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June 8 2013




The 3 Biggest Losers in a Slashed Defense Budget

By DAVID FRANCIS, The Fiscal Times

June 3, 2013


Imagine a military force that, for the first time since World War II, cannot fight and win a two-front war.

This version of the U.S. military would also fall behind on maintaining its nuclear deterrence. According to American Enterprise Institute’s Thomas Donnelly, this American military would not be able to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives in the coming years.

“All I can offer you are roads to failure, roads to defeat,” Donnelly said at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment event held last week . “The current program does not maintain a two-theater force.”

This event brought together leading think tanks in Washington to present competing visions of the Pentagon’s future, in light of sequestration and defense cuts that are expected to remove $500 billon from DOD’s budget over the next decade. Each think tank assumed scenarios in which the DOD is operating with $100, $300 and $500 billion less than it is now.

The analysis was meant to mirror an ongoing Pentagon process known as a Strategic Choice Exercise, in which the DOD is contemplating spending cuts that Pentagon brass have said will decimate the American military. For years, DOD officials acted as if these cuts would somehow be avoided.

The White House’s long-term spending plans released earlier this year did not account for the full impact of sequestration. But as President Obama made clear in a recent speech, the age of endless Pentagon spending is coming to an end. This realization has the massive Pentagon bureaucracy split. Last week, Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno warned that shrinking the size of the Army could leave America vulnerable.

“The thing I worry about is that in everybody’s declaration that there’s going to be no more ground wars, we need no more ground forces, that we’re going to make the Army too small,” he said before a meeting of the Atlantic Council. “I see nothing on the horizon yet that tells me that we don’t need ground forces.”

Others within the Pentagon have begun to prepare for the inevitable. Defense Chief Chuck Hagel, along with a number of undersecretaries and high-level civilians, continue to tell the military to prepare for cuts.

“We’ll have to get smaller and we’ll have to look at some areas where we can take some more risk, get rid of more overhead and make a lot of other tough decisions,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said recently.

A Pentagon spokesperson said their review had not yet been completed and delivered to Hagel, and that DOD had not yet determined if it would be made public once it’s done.

But it’s clear that the drawdown won’t hit everyone equally. There are three areas where the cuts will be especially severe and will have an impact far beyond the ability for the United States to wage war.



The Pentagon currently has a civilian workforce of some 800,000. Earlier this year, Hagel said that one of the most important parts of DOD budget reduction was to drastically reduce the size of this workforce.

“Despite good efforts and intentions, it is still not clear that every option has been exercised or considered to pare back the world’s largest back office,” Hagel said in April. He has argued that DOD would save as much as $34 billion per year by shrinking the civilian workforce.

The think tanks involved in the strategic review agree with Hagel’s assessment. Their cuts in the civilian workforce range from a loss of 82,000 to 263,000 workers.



Despite Odierno’s protests, nearly everyone expects the Army to shrink. This will occur through base closures and troop reduction.

The think thanks estimated that a round of base closings, known as BRAC, could save between $5 and $30 billion in the coming years. This process is likely to impact the Army disproportionately, as it has the largest number of bases.

The think tanks’ analyses also recommend reductions of Army ground forces from between 70,000 and 163,000 troops. Army reserves would be pared down by up to 58,000 reservists.



The think tank review did not address the impact of these cuts on the wider economy. And they did not address how the downsizing of the Pentagon contracting process, an inevitable result of a cut in DOD spending and one that has yet to be fully understood, would impact national GDP growth.

Because defense spending has accounted for such a large portion of government spending in recent years, including nearly 20 percent in 2012, the new changes outlined by the think tanks would be felt by not just those connected to the Pentagon, but for all Americans.

And everyone in the large defense policy community is in agreement that these cuts must occur in some way and at some level, meaning that DOD and Congress are likely to draw the same conclusions soon.

“Given the range of strategies you’ve heard here, there are some things that everyone agrees on … regardless of which strategy you end up pursuing, these are things that are likely to happen,” CSBA senior fellow Todd Harrison said last week. “It’s pretty remarkable, [that] people across the aisle, across a broad political spectrum, can agree on these things and yet Congress can’t.”



White House Unveils First-Ever Inventory of Federal Programs

By Charles S. Clark

May 31, 2013


Embarking on a project long-sought by lawmakers and government efficiency experts, the Office of Management and Budget on Friday released a unique inventory of federal programs in 24 departments.

Report at


As called for in the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, the inventory of some 1,600 programs was prepared by departments using a Government Accountability Office definition that deemed a program an “organized set of activities directed toward a common purpose or goal that an agency undertakes or proposes to carry out its responsibilities.” Each program listed includes a title, description and link to the strategic goals and objectives of the agency.

OMB spokeswoman Ari Isaacman Astles said “each agency further defined programs in a way that reflects how the agency delivers and discusses its activities with Congress and other stakeholders.”

In meeting Friday’s deadline for the inventory’s first phase, agencies posted their lists on their own websites and as discrete units on After agencies receive feedback on the program definitions, an updated release next year will add detail to the entries, supply links to further information and centralize them within

For years, many in Congress have expressed frustration at the inability of agencies to precisely itemize all the programs that receive funding. Such information has been scattered across the president’s budget, congressional budget justifications,, and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. An OMB backgrounder notes that “reporting about the government’s activities is often done in a siloed and decentralized way, which inhibits coordination across agencies and cross-cutting analysis across programs.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in an essay earlier this year titled “Duplication Nation,” complained that “it is nearly impossible to fully comprehend the vast expanse of federal programs that exist today. Although various sources, including USA Spending and documents released by OMB and CBO produce partial lists of various government programs, there is not an exhaustive list of federal programs. Every federal department is now administering programs that address challenges tasked to be addressed by other agencies. The government has grown so large and unmanageable, that even the experts, and the departments themselves, cannot compile a list of all federal programs within their purview.”

In releasing the first inventory, which focused on permanent programs, the White House linked it to President Obama’s ongoing efforts to eliminate duplication and waste. “In each of his five budgets, the president identified, on average, more than 170 cuts, consolidations, and savings, totaling about $25 billion each year,” it said. “The 2014 Budget proposes 215 cuts, consolidations, and savings proposals, which are projected to save more than $25 billion in 2014.”

The Obama team also cited its progress in implementing GAO recommendations for curbing duplicative programs, and referenced its pursuit — again under the GPRA law — of cross-agency priority goals to improve government efficiency.

The release was hailed “an important tool” by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “If implemented correctly, the Federal Program Inventory can also assist agencies and Congress by aligning programs with goals and desired outcomes so that these programs can be managed more efficiently.” But more work is needed, Carper said, promising to work with colleagues and OMB to “refine the list and to fully implement the Performance Act.”


Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., also welcomed the release, saying, “We are finally getting the data we need to make a careful review of the structure of federal programs across the government to help inform decision-making in Congress. Identifying the programs at each agency is critical to making sure we reduce the amount of duplication, improve efficiencies, and ensure that programs with similar missions work together across agency silos. We will review these lists carefully, and I look forward to the addition of more program information that will help identify areas for collaboration and taxpayer savings.”

Robert Shea, an OMB official during the George W. Bush administration and now a principal with Grant Thornton LLP, called the release “a good start — almost like a to-do list. If we have a bird’s eye view of the programs out there, we can begin to catalogue what they cost and what we’re getting in terms of results, and start diligently deciding whether these are areas ripe for consolidation or improvement or elimination,” he told Government Executive.

“There’s probably a lot of confusion as to why it takes so long for government to get a handle on what’s going on in government,” Shea added. “These recent scandals have raised the specter of a government too large to be managed. This makes the case too that if we’ve got so many different ways of achieving similar objectives, is that really manageable?”

David Walker, the former Comptroller General now chairing an advocacy coalition called the Government Transformation Initiative, praised the first effort but said more needs to be done. “The creation of a governmentwide inventory of federal programs helps facilitate the coordination of activity across the federal government,” he said in a statement. “We already have numerous compilations of government programs with the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, GAO Reports and inspector general reviews, but they lack actionable recommendations to ensure the government is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

The inventory, Walker said, demonstrates “the need for an independent task force or commission to make specific and actionable recommendations to improve the economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and credibility of the federal government.”

DoD Inventory report at


Unemployment Compensation for Furloughed Feds?

By Eric Katz

May 31, 2013


Some federal employees will take week-long furloughs in an attempt to collect unemployment insurance, according to a CNN report.

A union local in Philadelphia — an affiliate of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers — has negotiated with Navy officials to allow the bunched furloughs, rather than the one-day per week schedule outlined by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Navy employees would not qualify for unemployment in Pennsylvania if they still worked four days of the week, as recipients must earn less than $745 per seven-day period. “We will begin furloughs on July 8 at the rate of one furlough day per week for most personnel,” Hagel wrote in furlough notices that went out this week.

He did leave the door open for some flexibility, however.


“Consistent with this memo and with applicable laws and rules, commanders and managers will have the authority to develop the specifics of furlough procedures in order to minimize adverse mission effects and also limit the harm to morale and productivity,” he wrote. “Further bargaining with unions may also be required.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the approach was unusual, but not prohibited.

“Employees may request a specific furlough schedule,” Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde told Government Executive. “However, the department’s approach has generally been one day a week, two days per pay period not to exceed a total of 88 hours.”

One employee, according to CNN, hoped to recoup about one quarter of the $4,400 he will lose due to unpaid leave through unemployment.

The Labor Department has issued several pieces of guidance on which federal employees may be eligible for unemployment and how to go about collecting it.

“While on furlough, federal employees may become eligible for unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees,” Labor wrote in one memo. “Some states may increase normal working hours in order to process the high volume of UCFE claims, if necessary.”

The department advised in another document: “In most cases, individuals on furlough status for only a couple of days during a week would not be eligible for a partial payment for that week.”

Labor bills agencies for UCFE benefits each quarter, which could in turn negate some of the savings obtained by furloughs. The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

Not all employees plan to take the lumped-furlough approach to become eligible for the out-of-work benefit, however. Tim Kauffman, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees — the largest federal employee union — said one unpaid day off per week has already been negotiated and finalized for Defense civilians.

“My understanding is that was what was agreed to in negotiations, which are already complete,” Kauffman said.

Hull-Ryde, the Defense spokeswoman, said unemployment compensation requirements differ by state and pointed to a Labor Department tool to help federal employees determine their eligibility.



Pentagon, Regional Staffs Growing Despite Orders to Trim Personnel

Data Show 15% Increase From 2010 to 2012


Jun. 2, 2013 – 08:57PM |



Staffs Grow

Overall, staff sizes of major US military commands grew by 15 percent from 2010 to 2012, despite then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ call to reducestaff sizes as a way of cutting redundancy and saving money.

Organization; Size 2010; Size 2012; Change; % Change

OSD: 2,433; 2,665; +232; 9.5%

Joint Staff: 1,286; 4,244; +2958; 230%

AFRICOM: 1,661; 1,919; +285; 15.5%

CENTCOM: 2,686; 3,207; +521; 19.4%

EUCOM: 2,494; 2,286; -208; 8.3%

NORTHCOM: 1,585; 1,687; +102; 6.4%

PACOM: 3,825; 4,147; +322; 8.4%

SOUTHCOM: 1,795; 1,797; +2; 0.1%


WASHINGTON — The size of the Pentagon’s vast oversight organizations grew by more than 15 percent from 2010 to 2012, despite efforts to pare down the US Defense Department’s bureaucracy, a Defense News analysis has found.

On Aug. 9, 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon needed to cut staff sizes. He made this task part of his efficiencies initiative — an effort to save hundreds of billions of dollars through better business practices. The military services’ incentive for accomplishing these tasks was that they would be able to get back some of that money to reinvest in other priorities.

“Constraining the personnel available is one way to force this painful but necessary process to take place,” Gates said then. “Therefore, I am directing a freeze on the number of OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], defense agency and combatant command [COCOM] positions, at the FY10 levels, for the next three years.”

But almost three years later, staff sizes within OSD, the Joint Staff and COCOMs have grown, prompting a new round of calls from senior Pentagon officials and defense observers to truncate the so-called “fourth estate.”

The Joint Staff, for example, grew from 1,286 people in 2010 to 4,244 people in 2012, a 230 percent increase.

“The problem is the bureaucracy is more resilient than even the most powerful secretary,” said Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, consultant and member of the Defense Business Board.

Unlike prior efforts to cut back staff positions, however, DoD officials have more of an incentive to do so now, experts say. Since DoD’s budget is capped and with more defense spending cuts on the horizon, maintaining staff size means reducing spending in other areas, such as training, research and weapon procurement.

Even though staff sizes grew over the past three years despite efforts to freeze or reduce them, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has made reducing this type of overhead a major priority.

Hagel signaled the rise in overhead costs during his first major policy speech in early April at National Defense University. He said DoD needs to “pare back the world’s largest back office.

“Prior efficiency campaigns yielded substantial savings from the services, and some from the DoD elements known as the ‘Fourth Estate,’ which consists … of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the combatant commands and the defense agencies and field activities — the Missile Defense Agency as well as those that provide health care, intelligence and contracting support,” Hagel said. “We need to relook at funding for these activities, which won’t be easy.”


The Growth

Between 2010 and 2012, OSD, the Joint Staff and COCOMs added about 4,500 positions, according to a Defense News analysis of multiple DoD personnel documents and interviews with experts. More than 65 percent of the staff size growth was within the Joint Staff, the organization at the Pentagon that oversees the uniformed military and global operations.

The staff sizes do not include the thousands of contractors working within each organization.

The majority of the growth within the Joint Staff stems from the closure of US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), which promoted and organized training between the military services. Gates ordered the closure of JFCOM in 2010.

That year, the Joint Staff had just shy of 1,300 military and civilian positions. In 2012, that number rose to more than 4,200.

About 2,500 of these positions were directly attributed to absorbing Joint Forces Command’s duties and responsibilities, Joint Staff spokesman Lt. Col. Larry Porter said.

“They say they closed JFCOM,” Punaro said. “They did not close … they added them to the Joint Staff.”

This year, the Joint Staff has cut more than 1,000 positions and has about 3,100 military and civilian billets, Porter said. And more cuts are on the way as another 100 positions — possibly more — are marked for elimination in 2014.

Collectively, the Joint Staff and COCOMs are planning to cut 400 headquarters staff positions over the next five years, which the Pentagon says is part of a nearly $900 million overhead savings plan, according to DoD data within a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

OSD is authorized to have 2,540 positions, said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, slightly down from 2,665 in 2012.

But when contractors are included, that number is much higher. When Punaro looked into Pentagon staff sizes for Gates, he found about 5,000 people — civilian, military and contractors — working at OSD.

“They need to bite the bullet in their own backyard if you are the secretary of defense and you want the rest of the Pentagon to tighten their belt,” Punaro said.


Trimming the Fat

DoD operates six COCOMs that oversee military operations in different parts of the world. Each of those commands is supported by a subordinate, service-specific command. For example, Army Pacific, Marine Forces Pacific, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces are the service components of US Pacific Command.

Experts say DoD can trim more fat there by eliminating redundant positions across the COCOMs and the subordinate service commands.

In a May report, GAO — the nonpartisan, investigative arm of Congress — found significant overlap between the service-supporting commands and the COCOMs. Overlap is common in a variety of positions, such as collecting intelli­gence, coordinating operations, performing strategic planning and policy and supporting communications.

“Even though the combatant commands rely on the service component commands’ personnel to support their missions and operational requirements, they do not have oversight or visibility into the service component commands’ authorized manpower or how the components determine the size and structure of their staff to support the combatant commands’ missions,” GAO said. “Based on our analysis of data that we gathered, in fiscal year 2012, there were 7,795 authorized positions at the headquarters of the service component commands, which was more than double the 3,817 authorized positions at the headquarters of the combatant commands.”


Moreover, the COCOMs do not have clear information regarding personnel assigned to the supporting service commands.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, civilian positions at the COCOMs — not including US Central Command — almost doubled from 2,370 in 2004 to 4,450 in 2012, according to GAO. However, the number of authorized military positions decreased about 9 percent from 6,250 to 5,670 across that same period.

The headquarters support costs, including civilian pay, contract services, travel and equipment reviewed by GAO at the COCOMs, more than doubled from $500 million in 2007 to $1.1 billion in 2012. Contract services and civilian pay were the primary drivers of the increase, GAO said.

During a budget-cutting drill conducted by four Washington think tanks — the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Center for Strategic and International Studies, Center for New American Security and American Enterprise Institute — teams from each cut DoD’s nearly 800,000 civilian workforce by between 82,000 and 263,000 people.

“I think that that’s remarkable, given the range in strategies, the range of view of people [participating] that they had so much agreement in this area in particular,” said Todd Harrison, a CSBA analyst who helped organize the drill.

The Pentagon also estimates it has more than 700,000 contractors working alongside its civilian and military workforce, but the exact number is unknown.

“They cannot really tell you, [and] Congress is frustrated,” Punaro said.

Estimates peg the number of contractors as high as 700,000, around the same size as the Pentagon’s entire civilian workforce.

“In business, if you cannot control your headcount, you are doomed,” Punaro said. “So, they do not control their headcount, and they do not have mechanisms to control the headcount. There ought to be someone that owns headcount, and you cannot increase it without higher authority.”


3-D printing goes from sci-fi fantasy to reality

Associated PressBy MARTHA MENDOZA | Associated Press – Sun, Jun 2, 2013..


SAN MATEO, Calif. (AP) — Invisalign, a San Jose company, uses 3-D printing to make each mouthful of customized, transparent braces. Mackenzies Chocolates, a confectioner in Santa Cruz, uses a 3-D printer to pump out chocolate molds. And earlier this year, Cornell University researchers used a 3-D printer, along with injections of a special collagen gel, to create a human-shaped ear.

Once a science-fiction fantasy, three-dimensional printers are popping up everywhere from the desks of home hobbyists to Air Force drone research centers. The machines, generally the size of a microwave oven and costing $400 to more than $500,000, extrude layer upon layer of plastics or other materials, including metal, to create 3-D objects with moving parts.

Users are able to make just about anything they like: iPad stands, guitars, jewelry, even guns. But experts warn this cool innovation could soon turn controversial — because of safety concerns but also the potential for the technology to alter economies that rely on manufacturing.


“We believe that 3-D printing is fundamentally changing the manufacturing ecosystem in its entirety — how and where products are made and by whom,” said Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of New York-based Shapeways, an online company that makes and sells 3-D printed products designed by individuals. Products include a delicate, twig-like egg cup (cost: $8.10) and a lamp that looks like a nuclear mushroom cloud (cost: $1,388.66).

“We’re on the verge of the next industrial revolution, no doubt about it,” added Dartmouth College business professor Richard D’Aveni. “In 25 years, entire industries are going to disappear. Countries relying on mass manufacturing are going to find themselves with no revenues and no jobs.”

On ground, sea or air, when parts break, new ones can be made on the spot, and even the tools to install them can be made, eliminating the need for staging parts in warehouses around the world, said Jeff DeGrange, vice president of Direct Digital Manufacturing at Stratasys Inc., currently the industry leader in a field of about 50 3-D printer companies.

“We’re going to see innovation happening at a much higher rate, introduction of products at a much higher rate,” said DeGrange. “We live in an on-demand world now, and we’ll see production schedules are going to be greatly compressed.”

Airplane mechanics could print a replacement part on the runway. A dishwasher repairman could make a new gasket in his service truck. A surgeon could print a knee implant custom-designed to fit a patient’s body.

But the military, D’Aveni said, is likely to be among the first major users of 3-D printers, because of the urgency of warfare.

“Imagine a soldier on a firebase in the mountains of Afghanistan. A squad is attacked by insurgents. The ammunition starts to run out. Is it worth waiting hours and risking the lives of helicopter pilots to drop it near you, or is it worth a more expensive system that can manufacture weapons and ammunition on the spot?” he said.

In the past two years, the U.S. Defense Department has spent more than $2 million on 3-D printers, supplies and upkeep, according to federal contract records. Their uses range from medical research to weapons development. In addition, the Obama administration has launched a $30 million pilot program that includes researching how to use 3-D printing to build weapons parts.

NASA is also wading into this arena, spending $500,000 in the past two years on 3-D printing. Its Lunar Science Institute has published descriptions of how it is exploring the possibility of using the printers to build everything from spacecraft parts while in orbit to a lunar base.

While the U.S. is pursuing the military advantages of 3-D printing, it’s also dealing with the potential dangers of the technology. On May 9, the State Department ordered a group to take down online blueprints for a 3-D printable handgun, and federal lawmakers and some state legislatures are contemplating proposals to restrict posting weapons plans in the future.

Since 2007, when these printers first entered the mainstream marketplace, sales have grown by 7.2 percent each year, according to IBIS World, a company that tracks the industry. Sales are projected to jump from about $1.7 billion in 2011 to $3.7 billion in 2015.

Cliff Waldman, a senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, a group that promotes the role of manufacturing in global economies, said it’s still too soon to know exactly what impact this 3-D technology could have on more traditional manufacturing. However, he doesn’t envision it changing the “fundamental shape” of manufacturing, as others suggest.

“I think 3-D has the capacity to impact both products and processes,” he said. “I am not ready to say that it is completely disruptive, however. It might be in a few narrow industries.”

Starting in June, office supply chain Staples plans to be the first major retailer to supply 3-D printers with “the Cube,” a plug-in device that uses 16 colors and costs $1,299. And in September the smallest and cheapest 3-D printer on the market — a printing pen priced from $50 — is due to start shipping. Similar to a glue gun, the 3Doodler plugs into the wall and is filled with cylinders of plastic that come out of a 518-degree Fahrenheit tip. Once the plastic leaves the pen it cools and hardens.

Makers Peter Dilworth, an inventor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Maxwell Bogue, a toy maker, first pitched their pens earlier this year on a website for startup projects. They sought $30,000 and wound up collecting $2.3 million from more than 26,000 investors, who each got one of the 3-D pens. Four artists who teamed up with the men have used the pens to make a mini Eiffel Tower, earrings and butterfly pendants.




House panel passes $638B defense authorizations bill

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb – 06/06/13 02:31 AM ET


The House Armed Services Committee passed its sweeping Defense authorization early Thursday morning, authorizing $638 billion in defense spending.

The Pentagon policy bill includes stripping commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts to deal with a rise in military sexual assaults, a prohibition on transferring Guantánamo detainees to the United States and a rejection of new base closures.

The committee passed its authorization bill on a 59-2 vote after a 16-hour mark-up, which began Wednesday morning and lasted until 2:14 a.m. Thursday. The bill will be debated on the House floor next week.

Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.) were the only committee members to vote against the final legislation.

The bill provides an increase of $5.1 billion for the war in Afghanistan from the Pentagon request, and it sets base Pentagon spending
at $526.6 billion, the same amount that was requested in President Obama’s budget.

That funding level is $52.2 billion over the budget caps set by sequestration, however, a topic that was debated only sparingly on Wednesday.

Because the panel’s bill was over the budget caps — as are the Senate and Obama administration budgets — the Pentagon could be facing another across-the-board cut in 2014 if sequester is not averted.

“I think in this committee there’s a growing awareness that sequestration is a fact of life, so whatever we do here today will wind up being reduced by a significant amount,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee.

After 1 a.m. Thursday, the committee debated a measure from Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) to give the Pentagon $20 billion in flexibility to transfer funds between accounts, up from $3.5 billion granted in the authorization bill.

Pentagon officials have warned that the military is facing shortfalls in its operations and maintenance accounts and they’ve said flexibility could help alleviate the problem to some degree.

“This is insanity, and so far this committee has not done anything about it,” Cooper said. “I’m not saying this is a perfect solution, but it is a start… I am sorry it is one in the morning before we face the elephant in the room.”

The amendment failed, however, on a 16-45 vote, and was opposed by both Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Smith.

“What you’re asking is to give full discretion for $20 billion. That really doesn’t solve the problem,” McKeon said. “What we really need to do is get rid of the sequestration.”

As the Pentagon faces tightened budgets, Smith criticized the committee for rejecting several cost-cutting measures that the Pentagon had requested, including a new round of base closures and new healthcare fees.

“I don’t think this committee has the luxury to be so parochial,” Smith said.

He was clearly in the minority, however, as the committee rejected his amendment 44 to 18 to reverse a restriction on Pentagon planning for future base closures.

Smith also fought a losing battle to lift a restriction on transferring detainees from Guantánamo onto U.S. soil, which has been included in the past several Defense authorization bills. The prohibition is a key roadblock to President Obama’s new push to close the detention facility.

Just as the full House passed a restriction on building U.S. facilities in the military construction appropriations bill, the committee rejected Smith’s amendment on a 23-38 vote.

The panel did not get into a major debate on military sexual assault Wednesday, but the bill included significant changes to the military’s judicial code in order to deal with sexual assault.

The panel included legislation from Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Niki Tonsgas (D-Mass.) that stripped military commanders’ authority to overturn guilty verdicts in a post-trial review.

The adopted measure also established a mandatory sentence of dismissal or dishonorable discharge for service members who were convicted of sexual assault.

There has been a major push in Congress to tackle sexual assault in the military on the heels of a Pentagon report estimating 26,000 assaults last year, up from 19,000 in 2010.

The committee’s markup did not address proposals to make larger changes to the military’s judicial code, including one from Rep. Speier to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.

Speier told The Hill on Wednesday that she was working with Republicans to get a vote on her amendment when the authorization bill goes to the floor next week.

Top military leaders expressed uniform opposition to taking cases outside the chain of command during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The most partisan debate in the committee Wednesday focused on missile defense issues, in particular Republican plans to build a new East Coast missile site by 2018.

The committee passed an amendment from Turner to direct $140 million for construction on the site by a 33-27 vote.

“It is imperative that we move quickly to ensure that our missile-defense system is expanded and it is completed,” Turner said.

Democrats argued that the technology is not yet ready and it would be premature to begin building a new site.

“This is too much money, too early to be helpful to the security of the American people,” said Cooper, the ranking member of the Strategic Forces subcommittee.

The Republicans on the panel also tangled with Democrats over the Pentagon’s biofuels program, a frequent target of GOP lawmakers for cuts.

The committee pushed back on a number of weapons programs that the Pentagon wanted to retire, including the Global Hawk Block 30 drone and seven cruisers and two amphibious warships.

Democrats also expressed concerns about the potential for discrimination against gay service members after the committee expanded a “conscience clause” for military chaplains in last year’s bill. The amendment from Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) stated that the military had to accommodate service members’ actions and speech, in addition to beliefs, which was the current language.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will be marking up its version of the Defense authorization bill in closed session next week.

— Carlo Muñoz contributed.


Pentagon officials ask Congress to shift $9.6B

The Hill

By Zack Colman – 05/18/13 10:53 AM ET


The Pentagon wants Congress to shift $9.6 billion of this year’s FY13 Defense Department budget toward expenses for the Afghanistan war, transportation and other items.

Moving $1.3 billion to the Army “to support funding shortfalls” in Afghanistan is the largest request, Bloomberg reports, citing budget documents. The Pentagon also wants to funnel $1 billion into the transportation budget to pay for higher-than-expected fuel costs.

The money would mostly come from smaller research programs and weapons-buying accounts, according to Bloomberg.

The Pentagon sent the request to Congress along with its $79.4 billion war-fighting budget proposal. The House Armed Services Committee will begin consideration of the defense bill next week.

The Defense Department is in the process of scaling back spending, as sequestration will shave $500 billion from its budget over the next 10 years.

The Pentagon said failing to honor its request “runs the risk of an interruption on the flow of supplies, subsistence and mail to deployed warfighters” in Afghanistan.

The Army also needs $770 million to pay for 8,400 more offices, the Pentagon said in its request.


Sixty Percent of Adults Can’t Digest Milk


By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

June 6, 2013


Got milk? If you do, take a moment to ponder the true oddness of being able to drink milk after you’re a baby.

No other species but humans can. And most humans can’t either.

The long lists of food allergies some people claim to have can make it seem as if they’re just finicky eaters trying to rationalize likes and dislikes. Not so. Eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish soy and gluten all can wreak havoc on the immune system of allergic individuals, even causing a deadly reaction called anaphylaxis.

But those allergic reactions are relatively rare, affecting an estimated 4% of adults.

Milk’s different.

First off, most people who have bad reactions to milk aren’t actually allergic to it, in that it’s not their immune system that’s responding to the milk.

Instead, people who are lactose intolerant can’t digest the main sugar —lactose— found in milk. In normal humans, the enzyme that does so —lactase— stops being produced when the person is between two and five years old. The undigested sugars end up in the colon, where they begin to ferment, producing gas that can cause cramping, bloating, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea.

If you’re American or European it’s hard to realize this, but being able to digest milk as an adult is one weird genetic adaptation.

It’s not normal. Somewhat less than 40% of people in the world retain the ability to digest lactose after childhood. The numbers are often given as close to 0% of Native Americans, 5% of Asians, 25% of African and Caribbean peoples, 50% of Mediterranean peoples and 90% of northern Europeans. Sweden has one of the world’s highest percentages of lactase tolerant people.

Being able to digest milk is so strange that scientists say we shouldn’t really call lactose intolerance a disease, because that presumes it’s abnormal. Instead, they call it lactase persistence, indicating what’s really weird is the ability to continue to drink milk.

There’s been a lot of research over the past decade looking at the genetic mutation that allows this subset of humanity to stay milk drinkers into adulthood.

A long-held theory was that the mutation showed up first in Northern Europe, where people got less vitamin D from the sun and therefore did better if they could also get the crucial hormone (it’s not really a vitamin at all) from milk.

But now a group at University College London has shown that the mutation actually appeared about 7,500 years ago in dairy farmers who lived in a region between the central Balkans and central Europe, in what was known as the Funnel Beaker culture.

The paper was published this week in PLoS Computational Biology.

The researchers used a computer to model the spread of lactase persistence, dairy farming, other food gathering practices and genes in Europe.

Today, the highest proportion of people with lactase persistence live in Northwest Europe, especially the Netherlands, Ireland and Scandinavia. But the computer model suggests that dairy farmers carrying this gene variant probably originated in central Europe and then spread more widely and rapidly than non-dairying groups.

Author Mark Thomas of University College London’s dept of Genetics, Evolution and Environment says: “In Europe, a single genetic change…is strongly associated with lactase persistence and appears to have given people with it a big survival advantage.”

The European mutation is different from several lactase persistence genes associated with small populations of African peoples who historically have been cattle herders.

Researchers at the University of Maryland identified one such mutation among Nilo-Saharan-speaking peoples in Kenya and Tanzania. That mutation seems to have arisen between 2,700 to 6,800 years ago. Two other mutations have been found among the Beja people of northeastern Sudan and tribes of the same language family in northern Kenya.


How Gov’t Student Loans Ruined College Education

By LIZ PEEK, The Fiscal Times

June 5, 2013

President Obama and Congress are squabbling again – this time over the rates charged on federal college loans.


Surrounded by students nicely turned out in suits and dresses, looking more like the Mormon Youth Chorus than today’s undergraduates, Mr. Obama recently chastised Congress for not yet blocking a doubling of rates for new Stafford loans set to occur on July 1.

As the president well knows, the House has already passed a bill preventing the hike and tying new loan terms to market levels. The president’s solution is similar, but would lock in rates for the duration of the loan. The spat is like bickering over menu choices on the Titanic.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of students enrolling in degree-conferring institutions increased 34 percent. The portion receiving federal aid skyrocketed from 31.6 percent to 47.8 percent, and the average award nearly doubled. In addition, the percentage taking out student loans climbed from 40.1 percent to 50.1 percent, and the average borrowing rose 76 percent.

The ramp-up in loans to students has not only driven up costs but has undermined the value of a college degree. Some 30 percent of people ages 25 to 29 are college graduates today, up from 12 percent in the 1970s. That is a notable achievement, unless the degrees awarded do not satisfy the needs of the job market. Richard Vedder, economics professor at Ohio University, has written that we have one million retail sales clerks and 115,000 janitors with college diplomas. At the same time, one fifth of the country’s managers say they can’t find skilled workers to fill job openings. Something is not right.

Rising student debt is a menace–not just to the families involved but also to the economic recovery. As with housing, the government’s well-intentioned effort to make advanced education available to all has led to crippling borrowing by millions of Americans. As with housing policy, it is time for a clear-headed review of how we can promote sensible spending on advanced education. That might start with challenging why Congress – or the president – should be responsible for fixing student loan rates in the first place.

Many of the problems challenging our higher education system could be resolved, or might have been prevented, by allowing greater input from the marketplace. The government’s 2010 take-over of student lending and prior 45 years of subsidizing student borrowings threw rational credit analysis out the window. A family’s earnings and debt profile were reviewed, but the applicant’s potential earning power was not part of the equation.

Lenders with skin in the game might have analyzed the income prospects of young people in different fields of study, and channeled more money to pre-med or software design than to philosophy or journalism majors, for instance. President Obama has long bemoaned our shortage of STEM grads. In a more rational world, higher income in engineering and tech would have attracted more students (and lenders) to those fields.

Many will argue that seeking a college degree is not just about financial returns. Lawmakers, however, have long used economics to persuade taxpayers to underwrite our colleges and universities. We are told we cannot compete in a global economy without a highly educated workforce. That is true, but it has become clear that not all training is the same.

To date, lawmakers concerned about rising student debt have focused scrutiny on for-profit schools, which have been plagued by high costs and failure rates. They should be looking at the whole system.


While household debt has been declining gradually during the recession, student borrowings have increased – rising another $20 billion in the latest quarter. Some 43 percent of twenty-five-year-olds owe student debt today, up from 25 percent in 2003. Between 2003 and 2012, the average student loan balance increased 91 percent, from $10,649 to $20,326.

The rise in student debt– now at $986 billion, triple the level outstanding in 2004 – has held back the recovery, and especially the housing and auto markets. Though student loans make up only 9 percent of total household borrowings, they are mainly held by young people – who are essential to new household formations. The average age of the first-time home buyer is 30, and most borrow to finance their purchase.

A study by the New York Fed shows that historically, most first-time home buyers have student debt – they are typically higher up the income scale and better able to finance a home. However, during the recovery, home buying by people holding student debt took a nosedive. Similarly, people saddled with student debt were less likely to borrow to buy a car. In short, rising student debt pushed out other consumer loans.

Partly, this trend is explained by a tightening of credit standards. The Fed study shows that while in the past scores were not much impacted by student borrowings, during the recession that changed. By 2012, the average credit score for a 25-year old without student debt was 15 points higher than the counterpart who took out college loans; for those aged thirty, the gap was 24 points. The Fed study concludes that while “highly skilled young workers” have always been a boon to the economy, “unprecedented student debt may dampen their influence in today’s marketplace.”

Families are wising up to the “value proposition” of a college degree, checking out websites like to compare future earnings and real costs. The Obama administration has also acknowledged the need for more discriminating choices, while still pushing broader college enrollment.

The biggest reform of all, and the only one that might restore sanity and discipline to our higher education system, is to return student lending to the private sector – this time without the carte blanche of federal guarantees. To give low-income families a shot at attending college, direct grants awarded by scholastic merit would be, in the end, a less distorting approach.

Most likely, Congress will extend today’s Stafford loan rate for another year, and that pile of cans down the road will continue to build.

President Obama and Congress are squabbling again – this time over the rates charged on federal college loans.

Surrounded by students nicely turned out in suits and dresses, looking more like the Mormon Youth Chorus than today’s undergraduates, Mr. Obama recently chastised Congress for not yet blocking a doubling of rates for new Stafford loans set to occur on July 1.

As the president well knows, the House has already passed a bill preventing the hike and tying new loan terms to market levels. The president’s solution is similar, but would lock in rates for the duration of the loan. The spat is like bickering over menu choices on the Titanic.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of students enrolling in degree-conferring institutions increased 34 percent. The portion receiving federal aid skyrocketed from 31.6 percent to 47.8 percent, and the average award nearly doubled. In addition, the percentage taking out student loans climbed from 40.1 percent to 50.1 percent, and the average borrowing rose 76 percent.

The ramp-up in loans to students has not only driven up costs but has undermined the value of a college degree. Some 30 percent of people ages 25 to 29 are college graduates today, up from 12 percent in the 1970s. That is a notable achievement, unless the degrees awarded do not satisfy the needs of the job market. Richard Vedder, economics professor at Ohio University, has written that we have one million retail sales clerks and 115,000 janitors with college diplomas. At the same time, one fifth of the country’s managers say they can’t find skilled workers to fill job openings. Something is not right.

Rising student debt is a menace–not just to the families involved but also to the economic recovery. As with housing, the government’s well-intentioned effort to make advanced education available to all has led to crippling borrowing by millions of Americans. As with housing policy, it is time for a clear-headed review of how we can promote sensible spending on advanced education. That might start with challenging why Congress – or the president – should be responsible for fixing student loan rates in the first place.

Many of the problems challenging our higher education system could be resolved, or might have been prevented, by allowing greater input from the marketplace. The government’s 2010 take-over of student lending and prior 45 years of subsidizing student borrowings threw rational credit analysis out the window. A family’s earnings and debt profile were reviewed, but the applicant’s potential earning power was not part of the equation.

Lenders with skin in the game might have analyzed the income prospects of young people in different fields of study, and channeled more money to pre-med or software design than to philosophy or journalism majors, for instance. President Obama has long bemoaned our shortage of STEM grads. In a more rational world, higher income in engineering and tech would have attracted more students (and lenders) to those fields.

Many will argue that seeking a college degree is not just about financial returns. Lawmakers, however, have long used economics to persuade taxpayers to underwrite our colleges and universities. We are told we cannot compete in a global economy without a highly educated workforce. That is true, but it has become clear that not all training is the same.

To date, lawmakers concerned about rising student debt have focused scrutiny on for-profit schools, which have been plagued by high costs and failure rates. They should be looking at the whole system.

While household debt has been declining gradually during the recession, student borrowings have increased – rising another $20 billion in the latest quarter. Some 43 percent of twenty-five-year-olds owe student debt today, up from 25 percent in 2003. Between 2003 and 2012, the average student loan balance increased 91 percent, from $10,649 to $20,326.

The rise in student debt– now at $986 billion, triple the level outstanding in 2004 – has held back the recovery, and especially the housing and auto markets. Though student loans make up only 9 percent of total household borrowings, they are mainly held by young people – who are essential to new household formations. The average age of the first-time home buyer is 30, and most borrow to finance their purchase.

A study by the New York Fed shows that historically, most first-time home buyers have student debt – they are typically higher up the income scale and better able to finance a home. However, during the recovery, home buying by people holding student debt took a nosedive. Similarly, people saddled with student debt were less likely to borrow to buy a car. In short, rising student debt pushed out other consumer loans.

Partly, this trend is explained by a tightening of credit standards. The Fed study shows that while in the past scores were not much impacted by student borrowings, during the recession that changed. By 2012, the average credit score for a 25-year old without student debt was 15 points higher than the counterpart who took out college loans; for those aged thirty, the gap was 24 points. The Fed study concludes that while “highly skilled young workers” have always been a boon to the economy, “unprecedented student debt may dampen their influence in today’s marketplace.”

Families are wising up to the “value proposition” of a college degree, checking out websites like to compare future earnings and real costs. The Obama administration has also acknowledged the need for more discriminating choices, while still pushing broader college enrollment.


The biggest reform of all, and the only one that might restore sanity and discipline to our higher education system, is to return student lending to the private sector – this time without the carte blanche of federal guarantees. To give low-income families a shot at attending college, direct grants awarded by scholastic merit would be, in the end, a less distorting approach.

Most likely, Congress will extend today’s Stafford loan rate for another year, and that pile of cans down the road will continue to build.



Top 10 College Majors

Princeton Review




College offers you many academic freedoms. You can cultivate existing passions and explore new interests–all the while figuring out which major will eventually help you earn a living.

Whatever major you choose, don’t pick what’s easiest–or what your best friend is studying–because you’ll only be cheating yourself out of some great opportunities!

And college is, after all, about opportunities.

The Princeton Review’s Top 10 Majors follow. Be warned, however, that these are not necessarily the degrees that garner the most demand in the job market. More importantly, they don’t lock you into a set career path. Each major offers unique intellectual challenges and develops skill sets that will be applicable to various careers.


1. Business Administration and Management/Commerce

Think you’re a born leader? You’ll need stellar people skills–no room for wallflowers here–and talents in problem solving, number crunching, and decision making. And don’t forget great communication skills! While studying business, you’ll get a thorough grounding in the theories and principles of accounting, finance, marketing, economics, statistics, and human resources functions. You will be a whiz on how to budget, organize, plan, hire, direct, control, and manage various kinds of organizations –from entrepreneurial–type start–ups to multi–million–dollar corporations. This major will also get you thinking about issues such as diversity, ethics, politics, and other dynamics that play a role in every work environment. Make sure those competitive juices are flowing; the business world is all, well, business.

2. Psychology

If you find yourself delving into why certain people react to certain aspects of their environments in a certain way, then studying psychology will help you learn about the biology of our brains. Psychology majors focus on such features of the human mind as learning, cognition, intelligence, motivation, emotion, perception, personality, mental disorders, and the ways in which our individual preferences are inherited from our parents or shaped by our environment. Within the field, psychologists seek to educate, communicate, and resolve many of the problems surrounding human behavior.

3. Nursing

Compassionate individuals with a great mind for the intricate–and sometimes heartbreaking–world of medicine will be well–suited for a nursing career. In the course of evaluating, diagnosing, and treating health problems there is also the chance to work with ever–evolving and ultra–sophisticated technology. Nursing majors take the traditional science and liberal arts courses as a first–year student and begin clinical rotations at hospitals and other health care facilities during the second semester of their sophomore year. Certification exams are required after graduation from an accredited nursing program before you can be officially registered. And the job prospects for nurses are not only plentiful but also varied, available in fields such as geriatrics, neurology, oncology, obstetrics, and pediatrics.

4. Biology/Biological Sciences

From microscopic organisms to cloning procedures, biology encompasses pretty much the whole world. Biology majors can study human, plants, animals, and the environments in which they live, and studies are conducted at the cellular level, the ecosystem level, or anywhere in between. You might find yourself looking to uncover secrets and for ways to solve problems, such as finding a cure for a disease. Biology majors might find themselves in med school or in one of many growing fields such as genetics and biotechnology or working as a veterinarian, optometrist, ecologist, or environmentalist.

5. Education

Patience. Creativity. Dedication. Enthusiasm. Compassion. Education majors tend to have an abundance of all of these traits. In this major, you’ll learn the skills necessary to become an effective and inspirational teacher with the ability to influence young children and teenagers when they are most impressionable. Although much of the coursework will be general education material, most states require you to choose a specific grade level you’d like to teach. When you are done with coursework, you’ll find yourself in the classroom as a student teacher. This practicum lasts from one semester to a full academic year.

6. English Language and Literature

If you find yourself generally immersed in some book–anything from Shakespeare to Hemingway to Jack Kerouac–you will likely find others just like you in the English department studying the trochaic octameter of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the stunning word choices of narrative nonfiction author Annie Dillard, or the experimental elements of the writings of Walter Abish. English programs focus on literature, language, and writing, and an English major will encounter a wide array of absorbing works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from around the world and throughout history. Analyzing the works of the greatest minds and imaginations that human civilization has produced will surely sharpen your critical, emotional, creative, and moral faculties. The study of literature also helps to shed some light on the answers to the enduring questions of the human condition. This degree is tremendous preparation for a future in law, journalism, publishing, graduate studies, and just about anything else.

7. Economics

Economics is the study of choices–those of individuals, businesses, governments, and societies and how they choose to spend their time and money and otherwise allocate their resources. And you guessed it: Economics involves heavy doses of critical thinking and math. This study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services is an indispensable tool for making sense of the intricacies of the modern world. It is also an excellent preparation for a future in business, as well as for graduate studies in law, public policy, and international studies.

8. Communications Studies/Speech Communication and Rhetoric

Communications majors tend to be great storytellers with quick wits and fiery personalities. You’ll spend a significant amount of time scrutinizing different kinds of presentations–such as speeches and scripts–and the strategies behind the messages that speakers and writers use to make their points. You’ll learn about verbal and nonverbal messages, audience reaction, and the varied effects of different communication environments. It will prepare you for a wealth of careers in business, advertising, human resources, public relations, government, education, media, and social services.

9. Political Science and Government

Because it often deals with current events and sophisticated statistical analysis, political science is timely, fascinating, and perpetually changing. In a nutshell, it’s the study of politics of government, and some of the common concentrations are American government, public policy, foreign affairs, political philosophy, and comparative government. Political science majors develop excellent critical thinking and communication skills, and more broadly, an understanding of history and culture. There will be lots of reading, writing, and math. Possible career paths are diverse–from lawyer to politician to journalist.

10. Computer and Information Sciences

Not only will you learn more about computers–hardware and software–but you’ll also learn about the applications of such knowledge, such as how technology fits into a business scenario. You’ll be exposed to areas such as robotics, natural language recognition programs, artificial intelligence, programming languages, numerical analysis, and gaming technology. Problem solving is a major component of CIS, no matter which segment of the industry you want to pursue.



10 Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career

By Caitlin Dewey


Many Millennials grew up hearing that they should study what they love. While that’s a nice sentiment, it’s also landed countless recent grads in quagmires of student debt and unemployment. In today’s tough economic climate, some college majors simply offer better prospects than others—and savvy students should want to know the difference.

That’s why we came up with our list of the ten best college majors for your career. We analyzed the unemployment rates and salaries for graduates of the 100 most popular college majors, using data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and

What did we look for? Fields of study with grads—both recent grads within the past five years and those well into their careers—who enjoy an attractive combination of big paychecks and abundant employment opportunities. The undergraduate programs that we ranked can take from two to five years to complete.

1. Pharmacy and Pharmacology

Unemployment rate: 3.2%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 5.4%
Median salary: $105,000
Median salary for recent grads: $51,200
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 25%
A pharmacy major can be a bit of an investment, since most states require students to earn a post-grad degree to work as a pharmacist. However, pharmacologists, who don’t necessarily require graduate training, can land jobs right out of college. Public and private labs hire recent grads to research drugs and drug interactions. But whether pharmacy undergrads go on to med school, research or some related field, they can expect to earn big salaries fast. Pharmacists stand to make six figures working in hospitals and stores. Both programs involve pharmacology, toxicology and ethics classes—and promise plenty of jobs when class lets out. Even among recent grads, unemployment is a low 5.4%.

2. Nursing

Unemployment rate: 2.2%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 4.0%
Median salary: $60,000
Median salary for recent grads: $48,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 26%
Nursing has always made for a steady, well-paid career, but it’s looking especially good as baby-boomers age. Demand for nurses is way up, so unemployment, even among new grads, is down. Nursing majors study a predictable list of health care subjects including anatomy, physiology and biology. While you can score an R.N. certification after two years, nurses with bachelor’s degrees generally enjoy better salaries, earning potential and advancement opportunities than their less-educated peers.

3. Transportation Sciences and Technology

Unemployment rate: 4.4%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: N/A
Median salary: $68,000
Median salary for recent grads: $53,100
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 5%
Head in the clouds? Hardly a bad thing. Aeronautics and aviation technology majors can expect to earn more than $50,000 right out of school—and as much as $90,000 midway through their careers. Most study engineering, mechanics and aerodynamics and work for airplane manufacturers. Depending on the program, transportation sciences can also include fields such as materials engineering and automotive-technology management.


4. Treatment Therapy Professions

Unemployment rate: 2.6%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 5.4%
Median salary: $62,000
Median salary for recent grads: $60,400
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 33%
While physical therapists typically need a doctorate degree, respiratory, radiation and recreational therapists make the big bucks on a B.A. alone. Recent grads start off at $60,400, one of the highest salaries on our list. Radiation therapists, for example, stand to make $75,000, the national median for that particular therapy field, after a few years. Treatment therapy programs generally include anatomy and physiology courses, as well as chemistry, physics and pharmacology. Regardless of specialty, most therapists work in hospitals or nursing homes.

5. Chemical Engineering


Unemployment rate: 3.8%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 7.5%
Median salary: $86,000
Median salary for recent grads: $64,500
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 6%
Chemical engineering majors make more money out of school than any other major on our list. If that’s not enough to send you running for the chem lab, consider the fact that, a few years in, the average chemical engineer will make over $30,000 more than his friends in other fields. The work isn’t easy. Chemical engineers study chemistry, physics and biology in school. But after graduation, these engineers stand to enjoy high five-figure salaries in labs and offices and a very low unemployment rate.

6. Electrical Engineering


Unemployment rate: 5.0%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 7.3%
Median salary: $86,000
Median salary for recent grads: $57,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 6%
Electrical engineering isn’t for the faint of heart or the mathematically challenged. But if you can survive four years of differential equations and circuit theory, you’re on track to make $57,000 a year at your first job. That’s $20,000 more than the median salary for new grads in the top 100 majors. Long-term job growth is modest, with a 10-year projection below the 14% average for all occupations. Still, consistent demand for qualified electrical engineers keeps unemployment in check. Nearly 300,000 electrical engineers design and test components for manufacturers, engineering firms and power plants across the country.


7. Medical Technologies

Unemployment rate: 1.4%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 5.4%
Median salary: $58,000
Median salary for recent grads: $45,100
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 13%
Medical technologists are in serious demand—so serious, in fact, that some hospitals try to tempt recent grads with perks such as sign-on bonuses. In addition to the abundance of employment opportunities, medical-technologies majors can look forward to above-average starting salaries. In school, majors study chemistry, biology and clinical laboratory skills; after graduation, they work in hospitals, doctors’ offices and diagnostic labs analyzing patient samples.


8. Construction Services

Unemployment rate: 5.4%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: N/A
Median salary: $65,000
Median salary for recent grads: $50,200
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 17%
Construction services may seem an odd choice in a down economy, when building projects can grind to a halt. Still, there’s enough demand for general contractors and construction managers to keep unemployment at a tidy 5.4%. Construction-services majors study project scheduling and construction law and go on to oversee projects ranging from office buildings to power plants. The workplace isn’t as glamorous as a swanky office, but new construction services grads make more money than new grads in finance, general engineering and pre-law.

9. Management Information Systems

Unemployment rate: 4.2%
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 7.4%
Median salary: $71,000
Median salary for recent grads: $51,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 18%
Not all computer majors are created equal, contrary to rumor and admissions-office hype. Computer-networking majors, for instance, see 8.2% unemployment and a $37,300 salary upon graduation. But management information systems majors can expect high starting salaries right out of school, and strong job and salary growth after that. The major prepares students to work in IT for big organizations—helping clueless technophobes fix their e-mail, sure, but also building, securing and maintaining a network for an entire company.


10. Medical Assisting Services

Unemployment rate: 2.9% (Average for all grads with a bachelor’s degree: 4.9%)
Unemployment rate for recent grads: 5.4% (Average for top 100 majors: 7.7%)
Median salary: $51,000 (Median for all grads with bachelor’s: $54,756)
Median salary for recent grads: $43,000 (Median for top 100 majors: $37,000)
Projected job growth for this field, 2010–2020: 31% (Average: 14%)
If you don’t mind following doctors’ orders, medical assisting is a pretty sweet deal. The average medical assistant with a two-year associate’s degree will enjoy far better job prospects than most grads and earn nearly as much money as a young B.A.-holder. Medical-assisting majors study office administration and basic clinical skills, such as transcription, coding and lab procedures. They generally work in doctors’ offices, taking patient history, performing basic tests, and tracking insurance and other paperwork as needed.


Is Big Data turning government into ‘Big Brother?’

San Francisco Chronicle     

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer

Updated 3:46 am, Friday, June 7, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — With every phone call they make and every Web excursion they take, people are leaving a digital trail of revealing data that can be tracked by profit-seeking companies and terrorist-hunting government officials.

The revelations that the National Security Agency is perusing millions of U.S. customer phone records at Verizon Communications and snooping on the digital communications stored by nine major Internet services illustrate how aggressively personal data is being collected and analyzed.

Verizon is handing over so-called metadata, excerpts from millions of U.S. customer records, to the NSA under an order issued by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian. The report was confirmed Thursday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Former NSA employee William Binney told the Associated Press that he estimates the agency collects records on 3 billion phone calls each day.

The NSA and FBI appear to be casting an even wider net under a clandestine program code-named “PRISM” that came to light in a story posted late Thursday by The Washington Post. PRISM gives the U.S. government access to email, documents, audio, video, photographs and other data that people entrust to some of the world’s best known companies, according to The Washington Post. The newspaper said it reviewed a confidential roster of companies and services participating in PRISM. The companies included AOL Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Skype, YouTube and Paltalk.

In statements, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo said they only provide the government with user data required under the law. (Google runs YouTube and Microsoft owns Skype.) AOL and Paltalk didn’t immediately respond to inquiries from The Associated Press.

The NSA isn’t getting customer names or the content of phone conversations under the Verizon court order, but that doesn’t mean the information can’t be tied to other data coming in through the PRISM program to look into people’s lives, according to experts.

Like pieces of a puzzle, the bits and bytes left behind from citizens’ electronic interactions can be cobbled together to draw conclusions about their habits, friendships and preferences using data-mining formulas and increasingly powerful computers.

It’s all part of a phenomenon known as a “Big Data,” a catchphrase increasingly used to describe the science of analyzing the vast amount of information collected through mobile devices, Web browsers and check-out stands. Analysts use powerful computers to detect trends and create digital dossiers about people.

The Obama administration and lawmakers privy to the NSA’s surveillance aren’t saying anything about the collection of the Verizon customers’ records beyond that it’s in the interest of national security. The sweeping court order covers the Verizon records of every mobile and landline phone call from April 25 through July 19, according to The Guardian.

It’s likely the Verizon phone records are being matched with an even broader set of data, said Forrester Research analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo.

“My sense is they are looking for network patterns,” she said. “They are looking for who is connected to whom and whether they can put any timelines together. They are also probably trying to identify locations where people are calling from.”

Under the court order, the Verizon records include the duration of every call and the locations of mobile calls, according to The Guardian.


DoD close to approving cyber attack rules

May. 28, 2013 – 06:00AM |


WASHINGTON — After three years of grueling internal debate, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is poised to approve new rules empowering commanders to counter direct cyberattacks with offensive efforts of their own — without White House approval.

Once signed, the new cyber rules contained in the US military’s new standing rules of engagement (SROE) — the classified legal document that outlines when, how and with what tools America will respond to an attack — will mark a far more aggressive tack than envisioned when the process started in 2010, or even much more recently. To date, any cyber action requires the approval of the National Security Council (NSC).

A defense spokesman said that much of the focus on cyber has revolved around defensive action, and that pre-emptive offensive action would still require presidential approval.

Sources said the new rules are vital to address a rapidly developing domain that should be integrated into normal military rules, but still remains largely closed to outside observers by heavy layers of classification. Because the SROE is classified, conversations about its composition and details of deliberations are all considered very sensitive, and sources who participated declined to be named.

The new rules were supposed to have been implemented in late 2010, but were delayed as top government lawyers debated how aggressively the US should respond to cyberattacks, and what tools commanders could use, according to current and former White House, defense and intelligence officials.

Now complete, the rules are undergoing a final “internal bureaucratic process,” a defense official said.

Lawyers from the Joint Staff and US Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) gathered in Washington to try to update the Defense Department’s standing rules of engagement in late 2010, with two major policy areas remaining as subjects of debate: rules regarding deployed ships and rules about cyberwarfare.

The cyber discussion resulted in a draft cyber policy that was gerrymandered, larded with legalese, and had become almost unintelligible because of the many hands from multiple agencies involved in its writing. An interagency process had been started because cyber concerns confront a variety of agencies, the intelligence community and DoD as well as State, Homeland Security and other departments, with each expressing views on how the domain would be treated.

That effort aimed to update rules crafted in 2005 that did not address broader questions regarding cyber, but were in need of updates as cyber threats escalated. Recent reports from the security company Mandiant and from DoD indicate the Chinese cyberattacks began to increase in 2006.

With the SROE process having stalled, three lawyers attending the conference decided to start over, redrafting the language on cyber over a lunch break during the conference. Huddled around a table they created what they thought was a simple, clean approach that could gain broad support. They presented it to the other attendees, and the new version was passed up the chain of command for review by senior officers.

Not long afterward, that draft was rejected by a deputy of Gen. Keith Alexander, head of CYBERCOM and director of the National Security Agency, because it fell short of where “the SecDef wanted it to go,” said a former defense official.

The problem was that the document didn’t allow for a sufficiently assertive response, the official added. In its efforts to achieve balance, the draft didn’t accommodate the strong stance the administration, and specifically CYBERCOM, wanted to take.

So the rules were drafted again, designed to be “forward leaning,” permitting a stronger response. Once again they were rejected.

Nearly three years later the rules still haven’t been signed. Defense officials said they expect the newest version to be formalized shortly, but there is always the possibility that further policy concerns will stall the process.

While several sources pointed to the desire by some, especially Alexander, to take a more assertive stance, not everyone agrees that the delay was caused by internal dissent. A senior defense official said the process was slowed by the administration’s need to develop larger cyber policies to make sure the military rules fit the larger whole.

“As we were developing our standing rules of engagement and going through that interagency process we were recognizing that there’s a natural progression, a natural sequencing of making sure that the presidential policy was finalized and signed out, then making sure that the doctrine and other procedures are in place, and finally the next logical step is the standing rules of engagement,” the senior defense official said.

According to the former defense official with knowledge of earlier drafts, the version on the verge of completion is “way far” from previous versions, authorizing far more assertive action than had been previously considered.

Use of cyber weapons will still be the domain of US Cyber Command, with geographic combatant commanders requesting action through locally stationed cyber support elements. But the debate about the rules of engagement, what authorities they should permit and who should have them, stems from a larger issue about normalizing cyberwarfare that was complicated by the concentration of cyber authority within the NSC, a concentration that is the byproduct of an inter-agency dispute dating to the Iraq war.

What the US does as it begins to normalize cyber will have a big effect on how cyber is treated globally, said Jason Healey, director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative of the Atlantic Council.

“Without a doubt what we do gets copied,” he said. “The fact that we’re including this in rules of engagement and pushing this down to lower levels, [means that] then the military of another country will try to convince its leaders to do the same thing.”


Concentration of Power

In 2003, with the launch of the war in Iraq, cyber capabilities weren’t very advanced compared to some of the elegant tools at the military’s disposal today. But that doesn’t mean that various intelligence and defense agencies weren’t interested in using them.

When the squabbling over who would be in charge of cyber began, President George W. Bush signed a classified presidential directive in 2004 requiring that all cyber decisions be funneled through the NSC.

That prevented any single agency from laying claim. But it didn’t end the disagreements.

“It became an issue with cabinet and deputy cabinet level officials in there hacking it out,” said a former senior intelligence official, describing debates in the White House Situation Room.

In every instance where cyber was involved, the NSC had to be involved. That helped settle some of the disputes between agencies by limiting any independent application of cyber capabilities, but was useful neither for expediting any cyber action nor for integrating cyber into larger military capabilities. Several sources said that this has slowed the integration of cyber into broader military tactics, possibly giving rivals without the same hesitation, like China, a chance to become more adept at military cyber.

Some decisions by the NSC on the use of cyber were easier than others. In an individual theater of combat, such as Afghanistan, their use was more easily authorized if the effects were limited to the region. If anything resembling a cyberattack or intrusion came from the area, a response was also likely authorized.

But when it came to more complicated issues, like international intrusions, the standards got hazy.

Because every decision had to be run through the West Wing, potential political blowback limited the use of cyber tools, the former senior intelligence official said. “If they can’t be used without a discussion in the West Wing, the president’s got no place to run if something goes wrong when he uses them,” he said. Those decisions included what to do if the US confronted a cyberattack.

The rules of engagement review proceeded in 2005 with limited cyber concerns integrated into the final version. Not until 2010 did the larger debate pick up steam.

The rejection of the drafts developed at the end of 2010 by CYBERCOM officials was part of a larger push to increase the authority vested in Alexander, the former senior intelligence official said. “When we had these dialogues with the Fort Meade population, it was often the rest of the intelligence community cautioning the Fort Meade guys not to be so aggressive,” he said. NSA and CYBERCOM are at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Several sources cited these interests as slowing the process, and causing several compromises to be rejected.

Not everyone agrees that the process has been slowed by dissent or efforts to increase authority by any one group. The senior defense official who described the delays as being the result of larger policy development pointed to the difficulty in crafting a new policy in a new area of warfare.

“It was much less about a turf war than it was about us wanting to make sure that the department’s role was right in defending it, and that the level to which the authority was delegated was appropriate and something with which the secretary and the chairman and the White House was comfortable,” he said. “If this is the first time ever that we’re talking about SROEs that are outside of DoD networks, it should be expected that it’s a very complicated thing. There’s no precedent, there’s no clear understanding on some of the issues.”

A defense spokesman who was asked about Alexander’s role in eliminating earlier versions of the cyber language noted that there were multiple officials involved in the development process.

“The standing rules of engagement are a product of many minds, of which Gen. Alexander is one,” a statement from the spokesman read. “He has worked tirelessly with senior department leadership to develop appropriate SROEs that for the first time will define the legal framework for how the United States would respond if attacked by, through or with the cyber domain.”

To be sure, even when an SROE document is signed, it will not grant the authority to wage cyberwar to low level military personnel. Even the cyber capabilities that might be employed to respond to an attack will require orders from senior officials.

But the document is a move that begins to standardize cyber, folding some areas into more typical military rules and hashing out concerns about how cyber should be treated.

The use of cyber is more a question of political influence in the West Wing, a process that favors those like Alexander who have access to decision-makers. If cyber capabilities become more readily accepted, their implementation could become more democratic, based more on need than on politics.

More importantly, by authorizing immediate action against cyberattacks, the SROE will greatly cut down on the reaction time. By eliminating the often laborious process of NSC deliberations, an attack will likely be countered sooner and potentially result in less damage.

“If you have time to run it through the NSC you don’t really need a standing requirement,” a former defense official said.

With troops and techies, U.S. prepares for cyber warfare

By Warren Strobel and Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON | Fri Jun 7, 2013 3:11am EDT

(Reuters) – On the site of a former military golf course where President Dwight Eisenhower once played, the future of U.S. warfare is rising in the shape of the new $358 million headquarters for the military’s Cyber Command.

The command, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 25 miles north of Washington, is rushing to add between 3,000 and 4,000 new cyber warriors under its wing by late 2015, more than quadrupling its size.

Most of Cyber Command’s new troops will focus on defense, detecting and stopping computer penetrations of military and other critical networks by America’s adversaries like China, Iran or North Korea.

But there is an increasing focus on offense as military commanders beef up plans to execute cyber strikes or switch to attack mode if the nation comes under electronic assault.

“We’re going to train them to the highest standard we can,” Army General Keith Alexander, head of Cyber Command, told the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit last month. “And not just on defense, but on both sides. You’ve got to have that.”

Officials and experts have warned for years that U.S. computer networks are falling prey to espionage, intellectual property theft and disruption from nations such as China and Russia, as well as hackers and criminal groups. President Barack Obama will bring up allegations of Chinese hacking when he meets President Xi Jinping at a summit in California beginning on Friday – charges that Beijing has denied.

The Pentagon has accused China of using cyber espionage to modernize its military and a recent report said Chinese hackers had gained access to the designs of more than two dozen major U.S. weapons systems in recent years. Earlier this year, U.S. computer security company Mandiant said a secretive Chinese military unit was probably behind a series of hacking attacks that had stolen data from 100 U.S. companies.

There is a growing fear that cyber threats will escalate from mainly espionage and disruptive activities to far more catastrophic attacks that destroy or severely degrade military systems, power grids, financial networks and air travel.

Now, the United States is redoubling its preparations to strike back if attacked, and is making cyber warfare an integral part of future military campaigns.

Experts and former officials say the United States is among the best – if not the best – in the world at penetrating adversaries’ computer networks and, if necessary, inserting viruses or other digital weapon.

Washington might say it will only strike back if attacked, but other countries disagree, pointing to the “Stuxnet” virus. Developed jointly by the U.S. government and Israel, current and former U.S. officials told Reuters last year, Stuxnet was highly sophisticated and damaged nuclear enrichment centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility.



U.S. government officials frequently discuss America’s cyber vulnerabilities in public. By contrast, details about U.S. offensive cyberwarfare capabilities and operations are almost all classified.

Possible U.S. offensive cyber attacks could range from invading other nations’ command and control networks to disrupting military communications or air defenses – or even putting up decoy radar screens on an enemy’s computers to prevent U.S. aircraft from being detected in its airspace.

