WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. federal budget deficit in the first half of fiscal 2010 is down 8 percent from the same period a year ago, the Washington Post reported on Monday.Citing senior Obama administration
officials, the Washington Post said in an article posted on its website the smaller deficit was due to higher tax revenue and lower than projected spending to bail out the financial system.The newspaper said if the trend continued for the rest of the year it would mean the annual deficit would be $1.3 trillion — about $300 billion less than the administration’s projection two months ago for 2010.The Treasury earlier released a statement that showed a cumulative $181 billion of money disbursed to stabilize the financial system had been repaid through March, and noted that estimates for the program’s final cost were falling.”While the positive news is welcome, it is premature and irresponsible to be making deficit projections for the fiscal year as a whole,” said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.”The Administration will issue revised deficit numbers as part of the Mid-Session Review this summer,” Baer said.No official statement on the deficit is scheduled until the release of a late-summer review. The Post said the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings are preliminary and the results for the full year might not turn out so well.The White House has forecast a $1.6 trillion budget deficit this year, or about 10.6 percent of gross domestic product, the highest level since World War Two.Republicans are expected to use the ballooning budget deficits as a rallying cry in mid-term elections in November as they try to unseat Democrats by blaming them for running up record deficits.In February President Barack Obama named a bipartisan panel to tackle exploding budget deficits and promised it broad leeway to recommend ways to put the country on a path to fiscal responsibility.He asked the commission to come up with a strategy to balance the budget, excluding interest payments, by 2015.The Washington Post story said the officials „expressed cautious optimism” about the figures but noted that the outlook remains uncertain.The story said a senior administration official acknowledged that the lower deficit number would not substantially ease the budget problems facing the government.”But the favorable trend could allow Democrats to say they have turned the corner, and the number is one they would want to highlight for voters souring on Obama because of the government’s red ink,” the newspaper said.(Reporting by Deborah Charles, Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)
Washington state moves to ban copper in brake pads By PHUONG LE, Associated Press
SEATTLE – When a driver hits the brakes, friction releases copper shavings that fall onto the road and are eventually washed into rivers, where environmentalists say the metal could pose a hazard to marine life — especially salmon, one of the Pacific Northwest‘s most prized products.Washington state responded to the problem last month by becoming the first in the nation to pass a law to phase out the use of copper in brake pads. The move could eventually make copper-free pads the industry standard in the U.S.”You think about all of this traffic, every day on the road, braking and going,” said Curt Hart, spokesman for Washington Department of Ecology. „All of it in total starts to really make a difference.”The new law bans brake pads containing more than 5 percent copper starting in 2021. The allowable amount could drop almost to zero in 2023 if manufacturers show it is possible.California lawmakers have considered similar legislation, and industry officials expect other states to follow Washington’s lead.The auto industry did not oppose the legislation.”It was a balanced approach, balancing the needs of our consumers and environmental concerns,” said Curt Augustine, policy director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group of 11 manufacturers, including Ford, Chrysler and Toyota.Many brake pads are made of steel, brass and copper fibers — materials designed to create friction and draw off heat. Some contain ceramics, Kevlar and other nonmetallic compounds.The irony is that copper replaced asbestos as a key ingredient in brake pads in the early 1990s after asbestos was banned as a health danger. Though a federal appeals court overturned part of that ban in 1991, manufacturers continued to use copper.Copper is a major source of water pollution because it is present in so many products, including plumbing, paint and building materials.A study by the nonprofit Sustainable Conservation found that one-third of 530,000 pounds of copper released from human activity in the San Francisco Bay watershed in 2003 came from automobile brake pads.Similarly, state ecology officials in Washington estimate 70,000 to 318,000 pounds of copper are released into Puget Sound each year, with about one-third coming from vehicles.Researchers have yet to document any instances in nature of copper from urban runoff causing widespread problems for aquatic life. But laboratory studies by government scientists have shown that copper at the low levels that have been found in waterways harms young coho salmon’s sense of smell, reducing their ability to escape from predators.”It doesn’t take a lot of copper to interfere with the salmon’s sense of smell,” said Nat Scholz, a research zoologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has contributed to studies on the subject.Copper is also toxic to plankton, which form the base of the aquatic food chain.Brake pads contain as much as 25 percent copper, a metal used because it is good at dissipating heat, Augustine said. Heavier and high-performance vehicles tend to have more copper, but many cars already contain less than 5 percent, he said.The industry believes it can produce a safe and reasonably priced brake pad without copper, said Terry Heffelfinger, director of product engineering for Affinia Global Brake & Chassis, a major brake maker. One alternative may be ceramic brake pads, which have grown in popularity in recent years.”I think this does go a long way toward eliminating a very toxic item in our marine environment,” said state Sen. Kevin Ranker, who sponsored the bill.
