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September, 2019

Gas leak delays shuttle launch

NASA called off the launch of its shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday for the second time in four days due to a small but potentially hazardous hydrogen leak, the US space agency said.

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“At 1:55 am (0555 GMT), launch managers called a scrub, canceling today’s planned launch of space shuttle Endeavour on its STS-127 mission,” NASA said in a statement.

“Despite troubleshooting efforts, engineers were unable to achieve a decrease in the liquid hydrogen leak,” the agency said, adding that the leak was in the same spot that halted the previous launch attempt on Saturday.

Hydrogen in venting system

The previous leak was in the venting system supposed to carry excess hydrogen safely away from the launch pad.

Shuttle launch director Pete Nickolenko had admitted during intense repair efforts Sunday that the original leak’s root cause was still not determined.

The three-hour operation to pump 500,000 gallons (two million liters) to the shuttle tanks was begun late Tuesday for a launch to the International Space Station at 5:40 am (0940 GMT).

Rescheduled till July

With the second scrub, however, the next possible lift-off may not be until July 11 at the earliest.

The shuttle’s new launch date caused a scheduling conflict with NASA’s moon-bound crater observation and sensing satellite (LRO/LCROSS), with the lunar mission being pushed back one day to June 18. It was unclear if Endeavour’s second cancelation would again affect its launch.

When Endeavour does head out from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it will be the 32nd mission to the ISS, orbiting 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth, and the last of three missions to assemble the Japanese Kibo laboratory aboard the orbiting space station.

During the shuttle’s stay the ISS is set to be a temporary home to 13 astronauts — the first time so many people have stayed on the orbiting station at once.

Astronauts to join ISS crew

The six US astronauts and a Canadian woman astronaut that Endeavour is expected to bring to the ISS will join another US astronaut and one more from Canada, as well as two Russians, a Belgian and Japan’s Koichi Wakata who are currently living on the ISS.

Construction began on the ISS a decade ago, and the push is on to complete the building before NASA ends its shuttle missions in September 2010.

Over the five planned spacewalks lasting some 32.5 hours, the astronauts will install a permanent 1.9 tonnes platform to Kibo, which will serve as one of the station’s porches for conducting experiments in the vacuum of space.

More rallies planned despite ban

Iran’s opposition movement is calling for another public rally in Tehran as pressure builds on the regime over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiercely-contested re-election.

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Grappling with the biggest wave of public anger since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has lashed out at enemy “plots,” hauling in foreign ambassadors, rounding up scores of reformists and clamping down on the media.

World governments voiced increasing alarm about the situation in Iran, but US President Barack Obama, while raising “deep concerns” over the election, said Washington would not meddle in the affairs of its arch-foe.

Rally called, despite ban

Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has accused the regime of blatant vote-rigging, said they have called another rally in Tehran for 1330 GMT on Wednesday, despite a ban on such gatherings.

Reformists sources and the press said on Wednesday that several more prominent political activists and journalists had been arrested by security forces in Tehran and other cities.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on Tuesday that he may order a partial recount of votes cast in Friday’s presidential election, which returned Ahmadinejad to power with a landslide according to official results.

“I am asking the Guardians Council and the interior ministry to examine the said issues so there is no doubt left,” Khamenei was quoted by state television as saying.

“If the examination of the problems require recounting of some ballot boxes, it should be definitely done in the presence of the representatives of candidates so that everybody is assured.”

The election has triggered days of opposition protests across Tehran and other cities, exposing deep divisions in the

oil-rich Shiite Muslim nation of 71 million people.

In demonstrations on Tuesday, supporters of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi staged rival rallies, each calling out hundreds

of thousands of people on to the streets of Tehran, state media said.

Iranian newspapers published pictures of the demonstrations, which the foreign media was banned from covering.

“We are not troublemakers,” said one banner shown in a photograph at the opposition rally, where many demonstrators wore the green of Mousavi’s campaign colour.

Seven people were reported killed in violence in Tehran on Monday, with footage broadcast on foreign television stations showing dramatic and chaotic scenes of violence, police beating protesters and blazing tyres and motorbikes.

Obama, who has turned his back on the policy of predecessor George W Bush and called for dialogue with Iran after three decades of severed ties, took a cautious line on Tuesday.

He said he had “deep concerns” about the election but added: “It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling – the US president meddling in Iranian elections.”

Obama said the United States would still need to pursue “tough diplomacy” towards Iran over its nuclear drive, saying there appeared to be little difference between the policies of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi.

“Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighbourhood and has been pursuing nuclear weapons,” Obama told CNBC.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the strongest remarks so far by a Western leader, said there had been election “fraud”.

Hundreds of protesters also took to the streets of European cities on Tuesday in support of Mousavi, who was premier of Iran in the post-revolution era during its war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Iran has responded to international criticism of the vote and the subsequent crackdown on opposition protesters by summoning EU envoys and lashing out at foreign meddling.

“Enemies, particularly the US, Britain, and Israel (are) interfering in Iran’s internal affairs, plotting against the government and giving media support to enemy groups, rioters and social and political hooligans who are trying to fuel chaos in the Islamic Republic,” said the organisers of Tuesday’s pro-regime rally.

The authorities have warned they would nip in the bud any “velvet revolution” and have rounded up scores of people in Tehran and other cities, including prominent reformists close to former president Mohammad Khatami.

Iran has also clamped down on foreign media, banning it from covering demonstrations.

Obama unveils banking reform plans

President Barack Obama has proposed the most “sweeping” regulatory overhaul since the 1930s, vowing to stop future meltdowns in a financial system humbled by lax oversight, greed and huge debts.

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The reforms, which must be approved by Congress, will inject the government deeper into financial markets and industries in a bid to tame the recklessness which saw a mortgage meltdown tip the world into deep economic crisis.

“We did not choose how this crisis began. But we do have a choice in the legacy this crisis leaves behind,” Obama said, unveiling his reforms at the White House.

“So today, my administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression.”

Obama blamed a “culture of irresponsibility,” a Great Depression-era regulatory system, reckless executive compensation, excessive debt and markets awash in new and risky financial products for sparking the crisis.

“An absence of oversight engendered systematic, and systemic, abuse,” Obama said.

“Instead of reducing risk, the markets actually magnified risks that were being taken by ordinary families and large firms alike.

“There was far too much debt and not nearly enough capital in the system. And a growing economy bred complacency.”n

New powers to the Reserve Bank

The proposals would give the Federal Reserve new powers to clamp firm regulation on all finance firms or banks that pose a significant systemic risk to the wider financial infrastructure.

They would introduce new discipline and transparency into financial markets and would enable investors to better ride out the failure of one or more large financial institution.

As previously announced, the reforms will include the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to shield Americans from the extremes of credit, savings and mortgage markets.

The Office of Thrift Supervision — a federal bank regulator and supervisor — will be abolished under the reform proposals, officials said.

The agency came under fire for the near collapse of insurance giant AIG, which was eventually bailed out by the government for 180 billion dollars, and the failure of Washington Mutual, the biggest bank to fail in US history.

US investment banking icon Lehman Brothers had also collapsed at the height of the financial turmoil in September.

Overhaul ‘does not go far enough’

Some Obama critics, hoping for a top-to-bottom reconstruction of the greed-laced financial system, complained the overhaul did not go far enough, others said it would require too much government intervention in the economy.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders called for greater action.

“We need to enact a national usury law so that big banks can’t charge outrageous interest rates and sky-high fees,” he said. “If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”

Eric Cantor, a leading Republican in the House of Representatives, criticized Obama’s plans.

“We need smart regulation, not necessarily more regulation,” he said.

“The Administration has placed too much emphasis on government and too little on people.”

The US Chamber of Commerce said the plan had several positive recommendations, but simply added to “the layering of the system without addressing the underlying and fundamental problems.”

The non-partisan Financial Services Forum though described the proposal as “comprehensive and responsive” to deficiencies in the current system.

Obama took aim at some of the exploitative asset products and mortgages offered in those markets that lured American investors into trouble.

“These schemes were built on a pile of sand,” Obama said.

“The actions of many firms escaped scrutiny. In some cases, the dealings of these institutions were so complex and opaque that few inside or outside these companies understood what was happening.

National bank supervisor to be set up

Officials said a “national bank supervisor would be set up under the plans to supervise and regulate all federally charted depository institutions and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.

Obama is also proposing stringent capital and liquidity requirements for the largest and most “interconnected” financial firms.

By early afternoon on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 19.57 points at 8524.24, but it fell 6.81 points (0.08 percent) to 8,497.36 at the close, its third straight day of losses.

US rejects Iran’s ‘interfering’ claims

“As the president has said, we are not interfering with the debate that Iranians are having about their election and its aftermath,” State Department spokesman P.

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J. Crowley said.

“You know, this is a debate about Iranians and about Iran’s future,” he said.

“It’s up to the government of Iran to resolve these questions and these concerns that the Iranian people have and that the world has in a credible way, in a transparent way, and in a peaceful way.”

At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would continue to express his concerns about the election and the subsequent political violence.

Gibbs noted that the president had discussed universal principles such as the right to peacefully demonstrate and stressed they should be observed in Iran as the political tumult escalates.

“The president will continue to express those concerns and ensure that we are not meddling,” said Gibbs.

Earlier, Iran protested to the Swiss envoy in Tehran, who represents US interests, over “interfering remarks” by US officials on last week’s presidential election, state television reported.

Obama said on Tuesday that he had concerns about the conduct of last week’s election and subsequent violence, but said that US “meddling” in Iranian affairs could be counterproductive.

Washington would still pursue “tough diplomacy” towards Iran over its nuclear drive, but has been walking a fine political line designed to avoid becoming a “political football” in Iran, Obama said.

The White House also downplayed reports that the State Department had intervened to stop the microblogging service Twitter, which has been carrying many eyewitness reports of protests in Iran, from scheduling a shutdown for maintenance that would have coincided with daytime hours in Tehran.

Gibbs described the State Department’s role as having been undertaken by “an employee in some discussions with Twitter about the importance of social networking and maintenance,” in a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

“So I think you’re going to have a hard time making the case that somehow this was done in some way as a bias.”

Twitter delayed Monday’s scheduled tuneup and performed it Tuesday instead but said the decision was made with its network provider, not the State Department.

On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden too voiced doubts about Iran’s controversial election.

“There is an awful lot of questions about how this election was run,” Biden said in an interview with NBC television. “We are waiting to see. We don’t have enough facts to make a firm judgment.”

Washington has had no diplomatic ties with Tehran for three decades and its interests are represented by the Swiss embassy.

Moderate former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi has demanded a re-run of last Friday’s Iranian presidential election after official results gave outright victory in the first round to hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

At a glance: Obama’s financial overhaul

President Barack Obama has proposed the most sweeping overhaul of the way the US government oversees financial markets since the 1930s.

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Here are the details of the plan.

– A new Financial Services Oversight Council of regulators led by the Treasury to identify emerging “systemic” risks and improve interagency cooperation.

– New authority for the Federal Reserve to supervise all firms that could pose a threat to financial stability, even those that do not own banks.

– Stronger capital and other prudential standards for all financial firms, and even higher standards for large firms.

– A new National Bank Supervisor to supervise all federally chartered banks.

– Elimination of the federal thrift charter and other loopholes that allowed some depository institutions to avoid bank holding company regulation by the Federal Reserve.

– The registration of advisers of hedge funds and other private pools of capital with the SEC.

– New requirements for market transparency, stronger regulation of credit rating agencies, and a requirement that issuers and originators retain a financial interest in securitized loans.

– Comprehensive regulation of all over-the-counter derivatives.

– New authority for the Federal Reserve to oversee payment, clearing, and settlement systems.

– A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect consumers across the financial sector from unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.

– A new regime to resolve nonbank financial institutions whose failure could have serious systemic effects.

– Revisions to the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority to improve accountability.