans, moderate members of the House GOP conference feel that Boehner, who has struggled with an often raucous and openly defiant right wing, has forced them to go along with conservative demands but has provided them little in return.

Read more: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/revenge-of-the-rinos-moderate-republicans-in-congress-starting-to-rebel/

With Expectations So Low, Economy Starts to Look Good

After months of disappointing financial markets, U.S. economic data may actually start to look better than Wall Street expects.
The first glimpse of that may be showing up in Citigroup’s economic surprise index, which has started to turn up and is watched by analysts as a sign of possible market turns.
The widely followed metric, put together by the FX Quantitative Research group at Citigroup [C  27.13    -0.01  (-0.04%)   ], tracks data versus economists’  expectations.
With 1.5 percent gross domestic product (explain this) growth last quarter, it’s hard to say there are any rosy forecasts out there, but economists may have become so grim that they now could be too negative.
“It’s been coincident with turning points, certainly over the last two summers,” said Andrew Burkly, equity strategist with Brown Brothers Harriman.
“It led the downturn certainly last spring and this spring. It’s just an expectations thing,” he said. “What’s driven the market is the growth acceleration, growth deceleration. That kind of ebb and flow is followed by that measure.”
Burkly said he is cautious on the market and does not trust the recent rally, which has been led by defensives. But he sees the Citi index as one bright spot. 

Pentagon Layoff Notifications to Be Delayed Until After Election

The Labor Department, warning defense contractors against announcing impending layoffs as required by law, is elevating election-year politics above sound policy, according to a former top DOL official.

Paul Conway, who served as chief of staff to Labor Secretary Elaine Chow under President George W. Bush, told me that DOL’s guidance, which warns that announcements of impending layoffs as a result of Defense sequestration cuts would be “inappropriate,” “comes across as very crass.”
Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employers are required to notify workers at least 60 days in advance of potential layoffs that they expect will hit at least 500 employees. Defense sequestration cuts are expected to lead to large layoffs for Pentagon contractors. Under current law, sequestration will take effect on January 2, meaning contractors that expect large layoffs must notify their employees by November 3 – three days before the election.

Read more: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/07/31/sequestration-layoffs

Illegal Aliens Released by Obama Administration Commit 19 Murders, 142 Sex Crimes

The Obama Administration has often touted its tough stance on illegal immigration by pointing out the record number of deportations carried out by the administration every year. Despite the record number of deportations, Obama’s enforcement of immigration laws between 2008 and 2011 have not been tough enough. The Washington Times reports :

The Obama administration released illegal immigrants who went on to commit more crimes, including charges of 19 murders, 3 attempted murders and 142 sex crimes, the House Judiciary Committee said in a report Tuesday.
All told, the nearly 47,000 illegal immigrants the administration was notified of but declined to deport between 2008 and 2011 under its Secure Communities program had a recidivism rate of 16 percent, the committee said.

For their part, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims that the agency simply does not have the resources to deport all of the illegal immigrants with criminals records that were flagged by the Secure Communities program.
When it comes to illegal immigration, Obama has benefitted from the previous administration setting the bar low. The Bush administration offered amnesty and deported illegal immigrants at a lower rate than the Obama Administration. Obama’s poor record on immigration enforcement looks less atrocious by comparison. However, the burden is still on the current President to keep the country safe by deporting more illegal aliens with criminal records. The only immigration reform offered by the Obama Administration, the DREAM Act, fails to address this problem. DREAM Act policies, which will take effect without Congressional approval, only serve to narrow down the number of illegal immigrants eligible for deportation.

Read more: http://townhall.com/tipsheet/townhall.comstaff/2012/07/31/illegal_aliens_released_by_obama_administration_commit_19_murders_142_sex_crimes

Temptations of a Peseta default in Spain

Defying charges of heresy, Spanish economist Lorenzo Bernaldo de Quiros has penned a piece in El Mundo that more or less calls for Spanish withdrawal from the euro – unless Mario Draghi conjurs up real magic at the ECB.
My rough summary/translation:
Spain is heading for insolvency as big chunks of debt come due later this year. Events are moving fast. The relevant issue is no longer whether this will happen, but whether it is better for Spain to restructure its debt "inside or outside" EMU.
"Inside the euro and without financial resources, a debt reduction is pointless. The Spanish economy would have to go into deepening internal deflation, with cuts in prices and salaries, to restore competititeness. This is impossible, or at least improbable."
The process would take too long. Capital flight would continue. It would lead to another debt resturturing in short order (as in Greece). "The snake would bite its own tail in a diabolic spiral," he said.
Mr Bernaldo de Quiros — who heads Freemarket Corporate Intelligence — seems to assume that there will not fact be a eurozone rescue (or that the Rajoy government will refuse to accept Troaika terms).

Read more: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/ambroseevans-pritchard/100019218/temptations-of-a-peseta-default-in-spain/

More Chinese regions propose mega-stimulus

While China’s central government is reluctant to start a stimulus programme comparable to the previous RMB4 trillion one, and despite the fact that the previous massive stimulus is widely regarded as a mistake, local governments are considering stimulus like last time.
Since Premier Wen put growth back to the top priority, while stopping short of massive stimulus, many little things have happened, ranging from plans to bring future investment forward to cutting interest rates twice. Now, local governments are proposing some massive stimulus on their own.
International Finance News has a summary of what kind of growth stabilising measures local governments are considering. For instance, Ningbo and Nanjing have announced plans to stimulate consumption and rebalance their economic structures. Meanwhile, Guizhou will announce plans to develop ecotourism which may include some RMB3 trillion of investment if implemented in full (we have no idea why such plans require RMB3 trillion, we speculate that they want to clone dinosaurs *). Last week, I mentioned that the Changsha government has an investment plan that amounted to 147% of the city’s GDP if implemented in full.
Of course, no one would believe that some of these massive plans will have any chance to be implement in full (local governments routinely overstate their plans when they announce them). The RMB3 trillion investment programme by Guizhou, for instance, sounds totally unrealistic, especially when you consider that the planned RMB4 trillion stimulus last time was supposed to be spent throughout the country while this one is planned for a single province. Changsha’s plan is also extremely large compared to the city’s economy.

Congress leaders reach deal to avoid government shutdown threat

Democrats and Republicans in Congress reached a deal on Tuesday to fund federal government activities through next March and eliminate any threat of agency shutdowns that could upset voters ahead of the November 6 presidential and congressional elections.
The deal, announced by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, would fund discretionary federal programs - from defense and foreign aid to education and medical research - at an annual rate of $1.047 trillion, the level specified in last year's debt limit deal.
The full House and Senate would still need to approve the measure by September 30, the end of the current fiscal year, when funding runs out. Congress will be in recess most of August and the first week of September.
If passed by Congress, the deal for a six-month spending extension eliminates one layer of difficult year-end bills Congress must grapple with just after the election as it deals with the "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts, automatic spending cuts, a debt-limit increase and other fiscal deadlines that economists say if not averted could harm an already-weak economy.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/31/us-usa-congress-agreement-idUSBRE86U18D20120731

Do We Want To Buy Canadian Oil From The Chinese?

