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Saturday, March 15, 2014

THE FIRST FEMALE ANG FIGHTER WING COMMANDER TAKES CHARGE

Col. Sherrie L. McCandless addressed Airmen of the 124th Fighter Wing, Idaho Air National Guard, at a ceremony March 2, 2014, where she assumed command from Col. Christopher D. Rood at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. Col. McCandless previously served at the National Guard Bureau. (Air National Guard photo-Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur)

FROM:  U.S. AIR FORCE 
First female assumes command of ANG fighter wing
By Lt. Col. Gary A. Daniel, 124th Fighter Wing / Published March 14, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AFNS) -- Col. Sherrie McCandless, the first woman selected to command the 124th Fighter Wing and first female wing commander in Idaho Air National Guard history, assumed command in a ceremony on March 2, at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho.

"We have a no-fail mission. It is absolutely imperative that we respond diligently -- as you have throughout the years," McCandless said.

"We are going to remain trained, focused and responsive on our current mission here and now. It is difficult to see clearly into the future, but what I see extremely clearly is our airmen. The equipment can be replaced, but our airmen remain. It's the lifetime patriots that we are; we get up in the morning and head into work."

McCandless just completed service as the director, plans and requirements, at the National Guard Bureau. She is a former airlift squadron commander, a command pilot with flying experience in the T-38 Talon, F-16 Fighting Falcon, C-40 Clipper and C-38 aircraft, an air liaison officer and a combat veteran. She has served as the executive officer to the chief of the Air National Guard, as aide-de-camp to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and as a congressional liaison officer.

McCandless became the fifteenth wing commander of the 124th Fighter Wing.

"Any time you are moving into a position of leadership like this, you are always standing on the shoulders of those commanders that stood before you," she said.

"I would like to extend a personal thank you to Col. Chris Rood (the outgoing wing commander) for all his support during this transition. Thank you, General Nolan, (a previous wing commander) I know it takes everything that you've got to lead an organization at this level," she said.

Brig. Gen. Michael Nolan, the assistant adjutant general, Air, commander Idaho Air National Guard, presided over the ceremony. As he began to address the historic wing change of command he remarked upon the static A-10 Thunderbolt II just to right of the ceremony stage.

"She is a workhorse, and the hundreds of combat hours she has flown is a fine representation (of the 124th FW)," he said.

He thanked Col. Chris Rood for his service as 124th FW commander, vice commander and for his leadership through the process of a successful outcome to the 2013 consolidated unit inspection.

"The success of those inspections was in large part due to your efforts and the efforts of those you led," he said.

He proceeded to address the future of the Idaho Air National Guard.

"Today we find ourselves navigating a bit of rough air facing a potential divesture of the A-10 mission," he said. "Despite our confidence that has come with years of success, we find ourselves anxious about an uncertain future. But we are navigating, we are not adrift, we are flying a charted course. Our mission is clear, it is to fly, fight, and win.

"We are not in uncharted waters; the uncertainty we face is mission change," he continued. "We have successfully navigated mission change on several occasions. As always, we will succeed. Let's not focus on uncertainty, but on opportunities that come with certain change. They are numerous."

As he summarized the resumé of incoming fighter wing commander McCandless, he said, "We will capitalize on your unique experience and qualifications. I anticipate that you'll be a collaborative, articulate, well informed, and experienced leader capable of moving the wing forward."

As she addressed 124th FW's Airmen McCandless said, "We've accomplished nine aircraft conversions here, our Airmen have retrained and quickly regained their combat mission readiness as rapidly as possible each time and they have continued to serve with distinction."

McCandless thanked her husband, Lt. Col. Chris Sheppard, of the District of Columbia Air National Guard. Sheppard, a traditional guardsman, is commander of the 121st Operations Support Squadron.

"I'm extremely proud of his deployment record to Iraq twice and to Afghanistan," she said. "I'm not only a deployer myself, but I'm also a spouse. I wait and worry just as other spouses do for their spouse to come home from combat.

"I pledge my personal best to you all," she said. "I intend to uphold the promise of 'first class or not at all.'"

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S WEEKLY ADDRESS FOR MARCH 15, 2014

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 

Weekly Address: Rewarding Hard Work by Strengthening Overtime Pay Protections

WASHINGTON, DC—In this week’s address, President Obama highlighted the action he took this week to reward hard work by strengthening overtime pay protections. As part of this year of action, the President has ordered the Secretary of Labor to modernize our country’s overtime rules to ensure that millions of American workers are paid a fair wage for a hard day’s work. While our economy is moving forward, the middle class and those fighting to get into it are still struggling and too many Americans are working harder than ever just to keep up, let alone get ahead. So, in consultation with workers and business, the Obama Administration will update and simplify the rules to reward hard work and responsibility.
The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online atwww.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, March 15, 2014.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
March 15, 2014
Hi, everybody.  In this year of action, I’m doing everything I can, with or without Congress, to expand opportunity for more Americans.  This week, I ordered a review of our nation’s overtime rules, to give more Americans the chance to earn the overtime pay they’ve worked for. 
Here’s why this matters.  Our businesses have created 8.7 million new jobs over the past four years.  But in many ways, the trends that have battered the middle class for decades have grown even starker.  While those at the top are doing better than ever, average wages have barely budged.  Too many Americans are working harder than ever just to keep up.
We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a fortunate few.  We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is more widely shared.  So we’ve got to restore opportunity for all – the idea that with hard work and responsibility, you can get ahead. 
Now, for more than 75 years, the 40-hour workweek and the overtime protections that come with it have helped countless workers climb the ladder of success.  But today, an overtime exception originally meant for highly-paid employees now applies to workers who earn as little as $23,660 a year.  It doesn’t matter if you do mostly physical labor, or if you work 50, 60, even 70 hours a week.  Your employer may not have to pay you a single extra dime.     
In some cases, this rule makes it possible for workers earning a salary to actually be paid less than the minimum wage.  And it means that business owners who treat their employees fairly can be undercut by competitors who don’t.  That’s not right.  So we’re going to update those overtime rules to restore that basic principle that if you have to work more, you should be able to earn more.  And we’ll do it by consulting workers and businesses, and simplifying the system so it’s easier for everyone. 
Americans have spent too long working more and getting less in return.  So wherever and whenever I can make sure that our economy rewards hard work and responsibility, that’s what I’m going to do.  Because what every American wants is a paycheck that lets them support their families, know a little economic security, and pass down some hope and optimism to their kids.  That’s something worth fighting for.  And I’ll keep fighting for it as long as I’m President. 
Thanks, and have a great weekend.

ACTING CHAIRMAN CFTC MARK WETJEN'S ADDRESS ON "GLOBAL HARMONIZED DERIVATIVES REGULATION"

FROM:  COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION 
Acting Chairman Mark Wetjen’s Keynote Address to the 39th Annual International Futures Industry Conference: The Necessity for Global Harmonized Derivatives Regulation

March 11, 2014

Introduction

Good afternoon, I’d like to thank the Futures Industry Association for the invitation to speak today. Thank you, Walt, for that kind introduction. I’m pleased to be back at the conference this year. I see many familiar faces in the crowd.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my colleagues, Commissioners Bart Chilton and Scott O’Malia, for their partnership and dedication to the work of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. I have appreciated greatly their insights and involvement in the rulemaking process during my time at the Commission.

Global Derivatives Markets Need a Harmonized Global Regulatory Regime

As everyone here well knows, the derivatives markets are critical to the efficient functioning of the global financial system and the economies of the world. The risk-management and price-discovery functions of these markets have become integral to businesses across the spectrum, from agricultural producers to global manufacturers.

Those businesses depend on derivatives markets that have significant global reach, with market participants in the U.S. and abroad relying on liquidity pools formed in financial centers around the world. In many cases, the firms providing liquidity to these markets are global in nature and rely on risk-management expertise that is specific to markets in every major continent.

To be effective, therefore, the approach to regulating these markets must always be cognizant of this reality, and appropriately harmonized across legal jurisdictions. The paramount objectives of derivatives regulations must be to support a global market structure that promotes open, transparent, and liquid markets and sound risk-management practices at the firms operating within those markets.

With these objectives in mind, I would like to emphasize briefly the importance of the Commission’s continued efforts to promote a harmonized, international regulatory framework.

