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September 15 2012

September 18, 2012

15Sep2012

Newswire

 

Congress has little motivation for compromise before election

By Deirdre Walsh , CNN Senior Congressional Producer

updated 5:48 AM EDT, Mon September 10, 2012

 

Washington (CNN) — After a five-week summer recess, Congress returns to a long list of unfinished business, but with 57 left days before Election Day, it’s likely it will tackle only the bare minimum in its short fall session.

The one must-pass measure — a short-term continuing resolution to fund federal agencies — will avoid any pre-election talk of a government shutdown, with which neither party wants to be tagged. Republican and Democratic leaders struck a deal this summer on a six-month bill, but both chambers still need to pass the legislation before government funding expires at the end of this month.

The House is expected vote on the bill Thursday, and two GOP leadership aides predict it will get a sizable bipartisan majority. A senior Senate Democratic aide tells CNN the Senate is expected to approve the measure next week.

What could move

— It’s possible that GOP and Democratic leaders could work out a deal on a farm bill to reform agriculture programs and provide some relief to drought-stricken states — or at least agree to another short-term extension of the current law, according to multiple congressional aides. If they can’t reconcile differences between the two varying approaches taken by the House and Senate, some money for drought assistance, plus some money for states affected by recent natural disasters, could be tacked onto the spending bill.

Long, hot summer sends food prices soaring

— The Senate will return and work on a veterans jobs bill this week. Senate Democrats are also considering action this month on a housing bill that President Barack Obama included on his congressional “to do” list earlier this summer, but House Republicans haven’t expressed any desire to act on it.

— Some key provisions of the federal wiretapping bill known as FISA that was created after the 9/11 terror attacks under President George W. Bush are due to expire at the end of the year, and Congress is expected to pass an extension of the current law. House Republicans have slated a vote this week to renew the current law for another five years.

Likely to be punted

The roughly eight-week sprint to Election Day means several major measures that lawmakers have failed to make any progress on over the summer will continue to languish on Capitol Hill.

These include some issues that both parties say they want to address but will have little motivation to compromise on: The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill providing new cybersecurity protections and legislation to reform the postal service, which recently defaulted on payments to the Treasury Department for employee health plans.

In each case, the proposal favored by the GOP-led House is at odds with the bills in the Democrat-controlled Senate. A divided Congress means these issues will be punted into the lame duck session after the election, or even postponed until next year.

Less legislating and more campaign messaging

While there won’t be much legislating, congressional aides say the messages from leaders and rank-and-file members on Capitol Hill will echo the campaign themes of Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, particularly when it comes to the economy and jobs.

On his first post-convention stop in New Hampshire on Friday, Obama prodded voters to urge Congress to pass his jobs legislation.

“If the Republicans are serious about being concerned about joblessness, we could create a million new jobs right now if Congress would pass the jobs plan that I sent to them a year ago — jobs for teachers, jobs for construction workers, jobs for folks who have been looking for work for a long time. We can do that,” Obama said.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, emphasized that the House GOP has already approved legislation aimed at helping the economy. “The House has done its job. We’ve passed more than 30 jobs bills.”

CNNMoney: August jobs report comes in weak

Noting that House Republicans have also passed a bill to undo the automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect in January and extend all the current tax rates, Smith added, “We are ready to act on all of those measures if the president and Senate Democrats would show some courage to work with on those things with us.”

Romney continues to highlight the Obama administration’s failed loan to the now-bankrupt energy company Solyndra. House Republicans will keep the issue out front with a vote this week on a bill to eliminate the federal loan guarantee program that funded several energy start-ups. Dubbed the “No more Solyndras Act,” the GOP bill is expected to pass mostly along party lines, but won’t move in the Senate.

One open question is whether GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin will return to the Capitol for any part of the September session. Under Wisconsin law, Ryan is allowed to also run for his House seat, so he may feel pressure to take a break from barnstorming battleground states to vote on the bipartisan deal to keep the government funded.

What won’t get done — a deal to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’

Congress faces a “fiscal cliff” at the end of this year — the combination of the deep automatic cuts to federal agencies scheduled to go into effect in January that were part of last summer’s debt deal and the expiration of the “Bush era” tax cuts at the end of December.

Economists and budget experts warn that a failure by the divided Congress to come to some agreement on significant deficit reduction and tax policy before the end of the year could trigger another recession. But neither side expects anything more than symbolic action on those issues until after the election.

New Woodward book goes in depth on debt battle

On Friday, the White House missed a deadline to submit a report to Congress that details which government programs would face cuts as part of the sequestration in January, but White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters the report would go to the Hill this week.

House Republicans passed a plan earlier this year without any Democratic support that shielded the Defense Department from any cuts and replaced the across-the-board reductions prescribed in the debt deal with other mandatory spending cuts to food stamp and other domestic programs.

Although the majority of House Republicans voted for these spending cuts that were included in last summer’s compromise to raise the debt ceiling, there has been a GOP push in recent months to blame the Obama administration and paint Democrats as responsible for any impact the cuts would have on the military.

Over the weekend, Romney criticized Obama for proposing the cuts as a mechanism to broker the debt deal, saying “it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it.”

Romney explains why he thinks GOP made mistake

To reinforce that they now oppose the massive cuts to the military that sequestration would set in motion, the House GOP is scheduling another vote on the issue next week.

The new bill would replace the mandatory cuts with their alternate set of reductions and again calls for the White House to explain how it will implement spending reductions.

Perhaps what promises to be the only truly bipartisan moment in Congress this fall is this Tuesday’s ceremony to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. As has become custom each year on the date, House and Senate leaders from both parties will assemble on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America.”

That 9/11 ceremony, along with two others awarding Congressional Gold Medals to golf great Arnold Palmer and Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, will be rare breaks from the heated campaign rhetoric on Capitol Hill that’s aimed at influencing voters’ choices in November

 

Drones to be become storm chasers, hurricane hunters

By Allison Barrie

Published September 07, 2012

FoxNews.com

 

Autonomous drones will be used as storm chasers off the U.S. East Coast this month.

NASA is deploying two Global Hawks acquired from the U.S. Air Force on the Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel Mission, or HS3, kicking off this year.

September is the peak Atlantic hurricane month so these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will be studying storms at their height. Referred to as “severe storm sentinels,” the Global Hawks will be flying out of NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The five-year Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission is investigating the processes that influence hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean.

In the past, advances have been restricted by the limited number of storms to sample, the distance of storms from the operating base and the difficulty in obtaining them.

 

WHY UNMANNED?

Hurricanes are an extreme environment making them very difficult to sample. Between heavy precipitation; high winds and turbulence in the air; and heavy seas on the ground, storm chasing can be a dangerous business. Using unmanned aircraft keeps humans out of risk.

With other remotely operated or robotic aircraft, piloted aircraft or space satellites it can be very challenging to monitor remote extreme locations like a hurricane.

With a single Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, these drones can fly at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet, with an 11,000-nautical-mile range, for approximately 30 hours — letting them cover thousands of square miles over a storm.

 

The Global Hawk is 44-foot-long with a wingspan more than 116-feet wide, though the craft is just 15 feet high.

 

FLYING

The drones are flown by pilots in ground control stations at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., and NASA’s Dryden Flight Center on Edwards Air Base, Calif.

Manning the helm works just like auto pilot in a regular, piloted plane. Headings and altitudes are put into the flight computer, and then the Global Hawk processes and executes the commands. The pilot can intervene at any time if the mission requires.

Using cameras, the pilot can get an idea of where they are flying and the storm scope helps identify lightening risks.

During missions, dedicated satellite communication links give the researchers direct access to onboard equipment and the ability to monitor instruments and data in real-time from the ground control station.

Two further key advantages to deploying Global Hawk include the autonomy and ability to carry a very heavy payload at 1,500-pound.

Each Global Hawk has three payloads with one focused on the environment and the other on the inner-core structure.

 

HOW DIFFERENT

While NASA’s Global Hawks may look similar to the military ones, the payloads are very different. The first Global Hawk is charged with sampling the hurricane’s environment, for example.

In the nose will be the Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL) laser system to measure cloud structure and dust, sea salt and smoke particles. It does this by bouncing laser light off the clouds and particles.

The Scanning High-resolution Interferometer Sounder, an infrared instrument designed by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, is embedded in the belly. It measures the temperature, vertical water vapor and sea surface temperature.

The third is the dropsonde system from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Located in the tail of the aircraft, the dropsonde system holds up to 88 little canisters and ejects these small sensors like a Coke dispenser. Each sensor has a parachute that allows it to float through the storm while measuring data like pressure, humidity and temperature and using GPS. They transmit data in real time back to the home base.

The second Global Hawk’s key responsibility is to sample hurricane cores.

Located in the nose, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created a microwave system, the High-Altitude MMIC Sounding Radiometer, to measure temperature, vertical precipitation and water vapor.

In the belly, a High-altitude Imaging Wind & Rain Airborne Profiler radar system works like a ground radar system but is pointed down to measure cloud structure and winds.

In the tail section, the Hurricane Imaging Radiometer will measure microwave radiation to analyze surface wind speeds and rain rates.

 

If you would like to storm chase from the comfort of your own home, you can follow the flight schedules on the mission website.

URL http://www.foxnews.comhttp://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/09/07/drones-to-be-become-storm-chasers-hurricane-hunters/

 

 

Cyber attacks grow increasingly ‘reckless,’ says top official

NBCNews

Reuters

 

Other nations are increasingly employing cyber attacks without “any sense of restraint,” a top U.S. cybersecurity official said on Friday, citing “reckless” behaviors that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would have dared at the height of Cold War tensions.

Debora Plunkett, of the secretive National Security Agency, whose responsibilities include protecting U.S. government computer networks, predicted that Congress would pass long-stalled cybersecurity legislation within the next year.

Lawmakers failed this summer to overcome disputes over cybersecurity regulations for private firms such as utilities.

Plunkett, head of the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, the agency’s cyber-defense arm, told a university audience that “we’re starting to see nation-state resources and expertise employed in what we would characterize as reckless and disruptive, destructive behaviors.”

Even during the Cold War, blocs of nations allied with the United States or with the Soviet Union worked to undermine each other, but still operated with a sense of restraint, she said.

“Some of today’s national cyber actors don’t seem to be bound by any sense of restraint,” she told a forum at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

Officials from the Obama administration and Congress have called for stronger cyber security, accusing China and Russia of hacking U.S. computer networks for economic gain, espionage and other motives.

U.S. standing to complain about other nations’ cyber attacks has been undermined, however, by disclosures that Washington, along with Israel, launched sophisticated offensive cyber operations of its own against Iran to try to slow that nation’s suspected quest for a nuclear weapon.

U.S. officials have not publicly acknowledged that effort and almost never speak of U.S. offensive capabilities in public.

When asked how large a threat hacking from China, Russia and other countries posed to the United States, Plunkett said: “Significant. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

 

Sharp increase seen in attacks

Plunkett’s comments from the normally tight-lipped NSA reflect a growing concern among U.S. officials, lawmakers and agency heads about the country’s cyber security.

Security software maker Symantec said on Friday that a hacker group that attacked Google in 2009 — an operation later dubbed Operation Aurora — had since launched hundreds of other cyber assaults, focusing on defense companies and human rights groups.

Cybersecurity experts widely believe the Google attacks originated from China. Chinese officials have denied their country is a source of cyber attacks against the United States.

Symantec said the group had used a technique that enabled attackers to hack into highly secured systems. That suggested the hackers were either a large criminal group, backed by a nation-state, or a nation-state itself, Symantec said.

In July, General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, said during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, that the number of computer attacks from hackers, criminal gangs and foreign nations on American infrastructure had increased 17-fold from 2009 to 2011.

“The trend exists and we have to be prepared for it and think that it will only get worse because I believe that it will,” Plunkett said.

U.S. lawmakers in August stalled cyber legislation that would enable companies and the government to share information about hacking and create a set of voluntary cybersecurity standards for companies in charge of critical infrastructure like energy, water and transportation.

With the Nov 6 congressional and presidential elections looming, observers say cyber security will be overshadowed by issues like taxes and spending.

“I am thrilled that the conversation is happening. Am I disappointed that we’re not there? Sure … I predict we’re going to have legislation. It will happen … and I’m also pretty convinced that one year after it happens, we’ll think it’s not enough,” Plunkett said.

 

Defense contractors hesitate over issuing layoff notices before election

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb – 09/09/12 06:00 AM ET

 

The major defense contractors are keeping their cards close to the vest on whether to issue mass layoff notices prior to the November elections.

The threat of sequestration, an issue that has morphed from a pressure campaign on Congress into a political fistfight, has the defense industry and its observers in suspense. But sources close to the industry say that when the chips fall, Lockheed Martin may be the only company that sends out layoff notices en masse before Election Day because of potential cuts to the defense budget under sequestration.

Some other companies may still issue notices to a smaller, more targeted group of employees, while yet others may not send out any, particularly after the Labor Department said it would be “inappropriate” for defense contractors to do so in a guidance in July.

The timing raises the stakes even higher, as companies could be issuing the notices on the Friday before the election, if they tie them to sequestration’s Jan. 2 start date, because the law requires 60 days advanced notice.

“They seem to be looking for reasons not to do it,” said one top defense industry source. “Many will not, and they’ll use that Labor memo as cover so they won’t have to do it.”

Lockheed CEO Bob Stevens first raised the prospect of mass layoff notices in June, when he said the lack of guidance from the Obama administration could compel the company to issue layoff notices to all 123,000 employees because it was unknown where the cuts would fall.

The next month, the Labor Department issued its guidance to defense contractors calling the need for mass layoff notices “inappropriate” under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

While the defense industry is united in its opposition to sequestration, there has been some division behind the scenes over just how dangerous the cuts would be, which has played into the layoff-notice debate.

Lockheed is still evaluating the Labor guidance and WARN Act with its legal team and hadn’t made a determination yet, said Chris Kubasik in an interview with The Hill. Kubasik, who will replace Stevens as CEO of Lockheed in January, also made clear that the company wasn’t about to back off.

“Philosophically, we follow the law. My understanding is that sequestration is the law,” Kubasik said. “Until the law is changed I think it would be irresponsible for us to do anything other than comply with it. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an industry consultant, said that Lockheed still appeared to be planning to send the notices based on advice from its legal department. The company learned after the presidential helicopter program was terminated in 2009 that lack of formal notification did not absolve it from issuing the notices, Thompson said.

“However, many of its competitors feel that they lack sufficient understanding of how sequestration will play out, and thus are reluctant to issue large numbers of warning notices,” Thompson told The Hill.

Several contractors, including Lockheed, say they need more guidance from the Obama administration on the cuts, which could come in the form of the report the White House will issue next week on implementing sequestration.

But that will leave just a few weeks before the first deadline hits for the WARN Act notices tied to sequestration, as some states have a 90-day requirement.

Besides Lockheed, BAE Systems has also suggested it might issue mass layoff notices.

Linda Hudson, BAE’s top U.S. executive, told Reuters this week that all employees could receive the notices if everything winds up getting cut across the board, as the sequester law is currently written.

BAE spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told The Hill that the company is seeking further guidance about the impact of sequestration on specific programs. He said initial estimates show that up to 10 percent of its workforce in the United States could be lost, which is about 4,000 employees.

“We hope not to issue WARN notices, but may have no choice without further guidance,” Roehrkasse said.

Others are less willing to tip their hands publicly.

A General Dynamics spokesman said the company cannot determine employment levels yet, “given that there is very little information available about how the Defense Dept. will implement sequestration at the program level.”

 

Boeing said it “will not comment or speculate” on potential WARN Act notices until more guidance is given. Northrop Grumman said it’s making no public comments about the WARN Act, while Pratt & Whitney said it continues to monitor the situation but hasn’t made any decisions.

The way the sequestration law was written, which would eventually reduce the Pentagon’s budget by $492 billion over 9 years, the cuts are across-the-board, hitting every program approximately 10 percent, according to a study from the Center on Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

While the CSBA study found that the Pentagon would likely have to renegotiate many contracts under sequestration, it also predicted that the companies would see little impact on Jan. 2 when the law took effect, and that it would take several years before the cuts were fully felt.

While sequestration is already a politically charged issue, as it’s been wrapped up into the fight over taxes in Congress, the Labor Department’s guidance added another layer of politics to the defense cuts.

Republicans accused the White House of trying to hide potential job losses before the election, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared that the defense companies should immediately issue the layoff notices to force Congress to solve the problem.

The industry source said that the political pressure has added to the difficulty for the companies, many of which aren’t eager to “rock the boat.”

“They’re feeling political pressure from both sides. Republicans want those notices out and the Democrats don’t,” said the industry source. “So it really puts them in a quandary.”

Source:

http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/industry/248313-defense-contractors-hesitate-over-layoff-notices-before-election

 

Continuing Resolution Released; Legislation Prevents Government Shutdown, Maintains Bipartisan Funding Agreement

Washington, Sep 10 –

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers today introduced a temporary funding measure – known as a Continuing Resolution (CR) – to prevent a government shutdown and fund federal programs until March 27, 2013 (H.J.Res 117). While the House Appropriations Committee has acted on all 12 annual spending bills – with the full House approving seven – the Senate has failed to approve a single bill. Because of the Senate’s inaction, a CR is necessary to continue federal programs and services until final legislation can be negotiated and approved.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the House and Senate were unable to complete Appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year. My committee members worked relentlessly to produce legislation that adequately and responsibly funds the federal government, and did so in a timely manner. Unfortunately, with the Senate’s inaction and election-year politics in play, our committee’s bills will not be negotiated before the end of the fiscal year, and therefore a temporary funding Band-Aid is necessary to prevent a government shutdown.

 

“The CR being introduced today is a good-faith effort to provide limited, yet fair and adequate funding for government programs and services until March 27, or until final Appropriations legislation can be approved. This bill is very restricted in its scope, does not contain extensive or controversial policy riders or funding levels that dramatically differ from current levels, and protects critical funding for our national defense. The legislation reflects the bipartisan agreement made by the House and Senate leadership and the White House to prevent a government shutdown, maintain the programs and services critical to the American people, and provide certainty and stability to ensure our continued economic recovery.

“However, while important, this bill essentially punts on the core duty of Congress to complete its annual Appropriations and budget work. Our founding fathers and our Constitution have spelled out a more responsible way to allocate the People’s money – through individual, annual Appropriations bills. It is imperative to our nation’s future and to our finances that we return to a timely regular order of business on such important funding legislation,” Chairman Rogers said.

 

Continuing Resolution Summary:

Rate of Operations – The CR continues funding at the current rate of operations for federal agencies, programs and services. To meet the bipartisan agreement between the House, Senate and White House that ensured a total rate of operations at $1.047 trillion, a government-wide, across-the-board increase of 0.6 percent over the base rate is also included. In total, including all discretionary spending, the annual rate of the CR is $26.6 billion below last year’s level.

Disaster and War Spending – The bill continues funding for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) at last year’s level of $6.4 billion. This funding is used to provide relief and recovery efforts following disasters, such as the recent Hurricane Isaac. The bill also provides $88.5 billion in war-related funding for Department of Defense (DOD) Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), the amount requested by the Administration.

General Items – Virtually all policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted Appropriations legislation will carry forward in the CR. However, some changes to current law are needed to prevent catastrophic, irreversible, or detrimental changes to government programs, or to ensure good government and program oversight. Some of these provisions include:

•A provision allowing DOD to acquire supplies in other countries for use in Afghanistan.

•A provision allowing additional funding for nuclear weapons modernization efforts, to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

•A provision allowing flexibility for the Customs and Border Patrol to maintain current staffing levels.

•A provision allowing additional funding and flexibility to sustain Homeland Security cybersecurity efforts.

•A provision allowing additional funding for the Interior Department and the Forest Service for wildfire suppression efforts.

•A provision allowing additional funding for the Veterans Administration to meet an increase in the disability claims workload.

•A provision extending the current pay freeze for federal employees, which includes Members of Congress and Senators.

•A provision allowing the launch schedule of new weather satellites to move forward, ensuring the continuation of critical weather information, especially in the event of weather-related natural disasters.

•A provision requiring every federal agency to provide spending plans to Congress to ensure transparency and the proper use of taxpayer dollars.

 

For the full text of the legislation, please visit: www.rules.house.gov

 

 

New Report Shows U.S. Lagging on Education Indicators

US News

The U.S. is behind other OECD countries on high school graduation rates, early childhood education

By Danielle Kurtzleben

September 11, 2012

In preschool and beyond, the U.S. is lagging behind many other countries on educational enrollment and achievement.

A new report shows that Americans are lagging behind their peers in education, but are still reaping big benefits from their diplomas.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2012 Education at a Glance report shows that the U.S. falls behind many of its peers, and below OECD averages on several measures of educational progress. Below are a few of the measures on which the U.S. is falling behind.

 

High School Graduation

Out of 27 countries, the U.S. ranks No. 22 on this measure, with a 2010 high school graduation rate of 77 percent. That’s well below the OECD average of 84 percent, but well above countries at the very bottom of the ladder, like Mexico (47 percent graduation rate) and Turkey (54 percent). Still, a 77 percent graduation rate is an improvement over 2000, when the U.S. secondary school graduation rate was 70 percent.

 

Early Childhood Education

In some countries, virtually all 4-year-olds are enrolled in some form of early-childhood or primary education. France, The Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, and Belgium all report the highest enrollment, at or near 100 percent. The U.S., however, reports that 69 percent of its 4-year-olds are in school, below even the OECD average of 81 percent.

 

Teacher Salaries

In the U.S., high school teachers can expect to earn roughly 72 percent as much as all U.S. college graduates age 25 to 64 earn, on average. The OECD average is 90 percent, and a few countries are far higher: in Spain, teachers earn 138 percent of what college grads earn. Still, it could be much worse. In the Slovak Republic, the ratio is 45 percent.

Interestingly, U.S. teachers are paid significantly less than their foreign counterparts, but tend to teach more. U.S. high school teachers spend around 1,050 hours a year teaching, behind only Argentina and Chile. However, as OECD Deputy Director for Education Andreas Schleicher pointed out Monday, this doesn’t take into account teachers’ duties outside of the classroom, which could mean that several other countries’ teachers work more than their U.S. counterparts, though the data may not reflect it.

 

Educational Mobility

The children of less-educated parents in the U.S. have a tougher time climbing the educational ladder than in other countries. Out of 28 countries, the U.S. ranked 26th in terms of the odds of these students going to college. The odds ratio, a measure of statistical association, is 0.29 for these students going to college, compared to a 0.44 OECD average. At the top of the spectrum, Iceland’s odds ratio is an impressive 0.83, nearly three times the rate of the children in the U.S.

 

Still, there is one key advantage that Americans have over many other OECD countries, and it’s one major reason why people go to school in the first place:

 

Money

Education pays off in the U.S. more so than many other countries. A college education earns a person around $19,000 more than someone with a high school education in the U.S., putting it above all other countries studied by the OECD, when earnings are adjusted for purchasing power parity (a measure of currencies’ values relative to one another). Other countries that come close are Luxembourg (nearly $18,000) and the Czech Republic ($15,500), as well as the United Kingdom, Austria, and the Netherlands, all with income differences of over $12,000. The average advantage for OECD countries is much lower, at around $8,900.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.

 

Pentagon receives ‘overwhelming response’ to Plan X cyber offensive

NextGov

By Dawn Lim

September 10, 2012

 

Officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have decided to postpone briefings and the release of solicitation documents for Plan X, a widely-anticipated funding initiative that will lay the foundation for the government’s push into offensive computer warfare operations.

“Due to an unanticipated and overwhelming response from industry and academia, DARPA has rescheduled the Plan X Proposers’ Day Workshop,” agency officials announced Sept. 5.

Two sessions with researchers and defense contractors—one classified and one non-classified—originally were slated for Sept. 27, but have now been moved to Oct. 15 and 16. “The second day will be a repeat of the first day to accommodate the remaining attendees,” the notice said. The request for proposals, originally scheduled for release at the end of this month, is expected to be published in October instead.

The surge of interest highlights a community emerging around offensive security technology. Plan X is a Pentagon initiative to develop computer architecture that monitors damage in “dynamic, contested, and hostile network environments,” adaptively defends against attacks, and performs “weapon deployment,” contracting documents indicate. The program is not funding malware or tools that hunt down vulnerabilities, but the resulting computer architecture will likely serve as the framework for their deployment.
The Defense Department has been ramping up the rhetoric on how agencies need to learn to protect networks as malware threats grow more sophisticated.

The Pentagon, however, has not provided a clear roadmap on how it intends to procure offensive technology or weighed in on potentially thorny legal issues around the deployment of such tools.

The official request for proposals for Plan X is expected to clarify questions by defense contractors and security researchers who are watching the space closely.

http://www.nextgov.com/defense/2012/09/pentagon-receives-overwhelming-response-plan-x-cyber-offensive/57961/

 

Stanford Researchers Create Tiny, Wirelessly Powered Cardiac Device

RFGlobalNet.com

September 4, 2012

By Andrew Myers

Stanford electrical engineers overturn existing models to demonstrate the feasibility of a millimeter-sized, wirelessly powered cardiac device. The findings, say the researchers, could dramatically alter the scale of medical devices implanted in the human body.

A team of engineers at Stanford has demonstrated the feasibility of a super-small, implantable cardiac device that gets its power not from batteries but from radio waves transmitted from a small power device on the surface of the body.

The implanted device is contained in a cube just 0.8 millimeter on a side. It could fit on the head of pin.

The findings were published in the journalApplied Physics Letters. In their paper, the researchers demonstrated wireless power transfer to a millimeter-sized device implanted 5 centimeters inside the chest on the surface of the heart – a depth once thought out of reach for wireless power transmission.

The engineers say the research is a major step toward a day when all implants are driven wirelessly. Beyond the heart, they believe such devices might include swallowable endoscopes – so-called “pillcams” that travel the digestive tract – permanent pacemakers and precision brain stimulators – virtually any medical applications where device size and power matter.

A revolution in the body
Implantable medical devices in the human body have revolutionized medicine. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of pacemakers, cochlear implants and drug pumps are today helping patients live relatively normal lives, but these devices are not without engineering challenges.

First, they require power, which means batteries, and batteries are bulky. In a device like a pacemaker, the battery alone accounts for as much as half the volume of the device. Second, batteries have finite lives. New surgery is needed when they wane.

“Wireless power solves both challenges,” said Ada Poon, assistant professor of electrical engineering, who headed up the research. She was assisted by Sanghoek Kim and John Ho, both doctoral candidates in her lab.

Last year, Poon made headlines when she demonstrated a wirelessly powered, self-propelled device capable of swimming through the bloodstream. To get there she needed to overturn some long-held assumptions about delivery of wireless power through the human body.

Her latest device works by a combination of inductive and radiative transmission of power. Both are types of electromagnetic transfer in which a transmitter sends radio waves to a coil of wire inside the body. The radio waves produce an electrical current in the coil sufficient to operate a small device.

There is an indirect relationship between the frequency of the transmitted radio waves and the size of the receiving antenna. That is, to deliver a desired level of power, lower frequency waves require bigger coils. Higher frequency waves can work with smaller coils.

“For implantable medical devices, therefore, the goal is a high-frequency transmitter and a small receiver, but there is one big hurdle,” Kim said.

 

Ignoring consensus
Existing mathematical models have held that high-frequency radio waves do not penetrate far enough into human tissue, necessitating the use of low-frequency transmitters and large antennas – too large to be practical for implantable devices.

Ignoring the consensus, Poon proved the models wrong. Human tissues dissipate electric fields quickly, it is true, but radio waves can travel in a different way – as alternating waves of electric and magnetic fields. With the correct equations in hand, she discovered that high-frequency signals travel much deeper than anyone suspected.

“In fact, to achieve greater power efficiency, it is actually advantageous that human tissue is a very poor electrical conductor,” said Kim. “If it were a good conductor, it would absorb energy, create heating and prevent sufficient power from reaching the implant.”

According to their revised models, the researchers found that the maximum power transfer through human tissue occurs at about 1.7 billion cycles per second, much higher than previously thought.

“In this high-frequency range, we can increase power transfer by about 10 times over earlier devices,” said Ho, who honed the mathematical models.

The discovery meant that the team could shrink the receiving antenna by a factor of 10 as well, to a scale that makes wireless implantable devices feasible. At the optimal frequency, a millimeter-radius coil is capable of harvesting more than 50 microwatts of power, well in excess of the needs of a recently demonstrated 8-microwatt pacemaker.

 

Engineering challenges
With the dimensional challenges solved, the team found itself bound by other engineering constraints. First, electronic medical devices must meet stringent health standards established by IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), particularly with regard to tissue heating. Second, the team found that the receiving and transmiting antennas had to be optimally oriented to achieve maximum efficiency. Differences in alignment of just a few degrees could produce troubling drops in power.

“This can’t happen medical devices,” said Poon. “As the human heart and body are in constant motion, solving this issue was critical to the success of our research.” The team responded by designing an innovative slotted transmitting antenna structure. It delivers consistent power efficiency regardless of orientation of the two antennas.

The new design serves additionally to focus the radio waves precisely at the point inside the body where the implanted device rests on the surface of the heart – increasing the electric field where it is needed most, but canceling it elsewhere. This helps reduce overall tissue heating to levels well within the IEEE standards. Poon has applied for a patent on the antenna structure.

This research was made possible by funding from the C2S2 Focus Center, one of six research centers funded under the Focus Center Research Program, a Semiconductor Research Corporation entity. Lisa Chen also contributed to this study.

Andrew Myers is associate director of communications at the School of Engineering.

SOURCE: Stanford University

 

Congressional report warns drones could track faces, never leave sky

The Hill

By Brendan Sasso – 09/11/12 10:30 AM ET

 

The use of drones in American skies raises new questions about the value of privacy and the extent of government surveillance, according to a report released last week by the Congressional Research Service.

It is not clear how courts will apply constitutional privacy protections to drones, but the report notes that Congress could enact laws to restrict the ability of police to use the technology.

Domestic drones are now uncommon, but the Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that within 20 years, 30,000 commercial and government drones could be flying in U.S. skies.

Drones are cheaper to build and fly than manned aircraft, making them more useful to the government for aerial surveillance. Some drones are the size of traditional jets but others — called “nano drones” — can be as small as an insect.

Drones could also be equipped with other surveillance technologies to identify people or license plates.

“In the near future, law enforcement organizations might seek to outfit drones with facial recognition or soft biometric recognition, which can recognize and track individuals based on attributes such as height, age, gender and skin color,” the researchers write.

A drone from Lockheed Martin called the “Stalker” can be recharged from the ground using a laser. The report predicts that in the future, drones could theoretically stay in the sky forever.

Analyzing past court cases, the researchers conclude that police would likely have to obtain a search warrant to use nano drones or heat sensing imaging to spy on people within their homes.

But the report writes that it is unclear how courts will treat drone surveillance of a person’s backyard, swimming pool, deck or porch.

The Supreme Court has held that police do not need warrants to fly helicopters or airplanes over people’s homes and gather evidence. The justices concluded that the areas were in public view and the people should have had limited expectations of privacy.

The courts could treat drones similarly to other aircraft or they may decide that they raise more serious privacy concerns. Drones can stay in the air longer than manned aircraft and can hover in one place, the researchers note.

 

“This capability may sway a court’s determination of whether certain types of warrant-less drone surveillance are compatible with the Fourth Amendment,” the researchers write.

Lawmakers have introduced several bills this session to limit how police can use drones to gather information.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act to require that police obtain a warrant in most circumstances before using drones. Paul’s version of the bill explicitly says evidence gathered without a warrant cannot be used in trial.

Rep. Ted Poe’s (R-Texas) Preserving American Privacy Act would only allow police to use drones with a warrant and to investigate a felony.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the Famers Privacy Act to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to use drones to investigate environmental violations. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) filed an amendment to the 2012 farm bill that would limited the EPA to using drones only if it is more cost-effective than ground inspections, but the amendment was not adopted.

http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/248707-congressional-report-warns-of-privacy-risks-of-domestic-drones

 

Senators seeking $55 billion debt repayment to delay automatic cuts

The Hill

By Alexander Bolton – 09/12/12 05:00 AM ET

A bipartisan group of senators is negotiating a roughly $55 billion debt “down payment” that would temporarily turn off automatic spending cuts and buy Congress at least six months to work out a bigger deal.

The down payment would be linked to a deficit-reduction framework that would bind committees with jurisdiction over spending and taxes to an action plan, say sources familiar with the negotiations.

If a deal is reached and leaders sign off on it, Congress could approve the plan in a lame-duck session.

The goal of the group is to keep Congress from going over the so-called fiscal cliff without simply punting into next year the difficult questions over spending and taxes that have stymied their colleagues.

All of the George W. Bush-era tax rates are set to expire at the end of the year, and automatic spending cuts to defense and non-defense programs, known as sequestration, are scheduled to begin in January. Congress also faces a decision soon on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday said he was “not confident at all” that Congress and the White House could work out a major debt deal, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it was too early to give up hope.

The $55-billion down payment under discussion by the group of senators would be equal to about half of the scheduled cuts triggered by sequestration next year to defense and non-defense spending.

But the bipartisan group faces several hurdles to reaching a deal — most notably whether any tax increases would be included in the $55-billion package. This fight has doomed previous efforts to reach a grand bargain deficit-reduction plan.

 

Democratic negotiators say the down payment must include measures to raise new revenues, but Republicans have yet to agree.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), one of the key negotiators, said the down payment would “not necessarily” include tax revenues.

“We’re exploring options. We’re looking at all different types of combinations that might be available,” he said.

Another problem is Senate leaders, who are skeptical the group can come up with a deal that will pass muster with the entire Senate and House.

Senate Democratic sources, however, argue it is more viable than plans floated by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would stop the sequester and replace it with a different package of spending cuts and revenue-raising measures.
Some lawmakers think the McCain-Graham plan would undermine the impetus for fiscal reform, and the GOP effort could also face opposition from President Obama.

“I don’t think the president would agree to anything that turns off the sequester unless there was the big deal agreed to,” said a Senate aide, who was voicing a personal opinion and not speaking for the administration.

The core of the bipartisan group includes Chambliss and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). They have been known at varying times as the Gang of Six, the Group of Six and the Gang of Eight.

With the White House and Congress focused almost exclusively on the election all year, there has been little hope of moving a larger deficit-reduction package this year.

A lame-duck session would provide little time to negotiate a grand deal.

“The logical thing for us to do in the lame duck is to put everything on hold for six months and to give ourselves time to do a good job of solving all the fiscal-cliff problems at once, from sequestration to payroll tax to Bush tax cuts,” said Alexander.

Alexander said a down payment would “show good faith.”

“If we put everything from the debt ceiling to the Bush tax cuts and the sequestration on hold for six months while we worked out a solution, I think it would be necessary to buy the six months of time,” he said.

Chambliss said a down payment would be attractive because it could solve the problem of timing the sequence of a deficit-reduction plan. Republicans and Democrats disagree over whether entitlement reform, discretionary spending cuts or tax reform should take place first.

Durbin floated a similar idea last week during the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg LP and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Durbin said Congress could “buy” a six-month delay of the fiscal cliff with a down payment.

“The notion is that we have to come up with the savings to show we’re serious,” he said, according to Bloomberg News. He called it “the Dick Durbin plan.”

To get Reid to sign on, the down payment would have to lock the committees of jurisdiction and Republicans into concrete guidelines for a larger deficit-reduction package, say Democratic sources.

That could be difficult. Some critics are doubtful any lame-duck deal would bind the Finance and Appropriations committees to much of anything.

 

Any deficit-reduction proposal produced by the Finance and Appropriations committees next year would have to include significant increases in tax revenue, Democrats insist. Democratic leaders also want a framework for future deficit reduction to include guarantees of the “progressivity” of future tax reform.

Democrats have criticized tax reform proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) for allegedly shifting the tax burden onto the middle class. While the Ryan and Toomey plans have been vague about what tax deductions would be eliminated to overhaul individual and corporate tax brackets, Democrats say those plans do not add up unless middle-class earners lose popular tax breaks.

“I do think there is a chance of a framework agreement in the lame-duck session, with the details to be worked out by the committees of jurisdiction in the early months of next year,” said Conrad. “With any framework agreement, there should be a down payment.

“I don’t think anyone should give up on a framework agreement being reached in the lame duck,” he said.

Conrad said members of the Gang of Eight had agreed to a framework earlier, but it has to be finalized.

“A lot of things happened since, so that has to be adjusted,” he said.

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/248903-senators-seek-55b-debt-repayment

 

Microsoft finds malware on new computers in China


RICHARD LARDNER

Published: Sep 13, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) – A customer in Shenzhen, China, took a new laptop out of its box and booted it up for the first time. But as the screen lit up, the computer began taking on a life of its own. The machine, triggered by a virus hidden in its hard drive, began searching across the Internet for another computer.

The laptop, supposedly in pristine, super-fast, direct-from-the-factory condition, had instantly become part of an illegal, global network capable of attacking websites, looting bank accounts and stealing personal data.

For years, online investigators have warned consumers about the dangers of opening or downloading emailed files from unknown or suspicious sources. Now, they say malicious software and computer code could be lurking on computers before the bubble wrap even comes off.

The shopper in this case was part of a team of Microsoft researchers in China investigating the sale of counterfeit software. They received a sudden introduction to malware called Nitol. The incident was revealed in court documents unsealed Thursday in a federal court in Virginia. The records describe a new front in a legal campaign against cybercrime being waged by the maker of the Windows operating system, which is the biggest target for viruses.

The documents are part of a computer fraud lawsuit filed by Microsoft against a web domain registered to a Chinese businessman named Peng Yong. The company says the domain is a major hub for illicit Internet activity, home base for Nitol and more than 500 other types of malware, which makes it the largest single repository of infected software that Microsoft officials have encountered.

Peng, the owner of an Internet services firm, said he was not aware of the Microsoft suit. He denied the allegations and said his company does not tolerate improper conduct on the domain, 3322.org. Three other unidentified individuals accused by Microsoft of establishing and operating the Nitol network are also named in the suit.

What emerges most vividly from the court records and interviews with Microsoft officials is a disturbing picture of how vulnerable Internet users have become, in part because of weaknesses in computer supply chains. To increase their profit margins, less reputable computer manufacturers and retailers may use counterfeit copies of popular software products to build machines more cheaply. Plugging the holes is nearly impossible, especially in less regulated markets such as China, and that leaves openings for cybercriminals.

“They’re really changing the ways they try to attack you,” said Richard Boscovich, a former federal prosecutor and a senior attorney in Microsoft’s digital crimes unit.

Distance doesn’t equal safety. Nitol, for example, is an aggressive virus found on computers in China, the United States, Russia, Australia and Germany. Microsoft has even identified servers in the Cayman Islands controlling Nitol-infected machines. All these compromised computers become part of a botnet, or collection of compromised computers; it’s one of the most invasive and persistent forms of cybercrime.

Nitol appears poised to strike. Infection rates have peaked, according to Patrick Stratton, a senior manager in Microsoft’s digital crimes unit who filed a document in the court case explaining Nitol and its connection to the 3322.org domain.

For Microsoft, pursuing cybercriminals is a smart business. Its Windows operating system runs most of the computers connected to the Internet. Victims of malware are likely to believe their problems stem from Windows instead of a virus they are unaware of, and that damages the company’s brand and reputation.

But more than Microsoft’s image is stake when counterfeit products are tainted by malware that spreads so rapidly, Boscovich said. “It’s more than simply a traditional intellectual property issue,” Boscovich said. “It’s now become a security issue.”

The investigation by Microsoft’s digital crimes unit began in August 2011 as a study into the sale and distribution of counterfeit versions of Windows. Microsoft employees in China bought 20 new computers from retailers and took them back to a home with an Internet connection.

They found forged versions of Windows on all the machines and malware already installed on four. The one with Nitol, however, was the most alarming because the malware was active.

“As soon as we powered on this particular computer, of its own accord without any instruction from us, it began reaching out across the Internet, attempting to contact a computer unfamiliar to us,” Stratton said in the document filed with the court.

The laptop was made by Hedy, a computer manufacturer in Guangzhou, China, according to the court records. The company, reached by phone, declined to answer questions.

Stratton and his colleagues also found Nitol to be highly contagious. They inserted a thumb drive into the computer and the virus immediately copied itself onto it. When the drive was inserted into a separate machine, Nitol quickly copied itself on to it.

Microsoft examined thousands of samples of Nitol, which has several variants, and all of them connected to command-and-control servers associated with the 3322.org domain, according to the court records.

“In short, 3322.org is a major hub of illegal Internet activity, used by criminals every minute of every day to pump malware and instructions to the computers of innocent people worldwide,” Microsoft said in its lawsuit.

Peng, the registered owner of 3322.org, said he has “zero tolerance” for the misuse of domain names and works with Chinese law enforcement whenever there are complaints. Still, he said, his huge customer base makes policing difficult.

“Our policy unequivocally opposes the use of any of our domain names for malicious purposes,” Peng said in a private chat via Sina Weibo, a service like Twitter that’s very popular in China. “We currently have 2.85 million domain names and cannot exclude that individual users might be using domain names for malicious purposes.”

Peng is the founder and chief executive of Bitcomm, a company he and his wife own. They founded an earlier company, which started 3322.org in 2001. Bitcomm took over the domain in 2007.

Past warnings by other online security firms have been ignored by Peng, according to Boscovich. 3322.org accounted for more than 17 percent of the world’s malicious web transactions in 2009, according to Zscaler, a computer security firm in San Jose, Calif. In 2008, Russian security company Kaspersky Lab reported that 40 percent of all malware programs, at one point or another, connected to 3322.org.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who is presiding in the case, granted a request from Microsoft to begin steering Internet traffic from 3322.org that has been infected by Nitol and other malwares to a special site called a sinkhole. From there, Microsoft can alert affected computer users to update their anti-virus protection and remove Nitol from their machines.

Since Lee issued the order, more than 37 million malware connections have been blocked from 3322.org, according to Microsoft.

 

House passes stopgap funding bill to keep government open until after election

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/2chambers/post/house-passes-stopgap-funding-bill-to-keep-government-open-until-after-election/2012/09/13/8d784e82-fdde-11e1-8adc-499661afe377_blog.html

By Rosalind S. Helderman

 

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a six-month stopgap government funding bill on a 329 to 91 vote, putting aside the partisan warfare of the past 18 months in bipartisan resolve to avoid a budget showdown ahead of the November election.

The Senate is expected to pass the same measure late next week, providing funding for agencies for the first six months of the fiscal year and avoiding any threat of a government shutdown when the year ends Sept. 30.

The drama with Thursday’s vote came less from the outcome of the vote than from the appearance of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee and came to the Capitol to cast a vote in favor of the measure.

His vote was intended to send a message to members of the raucous GOP freshman caucus that they should also sign off on a measure that will set a $1.047 trillion funding level for the first half of the year, the same figure enshrined in the deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer.

Many rank-and-file Republicans agreed to go along with the bill as a way to spare Congress a messy budget fight as the election looms, even though they would have preferred to cut spending more deeply, following Ryan’s own budget, which would set funding for the year at $1.028 trillion.

The conservative Club for Growth had urged Congress to oppose the bill, arguing that it did not cut spending deeply enough.

 

The measure also includes $6.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid after disasters, as well as $88.5 billion in “war-related funding” for ongoing overseas military operations. It will freeze pay for federal employees.

Passage of the continuing budget resolution by the Senate next week will most likely mark the last action of consequence taken by Congress before adjourning next week. Congress will not return to Washington until after the election.

The stopgap measure means spending policies in place for the past year will merely be extended for another six months, with a slight funding boost.

Members of both parties say they would prefer to update policies, based on a reexamination of priorities and program efficiencies. However, it proved impossible for Congress to come to an agreement on the updated full-year appropriations measures, making the short-term extension necessary.

Passage of the continuing resolution means funds will be available to keep the government running through March, after President Obama or Mitt Romney are sworn in as president in January.

But it does nothing to avert deep automatic spending cuts and dramatic tax increases now scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, which the Congressional Budget Office has said could send the country back into recession.

On a party-line 223 to 196 vote, the House also passed a measure Thursday that would require Obama to produce a plan to avert military cuts, a symbolic gesture intended to show Republican resolve to avert Defense Department reductions.

The Senate has no plans to take up that measure, and Congress will take up real negotiations over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff after the election. ___

 

 

Six Chinese ships enter Japanese waters near disputed islands

Washington Post

By Chico Harlan, Updated: Friday, September 14, 4:21 AM

TOKYO — In an increasingly fierce dispute over control of tiny islands and the sea around them, six Chinese maritime patrol ships entered Japanese waters Friday. Japan’s coast guard asked the ships to leave; China said they had every right to be there.

The standoff occurred near a group of contested, uninhabited rocky outcroppings that Japan’s central government recently purchased, prompting threats from China that it will increase surveillance of the area. China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, citing a government statement, said the ships had been sent to the islands — known as Senkaku in Japan; Diaoyu in China — for “law enforcement and patrol activities” and to “demonstrate China’s jurisdiction.”

Either two or three of the six Chinese ships quickly moved outside of Japanese territory, which extends 12 nautical miles from the islands, Japanese media said, quoting the country’s coast guard. The others left hours later, but not before declaring they were in Chinese territory and ordering the Japan Coast Guard to retreat.

“Diaoyu is China’s territory,” a Chinese ship said in radio communications, according to the Associated Press, which quoted Japan’s coast guard. “This ship is carrying out lawful operations. We urge you to leave the waters immediately.”

 

The stare down, which began in the early morning and ended mid-afternoon, marked a recent high point for tension between Asia’s two largest economies, both of which see the islands as a symbol for national pride and covet the waters around them for their rich fishing stock and natural resources.

As the ships tracked one another, Japan summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with a crisis task force at his office. Chinese ships had last entered Japanese-controlled territory two months ago, but a government spokesman in Tokyo, in an unusually strong condemnation, called the Friday intrusion an “unprecedented scale of invasion into Japanese contiguous waters.”

The extended row between China and Japan is already fraying ties between key trading partners; Nissan, for instance, has said its sales in China have been hurt by the recent tensions. Meanwhile, some China-based travel agencies are canceling group tours to Japan, and cultural events in both countries designed to mark the 40th anniversary of China-Japan diplomatic ties have been called off or postponed.

The tensions also create a dilemma for the United States, which is treaty-bound to defend Japan but whose officials have repeatedly emphasized that they don’t take sides in territorial disputes. Earlier this week State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged Japan and China to “work together” through dialogue, adding that good relations are “important for the region and important for our interests.”

Some security experts fear that China and Japan are risking armed conflict by beefing up their security in the island area, which sits along a chain between Okinawa and Taiwan in the East China Sea. The Senkaku or Diaoyu islands are controlled by Japan, but they are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Japan’s central government, which had previously been renting the islands, finalized a $26.2 million purchase earlier this week with a private Japanese landowner. The move enraged Beijing, which called the purchase a “gross violation” of Chinese sovereignty.

China, in turn, released a set of sea coordinates, announcing the exact boundaries to the territory around the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands it considers its own. This move, according to Chinese security experts, gives China new legal ground to act against Japanese vessels in the contested waters. Beijing has also said it will increase patrols in the area.

“It’s not impossible for the situation to get out of hand,” said Jin Yongming, an expert on maritime security at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “It is possible Chinese fishing boats clash with the Japanese fishing boats, Chinese sea surveillance boats clash with Japanese sea surveillance boats, Chinese naval vessels clash with Japanese naval vessels. Theoretically, when a Japanese naval vessel enters the 12 nautical miles of the Diaoyu islands, China has the right of self defense.”

 

CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – APPROPRIATIONS

Sept. 13, 2012 – 8:36 p.m.

Lawmakers Look to Lame-Duck Session With Hopes for Spending Bills

By Kerry Young, CQ Staff

Even before the House passed its much-derided but must-pass stopgap funding bill Thursday, the opening shots were under way to pressure Congress into finishing fiscal 2013 appropriations during the lame-duck session.

 

The fiscal 2013 continuing resolution (H J Res 117), passed 329-91, is meant to keep the federal government running Oct. 1 through March 27, 2013. The Senate is expected next week to clear the measure, which congressional leaders and the White House negotiated in advance. Under an agreement reached by leaders Thursday, the Senate is expected to hold a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the measure Sept. 19.

About three dozen exceptions, or anomalies, were included in the CR to address some pressing needs, such as advancing weather satellites and fighting wildfires. But appropriators say this limited number of special measures doesn’t scratch the surface of the changes that need to be made in the fiscal 2012 appropriations law (PL 112-55, PL 112-74), which is being extended to cover half of the next budget year.

Even the Pentagon, which enjoys great favor with conservative Republicans, faces limits on its operations through the CR, said Norm Dicks of Washington, the ranking Democrat on both the House Appropriations Committee and its Defense Department (DoD) panel.

“The CR is stringent on defense,” Dicks said. “DoD requested limited authority for new starts and changes in production and procurement rates. Those requests were denied.”

Drafting a fairly “clean” CR may have served several purposes for the appropriators, however.

First, many House conservatives had said they would support a fiscal 2013 CR at the $1.047 trillion level set in last year’s debt-limit law (PL 112-25), which represents an increase of less than 1 percent over the current level of funding, so they could delay final spending decisions into next year, when they hope to control the White House.

In exchange, they demanded the measure not be used as a vehicle for many unrelated measures, a common practice with such funding measures.

A “Christmas tree” CR, laden with many extra provisions, may have had a tough time passing the House. A clean CR also may help appropriators get the final fiscal 2013 spending decisions made earlier than the conservatives want to see them done.

A spare CR also may bolster appropriators in their bid to do exactly what some conservatives fear — finish a fiscal 2013 bill after the November election. Appropriators and defense authorizers inserted only a handful of extensions of expiring Pentagon authorizations into the CR. That will maintain the pressure to complete work on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization (S 3254, HR 4310).

If lawmakers want to adjust budgets to reflect current needs, Congress must finish the spending bills soon, appropriators say.

“We intend to use the lame-duck session to the fullest extent. Just because this CR will last until March 27 of next year, we will not rest on our laurels until that time,” said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. “We will do as much as we can to allow ample time to complete that essential work.”

 

No Direction Given

Appropriators also likely will remind colleagues that the CR provides only broad guidance on spending, while spending bills often carry suggestions and sometimes very specific directions for agencies to improve their operations.

In the Senate on Thursday, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, noted a six-month CR leaves agencies “without any real oversight or thought as to how that money would be spent.”

 

On the House floor Thursday, Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee, cited the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, as a case in point.

“The agency is plagued by dramatic cost increases on nearly every major cast under its jurisdiction,” Visclosky said. “The poster child of this inability to accurately estimate cost is a life extension program for the B61 bomb, the price which has gone from $4 billion to $10 billion.”

The House’s fiscal 2013 Energy-Water Appropriations bill (HR 5325) included a report (H Rept 112-462) that would have told the NNSA to report within 60 days on the total amount spent for development and experimental activity associated with the full option for the B61 life extension program. Under a CR, the agency will not get this order from Congress.

C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said that he had provided funds in his fiscal 2013 Pentagon funding bill (HR 5856) for modernizing three cruisers that were scheduled to be retired. His bill also would have provided funding toward work on a Virginia class submarine in fiscal 2014 and a DDG-51 destroyer. None of this can proceed under the CR. “We are trying to persuade members of the Senate to go to their leaders and say ‘Let us do the defense bill,'” he said.

That was why even the lopsided vote for the stopgap funding bill prompted little in the way of congratulations on the House floor.

“The CR, some say, at least lets us keep the government open,” said David E. Price of North Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. “But merely averting a shutdown is hardly an achievement.”

 

White House warns planned budget cuts ‘deeply destructive’ to military, other agencies


Published September 14, 2012

Associated Press

A new White House report issued Friday warns that $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts at the start of the new year would be “deeply destructive” to the military and core government responsibilities like patrolling U.S. borders and air traffic control.

The report says the automatic cuts, mandated by the failure of last year’s congressional deficit “supercommittee” to strike a budget deal, would require an across-the-board cut of 9 percent to most Pentagon programs and an 8 percent cut in many domestic programs. The process of automatic cuts is called sequestration, and the administration has no flexibility in how to distribute the cuts, other than to exempt military personnel and war-fighting accounts.

“Sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions,” the report says.

The cuts, combined with the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts at the end of the year, have been dubbed the “fiscal cliff.” Economists warn that the one-two punch could drive the economy back into recession.

The across-the-board cuts were devised as part of last summer’s budget and debt deal between President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans. They were intended to drive the supercommittee — evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — to strike a compromise. But the panel deadlocked and the warring combatants have spent more time since then blaming each other for the looming cuts than seeking ways to avoid them.

 

The White House report continues in that vein, blasting House Republicans for an approach to avoiding the sequester that relies on further cuts to domestic programs while protecting upper-bracket taxpayers from higher rates proposed by the president.

In advance of the report’s release, White House press secretary Jay Carney went on the offensive, blasting “the adamant refusal of Republicans to accept the fundamental principle that we ought to deal with our fiscal challenges in a balanced way.”

In advance of the election, rival Democratic and GOP sides are dug in, unwilling to make the required compromises and unable to trust the other side. It’s commonly assumed that there will be more serious efforts to forestall the cuts in a postelection lame duck session, though it may only be for a short time, to give the next Congress and whoever occupies the White House a chance to work out a longer-term solution.

If not, sharp cuts are on the way.

The report warns that the Pentagon faces cuts that “would result in a reduction in readiness of many nondeployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts and reductions in base services for military families.”

On the domestic front, the White House warns of dire effects as well.

“The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, correctional officers and federal prosecutors would be slashed. The Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to oversee and manage the nation’s airspace and air traffic control would be reduced,” the report says. “The Department of Agriculture’s efforts to inspect food processing plants and prevent foodborne illnesses would be curtailed.”

Many big programs, like Social Security, Medicaid, federal employee pensions and veterans’ benefits and health care would be exempted. Medicare would be limited to an $11 billion, 2 percent cut in provider payments.

Also cut would be $14 million to treat emergency responders and others made ill as a result of the 9/11 attacks; $33 million for federal prosecution of violent crimes against women; and $2.5 billion for medical research and other work by the National Institutes of Health.

Other cuts would include $5 million from Obama’s own office at the White House; $140 million from financial aid for college students; $216 million from efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons; $471 million from highway construction and $1 billion from aid for handicapped and children with other special needs.

The 394-page report, however, simply lists the dollar amount of the cuts but fails to address their real-world impact. For instance, it would cut the number of food inspectors and air traffic controllers on the job. But when asked on a conference call, a top White House official wouldn’t say whether such cuts would require closing meatpacking plants or shutting down smaller airports.

“The report makes clear that sequestration would cause great disruptions across many vital services, from cancer research at NIH to food safety efforts at the Department of Agriculture, and public safety at the FBI to lowered military readiness,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the Budget Committee’s top Democrat. “It’s time to stop the political games and start working together to prevent the sequester, protect the economic recovery and get our fiscal house in order.”

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/14/white-house-warns-planned-budget-cuts-deeply-destructive-to-military-other/#ixzz26TUsMtxz

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