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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NLRB SAYS NURSING HOME CHAIN BARGAINED IN BAD FAITH WITH UNION EMPLOYEES


The following excerpt is from the National Labor Relations Board website: 

"A Connecticut nursing home chain engaged in a pattern of bad faith bargaining and unlawfully locked out the unionized employees at one of its homes, the NLRB alleged in a complaint issued today.

This is the fourth complaint issued against the employer by the NLRB Hartford Regional Office involving conduct that occurred over the past two years.

The six nursing homes involved in the dispute, in Milford, Danbury, Stamford, Newington, Westport, and Wethersfield, are owned by Care Realty and operated by Healthbridge Management. Nurses and service and maintenance employees at the homes have been represented for many years by District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union.

A previous complaint, which is awaiting decision by an NLRB administrative law judge following a trial, alleges that the employer violated the bargaining and contractual rights of 48 unionized housekeepers and laundry workers whose work was subcontracted from February 2009 until May 2010. For those 15 months, the employees continued performing the same work for the subcontractor as they had before February 2009. In May 2010, the employer terminated the subcontracting arrangement and “re-hired” the employees as probationary employees, at a lower rate of pay and without benefits. The employer did this without notice to or bargaining with the Union. The same complaint further alleges that at all six nursing homes, the employer unilaterally changed holiday and overtime pay, hours of work, and benefit eligibility for part-time employees, and laid off employees at one of the homes, again without notice to or bargaining with the Union.

Two other complaints against the same nursing homes involving the same employees are pending before another administrative law judge. They allege that the employer prohibited employees from wearing union stickers and distributing union flyers protesting the employer’s unfair labor practices in the first complaint, and ceased deducting union dues from employee paychecks following the expiration of the collective bargaining agreements.

While the above complaints were pending, the parties engaged in collective bargaining negotiations for a successor contract at each home. According to the complaint issued today, the employer insisted upon proposals that were predictably unacceptable to the Union; refused to engage in the reasoned discussion of its proposals; threatened to lockout the unionized employees at each home, and actually locked out the unionized employees at its Milford facility, in support of its final bargaining proposals.

Coupled with the extensive unfair labor practices alleged in the three previous complaints, the complaint that issued today alleges that by its overall conduct, the employer has failed to bargain in good faith with the Union in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, and that the lockout of the Milford employees separately constitutes unlawful discriminatory conduct under the Act.

Absent a settlement, the case is scheduled to be heard by an Administrative Law Judge in May 2012."

NEW FIRST AID KIT BEING DEVELOPED FOR THE MILITARY


The following excerpt is from a United States Department of Defense website:

"NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 2, 2012) — Maybe it looks like a camouflage money belt on steroids, but it could save Soldiers’ lives.
The new Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK, being developed at the Natick Soldier Systems Center eventually will be carried by every Soldier in a combat environment.
“We designed it literally about three or four months ago,” said Rich Landry, individual equipment designer with the Load Carriage Prototype Lab, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, at NSSC. “The medical community said, ‘Awesome idea. Let’s move out with it.’ Overwhelmingly, they thought this was a huge improvement over the current IFAK.”

As Landry pointed out, the current IFAK, developed rapidly in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom to fulfill a critical need, has proved rather unwieldy.
“This thing is just kind of a brick on your side that gets in the way of everything,” said Landry of the current bulky IFAK, which was built into an existing Squad Automatic Weapon ammo pouch. “It was very, very quick, because they needed them right away.”

More thought has gone into the new IFAK, a streamlined, two-piece system that features a pouch with an insert that slides out to allow easy access to medical equipment from either side.
“It supports all the critical items to the individual Soldier’s medical needs,” Landry said. “The beauty of this system, compared to the old one, is that it allows the Soldier to place it on (his or her) body in a spot where it can be easily accessible, which is the critical piece, but also not get in the way of other important tactical pieces of equipment.”

Landry said 30 new IFAKs recently underwent evaluation at Fort Polk, La., where a platoon of Soldiers carried them through a training rotation. The early feedback has been positive, he added.
“We’re very sure this is the direction the Individual First Aid Kit is going to go, hopefully, for all services, but you never know,” Landry said. “That would be icing on the cake.”
The new IFAK carries even more medical gear than the first version, including two Combat Application Tourniquets. Still, its lower profile allows a Soldier to wear it comfortably in the small of his or her back under the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, or MOLLE, Large or Medium backpack.
“And that’s critical for us, because the big picture in load carriage is the backpack piece,” Landry said. “That’s where a large percentage of the load and bulk comes from. And it’s critical that we still have to be able to carry that.

“All you do is reach back and pull (the IFAK) out, and it doesn’t matter what side you pull it out from,” Landry said. “So if this hand is injured, you can reach behind with this (hand) and pull it out, or your buddy can get to it.”

