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June 28 2014

June 30, 2014




New horsepower for war zones: Special Forces saddle up

Jim Michaels, USA TODAY 7:51 p.m. EDT June 22, 2014


BRIDGEPORT, Calif. — The men emerged over the crest of a ridge and guided their horses along a tree line, skirting a wide meadow. They picked their way along narrow trails, climbing higher into the Sierra until a panorama of snowcapped peaks and a broad green valley unfolded beneath them.

The men, Special Forces soldiers dressed in jeans and other civilian clothes, led their horses into a thick stand of pine trees, where they dismounted and let the horses drink from a clear mountain stream before breaking out their own rations.

At this remote training area high in the Sierra, the U.S. Marine Corps is reviving the horsemanship skills that were once a key part of the nation’s armed forces but were cast aside when tanks and armored vehicles replaced them. The need to bring these skills back was driven home in Afghanistan in 2001, when the first Special Forces soldiers to arrive found themselves fighting on horseback alongside tribesmen in rugged terrain without roads. Many had never ridden a horse before.

“We don’t want to reinvent anything,” said Marine Capt. Seth Miller, the officer in charge of formal schools at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. “These are skills that were lost.”

Marine instructors are teaching the students, most of them Army Special Forces soldiers, how to control horses, care for them and load packs. The students are taught how to calculate routes and distances for rides and what to look for when purchasing horses from locals. For example, checking teeth is a good way to determine age and avoid getting ripped off by a farmer trying to pass off an ancient mule or horse.

In a throwback to the old Wild West days, instructors are considering training soldiers in how to shoot from a moving horse.

No one is talking about bringing back the cavalry, but horses are an effective way for Special Forces and other small units to move around the battlefield, instructors said. They can travel long distances quietly and don’t require the gasoline and massive logistics trains that encumber motorized forces.

A member of U.S. Special Forces readies his mount. U.S. forces train to be combat-ready on horseback, if necessary, as it was in Afghanistan.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

For all its advantages in technology, the U.S. military has been dragged into the most primitive of fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving home the point that technology isn’t always the answer.

“We get caught up with what’s new and high-speed,” Miller said.

On a recent morning, 13 students packed their mules and horses shortly after sunrise at base camp, preparing for a 14-mile ride that would take them high into the Sierra, mountains that were familiar to gold prospectors more than a century ago. Students ride a total of about 110 miles during the 16-day course.

“My butt’s going to be sore,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Jeryd Leuck, who specializes in search-and-rescue operations, as he prepared to mount his horse, Chesty. Leuck said that before he started the course, his only equestrian experience was a childhood pony ride.

The students mounted horses and picked their way up a steep, shrub-covered slope that would take them out of the base camp. Six mules were part of the patrol.

The animals are remarkably efficient. Mules can carry several hundred pounds and walk up to 55 miles a day, requiring nothing more than grass and water. If required, they can survive several days without water and longer without food. They have no problem climbing to heights of more than 10,000 feet, at altitudes where some helicopters struggle because of a lack of lift.

“This has been proven to work,” said Marine Maj. Sven Jensen, operations officer for the training center, pointing to a group of men resting by their horses and mules as sunlight streamed through the trees. “This has worked for the last 3,000 years.”

The Marines Corps, which takes an almost perverse pride in a Spartan lifestyle and a fondness for low-technology solutions, has offered a mule-packing course here since the 1980s. It launched the horsemanship training about three years ago after receiving requests from Army Special Forces soldiers.

It’s the only such course in the U.S. military, and demand is high.

USA TODAY was allowed unlimited access to observe training as long as it didn’t identify by name or photograph the faces of the Special Forces soldiers taking the course. Because they sometimes conduct covert missions, Special Forces soldiers typically request they not be identified publicly.

The only requirement for students is that they are part of the special operations community, since they would have the most use for the training.

Tony Parkhurst, director of the horsemanship and mule packing course, built the curriculum by delving into old cavalry manuals and studying American Indian tactics and techniques. The equestrian sports of today, such as dressage or jumping, are too specialized to be of much use to the military. Instead, Parkhurst studied procedures that were popular when horses were used for transportation and plowing fields.

“The Indians were actually better than our cavalry,” Parkhurst said. “They were phenomenal guerrilla fighters.”

Cavalry officers in the 1800s had to calculate things such as how far horses could march, how much food they consumed and how best to pack them with equipment and weapons.

The pack saddle used for mules here would be recognized by Genghis Khan’s army, Parkhurst said.

The Marines have stopped at nothing in an effort to recapture the skills lost when the military turned to mechanized warfare.

The Marines Corps has offered a mule-packing course in California since the 1980s. It launched the horsemanship training about three years ago after receiving requests from Army Special Forces soldiers.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Not many people know how to shoot from a moving horse these days, so the Marines turned to Annie Bianco, who goes by the name Outlaw Annie and is a leading practitioner of the small but growing sport of cowboy mounted shooting. She fires a six-shooter at targets from a galloping horse. A couple of instructors from the training center visited her ranch in Arizona.

Bianco knows how to desensitize horses to the sound of gunfire. “Horses are flighty animals,” she said. “Their first response from gunfire is to try and get away from it.”

What instructors have discovered is the horses of today are softer than their ancestors, who plowed fields and carried riders over vast distances.

“We’ve bred them and made them more athletic over time,” Bianco said. “That’s made it more difficult to find the well-rounded horse.”

Most of the horses used at the course are former mustangs, or wild horses, trained by inmates in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. They are both well-rounded and cheap.

Although the Pentagon is turning back to age-old battlefield techniques, it is hardly giving up on technology. In fact, it’s trying to make a robotic version of the mule. The $62 million program is called the LS3, or legged squad support system, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency describes it as a “highly mobile, semiautonomous legged robot.”

The Pentagon consulted with some of the instructors here to learn more about real mules. The instructors seem skeptical that technology can improve much on the real thing.

Parkhurst said, “I can buy a whole load of mules for $60 million.”


Unmanned Experts and Transport Risk Management train and insure safe sUAS operators.

by Gary Mortimer •

23 June 2014


Accidents happen, BUT the inset photo shows what happens when an uninsured and untrained civil UAS pilot in Australia drops an octo-copter on someone’s head, and nothing about this incident was pretty! To try to prevent this 

happening elsewhere Transport Risk Management (, a world-leader in aviation insurance provision, has teamed with Unmanned Experts LLC to provide ‘Initial Qualification Training’ (IQT) to Small UAS operators. The initial courseware is online in an e-learning format and includes the following:


The 8 Module IQT Short Course

( has been built from ‘best practices’ in both manned, radio-controlled and UAS/RPAS international communities and is designed to provide essential aeronautical information for serious amateurs and professionals operating Small UAS in National Airspaces.

