Tuesday, July 24, 2012

By Alan Boyle Science editor
NBC News
updated 7/23/2012 7:13:44 PM ET
The first American woman to go into space, Sally Ride, died Monday after a 17-month battle against pancreatic cancer, her company said.
Ride made history in 1983 as a crew member on the space shuttle Challenger, breaking the gender barrier for U.S. spaceflight. Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, but it took another 20 years for NASA to follow suit.
Word of Ride's death came in an announcement from Sally Ride Science, the educational venture she founded after leaving NASA.
President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, were "deeply saddened" by the news
"As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model," Obama said in a White House statement. "She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars, and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come."
NASA's leaders issued tributes as well.
"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America's space program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally's family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."
NASA's deputy administrator, Lori Garver, said Ride "was a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world."
"Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere," Garver said.
Huge expectations Ride was a mission specialist on her first mission, STS-7, which put the Canadian Anik C-2 and the Indonesian Palapa B-1 communication satellites into orbit. In an 2008 interview timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the flight, Ride acknowledged that her status as the first American woman "carried huge expectations along with it."
"I didn't really think about it that much at the time ... but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space," she said.
Thousands of spectators wore T-shirts and buttons emblazoned with the slogan "Ride, Sally, Ride" on launch day.
More tributes stream in: 'Ride, Sally, Ride'
Ride made a second space shuttle flight in 1984, also aboard Challenger, and was in training for her third mission when Challenger exploded in 1986, killing all seven crew members. She left the space agency a year later, and served for years as a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute.
In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a which is aimed at promoting math and science for girls. One of her projects was to develop a camera that could fly aboard spacecraft and take pictures for middle-school students. The fruits of those efforts include EarthKAM on the International Space Station and MoonKAM on the GRAIL lunar probes.
"What might seem like just a cool activity for these kids may very well have a profound impact on their futures," Ride said after the first student-requested MoonKAM pictures were released in March of this year.
Investigated two tragedies Ride was the only person to serve on both of the investigative boards for NASA's two shuttle tragedies, the Challenger explosion as well as the 2003 loss of Columbia and its crew. She was also a member of the commission that laid out space policy options for the Obama administration in 2009. That panel's conclusions led the White House to cancel a plan to send astronauts back to the moon, known as the Constellation program, and instead set the nation's sights on exploring near-Earth asteroids, leading eventually to missions to Mars.
When the commission completed its report, Ride bristled over the limitations that NASA's exploration efforts faced. "This budget is just simply not friendly to exploration," she said. "It's very difficult to find an exploration scenario that actually fits within this very restrictive budget guidance that we've been given."
Why is pancreatic cancer so deadly?
The announcement of Ride's death noted that she is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy, who is the chief operating officer and executive vice president for content at Sally Ride Science. Other survivors include her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin; and her nephew, Whitney. Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley in 1982, but they divorced in 1987 with no children.
Hawley, who is now a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, remembered Ride in a NASA statement as "a very private person who found herself a very public persona."
"While she never enjoyed being a celebrity, she recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential," Hawley said. "Sally Ride, the astronaut and the person, allowed many young girls across the world to believe they could achieve anything if they studied and worked hard. I think she would be pleased with that legacy."

  1. NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride, in January 1983 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, prior to flying aboard Space Shuttle Challenger. Ride, the first US woman to fly in space, died on July 23 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, her foundation announced. She was 61. Ride first launched into space in 1983, on the seventh US space shuttle mission. (AFP/Getty Images)
  2. NASA astronaut Sally Ride June 1983 next to an airplane. (AFP-Getty Images) 
  3. Pilot Sally Ride and fellow members of STS-7. Bottom row, next to Ride: Crew commander Robert Crippen, Frederick Hauck. Back row: Mission specialists John Fabian and Norman Thagard. (AFP - Getty Images)
  4. Astronaut Sally Ride inspects an array of tools while in orbit aboard Challenger. The circular object is a Monodisperse Latex Reactor. (Getty Images)

  5. Astronaut Sally Ride takes a photograph from aboard Challenger. (Getty Images)
  6. Astronaut Sally Ride, mission specialist on STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the Flight Deck of the Space Shuttle Challenger in this NASA handout photo dated June 25, 1983. Floating in front of her is a flight procedures notebook. Ride died July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. (NASA via Reuters)

US President Barack Obama greets former astronaut Sally Ride in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images)      

Space news from
  1. NASA / USGS
    Landsat celebrates 40 years of Earth observation
    Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: On Landsat's 40th birthday, the satellite system's handlers demonstrated that observations from space are the gifts that keep on giving. But for how much longer?
  2. First US woman in space, Sally Ride, dies at 61
  3. In memoriam: 'Ride, Sally, Ride'
  4. Does 'potentially habitable' alien world exist?

