The Lookout
  • Global food prices rise to unprecedented levels

    chinese food marketFood prices worldwide rose for the seventh straight month in January, up 3.4 percent from December 2010. Food prices in the global market are now the highest they've ever been. And don't look for prices to trend downward anytime soon, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which put out the report.

    So what's behind the surge in prices? The FAO cites a few likely factors, chief among them extreme shifts in weather patterns: intensely hot summers, longer, bitter winters, extended droughts and heavy rains. All these conditions lead to crop damage—and smaller harvests make for higher prices. Meanwhile the use of agricultural products for industrial applications—such as the transformation of corn into biofuels—has also hurt. More corn channeled into ethanol production means less corn to feed people.

    The New York Times also notes that even with supplies diminishing, expanding prosperity in places such as China and India has spiked the global demand for food—especially for meats and high-quality grains—compounding the upward price pressures.

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  • AP091123057662The for-profit education industry has spent millions over the past year to quash regulations that would withhold federal funds from colleges that saddle students with debts they cannot repay.

    The lobbying push comes at a critical moment for for-profit universities. Activists and lawmakers have called for tighter regulation of the burgeoning for-profit educational sector in the wake of a Government Accountability Office report finding that four for-profit institutions encouraged their students to lie on financial aid forms so they could get more money from the federal government. (For-profit lobbyists are suing the GAO, saying the report was inaccurate.) A Businessweek reporter also recently found that the University of Phoenix and other schools recruited students from homeless shelters and signed them up for thousands in federal loans, leaving taxpayers on the hook when the loans weren't repaid.

    The Department of Education wants to withhold some of the billions in annual federal subsidies that get disbursed to for-profit colleges that have high student debt and low loan repayment. Nearly half of all for-profit students will default on their loans, suggesting that their outstanding loans outpace their earning power.

    Read More »from For-profit colleges spend millions to beat regulation attempt
  • Making sense of the monthly jobs numbers

    job seekersEveryone's puzzling this morning over the government's January jobs numbers. A household survey asking a representative sample of Americans whether they're employed showed a healthy decline in the jobless rate, to 9.0 percent from 9.4 percent. But a separate survey, which asked employers about additions to their payrolls, showed that the United States added just 36,000 jobs last month—far fewer than expected, and not nearly enough to account for the 0.4 percent drop in the unemployment rate.

    So what's going on?

    Some have argued that the difference is due to changes in survey methodology. This month, the government changed its estimate of the baseline size of the U.S. population—as it does each January—to a figure nearly 100,000 lower than previous estimates. These analysts say the decrease in population brought down the unemployment rate in the household survey. In addition, December's payroll numbers were revised upward by 18,000—effectively lowering the number of jobs added in the new payroll survey.

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  • Today in History

    Today is Tuesday, September 30, the 273rd day of 2014. There are 92 days left in the year.

  • 'O' My: Ring-Shaped Cloud Spotted Over the Pacific (Photo)
    'O' My: Ring-Shaped Cloud Spotted Over the Pacific (Photo)

    The agency's Terra satellite spotted the O-shaped cloud formation on Sept. 3, as it floated over the Pacific Ocean to the southwest from the Hawaiian Islands. NASA's Earth Observatory released the image on Sept. 27.

  • Dozens of possible jurors rejected in Arias case
    Dozens of possible jurors rejected in Arias case

    PHOENIX (AP) — Roughly a third of 300 potential jurors were dismissed Monday in the penalty retrial of convicted murderer Jodi Arias after telling a judge they had seen too much media coverage of her first trial to be impartial or had already made up their minds about her punishment.

  • Al-Qaida leader warns of revenge for airstrikes
    Al-Qaida leader warns of revenge for airstrikes

    BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of al-Qaida's Syria affiliate vowed Sunday that his group would "use all possible means" to fight back against airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition and warned that the conflict would reach Western countries joining the alliance.

  • Judge recommends six officers be fired from New York jail for beating
    Judge recommends six officers be fired from New York jail for beating

    A New York judge is recommending six correction officers at the city's largest jail be fired for the hog-tying and brutal beating of an inmate who was handcuffed in a segregated mental health unit, according to a ruling released on Monday. Robert Hinton was seriously hurt in the April 3, 2012, incident at the Rikers Island jail complex, where he suffered facial injuries and a back fracture, according to the ruling by Administrative Law Judge Tynia Richard. Hinton was resisting being transferred to a new cell when he was beaten, the ruling said. ...

  • Hong Kong leader says Beijing won't back down
    Hong Kong leader says Beijing won't back down

    HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's leader said Tuesday that China won't back down from its decision to limit voting reforms in the Asian financial hub, dashing hopes that the standoff between demonstrators and authorities could be resolved quickly through negotiations.

  • Mystery over N. Korean leader fuels health rumors
    Mystery over N. Korean leader fuels health rumors

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea's authoritarian leader makes no public appearances for three weeks, skipping a high-profile event he usually attends. An official documentary shows him limping and overweight and mentions his "discomfort." What follows is a smorgasbord of media speculation about what's eating Kim Jong Un.

  • Fence-jumper ran through much of main floor of White House: report
    Fence-jumper ran through much of main floor of White House: report

    The man who breached security at the White House this month overpowered a U.S. Secret Service officer and ran through much of the main floor, penetrating farther into the building than previously disclosed, the Washington Post reported on Monday, citing three people familiar with the incident. A Secret Service official who spoke on condition of anonymity said an alarm box near the front entrance of the White House had been muted, the Post said. ...

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