The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, July 26, 2011, are:
New home prices rise, sales fall
New home sales fall even as prices start to rise
New single-family home sales unexpectedly fell in June, but a sharp rise in prices and declining supply suggested the market for new houses was starting to stabilize, a government report showed on Tuesday.
Other data showed consumers grew more confident about the future this month, even though there were still concerns about lack of jobs.
The Commerce Department said new single family homes sales slipped 1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 312,000-unit annual rate. However, the median sales price for a new home increased 5.8 percent last month to $235,200.
Compared to June last year, the median price rose 7.2 percent. The rise in prices is the latest sign that home values are starting to stabilize.
“New home prices … appear to have reached a bottom. However, that conclusion must remain tentative given the large number of distressed properties,” said Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics in Danville, Calif.
“Fortunately, with no excess … inventory of unsold new homes, any sustained rebound in new home sales should quickly translate into firmer prices.”
U.S. stocks pared losses as a better-than-expected reading on consumer confidence boosted investor optimism, while U.S. bond prices were steady at higher levels. The dollar fell because of the stalemate in Washington over raising the debt limit.
US whites have 20 times wealth of blacks, 18 times more than Hispanics
The Associated Press
Wealth gap widens between whites, minorities
As Congress and the White House wrestle whether to raise taxes for the wealthiest Americans, a new analysis of Census data shows that the wealth gaps between whites and blacks and Hispanics widened dramatically during the recession.
The analysis by the Pew Research Center, released on Tuesday, found that from 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell 66 percent among Hispanic households and 53 percent among black households, compared with a 16 percent decline among white households.
Those declines increased the wealth gap between white and minority households to the largest since the census began collecting such data in 1984. The ratio of wealth for whites to blacks, for instance, is now roughly 20 to 1, compared to 12 to 1 in the first survey 25 years ago and 7 to 1 in 1995, when a booming economy lifted many low-income Americans into the middle class.
The wealth ratio for whites to Hispanics was 18 to 1 in 2009, also up from 7 to 1 in 1995, the Pew analysis found.
The declines from the recession left the median black household with $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts, where assets include items like a car, a home, savings, retirement funds, etc.) and the typical Hispanic household with $6,325. White households, by comparison, had $113,149, the study found.
Sliced another way, the data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), showed that 35 percent of black households and 31 percent of Hispanic households had zero or negative net worth in 2009. The comparable rate for white households was 15 percent.
The SIPP income questionnaire is considered to provide the most comprehensive snapshot of household wealth by race and ethnicity.
The Pew analysis said the housing crisis was largely to blame for the widening gulf. The median level of home equity held by Hispanic homeowners declined by half from 2005 to 2009, from $99,983 to $49,145 it found. By comparison, white homeowners saw their median equity decline from $115,364 in 2005 to $95,000 in 2009. Black homeowners’ median equity fell from $76,910 to $59,000 over the same period.
Voters see Obama doing better on jobs, blame economy on president, GOP
Voters blame Republicans, Obama on jobs: poll
More than a third of Americans believe President Barack Obama’s policies have made the U.S. economy worse, but they blame Republicans just as much, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Tuesday.
The percentage of people who said Obama, a Democrat, has made the economy worse rose 6 points since October to 37 percent, the public opinion poll found.
But as many Americans blame Republicans in Congress for America’s economic woes as they do Obama, the poll of more than 1,000 people found.
It said 65 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the Republicans’ handling of jobs, compared with 52 percent who disapprove of Obama’s efforts.
Ninety percent said the economy was not doing well; 85 percent said they were just getting by or falling behind and four out of five respondents said jobs were very difficult to find.
GOP’s Boehner, McConnell, Cantor all voted for debt before opposing it
Republican Leaders Voted for U.S. Debt Drivers
House Speaker John Boehner often attacks the spendthrift ways of Washington.
“In Washington, more spending and more debt is business as usual,” the Republican leader from Ohio said in a televised address yesterday amid debate over the U.S. debt. “I’ve got news for Washington – those days are over.”
Yet the speaker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all voted for major drivers of the nation’s debt during the past decade: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drug benefits. They also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that rescued financial institutions and the auto industry.
Together, a Bloomberg News analysis shows, these initiatives added $3.4 trillion to the nation’s accumulated debt and to its current annual budget deficit of $1.5 trillion.
As Congress nears votes to raise the $14.3-trillion debt ceiling to avert a default on U.S. obligations when borrowing authority expires on Aug. 2, both parties are attempting to claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility. They both bear some of the blame: Many Democrats contributed to the expenses that are forcing lawmakers to boost the nation’s debt limit, as have Republican leaders at odds over how much borrowing authority to hand President Barack Obama and when …
Rank-and-file Republicans are eager to pin the blame on Democrats, frequently pointing to the economic stimulus signed by Obama in 2009. The total cost of the stimulus will be $830 billion by 2019, according to a May 2011 Congressional Budget Office report.
That’s half the cost of the Bush tax cuts and less than two-thirds of what has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Americans find media, unethical, biased, too cozy with politicians
The Hill Poll: Most voters see media as biased and unethical
Likely voters hold a dismal view of the news media, generally regarding reporters as biased, unethical and too close to the politicians they purport to cover, according to a new poll for The Hill.
A full 68 percent of voters consider the news media biased, the poll found. Most, 46 percent, believe the media generally favor Democrats, while 22 percent said they believe Republicans are favored, with 28 percent saying the media is reasonably balanced.
The share of voters who believe the media are too friendly with politicians is almost twice as large as those who find their coverage of politicians appropriate. Forty-four percent of voters assert the former; only 24 percent believe the latter.