‘We Were… Penn State’: Sanctions debilitate, cripple Nittany Lions

Penn State University student Laura Lovins and fellow students react while watching a live broadcast of the announcement of the NCAA penalties 

APRight or wrong, or how such a precedent will impact the future of the sport, NCAA president Mark Emmert, at the discretion of his bosses, took the unprecedented step Monday of leveling historic sanctions on the Penn State football program.
There will be days and weeks and months — hell, even years — to digest and debate whether a criminal matter that will bleed into civil litigation should fall under the purview of the NCAA.
What’s not up for debate and needs little digestion? The sanctions levied against the school’s football team are staggering in scope and potential to impact the program for a decade, if not much, much longer.
The fines and loss in revenue totaling roughly $73 million — a $60 million fine from the NCAA and the loss of $13 million in Big Ten bowl revenue, all of which will go to charities to benefit victims of child sex abuse — as well as the four-year bowl ban drew a majority of the headlines, but it was two other provisions in the sanctions that have the potential to damage the Nittany Lions for the long haul.
First and foremost, the Nittany Lions were stripped of dozens of scholarships, beginning next year, over the next four years, as well as a cap on the number of scholarship players on its roster beginning in 2014. From the NCAA’s release:
For a period of four years commencing with the 2013-2014 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 academic year, the NCAA imposes a limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 25 allowed) and for a period of four years commencing with the 2014-2015 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year a limit of 65 total grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 85 allowed) for football during each of those specified years. In the event the total number of grants-in-aid drops below 65, the University may award grants-in-aid to non-scholarship student-athletes who have been members of the football program as allowed under Bylaw
For perspective, FCS football programs are permitted 63 scholarship players in any given year.  As we noted earlier, Penn State football will essentially be an FCS program in terms of size for several years, and yet will be facing Big Ten and nonconference opponents with the full complement of 85 scholarship players.
Recruiting experts are already weighing in on the long row to hoe the first-year coaching staff will face now and on down the road, because of both the scholarship losses and postseason ban.
“Kids want to go to college to play in championship games and the postseason,” Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “Now that it’s been taken off the table, it’s just going to absolutely destroy Penn State’s recruiting ability in the short term. Certainly when you reduce scholarships, that hurts recruiting because you can’t recruit as many players. But when you’re talking about how kids view Penn State as a potential place to play football, not having a chance to play in the postseason for pretty much the duration or a large chunk of their career is going to be a huge, huge deterrent.”
There was even more gloom from another of the recruiting website’s experts.
“The sanctions change everything,” national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “The sanctions are the one thing I said way back when could splinter this class and could ruin future classes. That’s what kids care about. The scandal itself hurt recruiting last year, but it wasn’t going to stop kids from going to Penn State. Sanctions will do that.”
While that’s bad enough, another stipulation contained in the sanctions could be even more damaging, at least in the short-term.  Again, from the NCAA’s release:
  • Football student-athletes who transfer will not have to sit out a year of competition. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athlete will be immediately eligible upon transfer or initial enrollment at an NCAA institution, provided they are admitted and otherwise eligible per NCAA regulations.
  • Penn State will release any incoming student-athletes from the National Letter of Intent.
  • Permission-to-contact rules will be suspended. Penn State cannot restrict in any way a student-athlete from pursuing a possible transfer. Student-athletes must simply inform Penn State of their interest in discussing transfer options with other schools. Interested schools also must inform Penn State of their intention to open discussions with the student-athlete.
  • Official and unofficial visit rules will be loosened. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athletes interested in taking an official or unofficial visit will be permitted to do so during the 2012-13 academic year, no matter how many visits they took during their recruitment. Institutions seeking to provide an official visit to a student who already visited the school as many times as NCAA legislation allows can seek relief from the NCAA on a case-by-case basis.
In other words, the NCAA has declared it’s open season on any and all current or incoming Penn State players, essentially creating a free-agent frenzy that has the potential to utterly dwarf what transpired at USC three years ago.  In the case of the Trojans, any junior or senior was permitted to transfer with no restrictions; a Penn State player in any class — including incoming freshmen — is now free to leave the school.
Additionally, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany heavily intimated during a teleconference Monday morning that players will likely be permitted to transfer within the conference  as well, further exacerbating the program’s plight.  For some reason, I get the feeling that the likes of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan Brady Hoke have already perused PSU’s roster and commenced a game of “need it… got it… need it… need it… got it…”
Commitments to future recruiting classes are also in jeopardy, with one verbal from the Class of 2013 decommitting within minutes of the sanctions being made public.
“It was headed for a top-15 class,” Farrell said of the group of 2013 commits PSU had previously landed. “Now all bets are off.”
The lone saving grace for head coach Bill O’ Brien , who reiterated his commitment to the school earlier?  As of a couple of hours after the announcement of the sanctions, it was still unclear how many if any players would or will take advantage of the liberal transfer rules, although one PSU athletic official told CFT today that they are “bracing for a dozen or more” departures in the coming days and weeks.
In the run-up to today’s announcement, one report stated that Penn State may have preferred the death penalty over what was about to hit them.  While that’s still a stretch — just ask SMU about the long-lasting impact of shuttering the football program for a year or two — it’s certainly not as laughable a notion as it first appeared.
The sum total of the sanctions that slammed headfirst into Penn State today portends a decade of climbing out of the scholarship/transfer hole.  Regardless of whether it takes X number of years north or south of a decade to rebuild Penn State, the football program, one thing seems certain: Penn State, the university, will never ever be the same, regardless of what happens on a field a hundred yards long.
And, based on the Freeh report, that may very well be the best thing to come out of this whole sordid saga of pedophilia and cover-ups and putting a football program — and its legendary head coach — above young victims of sexual abuse.
As for the football program itself, the entity that has become synonymous with the university, there will be several operative words attached to it for the next several years and beyond.
“Rebuilding.”  ”Adapting.”  ”Moving forward.”
And, perhaps most importantly, “irrelevant.”  Given what 10 or more victims went through at the hands of a former Penn State assistant and convicted serial pedophile, for them that’s very much apropos.

