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Saturday, January 5, 2013

MARTIAL THERMAL TIDES


FROM: NASA

Thermal Tides at Mars

This diagram illustrates Mars' "thermal tides," a weather phenomenon responsible for large, daily variations in pressure at the Martian surface. Sunlight heats the surface and atmosphere on the day side of the planet, causing air to expand upwards. At higher levels in the atmosphere, this bulge of air then expands outward, to the sides, in order to equalize the pressure around it, as shown by the red arrows. Air flows out of the bulge, lowering the pressure of air felt at the surface below the bulge. The result is a deeper atmosphere, but one that is less dense and has a lower pressure at the surface, than that on the night side of the planet. As Mars rotates beneath the sun, this bulge moves across the planet each day, from east to west. A fixed observer, such as NASA's Curiosity rover, measures a decrease in pressure during the day, followed by an increase in pressure at night. The precise timing of the increase and decrease are affected by the time it takes the atmosphere to respond to the sunlight, as well as a number of other factors including the shape of the planet's surface and the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ashima Research/SWRI


Navy Commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 21

Navy Commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 21

Jason Dunham Sailors' New Year's Resolution: Quit Tobacco

Jason Dunham Sailors' New Year's Resolution: Quit Tobacco

MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO CONSPIRACY TO SMUGGLE UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS FROM INDIA

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Friday, January 4, 2013

Foreign National Pleads Guilty in Houston to Human Smuggling Charges

WASHINGTON – A foreign national pleaded guilty today to federal human smuggling charges for his role in a scheme to smuggle undocumented migrants from India into the United States, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson for the Southern District of Texas; and Special Agent in Charge Brian M. Moskowitz of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston

Fabiano Augusto Amorim, 28, a Brazilian national, pleaded guilty today at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. in Houston, to one count of conspiracy to bring undocumented migrants into the United States for profit and to one count of unlawfully bringing two undocumented migrants into the United States for profit.

On June 6, 2012, Amorim was charged by indictment, along with four other individuals, with one count of conspiracy to smuggle undocumented migrants into the United States and six human smuggling counts related to five incidents in which Amorim helped smuggle undocumented migrants into the United States. Based on Amorim’s guilty plea, the government will dismiss the remaining human smuggling counts against him at sentencing.

At the plea hearing and in related court documents, Amorim admitted that between January 2011 and April 2012, he conspired with his co-defendants to bring undocumented migrants to the United States, and to encourage and induce undocumented migrants to come to the United States unlawfully. According to court documents, Amorim and his co-conspirators devised the scheme to profit financially.

In support of the conspiracy, Amorim and other conspirators recruited individuals in India who were willing to pay up to $60,000 to be smuggled into the United States. For their smuggling operations, Amorim and his co-conspirators used a network of alleged conspirators in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the United States, including the state of Texas. Using this network, Amorim and his co-conspirators transported groups of undocumented migrants from locations within India through South America, Central America and the Caribbean and then into the United States by various means, including by air travel, automobiles, water craft and foot. Many of these smuggling events, including five of the incidents described in the indictment, involved illegal entry into the United States via the border between the United States and Mexico near McAllen and Laredo, Texas.

At sentencing, which is scheduled for April 5, 2013, Amorim faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. Amorim currently is serving a 36-month sentence in federal prison for participating in a separate conspiracy to smuggle undocumented migrants from Brazil and Peru into the United States via a maritime route from the Bahamas into southern Florida.

Amorim’s co-conspirator Maria Adela De Luna pleaded guilty on Nov. 9, 2012, to one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented migrants in the United States. Co-conspirator Kaushik Jayantibhai Thakkar pleaded guilty on Dec. 3, 2012, to one count of conspiracy to bring undocumented migrants into the United States for profit and to one count of unlawfully bringing two undocumented migrants into the United States for profit.

The investigation was conducted by agents with ICE-HSI in McAllen and Houston, with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Alien Smuggling Interdiction Unit. This case is being prosecuted jointly by Trial Attorney Stephen Curran of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Leo III and Casey MacDonald of the Southern District of Texas.

The investigation was conducted under the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a joint partnership between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present particular national security or public safety risks, or present grave humanitarian concerns. ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence and prosecutorial resources. ECT coordinates and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.

ION THRUSTER WORLD RECORD



FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
by jtozer
Saturday Space Sight: Ion Thruster Sets World Record


While the Dawn spacecraftis visiting the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, NASA Glenn has been developing the next generation of ion thrusters for future missions. NASA's Evolutionar Xeon Thruster (NEXT) Project has developed a 7-kilowatt ion thruster that can provide the capabilities needed in the future.

An ion thruster produces small levels of thrust relative to chemical thrusters, but does so at higher specific impulse (or higher exhaust velocities), which means that an ion thruster has a fuel efficiency of 10-12 times greater than a chemical thruster.

The higher the rocket’s specific impulse (fuel efficiency), the farther the spacecraft can go with a given amount of fuel.

Given that an ion thruster produces small levels of thrust relative to chemical thrusters, it needs to operate in excess of 10,000 hours to slowly accelerate the spacecraft to speeds necessary to reach the asteroid belt or beyond.

The NEXT ion thruster has been operated for over 43,000 hours, which for rocket scientists means that the thruster has processed over 770 kilograms of xenon propellant and can provide 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to the spacecraft. This demonstrated performance permits future science spacecraft to travel to varied destinations, such as extended tours of multi-asteroids, comets, and outer planets and their moons.

SOLDIER SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN MILITARY RECRUITING REFERRAL BONUS SCHEME

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Friday, January 4, 2013
U.S. Soldier Sentenced in Texas to 18 Months in Prison for His Role in Fraudulent Military Recruiting Referral Bonus Scheme

WASHINGTON ? A member of the U.S. military was sentenced today to serve 18 months in prison for his participation in a conspiracy to obtain approximately $244,000 in fraudulent recruiting referral bonuses from various U.S. military components and their contractor, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department?s Criminal Division.

U.S. Army Specialist Richard Garcia, 29, of Kirby, Texas, was sentenced today by Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in the Western District of Texas. In addition to his prison term, Judge Biery sentenced Garcia to serve three years of supervised release and ordered Garcia to pay $244,000 in restitution, jointly and severally with co-conspirators.

On July 26, 2012, Garcia pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to court documents, Garcia enlisted in the U.S. Army in approximately November 2005.

According to court documents, between 2005 and 2008, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Army Reserves and the National Guard Bureau entered into contracts with Document and Packaging Broker Inc. (Docupak) to administer recruiting bonus programs designed to offer monetary incentives to soldiers who referred others to join the U.S. military. In addition, the Army managed its own recruiting bonus programs, which offered bonuses to soldiers who referred other individuals to join the Army or the Army Reserves after registering online as recruiting assistants (RA) or sponsors. Through these recruiting programs, a participating soldier could receive up to $2,000 in bonus payments for every person he referred to serve in the U.S. military.

Garcia admitted that he participated in a fraud scheme whereby active duty and civilian contract recruiters provided RAs and sponsors with the names and Social Security numbers of ?walk-in? soldiers ? or persons who decided to join the military without being referred by anyone. Using this information, the RAs and sponsors claimed credit for referring these potential soldiers to join the military, when in fact they did not refer them. As part of the fraud scheme, the RAs and sponsors split the bonus payments with the recruiters and others who provided the potential soldiers? personal identifying information.