Trib Co.’s Chap. 11 comeback plan still under fire By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business
The Tribune Co. would give ownership of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other media properties to its main creditors under a bankruptcy reorganization plan that calls for wiping out most of the debt from an ill-timed buyout engineered by real estate mogul Sam Zell.Although some creditors have backed key elements of the proposal submitted Monday, the plan still faces stiff opposition from two groups of lenders that have derided it as a one-sided deal negotiated by self-interested parties. One group called a critical part of the plan „dead on arrival.”Bolstered by a settlement announced last week, the Tribune Co. is hoping to win court approval of the plan later this year to end a contentious process that started in December 2008 when the Chicago-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Wilmington, Del. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and distressed debt specialist Angelo, Gordon & Co. would be among the new owners.Like other newspaper publishers, Tribune Co. has seen revenue fall because of reduced spending in the recession and the Internet’s inability to command as many ad dollars as print.The Tribune Co.’s plan, filed ahead of a hearing on the case Tuesday, envisions the newspaper advertising slump continuing for several more years, leaving it with 2012 publishing revenue of $1.85 billion — a drop of more than $900 million, or 33 percent, from 2008 levels.The company’s projections call for a modest recovery at its more than 20 television stations, although broadcasting revenue still isn’t expected to rebound to its 2008 total of $1.17 billion. The Tribune Co.’s plan forecasts the broadcasting division’s revenue will be $991 million this year and $1.06 billion by 2012.Despite its eroding revenue, the Tribune Co. expects to be in far better shape if its reorganization plan is approved because it wouldn’t be weighed down by so much debt. The company would emerge with total long-term debt of about $900 million, according to the bankruptcy plan’s projections.The company entered bankruptcy protection with $12.7 billion in debt, most of it stemming from an $8.3 billion buyout orchestrated by Zell. The deal closed at the end of 2007 just as the newspaper industry’s advertising woes worsened. The rapid decline in the Tribune Co.’s main source of revenue made it increasingly difficult for the company to repay its lenders.Similar cash-flow problems have caused more than a dozen other U.S. newspaper publishers to seek bankruptcy protection since the Tribune Co.’s filing. Many of them have already emerged from Chapter 11.The Tribune Co.’s plan is similar to that of several other newspaper publishers in that lenders would be getting majority stakes in their companies to shed most of their debts, though the Tribune case has been complicated by allegations of fraudulent conduct in financing the 2007 leveraged buyout.If the plan is approved, the new owners would be a group of creditors that include JPMorgan Chase and Angelo, Gordon. Existing shareholders, including Zell, his investment fund and the company’s employee stock ownership plan, would be wiped out.The plan didn’t say whether the new owners intend to retain Tribune CEO Randy Michaels and Zell, who is still chairman. „We’re looking forward to emerging from Chapter 11 and building on the momentum we’ve generated,” Michaels said in a statement. Zell hailed the plan as „a significant and positive step forward for the business.”JPMorgan Chase and Angelo, Gordon didn’t immediately return calls late Monday.Those creditors already have expressed their support for the reorganization plan and an underlying settlement over the allegations related to the buyout.
But two groups of lenders that say they are owed nearly $5 billion combined appear determined to object to the „global” settlement underpinning the reorganization plan. Both the settlement and the plan require court approval.One of the groups, in a court filing earlier Monday, described Tribune’s announcement as misleading and called the settlement „dead on arrival.” Those creditors, which say they are owed more than $3.6 billion under a 2007 secured credit agreement, include hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management, Goldman Sachs Loan Partners and Marathon Asset Management.A separate group of creditors — junior bondholders represented by Wilmington Trust Co. — alleged in a lawsuit last month that JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and other banks that financed the buyout engaged in fraudulent conduct because they knew the debt load would leave Tribune insolvent. Those creditors, which hold $1.2 billion in Tribune bonds that they stand to lose completely in the case, filed a separate objection Monday.
Under the plan, the major lenders such as JPMorgan Chase would hold a 91 percent stake in Tribune worth about $5.56 billion, based on the company’s appraisal of its value. Centerbridge Partners, which leads a group that owns outstanding senior bond debt, would get a 7.4 percent stake, paid in a combination of cash, stock and debt under the plan. That would translate to about $451 million, or roughly 35 cents for every dollar owed to the senior noteholders. Up to $150 million in cash would be paid in full to cover the claims of vendors that sold Tribune supplies and services. In their own filing Monday, Oaktree and other secured credit agreement lenders argued that they would bear the entire burden of paying off Centerbridge and other creditors. They reiterated their request that the court terminate Tribune’s exclusive authority to file a reorganization plan, so that they can submit an alternative. Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment on the objection. Attorneys for the Oaktree group and Wilmington Trust didn’t immediately return calls Monday. AP Business Writer Randall Chase in Dover, Del., contributed to this story.
