Monthly Archives: June 2012

Storms March from Iowa to Atlantic – Millions without Power, At Least 8 Dead

A derecho with wind gusts exceeding 80mph plowed its way from Illinois to the Atlantic Ocean on Friday, leaving millions without power.

A derecho with wind gusts exceeding 80mph plowed its way from Illinois to the Atlantic Ocean on Friday, leaving millions without power.

A violent line of thunderstorms formed Friday morning near the Iowa/Illinois border and subsequently marched their way nearly 1,000 miles to the Atlantic Ocean by the early morning hours of Saturday. This sort of long duration line or complex of thunderstorms is known as a “derecho” in the meteorology world. Straight-line winds anywhere from 70 – 100mph accompanied this line – the equivalent of an EF-1 tornado. The result of such widespread wind damage: millions of people have been left without power just in time for one of the most intense heatwaves in years to pulse its way across the central and eastern United States.

Millions of people across nine states were reeling without power Saturday to deal with thermostat-popping temperatures after fierce thunderstorms pounded parts of the Midwest and Atlantic Seaboard.

At least eight people were killed.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared an state of emergency in his state as crews worked around the clock to assess the damage and restore power.

Joseph Rigby, president of electric company Pepco, said it could be a week before power is fully back up in some areas of Washington D.C.

“Given the damage, you can understand this is going to take some time,” he said. “The wild card is the weather.”

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SCOTUS Delivers Shock Decision, Upholds President Obama’s Healthcare Law 5 – 4

The Affordable Care Act has survived what should be the biggest legal challenge it will ever face - a 5-4 decision in support from the Supreme Court.

The Affordable Care Act has survived (mostly) what should be the biggest legal challenge it will ever face – a 5-4 decision in support from the Supreme Court.

In perhaps what will go down as one of the biggest decisions in the 2010s decade, the Supreme Court of the United States unexpectedly sided with the Obama Administration in support of the Affordable Choice Act – ACA (or Obamacare, if you must… Romneycare if you’re even worse). At least it mostly did. The 5 – 4 decision was not swayed by the expected swing vote of Justice Kennedy, but instead by the Chief Justice himself John Roberts. This is notable as typically Chief Justices do not put themselves out there as the swing vote.

What can be described as a massive victory for the Obama Administration comes with a gigantic asterisk. While the law was mostly upheld, the individual mandate was not upheld under the Commerce Clause (Congressional power to regulate commerce between the states) upon which the case was originally made, but instead as being within the power of the Congress to tax. The court stated:

…it is abundantly clear the Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated by the Constitution. The Court today holds that our Constitution protects us from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause so long as we abstain from the regulated activity. But from its creation, the Constitution has made no such promise with respect to taxes.

While having no immediate effect on the law, as SCOTUS ruled in favor, this distinction does have the future effect of making the path to overturning easier in theory. Only requiring 51 votes in the Senate to end a tax, a Republican hold of the House, capturing of the Senate, and victory by Mr. Romney in the fall would put ACA right back in the spotlight – and probably straight for the firing squad. A victory by Mr. Obama in November and/or a Democratic hold of the Senate would effectively shelve any talk of icing this law until 2014 at the earliest – in the event of a hold by Mr. Obama probably not until 2016.

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Historic Heat Wave in Central States; Wildfire Season Roars to Life

Fueled by parched vegetation and the most intense heat wave since the dust bowl, fires have erupted across Colorado. The Waldo Canyon fire has moved into suburban Colorado Springs.

Fueled by parched vegetation and the most intense heat wave since the dust bowl, fires have erupted across Colorado. The Waldo Canyon fire has moved into suburban Colorado Springs.

For the second time this year, a record smashing heat wave has taken hold across the central United States. While March’s record setting heat wave merely pushed the calendar forward to July and August, giving beach days to St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the heatwave currently baking the plains is of the far more dangerous variety.

On Wednesday, the official high temperature observed at Denver International Airport only managed to make its way up to 97 degrees. This is of not as it was the first time in the previous six days that the temperature failed to do so. For the previous five days, the average high in Denver has been 104 degrees – nearly 20 degrees above normal. The 105 degrees seen on the 25th and 26th of June have become the city’s hottest temperatures on record. Elsewhere in the state, Las Animas’s 114° reading on the 24th tied the state’s all time record – a temperature that was only touched before in July of 1933 and 1954.