Such innovation is Landry’s calling card at Natick. A former Pathfinder with the 82nd Airborne Division, he began tinkering with outdoor equipment at a young age.
“My sister taught me how to sew,” Landry recalled. “Every backpack I got, every piece of equipment I got, was modified in some way, shape or form. That’s just how my brain works. Nothing can be left alone. Nothing’s perfect in my mind, as far as outdoor equipment, and that’s a curse.”
It’s also been a blessing for Soldiers, who have worn equipment all around the world that Landry developed in his lab.

“The ability to know what they need, as opposed to what they want, is a little bit different,” Landry said. “That’s just what I do. It’s what I love. I’m in a perfect place to do that.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ATLANTIC COAST AS SEEN FROM INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION




“An Expedition 30 crew member aboard the International Space Station took this nighttime photograph of much of the Atlantic coast of the United States. Large metropolitan areas and other easily recognizable sites from the Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. area are visible in the image that spans almost to Rhode Island. Boston is just out of frame at right. Long Island and the New York City area are visible in the lower right quadrant. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are near the center. Parts of two Russian vehicles parked at the orbital outpost are seen in left foreground. This image was taken on Feb. 6, 2012. Image Credit: NASA”

The above picture and excerpt are from the NASA website:

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON'S INTERVIEW IN RABAT, MOROCCO


The following excerpt is from the U.S. State Department website:

“Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPR
Interview Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of StateSofitel Hotel
Rabat, Morocco
February 26, 2012

QUESTION: You got a busy day here and there’s a lot to talk about. (Laughter.) I’d like, first of all, to ask you what did you tell the Egyptian foreign minister about these cases against democracy promoters? Would you ever let these Americans appear in a courtroom in Cairo?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Michele, obviously we’ve been working on this ever since December, when we learned of the actions against not only American NGOs but NGOs from other countries as well. And we have been engaging at the highest levels of the Egyptian Government.

Our two concerns were, number one, to try to understand what the issues were, since both we and the Egyptian Government believed that our NGOs had been invited to help assist in ensuring that the elections were done in a credible way, which they were. But then also, we know that, ever since the Mubarak regime, there are a wealth of laws that are difficult to follow, even if you are intending to do so, which, of course, we were. And our NGOs kept trying to register so they could be viewed as legally entitled to operate within Egypt. So there was a lot of confusion, and the confusion was at all levels of the Egyptian Government as to what this all meant. So we have been engaging persistently and we hope that this matter will be resolved.

QUESTION: And how many Americans are now sheltering at the Embassy
?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I – the exact account, maybe, I think, 16, 17.

QUESTION: Turning to Syria, Syrian tanks have been battering Homs. There’s no sign of aid getting in. What do you and the Friends of Syria do now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think, as I’ve said, we have to continue to consult with those who truly are Friends of the Syrian People, which of course, includes the United States and the many governments and organizations that gathered in Tunis on Friday. We are doing everything we can to facilitate humanitarian aid. It was distressing to hear that the Syrian Red Crescent and the ICRC, after many hours of negotiation just yesterday, were not permitted to go back into Homs. We are looking to set up and stage areas for getting humanitarian aid in. Secondly, we continue to ratchet up the pressure. It is an increasingly isolated regime. And third, we push for a democratic transition by working with and trying to build up the opposition so they can be an alternative.

QUESTION: But activists say you need, really, humanitarian corridors. You need to get aid in and people out. How do you do that without some sort of outside intervention?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as you know, Michele, many of the people in the Syrian opposition have been quite vocal in their objection to any outside interference. And many of the countries that gathered on Friday are also quite vocal. What we tried to do in the Security Council was to get international support and legitimacy for the Arab League peace plan in order to have some leverage with the Assad regime. And unfortunately, Russia and China vetoed it.
So it’s a distressing and difficult situation. It’s not the first that the world has seen, unfortunately, but we remain engaged at every possible opening to accomplish our three objectives.

QUESTION: But there’s – there was a lot of talk about – and controversy about whether you arm the opposition, help them get arms. Is there anything the U.S. can do short of that, I mean, logistical support for the Free Syrian Army, satellite images to help them set up these humanitarian corridors?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they don’t have tanks and they don’t have artillery. So I know there’s a lot of frustration, and I share it. This is a deeply, deeply distressing set of events. But you have one of the most highly militarized, best-defended countries on earth, because, of course, they spent an enormous amount of money with their Iranian and Russian friends so equipping themselves. And even if you were to somehow smuggle in automatic weapons of some kind, you’re not going to be very successful against tanks. And so the dilemma is how do we try to help people defend themselves? How do we push the Russians, Chinese, and others, who are, in effect, defending and deflecting for the Assad regime, to realize that this is undermining not only Assad’s legitimacy but theirs as well?

QUESTION: You, in fact, called the Russians despicable on this trip.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, not personally, but in terms of actions, I think continuing to arm a government that is turning its heavy weapons against their own citizens – I mean, there are a lot of words to describe that.

