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Greek villagers secret weapon: Grow your own food

Greek villagers secret weapon: Grow your own food

KARITAINA, Greece (AP) — Ilias Mathes has protection against bank closures, capital controls and the slashing of his pension: 10 goats, some ...


National

Mosque blast in Syria claims at least 25 lives

Mosque blast in Syria claims at least 25 lives

An explosion at a mosque in the Idlib province of Syria Friday killed members of al-Qaida affiliate group, al-Nusra Front.
The blast happened in the town of Ariha, where members of the Front were gathered at a mosque for a Ramadan ceremony. The U.K.-ba…

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More
Presidential candidates campaign in July Fourth parades

Presidential candidates campaign in July Fourth parades

AMHERST, N.H. (AP) — Alongside the patriotic music and waving flags Saturday in parades across Iowa and New Hampshire were clear reminders of a presidential race coming up next year: Red balloons promoting “Jeb! 2016,” a tractor draped in a Rick Perry banner and dutiful volunteers holding signs and chanting for their chosen candidates.

Marching in Fourth of July parades in these early voting states has become a tradition for politicians seeking the White House, giving them a chance to boost their name recognition and glad-hand with voters.

Former Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida, Rick Perry of Texas and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island as well as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham worked the crowd in Amherst, while Hillary Rodham Clinton marched in a parade in New Hampshire’s North Country. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spent the holiday in New Hampshire’sLakes Region, as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley met voters in Iowa.

Graham and Perry brought the energy to Amherst, running through the streets waving, shouting jokes and posing for photos.

“Sorry the government’s so screwed up!” Graham shouted to the crowd numerous times, often followed by an apology to any children in the crowd about the future of Social Security.

The former governor and current senator shook hands in the street, prompting jokes of a Perry-Graham presidential ticket. Later, Perry snapped a cell phone picture of Graham with two voters outside their home.

Chafee, meanwhile, walked the route with just a few aides and no large signs bearing his name — nothing to indicate he’s vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bush took a more methodical approach, shaking so many hands that his team had to nearly run down an entire street to catch up with the procession. His campaign handed out red “Jeb! 2016″ balloons along the entire parade route.

“There’s nothing behind us — other than Hillary,” Bush joked to a voter who chided him for holding up the parade. While Clinton campaigned elsewhere, a team of her supporters marched right behind Bush’s, their blue signs in sharp contrast with his red.

With his son George P. Bush, Texas’s land commissioner, by his side, Bush picked up a number of small children, posed for selfies and thanked voters who said they’ve been longtime fans of the Bushs. One of those voters wore a shirt that said “Bush Hat Trick.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he got clear instructions on how to behave in an Iowa parade — no throwing things to the crowd.

Jindal walked in a July Fourth parade in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale. Accompanied by his wife, Jindal was the only Republican presidential candidate there, though other contenders had representatives there.

Jindal said he was cautioned that Iowa and Louisiana parades are different.

“We’re used to throwing things in Louisiana parades. We’re told that’s not allowed here,” he said.

Jindal said that one of the first time the family went to Disney World, the children were upset because Mickey Mouse didn’t throw them anything.

“In Louisiana every single parade, not just Mardi Gras, you’re supposed to throw things,” the governor said.

Jindal kicked off the parade shaking hands and posing for selfies. He was scheduled to appear at another parade in the area later in the day. He has been campaigning in the kickoff caucus state since Tuesday.

Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey in Urbandale, Iowa, contributed to this report.

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

International

Matt Stonie tops Joey Chestnut in hot dog eating contest

Matt Stonie tops Joey Chestnut in hot dog eating contest

NEW YORK (AP) — Matt Stonie shocked the competitive eating world on Saturday by upsetting Joey “Jaws” Chestnut at the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island, breaking Chestnut’s bid for a ninth straight victory.

Stonie, 23, who finished second last year, downed 62 hot dogs and buns, beating Chestnut by two. Both are from San Jose, California.

