News in Brief: Federal Reserve Appointments and More

AP reported Thursday that six in ten Americans are living in cities where air pollution reaches dangerous levels. The Los Angeles area has the nation’s worst ozone pollution, according to the report released by the American Lung Association and the Phoenix area of Arizona suffers from the worst year-round particle pollution.

The report studied fine particulate matter over 24-hour periods and as a year-round average. The cities with the cleanest air were Fargo, North Dakota; Wahpeton, North Dakota and Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dimitri Stanich, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, was quick to counter the bad press. “More than 45 percent of the days in the 1990 ozone season were considered very unhealthy” in the South Coast area, he said. “Today, 45 percent of the days are clean, more than double the number of clean days during 1990.

“So while we are still not meeting the federal air quality standards, the concentrations that Californians are exposed to are coming down dramatically,” he said.

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The Washington Post reported a decision by the Supreme Court to overturn a federal judge’s objection to religious symbols on public land. By a 5 to 4 decision, the ruling highlighted the difference in opinion over the separation of church and state between the court’s prevailing conservatives and liberals.

The case concerns a white cross erected more than 75 years ago in the Mojave Desert to honor the dead of World War I. The opinions of six justices were written in stirring rhetoric, arguing both how religion can both divide a pluralistic nation or serve as a way to honor the dead.

For Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the bottom line is that “the Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”

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The New York Times and the BBC reported the continuing efforts to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico as the US military joins the clean up. Reports say the oil is leaking five times more rapidly than originally suggested and heading toward the coast.

According to Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard, the oil is estimated to be leaking at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day, not the originally estimated 1,000. The leak is at 5,000 feet below the surface and 45 miles by 105 miles large. It is 50 miles off Louisiana’s coast.

Crews have been working to burn off the oil following an explosion and fire on a drilling rig on April 20, which left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. Scientists think the leak could be from the wall beneath where the rig sank two days later.

The State of Louisiana is asking for emergency assistance in avoiding an environmental disaster on a huge scale. The Coast Guard estimates the damage could match the 11 million gallons spilled from the Exxon Valdez tanker off Alaska in 1989 within two months.

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Bloomberg reported President Barack Obama’s appointment of three Federal Reserve governors to help Chairman Ben S. Bernanke manage an overhaul of bank supervision. This move will bring the board to full strength for the first time in four years.

Obama announced the appointees Thursday. They are San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen to be vice chairman of the Board of Governors under Bernanke; Sarah Bloom Raskin, Maryland’s commissioner of financial regulation; and Peter Diamond, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the seven-person board. The three are still subject to Senate confirmation.

These appointments come as the Republicans have cleared room for debate on financial regulatory reform.

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Reuters reported Thursday that Greece is readying severe austerity measures to secure a multi-billion euro aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to rescue its financial markets.

Greek unions have said they will fight the measures imposed by the IMF in exchange for the debt package. Greece will be expected to raise sales taxes, scrap salary bonuses amounting to two extra months of pay in the public sector and accept a three-year pay freeze.

The IMF, European Union and European Central Bank are currently in Athens negotiating what many say could be the largest bailout in history, of tens of billions of euros.

The Guardian UK reported shock-waves from the European financial crisis, as Spain had its debt downgraded, Portugal announced tougher austerity measures and Germany questioned whether financially-unstable Greece should have been allowed into the Euro zone.

Referring to Greece’s impact on the financial state of the EU monetary zone, Angel Gurria, head of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development said: “This is like Ebola. When you realize you have it you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”