The Substituted Compliance Framework has been Effective and Remains Essential to Global Harmonization Efforts

The Commission has recognized the importance of developing this type of framework for many decades. The Commission’s staff, in fact, has long held the view that global execution and clearing services should be open to U.S. persons, provided the trading venues offering such services—in this case, foreign boards of trade—are appropriately overseen by home regulators and remain subject to regulations that are comparable to, and as comprehensive as, U.S. law.

The continued use of this comparability standard for the swaps regulatory regime is not happenstance. The substituted-compliance framework was effectively endorsed by Dodd-Frank itself, both as the substantive basis for the FBOT registration regime, and as precedent for the mutual-recognition frameworks authorized for foreign swap execution facilities and foreign clearinghouses. Additionally, the CFTC, through staff, embraced a substituted-compliance framework in the futures space before applying and expanding that framework to the swaps markets under its cross-border guidance.

From a policy perspective, the substituted-compliance framework for swaps incentivizes foreign jurisdictions to harmonize their risk management, reporting, clearing, and execution standards with U.S. standards under Dodd-Frank. In doing so, it also better aligns the interests of firms operating in these jurisdictions with the regulatory interests of foreign regulators.

From a practical perspective, the comparability framework respects principles of international comity, the limits of U.S. law, and the resource constraints of U.S. and global regulators. For firms depending on and operating in these markets, it also facilitates compliance with strengthened and harmonized regulatory standards.

The Commission’s longstanding embrace of the substituted-compliance framework therefore should not be surprising. Indeed, as I will discuss, I am confident that an expanded comparability framework for global execution and clearing venues will translate, over time, into more competition and more open, transparent, and liquid derivatives markets.

I say “over time” because, today, virtually all of the G20 jurisdictions are still in the process of implementing derivatives reforms. Although tremendous progress has been made in recent months in certain areas, the CFTC’s staff must and will continue to engage with global regulators to facilitate progress on derivatives reforms and ensure that these reforms appropriately support the intended outcomes of the G20 commitments as well as Dodd-Frank.

I suspect that engagement will prove not too difficult if the Commission diligently continues along the current path. The CFTC was the first derivatives regulator to adopt a comprehensive regulatory regime to fulfill the G20 commitments, and for that reason alone, its embrace of the substituted compliance framework should mean that the regulatory outcomes sought by Dodd-Frank will be equally sought by legislators and regulators overseeing the most active derivatives markets globally.

Indeed, one theme from the Commission’s meeting with representatives from 12 countries and 21 regulators this morning is that there is a continued commitment to derivatives reform across the globe.

Substituted Compliance Must Be Granular Enough to Be Meaningful and General Enough to Be Workable

It is important to note that harmonizing regulations that do not themselves impose standards that achieve outcomes similar to those sought by the U.S. under Dodd-Frank could result in regulatory arbitrage and dislocations in the markets, as well as give false assurances to the public.

It would be misguided for global regulators to harmonize the lowest common denominator in regulatory standards or to harmonize solely for harmonization’s sake. Fortunately, the substituted-compliance framework effectively ensures that this will not be the case for those markets accessed by U.S. persons, and for those markets that otherwise have a direct and significant nexus to U.S. commerce or the U.S. financial system.

Global regulators can and should remain faithful to the outcomes-based approach described in the CFTC’s cross-border guidance, avoiding an insistence on the exact language of U.S. regulations to the precise letter and comma. But the details will often matter, too. Regulators across the globe cannot know before implementation whether regulations will achieve anticipated outcomes, and so, even in an outcomes-based framework, they often must agree in some amount of detail on the specific means for achieving those ends.

The Path Forward Statement, and Related Staff Actions, Should Lead to a More Formal Mutual Recognition Framework for Execution and Clearing

One example of striking this balance is the recent Commission staff action granting conditional relief to registered multilateral trading facilities, following through on the agency’s commitments in the Path Forward statement last year. The CFTC staff’s relief was conditioned on foreign trading platforms meeting not only the regulatory requirements of their home jurisdictions but also fundamental access and pre-trade transparency requirements applicable under U.S. law to swap execution facilities.

MTFs relying upon the staff relief must, for example, offer their participants an order book, provide impartial access to the platform, support mandatory clearing, and facilitate post-trade reporting to U.S. registered swap data repositories. This approach accordingly promotes harmonized access and pre-trade transparency requirements in the swaps markets.

I am confident that the U.S. and E.U. will continue to make progress towards a longer-term, mutual recognition framework in the coming weeks, and the CFTC and its staff are taking certain steps now to encourage that development. In the meantime, the MTF solution, I believe, demonstrates the commitment of the United States and the European Union to ongoing coordination and provides one model for other jurisdictions to follow as they continue to make progress towards implementing G20 commitments.

In another example of its efforts to harmonize reforms, the CFTC staff last week issued letters intended to address uncertainties related to inter-affiliate clearing and execution. Those letters extended the availability of alternative compliance under the Commission’s inter-affiliate clearing rulemaking in order to incentivize jurisdictions to adopt clearing regulations akin to U.S. law by the end of this year.

It is my hope and belief that a further extension will not be necessary.

The CFTC Must Establish a Mutual Recognition Framework for Foreign Swap Execution Facilities and Foreign Derivatives Clearing Organizations

In continued pursuit of more open, transparent, and liquid derivatives markets, I have directed staff to develop regulations to set forth a process for recognizing foreign clearinghouses and foreign trading venues under authority provided by Congress in Dodd-Frank.

With respect to the former proposal, the Commission may consider a rulemaking next month that will set forth certain standards for, and a process to permit, some types of clearing arrangements through foreign clearinghouses. The policy judgments in that proposal were in some respects simplified by the widespread adoption of the Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures and the international dialogue on clearing. The PFMIs appear to reflect a consensus view on certain aspects of clearing regulation, and in general, stand in contrast to the more varied views on swap execution across the globe.

Unfortunately, the companion trade-execution proposal will not have the benefit of an advanced international dialogue on execution issues. The proposal must therefore rely in the first instance on the standards developed under the Commission’s SEF rulemaking and re-affirmed more recently in the MTF letter, which again will encourage other jurisdictions to develop principles for pre-trade transparency and impartial access in accord with U.S. standards.

By giving effect to Congress’ intent and providing the blueprint for a mutual-recognition framework in these areas, I am confident that the CFTC will encourage other countries to follow its lead and adopt comparable and comprehensive reforms.

The Substituted Compliance Framework Respects the Resource Constraints of U.S. and Global Regulators

As a final note, global coordination and cooperation are all the more critical for the Commission as it operates under inadequate funding. With a current funding level of $215 million, and a staff of approximately 644, the Commission must leverage all of its regulatory partnerships in order to fulfill its mission.

Conclusion

The complexities of the derivatives markets, and perhaps the pace of rulemaking in the United States, have required the CFTC to make a few adjustments over the past two years. The Commission has consistently demonstrated leadership, though, by acting decisively when the circumstances called for it, and I believe that market participants and policy makers around the globe rightly expect leadership from this agency—both in implementing rules to protect the integrity of the markets, as well as take actions to correct any inadvertent effects.

Moving ahead, the CFTC will continue to lead in promoting harmonized regulation, doing what it can to avoid incentivizing personnel decisions, inter-affiliate relationships, and corporate structures that will make financial firms only more difficult to manage, understand, and unwind during a period of market distress.

Thank you again for today’s invitation.

RECENT U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTOS FROM AFGHANISTAN

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 

An Afghan air force Mi-17 aerial gunner prepares for takeoff during a night-vision goggle training mission near Kabul, Afghanistan, March 13, 2014. U.S. airmen assigned to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan participated in an advisory capacity. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson.

An Afghan air force Mi-17 helicopter, flown by an Afghan air force pilot and U.S. Air Force Maj. Frank Cooper, lands during a night-vision goggle training mission near Kabul, Afghanistan, March 13, 2014. Cooper is an Mi-17 advisor assigned to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson.




U.S. OFFICIAL'S REMARKS AT UN COMMISSION ON NARCOTIC DRUGS

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 

Remarks at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) High-Level Segment

Remarks
William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Vienna, Austria
March 13, 2014


Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission
It is a pleasure to join you all today.

Protecting our citizens from the harmful consequences of illegal drugs and transnational criminal organizations is a shared responsibility.

