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April 16 2016

April 18, 2016


 

 

 

16 April 2016

Newswire

Blog URL https://newswirefeed.wordpress.com/

 

The Pentagon doesn’t know who’s in charge for responding to a massive cyber attack

Andrew Tilghman, Military Times 5:06 p.m. EDT April 4, 2016

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2016/04/04/chain-command-unclear-cyber-attacks-gao-says/82622396/

 

The Pentagon does not have a clear chain of command for responding to a massive cyber attack on domestic targets in the United States, according to the federal government’s principal watchdog.

While some Defense Department documents say that U.S. Northern Command would have primary responsibility for supporting civilian agencies in such an event, other documents suggest U.S. Cyber Command should be leading that effort, the Government Accountability Office found, according to a new report published Monday.

In the event of an attack on the nation’s electrical grid or financial system, for instance, the Defense Department would be expected to back up the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Yet, the Pentagon has no clear rules in place for how that might play out.

“This absence has caused uncertainty about who in DoD would respond to support civil authorities in a cyber incident, and how they would coordinate and conduct such a response,” according to the GAO report. “The designation of cyber roles and responsibilities in DoD guidance is inconsistent.”

One major issue, according to the GAO, is the role of a “dual-status commander,” a legal designation specifically designed for domestic crises that require military support. Dual status allows a single officer to assume simultaneous command authority over both federal military forces and state-level National Guard troops.

Appointment of a dual-status commander is a standard arrangement for streamlining the military’s response to domestic disasters such as hurricanes or floods. However, that did not work during a major military exercise last year known as “Cyber Guard 15.”

During that exercise, which simulated a major cyber attack, the dual-status commander did not have tactical control of cyber units that reported to U.S. Cyber Command, and those cyber units were not able to fully participate and log into important online networks, the GAO said.

“According to the U.S. Northern Command officials, this led to a lack of unity of effort among the units responding to the emergency that were not under the control of the dual-status commander,” the GAO report said.

In response to the GAO’s report, Pentagon officials acknowledged the limitations of current rules for supporting civil authorities in a cyber incident.

Yet military officials say they still have not yet determined the best bureaucratic approach to supporting a civil authority in a cyber incident and, as of January 2016, the Pentagon has not begun efforts to issue or update its current guidance to provide better clarity.

The GAO report suggested that fixing that ambiguity would be wise.

“We believe that by issuing or updating guidance that clarifies roles and responsibilities for relevant DoD officials, DoD will be in a better position to plan for and support civil authorities in a cyber incident,” the GAO report concluded.

 

 

Defense Department begins new employee performance rating system

By Eric Yoder April 1 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/04/01/defense-department-begins-new-employee-performance-rating-system/

 

The Defense Department on Friday will begin another overhaul of how it evaluates its civilian federal employees, this time with the support of employee unions whose opposition doomed the previous program.

The first stage of the new Defense Performance Management and Appraisal Program involves about 15,000 employees at a dozen relatively small components and headquarters functions, including several in the national capital area. Over the next two years, the large majority of the 750,000 employees in the Defense Department civilian workforce will have their performance rated under that system.

The intent is to “create a fair, credible, and transparent performance appraisal process throughout the Department,” said a Pentagon memo announcing the program’s and the entities in the first phase. “This program will link individual performance to Department of Defense values and organizational mission; will ensure ongoing recognition and communication between employees and supervisors throughout the appraisal cycle; and will be critical to effective mission accomplishment and increased employee engagement.”

Federal employee performance ratings are used in decisions on promotions, financial awards, advancement up the steps of the pay ladder, and discipline, including reassignment, demotion and firing.

Because the Defense Department is the largest federal employer, its policies are watched for possible application across the federal workforce. Federal agency awards and disciplinary policies have come under heightened scrutiny from Congress recently.

The new ratings program, part of a broader personnel initiative called New Beginnings, differs greatly from the National Security Personnel System, a pay-for-performance system installed by the George W. Bush administration that at one time applied to more than 200,000 employees. Unions representing Defense Department employees opposed that program from the outset and successfully pushed for its repeal in late 2009, when both the White House and Congress were under Democratic control.

The repeal law ordered that Defense Department management collaborate with employees and their unions in crafting a new ratings system, among other requirements. That resulted in a series of town-hall meetings and labor-management working groups, with much of the design work concentrated in the past two years. The department outlined the program last spring and issued detailed guidance in early February.

“The process has been fantastic and should be used again, this type of collaboration,” said Pete Randazzo, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees local at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and a union co-lead on the design team. “I think there was an unprecedented attention to detail into what is necessary to change the culture in DoD.”

“New Beginnings is about a cultural change,” said Don Hale, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and chairman of an AFGE committee that oversees Defense Department personnel policies for the union. “It’s about employee engagement and employee involvement in decisions that are made today and also in the future.”

The system features three ratings levels, corresponding to Levels 1, 3 and 5 of the five-level rating system commonly used in the government — in ascending order, unacceptable, fully successful and outstanding. Employees will be involved in writing their performance expectations, which must meet certain standards, and can write self-assessments at the end of a cycle that the supervisor would have to consider in setting the final rating.

Supervisors will have to monitor performance continuously and formally meet with employees at least three times in the 12-month rating cycle. Supervisors also must watch for training or development assignments that will benefit employees and must warn them if their performance is falling below the fully successful level and help them improve.

“We’re not focusing on the rating — we’re focusing on the communication between the first-level supervisor and the employee,” Randazzo said. “What this could and should lead to is a culture change within DoD where we have an engaged workforce that is coming to work each day and feeling as though they’re part of the organization and wanting to contribute. That’s the design behind this, not that rating on the 365th day.”

Said Hale: “I’m excited about it because I think that [federal employees] finally have an opportunity to show our value in a way that people will understand and appreciate. Our goal is to work hand in hand with management to provide the best support for our warfighters, while protecting the rights of workers. There’s no reason that can’t be done amicably.”

The program is to roll out in phases so that nearly all Defense Department employees will be under it by October 2018. Most of those who will be excluded are already under separate rating and reward systems, such as those at senior levels and those in parts of the department operating under special personnel rules.

 

 

GE CEO: Bernie Sanders says we’re ‘destroying the moral fabric’ of America. He’s wrong.

By Jeffrey R. Immelt April 6 at 5:12 PM

Jeffrey R. Immelt is chairman and chief executive of GE.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ge-ceo-bernie-sanders-says-were-destroying-the-moral-fabric-of-america-hes-wrong/2016/04/06/8499bc8c-fc23-11e5-80e4-c381214de1a3_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-f%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

 

We at GE were interested to read comments Monday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who told the New York Daily News editorial board that GE is among the companies that are supposedly “destroying the moral fabric” of America. The senator had been asked to cite examples of corporate greed at its worst. Somehow that got him to talking about us.

GE has been in business for 124 years, and we’ve never been a big hit with socialists. We create wealth and jobs, instead of just calling for them in speeches. We take risks, invest, innovate and produce in ways that today sustain 125,000 U.S. jobs. Our engineers innovate every day to build hardware and software solutions that meet real-world challenges. Our employees are proud of our company. I meet second- and third-generation employees whenever I travel across the country. I am one myself. Our suppliers and partners are proud of our company. Our communities are proud of our company. Our pride, history and hard work are real — the moral fabric of America.

The senator has never bothered to stop by our aviation plant in Rutland, Vt. We’ve been investing heavily (some $100 million in recent years), hiring and turning out some of the world’s finest jet-engine components in Vermont since the 1950s. The plant employs more than 1,000 people who are very good at what they do. It’s a picture of first-rate jobs with high wages, advanced manufacturing in a vital industry — how things look when American workers are competing and winning — and Vermont’s junior senator is always welcome to come by for a tour.

Elsewhere in Vermont, GE Healthcare employs more than 340 men and women in South Burlington. Yearly, GE does about $40 million worth of business with dozens of suppliers of parts and services across Vermont. Nationwide, we have 200 GE plants, including 15 that were built in the past five years — all with the aim of making GE the world’s premier industrial company.

Sanders says that he is upset about GE’s operations abroad — as though a company that has customers in more than 180 countries should have no presence in any of them. He never mentions that we are one of the United States’ prime exporters, annually selling in excess of $20 billion worth of American-made goods to the world. Nor does he mention that our sales around the world support our manufacturing base here at home, along with the thousands of U.S. companies in our supply chain. You want to cause big problems for our suppliers — many of whom are small and medium-size businesses — and their workers? The surest way would be to pull out of those countries and lose those customers.

We are competing globally with foreign companies whose governments care whether they win and support them in innumerable ways. U.S. companies continue to wrestle with an outdated and complex tax code that puts them at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Sanders has stated many times that GE pays no taxes. Repeating a lie over and over does not make it true. We pay billions in taxes, including federal, state and local taxes. The U.S. tax system has not been updated in 30 years and isn’t designed for today’s economy, which is why we support comprehensive tax reform — even if it raises our tax rate.

It’s easy to make hollow campaign promises and take cheap shots in speeches and during editorial board sessions, but U.S. companies have to deliver for their employees, customers and shareholders every day. GE operates in the real world. We’re in the business of building real things and generating real growth for a nation that needs it now more than ever. I’m proud of all that we do, and how it all figures into “the moral fabric” of America is so plain to me. It seems Sen. Sanders is missing the point.

 

 

Lockheed Martin airships could fight food insecurity in the North, says company

Re-seller Hybrid Enterprises hopes to get certification for fleet of airships by 2018

By Nick Murray, CBC News Posted: Apr 07, 2016 7:20 AM CT| Last Updated: Apr 08, 2016 10:02 AM CT

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/lockheed-martin-airships-1.3524549

 

One of the largest aerospace companies in the world is making a big push towards helium airships, and they have their sights set on the Arctic as a potential market.

On Wednesday, Hybrid Enterprises – an airship re-seller of U.S.-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin – presented the company’s concept of hybrid airships at the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit. And while the discussions centred on the applicability to the mining industry, the company envisions many more uses for a fleet of airships, including cargo shipping as a way to lower the cost of food in the North.

“That’s the actual business reason that pushed us into believing this is a very viable project,” said Grant Cool, Hybrid Enterprises’ chief operating officer, on shipping food and other consumer products.

Though he couldn’t give specific numbers, Cool says the savings would be “substantial.”

“What we absolutely know for sure, is that in comparison to the cost of helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes, so the way we move our most consumable products today, it is much less expensive. It’s an absolute truth. So just because it’s less expensive, that will translate into lower costs.”

The 100 metre airships could carry 21,000 kilograms of cargo with up to 19 passengers. At a cruising speed of about 115 km/h, Cool says it can stay airborne for 30 hours, and even up to 20 days at speeds of just less than 50 km/h.

This time, it’s different

This isn’t the first time Northerners have heard about cargo blimps coming North, only to see those projects fall through.

But Cool says this time, it’s different. Backed by Lockheed Martin’s deep pockets and more than a century of building aircraft, he says they plan to have the first ship airborne by next year and have Transport Canada and Federal Aviation Administration certification by 2018.

“Beginning of 2019, that’s when you will see real [commercial] service initiatives in places and having your groceries or project material moved,” Cool said.

Last week, Lockheed Martin got a boost to the project, after United Kingdom-based Straightline Aviation signed a letter of intent to buy 12 airships in a deal worth about $480 million.

Cool says they’re 70 per cent of the way through the certification process. All that’s left is to build the airship and fly it – but the company says it tested a 2006 prototype and have proven the technology works.

 

 

Four companies dominate the military drone market

Michael Peck, C4ISR & Networks 9:21 a.m. EDT April 7, 2016

http://www.c4isrnet.com/story/military-tech/uas/2016/04/06/drone-uav-uas-defense-market/82704042/

 

Four companies dominate the U.S. military UAV market, according to a study by market research firm Govini.

General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Textron and Boeing account for 66 percent of the $9 billion market, the study found. The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper alone accounted for more than a quarter of the market.

“General Atomics is the top vendor that owns more than a third of the Defense market at more than $4 billion,” Govini said. “Northrop Grumman is a distant second with less than half of that capture. Combined, these top two vendors account for more than 50 percent of the UAS market. Textron owns 10 percent of the market, while Boeing rounds out the top four with seven percent.”

“Since the Air Force has more sophisticated mission requirements, it has the least competition, averaging 10 offers per award and an average deal size of $1.9 million,” according to the study. “The Army is more competitive with an average of 15 offers and, when defined by average deal size, is also the most lucrative customer with an average deal size of $2.1 million. The Navy is the most competitive with an average of 31 offers received on an average deal size of $781,000.”

 

New iRobot Spinoff Eyes Big Pentagon Contracts

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?List=7c996cd7-cbb4-4018-baf8-8825eada7aa2&ID=2147&RootFolder=%2Fblog%2FLists%2FPosts

April 6, 2016

By Sandra I. Erwin

 

Now officially in business as an independent company, iRobot’s former defense unit is gearing up to compete for Pentagon contracts in a market that has changed dramatically since the PackBot bomb-clearing robot became a military staple in Afghanistan and Iraq more than a decade ago.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” said Sean Bielat, a former iRobot executive and now CEO of Endeavor Robotics, based in Bedford, Massachusetts. The company was acquired earlier this year by the private equity firm Arlington Capital Partners in a $45 million deal.

iRobot divested its defense arm to focus exclusively on the consumer market. The decision to spin off the defense unit is “good for both companies,” Bielat said in an interview, as executives concluded that the vastly different defense and commercial businesses could no longer coexist.

Endeavor has about 100 employees and is preparing to bid on at least three large robot procurements over the next two years, including autonomous and remotely controlled devices used for battlefield reconnaissance, mine clearing and other duties considered too dangerous for humans.

The Army has a huge inventory of robots — estimated at about 7,000 — that it purchased under fast-track procurement authorities with contingency war funds — but now have become a significant logistics burden. The plan is to streamline a hodgepodge of systems into “programs of record” with dedicated logistics support funding. The Army also is seeking more advanced features in its future robots and “open architectures” that allow for easier upgrades and digital linkages between humans and machines.

“We’re very excited about programs of record in the ground robots space over the next two years,” Bielat said. “We expect to see requests for proposals within the next year. We think we’re well positioned to win at least one if not all of them.” Bielat, like other contractor executives, are keen on programs of record that have more predictable funding streams and stable budgets for maintenance and upgrades. A lot of war equipment did not become a program of record and ended up either discarded or stored in disrepair.

An upcoming procurement that Endeavor is targeting is the CRSI, or common robotic system individual. The Army is seeking a 25-pound or lighter system for use at the squad level for chemical, biological and nuclear radiation detection.

Bielat said this is major prize for the industry as the Army could buy up to 4,100 systems. The company is developing new technologies for the CRSI bid to meet Army requirements for interoperability and open architecture.

Another upcoming competition is for the Army’s MTRS increment 2, or man transportable robotic system. This is a larger remotely operated robot that will have bomb-detection functions similar to the Packbot’s.

 

Endeavor also will bid for the Naval Sea Systems Command’s advanced explosive ordnance disposal robotic system, or AEODRS, a family of systems that would be deployed with dismounted troops, in tactical operations and at fixed bases. Beilat said the program is attractive because it is intended to be used by multiple military services.

“The IED fight will be with us for a long time,” he said using an acronym for the roadside bombs that have killed and injured thousands of U.S. troops. “This will continue as long as we’re fighting asymmetric fights.” Robots are going to be essential in any battlefield, he added, because there they keep humans out of harm’s way.

The Army has bigger plans to deploy robotic trucks as logistics supply mules and in other roles, but progress has been slow. It’s like any new technology, Bielat said. The tactics and doctrine take a long time to catch up to the technology. It took the Army many years to codify the use of tanks in armored warfare. “I think you’ll see the same thing in robotics.” Also, the technology moves much faster than the defense acquisition process is able to procure, he said. “We need some fundamental reform in order to get technology out to the troops faster.”

Bielat said the company’s game plan includes winning Army contracts but also acquiring competitors. “There are a lot of emerging companies, a lot of opportunity,” he said. The best candidates would be companies that are focused on the government market. “We are looking at potential acquisitions of companies that make sense for us to help us in our growth trajectory.”

 

 

How Gen. James Mattis could become the unlikeliest U.S. president in history

Leo Shane III, Military Times 9:49 a.m. EDT April 10, 2016

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/election/2016/04/10/general-james-mattis-president-movement/82806616/

 

The path for former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to become president is simple:

1. Declare himself a candidate.

2. Ensure no other candidate gets 270 electoral college votes in November.

3. Have Congress install him as commander-in-chief.

Technically, supporters of the idea are labeling it “quite simple, but it’s difficult.”

Donors want Marine Gen. James Mattis to run for president against Trump, Clinton

Even in a presidential campaign where implausible twists have become regular occurrences, a brewing long-shot bid to draft the former Central Command leader would be among the biggest political surprises in American history.

But a group of political operatives is working to make it a reality.

As first reported by The Daily Beast on Friday, they say the effort has both staff and strategy in place to push Mattis’ name into the middle of the 2016 contest, and deep-pocketed donors waiting in the wings should the movement take hold. They’ve already floated the idea in a series of stories and opinion pieces.

All without any signal from Mattis that he’s even remotely interested in the job.

 

“I think if he is asked, his initial response will be somewhere between ‘no’ and ‘hell no,'” said John Noonan, a former adviser to former Florida Gov. failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s failed presidential campaign. Noonan is among the Mattis’ movement’s leaders.

“But I do think this race is serious enough, and Donald Trump’s foreign policy is worrisome enough, to make him consider it.”

Donald Trump is really starting to infuriate the Pentagon

Trump is the impetus for the push. Noonan said most of the individuals exploring a Mattis run are waiting for the next few weeks to see if the Republican frontrunner can be overtaken by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who convincingly won the Wisconsin primary earlier this month.

If not, the choices left for president in November will be “one candidate who is a hair away from federal indictment (Hillary Clinton) and a reality TV show lunatic,” Noonan said.

“Mattis is almost so good that this election might not deserve him.”

Getting Mattis on ballots would be a logistical nightmare, although a planning memo circulated among movement members outlines how it could be done. Texas is the biggest obstacle, with filing deadlines in less than a month.

But the victory plan for Mattis doesn’t rely on him winning the most states in November, just ensuring that no other candidate gets to the 270 electoral votes needed to assume the White House.

According to the memo, one possible scenario is all of the states breaking for the same party as in 2012, but with Mattis capturing Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania (forget for a moment that Mattis has never won a single vote in those states or even appeared on a local ballot).

The man. The myths. Mattis — As ‘Chaos’ retires, Marines recall influential general’s defining moments, deep bond with rank and file

That result would leave Clinton with 267 votes, Trump with 206, Mattis with 67 and no one with enough to claim victory. The 12th Amendment dictates that Congress would then decide the winner, a process that hasn’t actually been tested in the last 190 years.

Noonan said he’s confident that given the choices available at that point, a Republican controlled Congress would back Mattis.

“All bets are off this election cycle,” he said. “We shouldn’t be embarrassed to allow the American people a good choice for president.”

But that unlikely scenario will require a national election campaign for Mattis, including a larger-than-standard team to fend off legal challenges, a bolder-than-standard team to lead a national publicity tour, and a “all-star finance team to coalesce almost immediately.”

And it also hinges on a willing candidate, something the Mattis movement does not yet have.

 

Here’s why Mattis says he won’t be running for president

Mattis declined to comment on news reports about drafting him into the election. In July, he rejected the idea when asked about it during a speech at Columbia Basin College in Washington state, saying he’d leave politics to “younger people.” Earlier this year, when pressed on the issue by the Daily Caller, he dismissed the idea as “idle talk.”

The former four-star currently works as a national security fellow at the Hoover Institution, a California-based think tank connected to Stanford University.

He developed a cult-like following among service members during his 34-year military career, in large part due to his blunt talk about the nature of combat. He once advised Marines serving under him to “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

 

Noonan said he is confident the American public will also embrace the 65-year-old veteran as a modern-day Dwight Eisenhower.

“He has already proven to be a gifted leader,” he said. “I think the judgement and experience he has shown is particularly suited to the problems we’re seeing overseas today. [Voters] would see his virtue and integrity.”

Mattis did get one write-in vote in the recent Military Times survey polling currently serving subscribers on their choice for president. That’s noteworthy mostly because write-in votes were not offered as an option in that poll.

Among the active-duty service members surveyed, most backed Trump for president. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders was a close second, and stood out to Navy and Air Force personnel as the preferred candidate.

Six Republican primaries are scheduled between now and the end of April, including big-ticket states like Pennsylvania and New York. Mattis backers should know by then whether Trump’s nomination is inevitable, and when they need to start their work.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

 

Top Appropriator Draws A Line on DoD Spending


Joe Gould, Defense News 6 p.m. EDT April 8, 2016

http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/2016/04/08/top-appropriator-draws-line-dod-spending/82809770/

 

WASHINGTON — Meet the new budget fight, same as the old budget fight. If Republicans want more money for defense, Democrats will insist on extra funds for non-military programs too.

Parity, a key part of Democrats’ negotiating position in last year’s bipartisan budget agreement, is again a watchword, according to Senate Appropriations Vice-chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. That’s whether Senate Republicans seek to add to the Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget through the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or otherwise.

“No matter what they do, we want parity,” said Mikulski, a key player in negotiating last year’s budget deal. “A budget deal is a budget deal, and if they want to add to defense and use OCO to do it, we stick to our three principals: Parity between defense and non-defense, reasonable allocations and no poison pill riders.”

Though Republican senators have been vague about the prospect, Mikulski said she expects them to seek more defense spending — not as appropriators mark up their bills this month, but when those bills come to the floor later this year, a prediction based on previous “patterns of behavior.”

Mikulski said that she expects subcommittee allocations, known as 302(b)s, to be disclosed April 14, kicking off the upper chamber’s appropriations process.

On the House side, leadership is seeking a fiscal 2017 budget resolution in line with last year’s budget deal between President Barack Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, which calls for $1.07 trillion in spending next year. But budget hawks in the House Freedom Caucus are seeking a $30 billion budget cut — an impasse that has yet to be resolved.

That proposal sets $574 billion in base budget requirements, with some funded through the base budget and some through the OCO budget. That leaves OCO funding $18 billion short of the activities the president has asked for, according to House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry — something the next Congress and administration may reconcile through a notional emergency supplemental.

A former senior House appropriator, Jim Moran, said he expects House appropriators to seek again an add for defense through OCO. DoD’s list of “unfunded priorities,” passed over in President Obama’s 2017 budget request, could be their guide.

“OCO is the fudge factor, everybody knows that, but a lot of the programs you’re looking at are for combat overseas, so they qualify under the OCO rubric,” said Moran, now senior legislative adviser at the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm and a lobbyist for General Dynamics and Boeing.

The tug of war over defense and non-defense spending led to a protracted stalemate last year, and analysts are already predicting this year’s dynamics will follow a familiar pattern. Regular appropriations will founder, ultimately necessitating a continuing resolution to fund the government this fall.

Back on the Senate side, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. and a member of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he expects the committee to discuss whether to raise defense spending though OCO. Yet he was unsure whether there was enough political will among Senate Republicans to win the fight that would ensue.

“There’s a need, but there’s a question of whether there’s a political will—we’ll have to test that,” Shelby said. “I just came out of a classified hearing with [Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] talking about our challenges in the world. I wish the people could hear that. They would see we need to beef up our military everywhere.”

Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., was noncommittal about OCO as the means he might use in an attempt to raise defense spending, saying, “we are looking at a number of options.”

When the SASC marks up its defense policy bill next month, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, it is unclear what top-line the defense policy bill will use, McCain said. He said he expects to resolve the question in talks with the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island.

“I’m having final discussions with Jack Reed,” McCain said. “As you know, he’s always had a different point of view of this OCO thing. We’re trying to come to an agreement. I don’t know if we will or not.”

Last year, Reed opposed the 2016 NDAA because it affirmed the transfer of $39 billion from the proposed base budget to OCO. He condemned the move as “an off-budget gimmick” to skirt statutory budget caps.

Reed, this week, said the top-line set by the Senate Appropriations Committee matters most, and the first step will be to look at that.

“Once we have that number, the authorization bill can express a different view, but the appropriations will be appropriated to that number,” he said.

Another Democrat on the SASC, Claire McCaskill, said adding defense dollars and getting the necessary votes, “would be very difficult to do,” and require consensus on domestic priorities.

McCaskill, who represents Missouri, home to Boeing’s US headquarters, expressed sympathy for the idea of raising defense spending. On the heels of an overseas trip, she said Russia’s recent activities highlight the need for a more robust military.

“So there are real needs in the military that I feel very strongly about, but I also know my Democratic colleagues are not going to be excited about busting the [budget] caps, if we’re not doing anything on the other side of the equation,” McCaskill said. “Especially homeland security, airport security and all those things we have to work on.”

 

 

 

Obama says Clinton never jeopardized national security in email case: Fox

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-obama-clinton-idUSKCN0X70JE

Apr 11, 2016 10:27am EDT

 

U.S. President Barack Obama said Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton never jeopardized national security in the handling of her emails as his secretary of state.

Obama, in an interview broadcast on Fox News Sunday, said Clinton has recognized a carelessness on the email issue in which she used a private server for government business.

“But I also think it is important to keep this in perspective,” Obama said. “This is somebody who has served her country for four years as secretary of state, and did an outstanding job.”

Clinton, secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, has said her email arrangement broke no rules and that she will be vindicated in investigations of whether any laws were broken.

The government forbids sending or storing classified information outside secure, government-controlled channels.

The FBI has taken the server and is investigating the case with U.S. Justice Department attorneys. At least two Republican-led congressional committees are also investigating.

The Democratic president was asked if the Justice Department investigation would treat the Clinton case impartially.

“I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI, not just in this case, but in any case,” said Obama, who leaves office next year.

“Guaranteed. Full stop. Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department. Because nobody is above the law,” he said.

The State Department said this month it has suspended plans for an internal review of whether classified information was properly handled in Clinton’s emails at the request of the FBI. The department, complying with a judge’s order, has released more than 52,000 emails from Clinton’s private server.

Republican rivals in the battle for the Nov. 8 presidential election have cited the email controversy in saying Clinton is unfit for the presidency.

 

 

China May Be the Big Winner in the Pentagon’s Newest Spying Scandal

The secrets a U.S. Navy officer is suspected of slipping to China could ground America’s most important spy planes just when Washington needs them most.

By Dan De Luce, Elias Groll, Paul McLeary

April 13, 2016

http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/04/13/china-may-be-the-big-winner-in-the-pentagons-newest-spying-scandal/

 

The U.S. naval officer at the center of a burgeoning spy scandal may not have simply betrayed his country: He may have also helped China compromise Washington’s most-sophisticated tool for tracking Beijing’s submarines, ships, and planes.

The surveillance aircraft potentially exposed in the espionage case are America’s high-tech “eyes in the sky” in the western Pacific, the EP-3E Aries II and P-8A Poseidon, which are equipped with sensors and radar that allow them to scoop up the electronic communications of Chinese forces and monitor their movements.

The Aries, which has undergone significant upgrades in recent years, delivers “near real-time” signals intelligence and full motion video, according to the Navy. The aircraft’s sensors and dish antennas — their range is classified — can pick up distant electronic communications, allowing the U.S. military to pick up on any possible threats and eavesdrop on foreign militaries.

The Poseidon, meanwhile, is equipped with the Advanced Airborne Sensor, a sophisticated radar system capable of generating high-resolution imagery at what the military calls “standoff” distances. Coupled with a powerful data link system, the Poseidon can serve as a targeting platform for other weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Its radar can reportedly track a single car at extreme distances, lock onto it, and stream the targeting data to a nearby fighter jet, which can fire a long-range missile at the target. An earlier version of that radar system has also been deployed on some of the Aries planes.

Both aircraft play a pivotal role in tracking China’s growing naval might in potential flashpoints like the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. Beijing and Washington have been at loggerheads over China’s construction of an extensive network of runways and harbors that can accommodate military aircraft and ships on atolls and man-made islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. If the two countries were to ever engage in open conflict there, the surveillance craft would also be used to relay targeting information to American warplanes.

Determining the planes’ exact capabilities and vulnerabilities is of critical importance to Beijing, and now an alleged American spy may have unlocked those secrets.

It’s not clear if the naval flight officer at the center of the scandal, Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, meant to help Beijing when he allegedly began slipping secrets to Taiwan. U.S. authorities haven’t yet made public — and may not themselves know — whether they believe Lin was knowingly providing intelligence to China, or whether the information he allegedly gave Taiwan was stolen by Chinese spies inside Taiwan’s security services.

Either way, Lin is a source of potentially enormous importance to the Chinese. Lin had worked for the Navy’s Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2 for a year before he was arrested in September. The Hawaii-based unit is one of two elite squadrons that fly the Aries and Poseidon planes, which means that Lin has an unusually deep and granular understanding of the two planes.

“The area in which Lin was working matches up with Chinese areas of interest, including their military modernization programs and the tension over the South China Sea,” Mike Sulick, the former head of counterintelligence at the CIA as well as the agency’s national clandestine service, told Foreign Policy.

As someone with advanced training and knowledge of the surveillance planes, Sulick added that Lin would be “somebody of incredible interest” to China.

The espionage case comes at a fraught moment in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, with the United States and its Asian allies increasingly concerned about Beijing’s assertive moves in the area. Beijing has been building artificial islands to bolster its expansionist claims in the strategic waterway, escorting fishing flotillas in contested waters and deploying radars, missile defense systems, and fighter jets in the Paracels.

 

The alleged espionage could undercut the U.S. military’s surveillance operations in the Asia-Pacific, where U.S. and Chinese vessels are engaged in a game of cat and mouse — and increase the potential that a misunderstanding could escalate into an armed clash.

Peter Singer, a senior fellow at New America, said that if Lin has spied on behalf of China he could have clued in Beijing about what the United States knows about Chinese capabilities. American admirals, Singer said by way of example, are deeply concerned about the possibility of a Chinese submarine attack on a U.S. carrier group. Lin, by virtue of his experience in an airborne submarine hunter, could provide China with key intelligence about how and at what range the United States can detect Chinese attack submarines. That might allow Chinese admirals to evade America’s premier submarine hunter, said Singer, co-author of the novel Ghost Fleet, which depicts a future war with China.

Planes such as the Poseidon and Aries also soak up electronic data as they fly along China’s coastline. This includes, for example, emissions from coastal radar stations, radio communications, and other data traveling through the air. That information can be used in mapping radar stations and planning for an eventual strike on Chinese territory. Lin’s suspected espionage could possibly compromise such plans by revealing what weaknesses in Chinese defenses that the United States has managed to observe.

The Poseidon, Singer said, represents “the cutting edge of our maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare planes.” The plane marries a highly advanced set of sensors with an innovative way of sharing the information it collects with planes, ships, and submarines. “Imagine it as a key hub in a hub-and-spokes approach,” he said.

Lin, who is being held in pretrial confinement at the Navy Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Virginia, faces possible charges of espionage, attempted espionage, and patronizing a prostitute.

Lin was born in Taiwan and has written critically online about China’s Communist government, raising questions about whether he would knowingly try to help Beijing. Sulick, the former CIA officer, said one possible explanation is that Lin was a victim of a “false flag” operation in which Chinese agents posed as Taiwanese spies — leading Lin to mistakenly provide information to an American rival instead of an American ally

Taiwan has had its own troubles with mainland Chinese intelligence agencies infiltrating its military. As trade has blossomed between the two sides, cross-strait espionage has also expanded, said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security.

“There have been a number of arrests of Taiwanese military personnel, and concern has grown over how lax security has become on the island,” Cronin told FP.

In a 2011 case that rocked the Taiwanese military establishment, Taiwanese Gen. Lo Hsien-che was sentenced to life in prison for selling classified information to China. It was Taiwan’s worst spy case in 50 years, and the general was the highest-ranking official to ever be caught spying for the mainland. In 2013 and 2014, Taiwan uncovered 15 more cases of espionage for the Chinese, almost all by members of active duty or retired members of the military.

Cases of Americans passing secrets to Taiwan are more rare. U.S. State Department official Donald Keyser pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges of unauthorized handling of classified information and passing information to a Taiwanese intelligence agent with whom he was having an affair. Then in 2010, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilbur Fondren Jr. was convicted of passing information to a Taiwanese contact, who then forwarded it to Beijing. Fondren had been serving as a deputy director of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Washington liaison office.

 

If the charges against Lin prove true, it would add yet another notch to the U.S. Navy’s disastrous record of failing to protect state secrets. A cash-strapped American sailor named John Walker spilled a trove of secrets to the Soviets from 1967 to 1985, allowing Moscow to read a vast number of coded messages and know where American submarines were operating. After the damaging Walker scandal, the Navy tightened its rules to ferret out spies and soon discovered that a civilian intelligence analyst, Jonathan Pollard, had been passing suitcases of classified documents to Israel. Pollard was convicted of espionage and served 30 years in prison before he was released in November 2015.

Sulick, who spent years hunting moles within the CIA, said the military has improved its counterintelligence procedures in recent years. If the allegations against Lin are true, Sulick pointed out that his capture is an improvement on the Walker years, when a spy compromised America’s most closely held secrets for 17 years. Still, he said, “I wouldn’t be having a pep rally as a result.”

Beijing hasn’t needed spies to learn damaging secrets about the American planes. The capabilities of the Aries, in particular, were compromised by China once before, when one of the planes collided with a Chinese Shenyang J-8 fighter near Hainan Island in the South China Sea in June 2001.

The U.S. crew was forced to land on the Chinese island. The personnel and the plane were eventually handed over, but not before Chinese technicians are thought to have pulled as much data from it as possible, forcing the U.S. Navy to take a more cautious approach to surveillance flights near the Chinese coast and to upgrade the plane’s systems.

 

 

USAF’s GSC Issues RFP for Jammin’ Drone Fighters

Apr 14, 2016 00:55 UTC

by Defense Industry Daily staff

 

  • A request has been made
    by the USAF’s Global Strike Command for a small UAV capable of defeating small commercial drones with electric jamming. The winner must weigh not more than 2.72kg and carry an on board jammer that operates on 433MHz, 915MHz, 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz. It must also be able to disrupt GPS L1 and GLONASS L1 signals. 38 anti-drone systems are being requested, and will be distributed across eight Global Strike Command bases, including Barksdale, Dyess, Ellsworth, FE Warren, Kirtland, Malmstrom, Minot and Whiteman, housing the USAF’s strategic bomber fleet and managing intercontinental ballistic missiles

 

  • Israel’s Rafael has unveiled their latest system
    aimed at countering malicious UAV systems. Dubbed the “Drone Dome” the system is capable of defending critical sites against hostile threats, detecting, tracking and neutralizing UAVs classified as malicious. The system has 360° circular coverage, and uses an electro-optical/infrared sensor and radar to detect a threat. The data is then combined and correlated and alerts the operator of the hostile UAV. It then initiates either an automatic interference operation – as per pre-defined rules – or it is carried out manually by the operator. The threat is neutralized by activation of directional GNSS and a radio frequency inhibitor/jammer.

 

 

Hyten Rolls Out New Space Vision

Lara Seligman, Defense News 4:36 p.m. EDT April 18, 2016

http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/show-daily/space-symposium/2016/04/13/hyten-new-space-vision-space-symposium-air-force/82988948/

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Gen. John Hyten is not a fighter pilot, the traditional realm from which the Air Force draws its top leaders. But the head of Air Force Space Command has his finger on the pulse of in every US military mission, in the sky and on the ground, and is using that advantage to move forward how the service deals with its space assets.

In a speech at the Space Foundation’s annual National Space Symposium here Tuesday, Hyten rolled out a new vision to better integrate the ground, air and space components of the Pentagon’s warfighting enterprise, dubbed the Space Enterprise Vision.

The Air Force briefed industry in a classified session today at the Space Symposium, but Hyten gave the audience on Tuesday a glimpse into the thinking behind the new strategy.

The SEV draws on several Air Force studies, including a recent effort called Air Superiority 2030 that explored how the service can maintain air dominance in an increasingly contested environment, Hyten said. Notably, the studies show that air superiority is “not all about the airplane,” he stressed.

“The first thing you have to do to gain air superiority is make sure you can fly where you need to fly, that means we have to take down an enemy air defense system, and in order to take down an integrated air defense system you have to do a lot more than send an F-22 in,” Hyten said. “There’s all the domains that have to play at the same time, things have to happen simultaneously, that’s multi-domain operations.”

But an obstacle to Hyten’s vision of an integrated, multi-domain enterprise is that current operations and acquisition processes are stove-piped.

“Now, we have to tear down the stovepipes and figure out how to do business new,” Hyten said.

The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC, established last year to create unity and facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise, is a key piece of this puzzle, Hyten said. The JICSpOC, located at Schriever Air Force Base here in Colorado Springs, has so far completed three experiments, and has learned that the intelligence community is the “key to everything,” he said.

“So its all about the threat its all about the enterprise,” Hyten said. “We have been given the greatest gift by the American people – their sons and daughters. Our job is to make sure they are never alone on the battlefield.”

Hyten kicked off his presentation with a video showing how satellite communications are essential to operators all over the world, from UAV strikes in the Middle East to special operations missions. He stressed that the US must never let these soldiers down.

He posed an ominous question to the audience: “What if we lost space and cyberspace?”

“Those soldiers on the battlefield in the Middle East can never be left alone,” he stressed.

Hyten is considered a top option to become the Air Force’s next chief of staff after Gen. Mark Welsh retires this summer. If selected, he would be the first non-pilot to hold the position since the Air Force’s creation in 1947.

Given the rumors about his next job, it was hard not to notice that he made a strong case for how a non-traditional position in the service gives him a unique understanding of how the Air Force operates, both internally and jointly, in the modern battlespace.

“A lot of people think that I am a warfighter, I am not,” Hyten said. “My job is to lead the 36,000 men and women of AFSPC and organize, train and equip forces. We are working to create a resilient enterprise.”

 

 

‘Get your ass to Mars!’ says Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin to Space Symposium crowd

By: Tom Roeder •

April 14, 2016• Updated: April 14, 2016 at 6:33 pm


http://gazette.com/get-your-ass-to-mars-says-apollo-11-astronaut-buzz-aldrin-to-space-symposium-crowd/article/1574183

 

At 86, Buzz Aldrin is impatient if optimistic.

The second man to set foot on the moon, the Apollo 11 astronaut told a packed house at the Space Symposium that it’s time for America to go back to the heavens before the generation of men and women who launched America into the space race dies.

“It’s not so much rocket fuel that will get us there, rather it is the human spirit and inspiration that will propel us to Mars,” he told the symposium crowd at The Broadmoor on Thursday.

Aldrin has been vociferous in his efforts to jump-start manned space missions to Mars. To the symposium crowd, he’s a rock star, whose age hasn’t dulled his shine.

“I do have a couple heroes, and your speaker this afternoon is truly one of them,” said Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham as he introduced Aldrin to booming applause.

Aldrin laid out his plan to put astronauts on Mars, going over orbital possibilities in detail and describing the spacecraft needed. He talked at a high technical level at the world’s largest gathering of space experts. The symposium, which ended Thursday, drew more than 11,000 people from 50 nations for a week of discussions on space.

Aldrin, who wants astronauts to build a station on Mars in 2040, also talked about why humans need to colonize the red planet.

“No other task can unite the nations of the world together in peaceful ways,” he said.

Aldrin has established a foundation in Florida to study his ideas. But to make Aldrin’s idea a reality, America must get moving. Aldrin’s plan is focused on a spacecraft he calls the “cycler.”

Initially the craft would travel from Earth to the moon, where it would establish a station. Later, other ships would head for Mars on a trajectory that will return them to Earth. The cycler ships will be like the tram steamers of old, constantly roaming between Earth and Mars. The cycler ships will pick up cargo, crews and landing craft at Earth and haul them across the solar system.

The ports for these spaceships will be Earth’s moon and the Martian satellite Phobos. Astronauts will get to the moon and the surface of Mars on smaller craft, like taking a taxi from the airport.

“By 2050 we will have at least 50 people living, working and studying on Mars,” Aldrin said.

Aldrin criticized current efforts to get astronauts to the red planet.

“The design reference missions that NASA has come out with are visits,” he said.

And Aldrin is not willing to dally with half measures.

“I have been telling everyone I come across on planet Earth, if you’re listening – get your ass to Mars!” he barked to end his speech.

 

 

Bob Gates unpacks Obama’s foreign policy, and offers advice to the next president


https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/bob-gates-unpacks-obamas-foreign-policy-and-offers-advice-to-the-next-president/2016/04/14/1c4904c8-0275-11e6-9d36-33d198ea26c5_story.html

By David Ignatius Opinion writer April 14 

 

Bob Gates has unusual standing in the debate about the Obama administration’s foreign policy: He was defense secretary for both a hawkish President George W. Bush and a wary President Obama. He understood Bush’s desire to project power and Obama’s skepticism.

Gates characteristically finds a middle ground in the argument that has been swirling since Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic magazine article examining Obama’s reluctance to use military force in Syria and the broader Middle East. Borrowing the famous quip about Richard Wagner’s music, Gates said Obama’s foreign policy “is not as bad as it sounds. It’s the way it comes out that diminishes its effectiveness.”

“The way things get done communicates reluctance to assert American power,” Gates explained in an interview Wednesday. “They often end up in the right place, but a day late and a dollar short. The decisions are made seriatim. It presents an image that he’s being dragged kicking and screaming to each new stage, and it dilutes the implementation of what he’s done.”

Gates criticized the current National Security Council’s implementation of policy, arguing that “micromanagement” by a very large NSC staff undercut Obama’s efforts to use power against the Islamic State and contain China in the South China Sea. “It becomes so incremental that the message is lost. It makes them look reluctant,” he said.

Gates’s criticism of the NSC is noteworthy because he served as deputy to national security adviser Brent Scowcroft in President George H.W. Bush’s NSC, which Obama has cited as a model for how policy should be managed. By that standard, Gates implied, the current NSC team, led by Susan Rice, needs to lift its game.

Gates credited Obama for moving toward better-calibrated policies that would send a stronger message, such as greater use of Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and more aggressive moves to assert freedom of navigation in the Pacific. “You don’t need major threats or force projection but a clearer desire to show we can act with force” when necessary, he said.

Gates’s comments come as Obama is about to travel to Europe and the Middle East to meet with allies who have become increasingly critical of his policies. His tone was more that of a feisty, frustrated uncle than a bitter foe. Gates said he still talks to Obama occasionally, but he declined to elaborate.

The interview with Gates followed a speech he gave the previous night in which he parsed the long-standing dispute over whether “realism” or “idealism” should govern U.S. foreign policy. A wise strategy has a measure of both, Gates told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It is neither hypocrisy nor cynicism to believe fervently in freedom while adopting different approaches to advancing freedom at different times along the way — including temporarily making common cause with despots to defeat greater or more urgent threats,” he said in his speech.

Gates offered examples of the realpolitik he practiced as a CIA director and NSC official. He said CIA covert action was very useful in the later years of the Cold War — for example, by smuggling into Russia hundreds of thousands of copies of “The Gulag Archipelago” by dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

As the Cold War endgame approached in 1989, Gates recalled, he commissioned a special NSC group to begin contingency planning for the collapse of the Soviet Union. That study convinced policymakers that a strong central government in Moscow would be needed after the fall of communism to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Gates argued that similar strategic clarity is needed now in dealing with the Islamic State. The administration needs to decide its “desired end state” in Iraq and Syria and then drive policy toward that goal: “Are we still proponents of a unitary Iraqi state or something more federal? Do we want an integral state in Syria, or do we send everyone back to their home base? . . . We don’t know what we want.”

As an example of visionary leadership, Gates cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s move in 1944, when World War II was still raging, to begin planning within the U.S. government for the institutions of the postwar world, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations.

Gates offered a last piece of advice: Because of perceptions that Obama has been reluctant to use power, “some new president could come in without a deft touch and overreact, to reduce this impression. . . . My worry is that the next president will overcorrect.”

 

Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The race for the Republican presidential nomination appears headed toward another roller coaster bump.

Rasmussen Reports’ latest weekly Trump Change survey finds perceptions of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination holding steady after falling for several weeks.   Will next Tuesday’s New York primary revive his fortunes?

Trump remains well ahead of his two remaining GOP rivals – Ted Cruz and John Kasich – in the expectations game.

Despite the billionaire businessman’s lead, most Republicans think Cruz and Kasich have what it takes to be president, but they’re evenly divided over whether the same is true of Trump.

Still, one-third of Republican voters tell us that they will vote for someone else or not vote at all if Trump is not the nominee.

For some Republicans and some in the media, House Speaker Paul Ryan is the ghost candidate who can save the GOP from itself, rescuing the party from Trump or Cruz. But Ryan made it clear at a press conference this week that he has no intention of running for president. Right now, our numbers suggest that’s a good idea. 

It’s hard to imagine at this point, though, who will emerge from the mess the Republican party is making of itself to be the GOP standard-bearer in the fall. 

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders challenged each other’s qualifications to be president in the latest Democratic debate Thursday night. Democrats see Clinton as the more qualified of the two, but voters in general are more critical of both candidates’ credentials. 

Sanders has been on a hot streak lately in the Democratic primary race, but Democrats put more trust in Clinton when it comes to key issues.

Rasmussen Reports will release its latest monthly Hillary Meter Monday morning, testing how voters view Clinton’s chances for this year’s Democratic presidential nomination.

President Obama said in a TV interview last Sunday that Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while secretary of State did not endanger national security. Most voters still think it’s likely Clinton broke the law by sending and receiving classified information through the server, but just 25% believe she is likely to be indicted.

However, only 40% of Democrats think a political candidate who is charged with a felony while running for office should immediately stop campaigning. Fifty-three percent (53%) say that candidate should keep running until a court determines his or her guilt or innocence.

When Americans vote in elections, we’re more likely to ask who they’re voting for rather than what they’re voting for. So we decided to see what America thinks about some of the hot button issues currently on the campaign trail.

With this year’s Tax Day coming on Monday, Americans remain more convinced than ever that the middle class is shouldering more of the tax burden than the wealthy.

Americans in general continue to believe they are overtaxed but have little confidence that Congress and the president will do anything about it. Most voters also want Congress to stop spending so much money, but they don’t believe that’s going to happen either.

Case in point: Unable to bring conservatives into line, House Republican leaders are likely to resort to a legislative maneuver to pass a spending bill that raises next year’s federal budget $30 billion over spending caps set in 2011. But 
76% of GOP voters want Congress to cut federal spending

This helps explain why 86% of Republicans are angry at the GOP-led Congress, with 51% who are Very Angry.

Clinton spoke to Al Sharpton’s organization this week in an effort to defuse criticism for a racially-tinged joke New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told last weekend in a skit in which she appeared. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of voters say racial issues are important to their vote, with 27% who say they’re Very Important. 

Mississippi and North Carolina are the latest states to adopt laws that allow a private business not to serve someone if it violates the business owner’s religious beliefs, but critics contend that gay, lesbian and transgender customers would suffer. Most voters nationwide agree and still don’t want their state to adopt a religious freedom law

Interestingly, though, voters are more supportive of the rights such laws attempt to protect. Most, for example, agree that a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage has the right to turn down working a job at such a wedding.

The president’s job approval ratings remain higher than they have been in past years.  It’s  worth mentioning some recent developments and trends that may be impacting voter approval of Obama’s performance

In other surveys last week:

— Only 27% of voters think the country is headed in the right direction.

After family, what do Americans believe in most strongly? 

Law-abiding Americans are buying guns at a record pace, and most tell us it’s for self-defense. Democrats, however, are far more likely than others to believe it is too easy to buy a gun these days.

More hybrid vehicles – part traditional gasoline-powered engine, part electric engine – seem to be on the roads these days, but Americans aren’t expressing any increased willingness to buy one.

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