WARSAW (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of mourners were expected Saturday at a memorial for victims of Poland’s air crash tragedy, as a volcanic cloud threatened to keep world leaders from the president’s
funeral.The service, in a historic Warsaw square that has previously hosted papal masses, comes a week after a plane carrying president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others crashed in Russia, killing all on board.Kaczynski and his wife are set to be buried on Sunday in the southern city of Krakow. But the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that has disrupted air travel could prevent dignitaries including US President Barack Obama from attending.Sirens are set to wail and church bells will ring across the country at exactly 8:56 am (0656 GMT), the time a week ago when the plane came down in what has been dubbed Poland‘s worst peacetime disaster.In Warsaw, the four-hour memorial service starts at noon in Pilsudski Square, which is also home to Poland’s tomb of the unknown soldier.It has been the traditional site of national events including a vast mass held by late Polish pope John Paul II when he visited his deeply Catholic homeland in 1979.During the past week mourners have covered the square with coloured candles, while a huge stage with black and white photos of the dead has been set up.In a bitter irony, the presidential jet came down while carrying a delegation to a ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when 22,000 Polish officers were slaughtered by Soviet forces in World War II.The crash scythed through the upper echelons of Polish society: victims of the crash included the country’s military chief, the heads of all three armed forces, the governor of the central bank and the head of the country’s Olympic committee.Iconic opponents of the country’s former communist rulers were also on the plane, as well as relatives of Katyn victims.After the mass in the square on Saturday, the closed coffins of Kaczynski and his wife Maria, who have been lying in state in the presidential palace since Tuesday, will be taken to nearby St. John’s Cathedral.Warsaw’s Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz will lead a service followed by an overnight vigil.The bodies will arrive in Krakow on Sunday morning for the funeral in the cathedral of Krakow’s hilltop Wawel castle, where Poland’s past kings and national heroes already lie.But the attendance of foreign leaders including Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in doubt after Poland joined other European nations and closed its airspace on Friday due to the spreading volcanic ash cloud.Almost 80 foreign delegations had been due to land at Krakow airport Sunday.Kaczynski’s family have insisted the funeral go ahead as planned on Sunday.The government meanwhile said there had been no cancellations by foreign leaders so far.”To a large degree it all depends on which way the wind blows,” Krakow city spokesman Filip Szatanik told AFP. The family’s earlier decision to bury Kaczynski, a divisive political figure in life due to his conservative, nationalist policies, at Wawel castle sparked protests and a Facebook campaign during the week but they have died down. His identical twin brother Jaroslaw, who served as prime minister between 2006 and 2007, could stand in early presidential elections expected on June 20.One opponent could be the likely liberal candidate and current interim president Bronislaw Komorowski.Russian and Polish investigators are continuing to probe the cause of the crash. Russian officials said that they suspected pilot error following the first analysis of the black box recorders of the Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154.
Kaczynski family wants state funeral held Sunday By MATT MOORE and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland – The family of late President Lech Kaczynski has urged that his state funeral be held Sunday in Krakow as planned, despite fears that a volcanic ash cloud emanating from Iceland may keep some world leaders from attending.It was the family’s first statement since the president and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, died in a plane crash Saturday in western Russia along with 94 others among Poland‘s political and military elite.”It is the will of the family that, under no circumstance, the date of the funeral be changed,” Presidential Palace spokesman Jacek Sasin said on the family’s behalf.Airports in Poland were shut down Friday, however, as a cloud of volcanic ash drifting from Iceland forced huge patches of European airspace to be closed. It was unclear if Poland’s airports would reopen in time to receive world leaders arriving early Sunday to attend the state funeral.”There are situations we don’t have any influence on,” Polish government spokesman Pawel Gras told Polish broadcaster TVN24. „The delegations will make their own decisions whether to cancel their presence in Krakow or to make use of other means of transportation.”The office of Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic said he planned to travel to Krakow by car for Sunday’s funeral.A national memorial service will be held Saturday at 12 p.m. (1000 GMT) in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, followed by a Mass at St. John’s Cathedral at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) for the first couple.Word of one cancellation for Saturday’s ceremony came late Friday. The Polish news agency PAP reported that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, could no longer fly from Rome to deliver a memorial Mass there.PAP quoted unnamed church sources as saying they still hope Sodano will be able to make it Sunday for the presidential couple’s funeral in Krakow, perhaps by flying part of the way and making the last part of the trip by car.Sunday’s state funeral in mostly Roman Catholic Poland will begin at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) with a Mass at the 13th-century St. Mary’s Basilica. The bodies of the first couple will then be carried in a funeral procession across the Old Town and to the historic Wawel Cathedral, where they will be interred.Among world leaders planning to attend Sunday are President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said the ministry had received „no information from any delegations about any changes in arrival. We are proceeding with the current plan.”Late Thursday, the White House said Obama would leave for Poland late Saturday.On Friday Merkel was flying home from the U.S. when her plane was diverted to Portugal because many of Germany’s airports were closed because of the volcanic ash.A Krakow airport spokeswoman said that while the airport was closed indefinitely, it was still preparing to receive world leaders on Sunday.”A two-day perspective ahead of the arrival of those planes is a relatively long time,” Justyna Zajaczkowska told The Associated Press. „All we can do is wait.”Poland is preparing a tradition-laden funeral for Kaczynski and his wife, who were among the 96 people killed when their plane went down in heavy fog after clipping a birch tree on approach to Smolensk, Russia. They had planned to attend a memorial for thousands of Polish army officers executed in 1940 by the forerunner of the Soviet secret police in the nearby Katyn forest.Polish investigators on Friday began examining one of three black boxes from the crashed Tupolev 154 plane, after Russian officials said their study of the boxes suggested pilot error was to blame. The investigation is moving fairly quickly, aviation experts said, but some Poles have complained about a lack of public information, including the transcript of conversation in the cockpit before the accident.Officials said they planned to release details from the black boxes only after the weekend memorial ceremonies. The black boxes are being examined for more clues as to why the plane crashed. Investigators from both Russia and Poland have said human error was likely to blame. The Polish pilot had been warned of bad weather and advised to land elsewhere, which would have delayed the Katyn observances.Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee said the preliminary investigation found that the plane hit some trees about 1,050 meters (yards) from the paved runway, according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti, „After 200 meters, the left wing of the plane struck a tree, as a consequence of which the plane sharply heeled and turned over to the left,” the report said. „The main mass of fragments of the airliner are about 300-350 meters from the runway and about 150 meters to the left of it.” Tatyana Anodina, head of the Interstate Aviation Committee, said on Russian Vesti 24 television that the plane was working properly when it crashed. „The data from both cockpit conversation and flight parameters recorders and analysis of fragments recovered from the crash site have shown that the plane’s engines were functioning until it hit the ground,” she said. „There was no fire or explosion on board.”Jerzy Artymiak, spokesman for Polish military prosecutors, said two black boxes are still being examined in Russia. Late Friday, the remains of eight more bodies returned to Poland and were given a state ceremony at Warsaw’s airport, their coffins laid out on the tarmac as a military band played Chopin’s funeral march. Among them were Gen. Franciszek Gagor, the Army chief of staff, and Wojciech Seweryn, a Chicago artist whose father died at Katyn 70 years ago. „This is the sixth day that Poland welcomes its heroes back at this place,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk told relatives and soldiers gathered around eight coffins covered in the national flag and flowers.
Polish funeral set to go ahead despite ash cloud By Gareth Jones REUTERS
WARSAW (Reuters) – The Polish president’s funeral looks set to go ahead as planned on Sunday, at his family’s insistence, despite a cloud of volcanic ash that has shut Europe’s airports and may prevent world leaders attending.U.S. President Barack Obama is among dozens of leaders scheduled to travel to Krakow in southern Poland for Sunday’s funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, killed with 94 others in a plane crash in Russia last Saturday.Tens of thousands of mourners continued to file past the Kaczynskis’ coffins in Warsaw’s presidential palace on Friday.Some had been waiting up to 18 hours to view the coffins, a measure of the grief felt by many Poles over the worst single disaster to strike their country since World War Two.The heads of Poland’s armed forces, its central bank governor and opposition lawmakers also perished when the aging Tupolev plane crashed in thick fog while trying to land near Smolensk in western Russia.Warsaw‘s picturesque Old Town, where the palace is located, has been transformed into a shrine, festooned with flowers, candles, crucifixes and white and red national flags.The president’s administration said some 1,500 people were paying their respects to the bodies every hour, while Warsaw authorities said they had already collected 330 tonnes of withered flowers and burned out candles since Saturday.The uncertainty following the death of key figures from the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) has thrown the established patterns of support for Poland’s parties into confusion.An opinion poll released late on Friday showed support for Poland‘s ruling Civic Platform (PO) had fallen by 11 percentage points, while the number of Poles favoring the conservative PiS, led by Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, stood flat at 25 percent.Backed by PiS, Kaczynski was widely expected to seek another five-year term in a presidential vote originally due this autumn. The vote will now likely be held on June 20.Public support for Kaczynski, a polarizing nationalist and euroskeptic, had dwindled to just 20 percent before his death. Polls showed he would have lost to Bronislaw Komorowski, the candidate of Prime Minister Donald Tusk‘s centrist PO.Komorowski, who is also speaker of parliament, became acting president after Kaczynski’s death. It is unclear who his main rivals will be in the election as the candidate of the main leftist opposition party SLD also died in the crash.FUNERAL-The funeral plans hit an unexpected snag on Friday when the volcanic ash cloud drifting over Europe from Iceland forced the closure of airports, including in Poland, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers.”I wish to say that the (Kaczynski) family’s will is that the date of the funeral should not be postponed under any circumstances,” presidential aide Jacek Sasin told reporters.Poland’s meteorology institute said in a statement posted on its website on Friday evening that the ash cloud would cover Poland by midnight, and partially disperse by Saturday evening.As well as Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Prince Charles are among dignitaries from an estimated 96 countries expected to attend the funeral.Krakow’s Balice airport, due to handle most arrivals, shut on Friday because of the ash cloud. The decision to bury the Kaczynskis at Wawel, usually reserved for Poland’s kings and national heroes, was controversial. Some Poles believe Kaczynski does not deserve such an honor and have staged noisy protests against the move.Kaczynski and his entourage had been traveling to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers by Soviet forces in Katyn forest in western Russia — an enduring symbol for Poles of their country’s suffering. The cause of the crash remains unclear, though Russian officials say the pilot ignored advice from air traffic controllers to divert to another airport because of the fog.(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow; Editing by Alison Williams)
Feds indict former Blackwater president, 4 others By MIKE BAKER, A P
