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Saturday, December 29, 2012

THE MOUNTAIN WINDS OF MARS

 
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS
FROM: NASA

Mountain Winds at Gale Crater

This graphic shows the pattern of winds predicted to be swirling around and inside Gale Crater, which is where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars. Modeling the winds gives scientists a context for the data from Curiosity's Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).

Curiosity's current location is marked with an "X." The rover's setting within a broad depression between the mountain dubbed "Mount Sharp" to the southeast and the rim of Gale Crater to the northwest strongly affects wind measurements collected by REMS.

This snapshot shows midday conditions. In the daytime, winds rise out of the crater, shown by the red arrows, and up the mountain, shown by the yellow arrows. Blue arrows indicate winds that flow along the depression and seem, to Curiosity, to be coming up out of the depression since Curiosity is near the bottom. At its current location, Curiosity may be seeing a mixture of these winds, making it challenging to understand its weather readings.

The patterns reverse in the evening and overnight, when winds flow in the downhill direction.

The background image is an oblique view of Gale Crater, looking toward the southeast. It is an artist's impression using two-fold vertical exaggeration to emphasize the area's topography. The crater's diameter is 96 miles (154 kilometers).

The image combines elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, image data from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery.



U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update: Lifting The Weight Off Soldiers Backs

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update

U.S. DOL PROVIDES $300,000 NATIONAL EMERGENCY GRANT FOR WEST VIRGINA HURRICANE SANDY RECOVERY

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

US Department of Labor provides $300,000 to aid West Virginia communities to recover following Hurricane Sandy

WASHINGTON
— The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a $300,000 National Emergency Grant to assist with cleanup and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

"We are committed to helping the citizens of West Virginia recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Today's grant will assist with cleanup and repair of the state's infrastructure and help those affected by Hurricane Sandy to return to normalcy."

The funds are being awarded to WorkForce West Virginia to create temporary jobs for eligible dislocated workers who will assist with cleanup and recovery efforts.

On Nov. 27, 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared 18 counties eligible for FEMA's Public Assistance Program: Barbour; Boone; Braxton; Clay; Fayette; Kanawha; Lewis; Nicholas; Pendleton; Pocahontas; Preston; Raleigh; Randolph; Taylor; Tucker; Upshur; Webster; and Wyoming. The state has targeted Barbour, Preston, Tucker, Upshur and Webster. Additional counties may be included at a later date if further evaluation warrants their inclusion.

RECENT PHOTOS FROM FEMA







FROM: FEMA, HURRICANE SANDY

Far Rockaway, N.Y., Dec. 19, 2012 -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing coordination of sand screening, sifting and remediation at Jacob Riis Park, in the New York City borough of Queens. FEMA is providing public assistance funds to aid in the cleanup and restoration of the Rockaways and Breezy Point, Queens, NY. Andre R. Aragon/FEMA

U.S.-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS


 
Map:  North Korea.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

FROM U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 

The United States and Korea’s Joseon Dynasty established diplomatic relations under the 1882 Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, and the first U.S. diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea in 1883. U.S.-Korea relations continued until 1905, when Japan assumed direction over Korean foreign affairs. In 1910, Japan began a 35-year period of colonial rule over Korea. Following Japan's surrender in 1945, at the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel into two occupation zones, with the United States in the South and the Soviet Union in the North. Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea were not realized, and in 1948 two separate nations were established -- the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Led by the United States, a United Nations coalition of 16 countries undertook the defense of South Korea. Following China's entry into the war on behalf of North Korea later that year, a stalemate ensued for the final two years of the conflict until an armistice was concluded on July 27, 1953. A peace treaty has never been signed. North and South Korea have had a difficult and, at times, bitter relationship since the Korean War. The two countries are separated by a demilitarized zone. During the postwar period, both Korean governments have repeatedly affirmed their desire to reunify the Korean Peninsula, but until 1971 the two governments had no direct, official communications or other contact. North Korea has been ruled by successive generations of Kim Il Sung’s family, and its political and economic structure is centrally controlled.

The United States supports the peaceful reunification of Korea on terms acceptable to the Korean people and recognizes that the future of the Korean Peninsula is primarily a matter for them to decide. The United States believes that a constructive and serious dialogue between North and South Korea is necessary to resolve outstanding problems, including the North's attempts to develop a nuclear program and human rights abuses, and to encourage the North's integration with the rest of the international community.

In 1994, the United States and North Korea reached agreement on a roadmap for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In 2003, the United States proposed multilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. Several rounds of
Six-Party Talks have been held since then. Although North Korea has at times said it will take steps toward denuclearization, some of its subsequent actions, such as missile launches, have conflicted with those assertions. The United States has called on North Korea to take concrete, irreversible denuclearization steps toward fulfillment of the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, comply with international law including United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, cease provocative behaviors, and take steps to improve relations with its neighbors.

U.S. Assistance to North Korea

Most forms of U.S. economic assistance, other than purely humanitarian assistance, are prohibited. North Korea has at times experienced periods of famine, and the United States has provided food aid. The United States has also assisted U.S. NGOs in providing aid to fight the outbreak of infectious diseases and to improve the supply of electricity at provincial hospitals in North Korea.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States imposed a near total economic embargo on North Korea in 1950 when North Korea attacked the South. Over the following years, some U.S. sanctions were eased, but others were imposed. U.S. economic interaction with North Korea remains minimal.

North Korea's Membership in International Organizations

North Korea and the United States belong to some of the same international organizations, including the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum.


Locator Map:  North Korea.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM CIA WORLD FACTBOOK


An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist control. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against outside influence. The DPRK demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in September 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in December 2011, the regime began to take actions to transfer power to KIM Jong Un and Jong Un has begun to assume his father's former titles and duties. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population. North Korea's history of regional military provocations, proliferation of military-related items, long-range missile development, WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community. The regime has marked 2012, the centenary of KIM Il Sung's birth, a banner year; to that end, the country has heightened its focus on developing its economy and improving its people's livelihoods.

GSA ANNOUNCES NEW CLOUD SECRUITY AUTHORIZATION PROCESS TO SAVE MONEY

Photo Credit:  GSA
FROM: U.S. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION

GSA Announces First FedRAMP Provisional Cloud Security Authorizations

FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board’s first provisional authorization gives agencies a "do once, use many times" framework that saves cost, time, and staff

WASHINGTON -- Today, the U.S. General Services Administration announced that the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) has issued the first Joint Authorization Board (JAB) approved provisional cloud security authorization to Autonomic Resources LLC. The FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board is comprised of the Chief Information Officers from GSA and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

FedRAMP is a standardized approach to cloud security assessments, authorization, and monitoring that will save the government money, time, and staff by eliminating redundant agency security assessments. Through FedRAMP’s leveraged security authorizations, federal agencies can also drastically reduce the time it takes to adopt new IT capabilities.

"The FedRAMP provisional authorization process sets a rigorous certification and accreditation bar for cloud service providers. By using FedRAMP and eliminating redundant security assessments, agencies can save an estimated $200,000 per authorization," said Dave McClure, Associate Administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. "This innovative collaboration with industry will lead to a common and more effective and efficient security authorization process government-wide."

In order to receive this provisional authorization, Autonomic Resources documented and fully implemented the FedRAMP security controls on their cloud services offerings. In addition, they had an independent FedRAMP accredited Third Party Assessment Organization (3PAO) audit these implementations. Now, Autonomic Resources’ system is provisionally authorized to securely contain Federal information at a moderate Federal Information Security Management Act level of security. Agencies will be able to review the full provisional authorization package as well as the independent assessment conducted by a FedRAMP-accredited 3PAO for their own agency specific security authorizations. The JAB is expected to issue additional ATOs in early 2013 and announcements will be made as the authorizations are granted.

Autonomic Resources LLC is a certified 8a small business from Cary, North Carolina offering Infrastructure as a Service capabilities for federal agencies. Their independent assessment was completed by Veris Group, a FedRAMP accredited 3PAO.

Weekly Address: Congress Must Protect the Middle Class from Income Tax Hike | The White House

Weekly Address: Congress Must Protect the Middle Class from Income Tax Hike | The White House

Keep Single-Load Liquid Laundry Packets Away from Children

Keep Single-Load Liquid Laundry Packets Away from Children

RECENT U.S. NAVY PHOTOS

 


FROM: U.S. NAVY

Aviation Machinist's Mate Airman Kenia Palacio, from El Paso, Texas, assigned to the line division of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 132, signal to the aircrew of an EA-18G Growler as it taxis off the flight line at Naval Air Facility (NAF) Misawa. VAQ-132 is on a six-month deployment at NAF Misawa supporting U.S. 7th Fleet. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kenneth G. Takada (Released) 121228-N-VZ328-038




The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Olympia (SSN 717) moors alongside the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40). Frank Cable conducts maintenance and support for submarines and surface vessels deployed in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ricardo Danan (Released) 121222-N-BE353-038

 

FORMER CEO OF FAIR FINANICAL SENTENCED FOR DEFRAUDING INVESTORS OUT OF OVER $200 MILLION

Photo:  New York Stock Exchange 1929.  Credit:  Wikimedia. 

FROM: U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

WASHINGTON – The former chief executive officer of Fair Financial Company, an Ohio financial services business, was sentenced today to serve 50 years in prison for his role in a scheme to defraud approximately 5,000 investors of more than $200 million, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Joseph H. Hogsett.

Timothy S. Durham, 50, of Fortville, Ind., was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson. In addition to his prison term, Durham was sentenced to serve two years supervised release.

James F. Cochran, the former chairman of the board of Fair, was sentenced today by Judge Magnus-Stinson to serve 25 years in prison and three years of supervised release.

Rick D. Snow, the former chief financial officer of Fair, was sentenced today by Judge Magnus-Stinson to ten years in prison and two years of supervised release.

Judge Snow also ordered Durham, Cochran and Snow to pay restitution in the amount of $208 million.

"The lengthy prison sentences handed down today are just punishment for a group of executives who built a business on smoke and mirrors," said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. "By deliberately misleading their investors and state regulators, Mr. Durham and his co-conspirators were able defraud thousands of innocent investors. The Justice Department will continue to devote considerable time and resources to ensure that fraudsters like Mr. Durham, Mr. Cochran and Mr . Snow are brought to justice for their crimes."

"This ordeal is truly a tragedy for all families involved," said U.S. Attorney Hogsett. "All we can do is ask that today's decision send a warning to others in Indiana that if you sacrifice truth in the name of greed, if you steal from another's American dream to enhance your own, you will be caught and you will pay a significant price."

"The FBI will continue to aggressively pursue financial crimes investigations," said Special Agent in Charge Robert A. Jones of the FBI Indianapolis Division. "Today’s sentencing represents a significant step toward justice. We must remain mindful that the victims of this crime still suffer."

On June 20, 2012, following an eight-day trial, a federal jury in the Southern District of Indiana convicted Durham and two co-conspirators for their roles in this scheme. Durham was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud, 10 counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud. James F. Cochran, 57, of McCordsville, Ind., was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud, one count of securities fraud and six counts of wire fraud. Rick D. Snow, 49, Fishers, Ind., was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud, one count of securities fraud and three counts of wire fraud.

Durham and Cochran purchased Fair, whose headquarters was in Akron, Ohio, in 2002. According to evidence presented at trial, between approximately February 2005 through November 2009, Durham, Cochran and Snow executed a scheme to defraud Fair’s investors by making and causing others to make false and misleading statements about Fair’s financial condition and about the manner in which they were using Fair investor money. The evidence also established that Durham, Cochran and Snow executed the scheme to enrich themselves, to obtain millions of dollars of investors’ funds through false representations and promises and to conceal from the investing public Fair’s true financial condition and the manner in which Fair was using investor money.

When Durham and Cochran purchased Fair in 2002, Fair reported debts to investors from the sale of investment certificates of approximately $37 million and income producing assets in the form of finance receivables of approximately $48 million. By November 2009, after Durham and Cochran had owned the company for seven years, Fair’s debts to investors from the sale of investment certificates had grown to more than $200 million, while Fair’s income producing assets consisted only of the loans to Durham and Cochran, their associates and the businesses they owned or controlled.

Durham, Cochran and Snow terminated Fair’s independent accountants who, at various points during 2005 and 2006, told the defendants that many of Fair’s loans were impaired or did not have sufficient collateral. After firing the accountants, the defendants never released audited financial statements for 2005, and never obtained or released audited financial statements for 2006 through September 2009. With independent accountants no longer auditing Fair’s financial statements, the defendants were able to conceal from investors Fair’s true financial condition.

Evidence introduced at trial showed that the defendants engaged in a variety of other fraudulent activities to conceal from the State of Ohio Division of Securities and from investors Fair’s true financial health and cash flow problems. Evidence showed that the defendants made false and misleading statements to concerned investors who either had not received principal or interest payments on their certificates from Fair or who were worried about Fair’s financial health. The defendants also directed employees of Fair not to pay investors who were owed interest or principal payments on their certificates.

Even though Fair’s financial condition had deteriorated and Fair was experiencing severe cash flow problems, Durham and Cochran continued to funnel Fair investor money to themselves for their personal expenses, to their family, friends and acquaintances, and to the struggling businesses that they owned or controlled.

This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Henry P. Van Dyck and Senior Deputy Chief for Litigation Kathleen McGovern of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Winfield D. Ong and Nicholas E. Surmacz of the Southern District of Indiana. The investigation was led by the FBI in Indianapolis.

BROTHER'S CHRISTMAS MILITARY FAMILY MEETING

 
Air Force Staff Sgt. Derek Allen, right, and his brother, Army Cpl. Greg Allen, compare unit patches at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2012. The brothers spent the holidays together for the first time since 2009 after the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft Derek maintains provided vital combat support for Greg and his fellow soldiers. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jun Kim
FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Face of Defense: Military Brothers Meet for Christmas
By Air Force Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2012 - Up until a few days ago, Air Force Staff Sgt. Derek Allen hadn't seen his brother, Army Cpl. Greg Allen, in more than three years. However, a twist of fate brought them together here for the Christmas holidays.

"Both of us being here in [Afghanistan] is the closest we have ever been to each other since Thanksgiving 2009," said Derek, a 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintenance craftsman, deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

As a teenager in Akron, Ohio, Derek said, he was driven to join the Air Force following 9/11.

"We took the path less traveled," Derek said of the choices he and his brother made to join the armed services.

Their parents, Charles and Melissa, said their eldest son's decision to join the Air Force was long planned.

"[Derek] knew well into his senior year," Melissa said. "He signed even before he graduated."

But while Derek chose the Air Force, his brother opted for the Army.

"He didn't want to be like his older brother," Derek said with a grin. "He wanted to blaze his own path."

Greg said his brother was one of the biggest supporters of his decision to join the Army.

Despite some good-natured ribbing about each other's chosen service, the Allen brothers say they have found the military has only strengthened their relationship despite their physical distance.

Recently, that special relationship was strengthened even further. Derek was able to look out for his younger brother without even realizing it at the time.

As a member of the A-10 Thunderbolt II phase inspection team here, Derek ensures that the A-10 aircraft are ready to execute their close-air support mission for troops in the field. One December day, two A-10s were providing air support when they received a call that a unit was under fire and needed overhead assistance. One aircraft made a pass over the area and got the call from the joint terminal attack controller that they needed some heavy fire. The aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs, hitting the target; the hostile fire subsided.

Derek later found out the unit that needed assistance was part of the 101st Airborne Division and his brother was among the troops whose lives were safeguarded that day.

"When it comes to close-air support, the A-10 is the first thing you think of," Greg said. It was a tremendous confidence boost to watch the A-10 do its work, he added.

"That was a moment where I knew everyone was going to make it back," he said.

Soon afterward, Greg contacted his brother via Facebook asking him to thank the A-10 pilot. Derek said he has always taken pride in his work, but hearing the news of how aircraft he prepares for flight helped to protect his brother increased that pride.


"It's not every day that an older brother truly gets to make sure that the skies over his little brother are safe," he said. "To know my brother gets to come home to my niece and his wife is a great feeling."

When the brothers' respective leaders heard the story, they launched a successful effort to get them together for the holidays. When Greg arrived here, the time they'd spent apart seemed to disappear, the Allens said.

"It was literally like having seen him just yesterday," Derek said of his brother's arrival.

That came as good news to their parents.

"They don't want us to worry," Melissa said. "When we finally got the gist of what happened, we were like 'Oh, wow, those types of things really are going on.'"

Charles echoed his wife's feelings.

"Like any other parent you're always thinking about it but at the same time you aren't thinking about it," he said.

For the time being, however, Melissa and her husband said they were thrilled at the thought of their boys spending Christmas together for the first time in years.

"It really is an awesome Christmas gift," she said. "They may not be with us and we're not with them, but at least they can be with each other."

NEW LIGHT UNIFORM BEING DEVELOPED FOR CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL ATTACKS

Researchers at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department are working on a new material that could protect the nation’s warfighters from a chemical and biological attack without having to change into bulky, cumbersome additional garments. (Photo by Jason Bortz)


FROM: U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 'ARMED WITH SCIENCE'December 21, 2012
by jtozer
Warfighters Getting a Second Skin
 
A new material could protect the nation’s warfighters from a chemical and biological attack without having to change into bulky, cumbersome additional garments.

Researchers at the
Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department are working on the dynamic multifunctional materials for a second skin, more commonly known as "Second Skin."

The goal is to develop dynamic multifunctional materials that are fully integrated at the molecular level to provide protection against chemical and biological threats upon entering a contaminated environment.
What makes Second Skin novel isn’t that it provides protection, but how it provides protection.
Second Skin could be manufactured into a garment worn as an everyday uniform, similar to the combat uniform worn by today’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and
Marines, but it would have the unique ability to react to a chemical or biological threat almost instantly.

Current chem-bio protection measures require troops to add additional garments to their uniforms if threats are detected, which could take several minutes after the detection of the threat. Second Skin would sense the threat and respond in such a manner to specifically mitigate the threat at the appropriate level.

According to Tracee Harris, science and technology manager for Novel Materials, DTRA CB, the garment would also lower the thermal burden significantly over current chem-bio garments, which are cumbersome and provide limited breathability, especially when worn in high temperature environments.

This would increase the combat effectiveness of troops having to wear Second Skin in environments such as Iraq or Afghanistan where the temperatures routinely are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or in jungle environments with high humidity.

Companies outside of the
Department of Defense are also investing in novel garment material platforms for performance enhancement. Ski apparel companies are looking to develop next generation thermal garments, which have high moisture management capabilities and also provide protection from the cold.

Other athletic companies are actively investing in developing next generation garments that provide highly effective thermal management capabilities while providing comfort to the wearer in various climates.
"I am looking forward to the future impact that Dynamic Multifunctional Materials for a Second Skin Program will have; not only in providing an enhanced [chem-bio] capability to the warfighter, but in the day-to-day lives of civilians," said Harris. "This broadened scope is where the myriad of possible uses for this kind of fundamental technology developmental effort exist."
Second Skin is just one of many projects DTRA CB is currently researching as part of the Focused Innovative Technology (FIT) program. The FIT program looks for innovative ideas to create solutions for chem-bio threats against our warfighters and our Nation.

The program was created as a way for science and technology managers to propose new ideas for projects and then collaborate with the science community to include scientists from academia, industry and government research laboratories. Intramural service laboratories such as the
Army, Navy and Air Force have also helped identify requirements or address future needs. The results of the program have been projects that are more focused and fill known or projected gaps in chem-bio defense.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department (DTRA CB) also serves as the Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. The department is committed to protecting warfighters and citizens from chemical and biological threats through the innovative application of science and technology research.

Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department
Story by Jason Bortz

U.S.-HOLY SEE RELATIONS


Map:  Holy See (Vactican).  From:  CIA World Factbook.

FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

The Holy See is the universal government of the Catholic Church and operates from Vatican City State, a sovereign, independent territory. The Pope is the ruler of both Vatican City State and the Holy See. The Holy See, as the supreme body of government of the Catholic Church, is a sovereign juridical entity under international law. The United States and the Holy See consult and cooperate on international issues of mutual interest, including human rights, inter-religious understanding, peace and conflict prevention, development, and environmental protection.

The United States maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 to 1870 and diplomatic relations with the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States, from 1848 to 1868, though not at the ambassadorial level. These relations lapsed in 1870 with the loss of all papal territories during the unification of Italy. From 1870 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Several U.S. presidents, however, designated personal envoys to visit the Holy See periodically for discussions of international humanitarian and political issues. In 1984, a revised Concordat was signed defining the relations between the government and the church within Italy. The United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1984.

U.S. Assistance to the Holy See

The United States provides no development assistance to the Holy See.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States has no significant trade or investment with the Holy See.

The Holy See's Membership in International Organizations

The Holy See and the United States both are members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Holy See also is an observer to a number of international organizations of which the United States is a member, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, and World Trade Organization.


Locator Map:  Holy See (Vatican).  Credit:  CIA World Factbook 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM CIA WORLD FACTBOOK
Popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid 19th century, when many of the Papal States were seized by the newly united Kingdom of Italy. In 1870, the pope's holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed. Disputes between a series of "prisoner" popes and Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy. In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion. Present concerns of the Holy See include religious freedom, international development, the environment, the Middle East, China, the decline of religion in Europe, terrorism, interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About 1 billion people worldwide profess the Catholic faith.

SPACE-TO-GROUND COMMUNICATIONS

FROM: NASA



TDRS: Communicating Critical Data

As a vital information pipeline for space-based research and exploration ambitions, the TDRS constellation fulfills NASA's broadest communication demands. Now into it's fourth operational decade, the TDRS legacy continues to be communications excellence. The addition of the third generation of spacecraft will replenish the constellation and ensure that the critical lifeline of space-to-ground communication support will be available for many years to come.

Friday, December 28, 2012

NIGHT LIFE IN SPACE

FROM:  NASA


Earth at Night

This view of Earth at night is a cloud-free view from space as acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership Satellite. A joint program by NASA and NOAA, Suomi NPP captured this nighttime image by the day-night band of the satellite's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite VIIRS. It combines the Earth at night view created by NASA's Earth Observatory with data processed by NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center with the EO Blue Marble: Next Generation.

Credit-NASA Goddard-NASA's Earth Observatory-NOAA-DOD

GENERAL SCHWARKOPF PRAISED

 
Retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf gives an acceptance speech after receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor Society's Patriot Award during a ceremony in Shreveport, La., Sept. 12, 2002. The Patriot Award is the society's highest award, presented to a distinguished American who exemplifies the ideals that make the United States strong. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael A. Kaplan

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

President, Defense Leaders Praise Schwarzkopf's Service, Legacy
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2012 - President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen, Martin E. Dempsey praised the service and legacy of retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who passed away yesterday at age 78.

Schwarzkopf was a Vietnam veteran and one of the architects of the western flanking movement that helped to defeat the Iraqi army during the Gulf War in early 1991. As the commander of U.S. Central Command, Schwarzkopf led the international coalition assembled by then-President George H.W. Bush that expelled Iraqi troops who had invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

The four-star general and West Point graduate retired in August 1991 after 35 years of Army service. Schwarzkopf died in Tampa, Fla., of complications from pneumonia, according to press reports.

Obama saluted Schwarzkopf's service in a statement issued yesterday.

"With the passing of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, we've lost an American original," Obama stated. "From his decorated service in Vietnam to the historic liberation of Kuwait and his leadership of United States Central Command, Gen. Schwarzkopf stood tall for the country and Army he loved. Our prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family, who tonight can know that his legacy will endure in a nation that is more secure because of his patriotic service."

Panetta also honored the general.

"The men and women of the Department of Defense join me in mourning the loss of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose 35 years of service in uniform left an indelible imprint on the United States military and on the country," Panetta said in a statement released yesterday. "The son of a decorated Army officer, Gen. Schwarzkopf followed his father's legacy of service by enrolling in West Point in the 1950s."

"His bravery during two tours in Vietnam earned him three silver stars, and set him on the path lead our troops into battle in Grenada, and then to take charge of the overall allied effort in the first Gulf War as Commander of United States Central Command," Panetta continued. "Gen. Schwarzkopf's skilled leadership of that campaign liberated the Kuwaiti people and produced a decisive victory for the allied coalition. In the aftermath of that war, Gen. Schwarzkopf was justly recognized as a brilliant strategist and inspiring leader."

"Today, we recall that enduring legacy and remember him as one of the great military giants of the 20th century. My thoughts and prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family in this time of sadness and grief," Panetta concluded.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said in a statement released yesterday that he "was saddened to learn today of the passing of General Norman Schwarzkopf, a fellow West Point graduate, former Centcom commander and one of the 20th century's finest soldiers and leaders. I join the civilian and military leaders of our country, and servicemen and women, past and present, in mourning his death."

"Gen. Schwarzkopf embodied the warrior spirit, serving with distinction in three conflicts over his 35 years of dedicated service," Dempsey said. "The hallmark of his remarkable career was the swift and decisive victory over Saddam Hussein's forces after they invaded Kuwait."

"The thoughts and prayers of the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Force are with Gen. Schwarzkopf's family and friends," he concluded.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno released a joint statement on Schwarzkopf's passing:

"Our nation has lost a soldier and statesman with the passing of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. Our prayers are with his family as we honor the memories of a man dedicated to family, his country and the many soldiers he led in war and peace. His life story touches on much of the fabric of our nation's story, ensuring his memory will remain with us for generations. Our nation owes a great debt of gratitude to Gen. Schwarzkopf and our soldiers will hold a special place in their hearts for this great leader. While much will be written in coming days of his many accomplishments, his most lasting and important legacies are the tremendous soldiers he trained and led."

Schwarzkopf is survived by his wife, Brenda, and children Cynthia, Jessica and Christian.


President Obama Makes a Statement on Averting Tax Hikes for Middle Class Families | The White House

President Obama Makes a Statement on Averting Tax Hikes for Middle Class Families | The White House

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update: What A UAV Can Do With Depth Perception

U.S. Department of Defense Armed with Science Update

U.S. PRESS STATEMENT ON ENDING INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTIONS BETWEEN U.S. AND RUSSIA


The Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg - built between 1706 and 1740 - surrounds the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral (completed 1733), which houses the remains of almost all of the members of the Russian imperial family
 

FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT, RUSSIAN LAW

Statement on Russia's Yakovlev Act
Press Statement
Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

December 28, 2012

We deeply regret Russia’s passage of a law ending inter-country adoptions between the United States and Russia and restricting Russian civil society organizations that work with American partners. American families have adopted over 60,000 Russian children over the past 20 years, and the vast majority of these children are now thriving thanks to their parents’ loving support. The Russian government’s politically motivated decision will reduce adoption possibilities for children who are now under institutional care. We regret that the Russian government has taken this step rather than seek to implement the bilateral adoption agreement that entered into force in November. We are further concerned about statements that adoptions already underway may be stopped and hope that the Russian government would allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families.

The limitations imposed by the Act on Russian civil society’s ability to work with American partners will also make it more difficult for Russian and American non-governmental organizations to cooperate in areas as diverse as human rights advocacy, open government, and electoral transparency. The United States remains committed to supporting the development of civil society and the democratic process around the world, including in Russia.

An ingredient for hangover helper

An ingredient for hangover helper

NASA'S NEXT GENERATION OF ION THRUSTERS

 


FROM: NASA

While the Dawn spacecraft is visiting the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, NASA Glenn has been developing the next generation of ion thrusters for future missions. NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) Project has developed a 7-kilowatt ion thruster that can provide the capabilities needed in the future. An ion thruster produces small levels of thrust relative to chemical thrusters, but does so at higher specific impulse (or higher exhaust velocities), which means that an ion thruster has a fuel efficiency of 10-12 times greater than a chemical thruster. The higher the rocket's specific impulse (fuel efficiency), the farther the spacecraft can go with a given amount of fuel. Given that an ion thruster produces small levels of thrust relative to chemical thrusters, it needs to operate in excess of 10,000 hours to slowly accelerate the spacecraft to speeds necessary to reach the asteroid belt or beyond. The NEXT ion thruster has been operated for over 43,000 hours, which for rocket scientists means that the thruster has processed over 770 kilograms of xenon propellant and can provide 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to the spacecraft. This demonstrated performance permits future science spacecraft to travel to varied destinations, such as extended tours of multi-asteroids, comets, and outer planets and their moons. Image Credit: NASA

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AWARDS $2.2 MILLION GRANT TO HELP WORKERS IN HAITI AND PERU

Photo:  Sewing Machine.  Credit:  Wikimedia Commons.

FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
 
US Department of Labor awards $2.2 million grant for projects to strengthen worker organizations in Haiti and Peru

WASHINGTON
 — U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced a $2.2 million grant award to strengthen worker organizations in Haiti and Peru. The grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs will fund projects implemented by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, also known as the Solidarity Center.

"Supporting the ability to organize and protect their rights is important to leveling the playing field for all workers," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. This grant will help organizations in Haiti and Peru engage in productive, effective negotiations with governments and employers on behalf of vulnerable workers."

The projects will improve the capacity of worker organizations in both countries to better protect the rights of vulnerable workers and to engage in effective advocacy and dialogue. In Haiti, the Solidarity Center will work with the apparel export sector, focusing particularly on issues related to freedom of association, sexual harassment and forced overtime. In Peru, the project will focus on responding to the needs of temporary and fixed-term contract workers.

Since 1995, ILAB has worked with other governments and international organizations to improve working conditions around the world. ILAB's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs has funded technical assistance projects to improve worker rights, livelihoods and labor law compliance in more than 72 countries around the world.

CIVIL WAR CARTOGRAPHY

A sketch map of the battlefield of Gettysburg, 1863, by Jedidiah Hotchkiss combined with U.S. Geological Survey’s satellite-derived map with attributes from the National Hydrography dataset.
 

FROM: U.S. LIBRAY OF CONGRESS

Civil War Cartography, Then and Now
December 27, 2012 by Erin Allen


During the Civil War, cartographers invented new techniques to map the country and the conflict more accurately than ever before in the nation’s history. Since then, cartographic technology has evolved in ways never imagined, but many basic elements of mapmaking remain the same. The following is an article, written by Jacqueline V. Nolan and Edward J. Redmond of the Library’s Georgraphy and Map Division, that is featured in the November-December 2012 issue of the Library’s new magazine, LCM, and highlights progress in cartography since the Civil War.

Mapmaking has been revolutionized since the Civil War. Comparatively speaking, creating a map using modern technologies little resembles yesteryear’s methodology. Yet, many consistencies in mapping prevail from one era to the next. The basic elements of map production still consist of determining geographic coordinates and reference points, construction of projections, design, compilation, drafting and reproduction.

During the Civil War era, the production of a finished map was a protracted and labor-intensive process that involved a variety of skills and crafts. It began with a land survey or field reconnaissance by a military topographer—often on horseback—with sketchbook in hand. Rivers, roads and significant landscape features were rapidly drawn in pencil on pages marked with grid lines. Direction was determined by compass bearings, and distance was tracked by pacing on foot or horseback. Data from these field sketches were later transferred to larger sheets notated with geographic coordinates to produce a composite manuscript map of an area or region at a particular scale.

If a map was to be reproduced for wider dissemination, copies could be furnished in a variety of formats. Various photographic methods were devised during the war to reproduce manuscript field surveys quickly, in limited numbers for field commanders. Woodcut engraving was favored by newspapers, which published maps almost daily to help war families locate the remote places described in the letters they received from their loved ones at the front. Official and commercial maps were engraved or lithographed, and then hand-colored. Each of these processes required trained craftsmen as well as specialized tools and equipment. The copperplate engravers who worked for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, for example, were primarily German craftsmen recruited especially for the detailed engraving required by that agency.

Current trends in mapping allow for multiple layers of data to be combined by one cartographer using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software on a desktop computer. GIS has become a useful tool for research using spatial data analysis and is being applied to many fields of study, wherever geography can be modeled.

Creating a map using GIS is also a layered process. Using multiple sources of data, such as field data, research statistics, real-time data, and so on, information can be overlaid on a base map representing a geographic area of interest such as a Civil War battle site. Base layers may be characterized as either a pixilated, raster format, derived from remote-sensing imagery, or as a vector file, which depicts geography as points, lines and polygons.

Map specifications such as projection, scale, and key details are determined in this initial phase. Data is standardized to ensure attribute- matching with the base layer prior to performing data analysis.

GIS software packages include toolkits containing many devices for analysis and editing. Metadata is compiled to document specific information about the GIS project, such as source data, attribute definitions, or algorithms used for statistical computations. Analysis is the primary end-product of a GIS project, though a cartographic rendering may be created such as a paper map, a web-based application for visual interpretation on a computer screen, or applications software for display on mobile devices (apps).

Losing sight

Losing sight

ANTARTIC ICE SHEET WARMING FASTER IN THE WEST



Map:  Antartica.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

FROM: NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

Study Finds That Portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Are Warming Twice as Fast as Previously Thought
Findings could have important implications for global sea-level rise
December 24, 2012

A new study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) finds that the western part of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought.

The findings were published online this week in the journal Nature Geoscience. NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) and coordinates all U.S. research and associated logistics on the southernmost continent and in the surrounding Southern Ocean.

The temperature record from Byrd Station, an unmanned scientific outpost in the center of the ice sheet, demonstrates a marked increase of 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) in average annual temperature since 1958. That is three times faster than the average temperature rise around the globe.

This temperature increase is nearly double what previous research has suggested, and reveals--for the first time--warming trends during the summer months of the Southern Hemisphere (December through February), said David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State University and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

"Our record suggests that continued summer warming in West Antarctica could upset the surface mass balance of the ice sheet, so that the region could make an even bigger contribution to sea-level rise than it already does," said Bromwich.

"Even without generating significant mass loss directly, surface melting on the WAIS could contribute to sea level indirectly, by weakening the West Antarctic ice shelves that restrain the region's natural ice flow into the ocean."

Andrew Monaghan, study co-author and scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said that these findings place West Antarctica among the fastest-warming regions on Earth.

"We've already seen enhanced surface melting contribute to the breakup of the Antarctic's Larsen B Ice Shelf, where glaciers at the edge discharged massive sections of ice into the ocean that contributed to sea level rise," Monaghan said. "The stakes would be much higher if a similar event occurred to an ice shelf restraining one of the enormous WAIS glaciers."

Researchers consider the WAIS especially sensitive to climate change, explained Ohio State University doctoral student Julien Nicolas. Since the base of the ice sheet rests below sea level, it is vulnerable to direct contact with warm ocean water. Its melting currently contributes 0.3 mm to sea level rise each year--second to Greenland, whose contribution to sea-level rise has been estimated as high as 0.7 mm per year.

Due to its location some 700 miles from the South Pole and near the center of the WAIS, Byrd Station is an important indicator of climate change throughout the region.

In the past, researchers haven't been able to make much use of the Byrd Station measurements, due to the fact that since the station was establishment in 1957, it hasn't always been occupied. So, its data were incomplete, to the point that nearly one third of the temperature observations were missing for the time period of the study. A year-round automated station was installed in 1980, but it has experienced frequent power outages, especially during the long polar night, when its solar panels can't recharge.

Bromwich and two of his graduate students, along with colleagues from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, corrected the past Byrd temperature measurements and used corrected data from a computer atmospheric model and a numerical analysis method to fill in the missing observations.

Aside from offering a more complete picture of warming in West Antarctica, the study suggests that if this warming trend continues, melting will become more extensive in the region in the future, Bromwich said.

While the researchers work to fully understand the cause of the summer warming at Byrd Station, the next step is clear, he added.

"West Antarctica is one of the most rapidly changing regions on Earth, but it is also one of the least known," he said. "Our study underscores the need for a reliable network of meteorological observations throughout West Antarctica, so that we can know what is happening--and why--with more certainty."

W.W. GRAINGER PAYS U.S. $70 MILLION TO RESOLVE FALSE CLAIMS ALLEGATIONS


FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Illinois-based Hardware Distributor W.W. Grainger Pays US $70 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations

W.W. Grainger Inc. has agreed to pay the United States $70 million to resolve allegations that it submitted false claims under contracts with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Postal Services (USPS), the Department of Justice announced today. Grainger is a national hardware distributor headquartered in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Grainger entered into a contract to sell hardware products and other supplies to government customers through the GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program. The MAS program provides the government and other GSA-authorized purchasers with a streamlined process for procurement of commonly-used commercial goods and services. To be awarded a MAS contract, and thereby gain access to the broad government marketplace, contractors must agree to disclose their commercial pricing policies and practices to assist the government in negotiating the terms of the MAS contract.

Today’s settlement resolves issues discovered during a GSA post-award audit of Grainger’s MAS contract. The GSA Office of Inspector General learned that Grainger failed to meet its contractual obligations to provide the GSA with current, accurate and complete information about its commercial sales practices, including discounts afforded to other customers. As a result, government customers purchasing items under the Grainger MAS contract paid higher prices than they should have.

In addition, today’s settlement resolves allegations that Grainger failed to meet its contractual obligations to provide "most-favored customer" pricing under two USPS contracts for sanitation and maintenance supplies. The USPS contracts required Grainger to treat USPS as Grainger’s "most-favored customer" by ensuring that USPS received the best overall discount that Grainger offered to any of its commercial customers. Agents and auditors from the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated Grainger’s pricing practices and discovered that Grainger did not consistently adhere to this requirement, causing USPS to pay more than it should have for purchases made under the two contracts.

"Misrepresentations during contract negotiations undermine the integrity of the government procurement process," said Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. "The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that government purchasers of commercial products receive the prices to which they are entitled."

"The substantial payment by Grainger reflects the Justice Department’s focused and productive work in the economic interests of our citizen constituents," commented United States Attorney James L. Santelle of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. "This settlement shows that we are committed to ensuring that false claims are investigated fully and pursued effectively so that government monies are used properly and the integrity of our contracting system is upheld."

"This case is another demonstration of the value of the work performed by Inspectors General ," said GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller. "Our auditors and agents worked tirelessly to reach this critical settlement."

"The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General aggressively pursues instances of contracting improprieties that negatively impact the Postal Service and cause unnecessary expenses. We appreciate the partnership of the Civil Divisions of the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for their support in this case," said Joanne Yarbrough, Special Agent-in-Charge of the OIG’s Major Fraud Investigations Division.

This settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin; the GSA Office of Inspector General; and the USPS Office of Inspector General and Office of General Counsel. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

West Wing Week: 12/28/12 or "Best of the West (Wing Week)" | The White House

West Wing Week: 12/28/12 or "Best of the West (Wing Week)" | The White House

U.S.-MADAGASCAR RELATIONS


Map:  Madagascar.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

During the 1800s and 1900s, Madagascar passed back and forth between British and French spheres of influence and possession. The country became independent from France in 1960. Relations between the United States and Madagascar date to the mid-1800s. The two countries concluded a commercial convention in 1867; established diplomatic relations in 1874; and concluded a treaty of peace, friendship, and commerce in 1881. Traditionally warm relations suffered considerably during the 1970s, when Madagascar expelled the U.S. Ambassador, closed a NASA tracking station, and nationalized two U.S. oil companies. In 1980, relations at the ambassadorial level were restored.

In 2009, Madagascar's democratically elected president stepped down under pressure from the military and purported to transfer his authority to a senior military figure, who in turn purported to confer the presidency on the opposition leader, who is currently heading the self-proclaimed High Transitional Authority (HAT). The United States considers the series of events in Madagascar in early 2009 to be a military coup d'état. In the aftermath of the coup d’etat, Madagascar has experienced negative economic growth and diminished government revenues, undermining the political, social, and economic stability of the country. The United States’ intent is to support international efforts led by the Southern African Development Community and the African Union to ensure that a credible electoral process takes place as soon as possible, organized by an independent entity.

U.S. Assistance to Madagascar

Following the 2009 coup d’etat, the United States suspended direct assistance to or through Madagascar’s governmental authorities as well as all non-humanitarian activities. The U.S. Government continues to provide assistance in health and food security through nongovernmental organizations, community associations, and other private groups. The United States is currently the largest bilateral donor to Madagascar, which is a priority country for the President’s Malaria Initiative, Additionally, approximately 130 Peace Corps volunteers serve in Madagascar.

Bilateral Economic Relations

U.S. exports to Madagascar include machinery, vegetable oil, rice and wheat, aircraft, and vehicles. U.S. imports from Madagascar include apparel, vanilla beans, precious stones/metals, and perfumes/cosmetics. The United States has signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, of which Madagascar is a member. Under the economic and political governance criteria necessary for eligibility, Madagascar is ineligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Madagascar's Membership in International Organizations

Madagascar and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.
 

Locator Map:  Madagascar.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.
 
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM CIA WORLD FACTBOOK

Formerly an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1896 but regained independence in 1960. During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier RATSIRAKA, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, was returned to the presidency. The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of Didier RATSIRAKA and Marc RAVALOMANANA, nearly causing secession of half of the country. In April 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced RAVALOMANANA the winner. RAVALOMANANA achieved a second term following a landslide victory in the generally free and fair presidential elections of 2006. In early 2009, protests over increasing restrictions on opposition press and activities resulted in RAVALOMANANA stepping down and the presidency was conferred to the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry RAJOELINA. Numerous attempts have been made by regional and international organizations to resolve the subsequent political gridlock by forming a power-sharing government. In late 2011, RAJOELINA appointed a new cabinet, and the country appeared to be moving towards new elections sometime in 2012.

FIRST FEMALE COMMANDING OFFICER OF U.S. NAVAL WARSHIP

 
LCDR Darlene Iskra smiles shortly after her appointment as commanding officer of USS Opportune (ARS-41), February 1991. DOD Still Media Photograph: DN-ST-91-06050

FROM:  U.S. NAVY

First Female Commanding Officer of a U.S. Navy Warship
By jasonkelly
December 26, 2012Posted in: History & Heritage, Sailors

Dec. 27 marks 22 years since LCDR Darlene Iskra reported for duty aboard USS Opportune (ARS-41). She would later become the first female commanding officer of a U.S. Navy warship when she assumed responsibility as the ship’s CO.

Today, we recognize CDR (Ret.) Iskra’s accomplishments during her 21 years of military service – marked by several firsts for female Sailors, including qualifying as a Surface Warfare Officer, service as a sea-going officer, as well as one of the first three female Sailors to attend the Naval School of Diving and Salvage.
 
She holds an MA in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., and an MA and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland. Today, she writes books about women in military service.

Below, CDR (Ret.) Iskra reflects with Naval History & Heritage Command or her Career. 
"I hadn’t realized what a big deal being the first woman to command a ship would be until I arrived in Naples, and on my desk was a stack of congratulatory cards and letters from people I didn’t even know! I also got a few cards from people I hadn’t heard from in literally decades! Soon afterwards, the public affairs officer from Naples asked to do an interview. That was the one that was published soon after I took command, to news outlets all over the world, even in Saudi Arabia, which freaked my husband out, as even back then we were worried about terrorism.
About three weeks after I took command, Desert Storm started in the Gulf and we were ordered underway towards the Suez Canal to intervene in case the Canal was mined or otherwise blocked. We picked up an [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] team in La Maddalena, Sardinia, and headed to an area on the Mediterranean side of the canal, where we stayed for the entire duration of the war. No mines were laid, though we did have several interesting incidents, but those are stories for another day."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

U.S. UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE WEEKLY CLAIMS REPORT FOR WEEK ENDING DECEMBER 22, 2012

FROM: U.S. DEPATMENT OF LABOR

SEASONALLY ADJUSTED DATA


In the week ending December 22, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 350,000, a decrease of 12,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 362,000. The 4-week moving average was 356,750, a decrease of 11,250 from the previous week's revised average of 368,000.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.5 percent for the week ending December 15, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending December 15 was 3,206,000, a decrease of 32,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 3,238,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,219,000, a decrease of 24,750 from the preceding week's revised average of 3,243,750.
UNADJUSTED DATA
The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 440,887 in the week ending December 22, an increase of 39,458 from the previous week. There were 497,689 initial claims in the comparable week in 2011.

The advance unadjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.5 percent during the week ending December 15, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate. The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 3,254,214, an increase of 9,650 from the preceding week. A year earlier, the rate was 2.9 percent and the volume was 3,613,414.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending December 8 was 5,475,708, an increase of 73,279 from the previous week. There were 7,231,771 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2011.

Extended Benefits were only available in New York during the week ending December 8.

Initial claims for UI benefits filed by former Federal civilian employees totaled 1,680 in the week ending December 15, a decrease of 374 from the prior week. There were 2,574 initial claims filed by newly discharged veterans, a decrease of 257 from the preceding week.

There were 21,095 former Federal civilian employees claiming UI benefits for the week ending December 8, a decrease of 245 from the previous week. Newly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled 40,561, an increase of 1,081 from the prior week.

States reported 2,100,243 persons claiming EUC (Emergency Unemployment Compensation) benefits for the week ending December 8, an increase of 3,698 from the prior week. There were 2,926,135 persons claiming EUC in the comparable week in 2011. EUC weekly claims include first, second, third, and fourth tier activity.

The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending December 8 were in Alaska (6.2), New Jersey (3.9), Pennsylvania (3.8), Puerto Rico (3.7), California (3.5), Montana (3.5), Oregon (3.5), Connecticut (3.3), Nevada (3.3), Illinois (3.2), and Wisconsin (3.2).

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending December 15 were in Florida (+5,080), Kentucky (+1,009), Mississippi (+651), Iowa (+646), and Indiana (+549), while the largest decreases were in California (-6,867), New Jersey (-5,101), Pennsylvania (-3,412), New York (-2,938) and Michigan (-2,889).

U.S. SUSPENDS EMBASSY OPERATIONS IN BANGUI


Map:  Central African Republic.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

Temporary Suspension of U.S. Embassy Bangui Operations
Press Statement
Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 27, 2012

 

The U.S. Embassy in Bangui temporarily suspended its operations on December 28 as a result of the present security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). We have not suspended diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic.

Ambassador Wohlers and his diplomatic team left Bangui today along with several private U.S. citizens. As a result of this suspension of operations, the embassy will not be able to provide routine consular services to American citizens in the Central African Republic until further notice.

This decision is solely due to concerns about the security of our personnel and has no relation to our continuing and long-standing diplomatic relations with the CAR.

The United States encourages all parties in the Central African Republic to participate in the dialogue to be held under the auspices of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) to develop a comprehensive agreement that will offer a new vision of peace and security for the country.
 


Central African Republic Locator Map.  Credit:  CIA World Factbook.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM CIA WORLD FACTBOOK

The former French colony of Ubangi-Shari became the Central African Republic upon independence in 1960. After three tumultuous decades of misrule - mostly by military governments - civilian rule was established in 1993 and lasted for one decade. President Ange-Felix PATASSE's civilian government was plagued by unrest, and in March 2003 he was deposed in a military coup led by General Francois BOZIZE, who established a transitional government. Elections held in 2005 affirmed General BOZIZE as president; he was reelected in 2011 in voting widely viewed as severely flawed. The government still does not fully control the countryside, where pockets of lawlessness persist. Militant group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continues to affect stability in the Central African Republic as well