There is consensus around the goals: public health; citizen security; rule of law. How we achieve them will engage our governments leading up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs.

The three drug conventions are the starting point. Their goals – facilitating access to medicine, protecting citizens from the consequences of harmful drugs – are universally acknowledged. As is the important role of civil society in achieving them.

The international drug control system is not perfect. Some argue the conventions cannot handle problems this big and complex. I respectfully disagree: over the decades, these conventions have been flexible and resilient, evolving to help member states grapple with these challenges. We believe it is more prudent to advance evidence-based reform within the framework of the conventions than to embrace unproven ideas that undercut the system and risk greater drug abuse. We welcome the chance to discuss reform at this CND and during preparations for the 2016 UNGASS.

The United States enters this dialogue with three lessons in mind:
First, historic neuroscience advances prove addiction is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated. We must look at what drives individuals to use drugs, identify ways to prevent drug use before it begins, and expand access to treatment. We will share examples of effective practices with partners facing similar challenges, while supporting capacity-building and training for drug prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery.

Second, we need a holistic approach to combat the criminal orgs who wreak havoc on communities. It is not our task to incarcerate everyone who consumes drugs, but to take down the multinational criminal enterprises that profit from them. Criminal networks thrive in underserved spaces. But when the criminal justice system and the treatment community work in tandem, when we provide alternatives to incarceration, we can stop the revolving door of criminal justice and save lives. Alternative development is another tool for helping good governance and prosperity take root.

Third, international cooperation among UN member states is essential. New psychoactive substances are an excellent example. As many as 200 new uncontrolled substances hit the market just this year, posing public health and law enforcement challenges to all. Member states have developed mechanisms to share information and responses to protect our citizens from these substances, demonstrating the value of the drug conventions, the UNODC, the WHO, and the INCB.

A focus on public health and the science of addiction; an innovative approach to criminal justice; and a commitment to international cooperation. These ladies and gentlemen are the future of drug policy. The three drug conventions provide the framework for this holistic, balanced approach to reducing the global drug problem.

We look to the future, our efforts must be guided by reason, evidence, and – above all – a common desire to safeguard the health and well-being of our citizens.

That is a formula for success, ladies and gentlemen. And succeed we shall, because succeed we must.

UKRAINIAN ARRESTED ON INTERNATIONAL CORRUPTION CONSPIRACY CHARGES

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, March 14, 2014
Ukrainian Businessman Arrested in Austria on U.S. International Corruption Conspiracy Charges

Dmitry Firtash, 48, a Ukrainian businessman, was arrested Wednesday by Austrian authorities in Vienna on a provisional arrest request based on charges filed in the Northern District of Illinois, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois.

The charges result from an investigation, which the FBI has conducted for several years,    of an alleged international corruption conspiracy.   Firtash’s arrest is not related to recent events in Ukraine.

Firtash, who controls Group DF, an international conglomerate of companies, remains in Austrian custody unless he meets the bail condition of posting a €125 million bond, which was set today in a Vienna court.   The U.S. government will seek his extradition.

The charges are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The department has worked closely with and has received significant assistance from its law enforcement counterparts in Austria and greatly appreciates their assistance in this matter.  Significant assistance was also provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.   The Chicago Office of the FBI conducted the investigation.

JET PROPULSION LABORATORY USES FUEL CELLS TO INVESTIGATE ORIGINS OF LIFE

FROM:  NASA 

How Did Life Arise? Fuel Cells May Have Answers

How life arose from the toxic and inhospitable environment of our planet billions of years ago remains a deep mystery. Researchers have simulated the conditions of an early Earth in test tubes, even fashioning some of life's basic ingredients. But how those ingredients assembled into living cells, and how life was first able to generate energy, remain unknown.

A new study led by Laurie Barge of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., demonstrates a unique way to study the origins of life: fuel cells.
Fuel cells are found in specialized cars, planes and NASA's human spacecraft, such as the now-retired space shuttle. The cells are similar to batteries in generating electricity and power, but they require fuel, such as hydrogen gas. In the new study, the fuel cells are not used for power, but for testing chemical reactions thought to have led to the development of life.

"Something about Earth led to life, and we think one important factor was that the planet provides electrical energy at the seafloor," said Barge. "This energy could have kick-started life -- and could have sustained life after it arose. Now, we have a way of testing different materials and environments that could have helped life arise not just on Earth, but possibly on Mars, Europa and other places in the solar system."

Barge is a member of the JPL Icy Worlds team of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. The team's paper appears online March 13 in the journal Astrobiology.
One of the basic functions of life as we know it is the ability to store and use energy. In cells, this is a form of metabolism and involves the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another. The process is at work in our own bodies, giving us energy.
Fuel cells are similar to biological cells in that electrons are also transferred to and from molecules. In both cases, this results in electricity and power. In order for a fuel cell to work, it needs fuel, such as hydrogen gas, along with electrodes and catalysts, which help transfer the electrons. Electrons are transferred from an electron donor (such as hydrogen) to an electron acceptor (such as oxygen), resulting in current. In your cells, metal-containing enzymes -- your biological catalysts -- transfer electrons and generate energy for life.

In the team’s experiments, the fuel cell electrodes and catalysts are made of primitive geological material thought to have existed on early Earth. If this material can help transfer electrons, the researchers will observe an electrical current. By testing different types of materials, these fuel cell experiments allow the scientists to narrow in on the chemistry that might have taken place when life first arose on Earth.

"What we are proposing here is to simulate energetic processes, which could bridge the gap between the geological processes of the early Earth and the emergence of biological life on this planet," said Terry Kee from the University of Leeds, England, one of the co-authors of the research paper.

"We're going back in time to test specific minerals such as those containing iron and nickel, which would have been common on the early Earth and could have led to biological metabolism," said Barge.

The researchers also tested material from little lab-grown "chimneys," simulating the huge structures that grow from the hydrothermal vents that line ocean floors. These "chemical gardens" are possible locations for pre-life chemical reactions.
When the team used material from the lab-grown chimneys in the fuel cells, electrical currents were detected. Barge said that this is a preliminary test, showing that the hydrothermal chimneys formed on early Earth can transfer electrons – and therefore, may drive some of the first energetic reactions leading to metabolism.

The experiments also showed that the fuel cells can be used to test other materials from our ancient Earth. And if life did arise on other planets, those conditions can be tested, too.

"We can just swap in an ocean and minerals that might have existed on early Mars," said Barge. "Since fuel cells are modular -- meaning, you can easily replace pieces with other pieces -- we can use these techniques to investigate any planet’s potential to kick-start life."

At JPL, fuel cells are not only for the study of life, but are also being developed for long-term human space travel. Hydrogen fuel cells can produce water, which can be recycled and used as fuel again. Researchers are experimenting with these advanced regenerative fuel cells, which are highly efficient and offer long-lasting power.

Thomas I. Valdez, who is developing regenerative fuel cells at JPL, said, "I think it is great that we can transition techniques used to study reactions in fuel cells to areas such as astrobiology."

Other authors of the paper are: Ivria J. Doloboff, Chung-Kuang Lin, Richard D. Kidd and Isik Kanik of the JPL Icy Worlds team; Joshua M. P. Hampton of the University of Leeds School of Chemistry, Mohammed Ismail and Mohamed Pourkashanian at the University of Leeds Centre for Fluid Dynamics; John Zeytounian of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles; and Marc M. Baum and John A. Moss of the Oak Crest Institute of Science, Pasadena.
JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for NASA.

PEST CONTROLLER PLEADS GUILTY TO UNLAWFUL PESTICIDE APPLICATION IN A NURSING HOME

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, March 14, 2014
Alabama Pest Control Company and Its Owner Plead Guilty to Unlawful Application of Pesticides at Georgia Nursing Homes

Steven A. Murray, 54, of Pelham, Ala., and his company, Bio-Tech Management Inc., pleaded guilty today in federal court in Macon, Ga., to charges of conspiracy, unlawful use of pesticides, false statements and mail fraud in connection with the misapplication of pesticides in Georgia nursing homes, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore for the Middle District of Georgia.

