College Students Are Less Empathic Than Generations Past: Scientific American Podcast -The rise of social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Flikr, has been accompanied by fears that we are producing the most narcissistic “Generation Me” in history. But is there any actual scientific evidence for that view? Well, a study of 14,000 college students found that today’s young people are 40 percent less empathetic than college kids from 30 years ago. The research was presented this weekend at the annual meeting of Association for Psychological Science. “It’s harder for today’s college student to empathize with others becau se so much of their social lives is done through a computer and not through real life interaction.”
House Passes Legislation to Extend Biodiesel Credit (Bloomberg) — A $1-a-gallon biodiesel tax credit that expired Dec. 31 would be extended under legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives today. The proposal, which also continues unemployment insurance and restores other tax breaks, would keep the biodiesel credit in place until the end of this year. “Obviously, this is a win for the industry,” said Michael Frohlich, a spokesman for the National Biodiesel Board, the industry’s primary trade group. “Each step that brings us closer to having the biodiesel tax credit reinstated is a win.” Biodiesel production has almost stopped since the tax credit expired, according to the National Biodiesel Board. There are 173 biodiesel plants in the U.S. with an annual capacity of 2.7 billion gallons.
China Steel Exports ‘Hard to Sustain’ on Oversupply (Bloomberg) — Strong growth in steel exports from China, the largest producer, will be “hard to sustain,” as the global market is oversupplied, said an official from the China Iron & Steel Association. “China’s steel production faces a predicament after a fairly good start in the first four months,” Luo Bingsheng, vice chairman of the association said at a conference in Shanghai today. “Production costs will continue to rise, while the sales prices of steel products have been falling since mid- April.” Chinese steel product exports have doubled in the first four months of the year as the global economy recovers. Crude steel output in China rose 27 percent to a record in April. Benchmark steel prices have dropped from an 18-month high in April.
Labor Unrest May Signal New Phase in China Economy – Rapidly rising industrial wages are beginning to allow China’s workers to share in their country’s rising prosperity. The question is whether these gains can be maintained and even increased without disrupting supply lines to companies around the world, and without discouraging much future investment by Chinese and global companies alike. The biggest eye-opener for multinationals in China recently has been a nine-day-old strike at a sprawling Honda transmission factory here in Foshan, about 100 miles northwest of Hong Kong. The strike, which has forced Honda to suspend production at all four of its joint venture assembly plants in China, has shown that Chinese authorities are willing to tolerate work stoppages at least temporarily, even at high-tech operations on which many other factories depend.
Build America Bonds Extended Under Jobs Bill Passed by House (Bloomberg) — The U.S. House passed a two-year extension of the Build America Bonds program, the fastest- growing part of the $2.8 trillion municipal bond market, as part of a jobs bill. The program, which gives issuers of the taxable debt a direct federal subsidy, was created last year as part of President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package. It is set to expire at year-end. The jobs legislation extends the subsidies through 2012, lengthens unemployment benefits and revises some tax rules. The measure cuts aid to Build America issuers to 32 percent of coupon interest for debt sold next year from 35 percent now, and to 30 percent in 2012. It would also permit using sale proceeds to refund existing Build America issues, allowing municipalities to take advantage of any drop in interest rates. The program was adopted in the wake of the credit crisis to ease borrowing by cities and states. Issuers have used it to lower the cost of public works,
Home Inventory Surges and Organic Housing Trends — One of the most important housing trends to follow over the next few months is the developing rise of single family home inventory.With four consecutive monthly increases, the latest being best described as a surge, sellers appear to be bringing their homes to market at a pace that not only exceeds that of last year but also to a level that is very reminiscent of the housing turning point year of 2007.This is clearly “shadow inventory” (i.e. postponed home sales of homes held by individuals, investors and banks) now coming to market either out of stimulation from the government tax gimmick or simply as a result of the sense of a stabilization of the home markets.Make no mistake, increasing inventory will put downward pressure on prices and result in a more strained circumstance for home sellers.
Congressional Democrats downshift on spending, cut provisions to jobs bill – Congressional Democrats, worried about public perception that government spending is out of control, tapped the brakes on Friday. After agonizing all week, the House narrowly approved a jobs bill, but only after stripping it of provisions that would have extended health insurance subsidies for the unemployed. Normally, Democrats would have little trouble drumming up votes to help jobless workers. But as the economy shifts from recession to recovery, many lawmakers say their constituents are more interested in curbing the soaring national debt than in spending to aid the afflicted. Democratic moderates and freshmen who face tough races in November are applying new scrutiny even to broadly popular programs. "What might have been acceptable a month ago has moved," said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who voted against the jobs bill while praising House leaders for scaling it back.
Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt – According to the College Board’s Trends in Student Aid study, 10 percent of people who graduated in 2007-8 with student loans had borrowed $40,000 or more. The median debt for bachelor’s degree recipients who borrowed while attending private, nonprofit colleges was $22,380. The Project on Student Debt, a research and advocacy organization in Oakland, Calif., used federal data to estimate that 206,000 people graduated from college (including many from for-profit universities) with more than $40,000 in student loan debt in that same period. That’s a ninefold increase over the number of people in 1996, using 2008 dollars. No one forces borrowers to take out these loans, and Ms. Munna and her mother, Cathryn, have spent the years since her graduation trying to understand where they went wrong. Ms. Munna’s father died when she was 13, after a series of illnesses.
What You Can Do To Bring Wall Street Under Control– The most important remaining battle to rein in Wall Street is over Senator Blanche Lincoln’s measure to stop the big banks from being subsidized by taxpayers for their risky derivative trades. Miraculously, it’s still in the bill but it’s on life support. The bill has now gone to the conference committee where differences between the House and Senate bills are to be ironed out.But official Washington (read: dependent on Wall Street for money) is dead set against it. Even Barney Frank — who Massachusetts voters used to consider a reliable progressive until he became chair of the House Financial Services Committee — has vowed to kill Lincoln’s provision. And the White House says the measure is “not core,” which in Washington-lingo means “you’re free to dump it.” Big, big money is at stake. Wall Street’s five largest banks have a corner on the trade, raking in about in about $30 billion in over-the-counter derivatives last year. It’s the single largest reason they’re too big to fail. So they’re spending like mad on Washington lobbyists and campaign donations in order to keep the subsidy in place.
Six Impossible Things – Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said” One believe impossible things.”“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Economists and policy makers seem to want to believe impossible things in regards to the current debt crisis percolating throughout the world. And believing in them, they are adopting policies that will result in, well, tragedy. Today we address what passes for wisdom among the political crowd and see where we are headed, especially in Europe.
Senasational Claims By Matt Simmons About The BP Leak – Matt Simmons gained fame with his book 2005 Twilight in the Desert where he claimed that the Saudis were overstating their oil output because they hit “peak oil.” Right or wrong Simmons claimed the price of oil was going to skyrocket and three years after the book’s release the crude oil hit $147/Barrel. In January 2009 the WSJ called Simmons one of the five most important voices in the oil industry.Simmons has been wrong in the past and his views are non-conventional and often correct. Simmons is also highly connected within the oil industry so he knows who to talk to verify his claims.I have no idea if Simmons is right or wrong but his latest claims, laid out in a Bloomberg TV interview Friday (May 28) appear to be nothing short of sensational.Matt Simmons says “Top Kill” is a sideshow, misses the big problem of a second leak 5 to 7 miles away releasing up to 120,000 barrels/day. Simmons goes on to say we might need nukes to seal the leak.
Global crude benchmark WTI is flawed, according to expert – "As an oiler, you care about benchmarks that reflect physical oil," says Johannes Benigni, MD for JBC Energy at energy news and pricing agency Platts’ crude oil markets conference in London on Friday. "Right now, WTI is an instrument for the financial players, which is perfectly fine, but for the oilers it is not currently relevant. The Canadians, the Brazilians and the West Africans are using Brent as a reference.""The nature of benchmark WTI is it has a delivery mechanism in Cushing, Oklahoma, [US]. It means you come again and again to a situation where there are distortions in the marketplace," he added. "There’s nothing wrong with WTI – it is reflecting supply and demand, but it is local supply and demand – it is limited."
Italy’s fiscal austerity: Slash and burn | The Economist – FROM blithe denial to rank alarmism in a matter of days. For over a year, Silvio Berlusconi has been claiming that the Italian economy was not as badly affected by the global crisis as others (even though GDP shrank in 2009 by more than in France, Spain and Britain). It is testimony to Mr Berlusconi’s salesmanship (and perhaps his sway over Italian television) that he was widely believed. Even more impressively, his government has persuaded the financial markets that there is no problem with Italy’s public accounts, despite having a primary budget deficit (ie, before interest payments) and the euro zone’s biggest public debt. On May 24th the IMF gave Italy’s management of its finances a positive assessment. So it came as a shock to many Italians to hear just hours later from Mr Berlusconi’s close adviser, Gianni Letta, that a long-denied emergency budget would include “very heavy, very tough sacrifices” to save Italy “from the Greece risk”.