Three Kudus Born At North Carolina Zoo

ASHEBORO, N.C., (UPI) — Officials at the North Carolina zoo said they have welcomed a trio of newborn kudus, a species of African antelope.

Tom Gillespie, a spokesman for the zoo, said two of the baby kudus, which were born in the past week, are on display while the third is receiving medical treatment before joining its siblings at the African Plains exhibit, the Raleigh News & Observer reported Thursday.

Gillespie said another kudu, a baby giraffe and two fringe-eared oryx calves have also been born at the zoo in the past two months.

Escalator Found To Be Full Of Human Feces

SAN FRANCISCO, (UPI) — San Francisco transportation officials said workers repairing an escalator had to call in a hazardous materials team to remove human excrement.

Bay Area Rapid Transportation officials said a crew pulled apart a broken escalator at the Civic Center Station and discovered such a high volume of human fecal matter that a hazardous materials team had to be called in to remove it, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.

Officials said human excrement is a frequent cause of malfunction for BART escalators. They said homeless people will often use the stairwells for sleeping or relieving themselves once the stations close.

Officer Era Jenkins, a BART police spokeswoman, said police can’t issue citations for the issue unless they witness someone taking a bowel movement in the stairwells.

“Nobody wants to be walking in urine and feces, I know that, (but) if we don’t see it or the person doesn’t admit to it, they can just say it was someone else,” Jenkins said. “Certain crimes you don’t see, you can’t enforce.”

Strange Carcass Raises Questions

NEW YORK, (UPI) — A New York woman who photographed a strange carcass beneath the Brooklyn Bridge said she does not believe the animal was a pig.

Denise Ginley, who photographed the bizarre carcass Sunday while walking with her boyfriend, said she does not agree with Parks Department officials who described it as a “discarded cooked pig,” the New York Daily News reported Thursday.

“The Parks Dept. was probably very quick to identify it as a pig and dispose of it, but it is most certainly not a pig,” Ginley said. “The most obvious sign being the lack of a cloven hoof, instead this creature has five digits all close together.”

“My best guess would be that this is some sort of raccoon or giant rodent. The missing upper jaw makes it very difficult to identify and the lack of distinct canine teeth on the lower jaw is confusing,” she said.

Police Invited Into Marijuana Grow House

PORT ORANGE, Fla., (UPI) — A Florida man who invited police to his home after accidentally shooting himself in the hand ended up arrested when officers found 46 marijuana plants.

Port Orange police said they followed John Pardus, 30, and his wife, Kimberly Pardus, 31, to their home Friday when the couple asked them to accompany them home from the hospital to unload John Pardus’ guns and show him how to safely store them after he accidentally shot himself in the hand, The Daytona Beach News Journal reported Thursday.

Police said Pardus gave consent “to go in the house where it (the shooting) took place to unload the guns and conduct an investigation.”

Officers entered the home and noticed the scent of marijuana, which they followed to the second floor of the home. They discovered a total of 46 marijuana plants in the house.

John Pardus told police he had nothing to do with the marijuana and his wife was the only person to use the home’s second floor. Kimberly Pardus told officers she had learned how to set up the grow house from the Internet.

The man and wife were each charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession or use of narcotic paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. They were released after each posting $10,500 bail.

Extreme Drought Areas In U.S. Increase

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — U.S. Department for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated an additional 76 counties in six states as drought disaster areas.

The announcement Wednesday brings the total number of counties affected by the drought to 1,369 across 31 states, the National Weather Service said.

The abnormally dry weather conditions in at least a portion of all 50 states and Puerto Rico have added fuel to the more than two dozen large wildfires burning throughout the western portion of the country and the Plains, NWS reported.

The Drought Monitor report released Thursday indicates the areas of the United States considered under extreme or exceptional drought conditions has increased by an area about the size of Texas, from 13.5 percent to 20.5 percent of the land. The new extreme drought areas include parts of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and South Dakota.