According to court documents, Garcia and his co-conspirators received at least $244,000 in fraudulent recruiting referral bonuses in total. Garcia and a co-conspirator personally received a total of approximately $13,000 in fraudulent recruiting referral bonuses by using Garcia?s RA account to claim that Garcia was responsible for referring certain potential soldiers to the U.S. Army, when in fact he had not referred those soldiers.

This case arose from an investigation concerning allegations that former and current soldiers and military and civilian contract recruiters in the San Antonio area engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to obtain fraudulent recruiting referral bonuses. To date, 10 individuals have been charged, all of whom have pleaded guilty. The investigation is ongoing.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Edward J. Loya Jr., Brian A. Lichter and Sean F. Mulryne of the Criminal Division?s Public Integrity Section. The case is being investigated by agents from the San Antonio Fraud Resident Agency of the Major Procurement Fraud Unit, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.

'CAMP HOPE' FOR WOUNDED VETERANS

 

The entrance to Camp Hope, founded by William "Mike" White and his wife, Galia, to honor their fallen son, Marine Pfc. Christopher Neal White, welcomes wounded warriors to the camp's healing experience. U.S. Army photo by Michael William Petersen

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Parents Honor Son's Memory Through Camp Hope
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Jan. 3, 2013 - With a simple idea and their fallen Marine son's Servicemembers Group Life Insurance check, a retired soldier and his wife are honoring his memory through a program that's bringing new hope and self-confidence to wounded warriors.

William "Mike" White, an equipment operator at the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command here, remembers as if it were yesterday the dreaded knock on the door as he and his wife, Galia, learned that their son, Marine Pfc. Christopher Neal White, had been killed. The young White, an avid outdoorsman who grew up in rural Kentucky, died in Iraq's Anbar province two days after Father's Day, 2006.

Heartbroken and guilt-ridden that he had convinced his wife to allow their son to join the military, White struggled to find meaning in their personal tragedy. "I had to take a negative and make it a positive. It had to be done," he said.

Alone on a hunting trip -- an endeavor he and his son had often shared -- White came up with the inspiration for Camp Hope.

"I wanted to start a place for our wounded guys, to teach them that even if they have one arm or one leg or no arms or no legs or they're blind, that they could still get out and enjoy the outdoors," he said. "Little did I know it was going to lead to where we are today."

The Whites used Christopher's SGLI payment to buy Chris Neal Farm, a 170-acre retreat in southeast Missouri, and home of Camp Hope.

Five years later, Camp Hope is exceeding everything the senior White could have imagined. Hundreds of combat-wounded warriors from across the United States have flocked there to participate in everything Christopher White loved: skeet shooting, hunting, fishing, hiking, exploring the great outdoors and relaxing around an ever-burning fire pit.

The idea, White explained, is to allow wounded warriors to experience the healing powers of nature as they focus on what they can do, instead of what they cannot.

through private and corporate donations and a legion of volunteers, Camp Hope provides a supportive, loving environment and a renewed sense of community to wounded warriors, White explained.

"We are really not doing anything special other than offering them a place and an opportunity to be able to get back and talk with other folks whose boots have been in the same dirt," he said.

White is the first to admit that he had no grand plan when he and his wife founded Camp Hope. "Everything that has happened has pretty much been an accident," he said. "You can't plan some of the things that have happened. There is no way. It just happens."

But the healing effect, he said, is undeniable.

"There is a magic thing about Camp Hope. I can't explain it. I really can't," White said. "All I know is that it does things for the good for people. It gives a lot of hope to a lot of people. It changes their attitude when they are there."

Army Sgt. Bobby Lee Lisek, a severely wounded warrior who attended the very first gathering at Camp Hope, said he was amazed at the transformation within himself.

"Camp Hope is the greatest place ever. They don't hold you or hold you back. They don't say, 'No you can't.' There is no limit to what you can do here," he said.

Admitting to White that he'd been struggling with suicidal thoughts before arriving at Camp Hope, Lisek said, "I don't know where I'd be today if I didn't have somewhere to go like Camp hope. I'm just at peace here."

So much at peace, in fact, that Lisek volunteers his time regularly as a hunting guide, helping other visitors to Camp Hope experience the same kind of transformation he did.

Army Capt. Joe Bogart, another Camp Hope veteran, said the experience gave him a renewed sense of independence. "I got part of my old self back," he said. "I healed in ways I didn't know I needed to."

For Army Spc. Adam Berkemeier, the healing came through taking on new challenges. "They push me to do more because they know I am capable of more," he said.

For Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Kinnamore, who called his visit to Camp Hope "one of the best experiences I've had in years," healing came through camaraderie with fellow wounded warriors.

"I had forgotten how to socialize," he said. "It was good to be able to sit around the fire pit and talk with people who had been in the same place I had been in and who knew what was going on, what I'm going through. It helped me relax for the first time in a long time."

The Whites' work at Camp Hope has received national recognition. In 2010, the Army honored White with its prestigious Spirit of Hope Award, and the National AMVETS Ladies' Auxiliary presented him its Humanitarian of the Year award.

Veterans groups and individual and corporate sponsors have stepped up their support as volunteers or donors, covering all costs for veterans to participate and even sponsoring special trips to Alaska and other destinations.

The camp has become such a success that White hopes to open a second Camp Hope, near Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest to reach more wounded warriors. Once it's operational, White said he plans to rely on wounded warriors who have attended the camp themselves to run its day-to-day operations.

He even envisioned it creating a ripple effect, with Camp Hopes scattered around the country to help wounded warriors heal.

White said the calls he regularly receives from parents and spouses, thanking him for the difference Camp Hope has made in their loved ones' lives, is the driving force that keeps him motivated to drive on.

"That's our payday," he said. "That's what makes us continue to do what we do."

Six years after his son's death, White still gets choked up when he talks about the enthusiastic young boy who loved the outdoors and dreamed of becoming a Marine. Making things right after losing him would be impossible, he admitted.

"But now that we know we've been able to help some of these young folks coming back, even saving some of them from committing suicide or hurting themselves, it makes it a little bit easier to accept," he said. "Camp Hope is all about Helping Other People Excel. And as it honors Christopher's memory, that's exactly what it does for these wounded warriors."

Weekly Address: Working Together in the New Year to Grow Our Economy and Shrink Our Deficits | The White House

Weekly Address: Working Together in the New Year to Grow Our Economy and Shrink Our Deficits | The White House

FITNESS BUSINESS CITED FOR FAILURE TO PROVIDE PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT TO EMPLOYEES

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

US Labor Department's OSHA cites Xsport Fitness in Libertyville, Ill.,
for failing to provide workers with personal protective equipment

LIBERTYVILLE, Ill.
– The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Capital Fitness Inc., which operates as Xsport Fitness in Libertyville, Ill., with four repeat safety violations for failing to provide personal protective equipment to employees working with hazardous chemicals. The complaint inspection in November resulted in proposed penalties totaling $60,000.

"Xsport Fitness has a responsibility to know the hazards that exist in their workplace and to provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment," said Diane Turek, OSHA's area director at the Chicago North office in Des Plaines. "Employers who are cited for repeat violations demonstrate a lack of commitment to employee safety and health."

