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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expanding Access To Healthcare

Expanding Access

Weekly Address: Helping Protect Our Kids by Reducing Gun Violence | The White House

Weekly Address: Helping Protect Our Kids by Reducing Gun Violence | The White House


The Greening Diplomacy Initiative Leading by Example
Fact Sheet
March 20, 2013


"As we deepen our commitment to the promotion of clean, renewable energy, energy efficiency and resource conservation, our embassies abroad and facilities at home become platforms for eco-diplomacy – models of sustainability that reflect and project America’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship, reduce operating costs, and conserve our resources."

Secretary of State John Kerry


The Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) aims to improve the environmental sustainability of the U.S. Department of State’s global operations and to encourage foreign embassies in Washington to do the same. Advanced by the Department’s Greening Council in 2009, the GDI challenges the Department to develop and implement policies and actions that lessen its overall environmental footprint, reduce costs, and ensure sustainability remains at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.

Presidential Directive

President Barack Obama instructed federal agencies to develop, implement, and annually update a strategic sustainability plan to meet energy, water, and waste reduction targets (Executive Order 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.) Agencies are rated on Energy Management, Transportation Management, and Environmental Stewardship. The State Department consistently receives high marks in all three areas of the Office of Management and Budget’s Sustainability/Energy Scorecard related to domestic operations.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals

The State Department has established a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal of 20% by FY2020 for its domestically controlled facilities (relative to a FY2008 baseline) for emissions created by building power generation. The Department also established a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 2% for emissions from waste, energy transmission loss, and travel.

Recent State Department Milestones
Reduced greenhouse gas emissions from domestic buildings by 34% from FY2008 baseline.
Reduced energy intensity of its headquarters by 15% since 2003; achieving Energy Star rating.
Since FY2009, achieved over $18 million in energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs).
Built its first domestic LEED Platinum facility along with 4 LEED Gold, 3 LEED Silver and 7 LEED certified embassies and consulates overseas, and 35 LEED projects underway.
Increased number of vehicles using alternative fuels to 45% of domestic fleet.
Established air- and commuter-travel teams to make employee travel more environmentally and energy efficient.
In lieu of FY 2012 travel, enrolled over 60,000 trainees for online training; hosted over 33,000 digital video conferences and 1,300 web conferencing programs; and employed 209 virtual interns.

Joining with D.C. Foreign Missions

The D.C. Greening Embassies Forum established by the State Department and Earth Day Network was launched on Earth Day 2010. It consists of Washington, D.C.-based foreign missions and international organizations, and shares challenges, experiences, and best practices on green facility renovations. In 2012, the Forum brought together over 50 diplomatic missions and international institutions in Washington, D.C. to sign a pledge with the city and its mayor. They committed to maintain their operations sustainably and to pursue environmental and efficiency goals that parallel those of the District of Columbia.

Saving Energy at Little or No Cost

The Department is meeting a significant portion of its GHG reductions at zero net cost through installing energy saving measures, such as efficient lighting and plumbing fixtures, financed in part through ESPCs. Contractors install energy saving equipment throughout Department buildings and the energy cost savings from these measures pays contractors for a set number of years.

Sharing Employees’ Ideas

The State Department established an internal GDI website where domestic offices and U.S. missions overseas may exchange sustainability practices, propose innovative solutions, and search for Department resources. The Department also encourages online discussions with its workforce on greening issues.


Morning In Afghanistan.  Credit:  U.S. Army.
Afghanistan, Engagement Remain Centcom Priorities
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., March 22, 2013 - The war in Afghanistan and maintaining contacts throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility will be Centcom's continuing mission, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III said here today after taking the command's reins.

Austin received the Centcom flag from Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, who will retire after a four-decade military career.

The general assumes command at a time when American troops are still in combat in Afghanistan and the outcome of the Arab Spring remains unknown.

Austin praised the men and women of the command for their expertise and professionalism, noting that in the last decade, the command has fought two wars thousands of miles from America's shores. He also thanked the representatives of 60 nations who have fought alongside America's finest.

"All 60 nations are continuing to play an integral role in what we do at this unique headquarters and throughout the Centcom area of responsibility," he said.

All that the military has accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan is incredible, Austin said, but he added that he'll leave the final word to historians.

"The fact is, the full story has not been written," he said. "That said, these are historic times and challenging times, and much more will be required of us in the days ahead, for the world that we live in remains complex and extremely volatile." Much of that instability is in the Central Command region.

Calling Afghanistan his top priority, Austin pledged to do all he can to ensure the success of the mission there. The United States and its allies will continue to work with the Afghans so their security forces can protect their own people, and this commitment will continue beyond the end of 2014, when Afghan forces will have full security responsibility for their country and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission ends.

The United States must remain engaged in the Middle East and Central Asia, Austin said. "We must remain mindful of the fact that success in our various critical endeavors will require the efforts of many -- indeed, all -- of us, working together," he added, noting that the leaders and people of the region want to help to find solutions for the problems.

The general cited the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council as just two organizations that can work toward peace in the region. "The U.S. will continue to play an important role as a key partner to our friends and allies," Austin said. "We will provide them with the necessary support, and we will stand ready and willing to hold accountable those who would threaten the regional stability and security through their actions or through the actions of proxies."


Agreement Reached with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas to Improve Sewer and Stormwater Systems

Settlement will ensure reductions in raw sewage overflows and stormwater flooding in the most impacted neighborhoods

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Unified Government of Wyandotte Co. and Kansas City, Kan., has agreed to a settlement to address unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage and to reduce pollution levels in urban stormwater.

The settlement, lodged in federal court in Kansas City, Kan. requires the Unified Government to implement improved operation and maintenance programs for its sewer system, perform initial work to address sewer overflows, and implement an improved Storm Water Management Plan. The Unified Government will also develop a proposed overflow control plan for the sewer system by September 2016 for approval by EPA. Unified Government’s implementation of that plan, once approved, will be embodied in a subsequent judicial settlement.

"EPA is working with cities to find effective, affordable solutions to control raw sewage and stormwater overflows," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The settlement allows the Unified Government to tackle their most important water quality problems first, while preparing a long-term approach to keep local waterways protected in the future."

"This agreement will put the Unified Government of Wyandotte County on a clear path toward compliance with the Clean Water Act," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The settlement will address deficiencies and require improvements to Wyandotte County’s sewer and stormwater systems that will reduce risks and bring cleaner water for the benefit of the county resident’s health and the environment."

The Unified Government’s sewer system collects and receives domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater from approximately 110,000 area residents. The system includes five wastewater treatment plants and more than 800 miles of sewer lines. The system is served by about one-third combined sewers, which carry both stormwater and wastewater, and the remainder by separated sewers.

Since 2004, the Unified Government has reported more than 450 illegal sewer overflows from its sewer system. These overflows resulted in the discharge of raw sewage into the Missouri River, the Kansas River and their tributaries. Untreated sewage from overflows can cause serious water quality problems and health issues from pollutants including harmful bacteria, oxygen-depleting substances, suspended solids, toxic metals and chemicals, and nutrients. The overflows are in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and the terms of the city’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits for operation of its sewer system.

Under the agreement, the Unified Government is required to perform initial work primarily in the combined sewer portion of the system, located in the oldest developed area of the city, which is expected to provide relief to residences and other properties in the urban core that are often affected by illegal sewer overflows.