“It’s getting to the point where some of the (agricultural) damage is not reversible” NWS climatologist Brian Fuchs said. “The damage is done, and even with rain, you’re not going to reverse some of these problems, at least not this growing season.”

Forecasts are not offering a reprieve from the heat and lack of rain in the next several weeks as a ridge of high pressure persists over much of the country.

House OKs Bill Limiting Obama Authority

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — The U.S. House Thursday approved a bill that would largely prevent President Barack Obama from creating new federal regulations for the remainder of his term.

The bill would prevent the administration from imposing major new regulations for two years, or until unemployment falls to 6 percent. It would also bar the White House from issuing major new rules between Election Day and Inauguration Day if Obama does not win re-election to a second term, The Hill reported.

Thirteen Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act, which passed 245-172.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said during debate on the bill Wednesday the president has issued “more than 106 major rules costing more than $46 billion.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, cited a poll indicating 85 percent of small businesses are not hiring because they fear new government regulations, The Hill said.

“President Obama has turned America into a regulation nation,” Smith said.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who sits on the Financial Services Committee said the bill — which would put limits on the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission in issuing new rules — “will stop us in a number of other areas with regard to derivatives, speculation where we want to put limits on what the non-users of oil can buy so we can drive up the price.”

Opponents also argue the bill would preclude necessary rule making in such areas as health and the environment.

Police Reportedly Getting Access To Skype

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Skype, the online phone company now owned by Microsoft, is more willing to work with law enforcement to track its users, The Washington Post says.

The Post, citing industry and government officials, said online voice conversations are still safe because the technology to monitor them does not yet exist. But Skype has become more cooperative with requests for text exchanges and other information.

The service has been a favorite of people who wanted to stay off the radar, including political dissidents, drug traffickers and pedophiles. Islamist Web sites recommended Skype, and police have said they heard the targets of wiretaps saying they would switch to Skype.

One industry insider told the Post Microsoft has been dealing with the issue of law enforcement access with “tremendous sensitivity and a canny awareness of what the issues would be.”

Liberals: Obama Must Back Social Security

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Some liberals in the U.S. Congress worry that President Obama would be open to scaling back Social Security and Medicare if he wins a second term.

Senators Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, cite his silence on the campaign trail, The Hill reported. They say the president has criticized a budget plan backed by Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, that would lead to sharp cuts but has not unequivocally said he will make none of his own.

“Have you heard him? I haven’t heard him,” Sanders said. “It causes me concern, and I’m chairman of the caucus to defend Social Security.”

But Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said he is not worried because even Republicans have stopped talking about cutting Social Security.

Penn State Insurer: No Coverage

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., (UPI) — Penn State’s primary liability insurer says the school should be denied coverage because it failed to disclose Jerry Sandusky’s behavior.

The Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association filed a motion in common pleas court saying Penn State did not provide it with information needed to assess the risk the association assumed, CNN reported.

The association has insured Penn State under general liability policies since 1976.

“It would be unlawful and contradictory to public policy to require PMA to provide coverage to PSU under any policy issued to PSU after May 1998 with respect to PSU’s concealment of Sandusky’s sexually abusive conduct … and failure to take appropriate action to prevent Sandusky from molesting minors,” the motion, filed Wednesday, said.

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier denied a role in a university coverup of Sandusky’s actions and has not been charged. But an investigation by ex-FBI chief Louis Freeh said he helped university officials conceal allegations of sexual abuse against the former assistant football coach.

No one from the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association was immediately available for comment, CNN said.

A jury convicted Sandusky, 68, in June of 45 of the 48 sexual abuse counts he faced, involving 10 victims. He is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

Heroes In Aurora

Amazing acts of courage. Like you, I was heartsick at the stories of the massacre at that movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last week. But I was also impressed by the heroic acts that occurred there. Four of the victims were men who gave their lives to protect the women who were with them. The courage, bravery and self-sacrifice of Alex Teves, Matthew Robert McQuinn, Jonathan Blunk and John Larimer should be an inspiration for us all.