Topics include all applicable regulations and guidance documents; aeronautical background information such as charts, NOTAMS and Aircraft Circulars; Radio Communications Procedures; Human Factors and Crew Resource Management; Basic Small UAS Aerodynamics; Weather factors; Airmanship and Decision-making and Safe Operating Procedures. No prior knowledge is required for entry onto the course, which is accessed from the UMEX Learning Management System ( Contact TRM to discuss a substantial discount (currently a further 50% off sale price)! (course price range $500-$1035)

Individual Course Lectures include

SR1. Small UAS Regulations & Guidance

F5. Basic Aeronautical Data

SF1. Small UAS Aerodynamics

F6. Radio Communications Procedures

SW1. Small UAS Weather

O1. Human Factors & CRM

SO1. Small UAS Operational Art

SO2. Small UAS Safe Operations

SQ1. IQT Qualifying Quiz

Successful completion of the course leads to a Certificate which is qualification for liability and hull flight insurance coverage with Transport Risk Management as well as for professional credits with George Mason University (

UMEX runs a number of Small UAS flying instruction courses as well, which also qualify for TRM coverage, and come highly recommended for those wishing to improve their flight skills as well as their professional knowledge. More information here

Hope to meet on a sUAS shoot somewhere soon!


FAA ban FPV Goggles?

by Gary Mortimer • 24 June 2014

FAA Notice June 18 2014



Causing quite the storm in North America amongst the First Person View (FPV) flight community some further clarification from the FAA of what can and can’t be done with a model aircraft.

A shot across the bows of North Americas only CBO, the AMA it seems their spotter rule does not fit with what the FAA believes to be safe.

“By definition, a model aircraft must be ‘flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.’ Based on the plain language of the statute, the FAA interprets this requirement to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight. Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a ‘first-person view’ from the model … The FAA is aware that at least one community-based organization permits FPV operations during which the hobbyist controls the aircraft while wearing goggles that display images transmitted from a camera mounted in the front of the model aircraft. While the intent of FPV is to provide a simulation of what a pilot would see from the flight deck of a manned aircraft, the goggles may obstruct an operator’s vision, thereby preventing the operator from keeping the model aircraft within his or her visual line of sight at all times.”

This table caught my eye in particular.

It clearly puts to one side the notion, created by a journalist that farmers were permitted to fly an sUAS over there own land for agricultural operations.

The  Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft is up for comment. If you are in the USA it might be worth having your say.

Bring on 2021 and maybe rules for sUAS in the USA!

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today published a Federal Register notice on its interpretation of the statutory special rules for model aircraft in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The guidance comes after recent incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people.

Compliance with these rules for model aircraft operators has been required since the Act was signed on February 14, 2012, and the explanation provided today does not change that fact. The FAA is issuing the notice to provide clear guidance to model operators on the “do’s and don’ts” of flying safely in accordance with the Act and to answer many of the questions it has received regarding the scope and application of the rules.

“We want people who fly model aircraft for recreation to enjoy their hobby – but to enjoy it safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “At DOT, we often say that safety is a shared responsibility, so to help, we are providing additional information today to make sure model aircraft operators know exactly what’s expected of them.”

In the notice, the FAA restates the law’s definition of “model aircraft,” including requirements that they not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.

The FAA reaffirms that the Act’s model aircraft provisions apply only to hobby or recreation operations and do not authorize the use of model aircraft for commercial operations. The notice gives examples of hobby or recreation flights, as well as examples of operations that would not meet that definition.

“We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. 

The law is clear that the FAA may take enforcement action against model aircraft operators who operate their aircraft in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system. In the notice, the FAA explains that this enforcement authority is designed to protect users of the airspace as well as people and property on the ground.

The FAA will be working with its inspectors and model aircraft operators across the country to ensure they give standard information to the public on how to satisfy these statutory requirements and avoid endangering the safety of the nation’s airspace.

The FAA is also developing a plan to work with the law enforcement community to help them understand the FAA’s rules for unmanned aircraft systems, as well as the special statutory rules for model aircraft operators, so they can more effectively protect public safety.

The agency wants the public to know how and when to contact the FAA regarding safety concerns with UAS operations. You can visit the Agency’s Aviation Safety Hotline website or call 1-866-835-5322, Option 4.

While today’s notice is immediately effective, the agency welcomes comments from the public which may help further inform its analysis. The comment period for the notice will close 30 days from publication in the Federal Register.  >View the notice

See Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act.




China Threat: Air-Sea Battle vs. Offshore Control?

Jun. 23, 2014 – 04:08PM | By WENDELL MINNICK | Comments|nextstory


TAIPEI — There are doubts in Washington that a US president would ever approve the bombing of China. This notion demonstrates that the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle operational concept is seriously flawed, said T.X. Hammes, a senior researcher in strategy and future conflict at the department’s National Defense University.

Hammes told Defense News that no president has ever authorized the bombing of China, including during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Yet one of Air-Sea Battle’s basic tenets is aerial bombing of command-and-control hubs, mobile missile launchers, air bases, and port facilities.

Hammes has written about an alternative strategy, Offshore Control, in several articles and papers since 2012. In his latest article, co-authored with Richard Hooker, National Defense University’s director for research and strategic support in the Institute for National Strategic Studies, they argue that Offshore Control offers a less provocative military option.

“When you bomb China it becomes a passion over politics issue, making it harder to get China to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Bombing makes it so much harder to return to the status quo before the conflict,” Hammes told Defense News. “You are not going to have a decisive win with China without going nuclear, so you need to engage them and walk them back from the edge.”

In their most recent article in the National Interest, they state the Air-Sea Battle concept, as it was conceptualized by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), is both “needlessly provocative” and “ineffective.”

“A weighted air and naval campaign that attacks China’s integrated air-defense and land-based missile systems is flawed from multiple perspectives,” the article said.

First, it is provocative in that China’s Second Artillery Corps controls its land-based ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal. Attacking these facilities, while China has not or cannot attack comparable US facilities, could escalate the conflict uncontrollably.

Second, Air-Sea Battle is ineffective against China’s dense and capable air defense network. It also casts doubts on whether the US military could locate and destroy China’s mobile missile-launch systems. China has an abundance of man-made caves and hidden facilities. China is also not comparable to Iraq’s flat desert landscape, where the US Air Force had difficulties locating Iraq’s Scud missile launchers.

Third, Air-Sea Battle lacks deterrent value. China will, no doubt, attempt to cripple US space and cyber systems. China has developed and practiced anti-satellite exercises that include lasers and missiles. China’s cyber capabilities are already well established, if not obvious, as well as inexpensive compared to many of the systems Air-Sea Battle would field during a war with China.

Offshore Control, Hammes said, offers an alternative to Air-Sea Battle that is based on affordability with no kinetic operations against mainland China. The dominant phase of fighting would be outside the range of China’s assets. Offshore Control would establish concentric rings that deny China the use of the sea inside the first island chain, defend the sea and air space of the first island chain nations, and dominate the air and maritime space outside the chain.

Offshore Control would take advantage of geography to enforce a naval blockade of China’s key imports and exports. All Chinese military assets outside China’s 12-mile limit would be subject to attack. “This area will be declared a maritime exclusion zone with the warning that ships in the zone will be seized or sunk.” The article further states that the US cannot hope to stop all maritime traffic, but can prevent the passage of large cargo ships and tankers, “severely disrupting China’s economy relatively quickly.”

Those in the Pentagon who are opposed to Offshore Control, Hammes said, include those who argue that it does not provide a role for F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. Nor does it allow for cruise missile strikes on mainland Chinese soil.

CSBA agrees with some, but not all, of Hammes’ arguments. Mark Gunzinger, a CSBA senior fellow and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for force transformation and resources, said CSBA never claimed that Air-Sea Battle was a military strategy, but part of a larger operational concept that could help offset the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) challenge.

