STAYING INDEPENDENT: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the Fed and other central banks must protect their ability to make key economic decisions free from political interference.PUSHING REFORMS:
The issue is critical as Congress and other governments move ahead on reforms to prevent another global financial crisis.WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Fed often must make decisions such as boosting rates to thwart inflation that are unpopular with politicians but are necessary for a healthy economy.
Obama gets an earful in clash with GOP senatorsBy CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – If President Barack Obama thought having a private lunch with would ease partisan tensions in Congress, he grabbed the wrong recipe.The president walked into a remarkably contentious 80-minute session Tuesday in which GOP senators accused him of duplicity, audacity and unbending partisanship. Lawmakers said the testy exchange left legislative logjams intact, and one GOP leader said nothing is likely to change before the November elections.Obama’s sharpest accuser was Bob Corker of Tennessee, a first-term senator who feels the administration undermined his efforts to craft a bipartisan financial regulation bill.”I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what happened with financial regulation,” Corker told reporters, with perhaps a dig at Obama’s book „The Audacity of Hope.””I just wanted him to tell me how, when he wakes up in the morning, comes over to a luncheon like ours today, how does he reconcile that duplicity?”Four people who were in the room said Obama bristled and defended his administration’s handling of negotiations. On the way out, Corker said, Obama approached him and both men repeated their main points.”I told him there was a tremendous disconnect from his words and the actions of his administration,” Corker said.White House spokesman Bill Burton, who attended the session in the Capitol, said the exchange „was actually pretty civil.”The senators applauded Obama, who had requested the luncheon, when he entered and left the room. Obama told reporters as he departed, „It was a good, frank discussion about a whole range of issues.”Some Republicans were less kind.”He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters. „He’s pretty thin-skinned.”Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he addressed Obama, „trying to demand overdue action” on the giant oil spill damaging Gulf coast states. He said got „no specific response” except Obama’s pledge to have an authoritative White House official call him within hours.Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent, said he pressed the president on immigration issues. McCain said he told Obama „we need to secure the border first” before taking other steps. „The president didn’t agree,” he said.Later, McCain said his views were unchanged by Obama’s decision to send an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border.At the lunch, McCain said he defended his state’s pending immigration law, which Obama says could lead to discrimination. It directs police, when questioning people about possible law violations, to ask about their immigration status if there is „reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally.At the luncheon, McCain said, „I pointed out that members of his administration who have not read the law have mischaracterized the law — a very egregious act on their part.”Burton said Obama told McCain that he has read the Arizona law himself, and his concerns remain.After the luncheon, no one suggested the two parties were even a smidgen closer to resolving differences over energy, immigration and other issues that Obama has said he wants to act on this year. „We simply have a large difference of opinion that’s not likely to be settled until November about taxes, spending and the debt,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Senators said the November elections — all , 36 Senate seats and another three dozen governors’ seats are up for grabs — were not overtly mentioned. But they were an unmistakable backdrop.Republicans hope for big gains, maybe even . They are banking on voter resentment of Obama initiatives such as the new health care law, and many see little point in cooperating with Obama and Democratic lawmakers at this point. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., complained to Obama about the partisan genesis of the health care law, enacted without a single Republican vote in Congress. Administration aides repeatedly have said GOP input was welcome, but none within reason turned up. It’s hard to know if Obama genuinely thought his luncheon visit would melt some of the partisan iciness. Several Republican senators and aides in the room said he seemed to be going through the motions, not making real efforts at consensus.”What’s really important is not so much the symbolism of bipartisanship as it is the action of bipartisanship,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters later.Citing the scant or zero Republican support for the health care law, financial regulation bill and last year’s financial stimulus, Thune said, „What we haven’t seen is sort of the matchup between the rhetoric and the actions to follow through.”As the Senate wrapped up its business Tuesday, Obama was flying to California to headline a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer, one of Congress’ most liberal members and a top this fall.Associated Press writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Laurie Kellman, Jim Kuhnhenn, Julie Pace and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
Troops to the Mexican border: Obama to send 1,200By ERICA WERNER and JACQUES BILLEAUD, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Under pressure to take action, President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border, to force a congressional vote to send the troops.Obama will also request $500 million for border protection and law enforcement activities, according to lawmakers and administration officials.The president’s action comes as chances for comprehensive immigration reform, Obama’s long-stated goal, look increasingly dim in this election year. Obama has been all but compelled to do something since Arizona‘s passage of a tough illegal-immigration law thrust the border problem into the public spotlight.Indeed, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer credited her signing of the controversial new law for compelling Obama to act. Signing the law, Brewer said in a statement, „clearly ignited the talk of action in Washington for the people of Arizona and other border states.”The National Guard troops will work on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement Border Patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border, according to a letter Tuesday from top administration security officials to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.In 2006, President George W. Bush sent thousands of troops to the border to perform support duties that tie up immigration agents. But that program has since ended, and politicians in border states have called for troops to be sent to curb human and drug smuggling and to deal with Mexico’s drug violence that has been spilling over into the United States.The White House released the letter signed by national security adviser James Jones and White House counterterror chief John Brennan not long after Obama met at the Capitol with Republican senators who pressed him on immigration issues, including the question of sending troops to the border.Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have been urging such a move, and Republicans planned to try to require it as an amendment to a pending war spending bill. In a speech Tuesday on the Senate floor, McCain said the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border has „greatly deteriorated.” He called for 6,000 National Guard troops to be sent, and he asked for $250 million more to pay for them.”I appreciate the additional 1,200 being sent … as well as an additional $500 million, but it’s simply not enough,” McCain said.McCain’s amendment would direct the defense secretary to deploy the National Guard troops. The letter from Jones and Brennan took scathing aim at that approach.”It represents an unwarranted interference with the commander in chief’s responsibilities to direct the employment of our armed forces,” Jones and Brennan wrote.Democrats were considering countering McCain’s amendment with a proposal of their own after . The White House wasn’t expected to formally send its spending request to Capitol Hill until after the Memorial Day recess, said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.A military official said Tuesday that details were still being worked out on the , adding that the timing of their deployment was not yet clear. Also undetermined was which units from which states would deploy.The Defense Department, which has been jousting with the for the better part of a year over the possible deployment, had previously expressed concerns that the troops not be used for law enforcement duties. Pentagon officials are worried about perceptions that the U.S. was militarizing the border.The administration’s plans appear to use Guard troops only in a supporting role, according to the military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were still being worked out. Some of the troops will be armed, but others will not.Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said the situation on the ground now is different from when Bush deployed the Guard. Arrests have fallen in the Arizona sector and there’ve been .She said the border is more violent and law enforcement is outgunned. She and other lawmakers want the troops to be armed — they were not in the previous deployment.She said the U.S. needs to „spend what it takes” to secure its border with Mexico. The Mexican Embassy said Tuesday it hoped the National Guard troops would be used to fight drug cartels and not enforce immigration laws. Mexico has traditionally objected to the use of military forces to control undocumented migration, saying such measures would criminalize migrants and open the .Cecilia Munoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, told a group of Spanish-language reporters Tuesday that the National Guard troops would not deal directly with migrants. More than 20,000 Border Patrol agents are deployed now, mostly along the nation’s southern border.Billeaud reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Suzanne Gamboa, Lolita C. Baldor and Luis Alonso in Washington and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Dow dips below 10,000, then bounces backBy TIM PARADIS and STEVENSON JACOBS, AP Business
