Ron Paul Still Going Strong

Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul is continuing to battle the establishment and moving along through the primary season despite efforts to quiet his message of liberty.

A recent Business Insider report says Paul’s strategy of sweeping up delegates is paying off. The candidate appears to have taken a majority of delegates in Missouri, despite having lost the State’s nonbinding primary to Rick Santorum.

“We did do real well in Missouri,” Paul campaign adviser Jesse Benton said. “Some county conventions are still going on, but we’ve got good turnout. Anecdotal evidence shows we won multiple caucuses, and it looks like we’re going to pick up the majority of delegates.”

Paul has reportedly taken third place in the Illinois primary. During his appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Tuesday, Paul said he is counting on a brokered convention to gain some extra delegates from Mitt Romney.

“The second go-round, they’re not committed to him,” Paul said. “Then they can vote their conscience. Then I believe we’ll get a lot of those votes.”

During his appearance on Leno’s show, Paul explained his views on abortion, discussed allegations that he and Romney had formed an alliance, and blasted the other three GOP Presidential candidates for using Secret Service protection, calling it a form of welfare.

“You know, you’re having the taxpayers pay to take care of somebody and I’m an ordinary citizen,” Paul said. “I would think I should pay for my own protection and it costs, I think, more than $50,000 a day to protect those individuals. It’s a lot of money.”

Paul was also in the news earlier in the day Tuesday when he blasted Representative Paul Ryan and House Republicans for a budget proposal released this week in a campaign statement.

From the statement:

What is really disappointing is that the GOP budget assumes that the federal government should continue to do everything, or at least almost everything, it is currently doing. We will never have a balanced federal budget, low taxes, economic prosperity, and individual liberty unless Congress stops trying to run the world, run the economy, and run our lives.

If Republicans really want to win in November, they will have to draw a clear distinction between themselves and Obama’s disastrous agenda. And producing a budget that does not seriously address our nation’s debt crisis will not distinguish them at all in the eyes of the American people.

While the GOP proposal is similar to budget proposals released by other Republican Presidential candidates, Paul previously released a plan that promises $1 trillion in cuts in Federal spending in his first year if elected.

Offense Wins Championships

In recent weeks, I have taken up a position that responding defensively to the Democrats’ baseless charges that the GOP is fighting a war on women is, at best, as silly as signing on to be Ed Schultz’s personal trainer and, at worst, the political equivalent of asking “Billy, is that you?” before walking into a spooky farmhouse in a slasher film. Both are colossal wastes of time.

In my estimation, for conservatives to guide Team America to pay dirt, we must get the offense on the field. Touchdowns are hard to come by if you never leave the shadow of your own goalposts.

Leave it to the senior Senator from the Empire State to prove me right. Last week, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained that the Republicans were trying to kill the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Presuming everyone knows that abusing women is simply unacceptable — a leap of faith undercut by the goings-on in the Occupy Wall Street squatters’ camps and most liberal-tainted broadcasts — it’s hard to imagine any one of our 535 Congressional representatives would vote against VAWA as it was originally written and passed.

In fact, given the severity of the offenses against women that are embodied in putting one’s hands on a woman, it’s even harder to imagine someone so bereft of common decency that he or she would turn what ought to be an unopposable bill into a political football in an election year. Surely, not one of those august men and women of Capitol Hill is so twisted that he or she would risk the safety of our sisters, mothers, wives and daughters by tacking hyper-partisan and/or wasteful addenda to the bill designed to protect the fairer sex.

Enter the pride of Park Slope. To paraphrase George C. Scott channeling General George S. Patton: Chuckie, you magnificently cynical bastard! We read your press release!

Schumer has been doing yeoman work behind the scenes to fast-track the renewal of VAWA, simultaneously decrying Senate Republican efforts to hold up the bill so the public can examine some interesting new ornaments Schumer and his Democratic accomplices have applied. Among them: provisions that grant visas to illegal aliens who claim to be victims of domestic abuse — without checks to ensure against the sort of fraud that such stipulations virtually guarantee.

