Friday, November 16, 2012

Last night's sustainability-related news from Reuters


The top sustainability story last night on my favorite news service was the plea agreement involving the criminal charges against BP for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP agrees to record criminal penalties for U.S. oil spill
By Kathy Finn and David Ingram
NEW ORLEANS/WASHINGTON | Fri Nov 16, 2012 4:09am EST
(Reuters) - BP Plc will pay $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which caused the worst U.S. offshore oil spill ever.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the deal a "critical step forward" but was adamant that it did not end the criminal investigation of the 2010 spill.

The settlement announced on Thursday includes a $1.256 billion criminal fine, the largest such levy in U.S. history. It was not, however, the "global" settlement some had hoped for, which would have also resolved the considerable federal civil claims against the company at the same time.
The government also indicted the two highest-ranking BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon during the disaster, charging them with 23 criminal counts including manslaughter. One man's lawyer said his client was being turned into a scapegoat for the disaster.

The April 2010 explosion on the rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers. The mile-deep Macondo oil well then spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over 87 days, fouling shorelines from Texas to Florida and eclipsing in severity the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
The spill was the teachable moment that lasted all summer semester two years ago. It makes for a good general sustainability story, as it includes all three Ps--people, planet, profit (or lack thereof in this case).

Follow over the jump for the sustainability-related news from last night's Overnight News Digest (Fast fill-in edition) on Daily Kos.

I'm going to reverse the usual order, placing the economic stories first and the environmental ones last.

Economy, including technology

Housing not yet out of the woods: Bernanke
By Karen Jacobs
ATLANTA | Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:56pm EST
(Reuters) - The improving housing market is "far from being out of the woods," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Thursday, arguing that overly tight lending standards are part of the problem.

The Fed, which has focused on mortgage bonds in its latest round of asset purchases, will continue to do what it can to support the housing market, Bernanke said in a speech that avoided policy specifics.

A bubble in the U.S. housing market was at the core of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and brutal recession that continues to hamper the world economy. Data in recent months, however, have shown the sector is on the mend.
It's been a while since I've blogged about the housing market. Too bad, as most of the news has been good news, even here in metro Detroit.

Wall Street ends flat as wary investors stay defensive
By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK | Thu Nov 15, 2012 7:02pm EST
(Reuters) - Stocks were little changed on Thursday as the prospect of a drawn-out battle over impending tax and spending changes made investors wary of getting into the water, while retailer Wal-Mart tumbled after disappointing sales.

The S&P 500 is down nearly 2 percent for the week, adding to last week's selloff and eroding more of the market's gains for the year.

What had looked like a stellar 2012 for stocks has turned into merely an average year, and as 2012 draws to a close, investors are becoming more inclined to protect the gains they have.
The stock market was actually well behaved this year. It hit a cyclical high during an election year, unlike the last cycle, when the market hit its cyclical peak a year early. That screwed things up for just about everyone, except Barack Obama.

Speaking of the re-elected president, it's time to transition to politics.

U.S. Postal Service has record loss, may face cash shortfall
By Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON | Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:44pm EST
(Reuters) - The U.S. Postal Service reported a record annual loss on Thursday and warned that, without congressional action, it could face a cash shortfall next fall.

The mail service said it lost $15.9 billion in the fiscal year that ended on September 30. That is more than triple its $5.1 billion loss last year.

The USPS, which relies on the sale of stamps and other products rather than taxpayer dollars, has been grappling for years with high costs and tumbling mail volumes as consumers communicate more online.
I've blogged about the problems of the USPS before. Just scroll down past the middle of the entry.

On eve of "fiscal cliff" talks, positions harden
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON | Thu Nov 15, 2012 8:19pm EST
(Reuters) - As President Barack Obama and congressional leaders prepared for budget and tax talks on Friday aimed at preventing the economy from falling back into recession, a top Republican vowed to overhaul the U.S. tax code next year.

Democrats and Republicans dug in on their long-held opposing positions on the eve of the talks, with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warning, "What we won't do is raise tax rates."

But raising income taxes on the wealthy to help shrink the deficit was exactly what Obama highlighted during his first post-election news conference on Wednesday. Twenty-four hours later, Obama spokesman Jay Carney argued that public sentiment was firmly behind the newly re-elected president.
The fallout from the election is still coming down.

Society, including culture and politics

I'll lead this section with a series of stories that should remind my readers that I consider war to be a sustainability issue.

Egypt PM to visit Gaza in support of Hamas against Israel
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA | Fri Nov 16, 2012 12:46am EST
(Reuters) - Egypt's prime minister prepared to visit the Gaza Strip on Friday in an unprecedented display of solidarity with Hamas militants embroiled in a new escalation of conflict with Israel that risks spiraling into all-out war.

Two rockets from Gaza crashed near Tel Aviv in the first such attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years. One fell into the Mediterranean Sea and the other in an uninhabited part of one of the Tel Aviv suburbs south of the city.

Two days of Israeli air strikes have killed 19 Palestinians, including seven militants and 12 civilians, among them six children and a pregnant woman. A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis in the town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday morning.
Rockets hit near Tel Aviv as Gaza death toll rises
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA | Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:39pm EST
(Reuters) - Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday in the first attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years, raising the stakes in a showdown between Israel and the Palestinians that is moving towards all-out war.

Earlier, a Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 19, six of them children.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city for a second day, shaking tall buildings. In a sign of possible escalation, the armed forces spokesman said the military had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.
Palestinians repeat call for U.N. action on Israeli strikes
By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS | Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:57pm EST
(Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority renewed its call on Thursday for the U.N. Security Council to take action to stop Israel's attacks against the Gaza Strip, a day after the 15-nation body held an inconclusive emergency meeting on the escalating conflict.