RALEIGH, N.C. – The former president of Blackwater Worldwide was charged Friday with using straw purchases to stockpile automatic weapons at the security firm and filing false documents to cover up gifts given to the king of Jordan.Gary Jackson, 52, who left the company last year in a management shake-up, was charged along with four of his former colleagues, according to the federal indictment.The prosecution opens a new front of the government’s oversight of the sullied security company. Several of the company’s contractors have previously been charged with federal crimes for their actions in war zones, but the company’s executives have thus far weathered a range of investigations.Blackwater has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 people dead, outraged the Iraqi government and led to a federal charges against several Blackwater guards — accusations later thrown out of court after a judge found prosecutors mishandled evidence. Around the time that Jackson left the company, Blackwater changed its name to Xe Services.The charges against Jackson include a conspiracy to violate firearms laws, false statements, possession of a machine gun and possession of an unregistered firearm. Also indicted were former Blackwater general counsel Andrew Howell, 44; former executive vice president Bill Mathews, 44; former procurement vice president Ana Bundy, 45; and former weapons manager Ronald Slezak, 65.The case stems in part from a raid conducted by federal agents at the company’s headquarters in Moyock in 2008 that seized 22 weapons, including 17 AK-47s.Blackwater officials enticed the local sheriff’s office to pose as the purchaser of 34 automatic weapons that would be stored on the company’s campus, something prosecutors called a straw purchase, according to the indictment. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office provided blank letterhead to the company, which then used the stationery to prepare letters ordering weapons.Federal law prohibits licensed firearms dealers such as Blackwater from having more than two of the same style of machine gun. Law enforcement agencies can have fully automatic weapons.Prosecutors also said company officials, hoping to land a lucrative overseas contract, presented the king of Jordan with five guns as gifts — then realized that they were unable to account for where the weapons went. To cover it up, they falsified four federal documents „to give the appearance that the weapons had been purchased by them as individuals,” according to the indictment.The U.S. attorney’s office in Raleigh said the indictment should not suggest any wrongdoing on the part of Jordan or any of its officials. The office said it was grateful for the assistance the nation has provided for the investigation.Prosecutors also focused on Blackwater’s supply of short-barrel rifles, which dealers must register. The company purchased 227 short barrels and installed them on long rifles without registering them, and officials shipped the weapons with the barrels detached so that they could be reassembled overseas without facing the charge of exporting regulated weapons, according to the indictment.Kenneth Bell, an attorney for Jackson, said the former executive was a true American hero. Jackson spent two decades in the military as a Navy SEAL.”These charges are false,” Bell said. „He will defend himself, as he defended this country, in what he calls the greatest justice system in the world.”Each of the defendants was charged as part of a conspiracy to violate firearms laws. Mathews also was charged with possession of a machine gun and possession of an unregistered weapon. Howell was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. Slezak was charged with false statements. Bundy was charged with obstruction of justice.The maximum penalty for each charge ranges from 5-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.James Sweeney, an attorney for Mathews, said his client was shocked and disappointed by the indictment, which he called „a persecution born of political purpose.” Pat Woodward, an attorney for Slezak, said he looks forward to his client’s vindication.Howell’s attorney, Randy Turk, said he doesn’t believe the government has done its homework.”Mr. Howell has broken no laws, and I’m confident that when all the dust settles, he will be cleared of any wrongdoing,” Turk said. Xe spokesman Mark Corallo said the company has fully cooperated with the federal investigation. He declined further comment. Jordanian officials could not be immediately reached for comment. One of the 2005 agreements viewed later by the AP says the weapons were to be kept under „lock and key” and doesn’t describe whether Blackwater would use the guns. Camden County Sheriff Tony Perry said at the time that his department only used the AK-47s in shooting practice at Blackwater and that none of his 19 deputies were qualified to use them. Blackwater has said federal authorities knew about the weapons for years and that investigators got a complete look at the company’s cache in 2005 after two employees were fired. In a 2008 interview with the AP, Jackson and other Blackwater executives said the company provided the local Camden County sheriff’s office a place to store weapons, calling the gesture a „professional courtesy.” „We gave them a big safe so that they can store their own guns,” Jackson said at the time. Added then-executive vice president Bill Mathews: „We give stuff to police departments all over the country, and we take particularly good care of our home police departments.”Company officials, including both Jackson and Howell, downplayed the raid during the interview. Jackson said some of the 16 uniformed officers who came to serve the warrant were embarrassed by the event and said agents had to stop at Blackwater’s front gate to get passes to come onto the company’s sprawling campus in northeastern North Carolina.”As a hypothetical, one would think that, if you were going on a raid, you’d take your Kevlar and your weapon,” Howell said to laughter from other executives. Associated Press Writers Emery Dalesio in Raleigh, Matt Apuzzo in Washington and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
US, Canadian officials speak out for new bridge By COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press
DETROIT – Dangling the prospect of job creation in a region swamped by high unemployment, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other leaders from the U.S. and Canada urged state lawmakers on Friday to allow Michigan to enter a partnership to build a new international bridge.The clock is ticking as the state Legislature faces a June 1 deadline to approve joining the $5.3 billion Detroit River International Crossing project between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.The legislation would permit Michigan’s Transportation Department to enter into a relationship with Canada and a private sector project developer. The new bridge would be publicly owned and take up to five years to build.A combination of federal funds, bonds and $100 million in state transportation dollars would be needed to build Michigan’s portion of the bridge. User fees would repay the debt.The Detroit River International Crossing, the public-private group behind the project, expects it to lead to the creation of 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan and 25,000 full-time positions over the next 20 years.”This is all about jobs,” Granholm told reporters Friday during a press event in downtown Detroit. „All opportunities are going to be lost unless this crossing is built. It’s a bridge between the two countries and a bridge to Michigan’s future.”Standing in the way are the owners of the 80-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Billionaire Manuel „Matty” Moroun has claimed in a federal lawsuit that U.S. and Canadian officials are stalling his efforts to build a second, twin span across the river.The twin span of the Ambassador Bridge would cost $400 million just to build, said Moroun spokesman Dan Stamper. The Ambassador Bridge company already has spent $75 million on the Windsor side and $500 million in Detroit to buy land, build roads and plazas, and environmental assessments, Stamper said.Annual maintenance on the Ambassador Bridge is $10 million.”They should let us do what we’ve been doing for 80 years — run the most efficient border crossing in North America,” Stamper said Friday at a separate news conference held in response to Granholm’s.The U.S. Coast Guard has rejected his application for a permit. Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said Friday that operators of the Ambassador Bridge also have not submitted complete environmental applications to Canadian officials for a second span.Moroun’s new span would be about two miles northeast of the proposed government bridge.Ambassador Bridge operators have said traffic along the old bridge has decreased over the past decade and the crossing cannot support two bridges.”The state of Michigan and Canada want to take 70 percent of our business,” said Moroun’s wife, Nora. „This is all Canada wanting to own our crossing.”The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel are the primary Detroit river crossings between the U.S. and Canada. The border is considered one of the busiest trade corridors in the world, with more than 40 percent of U.S. trade with Canada passing through the area.Granholm said 58 percent of all Michigan trade is with Canada, which translated in 2009 to a $43.8 billion investment. That relationship represents 220,000 Michigan jobs, said Granholm, who is expected to sign the legislation if passed by lawmakers.Officials supporting the Detroit River International Crossing project fear that expansion of a bridge between western New York and Canada will bite into that trade.Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican, said he would work to sway fellow party members in the Michigan Legislature to support the Detroit River International Crossing — or DRIC — bridge. „It was made very clear to me that a second span would not be welcome in downtown Windsor — congestion, pollution,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. „If it’s not going there, then the DRIC is the only game in town, or we lose out to New York.” Patterson, a friend of Moroun, said 6,000 of the 10,000 construction jobs that stand to be created by the government bridge likely would go to people living or working in his county. Detroit residents also stand to gain work from the project, said Bing who added that the city will make sure workers receive training to work on the DRIC bridge. Nearly a third of working-age adults in Detroit are unemployed, and Michigan’s unemployment rate is at 14.1 percent. Fewer industries have been hit as hard by the national economic downturn as construction trades, said Patrick „Shorty” Gleason, president of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. He urged lawmakers to „just put unemployed people first” when voting on the project. „Do you know how long it’s been for a lot of these individuals since they’ve received a paycheck?” Gleason said Friday. „How long it’s been since they’ve been covered underneath a health plan?”
Housing construction points to market recovery By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics
WASHINGTON – There were more signs of a moderate housing recovery Friday as the government reported an increase in construction and building permits.The Commerce Department said the pace of new construction rose roughly 2 percent from February to March. That increase, however, was thanks to a 19 percent increase in apartments, which offset a 1 percent decline in home building.But more encouraging, applications for building permits — a good gauge of future activity — rose 7.5 percent to the highest level since October 2008, when the financial crisis hit with full force.The housing market is recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Construction is down by more than two-thirds from the unsustainable boom in late 2005 and early 2006, but has gradually recovered 30 percent from the bottom in April of last year.”While the March report was very positive news, we are still a long, long way off from a normal market,” said David Crowe, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders.He expects single-family home construction to rise about 25 percent this year to 550,000. But that would still be less than half the normal level, and Crowe doesn’t expect building to reach that 1.5 million range for another three years.While the housing sector is currently a weak economic engine, each new home built creates about three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes paid to local and federal authorities, according to the National Association of Home Builders.”We need a decent or at least stable construction sector if job growth and the economy can get back to normal, and that process is proceeding slowing,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors.The increase in housing construction tempered news this week that a record number of Americans lost their homes through foreclosure in the first three months of the year, according to RealtyTrac Inc.The cheaply priced foreclosed homes have put builders at a disadvantage, held back hiring in the construction industry and helped restrain the broader economic recovery.The glut of bank-owned properties has also hurt new home sales, which hit a record low in February. Figures for March sales will be released April 23, and analysts are expecting to see a healthy increase.If not, „builders will scale back and single-family housing starts could remain flat for several more months,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight.The strength in construction last month came from the South, where activity jumped 18 percent. Building activity plunged 28 percent in the Midwest, 8 percent in the Northeast and dipped 2 percent in the West.Builders have revved up bulldozers because buyers need to sign contracts by the end of the month to qualify for a tax credit. First-time owners get up to $8,000 and current owners get $6,500 if they relocate.The recent spate of dealmaking has made homebuilders more optimistic. The National Association of Home Builders said their housing market index jumped this month to the highest level since September. The industry’s longer-term outlook, however, remains cautious.Overall, building activity in March registered a seasonally adjusted pace of 626,000 homes and apartments, government data showed. Home construction clocked in at 531,000, and apartments at 95,000.
