Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1830 on: Nov 10th, 2010, 07:52am »
Rumblings of inflation grow louder Commodity prices are rising — driven by higher consumption, bad weather and investor demand — and Americans are starting to feel it in their pocketbooks.
By P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Petruno November 10, 2010
Be it a bushel of wheat from Kansas, a ton of rice from India or a barrel of crude from Saudi Arabia, prices for all manner of commodities are on the rise across the globe, a trend that is starting to pinch American consumers.
On Tuesday prices of many raw materials continued to surge, with gold, cotton and sugar reaching record highs. A closely watched index of 19 major commodities closed at a two-year high, despite a late-day sell-off in gold and oil.
The effects are rippling from financial trading floors to local stores, forcing consumers to shell out more for everyday basics — a cup of coffee, a box of cereal, a gallon of gasoline.
Those increases are being driven in part by short supplies of some crops and raw materials caused by poor weather in major producing regions and robust demand from emerging markets such as China and India.
Investors and speculators also are pushing up prices as they jump into rising commodity markets. They are being drawn to these so-called hard assets to hedge against inflation and the risk of further devaluation of the dollar and other paper currencies.
But that fear of inflation could ultimately be the fuel that feeds it, analysts warned.
"Billions of dollars are moving into oil, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.
Crude oil prices are up 9% this year to nearly $87 a barrel. Fuel costs directly affect what consumers pay for food.
Take breakfast. This year alone, raw coffee prices on commodity exchanges are up 60%. Corn and soybeans, the basic feed for hogs and cattle, have risen 39% and 26%, respectively. Wheat, a dietary staple for many cultures, is up 33%, and sugar is up 23%.
Even napkins and tablecloths to set the table have grown more expensive to make: Cotton prices have leapt 100% this year, to $1.51 a pound, a high not seen in this country since the Civil War.
This latest run-up in commodities, which began in late August, so far has boosted prices only modestly for consumers. But next year the impact could be far more serious, particularly if harvests for major crops are poor, Wall Street and agricultural analysts warned.
Retail food prices have already started to rise after remaining relatively flat for the first half of the year, said Ephraim Leibtag, an economist with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.
The agency forecasts that overall inflation for food prices, projected at 0.5% to 1.5% this year, in 2011 will range from 2% to 3%. "But some segments — such as dairy and meat — will be higher than that," Leibtag said.
Now a wide swath of American businesses face a tough task: figuring out how much, if at all, they can raise their prices without scaring off customers in a still-struggling economy.
General Mills Inc., citing higher costs for grain and other ingredients, is raising prices on some of its breakfast cereals this month and some baking products in January. Kraft Foods Inc. said during a call with analysts last week that it had raised or planned to raise prices on about 40% of its products sold in the U.S., including coffee and cheese.
Starbucks said it would charge more for some its larger drinks because the cost of its coffee beans is skyrocketing.
Rival Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. already has jacked up prices, blaming the run-up in raw coffee. In September, the Emeryville, Calif.-based chain tacked on 10 cents to the price of most of its drinks and 8% to the price of bagged beans sold in its stores.
Citing cotton costs, apparel makers Jones Group Inc., Hanesbrands Inc. and VF Corp. have said they expect to boost clothing prices by as much as 10% early next year.
Still, raw material costs often represent only a small portion of the final retail price of a product, compared with labor, marketing and transportation. And it's unclear whether most manufacturers and retailers — particularly big-box stores such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — will risk alienating shoppers by raising their prices significantly.
But some corporate leaders are clear about their intentions.
"The reality is, costs are going up for everyone," Irene Rosenfeld, chief executive of Kraft Foods, told analysts during a quarterly earnings call last week.
Beverly Shafer agrees. The co-owner of Schooner or Later, a popular diner in Long Beach, has watched her supply bills grow by hundreds of dollars a month. Her coffee vendor raised prices 30 cents a pound in October — then announced another 30-cent hike this month.
Her bacon prices have jumped to $77 per box from $47.
"Do you have any idea how much bacon and coffee we go through?" Shafer said. "We've tried not to raise our prices, but we have no choice. We're going to have to do it. Prices have to go up across the board on our menu. We can't keep up."
But even modest price increases are more than some strapped shoppers can bear.
Cheap has become the shopping mantra for Mike Sherry, 34, a Reseda-based radio production director, who stopped by a Target store in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
"I'm really just aware of what place has the best deal," Sherry said.
Higher commodity prices, while a bane for consumers, are a potential bonanza for investors and traders. They are being drawn to raw materials as a way to diversify their portfolio holdings, alongside stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets.
The appeal stems in large part from the U.S. government's decision to allow the dollar to weaken in the global economy. The greenback's value has tumbled against other major currencies by more than 12% since June. The Obama administration has favored a slumping dollar as a way to bolster economic growth by making American exports cheaper for foreign buyers.
