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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weekly Address: Giving Every Child, Everywhere, a Fair Shot



February 13, 2015
G-7 Leaders Statement on Ukraine

We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission welcome the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” adopted by their original signatories on 12th February 2015 in Minsk. Implementation of the “Minsk Package” offers a way forward to a comprehensive, sustainable, and peaceful resolution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

However, the G7 remains concerned about the situation in Ukraine, in particular in view of the fighting around Debaltseve where Russian-backed separatist militias are operating beyond the line of contact agreed upon in the Minsk agreements of September 2014, causing numerous civilian casualties. We urge all sides to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Package and to carry out its measures without delay, starting with a ceasefire on the 15th of February. All parties should refrain from actions in the coming days that would hinder the start of the ceasefire. The G7 stands ready to adopt appropriate measures against those who violate the “Minsk package” and therefore intensify the costs for them, in particular against those who do not observe the agreed comprehensive ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons.

We again condemn Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea which is in violation of international law.

The G7 welcomes the agreement in principle reached on the 12th of February by the IMF and the government of Ukraine on a new economic reform program that will be supported by an IMF Extended Fund Facility. The G7 members look forward to prompt consideration of the program by the IMF Executive Board. We are providing financial assistance to support Ukraine. This international assistance will help Ukraine in the ambitious economic reforms it is undertaking to restore economic growth and improve the living standards of the Ukrainian people. We commend the government of Ukraine for its commitment to implement this ambitious reform agenda with regard to economic, rule-of-law, and democratic reforms.


Ending Modern Slavery: The Role of U.S. Leadership
Sarah Sewall
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
February 11, 2015

Chairman Corker,
Senator Menendez,
Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for your leadership in combating trafficking in persons. On behalf of the State Department, I look forward to working closely with you to tackle this terrible crime and human rights abuse. This issue is a policy priority for the Administration and Secretary Kerry, in particular, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

What do we, in the U.S. government, mean when we talk about human trafficking? Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (or TVPA), trafficking in persons includes forced labor, forced prostitution of adults, and the prostitution of children. The term human trafficking describes acts of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, although inducing minors into the commercial sex trade is considered trafficking even if no force, fraud or coercion is involved. It can include, but does not require, movement of individuals. Trafficking in persons harms people and corrodes communities. It corrupts labor markets and global supply chains that are essential to a thriving global economy. It undermines rule of law and stability. Fighting trafficking in persons is the smart thing to do, and it is the right thing to do. As President Obama has said, “Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it.” It is our responsibility as a country and as individuals to protect the universal values of liberty and freedom.

There is a lot that we as individuals can do to join this struggle against modern slavery. I recently went to and took a survey to learn how my consumption habits are connected to modern-day slavery. It was a stark reminder – many of the products I use on a daily basis, the battery in my cell phone, the chocolate I eat, the cotton clothes I wear, may have been produced from the work of dozens of slaves. Slavery Footprint, a project seed-funded by the State Department, has reached millions of consumers globally and given them a voice to insist that the food we eat and the products we buy are made free of forced labor.

Let me begin by discussing what the U.S. government is doing here at home. Federal agencies have been going the extra mile, spurred by President Obama’s March 2012 direction to his Cabinet to redouble the Administration’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat and Trafficking in Persons, which Congress established and Secretary Kerry currently chairs, has strengthened its collaborative work, including developing and implementing the nation’s first-ever Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States. Government agencies are enabling law enforcement and service providers to deploy resources more effectively and raising public awareness both at home and abroad.

Federal agencies are also working to expand partnerships with civil society and the private sector to bring more resources to bear in fighting this injustice. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued an advisory last September to financial institutions on recognizing “red flags” that may indicate financial activity related to human trafficking as well as the distinct crime of human smuggling. The advisory provides common terms that financial institutions may use when reporting activity related to these crimes that will assist law enforcement in better identifying possible cases of human trafficking.

As the largest single purchaser of goods and services both in the United States and around the world, the U.S. government must set the highest standards for our own business practices. With Executive Order 13627, the President committed the federal government to strengthen protections against human trafficking in federal contracting. Just over a week ago, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council published updates to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, as required by this Executive Order and related requirements in the Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (set forth in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013), establishing a number of new and important anti-trafficking safeguards. In addition, the State Department funded Verité, an award-winning labor rights NGO, to develop a range of tools and resources for all businesses – not just federal contractors – committed to preventing trafficking. As part of this initiative, Verité just published a report entitled Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal and Corporate Supply Chains, which details the risks of human trafficking in 11 key sectors where federal procurement is significant. This type of supply chain risk analysis can help federal contractors, other businesses, and consumers identify and mitigate human trafficking.

Here in the United States, we have modern-day heroes who are changing how we do business. The members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have transformed Florida tomato fields from a place of wide-spread egregious exploitation into one where workers’ rights are not only respected, but prioritized. They demanded that the large restaurant and supermarket chains purchase tomatoes at a fair price. On January 29, in front of leaders from the private sector, civil society, and the Federal government assembled for a White House Forum on Combating Trafficking in Persons in Supply Chains, Secretary Kerry presented the Coalition with the 2015 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Among the accomplishments for which the Coalition was recognized is its Fair Foods Program, a highly successful worker-based social responsibility model that leverages the market power of major corporate buyers, coupled with strong consumer awareness, worker training, and robust enforcement mechanisms to end labor trafficking, enhance wages, and promote workplace rights.

Congress and the American people also have much to be proud of. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, as well as the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, known as the Palermo Protocol. We have come a long way in the past 15 years: 166 states are now party to the Palermo Protocol. Human trafficking has moved from a misunderstood issue to an international priority. More than one hundred countries have passed anti-trafficking laws and many have established specialized law enforcement units, set up trafficking victim assistance mechanisms, and launched public awareness campaigns aimed at combating this worldwide crime that affects every country.

However, we have a long way to go. Although the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates there are 21 million victims of forced labor around the world, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report notes that fewer than 45,000 trafficking victims were identified in 2014. Convictions of traffickers remain woefully insufficient given the magnitude of the crime. This is a troubling trend we must continue working to address. Having adequate anti-trafficking laws is an important first step for any country, but these laws must be enforced, and traffickers held accountable.

Fueled by the dedication of officers in every bureau of the Department as well as at U.S. missions around the world, the TVPA-mandated TIP Report plays an important role in confronting this lucrative crime. In accordance with the Minimum Standards of the TVPA, the TIP Report assesses the adequacy of national laws in prohibiting and punishing the crime and evaluates government actions to prosecute suspects and protect victims. Countries and territories are ranked by tiers based on these standards. Tier 1 countries fully comply with the Minimum Standards. Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watch List countries do not, but are making significant efforts to do so. Tier 3 countries are not making significant efforts to fully comply with the Minimum Standards. These rankings help hold governments accountable in their efforts to fight human trafficking. They motivate governments to develop policies and structures to fight this serious crime. In fact, researchers have documented the correlation between tier ranking downgrades and states’ subsequent enactment of anti-trafficking legislation.

The TIP Report includes specific recommendations for how each country can better prevent this crime, prosecute its suspected perpetrators, and assist its victims. These recommendations are the heart of the Report. They guide U.S. diplomacy and engagement on human trafficking issues – both publicly and privately. They also serve as a roadmap to better address the problem – not for the sake of improving a tier ranking, but to make institutional changes that will put additional traffickers behind bars, help victims get assistance, and prevent exploitation of the vulnerable.

A key element to the TIP Report is identifying and documenting trends in types of exploitation, in criminal strategies, and in raising awareness and cracking down on the crime. For example, over time we have seen more governments recognize the important contributions of NGOs in this fight and improved cooperation, especially in the areas of victim identification and victim services. Many countries are beginning to grapple with the extent and challenges of detecting forced labor. While we have seen an increase in the detection of forced labor cases, there is still a large disparity in government efforts to address forced labor, which is considered to be more prevalent globally than sex trafficking. In victim identification and services, women and girls appear to comprise the vast majority of identified victims of sex trafficking and are also a substantial portion of labor trafficking victims. In addition, we have seen links in regional and trans-regional human trafficking to economic disparity and migration flows, the presence of organized crime, conflicts and political instability, official corruption and weak rule of law.

