Thursday, June 7, 2012

Obama races the clock with summer economic numbers

Updated Fri., June 1, 10:38 a.m. - President Barack Obama finds himself in a political game of "beat the clock," in which each successive economic report increases in electoral importance.

Pool / Getty Images
President Obama, along with his supporters and allies, will likely do what they've done for the past 19 months: hail employment growth but say there's much more work to be done.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report Friday reflecting dismal growth in employment in the month of May, an indicator of the rate at which the economy's recovery from the recession might have slowed.
The economy added only 69,000 jobs in May, well below economists' expectations. As a result, the unemployment rate ticked upward to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent in April.
The White House stressed what it has for the past 19 months, hailing employment growth but saying there's much more work to be done.
"[O]ur economy is facing serious headwinds, including the crisis in Europe and a spike in gas prices that hit American families’ finances over the past months," said Alan Kreuger, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He added a note of caution: "It is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, and it is helpful to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available."
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his Republican allies, meanwhile, pounced, arguing that the recovery would be more robust if not for the Democratic incumbent.

An msnbc TV panel discusses Mitt Romney's promise to get the unemployment rate to 6 percent, and President Obama's jobs record.
"The president's re-election slogan may be ‘forward,’ but it seems like we've been moving backward," Romney said. "We can do so much better in America. That's why I'm running for president."
But the administration’s biggest challenge might be on the calendar, not the campaign trail.
Voters’ sense of the nation’s economic trajectory tends to take shape in the summertime, said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University who’s developed predictive models for presidential elections.
“It's more a matter of how people perceive the direction of the economy, and that's going to be influenced by these reports as they come out,” he said, stressing in particular the importance of midsummer numbers on gross domestic product growth in the second quarter.
Right now, the economic numbers for Obama are essentially borderline –- a variable in keeping with the closeness of the campaign between the president and Romney.
“You would think, based on some of the indicators, if Gov. Romney were making a stronger argument, he should have an advantage in a weak economy,” said former Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, a Democrat who heads the Center for American Progress’s Action Fund.
GDP figures from the first quarter, released on Thursday, were revised downward to show the economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.9 percent from January through March. And the economy added 115,000 jobs in April.
Both numbers are positive but lag behind the political expectations for the strength of the recovery, especially since Obama’s in his fourth year in office.
First Thoughts: Observations on the latest presidential polls
Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested that while Obama might not have much time to change underlying impressions, that level of growth might be enough.
“I don’t think he’s the underdog here,” she said of the president.
She said it’s hard for a challenger like Romney to “steal” an election just by arguing that growth hasn’t been on pace.
“These guys are not stealing these elections away from the incumbent party by arguing about whether the economy has been good enough, or whether the growth has been enough,” she said.
Voters’ sense of the trajectory of the economy matters, too. Job creation and GDP growth were far better in late 2011 and the beginning of this year than they seem to have been in the past few months, feeding into a sense that the pace of the economic recovery has slowed.

Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Jerry Moran are working together on a bipartisan jobs bill called the "Startup Act 2.0."
That sense pervaded the May NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed Americans’ approval of Obama’s overall job performance and handling of the economy had each ticked downward. Not by coincidence, the horse race between Obama and Romney tightened, too.
To make matters worse, the window is closing on Obama’s opportunity to convince voters that things are improving. At some point, the overall perception of the direction of the economy will be “baked in,” and that raises the stakes for the next few months of economic figures.
“It's important, and it may be the most important thing, given that we're heading toward a close election –-  more important than any campaign event or advertisement,” said Abramowitz. “It's probably going to have more impact if it happens soon, rather than at the end.”
Perriello cautioned, though, about a gap between “substance” and politics, noting that Republicans’ push to cut government spending -– a kind of austerity agenda along the lines of what many Europeans have pursued -– might have contributed to a slowdown for which Obama gets blamed.
NBC-Marist polls: Obama, Romney deadlocked in three key states
“It's not often in history you get a chance to see what would have happened under the Republican approach,” he said, referring to downturns in various European economies. “The politics of that are that if you're in the White House, you have to answer for what the unemployment rate is."
There are other looming variables that could shake up the trajectory of the election. A foreign policy episode in Iran, Syria or elsewhere could dethrone the economy as the No. 1 issue.
Or, when it comes to the economy, a deterioration of the financial situation in European economies could have reverberating effects in the U.S., the political outcome of which is mostly uncertain.
That’s not even to mention the millions of dollars that will be spent by Romney, Obama and their respective supporters to spin responsibility for the economic climate.
“There’s this big elephant that’s out there,” Vavreck said.

Stargazers Watch Venus Transit the Sun

The planet Venus will cross the sun in a rare celestial event, but even though this event won’t happen again until 2117, don’t stare directly at it, scientists warn. TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie reports.