According to the plea agreement, from October 2005 to June 2009, Murray and Bio-Tech provided monthly pest control services to nursing homes in Georgia by spraying pesticides in and around their clients’ facilities.  Bio-Tech employees routinely applied the pesticide Termidor indoors, contrary to the manufacturer’s label instructions.  After the Georgia Department of Agriculture made inquiries regarding Bio-Tech’s misuse of Termidor and other pesticides, Murray directed several of his Bio-Tech employees to alter company service reports with the intent to obstruct an investigation.

“These defendants misapplied potentially harmful pesticides around senior citizens and conspired to obstruct and investigation by state and federal law enforcement,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher.  “It is essential that companies and individuals who handle pesticides do so lawfully and honestly, and those that fail to do so will be held accountable under the law.”

“When our loved ones make the transition to a nursing home, the last thing any of us wants to worry about is whether our parents or grandparents are being subjected to improperly applied chemicals,” said U.S. Attorney Moore.  “When Mr. Murray and his company used this pesticide like they did, they created a potentially harmful situation for the residents and another reason to worry for the residents’ families.”

“The defendants took advantage of some of our most vulnerable citizens by deliberately applying pesticides contrary to federal law in nursing homes around the state of Georgia,” said Maureen O'Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA's Criminal Enforcement Program in Georgia. “What is even more shameful is they then took steps to conceal it.   This plea agreement shows that we will not tolerate individuals or companies who put profit over protection.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

FTC GOES UNDERCOVER TO INVESTIGATE FUNERAL RULE DISCLOSURE NON-COMPLIANCE

FROM:  FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 
FTC Undercover Inspections of Funeral Homes in Eight States Test Compliance with Funeral Rule Disclosure Requirements

FTC’s Funeral Rule Requires Funeral Homes to Provide Price Lists to Consumers
Investigators working undercover in eight states found that, in 32 of the 124 funeral homes they visited during 2013, the funeral homes failed to disclose pricing information to consumers as required by the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule.

The FTC conducts undercover inspections every year to make sure that funeral homes are complying with the agency’s Funeral Rule. The Rule, issued in 1984, gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements. Key provisions of the Rule require funeral homes to provide consumers with an itemized general price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements, as well as a casket price list before consumers view any caskets and an outer burial container price list before they view grave liners or vaults. The Rule also prohibits funeral homes from requiring consumers to buy any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service. By requiring itemized prices, the Funeral Rule enables consumers to compare prices and buy only the goods and services they want.

Funeral homes with price list disclosure violations can enter a training program designed to increase compliance with the Funeral Rule. The three-year program is known as the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP), and is an alternative to an FTC lawsuit that could lead to a federal court order and civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation. It is run by the National Funeral Directors Association and provides participants with a legal review of the price disclosures required by the Funeral Rule, and on-going training, testing and monitoring for compliance with the Rule. In addition, funeral homes that participate in the program make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury in place of a civil penalty, and pay annual administrative fees to the Association.

The results of the FTC inspections for price list disclosures by region are as follows:

In Palm Springs, California, 1 of 8 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required;
In Southern Connecticut and Northern New Jersey, 2 of 19 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required;
In Monroe, Louisiana, 8 of 17 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required.
In Baltimore, Maryland, 2 of 19 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required.
In Dayton, Ohio, 5 of 15 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required.
In Portland, Oregon, 2 of 14 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required.
In Amarillo, Texas, 6 of 19 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 4 of 18 funeral homes inspected failed to make a price list disclosure as required.

All but two of the funeral homes with price list disclosure violations have agreed to enter the NFDA’s FROP program. The names of homes that have entered FROP are not released under the terms of the FROP program, and the FTC does not identify businesses under investigation. In addition, the FTC identified a number of funeral homes within the eight states with only minor compliance deficiencies. In such cases, the FTC contacts the funeral home and requires it to provide evidence that it has corrected the problems. Since the FROP program began in 1996, the FTC has inspected over 2,800 funeral homes, 459 of which have agreed to enter the FROP program.

The FTC educates consumers in English and Spanish about their rights under the Funeral Rule, and provides guidance to businesses in how to comply. For more information read or order Paying Final Respects:  Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services, Shopping for Funeral Services and Complying with the Funeral Rule.

IRS SAYS HOME COMPUTER TAX FILINGS UP IN 2014

FROM:  INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE 
More Taxpayers Filing from Home Computers in 2014, Many Taxpayers Eligible to Use Free File

WASHINGTON — More than 27 million taxpayers have filed their tax returns from home computers so far this year, an increase of almost 6 percent compared to last year.

These 27 million taxpayers used a variety of software products to prepare and e-file their own returns. However, the IRS reminds people that they can prepare and e-file their federal tax returns online for free through Free File at IRS.gov. Free File has an option for almost everyone, either through brand-name software or online fillable forms.

The Free File program is a public-private partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, LLC. The Alliance is a consortium of 14 leading tax software providers who make their products available exclusively at www.irs.gov/freefile. All Free File members meet security requirements and use the latest in encryption technology to protect taxpayer information.

Seventy percent of taxpayers are eligible for easy-to-use Free File software because their income was $58,000 or less in 2013. People who made more than $58,000 and who are comfortable preparing their own returns can use Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms.

Each Free File software provider sets its own criteria for eligibility, generally based on income, age, state residency or military service. However, taxpayers can quickly find a match by using the “help me find Free File software” tool. Or, taxpayers can review all providers and their offers. Some software providers also offer state tax software and display on their landing pages whether it is free or if there is a fee.

Free File Fillable Forms is more basic, similar to completing a paper Form 1040. The program performs some math calculations and provides links to some IRS publications. It also can be filed electronically for free. However, it does not support any state tax returns.

The total number of individual income tax returns e-filed so far this year is 62.2 million. E-file includes both returns filed from home computers and returns e-filed by professional tax return preparers.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE WEEKLY CLAIMS REPORT FOR WEEK ENDING MARCH 1, 2014

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE WEEKLY CLAIMS REPORT
          SEASONALLY ADJUSTED DATA

In the week ending March 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 315,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 324,000. The 4-week moving average was 330,500, a decrease of 6,250 from the previous week's revised average of 336,750.
The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.2 percent for the week ending March 1, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate. The advance number for seasonally adjustedinsured unemployment during the week ending March 1 was 2,855,000, a decrease of 48,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 2,903,000. The 4-week moving average was 2,915,750, a decrease of 19,500 from the preceding week's revised average of 2,935,250.
UNADJUSTED DATA
The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 302,218 in the week ending March 8, a decrease of 15,614 from the previous week. There were 317,526 initial claims in the comparable week in 2013.
The advance unadjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.5 percent during the week ending March 1, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the prior week. The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 3,285,703, a decrease of 90,028 from the preceding week. A year earlier, the rate was 2.7 percent and the volume was 3,501,920.
The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending February 22 was 3,450,757, an increase of 12,282 from the previous week. There were 5,619,860 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2013.
No state was triggered "on" the Extended Benefits program during the week ending February 22.
Initial claims for UI benefits filed by former Federal civilian employees totaled 1,159 in the week ending March 1, an increase of 147 from the prior week. There were 1,909 initial claims filed by newly discharged veterans, an increase of 157 from the preceding week.
There were 20,812 former Federal civilian employees claiming UI benefits for the week ending February 22, an increase of 401 from the previous week. Newly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled 29,475, an increase of 670 from the prior week.
The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending February 22 were in Alaska (5.9), Rhode Island (4.4), New Jersey (4.3), Connecticut (4.1), Pennsylvania (3.8), California (3.7), Illinois (3.7), Massachusetts (3.6), Montana (3.6), and Wisconsin (3.5).
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending March 1 were in New York (+18,709), Florida (1,940), Illinois (+1,789), Texas (+1,245), and New Hampshire (+849), while the largest decreases were in California (-5,765), Georgia (-5,437), Massachusetts (-3,770), Pennsylvania (-2,086), and South Carolina (-2,006).

READOUT: VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN'S MEETING WITH TRADE ASSOCIATION LEADERS

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
Readout of the Vice President’s Meeting with Trade Association Leaders on Job-Driven Training

Vice President Biden dropped by a meeting with trade association leaders this afternoon to discuss workforce development and job-driven training. The Vice President highlighted the importance of working together to give America’s workers opportunities to acquire skills they need to pursue in-demand jobs and careers. The Vice President called on industry associations to take action to expand programs that have proven successful in training workers, and encouraged the participants to bring together trade associations and community colleges to shape training programs that equip workers with high-demand skills. Participants also discussed efforts like the new Ready to Work Partnership grant competition and the upcoming Community College Training grants which can help support some of these partnerships.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama tasked the Vice President with leading an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to ensure they train Americans with the skills employers need that match with good jobs. To this end, the Vice President is working with organizations, federal agencies, and others to make the workforce and training system more job-driven, integrated, and effective.