The shift toward a greater reliance on offense is an important one for a nation which has mostly been cautious about wading into the uncertain arena of cyberwar – in part because gaps in U.S. cybersecurity make it vulnerable to retaliation.

But former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the United States must be ready and should articulate – soon – what level of cyber aggression would be seen as an act of war, bringing a U.S. response.

“One of the things the military learned, going back to 9/11, is whether you have a doctrine or not, if something really bad happens you’re going to be ordered to do something,” he told the Reuters summit. “So you better have the capability and the plan to execute.”

Reuters has learned that new Pentagon rules of engagement, detailing what actions military commanders can take to defend against cyber attacks, have been finalized after a year of “hard core” debate. The classified rules await Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s signature, a senior defense official said.

The official would not give details of the rules but said, “they will cover who has the authority to do specific actions if the nation is attacked.”



At Cyber Command, military officers in crisp uniforms mix with technical experts in T-shirts as the armed forces takes up the challenge of how to fend off cyber penetrations from individuals or rival countries.

Even as overall U.S. defense spending gets chopped in President Barack Obama’s proposed 2014 budget, cyber spending would grow by $800 million, to $4.7 billion while overall Pentagon spending is cut by $3.9 billion.

Until its new headquarters is ready, Cyber Command shares a home with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which for 60 years has used technological wizardry to crack foreign codes and eavesdrop on adversaries while blocking others from doing the same to the United States. Alexander heads both agencies.

“The greatest concentration of cyber power in this planet is at the intersection of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Maryland Route 32,” said retired General Michael Hayden, a former CIA and NSA director, referring to NSA’s Fort Meade location.

But NSA’s role in helping protect civilian, government and private networks has been controversial – and is likely to come under greater scrutiny with this week’s revelation that it has been collecting telephone records of millions of Verizon Communications customers under a secret court order.

A January report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board gave a general picture of how the United States might exploit and then attack an adversary’s computer systems.

In some cases, U.S. intelligence might already have gained access for spying, the report said. From there, Cyber Command “may desire to develop an order of battle plan against that target” and would require deeper access, “down to the terminal or device level in order to support attack plans,” it said.

Because gaining access to an enemy’s computers for sustained periods without detection is not easy, “offensive cyber will always be a fragile capability,” it said.

In cyberspace, reconnaissance of foreign networks is “almost always harder than the attack” itself because the challenging part is finding a way into a network and staying undetected, said Hayden, now with the Chertoff Group consulting firm.



Cyber Command’s new Joint Operations Center, due to be complete in 2018, will pull disparate units together and house 650 personnel, officials said. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps components will be nearby and, a former U.S. intelligence official said, the complex will have power and cooling to handle its massive computing needs.

Those who have worked at Cyber Command say the atmosphere is a mixture of intensity and geek-style creativity. Military precision is present, but it is not unusual to see young civilian computer whiz kids with purple hair, a tie-dyed shirt and blue jeans.

“It’s made to be a fun environment for them. These are people who are invested and want to serve their nation. But there is some military rigor and structure around all that – like a wrapper,” said Doug Steelman, who was director of Network Defense at Cyber Command until 2011 and is now Chief Information Security Officer at Dell SecureWorks.

Cyber Command’s growth and expanding mission come with serious challenges and questions.

For example, how to prevent U.S. military action in cyberspace from also damaging civilian facilities in the target country, such as a hospital that shares an electric grid or computer network with a military base?

And some doubt that the military can train many cyber warriors quickly enough. Alexander has identified that as his biggest challenge.

The former intelligence official said Cyber Command’s new teams won’t be fully ready until at least 2016 due to military bureaucracy and because it takes time to pull together people with the special skills needed.

“To be a good cyber warrior, you have to be thinking, ‘How is the attacker discovering what I’m doing? How are they working around it?’ … Cyber security really is a cat and mouse game,” said Raphael Mudge, a private cybersecurity expert and Air Force reservist. “That kind of thinking can’t be taught. It has to be nurtured. There are too few who can do that.”

Would-be cyber warriors go through extensive training, which can take years. A recruit with proven aptitude will be sent to courses such as the Navy-led Joint Cyber Analysis Course in Pensacola, Florida, a 6-month intensive training program.

The top 10 percent of JCAC’s students will be selected for advanced cyber operations training, said Greg Dixon, a vice president at private KEYW Corp, which conducts intensive training classes.

The company can train a JCAC graduate to become an analyst in five weeks, but it takes 20 weeks to become a cyber operator. Dixon would not divulge what an operator would be capable of doing after graduation, but said it would be “a lot.”

“They’re going to pick the cream of the crop for the ‘full spectrum cyber missions’,” the former U.S. intelligence official said, using a euphemism for cyber offense.

Before a future cyber warrior can begin advanced training, he or she has to pass through the arduous security clearance process, which can take six to nine months for personnel who are not already cleared.

Troops earmarked for cyber warfare have found themselves washing floors, mowing lawns and painting at military installations as they bide time waiting for a clearance.

There is the concern about retaliation for a U.S. cyber attack. Some analysts say Iran increased its cyber capabilities after being infected with Stuxnet, which was revealed in 2010.

“The old saying, he who lives in a glass house should be careful of throwing stones … but if the stone that you threw at someone, when you live in a glass house, is a stone that in some way they could pick back up and throw back at you, that’s an even dumber idea,” the defense official said. “We definitely think about that as one aspect of considering action.”

(Reporting by Warren Strobel and Deborah Charles; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa and Phil Stewart; Editing by Alistair Bell and Tim Dobbyn)


Expectations Set Low on Obama-Xi Summit

Presidents of U.S., China Set to Discuss Cybersecurity

By Eric Chabrow, June 6, 2013. Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity


Only a cockeyed optimist would expect the outcome of this weekend’s summit between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to be a halt to Chinese cyber-attacks on U.S. computers.

“Expectations on outcome should be low, but even a joint announcement decrying state-sponsored hacking would be a symbolic step in the right direction,” says Michael DuBose, a managing director at risk-mitigation adviser Kroll Advisory Solutions.

Cybersecurity is at the top of the agenda for the June 7-8 summit. What will emerge from two days of meetings isn’t likely to be an acknowledgment from Xi that, indeed, hackers from China have attacked American computer systems to pilfer military and corporate trade secrets. Instead, Obama and Xi will seek to draft an agenda for a newly formed U.S.-Chinese cybersecurity working group that will convene next month.

In addition to cybersecurity, Obama and Xi will address North Korea’s nuclear threat, territorial and maritime disputes in the western Pacific, human rights and bilateral and global economic challenges, all in formal and informal sessions at a 200-acre retreat called Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

A desired outcome of the summit would be the development of an amiable rapport between Obama and Xi, who assumed the presidency just months ago. [The two leaders met in the Oval Office last year when Xi was Chinese vice president.]


Less Scripted, Less Formal, Less Rigid

“Getting to a venue like Sunnylands allows for a more informal set of discussions than we’ve had with China to date in the sense that it’s a less scripted, less formal, less rigid agenda, but rather there is some space for the two leaders to interact and have more open-ended discussions about the issues that underlie the U.S.-China relationship,” a senior administration official said at a briefing on the summit earlier this week.

Some of the administration’s top officials – National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who announced his resignation this week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry – have raised concerns about cyber-attacks originating in China directly with senior Chinese leaders, who have denied such attacks have occurred. In fact, published reports this past week from the leader of the Chinese equivalent of computer emergency response teams said China can document attacks originating from the United States against its computers.

Still, the evidence is strong that the Chinese government is behind the attacks that have stolen military secrets and intellectual property from American computers [see 6 Types of Data Chinese Hackers Pilfer, DoD Outlines China's Spying on U.S. IT and Chinese Hack Targets Weapons' Designs].


Constructive, Not Confrontational Tone

Because of those digital invasions, Obama will not hesitate to express his displeasure about these cyber-attacks to Xi, but the tone will likely be constructive, not confrontational.

“We will make clear that, frankly, it’s not in anybody’s interest for there to be a situation in which businesses don’t have the confidence that they have certain protections in place such that their intellectual property can’t be compromised, and sensitive data can’t be compromised,” said one of the administration officials, whose identities remain anonymous as a condition of the briefing.

Administration officials declined to say whether Obama would threaten XI with some type of punishment if the Chinese hacking continues. But one of the officials at the briefing pointed out that the United States has successfully won economic cases against China before the World Trade Organization. “We have demonstrated that when we believe that we’re not making progress simply through dialogue, we’re willing to use the measures available to us within the international system to elevate those concerns,” the official said.


Strong Incentive for Dialogue

With the Internet being a crucial component of the global economy, much is at stake if the U.S. and China can’t reach agreement on how to secure it. “The two largest economies in the world have a lot to lose from state-sponsored and profit-motivated hacking, whether it involves trade secrets, key market intelligence or victimization of their citizenry,” Kroll’s DuBose says. “With so much at risk, both sides have strong incentive to come to the table, but trust and accountability will continue to be huge challenges. This summit is a step in the right direction, but expectations should be measured.”

Yet, even if the cybersecurity talks between Obama and Xi are deemed a success, challenges to secure the Internet will remain. “Cyber-conflicts are a global governance issue and is not an issue that can be resolved with bilateral talks between two countries,” says Ashar Aziz, founder of FireEye, a provider of IT security wares. “The number of countries and non-state groups with sophisticated offensive capabilities in cyber-space is growing at an alarming rate. So even if one or two countries decide to show restraint, it is difficult to see how that will result in fewer attacks on the U.S. and other countries given the global and highly distributed nature of the problem.”



Bits – Business, Innovation, Technology, Society

Robbing a Gas Station: The Hacker Way



June 6, 2013, 3:07 pm

Thieves of the future will look back on today’s stick-up artists and have a good old belly laugh. Why would anyone ever rob a cashier with a gun, when all that is needed is a smartphone?

Matt Bergin, a security consultant at Core Security, discovered he could hack a cash register remotely, popping it open, by sending two digits from his smartphone to the service running on the cash register’s point-of-sale system. No gun or holdup note was required. He was able to do so through a vulnerability in Xpient, which makes point-of-sale software that runs on cash drawers.

“It was extremely trivial,” Mr. Bergin said in an interview Wednesday. He reverse-engineered Xpient’s point-of-sale system, expecting that to interact with it he would have to crack a password or break through a layer of encryption. To his surprise, he encountered neither. By simply sending a two-digit code from his phone to the point-of-sale system, he discovered he could pop open the cash register remotely.

Christopher Sebes, the chief executive of Xpient, said in an interview Thursday that the company had issued a patch for the vulnerability, which Xpient customers can download to their systems. Mr. Sebes noted that customers who had a Windows firewall switched on would be protected from the hack, regardless of whether they had downloaded the patch. He also noted that someone could just as easily pop open a cash register by physically hitting the “No Sale” button on the register itself.

Increasingly, criminals are finding ways to use digital tactics for physical theft. In February, thieves stole $45 million from thousands of New York City A.T.M.’s in a few hours using a few keystrokes. It was one of the largest heists in New York City history, the authorities said, on par with the 1978 Lufthansa robbery at Kennedy Airport that inspired a scene in the 1990 film “Goodfellas.”


Iowa City could be among first in nation to ban drones

Jun. 6, 2013 |

Written by Adam B Sullivan

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa City will be among the first municipalities in the country to adopt a ban on drones and other surveillance devices, but city leaders are making clear that they hope the ordinance isn’t permanent.

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to ban drones, automated traffic cameras and license-plate readers. That comes after thousands of local residents signed a petition calling for such a ban.

All seven council members supported the ordinance Tuesday night and indicated they’ll do the same June 18 when the measure comes up for final approval in two weeks. However, council members said they still want to install some of those devices, red-light cameras in particular. They said they’ll wait until state policymakers finish reviewing possible restrictions on cameras.

Because the ordinance comes by way of public petition, city rules require the ordinance to be kept in place for two years, city clerk Marian Karr said. After that, the council is free to repeal it and move forward with surveillance technology.

“I’m going to have to support it — ‘have to’ is the key word there — because our state has chosen not to move forward with the technology. … I’ll be the first one to bring back red-light cameras as soon as we can,” council member Terry Dickens said.

A growing number of municipalities in Iowa have begun using cameras to bust speeders and other traffic violators. Supporters say it boosts traffic safety and provides extra revenue for municipalities. Opponents, however, say it constitutes an invasion of privacy and a slippery slope toward more surveillance.

The Iowa Department of Transportation is delaying new cameras on state roadways while officials study possible restrictions. Some state lawmakers have unsuccessfully pushed to ban the devices outright.

One constituent spoke against the camera ban at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“You could get millions of dollars just by enforcing the traffic laws on our streets — it costs you nothing. There are companies that will come in and do it for you,” said Jim Walters, who yelled during his time at the podium and interrupted the meeting after he took his seat.

Drones, meanwhile, have earned growing notoriety in light of the federal government’s drone strikes overseas, but military-style unmanned aircraft aren’t known to be in use in Iowa. That could change eventually as state and local governments elsewhere have started to use unmanned aircraft for domestic operations such as monitoring weather or, in a few cases, helping to locate suspects.

A small group of Iowa Republican legislators this year pushed for a statewide ban on weaponized drones and restrictions for peaceful drones, but that bill failed to gain wide support and Democrat leaders opted not to move the bill forward.

Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which has worked with Iowa City organizers on the ban, said he doesn’t know of any other municipalities with drone bans. Iowa City’s drone ban will be among the first in the nation, he said.

“There are a lot of laws and ordinances against traffic cameras, but in terms of drones, it’s just so early in the proliferation of that technology,” Stone said.

Aleksey Gurtovoy and Martha Hampel — the two organizers who led the petition drive for the ban — were at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. They said afterward that they weren’t surprised by the council’s plans to move forward with cameras at a later time.

They said the council’s decision to adopt the proposed ban was a political one.

“We had no illusions as far as their intentions,” Gurtovoy said. “It’s definitely in the city’s interest do this, especially with three of them up for re-election this year.”



As Wars End, a Rush to Grab Dollars Spent on the Border



June 6, 2013


TUCSON — The nation’s largest military contractors, facing federal budget cuts and the withdrawals from two wars, are turning their sights to the Mexican border in the hopes of collecting some of the billions of dollars expected to be spent on tighter security if immigration legislation becomes law.

Half a dozen major military contractors, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, are preparing for an unusual desert showdown here this summer, demonstrating their military-grade radar and long-range camera systems in an effort to secure a Homeland Security Department contract worth as much as $1 billion.

Northrop Grumman, meanwhile, is pitching to Homeland Security officials an automated tracking device — first built for the Pentagon to find roadside bombs in Afghanistan — that could be mounted on aerial drones to find illegal border crossers. And General Atomics, which manufactures the reconnaissance drones, wants to double the size of the fleet under a recently awarded contract worth up to $443 million.

The military-style buildup at the border zone, which started in the Tucson area late in the Bush administration, would become all but mandatory under the bill pending before the Senate. It requires that within six months of enactment, Homeland Security submit a plan to achieve “effective control” and “persistent surveillance” of the entire 1,969-mile land border with Mexico, something never before accomplished.

For military contractors, that could be a real boon. “There are only so many missile systems and Apache attack helicopters you can sell,” said Dennis L. Hoffman, an Arizona State University economics professor who has studied future potential markets for the defense industry. “This push toward border security fits very well with the need to create an ongoing stream of revenue.”

Since 2005, the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled to 21,000, and the stretches protected by pedestrian or vehicle fencing have grown to 651 miles as of last year from 135. But there are still large swaths where people trying to enter the United States illegally have good odds of success, particularly in rural Texas. And with budget cutting in the past two years, money for surveillance equipment along the border has been pared back.

“The main gap in our ability to provide a more secure border at this point is technology,” Mark S. Borkowski, the head of acquisitions for Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, told participants at a border security industry conference in March.

Military contractors have not played a significant role in lobbying for the passage of the immigration legislation, which includes $4.5 billion to bolster border security over the next five years.

But teams of lobbyists, including former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, a New York Republican, and Benjamin Abrams, a former top aide to Representative Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and House minority whip, have already been pressing Homeland Security officials and lawmakers on behalf of their clients, efforts that have been backed up with millions of dollars of industry campaign contributions.

Homeland Security would have to decide, in consultation with Congress, how to divide the money — on long-range cameras, radar systems, mobile surveillance equipment, aircraft or lower-tech solutions like more border agents or physical fences — decisions that would determine how various contractors might fare.

“It has been a tough time for the industry: people have been laid off or furloughed,” said James P. Creaghan, a lobbyist who represents a small Texas company, Personal Defense, which is trying to sell more night-vision goggles to Homeland Security. “This could help out.”

Northrop has won some important allies on Capitol Hill, including Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who is urging the department to invest more in Northrop’s drone-mounted surveillance system, called Vader. General Atomics, which Mr. D’Amato represents, has so much support in Congress that it has pressed Homeland Security in recent years to buy more Predator drones than the department has the personnel to operate, so they often sit unused, according to an agency audit.

The specific requirement in the legislation now before the Senate is that Homeland Security must install surveillance equipment or other measures that would allow it to apprehend or turn back 9 out of 10 people trying to illegally enter across all sectors of the southern land border. The department would be prohibited from moving ahead with the “pathway to citizenship” for immigrants already in the United States until this new security strategy is “substantially operational.”

The bill is scheduled to be taken up for debate on the Senate floor next week, and certain Republicans have already drafted amendments that would make the requirement even more demanding, explicitly mandating that the 90 percent standard be achieved before the pathway to citizenship can proceed.

The Tucson area, for years the busiest crossing point for illegal immigrants, has served as the testing ground for the federal government’s high-technology border effort, although even senior Homeland Security officials acknowledge it got off to a poor start.

Boeing was selected back in 2006, when the last major push by Congress to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws was under way, to create a “virtual fence” that would use radar and video systems to identify and track incursions, information that would then be beamed to regional command centers and border agents in the field.

But the ground radar system at first kept shutting down because of faulty circuit breakers, audits found, while the towers installed for the mounting of radar and advanced long-range cameras swayed too much in the desert winds. Even rainstorms snarled things, creating countless false alerts.

“It should have been pretty simple,” Mr. Borkowski said in a recent speech of the troubled $850 million project. “We weren’t frankly smart enough.”

Critics say the government often is too fixated on high-technology solutions. C. Stewart Verdery Jr., a former Homeland Security official who now runs a lobbying firm, said federal officials should instead focus their limited resources on making it harder for illegal immigrants to work in the United States, an approach that would serve as an effective deterrent.

“Where are you going to get the biggest bang for the buck?” Mr. Verdery said. “Enforcement of the workplace is probably the best area to invest more dollars.”

But the technological solutions still have many advocates in Arizona, where Border Patrol officials contend that the equipment Boeing installed, despite its flaws, has fundamentally changed the cat-and-mouse game that plays out every day.

One recent afternoon, as the temperature in the Arizona desert hovered near 100 degrees, Border Patrol agents stationed inside a command center in Tucson were notified that a ground sensor had gone off. The command center, built under the Boeing contract, resembles the set from the Hollywood movie “Minority Report,” with Border Patrol agents sitting in front of banks of computer terminals and oversize screens that allow them to virtually fly over huge expanses of open desert 70 miles away.

Using his computer, one agent pointed the long-range, heat-seeking camera at the location where the sensor had gone off. Within seconds, black-and-white images of a group of men and women walking rapidly through the desert heat appeared on his screen. “One, two, three, four, five,” the agent called out, counting until he reached 15 people in the group. He also carefully scanned the images to see if any of the people were carrying large sacks, a sign of a possible drug delivery, or had any rifles or other weapons.

The Border Patrol radios lit up as he directed nearby agents on the ground to respond and called for backup from one of Customs and Border Protection’s helicopters based in Tucson.

“What you see today is like night and day compared to what we had,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Self of the Border Patrol, who oversees the Tucson region. The Boeing system, along with the surge in Border Patrol agents, has resulted in a major drop in attempted illegal crossings, he said, with apprehensions dropping 80 percent since their peak in 2000, considered a sign of a drop in overall traffic.

But the system’s weaknesses are still apparent. The computer terminal crashed while the search was under way, cutting off one agent’s video feed. And on that recent afternoon, no air support was immediately available. The one helicopter nearby that was on duty was running low on fuel, so it did not arrive on the scene until 90 minutes later. Meanwhile, the Border Patrol agents at the Tucson command center lost the border crossers as they dropped into a ditch, taking them out of the line of sight of the camera and radar.

Apparently seeing Border Patrol trucks and the helicopter, the group realized it had been spotted and retreated back south, an agency spokesman said. The 15 were marked down as “turn backs.”

Homeland Security has been preparing for more than a year to expand this system, under a new contract that would rely on proven surveillance technology. That is why the military contractors vying for the job will be asked in coming weeks to demonstrate their gear. The department also wants to identify a mix of equipment — some on fixed towers, others on trucks for mobility — so that officials can tailor uses to the different needs along the border.

Department officials said their choices would be driven by a determination of what the best available tools were for securing the border, not what the defense contractors or their lobbyists were pitching. Customs and Border Protection officials, said Michael J. Friel, a department spokesman in a statement, are “dedicated to continuing this progress towards a safer, stronger and more secure border.”




Face of Defense: Woman Becomes Air Force’s Chief Scientist

By Senior Airman Carlin Leslie

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2013 – The Air Force has appointed the service’s first female chief scientist to lead the way in the technology and science fields.

The Air Force appointed Dr. Mica Endsley as its first woman chief scientist to lead the way in the technology and science fields. U.S. Air Force photo

Dr. Mica Endsley assumed her new duties and responsibilities as the Air Force’s 34th chief scientist June 3 in support of Air Force senior leaders and airmen across the service.

“Having served on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board for many years, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with the current and several former Air Force chief scientists,” Endsley said. “I know this is a tremendous opportunity to help the Air Force excel in its goal of maintaining the critical technological edge that gives our airmen a strategic advantage.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III emphasized the important role Endsley will play in continuing the Air Force’s legacy of innovation.

“I’m pleased to have Dr. Endsley as a part of the Air Force team,” Welsh said. “She follows in the footsteps of many superb minds that have advanced our technological edge and provided much-needed capabilities to our airmen. Although she arrives at a very challenging time, I’m confident she’ll continue a proud legacy of chief scientists who use innovation and strong leadership to keep our Air Force the world’s finest.”

Successfully maintaining that technological edge Welsh mentioned is a key job, Endsley said, and she plans to use every available resource to effectively and cost efficiently get the job done in support of airmen.

“This involves working with the top scientists and engineers within the Air Force as well as in academia, industry and the other armed services,” she said, noting this will “ensure that the Air Force’s research and development efforts are being directed at the right problems.”

Endsley said she plans to ensure the Air Force continues to develop technologies and systems that will truly support airmen and their missions.

“I know that in many cases, we can dramatically improve our mission effectiveness by using the science of human performance to design technology,” she said.

This, she added, will “better support the way people work.”

As Endsley takes the helm of an office that has made large strides over recent years, she’s motivated to push the envelope even further.

“My goal will be to continue with these efforts, making sure that we are implementing their recommendations and achieving the needed milestones in our science and technology portfolio,” she said. “To stay competitive in the future, we need to make sure that Air Force systems keep up with this rapid pace of change, particularly in computers, cyber and all across the information spectrum.”

Endsley feels that along with the growth of the organization, she has a duty as the first female chief scientist to reach out to the younger generation, speaking on the advantages of a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

“I want to share with the young women I speak to, the many advantages of a science, technology, engineering and math career,” she said, and that it will “make many more interested if they knew how very creative and team-oriented engineering work is and how satisfying it is to be able to solve real problems that affect people’s lives.”

Endsley said she is excited to begin looking across the Air Force, ensuring the needs of airmen are understood and met. At that point she can help bring technology to bear in the right ways to solve the problems they face.

“I deeply respect the challenges and sacrifices that all of our airmen, at every level, make daily in service to our nation,” she said. “To be asked to join them and do what I can to support them was simply an opportunity I could not pass up.”



Shutdown Talk Underlines Spending Bill Split

By Niels Lesniewski    

Roll Call Staff

June 6, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

The White House and Boehner exchanged barbs Thursday over the potential for a shutdown showdown this fall.    

The White House and Speaker John A. Boehner exchanged barbs Thursday over the potential for a shutdown showdown this fall, underscoring the yawning budget gap between the parties that threatens to torpedo this year’s appropriations bills.


The House passed the first fiscal 2014 spending bills this week despite two veto threats, and the Senate is set to mark up funding measures in the coming weeks. But the two chambers are operating off vastly different numbers — given that the House and Senate haven’t come close to reaching a budget deal — setting the stage for another stopgap spending bill this fall and, theoretically, a shutdown fight if the two sides can’t agree.

The House is following a $967 billion spending level that assumes the budget sequester remains in effect. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has said she is moving forward at a $1.058 trillion level that operates on the idea Congress will find a fix for the sequester.

Her GOP counterpart, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, said Appropriations Republicans in the Senate want to work off the House number.

“We’ve got a few problems,” an understated Shelby told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview, noting that the committee’s Republicans hadn’t yet decided on a strategy for the markups. “The bottom line is we’re going to stay with the figure, which is the lower figure, the House has agreed with.”

It was just that sort of dispute that seems to have prompted the administration’s unusually broad veto threat on Republican spending bills until there’s a budget agreement.

“In veto threats of two House spending bills — both of which passed with overwhelming support — the White House said the president would not sign any — any — spending bills unless we agree to his demands on a broader budget deal. In short, the president said give him higher taxes and higher spending or we’ll shut down the government,” Boehner said Thursday. “That’s reckless.”

Republican appropriators dismissed the veto threat earlier in the week, but Boehner said it violated his March 1 deal with the president to keep the appropriations bills separate from deficit talks. White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage responded to the Ohio Republican with some snark of her own.

“We were pleased to see Speaker Boehner hold a press conference today to announce the end of the Republican strategy of governing by crisis,” she said. “We look forward to seeing Republicans in Congress act responsibly to pay the bills they have already racked up, along with funding the government to avoid a government shutdown.” But she reiterated that the White House isn’t going to just go along with the Republican budget.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., also responded pointedly to Boehner, renewing her call for a House-Senate conference committee.

“Republicans are refusing to allow us to go to conference for one reason, and that’s because they want to force a manufactured crisis over the debt limit this fall, because they think it will give them leverage,” Murray said. “So let’s be clear about which side is reckless today. Democrats want to get to work right now.”

A number of Senate conservatives have called on Murray to disavow any attempt to raise the debt limit through reconciliation, which has contributed to a regular series of standoffs on the floor.


“That’s always a concern. You’ve got to stay within the numbers, and that’s our concern. We have a difference of about $90 billion between what we think and what the Democrats [think],” Shelby said.

There is a related concern among some lawmakers that the House is moving first on easier-to-pass bills (funding veterans, homeland security and the military), potentially increasing pressure in the months ahead to blow through the caps to pass more contentious domestic spending bills.

“My concern is that we don’t stick to … the budget control agreement that we agreed to. That’s the concern of the House, and there’s some concern that the sequence of bills will ensure — that time-honored practice in the House — the way you sequence them means you bust the budget in the end,” Sen. Jeff Flake said on Wednesday. The Arizona Republican is a frequent critic of the appropriations process.

“That’s always been a concern in marking up appropriation bills. I mean, whichever ones go first tend to get into the money early and then … the later bills get harder and harder to do,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership.

Still, some appropriators maintained their optimism.

“I am hopeful that we’ll get a significant number of bills passed in the right way. I’m eager to see us get to the point where we’re passing all the bills in the right way,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said. “I hope we make real progress toward that goal this year, and I’m sure that Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Shelby share that.”

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, the longtime chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee who is responsible for what’s among the most difficult bills to pass, said he does not want to get stuck near the end of the line, which has happened in the past. Those departments have frequently operated on stopgap funding in lieu of a full appropriations measure.

“I hope we’re going to do Labor-H sooner rather than later,” Harkin said. “We’re not going to do it last this time.”


New ‘time cloak’ conceals data so well, even its recipients can’t read it

Scientists have discovered how to cloak information so that it appears to have never been sent at all, offering hopes of eventual ultra-secret communications schemes.

The Christian Science Monitor

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / June 7, 2013

It sounds like a spectacular failure: this new technology works less than half the time and only for half the parties involved.

But a paper published in Nature today announces that scientists have found a way to unreliably send out communications hidden so well that even their intended recipients can’t detect that they’ve been sent. It is a stunning development in a previously mostly theoretical effort to develop Star Trek-like ultra-secure communication systems.

“The once fanciful invisibility cloak has now assumed a prominent place in scientific research,” according to the paper, authored by researchers at Purdue University.

The possibility that communications could be folded into a ‘time cloak’ was first proposed in a 2010 paper. In that paper, lead author Martin W. McCall proposed a theoretical “space-time cloak” that “conceals events rather than objects,” borrowing light manipulating technology from prototype invisibility clocks to hide the event of sending the message.

That differs from current encryption technology, which conceals the information from unwanted readers but not the actual event of sending the information. Ill-intentioned spies, though unable to read the message, can then tell that a deliberately encrypted message was sent out, a telltale sign that the parties have something to hide.

Or as Joseph Lukens, lead author of the latest research paper, told Nature: “It doesn’t just prevent eavesdroppers from reading your data — they wouldn’t even know there was any data there to hack.”

Previous efforts to put McCall’s theory into practice have made some headway: In 2011, a team headed by Alexander Gaeta, an optical physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York constructed a working time cloak that manipulated laser pulses to hide slow-moving data for extremely brief periods of time.

Now, Purdue scientists have built on that research, discovering a way to cloak data 46 percent of the time at the full speed of common fiber optic networks.

The new technology works by manipulating light behavior so that the waves of light cancel each other each out, creating a temporal gap in a light beam that is subsequently closed up. Anything that occurs during that hole in time cannot be detected – unfortunately, not even by the intended recipients.

For now, this may be a reasonable method of communication for those of us prone to sending messages we later regret. With the ‘time cloak,’ non-receipt is currently guaranteed.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

June 08, 2013

President Obama may have more than his share of problems these days, but things aren’t getting any better for Congress either.

Only six percent (6%) of Likely U.S. Voters give Congress good or excellent marks for the job it is doing. Just 24% believe their own representative in Congress is the best possible person for the job.

Thirty percent (30%) believe their own representative cares what they think. But only 16% think most members of Congress in general care what their constituents think.

Scott Rasmussen says in his latest weekly newspaper column that Congress’ listening problems are making the odds grow longer for immigration reform. “The so-called Gang of Eight proposal in the Senate legalizes the status of immigrants first and promises to secure the border later,” he explains. “By a 4-1 margin, voters want that order reversed.”

Voters haven’t changed their opinions about the motives behind the Justice Department’s actions. Forty-three percent (43%) still believe it was primarily an attempt to intimidate the media. Thirty-four percent (34%) think the department’s actions were primarily out of concern for national security.

The United States was founded on a belief that governments are created to protect certain unalienable rights. Today, however, more voters than ever (56%) view the federal government as a threat to those rights. That’s up 10 points from 46% in December.

Despite the controversies surrounding the White House, the president’s job approval ratings continue to hold fairly steady. Forty-nine percent (49%) of Likely Voters still consider the president a good or excellent leader. That shows little change from the past couple months but is down from a recent high of 55% measured in late December.

For the month of May, the president’s Total Job Approval Rating fell another point to 49% from 50% in April. That’s a continuing decline from a post-election high of 56% in December and puts his job approval rating back to where it was last September. However, it still remains a bit higher than it was for most of his first term in office.


The president put immigration reform and gun control at the top of his agenda this year, but fewer voters than ever (37%) now give him positive marks for his handling of both issues.

Voters continue to trust Republicans more than Democrats when it comes to handling the economy, the issue they consider most important to their vote. But for the first time since Election Day, the GOP has regained the trust advantage on the majority of major issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports, including immigration and gun control.

When it comes to voter trust, Republicans are far and away the leaders on handling government spending, while Democrats lead by a similar margin on environmental issues.

Republicans and Democrats are now tied on the Generic Congressional Ballot. For the last seven weeks, the gap between the two parties has been two points or less.

As projected by the Rasmussen Employment Index, the latest report on unemployment and job creation represented a modest improvement over earlier months. Twenty-three percent (23%) of workers report their firms are hiring, while 19% report their employer is laying people off. That’s little changed from the previous month, but marks the sixth straight month that reported hirings have outnumbered reported layoffs. Overall, worker confidence in the labor market inched up in May to the highest level measured since October 2007. However, it is still well below the confidence measured during periods of solid economic growth.

But 80% think it will be at least somewhat difficult for young people to find summer jobs in the current economy. That includes 41% who say it will be Very Difficult.

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes which measure daily confidence among those groups continue to run at or near their highest levels since before the Wall Street collapse in 2008.

However, just 45% of voters now view the U.S. economy as even somewhat fair. Fifty-one percent (51%) consider the economy to be unfair.

Similarly, 45% think the U.S. economy is at least somewhat fair to people who are willing to work hard. Forty-nine percent (49%) think it’s unfair to these people.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters think an economic system that rewards hard work even if it leads to big differences between rich and poor is fairer than one that guarantees everyone equal income and equal wealth. Just 19% believe it’s fairer to insure equality of income and wealth.

After all, 90% believe it is important that people who are physically able to work are required to support themselves. Ninety percent (90%) also think it’s important to insure that everyone who is willing to work hard has a chance to earn a middle class lifestyle, while 89% believe it is important that people who work hard earn more than those who don’t.

Most working Americans (66%) still consider themselves part of the middle class. Those who feel they are among the working poor remain at an all-time low of eight percent (8%).

A plurality (37%) of workers plan on staying with their current company for at least five years, but when they do leave, 79% say it will be their decision.

Most voters believe the WikiLeaks release of classified documents is likely to have hurt U.S. national security, and 52% view Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of stealing the classified information for posting on the Internet, as a traitor who endangered lives and national security. Only 17% view Manning whose court-martial began this week as a heroic whistle-blower and political prisoner.

In other surveys last week:

– Most voters still view the president’s national health care law unfavorably and believe that free-market competition will do more than government regulation to bring health care prices down.

– Thirty-two percent (32%) of voters now say the country is heading in the right direction. That’s nearly identical to a year ago.

– Sixty percent (60%) think it’s at least somewhat likely that the United States could end its dependence on foreign oil by developing shale oil reserves. Fifty-one percent (51%) believe the United States has enough shale oil to become the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas.

– Facebook has outlined new steps to identify and remove hate speech. But while 22% of Americans think hate speech is a Very Serious problem in the United States today, just 12% of Facebook users regard it as a Very Serious problem on the social networking site.

– Thirty-one percent (31%) favor a ban on hate speech. But 83% believe giving people the right to free speech is more important than making sure no one is offended by what others say.

– Forty-one percent (41%) of Americans are planning a summer vacation this year. Forty percent (40%) say economic conditions have caused them to cut back on the amount they will spend on this year’s vacation, but that’s down from 53% last year and the lowest finding in five years of surveying.

June 1 2013



Also posted as a blog at


Iranian Hackers Launching Cyber-Attacks on U.S. Energy Firms: Report

By Brian Prince | Posted 2013-05-27


Iranian hackers have amped up a campaign of cyber-attacks against America’s energy industry, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

Citing current and former U.S. officials speaking under the blanket of anonymity, the Journal reported that Iranian hackers accessed control system software that could have allowed them to manipulate oil or gas pipelines. The attacks raise the stakes in cyber-space between the U.S. and Iran, which has been accused by U.S. officials of being behind a spate of distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) against U.S. banks stretching back to 2012.

“This is representative of stepped-up cyber activity by the Iranian regime. The more they do this, the more our concerns grow,” a source told the Journal. “What they have done so far has certainly been noticed, and they should be cautious.”

Alireza Miryousefi, Iran’s spokesperson at the United Nations, denied any connection between hackers and the regime in an interview with the Journal.

The officials who spoke to The Wall Street Journal did not name any of the energy companies targeted in the attacks. But two former officials said oil and gas companies located along the Canadian border were among those hit.

Word of the attacks comes a week after Charles Edwards, deputy inspector general at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told members of a Senate subcommittee that industrial control systems were increasingly coming under attack in cyber-space in ways that could potentially cause “large-scale power outages or man-made environmental disasters.”

Securing these systems is complicated, as many are more interconnected with the Internet than people realize, explained Tom Cross, director of security research at network security vendor Lancope.

“It is also difficult to fix security flaws with these systems because they aren’t designed to be patched and restarted frequently,” he said.

“It is extremely important,” he continued, “that operators of industrial control networks monitor those networks with systems that can identify anomalous activity that might be associated with an attack. Because of the relatively homogenous nature of network activity on many control systems networks, anomaly detection can be can be a powerful tool in an environment where other kinds of security approaches fall flat.”

Much of the talk about improving the security of critical infrastructure companies has focused on information sharing between the government and private sector. Improving communication between government and business figured prominently in the executive order on cyber-security that President Barack Obama issued in February. However, many officials and security experts have said that the order does not undo the need for legislation.

“The increases in cyber-assaults on our energy systems from Iranian-backed hackers are another signal to the government and the industry that measures must be taken to fortify the security of our critical infrastructure,” said Lila Kee, chief product and marketing officer at GlobalSign and a North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) board member.

“However, there is a fine line between cyber-security regulation and voluntary standards,” she said. “Regulations cannot be so rigid so as to prevent protection from today’s evolving advanced persistent threats, and voluntary standards cannot be so loose so as to provide no purpose. In today’s modern world of malware, solutions must be fluid and scalable to battle aggressive cyber-attacks.”


Report: Chinese Hackers Accessed U.S. Weapon Designs

By Chloe Albanesius

May 28, 2013 12:40pm EST

Chinese hackers have accessed designs for U.S. advanced weapons systems, according to a new report from the Washington Post.

That includes everything from an Army system that can shoot down ballistic missiles to the $1.4 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (pictured), which was hacked in the past, the Post said.

The revelation was included in a report from the Defense Science Board, a committee of experts who advise the Defense Department on scientific and technical matters related to defense systems. The board released a public version of its report in January, with sensitive information removed. The Washington Post recently obtained the full version of that report, which included a list of compromised weapons designs.

The board did not come out and say that China stole U.S. designs, but officials told the Post that it speaks to China’s increasing push to access defense-related data from the U.S.

The report is the latest in a string of cyber attacks reportedly perpetrated by Chinese hackers. In a report released earlier this month, the DOD said the People’s Liberation Army was collecting information from U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense sectors in order to gain insight into how the U.S. views China, among other things. “In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the DOD said.

In April, meanwhile, Verizon said in its annual Data Breach Investigations Report that approximately 96 percent of the 2012 cyber-espionage cases traced to China.

A month earlier, President Obama’s national security advisor urged the Chinese to stop hacking U.S. targets and “establish acceptable norms of behavior” for cyberspace. In a speech to The Asia Society, Tom Donilon said cyber-security issues had “become a key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments.”

Thus far, China has denied any wrongdoing and said accusations of hacking U.S. targets are unprofessional. Officials also accused the U.S. government of doing the same thing to Chinese targets. In conjuction with Israel, the U.S. was said to be behind the spread of the Stuxnet virus in Iran.

According to the Post, President Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month in California, where cyber attacks will be on the agenda.

In addition to defense targets, Chinese hackers have been accused of attacking U.S. media outlets like the New York Times, as well as private companies like Google.

The Defense Science Board report, meanwhile, comes amidst a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corp., which claims that hackers targeted government agencies and major corporations in the country. The “digital trail leads to China,” ABC said, though it’s unclear if the hackers are working for the Chinese government. As noted by USA Today, Australian officials have declined to comment on whether the hacks are linked to China.


Preventing a U.S.-China Cyberwar

NY Times


Published: May 25, 2013


When President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China have their first meeting next month in California, addressing the issue of China’s cyberattacks on American institutions will be an important priority. Both nations need to take steps to avoid drifting into an all-out cyberwar.

Despite Beijing’s denials, there is little doubt that Chinese hackers have taken aim at a range of government and private systems in the United States, including the power grid and telecommunications networks. In February, a report by the computer security firm Mandiant detailed how hackers working for the People’s Liberation Army of China had gained access to data from American companies and government agencies. Earlier this month, a Pentagon report explicitly accused the Chinese military of the attacks.

With the evidence of their activities mounting, Chinese hackers went silent for three months, but, they now seem to have resumed their attacks. A report last week by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, a private group led by two former Obama administration officials — Dennis Blair, who was the director of intelligence, and Jon Huntsman Jr., an ambassador to China — said that hacking costs the American economy more than $300 billion a year and that China was responsible for 70 percent of the theft of corporate intellectual property and trade secrets.

While there are concerns about military-related incursions, the focus of most public discussion surrounds hacking into business and industry. The commission’s report spoke of the risk of “stifling innovation” in America and elsewhere if hackers in China are able to steal blueprints and negotiation strategies. The Chinese complain that they, too, have suffered cyberattacks. That could offer some basis for cooperating with Washington on norms of behavior. China recently agreed to an Obama administration proposal to create a working group on cyberissues.

The commission said the American response was “utterly inadequate” and proposed stronger ways to deter Chinese hacking, like possibly allowing companies to retaliate against attackers with their own counterstrikes.

But before adopting punitive measures, the two nations need to try working together. For example, the EastWest Institute, an independent research group, is working with representatives of many governments, including China and the United States, to develop ground rules for protecting the digital infrastructure. The group’s detailed proposal on fighting spam — which carries malware used by hackers — is worth considering by President Obama and President Xi.



China Doesn’t Care if Its ‘Digitalized’ Military Cyberwar Drill Scares You


By Alexander Abad-Santos

May 29, 2013


In the face of fears from President Obama to the Pentagon and across the globe about the increasing military might behind Chinese hacking, China’s state news agency announced Wednesday that the nation’s People’s Liberation Army “will conduct an exercise next month to test new types of combat forces including units using digital technology amid efforts to adjust to informationalized war.” You know, right after Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are meeting about the state of, among other things, a cyberwar going on underneath their noses.

The new report from Xinhua news agency adds that the drill, taking place on a large military training field and not some underground hack-a-thon bunker, “will be the first time a PLA exercise has focused on combat forces including digitalized units, special operations forces, army aviation and electronic counter forces.” The terms “digitalized unit” and “electronic counter forces” don’t make it at all clear what China’s military has planned, but then again, no country is ever going to reveal its full cyberwarfare capabilities in detail — and it’s not like it’s the first time the Chinese have tested the military reaches of their digital warfare capabilities. Indeed, the U.S. was game to play along on more than one occasion. Last year it was reported that the U.S. and China had secretly engaged in at least two cyber war games in 2011, “designed to help prevent a sudden military escalation between the two superpowers if either felt they were being targeted,” as ZDNet’s Emil Potralinski reported. “In the first, both sides had to describe what they would do if they were attacked by a sophisticated computer virus, such as Stuxnet. In the second, they had to describe their reaction if the attack was known to have been launched from the other side.”


China Is Winning the Cyber War Because They Hacked U.S. Plans for Real War

by Alexander Abad-Santos

May 28, 2013

Ballistic-missile defenses, joint-strike fighters, Black Hawks, and more — Chinese hackers have their hands on plans for these and more of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons systems, just the latest sign that the culture of hacking in China continues to put America on the defensive ahead of a tense meeting between President Obama and Xi Jinping, a summit bound to be tense with cyberwarfare diplomacy.

The Washington Post‘s Ellen Nakashima reports in Tuesday’s paper that Chinese cyberthieves have “compromised” mockups that form the “backbone” of some of the U.S. military’s most important and high-tech defense technology, and that it could signal a copycat advancement of China’s arms, while aiming to “weaken the U.S. military advantage” down the road. The Chinese government, as usual with these attacks — even when they seem connected directly to the People’s Liberation Army — are distancing themselves from the pervasive, and this time very internationally unsound, hacking. “The Defense Science Board, a senior advisory group made up of government and civilian experts, did not accuse the Chinese of stealing the designs. But senior military and industry officials with knowledge of the breaches said the vast majority were part of a widening Chinese campaign of espionage against U.S. defense contractors and government agencies,” the Post reports.

The new breach comes as a newly disclosed part of a classified Defense Science Board report. Back in January, the board released a public version of the report, warning of possible attacks on U.S. defense systems as well as the Defense Department’s lack of preparation and protection. And if you look back in 2005, the same group warned U.S. defense officials against buying microchips from China because of trojan horses and spyware — advice the Pentagon eventually took, cutting off Chinese supply in 2011. But in just the last few months, Chinese hackers have gotten to major U.S. news organizations and government agencies. How have the Pentagon’s own cybersecurity experts been so far ahead of the Pentagon’s actual cybersecurity if China is stealing our war plans — or at least our warplanes? And is there any way to stop it?

Read more on The Atlantic Wire



Government Executive Nuclear Arsenal Subject to Pentagon Cuts, But New Subs May Escape Ax

By Elaine M. Grossman

May 24, 2013


The U.S. nuclear arsenal might be subject to cutbacks by a major budget review under way at the Defense Department, despite enjoying relative protection this year from largely across-the-board sequester spending reductions, a senior Defense official said on Thursday.

“Every part of the program, including nuclear weapons, is being addressed,” the official said in an interview, referring to the ongoing Strategic Choices and Management Review led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The budget scrub is to advise Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, by late this month on how best to apportion $500 billion in congressionally mandated funding reductions over the next decade. If President Obama can convince lawmakers to repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act, lesser but still-substantial cuts would likely be taken in 2014 and beyond.

The senior official — who requested anonymity in this article to address politically and diplomatically sensitive topics — appeared to suggest, though, that the Pentagon intends to keep ballistic missile-armed submarines relatively safe from the cost-cutting ax.

The big-ticket item coming down the pike for modernizing the Navy’s aging “boomer” submarines and their Trident D-5 ballistic missiles is the estimated $90 billion Ohio-class replacement vessel, also dubbed “SSBN(X).”

“For SSBN(X), I don’t see viable alternatives to going forward with the program,” said the Defense leader, noting the Pentagon had already “made some significant adjustments” to program costs by delaying fielding of the first vessel by two years to 2031. “It’s the most important element — it’s the central element — of our triad.”

That could leave the other two legs of the nuclear delivery arsenal — Air Force bomber aircraft and ICBMs — on the hot seat for reductions.

The service intends to field 80 to 100 new, conventionally armed Long-Range Strike bombers after 2020 that would later be certified for delivering nuclear weapons – though some pundits wonder if the new aircraft might remain conventional-only forever.

The Air Force insists that the bomber must be made dual-capable to help retain flexibility and redundancy in U.S. atomic forces. However, service Secretary Michael Donley acknowledged early this year that sequestration could endanger the timing or details of plans for the new airplane.

After 2030, the Air Force also plans to field a new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent to replace today’s 450 Minuteman 3 ICBMs. Here, too, the Pentagon is eyeing the potential for cutbacks, in the form of a life-extended or upgraded version of the Minuteman 3 rather than a new-design ballistic missile.

For both the ICBM and bomber legs of the triad, “we’re looking at how do we sustain that capability and how do we do it at a reasonable cost, including both the delivery systems and the associated warheads and bombs,” the senior Defense official told Global Security Newswire.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Donley said plans for the future ICBM could be at greater risk than for the next-generation bomber aircraft.

“I think [the spending review] has a little bit more effect on the ICBM side of the force structure, because on the bomber side we already know that we’re going ahead with the Long-Range Strike,” he told reporters. By contrast, the service is just beginning to weigh how it might replace the Minuteman 3.

Some defense analysts also see the Navy preparing its own “Plan B” for modernizing the nuclear-armed submarines.

The service is developing new strike capacity for its Virginia-class fast attack submarines that could allow the boats to launch ballistic missiles. To date the focus appears to be solely on adding conventionally armed weapons to the submersibles.

However, the “Virginia Payload Module” proposals to modify the current submarine design with a nearly 94-foot center section for ballistic-missile launch tubes appear strikingly similar to an alternative the Navy earlier dismissed for replacing the nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines.

Some analysts argue the Navy should transition its atomic missiles to a smaller vessel such as the attack submarines at a time when traditional Cold War nuclear threats are receding. The Navy, though, said several years ago that the “humpback” center compartment required for the Virginia-class submarines to carry Trident ballistic missiles would reduce the vessels’ speed, maneuverability and stealth.

No total program cost has been estimated for the proposed Virginia modification, but Navy budget documents show a price tag of nearly $800 million between 2013 and 2018 alone.

In terms of the size of the nuclear force, some Republicans on Capitol Hill have warned Obama against taking unilateral reductions below levels agreed by the Washington and Moscow in the New START accord, which allows each side 1,550 fielded strategic warheads and 700 fielded delivery vehicles.

They have also threatened to block implementation of the 2011 treaty if the administration does not make good on plans to modernize today’s nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

The senior Defense official this week said the Pentagon’s budget review — nicknamed the “Skimmer” in keeping with its acronym — would not itself address the policy option of nuclear reductions below New START levels.

However, the new assessment is being carried out in the “context” of “existing and pending policy guidance,” the official said in the Pentagon interview.

“Pending” policy guidance would include a document currently sitting at the Oval Office for approval: The so-called “NPR Implementation Study,” which is believed to recommend changes to nuclear doctrine and targeting that could form the basis for a smaller nuclear arsenal numbering1,100 or fewer warheads.

“The conclusions are with the president,” the senior official said of the implementing study, which was based on findings published in the Pentagon-led 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. “And when he says he has no more questions, and he signs, then we’re done.”

Donley said Obama will make a significant determination in summer 2014 regarding exactly how the New START reductions will be taken.


“The department and the nation’s way forward on this still is dependent on some national-level decisions that the president plans, as I understand, to make next year,” he said at the press briefing.

The bomber, said the outgoing Air Force secretary, “is really independent, in some respects, from the nuclear decisions that are still pending,” because it also has a crucial conventional-attack role.

Meanwhile, plans for a new-design replacement for nuclear-armed submarines appear here to stay.

“As we look at the budgetary and fiscal environment that we’re going to have for the next decade-plus, the department’s going to have to make hard choices,” the senior Defense official said on Thursday. “Sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent is a critical mission. Sustaining the sea-based element … with the follow-on to Ohio-class is critical for that.”

The official acknowledged there is “still a significant cost” to plans for developing and buying 12 SSBN(X) vessels, despite the planned two-year delay in introducing them into the fleet.

Can the nation afford to build ballistic missile capability into two different families of submarines — the Virginia class and the Ohio-class replacement — during a time of fiscal austerity?

The senior official sounded slightly less committed when it came to the possible introduction of big conventionally tipped missiles for the Virginia attack submarines.

“Preserving our capability as a nation to undertake non-nuclear strikes is also critically important, both for operational capabilities and indeed as we think about our strategy over time to sustain advantage” over possible adversaries, the official said. “Sustaining, if not increasing, our non-nuclear strike capacity even in a time of budgetary austerity is something that the Department needs to at least tee up … for this and future secretaries.”

Donley said the ongoing review could result in dusting off some previously jettisoned defense procurement alternatives in the interest of curbing spending.

“There are ways to address different aspects of the nuclear enterprise and how to modernize it and how much and on what schedule,” he said on Friday. “We have lots of options for that. There are many programs involved.”


Federal worker has 61 years of federal service and no plans to retire

By Joe Davidson,

May 24, 2013 01:45 AM EDT

The Washington Post

It takes a special kind of person to really appreciate the Consumer Price Index.

The CPI measures inflation, and lots of folks pay attention to it when the number (a 0.4 percent decrease in April) is released each month.

But for Ed Pratt, the index is more than a stat. He talks about it like a proud daddy, perhaps a proud granddaddy, given his age.

Pratt didn’t invent the CPI and he is far from the only one involved in producing the report. But with 57 years of service with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which issues the data, he has a right to feel a deep sense of satisfaction with his work on a key economic indicator. The importance of the work is demonstrated by the locked doors that block his section of offices in a building across from Union Station.

“I like to see the CPI come out every month. I’m very proud of that, being part of that,” said Pratt, a BLS supervisory IT specialist.

He helps process data on the prices of the many items collected by about 400 people from stores across the nation. The items fall into 200 categories of goods and services, from haircuts and funerals to
T-shirts, beer and chicken.

One of the things Pratt likes most about his job is the people he works with, his colleagues.

But when you get to be 80 years old, many of your old friends aren’t around anymore.

“Most of the people I used to work with here are gone,” said Pratt, who started with BLS in 1956. “My friendship that I used to have with a lot of people . . . we used to go to ball games and stuff like that, they’re gone. So working takes up that for me.”

Including four years in the military, Pratt has 61 years of federal service.

He’s seen a lot during that time.

When the native Washingtonian started with the agency, Dwight Eisenhower was president and no one had a computer, much less one in their pockets. Now a Fort Washington resident, the big ‘Skins fan is married with three children and three grandkids.

Pratt’s importance as a civil servant goes beyond the product he helps produce each month. His personal impact, the encouragement he gives co-workers, means more than he probably knows.

Stephan Gilbert was a government contractor when he started working with Pratt years ago. It was then that Pratt told Gilbert: “You will be somebody someday.”

Gilbert is now Pratt’s boss and gives Pratt credit for that early encouragement.

“He may not understand the power of that one statement he made to me many years ago,” Gilbert said. Pratt’s comment was “very motivational and that’s what he still does today.”

Whenever there is a problem, Gilbert said, Pratt’s response is to find a way to get it done “and he always delivers.”

When Pratt started at the agency as a messenger, “BLS was mostly clerical,” he said. “All the processing of the statistical data was done by clerks.” By 1961, the agency was using big computers with punch cards, and when he became a computer operator in 1965 the machines were “big, clumsy looking, tape drives. They took up a lot of space and they needed a lot of air conditioning.”

Segregation was still practiced in the nation’s capital in the 1950s, but Pratt said he didn’t experience that in the federal workplace.

“There was discrimination, yes,” he said, seemingly not eager to elaborate. He recalled having to take a test in order to be a computer operator when he moved from the clerical unit, a requirement apparently not placed on white colleagues.

“All I want to say about that,” he added, is “maybe everyone who switched didn’t have to take the test.”

Now Pratt is a GS-14, near the top of the General Schedule grades for federal employees. He has his own office, though they should give him one with a window.

“I have a job I really like,” he said. “The Bureau is a good place to work. The people are good. . . . I like making sure that index comes out every month.”

He’s planning to do that for untold months to come.

“If my health holds up,” he said, “I don’t plan to retire.”

‘Encouraged’ by appointment

President Obama’s choice of Katherine Archuleta as director of the Office of Personnel Management would make her the first Hispanic to hold that position.

“We’re encouraged,” said Gilbert Sandate, chairman of the Coalition for Fairness for Hispanics in Government. “It’s about time there’s been a Hispanic named to that post.”

Archuleta, who must be confirmed by the Senate, was national political director of the Obama campaign and former Labor secretary Hilda Solis’s chief of staff.

It’s not clear how much she knows about federal personnel issues.

One issue she will face is the under-representation of Latino’s in the federal workforce. OPM data indicate the overall federal employment of Hispanics dropped from fiscal year 2008 to 2012, when Latinos were just 3.2 percent of the Senior Executive Service.

“This is not something that can be tackled and resolved easily,” Sandate said. “She certainly has her work cut out for her.”

Eric Yoder contributed to this report. Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at


Obama’s drone rules provide limits, ambiguity

May 24


AP White House Correspondent


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama left plenty of ambiguity in new policy guidelines that he says will restrict how and when the U.S. can launch targeted drone strikes, leaving himself significant power over how and when the weapons can be deployed.

National security experts say it’s imperative to leave some room in the guidelines, given the evolving fight against terrorism. But civil rights advocates argue too little has been revealed about the program to ensure its legality, even as the president takes steps to remove some of the secrecy.

“Obama said that there would be more limits on targeted killings, a step in the right direction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “But a mere promise that the US will work within established guidelines that remain secret provides little confidence that the U.S. is complying with international law.”

An unclassified version of the newly established drone guidelines was made public Thursday in conjunction with Obama’s wide-ranging address on U.S. counterterrorism policies. Congress’ Intelligence committees and the Capitol Hill leadership have been briefed on the more detailed, classified policies, but because those documents are secret, there’s no way to know how much more clarity they provide.

The president has already been using some of the guidelines to determine when to launch drone strikes, administration officials said. Codifying the strictest standards, they argue, will ultimately reduce the number of approved attacks.

Among the newly public rules is a preference for capturing suspects instead of killing them, which gives the U.S. an opportunity to gather intelligence and disrupt terrorist plots. The guidelines also state that a target must pose a continuing and imminent threat to the U.S.

However, the public guidelines don’t spell out how the U.S. determines whether capture is feasible, nor does it define what constitutes an imminent threat.

Former State Department official James Andrew Lewis said Obama must retain some flexibility, given the fluid threats facing the U.S.

“The use of force and engagement of force always require a degree of discretion,” said Lewis, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We don’t want to change that.”

The guidelines also mandate that the U.S. have “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed in a strike. Civilian deaths, particularly in Pakistan, have angered local populations and contributed to a rise in anti-American sentiments in the volatile region.

Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has filed many court cases on behalf of drone victims’ families, said that while he appreciated Obama’s concern about civilian casualties, he wasn’t confident the new guidelines would change U.S. actions.

“The problem remains the same because there is no transparency and accountability for the CIA because it will remain inside the system and not be visible to outsiders,” he said.

Obama, in his most expansive discussion of the drone program, said in his speech Thursday to the National Defense University that he is haunted by the unintentional deaths. But he argued that targeted strikes result in fewer civilian deaths than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

“By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life,” Obama said.

Administration officials said the new guidelines are applicable regardless of whether the target is a foreigner or U.S. citizen.

Polling suggests the American people broadly support the use of drones to target suspected terrorists in foreign countries, though support drops somewhat if the suspect is a U.S. citizen. A Gallup poll in March found 65 percent of Americans favor using drone strikes in other countries against suspected terrorists, while only 41 percent favored the use of drone strikes overseas against U.S. citizens who are suspected terrorists.

Despite the public support, Obama has come under increased pressure from an unusual coalition of members of Congress of both parties who have pressed for greater transparency and oversight of the drone program.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who serves on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said he would review the guidelines to ensure they keep “with our values as a nation” but indicated lawmakers may ask for additional overtures.

“I commend the president for his effort to define the boundaries of U.S. counterterrorism operations and for stating a commitment to increased accountability,” Udall said. “While this is helpful and important, more needs to be done.”

Relevant congressional committees are already notified when drone strikes occur. But it’s unclear how the administration, under Obama’s new transparency pledge, will handle public notifications, particularly when Americans are killed.

The public only knew about the deaths of three Americans by drone strikes through media reports and the fourth when Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed it in a letter to Congress on the eve of the speech.

Under current policy, the official U.S. figures of number of strikes and estimated deaths remain classified.

According to the New America Foundation which maintains a database of the strikes, the CIA and the military have carried out an estimated 416 drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, resulting in 3,364 estimated deaths, including militants and civilians. The Associated Press also has reported a drone strike in Somalia in 2012 that killed one.

The think tank compiles its numbers by combining reports in major news media that rely on local officials and eyewitness accounts.

Strikes in Pakistan spiked in 2010 under Obama to 122, but the number has dropped to 12 so far this year. Strikes were originally carried out with permission of the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf, though subsequent Pakistani governments have demanded strikes cease.

The CIA and the military have carried out some 69 strikes in Yemen, with the Yemeni government’s permission.


Drones: The future of disaster response

May 23rd, 2013

01:29 PM ET

By Heather Kelly, CNN


First responders to Monday’s massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, were greeted with a blighted expanse of destroyed homes, blocked roads, downed power lines and a limited window of time to unearth survivors before the sun set.

Navigating the area on foot or by car was a challenge because of the debris. News and law-enforcement helicopters filled the air above, but while they gathered useful information for rescue crews, the noise they created was drowning out cries for help from trapped survivors.

The entire area was declared a no-fly zone.

But one airborne technology will soon make responding to these kinds disasters easier: unmanned automated vehicles (UAVs), more commonly called drones. These portable, affordable aircraft can launch quickly in dangerous situations, locate survivors and send data about their whereabouts to responders on the ground.

There is a lot of excitement about drones in the public-safety world, and they are very close to being used in the field after natural disasters. However, they still face lengthy regulatory hurdles, privacy concerns, and a public image problem inherited from their armed, military cousins.

Still, the UAV industry and emergency responders are preparing for the day when they can launch drones after tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and any other disaster.

“The public just isn’t really in the habit of depending on them,” said James Stuckey, CEO of Fireflight, an Oklahoma-based drone company. “When they start, they won’t be able to do without them.”


Drone power

The benefits of drones in an emergency are reach, speed, safety and cost. When there is no power, a UAV can fly through the dark and live-stream night-vision footage to people on the ground, its paths automatically programmed so it doesn’t miss a spot. A mounted infrared camera can pick up on heat signatures of bodies, pinpointing the locations of survivors so rescuers know where to go.

Unlike manned helicopters, drones create very little sound and can even be outfitted with advanced listening devices to pick up hard-to-hear audio. They can go into dangerous situations that would pose a risk to pilots or responders on foot. While helicopter propellers can stir up debris and dust, UAVs weigh as little as three pounds and don’t disturb what’s on the ground, even when they’re hovering just 10 feet above it.

Fireflight’s unmanned aerial vehicles were designed to be used in wildfires. They’re outfitted with infrared cameras that can see through smoke.

Prices for commercial UAVs range from $15,000 to $50,000 – a fraction of what a helicopter costs. They can fit in the trunk of a car and be up in the air in no time.

“It’s usually 45 minutes to an hour after you arrive on scene on an incident before you get real information,” said Fireflight’s Stuckey, a veteran firefighter of 27 years. “We can have [a UAV] up in the air in three minutes.”


Roadblocks to use

The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma was considering using Fireflight’s UAVs immediately after the tornado, but didn’t because of the no-fly zone, according to Steve Klapp, the regional disaster assessment manager.

The Red Cross chapter has used UAVs in tests before, such as in a disaster-assessment exercise in March. On Wednesday it considered using the aircraft to gather boundary data at the tornado scene, but Klapp said he would probably end up getting the information from other sources this time.

“We’re definitely planning to use them more in the future,” said Klapp. “It’s a question of the right situation.”

The Oklahoma National Guard is also on the ground in Moore and has trained with drones for use in Afghanistan, but said it did not deploy any in the disaster area.

The main delay, according to Ben Gielow of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a non-profit trade association for drone companies, is that the Federal Aviation Administration is very restrictive about who can fly a drone and how they can fly it. Congress has given the FAA until 2015 to come up with rules for flying UAVs in U.S. airspace, including safety regulations, how pilots need to be trained, how an aircraft is certified, and the process for notifying local air-traffic controllers.

Until those regulations are in place, any civilian or military organization that wants to fly drones above 400 feet needs to get a special waiver from the agency. This is a lengthy process that can take one or more years, according to Gielow, although the FAA claims to have shaved it down to an average of 60 days.

There is an exception for emergencies, which would expedite the application process, but it does not appear to be wildly used for disasters.


A life saver

Disaster response is just one use for drones by public safety agencies, which the AUVSI predicts will account for 10% of the future drone industry. Stuckey created Fireflight’s unmanned aircraft specifically to help fire departments gather information during Oklahoma’s wildfire seasons, the last three of which have been especially vicious.

Thermal-imaging cameras can be used to see through smoke, and the UAVs can go into areas that would be too dangerous for manned aircraft.

One of the first reported cases of a drone saving someone’s life occurred three weeks ago. A man was driving along a highway at night in Canada when his vehicle rolled of the road, knocking him unconscious. It was dark, with near-freezing temperatures, and emergency workers were unable to locate the car and injured driver, even with night-vision goggles and a helicopter.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police deployed an unmanned aircraft with an infrared camera, which picked up on the man’s heat signature.

And the types of tools that can be attached to a UAV are growing beyond cameras and weapons. New equipment allows drones to hear gunshots, detect chemical levels, track RFID tags, and measure radiation.


Privacy concerns

The most controversial domestic use is by law enforcement agencies interested in using drones for surveillance and to fight crime, a prospect that has privacy advocates and other citizens on edge. According to Gielow, only three law-enforcement agencies currently have approval to fly drones in the U.S.: The Mesa County Sheriffs office in Colorado, the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department in North Dakota, and the Arlington Police Department in Texas.

