Friday AM June 20th, 2008

A new AP-Ipsos poll suggests around 83 percent of Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. With food and gas prices soaring, home values falling and the war in Iraq stretching on, just 17 percent of respondents say the country is going in the right direction. That's the lowest ever recorded since the survey began five years ago. The reading also represents a sharp drop from April, when 24 percent felt the country was on the right track. Sixty percent of those who took a negative view blamed the economy--especially the high price of gasoline. Twenty-three percent blamed "poor leadership." President Bush got a 29 percent approval rating. That's near his all-time low of 28 percent in April. But the democratic-controlled Congress scored worse, with only 23 percent approval among the survey's respondents.


Houston-based Waterborne Energy says incoming liquified natural gas will be much lower than predicted this year, according to the Houston Business Journal. Demand spikes in Spain and Japan are blamed, as well as delays to LNG projects in Russia, Qatar, Yemen, Nigeria, Norway and Australia. Last year, the U.S. imported 770 billion cubic feet of LNG, but this year, Waterborne says imports will not exceed 420 billion cubic feet. Product is being sold to the highest bidders in Asia and Europe. But Waterborne says volumes in excess of 2007 figures can be expected in 2009, as more new production comes online.


The number of newly fired workers filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week but remained at a level showing the strains of a weak economy. The Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims fell by 5,000 a week to 381,000 following a surge of 27,000 the week before. The small improvement was not enough to keep the four-week average from rising to 375,250, close to levels not seen since the wave of job losses following the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes.


An uptick in the rate of inflation sent long-term mortgage interest rates higher this week. Freddie Mac says average for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 6.42 percent from 6.32 percent last week--the highest level since last September. The 15-year loan is averaging 6.02 percent--a rise of nine basis points from last week. That's the highest the 15-year mortgage has been since October of last year. Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says the rates climbed after release of the wholesale and consumer inflation reports, both of which showed strength during May. He points out that the housing market is continuing to struggle, with construction of single-family homes the weakest in more than 17 years last month.


The White House says President Bush would veto a foreclosure rescue the Senate has begun debating. Administration officials object to the federal government helping states buy foreclosed property and don't like having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pay for the rescue. Two GOP Senators said they'll try to block the broad housing package until a committee can investigate how much Countrywide Financial stands to gain from it. Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad were part of a Countrywide program that gave cut-rate mortgages to influential people. The move, if successful, would send the housing package back to Dodd's panel, essentially killing it.


The city of San Francisco is suing ExxonMobil over the company's alleged failure to clean up hazardous pollutants from a fueling depot it once operated at Fisherman's Wharf. City Attorney Dennis Herrera's lawsuit says the Irving-based oil company broke promises it made to remove hazardous petroleum products from the soil and water at the wharf site. Mobil Oil operated a fueling facility there between 1938 and 1992. The suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court says ExxonMobil's neglect has contaminated the soil, groundwater, tidal water and sediment of San Francisco Bay. The city is seeking a court order to force ExxonMobil to clean the site and pay damages and attorneys' fees. ExxonMobil did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.


A federal appeals court in San Francisco has made it more difficult for employers to legally access e-mails and text messages sent by their workers on company accounts. Under Wednesday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, employers that contract an outside business to transmit text messages can't read them unless the worker agrees. The ruling also lets employers access employee e-mails only if they are kept on an internal server. The case originated from a lawsuit by Ontario, California, police sergeant Jeff Quon and three other officers. They sued after wireless provider, Arch Wireless, turned over to the police department transcripts of Quon's text messages to them in 2002. Police officials read them to determine whether department-issued pagers were being used solely for work purposes. A lawyer for the city of Ontario and its police department says his clients probably will appeal the ruling.


Houston construction firm Tellepsen has $24 million in liturgical projects planned. Projects for the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Christ the King Presbyterian Church are set to break ground in the first quarter of 2009, adding administrative offices, education and food service facilities and expanded parking and larger places of worship.


Two new Texas Emerging Technology Fund recipients have been announced. Investments totaling $3.7 million adds to the $49 million the state has already invested in biotech research and development. Recipients include Austin-based Terapio, which is developing a topical cream to prevent and treat a side effect of chemotherapy drugs. Abilene-based Receptor Logic is commercializing T Cell Receptor mimic technology, to better understand how the immune system interacts with a disease cell.


ConocoPhillips wants its new Colorado campus to accommodate up to 7,000 workers within the next 20 years. The Houston-based oil giant plans to transform the site in Louisville, just northwest of Denver, into its global technology center and training facility. The bulk of the research done there will be in renewable energy. ConocoPhillips Real Estate Manager Mary Manning said the company will ask Louisville for permission to accommodate 7,000 workers, but the company may not actually end up with that many. Manning expects the first phase of work on the campus to be completed in 2011, a year earlier than previously announced. The campus had belonged to StorageTek, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2005.


El Paso Electric reports its electricity grid is being strained by increased customer demand during this hot weather. Utility officials say the extreme heat likely caused blackouts to some areas of Las Cruces and El Paso. El Paso Electric spokesperson Teresa Souza says about 2,500 customers in Las Cruces lost power for about one hour Monday night. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports another 10,000 households in El Paso were without electricity for several hours Monday. El Paso Electric is encouraging people to conserve as much electricity as possible.


TXU Energy is offering a system that lets residents adjust their thermostats from any computer connected to the Internet. The system also allows the electric company to turn off customers' air conditioning when power supplies are stretched to the breaking point. Officials for TXU and the companies providing the technology say it could help consumers cut their energy bills. TXU said it's offering the technology free to residential customers, who would install the thermostats themselves. TXU spokeswoman Sophia Stoller says at times of peak electricity demand, TXU would turn off customers' air conditioning for ten minutes every half hour. TXU would have that option between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. from May through September. TXU Energy has more than 2.1 million residential and commercial electricity customers in Texas, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.


 

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