But in attempting to use the Republican stance against the new iteration of VAWA to perpetuate the Democrats’ preposterous claim of some “war on women,” Schumer has revealed more than just the usual cynical hypocrisy that has come to define the Democratic Party. Instead, he has reminded us that he and his fellow liberals are exceptionally poor students of history. VAWA first passed in 1994 with the full support of a Congress that featured Republican majorities in both houses. Reauthorizations have proceeded apace — again with the full support of Republicans. In fact, Schumer’s decision to endanger women’s safety with political pork products marks the first time anyone has dared tinker with VAWA.

I suppose to a Democrat consumed by their usual all-encompassing lust for authority without merit, the peace of mind bills like VAWA provide American women and the men who love them is fairly meaningless. But to those of us who, at the very least, don’t enjoy telling our mothers, wives or girlfriends that we just sacrificed their safety for an easier route to immigration fraud, Schumer’s (hence, the Democrats’) ploy is repulsive.

Schumer and the Democrats have made it clear they are going to play this kind of game between now and November. But the Republicans’ game plan is all defense. It is high time for the real conservatives to take the field and lead their wayward Republican teammates to pay dirt.

Class Warfare

One of the oldest plays politicians pull out of their playbook is class warfare. President Barack Obama campaigned on it, as did George W. Bush before him and Bill Clinton before him. It’s a despicable way of pitting one group against another and drawing attention away from important issues and onto ancillary and unimportant ones.

In Embematical Representations, Ben Franklin wrote:

History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy… These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened.

It was true then. It is true today.

High Court Broadens Suits Against EPA

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that homeowners may sue when they think the Environmental Protection Agency has treated them unfairly.

The case involves an Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who own a 2.3-acre residential lot in Bonner County just north of Priest Lake, but separated from the lake by several lots containing permanent structures.

Before building a house, the Sacketts filled in part of their lot with dirt and rock. Some months later, they received from the EPA a compliance order saying the wetlands on their property connected with the lake. The lake in turn was considered “navigable” by the EPA, making it a navigable water of the United States. Filling in the wetland was causing pollution to enter the lake.

The Clean Water Act bans “the discharge of any pollutant by any person,” without a permit, into “navigable waters.”

The order told the Sacketts to restore the land along the lines of an EPA work plan.

The couple was facing some serious fines. Under a Federal law, a civil penalty for non-compliance may not exceed $37,500 “per day for each violation.” The government contends that the amount doubles to $75,000 when the EPA prevails against a person who has been issued a compliance order but has failed to comply.

The Sacketts filed suit against the EPA under the Federal Administrative Procedure Act, saying their 5th Amendment due process rights were being violated. A Federal judge dismissed their suit for lack of jurisdiction and a Federal appeals court agreed.

The Supreme Court reversed.

Writing for the whole court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Clean Water Act is not a statute that “preclude[s] judicial review” under the Administrative Procedure Act.

North Korea Issues Warning About Summit

SEOUL (UPI) — North Korea said Wednesday there must be no mention of its nuclear weapons program during next week’s global summit in Seoul.

A government dispatch monitored in Seoul said “any provocation against us will be considered a declaration of war,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Pyongyang also said the North Korean nuclear issue “in fact does not exist” and has no reason to be discussed at the March 26-27 Nuclear Security Summit.

The warning comes two days after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the summit is expected to serve as a venue to drum up international support for resolving the South’s nuclear standoff with the North.

Top leaders from some 50 nations, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, are expected to attend the summit.

Court Rules On Defense Lawyers, Pleas

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday the right to have a lawyer that knows what he or she is doing extends to plea offers that lapse or are rejected.

Writing for the narrow majority formed by four liberals and himself, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Sixth Amendment’s “right to effective counsel” extends to those situations and, citing precedent, to “all ‘critical’ stages of the criminal proceedings.”

Galin Frye was charged in Missouri for driving with a revoked license, but because he had been convicted of the same charge three times before, the violation became a felony with up to a four-year prison term on conviction.

The prosecutor sent Frye’s lawyer a letter offering two possible plea bargains, including a chance to plea to a misdemeanor and serve a 90-day sentence. But the lawyer didn’t tell Frye about it, and the plea offer expired.