The heat along the front range of the Rocky Mountains has been accompanied by exceptionally low levels of humidity – creating a tinderbox environment that is ripe for an aggressive start to the western fire season. That season has come to life in a huge way in the state of Colorado, with major out of control fires burning in four separate locations across the state – in addition to 25 other fires of smaller sizes. Two in the southwestern regions have charred 32,270 acres – nearly 50.5 square miles. Burning closer to more densely populated areas are the High Park fire near Fort Collins which has burned 87,000+ acres (136 square miles) on its own and the Waldo Canyon fire – which exploded to life in the early morning hours of Wednesday to take over 15,500 acres (24+ square miles). It is this last fire that has threatened the northern suburbs of Colorado Springs as well as the Air Force Academy.

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Syrian Instability Draws Turkey In

The Syrian Uprising's violence threatens to spill out of its borders as a Turkish F4 jet was shot down by Syrian forces on Friday - another one fired upon Monday.

The Syrian Uprising’s violence threatens to spill out of its borders as a Turkish F4 jet was shot down by Syrian forces on Friday – another one fired upon Monday.

The Syrian Uprising, lacking the outright definition of a civil war only because of the lack of an organized and effective force fighting against the established government, now rages on into its 15th month. Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad has continues to command violent repression of his citizens who are demanding an end to his rule. Violence has been the worst in some of the northern and northwestern parts of the country, closer to Syria’s border with Turkey.

Turkey, a former staunch ally of Syria, has decidedly turned against the regime with the continued violent repression of democracy. Priding itself with having a functional democracy in a traditionally unstable portion of the world, Turkey made a decisive move by choosing to cast out friendships revolving around a regime that was acting contrary to everything Turkey believed in. Not only has Turkey turned its back on Syria, it has proposed limited involvement in the Syrian Uprising on the side of the rebels. It has proposed a “buffer zone” along its border with Syria where rebels and their civilian families (plus others caught in the crossfire) can seek refuge from the continued aggression of the Syrian armed forces. Syria was not thrilled by this idea, and thanks to a lack of support from other NATO members along with tacit suggestions from both Russia and China to stay out of Syria, it seemed Turkey’s plans were going nowhere.

This past Friday that all changed. Citing a violation of its airspace, Syria shot down a Turkish F4 Phantom jet fighter over the Mediterranean Sea. While there was some initial international cooperation between the two nations to find the missing jet, that was seemingly thrown out the window on Monday as Syria reportedly fired upon another Turkish aircraft that was involved in searching for the first downed jet. Turkey will be taking its case to NATO on Tuesday.

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Greek Elections Round 2: Patient Ready For More Austerity; Nazis Still Around

Antonis Samaras of the New Democracy party is the new Prime Minister of Greece after an electoral victory and successful coalition formation with two other parties.

Antonis Samaras of the New Democracy party is the new Prime Minister of Greece after an electoral victory and successful coalition formation with two other parties.

The 17th of June came and went, and since the financial world still seems to exist, it is apparent that the Greek elections did not go as “disastrously” as possible. Actually the result, much like the one in May, wasn’t that conclusive. The difference this time was that with the threat of a Greek exit from the Euro or “Grexit” on the before-the-end-of-the-month horizon, parties that were previously known for bowing their heads to European pressures and accepting austerity terms decided that they would once again bow their heads, accept austerity terms, but also promised to try extra hard to get in a “please don’t hit me so hard” to those dictating the terms.

This little bit of wiggle room helped Greece realize a new majority coalition, as the center-right New Democracy party hooked up with the austerity-backing socialist PASOK and the relatively new slightly-left-of-left-of-center DIMAR party. On the outside looking in includes the anti-austerity Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the right wing Independent Greeks, the Communist Party, and the neo-Nazis. The neo-Nazis occupy 18 seats (↓3) of the new parliament, or 6% of the government. Heartwarming.