QUESTION: I want you to take a step back a bit and just to look at this political earthquake in the Arab world, as your Turkish counterpart likes to call it. How have you been adjusting to this new environment, and particularly the rise of political Islam, Islamist groups?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look, I believe in freedom, and I believe in democracy, and I believe in self-determination, and I also believe in human rights and freedom and speech and freedom of religion. And so what we are supporting are – in countries that have every right to have self-determination and to set up their own democracies – the path that they’re on, and at the same time reminding Egyptians and Libyans and Tunisians and others that democracy is not one election one time. It is building institutions. It is carefully nurturing and tending the attitudes, what we call the habits of the heart, from our own early experience, a phrase of de Tocqueville.

And that’s difficult. It’s difficult for any political party or leadership. Everybody wants to believe that they’re best for their country and their people. But it’s important that the United States, which supports the aspirations of all people everywhere, also stand up for the values and principles that make democracy workable over the long term.

QUESTION: You spoke in Tunisia and Algeria about the need for moderate voices. And I wonder if you worry – if you’re worried that they’re being drowned out, that this – these changes across the region are becoming particularly violent. And what does that mean for U.S. interests?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Actually, I am not worried about where we are speaking today, here in the Maghreb. I mean, we’re in Morocco, which has had a very good election that led to new leadership taking place. I’m looking forward to working with them. I was just in Algeria, where they are planning for elections in May. And of course, you were with me in Tunis, where an Islamic-based party was elected but is in government in a coalition with parties representing other parts of view. That’s the way it should be in a democracy, because no matter who you are or where you live, there’s not unanimity of thought or feeling or political philosophy.

So I’m not expressing concern so much as speaking out about what we hope to see, because we’re judging these new governments no only what they say but what they do. And certainly in Tunisia, they are saying all the rights things. They are saying that they will protect women’s rights, that – they are saying that they will protect human rights. And now we want to see that actually take place.

But there is one element, which I am concerned about, and that is how people who were oppressed for so long – and particularly those who are of Islamic persuasion – are so well organized, because they had to be, it was a matter of survival, whereas many other voices in the society, the voices of business leaders, the voices of academia, the voices of young people are not politically organized. So wherever I go, I encourage those who are also hoping to reap the benefits of freedom and democracy to get involved in politics. I mean, politics is no easy game, as I know as well as anyone. But if you’re not at the table, then how can you blame people for pursuing certain programs that you may not agree with?

QUESTION: And you said you’re getting off the high wire of American politics after this job – (laughter) – so is there one thing that you really want to get done in this region before you leave office? You have a few months left. (Laughter.) Or is it just going to be putting out fires?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve always said from the very beginning that we do the emergencies, which are the responding to the fires right now; we do the important, which are trying to make sure that the fires don’t get out of control; and then we are looking at the long term. So it’s a constant panoply of all of these challenges.

But in particular, with respect to the Arab Spring, the coming of democracy of the Arab world, I want to see it take root. And, of course, I want to see it understand that elections are not the end, they’re the beginning, that you have to build institutions, you have to have an independent judiciary, you have to have a free press, you have to protect the rights of all minorities, religious, ethnic, you have to certainly empower and protect the rights of women. And this is at the beginning. We’re watching something unfold that is probably a generational enterprise.

So I’m encouraged in many regards by what I’ve seen in Tunisia, what I see in Morocco. The jury is out on Egypt. We’re waiting to see how that will actually be implemented. But the United States will help those who are truly invested in democracy that is not based on elevating some voices over others, imposing philosophical or religious beliefs on others, but truly having the free flow of ideas within a political culture that takes hold in these countries.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for your time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Michele.”

WHITE HOUSE UNVEILS CONSUMER PRIVACY BILL OF RIGHTS


The following illustration and excerpt are from the White House website:
February 23, 2012
"Today at the White House, the Obama Administration unveiled a blueprint for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights to protect consumers online. As the President wrote in his cover letter to the report: 
“Never has privacy been more important than today, in the age of the Internet, the World Wide Web and smart phones.  In just the last decade, the Internet has enabled a renewal of direct political engagement by citizens around the globe and an explosion of commerce and innovation creating jobs of the future. Much of this innovation is enabled by novel uses of personal information. So, it is incumbent on us to do what we have done throughout history: apply our timeless privacy values to the new technologies and circumstances of our times.”
In a related announcement, leading Internet companies and online advertising networks in the Digital Advertising Alliance came to the White House to commit to using Do Not Track technology now available in most major web browsers to make it easier for users to control online tracking.   
The White House has proposed a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights as part of a strategy to improve consumers’ privacy protections and to ensure that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.  These rights give consumers clear guidance on what they should expect from those who handle their personal information, and set expectations for companies that use personal data. With the Internet as a leading engine for economic growth, the Administration is committed to building consumer trust in a rapidly changing digital environment.    
In addition to proposing a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, the report calls for a stakeholder-driven process to specify how these rights apply in particular contexts;  strong enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC);  and greater interoperability between the United States’ privacy framework and those of our international partners. In the coming weeks, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration will begin convening companies, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to establish specific practices or codes of conduct that implement the general principles in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.  
The Administration’s plan will also help provide American companies a global, open Internet environment for export of digital goods and services abroad by laying the groundwork for increasing interoperability between the our Nation’s data privacy framework and those of our trading partners. This approach will provide consistent protections for consumers, reduce compliance costs for companies, and ensure the flexibility that is critical to innovation in the commercial world. 
The Administration has also called on Congress to pass legislation based on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights model to extend baseline privacy protections to commercial sectors that existing federal privacy laws do not cover.  New legislation should help enumerate clearer rules for privacy protection on the Internet and give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and State Attorneys General additional tools to protect consumers online.  
Members of the Digital Advertising Alliance representing nearly ninety percent of online advertising marketplace -- including GoogleYahoo!Microsoft, and AOL-- have agreed to comply when consumers choose to opt out of tracking.  This commitment will be legally-binding and can be enforced by the FTC.  The advertising industry also committed not to release consumers’ browsing data to companies who might use it for purposes other than advertising, such as employers making hiring decisions or insurers determining coverage. The Administration is encouraged by these commitments and considers them to be an example of the value of industry leadership as a critical part of privacy protection going forward. 
Today’s report, which was signed by President Obama, was developed under the leadership of the National Economic Council and the Office of Science & Technology Policy.  It builds on a preliminary report released in December 2010 by the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force. "