(HONOLULU) — Filtering the sun's light to a miniscule fraction of its true power allowed sky-gazers over the world to watch a silhouetted Venus travel across Earth's closest star, an extremely rare spectacle that served as a reminder of how tiny our planet really is.
After all, the next transit is 105 years away — likely beyond all of our lifetimes but just another dinky speck in the timeline of the universe.
(PHOTOS: The Really, Truly, Newest, Earthiest Planets Yet — Until the Next Ones)
"I'm sad to see Venus go," electrical engineer Andrew Cooper of the W.M. Keck Observatory told viewers watching a webcast of the transit's final moments as seen from the nearly 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.

The planet Venus

From Maui to Mumbai, Mexico to Norway, much of the world watched the 6-hour, 40-minute celestial showcase through special telescopes, live streams on the Internet or with the naked eye through cheap cardboard glasses.
"If you can see the mole on Cindy Crawford's face, you can see Venus," Van Webster, a member of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, told anyone who stopped by his telescope for a peek on Mount Hollywood.
For astronomers, the transit wasn't just a rare planetary spectacle. It was also one of those events they hoped would spark curiosity about the universe and our place in it.
Sul Ah Chim, a researcher at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute in South Korea, said he hoped people see life from a larger perspective, and "not get caught up in their small, everyday problems."
"When you think about it from the context of the universe, 105 years is a very short period of time and the Earth is only a small, pale blue spot," he said.
The transit began just after 6 p.m. EDT in the United States. What observers could see and for how long depended on their region's exposure to the sun during that exact window of time, and the weather.
Those in most areas of North and Central America saw the start of the transit until sunset, while those in western Asia, the eastern half of Africa and most of Europe could catch the transit's end once the sun came up.
Hawaii, Alaska, eastern Australia and eastern Asia including Japan, North and South Korea and eastern China get the whole show since the entire transit happens during daylight in those regions.
While astronomers used the latest technology to document the transit, American astronaut Don Pettit aboard the International Space Station was planning to take photos of the event and post them online.
Online streams with footage from telescopes around the world proved popular for NASA and other observatories. A NASA stream midway through the transit had nearly 2 million total views and was getting roughly 90,000 viewers at any given moment.
Meanwhile, terrestrial stargazers were warned to only look at the celestial event with a properly filtered telescope or cardboard eclipse glasses. If the sun is viewed directly, permanent eye damage could result.
Roy Gal, an assistant astronomer at the University of Hawaii, told those viewing the transit at Waikiki Beach on Oahu that the telescopes were filtered to block all but 1/100th of 1 percent of the sun's light, plus all its infrared rays to keep the instruments from overheating.
"What we need to do is block out most of the light from the sun so that we don't go blind and we don't melt things," Gal said in an interview.
In Los Angeles, throngs jammed Mount Hollywood where the Griffith Observatory rolled out the red carpet for Venus. The last time the city witnessed a Venus transit was 130 years ago in 1882. A 2004 transit was not visible from the western U.S.
Telescopes with special filters were set up next to the lawn and people took turns peering at the sun before and during the transit. Astronomers and volunteers lectured about the rarity of a Venus pass to anyone who would listen.
Minutes before Venus first touched the outer edge of the sun, Sousa's "Transit Of Venus March" blared through. The crowd turned their attention skyward.
Jamie Jetton took the day off from work to bring her two nephews, 6 and 11, visiting from Arizona to the observatory. Sporting eclipse glasses, it took a little while before they spotted Venus.
"I'm still having fun. It's an experience. It's something we'll talk about for the rest of our lives," she said.
Bo Tan, a 32-year-old software engineer took a half day off from work and went with his co-workers to the observatory. He admitted he wasn't an astronomy buff but could not miss this opportunity.
He pointed his eclipse glasses at the sun and steadied his Nikon camera behind it to snap pictures.
"It makes you feel like a small speck in the universe," he said.
In Mexico, at least 100 people lined up two hours early to view the event through telescopes or one of the 150 special viewing glasses on hand, officials said. Observation points were also set up at a dozen locations.
Venus, which is extremely hot, is one of Earth's two neighbors and is so close in size to our planet that scientists at times call them near-twins. During the transit, it will appear as a small dot.
This will be the seventh transit visible since German astronomer Johannes Kepler first predicted the phenomenon in the 17th century. Because of the shape and speed of Venus' orbit around the sun and its relationship to Earth's annual trip, transits occur in pairs separated by more than a century.
It's nowhere near as dramatic and awe-inspiring as a total solar eclipse, which sweeps a shadow across the Earth, but there will be six more of those this decade.
In Hawaii, hundreds of tourists and locals passed through an area of Waikiki Beach where the University of Hawaii set up eight telescopes and two large screens showing webcasts of the transit as seen from telescopes at volcanoes on other Hawaiian islands.
But minutes after Venus crossed into the sun's path, clouds rolled overhead and blocked the direct view.
"It's always the challenge of being in Hawaii — are you going to be able to see through the clouds," said Greg Mansker, 49, of Pearl City, as he stood in line at a telescope.
The intermittent clouds didn't stop people from looking up through filters, but it did drive some to crowd the screens instead.
Jenny Kim, 39, of Honolulu, said she told her 11-year-old son the planet's crossing would be the only time he'd get to see the transit in person.
"I don't know what the future will be, so I think this will be good for him," Kim said as she snapped photos of the webcast with her smartphone.
Astronomers also hosted viewings at Pearl Harbor and Ko Olina. In Maui, 20 couples renewed their vows during a ceremony tied to the transit at the Hyatt Regency Maui, a spokeswoman said.
Some observers at the University of Alaska, Anchorage gathered on a campus rooftop, peering at Venus through special filtered glasses and telescopes.
"It's not really spectacular when you're looking at it," Kellen Tyrrell, 13, said. "It's just the fact that I'm here seeing it. It's just so cool that I get to experience it."
NASA planned a watch party at its Goddard Visitor Center in Maryland with solar telescopes, "Hubble-quality" images from its Solar Dynamics Observatory Mission and expert commentary and presentations.
Most people don't tend to gaze at the sun for long periods of time because it's painful and people instinctively look away. But there's the temptation to stare at it during sky shows like solar eclipses or transits of Venus.
The eye has a lens and if you stare at the sun, it concentrates sunlight on the retina and can burn a hole through it. It's similar to when you hold a magnifying glass under the blazing sun and light a piece of paper on fire.
It can take several hours for people to notice problems with their eyes but, by that time, the damage is done and, in some cases, irreversible.
During the 1970 solar eclipse visible from the eastern U.S., 145 burns of the retina were reported, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Experts from Hong Kong's Space Museum and local astronomical groups were organizing a viewing Wednesday outside the museum's building on the Kowloon waterfront overlooking the southern Chinese city's famed Victoria Harbor.
On the East Coast of the United States, amateur astronomer Vince Sempronio was at a viewing hosted by Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Md., but clouds there — as in many other places — limited visibility of the spectacle. Many at the college viewing crowded around a laptop to watch the NASA webcast instead of the Venus move across the sun.
"I was here at the same spot eight years ago when we had the last transit and I was able to show people, using my telescope then. So I'm not too disappointed," Sempronio said. "If modern science and medicine helps, maybe I'll be around in a hundred and five years to see the next one. But I'm not crossing my fingers."