The Boy Scouts refuse to compromise. For several years now, the Boy Scouts of America has been the target of the militant homosexual movement because it has refused to allow homosexuals to serve as scoutmasters. Despite the intense pressure and publicity, an 11-member special committee formed by top Scout leaders in 2010 recently voted unanimously to reaffirm the ban as “absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts.” You can expect the intolerant left to increase its pressure against the Boy Scouts as a result.

Aren’t you glad you paid for it? Thanks to a reader for sharing the following story: On a recent episode of “Bridezillas,” a friend of the bride said her wedding gift would be paying for the $600 wedding cake. Knowing her friend was broke, the bride-to-be asked the baker how her friend was going to pay for the cake. The baker said the friend wanted to pay with “food stamps.”

Paying government to hold your money. How low can interest rates go? Recently, the German central bank sold $5 billion worth of two-year notes that pay a negative 0.06% interest rate. That means the bondholders not only won’t receive any interest payments for the next 24 months, but when their principle is returned two years down the road, they’ll actually receive less money than they lent the government. Of course, once taxes and inflation are taken into consideration, savers in the United States also end up losing money on such “safe” investments.

–Chip Wood

Teen Saves Money To Start Business, City Shuts Him Down

A 13-year-old Michigan teen saved nearly $1,000 to start a hot dog business as a way to help take pressure off of his disabled parents. On the same day he set up shop, the city of Holland shut him down.

“I was trying to help my mom and my dad, because they’re both on disability,” recounted Nathan Duszynski. “So I was just trying to bring in some money for them and the household while they’re struggling.”

Duszynski set up a hot dog stand for about 10 minutes before he was told he would have to leave the location. The Michigan teen thought he had jumped through all the necessary hoops, but a zoning law prevents food stands from competing with certain restaurants.

“What makes market capitalism work is the ability of individuals to provide highly nuanced, competing alternatives to some existing business,” commented Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “This seems like just another sad episode of some government micromanaging the lives of many to benefit a few.”

The teen’s efforts to help his parents, one of whom suffers from epilepsy and the other from multiple sclerosis, were profitable. Shoreline Container, a local packaging company, bought Duszynski’s cart for $2,500. Shoreline Container plans to use the cart for outdoor cookouts.

Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar, a company that has faced its own share of legal issues, said: “Policy makers must stop criminalizing capitalism. This begins by stopping the practice of creating new criminal offenses, or wielding obscure foreign laws, as a method of regulating businesses.

“Especially in a bearish economy, entrepreneurs need to be able to operate without the fear that inadvertently breaking an obscure regulation or unknowingly violating a foreign statute could shut down their company and land them or their employees in jail.”

Obama Announces Education Program For Black Youths

President Barack Obama announced an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The President said it will give black students “a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.”

“We also believe that every entrepreneur should have a chance to start a business, no matter who you are, no matter what you look like,” he added. “That’s why we’ve helped African-American businesses and minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses gain access to more than $7 billion in contracts and financing that allow them to grow and create jobs.”

The plan calls for local communities to work with the Federal government in an attempt to prepare black students for high school and college. As part of the initiative, Obama wants to see the price of college tuition drop.

“A higher education in the 21st century cannot be a luxury. It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford. I want all these young people to be getting a higher education, and I don’t want them loaded up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt just to get an education. That’s how we make America great,” he said. The remarks came during a speech on Wednesday in New Orleans to civil rights group National Urban League Convention.

The campaign stop was meant to rally black voters. A recent Gallup poll showed that 89 percent of blacks support Obama. In 2008, 95 percent of blacks voted for Obama.

According to a National Urban League Policy Institute report, if the turnout of black voters returns to 2004 numbers, Obama will lose in North Carolina and perhaps in Ohio and Virginia.

Rising Food Prices, Social Unrest In Coming Months

The drought that has swept across much of the United States will likely drive up food prices throughout the Nation and, some people fear, may even spark global unrest as food becomes scarce in some parts of the world.

