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April 23 2016

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23 April 2016


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Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War


APRIL 16, 2016


The United States, Russia and China are now aggressively pursuing a new generation of smaller, less destructive nuclear weapons. The buildups threaten to revive a Cold War-era arms race and unsettle the balance of destructive force among nations that has kept the nuclear peace for more than a half-century.

It is, in large measure, an old dynamic playing out in new form as an economically declining Russia, a rising China and an uncertain United States resume their one-upmanship.

American officials largely blame the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, saying his intransigence has stymied efforts to build on a 2010 arms control treaty and further shrink the arsenals of the two largest nuclear powers. Some blame the Chinese, who are looking for a technological edge to keep the United States at bay. And some blame the United States itself for speeding ahead with a nuclear “modernization” that, in the name of improving safety and reliability, risks throwing fuel on the fire.

President Obama acknowledged that danger at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit meeting in Washington early this month. He warned of the potential for “ramping up new and more deadly and more effective systems that end up leading to a whole new escalation of the arms race.”


For a president who came to office more than seven years ago talking about eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons, it was an admission that an American policy intended to reduce the centrality of atomic arms might contribute to a second nuclear age.

One of the few veterans of the Cold War in his administration, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his annual global threat assessment, “We could be into another Cold War-like spiral.” Yet it is different from Mr. Clapper’s earlier years, when he was an Air Force intelligence officer weighing the risks of nuclear strikes that could level cities with weapons measured by the megaton.


Adversaries look at what the United States expects to spend on the nuclear revitalization program — estimated at up to $1 trillion over three decades — and use it to lobby for their own sophisticated weaponry.

Moscow is fielding big missiles topped by miniaturized warheads, and experts fear that it may violate the global test ban as it develops new weapons. According to Russian news reports, the Russian Navy is developing an undersea drone meant to loft a cloud of radioactive contamination from an underwater explosion that would make target cities uninhabitable.


Fast, Precise and Deadly

A new type of weapon called a hypersonic glide vehicle is being developed by both the United States and China. It is an ultrahigh-speed warhead that can travel up to 17,000 miles per hour.

The vehicle glides at speeds of more than a mile a second. It can also maneuver erratically to avoid antimissile defenses.

Unlike a ballistic missile, which travels in a parabolic arc, the glide vehicle is able to pull up and transition to a glide.

The vehicle dives and hits its target. Because the vehicle travels so quickly, the energy of impact can act as a bomb, even without an explosive warhead.

The glide vehicle is launched by a booster rocket.

The Chinese military, under the tighter control of President Xi Jinping, is flight-testing a novel warhead called a “hypersonic glide vehicle.” It flies into space on a traditional long-range missile but then maneuvers through the atmosphere, twisting and careening at more than a mile a second. That can render missile defenses all but useless.

The Obama administration is hardly in a position to complain. It is flight-testing its own hypersonic weapon, but an experiment in 2014 ended in a spectacular fireball. Flight tests are set to resume next year. As part of the modernization process, it is also planning five classes of improved nuclear arms and associated delivery vehicles that, as a family, are shifting the American arsenal in the direction of small, stealthy and precise.

“We are witnessing the opening salvos of an arms race,” James M. Acton, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, last year told a congressional commission that assesses China’s power.

One fear about the new weapons is that they could undercut the grim logic of “mutual assured destruction,” the Cold War doctrine that any attack would result in massive retaliation and ultimately the annihilation of all combatants. While much debated and often mocked — in classics like the movie “Dr. Strangelove” — MAD, as it was known, worked. Now, the concern is that the precision and less-destructive nature of these new weapons raises the temptation to use them.

A key question that Mr. Obama addressed is whether America’s planned upgrades are helping drive this competition. Or are Russia and China simply using the American push as an excuse to perfect weapons they would build anyway?

Moscow and Beijing, analysts say, are testing space weapons that could knock out American military satellites at the beginning of a nuclear war. In response, Washington is launching space observation satellites meant to deter and help defeat such attacks.

Mr. Obama, speaking at the summit meeting’s closing news conference, acknowledged the tension stirred by the refurbishment of the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal. He noted, for example, that communication links between the weapons and their guardians needed better protections against cyberattack. But when asked if warhead miniaturization and similar improvements could undermine his record of progress on arms control, he replied: “It’s a legitimate question. And I am concerned.”

White House officials say they try to tamp down any worried reactions to the new developments. In an interview, Avril Haines, the deputy national security adviser, said, “When tensions develop, we take steps to avoid unnecessarily raising the temperature.”

Mr. Obama came to office in 2009 eager to “reset” relations with Moscow, reduce America’s reliance on nuclear arms and move toward their elimination. He was the first president to make nuclear disarmament a centerpiece of American defense policy.

Russia initially cooperated, signing in 2010 the New Start treaty, which made modest reductions in strategic nuclear forces.

That year, Mr. Obama offered another olive branch: He ordered the American military to reduce the number of warheads atop its land-based missiles to one, from as many as three. That was a signal to show the missiles were more about defense than offense.

Moscow did not reciprocate. Instead, with treaty ink barely dry, it began deploying a new generation of long-range missiles that bore four miniaturized warheads. It continues such actions today, even while adhering to overall treaty limits.

At this month’s summit meeting, Mr. Obama blamed Mr. Putin’s return to the Russian presidency in 2012 for preventing further arms reductions, saying the Kremlin was “emphasizing military might over development.”

William J. Perry, the defense secretary under President Bill Clinton and one of the most influential nuclear experts in the Democratic Party, said he worried that Moscow would soon withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996 and begin perfecting new warheads in underground detonations. (The United States has abided by the treaty, but the Senate has never ratified it.)

For two decades, the main nuclear powers have observed a shaky global ban on testing, a central pillar of nuclear arms control.

“I’m confident they’re working on a new bomb,” Mr. Perry said in an interview, referring to Russian arms designers. “And I’m confident they’re asking for testing.”

“It’s up to Putin,” he added.

Advocates of the American nuclear modernization program call it a reasonable response to Mr. Putin’s aggression, especially his 2014 invasion of Crimea.

Military experts argue that miniaturized weapons will help deter an expanding range of potential attackers. “The United States needs discriminate nuclear options at all rungs of the nuclear escalation ladder,” said a report last year from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group in Washington.