Ironically the parties that wound up sitting down at the table to form this new government could have done the exact same thing last time around. Coalition partners totaled 168 of 300 seats, but this time that number was slightly bumped to 179. While that leaves a “so why’d we have to go through all that” taste in the mouth, one thing is for sure – the political leanings of those sitting across the table from European negotiators as more details of austerity continue to be hashed out are really not going to look that much different from the pols who were there before this year’s elections and all the way down to this place. The new boss same as the old boss indeed.

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Tropical Storm Debby Looks To Bring Days of Flooding Rain to Southeast

The statistically active 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season has produced its first significant threat to the United States for this year. The threat comes in the form of potential for disastrous flooding over most of Florida, southern Georgia, southern Alabama, and southern Mississippi over the next few days due an extremely slow moving Tropical Storm Debby. Presently the disorganized storm is located some 115 miles off the Florida coast closest to Apalachicola. By Wednesday the storm is forecast to still be off the same part of Florida or just barely inland.

Tropical Storm Debby as of 7PM Central Time on 24 June

Tropical Storm Debby as of 7PM Central Time on 24 June

While disorganized, the eastern side of the storm is extremely moisture laden, and drenching rains have already been pounding most of Florida for the weekend. Radar estimates for the past 24 hours indicate that some parts of central Florida have seen up to seven inches of rain, while most of the state has seen a general soaking of 3 inches or more. Some computer models are forecasting that given the slow movement of Debby, an additional two feet of rain is possible over the next three to four days – especially closer to the center of the storm and its landfall, which looks at this moment to be in Florida’s panhandle by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

Tropical Storm Debby is currently a disorganized and rain-filled mess producing winds to 60mph across portions of the eastern Gulf and flooding rains across Florida.

Tropical Storm Debby is currently a disorganized and rain-filled mess producing winds to 60mph across portions of the eastern Gulf and flooding rains across Florida.

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PSU Trial Day 1: Sandusky Paid $60/week hush money for molestation rights (and other terrible details)

Jerry Sandusky, facing 52 counts of sexual abuse, arrives for day 1 of his trial on Monday.

Jerry Sandusky, facing 52 counts of sexual abuse, arrives for day 1 of his trial on Monday.

The trial for perhaps the worst scandal & cover up in the history of American institutions of higher learning roared to life on Monday as graphic testimony was offered by “Victim #4″ against Jerry Sandusky – former assistant coach at Penn State from 1976 – 1999. Mr. Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse that span a 15 year period. With a defense ready to poke holes in the stories of the victims right up to and including alleging that it’s all a conspiracy for money, Victim #4 (now 28 years old) took the stand today and delivered devastating accusations of lengthy abuse – complete with mental entrapment and threats if he left. Some of the lowlights:

“He treated me like a son in front of other people,” the witness said, sternly, with an air of scolding toward the defense attorney.

“Aside from that, he treated me like his girlfriend.”

There are allegations that Mr. Sandusky’s wife witnessed some of the abuse happening and “quickly left”:

Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, walked in on Sandusky and the boy together in a hotel room bathroom when they traveled to the Alamo Bowl at one point, the man testified, and she quickly walked out. Dottie Sandusky and several of Jerry Sandusky’s adult children attended the trial’s opening. Dottie Sandusky and Matt Sandusky, the couple’s adult son, are expected to testify during the trial and were asked to leave the courtroom as witnesses were being sequestered.

In another body blow to the university, former President Graham Spanier not only knew of the abuse, not only discussed it with other school officials, but believed that the correct course of action was to not alert the police as it would be the “humane” thing to do – the humane thing to do for Mr. Sandusky:

Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier discussed with two executives the child-sex allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago, emails show.

Spanier and retired Vice President Gary Schultz decided it would be “humane” to Sandusky not to alert police about the allegations at the center of the criminal trial that began on Monday, NBC News reported yesterday, citing internal emails provided by a source. Former athletic director Tim Curley also was part of the correspondence dating to 2001.

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Recession’s Ground Zero Remains Desolate

Construction spending on residential properties is the lowest it has been since early 1997.

Construction spending on residential properties is the lowest it has been since early 1997.

A long time ago people built houses. They built them because they needed or wanted a house. They built them with the idea of moving out of wherever they currently lived, turning over that property or rental to whomever claimed it next. People who never owned or rented before also wanted a house. They were just starting out, perhaps. Maybe they bought the house that people building a house sold, or maybe they had one of their own built. In any case, people built houses, and it was good.