The State Department and USAID have sought to combine anti-trafficking and labor rights diplomacy with complementary programming to help countries achieve results. The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office is currently overseeing 98 projects worth over $59 million in 71 countries around the world. The TIP Office’s foreign assistance targets both sex trafficking and labor trafficking through implementation of the “3P” paradigm of prevention, protection of victims, and prosecution of suspected traffickers. A fourth “P” for partnership, is also a critical element in the majority of programs. Along with funding NGOs that offer services to trafficking victims, much of our anti-trafficking assistance is designed to help partner governments build their own capacity to fight human trafficking. In the last two years, Botswana, Haiti, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, and Seychelles all passed anti-trafficking laws, and Morocco and Namibia have drafted anti-trafficking legislation. In March 2014, the Bahamas secured its first conviction for human trafficking. Maldives also saw its first trafficking conviction.

Successful programs often work in close partnership with host country governments and key stakeholders to encourage a comprehensive response to trafficking. For example, in Afghanistan, a State Department grantee partnered with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to establish an advocacy council comprised of local non-governmental organizations and relevant government agencies to enhance protection measures for victims of human trafficking. The council and government coalition partners have adopted minimum standards of care for trafficking victims and provide training and capacity-building assistance. The TIP Office is currently funding a global project that integrates survivors of trafficking into a six-month vocational and educational program in the hotel service industry. The project provides survivors and at-risk youth with life skills and vocational training through a combination of training and practical instruction in coordination with leading hotels. This project has already demonstrated successes in Mexico and Vietnam and was recently expanded to India and Ethiopia.

Labor programming from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) targets forced labor through strengthening the organizational and technical capacity of worker rights organizations, providing socio-economic support and alternative livelihood opportunities to exploited workers, and strengthening systems to promote identification and remediation of labor law violations in a variety of sectors at the local, regional, and international levels. DRL’s grants are designed to bolster civil society and labor’s capacity to play a role in migration policymaking. The Department makes an effort to ensure that trade and investment policies, agreements, and preference programs consistently address work conditions for both national and foreign migrant workers. In collaboration with the State Department’s Economic Bureau and the Department of Commerce, DRL partners with multinational corporations, business councils, and American Chambers of Commerce to convey expectations on labor rights both to host governments and to companies within their supply chains.

The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration funds eight regional migration programs that build government and civil society capacity to identify and protect vulnerable migrants, including victims of human trafficking. The bureau also funds a program that facilitates the family reunification of foreign trafficking victims identified in the United States and contributes to a global fund that helps stranded trafficking victims voluntarily return home.

Corruption and an environment of impunity are significant factors contributing to the practice of human trafficking. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has some of the Department’s strongest tools for strengthening rule of law and helping governments prevent and combat corruption. Its anti-corruption and law enforcement programming provides training to law enforcement officers and the judiciary on investigating human trafficking and corruption cases and address the linkages among human trafficking, corruption, and organized crime.

Interagency training at U.S. missions overseas, including Brazil, Cambodia, the Philippines, Togo, the Dominican Republic, and Hong Kong, will enable State Department, DHS, and FBI agents to pursue trafficking cases in the U.S. through international cooperation and engagement in foreign countries. These agencies have trained some 2,000 law enforcement and consular officers, as well as locally employed staff, at embassies and consulates around the world. Closer to home on our border with Mexico, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts to exchange leads and evidence, assist victims, and develop high-impact prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law.

USAID is one of the largest donors engaged in efforts to counter human trafficking. Since 2001, USAID has programed approximately $180 million in anti-trafficking activities in over 70 countries and regional missions. Throughout all of its work, USAID seeks to address the root causes of exploitation and vulnerability, such as gender and ethnic discrimination, lack of educational and employment opportunities, weak rule of law, and the absence of social welfare safety nets. In Jordan, USAID has integrated counter-trafficking activities into a broader human rights program combating sexual and gender based violence, early marriage, and child labor among Syrian refugees and host communities affected by the Syrian crisis. With State Department funding, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development is assessing the impact of the Syrian war on trafficking in persons in Syria and the surrounding region (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey).

In Bangladesh, along with providing training and technical assistance to a range of government officials, USAID has worked to improve community awareness of the risks of human trafficking throughout the country. Local government officials, teachers, parents, students, and community leaders have learned how to prevent human trafficking and support the needs of survivors. USAID also has helped prospective migrant workers protect themselves from deception and abuse through awareness campaigns and trainings on the overseas recruitment process, worker registration, and other risks they may face. USAID continues to train media professionals, NGOs and independent journalists on investigative reporting, story development, and human rights with a focus on migrant worker rights. Complementary TIP Office programming has supported the development and distribution of an anti-trafficking law enforcement training toolkit and hands-on training for 45 Bangladeshi law enforcement officials on the toolkit’s practical application. In Dhaka, Bogra, and Jessore, 258 trafficking survivors so far have received State Department supported shelter, rehabilitation, and reintegration services.

In 2013, Congress gave the State Department a new innovative tool to combat trafficking of children, the Child Protection Compacts (CPC). The compacts can help build sustainable and effective systems of justice, prevention, and protection. I am pleased to tell you that the TIP Office is moving forward to propose the first Child Protection Compact Partnership – to be developed and implemented jointly with the Government of Ghana. This Compact Partnership will include developing a collaborative plan to implement new and more effective policies and programs to reduce child trafficking and improve child protection in Ghana. Several strong civil society organizations are currently working to address child sex trafficking and forced labor in Ghana and, in addition to the Ghanaian government, the TIP Office expects to engage multiple partners to fulfill the promise of this first Partnership.

Our international partners – including civil society, other governments, and international organizations – play an essential role in making each step forward possible. In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia has taken on a leadership role with its Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons, a five-year AUD50 million program to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and seven Southeast Asian countries in developing and implementing criminal justice responses to trafficking in persons. In addition, Australian police regularly conduct trainings to combat child sex tourism and other forms of human trafficking across the Asia-Pacific region. ASEAN under the Government of Burma’s chairmanship chose to highlight anti-trafficking priorities in 2014.

The European Union is strengthening anti-trafficking efforts across its member states through the issuance and enforcement of its 2011 anti-trafficking directive, as well as the 2012 directive establishing minimum standards of support to victims of crime. Sweden has allocated millions of dollars in anti-trafficking funds in recent years, including in grants to international organizations such as UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration. The Government of the United Kingdom has committed to increase anti-trafficking engagement in select countries around the world and will build on current anti-trafficking programming including “Work in Freedom” – a five-year, approximately $15 million initiative implemented by the ILO to prevent trafficking for labor exploitation of 100,000 women and girls in South Asia by targeting known routes used for the trafficking of migrant workers from South Asia to the Gulf States.

In December, with U.S. support, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) launched its Handbook on Preventing Domestic Servitude in Diplomatic Households, which is relevant for all international organizations and reaches beyond the OSCE region. Also in December of last year, member states of the Organization of American States revised the organization’s Work Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons in the Western Hemisphere for the 2015-2018 timeframe. The revised, robust plan includes awareness training for diplomatic personnel, protections against trafficking in government procurement of goods and services, greater oversight of recruitment and placement agencies, and inclusion of trafficking survivors’ input in the development of victim assistance policies and programs.

Civilian security and human rights are closely interwoven, and promoting security is often a key means of supporting human rights. Crises increase vulnerabilities to trafficking, as people are displaced, lose income sources and community support systems, and seek physical and economic security for themselves and their families. The breakdown of social and government structures leaves populations defenseless as protections are reduced and options for recourse disappear. In the fight against human trafficking, the State Department looks at the challenge from a holistic foreign policy perspective. We are increasingly mainstreaming anti-trafficking elements into other foreign assistance programs. Our anti-trafficking programs rely on broader U.S. supported reforms in rule of law, community security, and conflict prevention.

The reality is that conflicts and ineffective states give rise to trafficking and allow it to persist. We must address these underlying causes to win this fight. This is a critical component of the State Department and USAID’s work. The U.S. government works diligently to prevent and stabilize conflicts, and, where it cannot, to help refugees and the internally displaced. These activities complement our strategic efforts in fighting human trafficking. Where the United States, foreign partners, and civil society can help address state weakness, we provide a more stable and effective platform for protecting citizens. Poor enforcement of labor laws, discrimination, corruption, and restrictions on freedom of association and on other human and labor rights leave people at risk of exploitation, including trafficking. The struggle against modern slavery is one of interconnected threats and opportunities. I am proud of the leading role the United States has played, with strong leadership from Congress, in elevating the global profile of this issue, helping free individuals from modern slavery, and galvanizing the work of others to join in to this critical effort. The road is long in our battle against human trafficking, but working with our global partners, the United States will not relent in our multipronged approach to combat this scourge. We welcome Congress’s interest and partnership in overcoming this global challenge.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.


Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
February 12, 2015

Thank you. In November, this Council was confronted with reports of an alleged mass rape in Thabit – a town in North Darfur, Sudan. The UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur attempted to investigate, but was systematically denied meaningful access. The one time the peacekeepers were permitted to reach Thabit, Sudanese military and intelligence officials refused to let them interview alleged rape victims in private, and in some cases recorded the interviews. To this day, the Government of Sudan has shamefully denied the UN the ability to properly investigate this incident, despite this Council’s mandate for UNAMID to do precisely that.

Yesterday, a report released by Human Rights Watch alleged that at least 221 women and girls were raped in an organized attack on Thabit, over a period of thirty-six harrowing hours beginning on October 30, 2014. According to the report, Sudanese soldiers went door to door – looting, beating, and raping inhabitants. Over 50 current and former residents provided testimony corroborating the crimes, as did two reported army defectors who separately told Human Rights Watch that their superiors had ordered them to rape women. Because the Government of Sudan denied the UN a proper investigation, we have to rely on organizations such as Human Rights Watch to gather witness and perpetrator testimony and to shine a light on what happened.

One woman told Human Rights Watch that soldiers entered her home and said, “You killed our man. We are going to show you true hell.” Then, she said, “They started beating us. They raped my three daughters and me. Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one.” Two of her daughters were younger than 11-years-old, she said. Many of the witnesses interviewed told Human Rights Watch that government officials had threatened to kill them if they told anybody what happened.

Nearly ten years after the Security Council first adopted Resolution 1591 with the aim of protecting civilians in Darfur and stopping the violence there, the horror of Thabit is just one attack, in one place, out of too many to count.

In 2014 alone, more than 450,000 additional people were displaced in Darfur – the highest number of new IDPs in any year since 2004 – adding to the approximately two million people already displaced. In the first six weeks of this year, humanitarian organizations estimate an additional 36,000 people have been driven from their homes in North Darfur State.

People living in areas afflicted by violence are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, yet obstruction, harassment, and direct attacks by the Sudanese government have made them increasingly hard to reach. Two weeks ago, Medecins Sans Frontieres shut down its operations in three states in Sudan – including two in Darfur – citing the “government’s systematic denial of access” to communities in the greatest need.

In one example MSF cited, the Government of Sudan prevented its emergency workers from traveling to the IDP camp in El Sereif, in Darfur, where the organization said residents did not have enough drinking water to survive. MSF also suspended operations in South Kordofan State, where its hospital was bombed by a Sudanese Air Force jet.

Today we renewed the mandate of an important UN panel that monitors the sanctions imposed by this Council – sanctions the government of Sudan continues to flout. The government and armed groups it supports routinely violate the arms embargo – a fact that they openly acknowledge. They continue to launch deliberate attacks on civilians, as well as on UNAMID peacekeepers; between December 2013 to April 2014 alone, 3,324 villages were destroyed in Darfur, according to the Panel of Experts. And the Sudanese government continues to allow individuals subject to sanctions to travel and access their finances.

Today we renewed a sanctions monitoring panel that has provided thorough, independent monitoring of the Government of Sudan and other armed groups in Darfur, with a resolution that is more forward-leaning than its predecessors.

But even as we take this important step, we are reminded that the sanctions regime is impotent when the Sudanese government systematically violates it, and the Council cannot agree to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence and the abuses.

Nonetheless, today’s resolution matters. It speaks to our deep concern with these ongoing violations, it presses the Government of Sudan to take the long-overdue steps necessary to protect the people of Darfur and stop the violence. For the first time, it condemns the violence perpetrated by the government-backed Rapid Support Forces, the heirs to the Janjaweed. And, for the first time, it urges the Sudanese government to account for the situation of civilian populations, who are suffering from devastating waves of attacks in North Darfur, like the reported mass rapes at Thabit.

Yet encouraging as it is to see some very modest improvements to today’s renewals resolution, the most important measure of our efforts will be our ability to alleviate the immeasurable suffering of the people of Darfur. And on that front, this Council – and the international community – has failed. Our complacency is deadly for the people of Darfur. So perhaps today, with a slightly more robust sanctions resolution, we can reignite this Council’s engagement on this continuing crisis.

People’s lives depend on it, and so too does the credibility of this Council – because our ability to promote international peace and security depends on our ability to keep our word, and implement the measures that we impose. And we need to do it because for every Thabit we know about, there are so many more villages that have been the victims of unspeakable atrocities over the past decade in Darfur. They demand we find a way to stop this, and we must.

Thank you.


Trade Promotion and the Fight to Preserve the Open Internet
Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda
Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America
Los Angeles, CA

February 11, 2015

Three billion people are connected to the Internet today. And trillions of devices are set to join them in the Internet of Things. Together, the connectivity of people and machines is enabling economic and social development around the world on a revolutionary scale.

But it will take open markets, the cooperation of leaders around the world, the participation of a vibrant and diverse range of stakeholders, and strong trade agreements, with language preserving the free flow of information, to protect the Internet’s potential as the world’s engine for future growth, both at home and abroad.

As the number of Internet users worldwide has ballooned from 2 to 3 billion, the increase in Internet use creates significant economic potential. The Obama Administration is working to unlock the promise of e-commerce, keep the Internet free and open, promote competitive access for telecommunications suppliers, and set digital trade rules-of-the-road by negotiating new trade agreements. Trade Promotion Authority legislation and the pending trade agreements we expect Congress to consider over the coming months and years will provide that kind of protection. These agreements aim to ensure that the free flow of information and data are the default setting for nations. This will preserve the architecture that has empowered the Internet and global communications to fuel economic growth at home and abroad. It is in our interest, across parties and ideology, to ensure we move forward and approve TPA and the pending agreements for many reasons, but promoting the preservation and growth of global communications and the open Internet is one of the strongest.

Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, has made the argument well, stating, "America’s trade negotiating objectives must reflect the fact that the Internet represents the shipping lane for 21st Century goods and services… Trade in digital goods and services is growing and driving economic growth and job creation all around the country. U.S digital exports are beating imports by large margins, but outdated trade rules threaten this growth by providing opportunities for protectionist policies overseas. The U.S. has the opportunity to establish new trade rules that preserve the Internet as a platform to share ideas and for expanding commerce..."

Senator Wyden is absolutely correct. Our pending agreements with nations in the Pacific community will establish rules for the preservation of those virtual shipping lanes as enablers of the transport of services and ideas, allowing startups and the voices of everyday people to challenge incumbent power in markets and ideas.

If we are successful, the partnership of nations across the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership regions coming behind agreements to preserve the free flow of information will serve as a powerful counterweight to authoritarian governments around the globe that have demonstrated a clear willingness to interfere with open markets and an open Internet. And make no mistake about it, if we do not seize every opportunity at our disposal to win commitments to an open, global Internet, we risk letting others set the rules of the road.

Authoritarian regimes view the Internet’s openness as a threatening and destabilizing influence. The Russian government, just last month, pressured social media companies to block access to pages used to organize peaceful political protests. In China, authorities have blocked Gmail and Google’s search engine. In addition to ongoing and systematic efforts to control content and punish Chinese citizens who run afoul of political sensitivities, such measures are an effort to further diminish the Chinese people’s access to information, while effectively favoring Chinese Internet companies by blocking other providers from accessing its market. And we know they are urging others to take similar action. These trade barriers harm commerce and slow economic growth, and they produce socially oppressive policies that inhibit freedom.

The rules of the road for commerce, and Internet-enabled trade and e-commerce, are up for grabs in Asia. We’re working harder than ever to bring home trade agreements that will unlock opportunities by eliminating barriers to U.S. exports, trade, and investment while raising labor, environment, and other important standards across the board. Right now, China and others are negotiating their own trade agreements and seeking to influence the rules of commerce in the region and beyond. These trade agreements fail to meet the high standards that we strive for in our free trade agreements, including protection for workers’ rights and the environment. And they don’t protect intellectual property rights or maintain a free and open Internet. This will put our workers and our businesses at a disadvantage.