Bank bill in peril, WH urges part be dropped By JIM KUHNHENN and ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – In the face of stiff GOP opposition, Obama administration officials want Senate Democrats to purge a $50 billion fund for dismantling „too big to fail” banks from legislation that aims to protect against a new financial crisis. Republicans contend the provision would simply continue government bailouts of Wall Street.The sweeping bill aims to prevent a recurrence of the crisis that nearly caused a Wall Street meltdown in 2008. Beside creating a mechanism for liquidating large firms, House and Senate bills would govern previously unregulated derivatives, create a council to detect systemwide financial threats and establish a consumer protection agency to police lending, credit cards and other bank-customer transactions.President Barack Obama declared Friday that he would veto the bill if it doesn’t regulate the freewheeling derivatives market. „We can’t afford another AIG,” the president said, referring to the giant insurance conglomerate that relied heavily on the complex, sometimes exotic investment instruments.Separately on Friday, the government accused Goldman Sachs & Co., Wall Street’s most powerful firm, of defrauding investors by failing to disclose conflicts of interest in mortgage investments it sold as the housing market was collapsing two years ago.One senior Treasury official said Friday that the fund for dismantling giant failing banks, which would be financed by large financial institutions themselves, is unnecessary. He said the costs of dismantling the firms could be recouped from the industry after a liquidation.If the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., complies, that would remove one component of the bill that Republicans have persistently used to rally opposition. But it was unclear whether that step alone would yield any Republican votes.Senate Republicans stood solidly against the bill Friday after GOP leader Mitch McConnell persuaded Susan Collins, R-Maine, to join 40 fellow lawmakers in expressing their opposition and demanding further negotiation. McConnell suggested it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Republicans. „I appreciate the Obama administrations recognition of the need to substantively improve this bill,” McConnell said. „And I hope we can work with them to close the remaining bailout loopholes that put American taxpayers on the hook for financial institutions that become too big to fail.”The legislation would for the first time regulate derivatives, the instruments such as mortgage-backed securities that contributed to the near meltdown when their value plummeted during the housing crisis.Obama said he wants derivatives to be strongly regulated, and he added that he’s ready to veto any financial regulation bill that comes to his desk without it.But there’s some dispute among Democrats about how far such regulation should go.And the unified Republican opposition strengthened the hand of their Senate leader, McConnell of Kentucky, as Democrats prepare to bring the legislation to the floor for debate. The majority Democrats had been hunting for individual Republicans to peel away from their party caucus to help gain the 60 votes that would be needed to overcome a likely GOP procedural roadblock.”We are united in our opposition to the partisan legislation reported by the Senate Banking Committee,” the Republicans said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.McConnell has portrayed the legislation as a continuation of bailouts and as a partisan measure heavily influenced by the White House.But the most contentious provision, the $50 billion fund, was the result of bipartisan negotiations between Banking Committee members Mark Warner, D-Va., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn.On Thursday, Corker, too, suggested that given the furor, Democrats should simply drop the fund from the bill. The argument for paying up front for liquidation costs of a failed big bank is that it would reduce the amount the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. would have to borrow from the Treasury Department to dismantle large firms. But the administration has said all those costs could be recouped from the financial industry after the fact without keeping taxpayers on the hook for the expense. Also on Friday, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., issued her version of derivatives legislation — a proposal that goes beyond the pending banking bill by requiring large banks to spin off their derivatives trading operations. That provision would especially hit banks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, and bank lobbyists said they were prepared to fight it.The Treasury official said the administration preferred language in the Senate Banking Committee bill that would restrict overall proprietary trading by large banks, not just derivatives trades. That provision, however, would require a council of regulators to first study how to implement such a regulation. Lincoln’s proposal is more specific. The Treasury official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe positions the White House was not ready to take publicly.
Astronauts put cargo carrier back on space shuttle By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Discovery’s astronauts tucked a cargo carrier back aboard the space shuttle Friday, then surveyed their ship to make sure it was safe for the ride home.With their space station visit drawing to a close, the shuttle astronauts finally got the carrier — and its 2 1/2-ton load of trash and discarded equipment — into Discovery’s payload bay. The job was supposed to be completed Thursday, but problems with the latching system for the carrier delayed its removal from the International Space Station.The trouble dragged on so late Thursday that Mission Control let all 13 astronauts sleep in Friday, the eve of the shuttle’s departure.Soon after they awoke, Stephanie Wilson and Japan’s Naoko Yamazaki used the space station’s hefty robot arm to transport the 21-foot carrier the final short distance. The arm and carrier had been parked near the payload bay overnight.”Good job, ladies,” astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger said once the carrier was securely in place.Then Metcalf-Lindenburger and her colleagues powered up the shuttle robot arm to inspect Discovery’s wings and nose. The four-hour procedure normally is conducted following undocking. But the failure of the shuttle’s main antenna, way back on launch day April 5, prompted NASA to move up the operation so that all the mega files of images could be transmitted from the space station.NASA wants to be certain the shuttle’s heat shield did not suffer any damage from space junk that could jeopardize its return to Earth. Discovery is due to leave the station Saturday and land Monday in Florida.The astronauts had to watch out for all the space station pieces protruding every which way, as they used a 100-foot, laser-tipped boom to scrutinize the shuttle. NASA officials said the job was tricky because of the tight clearances — in some places just 1 1/2 feet. But there were lots of good views from inside to help the crew avoid hitting the station.This procedure already was in development for one of the three remaining shuttle flights.The astronauts skipped lunch to wrap up the survey early. They finished three hours ahead of schedule, in fact, and thanked flight controllers for their help with all the preparations. The images were being relayed to Mission Control as quickly as possible, so experts could analyze every single one.Flight director Richard Jones said a quick look at the data showed nothing amiss.With their main objectives accomplished, the astronauts got to take it easy for the rest of the day. It was a welcome respite, given that they had been struggling for more than a week with one problem after another.First the shuttle antenna failed. Then stiff bolts hampered spacewalking work, and then a pressure valve in the space station’s cooling system would not open. Lastly, the latching system acted up.The astronauts managed to work around each problem, save for the stuck valve. The space station residents or, perhaps, a future shuttle crew will have to deal with the valve in a spacewalk, if flight controllers can’t force it open.”I can’t say enough about the teams during this mission,” Jones said. „We have literally had blow after blow come at us and we’ve handled each one in short fashion.”Currently making its next-to-last flight, Discovery will blast off on NASA‘s final shuttle mission in September and take back up the cargo carrier, filled with one last load of supplies and equipment. Then, the carrier will be left permanently attached to the space station, to serve as an extra closet.The Italian-built chamber is named Leonardo, as in da Vinci.