Less than a week before his preliminary hearing on his fourth charge of driving on a revoked license, Frye was arrested again on the same charge. This time he pleaded guilty with no plea bargain and was sentenced to three years.

An appeals court rejected Frye’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, but the Supreme Court threw out the appeals court ruling and told the lower court to look at the claim in light of the high court opinion.

Also Wednesday, the same Supreme Court majority ruled 5-4 in a Michigan case that where a lawyer’s ineffective advice led to a plea bargain rejection, on appeal a defendant must show that but for that advice, “there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court, that the court would have accepted its terms and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer’s terms would have been less severe than under the actual judgment and sentence imposed.”

The ruling came in the case of Anthony Cooper, who had been charged with intent to murder and three other offenses. The prosecution offered to recommend a 51-to-85-month sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, but his attorney allegedly convinced him to turn it down.

Cooper received a 360-month sentence. He appealed on the grounds

Kennedy and his majority threw out a lower-court ruling in Cooper’s favor on an ineffective counsel claim, and told the lower court to rehear his case in light of the majority opinion.

Police Roust OWS From Union Square

NEW YORK (UPI) — New York police evicted several hundred Occupy Wall Street protesters in Union Square, arresting nine demonstrators Wednesday, officials said.

Taunts greeted police as they surrounded the park with metal barricades early Wednesday, citing a rule that the park must be closed during overnight hours. The New York Times reported.

“The park will be closing as of midnight. If you don’t leave, you will be arrested,” a New York Police Department captain warned late Tuesday.

The New York Daily News said police escorted about 300 protesters from the park.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Amanda DeRoller, 22, a protester from Harlem. “I don’t understand why we can’t be here. Usually the park is open 24 hours. Now they want us out, because [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg says so. It makes no sense.”

City officials had said they would tolerate the group in small numbers, but said that protesters couldn’t sit or lie down in the park if their number exceeds 25, the Daily News said.

The latest evictions followed larger protester-police confrontations Saturday at Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators gathered to mark the anti-greed movement’s six-month anniversary. Police arrested 73 people.

Jury Rules Against Tobacco Suit Plaintiff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (UPI) — A federal jury in Florida has ruled against a family that had been among thousands of plaintiffs in a class-action suit against tobacco companies.

The case had been brought by Anita Young McCray, representing the estate of her father, Mercedia Wilbert Walker.

McCray is one of about 8,000 plaintiffs who had filed lawsuits against the tobacco industry following a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that decertified a $145 billion jury’s award in a class-action suit, The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union reported.

The Supreme Court allowed the plaintiffs to file individual suits using factual findings from the jury’s 2000 verdict.

Less than a month ago, a jury ruled in favor of the tobacco industry in the first case from the class-action ruling tried at the federal level.

The Times-Union said as of February, plaintiffs from the class-action suit had won 37 of 57 cases at the state level with damages of more than $10 million in 13 of those cases, but no awards have been paid and most of the cases are still in appeals courts.

Philip Morris said in a statement about two-thirds of its cases tried in Florida since January have resulted in verdicts in favor of the tobacco company or in mistrials.

U.S. Not Ready For Oil Shock, Lugar Says

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The White House is called on to take action to ensure the United States can handle any potential oil supply disruption, a U.S. Senate leader said.

Crude oil prices on the global market are rising in part because of tensions with Iran, one of the top oil-producing countries among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said oil markets are in “a precarious position” because of sanctions on Iran’s oil sector.

Saudi Arabia has given assurances that it could increase oil production to offset market concerns but Lugar said “going hat-in-hand to Riyadh” isn’t good policy.

“Emergency planning must not wait for the emergency to arrive,” he said in a statement.

Erik Milito, upstream and industry operations director for the American Petroleum Institute, said more domestic oil and natural gas production would provide some cushion to overseas tensions.

“This would strengthen our energy security and help put downward pressure on prices while also providing many thousands of new jobs for Americans and billions of dollars in additional revenue for our government,” he said in a statement.

U.S. President Barack Obama starts a tour of western U.S. states Wednesday meant to advocate his “all-of-the-above” domestic energy policy.