Contributing to this report are AP Science Writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles; and Associated Press writers Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage, Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Hye Soo Nah in Seoul, and Noel Waghorn in Takoma Park, Md.

Shakespeare's pre-Globe theater unearthed

Construction project turns up remains of Curtain stage, made famous as 'Wooden O'

Image: Shoreditch archaeological dig

MOLA via Reuters
A Museum of London archaeologist measures bricks of the foundation of the Curtain theater, which was unearthed in the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch last October. news services
updated 6/6/2012 12:55:14 PM ET
Archaeologists in London have discovered the remains of an early playhouse used by William Shakespeare's company where "Henry V" and possibly "Romeo and Juliet" were first performed.
The Curtain theater, north of the river Thames in Shoreditch, was home to Shakespeare's company — the Lord Chamberlain's Men — before the riverside Globe theater was built.
Remains of walls forming the gallery and the yard within the venue were discovered by archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology, or MOLA. "This is a fantastic site which gives us unique insight into early Shakespearean theaters," MOLA's Chris Thomas, who is leading the archaeological work, said Wednesday.
The theater was immortalized as "this wooden O" in the prologue of "Henry V" with the lines: "Can this cock-pit hold within this wooden O, the very caskes that did affright the Ayre at Agincourt?"
The Curtain opened in 1577, close to London's first playhouse, which was known simply as The Theater. The venue took its name from Curtain Close, a nearby street. The Lord Chamberlain's Men moved to the Curtain in 1597 after getting into a dispute with The Theater's landlord.
Patrick Spottiswoode, director of education at Shakespeare's Globe, said the company's experience at the Curtain was not a happy one. Audiences at the venue, which staged sword fights, acrobatics and bear-baiting as well as plays, were demanding.
"It was a different kind of house, and they were probably desperate to leave," Spottiswoode said. "Crowds would flock to the Curtain to see all sorts of activities — they didn't go there to see thesps."

