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Traffic deaths trended down again in 2010, says DOT December 8, 2011

Washington (CNN) — Some 32,885 people died on the nation’s roadways in 2010 — a number that, while slightly higher than preliminary figures released in April, shows the downward trend in traffic deaths is continuing, now reaching low levels not seen since 1949, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported Thursday.

The decline came despite the fact Americans drove 46 billion miles in 2010 — 1.6 percent more than the previous year.

“While we have more work to do to protect American motorists, these numbers show we’re making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation’s roadways,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The 2010 fatality rate — which comes to 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles — was he lowest rate ever recorded, the DOT said. It is down from 1.15 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles in 2009.

Fatalities declined in most categories, including occupants of passenger cars and light trucks, a category that includes SUVs, minivans and pickups. Fatalities rose among pedestrians, motorcycle riders and large truck occupants.

Experts have attributed the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars — such as vehicle rollover protection — and programs to change driver behavior — such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers’ licenses. They also give credit to stricter enforcement of driving laws and drivers taking personal responsibility for their safety.

Traffic fatalities in the United States peaked in 1972, with 54,589 killed, according to the DOT. But the rise and decline of the grim number has numerous peaks and dips, influenced by direct changes such as the national speed limit and indirect causes such as recessions.

In recent history, the most notable change was a 9.7 percent plummet in deaths in 2008. In a report examining that drop, DOT officials gave credit to DOT safety programs, but also noted that the drop coincided with a recession in the economy. The recession, and high unemployment rates among the young workforce, probably had a big impact on travel among young drivers, and probably accounts for a steep decline in fatalities involving younger people, the DOT said.

Drunk driving deaths dropped 4.9 percent in 2010, taking 10,228 lives compared to 10,759 the previous year, the DOT said.

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The ECB must act to stop a eurozone collapse | David Blanchflower December 3, 2011

There was a bit of good news from the US this week to add to the jump in consumer confidence numbers announced by the Conference Board earlier in the week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday an increase in non-farm payrolls of 120,000, with the strongest growth in the retail sector. In addition, there was also a welcome and rather surprising drop in the unemployment rate from 9.0% in October, to 8.6% in November, down from its peak of 10.1% to its lowest level in 30 months.

In part, the fall in the unemployment rate arose because of a drop of 0.2% in the participation or activity rate, with the numbers not in the labor force increasing by nearly half a million. This may have occurred partly because of a discouraged worker effect, when members of the labor force give up their search for work when there are no jobs. Of particular note, though, was the decline in the numbers of unemployed by nearly 600,000.

Sadly, the good news is unlikely to last for long – given the fact that the world economy now seems to be slowing, and the UK and the eurozone are already headed into recession, where unemployment rates are now rising again. In the UK, for example, the latest data release showed that the unemployment rate had increased by 0.4%, which is its highest level since 1996. A slowing in US export markets would not be good for US jobs.

Developments in the euro area right now represent major downside risks to US recovery and especially to job creation. These problems are highly unlikely to be fixed at the Brussels summit on 9 December by agreeing to greater budget controls, which could take years to implement. It’s like someone showing up at death’s door in the emergency room with a heart attack and the only thing the doctor does is to prescribe a better diet and exercise to prevent a heart attack in the future. As Keynes famously said, in the long run, we are all dead.

What is needed is swift action by the ECB to immediately implement a major quantitative easing program if the currency is to be saved and if a worldwide second Great Depression is to be avoided. I kid you not: the risks of that are high and growing.

In apocalyptic language, the OECD warned this week of the consequences of what it called a major negative event emerging from the euro area, by which it means a chaotic breakup of the euro. It recognised the possibility that the results could range from “relatively benign to highly devastating outcomes”, which “would most likely send the OECD area as a whole into recession, with marked declines in activity in the United States and Japan … In view of the great uncertainty policy-makers now confront, they must be prepared to face the worst.” The euro’s collapse could come quickly.

Indicative of the seriousness of the situation in European financial markets, we saw collective action by six central banks this week including the Fed, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of Canada, the ECB and the Swiss Central Bank, to provide liquidity in global money markets. They lowered the pricing on the existing temporary US dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 50bps. I am sure it was not a coincidence that, about the same time, the Chinese central bank also lowered its reserve requirement to prop up growth.

