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July 5 2014

July 7, 2014

5July2014

Newswire

 

‘Corrosive culture,’ weak leadership cripple VA, report says

By Ralph Ellis and John Crawley, CNN

updated 9:24 PM EDT, Fri June 27, 2014

Source: CNN

 

(CNN) — The Veterans Affairs health care system needs to be overhauled because of unresponsive leadership and a “corrosive culture” that affects the delivery of medical care, said a report delivered Friday to President Barack Obama.

“It is clear that there are significant and chronic systemic failures that must be addressed by the leadership at VA,” said the report prepared by Rob Nabors, who is Obama’s deputy chief of staff and who the President dispatched to assess the situation at the troubled agency.

The VA, a massive bureaucracy with more than 300,000 full-time employees, is under fire over allegations of alarming shortcomings at its medical facilities. The controversy, as CNN first reported, involves delayed care with potentially fatal consequences in possibly dozens of cases.

Nabors and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson met with Obama to discuss the findings.

Excessive waiting periods

At the Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, for example, a preliminary report made public last month indicated that at least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and were never placed on a wait list.

CNN has reported that in Phoenix, the VA used fraudulent record-keeping — including an alleged secret list — that covered up excessive waiting periods for veterans, some of whom died in the process.

But the problems go well beyond Phoenix. Dozens of others of VA centers, all around the country, also face a host of allegations like possible abuse of scheduling practices.

Indeed. The report mentioned the Inspector General is now investigating 77 VA facilities, more than were previously reported.

 

‘Corrosive culture’ hurts morale

The report issued Friday stressed that the vast majority of employees are dedicated and hard-working. Yet, it cited a “corrosive culture” that created personnel problems across the department and hurt morale and, by extension, timeliness of medical care.

When problems occur, they are transferred to other departments minimized or not acknowledged at all, the report said, and the culture “encourages discontent and backlash against employees.”

“The department must take swift and appropriate accountability actions,” the report said. “There must be a recognition of how true accountability works.”

 

Lack of transparency cited

The report called for an overhaul of leadership at the Veterans Medical Administration.

“It currently acts with little transparency or accountability with regard to its management of the VA medical structure,” the report said.

The VA central office could solve this problem with more transparency and by taking a more hands-on approach with regional leaders, the report said.

 

Other key findings of the report:

— The 14-day scheduling standard for a medical appointment is “arbitrary, ill-defined, and misunderstood.” The goal was deemed unrealistic and “is a poor indicator of either patient satisfaction or quality of care” and should be replaced.

— The technology behind the basic scheduling system is “cumbersome and outdated.”

— Additional resources, including doctors, nurses, trained support staff and other health professionals, are needed.

— Many of the resource issues facing the VA are similar to what exists in the private sector. But the VA has not clearly articulated its funding needs.

The VA health system is the nation’s largest, with more than 1,700 sites serving 8.76 million people annually.

The scandal has already created political waves.

Eric Shinseki resigned in May as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Obama has requested an appropriation of $163.9 billion for the department in the 2015 budget, a 6.5% increase over the 2014 budget.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “It appears the White House has finally come to terms with the serious and systemic VA health care problems we’ve been investigating and documenting for years.”

 

Experimental project could help detect potato crop threats

http://www.idahostatejournal.com/experimental-project-could-help-detect-potato-crop-threats/article_38425744-ff23-11e3-83c6-001a4bcf887a.html

Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2014 6:21 pm

By Kendra Evensen kevensen@journalnet.com

 

POCATELLO — An assistant professor at Idaho State University’s Department of Geosciences is leading an experimental project that could aid in the early detection of potato crop threats.

Donna Delparte is directing the project — funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant — which will use Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to do potato crop surveys at farms in southeast and northern Idaho.

“This is an experimental project to identify different crop threats that may emerge over the growing season,” Delparte said. “Ideally we will be able to provide early detection of any problem or issue that will allow the grower to rapidly respond.”

The UAS platforms will give investigators a birds-eye view of the agricultural crops they fly over, Delparte said, adding that they will be using a multicopter that has been outfitted with a GPS and mulitspectral camera sensor, among others.

“What makes our UAS platforms unique is that they carry advanced GPS sensors that allow us to precisely map and create photo mosaics of the crops below using a multispectral camera,” she said. “The multispectral camera allows us to understand the health of the crop by viewing it beyond what we can see in the visible part of the spectrum by using infrared.”

Delparte is working with three co-investigators: Louise-Marie Dandurand with the University of Idaho, a potato plant agronomist who will be doing greenhouse research; Nancy Glenn with Boise State University, who will serve as an adviser on hyperspectral imaging and advanced remote sensing analysis; and Derek Wadsworth with the Idaho National Laboratory, who will serve as the specialist in unmanned aerial vehicles, electronics and robotics. She’s also working with graduate students Mike Griffel and Ben Nickell on the project, she said, adding that other partners include the J.R. Simplot Company, Steve Edgar with Advanced Aviation Solutions, and various growers in southeast and northern Idaho.

Delparte believes that using UAS platforms to help detect threats could give farmers the timely information they need to ensure the health and sustainability of their crops, she said.

“Our ultimate goal for this project is to work closely with farmers to use these UAS platforms to develop tools, products and information that will be helpful to them in ensuring food security, crop protection and long-term sustainability,” she said.

Delparte said they will use a multicopter to collect weekly multispectral data from potato crops. They will then compare that data with scans they collect from greenhouse plants that have been exposed to pathogens and pests commonly seen in the fields.

“So if we know a sick plant in the greenhouse is showing a spectral scan that indicates some disease or virus, we can compare that spectral scan with field data,” she said. “If there is a match, we can sample the field potatoes to see if they have the same sickness or problem as the plant in the greenhouse.”

Delparte said they are looking forward to working with area growers on the project, and they hope their efforts will not only help those in the agricultural business, but will also lend support to the development of a Center of Excellence in UAS in Idaho.

“The state commerce department has been talking about this idea and it would be an incredible benefit to the state to become a leader in this rapidly growing area,” she said.

 

 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) – Aka Drones Legal Issues: Where Are We Headed?

by Press • 2 July 2014

http://www.suasnews.com/2014/07/29918/unmanned-aircraft-systems-uas-aka-drones-legal-issues-where-are-we-headed/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=9bf1a5f45c-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-9bf1a5f45c-303662705

Elaine D. Solomon

 

There have been almost daily news stories about the advent of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (“UAVs”), also referred to as “drones,” and how commercial usage is expected to explode over the next several years. There have been reports of UAVs being used to deliver everything from pizza, to beer, to dry cleaning, to packages. Entrepreneurs have been hailed for coming up with new ways to use UAVs for many purposes. Interestingly, most of these news stories fail to mention that currently, commercial use of UAVs is illegal. While the FAA is busy attempting to come up with a plan to safely integrate UASs into our navigable airspace over the next few years, it is important to focus on what legal issues may arise once UAS usage increases. There will inevitably be many legal issues: accidents involving personal injury and property damage; IP issues implicated by the technology used to control UAVs; individual privacy rights; as well as criminal laws coming into play such as stalking, harassment, and wiretapping.

 

A.Concerns

Legal concepts will need to be tailored to UASs’ unique capabilities, which allow for much more intrusive invasions (both physically and with respect to privacy issues) than traditional aircraft, and present significant questions as to safety of persons and property. Of particular concern is the use of UASs by government entities. Drones are currently used for or have been proposed for use in domestic surveillance, license plate reading, facial recognition, interception of text messages and cell phone calls, and hacking into Wi-Fi networks. Infrared sensors, high-powered cameras, and facial recognition may also expand UAV capabilities into more controversial realms.