SECRETARY OF EDUCATION AME DUNCAN ON CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTINGS


The following excerpt is from the Department of Education website:

Statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
On the Tragic Shootings at Chardon High School in Ohio
FEBRUARY 27, 2012

“The shootings at Chardon High School are an unspeakable tragedy, and our hearts go out to the entire community as they grieve this terrible and senseless loss. It’s still too early to know yet why a student took a firearm to school and shot his classmates. But preliminary reports indicate that if it were not for the extraordinary courage of a teacher who chased the shooter out of the school, and if not for the speedy reaction of school leaders, the toll of these shootings could have been even worse. Our thoughts today are with the children, the teachers, and the parents of Chardon. The Department has been in touch with the superintendent’s office to offer our help and support. And we will do everything in our power in coming weeks and months to help support the Chardon community as it recovers from this tragedy.”

CONGRESSMAN RON PAUL SKEPTICAL OF THE RECOVERY


The following excerpt is from the Congressman Ron Paul website:

Economy Squeezed As Debt Accelerates

"Senator Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee has pointed out that our per capita government debt is already larger than Greece's.  Per person, our government owes over $49,000 compared to $38,937 per Greek citizen.  Our debt has just reached 101% of our Gross Domestic Product.  Our creditors see this and have quietly slowed down or stopped their lending to us.  As a result, the Federal Reserve has been outright monetizing debt as a way to patch things together and keep the economy on life support a little longer.  There is rapidly shrinking demand for our debt, and confidence in the dollar is falling.  This phenomenon is hidden only by the fact that confidence in all other fiat currencies is falling faster.

None of this seems to really alarm the administration, obviously, as they have just released a budget that accelerates spending and borrowing.  The reason the debt and deficits plague the economy, according to this administration, is that the American economy is not taxed enough.  Therefore, hidden in the fine print of the budget is a provision that ramps up the corporate dividends tax rate from its current 15% to 39.6%.  In addition, certain deductions and exemptions will be phased out; an additional 3.8% Obamacare investment tax surcharge will be tacked on, bringing the effective dividend tax rate to 44.8% in 2013.  Keep in mind, this is not just a tax on big business, this is a tax on anyone who depends on dividend income to live - retirees will be hit hard by these changes and dividend yielding stock prices will adjust downward rapidly to reflect their decreased value.

Not only this, but the Obama administration is worsening the uniquely American policy of taxing income of US based companies earned overseas.  No other country presumes to tax globally in this manner, so it amounts to a huge penalty for basing a company in the US.  Companies have been able to manage this penalty by deferring taxation until it is repatriated or by paying dividends.  What will happen to US based businesses with strong international ties if these allowances are abolished as the Obama administration proposes?  A massive wave of permanent capital flight will undoubtedly cause the already high levels of unemployment to rise.

Businesses are struggling and failing in this economy.  The government ultimately depends on a healthy business climate to provide jobs and a tax base.  It is penny wise and pound foolish to add to business tax burden in a misguided attempt to close the colossal gap between our government's revenue and spending. Rather than crippling and absorbing more of our shrinking economy, government needs to be drastically cut - not in 10 years, but immediately.

Those who understand the underpinnings of the dollar and how the Federal Reserve works have known for some time that we are on an unsustainable course, that major chaos is in store if nothing is done quickly to reform things.  Politicians pay lip-service to reforms that never materialize or turn out to be at best small and meaningless, or at worst actively harmful.  It seems more and more inevitable that because the necessary changes would be too inconvenient for the elites to enact now, we will get them later Greek-style, through collapse and chaos."

