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Friday, July 10, 2015



Right:  Flaring, active regions of our sun are highlighted in this new image combining observations from several telescopes. High-energy X-rays from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) are shown in blue; low-energy X-rays from Japan's Hinode spacecraft are green; and extreme ultraviolet light from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is yellow and red.

All three telescopes captured their solar images around the same time on April 29, 2015. The NuSTAR image is a mosaic made from combining smaller images.

The active regions across the sun’s surface contain material heated to several millions of degrees. The blue-white areas showing the NuSTAR data pinpoint the most energetic spots. During the observations, microflares went off, which are smaller versions of the larger flares that also erupt from the sun's surface. The microflares rapidly release energy and heat the material in the active regions.

NuSTAR typically stares deeper into the cosmos to observe X-rays from supernovas, black holes and other extreme objects. But it can also look safely at the sun and capture images of its high-energy X-rays with more sensitivity than before. Scientists plan to continue to study the sun with NuSTAR to learn more about microflares, as well as hypothesized nanoflares, which are even smaller.

In this image, the NuSTAR data shows X-rays with energies between 2 and 6 kiloelectron volts; the Hinode data, which is from the X-ray Telescope instrument, has energies of 0.2 to 2.4 kiloelectron volts; and the Solar Dynamics Observatory data, taken using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument, shows extreme ultraviolet light with wavelengths of 171 and 193 Angstroms.

Note the green Hinode image frame edge does not extend as far as the SDO ultraviolet image, resulting in the green portion of the image being truncated on the right and left sides.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/JAXA

Last Updated: July 9, 2015
Editor: Tony Greicius


Statement by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice on South Sudan Independence Day

I want to convey my greetings and that of President Obama and the United States of America to you, the people of South Sudan, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of your hard-won independence.

I remember so vividly the joy the world felt four years ago welcoming South Sudan into the community of nations.  I remember the pride I personally felt standing in that huge crowd in Juba with my thirteen year-old son and the people of South Sudan to celebrate the end of a decades-long civil war and the birth of the world’s newest nation. I remember the hope and unity of that day—the promise of a new beginning for you, who had suffered so much and persevered for so long.  Four years later, those happy memories are a horrifying reminder of all that has been lost.

It breaks my heart to see what South Sudan has become today.

Massive and widespread violence has returned.  Human rights abuses are rampant.  The Government and rebels are committing appalling crimes against innocent women, children, and the elderly.  President Kiir and Riek Machar and their cronies are personally responsible for this new war and self-inflicted disaster.  And only leaders on both sides can end this violence.

Yet, President Kiir and Riek Machar would rather haggle over personal power and wealth than agree on solutions.  Meanwhile, you, the people of South Sudan, continue to suffer.  Almost half of South Sudan’s population is now dependent on the international community for its very survival, and more than two million people have been displaced from their homes.

Over the past 19 months, the government has abdicated its responsibilities, failed to protect its citizens, and squandered its legitimacy.  Instead of negotiating a resolution to the conflict, it has subverted democracy and unilaterally extended its mandate.  As the violence drags on, the conflict not only scars the lives of innocent South Sudanese, it threatens to destabilize the wider region.

Through all these challenges, your neighbors, our regional partners, have gone to great lengths to try to bring the warring parties together and forge an end to this conflict.  The United States continues to support these efforts.  The path ahead is clear.  Violence will not bring about a solution.  The South Sudanese parties must establish immediately a transitional government that can serve with legitimacy and represent the needs of the people of South Sudan.

Before independence, when the war was at its height, I visited with people across the country.  In Marial Bai, in Rumbek, in Lui—I heard people describe how war was devastating their lives and tearing their families apart.  Ordinary people had endured years of suffering and uncertainty, but they still strove to forge a brighter future for their children.  That is the choice the leaders of South Sudan must make now.  The United States will not abandon the people of South Sudan and their right to live freely and at peace in their own country. We will continue to stand with all those who dream of a better tomorrow.  The United States will continue to work hard to help you to achieve lasting peace and justice.  We will hold accountable those who abuse the people of South Sudan.  And, the United States along with the international community, will punish those determined to drive South Sudan into the abyss.

May God Bless your young country and the people of South Sudan.


Thursday, July 9, 2015
Attorney General Lynch Announces Federal Marriage Benefits Available to Same-Sex Couples Nationwide

Attorney General Lynch announced today that federal marriage benefits will be available to same-sex couples nationwide following the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges:

 “Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell that every couple has the same right to participate in the institution of marriage, whether the partners are of the same-sex or opposite sexes, I directed Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure that the ruling be given full effect across the federal government.  Thanks to their leadership and the quick work of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide.  The agencies are currently working towards providing guidance to implement this change in law.  Just over a year ago, Attorney General Holder announced that agencies across the federal government had implemented the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision by treating married same-sex couples the same as married opposite-sex couples to the greatest extent possible under the law as it then stood.  With the Supreme Court’s new ruling that the Constitution requires marriage equality, we have now taken the further step of ensuring that all federal benefits will be available equally to married couples in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the US Territories.  The department will continue to work across the administration to fulfill our commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, including equal access to the benefits of marriage that the Obergefell decision guarantees.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

7/8/15: White House Press Briefing


Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates Delivers Oral Testimony Before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Washington, DC United States ~ Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, Chairman [Chuck] Grassley, Ranking Member [Patrick] Leahy and members of the Judiciary Committee.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the information and evidence-collection problem we commonly describe as “going dark.”

Twenty-five years ago, I started my Justice Department career as a line prosecutor in Atlanta.  I worked every kind of case you can imagine—from guns and drugs to financial fraud and terrorism.

During that time, the world has changed in remarkable ways.  Technological innovations have revolutionized the ways we communicate with colleagues and loved ones.  And increasingly sophisticated means of encryption have helped to ensure that these communications remain private.  For many reasons, these have been good developments—and ones that the Department of Justice embraces.

But it’s important that we do not let these technological innovations undermine our ability to protect the community from significant national security and public safety challenges.  The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and our criminal justice system provides a well-developed framework for a careful balance between privacy rights and public safety by adhering to the basic principle of judicial authorization established by probable cause and determined by a neutral judge.  that framework governs searches of all our communications, regardless of whether they are by private letters or smartphone [messages], and regardless of whether we are wiretapping a landline or intercepting instant messages sent over the latest applications.  This framework has protected the interests that we all have in safety and privacy for many years.

But recent technological innovations threaten that careful balance.  Although we still have the statutory authorities that congress provided to protect the community, like the Wiretap Act and FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Service Act of 1978)—increasingly, we’re finding that even when we have the authority to search certain types of digital communications, we can’t get the information we need because the encryption has been designed so that the information is only available to the user and the providers are unable to comply with the court order or warrant.  The need and justification for the evidence has been established—and yet that evidence cannot be accessed.  Crucial information becomes, in effect, “warrant proof.”

Because of this, we are creating safe zones where dangerous criminals and terrorists can operate and avoid detection.  And it impacts us in two ways: we can’t get access to information that is stored on someone’s smartphone, like a child pornographer’s photographs or a gang member’s saved text messages, known as data at rest.  And we also can no longer effectuate wiretap orders to intercept certain communications as they happen, like ISIL members plotting to carry out an attack in the U.S., or a kidnapper communicating with a coconspirator.  This is known as data in motion.  These technological changes come with real national security and public safety costs.

In the six short months that I’ve served as Deputy Attorney General, I’ve seen the threat picture from ISIL change.  ISIL currently communicates on Twitter, sending communications to thousands of would-be followers right here in our country.  When someone responds and the conversations begin, they are then directed to encrypted platforms for further communication.  And even with a court order, we can’t see those communications.  This is a serious threat and our inability to access these communications, with valid court orders, is a real national security and public safety problem.

The current public debate about how to strike the careful balance between privacy rights and public safety has at times been a challenging and highly charged discussion.  I believe that we have to protect the privacy of our citizens and the safety of the Internet.  But those interests are not absolute.  And they have to be balanced against the risks we face from creating warrant-proof zones of communication.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma, and reasonable people can disagree on where that balance should be struck.  I don’t think that we advance the analysis to vilify those who prioritize privacy for their customers.  But from where I sit, as the Deputy Attorney General, I believe that the balance must be struck in such a way that allows us to continue to enforce court orders to obtain the critical information we need to combat crime and national security threats.  But regardless of how one believes the balance should be struck, we can all agree that we will need ongoing honest and informed public debate about how best to protect both our liberty and our security.