In February, the White House backed development of an advanced cruise missile. Dropped from a bomber, the flying weapon is to hug the ground for long distances and zip through enemy air defenses to smash targets.

In describing the atomic plans, the Pentagon explicitly calls the cruise missile and related nuclear arms essential for “countering Russian aggression” in Eastern Europe.

The administration is also developing a hypersonic warhead that would zoom ahead of Beijing’s rush to perfect its own. The American version would be nonnuclear: The goal is a weapon so fast and precise that it relies on the raw force of impact to destroy a fixed target, such as a missile silo.

While that fulfills the president’s commitment to rely less on atomic weapons, it may prompt adversaries who cannot match the technology to depend more on nuclear arms.

Mr. Perry, the former defense secretary, argued that the diminished nuclear arms and the nonnuclear weapons that Mr. Obama is developing could make the unthinkable more likely.

“They make the weapons seem more usable,” he said, “even if there’s no credible plan for how you control escalation.”

No major nuclear power is more threatened by the American advances than China, analysts say. A pre-emptive strike, they note, might easily do in its relatively small arsenal.

For a decade, Christopher P. Twomey, a national security expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, Calif., has helped run informal meetings between American and Chinese analysts, government officials and military officers.

Last year in testimony to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, created by Congress, he reported that Beijing felt increasingly encircled. It sees Washington’s hypersonic glider as a way to attack China without crossing the nuclear threshold, complicating its assessment of nuclear retaliation.

A test launch of the United States’ advanced hypersonic weapon failed in a spectacular explosion in August 2014, temporarily grounding the program. Credit Scott Wight

Dr. Twomey said Chinese leaders had similar apprehensions about growing numbers of antimissile interceptors on American warships in the Pacific as well as bases in California and Alaska.

Finally, he added, Beijing views Washington’s nuclear modernization “with much trepidation.” Specifically, he cited plans for a new guided bomb and the advanced cruise missile, as well as new delivery systems.

“Beijing has responded to these changes,” Dr. Twomey testified, “and will likely continue to do so over the next decade.”

China has already re-engineered many of its long-range missiles to carry multiple warheads, rejecting Mr. Obama’s example — and following Mr. Putin’s. The step troubled analysts because Beijing for decades has known how to miniaturize warheads and put two or more atop a single missile.

It turns out that Beijing is discussing an even more ominous step.

For decades, Washington and Moscow have kept their nuclear forces on high alert so that, in theory, military authorities can fire missiles if networks of radars, satellites and computers detect an incoming strike. The tactic is meant to dodge a crippling blow that might curb or eliminate a nation’s ability to retaliate.

Critics see the “launch on warning” tactic as greatly increasing the risk of accidental war. In the past, they note, false alerts have repeatedly brought the world to the brink of disaster.

Last year, the Chinese military declared in an official document that the nation seeks to “improve strategic early warning” for its nuclear forces.

Early this year, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., that backs arms control, published a report on the intensifying launch-on-warning debate. It said the Obama administration’s arms modernizations “are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates.”

Advocates of arms control say their field needs reinvention. They see the counting of warheads and delivery vehicles — the traditional levers — as unsuitable for arresting the development of the new weapons.

Mark Gubrud, a nuclear weapons expert at the University of North Carolina, has lobbied for the negotiation of a global flight ban on the testing of hypersonic arms. If work continues, he wrote recently, the maneuverable warheads are likely to become a global reality in the next decade.

“The world has failed to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle,” Dr. Gubrud said. “And new genies are now getting loose.”




DARPA is moving ahead with plans to build its XS-1 spaceplane

By Ryan Whitwam on April 15, 2016 at 7:31 am


All of the launch vehicles in service today and planned in the near future are based on multi-stage rockets of some sort. Some private space firms like SpaceX are trying to improve on the traditional disposable rocket by recovering the first stage. But DARPA is moving forward with an ambitious plan to develop a spaceplane-based launch system called the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). With Phase 1 planning complete, the time has come to start building.

The XS-1 is not intended to be a new Space Shuttle. Unlike that vehicle, the main body of the XS-1 would be designed only for sub-orbital flight. It’s also an unmanned vehicle. After getting airborne, the XS-1 would gain altitude and accelerate to near escape velocity. Instead of heading into space itself, an upper stage would separate and boost up into orbit to deliver its cargo. This stage would be expendable, but small and inexpensive. All the heavy lifting would be accomplished by the spaceplane, which glides back down for a soft landing after the upper stage detaches. It is believed that such a vehicle could be serviced for another launch much faster than a rocket.

The first phase consisted of contracting with three firms to design different versions of the XS-1 vehicle. Those companies were Boeing, Masten Space Systems, and Northrop Grumman, but only one will be awarded a contract for Phase 2 of the project to actually start building a prototype. The test platform will be about the size of a commercial airliner, and DARPA has a whole list of qualities it wants to see integrated into the design. It will include technologies like advanced heat-resistant composites and modular systems that will reduce turnaround time.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the XS-1 is its ability to relaunch quickly. DARPA wants the Phase 2 prototype to be capable of flying 10 missions in 10 days, assuming weather cooperates. This would demonstrate high cost-effectiveness compared with rocket launches, which are often scheduled years in advance. The test vehicle also needs to show it can reach sufficient speeds in the upper atmosphere to successfully launch a smaller second stage that would boost into low-Earth orbit. Small doesn’t mean really small, though. DARPA wants a payload capacity of 900-1,500 pounds. That would be enough to accommodate most satellites for both government and commercial uses. A future version is aimed at lifting 3,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit.

DARPA believes that reaching these goals will reduce that launch cost for that larger payload to as little as $5 million. Being targeted at low-Earth orbit, the XS-1 won’t be as versatile as something like the SpaceX Falcon 9. Still, it might quickly surpass SpaceX in number of launches if it really can operate on a daily basis.



DoD Embraces Commercial Space Boom, But Warns of Its Limits

Lara Seligman, Defense News 7:13 a.m. EDT April 15, 2016


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – From reusable rocket engines to hypersonic spaceplanes, the Pentagon is looking to leverage a recent boom in commercial space innovation for military applications.

But not all missions can be outsourced, according to one top military official.