That has had two effects. First, because most commodities are priced in dollars worldwide, a falling greenback means raw materials become cheaper for countries with stronger currencies. That stokes demand.
Second, cheapening the dollar drives some global investors and speculators to seek out assets that will hold their value or rise. Commodities can fill that bill.
"A common view now is that it's better to own a hard asset than a piece of paper [currency]," said Adam Sieminski, a veteran commodities analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities.
Yet many analysts don't believe that serious inflation can take hold in the U.S. as long as unemployment remains high and businesses and consumers remain cautious about spending.
Even as commodity prices have jumped this year, the "core" U.S. consumer price index, meaning prices excluding food and energy, was up just 0.8% in September from a year earlier, the smallest increase since 1961.
In fact, the Federal Reserve, fearing that the weak U.S. economy could tip into deflation — a broad-based decline in prices and wages — last week agreed to pump an additional $600 billion into the financial system by June, hoping to underpin growth and lift inflation modestly.
The central bank's assumption is that if consumers believe inflation might be higher in a year they should be more willing to spend money now rather than wait in the hope of getting lower prices.
But the Fed's move has stirred anger among many of America's trading partners, including China, Germany and Brazil, who see it as an attempt to further weaken the dollar at the expense of their exports. That has set the scene for potentially contentious discussions between President Obama and other world leaders gathering for the G-20 summit in South Korea this week.
What's more, although official U.S. inflation rates remain subdued, rising inflation already is vexing many fast-growing Asian economies, spurring their central banks to begin tightening credit even as the U.S. seeks to loosen it further.
Mihir Worah, who manages a $20-billion commodities investment fund at Pimco in Newport Beach, said the Fed now faced a delicate balancing act in actively trying to boost U.S. inflation, with raw material prices already rising sharply,
"The Fed wants people to believe that more inflation is coming," he said. "But if enough people believe it, it could have the wrong impact" on commodities.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1831 on: Nov 10th, 2010, 07:55am »
Puzzling lack of answers to 'mystery missile' Military and aviation authorities deny any knowledge of a scheduled launch off the coast of L.A. The Pentagon says only that it is looking into a report of an 'unexplained contrail' left by an aircraft.
By Tony Barboza and W.J. Hennigan November 10, 2010
The orange tail of vapor seemed to hurtle skyward off the coast of Los Angeles.
And it didn't take long for the video footage, shot by a television news helicopter just before sunset Monday, of what looked like a missile to set off fierce speculation about a rogue missile or a secret government rocket test.
But the curiosity over what exactly was spotted some 35 miles off the coast was met Tuesday only by a puzzling lack of answers from federal officials.
Military and aviation authorities denied any knowledge of a scheduled launch and the Pentagon said only that it was looking into a report of an "unexplained contrail," or vapor trail, left by an aircraft.
Whatever it was, it never posed a threat, officials said, and there's no evidence it was a missile.
That didn't stop aerospace experts, news outlets and curious onlookers from snapping photos and guessing the true nature of the "mystery missile" and who may have launched it.
Was it a intercontinental ballistic missile fired in error? Not according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which monitors the continent's airspace.
Did a submarine launch the rocket as a test? Negative.
Was it an act of aggression by a foreign government? Absolutely not, the Pentagon quickly confirmed; there had been no threat to national security.
Or maybe, as some experts suggest, it was just an optical illusion that made an aircraft's condensation trail look like something much more menacing.
John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a military policy research website, said the idea that the government would carry out a secret launch at sunset within view of millions of people, is hard to believe.
"If it were secret, we'd do it at night in Alaska where only the caribou could see it," Pike said. "It's an airplane contrail pure and simple."
Rocket launches are a common sight in Southern California and rarely go unnoticed. And if it were a planned event, military officials should have known weeks in advance.
Perhaps no one had a better view of the alleged rocket than KCBS-TV Channel 2 cameraman Gil Leyvas.
He was aboard the station's helicopter shooting footage of sunset over the ocean about 5 p.m. when he noticed a spiral-shaped vapor trail and zoomed in to get a better look.
The on-board camera showed a plume twisting up from the horizon and narrowing as it climbed into the sky northwest of Santa Catalina Island, he said.
"Whatever it was, it was spinning up into the sky kind of like a spiral," he said. "It was quite a sight to see. It was spectacular."
He wasn't the only one to see it.
When Kelly Spear looked out the back window of her San Pedro home to see a rising orange line on the horizon, she thought it might be a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, a sight unusual enough for her to grab her telephoto lens and take a few shots.
"I told myself it was just a plane, but I really had no idea," she said. "We have a pretty expansive view, and I've never seen anything like that before."
Some aerospace experts who reviewed the footage said the size of the plume hinted that it was a government operation.
"It can't belong to anyone but the military," said Marco Caceres, an analyst with Teal Group Corp., a Fairfax, Va.-based aerospace research firm. The appearance of such a massive rocket contrail near military bases that are known for regularly testing missiles is unlikely to be a coincidence, Caceres said.