Along came a scheme, a scheme to make a whole lot of money, continually, “forever”. The value of land and the value of homes did a lot more than just creep up as it had in years past. Fueled by the carefree 1990′s, the seeds of a boom began. Soon homes weren’t being built for a new place to live for the next 30 years to a lifetime, homes were being built so someone could move into a larger, more expensive home, “flipping” their old one and pocketing the reward that progressively higher values offered. The houses were flipped to more people who had no other intention than flipping on their own. Here and there people who wanted to move into a house for the legitimate home purpose got caught up in the excitement – and by excitement I mean elevated mortgage price.

Soon most of the people who wanted a home long term were priced out of the market. They weren’t interested in flipping, so they ignored the bank’s calls for lower mortgage rates and exciting opportunities oh if only they’d just call back. The people left with the progressively newer and newer homes were just the flippers – playing a progressively higher stake game of hot potato, though they didn’t know that just yet.

One day the music stopped. Nobody wanted the homes anymore. No one could afford them. The banks couldn’t afford to lend anymore. The roller coaster was pointed down. There was no one left to throw the potato to, and it all came tumbling down.

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Here’s 573,000 Jobs You Misplaced

State and local government employment has been on a steady decline since 2009.

State and local government employment has been on a steady decline since 2009.

Thankfully in the most stressful times of the 2008 financial crisis, those who were in power – on both sides of the isle – decided against a strict policy of austerity unlike our counterparts in Europe. One can only imagine how much more devastating unemployment would have been if the government decided to start the wholesale slashing of jobs in the waning months of 2008. At the time the debate was between those who wanted to bail out various segments of the private sector vs. those who were in favor of some targeted bailouts but a more broad-based government spending program to get us through this.

Kneecapped, we still know that broad-based government spending as “the stimulus”. Depending on your disposition to the facts you either figure it softened the blow somewhat, prevented a second Great Depression, or was a horrible government handout fest something something where’s his birth certificate. (Sorry, going forward I will pretend all sides arguing this are rational actors. It’s too much credit for Washington, but it will have to do.)

The effects of the stimulus began to run out in 2009 as unemployment continued to rise. Thanks to carefully AstroTurf’d public relations campaigns, the mood in the country was turning decisively against additional large injections of monies into the real economy. The Federal Reserve was still able to run off with the quantitative easing that did… something… but as for dollars for main street? That was a waste. Or socialism. Or both.

Hands were wrung in despair last week as the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate was back on the rise. The economy added a paltry 63,000 jobs and once again it seems like the recovery is stalling. Unemployment rose to 8.21% from 8.1% with 12.7 million people on the unemployment rolls – up from 12.5 million. That said, what if I told you the very same unemployment report could have read a rate of 7.84% with an extra 573,000 people not on the unemployment rolls? What if I told you that with a very careful policy of not shooting one’s foot off, it’s still obtainable?

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Climate’s Warning Signs Not Just In The Air

Yesterday’s post dealt with the recent announcement from scientists that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the polar region had surpassed 400 parts per million, with the rest of the planet to catch up to that level soon. This has continuing negative effects on climate – at least from our comfortable status quo perspective. What is in the air is not all that is observable, when it comes to changes at the arctic. Changes on the ground – some no doubt influenced by those atmospheric changes – have profound negative consequences of their own.

Consider some of the observable information…

Sea ice in the Arctic since 1979

Sea ice in the Arctic since 1979

The satellite record of Arctic ice goes back to 1979. In nearly every year since observations started, that concentration of ice has gone down year after year. The latter years of the 2000s saw shockingly low totals of the Arctic Ocean be covered with ice – opening up the Northeast and Northwest passages for the first time in the history of modern shipping – the best conditions have been for sailing at least since the time of the Vikings. 2012 for its part has flirted with or set new records for lowest volume. The primary bad effect of sea ice loss, aside from the reduction of places to live for polar bears, is that it literally makes the planet darker. Ice, being white, reflects light and heat back out into space – which creates colder temperatures. You can observe the same sort of effect every winter: clear nights with snow on the ground tend to be much colder than clear nights with bare ground.

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