The picture is not much brighter on the general question of ethics. Fifty-seven percent of voters think of the news media as either somewhat or very unethical, while only 39 percent see them as somewhat or very ethical.
Hacks of CIA, Pentagon, Senate lead US cyber agency chief to resign
Head of U.S. cyber agency resigns suddenly
The head of a U.S. agency that helps respond to cyber attacks resigned suddenly after several high-profile attacks on government computer systems but the Department of Homeland Security declined Monday to comment on the reason.
Randy Vickers resigned as director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team Friday, according to an email from Roberta Stempfley, acting assistant secretary for cyber security and communications at Homeland Security, which was sent to some employees.
The email, obtained by Reuters, did not disclose any reason for the resignation, and a Homeland Security official would only say: “we aren’t commenting on personnel matters.”
Vickers’ resignation follows several high-profile hacker attacks against the Pentagon and public websites of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Senate.
Instead of recycling, Navy to sink toxic ships in Alaskan waters
Anchorage Daily News
Navy gets OK to sink ships in Gulf of Alaska target practice
The Navy has obtained authority to blast and sink as many as two real ships a year in the Gulf of Alaska over the next five years to give pilots and gunners authentic targets for their sights.
But ocean campaigners say that even decommissioned, stripped-out ships, like the ones the Navy will use as targets, contain residual hazardous materials that can poison the Gulf’s rich habitat for years. They’re trying to stop the target practice before it begins.
In May, the Navy finished an environmental review of new training options and authorized itself a maximum of two ship sinkings a year in the Gulf.
A Navy spokesman said there is currently no schedule to start the Alaska sinkings. But opponents of the practice want to ensure it doesn’t happen.
The Sierra Club and Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based environmental group, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency this month to stop the Navy’s nationwide SINKEX program.
They maintain it will have toxic side effects, including release of PCBs into the environment.
“The Navy’s plan to extend SINKEX operations to the Gulf of Alaska, one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, while also acknowledging their intention to sink vessels without first removing all toxins, is a threat to marine life in the Gulf of Alaska,” said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network, who co-authored a recent report on the program.
The group identified carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as a particular concern but also complains of asbestos and other hazardous pollutants.
The environmental groups want the Navy to recycle the ships, with their tons of reusable steel, copper and other metals. But the Navy sees an opportunity for training, a chance to fire live weapons in an ocean environment at a real ship. The Navy operates the program under an EPA permit that requires the vessels to be stripped as completely as possible, including emptying all fuel lines, draining hydraulic equipment and, if possible, removing “non-liquid PCBs” including plastic, gaskets, flaked-off paint and electric cable insulation.
The alternative energy of … data furnaces?
Microsoft suggests heating your home with “data furnaces”
With a temperature of around 40-50C (104-122F), the exhaust from a rack of cloud servers could be a very cost-effective way of heating your house, according to researchers from Microsoft and the University of Virginia. Dubbed the “Data Furnace,” these racks would be hot enough to completely replace the heating and hot water system in a house or office.
The research paper comes at a time where internet properties like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are building huge data centers housing thousands of servers that simply pump their hot exhaust into the frigid air of Oregon, or other chilly states. There have been a few prototype data centers that use their waste heat to warm the houses in local towns, but Microsoft’s Data Furnaces take this idea to the next step: instead of building mega data centers that are efficient in terms of scale, Data Furnaces are micro data centers that are housed in the basements of regular homes and offices. These Data Furnaces, which would consist of 40 to 400 CPUs (between 1 and 10 racks), would be ducted directly into the building’s heating system, providing free heat and hot water.
The genius of this idea is that Data Furnaces would be provided by companies that already maintain big cloud presences. In exchange for providing power to the rack, home and office owners will get free heat and hot water — and as an added bonus, these cloud service providers would get a fleet of mini urban data centers that can provide ultra-low-latency services to nearby web surfers. Of course the electricity cost would be substantial — especially in residential areas — but even so, the research paper estimates that, all things considered, between $280 and $324 can be saved per year, out of the $400 it costs to keep a server powered and connected in a standard data center. From the inverse point of view, heating accounts for 6% of the total US energy consumption — and by piggybacking on just half of that energy, the IT industry could double in size without increasing its power footprint.
The main problem with Data Furnaces, of course, is physical security. Data centers are generally secure installations with very restricted access — which is fair enough, when you consider the volume and sensitivity of the data stored by companies like Facebook and Google. The Microsoft Research paper points out that sensor networks can warn administrators if physical security is breached, and whole-scale encryption of the data on the servers would ameliorate many other issues. The other issue is server management — home owners won’t want bearded techies knocking on their door every time a server needs a reboot — but for the most part, almost everything can now be managed remotely.
Mystery “creation” particle evades scientists: CERN
The mysterious “creation” particle believed to have turned flying debris into stars and planets at the dawn of the universe has evaded capture in a year of hot pursuit, physicists said Monday.
Rolf Heuer, director-general of the CERN research center near Geneva, said he was now looking to 2012 to turn up traces of the particle, the Higgs Boson, and signs of other concepts that were once the preserve of science fiction.
Confirming that intensive scrutiny of the results of more than 70 million particle collisions in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had not yet identified the Higgs, Heuer said: “I hope the big discoveries will come next year.”
He was speaking at an international conference of physicists in the French city of Grenoble, at which presentations of the results of research in the LHC, deep under the border between Switzerland and France, were a key highlight.
Other CERN scientists at the gathering, parts of which were being streamed live over the Internet, reported that they had spotted strange “fluctuations” in the data gathered from the mega-velocity collisions staged in the oval-shaped LHC.
But they cautioned that these could simply be misreadings or passing phenomena that will be explained later. They said it was important to avoid “discovering” the Higgs before it was found, as one researcher had done earlier this year.