The repeat violations were cited for failing to provide eye, face and hand protection for workers using liquid and other hazardous chemicals, develop and implement a written hazard communication program, provide material safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals in use and train workers and provide them with information regarding hazardous chemicals in their work area. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. Similar violations were cited in May 2012 at the Fullerton Avenue facility in Chicago.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

AFL-CIO AND FLORIDA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER RESOLVE BACKPAY ISSUES

FROM: U.S. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD

Settlement ends long-running dispute at Florida performing arts center

NLRB Regional Director Margaret J. Diaz today approved the resolution of all pending litigation in a long-running dispute between the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. in West Palm Beach, FL, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, AFL-CIO, Local 500.

The resolution provides for approximately $2.2 million in backpay to 248 employees who were unlawfully denied employment over more than a decade. The money is to be paid in two installments, the first of which is due by January 15, 2013 and the second of which is due by January 15, 2014.

In addition, the parties signed a collective-bargaining agreement, effective December 21, 2012 through June 30, 2017, under which the entertainment venue recognizes the union as the bargaining agent for stagehands working on Kravis productions, and agrees to obtain workers through the Local 500 hiring hall. The contract also reinstates three department heads whose positions had been eliminated.

The
Board ruled in September 2007 that the theatrical venue violated federal labor law by failing to bargain to impasse with its union, IATSE, by unilaterally changing wages and conditions of employment, and by refusing to use the union’s hiring hall in more than 700 productions staged since charges were filed in 2001. The Board’s order was enforced by the DC Circuit Court in 2008. In July, the NLRB issued a compliance specification setting the backpay amount due to carpenters, electricians and other skilled laborers at $2.6 million.

The center had taken certain other steps to comply with the Board Order in 2009.

In addition to their agreement resolving the compliance matter, Kravis Center and the Union entered into a separate agreement requiring Kravis Center to remedy allegations of additional unfair labor practices committed in 2011 and 2012 that had been set forth in a complaint issued in July. In turn, the NLRB approved the union’s withdrawal of charges in the cases covered by the complaint, conditioned on the terms of the agreement being carried out.

ASSISTANCE TO NEW YORK STATE SANDY SURVIVIORS EXCEEDS $1.2 BILLION

 
Staten Island, N.Y., Dec. 20, 2012 -- This home on Staten Island was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The home will be removed because it is blocking street access. FEMA's Public Assistance Program allows for debris removal from public property to eliminate health and safety hazards. Andrea Booher/FEMA

FROM: U.S. FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY

Assistance to New York State Sandy Survivors Tops $1.2 Billion
Release date:
January 4, 2013
Release Number:
NR-125

NEW YORK
—More than $1.2 billion in federal disaster assistance has been approved for survivors of Hurricane Sandy in New York.

While there is still much work to be done, this money has contributed significantly to the recovery effort. FEMA’s priority is to get people back into their neighborhoods as soon as possible.

"This money will help families who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy start their recovery," said Federal Coordinating Officer Michael F. Byrne. "Working with the SBA, FEMA is helping families get the money they need to repair their homes, find temporary housing and replace essential items lost in the storm.

FEMA continues to reach out to all 13 counties designated for Individual Assistance, focusing on the hardest-hit areas. Assistance to residents in affected counties includes:
Bronx $2.2 million
Kings $180.7 million
Nassau $269.2 million
New York $12.2 million
Queens $211.3 million
Richmond $84.8 million
Suffolk $61.4 million

FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration have approved more than $1.2 billion for Hurricane Sandy survivors. FEMA has approved nearly $827 million for individuals and households, including nearly $736 million for housing assistance and more than $91 million in assistance for other needs.
SBA has approved nearly $378 million in disaster loans to homeowners and renters and more than $25 million in disaster businesses loans. The SBA has staff members at every
FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center and 19 Business Recovery Centers in the New York area to provide one-on-one help to business owners seeking disaster assistance.
More than 260,000 New Yorkers have contacted FEMA for information or registered for assistance, including more than 141,000 who have applied through the online application site at
www.DisasterAssistance.gov or on their smartphone at m.fema.gov.
23 Disaster Recovery Centers are open in the affected areas. These include mobile sites as well as fixed sites, and to date more than 117,000 survivors have been assisted at Disaster Recovery Centers in New York.
58 inspectors are currently in the field. To date 169,031 home inspections have been completed, making a 99.4 percent completion rate.
13 New York counties are designated for both Individual Assistance and Public Assistance. These are Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester. Greene County has been designated for Public Assistance only.
Public Assistance funds are also flowing; so far, more than $323 million has been obligated to the state to help replenish dollars spent to protect New Yorkers before, during and after the storm. The FEMA PA program reimburses state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations 75 percent of costs for

disaster-related expenses associated with emergency protective measures, debris removal, and the repair and restoration of damaged infrastructure. In order to qualify, damage must be a direct result of Hurricane Sandy.

STOCK PRICE MANIPULATION: A STORY OF EXECUTIVE INNOVATION

Photo:  NYSE.  Credit:  Wikimedia Commons. 
FROM: SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

SEC OBTAINS JUDGEMENTS AGAINST FORMER SPONGETECH EXECUTIVES MICHAEL E. METTER AND STEVEN Y. MOSKOWITZ

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that on December 18, 2012 and June 12, 2012, the Honorable Judge Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, entered Judgments against, respectively, Michael E. Metter ("Metter"), the former Chief Executive Office of Spongetech Delivery Systems, Inc. ("Spongetech"), and Steven Y. Moskowitz ("Moskowitz"), Spongetech’s former Chief Financial Officer. The judgments permanently enjoin Metter and Moskowitz from violating antifraud and securities registration provisions of the federal securities laws, as well as reporting, recordkeeping, and internal controls provisions. The Judgments also bar Metter and Moskowitz from serving as an officer or director of a public company, bar them from engaging in any offering of penny stock, and order them to pay penalties and disgorgement in amounts to be determined by the court, upon motion by the Commission. On September 20, 2012, the Commission instituted a settled administrative proceeding suspending Moskowitz from appearing or practicing before the Commission as an accountant.

The Commission’s complaint, filed on May 5, 2010, alleged that Metter, Moskowitz, Spongetech, and others engaged in a scheme to increase demand illegally for, and profit from, the unregistered sale of publicly-traded Spongetech stock by, among other things, "pumping" up demand for the stock through false public statements about non-existent customers, fictitious sales orders, and phony revenue. They also repeatedly and fraudulently understated the number of Spongetech’s outstanding shares in press releases and public filings. The purpose of flooding the market with false public information was to fraudulently inflate the price for Spongetech shares so the defendants and others could then "dump" the shares by illegally selling them to the public through affiliated entities in unregistered transactions. Among other things, the complaint further alleged that Spongetech, at the direction of Metter and Moskowitz, filed periodic reports with the Commission that contained materially false and misleading statements and materially overstated revenues, created materially false purchase orders, invoices, and other documents, and failed to ensure that Spongetech maintained accurate books and records or implemented effective internal controls. Metter and Moskowitz consented to the entry of the Judgments without admitting or denying the allegations of the Commission’s complaint.

The Commission previously obtained judgments against other defendants in this action. On November 10, 2011, the court entered a judgment by consent against Spongetech. The judgment imposed full injunctive relief and ordered Spongetech to pay penalties and disgorgement in amounts to be determined by the court, upon motion by the Commission.

