Friday, April 20, 2012

Space shuttle Discovery gets red-carpet treatment at Air and Space Museum

Space-shuttle-Discovery-gets red-carpet-treatment-at-Air-and-Space-Museum Discovery, NASA’s hardest-working space shuttle, was welcomed to its new mission as a Smithsonian museum object on Thursday in a ceremony replete with Washington pageantry .

But first, Discovery stood nose to nose with the shuttle Enterprise on a runway behind its new home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the National Air and Space Museum’s Northern Virginia annex. The U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps played, fans and astronauts greeted the shuttle and a full day of events commenced to greet the Smithsonian’s latest addition.

Charred from its incredible history, the spacecraft was serenaded into its new job by Denyce Graves, Washington’s go-to soprano, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Space pioneer John Glenn said, “The space shuttle Discovery is the star.”

A corp of astronauts wearing their blue jumpsuits escorted the Discovery down the runway. As the top of the shuttle appeared from behind the trees, the hundreds assembled — some six deep along the fences — quickly turned into photographers. And the picture-taking didn’t stop for hours.

The shuttle represents the “American spirit,” said Gen. John R. “Jack’’ Dailey, the director of the Air and Space Museum.

Glenn, who at age 77 joined a 1998 Discovery mission and became the oldest person to travel to space, opposed the termination of the shuttle program by former President George W. Bush. “It ended prematurely,” the former senator from Ohio said, “but that decision has been made, and we’ve moved on to other things.”

Others in attendance volunteered intimate knowledge of the shuttle. “I strapped in every one of them,” said Travis Thompson, one of many shuttle workers who reunited Thursday.

And for Ivette Jones, a former NASA astronaut instructor, Discovery’s arrival provided a moment of closure. After losing her NASA job at the end of the shuttle program, Jones moved to the region to work for the Navy. “I’m so happy it’s here,” she said. “I told the Smithsonian folks to take good care of it.”

Abraham Gelabert, a 25-year veteran of the Fairfax County police, stood on the grass trying to take perfect pictures. He belongs to an Internet flight stimulation club. “I’m going to share some of these pictures with them,” Gelabert said.

To mark the occasion, two contractors in the Smithsonian Institution’s collections department had designed cardboard shuttle hats for themselves. Once discovered, Ashley Koen and Stephanie Harris were the target of a photo scrum. “We were talking about the excitement of today,” Koen said. “And we create things all day long, so we decided to make hats.”

Discovery arrived in Washington on Tuesday after an elaborate flyover of the Mall that brought spectators into the streets. It landed at Dulles International Airport, where it awaited its shipment to the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Bob Zimmerman was one of the pilots flying the modified Boeing 747 that brought Discovery to town, but he couldn’t see the crowds along the Potomac and the streets during the flyover. “It didn’t really hit me until I got to the hotel room and turned on the TV and saw these children wearing space outfits,” he said. “I got the chills thinking, ‘Wow, this brought a lot of joy to people.’ ”

A crew had put Discovery on the ground at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, hours before the official ceremony. It will replace Enterprise, which is moving to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan.

G. Wayne Clough, the secretary of the Smithsonian, quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line about “no second acts” in life. But, Clough countered: “Now Discovery begins its own second life.”

Washington Post

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Britain Resumes Efforts to Deport Radical Cleric

ap_britain_preacher_2005_eng_480 British authorities have re-arrested a radical Islamist cleric, accused of ties to late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in a fresh attempt to deport him to Jordan after more a than decade-long legal battle.

Jordanian preacher Abu Qatada was detained Tuesday by U.K. Border Agency officers.  He was denied bail while awaiting the latest extradition attempt to Jordan, where he was convicted in 1998 in absentia of terrorism charges related to two bomb plots.

Britain has been trying to deport Qatada since 2001.  But its efforts have repeatedly been blocked by the courts, the latest being in January, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the deportation because evidence used against him in Jordan may have been obtained using torture.

British Home Secretary Teresa May told Parliament Tuesday she received new assurances from Jordan that the country's constitution no longer permits the use of evidence obtained through torture. 

May, who visited Jordan last month, said she believes the assurance should pave the way to satisfying the courts, allowing the deportation to proceed.

"For more than 10 years successive governments have sought to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, because of the serious risk he poses to our national security," said May.  "He has a long-standing association with al-Qaida, he has been linked to several terrorist plots, and he has been found guilty in absentia in Jordan of terrorist offences."

Jordan's justice minister, Ibrahim al-Jazi, said Qatada will be entitled to a new trial once extradited.

"There was a judgment which was issued against him in absentia," said al-Jazi.  "This requires, if he arrives to Jordan, that he will face a full trial.  And this full trial will be before a civilian panel within the state security court."

British officials have described Qatada, who arrived in Britain in the 1990s, as former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's top European deputy.  He has been detained in Britain for most of the past decade under the country's anti-terrorism laws.

VOA News

World economy fragile, faces "uneasy calm:" IMF

Global-growth Global growth is slowly improving as the U.S. recovery gains traction and dangers from Europe recede, but risks remain high and the situation is very fragile, the International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday.

Another flare-up of the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis or sharp escalation in oil prices on geopolitical uncertainty could disrupt a world economy finding its feet once again after market turmoil over euro-zone budget deficits, the IMF said.

"An uneasy calm remains. One has the feeling that at any moment things could well get very bad again," IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard told reporters as he detailed the Fund's World Economic Outlook.

"Our baseline forecast is for low growth in advanced countries, especially in Europe, but with downside risks being extremely present," he said.

The IMF revised upward its global growth forecast for this year to 3.5 percent from 3.3 percent in January, and to 4.1 percent for 2013 from 3.9 percent previously.

While the euro zone will suffer a mild recession, the IMF said it will be less severe than feared after policy actions calmed markets at the turn of the year.

European leaders toughened their fiscal rules, the European Central Bank bond buying flooded markets with money, new governments in Italy, Spain and Greece are pushing through harsh budget reforms and euro-zone leaders have agreed to enlarge their bailout fund.

The United States, meanwhile, is gradually gaining momentum while China and other emerging economies appear on track for gradual slowdowns without crashing, the IMF said.

But the gains are precarious. Should the euro-zone crisis erupt once more, it could trigger a widespread dumping of risky assets, robbing 2 percent from global growth over two years, the euro zone suffering a 3.5 percent decline in output, the Fund warned.

Additionally, a 50 percent increase in the price of oil would lower global output by 1.25 percent, it said.

To secure the global recovery, the IMF urged central banks in the United States, euro zone and Japan to stand ready to deliver further monetary easing; governments to exercise caution over the pace of budget cutbacks wherever feasible; and Europe to consider using public funds to recapitalize banks.


Blanchard applauded European leaders for making "major progress" in building firewalls against financial contagion. "But by themselves, they cannot solve the difficulties."

Countries face a fine balancing act whereby they must cut budgets in the short term, even if it does stifle growth temporarily, in order to win back market confidence. They also must lock in credible medium-term plans for deficit reduction and undertake reforms to spur economic competitiveness.

Markets eventually will reward countries with lower interest rates, Blanchard said. The fiscal cutbacks made so far are adequate, given the shaky growth outlook. If economic prospects worsen, he recommended no further cutbacks.

European banks also are deleveraging, which will reduce their balance sheets by $2.6 trillion over the next two years and slice about 1 percentage point from growth this year alone.

Facing these headwinds, the euro zone is likely to endure a mild recession this year, shrinking by 0.3 percent and then posting 0.9 percent growth in 2013, the IMF said. That is a minor improvement from the 0.5 percent 2012 contraction it had forecast in January.

Blanchard also said that euro zone leaders should take further steps toward fiscal union, which would lessen country risk. He proposed moving toward issuing common sovereign bonds, starting with euro bills, and advocated European wide bank deposit insurance and the use of public funds to recapitalize banks.

The United States, meanwhile, is "pulling itself up by its bootstraps" as domestic conditions improve, the IMF said, though the pace of growth remains constrained by an indebted consumer, high unemployment and a weak housing market.

The IMF lifted its forecast for the United States to 2.1 percent this year, up from 1.8 percent in January. For 2013, it nudged up the forecast to 2.4 percent from 2.2 percent. It sees unemployment this year holding at its current level of 8.2 percent and inching down in 2013 to 7.9 percent.

Despite the improvement, the fate of the United States remains deeply intertwined with that of the euro zone, where renewed problems could rob 1.5 percentage points from the outlook.

"A flare-up in the euro area from increased sovereign and bank stress could easily undermine confidence in the U.S. corporate sector and thereby squeeze investment and demand, undermining growth," the IMF said.

The United States faces its own fiscal challenges, made worse by political fights that have delayed work on crafting a medium-term plan to reduce its budget deficit. If tax cuts expire at the end of this year and planned budget cuts kick in, the United States will face an abrupt fiscal tightening.

"Such massive adjustment could significantly undermine the economic recovery," the IMF said.


The IMF is sanguine on the outlook for China. It left its growth forecasts unchanged at 8.2 percent this year and 8.8 percent in 2013. Strong domestic investment and growing consumption as the middle class expands are supporting growth and offsetting slowing exports.

At the news conference, the IMF's deputy director of research, Joerg Decressin, welcomed Beijing's decision on Saturday to allow its currency to fluctuate within a wider band and said more flexibility would help in rebalancing the Chinese economy toward internal consumption. He said it was unclear whether the yuan was fairly valued, since the IMF is in the midst of reviewing its methodology for currency valuations.

The IMF said emerging and developing economies as a whole would likely grow by 5.7 percent this year and by 6 percent next year, upward revisions from the 5.4 percent and 5.9 percent forecasts made in January.

Their challenge is to prevent overheating while retaining room for fiscal and monetary stimulus should dangers from the euro zone or high oil prices spill over, the IMF said.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Antonella Ciancio and Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman, Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Hay)

Strong earthquake strikes Chile; no serious damage reported

120417054819-bpr-chile-earthquake-manuel-00000000-story-top A strong earthquake struck coastal Chile near the port city of Valparaiso late Monday, causing mudslides and some minor damage, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The 6.7-magnitude quake knocked out some power and phone lines in the region, authorities said.

The temblor was felt in the capital city, Santiago, located 69 miles from the epicenter. A CNN en EspaƱol anchor held onto his desk as the quake rattled the studio during a newscast in Huechurba, a suburb of the capital.

"We could feel the ground shaking," said journalist Richard Madan. "It felt like we were standing on a subway track but multiply that by about 200."

Madan, of CNN's Canadian affiliate CTV, is in Santiago as part of the traveling press for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit there.

Both he and the Canadian delegation were okay, Madan said.

No tsunami warning was issued, according to Chile's Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service, and a preventive evacuation for the area has been lifted. A 72-year-old man died of a heart attack during the evacuation, according to regional Mayor Raul Celis.

The same part of the country was hit with an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in February 2010, killing hundreds of people.

Chile is on the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basic that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.


Nuclear talks don't exempt Iran from attack: Barak

Ehud-Barak Israel's defense minister said on Tuesday that Israeli military action against Iran remains an option even while nuclear negotiations are under way, and voiced strong doubts whether the talks would succeed.

Asked whether the negotiations, which began in Turkey on Saturday, could persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment, Ehud Barak told Army Radio: "It does not look to me as if it is going to happen - not now, in the wake of Istanbul, and not ... after the (Baghdad round of talks next month)."

Barak is due to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Washington on Thursday amid speculation in the Israeli media that Israel has promised its main ally that it will refrain from attacking Iran while the talks continue.

"We are not committing to anything," Barak said, when asked whether any such pledge had been made. "There is not, there has not been, there should not be and there cannot be (such a promise)."

Barak has said that Iran could soon enter a "zone of immunity" against Israeli attack as it puts its nuclear installations deep underground, comments that raised international concern that a strike could be nearing.

In the interview, he reiterated Israeli fears that the negotiations between Iran and a group comprising the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany could drag on and waste what he described as "precious time".

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to open a rift with Washington over the talks by saying that a five-week break between the Istanbul meeting and the next session in Baghdad on May 23 gave Iran a "freebie" to continue enriching uranium.

U.S. President Barack Obama, responding to Netanyahu's accusations, said "so far at least we haven't given anything away" and that it had been made clear to Iran that "the clock is ticking" and there could be no "stalling process".

Israel and the West fear Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.

In an interview on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the Islamic Republic could make concessions on its higher-grade uranium enrichment in exchange for an easing of international sanctions.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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