The settlement also requires the Unified Government to implement an improved Storm Water Management Plan, designed to reduce pollutants in stormwater. Municipal stormwater sewers carry significant amounts of pollution into urban rivers, lakes, and streams. Pollutants such as lead, copper, oxygen-depleting materials and sediment in municipal stormwater can clog streams, harm or kill aquatic life, and result in human exposure to harmful substances. The existing stormwater management program at issue in this settlement was drafted by the Unified Government and made part of the stormwater discharge permit issued by the State of Kansas in 2001 and reissued in 2007.

Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the waters of the United States is one of the EPA’s highest priorities. Reductions in sewer and stormwater overflows are accomplished by obtaining cities’ commitments to implement timely, affordable solutions to these problems, which may also include the use of Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Plans. Integrated plans are intended to be an option to help municipalities meet their CWA obligations by optimizing the benefits of their infrastructure improvement investments through the appropriate sequencing of work. This approach can also lead to more sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality and enhance community vitality.

The settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.


Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, holds a news conference with reporters at the Pentagon, March 20, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Kelly Warns of Potential Crime-Terrorism Nexus in Latin America
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013 - A potential connection between crime syndicates and terrorists in Latin America would constitute a clear danger to the region, U.S. Southern Command's senior leader told reporters at the Pentagon today.

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly said the increase in Iranian influence in Latin America is worrisome, and an example of the peril that the combination of criminal networks and states that sponsor terrorism, like Iran, could pose.

Kelly, who took over U.S. Southern Command in November, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference that in the past six years Iran has tried to increase its influence in Central and South America. The Iranian government, he said, has built embassies and cultural centers in the region.

"The concern is that ... they're looking ... for influence -- say for votes in the U.N. on sanctions," he said. "But also, and I've ... made mention to some of our friends in the region that these guys are very, very good at what they do, and very, very skilled at what they do, and that people should just be careful as to who they're dealing with."

The general stressed he is not accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism in Latin America, but he noted that Iran is involved in terrorism in other areas of the world.

"We do know that some terrorist organizations are able to skim off fairly substantial sums of money from the drug profits," Kelly said. "And so there has to be kind of a network for that to happen."

The criminal networks in Latin America are very sophisticated and very well financed, he said.

Drugs are the basis for this wealth and the drug-related money coming out of the United States "is astronomical," Kelly said.

"I mean palettes of money," he said. "For a buck, anything can get on the [drug transport] network."

That network, Kelly said, transports tons of drugs into the United States and Europe and moves bales of money back out.

"The point of it all is the network is a very dangerous thing to have working as effectively as it does, because anything can get on it," he said.

Kelly said his command is working to build military-to-military contacts throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

"The good news about Latin America and my part of the world is that there are no wars," he said.

And most Latin American countries, including Brazil -- the world's fifth-largest economy -- want the United States as a partner, Kelly said.

The countries of the region don't ask for much, the general said.

"When I go down and visit, they're not asking for an awful [lot] -- they're not asking for money," Kelly said. "They're willing to pay their own way."

What the Latin American countries need is expertise, the general said. For example, Peru is asking for help in getting its separate military services to work together better. Colombia needs help in countering improvised explosive devices that the terror group FARC and criminal syndicates use to protect coca fields and factories. Other nations need medical expertise.

Turning to another topic, Kelly noted that sequestration will hit his command hard. He said there will be fewer vessels to interdict cocaine shipments, and fewer troops to operate with partner militaries



Ex-Im Bank Chairman Hochberg Concludes Successful Business Development Mission in Mexico City
Chairman Encourages Mexican Businesses to "Buy American"

Mexico City, Mexico
: Fred P. Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), concluded a successful business-development mission in Mexico March 13 – March 15. During his visit, Hochberg met with local businesses and government leaders to promote Ex-Im Bank financing. The Bank’s financing helps support the purchase of U.S. goods and services by Mexican buyers.

"As our nation’s leading trading partner and Ex-Im Bank’s top customer, Mexico provides enormous opportunities for American businesses and workers," said Hochberg. "I am pleased with the outcome of our meetings and look forward to continuing to work with our partners in Mexico on projects that boost our nations’ economies and create jobs on both sides of the border."

"With bilateral trade of over half a trillion dollars in 2012, Mexico is our second-largest export market and our third-largest source of imports," Ambassador Wayne said. "Supply chains are integrated across the border and thousands of jobs on both sides of the border depend on smooth, open bilateral trade. I am grateful for Chairman Hochberg’s visit and to our Mexican government and private sector counterparts for looking for new ways to build on our strong economic partnership."

While in Mexico City, Hochberg met several business and financial leaders, including Enrique de la Madrid Cordero, director of Bancomext; Carlos Slim Domit, chairman of board, Grupo Carso; Andrés Conesa, chairman of AeroMexico; Eduardo Tricio, chairman of Grupo Industrial Lala; Claudio X. Gonzalez, chairman of Consejo Mexicano de Hombres de Negocios; Alejandro Alonso, CEO of Aerolineas Ejecutivas; Emilio Lozoya Austin, director general of PEMEX; Francisco Rojas, director of CFE; Agustin Carstens, governor of Mexico´s Central Bank; and Luis Videgaray, secretary of Hacienda, Ministry of Treasury.

Mexico is one of nine key markets (others are Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, India, Indonesia and Vietnam) where Ex-Im Bank is focusing its business-development efforts because of the country's infrastructure and development needs. Mexico is currently the largest market exposure in Ex-Im's portfolio ($8.5 billion in FY’12).



Washington, D.C., March 18, 2013 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an asset freeze against a Massachusetts-based investment adviser charged with stealing money from clients who were given the false impression they were investing in a hedge fund.

In a complaint unsealed today in federal court in Boston, the SEC alleges that Gregg D. Caplitz and Insight Onsite Strategic Management in Wilmington, Mass., raised at least $1.1 million from clients that was used for purposes other than investing in the hedge fund they purported to manage. Investor money was merely transferred to the firm’s chief investment officer and other members of her family who spent it on personal expenses. The firm reported in SEC filings that it has $100 million in assets under management, however the purported hedge fund actually has no assets.

U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf granted the SEC’s request for an emergency court order to freeze the assets of Caplitz and his firm as well as others who received investor money and have been named as relief defendants for the purposes of recovering investor funds in their possession.

"Caplitz and his firm conjured up a hedge fund to lure longtime clients into investing substantial amounts of money that became nothing more than a slush fund to pay bills for others," said Julie M. Riewe, Deputy Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Caplitz’s scheme began around 2009. While soliciting funds, Caplitz convinced one client and his wife to invest $275,000 in the hedge fund that Caplitz claimed would generate them about $1,000 per month in returns. Caplitz also solicited a 20-year client who after considering his sales pitch decided not to invest in the hedge fund because she considered it too risky of an investment for someone her age. But Caplitz apparently took action to obtain funds from the client’s IRA account and wire thousands of dollars to an Insight Onsite Strategic Management bank account. The client was not aware of the transfers and did not authorize them.

The SEC alleges that instead of using investor funds to purchase shares in a hedge fund or to manage or develop a hedge fund, Caplitz transferred control of client money to Rosalind Herman, his friend who works at the firm. Investor funds also were transferred to her sons Brad and Brian Herman, daughter-in-law Charlene Herman, and a company called The Knew Finance Experts. The Hermans, who all live in Las Vegas, own that company. The Hermans used investor money to pay legal bills and other personal expenses at gas stations, drugstores, and restaurants.

