It’s getting so that running with the PIIGS is more thrilling — and potentially more dangerous — than going to Pamplona to pretend you’re Hemingway. Over the past month, as the debt woes of Portugal, Ireland, Italy,
Greece and Spain mounted and as investors fled European investments, stock prices fell around the world, interest rate spreads widened and the euro plummeted against the dollar. This all happened just as it appeared the worst of the was finally in the past.Even in the United States — a comparative haven these days with the economy expanding at a 3 percent annual rate — investments have taken a beating. The Dow Jones industrial average has dropped about 10 percent from its late-April peak.Fiscal hawks have been insisting that it’s time to get down to the business of making hard choices about the red ink on the U.S. . And they think they have their catalyst in the threatened collapse of some of Europe’s less robust economies under the weight of a crushing debt burden.Lest Washington start to resemble Athens, they say, the United States needs to act soon to rein in the growth of its debts before creditors flee. (It wasn’t especially comforting that a late-week rally in global stocks and the euro was sparked by China announcing that it would continue to put some of its money into Europe. The scenario of Beijing bailing out the world brings new meaning to the phrase „Hu’s on first.”)We’ll see if the scare has any real effect. However much the White House has genuflected to the notion of responsible budgeting — and regardless of the fact that congressional Republicans denounce those efforts as meaningless, suggesting that the GOP considers itself more committed to the cause — there isn’t much movement in that direction from either side of the aisle on Capitol Hill. And certainly there is not unity of effort. Ideological differences make it almost impossible to imagine that the two parties might find a common approach to addressing the debt question.Many Democrats still see value in boosting spending at least in the short run to help pull the economy out of the ditch, and they don’t talk much about how the checking account isn’t all that flush. For them, the solution to the binge of the recent past is still to raise taxes on the rich, and maybe the banks.For their part, Republicans have no unified approach to cutting spending — insisting mostly on political ploys that are more bark than bite. A new online budget-cutting promotion by the House GOP loudly touts public support to deny a pay raise to and to terminate assistance to states that saw their welfare rolls rise during the recession. But even assuming those proposals might attract broad support, each would save but a few billion dollars a year against a deficit hole that approaches $5 trillion if the are continued. And for now, at least, congressional Republicans have no interest in raising taxes on anyone.Shining a Light That hasn’t deterred the fiscal responsibility crowd. One of the most venerable budget watchdog groups, the Committee for a , has been trying for decades to make people understand that limiting government borrowing is as difficult as it is necessary. The organization’s latest gambit is a fiscal policy nerd’s dream, a website that shows what it would take to stabilize the debt (http://crfb.org/stabilizethedebt/)The online simulator directs a player to choose among a variety of , spending increases, tax cuts and tax increases. The goal is to bring that portion of the debt borrowed from the public down to 60 percent of gross domestic product in 2018 from a predicted 66 percent. It issues a warning to try again if you fail.Most of the choices are based on an annual summary of widely discussed budget options from the , and there are enough of them that even sophisticated Washington hands can get a taste of what it would take to keep the wolves at bay.One thing that becomes clear very quickly is that ideologically pure positions don’t permit the required difficult choices. It’s almost impossible to bring the debt into line through alone — particularly if you want to broaden tax cuts for favored constituencies. Likewise, tax increases won’t get it done unless everyone chips in — including homeowners and workers at the bottom of the .If you stay at it long enough, though, you can find a way to raise some revenue and trim some spending — and see a path to the desired restricted rise in borrowing. Done judiciously, there would even be room in the budget to address some unmet needs.The important point of the exercise is that the United States isn’t another Greece that cannot seem to climb out of its debt hole. It’s possible both to act responsibly and to do what’s necessary.Still, lawmakers will ultimately have to make those choices and demand those sacrifices. And, unless the message gets subverted by ideologues — or people turn away because the weeds are too deep to navigate — tools like the online simulator sponsored by CRFB may allow the public to learn the hard truth.