GREENHOUSE GAS PERMITTING THRESHOLDS WILL NOT CHANGE

The following excerpt is from an EPA e-mail:

“EPA Proposes to Keep Greenhouse Gas Permitting Requirements Focused on Largest Emitters
Options to streamline process would help state and local permitting authorities

WASHINGTON –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing not to change the greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting thresholds for the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Operating Permit programs. Today’s proposal is part of EPA’s common-sense, phased-in approach to GHG permitting under the Clean Air Act. EPA is also proposing steps that would streamline the permitting process for large emitters already covered by the agency’s program, including sources that account for nearly 70 percent of the total GHG pollution from stationary sources.

EPA’s proposal is consistent with its phased-in approach, announced in 2010, to “tailor” the requirements of the Clean Air Act to ensure that industrial facilities and state governments have the tools they need to minimize GHG emissions and that only the largest emitters need permits.

After consultation with states and evaluating the process, EPA believes that the current approach is working well, and that state permitting authorities are currently managing PSD permitting requests. Therefore, EPA has proposed not to include additional, smaller sources in the permitting program at this time.

EPAs GHG permitting program follows the same Clean Air Act process that states and industry have followed for decades to help ensure that new or modified facilities are meeting requirements to protect air quality and public health from harmful pollutants. As of December 1, 2011, EPA and state permitting authorities have issued 18 PSD permits addressing GHG emissions. These permits have required new facilities, and existing facilities that have chosen to make major modifications, to implement energy efficiency measures to reduce their GHG emissions.

The GHG Tailoring Rule would continue to address a group of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). The PSD permitting program protects air quality and allows economic growth by requiring facilities that trigger PSD to limit GHG emissions in a cost effective way. An operating permit lists all of a facility’s Clean Air Act emissions control requirements and ensures adequate monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting. The operating permit program allows an opportunity for public involvement and to improve compliance.

Under the approach maintained in this proposal, new facilities with GHG emissions of at least 100,000 tons per year (tpy) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) continue to be required to obtain PSD permits. Existing facilities that emit 100,000 tpy of CO2e and make changes increasing the GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tpy CO2e, must also obtain PSD permits.Facilities that must obtain a PSD permit, to include other regulated pollutants, must also address GHG emission increases of 75,000 tpy or more of CO2e. New and existing sources with GHG emissions above 100,000 tpy CO2e must also obtain operating permits.

EPA will accept comments on this proposal for 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register. A public hearing will be held on March 20, 2012, in Arlington, Virginia to listen to public comment about the proposal. “


Monday, February 27, 2012

U.S. GOVERNMENT WILL CONTINUE IT'S STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN

The following excerpt is from a Department of Defense American Forces Press Service e-mail:


"Officials Reaffirm Commitment to Afghan Strategy

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 - The rioting and killings that have followed the accidental burning of Qurans by coalition personnel will not change the NATO strategy in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are fully committed to continuing operations aimed at turning over security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, Little said.

Panetta and Dempsey "believe we have achieved significant progress in reversing the Taliban's momentum and in developing the Afghan security forces, and they believe that the fundamentals of our strategy remain sound," Little said in a Pentagon news conference, joined by Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, who spoke to the Pentagon press corps from the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Afghans rioted following the revelation that NATO forces inadvertently burned Islamic religious articles, including Qurans. Four Americans have been killed, including two officers serving as advisors in the Afghan interior ministry in Kabul.

It is important that the recent events not blind people to the progress being made in the country, Little said. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, in partnership with Afghan national security forces, is making progress in defeating al-Qaida and its terrorist allies and denying them the ability to maintain a safe haven in Afghanistan, he added.

Afghan rioting is decreasing, with only three demonstrations held today, Kirby said, noting that ISAF leaders have joined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in urging calm and an end to violent protests.
"We appreciate the steps President Karzai is taking to quell violence in the country, and we commend the hard work and sacrifice of the Afghan security forces who have suffered casualties attempting to quell the violence," Little said. "We respect the right of all Afghans to peaceful protest, but further bloodshed serves neither the coalition nor the Afghan people, who are themselves falling victim to violence."

Little said the relationship between ISAF forces and their Afghan partners remains strong, pointing out that U.S. forces work with 330,000 Afghan security forces to defend the country. "Together, they fight in very difficult situations, building trust and mutual respect despite recent incidents," the press secretary said.
The spirit of American, coalition and Afghan forces will be tested throughout the campaign in Afghanistan, Little said. "Anyone who believes they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly attacks is severely mistaken," he added.

The coalition will emerge from the challenges stronger and more unified, Little said. "There is much at stake in Afghanistan, and our commitment to our mission and our strategy will not waver," he said."

DHHS SAYS PETS ARE GOOD FOR HEALTH


The following excerpt is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website:

"Having a pet can help someone who has an illness, and researcher Allison Webel of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, has ideas about how it works. Webel held 12 focus groups with 48 women, with an average age of 42, who had HIV.

Owning a pet came out as one of the things that helped women manage their illness:
"The routine work of feeding the pet, and walking the pet, and coming home to the pet – and all of those positive responsibilities leads women to best manage their health." (10 seconds)
Webel thinks that what she found in these women with HIV may also be the case with people who have other chronic illnesses.
The study in the journal Women’s Health Issues was supported by the National Institutes of Health".

