Moody’s cautions possible credit downgrade for France

The Moody’s ratings agency has warned that the credit rating of France may be downgraded in the next quarter if the country’s budget is pulled further by bank bailouts to protect other debt-heavy eurozone countries. France has vowed to defend its AAA credit rating. A potential downgrade may complicate the European Union’s ability to stabilize the region.

The eurozone’s second largest economy, France, is facing pressure to find solutions to the region’s mounting debt problems. A country’s credit rating is vital as it plays a major role in the interest rates of government bonds. Given France’s limited growth this year and its exposure to Greek debt, the ratings agency Moody’s is saying that the nation could be pulled into an expensive bailout for banks, reducing the hope of finding a quick fix. The warning comes days after Moody’s downgraded a handful of British banks.

Robert Halver at Baader Bank AG said the threat is authentic. “Because regarding the economy, it’s weakening definitely and the most important point is that the French Republic and their policy is not able to find a solution common with Germany, to have a clear solution, a long-lasting solution for the eurozone.  And that’s why the rating agencies have all the power to downgrade France,” Halver said.

The cautionary words come just after Moody’s downgraded Spain’s sovereign rating by two notches, and just days ahead of a crucial EU summit Sunday aimed at improving Europe’s financial stability fund. Also up for discussion is a plan to recapitalize many European banks as insurance in case the crisis worsens, and possibly trying to help the country get back on its feet by forcing banks to take sizable losses on their holdings of Greek debt.

Economist James Ashley at RBC Capital Markets anticipates a degree of progress. “I think we will see significant steps forward this weekend but I don’t think it’s the end of the crisis.  I don’t think we come in on Monday morning and the market thinks this thing is over.  But I do think we’ll see significant steps both on Greece, EFSF reform, and private sector involvement in terms of future bailouts,” he said.

In spite of the potential damage to investor confidence, European markets were generally taking things in stride on Wednesday.

Investment fund manager Nathalie Pelras perceives the notice as a stern call to action. “It’s more to push the government to act in the next three months, so it’s more like an alert.  It’s in anticipation and it’s maybe a good thing for an agency, because for the first time, they just say: be careful without downgrading the outlook,” she said.

Financial markets have seen large ups and downs from day to day in preparation for a drastic plan that will calm debt-ridden nations including Greece, and support the continued viability of all 17 countries that make use of the euro.

France plans to take on up to 9.3 billion euros of new debt on Thursday.

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NexTech expo shows new technology

In spite of the seemingly insurmountable levels of debt challenging the federal government, many federal entities, especially the Defense Department and the space exploration agency, NASA, must use cutting-edge technology to succeed in their missions. This technology is created and pitched to the government by private contractors such as Lockheed Martin, which just recently brought some of its latest products to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for an event called NexTech.

A robot, called Sprockit, moved through the exhibit hall, providing entertainment to attendees and supplying directions to a variety of the more serious presentations. Paul Monday is an engineer for Lockheed Martin who assists with development of such systems. “When you turn your head, the view updates, too,” said Martin. “So it is a smooth view and it feels like you are looking at that world in Afghanistan.”

Monday said that the military is able to use this in medical screening: to identify physical problems without deploying a soldier to the real, much more dangerous terrain.

For Chris Spence, 26, who grew up playing video games, these creations are alluring. “Of course, there is work involved, but a platform like this makes it a lot of fun,” said Spence.

The system demonstrator for Lockheed Martin claimed this program is adaptable to a variety of training situations.

But these types of virtual reality experiences go beyond training, Pacale Rondot of Lockheed Martin’s Human Immersive Lab explained. “You see behind me this model who is driving an avatar in the virtual world,” said Rondot. “It is performing a task to validate maintenance of the aircraft.”

She suggested that this system assists engineers with probing for flaws in design before an aircraft is built. “We are reducing the overall cost of our product by making sure we are doing things right, right at the beginning, before we start cutting any metal,” she said.

Not everything on display was virtual. An exoskeleton, dubbed HULC, permits the wearer to carry more than 100 kilograms without trouble.

Former astronaut Rick Hieb, who is now a a vice president for Lockheed Martin, explained how it operates.

“It is an exoskeleton, powered,” said Hieb. “It has a battery system in the back, motors and hydraulics, and it actually senses his motions and then tries to predict and help.”

NASA’s demanding plans for the coming years include the use of big rockets to carry people to an asteroid, something NexTech participants could experience in the cockpit of a mock space craft.

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Bani Walid mostly controlled by NTC forces, fighting continues in Sirte

Libya’s NTC troops are claiming to have control of the majority of Gadhafi stronghold Bani Walid, where loyalists to deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi have been holed up and mounting a spirited resistance since late August.

Some reports say fighting has eased in the coastal region of Sirte, Gadhafi’s final coastal stronghold; however, resistance by Gadhafi loyalists has not stopped.

Interim government forces launched mortars and shells at a pocket of resistance in the town of Sirte Monday, amid violent fighting by a small but tenacious band of troops of Muammar Gadhafi.

Colonel Abdullah Naker, leader of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council, has said that Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) loyalists were making progress in finishing off resistance from Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte, but he is concerned that Gadhafi’s son, a leader of the resistance there, might find a way to escape the region.

To the south, NTC forces have been hunting the remaining Gadhafi soldiers in Bani Walid Gadhafi troops who remain in Bani Walid.

Naker told journalists that NTC forces have taken the heart of Bani Walid, in which they raised the flag of the new interim government.

About 60 percent of Bani Walid is now said to be under the command of NTC troops. Interim government forces claim to control 85 percent of Bani Walid. Gains by the NTC, however, may not be long-lived.

Reports suggest the Warfalla tribe, the biggest in Libya, is trying to negotiate with the interim government for the surrender of Bani Walid.

The Warfalla tribe, which includes Gadhafi’s wife, is hoping to make a deal with Libya’s next rulers.

A Syrian media source, Arrai television, confirmed the death of Muammar Gadhafi’s son Khamis. Khamis was killed on August 29 during a battle southeast of the capital Tripoli, in the city of Tarhouma. Gadhafi’s intelligence head, a cousin of Khamis, Mohammed Abdullah al-Senousi, was also killed in the battle with forces of the National Transitional Council.

The channel al-Rai station in Syria broadcasted a poor-fidelity audio speech released by Gadhafi during which the deposed ruler asked Libyans to “be brave and rise up.”

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at Britain’s University of Exeter, says the new interim rulers have a weak national army and that most of the nation is controlled by hundreds of minor militias. “The problem with it is that it’s not the only armed force in Libya right now and it has very limited influence on possibly 100 or so armed militias. In Tripoli, you have a militia controlling part of the north, another militia controlling part of the south, a third militia controlling the airport, and obviously this makes things very decentralized and at some points chaotic,” he said.

Libya’s new rulers have said they plan to begin the political process of instituting a democratic government after they have captured Sirte. However, some worry how armed groups could interfere with the political process.

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iPhone 4S launch is now official, welcomed by fans

The iPhone 4S hit retailers Friday across the globe. Eager Apple customers have been lining up for days to snatch up the new product, the last Apple device to be unveiled before the death of company co-founder Steve Jobs. The launch also arrived on the heels of serious network failures for Blackberry’s producer Research In Motion last week. People are beginning to reveal what the new iPhone leads to for the mobile industry.

Owners are able to speak to it, and it will respond. It has a dual-core CPU, making it faster. And it has a better camera and camcorder. Some speculate that the widely talked about 8MP camera on the iPhone 4S was produced by Sony, while some have speculated that OmniVision may have had a hand in the camera’s production.

Gadget evangelists say features like the voice recognition, called Siri, provide innovation to the smartphone industry. Seen as the leader of mobile innovation, Apple still needs to catch up with a lot of features on their own invention as well. That doesn’t matter to some.

The craze started when Apple made the gadget available for pre-order, with a record-breaking one million pre-ordered within the first 24 hours.

Although there were hundreds in line by the time doors opened at retailers around the country, most of the lines lessened before long.

The adventure wasn’t flawlessly smooth for everyone. In a replay of past launches, AT&T had issues while activating some iPhones, leaving a few users lying in wait for network congestion to fade before they could finish the procedure.

With one company’s success comes another’s adversity. Blackberry-maker Research In Motion had network outages last week spanning five continents. RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis apologized to customers on Wednesday. “I apologize for the service outages this week. We’ve let many of you down, but let me reassure you that we are working around the clock to fix this, ” said Lazaridis. “You expect better from us and I expect better from us. ”

For a number of Blackberry users the apology came too late. The iPhone 4S today has a well-received feature that once sold consumers on Blackberry: an internal messaging system that requires no charges for users of the device.

Research In Motion has seen a decline in its sales by three percent for each of the last three quarters. RIM will need to develop something new and exciting if they seriously want to remain a leader in the industry.

But though its sales are down, Blackberry is still attractive to a number of users. It’s good for people on a budget. But both Blackberry and Apple need to deal with significant competition from the biggest smart phone colossus, Google Android, which presently commands 50 percent of the market share and continues to grow.

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Astronomers produce first global map of Saturn’s moon, Titan

Astronomers have generated the first complete full-color map of the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan – a frozen place where liquid methane rains from the sky, and where scientists have identified a staggering potpourri of characteristics similar those seen on Earth.

Scientists from the University of Nantes in France compiled the map using images taken by NASA’s powerful Cassini spacecraft, which has circled around Saturn since 2004, during its first 70 passes by Titan. Cassini’s sensors are equipped with the ability to pick up images through Titan’s thick atmosphere and methane clouds, and reveal its multifarious terrain.

After rigorously combining pictures that were captured over six years by a NASA spacecraft in orbit around Saturn, astronomers have produced a complete surface map of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, that reveals some unexpected Earth-like features in its terrain.

Astronomers are especially interested in Titan because of its sand dunes, mountains, valleys and lakes, and its puzzling atmospheric conditions. Titan is a land of hydrocarbons, such as the methane that most researchers believe rains down onto Titan’s surface, fills its lakes and gathers in its clouds.

The Cassini spacecraft was finished being built in 1997 and is expected to make dozens more flybys of Titan before its orbital mission at Saturn comes to a close in 2017.

The group of astronomers needed to make strenuous pixel-by-pixel analyses of each image because the observations of Titan over six years occurred from different distances. The exhausting process required the scientists to normalize the size of the images to the same scale, as well as compensate for variance in light and contrast, and screen out atmospheric distortions.

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Turkey begins to feel repercussion from global economic disorder

Worldwide economic turbulence seems to be reaching Turkey, one of the most rapidly burgeoning economies in the world. The government is reducing its growth predictions and claims that it is now importing more goods and services than it can export.

The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Ali Babacan said on October 13 that the nation’s economic activities are probably poised to slow down next year.

He warned that the government had changed its predictions for economic growth to 4 percent in 2012 from five percent, after hitting an estimated 7. 5 percent this year.

Until now, the economic situation in Turkey seemed to be immune to the negative news, maintaining a respectable growth level during the past few years.

A considerable quantity of goods being imported into a territory versus being exported can often be an indicator of an unbalanced economy. To amend the imbalance, countries borrow funds from other nations at low interest rates. However, the longer the deficit goes on, the higher the level of investment debits will be accrued, which takes a toll on a country’s long-term economic stability.

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South Africa begins deporting Zibabweans

South Africa has deported more than 250 Zimbabweans this week and may expel twice as many by this weekend.

While officials from South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs say they are deporting only undocumented aliens – so-called border jumpers who recently entered South Africa illegally – one non-governmental organization suggests that others are being unjustly removed.

Spokesman Braam Hanekom, from People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, an immigrant rights group, states that some of those targeted for deportation are victims of sluggish bureaucracy. Many illegal Zimbabweans, he says, have yet to see their passport applications processed by Harare officials, while others have yet to see their residency applications processed by South African officials.

Since 2000, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have left for South Africa, many of whom have sought refuge from political repression by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party loyalists or were unable to survive hardships of the collapsing economy. In September of last year, South African cabinet members announced plans to terminate a 2009 deal for Zimbabwean migrants that allowed them to remain in the country without documents.

During that period more than 250,000 Zimbabweans illegally in South Africa managed to secure official documentation that enabled them to stay. However, Harare could not quickly issue passports to everyone who requested them.

The International Organization for Migration has set up reception centers at Zimbabwe’s southern border with South Africa to assist those expelled and says it can help about 600 people at any one time.

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