Space Command Chief Gen. John Hyten laid out the case for the Defense Department’s continued dominance of the space arena here at the Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium. The US Air Force will control the vast space surveillance network for the foreseeable future, he emphasized during a Thursday media briefing.

The Air Force is currently managing space traffic for the entire world by default, analyzing data and maneuvering assets in orbit to make sure they don’t collide with each other or with free-floating debris. The Joint Functional Component Command for Space and the 14th Air Force is responsible for tracking about 23,000 objects in space each day, and sends warnings to operators around the globe to prevent accidents.

DoD officials and members of Congress, most notably Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., have urged the Air Force in recent months to outsource some of the responsibility for space traffic management and situational awareness to a civil or commercial entity. The command and control piece of space trafficking — in other words, the conjunction reporting and collision avoidance — can be done commercially for a lower cost, Bridenstine argues.

Bridenstine’s American Space Renaissance Act, officially unveiled this week at the Space Symposium, proposes that the Federal Aviation Administration’s office of commercial space transportation take over that burden, leveraging unclassified information from Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) as well as commercial data.

“I would prefer that I take the airmen today that are doing basically collision avoidance and orbital analysis across the board for everybody else, and if somebody else could do that and I could focus those airmen on other missions, I’d be much happier,” Hyten said Thursday. “We shouldn’t be doing flight safety for everybody in the world, we should be focused on missions for the Department of Defense.”


Drones, lasers, hypersonic weapons will be ‘game-changers’

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, April 17, 2016

By Barrie Barber

Staff Writer



Air Force Research Laboratory work on key technologies in hypersonic air vehicles, directed-energy weapons and autonomy, or human-machine teaming, will be “game-changers” in a renewed Pentagon push to counter new threats around the globe, according to a top military commander.

Scientists and engineers at Wright-Patterson have developed an unarmed “cruise missile-like vehicle” that reached five times the speed of sound in tests, and have explored pairing drones with combat fighters in latest realm of technological advances, according to AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Masiello, who will retire next month at the agency’s headquarters at Wright-Patterson.

“I think the best way I would characterize the threats facing not just the Air Force, but our nation and our (Department of Defense) is the idea that our technological superiority is not guaranteed,” he said in a rare interview. “It’s not a birthright. Just because we’ve had it, doesn’t mean we’ll continue to have it.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who leads the so-called Defense Innovation Initiative, toured AFRL headquarters at Wright-Patterson last month to see areas of technological promise.


Rising military threats

In the midst of the technological push, the U.S. and its allies have faced recent global hot spots, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, rising military tensions with China in the South China Sea, and potential nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran.

The United States faces increasingly “highly sophisticated” integrated air defense systems around the globe, Masiello said.

“Our edge in electronic warfare has definitely eroded over time,” the two-star general added. “It’s gotten to the point where the potential adversaries can buy commercial-off-the-shelf parts, Radio Shack kind of parts, to challenge us in the spectrum like never before.”

Cyber threats to weapon systems are “a huge concern,” he said, particularly to systems fielded in the 1970s and 1980s and still in use.

“No one had ever heard of a cyber threat,” he said. “It wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen.” AFRL is working with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, to find ways to counter the threat, Masiello said.

AFRL commander for nearly three years, Masiello will retire in May, capping a 35-year career. The 56-year-old Youngstown, N.Y., native will relocate to join his wife, Air Force Lt. Gen. Wendy Masiello, director of the Defense Contract Management Agency headquartered at Fort Lee, Va.

The next AFRL leader, Maj. Gen. Robert D. McMurry, is vice commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.


Technology on future battlefields

Pentagon futurists envision a third-offset strategy to leapfrog U.S. technological capabilities against potential adversaries, some of whom may possess more troops and weapons in combat.

Military planners have honed in on artificial intelligence and robotics, an arsenal plane filled with airborne weapons, undersea sub-hunting drones, swarming autonomous vehicles, electromagnetic rail guns and directed-energy weapons like lasers and microwave energy, among other breakthroughs.

In the years ahead, AFRL and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will push the frontier of hypersonics in two areas: a scramjet-powered vehicle called the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept and another dubbed Tactical Boost Glide, a two-stage rocket that will glide a weapon to its target, he said.

“We expect in the next two to three years to have flight tests in both of those technology areas,” he said.

“… The first stage of bringing hypersonics to the battlefield will be in a cruise missile-like weapon, but then we’ll continue to do research to scale that up,” he said.

A reusable system could be used for reconnaissance. A full-scale hypersonic manned vehicle could join the fleet in the 2040s, Masiello said.

In autonomy, AFRL has explored pairing drones with manned fighters in a program dubbed “loyal wingman.”

“The F-16 (drone) is a candidate, but it would be way too (early) to say that the Air Force plan is to take the F-35 and pair them with F-16 drones,” he said. “We’re just not there yet.” F-16 fighter jets pulled out of manned squadrons are sometimes converted to drones for research or to act as targets in missile tests.

The former test pilot said aviators will stay in the cockpit for years, despite the rise of drones in warfare.

“For sure, I see a day where we’re going to pair manned with unmanned (aircraft) … but that’s a long way off,” he said. “There’s going to be manned, or humans in aircraft, continually for decades.”

In another “game-changer,” solid state and electric lasers could replace bulkier chemical lasers, such as one tested in a modified Air Force Boeing 747 in airborne anti-ballistic missile tests, he said.

“It was very successful, it generated a lot of power, it actually knocked missiles out of the sky,” he said. “But given all the hazardous chemicals that you need, it’s not operationally relevant to deploy throughout an Air Force force structure.”

A laser pod on a high-performance jet could be demonstrated within five years, he said.


History of the offset strategies

The U.S. military has counted on superior technology for decades to win wars against opponents with more troops and weapons.

Originally dubbed the New Look in the 1950s, the first offset relied on fielding nuclear weapons and reduced numbers of troops. But that strategy eroded as the former Soviet Union matched the United States in nuclear parity.

The second offset produced revolutionary planes and precision-guided weapons in the 1970s and 1980s, Masiello said. Stealth aircraft, Global Positioning System satellites, laser-guided bombs and command and control networks deployed in the Persian Gulf War led to victory in 1991 against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who had invaded Kuwait.