Astronauts mark anniversary of Apollo 13 drama By MICHAEL TARM, Associated Press
CHICAGO – Surviving Apollo 13 astronauts and several flight directors reunited on Monday to remember a failed moon mission 40 years ago this week that they managed to turn into one of the greatest triumphs in the history of space exploration.Those who gathered included Apollo 13 commander James Lovell, fellow crew member Fred Haise and NASA‘s legendary flight director, Gene Kranz — all three of whom were immortalized in the 1995 movie „Apollo 13,” which starred Tom Hanks as Lovell.”There’s truly a unique bond. There is a brotherhood,” Kranz said about how the crisis forged a lifelong bond between everyone involved.The Adler Planetarium, where the reunion took place, is holding a series of events this month commemorating the Apollo 13 flight. One exhibit includes a lunar helmet and gloves that Lovell was supposed to wear on the moon had the mission gone as planned.On April 13, 1970, an oxygen tank exploded as the spaceship was four-fifths of the way to the moon. The crew, which included Jack Swigert, who died in 1982, was forced to scrap the moon mission and focus solely on getting back to Earth alive.Lovell’s calm if unsettling words to Mission Control following the explosion that, „Houston, we’ve had a problem” — now widely recited as, „Houston, we have a problem” — belied his quick internal calculation that their chances of survival were slim.”But you don’t put that in your mind,” he said Monday. „You don’t say how slim they are but rather how you can improve the odds.”In Houston, Kranz led hundreds of flight controllers and engineers in a furious rescue plan. He insisted on Monday that he never allowed himself to believe that the plan could fail.Still, he quickly added, „there is some point when you do the best you can and then it’s up to a higher authority to steer this mission to its ultimate conclusion.”The plan involved the crew members moving from the service module, which was hemorrhaging oxygen, into the cramped, frigid lunar lander while they rationed their dwindling oxygen and electricity. Using the lunar module as a lifeboat, they swung around the moon and aimed for Earth.In the process of turning what seemed routine into a life-and-death struggle, the entire flight team had created one of NASA‘s finest moments, ranking with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s walks on the moon.In 1994, Lovell and Jeff Kluger wrote „Lost Moon,” the story of the Apollo 13 mission and the basis for the movie. The movie, Lovell and Kranz concede, helped renew the public’s interest in Apollo 13 at a time when it had started to fade.Kranz, who was played by actor Ed Harris in the movie, said Hollywood provided a largely accurate account of what happened. The one thing he took issue with was his character sometimes raising his voice in the control room.”The fact is, controllers very seldom raise their voices, not in that control room,” he said. „If you lose your temper, people recognize it and they start (thinking) that you are closer to the edge then you really are.”
Astronauts Mark Space Anniversaries As Shuttle Retirement Looms By Tariq Malik
The 13 astronauts aboard the linked shuttle Discovery and space station marked the twin anniversaries of the birth of human spaceflight and NASA’s space shuttle fleet Monday, even as the U.S. space agency is winding down its reusable space plane program.Discovery has been docked at the space station since last week as its crew hauls tons of cargo into the station. The first-ever shuttle mission, STS-1 aboard Columbia, launched 29 years ago today, exactly two decades after the former Soviet Union inaugurated the era of human spaceflight with the launch of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961.Now, NASA plans to launch just three more shuttle flights after this one before retiring the three-orbiter fleet in September. To date, 131 shuttle missions – including Discovery’s – have launched into space.”I think everyone feels a little bittersweet about seeing the space shuttle come to an end,” Discovery’s pilot Jim Dutton told reporters today in a series of televised interviews. „We really have a lot of people who love the shuttle, but we have to continue to press into the future.”NASA’s future, currently, calls for the cancellation of the Constellation program that was building the new rockets and spaceships to replace the retiring shuttle fleet. Instead, the space agency plans to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station until U.S. commercial spacecraft are available to ferry crews to and from low-Earth orbit.U.S. President Barack Obama announced the new direction for NASA in February. He is expected to announce new details on Thursday during a presidential visit to the Florida home of NASA’s space shuttle fleet.”I’m hopeful for the future, and I think the leadership and the folks who make policy decisions will do the right thing and we’ll be able to get the job done,” said Discovery commander Alan Poindexter.There have been two shuttle accidents in NASA history.The January 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster occurred just after liftoff, when the spacecraft exploded and broke apart. The shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003 due to heat shield damage. In all, 14 astronauts were killed. After each accident, NASA stood down from shuttle flight for two years to make safety changes.Space shuttle firsts.Nearly 30 years after the first shuttle flight, there is still room for space firsts.This mission joined four women in space (three on Discovery and one on the space station) for the first time. One of those female spaceflyers – Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki – also joined fellow astronaut Soichi Noguchi of Japan at the station when the shuttle arrived – the most Japanese astronauts ever in space at one time.Yamazaki and Noguchi spoke with Japanese space officials and schoolchildren early Monday. They even paused to recite haiku, Japanese poems, and play a traditional Japanese folk song on a wooden flute and stringed instrument.For Discovery astronaut Dorothy „Dottie” Metcalf-Lindenburger, 34, the mission is especially poignant. As a young girl, Metcalf-Lindenburger attended Space Camp in Hunstville, Ala. She remembers when her mother bought her a model space shuttle. The name on that toy shuttle: Discovery.”I think it’s pretty special that I got to come up on Discovery,” Metcalf-Lindenburger said.Discovery is the oldest of NASA‘s three-orbiter fleet, but wasn’t the first shuttle to fly. NASA launched STS-1 with a skeleton crew of two test pilots aboard – veteran Apollo and Gemini program astronaut John Young and then-rookie Robert Crippen. The two men were in space for about two days after launch on April 12, 1981.Space shuttle lasts-With just three more planned shuttle missions after this one, Discovery’s flight is also marked by some lasts. Metcalf-Lindenburger is the last of NASA’s teacher-astronauts expected to fly on a U.S. space shuttle.The mission is also the last shuttle flight expected to carry a Japanese crewmember and the final mission to include a full seven-person crew – making the 13 astronauts aboard the station the last big crowd in orbit. Each of the remaining three shuttle missions will have six-person crews, NASA officials have said.Discovery launched toward the space station on April 5 and is due to land on April 19. The seven astronauts took a half-day off today, moved some of the 17,000 pounds (7,711 kg) of cargo they are delivering into the space station and also prepared for their mission’s third and final spacewalk.That final spacewalk is set to begin early Tuesday morning. Dutton said that while NASA’s space shuttles are old, they are nonetheless marvels of human engineering.Without the shuttle fleet, iconic spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope wouldn’t have experienced the success that they have. The shuttle’s ability to carry astronauts to Hubble and fix it over time has been a huge factor in the space observatory‘s success.The shuttle also has a huge, 60-foot- (30-meter-) long payload bay, making it the only spacecraft in service today capable of hauling large pieces and spare parts to the space station. The $100 billion space station has been under construction since 1998. NASA’s last few shuttle flights have been dedicated to stocking up the space station with the parts it will need to keep flying through at least 2020.”It’s been a tremendous vehicle,” Dutton said, with the space station serving as the „crown jewel” of the space shuttle era. „We’re going to miss it. There’s no question about it.”