FACT: U.S. SUPPORT FOR NORTHERN IRELAND

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
FACT SHEET: U.S. Support for Peace and Prosperity in Northern Ireland

For decades, the United States has supported the efforts of the people and leaders of Northern Ireland to realize a prosperous, lasting peace.

Promoting Peace and Prosperity

The United States has always stood with the people of Northern Ireland and will continue to do so as they continue to build a strong society, vibrant economy, and enduring peace.  We remain fully committed to promoting a lasting peace, advancing prosperity for all, and supporting Northern Ireland’s institutions.  The United States is proud of all that Northern Ireland has achieved, including the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and 2007 St. Andrews Agreement.  We encourage the political parties of Northern Ireland to renew their efforts on the all-party talks to tackle sensitive issues such as parades, flags/symbols, and matters dealing with the past.

Collaborating on Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation

From 1986 to 2014, the United States has provided over $500 million in assistance through the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) to promote economic and social development in areas of Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland most affected by the conflict.  This assistance has supported a wide variety of youth, economic, and community development programs.  One hundred twenty-seven community organizations have completed the IFI-funded Community Leadership Program for training community groups and organizations.  Women of Northern Ireland have a particularly important role to play in promoting peace and developing local economies, and IFI funding also works to empower them.  This year the IFI’s Peace Impact Program provided young women in the greater Londonderry/Derry area of Northern Ireland training in employable skills and conflict resolution.

The U.S. Consulate in Belfast also implements an active outreach and engagement program.  Each year, a range of U.S. speakers disseminates best practices and exchanges ideas about civic engagement, urban regeneration, community cohesion, and marginalizing extremism.  A key component of the Consulate’s outreach, the Danesfort Dialogues, facilitates a series of constructive formal discussions among key civil society members on important local issues.  Through a series of small grants, the Consulate assists local organizations deliver positive change to their communities through sports diplomacy, youth entrepreneurship, and democratic engagement.  

Partnering for Economic Growth and Innovation

The United States is an important economic partner for Northern Ireland.  To promote economic opportunity, we support U.S. investment, and we have encouraged innovators and entrepreneurs as they translate their ideas into businesses.  Over the last 15 years, U.S. individuals and companies have invested over $2 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Northern Ireland.  In the past six years alone, more than 50 U.S. investments worth more than $1 billion have created thousands of new jobs in Northern Ireland.  At the October 2013 Northern Ireland investment conference following the G-8 Summit in Lough Erne, 44 U.S. companies’ representatives travelled to Belfast to build the investment linkages needed to create jobs for Americans and the people of Northern Ireland.

Through the U.S.-Ireland Research and Development Partnership, we also engage in scientific research together, which drives economic development.  The partnership encourages collaboration among scientists from the United States, Ireland, and Northern Ireland in five priority areas:  health, sensor technology, nanotechnology, telecommunications, and energy and sustainability.  This project accelerates commercialization of innovations by fostering private sector coordination with the research teams.

The United States continues to increase investment linkages and partnerships that promote educational, professional, and entrepreneurial opportunities for Northern Ireland’s young people.  The State Department’s Special Representative for Global Partnerships Andrew O’Brien led a delegation of U.S. investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, members of the Irish diaspora, and representatives from academia and civil society to Limerick, Ireland and Belfast, Northern Ireland January 28-31.  The Belfast visit developed cross-sectoral partnership opportunities to boost science, technology, environment, and mathematics education, promote entrepreneurship, and promote economic growth.

Encouraging Northern Ireland’s Young Leaders

Hundreds of students and scholars from the United States and Northern Ireland have participated in the Fulbright Program.  U.S. scholars have benefitted from the Fulbright-Northern Ireland Governance and Public Policy Award and the Northern Ireland Assembly Award, and senior public sector employees from Northern Ireland have benefitted from the Fulbright Northern Ireland Public Sector Award.  In addition, hundreds of Northern Ireland civil society leaders, including legislators, artists, and activists, have participated in U.S. government-funded professional exchange programs.  Thanks to the goodwill of 140 U.S. academic institutions, which waived $40 million in tuition costs over the past 20 years, 1,800 Northern Ireland students have benefited from an academic year abroad in the United States.

This year, the U.S. Department of State awarded a $665,000 grant to the Irish Institute at Boston College for a professional exchange on the rule of law for some 20 governance professionals from Northern Ireland and Ireland and approximately eight U.S. participants.  Through individually tailored, four-week fellowships in advocacy organizations, legal think tanks, law firms, and court offices in the Boston area, followed by a week in Washington, D.C., fellows will have direct exposure to U.S. government policy-making and civil society advocacy.  Working with counterparts, the eight U.S. fellows will then spend two weeks in Ireland and Northern Ireland to implement reciprocal projects.  The participants from Ireland and Northern Ireland will return to Washington, D.C., in June and again in November for a networking event for 200 exchange participants from more than 40 countries.

The Department of State’s “Collaboratory” brought educational technology specialists from Northern Ireland and Ireland on an exchange to the United States in January and will connect them virtually with disadvantaged youth throughout Ireland and peers from Africa.  They will collaborate on ideas to develop their ideal educational systems and help create their own futures, while extending their horizons with engagement with young people in Africa.

PRESIDENT OBAMA AND IRISH PRIME MINISTER KENNY MAKE REMARKS AFTER MEETING

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Kenny of Ireland after Bilateral Meeting

Oval Office
11:15 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it is wonderful to have Taoiseach Kenny back here in the Oval Office.  This is one of my favorite times of year because I'm able to join with our friends from Ireland to celebrate the incredible bond that exists between our two countries.  I think it's fair to say that there are very few countries around the world where the people-to-people ties are so strong.
And in addition to sharing values and sharing a commitment to democracy, we also share these family ties that go back generations.  And I want to once again thank the people of Ireland for the incredible hospitality that they showed me and Michelle and the girls each time that we've had an opportunity to visit Ireland. 
I started the meeting today congratulating Taoiseach Kenny on the economic progress that's been made over the last several years in Ireland.  Obviously Ireland was hit hard by the financial crisis and problems with its banking system.  It required some very tough decisions that Taoiseach Kenny was willing to take.  But what we've now seen is Ireland emerge from its assistance program in a much stronger position on the global stage and in global markets.  And as a consequence, I think it's really well positioned to start building for the future and attracting businesses with a highly skilled and well-educated workforce. 
And there is tremendous investment by U.S. companies in Ireland.  There’s tremendous investment here in the United States by Irish companies.  We're an example of the mutually beneficial trade that can take place across the Atlantic.  And that's why we appreciate Taoiseach Kenny being a strong leader as we move forward on the Transatlantic trade agreement that is currently being negotiated between the United States and the EU.
We had an opportunity to discuss a range of global affairs.  Obviously on our minds right now is the situation in Ukraine.  Ireland has been a strong voice in the European Council for the need to send a clear message of support for Ukrainian democracy and self-determination, and a strong message to Russia that it should not violate the integrity and the sovereignty of its neighbor.  We continue to hope that there’s a diplomatic solution to be found, but the United States and Europe stand united not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that sovereignty continues to be violated.
We had an opportunity to discuss the fact that Ireland does tremendous work around the world on a whole range of issues.  It punches above its weight when it comes to humanitarian efforts.  We very much appreciate that. 
Closer to home, we both share an interest in seeing Northern Ireland continue to take the next steps that are necessary to finally bring an end to what so often has been a tragic history. I was disappointed, the U.S. government was disappointed that the All-Party Talks did not arrive at a final conclusion and agreement.  But we're urging the parties to continue to work and negotiate.  And I know that the good influence coming from Dublin will help to encourage that to move out of the past and get the kind of history that -- or the kind of future that Northern Ireland so richly deserves.
So I greatly appreciate, Taoiseach, your visit.  We look forward to a good lunch and I suspect some good Irish music.  And we will have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day reception this afternoon.  The Taoiseach, I understand, has brought his children here this time, so they’ll be able to celebrate alongside us.  And to you and your delegation, thank you again for your friendship and support.
PRIME MINISTER KENNY:  Let me just say it's a privilege to be here in the Oval Office with the President to continue these traditions and discussions that we've had between our two countries.  I might say that on this occasion we did not have to have a detailed discussion about Ireland’s economy.  I was able to report to the President the progress our country has made in the last couple years.
The President spoke about the issues that we did discuss.  In addition to that, we also discussed the question of immigration reform, which is an issue for Ireland and for many other countries, and we hope to pursue those discussions down at the Capitol building later on with a number of other representatives.
So it's a privilege to be here.  It’s a great occasion for us.  And I've given the President a review of the attitude and the happenings at the European Council meeting, particularly in relation to the situation in Ukraine.  And we hope that the entirety of message and strength of feeling can prevent very difficult circumstances arising there.
I explained to him the European Council meeting presentation by the Ukrainian President, the discussion with the EPP Congress with Prime Minister Cameron in Downing Street earlier this week and our hopes that this matter can be resolved.
So, again, my privilege to be here on behalf of the Irish people to wish the President, the First Lady and his family every success in their onerous responsibilities with so many places around the world requiring the assistance of the United States.
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.
Thank you, everybody.
Q    Will Vice President Biden come to Ireland?
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You know, Biden wants to come to Ireland  -- he lobbies me every week to go to Ireland.  So I guarantee you he'll get there.  He'll get there.
Thank you, everybody.
Q    Will you come back to join us again?
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Oh, I'd love -- tell everybody in Moneygall I said hi.
END 
11:22 A.M. EDT