Military couples balance raising children, warfare By MELISSA NELSON, Associated Press
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Four-year-old Ava abandons her playmates at school, flying into the arms of Air Force Sgt. Stacia Zachary. The mother and daughter head to the playground.Their afternoon routine will change in August, when Zachary deploys to Afghanistan for six months and her husband, Air Force Sgt. Christopher Zachary, tackles the solo parenting duties for Ava and her 13-year-old half brother. Then in December, dad will deploy and the kids will go to Idaho and stay with an aunt until .Growing numbers of American servicemen and women are married to each other — up 35 percent from 2000 to 2007 — and eight years of war that have stretched the military’s resources mean deployments for both spouses can come in rapid-fire succession.Many of those couples have children, although the Pentagon does not track that number. For the kids, it means rarely having both parents at home simultaneously. When both are gone, or when duties keep the home partner too busy, extended families often come into play. Kids head to grandparents, aunts or other relatives, sometimes across the country.It’s a unique sacrifice military families make to combine having a normal life with a state of drawn-out war. It has its own stresses and rewards, couples say.”In a lot of ways, our children serve, too,” says Stacia Zachary, a combat photographer.For the parents, it can put added strain on marriages as they spend months apart and worry, like the kids, about a loved one on the battlefield.”We’ve been married seven years, but we figured that we’ve spent only two and half of those together,” says Christopher Zachary, who serves in the Air Force special forces.But dual military marriages can also foster closer ties with extended family, and help sustain a solid marriage because fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines better understand the demands and culture of military life than civilian spouses, couples say.The Zacharys were among 128,347 active duty and reserve members of the military married to other service members in 2007, the latest year for which Department of Defense statistics are available. That was a 35 percent increase since 2000, when there were 95,336 dual military couples. It does not, however, track the number of children dual military couples have.With no end in sight to the wars, more military couples are deciding not to put off having children, said Ann Huffman, a psychology professor at Northern Arizona University who has studied dual military couples for the Army. The economy has played a role too — the good paying, steady jobs, and couples are reticent to give up one income in this economic downturn, she said.Dr. Michelle Freedman, chief of Family and Child Service at Madigan Army Medical Center’s Department of Psychology in Tacoma, Wash., says the center recently saw a lot of 4 and 5 year olds with deployed parents getting kicked out of preschools. Freedman said the kids were acting out because they were upset about changes at home. The worst-case scenario for children who have too much upheaval is an inability to form an attachment to any caregiver, she said.”But as long as a caregiver is sensitive and loving and nurturing, the children will get through the transitions pretty well. Kids are really very adaptable,” she said.Tiny Ava Zachary has saluted the American flag since before she could talk. Kyler, her 13-year-old stepbrother, worries about his dad and stepmother whenever they leave on another deployment. He’s long been old enough to understand they are headed to dangerous places.The deployments aren’t easy for the Zacharys’ extended family — her parents and his sister — who are helping raise the children. Stacia Zachary’s father, Gary Tieman, said his granddaughter was just 10 months old the first time he cared for her at his home in Delran, New Jersey, while his daughter was away.”But on the second deployment she was 3 and understood a lot more,” Tieman said. „There were times when she just wanted to go home to Florida and be with her mom and dad and brother.”Saying goodbye to Ava when her parents returned was tough because they had grown close, he said.Melissa Zachary, Christopher Zachary’s sister, said her nephew became part of her when he moved in with her in Eagle, Idaho. „I was really proud of how well Kyler handled the separation. He worked hard in school and helped me at home,” she said. But before his dad and stepmother returned, Zachary said she and Kyler spent a week „getting on each other’s nerves.” „In my opinion (it was) both of our ways of making the separation a little easier,” she said. Dan and Maurita Blessing retired in 2007 as Navy chiefs with 24- and 23-year careers as electronic specialists. The couple had four children while on active duty. They decided to retire and create a permanent home for the children, now ages 13 to 21, because the family was ready for stability after years of moving. And the possibility of either parent being sent on an extended dangerous deployment grew the longer they stayed in the Navy. Chris Blessing, 21, recalls fearing for his mom’s safety when he was younger. „After 9-11, I never worried about my dad because I thought he could take care of himself. I worried a little about mom because she is our mom,” he said to the laughter of his sister and brothers.The family made it through numerous moves — to Japan, Hawaii, Florida and elsewhere — with the help of extended family and friends. „You learn to cope and that’s something I tried to teach my young sailors I supervised when they came to me with family issues,” Dan Blessing said. Air Force Sgts. Jamie and Sean Stewart and their 3- and 9-year-old sons also know the challenges of military life during wartime. In 2008, dad took the children trick-or-treating by himself and mom listened over the telephone from Iraq as her sons tore open Christmas presents.”Deployments and war are normal topics for our family,” says Jamie Stewart, a medic who has worked in emergency rooms at military hospital in Iraq and Kurdistan. „Spending time with our children is one of the sacrifices we’ve made to serve.” Sean Stewart says raising the children on military bases around other military families makes it easier when he or his wife head off on a lengthy deployment. „We talked about getting out but the Air Force is our community. We are dedicated to our jobs and neither one of us wants to leave,” he said. Still, it’s called a sacrifice for a reason. Stacia Zachary’s eyes fill with tears when she recalls leaving Ava as an infant to attend pre-deployment training. Later, she left for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan where she received the military’s highest award for combat photography. But when she returned, her daughter didn’t recognize her. Ava had gotten used to Christopher Zachary taking to her daycare, brushing her hair, preparing her meals. Stacia Zachary said the pain of leaving a child for deployment is overwhelming. „It’s an expectation that you are asked in this profession that you are not asked in other professions,” she said.(This version CORRECTS in 2nd graf that Ava’s sibling a half brother sted stepbrother.)