The SEC alleges that as part of his scheme, Caplitz obtained funds from a real estate investment trust (REIT) by falsely representing that a hedge fund he operated was interested in making an investment in that trust. The public, non-traded REIT gave $135,000 to Caplitz so he could conduct due diligence on the REIT as a precursor to making a $5 million investment that never materialized.

The SEC alleges that Caplitz and Insight Onsite Strategic Management violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5, Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, and Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction plus disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a penalty against Caplitz and his firm. The complaint also names the four Hermans and The Knew Finance Experts as relief defendants and seeks disgorgement plus prejudgment interest.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted in the Boston Regional Office by Mayeti Gametchu and Kevin Kelcourse of the Asset Management Unit and Susan Cooke Anderson. The litigation will be led by Kathy Shields and Ms. Gametchu.

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update


Credit:  CDC
Norovirus is now the leading cause of severe gastroenteritis in US children

Norovirus is now the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis among children less than 5 years of age who seek medical care, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Norovirus was responsible for nearly 1 million pediatric medical care visits for 2009 and 2010 in the United States, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment costs each year.

"Infants and young children are very susceptible to norovirus infections, which often result in a high risk of getting dehydrated from the sudden onset of intense vomiting and severe diarrhea," said Dr. Daniel Payne, an epidemiologist in the Division of Viral Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Our study estimates that 1 in 278 U.S. children will be hospitalized for norovirus illness by the time they turn 5 years of age. It is also estimated that about 1 in 14 children will visit an emergency room and 1 in 6 will receive outpatient care for norovirus infections."

The researchers tracked infants and young children requiring medical care for acute gastroenteritis, which causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, from October 2008 through September 2010. The study looked at more than 141,000 children less than 5 years of age living in three U.S. counties. Lab testing was done to confirm specimens for norovirus.

Norovirus was detected in 21 percent (278) of the 1,295 cases of acute gastroenteritis, while rotavirus was identified in only 12 percent (152) of the cases. About 50 percent of the medical care visits due to norovirus infections were among children aged 6 to 18 months. Infants and 1-year-old children were more likely to be hospitalized than older children. However, overall rates of norovirus in emergency rooms and outpatient offices were 20 to 40 times higher than hospitalization rates. Nationally, the researchers estimated that in 2009 and 2010, there were 14,000 hospitalizations, 281,000 emergency room visits, and 627,000 outpatient visits due to norovirus illness in children less than 5 years of age. This amounted to an estimated $273 million in treatment costs each year.

"Our study confirmed that medical visits for rotavirus illness have decreased," said Dr. Payne. "Also, our study reinforces the success of the U.S. rotavirus vaccination program and also emphasize the value of specific interventions to protect against norovirus illness." Norovirus vaccines are currently being developed, which may be especially important for young children and elderly people who are high risk.

Norovirus is highly contagious. Each year, more than 21 million people in the United States get infected with norovirus and develop acute gastroenteritis, and approximately 800 people die. Young children and elderly people are more likely to suffer from severe norovirus infections. The virus spreads primarily through close contact with infected people, such as caring for someone who is ill. It also spreads through contaminated food, water and hard surfaces. The best ways to reduce the risk of norovirus infection are through proper hand washing, safe food handling, and good hygiene.


The U.S.-India Partnership in the Asian Century
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
University of California, Berkeley Institute of International Studies
Berkeley, CA
March 21, 2013

Thank you, Neil, for that kind introduction and for inviting me here today. I’d like to thank Professor Pradeep Chhibber, Director of the Institute of International Studies for organizing this event. I’d also like to give a shout out to Ambassador Steve Browning, the State Department’s Diplomat in Residence here at Berkeley, who has no doubt persuaded countless Berkeley grads to join our ranks.

I met earlier this afternoon with some students studying South Asian issues and, based on our engaging discussion and their provocative questions, I think that they would all make fine recruits. In fact, a notable number of U.S. diplomats received degrees from UC Berkeley, where their interest in foreign affairs was sparked and nurtured. Most notably, my friend the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, class of 1982, is among the ranks of prominent Berkeley alumni.

In Secretary Kerry’s first public speech last month at the University of Virginia, he highlighted the role that foreign policy plays in the lives of average Americans. "In today’s global world," he said, "there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don’t just ripple outward; they also create a current right here in America. Foreign policy is important not just in terms of the threats that we face, but the products that we buy, the goods that we sell, and the opportunity that we provide for economic growth and vitality."

And that is why Berkeley is the perfect venue for our discussion today on the U.S.-India Partnership in the Asian Century. Located near Silicon Valley in a diverse, multicultural community, you understand first-hand how partnerships between American and Indian entrepreneurs can spark innovation, foster prosperity, and contribute to a vibrant, dynamic America.

Just next door, Indian Americans are responsible for founding about a seventh of all of Silicon Valley’s startups. And their contributions are seen not just in Silicon Valley, nor are they limited to IT. Indians start more companies than any other immigrant group in California and also lead all immigrant groups in the number of companies founded nation-wide in the industries of bioscience, environment, defense and aerospace.

When we talk about India in the context of the rising Asia-Pacific region, we have to include California, which can be considered a Pacific power in its own right, and one that will play a critical role in ensuring that America is connected with the economic boom happening across the Pacific region. In California alone, our exports to India are worth over $3.7 billion annually.

Today, I will begin with an overview of our relationship with India to illustrate just how far we have come. I will then talk about the education collaboration that is building a vast web of people-to-people ties that will carry our relationship through the next generation. I will touch on our robust economic partnership, and conclude by highlighting our work together to ensure security in the Indian Ocean region and beyond.

U.S.-India Relationship

There is perhaps no nation in the world with which we have traveled faster and farther over the last fifteen years than India. From 1998 when India exploded a nuclear weapon and we enacted sanctions in response, we have seen a remarkable transformation forged on the basis of common values such as pluralism, tolerance, openness, and respect for fundamental freedoms. We have seen important milestones from 9/11 when both our nations recognized the opportunity to work more closely to counter terrorism, to the landmark U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2005.

President Obama and Prime Minister Singh agreed to expand the Strategic Partnership further by establishing a Strategic Dialogue chaired by the Secretary of State and Indian External Affairs Minister to give strategic focus to our widening collaboration. Today, we collaborate on nearly every issue of strategic importance, fully living up to the President’s declaration that the U.S.-India relationship will be the "defining partnership of the 21st century." Over the last decade, the United States and India have deepened economic, military, and strategic ties. Let me describe some specific areas of engagement.

Trade, Investment and Sub-National Engagement

Our booming trade relationship already is delivering substantial benefits to the American people. Over the past decade, our bilateral trade has nearly quadrupled, reaching nearly $100 billion last year. India is also among the fastest growing investors in the United States, highlighting the mutually beneficial nature of our economic relationship. As bilateral trade and investment flourish, our software development, manufacturing, aerospace, healthcare, and many more sectors are thriving. To give one example: India has contracted with Boeing to purchase ten C-17 transport aircraft worth $4 billion from Boeing’s facility in Long Beach California.

As the Indian market continues to open and integrate more fully with the global economy, the future looks even brighter. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report predicts that the Indian economy will more than quadruple in size by 2030, to nearly $8 trillion, making it the world’s third-largest economy. This expanding economic base, which includes everything from high-tech and media to finance and tourism, could be even larger if the Indian government addresses policy and regulatory restrictions that constrain imports from the United States and elsewhere.