Gunzinger told Defense News that Offshore Control rules out counterattacks on mainland China, as well as surface efforts to defend territory inside China’s A2/AD perimeter, which is defined by the reach of their long-range weapon systems.

“Interestingly, unlike [Air-Sea Battle’s] emphasis on leveraging joint and cross-domain operations, Offshore Control seems to scorn the capabilities of one particular service — the US Air Force,” he said.

If the Pentagon accepts Offshore Control’s recommendation not to invest in systems that can penetrate and persist in contested environments, such as stealth fighters, it may not be capable of conducting effective operations deep into Iran or other states adopting A2/AD strategies, he said.

Gunzinger supports distant blockading, which was added to CSBA’s 2010 Air-Sea Battle concept, but such blockades are only likely to work in combination with other operations conducted inside an enemy’s A2/AD perimeter. Offshore Control signals that the US should write off disputed islets captured by China and avoid counterforce operations to punish China. However, relying on distant blockading to force China to return captured islets is “unlikely to work by itself.”

A protracted blockade of China hurts the global economy and will not be supported by the international community, especially with China on the United Nations Security Council, he said.

Gunzinger said Air-Sea Battle provides future US presidents and commanders multiple options to respond to acts of aggression, rather than limiting them to only one. Air-Sea Battle provides for the development of a future joint force that will be capable of multiple lines of operation to deny and punish, which would include distant blockading.

Bruce Lemkin, a former deputy Air Force undersecretary for international affairs, agrees. The Offshore Control concept has merits and should be complementary to Air-Sea Battle. However, contrary to the concept put forth by Hammes and Hooker, the overall strategic concept and the capabilities that support it must include the capability to effectively attack the landmass of any opponent, even if that is not the first option exercised, he said.

Lemkin is also concerned about international perceptions about US resolve during a crisis. He fears that China might be influenced to be more assertive if the US fails to meet challenges in other parts of the world. “China … is watching what the US does in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Eastern Europe [Russia-Ukraine] and what we are doing/will do [will] directly determine our effectiveness in deterring conflict anywhere in the world in the near term.” ■


Google’s Nest Moves To Become Master Of The Smart Home, By Talking To Other Devices


Nest Labs is taking the next step in its quest to become a hub for the smart home, by letting other gadgets and services access its learning thermostat and smoke detector for the first time.

With the long-awaited developer program Nest is launching today, other apps and devices will be able to access what Nest detects through its sensors, including vague readings on temperature and settings that show if a person is away from their home for long periods. These services will even be able to talk to one another via Nest as the hub.

Nest, founded by former Apple executive Tony Fadell, has long-been seen as one of the leading companies in the smart home revolution. Google bought the company for $3.2 billion in January, and last week Nest bought video monitoring service DropCam for $555 million to (for better or worse) learn how people behave in their homes, for instance by reportedly tracking how doors are open and shut.

Crucially, Nest is not letting third parties get access to the motion sensors on its thermostat and smoke alarm, says co-founder Matt Rogers — though it’s unclear what sort of access Nest might eventually give to DropCam’s video footage. “We’ve been building it for about a year,” he says. “One reason it’s taken us this long to build is we realized we had to be incredibly transparent with our user about data privacy.”

That means plenty of reminders to developers about what data can be used for, and requirements that they get user permission before sharing data with Nest. It will be a private, but very open platform, says Rogers. Apple’s own foray into smart homes with a service called HomeKit will likely have far more restrictions.

“Also,” he points out, “ours is not vaporware.”

Nest is expecting myriad developers to start building integrations into its two main devices, but it’s already done some early integrations with eight other companies, including wearable-fitness tracker firm Jawbone, Mercedes-Benz and Google Now, the digital mobile assistant that learns about a person’s routines and notifies them of important information. The pitch from Nest: “create a more conscious and thoughtful home.”

As of today, the Jawbone UP24 band will have a setting that turns on the Nest thermostat when it senses its wearer has woken up from a night’s sleep. Mercedes-Benz’s cars will be able to tell Nest when a driver is expected home, so it can set the temperature ahead of time. Smart lights made by LIFX can also be programmed to flash red when the Nest Protect detects smoke, or randomly turn off and on to make it look like someone is home when Nest’s thermostat is in “away” mode.

Developers are excited about the program because it means they can learn more about users than they could before. One partner in the program who didn’t want to be named, said that the extra data they could collect from Nest’s devices could help them become more competitive in their own field. “We can’t live with just the information we get naturally,” they said.

Another developer also saw Nest’s program as a “gateway” to learning more about potential customers and interacting with them. “Nest understands where people are in home, who’s in the home, what time they leave the home,” says Grant Wernick, co-founder of local-search and leisure-recommendation service Weotta. “As they open more of this up, companies like us could be able to plug into some of this data that people can opt into. We can make proactive recommendations of things people can do on Friday night.”

Opening up to other services is integral to Nest’s re-invention of the humble thermostat, which some say parallels the way Apple reinvented the mobile phone. “It’s going to be a huge, huge game changer and it’s only the beginning,” Wernick says, adding that the role of the smart thermostat may be gradually morphing “to being a controller for your house and lifestyle.”

Google Now is the key link back to Nest’s parent company Google, but Nest insists Google won’t get greater powers over its platform. Google Now could connect to other appliances through Nest and, for instance, turn off the LIFX lights, a spokesperson said, but that’s up to the individual developers to work out between themselves.

The bigger advantage for Google is what it can learn through Nest and potentially through other devices connected to it. Wernick believes Google Now will eventually be able to use Nest as just another sensor point to learn more about people’s lifestyles, so it can better predict habits. “It’s going to understand your behavior better to help guide you in your life,” he says.

Would Google Now be able to use Nest’s data to serve Google’s all-important advertising ambitions?

“Nope,” says Nest’s Rogers. “We’re clear our data can only be used for what a developer will use it for.” He added that Nest has a small team that will monitor what sort of tie-in services developers build. “We don’t want anyone to make the rob-my-house app,” he says.

Still, there may be reasons to be wary of Nest offering to share its platform with any other service with a web connection.

“Nest is sticking its toe in home automation, which opens them to all the same problems that home automation companies are dealing with,” says Dan Tentler, founder of security company Aten Labs and expert on SHODAN, the search engine for Internet-connected devices.

With the explosion of API connections, could Nest’s platform be hackable? “At this point it’s a wait and see,” says Tentler. “Nest has a lot of user data and that user data could be parenthetically valuable to a variety of different people.”

Tentler points out he has yet to hear of anyone in the InfoSec community trying to openly attack Nest. But, he adds, “when something goes live, the pressure is on.”


3,137-County Analysis: Obamacare Increased 2014 Individual-Market Premiums By Average Of 49%

Avik Roy , Forbes Staff


June 18, 2014

There are hundreds of aspects of Obamacare that people argue over. But there’s one question that matters above all others: does the Affordable Care Act live up to its name? Does it make health insurance less expensive? Last November, our team at the Manhattan Institute published a study indicating that Obamacare had increased the underlying cost of individually-purchased health insurance in the average state by 41 percent in 2014, relative to 2013. We’ve now redone the study on a county-by-county basis, complete with a brand-new interactive map. Depending on where you live, the results may surprise you.