“We were unbelievably successful,” Masiello said. “But … just because we were successful then doesn’t automatically mean now, relying on those same sets of technologies, that the world hasn’t changed significantly.”

But the Pentagon wants to keep certain information out of the public domain. Much of that sensitive data is gathered via satellite and analyzed alongside unclassified communications by the JSPOC at Vanderberg Air Force Base, California.

“Here’s the catch — the catch is that the United States Air Force and the United States military are going to operate the space surveillance network from now as long as you can foresee,” Hyten said. “We do that mission for space control, we don’t do that mission for space traffic management, and we’re going to do that mission for space control as long as you can see into the future.”

Hyten supports a path forward where the JSPOC provides data to the FAA so the civil agency can do the collision avoidance, he said. But “we have to make sure that we end up where we don’t have competing catalogues,” he said.

“If all you are talking about is tracking rocks, because actually in order to do flight safety you don’t need to know what the thing is, you just need to know where it is and where is it moving,” Hyten said. “So if you can just say, ‘Here are the rocks, do your collision avoidance,’ then that’s okay.”

As robust and innovative as the modern commercial space sector is, industry alone will never be able to build certain capabilities, according to Hyten. For example, the $914 million Space Fence will increase the objects the DoD tracks in space by a factor of 10, he said.

The Pentagon will examine opportunities to work with commercial companies that are producing high volumes of small, nimble spacecraft as part of the new Space Enterprise Vision rolled out earlier this week, Hyten said Thursday. Investing in a distributed space architecture made up of hundreds or thousands of miniature systems, instead of just a few expensive, large satellites, could potentially reduce costs and enhance resilience against hostiles, experts contend.

But while these small commercial satellites will play a role in certain missions, they are limited in capability, Hyten said Thursday. Miniature spacecraft open many doors, but they will never be able to do the nuclear-hardened command and control mission, for instance, he said.

“People keep thinking that small satellites are the solution to lots of problems,” Hyten said. “The problem with small satellites is if you want to communicate with an 18-inch disk on a Humvee in the middle of the desert someplace and you want to do it from 22,300 miles away, physics tells you that you have to have a giant antenna with a lot of power.”



Electric Boat To Hire Thousands As Military Strategy Shifts Back To Subs

By Stephen Singer•Contact Reporter

April 18, 2016, 5:54 AM


GROTON — For the first time in a generation, Electric Boat is hiring thousands of workers as military strategy again turns to submarines to project U.S. sea power.

As many as 850 high-skilled, well-paid manufacturing and other jobs are being filled this year and nearly 4,000 in the next 15 years, establishing a workforce of 18,000 at the submarine manufacturer’s sites in Groton and Quonset Point, R.I.

About 4,000 workers have been hired since 2012 as Electric Boat builds two submarines a year, a coveted expansion of the fleet that was eclipsed by shifting military policies at the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the drive against terrorism.

Finding and recruiting workers has stirred a regional network of community colleges, vocational schools and training and recruitment centers coordinating efforts for job training and curriculum development to match applicants with jobs at Electric Boat and small manufacturers.

Maura M. Dunn, vice president of human resources and administration at Electric Boat, said the subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp. has nearly doubled its recruiting staff and expects to spend more than $1 billion to build workplaces for submarine construction. She compared the recruiting and personnel screening to fully staffing several companies.

Electric Boat also needs to replace between 275 and 300 workers who retire annually from the company’s aging work force, Dunn said.

“It’s been 20 years since we’ve had to do this kind of hiring,” she said. “The numbers are big and our ability to staff and maintain our employment level is really critical to our nation.”

The types of jobs needed to build a submarine — a massive machine with more than 1 million parts — include engineers, machinists, carpenters, painters, welders and others. Administrative workers such as managers and procurement specialists also are required.

Demand is so strong that John Hyde has been conditionally hired as a machinist at Electric Boat while still a student in a manufacturing class at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School in Groton. Hyde, 31, lost his shipping job of six years when WestRock Paper Mill in Uncasville closed earlier this year.

He said he enjoys the “hands-on aspect of doing things” and has long been interested in manufacturing. “But at the time I had a decent job,” he said.

Workforce development in eastern Connecticut is not new. But Electric Boat’s large-scale hiring “certainly contributed and definitely sharpened our focus,” said John Beauregard, executive director of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, a key agency organizing recruitment and training.

Gene Harper, Electric Boat’s retired hiring manager who is now helping to recruit, said finding work was a mystery to many.

“How do I get into manufacturing? That was the main question,” he said. “We didn’t have a good answer.”

About two dozen regional agencies, schools and colleges, representatives of federal offices and others organized worker recruitment and education and training programs, meeting regularly and making sure “everyone is responsible for certain actions,” Harper said.

Most new workers seeking retraining range in age from their 20s to their 50s, “looking to improve or change careers,” said Kelli Vallieres, president of the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, a group of 53 companies.

Hiring at Electric Boat is expected to spur more work among suppliers, and manufacturers in eastern Connecticut are organized to capitalize on job growth. The Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance is working with Three Rivers and Quinebaug Valley community colleges and area technical high schools to “make sure what is taught at colleges is what industry wants,” Vallieres said.

Electric Boat and manufacturers in the alliance “get good first dibs on hiring,” she said.

The boost in manufacturing jobs is good news for Connecticut’s slow-growth economy. The state’s unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in March is stubbornly higher than the U.S. rate of 5 percent and a state Department of Labor economist said job growth is insufficient to employ all the workers entering the labor force.

Hiring at Electric Boat follows a shift in military policy. Submarine construction slackened after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s and following the 9/11 attacks a decade later, submarines were sidelined in favor of drones and stepped-up intelligence targeting terrorist groups.

Submarines are now getting renewed attention as the U.S. confronts different threats: Russian advances in Europe, Chinese moves in the South China Sea and Iranian activity in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama’s budget this year included $7 billion to $8 billion for submarine work, up 11 percent from the previous budget, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said.

“Believe me, there is no other program I’m aware of in the Department of Defense getting an 11 percent increase,” said Courtney.

Dunn, Electric Boat’s personnel chief, said the shipbuilder has spent the past two years preparing for the increased workload.

“It’s a big job, but we’re up to the task,” she said.