A more likely explanation, Caceres said: It was a mistake, perhaps a defense exercise launched by accident.
The military does, after all, operate a floating ocean platform and regularly carries out tests at San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands, and Point Mugu Naval Air Station is a missile defense testing site.
All branches of the Department of Defense with rocket and missile programs reported no launches, scheduled or inadvertent, a Pentagon spokesman affirmed in a statement late Tuesday.
The Pentagon has not shed much light on what happened, but one official said an examination by multiple U.S. government agencies of radar data, satellite imagery and other sophisticated monitoring technology has turned up no conclusive evidence that a missile was fired in that vicinity and at that time.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said that Federal Aviation Administration records showed commercial airliners were flying in the area at the time, and that most government experts were coming to the conclusion that the condensation trail was caused by an aircraft.
"The best we can tell, it was probably caused by an aircraft," the official said.
The FAA did not approve any commercial space launches in the area Monday and did not receive reports of any unusual sightings from pilots, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.
After reports of the projectile surfaced, the agency ran radar replays of a large area west of Los Angeles and did not spot any fast-moving, unidentified targets in that area, Gregor said.
Mike Gruntman, a USC professor of astronautics, reviewed the video but said any definitive answer on the mysterious projectile lies with the military.
The video that generated all the hoopla, he said, is so close up and of such low resolution that it's hard to draw conclusions.
"It looks like a missile to me," he said. "But I cannot rule out that this is some kind of jet aircraft."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1832 on: Nov 10th, 2010, 08:00am »
Milky Way May Fizzle Out Sooner Than Expected By Dave Mosher November 9, 2010 | 2:21 pm | Categories: Astronomy, Space
A thick bar of stars, gas and dust spanning across the Milky Way’s center could be speeding star formation and, as supplies run out, our host galaxy’s eventual death.
A new study, the first to trickle out of Galaxy Zoo’s second crowd-sourced scientific effort, buoys the idea that bars somehow encourage galaxies to form big, blue and short-lived stars, as well as funnel gas and dust to supermassive black holes lurking at their cores. In the process, bars may quickly consume star-making materials to leave behind only a “dead” galaxy of red and fading stars.
“Basically, as you go from the really youthful galaxies to the dead ones, more and more frequently we see bars in them,” said Kevin Schawinski, an astronomer at Yale University and co-author of the study, set to appear in an upcoming edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “Our immediate suspicion is that bars are involved in speeding galaxy evolution.”
Schawinski said the work isn’t proof that bars shorten galaxies’ star-forming lifespans — it could be the other way around, with bars being a product of dying galaxies. But he said the data backs the first idea, which is shared among many astronomers.
“Bars seem to help exhaust supplies of gas, pushing galaxies to a passive state and no longer forming any stars. This is inline with our results and what others are saying,” Schawinski said. “The Milky Way, which is more or less agreed to be a barred spiral, may be an example of a galaxy in transition from an active state to something anemic and passive.”
George Djorgovski, an astronomer at Caltech who described his team as “in a friendly competition of sorts” with Galaxy Zoo, said the new research is interesting and does support existing ideas in the field.
“More than anything it illustrates how citizen science approach can be used very effectively, both in research and outreach,” Djorgovski said. “It’s a pretty exciting way of doing science, and Galaxy Zoo is certainly the most successful to date.”
Launched in July 2007, Galaxy Zoo enlisted the help of web citizens to classify a million galaxies photographed by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or SDSS. The effort produced at least 15 published studies, with more under review.
During the second phase from February 2009 through April 2010, called Galaxy Zoo 2, volunteers analyzed a quarter million of the brightest, previously classified disk-shaped galaxies in more detail. In all, 200,000 volunteers made 60 million classifications, or about 240 assessments per galaxy. Each object is between 140 million and 875 million light-years away.
“Our volunteers essentially became the world’s biggest and best pattern-recognizing supercomputer,” Schawinski said. “They were able to measure something that’s very, very hard to teach a computer, which is to recognize bars and other details in [astronomical images].”
Of 13,665 disk-shaped galaxies, Galaxy Zoo 2 discovered about 30 percent of them have bars. What’s more, 10 to 20 percent of the blue star-forming galaxies have bars, while about 50 percent of passive reddish galaxies have them. In contrast, Schawinski said only about 6 percent of non-barred galaxies are “red and dead.”
“Stars of all colors are being born at the same time, but blue stars are the ones that die very quickly. If star formation stops, all you have are red stars.” Schawinski said, adding that football-shaped elliptical galaxies don’t have great mechanisms to churn star formation, leaving most of them red-and-dead. “Spiral galaxies, on the other hand, still have a lot of gas in their disks, and stars are being born in them all of the time, including in our Milky Way,” he said.