Privacy advocates fear the drones could be used for surveillance of anyone. The UAVs track people with the same advanced software being used in regular surveillance cameras.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been pushing the FAA to release details on all the public-safety agencies, military and security organizations and other groups that have been given permits to fly drones in U.S. airspace. The civil liberties group has even plotted all the known drone programs on an interactive map.

People in the drone industry don’t think a blanket ban on UAVs is the answer to privacy concerns.


“The issue should not be focused on how you take that picture,” said Gielow. “You can get the same thing from a manned helicopter, satellite, security camera or smartphone.”

Instead, Gielow thinks people should focus on how the government uses and stores images of citizens, not the tools used to capture them.


A booming industry

Many other government agencies are already testing out drones. NASA is using them to monitor hurricanes, NOAA employs them in the Arctic to monitor wildlife and the USGS is using them for mapping and environmental studies.

While public safety and the military get the most attention for drone use, the biggest market for UAVs will actually be agriculture, according to the AUVSI. Up to 80% of drones will be used on farms, where they will track cattle, check on the health and hydration of crops, and even dispense pesticides.

The UAV industry is set to break open in the coming year. According to the AUVSI, the drone industry will create 70,000 jobs and have an economic impact of $13.6 billion in its first three years once the FAA establishes regulations.

Meanwhile, the aerospace industry is getting ready for the potentially lucrative drone age. Twenty-six states, including Oklahoma, are currently competing for six coveted FAA contracts for UAV test sites that will be used to collect more information about how to regulate the technology. The winning states will be announced later this year.

Silicon Valley also is paying attention. Earlier this month, a startup called Airware that’s developed an open operating system for UAVs raised $10.7 million in investment funding. Most of Airware’s customers are in countries like Japan and France, where the technology is more widely used.



Next year’s Winter Olympics are being held in just about the most unsafe place they could be

By Josh Meyer    @JoshMeyerDC    May 24, 2013    



With nine months to go before the 2014 Winter Olympics, the biennial sport of Olympics-bashing has begun in earnest. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is being criticized for cost overruns and the other usual problems. And as always, the host country, this time Russia, is taking heat for cronyism, corruption, environmental concerns and construction delays.

But this time there is another, bigger set of worries. At several recent gatherings around the world, experts have wrung their hands publicly about how the XXII Winter Games pose the biggest security threat of any games in memory.

The Olympics, which will run from February 7th to the 23rd, are going to be held right in the middle of one of the world’s hottest conflict zones, the North Caucasus. Sochi, the host city, is a lovely resort town on Russia’s Black Sea coast. But the region around it is a cauldron of ethnic hatred and anti-Russian separatist movements. And then there is all of the organized crime, Islamist militancy and terrorism.

Some experts have been warning about security risks ever since the IOC picked Sochi in 2007 over bids from Austria and South Korea. But recent developments have alarmed Caucasus watchers. The two Boston Marathon bombers had ties to the region, and one of them spent six months last year in the Russian republic of Dagestan, where a virulent Islamist insurgency has been gaining strength. And a spat between Washington and Moscow, which this month accused a US diplomat of recruiting spies, has threatened to undermine what little counter-terrorism cooperation the two countries had.

“Unfortunately, security and the Caucasus do not go together. You might say the two words are a contradiction in terms,” Thomas De Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Georgian Parliament in a speech last month. Last week, Paul Goble, a former CIA and State Department expert on the Caucasus who now runs the blog Window on Eurasia, spoke at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, warning that a confluence of events have made the Sochi Olympics a “disaster” in the making.

“In recent months it has become increasingly clear that Sochi is very much the wrong place for holding a winter Olympic games,” Goble told the crowd, which included officials from the State Department, FBI and the US military’s Central Command. He told Quartz: “The Sochi Olympics are being staged in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and by the wrong people. In terms of security, it is one of the least secure places on earth. It would be like holding the games in Beirut.”

The potential for turmoil is virtually limitless. Southern Russia teems with ethnic groups that suffered massacres and exiles at Russia’s hands in the 19th century, and still chafe at the often repressive regime in Moscow. One of those groups, the Circassians, marks the games as the 150th anniversary of an alleged genocide. Chechnya, whose people were exiled en masse under Stalin, spent much of the last two decades as a battleground between separatist rebels and Russian forces. And neighboring Georgia is still smarting from Russia’s military invasion, which occurred during the 2008 Olympics.

There are fears that Islamist groups from nearby Chechnya and Dagestan could be plotting attacks already—on the Olympics, or elsewhere while Moscow’s security forces focus on the games. Such fears intensified last month when the Tsarnaev brothers—of ethnic Chechen origin—detonated home-made bombs at the Boston Marathon. Fighting between Russian forces and various militant groups has killed thousands in recent years, including a handful of guerillas in Dagestan in early May.

Perhaps Russian counter-terrorism official Oleg Nechiporenko summed it up best back in May 2010, in response to a car bombing in nearby Stavropol. The blast killed seven and wounded 40 others, and suspects included local mafia groups, separatists, Islamist militants, or even fighters from the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. “The region is such a muddied and bloodied aquarium of conflict that to pick out any one fish is impossible,” Nechiporenko said.


Commission on AF structure to meet

Posted 5/24/2013

5/24/2013 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force will hold its first public hearing Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

President Obama and the chairmen and ranking members of both Armed Services Committees recently appointed eight members to serve on the Commission. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directed the establishment of this commission.

The Honorable Dennis M. McCarthy, Marine Corps Lieutenant General, (Ret) is the Commission’s chairman and the Honorable Erin Conaton is the vice chair. The other Commission members are: F. Whitten Peters; Les Brownlee; Air Force General, (Ret) Raymond Johns, Jr.; Lieutenant General, Air National Guard (Ret) Harry M. “Bud” Wyatt, III, Dr. Janine Davidson; and Dr. Margaret Harrell.

Dr. James A. Blackwell has been appointed Executive Director. The Department of Defense sponsor is Mr. Michael L. Rhodes. Director of Administration and Management.

The Commission will conduct a comprehensive study of Air Force’s structure to determine if and how the structure should be modified to best fill current and future mission requirements with available resources. The first public hearing will be June 4th, 2013 in the Rayburn House Office Building. The Commission’s report to the President and Congress is due February 1, 2014.

The Commission will consider whether the Air Force:

– Meets current and anticipated requirements of the combatant commands;

– Achieves an appropriate balance between the regular and reserve components, taking advantage of the unique strengths and capabilities of each;

– Ensures that the regular and reserve components have the capacity to support current and future homeland defense and disaster assistance missions in the United States;

– Provides a sufficient numbers of regular members to provide a base of trained personnel from which reserve components could be recruited;

– Maintains a peacetime rotation force to support operational tempo goals of 1:2 for regular members and 1:5 for reserve members

– Maximizes and appropriately balances affordability, efficiency, effectiveness, capability, and readiness.

For more information about the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, contact


Obamacare Unveiled as California, New York Lead U.S.

By Alex Nussbaum – May 28, 2013 9:49 AM ET .


Amid the periodic repeal votes in Congress and activist campaigns on both sides of the debate, states from New York to California are striving to meet an Oct. 1 deadline to implement the heart of the health-care law, the online insurance “exchanges” meant to enroll millions of Americans.

The law has already had a major impact on U.S. health care since its passage in 2010. Millions of young adults up to age 26 have received coverage under their parents’ policies, seniors are receiving expanded drug coverage and hospitals are experimenting with incentive programs designed to improve care and cut costs. Yet the success of Obamacare will ultimately rest on how well it delivers on its promise to extend coverage to the 49 million Americans who currently don’t have health insurance. With the deadline just four months off, the prognosis is mixed.

“It is going to be a slow start,” said Ana Gupte, a Dowling & Partners insurance analyst in Farmington, Connecticut. “I don’t think the exchanges are fully ready to take in large numbers overnight. This is not going to be ‘Turn this on and everybody’s in the exchange tomorrow.'”

Even those states most on target have had to scale back consumer-friendly offerings in their effort to meet the deadline. Others are giving up running their own markets. New Mexico and Idaho this month said they would cede control of parts of their exchanges to the federal government.


Too Complex

States are rushing to solve technical hurdles even as they scrap features deemed too complex to set up by the deadline, said Jon Kingsdale, a Boston-based consultant advising exchanges. That risks making it harder for people to sign up. California, for one, won’t directly enroll poor Americans in Medicaid, the joint federal-state health program. New York and 10 other states have put off plans to negotiate lower premiums with insurers.

Some exchanges “are going to barely make it,” said Kingsdale, former director of the Massachusetts exchange that became a model for President Barack Obama’s overhaul.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are building their own exchanges, which will offer health plans for small businesses and people not insured through work. The other states will become partners with the federal government or leave the job entirely to the Obama administration. By law, the markets must open in October to sell coverage that starts in January.


Simple Goal

The idea behind the new system is simple: Offer one-stop shopping and aid, making insurance easy and affordable.

In theory, people will go to one of the websites and key in basic information about income, family and employment. They can determine eligibility for government programs like Medicaid or for federal subsidies for private insurance. Those not covered by public programs will see a menu of private options selected by each state.

Consumers can then enroll in a plan and use the exchanges to pay premiums. In some states, such as New York, a separate exchange will cater to small-business employees.

While the goal is simple, the implementation is anything but. States need to set up powerful computer systems that can loop in insurers in real-time while sharing data with the Internal Revenue Service, state tax offices, Medicaid and Medicare and other agencies in order to verify customer information. Once technical hurdles are cleared, state governments will need to get the word out to millions of people that they’re now eligible for insurance.


Herculean Task

“It’s been a Herculean task,” said Ben Nelson, executive director at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and a former U.S. senator from Nebraska who voted for the law. “There’s so much diversity between the states. Getting that all sorted out has been a major effort.”


Some states look like they’ll be ready. New York hired contractors to prepare its exchange more than a year ago and has 80 staff members dedicated to the effort. It plans to spend $27 million next year training brokers and community groups to guide people through the health-care law’s new insurance options.

The state is also working with an advertising firm to reach the 2.6 million uninsured New Yorkers and has been modeling the law’s effects on premiums for those who already have insurance. When ready, its website and call center will offer help in more than a dozen languages.


Lot of Passion

“We have been working hard at this for two years now,” the exchange’s deputy director, Danielle Holahan, said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of passion about what we’re doing and what we’re going to be able to accomplish.”

California last week said it had chosen WellPoint Inc. (WLP) and a dozen other insurers to offer plans in its new system. Individuals can expect to pay as much as 29 percent less than what small businesses now pay for coverage, said Peter Lee, the exchange’s executive director, declaring victory over the “doom-and-gloom estimates” of the health-law’s critics.

Some 5.3 million Californians will be eligible to purchase coverage and about half may be eligible for the subsidies.

The exchanges are expected to attract about 7 million people next year, rising to 24 million by 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. Yet that number has been steadily reduced from 34 million in 2011, as states opt out of parts of the health overhaul and the Obama administration eases penalties for people who don’t buy coverage.


WellPoint, Aetna

Insurers from WellPoint (WLP) to Aetna Inc (AET)., consequently, have been cutting their projections for new business. The stakes for the industry are high: The exchanges represent a potential windfall of $205 billion a year in added sales by 2021, according to an October report from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

WellPoint, the biggest U.S. carrier for those buying their own coverage, rose 1.5 percent to $78.17 at 9:39 a.m. New York time. The Indianapolis-based insurer gained 26 percent for the year through May 24. Aetna, based in Hartford, Connecticut, increased 1.3 percent to $60.06 and had advanced 28 percent this year.

While some states will offer “robust” exchanges, “a goodly number will have to make some tough decisions about what they can get done and what will have to wait for version 2.0 or 2015 or beyond,” said Kingsdale, the Boston consultant.

In California, “I expect them to be up and running, but with a lot of glitches,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit. “The websites will be a little funky, and it will be hard for people to get through. The gears won’t all be oiled yet.”


Dropping Plans

California, Colorado and Vermont are dropping plans for exchanges that directly enroll people in private insurance or public programs like Medicaid, according to data gathered by the National Academy for State Health Policy, a Washington-based research group.


Instead, shoppers will be told what they’re eligible for and transferred to an insurer website or call-in line — or simply told to make the connection on their own. In California, Colorado and Utah, customers will be handed off to private insurers to pay their premiums, adding another step to the process, according to the National Academy.

“That’s a hand-off where somebody could potentially get lost,” Kingsdale, a partner at Wakely Consulting Group, said in a telephone interview. “You’re dealing mostly with the uninsured, who are hard to find and easy to lose.”


Putting Off

States are also putting off plans that could have squeezed insurer profits, bowing to pressure from the industry and the calendar. Maryland, Washington state and the District of Columbia won’t require carriers to standardize deductibles and copays, a step New York and other states are taking to help consumers compare plans.

California is one of only five states that is negotiating with insurers to lower premiums, according to the National Academy. Elsewhere, including in states such as Texas and Florida that will rely on a federal exchange, insurance companies won’t face that kind of pressure.

Some states are also forgoing online tools that would let shoppers filter health plans by provider-network or customer-satisfaction scores. For now, the preference is for “bare-bones” approaches, said Heather Howard, program director at the State Health Reform Assistance Network, a Princeton, New Jersey-based group advising 11 exchanges.

For insurance companies, the initial enthusiasm over a surge in business from the exchanges has dimmed somewhat. Growth is looking “much slower” than many had anticipated, WellPoint Chief Executive Officer Joseph Swedish told investors at a May 20 investors conference in New York.

Aetna (AET), the third-biggest health insurer by sales, has cut its projections for the markets next year, CEO Mark Bertolini told analysts on an April 30 conference call.

“This is a two-year ramp to get the individual exchanges up to a level where customers are going to feel appropriate signing up,” Bertolini said. “I think people are going to take a wait-and-see attitude.”

US Military’s Secretive Robot Space Plane Mission Passes 5-Month Mark

by Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist

Date: 28 May 2013 Time: 07:00 AM ET


The U.S. Air Force’s robotic X-37B space plane has quietly passed the five-month mark on its latest secret mission in Earth orbit.

The unmanned X-37B spacecraft launched into space atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 11, 2012, kicking off a mission whose objectives and payloads are classified.

The winged craft is known as Orbital Test Vehicle-3 (OTV-3), since it is conducting the third mission of the Air Force’s X-37B program.

Watch and wait

What OTV-3 is up to on its confidential cruise remains unknown. However, a network of vigilant skywatchers is monitoring the mission as it progresses.

“It’s certainly important not to forget about these programs,” said Ted Molczan of Toronto, a leader in the worldwide community of satellite trackers. “Careful observation over a long time may provide the clues to finally solve the mystery.”

Molczan said that, even then, he suspects that any breakthrough in knowledge regarding X-37B’s orbital missions will more likely result from leaks by insiders to journalists.

“Hobbyist observations can provide corroboration and some interesting, even useful details, but seldom are sufficient to expose the big picture…especially with new programs,” he told “With X-37B, we can only watch and wait.


Mission speculation

Satellite watchers did note that in early March, OTV-3 propelled itself upward 29 miles (46 kilometers) to raise its orbit to 248 miles (399 km). The craft’s inclination remained at 43.5 degrees.

“As with the previous missions, a nearly constant altitude is maintained by means of periodic engine firings,” Molczan said. “Unlike those missions, the precision and frequency with which its ground tracks repeat are not as strongly indicative of an imaging reconnaissance mission. I find the information inconclusive, but a remote sensing expert might well see something in the data that I cannot.”.

Asked to comment on the current flight, X-37B officials said they would not discuss the mission as it is conducting an ongoing operation.


On autopilot

Whatever observations OTV-3 is making in orbit, the X-37B space plane has already chalked up one programmatic milestone — that of reusability.

This same vehicle was flown on the X-37B program’s maiden voyage back in 2010. That OTV-1 mission lasted nearly 225 days in orbit, gliding back to Earth on autopilot over the Pacific Ocean and touching down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The OTV-2 mission, which used a different X-37B craft, was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in March 2011. That craft conducted on-orbit experiments for 469 days — more than doubling its sister ship’s space stay — and also made a Vandenberg landing.

There has been some talk that OTV-3 may not land at Vandenberg. The Air Force is considering bringing the craft down at the space shuttle landing strip at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, next door to Cape Canaveral.

Making use of former space shuttle infrastructure is viewed as a possible cost-cutting measure for the program, officials have said.


Low-cost operations

Just prior to the inaugural flight of the X-37B program in 2010, Gary Payton, then Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, underscored some of its goals.

In a briefing to reporters, Payton flagged the hope for low-cost operations and maintenance (O&M) of the craft.

“Once we get the bird back, see what it really takes to turn this bird around and get it ready to go fly again, to learn payload change-out on the ground, to learn how much it really costs to do this turn-around on the ground with these new technologies on the X-37 itself,” Payton said.


Top priority

Payton said the top priority is demonstrating the vehicle itself with its autonomous flight-control systems, new generation of silica tiles and a wealth of other new technologies that are on the order of one generation beyond NASA’s now-retired space shuttle program.

“Unlike the shuttle, it does not have a fuel-cell power system. It’s got solar arrays plus lithium ion batteries, whereas the shuttle has hydrogen/oxygen fuel cells. So there are some differences,” Payton said.

Purportedly, there are only two X-37B space planes that have been built for the Air Force by Boeing Government Space Systems. But Payton told that it’s possible the fleet could grow, depending on the success of the first two vehicles, the cost of operations and maintenance and the ease of turnaround between missions.

“Admittedly, these birds don’t carry our biggest satellites…but again, they can do a very good job on our smaller satellites,” Payton said. “And if they are low-cost O&M, from an O&M perspective, they could be a big part of our future.”


Mission control

The X-37B looks a bit like a miniature space shuttle. The vehicle is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide.

Flights of the spacecraft are conducted under the auspices of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, an organization that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

Mission control for OTV flights is handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. This unit is billed as the Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing.

An organizational restructuring in April of this year kept the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron under the Air Force Space Command, but it was transferred to the 50th Operations Group at Schriever.

A scan of Air Force historical records may yield clues about how OTV missions could help support some of the squadron’s duties.

The 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron is identified as one of two Deep Space Tracking System squadrons located throughout the world. These groups are asked to keep sensor eyes on objects orbiting high above Earth, with agencies using this information for everything from collision avoidance to intelligence-gathering purposes.


Robotics revolution

The X-37B is part of a larger trend in which scientists and governments are increasingly relying on robots to explore and observe our planet, experts say.

“The robotics revolution is not just limited to the atmosphere. We’re seeing unmanned systems take on more and more roles from the heights of space to the depths of the sea,” said Peter Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

“Indeed, there is such a long history of unmanned systems in space that it is a domain where we are growing comfortable asking questions about the need for a human’s role… basically we are okay asking, ‘Why do I need a human pilot for that?’ in regards to spacecraft but not yet comfortable asking the same question about planes,” Singer said.

Singer told that the X-37B is also important strategically, “in that it gives the U.S. military more flexibility in our space operations in terms of both launch and surveillance. It fills an interesting gap between what traditional spy planes and spy satellites can do.”

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin’s new book “Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration” published by National Geographic. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on



Why China Wants to Be More Like America

By Rick Newman | The Exchange

May 28, 2013

China’s Communist leaders like to point out that American-style democracy is chaotic, and that western capitalism causes manic booms and busts. Yet they’re borrowing heavily from the American playbook as they remake China’s huge, state-dominated economy.

China recently announced a series of reforms meant to speed the transition from a fast-growing yet still-spottily developing nation to a wealthier and more mature economic powerhouse. Among other things, new policies are meant to scale back Beijing’s role in the economy, open state-run industries such as finance and energy to more private businesses, and provide more ways for foreign investors to participate in the Chinese economy. Eventually, market forces would set interest and exchange rates, which are now controlled by the government.

China has tried before to liberalize its economy, with varying degrees of success. It has clearly become integral to the global supply chain, making it the world’s leading producer of many goods. Virtually every big multinational company has operations in China, with some of them earning impressive profits there.

But China still remains handicapped by shortcomings more typical of a banana republic. “There’s no guarantee China is truly going to become a developed economy along the lines of South Korea or Japan,” says Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at forecasting firm IHS Global Insight. “For China to continue to evolve, they’ve got to make some major changes and become a freer, more market-based economy.”


The government’s role

The Chinese government’s role in the economy makes Washington look like a laissez-faire paradise. It controls banks, railroads, oil companies and many other conglomerates, using those companies to advance what it feels are national priorities. By managing a quasi-capitalist economy more closely than other governments, Communist party leaders are able to harness wealth creation for political purposes.

But state-run capitalism can also cause major disconnects between supply and demand, along with other distortions that undermine the whole economy. China, for instance, lacks many of the legal protections consumers and businesses have long demanded in the West. Theft of intellectual property is rampant, which makes many western companies reluctant to develop new technology or do proprietary research in China. That’s why the nation is considered far better at stealing other people’s ideas than generating its own.

Corruption within the ruling Communist party is widespread, leading to deep distrust of the government. Choking industrial pollution is the dirty little secret of a muscular manufacturing sector. Wrenching poverty is common in the countryside, where pre-industrial subsistence farming still sustains millions.


An exaggerated ‘might’

outsiders see those problems, however, which might explain why Americans have an exaggerated sense of China’s economic might. In polling by Pew Research, 42 percent of Americans said China is the world’s leading economic power, compared with only 36 percent who said the United States is. Yet China’s GDP per capita is just $9,100, which ranks 122d in the world. U.S. GDP per capita is $49,800, tops among large countries (unless you include Norway and Switzerland). The size of China’s economy could eclipse that of the United States in a few years, yet even then China would be nowhere near as rich as America.

China’s leaders realize that, which is why there’s an aggressive new push to embrace reforms Western experts have been advocating for years. Some economists argue that China is heading for an economic phenomenon called the “middle-income trap,” in which fast-growing economies suddenly stagnate, unable to evolve beyond a seemingly fixed level of prosperity. China may be encountering that now. After several overheated years when China’s GDP grew by more than 10 percent per year, growth has fallen back to less than 8 percent. Some economists think it will fall further as efforts that worked economic miracles before – such as massive government-financed infrastructure projects — enter a phase of diminishing returns.

Annual income growth, meanwhile, peaked at nearly 23 percent in 2008 but has since drifted down to about 17 percent, according to World Bank data. Even with several years of fast-rising incomes in China, American workers remain far better off. Income per capita is nearly $49,000 in the United States, compared with about $5,000 in China.

It’s well understood that to become more prosperous and evade the middle-income trap, China has to rely less on exports — consumption by other countries — and more on consumption by its own middle class. It must also unleash more entrepreneurs driven by the profit motive, while cracking down on cronyism and bureaucratic corruption. Yet a vast network of party mandarins will no doubt try to undercut reforms, since they profit handsomely from the status quo. In that regard, China already resembles America, where politicians often stand in the way of what’s best for the country.


Gloomier PC forecast means more trouble for Windows

But Microsoft has plenty of ‘cards to play’ to maintain overall revenue, says analyst

Gregg Keizer

May 28, 2013 (Computerworld)


IDC today drastically lowered its forecast for PC shipments in 2013, a prediction that if accurate means more bad news for Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system.

“Lower PC sales are certainly not a positive for Microsoft,” said Loren Loverde, an analyst at IDC who heads the research firm’s PC tracking data group. “This will have a direct impact on Microsoft.”

IDC, which earlier this year had assembled a rosier forecast, predicting that shipments would slightly increase in the second half of 2013 to end the year down only 1.3% compared to 2012, revised its estimates today.

According to the new forecast, PC shipments will decline 7.8% in 2013, drop another 1.2% in 2014, and along with the 4% decrease already posted for 2012, create an unprecedented three-year contraction. Not until 2015 will the industry show shipment gains, when the market expands by an estimated 1.4%.

Even in 2017, as far out as IDC looks into the crystal ball, the PC shipment total of 333 million will still remain below 2012’s 349 million and 2011’s peak of 363 million.

Because Windows revenue usually stays in sync with PC shipments, the sharp downturn in the latter will certainly be reflected in Microsoft’s financials, agreed Loverde.

Microsoft has already taken a beating over Windows 8, not because of falling revenue in the division — in the first quarter, income after adjustments was flat even as PC shipments plummeted 14% — but because the upgrade did not boost hardware sales, as has been past habit.

Other IDC analysts, in fact, have blamed Windows 8’s lukewarm reception for a big part of the PC industry’s malaise.

Loverde backed off that today, saying that Windows 8 was only one of several contributing factors IDC had taken into account when it released its Q1 estimates.

The revised, and much gloomier, forecast, was prompted not only by those factors — Windows 8’s performance, economic uncertainties, lack of compelling hardware that took advantage of the touch-enabled OS — but also by the realization that the shift toward mobile would be more substantial than expected.

“There’s a fundamental shift under way in how people are computing,” Loverde asserted. “Computing is much more mobile, people’s priorities are shifting, and that trend doesn’t seem to be turning anytime soon.”

While PCs aren’t going away — something Loverde stressed even as IDC predicted a plunge in shipments this year — tasks that now are considered core to computing, including social network interactions, photograph taking and sharing, and email can be accomplished on non-PC devices like smartphones and tablets.

In other words, IDC sees the PC’s chief chores shrinking in number, resulting in fewer purchases by consumers and corporations as users and businesses stretch out replacement cycles or in some cases, simply swear off PCs.

“[People] are putting a premium on access from a variety of smaller devices with longer battery life, an instant-on function, and intuitive touch-centric interfaces,” added Loverde in a statement that accompanied the revised forecast. “These users have not necessarily given up on PCs as a platform for computing when a more robust environment is needed, but this takes a smaller share of computing time, and users are making do with older systems.”

That’s not good for Microsoft. Although the Redmond, Wash. developer continues to push its way into tablets — through its own Surface devices and those by its OEM partners — the bulk of Windows revenue still comes from equipping desktop and notebook PCs with licenses.

An 8% drop in PC shipments during 2013 would, assuming Windows sales mimic that exactly, mean a $1.4 billion hit to Microsoft’s revenue for the calendar year. (For the calendar year 2012, Windows revenue contracted by about 5% from the year before, closely matching the 4% decline in PC shipments pegged by IDC.)

But a knock that hard is unlikely, Loverde suggested. “Microsoft has a number of cards to play,” he said, pointing out the growing revenue of its Server and Tools division, an expectation that sales of Windows 8-powered and Office-equipped “slate”-style tablets will increase, and that Office will not mirror Windows’ decline, as three of those cards.

“This shift [in computing] will not undermine the Office franchise,” Loverde said, citing Microsoft’s ability, if it wanted, to monetize Office online and expand the suite’s footprint on tablets. Most analysts believe Microsoft could, for example, reap significant revenue by releasing Office for Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS, or by tying tablet editions on those platforms to its Office 365 subscription programs.

“We’ve taken expectations down,” said Loverde. “It is a bit sobering. We look at technology as a growth area, and so we think PC [sales] should continue to grow. But this is a major disruption, and a complete change of the landscape.”


Protect American IP by deploying malware to lock hackers, pirates out of PCs?

By Darlene Storm

May 28, 2013 3:11 PM EDT

Chinese government hackers were accused of compromising critical weapon systems, but were also accused of 50 – 80% of intellectual property theft. In fact, the “Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property” suggested “not yet legal” actions such as deploying malware on the offender’s computer, locking down or destroying computers with illegal copies, and even “photographing the hacker using his own system’s camera.” Although stopping other countries from stealing American trade secrets sounds like a good idea, these aggressive tactics could also go after American file-sharing computers with pirated content.

At the start of May, Bloomberg reported that the Chinese hacked a national security contractor and stole military secrets. That “lengthy spying operation on QinetiQ jeopardized the company’s sensitive technology involving drones, satellites, the U.S. Army’s combat helicopter fleet, and military robotics, both already-deployed systems and those still in development.” A few days later, for the first time, the Pentagon officially pointed an accusatory finger at Chinese government and military for cyber-espionage [pdf]. Now, after obtaining a confidential copy of a Defense Science Board report for the Pentagon, the Washington Post reported that Chinese hackers compromised “more than two dozen major weapons systems” that are “critical to US missile defenses and combat aircraft ships.”

The Chinese infiltrated some of the “nation’s most sensitive advanced weapon systems,” and accessed designs for the advanced Patriot missile system known as PAC-3, F/A-18 fighter jet, the Black Hawk helicopter, the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is the “most expensive weapons system ever built.” The Pentagon is “frustrated by the scale of cybertheft from defense contractors.” In fact, an unnamed senior military official told the Post, “In many cases, they don’t know they’ve been hacked until the FBI comes knocking on their door. This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They’ve just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It’s nuts.”

The unclassified version, a report called “Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat” [pdf], said insidious cyber threats “threaten our national and economic security.” This sentiment was recently echoed by a report published by the National Bureau of Asian Research on behalf of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property. The report accused the Chinese for 50 – 80% of intellectual property theft, also naming Russia and India as offenders, costing the US economy $300 billion a year. The authors wrote, “The sheer scale of cyberattacks on American companies, with corresponding economic interests at stake, causes the issue of IP to rise to a genuine national security concern.”

The US was said to lead the world as software manufacturers, but loses “tens of billions of dollars in revenue annually from counterfeiting just in China, where the problem is most rampant. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in 2011 that if intellectual property protection in China improved substantially, U.S. businesses could add 2.1 million jobs.”

Stopping Chinese hackers sounds good, but much of the IP theft occurs “the old-fashioned way” inside the US, the report added, “through copied or stolen hard drives, bribing or planting of employees, tapping of phones, pirating of software and the reverse engineering of products….While credible reports have emerged of Chinese army hackers raiding U.S. government and industry computers, the report said, ‘In reality, most IP theft is committed within American offices, factories, and even neighborhoods and homes’.” The commission recommended “water marking” or “beaconing” to allow companies to identify stolen files and to make those files inoperable through cyber means.

Turn your attention to Cyber Solutions [pdf] in chapter 13 and here is where it gets freaky. According to the report on the “Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property” [pdf]:

Additionally, software can be written that will allow only authorized users to open files containing valuable information. If an unauthorized person accesses the information, a range of actions might then occur. For example, the file could be rendered inaccessible and the unauthorized user’s computer could be locked down, with instructions on how to contact law enforcement to get the password needed to unlock the account. Such measures do not violate existing laws on the use of the Internet, yet they serve to blunt attacks and stabilize a cyber incident to provide both time and evidence for law enforcement to become involved. 

While not quite that aggressive, Microsoft takes such an approach to protecting its intellectual property when the company scans for pirated copies of its OS under the umbrella of Windows Genuine Advantage validation. Users who need to “activate Windows,” as well as software pirates and some legitimate “genuine” consumers will have an error on the bottom right of their screen, saying, “This copy of Windows is not genuine — You may be a victim of counterfeiting.”

But when Microsoft advocated mandatory PC scans and PC health certificates before a computer would be allowed an “unfettered” connection to the Internet, people were not cool with that kind of privacy invasion. Microsoft said such scans should not include “the enforcement of intellectual property rights or the creation of marketing profiles.” Yet even if pirated software did not contain malware, the health scans could notify users of other “problems or configuration issues” that could increase the risk of the computer becoming infected with malware.

So while stopping other countries from stealing American trade secrets sounds like a good idea, what if the commission’s other recommendations were applied to pirated software or other content on Americans’ computers? Even though it is “not permitted under US law,” the IP commission suggested that companies should be allowed “to take further steps, including:”

actively retrieving stolen information, altering it within the intruder’s networks, or even destroying the information within an unauthorized network. Additional measures go further, including photographing the hacker using his own system’s camera, implanting malware in the hacker’s network, or even physically disabling or destroying the hacker’s own computer or network. 

It sounds like something the MPAA and RIAA would love, making the Six Strikes Copyright Alert System, which is reportedly “damn hard to trigger,” look tame in comparison.



The Surprising New Domestic Drone Market: Agriculture

The future of unmanned aircraft in America may be as much about spraying as spying.

April 2, 2013

Jason Best


You’re probably already aware of the “coming of the drones.” While the U.S. government has had seemingly little compunction about unleashing a stealth fleet of unmanned aircraft in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s been reluctant to allow similar winged bots to take to the skies here. And while much attention of late has been given to how law enforcement agencies might use drones to fight crime (or invade privacy, depending on your point of view), what’s surprising is that, in the drone industry, the real money isn’t on the cops—but the crops.

“Agriculture is gonna be the big market,” Chris Mailey, a VP at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, tells Wired.

Even before the sequestration, the drone industry was preparing for stagnation in the military market, owing to the fact that the U.S. is finally winding down its wars overseas. Law enforcement on the homefront seemed like a natural market (and, in fact, some police drones are already hovering out there, like in Miami), but as Mailey argues in Wired, the market is fixed: there are 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., a sizeable portion of which are facing budget cuts of their own.

So what about drones on the farm? Drone boosters (pause: with a phrase like that, it really does hit you that you’re living in the 21st century) enthuse about the range of cool things that drones can do that Old MacDonald could only ever dream about, like detecting fungal diseases in the field well before crops show signs of infection, and thus leading to earlier and more effective treatment.

As Fast Company reports, a Canadian company called CropCam is hawking a GPS-controlled glider plane equipped with a camera that will snap geotagged hi-res images of fields, giving farmers a birds-eye view of which crops are healthy and which need some TLC. Farm drones could also allow for targeted spraying, especially for specialty crops that are either too difficult or too dangerous to spray with manned aircraft. Researchers at the University of California, Davis are experimenting with farm drones for spraying grapes in Napa Valley; over in Japan, where farm drones have been in use since 1990, 30 percent of the country’s rice paddies are sprayed using unmanned aircraft.

How you feel about this probably has a lot to do with whether when you think of “the future” you think of The Jetsons or Bladerunner. And for those of us who happily load our grocery list onto our iPhones, but still like to think of our store-bought chickens as pecking contentedly about in the sunshine somewhere, it’s likely some combination of both.

These glowing reports on what drones might mean for U.S. agriculture typically refer to “farmers,” but let’s be real: If the industry doesn’t think drones are feasible for thousands of law enforcement agencies, small-town family farmers aren’t going to be sending them into the skies over their fields anytime soon.

If the farmer-drone boom does happen (starting in September 2015—but given the pace of the FAA thus far in creating regulations for commercial use of drones, even two-and-a-half years might be too optimistic), then the big boon is going to be for Big Ag.

Who would have thought that the image of a single-engine crop duster lazily buzzing through the blue summer skies would come to seem nostalgic?


How Will Drones Be Used on American Farms?

Soon, drones will fly over America’s Bread Basket. Some think they could reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers.

May 27, 2013

Steve Holt


A while back, we reported on the odd new use for unmanned aircraft—or “drones”—in the fields of America’s farms. Drones are primarily known for their use overseas to target and kill suspected terrorists, but there’s an emerging domestic market for their use in America’s food-producing fields. When a report last month from the trade group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International stated the vast majority of drones in the United States will probably be used for agriculture, the media frenzy that followed may have left some observers with the wrong idea of what drone farming could entail.

For one, “you’re not going to see Predators flying across the heartland taking pictures of corn,” says Rory Paul, CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics and a leading voice in applying unmanned aerial vehicle technology to agriculture.

So what will they be doing? For answers, we asked a farmer who is already using a UAV in his fields in Idaho—in fact, he claims to be the nation’s first. Robert Blair runs the 1,500-acre Blair Three Canyon Farms in fertile north central Idaho, where he raises cows and grows winter wheat, spring wheat, malt barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and alfalfa. Blair regularly flies his homemade drone, which is about the size of a goose, over his fields to check on general plant health, damage from insects or other wildlife, or weeds. In an aerial photo of Blair’s pea field, taken by his UAV, one can see several clearings where an elk had helped itself to the crops.

Blair, who started flying his UAV on the farm in 2006, says a common misconception is that drones will replace farmers. A drone, he says, is merely another piece of technology that allows a farmer to reduce costs and be more efficient.

“UAVs can’t do anything on their own,” he says. “They are gathering data for me to make management decisions.”

The Federal Aviation Administration bans the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial purposes, but Blair says his use is within the law because he’s not charging people money to fly his drone. By 2015, the FAA has been ordered to have a plan in place to open up the skies to commercial drones, though Rory Paul—whose company makes and markets UAVs—says full legalization could be pushed back several more years.

When that happens, Paul envisions drones being a “permanent fixture” on farms, performing duties that lower farmers’ costs by streamlining their efforts. These include the use of unmanned aircraft for precision crop dusting, he says. Instead of blanketing an entire field with pesticides or fertilizers, a drone could target only the areas that need them, possibly reducing the amount of chemicals that are put on food in the fields.

“Chemical companies are going to hate us when this gets going,” he says.

Blair, on the other hand, says it’d be impractical for him to use the drone he owns to spray his fields because, at less than 10 pounds, it couldn’t lift enough pesticide or fertilizer.

“I would have to have a UAV the size of a Cessna or bigger to haul enough weight to do the job in a timely fashion,” he says. “It’d be like you going out in a garden to water all your plants with a squirt gun.”

With an increasing consumer demand for cheaper food, drones may be especially attractive to conventional farms that service large agribusiness companies or send their food overseas. But drones may also soon be used by watchdog groups to monitor animal cruelty on farms. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, announced last month that it will be purchasing one or more drones to stalk hunters, but says it “also intends to fly the drones over factory farms, popular fishing spots, and other venues where animals routinely suffer and die.”

Even further down the road, Paul sees another use for drones, albeit a rather bizarre one.

“I can see a future where farmers are using very small UAVs for the pollination of orchards,” Paul says. “There will be no more honey bees, so we’ll have to manufacture them in China.”



Owner of John Morrell Food Group sold to Chinese firm

By Michael Felberbaum

Dayton Daily News

AP Business Writer

Updated: 12:06 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, 2013


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Chinese meat processor Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. has agreed to buy Smithfield Foods Inc. for approximately $4.72 billion in a deal that will take the world’s biggest pork producer private.

Smithfield Foods own the John Morrell Food Group, based in Springdale, near Cincinnati. John Morrell has roughly 525 employees in the Cincinnati area.

Hong Kong-based Shuanghui owns a variety of global businesses that include food, logistics and flavoring products and is China’s largest meat processing enterprise. Smithfield owns brands such as Armour, Farmland and its namesake.

Shareholders of Smithfield will receive $34 per share under terms of the deal announced Wednesday — a 31 percent premium to the Smithfield, Va., company’s closing stock price of $25.97 on Tuesday.

Both companies’ boards have unanimously approved the transaction, which still needs approval from Smithfield’s shareholders. The transaction may also be subject to review by the U.S.’s Committee on Foreign Investment.

The companies put the deal’s total value at about $7.1 billion, including debt. Smithfield Foods has about 138.8 million outstanding shares, according to FactSet. Smithfield’s stock will no longer be publicly traded once the deal closes.

Its shares surged $7.23, or 27.8 percent, to $33.20 in premarket trading Wednesday.

Shuanghui has 13 facilities that produce more than 2.7 million tons of meat per year. Under the agreement, there will be no closures at Smithfield’s facilities and locations, including its Smithfield, Va., headquarters, the companies said.

Smithfield’s existing management team will remain in place and Shuanghui also will honor the collective bargaining agreements in place with Smithfield workers. The company has about 46,000 employees.

“This transaction preserves the same old Smithfield, only with more opportunities and new markets and new frontiers,” Smithfield CEO Larry Pope said in a conference call. “This is not a strategy to import Chinese pork into the United States … this is exporting America to the world.”

With China and U.S. being “the most important markets,” Zhijun Yang, managing director of Shuanghui, said in a conference call with investors, “together we can be a global leader in animal protein. … no other combination has such a great opportunity.”

In recent months, Continental Grain Co., one of Smithfield’s largest shareholders, has been pushing Smithfield to consider splitting itself up, saying it was time for the company to “get serious about creating shareholder value.” Following a March letter from Continental Grain, Smithfield said it would review the suggestions “in due course.” Representatives from Continental Grain did not immediately comment on the deal announced Wednesday.

In its most recent quarter, in March reported its net income rose more than 3 percent, helped by gains in hog production, its international business and its packaged meats such as deli meats, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs — a large growth area for the company.

Still pork producers like Smithfield have been caught in a tug of war with consumers. The company needs to raise prices to offset rising commodity costs, namely the corn it uses for feed. But consumers are still extremely sensitive to price changes in the current economy. By raising prices, Smithfield risks cutting into its sales should consumers cut back or buy cheaper meats, such as chicken.


3D-Printed Bioresorbable Splint Saves Baby’s Life

Posted in Implants & Prosthetics, Medical, News, MDB on Monday, May 27 2013


Ever since he was six weeks old, an Ohio infant with a condition called tracheobronchomalacia would stop breathing because part of his windpipe carrying air to his left lung would collapse, requiring emergency assistance. But, thanks to a team of doctors and engineers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who created a new, bioresorbable device called a tracheal splint, using a 3D printer, Kaiba is now breathing freely, his life spared.

Contacted by the child’s doctor, Glenn Green, MD, associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan and his colleague, Scott Hollister, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M, obtained emergency clearance from the FDA to create and implant a tracheal splint for Kaiba made of a biopolymer called polycaprolactone.

On February 9, 2012, the specially-designed splint was implanted in Kaiba at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The splint was sewn around his airway to expand the bronchus and give it a skeleton to aid proper growth. The doctors say that within three years, the splint will be reabsorbed by the body. Kaiba was off ventilator support 21 days after the procedure, and has not had breathing trouble since then.

Green and Hollister were able to make the custom-designed, custom-fabricated device using high-resolution imaging and computer-aided design. The device was created directly from a CT scan of Kaiba’s trachea/bronchus, integrating an image-based computer model with laser-based 3D printing to produce the splint.

“The image-based design and 3-D biomaterial printing process we used for Kaiba can be adapted to build and reconstruct a number of tissue structures. We’ve used the process to build and test patient-specific ear and nose structures. Scott has also used the method with other collaborators to rebuild bone structures in pre-clinical models,” said Green.



Defense Contractors Vastly Outnumber Troops in Afghanistan

By Bob Brewin

May 30, 2013


For every U.S. service member serving in Afghanistan, there are 1.6 Defense contractors on the ground (and on the payroll) in supporting roles. Contractors make up 62 percent of the force there — 108,000 versus 65,700 troops, watchdog agency reports reveal.

The Congressional Research Service, in a May 17 report obtained by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, said that the Pentagon spent $159.6 billion on contractor support in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2007 through 2012. A Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday said the Pentagon spent a total of $195 billion on contract services in 2010, double what it spent in 2001. Spending on contract services declined to $174 billion in 2012, GAO said.

Both reports faulted the Pentagon for its inability to provide accurate data on the total number of contractors employed by the Defense Department and the missions those contractors perform.

“Current databases are not sufficiently customized to track important contract data. Even when information is tracked, questions remain as to the reliability of the information,” CRS reported.

One problem is the military services use different methodologies to track contractors. “DOD components used various methods and data sources, including their inventories of contracted services, to estimate contractor [full time equivalents] for budget submissions,” GAO said.

Its analysis found that “the contractor FTE estimates have significant limitations and do not accurately reflect the number of contractors providing services to DOD.” Those limitations included estimating techniques based on potentially inaccurate inventory data, GAO said.

Contract personnel provide a wide range of services, including transportation, construction and base support functions as well as intelligence analysis and private security.

CRS noted that by using contractors on an as-needed basis, the Pentagon can save money and free uniformed personnel to focus on combat operations. The department also can use contractors with specialized skills, such as linguists or weapons maintenance experts, to quickly support specific battlefield needs.

But CRS noted that many analysts believe contractors undermined the military’s credibility and effectiveness in both Iraq and Afghanistan and it criticized Defense for poor planning in how it uses contractors in operational support roles.

“The ineffective use of contractors can prevent troops from receiving what they need, when they need it, and can lead to the wasteful spending of billions of dollars,” CRS said.

GAO said the Pentagon needs to develop a “strategic human capital management” plan that determines the appropriate mix of military, civilian, and contractor workforces and the functions of each.

In a response to the GAO report, Rick Robbins, the department’s director of force manning and requirements, said Defense officials recognized that the contractor FTE information provided in the department’s 2013 and 2014 budget submissions had significant limitations.

He said a reliable, current inventory of contractor FTEs is a fundamental building block for developing future contractor FTE estimates and noted that the department has initiated efforts to improve inventory data by collecting it directly from contractors, using the Army’s Contractor Manpower Reporting Application as a model.


Air Force boosts cyber mission capabilities


May. 29, 2013 – 06:00AM |

By Oriana Pawlyk and USA TODAY


The Pentagon has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building cyber capabilities, an effort that has gained urgency as China, Russia, North Korea and other nations have been using cyberspace to attack adversaries or steal secrets.

And while other areas of the Defense Department’s budget are targeted for cutbacks, the military is increasing its budget for cyberwarfare and expanding offensive capabilities, making cyber careers among the hottest in the Air Force.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. New jobs. The Air Force expects to add more than 1,000 cyber jobs between 2014 and 2016, although the final number has not been approved, said Gen. William Shelton, commander, Air Force Space Command, in an email to Air Force Times. About 80 percent will be airmen and the rest civilian.

2. The teams. Each of the services has a cyber force that falls under U.S. Cyber Command, which plans to field 100 teams by 2016, divided into three categories: defending military networks, damaging the capabilities of enemy networks and helping to defend the nation’s infrastructure.

“The Joint Staff, U.S. Cyber Command and the services are currently developing an implementation plan to include sourcing and training this new cyber workforce,” Shelton said.

3. On offense. Next year, the Air Force plans to spend $14 million to research and develop offensive cyber capabilities, budget documents show, while it plans to devote about $5.8 million to research for cyber defense. The Air Force has been developing systems designed for the “exfiltration of information while operating within adversary information systems,” according to budget documents. The Air Force declined to release details on the program, saying it was classified.

Overall, the Defense Department plans to increase its cyber operations budget to $4.7 billion, up from $3.9 billion this year. Much of that additional money is going into the development of offensive capabilities, usually referred to as computer network attacks, according to budget documents.

4. Cyber weapons designated. To make sure the Air Force can secure the money it needs for its cyber mission, the service designated six capabilities as weapons, underscoring the importance of making them available to combatant commanders, Shelton said. The weapons are: cyberspace defense, cyberspace defense analysis, cyberspace vulnerability assessment/hunter, cyberspace command and control mission system, cybersecurity and control system, and intranet control.

5. Secret rules. The Pentagon is nearing completion of a revised set of “rules of engagement” that will help field commanders determine how and when to use the cyber capabilities. The rules will be kept secret.



FY15 Guidance Takes Sequester Into Account

Defense News

May. 30, 2013 – 09:51PM |



WASHINGTON — After years of not preparing for mandated sequestration spending cuts, the Pentagon is now incorporating different levels of budget reductions in its future planning.

US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in a May 29 memo to senior defense officials, told the services to prepare for three different scenarios for fiscal 2015: one that reflects President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal, a second that is 5 percent less and a third that is 10 percent less.

“[W]e do need to develop options in the event that fiscal realities differ from the funding level in the President’s budget,” Carter said.

The 10 percent cut would reflect the impact of full sequestration, which is roughly a $500 billion reduction over a 10-year period beginning in 2013., while the 5 percent reduction reflects roughly half.

In April, the Pentagon sent Congress a budget proposal for fiscal 2014 that was $52 billion above the sequestration spending cap. At the time, Pentagon officials said the White House had not directed them to plan for sequestration.

Now the services are being asked “to develop options” for reductions to the 2014 budget proposal as well.

The first is a 10 percent across-the-board cut and the second is a 10 percent reduction to DoD’s $527 billion requested top line that allows flexibility to move money around accounts.

Carter also told officials that DoD might have to prepare for a 5 percent budget cut in 2014.

For the past two months, DoD has been conducting the Strategic Choices Management Review (SCMR), which was designed to factor in defensewide budget cuts at three levels — $100 billion, $300 billion and $500 billion — over the next decade. The review has been proceeding on schedule.

The SCMR project is designed to look at ways to modify DoD’s military strategy to accommodate various levels of budget cuts.

As DoD looks to make these types of budget cuts, four Washington think tanks — the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Center for New American Security (CNAS) and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — have recommended areas to cut, while looking to maintain DoD’s existing military strategy.

Using a scoring tool developed by CSBA, teams from each think tank made trade-offs among different capabilities to meet spending targets.

To achieve similar budget cut levels described in Carter’s memo, each team called for large-scale personnel cuts to meet spending caps at the half and full sequestration levels.

Under full sequestration, each team made significant cuts to readiness; under half sequestration, all of the teams restored or significantly reduced those cuts.

Each team supported reductions in the military’s air capabilities, specifically calling for broad reductions of non-stealthy fighter and attack aircraft. Aside from AEI, the other three think tanks called for plus-ups of stealthy unmanned aircraft.

Under full sequestration, three of the four think tanks called for reductions to the Air Force’s bomber inventory. But three of four also said that could allow a plus-up for a new stealthy bomber.

All recommended cuts to the Navy’s fleet of carriers, cruisers and destroyers under full sequestration.

CNAS, CSIS and CSBA also called for increasing spending on space and cyber activities. ■


Strategic Choices Exercise Outbrief

May 29, 2013 • By Todd Harrison, Jim Thomas, Mark Gunzinger, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Eric Lindsey, Evan B. Montgomery, and Zack CooperStudies

As the Pentagon nears completion of its ongoing Strategic Choices and Management Review, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments conducted an external Strategic Choices Exercise with teams of experts from three other prominent think-tanks—CSIS, AEI and CNAS–to inform public debate.

Each team was asked to develop a defense strategy and rebalance DoD’s portfolio of capabilities in a reduced budget environment.  Using CSBA’s rebalancing tool and methodology, the teams chose from several hundred pre-costed options to add or cut from the projected defense program over the next ten years, including major units of force structure, end strength, bases, readiness, civilian personnel, weapon systems, and modernization programs.  Each team had to weigh its decisions within the context of both Budget Control Act (BCA)-level cuts in defense spending and a lower reduction of half the BCA cut. Each team’s cuts and adds had to be consistent with the budget-level options considered by the Strategic Choices and Management Review that the Pentagon is wrapping up this week. The exercise was timed to inform the thinking on the way defense resources are allocated in light of declining budgets.

On May 29, 2013, CSBA hosted an outbrief, where all four teams presented their strategies, outlined how they approached their strategic choices, and where they chose to take risk.  Following the team presentations, Todd Harrison presented his comparison of choices across all teams.

URLs for Briefing Slides (PDF):

Introduction and
Exercise Overview
, Todd Harrison, CSBA

Presentations of Rebalancing Strategies and Team Approaches:

       Comparison of Choices, Todd Harrison, CSBA




SoftBank’s bid for Sprint clears security review

The Hill

By Brendan Sasso – 05/29/13 10:23 AM ET

An interagency committee has determined that SoftBank’s proposed purchase of Sprint would not jeopardize national security, the companies announced on Wednesday.

To allay security concerns, SoftBank, a Japanese company, agreed to give the U.S. government veto power over the appointment of one Sprint board member, who would oversee national security issues for the company. The government would also be able to review and approve contracts with certain network equipment makers.

The deal must still receive approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is considering whether the purchase would be in the public’s interest. Sprint’s shareholders are scheduled to vote on whether to accept SoftBank’s offer on June 12.

The national security review was led by the Treasury Department and also included the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department and other agencies. The interagency committee, called CFIUS, must approve all purchases of U.S. businesses by foreign companies.

Dish Network is pushing a competing offer for Sprint and has been drumming up fears that SoftBank could expose Sprint’s networks to hackers.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) sent letters to regulators last week raising security concerns about the SoftBank deal.

McCain noted that Sprint owns the rights to large swathes of airwaves and has numerous contracts with government agencies.

“I have real concerns that this deal, if approved, could make American industry and government agencies far more susceptible to cyberattacks from China and the People’s Liberation Army, already the number one source of electronic espionage against American interest,” Schumer wrote.

The fears stem from the fact that in many countries, SoftBank relies on telecommunications equipment produced by Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE. Because of those companies’ ties to the Chinese government, the House Intelligence Committee determined in a report last year that they pose a threat to U.S. national security.

The congressional investigators feared Huawei and ZTE could build back doors into their equipment, allowing the Chinese government to spy on the communications of U.S. companies and people.

In addition to giving the U.S. government oversight power over certain network equipment vendors, SoftBank has said it will strip out Huawei’s equipment from Clearwire—a wireless network operator that Sprint is trying to buy.

Dish has also raised alarms about SoftBank’s ties to UTStarcom, a company that admitted to bribing Chinese officials for telecommunications contracts. Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank, was chairman of the board of UTStarcom from 1995 until 2003.

“The settlement documents do not name, implicate, or otherwise relate to SoftBank or Mr. Son, and are legally and factually irrelevant to this proceeding,” SoftBank wrote in a recent filing with the FCC.


Medicare on track for insolvency in 2026; Social Security in 2033

By Erik Wasson and Sam Baker – 05/31/13 01:12 PM ET

The Hill

Medicare will reach insolvency by 2026 while Social Security’s two trust funds will become insolvent by 2033, the program’s trustees reported Friday.

Unless Congress acts, Social Security will no longer be able to pay full benefits to retirees after 2033. Only three-quarters of benefits will be delivered after the projected insolvency date. 

The trust fund that pays disability benefits through Social Security is headed for insolvency in 2016 and will only be able to pay out 80 percent of benefits after that date, the trustees found.

Medicare’s trust fund will become insolvent in 2026 — two years later than previously estimated. By that date, the fund that covers Medicare’s hospital benefit will begin to spend more money than it takes in.

The additional two years of Medicare solvency projected this year were due to lower-than-expected spending. The insolvency date for Social Security is unchanged from last year.

The annual reports are likely to put the focus back on the troubled entitlement programs and could give impetus to address them in a debt deal this fall.

“Lawmakers should address the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare as soon as possible,” the trustees report said. “Taking action sooner rather than later will leave more options and more time available to phase in changes to that the public has adequate time to prepare.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office said the report means action needs to be taken immediately to fix the entitlement programs.

“Today’s report is yet another reminder that Medicare and Social Security are in great danger. We need to protect and strengthen these critical programs. And we must take action now, so we can keep our promises to current seniors and future retirees,” Ryan spokesman William Allison said Friday.

The trustees report was signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris, Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, Treasury Secretary Jack Law and public trustees Charles Blahous and Robert Reischauer.

The trustees had previously said that President Obama’s healthcare law extended the life of the Medicare trust fund — a finding that Lew and Sebelius were quick to highlight on Friday.

“The Medicare report demonstrates, once again, the importance of the Affordable Care Act, which has strengthened Medicare’s finances by reining in healthcare costs,” Lew said.

Medicare Trustee Reischauer said the recession and sluggish economy played a part in the spending slowdown for Medicare, but said the healthcare law also deserved credit.

“Because of the restraints in the Affordable Care Act and the structural reforms the act is encouraging, there’s reason, I think, to be optimistic,” Reischauer said.

The fight over reforming Social Security flared in April when Obama included significant benefit cuts in his 2014 budget. He proposed changing the way inflation is calculated in order to reduce federal deficits by $340 billion over 10 years. 

By adopting the so-called chained consumer price index, the budget would have the effect of reducing annual Social Security benefit increases for seniors, while extending the life of the program by two years, according to administration officials.

Lew argued that fixing both entitlements programs is a high priority for Obama and said he is “hopeful” that a deal with Congress can be found.

“I think our challenge will be to find a path to have this conversation in a bipartisan way and I remain hopeful that we will do that,” Lew said.

“There is time, but it is not free to wait.”

The White House has been hosting private dinners with Republican senators an effort to lay the groundwork for a compromise on entitlements, but senators recently told The Hill they were frustrated at the pace of dealmaking.

Obama’s proposal for Social Security was opposed by seniors advocates like the AARP, while deficit hawks said it did not go far enough.

Seniors groups want to lift the cap on payroll taxes to increase funding for Social Security, as workers currently do not pay the payroll taxes on income over $113,700. Administration officials on Friday said eliminating the cap would solve 70 to 80 percent of the program’s shortfall.

Some advocates are also pushing a consumer price index adjustment that would tend to increase Social Security benefits. 

AARP used the release of Friday’s trustee report to attack Obama’s inflation proposal.

“Too many politicians in Washington talk about changes to Social Security without considering the impact in income security such changes will have on real people. One example of this is the so-called ‘chained CPI’ — a fancy Washington term that really means cutting Social Security and veterans’ benefits,” AARP Vice President Nancy LeaMond said.

“With their report today, the Social Security Trustees draw renewed attention to the long-term financial challenges facing this vital retirement security program. While not in crisis, Social Security will require modest changes to ensure current and future generations will receive the benefits they’ve earned.”

While some Republicans have called for an increase in the retirement age or means-testing of Social Security benefits, the last three budgets passed by the GOP-controlled House have been silent about how to fix the program.
Some Republicans, including Ryan (Wis.), praised Obama for offering the chained CPI proposal, but others like campaign chairman Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) slammed Obama for hurting seniors. Walden was later rebuked by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for his comments.

Deficit hawks are pushing for lower retirement benefits and higher insurance premiums for seniors in a “grand bargain” on the deficit.

Advocates for seniors are fighting those proposals, and say tax increases are what’s needed to shore up the programs. They also argue that the pressing disability fund problems can be solved by a transfer of funds from the retirement trust fund, something Congress has authorized in the past.

Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Health care and housing are hotter topics for many Americans these days than the growing controversies surrounding the Obama administration.

Amid increasing news reports of potential big insurance rate hikes, Scott Rasmussen’s latest weekly newspaper column contends that consumers are set to repeal a large part of President Obama’s health care law. “Advocates of the plan dramatically misread the public mood. Only 28% of voters believe the top priority should be guaranteeing comprehensive insurance coverage for all workers. Sixty-six percent (66%) think it’s more important to let workers pick their own mix of insurance coverage and take-home pay.

If they had the choice, 59% would opt for less expensive insurance and a bigger paycheck.

As the countdown continues to full implementation of the health care law next year, voters are still evenly divided over whether they want their governor to help make the law a reality in their state

On the housing front, 60% now say their home is worth more than what they owe on their mortgage. That matches the most upbeat assessment since the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. Thirty-five percent (35%) think their house’s value will go up over the next year, a huge improvement from over a year ago.

Thirty-three percent (33%) of Americans say now is a good time for someone to sell a house where they live. That, too, is a four-year high.

More Americans than ever (70%) also believe that homeowners who can’t afford their mortgage payments should downsize rather than receive assistance from the government.

At the same time, the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes which measure daily confidence continue to run at or near their highest levels since before the Wall Street collapse in 2008.

But most voters don’t approve of the Justice Department’s investigation of news reporters, and a plurality (42%) now thinks the department’s boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, should resign.

The positive economic news may help explain why the president’s overall job approval ratings haven’t suffered despite the continuing media focus on the Internal Revenue Service, Justice Department and Benghazi controversies.

Still, just 37% of voters rate Obama’s handling of economic issues as good or excellent, while 45% view his performance in this area as poor. Meanwhile, views of the president’s handling of national security issues have slipped to levels not seen since before the killing of Osama bin Laden two years ago. Just 40% now give the president good or excellent ratings for his handling of national security, while 39% rate his performance as poor.

The president made headlines recently with a national security speech promising to close the prison camp for terrorists at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and to restrict the government’s use of armed drones. Voters are closely divided over whether the Guantanamo prison should be closed, and just 27% agree with bringing some of those inmates to the United States to make closing the camp possible.

Voters are now more supportive of using unmanned drones to kill U.S. citizens overseas who pose a terrorist threat. A surprising 36% favor their use against terrorist threats in this country.

Democrats’ efforts to strengthen gun control laws also may not have had the political impact they’d hoped for: Voters now trust Republicans more than the president’s party on the gun control issue.  Just 41% trust Democrats more. In March, Democrats had a five point advantage on the issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit challenging the University of Texas’ use of race as a factor in admissions.  Just 25%of Americans favor such a policy. That’s consistent with a larger perspective that students should be judged on their own merits. Just 30% believe it is okay for schools to give preferences to the children of donors.

Only 23% believe that, in reality, elite schools only accept the most qualified students. Seventy-one percent (71%) believe that accepting only the most qualified students for admission is better than giving preference to alumni families.

Most voters don’t believe they are getting a good return on current education spending, and just 34% think more money will enhance student performance.

Voters generally believe tax increases hurt the economy, but they’re still slightly more inclined to vote for a candidate who would raise taxes only on the wealthy over one who would oppose all tax increases.

Democrats have regained the lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot. For the last six weeks, the gap between the two parties has been two points or less.

In other surveys last week:

– For the third week in a row, 30% of voters say the country is heading in the right direction. That’s nearly identical to attitudes a year ago.

– Seventy-three percent (73%) of working Americans generally look forward to going to work.

– Sixty-five percent (65%) of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Boy Scouts of America, down from 73% a year ago.

– With the trial in the sensational Trayvon Martin case just two weeks away, interest in the case is way down. A plurality of Americans have no opinion as to whether the man who shot the Florida teen last year should be found guilty of murder.

– Just 17% of Americans favor making it easier for the FBI to wiretap Internet communications such as instant messages, Facebook chats and e-mails.

New York City voters still approve of the job Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing but are almost evenly divided when it comes to the “stop and frisk” policing policy he endorses.

– Thirty-one percent (31%) of Americans rank Memorial Day as one of the nation’s most important holidays, and 41% planned to do something last Monday to honor those who sacrificed their lives for this country.

– Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans think Memorial Day means summer has arrived.

– Fifty-four percent (54%) of Americans say they or a family member has taken a vacation on a cruise ship. But 45% are less likely to take a vacation on one of these ships now, given all the problems they’ve been having.

May 25 2013



Also posted weekly online as a blog at


Chinese back hacking U.S. businesses, government

Hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, computer-security experts and U.S. officials say.


The New York Times

May 19, 2013



WASHINGTON — Three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of U.S. companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to computer-industry security experts and U.S. officials.

The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle.

But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to U.S. officials and security companies.

It is not clear precisely who has been affected by the latest attacks. Mandiant, a private security company that helps companies and government agencies defend themselves from hackers, said the attacks had resumed but would not identify the targets, citing agreements with its clients.

It did say the victims were many of the same ones the unit had attacked before.

The hackers were behind scores of thefts of intellectual property and government documents over the past five years, according to a report by Mandiant in February that was confirmed by U.S. officials. They have stolen product blueprints, manufacturing plans, clinical-trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information from more than 100 of Mandiant’s clients, predominantly in the United States.

In interviews, Obama administration officials said the resumption of the hacking activity did not surprise them. One senior official said Friday that “this is something we are going to have to come back at time and again with the Chinese leadership,” who, he said, “have to be convinced there is a real cost to this kind of activity.”

Mandiant said the hackers had stopped their attacks after they were exposed in February and removed their spying tools from the organizations they had infiltrated. But during the past two months, they have gradually begun attacking the same victims from new servers and have reinserted many of the tools that enable them to seek out data without detection.

They are now operating at 60 to 70 percent of the level they were working at before, according to a study by Mandiant requested by The New York Times.

The Times hired Mandiant to investigate an attack that originated in China on its news operations last fall. Mandiant is not now working for the company.

Mandiant’s findings match those of Crowdstrike, another security company that has also been tracking the group. Adam Meyers, director of intelligence at Crowdstrike, said that apart from a few minor changes in tactics, it was “business as usual” for the Chinese hackers.

The subject of Chinese attacks is expected to be a central issue in an upcoming visit to China by President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, who has said that dealing with China’s actions in cyberspace is moving to the center of the complex security and economic relationship between the two countries.

But hopes for progress on the issue are limited. When the Pentagon released its report this month officially identifying the Chinese military as the source of years of attacks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the accusation, and People’s Daily, which reflects the views of the Communist Party, called the U.S. “the real ‘hacking empire,'” saying it “has continued to strengthen its network tools for political subversion against other countries.”

In a report to be issued Wednesday, a private task force led by Obama’s former director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, and his former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman Jr., lays out a series of proposed executive actions and congressional legislation intended to raise the stakes for China.

“Jawboning alone won’t work,” Blair said Saturday. “Something has to change China’s calculus.”

The exposure of Unit 61398’s actions, which have long been well-known to U.S. intelligence agencies, did not accomplish that task.

One day after Mandiant and the U.S. government revealed the PLA unit as the culprit behind hundreds of attacks on agencies and companies, the unit began a haphazard cleanup operation, Mandiant said.

Attack tools were unplugged from victims’ systems. Command and control servers went silent. And of the 3,000 technical indicators Mandiant identified in its initial report, only a sliver kept operating.