TOP-UP CARD FRAUD CAN MAKE YOUR FINANCES BOTTOM OUT


The following excerpt is from the USA.gov. website:

Banking and ATM Frauds
Beware: Cash Top-Up Scams
Cash top-up cards can be a convenient way to transfer money to other accounts. They are not designed to be used directly with retailers or online merchants; rather they are used to reload money on accounts that you control, such as your debit card.

Unfortunately, scammers know the ease and convenience of using these cards. They persuade you to share your top-up card number directly with them instead of using a wire or escrow service. However, if you send the top-up number you’ll be left without the merchandise you were promised or your money. To protect yourself from these scams:

Guard your top-up card like it is cash.
Be wary of advertisements where you are asked to pay with a cash top-up card.
Don’t share your top-up card number with someone you don’t know, even if a merchant asks you to e-mail it to them.
Never use these cards to pay taxes or fees on lottery or sweepstakes winnings. It’s likely that you haven’t won anything.

Protect Your PIN
Beware of “shoulder surfers.” Be suspicious of anyone lurking around an ATM or watching over your shoulder while you use your card. Some thieves even put a device over the card slot of an ATM to read the magnetic strip and record your PIN; this is known as “skimming”. If you suspect criminal activity, walk away and use a different ATM."

FORMER OHIO WILDLIFE OFFICER FOUND GUILTY OF POACHING DEER


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:

Friday, February 24, 2012
“WASHINGTON – Allan Wright, 45, of Russellville, Ohio, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Cincinnati to violating the Lacey Act by trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer, the Department of Justice announced.   Wright committed the Lacey Act crimes while he was employed as a wildlife officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.   Wright’s employment as a wildlife officer was terminated after he was indicted in August 2011.   As part of his plea agreement, Wright has agreed not to appeal his termination.

Among other things, t he Lacey Act makes it a crime for a person to knowingly transport or sell wildlife in interstate commerce when the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of state law.  The Lacey Act also makes it a crime for a person to knowingly make or submit a false record, account or label for wildlife that has been transported in interstate commerce.   Wright pleaded guilty to a total of four Lacey Act crimes based on his conduct between 2006 and 2010.

As part his plea, Wright admitted that, using his authority as a wildlife officer, he sold a resident Ohio hunting license to a non-resident hunter in 2006.   That hunter used the illegal Ohio resident hunting license to kill three white-tailed deer.   As part of his plea, Wright admitted that he “checked in” those deer by providing a false Ohio residence address for the non-resident hunter in order to make it appear that the deer were killed by an Ohio resident.   After the deer were checked in, the non-resident hunter transported them in interstate commerce from Ohio to South Carolina.

Also as part of his plea, Wright admitted that, using his authority as a wildlife officer, he seized white-tailed deer antlers from a hunter who had killed a deer illegally in 2009.   Wright admitted that, rather than disposing of the antlers through court proceedings, as required by Ohio law, he knowingly supplied them to another individual who transported them from Ohio to Michigan.  As part of his plea, Wright admitted that he filed an official state form, which falsely reported that he had personally destroyed those antlers.

Wright faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per count.   A date has not yet been set for Wright’s sentencing.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement.   This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.”

FDIC GIVES BANKING TIPS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES THROUGH IT'S NEWSLETTER


The following excerpt is from a FDIC e-mail:

“Small businesses are crucial to the U.S. economy and they're very important to their owners — the entrepreneurs who put their own money and long hours into operating and growing a company. The Winter 2011/2012 FDIC Consumer News, published by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, features practical tips and information in a collection of articles entitled "Minding Your Own Business: Banking Tips for Small Companies." This issue also includes articles on protecting senior citizens from financial fraud and theft, and guidance for consumers turned down for a checking account because of mismanagement. Here's an overview:

Banking tips for small businesses: The FDIC newsletter includes information on:
Finding loans to start and grow a small business, typically for purposes such as buying equipment and paying suppliers and employees;
Paying for everyday expenses, noting that some consumer protections with credit cards and debit cards do not apply to businesses;

Payment methods to accept other than cash;
Avoiding common frauds that target small businesses;

Depositing money in FDIC-insured accounts, including those that qualify for unlimited federal insurance coverage through 2012;

Some common questions to the FDIC from small businesses on topics such as getting or renewing a loan; and
Useful resources for small businesses from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the FDIC, other federal agencies, and elsewhere.

Frauds targeting the elderly: Each year millions of senior citizens become victims of financial fraud or theft. Often, an adult child or other relative is responsible, while other situations may involve trusted individuals such as caregivers, legal guardians, investment advisors or new "friends." The FDIC newsletter offers tips in areas such as choosing an advisor, protecting personal financial information and avoiding scams.