As thousands of spectators observed the eaters on an elevated stage, the next closest competitor ate 32 hot dogs.

“I trained hard for this. This is actually amazing,” Stonie told ESPN, which broadcast the competition live like the major sporting event its biggest fans say it has become.

Afterward, Stonie, holding his fist in the air in victory, said he came into the competition confident and prepared.

Chestnut, smiling in defeat, said he was slow and couldn’t catch Stonie.

“I’ve been looking for competition for a long time and I finally have it,” he said, vowing to return next year. “He made me hungry.”

Early in the contest, Chestnut seemed to have a slight edge but Stonie moved ahead after several minutes and seemed to be slowly extending his lead until the final bell.

The men’s contest came more than an hour after the women competed, with defending champion Miki Sudo capturing first place with a flourish that emphasized strategy rather than condiments.

The Las Vegas woman ate 38 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to claim the title for the second straight year, along with the $10,000 that comes with it.

She retained the coveted mustard yellow winner’s championship belt after downing four more wieners than last year and besting Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas of Alexandria, Virginia, who devoured 31 hot dogs.

Sudo employed a successful strategy of eating the hot dogs separately from the buns and swallowing the buns after first dipping them in Crystal Light.

A very light rain fell off and on before the event got underway.

The colorful holiday tradition draws its share of characters. Someone walked around dressed as a giant hot dog.

The spectacle also included a few chanting animal welfare protesters bearing anti-meat signs adorned with fake blood.

Security included police dogs that apparently were not thrown off by the scent of the grilled meat, along with police officers on rooftops.

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A year on, children caught on border struggle to stay, adapt

A year on, children caught on border struggle to stay, adapt

LOS ANGELES (AP) — At 1-year-old, a wide-eyed, restless Joshua Tinoco faces the prospect of deportation to Honduras. He is one of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border last year.

While his teenage mother has been allowed to stay and seek a green card under a program for abused and abandoned children, Joshua’s lawyer says he has been classified as an enforcement priority by government lawyers.

The boy’s case is one of many churning through the immigration courts since Central American children began arriving in record numbers on the border. Most still don’t know the outcomes of their cases.

Immigrant advocates say many are bona fide asylum seekers. Border enforcement supporters say few of those handed deportation orders will be sent home because of the political backlash.

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

Science & Technology

APNewsBreak: Tentative agreement on Iran sanctions relief

APNewsBreak: Tentative agreement on Iran sanctions relief

VIENNA (AP) — World powers and Iran have reached tentative agreement on sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic, among the most contentious issues in a long-term nuclear agreement that negotiators hope to clinch over the next several days, diplomats told The Associated Press on Saturday.

The annex, one of five meant to accompany the agreement, outlines which U.S. and international sanctions will be lifted and how quickly. Diplomats said senior officials of the seven-nation talks, which include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, still had to sign off on the package.

Still, the word of significant progress indicated the sides were moving closer to a comprehensive accord that would set a decade of restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for tens of billions of dollars’ in economic benefits for the Iranians.

Officials had described sanctions relief as one of the thorniest disagreements between Iran and the United States, which has led the international pressure campaign against Iran’s economy. The U.S. and much of the world fears Iran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity could be designed to make nuclear weapons; Iran says its program is meant only to generate power and for other peaceful purposes.

The diplomats, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on this past week’s confidential negotiations in Vienna, said the sanctions annex was completed this week by experts from Iran and the six world powers it is negotiating with: the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. They did not provide details of the agreement.

A senior U.S. official did not dispute the diplomats’ account but said work remained to be done before the issue could be described as finalized.

Negotiators are striving to wrap up the deal by July 7.

Along with inspection guidelines and rules governing Iran’s research and development of advanced nuclear technology, the sanctions annex of the agreement had been among the toughest issues remaining to be resolved.

Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have made repeated demands for economic penalties to be lifted shortly after a deal is reached. Washington and its partners have said they’d take action after Iran verifiably complies with restrictions on enrichment and other elements of the nuclear program.