If spiral galaxies are left to their own demise, Djorgovski said it takes a few billion years for star formation to fizzle out (the process consumes 99.9 percent gas and dust supplies, black holes just a shred at 0.01 percent). Yet many such galaxies have lasted longer than that, especially those similar to the Milky Way.
“Galaxies keep accreting fresh gas from space as they move through it, otherwise they would have run out long ago,” Djorgovski said, adding that many galaxies have corralled hundreds of billions of stars for about 10 billion years. “There’s still plenty of gas out there.”
When the Milky Way does run out of available stellar fuel and succumbs to its reddish death, which is extremely difficult to precisely predict, all may not be lost. The nearby Andromeda galaxy is expected to collide with our galaxy in about 4.5 billion years.
“When the Andromeda galaxy collides and merges with the Milky Way, it’s going to be spectacular fireworks of star formation,” Schawinski said, noting how gravity-induced chaos should stir up diffuse gas and dust. “Maybe even the galaxies’ black holes will start feeding again, too.”
Image: Astronomers’ best guess of what the Milky Way galaxy looks like from above. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1837 on: Nov 11th, 2010, 08:34am »
New York Times
November 11, 2010 In Setback, U.S. and South Korea Fail to Agree on Trade By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and SEWELL CHAN
SEOUL, South Korea — President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea failed to reach an agreement Thursday on a long-awaited free-trade agreement, and said they had decided instead to give their negotiators more time to work out differences, which revolved around Korean imports of American autos and beef.
The two men said during a joint news conference that expected a deal to be reached soon. By soon, Mr. Obama said, he did not mean months.
“We want this to be done in a matter of weeks,” he said.
Even so, the delay is a setback for Mr. Obama, who is on a 10-day, four-nation swing through Asia that he has promoted as a mission to boost the American economy and create jobs. He has made trade — and in particular, the doubling of American exports over the next five years — a centerpiece of his agenda, and it had been widely expected that he would leave here with a deal with the South Koreans in hand.
Negotiators worked furiously through the night to resolve the last-minute sticking points, and Mr. Obama and Mr. Lee spent two hours in private meetings on Thursday, part of that time alone.
The two leaders discussed the trade agreement for about 40 minutes, White House officials said, but did not negotiate specific points. Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative and chief negotiator, told reporters afterward that the United States remains committed to reaching what he described as a “compelling” deal to help the president achieve his goal of job growth and doubling exports over five years. “We think this free trade agreement can play a central role in that,” Mr. Kirk said, adding that it was “absolutely not” a setback for the president.
Mr. Kirk said American officials felt that the disparity in market access for the American auto industry “was one that we needed to address,” despite some “very productive” discussions between American and Korean officials over the last four days. Much of that time was spent discussing autos, he said.
The trade accord, an update of the one the Bush administration negotiated and signed in 2007 under so-called fast-track authority that has since expired, has languished in the Democratic Congress. Mr. Obama, though, has thrown his weight behind it — while calling for some technical modifications that would be more favorable to American automakers and industrial unions — and with Republicans soon to take control of the House of Representatives, he has a better chance of getting it through.
The announcement surprised close observers of the talks. Many had expected the two leaders to walk out with a deal in hand.
“It is disappointing, and it is incumbent on us to keep driving toward consensus. This is an opportunity that we can’t let lapse, for economic growth in our country and also for a long-term presence in the region, particularly as it relates to China,” said Representative Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican who had met the Korean foreign minister to discuss the trade accord.
“My impression was that a deal would come together at the very last minute. I am surprised.”
In Washington, Senator Max Baucus, the Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee, also expressed disappointment. “The U.S.-Korea F.T.A. has the potential to increase American exports and create American jobs,” he said. “Presidents Obama and Lee agreed in June to resolve the outstanding beef and autos issues by today’s G-20 summit so we could get this deal done.”
Mr. Obama is trying to repair frayed ties with the American business community, and the deal is a high priority of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Tom Donohue, has said he can round up the votes to get it approved.
In the three years since Mr. Bush negotiated the first free trade pact, other nations, including Australia and Canada, have implemented similar deals, and the chamber makes the case that the United States is falling behind.
“The landscape in Asia has changed,” said Tami Overby, vice president for Asia at the Chamber of Commerce, who is here monitoring the talks. “It’s much more competitive so I think the pressure on both sides to get this deal done is greater than ever.”
Ms. Overby said the negotiators had a “bumpy night,” but that was not uncommon. “It’s a very typical intense Korean negotiation, where things do tend to go very much to the last minute, so this is not really unexpected,” she said. “It’s a bit like déjà vu from the original negotiation.”
The biggest sticking point involves auto imports. In Washington, the Democratic leadership has been pushing forcefully for lower nontariff barriers to American exports of cars to South Korea, and for eased restrictions on American exports of beef, which has been a source of controversy since an outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003.