13 astronauts celebrate 2 big space anniversaries By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle-station complex celebrated two big anniversaries Monday as they geared up for the third and final spacewalk of their mission.And the world was treated to the first recital of traditional Japanese music and poetry in space.Monday marked the 49th anniversary of the first human spaceflight — by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 — and the 29th anniversary of the first shuttle launch.”April 12th’s a really special day for astronauts,” said space shuttle Discovery‘s commander, Alan Poindexter.In honor of Russia’s Cosmonauts Day, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the residents of the International Space Station to wish them well. Three are Russian, two are American and one is Japanese.”Space is something that unites all of us. It’s a global issue,” Medvedev told them.Medvedev suggested that world leaders hold a summit to discuss space exploration, as they do other matters. On Thursday, President Barack Obama will visit Kennedy Space Center to elaborate on NASA’s role once the shuttle era ends. Only three shuttle flights remain after this one.”Space is our highest priority, regardless of how hard the economic situation was in the country and will be, I’m sure,” Medvedev told the station crew.In addition to the space station’s six occupants, there are seven shuttle visitors — a Japanese woman and six Americans.The two Japanese — the station’s Soichi Noguchi and shuttle astronaut Naoko Yamazaki — took a call Monday from dignitaries and schoolchildren in Tokyo.This is the first time two Japanese astronauts have flown together in space.Yamazaki shared a haiku — or Japanese poem — she wrote after seeing Earth for the first time from space. Then, with Noguchi accompanying her on an electric keyboard, she performed a Japanese folk music springtime piece, „Sakura Sakura,” which translates as „Cherry Blossom.” Noguchi opened the piece with a few notes on a traditional wooden flute.”This is probably the first time that you are going to hear the historic performance from space,” Noguchi said.The recital took place in Japan’s big science lab, Kibo, or Hope.It was a slower pace for the astronauts Monday. They got some time off one week into Discovery’s flight.One more spacewalk still needs to be conducted to finish installing a new ammonia tank, on Tuesday. The astronauts will place a big cargo carrier back aboard Discovery on Thursday, after it’s stuffed with old equipment and trash. Then on Friday, one day before departing, the shuttle will be inspected for any signs of micrometeorite damage.This survey of the shuttle wings and nose usually is conducted after undocking. But Discovery’s main antenna is broken, and there would be no way to transmit all the laser 3-D images to Mission Control for analysis. NASA added a day to the shuttle’s visit so the inspection could be carried out at the station and the data could be sent using station resources.Shuttle inspections became mandatory in space following the 2003 Columbia disaster. Columbia lifted off on the first shuttle flight on April 12, 1981.
Russian Cosmonauts Honor Yuri Gagarin, 1st Man in Space, From Orbit By Tariq Malik SPACE.com
Cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station honored a Russian space holiday Monday to celebrate the historic launch of Russian fighter pilot Yuri Gagarin 49 years ago today that kicked off the era of human spaceflight.Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, the current commander of the International Space Station, and his crew marked the occasion of Gagarin’s first human spaceflight – known as Cosmonautics Day – by speaking with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who reiterated Russia’s commitment to space exploration.”Space will always remain our priority,” Medvedev said. „This is not just somebody’s interpretation. It’s our official state position.” [Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s Spaceship.]Kotov said that Gagarin’s mission may have launched in the midst of the Space Race between the former Soviet Union and the United States, but space exploration now is a cooperative effort – one that reaches beyond those two countries. Today, Kotov commands a crew that includes three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese astronaut.”Together, we have created a single organism,” Kotov told the Russian president. „The crew functions as one body even though it consists of representatives from different countries. We have had a European astronaut on board. We have Japanese astronauts on board right now. We have American astronauts, Russian, and we understand each other perfectly. We don’t have any conflicts and I hope this will be true also regarding our cooperation everywhere else.”Exactly 20 years after Gagarin’s historic flight, NASA launched the first-ever space shuttle mission – STS-1 aboard Columbia – on April 12, 1981. The significance of the double anniversary was not lost on the station’s American crew. Especially since seven astronauts are visiting the space station on the space shuttle Discovery to deliver supplies.”On behalf of all of us here on the International Space Station, including our shuttle colleagues, we just want to wish everyone congratulations on this historic day,” said NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who arrived at the station earlier this month. „It means as much to us for the event of Yuri’s first launch as it does for all of the people involved in making this space program possible.”NASA’s three space shuttles are due to retire in September, ending nearly 30 years of operation. When they do retire, NASA will be entirely dependent on Russia for sending astronauts to the space station until commercially built spacecraft become available in the U.S., according to the space agency’s current plan.Medvedev said the international cooperation highlighted by the space station is the mark of how human