Exxon Valdez Sold For Scrap

BALTIMORE (UPI) — The greatest risk to oil transport is the effect a major shipping accident can have on the environment, a consultant said after the scrapping of Exxon Valdez.

Oriental Nicety, the vessel formally named Exxon Valdez, was sold for around $16 million for scrap to Global Marketing Systems Inc., a company in Maryland.

Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989, resulting in the worst oil spill in U.S. waters until the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

“The accident pointed out that the biggest risk involved in oil transport is the impact an accident can have on the environment,” said Thomas Zwick, an analyst at Oslo shipping consultant Lorentzen and Stemoco AS, in a statement to Bloomberg News.

“Large companies can go under as a consequence of the financial liabilities bestowed upon them following an accident.”

Exxon Mobil spent roughly three years and more than $3.5 billion cleaning up the Alaskan coast after the spill. In 2009, the company agreed to pay more than $1 billion in damages and still faces additional claims.

Exxon Valdez was converted to an ore carrier in 2007. Bloomberg reports it changed owners and names four times since the oil spill.

Live TV Viewing Losing Out To ‘Catch-Ups’

LONDON (UPI) — A third of Britons no longer watch live television, either accessing content via Web-based catch-up sites or through personal video recorders, a poll indicates.

To find out how prevalent time-shifted and on-demand viewing was throughout Britain, nearly 2,000 Britons were polled, The Daily Telegraph reported.

To the question “Do you tend to watch programs when they first air on the television?” 36 percent replied “no.”

Of those answering in the negative, 74 percent said they caught up with the programs they wanted to watch on the weekend.

A quarter of them said they used “watch on demand sites” such as the BBC iPlayer, ITV player and Channel 4 On Demand, while almost half said they had access to personal video recorders that allowed them to record live television for viewing later.

Two percent of the poll respondents said they did not own a television because they could watch the programs they wanted on their computers.

Twitter Health-Reporting App Sought

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S federal officials have announced a contest for developers to design Web-based applications that use Twitter to track health trends in real time.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the challenge Tuesday for developers to participate in the contest called Now Trending — #Health in My Community.

Health officials say they may be able to use knowledge of these trends as an early indicator of emerging health issues and a warning of public health emergencies in a community.

“When we looked back at the H1N1 pandemic, we saw that, in some cases, social media trends provided the first clues to flu outbreaks,” Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in a Health and Human Services release.

“Based on that 2009 pandemic experience, local health officials asked for our help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring useful as part of the surveillance systems in place now to identify new diseases early.”

To win the challenge, officials said, the application must be innovative, scalable, dynamic and user-friendly, and must use open-source Twitter data to automatically deliver a list of the top five trending illnesses over a 24-hour period in a specified geographic region.

The online challenge runs through June 1.

Oil From Gulf Disaster Found In Food Chain

CAMBRIDGE, Md. (UPI) — Oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster entered the food chain in the Gulf of Mexico through zooplankton, the tiniest of organisms, researchers say.

Zooplankton serves as food for baby fish and shrimp, and acts as a conduit for the movement of oil contamination and pollutants into the food chain, they said.

“Traces of oil in the zooplankton prove that they had contact with the oil and the likelihood that oil compounds may be working their way up the food chain,” Michael Roman of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said.

A study published in the journal Geographical Research Letters confirms that not only did oil affect the ecosystem in the gulf during BP’s world record marine oil spill but was still entering the food web after the blown-out well was capped.

The fingerprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could be found in some zooplankton as much as a month after the leaking wellhead was capped, the researchers said.


Mild Winter = ‘Perfect Storm’ Of Pollen

CHICAGO (UPI) — The mild winter resulted in a “perfect storm” of pollen in many parts of the United States on the first day of spring, U.S. allergists said.

“The recent rains followed by warm, sunny, summer-like temperatures have created a dangerously high tree pollen count and allergy sufferers should stay indoors, keep the windows closed, use their air conditioners and take their allergy medications,” said Dr. Joseph Leija, an allergist at Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital near Chicago certified by the National Allergy Bureau to perform the daily official allergy count for the Midwest. “Chicago’s tree pollen count is dangerously high and the city is officially on alert for poor air quality — ragweed in March is unheard of in the Midwest; I have never seen an allergy count so unusual.”