On March 6, 2012, the court entered final judgments against RM Enterprises International, Inc. ("RM Enterprises"), a Spongetech affiliate, and George Speranza, a stock promoter. The final judgments imposed full injunctive relief against both, ordered Speranza to pay penalties, disgorgement, and prejudgment interest totaling $135,883.40, and barred Speranza from participating in any penny stock offering. The court deferred ruling on monetary remedies against RM Enterprises until the claims against other defendants are resolved.

Status of the Commission’s Spongetech Litigation

On March 14, 2011, the court issued an order granting the SEC’s motion for preliminary injunctions against six defendants, and granted the SEC’s requests for asset freezes against Metter, Moskowitz, and RM Enterprises. An asset freeze was not entered against Spongetech because the company filed for bankruptcy in July 2010, and has since been controlled by a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee. The asset freezes entered against Metter, Moskowitz, and RM, as subsequently modified by the court, remain in effect, as does the preliminary injunction entered against defendant Joel Pensley.

On March 27, 2012, the court granted the Commission’s motion to add BusinessTalkRadio.net, Inc. ("BTR") and Blue Star Media Group, Inc. ("Blue Star") as relief defendants. The amended complaint alleges that in 2009, RM Enterprises transferred illicit proceeds from the Spongetech fraud to satisfy a judgment that had been entered against Metter, these entities, and others.

The Commission’s action remains pending against BTR, Blue Star, and two of Spongetech’s former attorneys, Pensley and Jack Halperin, who are charged with violating the antifraud provisions by authoring false and misleading opinion letters to improperly remove the restrictions on trading shares of Spongetech stock.

On December 19, 2011, in a separate action, the court entered a Final Judgment permanently enjoining Myron Weiner from violating the securities registration provisions in connection with his purchase and sale of Spongetech’s stock, imposing a one-year penny stock bar, and ordered him to pay disgorgement and penalties totaling over $1.3 million. SEC v. Myron Weiner, Civil Action No. 11-CV-5731 (E.D.N.Y.). [See Litigation Release No. 22168 (Nov. 23, 2011), Litigation Release No. 22206 (Dec. 21, 2011)].

The Parallel Criminal Action

On May 5, 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (USAO-EDNY) arrested Metter and Moskowitz, who were indicted for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and obstruction of justice, securities fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and perjury. On October 14, 2010, the USAO-EDNY filed a superseding indictment against Speranza and four former Spongetech employees – Andrew Tepfer, Seymour Eisenberg, Thomas Cavanagh, and Frank Nicolois – on charges including securities fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering, structuring, and contempt.

All of the criminal defendants have entered guilty pleas, with the exception of Metter. Moskowitz pleaded guilty to securities fraud and is awaiting sentencing. Speranza pleaded guilty to perjury for giving false testimony during the SEC’s investigation, and was sentenced to five years of probation. Cavanagh and Nicolois pleaded guilty to structuring transactions to avoid federal currency transaction reporting requirements, and were sentenced to 24 months and 16 months in prison, respectively, followed by three years of supervised release. Eisenberg and Tepfer also have pleaded guilty to securities fraud and await sentencing.

The Commission’s investigation is continuing, and is being conducted by Uta von Eckartsberg, Charles Davis, Scott Stanley, and Alexander Koch. The SEC’s lead trial counsel in the pending civil action is Paul Kisslinger.

THE SEC AND THE GOLD MINE

FROM: U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed fraud charges against a California-based mining company and its CEO who induced hundreds of investors to pour $16 million into a fruitless gold mining venture.

The SEC alleges that Nekekim Corporation and Kenneth Carlton defrauded investors with representations that a special "complex ore" found at Nekekim's mine site in Nevada contained gold deposits worth at least $1.7 billion. Carlton highlighted test results produced by two small labs that used unconventional methods to test the ore for gold, but he withheld from investors other tests conducted by different firms that suggested the Nekekim mine site held little if any gold. The small labs' reliability also had been called into doubt by geologists and a government study. Yet as Nekekim failed to produce any mining revenue, Carlton gave shareholders false hope that the company was close to perfecting the custom method it supposedly needed to extract gold from its special ore.

Carlton agreed to settle the SEC's charges.

According to the SEC's complaint filed in federal court in Fresno, Calif., Nekekim succeeded in attracting investors from 2001 to 2011 in such U.S. states as California, Florida, and New Jersey as well as foreign countries including Canada, Australia, and Singapore. Carlton falsely represented to investors that a "physicist" who in reality had no scientific training helped develop a confidential gold extraction technique licensed by Nekekim. Carlton also promoted a series of other supposedly promising extraction methods in frequent reports to shareholders. In one newsletter, he touted: "A NEW GOLD RECOVERY PROCESS IS SUCCESSFUL." As each of these methods actually failed, Carlton's reports grossly overstated Nekekim's progress toward profitability while prompting shareholders to invest more money in the company.

Carlton, who lives in Clovis, Calif., agreed to a judgment requiring him to pay a $50,000 penalty and prohibiting him from selling securities for Nekekim or managing the company. He also will be prohibited from further violations of Sections 5(a), 5(c), and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. Nekekim, based in Madera, Calif., agreed to a judgment prohibiting the same violations and requiring disclosure of these sanctions in any offering of securities for the next three years. Carlton and Nekekim neither admitted nor denied the SEC's allegations.

This case was investigated by Thomas Eme and Tracy Davis of the SEC's San Francisco office.

EPA ISSUES DRAFT RISK ASSESMENTS FOR FIVE CHEMICALS FOUND IN COMMON HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

FROM: U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
EPA Releases First Set of Draft Risk Assessments Under Existing Chemicals Work Plan Effort

WASHINGTON – EPA today released for public comment draft risk assessments, for particular uses, on five chemicals found in common household products. The draft risk assessments were developed as part of the agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Work Plan, which identified common chemicals for review over the coming years to assess any impacts on people’s health and the environment. Following public comment, the agency will seek an independent, scientific peer review of the assessments before beginning to finalize them in the fall of 2013.

"The draft risk assessments released today for public review and comment highlight the agency’s ongoing commitment to ensure the safety of chemicals we encounter in our daily lives," said James J. Jones, acting assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "The public and scientific peer review will ensure use of the best science to evaluate any impacts of these substances on people’s health and the environment."

The five assessments address the following chemical uses: methylene chloride or dichloromethane (DCM) and n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in paint stripper products; trichloroethylene (TCE) as a degreaser and a spray-on protective coating; antimony trioxide (ATO) as a synergist in halogenated flame retardants; and 1,3,4,6,7,8-Hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8,-hexamethylcyclopenta-[γ]-2-benzopyran (HHCB) as a fragrance ingredient in commercial and consumer products. The draft assessments focus either on human health or ecological hazards for specific uses which are subject to regulation under TSCA. Three of the draft risk assessments— DCM, NMP, and TCE— indicate a potential concern for human health under specific exposure scenarios for particular uses. The preliminary assessments for ATO and HHCB indicate a low concern for ecological health.

EPA recommends the public follow product label directions and take precautions that can reduce exposures, such as using the product outside or in an extremely well ventilated area and wearing protective equipment to reduce exposure. If EPA concludes in finalizing the risk assessments that there is a potential for concern, the agency will take action as appropriate to address possible risks.

