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Saturday, January 26, 2013


Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of a giant cosmic magnifying glass to create one of the sharpest and most detailed maps of dark matter in the universe. Dark matter is an invisible and unknown substance that makes up the bulk of the universe's mass. Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe (NASA JPL/Caltech and STScI)
NASA Joins ESA's 'Dark Universe' Mission

WASHINGTON -- NASA has joined the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Euclid mission, a space telescope designed to investigate the cosmological mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Euclid will launch in 2020 and spend six years mapping the locations and measuring the shapes of as many as 2 billion galaxies spread over more than one-third of the sky. It will study the evolution of our universe, and the dark matter and dark energy that influence its evolution in ways that still are poorly understood.

The telescope will launch to an orbit around the sun-Earth Lagrange point L2. The Lagrange point is a location where the gravitational pull of two large masses, the sun and Earth in this case, precisely equals the force required for a small object, such as the Euclid spacecraft, to maintain a relatively stationary position behind Earth as seen from the sun.

"NASA is very proud to contribute to ESA's mission to understand one of the greatest science mysteries of our time," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

NASA and ESA recently signed an agreement outlining NASA's role in the project. NASA will contribute 16 state-of-the-art infrared detectors and four spare detectors for one of two science instruments planned for Euclid.

"ESA’s Euclid mission is designed to probe one of the most fundamental questions in modern cosmology, and we welcome NASA’s contribution to this important endeavor, the most recent in a long history of cooperation in space science between our two agencies," said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

In addition, NASA has nominated three U.S. science teams totaling 40 new members for the Euclid Consortium. This is in addition to 14 U.S. scientists already supporting the mission. The Euclid Consortium is an international body of 1,000 members who will oversee development of the instruments, manage science operations, and analyze data.

Euclid will map the dark matter in the universe. Matter as we know it -- the atoms that make up the human body, for example -- is a fraction of the total matter in the universe. The rest, about 85 percent, is dark matter consisting of particles of an unknown type. Dark matter first was postulated in 1932, but still has not been detected directly. It is called dark matter because it does not interact with light. Dark matter interacts with ordinary matter through gravity and binds galaxies together like an invisible glue.

While dark matter pulls matter together, dark energy pushes the universe apart at ever-increasing speeds. In terms of the total mass-energy content of the universe, dark energy dominates. Even less is known about dark energy than dark matter.

Euclid will use two techniques to study the dark universe, both involving precise measurements of galaxies billions of light-years away. The observations will yield the best measurements yet of how the acceleration of the universe has changed over time, providing new clues about the evolution and fate of the cosmos.

Euclid is an ESA mission with science instruments provided by a consortia of European institutes and with important participation from NASA. NASA's Euclid Project Office is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. JPL will contribute the infrared flight detectors for the Euclid science instrument. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will test the infrared flight detectors prior to delivery. Three U.S. science teams will contribute to science planning and data analysis.


EPA Releases New Report on Children's Health and the Environment in America

– EPA today released "America’s Children and the Environment, Third Edition," a comprehensive compilation of information from a variety of sources on children’s health and the environment. The report shows trends for contaminants in air, water, food, and soil that may affect children; concentrations of contaminants in the bodies of children and women of child-bearing age; and childhood illnesses and health conditions. The report incorporates revisions to address peer review and public comments on draft materials released in 2011.

"This latest report provides important information for protecting America’s most vulnerable – our children. It shows good progress on some issues, such as reducing children’s blood lead levels and exposure to tobacco smoke in the home, and points to the need for continued focus on other issues", said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Although we are encouraged by these findings, there is still much work to be done. By monitoring trends, identifying successes, and shedding light on areas that need further evaluation, we can continue to improve the health of our children and all Americans."

Among the contaminants clearly linked to health conditions in children, key findings include:
The median concentration of lead in the blood of children between the ages of 1 and 5 years was 92 percent lower in 2009-2010 compared to 1976-1980 levels. Although the majority of the decline occurred in the 1980s, consistent decreases have continued since 1999.
The median level of cotinine (a marker of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke) measured in blood of nonsmoking children ages 3 to 17 years was 88 percent lower in 2009-2010 than it was in 1988–1991. In 2010, 6 percent of children ages 0 to 6 years lived in homes where someone smoked regularly, compared with 27 percent in 1994.
The percentage of children living in counties where pollutant concentrations were above the levels of one or more national air quality standards declined from 75 percent to 59 percent from 1999 to 2009.

The level of knowledge regarding the relationship between environmental exposures and health outcomes varies widely among the topics presented in this report, and the inclusion of an indicator in the report does not necessarily imply a known relationship between environmental exposure and children’s health effects. The report provides data for selected children’s health conditions that warrant further research because the causes, including possible contributing environmental factors, are complex and not well understood at this point.

In the case of asthma, researchers do not fully understand why children develop the condition. However, substantial evidence shows exposure to certain air pollutants, including particulate matter and ozone, can trigger symptoms in children who already have asthma. Although the report found the percentage of children reported to currently have asthma increased from 8.7 percent in 2001 to 9.4 percent in 2010 and that minority populations are particularly affected by asthma, the severity of children’s asthma and respiratory symptoms has declined. The rate of emergency room visits for asthma decreased from 114 visits per 10,000 children in 1996 to 103 visits per 10,000 children in 2008. Between 1996 and 2008, hospitalizations for asthma and for all other respiratory causes decreased from 90 hospitalizations per 10,000 children to 56 hospitalizations per 10,000 children.

The report also looks at trends in other health conditions, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and preterm births, for which rates have increased. There is no conclusive information on the role of environmental contaminants in ADHD or preterm births, and additional research is ongoing.

The national indicators presented in this comprehensive report are important for informing future research related to children’s health. Children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults because children’s bodies are still developing. Children eat more, drink more, and breathe more in proportion to their body size; and their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and organisms.

This report includes 37 indicators of children’s environmental health to address 23 important topics. The expanded content reflects the latest research on children’s health issues and the availability of data for more topics. Each indicator and its supporting text were peer reviewed by independent external experts and made available for review and comment by the public.


Beginnings and Endings: My Journey of Public Service
by Secretary Hilda Solis on January 22, 2013

It has been an honor to be your secretary of labor. Today, as I prepared to say farewell, I decided that I wanted to share my experience through journeys, and through beginnings and endings, because that reflects what’s in my mind, and more importantly, what is in my heart at this present moment.