Our new county-by-county analysis was led by Yegeniy Feyman, who compiled the county-based data for 27-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 64-year-olds, segregated by gender. We were able to obtain data for 3,137 of the United States’ 3,144 counties.

Buchanan County, Mo. sees 271% rate hike for men

Among men, the county with the greatest increase in insurance prices from 2013 to 2014 was Buchanan County, Missouri, about 45 miles north of Kansas City: 271 percent. Among women, the “winner” was Goodhue County, Minnesota, about an hour southwest of Minneapolis: 200 percent. Overall, the counties of Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Arkansas haven experienced the largest rate hikes under the law.

The best-faring county for both men and women was St. Lawrence County in northern New York, with premium decreases of 70 percent in 2014 relative to 2013. The New York City metropolitan area—the five boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester County—are the clear winners under Obamacare, with decreases in the 63 to 64 percent range.


Obamacare bails out New York’s death spiral

There’s a reason why New York does so well. In 1992, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (D.) signed a law barring health insurers from charging different rates based on age, gender, health, or smoking status: what wonks call pure community rating. Naturally, older and sicker people thought this was a great deal, while younger and healthier people dropped out. As I detailed last summer, New York quickly became the poster child of the dreaded adverse selection death spiral.

Obamacare’s regulations are similar to Mario Cuomo’s, with two key differences. First, Obamacare has an individual mandate forcing young people to buy costlier insurance than they need. Second, many low-income people qualify for subsidies under Obamacare, encouraging healthy (but poor) people to sign up. Indeed, Cuomo’s successor George Pataki (R.) instituted a subsidized exchange called “Healthy New York” that did somewhat mitigate the Cuomo death spiral for those who were poor enough to qualify.

In addition, Obamacare allows a slightly wider age-rating band than New York; the federal law allows insurers to charge older individuals three times as much as younger ones. Since older people consume around six times as much health care as younger people, this is still a rip-off for the young in most parts of the country, but it doesn’t make a difference in the Empire State, which has deliberately chosen to maintain its requirement that age can play no factor in health premiums.

The Forbes eBook On Obamacare

Inside Obamacare: The Fix For America’s Ailing Health Care System explores the ways the Affordable Care Act will affect your health care and is available for download now.

Women face rate hikes in 82% of U.S. counties; men 91%

Across the country, for men overall, individual-market premiums went up in 91 percent of all counties: 2,844 out of 3,137. For 27-year-old men, the average county faced 91 percent increases; for 40-year-old men, 60 percent; for 64-year-old men, 32 percent.

Women fared slightly better; their premiums “only” went up in 82 percent of all counties: 2,562 out of 3,137. That’s because Obamacare bars insurers from charging different rates to men and women; prior to Obamacare, only 11 states did so. Because women tend to consume more health care than men, the end result of the Obamacare regulation is that men fare somewhat worse.

Relative to men, the average rate increase for women was less extreme: 44 percent for 27-year-olds; 23 percent for 40-year-olds; 42 percent for 64-year-olds.


Methodology consistent with previous studies

To calculate these figures, we used the same methodology we’ve used in the past. We compiled an average of the five least-expensive plans in a particular county pre-Obamacare, adjusted to take into account those with pre-existing conditions and other health problems. We then did the same calculation with the five least-expensive plans in each county under the Obamacare exchanges. We then used these county-based numbers to come up with population-weighted averages pre- and post-Obamacare.

Remember that these figures represent the underlying, unsubsidized health insurance prices. If you’re eligible for a subsidy—if your income is below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level—taxpayers will help defray a portion of these costs. Those subsidies will disproportionately help those in their late fifties and early sixties, because of the way the Obamacare exchanges interact with the subsidy formula.

A new report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ASPE HHS) indicates that among those who signed up for Obamacare exchange plans this year, subsidies covered on average 76 percent of the underlying premium. That is to say, the exchanges attracted the low-hanging fruit of those who had the most to gain from taxpayer-funded subsidies.

If you go to our interactive map, and click on the “Your Decision” tab, you can find out whether subsidies will help you. For example, in Texas, if you’re a 27-year-old man and you make more than $27,991, you’re likely to pay more under Obamacare, even if you qualify for a subsidy. If you’re 30 years old, with an average household size, you’ll need to make less than $36,409 to break even under Obamacare. 64-year-olds in Texas, on average, will see decreased rates, hence the table lists “$0” as the income at which net premiums increase.

Will Obamacare rate shock affect the 2014 election?

Our map only looks at counties, not Congressional districts. But it is certainly conceivable that there are competitive House races where rate shock will be an issue. And we will start to get more information about 2015 premiums starting this summer. Thus far, it’s not clear how 2015 premiums will look relative to 2014; reports from insurers like WellPoint and Aetna have been mixed.

If the polls are any guide, however, most voters haven’t benefited from the law. Remember that President Obama often promised that his plan would “lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year…by the end of my first term as President of the United States.” It’s an understatement to say that this has not happened.

Those who face higher premiums, higher taxes, or both, appear to outnumber those whom the law has made better off. That alone isn’t a test of the law’s virtue—but it is a measure of the law’s failed promise



FAA Seeks Public Comment on Movie/TV UAS Exemptions

by Press • 25 June 2014

Recently, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked the FAA for regulatory exemptions that would allow the film and television industry to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with FAA approval for the first time. >See FAA Press Release

Because these requests may set a precedent for future commercial UAS exemptions, the agency is asking the public to weigh in on whether to grant them.

The FAA today published a brief summary of the  (PDF) petition from Astraeus Aerial in the Federal Register. The agency opted to ask for comments only on the Astraeus petition because that company’s request came in first, and the petitions from the other six companies ask for identical exemptions.

Interested parties will have 20 days to send in comments. The FAA will consider the comments and respond to them when drafting the final decision on all seven exemption requests.

The agency expects to publish a broad proposed rule for small UAS (under 55 pounds) later this year. But the rulemaking process can be lengthy, so the FAA has been working for several months to implement the provisions of Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and move forward with UAS integration before proposing the small UAS rule.

Other companies have filed for exemptions to perform precision agriculture, aerial surveying and flare stack inspections.


Five Reasons the AUVSI Got Its Drone Market Forecast Wrong

by Press • 26 June 2014


Since its publication in early 2013, AUVSI’s The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States has become the gold standard forecast for the commercial drone market, garnering media attention typically reserved for celebrity weddings and babies born to royalty. Its primary forecast is that the UAS market will reach a whopping $1.14 billion [1] in the first year after the FAA issues favorable regulations and that the precision agriculture market will “dwarf all others.”

The accuracy of these predictions is enormously important. A lot of people – tens of thousands, if not more – have been relying upon them for big decisions like, “Should I leave my job to start a drone company?” or “Which market should my company pursue?” Commercial drones are not just cocktail party conversation–they are increasingly driving the flow of capital and labor, and impacting many lives in the process.


Inquiring Minds Want To Know

Recently, however, a growing chorus of industry observers has started to ask questions about the reliability of AUVSI’s findings. This post is a good example. These individuals, many of whom are among the true pioneers in commercial UAS usage, can best be characterized as enthusiastic but pragmatic UAS evangelists who don’t want to see unwarranted hyperbole lead to unmet expectations. Many realize that initially overhyped industries never recover because customers, investors, and employees who were burned in the initial wave of unmet expectations are difficult—if not impossible—to ever win back. They are passionately committed to the industry’s success and believe that rational expectations are a key part of it.


