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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

U.S. Housing Starts Jump to Most in Four Years

Construction of new houses in the U.S. jumped 15 percent in September, another sign that the economy may be on its way to recovery. Housing starts rose to an 872,000 annual rate, the highest in over four years. This comes less than a week after JPMorgan and Wells Fargo reported earnings that show the country’s housing market has bounced back: low interest rates mean mortgage lending rose 57 percent at JPMorgan and 50 percent at Wells Fargo. With a continued increase in the nation’s population, this trend will continue, experts say. This is also good news for construction, a sector that lost 2 million jobs since 2007. California, one of the states that suffered the most from the drop in housing prices, is now among the ones recovering most quickly. The supply of new homes hasn’t kept the pace with the sharp increase in population last year, which saw the number of households rise 2 percent, the most in 10 years.

EU: France’s Hollande Criticizes Germany’s Merkel Openly

French President François Hollande voiced today his frustration with the policies of his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, regarding the crisis in the euro area. In making his disagreement and exasperation public, Hollande is breaking with a tradition of private recriminations between the leaders of two countries. He criticized Merkel’s government for its slow reaction and indecisiveness in dealing the issues of the currency union, blamed the chancellor for being too focused on domestic policy, sought assurance that Greece will stay in the Eurozone, asserted that avoiding a recession should be the priority, rather than deficits and budgets, and that austerity cannot be the only answer to pulling debt-saddled nations out of the crisis. Hollande also asked Berlin to propose measures that can be implemented quickly rather than grand plans that would take at least a decade to come to fruition. He called for monthly meetings of all European Union (EU) leaders, thereby opposing the idea pushed by the Germans of giving Brussels greater powers over national budgets. His words came on the eve of the EU Summit.

Portugal Military Leader Warns of Possible Revolution

Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the chief strategist in Portugal’s pacific Carnation Revolution of April 1974, told the Lusa press agency today the Portuguese government is violating the constitution. He warned that more and more people are asking him to lead them in a new revolution, which he does not believe could be pacific. A year ago, Saraiva de Carvalho said it was the duty of the armed forces to overthrow the government should it cross the limits. The idea of this revolution “is latent,” he said, and “the limits were crossed.” The Portuguese government has implemented a series of austerity measures this year in hopes to reach the deficit targets set with its lenders, mainly the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Joining his voice to those of thousands of protesters in the country, he blamed austerity for Portugal’s “regression to unsustainable levels of poverty.” Asked about the role of the military, he said it is “the guardian of the Republic’s Constitution.” His words came as leaders of the army met to discuss the repercussions of austerity on its ability to function.

Syria: U.N. Envoy Brahimi Fears Civil War Spillover

The United Nations’ Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, speaking in Lebanon today, said the 19-month civil war tearing apart the country has the potential to set fire to the entire region. He added a temporary ceasefire over the four-day holiday of Eid al-Adha at the end of this month could carry a “microscopic chance” of becoming permanent. He once again acknowledged the difficulty of the task of leading Syria to peace, but his proposal for a truce was backed both by the Arab League and Turkey. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime said yesterday it would consider a ceasefire, but commentators voiced doubts that the splintered opposition would agree to it. Meanwhile, fighting continued in the capital Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo and in the province of Idlib, where a helicopter was shot down by rebels.

Obama-Romney Debate Boosts President’s Campaign

U.S. President Barack Obama showed his biting side during a debate yesterday against Mitt Romney, his opponent in the race for the White House. This was in sharp contrast with his passive attitude against Romney’s attacks at their first encounter two weeks ago. A member of the audience asked a question about Libya regarding the responsibility for the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi last month: “the buck stops at me,” Obama responded. Romney, attempting to describe the White House’s failure to immediately describe and treat the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror,” was immediately corrected by Moderator Candy Crowley: “he did in fact call it an ‘act of terror’” the day after the attack, she interjected. The exchange also shed light on the issue of fair pay for women, which led Romney to give a rambling description of his efforts to hire women during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, explaining that his team had “binders full of women” he considered for posts in his cabinet. The phrase immediately became an internet “meme,” trending on Twitter worldwide.

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