3-D Printing Device Could Build Moon Base from Lunar Dust By Jeremy Hsu SPACE.com
Future astronauts might end up living in a moon base created largely from lunar dust and regolith, if a giant 3-D printing device can work on the lunar surface.The print-on-demand technology, known as D-Shape, could save on launch and transportation costs for manned missions to the moon. But the concept must first prove itself in exploratory tests funded by the European Space Agency (ESA)”We will make very basic printing trials in a vacuum environment to verify if this is possible,” said Enrico Dini, chairman of Monolite UK Ltd and creator of D-Shape.Dini’s D-Shape has created full-size sandstone buildings on Earth by using a 3-D printing process similar to how inkjet printers work. It adds a special inorganic binder to sand so that it can build a structure from the bottom up, one layer at a time.The device raises its printer head by just 5 to 10 millimeters for each layer, moving from side to side on horizontal beams as well as up and down on four metal frame columns. Finished structures end made out of a marble-like material that’s superior to certain types of cement. The buildings do not require iron reinforcing.Such a concept might help future lunar colonists live off the land, as well as provide thick-walled structures that protect against solar storms or micrometeorites.Space agencies have already begun testing other technologies meant to mine water and oxygen from the lunar regolith. NASA scientists have also played with possible recipes for a sort of lunar concrete based on moon dust.But D-Shape offers the added attraction of having a somewhat straightforward building process that does not require huge amounts of construction machinery or many robot laborers.Making the device work in a lunar environment may yet prove tricky. A first challenge involves making D-Shape function within the vacuum environment on a moon that lacks any meaningful atmospheric pressure. But Dini remains self-admittedly optimistic by nature.”I’m not a scientist and I’m not a technician — I’m an inventor,” Dini told SPACE.com. He spent five years „facing unexpected issues and finding unexpected solutions” when he first designed D-Shape, before heeding the call from ESA.Dini’s Monolite has teamed up with an Italian aerospace firm called Alta, which has a large vacuum chamber in its Pisa facilities. They hope to build a small structure perhaps just 3 feet (1 meter) on each side during the vacuum trials.Other partners working on the ESA project include Foster+Partners, a UK architecture firm, and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Perceptual Robotics Laboratory, an Italian lab that specializes in robotics and automation.A second challenge comes from the cost of running D-Shape trials by using expensive lunar regolith simulant. Dini has tried developing a possible alternative to NASA‘s JSC-1 simulant that might work for his research. Structures built from such material will have to undergo resistance testing.Even a functional D-Shape that works with lunar regolith would still face building limitations based on the amount of binder that a rocket could carry to the moon. Yet success would mean transforming lunar dust into part of the solution, rather than just a problem for astronauts and robotic explorers.NASA researchers have experimented with a different type of on-site manufacturing device that could someday create spare parts or new materials for the International Space Station. D-Shape could also end up deploying beyond Earth for additional testing, if all goes well with the first phase. The most important trials will be done in outer space,” Dini said.
