Its Not Just North
What About Those American
Journalists Seized By
Congress Approves Budget
$3.5 Trillion Spending Plan Paves Way for Obama Goals
By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009; Page A01
Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly embraced President Obama’s ambitious and expensive agenda for the nation yesterday, endorsing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that sets the stage for the president to pursue his most far-reaching priorities.
Voting along party lines, the House and Senate approved budget blueprints that would trim Obama’s spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins in October and curtail his plans to cut taxes. The blueprints, however, would permit work to begin on the central goals of Obama’s presidency: an expansion of health-care coverage for the uninsured, more money for college loans and a cap-and-trade system to reduce gases that contribute to global warming.
Northrop Grumman-TRW whistle-blower case settled
The defense contractor agrees to resolve claims of faulty satellite parts, and the federal government in turn settles a separate dispute, meaning no money changes hands.
By Peter Pae
April 3, 2009
In one of the nation’s largest settlements in a whistle-blower case, Northrop Grumman Corp. has agreed to pay the federal government $325 million to resolve claims that TRW, which it acquired in 2002, provided defective parts for a spy satellite program in the 1990s.
But in an unusual twist, the federal government also announced Thursday that it had settled a separate, long-running dispute with Northrop and agreed to pay the aerospace company $325 million — essentially meaning that no money will change hands.
In an e-mail, a Justice Department official said that because the two settlements with Northrop were of equal amounts, “no money is exchanged.”
Though Century City-based Northrop was the loser in the whistle-blower case, it successfully resolved a 13-year-old dispute over a missile program that was canceled in 1995 for what the government said were cost and schedule overruns.
Too many cars, and they’re not on the road
After ‘car bubble’ collapses, excess inventory creates a backlog
By Brady Dennis April 3, 2009
WASHINGTON – The sea of new cars, 57,000 of them, stretches for acres along the Port of Baltimore. They are imports just in from foreign shores and exports waiting to ship out — Chryslers and Subarus, Fords and Hyundais, Mercedeses and Kias. But the customers who once bought them by the millions have largely vanished, and so the cars continue to pile up, so many that some are now stored at nearby Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
The backlog exists because many of the factors that contributed to the collapse of the housing bubble — cheap credit, easy financing, excessive production, consumers buying more than they could afford — undermined another large and vital American industry.
Nato summit: Europe resists US pressure on Afghanistan ‘surge’
• Barack Obama’s team in tactical retreat at Nato summit
• Tensions within alliance at 60th anniversary meeting
Ian Traynor in Strasbourg
The Guardian, Friday 3 April 2009
European leaders are expected to resist American pressure today to join in the Pentagon’s military “surge” in Afghanistan, disappointing Barack Obama. The US president has made the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida the centrepiece of his new foreign policy.
A Nato summit opening in France and Germany will also struggle to commit civilian resources to match the increased US military deployments, may fail to agree on a new alliance secretary general despite months of negotiation, and is also split over policy towards a resurgent Russia.
The keenly awaited summit marks Nato’s 60th birthday and also Obama’s debut in continental Europe.
Da Vinci: the amusement park
The artist will be forever associated with Renaissance Italy. But a new attraction will soon open where he ended his days – in France
By John Lichfield
Friday, 3 April 2009
Almost five centuries ago, an Italian artist and jobbing inventor, somewhat down on his luck, made a 500-mile journey on foot and mule across the Alps to a small town by the river Loire. He was accompanied, apart from the mule, by two faithful followers and three paintings. When he died in France in 1519, the artist left the paintings to one of his Italian followers. All three of the works went on to become famous; one of them went on to become the most celebrated painting of all time. The artist was Leonardo da Vinci.
His death, and burial, in France, and his final job as court artist, philosopher and architect to King François I, meant that Leonardo was, for many years, regarded by the French as an honorary Frenchman. Other than the presence in the Louvre of two of the three paintings that crossed the Alps by mule – including, of course, the Mona Lisa – Leonardo’s French connection is now relatively little remembered outside France.
Kenyan lions being poisoned by pesticides’
Conservationists call for ban after ‘staggering’ number of deaths
By Daniel Howden in Nairobi
Friday, 3 April 2009
Conservationists in Kenya are calling for a deadly pesticide to be banned after it was linked to the poisoning of a “staggering” number of lions and other wildlife.
The East African nation famous for its immense game reserves is also home to traditional cattle herders whose livestock often comes under threat from predators such as lions and hyenas. In the past, this has seen lions shot or speared but more recently herders have switched to using deadly chemicals sprinkled over animal carcasses and left as traps for the big cats.
The lion researcher Laurence Frank, from the University of California, said lions were dying at a “staggering rate” with as many as 75 poisoned in the past five years. Combined with other threats including loss of habitat, this could eventually see the lion become extinct, Dr Frank told CBS’s 60 Minutes.
Winnie Mandela makes a comeback to South African political scene
From The Times
April 3, 2009
Jonathan Clayton in Johannesburg
For some, she is beyond reproach – the “Mother of the Nation”, champion of the poor, tireless fighter for the downtrodden. For others, she is the embodiment of all that is wrong with post-apartheid South Africa – corrupt, arrogant and authoritarian.
Love her or hate her, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, divorced former wife of Nelson Mandela, is back.
She is guaranteed a seat in Parliament and is expected to win a Cabinet post after South Africa’s Electoral Court dismissed an appeal from an opposition party asking for her to be disqualified.
West Bank refugee camp swaps guns for greasepaint
From The Times
April 3, 2009
James Hider in Jenin
In the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, political points are traditionally made with guns and beatings. So when the actors of the Freedom Theatre decided to stage George Orwell’s classic satire Animal Farm they knew that they were taking a risk.
Putting on a play in which the protagonists subvert the glorious revolution and collaborate with the enemy was dangerous enough in a part of the world that brooks little criticism of its leaders. That these same protagonists are pigs was unlikely to make things better before a Muslim audience.
Despite one arson attack, a few smashed car windows and several arrests, the young troupe are playing to a packed house.
“One of the aims of the Freedom Theatre is to challenge the monolithic thinking of the people, the fear to be different,” said Juliano Mer Khamis, its director. “To oppose the major currents, especially the Palestinian Authority where it is in power, or Hamas where it is in power.
Iraqi government releases Sunni paramilitary leader
By Leila Fadel | McClatchy Newspapers
BAGHDAD – Ten days after arresting him in the middle of the night, the Iraqi government Thursday freed a prominent Sunni Muslim paramilitary leader and dropped all charges against him.
While freeing Raad Ali, the Shiite-led government continued to hold another Sunni leader, whose arrest Saturday triggered an uprising that left at least 17 people wounded, and it’s arrested a number of other Sunni paramilitary leaders and members this week.
The turmoil is fueling fears that rising tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and between Sunni Arabs and Kurds could trigger a new round of violence and even disrupt the Obama administration’s plans to draw down American forces in Iraq.
China hi-tech exam cheats jailed
Eight parents and teachers who used hi-tech equipment to help children cheat in Chinese college entrance exams have been sent to prison.
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Shanghai
They were given sentences of six months to three years after being found guilty of obtaining state secrets.
Three groups were found operating in just one school in Zhejiang province.
One group of parents, some of them local officials, persuaded a teacher to fax them the questions once the exam got under way.
They had organised six university students to answer them.
They sent these answers using mobile phones to their children in the exam hall who were wearing tiny earpieces.
Another man had employed more high-tech equipment.
He bribed a student taking the same exam as his son to get him the questions using a miniature scanner.
Seized U.S. journalists become ‘hostages’ in N. Korea crisis
By Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers
BEIJING – When American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee fell into the hands of North Korean border guards two weeks ago, vanishing into the maw of the most isolated nation on Earth, their fate drew concern.
Now the complications are growing.
North Korea appears days – maybe hours – away from test-firing a missile carrying what it asserts is a satellite. Reports say that North Korea is fueling the multi-stage ballistic missile at a launch site in its northeast.
In London on Thursday, President Barack Obama met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and the two called for “stern, unified action” if the North goes ahead with its launch, the first since 2006, the same year it tested a nuclear device.
Ling and Lee, journalists for former Vice President Al Gore’s media venture Current TV, based in San Francisco, have become pawns in a global chess match.
On the borderline of good and bad
In Starr County, Texas, residents are used to corruption fueled by drug money. But a well-liked sheriff’s arrest is unsettling.
By Scott Kraft
April 3, 2009
Reporting from Rio Grande City, Texas — When the Starr County sheriff was led away in handcuffs for accepting bribes from a bail bondsman back in 1998, the county pinned his star on his chief deputy, Reymundo “Rey” Guerra. It wasn’t long before Guerra was restoring the shine to the badge.
Unlike his predecessor, Guerra was affable and approachable, a beefy man with a gray-flecked mustache who rarely carried a gun. He and his wife were regulars at the peach-brick Catholic church in tiny Rio Grande City. When the city needed a favor, the mayor said, “I could always just pick up the phone and call Rey.” The county judge, a close friend, said, “You couldn’t ask for a better person.”
Guerra coasted to two election victories and was unopposed for a third in November. A souvenir from the campaign remains on a billboard on the edge of town: “Starr County has a sheriff. Re-elect Reymundo ‘Rey’ Guerra.”
But, somewhere along the way, something went wrong. Some here lay the blame on the frailty of human nature; it could happen anywhere, they say. Others, though, blame the county itself: a smugglers’ Shangri-La with deep cross-border ties and tight-lipped residents.