Friday, May 25, 2012

Sustainability and austerity news from Reuters yesterday


While I figure out something more original to post, here are the sustainability and austerity stories I included in Tonight's top news from Reuters, which I intended to be a replacement edition of Overnight News Digest, but ended up posting as a comment to someone else's edition. As usual, I was able to find lots of stories about the interplay between sustainability and austerity, which I see as the main theme of our times.

General Sustainability

Los Angeles to become largest U.S. city to ban plastic bags
By Mary Slossen
Wed May 23, 2012 6:56pm EDT
(Reuters) - The Los Angeles City Council voted on Wednesday to ban the use of plastic bags in grocery stores, setting the stage to become the largest American city to date to implement such a measure.

The 13-1 vote kicks off a process that will include a four-month environmental review, a second vote to formally adopt an ordinance, and a six-month grace period for the roughly 7,500 grocers within the limits of the second-largest U.S. city.

Smaller grocers will have 12 months to phase out the bags.
This is another story like L.A. Subway on Daily Kos, an encouraging piece of news about my old home town becoming more sustainable. It's also one that I've already used in my environmental science class where one of the projects my students worked on was a life cycle analysis of grocery bags. Ah, serendipity.

Environment, including science

Rocker Ted Nugent shoots one black bear too many
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska | Tue Apr 24, 2012 6:13pm EDT
(Reuters) - Rock musician and conservative activist Ted Nugent pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal wildlife violation after he failed to track down and kill a black bear he wounded with bow and arrow in Alaska during filming for his reality television show three years ago.

Nugent, 63, pleaded guilty by telephone in U.S. District Court in Ketchikan, Alaska to a single misdemeanor count of violating an environmental protection law, his attorney Wayne Anthony Ross said.

Under a plea deal filed in court Friday and approved at Tuesday's hearing, Nugent agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, be forbidden from hunting in Alaska or any U.S. national forest for a year and to serve two years' probation.

The sentence also requires Nugent to film a public service announcement about responsible hunting to air at least every other week for a year, and to pay $600 in restitution to the state of Alaska.
LOL, Ted Nugent, stochastic terrorist.

Winds, heat hamper fight to contain Southwest wildfires
By Tim Gaynor, Jennifer Dobson, and Mary Slosson
LAS VEGAS | Thu May 24, 2012 12:08am EDT
(Reuters) - Fire crews hampered by wind gusts and the driest conditions in two decades in the U.S. Southwest made slow gains on Wednesday battling dangerous forest and brush fires, including a wildfire in Nevada that doubled in size overnight and destroyed 17 buildings and two homes.

Blazes in rugged, mountainous areas of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have forced the evacuation of several small towns and torched more than 85 square miles (220 square km) of forest, brush and grass in the past two weeks.

No deaths or injuries have been reported in the fires, authorities said.
It's awful early in the year for wildfires like this. Climate change, anyone?

Scientists turn skin cells into beating heart muscle
Tue May 22, 2012 7:05pm EDT
* Skin reprogrammed into stem cells to try to mend hearts
* New heart cells able to integrate with existing tissue
* Many years' work ahead before clinical trials could start

By Kate Kelland
LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) - Scientists have for the first time succeeded in taking skin cells from patients with heart failure and transforming them into healthy, beating heart tissue that could one day be used to treat the condition.

The researchers, based in Haifa, Israel, said there were still many years of testing and refining ahead. But the results meant they might eventually be able to reprogram patients' cells to repair their own damaged hearts.

"We have shown that it's possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young - the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born," said Lior Gepstein from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who led the work.
Not really sustainability or austerity, but cool science that I couldn't pass up.

Society, including culture and politics

Next, two stories about national security, which I consider to be a sustainability issue.

Russia tests new missile, in warning over U.S. shield
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW | Wed May 23, 2012 4:39pm EDT
(Reuters) - Russia tested a new long-range missile on Wednesday that should improve its ability to penetrate missile defense systems, the military said, in Moscow's latest warning to Washington over deployment of a missile shield in Europe.

The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) was successfully launched from the Plesetsk facility in northwestern Russia and its dummy warhead landed on target on the Kamchatka peninsula on the Pacific coast, the Defense Ministry said.

The new missile is expected to improve Russia's offensive arsenal, "including by increasing the capability to overcome missile defense systems that are being created", the ministry said in a statement.
Pakistani doctor jailed for helping CIA find bin Laden
By Ibrahim Shinwari and Jibran Ahmad
PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Wed May 23, 2012 4:00pm EDT
(Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have sentenced a doctor accused of helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden to 33 years in jail on charges of treason, officials said, a move almost certain to further strain ties between Washington and Islamabad.

Shakil Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that is believed to have helped the American intelligence agency track down bin Laden in a Pakistani town.
"Dr Shakil has been sentenced to 33 years imprisonment and a fine of 320,000 Pakistani rupees ($3,477)," said Mohammad Nasir, a government official in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where the jail term will be served. He gave no further details.
Time to lead into the next section, with stories about austerity and coping with it.

EU urges Greece to stay in euro, plans for possible exit
By Claire Davenport and Luke Baker
BRUSSELS | Wed May 23, 2012 9:39pm EDT
(Reuters) - European Union leaders, advised by senior officials to prepare contingency plans in case Greece decides to quit the single currency, urged the country to stay the course on austerity and complete the reforms demanded under its bailout program.

After nearly six hours of talks held during an informal dinner, leaders said they were committed to Greece remaining in the euro zone, but it had to stick to its side of the bargain too, a commitment that will mean a heavy cost for Greeks.