Tuesday offseason one-liners

Penn State football coach O'Brien instructs quarterback McGloin at his first spring practice as Penn State's head coach in State College APSome more links from around college football on Penn State… 

NCAA Comes Down Hard on Penn State

Sanctions include $60 million fine, 4 -year bowl ban, vacating wins from 1998-2011

Image: Penn State Reacts To NCAA SanctionsGetty Images
A Penn State football player leaves the Mildred and Louis Lasch Football Building following a team meeting soon after the NCAA announced Sanctions on Monday.
INDIANAPOLIS - No death penalty. More like slow death.
Wiped out in the record book. Wiped out in the wallet. Wiped out in the ability to recruit, and keep what it already has.
Penn State got slammed by the NCAA on Monday in every way.
The governing body of college sports took away 14 years of coach Joe Paterno's victories and imposed a mountain of fines and penalties, crippling a program whose pedophile assistant coach spent years molesting children, sometimes on school property.
The sanctions imposed by the NCAA on Monday also include fines of $60 million, orders for Penn State to sit out the postseason for four years, capped scholarships at 20 below the normal limit for four years and placed football on five years' probation.
Current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school. 

  • Penn State scandal
The NCAA slammed Penn State with an unprecedented series of penalties, including a $60 million fine, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

"The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," NCAA President Mark Emmert said as he announced the penalties at a news conference in Indianapolis.
The NCAA ruling holds the university accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the university community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

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 Penn State hit with severe NCAA sanctions
July 23: NBC’s Michael Isikoff and college football columnist Bruce Feldman discuss the sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and how it will impact the school, football program and student-athletes. 