With no axe to grind or agenda to advance, I [Mitch Solomon] partnered with Colin Snow@droneanalyst to explore whether the skeptics and pragmatists were on to some something. We felt our combined backgrounds in market intelligence and tech market strategy would give us a reasonable set of expertise to draw upon and would help others form a more balanced opinion of AUVSI’s forecasts. So over the past several weeks, we’ve been carefully reviewing AUVSI’s report, as follows:

•Compared their research methodologies to what we believe to be best practices in market research based upon our own experience.

•Conducted an in-depth interview with the researchers themselves, so that we could directly ask them questions about their methods and results that were not made clear in the report.

•Initiated a follow-up discussion with AUVSI leadership to understand their perspective on the report and its origins.

•Performed intensive primary research with about 20 carefully selected professionals in the field of precision agriculture to understand their UAS adoption plans, since the report’s findings are almost entirely based upon rapid adoption by American farmers.


We then synthesized our findings into the following five conclusions about the report and its reliability.


1.Research Can Be Objective, But Don’t Assume It Is

First and foremost, every reader of AUVSI’s report needs to understand that it is not an objective piece of research. The report was commissioned not to paint an accurate picture of how the commercial UAS market is expected to evolve, but to give the 50 states and their elected officials the data they needed to:

•lobby for funding during the now completed FAA-sponsored competition for UAS test sites, and

•push the FAA to move more quickly on the integration of UASs into the national airspace.


These are certainly worthwhile goals, and AUVSI should be commended for pursuing them. But as a direct result, the implicit (if not explicit) mission for the two researchers who did the work was to come up with the biggest numbers – the largest market, fastest growth rates, and biggest costs of delaying integration – that they could. An objective attempt to size, segment, and forecast the commercial UAS market (all of which the report appears to be), is something it never actually was, and we believe it’s critical that all participants in the UAS industry know this and avoid making decisions based upon it.


2.Methodology – Boring But Oh So Important


A biased agenda is only one part of the story regarding the reliability of AUVSI’s findings. An equally important part is the quality and reliability of the research methods. Generally speaking, strong research methods yield highly defensible results. While presented somewhat differently in the report, the methodology used by the researchers can be summed up as:

•Studying UAS adoption in Japan

•Adjusting the Japanese experience for the US market

•Asking experts how big they think the market is / will be

•Applying research on new technology adoption to the US UAS market


As experienced researchers, it sounded pretty good to us at first. But, unfortunately, it did not hold up very well to careful scrutiny.


3.Japan – When the Best Available Proxy Just Isn’t

We like the idea of searching for analogous markets and scenarios that can serve as the basis for forecasting the US market. The question is: Is Japan an analogous market for the US? We believe that the US and Japan are so different, and the magnitude of the required extrapolations so enormous, that the resulting data is not useful. Most in the industry already know that Japan’s UAS market remains dominated by one product, the Yamaha RMAX(77% market share in Japan), which is used to spray a large percentage of the country’s rice fields. These fields tend to be small (less than five acres), are often in densely populated areas, and are located on steep hard-to-reach hillsides. In contrast, rice represents a tiny percentage of US agricultural output. Our farms are comparatively huge (very often running well into the thousands of acres). No single product, much less a relatively large, unmanned helicopter from Yamaha is likely to dominate the American market. And remote sensing, not pesticide application, is almost certain to be the dominant use of UAS for the major US crops of corn, wheat, and soy.


While we understand that Japan has been the most aggressive adopter of commercial UAS technology as a result of its rice industry, and we appreciate the resulting temptation to use Japan as a proxy for the United States, we see such a large disparity between the agricultural economies of the two countries that we find it impossible to draw any parallels that inform how the UAS market in the US will evolve. And while no other country serves as a better proxy than Japan, the absence of a better alternative cannot justify the use of a bad one.


4.Expert Opinions or Really Just Guesses?

Another method used by the researchers is referred to as “survey results.” In short, the researchers conducted 30 telephone interviews with industry experts and asked many questions, including those regarding two critical matters: the size of the commercial UAS market, and the relative size of key market segments. The responses were then used to develop “reasonable estimates.” On the surface, the approach of asking experts for their opinions seems sensible whenever you’re conducting research. However, many of the experts that were consulted were hand-picked by AUVSI, which immediately introduces the possibility (likelihood?) of bias given its agenda.


Perhaps more important, not every question is one that experts can necessarily answer well. Certainly UAS industry experts would generally be well prepared to share their opinion on whether fixed wing or rotor aircraft will be more useful for particular applications, or what regulations make the most sense for the small UAS market. But the idea that you can ask experts for opinions about the size of a market and obtain meaningful results is, we believe, inherently flawed. Unless these experts were professionals focused on sizing, segmenting, and forecasting the commercial UAS market (and nothing close to 30 such professionals exist), the opinions voiced by the “experts” are nothing more than guesses, akin to asking 30 people how many clouds there are in the sky and expecting to get the right answer. Our experience in sizing markets, and in working with many experts across a wide variety of markets over many years, gives us considerable confidence in stating that very few people have good insights into how big a market is today, much less how big it will be years from now, even if they work directly in it. The lack of insight is only compounded for complex, nascent markets like the one for commercial UAS.


5.A Brief Literature Search Isn’t Really a Research Method

The final method used by the researchers was a “brief search” of “literature…on rates of adoption of new technologies.” The authors explicitly state that they could have gone deeper in investigating how this research might apply to UASs, and that a follow-up study on this subject is recommended. That they simultaneously cite the use of the literature as one of their four methodologies, yet characterize their search of the literature as “brief” and recommend a follow-up study raises serious questions. From our perspective, the brief use of literature on technology adoption trends is far from a true research method. It’s more akin to subject matter expertise and qualitative insight that professional researchers might use to inform or validate a forecast they developed with rigorous quantitative techniques. How it was actually used and what value it added to the research is unclear, other than allowing the authors to make the statement that because UAS are already being used “….we reject the notion that these products will not be adopted,” a statement that even a layperson with little or no knowledge of UAS could likely have made.


In sum, we see a methodology that erroneously uses Japan as an analog; uses experts for answers that are really just guesses; and relies upon a loose, limited, and ambiguous application of prior research on new technology adoption to validate the statement that UAS will, in fact, be used in America. As much as we want to support AUVSI, the authors, their methodology, and the research results, we simply cannot.


Sometimes You Get Lucky

As a final point, we do need to acknowledge (and quickly refute) the possibility that despite the flawed methodology, the research findings are reasonable, by pure chance. Perhaps, as the authors assert, the US commercial UAS market actually will be at least $1.15 billion in the first year after rules are approved. And perhaps 80% of this, or roughly $900 million will be driven by the precision agriculture market. But at the risk of disappointing the reader, and with a view toward keeping this post a reasonable length, suffice it to say that while we have high expectations for the US commercial drone market, we do not see a billion dollar market in year one.