Buoyed by White House inaction, China's state-owned oil company has made a multibillion-dollar bid for a Canadian company with interests in Canada's oil sands — North American oil for the lamps of China.
'Do we really want to be buying our oil or Canadian oil back from the Chinese?" asked Sen. John Hoeven on Thursday as he reacted to news that China's state-owned oil company, CNOOC Ltd., had launched a $15.1 billion takeover bid for Canada's Nexen Inc., a company with operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
Our answer would be no. But it may happen, thanks to the Obama administration's indifference to developing energy resources anywhere on the North American continent or building the Keystone XL pipeline linking Alberta's oil-rich sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
"This is really a direct result of the administration's resistance to Keystone," Hoeven said. Hoeven, a Republican, represents North Dakota, where oil production is booming. The pipeline would carry some of that oil to southern refineries, bringing up to 20,000 immediate jobs and perhaps 10 times that many in an economic ripple effect.
Hoeven was joined by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to unveil a package of energy proposals that would allow for more drilling on government-owned land, reduce regulations, streamline drilling permits and approve the Keystone XL pipeline carrying oil from Canada.

Read more: http://news.investors.com/article/620183/201207271855/china-company-eyes-canada-oil-sands.htm?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4137

Did the DoJ lie about political interference in the New Black Panther Party dismissal?

We’ve followed the strange decision to dismiss a case of voter intimidation that the Department of Justice had already won, stemming from the 2008 election and which was caught on video.  However, we missed a rather interesting court ruling on the case last week, one that may end up taking the Philadelphia incident in the same direction as Operation Fast and Furious — potential perjury and obstruction of justice.  Ironically, the judge in this case is a familiar face in just these kinds of issues, too:
Obama’s DOJ had claimed Judicial Watch was not entitled to attorney’s fees since “none of the records produced in this litigation evidenced any political interference whatsoever in” how the DOJ handled the New Black Panther Party case. But United States District Court Judge Reggie Walton disagreed. Citing a “series of emails” between Obama political appointees and career Justice lawyers, Walton writes:
The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case, which would appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision. Surely the public has an interest in documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of government officials’ representations regarding the possible politicization of agency decision-making.

In sum, the Court concludes that three of the four fee entitlement factors weigh in favor of awarding fees to Judicial Watch. Therefore, Judicial Watch is both eligible and entitled to fees and costs, and the Court must now consider the reasonableness of Judicial Watch’s requested award.

Read more: http://hotair.com/archives/2012/07/31/did-the-doj-lie-about-political-interference-in-the-new-black-panther-party-dismissal/

America Goes Jousting: Our splendid military is all for show

If the whole United States active-duty military, excepting strategic nuclear weapons, disappeared tomorrow in a puff of smoke, would Americans be less secure, more secure, or about the same? That the answer is not self-evident points to the biggest military secret of our time: conventional armed forces are following the knight’s road.
Knights in shining armor lasted for several centuries after they had become militarily obsolete. In fact, the armor got ever more splendid (and expensive). What was it for? Show. It was worn for tournaments, which remained a popular form of entertainment at court. It was donned for portraits of kings and noblemen well into the 17th century. To the public, nothing said “military might” quite so loudly as a parade of men in beautifully engraved and ornamented suits of armor.
My city of Cleveland, Ohio was honored by just such a grand entertainment in early June in the form of “Marine Week.” Each year, the Marine Corps picks a lucky city to host it. Uniformed Marines, all looking good, paraded about the town. Public Square was full of tanks, artillery pieces, and Light Armored Vehicles. Fighter planes screamed overhead, and for the grand finale the Marines did a full amphibious assault on Burke Lakefront Airport. Cleveland enjoyed the Marines, and to judge by those I talked to, the Marines enjoyed Cleveland.

Read more: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/america-goes-jousting/

Peak Oil: The Hidden Cost

Most of what you've heard about "peak oil" is wrong. In fact, there's a hidden cost to peak oil that's very real. And it's coming to a pump near you any day now.

I know you've read the same headlines that I have...how we are going to "frack" our way to energy independence by exploiting
shale oil and other unconventional sources.

But here's the thing. Nobody's talking about the high cost of getting the new oil out of the ground. But very soon, high extraction costs will kick
crude oil prices into high gear
Follow up:

What is Peak Oil: A Misunderstood Concept

First, let's take a look at what peak oil really refers to, because it means a lot more than most people realize. People think peak oil is all about the world running out of oil. But that's not true.

Actually, the theory is based on the fact that all oil fields have a production curve -- a peak and a decline. Simply put, peak oil refers to the point when
oil production peaks and begins to go downhill. Every single oil field on the planet goes through this cycle. There's only so much oil that we can get out of each field.

Just consider how U.S. oil discoveries peaked in the 1960s, and U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 at almost 10 million barrels a day

Lies the parties tell themselves this summer

For the presidential campaigns, the long, slow, anxious summer is starting to drag.
With Election Day still more than three months away and a few weeks still to go before the conventions, there’s relatively little that operatives on either side think they can do to shift the dynamics of the race.
So with the fundamentals of the 2012 campaign increasingly locked in place – a weak, economically hobbled incumbent matched off against an unsteady, unpopular challenger – strategists on both sides have turned their attention to another rite of summer during presidential years: convincing themselves that they’re winning.
National polling shows the race is as close as ever. The vulnerabilities of both candidates have only grown over time. In public, both the Obama and Romney campaigns will express only the purest of confidence that their candidate is ahead.
So in private, strategists and supporters of both candidates have been kicking around a collection of arguments for why they really, truly, honest-to-goodness have the upper hand in the race.
Here’s our guide to some of the wishful thoughts (some of them more wishful than others) making their way around the 2012 universe in the pre-Labor Day doldrums.

Contemplating a Post-Pelosi House

Facing an uphill battle to reclaim the House in November, many Democrats are speculating whether Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might leave Congress after the elections and are wondering what sort of fallout the leadership structure would face if she did.
While the California lawmaker’s intentions are essentially unknowable — her top aides had no idea she would stay on in the wake of Republicans winning the House in 2010, when it was widely expected she would step down — people who know Pelosi well say it is unlikely she would opt for a quick exit.
In interviews with more than two dozen lawmakers, aides and lobbyists, some instead predict that Pelosi will stay in Congress to help set the stage for a successor, rather than allow Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) to simply move up the ranks to replace her.
“She’s worked so hard,” a Pelosi ally on K Street said. “I don’t think she would step out unless she felt she had someone as a replacement.”
It is not a consensus view. “Ridiculous,” said Nadeam Elshami, a Pelosi spokesman.

Read more: http://www.rollcall.com/issues/58_14/Contemplating-a-Post-Pelosi-House-216576-1.html?pos=htmbtxt

How Far Would Mitt Go?