We know that both old and new American businesses, small and large alike, are dependent on the global Internet as the enabler of access to previously unreachable consumers. In the U.S. alone, American Internet companies and their global community of users contribute over $141 billion in annual revenue to the overall U.S. GDP, simultaneously employing 6.6 million people. And the Internet is not simply about the World Wide Web, it is the communications platform for managing global supply chains, distributing services, and acquiring the market information necessary to succeed anywhere.

Many countries no longer primarily produce products. Rather, businesses produce product components and provide services, many of which are delivered digitally. In order to remain competitive globally and promote the capacity of businesses to innovate, the United States and our partners in the Western Hemisphere must build the Americas into a shared, digitally connected, integrated platform for global success. By working with our trade partners in Latin America and Asia to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership we are advancing this vision and making it a reality. We will set the standards with twenty-first century trade agreements.

We know that not everyone is convinced of the merits of open markets. And to win their hearts and minds, we have to demonstrate and communicate how these two values – open markets and the open Internet - are interconnected. And we have to show that Trade Promotion Authority and our agreements embrace the values that underpin the Internet today.

As Ambassador Froman has said, “Trade, done right, is part of the solution, not part of the problem.” And, because it is true, our progressive friends should recognize that the fight for open markets is the position most consistent with our progressive tradition and values.

It was Woodrow Wilson who said, “The program of the world's peace, therefore, is our program; and that program, the only possible program, as we see it, is this” and he listed his fourteen points. Among them was number three: “The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.”

It was Franklin Roosevelt who asked the New Deal Congress for the first grant of trade negotiating authority.

In his remarks at the signing of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, it was JFK who said, “Increased economic activity resulting from increased trade will provide more job opportunities for our workers. Our industry, our agriculture, our mining will benefit from increased export opportunities as other nations agree to lower their tariffs. Increased exports and imports will benefit our ports, steamship lines, and airlines as they handle an increased amount of trade. Lowering of our tariffs will provide an increased flow of goods for our American consumers. Our industries will be stimulated by increased export opportunities and by freer competition with the industries of other nations for an even greater effort to develop an efficient, economic, and productive system. The results can bring a dynamic new era of growth.”

And it is consistent with the sentiments of these giants in our tradition, our progressive tradition, that President Obama most recently stated, “Twenty-first century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and our businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are also fair. It’s the right thing to do.”

Friends, we have both a political and economic interest in promoting open markets and an open Internet. Preservation of these ideals is and should remain a bipartisan, and broadly held goal. It is critical to our future and contained within the language we are asking Congress to approve.


Made-in-New York (Valentine Edition): Small Business Love & Quiches Exports Delicious Desserts Around the Globe
Company Was Able to Add 25 Jobs Thanks to Export-Import Bank Support

Washington, D.C. – Thanks to financing extended by the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (Ex-Im Bank) - and with apologies to ‘60s British Invasion band The Troggs - Love & Quiches is all around.

Started in Susan Axelrod's kitchen in 1973, Love & Quiches sells quiches and desserts to customers all around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. The business outgrew the kitchen, a garage, a local storefront, and its first factory, and now operates out of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Freeport, N.Y. With private export financing options unavailable, in 2005 Love & Quiches found its perfect match with Ex-Im Bank—and they’ve been together ever since.

“Ex-Im Bank stands ready to support even more New York small businesses like Love & Quiches as they add jobs at home by increasing sales overseas,” said Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg. “In FY 2014 alone, Ex-Im Bank supported $574.4 million in New York small business exports, which accounts for 45 percent of Ex-Im supported exports from the state.”      

Like many small businesses, Love & Quiches relies upon lines of credit and other forms of working capital to finance and grow its business. Ex-Im Bank's small business Export Credit Insurance, backed by the U.S. government, provided the reassurance needed for Wells Fargo Bank to embrace Love & Quiches, advancing funds against the company's foreign receivables and improving its cash flow.

“None of our export business would have been possible without our longstanding partnership with Ex-Im Bank, and we are honored to have received the Ex-Im Bank Small Business Exporter of the Year 2014 Award,” said Susan Axelrod, chairwoman and founder.

Love & Quiches’ export volume increases year after year as the company continues to expand globally. Exports are approaching almost 25 percent of the company’s total volume, and as a result Love & Quiches has added approximately 25 production jobs to their employee roll. The company is flirting with even greater expansion, targeting a 10 percent increase in export sales for FY 2015.

Friday, February 13, 2015


On the Occasion of Serbia's National Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 13, 2015

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the government and people of Serbia on the anniversary of your statehood.

Today, so different from the tragic and difficult period of the 1990s, our countries work together to strengthen and spread the ideals of democracy, human rights, and rule of law.

We applaud Serbia’s commitment to countering terrorism and violent extremism as part of the anti-ISIL coalition.

The United States looks forward to working with Serbia in its role as Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

We are committed to supporting Serbia’s full integration into European institutions. The EU-facilitated Dialogue with Kosovo remains an important part of this effort.

On this joyous occasion, I congratulate all Serbians on your Statehood Day.



'He'll Help Keep Our Military Strong,’ President Says
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2015 – Ash Carter, a former deputy defense secretary who today received a 93-5 affirmative vote by the U.S. Senate to succeed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, received a welcome back and praise from President Barack Obama.
“Ash Carter served as a key leader of our national security team in the first years of my presidency, and with his overwhelming bipartisan confirmation by the Senate today, I’m proud to welcome him back as our next secretary of defense,” Obama said in a White House statement issued today. “With his decades of experience, Ash will help keep our military strong as we continue the fight against terrorist networks, modernize our alliances, and invest in new capabilities to keep our armed forces prepared for long-term threats.”
As secretary of defense, the president continued, “Ash will play a central role in our work with Congress to find a more responsible approach to defense spending that makes the department more efficient, preserves military readiness, and keeps faith with our men and women in uniform and their families.
“We have the strongest military in the history of the world,” Obama added, “and with Secretary Carter at the Pentagon and our troops serving bravely around the world, we’re going to keep it that way.”
Hagel will remain in office as defense secretary until Carter is sworn in.



Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL Targets in Syria, Iraq
From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Feb. 12, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials reported details of the latest strikes, which took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.

Airstrikes in Syria

Fighter aircraft conducted three airstrikes in Syria:
-- Near Hasakah, an airstrike struck multiple ISIL oil pump jacks.
-- Near Kobani, two airstrikes destroyed six ISIL fighting positions.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Fighter, attack, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 12 airstrikes in Iraq:
-- Near Asad, an airstrike struck an ISIL mortar position.

-- Near Kirkuk, three airstrikes struck an ISIL large tactical unit and an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed three ISIL heavy machine guns, six ISIL buildings, an ISIL vehicle, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, an ISIL bulldozer and an ISIL trailer.

-- Near Mosul, four airstrikes struck an ISIL large tactical unit, an ISIL tactical unit and an ISIL staging area and destroyed two ISIL bulldozers, two ISIL vehicles, an ISIL armored vehicle, an ISIL building and an ISIL heavy machine gun.

-- Near Fallujah, two airstrikes struck ISIL earthen berms used to control water.

-- Near Makhmur, an airstrike struck an ISIL large tactical unit.

-- Near Tal Afar, an airstrike struck an ISIL large tactical unit.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


Roundtable on East-West Transport Corridor for Trade and Economic Cooperation
Richard E. Hoagland
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
As Prepared
Embassy of Azerbaijan
Washington, DC
February 10, 2015

As we continue our discussion of regional trade and economic issues, I would first like to thank Ambassador Suleymanov for hosting today’s roundtable and for being such a gracious host.

It is a very timely discussion, and I want to use this opportunity to provide U.S. perspectives on how trade and transport are developing in the region. I will offer a few thoughts and then turn to my colleague Deputy Assistant Secretary Rubin for his perspective.

We recognize all the work countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus are doing to diversify trade routes across the Caspian Sea, through Turkey and into Europe.

But to expand the region’s potential as a trade corridor, countries in the region must work together to limit border delays and reduce transport costs. If we look solely at the World Bank’s Doing Business report to gauge the number of days and costs associated with importing and exporting containers of goods, we miss examples of how the region is changing to make trade and transport easier. I believe it is important to recognize those changes.

We see the construction and expansion of port facilities in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan mirrored across the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan. New rail lines linking Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have come at the same time as the development of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.