"We want Greece to stay in the euro, but we insist that Greece sticks to commitments that it has agreed to," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after a Wednesday evening summit in Brussels dragged long into the night.
The governments' man when creditors bay
By Daniel Bases
NEW YORK | Wed May 23, 2012 1:02am EDT
(Reuters) - If any other European countries were to follow Greece into a debt default, Athens can recommend a lawyer.

Lee Buchheit crafted the restructuring deal that cut Greek debt by 100 billion euros and inflicted huge losses on bondholders in March.

Over the last 30 years, presidents and finance ministers have turned to Buchheit, 61, more than any other lawyer to help call off creditors when their governments run out of money.

His clients love him because he can help wipe away billions of dollars of debt. His legal opponents - bond investors, some of them so-called vulture funds - hate him for the same reason.
The next story is both a cause as well as an effect of austerity in addition to being a national security story. I have my reasons for putting it here instead of next to the one about Pakistan.

Special Report: Mexico's Zetas rewrite drug war in blood
By Ioan Grillo
VALLECILLO, Mexico | Wed May 23, 2012 10:11am EDT
(Reuters) - Mexican government forces had bottled up a band of enemy fighters in this tiny village late last year, but feared they would escape into the dusty, rock-strewn hills. So more than 600 soldiers and federal police closed in from all directions with armored Humvees and helicopters.

The outlaws responded with a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault-rifle fire, tearing apart one federal police vehicle. For three days the fighting raged.

In the end, according to military accounts of the battle, 22 members of the Zetas drug cartel, two police officers and a soldier were dead, and 20 Zetas were in custody. Dozens more escaped to fight another day.
Despite the news, most of Mexico is relatively safe, as I can attest first hand. There will be more on this topic in the next section.

Economy, including technology

Mexico seeks new tourists despite drug wars
By Victoria Bryan
FRANKFURT | Wed May 23, 2012 2:59pm EDT
(Reuters) - Mexico is relying on travelers from countries like Russia and Brazil to boost its tourism numbers this year after the drug war plaguing the country deterred U.S. visitors, its largest source of tourists.

The number of international tourists arriving on flights is expected to rise between 9 and 10 percent this year from the 22.7 million in 2011, Tourism Minister Gloria Guevara told Reuters in an interview in Frankfurt.

"We are diversifying by promoting culture and gastronomy and broadening the base of nationalities who visit," she said. "Before we were too dependent on the U.S., and sun and sand."
Culture and gastronomy--yes, those make for great selling points.

Now for private sector austerity in the U.S.

HP to lay off 27,000, profit slides 31 percent
By Poornima Gupta
SAN FRANCISCO | Wed May 23, 2012 8:57pm EDT
(Reuters) - Hewlett Packard Co plans to lay off roughly 27,000 employees or about 8 percent of its workforce over the next couple of years to jumpstart growth and save up to $3.5 billion annually, sending its shares 11 percent higher.

The company said the layoffs would be made mainly through early retirement and would generate annual savings of $3 billion to $3.5 billion as it exits fiscal year 2014, when the layoffs are expected to the completed.

The world's No. 1 personal computer maker, which employs more than 300,000 people globally, also said on Wednesday that it had a 31 percent decline in second-quarter profit and a 3 percent decline in revenue, compared with a year ago.

The results, however, were better than Wall Street expectations.
Shareholders sue Facebook, NYSE comes calling
By Jonathan Stempel and Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO | Wed May 23, 2012 9:55pm EDT
(Reuters) - The fallout from Facebook Inc's messy initial public offering widened on Wednesday as shareholders sued the social network and its bankers while a trading firm revealed a massive loss on the shares and threatened to seek "remedies."

The Nasdaq stock exchange also came under further pressure as a source close to the situation told Reuters that NYSE Euronext had opened discussions with Facebook about a potential stock listing there. Nasdaq also faces litigation from angry investors.

Facebook's listing, envisioned as a crowning moment for an eight-year-old company that has become a business and cultural phenomenon, has instead turned into a legal and public relations fiasco for the company and its lead underwriter, Morgan Stanley.
Speaking of Facebook, here is some more fail that really belongs under society, I couldn't resist putting here.  Oh, wait, this section is also about technology. It really does belong right here.

Florida student pleads guilty to threat on Obama's life
By Tom Brown
MIAMI | Wed May 23, 2012 7:09pm EDT
(Reuters) - A college student pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to threatening in a Facebook post to kill President Barack Obama by putting "a bullet through his head."

Joaquin Amador Serrapio, 20, had pleaded not guilty after his arrest by Secret Service agents in February. He changed his plea after accepting what his lawyer Alan Ross said was an offer from prosecutors.

"He was really stupid, really stupid," said Ross. He said that Serrapio never intended to make good on his threats, which were posted on Facebook under the assumed name "Jay Valor."

Finally, a story that loops back into society and general sustainability.

Fame does not always bring fortune, records show
By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON | Wed May 23, 2012 9:25am EDT
(Reuters) - Welsh poet Dylan Thomas left a pittance when he died, Winston Churchill bequeathed a small fortune to his wife Clementine and "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" author Beatrix Potter gave almost all her land to the nation.

Britain's wartime prime minister left nearly 4.8 million pounds ($7.5 million) in today's money to his beloved "Cat", while the dipsomaniacal Dylan had just 2,300 pounds to leave the long-suffering Caitlin when he died in New York, according to data compiled by family history website

The records are just a few snippets from the online release of six million probate records from 1942 to 1966, which form part of the England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1858-1966.
And that's it from the news from Reuters.

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