Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sustainability news from commercial sources for Mother's Day Weekend 2012

Following are the sustainbility-related stories I included in Overnight News Digest (Mother's Day fill-in edition) on Daily Kos, along with stories posted in the comments to that diary and the comments to Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Total Recall and Marriage Equality edition). If it weren't for the comments, I'd have had no environmental stories at all from commercial sources; all of those were from universities on the campaign trail, and will show up in a post of their own. Thank you, Magnifico on Daily Kos!

General Sustainability

Reuters: Saudi says $100 per barrel great price for oil By Rebekah Kebede and Simon Webb ADELAIDE | Sun May 13, 2012 1:04am EDT
Top crude exporter Saudi Arabia wants an oil price of around $100 a barrel and would like to see global inventories rise before demand picks up in the second half of the year, Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said on Sunday.

International Brent crude settled at $112.26 on Friday, well off a peak of over $128 in March. Brent has mostly traded above $100 since early 2011, keeping fuel costs high and threatening to damage a fragile global economy.

"We want a price around $100, that's what we want," Naimi told reporters ahead of an industry event in Australia. "A $100 price is great."
Last I checked, West Texas Intermediate was just above $90/barrel, a record low for the year so far.

In other oil-related news...

Washington Post: Iran, unable to sell oil, stores it on tankers By Joby Warrick and Steven Mufson, Published: May 13
Increasingly hard-pressed to find buyers for its petroleum, Iran has been routinely switching off satellite tracking systems on its sea-bound oil tankers for more than a month, in what U.S. officials and industry analysts describe as a cat-and-mouse game with Western governments seeking to enforce sanctions on Iranian exports.

The unusual tactic was begun in early April and affects a quarter of Iran’s tanker fleet, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has been monitoring the practice. The move, a violation of maritime law, is only modestly effective in cloaking 1,000-foot-long tankers as they ply the oceans in search of open ports and willing buyers. But it underscores Iran’s precarious position as it faces ever-tighter Western restrictions against its oil industry, which provides the bulk of export and government revenue.

Hobbled by sanctions against its banks and a growing international boycott of its petroleum, Iran is seeing its revenue sag while its oil sits in storage depots and floats in tankers with nowhere to go, U.S. security officials and diplomats say.
Environment, including science

Merco Press (Uruguay): Sightings of blue whales in the south of Chile has grown significantly The number of blue whales sighted in the south of Chile increased significantly this austral summer as the cetacean approached the area to feed on the rich waters of the south Pacific according to a scientific report from the Austral University Blue Whale Centre released this week. Saturday, May 12th 2012 - 09:14 UTC
“Even when the largest mammal on earth is still in the endangered species list, we’ve sighted around 115 groups of these cetaceans just a few miles off the coast from Valdivia”, said Rodrigo Hucke and Jorge Ruiz, responsible for the report which is basically a monitoring of the whales in the rich in nutrients waters of the Chilo√© archipelago.

“What we are finding out is that as we move further north in our prospecting, the feeding area of the blue whales is far larger than we thought, we’re talking of 600 kilometres of lineal coast along which the whales feed”, added Huckle.
Good news and it's not a suppository. On the other hand, this isn't.

Time: Global Warming: An Exclusive Look at James Hansen’s Scary New Math A new analysis by the NASA climatologist for the first time ties specific weather events to human-induced climate change By Paul Tullis May 10, 2012
How can NASA physicist and climatologist James E. Hansen, writing in the New York Times today, “say with high confidence” that recent heat waves in Texas and Russia “were not natural events” but actually “caused by human-induced climate change”?
Hansen’s shot across the bow this morning indicates that the unwillingness to point fingers may be changing. According to a peer-reviewed paper Hansen has submitted to a leading scientific journal and made available to prior to publication, scientists can now state “with a high degree of confidence” that some extremely high temperatures are in fact caused by global warming, simply because they occur much more frequently than they used to. (A preliminary draft of the article is available here.)

Hansen’s reasoning has to do with math. Statisticians employ standard deviation to measure variability; it’s the calculation pollsters use to determine margin of error, and it’s especially valuable when looking at the weather. Perfect distribution of standard deviation is graphed as the familiar bell curve; about two-thirds of the time, data points fall in the middle of the bell — or within one standard deviation of the mean...
And now, into the political... The Guardian (UK): Petition calls on Brazilian president to veto 'catastrophic' forest code More than 1.5 million people have petitioned Dilma Rousseff to reject a bill that may lead to further destruction of the Amazon John Vidal and Damian Carrington, Friday 11 May 2012 07.38 EDT
More than 1.5 million people in Europe, the US and elsewhere have petitioned the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, to veto a law that critics say could lead to the loss of 220,000 square kilometres of Amazonian rainforest, an area close to the combined size of the UK and France.

The proposed new Brazilian forest code, pushed through parliament by the powerful farming lobby in the face of national opposition, would provide an amnesty for landowners who have illegally cleared forests in the past and will allow deforestation in previously protected areas like mountain tops and beside rivers. According to environment groups, it could allow loggers to chop down more of the Amazon than has been possible in the last 50 years.

The president, who has the right to veto the bill, has been bombarded with emails, petitions and by social media appeals by more than 1.5 million people. This number is expected to rise dramatically in the next few days as Greenpeace, Avaaz and WWF International ask their 22 million supporters to sign up.
And social...

The Guardian (UK): How rational is America? The home of conspiracy theories, creationism and climate scepticism is also a scientific powerhouse. Neil Denny is on a road trip to explore this contradiction Friday 11 May 2012
I've been an atheist as long as I can remember, and have been an observer of the UK sceptical movement for the best part of a decade. Having been introduced to that movement via the American version, I'm interested in the contrasts between sceptical and atheist campaigns in the UK and the US.

There is a familiar cliché in the UK media of an overtly religious, backward-looking, anti-intellectual and anti-science America, an America under sustained attack from the forces of irrationality.

It's true that professing atheism in America is still considered to be a brave and transgressive act. American sceptics, atheists, scientists and science educators are engaged in numerous battles. Creationists continue to push for the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside evolution in science classes. Campaigners fight to protect the right to legal and safe abortion, for the use of stem cells in medical research, and against the growing anti-vaccination movement.

At the same time conspiracy theories about a wide range of events from 9/11 to the moon landings remain widespread, and climate change denial continues to be a significant political force. Yet it remains a fact that America was founded on explicitly Enlightenment principles, is a bona fide secular state, will remain for the foreseeable future the number one country for science research in the world and contains a significant proportion of the world's top-rated universities. This contradiction has always interested me.
Looks like an interesting series with potential.

Society, including culture and politics

Reuters: For women prisoners, a bittersweet Mother's Day behind bars By Mary Slosson CHINO, California | Sun May 13, 2012 7:00pm EDT
On a recent Saturday morning, hundreds of sleepy children tumbled out of buses and into a dusty jail parking lot in southern California to pay a rare visit to their mothers in prison.

A hundred feet (Thirty meters) away, behind two tall barbed wire fences at the California Institute for Women, stood a cluster of women clad in blue cotton prison garb. They anxiously craned their necks and stood on tip-toes for a glimpse of their kids, some of whom had come to the prison roughly 90 minutes by bus from south central Los Angeles.

Then came the moment of reunification - mothers jumping up and down excitedly, shouting "hi baby, give me a hug," with tears in their eyes as they embrace their children, some for the first time in years.
I used this as the lead story for Overnight News Digest (Mother's Day fill-in edition). Not here, as the emphasis is different.

And now, a block of news about President Obama.

Reuters: Weary warriors favor Obama By Margot Roosevelt COLUMBIA, South Carolina | Sun May 13, 2012 3:01am EDT
Disaffection with the politics of shock and awe runs deep among men and women who have served in the military during the past decade of conflict. Only 32 percent think the war in Iraq ended successfully, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. And far more of them would pull out of Afghanistan than continue military operations there.

While the 2012 campaign today is dominated by economic and domestic issues, military concerns could easily jump to the fore. Nearly 90,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Israeli politicians and their U.S. supporters debate over whether to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities as partisans bicker over proposed Pentagon budget cuts.
If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population.
WXYZ-TV: Detroit Police Officers Honored By Obama

Reuters: Batman, Spider-man, Iron Man guard Obama at fundraiser By Edith Honan NEW YORK | Sat May 12, 2012 4:28pm EDT

At George Clooney's celebrity-studded fundraiser for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, the joke of the night was that the Secret Service was backed up by Batman, Spider-Man and the Iron Man - or at least the actors who played them.

Karen Blutcher, who won a lottery to attend the fundraiser after contributing $14, described the dinner on Thursday night as the opportunity of a lifetime.
Followed by general political news. Reuters: Connecticut, Wisconsin parties consider Senate nominees By Ebong Udoma and Brendan O'Brien Sun May 13, 2012 12:54am EDT
The Connecticut Democratic convention on Saturday endorsed Congressman Christopher Murphy for an open U.S. Senate seat, but former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson failed to win the Republican party convention endorsement in that state.

With long-serving senators in Wisconsin and Connecticut retiring, those Senate seats more vulnerable to switching parties in November's general elections that will determine whether Republicans take back control of the Senate from Democrats.

The straw votes at the party conventions on Saturday were not the final decisions, and both states will hold primary elections in August. But the endorsement of state party conventions can give a candidate momentum in the campaign.
Reuters: Top aide to Florida governor resigns amid scrutiny By Michael Peltier ST. PETERSBURG, Florida | Sun May 13, 2012 2:28pm EDT
A top aide to Florida Governor Rick Scott has resigned after a recent flurry of media reports focused on his alleged steering of state government contracts to longtime acquaintances or friends.

Steve MacNamara, Scott's chief of staff and a seasoned Tallahassee insider, sent a letter of resignation to the governor on Saturday.

"It has been a pleasure and honor serving you," he said. "But the recent media attention I have been receiving has begun to interfere with the day-to-day operations of this office."
Then national and international security news. Remember, I consider war and national security to be sustainability issues.

Washington Post: U.S. trains African soldiers for Somalia mission By Craig Whitlock, Published: May 13
KAKOLA, Uganda — The heart of the Obama administration’s strategy for fighting al-Qaeda militants in Somalia can be found next to a cow pasture here, a thousand miles from the front lines.

Under the gaze of American instructors, gangly Ugandan recruits are taught to carry rifles, dodge roadside bombs and avoid shooting one another by accident. In one obstacle course dubbed “Little Mogadishu,” the Ugandans learn the basics of urban warfare as they patrol a mock city block of tumble-down buildings and rusty shipping containers designed to resemble the battered and dangerous Somali capital.

Despite the warnings, the number of recruits graduating from this boot camp — built with U.S. taxpayer money and staffed by State Department contractors — has increased in recent months. The current class of 3,500 Ugandan soldiers, the biggest since the camp opened five years ago, is preparing to deploy to Somalia to join a growing international force composed entirely of African troops but largely financed by Washington.
Reuters: Forty-nine headless corpses found in northern Mexico By Luis Ochoa CADEREYTA JIMENEZ, Mexico | Sun May 13, 2012 7:51pm EDT
Suspected drug gang killers dumped 49 headless bodies on a highway near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in one of the country's worst atrocities in recent years.

The mutilated corpses of 43 men and 6 women, whose hands and feet had also been cut off, were found in a pile on a highway in the municipality of Cadereyta Jimenez in the early hours of Sunday, officials from the state of Nuevo Leon said.

"What's complicating the identification of all the people was that they were all headless," said Jorge Domene, the Nuevo Leon government's spokesman for public security, who said the other body parts were missing.
This section now starts rounding the circle into economy, first with a country contemplating stimulus, then with a bunch of austerity stories. Once again, the struggle between sustainability and austerity shapes our times.

Reuters: Analysis: China growth risks signal need for fiscal action By Nick Edwards BEIJING | Sun May 13, 2012 10:08am EDT
China may need a back-up plan to stop economic growth being cut short by a surprise dip in demand at home and abroad that suggests monetary policy easing steps taken since the final quarter of last year are insufficient to deal with the downturn.

The People's Bank of China cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves on Saturday, freeing an estimated 400 billion yuan ($63.5 billion) for lending to add to the roughly 800 billion injected in two previous 50 bps cuts since the government tilted its policy stance towards growth in October.

The move came after data on Friday showed the economy weakening, not recovering, from its slowest quarter of growth in three years. Industrial production growth slowed sharply in April and fixed asset investment - a key growth driver - hit its lowest level in nearly a decade, confounding economists expecting signs of a rebound in Q2 data.
Reuters: Austerity blow for Merkel in German state election By Stephen Brown DUESSELDORF, Germany | Sun May 13, 2012 2:40pm EDT
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday in an election in Germany's most populous state, a result which could embolden the left opposition to step up attacks on her European austerity policies. The election in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a western German state with a bigger population than the Netherlands and an economy the size of Turkey, was held 18 months before a national vote in which Merkel will be fighting for a third term. While she remains popular at home because of the strength of the economy and her steady handling of the euro zone debt crisis, the sheer scale of the defeat in NRW leaves her vulnerable at a time when a backlash against her insistence on fiscal discipline is building across Europe.
Reuters: Coalition talks stall, Greece faces "moment of truth" By Lefteris Papadimas and Harry Papachristou ATHENS | Sun May 13, 2012 5:28pm EDT
Greek political leaders on Sunday ignored a final plea from the president to form a coalition government to avert a repeat election, pushing the debt-stricken nation closer to bankruptcy and a possible exit from the euro zone.

Leaders of the three biggest parties met at the presidential mansion for a final attempt to bridge their differences, but the talks quickly hit an impasse as they traded accusations on a deeply unpopular bailout package tied to harsh spending cuts.

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, who finished first in last week's election, pinned the blame on the far-left SYRIZA party, which flatly rules out backing a pro-bailout coalition with Samaras's New Democracy and Socialist PASOK parties.
Reuters: Euro zone turmoil boosts London property stampede * Euro zone turmoil pushes property buyers to London * Buyers from southern Europe to the fore * "The Greeks are coming" By Tom Bill
LONDON, May 13 (Reuters) - Worsening financial and political turmoil in southern Europe caused a surge of interest in London property last month with buyers from Greece and Spain showing strongly among investors seeking a safe haven for their money. The number of Greeks searching for homes costing more than 1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million) on the website of property agent Savills jumped 39 percent in April compared with the average of the preceding six months, the company said. "The reason Greeks are coming is very simple," said Dinos Joannou, a 65-year-old Cypriot who works in the Athenian Grocery in the Bayswater district of London and has seen growing numbers arrive this year. "Greece is screwed, there are no jobs and it has been run by crooks."
Reuters: Brown pushes tax hike as California's money woes deepen By Jim Christie SAN FRANCISCO | Sun May 13, 2012 8:06pm EDT
California Governor Jerry Brown was elected in 2010 on a promise to fix the state's chronic fiscal crisis. His weekend announcement of a much bigger-than-expected shortfall in the state budget signals how far he still has to go.

In an unusual move that underscored the highly politicized nature of the state budget, Brown took to YouTube on Saturday to deliver the bad news: the state's projected budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 is now $16 billion, up from the $9 billion anticipated in January.

The Democratic governor also warned of further cuts to an already-battered public education system if voters rejected a tax increase in a ballot initiative this fall.
More bad economic news in the next section. Economy, including technology Reuters: JPMorgan executives expected to leave over loss: sources By David Henry Sun May 13, 2012 9:29pm EDT
Three executives involved with the failed hedging strategy that has left JPMorgan Chase & Co with a $2 billion trading loss and a tarnished reputation are expected to leave the bank this week, sources close to the matter said on Sunday.

The company is expected to accept the resignation of Ina Drew, its chief investment officer and one of its highest-paid executives, in the next few days, the sources said. Two of Drew's subordinates who were involved with the trades, Achilles Macris and Javier Martin-Artajo, are expected to be asked to leave, they said.

The unit Drew runs, known as the Chief Investment Office, mismanaged a portfolio of derivatives tied to the creditworthiness of bonds, according to bank executives. The portfolio was layered with hedging strategies that became too complicated to work and too big to unwind in the esoteric market.
Reuters: Ally Financial's mortgage unit nears bankruptcy: sources By Rick Rothacker and Paritosh Bansal NEW YORK | Sun May 13, 2012 2:19pm EDT
Ally Financial Inc's Residential Capital unit is nearing a bankruptcy filing, sources familiar with the situation said on Sunday, in a move that could help the taxpayer-owned auto lender to shed its troubled mortgage business but also spur drawn-out legal fights.

The board of ResCap is scheduled to meet later on Sunday and a pre-arranged bankruptcy filing, where Ally has the support of some creditors to its plan but not all, is expected to follow soon after, the sources said.

Under the plan, Fortress Investment Group (FIG.N) is expected to make an opening bid of more than $2 billion, including debt, to buy certain ResCap assets, while Ally would buy the rest, in a bid to turn all ResCap assets into cash, a source said.
Reuters: Yahoo CEO out, investor Loeb gets board seats By Alexei Oreskovic SAN FRANCISCO | Sun May 13, 2012 9:53pm EDT
Yahoo Inc is replacing its CEO for the third time in as many years, and giving three board seats to a hedge fund led by Daniel Loeb, putting him in a strong position to influence strategy at the struggling Internet company.

Chief Executive Scott Thompson stepped down on Sunday, 10 days after Loeb accused him of padding his biography by faking a computer science degree. Loeb's Third Point LLC is one of Yahoo's largest shareholders with a 5.8 percent stake.

Yahoo did not give a reason for Thompson's exit but said the company's global media head, Ross Levinsohn, will be interim CEO. It also said it had settled a proxy battle with Third Point and will nominate three of the fund's slate of four candidates to the board, including Loeb.
At least entertainment is doing well.

Reuters: 'Avengers' rings up $103 million in record weekend By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud LOS ANGELES | Sun May 13, 2012 2:34pm EDT
"The Avengers," the smash hit movie about Marvel superheroes who team up to save the Earth, crushed competitors for a second weekend with a record $103.2 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales and was poised to top $1 billion worldwide, studio estimates showed on Sunday.

After posting the highest domestic box office debut in history last weekend, "Avengers" set another record by easily topping the $75.6 million "Avatar" pulled in during its second weekend in 2009, making "Avengers" the first movie to exceed $100 million in its second weekend.

"Avengers" has now racked up a staggering $628.9 million internationally since opening overseas on April 25, distributor Walt Disney Co said, positioning it to break the $1 billion threshold after just 19 days.
Reuters: NBC bets on comedy, to air 'Voice' twice a season By Jill Serjeant LOS ANGELES | Sun May 13, 2012 4:51pm EDT
The struggling NBC network on Sunday announced 16 new TV shows - seven of them comedies - for the 2012-2013 season, and in a show of confidence said it will broadcast singing contest "The Voice" in the fall as well as the spring.

NBC, which has been the least-watched of the four major U.S. TV networks for several years, said it hoped the slew of new comedies would capture the young viewers most coveted by advertisers because of their spending power.

"We want to get more comedy on the schedule. I think it would be good for the health of the network," NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told reporters in a conference call.
And that's it for tonight's edition!

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