space exploration should be conducted into the future.”No country can develop space alone, we need to combine our efforts and we need to talk about it more often,” he said.The $100 billion space station is the product of 16 different countries and five separate space agencies represented by NASA in the United States and space agencies from Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. Construction of the 800,000 pound (362,873 kg) outpost began in 1998. It is now nearly complete, with a backbone-like main truss as long as a football field and is easily visible from the Earth by the unaided eye.But the space station’s interior living space – which is about the size of a five-bedroom home – is a veritable palace when compared to the one-man capsule Gagarin launched in during the first manned spaceflight.Gagarin was only 27 years old when he blasted off in his Vostok 1 space capsule form Baikonur Cosmodrome in what is now Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The launch pad is still in use today, most recently for the Soyuz launch that delivered Caldwell Dyson and two Russian cosmonauts to the space station on April 2.Gagarin’s computer-controlled spaceflight lasted only 108 minutes, enough time to orbit the Earth. Instead of landing on the ground, Gagarin parachuted from his capsule during the descent. Modern-day Soyuz spacecraft, which carry three people, fire retrorockets to soften a ground landing after descending under parachutes.Gagarin never flew in space again. Sadly, he was killed in March 1968 while flying a training mission. But his legacy lives on in Yuri’s Night, a global celebration of his iconic flight celebrated by space aficionados around the world. Medvedev also asked Kotov and his crew about their life in space, specifically how often they have to exercise and how good the food is.Food in space, too, has come a long way, Kotov said.”The food has become more and more similar to what we eat on Earth,” he added. „We don’t have any tubes, though we do have cans and the variety is pretty good.”
Vatican makes peace with the Beatles By ALESSANDRA RIZZO, Associated Press
VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has finally made peace with the Beatles, saying their drug use, „dissolute” lives and even the claim that the band was bigger than Jesus are all in the past — while their music lives on.Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano paid tribute to the Fab Four in its weekend editions, with two articles and a front-page cartoon reproducing the crosswalk immortalized on the cover of the band’s album „Abbey Road.”The tribute marked the 40th anniversary of the band’s breakup.”It’s true, they took drugs; swept up by their success, they lived dissolute and uninhibited lives,” said the paper. „They even said they were more famous than Jesus,” it said, recalling John Lennon‘s 1966 comment that outraged many Catholics and others.”But, listening to their songs, all of this seems distant and meaningless,” L’Osservatore said. „Their beautiful melodies, which changed forever pop music and still give us emotions, live on like precious jewels.”It is not the first time the Vatican has praised the legendary band from Liverpool.Two years ago, Vatican media hailed the Beatles’ musical legacy on the 40th anniversary of the „White Album.” And last month the Vatican paper included „Revolver” in its semiserious list of top-10 albums.Now, L’Osservatore says that the Beatles’ songs have stood the test of time, and that the band remains „the longest-lasting, most consistent and representative phenomenon in the history of pop music.”Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor in chief of L’Osservatore Romano, said Monday that he loves the Beatles.He said that at the time of Lennon’s sensational statement, Osservatore „commented that in reality it wasn’t that scandalous, because the fascination with Jesus was so great that it attracted these new heroes of the time.”
Russia points to human error in fatal Polish crash By MATT MOORE and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland – Russian investigators suggested human error may have been to blame in the plane crash that killed the Polish president and 95 others, saying Monday there were no technical problems with the Soviet-made plane.The Tu-154 went down Saturday while trying to land in dense fog near a Smolensk airport in western Russia. All aboard were killed, including President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of Polish political, military and religious leaders.They had been traveling in the Polish government-owned plane to attend a memorial in the nearby Katyn forest for thousands of Polish military officers executed 70 years ago by Josef Stalin’s secret police.The pilot had been warned of bad weather in Smolensk, and was advised by traffic controllers to land elsewhere — which would have delayed the Katyn observances.He was identified as Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36, and the co-pilot as Maj. Robert Grzywna, 36. Also in the cockpit were Ensign Andrzej Michalak, 36, and Lt. Artur Zietek, 31.In Warsaw, there was concern the pilots may have been asked by someone in the plane to land at Smolensk instead of diverting to Minsk or Moscow, in part to avoid missing the ceremonies.Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said Polish investigators talked to the flight controller and flight supervisor and „concluded that there were no conditions for landing.””The tower was advising against the landing,” Seremet said.The plane was equipped with an instrument landing system, or ILS, said Col. Wieslaw Grzegorzewski of the Polish Defense Ministry.”I can confirm the pilots were preparing for landing without the ILS system,” he said. „The airport didn’t have the ILS system.”Russian media reports said the Smolensk airfield is a former military air base that lacks equipment for automatic landings.The business daily Kommersant said Monday that about 50 military personnel maintain the airport which is used only sporadically for official visits. It said the airfield has no permanent traffic controllers, and they are brought from the city of Tver when it’s necessary.Kommersant also said that that the pilots had been informed about the bad weather in the area while the plane was still over Belarus, but the captain said he would see conditions for himself and then make a decision.Polish investigators said they will listen to the cockpit conversations recorded on the black boxes to see if there were „any suggestions made to the pilots” from other people aboard the plane.Other Russian officials said the pilots were offered the chance to land in Moscow, Minsk or Vitebsk, but they chose Smolensk, despite four failed attempts before the fifth and fatal approach.Polish media reported in August 2008 that pilots flying Kaczynski to Tbilisi refused the president’s order to land there because of the country’s war with Russia, diverting instead to Azerbaijan.In remarks on Russian television, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told a government meeting including President Dmitry Medvedev that the data recorders on the plane were found to have been completely functional, which will allow a detailed analysis.”It is reliably confirmed that warning of the unfavorable weather conditions at the North airport and recommendations to go to a reserve airport were not only transmitted but received by the crew of the plane,” he said.Russian investigators have almost finished reading the flight recorders, said Alexander Bastrykin, Russia’s chief investigator.”The readings confirm that there were no problems with the plane, and that the pilot was informed about the difficult weather conditions, but nevertheless decided to land,” Bastrykin said during a briefing with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Smolensk.The wreckage will remain on site through midweek to speed the investigation, Russian Deputy Transport Minister Igor Levitin said.In Warsaw, the acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski, moved Monday to start appointing replacements for the many posts left vacant in the presidential office. He appointed a retired general, Stanislaw Koziej, as new National Security Bureau chief, and said the first task he was setting him was a review of the rules for travel of top military officials.Both Russia and Ukraine declared a day of mourning Monday, as Poles struggled to come to terms with the tragedy that eliminated so many of their government and military leaders.Tens of thousands watched as Kaczynski’s body, returned Sunday to Warsaw, was carried in a coffin by a hearse to the presidential palace. His twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the former prime minister, was present.Adam Bielan, an aide to Jaroslaw, said the two brothers spoke briefly Saturday morning when the president called his twin just before the plane crash to say they would be landing soon. At U.N. headquarters in New York, the U.N.’s blue and white flag flew at half-staff Monday in Kaczynski’s memory.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his „most profound condolence at such a tragic passing away of President Lech Kaczynski, with whom I have been working very closely, especially on climate change.”An annual Holocaust memorial event at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Monday was honoring Kaczynski and the other victims. Organizers of the March of the Living — with some 10,000 Jewish youth marching over about 2 miles (3 kilometers) between the two parts of the former Nazi death camp — said those marching would also remember those killed in Saturday’s crash. Forensics experts from Poland and Russia were working to identify other bodies, including first lady Maria Kaczynska, using DNA testing in many cases. Jacek Sasin, a spokesman for the Presidential Palace, said Kaczynska’s body would be sent to Warsaw on Tuesday. He said the bodies of the first couple would lie in state at the palace beginning Tuesday, their coffins closed, and the public would be permitted to view them. „We want every Pole who wants to pay tribute to the president, to be able to come and stand by the coffin,” he said. Sasin said officials are now planning the funeral for Saturday but a final decision depends on when the bodies of all 96 victims are returned home. So far, 87 bodies have been recovered and 40 of them identified, Seremet said. Medvedev has said he wants to attend, according to Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.Sasin said nothing has been changed in the living quarters of the president and his wife since they were there for breakfast Saturday. „I don’t think there is anyone who would want to change anything there. We still cannot believe what has happened,” he said. Among the victims Saturday was Ryszard Kaczorowski, 90, the last leader of Poland’s exiled government in London. The exile leadership was established during the Nazi occupation of Poland and continued to declare itself the rightful government during the decades of communism, until Lech Walesa became Poland’s first popularly elected president in 1990. The crash also took an icon of Poland’s Solidarity freedom movement, 80-year-old Anna Walentynowicz. Workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk went on strike when Walentynowicz was fired from her job as a crane operator in August 1980 for her opposition activity. That sparked strikes that spread to other plants across the nation, giving rise to the movement that helped bring about the demise of communism in Poland nine years later.Also aboard were the army chief of staff, the navy chief commander, and heads of the air and land forces, the national bank president, the deputy foreign minister, the army chaplain, the head of the National Security Office, the deputy parliament speaker, the Olympic Committee head and at least two presidential aides and 17 lawmakers.Associated Press Writer Vanessa Gera contributed to this report.