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Archaeologists in London have unearthed the remains of what's believed to be one of the earliest play houses in the city.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men left the Curtain in 1599 for the Globe, the theater they'd built using timbers smuggled from the original Theater.
The Curtain survived as a theater at least until the 1620s, making it the longest-lived of London's Elizabethan playhouses. Some experts say it may have remained in use until the English Civil War in the 1640s.
Archaeologists stumbled upon the Curtain's remains on Hewett Street after work began on a real estate development project last October. Soon after the remains were found in an exploratory dig, architects began drawing up plans to preserve the remains while allowing the development to go ahead.
A spokesman for Plough Yard Developments, the company leading the project with the Estate Office Shoreditch, said the excavations could become a preserved centerpiece of a new housing and shopping area.
The plans are set to go on display on June 8 and 9 at the site.
"Although the Curtain was known to have been in the area, its exact location was a mystery," the Plough Yard spokesman said.
London has been celebrating its cultural heritage with a world Shakespeare festival taking place at the Globe and across Britain, as part of a festival timed to coincide with the Olympics this summer. The festival runs through November.
Heather Knight, a senior Museum of London archaeologist, said that despite recent discoveries there is still much to learn about the Elizabethan theater. The remains of The Theater were discovered nearby only a few years ago , in 2008. Another early Elizabethan theater, the Rose, was unearthed in 1989.
"The late 16th century was a time of a theatrical arms race in London," Knight said. "The proprietors of these building were making improvements to attract customers. So to have the chance to look at the earliest of these buildings, and the one that had the longest life, is a real opportunity."
More about Shakespearean theater:

Untreatable gonorrhea spreading worldwide news services
updated 6/6/2012 9:43:19 AM ET
A potentially dangerous sexually transmitted disease that infects millions of people each year is growing resistant to drugs and could soon become untreatable, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
Scientists reported last year finding a "superbug" strain of gonorrhea in Japan in 2008 that was resistant to all recommended antibiotics and warned then that it could transform a once easily treatable infections into a global health threat.
"This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we've thrown at it," said Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, a scientist in the agency's department of sexually transmitted diseases. This includes a group of antibiotics called cephalosporins currently considered the last line of treatment.
"In a couple of years it will have become resistant to every treatment option we have available now," she told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of WHO's public announcement on its 'global action plan' to combat the disease.
The WHO said those fears are now reality with many more countries, including Australia, France, Norway, Sweden and Britain, reporting cases of the sexually transmitted disease resistant to cephalosporin antibiotics.
"Gonorrhea is becoming a major public health challenge," said Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, from the WHO's department of reproductive health and research. She said more than 106 million people are newly infected with the disease every year.
"The organism is what we term a superbug -- it has developed resistance to virtually every class of antibiotics that exists," she told a briefing in Geneva. "If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant."
  • Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection which, if left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirths, severe eye infections in babies, and infertility in both men and women.
Once considered a scourge of sailors and soldiers, gonorrhea — known colloquially as the clap — became easily treatable with the discovery of penicillin. Now, it is again the second most common sexually transmitted infection after chlamydia. The global health body estimates that of the 498 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections worldwide, gonorrhea is responsible for some 106 million infections annually. It also increases the chances of infection with other diseases, such as HIV.
It is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world and is most prevalent in south and southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases is estimated at around 700,000 a year.
The WHO called for greater vigilance on the correct use of antibiotics and more research into alternative treatments for so-called gonococcal infections.
The emergence of drug-resistant or superbug strains of gonorrhea is caused by unregulated access to and overuse of antibiotics, which helps fuel natural genetic mutations within the bacteria.
Experts say an added problem with gonorrhea is that its strains tend to retain their genetic resistance to previous antibiotics even after their use has been discontinued.
Major producers of antibiotics for gonorrhea include global drug making giants GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Abbott, as well as Indian firms like Cipla.
The WHO said it is not yet clear how far or wide drug resistance in gonorrhea has spread, as many countries lack reliable data. "The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg," said Lusti-Narasimhan.
"Without adequate surveillance we won't know the extent of resistance...and without research into new antimicrobial agents there could soon be no effective treatment for patients."
'Like passing razor blades' Francis Ndowa, formerly the WHO's lead specialist for sexually transmitted infections, said gonorrhea has not only adapted to elude antibiotics but developed less painful symptoms, increasing its survival chances.
"They used to say that if you have urethral gonorrhea you go to the toilet to pass urine, it would be like passing razor blades. It was that painful," he explained. "Now people with gonorrhea sometimes...only notice the discharge if they look when they pass urine, it's not that painful anymore.
"So the organism has readjusted itself to provide fewer symptoms so that it can survive longer. It's an amazing interaction between man and pathogen."
Experts say the best way to reduce the risk of even greater resistance developing - beyond the urgent need to develop effective new drugs - is to treat gonorrhea with combinations of two or more types of antibiotic at the same time.
This technique is used in the treatment of some other infections like tuberculosis in an attempt to make it more difficult for the bacteria to learn how to conquer the drugs.
Gonorrhea can be prevented through safer sexual intercourse. The WHO said early detection and prompt treatment, including of sexual partners, is essential to control sexually transmitted infections.

