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January 19, 2013

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Hitting the debt limit: What bills would be paid?

 

Charlotte Observer – http://www.CharlotteObserver.com

Posted: Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013

By JIM KUHNHENN

 

 

WASHINGTON In the summer of 2011, when a debt crisis like the current one loomed, President Barack Obama warned Republicans that older Americans might not get their Social Security checks unless there was a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

 

After weeks of brinkmanship, Republicans consented and Obama agreed to a deficit-reduction plan the GOP wanted. Crisis averted, for a time.

 

Now that there’s a fresh showdown, the possibility of Social Security cuts -and more – is back on the table.

 

The government could run out of cash to pay all its bills in full as early as Feb. 15, according to one authoritative estimate, and congressional Republicans want significant spending cuts in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. Obama, forced to negotiate an increase in 2011, has pledged not to negotiate again.

 

Without an agreement, every option facing his administration would be unprecedented.

 

It would require a degree of financial creativity that could test the law, perhaps even the Constitution.

 

It could shortchange Social Security recipients and other people, including veterans and the poor, who rely on government programs.

 

It could force the Treasury to contemplate selling government assets, a step considered but rejected in 2011. In short, the Treasury would have to create its own form of triage, creating a priority list of its most crucial obligations, from interest payments to debtors to benefits to vulnerable Americans.

 

“It may be that somewhere down the line someone will challenge what the administration did in that moment, but in the moment, who’s going to stop them?” asked Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “I pray we never have to find out how imaginative they are.”

 

In such a debt crisis, the president would have to decide what laws he wants to break. Does he breach the borrowing limit without a congressional OK? Does he ignore spending commitments required by law?

 

In a letter to Obama on Friday, Senate Democratic leaders urged him to consider taking any “lawful steps that ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis – without congressional approval, if necessary.”

 

The White House has resisted that path. It has rejected recommendations that it invoke a provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

 

“There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or they can fail to act and put the nation into default,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “Congress needs to do its job.”

 

So what’s left if Congress does not act in time?

 

Technically, the government hit the debt ceiling at the end of December. Since then, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has halted full payments into the retirement and disability fund for government workers and to the health benefits fund of Postal Service retirees.

 

The Treasury can stop payments to a special fund that purchases or sells foreign currencies to stabilize world financial markets.

 

Past administrations have taken such steps to buy time awaiting a debt ceiling increase. That happened under Presidents Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. The government restored those funds after Congress raised the debt ceiling.

 

Those measures and others could keep the government solvent, perhaps as far as early March, according to an analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

 

There are other extreme possibilities as well.

 

The federal government could sell some of its assets, from its gold stockpile to its student loan portfolio.

 

“All these things are in principle marketable, and in a crisis you’d get huge discounts on them,” said Holtz-Eakin, now head of the American Action Forum, a conservative public policy institute. “They wouldn’t be good ordinary business, but you would be in extraordinary times.”

 

According to a treasury inspector general report last year, department officials in 2011 considered and rejected the idea, concluding that gold sales would destabilize the international financial system, that selling off the student loan portfolio was not feasible and that such “fire sales” would buy only limited time.

 

An idea pushed by some liberals would take advantage of a legal loophole meant for coin collectors and have the Treasury mint platinum coins that could be deposited at the Federal Reserve and used to pay the nation’s bills. But the Treasury issued a statement Saturday putting the idea to rest, saying neither the department nor the Federal Reserve believes the law “can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit.”

 

Once all efforts are exhausted, then the government would be in uncharted territory.

 

At that point, the government would continue to get tax revenue, but hardly enough to keep up with the bills. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the federal government between Feb. 15 and March 15 will get $277 billion in revenue and face $452 billion in obligations.

 

The Treasury would have to decide whether to pay some obligations and not others or to simply pay for one day’s bills as it tax revenue rolls in, exponentially delaying payments the longer the debt ceiling is not raised. Under virtually every scenario contemplated, payment of interest on the debt takes precedence to put off a calamitous default.

 

“I happen to think the triage would be chosen to create the maximum amount of political pressure to break the impasse right away, which would be withholding Social Security checks,” said Philip Wallach, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

 

 

Treasury Won’t Mint Coin to Defy Debt Ceiling

 

NYTimes

January 12, 2013

By ANNIE LOWREY

 

 

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department said Saturday that it will not mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to head off an imminent battle with Congress over raising the government’s borrowing limit.

 

“Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” Anthony Coley, a Treasury spokesman, said in a written statement.

 

The Obama administration has indicated that the only way for the country to avoid a cash-management crisis as soon as next month is for Congress to raise the “debt ceiling,” which is the statutory limit on government borrowing. The cap is $16.4 trillion.

“There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills, or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “Congress needs to do its job.”

 

In recent weeks, some Republicans have indicated that they would not agree to raise the debt limit unless Democrats agreed to make cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security.

 

The White House has said it would not negotiate spending cuts in exchange for Congressional authority to borrow more, and it has insisted that Congress raise the ceiling as a matter of course, to cover expenses already authorized by Congress. In broader fiscal negotiations, it has said it would not agree to spending cuts without commensurate tax increases.

 

The idea of minting a trillion-dollar coin drew wide if puzzling attention recently after some bloggers and economic commentators had suggested it as an alternative to involving Congress.

 

By virtue of an obscure law meant to apply to commemorative coins, the Treasury secretary could order the production of a high-denomination platinum coin and deposit it at the Federal Reserve, where it would count as a government asset and give the country more breathing room under its debt ceiling. Once Congress raised the debt ceiling, the Treasury secretary could then order the coin destroyed.

 

Mr. Carney, the press secretary, fielded questions about the theoretical tactic at a news conference last week. But the idea is now formally off the table.

 

The White House has also rejected the idea that it could mount a challenge to the debt ceiling itself, on the strength of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which holds that the “validity of the public debt” of the United States “shall not be questioned.”

 

The Washington Post earlier published a report that the Obama administration had rejected the platinum-coin idea.

 

 

Serious Flaw in Java Software Is Found, Then Patched

 

NYTimes

January 13, 2013

By NICOLE PERLROTH

 

 

Oracle fixed a security flaw in its Java software on Sunday, after the Department of Homeland Security warned users to disable Java software completely, citing a security hole that allows hackers to take control of their machines.

 

“Java 7 Update 10 and earlier contain an unspecified vulnerability that can allow a remote, unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable system,” the agency said in an alert issued last week. “This and previous Java vulnerabilities have been widely targeted by attackers, and new Java vulnerabilities are likely to be discovered.”

 

A European security researcher who blogs under the name Kafeine first discovered the vulnerability and posted it to his blog on Thursday. The homeland security agency said that it had confirmed that Microsoft Windows, Apple’s Mac OS X and Linux platforms were all affected and that it was “unaware of a practical solution to this problem.” In a rare alert on Thursday evening, the agency recommended that users disable Java in their Web browsers.

 

On Sunday, Oracle released a patch for the security hole.

 

Apple stopped shipping its computers with Java enabled last year, largely because of security concerns, but said it was remotely disabling the Java 7 plug-in on Macs where it had already been installed. Windows and Linux users can disable Java by following this guide on java.com.

 

Oracle did not return a request for comment on Sunday.

 

Java, a widely used programming language that runs on more than 850 million personal computers, has been the source of security problems before. Last April, hackers exploited a Java vulnerability to infect more than half a million Apple computers with a vicious form of malware in what was the largest-scale attack on the OS X operating system to date.

 

A month later, the Shadowserver Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks cyber threats, discovered that hackers had used a Java security hole to infect visitors to several foreign policy Web sites, including the Web sites of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

The exploit was particularly disconcerting because it let attackers download a malicious program onto its victims’ machines without prompting. Users did not even have to click on a malicious link for their computers to be infected. The program simply downloaded itself.

 

 

Defense Cuts? Bring Them On

 

By Bill Sweetman

Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

January 14, 2013

 

 

Deep and long-term budget cuts could be the best thing to happen to the U.S. defense enterprise in decades.

 

Austerity should enforce long-overdue change in the relative size and influence of air/space, land and sea forces. For the last decade of mostly land combat, the ground forces have dominated discussion of strategy, and the doctrine that no war can be won except by taking and holding ground has become a shibboleth to which all who aspire to be “joint” must pay homage.

 

U.S. Army and Marine strategists today are simultaneously challenging the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept, which U.S. Air Force and Navy planners developed to counter anti-access threats, and trying to shoehorn infantry and amphibious forces into a central role in ASB. But it is hard to argue with Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments President Andrew Krepinevich, who says: “If the Marines and the Army landed on the coast of China, it would be a story on page A17 of The People’s Daily.”

 

The tough lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan is that “invasion is not a business we can afford to be in,” Krepinevich says. One reason that defense cuts look as scary to the industry as they do is that personnel costs have ballooned, to sustain recruitment and retention through the longest and largest combat deployments ever attempted without conscription. Consequently, budget cuts will fall heavily on procurement.

 

Land force structure will not be alone in facing review. The last 30 years of U.S. combat aircraft procurement have been about adding stealth technology to every combat aircraft in the force while protecting the numbers of squadrons and wings. In 2030 we will be nearly halfway there, if all goes well, which so far it has not.

 

The Navy planned its smallest warship in decades, the Littoral Combat Ship, to sustain the count of surface commands as the Navy commissioned the stealthy Zumwalt-class, a so-called destroyer that is the biggest Navy surface combatant in 50 years. But even with the Zumwalt program cut back, the Navy faces a tough time building and sustaining a balanced fleet unless it is ready to reduce numbers.

 

The common thread to all of the points above: Strategy is matching resources to goals, and does not start with force numbers—although they make impressive images (see photo). Another area where austerity will drive change is the business of procurement: not another well-intentioned “reform” that entrenches an extra layer of bureaucracy, but a restructuring that reflects the unique realities of defense. These include monopsony (a single customer), long product lives (defense equipment sees relatively little use in peacetime) and consequently low production rates (because replacement is slow). Between them, they drive the enterprise away from a free-market ideal.

 

After the Cold War, the U.S. used its monopsony power to enforce consolidation in the arms industry. Money was poured into a few winner-take-all-forever programs, whereupon most participants dumped their remaining plowshare divisions, acquired competing sword-makers and (in many cases) shut them down to reduce capacity and raise margins.

 

The pure-play defense companies which emerged from this process cannot generate growth for their shareholders if the procurement budget slumps, and will be under increasing pressure from more-diverse companies. That may not be a bad thing. This isn’t the 1950s, when military aircraft were built in thousands and successful commercial aircraft in hundreds, and the cutting edge of almost every technology was in defense. Defense systems should harvest commercial supply chains for subsystems and materials, reducing cost and development time. One way to facilitate that will be for armed forces to buy more materiel (including components) from mixed-economy contractors.

 

It is time for defense customers to recognize that when it comes to big-ticket items, competition in the development stage is an expensive fiction. Again, this is not the era where you could lose one fighter competition and win another two months later. France has been managing without prime-contractor competitions since Dassault bought Breguet in 1971, and Sweden has never done it any other way. The challenge today is to identify what skills and technologies are unique and vital, and preserve them as efficiently as possible. State capitalism, industrial policy and mercantilism are naughty words today, but unfortunately are inevitable in defense.

 

Huge organizations, Krepinevich points out, seldom change their behaviors except in response to a major change in resources or catastrophic failure. When it comes to defense, better the former than the latter.

 

 

U.S. Military Bets $20 Million On 500 Electric Vehicles For EV-To-Grid Initiative

 

CleanTechnica.com

January 13, 2013

Tina Casey

 

 

Among the many (many, many) sustainable energy programs recently launched by the U.S. military, the Defense Department’s new military electric-vehicles-to-grid initiative is especially worth noting. With the announcement of a $20 million, 500-vehicle leasing program soon to get underway, in one fell swoop it’s going to accelerate several major trends that have been slowly leaking into the civilian mainstream.

 

That includes the marriage of zero emission electric vehicles with the potential for zero-emission recharging from solar panels or other renewable sources, smart grid technology with off-peak power maximization, and the flexibility of local energy storage to help secure facilities (or individual buildings) against brownouts and more serious grid disruptions.

 

 

500 More Electric Vehicles for the U.S. Military

 

The new lease program, which is expected to get underway later this year, will cover a variety of off-the-shelf vehicles ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 in the commercial market.

 

The 500 vehicles will be split among six installations, with Los Angeles Air Force Base taking the lead.

 

If that name rings a bell, you may recall that a little over a year ago LA AFB announced that it would become the first federal government facility ever to replace 100 percent of its fleet (its non-tactical fleet, that is) with electric vehicles. The new lease program is based partly on lessons learned from that program, which covered non-emergency sedans and buses as well as light trucks.

 

Coincidentally, LA AFB is also an early solar energy leader, and its all-EV initiative includes solar charging as well as a demonstration ground for EV-to-grid systems. Basically, the electric vehicles serve as mobile energy storage units. They can be charged at off-peak hours to take advantage of lower electricity rates and/or any available renewable energy, and when integrated with a smart microgrid they be called into play to help alleviate stress on the local grid during periods of peak use.

 

Many Benefits from Military’s Transition to Electric Vehicles

 

As described by Camron Gorguinpour, special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, the prospect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at military facilities is side benefit to the main attractions of switching to EV’s: saving money on fleet expenses, meeting energy efficiency goals

 

For those of you wondering why leasing is the preferred option, the typical lifespan of a non-tactical military vehicle is far longer than the current pace of innovation in EV technology. By leasing, the Defense Department can roll over its EV fleet more quickly to take advantage of new models.

 

As for the 500 vehicles, that’s just a drop in the bucket of DoD’s fleet of non-tactical ground vehicles, which last time we looked numbered about 190,000. Just imagine what kind of market demand is going to kick in if and when this initial program proves its worth and DoD ramps up the pace of its EV transition.

 

The Coming EV-to-Grid Revolution

 

Meanwhile, back in the civilian sector, a mirror trend has been taking place in which consumers are finding themselves at the cusp of a transition from vehicles that you just fill up and drive, to vehicles that partner with you to achieve the most efficient, lowest-cost, lowest-emission energy consumption patterns across the spectrum of your needs, from mobility to household use.

 

 

 

We’ve already seen a steady growth in the integration of EV manufacturers, charging station manufacturers and rooftop solar companies, and now auto manufacturers are taking it to the next level.

 

Ford seems to be first out of the box with its MyEnergi Lifestyle EV package, which encourages EV owners to think of a car as the biggest electrical appliance they will ever own, one that can store renewable energy, take advantage of off-peak pricing to lower costs, and interact with other household appliances through a cloud-based mini-grid.

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/01/13/500-more-military-electric-vehicles-under-ev-to-grid-program/

 

Bottom of Form

Treasury Has Options on Debt Ceiling But All of Them Are Ugly

National Journal

by Niraj Chokshi

Updated: January 14, 2013

If past is precedent, the Treasury Department has four responses to bumping up against the nation’s borrowing limit, none of them great.

Unless Congress acts, the federal government will likely hit its debt ceiling sometime between Feb. 15 and March 1, according to a recent analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The administration has already sworn off two potential responses: using the 14th amendment to continue borrowing anyway and minting a $1 trillion platinum coin, which a Treasury spokesman this weekend said cannot and should not be used.

But neither were among the four ideas Treasury considered when the debt limit reared its head just a year and a half ago. None of those ideas offered much hope for averting disaster, though, according to a Treasury Inspector General’s report.

“Treasury reached the same conclusion that other administrations had reached about these options—none of them could reasonably protect the full faith and credit of the U.S., the American economy, or individual citizens from very serious harm,” Inspector General Eric Thorson wrote in an August report on the debt-limit crisis in the summer of 2011.

Here are the four ideas Treasury considered, and why officials decided each was less than ideal:

1. A “Fire Sale.” To raise money to pay for the government’s many ongoing commitments, Treasury considered selling assets, specifically gold, mortgage securities, investments from its Troubled Asset Relief Program, or the government’s portfolio of student loans, according to the report. But the officials quickly decided that doing so would reek of desperation or have negative unintended consequences.

2. Across-the-Board Cuts. Officials considered implementing a broad cut—say by 40 percent—to its many obligations, but decided that their computers probably wouldn’t be able to handle it: “Treasury’s payment systems are not designed to make such across-the-board cuts,” the officials concluded, according to the report.

3. Prioritizing Bills. Treasury considered picking and choosing which bills to pay, but officials decided Congress hadn’t granted Treasury such authority. “[T]here is no fair or sensible way to pick and choose among the many bills that come due every day,” they concluded. And, as with the cuts, the agency’s computers “are designed to make each payment in the order it comes due.”

4. Pay Bills as You Can. Officials determined that the idea of delaying payments was the “least harmful” of Treasury’s “very bad options.” The idea was simple: Treasury would pay in full the bills it can as money comes in. But they concluded that such delays would quickly snowball “potentially causing great hardships to millions of Americans and harm to the economy.”

 

Hagel Would Bring Outsider’s Perspective to Tighter Defense Budget

CQ NEWS

Jan. 14, 2013 – 7:29 a.m.

By Megan Scully, CQ Roll Call

 

If he makes it through Senate confirmation, Chuck Hagel would become Defense secretary at a critical time for a department facing likely spending cuts that will force tough decisions about the military’s role in the world and the weapons and skills it needs to carry out its missions — and, perhaps even more importantly, what it can live without.

 

The Nebraska Republican, or whoever the next Pentagon chief is, will have to redesign the military after a decade of war into a smaller force with fewer resources at its disposal, said Andrew J. Bacevich, an Army veteran who teaches history at Boston University.

 

Hagel’s vision for what he wants the military to look like in the next five or 10 years may be the most important issue he could be asked at his confirmation hearing. So far, however, his critics have focused mostly on his past statements related to Israel, Iran sanctions and other foreign policy topics.

 

“All this hoopla about Israel and Iran is mostly a distraction,” Bacevich said, adding that it would be a “missed opportunity” for lawmakers to focus on those issues — and not the future direction of the military — during Hagel’s confirmation hearing.

 

Unlike some of the other candidates considered for the top Pentagon job, Hagel is something of an outsider in defense circles, with little track record on or known allegiance to any of the military’s multibillion-dollar ground, sea and air programs or the companies that produce these pricey weapons. Indeed, campaign finance records show that he collected more money from the livestock industry than from defense donors in his last Senate campaign.

 

During his two terms in the Senate, Hagel focused intensely on foreign relations, diving into military matters when he bucked his party and came out in opposition to the Iraq war.

 

Hagel also supported nuclear nonproliferation efforts, introducing a bill in 2007 with then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois aimed at reducing nuclear arsenals around the world and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and related material and technology. Other cosponsors included Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., Obama’s pick for secretary of State.

 

But Hagel, the first enlisted soldier ever nominated to be Defense secretary, never sat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And when he did weigh in during debates on annual defense authorization bills, his efforts were often aimed at improving care and the quality of life for members of the military and their families.

 

Where Would He Trim?

The biggest hint of his leanings on defense spending came in a 2011 interview with the Financial Times, in which Hagel called the Pentagon’s budget “bloated” and said it could be “pared down.” The Defense Department, Hagel added during that interview, has not looked at itself strategically or critically in a long time.

 

His thinking is hardly at odds with many lawmakers, including some Republicans, who have become increasingly frustrated with the Pentagon’s wasteful spending as it enjoyed historic budget increases over a decade of war. Just what Hagel thinks the Pentagon could do without, however, is virtually unknown.

 

His outsider status may not be a bad thing, some analysts say. The next Defense secretary will have to grapple not only with budget cuts, but also what the military’s post-Iraq and Afghanistan role should be.

 

Assuming he is confirmed, Hagel will almost immediately get to work overseeing the Quadrennial Defense Review, a once-every-four-years document outlining defense plans and priorities. During his tenure, he will also start long-term budget planning that stretches into the 2020s, when bills for big-ticket items like the Air Force’s next bomber and the Navy’s next ballistic-missile submarine come due.

 

“Maybe it’s an advantage to have a secretary who doesn’t come with a lot of biases, a lot of pre-judgments,” said David Berteau, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If I were a component in DoD, I’d be looking at this as an opportunity because if you don’t have a bias, then presumably you have an open mind. And this may be a good time for an open mind.”

 

Berteau, however, made one caveat: Hagel’s deputy must be well-versed in navigating the Pentagon bureaucracy. The current deputy secretary, Ashton B. Carter, previously served as the department’s acquisition chief — experience that, Berteau said, lines up with the qualities and characteristics that Hagel would need in his No. 2.

 

 

US taps pension fund to avoid passing debt limit

 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government has begun borrowing from the federal employee pension fund to keep operating without surpassing its debt limit.

 

Seattle Times

Originally published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 1:20 PM

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON —

 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government has begun borrowing from the federal employee pension fund to keep operating without surpassing its debt limit.

 

Geithner says in a letter to congressional leaders that the move will free up $156 billion in borrowing authority while Congress debates increasing the $16.4 trillion debt limit.

 

The government reached its borrowing limit on Dec. 31, but began using bookkeeping maneuvers to keep from surpassing it. Geithner has told congressional leaders that Treasury expects to exhaust those measures by mid-February to early March.

 

The latest action has been taken by other Treasury secretaries and will not put in jeopardy any monthly pension payments. Geithner said he will replace the funds removed from the pension account after the borrowing limit is raised.

 

 

 

Air Force Issues Directive to Soften Sequestration Blow

 

Air Force Magazine

January 16, 2013

Amy McCullough

 

Air Force leaders issued a directive to the major commands on Monday intended to soften the blow of budget sequestration, said Acting Undersecretary of the Air Force Jamie Morin. “We’ve moved from planning and analysis to directing at least a subset of actions,” said Morin during an AFA-sponsored Air Force breakfast program address in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 15.

 

The new guidance is based on a Jan. 7 memo that Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh sent to Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. The memo outlined the potential steps that the Air Force could take to lessen the impact of the budget sequester if it takes effect in March and the Defense Department also continues to operate under a continuing resolution, which keeps funding at Fiscal 2012 levels.

 

Morin acknowledged that any actions that the Air Force takes will do little to prevent further severe cuts and readiness reductions if Congress does not resolve the double threat of sequestration and the continuing resolution by then. “It greatly complicates resource planning at a time when we absolutely must squeeze the maximum amount of combat capability out of each taxpayer dollar that’s entrusted to us,” he said. (See also As Bad as it Gets.)


 


As Bad as It Gets

 

Budget sequestration will severely damage Air Force readiness if it is triggered on March 1, 2013, states a memo from the service’s leadership to Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

—John A. Tirpak


Air Force Magazine

Jan. 14, 2013

 

Budget sequestration will severely damage Air Force readiness if it is triggered on March 1, states a memo last week from the service’s leadership to Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

 

According to the Jan. 7 memo, signed by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force can no longer simply hope Congress will avoid the postponed sequester and is therefore taking steps to blunt the effects, which in any case will have “immediate and devastating impacts to readiness.”

 

Specifically, since combat units must have top priority, the Air Force will apply the mandated spending cuts to any units not in Afghanistan or spooling up to go there, “sacrificing preparedness for contingencies or [operations plans],” states the memo.

 

The 18-percent reduction would be applied “disproportionately across the force,” causing some units to “stand down for extended periods,” with a possible “flying standdown from late July through September,” wrote Donley and Welsh.

 

These units will “likely fall to the lowest readiness levels and will require extensive time and funding to recover,” losing more than 200,000 flying hours, states the memo.

 

Sequester will force backlogs in depot maintenance, and “the 50/50 organic/contractor depot ratio” may have to be abandoned, it states.

 

Massive civilian furloughs across the Active Duty component, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve would create “immediate capability gaps in all critical skill sets,” ravaging morale and productivity, wrote Donley and Welsh.

 

The service would have to defer all military construction, ranging from runway repairs to new mission beddowns to range upgrades, thereby driving “substantial costs in the future,” states the memo.

 

In acquisition programs, the sequester—coming on top of a year’s worth of continuing resolution rather than a real budget—will create “a protracted, disruptive effect” on contracts, and will “result in delayed delivery of modernization capability, which is already undercapitalized to meet the new defense strategy,” wrote Donley and Welsh.

 

 

Malware Infects US Power Facilities Through USB Drives

ICS-CERT recommends power plants adopt new USB practices

 

CIO.com

By Grant Gross

Tue, January 15, 2013

 

 

IDG News Service (Washington, D.C., Bureau) — Two U.S. power companies reported infections of malware during the past three months, with the bad software apparently brought in through tainted USB drives, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT).

 

In one case, the industrial control system at a power generation facility was infected with “common and sophisticated malware” apparently through an employee’s USB drive, according to the ICS-CERT Monitor for October to December 2012.

 

The publication did not name the malware discovered. The tainted USB drive came in contact with a “handful of machines” at the power generation facility and investigators found sophisticated malware on two engineering workstations critical to the operation of the control environment, ICS-CERT said.

 

Investigators didn’t find malware on 11 other workstations examined, ICS-CERT said.

 

ICS-CERT recommended that the power facility adopt new USB use guidelines, including the cleaning of a USB device before each use.

 

In the second incident, a power company contacted ICS-CERT in early October to report a virus infection in a turbine control system. About 10 computers were affected, ICS-CERT said.

 

An outside technician used a USB drive to upload software updates during equipment upgrades, ICS-CERT said. The malware delayed the plant’s reopening by three weeks, the organization said.

 

Feds: Infected USB drive idled power plant 3 weeks

Homeland Security cyber sleuths say ‘crimeware’ found in October. Second plant also hit.

 

USA TODAY

10:29p.m. EST January 16, 2013

Michael Winter

 

 

 

A USB drive tainted with “crimeware” infected a turbine-control system at a U.S. power plant in early October and delayed its restart by three weeks, according to the Homeland Security Department.

 

At another plant, government computer experts discovered “common and sophisticated malware” on several workstations, including two that were critical to the plant’s operation. There was no mention of whether the infection might have come from individuals or other governments.

 

Neither facility was identified by the U.S. Cyber Emergency Readiness Team (CERT). As Reuters notes, DHS rarely identifies infrastructure hit by viruses.

 

In the October incident, an outside technician used a USB drive to upload software updates while the plant was shut down for equipment upgrades, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) reported. The malicious software, a form of Trojan virus used for identify theft, infected about 10 computers.

 

The quarterly report indicated that the power plant’s antivirus and security precautions were not up to date.

 

In the second incident — CERT does not say when — an employee asked IT staff to inspect a USB drive he used to back up control systems. Up-to-date antivirus “produced three positive hits” for a virus, including one “linked to known sophisticated malware.”

The utility then called ICS-CERT, which reported:

 

ICS-CERT’s onsite discussions with company personnel revealed a handful of machines that likely had contact with the tainted USB drive. These machines were examined immediately and drive images were taken for in-depth analysis. ICS-CERT also performed preliminary onsite analysis of those machines and discovered signs of the sophisticated malware on two engineering workstations, both critical to the operation of the control environment. Detailed analysis was conducted as these workstations had no backups, and an ineffective or failed cleanup would have significantly impaired their operations.

 

No signs of infection were found on 11 other crucial workstations.

 

CERT did not say whether the second infection disrupted plant operations.

 

Last week, Homeland Security urged computer users to disable or uninstall the Java programming language because of a serious security vulnerability that lets hackers install malicious code that can steal personal information.

 

 

Air Force cuts imminent

 

A “definitive plan” is expected by late this week or early next week

 

Dayton Daily News

Posted: 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013

By Barrie Barber

 

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE —

 

 

Air Force Materiel Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base expects to determine within days how to impose funding cuts at the base and at sites coast-to-coast, a spokesman said Wednesday.

 

The move is in preparation for the possibility of massive cuts to defense spending set to strike in March.

 

Air Force leadership has told AFMC it may impose:

 

* a civilian hiring freeze;

 

* fire temporary employees;

 

* not renew contracts with contracted employees;

 

* curtail unnecessary travel;

 

* stop or curb minor purchases such as furniture and computers;

 

* defer maintenance and modernization projects, among other actions.

 

Further actions at a later date could include civilian workforce furloughs if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to avert budget cuts in March, according to the Air Force.

 

Wright-Patterson, the state’s largest single site employer with more than 29,700 military and civilian personnel, falls under the authority of AFMC, its largest command and biggest employer within the base.

 

AFMC spokesman Ron Fry said Wednesday that headquarters staff has begun working with leaders at nine Air Force bases within the command to come up with a “definitive plan” by late this week or early next week on how and when to carry out the directive. Whatever is decided could impact more than 80,000 AFMC military and civilian personnel who work nationwide. Of those, more than 60,000 employees are civilians.

 

At Wright-Patterson, the command has oversight of the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

 

“I opposed sequestration from the beginning because I knew it would result in job losses and cuts at Wright-Patt,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, said Wednesday. “The uncertainty that comes with sequestration as well as its potential impact will have far reaching consequences for our uniformed servicemembers, civilian personnel, and the defense contractor industry as a whole.”

 

Turner’s congressional district covers Montgomery and Greene counties.

 

The continuing unknown about whether Congress and the president will avert nearly $500 billion in mandatory, across-the-board cuts by a March 1 deadline to the Department of Defense has caused consumer confidence to wane, said Phillip L. Parker, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. The Pentagon has already agreed to absorb an additional $487 billion over a decade.

 

Additionally, a continuing budget resolution which carries over funding levels from the prior year expires March 27. Federal lawmakers also face a showdown over raising the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling in the weeks ahead.

 

“We all know that has a chilling effect if you don’t have consumer confidence if you don’t know what’s going to happen with your career or your job,” Parker said. “This is very frustrating, it’s very alarming, it’s very concerning because Wright-Patt is such an important economic engine in our community.”

 

Civilian fuloughs are possible

 

In a Jan. 14 memo, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Larry O. Spencer and Jamie M. Morin, acting under secretary of the Air Force, outlined the actions because of continued budget uncertainty and a projected $1.8 billion shortfall this fiscal year to pay for overseas contingency operations.

 

“Our intent with these initial actions is to pursue reversible or recoverable steps and avoid impacts to core readiness,” the memo said. If the Air Force didn’t act now with additional cuts pending, the effects “would be even more devastating on readiness,” the two leaders wrote.

 

Spencer and Morin urged commanders and civilian directors to “minimize harmful effects on our people and unit readiness,” but left open the possibility of civilian furloughs of 22 work days or a 30-day calendar month if further budget cuts cannot be avoided.

 

Along with restricting civilian hiring, curtailing flying not related to readiness, and curbing travel and purchases, the memo mentioned “where practical” to “de-obligate/incrementally” fund contracts for only this fiscal year in areas such as base maintenance, advisory and assistance services and custodial contracts and to look for “longer term savings” as well.

 

Senior officials could make exceptions to the cuts for “mission critical activities and civilian positions,” the two leaders said.

 

The near-term actions would achieve a small portion of the cuts needed for sequestration, but if larger cuts hit the two warned “immediate actions with serious negative impacts to core readiness programs will be required.” Those longer-term actions could include civilian workforce furloughs. “However, we very much hope Congress will address the current budgetary uncertainty and allow us to avoid these actions,” they wrote.

 

The Air Force would provide additional direction when appropriate, the memo said. “We encourage you to plan for additional actions to meet adjusted funding levels,” the two wrote.

 

Along with Wright-Patterson, the other major installations that would be impacted include: Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.; Robins Air Force Base, Ga.; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn.; Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.; Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

 

Navy secretary calls for cuts in IT spending

 

NextGov

By Bob Brewin

January 16, 2013

 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus outlined a range of cost cutting measures, including unspecified cuts in the service’s $1 billion fiscal 2013 IT budget, to conserve funds as the Obama administration and Congress dilly-dally over current budgets and long term fiscal plans.

 

Mabus, in an all hands message last Friday, said the service faces an “immediate fiscal challenge” due to the lack of a fiscal 2013 appropriations bill, which leaves the Navy operating under a continuing resolution. The stopgap spending bill “locks us into lower fiscal 2012 levels for our operations and maintenance accounts, despite increasing responsibilities, which demand increased resources,” he said.

 

Faced with a budget crunch, Mabus said, “We must enact prudent, but stringent belt-tightening measures now that will permit us to operate the Navy and Marine Corps through the rest of the year if the CR is extended.”

 

These measures include:

• Terminating temporary employees, except those engaged in mission critical work;

• Freezing civilian hiring;

• Curtailing administrative contracting support services;

• Cutting back on spending facilities support and modernization;

• Reducing travel;

• Delaying all ship decommissioning and layups.

 

http://www.nextgov.com/defense/whats-brewin/2013/01/navy-secretary-calls-cuts-it-spending/60719/

 

 

Government hires banks to hold GM stock sale

Miami Herald

By TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN

AP Auto Writers

 

 

DETROIT — The U.S. Treasury Department has hired JPMorgan Securities and Citigroup Global Markets to sell its remaining stake in General Motors and bring an end to almost four years of partial government ownership of the car maker.

 

The government, which got its stake in a $49.5 billion bailout of the company in 2009, still holds 300 million shares of GM common stock, giving it 19 percent of the auto giant. Treasury officials revealed hiring JPMorgan and Citigroup on Wednesday in documents posted on the department’s website.

 

The banks will get one cent for every share they sell for a fee of up to $3 million.

 

The documents gave no timetable for sale of the remaining shares, but the government has said it intends to be out of GM by early next year. Contracts with the two banks run through Jan. 14, 2014, but can be extended in 90-day increments or through mutual agreement. Extensions can’t go longer than Jan. 14, 2017.

 

When the stock is finally sold, it will end a sad chapter in GM’s history. The company nearly ran out of cash in 2008 and needed government money to survive a trip through bankruptcy reorganization. Since then, GM has posted 11 straight quarters of profits, piling up $16 billion in net income. Last month, the company bought 200 million of its shares from the government for $5.5 billion.

 

The bailout has rankled many taxpayers who thought the government shouldn’t have interfered with the company’s business. Some still call GM “Government Motors.”

 

President Obama, who was responsible for engineering much of the bailout, touted his role in the 2012 presidential election, saying it saved 1 million jobs and prevented the collapse of America’s auto industry. GM has said that once the shares are sold, it expects its sales to increase. Some people have refused to buy GM cars and trucks as long as the government owns a stake.

 

The government is still $21.5 billion in the hole on the GM bailout. Breaking even would require selling the remaining 300 million shares for an average of about $70 each – more than double the current trading price.

 

The Treasury Department has held the stock for more than two years, awaiting a better price. GM shares sold for $33 each when they began publicly trading again in November, 2010. The shares rose shortly after the sale but fell dramatically early this year as the U.S. economy slowed and Europe headed toward recession. Then, a strengthening U.S. auto sales recovery and the stock buyback pushed the price back above $30 for a time.

 

GM shares closed down $1.29, or 4 percent, at $29.31 on Wednesday.

 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/01/16/3185891/government-hires-banks-to-hold.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

 

Over the Hill, Already: 50 May Be the New 70

CNBC

By Mark Koba | CNBC – Tue, Jan 15, 2013 3:46 PM EST

 

Too old for the job and time to make room for the younger generation? Jack Ma thinks so.

 

Jack Ma says the strain of the job makes him feel … well, a little too old. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Imag …He’s the CEO of Alibaba Group, the e-commerce conglomerate who said Tuesday he’s stepping down from his post in May.

 

Jack Ma is not even a baby boomer. He’s 48 years old. But he says he’s feeling the strain of his job. “When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking, I had nothing to worry about,” Ma said in an interview.

 

In an email to employees, Ma said: “It’s because I see that Alibaba’s young people have better, more brilliant, dreams than mine, and they are more capable of building a future that belongs to them.”

 

So this begs some questions: Are careers over much sooner these days than in the past? Is the younger generation– Gen X-taking over? Or is it the even-younger Gen Y?

 

“Almost without fail, people in the 45-55 age range get to a place where they go through a professional midlife crisis,” said Sharon Hulce, president and CEO of Employment Resource Group, a search firm.

 

“They say ‘I’ve made money and done well and is this all there is?’ They know that once they get to older age they are less marketable so they make a move,” Hulce said, who is writing a book about career transitions.

 

There could be many more execs joining Ma in his ‘retirement.’ A survey of executives in June of last year by search firm ExecuNet stated that many executives were just waiting for the economy to get better so they could retire. They cited stress as one of the main reasons for wanting to leave.

 

(Read more: Why Women Don’t Save for Retirement)

 

“More and more, professionals are feeling burnt out and discouraged, and are in turn leaving the workforce because they can’t find any level of alignment between work and life,” says Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of staffing firm Mom Corps.

 

“High level professionals are finding that their careers are too demanding and as a result they are choosing family and personal life over career to find relief,” O’Kelly said.

 

As for generation Y or X or even Z, Hulce says they may be some draw backs to them taking over the reins.

 

“There mind set is different. They’ve seen their parents struggle and they figure what’s the point of staying at a company for a long time,” Hulce said. “They are more focused on personal flexibility and having their wants met. They may have great ideas but they won’t be there long. This is a trend that’s going to keep happening.”

 

And for those who aren’t in the executive suite? Many don’t have the luxury of becoming a Jack Ma as they are forced to keep working into the golden years whether they want to or not, because of layoffs and a struggling job market.

 

“The recent economy has choked the job flow and employees as well as all business owners in their 50s and 60s are getting chewed up and spit out without job security that they once had,” said relationship expert and author April Masini.

 

Of course, Ma’s not completely retiring. He will stay on in the less stressful position of chairman of the firm. He’s also said to be worth $3.4 billion, so he can make this type of move without dipping into his retirement fund.

 

Which makes retiring or a career change easier for some — and difficult for others.

 

“Jack Ma is not a good example of people wanting to retire earlier,” said Randy Strauss, Managing Partner of Strauss Group Inc a placement agency. “He’s very wealthy. I’d retire also if I were in his shoes.”

 

 

DoD leaders warn Congress of ‘hollow’ force

 

By Robert Burns – The Associated Press

Posted : Wednesday Jan 16, 2013 19:10:00 EST

 

http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2013/01/ap-pentagon-leaders-warn-congress-hollow-force-011613/

 

 

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top military leaders warned Congress in unusually stark terms that its failure to pass a 2013 defense budget — coupled with the threat of automatic budget cuts — has pushed the Pentagon to the brink of a crisis.

 

They wrote in a joint letter to congressional leaders that the readiness of U.S. armed forces is at a “tipping point.”

 

A copy of the letter was provided Wednesday to The Associated Press.

 

The military leaders said that troops in combat and those who are being treated for wounds will get the funds needed. But the rest of the force will be severely compromised if the Pentagon has to continue operating on last year’s budget.

 

“We are on the brink of creating a hollow force,” said the letter signed by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and National Guard, as well as the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

The Pentagon is facing two major money problems. First is the threat of drastic additional budget cuts if Congress and the Obama administration are unable to agree on debt-reduction measures by March. The second is Congress’ failure thus far to pass a 2013 budget; that has left the Pentagon on a spending path based on its previous budget.

 

In their letter the military leaders said the main risk is that budget conditions will create such a wide disconnect between their spending needs and the available funds that the armed forces will be ill prepared for future combat.

 

“Should this looming readiness crisis be left unaddressed, we will have to ground aircraft, return ships to port, and stop driving combat vehicles in training,” they wrote, adding that training would have to be reducing by almost half of what was planning just three months ago.

 

“To avert this crisis we urge you to take immediate action to provide adequate and stable funding for readiness,” they wrote.

 

“Under current budgetary uncertainty, we are at grave risk of an imposed mismatch between the size of our nation’s military force and the funding required to maintain its readiness, which will inevitably lead to a hollow force.”

 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been making similar arguments. Last Thursday he told a Pentagon news conference that the threat of drastic spending cuts triggered by failure to reach a debt-reduction deal by March, coupled with Congress’ failure to pass a 2013 defense budget, is creating “a perfect storm of budget uncertainty.”

 

“We have no idea what the hell’s going to happen,” he said. “All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness.”

 

In a statement responding to the Joint Chiefs’ letter, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that it should serve as a “wake-up call” to Congress and the White House.

 

“The condition of our armed forces is swiftly declining. And this is the first red flag on what could be a hazardous road for our national security,” said McKeon, R-Calif.

 

 

 

FAA seeks to ban pilots’ use of personal devices while in the air

 

It’s long been prohibited for pilots to use a cell phone, tablet, or laptop during take off or landing, but a new rule could forbid pilots’ use of electronic devices for the entire flight.

 

Cnet

by Dara Kerr

|January 15, 2013 5:26 PM PST

 

 

The Federal Aviation Administration looks to be tightening the screws on what personal devices pilots are allowed to use while in the air.

 

A new proposal, which the agency published in the Federal Register today, aims to stop pilots from using electronic devices for any type of personal use while in the cockpit. The proposal comes after a handful of incidents gave the FAA cause for concern.

“The personal use of personal wireless communications devices and laptop computers for non-safety related activities is prohibited by the broad restrictions in the current ‘Sterile Cockpit’ rule during ground operations involving taxi, take-off and landing, and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet,” the proposal reads. “The proposed requirements in this NPRM [Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking] would extend the prohibition on personal use of personal wireless communications devices and laptop computers to all phases of flight.”

 

The incidents that prompted the FAA to address this issue involved pilots not paying full attention to their flight duties. For example, in one instance in October 2009, two pilots using their laptop computers during the cruise portion of the flight flew past their destination by 150 miles.

 

While the FAA is looking to ban personal use of electronic devices, pilots will still be able to use laptops, iPads, or other devices that are needed for operating an airplane. Some airlines have forged into new tech territory by giving pilots tablets for work purposes. For example, American Airlines was the first commercial carrier to toss out its heavy paper-based flight manuals in lieu of iPads — saving the airline $1.2 million in gas costs.

 

This FAA proposal is now being reviewed during an open comment period that will wrap up on March 18. It is expected that the agency will then make its decision on the proposed ban.

 

 

 

Pentagon cyberwarriors to unload some defensive tasks to big data

 

NextGov

By Aliya Sternstein

January 14, 2013

 

The Defense Department hopes to offload some of the work of analyzing network vulnerabilities to a machine, Pentagon officials said on Friday.

 

The Cyber Targeted Attack Analyzer is intended to reduce the workload for the department’s short-handed cyber forces by organizing information from “disparate network data sources” to more easily see computer abnormalities, according to the Pentagon’s laboratory. Information technology development efforts will kick off with a briefing for prospective contractors on Jan. 30, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials said. DARPA expects to release a solicitation for project proposals within a few weeks afterward.

 

The trick will be reeling in all that intelligence from devices that are not necessarily compatible.

 

“Changing the way the information in the IT infrastructure is acquired, processed and made available” will help tackle the “scale-of-data” problem, DARPA officials said in announcing the industry event.

 

The ideal technology would need to automatically index data sources without much human intervention, according to officials. The CAT program “seeks to reduce the amount of time cyber defenders in the Department of Defense spend discovering cyber-attacks by federating and correlating” dissimilar data streams, officials said.

 

But the tool also must allow humans to exercise judgment so that they can, for instance, “query relationships between any connected data fields across the network” to probe irregularities further, officials added.

 

The contract labor likely will be divided into two sections, with one effort focused on research to devise a functioning system, and the other concentrating on testing to ensure the envisioned technology works and is secure.

 

The CAT program is one of several ongoing big data projects at DARPA related to cybersecurity.

 

The Pentagon is plowing $250 million annually into initiatives aimed at harnessing large data sets at the agency, the National Security Agency’s code-cracking division, and elsewhere. For example, DARPA’s Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales, or ADAMS, system looks for willful or inadvertent malicious actions taken by trusted individuals — insider threats — against a backdrop of normal network activity. Another experimental technology, the Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool, or VIRAT, scouts for dangerous combinations of videotaped activities captured by battlefield sensors that Defense would never have the time or people to review.

 

http://www.nextgov.com/big-data/2013/01/pentagon-cyberwarriors-unload-some-defensive-tasks-big-data/60633/

 

 

DHS: 40 percent of cyberattacks targeted energy sector

 

The Hill

By Zack Colman – 01/14/13 04:27 PM ET

 

 

The energy sector was the target of more than 40 percent of all reported cyberattacks on critical infrastructure networks last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

 

Malicious attacks on oil-and-gas pipelines and electric utilities occurred at an “alarming rate,” DHS’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team warns in a recent report.

 

The report, which is likely to heighten concerns about the security of the nation’s infrastructure, comes as President Obama is set to roll out an executive order on cybersecurity. That directive could be released as soon as this month.

 

The administration began designing the order when congressional efforts to pass cybersecurity legislation failed in August.

 

The document would likely craft incentives to entice critical infrastructure operators — such as the electric grid — to join a voluntary cybersecurity standards program.

 

Republicans had opposed standards for critical infrastructure networks, fearing even voluntary rules would eventually turn into new regulations. But Democrats and Obama have said such networks are too vital to ignore.

 

Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has warned that the national power system is vulnerable to cyber attacks.

 

As the nation’s top electric grid regulator, Wellinghoff has consistently called for a federal agency to be given more authority to protect the electric grid. He has said no entity currently has legal permission to intervene to defend the nation’s power grid against cyberattacks.

 

Source:

http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/277045-dhs-energy-sector-target-of-40-percent-of-cyber-attacks

 

 

Flu vaccine attitudes abroad differ from U.S.

By Jen Christensen, CNN

updated 11:20 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013

 

(CNN) — The flu hasn’t hit Europe as hard as it has the United States, health officials say, but when and if it does, don’t expect a call for vaccination of the entire population.

 

Only the U.S. and Canada actually encourage everyone older than 6 months to get the flu vaccine.

 

Apparently, not a single country in Europe asks the general population to seek that same kind of protection, according to Robb Butler, the World Health Organization technical officer in vaccine preventable diseases and immunizations in the organization’s Europe office in the Netherlands.

 

That’s because global health experts say the data aren’t there yet to support this kind of blanket vaccination policy, nor is there enough money. In fact, some scientists say the enthusiasm for mass vaccination in the United States may hurt efforts to create a better vaccine.

 

Are we near a flu peak?

This year, a year in which the vaccine is supposed to be a good match to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the vaccine is only 62% effective.

 

And in the segments of the population that are most susceptible to the extreme effects of the flu — like the elderly, who make up the majority of the cases of flu-related deaths — the vaccinations are even less effective.

 

So is why is everyone urged to get vaccinated?

 

Simply put, it’s a clearer policy, and some protection is better than none at all, according to Dr. William Schaffner, the chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. He was also on the national committee that made the decision to encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

 

“It was debated by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for many years, and the indication for the use of influenza vaccine for an increasing number of groups on a piecemeal basis didn’t make sense,” Schaffner said.

 

In 2010, the CDC expanded its guidance encouraging the vaccination of vulnerable population groups.

 

“When you do the back-of-the-envelope calculations (of all the separate groups recommended for vaccination), you are actually already making a recommendation that 75% of the population get it,” Schaffner said. “And when it became apparent the issue of shortages was largely put on the back burner, then in 2010, we said, ‘Let’s simplify this and recommended this vaccine for anyone over 6 months old.'”

 

It also helps that the flu vaccine is easy to get, he said. Pharmacies offer it. Companies sometimes bring in nurses to give shots to their employees on site. In Europe, only doctors are legally allowed to administer the vaccine, according to Butler.

 

There may be another economic reason for more Americans to get vaccinated — one in three U.S. workers get no paid time off when they are sick, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally, Europeans have much more generous sick leave policies.

 

“Although flu can be unpleasant, if you are otherwise healthy, the illness will usually clear up on its own and you will recover within a week,” according to Britain’s National Health Service website.

 

In a contrast to U.S. policy, the World Health Organization recommends only six “priority populations” get “the flu jab,” as it’s called in Britain.

 

These six groups are nursing home residents, people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, the elderly, pregnant women, health care workers, and children from ages 6 months to 2 years, Butler said. They are more vulnerable to the severe effects of the flu or come into contact more often with this highly contagious virus.

 

“We think the recommendations we have right now (are) a good start,” Butler said. “Universal campaigns are quite challenging and expensive.

 

“We have 53 countries in our region that all have different recommendations based on different studies and evidence, and the depth of evidence in Europe right now is pretty limited in terms of flu vaccines. We would need more evidence that more than these six key, target high-risk groups that are prioritized can benefit. ”

 

Online speculation says the U.S. call for general vaccination is merely a plot by drug companies to make a big profit.

 

Shaffner says he hears that a lot, but it’s simply not true.

 

“I have received e-mails after people hear me encourage people to get the influenza vaccine, and they tell me I’m part of some sort of pharmacy company conspiracy and that I’m compromised by them. But influenza vaccines are not real blockbuster money-making drugs,” Shaffner said.

 

“If I could take some of these skeptics and bring them to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting, they would see how carefully the members debate these issues — and it really is all for the benefit of the children and adults to prevent infectious diseases.”

 

 

Michael Osterholm, director of the Minnesota Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance at the University of Minnesota, believes people should get the vaccine, but he worries that the current policy gives the impression the vaccine is more effective than it actually is.

 

“This enthusiasm to get more people vaccinated gets in the way of a critical look at the science,” Osterholm said.

 

Osterholm co-authored “The Compelling Need for Game-Changing Influenza Vaccines,” which came out last October. It is an exhaustive study of this country’s vaccine war on flu.

 

The authors examined more than 12,000 articles, studies and transcripts dating back to 1936 and interviewed 88 experts on the influenza vaccine.

 

What they found was that there were some seasons in which the vaccination offers more protection than others, but ultimately, even in good years, the flu shot only offers moderate protection — a “pooled estimate of 59% for healthy adults 18 to 64 years of age, inconsistent evidence of protection in children age 2 to 17 years, and a paucity of evidence for protection in adults 65 years of age and older.”

 

For the nasal spray form of the vaccine, there is evidence of high protection for children aged 6 months to 7 years, inconsistent evidence of protection in adults 60 years of age and older, and a lack of evidence of protection in individuals between 8 and 59 years of age, the study says.

 

That analysis shows significantly less effectiveness than what has been the conventional wisdom within the scientific community, Osterholm said.

 

“In promoting vaccination, it became a mantra that it was 70 to 90% effective across all ages completely, and that wasn’t true,” Osterholm said. Historically, this expansion in policy over who should get vaccinated was based on “professional judgment and not on scientifically sound data,” he said.

 

Osterholm’s study suggests this has been a general pattern in American public health history with relation to the flu vaccine.

 

“There is a real downside to the promotion (of the current flu vaccine), as it dampens serious investment and shuts down any real interest in start-ups to create a more effective vaccine,” Osterholm said. “There is a sense that a 59% match is better than zero, but we wouldn’t accept this with a disease like measles, which we seem to take more seriously.”

 

The vaccine, however, is improving, according to Schaffner.

 

“Researchers are trying to make a genuinely better vaccine, including a universal vaccine that could combat all the different strains of flu that we could get every 10 years, as opposed to needing one annually,” Schaffner said.

 

“So cross your fingers. All of us wish we had a better vaccine. We know what we have is good, but not perfect. Until we have one, we have to do as much good as possible by vaccinating as many people as possible — and in the meantime I’ll be watching the universal vaccine trials very carefully.”

 

 

Secret intelligence, jobs of the future coming to Springfield base

 

Dayton Daily News

Posted: 10:59 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

By Andrew McGinn

Staff Writer

 

SPRINGFIELD —

 

The 178th Fighter Wing will soon start secretive intelligence work at the Springfield Air National Guard Base that no other Guard unit in the nation is doing.

 

In the almost nine years that the wing has done intelligence work, none of it was performed here because it didn’t have a secure enough building.

 

A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, is required for the handling of classified information, meaning that until the wing’s 178th Intelligence Group had such a place of its own to scrutinize satellite imagery and monitor foreign space launches, close to 300 Springfield Guardsmen worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

 

A 5,000-square-foot section of a base supply warehouse with space for 57 analysts is being renovated now at a cost of $750,000 to bring part of that work to Springfield in March or April. Construction started this past August.

 

“Even while they’re building it, you can’t have a cell phone in there. The construction workers can’t have a cell phone in there,” said Col. John M. Thompson, commander of the wing’s 178th Intelligence Group and its four squadrons.

 

By 2015, the Guard hopes to turn an additional 20,000 square feet of the warehouse into one big secure facility able to accommodate 225 analysts and even more work.

 

“We’ve got more Guardsmen working at Wright-Patt now than we have at any point in the 178th,” Thompson said. “There’s just a skeleton staff that’s out here.”

 

All said, ISR — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — missions represent the future of the Air Force, said Steven Bucci, a former Special Forces commander and former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

 

“It’s becoming the most important set of missions the guys in blue will do day to day,” said Bucci, a defense analyst for the Heritage Foundation. “Your guys in Springfield will be very busy.”

 

The wing, which traces its lineage in Springfield back to 1955, acquired an initial intelligence detachment at Wright-Patterson in 2004.

 

Even though the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process stripped the wing of its F-16 pilot instruction mission, it wasn’t until 2010 that the wing’s 800 airmen received their twofold new mission.

 

About 200 of them are tasked with remotely piloting the MQ-1 Predator, an armed reconnaissance drone, in such overseas locales as Afghanistan.

 

Those combat air patrols have been flown around the clock from the Springfield base since last February.

 

However, even more local Guardsmen — 299 in all — have been assigned unique intelligence jobs aligned with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, or NASIC, at Wright-Patterson.

 

The 178th is the only Guard unit in the nation, Thompson said, involved with geospatial intelligence, space analysis and the exploitation of foreign technology.

 

Of those 299 guardsmen, 124 are full-time. Of the intelligence group’s total personnel, 75 percent have so far gone through intelligence school for retraining at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, Thompson said.

 

Geospatial intelligence, Thompson said, is the analysis of satellite imagery.

 

As an example, he brought up the aerial photography of the Cuban Missile Crisis showing Soviet missile sites. Guardsmen in the 178th’s geospatial squadron are able to decipher what might otherwise look like benign markings in an image to the untrained eye.

 

The images, he said, come from areas of interest anywhere in the world.

 

Guardsmen involved in the technical exploitation squadron, Thompson said, might be tearing apart anything the United States can get its hands on, from foreign-made aircraft to rifles.

 

NASIC, which has more than 3,000 military and civilian personnel worldwide, officially was established as the Foreign Technology Division at the height of the Cold War in 1961.

 

The 178th’s fourth intelligence squadron performs computer network exploitation for the 659th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Fort Meade in Maryland.

 

“They’re cyber warriors,” Thompson said, adding that they’re not hackers.

 

Combined, the four squadrons produce what’s known as predictive intelligence, creating a complete picture of foreign air and space capabilities.

 

“We’re not real-time in the kill chain,” said Thompson, a former F-16 pilot who served as the last commander of the local 162nd Fighter Squadron.

 

Rather, they have another purpose.

 

“To prevent any sort of long-term or strategic surprise,” he said. “We’re not 24/7. We’re more like 9 to 5, long-term analysis.”

 

That makes the intelligence mission ideal for traditional guardsmen, Thompson said.

 

By 2015, three of the intelligence squadrons will be operating inside the fully operational, windowless secure facility in Springfield. The technical exploitation squadron, he said, will remain at Wright-Patterson, but under the management of the 178th locally.

 

It all adds up to a strengthened position for the local base in the event of another round of BRAC, Bucci said.

 

“It will pretty much solidify it,” Bucci said. “This is a great mission for your Guard unit. This one’s not going to go away for a while.”

 

As sequestration looms, Air Force rolls out hiring freeze

The U.S. Air Force is issuing a hiring freeze in preparation of sequestration and budgetary shortfalls.

 

Joe Cogliano

Senior Reporter- Dayton Business Journal

Jan 18, 2013, 9:04am EST

The U.S. Air Force has instituted a hiring freeze to prepare for the looming possibility of sequestration and budgetary shortfalls.

On Thursday, the Air Force announced the force-wide hiring freeze among other related actions in a memorandum sent to senior commanders this week.

“Civilian pay makes up a large share of the Air Force’s operating budget. With budgetary uncertainty and a projected fiscal year 2013 $1.8 billion shortfall in the Air Force funding for overseas contingency operations, Air Force leadership is taking these immediate actions to reduce the force’s expenditure rate,” the Air Force said, in a statement.

Industry observers have said sequestration could have a big impact on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which employs about 29,000 local workers and has an estimated $4.5 billion impact on the Dayton region economy. But most also agreed it would be too difficult to project the depth of the cuts before they were announced.

The new temporary hiring freeze applies to all positions open to applicants outside the Air Force for permanent, temporary and term vacancies in all appropriations, according to the memo. Reassignments and promotions within the current work force will continue because they do not affect the current force size.

External hiring actions where a job offer has not been made will be withdrawn. Exemptions from previous hiring controls do not carry over.

Additionally, commanders are directed to immediately release temporary employees, and not renew term employees. All temporary and term employees, to include reemployed annuitants that are not considered mission critical, should be separated in accordance with already established procedures.

More specific guidance on actions related to the civilian workforce hiring freeze and management of temporary and term employees is being developed and will be distributed through command channels as soon as details are available.

 

“These are uncharted waters concerning the federal budget and the effect it will have on the Air Force,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, in the memo. “It is imperative we work closely together to balance mission needs and minimize impacts to our dedicated civilian employees and their families.”

 

Officials from Air Force Materiel Command, which is headquartered at Wright-Patt, said this week a leadership team from the command “is working to determine how best to implement the Air Force-directed near-term actions to reduce spending and mitigate budget execution risks while still ensuring our mission is accomplished.”

 

More details are expected by early next week.

 

 

Tiny Solar Activity Changes Affect Earth’s Climate

By Charles Q. Choi |

SPACE.com – Thu, Jan 17, 2013 7:56 AM EST

 

 

Even small changes in solar activity can impact Earth’s climate in significant and surprisingly complex ways, researchers say.

 

The sun is a constant star when compared with many others in the galaxy. Some stars pulsate dramatically, varying wildly in size and brightness and even exploding. In comparison, the sun varies in the amount of light it emits by only 0.1 percent over the course of a relatively stable 11-year-long pattern known as the solar cycle.

 

Still, “the light reaching the top of the Earth’s atmosphere provides about 2,500 times as much energy as the total of all other sources combined,” solar physicist Greg Kopp at the University of Colorado told SPACE.com. As such, even 0.1 percent of the amount of light the sun emits exceeds all other energy sources the Earth’s atmosphere sees combined, such as the radioactivity naturally emitted from Earth’s core, Kopp explained.

 

To learn more about how such tiny variations in solar energy might impact terrestrial climate, the National Research Council (NRC) convened dozens of experts in many fields, such as plasma physics, solar activity, atmospheric chemistry, fluid dynamics and energetic particle physics.

 

 

Sun’s role in Earth’s climate

Many of the ways the scientists proposed these fluctuations in solar activity could influence Earth were complicated in nature. For instance, solar energetic particles and cosmic rays could reduce ozone levels in the stratosphere. This in turn alters the behavior of the atmosphere below it, perhaps even pushing storms on the surface off course. [Sun’s Wrath: Worst Solar Storms Ever]

 

“In the lower stratosphere, the presence of ozone causes a local warming because of the breakup of ozone molecules by ultraviolet light,” climate scientist Jerry North at Texas A&M University told SPACE.com.

 

When the ozone is removed, “the stratosphere there becomes cooler, increasing the temperature contrast between the tropics and the polar region. The contrast in temperatures in the stratosphere and the upper troposphere leads to instabilities in the atmospheric flow west to east. The instabilities make for eddies or irregular motions.”

 

These eddies feed the strength of jet streams, ultimately altering flows in the upper troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to Earth’s surface. “The geographical positioning of the jets aloft can alter the distribution of storms over the middle latitudes,” North said. “So the sun might have a role to play in this kind of process. I would have to say this would be a very difficult mechanism to prove in climate models. That does not mean it may not exist — just hard to prove.”

 

In addition, climate scientist Gerald Meehl at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and his colleagues suggest that solar variability is leaving a definite imprint on climate, especially in the Pacific Ocean.

 

When researchers look at sea surface temperature data during sunspot peak years, the tropical Pacific showed a pattern very much like that expected with La Niña, a cyclical cooling of the Pacific Ocean that regularly affects climate worldwide, with sunspot peak years leading to a cooling of almost 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the equatorial eastern Pacific. In addition, peaks in the sunspot cycle were linked with increased precipitation in a number of areas across the globe, as well as above-normal sea-level pressure in the mid-latitude North and South Pacific.

 

“The Pacific is particularly sensitive to small variations in the trade winds,” Meehl said. Solar activity may influence processes linked with trade wind strength.

 

Sun’s impact on history

Scientists have also often speculated whether the Maunder Minimum, a 70-year dearth of sunspots in the late 17th to early 18th century, was linked with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, during which Europe and North America experienced bitterly cold winters. This regional cooling might be linked with a drop in the sun’s extreme ultraviolet radiation. In fact, the sun could currently be on the cusp of a miniature version of the Maunder Minimum, since the current solar cycle is the weakest in more than 50 years.

 

“If the sun really is entering an unfamiliar phase of the solar cycle, then we must redouble our efforts to understand the sun-climate link,” said researcher Lika Guhathakurta at NASA’s Living with a Star Program, which helped fund the NRC study.

 

Although the sun is the main source of heat for Earth, the researchers note that solar variability may have more of a regional effect than a global one. As such, solar variability is not the cause of the global warming seen in recent times.

 

“While the sun is by far the dominant energy source powering our climate system, do not assume that it is causing much of recent climate changes. It’s pretty stable,” Kopp said. “Think of it as an 800-pound gorilla in climate — it has the weight to cause enormous changes, but luckily for us, it’s pretty placidly lazy. While solar changes have historically caused climate changes, the sun is mostly likely responsible for less than 15 percent of the global temperature increases we’ve seen over the last century, during which human-caused changes such as increased greenhouse gases caused the majority of warming.”

 

Tracking the sun

In the future, researchers suggested that to better understand how solar variability might affect the Earth, a future space observatory might include a radiometric imager. Such a device could essentially map the surface of the sun and reveal the contributions of each of its surface features to the sun’s luminosity.

 

The solar disk is dotted by dark sunspots and bright magnetic areas known as faculae. Sunspots tend to vanish during low points in the solar cycle, and a radiometric imager could help reveal the links between prolonged spotlessness on the sun and Earth’s climate.

 

Ancient signals of climate such as tree rings and ice cores might also help shed light on the link between the sun and climate. Since variations in Earth’s magnetic field and atmospheric circulation might disrupt this evidence on Earth, a better long-term record of solar radiation might lie in the rocks and sediments of the moon or Mars, researchers added.

 

The scientists detailed their findings Jan. 8 in a report, “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate,” issued by the National Research Council.

 

 


 

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