The Federal government said this week that U.S. consumers should expect rising prices on agricultural goods like milk, beef, chicken and pork in the next year. The government also said that a price jump should be expected in processed foods, many of which contain corn as a staple ingredient, because of the drought’s devastating toll on corn crops. About 88 percent of corn crops are growing poorly or have been destroyed.

The government indicates that consumers should expect a 4 to 5 percent price increase on beef next year, and a slightly lower increase on pork, eggs and dairy.

The New England Complex Systems Institute predicts that while the rising prices will likely have a nominal impact on American consumers, those in developing countries who import U.S. agricultural goods will likely be heavily affected.

“The drought is clearly going to kick prices up. It already has. What happens when you have speculators is that it goes through the roof,” said NECSI president Yaneer Bar-Yam. “We’ve created an unstable system. Globally, we are very vulnerable.”

In conjunction with the rising prices, the researcher says that mass social unrest and violence in parts of the world are possible.

The Lie That Should Sink Obama

If there is one sentence that determines who will win this year’s Presidential election, I hope it will be Barack Obama’s incredible statement that “you didn’t build that.”

In just four short words, Obama confirmed his bias against America’s business builders and job creators — the men and women who slaved and sacrificed to help make us the wealthiest, most productive and most generous Nation the world has ever known.

Yes, I know, I’ll be accused of taking his words out of context. That he really wasn’t engaging in the blatant, anti-business bias I’ve accused him of. Baloney! Let’s look more closely at exactly what our Great Leader said. Here is a verbatim quote from his campaign speech in Roanoke, Va., on July 13:

[L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Obama’s apologists like to claim that the President was merely referring to “roads and bridges” when he said “you didn’t build that.” What a bunch of nonsense! First of all, let me play grammarian here and point out that “roads and bridges” are plural, not singular. Anyone with a fifth-grade education, much less two college degrees, would know to say “you didn’t build those,” not “that.”

Moreover, if you try to accept the apologists’ explanation, then you have to admit that Obama not only made a grammatical mistake, he made a factual one as well. Anyone who drives a car or truck did pay for those “roads and bridges.” All of this infrastructure (and a lot more besides) was financed by the taxes on the fuel we used.

No, the message the President was trying to convey seems pretty clear to me: Every successful entrepreneur in America owes a debt of gratitude — and a lot more taxes — to government. Not only that, but the more successful you are, the more you owe.

So Henry Ford can’t take credit for giving birth to the automobile industry. Thomas Edison would never have invented the light bulb if it weren’t for “somebody else” who made it happen. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and thousands of other modern builders and inventors wouldn’t have succeeded if it weren’t for the helping hand of government.

In fact, the Harry Reids and Nancy Pelosis of this world go even further. They seem to believe that government is entitled to all of the money you make. And anytime our beneficent rulers allow you to keep some of your earnings, it is somehow doing you a favor. How else can you explain the attitude that cutting your taxes is somehow giving you a subsidy? That letting us keep anything is doing us a favor?

If “you didn’t build that,” then you really have no right to own it or control it. If “you didn’t build that,” then government is entitled to tax it, to regulate it, even to seize it, if it so desires. If “somebody else made that happen,” then government has every right to seize what you have and share it with “somebody else.”

The truth is 180 degrees the opposite of what these grade-school Marxists proclaim: Most business creators and job builders in this country have succeeded in spite of government, not because of it. And they would have been able to invest a lot more money, take a lot more risk, build more businesses and create more jobs, if they had been allowed to keep more of the money they earned.

Dan Danner, the president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, has this to say about Obama’s comments:

His unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs.

I’m sure every small-business owner who took a second mortgage on their home, maxed out their credit cards or borrowed money from their own retirement savings to start their business disagrees strongly with President Obama’s claim.

I certainly hope so.

One of Mitt Romney’s favorite campaign themes is how the coming election will be a battle for the soul of America. “Do we believe in an America that is great because of government?” the presumptive Republican nominee has asked. “Or do we believe in an America that is great because of free people allowed to pursue their dreams to build their future?”

