Tuesday June 18, 2013

Financial world looks to Bernanke to clarify Fed’s timetable on economic stimulus

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Is the era of ultra-low interest rates nearing an end?

When he takes questions this week after a Federal Reserve meeting, Chairman Ben Bernanke will confront investors’ fears that rates are headed higher.

Financial markets have been gyrating in the 3 1/2 weeks since Bernanke told Congress the Fed might scale back its effort to keep long-term rates at record lows within "the next few meetings"-- earlier than many had assumed.

Bernanke cautioned that the Fed would slow its support only if it felt confident the job market would show sustained improvement. And earlier in the day, he said the Fed must take care not to prematurely reduce its stimulus for the still-subpar economy.

Yet investors were left puzzled and spooked by a mixed message. Fear spread that the Fed would soon slow its $85 billion-a-month in bond purchases. Those purchases have been intended to hold down long-term borrowing rates to spur spending. Low rates are credited with helping fuel a housing rebound, sustain economic growth, drive stock prices to record highs and restore the wealth America had lost to the Great Recession.

After months of threatening nuclear war, NKorea tells U.S.: Let’s talk

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- After months of threatening to wage a nuclear war, North Korea did an about-face Sunday and issued a surprise proposal to the United States, its No. 1 enemy: Let’s talk.

But the invitation from North Korea’s National Defense Commission, the powerful governing body led by leader Kim Jong Un, comes with caveats: No preconditions and no demands that Pyongyang give up its prized nuclear assets unless Washington is willing to do the same -- ground rules that make it hard for the Americans to accept.

Washington responded by saying that it is open to talks -- but only if North Korea first shows it will comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and live up to its international obligations.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. has seen no evidence that Pyongyang’s offer of talks is different from numerous others it’s made over the years that have yielded little.

"The key piece here is that they need to take credible steps to move toward concrete denuclearization," she told reporters Monday.

Obama defends NSA data gathering of phone records, Internet traffic to public

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is defending top secret U.S. spying programs and called them transparent -- even though they are authorized in secret.

Obama told PBS’s Charlie Rose in an interview to be broadcast Monday night says "that’s why we set up the FISA court." He was referring to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that authorizes two recently disclosed programs: one that gathers U.S. phone records and another is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.

Obama says the government is "going to have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place."

Iran’s newly elected president urges ‘path of moderation’ but highlights limits

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran’s newly elected president showcased his reform-leaning image Monday by promising a "path of moderation" that includes greater openness on Tehran’s nuclear program and overtures to Washington. He also made clear where he draws the line: No halt to uranium enrichment and no direct U.S. dialogue without a pledge to stay out of Iranian affairs.

Hasan Rowhani’s first post-victory news conference was a study in what may make his presidency tick.

Rowhani may be hailed as a force for change, but he also appears to carry a deep and self-protective streak of pragmatism. He knows he can only push his views on outreach and detente as far as allowed by the country’s real powers, the ruling clerics and their military protectors, the Revolutionary Guard.

Many of Rowhani’s statements reflected these boundaries, which could later expand or contract depending on how much the theocracy wants to endorse his agenda.

When he appealed to treat "old wounds" with the U.S., he also echoed the ruling clerics’ position that no breakthroughs can occur as long as Washington is seen as trying to undermine their hold on power. Rowhani’s urging for greater "nuclear transparency" as a path to roll back sanctions was also punctuated by a hard-liner stance: No chance to stop the uranium enrichment labs at the heart of the stalemate with the West and its allies.

Putin tells Obama their positions don’t coincide on Syria, but both want to stop violence

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Barack Obama on Monday that their positions on Syria do not "coincide" but the two leaders said during the G-8 summit that they have a shared interest in stopping the violence that has ravaged the Middle Eastern country during a two-year-old civil war.

Obama acknowledged in a bilateral meeting with Putin in Northern Ireland that they have a "different perspective" on Syria but he said that both leaders wanted to address the fierce fighting and also wanted to secure chemical weapons in the country. The U.S. president said both sides would work to develop talks in Geneva aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war.