Wal-Mart makes splashy price cuts to get mojo back By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO, AP Retail
NEW YORK – Wal-Mart is counting on $1 ketchup bottles and sub-$4 cases of Coke to get its low-price mojo back.The sharp cuts at its U.S. , which came ahead of Memorial Day weekend, have already pushed rivals such as Target into price wars. And the markdowns are expected to keep coming throughout the summer.They’re one of the boldest moves the world’s largest retailer is making to turn around sluggish business at its U.S. namesake chain and win back shoppers from rivals. The cuts aren’t across the store but target 22 foods and other essentials at an average savings of 30 percent — splashy enough to get attention and perhaps change perceptions.The world’s largest retailer is also restoring items like certain soups and laundry detergent it stopped carrying when it tried to declutter its stores. It’s also pushing more basic clothing such as socks and underwear after putting too much focus on trendy items that didn’t sell. was one of the few beneficiaries when the Great Recession began, as shoppers traded down to save money. Now it’s having trouble keeping customers in a slowly recovering economy. Cash-strapped shoppers are looking elsewhere for better deals such as dollar stores and local grocery chains. And some wealthier customers, feeling more flush, are starting to head back to the mall.Wal-Mart, which generated more than $400 billion in revenue in 2009, has blamed stubbornly high unemployment and for adding even more financial strain on its blue-collar customers, some of whom have limited access to financial services and are running out of unemployment benefits.But it also takes part of the blame for four straight quarters of declines in revenue at Walmart stores open at least a year. That’s a key indicator of a .”Wal-Mart is all about price, and they’re all about one-stop shopping. Those are the key ingredients,” said Bob Buchanan, a former retail analyst who now teaches finance at Saint Louis University. „Now, you kind of scratch your head and wonder if either of them are true.””Wal-Mart has made a lot of noise, but customers want to see it in the stores,” he continued. „This action is long overdue. They need to drive that message hard.”Deloris Harris, 72, of Ridgeway, S.C., said she pulled back from food shopping at Wal-Mart in the last year because chains such as Food Lion were offering even better deals.”Some of the stuff isn’t that cheap,” said Harris, who picked up 10 ears of corn for $2 and hamburger rolls for 99 cents at Food Lion on Friday. But the 24-pack of Coke for $5 at Wal-Mart caught her attention Thursday night on a run to buy Tylenol. She grabbed it and planned to go back Friday to pick up deals on cleaning supplies.Wal-Mart acknowledged during its latest that its moves to carry fewer items went too far. It’s now replenishing 300 it had dropped. Analysts estimated that Wal-Mart pared up to 15 percent of its inventory, sending shoppers elsewhere in search of their favorite brands.Wal-Mart is still making big profits. Its first-quarter rose 10 percent, fueled by cost-cutting and growth overseas. Wal-Mart’s thinking: Lower costs let it lower prices, which in turn should drive up revenue and that money would be invested to yield more cost savings.In fact, Wal-Mart is bearing the cost of some of the , not its suppliers, according to Bill Pecoriello, an analyst who heads ConsumerEdge Research LLC, based on discussions with industry officials.According to Pecoriello, on a basket of five food items, from Coke to Lay’s potato chips, the total price was $11.23 at Wal-Mart, 24 percent less than it was a year ago. It’s also almost 14 percent lower than Kroger and almost 26 percent lower than Safeway, according to Pecoriello’s estimates. The firm gathers pricing data representing 15,000 stores across the country.That doesn’t include Wal-Mart’s move to lower cans of name-brand Coke and Pepsi further in the past few days, from the announced discounted price of $5 to as low as $3.77 in certain markets. The original price was $6.98 for a 24-pack.Pecoriello noted in his report that Target was selling 12 packs of soda for $2, roughly matching Wal-Mart’s price, while Kroger was selling 12 packs for $2.50, less than a year ago.Some Wal-Mart stores have sold out of the cans and suppliers are having trouble keeping up, Pecoriello said. He added he hasn’t seen such low prices on soda in at least five years and estimates that the overall price of soda is down about 20 percent from a year ago. Linda Blakley, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, declined to comment on sales and said it has the lower-price 24-packs only where it faces „regional competitors.” PepsiCo declined to comment, and officials at Kroger Co., ., and Coca-Cola Co. didn’t immediately return calls. Though it sells all kinds of items, groceries are what keep customers coming back, and hits hard on the theme of splashy low prices in recent TV commercials. One shows a friendly associate walking down the store aisle placing the discounted items, from Heinz ketchup to Breyers ice cream. The ads put the splashy low prices, such as the $1 deal for a big, 40-ounce ketchup bottle, at center stage. The original price was $2.42. Wal-Mart has returned to advertising some of its deals in newspapers, the first time since June 2006, according to Michael Exstein, an analyst at CreditSuisse. In addition to its store circulars, Wal-Mart advertises in newspaper inserts like Parade, which have lower costs and require a longer lead time, Exstein said.”We are working hard to bring our customers the best prices on items they need right now; and to share the news of these price cuts aggressively,” Blakley said.