Much of the negotiation on the matter has concerned sequencing, so that both sides can legitimately claim to have gotten their way.

Several other matters related to sanctions also had posed problems.

The Obama administration cannot move too quickly to remove economic penalties because of Congress, which will have a 30-day review period for any agreement during which no sanctions can be waived.

American officials also had been struggling to separate the “nuclear-related” sanctions it is prepared to suspend from those it wishes to keep, including measures designed to counteract Iranian ballistic missile efforts, human rights violations and support for U.S.-designated terrorist organizations.

And to keep pressure on Iran, world powers had been hoping to finalize a system for snapping suspended sanctions back into force if Iran cheats on the accord. Russia has traditionally opposed any plan that would see them lose their U.N. veto power and a senior Russian negotiator said only this week that his government rejected any automatic “snapback” of sanctions.

Associated Press Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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Company town? In Seattle, some fret over Amazon’s growth

Company town? In Seattle, some fret over Amazon’s growth

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle, notorious for boom-and-bust cycles stretching back to the 19th century Alaska gold rush, is booming once again.

Thickets of yellow cranes have crowded the skyline, where new glass-sided office buildings, hotels and apartment towers blot out views of the mountains and the Space Needle. Food trucks dot the streets and young software engineers with disposable income fill the bars.

But the boom has brought handwringing, as residents fret over whether Seattle has become a traffic-snarled city for the rich with soaring rental rates, overly dependent on the company behind it all: Amazon.

The online retail giant has brought tens of thousands of workers to its campus in the South Lake Union neighborhood, overtaken the University of Washington as Seattle’s biggest employer and lined up enough office space to roughly triple its headcount here.

“A lot of people who have lived in Seattle for 10 or 20 years are getting pushed out, “says Jeff Reifman, a former Microsoft programmer who has criticized the ways Amazon is changing Seattle, including in a well-read essay last year on how the influx of male tech workers has skewed the dating scene.

To some, the complaints sound like trying to find the dark cloud in the silver lining.

“Cleveland would be doing cartwheels for this type of situation,” commercial real estate expert Jim Allison said.

He suggests such talk would have been unthinkable five years ago, when Seattle’s biggest private employer, Washington Mutual, collapsed. He credits Amazon for Seattle’s turnaround, and credits the city with being a model for the “right type of growth” — urban, young, educated and transit-oriented.

Nevertheless, growing pains are undeniable. Seattle, one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, is expected to gain another 120,000 residents and 115,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. It’s not just Amazon: Facebook, Google, Expedia and other tech giants have opened or are opening offices.

Those extra workers are putting pressure on rents, which have skyrocketed more than 37 percent in Seattle since mid-2010, according to Tom Cain of Apartment Insights Washington.

The median rental price for all homes in Seattle in May was $2,289 a month, Zillow reports, compared to a national average of $1,367.

Mayor Ed Murray, who has a special committee seeking ways to provide affordable housing and avoid displacing longtime residents, last week announced another step: An agency to coordinate public investments in transportation, parks and housing around new development.

Amazon says it has more than 20,000 workers in Seattle, and estimates suggest it has enough office space built or planned to grow to more than 70,000, taking up a huge chunk of the city’s commercial real estate. That raises the specter among some residents of Boeing’s bust in the early 1970s, when two real estate professionals put up a billboard reading, “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights.”

Boeing’s downturn led to thousands of lost jobs, with ripple effects throughout Seattle.

While City Councilman Mike O’Brien said he loves that Amazon is hiring, it “can’t continue to grow at the pace they’re growing at.”

“When it has a major hiccup — and it will — it will be a major shock to our system,” O’Brien said.

Building in Seattle, Amazon has helped remake an old warehouse district into a hub of glass-paneled office buildings, along with new restaurants and a Tesla dealership.