Thirty-two years ago—after only a year in Washington—I left my job in President Carter’s administration. Wanting to say something meaningful about what I learned as that job was ending, I wrote a letter to incoming President Reagan that appeared in the Hispanic Link News Service. I had forgotten all about it until a recent reprint by Hispanic Link.

In the letter, I told President Reagan about what I did in the White House, and why I thought it was important. I also told him a little about myself, including the story of how I got that job.

While I was in graduate school, I filled out dozens of applications for internship positions at every level of government. Almost as a lark, I also sent a letter to the White House. A staffer for President Carter read my résumé and called my parents’ home in La Puente, California. I was outside in our vegetable garden when my father hollered out to me: "Phone call for you. Someone who claims he’s from the Casa Blanca."

I ran so fast that I knocked over a table lamp and shattered it. My mother, whom I love dearly, can attest to the truth of that story, and to this day, she still tells my husband how much she liked that lamp.

I’m sharing this story not just because it is about my coming to Washington for the first time—and leaving Washington for the first time—but, rather, it reflects my continuous, lifelong passion, and obvious excitement, for public service.

It’s the same passion that I share with my colleagues at the Labor Department. We don’t do what we do for the money, or the glory; we do it because public service is the very best way to make your own, unique contribution to the world. Leaders may change, circumstances may change, but our service must be constant. It forms an unbreakable bond between ourselves and our communities, our country and the people we care about.

We are all on a journey of service. Yesterday, in an outstanding inaugural speech that mentioned Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, the president gave us a map for that journey of service. He said it is our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began and to make the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

We know that there will be challenges on this journey—there always are. But there is also a true path. And we’ve been on that path for the past four years at the U.S. Department of Labor.

During that time, we have done more for more of our nation’s working families.
We have funded more job training programs that have enhanced the skills of more than 1.7 million people.
We have conducted more wage and hour investigations and collected more back wages for more than 300,000 people.
We modernized Unemployment Insurance benefits so that it could provide a lifeline to more people.
And—quite simply—and I say this with pride, satisfaction and immense gratitude: we have saved more workers’ lives.

Our record of achievement has been remarkable. But there is still so much more we have to do. And I’m counting on the colleagues I leave behind to do it. And to do more.

It is incredibly hard for me to say goodbye. I struggled with this decision for a long time, but I am guided by the words of a poem I studied in La Puente High School called "Four Quartets" by T.S. Elliot, and here’s my favorite line:

"To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

Today is really a beginning for me.


Map:  Australia.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

Australia's National Day
Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 23, 2013

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the Australian people as you celebrate Australia Day this January 26.

During my recent visit to Australia I was reminded of the strong bonds that unite our two countries. We are cooperating on more issues than ever before, from strengthening security to space exploration, from expanding educational exchanges to increasing trade and commerce. We are also working tirelessly to advance the causes of freedom, democracy and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and across the globe. All of this is reinforced by the ties of family, friends, values and principles.

As you celebrate your national day with loved ones, know that the United States stands with you as a committed partner and friend. I wish all Australians a safe and happy holiday celebration and continued peace and prosperity in the coming year.

Canberra from the air. This view of Australia's capital includes the Parliament Building, Lake Burley Griffin, and the Black Mountain (telecommunications) Tower. Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook.

Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession of the east coast in the name of Great Britain (all of Australia was claimed as British territory in 1829 with the creation of the colony of Western Australia). Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy. It boasted one of the OECD's fastest growing economies during the 1990s, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s. Long-term concerns include ageing of the population, pressure on infrastructure, and environmental issues such as frequent droughts.



French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in Istres, France, Jan. 21, 2013. The United States agreed to airlift French troops and equipment into the African nation of Mali. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson

Air Force Delivers French Troops to Mali
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon
U.S. Air Forces in Europe/Air Forces Africa

ISTRES, France, Jan. 25, 2013 - The U.S. Air Force began transporting French soldiers and military equipment Jan. 21 from here to Bamako, Mali, in support of French military operations.

C-17 Globemaster III transport jets, operating under the control of U.S. Africa Command, are moving a French mechanized infantry battalion. The ongoing operation is expected to last at least two weeks, officials said.

The first C-17 from Dover Air Force Base, Del., took off from Istres and landed in Mali's capital of Bamako on Jan. 21 to deliver more than 80,000 pounds of equipment and dozens of French soldiers.

France deployed its armed forces to the African nation Jan. 11 and requested assistance from other nations to transport armored regiments and troops. In response, the United States deployed airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and multiple C-17 aircrews to a French air base here.

Cargo and equipment are prepared by the French, and load plans are given to the U.S. aircraft commander for review, said Maj. Eric Chabaud, chief of aircraft services here for the French air force.

"It's a good for us to work together on things like this, because we want to be an asset to the operation, not a hindrance," Chabaud said. "We have a very good relationship with the Americans here right now, and we help them any time we can."

While the 621st CRW can singlehandedly deploy, establish an airfield and manage air mobility operations, in this case planners are here to coordinate air support for the French military movements and to load the U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft.

Air Force Maj. David Gaulin, a contingency response element commander from the 621st CRW, was one of the first on the ground to assess the airfield and determine requirements for operations at Istres.

"We were able to show up here, set up communications with the [chain of command] and provide an initial assessment of what capabilities the French had and what capabilities we could bring to the operation within an hour of landing," Gaulin said. "It's good that we're able to use the logistics ability we have -- aircraft, our personnel and equipment -- to help them."


Program Exceeds Expectations in Reaching Absentee Voters
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2013 - The Federal Voting Assistance Program exceeded congressional expectations in the 2012 election cycle by getting guidance out to service members so they could vote by absentee ballot, a senior FVAP official said here yesterday.

David Beirne, acting deputy director of technology programs for FVAP, participated in a "MOVE and the Military" panel discussion at George Washington University during the seventh annual summit of the Overseas Vote Foundation and U.S. Vote Foundation.

MOVE refers to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, designed to help military people serving overseas and citizens who live abroad to vote in U.S. elections.

"The FVAP's role [as outlined by Congress] in the MOVE Act is very specific in terms of communicating directly to [service members] in the field," Beirne said. He added that FVAP sent 90-day, 60-day and 30-day email voting notices to troops throughout the election cycle to instruct them on how to request, obtain and track their ballots.

"If there's any one group of voters that's familiar with the FVAP, it's active-duty military," Beirne said. "Anyone with a 'dot mil' email address got one of our emails. That gives us some level of [success in] our outreach and engagement. We not only met, but exceeded, our congressional requirement."

To get the word out on absentee voting, FVAP delivered some 18 million emails, he said, adding that the FVAP website also lays out the how-to-vote instructions, with links to state voting guidance.