Guidance for consumers turned down for a checking account: Consumers who frequently write bad checks or otherwise overdraw their account may find that their bank or credit union decides to close their account. They also may have trouble opening a new checking account elsewhere. The newsletter discusses how to re-establish or maintain an account, especially the importance of using a checking account responsibly.

Direct deposit replacing federal benefit checks: People who receive federal benefit payments such as Social Security or other government pensions — or plan to soon — need to know that the U.S. Department of the Treasury is phasing out paper checks for federal benefits in favor of all-electronic delivery via direct deposit by March 1, 2013. The changes already apply to new recipients. The FDIC newsletter also says that electronic delivery of federal benefits is another reason for people who don't have a low-cost or no-cost checking or savings account to look into getting one.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

CARTOON: OUT OF ICE



                   "We drove 60 billion miles to earth to get some ice for our party and they're all out!"

PRESIDENT OBAMA OFFERS CONDOLENCES TO U.S.FAMILIES OF SOLDIERS RECENTLY KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN VIOLENCE

The following excerpt is from a Department of Defense American Forces Press e-mail"


"Obama Offers Condolences for U.S. Deaths in Afghanistan

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2012 - President Barack Obama called the commander of the International Security Assistance Force today to offer condolences for the "tragic killing of U.S. troops" in Kabul and to discuss the ongoing violence in Afghanistan.

"On behalf of the American people, the president expressed his condolences to [Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen] and to the families who lost loved ones," White House officials said in a statement today.
Initial reports indicate that an individual turned his weapon against ISAF service members in Kabul City today, killing two service members, according to an ISAF Joint Command statement.
In Kabul, Allen made the decision to protect forces by instituting the recall of ISAF-Afghanistan personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul.
"I condemn today's attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today," the general said in the statement.

Allen said an investigation is under way and officials will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. "The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered," he said.
During the call, Obama thanked Allen for the steps he's taking to protect service members and civilians in Afghanistan, and "to encourage calm."

Earlier today, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak offered condolences in a phone call with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and apologized for the incident, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
"Secretary Panetta appreciated the call and urged the Afghan government to take decisive action to protect coalition forces and curtail the violence in Afghanistan after a challenging week in the country," Little said.
Wardak told Panetta that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assembling religious leaders, parliamentarians, justices of the Supreme Court and other senior Afghan officials to take urgent steps to take such action, Little added.

The United States welcomes Karzai's statement encouraging peaceful expressions, and his call for dialogue and calm, the White House statement said.

"The United States remains committed to a partnership with the government and the people of Afghanistan, as we work to realize our shared goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and strengthening the Afghan state," the statement said.

(Cheryl Pellerin of American Forces Press Service contributed to this article.)"
 

SOLID SPACE BUCKYBALLS FOUND BY NASA


The following excerpt is from the NASA website:

“NASA'S SPITZER FINDS SOLID BUCKYBALLS IN SPACE
WASHINGTON -- Astronomers using data from NASA's Spitzer Space
Telescope have, for the first time, discovered buckyballs in a solid
form in space. Prior to this discovery, the microscopic carbon
spheres had been found only in gas form.

Formally named buckminsterfullerene, buckyballs are named after their
resemblance to the late architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic
domes. They are made up of 60 carbon molecules arranged into a hollow
sphere, like a soccer ball. Their unusual structure makes them ideal
candidates for electrical and chemical applications on Earth,
including superconducting materials, medicines, water purification
and armor.

In the latest discovery, scientists using Spitzer detected tiny specks
of matter, or particles, consisting of stacked buckyballs. They found
them around a pair of stars called "XX Ophiuchi," 6,500 light-years
from Earth.

"These buckyballs are stacked together to form a solid, like oranges
in a crate," said Nye Evans of Keele University in England, lead
author of a paper appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal
Astronomical Society. "The particles we detected are miniscule, far
smaller than the width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks
of millions of buckyballs."

Buckyballs were detected definitively in space for the first time by
Spitzer in 2010. Spitzer later identified the molecules in a host of
different cosmic environments. It even found them in staggering
quantities, the equivalent in mass to 15 Earth moons, in a nearby
galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud.

In all of those cases, the molecules were in the form of gas. The
recent discovery of buckyballs particles means that large quantities
of these molecules must be present in some stellar environments in
order to link up and form solid particles. The research team was able
to identify the solid form of buckyballs in the Spitzer data because
they emit light in a unique way that differs from the gaseous form.

"This exciting result suggests that buckyballs are even more
widespread in space than the earlier Spitzer results showed," said
Mike Werner, project scientist for Spitzer at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "They may be an important form of
carbon, an essential building block for life, throughout the cosmos."


Buckyballs have been found on Earth in various forms. They form as a
gas from burning candles and exist as solids in certain types of
rock, such as the mineral shungite found in Russia, and fulgurite, a
glassy rock from Colorado that forms when lightning strikes the
ground. In a test tube, the solids take on the form of dark, brown
"goo."

"The window Spitzer provides into the infrared universe has revealed
beautiful structure on a cosmic scale," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer
program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "In yet another
surprise discovery from the mission, we're lucky enough to see
elegant structure at one of the smallest scales, teaching us about
the internal architecture of existence."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., manages
the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the
Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.”