The draft assessments were undertaken as part of EPA’s efforts to identify chemicals for review under the TSCA Work Plan, which EPA released in March 2012. At that time, EPA identified 83 chemicals as candidates for review over the coming years and outlined the data sources and other information the agency would use in the reviews. This initiative is part of EPA’s comprehensive approach to enhance the current chemicals management program within the limits of existing TSCA authorities. EPA continues to support updating TSCA to strengthen and modernize the law.

Additional information on the TSCA Work Plan effort and the specific draft risk assessments can be found at:
http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/workplans.html

U.S. HHS SECRETARY SEBELIUS SAYS STATES ON TRACK TO IMPLEMENT THE HEALTH CARE LAW

Kathleen Sebelius 
FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

States move forward to implement health care law, build health insurance marketplaces

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that more states are on track to implement the health care law and establish health insurance marketplaces, or Exchanges, in their states. California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont and Utah are conditionally approved today to operate a State-based Exchange, and Arkansas is conditionally approved to operate a State Partnership Exchange. HHS is also providing more guidance to states today on marketplaces that will be operated in partnership with the federal government.

"States across the country are working to implement the health care law and build a marketplace that works for their residents," said Secretary Sebelius. "In ten months, consumers in all fifty states will have access to a new marketplace where they will be able to easily purchase affordable, high quality health insurance plans, and today’s guidance will provide the information states need to guide their continued work."

Today’s conditional approvals follow those issued previously granted to Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington to operate State-based Exchanges and to Delaware to operate a State Partnership Exchange. To date, 20 states including DC have been conditionally approved to partially or fully run their marketplaces – with the remaining states having until February 15, 2013 to apply for a State Partnership Exchange.

Today’s new Partnership guidance provides valuable information for states considering this option.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, consumers and small businesses will have access to a new marketplace starting in 2014 where they can access quality, affordable private health insurance. These are similar to those choices that will be offered to members of Congress.

Consumers in every state will be able to buy insurance from qualified health plans directly through these marketplaces and may be eligible for tax credits to help pay for their health insurance.

To learn more about Exchange conditional approvals, visit:
http://www.cciio.cms.gov/resources/factsheets/state-marketplaces.html

LIFE EXTENSION PROGRAMS FOR U.S. NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Test Launch Of Minuteman III ICBM.  Credit:  U.S. DOD. 

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Life Extension Programs
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
January 3, 2013

Key Point:
The end of nuclear explosive testing has resulted in the development and application of advanced processes for extending the service life of the warheads in the United States’ nuclear weapons stockpile. Extending the life of existing warheads helps to eliminate the need to build and test new weapons.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy that has "cradle to grave" responsibility for the nuclear weapons stockpile, performs alterations and modifications to the stockpile in order to sustain the warheads that underpin the U.S. nuclear deterrent. It also conducts routine nuclear weapon maintenance operations. Over the last decade, the NNSA, through the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), accomplished changes to the stockpile through
Life Extension Programs (LEPs), with the goal of extending the service life of the current weapons in the stockpile. The NNSA will continue to conduct LEPs as outlined in the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, in order to maintain the existing stockpile. LEPs will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities. The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads.

Prior to 1993, it was a routine practice for changes to warheads to be evaluated with underground nuclear explosive tests, in order to verify the relative effectiveness of these changes. Over the last two decades, the NNSA has completed several changes to nuclear warheads without performing underground nuclear explosive testing, due to improvements in computer simulation capabilities. Examples of NNSA’s success in maintaining the stockpile without nuclear explosive testing include the LEPs for the W87 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) warhead and B61‑7/11 strategic bomb, and the current W76-1 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) warhead LEP.

The continued success of future changes to the stockpile (i.e., B61-12 strategic bomb and W78‑1 ICBM warhead) relies on continued support for the SSP. SSP tools and investments in the future form the basis for our ability to maintain a safe, secure and effective U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing.

Friday, January 4, 2013

RUSSIAN VOLCANO VIEWED FROM SPACE


FROM: NASA

Erupting Fissure at Tolbachik

After more than a month of eruption, lava continues to flow from Tolbachik, one of many active volcanoes on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. The current eruption at Tolbachik began on Nov. 27, 2012. Lava flowed up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) from a line of fissures on the volcano’s southern flank. Since then, some of the lava has cooled enough to allow snow to accumulate. Snow-covered lava flows appear gray in this natural-color satellite image. Fresher lava appears black. A faint orange glow at the head of the northern flow marks the location of an erupting fissure.

The image was collected on Dec. 22, 2012, by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) Satellite. According to the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) the eruption continued through Dec. 30, 2012. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Running less risk

Running less risk

AGENCY SHARED GOALS ON NAVAJO GENERATING STATION IN ARIZONA

FROM: U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Interior, Energy, EPA Commit to Cooperative Working Group to Achieve Shared Goals on Navajo Generating Station in Arizona

WASHINGTON
- Today the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency released a joint statement that lays out the agencies’ shared goals for Navajo Generating Station (NGS) and energy production in the region served by NGS.

In the statement, the three agencies agree they will work together to support Arizona and tribal stakeholders in finding ways to produce "clean, affordable and reliable power, affordable and sustainable water supplies, and sustainable economic development, while minimizing negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations."

In addition to identifying shared goals, the statement announces specific activities the agencies intend to take jointly to help achieve those goals. These actions include: 1) creating a long-term DOI-EPA-DOE NGS working group; 2) working with stakeholders to develop an NGS roadmap; 3) committing to complete the second phase of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s report on clean, affordable, and sustainable energy options for NGS; and 4) supporting near-term investments that align with long-term clean energy goals.

NGS is a coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian reservation approximately 15 miles from the Grand Canyon and owned partially by the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). Power from the facility is distributed to customers in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Reclamation’s share of the power is used to move water to tribal, agricultural, and municipal water users in central Arizona.

The Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency oversee other federal responsibilities or interests that relate to NGS. These include tribal trust responsibilities, protection of national parks and wilderness areas, visibility and public health protection, and clean energy development.

U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing - January 4, 2013

Daily Press Briefing - January 4, 2013

TRANSOCEAN TO PAY $1.4 BILLION FOR CONDUCT IN DEEPWATER HORIZON DISASTER


FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Thursday, January 3, 2013

Transocean Agrees to Plead Guilty to Environmental Crime and Enter Civil Settlement to Resolve U.S. Clean Water Act Penalty Claims from Deepwater Horizon Incident

Transocean to Pay Record $1 Billion in Civil Penalties and $400 Million in Criminal Fines


WASHINGTON – Transocean Deepwater Inc. has agreed to plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) and to pay a total of $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties, for its conduct in relation to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Department of Justice announced today. The criminal information and a proposed partial civil consent decree to resolve the U.S. government’s civil penalty claims against Transocean Deepwater Inc. and related entities were filed today in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Transocean Deepwater Inc. has signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the government, also filed today, admitting its criminal conduct. As part of the plea agreement, Transocean Deepwater Inc. has agreed, subject to the court’s approval, to pay $400 million in criminal fines and penalties and to continue its on-going cooperation in the government’s criminal investigation. In addition, pursuant to the terms of a proposed partial civil consent decree also lodged with the court today, Transocean Ocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., Transocean Deepwater Inc. and Triton Asset Leasing GMBH have agreed to pay an additional $1 billion to resolve federal Clean Water Act civil penalty claims for the massive, three-month-long oil spill at the Macondo Well and the Transocean drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. Under the civil settlement, the Transocean defendants also must implement court-enforceable measures to improve the operational safety and emergency response capabilities at all their drilling rigs working in waters of the United States.