I do recall being part of a coordinate rate cut in October 2008, also by six central banks. The seriousness of the problem got everyone on the same page quickly in the weeks after the collapse of Lehmans. So things must be pretty bad; I suspect the central banks have seen things that the rest of us haven’t. My guess is that several European banks are in worse shape and closer to default than has been made public and may have already had to receive emergency assistance.

Thankfully, despite its partisan divide, this Congress looks likely to see sense and renew the payroll tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year. Discussions are apparently going on between Republicans and Democrats to extend their scale even further, which would be welcome news for all those folks looking for jobs. It is also looking like a deal of some sort will be done to renew unemployment benefit extension to 99 weeks, which also terminates at the end of the year. These measures are crucial in getting Americans back to work.

The politicians need to be prepared for the worst, as these job numbers may be as good as it gets. Fortunately, the Fed is on the case. These are scary days.

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US politics live blog: US unemployment figures, Herman Cain accusations December 2, 2011

1pm: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is travelling back home to Atlanta today to meet his wife Gloria for the first time since Ginger White revealed their 13-year-long relationship.

Cain has hinted that he could drop out of the race – leading to fact-free speculation such as this piece in the Daily Beast, which waited until paragraph 16 before telling its readers:

Sources close to the campaign say Gloria Cain wants her husband to leave the race and has no desire to do additional interviews about their marriage or the constant accusations. They describe a woman angry that her life has been turned upside down by her husband’s need for attention and power by any means.

Would that be “sources close to the campaign for attracting readers to the Daily Beast” perhaps? Anyway, the Cain campaign announced today that Gloria Cain would be taking a new role in the campaign and launching a new website, Women For Cain:

Gloria Cain is the National Chairperson for “Women for Cain” and is the very special woman who Mr Cain devoted his life to many years ago. Mr Cain and Gloria celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary earlier this year. The couple has two children and three grandchildren and a legacy of family, friends, and community and church involvement.

12.40pm: Andy Kroll of Mother Jones magazine has sat down with a calculator and figured out that President Obama has averaged a fundraiser every five days so far this year, in preparation for “what’s shaping up to be one of the most bruising, cash-drenched campaigns in history”:

Obama is not on the money trail because he enjoys hotel ballrooms and posing for pictures with 1-percenters. The president’s ramped-up fundraising efforts reflect the changing landscape of money in American politics, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Clinton and Bush II didn’t have to worry about candidate-specific super-PACs and Karl Rove’s shadowy Crossroads GPS outfit raising tens of millions of dollars to finance negative ads. And with the collapse of the presidential public financing system, which capped a candidate’s spending, it’s up to the candidates to rustle up as much private money as they can in the campaign arms race.

There’s a very interesting comparison with the previous Clinton and Bush administrations: in the similar pre-election period, while Obama has held 69 fundraisers, Bush held 41 in 2003 and Clinton just 23 in 1995.

12.27pm: Speaking of keeping Congress back for Christmas, the next showdown over spending looms in the next two weeks when the last emergency funding bill runs out and the possibility of a government shotdown is back on the agenda.

The White House’s budget director, Jacob Lew, has been telling journalists that Republicans are holding up the $900bn omnibus funding bill by insisting on tacking on legislation on abortion and the environment, as well as showing discomfort at the previous budget deal agreed in August.

12.04pm: More on the unemployment figures, which President Obama just now burnished as the 21st consecutive month of job growth, creating nearly three million jobs. The US economy added 120,000 jobs in November, the US Dep[artment of Labor said today, meaning the economy has generated 100,000 or more jobs for five months in a row – the first time that has happened since the good times of April 2006. On top of all that, revisions added a further 72,000 jobs to previous months’ growth.

But the underlying picture is less bright. The unemployment rate shrank to 8.6% but that was because there were 315,000 fewer people active in the labour market.

Economist Dean Baker of the CEPR explains that fewer opportunities for women were behind the fall in the labour market participation rate:

The drop in participation was entirely among women and especially black women. (Among married women, employment rose by 194,000, so this was not a case of women as second earners dropping out of the labor force.) Participation numbers among white women fell by 199,000, a decline of 0.2 percentage points. The drop among black women was 164,000, a drop of 1.2 percentage points. These monthly numbers are highly erratic, and it is likely that at least part of this drop will be reversed in future months. Nonetheless there had been a trend of declining participation rates among both white and black women even prior to the November plunge. This suggests that there is a real issue of women losing access to jobs; although the December figures may show some reversal.