In this debate, there can be no doubt where our redistributionist President stands. We’ve got less than 100 days left before Americans get to cast their vote on which vision of the future they want.

Will the builders and creators and those who support them work as hard as the takers and receivers and those who pander to them? We’ll soon find out.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood 

Teaching Tolerance

Progressives are tolerant people. Just ask them.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says Chick-fil-A “doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says, “Chic-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values.”

Boston has 10 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. Massachusetts’ violent crime rate is half that. Boston’s unemployment rate was 6 percent in June, but the city had shed 2,600 jobs that month. The city’s poverty rate is 21.1 percent. In many communities, 85 percent of families are headed by a single parent — usually the mother — and at least 20 percent of adults have no high school diploma. About 42 percent of children in those communities live in poverty, the densest cluster of childhood poverty in the State, according to a study sponsored by the Boston Foundation.

Chicago has 10.54 violent crimes per 1,000 residents compared to 4.35 per 1,000 in the rest of Illinois. Chicago’s unemployment rate is 9.8 percent. The city’s poverty rate is 27.5 percent. The city is in the grips of a gang war. City police say there are at least 100,000 gang members. At least 275 people have been killed this year and many more injured in gang violence — many of them innocent bystanders like 7-year-old Heaven Sutton and 10-year-old Kitanna Peterson.

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said in an interview with the Baptist Press: “[A]s an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us.”

In a radio interview, Cathy said: “As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’”

There is no evidence that Chick-fil-A has discriminated against anyone in hiring or service. No one has claimed such. The owner simply said he ran his business based on biblical principles, and expressed his opinion — again based on his biblical beliefs — that marriage should be between a man and woman.

But Menino and Emanuel don’t believe Christian values are Boston or Chicago values. If you look at what goes on there, obviously that’s the case. It’s also telling that Emanuel yesterday welcomed Louis Farrakhan and his “army” into the city, ignoring Farrakhan’s history of racism and anti-Semitism.

Like most big government statists, Menino and Emanuel are tolerant — as long as you agree with them. Perhaps that’s why their cities are shrinking, crime-infested dens of corruption.

Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, is doing quite well despite “tolerant” people like Menino and Emanuel. It employs about 50,000 workers across the country at 1,500 outlets in 40 States. It has more than $4 billion in annual revenues.

You wouldn’t want any of that coming your way, would you, Mayors?

Huckabee, Santorum Plan Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day

Following Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy’s comments on traditional marriage, gay rights activists are making plans to boycott the restaurant until the cows come home. They found Cathy’s remarks utterly disturbing. But Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have a different plan in mind.

The two Republicans are organizing Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

“No signs and no protests are needed to make your voice heard,” Santorum wrote in an email on Wednesday. “Just simply have a meal at Chick-fil-A on August 1 for ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’ and our support for traditional values will be heard loud and clear.”

In an interview that has caused a firestorm, Cathy told the Baptist Press: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

Since making the comment, Cathy has faced pressure on many fronts.

“You called supporters of gay marriage ‘prideful,’” wrote Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to Cathy. “Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are ‘guilty as charged.’ We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested that Chick-fil-A is unwelcome in Chicago, saying: “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values. …If he’s in the business of selling chicken in Chicago, he should be in the business of having equal rights for everyone.”

Muppet maker Jim Henson Co. has refused to work with Chick-fil-A “on any future endeavors.”

Gay advocacy group Equality Illinois is urging people to eat at restaurants on Aug. 1 that support same-sex marriage. The group is also urging gay and lesbian couples to “show their disdain for Chick-Fil-A’s policies with public displays of affection in front of their restaurants.”

More than 100,000 people have vowed to eat at Chick-fil-A on Aug. 1 to show their support of Cathy.

Foreclosures Rise In First Half Of 2012

IRVINE, Calif. (UPI) — Foreclosure activity rose in nearly 60 percent of the U.S. metropolitan areas in the first half of the year, a private online marketplace said.