While the agreement would lower or eliminate tariffs on cars in both countries, the Obama administration pushed for further reductions in other barriers like emissions, mileage and safety requirements and tax and insurance rules.
“If we can reach the standard for a fair trade agreement that the president has set out on particularly autos, we will move forward,” Jen Psaki, deputy White House press secretary who is traveling with Mr. Obama. “ We hope to continue making progress.”
Automakers are complaining that the South Koreans want to impose onerous fuel efficiency standards — stricter than those required in the United States — as a back-door way of keeping American cars out of South Korea.
Last week, the Ford Motor Company, the only Detroit automaker to survive the economic downturn without resorting to a government bailout, placed newspaper ads calling the deal unfair. Ford said it had backed every free-trade agreement approved by Congress since 1965 but said it could not do so for this one.
The American activist group Public Citizen has also questioned the benefits of the deal, saying that in the short term it could cost as many or more jobs as would be created.
Supporters say the deal would boost growth in both countries and solidify a longstanding alliance.
“South Korea has been our most reliable Asian ally since the Vietnam War, and Washington has not done enough to recognize that in the recent past,” said Donald P. Gregg, who was the American ambassador here from 1989 to 1993, under President George H.W. Bush.
The talks have been going on at a high level since last week, when top trade negotiators from both countries began meeting. They were joined on Monday by Mr. Kirk and his Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-hoon.
Congressional staff have also been included, as have three members of Congress: Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii; Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, and Mr. Roskam.
Trade is a tough sell at home, especially during tough economic times in hard-hit manufacturing communities where workers tend to view trade pacts as drawing American jobs overseas. A survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found substantial skepticism about trade deals like the North American Free trade Agreement the policies of the World Trade Organization. The poll found that 35 percent of adults said that free-trade agreements had been good for the United States, while 44 percent said they had been bad.
While most Americans say that increased trade with Canada, Japan and European Union countries — as well as India, Brazil and Mexico — would be good for the United States, reactions to increased trade with South Korea and China were more mixed, according to the survey, conducted Nov. 4-7 among 1,255 adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percent.
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agreed with the Tea Party movement had a particularly negative view of the impact of free trade agreements, the poll found.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1838 on: Nov 11th, 2010, 08:37am »
New York Times
November 10, 2010 Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — The chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt outlined a politically provocative and economically ambitious package of spending cuts and tax increases on Wednesday, igniting a debate that is likely to grip the country for years.
The plan calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending, a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax, limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security.
Those changes and others, none of which would take effect before 2012 to avoid undermining the tepid economic recovery, would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says, and stabilize the accumulated debt.
“It’s time to lay it out on the table and let the American people start to chew on it,” said Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader who is one of the co-chairmen, along with Erskine B. Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
Their outline will be the basis for negotiation within the commission, which has a Dec. 1 deadline for submitting a final plan. It represents a challenge to both parties: to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, to show in the wake of the midterm election that they are serious about their pledges to address long-term deficits, and to Republicans, who for the most part have ruled out consideration of tax increases even as they have promised new adherence to fiscal responsibility.
Liberal groups immediately condemned the plan when news of it broke, for its Social Security and Medicare changes and for the scope of the spending cuts. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in a statement called it “simply unacceptable.”
The furor on the left was not matched — yet — by a similar outcry from the right to the draft’s proposed revenue increases, cuts to the military or other options.
The plan has many elements with the potential to draw intense political fire. It lays out options for overhauling the tax code that include limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. It envisions cutting Pentagon weapons programs and paring back almost all domestic programs.
The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.
But the plan would not count Social Security savings toward the overall deficit-reduction goal that Mr. Obama set for fiscal year 2015, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to help balance the nation’s books.
Mr. Obama created the commission last February in the hope it would provide political cover for bold action against deficits in 2011. His stance now, in the wake of his party’s drubbing, will go a long way toward telling whether he tacks to the political center — by embracing such proposals — or shifts to the left and leaves them on a shelf.
For Republicans, the chairmen’s proposals and a similar report coming next week from a private bipartisan group will challenge their contention that the budget can be balanced by spending cuts alone. That is a claim that many conservative economists and budget analysts reject, given the scale of projected debt as the baby boom generation retires and begins claiming costly federal benefits, after a severe recession.
Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson said their plan was “a starting point” as members of the commission met behind closed doors to consider it.
That was clear from the initial reactions of the members, nine of them Democrats, seven Republicans. None embraced the package and several made clear they would not support it without big changes.
“I think every member of the commission would agree that this is not the plan,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, who is perhaps the panel’s most liberal member.
The group had made no decisions before the midterm elections, to avoid politicizing the painful options. Even so, the election results — by emboldening victorious antitax conservatives and having led to the defeat of many fiscally conservative Congressional Democrats — are widely seen as having reduced the already slim chance that a supermajority of the commission could agree to a package of proposals by Dec. 1.