We have seen the benefits of the rail line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan, and note the Asian Development Bank’s development of plans for a rail line from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, and toTajikistan with Mazar-e Sharif serving as the link in the middle. We have watched Kazakh wheat being exported not only south into Afghanistan, but also west across the Caspian along faster export routes.

We applaud additional efforts by countries in the region to enhance regional trade and transportation, and we encourage you to work more closely with your neighbors to diversify and expand the trade and transport routes that build economic growth throughout the region.

To advance regional connectivity, you have likely heard the Secretary highlight the importance of our New Silk Road initiative, a theme underscored in Assistant Secretary Biswal’s recent Wilson Center speech.

Through development of a regional energy network, better trade and transport links, streamlined customs and border procedures, and greater people-to-people and business-to-business ties, the New Silk Road initiative supports a more stable, secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan and its neighbors in Central and South Asia.

Through the Northern Distribution Network, we have seen inbound and outbound flows of goods to and from Afghanistan pass through Central Asia and the Caucasus. This experience provides the foundations for viable commercial corridors between Europe and Asia. Upgrading east-west linkages across the Caspian as well as north-south transit corridors from Central to South Asia facilitate trade across the region.

To expand these connections, the United States supports the Asian Development Bank-led Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program, which aims to construct or renovate nearly 7,800 kilometers of roads and close to 3,800 kilometers of rail lines in the CAREC region by 2020. As a result of work already completed, we have seen the speed of transport increase and measurable progress in reducing the costs of crossing regional borders.

Through USAID assistance, our International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and Export Control and Related Border Security and programs, the customs working group under the U.S. - Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and numerous other measures, the United States continues to pursue activities that lay the foundation for greater regional connections. Our support for Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and other countries seeking World Trade Organization membership represents the value we see in global trade standards. Cross-border cooperation among border and customs officials is an area where we need to concentrate our efforts in the future. We are aware of security concerns and we will continue to offer our support through joint training programs organized in the region or in the United States. At the same time, we need to see a stronger commitment from all governments in the region to implement streamlined standards that reduce time and costs at the borders. It can be done, but it takes political will.

We value the role of our partners in the region. As we focus on greater regional trade and economic cooperation, we should also recognize the important role the European Union plays in the region. Latvia, as the current chair of the EU presidency, has made deepening EU-Central Asian ties a top priority. We recognize the value of additional steps, such as the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement initialed in Brussels last month between Kazakhstan and the EU, to broaden Central Asia’s links with its western neighbors.

The extension of the EU’s Border Management Program in Central Asia coincides with our own bilateral efforts to streamline and improve border and customs practices as well as our collective efforts through the Asian Development Bank CAREC program I mentioned earlier. All these efforts increase the opportunities for expanded and diversified trade flows in the region.

Although we are discussing Central Asia’s trade and transport links across the Caucasus and Turkey into Europe, I should also mention two other countries that are active in Central Asia. Through its own Silk Road Economic Belt, we see China seeking to develop infrastructure and trade links that we agree can complement our efforts and those of the international community in the interest of a more secure, stable and prosperous future for the region.

Russia has historical ties to Central Asia. Unfortunately, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have not contributed to a more secure, stable and prosperous future for anyone. With Russia’s economy on the cusp of recession, today’s interconnected world means that problems in Russia impact its economic partners.

We know that Russia will continue to be a major economic force in the region. At the same time, Central Asian states are best placed to decide for themselves how to further their economic development, expand their trade ties, and deepen their integration with global markets.

The expansion of the Eurasian Economic Union, for example, should not come at the expense of the ability of countries in the region to fulfill their existing international commitments, including commitments to the World Trade Organization, nor should it restrict their ability to enter into other bilateral or multilateral trade relationships.

I want to reiterate the importance of countries in the region taking steps to diversify and expand their trade and commercial outlooks. Key events in just the past two months have signaled the interest of Central Asian states to reshape their economic futures.

In December, senior officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic met in Istanbul to complete price agreements for the sale of Central Asian hydropower to sustain economic growth in Afghanistan and Pakistan – creating a sustainable regional energy market. In January, officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan agreed to take steps to remove trade and transit barriers to allow the freer flow of goods across the region. Later this month, under the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process, regional countries will gather in Ashgabat to discuss regional infrastructure issues.

Looking at the countries of Central Asia, the United States will continue to support efforts for greater regional economic connectivity. Today’s focus on Central Asia’s links to the Caspian, the Caucasus, Turkey, Europe and beyond is important for not only the United States, but - more importantly - for the future of the countries in the region.

At this point, I would like to turn to my colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Rubin, for additional insights and perspectives on trade and economic cooperation issues in the region.


Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarks at Medal of Valor Ceremony
Washington, DCUnited States ~ Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Karol [Mason], for those kind words – and for your outstanding leadership as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.  I want to thank Vice President [Joe] Biden for hosting today’s ceremony here at the White House; for his career spent in the service of this nation; and for his lifetime of unwavering support for the brave men and women who are entrusted with our safety.

And I’d like to extend a special welcome to all of the family members of our courageous Medal of Valor recipients who are here with us today.

Your love, your support, and your sacrifices, are deeply felt – not only by your loved ones, who serve on the front lines of our fight for public safety – but by all those in our nation whose lives are made better, safer, and brighter through their service.  Each and every one of you has been an essential part of everything that our awardees have accomplished.  And you share in the recognitions that we are about to bestow.

It is a great pleasure to join all of you, along with Karol, BJA Director Denise O’Donnell, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in celebrating this auspicious occasion.  And it’s a tremendous honor to stand among so many valued colleagues, distinguished public safety officers, and true American heroes – as we recognize the remarkable contributions of a courageous few; as we call attention to their inspiring individual efforts and collective accomplishments; and as we express our abiding thanks and deep appreciation for their bravery, their commitment, and their many sacrifices in the line of duty.

Every day, the American people call upon our public safety officials to respond to emergencies, to protect our loved ones, and to safeguard our nation against unrelenting challenges and evolving threats.  Every day, we rely on these men and women to do the difficult and often dangerous work of protecting all that we hold dear – often without expressing the gratitude, and the respect, they so richly deserve.

And every day, these remarkable individuals answer our call without hesitation.  They patrol neighborhoods defined by distress and distrust.  They investigate crimes and assist victims.  And they keep our communities, our homes, and our most vulnerable citizens safe from harm.

As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way how courageous these public servants are.  I have seen the tremendous and often-unheralded sacrifices that they and their families are regularly called upon to make.  And I have felt both the pride of seeing a loved one in uniform and the anguish of knowing they may be in harm’s way – patrolling the streets, where every seemingly-routine encounter has the potential to take an unexpected turn.

These are all exceptional individuals.  Every one of them deserves our deepest gratitude and boundless respect.  Yet even among the outstanding field of public servants who perform these critical responsibilities, day in and day out – in communities across the country – there are some who stand out.  And today, with these prestigious medals, we recognize these exceptional few for extraordinary valor – above and beyond the call of duty.

Among our honorees this morning are two officers who responded to the tragic, hate-motivated shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; seven agents who engaged dangerous suspects in Watertown, Massachusetts, following the bombing of the Boston Marathon; and five FBI agents who risked their lives in the heroic rescue of a 5-year-old child in a perilous hostage situation in Midland City, Alabama.

One officer’s quick thinking and brave actions saved the life of a woman who had been abducted and viciously assaulted by an estranged boyfriend.  One firefighter’s resilience and ingenuity were essential in rescuing an elderly woman from a house fire – an act of daring, undertaken at great personal risk.  One off-duty agent lost his life when he courageously confronted an armed felon who was attempting to rob a pharmacy.  And one off-duty officer’s bravery undoubtedly saved lives – while working at a local grocery store – when he intervened during another armed robbery, protecting customers and employees before being fatally wounded.

Some of the individuals we gather to honor saved the lives of their fellow officers.  Some put their lives on the line to safeguard civilians and bystanders.   And some gave what President Abraham Lincoln once called that “last full measure of devotion” in the performance of their duties, in defense of their fellow Americans, and in the service of their nation.

Each of these officers embodies the very best of what it means to be a public servant.  And each of these award citations serves as a stirring testament – and a fitting reminder, at a time when this country is grappling with deep challenges involving public safety, law enforcement, and community engagement – that the work being done by those who guard our neighborhoods and protect our nation is exceptional, essential, and extraordinary.  I am honored, and humbled, to call you partners and colleagues in the service of this country and the protection of its citizens.