We base our position on the deep understanding we have developed of the precision agriculture market, which is at the heart of AUVSI’s forecast. Indeed, the many in-depth interviews we’ve conducted with farmers, precision agriculture vendors, crop scientists, crop scouts, agriculture equipment dealers, input vendors, academic researchers, manned aircraft operators, satellite imaging providers, UAS-service providers, and many others indicate a building interest in the use of remote sensing in general, and in UASs in particular, but do not support the notion that a mad-dash by farmers and their consultants to use UASs is underway or right around the bend. And after looking at many other vertical and application markets for UAS, we do not see any – not public safety, inspection, photography, mapping or a variety of other possibilities – that can close the resulting multi-hundred million dollar gap in the AUVSI forecast created by the much slower adoption we see in precision agriculture.


Acknowledging the Effort

Of course, it’s easy to critique the work of others, and hard to do the work yourself. In defense of the report’s authors, we need to acknowledge that they did a lot with a little. They had a budget to work within that was much smaller than is typical for an assignment of this complexity, and they invested much more time and effort than the budget allowed. Like virtually almost everyone else in the brand-new (some would say still non-existent) commercial UAS industry, they had limited prior exposure to the commercial UAS market, making their learning curve steep. And they had complex agendas to meet in order to satisfy their client, AUVSI, and its many stakeholders. In light of the foregoing, there is much for which they should be commended. But creating a forecast for the commercial UAS industry that participants can rely upon for critical decisions is not one their accomplishments. Indeed, it’s not what they set out to do in the first place, so they can’t really be faulted for not accomplishing it.


Looking Forward

As we look to the future of the commercial UAS market in America, we believe the need for reliable data and insights is more acute than ever. Critical decisions about products, markets, channels, and operational best practices are being made daily, even as we write. UAS technology vendors, service providers, and end-users are relying on intuition, gut feel, or data that is very likely misleading. Some decisions will still turn out to be right, but many others will unnecessarily result in big missed opportunities, significant wasted time and resources, disappointed customers, angry investors, disgruntled employees, and many other negative outcomes that certainly could have been avoided.




[1] AUVSI’s forecast implies a UAS market that is likely significantly greater than the $1.14 billion in 2015 shown in the report, because it does not address the large part of the market that is currently being satisfied by offshore vendors. The $1.14 billion represents only product supplied by US manufacturers of UAS. It may also fail to include industry profits, though further investigation would be required to confirm this.


Russia Loses Another One of Its Early-Warning Satellites

June 26, 2014


The odds of a nuclear-arms miscalculation by Moscow could increase because another one of its threat-detection satellites has ceased working.

The Russian defense ministry has revealed that its last geostationary satellite, which remains in permanent orbit above the United States, has stopped functioning, according to the science news website io9. Russia has other satellites capable of detecting intercontinental ballistic-missile launches, but they travel in highly elliptical orbits instead of being positioned directly above the United States, as was the case with the now-defunct Cosmos 2479 satellite, the Moscow Times reported on Wednesday.

An anonymous ministry source told the Kommersant newspaper that the Cosmos 2479 was originally supposed to operate until 2017-2019, but that it began showing performance problems not long after it was launched in 2012. The space-based sensor was able to maintain a certain level of performance but that ended in April, the source said.

Russia’s ability to detect ICBM threats has been getting worse over the years as more and more of its constellation of Soviet-era missile-detection satellites have ceased operating. At present, the former Cold War power can only monitor for U.S. missile launches for three hours a day.

Without comprehensive antimissile satellite coverage of the Earth, it becomes more difficult to distinguish a possible ICBM launch from a scientific rocket firing or a naturally occurring phenomenon. An inability to distinguish innocuous events from missile threats raises the likelihood of a strategic nuclear miscalculation, particularly during a time of already high East-West tensions.



White House to Request $60B for Afghanistan in 2015

Jun. 25, 2014 – 03:45AM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments


WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday will ask Congress for $60 billion to fund military operations in Afghanistan and other global contingencies, Defense News has learned.

The Pentagon would receive about $58.5 billion through the 2015 overseas contingency operations (OCO) request. A separate $1.5 billion budget amendment is being requested for State Department contingency funding, according to a source with knowledge of the spending plan.

Pentagon and White House Office of Management and Budget officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.

The Defense Department and the State Department will also request $5 billion, part of a new counterterrorism fund, which President Barack Obama said he would include in the OCO budget during his commencement address at West Point in May. Of that, $4 billion would go toward DoD and $1 billion toward State. The spending plan that will go to Capitol Hill Thursday will include very few details about how DoD and State would spend that money, the source said.

The spending request will also include $1 billion to boost US military presence in Europe. The money will likely go toward military exercises and building allies infrastructure, said Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

“Putting new money, new resources toward some of these important efforts — whether it be further exercises, whether it be an infrastructure project in partner countries, whether it be ways that we continue to augment and keep up the op-tempo of our own presence in Europe — that’s what this $1 billion will be for,” Chollet said during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank Wednesday.

Chollet said DoD would be heading to Congress “in the coming days” with “a more-detailed proposal.” He also said the European Reassurance Initiative is one-year money.

“This is not going to be $1 billion for all of eternity,” Chollet said. “This is just a one-time ask. It’s a contingency fund.”

US officials plan to use September’s NATO summit in Wales to call on allies to boost military spending in Europe.

The overall DoD OCO request is more than $25 billion less than the $85 billion Congress approved in 2014.

In an interview Tuesday, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said the Pentagon’s 2015 OCO request would “be significantly below” the $79 billion placeholder the Pentagon included with its $496 billion base budget.



ISIS Tries to Grab Its Own Air Force



In its march to Baghdad, ISIS seized the heavy weapons of a modern army. Now, the jihadists are attacking Iraq’s biggest air base – and could soon be able to attack from the sky.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is threatening to take control of Balad Airbase, Iraq’s largest airfield and one of America’s most important military outposts during its occupation of the country.

Today, Balad still has plenty of vehicles and aircraft on the base that any terrorist group would covet, including Russian-made transport helicopters, surveillance planes, and a fleet of pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns.

Now, that airbase is coming under fire—and is in danger of falling into the hands of ISIS, according to U.S. intelligence officers, internal reports from Balad, and outside analysts. Reuters reported Wednesday that the base was now surrounded on three sides by insurgents and taking heavy mortar fire.

“We assess the group continues to threaten the air base and Iraqi Security Force control of the air base as it moves south towards Baghdad,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters Tuesday.

Of course, even if ISIS were to gain control of Balad, there is no guarantee its fighters would know how to operate or maintain the aircraft that are stored there. But an ISIS takeover of Balad would be significant nonetheless. As NBC News reported Tuesday, Iraqi officers say without air support they are on an equal footing with ISIS fighters.

Jessica Lewis—the research director for the Institute for the Study of War and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq—told The Daily Beast, “It would mean that ISIS can beat the best that the Iraqi Army can muster, not just the northern units that have been ignored. It would mean strategic defeat for the Iraqi Army.”

Lewis estimates that Balad and neighboring Taji base are likely some of the next targets of the ISIS campaign. “Both of these bases are critical military sites for the Iraqi Army. Neutralizing one or both would demonstrate that ISIS can beat the Iraqi Army strategically.”


This is in part because a defeat for Iraq’s army at Balad would also deprive Iraq’s military of the air assets it already has—and is set to acquire. In December, Russia began to deliver Mi-35 attack and transport helicopters. The first of 36 American F-16 fighters were scheduled to be delivered to Balad in September 2014.

Some attacks on Balad already began this month. The last American contractors at Balad—many of whom were working to modernize the base to be ready for the F-16s—were flown by the Iraqi Air Force to Baghdad on June 13 in a dramatic airlift operation reminiscent of the fall of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

A June 11 situation report produced by one of the military contractors at Balad said some ISIS fighters were warning local Iraqis in a nearby district to remain indoors and that the fighters had intended to attack Balad. The report said the fighters were possibly an advance force and warned that intermittent probing attacks—small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades—”should be considered imminent on the base.” One military contractor working at Balad who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity confirmed that there were some probing attacks on the base before the airlift on June 13.

If ISIS were to gain access to Balad, they would be able to acquire a significant arsenal to add to their already impressive stock of vehicles, weapons and equipment. James Codling, who served as a contractor and senior engineer on the base between 2008 and 2012, told The Daily Beast that when the U.S. forces left in 2011, they left at least 1,000 trucks and vehicles, some of them armored, along with 500 to 600 portable power generators. He also said the base housed Russian-made Mi-8 transport helicopters, small surveillance planes, military tactical vehicles, Humvees and a fleet of pickup trucks with machine guns mounted in the truck beds.

“Both of these bases are critical military sites for the Iraqi Army. Neutralizing one or both would demonstrate that ISIS can beat the Iraqi Army strategically.”

“When the United States left Balad, they essentially left everything in place. What I observed, I was pretty upset about this,” he said. Codling did acknowledge that the most sensitive pieces of U.S. equipment, such as surveillance and attack drones, were flown out of Balad before the last U.S. troops left the country.

For ISIS, however, the lower-tech equipment will likely prove most useful—in part, because they are easier to operate and maintain. The group posted photos on its social media accounts this week showing a parade of its fighters in Mosul driving Iraqi Humvees and even a vehicle towing mobile artillery. The senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters Tuesday said the military capabilities for ISIS have “dramatically improved” because of the weapons and equipment it has obtained from the Iraqi and Syrian bases the group has overrun.

Administration officials held a classified briefing for all senators on Iraq late Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol. Briefers included Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin, and Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, director for Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Several senators emerged from the briefing still unclear on what the administration plans to do to address what was described to them as a dire situation inside Iraq that was getting worse.

“The situation in Iraq is a growing counterterrorism emergency. This is not about saving the government of Iraq… this is an urgent counterterrorism situation that our country faces,” said Sen. Marco Rubio. “It grows more dire by the moment. Our options become more limited by the moment. And I hope if receives the attention it deserves over the next few hours… This is a rapidly deteriorating situation.”

Rubio said there was a risk of the violence spreading into Jordan and other neighboring countries. He is arguing the U.S. needs to target ISIS supply lines in Iraq and ISIS command and control facilities inside Syria.

The president has all the authority he needs to strike, Rubio said. He did not indicate whether administration officials said if any decision on strikes had been made.

“Right now we don’t know what the president’s intentions are,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe. As for whether Obama should come to Congress for authorization before striking Iraq, Inhofe said: “Whether or not he has to, he ought to.”

Sen. John McCain told The Daily Beast said if the administration wanted to strike, there are clearly identifiable ISIS targets that could be hit with maximum effectiveness and minimum risk to civilians.

“We know where these columns are, particularly in the desert, where you wouldn’t have to attack them in the cities,” said McCain.

But McCain doubts that President Obama will ultimately decide to use American military force inside Iraq. “I’m absolutely convinced they don’t want to do it.”

Meanwhile, Iran is already working to shore up its Shi’ite allies in Baghdad. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Iran is even flying surveillance drones over Iraq from another air base in Iraq.


Iraqi PM Rejects Forming ‘Salvation’ Government

Last updated on: June 25, 2014 12:46 PM


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected forming an emergency government to help the country counter a surge by Sunni Islamist militants.

In a televised address, Maliki said he considered a “national salvation government,” intended to present a unified front among Iraq’s three main groups, a “coup against the constitution” and going against Iraq’s April 30 parliament election results.

Iraqi leaders said they will meet a July 1 deadline for beginning to form the post-election government.

U.S. officials believe the leadership in Baghdad should seek to draw Sunni support away from the militants from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

ISIL militants have seized areas across northern and western Iraq.


NATO meeting

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been on a week-long tour of the Middle East and Europe to discuss the crisis in Iraq, spoke to reporters at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Kerry said, “We’ve made it clear to everyone in region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions” already occurring in Iraq.

He also said the U.S. is interested in who leads Iraq but is not going to interfere as Baghdad forms a new government.


“It’s up to Iraqis to make those decisions. We have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis,” Kerry said.

Both Kerry and U.S. President Barack Obama have been urging Iraq to install a government that is inclusive of Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

On Friday, Kerry will visit Saudi Arabia on Friday to meet King Abdullah and discuss the crises in Iraq and Syria, he said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

Kerry last visited the world’s top oil exporter in late March alongside U.S. President Barack Obama. He will most likely meet the Saudi monarch in Jeddah, where the kingdom’s government is based during summer months.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have both been alarmed by the success of ISIL.

However, officials from Saudi Arabia, which has long complained that Iraq’s Sunnis are marginalized by Maliki, said they oppose foreign intervention in Iraq after Baghdad requested U.S. air strikes on ISIL.


Call to unite

Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government has faced criticism of sidelining the minorities and breeding sectarian tensions. He called for unity in his address Wednesday.

“We desperately need to take a comprehensive national stand to defeat terrorism, which is seeking to destroy our gains of democracy and freedom, set our differences aside and join efforts,” Maliki said. “The danger facing Iraq requires all political groups to reconcile on the basis and principles of our constitutional democracy.”

Middle East analyst Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House in London argued many in the West are making too much of the role of ISIL militants in the battle against the Maliki government.

“There is too much concentration on ISIL and the militants. There is a lot more to that than ISIL and the militants,” Shehadi said. “Underneath that is a genuine discontent and marginalization on the part of mainly Sunni constituency and one should not address ISIL as being the main protagonist. It affects the solution. It affects the way you seek a solution.”

Shehadi went on to stress that “underlying discontent” among Sunni tribes is what sparked the revolt against the Maliki government.

“ISIL,” he insisted, “jumped in to take advantage of the rift or discontent.” The “solution” to the conflict, he claimed, “is to address the discontent, not to address ISIL.”


Oil refinery, air base attacked

On Wednesday, militants overran the Ajeel oil site, 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Tikrit, which contains at least three small oil fields that produce 28,000 barrels per day, an engineer working at the field said.

The engineer said local tribes had taken responsibility for protecting the fields after police withdrew but that they also left after the nearby town of al-Alam was seized by militants.

Ajeel is connected to two pipelines, one running to Turkey’s Ceyhan port and the other to the Beiji oil refinery, which remained a frontline early on Wednesday.

State TV showed troop reinforcements flying into the compound by helicopter to fend off the assault on Beiji, a strategic industrial complex 200 kilometers north of Baghdad.

Local tribal leaders said they were negotiating with both the Shi’ite-led government and Sunni fighters to allow the tribes to run the plant if Iraqi forces withdraw.


One government official said Baghdad wanted the tribes to break with ISIL and other Sunni armed factions, and help defend the compound.

The plant has been fought over since last Wednesday, with sudden reversals for both sides and no clear winner so far.