Thank you again for giving us an opportunity to highlight this growing threat to public safety.  We must find a solution to this pressing problem and soon.  The government’s ability to protect our nation from our most pressing threats—both foreign and domestic—depends on it.

I look forward to answering your questions.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Justice Department Announces Settlement Agreement with Longview, Washington, Car Dealership to Protect Employment Rights of Military Applicants

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement with Bud Clary Chevrolet of Longview, Washington, to resolve a lawsuit it filed on behalf of Darrel Forney, a U.S. Navy Airman from Kelso, Washington.  The lawsuit alleged that the company violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when it terminated Forney in January 2014, after learning of his intention to join the armed services.  If approved by the court, the settlement will resolve the allegations that the defendant violated the employment rights of Forney.

Bud Clary Chevrolet is a multiple-location car dealership and service center based out of Longview.  According to the department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, the dealership violated USERRA by terminating Forney from his position as a lube technician in its service department after learning that he intended to join the armed services.  Forney initially intended to join the Navy Reserves, but after being terminated and unable to find other employment, he enlisted as an active duty Naval Airman.  Forney is currently stationed in Pensacola, Florida.  His family continues to reside in Kelso.

“The brave men and women who volunteer for our Armed Forces should never have to fear losing their job for signing up to protect our country,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery.  “This settlement demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting service members from unlawful employment discrimination and we will continue to devote time and resources to these efforts.”

“No service member should have to make a choice between keeping his civilian job and serving his country,” said Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division is committed to preserving the rights and privileges of those who, through their bravery and dedication, secure the rights and liberties of all Americans.”

“While our dedicated men and women of the military protect our freedoms overseas, we must protect their interests here at home,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington.  “The men and women who serve in our military cannot be penalized for that decision.  This case is another example of the United States Attorney’s Office’s commitment to enforcing the laws that protect the employment rights of those who serve our country.”

Under the terms of the settlement, embodied in a consent decree that has been submitted for approval to the federal district court in Seattle, the defendants must pay Forney $15,500 to compensate him for lost wages.  Among other things, the settlement also requires the defendants to provide training to Bud Clary Chevrolet’s management and human resources staff on the USERRA rights and obligations of employers and covered employees, including USERRA’s prohibition on terminating employees based upon their application to the military.

The case was litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Fogg of the Western District of Washington, in collaboration with Andrew Braniff, Special Counsel and USERRA/U.S. Attorney’s Office Program Coordinator, in the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section.


FACT SHEET: New Patient-Focused Commitments to Advance the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative

“Doctors have always recognized that every patient is unique, and doctors have always tried to tailor their treatments as best they can to individuals. You can match a blood transfusion to a blood type — that was an important discovery. What if matching a cancer cure to our genetic code was just as easy, just as standard? What if figuring out the right dose of medicine was as simple as taking our temperature?” -- President Barack Obama, January 30, 2015

In January 2015, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease, empowering health care providers to tailor treatment and prevention strategies to individuals’ unique characteristics. In launching PMI, the President acknowledged that success in this effort will require all hands on deck – including the active participation of care providers, health professionals, researchers, innovators, patients, and research participants.

Today, marking six months of progress to advance PMI, the White House is hosting a Champions of Change event honoring extraordinary individuals from across the country who are making a difference in the lives of patients and driving precision medicine forward. In addition to celebrating these Champions, Federal agencies and private-sector groups are stepping up to the President’s call to action to advance the PMI by making important commitments to:

Make health data more portable;
Ensure patients can easily access and share their own health information, including contributing it for research;
Rigorously protect patient privacy, security and choice; and
Support new research platforms connecting researcher and participants as partners.
Administration commitments launching today include:

Guiding Principles for Protecting Privacy and Building Trust: Today, the White House is unveiling draft PMI guiding principles that seek to build privacy into the design of the PMI research cohort, which will include one million or more Americans who agree to share data about their health.   An interagency working group convened by the White House developed these principles out of a series of expert roundtables, review of the bioethics literature, analysis of existing privacy and trust frameworks, and working group discussions. The principles articulate a set of core values and responsible strategies for building public trust and maximizing the benefits of a large national research cohort, while minimizing the risks inherent in large-scale data collection, analysis and sharing.  The White House is seeking public feedback on the Privacy and Trust Principles online through August 7, 2015.

New Tools for Patients: In collaboration with federal partners, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will work to address barriers that prevent patients from accessing their health data. OCR will develop additional guidance materials to educate the public and health care providers about a patient’s right to access his or her health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  In collaboration with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, ONC will publish sample communications tools to encourage patients to access their digital health information and workflow diagrams for providers. These resources draw on extensive user research and proven practices to encourage patients to view, download, and transmit their health information. ONC is also developing an open-source prototype that will allow individuals to combine their medical records with patient-generated data and connect these data with the apps of their choice.

Research Awards to Unlock Data Insights: Today the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is announcing awards to support four research projects on key questions relevant to precision medicine using the rich data from the Million Veterans Program (MVP), the largest US repository of genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military exposure data. The projects, which focus on the genetic contributions of heart disease, kidney disease, and substance abuse, are designed to assess the utility and accessibility of the data captured in MVP, in addition to answering important scientific questions. These studies will also help inform plans for PMI’s national research cohort, including the types of data that should be included and the design of the data platform. To date, over 390,000 Veterans have enrolled in MVP, and have provided a blood sample, answered a health questionnaire, and authorized access to their electronic health records (EHRs). Understanding how these data, when combined, can help uncover new insights into factors that affect disease onset and progression will be an important test for all precision medicine focused cohorts.

Private-sector commitments launching today include:

Duke Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine: Duke has developed a platform called MeTree that helps individuals have challenging but necessary conversations with loved ones and care providers about family health histories, so that physicians can tailor care to patients’ unique risk profiles. Duke is announcing that, leveraging emerging standards, MeTree will now connect with the information in patients’ electronic health records, allowing patients and providers to seamlessly access information in EHRs through application programming interfaces (APIs).  This effort aims to enrich communication between patients and their clinicians and to help them make the best possible care decisions as a team.

Flip the Clinic: Flip the Clinic, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is announcing a collaboration with more than 160,000 clinicians and staff practicing at sites across the United States, who have pledged to inform patients about their right to get digital copies of their medical records. Flip the Clinic will work hand-in-hand with clinicians at these sites to redesign how clinicians respond to patients’ requests for their own records, with the goal of making health-information access, sharing, downloading, and use a more seamless experience for both patients and clinicians. Flip the Clinic is further committing to educate patients about the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative and how to get involved. Collaborators in this effort include a wide range of delivery systems, clinics, organizations, and technology partners.

Genetic Alliance: Along with collaborators, Genetic Alliance is launching new capabilities for Platform for Engaging Everyone Responsibly (PEER), a data registry that empowers participants to share their data with medical researchers, advocacy groups, and others. With assistance from Cerner and NATE, going forward, PEER will accept coded, clinical data from participants’ electronic health records (EHRs). Participants will be able to send this information to PEER directly from their provider-supplied portals, leveraging national standards, or ask that their providers send it. PEER is a free-to-the-participant user service that is provided through condition-specific advocacy and support groups. Each participant is provided with tools to dynamically control how much of their information they wish to share, and with whom. Currently there are about 20 provider-supplied portals that work with PEER. Through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this number will more than double by the end of 2015. Additional collaborators on this effort include: Private Access, Cerner Corporation, National Association of Trusted Identities (NATE).

GetMyHealthData: The GetMyHealthData campaign is pledging to help thousands of consumers over the next 12 months access and download their own clinical health data, so they can use it to understand and improve their health, their care, and the system as a whole -- including donating their data for research. The campaign is a collaboration of consumer organizations, health care experts, former policy makers and technology organizations.  GetMyHealthData will guide consumers through the often complex process by providing a tool to automate the request for their data and to troubleshoot any problems that occur. The initiative will also offer basic guidance on apps that can safely and securely store patient data, including those that enable data donation for research while protecting privacy. Finally, the campaign will provide resources for clinicians and consumers that explain consumers’ rights and best practices to get copies of their structured electronic clinical data. Collaborators include: National Partnership for Women & Families, Amida, Code for America, Genetic Alliance, Health Data Consortium and NATE.

