Also today: Another precursor to Homo sapiens found; Gingrich sets off Obama’s a ‘red under the bed’ alarm at GOP conference; Netanyahu skips Washington nuclear meeting over possible criticism; Greece stirs fears in European markets; Eurozone keeps benchmark rate at record low; China said to be reviewing yuan exchange rates; Where does all the plutonium go?
Tiger plays like nothin’ ever happened to beautiful wife and beautiful car
Tiger Woods is playing like nothing ever happened, opening his bid for this year’s Masters with a 4-under 68 –as his best ever first round at Augusta National. Thousands of spectators were curious about whether Woods’ concentration would dissolve over the sex scandal that grabbed the world’s attention. But the consummate pro said his return felt normal, and that he was trying “to hit a little fade off the first tee, try to take something off of it and make sure I got it in play”. Yup, business as usual.
Photo: Tiger Woods of the U.S. practices on the driving range before starting his first round play in the 2010 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2010.
Another precursor to Homo sapiens found
The fossil remains of two very ancient human-like creatures have been found in cave deposits within an hour of Johannesburg. But that’s not surprising in itself, as that’s where previous hominid finds of great import were discovered. What is surprising is that the remains of a female adult and a juvenile male (who may be mother and son) seem to fill a vital gap between older hominids and the group of more modern bipedalists known as Homo, which includes humans. The new finds are said to be just under two million years old, and such are their links to earlier finds in the same area that they have been dubbed Australopithecus sediba. Of course, the controversy is already raging over precise placement of the find in the human family tree. “It’s at the point where we transition from an ape that walks on two legs to, effectively, us,” Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg said. Some scientists argue the species may well be Homo itself.
Gingrich sets off Obama’s a ‘red under the bed’ alarm at GOP conference
One of the most polarising leaders in the US of the 1990s, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, says US President Barack Obama is the most radical president in American history, and that his policies – especially healthcare and his economic stimulus programme – have put the country on the road to socialism. Gingrich’s bitter words came at the opening the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, to the disco beat of “Eye of the Tiger” (remember Rocky III way back when, fighting Apollo Creed? No? Well that just goes to show how washed up the Republicans really are) that got the crowd on its feet. The headline act at the three-day GOP gathering is former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Sounds awesome, dudes!
Netanyahu skips Washington nuclear meeting over possible criticism
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be going to a Washington meeting on nuclear weapons, fearing Israel will be singled out over its own atomic programme. Israel’s policy on nukes is one of neither denial nor affirmation, but best estimates say the nation may have hundreds of warheads, making it a mini-atomic superpower. Netanyahu’s just been in Washington, meeting US President Barack Obama over Israeli settlement-building. He was roundly criticised for derailing the latest efforts to resume US-mediated peace talks with the Palestinians, so his absence this time is probably something of a relief all round. Israel has a particular interest in the possibility of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons, so Netanyahu’s deputy, Dan Meridor, will go to Washington instead. That’s one less carbon footprint, at least.
Greece stirs fears in European markets
Europe’s financial markets are reeling over renewed fears about Greece, with banking stocks tanking, while on the bond markets, Greek borrowing costs rose to record levels. Investors worry that loans to Greece might not be repaid on the back of an annual budget deficit of 12.7% underpinned by some $410 billion of total debt. So far, the EU hasn’t come up with a concrete plan to assist the country get back on track, other than to impose a harsh programme of spending cuts and higher taxes. The Greeks say that with current borrowing costs, they’ll never be able to make the economy grow sufficiently quickly to repay the debt. A possible bailout by the International Monetary Fund comes with such stringent conditions – and such embarrassment to the EU – that none of the parties have yet detailed it.
Eurozone keeps benchmark rate at record low
In an expected decision, Europe’s central bank kept the benchmark interest rate at a record low of 1% in an attempt to stimulate the Eurozone economy, which is experiencing only moderate growth. Inflation is also moderate, but there’s a continued uncertain economic environment, stemming from high public debt levels in the PIGS – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – and continuing financial woes in Ireland and the UK. The bank says it supports an EU deal over Greek debt, which needs final approval from all 16 Eurozone countries, whereby cash for Greece would come at a high premium from European bond markets, and any dramatic rescue package would be co-financed by the International Monetary Fund on strict terms. But the German-based central bank isn’t even sure the Greeks can dramatically slash spending and raise taxes under a severe austerity programme, as such measures cancel the ability of the economy to grow, further raising the cost of international borrowings.
China said to be reviewing yuan exchange rates
Under severe pressure from the US and EU, reports say China’s government is soon set to allow for greater variation in the value of its currency, including a small but immediate jump in its rate against the US dollar. The US Treasury Department is set to rule mid-April on whether China is manipulating its currency to benefit its exporters. This would add mightily to political tensions with its biggest trading partners, who say the yuan is overvalued by between 25% and 40%. China’s central bank appears to have prevailed in its arguments for a stronger but more flexible currency, but the final decisions are made by the political leadership in Beijing. China allowed some movement in the yuan in 2005, but quickly closed that down, fearing that more open currency markets could encourage speculators to bet on a rapid further appreciation of the currency, killing growth in its export-led economy.
Where does all the plutonium go?
The US and Russia just signed a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty. That’s laudable, but does little to solve the problem of surplus plutonium from such weapons. Reports say the process for destroying plutonium has not yet started to eat away at the surplus already created by previous nuclear agreements, and although weapons-grade plutonium can be consumed in commercial nuclear reactors, the conversion of such plutonium to reactor fuel in the US won’t take place until 2016. Ouch!