Centre-right wins Czech election on austerity plan By Robert Mueller and Jana Mlcochova REUTERS
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Center-right Czech parties advocating austerity to prevent a Greek-style debt crisis beat pro-welfare leftists in an election on Saturday and looked set to form a government able to push through deep economic reforms.The result is likely to end a year of uncertainty in which a caretaker cabinet has tried to steer the country through after a center-right government collapsed in the middle of Prague’s tenure of the rotating EU presidency.While coalition talks including a new, untested centrist party may be tough, the outcome virtually eliminated chances of a stalemate.Investors are keen for a to nurture the European Union and NATO member through a nascent recovery after its economy contracted by 4.1 percent last year.Civic Democrat election leader Petr Necas, who had said the leftists would lead the Czechs to national bankruptcy, said he would aim for „a government of budget responsibility” and his party should name the prime minister of any coalition.”It’s good news for the Czech Republic that responsibility won over populism, and that the Czech left was not allowed to take power,” he said. „It is great news that will allow the Czech Republic to avoid a repeat of the Greek scenario.”WARNINGS OVERBLOWN-With Czech public debt hovering at only 35 percent of annual — half the EU’s average — economists say invoking Greece or warning of bankruptcy may be overblown.But they agree that reforms of the pension and health systems are needed. They say a right-leaning cabinet is the best option for the economy and would help lift the , which fell by 0.8 percent against the euro on Friday on fears that an inconclusive vote would produce a weak government.The Civic Democrats have proposed private retirement accounts to prevent deepening deficits in the pension system; cutting the public deficit to the EU-prescribed level of 3 percent of GDP by 2012, from 5.9 percent last year; trimming social benefits; and reforming welfare and .”They seem pretty committed to trying to bring the deficit down,” said Barclays economist Daniel Hewitt.”I think this will be crown-positive.”The leftist Social Democrats won the most votes of any party, garnering 22.1 percent. But center-right parties together secured a strong parliamentary majority, led by the Civic Democrats on 20.2 percent, according to official results with 99 percent counted.Their potential allies, the conservative party TOP09, had 16.7 percent, and the centrist Public Affairs 10.9 percent.Public Affairs is a that agrees with the rightist groupings’ fiscal stance, but one that analysts say could be unpredictable in coalition talks.Public Affairs leader Radek John, a popular former TV host, said he would support the center-right on fiscal reforms.But his party has almost no record in policymaking, a small membership and a reputation for a populist streak that could make it a volatile partner.Necas emerged as the Civic after his predecessor, former prime minister Mirek Topolanek, stepped down this year. A bespectacled trained physicist, Necas is seen by many Czechs as a thrifty everyman who has managed to distance himself from the scandals that have plagued his party.LEFTIST LOSS -President Vaclav Klaus is expected to pick a leader to start coalition talks in the coming days after results are verified.If the three center-right parties join forces, they will have the largest ever majority for a Czech government — up to 120 of the 200 — and could end years of policy gridlock that has caused Prague to lag its ex-communist peers in pension, healthcare, and welfare reforms.Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek, a leftist reviled by conservatives for an aggressive style but favoured by many Czechs for his pledges to raise taxes on companies and the rich to expand social benefits, and quit as leader.”People have chosen the direction the republic should go in, and it is a different direction than the one the Social Democrats were offering,” he said. „It must be clear to everyone that this country is on track for a right-wing coalition.”The result also quashed the fears of many Czechs that the Social Democrats could take power with backing from the Communists, who had 11.3 percent.The Communists have not shared power since their totalitarian rule ended in the .