Further, potential and current uses have sparked numerous fears over privacy issues, and have pitted advancing technology against individual rights. Privacy concerns and individual rights will have to be balanced against First Amendment protections of newsgathering. In particular, drone ubiquity raises the concern that the average person on the ground cannot know who is in control of a given UAV, as well as fear about how data will be used and disseminated, and by whom. There are also security concerns about what can be delivered by a drone and whether there is any way to regulate or track such deliveries.

There are also concerns regarding military, human rights, and government transparency issues. In January 2014, federal lawmakers made a move to block President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department, inserting a secret provision in a spending bill that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counter-terrorism operations.1 This was viewed as an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run. The operation of UASs by the CIA and special forces is troubling to many because the public at large—and even lawmakers themselves—have very little information about who is doing what, meaning there is little, if any, accountability. This problem will only be exacerbated as technology continues to develop. Future UAS programs may very well include nuclear-fueled UASs that can stay airborne for months and do not require anyone to operate them.

Criminal laws may also come into play, and have to be tailored, as the court and lawmakers decide how to apply stalking, harassment, and other criminal laws to UASs. Current criminal stalking and harassment laws tend to focus on the presence of a threatening message being communicated to the victim; therefore, a UAS whose primary function is simply to communicate information back to an operator may not be implicated by these laws unless they are amended specifically to include UASs.

UASs may also run afoul of wiretapping laws that make it unlawful to intercept an oral communication by one who has an expectation that the communication is private. UAS recordings or interceptions of private conversations by UASs may very well violate these wiretap statutes.

 

II. The Legal Framework

With the FAA in the midst of integrating UASs into national air space and UAS technology rapidly advancing, a legal framework must be put in place. It is impossible to predict exactly how courts will treat the unique legal issues presented by UAVs; however, some insight can be gleaned from past cases dealing with emerging technological changes.

 

A.FAA UAV Suit—Administrator v. Pirker

The Pirker case2 is the FAA’s first attempt to regulate small UAVs under existing policies. Raphael Pirker used a small, remote controlled model power glider to take aerial photos for advertising purposes at the University of Virginia campus. The FAA cited Pirker for violating a ban on commercial UAS usage, and for operating the UAV “in a careless and reckless manner,” pursuant to 14 C.F.R. § 91.13, and because Pirker did not have a pilot’s license, putting it under the FAA’s authority to enforce flight safety. Further, the FAA argued that it had authority to regulate the UAV because any device intended for flight is an “aircraft,” including this small UAV. The operator was assessed a civil penalty of $10,000 for violation of a 2007 FAA Policy Statement that requires commercial UAVs to obtain a Certificate of Airworthiness and be subject to the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Pirker filed a motion to dismiss, choosing to challenge the violation on grounds that there is no existing FAA regulation governing the operation of model aircraft, and that the FAA’s Policy Statements concerning the operation of UAVs are not binding or enforceable. Further, Pirker argued that the power glider was not an “aircraft” as contemplated by § 91.13, and that the FAA had no jurisdiction to regulate model aircraft in airspace below 400 feet (i.e., navigable airspace for manned aircraft).

In a decision issued March 7, 2014, the NTSB judge held that the power glider was not an “aircraft”—rather, it was a small UAV that otherwise qualifies as a model aircraft (i.e., an aircraft under 55 pounds, being operated below 400 feet)— even if it was engaged in commercial operations. Further, it was held that the FAA had no authority, absent regulations properly promulgated (as opposed to Advisory Circulars and Policy Statements), to regulate this UAV (whether it was being used for commercial purposes or otherwise), which otherwise qualified as a model airplane. The administrative law judge also pointed out that the FAA had historically treated model aircraft separately from other types of “aircraft,” so its position with respect to Pirker was not consistent with that historical distinction.

The FAA has appealed the decision, thus staying the decision pending review by the full National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”). In the meantime, various groups have expressed concern over the possible implications of this decision. Is this decision going to be viewed as the green light for unregulated commercial usage of small UAVs? Are we going to be in a “Wild Wild West” mode until the FAA puts formal regulations in place for UASs? The Airline Pilots’ Association has expressed concern regarding the impact of commercial UASs on flight safety, as has the general aviation community.

 

B.”Ownership” of Space Above Property—Fifth Amendment Taking of Property

Under Roman law, whoever owned a piece of land possessed all the space above the land extending upwards into the heavens (a principle known as ad coelum, short for Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum, “whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven”). The ad coelum principle was the basis of U.S. common law. However, with the inception of commercial aviation, the Federal Aviation Act centralized aviation within the domain of the federal government.

Airspace conflicts between common law and the states were addressed in United States v. Causby.3 The plaintiff inCausby sued the United States government under the Fifth Amendment, arguing that military planes flying over his property constituted a taking, as the noise of planes just 83 feet above his land caused frequent deaths (from fright) of the plaintiff’s chickens and ultimately the loss of the plaintiff’s chicken farming business. The Supreme Court thus had to decide who owns the airspace above private property. This required a balancing of the needs of commerce and unobstructed air travel against the private property owner rights. The Supreme Court rejected the common-law ad coelumconcept of airspace ownership but reconfirmed that a landowner owns at least as much space above the ground as he can occupy or use and enjoy in connection with the land; above that is public domain.4

The Court outlined three factors that must be met for flights over land to constitute a taking: (1) whether the planes flew directly over the plaintiff’s land; (2) altitude and frequency of the flights; (3) and whether the flights directly and immediately interfere with the enjoyment and use of the land. Notably, the Court declined to establish a bright-line altitude below which planes may not fly over private property.

In the wake of Causby, some courts took exactly such a fixed-height approach, ruling that flights within “navigable airspace” do not constitute a taking, while anything below navigable airspace could be “owned” by the landowner and give rise to property tort or takings claims. This approach was largely rejected by later Supreme Court cases, which noted that flights could be so frequent, etc. as to result in liability, regardless of whether they occur in navigable airspace.5

Other courts have held that there is a rebuttable presumption of non-taking when overhead flights occur in navigable airspace. This presumption can be rebutted with evidence that the flights interfered with the owner’s use and enjoyment of the surface enough to justify compensation. Still, other courts examine the effect of overhead flights on use and enjoyment of the land without regard to whether the aircraft is in navigable airspace or not.

As UAS usage increases, causes of action for interference with one’s use and enjoyment of land may very well come into play.

 

C.Fourth Amendment “Search and Seizure” Concerns

The use of UASs by public entities presents a danger of unwarranted and undetected UAS searches, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Will a warrant be required for governmental use of a UAS? The U.S. Supreme Court has previously addressed law enforcement observation and surveillance efforts, and those cases may very well be looked to as a guide for future UAS cases.

Katz v. United States is an important case that has been applied to emerging technologies over the years.6 Katz held that a conversation inadvertently taped by law enforcement surveillance in a phone booth without a warrant that captured incriminating evidence was not admissible in court because what a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. What a person seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected. Katz established a two-prong test to determine when Fourth Amendment protection is appropriate: first, a person must have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, the expectation must be one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.”