Despite this promise, India faces enormous resource constraints, particularly in infrastructure. Current estimates suggest that 80% of the infrastructure required to sustain and support India in 2030 has yet to be built. The United States is home to some of the most competitive road, bridge, water supply, electrical grid, and telecommunications companies in the world. So we see a big opportunity in this growth to deepen our commercial partnership with India, working together with American companies to build the airports, power plants, water and sanitation systems, and fiber optic networks of India’s future.

Businesses and citizens on both sides are recognizing the benefits of increased partnership. A 2012 report by the Confederation of Indian Industry noted that Indian companies in America had invested more than $820 million in U.S.-based facilities, had collectively conducted 72 mergers and acquisitions in the United States since 2005, and had projected research and development investments estimated to be over $190 million in 2012 alone. Indian companies operating in the United States are adding tremendous value to the local economies in which they operate, the most tangible effects of which are felt at the state and county levels. That’s why one of our top priorities in building the partnership with India is to expand state- and local-level engagement.

This year, at least eight American governors and city mayors plan to visit India with trade and investment delegations, which the State Department is pleased to help arrange. We are particularly excited that Governor Jerry Brown is planning a visit to India. During these visits, state officials and private sector representatives explore opportunities for job creation and investments by American companies in India and Indian companies in America. Our state officials increasingly understand that, as the fastest-growing market for U.S. exports, India provides significant opportunities to drive U.S. job growth and bring economic opportunity to the American workforce.

In February of this year, a 30-member delegation from California traveled to India to explore agricultural cooperation with the Indian state of Haryana. The delegation which included deans from four different California universities promoted the expertise and technological know-how, including in drip irrigation, horticulture, and cold storage facilities, of great benefit to the state’s agricultural economy. We look forward to hearing about the business deals and new partnerships resulting from their visit.

Education Collaboration

A cornerstone of keeping both of our economies healthy and growing is to ensure that we have the best possible education systems, particularly higher education, so that our students can receive the education and training they need for our country to compete successfully and to continue to drive innovation and entrepreneurship.

U.S.-Indian collaboration in the sphere of education is growing fast. We are proud that more than 100,000 young Indians study in the U.S., second only to China in numbers. But we want to do more. That’s why we have a higher Education dialogue that Secretary Kerry chairs with his Indian counterpart. That’s why we have a Passport to India program to provide internship opportunities for young Americans in India. That’s why we have made India the recipient of our largest Fulbright scholar program in the world. There are a growing number of collaborative programs between American and Indian institutions, at the cutting edge of creating knowledge and solutions for the future. Leading U.S. universities have established or are currently developing innovative educational joint ventures with India.

Berkeley is a great example of this, with its long history of collaborating with India. With some 70 India-related courses taught here every semester, a significant number of faculty member projects in India and an estimated 800 alumni in India, Berkeley is a leader in forging educational and institution partnerships with India. A UC Berkeley delegation which visited India in 2007 helped enable numerous collaborative research projects, as well as the information exchange and resultant scientific breakthroughs which have real-life impact on the wellbeing of our citizens. Berkeley’s collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, in the areas of clean energies, particularly biofuels, and diseases, particularly TB and malaria, are but a couple of examples of the cutting-edge collaboration made possible by this partnership.

Through these kinds of collaboration, it is the citizens of our nations who propel the U.S.-India relationship forward, as relationships between nations are rooted in the relationships between their people.

Clean Energy Partnerships

One of the most exciting aspects of our growing collaboration is the effort to combat the effects of climate change, which has tremendous economic as well as environmental implications. As one of the world’s ten largest economies and top five greenhouse gas emitters, India has important stakes in global climate change and clean energy discussions.

Our energy, space, and commercial dialogues include bilateral technical and scientific initiatives that deliver clear, immediate, environmental and economic benefits that promote low-carbon growth. We work together to increase energy efficiency, expand renewable energy, and improve forest and resource management, including weather forecasting to improve farming.

The U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy, initiated in 2009, has mobilized more than $1.7 billion in public and private resources for clean energy projects in India, which has also benefited American companies, many of them located here in California. U.S. companies have installed 40% of India’s first 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity.

Regional Cooperation

As we build a vital economic partnership with India, we also support India’s broader role in the Asia-Pacific region. With many of the world’s nuclear powers, half of its population, and some of the most dynamic economies in the world in the Asia Pacific, we firmly believe that much of the history of the 21st century will be written here. That is why President Obama called for a rebalance of U.S. foreign policy toward this region.

We should not forget, however, that for India the notion of the Asia-Pacific region as a key driver of global politics and economics is nothing new. It has shared cultural and historical ties that have laid the foundation for its expanded involvement of today. Through the "Look East" policy it initiated in 1991, India began to link itself more closely with its Asian partners to engage the rest of the world. Today India is forging closer and deeper economic ties with its eastern neighbors by expanding regional markets and increasing both investments and industrial development. India is also seeking greater security and military cooperation with its neighbors through greater commitment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The United States supports and welcomes these developments. We have encouraged India to not simply look east, but to "engage east and act east" as well. We welcome robust Indian economic engagement with the states of East and Southeast Asia, and we see even greater potential in this region.

Thanks in part to Burma’s recent political and economic reforms, we now see unprecedented opportunities for trade and engagement between South and East Asia, especially along the emergent road, air, and sea links between India, Bangladesh, Burma, and the rapidly expanding economies of ASEAN.

In the past year alone, trade between India and the countries of Southeast Asia increased by 37%. This emerging Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is a boon for the region; at the same time, it also provides our economy with potential new markets. Linkages across the rapidly expanding economies of South Asia with those of Southeast Asia will both accelerate economic development and strengthen regional stability, while helping unlock and expand markets for American goods and services.

Because of our shared interest in a secure, interconnected, and economically prosperous Asia-Pacific region, we have increased our dialogue and cooperation with India in the Asia Pacific. Through the semiannual U.S.-India Consultations on the Asia-Pacific and the India-U.S.-Japan Trilateral Consultations, we share a vital exchange of views on the development of this crucial region. Our discussions emphasize how we can better align strategies to reinforce one another’s engagement.

To protect and advance our growing, shared economic interests, we are working together to ensure security in the Indian Ocean and beyond. India transports over 90% of its goods by sea, and shares our interest in ensuring that trade flows remain open. Like us, India understands that economic integration, enabled by the improvements in connectivity across Asia, will lead to prosperity that benefits all countries in the region. Already in the Western Indian Ocean region, India is demonstrating its growing maritime capabilities with a robust counter-piracy approach that serves common regional interests. As a founding member of the international Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, India has shown great leadership in the efforts to combat piracy stemming from Somalia, which threatens trade flows to and from Asia.

South Asia

Our interests also increasingly converge on issues such as promoting democracy and peace in India’s neighbors to the north, east and south. As you may have heard, earlier today the UN Human Rights Council, including India, voted in favor of a U.S.-led resolution calling on the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments to its people on post-conflict accountability and reconciliation. India’s support and close coordination has been crucial. The United States and India are Sri Lanka’s largest trading partners, and we share a mutual desire to see peace and reconciliation among all Sri Lankans.

We both want to see Nepal’s transition to a full constitutional democracy come to fruition and welcome the formation of the Interim Election government. And we are glad to see India’s increasingly close cooperation and progress in addressing long-standing disputes with Bangladesh. With all three, we have strongly welcomed India’s regional role as a beacon of democracy and economic prosperity.