Sage Bionetworks: Recognizing the importance of health-data liberation, and the role of data in driving research studies, Sage Bionetworks is announcing that it will support clinical studies that import electronic health-record information to its open source research platform and that it will release open-source informed-consent prototypes to support these studies. Sage’s goal is to catalyze new clinical studies that are native to mobile phones, vastly expanding the ability of citizens to voluntarily participate and engage as partners in research. Sage Bionetworks leverages the power of open networks of contributors to solve complex scientific problems, including the Cancer Genome Atlas and NIH’s Alzheimer’s Accelerating Medicine Partnership.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Benefits for Humanity: Hope Crystallizes



President Barack Obama addresses reporters at the Pentagon, July 6, 2015, after meeting with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, stands at right. DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett. 

Obama Discusses Anti-ISIL Strategy With National Security Team at Pentagon
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2015 – President Barack Obama discussed the strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with civilian and military leaders of his national security team at the Pentagon.

The president spoke to the press following the meeting. He stressed that the strategy will take time to work, and that there is no substitute to working through indigenous forces in the region.

The strategy harnesses all elements of American power including military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic development, “and perhaps most importantly the power of our values,” Obama said.

Long-Term Campaign

The strategy envisions a long-term campaign, he said.

“ISIL is opportunistic, and it is nimble,” the president said. “In many places in Syria and Iraq, including urban areas, it’s dug in among innocent civilian populations. It will take time to root them out.”

American and coalition partners will help out with training and air support, but it must be local fighters who take the fight to the terrorists, he said.

“As with any military effort, there will be periods of progress but there are also going to be some setbacks, as we’ve seen with ISIL’s gains in Ramadi in Iraq and in Central and Southern Syria,” Obama said.

There Has Been Progress

Still there has been progress, he noted, with more than 5,000 airstrikes that have taken out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicles, bomb factories and training camps.

“We’ve eliminated thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders,” the president said. “Over the past year we've seen that, when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back.”

ISIL lost the Mosul Dam, Mount Sinjar and Tikrit.

“Altogether, ISIL has lost more than a quarter of the populated areas that it had seized in Iraq,” he said. “In Syria, ISIL lost at Kobani. It's recently endured losses across Northern Syria, including the key city of Tal Abyad, denying ISIL a vital supply route to Raqqa, its base of operations in Syria.”

The terror group is vulnerable and with help local forces can push back the extremists, Obama said.

Intensifying Efforts

“ISIL’s recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated,” he said. “Indeed, we're intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria. Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations.”

The coalition – including many local nations – will continue to go after ISIL’s leadership and infrastructure in Syria, he said.

“Partnering with other countries, sharing more information, strengthening laws and border security allows us to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria as well as Iraq and to stem, obviously, the flow of those fighters back into our own countries,” the president said. “This continues to be a challenge. And working together, all nations are going to need to do more. But we’re starting to see some progress.”

Ramping Up Training

The United States is ramping up training and support of local forces, he said. “As I’ve said before, this aspect of our strategy was moving too slowly, but the fall of Ramadi has galvanized the Iraqi government,” Obama said.

In Anbar province, Iraq, more Sunni fighters are coming forward and they are being supplied. The president told his team to do more to train and equip anti-ISIL forces in Syria, too.

Again, the president called for a broader political effort in the region.

“Now all this said, our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort, political and economic, that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction,” he said.

“So as Iraqi cities and towns are liberated from ISIL, we’re working with Iraq and the United Nations to help communities rebuild the security, services and governance that they need, and we continue to support the efforts of Prime Minister (Haydar) Abadi to forge an inclusive and effective Iraqi government that unites all the people of Iraq, Shia, Sunni, Kurds and all minority communities,” the president said.

In Syria, Obama called for the Syrian people to unite against ISIL and begin the “political transition to a new government without Bashar al-Assad, a government that serves all Syrians.”

Security Team Members

The national security team met in Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s conference room. Meeting with Obama and Carter were: Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work; Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman; Marcel Lettre, the acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence; Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff; Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command; Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. Africa Command; Army Gen. Joe Votel, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; Adm. Michelle Howard, the vice chief of naval operations; Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff.

Also included were U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, CIA Director John Brennan, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.



Readout of the President’s Call with Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece

President Obama spoke this morning with Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece.  The President received an update from Prime Minister Tsipras on his ideas for a path forward between Greece and its creditors.  The President reiterated that it is in everyone’s interest that Greece and its creditors reach a mutually-acceptable agreement.

Readout of the President’s Call with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany

The President and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone this morning about Greece.  The leaders agreed it is in everyone’s interest to reach a durable agreement that will allow Greece to resume reforms, return to growth, and achieve debt sustainability within the Eurozone.  The leaders noted that their economic teams are monitoring the situation in Greece and remain in close contact.


The challenge of building a better atomic clock and why it matters

Prior to the mid-18th century, it was tough to be a sailor. If your voyage required east-west travel, you couldn't set out to a specific destination and have any real hope of finding it efficiently.

At the time sailors had no reliable method for measuring longitude, the coordinates that measure a point's east-west position on the globe. To find longitude, you need to know the time in two places--the ship you're on, and the port you departed from. By calculating the difference between those times, sailors got a rough estimate of their position. The problem: The clocks back then just couldn't keep time that well. They lost their home port's time almost immediately after departing.

Today, time is just as important to navigation, only instead of calculating positioning with margins of errors measured in miles and leagues, we have GPS systems that are accurate within meters. And instead of springs and gears, our best timepieces rely on cesium atoms and lasers.

But given the history, it's fitting that scientists like Clayton Simien, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded physicist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who works on atomic clocks, was inspired by the story of John Harrison, an English watchmaker who toiled in the 1700s to come up with the first compact marine chronometer. This device marked the beginning of the end for the "longitude problem" that had plagued sailors for centuries.

"If you want to measure distances well, you really need an accurate clock," Simien said.

Despite the massive leaps navigation technology has made since Harrison's time, scientists--many NSF-funded--are looking for new ways to make clocks more accurate, diminishing any variables that might distort precise timekeeping. Some, for example, are looking for ways to better synchronize atomic clocks on earth with GPS satellites in orbit, where atmospheric distortion can limit signal accuracy to degrees that seem minute, but are profound for the precise computer systems that govern modern navigation.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Defense, join NSF in the search for even better atomic clocks. But today's research isn't just about building a more accurate timepiece. It's about foundational science that has other ramifications.

'One Mississippi,' or ~9 billion atom oscillations

Atomic clocks precisely measure the ticks of atoms, essentially tossing cesium atoms upward, much like a fountain. Laser-beam photons "cool down" the atoms to very low temperatures, so the atoms can transfer back and forth between a ground state and an excited state.

The trick to this process is finding just the right frequency to move directly between the two states and overcome Doppler shifts that distort rhythm. (Doppler shifts are increases or decreases in wave frequency as the waves move closer or further away -- much like the way a siren's sound changes depending on its distance.)

Laser improvements have helped scientists control atoms better and address the Doppler issue. In fact, lasers helped to facilitate something known as an optical lattice, which can layer atoms into "egg cartons" to immobilize them, helping to eliminate Doppler shifts altogether.

That shift between ground state and excited state (better known as the atomic transition frequency) yields something equivalent to the official definition of a second: 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation that gets a cesium atom to vibrate between those two energy states. Today's atomic clocks mostly still use cesium.

NSF-funded physicist Kurt Gibble, of Pennsylvania State University, has an international reputation for assessing accuracy and improving atomic clocks, including some of the most accurate ones in the world: the cesium clocks at the United Kingdom's National Physical Laboratory and the Observatory of Paris in France.

But accurate as those are, Gibble says the biggest advance in atomic clocks will be a move from current-generation microwave frequency clocks -- the only kind currently in operation -- to optical frequency clocks.

The difference between the two types of clocks lies in the frequencies they use to measure the signals their atoms' electrons emit when they change energy levels. The microwave technology keeps reliable time, but optical clocks offer significant improvements. According to Gibble, they're so accurate they would lose less than a second over the lifetime of the universe, or 13.8 billion years.

Despite that promise of more accurate performance, the optical frequency clocks don't currently keep time.