DoD Policy Bill’s Top Line An Open Question

Joe Gould, Defense News 8:52 a.m. EDT April 18, 2016


WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee will take up the 2017 policy bill next week, but with a budget resolution stalled, it is unclear how much money it will have to authorize for Defense Department programs.

The National Defense Authorization Act does not set spending levels, but the committee tends to fall in line with the House budget resolution and set a guide for appropriators. Last year, it skirted statutory budget caps by paying for base budget items through the wartime overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, which triggered a showdown with the White House.

On Tuesday, the HASC military personnel, tactical air and land forces, seapower and projection forces subcommittees hold their markups of the 2017 NDAA. The HASC readiness, emerging threats and capabilities, and strategic forces subcommittees hold their markups Wednesday.

HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry and the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen, were in talks last week to figure out an appropriate top-line as a House budget resolution that hewed to last year’s budget deal at $1.07 trillion remained stalled.

Some hawkish lawmakers have been seeking an increase for defense, claiming the president’s budget request underfunded defense by at least $18 billion and should have used more OCO to avoid budget caps. One idea on the table was that after elections, an emergency supplemental spending measure could bridge the gap, but Thornberry and Freylinghuysen said lawmakers were still deciding on a course.

“We’re still working through and what the plan may be today, it may be different next month,” Thornberry said. “We’re still working … and you’ve still got appropriators, the Senate, lots of steps to go.”

“We sort of got away from supplementals, so the OCO account in the minds of some people represents a supplemental, and has always been something of consternation to some people, and that it is a fund that is quite fluid,” said Freylinghuysen, R-N.J. “We always make sure our war-on-terror account is fully justified.”

Whether Republicans might seek to raise defense through OCO remains an open question. Rep. Tom Cole, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a GOP strategist, called it strong possibility.

Though key Senate Democrats have said they will seek parity on the non-defense side for any defense increase above the budget deal — a path that would rankle the GOP’s fiscal hawks — the Democratic position is, Cole said, “politically unsustainable” following terrorism attacks in Europe, and “a pipe dream.”

“That’s up to them, if they want to imperil the defense of the country so they can spend more money domestically, and I think it’s politically unsustainable,” said Cole, R-Okla. “Defense needs to get what defense needs to get, and Brussels and Paris should tell people we still live in a dangerous world, let alone Russia and China.”

The HASC’s most senior Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington state, said he would like the NDAA top-line to stick to the budget deal, at $610 billion. (That is $551 billion base budget and $58.8 billion in OCO.)


Last year, Smith opposed the NDAA as Democrats sought a deal with the GOP that raised defense and non-defense equally. This year, he said he and other Democrats have not committed to whether they would support a policy bill that raises defense above the budget deal using OCO — though they will take a firmer stance on the matter when it comes to the defense spending bill.

“On the appropriating side, that’s a different question,” Smith said. “Part of why we have flexibility on the authorizing side is because they look to be sticking to the $1.07 trillion on the appropriating side.”

In the upper chamber, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week adopted spending allocations which allow its 12 subcommittees to write their spending bills. The numbers reflect the $1.07 trillion in base discretionary spending allowed under last year’s budget deal.




These old nuclear missiles could be used to clean up space debris

By Christian Davenport April 19 at 2:29 PM 


An MX or “Peacekeeper” missile, left, and two versions of the Minuteman missile sit at the entrance of Warren Air Force base in 2001. (Michael Smiht/Getty Images)

There are all sorts of complicated issues coursing through the halls of Congress: Immigration reform. Healthcare. The new Supreme Court nominee.

And now: What to do with the hundreds of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles stored in Air Force bunkers.

One space company, Orbital ATK, wants to be able to buy parts of the Cold-War era nuclear arsenal, repurpose them to launch commercial satellites. That would give the dormant missiles a purposeful use, save taxpayer money and help U.S. industry compete against foreign launch companies, such as Russia, whose rockets are subsidized by the government, it argues.

But others, such as Virgin Galactic, fear putting the missiles to use would damage U.S. companies that have invested millions into developing their own rockets, effectively forcing them to compete against a taxpayer-subsidized rival.

Into the fray on Tuesday came U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) who floated another idea for the missiles at a congressional hearing: Why not use the ICBMs to launch the systems that could help clear up all the debris that’s floating around in space?

“We didn’t build them because we wanted to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union,” he said. “We built them just in case there was a war. We didn’t want that to happen.”

Now the Cold War is over, and the missiles have sat idle in bunkers for years. So: “How about cleaning space debris?” Rohrabacher asked.

After 50 years of spaceflight, the vastness of space has become something of a celestial junkyard, littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris. Traveling at 17,500 m.p.h. around the globe, even small pieces of debris, say a bolt, can cause big problems.

In 2007, China blew up one of its dead weather satellites, and then two years later, an active U.S. communications satellite crashed into a defunct Russian satellite. Those two events alone created thousands of pieces of debris, which now pose a threat to satellites and even the International Space Station, which occasionally has to move out the way of the flying junk.

Hollywood even dramatized the problem in “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

A scene from the Warner Bros. thriller ‘Gravity’ starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

While Congress would have to act in order for Orbital ATK to use the stockpiled ICBMs for commercial purposes, the missiles could be used for government missions, Rohrabacher noted. And cleaning up space debris is a big issue the federal government should undertake, he said.

Right now, the Air Force tracks some 20,000 items in debris, a fraction of what’s out there. But it’s working with Lockheed Martin to develop what’s known as the Space Fence, which would be able to track many more pieces of debris that are now too small to catalog.

“One of our great assets is this new and thriving and futuristic space transportation systems that we now have being developed in the private sector,” he said. The government should be wary of doing anything that hurts the commercial space industry at a time when it is making great strides and helping lower the cost of access to space.

But he said he agreed that there should be some use for the ICBM motors, which taxpayers paid for years ago during the height of the Cold War.

For years, the space community has grappled with how to tackle the problem. There has been talk about “janitor satellites” that would act like an orbital garbage truck collecting debris. But such programs could be prohibitively expensive and legally complicated. The Chinese may not like it, for example, if the U.S. picked up one of its intelligence or military satellites, even if it were no longer working.

But if using the ICBMs to launch space-cleaning systems doesn’t work, Rohrabacher said he had another idea:

“How about global protection against meteorites and asteroids that might come and destroy the planet?”