Nowhere is India’s role more critical than in Afghanistan, particularly as we prepare for the 2014 transition. The Afghan government looks to India as a regional source of economic, political and security support. India is the largest regional investor in Afghanistan, led by a planned $10 billion mining investment, and has committed more than $2 billion in official assistance for reconstruction purposes. Last year New Delhi hosted a major summit on international investment in Afghanistan’s economy. As Afghanistan shifts its economy from aid to trade in the coming years, India’s regional role as a driver of economic prosperity and anchor of democratic stability becomes even more important.

Next month in Almaty, India and other countries of the region, will meet to discuss how they can best support a secure and prosperous Afghanistan, integrated into its region. This gathering is part of the Istanbul Process, in which Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors support Afghanistan through a range of initiatives that advance security and regional economic cooperation. For instance, India chairs a working group focused on expanding cross-border commercial and business-to-business relations. We welcome India’s leadership, because the United States and India have a shared interest in Afghanistan’s security and prosperity as well as a shared vision for increasing regional cooperation in support of Afghanistan.


In conclusion, I am proud to report that our partnership has achieved much, whether it’s creating jobs and economic opportunity for American and Indians; meeting the need to educate the next generation; promoting security and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region; or countering the effects of climate change. But this partnership holds the promise for even more – and for that we look to you. If the next generation of students, educators, businesspeople, and artists have the same opportunity that I have had, to build new collaborations and form lasting friendships with the people of India, I am confident you will help fulfill the promise of this "defining partnership of the 21st century." Thank you.



Soyuz TMA-06M Spacecraft

JSC2013-E-017269 (16 March 2013) --- The Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft lies passively on its side March 16 after bringing home Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford of NASA, Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin to a landing northeast of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan following a one-day delay due to inclement weather in the area. The Soyuz initially landed upright before being tilted on its side for servicing after touching down to wrap up 144 days in space and 142 days for Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin at the International Space Station. The three crew members were flown by helicopter to Kustanai, Kazakhstan en route to their homes in Houston and Star City, Russia. Photo credit: Sergey Vigovskiy

Friday, March 22, 2013


Combined Operation Yields Arrests in Wardak Province
From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 22, 2013 - A combined Afghan and coalition security force today arrested a senior Taliban leader and two high-profile attack facilitators and detained two other insurgents in the Jalrayz district of Afghanistan's Wardak province, military officials reported.

The Taliban leader is accused of planning and directing a number of high-profile attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. His background includes kidnapping and assassination attempts against government officials, efforts to destabilize Afghan elections and recruitment of insider-threat agents, officials said.

In other Afghanistan operations today:

-- A combined force in Kunduz province's Khanabad district detained an insurgent during a search for a Taliban operational leader. The insurgent is believed to be a member of the leader's cell of fighters and to have participated in numerous attacks against Afghan government officials and Afghan and coalition forces.

-- In Paktia province's Gardez district, a combined force arrested a facilitator who works for both the Taliban and the Haqqani network and is accused of handling money and supplies for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also was in direct contact with senior leadership for several extremist groups.



130321-N-TG831-445 WATERS TO THE WEST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (March 21, 2013) U.S. and Republic of Korea Navy ships sail in formation during exercise Foal Eagle 2013. Ships from Destroyer Squadron 15, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, are underway to conduct exercise Foal Eagle 2013 with allied nation Republic of Korea in support of regional security and stability of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Declan Barnes/Released)

130320-N-FG395-130 KINGS BAY, Ga. (March 20, 2013) The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay after three months at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/Released)


Message to the Iranian People on Nowruz
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 20, 2013

It’s a privilege to join President Obama in sending warm wishes for health and prosperity to the people of Iran and all those who celebrate Nowruz around the world.

As you gather with your loved ones around the Sofreh Haft-Seen, we are proud to note that many Americans will join you in celebrating Nowruz. This year, we are once again reminded of the outstanding contributions of Iranian-Americans and Iranian students here in the United States, which reflect the rich history of your culture. I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family, and grateful for how they have enriched my life.

Despite the difficult history of the last decades between the United States and Iran, there is an opportunity to work diplomatically to reduce tensions and address the mistrust between our two countries, to the mutual benefit of both of our people. As President Obama has said, we are strongly committed to resolving the differences between Iran and the United States, and continuing to work toward a new day in our relationship. We sincerely hope Iran’s leaders choose to fulfill their obligations to not only the international community but also to their people so that Iran can begin to take its proper place in the community of nations, and the Iranian people can have access to the same opportunities and freedoms enjoyed by others around the world.

Just last month, Americans and Iranians came together to demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship and camaraderie on the wrestling mats in Tehran. On this Nowruz, we would like to reaffirm our desire to continue building strong people-to-people ties to promote greater understanding, peace, and progress.

May this New Year be filled with a renewed sense of hope and a new commitment to peace and fundamental freedoms. On behalf of the United States, we extend our best wishes for a joyous and prosperous New Year. Nowruzetoon Mobarak!


Photo Credit:   Wikimedia Commons.
I’m Ira Dreyfuss with HHS HealthBeat.

Researchers looking at three computer models have figured out what would happen if we all started to use a little less sodium – commonly, salt – in our food. At the University of California, San Francisco, Pamela Coxson had the computer models assume we could work our way, a bit at a time, to the dietary equivalent of a half teaspoon less salt a day over 10 years:

"All three models predicted mortality reductions on the order of hundreds of thousands of avoided deaths over the 10 years."

That’s up to a half million lives.

Most of the sodium we get is in prepared foods and meals out, so it pays to look hard at the nutrition labeling.

The study in the journal Hypertension was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Agencies Issue Updated Leveraged Lending Guidance

WASHINGTON—Federal bank regulatory agencies today released updated supervisory guidance on leveraged lending, which has been increasing since 2009 after declining during the financial crisis.

The guidance from the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the agencies) covers transactions characterized by a borrower with a degree of financial leverage that significantly exceeds industry norms. The guidance replaces guidance issued in April 2001.

Before the financial crisis, the volume of leveraged credit transactions grew tremendously and participation by non-regulated investors willing to accept looser terms increased. While leveraged lending declined during the crisis, volumes have since increased and prudent underwriting practices have deteriorated. For example, some debt agreements have included features that weaken lender protection by excluding meaningful maintenance covenants and including other features that can limit lenders' recourse in the event of weakened borrower performance. In addition, capital and repayment structures for some transactions, whether originated to hold or to distribute, have been aggressive. Management information systems at some institutions have proven less than satisfactory in accurately aggregating exposures on a timely basis.

It is important that banks provide leveraged financing to creditworthy borrowers in a safe and sound manner.

The guidance issued today focuses attention on the following key areas:
Establishing a sound risk-management framework: The agencies expect that management and the board of directors identify the institution's risk appetite for leveraged finance, establish appropriate credit limits, and ensure prudent oversight and approval processes.
Underwriting standards: An institution’s underwriting standards should clearly define expectations for cash flow capacity, amortization, covenant protection, collateral controls, and the underlying business premise for each transaction, and should consider whether the borrower’s capital structure is sustainable, regardless of whether the transaction is underwritten to hold or to distribute.
Valuation standards: An institution’s standards should concentrate on the importance of sound methods in the determination and periodic revalidation of enterprise value.
Pipeline management: An institution should be able to accurately measure exposure on a timely basis; establish policies and procedures that address failed transactions and general market disruptions; and ensure periodic stress tests of exposures to loans not yet distributed to buyers.
Reporting and analytics: An institution should ensure that management information systems accurately capture key obligor characteristics and aggregates them across business lines and legal entities on a timely basis, with periodic reporting to the institution’s board of directors.
Risk rating leveraged loans: An institution’s risk rating standards should consider the use of realistic repayment assumptions to determine a borrower’s ability to de-lever to a sustainable level within a reasonable period of time.
Participants: An institution that participates in leveraged loans should establish underwriting and monitoring standards similar to loans underwritten internally.
Stress testing: An institution should perform stress testing on leveraged loans held in portfolio as well as those planned for distribution, in accordance with existing interagency issuances.

This guidance applies to financial institutions supervised by the agencies that engage in leveraged lending activities. The number of community banks with substantial involvement in leveraged lending is small and they should be largely unaffected by this guidance.


Lava fountain at Kilauea in Hawaii.  Credit:  Wikimedia Commons/USGS.
Scientists Discover Layer of Liquified Molten Rock in Earth's Mantle

Scientists have discovered a layer of liquified molten rock in Earth's mantle that may be responsible for the sliding motions of the planet's massive tectonic plates.

The finding may carry far-reaching implications, from understanding basic geologic functions of the planet to new insights into volcanism and earthquakes.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and is reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature by Samer Naif, Kerry Key, and Steven Constable of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), and Rob Evans of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

"This new image greatly enhances our understanding of the role that fluids, both seawater and deep subsurface melts, play in controlling tectonic and volcanic processes," said Bil Haq, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the work through the NSF Directorate for Geosciences' MARGINS (now GeoPRISMS) Program.

The scientists discovered the magma layer at the Middle America trench off Nicaragua's shores.

Using advanced seafloor electromagnetic imaging technology pioneered at SIO, the scientists imaged a 25-kilometer- (15.5-mile-) thick layer of partially melted mantle rock below the edge of the Cocos plate where it moves beneath Central America.

The new images of magma were captured during a 2010 expedition aboard the research vessel Melville.

After deploying a vast array of seafloor instruments that recorded natural electromagnetic signals to map features of the crust and mantle, the scientists realized they had found magma in a surprising place.

"This was completely unexpected," said Key. "We went out looking to get an idea of how fluids are interacting with plate subduction, but we discovered a melt layer we weren't expecting to find."

For decades scientists have debated the forces that allow the planet's tectonic plates to slide across the Earth's mantle.

Studies have shown that dissolved water in mantle minerals results in a more ductile mantle that would facilitate tectonic plate motions, but for many years clear images and data required to confirm or deny this idea were lacking.

"Our data tell us that water can't accommodate the features we are seeing," said Naif. "The information from the new images confirms the idea that there needs to be some amount of melt in the upper mantle. That's what's creating this ductile behavior for plates to slide."

The marine electromagnetic technology employed in the study was originated by Charles "Chip" Cox, an emeritus oceanographer at SIO, and in recent years further advanced by Constable and Key.

They have been working with the energy industry to apply this technology to map offshore oil and gas reservoirs.

The researchers say their results will help geologists better understand the structure of the tectonic plate boundary and how that affects earthquakes and volcanism.

"One of the longer-term implications of our results is that we are going to understand more about the plate boundary, which could lead to a better understanding of earthquakes," said Key.

The researchers are now trying to find the source that supplies the magma in the newly discovered layer.

The Seafloor Electromagnetic Methods Consortium at SIO also supported the research.



Sikes Act Anchors DOD's Conservation Program, Official Says
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2013 - Military lands serve a critical role in protecting the nation and the nation's natural resources, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for environment and installations said here today.

At a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee's subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife, oceans and insular affairs to discuss proposed bills to reauthorize and amend the Sikes Act, John Conger said the act serves as the cornerstone of the Defense Department's Natural Resources Conservation Program.

Because public access to military lands often is restricted, they contain some of the nation's most significant remaining large tracts of undisturbed natural habitats, he said.

More than 520 species at risk live on the 28 million acres covered by the act, Conger said. "A surprising number of these species are ... found nowhere else in the world," he noted.

First enacted in 1960, the act ensures that sensitive ecosystems on military installations are protected while still allowing the services to use military lands according to their operational needs. "This is an invaluable tool for us," Conger said. "It has protected our mission in a myriad of different ways."

The proposed bills would extend the act through fiscal year 2019 and amend it to expand the cases in which federal and state matching funds could be used for conservation efforts. The amendment would give the department more flexibility and foster additional interdepartmental cooperation, Conger said.

The act is a conservation success story, Stephen D. Guertin, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in his testimony. Under the act, joint DOD, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state conservation efforts have restored habitats and reduced threats to animal and plant life on military bases, he said.

A 1997 amendment required DOD to complete integrated natural resources management plans, to be reviewed annually, at about 380 military installations in the United States. The plans are prepared in cooperation with the federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, and reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies every five years. The arrangement allows DOD to capitalize on the expertise of its statutory partners, Guertin said.

"The evolving benefit of the bill is clear," Conger said. "One of the key successes of the Sikes Act is that it supports and strengthens our partnerships."


Southcom Chief: Iran Working to Expand Influence in Latin America
By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013 - U.S. Southern Command's top officer told Congress today that Iran is actively working to expand its presence in Latin America to cultivate allies at a time when Tehran is facing tough U.S and international sanctions for its alleged nuclear weapons program.

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly told the House Armed Services Committee that Iran "has been very, very active over the last few years" in cultivating diplomatic and cultural ties to the region, especially by befriending Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died earlier this month.

"They've opened embassies, they've opened cultural centers," he testified, adding that on the surface, all of this appears to be normal.

"But to what end is obviously the issue," he told the House panel.

Kelly told lawmakers he could discuss details about what the Iranian government's goals might be only in a closed session. He mentioned Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina as countries that have been the target of Iran's diplomatic and economic outreach.

Despite Iran's outreach to countries that he said have interests unfavorable to the United States, the general cast Iran's overtures as being far from successful and described a region as largely uninterested in Tehran's diplomatic engagement.

"The region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts," Kelly said in his prepared testimony. But he cautioned that Iran's allies, including Hezbollah, have established a presence in several Latin-American countries to deadly effect, recalling that Iran and Hezbollah were blamed for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that killed more than 80 people.

"Proselytizers with ties to global Islamic groups are attempting to radicalize and recruit among the Muslim communities throughout the region," he said, adding that the United States and its partners "should be extremely concerned whenever external extremist groups or state sponsors of terrorism see the Western Hemisphere as attractive or, even worse, vulnerable."

Kelly pointed out that Venezuelan government officials have been sanctioned for providing financial support to Hezbollah, as well as for supporting rebels in neighboring Colombia.

Kelly said China is another country far outside Latin America that wants to compete with the United States for influence in the region, and is very engaged economically, "buying commodities in a big way and also investing in port facilities." This, he added, is all the more reason for the United States to continue working to strengthen partnerships in the region.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Photo caption: Ancient stone tools showing the pace of remarkable technological enhancements over time (1.75 to 0.85 million years ago). Credit, Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Documenting Stone Age Cleverness By Tool Development
Ancient handaxe craftsmanship gives insight into mental advances

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., March 12, 2013—LOS ALAMOS, N.M., March 12, 2013—Stone Age man’s gradual improvement in tool development, particularly in crafting stone handaxes, is providing insight into the likely mental advances these early humans made a million years ago. Better tools make for better hunting, and better tools come from more sophisticated thought processes. Close analysis of bits of chipped and flaked stone from across Ethiopia is helping scientists crack the code of how these early humans thought over time.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Giday WoldeGabriel and a team of Ethiopian, Japanese, American and German researchers recently examined the world’s oldest handaxes and other stone tools from southern Ethiopia. Their observation of improved workmanship over time indicates a distinct advance in mental capabilities of the residents in the entire region, with potential impacts in tool-development skills, and in overall spatial and navigational capabilities, all of which improved their hunting adaptation.

"Even though fossil remains of the tool makers are not commonly preserved, the handaxes clearly archive the evolution of innovation in craftsmanship, acquired intelligence and social behavior in a pre-human community over a million-year interval," said WoldeGabriel.

The scientists determined the age of the tools based on the interlayered volcanic ashes with the handaxe-bearing sedimentary deposits in Konso, Ethiopia. Handaxes and other double-sided or bifacial tools are known as the first purposely-shaped tools made by humanity and are closely associated with Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. A paper in a special series of inaugural articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, "The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia," described their work.

Some experts suggest that manufacturing three-dimensional symmetric tools is possible only with advanced mental-imaging capacities. Such tools might have emerged in association with advanced spatial and navigational cognition, perhaps related to an enhanced mode of hunting adaptation. Purposeful thinning of large bifacial tools is technologically difficult, the researchers note. In modern humans, acquisition and transmission of such skills occur within a complex social context that enables sustained motivation during long-term practice and learning over a possible five-year period.

Making the right tools for the job

Researchers observed that the handaxes’ structure evolved from thick, roughly-manufactured stone tools in the earliest period of Acheulean tool making, approximately 1.75 million years ago to thinner and more symmetric tools around 0.85 Ma or megaannum, a unit of time equal to one million years. The Acheulean is a stone-age technology named after a site in France where handaxes from this tradition were first discovered.

The chronological framework for this handaxe assemblage, based on the ages of volcanic ashes and sediments, suggests that this type of tool making was being established on a regional scale at that time, paralleling the emergence of Homo erectus-like hominid morphology. The appearance of the Ethiopian Acheulean handaxes at approximately 1.75 Ma is chronologically indistinguishable from similar tools recently found west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, more than 125 miles to the south.

"To me, the most intriguing story of the discovery is that a pre-human community lived in a locality known as Konso at the southern end of the Ethiopian Rift System for at least a million years and how the land sustained the livelihood of the occupants for that long period of time. In contrast, look at what our species has done to Earth in less than 100,000 years – the time it took for modern humans to disperse out of Africa and impose our voracious appetite for resources, threatening our planet and our existence," WoldeGabriel said.

The research team

WoldeGabriel is a specialist in field and volcanic geology and geochronology, and together with his research collaborators examined the scattered geologic sections in which early hominid fossils and tools are found. Through geological fieldwork, volcanic ash chemistry and geochronology, he helps to rebuild the time and space framework of the paleo landscape.

In addition to the Konso research project, WoldeGabriel is also co-leader and lead geologist of the Middle Awash project, a collaborative research project in Ethiopia of the Institute of Geophysics, Planetary Physics and Signatures and University of California, Berkeley, which has recovered the fossil remains of at least eight species, including some of the earliest hominids, spanning the past six million years.

The team that studied the handaxes and their geological context includes researchers Yonas Beyene (Association for Research and Conservation of Culture, Ethiopia) and Berhane Asfaw (Rift Valley Research Service, Ethiopia), Shigehiro Katoh (Hyogo Museum of Nature and Human Activities, Japan), Kozo Uto (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and technology, Japan), Megumi Kondo (Ochanomizu University, Japan), Masayuki Hyodo (Kobe University) and Gen Suwa (University of Tokyo), William K. Hart (Miami University of Ohio), Paul R. Renne (Berkeley Geochronology Center and University of California, Berkeley) and WoldeGabriel (Los Alamos National Laboratory) and Masafumi Sudo (University of Potsdam, Germany). The Institute of Geophysics, Planetary Physics and Signatures provided partial funding for the Los Alamos research.



The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) transits north in the Suez Canal as part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility promoting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Andrew Schneider (Released) 130316-N-XQ474-223

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) transits the Suez Canal. Dwight D. Eisenhower is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility promoting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kameren Guy Hodnett (Released) 130316-N-KG407-025


Combined Force Arrests Weapons Broker in Kandahar
From an International Security Assistance Force News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 21, 2013 - A combined Afghan and coalition security force arrested a Taliban weapons facilitator and detained another insurgent in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan's Kandahar province today, military officials reported.

The facilitator is accused of brokering deals for weapons and ammunition for insurgent fighters to use in attacks on Afghan and coalition forces.

In Helmand province's Nawah-ye Barakzai district yesterday, a combined security force arrested a Taliban leader and detained two other insurgents believed to have carried out a significant number of improvised explosive device attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

In other news, Afghan and coalition security forces today confirmed the death of Hazratullah, a Haqqani network leader, in Khost province's Sabari district. He had a long history of procuring weapons, IED components, ammunition and other supplies for militants to use in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.


Gulf Remains Critical to U.S. Interests, Dempsey Says
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2013 - The U.S. commitment to security in the Persian Gulf remains firm, the nation's senior military officer said here today.

Speaking as part of a recurring Persian Gulf forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed how budget pressures and a force drawdown will affect U.S. military engagement in the Gulf region.

Countries bordering the Persian Gulf include Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Dempsey noted he lived and worked in Iraq and Saudi Arabia for many years. "I came here today with a message of assurance -- a little peace of mind in the context of uncertainty," the general told the audience.

Nations and people share an interest in a common future, he said, "and that will always be the case, and always factor into the decisions we make about distribution of forces, partnering, engaging -- all the things we've done, really, for the past 25 or 30 years -- to make sure that the Middle East, in particular, is on a path for greater security and stability."

The U.S. presence in the Gulf since 1991 was originally because of Saddam Hussein's aggression, Dempsey said. "But we stayed there because, I think, we came to a realization that the future of the region was tied to our future ... [through] shared interests in a common future where people would be able to build a better life, and where threats could be managed collaboratively -- not by the United States uniquely, but by the relationships we would build," he added.

Dempsey said his view is that while the number of U.S. boots on the ground or airplanes in the sky varies over time, that's not a good measure of regional commitment. He said multinational training and military school exchanges, for example, offer U.S. and allied forces opportunities to build commitment and partnerships in the Gulf region.

Dempsey noted the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War serves as an occasion to reflect on U.S. actions there.

"I spent three years in Iraq. ... We're all aware that tomorrow is the 10-year anniversary, and the debate goes on about whether we should have, whether it was worth it -- and that debate will go on," he said.

Dempsey said his personal belief is the United States achieved two significant results in Iraq.

"First of all, there is no longer the strongman, the dictator, and the threat to the region ... that there was," he said, referring to the fall from power and subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein.

"Secondly, and I think importantly, we've given the Iraqi people an incredible opportunity," the chairman said. While he acknowledged the Iraq War included missteps and opportunities gained and lost, he noted that, in the end, the nation gained a partner and lost an adversary.

"It remains to be seen, still, about how strong a partner they are willing [to] and can become," he said. "But we have a partner."

Dempsey said he seeks to build relationships in the Gulf, as in other regions, that are not measured simply in terms of air wings or carrier battle groups. Where allied and partner nations are willing to build their capabilities, he said, the United States is eager to help. He noted a recent counter-mine exercise involving some 24 nations.

"That's the future," he said. "Not necessarily the United States of America sitting there with half of the United States Navy positioned in the Gulf, but rather ... a long-term strategy that's feasible given the resources available."

The United States has strong Gulf allies in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Dempsey said.

"We just have to figure out, 'How do we help you do more, so we can do less?" he said. "But that doesn't mean less well."

From September 2001 to June 2003, Dempsey served in Saudi Arabia, training and advising the Saudi Arabian National Guard. In June 2003, he took command of the Army's 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, where he led the division for 14 months. In August 2005, he returned to Iraq for two years to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. From August 2007 through October 2008, Dempsey served as the deputy commander and then acting commander of U.S. Central Command.


This dual image of a Martian rock taken by the ChemCam instrument aboard the Curiosity rover shows a rock at the "Rocknest" area on Mars before it was interrogated with ChemCam's high-powered laser (left) and after interrogation by 600 laser blasts (right). The crosshairs in the darkened portion of the image at right shows where the laser beam penetrated to a depth of at least 1 mm as a result of the repeated shots. The ChemCam laser vaporizes a small amount of material that can be read by a spectrometer to determine the target's composition. Los Alamos National Laboratory postdoctoral researcher Nina Lanza is studying whether Martian rocks are coated with dust or some other substance, and she presented her research at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas. (photo credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Los Alamos Science Sleuth on the Trail of a Martian Mystery
Postdoctoral researcher sees promise in data from cutting room floor

THE WOODLANDS, Texas, March 19, 2013—When it comes to examining the surface of rocks on Mars with a high-powered laser, five is a magic number for Los Alamos National Laboratory postdoctoral researcher Nina Lanza.

During a poster session today at the 44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas, Lanza described how the laser-shooting ChemCam instrument aboard the Curiosity rover currently searching the surface of Mars for signs of habitability has shown what appears to be a common feature on the surface of some very different Martian rocks during Curiosity’s first 90 days on the Red Planet.

But exactly what that common feature is remains an intriguing mystery—and one that Lanza intends to solve.

The ChemCam instrument uses an extremely powerful laser to vaporize a pinpoint of rock surface. The instrument then reads the chemical composition of the vaporized sample with a spectrometer. The highly accurate laser can fire multiple pulses in the same spot, providing scientists with an opportunity to gently interrogate a rock sample, even up to a millimeter in depth. Many rocks are zapped 30 to 50 times in a single location, and one rock was zapped 600 times.

Members of the ChemCam team generally discard results from the first five laser blasts because of a belief that after the first five blasts, the laser has penetrated to a depth that provides a true representative sample of rock chemistry.

Instead of tossing out those data, however, Lanza looked at them specifically across a diverse set of Martian rocks. She found that the first five shots had chemical similarities regardless the rock type. What’s more, after five shots, like other scientists had noticed, the spectrum from the vaporized rock stabilized into a representative sample of the rock type below.

"Why is it always five shots?" Lanza wondered.

It could be the first five shots were reading a layer of dust that had settled onto the surface of every rock, but results in laboratories on Earth seem to indicate that the first laser blast creates a tiny shockwave that is very effective at clearing dust from the sample. Therefore, if the first blast is dusting off the rocks, the remaining four blasts could be showing that Martian rocks are coated by a substance, similar in structure if not composition, to the dark rock varnish appearing on Earth rocks in arid locations like the desert Southwest.

"The thing about rock varnishes is the mechanism behind why they form is not clearly understood," Lanza said. "Some people believe that rock varnish results from an interaction of small amounts of water from humidity in the air with the surface of rocks—a chemical reaction that forms a coating. Others think there could be a biological component to the formation of rock varnishes, such as bacteria or fungi that interact with dust on the rocks and excrete varnish components onto the surface." Lanza is quick to point out that she’s making no concrete claim as to the identity or origin of whatever is being seen during the first five shots of each ChemCam sampling. The common signature from the first five blasts could indeed be entirely surface dust, or it could be a rock coating or a rind formed by natural weathering processes.

As the mission progresses, Lanza hopes that integrating other instruments aboard Curiosity with ChemCam sampling activities could help rule out unknowns such as surface dust, while careful experiments here on Earth could provide crucial clues for solving the Martian mystery of the first five shots.

"If we can find a reason for this widespread alteration of the surface of Martian rocks, it will tell us something about the Martian environment and the amount of water present there," Lanza said. "It will also allow us to make the argument that what we’re seeing is the result of some kind of current geological process, which could give us insight into extraterrestrial geology or even terrestrial geology if what we’re seeing is a coating similar to what we find here on Earth."



Light Echoes from V838 Mon

What caused this outburst of V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, star V838 Mon's outer surface suddenly greatly expanded with the result that it became the brightest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy in January 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it faded. A stellar flash like this had never been seen before -- supernovas and novas expel matter out into space. Although the V838 Mon flash appears to expel material into space, what is seen in the above image from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the bright flash.

In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros), while the light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Eucom Chief: NATO, European Partners Remain Critical
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2013 - The commander of U.S. European Command emphasized to Congress today the importance of the region to future U.S. interests.

Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who also serves as NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the importance of maintaining U.S. connections in Europe.

"I think that, as I look at the challenges for U.S. European Command, where I am focused at the moment is, first and foremost, our work in and around Europe," he said.

This includes the NATO missile defense system that is coming online, Stavridis said.

"We are, of course, monitoring the situation in the Levant extremely closely," he said. "It's very close at hand to Europe, and part of U.S. European Command's responsibility includes military-to-military relations with Israel. So we watch that area very closely."

Stavridis mentioned other countries that fall within his area of responsibility that aren't as frequently discussed.

"We don't talk as much about areas like the Balkans, the Caucusus, the Baltics," he noted. "All of those remain extremely important as well, and ... there are a wide variety of other issues, from special operations to humanitarian, disasters, countering terrorism, organized crime [and] cyber. So it's a very rich agenda."

The admiral said if he had one overriding message for the committee, he'd like to answer the question, 'Why Europe?'"

"Why should we continue to be engaged in Europe?" Stavridis asked. "What's important about this part of the mission for the Department of Defense? I would say very quickly that, first and foremost, it's the values that we share with this pool of partners in Europe, democracies who stand with us on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press.

"Secondly, it's the economic bonds that bind us together," Stavridis continued. "The United States represents about a fourth of the world's gross domestic product. The nations of Europe represent another fourth."

NATO, he added, cumulatively is about 50 percent of the world's gross domestic product. "So I think that trans-Atlantic connection has an important economic component as well," he said.

The admiral said his third reason for the U.S. staying connected with its European partners is that "geography matters."

"People say to me, 'Why do we need bases in Europe? They're just bastions of the Cold War,'" Stavridis said. "I would counter by saying that they're not. They're forward operating bases in the 21st century. And they allow us to extend support from Eucom to [U.S. Africa Command], to [U.S. Central Command] and the Levant area as well."

To put perspective on it, Stavridis said, about 20 or so years ago, during the Cold War, the United States had 450,000 troops in Europe on 1,200 bases.

"We've come down 85 percent since then," he said. "So we have taken a great deal of infrastructure out of Europe."

Stavridis said the U.S. conceivably could, over time, draw down a bit further. "I feel we're positioned about right for the moment in time in which we find ourselves," he said. "But I believe that downward trajectory over time will probably continue."

The admiral said the NATO alliance is another reason for maintaining European connections. "We serve together around the world in a wide variety of missions that we can talk about this morning," Stavridis said, adding that nowhere else in the world offers such a complete and capable group of allies who have the technology, training and force levels to help the United States.

"We need to encourage our European partners to spend more on defense," Stavridis said. "I do that consistently."