10 Species You Can Kiss Goodbye

Date: 28 August 2008 Time: 05:01 AM ET

10 Species You Can Kiss Goodbye
Vanishing Species?
Think the polar bear has it bad? Here are 10 critters that are even worse off than our favorite threatened Arctic resident. Listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered, meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future, these animals may not live to see the end of the next decade without the a similar effort of human intervention that brought them to the brink in the first place.

nullCredit: WWF-Canon/Alain Compost
Sumatran Rhinoceros
The smallest of rhinoceroses (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) used to flourish throughout the rain forests, cloud forests, and swamps of India and Southeast Asia. Now critically endangered, only six substantial populations remain in the wild, where they're estimated to number around 300. The main culprits for their dwindling numbers? Illegal poaching — their horns can fetch as much as $30,000 per kilogram on the black market — and the rampant destruction of their habitat in the name of human progress. Another reason the animals are doomed: Zoos have found very little success breeding the rhinos in captivity.

nullCredit: Earthwatch Institute
Western Gray Whale
Although the International Whaling Commission banned the hunting of gray whales in 1947, the Western Pacific population (Esrichtiius robustus) never recovered from unchecked whaling in the 19th and early 20th centuries: Out of the 100 western grays that remain, only 23 are reproductive females. Their only known feeding ground off the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island in Russia has since been annexed by oil companies whose exploration and mining activities, including high-intensity seismic surveying, drilling operations, increased ship and air traffic, and oil spills, are driving the 30-ton mammals to extinction.

nullCredit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Red Wolf
Smaller and more slender than its gray-wolf cousin, the red wolf (Canis lupus rufus) managed to survive the Late Pleistocene ice age but may not be able to slink by modern man. Once widespread throughout the southeastern United States, red wolf-populations have been so devastated by predator-control programs and habitat loss that the dearth of breeding partners has led many of them to mate with coyotes instead, further reducing the number of genetically pure wolves. An estimated 100 wolves roam northeastern North Carolina today, while another 150 reside at captive breeding facilities across the United States. [Stunning Photos of Wolves]

nullCredit: stock.xchng
Siberian Tiger
Also known as the Amur tiger, the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), whose former range included northeastern China, the Korean Peninsula, and Mongolia, is now almost completely confined to Russia's Amur-Ussuri region, where it is now protected. An estimated 350 to 450 tigers are believed to be still alive, although the persistent threats of habitat loss through logging and development, as well as poaching for their fur and bones continue to loom overhead. [Gallery: Tiger Species of the World]

nullCredit: LuRay Parker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Black-Footed Ferret
The only ferret native to North America, and one of the most endangered mammals on the continent, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) teeters on the edge of extinction because human development has reduced their grasslands habitat to less than 2 percent of its original size. Because prairie dogs comprise 90 percent of a ferret's diet, the destruction of prairie-dog colonies due to habitat destruction, pest-elimination programs, and disease are huge contributors to the ferret's downward spiral.

nullCredit: stock.xchng
Philippine Crocodile
Found only on the islands from which it derives its name, the freshwater Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) is legally protected in its native country, although it continues to face threats from human disturbance, including habitat loss and accidental death by dynamite fishing. A 1995 survey found only 100 adult crocs left in the wild, making the animal one of the most severely threatened species on the planet.

nullCredit: Wildlife Conservation Society
Mountain Gorilla
Although mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringeiberingei) managed to elude discovery until as late as 1902, their populations have been so decimated by deforestation, hunting, and the illegal pet trade that only 720 remain in the wild, split between Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga range of volcanic mountains on the borders of the Democratic Repulic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda. Civil unrest in central Africa, particularly in the Congo, add another wrinkle in conservation efforts.

nullCredit: Warner Bros./Peter Kragh
Ganges Shark
This rare and elusive species of shark (Glyphis gangeticus) makes its home in India's Ganges River, where it has a reputation as a man-eater, although people may be confusing it with the more dangerous bull shark. One of 20 sharks on the IUCN's Red List of endangered species, the Ganges shark is highly sought after for its oil. Rampant fishing, habitat degradation from pollution, and increasing river utilization, however, remain the primary causes for its rapid disappearance.

An acrobatic baby orangutan sucks its Credit: i359702,
Sumatran Orangutan
The smaller and rarer of the two species of orangutans, the fruit- and insect-loving Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is being pushed to imminent extinction by ... you guessed it ... habitat loss and poaching. While orangutans live for roughly 45 years in the wild, they also breed more slowly than other primates — a single female produces no more than three offspring in her lifetime — which means that orangutan populations grow slowly and are less tenacious when it comes to recovering from external threats.
no photo
California Condor
A resident of the Grand Canyon area and the western coastal mountains of California, the carrion-eating California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) has a lifespan of 50 years, making it one of the world's longest-living birds. Because of poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat loss, however, it's also one of the world's rarest bird species—one that was almost wiped out completely in the 1980s. With the help of conservation efforts, 332 condors are now known to exist, including 152 in the wild.