Polish leader’s death reshapes political landscape By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland – Before the plane crash that killed him, President Lech Kaczynski was facing likely defeat in fall elections as voters turned away from his conservative message.But a surge of sympathy could bring a reprieve for his political movement rooted in traditional Catholic values and a suspicion of Poland‘s big neighbors — especially if his identical twin brother Jaroslaw, once his partner as child actors and the key political operator in the political duo, runs for the presidency in his place.Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 60, has not yet said if he will seek the job: for now he appears overwhelmed by grief at the loss of his brother in Saturday’s crash that also killed 95 others, many from the Kaczynski brothers’ inner circle.”This is a time of mourning,” Mariusz Blaszczak, a spokesman for Kaczynskis’ Law and Justice, party told The Associated Press. „It’s a bad time for any speculation.”The scenario of a run by Jaroslaw, however, would seem natural because with the president dead, there is nobody with as high a profile within Law and Justice — the party the brothers founded together — to represent it in the presidential race. The balloting was originally set for the autumn but now must be held by late June.”If he decides to run, he may hope for a win on sympathy votes because Poles make decisions based on emotions,” said Kazimierz Kik, a political scientist at Kielce University.Lech Kaczynski and the Law and Justice party saw their popularity decline sharply over the past three years. Many Poles grew tired of the polarizing role the Kaczynski camp played in seeking to punish old communists and in their skepticism toward old foes Germany and Russia, and even the EU.Their nationalist and socially conservative stance often put them at loggerheads with more liberal-minded leaders within the EU and in Germany, the country’s biggest neighbor.In 2007, Law and Justice was defeated in parliamentary elections in a clear signal that many Poles had tired of the brothers’ divisive style. Jaroslaw lost the job of prime minister he had held for nearly a year and a half — with his brother as president in a largely ceremonial role. Poland’s president is commander in chief but the role carries more symbolic weight than real power.Since then, support has remained high for the rival Civic Platform party, a centrist grouping led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Many — especially younger Poles and the rising entrepreneurial classes — like the party’s no-drama pragmatism and support for free-market economics.Tusk, whose job makes him Poland‘s most powerful leader, was not on board the plane. Nor was the country’s most famous son, Solidarity founder and ex-President Lech Walesa.But the tragedy claimed many other elites, including several military commanders, a former president-in-exile and Anna Walentynowicz, the woman whose dismissal from the famed Gdansk shipyard sparked a labor uprising that ultimately toppled communism.The nation will have to wait days, or possibly weeks, to learn who Law and Justice will put up for president. The other party member who is considered a possible contender, Zbigniew Ziobro, told the AP Monday that the grief is too great for thoughts of political posturing.”It’s a time for reflection and coming to terms with this pain that we’re all plunged in. I’ve lost colleagues whom I knew in everyday work and everyday life,” Ziobro said.It is far from certain that the outpouring of sympathy for the Kaczynski family — seen in the huge numbers that turned out in Warsaw to see the fallen leader’s hearse travel to the presidential palace — would translate into ballot-box support.”Jaroslaw Kaczynski was the prime minister once and he lost the trust of Poles,” said Adam Mikolajczyk, 20. „I would not vote for him.”The main contender remains Civic Platform’s Bronislaw Komorowski, the parliament speaker whom the constitution has thrust into the role of acting president by Kaczynski’s death. His popularity was already high and he could also get a boost in the race thanks to his provisional presidential duties — a job he has so far carried out with reassuring solemnity.”Jaroslaw Kaczynski should absolutely not run for the presidency. I realize it’s a family tragedy but the country should be governed by a person who is not so bitter like both of Kaczynski brothers were,” said Janusz Kislak, 58, a flower vendor. Whether Jaroslaw runs may also hinge on the health of the twins’ mother, Jadwiga, who has been hospitalized with lung and heart ailments in past weeks. President Kaczynski canceled at least one foreign visit lately to be by her side. „The main question is whether Jaroslaw will be strong enough to overcome his personal tragedy and whether no new tragedy hits him,” Kik said.The crash also killed another presidential candidate, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, 58, a left-wing lawmaker and former defense minister who was to have represented the Democratic Left Alliance. That party, the democratic successor to the communist party, is generally out of favor in Poland.The identical twins first entered the spotlight as child actors playing a pair of rascals in a movie based on a popular Polish children’s book, „The Two Who Stole the Moon.” As adults they joined Walesa’s anti-communist struggle and in democratic times waged a fight against a system that allowed many former communists to continue to wield power and enjoy wealth.They avoided appearing in public together but did join together for cameras when Pope Benedict XVI visited Poland in 2006, a treasured moment for the devoutly Catholic twins.Jaroslaw was given the news of his brother’s death by Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who was the first leader in Poland to be informed of the tragedy.”I had to tell him something which I knew would be awful,” Sikorski said Monday in an interview on Radio TOK FM. He said Jaroslaw reacted calmly. „But at the same time I could sense the emotion on the other side.”Associated Press Writers Monika Scislowska and Marta Kucharska contributed to this report.