"The mobilization of Israeli occupying forces on the ground, including the amassing of tanks, armored vehicles and buses near the Gaza border are cause for serious concern and demand the attention of the international community," the Palestinian U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, wrote to the U.N. Security Council.

"We thus reiterate our urgent appeal to the Security Council ... to uphold its (U.N.) Charter duties and to act now to protect the Palestinian civilian population under Israel's occupation in accordance with international humanitarian law," he wrote to Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, president of the Security Council this month.
War is still a subtext of the next story.

Japan sets course for December 16 election and seventh PM in six years
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO | Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:42pm EST
(Reuters) - Japan is set to dissolve parliament's lower house on Friday for a December 16 election that is likely to return the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power with a conservative former prime minister at the helm.

However, few expect the poll, three years after a historic victory swept the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to power for the first time, will fix a policy stalemate that has plagued the economy as it struggles with an ageing population and security challenges due to China's rapid rise.

Political experts worry former Prime Minister and head of the LDP Shinzo Abe, who polls suggest will be the next premier, will further fray ties with China, already chilled by a territorial row over a group of islands.
China and Japan are fighting over islands that may have oil and gas nearby. That makes it even more of a sustainbility issue.

Now for something even closer to home, Mexico trying to make peace in the war on (some) drugs.

Mexico lawmaker introduces bill to legalize marijuana
By Noe Torres
MEXICO CITY | Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:29pm EST
(Reuters) - A leftist Mexican lawmaker on Thursday presented a bill to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana, adding to a growing chorus of Latin American politicians who are rejecting the prohibitionist policies of the United States.

The bill is unlikely to win much support in Congress since a strong majority of Mexicans are firmly against legalizing drugs, but may spur a broader debate in Mexico after two U.S. states voted to allow recreational use of marijuana last week. U.S. officials have said it remains illegal and that they are reviewing the state actions.

The split between local and federal governments in the United States is feeding a growing challenge in Latin America to the four-decade-old policies that Washington promoted, and often bankrolled, to disrupt illegal drug cultivation and smuggling.
Speaking of bringing the war stories home, here are five that do just that.

Intelligence committees see film of Benghazi attack
By Susan Cornwell and Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON | Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:19pm EST
(Reuters) - Intelligence officials on Thursday showed lawmakers a real-time film of the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and discussed a timeline of events in sometimes heated exchanges at a closed-door hearing, lawmakers said.

The House and Senate intelligence committees heard from intelligence, FBI and State Department officials on the events surrounding the September 11 attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

Questions about the adequacy of security, the U.S. response to the attack, and the administration's initial public comments have led to a growing rift between Republicans and President Barack Obama over where the fault lies.
Man indicted in plot to bomb New York Federal Reserve
By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK | Thu Nov 15, 2012 3:51pm EST
(Reuters) - A Bangladeshi man has been indicted on charges of attempting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Bank last month with what he believed was a 1,000-pound bomb, court papers made public Thursday show.

The grand jury indictment charges Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempting to provide material support to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, al Qaeda. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Nafis was arrested on October 17 after pulling up to the Federal Reserve and attempting to detonate what he believed to be a van packed with explosives.
Four killed, 17 hurt as train hits float at Texas veterans parade
By Matthew Waller
MIDLAND, Texas | Fri Nov 16, 2012 12:13am EST
(Reuters) - A train crashed into a parade float carrying U.S. military veterans and their spouses in West Texas on Thursday, killing four people and injuring 17, police and parade organizers said.

Ten of the hospitalized were in critical condition and seven others were listed as stable, said Midland Police Chief Price Robinson.

Robinson said the Union Pacific train struck an open trailer carrying the veterans and their spouses as it was being pulled across the train tracks at around 4:30 p.m.
That's sad. How about a disaster averted?

F-22 fighter crashes in Florida, pilot unhurt
WASHINGTON | Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:17pm EST
(Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter crashed on Thursday at Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base, but the pilot ejected safely and was unhurt, a base spokeswoman said.

The F-22 Raptor, one of the most advanced U.S. warplanes, was returning from a routine training mission when it crashed about 3:30 p.m., spokeswoman Ashley Wright said.

The Lockheed Martin Corp plane caught fire when it hit the ground, but firefighters quickly put out the blaze, she said. The cause is under investigation.
Time to go from merely good news to really silly news.

Hollywood scrambles to cash in on Petraeus scandal
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES | Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:19pm EST
(Reuters) - Writers with a script about former four-star general David Petraeus' sex scandal can do lunch with anyone in Hollywood.

Studio executives have been huddled in meetings since Monday, sifting through potential scripts that can be tweaked. Agents have been called. Authors are getting e-mails.

"This will create great film and book interest," said literary agent Judi Farkas who represented author Antonio Mendez on the film rights sale of his book "Argo," the Ben Affleck movie based on a CIA mission. "There will be a scramble to corner the various rights," she said.
LOL, Hollywood. Stay classy!

Environment, including science

Superstorm boosts jobless claims, hits factories
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON | Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:21pm EST
(Reuters) - Superstorm Sandy drove a surge in new claims for jobless benefits last week and hurt factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region in November, signs it could deal a substantial blow to economic growth in the fourth quarter.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 78,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000, the highest level since April 2011, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

It was the biggest one-week jump since a spike caused by Hurricane Katrina in September 2005.
I pulled this story down from economy to fill this section and complete the circle. A couple of years ago, Reuters had three environmental sections, environment, environmental blogs, and green business. Now, I can't seem to find any of the sections. What a loss of a good resource!

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