WASHINGTON – Space shuttle Atlantis is now in a rough orbital neighborhood — a place littered with thousands of pieces of space junk zipping around the Earth at nearly 20,000 mph. There are more pieces of shattered satellites and used-up rockets in this region than astronauts have ever encountered. And the crew must be there for more than a week to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. As soon as the job is complete, the shuttle will scamper to safety.
The telescope orbits about 350 miles above Earth, a far dirtier place than where shuttles normally fly. And all those tiny projectiles raise the constant threat of a potentially fatal collision.
“It’s a riskier environment when we go to this altitude,” said NASA safety chief Bryan O’Connor, a former shuttle commander. But, he added, it’s a risk that NASA can handle.
After the 2003 Columbia accident, just going up to Hubble was deemed too dangerous because flying to the telescope entails climbing to a different orbit than the international space station. That means the shuttle cannot use the outpost as a safe harbor in an emergency.
NASA now puts the risk for a catastrophic collision with junk during the mission at 1 in 229 — greater than typical flights to the space station but lower than the agency’s initial estimates.
On Wednesday, the crew will grab the telescope and tuck it inside the shuttle’s cargo bay, where spacewalking astronauts will make repairs and upgrades over the next week. The work begins Thursday.
The crew spent Tuesday checking the outside of the shuttle for any damage from debris during launch, finding four nicks that initially seem minor. It’s a standard procedure since Columbia got hit by a piece of foam during launch and later disintegrated during re-entry.
But the biggest danger on any shuttle flight is getting hit with space junk or tiny space rocks at high speeds during orbit, not during launch. Because objects circle the Earth at high speed, something as small as one-third the width of a dime can penetrate the shuttle’s cabin, causing a major — maybe even fatal — problem, according to NASA.
And where Atlantis is camped out has only gotten messier recently. In 2007, China destroyed one of its satellites to test a weapon, scattering debris. In February, a dead Russian satellite and an American communications satellite collided, spreading more trash in higher orbits.
So far, space junk trackers have spotted about 950 pieces from this year’s crash and more than 2,500 from the 2007 explosion. And there’s much more they have not seen.
Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks objects in orbit, said “people are going to be watching (Atlantis’ mission) very carefully. It’s a real danger.”
While it’s unlikely debris will cause a serious problem, McDowell expects Atlantis to come home “with a couple major dings in its windshield or radiator.”
NASA’s top space junk expert said it’s important to put the worries into perspective.
“It’s not something to lose sleep over,” said NASA chief space debris scientist Nicholas Johnson. “We do take it very, very seriously, but in the scheme of things, it’s a small risk.”
Still, Johnson acknowledged that the higher orbit is far more dangerous than the space station’s position 225 miles above Earth.
“Hubble is being pummeled regularly,” Johnson said. “We see evidence of thousands of impacts.”
Initially, when Johnson and other experts at the Johnson Space Center calculated the risk for losing Atlantis because of debris, it was slightly worse than 1 in 200.
That’s the threshold for NASA to think twice about doing the flight. Engineers came up with some maneuvers to reduce the likelihood of getting hit, and have now decided the risk is an acceptable 1 in 229. That risk is usually about 1 in 300 during space station missions.
NASA canceled this Hubble mission in 2004, citing the risks of not being able to go to the space station in case of emergency. But the mission was reinstated after engineers devised ways to patch damage in flight, and the space agency created a plan for a quick rescue flight if needed. The shuttle Endeavour sits on the launch pad on standby to retrieve the Atlantis crew if the shuttle is too damaged to fly home.
NASA also found other ways to curb the risk of damage. As soon as Atlantis finishes fixing Hubble and places it back in orbit, the shuttle will skedaddle down to a lower, cleaner and safer orbit. The crew will also make another inspection of the shuttle before heading back to Earth.
In addition, Atlantis is flying an egg-shaped orbit, going as high as 350 miles to catch up to Hubble, but also dropping as close as 135 miles, making it less prone to space junk and easier for a rescue flight if necessary, according to NASA spokesman Rob Navias.
The Air Force is tracking more than 19,000 objects in all sorts of orbits — most of it junk.
The dirtiest spots are at 525 miles up where the Chinese satellite was destroyed and 490 miles, where the Russian-American satellite collision occurred.
Even though the Hubble-Atlantis orbit is more than 100 miles below those zones, it’s too close for complete comfort. That’s because the trash spreads into nearby orbits, Johnson said.
And the higher the space junk orbits, the longer it stays aloft because there’s even less drag from the ultra-thin atmosphere pulling stuff down. For example, a 4-inch object 490 miles up will stay in orbit for more than a century, Johnson said.
At Hubble’s altitude, the same object would come down in about a decade; from the space station, it would be gone in a few months.
The Air Force Space Command tracks debris larger than 4 inches and gives warning to NASA and others if trash is projected to come close to astronauts. Twice in the past year, NASA has moved the space station to dodge nearby junk. But that’s only the debris the Air Force can track.
Objects between one-tenth of an inch and 4 inches are dangerous enough to cause major and even fatal damage, but cannot be specifically tracked.
“The greatest risk to space missions comes from the non-trackable debris,” Johnson said.
On the Net
NASA Orbital Debris Program Office: http://www.orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov
Archive for May 12th, 2009
WASHINGTON – Space shuttle Atlantis is now in a rough orbital neighborhood — a place littered with thousands of pieces of space junk zipping around the Earth at nearly 20,000 mph. There are more pieces of shattered satellites and used-up rockets in this region than astronauts have ever encountered. And the crew must be there for more than a week to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. As soon as the job is complete, the shuttle will scamper to safety.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) –
“Titanic” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and the film's director James Cameron have responded to a challenge and donated $30,000 to support the last survivor of the Titanic in her last years, a representative for DiCaprio said Monday.
The survivor, 97-year-old Millvina Dean, has reportedly resorted to selling her autograph to pay her nursing home bills in Southampton, the English city from which “Titanic” began its fateful maiden voyage in 1912.
Dean was only 9 weeks old when her family traveled on Titanic in hopes of beginning a new life in the United States. Her father was one of the 1,517 casualties after the supposedly unsinkable ship hit an iceberg in the Atlantic.
DiCaprio, Winslet and Cameron made their combined $30,000 donation after Irish author and photographer Don Mullan publicly challenged them to match his donation, said Ken Sunshine, a spokesman for DiCaprio. Mullan, who photographed Dean for an exhibition, made his appeal last month in the Irish Independent newspaper.
The 1997 drama “Titanic” made more than $1.8 billion at the worldwide box office, making it the highest-grossing film of all time in figures not adjusted for inflation. It went on to win 11 Oscars, including best picture.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Dean Goodman and Bill Trott)
NEW YORK – Maya Rudolph say she’s expecting her second child with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
The former “Saturday Night Live” star confirmed her pregnancy Tuesday on ABC’s “The View.” When co-host Barbara Walters asked whether she was expecting, Rudolph answered: “I am. … I’m so excited.”
The 36-year-old actress and 38-year-old Anderson, who has directed such films as “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood,” are already parents to a 3-year-old daughter.
Rudolph left “SNL” in 2007 but has since returned to the NBC show to portray Michelle Obama.
In the upcoming film “Away We Go,” she plays a woman expecting her first child. John Krasinski plays her partner in the Sam Mendes movie. It’s slated for limited release on June 5.
On the Net:
Another week, another assault on business-as-usual by President Obama. Or is it, as some critics are starting to wonder, an assault on business, as usual?
This time, Obama took aim at offshore tax havens, announcing a drive against corporations and wealthy Americans who avoid U.S. taxes by putting their money overseas. He is seeking new tax laws, more-stringent reporting requirements, and the hiring of 800 new agents for the Internal Revenue Service to limit the practice of sheltering money and shifting jobs outside the United States. [Read more about Obama's tax proposals]
“I want to see our companies remain the most competitive in the world,” Obama said Monday, “but the way to make sure that happens is not to reward our companies for moving jobs off our shores or transferring profits to overseas tax havens.” Obama said his proposal would bring in 210 billion in extra tax revenue over 10 years. [See photos of Obama]
But all this prompted angry opposition from major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. Corporate leaders said the Obama plan would result in their companies paying higher taxes than their foreign competitors, hindering their attempts to compete globally. The critics also argued that American jobs would be jeopardized if Obama succeeded in blocking corporations from deferring tax payments on overseas profits and taking a credit on taxes incurred in foreign countries to reduce their tax burden in the United States. John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, which represents some the nation's largest companies, issued a statement calling it “the wrong proposal at the wrong time for the wrong reason.” Castellani said it will “make us less competitive in the international marketplace, where, by last count, 95 percent of the world lives.”
Republicans in Congress seemed generally opposed to Obama's plan. “I cannot endorse a plan that gives preferential treatment to foreign companies at the expense of U.S. companies,” says Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader in the Senate. Even some Democrats, including Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, weren't wild about the changes. Calling for “further study,” Baucus issued a statement noting, “I want to make certain that our tax policies are fair and support the global competitiveness of U.S. businesses.” Much of the plan would require congressional approval. [See who is in Obama's inner circle]
Until the offshore decision, business leaders had been muted in criticizing the Obama administration, even though the new president has made them very uncomfortable by intervening more aggressively in the private sector than any other president in many years. Among his actions have been bailing out the financial industry, taking over a stake in the auto industry, and helping people avoid foreclosure in the housing industry, all with powerful strings attached.
Democratic strategists say that, up until now, business leaders haven't wanted to alienate the popular president so early in his tenure. One particular concern, says a senior Democrat who is close to the White House, was that corporate leaders did not want to be excluded from discussions of important legislation, especially proposals to overhaul the healthcare system. The offshore decision, however, has set up a clash that may break the informal truce. [Poll: How would you grade Obama's administration so far?]
White House officials aren't worried. “The last election in some ways was a referendum on President Obama's economic philosophy versus the philosophy that didn't do very well over the last eight years,” argues an Obama adviser. Not that the administration is looking to pick fights. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says, “President Obama has a very good relationship with the business community. He's working extra hard on creating more jobs and stabilizing the financial crisis…. In many ways, he's perhaps surprised the business community with just how moderate he has been and how much he is willing to work with them.”
Since taking office, Obama has argued that his aggressive interventions in the economy not only were supported by the public but were forced on him by the financial crisis. “I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already,” he told a news conference April 29. “I've got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be.” He added: “I'm always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of 'Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.' No, I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that's not the hand that's been dealt us.” By all indications, he will feel obliged to play that hand indefinitely.
–Read more about Obama's tax policy.
–Read more about Obama's economic advisers.
NHS criticised for Baby P errors
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News
A catalogue of failings by the NHS meant a series of opportunities that could have saved Baby P’s life were missed, the health regulator says.The toddler, who has now been named as Peter, was seen by health services 35 times before his death in August 2007. Two doctors involved in his care have already been suspended. But the Care Quality Commission said services across Haringey in London were poor, prompting an apology from the NHS trusts involved. Baby P suffered over 50 injuries by the time of his death aged 17 months. The catalogue of abuse he suffered emerged during a court hearing at the end of last year that led to the conviction of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger for causing his death. The case led to heavy criticism of local social care arrangements with some council staff losing their jobs as a result.
The 35 contacts with the NHS covered visits to a GP, health visitors, consultant paediatricians, hospitals and walk-in centres. The regulator criticised three trusts in particular – Haringey, which was responsible for the community services, North Middlesex Hospital and the specialist children’s hospital Great Ormond Street, which provided the paediatric staff for both the local trusts. It said system failure meant medical records were not shared between different health services and NHS workers did not properly alert social services and police to their concerns. Staff shortages and delays in assessments were also noted. Despite this, all three trusts have in previous years reported that they complied with official standards covering child protection. This issue is now central to the second report the CQC is compiling into the way the rest of the NHS carries out child protection duties. ScansBut the CQC pointed out that staff did not follow protocols when they were in place. Bone and skeleton scans were not always carried out to give a clear picture of Peter’s injuries. The report said the consultant who saw Peter two days before his death and noted bruises and marks over his body did not alert a social worker. The paediatrician was Dr Sabah al-Zayyat, a locum who is one of two doctors suspended and being investigated by the General Medical Council. She did not carry out a full examination of Peter – allegedly because he was miserable and cranky.
A post-mortem examination later revealed a broken back and ribs, among a number of other injuries, that are believed to have pre-dated his appointment. The regulator also highlighted the role of Peter’s GP, Dr Jerome Ikwueke, the other medic under investigation. The report said as the central medical record holder he could have identified the recurring visits to hospital “as a signal of potential abuse”. CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower said: “There were clear reasons to have concern for this child, but the response was simply not fast enough or smart enough. “The NHS must accept its share of the responsibility.” The three trusts criticised said they had already started changing and improving procedures. Great Ormond Street Hospital said it was “truly sorry Peter suffered and died”. And Tracey Baldwin, chief executive of Haringey Primary Care Trust, apologised, adding: “We failed to understand the level of danger that Peter was in.” But Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: “These failures are unacceptable. We must do all we can to learn the lessons of this appalling case.”
When generals become unstuck
By Mark Urban
BBC Newsnight diplomatic editor
General David McKiernan’s fall from grace is a salutary reminder of what is at stake for the US in Afghanistan.US defence secretary Robert Gates dismissed him with some modern management speak about the need for “new thinking and new approaches”. But his departure after less than one year in the job has more of a feel of World War I or II about it, when generals were routinely “broken” or “came unstuck” in the febrile atmosphere of total war. Gen McKiernan was widely respected for his intellect. Having interviewed him shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq – the ground element of which he masterminded – I can attest to his soft spoken, cerebral presence. But it also became clear, when my questions about the wisdom or otherwise of disbanding the Iraqi army visibly nettled him, that he was a man uncomfortable with press scrutiny. Last year, someone who had seen the general in action in Kabul told me, “He doesn’t get on well with Afghans”. His downbeat pronouncements about the progress of the military campaign had annoyed people in Washington too, where some regarded him as verging on the defeatist. Gen McKiernan did not look or sound like a man of the “Yes We Can” school. His fall reminds us that in the modern age, people who cannot get on with foreign leaders or get their media message across are simply unsuited to high command. ‘Soldier monk’The US will now send General Stanley McChrystal to take over the command of its war in Afghanistan.
Gen McChrystal manages to combine the unlikely attributes of a smooth media operator – having been a Pentagon spokesman – with the fearsome battlefield reputation of being a key player in the secret world of special operations, turning the tide in Iraq. Those who worked with Gen McChrystal as commander of Joint Special Operations Command (Jsoc), running America’s elite counter-terrorist forces such as Delta Force, say he was like a soldier monk, taking just 10 days off a year and often accompanying his operators on “door kicking” raids in the worst parts of Iraq. In 2005-6, when even many of the generals running the US war there seemed to be giving up hope, Gen McChrystal increased the pressure on al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian-backed Special Groups. Will Gen McChrystal apply his relentless, aggressive approach to Afghanistan? We will be watching out for the signs of any change in strategy or message. The “Af-Pak battle space” is of course quite different to Iraq. Gen McChrystal will already be calibrating just how different.
Japan resignation leaves many queries
By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Tokyo
Ichiro Ozawa’s long drawn-out departure as leader of Japan’s main opposition may have handed Prime Minister Taro Aso something few thought possible at the start of the year – a real chance of winning the next election.Mr Ozawa, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was ahead in the polls but in March his personal secretary was arrested and indicted for accepting illegal donations from a construction company. He insisted he had done nothing wrong and hung on for months, before finally bowing to growing public distaste on Monday. “He should have gone a long time ago,” said Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo. “All he did was amplify the damage to his own party, and turned it from almost a sure-fire victory to one where they’re going to do not that well.” New era?The scandal has been so damaging because it undermines everything for which the DPJ has stood – and happened just before elections which must be called by September at the latest. The party promised a new politics, championing consumers and workers over corporate interests, breaking the stranglehold of the bureaucracy on policy, and pursuing a more assertive diplomacy towards Japan’s main security ally, the United States. A DPJ election victory would be a watershed in Japanese politics, ending the rule of Taro Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has lasted for more than half a century apart from a single break of less than a year.
