Tuesday, April 28, 2009

As Oracle readies takeover, Sun's loss widens

As Oracle readies takeover, Sun's loss widens
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Sun Microsystems Inc.'s loss ballooned in the latest quarter as restructuring charges and a 20 percent drop in sales compounded the financial woes Oracle Corp. is set to inherit by acquiring Sun for $7.4 billion.
Sun, a server and software maker whose wobbly performance for most of the last decade pushed it into Oracle's clutches, said after the market closed Tuesday that it lost $201 million, or 27 cents per share, in the three months ended March 29. A year ago, Sun lost $34 million, or 4 cents per share.
Stripping out one-time charges, including $46 million for a restructuring that has cost thousands of workers their jobs, the latest quarter's loss amounted to 7 cents per share. Analysts were expecting a loss of 19 cents per share, but the numbers don't directly compare because Sun subtracted out charges that analysts didn't.
When both sides use the same metric, Sun says its loss was 5 cents per share wider than estimates.
Sun's sales of $2.61 billion were short of Wall Street's forecasts. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting $2.86 billion.
Sun didn't provide color on the quarter and did not hold its customary conference call with analysts, probably because of the pending acquisition by Oracle, which is expected to close this summer.
The deal, announced last week, was a surprise because Oracle hasn't made hardware. More than half of Sun's sales come from its hardware division, primarily servers and data storage machines. And Sun's software properties, like the Java programming language and Solaris operating system, haven't been big moneymakers. Oracle thinks it can change that.
A key measure of how well Sun controlled its costs was off.
Sun's gross profit margin was 42.7 percent of the company's total revenue in the latest period. That measures how much money Sun made on each dollar of revenue, once manufacturing costs are stripped out. It was down 2.2 percentage points from the same quarter last year, indicating that Sun's deep cost-cutting wasn't enough to offset its rapid sales decline.
Sun's sales are suffering because of the recession — companies aren't forking out as much for computing infrastructure — and because of a shift in the industry away from the high-end, specialty servers that have long been Sun's own specialty.
Server sales in general are at their weakest point in seven years, according to market research firm IDC, chewing into the hardware numbers for Sun and bigger rivals like IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Sun's takeover by Oracle came about after talks with IBM broke apart on a standoff over price and other terms.
Sun's product revenue was $1.52 billion, down 24 percent from last year. Services revenue, which consists of things like technical support, was $1.10 billion, down 13 percent.

White House will probe presidential plane PR stunt

 White House will probe presidential plane PR stunt
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House plans an inquiry into a low-flying photo shoot by a presidential plane that panicked New Yorkers and cost taxpayers $328,835. President Barack Obama said Tuesday it won't happen again.
But the origins of the government public relations stunt that went awry remained an engrossing mystery — and a potential political problem for Obama. The White House military office approved the photo-op, which cost $35,000 in fuel alone for the plane and two jet fighter escorts.
"I think this is one of those rare cases where we can all agree it was a mistake," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said of Monday's "unfortunate" flight low over the Hudson River that for many on the ground evoked chilling memories of 9/11.
The sight of the huge passenger jet and an F-16 fighter plane whizzing past the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan financial district sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets.
"It was a mistake, as was stated ... and it will not happen again," Obama said.
White House officials did not say why new photos were needed of the plane that is sometimes used as Air Force One — Obama wasn't aboard the flight — or who the presumed audience of the planned photographs were.
Air Force officials began to provide basic information Tuesday about the cost of the flights, but did not disclose how long the public has paid for similar photo op flights.
And public officials from the White House to New York still had not explained why they acceded to a plan that informed several dozen officials about the impending flight but kept the public in the dark.
"I think we've all learned something from it and now it's time to make sure our procedures are better and to get on with other things," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It does seem like it was a waste of money, but that's up to the federal government."
Air Force officials said Tuesday the cost of the three-hour trip from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and back was $328,835 for the flight of the Boeing VC-25 presidential jet and the two accompanying F-16 fighters flown by D.C. Air National Guard pilots. The large jet — a Boeing 747 — carried only military personnel, the White House said.
Roughly $35,000 of the total flight cost was fuel for the VC-25 and F-16s. Other expenses that are factored into hourly flight costs include fuel for ground support equipment, spare parts and other maintenance items needed to keep the aircraft ready. Overall, the cost per flying hour for the VC-25 is $100,219, according to the Air Force. The F-16s cost just under $8,000 an hour to operate.
The Air Force said the photo op flight was run as a regular training mission, so that the costs of the aircraft were considered training costs and were handled under the operations and maintenance budget of the 89th Airlift Wing.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that there would be an inquiry into how the decision was made to make the flight. He made no move to defend the midlevel White House civilian who had accepted blame for it on Monday.
"The president will look at that review and take any appropriate steps after that," Gibbs said. The inquiry would be led by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, Gibbs said.
White House officials said Obama was fuming mad and thinks Air Force One didn't need a new publicity photo anyway.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates "did not know in advance about this flying photo op," Morrell said. "Once he found out, suffice it to say he was surprised and not very pleased."
The presidential air fleet answers to the White House military office, whose director, Louis Caldera, issued a mea culpa on Monday.
"While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption," Caldera's statement said. "I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."
For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and one of the F-16s circled the Statue of Liberty and the financial district near the World Trade Center site. Offices emptied. Dispatchers were inundated with calls. Witnesses thought the planes were flying dangerously low.
A White House official has said the New York City mayor's office and other New York and New Jersey police agencies were told about the Boeing 747's flight. The official said the FAA, at the military's request, told local agencies that the information was classified and asked them not to publicize it.
Bloomberg initially lambasted the government for failing to notify him, then criticized one of his own aides after learning that the aide had not relayed notification that the flight was coming.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said Tuesday he also received no warning ahead of time that the back-up Air Force One jet and military fighters would be flying low around the Statute of Liberty.
Corzine said he had yet to find a New Jersey official who was told in advance about the Monday morning fly-over.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the Obama administration should have been more careful about alerting New Yorkers to the photo-op.
"There should have been better communication," Levin said Tuesday. "They've expressed their regrets for not having a better communications line to New York, and I think New York people should have known about it."
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Philip Elliott and Lara Jakes in Washington, Sara Kugler in New York and Beth DeFalco in New Jersey contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

