WASHINGTON – U.S. thrifts posted a first-quarter profit in the latest sign the industry is stabilizing as the economy recovers, the government reported Monday.The federal Office of Thrift Supervision said savings
and loans had net income of $1.82 billion in the January-March period. That compared with a of $1.62 billion a year earlier.It was the thrift industry’s third profitable quarter in a row. The Treasury Department agency said the industry’s net income in the latest quarter was the highest since the April-June quarter of 2007.The OTS, which oversees 757 institutions, said about 60 percent of thrifts posted an increase in compared with the previous three months. But it said the number of „problem” thrifts rose to 50 as of March 31 from 43 three months earlier.The industry’s improvement came despite high unemployment and as many Americans struggle to pay their mortgages.”The health of the thrift industry is improving but we cannot say the industry has fully recovered from the financial crisis,” the agency’s acting director, John Bowman, said in a statement. „Until America gets back to full employment and more families are able to pay their monthly mortgages on time, the thrift industry will continue to face significant challenges.”Thrifts’ — loans that are overdue and repossessed property — slipped to 3.27 percent of total industry assets in the first quarter from 3.29 percent in last year’s fourth quarter.Thrifts differ from banks in that they are required by law to have at least 65 percent of their lending in mortgages and other . That has made them particularly vulnerable to the housing slump and high unemployment.The first-quarter report by OTS also showed:_New mortgage loans extended by thrifts during the quarter totaled $32.4 billion, only about a third of the level a year earlier, $96.1 billion, and down 20 percent from $40.7 billion in the . That compares with the $553 billion in mortgage loans provided by thrifts at the peak of the housing boom in 2006._The thrift industry set aside $2.7 billion in reserves to offset expected losses, down sharply from $3.9 billion in the fourth quarter. Setting aside large amounts in reserves depresses the industry’s earnings._The industry’s assets fell to $949.8 billion from $1.2 trillion a year earlier.Last week the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported that the number of troubled U.S. banks — including thrifts — on its confidential list jumped to 775 in the first quarter from 702 three months earlier.Bank failures are expected to peak this year and exceed the 140 that fell in 2009. That would mark the highest annual tally since 1992, at the height of the savings and loan crisis. So far this year, 73 banks have collapsed.The two biggest bank failures, which occurred in 2008, both involved thrifts. Big California lender IndyMac Bank, with about $30.2 billion in assets, failed in July; Seattle-based Washington Mutual collapsed in September, the largest U.S. bank failure ever with $307 billion in assets.Many lawmakers and consumer advocates have criticized the OTS for what they say was lax oversight of the thrift industry in the run-up to the financial crisis. The previous OTS director, Scott Polakoff, was put on leave pending an investigation into improper backdating of cash infusions at six thrifts including IndyMac. He later left the government.Sweeping legislation to overhaul financial regulations that passed the Senate last week calls for abolishing the OTS.
Hubble catches planet being devoured by its star By AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Hubble space telescope has discovered a planet in our galaxy in the process of being devoured by the star that it orbits, according to a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.The doomed planet, dubbed WASP-12b, has the highest known surface temperature of any planet in the Milky Way — around 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,800 degrees Fahrenheit).But it could be enveloped by its own over the next ten million years, the paper’s authors have concluded.Using a new instrument called the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph that was installed on Hubble in 2009, the researchers observed how the planet was whipped into an elongated shape by gravitational forces.”We see a huge cloud of material around the planet, which is escaping and will be captured by the star. We have identified chemical elements never before seen on planets outside our ,” team leader Carole Haswell of The Open University in Great Britain said.Discovered in 2008, WASP-12b is located about 600 light-years from Earth in the Auriga Constellation and is more than 300 times the .It also has a mass 40-percent greater than that of Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system.It is so close to its parent star that it orbits it in little more than 24 hours. already knew that stars will swallow a planet that comes too close to it, but this is the first time that the phenomenon has been observed so clearly.The paper, which was published in the May 10 edition of The , confirms a theoretical paper published in the journal Nature last Friday by Shu-lin Li, an astronomer at Peking University in Beijing.Shu-lin had predicted that the planet’s surface would be distorted by the star’s gravitational pull, and that gravitational tidal forces would make the interior so hot that it would greatly expand its outer atmosphere.
SC governor hopeful denies blogger claim of affairBy JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Tea party favorite Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for governor whose campaign gained momentum with recent endorsements from Sarah Palin and Jenny Sanford, vehemently denied allegations Monday that she had an inappropriate relationship with a political blogger several years ago.Haley, a legislator vying to become the state’s first female chief executive and replace disgraced Gov. Mark Sanford, called the claim posted on the blogger’s site Monday a smear. She questioned the timing two weeks before the primary, saying it was an attempt to derail her campaign, once considered a long-shot. And she called on primary opponents to renounce the tactics.”I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage. This claim against me is categorically and totally false,” Haley, a 38-year-old mother of two, said in a statement. „It is quite simply South Carolina politics at its worst.”The claim came from Will Folks, a conservative blogger who previously served as Sanford’s spokesman. Folks said the relationship took place in 2007 when he did communications work for Haley, including writing speeches and news releases. He offered no proof of it and refused to go into any details.”I’m not going to paint pictures,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on the condition his statements would not be published before the allegation was posted on his blog early Monday.Folks pleaded guilty to criminal domestic violence in 2005 and left the Sanford administration around that time. He is now a political consultant and runs FITSNews.com, a conservative site that features occasionally insightful commentary, thinly sourced stories of state political intrigue and photos of women in bikinis.Folks’ allegation comes nearly a year after the governor famously vanished from the state for five days, reappearing from a trip to Argentina to admit to an affair with a woman he later called his „soul mate.” The scandal ended Sanford’s marriage and led to calls for his resignation. He is term-limited and leaves office in January; in years past he had backed Haley’s political aspirations, and his ex-wife campaigned with her earlier this month.Political scientist Neal Thigpen said he thinks most political activists won’t believe Folks, but some tea party supporters could be swayed to support another candidate.”It seems to me the whole thing is designed to stop Rep. Haley’s momentum,” said Thigpen, a Francis Marion University professor. „If it’s Nikki’s word against Will Folks’, I know who I’d believe. … But something like this can do her great damage.”Haley, an accountant and three-term legislator, is in a tight race for the GOP nomination with Congressman Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and state Attorney General Henry McMaster.As word of the purported relationship spread across the state and on the Internet, Haley went on at least three radio shows. Callers mostly backed Haley and liked her forceful denial. They talked about South Carolina’s history of unusually dirty politics and its reputation for what’s been repeatedly called a „good ol’ boy” network. Comments on the Internet were similar, though Folks’ website had more support for him.She finished her public schedule at a Greenville Chamber of Commerce forum for gubernatorial candidates telling the business crowd that the allegations were „absolutely not true. … I will tell you that if anything, I am more focused and motivated than I have ever been to run in this race.”The moderator asked whether there was any evidence of an affair. „No. I mean there’s no evidence,” Haley said. „These are distractions. That’s all they are.”Earlier in the day, Haley had suggested her opponents in the race were tied to the affair allegation. But on the debate stage, Haley dropped that and challenged the two GOP challengers there, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Attorney General Henry McMaster to denounce any smear tactics in the race.They both did.Several people in Haley’s hometown of Lexington in the central part of the state said the allegations wouldn’t affect their vote.Benjamin Partin, 20, said campaigns use as much negativity as they can in the final stretch of primary season.”You can’t expect who’s in there to be perfect,” said Partin, a restaurant worker who was still undecided on who to vote for. „We had Sanford in there, after all.” Folks, who said he wasn’t working for any campaign, claimed he went public because political adversaries were leaking proof of it to the media to impugn his reputation and destroy her. „The truth in this case is what it is,” he wrote. „Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki.”Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, denounced the claim on Facebook, and said she had warned Haley that she and her family would be targeted.”That, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast in politics today — especially for conservative ‘underdog’ candidates who surge in the polls and threaten to shake things up so government can be put back on the side of the people,” Palin wrote.Palin said she spoke with Haley and told her to hang in there.Folks said he owes apologies only to Haley and her family, and to his own wife for failing to reveal the relationship earlier in their marriage. He wed in 2008. Folks left the Sanford administration about the time he received a 30-day suspended sentence for domestic violence. Folks kicked open the door at a home he shared with a lobbyist and shoved her into a piece of furniture, police said. Folks had little political experience before joining Sanford’s 2002 campaign. When Sanford won, the governor made the ball-cap wearing, alternative rock band-playing son of a college professor his spokesman. State GOP chair Karen Floyd said Folks’ claim was an unsubstantiated personal attack. „South Carolinians deserve a higher level of political discourse than this, and they frankly deserve a press corps that focuses on real, substantive issues rather than on Internet rumor mongering,” Floyd said in a statement.
Secret X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Amateur Skywatchers By Leonard David SPACE.com’s
While the U.S. Air Force is mum about the orbital whereabouts of its X-37B mini-space plane, a dedicated band of amateur skywatchers has got its cross-hairs on the spacecraft.The unpiloted X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1 was lofted on April 22 atop an Atlas launcher. It is being flown under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.In U.S. military tracking parlance, when the space plane reached orbit it became identified as Catalog Number 36514, 2010-015A, OTV-1 (USA 212). [Video: X-37B space plane spotted.From there it entered a cone of silence regarding any on-orbit duties.[Related: World’s largest airship inflated to create monster ‘stratellite’]But thanks to a worldwide eyes-on-the-sky network of amateurs, the spacecraft is reportedly in a 39.99 degrees inclination, circling the Earth in an orbit 401 kilometers by 422 kilometers. This data may change slightly as the vehicle’s orbit is better refined, said Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, a pioneer in using telescopic video cameras to track spacecraft, chalking up exceptional results over the years.The Air Force has not said what the robotic ship is for, but analysts say the X-37B is likely a spy craft and almost surely not a weapon. [X-37B spacecraft photos.]Absolute confidence-Roberts said that those sighting the craft have „absolute confidence” in their observations, claiming no chance of it being anything else. „The fact that we have now seen it several times confirms that the orbit we have is very close to the real orbit — perhaps an error of a few kilometers or so at most,” he told SPACE.com. „One of our North American members got a brief view of what was suspected to be the space plane under somewhat difficult circumstances before it was no longer visible in the evening sky from the United States,” Roberts said.That single observation was not enough to define the spacecraft’s inclination as the skywatcher used binoculars, Roberts added. Video observers of the sky get „traces” when they record the object of interest, he continued, so it’s possible to determine the angle of travel and hence an idea of the inclination.Roberts said the space plane has been observed over the last week by several members and its orbit is properly tied down. „We now face a spell of a week to two weeks when there will be no optical visibility until it becomes a in the southern hemisphere and an evening object in the northern hemisphere.”The degree of difficulty in finding the X-37B has been a product of not knowing its inclination and having limited optical visibility due to its low orbiting altitude. learn how to spot satellites by tracking spacecraft orbits and finding when they may fly over viewing areas on the ground.”This means it spends most of its time in Earth’s shadow during a pass,” Roberts said. Also the ship’s low inclination and altitude has meant that tracking has only been possible from mid-latitude, ruling out observations by some of the members of the team unless they are in position at very low elevations.According to Ted Molczan, a leader in the satellite sleuthing business based in Toronto, the X-37B search was moderately challenging.”It was the first launch of its kind, so we had only a rough idea of its altitude, inclination and plane. Its low altitude and inclination put it out of reach of several of our most skilled observers,” he told SPACE.com.Molczan said his role was estimating the range of possible orbits in which the space plane might be found, which was the basis for the searches.”The object is moderately bright. Based on the limited tracking so far, I estimate that it will reach about magnitude 2.5 when observed at high elevation above the horizon, and well illuminated by the sun. That is similar to the brightest stars of the Big Dipper,” Molczan said.Nighttime fixation-What’s behind the nighttime fixation on the X-37B?”Well the challenge is finding it without much data to go on,” Roberts responded. „If the data were freely available we would probably not have bothered with it. I see little sense in tracking objects for which data is freely available. It’s like re-inventing the wheel. So as long as there are missions with little or no information, I personally will be interested in the challenge of finding them.”Roberts said that the sky watching group has a pretty good record. „If memory is correct, we have found and are tracking every single object launched in the past five years or more. The only objects we are not able to track are those stationed over areas of the earth where we have no active observers…mainly the central Pacific Ocean area. Next up on the Roberts „to-do” list is attempting to see if the space plane is emitting any radio signals on the frequency bands that he’s able to monitor.”That is going to be an even bigger challenge,” Roberts concluded, „and I’m not really that keen on it as it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack!”Mystery manifest-Still, even with the ground observations, exactly what’s tucked inside the X-37B’s cargo hold — about the size of a pickup truck bed — remains a mystery.The X-37B signals a new way for the Air Force to conduct on-orbit experiments, said Gary Payton, Air Force deputy under secretary for , during a pre-launch press briefing teleconference last month. „Actual on-orbit activities we do classify…for the experimental payloads that are on-orbit with the X-37,” he noted.Payton did indicate that there’s enough payload room on the mini-space shuttle to house a couple of small satellites in the range of a few hundred kilograms each. There is growing speculation that the vehicle is likely toting Earth spying gear for the National Reconnaissance Office.The reusable X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1 was built by Boeing Phantom Works. It is about 29 feet (9 meters) long and has a wingspan of just over 14 feet (4 meters) across. It stands just over 9 1/2 feet (3 meters) tall and weighs nearly 11,000 pounds (about 5,000 kg).Big test ahead-The OTV 1 mission is also designed to test new technologies and develop ways to make space access more routine, affordable and responsive. The OTV is the first vehicle since NASA’s shuttle orbiter capable of returning experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.A second X-37B is now being fabricated for a test mission scheduled for 2011.X-37B is being operated under the direction of Air Force Space Command‘s 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron, a space control unit located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.Capable of orbiting Earth for up to 270 days, a big test for the X-37B is ahead: A „do-it-itself” guided entry and wheels down runway landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with Edwards Air Force Base as an alternate site. If the incoming space plane strays off its auto-pilot trajectory over the Pacific Ocean, the craft is outfitted with a destruct mechanism.