"Against this backdrop, Penn State accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA," Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. "With today's announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward."
Paterno's family said in a statement that the NCAA sanctions defamed the coach's legacy, and were a panicked response to the sex abuse scandal.
The family also says that punishing "past, present and future" students because of Jerry Sandusky's crimes did not serve justice.
The Big Ten announced that Penn State would not be allowed to share in the conference's bowl revenue during the NCAA's postseason ban, an estimated loss of about $13 million. And the NCAA reserved the right to add additional penalties.
Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was found guilty in June of sexually abusing young boys, sometimes on campus. An investigation commissioned by the school and released July 12 found that Paterno, who died in January, and several other top officials at Penn State stayed quiet for years about accusations against Sandusky.
Emmert fast-tracked penalties rather than go through the usual circuitous series of investigations and hearings. The NCAA said the $60 million is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program. The money must be paid into an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at Penn State.

 Penn State sanctions
July 23: NCAA President Mark Emmert hands down penalties to Penn State, including a four-year postseason ban and $60 million in fines.

"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert said.
By vacating 112 Penn State victories from 1998-2011, the sanctions cost Paterno 111 wins. Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden will now hold the top spot in the NCAA record book with 377 major-college wins. Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky was charged, will be credited with 298 wins. Vacated wins are not the same as forfeits - they don't count as losses or wins for either school.
"I didn't want it to happen like this," Bowden told the AP. "Wish I could have earned it, but that's the way it is."
The scholarship reductions mean Penn State's roster will be capped at 65 scholarship players beginning in 2014. The normal scholarship limit for major college football programs is 85. Playing with 20 less is devastating to a program that tries to compete at the highest level of the sport.
In comparison, the harsh NCAA sanctions placed upon USC several years ago left the Trojans with only 75 scholarships per year over a three-year period.
The postseason ban is the longest handed out by the NCAA since it gave a four-year ban to Indiana football in 1960.
  Penn State Sanctions
Click here to view this cartoon slideshow.
Bill O'Brien, who was hired to replace Paterno, now faces the daunting task of building future teams with severe limitations, and trying to keep current players from fleeing to other schools. Star players such as tailback Silas Redd and linebacker Gerald Hodges are now essentially free agents.
"I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead," O'Brien said. "But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes."
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said that players will likely be allowed to transfer within the conference, something that is usually restricted. The possible exodus isn't confined to just the next few months. Penn State players currently on the roster are free to transfer without restrictions for the length of their careers.
Penn State players left a team meeting on campus in State College, Pa., without talking to reporters. Penn State's season starts Sept. 1 at home against Ohio University.
The sanctions came a day after the school took down a statue of Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium and was a rallying point for the coaches' supporters throughout the scandal.
At a student union on campus, several dozen alumni and students gasped, groaned and whistled as they watched Emmert's news conference.
"It was kind of just like a head shaker," said Matt Bray, an 18-year-old freshman from West Chester, Pa. "You knew it was coming, but it was hard to hear."
Emmert had earlier said he had "never seen anything as egregious" as the horrific crimes of Sandusky and the cover-up by Paterno and others at the university, including former Penn State President Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley.
Image: Joe Paterno
  Joe Paterno (1926-2012)
A look at the career of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno
The Penn State investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh said school officials kept what they knew from police and other authorities for years, enabling the abuse to go on.
There had been calls across the nation for Penn State to receive the "death penalty," and Emmert had not ruled out that possibility as late as last week - though Penn State did not fit the criteria for it. That punishment is for teams that commit a major violation while already being sanctioned.
"This case is obviously incredibly unprecedented in every aspect of it," Emmert said, "as are these actions that we're taking today."
Penn State football under Paterno was built on - and thrived upon - the premise that it did things the right way. That it was not a football factory where only wins and losses determined success. Every major college football program tries to send that message, but Penn State built its brand on it.
Paterno's "Grand Experiment" was about winning with integrity, graduating players and sending men into the world ready to succeed in life, not just football. But he still won a lot - a record-setting 409 victories.
The NCAA had never sanctioned, or seriously investigated Penn State. Few, if any, national powers could make that claim.
Southern California, Ohio State, Alabama, all have run afoul of the NCAA. Even Notre Dame went on probation for two years after a booster lavished gifts on players in the 1990s.
The harshest penalty handed down to a football program came in the `80s, when the NCAA shut down SMU's team for a year. SMU football has never gotten back to the level of success it had before the "death penalty."
Emmert said there were concerns about the collateral damage of shutting down Penn State football for a year, and that's why the death penalty was ruled out.
"It hurts people who had absolutely nothing to do with this process, which is always the case," he said.
Emmert added that no attempt was made for the sanctions to be more severe than the death penalty.
"That isn't a comparison I or anyone else needs to make," he said. "People in the media can make those comparisons."
Delany said he believes Penn State is capable of bouncing back from the sanctions.
"I do have a strong sense that many of the ingredients of success are still at Penn State and will be there in future years," he said. 