Under Mr. Obama’s executive order creating the panel of 12 members of Congress and six private citizens, 14 of the 18 commissioners must agree in order to send any package to Congress for a vote in December. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and Ms. Pelosi, who will remain the speaker until January, have promised in writing that the Senate would vote first and, if it approves a plan, the House would vote.
“I think it’s possible” that 14 members will agree, said Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Oklahoma Republican who worked closely with the chairmen on proposed reductions from the military and in so-called tax expenditures, the myriad tax breaks for individuals and businesses that cost more than $1 trillion a year. “You don’t know until you see what the final plan is.”
In five hours of deliberations on Wednesday, the commission did not discuss the plan’s particulars much but instead talked at length about whether a lame-duck Congress would have time to write specific legislation and then vote, members said in interviews. It was unclear, they said, whether that was a sign other members thought the commission actually could reach agreement, or whether they were hiding behind concerns about legislative procedures to avoid tough policy decisions.
“At least people stayed in the room,” Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview, recalling his concerns and others’ that Republicans would walk out if taxes were on the table and Democrats if Social Security and other spending programs were.
Right now the biggest issue facing the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend the Bush-era income tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31, for all taxpayers, as Republicans want, or for income below $250,000, as Mr. Obama and Democrats want. The Bowles-Simpson plan includes one option that assumes only the lower-income rates are extended and another that ends all Bush tax rates and replaces the tax code with simpler, lower rates and many fewer tax breaks.
Extending all the Bush tax cuts through 2020 would add more than $4 trillion to the debt — coincidentally, about the same amount that the chairmen’s painful options are designed to cut in the same time frame.
Their proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks — including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments — so that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under one option, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent for the lowest income bracket (it is now 10 percent) and to 23 percent for the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would be reduced to as low as 26 percent.
But how low the rates are set would depend on how many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. Some of them, including the mortgage interest deduction and the exemption from taxes for employees’ health benefits, are political sacred cows.
The 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax would rise by 15 cents between 2013 and 2015 so that transportation spending no longer requires money from the general treasury.
The plan would cut $2 from spending for every $1 in new revenues. Total spending would be about 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, and revenues would be held to 21 percent.
Cuts in annual discretionary spending, domestic and military, would be the largest in recent decades. Farm subsidies would be reduced. To further reduce growth in the fast-growing entitlement programs, the plan would expand on the hard-won Medicare cost savings in Mr. Obama’s health care law. And it would limit malpractice awards, long a Republican goal.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1839 on: Nov 11th, 2010, 08:39am »
Osama bin Laden appoints new commander to spearhead war on West
By Praveen Swami, Diplomatic Editor 10:00PM GMT 10 Nov 2010
Known to western intelligence services by the alias Saif al-Adel, or "Sword of the Just", al-Qaeda's new chief of international operations is believed to have conceived of the wave of strikes that set off terror alerts across Europe recently, as well as last week's mid-air parcel-bomb plot.
US and Pakistani sources have told The Daily Telegraph that al-Adel is running several similar operations as part of a war of attrition intended to persuade Western public opinion that the war against terror is unwinnable. This would clear the road for al-Qaeda to capture power in fragile states such as Somalia and Yemen.
"His strategy", said Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani expert on al-Qaeda, "is to stage multiple small terror operations, using the resources of affiliates and allies wherever possible."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1840 on: Nov 11th, 2010, 08:43am »
New York auction houses smash records with $1 billion autumn sales The contemporary and post-war art auction in New York has closed with another record sale – Roy Lichtenstein’s “Ohhh ... Alright” for $42.6 million (£26.4 million), taking the combined autumn sales to over $1 billion.
11:44AM GMT 11 Nov 2010
The combined sales at Christie’s, Sotherby’s and Phillips de Pury auction houses topped $1 billion worth of Impressionist, modern and post-war art during a period of continued economic uncertainty.
Lichtenstein’s cartoon style painting from 1964 was sold by Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn to an anonymous telephone bidder at Christie’s.
93 per cent of the 75 lots on offer at the unusually large sale found buyers, four works sold for more than $12 million, and 11 artists set new records.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1841 on: Nov 11th, 2010, 08:47am »
Navy’s Superlaser Is More Than a Weapon By Spencer Ackerman November 10, 2010 | 7:00 am | Categories: Navy
The Navy is increasingly excited about building a superpowerful laser to shoot down missiles and rockets that might attack its ships. But don’t expect the long-planned Free Electron Laser weapon to replace the guns the Navy stations on its ships — or to be shipboard for years. And definitely expect the laser to do more than just zap stuff out of the sky.
Sure, everyone wants a “death ray,” as the Navy’s chief of research, Rear Admiral Nevin Carr, put it yesterday. But the program manager at the Office of Naval Research for the Free Electron Laser, Quentin Saulter, tells Danger Room that the Navy is looking at “multiple uses, not a single use” for its “Holy Grail” of lasers. And that might lighten the laser’s energy burden.