And that’s why I – and my colleagues at every level of the Justice Department – have been proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you over the last six years.

Beyond these honors, America owes you a debt that must be repaid not with words, but with actions.  So I’m here today not just to pay tribute to some of our most remarkable officers – and to say “thank you,” on behalf of a grateful nation, for all that you do – but to pledge my strong and unwavering support as you and your colleagues continue to carry out your vital mission.

This is a commitment that the Obama Administration has maintained since the moment we took office – from our COPS Hiring Program grants to invest in community policing and keep more officers on the streets, to the VALOR Initiative I launched in 2010 to help prevent violence against law enforcement and increase officer resilience and survivability; from our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, which has helped purchase over one million protective vests since its inception, to the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which allowed us to provide support to every state and territory, and more than a thousand local jurisdictions, last year alone.

As we speak, my colleagues and I are also working tirelessly to empower our officers to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible – by working with law enforcement and community leaders to address tensions wherever they have been exposed.

Over the last few months, President Obama and I have announced a variety of proposals that will enable us to bridge these divides wherever they are found – from a National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, to a historic new Task Force on 21st Century Policing – which will provide strong, national direction to the profession as a whole, on a scale not seen since the Johnson Administration.  And I have been proud to travel across the country to engage directly with brave law enforcement leaders and concerned citizens in order to advance this work.

After all, we owe it to our courageous public safety officials to confront every threat they may face, to foster the trust that lies at the core of their efforts, and to honor all that they do to defend this nation and safeguard its people.  So my pledge to you – here and now – is that the Justice Department’s commitment to this work will only grow stronger in the days ahead.

Under the leadership of our outstanding Attorney General-nominee, Loretta Lynch – who has been a lifelong supporter of law enforcement – the department will continue to stand with you, to fight for you, and to fulfill our sacred obligations to America’s finest.  Wherever my individual path may take me in the months ahead, my personal commitment to this work will never waver.  The bravery of those we honor today will never be forgotten.  And the contributions of those we have lost will live on – in the work they did; in the lives they saved; and in the examples of valor and selflessness they set for generations to come.

I want to thank each of our Medal of Valor recipients, once again, for your extraordinary service.  I am honored to stand with you in fulfilling the moral charge – and the enduring obligation – we share: to build the more perfect Union that our founders imagined, to create the more just society that all Americans deserve, and to make real the brighter future that you have all worked to create.

At this time, it is my great privilege to introduce another leader who has done much to advance this cause – a tireless public servant who has been a champion of law enforcement throughout his life and career.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States – Joe Biden.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Former Contracting Officer and Contractor Charged with Bribery Scheme in Connection with Awarding of U.S. Postal Service Contracts

A former U.S. Postal Service contracting officer, along with a mail delivery contractor, were indicted today for engaging in a scheme to defraud the Postal Service through bribery and kickbacks in connection with the awarding of contracts to deliver the mail.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland and Inspector General David C. Williams of the U.S. Postal Service made the announcement.

Gregory Cooper, 59, of Glenn Dale, Maryland, a former U.S. Postal Service Contracting Officer Representative and Purchasing and Supply Management Specialist, and Barbara Murphy, 51, of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the owner and operator of MC&G Trucking LLC and ER&R Transportation, were charged today in a ten-count indictment unsealed in the District of Maryland.  Both Cooper and Murphy are charged with one count of conspiracy and five counts of honest services wire fraud, and each is separately charged in a single count of bribery.  Cooper is also charged with one count of executing a false document and one count of making false statements.

According to the indictment, from January 2011 through July 2012, Cooper allegedly solicited and accepted bribes and kickbacks from Murphy in exchange for helping her win contracts for delivery of the mail.  Specifically, the indictment alleges that Cooper accepted, among other things, cash deposits into his checking account, payments against his car loan and cell phone bills and a college tuition payment on behalf of his daughter.  In exchange, Cooper allegedly assumed the responsibility for reviewing the contracts on which Murphy bid from his subordinates, recommended that Murphy be awarded nine Postal Service contracts worth $1.5 million, provided Murphy with confidential bid information and assumed direct oversight over Murphy’s contracts from his subordinates.  The indictment further alleges that Cooper made false statements to investigators regarding his allegedly corrupt relationship with Murphy and executed a false financial disclosure document failing to disclose the bribes he had accepted from Murphy.

The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Maria Lerner and Mark Cipolletti of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Arun Rao of the District of Maryland.  


Dirt mounds made by termites in Africa, South America, Asia could prevent spread of deserts
Termites create oases of moisture, plant life
February 5, 2015

Termites might not top the list of humanity's favorite insects, but new research suggests that their large dirt mounds are crucial to stopping deserts from spreading into semi-arid ecosystems.

The results indicate that termite mounds could make these areas more resilient to climate change.

The findings could also inspire a change in how scientists determine the possible effects of climate change on ecosystems.

In the parched grasslands and savannas, or drylands, of Africa, South America and Asia, termite mounds store nutrients and moisture and via internal tunnels, allow water to better penetrate the soil.

As a result, vegetation flourishes on and near termite mounds in ecosystems that are otherwise vulnerable to desertification.

Researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Science that termites slow the spread of deserts into drylands by providing a moist refuge for vegetation on and around their mounds.

Drylands with termite mounds can survive on significantly less rain than those without termite mounds.

Not all termites are pests

"This study demonstrates that termite mounds create important refugia for plants and help to protect vast landscapes in Africa from the effects of drought," said Doug Levey, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

"Clearly," said Levey, "not all termites are pests."

The research was inspired by the fungus-growing termite species, Odontotermes, but the results apply to all types of termites that increase resource availability on or around their mounds.

Corresponding author Corina Tarnita, a Princeton University ecologist and evolutionary biologist, said that termite mounds also preserve seeds and plant life, which helps surrounding areas rebound faster once rainfall resumes.

"Because termites allow water to penetrate the soil better, plants grow on or near the mounds as if there were more rain," said Tarnita. "The vegetation on and around termite mounds persists longer and declines slower.

"Even when you get to harsh conditions where vegetation disappears from the mounds, re-vegetation is still easier. As long as the mounds are there the ecosystem has a better chance to recover."

The stages of desertification: Where termites fit in

In grasslands and savannas, five stages mark the transition to desert, each having a distinct pattern of plant growth.

The researchers found that these plant growth patterns exist on a much smaller scale than previously thought. Overlaying them is the pattern of termite mounds covered by dense vegetation.

The termite-mound pattern, however, looks deceptively similar to the last and most critical of the five stages that mark the transition of drylands to desert.

Vegetation patterns that might be interpreted as the onset of desertification could mean the opposite: that plants are persevering thanks to termite mounds.

Termite mounds help grassland plants persevere

Robert Pringle, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Princeton and co-author of the paper, said that the unexpected function of termites in savannas and grasslands suggests that ants, prairie dogs, gophers and other mound-building creatures could also have important roles in ecosystem health.

"This phenomenon and these patterned landscape features are common," Pringle said.

"Exactly what each type of animal does for vegetation is hard to know in advance. You'd have to get into a system and determine what is building the mounds and what the properties of the mounds are.

"I like to think of termites as linchpins of the ecosystem in more than one way. They increase the productivity of the system, but they also make it more stable and more resilient."

Termites: Linchpins of the ecosystem

A mathematical model developed for the work determines how these linchpins affect plant growth.

The scientists applied tools from physics and mathematical and numerical analysis to understand a biological phenomenon, said paper first author Juan Bonachela of Strathclyde University in Scotland.

The model allowed the researchers to apply small-scale data to understand how rainfall influences vegetation growth and persistence in the presence and absence of termites across an entire ecosystem.

"Similar studies would be extremely challenging to perform in the field and would require very long-term experiments," Bonachela said.

"Models such as this allow us to study the system with almost no constraint of time or space and explore a wide range of environmental conditions with a level of detail that can't be attained in the field."

Additional support for the research was provided by a Princeton Environmental Institute Grand Challenges grant, the National Geographic Society, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a John Templeton Foundation Foundational Questions in Evolutionary Biology grant.