Fired UN diplomat Galbraith seeks office in Vt. By WILSON RING, Associated Press
MONTPELIER, Vt. – Peter Galbraith, the former U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan who was fired over his cries of fraud following last year’s presidential election there, is running for the Vermont state Senate.Galbraith said that even though he has spent years outside of Vermont working for the United Nations and serving as a U.S. ambassador and author of two books on U.S. policy in Iraq, the southeastern Vermont community of Townshend has always been his legal residence.”I was involved in Vermont politics in the ’70s,” Galbraith, 59, said Monday. „This is my home, and I care about my home.”Galbraith was fired last year from a U.N. post in Afghanistan after accusing his boss of downplaying and is writing about the war-torn country. He also served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia and as a cabinet member for East Timor‘s transitional first government.Galbraith is seeking one of two Windham County seats in the Senate. One seat is being vacated by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin of Putney, who is running for governor.Galbraith has never held elected office. In 1998 he considered becoming a candidate for a congressional seat in Massachusetts but never gave up his Vermont residency and did not become a candidate, he said.Even before this announcement, his name has occasionally surfaced as a for office. Two years ago he considered running against Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.Galbraith said a seat in the Vermont Senate would let him focus on national and state issues, including health care; expanding communications infrastructure into rural areas; and working to ensure the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon is closed when its license expires in 2012.”There’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do , which is an issue I care about,” Galbraith said.”The federal bill was a step forward but didn’t go far enough.”He said he would seek to introduce a single-payer health care system to Vermont.And at his Townshend home, he’s unable to get cellular telephone service and needs a satellite to get high-speed Internet service.Galbraith is the son of the late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who bought a home in Vermont in the 1940s.”I am a son of Windham County. I am well known. People know what I’ve done. I hope it will be helpful,” he said.In Vermont, Galbraith worked on the 1970 U.S. Senate campaign of former Democratic Gov. Phil Hoff and served as Democratic Party from 1977 to 1979.He said he looks forward to being involved once again in Vermont politics.”One of the advantages of running for the , I have a feeling all will be quite civil and the service will be civil,” Galbraith said. „People (politicians) are much more serious than they are in other parts of the country. Politics is about getting things done, rather than .”
Late slide in financial stocks hits stock market By TIM PARADIS, AP Business
NEW YORK – Financial companies dragged stocks lower Monday as already anxious investors grew even more uncertain about the U.S. government’s financial overhaul plan and debt problems in Europe.The Dow Jones industrial average slid 80 points in the final 15 minutes of trading to end with a loss of almost 127. It was the lowest close for the Dow since Feb. 10. The and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell more than 1 percent.Investors are worried about limits that could be placed on U.S. banks in a final version of the financial overhaul bill. A bill that passed the Senate last week is now being reconciled with the House version. The late drop illustrates how jittery traders are in particular about what will happen in Europe.”People are afraid to go home and say ‘All of the sudden what’s going to happen overnight in Europe? Is something new going to pop up?'” said Joe Saluzzi, co-head of equity trading at .The rescue of a Spanish bank raised investors’ uneasiness about Europe’s economy. Investors can’t shake their concerns that there could be more bank bailouts in Europe if a wave of bad debt cascades through financial markets. It’s not clear that will happen, but traders remember well the problems in the U.S. that began with bad subprime loans. Those problems started small but eventually helped take down Lehman Brothers in September 2008.The Bank of Spain stepped in to rescue Cajasur after it failed to complete a merger. It was only the second time Spain’s central bank saved a regional lender. The country is one of those already dealing with ballooning deficits.Meanwhile, traders still don’t have a clear idea about which financial overhaul provisions will remain in the combined House and Senate bill. That is making some traders cautious about betting on financial stocks.It remains uncertain, for example, whether a final bill will include a Senate provision that would require big banks to sell their derivatives operations. Derivatives are often profitable but risky investments. Derivatives that were tied to mortgages were blamed for worsening the housing crisis.The Dow fell 126.82, or 1.2 percent, to 10,066.57. The S&P 500 index fell 14.04, or 1.3 percent, to 1,073.65, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 15.49, or 0.7 percent, to 2,213.55.About three stocks fell for every two that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to came to 8.1 billion shares compared with 2.3 billion Friday.Bond prices rose. Investors have been flocking to the relative safety of government bonds and have at times dumped riskier assets like stocks and commodities. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.20 percent from 3.24 percent late Friday.Gold rose $17.90 to $1,194 an ounce.Crude oil rose 17 cents to $70.21 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.The euro fell against the dollar, dropping to $1.2361. The 16-nation currency has become a symbol of investors’ concern about the continent’s economy. Traders have been dumping the euro on fears that massive debts will cause a default by a weaker country in the European Union. The euro hit a four-year low against the dollar last week.Analysts question whether countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal will be able to contain mounting debt through steep spending cuts. Investors are also worried that those budget cuts will upend an economic recovery in Europe and slow a worldwide rebound.”Right now the U.S. financial markets are trading very much out of fear and not any fundamentals,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist of Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.Despite a rally Friday that lifted the Dow 125 points, major indexes still ended lower last week. Stocks are now trading at about where they were in early February and are down for the year.The major indexes are down about 10 percent from their highs of the year, set in late April. That size drop is known as a „correction.” It’s the first retreat of that scale since stocks began a largely uninterrupted advance off of 12-year lows reached in March of 2009. The Dow is down 1,138.46, or 10.16 percent, since April 26. Mark Coffelt, portfolio manager at Empiric Funds in Austin, Texas, said traders are still cautious about the financial overhaul bill because big changes could disrupt the way financial companies operate. „We’re giving more oversight to the various regulators that failed us before,” Coffelt said. He is concerned that tighter rules will constrict the availability of credit and hurt the economy. „Governments aren’t looking very competent.”Bank of America Corp. fell 59 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $15.40, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. fell $1.43, or 3.6 percent, to $38.62.Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.1 percent, Germany’s DAX index dropped 0.4 percent, and France‘s CAC-40 rose less than 0.1 percent.Investors brushed off gains in Asia, where China’s president said the country will loosen its currency policy. No timetable was given, however. jumped 3.5 percent.