Hungary to add jobs, cut graft to fight far right By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s prime minister in waiting on Monday linked the striking weekend electoral surge of a militia-backed far-right party to corruption and unemployment and pledged to address those problems.And the European Union expressed concern about the rise of the far right across the continent.The far-right Jobbik party won 16.6 percent of the vote over the weekend. The party is tied to the Hungarian Guard, a group whose black uniforms are reminiscent of Hungary‘s pro-Nazi groups of the 1940s, and which is seen as a source of intimidation of Gypsies and other minorities.Viktor Orban’s center-right Fidesz scored a landslide victory in Sunday’s first round of parliamentary elections, capturing nearly 53 percent. But the real political shake-up was the strong showing of Jobbik, which finished third — hard on the heels of the governing Socialists. The Socialist Party tumbled to less 20 percent compared to 43 percent in the last elections four years ago.The European Union and Jewish groups used Jobbik’s showing to sound the alarm about the rise of extremist parties across the continent.”We all have to work so that within the EU, populist, xenophobia, radical, nationalist, anti-European positions have as little support as possible,” said Spain’s state secretary for European affairs, Diego Lopez, speaking for the European Presidency.The European Jewish Congress said Europe needed to work harder against the increase of „obsessive anti-Semitism.””As a result of the economic crisis, certain extreme parties are able to deliver a scapegoat upon which to blame all their ills,” said the congress’s president, Moshe KantorJobbik’s rise from the political fringe over the past year has been based on an extreme nationalist message with strong anti-Gypsy and anti-Semitic overtones. The Jobbik theme exploits stubborn East European prejudices that the Gypsies — or Roma — are thieves who evade work while cashing in on state benefits, and that the nation is being sold out to a corrupt Jewish minority, many of them pulling the political and economic strings.A sizable number of the party’s new voters were from the poorest areas in northeast Hungary, where the jobless rate is far above the March national average of 11.4 percent. Orban, in his postelection comments, linked the rise of Jobbik with the disenchantment of its supporters.”The better the government, the less corruption there is, the fewer the reasons to hate the political elite, the lower the unemployment rate … the more democracy is strengthened and the power of the extremists is reduced,” Orban told reporters. „The best recipe I can provide is good governance. I’m convinced that the better the performance of the government is, the weaker the far right will be in the future.”Orban estimated the real unemployment rate at „somewhere between 16-20 percent,” an unsustainable level.”This a political and economic land mine,” said Orban, who was prime minister in 1998-2002. „If the unemployment rate remains this high, we cannot expect Hungary to remain a moderate, predictable democracy in the long run.”Orban also suggested that the next government would enforce a court decision to disband the Hungarian Guard.Associated Press writer George Jahn contributed to this report from Vienna.
Obama, Hu in Iran sanctions breakthrough: US by Stephen Collinson AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have agreed to jointly push for new nuclear sanctions on Iran, US officials said, heralding an apparent diplomatic breakthrough.Injecting momentum into the drive to punish Tehran, Hu and Obama Monday instructed their delegations at the United Nations to work together on a draft resolution, the officials said, as Obama seeks to enact toughened sanctions within weeks.Hu’s entourage was less specific after the talks, but said that the United States and China shared the „same overall goal” on Iran, after months of US efforts to secure Chinese cooperation on „biting” new sanctions.The new Sino-US unity followed a swift warming of relations, after multiple rows and Beijing‘s previous reluctance to contemplate new sanctions on Iran.”The Chinese very clearly share our concern about the Iranian nuclear program,” said Jeff Bader, Obama’s senior director for Asia on the National Security Council.”The two presidents agreed the two delegations should work together on a sanctions resolution in New York,” Bader said, after the two presidents met ahead of a 47-nation nuclear security summit in Washington.Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Chinese delegation, reiterated that even as China joins talks at the UN, it also wanted a stalled dialogue between world powers and Iran to go on, in an effort to resolve the confrontation.Washington and its allies say Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, a claim Iran denies.Last week at the UN, envoys of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany discussed a draft resolution sanctioning Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, and agreed to meet again soon.French President Nicolas Sarkozy, signaled after flying in for the summit that the time for drawn out diplomacy had passed.”Patience has its limits,” Sarkozy told CBS, arguing the time had come for a vote on sanctions.Sarkozy also said that a united Security Council would be the best course — but warned a „toothless” resolution agreed just so the world could speak with one voice would achieve nothing.Like China, Russia was initially skeptical about new sanctions on Iran, but moved towards the US position more quickly than Beijing.President Dmitry Medvedev made clear however in an interview with ABC aired Monday that sanctions on Iranian energy products preferred by some US members of Congress could cause a humanitarian disaster.”If we’re talking about energy sanctions, I’ll tell you my opinion. I don’t think on that topic we have a chance to achieve a consolidated opinion of the global community on that,” Medvedev said.”Sanctions should not be paralyzing. They should not cause suffering.”There was a note of dissent however from Brazil, which has irritated Washington, with its stance on Iran sanctions.Brazilian Foreign Minister Minister Celso Amorim called for more dialogue before imposing sanctions.”The main issue now is to give a minimum of time for a conversation to take place” between Iran and Western powers that want to apply more stringent sanctions, Amorim said on the sidelines of the summit. Iran has become increasingly defiant, as Russia and China — veto-wielding members of the Security Council — have moved towards the US position. Iran, along with North Korea, was not invited to the summit, and says it won’t be bound by any decisions made here. Tehran’s ambassador to the UN on Monday issued a blazing condemnation of a new US nuclear policy unveiled by Obama, which limits the prospective use of the American arsenal but does not rule out last resort strikes on Iran. „Can the US new nuclear strategy which authorizes the use of nuclear bomb against other countries, including Iran, be named other than ‘state terrorism,’ in its truest sense?” Mohammad Khazaee told a General Assembly panel. Monday’s meeting also appeared to show a thaw in the previously rather formal ties that officials said had previously existed between Obama and Hu.”It was a meeting without talking points — a conversation between two leaders who are familiar and comfortable talking with each other about bilateral relations and where they stand,” Bader said.Ma described Monday’s talks as „candid” and „cordial,” adding it was „a positive and constructive meeting.”A Sino-US chill set in after Obama visited Beijing last November, over issues including the yuan, trade, a US arms package for nationalist Taiwan, the US leader’s talks with the Dalai Lama and Internet freedom.