Some businesses were kicked out when their buildings sold for Amazon or related projects, but Monty Holmes still runs his family-owned trophy shop, Athletic Awards, one of the few remaining enterprises from South Lake Union’s days as a blue-collar neighborhood. He says business is great, thanks in part to Amazon, which buys employee awards and emblazoned clothing from him.

FareStart, a restaurant and catering business that trains homeless people for food-service careers, is across the street from a building under construction for Amazon. When the company moves in, FareStart expects to see more Amazon workers at lunchtime.

“It’s more success for everyone,” FareStart marketing director Tina Gonsalves said.

Amazon says 55 percent of its workers bus, bike or walk to work, and it notes it has given the city tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing, paid for a new street car and has contributed to nearly 100 charitable organizations.

“We made a decision to invest in our hometown and build an urban campus in the heart of Seattle,” spokesman Ty Rogers said in an email.

But the company has also brought a lot of people into an area that has relatively little housing or public transportation, though the city has added bus service and street cars, and light rail lines are being expanded.

Some of Seattle’s new arrivals have spread out, driving up rents in far flung neighborhoods. That’s prompted concern about the effect on seniors, low-wage workers, artists and others.

Even app-economy workers have felt the pinch. Jen Joyce, a marketing manager for a ride-service company, was startled to learn the rent for her one-bedroom apartment was going up $200 a month.

Urban planner Alon Bassok was inspired by Seattle’s growth challenges to run for City Council this year.

“We as a city have to figure out how to accommodate and rise to the occasion of something like Amazon rather than saying something’s their fault,” Bassok said.

Follow Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

July 3, 2015 | By | Reply More

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Flawed bailouts, political missteps brought Greece to brink

Flawed bailouts, political missteps brought Greece to brink

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — After two bailouts totaling 240 billion euros ($266 billion) and six years of depression, spending cuts and lost jobs, Greece teeters on the edge of collapse.

How did it come to this? Why couldn’t all that money and all that sacrifice turn around a country that makes up less than two percent of the 19-country eurozone economy?

On Sunday the country will hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the tough creditor conditions attached to loans needed to avoid default and a banking collapse.

A “no” may lead to a chaotic departure from the shared euro currency. Even “yes” is no guarantee the creditors will agree to lend.

Ahead of the vote, here are seven short explanations of how Greece got into today’s mess:

THE CREDIT BINGE

There is no way around it: Greece engaged in a three-decades-long credit binge starting in the early 1980s, spending the money on plush government jobs for supporters of the country’s two major political parties — the center-left PASOK and center-right New Democracy. Taking turns in office, they paid their followers well — driving up private sector wages and making Greece a costly place to do business. They also looked the other way on widespread tax evasion. Independent professionals — including doctors and lawyers — often reported less income than factory workers.

THE EURO ARRIVES

Despite its rickety finances, Greece shaped up a little for a few years and qualified to join the single currency in 2001. It was a time of euphoria and confidence in the euro, seen as a rival to the dollar as a global currency. New members were desired to boost the EU’s biggest hope for European integration. Greece was waved in, and promptly went back to its old ways.

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

The arrival of the euro only fueled the debt binge. German and French banks found they could now buy Greek government bonds in euros, not drachmas that might devalue. Greece borrowed at what in retrospect were ridiculously low interest rates, just a bit more than those charged to rock-solid Germany.

They were in the euro, the thinking went, what could go wrong?

In October 2009, after the global financial crisis had made investors more wary of risk, Greece revealed its deficit was far higher than advertised, and its finances were out of control. Its borrowing costs shot up. It couldn’t pay.

BAILOUT AUSTERITY

When the party ended, Greece got a 110 billion euro bailout in 2010 from the other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. The creditors attached tough conditions to cut spending and deficits, and to tackle the rampant bureaucracy and corruption. Yet the cuts quickly undermined growth, which fell below the optimistic estimates of the creditors who miscalculated how much they would weigh on the economy.