On to Mars: Obama declares, ‘I expect to see it’ By SETH BORENSTEIN and ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – President Barack Obama boldly predicted Thursday his new plans for space exploration would lead American astronauts on historic, almost fantastic journeys to an asteroid and then to Mars — and in his lifetime — relying on rockets and propulsion still to be imagined and built.”I expect to be around to see it,” he said of pioneering U.S. trips starting with a landing on an asteroid — a colossal feat in itself — before the long-dreamed-of expedition to Mars. He spoke near the historic Kennedy Space Center launch pads that sent the first men to the moon, a blunt rejoinder to critics, including several former astronauts, who contend his planned changes will instead deal a staggering blow to the nation’s manned space program.”We want to leap into the future,” not continue on the same path as before, Obama said as he sought to reassure NASA workers that America’s space adventures would soar on despite the impending termination of space shuttle flights.His prediction was reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy’s declaration in 1961, „I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” That goal was fulfilled in 1969.Obama did not predict a Mars landing soon. But he said that by 2025, the nation would have a new spacecraft „designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space.””We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history,” he said. „By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”The biggest criticisms of Obama’s plans have been that they have lacked details and goals. Thursday’s speech was an attempt to answer, especially since an asteroid is the next step away from Earth’s reach.example, asteroids have been blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs.Landing on an asteroid would give scientists a better idea of how to handle a future killer asteroid that could wipe out much of life on Earth. Also, it would be a feat sure to win great attention — and there is far less gravity than the moon, meaning it would be easier and cheaper to leave.”I think he said all the right things” in declaring a commitment to space exploration, said George Washington University space scholar John Logsdon, who has served on several NASA advisory boards. „I don’t know what more you could have asked for.”But several Republicans, including Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, assailed Obama’s plan and speech, calling his plans „job-killing.””The president’s new plans for NASA are flat-out irresponsible,” Vitter said. „He has evidently decided … that it’s time for us to simply walk away from manned space exploration for the foreseeable future, with no clear timeline for returning or for achieving any of our goals for deep space exploration.”Obama said he was „100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.” He outlined plans for federal spending to bring more private companies into space exploration following the soon-to-end space shuttle program.He acknowledged criticism for his drastic changes to the space agency’s direction. But, he said, „The bottom line is: Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, the human exploration of space, than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way; we can’t keep doing the same old things as before.”Obama said the space program is not a luxury but a necessity for the United States.He noted that the Kennedy Space Center has inspired the nation and the world for half a century. He said NASA represents what it means to be American — „reaching for new heights and reaching for what’s possible” — and is not close to its final days.Obama sought to explain why he aborted President George W. Bush’s return-to-the moon plan in favor of a complicated system of public-and-private flights that would go elsewhere in space, with details still to be worked out.”We’ve been there before,” Obama said of the nation’s moon landings decades ago. „There’s a lot more of space to explore.” He said his administration would support continued manned exploration of space „not just with dollars, but with clear aims and a larger purpose.” The Obama space plan relies on private companies to fly to the space station, giving them almost $6 billion to build their own rockets and ships. It also extends the space station’s life by five years and puts billions into research to eventually develop new government rocket ships for future missions to a nearby asteroid, to the moon, to Martian moons or other points in space. Those stops would be stepping stones on an eventual mission to Mars itself. Addressing concerns of job losses to space program workers, particularly in Florida, Obama said that „despite some reports to the contrary,” his plan would add more than 2,500 jobs to the Cape Canaveral region over the next two years than would the plan worked out by his predecessor. „We’ll modernize the Kennedy Space Center, creating jobs as we upgrade launch facilities. And there is potential for even more job creation as companies in Florida and across America compete to be part of a new space transportation industry. „This holds the promise of generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide over the next few years. Many of these jobs will be created in Florida, an area primed to lead in this competition,” he said. Among his most vocal critics has been Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Obama did not mention Armstrong, who did not attend the speech, but he did praise Buzz Aldrin, one of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crewmates. Aldrin did attend the speech — flying in with Obama on Air Force One. Obama also said his administration would rescue a small part of the moon program: its Orion crew capsule.But instead of taking four astronauts to the moon, the not-yet-built Orion will be slimmed down and used as an emergency escape pod for the space station.Obama spoke in the vast launch complex’s Operations and Checkout building — the place where Orion is scheduled to be eventually prepared for launch.The president said, „This Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room.”White House science adviser John Holdren summed up Obama’s program as „a faster pace in space, more missions to more destinations sooner at lower cost.”
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Famous fictional Vulcan Leonard Nimoy says he’s excited about what’s to come in the world of real-life space exploration.Nimoy, who became famous playing Spock in the original Star Trek series, spoke Thursday here at the 26th National Space Symposium, where he was accepting the 2010 Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award. The actor said he’s a big fan of real-world spaceflight, as well as the fictionalized version, and had watched President Barack Obama’s major space policy speech that afternoon.”I do believe that President Obama means it when he says that he is 100 percent interested in space,” Nimoy told reporters. „I know for sure he’s a Star Trek fan,” he said, because the first time the two men met, President Obama made Spock‘s traditional V-shaped finger spread.Nimoy said he didn’t feel qualified to speak to the merits of the president’s new plan for space, but that it sounded like a positive direction.”All-in-all I’m looking forward,” he said. „I hope it’s going to work out for the best.”Nimoy said he has followed space exploration throughout his career, and remembers driving to work on the set of Star Trek when he heard the news of the Challenger accident.”Those pictures will never go away,” he said of his memories of the explosion replays.It’s just beginning to sink in that the space shuttle era is ending, Nimoy said.”I think people will be grieving,” he said. „I will. I’ll be sad to see it go. It’s been a very important part of our image of NASA and space for the last number of years.”He even credits real-life space exploration for the success of his Star Trek show. When it was first run, the program wasn’t that successful, he said, but began to pick up in reruns after the Apollo moon missions.”In 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, and I think that had a great impact on Star Trek reruns,” Nimoy said. „The show began to find a tremendous new audience.”
