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BASF seeks a stable formula


 Jun 23rd 2010, 13:55 by The Economist online | BERLIN

WILD gyrations in the level of orders are enough to kill most businesses. In the chemical industry, they are routine. When economic crisis hit in 2008, demand for the basic chemicals used in everything from paints to plastic bags plummeted. Sales in some divisions of BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, fell by almost half in 2009 as both volumes and prices slumped. Even the good times for commodity chemicals tend not to last long, as improving prices trigger capacity-building, which soon leads to a glut.

BASF has weathered these swings better than most. Its size helps: it always has some big plants somewhere that could benefit from a few months of quiet so that maintenance workers can open them up for a good scrubbing. Diversity helps too, since the prices of some chemicals may hold up better than others. And it has become well practised in the art of ruthlessly driving down its costs.

But for all these advantages, BASF also faces some real constraints. One is that as fast as it is growing in developing countries, it still has a huge presence in developed ones where employees are expensive and ageing. More important, perhaps, is that its shareholders expect it to produce good returns on its investment, whereas some competitors, especially state-backed ones, make investment decisions based more on politics than economics: the result is overcapacity, which brings down the returns for all producers.

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Eurofighter Typhoon Multirole Combat Fighter, Europe


Wing Aspect Ration
Wing Area

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Experts: No end to volcano ash in sight


April 16, 2010 10:37 a.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Weather experts predicted Friday that a volcanic ash causing chaos to air traffic across Europe would affect the region well into the weekend and possibly beyond as the dust cloud continued to spread.

Scientists said it was too soon to predict when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland would cease spewing ash, raising the prospect of thousands more grounded flights in coming days.

Prevailing westerly winds are expected to fan the massive plume of dust from an erupting volcano in Iceland further east and north, according to predictions from the London Ash Advisory Center.

By 07:00 GMT Saturday (7 p.m. ET) the cloud traveling at up to 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) is forecast to be covering parts of Russia, Poland, Finland and other East European countries while continuing to affect the UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark and Netherlands.

Northern parts of Sweden, the UK, and Ireland, which have begun to reinstate air flights, would remain in the clear for the time being, according to forecasts.

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Nuclear Security Summit in Washington


Obama Fights for Ambitious Peace Plans

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington


President Obama has attracted leaders from 47 countries to attend a two-day summit on nuclear security issues. Still, his ambitious plans for keeping nuclear weapons out of some hands and getting them out of others hasn't won over everyone -- including administration insiders.

US presidents can develop visions more easily than other politicians. But making them a reality can be just as hard for the world's most powerful man as it is for his less influential colleagues. Barack Obama's aides learned this lesson once again at a press conference prior to the Nuclear Security Summit, which Obama has invited leaders from 46 countries to attend in Washington on Monday and Tuesday.


The aides put great effort into spelling out Obama's glowing vision of a world free of nuclear arms or their theft and a more peaceful future for all mankind. The president even stepped in to make a statement of his own: "We know that organizations like al-Qaida are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon," Obama warned. If they succeed in doing so, he went on to argue, it would present the "single biggest threat to US security" and "change the security landscape of this country and around the world."

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Poland mourns president's death in crash


(CNN) -- Thousands gathered outside Warsaw's presidential palace on Saturday evening to lay flowers and light candles in honor of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a plane crash in western Russia earlier in the day.

Kaczynski's wife and several top military officials were also killed in the crash.

"There is going to be a huge gap in public life in Poland," said resident Magdalena Hendrysiak. "The most important people are dead."

Russian officials said that 97 people were killed when the plane carrying Kaczynski crashed as it was trying to land at an airport near the city of Smolensk.

Parliament Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski took over as acting president and declared it "a time for national mourning."

Kaczynski, 60, had been traveling with a Polish delegation to Russia for the 70th anniversary of the Russian massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn. Some 20,000 Poles, including soldiers and civilians, were executed there during World War II.

The event was to be a milestone in the easing of relations between Russia and Poland, strained for decades over Poland's close relationship to the United States and because of lingering ill will over Russia's campaign against the Poles in the 1940s.

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Would-Be Priests Are Checked Carefully Amid Vatican Crisis

A seminary is not the place where you'd expect sex to be a regular topic of conversation.

An abusive priest allegedly bought protection with payoffs to Vatican officials.

But at the North American College in Rome, where student priests from across the United States are sent, new efforts to prevent sexual abuse are changing that. Part of the psychological element of the examination, says the Rev.

Gregory Grannazzisi, involves asking students directly about sex and celibacy.

"Some will ask you about your friendships," Deacon Michael Novajosky says.

"They will ask about what is your sexual past.

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Vatican Official Defends Pope’s Handling of Case


Cardinal William J. Levada, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in New York in 2008.


VATICAN CITY — A top Vatican official issued a detailed defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of sexual abuse cases and extensively criticized The New York Times’s coverage, both in its news and editorial pages, as unfair to the pope and the church.

In a rare interview and a 2,400-word statement posted Wednesday on the Vatican Web site, the official, Cardinal William J. Levada, an American who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, praised Pope Benedict for vigorously investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse cases. He said The Times’s coverage had been “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”

Cardinal Levada singled out several Times reporters and columnists for criticism, focusing particularly on an article describing failed efforts by Wisconsin church officials to persuade the Vatican to defrock a priest who had abused as many as 200 deaf boys from 1950 to 1974. The pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office when the case was referred there, in 1996.

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Terror in Moscow


Fearing the wider consequences of a bomb attack on the Moscow metro

Moscow bombings

Mar 29th 2010 | MOSCOW | From The Economist online

TWO terrorist bombers on the Moscow metro killed at least 37 people and injured 102 in the morning rush hour on Monday March 29th. The first explosion, which killed 22 people and injured 12, struck just before 8am at the Lubyanka metro station, a few hundred feet from the Kremlin and next to the headquarters of the Federal Security Services, the successor to the KGB. The second bomb went off at Park Kultury, by the main circular road in central Moscow, killing at least 15.

The Russian security services said two female suicide bombers from the north Caucasus were responsible. The bombs might have been operated with the use of mobile phones, which work unhindered in the Moscow metro. Russia’s emergency services appeared to be working in an orderly and co-ordinated way, cordoning off only the areas immediately affected by the explosions. Other metro lines remained open, with trains running regularly. There was a striking absence of panic in the capital, but no immediate sense of public numbness; ordinary commuters went on with their daily routines.

The first public figure to address the Russian people was Kirill, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is extremely active in all state matters. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, has not yet made a formal statement, but was shown by Russian television conducting a meeting with stony-faced officials from various ministries, and pledging to pursue terrorists “without hesitation and to the end”. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, who is travelling in Siberia, said he had interrupted his trip and pledged that terrorists would “be eliminated”.

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Female suicide bombers blamed in Moscow subway attacks

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 29, 2010 1:10 p.m. EDT

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Russian investigators combing two subway stations attacked by female suicide bombers think Chechen rebels may have been behind the rush-hour strike that killed dozens of people.

"Our preliminary assessment is that this act of terror was committed by a terrorist group from the North Caucasus region," Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Service said of the investigation at one of the blast sites.

"We consider this the most likely scenario, based on investigations conducted at the site of the blast," Bortnikov said. "Fragments of the suicide bombers' body found at the blast, according to preliminary findings, indicate that the bombers were from the North Caucasus region."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the "terrorists" responsible for the Moscow subway attacks Monday "will be destroyed."

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