Has Mitt Romney given Israel a blank check for war?
So it seemed from the declaration in Jerusalem by his adviser Dan Senor, who all but flashed Israel a green light for war, signaling the Israelis that, if you go, Mitt’s got your back:
“If Israel has to take action on its own in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”
“No option would be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself and that it is right for America to stand with it.”
What does “stand with” Israel, if she launches a surprise attack on Iran, mean? Does it mean the United States will guide Israeli planes to their targets and provide bases on their return?
Does it mean U.S. air cover while Israeli planes strike Iran?
This would make America complicit in a pre-emptive strike and a co-belligerent in the war to follow.
What Senor said comes close to being a U.S. war guarantee for Israel, while leaving the decision as to when the war begins to them.
This country has never done that before.
And what does Senor mean by Israel’s need to act “to stop Iran from developing (the) capability” to acquire nuclear weapons?
The collective decision of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007–that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon–reportedly reaffirmed in 2011–has never been rescinded. Nor has the White House produced any hard evidence Iran is building a bomb.

Read more: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-far-would-mitt-go/

Obama plans fundraising spree

President Obama will host a series of high-dollar fundraisers in the coming weeks and is expected to add more events than usual after the Democratic National Convention.
The string of upcoming events reflects deep worry in Chicago about competing with the tidal wave of cash being raised by outside groups aimed at electing Mitt Romney.
The impetus for more and more big fundraisers just 98 days before the election is also in stark contrast with where Obama was in his matchup against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, when he had a substantial financial advantage fueled by individual donations.
Obama has spent a considerable amount of time fundraising in recent days.
On Monday afternoon, he flew to New York to attend a fundraising dinner with 60 attendees at a cost of $40,000 per person. The trip came on the heels of high-dollar fundraisers in Washington, D.C. and Virginia on Friday, after a week of attending several fundraisers on the West Coast — including the campaign’s honey pot in Northern California.
Romney has also continued to attend his fair share of fundraisers, including two check-collecting stops in England and Israel.

Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/241171-anxious-obama-plans-fall-fundraising-spree

Postal Service Default Alarms Sen. Tom Carper

The Postal Service will default this week on a $5.5 billion payment, but most lawmakers appear unconcerned — except for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has been the lone voice warning about the dangers of Congressional inaction.
That’s because the Postal Service itself is making this an easy issue for Congress to ignore even as it faces a dire financial situation. The service’s website home page has no warnings about post office closings or delayed deliveries. To the contrary, an official statement issued Monday seems to downplay the severity of the problem.
“This action will have no material effect on the operations of the Postal Service. We will fully fund our operations, including our obligation to provide universal postal services to the American people,” the Postal Service said in a statement. “We will continue to deliver the mail, pay our employees and suppliers and meet our other financial obligations. Postal Service retirees and employees will also continue to receive their health benefits.”
In truth, the Postal Service will skip more than $11 billion in mandatory contributions for employee retirement programs between now and Sept. 30 in order to avoid dramatic service cuts. Nearly half of that amount is due to the Treasury on Aug. 1, the remainder at the end of the government’s fiscal year.

Read more: http://www.rollcall.com/issues/58_14/USPS-Default-Alarms-Carper-216573-1.html?pos=htmbtxt

Britain Abolishes Itself

Outsiders tend to look upon the United Kingdom as a stiff, traditional little country whose grey-haired old Queen has just celebrated 60 years on the throne and where men in bowler hats will say, “Evening, sir,” as they pass you in the street. But this view of the UK as a more faithful creature of history and habit than most other nations is misplaced. In truth, traditional institutions in Britain are in disarray. They’re dizzy with confusion, bereft of purpose. They are falling like flies. And the striking thing is that they are being done in not by revolution or by sentient reform but by their own moral and physical exhaustion. Traditionalism in Britain is committing voluntary euthanasia.
The speed with which longstanding institutions are disappearing is alarming. This time last year, a Brit could have opened up the News of the World on a Sunday morning and perused that 168-year-old newspaper’s salacious stories about celebs and its mocking of Members of Parliament. That had been a tradition amongst less well-off communities in particular for the better part of two centuries. Tucking into that paper after you had tucked into your Sunday breakfast was a staple of working-class life.
In 1946, when the paper was already 103 years old, Geroge Orwell described an idyllic homely scene: “It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World.”

Read more: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/britain-abolishes-itself/

How anti-obesity campaigns reinforce stigma

Anti-obesity messages are everywhere – in news, in entertainment, and in public health campaigns. We are constantly being told that fat is bad for us, and that in order to be healthy we need to lose weight. But these messages don’t necessarily improve our health, and they certainly don’t seem to result in weight loss. Instead, popular ideas about fatness and health often reinforce social inequalities across class, race, gender, and ability.
Fat is understood as fundamentally unhealthy. Fat bodies are thought of as “diseased”, and as the result of “unhealthy” habits. There’s plenty of research that challenges these ideas.
But the point of this article is not to engage in the frankly tiresome debates about weather fat people can be healthy (they can). Nor do I want to argue about whether being fat is correlated with an increased risk of certain health issues (it is, but as anyone with a high-school level understanding of statistics can tell you, correlation does not equal causation, and risk is no guarantee of outcome – otherwise we’d all be at the casino getting rich).

Read more: http://theconversation.edu.au/how-anti-obesity-campaigns-reinforce-stigma-8427

Euro zone inflation muted, joblessness hits new high

Inflation in the euro zone remained steady for the third straight month in July, offering little comfort to consumers at a time when the number of people out of work continues to climb.
Consumer prices in the 17 nations sharing the euro rose 2.4 percent in July on an annual basis, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Tuesday, maintaining a level first touched in May as Brent crude fell sharply earlier in the year.
Inflation is seen coming into line with the European Central Bank's target of just below 2 percent by the end of the year, and ECB President Mario Draghi said in early July the rate is slowing faster than forecast.
That allowed the ECB to cut its interest rates a quarter point to a record low of 0.75 percent and its deposit rate to zero earlier this month.
Brent crude is back to around $105 a barrel after dropping to as low as $90 a barrel in late June and oil prices continue to be supported by worries about supply from sanctions-hit Iran.
Iran and the West have been at odds over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, resulting in crippling sanctions that have cut the flow of Iranian oil into international markets.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected inflation at 2.4 percent in July for the euro zone, but steady, rather than falling, consumer prices are of little bonus to European households suffering what is set to be the bloc's second recession in just three years.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/31/us-eurozone-economy-idUSBRE86U0CT20120731

The New ‘Buffett Rule’ Everyone Is Ignoring

Taking our eyes off the overwhelmingly important goal of returning the economy to robust growth is a waste of valuable time.
Warren Buffett, recently expressing his disgust with the debt ceiling debate, condensed a profound truth about our federal debt into just a few short words. Although this gem of wisdom (below) deserves to be elevated to the status of a new “Buffett Rule,” that will not happen in the foreseeable future, because both presidential candidates are choosing to ignore it. Why? Apparently, they would rather not complicate the economic debate, especially during election season. Nonetheless, the new “Buffett Rule” deserves some airtime, because both candidates have some explaining to do.
The rule comes from Buffett’s recent answer to a question about the debt ceiling: "As this country grows, our debt capacity grows."
That simple statement packs a lot of meaning into eight words. It means that a growing economy can neutralize the impact of growing debt. It means that “paying down the debt” is not necessary when the economy grows at a sufficient pace. It means that taking our eyes off the overwhelmingly important goal of returning the economy to robust growth is a waste of valuable time.
Below is a screenshot from a campaign ad the Obama team aired in Texas in late July.
If paying down the debt actually is in the Obama plan, that begs some questions. Given that “paying down the debt” requires running budget surpluses instead of deficits, just when does the Obama plan call for those surpluses to begin? Why has not one Obama budget ever called for any surpluses? Besides that, haven’t Obama’s Democratic supporters and Keynesian advisers (as well as many conservative Republicans) been telling us, correctly, that running surpluses in a sluggish economy is a really dumb idea?