Allergist Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in the Atlanta area Tuesday’s 9,369 particles of pollen per cubic meter of air is 55 percent higher than the old record prior to this week of 6,013, set April 12, 1999.

Anything more than 1,500 is considered “extremely high,” and last year, the highest pollen count measured in the Atlanta area was 3,939 March 24.

Dr. Donald J. Leopold of State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse has studied woody and herbaceous native and non-native plants for 27 years. He said he had never seen these species bloom on campus before April 1.

This warm weather might be really pleasant,” Leopold said. “But when the weather is really altered from typical conditions, there are always winners and losers among all types of both plants and animals.”

Obese Kids Had Lower Vitamin D Levels

DALLAS (UPI) — U.S. researchers found compared to normal weight children, obese children have lower vitamin D levels.

Dr. Michele Hutchison is at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas U.S. teenagers had lower vitamin D levels than younger children, partly because they often skipped breakfast and drank more soda.

“Those children with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood were also the children that seemed to be at the highest risk of having prediabetes, as measured by a marker for insulin resistance,” Hutchison said in a statement.

Prediabetes is a condition in which someone is thought to be at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes — most often associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and certain ethnicities.

About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents, especially among African-American, Mexican-American, and

Pacific-Islander youth.

When type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the pancreas is usually producing enough insulin, but for unknown reasons the body cannot use the insulin effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. After several years, insulin production decreases. The result is the same as for type 1 diabetes — glucose builds up in the blood and the body cannot make efficient cient use of its main source of fuel.

The study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Daily Aspirin May Reduce Cancer Risk

OXFORD, England (UPI) — Taking low-dose aspirin daily might prevent several cancers and stop cancer from spreading, researchers in Britain said.

Dr. Peter Rothwell of Oxford University and the John Radcliffe hospital, and colleagues, said it is time to add prevention of cancer into the analysis of the balance of risk and benefits of aspirin. So far, all the guidelines have just been based on the prevention of strokes and heart attacks.

“This research really shows that the cancer benefit is as large, if not larger, than the benefit in terms of preventing heart attacks and strokes,” he told the Guardian. “It does change the equation quite drastically.”

All the data for the studies came from 51 trials giving low-dose aspirin to people at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Aspirin thins the blood, making it less likely to clot.

The first study showed a daily low-dose pill for three years could reduce risk of cancer by 23 percent for men and 25 percent for women. The risk of dying of cancer was cut by 15 percent, but the risk was reduced to 37 percent for those who take aspirin for longer than five years.

The second study found aspirin helped prevent the spread of cancer — metastasis — to other organs by 48 percent.

Aspirin also reduced the risk of being diagnosed with a solid cancer that had already spread by 31 percent, the third study said.

The findings are scheduled to be published Wednesday in The Lancet and Lancet Oncology.


Medications May Raise Blood Pressure

TEL AVIV, Israel (UPI) — Painkillers such as ibuprofen can raise blood pressure and other medications can interfere with anti-hypertensive medications, researchers in Israel said.

Professor Ehud Grossman of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center said many common over-the-counter and prescription medications are underlying causes of hypertension, which is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack and aneurysms.

Oral contraceptive, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory pills to control pain and antibiotics to treat bacteria could cause drug-induced hypertension, but both patients and doctors remain dangerously uninformed, Grossman said.

Although high-blood pressure is a known side effect of many of these medications, doctors do not always account for them in their treatment plans, and they don’t inform patients of the potential risks associated with these medications, Grossman explained.

“It’s ultimately the doctor’s responsibility to weigh treatment options and present the best course for their patient should issues of hypertension arise,” Grossman said in a statement. “Many physicians don’t account for this, and some don’t even know about it. It’s their responsibility to be informed and make sure that their patients are aware that this is a possibility.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Art May Change Brain, Help Stroke Recovery

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (UPI) — Survivors of stroke who liked the arts had a significantly higher quality-of-life than those who do not, researchers in Italy suggested.