Tiny remnants of war found in sands of Omaha Beach

Geologist discovers teeny bits of shrapnel in Normandy, four decades after D-Day invasion

E. McBride, D. Picard via Reuters
Shrapnel grains and an iron bead, remnants of the D-Day invasion, are pictured in this scanning electron microscope image. Texas geologist Earle McBride and a colleague, Dane Picard, found the tiny grains — roughly the width of a human hair.
updated 6/5/2012 3:41:33 PM ET
When Texas geologist Earle McBride visited Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, in 1988, four decades after D-Day, the visible remnants of the Allied Forces' invasion there had long ago vanished.
But he and a colleague would later discover the history of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy's beaches — which marked a turning point in World War Two — lingered in the sand in the form of tiny pieces of shrapnel only visible under a microscope.
It wasn't a discovery that McBride and colleague Dane Picard of Utah set out to make during their tourist visit to Omaha Beach, where U.S. forces suffered their greatest casualties in the assault against heavily fortified German defenses.
LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks), landing vehicles and cargo assemble on a Normandy beach in this June 1944 handout photo
LSTs (landing ship tanks) and other vehicles and cargo assemble on a Normandy beach in this June 1944 handout from the U.S. National Archives.
"We didn't think about, ‘Hey, there should be shrapnel here?'" said McBride, 80, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas who retired in 2005 but still goes to his office five hours a day to study rocks.
But the geologists did what long ago became their habit when they visit a beach anywhere in the world: they put a bit of sand in a plastic bag and took it home.
McBride didn't fully analyze the sample for more than two decades. Finally, in retirement, he made a slide of the sand by using blue-dyed epoxy to bind the grains together.
On a recent day in his tiny office at the Austin university where he taught for 46 years, McBride showed a visitor what he found. Under a microscope, rounded grains — quartz, feldspar, clam and oyster shells — were visible, along with jagged-edged grains.
"You see how angular that grain is?" he asked. "It's an anomaly — if it had the same origin and history, it should have been well-rounded, too."
A different light source on the microscope revealed that the jagged-edged grains had a metallic sheen and a rust-colored coating, and when McBride held a magnet to some of the sand, the angular grains proved to be magnetic.
McBride suspected the jagged grains were shrapnel, and he used a scanning electron microscope to verify his hunch. It showed the grains were iron with a bit of oxygen from rust.
Marc Airhart  /  Reuters
Earle McBride shows off his specimen cabinets at the Jackson Geological Sciences Building on the University of Texas campus in this 2012 photo obtained by Reuters.
He also found the sand included small spherical iron and glass beads, which he and Picard believe were formed by munitions explosions in the air and sand.
"It's a detective story," McBride said. "Sand has an exciting history."
He said it's not surprising that shrapnel was left on the beach. Rather the surprise is that it remained there decades later, long after the wrecked ships, tanks and aircraft were gone.
But the shrapnel won't be in the sand forever, he and Picard wrote in Earth Magazine last year.
"The combination of chemical corrosion and abrasion will likely destroy the grains in a century or so, leaving only the memorials and people's memories to recall the extent of devastation suffered by those directly engaged in World War II," they wrote.
The research by McBride and Picard — a professor emeritus at the University of Utah — was published in the September 2011 edition of The Sedimentary Record, a scholarly journal.
"It was a great approach," said Xavier Janson, a research scientist at the University of Texas and an editor of the Record. "It was using a geological tool that you usually use to understand where sand grains come from, but instead, it was used to understand what happened on this beach."
For McBride, the discovery is an example of why he still finds passion in his lifelong work studying sedimentary rocks, the ones most commonly found on the Earth's surface.
The latest project on his desk is a 450 million-year-old rock from Utah roughly the size of a softball; he's trying to reconstruct the history of how it formed and where its grains originated.
The Earth is old, McBride said, and "all I can do is work on one little chunk of the history of sandstones. As we say, so many rocks, so little time."

Remembering lives lost on D-Day anniversary

Remy de la Mauviniere / AP
U.S. World War II veteran Clarence "Mac" Evans, 87, from West Virginia, who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, with the 29th Infantry Division, walks among the graves at the Colleville American military cemetery in Colleville sur Mer, western France, on June 6, before the start of the ceremony commemorating the 68th anniversary of the D-Day. Evans was searching for the tombs of 17 of his fellows who died on D-Day.

Remy de la Mauviniere / AP
Wreaths are laid at the memorial of the Colleville American military cemetery in Colleville sur Mer, western France, on June 6 during the ceremony commemorating the 68th anniversary of D-Day.