NBC/WSJ poll: Negative campaign takes toll on candidates; Obama up six points

A composite image of President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Photos taken July 24, 2012.

After weeks of furious attacks on the campaign trail, as well as millions of dollars in hard-hitting television ads, the increasingly negative tone of the election has taken a toll on President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, according to the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Both presidential candidates have seen their “very negative” ratings increase to all-time highs in the poll. And Romney’s overall favorable/unfavorable score remains a net negative – a trait no other modern presumptive GOP presidential nominee (whether Bob Dole, George W. Bush or John McCain) has shared.
What’s more, pluralities say that what they’ve seen, heard and read about the two candidates in recent weeks has given them less favorable impressions of each man.

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NBC's Mark Murray previews the latest NBC News/ WSJ poll.
Indeed, the percentages signaling a less favorable impression about these candidates – especially at this point in the race – are greater than what the NBC/WSJ poll showed in the 2004 and 2008 presidential contests.
“This is not characteristic … for July,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “These are numbers you usually see in October.”
“It does speak to the growing polarization of the campaign,” McInturff adds 
The horserace remains tight
In the presidential horserace, Obama leads Romney by six percentage points among registered voters, 49 percent to 43 percent.
That’s a slight change – within the margin of error – from last month’s poll, which showed Obama ahead by three points, 47 percent to 44 percent.
In a smaller sample of registered voters living in 12 battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin), the incumbent president’s lead over Romney is eight points, 49 to 41, which is essentially unchanged from June.
But among high-interest voters across the country – those indicating a “9” or “10” in interest on a 10-point scale – Romney edges Obama by two points, 48 percent to 46 percent.

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Mitt Romney took aim at President Obama, calling for an investigation into leaks of classified information and criticizing him for military spending cuts at a VFW conference in Reno. Watch the entire speech.
What remains remarkable about this presidential contest, according to the NBC/WSJ pollsters, is how stable it has been, despite everything that has occurred in the past month.
For example: The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Obama’s health care overhaul; the June jobs report, which showed that just 80,000 jobs were created last month; and the daily campaign attacks and counterattacks (including snipes over Obama’s business views, Romney’s unreleased tax returns, and the Republican’s time at Bain Capital).
“So much has happened, and so little has changed,” says Hart, the Democratic pollster.
Negative views on the rise
But what did change was an increase in negative views about both Obama and Romney. The president’s favorable/unfavorable score in the poll is 49 percent to 43 percent, a slight change from June when it was 47 percent to 38 percent.
Moreover, 33 percent view Obama very positively, while 32 percent view him very negatively – which is his highest “very negative” number in poll.
By comparison, Romney’s overall favorable/unfavorable score is 35 percent to 40 percent, with 24 percent viewing him “very” negatively – also his highest mark here.
In fact, Romney would be the first GOP presumptive presidential nominee since 1996 to head into his nominating convention with a net-negative favorable/unfavorable score.
In 1996, Bob Dole’s score was 39 percent to 36 percent; in 2000, George W. Bush’s was 52 percent to 32 percent; and in 2008, John McCain’s was 42 percent to 30 percent.
Also in the poll, 43 percent say that what they have seen, heard or read about Romney gives them a less favorable impression of the candidate, versus 28 percent who have a more favorable opinion.