Militants including ISIL and allied Sunni tribes battled Iraqi forces in the town of Yathrib, 90 km north of Baghdad, into the early hours of Wednesday, witnesses and the deputy head of the municipality said. Four militants were killed, they said.

Insurgents have partially surrounded a massive air base nearby Balad, which was known as “Camp Anaconda” under U.S. occupation, and struck it with mortars.

The loss of Balad would be a powerful blow to the Shi’ite-led government of Maliki and could threaten the capital from the air. It could also pave the way for a Sunni insurgent assault on a second major air base at Taji.


US forces arrive

The attack came as the first of up to 300 U.S. military adviser, meant to help Iraq counter the militants, arrived in Baghdad to assess the government’s military position.

More than 100 security personnel arrived earlier this week and more are scheduled to arrive in the next few days.

The United States also is conducting air surveillance over Iraq, with 30 to 35 flights a day to help gain better insight about the security situation on the ground as Iraqi troops battle the fast-moving insurgency.

The United Nations said Tuesday that more than 1,000 people have been killed in Iraq in June, most of them civilians. Iraq is seeing its worst violence since 2008, with U.N. figures showing 4,500 deaths through the end of May.


Air Force generals will face off over difficult budget, job cuts

Internal bickering precedes Andrews meeting on consolidation


A group of top Air Force generals will gather behind closed doors at Andrews Air Force Base on Thursday to hash through ways to cut 3,400 positions from the service as part of a proposal to shave $1.6 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the coming five years, defense officials said this week.

The proposed cuts, which would require congressional approval, have emerged as a source of internal bickering and hand-wringing among Air Force brass in recent weeks — mainly because they involve a plan to consolidate all of the service’s base operations under the umbrella of a single new operations center.

The Washington Times first reported this month that several Air Force generals privately voiced frustration about the plan, which effectively would strip them of their authority to oversee operations, spending and decision-making at individual bases.

Pentagon sources have told The Times that there is still uncertainty over where the central operations center will be, but Joint Base Andrews is among the possibilities. Unease apparently is growing over which aspects of the Air Force are most likely to bear the brunt of the job cuts under the plan.

One Defense Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the “pre-decisional” nature of the plan, said 3,400 jobs will be cut. Although that number may seem like a small portion of the Air Force’s more than 610,000 members, it represents a potentially sticky decision for the service’s top brass.

Internal emails shared with The Times this week show that Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning and Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer are slated to meet at Andrews on Thursday to examine the roles, responsibilities and missions they believe should fall under the proposed base operations center.

Along with several other Air Force generals, they essentially will be narrowing jobs that overlap and may be cut, according to the Defense Department official.

In order for Thursday’s discussions to be effective, according to one of the emails shared with The Times, senior Air Force officials have sought to compile information about “the magnitude of personnel” involved with each of the functions that have been identified for the proposed center.

As a result of the internal disagreements about the center, the Air Force missed a self-imposed deadline for notifying Congress about the proposal.

The Air Force intended to establish the framework for the center by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. It is unclear whether that timeline has changed in light of the internal fighting.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed Tuesday that the date was in flux because the service has “made no decisions yet.”

“The longer you wait on decisions, the more those dates tend to move around,” she said.

Ms. Stefanek noted that various center start dates are circulating in the ongoing base operations consolidation discussion because there are “action officers all over the Air Force proposing dates to leaders.”

Nothing has been set in stone, she said.



Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Americans continue to worry about the state of the nation’s schools and believe the federal government still doesn’t get it.

Just 17% of voters believe U.S. public schools today provide a world-class education, down nine points from 2011 when President Obama first declared that as a necessary goal.  

But support for Common Core among Americans with school-age children has plummeted from 52% to 34%, as more now question whether the new national education standards will actually improve student performance. An increasing number of states are abandoning the standards which many complain force teachers to focus too much on one-size-fits-all standardized testing.

Fifty-four percent (54%) think schools place too much emphasis on standardized testing these days, and just 26% believe student scores on these tests should be the major factor in determining how well a school is doing. 

The end result is that just 19% of voters think most high school graduates today have the skills needed to enter college or the workforce.

Still, increasing numbers of young Americans are taking on crippling amounts of student loan debt to get college degrees that don’t help them get a job. Only 28% of Americans believe most college graduates have the skills to enter the workforce.

The president is proposing a government rating system that will tie a college’s performance in several areas including the earning power of its graduates to federal student financial aid. Americans like that idea, but they don’t trust the government to do the rating system fairly. 

Obama also is expanding his debt forgiveness initiative for student loans despite the opposition of most Americans. Eighty-eight percent (88%) believe lowering college tuition costs would do more to help college students than giving them easier access to college loans. 

On the political front this past week, incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran narrowly won a messy intraparty runoff in Mississippi by successfully soliciting black Democrats to vote in the GOP primary. In our first post-primary look at the Senate race in Mississippi, Cochran holds a double-digit lead over Democratic challenger Travis Childers. 

Fewer voters than ever (25%), however, think their local member of Congress deserves reelection
Democrats lead Republicans by two points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Both major political parties face the possibility of lengthy presidential primary seasons in 2016, but just 40% of voters think the current primary process is a good way to select a party’s presidential candidate.

Voters still strongly believe that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. But Clinton was the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, too, only to lose it during the primaries to Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Clinton earns 45% to 50% of the vote against six leading Republicans in potential 2016 presidential matchups, running best against Texans Rick Perry and Ted Cruz and poorest against Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie now makes the weakest showing.

A plurality (44%) of voters, though, continues to believe the circumstances surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya will hurt Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. 

As the situation in Iraq goes from bad to worse, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are pointing fingers at the opposing party’s policies. Voters are evenly divided over whether it was the actions and policies of George W. Bush or Barack Obama that have contributed more to the crisis in Iraq today. But only 31% rate the Obama administration’s handling of the situation in Iraq as good or excellent.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Americans expect the major oil companies to use the news from Iraq as an excuse to raise gas prices

The president’s overall job approval ratings began to fall late this past week, but it’s far too soon to know if this marks a trend of any kind.

Voters are more negative than ever about the state of the U.S. health care system, and once again a majority believes the new national health care law will make it worse. 

Voters are also concerned about the flood of young illegal immigrants on the southern border. Despite increasing calls for immigration reform, voters have long been clear what needs to be done first: Secure the border to prevent future illegal immigration

Consumer and investor confidence are up again this week.

In other surveys this week:

— Twenty-seven percent (27%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. The number who say the country is heading in the right direction has now been less than 30% for 15 of the 25 weeks so far this year.

— Fifty-three percent (53%) of Americans believe interest rates will be higher in a year’s time.

— Sixty-one percent (61%) of voters think most Supreme Court justices have their own political agenda, the highest finding in five years. 

— Republican Governor Brian Sandoval holds a two-to-one lead over Democratic challenger Robert Goodman in his bid for reelection in Nevada.

— Seventy-five percent (75%) of voters believe, generally speaking, that trials should be held in the places where the crimes were committed, and 54% oppose moving the trial of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect out of Boston

Sixty percent (60%) of Americans don’t believe the Washington Redskins football team should change its name despite complaints that the name is offensive to American Indians.

— Despite the current interest in the World Cup, just 19% think that, in five years, soccer will be as popular in the United States as it is around the world


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