Remy de la Mauviniere / AP
A bird stands on one of the 9,387 graves at the Colleville American military cemetery in Colleville sur Mer, western France, on June 6, the day of the commemoration of the 68th anniversary of D-Day.

Brendan Mcdermid / REUTERS
Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday.

Dow soars over 200 amid signs of urgent moves in Europe

Stocks rallied Wednesday amid signs of urgent moves in Europe to rescue Spain's troubled banks, but comments from the president of the European Central Bank disappointed some in the market hoping for further stimulus to tackle the euro zone's debt crisis.
Resisting international pressure to provide more support for the euro zone's ailing economy, the ECB held its main interest rate a 1 percent Wednesday. ECB President Mario Draghi said it is "no(t) right for monetary policy to fill others' lack of action," suggesting there would be no more long-term lending to banks unless governments come up with solutions.
"Bottom line, Draghi didn't bring the meat the market dogs were hoping for as he seems to be standing pat for now, likely waiting for more stress to develop before announcing something new of substance," said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak + Co in New York.
The Dow Jones industrial average was lately up over 200 points and enjoying its best day since March 13.
After the market dropped more than 6 percent in May and saw a three-day slide to close out the prior week, the market was ripe for a rebound, analysts said.
A gloomy jobs report and signs of a global economic slowdown hammered Wall Street Friday, wiping out the stock market’s gains for 2012. However, Wednesday’s advance lifted stocks back into positive territory for 2012.
Germany and European Union officials are urgently exploring ways to rescue Spain's banks although Madrid has not yet requested assistance and is resisting political conditions, several EU sources said on Wednesday.
Nonfarm productivity fell more than expected in the first quarter, as companies gave more hours to employees but only modestly expanded output.
Related: Nasdaq plans $40 million Facebook IPO fix
Separately, the Federal Reserve said economic growth in the United States picked up over the two prior months and hiring showed signs of a "modest increase."
"Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest overall economic activity expanded at a moderate pace during the reporting period from early April to late May," the central bank said in its latest "Beige Book" summary of national activity.
The Fed's previous Beige Book assessment of the economy, released on April 11, had painted growth in a more timid light, describing it as "modest to moderate."
Facebook is making it easier for advertisers to reach the growing ranks of users on smartphones and mobile devices, taking a significant step toward addressing one of investors' most pressing concerns and broadening its appeal to marketers.

Shares of Tempur-Pedic International fell 47 percent after the mattress company revised its full year forecast.
Moody's Investors Service cut the credit ratings of six German banking groups and Austria's three largest banks on Wednesday, saying they face risks if the euro zone crisis deepens.
Reuters contributed to this report.

CNBC's Steve Liesman provides perspective on the European Central Bank's decision to keep rates unchanged.

Cory Booker on Bain controversy: ‘My loyalties are clear’