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NBC's Chuck Todd and the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza share details from the NBC News/ WSJ poll.
For Obama on this same question, 44 percent have a less favorable impression about him, while 27 percent have a more favorable opinion.
This is a noticeable shift for Obama from the summer of 2008, when it was 34 percent less favorable versus 30 percent more favorable.
Asked which candidate is conducting a more negative campaign, 22 percent pick Obama, 12 percent choose Romney, and 34 percent say both are running negative campaigns. 
And asked about Romney’s tax returns – which the Republican candidate says he won’t release prior to 2010 – 32 percent believe that what they’ve heard about the returns give them a more negative opinion of Romney. That’s compared with 4 percent who have a more positive view, and four in 10 who say the returns don’t make a difference.
Economic pessimism vs. economic messaging
Here’s another change from June: growing pessimism about the economy.
According to the new poll, just 27 percent think the U.S. economy will improve in the next year, which is down eight points from last month.
What’s more, a majority of respondents – 55 percent – say they are less optimistic about the economy after what they have seen, read and heard in the last few weeks. That’s up six points from June.
Just 44 percent approve of the president’s handling on the economy, which is a two-point increase from last month. And his overall job-approval rating stands at 49 percent, also up two points from June.
This economic pessimism has given Romney more than an opening in this presidential contest.
The former Massachusetts governor holds a seven-point lead over Obama (43 percent to 36 percent) on which candidate has better ideas to improve the economy, and he holds a nearly identical edge (43 percent to 37 percent) in dealing with the economy.
But when it comes to economic messaging, it’s the president who has the advantage.
A whopping 80 percent of respondents say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who “will fight for balance and fairness and encourage the investments needed to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class” – which happens to be Obama’s message on the campaign trail.
By contrast, 68 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who “wants to restore the values of economic freedom, opportunity and small government” – which is essentially Romney’s message.
In addition, Obama leads Romney by 16 points (49 percent to 33 percent) on which candidate better looks out for the middle class.

Nation Gripped by Drought

Boats sit on the dry, cracked bottom of a cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind. The reservoir is down nearly 6 feet from normal levels and being lowered 1 foot every five days to provide water for Indianapolis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the drought currently affecting the Midwest is the worst since 1956. Drought conditions are currently affecting 55 percent of the land mass in the lower 48 states. 

Boats sit on the dry, cracked bottom of a cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind. The reservoir is down nearly 6 feet from normal levels and being lowered 1 foot every five days to provide water for Indianapolis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the drought currently affecting the Midwest is the worst since 1956. Drought conditions are currently affecting 55 percent of the land mass in the lower 48 states.
Men walk through a field of dead and stalled corn in Geff, Ill. The nation's widest drought in decades is spreading, with more than half of the continental United States now in some stage of drought and most of the rest enduring abnormally dry conditions. The corn crop is in the greatest danger; corn cannot pollinate without moisture. The U.S. ships more than half of the world's corn exports.
Corn struggles to grow in Illinois from lack of rain and a heat wave covering most of the country. The southern part of Illinois has endured extreme heat and very little rain for more than two months.
Four rows of corn left for insurance adjusters to examine are all that remain of a 40-acre cornfield in Geff, Ill. Over ten days of triple-digit temperatures with little rain in the past two months is forcing many farmers to call 2012 a total loss.
Cattle wait in pens under water misters before an auction sale in Conway, Ark. Many ranchers are selling their livestock during drought conditions rather than pay high prices for hay.
Marion Kujawa feeds corn to his cattle near Ashley, Ill. Many farmers in the Midwest have been selling off their cattle because of the lack of available or the high price of hay and corn in the drought-stricken region. According to the Illinois Farm Bureau, the state is experiencing the sixth driest year on record.
A cornfield that has missed pollination due to high temperatures and little rain stands in Geff, Ill.  More than 1,000 counties across the U.S. have been declared natural disaster areas due to the drought conditions.
Marion Kujawa looks over a pond he uses to water the cattle on his farm on in Ashley, Ill. Kujawa has been digging the pond deeper after it began to dry up during the current drought.
The gate is closed on a boat ramp leading to a cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind. The reservoir is down nearly 6 feet from normal levels.
The sun rises in Pleasant Plains, Ill. Corn stalks are struggling in the heat and continuing drought that has overcome most of the country.
Iranian Terrorist Group M.E.K. Pays Big to Make History Go Away
July 6, 2012
M.E.K. supporters rally at a protest of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010, in New York.
M.E.K. supporters rally at a protest of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010, in New York.
Come October 1, a federal appeals court decision will force the State Department to decide whether the exile-Iranian group Mujahadin-e Khalq, or M.E.K., belongs on the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

As recently as 2007, a State Department report warned that the M.E.K., retains "the capacity and will" to attack "Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, and beyond."
The M.E.K., which calls for an overthrow of the Iranian government and is considered by many Iranians to be a cult, once fought for Saddam Hussein and in the 1970s was responsible for bombings, attempted plane hijackings, and political assassinations. It was listed as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
If the State Department does decide to delist M.E.K., whose name means "People's Holy Warriors of Iran," it will be with the blessing of dozens of congressmen.
congressional resolution that urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to remove M.E.K. from the State Department list of foreign terrorist groups was signed by 99 politicians, including Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., and Alabama Republican Sen. Spencer Bachus.
Those signatures may have been obtained with real money to grease the wheels. A U.S. News investigation found that three major lobbying firms were together paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by U.S.-based Iranian-American community groups with ties to the M.E.K. to drum up support for the resolution.
Victoria Toensing of DiGenova & Toensing, a lobbying shop famous for its involvement in the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, was paid $110,000 in 2011 to lobby for the resolution. The firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld dedicated five lobbyists to getting signatures for the resolution, and was paid $100,000 in 2012 and $290,000 in 2011 to do so. Paul Marcone and Association similarly lobbied for the resolution, and received $5,000 in 2010 and $5,000 in 2011 for its efforts.
"It's a worthy cause," said Toensing, who believes the M.E.K. has reformed from its violent past. "Have you ever seen a more bipartisan disciplined group as the one that supported this issue?"
(Akin, Gump, et al. declined to comment to U.S. News. Paul Marcone said despite its history, the M.E.K. "has every right to petition the government on resolutions.")
While dozens of congressmen have signed on to the delist resolution, those no longer holding office appear to be even more supportive of the group.
Last week, at a Paris rally for the M.E.K., Newt Gingrich was captured on camera bowing to the Iranian exile-group's leader, Maryam Rajavi. (The M.E.K.'s political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has its headquarters in Paris.)
Also in attendance were former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, and former Bush U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton.
Video of the rally in Paris shows what appear to be tens of thousands of M.E.K. supporters waving flags and holding up pictures of Rajavi, who has called democracy "the spirit that guides our Resistance." Some assert the M.E.K. would prefer Iran to become a Marxist state, as it was founded by Marxist-Islamist Iranian students in the 1960s.
"The MEK are trying to portray themselves as a popular and democratic opposition to the current Iranian regime," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The reality is that they're neither popular nor democratic."
A prominent Iranian journalist, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions from the M.E.K., said that despite the group's attempts to present itself as the main Iranian dissident group, the majority of the Iranian diaspora "does not want to get close" to it. A 2011 New York Times story said most Iranians and Iraqis see the M.E.K. as a "repressive cult."
The "cult" descriptor isn't just popular opinion. A 2009 Rand study of the M.E.K. described the group as having "cultic practices" and "deceptive recruitment and public relations strategies."
Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has been described as a pro-Israel group, describes the M.E.K. this way: "It's a cult. There's no other way to put it."
Clawson, who has spent time with M.E.K. members abroad and their supporters in the U.S., says politicians have been "misled" by "these charming individuals."
"They tell what seems at first glance to be a believable story," he said. "People in cults are charming sometimes. I mean, Scientologists convince movie stars."
There's no doubt the M.E.K. knows how to charm. When reached by U.S. News & World Report, the spokesman for the National Council of Iran (the M.E.K.'s Paris-based political arm), Shahin Gobadi, spent an extraordinary amount of time answering questions, both over the phone and by E-mail.
"I have sent you a lot," he said, after an E-mail arrived containing 17 attachments. "But I am happy to send much more."
Gobadi repeatedly said that the M.E.K. was working for a democratic future for Iran, emphasizing freedom of speech, abolition of the death penalty, equality for women, and peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world.
"The designation of the M.E.K. as a foreign terrorist organization was ... a goodwill gesture to the murderous regime in Iran as part of a policy of appeasing the mullahs," Gobadi said, skimming over the group's violent past. "Various senior U.S. officials have acknowledged this reality."
Among these officials is former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who once called for Rajavi to be recognized as Iran's president.
As happened at the Paris rally last week, a number of politicians also deliver energetic speeches on behalf of the M.E.K.
Rendell, who has given at least eight supportive speeches, has made $150,000 for his efforts.
