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Politics Scene

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2010

CURRENCY

Key bank regulator submits resignation

A top banking regulator says he will leave office when his term expires next month.

Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan said Thursday in a letter to President Obama that he will depart the job on Aug. 14. In the letter, Mr. Dugan praises his office's work in responding to the financial crisis.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency oversees national banks and U.S. divisions of foreign banks. It regulates the largest Wall Street retail banks, as well as 1,500 smaller institutions. Banks overseen by the OCC control more than half the banking assets in the industry.

During the crisis, the OCC helped run "stress tests" on the largest banks to determine whether they could survive a deeper recession.

Mr. Dugan was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005.

TRANSPORTATION

5 May flights sat too long on tarmac

NEW YORK | Five flights were stuck on the tarmac for three hours or more in May, the first month under a new rule banning lengthy tarmac delays, the government said Thursday.

That compares with 35 three-hour delays in May 2009. United Airlines operated four of the five flights this May. One of those United flights stayed on the tarmac for almost five hours. All four of the United flights were bound for Denver on May 26 when severe thunderstorms and hail swept through Colorado. Denver International Airport had 30- to 60-minute delays on average that day and limited use of runways. The fifth was a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth on May 28, a day when thunderstorms popped up in Dallas.

Thunderstorms are one of the main causes of flight delays because they are difficult for airlines and airport officials to predict.

The Department of Transportation said it will be weeks or months before any fines may be levied against the airlines for violations. The maximum fine is $27,500 per passenger for airlines that do not return their planes to the terminal when they are delayed on the tarmac for three hours or more. There are exceptions for safety and security reasons.

The overall on-time performance of U.S. carriers declined in May from the same month a year ago.

US Airways was the most successful major airline in getting travelers to their destinations on time, 85.3 percent of the time. Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines had the highest on-time rates overall in May.

Comair, which operates as Delta Connection, had the worst ranking in May with 67.1 percent of its flights arriving on time.

PENNSYLVANIA

Prosecutors appeal ex-senator's sentence

PHILADELPHIA | U.S. prosecutors took the rare step Thursday to appeal the sentence handed down to long-powerful state Sen. Vincent Fumo in a sprawling corruption case.

Fumo is serving a 4 1/2-year sentence for defrauding the state Senate, a museum and a nonprofit of millions of dollars.

Prosecutors had sought at least a 15-year term for the Philadelphia Democrat, who was convicted last year of all 137 fraud and obstruction counts after a five-month trial. In an appeal filed Thursday, they call Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter's decision "unreasonable" and "unduly lenient."

The 67-year-old Fumo was convicted last year of using the groups to maintain his mansion, spy on political rivals, pay for yachting vacations and otherwise support his extravagant lifestyle.

PENTAGON

Advocates for gays warn against survey

An advocacy group for gays in the military is warning them not to answer a Pentagon survey seeking opinions on repeal of the policy that bans homosexuals from serving openly.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said Thursday that troops could be accidentally exposed by answering the survey and that the Defense Department has not agreed to grant immunity should that happen.

The survey was e-mailed to 400,000 service members as part of a wider review by a special working group that is studying how repeal of the policy might be implemented and how it could affect the military.

The Pentagon says the survey is confidential and is being conducted by an outside contractor who will strip out all identifying data. "They cannot be outed," said Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

The legal defense group said it's not so sure.

"At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors," Aubrey Sarvis, the defense group's director, said in a statement.

ECONOMY

Mortgage rates drop to 50-year low

NEW YORK | Mortgage rates fell for the second straight week to the lowest point in five decades, but many people either don't qualify for new mortgages or already have taken advantage of the low rates this year.

As a result, the housing market and the broader economy may not benefit much from the lower rates.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.57 percent this week, mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday. That's down from the previous record low of 4.58 percent set last week.

It's the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971. The last time rates were lower was in the 1950s, when most long-term home loans lasted just 20 or 25 years.

Rates have fallen over the past two months. Investors, concerned about the European debt crisis, have poured money into the safety of Treasury bonds. Treasury yields have fallen and so have mortgage rates, which tend to track yields on long-term Treasurys.

However, low rates have yet to fuel home sales. The housing market has slowed since federal tax credits for homebuyers expired at the end of April, and the latest decline in mortgage rates is unlikely to boost the market.

CLIMATE

La Nina threatens more Gulf storms

The climate phenomenon known as La Nina appears to be developing, threatening more bad news in the efforts to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

When a La Nina occurs, there tend to be more hurricanes than normal in the Atlantic and Caribbean regions, which include the Gulf of Mexico.

The federal Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that La Nina conditions are likely to develop in July and August.

La Nina is marked by an unusual cooling of the sea surface in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Water temperatures in that area can affect air pressure and winds, resulting in changes in the weather in many parts of the world.

In a La Nina, wind shear is increased over the Pacific and reduced over the Atlantic. Wind shear is the difference in strength of winds at low levels compared with higher-level winds.

A strong wind shear reduces hurricanes by breaking up their ability to rise into the air, while less shear means they can climb and strengthen.

Thus, the Climate Prediction Center notes, "there tend to be more Atlantic hurricanes during La Nina because of this expanded area of low vertical wind shear."

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