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Swine flu's ground zero? Townspeople are convinced

Swine flu's ground zero? Townspeople are convinced
LA GLORIA, Mexico (AP) — Everyone told Maria del Carmen Hernandez that her kindergartner's illness was just a regular cold. But it seemed like the whole town of 3,000 was getting sick.
As early as February, neighbors all around her were coming down with unusually strong flu symptoms — and the caseload kept growing. When state health workers came to investigate March 23, some 1,300 people sought their medical help. About 450 were diagnosed with acute respiratory infections and sent home with antibiotics and surgical masks.
Five-year-old Edgar Hernandez was still healthy then. Hernandez wanted to keep him home from school so he wouldn't get sick, but her husband said, "We can't be afraid of what might or might not happen."
Then he came home with a fever and a headache so bad his eyes hurt. She took him to a clinic, and after a few days of antibiotics, he too recovered.
No one told Hernandez that her son had become Mexico's earliest confirmed case of swine flu until the Veracruz governor helicoptered in on Monday. But Edgar's case confirmed for residents what they already believed: their hillside town is ground zero in the epidemic.
Local health officials and Federal Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova downplay claims that the swine flu epidemic could have started in La Gloria, noting that of 35 mucous samples taken from respiratory patients there, only Edgar's came back positive.
Confirmation that the boy was infected with H1N1 — a strange new mix of pig, bird and human flu virus that has killed as many as 152 people in Mexico and now spread across the world — wasn't made until last week, when signs of the outbreak elsewhere prompted a second look at his sample.
"If the people who are supposed to be familiar with this didn't know what it was, how will we ever know how my son got it?" Hernandez said Tuesday.
Hernandez said doctors came from Jalapa, the state capital, and Veracruz city to see Edgar in the weeks after he was tested. But they said nothing, "they just wanted to see him." A team came again last weekend, after federal officials confirmed the swine flu cases late Thursday and started closing schools and canceling events in Mexico City.
Again, they left without saying anything, she said.
Cordova insists the rest of the community had suffered from H2N3, a common flu, based on other 34 samples. While Mexican authorities haven't determined how or where the swine flu outbreak began, Gov. Fidel Herrera said Tuesday that "there is not a single indicator" suggesting it started in La Gloria.
But Jose Luis Martinez, a 34-year-old resident of the town, made the swine flu connection the minute he heard a description of the symptoms on the news: fever, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.
"When we saw it on the television, we said to ourselves, 'This is what we had,'" he said Monday. "It all came from here. ... The symptoms they are suffering are the same that we had here."
Two infants died of pneumonia during the La Gloria outbreak. They were buried without testing.
Townspeople blame their ills on pig waste from farms that lie upwind, five miles (8.5 kilometers) to the north. The toxins blow through other towns, only to get trapped by mountains in La Gloria, they say. They suspect their water and air has been contaminated by waste.
Granjas Carroll de Mexico, half-owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc., has 72 farms in the surrounding area. Smithfield spokeswoman Keira Ullrich said the company has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in its herd or its employees working at its joint ventures anywhere in Mexico.
Animal health expert Peter Roeder, a consultant to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, said many possibilities exist for how the virus first jumped to humans, and that it could have happened months or even a year ago.
Roeder said it's possible someone tending the pigs could have passed a human influenza virus to a pig already infected with another type of swine flu, and then that pig could have also come into contact with a bird virus. Then, the new H1N1 virus formed could have been transmitted back to the workers.
But that's just a theory — and no one has any evidence that it happened in La Gloria.
"It's all surmise," Roeder said by phone from the Philippines. "The only thing that we know is that we have a virus that is transmitting between people and it is causing some concern."
But residents say they have been bothered for years by the fetid smell of the farms. Local health workers intervened in early April, sealing off the town of La Gloria and spraying to kill flies people said were swarming around their homes.
When Associated Press journalists on Monday entered a Granjas Carroll farm that has been the focus of community complaints, the cars were sprayed with water. Victor Ochoa, the general director, required the visitors to shower and don white overalls, rubber boots, goggles and masks and step through disinfectant before entering any of the 18 warehouses where 15,000 pigs are kept.
Ochoa showed the journalists a black plastic lid that covered a swimming pool-size cement container of pig feces to prevent exposure to the outside air.
"All of our pigs have been adequately vaccinated and they are all taken care of according to current sanitation rules," Ochoa said. "What happened in La Gloria was an unfortunate coincidence with a big and serious problem that is happening now with this new flu virus."
Mexican Agriculture Department inspectors found no sign of swine flu among pigs around the farm in Veracruz, and say that no infected pigs have been found yet anywhere in Mexico.
Martinez and Bertha Crisostomo, a liaison between the villagers and the municipal government of Perote to which La Gloria belongs, say half of the people from the town live and work in Mexico City most of the week, and could easily have spread the swine flu in the capital, where most of the swine flu cases have been confirmed.
Edgar, however, has never left the Perote valley. The family doesn't own pigs or work near them. Edgar's father, a bricklayer also named Edgar, only works in the area — not Mexico City.
Residents here are certain Edgar was not the only swine flu victim in their town.
Juan Rodriguez died of pneumonia Feb. 9 at age 7 months. His grandmother, Josefina Mendoza, 71, said doctors have come to interview the infant's parents.
Irene Bonilla, 23, said her 2-month-old boy, Yovanni Apolinar, died March 12. No one has interviewed her but reporters.
Neither family wants the children's bodies exhumed for testing.
"Why?" Mendoza said. "It's been months since he died. The child has made his peace with God. He's with the Virgin now."
AP Medical Writer Margie Mason and AP writers Mark Stevenson and Lisa J. Adams in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

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Mexico death toll stabilizes as epidemic spreads

Mexico death toll stabilizes as epidemic spreads
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The toll from the swine flu epidemic appears to be stabilizing in Mexico, the health secretary said late Tuesday, with only seven more suspected deaths. But health officials said they "fully expect" to see U.S. deaths as the virus keeps spreading around the world.
The new virus is suspected in 159 deaths and 2,498 illnesses across Mexico, said Health Secretary Jose Cordova, who called the death toll "more or less stable" even as hospitals are swamped with people who think they have swine flu. And he said only 1,311 suspected swine flu patients remain hospitalized, a sign that treatment works for people who get medical care quickly.
The positive news came as the swine flu appeared to spread from hundreds of students at a New York school who fell ill after a small group's spring break trip to Mexico, and confirmed cases were reported in New Zealand and Israel, joining the United States, Canada, Britain and Spain.
The United States stepped up surveillance at its borders and warned Americans to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico. Canada, Israel and France issued similar travel advisories.
Cuba became the first country to impose an outright ban on travel to the epicenter of the epidemic. Argentina soon followed with its own ban, and ordered 60,000 visitors who arrived from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. in the past 20 days to contact the Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, Mexico was eliminating reasons for tourists to visit. On Tuesday, the pyramids and all other archaeological sites were put off limits nationwide and restaurants in the capital were closed for all but take-out food in an aggressive bid to stop gatherings where the virus can spread.
Experts on epidemics said these kinds of government interventions are ineffective, since this flu — a never-before-seen blend of genetic material from pigs, birds and humans to which people have no natural immunity — is already showing up in too many places for containment efforts to make a difference.
Outside Mexico, confirmed cases were reported for the first time as far away as New Zealand and Israel, joining the United States, Canada, Britain and Spain. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. has 66 confirmed cases in five states, with 45 in New York, one in Ohio, one in Indiana, two in Kansas, six in Texas and 11 in California.
"Border controls do not work. Travel restrictions do not work," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl, recalling the SARS epidemic earlier in the decade that killed 774 people, mostly in Asia, and slowed the global economy.
Instead, they say, governments should do more to provide medical help to people with swine flu symptoms, since the virus is proving to be treatable if diagnosed early.
U.S. officials stressed there is no need for panic, noting that flu outbreaks are quite common every year. The CDC estimates about 36,000 people in the U.S. alone died of flu-related causes each year, on average, in the 1990s.
Cordova said many of the people crowding hospital waiting rooms complaining of swine flu symptoms actually suffered from other ailments — and many of those suspected of having the virus were treated and sent home.
"You can see the total of new cases," Cordova said, pointing to bar charts that showed a rise and fall. "In the last days there has been a drop."
Only 26 cases, including seven deaths, have been definitively confirmed to be swine flu, Cordova said.
Cordova said that with U.S. help, new testing facilities in Mexico will soon have the capacity to test 150 samples a day for the new strain of swine flu. Currently, it must send samples to the CDC or Canadian labs.
Meanwhile, Cordova said health workers have begun using a less specific quick test, and will immediately administer anti-viral medicine to anyone with the general class of flu that includes the new strain.
Another focus is preventing people from gathering in groups where mass contagion could result. Mexico City's mayor ordered restaurants to limit service to takeouts and deliveries, and closed gyms and swimming pools and restricted access to many government buildings.
The economic toll also spread. Even before the restaurant closings, the capital has lost 777 million pesos ($56 million) a day since the outbreak began, said Arturo Mendicuti, president of the city's Chamber of Trade, Services and Tourism.
"Of course we don't like these measures," he said. "We hope they don't last."
In the U.S., President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion in emergency funds to fight the illness.
"I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection," said Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC.
In New York, there were growing signs that the virus was moving beyond St. Francis Preparatory school, where sick students started lining up at the nurse's office days after some students returned from Cancun.
At the 2,700-student school, the largest Roman Catholic high school in the nation, "many hundreds of students were ill with symptoms that are most likely swine flu," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. A teacher was one of 28 confirmed cases. And a nearby school with siblings at St. Francis was shut down as well after more than 80 students called in sick.
"It is here and it is spreading," Frieden said.
Rachel Mele, a 16-year-old at the school, saw her fever break Tuesday for the first time in five days. It had been hovering around 101 since the terrifying night when her parents rushed her to the hospital.
"I could barely even catch my breath. I've never felt a pain like that before," Mele said. "My throat, it was burning, like, it was the worst burning sensation I ever got before. I couldn't even swallow. I couldn't even let up air. I could barely breathe through my mouth."
It is significant that some of confirmed New York cases passed swine flu to others who had not traveled — this suggests the virus can jump from human to human to human, spreading through other countries, said Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization.
"There is definitely the possibility that this virus can establish that kind of community-wide outbreak capacity in multiple countries, and it's something we're looking for very closely," Fukuda said. So-called "community" transmissions are a key test for gauging whether the spread of the virus has reached pandemic proportions.
Scientists hope to have a key ingredient for a vaccine ready in early May, but it still will take months before any shots are available for the first required safety testing. Using samples of the flu taken from people who fell ill in Mexico and the U.S., scientists are engineering a strain that could trigger the immune system without causing illness.
"We're about a third of the way" to that goal, said Dr. Ruben Donis of the CDC.
U.S. officials said they may abandon the term "swine flu" since the virus blends genetic material from three species, and because many people mistakenly fear they can get it from meat. The outbreak has been a public relations nightmare for the pork industry, and China, Russia and Ukraine are among the countries who have banned imports from Mexico and parts of the U.S.
"It's killing our markets," said Francis Gilmore, 72, who runs a 600-hog operation in Perry, Iowa, outside Des Moines, and worries his small business could be ruined by the crisis. "Where they got the name, I just don't know."
Associated Press Writers Sara Kugler, Cristian Salazar, Marcus Franklin and Samantha Gross in New York; Istra Pacheco, Peter Orsi, Julie Watson and E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City; Mike Stobbe in Atlanta; Mary Clare Jalonick, David Espo, Philip Elliott and Matthew Lee in Washington; Alexander G. Higgins in Geneva, Maria Cheng in London and Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Indonesians vote for new parliament

Indonesians vote for new parliament

AKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesians began voting Thursday in parliamentary elections that could determine if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will have enough support to win a second five-year term needed to push through aggressive economic and institutional reforms. The vote will also test the role of Islamic parties in politics.

Violence flared hours before the first polling stations opened in the easternmost province of Papua, the scene of a decades-long insurgency, killing at least six people, said local police chief Maj. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto.
But by midmorning the situation appeared calm, with long lines forming as people waited to cast ballots.
The vote for a new 560-member legislature is being closely watched because it will determine who will qualify to run for president in July.

Parties or coalitions that win a fifth of the seats — or 25 percent of the popular vote — can nominate a candidate for that race.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat Party is expected to come out on top, but with more than 171 million eligible voters and dozens of parties to choose from, nothing is certain.

Second-time voter Rivaldi Aswin, a 25-year-old bank employee, was confused casting four votes for municipal, provincial and national candidates, most of whom he didn't know.

"It is very complicated this time. There were too many ballot papers and we didn't recognize the faces or candidates," he said in the capital, Jakarta. He declined to say who he picked.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, emerged from 32 years of dictatorship when Gen. Suharto was swept from power in 1998, leading to reforms that freed the media, struck down repressive laws and for the first time allowed citizens to vote for president.

It has since become a relatively stable democracy compared to many of its Asian neighbors, despite some concerns about vote-rigging, fraud and tensions in far-flung provinces like Papua in the east and Aceh in the west.

If Yudhoyono's party wins 26 percent of the popular vote, as some opinion polls predict, he will not have to cobble together an alliance with others seen to be less willing to tackle corruption, overhaul the judiciary and streamline bureaucracy.

"At this moment, it looks like he's going to make it," said Dede Oetomo, a political analyst from Airlangga University in the city of Surabaya.

Last time around, the Democrats won just 7 percent of the vote, forcing Yudhoyono, eventually, to partner up with Suharto's Golkar and a handful of Islamic parties that tried to push through laws governing everything from the way women dressed to the types of magazines that could be hawked on street corners.

Analysts say these elections could see the popularity of religious parties, which did well in 2004, waning. Most of the secular country's 210 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith.

"As long as these parties try to push through Islamic-based laws, they are going to keep losing support," said Syafiie Maarif, an Islamic scholar. "They need to come up with a broader, policy-based platform, like fighting poverty."

Campaigns across the board were largely personality driven and policies have been broad and ill-defined, focusing on issues like the effect the global slowdown has had on the economy or the need to root out pervasive corruption.

Unlike 2004, security is no longer a big issue, something many credit to Yudhoyono.
Indonesia was last hit by an al-Qaida-linked terrorist attack four years ago and, thanks to a 2005 peace deal, guns have largely fallen silent in formerly war-torn Aceh province, on the country's northwestern tip.
Tensions there and in Papua were high after a series of fatal shootings in recent months, but few expect the situation to spiral out of control.

Papuan police chief Maj. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto said more than 80 suspected rebels attacked a police post in the provincial capital, Jayapura, with machetes and spears at around 1 a.m. Thursday, prompting a clash that killed one separatist.

Elsewhere, he said, rebels who want Papua to break from Indonesia stabbed several motorcycle taxi drivers, burned an oil depot and property at a state university, leaving five others dead.

Voters, who had been told to boycott the vote, refused to be intimidated.
"I think everything should be solved in a peaceful way, that's why I'm out here today," said Leonard Tuilan.
The Indonesian Survey Institute poll indicated that the Democratic Party would win 26 percent of the popular vote; the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri 14 percent; and Golkar 13 percent. The four Islamic-based parties each came in at around 4 percent. The survey, based on interviews with 2,486 people, had a margin of error of 2.3 percent.

Associated Press Writers Zakki Hakim, Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta.

McCain urges China to get tough on North Korea

McCain urges China to get tough on North Korea

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. Senator John McCain urged China on Thursday to take a firmer stand against North Korea following Pyongyang's latest rocket firing, saying Beijing had more leverage than any other country to influence the North's behavior.

The Arizona Republican said stronger measures were needed in response to Sunday's launch, including sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. Both Beijing and Washington are veto-wielding permanent members of the body.

"I want to say very frankly what we all know, and that the nation that has true influence over North Korea" is China, McCain said in remarks to reporters following meetings with China's foreign and defense ministers and the head of the national legislature.

"And we have urged the Chinese to exercise that responsibility as quickly as possible and as strongly as possible, which in my view, they have not done enough of in the past," McCain said.

China is Pyongyang's strongest ally and has offered a muted response to Sunday's rocket firing, in contrast to the stern expressions of concern from the U.S., Japan and South Korea — who say they believe the launch was a test of a long-range ballistic missile, not a satellite launch as Pyongyang insists. Beijing has yet to weigh in on the argument.

McCain also expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in six-nation talks aimed at shutting down Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

The negotiations, hosted by China and involving the U.S., Japan, Russia and North and South Korea, are currently stalled after five years of on-again, off-again meetings. The deadlock centers on Pyongyang's refusal of a verification process that would confirm it had dismantled its nuclear programs.

"I don't think the talks have been very productive," said McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president. He said his disappointment was heightened by allegations that North Korea has "at least exported some (atomic) technologies," pointing to claims of North Korean involvement in the Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs.

While China is believed to be North Korea's biggest supplier of food and fuel aid, it has appeared to have limited sway with the isolated regime in Pyongyang. China may be unwilling to take a hard stand against Pyongyang for fear of further eroding that influence.


Analysis: Amid NATO celebration, concern on future

Analysis: Amid NATO celebration, concern on future

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO's reluctance to match the U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan may not undercut President Barack Obama's new war strategy so long as the allies carry through on pledges to contribute more nonmilitary assistance.

But in the longer run, an uneven sharing of the combat load in Afghanistan could doom U.S. hopes for relying on NATO as a partner in future conflicts. While the alliance celebrated its 60th anniversary and Obama hailed its more cohesive spirit, none of the leaders inside the Strasbourg castle alluded openly to the hard prospect that NATO troops may stay largely shielded while American soldiers are exposed to most of the battles and casualties.

The summit over the weekend ended with NATO's agreement to contribute 5,000 more troops to bolster the intensified U.S. push for more security in Afghanistan's cities and training for beleaguered Afghan soldiers and police.

The NATO additions are not insubstantial. But they pale beside Obama's decision to send 21,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines this year to buttress 38,000 American troops fighting the Taliban. The new NATO contingent — adding to the alliance's 35,000 troops in Afghanistan — would even be outstripped by the 10,000 more troops that senior American commanders are urging Obama to deploy to the conflict next year.
Left unsettled is how a NATO that was built on the principle of sharing security burdens can continue to play a role in the global effort to defeat Islamic extremism if it is unwilling to assume more of the risks in tight corners like Afghanistan.

"That's a significant problem for the alliance, going forward," said Nicholas Burns, a former American ambassador to NATO who is now a professor of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"We all agreed to go into Afghanistan. The essence of the alliance is that we share responsibility and we share commitments," Burns said. "And for some of the countries to essentially refuse to send their troops to combat areas, I still think, is an important issue that cannot be forgotten."

U.S. congressional leaders have been vocal in bringing up reminders. At a hearing last week on U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the allies' stance in Afghanistan was "nothing short of pitiful."

But generally the Americans have taken on the bulk of the fight against the Taliban and against terrorists like al-Qaida.

With the first U.S. surge troops soon expected to arrive, a delegation of senior U.S. officials visited Kabul on Sunday to deal with the knotty issue of Afghanistan's approaching election. U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen met much of the day with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other candidates and government officials.

High on the agenda is settling the question of who will serve as president after Karzai's term expires in May, since the presidential election will not be held until August. Holbrooke said Sunday it appears that Karzai will remain in office in that interim period. But the diplomat carefully added that the U.S. is taking no position on Karzai's re-election effort.

Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, also welcomed Iran to join Afghan stabilization talks in "whatever forums work for them."

The American willingness to include Iran in talks on Afghanistan's future is indicative of the new administration's tack to broaden the world's involvement in what was mostly a U.S. enterprise during the Bush years.

But the uneasy outlook for NATO's role in Afghanistan is central to a still-unsettled debate about whether the alliance should return to its focus on preventing conflict within its own borders. NATO was created in April 1949 as a bulwark against a Soviet land invasion to conquer western Europe, but since the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, NATO has been an alliance in search of a reason for being.

Obama's strategy for Afghanistan contains themes that the Europeans have been preaching for years. They include the need to more closely integrate the roles of combat and nonmilitary activities such as developing the Afghan economy, promoting reconciliation with some insurgents, and finding more effective ways of strengthening the credibility of the Afghan government.

Mullen said Obama's new war strategy makes clear that the U.S. needs help from allies to build a firmer foundation for stabilizing Afghanistan.

"Probably the most important part is to create governance in the country at every level — not just the national level but also at the district level, the provincial level," he said in a speech in New York on Thursday before flying to the NATO summit.

But without real harmony, Mullen added, "it won't make any difference how many more troops we send it — it's not going to work."

EDITOR'S NOTE _ Robert Burns has covered national security affairs for The Associated Press since 1990.

Obama looking at cooling air to fight warming

Obama looking at cooling air to fight warming

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tinkering with Earth's climate to chill runaway global warming — a radical idea once dismissed out of hand — is being discussed by the White House as a potential emergency option, the president's new science adviser said Wednesday.

That's because global warming is happening so rapidly, John Holdren told The Associated Press in his first interview since being confirmed last month.

The concept of using technology to purposely cool the climate is called geoengineering. One option raised by Holdren and proposed by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist includes shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays.

Using such an experimental measure is only being thought of as a last resort, Holdren said.
"It's got to be looked at," he said. "We don't have the luxury ... of ruling any approach off the table."
His concern is that the United States and other nations won't slow global warming fast enough and that several "tipping points" could be fast approaching. Once such milestones are reached, such as complete loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, it increases chances of "really intolerable consequences," he said.
Twice in a half-hour interview, Holdren compared global warming to being "in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog."

He and many experts believe that warming of a few degrees more would lead to disastrous drought conditions and food shortages in some regions, rising seas and more powerful coastal storms in others.
At first, Holdren characterized the potential need to technologically tinker with the climate as just his personal view. However, he went on to say he has raised it in administration discussions.

"We're talking about all these issues in the White House," Holdren said. "There's a very vigorous process going on of discussing all the options for addressing the energy climate challenge."

Holdren said discussions include Cabinet officials and heads of sub-Cabinet level agencies, such as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The 65-year-old physicist is far from alone in taking geoengineering seriously. The National Academy of Sciences is making it the subject of the first workshop in its new climate challenges program for policymakers, scientists and the public. The British Parliament has also discussed the idea. At an international meeting of climate scientists last month in Copenhagen, 15 talks dealt with different aspects of geoengineering.
The American Meteorological Society is crafting a policy statement that says "it is prudent to consider geoengineering's potential, to understand its limits and to avoid rash deployment."

Last week, Princeton scientist Robert Socolow told the National Academy that geoengineering should be an available option in case climate worsens dramatically.

Holdren, a 1981 winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, outlined these possible geoengineering options:

_ Shooting sulfur particles (like those produced by power plants and volcanoes, for example) into the upper atmosphere, an idea that gained steam when it was proposed by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2006. It would be "basically mimicking the effect of volcanoes in screening out the incoming sunlight," Holdren said.
_ Creating artificial "trees" — giant towers that suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it.
The first approach would "try to produce a cooling effect to offset the heating effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases," Holdren said.

But he said there could be grave side effects. Studies suggest that might include eating away a large chunk of the ozone layer above the poles and causing the Mediterranean and the Mideast to be much drier.
And those are just the predicted problems. Scientists say they worry about side effects that they don't anticipate.

While the idea could strike some people as too risky, the Obama administration could get unusual support on the idea from groups that have often denied the harm of global warming in the past.

The conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute has its own geoengineering project, saying it could be "feasible and cost-effective." And Cato Institute scholar Jerry Taylor said Wednesday: "Very few people would rule out geoengineering on its face."

Holdren didn't spell out under what circumstances such extreme measures might ever be called for. And he emphasized they are not something to rely on.

"It would be preferable by far," he said, "to solve this problem by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases."
Yet there is already significant opposition building to the House Democratic leaders' bill aimed at achieving President Barack Obama's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Holdren said temperatures should be kept from rising more than 3.6 degrees. To get there, he said the U.S. and other industrial nations have to begin permanent dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide pollution by 2015, with developing countries following suit within a decade.

Those efforts are racing against three tipping points he cited: Earth could be as close as six years away from the loss of Arctic summer sea ice, he said, and that has the potential of altering the climate in unforeseen ways. Other elements that could dramatically speed up climate change include the release of frozen methane from thawing permafrost in Siberia, and more and bigger wildfires worldwide.

The trouble is that no one knows when these things are coming, he said.
Holdren also addressed other topics during the interview:

_ The U.S. anti-ballistic missile program is not ready to work and shouldn't be used unless it is 100 percent effective. The system, which would be used to shoot down missiles from countries like North Korea or Iran "needs to be essentially perfect ... that's going to be hard to achieve."

_ Holdren said NASA needs some changes. He said the Bush administration's plan to return astronauts to the moon was underfunded so money was taken from science and aeronautics. Those areas, including climate change research, were "decimated," he said.

The administration will "rebalance NASA's programs so that we have in space exploration, a suitable mix of manned activities and robotic activities," Holdren said. Doing that "will only get under way in earnest when a new administrator is in place."

Holdren, who advises the president on such decisions, said he hopes Obama will pick a new NASA boss soon.


Obama launches effort to reduce nuclear arms

Obama launches effort to reduce nuclear arms

PRAGUE (AP) — President Barack Obama on Sunday launched an effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons, calling them "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War" and saying the U.S. has a moral responsibility to lead as the only nation to ever use one.

In a speech driven with fresh urgency by North Korea's rocket launch just hours earlier, Obama said the U.S. would "immediately and aggressively" seek ratification of a comprehensive ban on testing nuclear weapons. He said the U.S. would host a summit within the next year on reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons, and he called for a global effort to secure nuclear material.

"Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be checked — that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction," Obama said to a bustling crowd of more than 20,000 in an old square outside the Prague Castle gates.

"This fatalism is a deadly adversary," he said. "For if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable."
Obama targeted his comments at one point directly at North Korea, which launched a rocket late Saturday night in defiance of the international community. The president was awoken by an aide and told of the news, which occurred in the early morning hours in Prague.

"North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long range missile," Obama said. "This provocation underscores the need for action — not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons."

At a summit with leaders of the European Union later in the day, Obama called for a swift, joint statement condemning North Korea's actions, and said the foreign ministers from the countries were in the process of crafting one.

North Korea declared the missile launch a success. But the U.S. military said "no object entered orbit," with the first stage of the rocket falling into the waters between Korea and Japan, and the two other stages and its payload landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Addressing another potential nuclear foe, Obama said in his speech the U.S. will present Iran with "a clear choice" to join the community of nations by ceasing its nuclear and ballistic missile activity or face increased isolation.

He said the U.S. will proceed with development of a missile defense system in Europe as long as there is an Iranian threat of developing nuclear weapons. If that threat is removed, he said, "The driving force for missile defense in Europe will be removed."

The choice of Prague for such a speech carried large symbolism, and Obama didn't ignore it. Decades of communism were toppled in Czechoslovakia through the 1989 Velvet Revolution, so named because it was one of the few peaceful overthrows of communism in the Iron Curtain. The Czech Republic split from Slovakia in 1993.

Obama praised the Czechs for helping "bring down a nuclear-armed empire without firing a shot."
Obama coupled his call for a nuclear-free world with an assurance that America would not unilaterally give up nuclear weapons. It must be a one-for-all, all-for-one endeavor, he said, and until that is possible, the U.S. will maintain a big enough arsenal to serve as a deterrent.

Few experts think it's possible to completely eradicate nuclear weapons, and many say it wouldn't be a good idea even if it could be done. But a program to drastically cut the world atomic arsenal carries support from scientists and lions of the foreign policy world.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed by former President Bill Clinton but rejected by the Senate in 1999. Over 140 nations have ratified the ban, but 44 states that possess nuclear technology need to both sign and ratify it before it can take effect and only 35 have do so. The United States is among the key holdouts, along with China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan.

Ratification of the test ban was one of several "concrete steps" Obama outlined as necessary to move toward a nuclear-free world, He also called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in American national security strategy, negotiating a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia, and seeking a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials used in nuclear weapons.

Obama also said the U.S. will seek to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation treaty by providing more resources and authority for international inspections and mandating "real and immediate consequences" for countries that violate the treaty.

Obama spoke after conferring with Czech leaders. He is nearing the end of a sweep through five nations in Europe, pivoting from the global economic swoon to the war in Afghanistan to, now, the crisis in North Korea and the fate of the nuclear world.

AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this story from Prague.


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