"So far, optical standards don't run for long enough to keep time," Gibble said. "But they will soon."

Optical frequency clocks operate on a significantly higher frequency than the microwave ones, which is why many researchers are exploring their potential with new alkaline rare earth elements, such as ytterbium, strontium and gadolinium.

"The higher frequency makes it a lot easier to be more accurate," Gibble said.

Gibble is starting work on another promising elemental candidate: cadmium. Simien, whose research employs gadolinium, has focused on minimizing--or eliminating if possible--key issues that limit accuracy.

"Nowadays, the biggest obstacle, in my opinion is the black body radiation shift," Simien said. "The black body radiation shift is a symptomatic effect. We live in a thermal environment, meaning its temperature fluctuates. Even back in the day, a mechanical clock had pieces that would heat up and expand or cool down and contract.

"A clock's accuracy varied with its environment. Today's system is no longer mechanical and has better technology, but it is still susceptible to a thermal environment's effects. Gadolinium is predicted to have a significantly reduced black body relationship compared to other elements implemented and being proposed as new frequency standards."

While Simien and Gibble agree that optical frequency research represents the next generation of atomic clocks, they recognize that most people don't really care if the Big Bang happened 13 billion years ago or 13 billion years ago plus one second.

"It's important to understand that one more digit of accuracy is not always just fine tuning something that is probably already good enough," said John Gillaspy, an NSF program director who reviews funding for atomic clock research for the agency's physics division. "Extremely high accuracy can sometimes mean a qualitative breakthrough which provides the first insight into an entirely new realm of understanding--a revolution in science."

Gillaspy cited the example of American physicist Willis Lamb, who in the middle of the last century measured a tiny frequency shift that led theorists to reformulate physics as we know it, and earned him a Nobel Prize. While research to improve atomic clocks is sometimes dismissed as trying to make ultra-precise clocks even more precise, the scientists working in the field know their work could potentially change the world in profound, unexpected ways.

"Who knows when the next breakthrough will come, and whether it will be in the first digit or the 10th?" Gillaspy continued. "Unfortunately, most people cannot appreciate why more accuracy matters."

From Wall Street to 'Interstellar'

Atomic clock researchers point to GPS as the most visible application of the basic science they study, but it's only one of this foundational work's potential benefits.

Many physicists expect it to provide insight that will illuminate our understanding of fundamental physics and general relativity. They say new discoveries will also advance quantum computing, sensor development and other sensitive instrumentation that requires clever design to resist natural forces like gravity, magnetic and electrical fields, temperature and motion.

The research also has implications beyond the scientific world. Financial analysts worry that worldwide markets could lose millions due to ill-synchronized clocks.

On June 30 th at 7:59:59 p.m. EDT, the world adds what is known as a "leap second" to keep solar time within 1 second of atomic time. History has shown, however, that this adjustment to clocks around the world is often done incorrectly. Many major financial markets are taking steps ranging from advising firms on how to deal with the adjustment to curtailing after-hours trading that would occur when the change takes place.

Gibble says the goal of moving to ever more accurate clocks isn't to more precisely measure time over a long period.

"It's the importance of being able to measure small time differences."

GPS technology, for example, looks at the difference of the propagation of light from multiple satellites. To provide location information, several GPS satellites send out signals at the speed of light--or one foot per nanosecond--saying where they are and what time they made their transmissions.

"Your GPS receiver gets the signals and looks at the time differences of the signals--when they arrive compared to when they said they left," Gibble said. "If you want to know where you are to a couple of feet, you need to have timing to a nanosecond--a billionth of a second."

In fact, he said, if you want that system to continue to accurately operate for a day, or for weeks, you need timing significantly better than that. Getting a GPS to guide us in deserts, tropical forests, oceans and other areas where roads aren't around to help as markers along the way--one needs clocks with nanosecond precision in GPS satellites to keep us from getting lost.

And if you're not traveling to those locales, then there's still the future to think about.

"Remember the movie, 'Interstellar,'" Simien said. "There is someone on a spaceship far away, and Matthew McConaughey is on a planet in a strong gravitational field. He experiences reality in terms of hours, but the other individual back on the space craft experiences years. That's general relativity. Atomic clocks can test this kind of fundamental theory and its various applications that make for fascinating science, and as you can see, they also expand our lives."

-- Ivy F. Kupec,
Kurt Gibble
Clayton Simien
Related Institutions/Organizations
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Pennsylvania State Univ University Park


FTC Action Stops Massive Payday Loan Fraud Scheme Defendants Agree to be Banned from Consumer Lending

The operators of a payday lending scheme that allegedly bilked millions of dollars from consumers by trapping them into loans they never authorized will be banned from the consumer lending business under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission.

The settlements stem from charges the FTC filed last year alleging that Timothy A. Coppinger, Frampton T. Rowland III, and their companies targeted online payday loan applicants and, using information from lead generators and data brokers, deposited money into those applicants’ bank accounts without their permission. The defendants then withdrew reoccurring “finance” charges without any of the payments going to pay down the principal owed. The court subsequently halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets pending litigation.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants told consumers they had agreed to, and were obligated to pay for, the unauthorized “loans.” To support their claims, the defendants provided consumers with fake loan applications or other loan documents purportedly showing that consumers had authorized the loans. If consumers closed their bank accounts to stop the unauthorized debits, the defendants often sold the “loans” to debt buyers who then harassed consumers for payment.

The defendants also allegedly misrepresented the loans’ costs, even to consumers who wanted the loans. The loan documents misstated the loan’s finance charge, annual percentage rate, payment schedule, and total number of payments, while burying the loans’ true costs in fine print. The defendants allegedly violated the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

Under the proposed settlement orders, the defendants are banned from any aspect of the consumer lending business, including collecting payments, communicating about loans, and selling debt. They are also permanently prohibited from making material misrepresentations about any good or service, and from debiting or billing consumers or making electronic fund transfers without their consent.

The orders extinguish any consumer debt the defendants are owed, and bar them from reporting such debts to any credit reporting agency, and from selling or otherwise benefiting from customers’ personal information.

The defendants are Coppinger and his companies, CWB Services LLC, Orion Services LLC, Sandpoint Capital LLC, Sandpoint LLC, Basseterre Capital LLC, Basseterre Capital LLC, Namakan Capital LLC, and Namakan Capital LLC, and Rowland and his companies, Anasazi ervices LLC, Anasazi Group LLC, Vandelier Group LLC, St. Armands Group LLC,; Longboat Group LLC, doing business as Cutter Group, and Oread Group LLC, d/b/a Mass Street Group.

The settlement orders impose consumer redress judgments of approximately $32 million and $22 million against Coppinger and his companies and Rowland and his companies, respectively. The judgments against Coppinger and Rowland will be suspended upon surrender of certain assets. In each case, the full judgment will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.

The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated final orders was 5-0. The documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The proposed orders are subject to court approval.

NOTE: Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.


Three out of 4 American adults favor making 21 the minimum age of sale for tobacco products
Seven in 10 cigarette smokers favor raising age of sale

Three out of 4 American adults—including 7 in 10 cigarette smokers—favor raising the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21, according to an article by CDC published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  While an overwhelming majority of adults favored the policy overall, favorability is slightly higher among adults who never smoked and older adults. In contrast, 11 percent of adults strongly opposed making 21 the legal age of sale, while 14 percent somewhat opposed such measures.

In most states, the minimum age of sale for tobacco is 18; in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah the minimum age of sale is 19. One state—Hawaii—currently prohibits sales of tobacco products to youth under the age of 21. Additionally, several cities and counties across the U.S. have adopted laws raising the minimum age to 21, starting with Needham, Massachusetts, in 2005. New York City; Hawaii County, Hawaii; Evanston, Illinois; Englewood, New Jersey; Columbia, Missouri; and several other communities in Massachusetts later followed suit.

“Raising the minimum age of sale to 21 could benefit the health of Americans in several ways,” said Brian King, Ph.D., acting Deputy Director for Research Translation in CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “It could delay the age of first experimenting with tobacco, reducing the likelihood of transitioning to regular use and increasing the likelihood that those who do become regular users can quit.”

Data for the study came from Styles, a nationally representative online survey of U.S. adults aged 18 and older. The findings are consistent with those from a national survey conducted in 2013 and polls of voters in Colorado and Utah that found 57 percent and 67 percent, respectively, favor such policies. Favorability for the policies was found to increase with increasing age.

According to the 2014 Surgeon General Report, the tobacco industry aggressively markets and promotes its products and continues to recruit youth and young adults as new consumers. People who begin smoking at a young age are more likely to become addicted, to progress to daily use, to smoke more as they grow into adulthood, and to have trouble quitting.  A previous Surgeon General Report found about 96 percent of adult smokers first try cigarettes by the age of 21.

Age-of-sale restrictions have been shown to contribute to reductions in tobacco use and dependency among youth. In March 2015, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report found that increasing the legal age of sale for tobacco will likely prevent or delay tobacco use initiation by adolescents and young adults. The IOM found that if all states were to raise the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21, there would be a 12 percent decrease in cigarette smoking prevalence across the nation by 2100. This would translate into nearly 250,000 fewer premature deaths from cigarette smoking among people born between 2000 and 2019.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The President Provides an Update on Our Campaign to Degrade and Destroy ...

7/6/15: White House Press Briefing



SECDEF: France Committed To Fight Against ISIL
Washington, DC, United States
℠2015 - Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian brief the Pentagon press corps on their continued commitment to deliver a lasting defeat to ISIL.


Readout of the Vice President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada

Today in Vancouver, Vice President Biden met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada. The Vice President congratulated the Prime Minister on hosting a successful FIFA Women’s World Cup and thanked him for the outstanding hospitality. Demonstrating the breadth of the relationship, Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Harper exchanged views on a range of pressing global issues, including the threat posed by ISIL and the ongoing situation in eastern Ukraine. Both leaders reaffirmed the shared commitment to deepening robust trade relations and the early conclusion of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.



07/06/2015 12:50 PM EDT
Welcome Remarks for the Inaugural Meeting of the International Society of Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Professionals
John Brandolino
Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Bangkok, Thailand
July 6, 2015

Good Morning,

I am honored to represent the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) of the U.S. Department of State on a historic day at the inauguration of an important initiative which will define the United States’ global assistance in the area of substance use treatment and prevention for the years to come.

We are proud to be a founding partner of the International Society for Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Professionals, or ISSUP.

A global association bringing together the drug treatment and prevention workforce is long overdue.

Substance use treatment and prevention is an independent and multi-disciplinary field of study. ISSUP aims to promote this field and the ever-increasing body of evidence-based practices that should guide clinical practice and prevention activities around the globe.

INL’s international organization partners represented here today include the Organization of American States, the Colombo Plan, UNODC, World Health Organization, and the African Union.

Over the past years they have helped us in one way or another to:

develop protocols, standards and guidelines for the practice of treatment and prevention,
create and disseminate curriculum, including the Universal Treatment Curriculum (UTC) and Universal Prevention Curriculum (UPC), and
establish an international examination and credentialing process.
We are delighted and proud to see that these products can be disseminated through ISSUP. INL invites governments and universities not currently involved in these initiatives to join us and our collaborating international organizations.

Let’s work together to translate science into practice!

I would like to express appreciation to Thanyarak Institute for their collaboration with INL over the past years, both in addressing drug use in Thailand as well as hosting and mentoring international treatment staff.

Likewise, I would like to thank Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) for their long collaborative relationship with INL, particularly in the area of drug demand reduction. We look forward to a continued partnership over the coming years in the region as well as in international fora.

Finally, I extend special appreciation to all of the treatment and prevention professionals gathered here who will be formally joining ISSUP later this afternoon.

A network is only as strong as its membership. Over the coming years, this network will expand and grow broadly.

You should feel proud to be part of this movement, and to take an active role in its development.

Following this week’s activities, I hope that everyone here today will register on the website and contribute to the exchange of research and experiences.

Most importantly, we are excited by the prospects of a global community of professionals commonly oriented toward the same goals and relying on each other to impact their communities, their nations, and our world.

Thank you.


Hidden from view
Mathematicians formulate equations, bend light and figure out how to hide things

The idea of cloaking and rendering something invisible hit the small screen in 1966 when a Romulan Bird of Prey made an unseen, surprise attack on the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek. Not only did it make for a good storyline, it likely inspired budding scientists, offering a window of technology's potential.

Today, between illusionists who make the Statue of Liberty disappear to Harry Potter's invisibility cloak that not only hides him from view but also protects him from spells, pop culture has embraced the idea of hiding behind force fields and magical materials. And not too surprisingly, National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded mathematicians, scientists and engineers are equally fascinated and looking at how and if they can transform science fiction into, well, just science.

"Cloaking is about detection and rendering something--and the cloak itself--not detectable or seen," said Michael Weinstein, an NSF-funded mathematician at Columbia University. "An object is seen when waves are bounced off it and observed by a detector."

In recent years, researchers have developed new ways in which light can move around and even through a physical object, making it invisible to parts of the electromagnetic spectrum and undetectable by sensors. Additionally, mathematicians, theoretical physicists and engineers are exploring how and whether it's feasible to cloak against other waves besides light waves. In fact, they are investigating sound waves, sea waves, seismic waves and electromagnetic waves including microwaves, infrared light, radio and television signals.

Successful outcomes have far-reaching results--like protecting deep-water oil rigs from earthquakes and vulnerable beaches from tsunamis.

Uncloaking cloaking's math and science history

Partial differential equations, coordinate invariance, wave equations--when you start talking to researchers about cloaking, it soon starts sounding a lot like math. And that's because at the very heart of this scientific question lies a mathematical one.

"There are very nice mathematical problems associated with this, and some of the ideas are mathematically very, very simple," said Michael Vogelius, NSF's division director for mathematical sciences and whose own research at Rutgers University has contributed significantly to this field. "But that doesn't mean they are simple to implement. In transformation cloaking the materials with the desired cloaking properties are found by singular or nearly singular change of variables in the energy expression--these material coefficients are sometimes referred to as the push-forward (or pull-back) of the original background. Basically, mathematicians ask, 'what do the equations have to look like to get this effect?' The thing that will be very hard--and is very hard--is to build these materials. They are singular in all kinds of ways."

That is why throughout cloaking research history, mathematicians, theoretical physicists and engineers have looked at the problem together.

According to Graeme Milton, an NSF-funded mathematician at the University of Utah, cloaking's start is rooted in math.

"Mathematicians and theoretical physicists basically had the idea independently for transformation-based cloaking," he said, adding that other mathematicians along the way--including himself--have taken the same wave equations and developed them further.

Milton and his collaborators created superlens cloaking, where cloaking occurs near lenses with capabilities far greater than traditional ones, and active exterior cloaking, where cloaking is created by active devices, and the cloak does not completely surround the object.

While cloaking has made considerable theoretical strides, its triumphs have been fairly limited for those awaiting real-world applications.

"Essentially, all the cloaking that has been done successfully in experiment involves a fixed frequency or small band of frequencies," Weinstein said. "So, it's a bit like--suppose you detect things by shining a light on them, and we all agree you're only allowed to shine blue light. I can construct a cloak that will conceal it under blue light, but if you vary the color--that is the wavelength--of the probing light, it will then be detectable. So far, we are unable to cloak something that is invisible to all colors. And because white light is composed of a broad spectrum of colors, no one has come near to making things truly undetectable."

Even with those limitations, there have been distinct milestones in cloaking research.

One of the best examples is actually widely available but probably not commonly thought of as cloaking technology, yet it applies the same sort of math. It involves sounds waves.

"Noise-cancelling headphones are basically cloaking the sounds from outside so they don't reach your ears," Milton said. "Active cloaking is very much along these same lines."

In 2006, as Milton published a key paper that expanded on the superlens cloaking he developed more than a decade earlier, a group of Duke University physicists created the first-ever microwave invisibility cloak using specially engineered "metamaterials," which can manipulate wavelengths, such as light, in a way that naturally occurring materials cannot do alone. However, it only cloaked microwaves and only in two dimensions.

And in 2014, a group in France actually did some experiments with a company to drill 5-meter-deep holes in strategic locations that would modify the earth's density and then measure effectiveness in cloaking. The experiments man-made vibrations that were at a given frequency, not earthquakes. They were able to deflect the seismic waves, showing some possibility to develop this application further.

"Science needs to figure out how to cloak against multiple frequencies before there can be any 'real' cloaking, however," Milton said. "Earthquakes and tsunamis involve a mixture of frequencies, so they are particularly challenging problems."

Passive and active approaches to cloaking research

To understand cloaking, one must first understand where the idea comes from.

When light encounters an object, it is either reflected, refracted or absorbed. Reflection means light waves bounce off an object, like a mirror. Refraction bends light waves, much like looking at a straw in a glass of water seems to break the straw into two pieces. When waves are absorbed, they are stopped, neither bouncing back nor transmitting through the object--although perhaps heating it. Objects which absorb light appear opaque or dark. These interactions between light and objects are what allow us to see those objects.

For cloaking to occur, light must be tricked into doing unusual things that reduce our ability to "see" or detect the object. Mathematicians look for how to control the flow of waves, using wave equations to characterize their behavior. Wave equations are an example of partial differential equation (PDE); PDEs are the language of the fundamental laws of physics. (Just this year, John Nash and Louis Nirenberg received the prestigious Abel Prize for their work in partial differential equations. Their contributions have had a major impact on how mathematicians analyze the PDEs used to understand phenomena such as cloaking.)

"All wave phenomena are predictable from these wave equations--at least in principle," Weinstein said. "That is, light waves, sound waves, elastic waves, quantum waves, gravitational waves. But the problem is that these equations are not so easily solved, so one tries to come up with guiding principles, useful approximations and rules of thumb. Coming to the question of cloaking, there's a mathematical property of wave equations, governing, for example, light, called coordinate invariance. That's basically a way of saying that you can change coordinates and perspectives of viewing the object, and the equations themselves don't change their essential form. By exploiting this idea of coordinate invariance, scientists have come up with prescriptions for optical properties that can cloak arbitrary objects."

In 2009, Milton and colleagues first introduced exterior active cloaking. Scientists in this field describe their research as involving either active or passive cloaking. Active cloaking uses devices that actively generate electromagnetic fields that distort waves. Passive cloaking employs metamaterials that passively shield objects from electromagnetic waves rather than intervening.

"The term 'metamaterial' is a bit deceptive," Weinstein noted. "Metamaterials are roughly composite materials. You take a bunch of building blocks, made from naturally occurring materials, and put them together in interesting ways to create some emergent property--some collective property of this novel arrangement not in naturally occurring materials. That new collective material is a metamaterial. But it's more like a device that actually interacts actively with waves moving through it."

With new metamaterial designs come new cloaking capabilities. NSF-funded engineer Andrea Alù won NSF's Waterman award in 2015 for creating metamaterials that can cloak a three-dimensional object. He and his team developed two methods--plasmonic cloaking and mantle cloaking--that take advantage of different light-scattering effects to hide an object.

Weinstein is exploring, through his research on the partial differential equations governing light, electromagnetism, sound, etc.--different ways of controlling the flow of energy, cloaking being one example, by using novel media such as metamaterials. Vogelius is known for bringing credibility to the transformation optics that serve as a backbone to cloaking broadly.

Where's my invisibility cloak?

But most fans of stealthful space ships, submarines and cloaks will still wonder: how close are we to really having any of this technology?

"I think that from the perspective of lay people, the most misunderstood thing is thinking this technology is right around the corner," Milton said. "Realistic Harry Potter cloaks are still a long way off."

Unfortunately, addressing multi-frequency cloaking will take time.

"What I do see is a merging of mathematical, physical and engineering principles to more effectively enable isolation of objects from harmful environments--there will be movement in that direction," Weinstein said. "Also, there will be important experimental advances resulting from attempts to achieve what is only theoretically possible at this time."

In the meantime, these mathematicians often look at other issues--sometimes similar ones that offer the potential to rethink their approaches.

"Right now, we're working on the opposite sort of problem--on the limitations to cloaking," Milton said. "Cloaking is just one of the many avenues I work on. Honestly, it's always stimulating to explore the limitations of what's possible and what's impossible."

-- Ivy F. Kupec
Andrea Alu
Graeme Milton
Michael Vogelius
Michael Weinstein
Related Institutions/Organizations
Rutgers University
University of Utah
Columbia University
University of Texas at Austin


07/06/2015 02:10 PM EDT

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Bay Area oil and gas company and its CEO with running a $68 million Ponzi-like scheme and affinity fraud that targeted the Chinese-American community in California and investors in Asia, including some solicited as part of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

The SEC alleges that Bingqing Yang knew that Luca International Group was earning no profits and sinking under a mountain of debt, yet she made presentations to investors portraying a successful oil and gas operation with millions of barrels of oil reserves and billions of cubic feet in gas reserves.  Yang falsely projected outsized investment returns ranging from 20 to 30 percent annually.  She allegedly commingled investor funds to prevent the scheme from collapsing and used money from new investors to make sham profit payments to earlier investors.  Yang also allegedly diverted $2.4 million in investor funds through her brother’s company in Hong Kong, purportedly for the purchase of an oil rig, but instead used it to purchase a 5,600-square-foot home in an exclusive gated community in Fremont, Calif.  In addition, Yang allegedly spent investor funds on pool and gardening services, personal taxes, and a family vacation to Hawaii.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco, Luca International conducted seminars for investors at the company’s offices and hotel conference rooms in California.  Besides targeting investors in the Chinese-American community through advertisements in Chinese-language television, radio, and newspaper outlets, Yang and Luca International allegedly zeroed in on Chinese citizens who sought permanent U.S. residence through the EB-5 program, which provides a way for foreign investors to obtain a green card by meeting certain U.S. investment requirements.  Yang is alleged to have raised approximately $8 million from EB-5 investors purportedly to finance, through a loan to another Luca entity, jobs and development costs for eight oil and gas drilling projects.  Yang allegedly told these investors that loan was fully secured, but the Luca entity the EB-5 investors funded was hopelessly in debt and contrary to the rosy representations Yang made to investors, had no realistic possibility of ever repaying the loan.

“As alleged in our complaint, Yang falsely claimed that Luca International was a profitable oil and gas drilling operation when it was really a Ponzi-like scheme preying on Chinese-Americans and EB-5 investors who lost millions of dollars while Yang lined her pockets,” said Jina L. Choi, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office.

Others charged in the SEC’s complaint include Luca International’s former vice president of business development Lei (Lily) Lei, who allegedly sold securities to investors and helped Yang divert investor funds, and Yong (Michael) Chen, who allegedly raised investor funds for Yang through his company Entholpy EMC, which did business under the name Mastermind College Funding Group.  Luca International’s former CFO Anthony Pollace agreed to pay a $25,500 penalty to settle charges that he played a small role in the alleged fraud.

As part of a related administrative action instituted today, Hiroshi Fujigami and his company Wisteria Global agreed to settle charges that they acted as brokers to illegally sell securities of two Luca entities.  Fujigami and Wisteria must disgorge allegedly ill-gotten gains of more than $1.1 million and Fujigami agreed to be barred from the securities industry and from participating in any penny stock offering.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Alice Liu Jensen and Michael D. Foley of the San Francisco office and supervised by Steven D. Buchholz.  The SEC’s litigation will be led by Ms. Jensen, Sheila O’Callaghan, and John S. Yun.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, and the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Crash Test Assesses Plane Emergency Locator Transmitters


Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Former Silk Road Task Force Agent Pleads Guilty to Extortion, Money Laundering and Obstruction
Ex-DEA Agent Used Undercover Status to Fraudulently Obtain Digital Currency Worth Over $700,000

A former DEA agent pleaded guilty today to extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice, which he committed while working as an undercover agent investigating Silk Road, an online marketplace used to facilitate the purchase and sale of illegal drugs and other contraband.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California, Chief Richard Weber of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of  FBI’s San Francisco Division, Special Agent in Charge Michael P. Tompkins of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s Washington, D.C. Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Lori Hazenstab of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General in Washington D.C. made the announcement.

“While investigating the Silk Road, former DEA Agent Carl Force crossed the line from enforcing the law to breaking it,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Seduced by the perceived anonymity of virtual currency and the dark web, Force used invented online personas and encrypted messaging to fraudulently obtain bitcoin worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government and investigative targets alike.  This guilty plea should send a strong message: neither the supposed anonymity of the dark web nor the use of virtual currency nor the misuse of a law enforcement badge will serve as a shield from the reach of the law.”

“Mr. Force has admitted using his position of authority to weave a complex veil of deception for personal profit,” said U.S. Attorney Haag.  “Mr. Force’s actions put at risk other important investigations and betrayed the trust placed in him by his law enforcement partners and the public.  We are grateful for the work done by our federal partners to assist in unraveling this crime.”

“Through following the money in the Silk Road investigation it became clear that the defendant was engaged in wire fraud, money laundering, and other related offenses,” said Chief Weber.  “He used his position in the investigation to bring himself significant personal financial gain.  This investigation sends a clear message -- no person, especially those entrusted with the public’s trust such as federal law enforcement, is above the law and IRS-CI will use their financial investigative skills to track you down.”

Carl M. Force, 46, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California to an information charging him with money laundering, obstruction of justice and extortion under color of official right.  Force’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015.

Force was a Special Agent with the DEA for 15 years.  Between 2012 and 2014, he was assigned to the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force, a multi-agency group investigating illegal activity on the Silk Road.  Force was the lead undercover agent in communication with Ross Ulbricht, aka “Dread Pirate Roberts,” who ran the Silk Road.

In connection with his guilty plea, Force admitted that, while working in an undercover capacity using his DEA-sanctioned persona, “Nob,” in the summer of 2013, Force offered to sell Ulbricht fake drivers’ licenses and “inside” law enforcement information about the Silk Road investigation, which information Nob claimed to have accessed through a corrupt government employee.  Force admitted that he attempted to conceal his communications with Ulbricht about the payments by directing Ulbricht to use encrypted messaging.  Although Force understood these payments, which were made in bitcoin, to be government property, as they constituted evidence of a crime, he admitted that he falsified official reports and stole the funds, depositing the bitcoin into his own personal account and then converting them into dollars.  Force admitted that, at the time, the value of the bitcoin he received from Ulbricht was in excess of approximately $100,000.

Force also admitted that he devised and participated in a scheme to fraudulently obtain additional funds from Ulbricht through another online persona, “French Maid,” of which his Task Force colleagues were not aware.  Force admitted that, as French Maid, he solicited and received bitcoin payments from Ulbricht worth approximately $100,000 in exchange for information concerning the government’s investigation into the Silk Road.

In connection with his guilty plea, Force also admitted that, in late 2013, in his personal capacity, he invested $110,000 worth of bitcoin in CoinMKT, a digital currency exchange company.  Although he did not receive permission from the DEA to do so, he served as CoinMKT’s Chief Compliance Officer.  In this role, in February 2014, Force was alerted by CoinMKT to what the company initially believed to be suspicious activity in a particular account.  Force admitted that, thereafter, in his capacity as a DEA agent, but without authority or a legal basis to do so, he directed CoinMKT to freeze $337,000 in cash and digital currency from the account and he subsequently transferred the approximately $300,000 of digital currency funds into a personal account that he controlled.

Force also admitted to entering into a $240,000 contract with 20th Century Fox Film Studios related to a film concerning the government’s investigation into the Silk Road.  Force admitted that he did not secure the necessary approvals from the DEA to do so.

According to his plea agreement, Force admitted that he had obstructed justice both by soliciting and accepting bitcoin from Ulricht and by lying to federal prosecutors and agents who were investigating potential misconduct by Force and others.

The investigation is ongoing.  To date, Force is one of two federal agents charged with crimes in connection to their roles in investigating the Silk Road.  Shaun W. Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Maryland, a former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, is charged in a two-count information with money laundering and obstruction of justice related to his diversion of over $800,000 in digital currency that he gained control over as part of the Silk Road investigation.  The charges contained in an information are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Francisco Division, the IRS-CI’s San Francisco Division, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.  The following additional components assisted with the investigation: IRS-CI’s New York Field Office, HSI’s Chicago/O’Hare Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Embassy in Slovenia and the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Tokyo.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn Haun and William Frentzen of the Northern District of California and Trial Attorney Richard B. Evans of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvon Perteet.


Sodium Intake Among U.S. Adults — 26 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, 2013

With more than 9 out of 10 U.S. adults eating too much sodium, the findings suggest a significant proportion of adults are ready for sodium reduction. The study also reveals opportunities for healthcare professionals to advise patients on limiting salt in the diet. Based on a 2013 phone survey of more than 180,000 adults across 26 states, DC and Puerto Rico, CDC research reveals that just over half of U.S. adults reported taking action to watch or reduce sodium intake – while one in five say they have received professional medical advice to reduce sodium intake. Compared to people without hypertension, a higher percentage of individuals with self-reported hypertension claim to have taken steps to watch or reduce sodium and receive advice from a professional healthcare provider.


FTC and Florida Attorney General Sue to Stop Illegal Robocalls Pitching Worthless Credit Card Interest Rate Reduction Programs
Another Action Targeting Robocalls from “Card Member Services”

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General, a federal district court has temporarily halted an Orlando-based operation that has been bombarding consumers since 2011 with massive robocall campaigns designed to trick them into paying up-front for worthless credit card interest rate reduction programs.

The court order stops the illegal calls, many of which targeted seniors and claimed to be from “credit card services” and “card member services.” The defendants charged consumers up to $4,999 for their non-existent services.

“Working with the Florida Attorney General, we’re shutting down a scam that blasted robocalls to older people and offered bogus solutions to relieve credit card debt,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It’s illegal to sell products or services with out-of the-blue robocalls, and if you get one you can expect that the sales pitch is a lie, too.”

“These scammers were making illegal robocalls to people nationwide, some of whom were seniors on fixed incomes. Too often the services promised were never provided, and consumers faced even more credit card debt through charges made without their consent,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “My office, in partnership with the FTC, has shut down this illegal credit card interest rate reduction scam and brought those responsible under the control of a federal court receiver.”

Doing business as Payless Solutions, the defendants have been illegally calling thousands of consumers nationwide – including many seniors – claiming that their program will save them at least $2,500 in a short period of time and will enable them to pay off their debts more quickly. After convincing consumers to provide their credit card information, the defendants then charged between $300 and $4,999 up-front for their worthless service. In some cases, they illegally charged consumers without their consent.

The joint agency complaint alleges that the defendants fail to provide consumers with the promised interest rate reductions or savings. Instead, some consumers receive a package of financial education information that they did not request or agree to pay for. In other cases, the defendants use consumers’ personal information to apply for new credit cards, presumably with low introductory interest rates, without consumers’ knowledge or consent.

The complaint also charges the defendants with making many calls to consumers whose phone numbers are on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry, and with a number of violations of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and Florida’s Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The FTC and Florida Attorney General’s Office appreciate the assistance of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Orange County Sherriff’s Office in bringing this case.

The defendants include: 1) All Us Marketing LLC, f/k/a Payless Solutions, LLC; 2) Global Marketing Enterprises Inc., f/k/a Pay Less Solutions Inc.; 3) Global One Financial Services LLC; 4) Your #1 Savings LLC; 4) Ovadaa LLC; 5) Royal Holdings Of America LLC; 6) Gary Rodriguez; 7) Marbel Rodriguez; 8) Carmen Williams; 9) Jonathan Paulino; 10) Fairiborz Fard; 11) Shirin Imani; and 13) Alex Serna.

The Commission vote approving the joint complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, on June 22, 2015. That same day the court entered a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ assets and appointing a temporary receiver over the business.



Documenting endangered languages

The N|uu language, spoken by a few elderly people in South Africa, has features that help build a greater understanding of human language
There are fewer than half a dozen people left in the world who are native speakers of N|uu, a Khoisan language traditionally spoken in the Northern Cape of South Africa. The remaining speakers now live in and around the town of Upington. Sadly, they are elderly and when they die, the language likely will die with them.

"When one of these languages dies, it's a part of our human cultural heritage that is dying," says Chris Collins, a professor of linguistics at New York University. "These languages have unique features that tell us much about human language in general. When they die, it's a real tragedy."

Collins studies Khoisan languages, which are a group of non-Bantu languages of eastern and southern Africa that have "click" consonants. These languages fall into three subgroups: northern, central and southern, with two outliers in eastern Africa. How these subgroups are related historically is an open question, he says.

In recent years, Collins has been focusing on N|uu, which for a long time experts feared had been lost. But in 1997, the late linguist Anthony Traill interviewed a woman in her 90s, Elsie Vaalbooi, and verified that she was speaking N|uu. Ultimately, other surviving speakers were identified as a result of their attempts to reclaim ancestral lands taken from them under apartheid.

"Nobody was aware that the language still existed," Collins says. "It was a surprise. Everybody thought it was dead, but it wasn't."

But "it's going to die very quickly because there are so few speakers left, and they are all older than 60. They are trying to teach it to succeeding generations, but it's not easy, and there's not a lot of money to do it."

Collins does not speak N|uu, but he is studying and documenting its complexities, believing that insights about this unusual language add to the expanding knowledge of human language.

"I find N|uu and other Khoisan languages fascinating," he says. "Each has unique structures, not found in any other languages on Earth. By studying these, you gain insights into the human capacity for language."

Collins recently received a prestigious fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which annually supports a diverse group of scholars, artists, and scientists chosen on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Collins also has received a series of grants in recent years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his linguistic research, totaling about $400,000. The NSF-funded work also includes research on other Khoisan languages, including ǂHoã, Sasi and Juǀ'hoan, funding for a cross-linguistic syntactic database, as well as for the African Linguistics School.

The NSF-supported work on ǂHoã resulted in a grammatical description of the language, co-authored with the late linguist Jeffrey S. Gruber.

"One of the most remarkable features of ǂHoã is its complicated system of plurality," Collins says. "In English, to form a plural of a noun like "cat", one adds an "s" to form "cats". ǂHoã has a much more complicated system involving double plurals, with both a plural prefix and a plural suffix, that depends on the type of possessor a noun has, for example, 'their houses' has a different plural than 'their mothers.'

"Also, in ǂHoã, a verb can be put into the plural, in which case it means that the event described by the verb takes place several times," he adds. "For example, in ǂHoã, 'I shot' could be pluralized as 'I shots,' meaning I shot several times. Linguists refer to this way of pluralizing verbs as pluractionality. Studies of languages with pluractionality morphemes have deep implications for the study of the meaning of verbs in natural language."

Collins, together with the late linguist Henry J. Honken, also have shown that other Khoisan languages have traces of the complicated system of plurality found in ǂHoã.

In the case of N|uu, he and a linguist colleague in Namibia, Levi Namaseb, produced a grammatical sketch of the language, a book that provides an overview of its unusual structures. Collins and Namaseb worked together with American linguists Amanda Miller and Bonny Sands, who documented the sound system of N|uu.

As one example of a unique syntactic feature, N|uu uses a particular word to introduce expressions into the verb phrase, which he calls the "linker." This word sounds like "ng'' that one finds in the English word "sing".

For example, if someone were to say "I am afraid of your dog," it would be "I am afraid ng your dog" in N|uu. "It looks like it plays the role of 'of' but it doesn't always have the same role in the N|uu language that 'of' has in English," he says.

Also, the linker introduces adverbs. "He will dance ng tomorrow."

"Although the linker appears with a post-verbal adverb, it does not appear with a pre-verbal adverb, as in 'he will tomorrow dance,"' Collins says. "The linker is also found in 'how' questions, for example, 'how will he chop ng the wood?"

Collins' goal is to try to understand the bewildering array of contexts in which the linker appears, and to document how its use varies among the Khoisan languages.

"These results tell us about how a particular group of human languages organizes the verb phrase, and thus help establish the kinds of cross-linguistic variation a general theory of human language must account for," he says.

As it turns out, a subset of the Khoisan languages - the northern and southern Khoisan languages--all have a linker with similar properties that are not present either in the surrounding Bantu languages or in the central Khoisan languages.

"It is unclear how the northern and southern Khoisan languages all came to have the linker," he says. "One hypothesis is that they borrowed it from each other after a period of extensive pre-historic contact. Another hypothesis is that the languages share a common ancestor, and that is why they all have the linker. I think personally that the northern and southern Khoisan languages are historically related, but the evidence is not so compelling. How did they come to share a linker? It has a very specific kind of syntax."

To gather their material, he and Namaseb conducted extensive interviews over three summers with the remaining N|uu speakers, who also speak Afrikaans, asking specific questions about language constructions, and recording the responses. They also recorded a number of stories told by the N|uu consultants.

In addition to his language research, Collins also was one of the primary organizers of the African Linguistics School (ALS), which is held every two years, most recently in Accra, Ghana (2009), Porto Novo, Benin (2011, with NSF support under a grant titled "African Linguistics School") and Ibadan, Nigeria (2013).

The ALS is a two-week institute that takes place during the summer, and brings the latest work in core areas of linguistics to 70 students from African universities. The areas of focus are syntax, semantics, phonology, sociolinguistics and fieldwork.

"We have been very successful in helping graduate students to find research topics, to complete their dissertations and to gain admissions into competitive European and North American graduate schools," he says. "These students are very eager and very smart, and we have a lot of high caliber teachers. Organizing and teaching at the ALS has been one of the most rewarding of all my teaching experiences."

-- Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation
-- Maria C. Zacharias
Christopher Collins
John Singler
Amanda Miller
Related Institutions/Organizations
Cornell University
New York University

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fireworks on the National Mall from the White House

Russian Supply Ship Heads to ISS


Thursday, July 2, 2015
Statement by Justice Department Spokesperson on Recent Church Fires Across Five States

The following statement is attributable to Justice Department spokesperson Melanie Newman regarding recent church fires across five states:

“The federal law enforcement team of ATF, FBI, the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are actively investigating several church fires across five states that have occurred over the past two weeks.  Preliminary investigations indicate that two of the fires were started by natural causes and one was the result of an electrical fire.  All of the fires remain under active investigation and federal law enforcement continues to work to determine the cause of all of the fires.  To date the investigations have not revealed any potential links between the fires.

“If in fact there is evidence to support hate crime charges in any one of these cases, the FBI, in coordination with the ATF and local authorities, will work closely with the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to bring those forward.”


App Developer Settles FTC and New Jersey Charges It Hijacked Consumers’ Phones to Mine Cryptocurrency
Defendants’ App Installed Malware that Left Phones With Drained Batteries, Depleted Data Plans

A smartphone app developer has agreed to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission and the New Jersey Attorney General that it lured consumers into downloading its “rewards” app, saying it would be free of malware, when the app’s main purpose was actually to load the consumers’ mobile phones with malicious software to mine virtual currencies for the developer.

The Ohio-based defendants behind the app, called “Prized,” agreed to a settlement that will permanently ban them from creating and distributing malicious software.

“Hijacking consumers’ mobile devices with malware to mine virtual currency isn’t just deplorable; it’s also illegal,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “These scammers are now prohibited from trying such a scheme again.”

The defendants, Equiliv Investments and Ryan Ramminger, began marketing the Prized app around February 2014, making it available in the Google Play Store, Amazon App Store and others. Thousands of consumers downloaded the app believing they could earn points for playing games or downloading affiliated apps and then spend those points on rewards such as clothes, gift cards and other items. Consumers were promised that the downloaded app would be free from malicious software – malware – or viruses, according to the complaint.

What consumers got instead, according to the complaint, was an app that contained malware that took control of the device’s computing resources to “mine” for virtual currencies like DogeCoin, LiteCoin and QuarkCoin.

Virtual currencies are created by solving complex mathematical equations, and the complaint alleges that the app attempted to harness the power of many users’ devices to solve the equations more quickly, thus generating virtual currency for the defendants. The use of that power caused the device’s battery to drain faster and recharge more slowly, and to burn through consumers’ monthly data plans.

“Consumers downloaded this app thinking that at the very worst it would not be as useful or entertaining as advertised,” said Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “Instead, the app allegedly turned out to be a Trojan horse for intrusive, invasive malware that was potentially damaging to expensive smartphones and other mobile devices.”      

The complaint in the case alleges that the defendants violated both the FTC Act and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. In addition to the ban on creating and distributing malicious software, the court order also requires the defendants to destroy all information about consumers that they collected through the marketing and distribution of the app.

The settlement also includes a $50,000 monetary judgment against the defendants payable to the state of New Jersey, of which $44,800 is suspended upon payment of $5,200 and compliance with the injunctive provisions of the stipulated order.

This case is part of the FTC’s ongoing work to protect consumers taking advantage of new and emerging financial technology, also known as FinTech. As technological advances expand the ways consumers can store, share, and spend money, the FTC is working to keep consumers protected while encouraging innovation for consumers’ benefit.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and approving the proposed stipulated court order was 5-0. The FTC and state of New Jersey filed the complaint and order in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.