Lead author Dr. Ercole Vellone, assistant professor in nursing science at the School of Nursing, University Tor Vergata in Rome, said the study involved 192 stroke survivors — average age 70 — who were asked whether they liked art, music, painting and theater. Quality of life was compared for 105 patients interested in art and 87 patients not interested in art.

The researchers found patients interested in art had better general health, found it easier to walk and had more energy after the stroke.

They were also happier, less anxious or depressed, felt calmer, had better memory and were superior communicators, Vellone said.

“Stroke survivors who saw art as an integrated part of their former lifestyle, by expressing appreciation towards music, painting and theatre, showed better recovery skills than those who did not,” Vellone said in a statement. “In our study the ‘art’ group of patients showed a comparable clinical picture to the ‘no art’ group. This is important because it means that patients belonging to the ‘art’ group had a better quality of life independently from the gravity of stroke. The results suggest that art may make long-term changes to the brain which help it recover when things go wrong.”

The findings were presented at the 12th annual spring meeting on cardiovascular nursing in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Work Gaps? Employers Say They Understand

CHICAGO (UPI) — A majority of U.S. employers in a national poll indicated they understand the recent recession disrupted normal career paths.

It is fairly standard for job seekers to worry a gap in their employment record makes them appear unemployable or lazy — or both. In addition, many worry taking a job with lesser pay than a previous job is a traditional red flag — a sign that something has gone wrong.

In a recent nationwide CareerBuilder survey conducted by Harris Interactive, however, a large majority of employers polled — 85 percent — indicated they are more empathic to a job candidate’s work gaps.

An even larger share — 94 percent — indicated they would not think poorly of a job candidate who took a lower-level position to get through the recession.

The Nov. 9 to Dec. 5 survey included 3,023 responses with an error margin of 2 percentage points.

Higher Rates Slow Mortgage Activity

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The Mortgage Bankers Association said U.S. mortgage activity fell 7.4 percent in the week ending Friday, as interest rates rose.

Interest rates for 30-year, fixed-rate conforming mortgages climbed from 4.39 percent to 4.49 percent with average points rising from 0.43 to 0.47.

Rates for 15-year, fixed-rate contracts rose from 3.36 percent to 3.47 percent. Points for 15-year loans rose from 0.34 to 0.4.

Along with the MBA’s Mortgage Index, the Refinancing Index also decreased, dropping 9.3 percent compared with the previous week.

U.S. Retail Gets Another Boost From Weather

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. retail sales rose 0.9 percent in the week ending Saturday with clothing and department stores showing strong gains, a trade association said.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said sales rose 0.9 percent from the previous week and 3.3 percent from the same week of 2011.

Factory outlet stores also showed gains as weekly receipts showed the strongest year-to-year gains since early February.

The weather continued to push sales of spring items as the average temperature was 7.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the same week a year earlier.

While the weather was encouraging, gasoline prices gained 3.8 cents in the week, cutting deeper into consumers’ discretionary funds.

The national average price of gasoline was $3.867 Saturday, 8.6 percent higher than the same week a year earlier, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Existing Home Sales Down Month-To-Month

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Existing U.S. home sales fell 0.9 percent in February month-to-month, but rose over the past 12 months, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

The trade group said sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops rose 8.8 percent from a year earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million in the month.

The mixed data shows, “The market is trending up unevenly, with record high consumer buying power and sustained job gains giving buyers the confidence they need to get into the market,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

“Although relatively unusual, there will be rising demand for both rental space and homeownership this year. The great suppression in household formation during the past four years was unsustainable, and a pent-up demand could burst forth from the improving economy,” he said.

NAR said sales of existing homes fell 3.3 percent in the Northeast, but rose 1 percent in the Midwest. In the South, sales rose 0.6 percent, while in the West sales fell 3.2 percent.

The average median price for an existing home was $157,100 in the month, 0.1 percent above February 2011.

The trade group said at the end of February inventory rose 4.3 percent to 2.43 million existing homes on the market, which is a 6.4 month supply at the current rate of sales — an increase from the 6-month supply at the end of January.