Katz’s first prong (the subjective expectation of privacy) has been severely weakened by subsequent decisions. It was essentially struck down by Smith v. Maryland, in which the Court held that a pen register that recorded the phone calls of a criminal did not qualify as a warrantless wiretap because he had no expectation of privacy, since the calls could be accessed by the phone company.7 Smith replaced the first Katz prong with an assumption that we are always being watched. Furthermore, in Oliver v. United States, the Court upheld the open field doctrine, stating that that which can be seen in plain sight is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.8 In this day and age, aerial observation by aircraft of other means is not unreasonable, nor unexpected.

More specifically focused on air surveillance, the Supreme Court has held that naked-eye observation or photography from a helicopter to conduct surveillance is permissible without a warrant.9 The Supreme Court held that, because the helicopter was operating within established flight safety guidelines, the defendant’s curtilage was not protected from aerial view.10

 

Further, the Supreme Court has also held that police can legally view private property from an aircraft without a warrant where police observations take place within public navigable airspace and in a physically nonintrusive manner.11 In Ciraolo, the defendant had built a privacy fence around his property. Police received an anonymous tip that someone was growing marijuana in a backyard and used an airplane to fly over the yard at 1,000 feet. Police observed the defendant’s marijuana plants, which let to a warrant and arrest. The Court held that, in an age where private and commercial flight is routine, it is unreasonable to expect constitutional protection of what can be observed with the naked-eye from an altitude of 1,000 feet.12

Another case that could have an impact on UAS jurisprudence is Dow Chemical Co. v. United States,13 in which the plaintiff challenged the legality of using aerial photography as incriminating evidence. The Supreme Court held that the use of photographic equipment was acceptable as long as the equipment was readily available to the public and the enhanced photographic capabilities did not excessively intrude on privacy rights. If this standard is applied to UASs, it really cannot be said that UASs are “readily available to the public” as they certainly have capabilities far more advanced that photography equipment.

Another case focusing on the question of whether certain equipment is available for general use is Kyllo v. United States.14In Kyllo, police used thermal imaging to measure the temperature of walls and roof of a home where they suspected marijuana growing, and they were found to be abnormally warm. A search warrant issued based upon that information. The search revealed marijuana growing. The Court held that use of a thermal imaging device to detect heat emanating from inside the home required a warrant, reasoning that where the government uses a device that is not in general public use to explore details of a home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a “search” and is presumptively unreasonable.15

GPS tracking cases may also offer some guidance. One case that will no doubt be important is United States v. Jones,wherein the Supreme Court considered a GPS tracker installed by a police task force on a car.16 The tracker registered the vehicle’s location every 10 seconds. The GOA data was used to place a suspect at a house where drug sales allegedly occurred. The Court held that a month of GPS tracking required a warrant. Long-term tracking was not viewed as reasonable; rather, it was unduly invasive. Further, there was a danger of gathering not only relevant, but also irrelevant and private data. As is true of month-long GPS tracking, UASs that make even more invasive long-term monitoring possible carry the danger of gathering not only relevant, but also irrelevant and private data. Indeed, the courts may very well reason that individuals have a reasonable expectation that we will not be secretly, long-term monitored from above, based upon legitimate privacy concerns.

 

1.Key Concepts to Consider in Future UAS Cases:

•How invasive and intrusive is it?

•Does it violate some expectation of privacy reasonable in this day and age?

•Is it extensive/long-term, thus having danger of capturing relevant and irrelevant personal information?

•Does it invade areas previously inaccessible, so as to violate our privacy expectations?

•Does it involve use of technology not generally available to the public?

 

D.Torts

1.Trespass and Nuisance

 

Trespass and nuisance are possible UAS usage causes of action. A trespass is any physical intrusion upon property owned by another. When considering these issues in the context of intrusions into airspace, the courts have used factors set forth in Causby for takings actions: A plaintiff must prove that the interference occurred within the immediate reaches of the land or airspace that the owner can possess, that the intrusion interfered with actual use of the land, and that it detracts from the plaintiff’s use of the property.

Nuisance is based on a property owner’s right to use and enjoy the land (not possessory rights to the property). A nuisance plaintiff must show that the object in airspace interfered with the use and enjoyment of land and that the interference was substantial and unreasonable.

The FAA’s definition of navigable air space may very well dictate what causes of action are implicated by UAS usage. A UAS’s ability to fly low means it is more likely to invade the immediate reaches of the surface property and thus satisfy theCausby requirements for takings or trespass claims.

 

2.Intrusion upon Seclusion

Intrusion upon seclusion may very well be the most likely privacy claim regarding UASs. The long-term flight capabilities of UAVs mean that they can stay in the air for a long time, making them potentially more invasive. UASs also implicate privacy concerns if used data collections and dissemination; thermal imaging; facial and license plate recognition; computer hacking; and cell phone tapping.

There is an objective person standard for this tort—that is, the question is whether a person of ordinary sensibilities would be offended by the alleged invasion. Furthermore, the intrusion must be highly offensive (i.e., outrageously unreasonable conduct). A single intrusion is usually not sufficient. The invasion of privacy must also be intentional—the defendant must desire that the intrusion would occur or know with substantial certainty that such an invasion would result from his or her actions. Accordingly, accidental intrusion is not actionable. Finally, in some states, the intrusion must cause mental suffering, shame, or humiliation. As an example, in surveillance cases, the location of the surveillance is determinative: in one’s home is an intrusion; on one’s property but in public view is less likely to be an intrusion; and in a public place, the likelihood of success is much less.

 

3.Restatement (Second) of the Law of Torts

Other possible privacy torts include public disclosure of private facts, publicity that puts the target in a false light, or appropriation of one’s likeness.17

 

IV. Conclusion

idespread use of UASs will be a reality in the very near future. The safety framework for such usage will be dictated by FAA rules and regulations. However, legal frameworks will also need to be adapted to this new technology, and constitutional and individual rights will need to be balanced with technological advancements.

 

Footnotes

1 Eric Schmitt, “Congress R estricts Drones Program Shift,” N.Y. Times, January 16, 2014, available athttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/us/politics/ congress-restricts-drones-program-shift.html .

2 Administrator v. Pirker, FAA Case No. 2012EA210009, NTSB Docket No. CP-217.

 

3 328 U.S. 256 (1946).

4 With regard to the plaintiff’s land in particular, the Court found that the military flights diminished the value of the land, as it could not longer be used for its primary purpose—chicken farming. See also Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 159(2) (A property owner owns only as much air space above his property as he can practicably use).

5 See, e.g., Braniff Airways v. Nebraska State Board of Equalization & Assessment (regarding the destruction of usefulness of property); Griggs v. Allegheny County (regarding flights making land “undesirable and unbearable” for residential use).

6 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

7 442 U.S. 735 (1979).

8 466 U.S. 170 (1984).

9 Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 455 (1989) (naked-eye observation from 400 feet through a greenhouse was not an unreasonable search); Dow Chemical v. United States, 476 U.S. 227 (1986) (aerial photograph of industrial complex from 1200 to 12,000 feet not a prohibited search).

10 488 U.S. 445 (1989).

11 California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986).

12 Id. at 213.

13 476 U.S. 227 (1986).

14 533 U.S. 27 (2001).

15 Id. at 40.

16 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012).

17 Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652; see also Alissa M. Dolan and Richard M. Thompson II, “Integration of Drones into Domestic Airspace: Selected Legal Issues,” Congressional Research Service, April 4, 2013, at 14.

 

http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/323376/Aviation/Unmanned+Aircraft+Systems+UAS+aka+Drones

 

FAA takes on city Realtors using drones

by Press • 1 July 2014

http://www.suasnews.com/2014/07/29907/faa-takes-on-city-realtors-using-drones/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=9bf1a5f45c-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-9bf1a5f45c-303662705

By Jennifer Gould Keil and Kate Sheehy

 

High-end Realtors who use drones to take aerial property photos are being slapped with subpoenas by the FAA, which is demanding to know exactly how the technology is being used, The Post has learned.

The Federal Aviation Administration dragged the courts into its fight against Realtors a week after stating the remote-controlled crafts cannot be used for commercial purposes.

“It has completely blown up. We’re getting [subpoenas] all over the city and the Hamptons, and they’re just going to general counsel,” a source with Halstead Property told The Post on Monday. “It was a total shock.”

In addition to Halstead, city real-estate giants such as Time Equities and Alchemy Property use drones. The stunning views that can be taken of ritzy, towering projects are invaluable as a selling tool, they note.

 

“You can get [drones] online for 1,500 bucks,” a Corcoran broker said. “It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a photographer and a plane for an aerial shot. As long as [the drones] aren’t used for spying, what’s the problem?”

The FAA argues brokers can’t use the drones because they haven’t been authorized for commercial use.

“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 in a memo issued last week.

An FAA source added that the agents could be fined if they don’t stop using the drones.

But the Realtors gripe that there’s technically no commercial use since they’re not charging their clients for the photos.

Some real-estate agents said it’s safer to steer clear of the gizmos.

“It is a little frightening how invasive they can be,” said Andrew Saunders of Saunders & Associates in the Hamptons.

Leonard Steinberg, president of Urban Compass, said he uses a balloon rigged with a camera instead.

“The city is so dense that the drones are extremely dangerous,” Steinberg said. “I think they are a huge liability. It’s like flying debris. It’s nuts. It scares me.”

SkyPan, a firm that has been hired by city Realtors to take drone photos of projects, said the FAA subpoenaed its records last year involving a Midtown development.

“It appears the FAA is on a fact-finding mission,” said SkyPan owner Mark Segal.

“It concerns me that the FAA is spending time and energy with subpoenas instead of proactively communicating with the . . . builders,” he said in an e-mail.

http://nypost.com/2014/07/01/faa-takes-on-city-realtors-using-drones/

 

 

DHS Raises Alarms over Malware Targeting Power Operations

http://www.nextgov.com/cybersecurity/2014/07/dhs-raises-alarms-over-malware-targeting-power-operations/87670/

By Aliya Sternstein

July 1, 2014

 

The Department of Homeland Security is emphasizing the threat of a hacker operation that already has attacked U.S. and European energy companies and can disrupt power. The group behind the campaign is affiliated with Russia, according to security researchers.

On Tuesday, DHS reposted and updated for the third time since Wednesday an alert to companies that operate “industrial control systems” — machines that run critical commercial services.

Homeland Security “is analyzing malware and artifacts associated with an industrial control system (ICS) focused malware campaign,” DHS officials stated.

The so-called Havex “payload” seems to target machines running outdated versions of a widely used specification for connectivity called Open Platform Communications technology.

 

“Testing has determined that the Havex payload has caused multiple common OPC platforms to intermittently crash,” DHS stated. “This could cause a denial-of-service effect,” or outage, of “applications reliant on OPC communications.”

Citing research from security companies Symantec and F-Secure, DHS said the Havex malicious software “could have allowed attackers to access the networks of systems that have installed” the malware.

The hacker group is alternatively dubbed Energetic Bear and Dragonfly. It has broken into the websites of three control system vendors and dropped the malware into legitimate software updates that its energy customers download. DHS has identified the three vendors on a secure website restricted to companies in key U.S. industries, officials said.

Security startup CrowdStrike first reported the emergence of Energetic Bear in January, describing the group as “an adversary with a nexus to the Russian Federation,” that was going after “government and research targets, as well as a large number of energy sector targets.”

Symantec, in a paper released Monday, said the prey include companies that operate power grids, electricity generation, and petroleum pipelines, as well as industrial equipment providers.

“Symantec describes the victims as Spain, U.S., France, Italy and Germany, in that order,” the DHS alert states.

DHS officials have examined one malware sample that records sensitive operational data, including the kinds of computers and devices connected to a company’s network. The spyware gathers information including server name, program IDs, vendor information, running state and server bandwidth, officials said. The malware does not appear to affect devices using newer versions of Open Platform Communications.

 

A Breakthrough in the Checkered History Of Brain Hacking

http://www.nextgov.com/cybersecurity/2014/07/dhs-raises-alarms-over-malware-targeting-power-operations/87670/

Patrick Tucker July 1, 2014

 

cientists funded by the Defense Department have just announced a breakthrough that could allow researchers to create in 220 days an extremely detailed picture of the brain that previously would have taken 80 years of scans to complete.

The military has been looking to build better brain hacks for decades with results that ranged form the frightening to the comical. This latest development could revolutionize the study of the brain but also the national security applications of neuroscience.

Scientists at Stanford University who developed the new way to see the brain in greater detail, outlined in the journal Nature Protocols, said that it could mark a new era of rapid brain imaging, allowing researchers to see in much greater detail not only how parts of the brain interact on a cellular level but also to better understand those interactions across the entire brain.

“I absolutely believe this is going to transform the way that we study the brain and how we perform neuroscience research,” said Justin Sanchez, program manager for the Neuro Function, Activity, Structure, and Technology, or Neuro-FAST, program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which funded the research. “What we’re saying here today is that we can develop new technology that changes how we observe and interact with the circuits of the brain.”

The most common research methods for exploring the brain today involve the sensing of brains’ electrical activity, a technique called EEG, or observing of hemoglobin flow under functional magnetic resonance, called fMRI. Rather than simply listen to the brain’s thought spasms of electro-magnetic activity, the Stanford researchers’ technique instead uses light to reveal causal relationships in the circuits themselves. “It’s all about optical interfaces for the brain, optical techniques to image the brain, optical techniques to record activity from the brain and optical techniques to record neurons and their firing effects form other neurons,” said Sanchez.

This technique is related to the emerging subfield of optogenetics, and while it is considered the cutting edge of neuroscience research, it’s not new. But the technique pioneered by the Stanford researchers allows for three-dimensional visualization that is both granular and wide enough to encompass the entire brain. Said Sanchez, “Traditionally, with the optogenetic technique, you really don’t have the structure to go along with the activation. That’s why the Neuro-FAST program is so exciting.”

Sanchez and DARPA officials were adamant (exceedingly so) that the intent of the Neuro-FAST program is to advance brain science broadly. Officials were reluctant to discuss any other specific applications for that research. But that doesn’t mean those applications don’t exist, or that the military isn’t interested in them.

 

 

The Checkered History of Military Brain Tampering

For a quick and historic tour of the Defense Department’s interest in brain hacking, start with this 1973 report, written for DARPA, detailing Soviet research into psychokinesis, the manipulation of matter through thought, and other aspects of “paranormal phenomena.” This report became part of the bases for the book and film The Men Who Stare At Goats, the later of which saw the character of George Clooney, as an army trained “psychic weapon,” successfully killing one of the unlucky hoofed animals entirely through the force of focused will.

Then move on to this 1988 National Academy Press report on issues, theories and techniques for “Enhancing Human Performance,” which eagerly anticipates future super soldier motor skills and concentration states acquired through applied brain science. From there, continue to this 2009 report outlining Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications.

Over the years, the military’s research into brain science has produced some bizarre results, such as the DARPA “roborat” a rat that had electrodes implanted into its motor cortex allowing researchers to manipulate direction and movement.

There have also been some big hits.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratory showed in 2012 that the human brain’s electrical activity could predict how well an individual was going to perform on a test. According to The Futurist magazine:

The researchers asked 23 people to attempt to memorize a list of words while undergoing brain scanning. The average subject recalled 45% of the words on the list. The EEG data correctly predicted which five of the 23 subjects would beat the competition, remembering 72% of the words on average.

If you had someone learning new material and you were recording the EEG, you might be able to tell them, ‘You’re going to forget this, you should study this again,’ or tell them, ‘OK, you got it and go on to the next thing,'” chief researcher Laura Matzen said in a statement.

A previous program actually did yield some remarkable insight into the potential for better soldier performance through focused brain states. Amy Kraus, a former DARPA program manager, on Monday told a group at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, the work that she presided over succeeded in finding the secret mental secret that preceded good marksmanship. “It turns out the expert marksman has a brain state,” she said, “a state that they enter before they take the perfect shot. Can I teach a novice to create this brain state? The answer was yes.”

She said that by recognizing that state, researchers were able to improve the ability of regular people to improve their marksmanship by 100 percent. “These are recordable, measurable, algortyhmical,” Kraus said.

But according to Sanchez, improved performance through changes in brain state is still not something we truly understand.

“The neuroprocesses associated with those advanced functions – we don’t know what they are yet. We don’t know how all of those advanced circuits can produce those brain functions. That’s why we’re at the more basic level.”

The ability to see the cellular interconnections that actually contribute to mental activity is far more important to an actual understanding of mental states – super and otherwise – than is the ability to measure the electromagnetic rumblings associated with those states. Similarly, a bit of know-how about animal husbandry will tell you something about why a horse is fast or slow but not nearly as much as will genetics.

One of the most significant near-term applications of military-funded neuroscience is not the potential to create super soldiers but rather an understanding the effects of combat and training on service men and women. “As we’re doing more to and with war fighters, how much of a burden can we place on them? How much risk can we expect them to take over a lifetime? How much medication? How many devices? How much change in their behavior, through direct manipulation of their brains?” said Jonathan D. Moreno, University of Pennsylvania professor and author of the book Mind Wars, at the Potomac Institute. “These are people who sign up to defend us. They sign up to take risks. Nonetheless, in the 21st century, we will have to slice that finer than we have in the past because we are asking them to do more for us.”

 

 

The National Security Argument for Spending More on Conferences, Travel

http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2014/07/national-security-argument-spending-more-conferences-travel/87682/?oref=ng-channelriver

July 1, 2014

By Rebecca Carroll

 

U.S. dominance in science and technology has traditionally fed U.S. military superiority — a dynamic no one relies on anymore. The United States currently pays for less than one-third of global research and development, and that portion is expected to fall to 18 percent by 2050, according to sources cited in a new report from the National Research Council.

One interesting suggested response to the problem: Spend more on overseas conferences.

More broadly, the report argues the Pentagon should develop a departmentwide strategy to keep on top of international research “and to identify opportunities to leverage its research and development investments and collaborate internationally.”

Report authors laid out a continuum of approaches to becoming acquainted with international research projects, from most passive — including data analytics and bibliometric analyses — to more engaged and informative activities such as lab visits, conferences and actually funding projects (the most engaged approach).

The report — which was requested by Army, Navy and Air Force research units — notes that all branches of the military have research programs. “However, researchers at defense laboratories and research centers who wish to engage internationally face funding limitations and restrictions on travel and conference participation.”

Federal spending on conferences has fallen by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2010, with stricter policies following a series of revelations about extravagant conference costs at agencies across government — including the Internal Revenue Service, the General Services Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department.

Scientists have argued for an exemption from tighter federal travel restrictions, but federal conference participation — especially international — is still rare compared with several years ago.

“As technologies become more sophisticated, organization will need to employ increasingly active mechanisms to remain capable of innovating, following quickly on the innovation of others and absorbing the benefits of innovation wherever it happens,” the NRC report said.

“If the DOD does not develop a specific, clearly defined and implementable enterprisewide strategy for fully taking advantage of global science and technology, either by absorbing knowledge and talent from the international research community or collaborating, it runs the risk of losing technological competency with severe implications for economic and national security.”

 

Obama wins the vote … as worst president since WWII

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2014/0702/Obama-wins-the-vote-as-worst-president-since-WWII

By Linda Feldmann, Staff writer
July 2, 2014

Washington — President Obama is No. 1, but not in a flattering way.

He’s the top pick for “worst president since World War II,” according to a poll of American voters released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

Mr. Obama came in first with 33 percent, followed by George W. Bush with 28 percent. Third, with 13 percent, was Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace 40 years ago next month.  

“Over the span of 69 years of American history and 12 presidencies, President Barack Obama finds himself with President George W. Bush at the bottom of the popularity barrel,” says Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.

The top postwar presidents are Ronald Reagan (35 percent), Bill Clinton (18 percent), and John F. Kennedy (15 percent).

Of course, asking voters to rate the current president against his predecessors may not be fair. Sitting presidents face a daily barrage of challenges, and voters can be harsh, even when a president’s ability to fix a problem is limited. Typically, as soon as a president leaves office, his favorability rating gets a boost. And, historians say, one really should wait a few decades before ranking a president for the ages.

“Presidents often look different 20 or 30 years later, because when you wait that period of time you know what was important and what was not,” historian Michael Beschloss said in 2003, PBS notes. 

In a head-to-head matchup, Obama and the second President Bush scored nearly evenly: Some 39 percent of voters said Obama has been a better president, while 40 percent say he has been worse.

But when asked about the outcome of the 2012 election, Obama fares worse – and it appears some voters may have buyer’s remorse. Forty-five percent say America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the race, while 38 percent say the country would be worse off. The poll did not indicate how many of those wishing Mr. Romney had won voted for Obama in 2012. In the election, the president beat Romney 51 percent to 47 percent.

Overall, Obama’s job approval rating remains in the doldrums, at 40 percent. Fifty-three percent disapprove. He also gets low marks for handling of issues: On the economy, 40 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove; on foreign policy, it’s 37 percent versus 57 percent; on health care, 40 percent to 58 percent; and on terrorism, 44 to 51 percent.

Obama’s best issue, among those polled, is the environment. Fifty percent approve of his handling of the environment, and 40 percent disapprove. 

 

U.S. Will Have Something Other Countries Want: A Big Labor Surplus

By Peter Coy July 02, 2014

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-02/u-dot-s-dot-will-have-something-other-countries-want-a-big-labor-surplus#r=read

 

Over the next 15 years, the U.S. will have a problem that plenty of other countries would love to have: too many workers for the jobs available. That’s according to a report released today by the Boston Consulting Group.

Idle labor isn’t a good thing, especially for the unemployed workers. But you could argue that it beats the alternative, which is having so few workers that jobs go unfilled and economic output falls short of potential. That’s the problem that most other major nations, from Germany to Brazil to South Korea, will face between now and 2030, according to the BCG report.

A relatively high birthrate and liberal immigration policy give the U.S. an advantage in labor supply:

 

Boston Consulting Group

“While a labor surplus invariably attracts more attention, a shortage is just as problematic,” the report says. Having too few workers impedes growth and ultimately “threatens a country’s competitiveness,” the report says—though the opposite problem, a labor surplus, raises “the risk of social instability.” In an interview on Tuesday, the report’s lead author, Rainer Strack—a senior partner who is Europe and Africa leader of BCG’s people and organization practice—said: “A high [labor] surplus is bad. A high shortfall is also bad.”

The report, called The Global Workforce Crisis, projects the amount of labor a country would need if its gross domestic product and labor productivity continued to grow at the same rates as in the recent past. Then it compares that hypothetical demand for labor to the International Labor Organization’s projections of labor supply, which are based on population growth and labor force participation rates.

The report says what countries would need to do in order to bring labor supply and demand into balance. For Germany, the suggested measures for dealing with its projected labor shortfall are extreme. It would need to increase the share of people aged 65 and over who are in the labor force to 10 percent from 4 percent; increase the labor force participation rate for females 15-64 to 80 percent from 71 percent; increase immigration to 460,000 people a year from 369,000; and increase labor productivity growth to 1.15 percent a year from 0.87 percent.

By contract, the U.S., in order to put more people to work, needs to increase entrepreneurship, “in-source” jobs that have gone overseas, and upgrade workers’ skills, the report says.

 

NASA finalizes contract to build the most powerful rocket ever

http://www.latimes.com/business/aerospace/la-fi-nasa-boeing-mars-rocket-20140702-story.html

July 2, 2014, 11:58 AM

 

NASA has reached a milestone in its development of the Space Launch System, or SLS, which is set to be the most powerful rocket ever and may one day take astronauts to Mars. .

 

After completing a critical design review, Boeing Co. has finalized a $2.8-billion contract with the space agency. The deal allows full production on the rocket to begin.

“Our teams have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the SLS – the largest ever — will be built safely, affordably and on time,” Virginia Barnes, Boeing’s Space Launch System vice president and program manager, said in a statement.

The last time NASA’s completed a critical design review of a deep-space human rocket was 1961, when the space agency assessed the mighty Saturn V, which ultimately took man to the moon.

Work on the 321-foot Space Launch System is spread throughout Southern California, including Boeing’s avionics team in Huntington Beach. The rocket’s core stage will get its power from four RS-25 engines for former space shuttle main engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park.

The rocket will carry the Orion spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., which can carry up to four astronauts beyond low Earth orbit on long-duration, deep-space destinations including near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and ultimately Mars.

The rocket, which is designed to carry crew and cargo, is scheduled for its initial test flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 2017.

The first mission will launch an empty Orion spacecraft. The second mission is targeted for 2021 and will launch Orion and a crew of up to four NASA astronauts.

 

 

Google finally proves it won’t pursue military contacts, pulls leading robot from DARPA competition

By Graham Templeton on July 1, 2014 at 10:32 am

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/185570-google-finally-proves-it-wont-pursue-military-contacts-pulls-leading-robot-from-darpa-competition

 

When it comes to fully functional humanoid robots with versatile real-world dexterity, there are basically only two big games in town: ATLAS, a stompy kill-bot created by Boston Dynamics, and SCHAFT, a more abstract but well-balanced man-bot created by a Japanese company of the same name. If you pay much attention to industrial robotics news (and why wouldn’t you), you’ll know that both of these companies were recently purchased by Google, which has made a rather abrupt overall turn toward robotics research. Though the search giant had nothing to do with actually designing either platform, Schaft’s decisive first place and ATLAS’ strong second-place finish in the first leg of DARPA’s Grand Challenge are now basically Google’s by corporate marriage. That’s a problem for DARPA, since Google has vowed not to pursue any military contracts in the future — and this week, that policy finally came into effect. Google has withdrawn the Schaft robot from DARPA’s competition, robbing the challenge of its strongest competitor.

DARPA and Google have two competing narratives as to why this happened. The story favored by DARPA spokespeople is that Google simply wants to focus on the technology’s consumer applications first and foremost. This does make some sense, since Google definitely got into the robot business to corner the home robot market early, and Schaft’s mastery of domestic challenges like stairs and ladders makes it well-suited to that purpose. DARPA’s statement almost seems to imply that in this case, corporate greed is overriding the fine and noble intentions of the people at DARPA, who of course only want to create life-saving technology in line with their humanitarian mission statement.

On the other hand, Google has been very open about its feelings on military funding: it doesn’t want any. Keeping the Google team working to win the DARPA challenge would have meant receiving indirect funding from the Pentagon and (hopefully) prize money, too. DARPA, of course, hates this analysis, since its whole strategy with the Grand Challenge has been to claim that totally non-violent civilian applications are the one and only aim of this competition. This is supposed to be about building robots that can burst into burning American homes to save American lives; any resemblance these actions may bear to the sorts of military maneuvers that are DARPA’s actual raison d’être are purely coincidental.

This almost insultingly obvious falsehood has been so thoroughly swallowed and regurgitated by the mainstream media that a slew of new international teams are about to be announced as new competitors. Think about that: some of these teams will almost certainly be receiving subsidies or tax-breaks from their own governments to do research that will help American dominance in military future-tech. Whatever you think of their goals or motivations, you have to sit back and admire the sheer audacity it takes to try — let alone pull off — something like that.

Probably the most oft-repeated and annoying mistake made with respect to these robots is that they could be used to help clean up places like Fukushima Daiichi — even though a lack of manual dexterity is in no way what has barred robots from delving deeper into that reactor. Sure, something like Schaft will probably be used to clean up dangerous spots like that in the future (once we have radiation-proof robotics) but the robot in question will come from companies like Toshiba or Google itself — not on loan from the US military.

Bear in mind that existing contracts mean that the ATLAS platform, created by the now Google-owned Boston Dynamics, will still be used by four outside teams in the Challenge finals. Funding freed up by Schaft’s withdrawal should allow several other, smaller teams to come in, but this is still a major blow to the veneer of inoffensiveness that DARPA has created around this project. Schaft was awarded $1 million in extra funding because it won the Challenge’s first round, and now that winner will be absent from the finals.

 

 

 

 

NASA’s cold fusion tech could put a nuclear reactor in every home, car, and plane

By Sebastian Anthony on February 22, 2013 at 8:39 am

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/149090-nasas-cold-fusion-tech-could-put-a-nuclear-reactor-in-every-home-car-and-plane

 

The cold fusion dream lives on: NASA is developing cheap, clean, low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology that could eventually see cars, planes, and homes powered by small, safe nuclear reactors.

When we think of nuclear power, there are usually just two options: fission and fusion. Fission, which creates huge amounts of heat by splitting larger atoms into smaller atoms, is what currently powers every nuclear reactor on Earth. Fusion is the opposite, creating vast amounts of energy by fusing atoms of hydrogen together, but we’re still many years away from large-scale, commercial fusion reactors. (See: 500MW from half a gram of hydrogen: The hunt for fusion power heats up.)

A nickel lattice soaking up hydrogen ions in a LENR reactorLENR is absolutely nothing like either fission or fusion. Where fission and fusion are underpinned by strong nuclear force, LENR harnesses power from weak nuclear force — but capturing this energy is difficult. So far, NASA’s best effort involves a nickel lattice and hydrogen ions. The hydrogen ions are sucked into the nickel lattice, and then the lattice is oscillated at a very high frequency (between 5 and 30 terahertz). This oscillation excites the nickel’s electrons, which are forced into the hydrogen ions (protons), forming slow-moving neutrons. The nickel immediately absorbs these neutrons, making it unstable. To regain its stability, the nickel strips a neutron of its electron so that it becomes a proton — a reaction that turns the nickel into copper and creates a lot of energy in the process.

The key to LENR’s cleanliness and safety seems to be the slow-moving neutrons. Whereas fission creates fast neutrons (neutrons with energies over 1 megaelectron volt), LENR utilizes neutrons with an energy below 1eV — less than a millionth of the energy of a fast neutron. Whereas fast neutrons create one hell of a mess when they collide with the nuclei of other atoms, LENR’s slow neutrons don’t generate ionizing radiation or radioactive waste. It is because of this sedate gentility that LENR lends itself very well to vehicular and at-home nuclear reactors that provide both heat and electricity.

According to NASA, 1% of the world’s nickel production could meet the world’s energy needs, at a quarter of the cost of coal. NASA also mentions, almost as an aside, that the lattice could be formed of carbon instead of nickel, with the nuclear reaction turning carbon into nitrogen. “You’re not sequestering carbon, you’re totally removing carbon from the system,” says Joseph Zawodny, a NASA scientist involved with the work on LENR.

So why don’t we have LENR reactors yet? Just like fusion, it is proving hard to build a LENR system that produces more energy than the energy required to begin the reaction. In this case, NASA says that the 5-30THz frequency required to oscillate the nickel lattice is hard to efficiently produce. As we’ve reported over the last couple of years, though, strong advances are being made in the generation and control of terahertz radiation. Other labs outside of NASA are working on cold fusion and LENR, too: “Several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted,” says NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell, proving that “when the conditions are ‘right’ prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released.”

 

I think it’s still fairly safe to say that the immediate future of power generation, and meeting humanity’s burgeoning energy needs, lies in fission and fusion (See: Nuclear power is our only hope.) But who knows: With LENR, maybe there’s hope for cold fusion yet.

 

What Do the Experts Fear About the Future of the Internet?

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 10:40 a.m. July 3    

http://blogs.rollcall.com/technocrat/pew-report-looks-at-experts-concerns-for-the-internet/

 

Will the way people access and share content on the Internet be significantly worse in 2025 compared to now? And what are the “most serious threats to the most effective accessing and sharing” of content online?

The Pew Research Center and Elon University received more than 1,400 responses to the first question, and fewer responses to the second question. A report they released today found several themes, which basically touch on some of the big tech policy issues out there today.

From the report:

The Net Threats These Experts Fear

1)     Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.

2)    Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.

3)    Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.

4) Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.

On the first question, 65 percent answered no, while another 35 percent responded saying yes. There were some nuances, according to the report: “Yet some who answered ‘no’ wrote in their elaboration on the question that their answer was their ‘hope’ and not necessarily their prediction. Others wrote that they wished they could choose ‘yes and no.’

 

 

Is Planning for Russia, China Conflict the Best Long-Range Defense Budget Option?

By Tim Starks Posted at 8:37 a.m. on July 2, 2014

http://blogs.rollcall.com/five-by-five/is-planning-for-russia-china-conflict-the-best-long-range-defense-budget-option/

 

It’s going to get ugly for the defense budget in the coming years, by the reckoning of a group of Center for Strategic and International Studies experts. So, they asked, why not plan for “the least bad” option that the Pentagon will be able afford in 2021?

The CSIS group has been paying a lot of attention in the past couple years to the subject of defense drawdown, and Wednesday it will release its latest report within the project, which proposes that the Defense Department needs to start acknowledging the 2011 budget caps and plan accordingly. Examining a range of options, it concluded that preparing for ongoing conflict with Russia and China is the best option, not that it’s a great one.

The thinking, starting from the notion that the Pentagon’s base budget will fall 21 percent from its fiscal 2012 peak and that the power of each DOD dollar spent will also drop by 2021:

The “cost-capped” approach accepts this harsh fiscal reality as a given and attempts to maximize the military utility of a force that is affordable with significantly fewer resources. The cost-capped approach is not very satisfying for strategists, who prefer to define a strategy that fits the strategic context and then ask “how much is enough?” In contrast, the cost-capped approach asks first “how much is affordable” and then develops alternative “strategies” for spending capped resources. Whether that is “enough” or sufficient for the strategic realities of 2020 and beyond is neither known nor assumed.

The group looked at four different options — Baseline Force, Asia-Pacific Rebalance, Great Power Conflict and Global Political-Economic-Military Competition — and assessed that the Great Power Conflict option was the one with the best tradeoffs. “We believe that a 2021 Affordable Military that is focused on the growing conflict with China and Russia is the ‘least bad’ option for this punishing fiscal context of fewer and weaker defense dollars,” the report states.

It continues:

Choosing Option 3 as the recommended 2021 Affordable Military carries the risk of being a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an American foreign policy based on the assumption that China and Russia are competitors, not potential “strategic partners” or “responsible stakeholders,” could cause the Chinese and Russians to act in the manner being assumed by a more assertive and nationalistic United States. In our judgment, the more accurate characterization is the exact opposite, namely, it has been China’s rising assertiveness and Russia’s increasingly anti-Western stance that is leading the United States to abandon its efforts to “shape” Russia’s decline from its Cold War superpower status and the rise of China to great power status. The self-fulfilling prophecy belongs to China and Russia, as it is their behavior that leads us to conclude that the Great Power Conflict option is a prudent choice for the United States. The 2021 Affordable Military that is most likely to secure U.S. interests in an increasingly conflict-prone security environment is one that is optimized (within very rigid cost constraints) for great power conflict.

CSIS is holding a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss the report. (Note: For a critique of a previous phase of the project, read here.)

 

The Perfect Storm About to Hit the Pentagon

By David Francis,

The Fiscal Times

July 3, 2014

It’s widely acknowledged that the Pentagon is going to feel a lot of pain as its budget shrinks by some $600 billion over the next decade. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), however, says it’s going to be far worse than military planners are acknowledging.

A new CSIS study, entitled Building the 2021 Affordable Military, paints a stark picture of DOD’s budget in the coming years. CSIS determined that the Pentagon’s base budget is projected to drop 21 percent in constant dollars from 2012 to 2021. CSIS also determined that the Pentagon’s purchasing power will be reduced by 15 percent during that same time frame.

“The post-9/11 U.S. defense drawdown will be significantly deeper than is generally recognized,” the report says. “Because of the dual effect, or ‘double whammy,’ of the topline drawdown and the decreasing purchasing power of defense dollars, the military that the Department of Defense (DOD) can afford in 2021 will be smaller across the board, with sharp reductions in capacity in many areas.”

The report describes a perfect storm for DOD’s budget. Defense spending ballooned during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, so a drawdown is necessary. There will also be pressure from other entitlement programs, like Medicaid and Social Security, which will require additional funding in the coming years, particularly as the population ages.

At the same time, the American public has grown tired of war, and polls show that it is disinterested in global crises like the possible collapse of Iraq or Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The White House has repeatedly shown that it believes the use of force hinders American foreign policy as opposed to advancing it.

Complicating all of this is a stubborn refusal from within the Defense Department to change its spending habits. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was brought it last year to instill a new, more frugal culture, but he’s been undermined repeatedly by DOD brass.

Perhaps the biggest offender in this regard is Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno. The shift from the large-war to small-war model impacts the Army the most. It’s set to lose tens of thousands of troops and legacy weapons programs like the A-1 Abrams tank.

This is why Odierno has been on a public campaign to warn lawmakers that the country will no longer be safe if their spending reductions go ahead as planned.

“I’m very concerned that at 420,000 [troops, down from the current 540,000], we cannot meet the … defense strategic guidance,” Odierno told the Armed Services Committee in March. “I doubt that we could even execute one prolonged, multi-phase operation that is extended over a period of time.”

The CSIS report says this kind of thinking and the failure to adequately prepare for the inevitable cuts is putting long-term military readiness at risk.

“To cope with a drawdown of this magnitude, DOD needs to adopt a dramatically different approach to force planning— one that is grounded in the acceptance of budgetary caps,” the report said. If it does so, “DOD can minimize the impact of deep budgetary cuts and provide the military capabilities needed for the strategic realities of 2021 and beyond.”

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/07/03/Perfect-Storm-About-Hit-Pentagon#sthash.Xd1yOj27.dpuf

 

 

Obama administration warns states that federal road funds near gone

http://news.yahoo.com/administration-warns-u-states-highway-funding-drying-201933552–business.html

Reuters

By By Mark Felsenthal

July 1, 2014 5:40 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration warned states on Tuesday that federal highway funds will be largely depleted in August, limiting the money states can expect to pay for road and bridge projects this summer.

The political stalemate in Congress over transportation spending means drivers will have to endure more potholes and detour around more unsafe bridges, delaying commutes, excursions and the delivery of products to market.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told states the government will slow federal reimbursement for highway repairs in August as the U.S. Highway Trust Fund drops below a critical threshold next month. The fund is replenished by gas tax revenues, which have dried up as Americans have driven less and used more fuel-efficient cars.

Normally, states are given an allotment of funds that they are allowed to draw on throughout the year.

“States will be paid, not as they send their bills in, but every two weeks as money from the gas tax comes in,” Foxx told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Foxx, and later, in a separate speech, President Barack Obama, urged Congress to replenish the fund by ending tax breaks and using the revenues to set aside money to repair the nation’s infrastructure. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated needs for highway repair at $8.1 billion for the rest of the year.

“Soon, states may have to choose which projects to continue and which ones to put the brakes on because they’re running out of money,” Obama said, speaking at the Francis Scott Key Bridge between the District of Columbia and Virginia, a span that has been rated structurally deficient.

Yet even though there is bipartisan support for increased spending on infrastructure, Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to pay for it.

If Congress remains stuck over the issue, the consequences could be huge, halting or slowing work on thousands of projects. This could idle hundreds of thousands of workers at a time when the U.S. economy is finally gaining some traction.

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee began work on an $8 billion, stopgap measure aimed at shoring up the trust fund until the end of the year. Senator Ron Wyden had proposed a grab bag of revenue-raising measures to offset the costs.

But these have met with opposition from Republicans on the panel, who want to add some spending cuts to the mix. Discussions aimed at finding a solution that can pass both the House and the Senate were continuing, a panel spokeswoman said.

However, any temporary fix would require Congress to return in November after the election in the “lame-duck” session to consider a longer-term solution to the highway funding shortfall.

Obama blasted congressional Republicans for dragging their feet in approving funding for highway and bridge repairs.

“The Republican obstruction is not just some abstract political stunt,” he said. “It has real and direct consequences for middle-class families across the country.”

 

Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The separation of powers between Congress, the courts and the president is key to the Founding Fathers’ constitutional blueprint for America, but President Obama is chafing at the restraints this separation is putting on his agenda.

Most voters continue to believe, as they have for years, that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in this country. 
 
  But if Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform plan like the one championed by the president, only 33% think it’s even somewhat likely that the federal government will actually secure the border, with seven percent (7%) who say it’s Very Likely.

This skepticism, compounded by the belief many voters have that the latest crisis on the border involving the dumping of young illegal immigrants has been encouraged by the Obama administration, has killed the chances for immigration reform in Congress this year. After being told that by House Speaker John Boehner, the president announced this past Monday that he was beginning “a new effort to fix as much of our own immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”

At week’s end, following two U.S. Supreme Court rulings upholding a religious exemption from Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, the president is reportedly considering executive-only action to pay for free contraceptive care for women.

Voters by a 49% to 39% margin agree with the Supreme Court that business owners should be able to opt out of the new health care law’s requirement that they provide health insurance with free contraception if it violates their religious beliefs. 
Most voters continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the health care law and strongly believe consumers should have a choice on how much health insurance they want to have and want to pay for.

Critics of the president are already complaining about the extent of his executive orders, so with him now talking about going it alone without the will of Congress and about working around the rulings of the Supreme Court, it’s no surprise that a plurality (44%) of voters think Obama has been less faithful to the U.S. Constitution than most other presidents.  Just 35% believe the president should take action alone if Congress does not approve the initiatives he has proposed. Fifty-seven percent (57%) think it is more important to preserve our constitutional system of checks and balances than it is for government to operate efficiently.

Views of the Executive Branch aren’t helped either by the increasing questions about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups opposed to the president. Although the IRS’ activities have been under investigation for over a year now, the agency recently announced that it has destroyed many of the e-mails related to the targeting of these groups as part of its routine procedures. But 71% of voters think it is likely the IRS deliberately destroyed the e-mails to hide evidence of criminal activity, with 53% who consider it Very Likely. Sixty-six percent (66%) now feel the IRS employees involved should be jailed or fired, up from 57% in May of last year when the abuses were first exposed.

Speaking of the Constitution, just eight percent (8%) of Americans believe that the Fourth of July celebrates its ratification. Seventy-eight percent (78%) correctly recognize that Independence Day celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence instead.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) regard the Fourth of July as one of the nation’s most important holidays, making it second again this year only to Christmas. 

Eighty-six percent (86%) say they are proud to be American. But just 46% now agree with the closing line of the Pledge of Allegiance that the United States is a nation “with liberty and justice for all.”

Only 26% of voters now think the country is headed in the right direction, tying the lowest finding this year.

The president’s monthly job approval rating fell back a point to 48% in June, down from his year-to-date high of 49% reached in May and in February. Obama’s approval rating hit a two-year low of 45% last November during the troubled rollout period for the new national health care law. Since then, his approval ratings have returned to levels seen for much of his time in the White House.

Democrats continue to lead Republicans, however, on the Generic Congressional Ballot. 

The president got an unexpected boost at week’s end with a better-than-anticipated jobs report, but in a survey taken just before that data was released, only 23% of Americans said they expect unemployment to be lower a year from now. That’s the lowest level of optimism since December 2011.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence slipped a point in June, but May’s finding was the highest level of confidence in almost six years.

Fifty-two percent (52%) of consumers believe the U.S. economy is still in a recession, while 32% disagree. Among investors, despite the Dow’s record-breaking week, 47% say the economy is in a recession, but 40% disagree.

In other surveys this week:

— Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters believe the United States needs stricter enforcement of existing gun control laws.

The U.S. Senate race in Colorado between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner remains a near tie.

Colorado’s governor race is now a dead heat between incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican nominee Bob Beauprez.

— Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans think it’s important for young people to go to a summer camp.


 

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