"This resolution of criminal allegations and civil claims against Transocean brings us one significant step closer to justice for the human, environmental and economic devastation wrought by the Deepwater Horizon disaster," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "This agreement holds Transocean criminally accountable for its conduct and provides nearly a billion dollars in criminal and civil penalties for the benefit of the Gulf states. I am particularly grateful today to the many Justice Department personnel and federal investigative agency partners for the hard work that led to today’s resolution and their continuing pursuit of justice for the people of the Gulf."

"Today’s announced settlement will aid the Gulf region’s recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and require Transocean to take important steps that will help guard against such incidents happening in the future," said Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West. "This resolution is the culmination of the tremendous efforts of many attorneys and staff in the Justice Department’s Criminal, Civil and Environment and Natural Resources Divisions – dedicated public servants whose hard work continues on behalf of the American people."

"Transocean’s rig crew accepted the direction of BP well site leaders to proceed in the face of clear danger signs — at a tragic cost to many of them," said Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. "Transocean’s agreement to plead guilty to a federal crime, and to pay a total of $1.4 billion in criminal and civil penalties, appropriately reflects its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster."

"The development and exploration of a domestic source of energy is vitally important, and it can and must be done in a responsible and sound manner. This unprecedented settlement under the Clean Water Act demonstrates that companies will be held fully accountable for their conduct and share responsibility for compliance with the laws that protect the public and the environment from harm," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This settlement will provide immediate relief and benefits to the people of the five Gulf states, and requires Transocean to implement significant safety measures, as well as stringent auditing and monitoring to reduce the risk of any future disasters."

"Today’s settlement and plea agreement is an important step toward holding Transocean and those responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster accountable," said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "EPA will continue to work with DOJ and its federal partners to vigorously pursue the government’s claims against all responsible parties and ensure that we are taking every possible step to restore and protect the Gulf Coast ecosystem."

According to court documents, on April 20, 2010, while stationed at the Macondo well site in the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon rig experienced an uncontrolled blowout and related explosions and fire, which resulted in the deaths of 11 rig workers and the largest oil spill in U.S. history. In agreeing to plead guilty, Transocean Deepwater Inc. has admitted that members of its crew onboard the Deepwater Horizon, acting at the direction of BP’s "Well Site Leaders" or "company men," were negligent in failing fully to investigate clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well.

The criminal resolution is structured to directly benefit the Gulf region. Under the order presented to the court, $150 million of the $400 million criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving – in consultation with appropriate state and other resource managers – the marine and coastal environments, ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico and bordering states harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This portion of the criminal recovery will also be directed to significant barrier island restoration and/or river diversion off the coast of Louisiana to further benefit and improve coastal wetlands affected by the oil spill. An additional $150 million will be used to fund improved oil spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf through research, development, education and training.

The civil settlement secures $1 billion in civil penalties for violations of the CWA, a record amount that significantly exceeds last year’s $70 million civil penalty paid by MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC, a 10 percent partner with BP in the Macondo well venture. The unprecedented $1 billion civil penalty is subject to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (Restore Act), which provides that 80 percent of the penalty will be to be used to fund projects in and for the Gulf states for the environmental and economic benefit of the region. This civil resolution reserves claims for natural resource damages and clean-up costs.

Under the civil settlement, the Transocean defendants must also observe various court-enforceable strictures in its drilling operations, aimed at reducing the chances of another blowout and discharge of oil and at improving emergency response capabilities. Examples of these requirements include certifications of maintenance and repair of blowout preventers before each new drilling job, consideration of process safety risks, and personnel training related to oil spills and responses to other emergencies. These measures apply to all rigs operated or owned by the Transocean defendants in all U.S. waters and will be in place for at least five years.

The guilty plea agreement and criminal charge announced today are part of the ongoing criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force into matters related to the April 2010 Gulf oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon Task Force, based in New Orleans, is supervised by Assistant Attorney General Breuer and led by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John D. Buretta, who serves as the director of the task force. The task force includes prosecutors from the Criminal Division and the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, as well as other U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; and investigating agents from the FBI, EPA, Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

The civil resolution announced today is part of the ongoing litigation against defendants BP Exploration and Production Inc., the Transocean defendants, and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (among others) for civil penalties, injunctive relief, and a declaration of unlimited liability for removal costs and damages under the Oil Pollution Act. The civil enforcement effort is supervised by Assistant Attorney General Moreno for the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Hauck of the Civil Division. Numerous federal agencies have contributed immeasurably to these enforcement and settlement efforts, including the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.

The criminal case against Transocean is being prosecuted by Deepwater Horizon Task Force Deputy Directors Derek A. Cohen and Avi Gesser, and task force prosecutors Richard R. Pickens II, Scott M. Cullen, Colin Black and Rohan Virginkar. Numerous Environment Division and Civil Division lawyers are pursuing the civil enforcement action, led by Steve O’Rourke and R. Michael Underhill.

An information is merely a charge and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

THE FISCAL CLIFF AND HOW IT AFFECTS PAYCHECKS

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Fiscal Cliff Legislation Affects Military, Civilian Paychecks
American Forces Press Service


WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2013 - The legislation that President Barack Obama signed Jan. 2 that postponed the fiscal cliff means changes to military and civilian paychecks, Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials said today.

The legislation increases Social Security withholding taxes to 6.2 percent. For the past two years during the "tax holiday" the rate was 4.2 percent.

The increase in Social Security withholding taxes affects both military and civilian paychecks, officials said.

For civilian employees, officials said, this will mean a 2 percent reduction in net pay.

For military personnel, changes to net pay are affected by a variety of additional factors such as increases in basic allowances for housing, subsistence, longevity basic pay raises and promotions. Service members could see an increase in net pay, no change or a decrease, military personnel and readiness officials said.

For military members, Social Security withholding is located on their leave and earnings statement in the blocks marked "FICA taxes" -- for Federal Insurance Contributions Act.

DOD civilians will see the change on their leave and earnings statement under "OASDI" -- for old age, survivors, and disability insurance.

Reserve component members will be the first to see potential changes in their net pay as a result of the law, DFAS officials said. Changes will be reflected in their January paychecks.

Active duty military personnel will see pay adjustments in their January mid-month paycheck and will be reflected on the January leave and earnings statement.

DOD civilians will see social security withholding changes reflected in paychecks based on the pay period ending December 29, 2012, for pay dates beginning in January.

DFAS stresses that all personnel should review pay statements carefully.

BURMA INDEPENDENCE DAY

The ancient city of Bagan is located in Mandalay Division and is home to over 2,000 pagodas and temples. The majority of the buildings were built during the 11th to 13th centuries when Bagan was the capital of the Burmese Empire. Credit: CIA World Factbook.
 
FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Burma Independence Day
Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State Washington, DC
January 3, 2013

 

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of your country as you celebrate your Independence Day on January 4. Together, our two countries have been working on a number of important issues, and we are pleased with the steady process of reform. 2012 saw a number of historic steps forward in the development of our bilateral relationship, including the reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations, and President Obama and I both enjoyed our visit in November of last year. We look forward to continuing to deepen our partnership and cooperation in the years to come. In the spirit of our long lasting friendship, I wish your country continued prosperity and a joyful Independence Day celebration.


Map:  Burma.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM CIA WORLD FACTBOOK

Various ethnic Burmese and ethnic minority city-states or kingdoms occupied the present borders through the 19th century. Over a period of 62 years (1824-1886), Britain conquered Burma and incorporated the country into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; in 1948, Burma attained independence from the Commonwealth. Gen. NE WIN dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. In September 1988, the military deposed NE WIN and established a new ruling junta. Multiparty legislative elections in 1990 resulted in the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory. Instead of handing over power, the junta placed NLD leader (and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) AUNG SAN SUU KYI (ASSK) under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, 2000 to 2002, and from May 2003 to November 2010. In late September 2007, the ruling junta brutally suppressed protests over increased fuel prices led by prodemocracy activists and Buddhist monks, killing at least 13 people and arresting thousands for participating in the demonstrations. In early May 2008, Burma was struck by Cyclone Nargis, which left over 138,000 dead and tens of thousands injured and homeless. Despite this tragedy, the junta proceeded with its May constitutional referendum, the first vote in Burma since 1990. Parliamentary elections held in November 2010, considered flawed by many in the international community, saw the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party garnering over 75% of the seats. Parliament convened in January 2011 and selected former Prime Minister THEIN SEIN as president. Although the vast majority of national-level appointees named by THEIN SEIN are former or current military officers, the government has initiated a series of political and economic reforms leading to a substantial opening of the long-isolated country. These reforms have included a senior-level dialogue with ASSK, re-registering the NLD as a political party, enabling party members, including ASSK, to contest parliamentary by-elections on 1 April 2012, the release of many (but not all) political prisoners, preliminary peace agreements with some armed ethnic groups, a reduction in media censorship, and an increasingly open debate in the Parliament.

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services: A Year in Review

A Year in Review

JOINT STATEMENT ON MEETINGS BETWEEN PRESIDENTS OF SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN

Sudan
South Sudan
FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

Joint Statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague



Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 3, 2013


Following is the text of a joint statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Begin Text:

We welcome the news that the Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan are to meet in Addis Ababa on 4 January in a further effort to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries.

We applaud the progress made at their Presidential Summit held in Addis Ababa at the end of September 2012, which demonstrated that a durable and equitable settlement is within reach.

We commend the continuing valuable role of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel led by former President Thabo Mbeki and the efforts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

We regret that progress in implementing the Agreements signed on 27 September has stalled and in particular that the agreed security arrangements at the border are not yet in place. We call on the two leaders now to address concretely all outstanding issues and ensure that the armed forces of the two countries immediately withdraw from the demilitarized zone and deploy the Joint Border and Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), in line with what has been agreed.

We stress the importance of making progress in parallel on other parts of the relationship between the two countries. Full implementation of all agreements on their own terms and without preconditions or linkages between them, will help build confidence and benefit the people of the two countries. The restart of oil production and export will be particularly valuable for both economies and should not be held up by negotiation on other issues.

We underline our support for the approach taken by the African Union to the question of Abyei. The proposal made by former President Mbeki is based on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including the Abyei Protocol. The proposal, adopted by AUPSC on October 24, sets out a clear path towards determining Abyei’s final status in accordance with agreements already signed by both parties, while protecting the rights of all communities and ensuring Abyei can become a model for cross-border cooperation and coexistence. We note in particular that the proposal provides for Abyei’s continuing special status as a bridge between the two countries with guaranteed political and economic rights for both the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya, whatever the outcome of the referendum. We urge the two countries to meet to elaborate on these rights and to move toward agreement on Abyei’s final status.

We remind the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan that the international community is fully committed to a vision of two viable countries at peace with one another, and that we stand ready to support them in realizing that vision. We strongly urge them to seize the opportunity of the Summit meeting on 4 January to demonstrate their commitment to implement what they have agreed and make peaceful coexistence a reality.

Map Credits:  CIA World Factbook.


JOURNEY FROM CAMBODIA

Army Capt. Thoeuth Duong, a California National Guardsman serving with the 49th Military Police Brigade in Fairfield, Calif., escaped war-torn Cambodia and is now living the American dream. Courtesy photo

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Face of Defense: Army Captain Recalls Journey from Cambodia

By Army 1st Lt. Will Martin
49th Military Police Brigade

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 31, 2012 - Army Capt. Thoeuth Duong's life story is a study in contrasts. Parts tragedy and providence, it is torn from the annals of history and speaks to the authenticity of the American dream.

For Duong, now serving with the California Army National Guard's 49th Military Police Brigade, that dream has become reality -- but before the dream, there was the nightmare that was his Cambodian childhood.

Born into stark, agrarian poverty in 1969, Duong could have just as easily grown old as a farmer in rural Cambodia, but destiny had different plans for him. Chaos in his homeland, where Pol Pot energized a revolution that bloodied Cambodia, thrust darkness into Duong's childhood.

"I remember I had to work on a boat downloading food, and we had to harvest the leftover rice in the fields," Duong said of his forced labor at the hands of the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries, who seized his country in 1975 before carrying out a three-year genocide that claimed an estimated 1.7 million lives.

Just 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge claimed power, Duong's father was murdered and three of his brothers were forcibly relocated to communist-run factories. Only Duong, his 7-year-old brother and his mother -- now a widow -- remained at home. Soon, his mother was forced to spend her waking hours at a nearby labor camp, allowing her neither the energy nor income to care for her starving sons.

"For a whole year, it was just me and my brother. We did everything; we took care of ourselves," Duong said. "Once in a while my mom stole some stuff for us, fruit or whatever, but I got sick all the time. She didn't think there was any chance I was going to make it. I had a bloated stomach -- I looked like I was going to die."

Duong's first rays of hope came from an unlikely source: the North Vietnamese. Though brutal in their own right, the invading Vietnamese deposed Pol Pot in 1979 and brought order to the chaos that had saturated Duong's life.

"I remember when the Vietnamese came, they dropped propaganda leaflets. And after the leaflets, they dropped bombs," said Duong, who recalled hiding and watching tracer bullets fly overhead in the darkness of night. "But they kicked out Pol Pot and allowed us to move around wherever."

Reunited with all her children, Duong's mother saw a window of opportunity in their newfound freedom of movement. His mother quickly gathered her children, Duong said, and for two weeks traversed westbound on foot -- in slippers -- in an effort to reach neighboring Thailand.

At the border, the Duong family narrowly escaped pirates and Vietnamese troops before reaching a United Nations rescue station. From there they were bused into Thailand and found a temporary home in a U.N. refugee camp. For the first time in his memory, the 10-year-old Duong experienced something resembling a normal childhood.

"It was the first time going to school and brushing my teeth," Duong said. "I was excited about being in a stable environment and getting to go to school. There was stuff there I had never seen before -- gum, candy, painting -- I learned a little English."