Read more: http://www.american.com/archive/2012/july/the-new-buffett-rule-everyone-is-ignoring

EPA Rejects Petition To Ban Insecticide Suspected In Bee Kills

EPA has rejected a request by antipesticide activists and commercial beekeepers to immediately suspend the use of products containing the insecticide clothianidin. A petition filed in March alleges that clothianidin poses an “imminent hazard” to honeybees. EPA agrees that clothianidin is “acutely toxic” to a range of insects, including bees. But the agency says there is no evidence that bees are being exposed to levels of the insecticide that would cause serious declines in the population. EPA also notes that clothianidin is used on 90% of the U.S. corn crop and says the benefits to farmers outweigh the risks to bees and the rest of the food supply that depends on bees for pollination. Peter Jenkins, an attorney at the Center for Food Safety and author of the petition, says EPA refused to consider additional information that came to light “as bees started dying in large numbers this spring during the April and May corn-planting season.” On average, the USDA reports, beekeepers have been losing more than 30% of their honeybee colonies each year since 2006.

ECB thinks the unthinkable, action likely weeks away

The European Central Bank is thinking the unthinkable to save the euro, including resuming its controversial bond-buying program and possibly even pursuing quantitative easing - in effect printing money.
Bold action is probably at least five weeks away, insiders say, though some more clues may come when the ECB reveals its latest interest rate decision on Thursday.
Several other pieces have to fall into place before the ECB will act decisively, insiders say. These include a request for assistance from Spain, which Madrid is still resisting, a decision by euro zone leaders to let their bailout fund buy bonds at auction, and a German court ruling on the legality of the euro zone's permanent rescue fund, due on September 12.
Above all, ECB President Mario Draghi must overcome the resistance of Germany's powerful central bank, the guardian of monetary orthodoxy, glowering from the other side of Frankfurt.
Draghi raised expectations last Thursday that the ECB would resume buying sovereign bonds as Spanish and Italian borrowing costs vaulted towards levels that could force the euro zone's third and fourth largest economies out of the credit markets.
"Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough," he told a pre-Olympic investment conference in London.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/us-ecb-options-idUSBRE86T0OC20120730

Bloomberg pushes new moms to breastfeed, hides the formula

New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg is locking up the baby formula, because he wants newborns to drink breast milk instead.
He’s using his mayoral power to direct maternity-ward nurses to hide baby-milk formula after Sept. 2 so that new moms feel pressured to provide breast milk to their newborns.
Bloomberg’s mammary-mandate is supported by white-coated public-health officials, who say the scientific data shows that mothers’ milk aids infants’ digestive systems and shields them from some diseases.
His wishes are law because he controls much of the city’s health network in a city-wide version of Obamacare.
But Bloomberg’s lactate-dictate is likely to get him a slap in the face from women who prefer to choose how they will raise their children, and how they juggle child-rearing and work in a city where unemployment has reached at least 14 percent in the Bronx.
The “reality is that some women may not want to breastfeed their baby and it is simply their choice,” said Cherlyn Harley LeBon, a lawyer, mom and member of the libertarian-minded Project 21’s advisory board.
“I completely support breastfeeding our babies… [but] the government should not force them to do it,” she said in a July 29 statement.

The Biggest Myth About The Federal Reserve

Anti-debt politicians are always talking about how the Fed is somehow enabling fiscal recklessness via ultra low rates and bond purchases.
And in his latest US Macro Dashboard note, Morgan Stanley's Vincent Reinhart discussed this idea as part of a broader point about why large public sector debts are associated with lower economic growth (a thesis that his economist wife Carmen Reinhart has become quite famous for).
Reinhart writes:
High levels of public debt relative to the scale of an economy are costly.  That is a message from work done recently with my wife Carmen and Ken Rogoff, both of Harvard University.1 One reason we think so is that governments resort to forms of financial repression to lower their borrowing costs.  Limiting investor choice, forcing financial intermediaries to hold more government debt, and keeping policy interest rates low makes the fiscal burden of the debt more sustainable.  But there is a cost, as this crowds out private borrowers and slows economic growth.
The problem is: This really doesn't make much sense.
First of all, private borrowers are FAR from being crowded out these days. Yesterday, Unilever and Texas Instruments just borrowed money at the cheapest rate in corporate history. If anything, QE "works" because it forces money out of government securities and into private sector securities, like corporate bonds or home mortgages.
But beyond that, it just isn't the case that the Fed, when deciding what policies to take, is looking much at US government debt.

The Amazing Presidential Power-Grab

With little consternation or lasting opposition, the Obama administration has dramatically usurped congressional power at the expense of popular will and the rule of law.  Numerous dastardly bureaucratic coups -- motivated by the president's progressive and political agenda -- have amazingly failed to engender a serious response. 
What began as a trickle of presidential power-grabs has turned into a cascade of executive roguery.  A list of them is worth some review and reflection:
  • In June 2012, President Obama circumvented Congress's refusal to pass the DREAM Act by instituting a portion of it on his own. Through executive order, the administration has directed federal officers to no longer deport large swathes of younger illegal immigrants, with an inclusive net that could impact over a million. Conservative sage Charles Krauthammer summed it up pithily: "This is out-and-out lawlessness. You had a clip of the president himself say[ing] months ago, 'I cannot do this on my own because there are laws on the books.' Well, I have news for the president -- the laws remain on the books. They haven't changed."
  • Earlier this month, the Obama administration quietly stripped away a central component of the 1996 bipartisan welfare reform act -- the lynchpin work requirements -- passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. The regulations allow states to substitute education programs as "work" for their residents to enjoy welfare benefits. Self-described "neo-liberal" pundit Mickey Kaus reacted to the "surprising (and possibly illegal) attempt to grant waivers of the work requirements" as follows:

Former CBO director defends agency against transparency push

Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he is skeptical of a CBO transparency bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy.
“I always encourage people to understand there’s a difference between being transparent about what CBO does and scientific replicability. They’re never going to get that,” Holtz-Eakin explained.
“CBO has lots and lots of proprietary data,” he said, offering a reason why the CBO’s books are not fully open to outside observers.
“When I was there we got data from some of the pharmaceutical companies and we signed confidentiality agreements in order to get it,” Holtz-Eakin continued. “We needed to do a good job on the prescription drug bill but we could not have shown that to anybody, including Congress. Any time Congress has ever made noise about trying to reach into CBO in that way, I’ve just gone to the leadership and explained if they do it, I’m not going to get the data I need for CBO to do it’s job. It endangers the capacity of the office.”
The CBO transparency bill would require the agency to publish its methodologies and data for public scrutiny. Under current policy, the CBO relies on its Panel of Economic Advisers and Panel of Economic Health Advisers, groups of experts with relevant expertise, for guidance.
“Although CBO draws upon a diverse set of outside experts, the agency’s findings are based on its own judgments, and it is solely responsible for the substance and presentation of those findings,” says the CBO’s website.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Conservatives work to cull moderate Republicans

Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP.
Political groups are helping finance the efforts by supporting primary election challenges targeting several dozen moderate Republicans in the Midwest and South, especially prominent lawmakers who run key state committees.
Two years after Republicans swept into power in many state capitols, the challengers say it's time to adopt more conservative policies.
"If you don't believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?" declared Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who's running for the state Senate, with the goal of making it more conservative.
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback's move to slash state income taxes.

Read more: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_ENDANGERED_GOP_MODERATES?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-07-30-17-16-13

Corn Prices Jump as Crop Size Shrinks

The U.S. corn crop continues to shrink, and that is likely to add upward pressure to prices, which hit a record Monday.
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data, released Monday afternoon, showed that now just 24 percent of the corn crop in 18 key states is in good to excellent condition, and 48 percent is now in poor or worse shape as the drought and heat persists in the corn belt.
That is more bad news for livestock producers, who have been hurt by the rapid rise in corn prices, up more than 28 percent in July and about 50 percent since early June.
On Monday, livestock and poultry producers asked the government to reduce or cancel the use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline for a year. The USDA expects ethanol use about 40 percent of the corn crop, and livestock about the same, though farmers have been culling their herds because of the high cost of feed.
December corn futures Monday were at a record $8.14 per bushel, after rising to more than $8.17 during the trading day.

Will It or Won't It? Market Watches Fed for Signs of Action

Markets may close out the month of July on a quiet note, ahead of the Fed’s Wednesday afternoon statement and the European Central Bank’s meeting Thursday.
The Fed starts its two-day meeting Tuesday, and there is anticipation it could take action, including another round of quantitative easing. However, most Fed watchers do not expect the Fed to announce a third quantitative easing program yet, but it could lay the groundwork for easing in September. Some of the other actions it could take Wednesday include extending the time frame for extremely low interest rates to mid-2015 from 2014.
Stocks finished slightly lower Tuesday, after moving in a fairly narrow range most of the day. The biggest mover was Nasdaq, down 12 points at 2945. The Dow fell 2 points to 13,073, and the S&P 500 was down less than a point at 1385. For the month, the Dow is up 1.5 percent, the S&P 500 is up 1.7 percent and the Nasdaq is up 0.4 percent.
Treasury yields fell and the 10-year slipped to 1.4985 percent. 

Mitt Romney’s Path To Electoral College Victory Is Still Very Narrow

As of today there are 99 days left until Election Day and, just as was the case several months ago, while the national polls remain tight and there are signs that the state of the economy continues to hurt the President, the path to victory for Mitt Romney remains very precarious and, some might say, unlikely:
President Obama has an overall edge in the 12 decisive battleground states that is measurably greater than his advantage in national polling.
The dynamic, which may reflect a combination of lower swing-state unemployment rates and demographic advantages for the president, is causing stirrings of unease among Republicans, even as they emphasize that it is important not to read too much into the state of the race right now.
“Obama is concentrating his considerable early resources and messaging in the swing states, and it’s had an impact,” said Mark McKinnon, who served as a media adviser for President George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.
The crucial battleground states number about a dozen: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Taking the polling averages used by Nate Silver in the New York Times, the president is ahead in 10 of the 12 vital states. If those polls were borne out on Election Day, Obama would coast to victory with 332 electoral college votes. Only 270 votes are needed to win the presidency.

Read more: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/mitt-romneys-path-to-electoral-college-victory-is-still-very-narrow/

German investors hit in multi-million dollar ponzi scheme

Prosecutors in Mannheim, Germany said they have evidence that 1,295 investors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland lost at least $37 million in a pyramid scheme allegedly run by a German man arrested in Las Vegas last week.
"The actual damages are expected to be higher," the Mannheim prosecutor's office said in a statement on Monday.
Ulrich Felix Anton Engler, 51, was arrested in Las Vegas on Wednesday for violating U.S. immigration law.
U.S. Immigration and Customs said last week Engler was in the custody of its officials and would be deported and turned over to German law enforcement authorities, adding he was wanted by them on multiple criminal charges after allegedly defrauding investors.
Investigators from the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg are standing by to aid with a transfer of Engler, the Mannheim prosecutor's office said on Monday.
The prosecutor said Engler is accused of using a Florida-based marketing company to lure investors between end-2004 and mid-2007, under the pretence of investing the cash on the New York Stock Exchange.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/us-germany-ponzi-idUSBRE86T0XO20120730

Doctor Shortages, Jobs Destroyed, Coverage Dropped

The Supreme Court's decision last month to uphold the Obamacare mandate tax did not vindicate the propriety or efficacy of the law itself, a point Chief Justice Roberts explicitly stated in his ruling.  "It is not [The Court's] job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” he wrote.  As we learn more about Obamacare's practical consequences, the urgent need for repeal becomes increasingly apparent.  Consider the following news items from the past week alone:

(1) "Doctor Shortage Likely to Worsen with Health Law":

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed. And that number will more than double by 2025, as the expansion of insurance coverage and the aging of baby boomers drive up demand for care. Even without the health care law, the shortfall of doctors in 2025 would still exceed 100,000. Health experts, including many who support the law, say there is little that the government or the medical profession will be able to do to close the gap by 2014, when the law begins extending coverage to about 30 million Americans. It typically takes a decade to train a doctor.
“We have a shortage of every kind of doctor, except for plastic surgeons and dermatologists,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, the dean of the new medical school at the University of California, Riverside, founded in part to address the region’s doctor shortage. “We’ll have a 5,000-physician shortage in 10 years, no matter what anybody does.” Experts describe a doctor shortage as an “invisible problem.” Patients still get care, but the process is often slow and difficult. In Riverside, it has left residents driving long distances to doctors, languishing on waiting lists, overusing emergency rooms and even forgoing care. “It results in delayed care and higher levels of acuity,” said Dustin Corcoran, the chief executive of the California Medical Association, which represents 35,000 physicians. People “access the health care system through the emergency department, rather than establishing a relationship with a primary care physician who might keep them from getting sicker.”