There was a contradiction that couldn’t be resolved: cuts in public spending were needed to reduce Greece’s cost base because it couldn’t devalue. Yet the lower public spending pushed down GDP and simply made the debt burden bigger compared to the size of the economy.

Unemployment soared. Misery multiplied.

HANDCUFFED BY THE EURO

With its own currency, Greece could have defaulted on its debts and devalued, quickly erasing its international cost problem, and moved on within a few years. Cutting wages and prices is tougher, and takes longer. In that sense, the euro has prolonged the agony.

TAXPAYERS ON THE HOOK

By 2012, it was clear the first bailout wasn’t doing the trick. A second rescue included sticking Greece’s private creditors with losses on their bonds, along with yet more loans. Yet creditors continued to underestimate how much damage austerity would do to growth. The debt level, measured as a fraction of the economy, continued to increase. Even at the time of the deal, most economists and policy makers expected that further debt reduction or easier terms were inevitable.

But the reshuffle of Greece’s debt meant that instead of owing bond investors, Greece’s creditors were now European taxpayers, the IMF and the ECB. With taxpayers on the hook, resistance to further debt relief stiffened in place like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland.

Still, for a while it looked like the second bailout might do the trick. The Greek government under Prime Minister Antonis Samaras narrowed deficits. Some reforms were implemented, while others were passed but didn’t really take effect. The economy bottomed out, after an agonizing fall of around 25 percent, and appeared ready to start growing. Greece did get some easier terms on interest and time to pay.

CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR

In September 2014, Greece had only weeks left before it successfully completed the second bailout and transitioned to milder forms of assistance. Approaching the finish line, Samaras stumbled.

He announced that Greece would expel its hated creditor monitors and return to bond markets without outside help or advice. The idea fell flat. Interest yields rose sharply on its remaining debt. Instead of getting the last of the bailout money, in December the floundering Samaras had to call an early election held in January.

Voters, who were fed up with years of agony, chose Syriza, a hard-left party that won support with its demands for debt reduction and no more austerity. Creditors balked.

Uncertainty quickly tanked the fledgling recovery. The bailout was first extended and then allowed to expire Tuesday as Syriza and creditors talked past one another.

The last bailout money, some 7.2 billion euros, had slipped out of Greece’s grasp. And with it, perhaps, its chance of remaining in the eurozone.

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More
Walker wants open records restrictions removed from budget

Walker wants open records restrictions removed from budget

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker says he wants a proposed overhaul of Wisconsin’s open records law removed from the state budget or at least significantly changed.

The plan, which was advanced by Republican lawmakers late Thursday, has drawn a firestorm of criticism from liberals and conservatives alike. It would shield nearly everything created by state and local government officials, including drafts of legislation and communications with staff.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1GXvetG ) that Walker told reporters in Wauwatosa Saturday that he’ll speak with lawmakers Monday, and he hopes the proposal is either stripped out of the budget completely or that significant changes are made.

The governor says he has a lot of concerns about the proposal. But he stopped short of saying he would veto it lawmakers don’t scale it back.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

Other Recent Posts

Clinton: Hopeful US can reach ‘verifiable deal’ with Iran

Clinton: Hopeful US can reach ‘verifiable deal’ with Iran

GLEN, N.H. (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton says she is hopeful the U.S. can reach a “strong verifiable deal” to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program by next week’s deadline.

The Democratic presidential front-runner was speaking at a July 4th campaign event in northern New Hampshire. Clinton says she hopes the U.S. and its allies can clinch a deal that would halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Clinton helped set the talks in motion. Clinton says the Bush administration’s diplomatic response to Iran was “somewhat half-hearted” and emphasized sanctions. She says the Obama administration inherited the challenges of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Clinton spoke with supporters about her plans to address college debt, her views of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and the future makeup of the court.

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More
Clinton: Hopeful US can reach ‘verifiable deal’ with Iran

Clinton: Hopeful US can reach ‘verifiable deal’ with Iran

GLEN, N.H. (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton says she is hopeful the U.S. can reach a “strong verifiable deal” to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program by next week’s deadline.