RealtyTrac, which monitors foreclosure activity, said 125 metropolitan areas of 212 tracked saw an increase in foreclosure activity January through June.

The firm tracks market activity in cities with a population of 200,000 or more.

RealtyTrac said “despite the increases” from the second half of 2011 to the first half of 2012, a very similar number of cities, 129, posted decreases in foreclosure activity in the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2011.

In the first half of the year California had seven of the 10 cities with the highest foreclosure and 10 of the top 20. Four of the top 20 were in Florida.

The highest foreclosure rate in the country was in Stockton, Calif., which had a foreclosure rate of 2.66 percent of housing units or one in every 38. That was three times the national average, RealtyTrac said.

All of the top five cities on the list are in California, including Modesto with a rate of 2.61 percent, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario with a rate of 2.59 percent, Vallejo-Fairfield at 2.56 percent and Merced at 2.15 percent.

“Increasing foreclosure starts in many local markets helped push total foreclosure activity higher in the first half of this year compared to the second half of 2011,” said Brandon Moore, CEO of RealtyTrac.

“Those foreclosure starts are welcome news for prospective buyers and real estate brokers in many local markets where a shortage of aggressively priced inventory has been holding up sales activity,” he said.

First-Time Jobless Claims Down By 35,000

WASHINGTON (UPI) — First-time jobless claims fell by 35,000 in the week ending Saturday, almost erasing the 36,000 increase from the previous week, the U.S. Labor Department said.

The weekly report issued Thursday said last week’s total for first-time unemployment benefit claims was 388,000, not 386,00 as previously reported.

For the current week, claims fell to 353,000. The four-week rolling average, which gives a steadier indication of the direction of jobless claims, fell by 8,750 to 367,250, the department said.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending July 14 were in California (up by 26,244), North Carolina (up by 11,948) and Georgia (up by 8,372). The largest decreases were in New York (down by 10,794), Michigan (down by 7,453) and Kentucky (down by 4,904).

The U.S. unemployment rate is 8.2 percent. After rising 0.1 of a percentage point from April to May, it remained unchanged in June on the addition of 80,000 jobs.

Pending Home Sales Reinforce A Trend

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A leading index for the U.S. housing market, the Pending Home Sales Index, mirrored a market trend, dropping May to June, but rising from a year earlier.

The National Association of Realtors said the index on contracts of intention — the legal limbo between paying a down payment and closing on a house — fell 1.4 percent May to June to 99.3.

May’s index was also revised lower, to 100.7, the NAR said.

From June 2011, however, the index is up 9.5 percent, the trade group said.

Similarly, the Commerce Department said this week that sales of new single-family homes declined month-to-month in June, but rose 15.1 percent from June 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist said, “Buyer interest remains strong, but fewer home listings means fewer contract signing opportunities.”

“We’ve been seeing a steady decline in the level of housing inventory, which is most pronounced in the lower price ranges popular with first-time buyers and investors,” he said.

The trend of a recent drop, but an annual gain, held true for three of four U.S. regions.

The NAR said the pending home sales index fell 7.6 percent in the Northeast, but is 12.2 percent higher than a year earlier. In the Midwest, the index fell 0.4 percent month-to-month, but remains 17.3 percent above 12 months earlier.

In the South, pending home contracts fell 2 percent, but are up 8.98 percent from June 2011.

The West is the exception. The pending home index rose in June, up 2.6 percent. That index is 3 percent higher than June 2011.

30-Year Mortgage Rates Hit Record Lows

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Fixed mortgage rates on long-term loans in the United States hit record lows again in the week ending Thursday, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. said.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage has been below 4 percent for every week but one in 2012, Freddie Mac said, as interest rates for 30-year, fixed-rate loans dropped from 3.53 percent to 3.49 percent with 0.7 points.

In the same week of 2011, interest rates for 30-year loans averaged 4.55 percent.

For 15-year loans in the week ending Thursday, interest rates fell from 2.83 percent to 2.8 percent with an average 0.7 points. A year ago, 15-year loan rates averaged 3.66 percent.