Mayor Cory Booker speaks to reporters after speaking at a job fair for U.S. military veterans on the campus of Rutgers University on March 13, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Mayor Cory Booker speaks to reporters after speaking at a job fair for U.S. military veterans on the campus of Rutgers University on March 13, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A major controversy among the political classes and Democratic power elite erupted this week after Cory Booker, the popular Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and, in an unscripted moment, expressed his displeasure about the antics of campaign attack ads “on both sides.”
The tone, pitch and content of his statement would have gone relatively unnoticed by mainstream media outlets but for the fact that Booker is a widely-respected, and hugely popular, African-American politician, and an official surrogate of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
The comments came on the heels of questions specifically related to a newly launched Obama campaign commercial, which questions Mitt Romney’s veracity on “job creation” during his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded and is responsible for the vast portion of his $250 million fortune. The ad features former steel workers of GTS Steel in Indiana, a company Bain Capital acquired, but subsequently dismantled, laying-off workers, loading the company with debt and forcing it into bankruptcy. Romney and Bain executives reaped profits, but workers lost their health insurance and pensions.
Meet the Press moderator David Gregory had asked Booker to respond to the controversy surrounding the ad, which Romney called an example of “character assassination,” and to recently uncovered evidence that a GOP-aligned Super PAC had received a $10 million investment from billionaire and TD Ameritrade founder, Joe Ricketts, and had fielded a proposal to wage a race-baiting war against President Obama, using his former pastor Rev Jeremiah Wright as political fodder.
Booker opined that he found the entire situation “nauseating,” and he went on to defend the practices of Bain as being beneficial to job creation and an example of how capitalism works, both at its best and at its worst.
Immediately, the blogosphere went viral with Booker’s comments. Democrats and Liberals were livid, under an assumption Cory was conflating the two ad campaigns as equally distasteful. “How could, he?” They asked. “And he’s African-American?!” Republicans, meanwhile, were excited. Naturally, they ignored Booker’s distaste for the race-baiting tactics of a GOP Super Pac, and focused their delight at the idea of one of Obama’s closest allies making their argument for big business and an unbridled free market.
The official GOP seized the moment by immediately establishing a website and fundraising campaign under the banner “I Stand With Cory,” which Booker repudiated in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
As a native of Newark, and a graduate of Yale, where Booker also studied, I have known him for many years. So I asked the mayor if he’d be willing to discuss the controversy with me and theGrio. Here is Cory Booker in his own words.
theGrio: How do you feel about the revelations that the GOP Super Pac intended to use Rev. Jeremiah Wright in a race-baiting campaign against the President? You were criticized by liberal media for a false equivalency. Please speak to that.
Cory Booker: There is no equivalence and that wasn’t my intention. Further, the negative Super Pac usage of Rev. Wright is exactly what I was lashing out against on MTP. The Super Pacs will drive the level and volume of negativity in our public discourse to new extremes, obscuring critical dialogue about the substantive issues and challenges facing our nation. And the racially charged attacks on the president should be unacceptable in our national politics – it is dangerous and damaging to us all in a way that is plainly insidious.
How would you clarify the comments you made on Meet the Press?
The point I was making is that the level of rancor and negativity in our discourse has become so loud that it drowns out the most important issues. The real question is how we focus. When attacks become over broad and lack any nuance, and lack the truth-telling that’s really important, we lose the ability to argue salient points. When we start to attack individuals or large segments in our society we begin to get away from what’s truly important: ordinary people. Hard-working Americans.
What do you say to those who say you were speaking politically? Either because you wish to be Senator one day or that as Mayor of Newark—in the state of New Jersey where many Wall Street bankers live—you have been courting private equity and investment banker donations?
I’ve been fighting this fight in Newark for a long time. If people have a cynical view of what I do, as some sort of desire to climb the political ladder quickly, they must be kidding themselves. Anybody who looks at the political challenges I’ve taken on to serve the community I love, knows this has not been easy. After law school, there where are many paths I could have chosen. The people that are criticizing me seem to have amnesia.
For the city I serve, and those like it, I believe the urban narrative has not been sufficiently a part of the national conversation. And when we focus on partisan rancor, we continue to ignore those who are most vulnerable. Look at what I’ve done for the last 15 years of my life. Look at where my dedication and where my focus is. My focus has been on Newark. And the people of Newark. Not Wall Street.
Have there been any private equity firms investing in jobs programs in Newark? Do you court that community?
None that I’m aware of. But there are thousands of companies in Newark and likely they have received private equity money. Private equity guys have made philanthropic donations in Newark to cover things from prisoner re-entry programs to public safety technology. But, no, I don’t court. I work hard to deliver results.
What do you say to those who have questioned your loyalty to President Obama’s campaign or the Democratic Party? Especially many who think your voice may be less effective as a surrogate?
President Obama is providing the strongest leadership in dealing with the issues in my community. From access to health care, to access to education, to job creation, Obama is right for Newark and America. This is why I’ve supported Obama since his early days in 2007 and will continue to support him now and through his entire second term. And, yes, he will have a second term. My loyalties are clear.
What do you say to Republicans who are attempting to co-opt your words as a justification for their own political goals?
My message to the Romney campaign and the GOP is this: I stand with President Obama and in answer to their silly website: if you “stand with me,” you would stand for health care that doesn’t try to turn the clock back on women. If you “stand with me,” you would stand for making a college education more affordable and accessible to hard working students. If you “stand with me,” you would stand for marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans. If you “stand with me,” you would stand for stopping the flood of special interest cash that Citizens United let loose and that is drowning out the legitimate debate we so desperately need.
Most of all, if you really “stand with me” and want a serious discussion you would take down this intellectually dishonest and completely hypocritical ad campaign and admit you have missed the entire point of what I said.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a columnist, political analyst, and a former investment banker. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

The Biggest Obama Gaffes Caught On Tape

A few days ago, we had a little fun taking on conservative blogs for claiming that President Obama using the word “thingamajig” was some kind of gaffe. At the time, our own Jon Bershadwrote that there were plenty of real things that the President’s critics could mock him for and that they didn’t need to try so hard making ones up. Well, now they don’t need to try at all because we’ve made a list.
Following up on our slideshow of Mitt Romney’s greatest gaffes, we’re looking at all of the timesPresident Obama has stuck his foot in his mouth. Some will question whether some of these are true gaffes, but these particular examples tend to be brought up again and again by his critics. Enjoy some of President Obama (as well as Candidate Obama)’s most notable gaffes in our slideshow below:

  • The Medvedev 'Open Mic' Gaffe

    President Obama assured Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he'd have more flexibility after the November election, not realizing he was being picked up by a hot mic. Watch: