Skip to content

February 9, 2013

February 11, 2013

9Feb2013

Newswire

 

Coke Engineers Its Orange Juice—With an Algorithm

By Duane Stanford on January 31, 2013

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-31/coke-engineers-its-orange-juice-with-an-algorithm

 

Don’t let the name fool you. Coca-Cola’s (KO) Simply Orange juice is anything but pick, squeeze, and pour. That cold glass of 100 percent liquid sunshine on the breakfast table is the product of a sophisticated industrial juice complex. Satellite imagery, complicated data algorithms, even a juice pipeline are all part of the recipe. “You take Mother Nature and standardize it,” says Jim Horrisberger, director of procurement at Coke’s huge Auburndale (Fla.) juice packaging plant. “Mother Nature doesn’t like to be standardized.”

A computer model directs everything from picking schedules to the blend to maintain a consistent taste

Coca-Cola, maker of the Minute Maid and Simply Orange brands, is using its balance sheet and distribution reach to methodically build a global juice machine. That includes the U.S., Coke’s largest market, accounting for one-third of its volume sold. PepsiCo (PEP), led by its Tropicana brand, commands a 40 percent volume share of the $4.6 billion U.S. market for not-from-concentrate juices, compared with 28 percent for Coke, according to Euromonitor. Globally, the market researcher says, Coke gets about $13 billion in revenue annually from pure juice and juice drinks. “You see them focusing on still beverages because that’s been outgrowing sparkling drinks for several years now,” says Thomas Mullarkey, an analyst for Morningstar (MORN) in Chicago.

At the core of Coke’s plan in the U.S. is 100 percent not-from-concentrate OJ, for which consumers are willing to pay as much as a 25 percent premium. Yet producing the beverage is far more complicated than bottling soft drinks. Juice production is full of variables, from weather to regional consumer preference, and Coke is trying to manage each from grove to glass.

In bucolic Auburndale, an hour south of Disney World, Coke has spent $114 million in recent years expanding its premier U.S. juice bottling plant, which it claims is the world’s largest. It’s here that Coke has perfected a top-secret methodology it calls Black Book to make sure consumers have consistent orange juice 12 months a year, even though the peak growing season lasts about three months. “We basically built a flight simulator for our juice business,” says Doug Bippert, Coke’s vice president of business acceleration.

Black Book isn’t really a secret formula. It’s an algorithm. Revenue Analytics consultant Bob Cross, architect of Coke’s juice model, also built the model Delta Air Lines (DAL) uses to maximize its revenue per mile flown. Orange juice, says Cross, “is definitely one of the most complex applications of business analytics. It requires analyzing up to 1 quintillion decision variables to consistently deliver the optimal blend, despite the whims of Mother Nature.”

The Black Book model includes detailed data about the myriad flavors—more than 600 in all—that make up an orange, and consumer preferences. Those data are matched to a profile detailing acidity, sweetness, and other attributes of each batch of raw juice. The algorithm then tells Coke how to blend batches to replicate a certain taste and consistency, right down to pulp content. Another part of Black Book incorporates external factors such as weather patterns, expected crop yields, and cost pressures. This helps Coke plan so that supplies will be on hand as far ahead as 15 months. “If we have a hurricane or a freeze,” Bippert says, “we can quickly replan the business in 5 or 10 minutes just because we’ve mathematically modeled it.”

Coca-Cola bought Minute Maid in 1960. The juice company had been founded during World War II by pharmaceutical engineer Jack Fox, an expert at concentrating blood serum, to make OJ concentrate for a military contract. Today frozen orange juice from concentrate makes up less than 4 percent of the entire U.S. orange juice market, according to Coke, and is a tiny piece of Minute Maid sales. Instead the beverage giant has thrown its efforts into fresh juice, doubling global volume sales from 2004 to 2011. Of Coke’s 15 brands that each generate at least $1 billion in revenue annually, four are juice-based drinks: Minute Maid globally, Simply Orange in the U.S., Minute Maid Pulpy in Asia, and Del Valle in Latin America.

Coke accounted for 17 percent of the juice-related volume sold in the world’s top 22 markets, compared with 9 percent for PepsiCo, according to Nielsen (NLSN) data for the year ended last September. Coke’s market share grew 0.9 percentage points in the period, while PepsiCo declined by the same amount.

A short walk from Coke’s Auburndale plant, massive storage tanks encased in insulated buildings rise high above the flat Florida landscape. The silos are full of fresh-squeezed juice, chilled to a slushy 30F to 34F. The tanks are owned by Coca-Cola’s Brazilian partner in the juice wars, Cutrale, the global fruit procurer that processes the oranges that go into Coke’s juice brands. Together the companies buy almost a third of the 145 million boxes of oranges grown by more than 400 Florida growers. Coke and Cutrale educate growers on best practices and ensure that oranges are grown to Coke specifications. Cutrale’s experts use satellite imaging to monitor crops in Brazil, so they can order growers to pick their fruit at the optimal time dictated by Black Book. The companies constructed a 1.2-mile underground pipeline from Cutrale’s Orlando-area processing operation to Coke’s packaging plant to transport juice that previously required 70 tanker-truck trips daily.

Cutrale also constructed a $10 million facility to process and ship orange pulp. About 80 percent of those orange innards are boated frozen to China for use by brands including Minute Maid Pulpy, which was Coke’s first billion-dollar brand developed on the mainland. No part of the orange is wasted. Essential oils are bottled and sold for everything from flavoring to household cleaners. Peel is pressed into pellets for cattle feed. The raw juice is then flash-pasteurized and piped to storage tanks as large as 2 million gallons each for up to eight months.

Inside the tanks, the juice is slowly agitated at the bottom so it doesn’t settle. A nitrogen gas blanket at the top keeps out rot-inducing oxygen. Batches of juice from various crops and seasons are segregated based on features such as orange type, sweetness, and acidity. In-season juice is typically mixed with off-season juice.

In peak season—roughly April to June—oranges can go from grove to glass in less than 24 hours. Fiber-optic cables keep computers at Cutrale and Coke’s juice bottling plant in constant contact so juice is piped more efficiently. Inside the bottling plant, “blend technicians” at a traffic control center carry out Black Book instructions prior to bottling. The weekly recipe is tweaked constantly. Natural flavors and fragrances captured during squeezing are added back into the juice to restore flavor lost in processing.

All that tweaking doesn’t suit everyone’s taste. Alissa Hamilton, author of the 2010 book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, says most 100 percent not-from-concentrate OJ is more processed than consumers realize. She has argued for stricter labeling so they know the juice has been engineered from various batches of oranges. There’s still one part of the process that hasn’t changed with time: picking. About 95 percent of the oranges Coke uses for juices are still plucked from trees by hand.

The bottom line: As noncarbonated beverages grow faster than sodas, Coke expands its orange juice business through a taste-optimized algorithm.

 

Tech, telecom giants take sides as FCC proposes large public WiFi networks

Washington Post

By Cecilia Kang, Published: February 3

The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.

The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, con­nections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public WiFi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.

“For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service,” said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst at the Medley Global Advisors research firm. “Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people.”

The major wireless carriers own much more spectrum than what is being proposed for public WiFi, making their networks more robust, experts say.

Designed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the plan would be a global first. When the U.S. government made a limited amount of unlicensed airwaves available in 1985, an unexpected explosion in innovation followed. Baby monitors, garage door openers and wireless stage microphones were created. Millions of homes now run their own wireless networks, connecting tablets, game consoles, kitchen appli­ances and security systems to the Internet.

“Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers,” Genachowski said in a an e-mailed statement.

Some companies and cities are already moving in this direction. Google is providing free WiFi to the public in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and parts of Silicon Valley.

Cities support the idea because the networks would lower costs for schools and businesses or help vacationers easily find tourist spots. Consumer advocates note the benefits to the poor, who often cannot afford high cellphone and Internet bills.

The proposal would require local television stations and other broadcasters to sell a chunk of airwaves to the government that would be used for the public WiFi networks. It is not clear whether these companies would be willing to do so.

The FCC’s plan is part of a broader strategy to repurpose entire swaths of the nation’s airwaves to accomplish a number of goals, including bolstering cellular networks and creating a dedicated channel for emergency responders.

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized Genachowski for his idea of creating free WiFi networks, noting that an auction of the airwaves would raise billions for the U.S. Treasury.

That sentiment echoes arguments made by companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Intel and Qualcomm, in a letter to the FCC staff late last month, that the government should focus its attention on selling the airwaves to businesses.

Some of these companies also cautioned that a free WiFi service could interfere with existing cellular networks and television broadcasts.

Intel, whose chips are used in many of the devices that operate on cellular networks, fears that the new WiFi service would crowd the airwaves. The company said it would rather the FCC use the airwaves from television stations to bolster high-speed cellular networks, known as 4G.

“We think that that spectrum would be most useful to the larger society and to broadband deployment if it were licensed,” said Peter Pitsch, the executive director of communications for Intel. “As unlicensed, there would be a disincentive to invest in expensive networking equipment and provide users with optimal quality of service.”

Cisco and other telecommunications equipment firms told the FCC that it needs to test the airwaves more for potential interference.

“Cisco strongly urges the commission to firmly retreat from the notion that it can predict, or should predict . . . how the unlicensed guard bands might be used,” the networking giant wrote.

Supporters of the free-WiFi plan say telecom equipment firms have long enjoyed lucrative relationships with cellular carriers and may not want to disrupt that model.

An FCC official added that there is little proof so far that the spectrum that could be used for public WiFi systems would knock out broadcast and 4G wireless signals.

“We want our policy to be more end-user-centric and not carrier-centric. That’s where there is a difference in opinion” with carriers and their partners, said a senior FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is still being considered by the five-member panel.

The lobbying from the cellular industry motivated longtime rivals Google and Microsoft to join forces to support the FCC’s proposal. Both companies would benefit from a boom in new devices that could access the free WiFi networks.

These companies want corporations to multiply the number of computers, robots, devices and other machines that are able to connect to the Internet, analysts said. They want cars that drive themselves to have more robust Internet access.

More public WiFi, they say, will spur the use of “millions of de­vices that will compose the coming Internet of things,” the firms wrote in their comment to the FCC last week.

“What this does for the first time is bring the prospect of cheap broadband, but like any proposal it has to get through a political process first,” said Harold Feld, a vice president at the public interest group Public Knowledge.

 

Broad Powers Seen for Obama in Cyberstrikes

NYTimes

February 3, 2013

By DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER

 

WASHINGTON — A secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad, according to officials involved in the review.

That decision is among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. New policies will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.
The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held. John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, played a central role in developing the administration’s policies regarding both drones and cyberwarfare, the two newest and most politically sensitive weapons in the American arsenal.

Cyberweaponry is the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way. The Pentagon has created a new Cyber Command, and computer network warfare is one of the few parts of the military budget that is expected to grow. Officials said that the new cyberpolicies had been guided by a decade of evolution in counterterrorism policy, particularly on the division of authority between the military and the intelligence agencies in deploying cyberweapons. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record.

Under current rules, the military can openly carry out counterterrorism missions in nations where the United States operates under the rules of war, like Afghanistan. But the intelligence agencies have the authority to carry out clandestine drone strikes and commando raids in places like Pakistan and Yemen, which are not declared war zones. The results have provoked wide protests.

Mr. Obama is known to have approved the use of cyberweapons only once, early in his presidency, when he ordered an escalating series of cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. The operation was code-named Olympic Games, and while it began inside the Pentagon under President George W. Bush, it was quickly taken over by the National Security Agency, the largest of the intelligence agencies, under the president’s authority to conduct covert action.

As the process of defining the rules of engagement began more than a year ago, one senior administration official emphasized that the United States had restrained its use of cyberweapons. “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said.

The attacks on Iran illustrated that a nation’s infrastructure can be destroyed without bombing it or sending in saboteurs.

While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. Even more complex, nonstate actors, like terrorists or criminal groups, can mount attacks, and it is often difficult to tell who is responsible. Some critics have said the cyberthreat is being exaggerated by contractors and consultants who see billions in potential earnings.

One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyberweapons were so powerful that — like nuclear weapons — they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.

A possible exception would be in cases of narrowly targeted tactical strikes by the military, like turning off an air defense system during a conventional strike against an adversary.

“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” the official said. That means the administration has ruled out the use of “automatic” retaliation if a cyberattack on America’s infrastructure is detected, even if the virus is traveling at network speeds.

While the rules have been in development for more than two years, they are coming out at a time of greatly increased cyberattacks on American companies and critical infrastructure. The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that an American power station, which it did not name, was crippled for weeks by cyberattacks. The New York Times reported last week that it had been struck, for more than four months, by a cyberattack emanating from China. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have reported similar attacks on their systems.

“While this is all described in neutral terms — what are we going to do about cyberattacks — the underlying question is, ‘What are we going to do about China?’ ” said Richard Falkenrath, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There’s a lot of signaling going on between the two countries on this subject.”

International law allows any nation to defend itself from threats, and the United States has applied that concept to conduct pre-emptive attacks.

Pre-emption always has been a disputed legal concept. Most recently Mr. Bush made it a central justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on faulty intelligence about that country’s weapons of mass destruction. Pre-emption in the context of cyberwar raises a potentially bigger quandary, because a country hit by a pre-emptive cyberstrike could easily claim that it was innocent, undermining the justification for the attack. “It would be very hard to provide evidence to the world that you hit some deadly dangerous computer code,” one senior official said.

The implications of pre-emption in cyberwar were specifically analyzed at length in writing the new rules. One major issue involved in the administration’s review, according to one official involved, was defining “what constitutes reasonable and proportionate force” in halting or retaliating against a cyberattack.

During the attacks on Iran’s facilities, which the United States never acknowledged, Mr. Obama insisted that cyberweapons be targeted narrowly, so that they did not affect hospitals or power supplies. Mr. Obama frequently voiced concerns that America’s use of cyberweapons could be used by others as justification for attacks on the United States. The American effort was exposed when the cyberweapon leaked out of the Iranian enrichment center that was attacked, and the “Stuxnet” code replicated millions of times on the Internet.

Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the F.B.I.

But the military, barred from actions within the United States without a presidential order, would become involved in cases of a major cyberattack within the United States. To maintain ambiguity in an adversary’s mind, officials have kept secret what that threshold would be; so far, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has only described the “red line” in the vaguest of terms — as a “cyber 9/11.”

The Obama administration has urged stronger firewalls and other systems to provide a first line of defense, and then “resiliency” in the face of cyberattacks. It failed to get Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation that would have allowed the government to mandate standards.

 

Chuck Hagel on key Defense issues

GovExec

By Kedar Pavgi

February 1, 2013

 

Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s pick to head the Defense Department, provided lawmakers with his take on key policy questions in a 112-page document submitted before his confirmation hearings began. Here are excerpts from that document on workforce, leadership, budget, contracting, sexual assaults and BRAC.

The workforce, leadership and Joint Chiefs

 

On the workforce

“We must ensure that we have a properly sized, and highly capable, civilian workforce that maintains critical skills and prevents an overreliance on contracted services. If confirmed, I will support the administration’s focus on reducing inappropriate or excessive reliance on contracted support.”

 

On workforce planning

“If confirmed, I will ensure departmental human capital planning employs strategies for recruitment, development and retention of a mission-ready civilian workforce.”

 

On holding senior leadership accountable

“Improving financial management capability is very important, especially in light of the fiscal challenges facing the department and the country. I understand plans exist to continue the improvement of the department’s business processes and, if confirmed, I will ensure that senior leadership – including the chief financial officer, the deputy chief management officer, and the chief information officer – focus appropriate attention on this effort by holding them accountable for progress against these plans.”

 

On recruiting personnel for US CYBERCOM

“Recruiting, training, and retaining military and civilian personnel needed for cyber operations will be a challenge. This is a high priority area for the department with regard to investment of both resources and management oversight and, if confirmed, I will review these systems and practices.”

 

On the acquisition workforce

“A properly qualified and sized acquisition workforce is central to maintaining this stewardship and to ensuring that the department obtains as much value as possible for the money that it spends obtaining products and services from contractors.”

 

On greater latitude for the Joint Chiefs

“It is my understanding that the Joint Chiefs supported some hard choices that were made in the FY13 president’s budget in order to achieve the savings required to sustain the new defense strategy. The Joint Chiefs need Congress to provide them the latitude to implement those changes and allow them to execute the new strategy. I also understand that it is now a zero sum game. If the department is not able to implement the changes proposed, other offsets must be made, while still preserving warfighting capability.”

 

Budget and finances

On whether massive defense spending reductions can be accomplished without significant adverse impact on national security

“Based on my review to date, my answer is yes. I believe the department’s strategy can be accomplished within the constraints of the Budget Control Act.

 

On the impact of continuing resolutions on the Pentagon

“A year-long CR reduces the department’s funding flexibility by putting it into a straightjacket, spending money on last year’s priorities not this year’s. Continuing resolutions force the department to operate inefficiently because it does not know what projects will be funded or at what level of funding.”

 

On producing an auditable financial statement

“I support the effort and will maintain the department’s commitment to producing audit-ready financial statements by the congressional deadline of September 2017, with an audit beginning by the end of calendar year 2017.”

 

Defense contracting

On reliance on contractors

“Although I understand that DoD has been taking steps in recent years to reduce its reliance on contractors, I believe DoD must continue to manage its workforce in a way that avoids inappropriate or excessive reliance on contractor support for basic department functions, while also meeting its obligations to perform work efficiently and effectively and to be a good steward of taxpayer resources.”

 

On contracting cost growth

“If confirmed, I will continue the efforts of the administration and the department to improve the visibility and accountability of contracted services by expanding and refining the data we collect from contractors, as required by statute, in order to compare it to our civilian and military workforce planning factors.”

 

On further consolidation of the U.S. defense industry

“My understanding is that the department’s leadership have indicated that further consolidation at the top tier would not be viewed favorably. I have not studied this in detail; however, my initial assessment is that this is the correct view. I also believe that each individual case of consolidation, acquisition, or merger dealing with our defense firms must be examined carefully for what is best for the warfighter and the taxpayer, particularly with regard to its impact on competition.”

 

Health care management

On electronic health records

“My understanding is that significant progress has been made in linking an individual with their medical record in a central data repository, and making this information available to any Department of Defense medical treatment facility or Veterans Affairs facility. This appears to provide seamless health care to our members. If confirmed, I will continue to partner with the VA in this area. Although I believe there is more work to be done in improving the care of our seriously ill and injured service members and their families, this issue is a top priority of the senior leadership of the department and a strength that I will continue to build on.”

 

On controlling health care costs

“I understand the department included proposals in the FY 2012 and 2013 president’s budgets that would slow the growth of health care costs while preserving the quality and range of health care. These proposals include increasing enrollment fees and deductibles for retirees and increasing pharmacy co-pays. Not many of these proposals were accepted by Congress. If confirmed, I will review initiatives in this area and look for further opportunities as we must continue to look for savings in this area.

 

Sexual assault in the military

“I fully support Secretary Panetta’s decision to elevate initial disposition of sexual assault cases to the level of Colonel or Navy Captain, or higher. This action helps ensure our more seasoned, senior commanders determine what actions are appropriate in response to allegations of sexual assault. It is my belief that military commanders are essential to making sexual assault prevention and response efforts successful.”

 

On the Base Closure and Realignment Commission

“I understand that the administration’s proposal for two rounds of BRAC was not accepted by Congress. However, I also think any prudent manager has to look at all options when faced with significant budget pressures. As with industry, the department should examine its infrastructure and eliminate excess. The BRAC process is not perfect, but I believe BRAC is a fair and comprehensive way to right-size the department’s footprint, and is the best process identified to date.”

http://www.govexec.com/defense/2013/02/chuck-hagel-key-defense-issues/61052/

 

 

Appropriations Assignments Are No Longer Coveted

CQ

By Kerry Young

Roll Call Staff

Feb. 1, 2013, 6:41 p.m.

 

Rogers is House Appropriations chairman, but many members have turned down Appropriations posts recently, leading to questions about how coveted the spots are these days.

As the story goes, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 asked Sen. Kenneth McKellar, then the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, to quietly provide $2 billion for a secret weapons lab, the Tennessee Democrat had a brief and quick response.

“Mr. President, I have just one question. Where in Tennessee do you want me to hide it?” McKellar said, according to congressional lore about Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a key part of the Manhattan Project.

It was just one instance among countless cases on Capitol Hill where appropriators — the lawmakers who hold the prized positions closest to the federal purse — found a pressing national priority fitting in neatly with local interests for economic development and the jobs that come with it.

From the funds longtime appropriator John P. Murtha, a Democrat, funneled to his hometown of Johnstown, Pa., by locating the National Drug Intelligence Center there to the federal dollars Harold Rogers, a Republican and now the House Appropriations chairman, steered toward the anti-drug nonprofit Operation Unite, which he helped found in his southern Kentucky district, the appropriations story has been one of political clout executed through the federal spending process.

That’s why legislators such as McKellar and Murtha would have been shocked at the decision Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, made at the start of the 113th Congress, when he gave up the chance to move up the seniority ladder on Appropriations for a seat on the tax-writing Finance Committee.

At the same time, two senior Democrats — Tom Harkin of Iowa and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont — passed on the chance in December to take over the gavel after the death of Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, leaving more junior Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland to become chairwoman.

In the House, Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo., left Appropriations after one term, shifting to a Natural Resources Committee she said was more suited to the needs of her state. Lummis had previously said she didn’t enjoy her time on Appropriations.

 

“Clearly, one would have to say that the committee is at a low ebb,” said former Appropriations Chairman Robert L. Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who led the panel during its last intense period of budget cutting in the 1990s. “It’s a sign of the times.”

For today’s legislators, the appropriations assignment simply is not what it used to be.

The Republican ban on earmarks has undermined the ability of appropriators to mete out money to their own congressional districts and win favors by sending funds to other districts. The cardinals, as subcommittee chairmen are often called because of their sway, now are expected to sing along with the rest of the choir.

Instead of gaining favor with constituents, lobbyists and fellow members through their ability to direct federal spending, members of the Appropriations committees are being “squeezed like we’ve never been squeezed before,” Rogers said last month. Rogers has helped slash more than $40 billion from the federal government’s annual operating expenses since becoming chairman in 2011, and more programs will take hits in the years ahead.

But congressional insiders say the diminishing appeal of appropriations goes beyond the tighter purse strings. The annual spending bills for federal agencies are seen as prime vehicles for directing federal policies, but that power is diminished as a Congress in gridlock opts for extensions over bigger, and more contentious, legislation.

Congress hasn’t passed real appropriations bills for three years, and the sort of continuing resolution that is funding the government this year is typical, extending programs based on last year’s spending levels and offering only a handful of policy directions.

The trend goes beyond appropriations, experts say. In recent years, much of the power in Congress has been consolidated in the hands of a few members, a tight circle of those in leadership, said Livingston, leaving big committees such as Agriculture and Transportation and Infrastructure unable to score legislative wins with multiyear measures.

Appropriators, with a mandate to move a dozen annual spending bills, stand out as particularly vivid examples of the weakening of committee power, he said.

 

Preferring HELP

The three Democrats who recently passed on Appropriations pointed to their specific long-term interests as the drivers of their decisions — not a diminished appeal for appropriations.

Brown sees taxes, federal health care policy and foreign-trade debates, which will affect Ohio’s manufacturers, as his greatest concerns.

Leahy says his “passion” for the issues facing him as chairman of the Judiciary Committee led him to reject the Appropriations gavel, and Harkin preferred the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee over a post that, after all, could not hand out earmarks.

“I suppose that had something to do it,” Harkin said of the earmark ban. “But, quite frankly, I love the HELP committee. I love the issues that we are involved in.”

Appropriations committees in both chambers still attract recruits, and there’s been no noticeable plunge in contributions to top appropriators since the earmark ban went into effect.

Two former governors joined the Senate Appropriations Committee in the 113th Congress — Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Mike Johanns of Nebraska. And Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who early in his career worked at the Congressional Budget Office, said he started looking for an Appropriations seat even while first talking with Democratic leaders about possibly running for the Senate.

 

“There’s a host of issues where it is helpful to bring the perspectives of your particular economy, your particular geography, your particular citizens to the discussions about where we should spend dollars,” Merkley said.

Senators had a better chance than most rank-and-file House members to influence appropriations in the 112th Congress, despite more floor time given to spending bills in the House.

In both years of that Congress, House Republicans moved about half of the annual dozen spending bills under spending caps that reflected the desire of conservatives to cut spending. There was virtually no chance of getting Senate Democrats or the Obama administration to agree to these levels, making the House-passed versions of spending bills little more than political exercises.

After Congress reached accord on a fiscal 2012 cap on discretionary spending in August 2011, appropriators and leaders worked quickly to revive some semblance of the former regular order for handling spending bills in the Senate. The bills came to the floor in two packages in late 2011, some Senate amendments were added, and House and Senate appropriators went through a conference.

But House conservatives added dozens of amendments, many seeking to pare back federal agencies, to the seven fiscal 2012 bills that passed in their chamber before the August 2011 debt limit accord was reached. Few survived in the final bills, as House leaders and appropriators couldn’t count on support from conservatives for the spending packages on the floor.

This year, appropriators likely will wrap up fiscal 2013 appropriations with a six-month continuing resolution in March, a measure that almost certainly will be free of the sort of controversial amendments that were added to the House-passed bills last year.

Congress might escape its reliance on omnibus bills and CRs by having both chambers agree up front in their budget resolutions on spending levels, said former Rep. David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who served as House Appropriations chairman.

But the last time Congress did that was in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers and cleared a fiscal 2010 budget resolution. Six of the dozen annual spending bills were cleared that year as stand-alone measures, with the rest wrapped in an omnibus.

“If you don’t have a realistic starting point, then everything you do is screwed up,” Obey said.

Anne L. Kim contributed to this report.

 

 

Battles Erupt Over Filling Doctors’ Shoes

As the Ranks of Physician Assistants and Other Health Professionals Grow, States Weigh Loosening Some Restrictions.

WSJ.com

Feb3

By MELINDA BECK

 

Physician assistant Jeremy Caudill, left, and Dr. Naren James visit with patient Jayden Hood at Bluegrass Clinic last month in Stanford, Ky. ‘We’re here to help distribute the workload,” Mr. Caudill says, referring to the role of physician assistants.

As physician assistants and other midlevel health professionals fill growing gaps in primary health care, turf battles are erupting in many states over what they can and can’t do in medical practices.

One of the bitterest fights is in Kentucky, where physician assistants are lobbying the state legislature to repeal a law that says that for the first 18 months after certification, physician assistants are allowed to treat patients only when a supervising physician is on site. Being in phone contact isn’t deemed sufficient.

The Kentucky Medical Association, which represents doctors in the state, says it is still evaluating the bill. But it helped push for an on-site requirement in 2003 and helped block two previous attempts to rescind the 18-month rule, on the grounds that physician assistants have far less experience than physicians and benefit from more supervision.

PAs, as they are known, are licensed to practice medicine as part of a physician-led team. Their “scope of practice” rules vary from state to state, but PAs can generally do whatever tasks the doctor delegates to them within those rules, including examining patients, prescribing medications, conducting rounds in hospitals—even closing surgical incisions—as needed. About 80% have master’s degrees, with an average of 27 months of classroom and clinical work after college.

Demand for PAs has grown, particularly in primary care and rural areas, as more doctors choose to specialize and work in urban settings. That demand is expected to increase further when the federal health law next year extends coverage to millions more Americans, likely prompting many of them to seek care.

“Our focus is on the safety of the public,” says David Bensema, the Kentucky Medical Association’s board chairman, who likens the training PAs receive to that of third-year medical students. The doctors’ group has also opposed attempts by nurse practitioners, optometrists and other nonphysicians to expand their scope of practice in Kentucky. A 2011 flier from the Kentucky Medical Association told state residents, “Not everyone in a white coat is a medical doctor.”

The Kentucky Academy of Physician Assistants argues that no other state requires PAs to have 18 months of on-site supervision. (Colorado, the state with the next-longest mandate, requires supervision only for the first 1,000 hours). The Kentucky group also says the rule needlessly complicates patient care, especially in rural areas where doctors are stretched thin. The Kentucky Academy of Physician Assistants is planning a rally at the state capitol this week and has hired two lobbyists to make its case to hospitals, insurers and medical practices.

Some Kentucky physicians agree with the PAs. Naren James is the only primary-care doctor for two central-Kentucky clinics, 25 miles apart. He and his four PAs handled a total of 25,624 patient visits or calls at the two clinics last year. Two of the PAs can treat patients at one clinic while Dr. James is at the other. But the other two PAs can only work when and where Dr. James does, because they have been on the job less than 18 months.

If Dr. James is out sick, on vacation or treating patients elsewhere, he says he has to hire another doctor to fill in—not easy in rural Kentucky. If not, the two PAs have to stop working until he returns. “None of this makes clinical sense,” says Dr. James.

“We’re here to help distribute the workload,” says Jeremy Caudill, a former pro football player who graduated from a PA program in June and works with Dr. James. But if the doctor is away, he says, “I can’t even refill a prescription for blood-pressure medication that someone has been on for 10 years.”

Across the country, such skirmishes are increasing, as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, psychologists and podiatrists seek more autonomy and authority—and often meet opposition from physician groups. In the past two years, more than 1,795 scope-of-practice bills were proposed, but only 349 were enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some states are expanding what PAs can do. Ohio now allows them to prescribe physical therapy for patients, for example, and insert and remove chest tubes. Massachusetts allows PAs to bill patients and insurers directly for their services, generally at 85% of a doctor’s rate. All 50 states allow PAs to write prescriptions, though not for controlled substances in Kentucky or Florida.

Many health-care experts say PAs will be in even greater demand when the Affordable Care Act expands insurance to 30 million more Americans next year. The Association of American Medical Colleges has warned that the supply of new doctors can’t keep pace, due to limits on federal funding for medical residency programs, and estimates that the U.S. will face a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020, particularly in primary care and in rural areas.

The number of licensed PAs, meanwhile, has doubled in the past decade, to 86,500, and is likely to grow another 30% by 2020, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

The AMA says it supports using PAs, nurse practitioners and other midlevel professionals in health-care teams as long as they are led by physicians and don’t exceed their training. It says physicians must be available to consult with PAs at all times—though not necessarily in person.

The Kentucky Medical Association passed a resolution to work with PAs and others to develop a proposal for “physician-led, patient-centered medical teams in Kentucky.”

Meanwhile, Isaac Caton, government-affairs chairman of the state’s PA group, said the state’s restrictions prompt about half of its graduating PAs to seek jobs elsewhere. Already, 55 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are federally designated as medically underserved, and an estimated 484,000 more state residents may be seeking medical care next year.

“I keep scratching my head, wondering who’s going to take care of all those patients,” Mr. Caton said.

 

Popular Windows app emulator Wine coming to Android

By Brad Reed | BGR News

February 5, 2013

Great news for anyone who wants to bring more PC capabilities to their Android smartphone or tablet: The Next Web reports that popular Windows app emulator Wine will soon be coming to Android. According to The Next Web, chief Wine developer Alexandre Julliard has been working on porting the emulator to Google’s (GOOG) open source mobile operating system and started showing off how Wine would work on Android over the weekend in Belgium. Although The Next Web says that the port probably won’t be ready “for some time,” this will definitely be something to follow for Android fans who want to bring their favorite PC apps over to their mobile devices.

 

Report: debts surge for state universities in Ohio

February 4, 2013

Associated Press

http://tribune-chronicle.com/page/content.detail/id/288012/Report–debts-surge-for-state-universities-in-Ohio-.html?isap=1&nav=5031

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Outstanding debt among Ohio’s 13 four-year public universities has nearly tripled over the past decade amid a building spree on classroom buildings, dormitories and recreation centers.

At Ohio State University, which has built a recreation center and student union, debt has more than quadrupled.

Of the state’s 13 public universities, Ohio State has the largest total debt load at nearly $2.5 billion — more than four times what it was in 2002.

But, according to The Columbus Dispatch (bit.ly/Tuxnd4), campuses must find new money sources or leave it to future generations of students to pay for the construction spree.

Last month, Moody’s Investment Services downgraded the outlook for the higher-education sector to negative because of such concerns.

Jim Petro, who retired on Friday as Ohio’s higher-education chancellor, said he understands that state schools have been burdened by aging buildings in need of repair.

Many school officials said it would be crazy not to lock in record-low interest rates. Ohio State, for instance, issued an unprecedented $500 million in 100-year bonds in 2011.

The century bond allowed the university to lock in historically low interest rates, while giving it cash for its $1.1 billion medical center expansion and south campus dorm project, said Geoffrey Chatas, OSU’s chief financial officer.

The favorable climate also has allowed Ohio State to move forward on a $396 million north campus expansion that calls for 11 new dorms, two dining halls and a 35,000-square-foot fitness center.

The dorms will allow the university to require sophomores to start living on campus by fall 2015, a longtime goal to enhance student learning.

The state estimates that Ohio’s colleges and universities face at least $5 billion in deferred maintenance.

Miami University is using much of the money it borrowed to overhaul its dorms, some of which were last renovated in 1929.

The school is “improving what we have and building only what we need,” said David T. Creamer, Miami’s vice president for finance and building.

To cuts costs, Miami has scaled back its plan for a new student union, which is being built to accommodate the 167 percent increase in its student body from when the original center was built in 1957.

Cleveland State University has built several dorms, a student union, recreation center, three parking garages and other amenities during the past decade as it moves from a commuter campus to a more-traditional residential campus, spokesman Joe Mosbrook said.

“We had a need to transform the university to meet the needs of the region.” Most of the borrowed money will be paid back through fees, which a majority of students said they were willing to pay before the projects were built.

Over the past 13 years, the University of Akron spent more than $600 million to transform its campus, said Ted Curtis, the school’s vice president for capital planning and facilities.

The improvements encompassed 18 renovations, 34 new acres of green space and 22 new buildings, including a student union, recreation center, stadium and several dorms and classroom buildings.

All have helped the school raise its student body from 21,000 in the late 1990s to 30,000 now, Curtis said.

Regents don’t regulate the debt loads of state universities. That’s left up to the individual schools, Petro said.

 

New DARPA Program Seeks Performers For Transient Electronics Demonstration

January 28, 2013

http://www.rfglobalnet.com/doc.mvc/new-darpa-performers-transient-electronics-demonstration-0001?sectionCode=News&templateCode=EnhancedStandard&user=2753709&source=nl:36311

The sophisticated electronics used by warfighters in everything from radios, remote sensors and even phones can now be made at such a low cost that they are pervasive throughout the battlefield. These electronics have become necessary for operations, but it is almost impossible to track and recover every device. At the end of operations, these electronics are often found scattered across the battlefield and might be captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage.

What if these electronics simply disappeared when no longer needed? DARPA announces the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program with the aim of revolutionizing the state of the art in transient electronics or electronics capable of dissolving into the environment around them. Transient electronics developed under VAPR should maintain the current functionality and ruggedness of conventional electronics, but, when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.

“The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever,” said Alicia Jackson, DARPA program manager. “DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed. The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.”

DARPA has posted a special announcement for a Proposers’ Day to be held in advance of a full solicitation in the form of a broad agency announcement. Performers are sought to conduct basic research into materials, devices, manufacturing and integration processes, and design methodology that will enable a revolutionary shift in transient electronics capabilities. The program seeks to culminate in a technology demonstration that builds a circuit representative of an environmental or biomedical sensor that is able to communicate with a remote user.

“DARPA has previously demonstrated that transient electronics might be used to fight infections at surgical sites,” said Jackson. “Now, we want to develop a revolutionary new class of electronics for a variety of systems whose transience does not require submersion in water. This is a tall order, and we imagine a multidisciplinary approach. Teams will likely need industry experts who understand circuits, integration, and, design. Performers from the material science community will be sought to develop novel substrates. There’s lots of room for innovation by clever people with diverse expertise.”

SOURCE: DARPA

Sequestration’s impact comes into focus

http://www.federaltimes.com

February 4, 2013

By STEPHEN LOSEY and SEAN REILLY

As a gridlocked Congress last week appeared increasingly resigned to the steep budget cuts known as sequestration taking effect, the practical effects of what that would mean for federal employees have started to take shape.

The Defense Department and its agencies face an almost 8 percent budget cut if sequestration begins March 1, according to a recent analysis by Senate Budget Committee Republicans. Those cuts will likely mean furloughs for almost the entire DoD civilian workforce for as many as 22 days — one day per week beginning April 16 through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2013. Also, Defense components already froze hiring in January and are preparing to lay off many of their 46,000 temporary and term employees and take other belt-tightening steps.

In contrast, non-Defense agencies so far have released next to nothing about their sequestration plans, and federal employee groups are expressing irritation at the lack of information. But they expect other agencies will take steps similar to Defense.

If the current mood on Capitol Hill is any indication, agencies may have to finalize those plans within weeks.

“I think the sequester is going to happen because that $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, we can’t lose those spending cuts,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on NBC on Jan. 27.

The Washington Post reported Jan. 29 that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the odds of sequestration taking effect are “probably even” and that there is a real chance it could take effect March 1.

And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told Politico on Jan. 23, “I’m pretty sure it [sequestration] is going to happen now.”

Sequestration “may well happen,” said Gordon Adams, who served as a top Office of Management and Budget staffer during the Clinton administration and now teaches at American University. Rather than seek to head it off March 1, lawmakers could instead try to work out a broader deal in setting agencies’ budgets for the rest of fiscal 2013 after a current continuing resolution expires March 27.

If sequestration does take effect, the impact on agencies will hinge on how OMB decides to “apportion” their shares of the budget after March 1, he added. The budget office could temporarily keep funding at current levels in hopes that lawmakers would reach an agreement by the end of March. If OMB instead opted to reduce funding immediately, furloughs and contracting would probably follow, Adams said.

Should sequestration occur, Paul Posner, a former senior official at the Government Accountability Office, questioned whether lawmakers would have the will to keep it in place for long.

“There’s a lot of precedent here to say that, generally speaking, we don’t want to let government services get interrupted,” said Posner, now at George Mason University. “The full sequester is only one of 20 potential scenarios.”

Federal unions and other employee groups, such as the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, are growing more worried and urging lawmakers to come up with some way to avoid the $85 billion in cuts now looming.

“The iceberg is in sight, and the Titanic chooses to ignore it,” said FLEOA National President Jon Adler. “I don’t think even the lifeboats are ready.”

Adler said that if mass furloughs take effect, law enforcement agencies such as the Justice Department may have to rotate officers around to try to make sure the highest-priority cases and assignments — such as counterterrorism or national security-focused cases — are not compromised. But Adler said he’s not sure there is a way to avoid hurting those sensitive missions.

“Unfortunately, the criminal element is not going to experience a commensurate furlough situation,” Adler said. “It will put us at a perilous disadvantage, no matter how rotation works out.”

William Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said non-Defense agencies told his union they have no plans yet to share. Dougan said that represents a breakdown in the labor-management relationship and reflects the government’s troubling reluctance to engage unions before decisions are made.

But the sequestration plans already outlined by Defense have Dougan worried.

Ripple effect

Cutting term employees — who are hired to perform temporary work under appointments that last from one to four years — will hit facilities such as the Red River Army Depot in Texas particularly hard. About 1,500 of Red River’s 3,500 civilian employees are term employees, Dougan said, and they maintain Army vehicles such as Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other wheeled and track personnel carriers.

“As those things come back [from combat zones], they [Red River’s term employees] go through and strip them down, put them back together, replace parts and ship them back out so they can be used again,” Dougan said. “Losing that work force is a concern, because that reduces the ability of the facility to maintain a high number and type of vehicles.”

And the economic effect of massive furloughs and layoffs will ripple out beyond military bases and federal facilities, Dougan said. Many military bases, such as Red River, are located in or near small communities. As federal employees are furloughed or laid off, Dougan said, that could harm the local economies where they are located.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service last week froze hiring, halted performance award nominations and slashed travel, training and overtime in an effort to avoid furloughs. But DFAS Director Terri McKay said in a Jan. 17 email that more stringent actions — such as furloughs — may be necessary if sequestration takes effect or the current continuing resolution expires without another agreement in place to further fund Defense.

By Feb. 1, all Defense organizations were supposed to turn in draft plans outlining how many employees they expected to furlough and for how long, as well as how many temporary workers would be laid off and how long civilian hiring freezes would last. The plans will not be made public, a DoD spokeswoman said last week.

‘Uncertainty and distraction’

Already, however, the uncertainty is taking a toll.

“We’re spending way too much time, already, preparing for sequester and potentially furloughing ourselves and our colleagues,” Mike McCord, principal deputy undersecretary in the Pentagon’s comptroller’s office, said last week. The result is “uncertainty and distraction” not just for DoD employees, but also for contractors, he added.

Officials at non-Defense agencies refer questions about sequestration to OMB, which has said nothing about specific cost-cutting preparations.

“It’s maddening,” said John O’Grady, president of an American Federation of Government Employees local that represents some Environmental Protection Agency employees in the Chicago area. “People are sitting in their cubes, they’re waiting for this hammer to go down and nobody’s giving them any information.”

EPA has already taken some cost-stepping steps, such as offering $25,000 buyout and early retirement packages late last year to up to 117 employees in its Washington headquarters and in its Region 9 offices on the West Coast.

But even though OMB has told agencies to involve unions “to the fullest extent practicable,” EPA has declined to say what might be in store for its 18,000-strong workforce if sequestration hits, O’Grady said.

In a lengthy “request for information” sent in December, O’Grady asked the agency for a list of functions nationally that could be downsized if sequestration hits. The union also sought a list of all contracts and a rundown of any contractor-performed functions that could be transferred to federal employees.

Last month, EPA declined to provide any answers. “The union’s request is overly broad [and] unduly burdensome, and the union has failed to state a particularized need for the requested information,” wrote Mitch Berkenkemper, the agency’s director of labor and employee relations.

An EPA spokeswoman referred questions from Federal Times to OMB, where a spokeswoman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

At the National Park Service, sequestration planning is just getting under way, according to a Jan. 25 memo from Director Jonathan Jarvis. In the memo, Jarvis ordered an immediate hiring freeze and told NPS regional directors to assume a 5 percent cut from their current funding levels. Jarvis also told them to consider furloughs and eliminating travel, non-mandatory training and other “less-essential costs.”

If sequestration does occur, Jarvis wrote, the effects could include some park area closings, shorter seasons and cuts to operating hours. The memo was obtained and posted online by The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Federal contractors such as San Diego’s Sentek Global also are feeling the pinch of looming budget cuts.

Most of Sentek Global’s federal business is with the Navy and involves cybersecurity and command-and-control systems. President and CEO Eric Basu said the company was told Jan. 29 to immediately stop work under a research contract with the Navy due to funding uncertainties. It is unclear when — or if — that work will resume.

“We’re hoping it’s temporary, but we’re trying to get an answer,” Basu said. “When programs go unfunded, we have to lay people off, too. We don’t have any layoffs planned, [but] if the government cuts our budget, we’re going to have to lay people off.”

 

 

 

Republicans seize on Obama’s blown 2014 budget deadline

The Hill

By Erik Wasson – 02/04/13 05:15 PM ET

Congressional Republicans are seizing on the White House’s failure to meet the Feb. 4 legal deadline to produce an annual budget as a gift that will help them recover from months of political beatings.

The White House on Monday declined to say when President Obama’s delayed 2014 budget will come out.

“President Obama missed a great opportunity today to help our economy. This was supposed to be the day he submitted his budget to the Congress. But it’s not coming. It’s going to be late. Some reports say it could be a month late,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on the House floor.

“I’m disappointed the president has missed his deadline. But I’m not surprised,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “In four of the last five years, he’s failed to submit his budget on time.”

The blown deadline allows the GOP to be on the offensive and continue to shift the political conversation back to fiscal restraint, aides say.

On Wednesday, the House will vote on a bill to require the president to submit a budget that eventually balances — something Obama’s 2013 budget never did.

The GOP’s political offensive began when it forced the Senate and White House to accept No Budget, No Pay legislation that will require senators to go without pay if they fail for the fourth time in a row to do a budget resolution this year.

That measure was attached to a debt ceiling increase after the GOP abandoned more aggressive plans to attach deep spending cuts for fear of an overreach that again put them on the defensive.

Since winning reelection, Obama was able to successfully corner the GOP on the issue of taxes. The party reluctantly allowed tax rates to rise on those making more than $400,000 per year after the White House hammered Republicans as the party of the rich.

The GOP is now hoping that the administration’s failure to produce a budget on time —for the fourth time — is a stumble that will finally rebalance the fiscal conversation back toward spending cuts.

A renewed focus on spending could help the GOP replace looming defense sequester cuts with cuts to domestic programs, while allow them to repel efforts by Democrats to replace them with higher taxes for oil and gas companies and by closing other tax loopholes.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will provide a second prong of the GOP offense on Tuesday in a speech highlighting how GOP policies on taxes, immigration and education are designed to help the middle class.

White House spokesman Jay Carney would not tell reporters when the budget will come out, according to a transcript.

The White House and budget office did not respond to separate inquiries about a timeline on Monday.

Carney said Republicans should take up and pass Obama’s past budget plans, which call for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue.

“He has a proposal that the speaker of the House is welcome to take up today or tomorrow as he might wish which represents balanced deficit reduction,” Carney told reporters.

Ryan has committed to writing a budget this year that will balance in 10 years, a feat that will require something in the neighborhood of $8 trillion in spending cuts.

The budget will, like last year’s version, likely call for the eventual partial privatization of Medicare, which could massively increase healthcare costs for seniors.

Carney said House Republicans should stop passing “highly partisan” budgets that have “no support among the American people.”

According to the pool report, Carney would not say whether Obama would release a budget before or after the State of the Union, which will take place on Feb. 12.

Congressional aides expect the budget proposal to come in March. That would not be the latest that Obama waited to produce a budget — his first one came in May.

Democratic and Republican sources said Monday that the uncertainty surrounding the “fiscal cliff” and possibly internal disorganization were to blame for the delay, rather than some strategic maneuvering.

Federal agencies have been working out their final budget numbers as recently as last week, a stage in the budget process that normally occurs in November.

The White House and Congress are facing a March 1 deadline to deal with automatic spending cuts to the 2013 budget and a March 27 deadline to deal with finalizing 2013 funding.

The 2014 budget deals with a later timeframe and Obama has already outlined his position on how to replace the sequester — through a mix of tax increases and spending cuts — and at what level to continue spending this year, sources say.

 

Because of this, delaying the budget into March does not appear to offer a negotiating advantage.

Ryan is expected to mark up a budget in the third week of March in order to allow the House to pass it by the April 1 legal deadline. The White House delay raises the intriguing possibility that Ryan’s plan will come out before Obama’s, sources said.

On the sequester, Senate Democrats are expected to discuss possible replacements at their annual retreat this week and to vote on a bill as early as next week turning off the $85 billion in cuts using revenue increases.

http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/budget/280909-white-house-offers-no-timeline-for-delayed-budget

 

2 Great Lakes hit lowest water level on record

By JOHN FLESHER | Associated Press –

February 6, 2013

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Two of the Great Lakes have hit their lowest water levels ever recorded, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday, capping more than a decade of below-normal rain and snowfall and higher temperatures that boost evaporation.

Measurements taken last month show Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have reached their lowest ebb since record keeping began in 1918, and the lakes could set additional records over the next few months, the corps said. The lakes were 29 inches below their long-term average and had declined 17 inches since January 2012.

The other Great Lakes — Superior, Erie and Ontario — were also well below average.

“We’re in an extreme situation,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, watershed hydrology chief for the corps district office in Detroit.

The low water has caused heavy economic losses by forcing cargo ships to carry lighter loads, leaving boat docks high and dry, and damaging fish-spawning areas. And vegetation has sprung up in newly exposed shoreline bottomlands, a turnoff for hotel customers who prefer sandy beaches.

The corps’ report came as shippers pleaded with Congress for more money to dredge ever-shallower harbors and channels. Shippers are taxed to support a harbor maintenance fund, but only about half of the revenue is spent on dredging. The remainder is diverted to the treasury for other purposes. Legislation to change that policy is pending before Congress.

“Plunging water levels are beyond anyone’s control, but the dredging crisis is man-made,” said James Weakley, president of the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers’ Association.

Kompoltowicz said the Army corps might reconsider a long-debated proposal to place structures in a river to reduce the flow of water away from Lakes Huron and Lake Michigan, which are connected.

Scientists say lake levels are cyclical and controlled mostly by nature. They began a steep decline in the late 1990s and have usually lagged well below their historical averages since then.

But studies have shown that Huron and Michigan fell by 10 to 16 inches because of dredging over the years to deepen the navigational channel in the St. Clair River, most recently in the 1960s. Dredging of the river, which is on the south end of Lake Huron, accelerated the flow of water southward from the two lakes toward Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

Groups representing shoreline property owners, primarily in Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, have demanded action to slow the Lake Huron and Michigan outflow to make up for losses that resulted from dredging, which they contend are even greater than officials have acknowledged.

Although the Army corps produced a list of water-slowing options in 1972, including miniature dams and sills that resemble speed bumps along the river bottom, nothing was done because the lakes were in a period of above-average levels that lasted nearly three decades, Kompoltowicz said.

The corps has congressional authorization to take action but would need money for an updated study as a first step, he said. The Detroit office is considering a funding request, but it would have to compete with other projects nationwide and couldn’t get into the budget before 2015.

“It’s no guarantee that we’re going to get it, especially in this budget climate,” Kompoltowicz said. “But there are serious impacts to navigation and shoreline property owners from this extreme event. It’s time to revisit this.”

Scientists and engineers convened by the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency that deals with shared waterways, issued reports in 2009 and last year that did not endorse trying to regulate the Great Lakes by placing structures at choke points such as the St. Clair River. The commission has conducted public hearings and will issue a statement in about a month, spokesman John Nevin said.

Roger Gauthier, a retired staff hydrologist with the Army corps, said a series of “speed bumps” could be put in the river at a reasonable cost within a few years. Without such measures, he warned, “it would take years of consistent rain” to return Lake Michigan and Lake Huron to normal.

 

Researchers devise new attack techniques against SSL

The new ‘Lucky Thirteen’ attacks can be used to decrypt SSL/TLS and DTLS data if certain conditions are met

Lucian Constantin

February 5, 2013 (IDG News Service)

The developers of many SSL libraries are releasing patches for a vulnerability that could potentially be exploited to recover plaintext information, such as browser authentication cookies, from encrypted communications.

The patching effort follows the discovery of new ways to attack SSL, TLS and DTLS implementations that use cipher-block-chaining (CBC) mode encryption. The new attack methods were developed by researchers Nadhem J. AlFardan and Kenneth G. Paterson at the University of London’s Royal Holloway College.

The men published a research paper and a website on Monday with detailed information about their new attacks, which they have dubbed the Lucky Thirteen. They’ve worked with several TLS library vendors, as well as the TLS Working Group of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), to fix the issue.

The TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol and its predecessor, the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protocol, are a core part of HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), the primary method of securing communications on the Web. The DTLS (Datagram Transport Layer Security) protocol is based on TLS and used for encrypting connections between applications that communicate over UDP (User Datagram Protocol).

“OpenSSL, NSS, GnuTLS, yaSSL, PolarSSL, Opera, and BouncyCastle are preparing patches to protect TLS in CBC-mode against our attacks,” the researchers said on their website.

The discovery means that end users could theoretically be vulnerable to hackers when they visit HTTPS websites that haven’t applied the patches. However, security experts say the vulnerability is very hard to exploit, so there may be little cause for alarm.

“The attacks arise from a flaw in the TLS specification rather than as a bug in specific implementations,” they said. “The attacks apply to all TLS and DTLS implementations that are compliant with TLS 1.1 or 1.2, or with DTLS 1.0 or 1.2 [the most recent versions of the two specifications]. They also apply to implementations of SSL 3.0 and TLS 1.0 that incorporate countermeasures to previous padding oracle attacks. Variant attacks may also apply to non-compliant implementations.”

What this means is that almost all libraries used for implementing some of the Internet’s most important security protocols are likely to be vulnerable to the Lucky Thirteen attacks.

The good news is that executing these attacks successfully in the real world to decrypt data from TLS connections is difficult because they require specific server-side and client-side conditions. For example, the attacker needs to be very close to the targeted server — on the same local area network (LAN).

Padding oracle attacks have been known for over a decade. They involve an attacker capturing an encrypted record while in transit, altering certain parts of it, submitting it to the server and monitoring how long it takes for the server to fail the decryption attempt. By adapting his modifications and analyzing the time differences between many decryption attempts, the attacker can eventually recover the original plaintext byte by byte.

The TLS designers attempted to block such attacks in version 1.2 of the TLS specification, by reducing the timing variations to a level they thought would be too low to be exploitable. However, the Lucky Thirteen research from AlFardan and Paterson shows that this assumption was incorrect and that successful padding oracle attacks are still possible.

“The new AlFardan and Paterson result shows that it is indeed possible to distinguish the tiny timing differential caused by invalid padding, at least from a relatively close distance — e.g., over a LAN,” Matthew Green, a cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, said Monday in a blog post. “This is partly due to advances in computing hardware: most new computers now ship with an easily accessible CPU cycle counter. But it’s also thanks to some clever statistical techniques that use many samples to smooth out and overcome the jitter and noise of a network connection.”

In addition to being in close proximity to the targeted server, a successful Lucky Thirteen attack would also require a very high number — millions — of attempts in order to gather enough data to perform relevant statistical analysis of the timing differences and overcome network noise that might interfere with the process.

In order to achieve this, the attacker would need a way to force the victim’s browser to make a very large number of HTTPS connections. This can be done by placing a piece of rogue JavaScript code on a website visited by the victim.

The secret plaintext targeted for decryption needs to have a fixed position in the HTTPS stream. This condition is met by authentication (session) cookies — small strings of random text stored by websites in browsers to remember logged-in users. An authentication cookie can give the attacker access to the user’s account on its corresponding website, making it a valuable piece of information worth stealing.

However, the biggest hurdle to be overcome by potential attackers is the fact that TLS kills the session after each failed decryption attempt, so the session needs to be renegotiated with the server. “TLS handshakes aren’t fast, and this attack can take tens of thousands (or millions!) of connections per [recovered] byte,” Green said. “So in practice the TLS attack would probably take days. In other words: don’t panic.”

DTLS on the other hand does not kill the session if the server fails to decrypt a record because it was altered, making the Lucky Thirteen attacks borderline practical against this protocol, Green said.

“The attacks can only be carried out by a determined attacker who is located close to the machine being attacked and who can generate sufficient sessions for the attacks,” AlFardan and Paterson said. “In this sense, the attacks do not pose a significant danger to ordinary users of TLS in their current form. However, it is a truism that attacks only get better with time, and we cannot anticipate what improvements to our attacks, or entirely new attacks, may yet to be discovered.”

Ivan Ristic, director of engineering at security firm Qualys, agrees that the Lucky Thirteen attacks are practical for DTLS, but not practical in their current form for TLS. Nevertheless, the research is significant from an academic standpoint, he said Tuesday via email.

Web server administrators have the option of prioritizing a cipher suite that’s not affected by these types of attack in their HTTPS implementations. For many, the only choice is RC4, a stream cipher that dates back to 1987.

“There’s a wide dislike of RC4 because of its known flaws (none of which apply or applied to SSL/TLS), but we haven’t yet seen a working attack against RC4 as used in TLS,” Ristic said. “In that sense, even though RC4 is not ideal, it appears to be stronger than the alternatives currently available in TLS 1.0.”

TLS 1.2 supports AES-GCM (AES Galois Counter Mode), a more modern cipher suite that’s also not vulnerable to these types of attack. However, the overall adoption of TLS 1.2 is currently low.

According to data from SSL Pulse, a project created by Qualys to monitor the quality of SSL/TLS support across the Web, only 11 percent of the Internet’s top 177,000 HTTPS websites have support for TLS 1.2.

“I think this discovery will be yet another reason to speed up TLS 1.2 deployment,” Ristic said.

This is not the first time people have suggested prioritizing RC4 in TLS to prevent padding oracle attacks. The same thing happened two years ago when the BEAST (Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS) attack was announced.

“From the most recent SSL Pulse results (January), we know that 66.7% of the servers are vulnerable to the BEAST attack, which means that they do not prioritize RC4,” Ristic said. “Of those, a small number will support TLS 1.2 and may prioritize a non-CBC suite supported only in this version of the protocol. However, because so few browsers support TLS 1.2, I think we can estimate that about 66% of the servers will negotiate CBC.”

 

The New Age of Military Airships Isn’t Likely to Last Very Long

http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-new-age-of-military-airships-isnt-likely-to-last-very-long/

Written by: Brendan McNally on January 28, 2013

To anyone at all passionate about airships, New Jersey’s Lakehurst Naval Air Station is Jerusalem. Birthplace and home to the Navy’s lighter-that-air fleet from 1921 to 1962, Lakehurst is where numerous Navy blimps and dirigibles were built, though it is much better known as the place where the Hindenburg met its fiery end in 1937. On Oct. 26, 2011, inside Lakehurst’s massive Hangar One, another seemingly historic moment took place. There, almost dwarfed by the hangar’s vast interior, floated naval airship MZ3A, her rudders proudly emblazoned with red, white, and blue stripes, while on the airship’s side, in giant letters was written: U.S. NAVY. It was a christening, of sorts, a ribbon-cutting welcoming the return of blimps to the fleet after a forty-four-year hiatus.

But that wasn’t all. Only a couple of hundred yards away, in Hangar Six, another, much larger airship was being readied for its first flight. It was called the LEMV (for Long-Endurance, Multi-Intelligence Vehicle) and it was an Army airship. At the same time, back in Elizabeth City, N.C., a third airship was being prepared for its first flight. This one, called Blue Devil 2, was an Air Force project. Three airships; one for each service! For the aged community of former airshipmen, gathered there in Hangar One, it must have been a sweet moment indeed. Now, finally, the second era of military airships was under way.

What had happened? Was it that all the generations of naval aviators trained to have a Pavlovian reaction to poopy-bags had all simply moved on and the ones that had replaced them had no particular prejudice either way about airships? As for the Army and Air Force programs, the explanation was not so mysterious. Three words said it all: Afghanistan, IEDs and appropriations.

The Afghanistan war had been going on for ten years and too many American and Allied soldiers were being killed and maimed by improvised, remotely-detonated explosive devices left hidden along the sides of roads. One way to prevent this would be to have large airships hovering high overhead, monitoring enemy activity and especially their electronic communications. Using on-board electronic countermeasures, the airships might be able to block their detonations and help direct their interdiction. At the very least, they would be able to persistently monitor large areas for insurgent activity, including the emplacement of IEDs. At the urging of two very powerful senior senators, Daniel Inouye and Thad Cochran, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, LEMV and Blue Devil got funded and launched as crash programs. The idea was to get both platforms up and operating and deployed over Afghanistan by 2011 to prevent further unnecessary casualties.

A U.S. Navy MZ-3A manned airship, Advanced Airship Flying Laboratory, derived from the commercial A-170 series blimp lands at Lake Front Airport, New Orleans, La., to provide logistical support for the Deepwater Unified Command and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, July 8, 2010. The Coast Guard requested the support of the Navy vehicle to help detect oil, direct skimming vessels and look for wildlife that may be threatened by oil. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Geraci

But as encouraging as things looked that day inside Hangar One, the reality was actually quite different from its appearance. To begin with, calling MZ-3A a military airship was a bit of a stretch. It was really just an off-the-shelf commercial blimp, operated by a civilian contractor and manned by civilian crews. It operated as an advanced flying laboratory, a test bed for sensors and monitoring equipment. It had already been around since 2006, doing everything from flight tests in Yuma to monitoring oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It had already been deactivated, deflated, and crated once before and, short of a reprieve, was slated for crating again in just a few more months.

But while the MZ-3A may not have had a battlefield role in its job description, both LEMV and Blue Devil did. They needed to prove themselves in combat in order be taken seriously and not get offered up the next time the budget cutter started swinging his axe. But now the Afghanistan war was winding down, or at least the American role in it was, and both airships were running out of time.

LEMV and Blue Devil were both extremely ambitious, unproven systems and they were experiencing difficulties. The LEMV wasn’t a blimp at all, but a hybrid with a rigid, shaped hull, designed to take off aerodynamically, like an airplane, using vectored thrust, before letting the helium-filled gasbag continue the job. It was what they were calling a “crew optional” vehicle that could stay aloft for weeks at a time, carrying an array of sensors and communications equipment. Or it could be used to haul large amounts of cargo.

Blue Devil was a conventional blimp, only massive; 380 feet long with 1.4 million cubic feet of volume. It was designed to hover at four miles and remain in place for up to a week. But what was most ambitious about Blue Devil was its approach to the ISR mission. Besides carrying multiple sensors and countermeasures gear, it also was designed to carry special Argus cameras capable of watching areas of up to 64 square kilometers in size. But most significantly, Blue Devil would have its own on-board computer system to perform analysis, allowing it to transmit data only as needed instead of in constant streams that might strain battlefield networks.

The problem was that its manufacturer had never built an airship that large before, and seriously miscalculated the weight of its tail fins. As a result they were too heavy and had to be redesigned. At the same time the Argus cameras and other sensors weren’t working properly, which caused the first flight milestone to slip by more than a year, from April 2011 to October 2012. The Air Force was starting to get cold feet. During the spring of 2012, Blue Devil’s annual operating costs got revised upwards, putting them at $188 million, far more than the Air Force was willing to pay. On May 23, 2012, the Air Force pulled the plug on the Blue Devil. Orders were sent out for it to “deflate, crate, and head for the gate.” Shortly afterwards, Mav6, Blue Devil’s prime contractor, announced it had divested itself of the airship business.

LEMV had been slipping milestones, but did make its first flight in August 2012, more than a year later than originally planned. In October the Pentagon announced that, what with the continuing drawdown of forces from Afghanistan, they were no longer sure that LEMV would be deployed there.

At this point no one can say what LEMV’s future will be. The Pentagon is expected to begin a harsh series of budget cuts during 2013. Whether the unproven LEMV will be among those getting the axe is not known, but its prospects don’t look good. A Pentagon report recently went to Congress, outlining the critical need for hybrid air vehicles like the LEMV. Whether it will bolster support or simply be ignored, no one will hazard a guess. But one thing is known: The military airship’s biggest Capitol Hill proponent was Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, Daniel Inouye, who died in December. Without him to protect them, the military airship future is probably bleak.

On the other hand, the Navy Airship MZ-3A is apparently still flying. It was recently observed over the skies of the Army’s proving ground in Aberdeen, Md., where it was helping test some of the sensors slated to go aboard the LEMV. But once that is finished, unless another reprieve comes, its operators will also get orders to “deflate, crate, and head for the gate.”

 

Appropriators preparing stopgap bill to avoid government shutdown in March

The Hill

By Erik Wasson – 02/06/13 12:58 PM ET

The House Appropriations Committee has started writing a stopgap spending bill as part of an effort to avert a government shutdown after March 27, when the current continuing resolution expires.

The move is a strong signal that House and Senate deals on more detailed appropriations bills — deals that were close to being finished last December — are unlikely.

Work on the stopgap bill is technical at this point, and it’s unclear how long the stopgap bill would fund the government. The most likely scenario is a six-month bill to finish out the fiscal year.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that the top-line spending level in the bill — a source of friction between the parties in previous fights over government funding — is up in the air.

“We are beginning to write a CR, so we’ll see,” he said.

Rogers has difficulty proceeding because he does not know whether the $85 billion cut to spending from sequestration will take effect on March 1. President Obama on Tuesday called for Congress to delay those cuts and find an alternative.

The challenge for Rogers is that, of the $85 billion in sequester cuts for 2013, $70 billion would come from discretionary appropriations that are the purview of his committee.

Rogers blasted the sequester on Wednesday.

“I think it the stupidest way to do business that we have ever had,” he said. “I don’t like any across-the-board cuts. That’s what people elected us to do, to make decisions about where money should be spent. When we abdicate that responsibility and allow across-the-board cuts, it’s not smart.”

The continuing resolution now funding the government has authorized a total level of spending at $1.047 trillion. Under the fiscal-cliff deal, that number must be reduced to $1.043 trillion. The figure is expected to drop to around $980 billion if the sequester and other changes are taken into effect, a source said.

Senate Democrats are likely to insist on keeping spending at current levels and are working on a sequester replacement that includes tax increases.

Rogers is still holding out hope that the current stopgap can be replaced with at least some of the regular 12 full-length appropriations bills. He said it is time to focus on entitlement spending rather than talking about new taxes or more cuts to appropriations.

“Now is the time to talk about cutting spending, mandatory spending. That’s where the money is,” he said.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/appropriations/281465-house-appropriators-begin-preparing-stopgap-bill#ixzz2KDpAjMEu

 

DARPA Funds Python Big Data Effort    

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

February 06, 2013 04:02 PM

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is spending $100 million over four years to advance big data technologies, recently awarded $3 million to develop data analytics and data processing libraries for popular computer programming language Python.

The funding, awarded to data visualization and analytics company Continuum Analytics, will go toward the development of a scientific computing library for Python called Blaze and a visualization system called Bokeh, Continuum announced in a blog post.

The funding, which was awarded in December, comes as part of XDATA, a $100 million DARPA research and development project that aims to “develop computational techniques and software tools for processing and analyzing the vast amount of mission-oriented information for Defense activities.” XDATA, in turn, is but one piece of larger big data efforts by the Department of Defense and the federal government.

Blaze will extend the current NumPy mathematical computing library and the SciPy scientific computing library for Python and will make those libraries more useful with big data. Key developers of those technologies, including NumPy’s original author Travis Oliphant, will be involved with Blaze.

According to Continuum, Blaze will be “designed to handle out-of-core computations on large data sets that exceed the system memory capacity, as well as on distributed and streaming data.”

Bokeh, meanwhile, is a Python library for big data visualization, what Continuum terms a “scalable, interactive and easy-to-use visualization system” for big data sets. Bokeh will integrate numerous visualization approaches, according to Continuum, including the Stencil visualization model and Grammar of Graphics.

A number of other big data efforts have also been recipients of DARPA’s largesse.

In November, data visualization and processing software company Kitware announced a $4 million award to work with software company KnowledgeVis and universities on an open source data aggregation, querying and visualization toolkit called the Visualization Design Environment.

Then, in December, Georgia Institute of Technology announced that it had received a $2.7 million award to work on scalable machine-learning technologies and distributed computing architectures to rapidly process data analytics algorithms, and Scientific Systems Company, Inc., won an undisclosed amount of funding for new machine learning software.

Last month, database developer and software consultancy SYSTAP won $2 million as part of XDATA to build an open source graph analytics platform for use with GPU compute clusters.

 

Iran airs images allegedly extracted from U.S. drone

http://www.usatoday.com/news/

8:26a.m. EST February 7, 2013

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s state TV has broadcast footage allegedly extracted from the advanced CIA spy drone captured in 2011, the latest in a flurry of moves from Iranian authorities meant to underline the nation’s purported military and technological advances.

Iran has long claimed it managed to reverse-engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel, seized in December 2011 after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern border with Afghanistan, and that it’s capable of launching its own production line for the unmanned aircraft.

After initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed the Sentinel had been monitoring Iran’s military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.

The video aired late Wednesday on Iranian shows an aerial view of an airport and a city, said to be a U.S. drone base and Kandahar, Afghanistan. The TV also showed images purported to be the Sentinel landing at a base in eastern Iran but it was unclear if that footage meant to depict the moment of the drone’s seizure.

In addition, the TV also showed images of an Iranian helicopter transporting the drone, as well as its disassembled parts being carried on a trailer.

In another part of the video, the chief of the Revolutionary Guard’s airspace division, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said that only after capturing the drone, Iran realized it “belongs to the CIA.”

“We were able to definitively access the data of the drone, once we brought it down,” said Hajizadeh.

He described the Sentinel’s capture as a huge scoop for Iran, saying that at the time, Tehran did not rule out a possible punitive U.S. airstrike over the drone.

Iranian officials have accused the U.S. of stepping up its espionage activities against Iran as part of intensified Western efforts to force Tehran to abandon its uranium enrichment program, a key aspect of its disputed nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran may be trying to develop atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

In an attempt to embarrass Washington, Iran has claimed to have captured several American drones, most recently in December, when Tehran said it seized a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone — a less sophisticated aircraft — after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf.

U.S. officials said there was no evidence that the latest claims were true.

The latest Sentinel footage came as the U.S. tightened sanctions to pressure the Iranian government to limit its nuclear program and restrictions on institutions that Washington says are stifling political dissent and censoring speech.

Among the expanded measures announced Monday by the Treasury Department is a move to deny Iran access to revenue garnered from its oil exports. Under the latest sanctions, Iran would only be able to use revenue from its oil sales in a country that purchased its crude — now mostly big Asian economies such as China and India — which would significantly limit its access to the money.

 

States propose limiting use of drones by police


The Kansas City Star
February 5

By MATT GOURAS

Associated Press

Lawmakers in at least 11 states are looking at plans to restrict the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited to spy on Americans.

The American Civil Liberties Union says state legislators are proposing various restrictions on local authorities’ use of the technology.

Concerns mounted after the Federal Aviation Administration began establishing safety standards for civilian drones, which are becoming increasingly affordable and small in size.

Some police agencies have said the drones could be used for surveillance of suspects, search and rescue operations, and gathering details on damage caused by natural disasters.

In Montana, a libertarian-minded state that doesn’t even let police use remote cameras to issue traffic tickets, Democrats and Republicans are banding together to back multiple proposals restricting drone use. They say drones, most often associated with overseas wars, aren’t welcome in Big Sky Country.

“I do not think our citizens would want cameras to fly overhead and collect data on our lives,” Republican state Sen. Matthew Rosendale told a legislative panel on Tuesday.

Rosendale is sponsoring a measure that would only let law enforcement use drones with a search warrant, and would make it illegal for private citizens to spy on neighbors with drones.

The full Montana Senate endorsed a somewhat broader measure Tuesday that bans information collected by drones from being used in court. It also would bar local and state government ownership of drones equipped with weapons, such as stunning devices.

The ACLU said the states won’t be able to stop federal agencies or border agents from using drones. But the Montana ban would not allow local police to use criminal information collected by federal drones that may be handed over in cooperative investigations.

The drones could be wrongly used to hover over someone’s property and gather information, opponents said.

“The use of drones across the country has become a great threat to our personal privacy,” said ACLU of Montana policy director Niki Zupanic. “The door is wide open for intrusions into our personal private space.”

Other state legislatures looking at the issue include California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma.

A Missouri House committee looked at a bill Tuesday that would outlaw the use of unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance on individuals or property, providing an exclusion for police working with a search warrant. It drew support from agricultural groups and civil liberties advocates.

“It’s important for us to prevent Missouri from sliding into a police-type state,” said Republican Rep. Casey Guernsey of Bethany.

A North Dakota lawmaker introduced a similar bill in January following the 2011 arrest of a Lakota farmer during a 16-hour standoff with police. A drone was used to help a SWAT team apprehend Rodney Brossart.

Its use was upheld by state courts, but the sponsor of the North Dakota bill, Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, said safeguards should be put into place to make sure the practice isn’t abused.

Last year, Seattle police received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to train people to operate drones for use in investigations, search-and-rescue operations and natural disasters. Residents and the ACLU called on city officials to tightly regulate the information that can be collected by drones, which are not in use yet.

In Alameda County, Calif., the sheriff’s office faced backlash late last year after announcing plans to use drones to help find fugitives and assist with search and rescue operations.


Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/02/05/4050392/9-states-propose-limiting-use.html#storylink=cpy

 

Death by Drones: Are They Worth the Cost?

By DAVID FRANCIS, The Fiscal Times

February 7, 2013

As John Brennan prepares to face a Senate committee as part of his nomination for Director of the CIA today, the use of drones, and their effectiveness, has become a distracting flashpoint for the Obama administration.

The controversy erupted this week when the Obama administration’s policy to target terrorists, including Americans citizens, was leaked. The policy allows suspected terrorists to be killed even if they have no immediate plans to attack American interests. According to the leaked Justice Department memo, the White House has this power because “[t]he threat posed by [al Qaeda] and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat.”

After the document leaked, reports emerged that the CIA was operating a drone base out of Saudi Arabia. The left exploded with charges that Obama was violating civil liberties and due process. Some in Congress have now called for limits on presidential authority to use drones. Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, the second ranking Democrat in the House, told the AP that the policy “deserves a serious look at how we make the decisions in government to take out, kill, eliminate, whatever word you want to use, not just American citizens but other citizens as well.” They are likely to be a hot topic at Brennan’s hearing today.

Yet even as the controversy over drones grows, there is no doubt their use will continue. House speaker John Boehner announced his support of the administration’s drone policy. The administration has agreed to provide Congress with the legal justification for their drone policy, but in the past has showed no signs of backing down on issues related to national security.

Ground forces dispatched to fight terrorists instead of nations makes little sense compared with sending in special-forces, drones or robots.

Importantly, drones are a precursor to 21st century war and national security. The use of massive ground forces dispatched to fight terrorists instead of nations makes little sense compared with sending in special-forces, drones or robots. Still, as controversy over their use erupts, questions about drones have entered the mainstream. Are they cost effective, and do they achieve military objectives?

The United States has drones flying over Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan, as well as places unknown. They have been used to kill terrorists: Abu Saleh al Masri, a powerful al Qaeda leader, was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan last year. They have also been used as part of broader international missions: a U.S. drone attacked Muammar Gadaffi’s convoy just before the former Libyan leader was captured and killed.

Drones have been used to kill American citizens. Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was a member of al Qaeda, was killed in a drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

Drones provide the obvious advantage of not putting American lives at risk. But of similar importance given the coming drawdown, drones give the Pentagon a low-cost way to eliminate known targets.

The cost of one MQ-9 Reaper drone is $6.4 million, according to an analysis by the American Security Project. The cost of one A-10 Thunderbolt, the plane with capabilities similar to the Reaper, is $18.2 million, adjusted for inflation. Maintenance costs for drones are also lower, as they require less mechanical expertise to fix.

Drones are also substantially cheaper than traditional ground forces. Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale told Congress last year that each American troop in Afghanistan cost $850,000 per year. Using Hale’s conservative estimate, the 60,000 American troops in Afghanistan cost the Pentagon $51 billion last year. Over the next decade, the Pentagon only plans to spend $40 billion on unclassified drones.

But drones have severe limitations. The Obama administration has received multiple warnings about depending too heavily on its drone program, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars.” Former CIA director Michael Hayden warned the president’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, that fighting Pakistani terrorists with Predator drone strikes wouldn’t resolve the threat against the United States. “Unless you’re prepared to do this forever, you have to change the facts on the ground,” the book quotes Hayden as saying.

Drone strikes against U.S. enemies were akin to attacking a beehive one bee at a time.

Similarly, Bruce Riedel–the former CIA officer who oversaw the administration’s first review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan policies—told Obama that the drone strikes only worked because of a network of human spies who identified targets. The metaphor reported in the book was that drone strikes against U.S. enemies were akin to attacking a beehive one bee at a time.

There are also concerns about where drones can be used. Right now, countries give the United States permission to operate drones in their airspace. If an enemy were in an uncooperative country – say Russia, for instance – it would be impossible to target using drones without provoking the rival. They are also relatively easy to shoot down, as Iran claimed to have done when a U.S. drone allegedly entered their airspace last December.

Lastly, there are unresolved moral concerns about drone use. They change the nature of war, making it easy to kill targets in an impersonal way. According to Jacob Stokes, a research associate at the Center for New American Security, drones are altering the way decision about killing enemies are made.

“If you know where a high-ranking terrorist leader is and he’s planning an attack, it makes sense to use a drone stroke to kill them,” he said. “But in a sense, it’s too easy. The process in which you decide to use a drone to kill someone might not be as vigorous as you hope it would be.”

As John Brennan prepares to face a Senate committee as part of his nomination for Director of the CIA today, the use of drones, and their effectiveness, has become a distracting flashpoint for the Obama administration.

The controversy erupted this week when the Obama administration’s policy to target terrorists, including Americans citizens, was leaked. The policy allows suspected terrorists to be killed even if they have no immediate plans to attack American interests. According to the leaked Justice Department memo, the White House has this power because “[t]he threat posed by [al Qaeda] and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat.”

After the document leaked, reports emerged that the CIA was operating a drone base out of Saudi Arabia. The left exploded with charges that Obama was violating civil liberties and due process. Some in Congress have now called for limits on presidential authority to use drones. Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, the second ranking Democrat in the House, told the AP that the policy “deserves a serious look at how we make the decisions in government to take out, kill, eliminate, whatever word you want to use, not just American citizens but other citizens as well.” They are likely to be a hot topic at Brennan’s hearing today.

Yet even as the controversy over drones grows, there is no doubt their use will continue. House speaker John Boehner announced his support of the administration’s drone policy. The administration has agreed to provide Congress with the legal justification for their drone policy, but in the past has showed no signs of backing down on issues related to national security.

Ground forces dispatched to fight terrorists instead of nations makes little sense compared with sending in special-forces, drones or robots.

Importantly, drones are a precursor to 21st century war and national security. The use of massive ground forces dispatched to fight terrorists instead of nations makes little sense compared with sending in special-forces, drones or robots. Still, as controversy over their use erupts, questions about drones have entered the mainstream. Are they cost effective, and do they achieve military objectives?

The United States has drones flying over Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan, as well as places unknown. They have been used to kill terrorists: Abu Saleh al Masri, a powerful al Qaeda leader, was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan last year. They have also been used as part of broader international missions: a U.S. drone attacked Muammar Gadaffi’s convoy just before the former Libyan leader was captured and killed.

Drones have been used to kill American citizens. Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was a member of al Qaeda, was killed in a drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

Drones provide the obvious advantage of not putting American lives at risk. But of similar importance given the coming drawdown, drones give the Pentagon a low-cost way to eliminate known targets.

The cost of one MQ-9 Reaper drone is $6.4 million, according to an analysis by the American Security Project. The cost of one A-10 Thunderbolt, the plane with capabilities similar to the Reaper, is $18.2 million, adjusted for inflation. Maintenance costs for drones are also lower, as they require less mechanical expertise to fix.

Drones are also substantially cheaper than traditional ground forces. Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale told Congress last year that each American troop in Afghanistan cost $850,000 per year. Using Hale’s conservative estimate, the 60,000 American troops in Afghanistan cost the Pentagon $51 billion last year. Over the next decade, the Pentagon only plans to spend $40 billion on unclassified drones.

But drones have severe limitations. The Obama administration has received multiple warnings about depending too heavily on its drone program, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars.” Former CIA director Michael Hayden warned the president’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, that fighting Pakistani terrorists with Predator drone strikes wouldn’t resolve the threat against the United States. “Unless you’re prepared to do this forever, you have to change the facts on the ground,” the book quotes Hayden as saying.

Drone strikes against U.S. enemies were akin to attacking a beehive one bee at a time.

Similarly, Bruce Riedel–the former CIA officer who oversaw the administration’s first review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan policies—told Obama that the drone strikes only worked because of a network of human spies who identified targets. The metaphor reported in the book was that drone strikes against U.S. enemies were akin to attacking a beehive one bee at a time.

There are also concerns about where drones can be used. Right now, countries give the United States permission to operate drones in their airspace. If an enemy were in an uncooperative country – say Russia, for instance – it would be impossible to target using drones without provoking the rival. They are also relatively easy to shoot down, as Iran claimed to have done when a U.S. drone allegedly entered their airspace last December.

Lastly, there are unresolved moral concerns about drone use. They change the nature of war, making it easy to kill targets in an impersonal way. According to Jacob Stokes, a research associate at the Center for New American Security, drones are altering the way decision about killing enemies are made.

“If you know where a high-ranking terrorist leader is and he’s planning an attack, it makes sense to use a drone stroke to kill them,” he said. “But in a sense, it’s too easy. The process in which you decide to use a drone to kill someone might not be as vigorous as you hope it would be.”

Read more at http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2013/02/07/Death-by-Drones-Are-They-Worth-the-Cost.aspx#ZVDyTH45sYgYyUg0.99

Lighter fare offers heftier profits for eateries: study

ModernHealthCare.com

By Paul Barr

Posted: February 7, 2013 – 12:01 am ET

Lower-calorie foods are more profitable for fast-food chains and casual dining restaurants than higher calorie foods, a study has found. And the authors say the results give public health officials the ammo to induce national chains to cut back on the calories in their food.

The data showing low-calorie foods to be more profitable could be the magic bullet needed by public health advocates to convince chain owners to reduce the calories in their food, said Hank Cardello, senior fellow and director of the Obesity Solutions Initiative at the Hudson Institute, a not-for-profit research policy group focused on global security, prosperity, and freedom.

The study, “Low Calorie Foods: It’s Just Good Business,” found that chain restaurants considered to be lower calorie had a greater number of servings, a greater change in the total traffic and greater sales growth, looking at 2006 to 2011. The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Historically, public health officials would push for chain restaurants to offer healthier food, but they couldn’t give them a financial case for doing so. “As an industry, they’ve been slow to change,” Cardello said. “Now you can get their attention,” he said.

The study indicates that Americans are being drawn to lower calorie choices and the restaurants that can provide those choices will make more money, Cardello said. “People are voting with their wallets.”

The study authors wrote that in 1990, there were no states with an obesity rate greater than 15%, while currently 39 states have adult obesity rates greater than 25% and no state’s obesity rate is lower than 20%. The medical cost of obesity is estimated to be $147 billion per year, according to the study.

Cardello said the research relied on high-quality data from the company NPD and from Nation’s Restaurant News, though some restaurants had to be excluded because they offer too many variations that couldn’t be tracked properly. “I would’ve loved to put Chipotle in there,” and the same holds true for pizza chains, but they couldn’t be accurately assessed, he said.

The study authors in exchange for getting access to the data could not reveal individual chain company data, Cardello said. Among the chains that were studied in the report are: Chili’s, McDonald’s and KFC.

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20130207/NEWS/302079959#ixzz2KDytGilq?trk=tynt

 

Small-business quotas could become even tougher to meet

FCW.com

By Matthew Weigelt

Feb 06, 2013

Joe Jordan is working to build the right supplier base for the federal government, which includes paying a lot of attention to small businesses, he said. But agencies will have a hard time meeting the contracting goals for those companies because they have been living in budgetary limbo for so long, he added.

“I will not declare victory until we’re at or above the 23 percent” annual small-business contracting goal and meeting the goals for specific socioeconomic categories of small businesses, said Jordan, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, during a speech at the Coalition for Government Procurement’s Strategic Sourcing Forum on Jan. 31.

The government has not met the 23-percent goal since 2005, although it has come tantalizingly close in recent years. It reached 21.65 percent in fiscal 2011, which is $91.5 billion of total contacting dollars. Small businesses received 22.7 percent of contracting dollars, or $97.9 billion, in fiscal 2010. The Small Business Administration has not released the numbers for fiscal 2012.

Jordan said agencies will find it harder to reach the goal in fiscal 2013 because of the fiscal unknowns. “We’re facing incredible headwinds this year with the budgetary uncertainties,” he said.

The bar might soon be even higher. The same day Jordan spoke, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced the Assuring Contracting Equity Act (S. 196), which would boost the 23-percent goal to 25 percent.

The House wanted the increase last year and put language to that effect in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate disagreed, however, and NDAA became law Jan. 2 without the change.

Udall also wants to increase the contracting goals for companies owned by women and minorities from 5 percent to 10 percent.

Some small-business advocates question the wisdom of raising the targets.

“I’m a skeptic,” said Guy Timberlake, CEO of the American Small Business Coalition. “Since the existing overall goal has not been met, I’m not certain of the benefit other than giving agencies a higher mark to achieve.”

Raising the contracting goals could create some friction between agencies and small companies, said Timberlake, a former federal small-business contractor. Agency officials would have to find ways to set aside more business for small companies, whose leaders would expect agencies to meet the goal.

He offered a suggestion for Udall: Require that agencies make all simplified acquisition purchases with small companies. That change would make it much easier for agencies to achieve the small-business contracting goals, he said.

Simplified acquisitions are streamlined purchases that can be as high as $150,000. In addition, recently renewed regulations allow agencies to use those procedures for purchases under a special exception that increases the simplified acquisition threshold to $6.5 million for “certain commercial items,” an ambiguous term, according to Timberlake.

Simplified purchases have greatly increased since fiscal 2009, but roughly half of those dollars went to companies that were not small. Timberlake said that under his proposed rule change, at least an additional $8 billion in goods and services would have been channeled to small federal contractors in fiscal 2011.

Moreover, from 2011 until the first part of 2013, the government has awarded $33 billion using simplified acquisition procedures. That total could have boosted fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012 awards to small businesses by roughly $17 billion, pushing agencies much closer to or even beyond the current small-business contracting goal of 23 percent.

Timberlake also criticized Udall’s proposal to increase goals for certain types of set-asides while omitting companies in economically depressed areas, called Historically Underutilized Business Zones, and those owned by service-disabled veterans. Targets for those companies would remain at 3 percent.

“This seems to be a slap in the face, especially considering the agonizing certification and re-certification process to which [those companies] are subjected,” he said.

Udall’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee for further consideration.

 

Microsoft’s Surface Pro: A better tomorrow (review)

Washington Post

By Devindra Hardawar | VentureBeat.com, Published: February 6

Microsoft’s first Surface tablet was all about disappointing compromise, but the new Surface Pro is full of possibility.

It has an Intel processor, so it can actually run older Windows software. It features a sharp 1080p display that makes text, pictures, and movies pop. And it has has a stylus pen … for some reason.

The Surface Pro ($899 for the 64GB version, $999 for the 128GB model) isn’t perfect, but it comes much closer to Microsoft’s initial vision of the Surface as a machine that can serve as both a fully functional laptop and a solid tablet. Unlike the Surface RT, released just a few months ago, it’s more than just a heavy tablet in a PC’s clothing.

While testing the Surface Pro over the past week, I often forgot that I was using an entirely new type of computing device. It simply felt like a fast Windows 8 laptop. And while it’s far less transparent when used as a tablet, mostly due to its weight, the Surface Pro still worked well enough for casual usage while on the couch or in bed.

It’s close to the no-compromise device I was looking for when I reviewed the Surface RT — though we’re not quite there yet.

The Good: Fast, flexible, and polished

The high points of the Surface RT also applies to the Surface Pro. It features the same polished design, a case made out of a durable metal called VaporMG, and a kickstand that pops out with a satisfying thunk. I was shocked at how well-constructed the earlier Surface RT was, and the Surface Pro gave me the same impression, albeit with a bit more heft.

The Surface Pro weighs just under 2 pounds, compared to the Surface RT’s 1.5 pounds, but the slightly greater weight comes with a payoff, which is that is is a far more functional machine. The Surface Pro sports a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor running at 1.7 gigahertz, along with 4 gigabytes of RAM. That’s a huge step above the Surface RT’s Tegra 3 processor and 2GB of RAM, and it shows.

Even though it has the same 10.6-inch screen size, the Surface Pro features a much higher-resolution 1080p display than its predecessor. That means it can run HD movies at their highest resolution, and it also makes just about everything on the screen extra sharp. The screen also supports multitouch with up to ten fingers, while the previous Surface only supported five.

Launching programs, moving around the OS, and opening large media files was buttery smooth with the Surface Pro. For the most part, it managed to keep up with my typical workflow, which involves having several browsers open with dozens of tabs, a media program (Spotify, these days), and an instant messaging client (typically Trillian). In comparison, the Surface RT struggled to launch processor-intensive apps, and its paltry amount of RAM made multitasking a pain.

The Surface RT never quite fit into my workflow because it could only run Windows 8 apps — not so with the Surface Pro. Its Intel processor means it can run any Windows application that ran on Windows 7. I was able to run browsers other than Internet Explorer (there’s still no Chrome or Firefox version for Windows RT), and I even installed iTunes for fun. The freedom and flexibility of the Surface Pro made the limitations of the Surface RT seem even more egregious in retrospect.

Gamers will also appreciate the horsepower behind the Surface Pro, as it’s capable of playing a lot more than just Angry Birds. I installed Valve’s Steam client and was able to pull down Half-Life 2: Episode Two in around 15 minutes. The game takes about 20 seconds to launch, and loading the first chapter took only around 12 seconds. That’s about on par with my giant desktop, which has a modern Nvidia GTX 560 video card and a three-year old quad-core processor.

I was able to play Episode Two smoothly at 720p with mid-range graphics settings, which was more than adequate for the Surface’s screen size. That’s pretty impressive for a computer with only integrated graphics capabilities. (Going up to full 1080p gaming is perhaps asking for too much: At that setting, Episode Two was playable, but with a low framerate.)

The Surface Pro’s battery life was comparable with other ultraportables, lasting around five hours on a full charge. It’s paltry compared to tablets like the iPad, which typically get around ten hours of usable battery life, but the difference is understandable given the Pro’s size and horsepower.

Ultimately, I was impressed at what I was able to do with the Surface Pro. It’s particularly impressive that it’s lighter than Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air, which at 2.4 pounds is one of the lightest ultraportables around. This is where the Surface’s dual identity comes in handy: It may be hefty for a tablet, but it’s a featherweight dream when compared to other ultraportables.

I’ve been hesitant to recommend any tablet as a PC replacement so far, but the Surface Pro’s ability to offer the best of a complete PC while also dabbing in tablet territory could make it the only computing device some may need.

The bad: Even more awkward as a tablet

I’m no fan of big tablets, and the Surface Pro is by far the biggest tablet I’ve come across yet. It’s far too heavy to hold one-handed (even for short periods), and its wide screen makes it awkward to balance as well. In a time when we have small tablets like the iPad Mini weighing in at .68 pounds and roughly the size of a paperback, the Surface Pro feels like a dictionary.

But I suppose that’s the price you pay for including the hardware necessary to make it a functional Windows 8 ultraportable as well. I was disappointed in the Surface RT because it felt mostly like a tablet. But because the Surface Pro feels more like an ultraportable, its tablet deficiencies seem less egregious. Eventually, I got used to holding it on my lap or knee for casual web browsing.

When it comes to its size, the Surface Pro sits in a space all by itself right now: It’s lighter than other ultraportables, but far heavier than other tablets. That makes it easy fodder for gadget geeks who want the Surface to fail, but I see it more as a sign that Microsoft is actually daring to be different than the crowd.

I didn’t spend much time with the Surface Pro’s stylus pen, mostly because there wasn’t much of a compelling reason to use it. It’s helpful for doodling in image editing apps, but I’ll never get used to taking handwritten notes on glass screens (sorry Galaxy Note fans). It was particularly useful for navigating Windows apps that weren’t optimized for touchscreens, though I don’t think that was Microsoft’s intent.

Windows 8 apps aren’t exactly helping the Surface Pro’s tablet standing either. Microsoft has managed to get a decent selection of Windows 8 apps, but there’s nothing that feels truly groundbreaking or inspired. I spent most of my time with the Surface Pro inside of the desktop environment running older Windows apps.

Microsoft also has some work to do when it comes to the Surface Pro’s stability. It would occasionally get stuck in portrait mode, and on several occasions, the Surface failed to recognize the touch and type keyboards. Rebooting fixed most of the issues I ran into, but I also had a few blue screen crashes when repeatedly plugging and unplugging the keyboards. (At least Windows 8’s blue screen of death has a frowny face. Upgrade!)

The verdict: This is the Surface you’ve been waiting for

For all of its failures as a pure tablet, the Surface Pro is a compelling offering as an ultraportable/tablet hybrid. The Surface RT gave us a mere glimpse at the future of computing, but the Surface Pro’s combination of power and flexibility brings it right to your fingertips.

It may not be for everyone, but it’s worth serious consideration if you’re looking at Windows 8 ultrabooks. I have a feeling we’ll look back at the Surface Pro as the first time Microsoft’s Surface dream was more reality than hype.

For once, the future seems bright for Microsoft.

 

Prospects for Comprehensive Cyber Reform Are Questionable

NextGov

By Aliya Sternstein

February 7, 2013

Congress is unlikely to pass a comprehensive cybersecurity reform bill this year, largely because public concern about computer hacking doesn’t sway elections, a recently-departed House Homeland Security Committee senior aide said. That prospect is likely to change only after an event involving major property damage, casualties and a direct connection to malicious network activity, said Kevin Gronberg, who as former senior counsel to the committee, helped draft key cybersecurity legislation that failed in 2012.

“As of yet, cyber still does not win votes,” said Gronberg, who stepped down after the 2012 election. “It will always be one of those issues that politicians will be able to push aside [in favor of] the issue of the day — such as sequestration,” he said. “That’s how these Congress members keep their jobs.” Gronberg, now a private consultant, spoke during a discussion hosted by Nextgov.

Andrew Grotto, a staffer for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, took a less pessimistic view: “I’m not sure we need a 9/11-like incident to yield legislation,” he said.

Earlier this week, in a speech at Georgetown University, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took lawmakers to task for failing to pass reforms in 2012 that would help the Pentagon and other agencies respond to a critical national security imperative: “Cyber is now at the point where the technology is there to cripple a country, to take down our power grid system, to take down our government system, take down our financial system and literally paralyze the country,” he said.

“We’ve asked for legislation from the Congress to try to give us the tools we need – the tools we need so that we can develop a partnership with the private sector to be able to confront those challenges,” Panetta said.

Last year, industry rejected a committee bill that so-called critical infrastructure companies argued was intended to regulate their private computers undergirding transportation, energy and other vital systems. Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in December he would gain corporate buy-in for new legislation and prioritize passage.

A bipartisan information-sharing bill the House passed in 2012, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, did not win over the White House or privacy advocates who feared companies and agencies would use new authority to inappropriately peer into customer information. In January, Senate Democrats reintroduced a reform bill that failed in 2012 — the Cybersecurity and American Cyber Competitiveness Act — that would create voluntary security standards for critical sectors. The bill ran into resistance last year after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed that the government would eventually mandate those regulations by denying contracts to companies that do not implement the controls.

Executives from major companies now say they would be comfortable with voluntary standards, despite the chamber’s earlier dissent, said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, co-sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Last week, Rockefeller released a poll of chief executive officers from the 500 largest U.S. companies that found many support a voluntary federal program for developing cybersecurity best practices. Financial institutions, retailers and other businesses during the past year have detected — and for the first time publicly disclosed — network intrusions, suggesting an increasing willingness to share information that may help thwart and mitigate attacks.

 

Grotto said the views of corporate executives are changing. Companies now routinely contact members of Congress to share concerns about computer security and economic espionage. Asked if he thought Panetta was overstating the threat, Grotto said, “No, I don’t.”


http://www.nextgov.com/cybersecurity/2013/02/prospects-comprehensive-cyber-reform-are-questionable/61165/

 

How the Sequester Will Affect Consumers and Business

By ERIC PIANIN, The Fiscal Times February 8, 2013

During the budget standoff between President Bill Clinton and congressional Republican leaders back in 1995 and 1996, widespread layoffs of federal workers played havoc with the federal bureaucracy and posed serious hardship and inconvenience for millions of taxpayers across the country. Furloughs of as many as 800,000 federal employees temporarily shut down large swaths of the federal bureaucracy and delivered a serious blow to the economy.

The most visible signs of that government crisis were the closing of the Washington Monument and 368 National Park sites around the country. But the impact of the furloughs was far more serious than that:

Health and welfare services for military veterans were curtailed; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped disease surveillance; new clinical research patients were not accepted at the National Institutes of Health; toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites was halted; the U.S. Border Patrol put off hiring 400 new agents, and 200,000 applications for U.S. passports went unanswered.

“There was a miscalculation politically that government would be shut down, employees would be furloughed,” and life would go on, recalled John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Government Service and a former federal personnel executive. “But there were a whole plethora of things where people really did care about the services that government provided beyond basic emergency and national defense sort of things. And finally Congress pretty much decided that this was not a winning proposition.”

As President Obama and Republican congressional leaders clash this week over whether to allow $85 billion of across the board cuts in defense and domestic spending to take hold beginning March 1, government workers and taxpayers across the country are again facing the specter of widespread government furloughs that could once again disrupt the economy and the lives of millions of Americans.

For sure, there is disagreement over whether massive temporary layoffs and tough government belt-tightening is a good or bad thing in the midst of a shaky economic recovery. After months of fretting over the national security and economic implications of tough, across the board spending cuts and layoffs, many Republicans came to the conclusion that these automatic cuts or sequestration may be the best answer for enforcing fiscal constraint and bringing the trillion dollar annual deficit down.

If the answer turns out to be at least a month or two of deep, automatic cuts in defense and domestic spending, then widespread furloughs will be the government’s main response. In effect, a furlough is the federal government’s personnel weapon of choice in coping with major budget crises like the looming sequestration or even rarer government shutdowns.

An administrative furlough is a carefully planned strategy for weathering fiscal crises by temporarily placing targeted workers on unpaid leave after issuing 30-day notices. A furlough is considered to be an alternative to layoff, according to management experts. When an employer furloughs employees, it requires them to work fewer hours or to take a certain amount of unpaid time off. Generally, the management theory is to have the majority of employees share some hardship as opposed to a few employees losing their jobs completely.

Unlike a reduction in force or RIF, federal officials can pick and choose who to furlough– and for how long. And they don’t have to be concerned about honoring seniority or military service, or having to provide fired workers with severance pay or other benefits that add to the government’s overall costs.

“A reduction in force is not a useful management tool as a cost-saving mechanism in the short term,” Palguta said. “A federal manager may have some great young employees who are doing five times the work of anybody else, but they’re the newest employees, they have the least tenure, they’re not veterans. So you have to separate them.”

Acting White House Budget Director Jeffrey Zients warned in a Jan. 4 memorandum that federal agencies this time will likely need to furlough “hundreds of thousands of employees” while reducing services – such as food inspections, air travel safety, prison security, border patrol and other “mission-critical” activities.

The Department of Defense, the Interior Department and other major federal agencies have put out similar warnings to their employees and contractors, and the Pentagon began cutting back on spending and putting off new contracts and hiring in anticipation of the deep cuts. Government and industry experts predict that sequestration could cost the economy at least one million government and private sector jobs in the coming year.

“This is not a game, this is reality,” retiring Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declared in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, as he warned that the cuts would curtail U.S. naval operations in the western Pacific by as much as a third and force one-month furloughs for as many as 800,000 Pentagon civilian employees beginning this spring.

Government officials, major defense contractors and policy think tanks have warned that – if allowed to occur –sequestration would result in the loss of a million or more jobs across the country in the coming year. The anticipation of a sharp reduction in government spending already has begun to hurt the economy, with the gross domestic product contracting by 0.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a government report released last week.

The two largest federal labor unions are preparing to exercise their bargaining rights if agencies decide to furlough employees because of sequestration budget cuts, according to the Washington Post. The National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees say they will work aggressively to soften the blow of potential furloughs and other changes prompted by the cuts.

Sequestration could begin in early March unless Congress delays or revokes it, and some agencies have raised the prospect of putting practically all of their employees on furloughs as a money-saving move. While most agencies haven’t said how many unpaid days they might order, or when, several Defense Department sections have projected furloughing employees for one day a week over 22 weeks, from the third week of April through September, according to the Post. But in unionized workplaces many of the details would be negotiable.

To those in the private sector who have been “downsized” or laid off, the idea of being furloughed one-day a week from a guaranteed union job seems like a cake-walk. You continue to get health benefits for yourself and your family, and other benefits like contributions to your 401K contributions continue.

The antiquated federal system of government gives preferences to seniority rather than performance and hasn’t kept up with new techniques and technologies that allow for a streamlined and more efficient workforce. Many agencies do not follow standard financial procedures and are not held accountable for failure. The Government Accountability Office actually highlights major areas that are at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, or are in need of broad reform. There are now 30 areas on GAO’s High Risk list.

To top it off, there are no contingency management plans in the current federal system that allow agency directors to deal effectively with a sequester. As a result, the most absurd and draconian cuts are likely to take place out of default, not design, and once again, the country loses.

Beyond the threat of a further decline in the workforce, lawmakers and government officials say that the furloughs would pose major inconvenience and problems for many Americans. These include:

 About a 10 percent reduction in the FAA’s 40,000-man workforce

 A 25 percent decline in Coast Guard air and surface operations

 An increase in waiting times at the nation’s busiest airports by as much as three hours with the furloughing of customs agents

 Elimination of Head Start programs for some 70,000 disadvantaged children

 The shuttering of food plants that won’t be able to operate without federal meat and poultry inspectors.

 Reduction in embassy security as the State Department will be forced to absorb a $168 million reduction in funding for that purpose.

 Cutbacks in clerks and other personnel to process applications for Social Security and Medicare, or to process paper tax returns or field taxpayers’ questions at the Internal Revenue Service.

 

Obama on Tuesday urged Congress to quickly pass a new package of limited spending cuts and tax increases to head blunt or block implementation of the across the board spending cuts, but House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other GOP leaders are resisting any compromise that includes more tax increases. If the negotiations continue well past the March 1 deadline, federal departments and agencies will have to make tough choices in determining who to keep at work and who to send home – and for how long..

“It literally could be tens of thousands – maybe even hundreds of thousands of people furloughed, if sequestration carries through the rest of the fiscal year,” Palguta said. “But there are a lot of variables . . . and at the end of the day there’s no way to accurately predict what the impact will be.”

 

Farewell Ceremony

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Joint Base Myer-Henderson , Friday, February 08, 2013

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Mr. President, I am deeply touched by your moving words about me, about my family, and, more importantly, about the men and women who serve in the Department of Defense. All of us all truly honored by your presence, and I thank you.

Let me also take this moment to thank Michelle and Jill Biden for the outstanding work that they’ve done in leading the Joining Forces Initiative, which has provided great support for military families who have done so much for us.

Marty Dempsey, I appreciate your kind remarks. Marty and I have testified before Congress — this is 11th time, yesterday, that we’ve done that, and we’ve also done 10 press conferences together. We are developing a very convincing case for collecting hazard pay in these jobs.

As we used to say when I was in the Army, there isn’t anyone I’d rather be in the foxhole with than Marty Dempsey. I cannot tell you what a privilege it has been to work with you and to work with all of the service chiefs. We’ve dealt with some very tough issues, and there is no way that I could have done this job without your support, without your loyalty, and without your dedication.

Members of Congress, leaders of the administration, leaders of the Department of Defense, distinguished guests, many dear friends who we’ve known over the years, Sylvia and I are very thankful to all of you for coming here today. This is, without question, the fanciest sendoff I’ve ever gotten in Washington.

Let me remember the words of President Harry Truman, who once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” And that’s just what I did.

And I am grateful that Bravo is here today. Bravo was in all of the meetings when we planned the bin Laden operation, and he also sat in on many of the sensitive meetings and discussions that I had at the Pentagon. And I want you to know that he has never told a soul what he heard.

He is definitely not a leaker, at least according to that definition of the word.

You’ve heard of the movie Zero Dark Thirty? The producer is seriously considering a new movie about Bravo, entitled Zero Bark Thirty.

It’s been 50 years of public service, and I have always and will always cherish the deep and lasting friendships that I’ve made here in Washington. And I’m extremely grateful that so many of those friends could be here this afternoon.

I have spent a long time in this town. As the son of immigrants, as the president pointed out, I have truly lived the American dream. Being an Italian-American in Congress, at senior levels in the executive branch, has been for me a very unique experience. I have never lost my awe by the sight of the Capitol and the White House at night. It still is a very special experience.

I can also remember when I was first elected to the House of Representatives, there was a member of that — I think the President may recall — by the name of Frank Annunzio from Chicago, who came up to me and said, “Panetta, that’s Italian.” I said, “Yes, it is.” He said, “Good.” He said, “I want you to join the Italian caucus.” Of course, I was not going to say no to an Italian from Chicago.

He said, “Great.” He said, “We don’t do much on issues, but we eat good.”

And that was true.

Many years later, when I came to Langley as President Obama’s Director of Central Intelligence, I got a mug from my family with a big CIA, standing for “California, Italian, American.”

In all seriousness, Mr. President, I want to express my deepest thanks to you for the opportunity to serve this country again as a member of your Administration. It has been a tremendous honor and a tremendous privilege these past four years, and especially now as the 23rd Secretary of Defense.

I hope that in some small way I have helped to fulfill the dream of my parents, the dream that they wanted and the dream that all of us want, of giving our children a better life.

It’s been for me a hell of a ride. I will never forget the pride and exhilaration when I walked out of the White House after the president announced the success of the bin Laden operation and I could heard the chants of those people who were gathered around the White House and in Lafayette Park yelling, “USA, USA.” Thank you, Mr. President, for your strong support in what was a very tough decision. The memory of that operation and the team that helped put it together, both the intelligence team and the military team, will be with me forever.

I’ll remember traveling to combat theaters and bases around the world, looking into the eyes of brave men and women who are putting their lives on the line every day for this country. I’ll remember the moments when we’ve honored veterans of past wars and when we’ve been inspired by service members and wounded warriors returning from today’s wars.

 

And I’ll always remember the moments of grief, when this nation has rendered final honors to our fallen heroes and when we’ve had to comfort their families. Writing notes of condolence to those families who have lost loved ones has been for me one of my toughest jobs. These moments of selflessness, these moments of sacrifice, of courage, of heroism, give me a renewed sense of pride in our country, and it gives me an optimism for the future.

I’ve witnessed a new generation of Americans ask themselves what they could do for their country, and I have seen the profound difference that talented men and women with a sense of duty and sacrifice can make in the life of this nation and in the life of our world.

For more than a decade of war, our democracy has depended on the men and women of the United States military to bear the awesome burden and to preserve our freedom. They have done everything the nation asked them to do, and more, and I will have no greater honor in my life than to have been able to lead them as Secretary of Defense.

I learned a long time ago that there’s not much you can accomplish in Washington on your own; you need a team behind you. And at the Department of Defense, I’ve been blessed with an exceptional team, from senior civilian and military leaders, all the way down the chain of command. And together, I’m proud of the important achievements that we’ve been able to accomplish for the nation.

We’ve developed and we have begun implementing a new defense strategy for the 21st century that protects the strongest military power in the world and meets our responsibility to fiscal discipline. We’re bringing, as the president said, more than a decade of war to a responsible end, ending the war in Iraq, giving the Iraqi people a chance to secure and govern themselves. And in Afghanistan, our campaign is well on track to completing that mission. We’re committed to an enduring relationship with the Afghan people so that they, too, can govern and secure themselves in the future.

We’ve kept pressure on al-Qaeda, and we’re going after extremists wherever they may hide, and we have shown the world that nobody attacks the United States of America and gets away with it.

We are keeping faith with and caring for our returning veterans and wounded warriors. I am particularly proud that we have expanded opportunities for everyone to serve in our military. In our democracy, in a democracy, everybody should be given a chance to meet the qualifications needed to serve this country. This is a basic value that we fight to protect.

Despite the progress we’ve made together, there’s no question that there remain some very significant challenges, the dangers and instability abroad, budget constraints, political gridlock here at home. But one thing I have learned is that you cannot be involved in public service and not be optimistic about the future.

I am confident that under the leadership of the president and the leaders in the Congress, that we can and we must stay on the right path to build the military force we need for the 21st century. Winston Churchill once wrote, “The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope.”

This is a time of uncertainty, but my career in public service gives me hope that the leaders of this nation will come together to resolve the challenges facing this country and to seize the opportunities of the 21st century. We’ve overcome wars, we’ve overcome disasters, we’ve overcome economic depressions and recessions, we’ve overcome crises of every kind throughout the history of our country. And throughout our history, the fighting spirit of our fellow Americans has made clear that we never, never, never give up. Our forefathers, the pioneers, the immigrant families that came here all fought together to give our children that better life. We cannot fail to do the same.

None of us in public service could carry on that fight without the love and support of our families. Everything I’ve been able to accomplish in my wife — in my life — wife and life together — has been because of the support of my family — my immigrant parents, my family, my sons, their families, but most of all, Sylvia.

We’ve been married 50 years. She has endured extended absences and long hours and the demands that come with public service, but she has always been there. And I will never be able to thank her enough for her constant love and support. Her Valentine gift is both of us going home together.

It has been the honor of my life to have served in the position of Secretary of Defense. And wherever I go and whatever I do, I will thank God every day for the men and women in this country who are willing to put their lives on the line for all of us. They have responded to the call of the bugle with courage and with selfless dedication to country.

My prayer as I leave is that we all have the same courage and dedication to protecting our nation, the United States of America, the home of the free and the brave.

God bless America, God bless you, and God bless the men and women of the Department of Defense.

 

 


 

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: