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Saturday, May 19, 2012

SENATORS OPPOSE QUICK WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN


Photo:   Sandstorm In Afghanistan.  Credit:  U.S. Navy.
FROM:  U.S. SENATOR CARL LEVIN’S WEBSITE:
Senators: Avoid 'premature' cuts of Afghan forces

Thursday, April 26, 2012
WASHINGTON – Four senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have written to President Obama regarding the prospect of reductions to the end-strength of the Afghan National Security Forces, urging him to reject “premature and militarily unjustified reductions” in those forces.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee’s chairman; Sen. John McCain R-Ariz., the ranking Republican; Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote the letter in response to public reports that the United States and its NATO allies are considering reductions of roughly one-third in troop levels for Afghanistan’s army and police after the planned handover of security responsibility to the Afghans in 2014.
“A key part of our Afghanistan strategy has been that, as U.S. and coalition forces draw down, increasing numbers of capable Afghan forces will be available to sustain and expand the hard-won gains that U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces have secured at great cost in blood and treasure,” the senators write. “Achieving this objective requires correctly sizing the ANSF to provide enduring security for their country, and ensuring the funding necessary to support that end-strength.”

The letter encourages the president to base Afghan force structure decisions “on a realistic assessment of the conditions they will be facing” when Afghan security forces have the security lead throughout the country and to urge the international community to provide the financial support needed to field adequate Afghan forces.

WOUNDED SERVICEMAN REUNITED WITH FAMILY FOUR DAYS AFTER ATTACK


FROM:  U.S. AIR FORCE
(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab) (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Joseph Simms) 
Injured Airman reunites with family just four days after IED attack 
by Master Sgt. Denise Johnson
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

5/18/2012 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) -- Staff Sgt. Brian Williams, who is deployed from the 87th Security Forces Squadron here, suffered serious injuries after an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on a mission April 25 outside Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.

That same day, Williams, who is a military working dog handler, was transported to the KAF trauma center where he underwent the first of several surgeries on his left leg. He was subsequently transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before arriving at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., just four days later on April 29.

The active-duty staff sergeant suffered the loss of his left leg above the knee as well as multiple shrapnel wounds due to the explosion. Williams acknowledged the quick medical response of his Army brethren; he said he believes their medical care on scene and use of tourniquets saved his life.

Williams arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on board the Mississippi Air National Guard C-17A Globemaster III named "The Spirit of the Purple Heart." His family, in addition to members and leaders from his home station, traveled to Maryland in a show of solidarity and support to their wounded warrior.

"(Lt. Gen. Judith A. Fedder) invited a small group of us to join her as she boarded the transport plane when it landed," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Novak, the 87th SFS commander. "The plane was full of wounded warriors and it took a moment for Brian to pull himself together when he saw us there. Brian was visibly moved when we made our way directly to his bed."

Fedder, the deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support from Headquarters U.S. Air Force, awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Force Combat Action Medal to the Air Force junior NCO.

"We all said a few words to Brian, then departed the aircraft while the medical technicians went to work preparing him for transport as General Fedder, the ranking member of the delegation, greeted the other warriors on the plane," Novak explained.

Novak and the welcoming committee drove to Walter Reed where they met Williams' father and stepmother as Williams was admitted to the intensive care unit.

Brian was doing great. He was talkative and joking around. He was doing much better than even the medical staff expected, so they were already making arrangements to move him out of ICU and into a regular patient room in the Warrior Wing," Novak said.

Williams moved from the ICU to his permanent room May 3, coinciding with Novak's subsequent visit when he was joined by Williams' parents; Col. John Wood, the 87th Air Base Wing and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst commander; Chief Master Sgt. Terrence Greene, the 87th ABW and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst command chief; and Staff Sgt. Emily Christofaro, of the 87th SFS. Wood presented the wounded Airman with a card signed by hundreds of men and women from the 87th ABW.

"Brian's sacrifice will forever be etched in our hearts and minds," Wood said. "I am honored to call him one of our own; I am honored to call him 'hero.' Tragedies never get easier to handle -- as a commander we want our military to return safe and unharmed. Sergeant Williams may have suffered grievous injuries, but he is now here with his loved ones, able to tell the tale. That in itself is a testament to his warrior spirit and his perseverance -- his commitment to finish the job. Our hearts are with him and we will support him for as long as he needs us and beyond."

Williams, who is from Phoenix, Ariz., is likely to be under care at Walter Reed for an extended period. He was approximately mid-way through a six-month deployment. This was Williams' sixth deployment since he joined the Air Force in 2000.

His military working dog, Carly, was unharmed in the incident and is currently enroute back to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The four-legged partner was foremost on the injured service member's mind.

"After Brian spent time with his family, his thoughts quickly turned to Carly," Novak said. "We are working feverishly to get Carly back to the base. Carly was unharmed by the blast, but both dog and handler need to see each other. I think it's important to both of them."

Carly, as a military working dog, is cleared to visit Williams in the hospital following his redeployment to the 87th SFS.

"We wish nothing but a speedy recovery and well wishes to this brave young man, one of our security forces brethren, who now bears the scars of battle," Novak said. "I join our entire unit in honoring not only his bravery and dedication, but also in supporting his family during this difficult time."

Williams' parents are both retired Soldiers. His father, Lionel Williams, is a retired sergeant first class who currently resides in Peoria, Ariz. His mother, Catherine Williams, retired as an Army staff sergeant and calls Sierra Vista, Ariz., home.

Williams extended his gratitude to his deployed unit, the Soldiers who were with him, the medical personnel downrange and in Germany and the aircrews who transported him so expediently. Finally, Williams stressed the need for everyone to take self-aid/buddy care training seriously.

"This young man's positive demeanor and praise for his comrades in the wake of such personal trauma is humbling," Greene said. "His selflessness in thanking and acknowledging others amidst the tumultuous events surrounding his injury, speaks volumes about his character. I believe it is also indicative that Sergeant Williams' future will reflect the positive outlook he pervades in the face of such a challenge."

CAMP DAVID SUMMIT G8 FACT SHEET ON ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE


Photo Credit:  Wikimedia.
FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Fact Sheet: G8 Action on Energy and Climate Change
May 19, 2012
At the Camp David Summit, G8 Leaders recognized that the development of and universal access to environmentally safe, sustainable, secure, and affordable sources of energy is essential to global economic growth and to their overall efforts to address climate change. As such, they identified several actions for the G8 to take together:

Pursue a Comprehensive Energy Strategy – Safely
· Recognize the value of simultaneously pursuing a wide variety of energy sources in order to meet energy demands, acknowledging each nation’s different needs and different approaches. In pursuing an appropriate mix from all of the above, we recognize that different energy sources have different inherent risks and must be developed in a safe, efficient, and environmentally sustainable manner.

Support the G-20 Global Marine Environment Protection initiative to develop a Best Practices Sharing Mechanism (GMEP Mechanism), available to all interested countries and stakeholders, for the exchange of best practices for offshore oil and gas exploration and development in an effort to help prevent future accidents.

Welcome and agree to review the International Energy Agency’s work on potential best practices for natural gas development as an input into our effort to share information on strategies for its environmentally safe and sustainable production.

 Recognize the important work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), particularly full implementation of its Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, and strengthened cooperation between governments, the nuclear energy industry, and the IAEA. Encourage all Parties to make full use of the upcoming extraordinary meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety to enhance and strengthen the effectiveness of the international legal framework by the most efficient and practicable means available. Notes the importance of the upcoming December 2012 Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety.

Respond to Changing Fuel Mix and Infrastructure
Request the IEA, in coordination with other international institutions, to review existing work and provide a consolidated report on likely future scenarios for the global energy balance and the infrastructure requirements created by the changing energy mix.

Welcome innovative, market-based instruments for financing energy infrastructure, including from the Multilateral Development Banks and Development Finance Institutions, such as guarantees, political risk insurance, and other forms of support for the private investment needed to modernize the global energy infrastructure with particular attention to environmental challenges.

Facilitate free trade in all kinds of energy resources as a means to enhance economic security and decrease price volatility, including by abolishing barriers to trade and by providing for a favorable investment climate in the energy sector.

Encourage both consumer and producer countries to further enhance the transparency of gas markets through dialogues and development of gas data systems, and request the International Energy Forum to accelerate the establishment of a full-fledged Joint Oil Data Initiative-Gas.

Support for the development of open, transparent, consensus-based standards development processes, thereby facilitating interoperability, creating an international market for grid technologies, encouraging trade, and improving efficiency.

Promote the Sustainable Deployment of Renewables
Support cooperation to enhance the regulatory and operating systems governing electric grids through initiatives under the Clean Energy Ministerial, including the launch of the Public-Private Leadership Forum under the 21stCentury Power Partnership.

Commission theIEA, in cooperation with International Renewable Energy Agency and other international institutions, to synthesize recent analyses of renewable energy development and deployment policies in G-8 countries, including:
Experience with, and innovation in, government funding for research and development (drawn from the report on “Accelerating Energy Technology Innovation”);

Efficacy of policies, including regulations, portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs, and other subsidies, to promote renewable energy deployment consistent with market competition among technologies.

Request the IEA to synthesize recent assessments of existing regulatory models and grid management systems to identify best practices in integrating renewable energy sources into the power grid, drawing from a broad range of recent IEA work on renewables deployment and smart grid solutions. These developments should be aimed at sustainable and long-term modernization of the electricity sector, technological advancements, and economic growth that will allow all renewables to develop freely in a competitive environment.

Applaud the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) for finalizing a set of sustainability indicators for the production and use of modern bioenergy and for initiating capacity building activities through a Regional Forum in West Africa. Invite GBEP to continue implementing capacity building activities that promote modern bioenergy for sustainable development.

Enhance Preparedness for Oil and Gas Supply Disruptions
Request the IEA, in coordination with other international institutions, to analyze how changes in the global energy market are affecting the preparedness for oil and gas disruptions. The review should include:
The appropriate level and composition of strategic stocks, for example, crude oil versus petroleum products, to mitigate the economic consequences of energy supply disruptions; and
Coordination of collective responses to supply disruptions with other producing and consuming countries, including the potential for increased stockholding by, and alignment of policies with, emerging consumer countries.

Advance Energy Efficiency, Including Appliance and Equipment Efficiency
Accelerate the global pace of progress on appliances and equipment efficiency by encouraging all governments to:
Build on current efforts under the Clean Energy Ministerial, including the Super-efficient Equipment and Appliances Deployment (SEAD) initiative;

Take steps, including through SEAD, to recognize comparable and transparent test procedures for energy efficiency in appliances and other consumer products to allow manufacturers to test products once and sell them globally. This effort will draw on the work of existing standardization bodies to lower non-tariff barriersand improve the international comparability of energy efficiency policies.

Agree to work together, including through the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Global Superior Energy Performance Partnership (GSEP), to encourage the use of energy management systems in industry as well as in government and other buildings and share related best practices.

Address Climate Change, Including By Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants
In the spirit of increasing mitigation efforts, we agree to collectively join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, launched on February 16, 2012. This new initiative will enhance our collective ambition in addressing climate change by complementing efforts to address CO2 emissions. By developing strategies to reduce short term pollutants – chiefly methane, black carbon, and hydroflurocarbons – we can help reduce global warming, improve health, and increase agricultural productivity, as well as energy security.

Commission the World Bank to prepare a report on ways to integrate reduction of near-term climate pollution into their activities and ask the World Bank to bring together experts from interested countries to evaluate new approaches to financing projects to reduce methane, including through pay-for-performance mechanisms.

In its role as 2012 Chair of the G8, the United States intends to work with G8 partners to develop mechanisms for following up these actions over the course of 2012.



PHYSICAL THERAPY COMPANY CO-OWNER SENTENCED FOR MEDICARE FRAUD


FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Co-Owner of Detroit-Area Physical Therapy Company Sentenced to 48 Months for Medicare Fraud Scheme
The co-owner of a Detroit-area physical therapy company was sentenced today to 48 months in prison for her leading role in a more than $1.9 million Medicare fraud scheme, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Fatima Hassan, 44, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn in the Eastern District of Michigan.   In addition to her prison term, Hassan was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $ 855,484 in restitution.  

Hassan pleaded guilty on Sept. 15, 2011, to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.   According to the plea documents, i n 2005, Hassan incorporated a company known as Jos Campau Physical Therapy, which she owned with a co-defendant.   Jos Campau Physical Therapy did not have a Medicare provider number and was not entitled to bill Medicare for therapy services.

According to court documents, Hassan paid kickbacks to recruiters who obtained Medicare beneficiary information and signatures needed to create fictitious physical and occupational therapy files.   The Medicare beneficiaries pre-signed forms and visit sheets that were later falsified to indicate that they received therapy services that were never provided.

Hassan and the co-owner of Jos Campau Physical Therapy hired and paid an occupational therapist and an uncertified occupational therapy assistant to falsify medical files.   The occupational therapist created patient evaluation forms for beneficiaries whom she had never met, seen or evaluated.   The uncertified therapy assistant fabricated and signed patient notes for occupational therapy visits.   The uncertified therapy assistant did not provide the services reflected in the fictitious patient notes.   Additionally, Hassan’s co-owner, a physical therapist, falsified patient evaluation forms and fictitious patient notes for physical therapy services that were never rendered.

Hassan and the co-owner of Jos Campau Physical Therapy sold the fictitious physical and occupational therapy files to multiple fraudulent therapy companies that had obtained Medicare provider numbers.   Those companies billed the fictitious files created by Jos Campau Physical Therapy to Medicare and paid kickbacks to Jos Campau Physical Therapy based on these billings.   Hassan and her co-owner split the profits from the sale of the falsified files.

Hassan admitted that, between approximately June 2005 and May 2007, she and her co-conspirators at Jos Campau Physical Therapy submitted or caused the submission of approximately $1.9 million in fraudulent claims to the Medicare program for physical and occupational therapy services that were never rendered.

Hassan’s co-owner, Victor Jayasundera, pleaded guilty on Jan. 18, 2012, for his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 31, 2012.

Tariq Mahmud, the owner of a Medicare provider company that bought and billed Jos Campau Physical Therapy ’s fake files, was convicted at trial on Feb. 2, 2012, for his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 11, 2012.

Today’s sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara L. McQuade; Special Agent in Charge Andrew G. Arena of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the HHS Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Chicago Regional Office.

This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Catherine K. Dick and Assistant Chief Benjamin D. Singer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, with assistance from Trial Attorney Niall M. O’Donnell.    It was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT



FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Friday, May 18, 2012
Justice Department Files Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Against the Nevada Division of Forestry
The Department of Justice today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) alleging that NDF discriminated against Ms. Tawnya Meyer, a former employee, when they fired her soon after she announced her pregnancy.   According to the complaint, Ms. Meyer’s termination was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.   Title VII is a federal statute which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, including pregnancy.

The suit, filed in the Reno Division of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, alleges that Ms. Meyer, a former dispatcher with the NDF, was successfully performing her job and that there were no complaints about her work until she announced her pregnancy.    The complaint further alleges that NDF did not document any work related problems with Ms. Meyer’s performance, nor did it follow its own policies regarding terminations.   Finally, according to the complaint, Ms. Meyer’s pregnancy was discussed as a reason for her termination by NDF managers.    The United States’ complaint seeks a court order that would require NDF to develop and implement policies that would prevent its employees from being subjected to discrimination based upon sex.   The relief sought would also include monetary relief for Ms. Meyer as compensation for damages that she sustained as a result of the alleged discrimination.

Ms. Meyer initially filed a charge of sex discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) whose San Francisco office investigated the matter, determined that there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred and referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
                                                                     
“No woman should have to make a choice between having a job and having a family,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “Federal law requires employers to maintain a workplace free of such discrimination.”

EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado said, “Due to our agency’s ongoing partnership with the DOJ, this lawsuit has been filed to hold NDF accountable for pregnancy discrimination.   Having a new child should be a joyous event, not one that leads to unemployment.”

The EEOC held a public meeting in Washington concerning pregnancy and caregiver discrimination. Material from this commission meeting can be found atwww.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/2-15-12/index.cfm .

MARINES SUSTAINING PARTNERSHIPS


FROM:  AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jonathon D. Knudson, right, a rifleman with Black Sea Rotational Force 11, joins Romanian Lance Cpl. Erick M. Walczak in loading magazines for AK-47 assault rifles during a combat marksmanship range for Macedonian soldiers, June 13, 2011. The Macedonian 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade traveled to Babadag Training Area, Romania, to work with U.S. Marines from the Black Sea Rotational Force as part of its mobilization training for its deployment to Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tatum Vayavananda  


Marine Rotational Force Promotes Partnership, Efficiency
By Donna Miles
STUTTGART, Germany, May 10, 2012 - A rotational concept stood up in Europe and now extended to Africa is providing valuable lessons in ways to sustain partnerships despite force reductions and tightened resources.

Marine Forces Europe stood up the Black Sea Rotational Force in 2010 to build closer military ties with the Black Sea, Balkans and Caucuses regions without increasing demands on already-strained Army forces based in Europe, explained Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Charles G. Chiarotti, Marine Forces Europe's deputy commander.
The command, with no permanently assigned troops, reached back to U.S.-based Marines to serve six-month rotations helping partner and allied nations build their military capacity and, by extension, to promote regional stability.

The current rotation, the third for the Black Sea Rotational Force, includes 360 U.S.-based Marines, most from the Marine Corps Reserve's 4th Reconnaissance Battalion in San Antonio. Deployed to a base in Constanta, Romania, this special-purpose Marine air-ground task force fans out across the region as it works with 19 nations' militaries.

Chiarotti called the rotational force a model of efficiency, not only saving money and other resources but actually increasing U.S. engagement in the Black Sea region.

In the past, the Marine Corps deployed teams from the United States to conduct specific missions or engagements that supported the commander's theater campaign plan, he said. Often, as many as 20 small-scale engagements ran concurrently -- anything from a two-Marine team teaching basic marksmanship to a large-scale exercise.

That was an expensive way of doing business, in terms of manpower, planning and support requirements and transportation costs, Chiarotti said. "So we started to look at ways to bring efficiencies to the process," he added, recognizing that the Marines had fewer forces available to draw on at the time as they ramped up their presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The old U.S. European Command engagement model had a significant shortcoming, Chiarotti noted. In the event of a crisis, the participating Marines weren't equipped or organized to provide the ready response that has always been the Corps' proudest hallmark.

"So we turned the rubric around," he said. Rather than a theater security cooperation force able to respond if needed while operating in the region, leaders began thinking of the rotational force as a crisis response force able to support theater security cooperation.

The force's forward presence during its theater engagement activities would be critical in the event of a crisis, Chiarotti said.

"The most important thing about this is [that] in addition to security cooperation and presence, this is a Marine air ground task force that is forward deployed and able to respond to crises," he said.

So as part of their predeployment training, the rotational force Marines prepare for some of the most likely crisis missions they could be called on to support -- humanitarian assistance and non-combatant evacuations, among them.

Chiarotti said he has no illusions that the task force could assume the role of a larger response force during a contingency operation. But forward-deployed Marines would provide an initial military response, if needed, until additional forces arrive.

"This, by no means, is meant to replace a Marine expeditionary unit," Chiarotti said.
"But we serve as that immediate capability that could possibly respond to a low-level crisis within our capability set," he said, or become the initial enabling force to a larger crisis response force.

The rotational unit has proven to be a hit within the region. Marine Forces Europe doubled its size since the 2011 rotation and extending its deployment schedule to include three major exercises and 91 other training events with 19 partner nations -- 17 of which support the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Each activity is carefully planned between already-scheduled exercises -- a measure that saves millions of dollars in transportation costs alone, Chiarotti explained.

The Eucom and Marine Forces Europe staffs identify priority nations for engagements, getting those militaries to identify skill sets to concentrate on.

The kickoff exercise for the current rotation, Agile Spirit 2012, brought together the Marines and the Georgian armed forces to train in counterinsurgency and peacekeeping operations, including small-unit tactics, convoy operations and counter-improvised-explosive-device training.

The training was particularly valuable in light of Georgia's role in Afghanistan. With a full battalion supporting the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force there and a second to soon join them, Georgia will soon become the largest troop-contributing nation on a per capita basis, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, Eucom commander, noted during recent congressional testimony.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rick Coates, commander for Black Sea Rotational Force 12, called the exercise a valuable opportunity for his Marines to conduct operations in an area of the world where Marines do not regularly deploy.

"This is a great opportunity to learn from each other while developing our ability to work together," he said.

But unlike in the past, when the Marines returned home at the completion of an exercise, the rotational force returned to its base in Romania using their own C-130 aircraft to prepare for their next engagements in the region.
"So it's all self-contained," Chiarotti said. "You get them there, and then once they are in the theater, we use our own aircraft to get them where they need to go, all over the place. They will do everything from a 300-person exercise like Agile Spirit to a two-man engagement."

The rotation will conclude with the Baltops exercise in Latvia.
Based on the Black Sea Rotational Force's success, Marine Forces Europe used it as a template to stand up a similar rotational force to support U.S. Africa Command.

That special-purpose task force of Marines and sailors was launched in October and operates from Sigonella, Sicily. The force is slated to deploy soon for its second rotation in Africa.

U.S. Southern Command is developing a similar program.
Chiarroti said the rotational force sells itself to American allies and partners, providing professional instruction tailored to their exact requirements and needs. "They see the value, and want to do more," he said.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes to be able to support that as the rotational force grows to a 600- to 700-member unit with limited crisis response capabilities, fixed- and rotary-wing aviation assets and more robust command elements.

In the meantime, he called the Black Sea Rotational Force a model for maintaining forward presence and enduring partnerships in an efficient, cost-effective way.

"With its relatively small footprint, ability to self-deploy and limited, crisis-response capabilities, it delivers precisely what our commander requires," he said.

SENATOR LEVIN ON FACEBOOK TAX LOOPHOLE


FROM:  U.S. SENATOR CARL LEVIN'S WEBSITE

SPEAKING FROM THE SENATE FLOOR

Thursday, May 17, 2012Mr. President, tomorrow will be a day in tax history – when Facebook goes public, it will get a $16 billion tax deduction, which is the largest tax deduction ever taken by any corporation exploiting the stock option tax loophole.

Facebook's recent filings in anticipation of its upcoming stock offering provide new facts about its plans to use stock option tax deductions, not only to help it avoid future taxes for years and years to come, but to get a refund of taxes it's already paid.

Facebook’s recent registration statement shows that, due to hundreds of millions of stock options handed out to its founders and top executives, it plans to claim stock option tax deductions worth a whopping $16 billion.  That’s more than twice as much as estimates a few months ago, and many, many times larger than the stock option expenses shown on Facebook’s ledgers.
 
Facebook is a booming, successful company.  Its securities filing boasts of double-digit increases in Facebook’s average revenue per user, citing a 32 percent increase in 2010, and another 25 percent increase in 2011, with “growth across all regions.”  Despite trumpeting those revenue increases to investors, Facebook is planning at the same time to tell Uncle Sam it has no taxable income, offsetting its revenues with stock option tax deductions.
Facebook’s $16 billion stock option tax deduction is so huge, it will enable Facebook to claim a $500 million refund of taxes paid over the prior two years and wipe out this year’s tax bill.  The company says it will also use its deduction to create a “net operating loss” that can be used to eliminate its profits and its taxes for up to 20 years into the future.

As with so much of our tax code, it’s not the law-breaking that shocks the conscience, it’s the stuff that’s allowed.  For years, my Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has identified this stock option tax loophole and tried to explain its cost, its unfairness, and why the loophole should be closed.  Facebook’s $16 billion tax deduction brings the issue into sharp focus.
 
This profitable corporation will stop paying any federal corporate income taxes, simply because it gave hundreds of millions of stock options to its executives.  It will go from a corporate citizen that paid its taxes, to one that not only pays no taxes to Uncle Sam on its profits, but gets a tax refund.
Some Facebook defenders claim the company’s nonpayment of taxes is offset by the taxes paid by its executives.  But first of all, Facebook demands and receives government services that its executives don’t – from patent protection to cybersecurity to trade enforcement.  Second, the fact that executives pay taxes doesn’t mean corporations shouldn’t pay taxes.  Facebook should be paying its fair share, and it’s only through a tax loophole that it won’t be.  Adding insult to injury is that one of its founders recently renounced his U.S. citizenship just to avoid paying his taxes.
Facebook is an American success story.  Its ability to use a stock option loophole to zero out its U.S. tax bill, despite ample profits, makes no sense.  It also isn’t fair to the rest of American taxpayers who will have to pay more because Facebook pays nothing.

In these tough economic times, Congress needs to make choices about where to spend taxpayer dollars.  The stock option tax deduction, as demonstrated by Facebook, fuels excessive executive pay, shifts the tax burden from corporations to other taxpayers, and enables profitable corporations to get out of paying a dime toward the country that helped make their success possible.

What could our nation do with the billions of dollars it will lose when Facebook uses the stock-option loophole?  Well, we could reduce the federal deficit.  Or we could pay for programs to help kids go to college, or programs that protect our seniors and veterans, put cops on the beat, or teachers in classrooms.
The stock-option loophole should have been closed long before Facebook’s stock option bonanza.  But surely the case of Facebook illustrates to the Senate, to the Congress, and to the American people why we should close this loophole.   If Congress were to enact the Levin-Sherrod Brown bill, S. 1375, it would close an unjustified corporate tax loophole that boosts executive pay at the expense of everybody else.  
Mr. President, I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

EX-IM BANK SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH BANCÓLDEX TO INCREASE U.S.-COLOMBIAN TRADE


Photo Credit:  Wikipedia 
FROM:  U.S. EXPORT-IMPORT BANK 
WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) and Bancóldex have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to work together to facilitate trade between the United States and Colombia.

Ex-Im Bank and Bancóldex have agreed to exchange information on trade and business prospects that may present opportunities for cooperation, including expanding use of Ex-Im Bank financing by Colombian buyers for their purchases of U.S. goods and services.

Bancóldex is Colombia’s government-owned development and foreign trade bank. It functions as a secondary lender and focuses on entrepreneurship and foreign trade.

The MOU is a statement of general intent between Ex-Im Bank and Bancóldex to promote the availability of Ex-Im Bank financing to Colombian companies, particularly small and mid-sized businesses. Ex-Im Bank and Bancóldex will work together to share information and develop export-financing opportunities in key sectors, including infrastructure, environmental projects, medical equipment and transportation.

Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg and Bancóldex CEO Santiago Rojas signed the agreement today at Ex-Im Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. Colombia’s deputy chief of mission to the United States, Nicholas Lloreda, attended the signing ceremony. Also attending was Bancóldex Risk Vice President Mauro Sartori.

“Colombia is one of the fastest-growing markets for U.S. goods and services in Ex-Im Bank’s portfolio, and it was our single-largest country market last fiscal year. We join Bancóldex in celebrating the entry into force of the historic U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement on May 15. Ex-Im Bank’s agreement with Bancóldex will further encourage opportunities for both countries. It will also strengthen our ability to reach more Colombian buyers and assist more U.S. exporters in tapping the potential of this emerging market,” said Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg.

Bancóldex CEO Santiago Rojas noted, “The free trade agreement will be an opportunity for both countries to increase their bilateral trade, which will have a positive effect on the competitiveness of each country as well as on the ability to generate employment in some sectors. The cooperation between Ex-Im Bank and Bancóldex will support the opportunities that the free trade agreement could bring to entrepreneurs.”

Colombia’s National Investment Plan for 2011-2014 calls for an investment of over $300 billion in infrastructure projects, a key focus area for Ex-Im Bank financing.

Chairman Hochberg conducted a business-development mission in Bogotá in August 2011, where he met with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and other government and business leaders. In December 2011, Ex-Im Bank hosted an event in Washington, D.C., “Infrastructure Opportunities in Colombia for U.S. Companies,” which was attended by representatives of more than 100 U.S. companies interested in doing business in Colombia.

Colombia is one of nine key markets (others are Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, India, Indonesia and Vietnam) where Ex-Im Bank is focusing its business-development efforts. The Bank authorized more than $3.7 billion in support of U.S. exports to Colombia in FY 2011.


THREE FORMER FINANCIAL SERVICES EXECUTIVES CONVICTED OF BID RIGGING



FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Mon, May 14, 2012 at 10:11 AM
WASHINGTON — A federal jury in New York City today convicted three former financial services executives for their participation in conspiracies related to bidding for contracts for the investment of municipal bond proceeds and other municipal finance contracts, the Department of Justice announced.
Dominick P. Carollo, Steven E. Goldberg and Peter S. Grimm, all former executives of General Electric Co. (GE) affiliates, were found guilty on all remaining counts of a superseding indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Carollo was found guilty on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the United States, Goldberg was found guilty on four counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the United States and Grimm was found guilty on three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the United States.

The trial began on April 16, 2012. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm were initially indicted on July 27, 2010.
“The defendants corrupted the competitive bidding process and defrauded municipalities across the country for years,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Scott D. Hammond of the Antitrust Division. “Through corruption and fraud, they cheated cities and towns out of money for important public works projects. Today’s convictions reflect our determination to preserve fairness and competition in the financial services market. ”

According to evidence presented at trial, while employed at GE affiliates, Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm participated in separate fraud conspiracies with various financial institutions and insurance companies and their representatives at various time periods from as early as 1999 until 2006. These institutions and companies, or “providers,” offered a type of contract, known as an investment agreement, to state, county and local governments and agencies throughout the United States. The public entities were seeking to invest money from a variety of sources, primarily the proceeds of municipal bonds that they had issued to raise money for, among other things, public projects. Goldberg also participated in the conspiracies while employed at Financial Security Assurance Capital Management Services LLC (FSA).

According to evidence presented at trial, Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm and their co-conspirators corrupted the bidding process for dozens of investment agreements to increase the number and profitability of investment agreements awarded to the provider companies where they were employed. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm deprived the municipalities of competitive interest rates for the investment of tax-exempt bond proceeds that were to be used by municipalities for various public works projects, such as for building or repairing schools, hospitals and roads. Evidence at trial established that they cost municipalities around the country millions of dollars.

“Fundamentally, this case is about fraud in the investment of public money,” said Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in New York. “The actions of the defendants denied public entities the benefits of true competitive bidding, and artificially depressed the yield on invested public funds. ”
“Today’s convictions are an important step forward in the coordinated effort by the IRS and the Department of Justice to aggressively rid the municipal bond industry of unfair and corrupt practices,” said Internal Revenue Service (IRS)-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Victor W. Lessoff. “Moreover, the convictions represent an important victory for America’s taxpayers, especially those who live in the municipalities harmed by the actions of the defendants. ”

A total of eighteen individuals have been charged as a result of the department’s ongoing municipal bonds investigation. Including today’s convictions, a total of 15 individuals have been convicted and three await trial. Additionally, one company has pleaded guilty.

Each of the fraud conspiracy charges carries a maximum penalty per count of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum fines for the fraud conspiracy offense may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The verdict announced today resulted from an ongoing investigation conducted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office, the FBI and the IRS-CI. The division is coordinating its investigation with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

CHINA'S MILITARY PROGRESS AND STRATEGIC THINKING


Photo:  Tank, Peoples Republic of China.  Credit:  Wikimedia.



FROM: AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE



Report Depicts China's Military Progress, Strategic Thinking

By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2012 - The Defense Department's 2012 Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China report details China's growing military capabilities, and points to areas of cooperation between the United States and China, a senior DOD official said here today.

Delivered to Congress today, the annual report discusses China's security and military strategy, developments in China's military doctrine and force structure, the security situation in the Taiwan Strait, U.S.-China military-to-military contacts, and the nature of China's cyber activities directed against the Department of Defense.
Other information in the report includes the People's Liberation Army investments in China's aircraft carrier program, anti-ship ballistic missiles and aircraft development. It also discusses China's pursuit of its "new historic missions."

China is building its military to be able to fight and win "local wars," said David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of defense for East Asia. Helvey briefed the Pentagon press corps on the report.

The Chinese military is learning from the lessons the U.S. military has compiled since the Persian Gulf War, he said. The Chinese call this strategy "informatization," and Helvey said this is the phrase the Chinese use to encompass the revolution in military affairs. China uses this term to mean the role of information and information systems "not only as an enabler of modern combat, but a fundamental attribute of modern warfare," he said.
The Chinese carefully watched U.S. and coalition military forces, beginning from the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, through today.

"One of the things that the PLA has consistently highlighted is the role of advanced information technology not only for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but also enabling precision fires," Helvey said. "And when they talk about fighting and winning local wars under conditions of informatization, that's the type of warfighting environment that ... they're talking about.
"
Helvey said Chinese leaders view the first two decades of the 21st century as China's "period of strategic opportunity."

As China's economic power has boomed, its influence has expanded. "As these interests have grown and as China has assumed new roles and responsibilities in the international community, China's military modernization is also, to an increasing extent, focusing on investments that would enable China's armed forces to conduct a wide range of missions, including those that are far from China," Helvey said.

Last year, he said, the People's Liberation Army demonstrated the capability to conduct limited peacetime deployments and military operations at great distance from China, including noncombatant evacuations from Libya, counterpiracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and peacekeeping operations. Still, the focus remains on the Chinese military preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait.

In addition to Taiwan, China places a high priority on its maritime territorial claims, Helvey said. "In recent years China has begun to demonstrate a more routine and capable presence in both the South China Sea and East China Sea," he said.

Helvey stressed the opportunities the situation presents to both the United States and China. Chinese ships and crews could work with international partners to tamp down piracy. Air, naval and ground forces could conduct humanitarian and disaster relief exercises together.

"There's an opportunity for China to partner with us and with other countries to address the types of challenges that we all face in the 21st century," he said.

Helvey said other portions of the report detail continued Chinese investments in nuclear forces, short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, advanced aircraft, and integrated air defenses, cruise missiles, submarines and surface combatants and counter-space and cyberwarfare capabilities. Many of these capabilities "appear designed to enable what we call anti-access and area-denial missions, or what PLA strategists refer to as counterintervention operations," Helvey said.

The January 2011 flight test of China's next-generation fighter aircraft, the J-20, highlighted China's ambition to produce advanced fighter aircraft. The flight, which occurred during then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' visit to China, points to an effective operational capability no sooner than 2018.

Other steps include sea trials of China's first aircraft carrier, which it purchased from Ukraine in 1998. The ship could become available to the PLA Navy by the end of the year, "but we expect it'll take several additional years for an air group to achieve a minimal operational capability aboard the aircraft carrier," Helvey said.

China has also made investments to improve its capacity for operations in cyberspace, he said.

"That is something that we pay very, very careful attention to," Helvey said. "There is the potential for these types of operations to be very disruptive -- disruptive not only in a conflict, [they] could be very disruptive to the United States, but other countries as well.

"That's one of the things about military operations in cyberspace," he added, "that there can be cascading effects that are hard to predict."

The report is DOD's effort to forecast China's intentions, Helvey said. While there have been improvements in transparency within the Chinese military, he added, much still occurs in secret. He pointed to developments in cyber, space and with foreign-bought weapons systems as not being part of China's published national security budget.

That budget grew 11.2 percent from 2011's $91.5 billion to $106 billion -- continuing two decades of hothouse growth.

Helvey said the report is an effort to ensure the United States isn't taken unawares by China's military progress, but he acknowledges there will probably still be some surprises.

"We have seen in the past, instances where China has developed weapons systems and capabilities that appeared either earlier than we expected or that we were surprised when we saw it," he said. "I think that is something that we have to anticipate and expect.

We're paying very careful attention to China's military modernization," he added, "but we've been surprised" in the past, and we may very well be surprised in terms of seeing new weapons and equipment in the future."



NAVY RECRUITS PLAYERS FOR ENERGY CHALLENGED WAR GAMES


Credit:  Wikimedia
FROM:  U.S. NAVY
Navy Recruits Players for Online Wargame to Tackle Energy Challenges
From Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy's Energy and Environmental Readiness Division (OPNAV N45), together with the Office of Naval Research (ONR), invites civic and military collaboration in energyMMOWGLI (Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet) May 22-24.

The game will build on efforts to improve the U.S. Navy's combat capability and energy security, particularly by promoting energy efficiency and diversifying its energy supply (use of alternative energy), which will ultimately reduce reliance on fossil fuels from overseas.

Scheduled to run for three days, energyMMOWGLI will immerse players in a future energy scenario from the year 2022 (view scenario at http://portal.mmowgli.nps.edu), and will ask them to generate ideas about how to reduce energy consumption, improve energy efficiency, and diversify its energy supply for the sake of future strategic readiness.

The game will be "an examination of what our energy future looks like if we fail to act now," said Cmdr. James Goudreau, director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office. "Every day that petroleum prices increase, it erodes our ability to train for and execute operations that our nation demands of us. Little by little, that results in decreased combat capability, and that is something we simply cannot accept."

Through use of the energyMMOWGLI, Goudreau says, "We hope to increase the awareness of energy security as a national security issue as well as stimulating discussion that will allow the Navy to achieve greater energy resiliency and combat readiness."

Inviting broad-based participation - both civilian and military - is part of the strategy for a more secure energy footing in the context of a more uncertain energy future.

"We're hoping for an extremely diverse set of players including talented thoughtful players from academia, industry, military, government, NGOs, and global citizens," said Goudreau.

The game invites players to bring everything they know about energy from strategies they use at home to their workplace conversations, from their professional knowledge to their wildest imaginings. MMOWGLI is "an online game platform designed to elicit collective intelligence from an engaged pool of world-wide players to solve real problems facing the Navy and Marine Corps," said Dr. Larry Schuette, director of innovation at ONR. The energyMMOWGLI game motto is: Play the game, change the game.

Players can view the future scenario and pre-register now online at http://portal.mmowgli.nps.edu. The Naval Postgraduate School and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Institute for the Future are partnering with N45 and ONR on the energyMMOWGLI project.

Friday, May 18, 2012

PRESIDENT PROCLAIMS MAY 19TH AS ARMED FORCES DAY


Photo Credit:  White House



FROM:  AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE



President Issues Armed Forces Day Proclamation

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2012 - In a proclamation issued today declaring May 19 as Armed Forces Day, President Barack Obama urged all Americans to recognize and honor U.S. military members for their "unparalleled service" in defense of the nation.

"With every assignment and in every theater, America's men and women in uniform perform their duties with the utmost dignity, honor, and professionalism," Obama said in his proclamation. "Through their dauntless courage and dedication, they live up to our nation's highest ideals in even the most perilous circumstances."

On Armed Forces Day, he continued, Americans "pay tribute to the unparalleled service of our armed forces and recall the extraordinary feats they accomplish in defense of our nation."

America's service members, Obama said, "set extraordinary examples of character for those whose freedom they protect. Together, they comprise the greatest force for freedom and security the world has ever known."
From boot camp to the thick of battle, U.S. service members "look to those with which they stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, knowing they rise and fall as one team. United in their love of country, they teach us the true meaning of words like duty, honor, and strength," The president said in his proclamation.

Besides being leaders and troops, patriots and heroes, U.S. service members "are also parents, spouses, partners, sons, and daughters," Obama said.

"Their families are just as vital to their success as their brothers and sisters in arms, and our debt of gratitude extends to them as well," he added. "As we celebrate the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who make our way of life possible, we also pay our deepest respect to their families, our missing, our wounded, and our fallen.

"Inspired by their service and humbled by their sacrifice," Obama said, "let us recommit to providing all those who have served our nation the support they deserve."


NATO GENERAL DISCUSSES ALLIANCE CHANGES


Photo:  Helicopter Over Afghanistan.  Credit:  U.S. Air Force.
FROM:  AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE
NATO General Outlines Summit Topics, Alliance Changes
By Karen Parrish
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2012 - NATO's plan for military operations in Afghanistan up to and beyond 2014 will be the top agenda item at the organization's May 20-21 summit in Chicago, a senior NATO official said.

Afghan forces are to take the security lead in operations throughout their country by the end of 2014, while International Security Assistance Force troop-contributing nations withdraw combat forces and assign trainers.

The alliance is now reviewing the number of forces Afghanistan will need beyond 2014, and how much other countries will pay to sustain them, Danish Army Gen. Knud Bartels, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said in Brussels May 11 during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.

While the Chicago summit will not be a funding meeting, several coalition nations have announced or are expected to announce their planned post-2014 monetary contributions for Afghan forces, Bartels said.

"There is substantial work ongoing on this issue," he said. "Even though numbers have been circulating in the public and in the media, I think it's too early to define with certainty at which level we will stabilize, in due time, the Afghan national security forces."
Those forces are now surging and will soon reach the agreed-on cap of 352,000, Bartels noted.

"We'll have to look at how we reduce in size, close to 2014," he said, "and this, of course, will have to be correlated with the funding issue."

Bartels said there will likely be "pretty strong indications coming out of Chicago" about NATO views on the question of future Afghan force size.

"What I expect out of Chicago is that the NATO nations and their partners in [the International Security Assistance Force] come to agreement as to how they see the strategy, post-2014, unfolding in relation to Afghanistan," he said.

A number of nations, including France, Italy, Germany and the United States, have already signed bilateral strategic agreements with Afghanistan, Bartels said.

"You could say that the correlation of all those agreements [and] strategies will form the main part of the package ... to support Afghanistan post-2014," he said.

The general said the summit will also highlight NATO's ongoing work to reshape the alliance's military response capability. Much of what is needed to transform the organization has "already been taken care of," he said, or is in progress. Changes include implementing a new command structure, adjusting the organization's defense planning process, and extending the "smart defense" collaborative approach to buying and operating military equipment.

NATO will adopt a new, leaner and more-flexible command structure starting this year, Bartels said.

"We should be able to handle all types of operations," he said. "It will also be smaller, and therefore make it possible for nations to [realize] savings, which can be reinvested in other areas."

The alliance's defense planning process, Bartels said, is designed to ensure that member nations bring the right forces to the group's collective military formations.
"We are further refining that, and we may need to adjust that process," he said.
NATO's smart defense strategy aims to ensure the alliance can buy as much equipment as possible for the best-possible price and ensure interoperability, Bartels said.
"This will, of course, assist us to be able to cooperate on the future battlefield," he said.
NATO forces in Afghanistan are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led for that specific operation, Bartels said.

"What the future will bring us -- well, I don't think any of us really knows," he said. "Therefore we have to be ready to handle a broad spectrum of possible types of operation in the future."

NATO needs to shape its force and equipment buys to support a "strong requirement" for side-by-side operations involving bigger forces, Bartels said. Future NATO military action will be joint and multinational, he noted, and preparing for that means changing mindsets and breaking paradigms to establish a collective approach to defense.
Bartels said he wants summit attendees and NATO leaders to keep in mind that service members are the foundation of the alliance's success.

"We should never forget that the real work is being done by the men and women of the armed forces, deployed in operations," he said. "I would like to ... express my thanks to them for the work they're doing."

SEC SUSPENDS TRADING IN 379 DORMANT COMPANIES


Photo Credit:  Wikipedia
FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C., May 14, 2012 — The Securities and Exchange Commission suspended trading in the securities of 379 dormant companies before they could be hijacked by fraudsters and used to harm investors through reverse mergers or pump-and-dump schemes. The trading suspension marks the most companies ever suspended in a single day by the agency as it ramps up its crackdown against fraud involving microcap shell companies that are dormant and delinquent in their public disclosures.

Microcap companies typically have limited assets and low-priced stock that trades in low volumes. An initiative tabbed Operation Shell-Expel by the SEC's Microcap Fraud Working Group utilized various agency resources including the enhanced intelligence technology of the Enforcement Division's Office of Market Intelligence to scrutinize microcap stocks in the markets nationwide and identify clearly dormant shell companies in 32 states and six foreign countries that were ripe for potential fraud.

"Empty shell companies are to stock manipulators and pump-and-dump schemers what guns are to bank robbers — the tools by which they ply their illegal trade," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "This massive trading suspension unmasks these empty shell companies and deprives unscrupulous scam artists of the opportunity to profit at the expense of unsuspecting retail investors."

Thomas Sporkin, Director of the SEC's Office of Market Intelligence, added, "It's critical to assess risks to investors in the capital markets and, through strategic planning, develop ways to neutralize them. We were able to conduct a detailed review of the microcap issuers quoted in the over-the-counter market and cull out these high-risk shell companies."

The SEC's previously largest trading suspension was an order in September 2005 that involved 39 companies. The federal securities laws allow the SEC to suspend trading in any stock for up to 10 business days. Subject to certain exceptions and exemptions, once a company is suspended from trading, it cannot be quoted again until it provides updated information including accurate financial statements.

Pump-and-dump schemes are among the most common types of fraud involving microcap companies. Perpetrators will tout a thinly-traded microcap stock through false and misleading statements about the company to the marketplace. After purchasing low and pumping the stock price higher by creating the appearance of market activity, they dump the stock to make huge profits by selling it into the market at the higher price.

The existence of empty shell companies can be a financial boon to stock manipulators who will pay as much as $750,000 to assume control of the company in order to pump and dump the stock for illegal proceeds to the detriment of investors. But with this trading suspension's obligation to provide updated financial information, these shell companies have been rendered essentially worthless and useless to scam artists.

"This mass trading suspension is an effective and novel way for the SEC to neutralize potential threats to investors," said Chris Ehrman, Co-National Coordinator of the SEC's Microcap Fraud Working Group. "With the ability to leverage staff expertise throughout the agency's offices and divisions, the Working Group is uniquely positioned to take on risk-based matters like these and focus resources where they are needed most." This SEC enforcement effort has been led by Mr. Ehrman, Robert Bernstein, Jessica P. Regan, Leigh Barrett, and Megan Alcorn in the Office of Market Intelligence along with Microcap Fraud Working Group staff from each of the SEC's regional offices: Tanya Beard, David Berman, Sharon Binger, Melissa Buckhalter-Honore, Lisa Cuifolo, Tracy Davis, Elisha Frank, Kurt Gottschall, Lucy Graetz, Jennifer Hieb, C.J. Kerstetter, Victoria Levin, Aaron Lipson, Michael Paley, Farolito Parco, Jonathan Scott, and Lauchlan Wash. The SEC appreciates the assistance and cooperation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Economic Crimes Unit.

A WARMING CLIMATE AND RAINFALL CHANGES


Photo: South Africa,  Senecio Serpens (Groundcover).   Credit:  Wikimedia.
FROM:  NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

Warming climate may mean less rainfall for drought-sensitive regions of the Southern Hemisphere, according to results just published by an international research team.

Geoscientist Curt Stager of Paul Smith's College in Paul Smiths, N.Y., and colleagues found that rainfall in South Africa during the last 1,400 years was affected by temperature--with more rain falling during cool periods and less during warm ones.

The findings, published in the journal Climate of the Past, are supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"The link between climate change and rainfall in certain latitudes can have large effects on ecosystems," said Paul Filmer, program officer in NSF's Directorate for Geosciences. 

"Plants, for example, may be able to grow in a wider area, or conversely, be squeezed up a mountain or onto a peninsula. When the affected ecosystem supports a food crop, that can mean a bonanza--or a famine."

Theoretical climate models have shown that global warming could push storm tracks southward "and away from the mainlands of southern Africa, South America and Australia," said Stager.

"This research supports those predictions of increasing aridity, which could lead to major problems for societies and ecosystems in these already-arid places."

A poleward shift in winds could also affect the flow of marine currents around the tip of Africa, changing air and water temperatures farther afield, including in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Stager, lead author of the paper, collected sediment samples from Lake Verlorenvlei in South Africa. By analyzing the diatoms--tiny, glassy-shelled algae--preserved in sediment cores from the bottom of the lake, he and other researchers were able to reconstruct rainfall patterns dating back to 600 A.D.
Two Paul Smith's College undergraduate students, Christiaan King and Jay White, also participated in the study, along with scientists from the University of Maine and from institutions in South Africa and Europe.

Rainfall at the southernmost tip of Africa is governed by a sinuous belt of eastward winds that migrate like a meandering river, depending on the season.

In summer months, these winds drift closer to Antarctica, carrying rain clouds over the ocean; in winter, the winds move over the African continent.
The shifting winds bring rains that provide much of the annual water supply.

"A poleward retreat of these winds would have serious consequences for cities like Cape Town, for farms and wineries, and for local animal and plant communities," Stager said.

"The same also appears to be true for the semi-arid winter rainfall regions of South America and Australia-New Zealand."

Michael Meadows, a scientist at the University of Cape Town who co-authored the paper, said that hundreds of species of rare flowering plants native to the area's fynbos ecosystem are threatened by the changes.

"These plants are tough, and are already used to dry conditions," Meadows said. "But more aridity could make fires more frequent, which could damage the soils and make it even harder for the plants to survive.
"Unfortunately, this is their only native habitat, so such a change might threaten their existence."

According to Stager, such links to mobile storm tracks make these regions exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of greenhouse gas build-up.
"When it comes to climate change, there's more to consider than warming alone," he said. "In places like these, increasing drought could bring far-reaching challenges."




FDA REVIEWS STUDY OF CLASS OF ANTIBACTERIAL DRUGS FOR POSSIBLE RELATIONSHIP WITH CARDIOVASCULAR DEATHS


FROM:  FDA
Audience: Primary Care, Pharmacy
ISSUE: FDA notified healthcare professionals that it is aware of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine May 17, 2012 reporting a small increase in cardiovascular deaths, and in the risk of death from any cause, in persons treated with a 5-day course of azithromycin (Zithromax) compared to persons treated with amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, or no drug. FDA is reviewing the results from this study and will communicate any new information on azithromycin and this study or the potential risk of QT interval prolongation after the agency has completed its review.

BACKGROUND: Azithromycin belongs to a class of antibacterial drugs called macrolides, which have been associated with cardiovascular effects; specifically, prolongation of the QT interval. In 2011, FDA reviewed macrolide drug labeling information related to QT interval prolongation and TdP. The WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS section of the Zmax drug label (azithromycin extended release for oral suspension) was revised in March 2012 to include new information regarding risk for QT interval prolongation, which appears to be low. The drug labels for clarithromycin and erythromycin also contain information about QT interval prolongation in the WARNINGS section. FDA is in the process of updating risk information in the drug labels for additional macrolide antibacterial drugs.

RECOMMENDATION: Patients taking azithromycin should not stop taking their medicine without talking to their healthcare professional. Healthcare professionals should be aware of the potential for QT interval prolongation and heart arrhythmias when prescribing or administering macrolides.

Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:
Complete and submit the report Online: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/report.htm
Download form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return to the address on the pre-addressed form, or submit by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178

100TH ANNIVERSARY OF MARINE CORP AVIATION


Photo:  U.S. Marine Corps. Corsairs.  Credit:  Wikimedia
FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE  
100th Anniversary of Marine Corps Aviation As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Thank you, thank you very much.  General Robling, thank you for that very kind introduction and for your dedicated service to our nation and to the United States Marine Corps.

I'd also like to acknowledge and thank General Amos.  Jim, your leadership as Commandant has been exceptional.  I'm grateful every day for the support I get every day from this man, because he provides support not only to me, but to the entire Department of Defense, and in particular to the nation.  We are all truly fortunate to have such a skilled and visionary aviator in the role of Commandant at a critical time in our nation's history.   "Tamer," thank you for your leadership, thank you for your support, and thank you for your friendship.                       


Distinguished guests, and Marines from generations past and present, it's truly an honor and truly a privilege for me to be here and pay tribute to 100 years of Marine Corps Aviation.

It is also a great privilege to be able to do so at the foot of the Iwo Jima Memorial, where this nation honors the service and sacrifice of more than two centuries of Marines.

Tonight we celebrate a rich legacy, a story that began 100 years ago this month when First Lieutenant Alfred Cunningham, became the first Marine detailed to aviation.

In 1912, Cunningham flew the B-1.  I'm not talking about the bomber, it was the first plane the Navy purchased from the Wright Brothers.

With all due respect to this first Marine plane, it was pretty bad, even by the standards of the time, this machine was a real clunker.  I have a feeling my kids' model planes held together better than this plane.

It repeatedly crashed and had been rebuilt even before Cunningham started flying it.  Parts would vibrate loose.  The propeller shaft did not fit.  The engine never delivered enough power to fly safely in anything but smooth weather.  It eventually became impossible to climb over a few hundred feet with a passenger.  Nevertheless, like a good Marine, Cunningham flew that piece of junk nearly 400 times.

Only a Marine would love to fly that plane.  Actually, Marines were the only ones even willing to leave the ground in it, which says a lot about the Marines.

Hap Arnold, the future Commanding General of U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, took one look at the plane and bluntly told Cunningham that no Army flier would take off in it.

It turns out that Arnold wasn't the only person to express concern.  In August 1913, Cunningham requested to be detached from flight duty for one simple reason.  As he put it, "My fiancé will not consent to marry me unless I give up flying."

Sure enough, Cunningham detached from flight duty.  But after they were married, his wife relented to his appeals and let him return to flying.  Bless those tolerating spouses.

That story reminds all of us that Marine aviators could not do their job without the love and support of family.  Even with better equipment and more advanced technologies than that clunker I talked about a century ago, our aviators still take incredible risks in order to defend our country.  Let me thank all the family members who are here and who are around the world.  All of them make it possible for Marine Aviation to continue to perform its essential mission for our country.  Your love, your support, your incredible loyalty.  All of that is so critical to our ability to keep America safe.

From the very beginning, the spirit of courage and determination exemplified by Alfred Cunningham has been the legacy of Marine Aviation.  It is a spirit driven by a mission to project power from ship to shore and support Marines on the ground.  It is a spirit that has guided Marine pilots to achieve the unthinkable and dare the impossible with their aircraft.

That has been true from the raids at the end of World War I, to the Marine aces taking out Zeros and conducting strafing runs across the Pacific in World War II, to night defenses in Korea, to enemy assaults and daring rescues in Vietnam, to the present days in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We thank God for the Marine pilots from Camp Leatherneck who support our troops on the ground and deal the enemy a heavy blow.

From one generation to the next, Marine pilots pass down their legendary fighting spirit from one pilot to another, telling them:  "If you are not getting mud on your windshield, you're flying too high!"

Today's pilots not only carry forward that fighting spirit, but also a legacy of innovation to ensure our military can adapt to any situation, anytime, anywhere.

We all know that Marine Air provides an agile and flexible forward presence, but there's nothing like seeing all of that up close.

In the new defense strategy that we established for our Defense Department and our force of the 21st century, that kind of agility is absolutely critical to succeed and to win.  In March, I had the opportunity to visit the historic amphibious ship USS Peleliu and watch operations of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.  Peleliu has deployed time and time again across the globe, supporting Marines ready to engage any adversary.  

During the first insertion of conventional forces into Afghanistan in November 2001, it was Marines from Peleliu launched in Super Cobra and Huey helicopters and conducted one of the longest and most dramatic amphibious landings in the history of the Marine Corps.

During my visit about USS Peleliu, I had the opportunity to personally clear a Harrier for take-off and communicate with the pilots, and nearly get blown off the deck.  That experience reinforced for me the need for this unique vertical take-off and landing capability in the future, because it gives us the ability to take the fight to the enemy on short notice and with overwhelming firepower.

That's the reason the Department is pushing ahead with the development of the world's first supersonic stealth aircraft with short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities.  Earlier this year, I took the STOVL off probation – because the STOVL was meeting its requirements.  The Marines need a 5th generation fighter for the future and they will have it.    

Since becoming Secretary of Defense, I have also had the opportunity to take multiple MV-22 Osprey rides.  In Ospreys, I've landed on the shores of Camp Pendleton in California, near Ground Zero in Manhattan on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and on the dusty plains of Helmand Province.  That unique aircraft embodies the agility, flexibility, and innovation that are at the heart of Marine Aviation.  And I have to tell you that you haven't lived until you've flown with Marine pilots who tell you not to worry when there are flashing lights appearing on the instrument panel.

     For all of these reasons, Marine Air is what we need for the future.  It is about agility.  It is about moving quickly.  It is about being flexible.  And it is about adapting for the future.

The future – for our military and for Marine Air – depends on innovative leaders.  It depends upon our ability to think creatively and to maintain our decisive technological edge.

Photo:  U.S. Marine Corp. World War I Aviation Insignia.  
Credit:  Wikimedia.
There is simply no force in the world that can match the Marine Corps' ability to conduct agile and flexible expeditionary operations.  There are no pilots anywhere that can match the relentless determination of Marine Aviators to take the fight to the enemy on the ground and in the air.  That has been true for the past 100 years, and it will be true for the next 100 years as well.

In the movie "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," the Admiral watches the pilots taking off for dangerous missions over Korea and asks, "Where do we get such men?"  They come from the heart and soul and guts of America.                           

To the entire Marine Aviation family, my deepest congratulations on a century of unequaled success and sacrifice.  In the last 100 years, we've gone from the B-1 clunker I talked about to Harriers and Ospreys, and Hornets and Snakes and Hueys and 53's and the veritable Battle Frog.  In the next 100 years, I have no idea what kind of planes or rockets or space ships or fighters we'll be flying.  But what I do know is that whatever the hell we're flying in these next 100 years, at the end, there will be one tough son of a bitch of a Marine flying it.

May God bless you, may God bless our Marine Corp Aviation and our Marine Corps aviators on this 100th anniversary.  And may God bless the United States of America.