The Pentagon threatened Congress: We’ll close bases without you

Andrew Tilghman, Military Times 4:47 p.m. EDT April 19, 2016

The Pentagon is threatening to start closing down unneeded military bases unilaterally if Congress continues to refuse to launch a new Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

The defiant move would raise a host of legal questions and set the stage for a first-of-its-kind political showdown between the Defense Department and Capitol Hill, which historically have coordinated closely on such controversial issues.

Military leaders are eager to save money by shuttering some underused bases. But the move is extremely unpopular on Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers fear the process would jeopardize government jobs in their districts.

For years Congress has refused the Defense Department’s repeated requests to create a bi-partisan commission, known as a BRAC, that would — with help from military officials — identify the bases most appropriate for closure and present lawmakers with a single, comprehensive plan for an up-or-down vote.

Last week, the Pentagon dialed up its pressure on Capitol Hill, sending a report to Congress showing that the military currently maintains about 22 percent more installation space and infrastructure than the current force requires. The report was careful to avoid mention of any specific bases, but indicates the Army and the Air Force have the most glut.

Coincidentally, on Tuesday House lawmakers introduced legislation calling for 27,000 additional troops — mostly Army guardsmen and reservists.

“The alternative to BRAC is either attempting to close individual installations, or making reductions to personnel and shuttering or mothballing parts of installations across the country,” according to the Pentagon’s 20-page report to Congress, which echoes some fine-print in the Defense Department’s 2017 budget request unveiled earlier this year.

That document, released in February, says “the need to reduce unneeded facilities is so critical that, in the absence of authorization of a new round of BRAC, the Department will explore any and all authorities that Congress has provided to eliminate wasteful infrastructure.”

Technically, experts say, the Defense Department’s only legal requirement is to notify Congress. However, before it could close a specific base, federal law would require a detailed — and time-consuming — study of the closure’s environmental and socioeconomic impact, giving Congress plenty of time to block the move.

“DoD has some authorities. They aren’t great, but they are there, whereby DoD can shutter, reduce or eliminate facilities,” said Mark Cancian, a military force structure expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, a think tank in Washington.

The threat alone could upend the intense politics surrounding the issue. If the Defense Department put forth a proposal with a list of specific bases targeted for closure, many of the lawmakers unaffected by the specific proposal might breathe a sigh of relief and drop their instinctive opposition.

“One of the dynamics around BRAC is that before a BRAC happens, everyone sees themselves as a potential loser. Once people know what the actual proposal is, there are more winners than losers,” said Andrew Hunter, a former Capitol Hill staffer who is now a defense expert with CSIS.

“Once a list is out, there is a strong compelling logic for the people on the list to fight it. But there is also a logic for the people who aren’t on the list to support it,” Hunter said.

Cancian said the Pentagon’s threat may be a strategic effort to convince Congress to approve a BRAC for fear that military officials will take unilateral action.

“I think DoD’s purpose is to use this as a way to get a BRAC … the department trying to move the Congress along,” he said, noting that a similar threat was floated about 25 years ago by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Military officials say implementing a new BRAC would eventually save the Defense Department about $2 billion annually.

The size of the active-duty military has decreased by nearly half since the end of the Cold War, and many facilities across the country are underused, unnecessary and require maintenance that is draining the military budget.

Congress has convened base closure commissions five times in recent years, in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. Typically BRACs aim to reduce total capacity by about 5 percent.



Cyber Threats: Only Getting Worse

April 20, 2016 | Michael Morell


It seems like the cyber domain has recently been awash in controversy. From major hacks that compromise the information of millions of people, to bitter legal disputes between tech giants and law enforcement, to a steadily expanding number of threats, cybersecurity has never seemed so crucial. Former CIA Acting Director and Deputy Director Michael Morell spoke with The Cipher Brief about his assessment of the growing cyber-threat, as well as a potential solution to increasingly contentious discord between government and the tech industry on the topic of encryption. For the former, he recommends specific types of tools that you monitor anomalous activity on your network and for the latter, a comprehensive push by the intelligence community to find a way to access encrypted information without compromising American companies.


The Cipher Brief: How do you see the cyber threat, and how is it evolving?

MM: In order to think about the threat in the most useful way, it is important to think about the adversaries. When you do that, a couple of things jump out. First, the threat is going to get worse. The number of nation states with the ability to conduct cyber operations is expanding, because the tools one needs to get inside a network, to steal data, and to do damage are increasingly available on the black market, largely in the deep web. So, smaller countries, which don’t have the resources to develop their own capabilities, can now simply go out and buy them. At the same time, the number of cyber criminals is growing at an alarming rate, because there is so much money to be made from cyber crime (such crime now generates more revenue than the illegal drug trade). And, terrorist groups, which have not been focused on cyber attacks, now are becoming more interested.

Second, while the different types of adversaries are numerous (nation states, organized crime groups, terrorists), perhaps the most dangerous potential cyber adversary comes from a group that most people do not think about – your own employees. Whether recruited by an outside group to conduct cyber operations against you or whether taking some cyber action on their own because they are angry with you for some reason, your employees represent the greatest threat to your network. While the vast majority of your employees will, of course, never become a threat, it only takes one to do enormous damage – Snowden being the best example. When it comes to cyber defense, most companies are focused on protecting their network from outsiders. They need to be just as focused on insiders.

TCB: What about defense?

MM: A few thoughts. First, there is a taxonomy of cyber defense that makes sense to me – rigorously assess the vulnerabilities you face (from both outsiders and insiders) in relation to what you need to protect, put in place the tools and the policies you need to mitigate those vulnerabilities, and purchase cyber insurance (an emerging industry) as the ultimate guarantor against potential financial losses.

Second, the most important tools are the ones that allow you to quickly identify when someone is in your network, to be able to see what they have done, and to get them out. Such tools are important because there is no way to keep out all adversaries – a sophisticated and persistent adversary will always find a way to get in – and because speed in identifying the intrusion is essential to minimizing the damage. Most companies are using behavioral algorithms to identify intrusions – similar to what credit card companies use to detect potential fraud. But I do not believe these tools are the best ones, as they produce too many false positives and because the adversary can and will discover the algorithms and therefore avoid creating a red flag. No, in my view, the much better approach is the emerging tool of deception – deceiving the adversary in a variety of ways to include deceiving them into telling you that they are in your network.


Third, in terms of keeping people out of your network in the first place, there are obviously a lot of tools available to do that, but there is nothing more important than educating your employees on what to do and what not to do with the emails and the attachments to emails that they receive. Phishing attacks are, by far, the most common method that adversaries use to get into a network. Unaware and non-disciplined employees unwittingly enable the vast majority of sophisticated attacks.

Fourth, cyber security is always going to be a moving target. The adversaries will always get better; they will always adapt to the defense of the day. So, the defense has to adapt as well. There is no defense that is permanent. And the best defense is always going to come from those firms who themselves think like the bad guys – essentially asking themselves, “how would I get what I want from that network and therefore how would I defend against it.”

TCB: What does the government need to do?

MM: I’m concerned that this piece of the puzzle is furthest behind. Yes, we finally got some good legislation that provides liability protection for firms sharing information with the government. But, the government has a long way to go to figure out its role in defending private industry against cyber attacks. Here are some ideas that I believe are worth thinking about.

One, the stealing of intellectual property for the purposes of advancing the economic interests of specific industries and firms should be treated by the World Trade Organization as an unfair trade practice. A penalty should be imposed on those industries that take advantage of stolen intellectual property. Simply indicting people for the theft has little deterrence effect for those hackers who work for foreign governments and who have no plans of, or interest in, ever traveling to a place where the indictment could actually be enforced.

Two, the UN should take on the responsibility for establishing norms for cyber warfare. And, of course, before that can happen, the U.S. needs to sort its own views on what these norms should be. What might they be? Perhaps attacks on critical infrastructure directly associated with a country’s military are fair game; perhaps attacks on all other critical infrastructure are not. Even if all nations can’t agree on a set of norms, we can be clear about what is acceptable and not acceptable to us and to our closest allies, and what the costs would be if others violate them.

Third, there should be an international organization formed to tackle cyber crime – an organization where the information on cyber crimes comes together and can be packaged in a way that local authorities can act on them.

Fourth, those countries that refuse to abide by international norms on cyber warfare and that refuse to either put tough laws on the books against cyber crime or refuse to enforce those laws should face tough sanctions, the same kind of tough sanctions that forced Iran to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. Again, simply indicting people 10 thousand miles away has little deterrence affect.

Fifth, the United States needs to come to a policy decision on the use of cyber offense for defensive purposes. That is, if all the above fails, we need to decide if we are going to use our considerable capabilities to stop a cyber attack on a U.S. entity that the government sees coming. Preemptively. There are lots of tough issues here, but at the end of the day, the government has a Constitutional responsibility to protect Americans, including against cyber attacks.

TCB: Is it really possible to do all these things?

MM: Absolutely. We just need to work through it step by step, both at home and abroad. I think the Cyber Commission that President Barack Obama just established is a very important step.

TCB: What is your reaction to the continuing controversy between the FBI and Apple?


MM: I have four thoughts. The first is that both sides in the debate have a very compelling argument. The FBI’s powerful argument is how can you (Apple) not help us discover if there is information on a phone that might save lives? Apple’s powerful argument is how could you (the government) ask us to do something to our operating system that would create a broad security vulnerability that any number of adversaries would most definitely exploit and that would severely damage a U.S. industry that is so important to the future of the economy?

Second, where I come out on all of this, and here I am moving from the narrow issue of getting into a specific phone to the broader issue of keyless encryption, is the result of a simple practical consideration—that the vast majority of the communication applications that are encrypted without keys are outside the U.S. There are literally hundreds of them. If the government forces U.S. firms to create keys for their encryption, the bad guys would simply communicate using keyless apps produced overseas. In that highly likely scenario, there would be little gained in terms of security, but there would be a significant loss to U.S. firms (their apps would be less secure and fewer people would use them as a result).

Third, I can’t remember a time during my service in government when we physically had an IT device in our hands and we could not ourselves get the data from it that we needed. The fact that multiple U.S. agencies could not get into the phone of the San Bernardino attacker was, for me, a wake up call that advances in technology had outstripped the capabilities of the U.S. Government. We should see it as a Sputnik moment.

And this sets up the fourth reaction, that the conversation on this very important issue is not occurring in the right place. What do I mean by that? The conversation now is taking place between the government and industry. Before the FBI found its way into the phone of the San Bernardino attacker, based on a suggestion from an outsider, the conversation was taking place between the two in the courts and in the media. And that conversation continues with regard to other specific phones and with regard to the broader issue of keyless encryption.

TCB: If the conversation should not be between the government and the private sector, where should it be?

MM: It should be occurring within the government. What does that mean? In my view, the National Security Advisor should say the following to the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of CIA, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of NSA: “The President’s expectation is that we, that is you, should have the capability to break the commercial, keyless encryption being used by our adversaries, and that we should have the ability to get inside a particular IT device that is in our possession. We should keep our ability to do these things one of our most closely guarded secrets. And, if we need a Manhattan Project style effort to get us there, the President will support that. Get to work.”

Achieving this vision would give us the best outcome. We would have the ability to read the communications of the bad guys, they would not know it, we would not be asking any U.S. companies to weaken the security of their products, and we would not be undermining them in the market place.



The Darker Side of the Internet of Things

April 17, 2016 | Luke Penn-Hall


Would you purchase a smart refrigerator that knows what you buy and can make suggestions about what to buy next? How about a smart toy that monitors your child for you? A smart car that knows where you drive? Or maybe you would prefer a smart rifle that aims itself? The world is getting smarter, and this vast web of wirelessly connected devices has come to be known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT is being hailed as the next big thing that will change everything and allow us to customize our lives to a previously unheard of degree. It is expected to more than double in size by 2020, with approximately $6 billion being spent on IoT devices during that time. However, this customization is provided by placing sensors and wireless networking capabilities in otherwise ordinary objects. This means that they are monitoring the world around them and communicating that information to their creators. So far though, it has mostly proved to be a boon to advertisers, who can use the vast volumes of information generated by these devices to better target consumers and influence purchasing decisions.

However, there is a darker side to the IoT – and the problem is growing every day. While IoT devices can communicate wirelessly like a computer, many of them lack the types of security measures that keep computers safe. This essentially means that as IoT devices become more common, people will need to worry about not just their computer getting a virus, but also their blender or their thermostat, or even their doors.

The effects of malware on IoT devices could have a range of different effects, but arguably the most damaging would involve issues of control. Ransomware, for example, has already proven itself to be a growing problem in the cybersecurity industry. This type of malware locks down a system until a ransom is paid, and it has been used to hold files and systems in hospitals hostage on several different occasions. When applied to the IoT, the effects could be even more severe – just think how disruptive it would be if a cybercriminal shut down your car until you paid them several thousands of dollars.

Similarly, there are concerns about cyber criminals seizing control of networked devices. Returning to the car example, two cybersecurity researchers famously hacked a moving Jeep and took control of its functions in 2015. Or, more distressingly, a different set of cybersecurity researchers hacked into the control systems for a networked rifle at about that same time – allowing them to control where it was aiming.

Clearly, these issues are far from inconsequential, but there has been some improvement in this area. Most IoT devices are difficult to patch and have lackluster security, which means that it is hard for companies to fix security problems once they become aware of them. However, new guidelines have emerged from a variety of sources which give guidance on how to build security into IoT devices from the start. While these have the potential to greatly enhance the security of the IoT, there is not currently a procedure for notifying consumers as to whether a given product has been created securely. Brian Witten, Senior Director of Internet of Things (IoT) at Symantec, told The Cipher Brief that “experts are working to set guidelines and fair testing means by which security ratings, rankings, seals or stamps of approval can be earned.” Until such a system is in place though, Witten cautioned that “failure to build against an established set of security guidelines should be a red flag to any customer.”

Aside from the security concerns that have arisen around the IoT, there are also worries that the sensors in IoT devices would allow for significant breaches of consumer privacy. While companies do mine data from IoT devices to learn more about their customers, the primary focus of the concern is on government surveillance. The fear is that the government could compel firms to hand over information about people that was generated by IoT devices, and that this information would be used as part of a mass surveillance effort.

Matthew Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, has said that “the Internet of Things provides new channels for the government to collect information – both from a law enforcement and an intelligence perspective.” IoT devices create a tremendous amount of information, and there is certainly a great deal of potential for mining that data to produce useful insights into the activities of criminals and terrorists.


Yet, this information may not be that useful in the grand scheme of things. Marshall Erwin, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, told The Cipher Brief that “this revolution in technology has not been nearly as consequential to law enforcement. The data in question simply isn’t that valuable outside of the context in which it is collected and used.” Essentially, IoT data is great for advertisers, but the information these devices collect is not usually the type of information that law enforcement and intelligence agencies need to do their jobs. It remains to be seen how the still evolving nature of the IoT will change the dynamic between these two viewpoints.

The tendency towards increased connectivity does not appear to be slowing down, and in aggregate this does not appear to be a bad thing. However, security concerns are a looming problem with the nascent IoT. Many common cybersecurity problems are a direct result of the Internet being designed without security aforethought. Forward-looking policies, practices, and regulations may need to be put in place now to prevent a similar state of affairs from developing in the Internet of Things. Fortunately, the IoT is still a work in progress, and it is not too late to ensure that its myriad security issues are addressed before they become unmanageable.

Luke Penn-Hall is the Cyber and Technology Producer at The Cipher Brief.


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Next Tuesday is likely to tell the tale after this week’s New York primaries put Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump back on track.

The billionaire businessman has rebounded in our latest Trump Change survey of likely Republican voters after a month-long slump prompted by campaign gaffes, $70 million in anti-Trump ads and a lopsided primary loss in Wisconsin.

Even before her big win in New York after losing seven straight primaries to Bernie Sanders, Clinton was seen by more Democratic voters than ever as their party’s eventual nominee

All of this Tuesday’s primaries — in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island — appear much friendlier to the front-runners than to their rivals. In short, Trump vs. Clinton looks like the presidential matchup we’ve been dealt for the fall

The surprising level of support for Trump and Sanders suggests voters in the two major parties are getting more extreme in their thinking than their respective party leaders. A sizable number of voters agree.

Still, voters remain more conservative on money issues than on those that pertain to social matters, although Democrats and Republicans also continue to disagree.

But voters in both parties think too many politicians are for sale.

That helps explain why Sanders’ strong criticism of the government’s treatment of Wall Street resonates with most Americans who remain sour and cynical about the federal bank bailouts.

An overwhelming majority believe the wealthiest donors and special interest groups have too much influence over government decisions.
Most also say these wealthy interests have too much influence over elections

For all of the talk about Trump and Sanders potentially running as third-party candidates, however, most voters aren’t betting on a third-party candidate taking the White House anytime soon.

Just 24% think the country is headed in the right direction. That’s a weekly low for this year and matches the low for all of last year.

The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard a challenge by 26 states to President Obama’s plan protecting up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Most voters have opposed Obama’s amnesty plan right from the start. 

A major national insurer’s announcement that it is cutting back its involvement due to big financial losses is the latest problem besetting Obamacare. Few voters want to leave the health care law as is, even though more than ever say they have benefited from it.

Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives of numerous other countries signed an anti-global warming treaty yesterday, although implementation remains a long shot in this country due to strong congressional opposition. Most U.S. voters (57%) continue to believe that when it comes to global warming, the government should only do what the president and Congress agree on

The president continues to enjoy better than average daily job approval ratings.

In other surveys last week:

— The U.S. Treasury announced on Wednesday that the portrait of President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill will be replaced by one of anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman, making her the first black American to ever front a U.S. banknote. So what does America think?

— Texas Republicans are so unhappy that they will seriously debate whether their state should secede from the union at their upcoming state convention. Nearly one-in-four Americans think states have the right to leave the United States to form an independent country.

— Movie theater chain AMC recently announced plans to allow text messaging in certain theaters during movie screenings, then quickly reversed its decision after a swift backlash. Most Americans are adamant: No texting during the movie.

— While most Americans say they’ve donated time or money to clean up the environment, they don’t feel strongly that Earth Day, celebrated Friday, has been all that important in increasing environmental consciousness.

— Nearly nine-out-of-10 Americans planned to file their income taxes by last Monday’s Tax Day deadline.



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