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS ON NINTH ANNIVERSARY OF LEBANON'S CEDAR REVOLUTION

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 

Ninth Anniversary of the Cedar Revolution

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 14, 2014


Today, the ninth anniversary of the Cedar Revolution, we remember the Lebanese people who took to the streets in mass demonstrations to demand sovereignty, freedom and true democracy for Lebanon. This peaceful revolution closed a long chapter of foreign domination of Lebanese politics and brought a new beginning to the people of Lebanon, as they sought accountability for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and many others.
The work of the Cedar Revolution is not finished, and in the past nine years, new challenges have emerged that threaten Lebanon’s stability. We stand with the people of Lebanon as they continue to reject violence, extremism, and entanglement in foreign conflicts. We call on all parties to respect United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and Lebanon’s key political agreements, including the Taif Accord and the Baabda Declaration, which reinforce the strength, sovereignty, and independence of the Lebanese state.

The United States will continue to provide tangible economic and military support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability, including its assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces. In the spirit of all those who peacefully assembled on March 14 nine years ago to insist on respect for Lebanon’s democratic traditions, we also look to Lebanon to hold this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections on time and in accordance with the Lebanese constitution.

SECRETARY OF STATE KERRY'S REMARKS ON ATTEMPT TO RESOLVE SITUATION IN UKRAINE

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 

Press Availability in London

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
The Churchill Hotel
London, United Kingdom
March 14, 2014



SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. President Obama, as you know, asked me to come to London in an effort to try to deescalate the situation in Ukraine. Today, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I engaged in a very in-depth, constructive dialogue on how to address legitimate concerns in the context of a unified, sovereign Ukraine. The United States strongly supports the interim government of Ukraine, and we continue to favor a direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia as the very best way to try to resolve the crisis.

I came here in good faith with constructive ideas – which we did put forward, on behalf of President Obama – in order to try to restore and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, while addressing at the same time Russia’s legitimate concerns. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I talked for a good six hours, and the conversation was very direct, very candid, frank, and I say constructive because we really dug into all of Russia’s perceptions, their narrative, our narrative, our perceptions, and the differences between us.

I presented a number of ideas on behalf of the President, which we believe absolutely could provide a path forward for all the parties. However, after much discussion, the Foreign Minister made it clear that President Putin is not prepared to make any decision regarding Ukraine until after the referendum on Sunday. The United States position on that referendum, I must say, is clear and it’s clear today: We believe the referendum is contrary to the constitution of Ukraine, is contrary to international law, is in violation of that law, and we believe it is illegitimate, and as the President put it, illegal under the Ukrainian constitution. Neither we nor the international community will recognize the results of this referendum.

And we also remain deeply concerned about the large deployments of Russian forces in Crimea and along the eastern border with Russia, as well as the continuing provocations and some of the hooliganism of young people who’ve been attracted to cross the border and come into the east, as well as some of those who’ve lived there.

I was clear with Foreign Minister Lavrov that the President has made it clear there will be consequences if Russia does not find a way to change course. And we don’t say that as a threat, we say that as a direct consequence of the choices that Russia may or may not choose to make here. If Russia does establish facts on the ground that increase tensions or that threaten the Ukrainian people, then obviously that will beg an even greater response, and there will be costs.

President Obama and I could not be more convinced that there is a better way for Russia to pursue legitimate interests in Ukraine. We believe it is not insignificant that we acknowledge there are legitimate interests – historical, cultural, current strategic. These are real interests, and I think all of us who are joined together in the EU and extended contact group understand those interests and are prepared to respect them. But that requires also that Russia would respect the multilateral structure that has guided our actions since World War II and the need for all of us to try to resolve this challenge and to meet those interests through the international, multilateral legal norms, which should guide all of our behavior.

Foreign Minister Lavrov and I talked about that, and we talked about the other options that are available – options of dialogue, options of various contact meetings that could take place, options of international legal remedy, options of joint, multilateral efforts that would protect minorities, UN options, international human rights organization options, many options for the ways in which any challenges to the safety or security or rights of people could be addressed. We are certainly prepared to join in an effort to protect those rights, whether they be the rights of a Ukrainian living in the west, a Ukrainian living in the east, somebody of Russian language and Russian descent who might feel threatened. All minorities, all people should be protected.
Foreign Minister Lavrov and I agreed that we are going to stay in touch in the next days on Ukraine, as well as on the other issues of concern, which we are working on – Syria, Iran, and other challenges of mutual concern.

Before I close, I just want to reiterate what President Obama said in the Oval Office on Wednesday when he visited with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The United States stands with the people of Ukraine in their desire to make their own choices about their future, and to be able to live their lives in a unified, peaceful, stable, and democratic Ukraine. The President said clearly that is our only interest. That is what drives us. Not a larger strategy, nothing with respect to Russia directly. We are interested in the people of Ukraine having the opportunity to have their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity respected, as we would ask that to happen for any country.

So I will be briefing Prime Minister Yatsenyuk shortly, as well as all of our colleagues and counterparts in the EU and the members of the contact group. As soon as I leave here, I will engage in those briefings, and I look forward to taking a couple of questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question is from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you noted, Russian troops are carrying out an extensive military exercise near Ukraine, and at the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry said just today that the Kremlin reserves the right to protect what it calls compatriots’ lives in Ukraine. Did you obtain a clear assurance from Mr. Lavrov that Russia would not use these forces to intervene in eastern Ukraine? What – as they have in Crimea. What did they say is the purpose of this exercise? And has Russia abided by its obligations to provide OSCE nations with timely and accurate information about the size of the exercise, the types of forces involved, the purpose of the exercise? Have they done that for this current exercise and have they done that for the one immediate prior?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer the second part of the question first. I don’t know whether or not they’ve made that notification. I’ve been wrapped up in these talks and I’ve been wrapped up in other talks, so I’m not aware of whether or not that notification was made.
But I can tell you, indeed, we talked about these exercises and we talked about the level of troops that are deployed, where they’re deployed, what the purpose is, and I raised very clearly the increased anxiety that is created within Ukraine as a consequence of this. And we talked about one of the proposals that we made – I’m not going to go into all of them, but one of the proposals we made discussed the possibility of drawing all forces back, reducing these tensions, returning to barracks, having a freeze on those kinds of deployments while the diplomacy is working.

