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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Global Drought Drives Food Reserves Down, Corn Price to Record High

Droughts in the U.S., Europe, and low rainfall during India’s monsoon will cause global food reserves to fall for a third year, pushing up the cost of import to $1.24 trillion, the United Nations said. Corn futures rose to a record high in Chicago today, and analysts predict crop prices will continue to soar. This comes less than two years after all-time high food prices drove 44 million people to extreme poverty, sparking the Arab Spring at the beginning of last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in June it expected record corn crops this year, but as the drought expanded, it reduced its forecast by 12 percent in July. Experts predict the USDA will cut its estimate again this month. The past 12 months were the hottest on record in the United States.

Syria: Rebels Lose Crucial Part of Aleppo

Syrian rebels said today they lost a crucial district of Aleppo, the country’s commercial capital, after the government bombarded the area. The news came as Lebanese authorities reported the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who is said to be close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Samaha is being interrogated over allegations that he wants to cause instability in Lebanon, after explosives were discovered in the North of the country. This shows how contagious violence could be in the region. Meanwhile, Iran Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that the only way out of this conflict would be for government officials and opposition leaders to sit down and talk, suggesting Iran could act as a mediator, days after it expressed strong support for Assad’s regime.

Canada’s Economic Health May Mean Tighter Monetary Policy

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said today in London that the strength of Canada’s economic growth and the health of its financial sector could prompt the central bank to raise its interest rate. Reining in the economy is the exact opposite of what the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the People’s Bank of China have been trying to accomplish. Canada has the most solid fiscal position of all the members of the Group of Seven, its housing market is improving, and household debt is falling steadily, but the country is still susceptible to external demand of commodities. Carney said the “world is still a very dangerous place at the moment,” suggesting policymakers will remain vigilant.

Chinese Deposed Politician’s Wife Gu Kailai Tried for Poisoning U.K. Businessman

The trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of China’s deposed Politburo Standing Committee Member Bo Xilai, began and ended today after she confessed to having poisoned British businessman Neil Heywood. Citing an anonymous source who was present at the proceedings, French newspaper Le Monde reported that Heywood tried to extort £13 million ($20.3 million) from Gu’s son, Bo Guagua, who recently graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and has been leading a rather profligate life abroad since his teenage years. The ordeal embarrassed Chinese authorities as it shone a light on the corruption of a prominent politician, Bo Xilai, who still enjoys some popular support. The timing is also sensitive, with the Communist Party 18th Congress fast approaching.

Google Hit with $22.5 Million Fine Over User Privacy

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission slapped Google with a $22.5 million fine for tracking users of Apple’s web browser Safari who kept a default “do not track” setting in the preferences. It is the largest penalty ever ordered by the FTC, and the goal is to send other companies a clear message about user privacy. Under the settlement, Google does not have to admit to any wrongdoing, although it does requires the company to disable all tracking cookies installed in the computers of those who were affected.

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