China holds door open a crack to U.S. on yuan By Chris Buckley and Glenn Somerville REUTERS
BEIJING (Reuters) – China struck a conciliatory note in talks with the United States on Monday by vowing to spur domestic demand and keeping a guarded opening to exchange rate reform, which the Obama administration says is needed to rebalance the global economy.The United States treaded softly on the subject and welcomed Beijing‘s long-standing pledge to reform the yuan as the two sides opened their second .But both countries also made clear that a stronger Chinese currency was not enough by itself to narrow the whopping U.S. bilateral trade deficit that has fueled tensions between them at a time when the global economic recovery remains fragile.While Chinese President Hu Jintao broke no new ground on the yuan dispute, he set an amicable tone for the two days of talks during which the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies will seek to steady their relations.” will continue to steadily advance reform of the renminbi exchange rate formation mechanism following the principles of being independent, controllable and gradual,” he said. The renminbi is another name for the yuan.Hu said his government wanted to expand domestic demand to create more balanced growth, something that Washington — worried about its yawning trade deficit with China — has also advocated.President Barack Obama, in statement released later in Washington, said the two nations could collaborate.”Together, we can promote economic growth that is balanced and sustained and trade that is free and fair,” Obama said, in a coded reference to his desire for more yuan flexibility.Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Chinese government was moving in the right direction on the yuan, which has been effectively pegged to the dollar since the global financial crisis worsened in mid-2008.”We welcome the fact that recognized that reform of the exchange rate is an important part of their broader reform agenda,” he said.Trying to press the case that appreciation would be in China’s own interest, Geithner said that a more market-driven exchange rate would help suppress inflation while also driving private firms to move up the value chain.TRADE POLICIES-China and the United States signaled that there could be progress on two other trade-related policies that have been additional irritants in their relations.China said that it was working to resolve the concerns of foreign companies about an „indigenous innovation” program that the United States has said was unduly restrictive and a concern on par with the yuan.And Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said he was optimistic that the United States would loosen controls over high-tech exports, a move that would go a small way to balancing their trade ties.The talks also touched on Europe’s debt woes, with both sides saying that they were cautiously optimistic that any fallout would be limited.”The general view was that the pace of the global economic recovery will be basically maintained,” People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan told a news conference.The one slight point of open discord were U.S. calls for a tougher line against North Korea over an alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, contrasting with China’s appeals for restraint.Tensions flared between Beijing and Washington in the first months of 2010, when China denounced U.S. criticism of its Internet censorship, , and President Barack Obama‘s meeting with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader.Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory, and Hu said on Monday that it was important for countries to respect one another’s sovereignty.Obama said the strategic summit was an opportunity to pursue other goals beyond the economy and singled out national climate change commitments made last year in Copenhagen. Climate activists say China was among countries taking part in the Copenhagen meeting who had sought and won less stringent greenhouse gas emission targets than experts had proposed. Obama also touched lightly on human rights, where record has drawn persistent criticism, noting: „We welcome our human rights dialogue with China, which we began this month and which I look forward to continuing.” QUIET DISCUSSION have said they want only „quiet discussion” of U.S. complaints that the Chinese currency is held too low in value, giving Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage. The Obama administration so far appears willing to go along in the hope that a quieter approach will give Beijing more political space to let its . The annual U.S. trade deficit with China fell to $226.8 billion in 2009 from a record $268.0 billion in 2008. But the Obama administration is keen to lift exports, and the deficit remains a point of friction with Beijing.(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Doug Palmer and Alister Bull; Editing by Ken Wills and Anthony Boadle)
Shuttle Atlantis closes in on 120 million miles By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Atlantis closed in on the 120 million-mile mark as its final voyage neared an end and astronauts inspected their ship in advance of Wednesday’s landing.The laborious survey was carried out Monday using a newly repaired instrument that scanned Atlantis’ wings and nose for damage. NASA saved the inspection until the shuttle was flying free of the International Space Station.Atlantis undocked from the space station Sunday for the last time, leaving behind a new 20-foot compartment loaded with supplies and six fresh batteries. The shuttle program is ending in another several months, and Atlantis has no more missions lined up.Before signing off, lead flight director Mike Sarafin radioed the astronauts and told them everyone was ecstatic with their work over the past 1 1/2 weeks.”The ride out of the barn that you took with , we did some math here on the ground,” Sarafin said. By the time Atlantis gets to Kennedy Space Center, „the odometer on Atlantis will have crossed 120 million miles,” he noted.Atlantis will hit that milestone early Wednesday, just eight hours ahead of the scheduled 8:48 a.m. touchdown. Discovery is the fleet leader with more than 142 million miles, followed by Columbia with more than 121 million miles.”It’s because of guys like you, and the men and women who built Atlantis and maintain her and fly her and her sister ships, that we’re able to peacefully explore,” Sarafin told the crew. „We look forward to the return of our fair ship Atlantis, as well as your return.”Shuttle commander Kenneth Ham replied that 120 million miles is „pretty darn awesome in my mind.”When Atlantis rocketed into orbit May 14, it had logged 115.7 million miles in a quarter-century of flight. This trip will add 4.8 million miles after 186 orbits of , if the shuttle lands on time.At a news conference, Sarafin noted that it’s possible Atlantis may set sail once more. „We’ll just have to see how the budget and schedule play out, given the direction that the agency has,” he said.Unless the White House grants a reprieve, though, this is it for Atlantis. Only two more shuttle flights are scheduled, by Discovery and Endeavour. will decide in another week or two whether the fall launch dates are feasible, or how long any delays might be, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.As for Atlantis, Cain said time will tell whether this was its last flight. „I’ll know that for sure when Atlantis shows up in a museum somewhere,” he said. „Until then, we’re focused on this mission and taking them one at a time.”NASA is under presidential direction to get out of the business of launching astronauts into and, instead, focus on sending them to asteroids and Mars. The Obama administration would like private business to pick up the slack. Until that happens, NASA astronauts will continue catching rides to and from the space station on Russian rockets.Since this is likely to be Sarafin’s last time leading a shuttle flight control team, he will fly from Houston to Florida for Atlantis’ homecoming.Sarafin noted that Atlantis was at the heart of cooperation in space between Russia and the United States in the years after the Cold War ended. It made seven trips to Russia’s old Mir space station during the 1990s, and has made 11 flights to the International Space Station.”The shuttle has been a remarkable vehicle in that it has served as a peaceful means of exploring,” Sarafin saidThis 32nd flight of Atlantis saw Russia’s Rassvet compartment delivered to the . That’s Russian for Dawn.Monday morning’s inspection was a direct result of the 2003 Columbia disaster. As is the case on every flight since then, the astronauts used a 100-foot, laser-tipped inspection boom to check Atlantis’ heat shield for any micrometeorite damage. The wings and nose are especially vulnerable during re-entry, enduring the most heat. A snagged cord prevented the astronauts from conducting a thorough survey earlier in the flight. The cable was untangled during a spacewalk last week, and Mission Control said everything worked perfectly Monday.
NASA calls it quits for Mars Phoenix lander By REUTERS
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – NASA has officially called it quits for the Mars landing craft Phoenix, two years after the stationary probe touched down on the frigid northern polar surface of the Red Planet, the said on Monday.Phoenix, a solar-powered spacecraft roughly the size of a minivan, landed on Mars on May 25, 2008, and operated for five months, collecting and analyzing soil samples for signs of chemical compositions that would be conducive for life.But the probe went dormant after the sun dipped below the polar horizon, plunging the landing site into super-cold, round-the-clock darkness for the fall and winter months of the Martian calendar. It takes just under two Earth years for Mars to complete a single orbit around the sun.NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, near Los Angeles, did not expect Phoenix to survive the polar Martian winter intact. The failure of NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter to make radio contact with the probe after recently flying over its landing site 61 times confirmed that Phoenix was incapable of being revived.Moreover, a new image transmitted by a second NASA satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showed signs of severe ice damage to the lander’s solar panels.Phoenix was the sixth spacecraft to successfully land on since robot exploration of the planet’s surface began in the 1970s with the Viking program.Two NASA probes remain operational on Mars’ surface — the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which arrived in early 2004 and have out-lasted their design lifetimes by several years, though Spirit has been stuck in a sand dune since last year.One of the most startling findings of Phoenix was the discovery in the Martian soil of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on that nourishes some microbes but is potentially toxic to others.(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Beech)
NASA Declares Mars Lander Broken and Dead By SPACE.com
NASA‘s long-dormant Phoenix Mars Lander is broken and officially down for the count, with new images taken by an orbiting probe showing severe damage to the spacecraft’s solar panels due to the harsh .Repeated attempts by in recent months to reestablish contact with Phoenix following its winter hibernation were unsuccessful, with no peeps coming from the lander. The new photos of Phoenix, sent by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, indicate that the lander has suffered severe ice damage to at least one of its solar panels, said Monday. The discovery led NASA to declare that its Phoenix’s mission has officially ended its prolonged mission. [Dead spacecraft on Mars.]”The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime,” said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. „Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix’s science activities will continue for some time to come.”Phoenix touched down in the arctic plains of Vastitas Borealis in Mars’ northern hemisphere on May 25, 2008 and spent several months digging up the Martian soil, confirming the presence of beneath the surface.Last week, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site 61 times during a final attempt to communicate with the lander. No transmission from the lander was detected. Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights in three previous listening campaigns earlier this year.Slim chance of resurrection-Phoenix was not designed to survive the dark, cold, icy winter of the Martian arctic and mission managers were not optimistic they would hear from the spacecraft again after it fell silent in November 2008, when the sun dipped too low in the sky for Phoenix to get enough sunlight to power itself and temperatures plummeted. At the time, the $475 million lander had already survived two months longer than planned. However, the slim possibility Phoenix survived could not be eliminated without listening for the lander after abundant sunshine returned.The new photo of Phoenix taken this month by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests the lander no longer casts shadows the way it did during its working lifetime.”Before and after images are dramatically different,” said Michael Mellon of the , a science team member for both Phoenix and HiRISE. „The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground.”Apparent changes in the shadows cast by the lander are consistent with predictions of how Phoenix could be damaged by harsh winter conditions. It was anticipated that the weight of a carbon-dioxide ice buildup could bend or break the lander’s solar panels. Mellon calculated hundreds of pounds of ice probably coated the lander in mid-winter.Phoenix’s icy success-During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water.The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life and observed falling snow.The mission’s biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and potentially toxic for others.”We found that the soil above the ice can act like a sponge, with perchlorate scavenging water from the atmosphere and holding on to it,” said Peter Smith, Phoenix at the University of Arizona in Tucson. „You can have a thin film layer of water capable of being a habitable environment. A micro-world at the scale of grains of soil — that’s where the action is.”The perchlorate results are shaping subsequent astrobiology research, as scientists investigate the implications of its antifreeze properties and potential use as an energy source by microbes.
NASA Telescope Peers Into Heart and Soul of Universe By Denise Chow SPACE.com
MIAMI – Two massive, bubbling clouds of star-making factories were captured in a stunning photo by a NASA space telescope that is surveying the in infrared light.The huge mosaic of the Heart and Soul nebulae was taken by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope, which has completed approximately three-fourths of its infrared survey of the entire sky. A NASA advisory panel recently recommended that the telescope’s mission end in October as planned, instead of extending its imaging work.WISE was designed to detect the faint glow of distant objects with instruments chilled to the point where they produce no detectable infrared light.Currently, WISE is producing approximately 7,500 images a day in each of four .”This new image demonstrates the power of WISE to capture vast regions,” said Ned Wright, the mission’s principal investigator at UCLA, who presented the new picture today at the 216th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Miami. „We’re looking north, south, east and west to map the whole sky.”Heart and soul-The two nebulae are located about 6,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. The Heart nebula is so-called because of its resemblance to a human heart. The nearby Soul nebula also resembles a heart – only the more symbolic kind with two lobes. Both massive star-making factories are marked by giant bubbles blown into surrounding dust by radiation and winds from the stars. WISE’s allow it to see into the cooler and dustier crevices of these types of clouds, where gas and dust are just beginning to collect and form into new stars. The new image was captured as WISE circled over , scanning strips of the sky. The image is a composite of 1,147 frames stitched together, taken with a total exposure time of three-and-a-half hours. The WISE mission is set to complete its first map of the sky in July 2010. It will then spend the next three months surveying much of the sky a second time, before the solid-hydrogen coolant needed to chill the infrared detectors runs dry.NASA plans to release the first installment of the public WISE catalog in summer 2011. End of a mission?-The original 10-month WISE mission, which was launched in December and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is scheduled to conclude when the supply of solid-hydrogen coolant runs out, which Wright predicts will happen in late October or early November.But, since the spacecraft and telescope remain in good condition, Wright proposed a three-month extension of the WISE mission to complete the second half of the second sky survey in two of the four infrared wavelengths. WISE would be able to capture these images even after the hydrogen supply is exhausted and the instruments are no longer chilled. The NASA panel advised against this three-month extension, which would have added $6.5 million to the program’s $320 million price tag. „It was a science per dollar decision, which is understandable,” Wright told SPACE.com. „The first time you see something is always better than the second time you see it. And, because of the amount of data collected, WISE is a very expensive mission.”Wright is currently examining different options to keep WISE alive following the expiration of its mission. But, the problem remains the space telescope’s large price tag. „We haven’t figured out if there’s any inexpensive way to operate WISE and still take surveys,” Wright said. NEOs, Trojans and comets-About 960,000 WISE images have been beamed down from space to date. The telescope has snapped photos of star-forming clouds, remote, powerful galaxies, and speckled dots that are . So far, the mission has observed over 60,000 asteroids, most of which lie in the main asteroid belt, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. About 11,000 of these near-Earth objects are newly discovered, and about 50 of these belong to a class of NEOs, which have paths that take them within about 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit. One of the goals of the WISE mission is to study asteroids throughout our and to uncover more clues about how they vary in size and composition. Infrared imaging helps with this because it can get more accurate size measurements of the space rocks than using visible light. „Infrared will help us understand more about the sizes, properties and origins of asteroids near and far,” said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator of NEOWISE, a program that studies and catalogs asteroids detected by WISE. WISE is also expected to study Trojans, which are asteroids that run along with Jupiter in its orbit around the sun in two packs – one in front of the gas giant, and one behind. The space telescope has already seen more than 800 of these objects, and by the end of the mission, it should have observed about half of all the 4,500 known Trojans. The results of this study will address competing theories about how the outer planets evolved. „WISE is the first survey capable of observing the two clouds in a uniform way, and this will provide valuable insight into the early solar system,” said astronomer Tommy Grav of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., who presented the information at today’s meeting. Comets have also made their way into WISE images, and more than 72 have been observed so far – more than a dozen of them new comets. WISE is taking a census of the different types of cometary orbits to help explain what kicks comets out of their original, more distant orbits and in toward the sun.
Astronauts Give Shuttle Atlantis One Last Inspection in Space By Robert Z. Pearlman SPACE.com
HOUSTON – Astronauts on space shuttle Atlantis conducted a final inspection of their spacecraft’s heat shield Monday in preparation for their return to Earth. As currently planned by NASA, Atlantis will be landing for the final time this week after flying 32 missions since 1985.The inspection is part of work to ready Atlantis for its safe re-entry into the atmosphere and landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a week-long visit to the International Space Station. The first landing opportunity is targeted for 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT) on Wednesday, weather permitting. „I fully expect things will look good and we’ll be ready for landing on Wednesday,” said NASA mission operations representative Brian Lunney on Sunday. Atlantis and its crew are returning home from the (ISS) after seven days docked to the orbiting laboratory, where they installed a new Russian research module and changed out six solar array batteries over the course of three spacewalks. The shuttle launched on May 14 and undocked from the orbiting lab on Sunday.To prepare for their return, Atlantis’ commander Ken Ham, pilot Dominic „Tony” Antonelli and mission specialists Piers Sellers, Garrett Reisman, Stephen Bowen and Michael Good spent Monday morning using the shuttle’s robotic arm and its 50-foot extension boom to conduct a routine „late inspection” of the orbiter’s thermal protection system tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon surfaces, including the wing leading edges and nose cap.The inspection is to ensure was not damaged by micrometeroids while docked to the station, but it will also provide analysts on the ground with the chance to add to the abbreviated survey data that was collected earlier in the mission after a cable snag prevented the use of the extension’s primary camera system.Reisman and Bowen cleared the snag during the mission’s second spacewalk, so the boom and its associated sensor package was fully operational for today’s survey. Other imagery and engineering data was used to fill in gaps in the post-launch inspection.”We’ve convinced ourselves, as a team, through all of the launch imagery that we’ve recovered via the solid rocket boosters recently, as well as the standard launch imagery, the wing leading-edge sensors, the [modified] flight day two inspection that we got via the digital camera on the orbiter boom sensor system, the rendezvous pitch maneuver images and then images obtained during the first spacewalk that Atlantis and its tile are ready to go and we just need to do the standard orbital debris inspection,” explained lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin. inspections have been standard parts of every mission since heat shield damage led to the tragic loss of shuttle Columbia and its crew in 2003. Atlantis’ heat shield has already received a clean bill of health after two earlier surveys during this mission. Today’s inspection is the final look at the heat shield to make sure nothing has changed while Atlantis has been in space.While the inspections are going on, Good and Bowen were also scheduled to stow the spacesuits using during the mission’s spacewalks for landing. All the astronauts will also take part in exercise sessions to help prepare their bodies for the return to gravity. On Tuesday, Ham and Antonelli are scheduled to test the wing control surfaces and thrusters that will enable Atlantis’ entry glide through the atmosphere while their crewmates will begin packing the cabin for landing and stow the high bandwidth communications antenna that enables video to be sent to the ground.The astronauts will also take part in one last set of media interviews including one for Comedy Central’s „The Colbert Report” with comedian Stephen Colbert.NASA currently plans to retire Atlantis after this flight, but will ready the spacecraft to serve as a rescue ship as a safety precaution for the agency’s final space shuttle mission slated to fly in late November. and some lawmakers have been lobbying to take that rescue mission and turn it into a full-fledged extra shuttle flight for Atlantis, but the has not yet received approval to add the flight.After this mission, only two more shuttle flights remain, on shuttles Discovery and Endeavour, before the orbiter fleet is retired to make room for new technology development and vehicles aimed at sending astronauts to an asteroid or Mars.
World’s Largest Airship Inflated to Create Monster ‘Stratellite’ By SPACE.com
A huge inflatable vehicle as long as a 23-floor skyscraper is tall has become the world’s largest airship in its bid to serve as a stratospheric satellite, or „stratellite,” according to its developers.The 235-foot (72 m) long airship, known as the Bullet 580, has a top speed of 80 mph (129 km/h) and can serve as a high-flying sentinel that stays aloft for long periods of time. Getting the new sky behemoth inflated required six hours inside Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Ala.”Our airships are radically different designs that move beyond the performance limitations of traditional blimps or zeppelins by combining advanced technology with simple construction and the ability to fuel with algae, protecting our environment,” said Michael Lawson, chairman and CEO of E-Green Technologies.The airship is designed to carry payloads of up to 2,000 pounds (907 kg) at altitudes of 20,000 feet (6,096 m). Any cargo aboard the airship would sit within an outer envelope made from a new type of Kevlar, or the same material used to build bulletproof vests. That allows the envelope to have a width just one-sixteenth of an inch thick, but still be 10 times stronger than steel.Airships have undergone a resurgence of interest as both military and civilian operators eye their cost-efficient operations compared to traditional fixed-wing aircraft. But even the modern record-holder for size dwindles in comparison to airships back in their heyday, such as the 804-foot (245 m) Hindenberg.E-Green Technologies considers the Bullet 580 as the first in a wave of airships in production for commercial use. It acquired the airship’s developers, 21st Century Airships, in November 2009.Military and civilian versions of the airship might take on roles for battlefield surveillance, missile defense warning, electronic countermeasures, weapons platforms, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) services, weather monitoring, broadcast communications and communications relays.A maiden flight scheduled for later this year would carry an experimental payload jointly developed by NASA and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. The agricultural and geophysical experiment is designed to measure moisture content in the soil.Getting commercial airship production up and running is expected to create hundreds of textile industry jobs in Alabama, according to a statement by E-Green Technologies. It might also lead to aerospace and aviation jobs in Central Florida and Northern California, where the company hopes to set up operational centers.
Youngest Everest climber wants others to ‘go big’ By TINI TRAN, Associated Press
BEIJING – For Jordan Romero, the 13-year-old American who became the youngest climber to summit Mount Everest, it all began with the desire to dream big.The eighth grader from California said that he first came up with the idea to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents four years ago. On Saturday, he reached the top of the world’s — and nearly completed his quest.”The record is one thing, but standing on top of the world is just the best feeling you could ever imagine,” he said in an interview Monday by satellite phone from the 21,320-foot (6,500-meter) Advanced where his team was resting on its way down.Two days earlier, Jordan had succeeded in scaling the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) peak, accompanied by a team that included his father, his father’s girlfriend and three guides. Before him, the youngest climber to scale Everest had been Temba Tsheri of Nepal, who reached the peak at age 16.Jordan said he hoped his achievement would encourage young people worldwide to set their own big dreams and pursue them.”I’m doing this to inspire other kids, hopefully across the world, to get outdoors and to set goals in life. I’m doing this to set an example for them,” he said.His success means he remains just one climb away from his overall goal of reaching the on all seven continents. The final peak is the 16,076-foot (4,900-meter) Vinson Massif in Antarctica, which he hopes to tackle at the end of the year.The group, dubbed „Team Jordan,” had chosen to climb the technically more difficult northern side of Everest because the Chinese side has no age limits for climbers. The southern approach from Nepal requires climbers to be at least 16.The climb had many tough moments, the teen said. At one point, the water bottles froze, and the team went without for liquids for 10 hours. The most difficult point came when he developed stomach cramps on the .”It was the toughest part of the climb because I was thinking, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’ll make it ‘cause this is the worst pain I had ever felt in my stomach.’ But when we approached the summit, it all just faded away. I just felt happiness,” he said.When the group finally reached the top, Jordan recalled touching the colorful prayer flags draped at the peak before standing with his arms outstretched, yelling in exultation.”I was so happy that all of us as a team, both my parents and all our Sherpas, had made it to the summit,” he said. „I was happy about that … that I had accomplished something so unbelievable. It was a feeling that will definitely be with me for the rest of my life.”His next step was to call his mother, Leigh Anne Drake, who lives in California, with the news.”The first thing I said was, ‘Mom, it’s your son calling from the top of the world.’ Right away, I heard on the other line just craziness going on,” he said.Jordan credits a few good luck charms that he carried with him, including a rabbit’s foot, a Tibetan prayer necklace, a cross from his grandfather, and a pair of kangaroo testicles given by a good friend.The curly haired teenager, from the ski town of Big Bear in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, said his parents have been supportive of his dream ever since he was inspired at age 9 by a mural at school that showed the on the seven continents.”That mural just fascinated me so much. My dad picked me up from school and I said, ‘Dad, I want to climb the seven summits,’ and that was it,” Jordan said.His father, Paul Romero, a helicopter paramedic who is trained in high-altitude rescue, and his father’s girlfriend, Karen Lundgren, have trained him for top-level mountaineering. They reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, the first of the seven peaks, when Jordan was 10 years old. Romero and Lundgren are both adventure racers who compete in weeklong endurance races that combine biking, climbing, mountaineering and paddling through wilderness areas.”They are the most supportive parents ever. I do feel lucky for that. I don’t know if other parents would encourage their kids to go big. But that’s what I’m doing this for — to encourage kids who don’t have that, to go big and set goals in life,” Jordan said. Romero said his goal has always been to help his son attain his dream, even as their quest raised questions about how young is too young to scale Everest, a mountain where harsh conditions have claimed the lives of dozens of climbers. „It’s important to remember, this is all Jordan’s idea and Jordan brought us here. It’s definitely not about a dad dragging his kid to do these quests and do these mountains. That’s a hard thing for people to get their heads around,” he said. „People that know us … understand it very well. They can see into his eyes and understand how driven he is.”Romero said his son’s achievement is already drawing incredible support and attention from the public.”We can’t believe the e-mails and messages and responses we’re getting already on the mountain,” he said. „That’s really what drives Jordan and that’s what drives us.”For the moment, the team is savoring its success and resting up before making their way back to Katmandu, Nepal, and eventually back home.Jordan said he hopes to tackle the final peak in Antarctica by December or January. With this quest nearly finished, the teen already has his eyes on the next goal: He plans to climb the highest peaks in all 50 U.S. states.
Queen Elizabeth II to open new parliament By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II officially opens parliament Tuesday in a ceremony of pomp and history following the election, and will set out the new coalition government‘s legislative programme.The queen takes part in the traditional State Opening of Parliament, before outlining what are expected to be the coalition’s ambitious plans in an address to lawmakers delivered from a throne in the upper house of the legislature.A leaked draft of the Queen’s Speech — in which she sets out in a speech entirely drawn up for her by the government — showed the coalition planned an 18-month programme of at least 21 parliamentary bills.Within days, key school reforms and the scrapping of proposals to introduce a compulsory national would be brought in, according to the draft revealed in newspapers at the weekend.A major proposal was a programme of political reform, with measures to provide for fixed-term parliaments and powers to enable voters to get rid of lawmakers found guilty of , said the Sunday Telegraph paper.It could also lead to a referendum on voting reform — a key demand of the Liberal Democrat party when they were negotiating to go into coalition with the Conservatives, after the May 6 poll.”, fairness and responsibility” lie at the heart of the programme, as well as a „great repeals bill” to abandon laws introduced by the previous Labour administration but opposed by the , said the Telegraph.The finance ministry will be at the forefront of efforts to push through five bills, according to the draft, which highlights the new government’s priority of tackling Britain’s record deficit.Another proposal will aim to ensure that „this parliament and the British people have their say on any proposed transfer of powers to the European Union.”The move is an apparent gesture to eurosceptic Conservatives, many of whom are deeply unhappy at their party’s alliance with the Lib Dems, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.In the State Opening of Parliament, the queen proceeds from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament — the lower house of the legislature — escorted by cavalry in a ceremony which attracts large crowds.Traditions surrounding the ceremony trace their history back 500 years. In its current forms, it dates from the opening of the Houses of Parliament in 1852 after a huge fire.
Divided Europe spreads contagion fears in U.S. By Daniel Trotta REUTERS
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The European debt crisis drew new cries of alarm on Monday as a top White House adviser warned it could slow a global economic recovery, a European Union official sharply critiqued Germany, and investors worried a Spanish bank bailout could signal further distress.Financial markets were already factoring in European risk for the U.S. recovery when White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said „recent events in Europe have introduced uncertainty into the prospects of .”Summers listed Europe’s debt problems as one several potential troubles facing the U.S. economy in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.The euro swooned, U.S. stocks fell and gold climbed 1 percent as some investors worried that Europe’s troubles could trigger a double-dip U.S. recession.Investors’ nagging doubts over whether has a unified commitment to address its debt problems were underscored by comments from the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who called aim to modify provisions of the European Union treaty governing member states’ budgets „naive,” saying it could prompt other members to propose additional changes.”We will not propose treaty modifications even though we are open to good ideas,” Barroso told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.”It would also be naive to think one can reform the treaty only in areas Germany considers important,” he said in comments that highlighted the difficulties Europe faces in enacting reforms while its leaders remain divided.Europe’s problems grew over the weekend when the Bank of Spain took over the running of a small savings bank, CajaSur, after its with another small Spanish lender failed.It was the first of what could be several rescues before mid-year and contributed to weakness in the euro ,which fell more than 1 percent against the U.S. dollar.The Spanish bailout was „a sign that sovereign debt risk is spreading from the public to the private sector,” said Dan Cook, a senior market analyst at IG Markets Inc in Chicago. „This move further highlights the risk to, and weakness in, the European banking sector.”German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been reluctant to come to the aid of indebted European states such as Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal that have undermined confidence in the euro zone economy. The euro zone is the No. 1 buyer of U.S. exports.But relented earlier this month, leading the European Union to announce a $1 trillion safety net for euro zone states and a 110 billion euro aid package for Greece.The measures have yet to restore confidence in Greece, where austerity measures have led to violent street protests.After months of pressure from investors and , the Spanish government last week finally announced sweeping austerity measures that would cut civil service pay 5 percent this year, freeze wages in 2011, and trim 13,000 public sector jobs in a country that already has 20 percent unemployment.That in turn led the country’s largest labor union to threaten a general strike, pitting the Socialist government against its traditional base of support.The International Monetary Fund on Monday said Spain faces , citing „a dysfunctional labor market, the deflating property bubble, a large fiscal deficit, heavy private sector and external indebtedness, anemic productivity growth, weak competitiveness, and a banking sector with pockets of weakness.” [nLDE64N14D]U.S. stocks ended lower, with the Dow industrials down 1.2 percent to post their lowest close since February 10. The broader S&P 500 lost 1.3 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 0.7 percent.”Europe remains the dominant issue, and people suspect that the issues there will translate into slower growth in the United States,” said Gary Shilling, president of investment research firm A. Gary Shilling & Co in Springfield, New Jersey.Gold prices rose more than 1 percent as investors moved into a traditional retreat during uncertain times.”People are going into safety. Things are not going to change overnight,” said George Goncalves, head of U.S. interest rate strategy with Nomura Securities International in New York.(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Washington; Ryan Vlastelica, Wangfend Zhou and Walter Brandimarte in New York; Judy MacInnes and Paul Day in Madrid; Brian Rohan in Berlin; Gavin Jones in Rome; and Ian Chua in London; Editing by Leslie Adler)
Australia expels Israeli diplomat over Dubai hit By Rob Taylor REUTERS
CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s government said on Monday it had ordered the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the use of fake passports in the assassination of a top Hamas militant in Dubai in January.Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said a police investigation had left no doubt Israeli intelligence services had been behind the forgery of four Australian passports used by suspects in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room.”These investigations and advice have left the government in no doubt that was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports,” Smith told Australia’s parliament. „These are not the actions of a friend.”The Australian government ordered an inquiry into the by police and intelligence services, who visited Israel and found the four citizens involved had been innocent of any involvement.”No government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign government,” Smith said. „This is not what we expect from a we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship.”The government, he said, had asked that a member of Israel’s Australian embassy in Canberra be withdrawn within a week. Australia and Israel are traditionally close allies and Smith said he expected relations to cool somewhat. have given names of alleged members of the team that tracked and killed the Palestinian, and said they used fraudulent British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports to enter and leave Dubai.Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in February there was no evidence to link his country to the killing, which also prompted Britain to expel an Israeli in March.But Britain’s then-government said an investigation by the country’s Serious Organised Crime Agency had found 12 forged British passports were used in the hit, copied from genuine passports.Four Australians — Nicole McCabe, Joshua Bruce, Adam Korman and Joshua Krycer — had their identities stolen and used in fake passports held by suspects believed to be involved in the assassination, Smith said.Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.Smith said the passport cloning operation used in his killing was of high quality and had obviously been state-backed.”The decision was made much more in sorrow than in anger,” he said. „The decision was made in our national security interests, made in support of the integrity of our passport system, made in efforts to protect Australians who travel overseas.”Authorities in Dubai had already been briefed on Australia’s findings, he said, along with the other countries involved and close Australian and the United States.(Additional reporting by James Grubel in Canberra; Editing by Ed Davies and Sugita Katyal)
King of Mandela clan in South Africa dies By AP
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa‘s governing party says the king of Nelson Mandela’s Thembu clan has died.In a statement, the African National Congress said King Zwelenkosi Lwandile Matanzima „worked tirelessly to improve the lives of his people and rural communities in general.”He was 39. No cause of death was reported. Local media report he had recently been hospitalized frequently and died Saturday in a hospital in East London, in .Mandela was raised in the Thembu royal household alongside K.D. Matanzima, grandfather of King Zwelenkosi Lwandile Matanzima. During the apartheid years, Mandela clashed with K.D. Matanzima, who collaborated with the to lead one of the homelands set up to deny blacks citizenship.