NEW YORK – The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 to their lowest level of the year Tuesday before a late-day rebound that erased most of the losses if not lingering worries about .The Dow dropped more than 250 points after the opening bell and stayed under 10,000 most of the day, then charged back to finish down only 22 when signals from Washington suggested that banks would not be forced to sell their lucrative derivatives units as part of financial reform. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index even managed a slight gain.But more turbulent days are likely. The market worries that even austerity measures by European governments will not be enough to fix the problem and fight off a prolonged economic slump in Europe, or even another global recession.”It seems like the Europeans are playing ‘tag, you’re it’ — first it was Greece, and now it’s maybe Spain or Portugal,” said Jonathan Corpina, a New York Stock Exchange floor trader and .”We know someone else is next. The problem is that it seems like every plan in place isn’t going to satisfy the needs,” he said.Britain’s Queen Elizabeth opened Parliament with a , saying in a speech on behalf of Britain’s new government that there would be budget cuts because „the first priority is to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth.”Other European countries are imposing budget cuts as well, trying to control their debt. Investors are concerned that these steps will stifle economic growth, and that the growth of other countries, including the U.S., will inevitably be stunted.Besides the financial crisis in Europe, investors were reminded that political issues, such as tension between North and South Korea, can threaten economic growth. Analysts said the unresolved Gulf of Mexico oil spill also contributed to the foul mood.It was enough to send stocks into a deep dive. In just the first half-hour of trading, the Dow sank to 9,774.48, its lowest reading this year, and for much of the day threatened to set a new closing low for the year. The average is down more than 10 percent in just the past month.But bank stocks surged, and the followed, after Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, suggested financial companies should not have to spin off their derivatives businesses, as a Senate provision would have them do.Frank, D-Mass., said he believes banks should be able to use the complex financial instruments to hedge their own risks. Bank regulators and Obama administration officials also oppose the Senate provision, which was inserted by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.The Dow has only closed below 10,000 once this year, in early February. Since then, it has traded below 10,000 seven times but each time managed to push above that psychological barrier by the close.On Tuesday, the Dow finished down 22.82 at 10,043.75. The Nasdaq composite index closed down 2.60 at 2,210.95, and the S&P 500 gained 0.38 to close at 1,074.03.Investors also fled from the euro and commodities including oil, and again sought safety in government bonds. That drove interest rates lower. The benchmark 10-year note’s yield fell to its lowest level since April 2009.The market’s continuing slide, with frequent triple-digit drops in the Dow, recalls the unrelenting selling of the 2008 financial crash — and begs the question of what can halt the plunge.Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management, said good news about jobs or corporate earnings could stabilize stocks by signaling that a U.S. recovery is intact.The government’s monthly jobs report in less than two weeks is expected to show that employers are ramping up hiring further. And companies will soon start giving hints about that ends in June.”You could derail growth in Europe and not derail growth in the United States, but people don’t necessary use a lot of logic when they’re headed to the exits,” Dunigan said.For now, traders are unswayed by upbeat U.S. economic news. They ignored a better-than-expected report Tuesday showing consumer confidence index rose for the third straight month. „Market participants feel like they’re walking on eggshells,” said Oliver Pursche, executive vice president at Gary Goldberg Financial Services in Suffern, N.Y. „Every small piece of potentially bad news is being exaggerated and mentally being fast-forwarded to the worst-case scenario.” Meanwhile, the monthlong effort to cap the BP oil well that has spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is also rattling investors, Corpina said. Oil is coming ashore across a 150-mile swath of the Gulf Coast, endangering wildlife and livelihoods in commercial fishing and tourism. „The worry is that the situation is getting worse and there’s no real fix,” he said. „First we were just talking about the oil industry being affected. Now it’s the environment and fishing industries. Next we’ll be talking about the hotel and leisure industries.”A disappointing report on home prices added to the downcast mood. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index fell 0.5 percent in March from February, a sign the housing market remains weak even with mortgage rates near historic lows.The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.17 percent from 3.20 percent late Monday. It fell as low as 3.07 percent, its lowest level since April 2009.The yield on the 30-year bond briefly fell below 4 percent for the first time since October, before rising slightly. It is down to 4.07 percent from 4.08 percent late Monday.Crude oil fell $1.06 to $69.16 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, in part a reflection of expectations that weak economic growth will curtail demand for fuel.Overseas markets were also down sharply. Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 2.5 percent, Germany’s DAX index lost 2.3 percent, and France‘s CAC-40 plummeted 2.9 percent. fell 3.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 3.3 percent.Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.
Lohan’s ankle bracelet has Breathalyzer technology By STEPHANIE NANO, Associated Press
NEW YORK – If an alcohol-monitoring bracelet can keep celebrities like Lindsay Lohan from drinking, some parents might wonder, Can I get one for my teen?The answer is no.For the time being, the ankle bracelets are only sold to the courts, probation officers and others who want to make sure drunken drivers or anyone involved in don’t drink again.”That might be a market down the road,” said Kathleen Brown, a spokeswoman for Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc., which makes the only alcohol ankle bracelet.In the meantime, the Denver-based company is focusing on the , she said.One of the devices was slapped on Lohan’s ankle Monday by a judge angered because the actress didn’t show up for a hearing last week in Beverly Hills, Calif., and instead attended the Cannes Film Festival in France. It’s her second go-around with the bracelet — and she’s not the only celebrity to sport one.Rapper-actress Eve wore one and ex-basketball star Jayson Williams was forced to earlier this year.The gadgets are much like the better known electronic that have been used for years to restrict suspects or parolees to their homes. (The alcohol bracelets can now do that too, if needed.)The bracelet uses the same technology as a Breathalyzer, but instead of checking the breath for alcohol, it samples the perspiration on the skin. After alcohol is consumed, it eventually enters the bloodstream and a small amount is expelled through the skin.The bracelet tests the skin every half hour. If there’s alcohol, it causes a chemical reaction in the device’s fuel cell. Usually once a day, the information is sent over phone lines to the company, which alerts the courts or probation officer if alcohol is detected at a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 or higher.It won’t pick up and it takes a while to reach the skin. A 180-pound man would register 0.02 if he has two 5-ounce drinks in less than an hour on an empty stomach, according to Brown.The alcohol bracelets — called SCRAM for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring — have been available since 2003, and are in use in every . To date, they’ve been worn by 136,000 people, for an average of 90 days, Brown said. The device costs about $1,500, she said.South Dakota has about 600 units and uses them in its 24/7 Sobriety Project, which requires daily monitoring for alcohol — either two trips to the county jail for a or wearing a bracelet.”Some people don’t want to look at a deputy sheriff two times a day. It’s a humbling experience,” said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, whose office successfully defended a court challenge of the device in South Dakota Supreme Court.Given a choice between the sobriety project or jail, „Most people will obviously choose to go back to their family, go back to their job, to go be a parent and work it out,” Jackley said.Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the SCRAM is used frequently and is very effective. He said there are many stories about people trying to disable the signal.”I heard about someone who tried to put chicken skin between the signal and his skin, but it didn’t work,” Whitmore said.Brown, the , said there are sensors that check for tampering. Stephen Bouchard, a judge in Missouri’s Jefferson County near St. Louis, handles drunken driving cases, and says he’s a fan of the bracelets. They are often required of anyone released on bond, and defendants are charged $12 a day.”You sure don’t want to have the person on bond on an alcohol-related offense going out and getting drunk and hurting someone else. That pretty much stops that,” said Bouchard.He said the bracelets are also used in other alcohol-related offenses, like domestic violence. And on a few occasions, someone has asked to keep the bracelet longer than required.”It’s kind of like their security blanket. As long as they know they’ve got that SCRAM monitor on, they feel more in control of their drinking,” he said.In Los Angeles, defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan, who represents many DUI defendants said the problem with the device is that it is bulky and very uncomfortable. Flanagan said one of his clients had the option of wearing the device or going to jail. After a few days, he said, the man complained that it was irritating his skin and was so uncomfortable he couldn’t sleep. He took it off and went to jail, he said.The latest version is smaller — about the size of a deck of cards — and lighter than the first device.AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