Because 2012 was the first general election for FVAP's compliance with the MOVE Act, Beirne said, the outcome is similar to "taking an exam."

"We're just waiting for the results to come in," he said. "That is what's going to determine the success we've had."


Remarks at Launch of the 100,000 Strong Foundation
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 24, 2013


Thank you. Well, we’re all getting a little emotional and sentimental around here – (laughter) – with about a little over a week to go in my tenure. And I am so pleased to welcome all of you here. I see many, many familiar faces and some good friends in this audience.

And I particularly want to thank Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell for driving not only this program, but so much that we have accomplished in the last four years to deepen and strengthen our relationship with China and others in the region, but particularly with China, as it is such a consequential relationship, one that we believe so strongly in. Ambassador Zhang, once again, welcome to the State Department. Because it is, for us, a way of making clear that our relations, government-to-government, are obviously essential. But it is those people-to-people ties that are going to determine the quality of the relationship for the future.

Our engagement with China today deals with a wide range of the most pressing challenges and the most exciting opportunities. And when we began looking at ways to make our exchanges with China more productive, we of course ramped up our diplomatic engagement. We took delegations of investors and entrepreneurs to China. We institutionalized the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. We are very clear that what we’ve tried to build, an architecture that will stand the test of time regardless of what is going on in either of our countries, has been an essential effort.

And in 2010, we launched the 100,000 Strong Initiative. And as Kurt said, this is aimed at increasing the number of American students studying in China to 100,000 over four years. We focused on student exchanges because we believe that the future is very clearly in the hands of the young people of both of our countries. And the more we can foster exchanges and understanding, mutual trust, the better off not only the relationship will be, but each of our countries individually. We have to have far more than conversations with diplomats or journalists or leaders or businesspeople. There’s nothing more important than trying to build a structure of exchanges between us when it comes to students and other young people.

Now, we’ve made tremendous progress since 2010. We’ve already expanded study abroad programs. We’ve supported scholarship funds to help American students from underserved communities study in China. We’ve worked with EducationUSA to provide tools and resources for Chinese students seeking to study here. And the number of students coming between our two countries continues to grow. But we still have a lot of room for improvement.

So I’m happy today that we’re launching a permanent, independent nonprofit organization focused not only on our goal of 100,000 American students in China by 2014, but on continuing to strengthen the student exchanges for years to come. And I’m so grateful to all of our State Department partners who are here today who have helped put the 100,000 Strong Foundation together.

As I think back on the four years that I’ve been privileged to serve as Secretary of State, there are moments that just jump out of my memory bank. And one of them is when I finally got to our pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, which, as a number of you know, I am very proud to be called the mother of whenever I go to China because of the circumstances in which it was birthed. (Laughter.) But when I did get there for this magnificent expo that had been built up with pavilions from around the world and a magnificent Chinese pavilion, I was thrilled that the main attraction of our USA Pavilion were American students who had been studying Chinese, who were our designated hosts and greeters.

And I had the best time watching long lines of Chinese citizens who were coming to see our pavilion like they had been coming to see all of the pavilions looking surprised when some little African American girl would come up and start talking to them in Chinese, or some big tall Hispanic youngster would give them directions about how to go through the pavilion, or some other child – child; I’m so old, they’re all children – (laughter) – but some other student would come up and say something similar. And it was wonderful to watch the interchange. And I talked to some of the students. "Where were you from?" "Oh, from LA." "Where are you from?" "Oh, from New York City." And so many of these young people were first-generation college students in America who had just become taken with China, and so they were studying Chinese and now they were there as official representatives of the United States Government.

I say that because that’s what we want to see more of. We want to see Chinese youngsters here, American youngsters in China, and we want to see them breaking down the barriers that exist between any peoples from different cultures and experiences and histories and backgrounds. And I think that will happen because in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago, young people in both China and the United States are global citizens. They are communicating with new tools of technology that were not even dreamt of a decade ago. And so they are already building cyber or Internet relationships, and we want to give them a chance to form the real deal – getting to know each other, getting to understand each other.

So I’m thrilled that we’re announcing this foundation. I thank everyone here at the State Department and all of our partners who are making this possible. And I’m also very excited because this is a perfect example of a public-private partnership, and nobody does it better than the United States. We really are good at this because we have a long tradition of understanding that we have to have both government action and government involvement, but where most of life takes place in our country is not there; it’s outside of government. It’s in these other institutions – colleges and universities, foundations and philanthropies, individual efforts of all kind. So we are deeply grateful that you have understood our vision for 100,000 Strong and are making it a reality.

And with that, let me turn it back to Assistant Secretary Campbell. Thank you all. (Applause.)

Weekly Address: Two Nominees Who Will Fight for the American People | The White House

Weekly Address: Two Nominees Who Will Fight for the American People | The White House

President Obama Names Denis McDonough as Chief of Staff | The White House

President Obama Names Denis McDonough as Chief of Staff | The White House


Nearly $1.6 billion provided by FEMA, SBA to New York Hurricane Sandy
January 25, 2013

— Federal disaster assistance to New York survivors of Hurricane Sandy totals almost $1.6 billion.

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 $2.4 million
Kings $191.1 million
Nassau $280.6 million
New York $13 million
Queens $221.1 million
Richmond $89.3 million
Suffolk $64.8 million

FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration have approved almost $1.6 billion for Hurricane Sandy survivors in New York. FEMA has approved nearly $868 million for individuals and households, including more than $761 million for housing assistance and more than $106 million in assistance for other needs.
SBA has approved more than $667 million in disaster loans to homeowners and renters and nearly $44 million in disaster businesses loans. The SBA has staff members at every FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center and 17 Business Recovery Centers in the New York area to provide one-on-one help to business owners seeking disaster assistance.
More than 264,000 New Yorkers have contacted FEMA for information or registered for assistance, including more than 143,000 who have applied through the online application site or on their smartphone.
18 Disaster Recovery Centers are open in the affected areas. These include mobile sites as well as fixed sites. To date, nearly 140,000 survivors have been assisted at Disaster Recovery Centers in New York.
58 inspectors are currently in the field. To date, 174,472 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.
Nearly $1.7 billion has been paid to National Flood Insurance Program policy holders in New York for losses resulting from Sandy. The National Flood Insurance Program, administered by FEMA, offers flood insurance to all homeowners, renters and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP.
Since Hurricane Sandy made landfall, FEMA has provided more than $519 million in Public Assistance grants in New York State. 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.