Astronauts Pack Up Shuttle Cargo Pod, Inspect Heat Shield By Tariq Malik SPACE.com
Astronauts on NASA’s space shuttle Discovery packed a cargo pod back inside their spacecraft’s payload bay Friday and took one last look at their heat shield to look for any new damage. The astronauts used the space station’s robotic arm to return their bus-sized cargo pod Leonardo to Discovery’s payload bay as they prepare to leave after more than a week at the orbiting lab.The shiny cylindrical module delivered more than 8 tons of new supplies, science equipment and other cargo to the space station. It is now filled with trash and unneeded equipment to be returned back to Earth.”We’ve got a lot of work accomplished up here and we still got a little more,” Discovery astronaut Rick Mastracchio told Mission Control as the crew began their day. „We look forward to coming home soon.”The 21-foot-long Leonardo module was actually supposed to be moved back to Discovery Thursday night, but some technical glitches delayed that work much longer than planned. Discovery is due to undock from the space station Saturday at 8:52 a.m. EDT (1252 GMT).Discovery’s crew stayed up extra late to try and finish as much of the cargo pod move as possible after finally plucking it free Thursday. To make up for the long day, Mission Control let the astronauts sleep in Friday to rest up. The Leonardo module, named after famed Renaissance artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci, is making its last trip to Earth on this mission. When Discovery launches to the space station again, it will carry Leonardo to the station to serve as a permanent attachment to the orbiting lab.After moving the Leonardo cargo module, Discovery’s astronauts switched robotic arms. They used shuttle’s 100-foot (30-meter) combo of its own robotic arm and sensor-tipped inspection pole to search for any signs of new damage to the heat shield panels along their wing edges and nose cap. Known as a late inspection, the heat shield survey is a now-standard part every shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster to make sure a shuttle hasn’t been damaged from micrometeorites or space debris. The survey is usually performed after a space shuttle undocks, but Discovery’s crew had the tricky task of inspecting their heat shield while still linked to the space station.A main antenna failure on April 5, the day Discovery launched into space, forced the astronauts to scan their heat shield while at the space station in order to use the station’s antenna to send the massive video files of the scan to Mission Control. The astronauts had to take extra care to avoid bumping any part of the space station and had to work with some tight clearance issues. But despite those challenges, they actually were well ahead of their schedule during the inspection. NASA engineers on Earth will review the video and data from the heat shield scan to make sure Discovery is safe to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The shuttle’s heat shield has already been cleared of any concerns related to launch debris.Discovery is flying one of NASA‘s final shuttle missions before the space shuttle fleet is retired later this year. Only three more missions are left after this one, each one the last for the shuttle flying on it.Discovery astronauts will have spent about nine days of their 14-day mission at the space station when they undock Saturday. They performed three spacewalks to make a tricky ammonia tank swap among other maintenance chores during that time.The shuttle is due to land in Florida on Monday at 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT).
Vancouver tallies its Olympic costs By REUTERS
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – The city of Vancouver spent more than C$554 million ($554 million) as host of this year’s Winter Olympics, much of it related to building the athletes village, according to documents released on Thursday.A report defended the spending since more than C$500 million involved capital projects on Canada’s Pacific Coast that will benefit the city long after the Games.The Vancouver Olympics in February had a C$1.7 billion operating budget that was largely privately funded, though that did not include the C$900 million in security spending paid for by the Canadian government.The federal government and the province of British Columbia also paid the C$585 million cost to build and refurbish competition venues in Vancouver, and at the nearby mountain resort of Whistler.The city budget figures released on Thursday do not include the more than C$500 million in loans it gave the private developer building the C$1 billion athletes village to ensure it would be completed on time.That loan, needed when the developer’s private financing dried up in the world credit crisis, is expected to be paid off as most of the waterfront housing near Vancouver‘s downtown is sold off as high-end condominiums.The city spent C$300 million on subsidized housing and other civic facilities related to the village and C$26 million on a waste-to-energy heating plant that won praise from environmentalists.An auditor’s report in 2006 estimated that hosting the Games would eventually cost Canadians taxpayers C$2.5 billion, including related infrastructure projects such as highway and transit upgrades.(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)
US destroyer chases pirates who fire RPGs at ship By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya – A U.S. destroyer hunted down a group of pirates who attacked a vessel in the Gulf of Aden with rocket-propelled grenades early Friday and chased them with a helicopter, officials said.The helicopter from the USS Farragut watched the pirates throw items — possibly weapons — overboard. A boarding team confiscated pirate paraphernalia and the skiff was instructed to return to the Somali coast, the Combined Maritime Forces said in a statement.The military said the pirates attacked the Thailand-flagged MV Thor Traveler with RPGs and rifles at 3 a.m. on a moonless morning.That the pirates were set free underscores one of the problems the international community has not yet solved over the piracy issue: which country should take possession of the suspects and prosecute them.The encounter was at least the fourth skirmish with pirates that U.S. warships have had in the last several weeks.The Navy has captured at least 21 suspected pirates since March 31 in the violence-plagued waters off Somalia and nearby regions, where U.S. warships are part of an international anti-piracy flotilla. But no decision has yet been made on where or if the suspects will be tried.Kenya this month began refusing to take suspects, saying the pirates were placing undue strain on its court system. A group of 10 suspected Somali pirates facing trial in Germany arrived in the Netherlands this week. Germany issued an arrest warrant for the men and plans to prosecute them, a rare instance of a European country putting pirates on trial.Somalia itself is a failed state with no working justice system, although hundreds of pirates have been taken to the overcrowded prisons in the semiautonomous region of Puntland. A handful of captured pirates are also being held in Yemen and the Maldives.Elsewhere off Somalia, a Spanish warship with the EU Naval Force tracked, boarded and destroyed a pirate mother ship on Thursday, the force said in a statement Friday.The EU Naval Force said that the pirates told the military officials they were fishermen, but that the skiff had no fishing equipment on board, though it did have large amounts of fuel and ammunition.The skiff was destroyed and the three pirates were taken to shore.The EU Naval Force has stepped up its anti-piracy patrols near the coast of Somalia in an attempt to stop pirates before they reach deeper seas, where more attacks take place.Hoping to win the millions of dollars in ransom that a successful hijacking can bring, pirates have increased attacks in recent months. But military officials say the pirates’ success rate has gone down because of increased maritime patrols and security measures on ships.