I think, in fairness, that Foreign Minister Lavrov is going to report that proposal back to President Putin, as he did all – as he will all of the proposals that we put on the table this afternoon. He’s going to fly back, have that discussion with him, so the president will be well aware – President Putin – of all of the options that we’ve offered. But that was certainly one of the principal areas of discussion is this increased tension created by these additional deployments in Crimea as well as along the border of the east, and the need to try to reduce that kind of tension. And it’s our hope that they will take those necessary steps.
With respect to assurances, it’s my understanding this afternoon that Foreign Minister Lavrov gave assurances publicly with respect to their intent, but I think all of us would like to see actions, not words, that support the notion that people are moving in the opposite direction and, in fact, diminishing their presence. And I think right now, in this particular climate, given what has been happening, we really need to hear a more declarative policy in order to make clear where Russia is proceeding with respect to these troops and these exercises.

MS. PSAKI: Lara Jakes from AP.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you said last week that Crimea is Ukraine. Foreign Minister Lavrov just told reporters that Crimea is more important to Russia than Falklands is to Britain. Given that, did you get any indication from Mr. Lavrov that Russia would not annex Crimea in the event of a vote to secede? And if not, or even if so, why wouldn’t even greater autonomy for Crimea, as Kyiv said it will allow, why would it not set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the region in terms of appeasing Russia?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the issue of additional autonomy for Crimea has been one that has constantly been on the table – been on the table. It’s been on the table prior to Russia making these moves. So that’s really a decision for the Ukrainian Government to make, number one. Number two, in his visit to Washington, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk made it very clear they are prepared to provide additional autonomy, and they see that as no threat to the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. They in fact, I think, see it as strengthening it. But we don’t know definitively what President Putin is going to decide.

What was made clear today in the context of President Putin being unwilling to make any decisions regarding the next steps until the vote has been taken – what was made clear is that he has said that once that referendum vote is taken, he will make a decision with respect to what will happen. And I would say to him today, as I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov, that is a decision of enormous consequence with respect to the global community. We believe that a decision to move forward by Russia to ratify that vote officially within the Duma would in fact be a backdoor annexation of Crimea, and that it would be against international law, and frankly, fly in the face of every legitimate effort to try to reach out to Russia and others to say there is a different way to proceed, to protect the interests of Crimeans, to protect Russia’s interests, and to respect the integrity of Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine.

We hope President Putin will recognize that none of what we’re saying is meant as a threat. It’s not meant as a – in a personal way. It is meant as a matter of respect for the international multilateral structure that we have lived by since World War II and for the standards of behavior about annexation, about secession, about independence and how countries come about it.
Here in Great Britain, the Parliament voted to legitimize a vote in Scotland about where Scotland would want to proceed. Under the constitution of Ukraine, the Ukrainian legislature in Kyiv would have to vote to legitimize a secession effort by any state or oblast or province or entity or autonomy – autonomous region of Ukraine. That hasn’t happened here. That’s why this runs against the constitution of Ukraine.

So we very much hope that President Putin will hear that we are not trying to challenge Russia’s rights or interests, it’s interest in protecting its people, its interests in its strategic position, its port agreement. None of those things are being threatened here. They can all be respected even as the integrity of Ukraine is respected, and we would hope that President Putin would see that there is a better way to address those concerns that he has that are legitimate, and we hope he will make that decision. He has decided not to make any other decision until that vote takes place on Sunday.

MS. PSAKI: The final question is from Jo Biddle of AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Foreign Minister Lavrov just told reporters in London after your talks that there’s no common vision between the West and Russia on Ukraine, that international mediators are not needed in this situation, and that Russia will respect the results of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea. Despite your message just now to President Putin that this is not meant as a threat, do you believe that in fact that diplomacy is failing here and that they are just going to go ahead with what you just termed as a possible backdoor annexation of Crimea?
And is it now a fait accompli that on Monday we will see sanctions from the European Union and the United States? And what gives you confidence that even those sanctions will in any way change President Putin’s mind, given that this week we’ve seen the ruble falling and today again the Moscow stocks have been falling to a four-year low? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I suspect the market in Russia, in Moscow, can be significantly affected by these choices. It already is being affected. And obviously, if there are going to be more sanctions, I think that’ll have an impact. But the reality is that President Putin’s statement that he will respect the vote offers him many options as to how he chooses to respect the vote. If the people of Crimea vote overwhelmingly, as one suspects they will, to affiliate or be associated with Russia, you can respect the vote by making sure that their autonomy is increased, that their needs that have prompted that vote are properly respected, without necessarily having to make a decision to annex.

So until that decision is made, I’m not going to interpret what it may or may not mean. I think it’s more important for the president – for President Putin to understand that we are prepared to respect his interests and rights, and that they can be fully respected, and that he can actually have a claim to have served his purpose of protecting the people that he is interested in protecting by augmenting their rights and by asserting his prerogatives at the end of this effort. So there are other options, and that’s what we’re continually trying to say. And until he has made his decision, those options are still on the table and alive, and we hope he will make a different set of choices.

With respect to – what was the other part of your question about the --

QUESTION: Whether there’ll be sanctions automatically --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the President and the European Community and everybody have said if the referendum takes place, there will be some sanctions. There’ll be some response, put it that way. If there’s greater diplomatic opportunity that could be pursued, and that is in fact on the table, then I’m confident whatever the response is would be calibrated accordingly. But if, on the other hand, a decision is made that’s negative and/or flies in the face of all of the rationale that the EU and others have put on the table for illegality, that will obviously demand some further response, which I’m confident both the EU and the United States will produce.

It is not our preference. It is not where we want to go. It is not what we are choosing as a first choice. But if the wrong choices are made, then there will be no choice but to respond appropriately because of the gravity of this breach of international standard, breach of international law, and challenge, frankly, to the global standard by which nations have been called on to try to behave.

And we believe that the consequences are consequences that could be felt in many other parts of the world. There are many places where people might take the wrong lesson from that, and I think many people are concerned about that.
Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.

U.S. DEFENSE DEPATMENT CONTRACTS FOR MARCH 14, 2014

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
CONTRACTS
 NAVY

Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, is being awarded a $642,583,946 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-13-C-2305) to exercise options for construction of a DDG 51 class ship.  The modification also provides $79,400,000 in advanced procurement funding for the fiscal 2016-2017 ships.  Work will be performed in Bath, Maine (58.1 percent); Cincinnati, Ohio (6.5 percent); Walpole, Mass. (4.5 percent); South Portland, Maine (2 percent); York, Pa. (1.9 percent); Charlottesville, Va. (1.8 percent); Coatesville, Pa. (1.7 percent); Erie, Pa. (1 percent), and other locations less than one percent (22.5 percent) and is expected to be completed by July 2023.  Contract funds in the amount of $100,000,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., is being provided funding in the amount of $601,990,190 under previously awarded contract (N00024-13-C-2307) to fund construction and exercised options for one DDG 51 class ship in fiscal 2014.  The modification also provides $79,400,000 in advanced procurement funding for the fiscal 2016-2017 ships.  Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Miss. (56.3 percent); Cincinnati, Ohio (6.9 percent); Walpole, Mass. (4.5 percent); York, Pa. (1.9 percent); Camden, N.J. (1.4 percent); Erie, Pa. (1.3 percent); Charlottesville, Va. (1 percent), and other locations less than one percent (26.7 percent), and is expected to be completed by July 2023.  Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

ARMY

Leidos, Inc., Reston, Va., was awarded a $9,791,760 modification (P00003) to cost-plus-fixed-fee, sole-source contract W91CRB-13-C-0016 for information technology support services for the maintenance of existing Army Enterprise Equipping System systems.  Work will be performed in Reston, Va., with an estimated completion date of March 15, 2015.  Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Army funds in the amoung of $7,791,760 and fiscal 2014 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $2,000,000 will be obligated at time of award.  U.S. Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Div D, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is the contracting activity.

Tikigaq Construction LLC*, Wasilla, Alaska, was awarded a $7,954,440 firm-fixed-price contract for the West Bank and vicinity Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System/Mississippi River Levee, Mississippi River and Tributaries Project.  Funding is from fiscal 2014, other appropriations and the performance location is Bell Chase, La.  The estimated date of completion is May 8, 2015.  Bids were solicited via the Web with 16 received.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-New Orleans District, New Orleans, La., is the contracting activity (W912P8-14-C-0025).  