The Democratic presidential front-runner was speaking at a July 4th campaign event in northern New Hampshire. Clinton says she hopes the U.S. and its allies can clinch a deal that would halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Clinton helped set the talks in motion. Clinton says the Bush administration’s diplomatic response to Iran was “somewhat half-hearted” and emphasized sanctions. She says the Obama administration inherited the challenges of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Clinton spoke with supporters about her plans to address college debt, her views of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and the future makeup of the court.

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More
Race to replace ex-Rep. Schock a classic GOP primary contest

Race to replace ex-Rep. Schock a classic GOP primary contest

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The race to replace former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock has shaped up as a classic Republican primary, pitting the son of a longtime Illinois congressman and Cabinet member against a conservative writer who has railed at what he sees as the “establishment” GOP hand-picking the disgraced lawmaker’s successor.

Three Republicans and two Democrats will appear on Tuesday’s ballots, but most eyes have been on State Sen. Darin LaHood, the son of former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Michael Flynn, who helped found the late blogger and commentator Andrew Breitbart’sBigGovernment.com.

Candidates in the deeply Republican territory say Schock’s resignation after mounting scrutiny of his extravagant spending, and the lingering scandal — including grand jury and FBI investigations — has left voters disillusioned. The former Republican representative enjoyed strong support and visibility beyond his central Illinois district until questions surfaced about his use of taxpayer funds, like for ornate office decor in the style of “Downton Abbey” or worldwide travels plastered on Instagram.

The five candidates hail from diverse work backgrounds and political ideologies, but they all argue one point in common: They’re nothing like Schock. Here’s a look at the race:

REPUBLICAN FACEOFF

LaHood, a former state and federal prosecutor, has the most name recognition and received early support from the Illinois GOP. He’s raised roughly $1 million and picked up key endorsements, including from the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He describes himself as “much more conservative” than his father, who worked in President Barack Obama’s first administration, and notes his 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. But LaHood was critical of GOP leaders, saying the party needs to be more proactive by laying out alternatives to the Affordable Care Act and a clear plan for the economy, and by reducing the national debt.

“(Republicans) have to lead with conservative ideas and they’re not doing that,” said LaHood, 46. “They’re not passing any bills and putting them on the president’s desk.”

Flynn says people are fed up with party politics, and he was motivated to run after it appeared the GOP had cleared the field for LaHood.

He claims candidate forums hosted by Republican county organizations have been tightly controlled — when it comes to allowing news media coverage and when candidates speak — and says there should be fuller debates on health care and tax structures. Flynn has raised about $63,000, but the conservative Person to Person PAC announced support of him this week and praised his writing, saying others “were too timid to stand up to power brokers.”

Flynn, 47, a central Illinois native who also lived in Washington, has worked on local legislative campaigns.

SHAKING SCHOCK

Candidates say the circumstances of Schock’s resignation in March have reverberated throughout the campaign.

“What happened to Schock is a parable,” Flynn said. “People with a lot of promise and a lot of energy and a lot of opportunity and get so immersed in the system there, they feel they are above the law and are different.”

LaHood said voters want someone who won’t get “sucked in by Washington, D.C.” He talked about staying “grounded” and said during the legislative session he drives more than an hour back and forth to Springfield each day so he can spend the night with his family.

Republican Donald Rients, who works for State Farm, and the Democratic candidates — high school teacher and veteran Robert Mellon and Springfield school board member Adam Lopez — all say the Schock situation levels the playing field because voters are frustrated with scandal, regardless of party, and want change.

THE DISTRICT AND TURNOUT

Illinois’ 18th district comprises acres of rolling farmland to global manufacturers like Caterpillar Inc. The region includes at least part of 19 counties, and portions of Peoria, the state capital, Springfield, and the Mississippi River town of Quincy.

The geography presents problems for candidates, who have to travel wide to reach voters.

Turnout is expected to be low, considering it’s a special election in peak summer vacation season. That puts pressure on the candidates to reach loyal party voters who are more likely to come vote.

The general special election is Sept. 10.

Tareen reported from Chicago.

Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen

July 4, 2015 | By | Reply More
Texas wants its gold back inside the state’s borders

Texas wants its gold back inside the state’s borders

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Forget Fort Knox or the Federal Reserve. Texas has decided to start keeping its gold holdings within in its own borders. But what makes sense politically in such a sovereignty-loving place is creating a logistical conundrum.

Texas is the only state that owns an actual stockpile of gold, according to public sector and financial industry experts — not just gold futures or investment positions, but approximately 5,600 gold bars worth around $650 million. The holdings, stored at a New York bank, for some harken back to century-old fears about the security of currency not backed by shiny bullion.

The Legislature’s decision this summer to bring its gold cache home was hailed by many conservatives, and even some on the far left, who are suspicious of national government.

“There will always be the exact same amount of gold in there as the amount that was put in,” no matter what happens to the financial system, said Republican state Rep. Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a former tea party organizer from the Dallas suburbs who authored the gold bill.

But for the Texas comptroller’s office, which has to implement the policy, the catch is that the new Texas Bullion Depository exists in name but not reality.

The law doesn’t say where the depository would be or how it should be built or secured. No funding was provided for those purposes or for leasing space elsewhere. Further complicating matters is a provision allowing ordinary people to check their own gold or silver bullion into the facility.

“We are honestly at the phase where the questions we are answering are creating more questions that we have to answer,” said Chris Bryan, a comptroller’s office spokesman.

Charged with figuring everything out is a four-member task force within the comptroller’s office, which recently dispatched an official to a precious metals conference to study up.

One immediate concern is the possible cost. When Fort Knox was completed in 1936 it cost $560,000 — or roughly $9.2 million in today’s dollars. When Capriglione first introduced his bill in 2013 it had an estimated cost of $23 million.

But Capriglione now thinks private companies would bid to create a depository in exchange for charging storage and service fees.

The plan has kicked up chatter outside of Texas that it’s a step toward secession, an idea raised now and then on the state’s farthest political fringe.

“Just moving it would be pretty expensive and, unless Texas is anticipating withdrawing from the union, which I suspect is some peoples’ want, I don’t see what advantage it is…,” said Edwin Truman, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics who has written about gold and monetary policy. “What are you getting for what you’re paying for?”

But Capriglione says he’s just convinced that gold is safer, especially close at hand.

After the bill sailed through the Legislature, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed it and Tweeted: “California may be the golden state, but Texans deserve to keep their gold in-state!”

Texas’ state-owned gold is held by the University of Texas Investment Management Company, the nation’s second largest academic endowment behind Harvard. It began gradually amassing gold futures in 2009 as a hedge against currency weakness in the recession. It eventually transitioned to physical bullion, and by 2011 had $1 billion worth.

The price of gold has since mostly slumped amid a soaring stock market. Today, the fund’s gold bars represent about 2.5 percent of its $25.4 billion in holdings, said Chief Executive Officer Bruce Zimmerman.

Asked about the new depository, Zimmerman said, “We don’t do politics. We’re just investors.”

The Fed declined comment on the new Texas depository, as did HSBC bank, which currently stores the gold bars in an underground vault in Manhattan.

Stacked together, the state’s gold occupies about 20 square feet. It’s unclear whether repatriating it could be done with an electronic transfer or would require a fleet of planes or armored cars.

One possible effect of the new depository might be more attention to the idea of returning to the gold standard, long a cause of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The Federal Reserve was founded more than a century ago so that the value of the U.S. dollar no longer had to be anchored to gold, and Richard Nixon formally scrapped the gold standard in 1971.

“I think Texas is once again showing they’re ahead of the curve,” said James Rickards, author of the 2014 book “The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System.” ”They’re not waiting for the disaster, but preparing for it.”

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