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Ukraine Ceasefire Agreement
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 12, 2015

The United States welcomes the news that the OSCE-led Trilateral Contact Group, supported by Chancellor Merkel and Presidents Hollande, Poroshenko, and Putin, reached agreement on a ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal in eastern Ukraine, and on the implementation of the September Minsk agreements. We particularly commend the diplomatic efforts of our European Allies, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, and their teams in making this agreement possible. Actions will be what matter now. The first test of this agreement and the prospects for a comprehensive settlement will be the full implementation of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons by all parties – by Ukraine, the separatists, and Russia. All the parties must show complete restraint in the run-up to the Sunday ceasefire, including an immediate halt to the Russian and separatist assault on Debaltseve and other Ukrainian towns.

The parties have a long road ahead before achieving peace and the full restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty. The United States stands ready to assist in coordination with our European Allies and partners. We will judge the commitment of Russia and the separatists by their actions, not their words. As we have long said, the United States is prepared to consider rolling back sanctions on Russia when the Minsk agreements of September 2014, and now this agreement, are fully implemented. That includes a full ceasefire, the withdrawal of all foreign troops and equipment from Ukraine, the full restoration of Ukrainian control of the international border, and the release of all hostages.

We also welcome the news that the Government of Ukraine and the IMF have reached an agreement that will allow the IMF to provide Ukraine with $17.5 billion in financial assistance in support of economic reforms. This agreement will enable Ukraine to continue implementing the reforms it needs to build a stronger, more prosperous, democratic future for the people of Ukraine.




In the center of this image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 — and it seems to be smiling. You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this “happy face”, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing. Galaxy clusters are the most massive structures in the Universe and exert such a powerful gravitational pull that they warp the spacetime around them and act as cosmic lenses which can magnify, distort and bend the light behind them. This phenomenon, crucial to many of Hubble’s discoveries, can be explained by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In this special case of gravitational lensing, a ring — known as an Einstein Ring — is produced from this bending of light, a consequence of the exact and symmetrical alignment of the source, lens and observer and resulting in the ring-like structure we see here. Hubble has provided astronomers with the tools to probe these massive galaxies and model their lensing effects, allowing us to peer further into the early Universe than ever before. This object was studied by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) as part of a survey of strong lenses. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt. Image Credit-NASA-ESA Caption-ESA .


February 11, 2015
Remarks by the President on America's Leadership in the Ebola Fight
South Court Auditorium
1:46 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Please, everybody, have a seat.  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  Well, thank you, Rear Admiral Giberson, not only for the introduction, but for your leadership and your service.

Last summer, as Ebola spread in West Africa, overwhelming public health systems and threatening to cross more borders, I said that fighting this disease had to be more than a national security priority, but an example of American leadership.  After all, whenever and wherever a disaster or a disease strikes, the world looks to us to lead.  And because of extraordinary people like the ones standing behind me, and many who are in the audience, we have risen to the challenge.

Now, remember, there was no small amount of skepticism about our chances.  People were understandably afraid, and, if we’re honest, some stoked those fears.  But we believed that if we made policy based not on fear, but on sound science and good judgment, America could lead an effective global response while keeping the American people safe, and we could turn the tide of the epidemic.

We believed this because of people like Rear Admiral Giberson.  We believed this because of outstanding leaders like Dr. Raj Shah at USAID and Dr. Tom Frieden at the CDC.  (Applause.)  We believed it because of the men and women behind me and the many others here at home and who are still overseas who respond to challenges like this one not only with skill and professionalism, but with courage and with dedication.  And because of your extraordinary work, we have made enormous progress in just a few months.

So the main reason we’re actually here today is for me to say thank you.  Thank you to the troops and public health workers who left their loved ones to head into the heart of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa -- and many of them did so over the holidays.  Thank you to the health care professionals here at home who treated our returning heroes like Dr. Kent Brantly and Dr. Craig Spencer.  Thank you to Dr. Tony Fauci and Nancy Sullivan, and the incredible scientists at NIH, who worked long days and late nights to develop a vaccine.  All of you represent what is best about America and what’s possible when we lead.

And we’re also here to mark a transition in our fight against this disease -- not to declare mission accomplished, but to mark a transition.  Thanks to the hard work of our nearly 3,000 troops who deployed to West Africa, logistics have been set up, Ebola treatment units have been built, over 1,500 African health workers have been trained, and volunteers around the world gained the confidence to join the fight.  We were a force multiplier.  It wasn’t just what we put in; it’s the fact that when we put it in, people looked around and said, all right, America has got our back, so we’ll come too.  And as a result, more than 1,500 of our troops have been able to return.

Today, I’m announcing that by April 30th, all but 100 who will remain to help support the ongoing response, all but those hundred will also be able to come home -- not because the job is done, but because they were so effective in setting up the infrastructure, that we are now equipped to deal with the job that needs to be done in West Africa, not only with a broader, international coalition, but also with folks who have been trained who are from the countries that were most at risk.

So I want to be very clear here:  While our troops are coming home, America’s work is not done.  Our mission is not complete.  Today, we move into the next phase of the fight, winding down our military response while expanding our civilian response.  That starts here at home, where we’re more prepared to protect Americans from infectious disease, but still have more work to do.  For as long as Ebola simmers anywhere in the world, we will have some Ebola fighting heroes who are coming back home with the disease from time to time.  And that’s why we’re screening and monitoring all arrivals from affected countries.  We’ve equipped more hospitals with new protective gear and protocols.  We’ve developed partnerships with states and cities, thanks to public servants like Mayor Mike Rawlings and Judge Clay Jenkins of Dallas, Texas, who were on the front lines when the first case appeared here on our shores.

A few months ago, only 13 states had the capability to even test for Ebola.  Today, we have more than 54 labs in 44 states.  Only three facilities in the country were qualified to treat an Ebola patient.  Today, we have 51 Ebola treatment centers.  We have successfully treated eight Ebola patients here in the United States.  And we are grateful to be joined by six of these brave survivors today, including Dr. Richard Sacra, who received world-class care at Nebraska Medical Center -- and a plasma donation from Dr. Kent Brantly.  Then he returned to Liberia to treat non-Ebola patients who still need doctors.  That’s the kind of commitment and the kind of people we’re dealing with here.  (Applause.)

Meanwhile, in West Africa, it’s true that we have led a massive global effort to combat this epidemic.  We mobilized other countries to join us in making concrete, significant commitments to fight this disease, and to strengthen global health systems for the long term.  In addition to the work of our troops, our USAID DART teams have directed the response.  Our CDC disease detectives have traced contacts.  Our health care workers and scientists helped contain the outbreak.  Our team is providing support for 10,000 civilian responders on the ground.

That’s what Brett Sedgewick did.  Where’s Brett?  There here is.  (Laughter.)  So Brett went to Liberia with Global Communities, which is an NGO that partnered with us to respond to Ebola.  Brett supported safe-burial teams that traveled to far-flung corners of Liberia to ensure that those who lost their lives to Ebola were carefully, safely, and respectfully buried so that they could not transmit the disease to anyone else.  And Brett reflects the spirit of so many volunteers when he said, “If you need me, just say the word.”  That’s a simple but profound statement.

That’s who we are -- big-hearted and optimistic, reflecting the can-do spirit of the American people.  That’s our willingness to help those in need.  They’re the values of Navy Lieutenant Andrea McCoy and her team.  Andrea, raise your hand so that I don’t look -- (laughter).  Andrea and her team deployed some seven tons of equipment, processed over 1,800 blood samples.  They’re the values that drive Commander Billy Pimentel.  Where’s Billy?  Raise your hand.


THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, sir.  (Laughter.)  Like that Navy can-do attitude.

He led a team of Naval microbiologists to set up mobile laboratories that can diagnose Ebola within four hours.  And he said, “It has been an honor for us to use our skills to make a difference.”

These values -- American values -- matter to the world.  At the Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia -- built by American troops; staffed by Rear Admiral Giberson and his team from the U.S. Public Health Service Corps -- a nurse’s aide named Rachael Walker went in for treatment, and left Ebola-free.  And I want you to listen to what Rachael’s sister said about all of you.  “We were worried at first,” she said, “but when we found out [Rachael] was being transferred to the American Ebola treatment unit, we thanked God first and then we thanked America second for caring about us.”