Read more: http://townhall.com/tipsheet/guybenson/2012/07/30/obamacare_fewer_doctors_jobs_destroyed_coverage_lost

Why Elizabeth Warren Wants America to Be More Like Communist China

Massachusetts residents who tuned in to the Olympics opening ceremony saw a new 30-second campaign commercial from the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Elizabeth Warren, that said America should be more like Communist China.
“We've got bridges and roads in need of repair and thousands of people in need of work. Why aren’t we rebuilding America?” asks Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School who served in the Obama administration. “Our competitors are putting people to work, building a future. China invests 9% of its GDP in infrastructure. America? We’re at just 2.4%. We can do better.”
The ad juxtaposes robust Chinese cranes and dump trucks with decaying American bridges and idle but sympathetic-looking American workers wearing hard-hats.
Warren has been in the news lately as an inspiration for President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment. And Mr. Obama himself has been making somewhat similar points about infrastructure on the campaign trail. On July 27, the same day Warren announced her new ad, Mr. Obama, campaigning in Virginia, said, “I think it makes sense for us to take half the savings from war and let’s use it to do some nation-building here at home. Let’s make sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges. Let’s build broadband lines into rural communities and improve our wireless networks and rebuild our ports and airports. We can put people to work right now doing the work that America needs done.”

Read more: http://reason.com/archives/2012/07/30/why-elizabeth-warren-wants-america-to-be

DHS gears up for civil unrest prior to presidential elections

The Department of Homeland Security has ordered masses of riot gear equipment to prepare for potential significant domestic riots at the Republican National Convention, Democratic National Convention and next year’s presidential inauguration.
The DHS submitted a rushed solicitation to the Federal Business Opportunities site on Wednesday, which is a portal for Federal government procurement requisitions over $25,000. The request gave the potential suppliers only one day to submit their proposals and a 15-day delivery requirement to Alexandria, Virginia.
As the brief explains, “the objective of this effort is to procure riot gear to prepare for the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, the 2013 Presidential Inauguration and other future similar activities.”
The total amount ordered is about 150 sets of riot helmets, thigh and groin protectors, hard-shell shin guards and other riot gear.

Read more: http://rt.com/usa/news/dhs-unrest-gear-283/

Obama Admin Reportedly Putting off Costly & Controversial Regs Until After the Election

The Obama administration is avoiding implementing “costly and controversial” regulations so as not to upset the president’s chances of a November win, according to USA TODAY.
“The pace of regulations issued by the Obama administration is receding as the nation’s economy falters and the 2012 election approaches,” Richard Wolf reports.
“Several of the most expensive and controversial rules — to protect the food supply, reduce exposure to silica dust, require rear-view cameras or other devices on cars, and more — remain under review by the White House long after they were expected to be published,” he adds.
Of course, depending on your political persuasion, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Advocates for the environment, health and safety say the delay signals an effort by the administration to reconsider the economic and political impacts of its actions, in light of the struggling economy and the 2010 midterm elections that empowered Republicans,” the report adds.
Simply put, someone in the White House thinks enacting all these regulations might hurt the president’s reelection bid.
“Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office scolded the administration for delaying the significant Medicare cuts outlined in the new health care law until after the election to avoid political backlash,” the Washington Free Beacon adds to the report.

Read more: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/it-can-wait-obama-admin-reportedly-putting-off-costly-controversial-regs-until-after-the-election/


That tireless defender of civil liberties, limited government, and the Constitution, Dr. Ron Paul of Texas, is about to end his quarter century congressional career at the age of 77. No one in Congress has been more committed to our founding principles than Ron Paul. His imminent departure from Congress is therefore an incalculable loss for the United States and the world. On the eve of his departure, just when the pundits thought him incapable of achieving a political gain, he proved them wrong, the capstone to a career marked by independence from Republican sell-outs to big government and Democratic advocates of big government. On July 25, an astonishing 327 members of Congress voted in favor of his Audit the Fed bill, causing it to pass with the two-thirds majority required during the House’s suspension of its normal rules. Although the bill is one Harry Reid despises and will not let come to a floor vote in the Democratic Senate, the promise of a future when the Federal Reserve will be more transparent in its decision making appears brighter today than at any other time in American history. Senator Rand Paul, Ron Paul’s son, has pending S. 202, which is the Senate version of the House Audit the Fed bill.
Under Dr. Paul’s bill, the Government Accountability Office is authorized to examine the previously closed-door discussions of monetary policy performed at the central bank. Federal Reserve financials are already reviewed by an outside audit firm with results published by the central bank. The GAO also audits the Federal Reserve’s financials, but to date deliberations on policy decisions governing monetary policy have been shrouded in secrecy. Dr. Paul’s bill would force those secret deliberations into the light by eliminating the statutory exemption that has shielded them from GAO audits. “I think when people talk about independence and having this privacy of the central bank,” said Dr. Paul in the July 24 floor debate on the bill, “they want secrecy, and secrecy is not good. We should have privacy for the individual, but we should have openness of government all the time, and we’ve drifted a long way from that.”

GM: Global marketing chief Joel Ewanick resigns

General Motors Co. Sunday said that Global Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick has elected to resign, effective immediately.
GM spokesman Greg Martin said Ewanick was departing "because he failed to meet the company's expectations of an employee of the company." Martin declined to elaborate.
Ewanick issued a statement through Twitter this evening, tweeting: "It has been a privilege & honor to work with the GM Team and to be a small part of Detroit's turnaround. I wish everyone at GM all the best."
Ewanick, 52, joined GM in May 2010 as head of marketing for the company's North America unit. He was named global chief marketing officer in December 2010. Alan Batey, vice president, U.S. Sales and Service, will assume the role of global chief marketing officer on an interim basis.
Ewanick, a longtime auto industry veteran, has overseen a number of controversial decisions at GM, including a move to halt advertising on social networking site Facebook and to announce that the automaker will not advertise in next year's Super Bowl. The company said this month it may return to advertising on Facebook.
The company announced in January it was consolidating ad agencies as the automaker spends about $4.5 billion on advertising worldwide and has played hardball with television networks, demanding steep price cuts for advertising.

Drought of Ideas in Congress Is Worse Than in Farm Belt

The worst drought in more than a half-century is gripping most of the U.S. Midwest and South, damaging crops and presaging higher food prices.
Congress is deadlocked as it tries to pass a new farm bill, as it does every five years, amid demands for broad emergency assistance for the hardest hit areas.
This impasse may be the best thing that one could hope for, considering the flaws in the proposed legislation. Instead of trying to adopt a new bill before its August recess, Congress should approve a one-year extension of the current law and create a narrow aid package aimed mainly at livestock producers. As bad as the existing law is, there is no reason to replace it with legislation that’s even worse.
Although some ranchers might need emergency aid, existing crop insurance protects 85 percent of the nation’s cultivated land against losses, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This summer’s drought also follows a year when farm net income was a record $98 billion, thanks to some of the highest commodities prices ever.
This isn’t to play down the severity of the drought, which started last winter with reduced snowfall. More than half the country is officially in a drought, and the Agriculture Department has declared 1,300 counties -- about a third of the nation -- disaster areas. Much of the U.S. corn crop, the world’s largest, has been damaged, and some of it has been destroyed.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-29/drought-of-ideas-in-congress-is-worse-than-in-farm-belt.html