Humbled by crisis, Russia and EU eye summit reset By Conor Humphries REUTERS
MOSCOW (Reuters) – and the European Union, both humbled by economic crisis, are set to brush geopolitical disputes aside at a summit next week and instead focus on brass-tacks measures to boost their economies.Both and the EU leaders visiting the Russian city of Rostov on Monday and Tuesday are too preoccupied with financial problems at home to risk exacerbating their few remaining disagreements, analysts said.”For once, this summit should look less like a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral and more like a friendly game of poker,” said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at investment bank Uralsib.The summit agenda is focused on and investment, technology exchange and easing visa regulations.But behind the scenes, top of the EU agenda will be securing an assurance that Russia will not do anything to undermine confidence in the euro, Weafer said.Russia’s Central Bank chairman on Thursday said „for now” he did not see the need sell any of the 41 percent of about $450 billion of currency reserves held in euro.Moscow’s main demand is cutting visa requirements for Russians traveling to Europe, a long-running aim that has caused increasing frustration as Brussels scraps visas for poorer states such as Bosnia and .”We want to stop talking on a philosophical level about scrapping visas and start talking about the actual conditions,” Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said at a pre-summit briefing on Friday.Medvedev is also seeking EU help in weaning the off its dependence on energy exports, which contributed to a 7.9 percent collapse in Russian GDP last year.Moscow and Brussels agreed a „Partnership for Modernization” at their last summit in November through which the EU would provide technology, training and investment to Russia in return for reforms to make Russia’s economy more open., who reacted furiously to European hostility to bids by Russian companies to invest in German carmaker Opel and aerospace group EADS (EAD.PA), say they want Europe to back up the partnership plan with concrete gestures.-The atmosphere at Monday’s informal dinner and Tuesday’s summit should reflect growing warmth over recent months. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described their last summit in November as one of the best ever.A leaked draft this month spelled out a friendlier, more pragmatic foreign policy, raising hopes among Western diplomats for a softer stance from Moscow.But a better atmosphere will not necessarily translate into an ambitious summit agreement, said Katinka Barysch, deputy director of the London-based Center for European Reform.”The relationship looks better, feels better, smells better,” said Barysch. „Whether that can be translated into concrete achievements remains to be seen.”One discordant note may be struck by EU complaints on rights abuse in Russia. plan a protest in Rostov and rights groups are calling for a tougher line from Brussels.Russia has its own complaints, specifically the treatment of Russian minorities in the Baltic States. But ultimately the success of the summit depends on the new EU leadership, headed by the EU’s first full-time president Herman Van Rompuy, convincing Russia to take it seriously, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of . „The question for Russia is whether the new EU institutions can deliver,” said Lukyanov. „Right now Russia does not really see the EU as a global player.”(Editing by Louise Ireland)
Economy, immigration drive California governor race By Peter Henderson REUTERS
REDWOOD CITY, California (Reuters) – California’s dismal economy and fears the nation’s largest population of are stealing scarce jobs are dominating a suddenly tight race for the Republican nomination for governor.With a week and a half to go before the primary election, billionaire front-runner Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay Inc, is betting that her focused agenda of creating jobs, cutting government spending and „fixing” education in the most populous state will assure a victory.But self-described „underdog” candidate Steve Poizner, the insurance commissioner and former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has seized on as a way to draw a clear line between himself and Whitman.A surge in support for Poizner earlier in the month has turned what seemed to be inevitable victory for Whitman into a possible come-from-behind win for Poizner.The victor of the June 8 primary will face off against Jerry Brown, the current attorney general and former governor who has sewn up the Democratic nomination by scaring off major rivals. He has hung back so far, allowing Poizner and Whitman to bloody each other.Moderate Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. His 6 1/2-year tenure has been marked by battles over spending with the Democratic-controlled Legislature as the economy deteriorated.Whitman has spent about $80 million and Poizner about $25 million, funded mostly by their private bank accounts, in a nasty contest to prove themselves fiscal and social conservatives. The contest left some voters confused.Jobs was the key theme at dueling rallies by the on Friday about 3 miles apart in Silicon Valley, where each made a fortune before deciding to give politics a try.Voters described Whitman as „commanding” with a more comprehensive plan and Poizner as „down home” with a clearer focus on immigration.NO-LONGER-GOLDEN STATE-„Did anyone ever think California would have the third-largest unemployment rate in the country?” Whitman asked workers at a concrete plant.State unemployment is at a modern high of 12.6 percent, a housing rebound seemed to fade in April, and every day is adding to the state’s $20 billion budget deficit.”I know we can make the Golden State golden again,” she said, arguing that what was needed was focus rather than trying to „boil the ocean.”Whitman and Poizner both want to cut spending and taxes, improve education and address illegal immigration, but Poizner told reporters that immigration would be key to the last two weeks of campaigning. Many in the audiences echoed his words.Poizner has embraced a controversial that requires police to determine the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect are in the country illegally. Whitman has opposed it but said she would defend the border.”She has three major objectives,” Poizner told reporters before his event. „Illegal immigration is not one of them.”Whitman’s strategy of ignoring immigration did not deter Julie Giannotta, a self-described ultraconservative who left the Whitman rally at a concrete plant feeling hope.” is contrary to job creation,” Giannotta said, and so Whitman must oppose it, she reasoned. „I hope she is the real deal.” Contractor Erin Lucien, who attended both events, said immigration was top of his mind and he now favored Poizner.”On a Friday afternoon I should be working, but what’s out there is going to ,” he said.(Editing by Peter Cooney)