"We do have differing perspectives on the problem but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they’re neither used nor are they subject to proliferation," Obama said. "We want to try to resolve the issue through political means if possible."

Putin said "of course our opinions do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria and to stop the growth of victims and to solve the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiations table in Geneva. We agreed to push the parties to the negotiations table."

While Putin has called for negotiated peace talks, he has not urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power, and he remains one of Assad’s strongest political and military allies. The White House did not expect any breakthrough with Putin on Syria during the gathering of the Group of Eight Summit at a lakeside golf resort near Enniskillen and the meeting further highlighted the rift between the two countries on how to address the fighting in the country.

Obama, EU agree at G-8 summit to start free-trade talks in Washington

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (AP) -- The European Union and the United States will open negotiations next month on a long-sought deal to create free trade between the world’s two mightiest economic regions, an effort designed to create millions of jobs that could take years to transform from dream to reality.

EU and U.S. leaders announced the plans Monday at the start of the G-8 summit of wealthy nations in Northern Ireland.

"America and Europe have done extraordinary things before and I believe we can forge an economic alliance as strong as our diplomatic and security alliances, which of course are the most powerful in history," U.S. President Barack Obama declared alongside EU leaders and the British host, Prime Minister David Cameron.

At stake is a vision of boosting the value of trans-Atlantic trade in goods and services that Obama said already exceeds $1 trillion annually, as well as $4 trillion annually in investment in each other’s economies.

EU and U.S. officials agreed at the start of the Group of Eight summit that these already colossal trade figures could be much higher if only both sides agreed to dismantle high tariff walls and bureaucratic hurdles that undermine the export of many products.

Supreme Court says Ariz. cannot demand proof of citizenship for federal voter registration

WASHINGTON (AP) -- States can’t demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections unless they get federal or court approval to do so, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision complicating efforts in Arizona and other states to bar voting by people who are in the country illegally.

The justices’ 7-2 ruling closes the door on states independently changing the requirements for those using the voter-registration form produced under the federal "motor voter" registration law. They would need permission from a federally created panel, the Election Assistance Commission, or a federal court ruling overturning the commission’s decision, to make tougher requirements stick.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the court’s majority opinion, said federal law "precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself."

Voting rights advocates welcomed the ruling.

"Today’s decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law," said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "The Supreme Court has affirmed that all U.S. citizens have the right to register to vote using the national postcard, regardless of the state in which they live."

Year after Obama policy change, immigrant youths in U.S. illegally have delayed coming of age

MIAMI (AP) -- As a child, Jorge Tume used to sit and do homework as his parents cleaned the desks and floors of a concrete company in Miami. When he was done, he’d take out the trash and help finish cleaning.

Tume’s parents brought him to the U.S. from Peru with his younger brother when he was 12. They came on tourist visas and then stayed in the country illegally when their visas expired.

After he graduated from high school, Tume had few job prospects. So he did what his parents did: Cleaned offices, washed cars and picked up odd jobs.

Now, one year after President Barack Obama announced that young people brought to the country as children and living in the U.S. illegally would be allowed to stay and work if they met certain criteria, Tume’s life looks decidedly different: He’s behind a computer filing notices for liens at the concrete company he once helped his parents clean.

"I know every corner of this office, this building," said Tume, 21. "I used to see other people do the job that I’m doing now. And I’m sitting here now working."

Make it look natural; companies work to make packaged foods appear homespun

NEW YORK (AP) -- Here’s the latest goal for food makers: Perfect the art of imperfection.

When stretching out the dough for its premium "Artisan Pizzas," Domino’s workers are instructed not to worry about making the rectangles too perfect: The pies are supposed to have a more rustic look.

At McDonald’s, the egg whites for the new breakfast sandwich called the Egg White Delight McMuffin have a loose shape rather than the round discs used in the original Egg McMuffin.

And Kraft Foods took more than two years to develop a process to make the thick, uneven slabs of turkey in its Carving Board line look like leftovers from a homemade meal rather than the cookie-cutter ovals typical of most lunchmeat.

"The goal is to get the same action as if you were cutting with a knife," said Paul Morin, a Kraft engineer.