Japan Industrial Output Falls as Korea Confidence Sinks

Japan’s industrial production unexpectedly declined and South Korean manufacturers’ confidence dropped to a three-year low, building the case for extra monetary and fiscal measures to aid growth.
Production fell 0.1 percent in June from May, when it slid 3.4 percent, Japan’s Trade Ministry said today. The median estimate of 29 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a 1.5 percent gain. The South Korean confidence index for August was at 70 after 81 for July, the central bank said.
The signs of weakness kick off a week that UBS AG says will be among the year’s most important for financial markets, with the U.S. Federal Reserve and central banks in the U.K. and the euro region meeting to consider fresh stimulus efforts. The Reserve Bank of India will release its monetary policy decision tomorrow as it weighs inflation risks against the weakest economic growth since 2003.
“It’s increasingly likely that the Fed and European Central Bank will ease further by September,” said Masamichi Adachi, a senior economist at JPMorgan Securities in Tokyo and a former central bank official. In Japan, the government may implement a supplementary budget by September, with the central bank expanding asset purchases, Adachi said.
Today’s Korean data followed a slide in a measure of the nation’s consumer confidence.
South Korean Finance Minister Bahk Jae Wan said the economy is in a “difficult” situation. “I will do everything I can to find a solution for the sluggish domestic economy,” Bahk said today in a speech to government officials in Gwacheon.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-30/japan-s-june-industrial-output-falls-as-recovery-loses-momentum.html

Europe pulls the wrong lever

I’ve long held the view that contagion into Italy and/or Germany would be the key driver for more definitive action from Europe. Although we’ll have to wait until Thursday (Frankfurt time) for the ECB’s executive council meeting to find out the details the rumours are already swirling.
Last Friday world market’s got very excited by the “whatever it takes” remarks from Mario Draghi, however they were connected with “within our mandate” so it is yet to be seen exactly what the ECB will deliver. Obviously there is the downside risk of disappointment. We also need to remember that German constitutional court is still deliberating over the ESM and isn’t due to make a decision until September 12.
There are a number of ideas circulating ranging from a re-instatement of the SMP, another lowering of rates and collateral rules, through to a banking licenses for the ESM. At this point in time I think that later is a stretch way too far, but adjustments to the EFSF/ESM in order for it to make primary market purchase with support from the SMP may well be in the offing, well at least mentioned anyway.
According to various sources, the French and German governments (although I will note that Schauble’s version appears very muted ) are on-board with re-newed ECB intervention while the Bundesbank is against it. The Bundesbank reaction is expected but it must be noted that Germany only holds 2 seats on the 23 seat council, in other words no matter what their opinion they can be out-voted. The Bundesbank’s influence on the Constitutional court is obviously another matter and far more important in my opinion. There also appears to be some foreign influence with Mr Geithner once again making an appearance on European shores.

Read more: http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2012/07/europe-pulls-the-wrong-lever/


* All eyes on bond-buying hints from ECB chief
* ECB likely to hold fire for now
* Fed to stay on hold, too, awaiting data flow

Mario Draghi may not need to show his money this week, but impatient markets will be unforgiving if the European Central Bank chief does not flesh out his dramatic promise to do whatever is needed to save the euro.
Given the threat that the long-running euro zone crisis poses to the global economy, Thursday's ECB policy-setting meeting and subsequent news conference were always going to be important.
But they have become pivotal since Draghi vowed in London last Thursday that "within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough."
Specifically, Draghi said the ECB had a mandate to act if diverging borrowing costs were disrupting the transmission of monetary policy across the 17-country single currency area.
This is patently the case. The ECB's interest rate cut on July 5 to 0.75 percent has failed to reduce the giddily high cost of money for governments, banks and companies on the rim of the bloc, notably Spain and Italy. Sovereign yields in Germany and the Netherlands, by contrast, are negative.
Yet even as capital flees the periphery and euro zone output shrinks, few economists think Draghi is ready to announce that the ECB is resuming secondary-market bond purchases to lower yields, a policy it has pursued in the past with limited success.

Read more: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/economy-global-weekahead-idINL6E8IS2F720120730

Scientists Use Microbes to Make 'Clean' Methane

Microbes that convert electricity into methane gas could become an important source of renewable energy, according to scientists from Stanford and Pennsylvania State universities.
Researchers at both campuses are raising colonies of microorganisms, called methanogens, which have the remarkable ability to turn electrical energy into pure methane -- the key ingredient in natural gas. The scientists' goal is to create large microbial factories that will transform clean electricity from solar, wind or nuclear power into renewable methane fuel and other valuable chemical compounds for industry.
"Most of today's methane is derived from natural gas, a fossil fuel," said Alfred Spormann, a professor of chemical engineering and of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. "And many important organic molecules used in industry are made from petroleum. Our microbial approach would eliminate the need for using these fossil resources."
While methane itself is a formidable greenhouse gas, 20 times more potent than CO2, the microbial methane would be safely captured and stored, thus minimizing leakage into the atmosphere, Spormann said.
"The whole microbial process is carbon neutral," he explained. "All of the CO2 released during combustion is derived from the atmosphere, and all of the electrical energy comes from renewables or nuclear power, which are also CO2-free."

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120727144534.htm

The “Fatal Conceit” of Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Regs

There is a push to implement federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” There are plenty of problems with the specific regulations that proponents have in mind. However, we can also step back and realize that the very premise of federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing ignore the lessons in humility that Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek tried to teach.
Whatever one thinks of the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing, clearly the alleged dangers are local issues. In other words, even if we accept for the sake of argument that hydraulic fracturing cannot be economically justified because its total costs (all things considered) outweigh its total benefits, notice that these costs would be borne by the people living near the hydraulic fracturing. People in Hawaii have absolutely nothing on the line when it comes to the issue of hydraulic fracturing in (say) Pennsylvania. In fact, the people in Hawaii only stand to benefit from hydraulic fracturing, because the only way it can impact them is by providing lower energy prices.
Thus we see that hydraulic fracturing, by its very nature, confers benefits on the whole world (in the form of greater supplies of oil and natural gas) while any potential harms are concentrated primarily in the communities where the hydraulic fracturing actually occurs. Thus any federal regulations that hindered hydraulic fracturing would be nonsensical, and would amount to pure paternalism. It would effectively mean the representatives of the American people in general, were telling the people in Pennsylvania (say) that they are too stupid to make decisions about hydraulic fracturing that could harm only them, and therefore the rest of us will have to take that responsibility away from them.