No Memorial Day Barbecue for Astronauts in Space By Tariq Malik SPACE.com
While many Americans enjoy a long holiday weekend this Memorial Day, there will be no barbecues for astronauts on the – and not just because open flames aren’t allowed on the spacecraft.The six people living on the space station have a busy weekend of packing ahead and will spend Memorial Day shifting command of the orbiting lab to its new Expedition 24 crew instead of relaxing, said Friday.That staff change is coming as station crewmembers Oleg Kotov of Russia, Timothy „T.J.” Creamer of NASA, and astronaut Soichi Noguchi of Japan prepare to return to on Tuesday, June 1.”There are no formal plans to mark Memorial Day on the station this Monday, in part because the crew will be extremely busy preparing for the departure of Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi on the following day,” NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told SPACE.com.Memorial Day in space-But Humphries said the space station crew has not forgotten what Memorial Day is about in the United States.”Some crew members have been remembering our troops every Friday by wearing red shirts. T.J. Creamer is continuing that tradition today,” he added. Creamer is a U.S. Army colonel making his first long-duration spaceflight on the space station.There won’t be a Memorial Day cookout, though. Open flames aren’t allowed on the because they pose a fire risk.Kotov, a Russian cosmonaut, commanded the space station’s Expedition 23 crew. He arrived at the space station in December on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that also ferried Creamer and Noguchi to the orbiting laboratory.Since then, the spaceflyers have hosted three visiting NASA space shuttles that delivered vital spare parts and supplies, as well as a new NASA room, seven-window observation deck and Russian research module.The Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft that brought Kotov and his two returning crewmates to the station is due to undock from the outpost Tuesday at 8:08 p.m. EDT (0008 Wednesday GMT) and land on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT).Ready for home-This month has been a frantic marathon of activity for the space station’s crew. The astronauts and cosmonauts discarded an unmanned cargo ship, moved a Soyuz vehicle to a new docking port to make way for a $200 million Russian compartment called Rassvet („Dawn” in Russian). That new space room was delivered by NASA’s shuttle Atlantis, which launched to the station on May 14 and returned to Earth this week to wrap up its last planned flight.On Monday night at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 Tuesday GMT), Kotov will officially hand control of the space station over to fellow cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who will lead the outpost’s new Expedition 24 crew.Skvortsov arrived at the space station in early April with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. The trio of spaceflyers will remain behind to await the arrival of three new crewmembers slated to launch from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 15.
NASA Revives Voyager 2 Probe at Solar System’s Edge By Zoe Macintosh SPACE.com
NASA engineers have fully revived the far-flung Voyager 2 probe on the edge of the after fixing a computer glitch that scrambled its messages home for nearly three weeks. A single bit flip in one location in the 33-year-old probe’s memory storage caused the problem, and was remotely reset Sunday by engineers at NASA’s , Calif. After a computer reset, the Voyager 2 is back on track, they said.The malfunction began April 22 while Voyager 2 was flying 8.6 billion miles (13.8 billion km) from Earth in the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that surrounds our solar system. Mission scientists could not decipher the probe’s messages and put the spacecraft in an engineering mode to just send health updates to Earth.The actual cause of the computer glitch is still unknown, NASA’s Voyager 2 project manager Ed Massey told SPACE.com.Voyager 2 hiccup in deep space-Memory bit flips and other electronic problems have affected spacecraft, and even Voyager 2 and its twin , in the past. But they occurred when the spacecraft were much closer to Earth, around 1 or 2 astronomical units (AU).One AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles (151 million km). That’s close enough for their onboard systems to be affected by the electric charge of the sun’s , Massey said.”In some spacecraft that are closer to the sun one could think of single event upsets caused by solar activity. But we’re so far away, it’s hard to say that’s what caused it,” he added. „We’re like 93, 94 AU out.”Way, way out there-The two Voyager probes are currently the farthest human-built objects from Earth. Voyager 1 is about 10.5 billion miles (16.9 billion km) away from Earth and in perfect health. Their signals take nearly 13 hours to travel to NASA’s worldwide Deep Space Network of listening antennas and back.After detecting the problem on Voyager 2, engineers ordered Voyager 2 on May 6 to only send engineering data to Earth until they could solve the glitch. That occurred on May 12, when engineers realized that a single memory location had been changed from a 0 to a 1.By May 19, commands to reset the bit were sent to and the probe resumed sending science data to Earth on May 22. NASA announced the deep space operation’s success this week.NASA launched Voyager 2 in 1977 primarily aimed at studying Saturn, though the spacecraft gained fame for its so-called „grand tour” of the solar system that also included flybys Jupiter, thanks to a planetary alignment that only occurs once every 176 years.Now, both Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 are headed out of the solar system entirely. Scientists hope the data they are sending back will help answer questions surrounding the magnetic bubble around the solar system.No known source of magnetic or electric field exists in the membrane which separates the heliosphere from , said Massey. Voyager 2 has occupied this region since 2007, said Massey, and has not seen any problems.”The real question is whether we’ll ever know,” He said.