Some of the unit’s most visible operatives, hackers with names like “DOTA,” “SuperHard” and “UglyGorilla,” disappeared, as cybersleuths scoured the Internet for clues to their real identities.

In the case of UglyGorilla, Web sleuths found digital evidence that linked him to a Chinese national named Wang Dong, who kept a blog about his experience as a PLA hacker from 2006 to 2009, in which he lamented his low pay, long hours and instant ramen meals.

But in the weeks that followed, the group picked up where it had left off. From its Shanghai headquarters, the unit’s hackers set up new beachheads from compromised computers all over the world, many of them small Internet service providers and mom-and-pop shops whose owners do not realize that by failing to rigorously apply software patches for known threats, they are enabling state-sponsored espionage.

“They dialed it back for a little while, though other groups that also wear uniforms didn’t even bother to do that,” Kevin Mandia, the chief executive of Mandiant, said Friday. “I think you have to view this as the new normal.”

The hackers now use the same malicious software they used to break into the same organizations in the past, only with minor modifications to the code.

While U.S. officials and corporate executives say they are trying to persuade President Xi Jinping’s government that a pattern of theft by the PLA will damage China’s growth prospects — and the willingness of companies to invest in China — their longer-term concern is that China may be trying to establish a new set of rules for Internet commerce, with more censorship and fewer penalties for the theft of intellectual property.



U.S. approves Apple iOS devices for use on Defense Department networks

Devices from BlackBerry and Samsung Electronics were cleared earlier by the department

By John Ribeiro

May 20, 2013 12:46 AM ET

IDG News Service – Devices built around Apple’s iOS operating system have been approved by the U.S. Department of Defense for use on its networks, as the department moves to support multivendor mobile devices and operating systems.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which certifies commercial technology for defense use, said Friday it had approved the Apple iOS 6 Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG).

“Approval of the STIG means that government-issued iOS 6 mobile devices are approved for use when connecting to DOD networks within current mobility pilots or the future mobile device management framework,” the agency said in a statement.

The department earlier this month cleared BlackBerry 10 smartphones and PlayBook tablets with its enterprise mobility management platform BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 to be used on its networks. It also approved Samsung Electronics’ Knox, a new Android-based platform designed by the company to enhance security of the current open source Android.

The DOD mobility strategy includes mobile devices configured to the STIG, in combination with an actively managed and defended Mobility Device Management system, DISA said. The agency is responsible for establishing MDM, which provides a process for managing and distributing mobile applications and an enhanced cyberdefense infrastructure. DISA is running a pilot program to bring all the pieces together.

A DOD spokesman, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, said earlier that a decision on Apple’s iOS was expected to be taken last week. Several mobile devices and operating systems are currently going through DISA’s STIG review and approval process, Pickart said via email earlier this month.

“We look forward to additional vendors also participating in this process, further enabling a diversity of mobile devices for use within the department,” Pickart said. The approvals do not result in product orders, he added. Actual orders will be linked to operational requirements and availability of funding with user organizations, DISA said in its statement.

DOD currently has more than 600,000 commercial mobile devices in operational and pilot use, including about 470,000 BlackBerry devices, 41,000 running Apple operating systems and 8,700 on Android. A Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan aims to permit use of the latest commercial technologies such as smart phones and tablets, and to develop an enterprise mobile device management capability and application store to support approximately 100,000 multivendor devices by February 2014, DISA said.


DoD Examines 3 Budget-Cut Scenarios

Defense News

May. 19, 2013 – 06:00AM |


WASHINGTON — Senior US Defense Department officials are expected to present three budget-cutting scenarios to the defense secretary when they wrap up a wide-ranging review of military strategy at the end of this month, according to sources.

These officials, part of the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), are preparing for a range of budget cuts — $100 billion, $300 billion and $500 billion — sources said.

Meanwhile, four Washington think tanks are preparing their own reviews of what they would cut and will present their findings May 29 on Capitol Hill.

Throughout the two-month review, DoD officials have agreed that closing bases and changing military compensation are critical components to achieving these targets, sources said. But these officials are pessimistic that Congress will sign off on such institutional changes, meaning force structure, acquisition programs and mission areas would bear the brunt of spending cuts.

The SCMR will not make any specific decisions, but it will frame the choices DoD must make depending on the level of funding Congress appropriates. It also will present options for how to cut. Sources caution against expecting a fully revised strategy when the review is presented May 31.

“The value of strategy in this budget environment gives you the basis to make tradeoffs or priorities,” said David Berteau of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “You can’t make tradeoffs and adjudicate priorities without working the numbers, so they’re applying the right prism because choices only become real with resources attached to them. The review is designed to set the stage for the next phase of the discussion, which is the [Quadrennial Defense Review] and in parallel the resolution of the ’14 budget and the development of the ’15 budget.”

The first SCMR — known as the “skimmer” or “scammer” in defense circles — assumes the White House’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal is adopted. That plan calls for $100 billion in cuts, but those cuts are back-loaded in the final five years of the decade-long plan. Pentagon officials favor this option because it gives them time to plan and gradually implement the cuts.

Sources say the Army would bear the brunt of those cuts, mostly to force structure. Still, Pentagon officials believe a greater spending cut will be levied on DoD.

If the second option — the $300 billion cut — were put in place, the cuts would be levied against all the services.

The third option assumes full sequestration, or $500 billion over the decade. Sources with insight into the SCMR say this option would wreak the most havoc on the military and force the cancellation or scaling back of several major acquisition efforts.

These sources also said the magnitude of the cut could prevent the military from being able to fight a major war against a near peer competitor.

The Pentagon’s January 2012 military strategy calls for focusing on the Asia-Pacific and Middle East. For more than a year, defense leaders have said that sequestration, which amounts to about a $50 billion cut each year starting this year, would destroy their strategy.

Still, some Pentagon officials said that strategy has some wiggle room to absorb spending reductions.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is running the SCMR project along with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Comptroller Robert Hale and Christine Fox, the director of DoD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, are also playing key roles in the review. Fox plans to step down in June following the completion of the SCMR.

At the same time, each of the services’ Quadrennial Defense Review offices is contributing to the review.

The goal of the project is to provide President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “decision points,” which will inform DoD’s fiscal 2015 budget submission, and execution of the 2014 budget, Carter said. It will also guide the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.

“The review will define the major strategic choices and institutional challenges affecting the defense posture in the decade ahead, but it must be made to preserve and adapt our defense strategy and the department’s management under a wide range of future circumstances that could result from a comprehensive deficit reduction deal or the persistence of the cuts that began with this year’s sequester,” Carter said at the National Press Club on May 7.

“Everything will be on the table during this review: roles and missions, war planning, business practices, force structure, personnel and compensation, acquisition and modernization investments, and how we operate and how we measure and maintain readiness,” he said.

The review will produce “a clear delineation of the choices that we can make and might have to make” in areas such as force structure, investments, compensation, health care or even headquarters support,” Carter said.

Regardless of the budget situation, the Pentagon has already launched an effort to reduce headquarters staff sizes.

Hagel has targeted so-called overhead spending as a key area for cutting. Last week, a Government Accountability Office report found headquarters staffs at geographical combatant commands have increased by 50 percent to about 10,100 people. Mission and headquarters support costs at these commands is about $1.1 billion each year.

“If you’re really serious about the back office and you’re really serious about bringing down the force structure, you don’t need to terminate all the acquisition programs,” said Gordon Adams, an analyst with the Stimson Center who oversaw defense budgets during the Clinton administration.


Shadow Reviews Underway

As the SCMR wraps up, four Washington think tanks are conducting their own shadow reviews of areas to trim the Pentagon budget.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), CSIS, American Enterprise Institute and Center for New American Security are scheduled to present their findings at a May 29 event on Capitol Hill.

Each think tank will come up with recommendations for how they would modify the military strategies and procurement profiles if sequestration budget cuts stick over the decade, said Todd Harrison, an analyst with CSBA, which organized the project.

“You get four independent solutions from the four think tanks,” he said.

While the four organizations have different political leanings, one goal will be to show common areas cut throughout the exercise.

The SCMR is supposed to wrap up by May 31 and remains on schedule, a defense official said.


Exxon: No Plans Yet To Reopen Ruptured Pipeline, and No Answers Why

The company has yet to release results of a sophisticated test of the 65-year-old pipeline’s interior, conducted in February.

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News    

May 20, 2013


Almost two months after a ruptured pipeline sent at least 210,000 gallons of oil flowing through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark., the line’s owner—oil giant ExxonMobil—remains largely silent on the future of its failed pipeline.

Most of the visible oil has been removed from the neighborhood and the ruptured section of pipe has been replaced and reburied. Yet Exxon hasn’t asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for permission to restart the 850-mile Pegasus line, which runs across four states from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas.

A company spokesman said Exxon is simply being thorough and cautious.

“This pipeline will not be restarted until we are convinced it is safe to do so,” said Aaron Stryk. “We need to identify the cause of the incident and the mitigation steps necessary to prevent an incident like this from occurring again.”

Some industry analysts say there could also be other reasons for the delay. The 65-year-old Pegasus line could be riddled with defects and require extensive repairs. Or perhaps Exxon is considering other alternatives, including replacing the Pegasus with a larger line.

The Pegasus pipeline is one of the few pipelines currently supplying a heavy Canadian crude oil known as diluted bitumen, or dilbit, to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. But at 20 inches in diameter, it can carry only about 95,000 barrels or 3.9 million gallons per day. That’s roughly a tenth as much as the 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline would carry to the coast if it is approved. The Keystone also would carry dilbit.

In order to reopen the Pegasus pipeline, Exxon must comply with the corrective action order PHMSA issued two days after the March 29 spill. The order lists a dozen conditions the company must meet, including tests on the section of pipe that burst and a comprehensive safety evaluation of the entire pipeline.

On May 2, Exxon appealed four of these conditions, including PHMSA’s stipulation that it operate the line at a lower pressure when it is restarted. The appeal did not challenge PHMSA’s pipeline integrity requirements or mention the company’s plans for the line.

On May 10, PHMSA granted two of those requests but rejected the other two, including the request for a higher pressure if the line is restarted.

Peter Howard, president of the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a nonprofit energy and environmental research organization, said the lengthy shutdown is unusual.

After a 41-year-old pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. spilled more than a million gallons of dilbit into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, Enbridge filed for permission to restart the line 13 days later. That request was denied and the line was restarted almost two months after the accident, which was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and is still being cleaned up today.

Two years later, another Enbridge pipeline burst in Wisconsin, spewing 50,000 gallons of dilbit into a pasture. Enbridge got permission to restart that line eight days later.

Howard thinks Exxon’s caution may be part of the company’s business approach.

“To them, the most embarrassing thing would be to restart it and come across another leak,” he said. “I think you’ll find that in all cases, especially with older lines, they’ll take the opportunity to inspect them inside and out.”

Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Wash., said clues about why Exxon isn’t pushing harder to get the line reopened might be found in tests Exxon conducted on the line in February, two months before the rupture.

Exxon used a sophisticated monitoring device known as a pig to inspect the interior of the pipeline along the section that ruptured. The test is designed to detect cracks or flaws.

“The answers could be in those findings,” Weimer said. “Generally what you would expect to get out of that is whether the rupture was an anomaly that can be fixed or does the test show that the whole pipeline has similar problems that need to be addressed.”

Stryk, the Exxon spokesman, said data from the pigging is still being evaluated and that the results will be shared with PHMSA “in the coming months.”

Because the Pegasus is a small pipeline, the consequences of an extended shutdown aren’t too dramatic, said Martin Tallet, president of EnSys Energy, a business management consulting company that prepared a report on the Keystone XL’s impact on oil markets for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nevertheless, he said, the oil that normally would flow though the Pegasus pipeline isn’t getting to the refineries.

“That brings up the question of the flexibility for the refinery to find an alternative to the crude or absorb the loss,” Tallet said Stryk wouldn’t disclose the names of the companies that receive oil from the Pegasus or discuss the financial impacts of the line’s closure.

John Stoody, director of government and public relations for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, a Washington D.C.-based industry organization, said the closure of any oil pipeline has some kind of effect.

“Every pipeline, every amount of oil transported is accounted for in terms of meeting the energy needs of the country,” Stoody said. “So no matter the size of the pipeline delivering oil to the refineries, that oil is part of a pretty precise calculation designed to meet those energy needs.”

Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business in Dallas, said Exxon is financially stable enough that it doesn’t need to rush the Pegasus pipeline back into operation.

“They have the wherewithal to be able to step back and make informed decisions on how best to move forward,” Bullock said.

That includes everything from considering the possibility of replacing the pipeline to improving the existing line.

As part of that assessment, Bullock expects Exxon executives to evaluate the demand for Canadian tars oil on the Gulf Coast and consider how massive projects like TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge’s pipeline expansion plans might affect business on the Pegasus.

“I think there’s going to a lot of wait and see,” he said.

Exxon is a major oil sands producer as well as a pipeline operator. At its Cold Lake oil field in Alberta alone, Exxon extracts 123,000 barrels of bitumen a day from 4,000 wells using steam injection, according to the company’s 2012 Operating and Financial Review. At another of its Alberta sites, Exxon estimates 4 billion barrels of bitumen is available for extraction.


The March 29 spill in Arkansas forced the evacuation of 83 people from almost two dozen homes and raised health concerns for those exposed to fumes from the oil. Exxon is maintaining a high profile in the community, replacing damaged landscaping, cleaning pollution from a secluded section of a shoreline and making buy-out offers to affected property owners.


Exxon put the cost of the spill at $16.4 million in an April 26 PHMSA accident report.

The northern 648-mile section of the pipeline, which includes the portion that burst, is 65 years old and is buried an average of 24 inches below ground. An examination of the failed section showed a split 22 feet long and 2 inches wide that allowed the oil to spew out under high pressure. The southern section of the line is 59 years old.

Exxon has said it shut down the pipeline within 16 minutes of discovering a pressure drop on the line, but enough oil spilled over the next three hours to affect aquatic animals and wildlife; contaminate the soil, coat vegetation and taint surface water, according to the April 26 accident report.

The report said an estimated 5,000 barrels—210,000 gallons, or enough to fill about a third of an Olympic-sized swimming pool—of heavy crude oil poured from the ruptured pipeline. Of that, 2,000 barrels—84,000 gallons—had been cleaned up by April 26. The report also noted that 2,000 barrels of the oil had fouled drainage ditches and a cove south of Lake Conway, a popular recreation area renowned for its fishing and scenic setting.


Extreme global warming seen further away than previously thought

By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle

OSLO | Sun May 19, 2013 6:06pm EDT

(Reuters) – Extreme global warming is less likely in coming decades after a slowdown in the pace of temperature rises so far this century, an international team of scientists said on Sunday.

Warming is still on track, however, to breach a goal set by governments around the world of limiting the increase in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, unless tough action is taken to limit rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“The most extreme rates of warming simulated by the current generation of climate models over 50- to 100-year timescales are looking less likely,” the University of Oxford wrote about the findings in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The rate of global warming has slowed after strong rises in the 1980s and 1990s, even though all the 10 warmest years since reliable records began in the 1850s have been since 1998.

The slowdown has been a puzzle because emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have continued to rise, led by strong industrial growth in China.

Examining recent temperatures, the experts said that a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere above pre-industrial times – possible by mid-century on current trends – would push up temperatures by between 0.9 and 2.0 degrees Celsius (1.6 and 3.6F).

That is below estimates made by the U.N. panel of climate scientists in 2007, of a rise of between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius (1.8-5.4F) as the immediate response to a doubling of carbon concentrations, known as the transient climate response.



The U.N. panel also estimated that a doubling of carbon dioxide, after accounting for melting of ice and absorption by the oceans that it would cause over hundreds of years, would eventually lead to a temperature rise of between 2 and 4.5 C (3.6-8.1F).

Findings in the new study, by experts in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and Norway, broadly matched that range for the long-term response.

But for government policy makers “the transient response over the next 50-100 years is what matters,” lead author Alexander Otto of Oxford University said in a statement.

The oceans appear to be taking up more heat in recent years, masking a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that passed 400 parts per million this month for the first time in human history, up 40 percent from pre-industrial levels.

Professor Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich, one of the authors, said that the lower numbers for coming decades were welcome.

But “we are still looking at warming well over the two degree goal that countries have agreed upon if current emission trends continue,” he said.

Temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 Celsius (1.4F) since the Industrial Revolution and two degrees C is widely viewed as a threshold to dangerous changes such as more floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

“The oceans are sequestering heat more rapidly than expected over the last decade,” said Professor Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales in Australia, who was not involved in the study.

“By assuming that this behavior will continue, (the scientists) calculate that the climate will warm about 20 percent more slowly than previously expected, although over the long term it may be just as bad, since eventually the ocean will stop taking up heat.”

He said findings “need to be taken with a large grain of salt” because of uncertainties about the oceans.


F.A.A.’s Concerns Hold Up Use of Wildfire Drones

NY Times


Published: May 21, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — As wildfire season begins in Western landscapes that were covered in smoky haze for weeks at a time last summer, the federal government’s firefighters are exploring the use of small remote-controlled drones with infrared cameras that could map a fire’s size and speed, and identify hot spots, a particular danger.

With a maximum wingspan of about 52 inches, the drones would supplement and perhaps replace manned surveillance aircraft, potentially reducing the risk to both pilots and firefighters.

But the effort is being slowed by Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

The use of drones in open airspace is regulated by the F.A.A., and its safety requirements effectively preclude unmanned aerial systems, or U.A.S.’s, from operating out of sight of a ground-based pilot. If distance or the smoke of a wildfire obscures a drone from observers on the ground, a piloted aircraft must be sent aloft to keep an eye on it.

“In terms of federal regulations right now, we can’t use U.A.S.’s out there except on a very limited basis,” said Ron Hanks, the aviation safety and training officer at the federal Forest Service.

Rusty Warbis, the flight operations manager at the Bureau of Land Management, said the process of approving individual trial flights was “cumbersome,” though improving.

The evaluations by wildfire experts are part of larger questions on how to incorporate these aircraft, originally used for military purposes, into civilian missions. The drones could complicate the main mission of the F.A.A., ensuring the safety of the country’s airspace. And observers in Congress believe that inherent distrust of government and privacy concerns are also slowing the introduction of firefighting drones.

Their potential usefulness, particularly their ability to pinpoint hot spots and fly in thick smoke that would ground other aircraft, was shown in an Alaskan fire nearly four years ago.

The fire, which burned over 447,000 acres — roughly half the size of Rhode Island — northeast of Fairbanks, was generating so much smoke that no planes were permitted to fly overhead. But a drone belonging to the University of Alaska Fairbanks was launched and easily identified the extent of the blaze and its varying levels of heat.

“The smoke was so thick no one was flying — that’s why they came to us,” said Rosanne Bailey, a retired Air Force brigadier general who is the deputy director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the university. “We could fly and see the borders of the fire using infrared.”

Kent Slaughter, the acting manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, said it took four days to get the F.A.A.’s approval for that flight in 2009; the process is now down to about 24 hours.

But privacy concerns are slowing the integration of unmanned vehicles into the firefighters’ tool kit, said Senator Mark Begich, a freshman Democrat from Alaska. “Firefighting is a great example of how unmanned aircraft” are able “to determine the range of a fire, the intensity of a fire, without jeopardizing lives,” he said. “That’s a unique application, especially in my state, in Colorado, in California.”

He called the delays in getting approvals for testing the craft “frustrating.” The reason cited most often by firefighting experts is the requirement that the aircraft be followed and monitored by a chase plane if ground observers cannot see them through smoke, or because they are flying into canyons in steep and rugged terrain.

Les Dorr, an F.A.A. spokesman, said that safety in the air and on the ground is paramount and that the issue of line-of-sight requirements for drone use was being carefully studied.

The Army has lent the Interior Department 41 small drone aircraft that have been used for environmental monitoring, including tracking migratory wildfowl.

The Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, has also been studying drone use for years. Mr. Hanks, of the Bureau of Land Management, said one question was how much value drones would bring to existing firefighting methods.

“We are still developing policies internally, what the cost benefit would be,” he said. The drones, Mr. Hanks added, “would be competing against what we could do aerially against a helicopter or a light fixed-wing airplane.”

John Gould, the aviation chief at the B.L.M., who along with Mr. Hanks is based at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, had a similarly cautious perspective. “We’re trying to get them in the mix and put them out in the field to see the potential,” he said.


U.S. Power Companies Under Frequent Cyberattack

Legislation that would give the federal government power to oversee the protection of utilities has stalled

By Jeremy Kirk

Tue, May 21, 2013

IDG News Service — A survey of U.S. utilities shows many are facing frequent cyberattacks that could threaten a highly interdependent power grid supplying more than 300 million people, according to a congressional report.

More than a dozen utilities said cyberattacks were daily or constant, according to the survey, commissioned by U.S. Democratic Representatives Edward J. Markey and Henry A. Waxman. The 35-page report on the survey, called “Electric Grid Vulnerability,” was released on Tuesday.

The report is in response to widespread concerns that hackers could damage parts of the U.S. power grid, causing widespread outages and prolonged economic effects. Markey and Waxman are members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, which held a hearing on cyberthreats and security on Tuesday.

Power outages and quality disturbances cost the U.S. economy upwards of US$188 billion annually, with single outages costing as much as $10 billion, the report said. Replacing large transformers, for example, can take more than 20 months.

The 15-question survey was sent to more than 150 utilities owned by investors, municipalities, rural electric cooperatives and those that are part of federal government entities. About 112 responded to the survey, which was sent in January.

Many utilities were coy in their responses. None reported damage as a the result of cyberattacks, and many declined to answer the question of how many attempted attacks were detected, the report said

One utility said it recorded 10,000 cyberattacks per month, while another said it saw daily probes for vulnerabilities in its systems and applications. Cyberattacks are inexpensive to execute and hard to trace, the report said.

“It has been reported that actors based in China, Russia, and Iran have conducted cyber probes of U.S. grid systems, and that cyberattacks have been conducted against critical infrastructure in other countries,” the report said.

The U.S. Congress has not delegated oversight of utilities’ cybersecurity to a federal agency. An industry organization, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) publishes both mandatory and voluntary security standards, the report said.

In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the GRID Act, which would have given the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to protect the electricity grid. But the legislation did not pass the Senate, and the issue remains inactive in the House, the report said.


It’s More About “Wide Data” Than Big Data

By By Gavin Kaimowitz, Simon Lyon and Geoff Cole, Sapient Global Markets@wallstreettech


Financial services organizations know that they can handle vast amounts of data, since they have been doing it for decades. To succeed with big data initiatives, firms need to think of data’s breadth and reach across an organization.


May 21, 2013

Rather than thinking about the physical size of data, consider the importance of being able to relate different sets of data. For financial services firms, the complexity isn’t found in the need to store more data; it is in how best to link, arbitrate and cleanse all of the data required to support regulatory needs. So, it becomes less about how big the data is and more about its breadth and reach across the organization. The new challenge in the next few years will revolve around managing what could be called Wide Data.

Regulations Influencing the Wide Data Trend
In the next two years, regulations will be enforced across a variety of operational and technical areas. The following regulatory requirements highlight the need for investment into strategic data programs:

Data Retention, Search and Retrieval: The data retention business conduct rules as part of the Dodd-Frank Act require registered Swap Dealers (SDs) and Major Swap Participants (MSPs) to record, store and reconstitute all information related to a trade within 48 hours upon request from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). It is expected that firms will be able to provide complete audit information of a trade, related telephone conversations, analyst reports, sales and marketing documentation, emails, instant messages and any other pertinent information that aided in the investment decision — including all pre-trade activity (quotes, bids, offers, solicitations) relating to the inception of a deal.

Impact: Firms need a mechanism to correlate disparate transaction records with records of communications — either through automated or manual processes.

OTC Swap & Derivative Counterparty Identification: Global trade repository reporting requirements mandate using standard counterparty identifiers in order to provide regulators with the ability to aggregate and identify potential risk areas. In the absence of a global legal entity identifier (LEI) as proposed by the G20 Financial Stability Board (FSB), the CFTC has required the use of interim identifiers. In other regulatory regimes, the lack of a global standard may provide greater tolerance and allow the use of existing standard identifiers, like SWIFT BIC codes, as the best available and easiest options for firms to achieve compliance.

Impact: Firms need to make “best efforts” to clean counterparty reference data to support immediate regulatory requirements while maintaining flexibility to transition to a global standard in the near future.

Data Transparency: The Dodd-Frank Act will be followed by other global regulations that require the disclosure of unprecedented levels of detail for each and every derivative transaction. Public dissemination of trade execution data in near real-time will provide all market participants with indications of liquidity and levels of activity. Additionally, the reporting of full primary economic terms and valuations data will give regulators the ability to calculate risk and police markets with greater levels of scrutiny in attempts to mitigate systemic risk.

Impact: Firms must enhance trade capture from both a timeliness and completeness perspective and continually enrich data as it flows through to confirmation and settlement systems. This increases the reliance on data quality, especially as it pertains to counterparty information.

Data Lineage: Perhaps the most critical data element of trade repository reporting requirements is the use of a Unique Swap Identifier (USI) or Unique Transaction Identifier (UTI). The transaction identifier must be shared with the counterparty at or near the point of execution and is of critical importance for regulators seeking to understand “the story” of a derivative transaction over time. Additional requirements necessitate the linking of transactions by USI in order to indicate how risk may have been transferred through novations and other post-trade life cycle events. Impact: Booking processes and trade capture systems must evolve to support a range of new transaction identifiers with increased functionality to support transaction linkage and life cycle event traceability.

Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA): Enacted in 2010, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was introduced to combat tax evasion by US persons through the use of offshore vehicles. Passed as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act in 2012, the final regulations were published at the end of January 2013. FATCA requires Foreign Financial Institutions (FFIs) to identify US accounts and report certain information about those accounts to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) annually. Non-compliance results in 30% withholding tax on US clients of FFIs. A number of Inter-Governmental Agreements (IGA) have been signed with the IRS including a reciprocal agreement with the UK. IGAs may provide a slightly less onerous approach than full IRS registration.

Impact: Client data needs to be correlated and cleansed to ensure that the holistic view of a client can be analyzed to determine if the client is subject to the FATCA ruling.

Achieving Control through Data Governance
In 2012, the major investment focus within data management was around Legal Entity data. This was primarily due to the regulations concerning the reporting of OTC derivative trades and FATCA. In both of these situations, investment firms are required to provide a single consolidated view of their customers and to disclose their counterparty. While this might seem like a very simple exercise, the complexity of creating a single customer view is both technically and politically challenging.

Within multinational banks that run retail and Investment Banking (IB) divisions, the physical technology infrastructure is commonly split by region and business line. Data is commonly duplicated and is often inconsistent. This is not necessarily an IT infrastructure problem, but is likely the result of the manner in which a business operates or has grown (organically or with acquisitions).

In order to break down these barriers, more firms are changing their organizational structures by introducing a Chief Data Officer (CDO). The role of the CDO is to ensure that data is handled consistently throughout the organization — and with standard policies and measures.

Everything Relates

The Data Retention and Data Lineage regulations are causing widespread debates this year between IT organizations and the business as to how to implement solutions that balance the need to provide an immediate solution to regulatory requirements and to build a strategic solution that will sustain the business over the next ten years. The main issue seldom relates to technology, but rather to the ability to correlate data from disparate data sources and to intelligently manage the bi-temporal aspects of data. As a recent example, the Libor probe is forcing all firms who are being investigated to look through several years’ worth of information — resulting in a massive manual effort to correlate the findings.

All processes within financial institutions track different data points. These data points will all eventually relate to one another if all of the correlation data points are captured. However, it is not possible to know now what the required correlation data points will eventually be, as new data types are constantly being introduced.

So when firms begin to map out the ontology to represent WideData within financial services, the data facts can be seen to have the potential to map to a variety of different data types. This includes newer data types that aren’t typically linked, like the internet and unstructured data.

Next Generation Data

As the breadth of related data relationships increases and new types of datasets are made available, new correlations will be possible. The trend of new data in capital markets includes the recent mandated regulation to provide unique Legal Entity Identifiers (LEIs), Unique Transaction Identifiers (UTIs), Unique Product Identifiers (UPI)s and other similar identifiers. As new symbologies are implemented, more accurate correlations can be formed. These new correlation points yield a new dimension of possibilities.

Structured and Unstructured

Banks are typically also faced with the following two types of data that are required to be correlated and have data governance oversight throughout the record life cycle:

Structured: Data that is physically placed in a format that is easy to access through technology and where the relationships between the data are defined. Technologies that are used to manage structured data include relational databases, XML and other structured flat file formats.

Unstructured: Typically in the form of free text-based artifacts, such as documents (e.g., Investment Research, ISDA Master/CSA, Prospectuses, Legal Contracts), telephone conversations, email chains, logs, video, pictures and other similar items. For each of these types of data and based on the desired usage, there are appropriate technologies that can aid in the correlation of data. Regardless of the technology chosen, the ability to make correlations between these two data types is crucially important to meet regulatory demands. Historically, the management of data that is not stored in a traditional relational data store has been complicated. However, recent advances in technologies now allow for an array of products to provide scalable and reliable solutions. These products are typically implemented as an ontology, semantic and natural language processing (NLP) solution. This allows the data to remain close to the native format in which it is found and for these types of products to be used as an interpretation and rich data mining framework.

Competitive Advantage of Wide Data

The battle of Agincourt is renowned for the triumph of the 6,000 English over 36,000 French. With just one sixth the number of troops, the English won the battle because they had access to information that the French did not have. For example, the English knew that the ground was saturated with water and they would get stuck if they marched through it with their heavy armor. This historical event proved that it only takes one small piece of information to gain a significant competitive advantage.

In more recent times, Michael Burry proved that he was able to predict the systemic crash of the mortgage market and to pick the best Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) to hedge against. While the information he was using was freely available, his competitors were not paying attention to the correlation.

For centuries, information has been leveraged to yield an advantage. This still holds true today. In today’s economy, investment organizations are trying to gain an edge by knowing more than their competitors. Quants, for example, have been gaining a competitive advantage by seeking alpha based on highly confidential methodologies.

WideData offers a new way for firms to establish a competitive advantage and the market has already begun to take notice. This can be seen in the algorithmic trading industry with sentiment feeds, data providers offering supply chain information and data utilities providing transparency into loan-level characteristics. These new offerings are enabling firms to begin performing new types of analyses which can put them well ahead of the competition.

Planning for Constant Change

Regulations will continue to change, analytic requirements will evolve and business activities will advance to handle more complex products. The only way firms can prepare for this constant change is to strategically design and plan for a consistent way to manage Wide Data, enforce standard data governance techniques and ensure that the technical implementation of the data fabric in the organization is built intelligently to scale both wide and deep. After all, intelligence is more about synapses than neurons. If two organisms have the same number of neurons, the one with more synapses will always be more intelligent.

About The Authors:

Gavin Kaimowitz is a Director leading Sapient Global Markets’ Data Management Practice across the capital and commodity sectors in Europe. Gavin is responsible for the collation and generation of best practices, thought leadership and strategy. He has a proven track record in the reference and market data domain of solution design, business case definition, strategic roadmap design and in building data management products.


Simon Lyon has worked in investment banking for 25 years and has driven the standard for client document management and the rules for account opening, KYC and AML. Simon specializes in structured and unstructured data and developed a research aggregation platform with Smartlogic (ontology and NLP) and MarkLogic (search and XML database).

Geoff Cole is a Director within Sapient Global Markets’ Market Initiatives practice focusing on helping asset managers and investment banks shape operations and technology strategy, evolve product offerings, and respond to regulatory change. Geoff has recently supported several projects focused on developing strategies for implementing flexible enterprise data management solutions.

Cyber attacks could cause the next world war

Officials say a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” would devastate our infrastructure, potentially resulting in mass casualties


By Jeb Boone

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 12:33 PM EDT

Global Post


ATLANTA, Georgia — It’s a new breed of warfare, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

It can threaten a nation’s core security, cause mass casualties and weaken the economy, according to the Government Accountability Office, the US Congress’ research arm.

Assailants “could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals. … They could contaminate the water supply in major cities,” then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last October. Foes could take down electric or water systems, fomenting public panic, reaping high death tolls and causing high physical and economic costs.

It might not even be immediately clear who was behind the attack, or where it was coming from. This devastating power could be wielded with comparatively few operatives, or without the support of a national government. And the massive kinetic strength of the US military would be essentially helpless in thwarting it.

For more than two decades, internet-based attacks have been relatively infrequent and mostly low level. Now, many experts caution that the specter of cataclysmic cyber war is upon us.

Not everyone agrees with the perilous scenarios; prominent dissenters contend that governments are peddling a trumped-up digital disaster threat to justify privacy intrusions.

But US officials use phrases like “cyber-Pearl Harbor” to describe the threat hackers pose to the critical infrastructure — electricity, water, trains, oil and gas pipelines — and the information networks that run the economy.

World governments have begun taking the threat of cyber war seriously. New specialized military units like the US Cyber Command, South Korea’s Cyber Warfare Command and NATO’s Computer Incident Response Capability have all begun preparing cyber soldiers.

Responding to the founding of US Cyber Command, China established the now infamous division of the People’s Liberation Army dedicated to “defense” against cyber threats.


Cyber war 101

One factor that sets cyber assault apart from other forms of warfare is the relative ease in launching it. Inducing a catastrophic infrastructure failure may only demand one small change in a line of code.

“We don’t even know if you have to have really good network intelligence, be sustainable in your attacks or have persistent access,” said Timothy Junio, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

In a nightmare scenario cited by US President Barack Obama, trains carrying hazardous chemicals could derail, contaminating water supplies. Obama last year wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal cautioning, “The lack of clean water or functioning hospitals could spark a public health emergency. And as we’ve seen in past blackouts, the loss of electricity can bring businesses, cities and entire regions to a standstill.”

Despite the magnitude of the threat, experts contend that the US is woefully under-protected.

They say computer systems that manage critical infrastructure are plagued by security vulnerabilities that would shock anyone with a rudimentary understanding of how to secure a personal computer, let alone a power grid.

A surprising number of systems use passwords hardcoded by the manufacturer — available to hackers via Google search. Other systems use unchanged default username and passwords like “admin/admin.”

If passwords aren’t publicly available, other glaring vulnerabilities often remain, such as systems “connected to the internet that shouldn’t be; people using a workstation that handles physical control at a plant to access their [email],” said Junio.

Users casually browsing the internet on infrastructure workstations need only download a malicious email attachment or click a single malicious link to compromise the security of an entire infrastructural system.

“All technical experts agree that critical infrastructure in the US is highly vulnerable,” said Junio. “I can’t think of any technical study where someone has done penetration testing against a critical infrastructure site and came back saying ‘yes this is fine.'”

Part of the reason why systems are so vulnerable is because they were created before widespread use of the internet, and were never designed to be secure in the first place.

“You’re taking a system that wasn’t meant to be available and now you’re making it available, everywhere,” said Kevin Albano, a manager of security firm Mandiant’s Threat Intelligence division.

Given that infrastructure systems are remarkably unguarded, the other major hurdle for cyber warriors to surmount is finding the right networks.

There are plenty of readily available tools that can help.

One of the most effective is called SHODAN. It’s available to anyone with web access. SHODAN is used by information security experts to assess whether networks are secure. Consequently, penetration testing tools can be used by hackers in security breaches.

“SHODAN is a search engine for machines connected to the internet. It could be anything from a webcam to a photocopier. It scours the internet looking for IP addresses associated with machines,” Junio said. “SHODAN enables hackers to look for targets worldwide, in an automated way, and it’s perfectly legal.”

Junio noted that during a trip to Taiwan, he discovered that more than 6,000 Taiwanese infrastructure control systems were found in SHODAN — without the government knowing this was a security problem.

In addition to SHODAN, one of the simplest, most common methods used by hackers to gain access to critical infrastructure is a spear phishing attack.

Spear phishing is often successful because it needs to fool only one employee to grant hackers access to an entire system. It works like this: Posing as a colleague, hackers send emails to employees of a utility, asking them to log in to a linked site, using their company username and password. When the unwitting employee logs in, the hacker harvests their password.

Because most people use only one or two passwords for all of their online or company accounts, a single password could give the hacker a way into a system controlling the utility.

Spear phishing attacks are incredibly difficult to defend against because they exploit the likelihood that at least one employee will be fooled.


Once inside, a small change in a system can potentially cause cascading failures, just as a bird can disrupt electricity for thousands by flying into a transformer.

That’s because infrastructure systems “are extremely intertwined,” said Robert Bea, risk assessment expert and professor at the University of California at Berkley. “Should one piece of a system fail, you end up with these cascades, sort of like a game of dominos.”

“It doesn’t take anything horribly catastrophic to initiate an infrastructure disaster. Using cyber attack methods, individuals with malicious intent could determine the most efficient way to trigger multiple infrastructure failures,” Bea added.


What would a cascading failure brought on by a cyber attack look like?

According to Bea, it would be very similar to those brought on by natural disasters. To estimate the damage that could be inflicted by a cyber attack triggering a cascading failure, look no further than New Orleans.

“The best reference for me will be Hurricane Katrina and the flood protection system for the Greater New Orleans Area … Katrina caused a cascade of infrastructure failures that affected the city for months, years. Some are still not working properly,” Bea said.

The catastrophic failure of the New Orleans flood levee led to the deaths of more than 1,500 people, in addition to untold billions in economic and environmental damage.

If the catastrophic failure had stemmed from a cyber attack on the systems that controlled the flood levees, the aftermath in New Orleans may have been similar to the failure caused by the hurricane.

While cyber security vulnerabilities in infrastructure systems may only be one problem among many concerning aging infrastructure — the power to unleash another Katrina may rest with hackers, state sponsored or independent, wielding powerful pieces of malware.

That might sound abstract, at least until a major assault occurs. But in 2012, US computers were the target of nearly 9 million malware attacks. And more recently, an attack in South Korea took banks down for days.

will always be more intelligent.

North Korea: How the least-wired country became a hacking superpower

North Korea’s cyber-war strength says a lot about the future of global hostilities.

Geoffrey Cain

May 22, 2013 06:01


SEOUL, South Korea — This year, North Korea has been flaunting its nuclear hardware in an effort to extort concessions from the United States and South Korea.

But the tactic has failed to provoke panic for one key reason: Officials doubt that Pyongyang would be stupid enough to start a nuclear war.

While nukes are better seen than used, and thus of limited blackmail value, dictator Kim Jong Un possesses a quieter weapon that’s more readily unleashed — and has already become a serious nuisance: cyber war.

Experts say Pyongyang typically deploys it about once a year, although it’s not always clear that North Korea is behind the attacks.

The most recent offensive hit Seoul in April 2013. The strike disabled anti-virus software, brought down ATMs across the country and froze online banking systems for days. About 30,000 computers had their hard drives wiped and went dead.

“Hackers activated a “botnet” of 50,000 hijacked zombie computers.”

In an Austin Powers-style twist, the malicious software displayed pixilated skulls on the monitors of infected machines.

After initially saying the strike originated in China, officials tracked it to a specific Pyongyang neighborhood. A month before the assault erupted, they said, hackers had quietly planted a simple but devastating software program on computers at three South Korean television broadcasters and three banks. Authorities identified the code as a hard-drive wiper called “DarkSeoul,” first identified a year ago.

Although this type of virus is relatively simple and has been around since the early 1980s, experts acknowledged that its impact was devastating. A computer security expert from Cisco, Seth Hanford, wrote that the “highly targeted” attack led to significant downtime and a “severe” loss of data.

On April 12, North Korea denied it was the culprit, but the South has maintained the accusation.

Although North Korea is among the poorest and most isolated countries, it is surprisingly adept at hacking — a testament to how dangerously accessible cyber warfare is to anyone that wants to pursue it.

Training a cyber brigade, it turns out, does not demand high levels of tech sophistication, and is a handy way to pester a far stronger foe.

A convenient arsenal

On the Korean battlefield — which remains manned 60 years after the end of the shooting war that divided the Koreas — the North is indisputably outgunned and outmaneuvered. That fact has led Pyongyang to adopt a modified guerrilla warfare strategy. As the Pentagon described it in a May report to Congress: “North Korea uses small-scale attacks to gain psychological advantage in diplomacy and win limited political and economic concessions.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Pyongyang sent agents on risky operations to sabotage South Korean targets and hijack one South Korean civilian airliner. In November 2010, the north launched an artillery barrage at an island near the DMZ, and sunk a South Korean naval corvette in March 2010, leaving 46 South Korean sailors dead.

Strikes like these, however, can provoke dangerous retaliation. In contrast, cyber warfare supports the nation’s military strategy, and carries less risk.

A digital offensive requires a “very low developmental cost and can bring catastrophic results,” said Hyeong-wook Boo, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a think tank in Seoul. “The North Korean espionage team sees cyberspace as a very favorable place for its activities.”

The threat has been looming since the late 1990s, when North Korea unleashed its first basic denial of service (DDoS) attacks on its neighbor. Since then, the computer plots have become somewhat more sophisticated, targeting South Korean banks and businesses with malware and throwing the occasional wrench in the markets.

According to the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s spy agency, the north was probably behind six cyber attacks from 2008 to 2012. Two of the largest came in 2009 and 2011, when Seoul accused the North of sneaking malware into its biggest banks and attacking government websites.

In the first of these, the US was also a key target.

Starting on July 4, 2009, hackers activated a “botnet” of 50,000 hijacked zombie computers to coordinate three waves of assaults targeting the public websites of the Pentagon and White House. The denial of service attacks also disrupted the websites of the South Korean intelligence agency and a major South Korean newspaper, but did not bring them down completely.

Two years later, Seoul accused North Korea of unleashing a far stronger salvo of denial-of-service attacks on government and banking cyber-networks. The South Korean government said that North Korean hackers had gained control of the laptop of an IBM employee, who was a cyber security contractor for the large Korean bank, Nonghyup. (IBM did not respond to calls seeking comment.)

The sleuths managed to access the company’s entire banking system. The attack was contained by government-backed antivirus programs, but authorities admitted they were worried by the magnitude of the onslaught.

The March, 2011 attack turned out to be the most devastating so far. The episode, if committed by the North Korean military, demonstrated that while North Korea still hasn’t reached an incredible sophistication in its hacking brigade, it still has the potential to wreak havoc with a well-placed and well-timed assault.

“They targeted the spots they’ve always wanted to target,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “It is highly likely that this was committed by North Korea. They hit the banks, because they’ve always want to inflict damage on the South Korean economy. Their reason for attacking the media was to show contempt for them as mouthpieces.”


Remarkably, Pyongyang has emerged as a major force in digital war despite being a cyber exile.

According to World Bank statistics, internet use in North Korea is the lowest in the world, at 0 percent of the population. Rounding error renders that figure slightly misleading: The regime does in fact dole out global internet access to trusted cadres. Experts estimate that the number of users is in the hundreds.

Owning a private computer is banned, but the regime has distributed about 4 million computers to its 24.4 million citizens, who are allowed to access a handful of closed-off intranets closely vetted by the government, using its own operating system, called “Red Star.”

There’s only one internet café, in Pyongyang.

How North Korea conjures a skilled cyber brigade from its decidedly unwired ranks is impossible to know for certain, but experts have pieced together a picture based on reports from refugees and on the methods used to infiltrate southern computer systems.

The North Korean military runs a cyber warfare command officially known as “Unit 121,” reporting to the all-powerful General Bureau of Reconnaissance, alleges the North Korea Intellectuals’ Solidarity, a group of professors and intelligentsia who have escaped to the South.

The reconnaissance body is the north’s top spy agency, thought to have masterminded a line-up of conventional and cyber strikes on the south. Its chief, General Kim Yong-chol, is believed to have devised the sinking of a South Korean corvette.

The size of the cyber brigade and the nature of their work remain a matter of debate. Kim Heung Gwang, a former computer science professor in Pyongyang and head of the defectors’ group, told GlobalPost that Unit 121 consists of two otherwise-nondescript buildings in a suburb of Pyongyang. Other defectors have said the North Korean military harbors between 500 and 3,000 battle-hardened techies in the unit.

The regime takes notice of children who show mathematical talent, and gives them rigorous training at elite elementary and middle schools, defectors say. The brainy sprats later make their way to elite North Korean universities – such as Kim Il Sung and Kim Chaek University of Technology — from which they are formally recruited into elite cyber circles.

Not all of the computer students go on to the military. Many prodigies end up serving their country in less sinister ways. Some eventually join a handful of semi-public firms, such as one German-started foreign company, Nosotek, which programs mobile phone applications, earning excellent wages by North Korean standards.

But a lot of them prefer crafting viruses, hoping that it will land them lucrative jobs among the power elite, reports the North Korean news blog New Voices International, a website that interviews defectors.

At least one hacker has defected to the south by way of Southeast Asia in late March 2013, according to the South Korean government. (GlobalPost’s efforts to contact the hacker through two defector organizations were unsuccessful.)

Most refugees are poor, or come from backgrounds that are politically disfavored in the far north, where a nationwide caste system, known as songbun, prevails. The hackers, on the other hand, live well, in communal homes that are luxurious by North Korean standards, according to the Intellectuals’ Solidarity. Because they live comfortably they have less reason to flee.

But others contend the North Korean cyber threat is actually a paper tiger. Joo Seong-ha, a North Korean refugee and journalist, wrote in the conservative newspaper, Dong-a Ilbo, that the country is home to 10 teams of five or fewer cyber-warriors each. He also said that, according to his own interview with a hacker who defected, aging conservative leaders hardly offer them support because they don’t grasp the concept of cyber-warfare.

The source claimed that the regime sends 10 computer engineers each year to study in India, a coveted destination for training. While many see North Korea as an isolated state, it is common for the government, and organizations affiliated with top leaders, to send citizens overseas for all sorts of goodwill exchanges and even art projects. 

Seoul’s cyber defense

For years, experts have urged the South Korean government and private companies to step up the protection of their IT systems.

By some measures, South Korea tops Asian countries in prevalence of computer viruses and malware. In April 2013, Microsoft reported that South Korea had the highest number of computers reporting the detection and removal of malware using its antivirus software.

To hold off incursions from the North, Seoul recently announced it was improving security at its 23 nuclear power plants by separating their networks from the internet — a key step in preventing such a utility from being brought down by hackers.

The US and South Korea have also announced a new cyber-defense counterstrategy, but have refrained from disclosing the details. “The US and South Korean militaries will cooperate to develop diverse deterrence scenarios against hacking attacks and increase anti-cyber warfare forces to over 1,000 to better deal with emerging threats from countries like North Korea,” a defense ministry spokesman told IDG News Service in Seoul.


New Global Navy Challenges U.S. Dominance on the Seas


By Steve LeVine

May 17, 2013


Offshore from Syria, Russia’s navy is conducting probably its largest naval deployment outside its own waters since the Soviet breakup. The Chinese navy is in another potential confrontation today with Japan in the East China Sea, and raising questions about where it is headed next.

But the BRIC nations as a whole—a force in the global economic conversation since the acronym was coined by Goldman Sachs to refer to the high-growth economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China—are becoming an increasing naval presence on the high seas. One reason is simple nature—when nations become wealthier, they tend to build up their fighting capabilities. But another is natural resources—all four nations either want to buy or sell oil and natural gas, and they are venturing further and further to do so.

A paradox is that while the shift challenges US primacy on the high seas, the US itself—because of its oil and gas boom—is driving part of the BRIC naval expansion.

Because it is providing for more and more of its own energy requirements, the US is importing much less African and Middle East crude, and the chief new buyers replacing it are BRIC nations—the US is about to be displaced by India as the largest buyer of Nigerian crude oil, for example. “It is only a matter of time before we see Indian ships in the South Atlantic [to patrol the coast of West Africa],” Brahma Chellaney, of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, told the Financial Times.


DISA Cancels $45 Million Award to Store Exabytes of Drone and Satellite Images


By Bob Brewin

May 21, 2013


The Defense Information Systems Agency has abruptly canceled a $45 million sole source contract awarded in April to Alliance Technology Group to store of hundreds of billions of satellite and drone imagery files, each packing terabytes of data.

DISA said in documents posted Monday that after it announced its decision on April 4 to award the Large Data Object Storage contract to Alliance, a small, disadvantaged business located in Hanover, Md., other vendors responded and based upon capability statements and responses received, it planned to “to pursue competitive means through the National Security Agency Acquisition Resource Center to satisfy the requirement.”

DISA said previously it would use the commercial cloud provided by Alliance to store imagery from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, platforms, including from drones and satellites that transmit, among other things, full motion video files that contain megabytes or more of data, depending on the length of the transmission.


Alliance partners with Hewlett-Packard and IO Data LLC to provide cloud storage services for petabytes of data. Competitors include EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass.; Caringo Inc of Austin, Texas; DataDirect, Chatsworth, Calif.; and San Francisco start-up Scality.

DISA expects that eventually the ISR cloud will exceed an exabyte, or one million terabytes, within the next few years and “may grow to 3-4 exabytes in the out years,” but the agency did not specify how many years.


Massive Catalog of Streaming Government Data Coming Thursday


By Joseph Marks

May 22, 2013


Government data officials have nearly completed an exhaustive list of nearly 300 application programming interfaces that will allow outsiders to stream up-to-date information from government agencies straight to their computers, websites and mobile apps.

The final version of the federal API catalog will be released Thursday on the government dataset trove to mark the one-year anniversary of the White House’s federal digital strategy, the site’s administrator Jeanne Holm told Nextgov by email Wednesday.


A nearly complete version of the API catalog includes hyperlinks to about 280 government APIs, listed individually and broken down by federal department and agency. Holm called the current site a “transparent work in progress.” Officials will continue to add more APIs to the list after Thursday as agencies launch them, she said.

An API is essentially computer code that allows one machine to automatically gather updated information from another. A community organization could use the API for a national farmers’ market database recently launched by the Agriculture Department, for instance, to stream information about local farmers’ markets on its website.

APIs were a key component of the digital strategy, which required agencies to have at least two of them up and running by the strategy’s one-year anniversary. (The official deadline arguably won’t come for several months because it was also tied to the six-month anniversary of a government open data policy, due in November 2012, that wasn’t published until earlier this month).

A major goal for the API program is that private sector and non-profit developers will build mobile apps and other products off of streaming government data about home prices, health outcomes and other topics, either to serve the public, to turn a profit or both. One model for the initiative is the multi-billion industry built off government-gathered Global Positioning System data, which is used by industries ranging from airlines to mobile app developers.

As of Wednesday, the API list included the makings of at least two APIs for every Cabinet-level agency and more than a dozen from some agencies such as the Interior Department. Some of the links led to works in progress, though, rather than completed APIs. Several led to static spreadsheets, for instance, and lacked the key API ingredient — detailed instructions for how to write a script that will continuously pull new information from a particular data source.


Air Force Museum to get fourth building

Published : Wednesday, 22 May 2013, 5:09 PM EDT

Alexandra Newman


DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Officials at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday the museum is getting a new fourth building.

The building will include aircraft from the Research and Development Gallery, along with a new Presidential Gallery, an expanded Space Gallery and select global reach planes. The addition of many of the R&D aircraft will allow visitors to see the popular XB-70, X-1B and the “flying saucer-like” Avroar, among others.

Previously, museum visitors without military base access were required to ride a shuttle bus to the Presidential and R&D Galleries, which are currently located on a controlled-access portion of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. That part of the base was closed on May 1 until further notice as part of budget reduction requirements due to sequestration.

The new fourth building plans will provide the museum with more educational outreach opportunities and be a great convenience for the public. Construction on it will begin in 2014 and it will open to the public in 2015. The Air Force Museum Foundation continues to fundraise for the fourth building, with $38 million secured in cash and pledges to meet their $46 million goal.

Museum officials say that the fourth building will help tell the Air Force story with the addition of many rare, one-of-a-kind aircraft.



Will Vertical Turbines Make More of the Wind?

A Caltech researcher thinks arrays of tiny wind turbines could produce cheaper power than big ones.

From MIT Technology Review

By Kevin Bullis on April 8, 2013


Why It Matters

Though competitive in some cases, wind power needs to get cheaper still to displace large amounts of fossil fuels.

The remote Alaskan village of Igiugig—home to about 50 people—will be the first to demonstrate a new approach to wind power that could boost power output and, its inventors say, just might make it more affordable.

For decades, the trend across the wind industry has been to make wind turbines larger and larger—because it has improved efficiency and helped lower costs.

John Dabiri, a professor of aeronautical and bioengineering at Caltech, has a heretical idea. He thinks the way to lower the cost of wind power is to use small vertical-axis wind turbines, while using computer models to optimize their arrangement in a wind farm so that each turbine boosts the power output of its neighbors.

Dabiri has demonstrated the basic idea at a 24-turbine test plot in southern California. Grants totaling $6 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense will allow him to see if the approach can lower wind power costs in Igiugig. The first 10 turbines will be installed this year, and the goal is to eventually install 50 to 70 turbines, which would produce roughly as much power as the diesel generators the village uses now. Dabiri is also installing turbines at an existing wind farm in Palm Springs, California, using his models to generate power by putting up new turbines between existing ones.

Ordinarily, as wind passes around and through a wind turbine, it produces turbulence that buffets downstream turbines, reducing their power output and increasing wear and tear. Dabiri says that vertical-axis turbines produce a wake that can be beneficial to other turbines, if they’re positioned correctly.

The blades of this type of wind turbine are arranged vertically—like poles on a carousel rather than spokes on a wheel, as with conventional wind turbines. Wind moving around the vertical-axis turbines speeds up, and the vertical arrangement of the blades on downstream wind turbines allows them to effectively catch that wind, speed up, and generate more power. (The spinning blades of a conventional wind turbine would only catch some of this faster wind as they pass through it—this actually hurts the turbine’s performance because it increases stress on the blades.) The arrangement makes it possible to pack more turbines onto a piece of land.

Dabiri’s wind turbines are 10 meters tall and generate three to five kilowatts, unlike the 100-meter-tall, multi-megawatt machines in conventional wind farms. He says the smaller ones are easier to manufacture and could cost less than conventional ones if produced on a large scale. He also says maintenance costs could be less because the generator sits on the ground, rather than at the top of a 100-meter tower, and thus is easier to access. The performance of the wind farm at Igiugig will help determine whether his estimates of maintenance costs are correct.

Dabiri says small, vertical wind turbines have other advantages. While the noise of conventional wind turbines has led some communities to campaign to tear them down, his turbines are “almost inaudible,” he says. They’re also less likely to kill birds. And their short profile has attracted a $1 million grant from the Department of Defense to study their use on military bases. Because they’re shorter, they interfere less with helicopter operations and with radar than conventional wind turbines.

The approach, however, faces some challenges. Vertical-axis wind turbines aren’t as efficient as conventional ones—half of the time the blades are actually moving against the wind, rather than generating the lift needed spin a generator. As the blades alternatively catch the wind and then move against it, they create wear and tear on the structure, says Fort Felker, director of the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dabiri, and researchers such as Alexander Smits at Princeton University, say they are working on improved turbine designs to address some of these issues.

Felker notes that Dabiri’s approach will also require installing a thousand times more wind turbines, requiring potentially millions of wind turbines rather than thousands to generate significant fractions of U.S. power supply. And he notes that, over the last several decades, the wind industry has demonstrated that making ever larger wind turbines lowers costs (“Novel Designs are Taking Wind Power to the Next Level,” “Supersized Wind Turbines Head Out to Sea,” and “The Quest for the Monster Wind Turbine Blade.” “Going in the other direction, I believe, will not be successful,” he says. “I don’t think the math works out.”

Felker thinks that Dabiri’s approach might prove fitting for small, isolated places like Igiugig, where simpler construction and maintenance might be important. “But if you’re trying to transform the overall energy economy,” he says, “you’ve got to go big.”



New Mexico drone testing center could soon face competition

Dan Mayfield Reporter- Albuquerque Business Journal

May 22 , 2013


New Mexico could lose its lead on unmanned aerial vehicle development when the Federal Aviation Administration lays out a new set of rules that allow more airfields to test UAVs, a state leader in the industry said.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center, an airfield run by New Mexico State University and the FAA, is the only FAA-approved UAS, or drone, flight test center in the nation. The center logs data from about two flights daily of commercial drones, which weigh anywhere from 15 ounces to 600 pounds.

But last year the FAA said it will authorize six more sites for drone testing.

“As soon as the FAA opens the door, there will be an explosion,” said Dennis “Zak” Zaklan, the director of the UAS FTC. “At this point, nobody knows. It depends on the FAA. It creates competition.”

There are six sites under consideration for drone testing across the country, from South Dakota to Florida and Hawaii.

“Unmanned aircraft can help us meet a number of challenges, from spotting wildfires to assessing natural disasters,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a press release about the sites. “But these test sites will help us ensure that our high safety standards are maintained as the use of these aircraft becomes more widespread.”

The UAS FTC can fly unmanned vehicles in a 15,000-square-mile airspace from the border north to Socorro, and west to Lordsburg, from Las Cruces.

“Nobody will have the airspace like we have,” Zaklan said.

The FAA rules have not been released yet, and the administration’s goal is to designate the six new sites by 2015.

The UAS FTC has garnered attention, including from Fortune magazine, which named New Mexico as one of the nine places where the drone industry is expected to grow.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department also touts the site in its marketing materials.

So far, Zaklan said, the site has tested drones for several entities, including AAI, Aerovironment, Aurora Flight Sciences, the Department of Defense and NMSU’s own Aerostar drones.

The center has five full-time employees and seven part-time employees, who have flown more than 400 missions for the FAA.

“The civil uses [for UAVs] are growing tremendously,” Zaklan said.

But, he added, “There’s a lot of manufacturers sitting on the fence waiting on the FAA.”



9 states poised to dominate the drone economy

These areas are likely to reap the benefits of the boom in unmanned aircraft.

By Clay Dillow @FortuneMagazine – Last updated May 13 2013 03:27 PM ET


The West Coast

More specifically, California and Washington State. The AUVSI report lists them as the No.1 and No. 2 states to benefit from job creation and increased economic activity resulting from the UAS industry, which should come as no surprise considering that the duo are also the top two states for the larger aerospace industry. Though headquartered in Chicago, Boeing’s (BA, Fortune 500) major manufacturing operation is based in Washington along with subsidiary Insitu, which specializes in unmanned aircraft. It’s also home to Pacific Northwest National Lab, a federally funded lab under the Department of Energy whose partial mission is to develop counterterrorism technologies through enhanced information gathering and information analysis — activities for which UAS are well-suited. A consortium including PNNL is currently lobbying the FAA to place a test site in central Washington, which would solidify its place as a UAS industry center of gravity.


But the beating heart of the UAS industry on the West Coast and in the nation at large is further down coast in California, where powerhouse defense research labs belonging to the likes of Northrop Grumman (NOC, Fortune 500) and Lockheed Martin (LMT, Fortune 500) are scattered among storied military flight-test facilities like those at Edwards Air Force Base. Where defense is concerned, California already has the U.S. drone industry cornered. General Atomics’ Predator and Reaper drones, now famous/infamous for their roles in the CIA’s targeted strike programs in places like Yemen and Pakistan, roll off the assembly line in California, and small UAS maker Aerovironment — based in Monrovia, Calif. — supplies the Department of Defense with the vast majority of its unmanned aerial systems, mostly small surveillance drones like the man-portable Raven UAS that infantry can carry in a backpack and launch by tossing into the air like a football (pictured above). California is also aggressively pursuing an FAA test site designation, and with its gentle climate and varied geography (including plenty of maritime environment) it seems a strong candidate to receive it. The state is the center of the UAS industry as it stands right now, and that’s unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.



Texas is also riding high on AUVSI’s state-by-state UAS industry rankings at No. 3. That’s largely because, like California, Washington, and Florida, its existing aerospace and defense industries are strong — Lockheed Martin has a large presence there, as does Bell Helicopter, General Dynamics (GD, Fortune 500), Boeing, Raytheon (RTN, Fortune 500), Rockwell Collins (COL, Fortune 500), and many others. The state of its engineering education and workforce is likewise strong, with universities like Texas A&M taking an active interest in UAS development and traditional aerospace anchors like Johnson Space Center drawing the right kind of educated workforce to the state.

However, civilian skies are not poised to be filled with militarized MQ-9 Reaper drones — rather, small UAS (under 55 pounds) will drive the coming drone industry boom, and Texas has its fair share of small UAS makers emerging as well. Despite its name, Conroe’s Vanguard Defense Industries also makes small unmanned helicopters suited for non-military applications like facility security, surveying and cartography, infrastructure inspection, and other domestic/civilian uses. Likewise, Austin’s DJI Inc. produces small UAS suitable for similar aerial photography roles as well as onboard autopilot modules and other flight components for small UAS.


But that’s still not the most notable thing about Texas. On top of its generally business-friendly climate, deep aerospace roots, and a varied geography and climate (for flight test purposes), Texas as a state is fairly friendly to drones. Sure, there are a couple of voices in Austin calling for UAS restrictions arising from privacy concerns, but Texas has been quite progressive where public safety UAS are concerned. A Houston-area Sheriff’s department has operated an unmanned helicopter for more than a year (though it recently ran into a bit of trouble with the FAA), and Arlington police have secured certification from the FAA to operate two unmanned helicopters during police operations there. That may not sound like much, but in terms of drone adoption it’s pioneering. While some states — Idaho and Virginia come to mind — are already passing laws to restrict drone usage before they are even being used, from a policy standpoint Texas is thus far keeping a very open mind. Ultimately that’s going to be very important to companies looking for states in which to set up shop.


Ohio & Indiana

California, Washington, Texas, and Florida might seem like safe bets for states that stand to prosper from an aerospace-related boom, and they are, for various reasons. They’re the top-ranking states in the AUVSI analysis (followed by Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania). But as mentioned previously, there are still plenty of variables that could shift the national composition of UAS-related jobs, revenues, federal and state investment, and overall economic impacts. And if you’re not at the top of the pack where existing aerospace infrastructure is concerned, you can always up your drone economy cred by joining up with the state next door.

That’s exactly what Ohio and Indiana have done. Long economically linked by their shared Rust Belt heritages, Ohio and Indiana have combined their bids for an FAA test site. And there’s no reason to think this dark horse candidate might not win it. Both are middle-tier aerospace states by most metrics, but together they make a more attractive package. The test site would likely be just outside of Dayton, Ohio, near Wright-Patterson Air Force base, a hub for UAS sensor payload research and development and home to Air Force Research Laboratory, which is exactly what it sounds like. Given that America’s armed forces are now training more drone pilots than human fighter pilots, one can easily surmise what kind of research is going on there.

Moreover, if California and Florida are attractive for their year-round mild weather, Ohio and Indiana are attractive for the opposite reason: The weather there can be pretty rough. UAS need to be able to operate reliably in all weather conditions, and an Ohio/Indiana test site could subject them to all four seasons, including that brutal Great Lakes winter sleet/snow/wind/slush that challenges any aircraft, manned or unmanned. This partnership has a solid shot at winning an FAA test site designation, and if it does it could pull a lot of research and development resources into its orbit.



Florida possesses a lot of the same advantages as California — a robust existing aerospace and military presence, a vast maritime environment for UAS testing, easygoing year-round weather for flight testing. But there’s another reason to like Florida: Education. Between NASA’s Space Coast and a sizeable military aerospace presence, Florida is already home to a workforce of highly-skilled aerospace personnel — many of whom are currently looking for something new to occupy them as the Space Shuttle program has wound down — and it’s generating more all the time. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach is one of the few American universities offering a specialized program in UAS design and operations — something UAS designers and manufacturers desperately need as their industry grows (UAS engineering is more like a blend of the traditional disciplines of aeronautical, electrical, and software engineering, plus a minor in robotics). AUVSI lists Florida as No. 4 in its ranking of states poised to benefit from the integration of UAS into the national airspace, but with such a solid aerospace engineering foundation, it wouldn’t be surprising if it were to challenge Texas for its number three slot.


New Mexico

New Mexico is an interesting case because of its overall averageness, save a few key aspects. In the larger national aerospace picture, New Mexico sits right in the middle of the pack (a 2012 Deloitte evaluation of the U.S. aerospace and defense industry by state ranked New Mexico 29th in aerospace/defense employment, 25th in average wages in the sector, and 34th in total revenues derived from the industry). But with the FAA still evaluating bids for its six UAS-dedicated test sites, New Mexico’s Physical Science Laboratory (administered by New Mexico State University) is home to the only FAA-approved UAS test facility in the U.S. — the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center — where companies from out of state like Aerovironment (AVAV), Boeing, and AAI Corporation have for years trucked their UAS for flight tests. With an operational framework and solid reputation already in place, the Flight Test Center is years ahead of any new test facility that might be designated in the coming months.

Moreover, the U.S. government — particularly its defense infrastructure — has already deemed New Mexico an important state for technology development and has cultivated an educated native workforce there. New Mexico is home to massive test ranges at White Sands (both for military missiles and NASA’s space rockets), Spaceport America, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratories (a government-owned research center operated by Lockheed Martin), and Los Alamos National Laboratory. As a state, it doesn’t have to worry about importing engineering talent or where the FAA chooses to place its new test facilities. It also supports various state tax deductions for aerospace companies as well as incentives for capital investment and workforce development in the field. As such, many aerospace companies large and small maintain outposts in New Mexico, and the climate is favorable to those wishing to launch a UAS concern.

In other words, though the UAS industry isn’t necessarily booming there at present, all the ingredients are there for New Mexico’s drone industry to continue gathering momentum.



Oklahoma is another state that, where the larger aerospace picture is concerned, sits squarely in the middle of the rankings by just about all important metrics. But when one ticks through the list of things that will be important to UAS designers and manufacturers going forward, the Sooner State distinguishes itself in just about every way.

Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City (pictured above) is a major Department of Defense air outpost (the Navy is also resident there) that is home to one of the Air Force’s major aircraft overhaul and repair centers, requiring a local workforce that is aerospace-inclined. The state’s private aerospace sector has long serviced just about every segment of the larger aerospace industry, and about 15 existing companies already work directly in the UAS space on everything from sensor payloads to components for low-cost hobby UAS.

Oklahoma State University is the first four-year university in the nation to offer graduate degrees (both a master’s and a Ph.D.) specific to unmanned aerial systems engineering, and through the school’s University Multispectral Lab the state has long served as a test bed for advanced military technologies, including unmanned systems.

Perhaps most importantly, Oklahoma is aggressively pursuing UAS-oriented aerospace businesses like almost no one else. The state is offering copious incentives for companies in the UAS space to settle there, and it could benefit somewhat from its close proximity to aerospace/defense powerhouse Texas by swaying some companies with roots south of the Red River to open up facilities on the Oklahoma side, especially if Oklahoma lands an FAA test site certification. It’s not in any position to unseat California, Washington, Florida, or Texas at the very top, but among mid-sized, middle-ranking aerospace states with huge potential for growth in the UAS sector, Oklahoma is perhaps the most likeable.



Where wooing new manufacturing business from out of town is concerned, there’s a lot to be said about Alabama. When European aerospace giant EADS was looking for a location to build a U.S. manufacturing facility for its Airbus A320 airliners, Mobile got the nod. The Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa has continued to steadily add jobs and facilities since the state successfully convinced the German manufacturer (part of Daimler AG) to locate there back in the mid-1990s. Alabama is aggressive when courting new manufacturing jobs, and it has a proven track record of landing big deals with big companies.

That on its own might not say much for its place in the UAS industry where much of the coming innovation and growth is just as likely to come from smaller aerospace concerns. But Alabama is also notable among U.S. states for ranking fifth in percentage of state GDP derived from the aerospace sector. Going back to the early stages of the space race, Huntsville has been and remains an anchor for U.S. aerospace innovation.

The Army’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Project Management Office is located outside of Huntsville at the Redstone Arsenal and often loops University of Alabama Huntsville students into its work, helping to educate a native local work force with experience in the field (its proximity to Florida’s aerospace-rich employment pool can’t hurt either). Whether or not all of that adds up to Alabama winning an FAA test site designation or whether it will break out to become a major UAS industry hub is still pretty unclear, but as a dark horse candidate there’s plenty to like in Alabama. And if it does win a test site certification the calculus for the state could change dramatically. Right now it’s a sleeper within the industry, but it might just be a sleeping giant.


Budget Wars Coming to Early Showdown — and Stalemate

By David Hawkings    Posted at 11:51 a.m. on May 20


A routine committee meeting May 21 will formally lock down this reality about the congressional budget engine: it has totally seized up, and as early as ever — fully 20 weeks before it’s supposed to finish spitting out thousands of line-item decisions about discretionary government spending for next year.

The majority Republicans on House Appropriations will push through the spending caps they will use in drafting the dozen bills expected of them for fiscal 2014. All the Democrats will oppose the numbers, because they completely disregard one of the central tenets of the too-tough-to-swallow sequester that Congress swallowed anyway this year: The spending cuts are supposed to be as severe for defense programs as they are for domestic operations.

Instead, the House will set about drafting three measures — for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs (which also includes military construction) — that in the aggregate would cut spending by less than 1 percent from current levels.

But to hold those national security efforts harmless, while still keeping all their decisions under an overall cap of $967 billion, the GOP appropriators are assigning shriveled-up bottom lines to the other nine bills devoted to domestic spending and foreign aid. They would face cuts of $72 billion, or 17 percent, from current levels. Almost half of the reduction, or $35 billion, would come from imposing a 22 percent cut on the social programs that Democrats are most interested in preserving at the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services.

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has absolutely no expectation that depth of domestic cuts will be realized. Instead, his proposed grand totals for the spending bills — known in Hill shorthand as the 302(b) allocations — are obviously his opening bargaining position for the inevitable negotiations at the end of the year with Senate Democrats and the Obama administration.

The numbers are also a signal of how House GOP leaders will seek to leverage that bargaining position this summer: They will push the three national security bills through the House along with Rogers’ favorite domestic measure, for the Agriculture Department. And then their side will stand pat, knowing the rest of the bills have little chance of passing the House.

Rogers’ hope is that, by fall, some sort of deficit-reduction deal might be engineered that does away with the sequester, allows the level of national security spending the GOP insists on and also allows him to ameliorate the non-starter cuts he’s now got penciled in for domestic programs.

At the head of the other side of the bargaining table is Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who is preparing to unveil her initial bargaining posture in two weeks, right after the Memorial Day recess. It’s a very safe bet that she will do the opposite of what Rogers did, holding the social programs harmless and calling for defense budgets to take the most significant hits.

The one top-line fact she’s made clear is that her 302(b) allocations will add up to $1.06 trillion. That’s $91 billion, or 9 percent, more than the House bottom line, because Mikulski and the Senate Democratic leadership’s bargaining starts with the assumption that the sequester will be canceled by the fall, with or without a taxes and entitlements budget deal that promises an equivalent amount of deficit reduction.

And, with that as her opening posture, it’s very tough to see how she’ll get any of her bills passed by the Senate, or even through the theoretical filibusters that will surely be mounted by GOP budget hawks.

In other words, a flurry of activity on the spending front in the next month seems guaranteed to produce a long summer and early fall with no overt progress at all. And it’s inevitable that a
continuing resolution, or a series of them, will be needed to keep the government open and running in place long past the new fiscal year’s start on Oct. 1.

Another patchwork resolution between Thanksgiving and Christmas is by far the best bet.



Is This Google X’s Plan to Wire the World?

By Brad Stone

May 23, 2013


Google (GOOG) Chairman Eric Schmidt’s April 13 tweet was bold, ambitious, and a bit inexplicable. “For every person online, there are two that are not,” wrote the co-author of the book The New Digital Age. “By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected.”

Commenters were flummoxed by Schmidt’s prediction. There are many parts of the world without reliable telecommunications infrastructure. How do you wire parts of Africa—or the Indonesian archipelago?

In my conversations with Astro Teller, Google X’s excellently named director of moonshots, for this week’s cover story on Google X, I asked whether extending broadband Internet access throughout the world would be a problem deserving of attention from the top-secret lab. Teller gave nothing away, but it was clear from his answer that there’s plenty of passion for that particular goal inside his organization. “Having everyone connected is literally in the same category as making clean water available,” he said. “That sounds like a radical statement but I don’t think that it is. There is now a ton of evidence that connectivity drives freedom, democracy, economic development, health, and those things then turn into lower mortality and all of the things that we are trying to get at here.” Extending connectivity, he added, “is the most direct way, probably on an order of magnitude, to address the world’s biggest problems.”

Researchers who have examined the challenge of spreading Internet access throughout the world usually focus on one of three general solutions. There’s satellite access, which tends to be slow, expensive, and doesn’t function well in high-density urban areas. There’s ground-based wireless broadband, the most conventional solution, but in some parts of the world the towers where you would mount broadband transmitters would be quickly scavenged and sold as scrap metal.

And then there’s the unlikeliest but perhaps most promising approach: sending balloons mounted with broadband antennas into the stratosphere, where they can rain connectivity down from only 20 kilometers away. The Europeans tried this a decade ago. Lockheed Martin (LMT) and SoftBank in Japan have experimented with it more recently, with varying levels of success. No one has tried to push balloon-based broadband transmitters into wide production, though. Google X representatives declined to comment on this particular approach, but it fits well with the lab’s philosophy of moonshot thinking and its orientation toward practical yet science-fiction-sounding solutions.

David Grace, a senior research fellow at the University of York, spearheaded the European project, part of a multi-country initiative backed by the European Commission. He said that he has indeed heard Google is working on such a project. “They are highly innovative and very obviously have the financial resources and are always keen to take risks,” he said. “It does need the Googles of the world to push this forward.”

Per Lindstrand, the Swedish balloonist, is probably the world’s top authority on this topic. He says free-flying high-altitude balloons are impractical because of high winds; release a balloon on the equator and in a few weeks it will end up at the North or South Pole. But solar-powered balloons packed with a fuel cell and an onboard motor can remain stationary for up to five years and are “perfectly feasible.” Lindstrand has been urging companies to more aggressively pursue balloon-based wireless networks but says that no one has stepped up yet. “Everybody keeps telling me, ‘Show me an airship and I will buy it.’ No one wants to risk the money. The key is to find somebody who is brave enough. I believe the stratospheric airship is a viable project, but it needs to be created by a small elite team with past airship experience and not by a conventional bloated aerospace contractor. If Google is really on the scene, they would be the perfect sponsor.”


SecAF: Sequestration hits AF readiness, modernization

Posted 5/24/2013

by Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service


5/24/2013 – WASHINGTON (AFPS) — Sequestration has hit the Air Force particularly hard, impacting its force structure, readiness and modernization, senior Air Force leaders said here today.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the chief of staff, said Congress must provide a solid budget number so the Air Force can ground its planning in reality.

The Air Force understands it must do its part to work through the debt and deficit reduction problem, Welsh said.

“We just want to get to the bottom line or the new top-line budget … and get on with preparing our Air Force to remain the best in the world,” he said.

Sequestration has hit the Air Force hard and the effects are felt throughout the full range of accounts from force structure to readiness to modernization, Donley said during his last scheduled news conference as secretary.

On April 26, Donley announced plans to step down June 21 as the Air Force’s top civilian after serving as secretary for nearly five years.

“Twelve combat-coded squadrons have stopped flying, and important training has been canceled,” Donley said. “Weapon system sustainment reductions will delay maintenance, increase costs and create backlogs. The impending civilian furlough will hamper us further and will impact morale and reduce productivity across the Air Force.”

Even before sequestration there was a readiness crisis in the Air Force, the secretary said. “The readiness hole that we have been trying to dig out of just got deeper, and we are facing a readiness crisis from which it will take many months to recover,” he said.

And it is not just operations and readiness accounts that are at risk, said Donley, noting the Air Force needs modernization — in aircraft, missiles, and capabilities.

“As advanced technologies proliferate around the globe, these cutbacks in modernization would put at risk the Air Force capabilities this nation will need in the decades ahead,” Donley said. “Despite our near-term and long-term concerns, we are working to ensure that our most significant Air Force priorities remain on track, including the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46 tanker, and the long-range strike bomber.”

Aircraft must support the warfighters, but budget cuts mean that airmen cannot train for full spectrum operations, Welsh said.

“And our readiness continues to decline, even while calls for potential no-fly zone or air policing operations in response to Syrian violence are reaching a new crescendo,” he said.

“We’re still the best Air Force in the world,” Welsh said. “And our great airmen will rely on experience and their unmatched dedication to succeed in any operation that we’re asked to execute. But atrophied skills elevate risk, and stagnant proficiency will only grow over time if we can’t restore some sense of budget normalcy. And so that’s what we’re hoping for.”



Private Firm Sets Sights on First Moon Base

May 24, 2013 11:52 AM ET // by Irene Klotz


NASA may not be going to the moon anytime soon, but private companies plan to do so, a study by space habitat developer Bigelow Aerospace shows.

The study, commissioned by NASA, is intended as a supplemental roadmap for the U.S. government as it charts human space initiatives beyond the International Space Station, a permanently staffed research complex that orbits about 250 miles above Earth.

“Instead of being the typical approach where we put together all the plans and we ask for participation, we wanted to look at it the other way and see what’s available,” NASA’s head of space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, told reporters during a press conference on Thursday.

“This is a holistic kind of effort,” added Robert Bigelow, president and founder of the Nevada-based firm that bears his name. “It’s intended to encompass as much (information) as possible and it’s intended to evolve and to grow.”

The first part of the study surveyed about two dozen companies and research organizations about their ideas, plans, capabilities, schedules and costs for upcoming space initiatives. A draft report was submitted to NASA on Thursday — 40 days ahead of schedule — and has not yet been publicly released.

NASA intends to use the information to figure out where it can collaborate with private space initiatives and where it might, for example, entirely skip an expensive research and development program and just buy services or hardware commercially.

For example, after the International Space Station is removed from orbit, NASA could be a tenant aboard a Bigelow Aerospace-owned habitat for any microgravity research or technology development it wants to do.

“We think station can fly to 2028,” Gerstenmaier said.

After that, “we won’t be in the business of maintaining and operating a facility in low-Earth orbit. We believe that there will be a service available for us and the private sector,” he said.

NASA plans to follow the space station program with human missions to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars about a decade later. The most recent version of its exploration blueprint calls for a robotic mission to retrieve a small asteroid and relocate it into orbit around the moon. Astronauts then would launch for a scientific sortie.

By that time, NASA may find it has neighbors on the lunar surface.

“The brass ring for us is having a lunar base,” Bigelow said. “That is a desire we’ve had for a long, long time.”

“I think that’s perfectly acceptable,” added Gerstenmaier. “NASA and the government focus on maybe deep space, we focus on asteroids. The private sector picks up the lunar activity and then we’ll combine and share with them to see what makes sense.”

“This gives us a chance to step back and do a bigger view of our planning and not doing it in our own little stovepipes. We’re actually reaching out and starting to look right at the beginning as we start to formulate our thinking,” he added.

NASA expects to release the first part of Bigelow’s study within a few weeks. The second section is expected to be finished this fall.


IEEE-USA Opposes H-1B Visa Increases, Agrees with Companies on Green Cards

By Chris McManes

A leading expert on high-skill immigration and a Microsoft executive testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 22 April in favor of high-skill immigration reform legislation IEEE-USA supports.

Dr. Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester (N.Y) Institute of Technology, said provisions to raise the H-1B temporary visa cap in “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” (S. 744) would hurt U.S. engineers and scientists, as well as students.

“Employers will continue to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, to directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in America,” Hira said in his written testimony. “Under this bill the H-1B program would continue displacing American workers and deny them both current and future opportunities. It also discourages American students from pursuing these professions.

“These problems will expand since the bill proposes to roughly double the number of H-1Bs, which potentially could grow to a tripling.”

IEEE-USA President Marc Apter, in a 6 May letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), agrees the cap should not be increased.

“Recognizing the damage that outsourcing does to the U.S. economy, we do not see a justification for any H-1B increase,” Apter said. “An increase in H-1Bs beyond what is provided in S. 744 is unacceptable to us. We strongly support the worker protections that are in S. 744 and oppose any effort to weaken them. The fees imposed on the H-1B program are helpful, and we applaud their use to attract and retain Americans in STEM fields.

“But we cannot say that we support any H-1B increases.”

Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president for Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs, in his written testimony, also favors provisions in the bill IEEE-USA supports: Increasing employment-based green cards for high-skill employees, exempting dependents from the cap and removing per-country limits.

“Perhaps most importantly on the topic of green cards, the legislation before this Committee today recognizes the value to the U.S. economy of graduates from U.S. universities with an advanced STEM degree,” Smith said. “By exempting them from the overall green card quota, the bill provides a clear path to a green card for these highly sought-after individuals. Under current law, many face a wait of more than 10 years to obtain a green card, and they may decide that a career in the United States simply isn’t worth that kind of instability.

“As a result, we risk losing these experts to other countries, where they will compete against us. This bill goes a long way toward keeping their talents in the United States and helping to grow our economy.”


Putting America First

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), while questioning Smith, spoke of the legislation’s desire to help the American economy.

Graham: “So here’s the goal of the legislation – to incorporate those talented [foreign-born] people into the American business economy, is that correct?”

Smith: “Yes.”

Graham: “We don’t want to educate them in our finest universities [and] they go back to the country of origin and open up businesses against us. We would like for them to … use their talents as part of the American enterprise system, is that correct?”

Smith: “I wholeheartedly agree.”

Graham: “Well that’s what we’re trying to do, and do you believe this bill accomplishes that?”

Smith: “I am a strong supporter; we are a strong supporter of this piece of legislation.”

IEEE-USA has advocated for more employment-based green cards for engineers, technologists and scientists for years. The organization supports the legislation’s call for unlimited green cards for STEM Ph.D.’s and the requirement that employers applying for H-1B visas prove they have sought American workers.

“Replacing the H-1B model with a green-cards model for new hires in the technology sector is by far the best protection for American’s highly skilled workers, creating and keeping jobs in the United States,” Apter said.


H-1B Visas Promote Loss of American Jobs

Hira, a former IEEE-USA vice president, supports IEEE-USA’s contention that the H-1B program is harmful to U.S. and international employees. He cited a recent analysis of government data by Computerworld magazine which concluded that, “the major beneficiaries of the proposed increase in the [H-1B] cap would be pure offshore outsourcing firms.

The Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification found that the top 10 users of H-1B visas in FY 2013 continued to be offshore outsourcing companies. These 10 organizations collectively had 112,739 positions – representing 73.4 percent more than the base annual H-1B cap of 65,000 – certified to be filled by an H-1B worker.

In addition, 64.1 percent of the 175,806 certified H-1B applications from just 1 October to 31 December 2012 went to these 10 companies. And they are just 10 of the many offshoring specialists. The Labor Department began applying these applications to the FY 2014 visa cap in early April.

“While proponents of an H-1B visa increase are bemoaning the fact that the H-1B cap is already used up,” Apter said, “it was businesses that use the visas to take American jobs who used nearly two-thirds of them.”

“The majority of the H-1B program is now being used to hire cheap indentured servants,” Hira said. “The bulk of demand for H-1B visas is driven by the desire for lower cost workers, not by a race for specialized talent or a shortage of American talent.

“All of the top 10 H-1B employers used the program principally to outsource American jobs to overseas locations.”

Microsoft and other tech companies would like to see a huge increase in the H-1B visa cap, perhaps to as high 325,000 a year.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has sponsored legislation with Sen. Grassley to curb abuses in the H-1B and L-1 visa programs, said to Smith, “… Americans would be shocked to know that the H-1B visas are not going to Microsoft; they’re going to these [outsourcing firms], who are finding workers – engineers – who will work at low wages in the United States for three years and pay a fee to … these companies.

“I think that is an abuse of what we’re trying to achieve here. Most people would think, well Microsoft needs these folks, and they’d be shocked to know that most of the H-1B visas are not going to companies like yours. They’re going to these outsourcing companies.

“I sat at the [negotiating] table and said I’m for increasing H-1Bs only if we offer the job to an American first at a reasonable wage so that they have a chance to fill that position. If they can’t, then we’ll bring in the [foreign] talent.”


What’s on Deck?

Before the bill comes to the full Senate, it will marked up (amended) by the Senate Judiciary Committee. IEEE-USA would like to see the legislation maintain its original high-tech provisions.

IEEE-USA has no position on the bill’s non-high-tech sections.

An archived Webcast of the hearing, as well as all of the witnesses’ written testimony, is available at


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Rasmussen Reports

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Call it the law of unintended consequences.

Favorables for the Tea Party have jumped since news broke that the Internal Revenue Service was targeting the grassroots movement and other conservative groups. Opinions of the IRS have gone down.

Only 20% of voters believe the IRS’ explanation that low-level employees at its Cincinnati office made the decision to target the conservative groups. Sixty-five percent (65%) think the orders came from Washington, including 39% who believe someone at the White House made the call.

Many expect more bad news to come. Sixty percent (60%) think it’s likely that other government agencies also targeted conservative groups. Perhaps most stunning is the fact that even 37% of Democrats think it’s likely other agencies may have been used to target conservatives.

While the president’s Job Approval rating has held fairly steady despite two weeks of controversies, Scott Rasmussen’s weekly newspaper column shows how “the political ground is shifting under the president’s feet.” He adds, “If you dig just a bit beneath the surface, it becomes clear that the controversies dogging the White House have had an impact.”

Just over half of voters consider all three controversies surrounding the White House to be scandals. Forty-one percent (41%) think the IRS story will still be around a year from now. Slightly more (43%) think there’s a good chance the Obama administration’s handling of the death of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Libya will still be making headlines, too.

Despite increased media attention, voter concern about the events in Benghazi remains little changed over the past three weeks. Eighty-one percent (81%) still think it’s important to find out what happened. Thirty-two percent (32%) rate the administration’s explanation as good or excellent. Forty-five (45%) now view that explanation as poor.

The U.S. Justice Department’s secret seizure of telephone records from the Associated Press has been drawing a lot of news attention, although voters have mixed feelings about the story. But 52% think the media reacts more quickly to things that affect news organizations, reporters and their friends.

That could spell more bad news for the White House following the disclosure that the Justice Department also secretly obtained the telephone records of a Fox News reporter and his parents. “While the public is not up in arms over this issue, journalists are,” Scott Rasmussen noted in a recent column. “So there is likely to be more aggressive reporting on some of the other challenges facing the White House.” 

With growing questions about Benghazi, the IRS and the Justice Department, Democrats’ eight-point lead over Republicans in voter trust in the area of government ethics and corruption has disappeared. Now the president’s party trails the GOP by two. The newest finding is the highest level of confidence in Republicans and the lowest level for Democrats since October.

Republicans also have edged ahead of Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for only the second week since Election Day.

Yet for the president and his party, the elephant lurking in the room continues to be the national health care law as it nears full implementation next year. Just over half of voters still view the health care law unfavorably, and most remain adamant that consumers should have choices when it comes to how much health care coverage they want to pay for.

Voters continue to believe raising taxes and increasing government spending are bad for the economy, but 56% expect spending to go up under Obama. Forty-seven percent (47%) think their taxes will go up, too.

Very few Americans think the federal government gives too much financial help to victims of disasters like this week’s Oklahoma tornado, but they’re evenly divided when asked if the government should make cuts elsewhere in the federal budget to offset this aid.

Consumer confidence remains a rare bit of good news for the president: It’s still tracking just below the highest levels in recent years.

Working Americans are pretty satisfied with their jobs, too, from what we can tell. It’s true that 33% work more than 40 hours a week, and only 48% are now happy with the hours they work.

But 64% are generally pleased to tell people where they work.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Working Adults give their boss or supervisor good or excellent marks. Eighty-seven percent (87%) rate their relationships with coworkers just as positively.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) would continue to work even if they were left a small fortune so that they could make the same amount of money without working. Ninety-one percent (91%) say that, if given the choice, they would stay with a job they love over another job they’d hate that pays 10% more money.

In other surveys last week:

– Thirty percent (30%) of likely voters think the United States is headed in the right direction, virtually unchanged from a year ago at this time.

– Forty-eight percent (48%) of Americans are confident in the stability of the U.S. banking industry. By comparison, in July 2008, shortly before the Wall Street meltdown, 68% were confident in U.S. banks.

– The Federal Reserve Board continues to work hard at keeping the U.S. inflation rate down and interest rates under control, but most Americans expect their grocery prices to keep going up.  Forty-four percent (44%) believe interest rates will be higher a year from today.

– Both current Democratic frontrunners, Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner, outpace Republican favorite Joseph J. Lhota in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at New York City’s 2013 mayoral race.

– Among registered New York City Democrats, Quinn leads Weiner 24% to 18%. Democrats pick their mayoral nominee in a September 10 primary.

May 18 2013




Bank security weaknesses led to cyber looting of $45M from ATMs

Indicted cyber thieves used pre-paid debit cards, maniulated bank accounts to withdraw huge sums from ATMs around the world

Jaikumar Vijayan

May 10, 2013 (Computerworld)


Alberto Yusi Lajud Pena, found dead in the Dominican Republic two weeks ago, was the leader of the New York cell of an international gang of cyber thieves that authorities allege stole a staggering $45 million from ATM machines around the world.

One startling aspect of the case, sure to be closely reviewed by banks worldwide, is that Pena and his cohorts pull off the theft quickly using just 17 prepaid debit cards.

Federal prosecutors in New York on Thursday handed down indictments against Pena and seven other individuals on cyber hacking charges related to the theft. The defendants allegedly formed a New York-based cell of an international group that hacked into global financial institutions to access prepaid debit card data that they later used to steal money from ATM machines.

Pena and his co-conspirators are accused of withdrawing about $2.8 million from ATMs in NYC on two separate occasions.

In the first operation last Dec. 22, the gang withdrew $400,000 in 750 fraudulent transactions at 140 ATM locations in the city in just two hours and 25 minutes. In February, the gang withdrew close to $2.4 million in 3,000 ATM transactions in the NYC area over a 10-hour period.

Details of the operation contained in court documents provide a fascinating look both at the sophisticated methods used by the hackers, and the vulnerabilities in the banking system that allowed it to happen.

The thefts began with an extensive intrusion last December into the network of an Indian credit card processing company that handles MasterCard and Visa prepaid debit cards.

Such cards are typically loaded with a finite amount of funds and are often used by employers in lieu of paychecks and by charitable organizations to distribute emergency assistance, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The hackers broke into the card processing company, manipulated account balances and eliminated withdrawal limits on each of five prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates.

Such manipulation of debit card information is referred to as “unlimited operation” in the cyber underworld and requires a very high degree of technical sophistication, according to the indictment. When successful, even a small number of compromised cards can lead to a “tremendous financial loss the victim financial institution,” the indictment said.

The compromised account numbers, together with PINs needed to initiate withdrawals, were distributed to cell ‘managers’ like Pena in different parts of the world. The stolen account numbers were used to encode magnetic stripes on the back plastic cards such as gift cards and hotel key cards and later used to initiate the fraudulent withdrawals.


The first operation, in Dec. 2012, resulted in close to $5 million being withdrawn from ATM machines around the world in about 5,700 transactions. The hackers who had broken into the card processor network used their access to monitor the withdrawals to ensure they were not shortchanged.

In February, the group pulled off the same caper, but this time by breaking into a U.S.-based credit card processor that handles MasterCard and Visa prepaid debit card transactions.

In this instance, the hackers manipulated account balances and removed withdrawal limits on 12 prepaid debit cards issued by the Bank of Muscat in Oman. The compromised account numbers were distributed to gang members in 24 countries and used to create spoofed debit cards that were used to withdraw $40 million from ATM machines.

Members of Pena’s gang were identified and nabbed from surveillance tapes provided by financial institutions and by owners of the ATM machines that were robbed.

The thefts highlight continuing vulnerabilities in the payment industry said Jim Stickley, chief technology officer at TraceSecurity Inc., a Baton Rogue, La.-based company risk and compliance management vendor with several banking customers.

Stickley said that no mechanisms appear to have existed to prevent the same debit card numbers from being used over and over again to complete thousands of transactions in different countries in a very short period of time.

“It’s surprising that even some level of analytics wasn’t used,” to spot and prevent fraudulent transactions, he said. “When they were hitting 3,000 ATMs around the world at the same time, you’d think there’d be some analytics” to detect it, he said.

It’s likely that the banks did not have monitoring systems in place to track prepaid debit cards. There’s little chance that the bacnk would know who purchased such cards. There’s little risk to the bank with such cards, because they have already been paid for, Stickley said.

“They probably treated it somewhat differently because there is no way they can call somebody to tell them they are shutting it down,” he said. “I can see how they might have never imagined a situation where someone would use the cards in this manner.”

Avivah Litan an analyst with Gartner, added that the theft “could have been prevented with simple steps like privileged user monitoring and alerts when account limits are raised in this manner.” Accounts limits had to be raised substantially for the crooks to get so much money she said.

Strengthening authorization on raising account limits is one way to mitigate such issues she said.

Banks, for example, can enforce dual authorization whenever someone wants to raise accounts limits in the manner that needed to have been done in this case, she said.

PIN and Chip cards could also have prevented the heist, she said. Chip-and-PIN systems use smartcards that have embedded microprocessors (or chips) rather than magnetic stripes to store cardholder data.

To use the cards at an ATM machine a cardholder needs to have the original and personal identification number. “There simply wasn’t enough attention paid to simple controls that should have been put on these systems,” Litan said

“The only good news here is that consumers weren’t hurt. The bad news is that the payment industry still has not learned its lesson,” she said. “The industry needs to implement a major change in the way cardholders are authenticated, either using chip and PIN, biometrics, or something else much stronger than a PIN.”



Smartphones driving violent crime across U.S.

An IDG News Service investigation finds guns and knives are used in a quarter of all robberies of cellphones in San Francisco

By Martyn Williams

May 10, 2013 05:22 PM ET

IDG News Service – On Feb. 27 in the middle of the afternoon, a 16-year-old girl was walking through San Francisco’s Mission district when she was ordered at gun point to hand over her cellphone. The robbery was one of 10 serious crimes in the city that day, and they all involved cellphones. Three were stolen at gun point, three at knife point and four through brute force.

Incidents of cellphone theft have been rising for several years and are fast becoming an epidemic. IDG News Service collected data on serious crimes in San Francisco from November to April and recorded 579 thefts of cellphones or tablets, accounting for 41 percent of all serious crime. On several days, like Feb. 27, the only serious crimes reported in the daily police log were cellphone thefts.

In just over half the incidents, victims were punched, kicked or otherwise physically intimidated for their phones, and in a quarter of robberies, users were threatened with guns or knives.

This isn’t just happing in tech-loving San Francisco, either. The picture is similar across the United States.

In Washington, D.C., cellphone thefts account for 40 percent of robberies, while in New York City they make up more than half of all street crime. There are no hard numbers on which phones are most popular, but those most in demand by thieves appear to be those most in demand by users: iPhones.

It’s easy to see why the thefts are so rampant. Criminals can quickly turn stolen phones into several hundred dollars in cash, and phone users are often easy targets as they walk down the street engrossed in the screen and oblivious to their surroundings.
It shouldn’t be this way. With built-in satellite positioning and reliance on a network connection, it should be easier to track them down. So why is theft still such a problem?

A big reason is that, until recently, there had been little to stop someone using a stolen cellphone. Carriers quickly suspend phone lines to avoid thieves running up high charges, but the handset itself could be resold and reused. It’s made easier by modern smartphones that accept SIM cards, which were introduced to allow legitimate users to switch phones easily.

Reacting to pressure from law enforcement and regulators, the U.S.’s largest cellphone carriers agreed early last year to establish a database of stolen cellphones. The database blocks the IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number, a unique ID in the cellphone akin to a car’s VIN (vehicle identification number). The number is transmitted to the cellular network when the phone connects and remains with the phone no matter what SIM card is inserted.

In theory, once added to the list, a phone cannot be activated on any U.S. carrier network. But the system is not perfect. For it to work, phone users must notify their carrier of the theft and in some cases provide the IMEI themselves. There are also limitations to its scope.



Cyberattacks Against U.S. Corporations Are on the Rise



May 12, 2013


WASHINGTON — A new wave of cyberattacks is striking American corporations, prompting warnings from federal officials, including a vague one issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security. This time, officials say, the attackers’ aim is not espionage but sabotage, and the source seems to be somewhere in the Middle East.

The targets have primarily been energy companies, and the attacks appeared to be probes, looking for ways to seize control of their processing systems. The attacks are continuing, officials said. But two senior administration officials said Sunday that they were still not certain exactly where the attacks were coming from, or whether they were state-sponsored or the work of hackers or criminals.

“We are concerned by these intrusions, and we are trying to make sure they don’t lead to something much bigger, as they did in the Saudi case,” said one senior American official. He was referring to the aggressive attack last summer that affected 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil producers. After lengthy investigations, American officials concluded that Iran had been behind the Saudi Aramco attack.

Another official said that in the new wave of attacks, “most everything we have seen is coming from the Middle East,” but he did not say whether Iran, or another country, appeared to be the source.

Last week’s warning was unusual because most attacks against American companies — especially those coming from China — have been attempts to obtain confidential information, steal trade secrets and gain competitive advantage. By contrast, the new attacks seek to destroy data or to manipulate industrial machinery and take over or shut down the networks that deliver energy or run industrial processes.

That kind of attack is much more like the Stuxnet worm that the United States and Israel secretly used against Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants several years ago, to slow Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. When that covert program began, President Obama, among other officials, expressed worry that its eventual discovery could prompt retaliatory attacks.

Two senior officials who have been briefed on the new intrusions say they were aimed largely at the administrative systems of about 10 major American energy firms, which they would not name. That is similar to what happened to Saudi Aramco, where a computer virus wiped data from office computers, but never succeeded in making the leap to the industrial control systems that run oil production.

The Washington Post first reported the security warning on Friday. Over the weekend the Obama administration described what had led to the warning. Those officials began describing the activity as “probes that suggest someone is looking at how to take control of these systems.”

According to one United States official, Homeland Security officials decided to release the warning once they saw how deeply intruders had managed to penetrate corporate systems, including one that deals with chemical processes. In the past, the government occasionally approached individual companies it believed were under threat. Last week’s warning “is an effort to make sure that the volume and timeliness of the information improves,” in line with a new executive order signed by the president, one senior official said.


The warning was issued by an agency called ICS-Cert, which monitors attacks on computer systems that run industrial processes. It said the government was “highly concerned about hostility against critical infrastructure organizations,” and included a link to a previous warning about Shamoon, the virus used in the Saudi Aramco attack last year. It also hinted that federal investigations were under way, referring to indications “that adversary intent extends beyond intellectual property to include use of cyber to disrupt business and control systems.”

At Saudi Aramco, the virus replaced company data on thousands of computers with an image of a burning American flag. The attack prompted the defense secretary at the time, Leon E. Panetta, to warn of an impending “cyber 9/11″ if the United States did not respond more efficiently to attacks. American officials have since concluded the attack and a subsequent one at RasGas, the Qatari energy company, were the work of Iranian hackers. Israeli officials, who follow Iran closely, said in interviews this month that they thought the attacks were the work of Iran’s new “cybercorps,” organized after the cyberattacks that affected their nuclear facilities.

Saudi Aramco said that while the attackers had attempted to penetrate its oil production systems, they had failed because the company maintained a separation between employees’ administrative computers and the computers used to control and monitor production. RasGas said the attack on its computers had failed for the same reason.

But there are no clear standards for computer security, and the Homeland Security warning last week urged companies to take steps many computer professionals already advise. The suggestions were for “things most everyone should be doing on an everyday basis,” said Dan McWhorter, the managing director of threat intelligence at Mandiant Corporation. His company conducted a study this year that identified a specific unit of the Chinese Army as the source of a number of attacks on American businesses and government organizations. “These are all threats people have been seeing coming for some time,” he said.

Still, the warning underscored that most of the likely targets in the United States, including cellphone networks and electric utility grids, are in private rather than government hands. “The challenge will be managing our nation’s offensive and defensive capabilities,” said Evan D. Wolff, a partner at Hunton & Williams, who runs the firm’s homeland security practice and focuses on cyberissues. “Unlike conventional weapons, this will require a very broad engagement across the private sector.”

For the last four years, the Department of Homeland Security has said it needs to expand its cybersecurity force by as many as 600 hacking specialists to keep pace with the rising number of threats. But in the last four months, the department has been grappling with an exodus of top officials, including Jane Holl Lute, the agency’s deputy secretary; Mark Weatherford, the department’s top cybersecurity official; Michael Locatis, the assistant secretary for cybersecurity; and Richard Spires, the agency’s chief information officer, all of whom resigned.

David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Nicole Perlroth from San Francisco. Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington.


Better batteries could revolutionize solar, wind power


Wendy Koch, USA TODAY11:33 p.m. EDT May 12, 2013

On an arid mountain in Eureka County, Nev., a mining company believes it’s struck the 21st century equivalent of gold.

The precious commodity is vanadium, a metal that can be extracted from shale rock and used to make powerful, long-lasting batteries for cars, homes and utilities.

If Vancouver-based American Vanadium gets federal approval for its proposed Gibellini Hill Project — a 30-day public comment period ends May 29 — it will operate the only vanadium mine in the United States.

Eureka, indeed! The battle to build a better battery is intensifying as the United States and other countries, faced with growing global demand for electricity and a need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that worsen climate change, look to expand carbon-free renewable energy such as wind and solar.

Batteries are key. They can directly power electric cars and buses and, indirectly, homes and big buildings by storing solar and wind power for times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. They balance out renewables that produce energy intermittently so consumers can power up laptops or run refrigerators 24/7.

The race is on. Universities, start-ups and major companies are working with new materials such as vanadium or tweaking the lithium-ion battery that Sony introduced more than 20 years ago for personal electronics. Some advances, like ones that Toyota and IBM are developing to power cars for 500-plus miles on a single charge, won’t make it to market for at least five years.

Others are making their debuts this year, including a battery by Ontario, Canada-based Electrovaya that enables homes with solar panels to go entirely off grid or one by General Electric that will be paired with a Texas wind farm to provide continuous power.

“It’s the dawn of the energy-storage age,” says Bill Radvak, president of American Vanadium, which is partnering with the German CellCube battery manufacturer Gildemeister. He says storage could be the “holy grail” for renewable energy. “There was no major battery market three years ago,” he says, adding that is changing quickly.

Mining company American Vanadium is partnering with German battery maker Gildemeister to bring powerful, long-lasting batteries such as the CellCube to the U.S. market. The CellCube is a flow battery that uses vanadium, a metal found in surface shale deposits.

In February, California, which mandates that 33% of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, required a Los Angeles-area utility to ensure some capacity comes from energy storage. On May 1, Germany, which is shuttering its nuclear power plants as it boosts renewables, began subsidizing homeowners’ purchases of batteries to store power from solar panels. China’s five-year plan calls for 5% of all electricity to be stored by 2020. In the United States, about 2% of electric capacity is pumped hydro storage, the most common form of energy storage.

The global market for storing power from solar panels is forecast to explode, from less than $200 million in 2012 to $19 billion by 2017, according to a report this month by IMS Research.

One factor driving this growth is the plummeting price of renewables, especially solar panels that have fallen at least 60% since the beginning of 2011. As a result, industry groups report historic growth as U.S. electric capacity from solar panels jumped 76% and from wind turbines, 28%, last year alone.



Still, batteries face obstacles, including cost and safety. Lithium-ion batteries aboard two Boeing 787s jets failed in January, causing a fire on one and smoke on the other. In March, batteries from the same manufacturer caused problems in two Mitsubishi vehicles: a hybrid Outlander car overheated and an all-electric i-MiEV caught fire during testing at an assembly plant.

While the EV industry says these incidents are the exception rather than the rule, money has also been a problem. In October, Massachusetts-based A123 ,a lithium-ion battery manufacturer that spent $132 million in federal stimulus funds, filed for bankruptcy. In December, Wanxiang American, the U.S. arm of a Chinese automotive parts giant, bought A123’s technology.

Toyota’s Jaycie Chitwood said lithium-ion batteries are just too expensive to make electric cars cost competitive without subsidies. Speaking at the Advanced Energy 2013 conference last month in New York City, she said Toyota is expanding its line of electric vehicles to meet the U.S. government’s fuel-efficiency targets — not because they’re profitable. She said it gives a $14,000 discount for each new electric RAV4.


Chitwood said a major battery advance is needed. Toyota is working on several alternatives, including cheaper, longer-range batteries that use magnesium instead of lithium. Commercialization, though, is years away.

“Batteries continue to be a challenge,” especially those for electric vehicles, Esther Takeuchi,chemistry professor at SUNY Stony Brook, said at the same conference. “Things aren’t where we’d want them to be, but they’re getting closer.”

Her university and others, some with federal funding, are looking not only at new chemical mixes but also at nano-sizing the chemical elements — or making them microscopically small — to make them more efficient. Takeuchi said successful batteries often have specific applications, such as lead-acid ones for auto ignition or lithium-iodine for pacemakers. She said lithium-ion has worked well in cellphones and laptops, their initial use.

Batteries will improve “but not at the pace that we’ve seen in recent years,” writes Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, in his 2012 book, Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines. He says the growing demand for portable electronics sped the development of already-known battery technologies. He says it will take awhile to commercialize new ones such as lithium-air.

Batteries are just one of many ways to store grid-scale energy. The most common is pumped hydroelectric, in which water is sent to a reservoir and released later to run generators.

“Storage is the glue that can hold the grid together,” said Matthew Maroon of GE Energy. GE, which opened a $100 million factory in Schenectady, N.Y., to build a sodium nickel chloride battery, announced earlier this month that Invenergy will install its Brilliant wind turbine with Durathon batteries at a Texas wind farm later this year.

The U.S. government is promoting energy storage. In November, the Department of Energy announced grants for 23 R&D projects and picked Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill., as the first national “innovation hub” for batteries and energy storage. Argonne will receive $120 million over five years for this work.

Batteries are getting particular attention, because they’re versatile. While pumped hydro facilities require lots of land and water and are meant for utility-scale projects, batteries can be used anywhere and are easily scalable so they can help power not only a car but a factory.

“Everyone’s finally realizing, ‘Hey, this works.’… It’s the key to the future,” says Brad Roberts of the Electricity Storage Association, an industry group. He says the industry’s hiccups are part of its growth and adds: “I don’t see any hesitation on the part of venture capitalists.”



IBM’s Allan Schurr is bullish on his company’s new lithium-air battery, which takes in oxygen from the air to form a chemical reaction that generates an electric charge. It’s lighter and denser than the lithium-ion ones in most of today’s electric vehicles, which use heavy metal oxides to drive the chemical reactions that produce power.

“The performance we’ve seen in tests so far is at or above our expectations,” he says. With 500 miles on a single charge, he says, “You’d take the ‘range anxiety’ out of the equation.” The current Nissan Leaf gets up to 75 miles on a single charge, and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 62 miles. Schurr expects a prototype to be developed next year, but its commercial availability will take at least five years.


Toshiba has developed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the SCiB, that has a new oxide-based material, lithium titanate, that allows quicker charging times. It’s used in the Honda Fit’s EV and Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV.

Huge lithium-ion batteries, filling 53-foot shipping containers, are being used for grid-scale projects. Since September 2011 on a ridge of Laurel Mountain in West Virginia, AES Storage has used them to store 64 megawatts of energy generated by windmills. That capacity, if it ran continuously, would be enough to power nearly 50,000 U.S. households for a year.

Batteries are also taking homes off the grid or providing back-up energy. SolarCity, a California-based solar installer, is piloting a back-up battery for some of its solar projects in California and may extend that option to other states this year. Minnesota-based Juhl Energy’s SolarBank system pairs solar panels with batteries. Detroit-based Nextek Power Systems offers a portable off-grid option that combines a solar panel with a battery.

Ontario-based Electrovaya plans to bring to the U.S. market this year a residential system, now being tested in Canada, that would install solar panels and a big-enough lithium-ion battery that homes could go completely off grid. Sankar Das Gupta, the company’s CEO, says it would cost less than $10,000 for an average-size home to add such a battery to a solar array.

“There’s no one battery technology that is one-size-fits-all,” says GE’s Maroon. He says each has its own advantages and disadvantages, adding: “The market is big enough for each technology to survive.”

American Vanadium says flow batteries that use vanadium last longer and are more powerful than lithium-ion ones, because they absorb and release huge amounts of energy quickly and can do so thousands of times. They can be used for grid-scale projects, and smaller lithium-vanadium batteries can power vehicles.

Radvak says if his project is approved, it could provide 5% of the world’s vanadium supply and help reduce battery costs. The Bureau of Land Management, which is examining the project and will hold a public meeting Tuesday in Eureka, says the mine could cause a loss of habitat for greater sage grouse and of acreage for livestock grazing.

“There is no mining operation that doesn’t have a consequence,” Radvak says. But he says the Eureka mine won’t involve moving lots of earth, because the vanadium is in surface deposits and can be simply leached with a sulfuric acid. “It’s a very low-risk project,” he says.

Radvak says while the U.S. has lagged behind other countries, notably Germany, on energy storage, he expects that in the long run, it will become the world’s leader.



Batteries often work the same basic way even if they use different metals. They’re mini power plants that produce electricity by creating chemical reactions. As atoms move between two plates of different metals, via a chemical solution called an electrolyte, they produce voltage that is discharged through a metal wire on the other side.

• Lead-acid: (auto ignition). They have atoms pass from a plate of metallic lead through sulfuric acid to a plate of solid lead oxide.

• Lithium-ion (personal electronics, electric vehicles). They have carbon on one end and a metal oxide on the other, using lithium salt in an organic compound as the electrolyte in the middle.

• Lithium-air (still in development; possible uses include electric vehicles). They use lithium metal and oxygen as inputs at the two ends.

• Nickel-cadmium (portable electronics, electric vehicles). Their metal plates are nickel oxide hydroxide and cadmium.

• Sodium-sulfur (electric vehicles, grid-scale storage). A type of molten-salt battery, it’s made from liquid sodium and sulfur.

• Vanadium redox flow (grid-scale storage). They use vanadium, a metal named for Vanadis — the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and youth — in different oxidation states to store chemical energy for repeated use.



Microsoft Won’t Guarantee Buy-Not-Rent Office for Next Decade

– Gregg Keizer, Computerworld


May 08, 2013


Microsoft yesterday took a swipe at long-time partner Adobe for the latter’s wholesale shift to rent-not-buy software subscriptions, and along the way seemed to promise it would continue to offer Office as old-school perpetual licenses for the next 10 years.

Today, however, Microsoft declined to put that in stone.


The newest versions of the suite, Office 2013 on Windows and Office for Mac 2011 on OS X, are available both as “perpetual” licenses — the traditional kind that customers pay for once and up-front, then use as long as they like — and via subscriptions through various Office 365 plans.

Microsoft will continue to offer both payment and licensing schemes, said Clint Patterson, director of communications for Office, in a Tuesday blog, rather than go all-in, as Adobe has, on subscriptions.

“Like Adobe, we think subscription software-as-a-service is the future,” Patterson wrote. “However, unlike Adobe, we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time.”

That timeline, said Patterson, runs to “within a decade.” And during that span, Microsoft will keep selling perpetual licenses for Office.

“Within a decade, we think everyone will choose to subscribe because the benefits are undeniable,” Patterson argued. “In the meantime, we are committed to offering choice — premier software sold as a package and powerful services sold as a subscription.”
Not quite a promise — the phrase “within a decade” doesn’t guarantee a 10-year stretch — and Patterson did not set criteria Microsoft will use to determine when to ditch perpetual licenses.

In fact, when contacted today for confirmation, Microsoft denied Patterson’s comments were a decade-long guarantee. “We have not set a timeline for moving to subscription only,” a spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions. “We will continue to listen to customer feedback on how they want to get Office.”

If the company does stick with traditional licenses for 10 years, it would run counter to analysts’ expectations. In February, Paul DeGroot, principal at Pica Communications, a consulting firm that specializes in deciphering Microsoft’s licensing practices, predicted that within five years Microsoft will have dumped Software Assurance (SA), its annuity- and subscription-like add-on for enterprise licensing programs that guarantees customers rights to free future Office upgrades.

The death of SA would mean Microsoft had essentially shifted its focus to subscriptions. “I can see a time when Microsoft says, ‘The next edition of Office will be available only by subscription,'” DeGroot said at the time.

A five-year lifespan for perpetual licensing would mean, going by Microsoft’s usual three-year major release cycle, that it would offer traditional licenses for only the next upgrade, perhaps called Office 2016, but not the follow-up Office 2019.

Microsoft has thought about going subscription-only. In a February interview at a Morgan Stanley-hosted technology conference, Kurt DelBene, president of the Office division, was asked whether Office would move to the model. “I think it’s the one thing that we talk about a bunch and try to figure out exactly where it’s going,” DelBene said then. “I think we have aspirations that ultimately it might get there.”

Adobe’s shift to software-by-subscription was announced Tuesday, when it said that upgrades to the Create Suite bundle — PhotoShop is the best known of the CS applications — would only be offered to subscribers of what it’s called Creative Cloud. The current CS6 will continue to be sold and supported with bug fixes, but it will be the end of the line for those applications’ perpetual licensing model.

Patterson also claimed that a quarter of consumers buying the newest version of Office did so by subscribing to Office 365 Home Premium. He did not divulge the source of his data, but it may have been media reports of U.S. retail sales.

A month ago, Stephen Baker of the NPD Group said that Office 365 accounted for 25% of all Office retail unit sales in the U.S. since its introduction in late January.


“So, perhaps the shift is happening faster than we originally thought, and Adobe is helping blaze the trail,” Patterson said.


IRS, union mum on employees held accountable in ‘sin’ of political targeting

Washington Post

By Joe Davidson, Published: May 13

The targeting of political groups by the Internal Revenue Service is not only “outrageous,” as President Obama said Monday, but it also might be a “deadly sin.”

At issue is the boiling scandal about the IRS singling out dozens of tea party and other conservative organizations for special attention of the most unwanted kind.

It’s worth noting that the IRS is one of Washington’s least political agencies, at least in terms of staffing. It has only two political appointees. The top one, the commissioner at the time of the targeting, was appointed by Republican George W. Bush.

Obama told a news conference that “if, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.”

On Friday, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, called it “absolutely inappropriate and not the way we ought to do things.”


Her role in all of this could prove to be complex. She’s a career employee who was vigilant about not playing politics with IRS business, according to reporting by my colleague David A. Fahrenthold. Yet when she found out about and objected to the targeting in June 2011, it took almost a year before more general standards for auditing organizations were implemented.

Since Friday, the IRS has been like a turtle, withdrawing into a silent shell. The agency has not said whether anyone has been held accountable. The union representing IRS employees has been uncharacteristically quiet.

Obama and Lerner are right to call IRS targeting outrageous and inappropriate, but the deeds also could be sinful, at least under the commandments that govern the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 lists actions that have been dubbed the “10 deadly sins.” The statute says the IRS commissioner “shall terminate the employment of any employee” if there is “a final administrative or judicial determination” of misconduct.

The 10 sins, as listed by the Government Accountability Office are:

1. Willful failure to obtain the required approval signatures on documents authorizing a seizure of a taxpayer’s home, personal belongings, or business assets.

2. Providing a false statement under oath with respect to a material matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative.

3. Violating the rights protected under the Constitution or the civil rights established under six specifically identified laws with respect to a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the IRS.

4. Falsifying or destroying documents to conceal mistakes made by any employee with respect to a matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative.

5. Assault or battery of a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or employee of the IRS but only if there is a criminal conviction, or a final judgment by a court in a civil case, with respect to the assault or battery.

6. Violating the Internal Revenue Code, Department of the Treasury regulations, or policies of the IRS (including the Internal Revenue Manual) for the purpose of retaliating against, or harassing a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the IRS.

7. Willful misuse of the provisions of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code for the purpose of concealing information from a congressional inquiry.

8. Willful failure to file any return of tax required under the Internal Revenue Code on or before the date prescribed therefore (including any extensions), unless such failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.

9. Willful understatement of federal tax liability, unless such failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.

10. Threatening to audit a taxpayer for the purpose of extracting personal gain or benefit.


Several experts, inside and outside of government, were contacted and none identified any other agency with such agency-specific and conduct-specific discipline in federal personnel law.

“The feeling was that the IRS needed specific prohibitions against abuse since it possesses powers over individual lives like no other agency has, or did at the time, and was abusing those powers in some cases,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the “sins” amendment.

Potentially, targeting certain taxpayers could violate sins 3 and 6.


But who are the violators?

Lerner blamed “front-line people” during Friday’s conference call with reporters. In July 2010, according to the draft inspector general’s report: “Determinations Unit management requested its specialists to be on the lookout for Tea Party applications.” Perhaps “front-line people” includes unit management. Perhaps not. The IRS isn’t saying.

In cases like these, there’s often the suspicion that front-line or lower-level workers will be forced to take the fall for higher-ups. Labor organizations can play an important role in protecting employees from being unfairly disciplined while management slides.

So far, the National Treasury Employees Union, which generally is not shy with public comment, has next to nothing to say about that or anything else.

“NTEU is working to get the facts but does not have any specifics at this time. Moreover, IRS employees are not permitted to discuss taxpayer cases. We cannot comment further at this time,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said via e-mail.

A call to the NTEU office in Cincinnati resulted in a similar response: “We’ve been directed by national office. We have no comment.”

Somebody needs to say something soon.


Salt Levels In Processed Foods Still Too High

By Rachael Rettner, MyHealthNewsDaily Senior Writer |

May 13, 2013

Despite recent calls for food manufacturers to cut back on salt in their products, sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods have changed little in recent years, a new study suggests.

The study, conducted by the advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest, reviewed the sodium content of 402 processed foods sold at supermarkets, and 78 fast foods sold at chain restaurants.

Between 2005 and 2011, the sodium content of processed foods declined, on average, by 3.5 percent, and the sodium content of fast foods increased by 2.6 percent. Both of these changes were so small that they could have been due to chance, said study researcher Dr. Stephen Havas, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Currently, 9 in 10 Americans eat too much salt, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The government recommends people limit their salt intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. (For those who are 51 years or older, African-American, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney diseases, the recommendation is 1,500 mg per day.)

“That’s nearly impossible for people to do right now, given how much salt is in restaurant and processed foods,” Havas said. The average American takes in about 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Too much sodium in the diet raises blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the CDC says.

Overall, the amount of salt we consume from processed and fast foods needs to decline by at least 50 percent to have benefits for people’s health, Havas said. (Most of the salt we consume is through processed and fast foods, and not from a salt shaker, the researchers say.)

The new findings suggest that change happens too slowly when the food industry is asked to voluntarily reduce the sodium content of its foods, Havas said. Instead, the Food and Drug Administration should take steps to limit the amount of sodium allowed in different categories of food, he said.


High sodium foods

Some of the saltiest foods in the study were smoked bacon (1,803 mg of sodium per 100-gram serving), Caesar salad dressing (1,079 mg) and hot dogs (927 mg).

And a fast food meal of chicken strips and fries contained, on average, 1,239 mg of salt in 2011.

The study did not include products labeled as low sodium or sodium-free because the intent of the study was to focus on regular foods that had ample opportunity to reduce sodium levels between 2005 and 2011.

The researchers found wide variation in sodium levels in fast food. For instance, a medium serving of Burger King french fries had nearly twice the sodium as a medium serving of MacDonald’s french fries (670 mg versus 270 mg per 100 g serving).

“Examples like those demonstrate that many companies could easily lower sodium levels and still have highly marketable food,” the researchers wrote in the May issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Some companies have made commitments to lower sodium in the coming years. For instance, MacDonald’s says it will cut the sodium content of its whole menu 15 percent by 2015. But, Havas said, even if companies follow through with these commitments, they are still not enough.


Salt controversy

Not all studies have been able to find benefits of a reduced salt diet. A review published in 2011 found that moderate reductions in salt in the diet lowered blood pressure, but did not reduce participants’ risk of having heart disease or dying.

In a 2012 interview, Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, a professor of cardiology and physiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that for people with heart failure and high blood pressure, lowering salt intake has clear benefits, but for people in the general population, it’s less clear what the right level of salt is.

But people should be reasonable about how much salt they consume, Myerburg said, and the current guidelines are a reasonable recommendation, he said.

In an editorial accompanying the new study, Dr. Mitchell Katz of the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that government regulation of salt content may be difficult. “Regulating calorie size, or the maximum of a necessary nutrient, such as salt, will always raise questions of whether the government is going too far in regulating our lives.”


U.S. Navy makes aviation history with carrier drone launch

By David Alexander

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH | Tue May 14, 2013 3:13pm EDT


(Reuters) – The U.S. Navy made aviation history on Tuesday by launching an unmanned jet off an aircraft carrier for the first time, taking an important step toward expanded use of drones by the American military with an eye on possible rivals like China and Iran.

The bat-winged X-47B stealth drone roared off the USS George H.W. Bush near the coast of Virginia and flew a series of pre-programmed maneuvers around the ship before veering away toward a Naval air station in Maryland where it was scheduled to land.

“This is really a red-letter day. May 14 we all saw history happen” said Rear Admiral Ted Branch, the Atlantic naval air commander. “It’s a marker … between naval aviation as we’ve known it and the future of naval aviation with the launch of the X-47B.”
Because of its stealth potential and a range nearly twice that of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the X-47B and its successors are seen as a potential answer to the threat posed by medium-range anti-ship missiles developed by China and Iran, defense analysts said.

The missiles and other so-called anti-access, area-denial weapons would force U.S. aircraft carriers to operate far enough from shore that piloted aircraft would have to undergo refueling to carry out their missions, leaving them vulnerable to attack.

But with a range of 2,000 nautical miles, an unmanned jet like the X-47B could give the Navy both a long-range strike and reconnaissance capability.

“That makes it strategically very important,” said Anthony Cordesman, a senior defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He described the drone as “essentially a really long-range stealth system.”

The X-47B – one of only two demonstrator models made by Northrop Grumman – carries the equivalent of two precision-guided bombs. It was catapulted from the aircraft carrier on Tuesday using the same sling-shot system that sends manned aircraft aloft.



It is scheduled to undergo two weeks of testing aboard the carrier leading up to a landing on the ship, in which a plane’s tailhook grabs a wire that will slow it and keep it from plunging overboard.

While the carrier takeoff represented a significant milestone, defense analysts are focused on the next step, when the Navy attempts to use what has been learned with the X-47B to develop an unmanned aircraft for actual operations.

“The X-47B is a great story,” said Mark Gunzinger, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think-tank. “It’s a milestone and a step forward for unmanned, carrier-based aviation. But I think the real story is what’s next. How do we operationalize this capability?”

Future variants of the drone could probably be designed for full-spectrum broadband stealth, which means it would be hard for radar to locate it, analysts said. That level of stealth would be one of the drone’s major defenses.

U.S. drones currently in use in places like Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan – like the Predator and Reaper – are not up against any air defenses and are not stealthy aircraft.

Because of its long range and the Navy’s need to have it take off and land, day and night, from an aircraft carrier, the X-47B has been designed to operate with far greater autonomy than the remotely piloted aircraft currently in use.

That has raised concerns among some organizations worried about the heavy U.S. reliance on drones in warfare and the rising use of autonomous robots by the American military.

Human Rights Watch, in a report launching its recent campaign against “killer robots,” cited the X-47B as one of several weapons that represent a transition toward development of fully autonomous arms that require little human intervention.

A follow-on program – known as the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System, or UCLASS – is expected to build on what was learned with the X-47B to produce operational aircraft.

“As anti-access environments proliferate, the Navy’s Carrier Air Wings will require a mix of aircraft, both manned and unmanned, with the extended range, persistence, stealth, and payload to ensure U.S. power projection around the globe,” said Representative Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican and member of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.


Hagel Issues Memo Directing Preparations for Civilian Furloughs

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today that he has signed a memorandum directing defense managers to prepare to furlough most Defense Department civilian employees for up to 11 days between July 8 and the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Here is the text of the memo in its entirety:


This memo directs defense managers to prepare to furlough most Department of Defense (DOD) civilians for up to 11 days. The schedule for furloughs, and some specific exceptions, are described later in this memo and in the attachment. I have made this decision very reluctantly, because I know that the furloughs will disrupt lives and impact DOD operations. I, along with the senior civilian and military leadership of the Department, have spent considerable time reviewing information related to the need for furloughs, and I would like to share with you the reasoning that led me to this difficult decision.


Major budgetary shortfalls drove the basic furlough decision. On March 1, sequestration went into effect across the federal government. DOD’s budget for FY 2013 was reduced by $37 billion, including $20 billion in the operation and maintenance (O&M) accounts that pay many of our civilian workers. In addition, because our wartime budget is also subject to sequestration, we must utilize funds originally budgeted for other purposes in order to provide our troops at war with every resource they need. To compound our problems, when we estimated future wartime operating costs more than a year ago, we planned on fuel costs below what we are currently experiencing. Taken together, all these factors lead to a shortfall in our O&M accounts of more than $30 billion — a level that exceeds 15 percent of our budget request, with fewer than six months left in the fiscal year in which to accommodate this dramatic reduction in available resources.


We are taking actions to reduce this shortfall. One main priority has governed our decisions: to minimize the adverse effects on our military mission, including military readiness.

    With this in mind, early this calendar year we cut back sharply on facilities maintenance and worked to hold down base operating costs — decisions we knew would build a backlog of maintenance and adversely affect our bases. We are also preparing a request to Congress that would permit us to shift some funding from investment and military personnel accounts into the

    O&M accounts. If approved by Congress, this initiative — known as a reprogramming — would help close the gap.


But these actions are not enough. We have begun making sharp cuts in the training and maintenance of our operating forces — cutbacks that are seriously harming military readiness. The Army, for example, has terminated most remaining FY 2013 training rotations at its combat training centers. The Air Force has or soon will stop all flying at about one-third of its combat coded squadrons in the active forces. The Navy and Marine Corps are cutting back on training and on deployments — including a decision not to send a second carrier strike group to the Gulf.


These are only a few of the many cutbacks we have made in training and maintenance. These actions reduce our ability to handle future military contingency needs, both this year and in subsequent years.


Even after taking all these actions, we are still short of needed operating funds for FY 2013, and we cannot rule out unexpected increases in costs during the next few months. So we confront a difficult set of trade offs. We can make even larger cutbacks in training and maintenance, further reducing readiness to handle contingency operations and putting into even greater jeopardy our military readiness in future fiscal years. Alternatively, we can furlough civilian personnel to help close the gap and, knowing that morale, productivity and readiness would be affected. This is an unpleasant set of choices, but this is the situation we face.


Before making a decision, I sought advice and inputs from senior leaders in the military departments and agencies as well as advice from my senior civilian and military staff. I asked them to keep in mind our fundamental criterion to minimize adverse mission effects and, subject to that criterion, to ensure reasonable consistency and fairness across the Department for any furloughs that we impose.


Based on all these inputs, I have decided to direct furloughs of up to 11 days for most of the Department’s civilian personnel. Furloughs for up to 11 days represent about half of the 22 days that can legally be imposed in a year and also about half the number we had originally planned. This halving of previous furlough plans reflects vigorous efforts to meet our budgetary shortfalls through actions other than furloughs as well as Congressional passage of an appropriations bill in late March that reduced the shortfalls in our operating budget and expectations of Congressional action on our reprogramming request.


Furloughs will be imposed in every military department as well as almost every agency and in our working capital funds. All of our civilian employees are important, and I would prefer not to furlough any of them. However, there will only be limited exceptions driven by law and by the need to minimize harm to mission execution. We will except civilians deployed to combat zones and civilians necessary to protect life and property (but only to the extent needed to provide that protection). A few categories of workers will be excepted for specific mission reasons while some categories of workers will be excepted because furloughing them would not free up money for critical DOD mission needs. The attachment provides details regarding approved exceptions. Fewer than one fifth of all civilians paid with appropriated funds will be excepted from furloughs.


The planning and implementation of furloughs will be carried out based on the schedule below:


– May 28 – June 5: Furlough proposal notices will be served to individual employees subject to furloughs.


– June 4 – June 12: Individual employee reply periods end 7 calendar days from when the proposal was received, unless Component procedures allow for a different reply period.


– June 5 – July 5: Furlough decision letters will be served to individual employees subject to furloughs, depending on when the proposal was received and prior to the first day of furlough.


– July 8: Furlough period begins no earlier than this date.


We will begin furloughs on July 8 at the rate of 1 furlough day per week for most personnel. For now, we plan to continue furloughs through the end of FY 2013. That schedule would lead to 11 furlough days — one fifth of the week for about one quarter of the year. Moreover, I am directing all components to monitor funding closely for the remainder of FY 2013. If our budgetary situation permits us to end furloughs early, I would strongly prefer to do so. That is a decision I will make later in the year.


Consistent with this memo and with applicable laws and rules, commanders and managers will have the authority to develop the specifics of furlough procedures in order to minimize adverse mission effects and also limit the harm to morale and productivity. Further bargaining with unions may also be required. The Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness has already issued guidance as appropriate regarding personnel and union issues related to furloughs and will issue additional guidance as needed. Overall coordination of sequester and furlough policies will be the responsibility of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).


Each of the Department’s civilian employees makes an important contribution to the readiness of our Department to meet the nation’s national security needs. I understand that the decision to impose furloughs imposes financial burdens on our valued employees, harms overall morale, and corrodes the long-term ability of the Department to carry out the national defense mission. I deeply regret this decision. I will continue to urge that our nation’s leaders reach an agreement to reduce the deficit and de-trigger sequestration. If no agreement is reached, I will continue to look for ways to limit the adverse effects of sequestration and associated budgetary shortfalls both on the men and women of the Department of Defense, and on our national defense.



US Agencies Can’t Track Savings From Data Center Closings

The government’s goal to close 40 percent of its data centers is behind schedule, an auditor says

By Grant Gross

Tue, May 14, 2013


IDG News Service (Washington, D.C., Bureau) — The U.S. government’s effort to close 1,253 of its data centers is falling short of its goal, and agencies haven’t been able to track projected cost savings for the initiative, a government auditor told lawmakers.

The White House Office of Management and Budget’s goal of saving at least US$3 billion by closing 40 percent of the government’s 3,133 data centers is “very realistic,” but so far, the OMB and government agencies haven’t been able to calculate those savings, said David Powner, director of IT management issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

OMB has told GAO that, so far, the “savings were minimal,” Powner told the government operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Who knows, really, where it is?”

OMB, in February 2010, set the goal of closing 1,253 data centers by 2015. As of December, agencies had closed 420 data centers, with plans to close another 548 by December 2015, or 285 closures short of the OMB goal, the GAO said in a report released Tuesday.

Eighteen months from the deadline for data center closings, “we have no idea how much we’ve saved the taxpayers,” said Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, an online community for government IT issues.

While OMB’s data center closure plan was a good one, the agency is not “bringing it to closure,” Powner told the subcommittee. OMB declined to testify during Tuesday’s hearing.

OMB isn’t tracking cost savings, because the agency has “not yet determined a consistent and repeatable method for tracking cost savings,” the GAO report said.

The cost savings estimates for most agencies aren’t available, according to a chart released by the subcommittee. Agencies have estimated just $65.3 million in savings in the government’s fiscal year 2013, out of the $3 billion goal, according to the chart.

Lawmakers called on OMB and the other agencies to find ways to track the results of the data center closings. “If they’re not tracking cost savings, what do they think the consolidation effort is for?” said Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat. “We’ve got to have some consistent measurement by OMB.”

Agencies will are looking at server utilization, energy costs and other criteria in an effort to decide what data centers to close, said Bernard Mazer, CIO at the U.S. Department of Interior. “Many of our servers are at 5 percent, or 10 percent, utilization,” he said.

Agencies should be able to get a better handle on cost savings moving forward, because a federal Data Center Consolidation Task Force is working on establishing cost savings metrics, Mazer said.

Since late 2010, OMB has been pushing agencies to consider cloud computing services as an alternative to operating their own data centers. But the U.S. General Services Administration has certified only two cloud service providers for use by government agencies, O’Keeffe said.

“The on ramp to federal cloud is horribly congested,” O’Keeffe said. “You can hear the honking on the digital highway right now as software companies line up to get through federal certification.”

O’Keeffe called on OMB and other agencies to “set realistic goals in the open and publish the real status on success and failure.” Agency CIOs should prioritize what applications they need to continue to operate, and agencies should look to private company efforts to optimize data centers for the best ideas moving forward, he said.

“How long did it take Nasdaq to do its data center optimization?” he said. “What steps did it take? How much money did it save? Can we learn a huge amount from industry? Absolutely, yes.”



Germany Cancels $1.3 Billion Purchase of Euro Hawks


Posted on May 15, 2013 by The Editor    


An official says that Germany has cancelled plans to purchase and modify U.S.-made Global Hawk UAS for 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion).

The aircraft made by Northrop Grumman were to be equipped with special signal interception devices and re-named Euro Hawk.

One experimental aircraft already purchased will continue to be used for testing purposes.

A government official said on Tuesday the decision not to buy four more aircraft was taken after it became clear that getting the required authorization to fly them over European airspace would be too costly. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly ahead of a meeting Wednesday of Parliament’s defence committee.

The official put the cost to the government of cancelling the programme at about 250 million euros.

Source: FOX News


Drones over Pendleton: Unmanned military craft plies civilian airspace

15 May 2013

By Press

Richard Cockle, The Oregonian

PENDLETON — A 375-pound Oregon Army National Guard drone carrying a sophisticated camera was catapulted into the cobalt-blue eastern Oregon sky here Tuesday, in what Guard officials called the first-ever flight of an unmanned military aircraft through civilian airspace.

Until now, military drones have been confined to restricted airspace above U.S. military bases. The Guard expects to initially fly the four unmanned planes based here twice a month, and later expand the flights to once a week over the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton and wheat fields to the north, said Pat Caldwell, a Guard spokesman.

The brief flight of the Guard’s RQ7B Shadow around the airport takes the Guard into potentially controversial territory.

The possibility of widespread drone use has prompted debate in the Oregon Legislature this year, pitting concerns over domestic surveillance against the promise of a tantalizing new industry. Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, introduced legislation that would criminalize the use of drones to fire missiles or spy on people.

But Guard officials vow that the drones flown from Pendleton will be used for combat training, not peeking poolside or in the windows of homes and businesses.

“Our cameras are here to do military training,” said Sgt. Eric Smidt, spokesman for the 27-member National Guard troop platoon that flies them. “As military personnel, we are not allowed to look in on civilians.”

Tuesday’s flight into airspace designated for general aviation puts the Oregon Army National Guard on the cutting-edge of unmanned aerial system technology, said Lt. Col. Alan R. Gronewold.

“I foresee this expanding greatly over the next few years,” said an enthusiastic Oregon Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Mark Braeme.

The RQ7B Shadow is eleven feet long, with a 14-foot wingspan and a noise signature like “an unmuffled lawn mower engine on steroids,” according to Braeme. The craft is a smaller, unarmed version of the unmanned Predator drones used by the U.S. military to hunt down and kill suspected terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Guard officals said the plane’s $800,000 pricetag is largely due to the cost of its miniaturized and high-tech camera payload.


FBI Faces Furloughs in 2014

By Eric Katz

May 16, 2013


The FBI will furlough agents and employees in fiscal 2014, should sequestration cuts continue as scheduled.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department the FBI would have no choice but to force unpaid leave, thereby putting the country at risk.

“I have long said people are the bureau’s greatest asset,” Mueller said at the subcommittee hearing Thursday. “Additional operational cuts and furloughs will impact the FBI’s ability to prevent crime and terrorism, which will in turn impact the safety and security of our nation.”

He added the bureau has taken every possible step to protect its workforce, but the cuts will become too deep to avoid furloughs.

“We have two resources to cut,” Mueller testified. “One is our people, which is a last resort.”

The other option is the FBI’s infrastructure, which the director said is “tremendously important to us but comes second to our people.”

Mueller said the FBI cannot absorb the $700 million in sequestration cuts scheduled for fiscal 2014, however, without resorting to policies detrimental to the workforce. The FBI has already sustained $550 million in automatic cuts in fiscal 2013 on top of $150 million in cuts from 2013 appropriations, but it has been able to avoid furloughs this fiscal year.

Lawmakers expressed their disapproval with the plan. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the full committee, called it “shocking” the bureau would have to furlough agents.

“The FBI is known for its agents,” she said. “The threats do not go away. This is not deferring maintenance to a dorm.”

The senator renewed a call for a permanent solution to replace the across-the-board cuts.

“This is a self-inflicted wound,” she said. “This is not an external threat from a foreign country or what organized crime is doing to us. It’s what we’re doing to ourselves. And I think we have to find a solution for canceling sequester, not better managing sequester.”

Mueller said the furloughs would have a significant and adverse impact on agents.

“There is nothing more demoralizing than when you are faced with furloughs,” he told the panel. “Unable to pay your bills, working hard, but the government has to furlough you because there is insufficient money to keep you on.”

Mueller added, however, the unpaid leave would not have stopped a prompt response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April.

“Furlough or no furlough everyone would be in immediately,” he said, “even if you didn’t get paid.”

These employees would still get paid, however. The Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance that states an employee on furlough who is called back into work for emergency purposes has his furlough canceled and receives normal compensation. An FBI agent would not be legally permitted to voluntarily come into work while furloughed without receiving pay.


U.S. could use cyberattack on Syrian air defenses

Jim Michaels, USA TODAY1:50 p.m. EDT May 16, 2013

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has cyberattack capabilities that allow the U.S. military to help blind Syrian air defenses without firing a shot, according to military analysts.

“One of the reasons the Air Force has paid so much attention to cyberwarfare is … for beating enemy air defenses,” said James Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S. abilities to defeat Syria’s air defenses are central to a debate over whether to intervene in the 2-year-old civil war. Electronic methods to disable enemy air defense systems include the injection of malware, a form of computer software, into the air defense network through a computer attack or by traditional electronic warfare aircraft capable of jamming radar.

The radars act like wireless transmitters and jammers can send false or destructive information into the radar, which then gets into the network, said Shlomo Narkolayev, an analyst who previously worked on cyber issues for the Israeli military’s Unit 8200, which handles cyberwarfare.

“It’s not hard to do this,” Narkolayev said.

Syria and other nations are constantly adjusting the electronics for their air systems, and Air Force documents show the U.S. military does the same with its cyberweapons. They are constantly updated to counter changes made by enemy militaries.

A 2007 Israeli attack on a suspected Syrian nuclear power plant in 2007 provided a template for a future attack. The Israelis used a cyberattack to disable Syrian air defenses before aircraft entered Syrian airspace.

The Israeli attack was a quick strike that only required temporarily blinding air defenses. Establishing a no-fly zone would be a lengthier campaign that would require taking down Syrian air defenses for weeks or months.

Cyberattacks can cause permanent damage, Lewis said. U.S. forces have been reluctant to use cyberattacks for fear of creating collateral damage from malware that could damage other networks and because of concerns that enemy nations will copy the destructive malware once it is released. “We’ve been very cautious with the use of cyberweapons,” Lewis said.

The Pentagon is in the process of reviewing new rules of engagement for cyberwarfare.

Syrians could take the system offline to avoid an infection spreading, but then the system would be less effective, Lewis said.

The Pentagon has said any air campaign would be a challenge because of the size and sophistication of Syrian air defenses, which are far more extensive than in Libya, where the United States and NATO created a no-fly zone in 2011.

“It’s a much denser and more sophisticated system,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently.

U.S. and allied aircraft successfully launched an air campaign in Libya that helped defeat the regime of Moammar Ghadafi. It has frequently been help up as a model of what to do in Syria.

The White House launched an initiative to provide non-lethal aid to rebels battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but has not decided on any further military options.

The question of how to respond has taken on renewed urgency after the Obama administration said the Assad regime has probably used chemical weapons.

Critics of the White House’s Syrian policy, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a leading Republican voice on foreign policy issues, advocate a more robust response, including establishing a no-fly zone.

While cyberwarfare provides some advantages it is not without risk and cannot replace more conventional tactics, said Jeffrey Carr, founder of Taia Global, a cybersecurity consultancy. “Cyber is not a magic bullet,” he said.

Analysts say if cyberattacks were used it would likely be alongside more traditional methods, such as jamming radar and missiles that lock on to radar sites. That requires pilots who risk their lives flying in dangerous airspace.

Air defense systems generally tie radar and missile sites together over a computer network. The system may be generally closed, but may connect with the Internet at junctures that are vulnerable to outside attack, analysts say. “Once you penetrate the systems you can do anything,” Narkolayev said.



Google Glass Privacy Worries Lawmakers

The Wall Street Journal

Updated May 16, 2013, 10:26 p.m. ET


Eight members of Congress on Thursday asked Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page to give assurances about privacy safeguards for the company’s high-profile Google Glass wearable-computing device.

The demands come as Google holds its annual developer conference in San Francisco, where it is coaching hundreds of developers on how to write programs for the device. Google Glass is an accessory worn on a person’s face and places a small computer screen above one eye, and it connects wirelessly to a smartphone using Bluetooth technology. The device is currently available to fewer than a couple thousand developers who paid $1,500 for a prototype, ahead of a planned public launch of Glass sometime next year.

Thursday’s letter, signed by members of the congressional bipartisan “privacy caucus,” asks Google how it would “prevent Google Glass from unintentionally collecting data about the user/non-user without consent,” including through the use of facial-recognition technology.

The letter was signed by Republican Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Steve Chabot (Ohio) and Richard Nugent (Fla.) as well as Democratic Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Hank Johnson Jr. (Ga.), Walter B. Jones (N.C.), Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Loretta Sanchez (Calif.).

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the congressional letter.

Since Google first previewed Google Glass a year ago, several state legislators and store owners already have suggested banning Google Glass wearers from driving or entering certain stores.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy group, said “Congress is right to ask Google about the plans for Glass.” He added that “the privacy issues are huge and not well understood,” adding that the “number one concern is whether Google is capturing the data stream” generated by the device user.

Not every privacy advocate is as concerned. Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said Google Glass “doesn’t do anything more than your phone can already do—it’s just a new hands-free interface.” He added that “Congress is absolutely right to be concerned about the potential implications of facial recognition, but that’s more of a long-term concern than an immediate issue” and isn’t limited to Google Glass but rather to any camera in public. “The sensors, the databases, and the analytical capability aren’t there yet,” he added.

On Thursday, Steve Lee, a lead project manager of Google Glass, said during a conference question-and-answer session that the company won’t permit applications to be distributed through its app store if they violate certain rules, such as allowing Glass to record information without lighting up its small screen so that people next to the wearer can see it is on. “From the beginning we’ve been thinking about the social implications…not only for people wearing Glass but for people who aren’t,” he said.

He added that data recorded by the device will be handled in accordance with Google’s existing privacy policies. Google says generally that its policies allow it to collect information in an anonymous way, and hold data about specific people only if they agree to it.

Mr. Lee said Google has experimented with using facial-recognition technology for Glass but didn’t have plans to release such software now, though he left the door open to doing so. “I want to make sure there’s clear user benefit,” he said, adding that he expected third-party developers to create such technology for Glass, implying that a facial-recognition app could be permitted.

On Wednesday, Google co-founder Sergey Brin also said the company had thought about some privacy implications for Glass and made sure people who aren’t using the device would be able to tell when it is on and could be recording them using its built-in camera. He added that people always have a natural aversion to innovation.

Google Glass is in its infancy. It lets people take photos and record videos by touching the side of the device, which is worn like regular glasses, or speaking commands aloud, preceded by the words “OK, Glass.” People also can use Google search and get turn-by-turn navigation information on the screen.

On Thursday, social network Facebook Inc. said it developed an app for Glass so people could share photos taken using Glass’s camera with their friends on Facebook. Messaging service Twitter Inc. also has developed an app for Glass.

Software developers are discussing creating apps for numerous industries, including one that helps construction workers on the job or helps paraplegic individuals take photos. Glass also allows its owner to let anyone “see” through its camera through the Google+ social-networking service. Some tech enthusiasts say they envision scenarios in which a physician would get access to a Google Glass camera worn by a person who is trying to administer medical aid in another city or country, among other potential uses.

The congressional letter, which asks for a reply by June 14, also asks whether there are safeguards Google is building so that data stored on the device can’t be accessed by someone other than the owner. The letter also asks: “When using Google Glass, is it true that this product would be able to use Facial Recognition Technology to unveil personal information about whomever and even some inanimate objects that the user is viewing?”

The letter made reference to one of Google’s biggest privacy flaps involving vehicles that captured images for its Street View service on Google Maps. For several years those vehicles captured information from unencrypted wireless networks that it passed by while driving. Google has paid fines and weathered embarrassing government probes about the matter.

Google is amassing a growing array of data about individuals and the world around them, hoping to provide Google users with “personalized” information, including in Web-search, Google Maps, YouTube and other services.

The company showed off such features this week during its developer conference. They include Google Now, which tries to anticipate the information needs of people who use devices powered by Android mobile operating systems, providing them with “cards” showing traffic conditions or flight information related to a person’s travel plans, among many other things. Google owns Android, which powers the majority of smartphones in the world and a growing percentage of tablets.

Glass is viewed as a kind of accessory for smartphones, and many of the early apps created for the device are versions of smartphone apps, but don’t require people to hold or look down at their smartphones.

Some software developers who use the Google Glass prototype said the device is no more intrusive to people’s privacy than a smartphone, which typically have the same features. Ethan Nagel, co-founder of Tomfoolery Inc., which developers collaboration software for businesses, said anyone could misuse a mobile device to violate people’s privacy, but “there’s a certain element of trust we have in people” not to do so.

“It’s Google responsibility” to encourage developers to behave, but the company can’t control every device, said Mr. Nagel.


Ohio’s well data shatters shale oil hopes

Thu, May 16 2013

By Edward McAllister and Sabina Zawadzki

NEW YORK | Thu May 16, 2013 8:08pm EDT


(Reuters) – U.S. hopes for a new shale oil bonanza in Ohio, joining the prolific Bakken and Eagle Ford plays that have raised production to 20-year highs, were shattered on Thursday by the first hard evidence that the Utica formation was primarily gas-prone.

Just two years ago, the Utica had the global oil industry buzzing as companies rushed to buy acreage in the Midwest state in the belief it could hold a $500-billion bounty, as Chesapeake Energy’s former CEO, Aubrey McClendon, had proclaimed.

Now, data from Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed that in 2012, the first full year of drilling, oil output amounted to only 636,000 barrels — about enough to fill a single small crude oil tanker. On average for the full year, output came to a mere 1,742 barrels a day (bpd) versus 780,000 bpd in North Dakota, where much of Bakken lies.

“This is less impressive than was initially touted,” said Mark Hanson, energy analyst at Morningstar in Chicago. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be the next Eagle Ford.”

State officials sought to put a positive spin on the year’s drilling results, which were released on an annualized basis rather than monthly like most other states.

The officials highlighted the “significant” natural gas production of 35 million cubic feet (mmcf) a day in 2012, a sum based on Reuters calculations of annual DNR data. They said the data made a “compelling statement” about the “staggering” amount of reserves in the Utica shale.

But whether or not companies are willing to keep drilling and produce those reserves is a different question. Crude oil flowed from the Utica wells at an uneconomic trickle. Gas prices are low and supplies are abundant, making it a challenge to justify the massive investments needed to bring it to market.

While the news will not come as a surprise to the industry and analysts — scepticism has grown over the past year as individual companies indicated their first results — this is the first time a full database of wells has been released.

Ohio publishes only annual well data and in 2011 development of the plays had only begun making the 2012 results crucial to assessing the real potential of the formation. Most other states publish data on a monthly basis.

“The reported volumes of oil are lower than initially estimated, but higher than conventional non-shale oil wells. Oil production will be incidental to gas production in much of the Utica/Point Pleasant play,” the DNR said in a statement.

Oil production in the United States, by far the world’s largest consumer of crude, has risen to its highest levels since 1992 to 7.159 million barrels a day thanks to the shale oil renaissance in North Dakota and in Texas, home to the Eagle Ford formation.

Signs of waning enthusiasm for Utica appeared last year when dominant companies such as Chesapeake (CHK.N) and Devon Energy (DVN.N) began selling off acreage in what was originally expected to be oil-rich parts of the play.

This was a change for Chesapeake given McClendon’s description of the formation as “the biggest thing to hit Ohio since the plow.”

The data issued on Thursday comprised all 87 producing wells in the formation in the state. According to Reuters calculations from that data, the average oil production per well per days the well was active, was 80 barrels a day.

In North Dakota, where production is in full swing, the average daily production per well is 600 barrels.

Nevertheless, drilling in general is expected to accelerate and new pipeline infrastructure will allow wells to bring oil and gas to markets nationwide more cheaply.

Counties in Ohio showed varying potential, Morningstar’s Hanson said, pointing out that Harrison County showed some evidence of strong oil production, while Carroll County seemed more gassy.

And the DNR remained upbeat about the data.

“The production from these initial Utica wells makes a compelling statement about the staggering amount of oil and gas resources Ohio’s shale may contain,” said James Zehringer, DNR’s director.

The department expects more than 360 wells to be producing in the Utica this year and 1,000 in 2015. Zehringer signaled production data could become available more frequently in the future.

“As oil and gas production grows, we need to see these production numbers more frequently. This will allow us to adjust to the growing needs and not fall behind from a regulatory standpoint,” he said.


Texas drone bill sparks a battle

Media groups, and even some privacy advocates slam Texas effort to limit drone use as a threat to free speech

Jaikumar Vijayan

May 17, 2013 (Computerworld)


The battle to find a balance between privacy concerns and the beneficial use of drones for commercial and law enforcement purposes is in sharp focus in a bill that’s winding its way through the Texas legislature.

The Texas Privacy Act (HB 912), sponsored by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-District 4), would make it illegal, under specific circumstances, to take photographs or possess photographs taken from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.

The Texas bill carves out exemptions for law enforcement officers with a valid search warrant, or who are in active pursuit of a suspect. The legislation would also permit drone use by border patrol agents and first responders on firefighting or rescue efforts.

In most other cases, though, owners or operators of drones would be prohibited from capturing images of people, property, land and buildings without permission of the person being photographed and/or the owner of the property.

Anyone that “possesses, discloses, displays, distributes or otherwise uses an image” without such consent would face fines of up to $1,000 for each illegal act. The law would permit individuals to bring legal action against drone operators they believe took photos of them or their property.

The bill has passed the Texas House and is now set for debate in the state Senate.

The bill has prompted sharp criticism from media and entertainment groups, which contend that its language threatens constitutionally protected free speech.

In a letter sent this week, members of The Society of Professional Journalists, The Motion Picture Association of America, The Radio and Television Digital News Association and others called on the Texas Senate to reject the measure.

“We believe that this bill will create a significant impediment to journalists and others who are engaged in constitutionally protected speech,” said Alicia Calzada, attorney for the National Press Photographers Association, in the letter.

The bill’s language is so vague it effectively makes photography a crime, Calzada wrote. “It makes speech in the form of publishing images, or even possessing them, illegal,” she said.


The bill does not clearly define illegal monitoring or surveillance, the letter said. Such ambiguity is dangerous, Calzada noted.

“A journalist (or ordinary citizen) monitoring an environmental spill, documenting the aftermath of a disaster or simply monitoring traffic conditions could easily be committing a crime under this bill. This would create an enormous burden on speech that is clearly constitutionally protected,” the letter argued.

The bill also makes no distinction between private and public property, Calzada wrote. “Photography that is completely legal using a helicopter, would suddenly be illegal, and subject the photographer to significant liability, simply because it is taken with a UAV,” she said.

In an email to Computerworld, Calzada pointed to a 2012 incident involving a meatpacking company in the Dallas area. A local citizen, using a simple camera-equipped remote-controlled airplane flying at low-altitude, took several photos of the Trinity River. On retrieving his photos, he noticed what appeared to be blood and notified authorities.

Local and state authorities later confirmed that untreated pig blood was being released into the river by a meatpacking plant. The discovery led to an 18-count indictment charging the company and two of its executives with offenses.

“If this bill were in place at the time, the citizen who blew the whistle on this horrible event would be criminally liable. In addition, he would be subject to a civil lawsuit,” Calzada said in the email.

The Dallas Morning News and area television stations that carried the images would have also been subject to lawsuits, she said. “The way the bill is written, I could be standing in a public place and the UAV could be in a public place, but because private property is simply in the photograph, I would be liable.”

Such sentiments are notable, she said. Until now, the most vocal protests related to drones have been from people opposed to the use of UAVs over domestic airspace.

Concerns about drone use have been growing ever since President Barack Obama signed off on the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 last year. The bill permits commercial UAVs to operate over U.S. airspace.

Some experts estimate that there could be as many as 30,000 drones operating over U.S. skies in the next few years, which has alarmed privacy and rights advocacy groups.

Privacy advocates fear that drones equipped with cameras, license plate readers and other sophisticated monitoring equipment will allow law enforcement and commercial entities to carry out unprecedented surveillance of U.S. citizens. Such concerns have already prompted several states to pass, or consider passing laws that would limit what drone operators can and cannot do.

Drone industry lobbyists such as Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) insist that privacy and civil rights concerns tied to drones stem from a misunderstanding of how they will be used. AUVSI and other groups say that drones can be useful in many areas, including law enforcement, traffic management, crop monitoring, land management, news reporting, real estate sales and filmmaking.

Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for the AUVSI said the Texas legislation aims to rewrite search warrant requirements and create a separate distinction for unmanned systems.

“Would search and rescue teams not be able to use [Unmanned Aerial Systems] to take photos of an area where a missing child is thought to be? Would researchers be prohibited from using UAS to photograph hurricanes or tornadoes in efforts to better understand them and predict their paths? Would farmers be prohibited from using UAS to take images of their crops to efficiently check for signs of drought or blight?” she asked.


The protests in Texas highlight the challenges involved in keeping both sides happy, said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“This piece of legislation goes way too far,” in limiting drone use, she said. “It contains the most broad language of any of the pieces of legislation I have seen so far.” she noted.

As the FAA starts issuing more licenses expect to see more such challenges to state drone privacy laws, Lynch added.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter@jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar’s RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His email address is



Dell’s thumb PC, Project Ophelia, to ship in July

Dell says Android-based Project Ophelia could be a PC, gaming console or TV set-top box

Agam Shah

May 17, 2013 (IDG News Service)


Dell’s thumb-sized PC called Project Ophelia, which is the size of a USB stick, will start shipping in July for around $100.

The Android-based device will plug into a display’s HDMI port so that it can run applications or access files stored remotely. It will have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities and is aimed at users who do most of their computing on the Web.

Ophelia can turn any screen or display into a PC, gaming machine or a TV set-top box, said Jeff McNaught, executive director of cloud client computing at Dell. Users will be able to download apps, movies and TV shows from the Google Play store, McNaught said. Users will also be able to run Android games or stream movies from Hulu or Netflix.

It is meant to be an inexpensive alternative to tablets and PCs, McNaught said. However, users need to be close to a TV screen, display or projector with an HDMI port to use it.

The company is working on a keyboard-like technology for users to type when Ophelia is docked to a screen, he said.

Dell will demonstrate Ophelia on 19-inch and 55-inch screens at next week’s Citrix Synergy conference in Los Angeles. It was introduced in January at the International CES show.

Ophelia will also come with Wyse’s PocketCloud, which allows users to access files stored on PCs, servers or mobile devices. Other improvements being implemented will include usability of the device.

“We’ve done a number of things in the software of the product and outside that will make it interesting,” McNaught said.

The first units will ship to developers who may want to write Android apps for Ophelia. In August, it will be available via cable companies or telecom providers that may want to offer it with cable packages or data plans. Shortly after, it will be available to consumers on Dell’s website.

Dell is also pitching Ophelia to enterprises as a pocket-sized thin client, McNaught said.


A set of features will allow IT administrators to manage and secure the device. For example, it could be wiped clean if it is lost. The feature set, called cloud client manager, will allow system administrators to see where users are and what they are doing with Ophelia.

“We want to make sure when we release the product that it’s perfect. The enterprise is one market we understand,” McNaught said.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Rasmussen Reports

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Another day, another controversy? It must have seemed that way lately to the Obama administration, but will it matter? Voters are sending mixed signals so far. 

The strongest voter reaction can be found in response to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups. Most voters believe the targeting was politically motivated and 57% think most of those involved should be fired or jailed. Fifty-five percent (55%) think it is at least somewhat likely that President Obama or his top aides were aware of the IRS’ actions.

However, the recent high-profile congressional hearings on events surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi have had no impact on public opinion. Before the hearings, 32% thought the administration had done a good job explaining what happened in Libya last fall. After the hearings, that number was 31%. Before the hearings, 78% thought it was important to learn what happened. After, that figure was 82%.

Voters are closely divided over whether the Justice Department’s secret seizure of telephone records from the Associated Press was an effort to protect national security or an attempt to bully the media. A narrow plurality believes the press already has too much freedom on national security issues.

In his latest weekly newspaper column, Scott Rasmussen says the Justice Department scandal is the most “nuanced” of the president’s current problems. “While the public is not up in arms over this issue, journalists are,” Scott explains. “So there is likely to be more aggressive reporting on some of the other challenges facing the White House.” 

While the short-term implications are impossible to predict, Scott adds that the events of the past few days “will make the president’s biggest uphill battle impossible to achieve – trying to build faith in the federal government.”

Despite the recent bad news, 49% of voters still consider the president a good or excellent leader, unchanged from March but down from a high of 55% in January. This is more in line with views of Obama prior to Election Day.

The leadership numbers also parallel Obama’s job approval ratings in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Forty-six percent (46%) still give the president good or excellent marks when it comes to his handling of national security issues. But 39% now give him poor marks in this area, a six-point increase from a week ago. When it comes to the economy, 39% of voters think the president is doing a good or excellent job.

Obama draws his lowest ratings to date for his handling of issues related to deficit reduction and economic fairness. Thirty-four percent (34%) believe the president is doing a good or excellent job dealing with deficit reduction. Just 35% think the president say the same of his handling of issues related to economic fairness.

The president’s health care law, scheduled for full implementation by next year, may be another big cloud on the horizon. Voters now give the U.S. health care system its lowest marks in recent years and are increasingly pessimistic about the short-term future of health care in this country. Fifty-six percent (56%) believe the health care system is likely to get worse over the next couple of years. That figure has been inching up from 50% last November.

Voters still agree with the president on the need for a ban on semi-automatic and so-called assault-type weapons, but 64% think it would be bad for America if government officials such as police and military personnel were the only ones allowed to have guns.

Most voters believe either state (36%) or local governments (17%) should set laws on gun ownership. Just 34% believe the feds should have that responsibility. 

While Congress and the president try to hammer out a plan to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants in this country, we thought it was a good time to ask about legal immigration. Most Americans think the United States should welcome legal immigrants from around the world but believe those from countries with terrorist ties should be eyed more closely. They also think the United States should give preference to immigrants who are good for the economy.

If the border is truly secured as party of comprehensive immigration reform, however, 38% believe the government should decrease the level of legal immigration, too.

But is anybody listening? Just eight percent (8%) of voters believe the average member of Congress listens to the voters he or she represents more than congressional party leaders. An overwhelming majority (80%) believes the average congressman listens to party leaders more. No wonder that just 12% believe members of Congress almost always get reelected because they do a good job representing their constituents.

Half of U.S. voters continue to favor an immediate withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, as fewer than ever think the United States can really win there. Only 25% believe it is still possible for the United States to win the nearly 12-year-long war in Afghanistan, down dramatically from the 51% who felt that way in early December 2009.

Consumer confidence remains just below the highest levels in recent years.

Democrats have a two-point lead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

In other surveys last week:

– Thirty percent (30%) of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.

– Voters are now evenly divided when asked if elections in the United States are fair today, and a solid majority continues to believe that the U.S. government does not have the consent of the governed. But the Political Class strongly disagrees.

– Eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans believe English should be the official language of the United States, and 77% don’t believe requiring people to speak English is a form of racism or bigotry.

– The horrific factory collapse in Bangladesh more than two weeks ago that left more than 1,100 people dead has put the human toll of producing cheap clothing and other products back in the minds of many. While fewer than half of Americans make an effort to only buy clothes made domestically, they support requirements for apparel companies to report where their clothes are made and details about working conditions in those countries.

– Half of Americans believe major college sports programs are bad for higher education and break the rules on a regular basis when recruiting.

– Seventy-three percent (73%) believe football coaches at major colleges are paid too much, and 57% favor a proposal that would prevent them from being paid more than professors are.

– A ruling is expected next month on a suit filed by a former college basketball star claiming that the NCAA should not profit from using the names and images of athletes without paying them, and 50% of Americans agree.

Working adults seem to enjoy a life away from the job even when they’re out with their co-workers. Forty-nine percent (49%) of Employed Adults rarely or never get together with co-workers for social events, while another 36% say they do so only occasionally.

– Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans planned to visit their mothers last Sunday for Mother’s Day.

May 4 2013




How to Moderate Climate Change: Plant More Trees to Avoid Warming

By Catherine Griffin

Apr 29, 2013 10:55 AM EDT


How do we moderate climate change? Plant more trees. A new study reveals that plants can actually release gases that help form clouds and cool the atmosphere. That’s sure to provide some incentive for drought-stricken areas.

Researchers have known for quite some time that aerosols, which are particles that float in the atmosphere, tend to cool the climate as they form cloud droplets which reflect sunlight. These aerosols can come from many different sources, including human emissions. However, the effects of a biogenic aerosol, which is particulate matter that originates from plants, aren’t as well-studied.

Plants actually release gases that, after atmospheric oxidation, tend to stick to aerosol particles. This causes the original particles to grow and reflect more sunlight. This also serves as the basis for cloud droplets.

In order to understand a bit more about this phenomenon and how it might affect our climate, researchers collected data at 11 different sites from around the world. They measured the concentrations of aerosol particles in the atmosphere, along with the concentrations of plant gases and temperature. They also reanalyzed estimates for the height of the boundary layer, which is the layer of air closest to Earth in which gases and particles mix effectively. This layer actually changes with weather, which made it a key variable in the scientists’ estimates.

So what did researchers find? They discovered that as temperatures rise, there’s an increase of natural aerosols which have a cooling effect on the atmosphere. In other words, plants actually reacted to changes in temperature and aided in the cooling effect.

That’s not going to save us from climate change, though. The effect of enhanced plant gas emissions on climate only countered about one percent of warming. However, that effect had far more of an impact on the regional scale; it could potentially counter 30 percent of warming in more rural, forested areas where anthropogenic emissions of aerosols were much lower in comparison to the natural aerosols.

While this study may show that trees won’t have a major impact on cooling, it does show how they might affect something else. The research could have major implications for climate models.

“Aerosol effects on the climate are one of the main uncertainties in climate models,” said lead researcher, Pauli Paasonen, in a press release. “Understanding this mechanism could help us reduce those uncertainties and make the models better.”

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.



Open Source Tech is Driving Big Changes in Government

By Joseph Marks and Mark Micheli

April 26, 2013


Open source technology is now visible everywhere in government from the basic operating systems that federal computers run on to the blogs, websites and social media tools they use to communicate with the public. Red Hat, which helps companies manage, maintain and secure open source tools, including the operating system Linux, has been at the forefront of much of this adoption.

Nextgov sat down with Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst recently to talk about how open source is changing government, where it’s had the greatest impact and where he sees it going in the future. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity).


Nextgov: Can you tell us a little about open source’s initial path into government?

Whitehurst: Enterprise open source is about 10 years old. When you think broadly about early adopters, it was two main sectors: financial services and the intelligence community. People think of open source now as low cost but the initial interest was because of high performance. The financial community used it because running Linux [the most common open source operating system] was faster for doing trading platforms. Then the major investment banks all moved over and that’s rippled through financial services.

There was a similar dynamic in government. The largest sector for us, both in the U.S. and globally, is the intelligence community and that was primarily around security. We actually partnered with the [National Security Agency] and wrote the security regime that says use enterprise Linux. This would’ve been in the early 2000s. It’s called SE Linux, or security enhanced Linux. So, they deployed it broadly and it went from the Intel community to the military. Now, I think, every Army vehicle has Linux on it on a little server. From there it moved to civilian agencies and that’s more related to cost than performance.

There’s a classic story we tell about joining those two early adopters. We had a collaboration in the mid-2000s with the Navy, which was looking to upgrade its missile defense. When someone shoots a missile at a ship you want to be able to react very quickly. There’s something called a real time kernel you can put in an operating system where you get a guaranteed maximum performance to run an instruction. It’s actually a bunch of changes that say the longest code path possible in the worst-case situation can be no longer than X for this operation. It’s a lot of work to do that. We did that with the Navy for missile defense but it’s now used by every major stock exchange because you also want a real time kernel when you’re running a trading platform so you have a maximum guaranteed time to get a trade done.


Nextgov: If open source is secure enough for NSA where does the anxiety about it come from?

Whitehurst: The biggest confusion is between open source vs. enterprise open source. Open source is a development model. In this development model, the source code is free and open so anybody can download it and use a version. What people get concerned about is ‘am I downloading bugs? Am I downloading something I don’t have a license for?’ The simple answer to that is ‘yeah that’s right.’ But that’s the role a company like Red Hat plays. We know the vintage of every line of code and we have strong security. So when you download from Red Hat you know it’s secure. Commercial open source is a very different animal from the free stuff.


Nextgov: How is Red Hat doing with government sales?

Whitehurst: In general we’re growing at 20-ish percent per year for subscription sales and software sales. That’s somewhat faster in the government and with budgets basically flat that’s a nice solid growth rate.


Nextgov: Has that changed with sequestration?

Whitehurst: We’ve had a few consulting engagements trimmed on the margins but overall we haven’t seen a major impact yet.

We have two different vectors we sell on. One is innovation. We say “modern architectures are all built on open source so let me tell you about that.” When the economy is going well and budgets are growing, we go in with that message. When times are tough, we go in with value, value, value. We say replace Unix [a standard type of operating system] with Linux and you’re going to free up dollars on day one.


Nextgov: Do you think IT is more sequestration-resistant or recession-resistant?

Whitehurst: That’s always been the theory in IT, that it replaces dollars elsewhere. I don’t think IT will be immune. We have seen new project starts decline, so it can impact the trajectory of growth a little. I don’t think it’s as bad in IT, but you can see flat-ish budgets if not down. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.


Nexgov: Is government contributing to open source?

Whitehurst: SE Linux and all the work we did with the NSA on that is one prime example. One irony is that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the most secure open source operating system certified by the Russian military and the reason is because of the SE Linux work the NSA did.


Nextgov: So if the U.S. military and the Russian military both have SE Linux how can it be secure?

Whitehurst: Well it’s secure because people can look at every line and say “we don’t see a way to pierce this.” The other security component is the policies about “if I have this password what do I get access to on this system,” etc.

The only difference between the U.S. and the Russian versions is that the Russian scientists look at every line of the source code and then we have to compile it on a Russian computer. It’s exactly the same as [the U.S. version] but they want to see it compiled on their system before that source code turns into ones and zeroes to make sure nobody slipped anything in.


Nextgov: What market share does open source have in government?

Whitehurst: It’s hard to really tell. I’d say the government overall looks similar to commercial markets where Red Hat represents about a 20-ish percent share of server operating systems and about half [of all operating systems] are open source now. We’re more heavily weighted in defense and intel and a little underweighted in civilian the same way we’re over-weighted in financial services and under weighted in, say, healthcare.


Nextgov: Will open source ever have 100 percent share?

Whitehurst: It will be approaching some number less than 100. There will always be a need for an IBM mainframe for some very specific applications. Also Outlook only runs on Windows servers and there’s a set of applications that are tied to the Windows franchise.


Nextgov: What do you see in the future for open source?

Whitehurst: When open source was first applied as a development tool people looked at traditional categories of software that had been around for 20 years and open source commoditized things that had gotten older and longer in the tooth. That was why Linux was cheaper than Unix.

But in the past 10 years with the birth of these web 2.0 companies they do everything in open source. All of a sudden, it’s not as much about commoditizing existing categories. It’s that new stuff is happening first in open source. The easy example is big data. It’s tough to name a single propriety innovation in big data. They’ve all come out of open source.

We’re at an inflection point where more innovation is happening first in open source and we’re going to get to a point where most of it is hanging there. When that happens, we’re going to see fewer vendors building a propriety solution and guessing what customers want and more vendors saying ‘okay what are the technologies that the large factories of the future — the Googles and Amazons and Facebooks — are using and then taking that technology and applying it to customers.

There are a lot of implications when we shift to a model where IT is less about inventing intellectual property and selling it and more about sharing intellectual property and adding value on top of it. In the past if you were a [chief information officer] at an agency you sat down with a company and said: “Is this a vision I believe in? Are the financials of this company stable long term? Is this something I want to invest in?”

Now you’ll be saying: “Here’s a technology. How powerful is the community that’s using this technology? How stable is that community? Do I want to invest my business in it?” All of a sudden companies become less important to where and how technologies are emerging.


Nextgov: That basically seems like the Red Hat model.

Whitehurst: There are very few companies Red Hat’s size that made it, that didn’t either fail or get gobbled up. One of the reasons we were able to do it is, when we were smaller, part of our sales pitch was ‘you don’t have to trust Red Hat is going to be around. You just have to trust that Linux will be around. We can go away.’

One of our biggest challenges is customers can say: ‘I’m not getting enough value, I’m not going to renew this subscription but I’ll keep the code thank you very much.’ But that keeps us on our toes, trying to build a business model where we’re always providing value.


DARPA: New Threats Demand New Technologies

Agency shifts focus to layered capabilities and cyber as a tactical weapon, as budget constraints and new threats affect plans.


By Patience Wait, InformationWeek

April 26, 2013


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is adjusting its approach to the development of new defense technologies to reflect the fiscal realities facing federal agencies and evolving nature of national threats.

“Our mission is unchanged — to prevent and create technological surprise,” DARPA director Arati Prabhakar said at a Pentagon briefing in which she presented a new framework for the agency’s research and development. However, she added, “it’s going to be a very challenging environment for an extended period of time.”

The agency’s primary strategic objectives are to demonstrate “breakthrough capabilities” for national security, help drive a highly capable U.S. technology base and ensure that DARPA itself delivers on its mission.


Three factors are driving that mission, according to Prabhakar. One is the emergence of new threats. Rather than addressing risks posed by adversarial countries alone, the military must be prepared to deal with criminal enterprises, terrorist organizations and ill-intentioned individuals, all of which have access to new kinds of weapons, including cyber threats.

A second factor is the rapid pace of technological change, especially in the area of components for military systems. Many tech components are no longer manufactured in the U.S., introducing an added element of risk to the military’s systems and networks, Prabhakar said.

The third factor is financial. Sequestration has cut $202 million from DARPA’s fiscal 2013 budget of $2.9 billion, resulting in furloughs of employees and an 8% budget cut across programs. Prabhakar cautioned that DARPA’s ability to invest in R&D may not return to business as usual.

“There’s a critical shift in how society allocates resources to national security,” she said. “I’m not talking about sequestration. I’m really talking about fiscal pressures that could shape a different future.”

To deal with the complexities of modern warfare, DARPA seeks to develop integrated and layered systems that can continue to give the military a decisive edge. Examples of technologies that could increase in potency when used in this way include “adaptive electronic warfare,” manned and unmanned systems, tactical cyber capabilities, and advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“Modern warfare may be too complex for a single new capability to deliver sustained superiority across a variety of scenarios,” according to the document, titled “Driving Technological Surprise: DARPA’s Mission In A Changing World.”

The agency’s investment strategy is to use advanced, commercially available technologies where possible while encouraging new development at universities, government labs and private sector companies, as well as through its own programs.

Cyber is an area of increased focus. “We all view cyber as a critical threat to our military, and national security more broadly,” Prabhakar said. “It’s a tool that can be part of our military suite of capabilities.”

DARPA’s so-called Plan X program is aimed at developing capabilities that will give the U.S. military an advantage in cyber warfare, but there will be no single weapon or capability that does that, Prabhakar said.



Amid oil boom, Texas legal fight grows over right to take land for pipelines

Dallas Morning News


Staff Writer

Published: 28 April 2013 09:15 PM


From the early days of the Texas oil industry, the power of oil companies to seize land for pipelines has been sacrosanct.

Oil runs society’s cars and heats its homes, and the argument has long been that the need to get it to the public outweighs the violation of property rights of a limited number of landowners.

But after nearly a century of giving the industry carte blanche, Texas is considering whether to rein in the granting of eminent domain rights for pipelines.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates pipelines, has opened up its rulebooks. The Legislature is debating competing bills about how and where eminent domain is decided. And courtrooms are filled with lawsuits from landowners facing down the pipeline companies.

“We’ve started seeing serial litigation,” said James Mann, an Austin attorney representing the Texas Pipeline Association. “Pipelines are established as absolutely necessary … so any one of us can stop at any gas station in the state, fill up their tank, drive to Austin and complain about eminent domain.”

What’s changed is a ruling Texas Supreme Court ruling in March 2012, confirmed in August, that a pipeline carrying carbon dioxide from Louisiana to Texas failed to prove it qualified for eminent domain rights. In the process the court upheld landowners’ right to challenge, and it found the Texas Railroad Commission needed to do more in checking companies’ assertions that they were opening their pipelines up to other companies — a requirement for eminent domain status.

No one believes the Supreme Court decision will end eminent domain rights for pipelines altogether, but companies are now expected to have to prove they qualify through some form of public hearing.

“It could slow down the process,” said Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman. “I want to wait and see what the Legislature does. If the Legislature doesn’t address … [the court ruling], we will address it.”

Drillers are already having trouble finding pipeline space to transport their oil.

The oil boom has pushed drilling activity in Texas to levels not seen since the 1980s.

In West Texas’ Permian Basin, production is up more than 30 percent since last year, to 1.2 million barrels a day. And the existing infrastructure of pipelines running to Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast, along with regional refineries, is taking just about all the oil it can handle, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in February.


Lots of oil to move

Pipelines are being expanded or having their flows reversed, which will eventually more than double existing capacity. But for now, producers have to find new ways to get their oil out of West Texas.


“Producers are now being forced to evaluate long-distance trucking options to reach markets situated on the Gulf Coast and rail options to reach markets on the East and West Coasts,” wrote Spencer Falls, president of Dallas-based EnMark Services Inc. The boom “has outpaced the existing infrastructure in the Permian Basin necessary to move crude out of the region.”

And barring a sharp drop in oil prices, production in Texas and North Dakota is only expected to increase in the years ahead.

Already roads in and around Texas’ oil fields are getting battered from the increased truck traffic, prompting protests from local politicians who want the state to cut them in on oil revenue.

State Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, described the lagging infrastructure as an unfortunate byproduct of a boom economy.

“We’re way behind the curve and need to get out in front of this or we’re going to compound the problem,” he said in a recent interview.

Two competing bills in the House address the Supreme Court ruling.

While Rep. Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, wants to leave authority with the Railroad Commission, legislation sponsored by Rep. Rene Oliveira, R-Brownsville, would place those decisions in the hands of the state administrative courts.

“The railroad commissioners get so much of their contributions from the oil and gas industries, there are questions about how independent they are,” said JJ Garza, Oliveira’s chief of staff. “The question is: What is the correct balance that provides as much protection as possible for landowners to ensure their property is not being taken needlessly for a project that is not public?”

Smitherman countered that case examiners within the Railroad Commission, who would hear the eminent domain cases, are kept independent of the commissioners.

In the meantime, the pipeline companies and the landowners continue to battle it out in court.


Keystone XL

Most of the attention is focused on four landowners fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, which, once completed, will connect oil sands deposits in Alberta with refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Julia Trigg Crawford, a former corporate recruiter who took over her family farm three years ago, said last spring’s Supreme Court ruling gave her and other landowners hope where there had not been much before.

“It’s our land, and we don’t believe they have the right to take it,” she said in an interview. “This is a Canadian corporation taking a product that wasn’t even made here to go through my land to go to a refinery to probably to be exported another country.”

Opponents of the XL pipeline were struck a blow April 19 when the Texas Supreme Court decided it would not hear a case brought by Rhinoceros Ventures Group Inc. against TransCanada.

With TransCanada moving ahead on construction, the court cases are not expected to stop the pipeline — just determine what the company ultimately must pay the landowners.

But the oil industry and property rights advocates are watching carefully to see how far the Supreme Court is willing to go in protecting landowners.

“Texas is a very powerful private property state,” said Lynn Blais, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “The exercise of eminent domain is a very powerful tool. Generally it’s supposed to be exercised by the government.”



Lack of Competition Might Hamper Health Exchanges

By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer


Part One of Two Parts


The White House sums up the central idea behind the health care exchanges in the new federal health law with a simple motto: “more choices, greater competition.”

But even some stalwart supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that in many states, people won’t have a lot of health insurance choices when the exchanges launch in October.

Health economists predict that in states that already have robust competition among insurance companies—states such as Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon—the exchanges are likely to stimulate more. But according to Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute, “There are still going to be states with virtual monopolies.” Currently Alabama, Hawaii, Michigan, Delaware, Alaska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Nebraska all are dominated by a single insurance company. The advent of the exchanges is unlikely to change that, according to Blumberg.

Competition aside, the exchanges face a number of technical and logistical problems. No less a figure than Montana Sen. Max Baucus, one of the chief Democratic authors of the ACA, said in a hearing earlier this month that he sees “a huge train wreck coming” when the exchanges open for business. Meanwhile, a March survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates a majority of Americans still don’t know what a health insurance exchange is, and skeptics wonder how many eligible individuals will show up.

The exchanges were conceived as private marketplaces operating within federal guidelines. They are designed to give Americans who do not get health insurance from their employers the opportunity to choose from an array of private insurance plans, and to generate competition between insurers that will lead to lower premiums.

Individuals and businesses with up to 100 employees will be able to shop on the exchanges, and people who can’t afford coverage on their own will get government subsidies to help them. About 26 million Americans are expected to purchase health insurance through the exchanges.

But it is unclear how many insurance carriers will decide to seek approval for selling their products through these online marketplaces. Insurance companies have been mostly silent about their plans, with some citing uncertainty about federal and state rules as a reason for holding back.

Some fear that any uptick in competition will bypass those states where doctors are in short supply and the number of hospital systems is limited. A recent analysis by the American Medical Association found that a single insurance company held 50 percent or more of the market in nearly 38 percent of local markets nationwide.

On top of this lack of competition, some of the new federal regulations may push up premiums, at least in the short term. For example, under the health care law insurers will have to cover everyone, including people with pre-existing health conditions. Insurers are likely to raise their premiums to cover the cost of insuring these people who are less healthy.

The mandate that everybody must have insurance is intended to balance this new cost by adding a huge number of young, healthy people to the risk pool. Many of these people, figuring they wouldn’t need health care, have been taking their chances without coverage. But because the federal penalties for not having insurance are so small, especially before 2016, many of the healthiest people may continue to decline coverage.

The Society of Actuaries, which is aligned with the insurance industry, predicts that insurance rates for individuals may increase by as much as 32 percent over the first few years of the exchanges, according to a March report. The Obama administration argues, however, that while premiums may rise for certain people in the short term, in the long run the new federal rules will lead to lower premiums.

Cheryl Smith helped run an early exchange in Utah, and as a consultant she now helps other states develop their own marketplaces. But even though she is a strong believer in the concept, she doubts the exchanges will spur competition in the short term.

“You can talk in theory about how competition will thrive in these exchanges, but the health plans don’t actually have a lot of time to get product on the shelf,” she said. “If you don’t have product on the shelf, where’s the competition?”


Will insurers come?

Under the federal health law, states had the choice of developing their own exchanges or letting the federal government do it for them. Even after the administration extended the deadline to early this year for states to declare what they would do, only 16 states and the District of Columbia chose to run their own exchanges. Seven others chose partnerships with the federal government. That left the federal government responsible for building exchanges in 27 states.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to set up a “data hub” that all 50 exchanges will need to plug into to determine whether an individual or family is eligible for Medicaid or federal tax subsidies. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius earlier this month assured Congress that the technology would be unveiled in time for the October launch of the exchanges, even though Republicans in Congress last year failed to approve the funding needed to complete the project.

Another cause for concern is the Obama administration’s recent proposal to scale back a requirement that small businesses offer their employees a menu of insurance policies. If the proposal is adopted, companies with fewer than 100 employees could offer a single policy to their workers, as they have in the past. Without employee choice, critics say, the small business exchange will do little to pressure insurers to develop lower-priced options.

But supporters of the health law are confident that competition and lower prices will ultimately come. In the meantime, they say, consumers will be better off. Today many Americans pay high premiums if they are sick or old—if they can find coverage at all. They also run the risk of purchasing policies that don’t cover certain medical conditions or limit the total dollar amount of claims. In addition to the new pre-existing condition rule, the health law sets a minimum set of benefits; prohibits lifetime caps on claims; and mandates that insurance companies participating in the exchanges spend at least 85 percent of their revenue on health care.


Big New Market

Despite the federal rules, millions of potential customers will be a powerful draw for insurance companies to participate in the exchanges. Furthermore, the federal government is expected to provide about $350 billion in subsidies to people who can’t afford to purchase insurance on their own.

On top of that, if all states eventually choose to expand Medicaid, the federal government will pour another $952 billion into the health care market over the next 10 years, much of which will go to Medicaid managed-care companies and other private insurers.

Some predict that new insurance carriers, made up of hospitals and large physician practices, will emerge. As it becomes more difficult for traditional carriers to make a profit under the federal health law, the most successful new players may be provider organizations that can control medical costs by avoiding duplication and errors and more carefully coordinating the care they provide, said Rick Curtis, director of the Institute for Health Policy Solutions.

Furthermore, Medicaid managed-care companies, which are used to providing care to low-income people, may decide to offer commercial plans on the exchanges. According to Jeff Van Ness of the Association of Community Affiliated Plans, between one-quarter and one-third of the group’s 58 nonprofit safety net health plans are expected to offer products on the exchanges in 26 states the first year.


New Health Exchanges Unlikely to End Insurance Monopolies in Some States

By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer


Part Two of Two Parts

In Alabama, if you get your health insurance through your employer and you lose your job, you quickly realize there aren’t a lot options for purchasing coverage on your own. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has had a virtual monopoly in the state since the Great Depression, and today it covers a whopping 89 percent of Alabamians.

In part, Blue Cross and Blue Shield is dominant in Alabama simply because it has been there for so long—it sold its first policy in 1936—and potential newcomers have found it difficult to convince hospitals and doctors to give them favorable prices so they can compete with the entrenched carrier. But it also has to do with Alabamians themselves: On average, residents of the state are poorer and less healthy than other Americans, making them more expensive to cover and thus less attractive customers.

The lack of competition in nearly a dozen states could present problems when the insurance exchanges that are part of the Affordable Care Act launch in October. The exchanges are supposed to give Americans who do not get health insurance from their employers the opportunity to choose from an array of private insurance plans. The idea is to generate competition between insurers that will lead to lower premiums.


Individuals and businesses with up to 100 employees will be able to shop on the exchanges, and people who can’t afford coverage on their own will get government subsidies to help them pay their premiums. About 26 million low-income Americans are expected to receive subsidies to purchase health insurance through the exchanges.

But in states with a dominant insurance carrier, competition and lower prices may not arrive for quite some time.

A recent analysis by the American Medical Association found that a single insurance company held 50 percent or more of the market in nearly 38 percent of local markets nationwide. And in 30 states, a single insurance company covers more than half the people who purchase insurance individually, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The dominance by a single insurance company is particularly pronounced in Alabama, Hawaii, Michigan, Delaware, Alaska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Nebraska.

In general, multiple insurance companies are eager to compete in states that have a large number of health care providers and a lot of people who can afford to pay premiums. A relatively young and healthy population is also an attraction. In states that don’t have those characteristics, competition can be sparse.

Alabama ranks 45th in the nation in overall health status, and 46th in median household income, according to the United Health Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau, respectively. Over the decades, a few major insurance carriers have tried to dip their toes into Alabama, but most pulled out after just a few years.

In other states, there are different reasons for the lack of competition. In Wyoming, for example, the problem is that the state has relatively few health care providers and people have to travel long distances to get care.

Wyoming has only 18.7 physicians per 10,000 people, ranking it 47th in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. By comparison, New York has 34.8 physicians per 10,000 people, Maryland has 35.3 and Massachusetts has 39.7. The national average is 25.7.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming dominates the market. Do Wyoming consumers want more choices? “Sure they do,” said Tom Hirsig, Wyoming’s insurance commissioner. But Hirsig said it’s a huge challenge for new carriers to develop provider networks in Wyoming. “My sense right now is that the individual market inside the exchange is not going to be stacked with lots of competition.”

A shortage of hospitals is the problem in Rhode Island, where there are just 11 hospitals owned by two companies. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher Koller said Rhode Islanders would like other options, but he isn’t sure they’ll have them when the state’s exchange launches in October.

Big Changes

The vast majority of Americans get health insurance coverage through their employers. Millions of low-income Americans qualify for Medicaid, and seniors can sign up for Medicare. But for people outside of these groups, there are few good options when it comes to health insurance.

Many of these Americans pay high premiums if they are sick or middle-aged—if they can find coverage at all. They also run the risk of purchasing policies that don’t cover certain medical conditions or limit the total dollar amount of claims. That’s why so many of them go without insurance altogether.

The health insurance exchanges are designed to change that. The policies that are included on the menu will have a uniform set of benefits and pricing structures that will be easy for people to understand and compare.

In addition, the new health law will make it illegal to deny coverage to people who have pre-existing conditions. It also will mandate a minimum set of benefits; prohibit lifetime caps on claims; and require insurance companies participating in the exchanges to spend at least 85 percent of their revenue on health care.

The hope is that this new pool of previously uninsured people will attract insurers to enter new markets, creating competition where none exists now. Poor states across the South and West have the largest share of uninsured people, and thus hold the greatest potential for insurers to cash in on the $350 billion the federal government plans to spend over the next 10 years to help low-income people buy insurance.

Furthermore, the exchanges should allow smaller companies and non-profits to market their products more effectively, challenging entrenched incumbents. “When you go online, the Blue of Alabama won’t look so much bigger than the next plan,” said Andy Hyman of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The exchange is meant to be an “equalizer,” Hyman said.

What’s Wrong With Monopolies?

Carriers that dominate a particular state often argue that they hold onto their position by keeping prices down. “There are lots of national carriers out there who would provide a product that is less expensive than what is in the market, if they could,” said Kim Holland, director of state affairs for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. “We’re not so naïve as to think that if we don’t price our products correctly our customers won’t find another alternative.”

Some economists note that in some cases, a dominant carrier can use its heft to negotiate the best prices with hospitals and then pass along those savings to consumers. In some markets, dominant insurers are akin to utilities, explained Paul Ginsburg, director of the Center for Studying Health System Change. “You don’t necessarily need more than one,” he said.

Ginsburg said large carriers are likely to get better prices from hospitals and doctors, because providers can’t do without them. “I suspect that consumers have actually benefitted from high [market] concentration. It’s really a bigger problem for physicians,” he said.

Despite having the least competitive health insurance market in the country, Alabama’s individual premium prices compare favorably with neighboring states and are below average for the nation.

But the AMA, which represents doctors, disputes the idea that big insurers always secure the best prices for consumers. They point to national studies showing that when insurance companies merge and acquire smaller companies, their profits go up and so do their premiums.

Exchange Experience

Two states, Massachusetts and Vermont, already have exchanges, and offer a glimpse of what the future might hold.

When Massachusetts launched its exchange in 2007, new players did not immediately burst into the market. One new carrier, Centene Corporation, joined the exchange to offer a limited network of providers for Medicaid beneficiaries. Competition in the individual market remained relatively unchanged.

But Massachusetts already had a relatively competitive market, so existing carriers competed with each other to create new, lower-cost plans in response to market demand—and pressure from state officials to keep costs down. Despite the emergence of low-cost plans, however, average premium prices have continued to rise.

Earlier this month, Vermont became the first state in the nation to publish preliminary health insurance rates for its exchange. Not unexpectedly, the tiny state of only 626,000 residents did not attract any new insurance companies. And the price of the plans offered on the exchange? They cost about as much as what Vermonters were paying before.


Pentagon Report: Iran Could Test an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by 2015

April 25, 2013

A new Pentagon assessment of Iran’s military power maintains that in two years time, Iran could flight-test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States, given “sufficient foreign assistance”, is provided to Tehran. The new assessment reiterated a longstanding estimate of the U.S. intelligence community. Iran could test such a missile by 2015 with assistance from nations like North Korea, China or Russia. Pyongyang is already in the process of developing the KN-08, an extended range ballistic missile that can reach the US West Coast. The missile’s range could be extended to provide the missile an intercontinental strike capability. Pyongyang and Tehran have been collaborating and exchanging technologies regarding ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons for many years; both countries are seeking to match the two technologies to acquire nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. U.S. experts agree that North Korea and Iran could be capable of developing and testing few ICBM class missiles based on liquid propellants, but doubt they could acquire solid-propelled weapons in the near future. The lengthy pre-flight procedures required for fuelling liquid-propelled missiles means that such weapons cannot be mass-fired without warning, as the shorter range missiles could, therefore, providing the defender time to respond, employ missile defense or conduct preemptive attack.


An unclassified portion of the “Annual Report on Military Power of Iran,” dated January 2013 and made available by the Pentagon today, also states that Iran is continuing to develop both the “technological capabilities applicable to nuclear weapons” and “ballistic missiles that could be adapted to deliver nuclear weapons.” In December 2012 US sources were sceptical about Iran’s ability to reach such milestone by 2015. Tehran encountered a major obstacle in 2011, after an explosion killed 21 people during a test, among the casualties was Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam, who was in charge of the country’s missile program.


The Defense Department adds that Iran “continues to develop technological capabilities applicable to nuclear weapons” and is “proceeding with uranium enrichment and heavy-water nuclear reactor activities in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Iran “also continues to develop ballistic missiles that could be adapted to deliver nuclear weapons,” it states. Despite “increased pressure resulting from sanctions” imposed by the United Nations, there “has been no change to Iran’s national security and military strategies over the last year,” according to the report.


In the past Iran was reportedly working on ‘Project Koussar’, a ballistic missile capable of reaching targets at ranges of 4000 – 5000 km. These missiles, sometime referred to as Shahab 5 and Shahab 6 were believed to be based on different propulsion used on the Shahab 3. Some sources indicated the Iranians were erlying on the RD-216 originally developed for the SS-5 IRBM and also used to with the Kosmos SL8 satellite launcher.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month that “we do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” The U.S. government’s 17 intelligence agencies, according to Clapper, “judge Iran would likely choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon, if one is ever fielded,” he said in the U.S. intelligence community’s annual worldwide threat assessment. These missiles are capable of delivering a weapon of mass destruction, he said.


“In addition, Iran has demonstrated an ability to launch small satellites, and we grow increasingly concerned that these technical steps — along with a regime hostile toward the United States and our allies — provide Tehran with the means and motivation to develop larger space-launch vehicles and longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile,” according to Clapper.


Lockheed Martin Estimates Sequestration Impact in 2013 to Exceed US$800 million

April 23, 2013


The world’s largest defense contractor Lockheed Martin assesses the potential effect of sequestration measures taken by the US Government could reduce its 2013 net sales by approximately $825 million. Lockheed Martin was the first major defense company to comment on the scale of sequestration impact on its performance since the drastic measures took effect last month.

The company reported today its net sales decreased 2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, to $11.1 billion; the business activity generated $2.1 billion. The company invested $0.5 billion for repurchasing 5.1 million shares, thus increasing net earnings 14 percent over the first quarter of 2012. With $761 million in net earning reflecting an $2.33 “Earnings per diluted share”, reflecting an increase of 15 percent over Q1/2012.

“While the impact of sequestration on our business has been limited to date, we continue to work closely with our customers to better understand the future impact sequestration may have on our programs. Despite the challenging budget environment, we will continue to innovate and deliver value to our customers and shareholders.” said Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Officer and President Marillyn Hewson, “Our team delivered strong results this quarter by focusing on program execution and delivering on our commitments to customers.” After considering the potential sequestration estimate along with its first quarter 2013 results, the Corporation has revised the 2013 outlook to indicate that the Corporation expects its net sales to be near the low end of the range provided in January ($44,500 million)

In January, the Corporation provided an outlook for 2013 premised on the assumptions that the U.S. Government would continue to support and fund programs through March 2013, that FY 2013 budget will be approved by the Congress at a level consitent with the President’s proposed defense budget and that sequestration would not go into effect. Although sequestration is currently in effect, the company said that customers have not yet informed it of specific decisions taken in response of this act, except in some very limited circumstances. However, the situation is expected to change in the coming months. Expecting sequestration measures bearing impact on Department of Defense and other federal procurements, Lockheed Martin expects its 2013 revenues to be within the low margin of the amount projected in January 2013.

“Sequestration reductions will be achieved through delaying and deferring new program starts, versus modifying or restructuring existing programs that have contractually obligated schedule and delivery requirements” the company commented. Nevertheless, other market-wide implications of Sequestration could cause ‘collateral effects’, such as significant rescheduling or termination activity with the Corporation’s supplier base, contractual actions including partial or complete terminations, severance payments made to the Corporation’s employees, facilities closure expenses, and impairment of assets or goodwill, all these have the potential to align the Corporation’s cost structure to a lower sales base.

Aeronautics sales were down over US$ 0.5 billion from $3,706 in Q1/2012, primarily due to lower sales in F-16, C-130J and C-5 programs. Missiles and Fire Control sales increased $222 million over the same quarter last year, attributed to JASSM program. Mission Systems and Training unchanged but improved their operating profit by 28 percent.


China’s Huawei Bails on the United States

By Adam Pasick

April 24, 2013


There’s only so much abuse that a giant network equipment manufacturer repeatedly accused of threatening US national security can take.

“We are not interested in the US market any more,” Huawei executive vice president Eric Xu said at the company’s annual analyst summit on Wednesday, as reported by the Financial Times.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to get into the U.S. market,” Chief Technology Officer Li Sanqi added in an interview with IDG. “[But] we today face reality. We will focus on the rest of the world, which is reasonably big enough and is growing significantly.”

Huawei has been a punching bag in Washington for years, with congressmen labeling the company a trojan horse for cyberwarfare by China. It has come under additional scrutiny following the suspicious death in Singapore of an American engineer who was working on a cutting-edge military technology project that may have violated US export rules. Computer files found in his apartment included a proposal for Huawei to collaborate on the project.


Congress Bulls Into China’s Shop

Posted by Stewart Baker on Mar 25, 2013 at 05:54 PM | Permalink


Anger over Chinese cyberespionage continues to mount in Congress, and it’s beginning to show in legislation. Not just the bills Congressmen introduce, the ones Congress passes.

Demonstrating remarkable bipartisan angst about Chinese hacking and the risks in Chinese high tech equipment, Congress has added tough sanctions to the continuing resolution that funds the federal government and is now awaiting the President’s signature. The sanctions provision bars federal government purchases of IT equipment “produced, manufactured or assembled” by entities “owned, directed, or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China” unless the head of the purchasing agency consults with the FBI and determines that the purchase is “in the national interest of the United States”:


Sec. 516. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available under this Act may be used by the Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or the National Science Foundation to acquire an information technology system unless the head of the entity involved, in consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other appropriate Federal entity, has made an assessment of any associated risk of cyber-espionage or sabotage associated with the acquisition of such system, including any risk associated with such system being produced, manufactured or assembled by one or more entities that are owned, directed or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China. (b) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available under this Act may be used to acquire an information technology system described in an assessment required by subsection (a) and produced, manufactured or assembled by one or more entities that are owned, directed or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China unless the head of the assessing entity described in subsection (a) determines, and reports that determination to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, that the acquisition of such system is in the national interest of the United States.

This could turn out to be a harsh blow for companies like Lenovo that have so far escaped the spotlight trained on Huawei and ZTE. But it may also bring some surprises for American companies selling commercial IT gear to the government. It’s not clear that they even know which of their suppliers and assemblers are directed or subsidized by the Chinese government. Where the IT system is manufactured doesn’t answer the question; sanctions will depend not on where the system is made but on whether the company that supplies it is tainted by close ties to China’s government.


It will make life equally awkward for the Obama Administration, which has been slowly and hesitantly toughening its stance on Chinese cyberespionage. The CR language will force the pace of retaliation, probably faster than the administration would like. But the statutory alternative to implementing the ban is for the administration to certify purchases as in the national interest — possibly over the objections of FBI analysts who mistrust the gear.


The continuing resolution passed both houses with this provision in it; the President could in theory refuse to sign it. But this is a much-anticipated funding bill that heads off a government shutdown. With Congress having for once avoided a Perils-of-Pauline crisis, it’s politically impossible for the President to put Pauline back on the railroad tracks — especially so the government can buy suspect equipment from China. A veto is even less palatable than living with the provision.


The American Dream, Downsized

The middle class now worries more about holding on for dear life than about climbing the ladder to riches.

National Journal

By Amy Sullivan

Updated: April 26, 2013 | 1:35 p.m.
April 25, 2013 | 8:20 p.m.


The Grain Exchange Room in Milwaukee’s old Chamber of Commerce building is a dazzling display of Gilded Age opulence. Its ornate faux-marble columns soar three stories high, and an intricately carved balcony overlooks what is believed to have been the world’s first commodities-exchange trading pit. This temple to business and success was a fitting location for Mitt Romney’s victory speech after the Wisconsin primary a year ago, on the night he eclipsed his last remaining rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney used the occasion to lay out his vision of an “opportunity society led by free people and free enterprises.” Barack Obama, he charged, didn’t believe in opportunity: When the president went after the “1 percent,” he wanted only to turn the United States into “one of those societies that attack success.” Romney’s supporters cheered.

In Chicago, the Obama team cheered, too.

Led by Obama’s chief pollster, Joel Benenson, the campaign had spent 2011 examining Americans’ views on economic security and the American Dream. They concluded that something fundamental had changed. It used to be political gospel that a candidate couldn’t risk talking about inequality because such a stance was so easily caricatured as an attack on the rich and because even working-class Americans believed they had an opportunity to be rich someday. But as Benenson explained in a recent interview, “There has been a recalibration of the American mind-set when it comes to economic change.”

What his polling found is that middle-class Americans are much more concerned about holding onto what they’ve got than in pursuing more. The Pew Economic Mobility project, the Allstate/National
Journal Heartland Monitor Poll, and other studies have arrived at similar conclusions. When Pew asked Americans in 2011 if they preferred financial stability or moving up the income ladder, 85 percent of respondents chose the safer, surer future.

If that seems like a defensive crouch, it is. The American middle class is broadly defined as households earning two-thirds to twice the median income, or about $35,000 to $100,000 a year. The beginning of the 21st century was a “lost decade” for the middle class, Harvard economist Lawrence Katz said, but the decline has been under way for decades. In the early 1970s, middle-class households earned 62 percent of the national income; today, they bring in just 45 percent. These households are more vulnerable, economists say, than at any time since World War II.

The Great Recession exacerbated this decline. Sixty percent of the job losses in those years occurred in middle-income jobs. The recovery, instead of restoring those jobs, has replaced them with low-wage positions. And the middle class, which once drove American prosperity with its purchasing power and stability, is shrinking. Middle-class households make up barely half the population today, down from 61 percent in 1971. People aiming to reach the middle class, or to stay there, have ample reason to worry.

Middle-class Americans’ anxieties and the shift in how they define the American Dream had consequences for the 2012 election. Romney spoke in the language of economic risk: “The promise of America has always been that if you worked hard, had the right values, took some risks, that there was an opportunity to build a better life for your family and for your next generation.” Compare that with Obama describing the “basic bargain in America,” a formulation he has used since his U.S. Senate campaign in 2004: “If you’re willing to work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to find a good job, feel secure in your community, and support a family.” So, which guy won?

But if the American Dream, and the understanding of what it means to be middle class, is changing, the reverberations will go far beyond a single election. They speak to the very story Americans tell about themselves. We were once a nation of strivers, raised on Horatio Alger and Bill Gates, confident of the possibility of moving upward. If Americans now aim simply to avoid slipping backward, they will have decided that the American Dream is but a reverie.


The United States was already mired in the economic disaster known as the Great Depression when historian James Truslow Adams, in his 1931 book, The Epic of America, first turned “American Dream” into a commonly recognized phrase. The dream may have been put on hold for many Americans at the time, but Adams sought to remind his fellow citizens, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.”

The cars and high wages would come soon enough, during the economic boom that followed World War II. Agricultural workers moved into towns and cities for higher-paying jobs, and the GI Bill financed higher education for millions of veterans. Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit, backed by capital and opportunity and pent-up consumer desires, sent the economy soaring. And unlike in earlier eras of rising prosperity, the gains weren’t limited to those at the top but were distributed relatively equally across economic classes. The result: an expanding, robust middle class.

Almost overnight, it became not just possible but expected that young marrieds would fare better than their parents had. A middle-class family bought a house, put a car (or two) in the driveway, and raised children who ran around a safe neighborhood and later went to college with their parents’ support. Or the kids might skip college and enter the workforce with a secure, often union-protected, job that allowed them to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle and live in the same neighborhoods as bankers, teachers, and salesmen.

Erin Currier runs the Pew Economic Mobility Project, which has done two national polls about how Americans interpret the American Dream. “When people talk about their parents,” she said, “it’s in terms of what they were ‘able’ to do. They were able to buy their own home. They were able to attend college. They were able to send their kids away to summer camp. These were accomplishments, and they set the standard.”


Being middle class has always meant two separate things: affluence (having a solid income) and security (being able to maintain your quality of life from year to year). For the first several decades after World War II, those appeared to be one and the same. Social norms such as low divorce rates, workplace norms such as lifelong employment and generous benefits, and government-run social insurance helped to insulate people from life’s twists and turns. A high income guaranteed economic security—this was easy to assume.

That assumption began to change in the 1970s. U.S. manufacturing started to slow, then contract, battered by competition first from Germany and Japan, and later from China and East Asia. Successive oil crises wreaked havoc on energy costs. A period of inflation and sluggish growth produced a mashed-together word, “stagflation.” And the increasing use of corporate revenues to benefit shareholders instead of workers undermined the social contract between labor and management.

These developments took a toll on workers’ incomes. The hourly compensation of the average U.S. worker rose by nearly 94 percent, adjusted for inflation, between 1948 and 1973, but by only 10 percent from 1973 to 2011, according to the Economic Policy Institute. “Even after recovery started, typical wages have continued to fall,” said Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University. “And education and health care costs continue to go up—at somewhat slower rates than before, but they’re still nasty price surprises.” Families spend, on average, 75 percent more for health insurance (adjusted for inflation) than they did a generation ago.

This squeeze between income and expenses has rattled many Americans’ assumptions of economic security. “Some of the stuff that really matters is hard to quantify in terms of money,” said John Schmitt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “It’s about economic security. It’s about how many hours you work, how much of a return you get for the education you have, how much security you have in terms of health insurance and retirement.” About half of all workers have a retirement plan at their job, approximately the same as in the 1970s, Schmitt explained, but most of these plans don’t guarantee a particular payout, thereby shifting market risk from the employer to the individual.

Nor can Americans count on a steady and rising income. Incomes have been volatile. Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker has developed an Economic Security Index to measure the increasing variability of Americans’ economic lives. In 2009-10, as the effects of the Great Recession coursed through the economy, roughly a fifth of all Americans saw their household income drop by at last 25 percent, by Hacker’s estimate, creating greater economic insecurity than at any time since the Depression.

Not everyone is convinced that middle-class incomes have declined, however. Such fears are exaggerated, according to Scott Winship, a Brookings Institution sociologist. Citing Congressional Budget Office figures that count health benefits as well as income, he found that “prior to the Great Recession, the 2000s looked as good as the ’90s and better than the ’80s in terms of household income. And we have to remember that Hispanic immigration was continuing to increase, and that exerted a steady downward pull on income.” The overall economic trends, Winship argues, continue to be robust.

One trend that can’t be questioned is the drop in American household wealth. In 2010, median family net worth sank to around $77,300, a decline of nearly $50,000 from the years just before the financial crisis and close to $30,000 less than it was in 2001, according to the Federal Reserve Board. A shriveled nest egg can turn a stint of unemployment from an inconvenience into a catastrophe.

A racial disparity in household wealth has left African-Americans even less secure. A recent Pew study found that white families experiencing a job loss in the past decade had amassed greater wealth than African-American families with unbroken employment.

Security is also a casualty of a restructuring in the U.S. job market. A stark example is the “permatemp” employee. In nearly every industry—from engineering to law and accounting to journalism—the fastest-growing job category is contract workers. They are often the victims of downsizing who were given the “opportunity” to perform their old job but without employment security or benefits and sometimes with a cut in pay. These “labor flexibility practices” have been increasing over the past 30 to 40 years, said Susan Lambert, a University of Chicago expert on low-skilled jobs. “Our current economic downturn has really heightened their use.”

If they make a decent income, are permatemps middle class? Not by the standards of the past. But by the diminished redefinition, maybe they are: earning a middle-class living—for the moment.


The easiest way to see how much people value stability is to look at what happens when they lose it. During the past decade, more and more Americans saw their incomes fluctuate and their savings dwindle. Even when hit with unexpected life events—a lost job, an illness—they didn’t scale back their expectations or lifestyles. Instead, they took on more debt to preserve what they could.

Outwardly, the middle class still looked vibrant. But, in reality, many of those homes, cars, and pricey college degrees weren’t emblems of affluence but rather symbols of an overextended, overleveraged economy. Political leaders were hardly bystanders in promoting a culture of debt. Washington’s response to rising income inequality was to provide easy credit to consumers and to encourage everyone to buy a home, or so Raghuram Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, argued in his 2010 book, Fault Lines.

When the Great Recession struck, millions of Americans found they could no longer keep up with the debt they had taken on, triggering a chain reaction of default and retrenchment. The suburban house was now underwater. The two cars the parents needed for work became two car loans to shoulder as gasoline prices shot up. The college education entailed loans that brought stifling debts.

“The measures of the American Dream that brought about a sense of comfort and control and pride,” Benenson said, “became symbols of debt and risk. And that has people becoming a little more cautious, weighing risk more carefully in their lives. They have seen the consequences of taking an extra car loan or refinancing their homes. They thought the people who had tamed risk for them—banks, mortgage lenders—hadn’t done it.”

Benenson believes that many Americans have experienced a “come to Jesus” moment regarding their personal finances and are trying to commit themselves to more prudent stewardship. After U.S. credit-card debt topped $843 billion in the first part of 2010, it has slowly but steadily fallen. Average debt loads dropped in all 50 states in 2010; last fall, Moody’s Analytics found that U.S. consumer debt had sunk to 2006 levels. Personal savings rates are finally starting to rise nationwide, after a long decline.

Signs show that hard times have also prompted Americans to reevaluate what they want out of life. Not, perhaps, at first glance. Participants in focus groups convened by the Pew Economic Mobility Project are asked to draw a picture of the American Dream. Nearly everyone’s sketch is the same—two adults, some kids, and a dog in front of a house with a fence. (Even cat owners end up drawing a dog.) It is the set of Leave It to Beaver, sans canine, unchanged since the 1950s.

And yet, “when we delve deeper and ask people to explain what these symbols mean,” project manager Currier said, “they are all about security. It’s being able to afford a house. Having a healthy family and kids. Living in a safe neighborhood. A pet means you can afford a little extra. You have what you need and no more. It became clear that for the individuals we spoke to, the American Dream was much more about feeling they could sleep well at night than about getting ahead.”


If these changes in American attitudes and behaviors merely dated to the Great Recession, they might not last. But the recession simply punctuated a set of underlying economic trends that were several decades in the making. That may be why, even as the economy has recovered, insecurity hasn’t subsided much. As in earlier business cycles, employers aren’t hiring many workers as their profits bounce back; many are looking to downsize further and scale back employee benefits.

Above all, the recession made clear that the old rules—work hard and you will be rewarded with a comfortable, stable life—are no longer in effect. “This was a dramatic event that caused a lot of upheaval, not just financially and economically, but in terms of how they viewed the American economy overall,” Obama pollster Benenson said. “One of the big sources of concern for the people we talked with was that they didn’t recognize any new rules in this environment. All of the rules they had learned about how you succeed, how you get ahead—those rules no longer apply, and they didn’t feel there was a set of new rules.”

No wonder Americans are skeptical that their children will be better off than they are—a core element in the American Dream. A startling 59 percent of respondents to a 2011 Pew survey said it would be harder for their children to move up the income ladder than it was for them. The path to rising higher isn’t as clear as it was.

The older, ambitious model of the American Dream has even drawn some critiques. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration said Washington should “attempt to help all American households become homeowners.” After the housing market collapsed, the Treasury Department declared in 2011 that the Obama administration’s policy “does not mean all Americans should become homeowners.”

A similar downsizing of dreams popped up in last year’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, when former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania called Obama a “snob” for thinking everyone should attend college. (Obama jumped to clarify that he meant community colleges and job training, too.) Economic research shows the advantage of a college diploma; a Georgetown University study last summer found that the unemployment rate for recent graduates of four-year colleges was 6.8 percent, compared with nearly 25 percent for recent high school grads. Even so, a majority of Americans tell pollsters (54 percent in last fall’s Heartland Monitor survey) they are skeptical that a college education is worth the burden of student loans.

Reducing one’s risk in pursuit of housing or education isn’t necessarily irrational. But a middle class that is increasingly characterized by risk aversion essentially rewrites our national narrative, the one that highlights ordinary people who take risks and create new opportunities and industries.

Scaling back may also mean accepting that people who haven’t yet made it into the middle class never will. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the United States, far from being the land of opportunity celebrated in our history and our literature,” economist Isabel Sawhill has written, “is instead a country where class matters after all, where upward mobility is constrained, especially among those born into the bottom ranks.” That isn’t a phrase likely to be inscribed on a national monument anytime soon, but for millions of Americans, it’s the new reality–and it hurts.



Sequester forces OPM to cut pension overtime


Apr. 29, 2013 – 03:14PM |


The Office of Personnel Management announced Monday it has suspended all overtime for its employees working on processing federal retirees’ pensions.

In a blog post, Associate Director of Retirement Services Ken Zawodny said the steep budget cuts known as the sequester forced OPM to suspend overtime for employees in his division. Zawodny also said OPM will reduce its call center hours by nearly three hours each weekday to save money. The overtime suspension took effect Sunday, and OPM did not say when overtime might be resumed.

The move will throw a wrench into OPM’s recent successful effort to speed up its processing of new retirees’ pensions and whittle down its backlog of unresolved cases. In January 2012, former OPM Director John Berry unveiled a plan to fix the decades-old problem by hiring more people to process pensions, overhauling how the agency processes claims and answers calls from the public, and authorizing more overtime to specialists who have proven they can accurately and swiftly adjudicate claims.

Since then, OPM has cut its backlog of unprocessed claims by 40 percent, from 61,108 in January 2012 to 36,603 in March 2013. Once OPM got its new pension processors hired and trained last summer, their productivity surpassed the agency’s expectations, and helped it weather a massive buyout-driven spike in retirements earlier this year.

Zawodny said the cancellation of overtime and shortening of call center hours will make it harder for OPM to respond as quickly as it would like.

“While it is our hope that process improvements developed over the past year will ameliorate some of the adverse effects of these necessary actions, retirees should expect an increase in the time required to process their claims or respond to inquiries,” Zawodny said.

Until Monday, OPM’s call center was open between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Call center hours are now 7:40 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.


Cyber-Conflict Escalates in Midst of North Korean Tensions


By Robert Lemos | Posted 2013-04-29

Nation-state attacks through the Internet continue to escalate, with a massive surge in cyber-reconnaissance activity appearing to come from North Korea at the same time as the country ratcheted up its nuclear rhetoric, according to security experts.

In February, attackers operating from North Korean Internet addresses probed U.S. servers more than 1,000 times, up from the previous average of fewer than 200 probes per month, according to managed security firm Solutionary. In addition, a massive reconnaissance operation—-consisting of another 11,000 probes from servers in North Korea—was directed at a single financial institution, wrote Jon Heimerl, Solutionary’s director of strategic security, in the brief analysis.

The attacks seem to coincide with North Korea’s apparent nuclear test on Feb. 12, he said.

“There do appear to be several parallels between escalated verbal rhetoric and escalated cyber-attacks,” Heimerl wrote. “It is evident that, whether government influenced or not, that the dual path of aggression is a new way of facing the world, at least from North Korea.”

The Internet has increasingly become the medium for deniable nation-state activity. From China’s cyber-espionage to the United States’ and Israel’s alleged attack on Iran’s nuclear program using the Stuxnet worm, cyber conflict has become a staple of nations’ covert military intelligence and reconnaissance operations.

In February, for example, incident-response firm Mandiant released a report detailing the connections between an intelligence unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army and widespread attacks on U.S. companies and interests. In a blog posted on April 24, security firm Cyber Squared said that analysts using the firm’s Threat Connect forum had found that those attacks had continued unabated and defied prediction, by hardly changing their tactics.

“Many within the global security industry, both public and private sectors, speculated that the group’s tactics, tools and procedures (TTPs) would change drastically in response to the disclosure,” the firm stated in the post. “As of late April 2013, Chinese cyber espionage threat groups have clearly continued their activity … (and) in fact, there has been little change.”

The United States is currently considering a variety of options in response to Chinese unabashed hacking, including trade sanctions and other diplomatic pressure, the prosecution of Chinese nationals in U.S. courts and striking back at the Chinese through cyber-space, according to officials cited in an Apr. 22 article in the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. government has also signaled that cyber-operations have become a priority in the latest budget. The Obama administration plans to boost spending on cyber-security operations by $800 million to $4.7 billion, while cutting other Pentagon programs by nearly $4 billion.

The attacks emanating from North Korean IP space favor financial services, but show only slight preferences among other industries. Many other attacks focused on education, manufacturing and business services, according to Solutionary’s data. The company expects that North Korea—and other nations with smaller military forces—to focus on Internet operations to achieve their national aims.

“Given the more hard-line government in North Korea, we expect escalations like this to continue, and to become even more evident in other conflicts around the globe,” Solutionary’s Heimerl wrote.


Daniel Kessler: The Coming ObamaCare Shock

Millions of Americans will pay more for health insurance, lose their coverage, or have their hours of work cut back.


In recent weeks, there have been increasing expressions of concern from surprising quarters about the implementation of ObamaCare. Montana Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat, called it a “train wreck.” A Democratic colleague, West Virginia’s Sen. Jay Rockefeller, described the massive Affordable Care Act as “beyond comprehension.” Henry Chao, the government’s chief technical officer in charge of putting in place the insurance exchanges mandated by the law, was quoted in the Congressional Quarterly as saying “I’m pretty nervous . . . Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”

These individuals are worried for good reason. The unpopular health-care law’s rollout is going to be rough. It will also administer several price (and other) shocks to tens of millions of Americans.

Start with people who have individual and small-group health insurance. These policies are most affected by ObamaCare’s community-rating regulations, which require insurers to accept everyone but limit or ban them from varying premiums based on age or health. The law also mandates “essential” benefits that are far more generous than those currently offered.

According to consultants from Oliver Wyman (who wrote on the issue in the January issue of Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries), around six million of the 19 million people with individual health policies are going to have to pay more—and this even after accounting for the government subsidies offered under the law. For example, single adults age 21-29 earning 300% to 400% of the federal poverty level will be hit with an increase of 46% even after premium assistance from tax credits.

Determining the number of individuals who will be harmed by changes to the small-group insurance market is harder. According to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, around 30 million Americans work in firms with fewer than 50 employees, and so are potentially affected by the small-group “reforms” imposed by ObamaCare.

Around nine million of these people, plus six million family members, are covered by employers who do not self-insure. The premium increases for this group will be less on average than those for people in the individual market but will still be substantial. According to analyses conducted by the insurer WellPoint for 11 states, small-group premiums are expected to increase by 13%-23% on average.

This average masks big differences. While some firms (primarily those that employ older or sicker workers) will see premium decreases due to community rating, firms with younger, healthier workers will see very large increases: 89% in Missouri, 91% in Indiana and 101% in Nevada.

Because the government subsidies to purchasers of health insurance in the small-group market are significantly smaller than those in the individual market, I estimate that another 10 million people, the approximately two-thirds of the market that is low- or average-risk, will see higher insurance bills for 2014.

Higher premiums are just the beginning, because virtually all existing policies in the individual market and the vast majority in the small-group market do not cover all of the “essential” benefits mandated by the law. Policies without premium increases will have to change, probably by shifting to more restrictive networks of doctors and hospitals. Even if only one third of these policies are affected, this amounts to more than five million people.

In addition, according to Congressional Budget Office projections in July and September 2012, three million people will lose their insurance altogether in 2014 due to the law, and six million will have to pay the individual-mandate tax penalty in 2016 because they don’t want or won’t be able to afford coverage, even with the subsidies.

None of this counts the people whose employment opportunities will suffer because of disincentives under ObamaCare. Some, whose employers have to pay a tax penalty because their policies do not carry sufficiently generous insurance, will see their wages fall. Others will lose their jobs or see their hours reduced.

Anecdotal evidence already suggests that these disincentives will really matter in the job market, as full-time jobs are converted to part time. Why would employers do this? Because they aren’t subject to a tax penalty for employees who work less than 30 hours per week.


There is some debate over how large these effects will be, and how long they will take to manifest. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on a category of workers who will almost surely be involuntarily underemployed as a result of health reform: the 10 million part-timers who now work 30-34 hours per week.

These workers are particularly vulnerable. Reducing their hours to 29 avoids the employer tax penalty, with relatively little disruption to the workplace. Fewer than one million of them, according to calculations based on the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, get covered by ObamaCare-compliant insurance from their employer.

In total, it appears that there will be 30 million to 40 million people damaged in some fashion by the Affordable Care Act—more than one in 10 Americans. When that reality becomes clearer, the law is going to start losing its friends in the media, who are inclined to support the president and his initiatives. We’ll hear about innocent victims who saw their premiums skyrocket, who were barred from seeing their usual doctor, who had their hours cut or lost their insurance entirely—all thanks to the faceless bureaucracy administering a federal law.

The allure of the David-versus-Goliath narrative is likely to prove irresistible to the media, raising the pressure on Washington to repeal or dramatically modify the law. With the implementation of ObamaCare beginning to take full force at the end of the year, there will be plenty of time before the 2014 midterm elections for Congress to consider its options.

For those like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who told a gathering a few weeks ago at the Harvard School of Public Health that she has been “surprised” by the political wrangling caused so far by ObamaCare, there are likely to be plenty of surprises ahead.

Mr. Kessler is a professor of business and law at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


‘Impossible’ to include sequester in 2014 defense budget, Dempsey says

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb – 04/30/13 03:11 PM ET


Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Tuesday that it was “literally impossible” for the Pentagon to incorporate $52 billion in cuts under sequestration in its 2014 budget.

Dempsey pushed back against criticism from Republicans, who have argued the Pentagon should have lived by the budget caps set by the sequester in the 2014 budget. The Pentagon requested a base budget in 2014 of $526 billion, $52 billion above the budget caps under sequestration.

Dempsey said that because sequestration didn’t take effect until March 1, the Pentagon wouldn’t have had the time to prepare a completely separate budget for that scenario.

“It would be literally impossible for us to have done,”Dempsey told reporters at a lunch hosted by The
Christian Science Monitor. “We would have to have done two budgets. And that’s not possible, particularly when you’ve got furloughs. There wasn’t a neglect — it was a practical matter of literally what was possible for us to ask the services to do.”

The president’s 2014 budget didn’t ignore sequestration altogether. But its solution of averting the automatic budget cuts through a mix of taxincreases and spending cuts is dead on arrival in the Republican-led House, and there’s little momentum right now for another solution to fix the cuts.

President Obama did not signal a lot of optimism for a solution at a press conference Tuesday.

“I think there’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction. Whether we can get it done or not, we’ll see,” he said.

Dempsey said that with the debt-ceiling fight looking to be pushed back until the fall, it doesn’t appear that there’s a force to get some kind of budget deal.

“It does now appear we will live with what we’re living with out into the fall,” he said.

Dempsey said that the Pentagon has not decided how it is going to address the 2014 budget being $52 billion above the sequester caps. He said a decision “hasn’t been made” whether to submit an alternate budget or work with Congress to make the cuts.

The Pentagon can make the cuts in a targeted fashion in 2014 if it chooses, but if the budget remains above the budget caps, the cuts would take place across the board.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others urged Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a hearing earlier this month to detail where the $52 billion cut would come from. They argued that if the public and lawmakers knew what effect the reductions would have, there might be more political will to try and stop sequestration.

Congress did pass a fix to stop Federal Aviation Administration furloughs this week, which prompted McCain to blast lawmakers for fixing that but ignoring the cuts to the military.

The budgets passed by the House and Senate last month also did not take sequestration into account in 2014, setting defense spending at roughly the same level as the president’s request.

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Drones: When the Future Sneaks Up on You


30 April 2013

By Chris Anderson

Last month, at a Congressional hearing, Sentator Patrick Leahy quoted an FAA prediction that there would be “as many as 30,000 small, lightweight unmanned vehicles [drones] operating in the national airspace by the end of this decade”. That was considered a lot. And he was talking about seven years from now.

Guess what. There are more than 30,000 such small, lightweight drones in Americaalready. My own company sells more than 10,000 a year, and we’re just one of many. We’ve been at it for nearly four years.

Drones are not just remote-controlled aircraft (there are hundreds of thousands of those, which have been flown by hobbyists for decades); instead, they’re computer-controlled unmanned aircraft capable of autonomous flight, following GPS waypoints and otherwise executing pre-programmed missions and controlling on-board cameras. A decade ago, this was the sole domain of the military. Today, you can buy one for less than $550.

How is it possible that Senator Leahy and the Federal Aviation Administration don’t have any idea how many such drones there are in America?

The simple answer is that they’re stuck in the past. The FAA typically tracks aircraft from aerospace companies that go through a certification process. They’ve assumed that the only people who can make drones, which are after all highly complex flying robots, are such firms.

And until about five years ago, that was true. But now, thanks to consumer smartphones and the economies of scale of Apple and Samsung, the tiny sensors and powerful processors needed for drone autopilots are available to anyone. Indeed, they can be bought at Radio Shack. Anybody can make or buy a drone today, and we’ve even created a website called DIY Drones to show you how. It currently has more than 38,000 members flying drones today. So much for the government prediction that “up to 30,000″ drones might be here by 2020.

Before you despair for the FAA and Senator Leahy’s ability to track technology’s progress, remember that this sort of disconnect is always what happens with disruptive change. When technologies come from big, regulated companies like the aerospace industry and defense contractors, the government can count them. But when they come from the grass roots, like our own DIY Drones community of amateurs and hobbyists, they’re off the radar (so to speak).

We’ve seen this time and time again. In 1993, when I was at the Economist magazine, I wrote the publication’s first report on the Internet. In it, I described a scene at the FCC, the agency that regulates telecommunications networks.

[A researcher] recalls visiting America’s Federal Communications Commission in 1990 and seeing an official excitedly waving two charts. One, from the FCC, showed the traditional telecoms investment, worth several billion dollars and growing at the same rate as for the past few decades. The other, from the Commerce Department, showed all network infrastructure investment–including office PC networks and private long-distance data networks.

It had started at about the same level as the few years earlier, but had grown exponentially to double that figure by the late 1980s. The gap was widening rapidly, representing something altogether new; something, the FCC official admitted, “we know nothing about.”

It was the foundation for the Internet, even though the true importance of that development did not become clear for another decade.

Now, twenty years later, the FAA is about to realize that it’s making the same mistake with drones. This technology is no longer something that goes through a regulatory approval process and comes from companies that file paperwork in Washington DC. You can buy drones in the shopping mall. Children fly them on weekends in the park. The Chinese make them in toy factories and sell them by the tens of thousands. The technology has democratized and it’s now fast, cheap and out of control.

It’s like the Internet all over again.


The 5 Agencies with the Most Out of Touch Senior Leadership

By Mark Micheli

April 30, 2013

The growing disconnect between the SES and the rest is real—and growing. The Partnership for Public Service released data in mid-April showing that, government-wide, members of the SES are more positive than other employees, scoring 18.6 points higher in the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, with respect to job satisfaction and commitment.

This widening gap in satisfaction tells us where leaders in the federal government are most out of touch with what’s happening on the ground in their organizations. The gap was lowest—meaning, where the SES and other employees had the most similar job satisfaction scores—at the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, Social Security Administration, Department of Justice, Department of Veterans Affairs and NASA.

The gap between the SES and the rest—that is, where the SES and other employees were found to be most out of touch with respect to job satisfaction—was highest at the following five organizations:

Most Out of Touch Senior Leadership

  1. Department of Homeland Security (Gap: 26.0)
  2. Department of Agriculture (Gap: 24.2)
  3. Department of the Navy (Gap: 23.2)
  4. Department of the Air Force (Gap: 21.4)
  5. Department of Transportation (Gap: 20.3)

Lara Shane of the Partnership for Public Service recently wrote on Excellence in Government that the difference between the SES and other employees have grown increasingly stark.

There was at least a 20-point gap between senior executives and other employees on four out of 10 workplace categories the Partnership and Deloitte rank in Best Places to Work, including performance based rewards and advancement, leadership, support for diversity and strategic management. There was an alarming 46.5-point gap on the survey question, “Promotions in my work unit are based on merit,” with close to 80 percent of senior executives agreeing with the statement in contrast to only 30 percent of all other employees.

Senior executives and their employees were more aligned on issues such as pay and work/life balance, but those are also the two categories members of the SES gave the lowest marks to. On two of the questions in the work/life balance category, “My workload is reasonable,” and I have sufficient resources to get my job done,” employees were slightly more positive than senior executives. These were the only questions in the 84-question survey where SES members had a lower score than all other employees.

Read the full report here (pdf) and find more information about the best places to work in the federal government below:



Pentagon may soon clear use of Apple, Samsung, BlackBerry devices

Wed, May 1 2013

By David Alexander


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is expected to clear Apple, Samsung and BlackBerry mobile devices for use on Defense Department networks in the next few weeks, part of an effort to ensure the military has access to the latest communications technology, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The decision will set the stage for an intensified struggle for Pentagon customers among BlackBerry devices, Apple’s iPhones or iPads and units using Google’s Android platform such as Samsung Electronics’ phones. The Pentagon currently has some 600,000 users of smart phones, computer tablets and other mobile devices.

The Pentagon unveiled a plan in February aimed at giving the military services a much broader range of choices among mobile devices. The department currently has 470,000 BlackBerry users, 41,000 Apple users and 8,700 people with Android devices. Most Apple and Android systems are in pilot or test programs.

“We are working towards establishing a multi-vendor environment that supports a variety of devices and operating systems, to include Samsung, Apple and BlackBerry,” said Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a Pentagon spokesman.

“A key objective of the plan is to establish a department-wide mobile enterprise solution that permits the use of the latest commercial technology such, as smart phones and tablets,” he added.

Several mobile devices and operating systems are currently going through a security review and approval process with the Defense Information Systems Agency, Pickart said.

Once the devices have cleared the process for creating a STIG – for Security Technical Implementation Guide – Pentagon organizations will be able to order them knowing that they have the necessary security configuration to be used on the Defense Department’s internal networks, he said.

Pickart said Samsung’s Knox version of Android currently is going through the security review process, with a decision expected in the next two weeks.

A full security review for Apple’s iOS 6 system is expected in early May, and BlackBerry has submitted security plans for its BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry Device Service, with a decision expected in two weeks.

The security reviews are part of the Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan unveiled by the Pentagon in February.

Major General Robert Wheeler, deputy chief information officer, told reporters at the time that the effort aimed to ensure the Pentagon’s mobile devices, wireless infrastructure and mobile applications remain “reliable, secure and flexible enough to keep up with the fast-changing technologies of today.”



Navy unveils first squadron of drones

The Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 – 1:48 am

CORONADO, Calif. — The Navy is inaugurating its first squadron with unmanned aircraft, formally adopting drone technology amid debate over its growing use in warfare.

Military officials will launch the maritime strike squadron called “Magicians” on Thursday at the Naval Air Station North Island base on Coronado, near San Diego.

The squadron will have eight manned helicopters and a still-to-be-determined number of the Fire Scout MQ-8 B, an unmanned helicopter that can fly 12 continuous hours, tracking targets.

Lt. Aaron Kakiel says the squadron will be aboard the Navy’s new littoral combat ship in about a year.

He says most Navy drones now are operated by contractors overseen by military personnel.

The squadron’s creation comes 100 years after the formation of the first Navy air detachment.

The Air Force has various drone squadrons.


Read more here:


Is U.S. manufacturing making a comeback — or is it just hype?

Washington Post

By Brad Plumer, Updated: May 1, 2013

It’s hardly news when a U.S. firm moves its manufacturing operations abroad to China. But what about when a Chinese company sets up a factory in the United States?

Back for good? Or still hurting? (Ty Wright/BLOOMBERG)

That actually happened in January, when Lenovo, a Beijing-based computer maker, opened a new manufacturing line in Whitsett, N.C., to handle assembly of PCs, tablets, workstations and servers.

The rationale? The company is expanding into the U.S. market and needs the flexibility to assemble units for speedy delivery across the country, says Jay Parker, Lenovo’s president for North America.

But also — and this was crucial — the math added up. While it’s still cheaper to build things in China, those famously low Chinese wages have risen in recent years. “We reached the point where we could offset a portion of those labor costs by saving on logistics,” Parker says.

U.S. firms that have long operated abroad are making similar moves: Caterpillar, GE and Ford are among those that have announced that they’re shifting some manufacturing operations back to the United States. And economists are now debating whether these stories are a blip — or whether they signal the beginning of a major renaissances for American manufacturing.

It’s easy to be skeptical. So far, the effect on jobs has been modest. Since January 2010, the United States has added 520,000 manufacturing jobs — and of those, just 50,000 have come from overseas firms moving here, according to the Reshoring Initiative. (That includes 115 in the new Lenovo plant.) That’s a decent number, but it pales beside the 6 million factory jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says vanished between 2000 and 2009.

And all those reshoring anecdotes might just be that — isolated anecdotes. In March, Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs pored over the data on U.S. trade and manufacturing and found that the manufacturing gains since 2010 have mainly just been a cyclical bounce-back from the recession and nothing more. “Evidence for a structural renaissance is scant so far,” he wrote.

Yet the optimists counter that the logic of a manufacturing comeback remains compelling. Besides the shrinking wage gap between China and the United States, the productivity of the American worker keeps rising. Shipping costs are rising, making outsourcing more costly. And the surge in shale gas drilling gives the United States a wealth of cheap domestic energy to bolster industries such as petrochemicals.

All that could combine to make U.S. factories more competitive in the years ahead, not just with Europe and Japan, but with the manufacturing behemoth in China. This shift likely won’t mean the United States will have 19 million manufacturing workers again, the way it did in the 1980s. For one thing, automation is still a powerful force. And the types of jobs that come back will be very different from the ones that vanished. Still, any significant uptick in domestic manufacturing after a decades-long decline could bolster the economy and spur innovation.

“I think it’s fair to say this hasn’t all registered in the data just yet,” says Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in response to Hatzius’ points. “But we’re starting to lay the groundwork where we’ll start to see a real effect three to 10 years from now.”

Laying the groundwork

Reuters – A laborer works at a textile mill last month in Huaibei, China.

So what does that groundwork look like? For many analysts, the narrowing of the wage gap between China and the United States is the most significant factor. China has been getting wealthier, and its factory workers are demanding ever-higher wages. Whereas the gap in labor costs between the two countries was about $17 per hour in 2006, that could shrink to as little as $7 per hour by 2015, says Dan North, an economist with Euler Hermes, a credit insurer that works with manufacturers.

“If you’re a U.S. company and the advantage is only $7 per hour, suddenly it may be worth staying home,” North says. “If I stay here, I have lower inventory costs, lower transportation costs. I’m closer to my market, I can have higher-quality production and I can keep my technology.”

This notion appears to be catching on. In February 2012 survey from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 37 percent of U.S. manufacturers with sales above $1 billion said they were considering shifting some production from China to the United States. The factors they pointed to were not only that wages and benefits were rising in China, but the country is also enacting stricter labor laws and experiencing more frequent labor disputes and strikes.

“Companies are realizing it’s not as easy to do things in China as they thought,” says Hal Sirkin, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group who has been predicting the convergence of labor costs since 2011.

The flip side is that American workers are becoming more attractive — for a mix of reasons. Worker productivity has been rising steadily over the years. But also, BCG says, the decline of U.S. organized labor is luring some multinational corporations home, particularly to the nonunion South. Unions, for their part, have often responded by allowing wages to fall in order to keep jobs in the United States. Ford started bringing back production from China and Mexico after an agreement with the United Auto Workers let the company hire new “second-tier” workers at lower wages.

As a result, Sirkin’s research at BCG suggests that some industries could slowly migrate back from China. That includes industries such as plastic and rubber, machinery, electrical equipment and computers and electronics.

Nor is it just China. BCG also found that the United States is on pace to have lower manufacturing costs than Europe and Japan by 2015. Already, companies in those regions have been moving production here. Nissan, Honda, and Toyota are ramping up their exports from the United States. In 2008, Ikea opened a new furniture factory in Danville, Va., to cut shipping costs. The European aerospace company Airbus has just broken ground for a new factory in Mobile, Ala.

America’s glut of cheap natural gas from shale fracking is also attracting a smaller subset of industries. Factories being built in Texas and Pennsylvania will convert natural gas into ethylene, a key ingredient in plastics and antifreeze. An Egyptian company, Orascom Construction, is building a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant in Iowa near a natural-gas pipeline. (That said, it’s unclear whether cheap natural gas will have any broader impacts beyond a few industries — as a recent note from Morgan Stanley points out, energy is still a small fraction of costs for most industries.)

Most of the evidence that “reshoring” is happening is still very much anecdotal, and there’s a limit to how far it is likely to go. For one thing, North says, the industries most reliant on cheap labor — including textiles and mass-produced clothing — will likely never return to the United States. Moreover, China has built up a formidable manufacturing infrastructure that will keep many companies there, even as labor costs shift.

“Chinese suppliers have now developed dense supplier networks that now have their own capabilities for introducing new products,” says Suzanne Berger, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies manufacturing. “And, of course, China is a market that’s growing extremely rapidly — so many companies will want to stay in close proximity to those customers.”

What’s more, several experts noted, the Chinese government may well try to prevent the gap in labor costs from narrowing — either by subsidizing domestic firms or through other policies. “I don’t think you want to underestimate the willingness of China to protect its manufacturing,” says Paul. “Even in the face of steep odds.”

But the early signs are notable. Sirkin points out that his model of labor costs didn’t predict that companies would start coming back to the United States until 2015: “We’ve already seen more movement than we expected.”

Industry has changed

Two of Eastman Kodak’s most successful cameras (Gary Cameron/REUTERS)

Policymakers’ efforts to bolster domestic manufacturing, however, will have to take into account how dramatically the industry has changed since the 1980s.

In a recent report, an MIT task force described how the U.S. manufacturing landscape is no longer dominated by large firms such as Dupont, IBM and Kodak that could handle every aspect of production themselves. Instead, the future of manufacturing will consist of smaller firms that may not always have enough money to train workers, commercialize new products and procure financing on their own.

“There are these holes in the ecosystem, and we have to think of another way to provide all these capabilities if we want to see manufacturing revived,” says Berger, a co-author of the report.

Some firms have partnered with local universities or governments to develop these capabilities, she says. In Rochester, N.Y., for instance, the demise of Kodak meant that there was no longer a dominant company paying to train new skilled workers. So smaller firms in the optics industry banded together to plan new community college curricula and fill the gap.

In New York, the state government has tried to support semiconductor manufacturing by bringing together private firms, research labs and degree programs to share common facilities, expensive equipment, training and research.

The Obama administration is spending $1 billion to fund similar hubs around the country. The first is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovative Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, which will focus on the development of 3-D printing and other processes for manufacturing objects from digital models.

According to the MIT report, such partnerships have the potential to be far more effective than the old model of handing out tax breaks for manufacturers. That’s because they don’t leave a state or locality at the mercy of a single firm that could leave at any time.

How many jobs will return?

There’s also the key question of how many jobs are likely to come back. The United States has 11.9 million manufacturing employees, and experts tend to agree we’re unlikely to see a return even to the much-diminished levels of the 1990s, when there were more than 17 million factory positions:

President Obama has set a more modest goal of 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of his second term. But Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing says the country is behind pace to achieve even that “reasonable goal.”

The new manufacturing jobs, meanwhile, will also be different from the jobs of old. For one, many plants are now setting up in the nonunion South, and organized labor has largely been shut out of the manufacturing renaissance. On balance, all of the job gains since 2009 have been nonunion. And, unlike 30 years ago, manufacturing jobs no longer have higher average annual earnings than the typical private-sector worker.

At the same time, technological advances will continue to displace factory jobs in the United States and elsewhere. Germany and China — two manufacturing titans — are slowly losing positions because of automation. A report last fall by the McKinsey Global Institute found that the price of robots relative to the cost of human labor has fallen 40 to 50 percent since 1990, and that trend is expected to continue.

Paul, however, points out that Germany has lost jobs at a much slower pace than the United States over the past decade, which suggests that there’s room for improvement. “There’s nothing inevitable about the sort of steep declines we’ve seen here.” Similarly, the recent Morgan Stanley report, which is skeptical about a sustained renaissance, argues that at the very least the United States has halted the “draining away of manufacturing capacity to China.”

What’s more, experts point out that there are still plenty of other advantages to bringing manufacturing back home. Manufacturing firms tend to spend more on research and development than other businesses, and recent research has focused on the fact that the act of building things can lead to key innovations. Procter & Gamble and Gillette are two companies known for their run-of-the-mill products — diapers and razors — that have turned innovations in the manufacturing process into a key part of their business.

What’s more, the MIT report says, manufacturing can be a potent driver of other service-industry jobs. A small company in Ohio that makes protective sleeves for pipelines, say, will be in a good position to offer technical support for oil platforms and other companies.

“We have the wrong picture if we think on the one hand there’s manufacturing and on the other hand services,” Berger says. “And the idea that we’re going to just go from one to the other is wrong. Almost all valuable things are some bundle of manufactured goods plus services attached.”


Will Bureaucracy Keep The U.S. Drone Industry Grounded?

by Martin Kaste

April 30, 2013 3:18 AM

Paul Applewhite of Applewhite Aero isn’t allowed to fly this 3-pound Styrofoam plane. That’s because he has added circuitry to make it autonomous — it can find its way to specified coordinates — which means it’s an unmanned aerial vehicle requiring a special testing permit.

Americans are suspicious of drones. Reports of the unmanned aerial vehicles’ use in war zones have raised concerns about what they might do here at home. For instance, in Seattle earlier this year, a public outcry forced the police department to abandon plans for eye-in-the-sky UAV helicopters.

The backlash worries Paul Applewhite, an aerospace engineer with 10 years of experience at companies like McDonnell Douglas and Sikorsky. He now runs his own startup company, Applewhite Aero, in an industrial park on the south side of Seattle. Applewhite is developing drones — or UAVs, as the industry calls them. He shows off a 3-pound Styrofoam plane he has dubbed the Invenio.

“We bought the airframe and the motor off of an online hobby shop,” he says. To make it a UAV, he added a GPS antenna and a circuit board that allows it to fly autonomously. He hopes to sell it to aid agencies; medical teams could use it to fly tissue samples back to a lab, for instance. They’d enter the coordinates, and the Invenio would find its way back.

That’s the theory. The reality is, Applewhite can’t know for sure what his plane can do, because he’s not allowed fly it.

The Federal Aviation Administration bars the use of UAVs for commercial purposes. That means, even though it’s perfectly legal for hobbyists to fly small UAVs, Applewhite may not, because he’s in business.

He has applied for a special test permit, called a certificate of authorization, but that process has dragged on since last August.

“We’ve generated a 62-page document that we’ve submitted to the federal government,” he says, and he assumes he’ll have to meet personally with regulators in Washington, D.C., before he’s allowed to make a few short flights with his modified toy.

“Quite frankly, I could do what I need to do in a cow pasture,” he says. “I just need some legal and efficient way to test this aircraft.”

Applewhite is quick to stress his respect for the FAA’s thoroughness in the interest of safety. But in the case of lightweight experimental UAVs, he says, that thoroughness threatens to stifle startups like his — and perhaps a whole nascent industry. He says he’s losing valuable time while potential customers go elsewhere.

“A lot of our universities that are developing [UAV] training programs, they’re buying a vehicle from Latvia,” he says. “I think I could compete on that, but I just can’t test mine in the United States.”

Developers say the U.S. light drone industry is being overtaken by manufacturers in Israel and Australia; Seattle’s controversial police UAVs came from Canada.

The FAA won’t comment on the permitting process for UAV tests. Heidi Williams, vice president for air traffic services and modernization at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, defends the FAA’s cautious approach.

“Their primary mission is ensuring that the airspace environment that we all operate in is safe,” says Williams, who is also a pilot. “Things that are really tiny or small to see, sometimes can be very close before you actually have time to see them and react and avoid them.”

UAV developers admit there’s still no reliable way to “teach” small drones to avoid other aircraft, but they say there’s little danger as long as they’re tested at low altitudes, away from airports — the same rules that already apply to radio-controlled hobby aircraft.

Juris Vagners, a professor emeritus of aeronautics at the University of Washington, helped pioneer UAVs in the 1990s. “There was some paperwork, but it wasn’t anything like what’s going on today,” he says. Now the permitting process verges on the absurd. During a recent application, he says, it took a couple of months to satisfy the FAA that the University of Washington is, in fact, a public institution.

Vagners blames the red tape on the public’s hostility toward drones.

“As everyone can’t help but be aware, there’s the whole big flap about privacy issues,” Vagners says. “And the approach that is being taken by the FAA is basically a one size fits all.”

For example, commercial developers of 3-pound modified toy airplanes find themselves having to apply for an “N-number” — the same flying license plate that’s required for Cessnas and 747s.

Some frustrated American companies are now taking their prototypes to Mexico and Australia for testing. In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems is offering access to a test site among the flat farm fields of southern Alberta. One American drone developer has already used the facility, which is run by Sterling Cripps. He marvels at the bureaucratic hurdles for UAVs, both in Canada and in the U.S.

“Here’s the hypocrisy: Our governments allow us to fly UAVs over war-stricken, terrified civilians in other lands, but the moment you bring them back to our precious neck of the woods, where we’re not getting shot at, where we have insurance, we have lawyers, they won’t allow it,” Cripps says.

Regulators say they will allow it — eventually. Congress has given the FAA until September 2015 to come up with a plan for integrating commercial UAVs to the domestic airspace. As part of that process, the FAA will pick six sites around the country for UAV testing. The sites are expected to be selected by the end of the year.

That’s an eternity to UAV developers like Paul Applewhite. “We have a technology — we have an industry — that could be ours for the taking,” Applewhite says. “We’re losing it because we can’t test the vehicles.”


Drones can be positive and negative for the ag industry

May 1, 2013

By Heather Hetterick & Matt Reese

Just a few years ago, it would seem more like something out of a bad sci-fi film. But today, the possibility of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) floating over a farm taking pictures or video is a reality.

The unnerving whirring sound and ominous silhouette across the blue rural sky have triggered many opinions and possibilities for the agricultural community.

Rory Paul feels that UAVs, or drones, have many more positives than negatives. Paul is the owner of Volt Aerial Robotics in St. Louis and he sees tremendous potential for their use in agriculture.

“There are several applications we see developing. The simplest one is crop scouting. You could use a simple system like a helicopter or quad copter. The farmer can stand at the side of the field and get a bird’s eye view. There are huge advantages here because right now an agronomist can only see a small fraction of the field. If you see a problem, you get a picture of it and know exactly where it is,” he said. “The next application is mapping. You can use a fixed-wing UAV and you actually map the field creating an up-to- date digital map of the field. This allows the farmer to look at nutrient issues to develop an application plan and, technically, we could probably use precision spot spraying.”

In the distant future, he believes we could see other applications including pollination and population counts.

Paul first saw the potential for UAV use in agriculture while in South Africa.

“I am originally from South Africa where a large seed supplier had been using radio controlled helicopters to monitor their breeding operations. I saw what they were doing and I was hooked,” Paul said. “Here is the U.S., some big farmers are using traditional aircraft and aerial photography, but it is expensive. You can do the same thing with this for so much less. With conventional aerial photography it can cost $3 per acre. By using this technology is literally costs cents on the dollar and you can take so many more photos for less money. That can make a huge impact on farming decisions.”

There are many options with this technology.

“You have a broad price range. A farmer could put together a system for as little as $1,500. The professional grade system I sell for ag use is $10,000, and that comes out of the box and is ready to operate,” he said. “A military grade UAV system can cost $35,000.”

The systems can operate anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour at a time and can fly up to 15 miles away from the operator, though regulations prohibit them from leaving the sight of the operator. Paul came to the U.S. in 2005 with his ideas but soon found a setback with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

“Commercial use of this technology is not permitted. You can fly them recreationally, but you cannot take that information and include it into any kind of commercial operation,” Paul said. “The FAA regulation against commercial use, though, apparently infringes upon private property rights. FAA is supposed to have a plan in place by 2015, but we could see the situation fan out longer. At the same time, there is tremendous interest in this because it makes sense and farmers are just going to go out and do it. Depending on the day, the FAA could say farm use is commercial or not.”

And, while there are plenty of positive farm applications with UAVs, there are also some concerns. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) generated quite a bit of attention when they announced that they would be monitoring hunters with drones, and in the fine print, farms. Paul said the PETA scheme was more about generating attention than an actual monitoring effort.

“If PETA gets one UAV system, so what? I don’t think it has much merit. As far as I am concerned, it is more of a marketing propaganda tool than something that is actually practical, but any farmer who sees a UAV over his property should notify the FAA straightaway and inform them of that,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, one of these systems was actually shot down by a group of hunters. It has actually happened more than once. This is a gray area right now, but aircraft have rights of access to the air space and shooting one of these down is ill advised. Use the laws that are in place. Get the FAA involved and let them restrict PETA’s activities.”

Currently, the legalities surrounding UAVs are murky at best.

“It is as clear as mud,” said Kristi Kress Wilhelmy, an agricultural attorney at Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham & Eselgroth, LLP. “It used to be that you as a landowner owned from the air to the heavens, but then we got airplanes and the law changed. Now a person can commit a trespass if a person enters or directs an object such as a drone into the area between the land and a certain level in the sky, but that level has not been clearly defined in the courts. It could arguably be 500 feet, so could a drone be trespassing if it is below 500 feet? Maybe, but that drone has to be interfering with the use of your property in some way in order to collect damages. Is it causing anxiety to your animals or a risk of injury? Then it is arguably a trespass or a nuisance. But these are all questions that have never been addressed by the courts.”

It would also be difficult to argue that the UAV is violating your privacy.

“Is it a violation of your privacy? Arguably no. If I am in my backyard where a passerby could see me, I do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” she said. “If someone repeatedly operates the drone at a particular location, it could rise to the level of stalking. What if there is a microphone on the drone? There are laws against wire-tapping. There are many unanswered questions about this and I do not believe these questions are adequately addressed in the law. The FAA is starting to make some rules and regulations about drones, but, for now, if you shoot the drone down it is clearly the destruction of private property.”

The issue then becomes whether you had lawful justification to do so.


Pentagon prepares to ask Congress for break from ‘sequester’

By David Lawder and David Alexander | Reuters

May 1, 2013

By David Lawder and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is preparing to ask Congress soon for more authority to shift funds to cope with automatic spending cuts, confronting lawmakers with another exception to the “sequester” just days after they gave a break to the flying public and the airline industry.

The request may be sent to the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee as early as next week, a House Republican aide said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon won increased budget flexibility in March, but officials have told members of Congress they believe it was insufficient to cover shortfalls in training and operations.

The Defense Department move would follow closely the fix last week to ease airline flight delays caused by the temporary furloughs of air-traffic controllers by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The cuts, known as “sequestration,” were originally hatched by Washington in 2011 as a way to force the White House and Congress to find an alternative budget deal rather than have spending cuts kick in automatically.

But policymakers failed to reach such a deal earlier this year and the cuts – totaling $109 billion for the current fiscal year – took effect on March 1.

Defense spending has taken the single biggest hit from the automatic cuts, with a $46 billion reduction through the September 30 end of the fiscal year.

One House aide said the request would cite a shortfall in war-fighting because of higher than expected costs of withdrawing from Afghanistan.


Pentagon officials paved the way for the move in testimony to congressional committees over the past few weeks in which they expressed worries about the sequester’s impact on military readiness, particularly with tensions rising in Syria and Korea.

“With the events in the world today, with Korea, Syria, Iran, the continued fight in Afghanistan … the discussion on readiness could not come at a more critical time,” General John Campbell, Army vice chief of staff, told a U.S. Senate panel on April 17.

“The reality is that if sequestration continues as it is … we risk becoming a hollow force,” he added.

Members of Congress from states with a heavy military presence have been urging a shift of funds since the sequester took effect and might be hard-pressed to vote against it.

An April 18 bipartisan letter from Virginia senators and representatives urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to move quickly to prevent furloughs and loss of pay for “thousands of Virginians.”


The Defense Department is preparing the request to shift funds, said Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, but has not “yet specified the timing or the amount” it wants to transfer, or “reprogram” in budget jargon.

Congress last week approved a similar request from the Justice Department to shift $313 million within its budget to avoid furloughing some 60,000 employees.

Robbins said it was not yet clear whether the Pentagon would submit several different reprogramming requests or one large omnibus-style request, but the budget shifts would be sought “soon.”

The Pentagon was one of several government agencies that won some budget flexibility in a stop-gap government funding measure passed in late March.

That allowed more than $10 billion that was locked up in other accounts to be shifted to the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account, which funds training exercises and military readiness.

While that has helped, it did not make up for the deep budget cuts brought on by the sequester. The Army alone is facing about a $13 billion shortfall in training, operations and Afghanistan war costs, Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno told lawmakers last week.


Top general: 5 bad habits for the Pentagon to fix

The Pentagon has not had to do any serious belt-tightening for years, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the nation’s top military officer, says some budget disciple could be beneficial.

By David Cook | Christian Science Monitor – Tue, Apr 30, 2013


Gen. Martin Dempsey, the nation’s top ranking military officer, says there are at least five areas in US defense operations where bad habits have developed, which tighter Pentagon budgets will force the military to fix.

General Dempsey, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier this month told The New York Times that, “We’ve been living with unconstrained resources for 10 years, and, frankly, we’ve developed some bad habits,” which he vowed to overcome.

At a lunch with reporters hosted by the Monitor Tuesday, Dempsey was asked to be specific about the bad habits he saw. He immediately listed five areas which, he cautioned, were “not an all inclusive list.”

Here, in the general’s own words, is the list, in the order he gave it.

•”In our acquisition programs … there is certainly room to become more efficient.”

•”Over the years, our health-care costs have exceeded expectations in a, no-pun intended, unhealthy way.”

•”On infrastructure – and these are places where we could use the help of the United States Congress, actually – we haven’t had to reduce the scope and scale of our infrastructure accounts. I think we will have to do so under the budget authorities that we see coming our way.”

•”Even in operations, I think there [are] times when we probably overinvested. We might be able to accomplish the task in different areas of the world with fewer resources, if we forced ourselves to think about how to do that.”

•”Our reliance upon contractors is excessive, in particular in certain aspects of the use of contractors.”


Dempsey noted that under the Budget Control Act of 2011 “we were tasked to find $487 billion” in savings. In addition, the budget sequester will cut defense spending another $42.7 billion in the current fiscal year and, if it continues until 2023, “takes you to another $500 billion,” Dempsey said.

“It is not just a cliché to say that when you have all the resources you need, you no longer have the responsibility to think. So we are thinking,” Dempsey told a roomful of reporters. “We are trying to think our way through this challenge. And I think we will find opportunities to retain our level of effectiveness while becoming more efficient.”

But the general warned that, at some point, efficiency savings would be insufficient to meet the budget targets, and defense capabilities would be affected. “You know, you can’t wring that towel out too tightly,” he said of efficiency gains. And speaking of the combined cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act and by sequestration, he added, “There is a point at which you just can’t do that by becoming more efficient.”


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Dempsey to conduct a review of strategic choices facing the Pentagon with a target completion date of May 31.

“What you will see come out of the [Defense Secretary's] strategic choices management review is that we will have to look at those places where we have grown most and decide whether that growth is justified, and my suspicion is we will find that, in many cases, it is not all justified,” Dempsey said.


BBC News

2 May 2013 Last updated at 14:05 ET

Robotic insect: World’s smallest flying robot takes off

By Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News


Scientists in the US have created a robot the size of a fly that is able to perform the agile manoeuvres of the ubiquitous insects.

This “robo-fly”, built from carbon fibre, weighs a fraction of a gram and has super-fast electronic “muscles” to power its wings.

Its Harvard University developers say tiny robots like theirs may eventually be used in rescue operations.

It could, for example, navigate through tiny spaces in collapsed buildings.

The development is reported in the journal Science.

Dr Kevin Ma from Harvard University and his team, led by Dr Robert Wood, say they have made the world’s smallest flying robot.

It also has the fly-like agility that allows the insects to evade even the swiftest of human efforts to swat them.

This comes largely from very precise wing movements.

By constantly adjusting the effect of lift and thrust acting on its body at an incredibly high speed, the insect’s (and the robot’s) wings enable it to hover, or to perform sudden evasive manoeuvres.

And just like a real fly, the robot’s thin, flexible wings beat approximately 120 times every second.

The researchers achieved this wing speed with special substance called piezoelectric material, which contracts every time a voltage is applied to it.

By very rapidly switching the voltage on and off, the scientists were able to make this material behave like just like the tiny muscles that makes a fly’s wings beat so fast.

As an insect’s wings move through the air, they are held at a slight angle, deflecting the air downward.

This deflection means the air flows faster over the wing than underneath, causing air pressure to build up beneath the wings, while the pressure above the wings is reduced. It is this dierence in pressure that produces lift.

Flapping creates an additional forward and upward force known as thrust, which counteracts the insect’s weight and the “drag” of air resistance.

The downstroke or the flap is also called the “power stroke”, as it provides the majority of the thrust. During this, the wing is angled downwards even more steeply.

You can imagine this stroke as a very brief downward dive through the air – it momentarily uses the weight of the animal’s own weight in order to move forwards. But because the wings continue to generate lift, the creature remains airborne.

In each upstroke, the wing is slightly folded inwards to reduce resistance.


“We get it to contract and relax, like biological muscle,” said Dr Ma.

The main goal of this research was to understand how insect flight works, rather than to build a useful robot.

He added though that there could be many uses for such a diminutive flying vehicle.

“We could envision these robots being used for search-and-rescue operations to search for human survivors under collapsed buildings or [in] other hazardous environments,” he said.

“They [could] be used for environmental monitoring, to be dispersed into a habitat to sense trace chemicals or other factors.

Dr Ma even suggested that the robots could behave like many real insects and assist with the pollination of crops, “to function as the now-struggling honeybee populations do in supporting agriculture around the world”.

The current model of robo-fly is tethered to a small, off-board power source but Dr Ma says the next step will be to miniaturise the other bits of technology that will be needed to create a “fully wireless flying robot”.

“It will be a few more years before full integration is possible,” he said.

“Until then, this research project continues to be very captivating work because of its similarity to natural insects. It is a demonstration of how far human engineering ingenuity has reached, to be mimicking natural systems.”

Dr Jon Dyhr, a biologist from the University of Washington who also studies insect flight, said these flying robots were “impressive feats of engineering”.

“The physics of flight at such small scales is relatively poorly understood which makes designing small flying systems very difficult,” he told BBC News, adding that biological systems provided “critical insights into designing our own artificial flyers”.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The flight delay gambit didn’t work.

In response to the recent sequester spending cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to furlough air traffic controllers rather than finding savings in other areas of its budget, prompting airport delays across the country. But even after the delays, only 24% of voters think the sequester cut too much, unchanged from early March just after the government spending cuts took effect. Nearly twice as many still believe the sequester didn’t cut enough.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Americans think the federal government targets areas that hurt the public the most to increase opposition to spending cuts. Most also think Congress’ quick response to the delays highlights how the legislators look out for themselves first.

Although just 16% of Americans were personally affected by the delays or knew someone who was, Congress in rare bipartisan fashion passed legislation to stop the furloughs – and the delays. Fifty-one percent (51%) believe it is possible for the FAA to make modest spending reductions without causing flight delays.

“Congress’ quick action probably resulted from the fact that the nation’s elites were impacted rather than the public at large,” Scott Rasmussen says. “Members of Congress themselves fly home most every weekend, and members of the national media are frequent flyers. Upper-income Americans in general were far more likely to encounter a problem than those who earn less.”

In his weekly newspaper column, Scott looks at the enormous “gap between the American people and the Political Class. Those in politics take the self-serving view that they are uniquely qualified to solve the nation’s problems. Those in the general public have a much firmer grasp on reality.” He adds, “Americans recognize that they have more power acting as consumers than they do when acting as voters. That’s why they want choice. Politicians prefer a top-down approach where they write the rules. That’s the source of the disconnect.”

Case in point: Voters have consistently said for years that cost is their biggest health care concern, and 59% think free market competition would do more to reduce health care costs than more government regulation.

Voters remain closely divided in their opinions of President Obama’s national health care law. Nineteen percent (19%) say the health care law already has helped them, but 35% feel the law has hurt them instead. Forty-three percent (43%) say the law has had no impact on their lives. This marks a 10-point jump in the number of people hurt by the law since last July. There has been a four-point increase in the number helped by the law. Most of the law’s provisions will go into effect next year.

Only two percent (2%) believe members of Congress and their staff should be exempt from the health care law. Ninety-three percent (93%) feel those in Congress and their staff members should be required to live under all the rules they write for the rest of the nation.

Syria is another case in point. Most voters still oppose greater U.S. involvement in the political crisis there. But 59% of the Political Class think the United States should provide military assistance to the Syrian rebels if they have been attacked with chemical weapons. Just 31% of Mainstream voters agree.

Speaking of the Political Class, 68% of all voters believe members of Congress are overpaid. Americans are divided as to whether the nation would be better off if the best people took jobs in government or the private sector. Democrats tend to want the best people in government. Republicans and unaffiliated voters take the opposite view and want the best people working in the private sector. Overall, only five percent (5%) believe members of Congress and their staff represent the nation’s best and brightest.

For the first time since before the presidential election, Republicans lead Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The president earned his lowest job approval ratings since last August this past week in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

For most of the three years leading up to Election 2012, Obama’s job approval rating generally hovered around 47% or 48%. His numbers improved as Election Day neared and peaked with a post-election bounce in December to 56%. That slipped to 52% by March and 50% for the full month of April. Still, his ratings remain above where they were for most of his first term in office.

Among voters who are gun owners, just 39% approve of the way the president is doing his job. Sixty percent (60%) disapprove. The numbers are reversed among voters who don’t own a gun: 65% approve, and 32% disapprove.

One potential cloud on the horizon for the president is Benghazi. Most voters believe the murder there last year of the U.S. ambassador to Libya was a terrorist act and needs to be thoroughly investigated. But just 32% give the Obama administration good or excellent marks for its explanation of the events surrounding the ambassador’s murder.

While voters are even more critical of the president’s handling of issues related to job creation, he got a slight boost from the improved unemployment figures at week’s end.

As projected by the Rasmussen Employment Index, the government’s monthly report on job creation was an improvement from a month ago. Twenty-three percent (23%) of workers now report that their employers are hiring, while 20% report layoffs. The net hiring numbers are the most positive measured since March 2008. Still, confidence in the labor market remains well below the levels measured from 2004 through the middle of 2007.

Americans express little optimism about the job market, though. Only 29% think the unemployment rate will be lower a year from now. Just 44% now think it’s possible for anyone to work their way out of poverty in the United States.

Americans still don’t think more government hiring is the answer to the country’s unemployment problems. Ten percent (10%) think the government should hire those who can’t find work after an extended period of time. Fourteen percent (14%) believe their unemployment benefits should be extended indefinitely, while 28% feel the government should pay for their retraining. Thirty-four percent (34%) think the government should do nothing at all for the long-term unemployed.

Forty-seven percent (47%) of Americans still think it will take more than three years for housing prices to fully recover from the downturn that began in 2008. But this is the second month in a row that this finding has dipped below the 50% mark and, generally speaking, reflects slightly more optimism than Americans have had since mid-2010.

However, Americans continue to express little short- or long-term confidence in the U.S. economy. Thirty-one percent (31%) believe the U.S. economy will be stronger a year from now, but 38% feel it will be weaker. Forty-one percent (41%) of American Adults think the economy will be stronger five years from today. In early March 2009, 64% expected the economy to be stronger in five years’ time.

One-in-three (33%) adult consumers believe the U.S. economy is getting better these days.  Among investors, 39% think economic conditions in the United States are improving.

In other surveys last week:

– For the second week in a row, 30% of Likely U.S. Voters say the country is heading in the right direction.

– Prior to this week’s arrests of three more individuals connected to the Boston Marathon bombings, many voters already believed the Tsarnaev brothers had help.

– Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Americans think the U.S. legal system worries too much about protecting individuals rights, while 24% say it worries too much about public safety. Twenty-nine percent (29%) believe the balance is about right.

– Fifty-nine percent (59%) believe the primary purpose for attending college is to learn the skills needed to get a better job.

Full-time college professors are generally regarded as politically liberal by most Americans, and only 25% believe most of these professors share the values of U.S. society.

Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters give the environment positive ratings, but far fewer believe it is getting better.

– Most voters continue to think parents should be able to choose between schools based on such things as uniforms, prayer and how long the school year lasts.

April 27 2013




Google Glass mysteries revealed!

Finally: This week a long list of announcements and revelations about Google’s cyborg eyewear were made


Mike Elgan

April 20, 2013 (Computerworld)


Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been yakking about Google Glass for more than two years. Yet until this week, we didn’t know even the most basic facts about the platform.

Google spilled some beans in an earnings call this week. The company also published facts about the hardware, software and licensing. And finally, users started receiving actual units, and have been blabbing about them on social media.

Google’s Project Glass has people wearing augmented reality glasses. (Image: Google)

Here’s what we’ve learned and what it all means.

Who’s using Google Glass

First, the lucky winners: Google held a contest calling on people to tell why they wanted Google Glass. Google picked 8,000 people for their Glass Explorer program. The gadgets aren’t free: They’ll still have to pay $1,500 for the device.

That price is not necessarily the price consumers will pay for the shipping product when it does ship; no retail pricing has been announced.

At Googe’s June developer conference last year, called Google I/O, Google offered to sell Glass to any attendee. Approximately 2,000 developers who purchased those units (on have not received them yet, but are expected to in the coming weeks. Google won’t charge those credit cards until the hardware ships.

By the time Google’s next I/O conference begins, there should be about 10,000 people outside of Google itself in the possession of Google Glass devices. (Google’s next I/O starts May 14. Google is expected to make Glass development a focus of the event.)

Google Glass may cause eyestrain or a headache, according to the Google Glass FAQ. Google says Glass is “not for children,” and that “Google’s terms of service don’t permit those under 13 to register a Google account.”

The hardware

Google Glass is a headset worn like glasses that has a projector for beaming images into the wearer’s right eye, creating an illusion equivalent to viewing “a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away.” That beaming of images happens by way of a prism, which bounces the light from the tiny projector into the prism and from there into the eye. The prism is clear, so looking through it shows both the projected image and also the normal field of vision. Users have to look up and to the right a little to see the Google Glass display.

Glass has 16 GB of RAM, 12 GB of which are usable for apps.

Sound is relayed to the user’s eardrum not into the ears but via bone conduction through the skull.

Glass has a built-in microphone, which does a good job of picking up the voice of the wearer, but strains to capture sounds farther away. This is probably by design for both the privacy of non-wearers and also to improve the voice recognition of the user.

The right side of the Google Glass hardware is a touchpad, which enables users to control the device by tapping or swiping.

Glass connects to the Internet and any Bluetooth-capable phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The battery should enable a day of moderate use on each charge, according to Google. However, using the video feature drains the battery much faster. One user estimated that a video recording of less than seven minutes drained about 20% of the battery power.

The camera takes 5-megapixel pictures and 720p video.

Glass comes with a Micro USB cable and a charger.

It comes in five colors: Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton and Sky.

The software

Glass runs Android, according to an earnings-call comment by Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page this week, although almost certainly a custom version of Android rather than the same version that runs on smartphones. In other words, Android smartphone apps won’t run on Glass, and (presumably) Glass apps won’t run on Android smartphones.

Glass comes with an Android-only app called MyGlass, which among other things enables SMS and GPS messaging. MyGlass for other phone platforms could come later.

An analysis of MyGlass reveals multi-player game support, although it’s possible that it’s there for Android in general rather than Glass in particular.

Developers can create apps, which Google calls “Glassware,” using Java or Python plus what’s called the “Google Mirror API,” and a set of services called “RESTful” for conveying messages to and from the Glass devices.

How it works

The Google Glass user interface is based on “cards” — discreet chunks of information similar to cards on Google Now — and these exist in a timeline, which users can navigate via a swiping gesture on the touchpad.

“Cards” are created by developers who write software for Glass and are pushed to Glass via the apps they build and which users can “install.” Cards can stay in place in the timeline, or can be “pinned” by the user so they remain accessible as time goes by.

In addition to information, the cards can offer simple user interaction and can be shared between Glass users.

Users can capture pictures and video through the camera with voice commands or by tapping the touchpad. (

Users initiate voice commands by saying “OK, Glass,” which “wakes up” the device and prompts it to accept voice input.

By saying “take a picture,” “get directions to” or “make a call to” users can command Glass to function in these limited ways. Voice commands can also enable users to Start a Google+ hangout, use Google Now, search the Internet, translate language, get the weather and find out flight information.

If you make a call or send an email or text message, that communication happens not by Glass alone, but through a smartphone.

One user this week recorded an “unboxing” of Google Glass through Glass itself.

An ‘unboxing’ of Google Glass through Glass itself

As the unboxing reveals, Glass comes with clip-on sunglasses. In the future, Google may partner with Ray-Ban or Warby Parker to offer prescription eyeglasses with Google Glass electronics built in. Another possibility is a clip-on product that turns regular eyeglasses into Google Glass devices.

The terms of service

Google Mirror API Terms of Service were published this week. Google is banning for early users the resale, loan or transfer of a Glass device without Google’s permission. Google reserves the right to remotely de-activate the devices and not give accused violators a refund.

Google is banning monetization by app developers: No charging for apps, no advertising.

Glassware apps don’t run on the Glasses, but in the cloud.

No retail ship date or price has been announced, but prognosticators say it could go on sale by the end of this year at the earliest or the end of next year at the latest.

What these facts tell us

Overall, the facts we learned this week tell us that Google is taking a very conservative, controlling approach to the platform.

Instead of flooding the device with features and functions, it’s limited to a few common, powerful features. Instead of releasing it to the public, Google is allowing only 10,000 initial users and banning them from selling or sharing the devices.

In other words, Google is taking something of an Apple approach to the new product, which is the right way to go for a product as “different” as Google Glass.

So now that you know what Google Glass is all about, are you interested in buying one for yourself? If not, why not?



Verizon Report: DDoS a Broad Threat

Study of Investigations Shows No Sector Is Immune

By Tracy Kitten, April 23, 2013. Follow Tracy @FraudBlogger


Distributed-denial-of-service attacks jumped significantly in 2012. And it’s not just banking institutions that are victims, Verizon finds in its just-released Data Breach Investigations Report.

Dave Ostertag, a senior analyst with Verizon’s risk team, says DDoS attacks are striking organizations in numerous sectors.

“2012 saw a dramatic increase in the number of distributed-denial-of-service attacks throughout the world, and we saw a dramatic increase against banks in the United States,” Ostertag says during an exclusive interview about the just-released Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report. “But we have seen increases in other industries. Most DDoS attacks we’ve seen in the last year were activism-based.”

And while data typically is not breached during these attacks, the risk of information exposure is a threat organizations throughout the world are taking seriously, he adds.

“In very few of these attacks we’ve seen data loss associated,” Ostertag says. “What we have seen is fraud associated with those attacks, especially in the area of regional banks.”

But so far, Verizon and its incident-investigation partners have not found any clear pattern that connects DDoS to data loss, Ostertag says. Organizations must ensure they are mitigating their risks and preparing for the worst as DDoS attacks increase in volume and intensity, he says.


Defining a Data Breach

Now in its sixth year, the Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report includes 621 confirmed data breaches as well as more than 47,000 reported security incidents that were investigated by Verizon and 18 of its global partners, including law enforcement.

For the purposes of the report, Verizon focuses on cyber-attack incidents and defines a breach as occurring only when data actually leaves a network, Ostertag says.

“The data is collected throughout the year as the incidents happen,” he says.

Beyond DDoS, certain other attack vulnerabilities, such as compromised login credentials and passwords, continue to be key factors, Ostertag says. “The use of easily guessed or stolen passwords continues to be a problem,” he explains.

Malware attacks and hacking also continue to plague various business sectors, he notes, and socially engineered schemes, such as phishing attacks, also are increasing.

“If your company has a presence on the Internet, you are a potential [breach] victim now,” he says. “Payment cards are not the most often targeted anymore. Other data is being targeted as well.”

Report at :


Chinese Hackers Seek Drone Secrets

“Comment Crew” gang that fanned fears of Chinese hacking launches malware that combs for drone technology information.

By Mathew J. Schwartz, InformationWeek

April 22, 2013



A notorious cyber-espionage gang is being blamed for a set of recently discovered spear-phishing attacks that aim to steal information relating to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones.

“The set of targets cover all aspects of unmanned vehicles, land, air, and sea, from research to design to manufacturing of the vehicles and their various subsystems,” said James T. Bennett, a senior threat research engineer at FireEye, in a blog post.

Furthermore, the advanced persistent threat (APT) group behind both attacks, according to FireEye, is the gang known as the “Comment Crew,” which was singled out in a recent report from Mandiant. The security firm accused the group, dubbed APT1, of being an elite Chinese military hacking unit based in Shanghai, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398, which is suspected of having attacked at least 141 organizations across numerous industries. Chinese government officials have denied those accusations.

Regardless of the group’s sponsor, one recent set of attacks it launched targeted about a dozen organizations — across the aerospace, defense, telecommunications and government sectors — in both the United States and India, beginning in December 2011, if not earlier. But FireEye also found that the malicious infrastructure and command-and-control (C&C) servers used in the attacks are the same as those employed in a campaign known as Operation Beebus, so named for the related malware used by attackers, which was first submitted for testing to VirusTotal in April 2011. Including those spear-phishing attacks, which were discovered in February, FireEye now has a running total of 20 targets, including government-funded drone researchers in academia.

The earlier Beebus attacks involved malicious PDF and Word files — with names such as “sensor environments.doc” and “RHT_SalaryGuide_2012.pdf” — emailed to targets. The documents attempted to exploit a well-known DLL search order hijacking vulnerability in Windows and drop a malicious DLL file in the Windows directory.

In the latest series of attacks, the tactics have remained largely the same, although this time one of the decoy documents includes a reference to Pakistan’s UAV program, while another appears to have been sent from a military email address at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, titled “Family Planning Association of Base (FPAB).”

If a target opens the malicious document, it will attempt to exploit the Windows DLL vulnerability. If successful, the attack results in the installation of backdoor software known as Mutter, which uses what Bennett has dubbed a “hide-in-plain-sight” tactic in that the malicious file is 41 MB in size. “With rare exceptions, malware typically have a small size, usually no larger than a few hundred kilobytes,” he said. “When an investigator comes across a file [that's] megabytes in size, he may be discouraged from taking a closer look.”

To build the 41-MB file, the malware dropper first decodes a malicious DLL file — only 140 KB in size — that’s included in the dropper’s resource file, then places the DLL file onto the compromised system, proceeding to fill its resource section with randomly generated data, Bennett explained. “This has another useful side effect of giving each DLL a unique hash, making it more difficult to identify.”

After infection, the malware will stay dormant for some period of time before attempting to exfiltrate data from the infected PC. That behavior mirrors that of the “wiper” malware that successfully exploited 48,000 systems at South Korean banks and broadcasters last month, although the malware isn’t related.


Tax-free Internet shopping jeopardized by bill


STEPHEN OHLEMACHE, Associated PressCopyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Updated 7:25 am, Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Page 1 of 1

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tax-free shopping on the Internet could be in jeopardy under a bill making its way through the Senate.

The bill would empower states to require online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet. The sales taxes would be sent to the states where a shopper lives.

Under current law, states can only require stores to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state. As a result, many online sales are essentially tax-free, giving Internet retailers a big advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.

The Senate voted 74 to 20 Monday to take up the bill. If that level of support continues, the Senate could pass the bill as early as this week.

Supporters say the bill is about fairness for businesses and lost revenue for states. Opponents say it would impose complicated regulations on retailers and doesn’t have enough protections for small businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million a year in online sales would be exempt.

“While local, community-based stores and shops compete for customers on many levels, including service and selection, they cannot compete on sales tax,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. “Congress needs to address this disparity.”

And, he added, “Despite what the opponents say this is not a new tax.”

In many states, shoppers are required to pay unpaid sales tax when they file their state income tax returns. However, states complain that few people comply.

“I do know about three people that comply with that,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the bill’s main sponsor.

President Barack Obama supports the bill. His administration says it would help restore needed funding for education, police and firefighters, roads and bridges and health care.

But the bill’s fate is uncertain in the House, where some Republicans regard it as a tax increase. Heritage Action for America, the activist arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, opposes the bill and will count the vote in its legislative scorecard.

“It is going to make online businesses the tax collectors for the nation,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “It really tramples on the decision New Hampshire has made not to have a sales tax.”

Many of the nation’s governors — Republicans and Democrats— have been lobbying the federal government for years for the authority to collect sales taxes from online sales, said Dan Crippen, executive director of the National Governors Association. Those efforts intensified when state tax revenues took a hit from the recession and the slow economic recovery.

“It’s a matter of equity for businesses,” Crippen said. “It’s a matter of revenue for states.”

The issue is getting bigger for states as more people make purchases online. Last year, Internet sales in the U.S. totaled $226 billion, up nearly 16 percent from the previous year, according to Commerce Department estimates.

The bill pits brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart against online services such as eBay., which initially fought efforts in some states to make it collect sales taxes, supports it too. Amazon and Best Buy have joined a group of retailers called the Marketplace Fairness Coalition to lobby on behalf of the bill.

“ has long supported a simplified nationwide approach that is evenhandedly applied and applicable to all but the smallest-volume sellers,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, said in a recent letter to senators.

On the other side, eBay has been rallying customers to oppose the bill.

“I hope you agree that imposing unnecessary tax burdens on small online businesses is a bad idea,” eBay President and CEO John Donahoe said in a letter to customers. “Join us in letting your members of Congress know they should protect small online businesses, not potentially put them out of business.”

The bill is also opposed by senators from states that have no sales tax, including Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Baucus said the bill would require relatively small Internet retailers to comply with sales tax laws in thousands of jurisdictions.

“This legislation doesn’t help businesses expand and grow and hire more employees,” Baucus said. “Instead, it forces small businesses to hire expensive lawyers and accountants to deal with the burdensome paperwork and added complexity of tax rules and filings across multiple states.”

But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the bill requires participating states to make it relatively easy for Internet retailers to comply. States must provide free computer software to help retailers calculate sales taxes, based on where shoppers live. States must also establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don’t have to send them to individual counties or cities.

“We’re way beyond the quill pen and ledger days,” Durbin said. “Thanks to computers and thanks to software it is not that complex.”

Read more:


Next Generation Bomber Survives Budget Tightening


by Kris Osborn on April 22, 2013


The U.S. Air Force continues work on designs for a stealthy, high-tech, next-generation Long Range Strike-Bomber ready for initial operating capability sometime during the 2020s and able to replace portions of the aging fleet of B-2s and B-52s, service officials confirmed.

The Air Force acquisition strategy for the next generation bomber, for which the service requested approximately $400 million in the President’s FY14 budget, is to achieve a leap-ahead in long-range strike capability, stealth characteristics, communications gear and weaponry, service officials explained.

While much of the program details and its desired capabilities remain secret, there are a few available or known attributes sought after for the system. Extended range to potentially counter Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenges, fuel efficiency and an ability to operate in a more challenging or contested electro-magnetic or “jamming” environment are among the key attributes.

The service is hoping for the next generation bomber to be able to fly farther, have more robust abilities against enemy air defenses and carry advanced, next-generation weaponry to improve strike capabilities. An Initial Capabilities Document has been drafted for the LRS-B, the details of which are classified, service officials said.

However, long-range strike capability, which brings the ability to attack or destroy enemy air defenses and ballistic missile launch sites while eluding detection, is considered to be a key element of the Pentagon’s much-discussed Air-Sea Battle operating concept.

The Air Force plans to build 100 LRS-B aircraft, at a per unit price of about $550 million per plane. The LRS-B will be nuclear-capable and potentially have the technological capability to be unmanned, said Ed Gulick, Air Force spokesman.

“The baseline LRS-B aircraft will be delivered with the features and components necessary for the nuclear mission and ensure nuclear certification is complete within two years after Initial Operating Capability,” Gulick said in written responses to Military​.com questions.

At the same time, the Air Force is hoping to leverage the best available industry technologies in order to keep costs down. The idea with this approach, naturally, is to avoid the kind of cost and schedule overruns which can accompany these kinds of acquisition efforts.

“The LRS-B program is leveraging mature technologies and existing systems to reduce development risk and minimize concurrency in integration and test. In addition, the Air Force is constraining requirements to enable stable, efficient, and affordable development and production efforts parameters,” Gulick added

Read more:



California gets first commercial white-space high-speed Internet

Years after the FCC agreed to open up white-space spectrum for unlicensed use in the U.S., California’s rural Gold Country tries out the first commercial version of the service.

by Dara Kerr

April 22, 2013 8:26 PM PDT


Carlson’s RuralConnect wireless access point uses white space to bring broadband to rural areas.

Believe it or not, there are still parts of the U.S. that don’t have access to high-speed Internet. But that’s looking to change with the onset of TV white-space broadband technology.

The first commercial application of this type of service in the U.S. is coming to a rural area of Northern California called El Dorado County, or Gold Country. Internet provider is partnering with network equipment provider Carlson to bring this region’s residents something more than dial-up.

“Over 59,000 residents in our rural service area have had little or no quality Internet access,” CTO Ken Garnett, who began investigating white space technology several years ago, said in a statement. “When I discovered Carlson, their White-Space network equipment was a quantum leap ahead of all other contenders. This new product allows us to serve a large contingent of these people.”

White spaces are essentially unlicensed sections of the spectrum. What companies are now able to do is keep track of in-use TV broadcast frequencies so that wireless broadband devices can take advantage of that unlicensed space. TV frequencies have powerful signals that are able to travel over mountainous and forested terrain.

The FCC unanimously agreed in November 2008 to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use. Experts say there could be between 300MHz to 400MHz of unused spectrum across the U.S. In 2010, the FCC approved new rules for using unlicensed white space, which included using databases to check for clear frequencies and ensure that devices do not interfere with existing broadcast TV license holders.

Several companies are working on building databases to make use of white space. Google began testing a new database in March. Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia have already completed their trials, and there are another 10 companies, including Microsoft, which are working on similar databases. Google also launched a trial program last month to use white space for providing wireless broadband in South African schools.

In Gold Country, the monthly service will cost users $54.95 per month with speeds of around 2 to 4 Mbps, according to Engadget, which first reported this story. Currently the service is only available in the vicinity of Swansboro, but plans to extend its reach across the county in coming months.

“I’m finally able to keep tabs on my business from home,” a local entrepreneur said in the statement. “For 20 years we’ve had no decent Internet service were we live. Now we have superior remote access to our office computers, and can finally enjoy peace of mind while saving us many hours of driving.”


In cyber war game, Air Force cadets fend off NSA hackers

Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters

April 21, 2013


HANOVER, Maryland (Reuters) – A U.S. Air Force Academy team on Friday beat out rivals from other elite military colleges after a three-day simulated cyber “war” against hackers from the National Security Agency that is meant to teach future officers the importance of cybersecurity.

Nearly 60 government experts — sitting under a black skull and crossbones flag — worked around the clock this week to break into computer networks built by students at the Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies. Two military graduate schools also participated.

The annual Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX), now in its 13th year, gives students real world practice in fighting off a increasing barrage of cyber attacks aimed at U.S. computer networks by China, Russia and Iran, among others.

It also allows the NSA’s top cyber experts and others from military reserves, National Guard units and other agencies hone their offensive skills at a time when the Pentagon is trying to pump up its arsenal of cyber weapons.


While the students sleep or catch up on other work, some of the NSA’s “red cell” attackers use viruses, so-called “Trojan horses” and other malicious software to corrupt student-built networks or steal data — in this case, long sets of numbers dreamt up by the officials coordinating the exercise.

But the job gets tougher every year, says Raphael Mudge, an Air Force reservist who develops software and training to protect private computer networks.

“It’s challenging. The students are hungry to win,” said Mudge. “It forces all of us to get better.”

Army General Keith Alexander, who heads both the Pentagon’s Cyber Command and the NSA, stopped by to see the “red cell” hackers in action at a Lockheed Martin Corp facility near NSA headquarters on Thursday, said spokeswoman Vanee Vines.

Alexander often speaks about the need to get more young people engaged in cybersecurity given the exponential growth in the number and intensity of attacks on U.S. networks.

The Pentagon’s budget for cyber operations rose sharply in the fiscal 2014 request sent to Congress, reflecting heightened concerns about an estimated $400 billion in intellectual property stolen from U.S. computer networks in recent years.

Martin Carlisle said his 28-member team fought hard for first place after a hardware failure the first day. It was their fourth win in 13 years.

“Our nation is under attack. We need to train up a new generation of leaders,” he said.

Shawn Turskey, a senior NSA official, said the goal was to raise awareness among future military commanders.

“The real payoff of this program is going to be seen 10, 15 years down the road when these individuals are admirals and generals,” he said.



Pentagon Resists Administration’s Mandate for an Open Source Health Records System


By Bob Brewin

April 22, 2013


President Obama has backed open standards for an integrated electronic health record system to serve the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments since his first term, but Pentagon plans to acquire commercial software to replace the department’s current EHR are “manifestly inconsistent” with that approach, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation wrote in a blistering memo. Gilmore noted that Defense has resisted open standards and software for years.

Gilmore, in a March 28 memo to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter obtained by Nextgov, said, “The White House has repeatedly recommended that the Department take an inexpensive and direct approach to implementing the President’s open standards.”

The White House, Defense and VA reached an agreement for an integrated electronic health record based on open standards last Dec. 6, Nextgov reported today.

“Unfortunately, [the Pentagon] preference is to purchase proprietary software for so-called ‘core’ health management functions. This will be an expensive, complete replacement that may or may not succeed and that may or may not result in a system that adheres to open standards,” Gilmore told Carter.

Gilmore said the iEHR project, whittled down by Defense and VA in February, “should be reconstituted with a much reduced budget focused on what the President actually directed” — an open standard system based on a universal health exchange language for all health care providers in the country, an idea backed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in a 2010 report on health information technology.

Gilmore sent his memo as Defense readied requests for proposals to buy commercial laboratory, pharmacy and immunization systems for the integrated systems, which, if acquired, would be detrimental to the open standards approach. Last Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense that he “deferred” issuance of those RFPS because “I didn’t think we knew what the hell we were doing.”

In order to meet the open standards goal, Gilmore said the Pentagon should first define and test the overall iEHR architecture and then purchase a software “layer” to connect the current Defense health record, the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA, to the outside world via open standards.

The Defense-VA Interagency Program Office did acquire such a software layer called an Enterprise Service Bus, about which Gilmore wrote, “The [interagency program office] will say that it has implemented an ESB, however this may or may not be true. The ESB has been purchased, but it has not been connected to anything real.”

Gilmore added that a presidential science advisor expressed doubts that the IBM WebSphere ESB acquired by the interagency program office met the open standards mandate as it has “hundreds of proprietary interfaces.”

Gilmore reported two software packages purchased by the program office were intended to allow clinicians to sign onto a patient record in one application and then automatically switch to another application — called single sign-on/context management — failed in recent operational assessments. “Planning for the operational assessment was halted when it was observed that these products could not be made to work at three facilities and were of limited to no use at the other two.”

Barclay Butler, the interagency program office director, told attendees at a Defense healthcare conference that the single sign-on/context management software from Harris Corp. had been tapped for use in the iEHR. Harris also has a contract to supply the ESB for the integrated health record.

Gilmore said that the Pentagon’s resistance to open standards stems from an incorrect assumption that modernizations based on open systems, as opposed to proprietary commercial systems, will take too long. He noted that “the lack of immediate progress will inevitably cause the department to be forced to adopt the VistA [Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture] used by the VA.”

On Feb. 27, VA formally pitched VistA to Defense for use as its heath record. Gilmore told Carter, “The President’s open standards agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with the Department using VistA.”

Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Hagel is consulting with many members of his leadership team on how to move ahead with the iEHR. Robbins said the Gilmore evaluation “represents just one opinion that the Secretary is considering as he ensures that DoD has exercised due diligence prior to committing to implement a particular core technology solution in accordance with the two Departments’ revised strategy.”


GAO raps DOD satellite operations

By Frank Konkel

Apr 23, 2013


The Department of Defense manages the nation’s defense satellites worth a collective $13.7 billion, but the ground stations and control networks that operate them need to be modernized significantly, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report states DOD’s satellite control networks are “fragmented and potentially duplicative,” and states that the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN), DOD’s largest shared satellite control network, is undergoing $400 million in modernization efforts over five years that won’t actually increase the network’s capabilities. The network’s antennas are spread around the world.

This isn’t the first time GAO has reported critically on DOD’s satellite control systems – reports on the matter date back to 1994 – but GAO officials told FCW that in light of budgetary issues experienced across government, it makes sense for DOD to consider modernizing.

“Given the budgetary situation, we do believe it’s time for DOD to take satellite control more seriously, and to really put an effort into modernizing their efforts, bringing them up to current practices and software,” said Cristina Chaplain, director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management for GAO.

The GAO report makes two specific recommendations, both of which DOD officials agreed with in the report. The first recommends the Secretary of Defense conduct an analysis at the beginning of new satellite acquisition project to determine a business case for either a shared or dedicated satellite control operations network. The report cites one unnamed Air Force base that has 10 satellite programs operated by 8 separate control centers, creating the potential for significant duplicity, something the report suggests wouldn’t happen in the commercial sector.

“Commercial practices have the potential to increase the efficiency and decrease costs of DOD satellite control operations,” the report states. “These practices include: interoperability between satellite control operations networks; automation of routine satellite control operations functions; use of commercial off-the-shelf products instead of custom ones; and a hybrid network approach which allows a satellite operator to augment its network through another operator’s complementary network.”

The second recommendation from GAO directs DOD to develop a department-wide long-term plan for modernizing AFSCN and any future shared satellite control operations network. A sufficient plan would identify estimated satellite control costs, program manager authorities required to ensure ground systems are built how the business case says they should be, and which commercial practices, if any, can improve how DOD manages it satellites control operations.


“Right now, the business case is all about the satellite program, not the other supportive pieces, and there’s no long-term plan that says it’s time to get modernized and be more integrated,” Chaplain said.



Could virtual meetings replace conferences in sequestration age?

By Frank Konkel

Apr 12, 2013


Sequestration and reduced budgets for the vast majority of federal agencies have forced many to restrict travel and eliminate out-of-town conferences, so a growing number are substituting in-person collaboration with a virtualized environment instead.

In recent months, the number of federal employees at various agencies participating in web conferencing has surged, particularly in the Department of Defense.

Barry Leffew, vice president of Adobe’s public sector, said the number of registered users for Defense Connect Online, a web conferencing and real-time internal collaboration platform that Adobe and Carahsoft Technology provide for DOD, has increased from 600,000 to more than 840,000 in the last year alone.

Defense Connect Online has been available to DOD employees and contractors for five years, yet it’s never experienced a jump like this, he said.

“Agencies have had to eliminate travel, and we’ve seen a widespread elimination of conferences and off-site meetings, but it’s still very important to collaborate and share information,” Leffew said. “If you can’t go and meet in person, the other option is a phone call and that’s just voice – it’s not real collaboration. With a web conferencing tool, you’re able to have rich media and share documents from almost any device. That’s collaboration.”

Leffew said the number of feds using his firm’s web conferencing solution has increased significantly over the past six months at more than 20 federal agencies, both in presentation-style formats where most participants are simply receiving information and in collaborative work groups that typically have 15 to 25 participants with voice, webcam and desktop-sharing capabilities.

Local-area “in person” gatherings are still generally allowed for government employees, but sequestration has raised the bar for almost any event that requires travel. NASA, for example, recently implemented new rules that forbid all but the most mission-critical conferences if they are further than a Metro ride away. These restrictions come on top of a May 2012 Office of Management and Budget memo promoting efficient agency travel spending.

The U.S. Navy Safety Center held its 21st annual U.S. Navy Safety Professional Development Conference (PDC) in March, but for the first time, the “mission critical conference” – providing approximately 80 training sources and expert information from another 80 speakers – was held in a virtual environment after sequestration derailed the destination conference originally scheduled to take place in San Diego, Calif.

In a matter of weeks, the virtual conference was organized to the satisfaction of more than 90 percent of the 2,019 attending participants from as far as Germany and Guam, and $1.5 million in travel expenses were reduced to less than $100,000 in operational expenses.

Most of the training courses transferred well to the online environment, said Gregory Cook, Commanding Officer for the Naval Safety & Environmental Training Center The virtual conference put on more than 50 courses, workshops and breakout sessions, though some hands-on demonstrations didn’t make sense to attempt in a virtual environment.

Cook said he and his team put a big emphasis on participant engagement, giving participants similar familiarity to the traditional PDCs held alternately in San Diego or Norfolk, Va.

“In order to do that, we had to look at the seminars we were offering and trim away the ones that wouldn’t translate well online,” Cook said. “Our strategy was to have the same look and feel as our brick and mortar conferences, and really focus well on user engagement.”

Cook said his team created the template for each seminar room and included within them chat pods that would fill up with hundreds of comments, helping drive each segment. The PDC’s 80 speakers were given a crash course in virtual conferencing by moderators and asked to use polling questions in their presentations to build audience engagement, resulting in interactive experiences that Cook said you sometimes don’t see in traditional conferences. Participants did miss the face time though, Cook said, and the social interaction that typically follows a traditional event.

“The technology is there to do it, we can bring the conference to individuals with existing technology even with some constraints,” Cook said. “The key to being successful is you’ve got to connect participants to make them feel like they are really part of a conference. I don’t think it’s the solution for every conference, but for conferences like ours that are primarily around training, I think it works very well.”

Not all agencies have been quick to embrace the technology, however. The Mobile Work Exchange’s September 2012 report on government videoconferencing found that only 36 percent of federal employees use the technology. At the Interior Department, for example, negative experiences with older teleconferencing equipment, a lack of knowledge within the agency on the availability of the tools and low motivation for using them were cited as reasons why the technology was not being fully used.

Mobile Work Exchange General Manager Cindy Auten said sequestration and a series of recent canceled events are driving federal employees “to be creative in how they connect and exchange information.” Before sequestration, agencies received pressure to cut costs and encourage efficient spending on tools like video technology to support collaboration through Executive Order 13589. Sequestration has simply amplified that pressure.

“We are seeing more interest in video conferencing to support much-needed training and connecting face to face,” Auten said. “It saves on travel, is readily available, and easier to use – now more than ever.”

Cisco, another leading provider of web conferencing solutions, has seen its federal customers increasingly turn to video conferencing as well, though the full effects of sequestration and travel restrictions remain unclear.

“The effects of sequestration still remain to be seen, however, we have seen a significant increase over the past few years of federal customers adopting video conferencing and telepresence as a proactive solution to the reduce travel costs constraints,” said Matt Mandrgoc, director of Public Sector Collaboration at Cisco.

The company itself has saved more than $1 billion – mostly on airfare and hotel charges – by using its TelePresence technology to host meetings.

“As budgets get tighter, more agencies are investing in technology that will help them save,” Mandrgoc said. “Video is a great example of this.”



USAF: New Acquisition Official in May

Defense News

Apr. 23, 2013 – 06:00AM |



WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has selected Bill LaPlante to fill the role of principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and management.

USAF Secretary Michael Donley made the announcement Tuesday morning at a meeting of the Defense Writer’s Group. Donley said LaPlante will begin work May 6.

“We have filled the position of the principal deputy for acquisition with a superb engineer, Dr. Bill LaPlante from the MITRE corporation,” Donley told reporters. “He’s an experienced engineer, he runs the missile defense work at MITRE. A broad range of experience at ISR, sensors, communications and other areas. He’s done some deeper work on Navy issues, but has a broad range of technical expertise. I think he’ll be a great addition to the Air Force acquisition team.”

Despite the announcement, Donley said he will retain service acquisition executive authority.

LaPlante is replacing David Van Buren, who retired in March of 2012. The role of assistant secretary of the Air Force (acquisition) remains vacant. Sue Payton, who retired in the spring of 2009, was the last person to be confirmed for that role; Van Buren served in a dual capacity for both jobs until his retirement.

LaPlante’s position does not require congressional appointment, a USAF spokeswoman confirmed.

A request for comment from MITRE was not immediately returned.


Federal budgets put squeeze on unmanned aircraft

Joe CoglianoSenior Reporter-

Dayton Business Journal

Apr 23, 2013, 2:51pm EDT


Budgetary uncertainty is the top risk to the military’s unmanned aircraft portfolio.

That was the message from high-ranking officials Tuesday at a field hearing of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. U.S. Rep Mike Turner, R-Dayton, brought the hearing to Sinclair Community College in Dayton to coincide with the Ohio UAS Conference. Click here to read about the conference.

Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare & intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Office of the Secretary of Defense, told the subcommittee the budget issues are leading to short-term decisions that are bad for long-term health of unmanned programs.

“Unfortunately, that leads us to be conservative … but we have no other alternative,” Weatherington said.

The issue is critical because unmanned systems, also known as UAVs or UAS’, are seen as key to future of national security, as well as a big part of the Dayton regional economy.

This year Turner became chairman of the subcommittee, which has oversight over a broad portfolio of Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps acquisition programs. The hearing focused on current and future roles for Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS’, as well as the UAS budget requests for fiscal year 2014.

“Since we cannot predict the future strategic environment, and how that will develop, we need to maintain a robust ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) enterprise capable of supporting the full spectrum of military operations anywhere around the world,” Weatherington said.

In addition to Weatherington, witnesses at the hearing included Steven Pennington, director of Bases, Ranges, and Airspace, and executive director for the Department of Defense Policy Board on Federal Aviation; and Col. Patrick Tierney, director of aviation for the Department of the Army.

In addition to Turner, the panel included U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R- NJ; U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati; and U.S. Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif.

Observers say Turner’s role comes at a critical time of Department of Defense budget cuts and sequestration budget cuts, as well as a possible new BRAC on the horizon.


An Open Letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt on Drones

24 April 2013

By Gary Mortimer


As fellow believers in the transformational power of technology, we at the DC Area Drone User Group were surprised and saddened to read of your recent comments in multiple fora urging increased restriction on the use of small drones. These positions are particularly surprising coming from the Chairman of Google in light of your organization’s admirable support of the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to combat poaching using drones and Matternet’s research into developing drones to deliver medicine in Africa.

Ironically, right now due to FAA restrictions it is personally owned drones that are better positioned than government or corporate owned ones to be used for social good in the U.S. The DC Area Drone User Group is currently conducting a community service project with a park in our local area creating aerial trail videos and overhead maps to help the park manager track changes over time in plant and animal species inhabiting the area. It is illegal for the park to operate a drone themselves without going through a process with the FAA that is in practice too complicated and expensive for a small, local government entity to manage. It is also illegal for them to hire someone to operate a drone on their behalf since current regulations prohibit the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. However, it is entirely legal for us to use our drones on a volunteer basis to help them better understand their own resources, an activity we are happy to help them with in an era where our public institutions are being asked to do more with less.

You suggest that terrorists might use drones for nefarious purposes. However, similar technologies have already been available for years. RC aircraft, ground vehicles and watercraft have been around for decades with people mounting cameras and other payloads on them. And just because terrorists have used Gmail to communicate in the current era, in much the same way they used telephones in the past, does not mean that the world would be better off if we had restricted use of email and telecommunication technologies to government and big business. Are you suggesting that any new technology should be suppressed because it might be used for anti-social purposes? The answer to these challenges is to ban terrorism, murder, theft, and invasion of privacy, as we have already done. Restricting access to specific technologies is always a losing game as bad actors will simply find new tools to cause harm to our society.

What your comments exemplify is a trend, unfortunately common in our society, where some people are afraid to see individuals gain access to tools that in the past have been the exclusive domain of governments and big corporations. As drone technology has become cheaper, smaller, and easier to use, we are seeing ordinary citizens and community groups become self-sufficient in areas where they previously had to rely on others. Farmers can check on the health of their own crops from the sky without having to pay for expensive manned aviation. Communities can map their own natural resources without having to buy costly satellite imagery.

Personally owned flying robots today have the power to change the balance of power between individuals and large bureaucracies in much the same way the Internet did in the past. And just as the military researchers who developed GPS for guiding munitions could never have imagined their technology would be used in the future to help people conduct health surveys in the world’s poorest countries or help people find dates in the world’s richest, there is a whole world of socially positive and banal applications for drones that are yet to be discovered. We should embrace this chance that technology provides instead of strangling these opportunities in their infancy. Our hope is that you and the rest of Google’s leadership will embrace this pro-technology agenda in the future rather than seeking to stifle it. We would welcome the opportunity to speak further with you about this topic.

Timothy Reuter
President and Founder
DC Area Drone User Group

The DC Area Drone User Group is a community organization that seeks to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes.


A Wiring Diagram of the Brain

Advances in medical imaging allow the Human Connectome Project to map neural connections

IEEE Spectrum

By Eliza Strickland / May 2013


In early March, an unusual 2 terabytes of data hit the Web: the first batch of images from a massively ambitious brain-mapping effort called the Human Connectome Project. Thousands of images showed the brains of 68 healthy volunteers, with different regions glowing in bright jewel tones. These data, freely available for download via the project’s website, give neuroscientists unprecedented insights into which parts of the brain act in concert to do something as seemingly simple as recognizing a face.

The project leaders say their work is enabled by very recent advances in both brain-scanning hardware and image-processing software. “It simply wouldn’t have been feasible five or six years ago to provide this amount and quality of data, and the ability to work with the data,” says David Van Essen, one of the project’s principal investigators and head of the anatomy and neurobiology department at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis.

Based on a growing understanding that the mechanisms of perception and cognition involve networks of neurons that sprawl across multiple regions of the brain, researchers have begun mapping those neural circuits. While the Human Connectome Project looks at connections between brain regions, a US $100 million project, announced in April and called the BRAIN Initiative, will attempt to zoom in on the connectivity of small clusters of neurons.

But it’s the five-year Human Connectome Project that’s delivering the data now. The $40 million project funds two consortia; the larger, international group led by Van Essen and Kamil Ugurbil of the University of Minnesota will eventually scan the brains of 1200 adults, a group of twins and their siblings. The goal, says Van Essen, is “not just to infer what typical brain connectivity is like but also how it varies across participants, and how that relates to their different intellectual, cognitive, and emotional capabilities and attributes.”

To provide multiple perspectives on each brain, the researchers employ a number of cutting-edge imaging methods. They start with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to provide basic structural images of the brain, using both a 3-tesla machine and a next-generation 7-T scanner. Both provide extremely high-resolution images of the convoluted folds of the cerebral cortex.

Next, a series of functional MRI (fMRI) scans, which detect blood flow throughout the brain, show brain activity for subjects both at rest and engaged in seven different tasks (including language, working memory, and gambling exercises). The fMRI is souped-up as well: Ugurbil pioneered a technique called multiband imaging that takes snapshots of eight slices of the brain at a time instead of just one.

To complement the data on basic structure and blood flow within the brain, each participant is also scanned using a technique called diffusion MRI, which tracks the movement of water molecules within brain fibers. Because water diffuses more rapidly along the length of the fibers that connect neurons than across them, this technique allows researchers to directly trace connections between sections of the brain. The Connectome team had Siemens customize its top-of-the-line MRI machine to let them alter its magnetic field strength more rapidly and dramatically, which produces clearer images.

Each imaging modality has its limitations, so combining them gives neuroscientists their best view yet of what goes on inside a human brain. First, however, all that neuroimaging data needs to be purged of noise and artifacts, and it needs to be organized into a useful data base. Dan Marcus, director of the Neuroinformatics Research Group at the Washington University School of Medicine, developed the image-processing software that automatically cleans up the images and precisely aligns the scans so that a single “brainordinate” refers to the same point on a diffusion MRI and fMRI scan. That processing is computationally intensive, says Marcus: “For each subject, that code takes about 24 hours to run on our supercomputer.”

Finally, the team adapted open-source image analysis tools to allow researchers to query the database in sophisticated ways. For example, a user can examine a brain simply through its diffusion images or overlay that data on a set of fMRI results.

Some neuroscientists think that all this data will be of limited use. Karl Friston, scientific director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, at University College London, applauds the project’s ambition, but he criticizes it for providing a resource “without asking what questions these data and models speak to.” He’d prefer to see money spent on hypothesis-directed brain scans, which can investigate “how a particular connection changes with experimental intervention or disease.”

But the Connectome team thinks the open-ended nature of the data set is an asset, not a weakness. They’re hoping to provoke research questions they never anticipated, and in fields that they know nothing about. “You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to access the data,” says Marcus. “If you’re an engineer or a physicist and want to get into this, you can.”


Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

Washington Post

By David A. Fahrenthold, Updated: Friday, April 26, 1:30 PM

President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of it. So did President Bill Clinton. This October, their wish is finally set to come true.

The Federal Helium Program — left over from the age of zeppelins and an infamous symbol of Washington’s inability to cut what it no longer needs — will be terminated.

Unless it isn’t.

On Friday, in fact, the House voted 394 to1 to keep it alive.

“Many people don’t believe that the federal government should be in the helium business. And I would agree,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on the House floor Thursday.

But at that very moment, Hastings was urging his colleagues to keep the government in the helium business for a little while longer. “We must recognize the realities of our current situation,” he said.

The problem is that the private sector has not done what some politicians had predicted it would — step into a role that government was giving up. The federal helium program sells vast amounts of the gas to U.S. companies that use it in everything from party balloons to MRI machines.

If the government stops, no one else is ready. There are fears of shortages.

So Congress faces an awkward task. In a time of austerity, it may reach back into the past and undo a rare victory for downsizing government.

“If we cannot at this point dispense with the helium reserve — the purpose of which is no longer valid — then we cannot undo anything,” then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said back in 1996, when Congress thought it finally killed the program.

Today, the program is another reminder that, in the world of the federal budget, the dead are never really gone. Even when programs are cut, their constituencies remain, pushing for a revival.

Two other programs axed in Clinton’s “Reinventing Government” effort — aid to beekeepers and federal payments for wool — returned, zombielike, a few years later. Now the helium program may skip the middle step and be revived without dying first.

“This sort of feels like the longest-running battle since the Trojan War,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden has written a Senate bill, similar to the one Hastings wrote in the House, to extend the helium program beyond October and then eventually shut it down.

This time, the shutdown would happen, Wyden said. “I intend to watchdog this very carefully,” he added.

The program at the center of this debate has its origins after World War I, in a kind of arms race that sounds ridiculous now. In Europe, countries such as Germany were building sturdy, if slow, inflatable airships. The U.S. military was worried about a blimp gap.

So Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to help American dirigibles catch up. It was assumed to be a temporary arrangement.

“As soon as private companies produce [helium], the government will, perhaps, withdraw?” asked Rep. Don Colton (R-Utah.) in the House debate.

“That is correct,” said Rep. Fritz Lanham (D-Tex.).

That was in 1925.

Today, 88 years later, the zeppelin threat is over. Private companies have learned to produce helium. But the U.S. government still has its own reserve: a giant porous rock formation under the Texas Panhandle, whose crannies hold enough helium to fill 33 billion party balloons.


The reserve sells off portions of its helium every year, accounting for about 42 percent of the U.S. supply of the unrefined gas. The program, with 52 employees, pays for itself with proceeds from the sales.

But since the 1980s, politicians have been saying this shouldn’t be the government’s job. Reagan said so in his 1988 budget. Clinton said so in his 1995 State of the Union speech.

Finally, in 1996, Congress passed a law that said it wouldn’t be. The law required the reserve to sell off helium until it had paid off a more than $1 billion debt to other agencies. Then its time would be up.

Time is up. The debt will be paid off soon, although the program has about five years’ worth of helium in the ground.

And that looks less like a victory and more like a disaster.

“All of a sudden, you basically take away 40 percent of the supply” of helium, said Moses Chan, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and a de facto spokesman for scientists who use helium in their research. The gas is valuable in labs because it is stable at very low temperatures. “That would just be chaos.”

In recent weeks, Congress has heard a chorus of such worries. MRI machines and semiconductor plants, which both rely on helium, might be affected. And yes, balloons might cost more.

There is an argument about how this happened.

Congress says private industry simply didn’t step up to supply more helium, in part because the federal government was selling its helium so cheaply. In industry, it’s said that there has been a spike in demand for helium, and that finding new supplies isn’t easy. That requires drilling in a certain kind of natural gas field, where helium comes up along with the gas.

All sides, however, seem to agree on the solution.

The helium program can’t die.

Both bills in Congress seek to alter the program as they save it, to raise more money by selling the gas closer to market price. And both anticipate closing down the reserve. They are confident the private sector will be ready soon (there is hope in particular for a new helium plant going online in Wyoming).

So, how much longer will it take?

“Five years? We don’t know,” Hastings said in a telephone interview. “It could be shorter than that. It could be longer.”

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.


Post: FergusonFoont wrote:

April 26 1:34 PM EDT








The use of helium in party balloons is a crime against science. And the sale of our reserves to private or foreign concerns is a threat to American security. Once that stuff is gone, it really IS gone forever and ever, at least from the perspective of earth dwellers. And it is VERY valuable, indeed essential, for scientific experimentation, the source of our progress in many fields.

You may think this odd given that, except for hydrogen, helium is the second-most plentiful substance in the universe, but that’s the way it is. It’s sort of like the “Water, water everywhere” thing that dehydrated sailors bemoan. But there’s nothing for helium that corresponds to desalinization, or even the electrolysis of water to obtain oxygen or hydrogen. There are no compounds that contain helium from which it might be extracted, even at whatever expense we would be willing to pay. There’s just no such thing.

And the export of helium must be TIGHTLY controlled, and ownership of our reserves, the only such reserves on earth, must be in the hands of the American government and no private entity, foreign or domestic. This is one of those things that government is for. This is not something for which private profit should be a consideration at all.

This is a substance that we really must stop wasting and must control exclusively for American national interests and those we as a nation deem worthwhile. Profit is not one of those interests. Congress should act quickly and take these reserves back by eminent domain, and compensate the Israelis fairly to reimburse whatever they may have invested to obtain any part of our reserves.

People, this is a matter of genuinely surpassing importance to America, and it should not be trivialized, whether by dogmatic congressmen or pundits in the press. We must act RIGHT NOW.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Rasmussen Reports

Saturday, April 27, 2013

While the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath will never forget, Americans in general appear to be recognizing that terrorism is part of the new normal. National security remains low on the list of voter concerns still topped by the economy.

Scott Rasmussen’s latest weekly newspaper column highlights the “measured reaction” of the American people to the Boston Marathon bombings. “The picture that emerges is a nation that has grown to accept the reality of terrorism and occasional terrorist acts.  It’s also a nation that is moving forward rather than cowering in fear.”

Confidence that the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror has fallen to its lowest level in roughly two years, but that marks a continuing downward trend since the uptick following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Other indicators suggest that Americans aren’t reacting as fearfully as they did following unsuccessful domestic terrorist acts in recent years.

Eighty percent (80%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the economy is Very Important in terms of how they will vote in the next congressional election, putting it at the head of the list of 15 key issues tracked by Rasmussen Reports where it has been for years. Health care is second with 67% who rate it a Very Important issue. National security ranks 12th , considered a Very Important voting issue by just 44%.

More than four years have passed since the federal government began bailing out troubled big banks and other financial institutions, and most voters (56%) still think those bailouts were bad for the country.

Eighty-seven percent (87%) of voters think law enforcement agencies did a good or excellent job handling the investigation of the bombings and pursuing the suspects in the Boston bombing case. Fifty-five percent (55%) rate the media’s coverage of events there as good or excellent.

Sixty-one percent (61%) think the surviving bombings suspect should get the death penalty if convicted, but far fewer think it’s Very Likely he actually will receive the ultimate sentence. Most also think the bombers had ties to terrorist organizations.

Following their use in identifying the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, 70% of Americans support the use of surveillance cameras in public areas, and 52% believe they help reduce crime.

Most working Americans say there are surveillance cameras where they work, and one-in-four of all Americans think their privacy has been violated by such cameras

The weak economic growth figures released by the government on Friday illustrate why Americans remain most concerned about the economy. Just 17% of adult consumers rate the economy as good or excellent, a view shared by 20% of investors.

Only 30% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

Just 35% now believe America’s best days are in the future, while 49% think the nation’s best days are in the past. This is the lowest level of optimism and the highest level of pessimism since last August.

But the housing market offers a glimmer of hope. Short-term confidence among homeowners is now at its highest level in several years. Thirty-seven percent (37%) think the value of their home will go up over the next year. Just over half once again believe the value of their home will go up in five years. 

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of homeowners think their homes are worth more today than when they bought them. That ties December’s finding which marked the highest level measured since October 2011 when 62% felt that way.

Belief that it’s a seller’s market also continues to rise. Admittedly, just 30% of Americans say now is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house, but that’s the most optimistic assessment since the meltdown in 2008.

Concern remains high, however, about the impact President Obama’s health care law will have on the economy as it goes into full effect next year. Under the law, states have less than six months now to open exchanges for the sale of universal health insurance, but only 39% of voters are aware of what their state has done. Voters remain evenly divided over whether their governor should help to get the health care law on track even as a key Democrat senator worries that the law is headed for “a train wreck.”

As the events in Boston move into the legal process, official Washington is turning its attention back to gun control, immigration and the federal budget.

The president’s job approval ratings in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll have come down since his post-election bounce but remain higher than they were for most of his first term.

Voters’ views of Obama’s handling of issues related to gun control have changed little, despite his outspoken criticism of the Senate’s reluctance to pass expanded background checks for potential gun buyers. Forty-five percent (45%) rate the way the president is handling issues related to gun control as good or excellent.  Thirty-nine percent (39%) give him a poor rating in this area. He gets similar ratings for his handling of immigration.

Seventy-three percent (73%) support increased background checks for potential gun buyers, but only 49% now want stricter gun control laws. Forty-seven percent (47%) say the gun control issue is Very Important to how they will vote in the next election.

Voter confidence in the president’s handling of Social Security has fallen following his release of a proposed budget that called for modest reductions in future Social Security benefits. 

Democrats hold just a two-point lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot

We’ve got a winner in the latest Rasmussen Challenge.  Final results are in – check the leaderboard. 

In other surveys last week:

More Americans than ever give race relations in the United States positive ratings and feel these relations are improving.

Most voters (63%) agree that U.S. society is generally fair and decent, and they think people who move here should adopt the culture.

Americans tend to believe colleges and universities should promote the nation’s social values but think the schools are much more likely to challenge them instead.

One-out-of-two voters now view the United Nations favorably, but far fewer consider the international organization an ally of the United States.

– Seventy-three percent (73%) of Americans think the federal government should require labeling for foods with genetically modified ingredients, although many admit they don’t know much about those ingredients.

– Forty-one percent (41%) think Earth Day, begun in 1970 and celebrated last Monday, has helped raise the environmental awareness of most Americans. Nearly as many (39%) disagree.

April 20 2013




Shifting to the Pacific: $527B Request Includes Less For Army, More for Air Force

Defense News

April 13, 2013



WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s $527 billion fiscal 2014 budget request further deepens the Obama administration’s focus on the Asia-Pacific, better aligning funds with the military services expecting to play major roles in that region.

It continues investments in advanced stealth aircraft, such as F -35 joint strike fighters and new bombers. These planes play a key role in the Defense Department’s ability to operate in denied airspace. Another aircraft crucial to the expansive Pacific region is a new aerial refueling tanker, the Boeing KC-46A.

“It looks like 2014 was the first year that they really had incorporated that new strategic guidance from the beginning of their budget build,” said Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank. “I would expect to see more movement like this in 2015.”

The Pentagon’s 2014 budget request seeks $99.3 billion for procurement of new weapons and $67.5 billion for research-and-development projects.

While budgets are often measured against previous years to illustrate changes and show trends, comparisons with the current budget are difficult for several reasons.

Last year, DoD submitted a $525 billion fiscal 2013 budget request to Congress. After more than a year of unprecedented budget negotiations, lawmakers last month passed a $529 billion 2013 defense spending bill through a continuing resolution.

However, after federal spending caps due to sequestration are applied, DoD received only $493 billion.

The 2014 request increases funding for the Air Force, decreasing funds for the Army, and keeps Navy funding relatively flat, which experts say is a sign of increased focus on the Pacific.

“It’s what you would expect with a focus on the Pacific and a greater emphasis on air power and sea power and less of an emphasis on conducting two simultaneous major ground wars,” Harrison said.


The Army slice of DoD’s 2014 request is $129.7 billion. Congress appropriated $131.9 billion for the Army in 2013. However, after sequestration is applied, the service received $125.1 billion.

DoD proposed $155.8 billion for the Navy in 2014. Congress appropriated $158.9 billion for the Navy in 2013, but sequestration limits the service’s top line to $148.9 billion.

The Air Force’s proposed 2014 budget is $144.4 billion. Congress appropriated $139.8 billion in 2013, but sequestration caps service spending at $130.1 billion.

Complicating matters, DoD is preparing a major reprogramming action, which will shift billions of dollars around budget accounts for the remainder of fiscal 2013.

Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s comptroller, said April 10 that the reprogramming will address war funding shortfalls.


No War Budget Yet

DoD did not include a spending request for the war in Afghanistan. However, it included an $88.5 billion “placeholder.” DoD requested, and Congress appropriated, $88.5 billion for war-related operations in 2013. However, after sequestration, funding was reduced to about $81 billion.

Hale said the Pentagon plans to send a war request to lawmakers “within a month.”

But despite the drawdown in Afghanistan, Hale said the war funding request is not expected to drastically decline.

The Pentagon’s 2013 war request assumed 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Hale said the 2014 request will assume 34,000 troops through September 2014.

“I think [the request will] be lower [than 2013], although not dramatically lower, because there are so many other things going on,” Hale said.

In Afghanistan, DoD spends an average of $1.2 million per year for each service member on the ground, Harrison said. The figure has remained throughout the conflict, even throughout troop and fighting surges. Harrison said that makes him suspicious of DoD’s higher spending projections.

“It makes me wonder if they’re padding it with stuff, if they’re loading in peacetime readiness costs, if they’re loading in personnel costs,” he said.

DoD officials say they are burning through war funding at a higher-than-expected rate this year due to increased operational tempo and costs associated with removing equipment from Afghanistan.

In addition to actual operations, the Pentagon has used war funding to reset equipment, once it returns stateside.


How North Korea Tipped Its Hand

By Eli Lake | The Daily Beast

When North Korean engineers launched a satellite into space on December 12, it seemed like business as usual, with the familiar cycle of condemnations from the west and statements of defiance from the Hermit Kingdom. But that launch also led many U.S. intelligence analysts to assess that Pyongyang possessed the ability to miniaturize the components necessary to yield a nuclear explosion for a crude warhead that would sit atop a ballistic missile.

After the North Korean launch, U.S. Navy ships managed to recover the front section of the rocket used in it, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on North Korean proliferation. That part of the rocket in turn provided useful clues about North Korean warhead design, should the next payload be a warhead rather than a satellite.

The same basic engineering and science needed to launch a satellite into space is also used in the multi-stage rockets known as inter-continental ballistic missiles. The front of the satellite rocket, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on North Korean proliferation, gave tangible proof that North Korea was building the missile’s cone at dimensions for a nuclear warhead, durable enough to be placed on a long-range missile that could re-enter the earth’s atmosphere from space.

“Having access to the missile front was a critical insight we had not had before,” one U.S. non-proliferation official told The Daily Beast. “I have seen a lot of drawings, but we had not seen the piece of that missile at that time.” This official continued: “we looked at the wreckage from the launch and we put it together with other kinds of intelligence and came to this judgment that they had figured out the warhead piece.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released a classified assessment last month saying that it now has “moderate confidence” that the “North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low,” South Korea has provided additional intelligence bolstering this conclusion, according to U.S. officials.

That assessment, in line with but more assertive than earlier comments from the agency., was made public three days ago, in a question from Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. The Pentagon spokesman, George Little and the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, soon after the disclosure issued statements trying to play down the news. Clapper said, “it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully developed and tested the kinds of nuclear weapons referenced in the passage.” He added “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”

But neither Little or Clapper disputed the basic judgment that North Korea could likely build a nuclear warhead of low reliability. While the DIA assessment does not represent the view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, the recovered satellite rocket helped move CIA analysts away from their skepticism about North Korea’s ability to build a nuclear warhead as well. “The DIA was always more forward leaning on this,” one U.S. official said. “The CIA was always extremely cautious on this. The doubters in the CIA finally found some common ground with DIA when we did the recovery.” (The CIA declined to comment.)

Intelligence suggesting North Korea could design a nuclear warhead has been building for many years. A.Q. Khan, the man considered to be the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, for example has said in interviews and correspondence that in 1999 on a visit to North Korea he was shown boxes of components for three finished nuclear warheads that could be assembled within an hour.

One U.S. official who works on North Korean proliferation said there was reason to believe that Khan could have been lying when he said this. “Khan was like a used car salesman,” he said. “He wanted future customers to think he could get them the full package even though many times the equipment would not work as well as he said.” This official said there may have been components for warheads in a box, but “we never knew if those components could actually work.”

More recently though, other kinds of intelligence have also come to the attention of the U.S. intelligence community that suggest North Korea has mastered the miniaturization and warhead design work as well. Another U.S. official who works on North Korea work told the Beast that South Korea has recently shared more traditional kinds of intelligence with the United States about North Korea’s warhead design work, but did not get into the details of that intelligence.


Private drones pose privacy threat, says Google’s Eric Schmidt

NBC News

Nidhi Subbaraman, NBC News April 15, 2013

According to the Guardian, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said domestic drones pose a threat to personal privacy.

In a recent interview, Schmidt explained that peeping neighbors are one example of the privacy infringements that the flying cameras could allow.

“You’re having a dispute with your neighbor,” Schmidt told the news outlet. “How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”

Privacy rights activists and early users of civilian drones are divided over the extent of regulation that is still needed before drones become an everyday sighting in U.S. cities. But the consensus seems to be that some regulation is necessary.

Today, small drones can be purchased and flown by people in the U.S. for private, non-commercial activities without special approval from the FAA. That’s as long as fliers keep the FAA’s guidelines for model aircraft operation in mind. Among those, private drones can’t be flown out of range of sight, must be flown below 400 feet, and should avoid places like hospitals or schools where the noise could cause a disturbance.

Schmidt also had a perspective on weaponized drones, though it was unclear if he was referring to military drones or the possibility that domestic drone users could add those to their flying machines. Schmidt also said: “I’m not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratize the ability to fight war to every single human being,” he told the Guardian.

Schmidt is also worried about drones falling into the nefarious hands of terrorists. “Terrorists and criminals could use drones to carry IEDs [improvised explosive devices] — that could result in conflict between civil and military drones,” he said at January talk at Cambridge University in the U.K.

Today’s FAA guidelines ban weapon-carrying drones in the U.S. But some privacy advocates include the no-weapon clause in petitions for future regulation, just in case: Existing regulations are due to be updated as the FAA prepares to meet its federal mandate to include drones in the U.S. national airspace by 2015, and as the ACLU’s Allie Bohm told NBC News: “We’re not sure what those regulations will look like in 2015.”

Schmidt’s comments are curious considering that Google has funded the WWF’s anti-poaching drone program in the past. Also, the company recently settled privacy lawsuits over collecting personal data from private Wi-Fi networks during construction of its Street View service, and for placing cookies in Safari browsers without telling its users it was doing so.

Adi Robertson at The Verge points out that Schmidt seems less opposed to the collection of private data by drones, and more concerned that the data could be misused. Which seems reasonable enough, given this 2009 interview with CNBC in which Schmidt touched on the subject of privacy: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” he said.


Homeland Security’s New $3.9 Billion Headquarters


By Devin Leonard on April 12, 2013


President Barack Obama is trying to solve big problems in his proposed 2014 budget. His efforts to curtail entitlement spending have gotten most of the headlines. But he also seems determined to complete the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new headquarters, the largest federal construction project since the Pentagon rose in the 1940s. The cost: $3.9 billion.

The project would unite at a single location nearly all DHS’s 22 divisions devoted to thwarting terrorists and safeguarding the populace from natural and manmade disasters. The site is the campus of St. Elizabeth Hospital, a former federal asylum that was once the home of poet Ezra Pound and John Hinckley, Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin. There would be 4.5 million square feet of workspace in the new facility and ample employee parking.

The project’s supporters say the price tag is justified. They say it’s not easy to get the various DHS divisions to operate in concert with each other if they are scattered th