What would the laser do when it’s not trying to blast a missile out of the sky? “It can be used as a sensor,” Saulter says in an interview during the Office of Naval Research’s science and technology conference in Virginia. “It can be used as a tracker… It can enable kinetic kill systems to be more precise. It can be used for location, time-of-flight location, information exchange, can be used for communications, it can be used for target designation, it can be used for disruption.”
Of course, spending hundreds of millions on another laser tracker might raise eyebrows. But this laser isn’t like others. All lasers work by using energy to charge atoms into generating and then focusing light, requiring a medium — some use crystals, others use chemicals — to filter that light into powerful beams along a particular wavelength. But the Free Electron Laser uses supercharged electron streams to operate along multiple wavelengths, making it more powerful.
Little wonder the Navy’s embarked on an open-ended, $163 million project to develop one into a weapon. Last September, it gave Boeing $26 million task order to develop a prototype design for the laser — the company completed a preliminary design in March — that’ll deliver by early 2012. If it works, the Navy will be on its way to a speed-of-light weapon aboard its ships that won’t have to reload, since it’ll rely on a ship’s energy source for powering up. Not a bad thing if you’re worried about a cruise missile slamming into your hull.
But that’s still a big if. Boeing’s design has to generate the 100 kilowatts of energy generally considered to be military grade. The Free Electron Laser at the Department of Energy’s Jefferson Lab in Virginia generates only 14 kilowatts. Particles in the air like condensation can reduce the potency of even a free-electron laser — and there’s a lot of condensation in sea air. And 100 kilowatts is pretty much the entry level to weaponize a free-electron laser. It’s going to need a lot more power to take down powerful projectiles like the huge “carrier killer anti-ship ballistic missile the Chinese are developing. And how much power will it require from ships, especially now that the Navy leadership is trying to get half its energy from alternative fuels by 2020?
Saulter isn’t sweating it. “All lasers are inefficient users of energy,” he says. Right now, the model at use at Jefferson uses an oscillator, with energy stored up in its cavity, and runs at 10 percent efficiency. He’s “99.99 percent confident” the Free Electron Laser can get to 100 kilowatts: Boeing will have to improve efficiency or pump ten times more power into it. The same applies to scale up its energy output.
That should be an easy energy burden to shoulder, Saulter figures. “One Naval generator, on all the ships they’re planning on building in their more-electric fleet capacity, can put up to two megawatts of power,” he continues. “Of course, the Navy plans on having more than one generator on its vessels… 100 kilowatts is not a power constraint for a naval weapons system for an FEL. It is something that is doable today for a hundred-kilowatt system.”
But use the laser for something other than burning a missile out of the sky, and the required energy dose drops. “Being that there are multiple different types of ways to protect” a ship — using the laser as a targeting system for on-board guns or a sensor, for instance — “means that not all things require 100 kilowatts. Maybe some of those waves only require 1 kilowatt. Maybe some of those waves only require only 50 watts.”
Development is to take place at Boeing’s directed-energy labs in Albuquerque, with additional research taking place at the national laboratories at Argonne, Los Alamos and Brookhaven; the Naval Postgraduate School; Yale and other locations. It’ll be years before shipboard tests can even take place, let alone getting it out into the fleet.
But for now, the Office of Naval Research wants you to stop thinking of the laser as just a zapper. “If you were to develop a car, you would want your car to go from zero to 100,” Saulter says. “You wouldn’t want to turn your car on and immediately go to 100… The way that we think of defense and protecting our people is to have layers of capability to ensure the protection of our people before we ask them to go into harm’s way.” He pauses, grinning. “We still want the car to go to 100, though.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1842 on: Nov 11th, 2010, 08:51am »
Novel Type of Magnetic Wave Discovered: Findings Could Improve Wiring in National Electrical Grid Systems ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 2010)
A team of international researchers led by physicists in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering has made a significant breakthrough in an effort to understand the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity in complex copper oxides.
The University of Minnesota researchers and their international colleagues from Germany, France and China report the discovery of a novel type of magnetic wave involving oxygen atoms. The new findings could have implications for improving superconducting electric wires used in national electrical grids.
The study by lead author Martin Greven, an associate professor in the university's School of Physics and Astronomy, is published in the Nov. 11 issue of Nature together with a "News and Views" introduction. The research is also scheduled to be highlighted in the journal Science.
"Following the Nobel-Prize winning discovery of high-temperature superconductivity in complex copper-oxide materials in the mid 1980s, the effort to understand this phenomenon has been one of the major scientific challenges in the field of physics for the past quarter century, with more than 100,000 publications on the topic," Greven said.
"While the commercialization of these complex copper-oxide materials, in the form of superior electric wires, has recently begun, physicists have not yet been able to solve the mystery of why these exotic materials are superconducting in the first place. The materials' unusual magnetism is often argued to be responsible for their superconductivity," Greven added.