AIR FORCE

Exelis Inc. (LMGI), Clifton, N.J., has been awarded a not-to-exceed $75,281,878 firm-fixed-price, time and material, undefinitized contract award for ALQ-211(V)-9 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare System (AIDEWS) pod acquisition.  The contractor will provide 21 ALQ-211(V)-9 AIDEWS pods, associated support services, support equipment, countermeasures dispensing system integration and spares in support of the Turkish Air Force F-16D Block 50 program.  Work will be performed at Clifton, N.J., and is expected to be complete May 2017.  This award is the result of a source-directed, sole-source acquisition and is 100 percent foreign military sales for Turkey. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WNKCB, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., is the contracting activity (FA8540-14-C-0007).

MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY

CORRECTION:  The contract announced March 13, 2014 to Lockheed Martin had an incorrect amount of total contract value increase.  The correct award is: Lockheed Martin Corp., Moorestown, N.J., is being awarded an $8,058,225 modification to previously awarded cost-plus fixed-fee contract (HQ0276-10-C-0003) to provide test support at the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex.  As a result of this modification, the total contract value will increase from $328,635,159 to $336,693,384.  The work will be performed at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kekaha, Hawaii.  The period of performance is from contract award through Dec. 31, 2015.  Fiscal 2014 research, development, test and evaluation funds will be used to incrementally fund this effort.  The Missile Defense Agency, Dahlgren, Va., is the contracting activity.


*Small Business

West Wing Week 03/14/14 or, "What's Up, Captain America?"

ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER URGES CHANGES TO PENALTIES FOR LOW-LEVEL DRUG TRAFFICKERS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
 March 13, 2014

Attorney General Holder Urges Changes in Federal Sentencing Guidelines to Reserve Harshest Penalties for Most Serious Drug Traffickers

In Testimony to Sentencing Commission, Holder Endorses Proposal That Would Reduce the Average Sentence for Low-level Drug Offenders by Nearly a Year
In testimony delivered before the U.S. Sentencing Commission Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed a proposed change to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that would reserve the harshest penalties for the most serious drug offenders.

The Sentencing Commission proposal, first unveiled in January, would lower by two levels the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes. If adopted, the change would impact nearly 70% of all drug trafficking offenders and reduce the average sentence by 11 months, or nearly 18%, according to the Commission.

As an added result of the new proposal, the Commission projects that the Bureau of Prisons population would drop by 6,550 inmates at the end of five years.

“This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges – while measured in scope – would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” Holder testified. “And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”

The move is Holder’s latest step to alter the federal government’s approach to dealing with nonviolent drug offenders. Last August, Holder announced his “Smart on Crime” initiative, which included a major change to the department’s charging policy intended to reserve strict, mandatory minimum sentences for high-level or violent drug traffickers.

The “Smart on Crime” initiative would help ease the nation’s overcrowded prison system. Today, the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population but it incarcerates almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. In 2010 alone, state and federal governments spent $80 billion on incarceration. And of the 216,000 current federal inmates, nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes.

The Commission is expected to vote on the proposal endorsed by Holder in April. Until then, the Justice Department will direct prosecutors not to object if defendants in court seek to have the newly proposed guidelines applied to them during sentencing.

The complete text of the Attorney General’s statement to the Sentencing Commission, as prepared for delivery, is below.

Testimony by Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U.S. Sentencing Commission
March 13, 2014

Chief Judge [Patti] Saris and Members of the Commission: good morning, and thank you for the invitation to appear before you to discuss our shared goals – and to provide the Justice Department’s views on proposed changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines related to certain drug trafficking crimes.

In particular, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in support of the amendments under consideration today.  The Justice Department strongly supports the Commission’s proposed change to the Drug Quantity Table.  If adopted, this amendment would lower by two levels the base offense levels associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes.  This would have the effect of modestly reducing guideline penalties for drug trafficking offenses while keeping the guidelines consistent with current statutory minimums – and continuing to ensure tough penalties for violent criminals, career criminals, or those who used weapons when committing drug crimes.

This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges – while measured in scope – would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system.  And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.  Let me be clear, my primary obligation as Attorney General is to ensure the safety of the American people.  The changes that I have implemented over the past year are designed to do exactly that – while making our system more fair and more efficient.

This proposed amendment is consistent with the “Smart on Crime” initiative I announced last August.  Its implementation would further our ongoing effort to advance commonsense criminal justice reforms.  And it would deepen the Department’s work to make the federal criminal justice system both more effective and more efficient when battling crime and the conditions and behaviors that breed it.

As it stands – and as this Commission has recognized – certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason.  Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.  One in 28 American children currently has a parent behind bars.  State and federal governments spent a combined $80 billion on incarceration during 2010 alone.  And as you know – of the more than 216,000 current federal inmates – nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes.

This focused reliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable – it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.  That’s why, in recent years – under the leadership of President Obama and alongside members of this Commission; with the support of policymakers as well as prosecutors; and with the expertise of advocates and researchers, law enforcement officials, and government leaders on both sides of the aisle – we have taken significant steps to improve criminal justice policies and implement targeted reforms.  I am particularly proud of the work we did together to reduce the inappropriate and unjust 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine – a disparity that this Commission had correctly found to be unjustifiable, and which President Obama alleviated with the signing of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010.

 Just over a year ago, in an effort to take our collective work to a new level, I launched a targeted Justice Department review of the federal criminal justice system – to identify areas for improvement, and to seek ways to make the system more efficient, more effective, and more closely aligned with our highest ideals, while not sacrificing our duty to promote public safety.  Last August, I announced a new “Smart on Crime” initiative – based on the results of that review – and it is already allowing the Justice Department to make critical improvements; to conserve precious resources; to improve outcomes; and to disrupt the destructive cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime that traps too many Americans and weakens entire communities.

 Among the key changes I mandated as part of this initiative is a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies – to ensure that people convicted of certain low-level, nonviolent federal drug crimes will face sentences appropriate to their individual conduct – rather than stringent mandatory minimums, which will now be applied only to the most serious criminals.  The Commission’s proposed amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines would help to further advance and institutionalize this work, controlling the federal prison population and ensuring just and proportional sentences.

I’m pleased to note that this approach enjoys significant bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, where a number of leaders, including Senators Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, and Mike Lee – along with Representatives Bobby Scott and Raul Labrador – have introduced legislation that would give judges more discretion in determining appropriate sentences for those convicted of certain crimes.  By reserving the most severe penalties for dangerous and violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation while saving billions of dollars and strengthening communities.  And as my colleagues and I work with Congress to refine and pass this legislation, we are simultaneously moving forward with a range of other reforms.

We’re investing in evidence-based diversion programs – like drug treatment initiatives and veterans courts – that can serve as alternatives to incarceration in some cases.  We are working to reduce unnecessary collateral consequences for formerly incarcerated individuals seeking to rejoin their communities.  And we are building on innovative, data-driven reinvestment strategies that have in many cases been pioneered at the state level.

In recent years, no fewer than 17 states – supported by the Department’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and led by officials from both parties – have directed significant funding away from prison construction and toward evidence-based programs and services, like supervision and drug treatment, that are proven to reduce recidivism while improving public safety.  Rather than increasing costs, a new report – funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance – projects that these 17 states will actually save $4.6 billion over a 10-year period.  Many have already seen drops in recidivism rates – as well as overall crime rates – even as their prison populations have declined.  And although the full impact of our justice reinvestment policies and other reforms remains to be seen, it’s clear that these efforts are bearing fruit – and showing significant promise across the country.

We can be encouraged by this ongoing work – which is enabling us to better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation while making our expenditures smarter and more productive.  Yet each of us is here this morning because we recognize that we cannot yet be satisfied.  And a great deal remains to be done.

By adopting these proposed amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, this Commission can take an important step to allow judges to make commonsense determinations; to provide legal professionals and law enforcement leaders with the 21st-century solutions they need to address 21st-century challenges; and to build on the progress we’ve already seen in constructing a criminal justice system that deters and punishes crime, keeps us safe, and ensures that those who have paid their debts have the chance to become productive citizens.

As the Commission considers these and other actions – and as you hear testimony from a diverse group of expert panelists over the course of today’s hearing – I urge you to seize this opportunity to make our criminal justice system more fair and to keep the American people more safe.

I look forward to continuing to work closely with each of you – and with leaders in Congress and throughout the Administration – to strengthen America’s criminal justice system and forge the more just society that everyone in this country deserves.

I thank you, once again, for the opportunity to appear before you today.  And I would be happy to take a few questions at this time.