And the Americans who she was speaking of aren’t just doctors or nurses, or soldiers or scientists.  You’re what one lieutenant commander from the U.S. Public Health Service Corps called the “hope multipliers.”  And you’ve multiplied a lot of hope.  Last fall, we saw between 800 and 1,000 new cases a week. Today, we’re seeing between 100 and 150 cases a week -- a drop of more than 80 percent.  Liberia has seen the best progress, Sierra Leone is moving in the right direction, Guinea has the longest way left to go.

Our focus now is getting to zero.  Because as long as there is even one case of Ebola that’s active out there, risks still exist.  Every case is an ember that, if not contained, can light a new fire.  So we’re shifting our focus from fighting the epidemic to now extinguishing it.

The reason we can do that is because of a bipartisan majority in Congress, including some of the members who are here today, who approved funding to power this next phase in our response.  And I want to thank those members of Congress who are here for the outstanding work that they did.  (Applause.)  One of them, Chris Coons, recently traveled to the region and saw firsthand that we have to continue this fight in Africa.

So while our troops are coming home, plenty of American heroes remain on the ground, with even more on the way.  Doctors and nurses are still treating patients, CDC experts are tracking cases, NIH teams are testing vaccines, USAID workers are in the field, and countless American volunteers are on the front lines.  And while I take great pride in the fact that our government organized this effort -- and I particularly want to thank Secretary Burwell and her team at Health and Human Services for the outstanding work that they did -- we weren’t working alone.  I just had a chance to meet with some leading philanthropists who did so much, and are now committed to continuing the work and finding new ways in which we can build platforms not only to finish the job with respect to Ebola, but also to be able to do more effective surveillance, prevention, and quick response to diseases in the future.  

Other nations have joined the fight, and we’re going to keep working together -- because our common security depends on all of us.  That’s why we launched the Global Health Security Agenda last year to bring more nations together to better prevent and detect and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics.  This was a wakeup call, and why it’s going to be so important for us to learn lessons from what we’ve done and sustain it into the future.

And in the 21st century, we cannot built moats around our countries.  There are no drawbridges to be pulled up.  We shouldn’t try.  What we should do is instead make sure everybody has basic health systems -- from hospitals to disease detectives to better laboratory networks -- (applause) -- all of which allows us to get early warnings against outbreaks of diseases.  This is not charity.  The investments we make overseas are in our self-interest -- this is not charity; we do this because the world is interconnected -- in the same way that the investments we make in NIH are not a nice-to-do, they are a must-do.  We don’t appreciate basic science and all these folks in lab coats until there’s a real problem and we say, well, do we have a cure for that, or can we fix it?  And if we haven't made those investments, if we’ve neglected them, then they won’t be there when we need them.

So as we transition into a new phase in this fight, make no mistake -- America is as committed as ever, I am as committed as ever to getting to zero.  And I know we can.  And I know this because of the people who stand behind me and the people out in the audience.  I know this because of people like Dr. William Walters.  William, you here?


THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Laughter.)

Dr. Walters is the Director of Operational Medicine at the State Department.  Last summer, he was called to help move Dr. Kent Brantly -- who’s here -- back to the United States for treatment.  And Dr. Walters says the first thing he did was to Google Dr. Brantly.  (Laughter.)  A little plug for Google there.  I know we got some -- (laughter.)  And the first picture he saw was of Kent and his family.

Now, remember, the decision to move Kent back to the United States was controversial.  Some worried about bringing the disease to our shores.  But what folks like William knew was that we had to make the decisions based not on fear, but on science.  And he knew that we needed to take care of our heroes who had sacrificed so much to save the lives of others in order for us to continue to get people to make that kind of commitment.  They had to know we had their backs in order for us to effectively respond.  And so, as William said, “We do the work we do to impact something bigger than ourselves.”  We do the work we do to impact something bigger than ourselves.

That’s the test of American leadership.  We have this extraordinary military.  We have an extraordinary economy.  We have unbelievable businesses.  But what makes us exceptional is when there’s a big challenge and we hear somebody saying it’s too hard to tackle, and we come together as a nation and prove you wrong.  That’s true whether it’s recession, or war, or terrorism.  There are those who like to fan fears.  But over the long haul, America does not succumb to fear.  We master the moment with bravery and courage, and selflessness and sacrifice, and relentless, unbending hope.  That’s what these people represent.  That’s what’s best in us.  And we have to remember that, because there will be other circumstances like this in the future.

We had three weeks in which all too often we heard science being ignored, and sensationalism, but you had folks like this who were steady and focused, and got the job done.  And we’re lucky to have them, and we have to invest in them.

So I want to thank all of you for proving again what America can accomplish.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.  (Applause.)
2:03 P.M. EST



Precision Airstrikes Kill Former Taliban Commander, Associates
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2015 – The Defense Department announced today the deaths of eight individuals, including a former Taliban commander, killed during precision airstrikes in Afghanistan.

Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby told Pentagon reporters the airstrikes are a “reminder,” and emphasized using all available methods to dismantle terrorist groups threatening U.S., partner and allied interests.
“Yesterday, U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted a precision strike in Helmand province,” he said, “resulting in the death of eight individuals, to include Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander.”

“These are both reminders,” Kirby said, “that we’re going to continue to use all the tools at our disposal -- financial, diplomatic, certainly military -- to dismantle al-Shabaab and other groups [and] networks that threaten U.S. interests as well as the interests of our allies and partner nations.”
ISIL Nascent in Afghanistan

Kirby discussed ISIL’s desire to spread to other areas outside of Iraq and Syria.
“We’ve talked about this in the past,” he said, “that this is a group that does want to grow and expand its influence.”

Kirby noted that Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, and Army Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said they “certainly are looking very sharply to see if they’re expanding in other areas outside Iraq and Syria, and we know they have those designs.”

The admiral said he’d describe the group in Afghanistan as “nascent at best.”
“In fact,” Kirby said, “I would say more aspirational than anything else at this point. This guy Khadim -- we assess that he decided to swear allegiance to ISIL probably no more than a couple weeks ago. And he didn’t have a whole lot of depth to any network resources or manpower when he did it.”

Kirby emphasized he was not “diminishing or trying to dismiss” the threat ISIL poses, “but what I’m telling you is, here in this case, it’s nascent and aspirational, and that would be an aggressive characterization right now.”

The admiral noted Khadim, and his associates, were targeted because “we had information that they were planning operations against U.S. and Afghan personnel there in Afghanistan.”

“If they’re going to threaten our interest, our allies, our partners in Afghanistan,” Kirby said, “they’re fair game.”


Additionally, Kirby acknowledged Khadim was a detainee at the Guantanamo detention center before his 2007 release to Afghan authorities in Kabul.
This is a great example, he said, of the long discussion held regarding recidivism.
“We said that they return to the battlefield and to the fight at their own peril,” Kirby said. “Mr. Khadim is proof of that.”



Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Two U.S. Army Sergeants Plead Guilty to Taking Bribes While Deployed in Afghanistan

Two sergeants with the U.S. Army have pleaded guilty for accepting bribes from Afghan truck drivers at Forward Operating Base Gardez, Afghanistan (FOB Gardez), in exchange for allowing the drivers to take thousands of gallons of fuel from the base for resale on the black market, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore of the Middle District of Georgia.

James Edward Norris, 41, of Fort Irwin, California, and Seneca Darnell Hampton, 31, of Fort Benning, Georgia, each pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land in the Middle District of Georgia to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official and one count of money laundering.

During their guilty pleas, Hampton and Norris admitted to conspiring with other soldiers stationed at FOB Gardez to solicit and accept approximately $2,000 per day from local Afghan truck drivers in exchange for permitting the truck drivers to take thousands of gallons of fuel from the base.  Hampton admitted that he concealed the scheme by attributing the increase in fuel usage to colder winter temperatures.

Hampton and Norris admitted that they shipped the bribe money back to the United States in tough boxes.  Norris further admitted that on June 7, 2013, after returning from deployment, he purchased a 2008 Cadillac Escalade with $31,000 cash derived from the bribery scheme.  Hampton further admitted that on May 20, 2013, after returning from deployment, he purchased a 2013 GMC Sierra with $29,000 cash derived from the bribery scheme.

As part of their plea agreements, Hampton and Norris agreed to forfeit the proceeds they received from the bribery scheme and the vehicles they purchased with those proceeds, as well as to pay full restitution.  Sentencing has been scheduled for May 21, 2015.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Contract Audit Agency, Investigative Support Division.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney John Keller of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.