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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

U.S. Drought to Drive Up Food Prices

The worst drought in almost half a century is threatening to push food prices up next year. Meats, eggs, and dairy prices may start rising as early as November, economists say, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to boost drought aid and urge Congress to act. Meanwhile, House Republicans vowed to delay the farm bill, which is due to expire on September 30, until after the November election. The new legislation, which passed the Senate without difficulty, would cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years to support prices, crop insurance programs, and low-income families. Most of the farm bill’s money goes into food stamps, at the rate of $80 billion a year. The new bill proposes to cut spending by $23.6 billion, including $4.5 billion from the food stamps program. “Never before in modern times has a farm bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee been so blocked,” Politico said.

Eurozone Takes a Breather

Investors eased up on European assets after Austrian European Central Bank Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny gave some indication that the ECB could help boost the European bailout fund. Nowotny said there were arguments for letting the European Stability Mechanism, as the fund is known, borrow from the ECB. While this is a view the rest of the Council doesn’t share, these comments heartened the markets, and both the euro and European stocks rose, while the cost of borrowing for Spain fell.

Voter ID Law Challenged in Pennsylvania

A weeklong hearing began today in a case against Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, which requires voters to present a photo identification to obtain a ballot. Lawyer David Gersch, who represents 10 people affected by this law, reminded the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg that “voting is not a privilege, it’s a right,” and called the legislation “harassment.” The goal of the suit is to get the law blocked at least until the presidential election in November. Nine states have recently passed strict voter ID laws. This could determine the result of the race as a few of these states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are swing states. As many as 21 million Americans (11 percent) who are eligible to vote don’t have photo ID, and the most penalized by these laws are the elderly, minorities, and disadvantaged people. Read ProPublica’s explainer here.

Record Losses for French Carmaker Peugeot

French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën said today it lost as much money in the first half of 2012 as the French government said it will spend to boost the French car industry. Minister Arnaud Montebourg announced the country would spend €665 million ($807 million) to save car factory jobs and promote innovation, while Peugeot reported a €662 million ($803 million) loss as sales fell 14 percent because of the continent’s deepening crisis. Two weeks ago, Peugeot said it would axe 8,000 jobs by 2014 as it planned to close a plant in Aulnay-sous-Bois. The French government hopes to raise demand for electric and hybrid cars, thereby providing an incentive for carmakers to develop greener technologies.

Lymphoma Drug Found to Purge Dormant HIV

A new study shows that a drug normally used in the treatment of certain types of lymphoma dislodged cells of latent HIV by finding the hidden virus, and then activating it. The study comes from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reservoirs of latent HIV are not affected by anti-AIDS drugs, which is why infections reemerge when patients stop following their medical regimens, a behavior called “nonadherence.” This opens new avenues in the search for a cure, and creates new strategies for treatment. It is particularly important news for poorer, less educated people, who are both more at risk of being infected and less likely to stick to a treatment schedule over time.

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