11.44am: President Obama is up now, touting the package that has just been announced and taking the opportunity to push the latest jobs figure showing a 100,000 increase in private sector employment:

This morning, we learned that our economy added another 140,000 private sector jobs in November. The unemployment rate went down and despite some strong headwinds this year, the American economy has now created in the private sector, jobs for the past 21 months in a row. That’s nearly three million new jobs in all and more than half a million over the last four months. So we need to keep that growth going. Right now that means Congress needs to extend the payroll tax cut for working Americans for another year.

Congress needs to renew unemployment insurance for Americans who are still out there pounding the pavement, looking for work. Failure to take either of these steps would be a significant blow to our economy. It will take money out of the pockets of Americans who are most likely to spend it and it would harm small businesses that depend on the spending. It would be a bad idea. I think its worth noting, but the way, I notice that some folks on the other side have been quoting President Clinton about, “it’s a bad idea to raise taxes during tough economic times”, that’s precisely why I’ve sought to extend the payroll tax this year and next year.

Obama changes tack and moves on to the legislation before Congress, which saw a battle over the payroll tax holiday take place last night. Obama wants Congress to pass the tax holiday, saying: “Now’s not the time to slam on the brakes, it’s time to step on the gas.”

Then Obama threatens: “Otherwise Congress may not be leaving, and we can all spend Christmas here together.”

That’s not a prospect that anyone will be enthusiastic about.

11.30am: Bill Clinton is speaking now to introduce President Obama and explaining his role in promoting the $4bn energy efficiency conversion plan – the event is taking place in a renovated office block next to Farragut Park in downtown DC.

Clinton is his usual fluent self talking about the benefits of the proposal. “It’s the nearest thing we’ve got to a free lunch in a tough economy,” says the former president.

Good morning: a rare spot of good economic news for the Obama administration is the highlight of the day, while Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain struggles with the latest allegations in a series of duelling television interviews.

Coinciding with the fall in the US unemployment rate to 8.6% – the lowest rate since early 2009 – President Obama appears with former president Bill Clinton to showcase a $4bn plan to upgrade buildings for energy efficiency, in an effort to improve the administration’s green credentials and give a boost to the construction sector.

In Congress, a fight continues over extending the payroll tax cut, as Republicans and Democrats voted down their respective plans in the Senate – with a significant number of Senate Republicans crossing the floor to vote down their own proposal.

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Wal-Mart sales up as profits slip November 15, 2011

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer

US retail giant Wal-Mart has unveiled a drop in quarterly profits, despite a strong increase in sales.

The firm said profits were $3.3bn (£2.07bn; 2.43bn euros) in the three months to 31 October – 2.9% down on the same period last year.

However, sales leapt 8.1% to $110.2bn, beating analysts’ expectations.

Wal-Mart owns the UK’s Asda, which reported like-for-like sales up 1.3%, despite fewer car trips by shoppers in the face of high petrol prices.

Unlike its parent company, Asda’s results were for the three months to the end of September.

Doug McMillon, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart International, said that during the “heavy promotional period” leading up to Christmas, Asda would maintain its promise to be 10% cheaper than other supermarkets on comparable baskets or refund the difference.

Asda said it opened a record number of 83 Asda stores in the quarter, including 77 conversions of stores formerly belonging to Danish discount retailer Netto. Asda bought Netto’s UK stores for £778m in 2010.

Asda now has a total of 542 stores across the UK.

Sales at Wal-Mart’s US discount stores open at least a year rose a better-than-expected 1.3% during the third quarter, ending a run of nine consecutive quarterly falls.

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Ford hit by losses in EU and Asia October 26, 2011

The car company was hit by falling metal prices and European losses

Ford reported a dip in profits with losses in Europe and Asia but fared better at home with sales up 14% to $18bn (£11.3bn, 13bn euros).

The auto giant reported a third quarter profit of $1.6bn, a drop of $38m from the same period last year.

They were hit with a $350m charge to write down the value of hedges they took on rising metal prices. However, these costs fell sharply last month.

The prospect of a dividend, not paid since 2006, is still not likely.

The chief financial officer, Lewis Booth, said the company would not address the timing of a dividend before seeing more improvement in its core business.

The Michigan-based company said the outlook for North America was on a slow upward trend and admitted growth in China was slowing down.

The car-maker still remains the best-selling brand in the US and has increased market share both in Europe and at home.

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