The Treasury Department is currently investigating Rendell along with several former senior government officials for giving M.E.K. speeches for money, as transactions with a terrorist group are against the law. Treasury spokesman John Sullivan said that the department "takes sanctions enforcements seriously," but would not give a timeline for when the investigation would be complete.
Rendell says his support for M.E.K. is humanitarian-based, as thousands of the group's members currently live in exile in a refugee camp in Iraq.
The humanitarian situation is undoubtedly real—Camp Ashraf has been attacked several times since the U.S. transferred control back to the Iraqi government in 2009. In April of last year, Iraqi security forces reportedly stormed the camp and killed 31, wounding 320 more, though news reports vary widely. The M.E.K.'s various websites are heavily Camp Ashraf-focused.
"I think our reneging on protecting Camp Ashraf is nothing short of disgraceful," Rendell said, calling it "ludicrous" that he was being investigated for giving aid to a group in need.
Ask any politician who has supported the M.E.K., though, and they are unlikely to be able to tell you very much about the group or its history.
Both Rendell and Giuliani, who has spoken at M.E.K. events in Paris, Geneva, and New York, and who was in Paris twice last week to advise the group, said they knew little about the group before their paid speaking gigs began.
Giuliani said he first learned about the group from former FBI head Louis Freeh, who told him the M.E.K. were a group of revolutionaries, not terrorists. Then, Giuliani said, he "did research." "And every time I go to one of these meetings, I am more convinced," he said.
Former State Department spokesman Crowley, who has been paid to speak at at least four M.E.K. events, acknowledged that the exile group has in the past "on more than occasion been on the wrong side of history." But Crowley said he became increasingly "intrigued" with the group during his time at the State Department, whose location on C Street the M.E.K. regularly visits. He said he believes "their pursuit now is peaceful."
Sadjadpour, the Carnegie analyst, finds it remarkable that so many politicians have supported a group with so much baggage. "In some cases it's greed, in some cases it's cluelessness, in some cases it's remarkably poor judgment, and often it's all of the above," he said of the political support.
While Gobadi repeatedly told U.S. News that the group is peaceful, a number of news reports allege that the M.E.K. may have been involved in a string of nuclear scientist assassinations over the last several years, with monetary and other aid from the U.S. and Israeli governments.
"On the premise that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, funding, arming or training M.E.K. is an important strategic tool for Israel and the U.S.," Dilshood Achilov, assistant professor of Middle East politics at East Tennessee State University, told the International Business Timesof the nuclear scientist assassinations.
Gobadi called the allegations "absolutely absurd" and "directly from the textbook of the mullahs' Intelligence services."
But the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh this April gave credence to possible ties between the M.E.K. and the U.S. government, publishing a short piece that said the U.S.'s Joint Special Operations Command had trained members of the M.E.K starting in 2005. According to Hersh's sources, the training stopped sometime before President Obama took office. But "some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran," Hersch wrote, under the headline, the M.E.K. "Our men in Iran?"
Gobadi insists they aren't anyone's men. He says the M.E.K has "not received any funding or weapons from any foreign country and does not seek" it. "The Iranian crisis has an Iranian solution," he said.
Much of M.E.K.'s support, Gobadi says, comes from the Iranian diaspora. While he doesn't name the group's U.S. supporters, the Senate disclosure database reveals the Iranian American Community of North Texas and Iranian American Community of Northern California have been most active. Dozens of similar community groups came into existence after the U.S. government shut down a partner office of the M.E.K. in D.C. in 2003, but many have since disappeared. Requests for comments from both community groups were not returned, but it's clear that they have had enormous fundraising and sway.
IACNT and IANCC paid the lobbying firms in Washington thousands of dollars to get signatures for the congressional resolution. They paid the speakers lobby thousands of dollars to get Rendell, Giuliani and Crowley, participants said.
And they funded a series of sleek ads that have aired on channels like Fox calling for a delisting of the M.E.K.
While it initially looked as though the M.E.K. would be delisted in October, new comments from the White House suggest the group won't be.
In June, a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call that the M.E.K. may have "over-interpreted" recent events to its favor. "It appears that MEK leaders believe that the Secretary has no choice now but to delist them," the official said. "That is, quite plainly, wrong."
Gobadi said he can't predict the outcome, but can only be hopeful the "unlawful designation" can come to an end.
Despite hundred of thousands of dollars in effort, that may be impossible while doubts over the group remain.
US News reporter Seth Cline contributed to this report.
Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, 
Ed Rendell, 
Spencer Bachus, 
Howard Dean, 
Darrell Issa, 
Newt Gingrich, 
Rudolph Giuliani, 
Hillary Clinton