Merkel feels the heat from Europe’s financial firesby Simon SturdeeAFP
BERLIN (AFP) – Barely half a year into her second term at the head of Europe’s biggest economy, has found herself under fire at home and abroad over a whole range of issues, with the Greek debt crisis top of the list.But her actions are largely explained by severe political pressure at home, commentators say.With Greece teetering on the edge of financial meltdown a few weeks ago, Merkel was accused of foot-dragging over riding to the rescue together with Germany’s and the International Monetary Fund.Similar charges were levelled when it came to arming Europe with a trillion-dollar fire extinguisher to stop the flames spreading to other debt-ridden eurozone members such as Portugal and Spain.”When Germany finally agreed to contribute to a bailout fund — under threat of a continentwide crash — Europe?s economic problems were far worse, and had to ante up a lot more cash,” a New York Times editorial said. Then came Germany’s surprise ban on naked short selling — risky investment bets — that together with an alarmist warning about the euro’s future from Merkel wiped billions off stock markets and sent the single currency tumbling.Like so much of Merkel’s recent behaviour, this short-selling ban, and plans to widen it by law, have „a domestic political background,” said Ralf Jaksch from the Centre for (CEP).”A majority of lawmakers in the government coalition only voted in favour (of the eurozone bailout) with great pains and were far from convinced it was the right thing to do,” he said.Germany’s response to the eurozone crisis, pressing for tighter EU budget rules, has hit choppy waters too, with the , Jose Manuel Barroso, slamming Germany as „naive.”Much to Merkel’s annoyance, others have also lashed out at Germany’s export prowess, the fruit in part of government efforts not mirrored elsewhere in Europe to keep wages down, calling on her to boost consumer spending instead. made a pointed comparison with China in Berlin last week, saying Beijing was „recognising that imperative” to boost domestic demand. He did not repeat the compliment for Germany.Bild, the mass-circulation daily, has treated Merkel to a roasting over Greece, screaming in mid-May: „Yet again, we are the mugs of Europe.”Broadsheets have scarcely been kinder, and the German public is even showing growing signs of falling out of love with the because of the recent turmoil.A disastrous election result on May 9 in North Rhine-Westphalia robbed Merkel’s governing coalition of its majority in the upper house, constricting her ability to pass legislation in the future.The parlous state of Germany’s have forced Merkel to rule out delivering on her re-election promises to slash taxes, and there is speculation now that taxes might even rise.And with 2011 „super election year,” with six of going to the polls, domestic considerations are set to continue to dictate Merkel’s behaviour for the foreseeable future.”If all these elections go the same way as North Rhine-Westphalia … then Merkel is going to find things even tougher,” Gerd Langguth, political science professor at Bonn University, told AFP.
Chinese premier: avoiding Korean conflict urgentBy YOUNG-JOON AHN, Associated Press
SEOGWIPO, South Korea – China’s premier said Sunday that avoiding conflict between the over the sinking of a warship is most urgent, but did not express support for a bid by South Korea and Japan to condemn North Korea at the United Nations for allegedly carrying out the attack.China has been facing intense pressure from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to join efforts to punish of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship that investigators say was ripped apart by a North Korean torpedo two months ago. Forty-six sailors died in the incident — the South’s worst military loss since the Korean War.Wrapping up a two-day summit with South Korea and Japan on the Korean , Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao showed no clear public signs Sunday that Beijing was ready to rebuke North Korea.”The urgent task for the moment is to properly handle the serious impact caused by the , gradually defuse tensions over it, and avoid possible conflicts,” Wen said.”China will continue to work with every country through aggressive negotiations and cooperation to fulfill our mission of maintaining peace and stability in the region,” he said.China, , wields veto power at the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member, so its support would be key to any bid to condemn or sanction the North there.Last week, senior U.S. officials said after holding talks in Beijing that China is likely to gradually endorse the view that North Korea should be held accountable. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.After Sunday’s meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said the three nations have „a common view that it (the ) is a serious matter for peace and stability in Northeast Asia.”South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the three countries agreed to continue discussing the ship sinking.”I expect Japan and China, as very responsible members of the international community, to wisely cooperate in ,” Lee said.North Korea has repeatedly denied responsibility, and the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday the ship investigation was „a hideous charade” carried out by Seoul and its allies America, Australia and Britain.South Korea on Monday laid out a series of punitive measures and pledged to take North Korea before the U.N. Security Council. The steps include slashing trade, resuming broadcasts across the border and launching large-scale naval exercises off the western coast.The North has said the South’s moves are pushing the peninsula closer to war.Before the trilateral summit began Saturday, Wen offered condolences to the families of the at a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, the prime minister’s office said.In a meeting with Wen on Friday, Lee laid out the investigation’s findings and urged the Chinese premier to play an „active role” in convincing North Korea to admit its wrongdoing, the presidential Blue House said. Wen told Lee that his country „will defend no one” responsible for the sinking, Lee’s office said.Chinese leaders were pressed hard on the issue during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other earlier this week, and Seoul has already expressed its displeasure over Beijing’s hosting of reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on a visit just weeks after the sinking.North Korea has carried out a series of attacks in the South since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953. South Korea has never retaliated militarily. China fought alongside North Korea in the war, while the U.S. aided the South.Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul contributed to this report.