U.S. Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance for the Syria Crisis
Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 25, 2013


Today in Ankara, Turkey, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, & Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg announced that the United States is providing an additional $10 million in humanitarian assistance in response to urgent needs resulting from the brutal conflict in Syria. This new funding will supply enough flour to bakeries in Aleppo to provide daily bread for approximately 210,000 people in need for the next five months. With this new assistance, the United States is providing $220 million to date to help those suffering inside Syria and refugees in the neighboring countries.

This latest assistance is part of an additional, significant funding package that the United States plans to announce at the United Nations high-level donors conference in Kuwait on January 30.

With this additional $10 million, the United States is taking action in response to heightened flour shortages, an alarming lack of bread, and rising hunger. Many bakeries have had to close down because the Assad regime has cut off flour and fuel. The United States recognizes bread as a mainstay of Syrian daily life, and this new program is focused on getting 50 bakeries back up and running to provide life-saving food to the Syrian people.

The United States remains committed to supporting humanitarian assistance for all Syrians in need throughout the country’s 14 governorates, and to working with a wide range of international partners and Syrian humanitarian organizations, whose dedicated staff are taking great risks to ensure aid is directly reaching those in need. The U.S. government is coordinating closely with the Syrian Opposition Coalition in helping identify and locate those in need where access is constrained.

The announcement was made during the visit of a high-level U.S. delegation to the region to ensure sustained U.S. government support for those suffering as a result of the Assad regime’s brutality. The delegation also includes Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard.

The U.S. delegation commended the generosity of the Government of Turkey and the Turkish people, and recognized the Turkish Red Crescent for its tireless efforts to provide protection and assistance to Syrians affected by the crisis.


Photo:  Jellyfish.  Credit:  Wikimedia Commons.

Jellyfish "Blooms" Wax and Wane in Natural Cycles
January 24, 2013

Once a month, on the darkest nights near the new moon, otherworldly beings emerge from Pacific Ocean depths and drift onto the beaches of Hawaii.

Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of these quivering masses of jelly float in with the night tide.

Near shore, time grows short to complete their mission: to reproduce, leaving behind miniature versions of themselves fastened with a glue-like substance to reefs and rocks in the shallows.

Box jellyfish, the invaders are called. Over the past few decades, more and more box jellies are in the waters around Hawaii. The question, scientists say, is where are the jellies coming from?

In the marine science world, it's been dogma that jellyfish are increasing in seas and oceans.

Off the coast of France, for example, aggregations of jellyfish have sunk 500-pound fishing nets. And in Japan, jellies have clogged the water intakes of nuclear power plants.

Humans' expanding influence on the oceans has begun to cause changes. "Blooms" of jellyfish are occurring in response to these effects. Or are they?

Jellyfish on the rise--or on the wane?

"There's a perception that jellyfish numbers are exploding in the world's oceans," says marine scientist Rob Condon of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, "but there's no real evidence for a global increase in jellyfish over the past two centuries."

Results of a study of worldwide jellyfish abundance, led by Condon, were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The paper's co-authors are scientists affiliated with the Global Jellyfish Group, a consortium of 30 researchers. The Global Jellyfish Group conducted its work at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"It's refreshing to see a thoughtful analysis of the 'jellyfish bloom' phenomenon," says David Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.

"The findings point out the critical importance of obtaining long-term data to understand the patterns and significance of perceived environmental changes."

The study shows that global jellyfish populations undergo oscillations over decades, including a rising phase in the 1990s and early 2000s that contributed to the perception of an increase in jellyfish abundance.

The previous period of high jellyfish numbers during the 1970s went unnoticed.

"At the time, there was limited research on jellyfish," says Condon, "along with less awareness of global-scale environmental problems, and less information transmitted around the world quickly. We didn't have the Internet."

Long-term observations needed

While there has been no increase in jellyfish blooms over the long-term, the paper's authors say, they detected a hint of a slight increase since 1970.

The trend was countered, however, by the finding that there was no difference in the proportion of increasing versus decreasing jellyfish populations over time.

"Sustained monitoring is required over the next decade to find out if what we're seeing is an actual shift, or if it's part of a larger oscillation," says Condon.

"The research is an important step in our understanding of the complex biological cycles that occur in the oceans," says Henry Gholz, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology, which also funded the research.

"It demonstrates the critical role of long-term observations in informing society of environmental changes."

The idea of a global increase in jellyfish, says Condon, "was fueled by a few local and regional case studies."

"Clearly, there are areas where jellyfish have increased. The situation with Giant Jellyfish in Japan is an example. But there are also places where jellyfish numbers have remained stable, fluctuated over decades, or in fact decreased over time."

He and colleagues say that it's important to sample marine waters over appropriate space and time scales so trends aren't misinterpreted.

"The realization that jellyfish synchronously rise and fall around the world should lead us to search for the long-term natural factors driving jellyfish populations," says Condon.

The ocean brought to life

With tissues made up of 95 percent salts and water, jellyfish are the ocean brought to life.

Washed up on a beach, jellyfish look like ugly gobs of slime. But in the sea, these fragile creatures shimmer with jewel-like radiance.

Their real beauty, though, is their crucial contribution to the functioning of marine ecosystems.

Researchers such as Condon are finding that jellyfish may help us see the complex relationships among species in the oceanic food web.

Jellyfish can live almost anywhere there's water: under the ice in arctic and antarctic seas, and even in North American freshwater lakes and streams, where one tiny species is found.

Most jellyfish are propelled by the rhythmic contraction and expansion of an umbrella-shaped saucer, or bell, as well as by winds, currents and tides. Nearly all are part of a drifting community of organisms called plankton, a term derived from the Greek word for wanderer.

Scientists refer to animal drifters with gelatin-like tissues as gelatinous zooplankton. This group encompasses the familiar bell-shaped jellyfish, related walnut-shaped comb jellies, and similar creatures like siphonophores--chains or colonies of jelly animals.

Many jellyfish live for just one summer. Before they die in September, females release hundreds of eggs into the water, then males release sperm. The resulting larvae swim to the bottom and attach themselves to hard surfaces. In spring they bud into tiny jellyfish, and the cycle begins anew.

Jellies: integral parts of marine ecosystems

Jellies are integral parts of marine ecosystems, says Condon.

They prey on a host of microscopic and larger species, and are themselves food for sea turtles and fish such as the mola, or giant ocean sunfish.

In Alaskan waters, for example, saucerlike moon jellyfish provide nourishment for green sea urchins, crabs and burrowing anemones.

"The question has been: are jellies playing their natural part or hogging the stage?" asks Condon. "Based on recent results, they're doing what jellyfish evolved to do, right on cue."

In addition to Condon, authors of the paper are: Carlos Duarte of the University of the Balearic Islands and the Spanish National Research Council, Esporles, Spain; Kylie Pitt of Griffith University, Australia; Kelly Robinson of the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory; Cathy Lucas of the University of Southampton, United Kingdom; Kelly Sutherland of the University of Oregon; Hermes Mianzanh of the National Institute of Research and Fisheries Development, Argentina; Molly Bogeberga of the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory; Jennifer Purcell of Western Washington University; Mary Beth Decker of Yale University; Shin-ichi Uyek of Hiroshima University, Japan; Laurence Madin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Richard Brodeur of the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center; Steven Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; Alenka Malejo of the National Institute of Biology, Piran, Slovenia; Gregory Parry of the Department of Primary Industries, Victorian Fisheries, Queenscliff, Australia; Elena Eriksenq of the Institute of Marine Research, Bergen, Norway; Javier Quiñones of the Institute of the Sea of the Peru, Paracas, Ica, Peru; Marcelo Achah of the National Institute of Research and Development fisheries, Mar del Plata, Argentina; Michel Harveys of the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, Fisheries and Oceans, Canada; James Arthur of Griffith University in Australia; and William Graham of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Cheryl Dybas, NSF





Thursday, January 24, 2013
Former Co-Owner of Contracting Company Sentenced in San Antonio to 30 Months in Prison for Scheme to Defraud the U.S. Government

A former co-owner of a U.S. civilian contractor company was sentenced today in San Antonio to serve 30 months in prison for falsifying official documents in connection with Iraq reconstruction government contracts, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas.

Jill Ann Charpia, 33, formerly of San Antonio and currently of Colorado, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia in the Western District of Texas. In addition to her prison term, Charpia was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $920,000 plus interest in restitution to the United States.

According to court documents, from 2008 through 2009, Charpia was the co-owner of Sourcing Specialist LLC, a privately owned company that contracted with the U.S. government to provide services in Iraq. In September 2008, she contracted to provide a turn-key housing facility located outside Iraq’s International Zone to facilitate the introduction of multi-national firms desiring to develop business opportunities in Iraq. That same month, Charpia signed and submitted to the Department of Defense (DOD) Joint Contracting Command Iraq/Afghanistan, for payment through the contract, a false invoice in the amount of $1,270,075 purportedly for mobilization costs. She followed up with two invoices, one representing that she had paid $700,000 for the rental of two villas in Baghdad, and the other representing that she had paid $570,075 on the purchase of three armored vehicles from an Iraqi company. In October 2008, as a result of her false and fraudulent statements, DOD caused $1,270,075 to be wired to Charpia’s bank account. Charpia admitted that she fabricated both invoices and forged the signatures on the documents. She also admitted that she did not purchase any armored vehicles and paid only half the submitted cost for the villas.

This case is being prosecuted by Special Trial Attorney Mark Grider of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, on detail from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith A. Patton of the Western District of Texas. The case is being investigated by SIGIR, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the Major Procurement Fraud Unit of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.





Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, addresses students and faculty at the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24. Howard University is home to the nation's oldest Africa Studies program. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.

Africom Works to 'Go Far' With Partners, General Says
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2013 - There are many challenges across the African continent, but there are also seldom-talked-about opportunities and successes, U.S. Africa Command's leader said here today

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham addressed students, faculty and reporters about what he's seen during his command in Africa. The general spoke at the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University here, home to the nation's oldest Africa studies program.

"It's really easy in Africa to get focused on all of the negative things," he said. "There [are] challenges in Mali, to be sure; Libya has challenges. The Great Lakes region is certainly in turmoil right now; Guinea-Bissau and many other places."

"There are lots of problems," Ham said. "I think it's worthwhile, every now and then, to take a step back, and in addition to looking at the problem sets – which is important to do – to look at the good things, and look at the opportunities that present themselves."

Ham provided examples of successes throughout the continent that are not generally the focus of attention.

"Africa is home to, depending on which survey you look at, six or seven of the fastest growing economies in the world," he said. "[This is] pretty extraordinary. But it gets lost in the noise sometimes."

"There are lots of countries that [have] had successful elections," he noted. "We focus on those where there's a coup or other unsettling events, and we tend to not think about the places where there have been very successful elections and good progress made."

The general said this tells him while Africa is "certainly home to lots of challenges," it is also the "home of great opportunity and progress and hope."

"I think we should never forget about that as well," Ham added.

The general noted he has now been to 42 of the countries on the continent, and "it's been exciting and exhilarating, and tiring at times, to be sure. It's a big place to move about."

Ham said a member of his staff, who is in the U.S. foreign service, gave him a list of African proverbs to think about.

"I found one that, to me, ideally captures what we, at U.S. Africom, are trying to do," he said. "It says, simply, 'if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.'"

"And we, at U.S. Africa Command, choose to go far, and we choose to go together with our African partners," Ham said.


ISTRES, France - French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of missions in the Republic of Mali. The United States has agreed to help France airlift troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson/Released)

ISTRES, France – French troops prepare for take-off inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft in Istres, France, Jan. 21, 2013. France deployed military to the African country of Mali to fight forces who threaten the current Mali government's stability and are relying on assistance from allies in transporting troops and supplies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon/Released)


Map:  Lebanon.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.
Richmond, Virginia Police Study Tour for Lebanese Internal Security Forces
Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 25, 2013

The U.S. Department of State is sponsoring seven members of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) for a study tour of community policing practices in Richmond, Virginia, January 28 to February 1. The participants will learn the Richmond Police Department’s successful community policing principles for carrying out law enforcement and public safety responsibilities - practices that participants will apply in their own communities in Lebanon.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, through its partnerships with U.S. federal, state, and local police agencies, sponsors study tours and hands-on training opportunities for international partner countries from around the world. The Bureau has provided training in community policing to the Lebanese Internal Security Forces since 2010. This study tour aims to provide the ISF with a better understanding of U.S. community policing methods to aid in the formalization of a new Community Policing Pilot Police Station in Beirut.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Press Briefing | The White House January 25, 2013

Press Briefing | The White House

High school grad rate highest since 1974—but not high enough

High school grad rate highest since 1974—but not high enough

U.S. Department Of State Daily Press Briefing - January 25, 2013

Daily Press Briefing - January 25, 2013



Army Training Commander Promises Fair Standards for Combat Jobs

By David Vergun
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2013 - Fairness will be important as officials develop their plan for opening more direct-combat jobs to women, the commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command said here yesterday.

Gen. Robert W. Cone spoke with reporters after Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the Defense Department has rescinded an exclusion dating to 1994 that barred women from being assigned to combat positions below brigade level.

"Soldiers -- both men and women -- want fair and meaningful standards" to be developed for accepting women into previously restricted specialties, Cone said. "I think that fairness is very important in a values-based organization like our Army."

The memo Panetta and Dempsey signed rescinding the policy does not spell out which military occupational specialties will be open to women. Rather, it directs the services to provide their implementation strategies to the Defense Department by May. Implementation will begin this year and be completed by the beginning of 2016, Panetta said at a news conference yesterday.

"This year we will begin to assign women to previously closed occupations using clear standards of performance in all occupational specialties," Dempsey said at the news conference.

"The burden of proof used to be, 'Why should a woman serve in a particular specialty?'" the chairman added. "Now, it's, 'Why shouldn't a woman serve in a particular specialty?'"

As of September, 418 of the Army's 438 MOSs were open to women of all ranks, according to an Oct. 31 Army report titled: "Women in the Army."

TRADOC already has been studying armies in other countries, such as Canada and Israel, where women successfully have been integrated into combat specialties. Army officials will consider knowledge, skills and attributes of soldiers and get the best match in specialties now restricted, Cone said, such as infantry, armor, field artillery and engineers.

Physical requirements will be one of the important attributes, he added.

"Soldiers don't want to see [that] degraded," the general said.

Objective assessments and validation studies, many of which already are complete, will look at each requirement by specialty, Cone told reporters. Tasks include such things as how much infantry soldiers must be able to lift, how much they have to carry, and for what distance, Cone said. Once the validations are done, scientists will then develop specialty-specific physical fitness tests that will, in turn, be validated with field studies, he explained.

Besides physical ability, Cone said, Army officials will look at "traditional impediments" -- the attitudes regarding the acceptance of women into previously male-only jobs.

"A lot of this is about leadership and the organizational climate," he added.

The Army will take "proactive measures to mitigate resistance to women going into these specialties," the general said.

"We want the right environment for women," he said.


Map:  India.  From:  CIA World Factbook.

India Republic Day
Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 24, 2013


On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send my best wishes to the people and government of India as you celebrate your 64th Republic Day this January 26th.

The United States and India share an unwavering commitment to democratic government. Our shared values are the foundation for the innovative, entrepreneurial drive that is allowing more and more of our 1.5 billion people to realize their potential. My three trips to India as Secretary of State reinforced my unyielding belief that the U.S.-India strategic partnership is making the world more united, prosperous, and secure. Together we are strengthening our ties and working to address some of the most difficult global challenges.

As you celebrate this special day, know that the United States stands with you. Best wishes for a year filled with peace and prosperity.


President Obama has called India one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, one which will be vital to U.S. strategic interests in Asia-Pacific and across the globe. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all visited India, underscoring the increasing importance of the bilateral relationship. Our relationship is rooted in common values, including the rule of law, respect for diversity, and democratic government. We have a shared interest in promoting global security, stability, and economic prosperity through trade, investment, and connectivity. The United States and India have a common interest in the free flow of global trade and commerce, including through the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.

The U.S. supports India's critical role as a leader in maintaining regional stability. Security ties are robust and growing with bilateral defense and counterterrorism cooperation reaching unprecedented levels. The United States and India also look continue to develop their defense partnership through military sales and joint research, co-production and co-development efforts.

The U.S.-India
Strategic Dialogue, launched in 2009, provides opportunities to strengthen collaboration in areas including energy, climate change, trade, education, and counterterrorism. The third annual meeting was held in June 2012. In 2012 alone, seven Cabinet-level officials made visits to India to deepen bilateral ties.

The strength of people to people linkages between the United States and India has come to define the indispensable relationship between our two countries. The increased cooperation of state and local officials to create ties has enhanced engagement in education. Additionally, state to state and city to city engagements have created new partnerships in business and the private sector and enhance our robust government to government engagement.


Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States is one of India's largest trade and investment partners. U.S.- India bilateral trade in goods and services has increased four and a half times over the last decade, to more than $86 billion in 2011. Bilateral trade between our two countries is up 40 percent since we began our Strategic Dialogue three years ago. The stock of Indian FDI in the United States has increased from $227 million in 2002 to almost $4.9 billion in 2011, supporting thousands of U.S. jobs.

The United States and India are negotiating a bilateral investment treaty as a key part of the effort to deepen the economic relationship, improve investor confidence, and support economic growth in both countries. India continues to move forward, albeit haltingly, with market-oriented economic reforms that began in 1991. Recent reforms have included an increasingly liberal foreign investment regime in many sectors.

On energy cooperation, the United States and India also share a strong commitment to work collaboratively in bilateral and multilateral fora to help ensure mutual energy security, combat global climate change, and support the development of low-carbon economies that will create opportunities and fuel job growth in both countries. The two countries consult regularly on the future of global oil and gas markets, expanding sustainable energy access to support jobs and economic growth in both countries, collaborating in research and technology, and increasing U.S. exports of clean energy technology.

U.S. exports to India include diamonds and gold, machinery, oil, and fertilizers. U.S. imports from India include diamonds, pharmaceutical products, oil, agricultural products, organic chemicals, and apparel. U.S. direct investment in India is led by the information, professional, scientific, and technical services, and manufacturing sectors. India direct investment in the U.S. is primarily concentrated in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector.

India's Membership in International Organizations

India and the United States share membership in a variety of international organizations, including the United Nations, G-20, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. The United States supports a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member. India is an ASEAN dialogue partner, an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development partner under its Enhanced Engagement program, and an observer to the Organization of American States. India is also a member and the current chair of the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). In November 2012, the United States was admitted as a dialogue partner in the IOR-ARC with India’s support.


Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Ted Koppel, special correspondent for NBC's "Rock Center," for an interview at the Pentagon, Jan. 14, 2013. The interview aired Jan. 24. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bradley C. Church.


Dempsey Discusses Cyberattacks, Other Issues in NBC InterviewBy Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2013 - The worrisome nature of cyberattacks, the threat of global terrorism and the military's need to emphasize character as well as competence were among topics the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed in an interview with correspondent Ted Koppel broadcast last night on NBC's "Rock Center with Brian Williams."

Governments, individuals and organizations are engaged in trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the cyber domain, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said, citing disruptive "denial-of-service" attacks as an example. Such attacks overwhelm websites, rendering them inaccessible to users.

"What I worry about is that [a cyberattack] could be used to implant a destructive device that could cause significant harm to the industrial base, whether it's critical infrastructure or the financial network," Dempsey said.

There are reports that destructive cyber tools have been used against Iran, the chairman said. "I'm neither confirming nor denying any part in that, but what it should tell you is that capability exists," he added. "And if it exists, whoever's using those [capabilities] can't assume that they're the only smart people in the world."

When Koppel asked Dempsey which part of the world he worries about most, the general noted that the threat of global terrorism complicates matters.

"There's kind of a near-term, long-term aspect to that," he explained. "I think near-term continues to be the threat of global terrorism. We track a global terrorist network that is not uniquely al-Qaida, but is affiliated at some level with al-Qaida."

This requires a network to defeat a network, Dempsey said.

"What it means is you're not going to see these broad, sweeping movements across the desert of eastern Iraq -- 'Hail Mary,' 'right-hand cross,' [or] whatever it was called in 1991," he explained. "You're going to see smaller groups of military formations confronting these distributed enemies across a much wider scope."

Although U.S. combat forces will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Dempsey said, it would be a mistake to give the American people the sense that al-Qaida is defeated.

"I think that it's fair to say there will be a part of the al-Qaida threat emanating from northwestern Pakistan, and potentially, Afghanistan, for the foreseeable future," he added.

In the final portion of the segment, Koppel asked Dempsey about recent missteps by senior military leaders. The chairman said the value placed on competence over more than 10 years of war might have been a factor.

"Not that we've neglected the character side of this equation," he added, "but we probably are at a point where we ought to re-emphasize it."

And perhaps senior leaders need the view from "those that are at the bottom looking up," Dempsey said.

"I'm actually more interested in, 'What are the lieutenant colonels saying about the colonels? What are the colonels saying about the [brigadier generals]?'" Dempsey said.

But although character is important, he added, the bottom line for the military is to protect the nation.

"Competence will always be the most important thing, and you can't have a man or woman of incredible character who can't deliver on the battlefield," the chairman said. "At the end of the day, that's what we're accountable for. But character counts, and it counts mightily."


Mars - Dry Ice and Dunes

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captures the springtime thaw of seasonal carbon dioxide ice on Mars.

Credit: NASA-JPL-Caltech


Photo:  Refueling Over Afghanistan. Credit:  U.S. Air Force.

Combined Force Arrests Taliban Leader
From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 25, 2013 - A combined Afghan and coalition security force arrested a Taliban leader during an operation in the Hahr-e Saraj district of Afghanistan's Helmand province today, military officials reported.

The arrested Taliban leader coordinated and conducted attacks against Afghan and coalition forces and provided weapons and improvised explosive devices to other insurgents, officials said.

In other Afghanistan operations today:

-- In Helmand's Nawah-ye Barakzai district, a combined force arrested a Taliban leader who oversaw insurgents responsible for IED attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also procured and distributed homemade explosives and IED-making materials.

-- A combined force in Khost province's Khost district arrested a Haqqani network leader who distributed weapons to Haqqani insurgents and planned and conducted attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. The security force also detained a suspected insurgent and seized weapons and ammunition.

-- In Nangarhar province's Khugyani district, a combined force detained three suspected insurgents while searching for a Taliban facilitator who coordinates IED and suicide-bomber attacks against Afghan government officials and Afghan and coalition forces. The security force seized IED components, weapons and ammunition.

In operations yesterday:

-- Afghan and coalition forces killed a Taliban leader associated with al-Qaida in the Dangam district of Afghanistan's Kunar province. The Taliban leader coordinated activities between the Taliban and al-Qaida in the province and organized attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, officials said. He also oversaw the movement of weapons and suicide-vest components.

-- A combined force in Kandahar province's Spin Boldak district arrested a Taliban IED expert who also helped to acquire explosives, weapons and ammunition for attacks against Afghan government security offices. The security force also detained a suspected insurgent.

-- In Ghazni province's Andar district, a combined force killed a Taliban leader who oversaw insurgents responsible for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

Using steroids, losing memory

Using steroids, losing memory


The mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5) sits aground on the Tubbataha Reef. Operations to safely recover the ship while minimizing environmental effects are being conducted in close cooperation with allied Philippines Coast Guard and Navy. U.S. Navy photo by Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 3rd Class Geoffrey Trudell (Released) 130122-N-ZZ999-061

U.S. Navy salvage assessment team members board the mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5). The ship ran aground on Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17. Operations to safely recover the ship while minimizing environmental effects are being conducted in close cooperation with allied Philippines Coast Guard and Navy. U.S. Navy photo by Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 3rd Class Geoffrey Trudell (Released) 130123-N-ZZ999-027



Shorter Hospital Stays Are Better for Patients, VA Finds

A shorter stay in the hospital can actually be more beneficial to you than a longer stay, according to a recent VA study that appeared in the December 18, 2012 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

"This study shows that a large health care system like VA can improve both quality and efficiency to provide better, more cost-effective care," said Dr. Peter Kaboli, a hospitalist at the
Iowa City VA Health Care System and the study’s lead researcher. "Ultimately the focus should not be how long a patient is in the hospital, but ensuring they get the care they need as efficiently as possible and get them out of the hospital as soon as they are ready."

Kaboli and his research team came to this conclusion after examining the records of over four million Veterans hospitalized at 129 VA medical centers between 1997 and 2010.

"People come to the hospital for all kinds of medical conditions, so for our study we looked at everybody," the researcher said. "But we also zeroed in on some of the more common health issues like heart failure and pneumonia."

As the study progressed, an interesting pattern began to emerge: hospital stays at VA decreased by almost 30 percent over a period of about 14 years.

"We initially thought this might translate into higher readmission rates and death rates," Kaboli said. "It turned out to be just the opposite: readmission rates went down by 16 percent. Death rates went down by three percent."

"Creative research of this nature is a major factor leading to continuous improvement of the medical services we provide to our Nation’s Veterans."

— Dr. Joel Kupersmith, VA Chief Research & Development Officer

The take-away from all this? "The individual needs to be in the hospital for as long as it takes to address their medical issues, and no longer," Kaboli observed. "Everyone is different…one patient might be able to go home within 48 hours. Another patient might not be able to go home for five days."

Kaboli said VA’s success in lowering readmission rates while simultaneously reducing hospital stays points to an increased level of efficiency. He attributes this increased efficiency to three big factors.

"First, throughout VA we’ve been working hard on improving the coordination that occurs between the hospital and our outpatient services," he explained. "Successfully transitioning out of the hospital into outpatient care is so critical. The patient’s health and well-being depend on this transition being done correctly.

"Second," he continued, "we’re working hard on constantly improving the quality of the care we provide. For example, care at VA is now delivered by Patient Aligned Care Teams — a team of specialists who coordinate closely with one another regarding the patient’s case. The patient is a big part of this team."

The third big factor? Specialization.

"VA has adopted the use of hospitalists at over 80 percent of our medical centers," Kaboli said. "Hospitalists are physicians who specialize in the care of hospitalized patients. Care delivered by hospitalists has been shown to be more efficient and can result in higher quality health care."

Kaboli said quality health care occurs when everyone — the patient, the patient’s family, and hospital staff — are communicating with one another.

"In the end," he said, "it’s all about listening to the patient so we can determine what their needs are, what their goals are. The patient needs to be at the center of the whole process."


Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta shakes hands with retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris before they deliver remarks during the Defense Department's 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. observance at the Pentagon, Jan. 24, 2013. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

Retired Officer Describes Personal Impact of King's Ideals
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2013 - A retired officer who blazed trails in her Air Force career told the audience at the Pentagon's 28th annual observance of the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. today that she drew inspiration from the slain civil rights leader.

Retired Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris, who left the service in 1997 as the highest-ranking woman officer in the Air Force and the highest-ranking African-American woman in the Defense Department, said she has made the commitment of excellence to herself and to King's dream.

Harris said she was unaware that sweeping change was afoot when she first became aware of King when she was 17 and he led student movements at Morehouse and Spelman universities in Atlanta.

"All you are aware of is that you are a part of something significant and important," Harris said. "You don't realize that your small steps would shape the society of the nation. It doesn't dawn on you that you're a part of something that will change the world you live in."

Harris became one of many foot soldiers of this movement. "We did our fighting on picket lines and on foot, on boycotting and sitting in," she said. "It was well-known that if you did -- you sat in -- you were going to be arrested."

But King and his student leaders, Harris said, didn't want people to get arrested unless they were at least 18 years old.

"I could not wait to be 18," she said. "In my naïveté, I'd rather go to jail than picket. I wanted to make a statement."

Harris said her father encouraged her to participate without getting arrested, and King's philosophies ultimately carried her throughout her career.

Her travels as part of a theater group at Spelman University sparked an interest in making a difference through new experiences on the road, which she said led her to joining the Air Force.

Harris became the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the Air Force's first woman vice commander for maintenance. Seeing the value of purpose, she said, leads to enjoying not only the work, but also the people involved.

"The Department of Defense is a miniature model of America," Harris said. "[The] United States is a land of multiple races, multiple ethnic groups, multiple cultures, individuals with alternative lifestyles and people who have different and varied opinions."

She noted the nation's forefathers' prophetic vision, evident in their use of the Latin phrase, "E Pluribus Unum," or "Out of Many, One."

"This is us -- this is the military," Harris said. "We are part of that dream that Martin Luther King envisioned. We are part of that nation that the framers of the Constitution envisioned."

That realization, Harris said, helped her to succeed in her career. "I figured out what the Air Force was," she said. "It's people -- dedicated people. They worked together regardless of race or color."

Following her retirement, Harris served NASA as the Florida site director and logistics process owner for the company managing the space shuttle program, United Space Alliance.

Harris created Eroster Government Solutions, a business in which she is currently the chief executive officer. She also is a member of both Delta Sigma Theta and the MECCA Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.


Thursday, January 24, 2013
Four Sentenced to Prison in Florida Community Mental Health Center Case

The owners of three Miami-area assisted living facilities and an affiliated psychologist were sentenced to prison today in connection with a health care fraud scheme, involving now-defunct Miami-area health provider Health Care Solutions Network Inc. (HCSN), in which Medicare was billed for mental health treatments that were unnecessary or not provided.

The sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; Michael B. Steinbach, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami office.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga sentenced Serena Joslin, 32, of Looneyville, W.Va., to 63 months in prison, following her previous guilty plea to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Raymond Rivero, 55, Daniel Martinez, 46, and Ivon Perez, 50, all of Miami, were each sentenced to 28 months in prison. All three had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-kickback statute.

According to court documents, HCSN operated community mental health centers both in Miami and North Carolina, including partial hospitalization programs (PHP) – a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness. HCSN obtained Medicare beneficiaries to attend HCSN for purported PHP treatment that was unnecessary and, in many instances, not provided.

In Miami, HCSN obtained beneficiaries by paying kickbacks to owners and operators of assisted living facilities (ALF) or by otherwise recruiting them from the facilities and from nursing homes. Rivero, Martinez and Perez admitted during their guilty pleas to referring Medicare beneficiaries to HCSN in exchange for cash bribes. Rivero, former owner of Miami-based God Is First ALF; Martinez, former owner of Homestead, Fla.-based Mi Renacer ALF; and Perez, former owner of Homestead-based Kayleen and Denis Care Corp., are no longer permitted to operate such facilities as a condition of their guilty pleas.

According to court documents, ALF residents referred to HCSN by Rivero, Martinez and Perez were not qualified to be placed in PHP and were only selected because they had Medicare or state of Florida Medicaid benefits. In some cases, ALF patients suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or mental retardation, or were otherwise unable to benefit from mental health services.

According to court documents, Joslin, a licensed psychologist, was hired by HCSN in North Carolina in April of 2010 as a clinical coordinator and later promoted to clinical director. In those roles, she conspired with other HCSN employees to fabricate medical documents to substantiate alleged PHP treatment that was medically unnecessary and, in many instances, not even provided to the beneficiaries. Joslin admitted that many of the HCSN patients were unqualified for the PHP program because they suffered from conditions such as mental retardation and dementia, and that she directed therapists to fabricate medical records to support HCSN’s fraudulent billing to the Medicare program. Joslin was also required to surrender her North Carolina license to provide mental health treatment as part of her plea agreement.

According to court documents, from 2004 through 2011, HCSN billed Medicare and the Florida Medicaid program approximately $63 million for purported mental health services.

In addition to the prison terms, Judge Altonaga sentenced Joslin, Rivero, Martinez and Perez each to serve three years of supervised release, and ordered them to pay $4,464,728; $90,896; $76,358; and $89,245 in restitution, respectively.

The cases are being prosecuted by Special Trial Attorney William Parente and Trial Attorney Allan J. Medina of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The cases were investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.