NASA ends effort to contact Phoenix Mars Lander By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science
LOS ANGELES – The Phoenix lander will not rise again.NASA declared the three-legged spacecraft officially dead Monday after repeated failed attempts to regain contact.A recent image taken by an orbiting spacecraft appeared to show one of Phoenix’s solar panels had collapsed from ice buildup.Phoenix landed near the Martian north pole on May 25, 2008, and successfully operated for five months — two months longer than planned — until sunlight at its far northern location waned.Scientists did not expect it to survive the but continued to listen for any signs of life.”We had very little expectation of Phoenix recovering, but it’s one of those things we had to try even when the chances are slim,” said mission Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson.The Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site more than 200 times this year in an attempt to regain communication. With summer arriving in the northern hemisphere last week, tried again, but there was no response.Earlier this month, an image taken by another spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showed changes in Phoenix’s shadows, consistent with predictions that hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide ice accumulating on the spacecraft could bend or break its solar panels.As the first spacecraft to land in the Martian arctic plains, Phoenix used its to dig trenches in the icy soil. One of its early accomplishments was confirming the presence of water ice at its landing site.The lander also detected traces of perchlorate in the soil. On , the chemical can be found naturally in the Chilean desert where some extreme microbes use it as a source of energy. Long used in rocket fuel and other applications, perchlorate is now widely known as a water contaminant.Phoenix was the first NASA robotic mission to use Twitter to communicate with the public. The tweets were courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory‘s media relations office.On Monday, this message appeared on Phoenix’s Twitter page: „From the team: Sleep well (at)MarsPhoenix. One chapter ends but more waits to be written with the science you returned.”
Martian probe Phoenix is kaput: NASA By AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – NASA has declared the US Mars lander Phoenix defunct, writing it off as a victim of the red planet’s icy winter after numerous unsuccessful attempts to communicate with it. Odyssey orbiter passed over the Phoenix landing site 61 times last week in a final effort to communicate but „no transmission from the lander was detected,” the said.The craft landed in the planet’s far northern region on May 25, 2008, and sent back signals until November of the same year when the sunlight waned.An image taken by the orbiter last month suggested it had been damaged by a build-up of carbon dioxide ice during the long, dark winter.”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,” he said.
Bizarre Behavior of Two Giant Black Holes Surprises Scientists By Denise Chow SPACE.com
MIAMI – Some strange behavior from two huge black holes at the center of two different galaxies has been noticed by astronomers.One supermassive black hole, at the heart of a galaxy neighboring the Milky Way, has been mysteriously brightening in recent years, and scientists aren’t sure why. Another of these matter-gobbling behemoths isn’t where astronomers thought it was located.Two new studies on these black holes, the results of which were presented here today at the 216th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, have turned up some surprising results and could help astronomers understand more about the evolution of galaxies and how work.Erratic behavior-In the first study, the erratic, unpredictable behavior of the supermassive black hole within the Andromeda galaxy puzzled researchers studying it. They found that the black hole became 100 times brighter following an outburst on Jan. 6, 2006.After the outburst, however, the black hole entered another relatively dim state, but was still about ten times brighter on average than prior to 2006. The outburst suggests that a relatively high rate of matter had been falling onto the black hole, followed by a smaller, but still significant rate.”We have some ideas about what’s happening right around the black hole in Andromeda, but the truth is we still don’t really know the details,” said study member Christine Jones, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass.The brightening since 2006 could be caused by the black hole’s capturing winds from an orbiting star, or by a gas cloud that spiraled into the black hole.But, the original cause of the outburst remains unclear. The researchers believe that it could be due to the sudden release of energy, such as magnetic fields in a disk around the black hole that suddenly connect and become more powerful.”It’s important to figure out what’s going on here because the accretion of matter onto these is one of the most fundamental processes governing the evolution of galaxies,’ said Zhiyuan Li of CfA.The results of this study imply that the feeble, but erratic behavior of the black hole in the Milky Way could potentially be typical for present-day supermassive black holes.”The black holes in both Andromeda and the Milky Way are incredibly feeble,” Zhiyuan Li said. „These two ‘anti-quasars’ provide special laboratories for us to study some of the dimmest type of accretion even seen onto a supermassive black hole.” (Quasars are the very active centers of galaxies though to surround the central .)Mistaken location-In another unexpected finding, a separate study demonstrated that a supermassive black hole previously thought to lurk in the core of a relatively nearby giant galaxy, called M87, is not actually located at the .Researchers used data from the Hubble Space Telescope to look more closely at the black hole, and found that the supermassive black hole in the M87 galaxy is, in fact, displaced from the center.The most likely cause for the black hole’s position off center is a previous merger between two older, smaller supermassive black holes (SMBH).”The theoretical prediction is that when two black holes merge, the newly combined black hole receives a ‘kick’ due to the emission of gravitational waves, which can displace it from the ,” said lead researcher Daniel Batcheldor of the Florida Institute of Technology.”We also find, however, that the iconic M87 jet may have pushed the SMBH away from the galaxy center,” Batcheldor added.M87, which is located 50 million light-years away, has an active jet that shoots light out of the galaxy’s core. The core is made up of matter that swirls closer to the black hole and approaches the speed of light, combining with tremendous magnetic fields in the process.The material that is ejected from this core area can help astronomers understand how black holes attract and consume matter.”What may well be the most interesting thing about this work is the possibility that what we found is a signpost of a black hole merger, which is of interest to people looking for gravitational waves and for people modeling these systems as a demonstration that black holes really do merge,” said study member Andrew Robinson, of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).It was also discovered that this displacement often lasts for extended periods of time, which could provide a valuable tool for astronomers hoping to understand how and grow. „Once kicked, a supermassive black hole can take millions or billions of years to return to rest, especially at the center of a large, diffuse galaxy like M87,” said David Merritt, co-author of the study and a professor of physics at RIT. „So searching for displacements is an effective way to constrain the merger history of galaxies.”Jets, such as the one in M87, are mostly found in a class of objects called Active Galactic Nuclei. Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes can become active as a result of the merger between two galaxies, the falling of material into the center of the galaxy, and the subsequent merger of their respective black holes.So, it is possible that these findings could also shed light on how – including faraway, developing galaxies known as quasars, the most luminous objects in the universe – are born and how their jets are formed.About three decades ago, M87 was one of the first galaxies suggested to harbor a , but astronomers have since concluded that most large galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have supermassive black holes located at their centers.Since many galaxies share similar properties to M87, it is likely far more common that supermassive black holes are offset from their host galaxy‘s centers than originally thought.The amount that they are offset, however, would be very subtle and researchers would have to rely on observations from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in order to detect them.Merger questions-These new results also raise key questions and introduce new areas of research regarding the merging of galaxies.In particular, said Eric Perlman, one of the study’s researchers and an associate professor of physics and space sciences at Florida Tech, it is believed that our own galaxy is expected to merge with the Andromeda galaxy in approximately three billion years. „The result of that merger will likely be an active elliptical galaxy, similar to M87,” Perlman said. „Both our galaxy and Andromeda have SMBHs in their centers, so our result suggests that after the merger, the SMBH may wander in the galaxy’s nucleus for billions of years.”The study of M87’s supermassive black hole will be detailed in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Space shuttle Atlantis on last leg of last mission By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Atlantis’ homeward-bound astronauts paid tribute Tuesday to their , close to winding up its final journey after a quarter-century of flight.Commander Kenneth Ham noted that Atlantis has spent nearly 300 days in orbit over 32 missions, and traveled 120 million miles. He and his crew took along a small U.S. flag that flew on Atlantis’ first flight.”Atlantis is just a fabulous ship,” said Ham’s co-pilot, Dominic „Tony” Antonelli. „If this ends up being space shuttle Atlantis‘ last flight, we’ve got an American flag here that we’re honored to fly,” he said, holding it up and explaining that it flew on Atlantis back in 1985.This is the last flight on the books for Atlantis. Only two missions remain as NASA’s shuttle program winds down, unless the Obama administration agrees to add one more trip for .Touchdown is scheduled for 8:48 a.m. EDT Wednesday. Mission Control warned the crew that rain could interfere, but noted: „We think we’ve got a pretty good fighting chance.” Atlantis has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Saturday.Mission managers said the results of Monday’s survey of Atlantis looked good and cleared the shuttle for re-entry.With just 26 hours officially remaining in their mission, the six astronauts beamed down a video they recorded over the previous few days aboard Atlantis as well as the International Space Station.”I hope that when she lands successfully — which I’m relying on these guys up front to do — that she’ll go somewhere and get the respect she deserves as a ship of exploration,” said astronaut Piers Sellers, nodding to the pilots on board. He’s flown on Atlantis twice.The astronauts spent Tuesday getting Atlantis ready to come home after 12 days circling the Earth, and checking the critical flight systems. They’re returning from the space station, where they delivered and installed a new Russian compartment, an extra antenna and 12 fresh batteries.In an interview with the crew, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert asked if they were double-A batteries. Astronaut pointed out they were nickel-hydrogen batteries weighing nearly 400 pounds apiece and that he and his fellow spacewalkers had to work out at the gym in advance.”But why would you have to work out? I thought nothing weighs anything in space,” Colbert said.”Oh no, you figured it out,” replied astronaut Garrett Reisman.”Busted!” Colbert shouted. „The whole thing’s a fraud. No wonder they’re canceling the program. It’s all been a sham the entire time.”Given that it’s the third-to-last , the TV comedian asked, „You guys putting your resumes together?”Antonelli replied that he’s been collecting all the school calendars from the local community college back home in Houston and checking on the schedule for the truck-driving class.As for Atlantis’ future, the shuttle will be prepped for a potential rescue mission for the very last , to be conducted by Endeavour no earlier than November.Assuming no emergencies arise, NASA would like to fly Atlantis anyway, in June 2011. Space agency officials said they need to know from the White House by June or July whether that’s going to be possible. That’s how much lead time would be needed to train a crew and flight control team, and prepare the payloads.
Stephen Colbert Makes Out-Of-This-World Jokes With Atlantis Shuttle Crew By Tariq Malik SPACE.com
Comedian Stephen Colbert is training to be an astronaut and tossed some tough questions to the crew of space shuttle Atlantis Tuesday to find out what it’s like to fly on a 25-year-old spaceship.”Greetings spacemen, heroes all!” said Colbert during a lighthearted televised interview with the for his Comedy Central program „The Colbert Report.”Colbert said he’s been visiting NASA’s Johnson in Houston to learn how to be an astronaut and asked for any tips from the six Atlantis spaceflyers. He’s already got going to the bathroom in space down pat, he said.”I’m already practicing peeing in a tube. I’m very good at that,” Colbert said.Astronaut Piers Sellers told Colbert to practice eating by mashing up his least favorite food in a plastic bag, warming it up and squeezing it out for lunch. „You could practice falling,” Sellers added. „Start small. Start with falling off the sofa and then work up to the roof of your house.”Another big question: How’s the mission going?”The mission is going really well,” said Atlantis astronaut Garrett Reisman. „We’ve got a new antenna on the , a new six-back of batteries, a new module docked to the station and generally have defeated the forces of evil. So we’re really happy about how things have gone.”May 14 on a 12-day mission to deliver a new Russian research room and spare parts to the space station. Three spacewalks were performed to deliver the gear and replace batteries on the station. The shuttle is set to land in Florida Wednesday morning at 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT). Colbert was extremely interested in the batteries the astronauts replaced on the space station.”What does it run on, like AAs?” he asked.The space station’s solar array batteries are actually much larger and weigh nearly 400 pounds (181 kg) a piece, astronaut Michael Good explained. So the astronauts had to work out to be able to move them around.That made Colbert suspicious.”But why would you have to work out? I thought nothing weighed anything in space,” the comedian said.The astronauts laughed and jokingly confessed that Colbert had figured it out. They weren’t in space at all.”Busted, the whole thing’s a fraud!” Colbert said. „No wonder they’re cancelling the program. It’s been a sham the whole time!”Actually, NASA is retiring the space shuttles this year to make way for new program aimed at sending humans to an asteroid or Mars. After this mission, only two more shuttle flights remain.The shuttles have been flying since April 1981, with making its first flight in October 1985. According to NASA’s current schedule, this is the final flight of Atlantis after 32 missions to space and 120 million miles (193 million km).”What’s the condition of the vehicle?” asked Colbert. „Is like the ‘check oil’ light on the whole time?”Yeah, every once in a while we have to take it to the service department,” replied Atlantis commander Ken Ham.Colbert said earlier that he loved saying the words „Commander Ham.”With the space shuttle program ending soon, Colbert wondered if his plan to seek a career as an astronaut was ill-timed and asked the astronauts if they were dusting off their own resumes for new jobs.Atlantis pilot Dominic „Tony” Antonelli said he was scouring local community college calendars for truck driving lessons.Colbert also wanted to know more about Sellers, who is a British-born NASA astronaut. His accent gave him away, the comedian said.Sellers assured that while he may be afraid of real aliens in space, he is actually a „legal alien.””Is he riding back in the , or is he riding back in the space lorry?” Colbert asked.”I will be traveling back in the boot of the space shuttle,” Sellers joked. „I’m going to come back as soon as I’ve got my immigration papers sorted out.”At one point, the video signal dropped out.”Gentlemen I can’t see you anymore. I’m going to assume that space still exists, and you’re floating someplace,” Colbert said.Reisman is a longtime fan of Colbert’s show on Comedy Central and actually spoke to the comedian from space once before. Colbert interviewed Reisman for his show while the astronaut was living on the International Space Station during a six-month mission in 2008.Colbert’s interest in space exploration have become more apparent lately. Last month, he debated the merits of sending humans and robots into space with noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.In 2009, he won an online NASA poll to have a room on the named after him, but the named the room „Tranquility” instead. As a consolation prize, NASA named a space station treadmill after the comedian. It’s called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT.Colbert did not ask if the Atlantis crew had a chance to run on his , but in a later interview Reisman said did not have the chance. The treadmill’s time was already booked solid by the station’s own six-person crew.”The treadmill is actually being heavily used by the station crew,” Reisman said. „So unfortunately it there wasn’t time to hop on COLBERT and run him into the ground.”At the interview’s end, Colbert wished the astronauts well and hoped to see them once they returned to Earth.”Thank you so much for your courageous exploration of our final frontier,” he said. „Please have a safe trip home. We look forward to seeing you back on the good Earth.”
NKorea cuts ties with South, raises war rhetoric By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea – Relations on the divided Korean peninsula plunged to their lowest point in a decade Tuesday when the North declared it was cutting all ties to Seoul as punishment for blaming the communists for the sinking of a South Korean warship.The announcement came a day after South Korea took steps that were seen as among the strongest it could take short of military action. Seoul said it would slash and deny permission to its cargo ships to pass through South Korean waters. It also resumed a propaganda offensive — including blaring Western music into the North and dropping leaflets by balloon.North Korea said it was cutting all until President Lee Myung-bak leaves office in early 2013, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch monitored in Seoul late Tuesday.The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification said it would expel all South Korean government officials working at a joint industrial park in the northern border town of Kaesong, and South Korean ships and airliners would be banned from passing through its territory.The North’s committee said it would start „all-out counterattacks” against the South’s psychological warfare, and called its moves „the first phase” of punitive measures against Seoul, suggesting more action could follow.Earlier Tuesday, one Seoul-based monitoring agency reported that North Korea’s leader ordered its 1.2 million-member military to get ready for combat. South Korean officials could not immediately confirm the report, and its military said it had no indication of unusual activity by North Korea’s military. North Korea often issues fiery rhetoric and regularly vows to wage and the U.S.South Korea wants to bring North Korea before the U.N. Security Council over the sinking, and has U.S. support. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to visit South Korea on Wednesday.Clinton was in Beijing on Tuesday, wrapping up two days of intense strategic and economic talks with China, which responded coolly to U.S. appeals that it support international action against North Korea over the warship sinking.The North and South have technically remained at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.Tensions have risen since last week, when a concluded that a torpedo from a North Korean submarine tore apart the Cheonan warship on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.The North flatly denies involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, one of the South’s worst military disasters since the Korean War, and has warned that retaliation would mean war.South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the North Korean statement on cutting ties.However, spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo that although the North was expelling eight South Korean officials from the Kaesong complex, some 800 South Korean company managers and workers will remain. Yonhap news agency said that suggested the North had no intention of completely shutting down the Kaesong park, as South Korea also decided to keep the complex intact.The U.S. and South Korea are planning two major military exercises off the Korean peninsula in a display of force intended to deter future aggression by North Korea, the White House said. The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea.In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was „odd” that North Korea would sever ties to the South, given the precarious state of the North Korean economy.”I can’t imagine a step that is less in the long-term interest of the North Korean people than cutting off further ties with South Korea,” he said.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he expects the Security Council to take action against North Korea, but China — and a veto-wielding council member — has so far done little but urge calm. North Korea is already subject to various U.N.-backed sanctions following earlier nuclear and missile tests.Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday that the U.S. was waiting for Seoul to decide when and how it will bring the issue to the council. South Korea is not expected to go to the council until after visits to Seoul by Clinton on Wednesday and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Friday, a U.N. diplomat familiar with the issue said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contacts. In Beijing, Clinton said she had „very productive and very detailed” discussions with Chinese officials but could not say if any progress had been made in convincing the Chinese to back U.N. action.”We know this is a shared responsibility, and in the days ahead we will work with the international community and our Chinese colleagues to fashion an effective, appropriate response,” she told reporters.Her Chinese counterpart in the discussions merely repeated his government’s standard line.”Relevant parties should calmly and appropriately handle the issue and avoid escalation of the situation,” said.As part of its propaganda offensive, South Korea’s military resumed radio broadcasts airing Western music, news and comparisons between the South and North Korean political and economic situation late Monday, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military also planned to launch and other methods on Tuesday night to inform North Koreans about the ship sinking.South Korea also will install dozens of loudspeakers and towering electronic billboards along the heavily armed land border to urge communist soldiers to defect.On Tuesday, North Korean state media cited the as saying the North’s soldiers and reservists were bracing to launch a „sacred war” against South Korea. The North’s military also claimed Tuesday that dozens of South Korean navy ships violated the this month and threatened to take „practical” military measures in response. North Korea put its army on high alert following a November sea battle with South Korea near where the Cheonan went down in March. The Koreas also fought bloody maritime skirmishes in the disputed area in 1999 and 2002.Relations are at their lowest point since a decade ago, when South Korea began reaching out to the North with unconditional aid as part of reconciliation efforts. Lee has taken a harder line since taking office in 2008, and the South has suspended aid.Seoul-based North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last week ordered his military to get ready for combat.The group, citing unidentified sources in North Korea, said the order was broadcast last Thursday on speakers installed in each house and at major public sites throughout the country.Associated Press writers Sangwon Yoon in Seoul, Matthew Lee in Beijing, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and AP photographer Jin-man Lee in Seoul contributed to this report.
Europe, Korea Fears Roil Global Markets, But U.S. Ends Flat By INVESTROS BUSNESS DAILY
Mounting worries over Spain’s banks sent global markets reeling again Tuesday, but rallied back, erasing all or nearly all their losses.After tumbling 3.1% intraday to a 2010 low, the S&P 500 closed fractionally higher. The Nasdaq ended down 0.1% and the Dow 0.2%. „The downward pressure on U.S. stocks is overdone relative to fundamentals,” said Brian Belski before the Friday afternoon rebound. „Greece, Portugal and Spain are 1% of U.S. exports.” Financials and materials stocks led the afternoon rebound. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., who leads the effort to hammer out final financial regulatory legislation, said the Senate bill’s derivatives language „goes too far.” But he made those comments shortly after New York‘s open, well before markets bounced back. Still, hit their highest level since July 2009, raising more concerns that Europe‘s sovereign debt crisis is spreading to the global financial system and economy. Spain’s Bubble Pain -European banks are paying more for short-term dollar loans than their U.S. counterparts, says Jay Bryson, a Wells Fargo analyst. Spain’s banks are vulnerable to the country’s real estate bubble and property debt. „The big issue in Spain isn’t really the sovereign debt, it’s the debt of the banking system,” said Bryson. „That’s starting to have ramifications on . They’re going up because banks don’t want to lend to each other. We’ve seen this movie before, but we’re still not at Lehman-collapse kind of levels. If the nervousness continues, it could cause a Lehman moment at some point.” The three-month dollar Libor, a key bank loan rate, rose for an 11th straight session to 0.54%. That’s more than double its March 15 level, but far, far below the October 2008 peak of 4.82%. Four Spanish savings banks on Tuesday announced plans to merge on the heels of the Bank of Spain’s Saturday seizure of a regional bank, CajaSur. Spain’s borrowing costs climbed at an auction of three- and six-month bills.On Monday, the International Monetary Fund urged Spain to push forward with a major restructuring of its economy, including an overhaul of union-dominated job markets. The IMF also said Spain needs to consolidate its banking sector quickly.Spain’s Costa del Sol on the southeastern Mediterranean coast is experiencing a Miami Beach-type downturn, says David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s. The commercial real estate sector is also ailing.Construction accounted for an outsized share of Spain’s economic and job growth and bank lending before the recession.”There was overbuilding. The housing bubble burst and they’ve had steep price declines. Banks are going to carry those losses,” Wyss said. „Spain’s big banks seem in generally good shape. The problem is the small banks, the equivalent of the S&Ls here.”The government is going to have to stand behind them, which will add to government debt,” Wyss added. „Spain’s debt level to GDP is lower than Germany’s, but they’re running at a 20% unemployment rate.”The euro undercut $1.22 intraday but made a roundtrip to close exactly flat at $1.2358.The falling euro, analysts say, has boosted exports of capital goods such as machinery. A new report showed March euro zone regional industrial orders surged 5.2%, double forecasts.But the concern is that austerity measures and flagging confidence will more than offset any export boost, especially for countries near the Mediterranean.U.S. Consumer Unfazed -So far European gloom doesn’t seem to have infected Americans’ morale. The Consumer Confidence Index rose in May for a third straight month to its best level since March 2008, the Conference Board said Tuesday.St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said Europe bears watching, but „because of bank guarantees, I can’t really see it going through into the global banking system.”Even so, fears that Europe is heading for a double-dip recession are growing. A European slump would slow U.S. growth just as federal stimulus peaks.The National Association of Business Economists on Monday lifted its U.S. GDP growth forecasts for this year and next to 3.2%. But the survey was taken before European woes intensified. The of leading economic indicators, which fell in April, signals subpar growth ahead, says David Rosenberg, an analyst at Gluskin Sheff.Libor’s steady climb is evidence of growing financial market stress, with Spain and tensions on the Korean peninsula the new flash points, says Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist of Yardeni Research.”The news about Spain’s banking sector corroborates concern that Greece’s crisis may not be contained,” he said.Anti-Deficit, Anti-GrowthItaly on Tuesday joined France, Spain and Portugal in rushing to pass budget cuts to calm financial markets. The new British government has already announced some cuts with plans to unveil much bigger steps next month. But investors aren’t focused on the austerity moves, says Yardeni.”It may be too much, too late,” he said. „Implementing austerity measures, even though they’re long overdue, when economies are fragile may cause a double-dip. The market for now is totally tuning out any positives, like (U.S.) consumer confidence. The reality is no one knows how this will shake out.”Germany, which has blamed speculators for worsening , unnerved markets last week by banning naked short-selling of European sovereign debt as well as some swaps and stocks. On Tuesday, it expanded its restrictions. Asian stocks tumbled to 10-month lows on Tuesday amid Europe’s woes and Korean saber-rattling. Investors continued to pour into U.S. Treasuries as fell again.Despite Libor’s rise, the bond market hasn’t gone haywire, says Oppenheimer’s Belski.”The fixed-income markets in the U.S. aren’t reflecting as much fear as most people think,” Belski said. „Credit spreads are not blown out, swap spreads are not being blown out. Libor is doing what Libor does but that shouldn’t impact corporate America’s valuation.”But U.S. corporate bond sales have plunged in May, perhaps to their lowest levels in a decade.
Europe faces an era of government spending cuts By DAVID STRINGER and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press
LONDON – Wearing her diamond-studded crown, Queen Elizabeth II arrived at Parliament in a gleaming horse-drawn carriage to deliver a message of austerity and making do with less in troubled economic times.The speech laid out the agenda for Britain’s new coalition government — but its theme of slashing a record deficit and spurring fragile growth resonated across Europe‘s ailing economies. announced more budget cuts Tuesday, even as their stock markets and the euro were beaten down by investors fearful of stagnant growth and soaring deficits. Even regional powerhouses like France and Germany, with relatively vibrant economies, are beginning to clamp down on spending.There are no easy solutions. Belt-tightening is an urgent priority but comes with the real danger of stifling growth and launching a double-dip global recession that some experts fear could bring about a „lost decade” like one Japan experienced in the 1990s.Yet failure to clamp down could bring on bond market skepticism or even panic — and a spiral of higher and higher borrowing costs as a result.Also at risk are some of Europe’s cherished welfare protections — from retirements in the early 60s to months or years of unemployment payments that come close to working wages.”The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose in which the medicine is provided,” said Asghar Zaidi, research director for European Centre for Social Welfare in Vienna. „The budgetary consolidation is important, and justified, in its own right, but a delicate balance will have to be drawn between welfare goals and fiscal austerity.”For now, governments are coming around to the view that ballooning deficits are the larger evil.Officials in Rome announced Tuesday that $30 billion in are needed to stave off a Greece-style meltdown. In Denmark, so far largely insulated from the worst of the recession, the government laid out a $4 billion austerity plan that includes lowering welfare benefits and delaying planned tax reductions to meet European Union requirements to keep the budget deficit below 3 percent of economic output by 2013.The Danish government is also restricting child allowance and postponing plans to reduce taxes for high-income earners.Germany, which touts its conservative fiscal management as a model for Europe, will decide next month just how to cut at least 3 billion euros ($3.75 billion) from the budget, part of a push to narrow the gap between spending and income by about 10 billion euros a year from 2011 to 2016. The government is suggesting that it could make fresh cuts to unemployment benefits that now include giving unemployed Germans under age 50 about 60 percent of their last salary before taxes, for up to a year.Unions in France are organizing a day of protest marches and strikes Thursday to demand and the retirement age, now at 60 for many workers who can retire with 50 percent of their average salary and extra funds for retired civil servants, those with three or more children, veterans and others.The conservative French government is pushing for changes, and a parliamentary debate is planned for September.”The first priority is to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth,” the queen said, reading aloud the short and somber speech written by government officials at the opening of Britain’s new session of Parliament. Public sector net borrowing for the ending April 5 was 154.5 billion pounds ($233 billion).Ahead of the speech, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet gave details of an initial $9 billion of cuts — including a curb on official cars and drivers for Cabinet ministers.It’s been an unrelenting year of profoundly bad news for Europe, beginning when Greece’s new government announced in October that its predecessor had concealed a massive and raised the country’s deficit projection from 3.7 percent of GDP to a stunning 12.5 percent and then to 13.6 percent. Fears that Greece could not repay the debt sent interest rates on its bonds soaring. As the European Union played down the danger to the rest of the continent and argued over how to respond, a crisis of confidence in the broader European economy ignited.Markets were only momentarily soothed by a 110 billion euro bailout of Greece involving the country’s 15 and the International Monetary Fund. Even a near $1 trillion rescue package announced soon after to support other eurozone economies failed to dampen concerns about Europe’s shaky finances.Though the measures have helped diminish fears of an imminent spate of defaults, economists and investors are still deeply skeptical that enough is being done to transform the lumbering bureaucracies and sclerotic work rules in place in much of Europe — particularly in Spain, Portugal and Italy. More broadly, they fear the EU will never figure out how to address among industrial powerhouses like Germany and the tourism-dependent nations along the Mediterranean. Some think it’s a lost cause, that nothing can be done within the confines of the euro currency, especially if Germany doesn’t ramp up consumption. „Euroland is destined to repeat Japan’s lost decade experience unless it breaks up fast,” said Diana Choyleva, an analyst at Lombard Street Research.Lawmakers in both chambers of Spain’s Parliament agreed Tuesday to cut their base salaries by 10 percent, joining civil servants in central government ministries in receiving less pay as the country struggles to reduce a deficit equivalent to 11.2 percent of GDP.A nationwide federation of municipal governments also announced pay cuts of as much as 15 percent for mayors and other local elected officials.Many observers are skeptical that Spain is doing enough to avoid a Greece-style crisis. The IMF urged the country Monday to enact speedy and far-reaching economic reforms, saying its was weak and it should urgently and radically reform a labor market that is not easing „structurally high and excessively cyclical” unemployment.Spain has one of the highest jobless rates in Europe now at more than 20 percent, despite having been the continent’s top job creator just two years ago.In Britain’s House of Lords, the queen sat on a gilded throne in the House of Lords and wore the Imperial State Crown — which travels in a separate horse-drawn carriage to Parliament and is studded with 2,000 diamonds — as she outlined the legislative program for the next 18 months. The policy slate promises sharp curbs on public spending and an overhaul in regulation of the financial sector.Hundreds of people lined streets outside Parliament to gawk at the show of pomp and power: mounted cavalry, Yeoman warders — sometimes known as „Beefeaters” — and parading by.Ahead of the speech, there was a fillip for the new government — as the Office of National Statistics raised its estimate of the increase in GDP in the first quarter from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent. But the report also highlighted a continuing imbalance in the economy: government consumption rose 3.1 percent during the year while household spending actually fell.In a House of Commons debate after the speech, Cameron — leader of the Conservative Party — acknowledged there must be tight, and likely unpopular, curbs on public expenditures. „The whole point is we’re getting to grips with spending so we don’t have to put up taxes,” said Cameron, who sat beside deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats.He said ousted leader Gordon Brown and his Labour Party had left the nation’s finances in disarray, „leaving Britain with a deficit that is bigger than Greece’s.”Associated Press writer Pan Pylas contributed to this report.
Officials say asylum seeker boat could have sunk By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia – A boat carrying about 100 asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia in October last year vanished without a trace and may have sunk, officials said Tuesday.Australia had intelligence that the boat left an Indonesian port on Oct. 2 bound for Australia but it never arrived, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service chief executive Michael Carmody told a routine Senate inquiry into government operations.Carmody declined to identify the sources of the intelligence.Australia alerted the Indonesian authorities the next day of information that the boat could be in distress in . Indonesia reported „they had not been able to identify any vessel in distress in the relevant area,” Carmody told the inquiry, without identifying the area.He said Australian intelligence sources later reported that the boat was again headed for the Australian territory of Christmas Island, which is closer to the Indonesian archipelago than mainland Australia.Australian coast guard aircraft searched the approaches to Christmas Island, where Australia has an immigration detention center, but the boat never arrived, Carmody said.”The venture might have turned back to Indonesian waters,” he said, adding that it might have sunk.Carmody’s deputy, Mike Pezzullo, said intelligence on the numbers of headed to Australia sometimes differed from the numbers who arrived, but never had so many remained unaccounted for.”This case stands out in terms of the number of persons involved,” Pezzullo said.Australia is increasingly targeted by asylum seekers from the Middle East and Asia who often fly to Indonesia, then pay people-smugglers to take them on the final leg by .Mohamad Heidari, an Afghan who settled in New York as a refugee in 2003, told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that he last heard from his brother, Habib Heidari, just before he boarded the boat with 100 other asylum-seekers for Australia. The younger brother had paid a $12,000 to get his relative from Pakistan to Australia.Panicked relatives were told that the boat had reached Australia safely by people-smuggling agents who demanded that final payments be made.”They said we would hear in 10 or 12 days, but we haven’t heard anything,” Mohamad Heidari told the newspaper in Jakarta where he is searching for answers to his brother’s disappearance.
Mumbai attacks get the Bollywood treatment by Shail Kumar Singh AFP
MUMBAI (AFP) – A new, low-budget Bollywood film depicting the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks opens in India this week, less than a month after the was convicted and sentenced to death.”26/11″, which was made for just 20 million rupees (420,000 dollars) with a cast of relative unknowns, is due to hit more than 100 screens across the country on Friday.Lead actor Rajan Verma dedicated the film to India’s police and security services, who battled the 10 to bring the bloody, three-day siege to an end.”The film is a tribute to all the martyrs of Mumbai police and our armed forces who lost their lives in the terrorist attack,” said Verma, who plays Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab.”The film has no songs and dance but only action and what happened on that tragic night,” he added.Kasab, 22, was the only gunman captured alive during the attacks, which began on November 26, 2008 and targeted three luxury hotels, the , a popular tourist restaurant and a Jewish centre.A total of 166 people were killed and more than 300 others were injured.Kasab was convicted at a special prison court in Mumbai earlier this month of waging war on India, murder, and conspiracy. He was sentenced to death.The 100-minute film, which has also been touted as a warning that extremism achieves nothing, was previously called „Total Ten” after the 10 militants who arrived in Mumbai after hijacking a fishing boat in the Arabian Sea.Problems finding a distributor delayed its release last year but those involved in the production say that 125 theatres have now agreed to screen the film and India’s censors have given it a „U/A” certificate, meaning children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.Between 20 and 25 film titles relating to the attacks were registered with the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association less than a month after the gunfire stopped.Many of the proposed names focused on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, which was the focus of the siege and saw a 60-hour standoff and between four militants inside and crack commandos outside.One Bollywood film-maker was seen touring the Taj with his son but he later denied he was looking to make a film on the subject amid a that movie producers were looking to cash in on grief.India’s Hindi-language film industry has previously made movies on real-life disasters.A similar flood of applications were received after the 2006 Mumbai commuter train blasts that killed more than 180 people.Four high-profile films eventually came out in 2008 — „Black and White„, „Aamir„, „Mumbai Meri Jaan” (Mumbai My Life) and „A Wednesday” — and were critically acclaimed.
Clinton leaves China after key talks by Christophe Schmidt AFP
BEIJING (AFP) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday left China for South Korea as part of a week-long tour of Asia.Clinton’s departure for South Korea follows the wrapping up of key talks between the United States and China which ended on a positive note, with Washington signalling progress on economic issues and Beijing agreeing to work to bring North Korea to heel.She and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner led a mammoth 200-strong delegation including several cabinet-level ministers to the Chinese capital, underlining the importance of the two-day „Strategic and Economic Dialogue”.The world’s biggest and number three economies moved forward on several trade issues that have dogged ties for months — but are no closer to resolving one key sticking point as China refused to budge on the value of the yuan.Chinese President Hu Jintao said the two sides had had a „candid and in-depth exchange of views”, while Clinton called the dialogue „very productive”.The two sides signed several cooperation agreements on clean energy, nuclear reactor safety, customs and border protection, and student exchanges.They also pledged to continue a dialogue on human rights revived earlier this month after a two-year hiatus, work more closely together to prevent the trafficking of nuclear materials and jointly tackle climate change., who co-chaired the Chinese delegation, called the two economies „increasingly inseparable” but Clinton noted: „We’re not going to agree on every issue.”China and the United States have been at loggerheads since the start of the year on an array of fronts ranging from trade and the value of the and Taiwan.The US Treasury said progress had been made on „several key trade and investment goals” — but the yuan, which critics in the US and Europe say is undervalued to give Chinese exporters an edge, was clearly not one of them.”We want to see China continue on the path of reform of its exchange rate system,” Geithner told reporters. The Treasury said more „intensive discussions with China” on the issue would take place ahead of next month’s G20 summit.China has repeatedly said that it will reform its rate regime at its own pace.”Noise from the outside only delays that process,” Assistant Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters at the conclusion of the talks.The yuan has been effectively pegged at 6.8 to the dollar since mid-2008.Geithner praised China for taking „a series of steps” to address US concerns over its „indigenous innovation” policies, which some business leaders say are reducing foreign firms’ access to the .”We welcome the progress we achieved to provide a more level playing field for American firms exporting to China and operating in China,” he said.The Chinese side meanwhile pressed Washington to lift restrictions on exports of cutting-edge US technology to China.Earlier this week, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said a review of export controls ordered by President Barack Obama would be completed by mid-year, but declined to specify which curbs could be relaxed with respect to China.On the wider diplomatic front, Beijing and Washington emphasised the importance of maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the March sinking of a South Korean warship, blamed by investigators on Pyongyang.The support of China, and one of five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, is seen as critical for the success of any international action targeting the regime of Kim Jong-Il.Clinton demanded that North Korea „stop its ” and called on China to cooperate, but Beijing did not say how it would help to resolve the brewing crisis.Clinton was to fly to Seoul on Wednesday for crunch talks on the sinking of the , which left 46 sailors dead.
New Afghan prison marks change in Obama strategy By Golnar Motevalli REUTERS
, Afghanistan (Reuters) – With his wrists and ankles handcuffed, Lahur Gul sits before a panel of U.S. military officers who will decide whether he is a or can go free.Bearded and wearing bottle-green overalls over loose brown trousers that indicate he is a medium risk to security, he tells Colonel Robert Arnell, who leads the panel, that all he was doing at the time he was captured was looking for firewood.Gul is one of 800 men who used to be kept in a prison on Bargram airbase, the main base for foreign troops in Afghanistan, but since January has been moved to a new detention center nearby, part of U.S. General Stanley McChrystal’s strategy which includes preventing military prisons from becoming breeding grounds for insurgents.”You’ve got to deal with (insurgents) but the second thing you got to do is you don’t make that problem worse,” McChrystal told Reuters during a tour of the center.”I think our experience with all detention operations from 2001 has made us smarter in a lot of ways. It’s made us smarter physically, technically and legally,” McChrystal said. have been held at Bagram airbase since U.S. and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001, but for many Afghans its name has become synonymous with abuse.Two prisoners died there in 2002 after being beaten by American soldiers and many complained of abuse and torture while in captivity.The stories, as well as pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, angered people across the Muslim world and beyond.In September 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to change policy toward prisoners at Bagram, granting them lawyers for the first time and a review of their status every 6 months.”It was not lawful to torture before either, what has changed is the limitation on some techniques. None of the techniques go anywhere near (torture),” said Brigadier General Mark Martins, deputy commander for in Afghanistan.A GLIMPSE OF DETENTION-Inside a dark, hangar-like building, small containers made of reinforced corrugated metal hold other detainees. Through a one-way mirror, visitors can peer into the boxes to get a glimpse of what NATO’s enemies look like.Inside one, a man sways gently in his chair, chanting to himself while fingering prayer beads. In another, a bearded detainee talks to a woman wearing a headscarf who sits next to a tanned, smooth-shaved young Western man taking notes.About 30 of the 800 detainees at the new detention center are foreign, the majority from Pakistan. High risk inmates wear long orange shirts, similar in style to the traditional shalwar-kameez worn by many in Afghanistan and Pakistan.Detainees can take literacy classes or lessons in farming and also have access to a high-tech medical center. There is a playground for their children when they come to visit.About 25 of the most badly behaved and are kept in special housing units — individual cells about 45 square feet in size (3.5 sq m). There is a foam mat, a prayer rug, mattress, toilet and a small wash basin in each.”It’s not isolation, there is no sensory deprivation,” said Colonel John Garrity, who has been showing the center to a select group of Afghan lawmakers, some of whom were ministers under the Taliban.Like Gul, each detainee will face a panel to determine whether they should be released. About a quarter who have been reviewed since January have been sent back to their communities, said Martins. Whether the „ at Parwan” has undergone enough rebuilding and rebranding to shed the reputation of its predecessor a stone’s throw away remains to be seen.U.S. military officers want to be able to hand the prison to the Afghan government in 2012 to chime with a U.S. forces deadline to start withdrawing from Afghanistan.One parliamentarian, Fazlullah from nearby Logar province, said the center was „very good” but that the most important part achievement would be its handover.(Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by David Fox and Sugita Katyal)