Read more: http://www.productsandpower.org/2012/07/29/the-fatal-conceit-of-federal-hydraulic-fracturing-regs/

Mutant gene linked to skin cancer

SCIENTISTS have identified a gene mutation found exclusively in deadly skin cancers caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

The discovery by Yale University researchers in the US, in collaboration with the Queensland Institute of Medical Research could eventually lead to new drugs to target the mutation found in about nine per cent of melanoma patients.
The finding emerged from the largest melanoma gene study to date, which involved the examination of every gene in 147 skin cancers.
Professor Nick Hayward from the QIMR's Oncogenomics Laboratory said scientists also showed the mutation promoted malignant cell growth, spreading the cancer beyond the skin to critical organs.
Most importantly, the mutation was caused by exposure to sunlight.
"This mutation was exclusively found in melanomas on parts of the body that were exposed to sunlight," Prof Hayward told AAP.
"The actual mutation itself has a chemical or molecular signature that indicates it was likely caused by ultraviolet light," he said.
"This particular defect seems to be one that occurs in melanomas that have had excessive sun exposure."

Read more: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/mutant-gene-linked-to-skin-cancer/story-fncynkc6-1226438198704

New protein could rival antibiotics

AUSTRALIAN scientists have made a breakthrough in finding a powerful alternative to antibiotics - at a time when the World Health Organisation is predicting a bleak future in which bug-killing drugs are so ineffective that ''a child's scratched knee or a strep throat could kill again''.
The threat of the world returning to a pre-antibiotic era has been fretted about for at least a decade because of microbes becoming increasingly resistant to drugs.
But Monash University researchers, in collaboration with Rockefeller University and the University of Maryland, have published a paper revealing the structure and workings of PlyC - a flying saucer-shaped protein that kills bacteria that cause infections from sore throats to pneumonia and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
PlyC is a viral protein, known as a bacteriophage lysin, that specifically infects and kills bacteria. James Whisstock, Ashley Buckle and Sheena McGowan from the School of Biomedical Sciences have spent the past six years deciphering PlyC's atomic structure - a crucial step in developing the protein into a drug therapy.

100km-wide ocean funnels that suck-up carbon

SCIENTISTS say they have unravelled the mechanism by which Earth-warming carbon is sucked deep into the Southern Ocean to be safely locked away.
Wind, currents and eddies (a current running opposite to the main current) work together to create carbon-sucking funnels, said the research team from Britain and Australia in a discovery that adds to the toolkit of scientists attempting climate warming predictions.
About a quarter of the carbon dioxide on Earth is stored away in its oceans - some 40 per cent of that in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica.
At a depth of about 1000 metres, carbon can be locked away for hundreds to thousands of years, yet scientists had never been sure exactly how it gets there after dissolving into surface waters.
They had suspected the wind was the main force at play, pooling up surface water in some areas and forcing it down into the ocean depths.
Using 10 years of data obtained from small, deep-sea robotic probes, the researchers found that in addition to the wind, eddies - big whirlpool-like phenomena about 100km in diameter on average, also played a part.

Gulf of Mexico dead zone is smaller this year because of drought, researcher says

This year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone," an area of low oxygen that develops every spring and summer, is the fourth-smallest since measurements of the zones began in 1985, a new report says. The zone measured 2,889 square miles, said the report released Friday by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The dead zone forms because fertilizer and other nutrients run into the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf. The nutrients feed huge numbers of microscopic organisms. When they die, their decomposition uses up oxygen. It is a recurring problem affecting sea life off the Louisiana coast, and sometimes the coasts of Mississippi and Texas.
Last year's hypoxic zone was about 6,765 square miles. The record is 8,400.
The consortium said the dead zone is relatively small this year because record drought across the country meant fewer nutrients were washed into the river — not because needed steps have been taken to prevent the runoff.
"The issue of nutrient overload, of both nitrogen and phosphorus, remains a critical issue for the health of water bodies within the Mississippi River Basin and in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Efforts should continue in full force to reduce nutrient loads," the LUMCON report said.
LUMCON Chief Scientist Nancy Rabalais noted that the distribution of low-oxygen waters along Louisiana's continental shelf differed from years past.
"There was a narrow band close to the Mississippi River and large, non-hypoxic area between there and the Atchafalaya River," the report said.


Food-borne illnesses not diminishing, CDC finds

Little progress has been made in combating many types of food-borne illnesses in recent years, according to new federal data, an outcome that food safety advocates say underscores the need to put into place the landmark food-safety bill signed by President Obama more than a year ago.
The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the rates of infections linked to four out of five key pathogens it tracks — salmonella, vibrio, campylobacter and listeria — remained relatively steady or increased from 2007 through 2011. The exception is a strain of E. coli, which has been tied to fewer illnesses in the same time frame.
The statistics also show that the government did not meet the goals it set for reducing illnesses tied to salmonella, the top cause of food-related infections resulting in hospitalizations and death. The goal was seven infections per 100,000 people by 2010. Instead, the state laboratories involved in producing statistics for the CDC confirmed 17 infections that year and about 16 last year.
The results frustrated consumer advocates, who along with industry groups pushed for passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which empowers the Food and Drug Administration to prevent food-borne illnesses instead of simply reacting to them. Obama signed the legislation in January 2011 after a string of food-borne outbreaks shook consumer confidence in the nation’s food supply.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/food-borne-illnesses-not-diminishing-cdc-finds/2012/07/28/gJQAaFGxGX_story.html

US Opens Public Land for Utility Scale Solar Projects

The Whitehouse has released plans to increase access to public land for solar installations with the hope of encouraging more capacity. 285,000 acres in parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah will be made more accessible through easier permit application processes.

Before Obama’s presidency started no solar projects were allowed on public lands in an attempt to preserve their natural state. However, since 2009 the Department of the Interior has approved 17 large scale solar projects on such ground, expected to generate 5,900 MW of power when completed, enough to supply 2 million homes.

It is expected that the new land will enable a further 23,000 MW of solar capacity to be installed, and provide sufficient electricity for nearly 7 million homes.

Steven Chu, the US Energy Secretary, said that “developing America’s solar energy resources is an important part of President Obama’s commitment to expanding American-made energy, increasing energy security, and creating jobs. This new roadmap builds on that commitment by identifying public lands that are best suited for solar energy projects, improving the permitting process, and creating incentives to deliver more renewable energy to American homes and businesses.”

Environmentalist fears of damage to the precious land have been relatively pacified due to the fact that the plan only includes about 40% of the area considered in the original discussions.


NY Times Fooled Into Publishing Fake Editorial

The New York Times, which famously insists on the accuracy of its reports, was red faced Sunday after being fooled by a hoax online editorial posted under the name of ex-boss Bill Keller.

The editorial, titled "WikiLeaks, a Post Postscript," was purportedly published over the weekend by the Times and in every way appears to be the real thing from Keller, who until last September was the paper's executive editor.

The article appeared on a web page built to replicate the Times' popular website, right down to perfectly working links to the rest of the site.

It was so realistic that none other than the newspaper's technology editor Nick Bilton posted the link on his Twitter account, calling the apparent defense of Julian Assange's controversial organization an "important piece."

Not so.

"THERE IS A FAKE OP-ED GOING AROUND UNDER MY NAME, ABOUT WIKILEAKS. EMPHASIS ON 'FAKE.' AS IN, NOT MINE," Keller, now a writer on the paper, tweeted to set the record straight.

Bilton followed up, tweeting: "I just deleted a tweet sent late last night that was from a fake NYT Bill Keller account."