Nation roundup for August 28


Tensions with Syria sink stocks

NEW YORK (AP) — Fears of an escalating conflict in Syria rippled across financial markets on Tuesday, sinking stocks, lifting gold and pushing the price of oil to the highest in a year and a half.

The increasing possibility of U.S. military strikes raised worries on Wall Street that energy trade in the region could be disrupted, raising fuel costs for consumers and business.

“If Syria becomes drawn out and becomes a long-term issue, it’s going to show up in things like gas prices,” said Chris Costanzo, investment officer with Tanglewood Wealth Management.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 170.33 points, or 1.1 percent, to 14,776.13, the lowest in two months.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 26.30 points, or 1.6 percent, to 1,630.48 and the Nasdaq composite fell 79.05 points, or 2.2 percent, to 3,578.52.

“The law of unintended consequences and the history of previous military interventions in the region is not a recipe for political and economic stability,” said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.

Data was sought on Facebook users

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government agents in 74 countries demanded information on about 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of this year, with about half the orders coming from authorities in the United States, the company said Tuesday.

The social-networking giant is the latest technology company to release figures on how often governments seek information about its customers. Microsoft and Google have done the same.

As with the other companies, it’s hard to discern much from Facebook’s data, besides the fact that, as users around the globe flocked to the world’s largest social network, police and intelligence agencies followed.

Facebook and Twitter have become organizing platforms for activists and, as such, have become targets for governments. During anti-government protests in Turkey in May and June, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called social media “the worst menace to society.”

At the time, Facebook denied it provided information about protest organizers to the Turkish government.

Data released Tuesday show authorities in Turkey submitted 96 requests covering 173 users.

Facebook said it provided some information in about 45 of those cases, but there’s no information on what was turned over and why.

U.S. consumer confidence rises

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans’ confidence in the economy inched closer to a 5 ½-year high on growing optimism that hiring and wages could pick up in coming months.

The Conference Board, a New York-based private research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 81.5 in August. That’s up from a revised reading of 81 in July. And it’s just below the 82.1 reading in June, which was the highest since January 2008.

Consumers’ income expectations, which fell earlier this year after a January tax hike, rebounded to the highest level in 2 ½ years, said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s economic indicators.

Although consumers were more confident about the future, their assessment of the current economy dipped slightly in August.

”Consumer sentiment is holding steady, supported by advances in stocks, solid job creation, and a broad-based recovery in the housing market,” Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors, wrote in a research note.

Consumers’ confidence in the economy is watched closely because their spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. After hitting bottom at 25.3 at the depths of the Great Recession in February 2009, the index has bounced back.

Church linked to 21 measles cases

DALLAS (AP) — A Texas megachurch linked to at least 21 cases of measles has been trying to contain the outbreak by hosting vaccination clinics, officials said.

The outbreak started when a person who contracted measles overseas visited Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas. Health department officials said those sickened ranged in age from 4-months to 44-years-old. All of the school-age children with measles were homeschooled.

“If it finds a pocket of people who are unimmunized, and the majority of our cases are unimmunized so far, then if you are around a person with measles, you will get sick,” Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health, said Monday.

In Tarrant County, where the church is located, 11 of the 16 people with measles were not vaccinated while the others may have had at least one measles vaccination.

None of the five people infected in nearby Denton County have been vaccinated.

In a sermon posted online, senior pastor Terri Pearsons encouraged those who haven’t been vaccinated to do so, adding that the Old Testament is “full of precautionary measures.”

“I would encourage you to do that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. Go do it. Go do it. Go do it. And go in faith,” said Pearsons, whose father is televangelist Kenneth Copeland. But she added, if “you’ve got this covered in your household by faith and it crosses your heart of faith then don’t go do it.

“The main thing is stay in faith no matter what you do.”

Measles is spread by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact with infected people; symptoms include a fever, cough, and a rash on the face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get two doses of the combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, called the MMR. The first dose should be given when the child is 12 to 15 months old and the second at 4 to 6 years old.

Vaccination opt-out rates nationwide have been creeping up since the mid-2000s, spurred in part by the belief that the vaccinations routinely given to infants could lead to autism, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Pearsons’ father is a pioneer of the prosperity gospel, which holds that believers are destined to flourish spiritually, physically and financially — and share the wealth with others. He has built a vast ministry with a worldwide reach. Eagle Mountain International Church is located on the grounds as the Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

Robert Hayes, risk manager with Kenneth Copeland Ministries, said they have held several vaccination clinics since the outbreak. He said the church has never advised against immunization against measles or seeking medical care.

A statement from the organization said their position is to “first seek the wisdom of God, His Word, and appropriate medical attention from a professional that you know and trust.”

Hayes did not know why some people had not immunized their children.

“Some had for whatever reason chosen not to. Some depending on the age of their child were advised by their physician to wait until the child was a certain number of years old. I don’t get a sense for why after that they did not,” he said.

He said if people are still choosing to not be immunized and they’ve been exposed to the measles, they are being asked to isolate themselves until it is clear they are not infected.

The incubation period for measles is about two weeks from exposure to fever. People are contagious from four days before getting the rash to four days before breaking out in a measles rash.

Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Christine Mann said so far across the state there have been 27 cases of the measles this year, and that five of those cases were not connected in any way to the latest outbreak. She said it is unclear whether a case recently diagnosed in Harris County, where Houston is located, is tied to the outbreak. There were no cases in the state last year and six the year before.

 

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