But the allegation over money has been a powerful reminder of Mr Ozawa’s own background. He was once an LDP strongman and, before he defected to the opposition, was mentored by some of the most corrupt leaders in Japan’s modern history. The DPJ held its nose while Mr Ozawa, once described by a former speaker of the Diet (parliament) as looking like “a toad which has just licked something terribly bitter”, used his formidable skills as a political fixer to widen the party’s support. But an opinion poll this week showed 71% of respondents wanted him to go, more even than would like to see the back of the prime minister. Family affairDisaffection with politics is widespread in Japan. Mr Aso is the fourth prime minister to take office since the last elections for the lower house in 2005. Leaders are often seen as out of touch and incapable of ruling the country. The fact that politics is unusually dynastic in Japan does not help. Mr Aso is the grandson of a prime minister, and his predecessors Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda were the grandson and son of prime ministers respectively. In fact nearly 40% of LDP members in the lower house come from districts handed down through families, something that is far from unknown in the DPJ too.
The main contenders to succeed Mr Ozawa are all political heavyweights
Young scions of political dynasties inherit name recognition and powerful local election machinery, which makes it harder for newcomers to break into politics. And many Japanese say the dearth of new blood shows in the quality of the country’s leaders. ContendersThe disenchantment with Japan’s leaders matters because the world’s second biggest economy is in something of a political stalemate, just as it endures a sharp recession. The opposition already controls the upper house of the Diet, meaning it can stall important legislation such as the 15 trillion yen (155bn; 105bn) stimulus spending plan currently being debated. Optimists in the DPJ say the party could now forge ahead to try to take the lower house too, without the headwind of Mr Ozawa’s personal unpopularity. Key will be who emerges as the new party president. Many of the names being put forward are of people who have been tried as leader before: Naoto Kan, Yukio Hatoyama, Katsuya Okada and Seiji Maehara. Whoever takes over could struggle to keep together the disparate interests that make up the DPJ party. “It’s essentially an amalgam of LDP retreads on the right, ranging all the way to the left-wing remnants of the socialist party, the union movement,” said Prof Kingston. “So it’s really hard for them to hammer out a cohesive platform. “What was working for them was [that] the LDP was shooting itself in the foot over a range of issues. What is working for the LDP now is the economic crisis and the security crisis with North Korea. We’re the safe pair of hands, they say. Do you trust the B-team?” The Democratic Party of Japan may yet have cause to rue the loss of the deal-making and electoral-strategizing skills of Ichiro Ozawa.
UK, US plea over Sri Lanka crisis
The US and UK have urged Sri Lanka’s government and Tamil Tiger rebels to stop fighting “immediately” and allow an evacuation of trapped civilians. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her UK counterpart David Miliband also expressed alarm at the large number of reported civilian casualties. The top UN aid official said the situation in the conflict zone in north-eastern Sri Lanka was “awful”. The rebels earlier accused the army of killing 49 people in a hospital. The Tamil Tigers said the makeshift hospital in Mullivaikal in the rebel-held enclave was hit on Tuesday morning. The Sri Lankan government denied the army had caused civilian casualties or used heavy weapons in civilian areas, but said it had pierced rebel defences.
As it advanced south, the army also said that all voices speaking from the Tiger-held zone amounted to misinformation. The claims are impossible to verify as reporters are banned from the area. More than 400 people were killed and over 1,000 injured over the weekend in what the UN has described as a “bloodbath”. The UN estimates that about 50,000 civilians are trapped by the conflict, in a three-sq-km strip of land. Most of this area has been designated by the government as a safe zone which will not be attacked by air or by heavy weapons. ‘Political solution’
Mrs Clinton and Mr Miliband issued a joint statement on Sri Lanka, following their talks in Washington. The statement urged all sides in Sri Lanka to “end hostilities immediately and allow for the safe evacuation of the tens of thousands of civilians trapped within the safe zone”. It also said London and Washington were alarmed “at the large number of reported civilian casualties over the past several days in the designated ‘safe zone’”. The two top diplomats called for “a political solution that reconciles all Sri Lankans, and establishes a meaningful role for Tamil and other minorities in national political life”. Their appeal was the latest in a series of calls by the international community to try to end the fighting on the Indian Ocean island. Aid shipment abandonedEarlier on Tuesday, UN humanitarian co-ordinator John Holmes said intransigence by both the Sri Lankan government and the rebels had created an “absolutely awful situation”. “The LTTE [Tamil Tigers] are clearly still holding onto that population against their will, using them as human shields,” he said at a news conference in Geneva. “The government have said they are not using heavy weapons. But the evidence suggests that they are continuing to do so, at least to some extent.” Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Tuesday abandoned an attempt to deliver aid by sea to the enclave and evacuate many sick and injured civilians. An ICRC spokeswoman said the fighting was too fierce and another attempt would be made on Wednesday. The last evacuation was on Saturday. The Tamil Tigers have fought for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority since 1983. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the war.
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Reuters) –
The U.S. Coast Guard will require U.S.-flagged ships sailing around the Horn of Africa to post guards and ship owners to submit anti-piracy security plans for approval, a Coast Guard official said on Tuesday.
The new requirements, which respond to a surge of piracy off the coast of Somalia, allow ship owners to decide whether to use armed or unarmed guards, Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson told shipping industry representatives at a maritime security meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The revised Maritime Security Directive, highly anticipated by the shipping industry, was signed on Monday by Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen.
“We expect to see additional security on U.S.-flagged vessels that transit these waters,” said Watson, the Coast Guard's director of prevention policy.
“It can involve the use of firearms,” he said, but added, “We are looking for things that work but that don't make the situation worse.”
The requirement to post guards applies only to ships sailing off the Horn of Africa, but the owners of all U.S.-flagged ships must submit security plans to the Coast Guard within two weeks, Watson said.
“They're going to tell us what they propose,” and then the Coast Guard will give thumbs up or thumbs down, Watson said.
He said the directive does not dictate how many guards must be posted on each vessel, or what type of training they must have. He said the Coast Guard would work with ship owners whose plans are deemed inadequate to fend off pirate attacks.
“We're not interested in putting ships out of business,” he said.
The piracy off the coast of Somalia included an attack against the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Alabama last month. The ship's captain, Richard Phillips, was freed four days later when U.S. commandos shot and killed three pirates.
Arming cargo ships has been a sensitive issue because some countries will not allow armed vessels to enter their ports. Additionally, arming the ships can raise liability issues and increase insurance costs.
Some ship owners fear it could cause misunderstandings to escalate into gunfights, noting for example that fishermen off Yemen sometimes fire their automatic rifles into the air to warn other vessels away from their nets.
U.S.-flagged ships that carry military cargo already are armed, Watson said.
The U.S. State Department is working with countries in pirate-plagued regions to learn what weapons laws apply in their ports in order to clarify the issue for U.S. mariners.
It may also try to negotiate agreements allowing armed U.S. ships to enter those countries' ports, said Donna Hopkins, of the State Department's political and military planning and policy division.
Asked if that meant the United States would allow armed foreign vessels in its ports, Hopkins said, “Diplomacy is based on the principle of reciprocity … that certainly is going to be part of the debate.”
Watson said the new directive would not be publicly released in its entirety because it contained sensitive security information.
But at the urging of shipping officials at the conference, he said a scrubbed version might be released to help shipping companies learn good security measures from each other.
“It's the actual security that's on a particular vessel that we want to keep close-held,” Watson said.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
Bye-bye, High School Musical! Hello…nudity?!
Fresh off the heels of boyfriend Zac Efron's risqué photo shoot in Interview magazine, Vanessa Hudgens says she'd consider getting all un-High School Musical on us, too.
How so? Read on to find out.
“I will show nudity in a film when the time is right,” Hudgens, 20, told us at this weekend's Diesel Only the Brave cologne launch party in West Hollywood. “Right now, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it, but like I said, when the time's right, if it's an amazing movie that I'm really passionate about and that's what it calls for, then we'll see.”
Efron, 21, raised eyebrows in a recent issue of Interview when he ditched his family-friendly Troy Bolton alter ego for a sexed-up stud rolling around in the mud with nude model Edita Vilkeviciute.
Meanwhile, Hudgens was Zac-less at the Diesel soiree, but that didn't stop the starlet from having fun.
The former Disney darling, dressed cute and cazh in a white, ribbed Hanes tank, was all smiles at the event. She spent most of the night giggling and chatting with a female friend.
Hudgens will be busy with work soon enough when she shoots not one but two flicks starting this summer: Beastly is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, while Sucker Punch! is the story of girl who is sent to a mental institution by her wicked stepfather.
Common, the face of Diesel's new scent and a star in the upcoming Terminator: Salvation, entertained at the bash, performing tracks from his current album, Universal Mind Control, as well as classics such as “Go.”
—Reporting by Dahvi Shira
Follow Marc on Twitter @marcmalkin
··· THEY SAID WHAT? Get today's most commented stories now at www.eonline.com
NEW YORK – You knew it was coming: Sarah Palin is ready to tell her side, agreeing to publish a memoir with HarperCollins. The book comes out in Spring 2010 — the year she is up for re-election.
“There’s been so much written about and spoken about in the mainstream media and in the anonymous blogosphere world, that this will be a wonderful, refreshing chance for me to get to tell my story, that a lot of people have asked about, unfiltered,” the Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate said during a brief telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.
Palin’s memoir, currently untitled, will cover her personal and political life, from her childhood in Alaska and last year’s campaign to her political beliefs and her family life, including the pregnancy of her teenage daughter, Bristol Palin, who gave birth in December to a baby boy, Tripp. (She and the baby’s father, Levi Johnston, have since ended their relationship.)
“In fairness to my family, this is going be a good opportunity for them, too, because there have been so many misperceptions out there about who we are and what we believe in, and I’m excited to get to put my journalism degree to work and tell my story as it relates to my family,” said Palin, 45, who in 1987 graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in journalism.
Palin declined to name any specific misunderstandings and avoided detailed comments about her family, her political aspirations or about the divide in the Republican Party between moderates and conservatives, a divide her vice presidential run helped widen.
A Palin book has been rumored virtually from the time the election ended. Although Republicans Sen. John McCain and Palin were easily beaten by Democrats Barack Obama and Joseph Biden, Palin emerged a favorite among conservatives, an object of tabloid gossip and — as the only candidate in the race who had never written a memoir — a natural for a publishing deal.
The book will be co-released by the HarperCollins imprint Harper and, for the Christian market, by the HarperCollins-owned Zondervan, which publishes “The Purpose Driven Life” author Rick Warren, among others.
A memoir (or two) have become a virtual requirement for White House seekers, especially after Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” and “Dreams From My Father” established him as a stylist and storyteller with a vast following.
Although Palin denied any presidential ambition during Tuesday’s interview, she did pick the most presidential of literary representatives, Washington attorney Robert Barnett, to handle negotiations. Barnett’s clients include Obama and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
As he did when arranging a publisher for memoirs by Bush and Clinton, Barnett did not solicit competing bids, but chose to negotiate only with one publisher, HarperCollins, which Barnett praised for being “first and fervent in pursuing this project.” Financial terms were not disclosed, but Palin was widely expected to get a multimillion-dollar contract. Barnett and Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham both declined to offer details.
Palin’s book will address, and complicate, the push-pull between home and public life. With the release date just one year away, the governor will have to work quickly. Barnett said that the governor has formed an outline in her mind, but has yet to start writing. Burnham said Palin did not submit any writing samples when she met with HarperCollins executives in Washington, earlier this year. She will work with a collaborator, to be determined.
“She’s obviously going to be engaged in the whole process of the book,” said Burnham, adding that the role of the collaborator would depend on who was chosen.
“Every word of the book will be her words,” Barnett said.
Palin and Burnham said the memoir will emphasize Palin’s Alaskan upbringing, and the governor will talk about her “unpretentious” lifestyle. Burnham described the book as the story of an Alaskan encountering a national audience, “the soccer mom and the political operative, and how one became the other.”
Palin has never written a book and her critics, noting her disjointed CBS interviews with Katie Couric, have questioned whether she could. Two years ago, Palin told PBS’ Charlie Rose that her favorite writers were C.S. Lewis (“very, very deep”) and a Runner’s World columnist, Dr. George Sheehan. Asked Tuesday about her reading, Palin mentioned that she “really enjoyed” Katharine Graham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Personal History” and cited works by Obama, McCain and Bill Clinton, whose “My Life” she read “just recently.”
“Being a voracious reader, I read a lot today and have read a lot growing up. And having that journalism degree, all of that, will be a great assistance for me in writing this book, talking about the challenges and the joys, balancing the work and parenting, and, in my case, work means running the state,” Palin said.
“I’ve read a variety of books, and that helps shape my opinions and my views.”
WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
The U.S. Social Security and Medicare retirement and health programs for the elderly will run short of funds sooner than previously thought because the recession has taken a toll on tax revenues, a government report released on Tuesday showed.
The Social Security trust fund will be exhausted by 2037, four years earlier than previously estimated, and the Medicare hospital trust fund will become insolvent by 2017, two years earlier than estimated, said a report by the trustees of the two popular programs.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said that “the dual effect of the economy and unemployment has produced a downward pressure on the financial security” of the Social Security program.
The latest report said Medicare's financial problems are more severe than those facing Social Security because of rapidly rising health-care costs.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the report shows the urgency for the government to overhaul the two programs to help contain rising costs as the baby boom generation begins to retire and draw on benefits.
“The sooner we come together to make the difficult but achievable changes needed to strengthen the solvency of Medicare and Social Security, the more time we'll give the American people to plan and to adjust, and the sooner we'll be able to ensure that these vital programs will be as important for generations to come as they are today,” Geithner, one of trustees of the two programs, said at a news conference.
For years lawmakers have been concerned about the long term financing of the two programs as the 77 million strong baby boom generation retires.
A push by former President George W. Bush to partially privatize Social Security by creating individual investment accounts failed in the face of stiff opposition from Democrats.
MEDICARE FACING MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS
President Barack Obama has promised to tackle the finances of both programs, but has put Social Security on the back burner while pushing to revamp the U.S. health-care system to contain soaring costs that are putting pressure on Medicare.
“The only way to truly slow Medicare spending is to slow overall health-care spending through comprehensive and carefully crafted legislation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, another trustee. “This report makes it clear. Reform can't wait.”
Backers of the health overhaul effort agreed.
“We cannot solve the problems in Medicare without addressing the crisis that plagues our entire health-care system,” said John Rother, the executive vice president of AARP, an influential group that represents older Americans.
Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee which is helping write health-care legislation, said the report shows the danger of creating a new government health insurance plan that some Democrats want to help provide medical coverage to an estimated 46 million uninsured Americans.
“When we can't afford the public health plan we have already, does it make sense to add more?” Grassley said in a statement.
Senior members of the House Ways and Mean Committee issued a statement following release of the report saying lawmakers would act to ensure the programs remain solvent.
“Nothing in today's report should give seniors a reason to be concerned that their benefits will not be paid in full,” Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee Chairman John Tanner, a Democrat, and Representative Sam Johnson, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said in a joint statement.
(Additional reporting by Corbett B. Daly and David Lawder; Editing by Leslie Adler)
(For more Economics news and our MacroScope blog, go to http://blogs.reuters.com/macroscope)
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
Chad Michael Murray no longer married to One Tree Hill.
The triple-named actor, along with fellow original castmember Hilarie Burton, will not be returning for the series' seventh season next fall, the CW confirms to E! News.
No formal reason was given for the departure of the stars, though the duo had been in protracted contract negotiations with the network for several months.
The CW said that two new characters will be introduced next season in an attempt to placate fans and rebuild the call sheet. Murray and Burton have been with the show since its 2003 debut on the WB.
Writers have wrapped up the storylines of characters Peyton and Lucas rather nicely: The duo tied the knot in last night's episode, and will make their final appearance on next Monday's season finale. Their departure was first reported by EW.com.
Overall, it hasn't been the best month, PR-wise, for the extended Murray clan. Just last month, his fiancée's sister, Kristen Dalton, was crowned Miss USA, only to be dramatically overshadowed by a certain runner-up, name of Carrie Prejean.
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SAN JOSE, Calif. – An office worker cleaning a fridge full of rotten food created a smell so noxious that it sent seven co-workers to the hospital and made many others ill. Firefighters had to evacuate the AT&T building in downtown San Jose on Tuesday, after the flagrant fumes prompted someone to call 911. A hazmat team was called in.
What they found was an unplugged refrigerator that had been crammed with moldy food.
Authorities said an enterprising office worker had decided to clean it out, placing the food in a conference room while using two cleaning chemicals to scrub down the mess. The mixture of old lunches and disinfectant caused 28 people to need treatment for vomiting and nausea.
Authorities said the worker who cleaned the fridge didn’t need treatment — she can’t smell because of allergies.
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
What's your official nickname for Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine as a hottie tag team? And will they give R.Pattz a run for his money in the screaming-fan dept?
I shall name them Z-Pine, may they live long and prosper in a hotness so extreme it's—I'm gonna say it! I'm gonna say it!—ILLOGICAL. I so said that just now.
Now that I've established all that, your answer is no. The Star Trek heartthrobs—alone or as a combo, with or without a nickname—do not have the same heat as R.Pattz.
Sorry. And it's not just my opinion. My conclusion comes after solid reporting and mercenary research with real live psychologists. Exactly why Robert Pattinson will remain supreme among fanggirls is due to a specific formula that Z-Pine—impressive eyebrows aside—simply lacks.
Lemme break it down for you:
1. Unlike Z-Pine, who look like real grownups who have real sex, R.Pattz—thanks in part to a role as a perpetual teenage vampire—comes off like a kid. A nonsexually threatening kid.
“Like a boy-band member,” says Cooper Lawrence, author of The Cult of Celebrity. “[He's] so nonthreatening that it helps girls feel like it's OK to obsess.”
2. Edward Cullen. Z-Pine is nice, but Z-Pine never played Edward Cullen. That's a problem.
“He's the personification of this literary character that girls were already obsessed with,” says Lawrence. “So they transfer that obsession to him. Nobody went nuts for Pattinson previously.”
Neither Kirk nor Spock, in case you haven't noticed, is Edward Cullen.
3. Seriously, did I mention Edward Cullen? “The passion that Edward and Bella share is intense,” Lawrence explains. “Like that all-consuming, trite, cliché, teen-girl love where everything is so emotional and so dramatic that they would die without each other.”
4. That's about it.
Compare that with Z-Pine, who doubtless enjoy some amount of long-distance passion from geekettes—but not the masses of fainting tweens who have grown obsessed with Twilight.
To catch up with R.Pattz, Z-Pine would need a teen passion franchise of their own. As soon as Z-Pine appears on Team Werewolf, come back to me, and we'll reassess.
Ask me. Do it. On Twitter @answerbitch
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story was updated at 4:18 p.m. EDT.
Astronauts spotted a trail of small dings on the starboard wing of the space
shuttle Atlantis Tuesday during a heat shield inspection as they race toward
the Hubble Space Telescope.
were caused by launch debris that fell from the shuttle's external tank as
toward Hubble on Monday afternoon, but an initial analysis suggests the
damage is minor.
shuttle flight director Tony Ceccacci said the dings are spread across a
21-inch (53-cm) area that includes four heat-resistant tiles. They are located
on the bottom right side of Atlantis just ahead of where the shuttle's body
meets its starboard wing.
looked very minor, but we're going to let the folks go ahead and take a look at
it, follow the standard process and determine what to do next on it,” Ceccacci
told reporters during a briefing here at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
tiles were found in a spot where wing-mounted sensors recorded a slight debris impact
about 103 seconds after Atlantis launched, Ceccacci said. They appeared as
small nicks in images beamed to Earth from today's heat
shield inspection, but more analysis is required.
is feeling pretty good that it's not something particularly serious,” astronaut
Daniel Burbank radioed up to Atlantis from Mission Control here. “We just
want to make sure we do the right thing and complete all the analysis.”
commander Scott Altman and his crew are flying an 11-day mission to overhaul
the 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope for the fifth and final time. They are
due to arrive at the space telescope on Wednesday.
consecutive spacewalks are planned to install two
new cameras and repair two others that were never designed to be fixed in
space among other upgrades.
dings appear to be minor, Atlantis is carrying a suite of repair tools just in
case they might be needed. NASA has also primed the space shuttle Endeavour on
a second launch pad in the unlikely event that Atlantis is damaged beyond
repair and its crew needs to be rescued
kept a constant lookout for any shuttle damage from launch debris after a piece
of fuel tank foam struck the shuttle Columbia in 2003 leading to its
destruction during re-entry. Seven astronauts were killed in the disaster.
astronauts scan their shuttle heat shields at least twice every mission.
Today's inspection was the first for Atlantis' crew. The astronauts will take
another look later in the flight to spot any new damage from space junk. The
region of space around Hubble's 350-mile (563-km) orbit is littered with space
debris, adding a slightly increased risk to the shuttle mission.
Control told Altman that the astronauts might have to keep trying to beam back
images from a stubborn camera on the shuttle's belly that took snapshots of
Atlantis' external tank during launch. The images could reveal where the debris
came from, but the camera has experienced glitches sending the images.
his crew may also have to perform a more detailed scan of the dings during a
focused inspection. The astronauts would have to cram that survey in between
“We know it
takes awhile to get the story together,” Altman said. “We'll get you whatever
data we can.”
Ceccacci said that if a second look is required, there is a 90-minute window on
Friday just before the mission's second spacewalk.
expect it to take very long to get that complete,” Ceccacci said.
pad also damaged
Atlantis crew works in space, NASA is examining unexpected damage on Earth to the
shuttle's launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
from Atlantis' engines damaged some nitrogen and pressure lines, as well as a
25-square-foot section of flame retardant material lining the trench beneath
the shuttle's Launch Pad 39A,
NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told SPACE.com
from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The so-called flame trench is used to funnel rocket exhaust away from the spacecraft during liftoff.
said pad workers are expected to be able to repair the launch pad damage in
time for the planned June 13 blast off of NASA's next shuttle mission.
is providing continuous coverage of NASA's last mission to the Hubble Space
Telescope with senior editor Tariq Malik in Houston and reporter Clara
Moskowitz in New York. Click
here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
Video Show – Hubble's Final Shuttle Service Call
Video – The Hubble Rescue Mission Revealed
Gallery – Hubble's Latest Views of the Universe: Part 1, Part
Original Story: Astronauts Spot Small Dings on Shuttle Heat Shield
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BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) –
Pope Benedict will spend Wednesday in the town of Jesus' birth, where Palestinians hope his visit to the West Bank will draw attention to their plight under Israeli occupation.
The German-born pope will celebrate mass in Bethlehem, just outside Jerusalem, and meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the third day of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that is so far marked by Israeli complaints that he has failed to show enough sympathy to Jewish suffering in the Nazi Holocaust.
Patriarch Fouad Twal, during a mass in Jerusalem Tuesday, reiterated before the pope the Palestinian people's aspirations for a “free and independent state.”
The pope himself, on his arrival in Israel Monday, reaffirmed Vatican support for a Palestinian state, something new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reluctant to accept as a necessary outcome of negotiations.
To dramatize the impact of Israeli occupation on their lives, Palestinians have set up a small amphitheatre by a high concrete wall that forms part of the barrier that Israeli is building in and around the West Bank.
They said they ignored orders by Israel, which says it needs the barrier to keep out suicide bombers and others threats to its people, not to complete the amphitheatre. It remains unclear if the pope will use it when he speaks at the Aida refugee camp.
Israel's parliament speaker Tuesday evoked the pope's teenage membership of the Hitler Youth and berated him over his address a day earlier at Israel's memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
A Vatican spokesman said the German-born pope was not an “active participant” in the Nazi movement and was enrolled against his will. He later served with the German armed forces.
The pope will hold a mass at Nazareth in northern Israel, where Jesus grew up, Thursday. The surrounding Galilee region is where most of the country's 154,000 Christians live and where he will meet Netanyahu.
He flies back to Rome Friday.
(Writing by Joseph Nasr in Jerusalem, Editing by Jon Boyle)
(For a graphic on the Pope's trip see http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/RNGS/MAY/POPE.jpg )
(For more on faith and ethics, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld at http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld )
(For more on Israel and the Palestinian territories, see our blog AxisMundi Jerusalem at http://blogs.reuters.com/axismundi )
WASHINGTON – Senators are considering limiting — but not eliminating — the tax-free status of employer-provided health benefits to help pay for President Barack Obama’s plan to provide coverage to 50 million uninsured Americans.
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Tuesday that there are no easy options. Senators began grappling with how to finance guaranteed coverage, a cornerstone of Obama’s plan to overhaul the health care system. Independent experts put the costs at about 1.5 trillion over 10 years.
Obama sees a world in which doctors and hospitals compete to offer quality service at lower costs, and the savings help cover the uninsured. Turning that vision into reality remains the biggest challenge for the president and his backers, because hard cash — not just ideas — is required to cover upfront costs of expanding coverage.
The president put health care industry leaders on notice Tuesday that he expects them to fulfill their dramatic offer of 2 trillion in savings over 10 years. “I will hold you to your pledge to get this done,” Obama said in a letter released by the White House that went to groups representing insurers, hospitals, doctors, drug makers and others.
But those savings — even if the industry delivers every penny — won’t all accrue to the government. So the financing package for Obama’s plan is likely to include a mix of tax increases and spending cuts in federal health programs.
Among the possibilities: tax increases on alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and sugary soft drinks, and restrictions on other health care-related tax breaks, such as flexible spending accounts.
But some taxes don’t seem to be on the table, such as a federal sales levy to pay for health care or a new payroll tax.
Congressional leaders say they want to pass legislation in the Senate and House this summer.
On the controversial question of taxing health benefits, Baucus is staking out a position that could put him at odds with Obama.
The president adamantly opposed such taxes during the campaign, arguing they would undermine job-based coverage. Obama’s aides now say he’s open to suggestions from Congress, even if he criticized Republican presidential rival John McCain for proposing a sweeping version of the same basic idea.
Baucus said he wants to modify the tax break, not abolish it.
“We are not going to repeal it,” he said.
Baucus suggested that the benefit could be limited by taxing health insurance provided to high-income individuals, although he did not specify at what income levels. He also said that plans offering rich benefits — for example, no co-payments or deductibles — might be taxed once their value exceeded a yet-to-be-determined threshold.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs resisted being drawn into the congressional debate. “We’re not going to get into a daily scorekeeping of each idea and proposal,” he said.
Employer-provided health insurance is considered part of workers’ compensation, but unlike wages, it is not taxed. The forgone revenue to the federal government amounts to about 250 billion a year.
Proponents of repealing the benefit say it encourages lavish health insurance plans that only add to waste in the health care system. And they argue that the benefit is unfair, since self-employed people don’t get as big a tax break for health care.
Many experts say that Congress won’t be able to come up with the kind of money needed to provide coverage for all unless limitations on the health care tax break are part of the mix.
“I don’t see how you’re going to put a package together … unless you touch the exclusion,” said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income people. In government jargon, the tax-free status of health insurance is called the “tax exclusion.”
Obama has proposed to pay for the plan with a 50-50 mix of tax increases and spending cuts. On the tax side, the president would limit income tax deductions for families making more than 250,000 a year, raising 267 billion over 10 years. Baucus said Tuesday that idea deserves consideration.
The ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, said lawmakers should try to squeeze wasteful spending out of the system before imposing new taxes. But Grassley ridiculed the health care industry’s pledge of 2 trillion in savings through voluntary efforts to hold down costs.
“I’m sure we will be waiting for some time before this fairy dust becomes real gold,” he said.
One option for lawmakers would be to codify the industry’s cost reduction offer in federal law, giving it some teeth by applying it to federal health insurance programs.
Protesters who back government-run health care disrupted the Finance Committee hearing. Police ejected five doctors and nurses after they interrupted Baucus and Grassley at the start of the session.
Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.
NEW YORK – Reality TV star Kate Gosselin said she isn’t cheating on her husband, Jon, and called the accusations disgusting and unthinkable.
In a story published Tuesday on People magazine’s Web site, Gosselin said she’s the target of tabloid lies romantically linking her with a bodyguard who frequently travels with the family. She spoke out following recent accounts that portrayed her as the victim of her husband’s infidelity.
The Gosselins, along with their eight children, star on the TLC reality show “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” which captures on-camera the challenges of raising a large family.
But TV stardom has brought its own challenges in the form of unsought media attention.
Last week, Jon Gosselin denied reports of an affair with a 23-year-old schoolteacher, while apologizing for having put his family in an “awkward situation.”
Now, it’s Kate Gosselin’s turn.
“The next story coming out from the animals that stalk us is about our security person and his family,” she said, referring to bodyguard Steve Neild. “Already the allegations they’re making about me are disgusting, unthinkable, unfathomable, and I am horrified.”
She voiced regret that the family’s friends had been drawn into the media frenzy, and said she was “totally panicking” that the scandalous publicity might drive them away.
“I keep calling them, begging, `Seriously, I’m so sorry. Don’t run away from us.’ They keep saying, `We’re fine, we’re fine.’ But they have paparazzi in front of their house. It’s so upsetting.”
The fifth season of “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ premieres May 25.
On the Net:
The problem with the credit-card industry isn’t just credit-card companies – it’s you too. This week the Senate takes up a bill that would seriously clamp down on some of the industry’s most unsavory practices, a piece of legislation that President Obama has said he wants on his desk by the end of the month. The bill, which builds on rules issued by the Federal Reserve Board and other agencies at the end of last year, would do away with interest-rate hikes on existing balances, prohibit issuers from putting customer payments toward lower-rate balances first and abolish the practice of raising a customer’s interest rate because he was late paying a bill to someone else.
Credit-card companies, though, may not be the only ones we need to be protected from. Every penny of Americans’ nearly 1 trillion in revolving debt started with someone – some individual person – whipping out a piece of plastic and making a decision to use it. We could consider that free will and just call it a day, but there’s plenty of reason to believe the story isn’t so simple. There are piles of evidence that people are bad decision makers when it comes to how they use credit cards. Even when presented with full and fair information, they often make decisions that are not in their own economic best interest – a reality only partly taken into account by the new rules and pending legislation. (Read a brief history of credit cards.)
Consider the teaser rate. More than a third of consumers pick one credit card over another based on which issuer has the lowest introductory interest rate. And yet people often do so in a way that leaves them with higher finance charges over time. In one study, University of Maryland economists Haiyan Shui and Lawrence Ausubel watched people pick a card with a teaser rate of 4.9% for six months over a card with a teaser rate of 7.9% for 12 months. That would make sense if the people then paid off their balances within six months. But many didn’t – the average balance for the year was 2,500, with plenty of folks paying more in interest charges than they would have had they opted for the other card, considering the rates on each spiked to 16%.
It is easy to chalk that up to simple human carelessness. Certain economists, though, have another way of looking at that and similar findings. They see a systematic psychological breakdown – as a species we’re just really bad at understanding costs that come later on. Instead, we assign a disproportionate amount of importance to what’s immediate and tangible. We lock eyes with that initial low rate and can’t look away. (And, yes, credit-card companies get that.)
It’s the same thing with that laundry list of fees that come with cards. We think that we’re not going to be the ones to go over our credit limit or miss a payment and trigger a penalty rate, so we give those fees little to no weight as we’re deciding which card to sign up for – even though they eventually make a big difference in what we pay. “We don’t tend to take into account future costs,” says Oren Bar-Gill, a law professor at New York University who has studied credit-card contracts and customer behavior. “Consumers don’t really know how much they’re paying for their credit card.” (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)
Once we’ve got our card in hand, our behavior becomes riddled with irrationalities. In one experiment, Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that people were willing to pay twice as much for basketball tickets when they were using a credit card as opposed to paying cash. Credit-card spending just doesn’t feel like real money. In another study, Nicholas Souleles of the University of Pennsylvania and David Gross of the consultancy Compass Lexecon calculated that the typical consumer unnecessarily spends 200 a year in interest payments by keeping a sizable stash of cash in savings or checking while at the same time carrying a credit-card balance. In our heads, the two don’t line up.
The seeming solution would be to make clear to consumers exactly how much their credit cards are costing them. In fact, over the past few decades, there has been a massive push in that direction, from the Truth in Lending Act to the “Schumer Box,” which gives a one-page summary of credit-card terms in a font size dictated by the Federal Government (it needs to be large enough to catch your attention). Credit-card statements that were a page long in the early 1980s now easily run to 30. That’s a lot of information. And yet America’s overreliance on consumer debt has happened anyway. Why? Disclosure itself may not be enough considering the well-entrenched forms of human thinking we’re dealing with. “There have been a lot of disclosure policies over the past 20 years, but they’ve had a limited effect on improving the market,” says the University of Maryland’s Ausubel. “The problem isn’t in the availability of information. The problem is in the processing of the information.” (Read “How the Banks Plan to Limit Credit-Card Protections.”)
What we need to do, that argument continues, is frame information about how much credit cards cost in a way that really drives the point home. In 2007, a group of Senators introduced a bill that would have required credit-card companies to state on each billing statement how long it would take a person to pay off his balance and how much it would cost in principal and interest should he make only the minimum required payment each month. (That’s another psychological trip-up: having a low minimum payment printed on the statement in a big font ratchets down our perception of how much we should be paying off, meaning we carry higher balances for longer.) That bill never went anywhere, but a similar provision is in the bill currently before the Senate.
The difference is that we’d be telling people not just about a particular credit card’s characteristics but about what those characteristics mean in terms of human behavior. It would be similar to Federal Trade Commission rules that require auto manufacturers to say how many miles per gallon cars get whether a person is driving in the city or in the country. Depending on a person’s behavior, the cost changes – and that is made clear right on the sticker. (See pictures of stores that are no more.)
Economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who now heads the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, think we should go even further. In their book Nudge, they sketch a system in which once a year credit-card companies would be required to break out all the fees, interest and other charges customers paid over the past 12 months. That information would come on a person’s statement as well as electronically for easier comparison shopping. “By knowing their precise usage and fee payments, customers would get a better sense of what they are paying for,” write Thaler and Sunstein. Ostensibly, people would then spend more reasonably. When a new sofa goes from costing 500 to 700 – and the pricing is transparent enough for people to realize that – fewer buy it.
The beauty with that sort of system is that it doesn’t impose heavy-handed rules on people who don’t need them. After all, 42% of households with credit cards pay off their bills in full each month. Telling people the cost of using their credit cards, in a way they can understand and internalize, levels the playing field and lets each person make an informed, unhindered decision for himself.
Read “How to Know When the Economy Is Turning Up.”
See pictures of the fallout from the financial meltdown.
View this article on Time.comRelated articles on Time.com: Bad Times for Banks Mean Boom Times for Credit Unions Decoding the Credit Crunch The Preachers of Easy Pickings Crunch Time on Main Street The Credit Crunch Comes to Main Street
WASHINGTON – Showing no alarm, the captain and his first officer chatted about the ice on their plane’s windshield and wings, making light of their shared concerns about flying in wintry weather as they sped toward Buffalo, N.Y., on the night of Feb. 12.
Minutes later, pilot Marvin Renslow said “Jesus Christ,” and Rebecca Shaw screamed as Continental Connection Flight 3407 plunged to the ground, landing on a house in a fiery crash. All 49 people aboard and one man on the ground were killed.
The haunting transcript of the plane’s final moments — preserved by the cockpit voice recorder — was released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board at the start of a three-day public hearing to examine safety issues raised by the crash.
Among those issues are whether Renslow and Shaw responded properly to warnings that the Dash 8-Q400 Bombardier, a twin-engine turboprop, was nearing a stall.
In response to questioning from board members, officials from Manassas, Va.-based Colgan Air, which operated the flight for Continental, acknowledged the two apparently weren’t paying close attention to the aircraft’s instruments and failed to follow the airline’s procedures for handling an impeding stall in the final minutes of the flight.
“I believe Captain Renslow did have intentions of landing safely at Buffalo, as well as first officer Shaw, but obviously in those last few moments … the flight instruments were not being monitored, and that’s an indication of a lack of situational awareness,” said John Barrett, Colgan’s director of flight standards.
About the time the two first remarked to each other about the ice, the plane was descending from 11,000 feet and had received permission from air traffic controllers to go as low as 4,000 feet in preparation for landing. Federal regulations prohibit nonessential cockpit conversations below 10,000 feet.
“It’s lots of ice,” Shaw said.
“Oh yeah, that’s the most I’ve seen, most ice I’ve seen on the leading edges in a long time, in a while anyway I should say,” Renslow replied.
Renslow then remarked that he’d flown about 625 hours in the region before he was hired for this job by Colgan.
Shaw replied, “I really wouldn’t mind going through a a winter in the Northeast before I have to upgrade to captain. … I’ve never seen icing conditions. I’ve never deiced. I’ve never seen any. I’ve never experienced any of that. I don’t want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I’d've freaked out. I’d've have like seen this much ice and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we were going to crash.’”
“I would’ve been fine,” Renslow replied. “I would have survived it. There wasn’t, we never had to make decisions that I wouldn’t have been able to make but … now I’m more comfortable.”
The crew then lowers the landing gear and adjusts the airplane’s flaps, but at 10:16.26 p.m. there’s a sound similar to movement of the flap handle, according to the transcript, and Shaw says, “Uhhh.”
Less than a second later, there are sounds similar to the stick shaker — a warning transmitted through the control stick that the aircraft is nearing a stall. These last for 6.7 seconds. Then a horn sounds signaling the autopilot disconnecting, and that horn continues until the end of the recording.
Three seconds later, there’s a click followed by the sound of increased engine power, according to the transcript.
At 10:16.34.8, Renslow says, “Jesus Christ.”
Shaw says she has put the flaps up and asks if she should put the landing gear up. Renslow replies: “Gear up, oh (expletive).”
As noise in the cockpit increases. Renslow says: “We’re down.”
There’s a thump.
Shaw: “We (sound of scream).”
With that entry at 10:16.52, the transcript ends.
NTSB documents indicate that after the stick shaker went off, Renslow increased air speed and pulled back on the control column in an apparent attempt to bring the plane’s nose up. Instead the plane began to pitch and roll. Aviation experts said the proper response would be to push forward, pointing the nose down slightly or to keep level.
Within moments the plane’s stick pusher kicked in. That’s an automatic safety system that points the plane’s nose downward in a stall to build up enough speed so the plane can be guided to a recovery.
Shaw also retracted the plane’s flaps. An expert on stall recovery working for the plane’s manufacturer, Wally Warner, told the board retracting the flaps would significantly increase the potential for a “secondary stall” and make it harder to recover.
“Did the crew do anything right post stick shaker?” asked board member Debbie Hersman.
It was correct to increase air speed, Warner responded.
Asked if a crew could have recovered from the stall experienced by Flight 3407, Paul Pryor — Colgan’s head of pilot training — replied simply: “Yes.”
The board is holding the public hearing a mere three months after the crash to probe safety issues that have arisen during its investigation rather than wait the year or more that such investigations typically take. A second hearing will be conducted when the investigation is complete.
All four of the board’s members were present, underscoring the seriousness of their concerns. The board hasn’t held such an “en banc” public hearing in more than five years.
A top concern is the training Renslow received from Colgan. He failed several training tests before and after being hired by Colgan in 2005. He had been certified to fly the Dash-8 plane for about three months. Pryor acknowledged Renslow didn’t have any hands-on training on the Dash 8′s stick pusher, although he had received hands-on stick pusher training on a smaller plane that he previously flew.
Renslow received his commercial pilot’s license in 2002. He had 3,379 hours of flight time, 110 hours on the Dash 8.
Associated Press Writers Michael J. Sniffen in Washington, Ben Dobbin in Rochester and Rik Stevens in Albany contributed to this story.
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MIAMI – It took three trials, three juries and nearly three years, but federal prosecutors finally succeeded Tuesday in convicting five Miami men of plotting to start an anti-government insurrection by destroying Chicago’s Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices. One man was acquitted.
When the FBI swarmed the downtrodden Liberty City neighborhood to make the arrests in June 2006, the administration of President George W. Bush hailed the case as a prime example of the Justice Department’s post-Sept. 11 policy of disrupting potential terror plots in the earliest possible stages.
Yet hours of FBI recordings of terrorist talk contrasted with little concrete evidence of an evolving plot, triggering two mistrials because juries could not agree on verdicts against ringleader Narseal Batiste or five followers. One of the original seven defendants was acquitted after the first trial.
“Any cases that involve someone’s mental intent, their intention when they made certain statements, are always difficult,” said Matthew Orwig, former U.S. attorney in Texas who has monitored the Miami case. “It was a must-win for the government. They needed some vindication.”
Finally, this third jury found the way on its sixth day of deliberations.
It wasn’t the only victory Tuesday for terrorism prosecutors. In a separate case in New York, a jury convicted a Lebanese-born Swede of trying to set up a terror training camp in Oregon in 1999. The verdict against Oussama Kassir capped a three-week trial.
In the Miami case, Batiste, 35, was the only one convicted of all four terrorism-related conspiracy counts, including plotting to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to wage war against the U.S. Batiste, who was on the vast majority of FBI recordings, faces up to 70 years in prison.
Batiste’s right-hand man, 29-year-old Patrick Abraham, was convicted on three counts and faces 50 years behind bars. Convicted on two counts and facing 30 years are 24-year-old Burson Augustin, 25-year-old Rotschild Augustine and 33-year-old Stanley Grant Phanor. Naudimar Herrera, 25, was cleared of all four charges.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard set sentencing for July 27 for the five convicted men, most of whom are Haitian or have Haitian ancestry.
Herrera criticized the prosecution as “bogus” and insisted the men banded together not for terrorism but to explore ways to lift up the impoverished, drug-infested area.
“It’s not right,” Herrera said outside the courthouse. “We were really all about helping the community.”
The jury endured a two-month trial, then had to restart deliberations last week after one juror was excused for illness and a second was booted off the panel for being uncooperative. After the verdicts were read, court security officials escorted the jury — whose names were kept secret — out of the building before they could be interviewed.
“This was a difficult trial, and we thank all the prosecutors and agents involved, whose efforts resulted in today’s successful conclusion,” said Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, a holdover Bush appointee.
Prosecutors Richard Gregorie and Jacqueline Arango focused on the group’s intent as captured on dozens of FBI audio and video recordings. Batiste is repeatedly heard espousing violence against the U.S. government and saying the men should start a “full ground war” that would “kill all the devils.”
“I want to fight some jihad,” Batiste says on one tape.
A key piece of evidence is an FBI video of the entire group pledging an oath of allegiance, or “bayat,” to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden in a March 16, 2006, ceremony led by an Arabic-speaking FBI informant posing as “Brother Mohammed” from al-Qaida. Testimony also showed the men took photographs and video of possible targets in Miami, including the FBI building, a courthouse complex and a synagogue.
But Batiste, who testified in all three trials, insisted he was only going along with Mohammed so he could obtain 50,000 or more for his struggling construction business and a nascent community outreach program. Batiste was leader of a Miami chapter of a sect known as the Moorish Science Temple, which combines elements of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and does not recognize the U.S. government’s full authority.
Defense lawyers also claimed the case was an FBI setup driven by informants who manipulated the group.
“This is a manufactured crime,” Batiste attorney Ana M. Jhones said earlier in the trial.
A seventh man who was acquitted after the first 2007 trial, 34-year-old Lyglenson Lemorin, is being deported to his native Haiti anyway. Less stringent immigration laws make it easier for U.S. officials to use the terrorism allegations against Lemorin.
It sounds like something out of science fiction: zombie fire ants. But it's all too real.
Fire ants wander aimlessly away from the mound.
Eventually their heads fall off, and they die.
The strange part is that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension Service say making “zombies” out of fire ants is a good thing.
“It's a tool — they're not going to completely wipe out the fire ant, but it's a way to control their population,” said Scott Ludwig , an integrated pest management specialist with the AgriLife Extension Service in Overton , in East Texas .
The tool is the tiny phorid fly, native to a region of South America where the fire ants in Texas originated. Researchers have learned that there are as many as 23 phorid species along with pathogens that attack fire ants to keep their population and movements under control.
So far, four phorid species have been introduced in Texas .
The flies “dive-bomb” the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot that hatches inside the ant eats away at the brain, and the ant starts exhibiting what some might say is zombie-like behavior.
“At some point, the ant gets up and starts wandering,” said Rob Plowes, a research associate at UT.
The maggot eventually migrates into the ant's head, but Plowes said he “wouldn't use the word 'control' to describe what is happening. There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly. This wandering stage goes on for about two weeks.”
About a month after the egg is laid, the ant's head falls off and the fly emerges ready to attack any foraging ants away from the mound and lay eggs.
Plowes said fire ants are “very aware” of these tiny flies, and it only takes a few to cause the ants to modify their behavior.
“Just one or two flies can control movement or above-ground activity,” Plowes said. “It's kind of like a medieval activity where you're putting a castle under siege.”
Researchers began introducing phorid species in Texas in 1999. The first species has traveled all the way from Central and South Texas to the Oklahoma border. This year, UT researchers will add colonies south of the Metroplex at farms and ranches from Stephenville to Overton . It is the fourth species introduced in Texas .
Fire ants cost the Texas economy about 1 billion annually by damaging circuit breakers and other electrical equipment, according to a Texas A&M study. They can also threaten young calves.
Determining whether the phorid flies will work in Texas will take time, perhaps as long as a decade.
“These are very slow acting,” Plowes said. “It's more like a cumulative impact measured across a time frame of years. It's not an immediate silver bullet impact.”
The flies, which are USDA -approved, do not attack native ants or species and have been introduced in other Gulf Coast states, Plowes said. Despite initial concerns, farmers and ranchers have been willing to let researchers use their property to establish colonies. At the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Fort Worth in March, Plowes said they found plenty of volunteers.
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ATHENS, GeorgiaA wanted University of Georgia professor killed himself with a single gunshot to the head after he dug his own grave and covered it with brush, police said Tuesday.
George Zinkhan, a professor at the University of Georgia, disappeared after the slayings of his wife and two others.
The manhunt for George Zinkhan ended Saturday when cadaver dogs discovered his body in Georgia’s Clarke County, about a mile from where his red Jeep Liberty was found more than a week earlier, police said. “Zinkhan’s body was found in a small dugout area in the ground, covered with leaves and debris, and it was apparent that he took significant steps to try to conceal his body from being located,” a statement from Athens police said. Law enforcement officials determined that Zinkhan, 57, committed suicide after killing his wife, Marie Bruce, 47, Thomas Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63, outside a theater in Athens on April 25. Another University of Georgia professor, Barbara Carroll, believes that she was also targeted by Zinkhan but escaped because she was at a movie theater the day of the slayings. In an e-mail obtained by CNN, Carroll had warned her colleagues at the university’s Terry College of Business that Zinkhan, a marketing professor, was “dangerous.” The e-mail was sent after the shootings but before Zinkhan’s body was found. Carroll could not be reached Tuesday, but in her e-mail she said that law enforcement officials surrounded her house early on the morning of May 1 after authorities found MapQuest directions to her house, printed on April 24, in Zinkhan’s Jeep. She said she was advised to go into hiding.
Body ID’d as UGA professor’s
Missing professor’s Jeep found
Professor sought in shooting deaths of wife, 2 others
“I do not believe Zinkhan had a map to my house for any reason other than he planned to kill me as well on April 25,” Carroll wrote. “This also suggests premeditation for the three murders he did commit. By the grace of God, I was at the movies all Saturday afternoon after being at school in my office (like a sitting duck) all that morning.” All three of Zinkhan’s victims were associated with the Town and Gown Players theater group, which was holding a reunion picnic at the time of the shootings. Police did not give any motive for the slayings but said in a statement that Zinkhan and his wife were having marital problems. Zinkhan targeted Tanner and shot him first, the statement added. Authorities said Zinkhan arrived while the Town and Gown event was under way and got into a disagreement with Bruce. Police believe that he left, went to his carwhere the couple’s children apparently were waitingand returned with two handguns. In addition to the three deaths, two people were wounded, police said. After the shootings, Zinkhan, a marketing professor at the Terry College of Business, drove to his hometown of Bogart, Georgia, and left his childrenages 8 and 10with a neighbor. Authorities put out bulletins across the nation for Zinkhan after the shootings and revealed that he had purchased an airline ticket in March for a May 2 flight to the Netherlands, where he owned a house. But Zinkhan never showed up at the airport.