The English soon proved useful. Duong's family lived as refugees in the camp for three years, until 1983, when an educated Cambodian who had fled to America to escape Pol Pot's wave of terror brought the Duongs to Long Beach, Calif. Embarking on a new life in an unknown land, Duong was struck by the strangeness of it all.

"I started school in the last half of the 7th grade, didn't speak hardly any English, in the middle of big city," Duong said. "People thought I was in 3rd or 4th grade because I was so small and skinny [because of malnutrition]. The craziest part was to see all those buildings. It was very interesting."

With the help of a Cambodian classmate who pointed him from class to class, Duong soon picked up the language and excelled in his classes. His surroundings, however, were marked by violence and despair, encouraging Duong to seek out a way to further improve his station in life.

"In high school, the environment was really, really bad. Many of my friends joined gangs and used drugs. In the late '80s, crack was big, and people I knew were getting shot," Duong said. "After graduating [from high school], I had nowhere to go, no destination, so I joined the Army. Nobody wanted me to do it, but I had to do what was best for me."

Duong's decision to enlist in the Army was "the best decision I could have made," he said. Multiple combat deployments, a two-decades-long marriage, a college degree and an officer's commission through the California National Guard stand out as highlights of a life rooted in military service.

"When I came back to Long Beach after Desert Storm, I found out three of my best friends had been shot and killed [in California]," Duong said, reflecting on how easily he could have shared their fate.

"The Army saved me," he said.

Duong will soon retire from the Army after 22 years of service. He plans to spend more time with his family and put more energy behind his civilian career as a probation officer. But in reflecting on his nightmarish childhood, when death and poverty were the norm, his gratitude is obvious.

"I came out from a war zone," Duong said, "and then to have a commission in the best army in the world, a college degree, married with kids, a house, a good civilian job ... Yeah, I'm living the American dream."

PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNS $633 BILLION DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT

Photo Credit:  U.S. Navy.

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Obama Signs $633 Billion Defense Authorization Act

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2013 - President Barack Obama signed the $633 billion fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act into law yesterday.

The legislation, which cleared Congress last month, authorizes the department to act in any number of instances. "There are certain things that cannot be done without [the authorization act]," said a senior defense official speaking on background.

The act allows the department to institute pay raises, bonuses and incentive pay for personnel. "All military construction has to be authorized under this act," the official said.

It includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel, and contains $527.5 billion for DOD's base budget, $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations and $17.8 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

It also extends the Commanders' Emergency Response Program that has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq. It authorizes a one-year extension of the Afghan Infrastructure Fund and extends the Coalition Support Fund and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund. In Iraq, the law authorizes U.S. training activities, the official said.

The law also authorizes changes needed to deter sexual assault in the military.

In addition, it establishes the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission which will examine all aspects of military compensation. Officials stress that any possible changes to military retirement benefits that the group recommends will not affect current service members.

Air Force structure was of some concern to the department going into the process, but officials say they were pleased with the outcome. The Air Force also received 32 more C-130 aircraft than requested.

"But the Air Force is allowed to do everything else. They are allowed to do their divestures and moves," the official said. "The only thing kept out of service's force structure plan was we had to keep the Global Hawk Block 30 [unmanned aircraft]."

The act raises the co-pay for medications under TRICARE through 2022. The legislation also limits any annual increases in pharmacy co-payments to increases in retiree cost of living adjustments.

"It is a little bit toward what we need to start paying for how much health care is costing," the official said.

The authorization also provides DOD funds for servicewomen who need abortions in case of rape or incest. "So they don't have to take leave and come home or go out on the economy," the official said. "This is the first time this has been approved."

Among other programs, the act authorizes the defense biofuel initiative as well as counternarcotic authorities. "We use this a little bit in Afghanistan, but it's mostly in the southern border and Colombia," she said. "It has to get done."

Passage of the legislation is particularly important this year because the department is operating on a continuing resolution through March which may be continued again through the rest of the fiscal year. The resolution maintains funding at 2012 budget levels. Without this authority, "Things really do shut down," the official said.

"It actually is things that keep the war going and things that ... keep the economy going because it is pay, recruiting, military construction," the official said.

NASA LOOKS AT SNOW-COVERED DESERT



FROM: NASA
Snow-Covered Desert


Snow-covered deserts are rare, but that’s exactly what the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite observed as it passed over the Taklimakan Desert in western China on Jan. 2, 2013. Snow has covered much of the desert since a storm blew through the area on Dec. 26. The day after the storm, Chinese Central Television (CNTV) reported that the Xinjian Uygyr autonomous region was one of the areas hardest hit.

The Taklimakan is one of the world’s largest—and hottest—sandy deserts. Water flowing into the Tarim Basin has no outlet, so over the years, sediments have steadily accumulated. In parts of the desert, sand can pile up to 300 meters (roughly 1,000 feet) high. The mountains that enclose the sea of sand—the Tien Shan in the north and the Kunlun Shan in the south—were also covered with what appeared to be a significantly thicker layer of snow in January 2013.

Image Credit-NASA-Aqua

West Wing Week: 01/04/13 or "Welcome to 2013: The Annual Resolutions Edition!" | The White House

West Wing Week: 01/04/13 or "Welcome to 2013: The Annual Resolutions Edition!" | The White House

White House White Board - American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 | The White House

White House White Board - American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 | The White House

Thursday, January 3, 2013

CURRENT STATUS OF THE MARS ROVER MISSION


The NASA Mars rover Curiosity used its left Navigation Camera to record this view of the step down into a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay." Image credit: NASA-JPL-Caltech

FROM: NASA

Mission status report

PASADENA, Calif. -- The NASA Mars rover Curiosity this week is driving within a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay," providing information to help researchers choose a rock to drill.

Using Curiosity's percussive drill to collect a sample from the interior of a rock, a feat never before attempted on Mars, is the mission's priority for early 2013. After the powdered-rock sample is sieved and portioned by a sample-processing mechanism on the rover's arm, it will be analyzed by instruments inside Curiosity.

Yellowknife Bay is within a different type of terrain from what the rover has traversed since landing inside Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 5, PDT (Aug. 6, UTC). The terrain Curiosity has entered is one of three types that intersect at a location dubbed "Glenelg," chosen as an interim destination about two weeks after the landing.

Curiosity reached the lip of a 2-foot (half-meter) descent into Yellowknife Bay with a 46-foot (14-meter) drive on Dec. 11. The next day, a drive of about 86 feet (26.1 meters) brought the rover well inside the basin. The team has been employing the Mast Camera (Mastcam) and the laser-wielding Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) for remote-sensing studies of rocks along the way.

On Dec. 14, Curiosity drove about 108 feet (32.8 meters) to reach rock targets of interest called "Costello" and "Flaherty." Researchers used the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover's arm to examine the targets. After finishing those studies, the rover drove again on Dec. 17, traveling about 18 feet (5.6 meters) farther into Yellowknife Bay. That brings the mission's total driving distance to 0.42 mile (677 meters) since Curiosity's landing.

One additional drive is planned this week before the rover team gets a holiday break. Curiosity will continue studying the Martian environment from its holiday location at the end point of that drive within Yellowknife Bay. The mission's plans for most of 2013 center on driving toward the primary science destination, a 3-mile-high (5-kilometer) layered mound called Mount Sharp.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity during a two-year prime mission to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.