British Airways cabin crew launch new strike By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – started a fresh five-day strike on Sunday with little sign of a breakthrough in the long-running dispute between their union and the airline.The latest strike by the Unite union is aimed at disrupting travel in the half-term in Britain, with a further five-day stoppage planned from June 5, which could hit flights to the football World Cup in South Africa.Unite said it believed the 12 days of strikes since March had already cost BA 84 million pounds (121.5 million dollars, 99 million euros).Talks between the two sides ended without agreement on Friday with Unite accusing of blocking a resolution to the dispute on travel perks for cabin crew.Derek Simpson, Unite’s joint leader, said: „He has refused to reinstate travel concessions in full despite Unite making it clear that the union would suspend the strike if he did so.”It would cost BA nothing to reinstate these travel concessions yet is prepared to see the strike continue.”BA said it would increase its flying schedule in the coming week as more cabin crew than expected had decided to work as normal during the strikes.Its schedule of long-term flights from its hub will be increased to more than 70 percent — up from more than 60 percent this week.The short-haul schedule from the airport will rise to more than 55 percent of flights, up from more than 50 percent this week.This month, BA posted a record annual pre-tax loss of 531 million pounds.The airline, which has been hit hard by the decreased , is slashing costs and merging with Spanish rival Iberia in a bid to return to profitability.
China’s Wen urges Koreas to avoid clashes By AFP
SEOGWIPO, South Korea (AFP) – said Sunday there is an „urgent” need to avoid clashes and ease tensions following the sinking of a South Korean warship.But Wen, speaking after a summit with the Japanese and South Korean leaders, gave no indication that China is ready to join them in blaming .”The urgent task now is to defuse the impact of the Cheonan incident, change the tense situation and avoid clashes,” he told a press conference.”China will actively communicate with and lead the situation to help promote peace and stability in the region, which fits our common and long-term interests best.”South Korea announced reprisals against the North after international investigators reported on May 20 that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo to sink the Cheonan with the loss of 46 lives.The North denies involvement and has responded to the reprisals with .South Korea, the United States and Japan are seeking China’s support to sanction — or, at least, to censure — North Korea at the United Nations Security Council.Wen expressed condolences to the families of the victims and said China would work to promote , but made no other comments about the sinking.South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak, at a joint press conference with Wen and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, said he expects „wise cooperation” by the in handling the disaster.Hatoyama, whose country Friday announced new sanctions on the North over the incident, said the three leaders agreed „that this is a serious issue related to peace and „.
Sarkozy faces sceptics over Africa summit by Philippe Alfroy AFP
PARIS (AFP) – hosts his first Africa summit this week hoping to convince leaders that France has put an end to its notoriously murky dealings with its ex-colonies and wants a fresh start. will face many sceptics at the summit in the Riviera city of Nice from Monday, bringing together some forty leaders from Cairo to Cape Town.Unlike his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who was known for his personal relationships with French-speaking west African leaders, Sarkozy has preferred to engage with the continent as a whole.Over the past three years, he has cut down French military bases in Africa from five to three and reached beyond France’s traditional in its former colonies, to South Africa, Rwanda and Angola.Former foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said he had difficulty believing in Sarkozy’s vision of changed ties with .”It was a good thing that he reviewed our defence accords. That had to be done,” said Vedrine. „But has not cleaned up our relationship with Africa.”On his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa after taking office in 2007, Sarkozy managed to offend African leaders and intellectuals with a speech widely seen as riddled with stereotypes and prejudices.”The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history,” Sarkozy said in the speech at Dakar university. He argued that Africans had missed out on „progress”.In marked contrast with Chirac, Sarkozy campaigned for election on a promise to shake up France’s ties with Africa, vowing to chase away „the old demons of paternalism, clientelism and hand-outs.”To underscore that point, the first African leader invited to the Elysee palace was , although she was followed shortly after by Omar Bongo of Gabon, France’s long-time ally.The continued presence in Sarkozy’s team of lawyer Robert Bourgi, known as one of the Elysee’s top operators in shady parallel diplomacy, has reinforced the view that it’s business-as-usual in Africa.On the economic front, Sarkozy wants to counter claims of French pillaging of resources by developing „win-win” partnerships in Africa.But the French rights group Survie International charges that Paris still defends its economic interests „at the expense of human rights and democracy” in places like Niger, a prime source of uranium for French nuclear giant Areva.French development minister Alain Joyandet said the two-day gathering in Nice would be „the summit of renewal, a sort of launch of a new era.”French and Africa business leaders and will also take part in the event to show that the summit is no longer the cozy affair of previous decades.”France has made a clear break with its old ways and now has ties with everybody in Africa,” said an Elysee official.The Nice summit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the independence of 14 that is being celebrated in several countries, but Sarkozy has not attended any of the events.The Elysee has however invited the leaders of the 14 ex-colonies to Paris as the special guests of the July 14 national day celebrations, and their national armies are to take part in the traditional Bastille Day parade.Sarkozy will host a summit of west on July 13 at which he will deliver a keynote address on the future of Africa-France relations.