In their experiments, the researchers bombarded the copper-oxide crystals with intense beams of neutrons. The neutrons themselves are magnetic, and by carefully measuring how these particles are scattered from the crystals, the research team was able to show the existence of unusual magnetic waves involving oxygen atoms.
"We believe that our discovery sheds new light on this hotly debated subject of superconductivity," Greven said.
Other members of the research team include two of Greven's former Ph.D. students, Guichuan Yu, University of Minnesota, School of Physics and Astronomy, and Yuan Li, now at the Max Planck Institute, Stuttgart, Germany; V. Balédent , Y. Sidis and P. Bourges, Laboratoire Léon Brillouin, Gif sur Yvette, France; N. Bariši, Physikalisches Institut, Universitat Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany; K. Hradil, Institut fur Physikalisches Chemie, Universitat Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany; R.A. Mole, Forschungsneutronenquelle Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, Garching, Germany; P. Steffens, Institut Laue Langevin, France; and X. Zhao State Key Lab of Inorganic Synthesis and Preparative Chemistry, College of Chemistry, Jilin University, Changchun, China.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1844 on: Nov 12th, 2010, 08:02am »
New York Times
November 12, 2010 Traveling in Asia, Obama’s Glow Dims By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
SEOUL, South Korea — Foreign leaders couldn’t seem to get enough of President Obama when he arrived on the world stage two years ago. They brought copies of his memoir to global conferences seeking his autograph. They angled for handshakes and “bilats” — diplomatic jargon for a one-on-one meeting, or bilateral. They maneuvered to get next to him in photo opportunities.
Now the glow has worn off. So when the heads of state convened this week for the Group of 20 conference — a gathering marked by disputes over currency and global trade imbalances between the United States and its allies — wrapped up here on Friday, they were not shy about putting Mr. Obama on the defensive.
“It’s not just a function of personal charm,” the president said Friday, at a news conference wrapping up the session. “It’s a function of countries’ interests and seeing if we can work through to align them.”
The question of whether Mr. Obama had lost his diplomatic touch was a running thread through the news conference. When a reporter asked what kind of complaints he was hearing from fellow leaders about the United States, Mr. Obama laughed it off, asking, “What about compliments?” He said other world leaders are pushing back against the United States because “we’re initiating ideas.” As to whether the mid-term elections at home have weakened him overseas, he served up a one-word answer: No.
Before leaving Washington for a 10-day diplomatic tour of Asia that he has characterized as an economic mission, Mr. Obama conceded his relationship with the American people has come down from an “incredible high” and gotten “rockier and tougher” as time went on. But he said the same is not true of his relations with foreign leaders.
“When I first came into office people might have been interested in more photo ops because there had been a lot of hoopla surrounding my election,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he now has a “genuine friendship” with a raft of world leaders — though “that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be differences.”
He ticked off those on the “genuine friendship” list: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan of Turkey and President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea. Then, perhaps reluctant to offend the leader of a rival country, Mr. Obama threw out another name: President Hu Jintao of China, whose clashes with the president over currency policy have drawn headlines here.
“It wasn’t any easier to talk about currency when I had just been elected and my poll numbers were at 65 percent than it is now,” Mr. Obama said. “It was hard then and it is now.”
Mr. Obama is nearing the end of his trip, which has produced mixed results. In India, he won praise for reframing the relationship between that nation and the United States by lifting restrictions on exports of sensitive technologies and backing India’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. His stop in Indonesia was a sentimental homecoming; Mr. Obama lived there as a boy.
But Mr. Obama stumbled here in Seoul. He failed to seal a deal with President Lee on a long-awaited free trade agreement, a serious setback for a president who has made doubling exports a centerpiece of his economic agenda. And his plan to even out global trade imbalances ran into resistance from President Hu and Chancellor Merkel, among others. Mr. Obama chalked it up to international muscle-flexing.
“The United States, obviously, has a special role to play on the international stage, regardless of who is President,” Mr. Obama said. “We are a very large, very wealthy, very powerful country. We have had outsized influence over world affairs for a century now. And you are now seeing a situation in which a whole host of other countries are doing very well and coming into their own, and naturally they are going to be more assertive in terms of their interests and ideas. And that’s a healthy thing.”
Mr. Obama lamented the “search for drama” in disagreement at such summits.
“Part of the reason that sometimes it seems as if the United States is attracting some dissent is because we’re initiating ideas,” he said, “And some countries pushed back.”
By the time 45 minutes had passed, Mr. Obama seemed eager to end the news conference and get on to his next stop: Yokohama, Japan, where he is to attend yet another conference, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. As a president with his own plane, Air Force One, Mr. Obama controls his own schedule. But he cut short his final questioner.
“I’m late for my flight,” the president explained.