IMAN MOHAMED MAGID ASKS THE AFGHAN PEOPLE TO NOT "RESPOND TO WRONG WITH A WRONG"


The following excerpt is from a U.S. Department of Defense American Forces Press Service e-mail:






Imam: Afghans Should Protest in Peaceful, Nonviolent Way

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
STERLING, Va., Feb. 24, 2012 - "Don't respond to a wrong with a wrong," was the message from Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society during prayers here today.
Magid delivered the jumaa – a sermon – specifically about the Quran burning incident at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The imam spoke to about 1,000 members of the suburban Washington mosque, stressing the need to respond to the Quran burning in "a peaceful and nonviolent manner." As many as 20 Afghans may have been killed in riots near Bagram sparked by the incident.

Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, also attended the service and apologized for the incident. The imam and the assistant secretary both stressed that the incident was inadvertent and without malice. Both noted that President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, have apologized for the improper handling of the Muslim holy books.

Earlier today, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Panetta is concerned about the violence the incident has spawned. "He's hopeful that the strong response by ISAF, General Allen and others, as well as political officials to include the president of the United States, will assure the Afghan people and Muslims around the world that this is not how the United States military treats important religious texts."

Magid explained that Muslims see the Quran as the word of God from beginning to end. "The Book of Allah must be respected in all its forms," he said, likening Muslims' regard of the Quran to that of Jews toward the Torah and Christians toward the Bible.

The Defense Department and NATO commanders in Afghanistan are fully investigating the incident and will learn from it, Lavoy said.

"I come here to apologize on behalf of the Department of Defense for the incident that took place in Afghanistan this week, when American military personnel unknowingly and improperly disposed of Islamic religious materials, including the holy Quran," he said.

The International Security Assistance Force has a long tradition of handling sacred texts with respect and full consideration of religious customs and rules, Lavoy said.

"In this case, our military neglected out of ignorance long-established, correct procedures for handling religious materials," he said. "Even as we were fighting to help the Afghan people secure and govern their own country, we as a military did not meet our obligations to the Muslim community."

Lavoy thanked the Afghan workers at Bagram who discovered the incident, and he detailed subsequent actions. The military personnel immediately stopped their actions and placed the religious materials in the hands of proper religious leaders, he said. Allen privately apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and publicly apologized to the Afghan people.

"I know that apologies are never enough and do not erase this incident," Lavoy said. "We cannot undo the past. We can only forthrightly acknowledge this incident, seek to rebuild trust, improve our mutual understandings at all levels, and from them, do better in the future."

Allen directed that all 140,000 ISAF personnel will receive immediate training in the proper ways to handle religious materials. He also promised a thorough, but quick, investigation. Lavoy said those responsible will be held accountable.
The Dulles area mos
que is one of the largest in America, serving more than 6,000 families in Washington and Virginia. The mosque has a Boy Scout troop and a Girl Scout unit. The parking lot is full of soccer-mom vans with "My son is an honor student at ...." bumper stickers, and even a few trucks with faded "Go Redskins" stickers. One car had two Blue Star stickers, indicating that two members of the family are serving in the military.

"We are a bridge between America and Islam," said Rizwan Jaka, an official with the mosque. "We can communicate with both, and we need to do this. Now, we need to speak to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and ask them to respect the teachings of the Quran and respect human lives."

FDIC FAILS TO FIND ACQUIRER OF FAILED BANK'S OPERATIONS


The following excerpt is from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation website:

“The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) approved the payout of the insured deposits of Home Savings of America, Little Falls, Minnesota. The bank was closed today by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which appointed the FDIC as receiver.
The FDIC was unable to find another financial institution to take over the banking operations of Home Savings of America. The FDIC will mail directly to depositors of Home Savings of America, checks for the amount of their insured money.

Customers with questions about today's transaction, including those with accounts in excess of $250,000, should call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-523-8089. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., Pacific Standard Time (PST); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., PST; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., PST; on Monday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., PST; and thereafter from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., PST. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/homesvgs.html.

Beginning Monday, depositors of Home Savings of America with more than $250,000 at the bank may visit the FDIC's Web page "Is My Account Fully Insured?" at http://www2.fdic.gov/dip/Index.asp to determine their insurance coverage.
As of December 31, 2011, Home Savings of America had $434.1 million in total assets and $432.2 million in total deposits. The amount of uninsured deposits will be determined once the FDIC obtains additional information from those customers.
The FDIC as receiver will retain all the assets from Home Savings of America for later disposition. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.
The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $38.8 million. Home Savings of America is the eleventh FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the second in Minnesota. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Patriot Bank Minnesota, Forest Lake, on January 27, 2012.”

HHS SAYS TYPE OF CARB CONSUMED CAN AFFECT YOUR HEALTH


The following excerpt is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website:

"All carbs are not the same, and a study indicates the difference could affect a blood chemical associated with chronic conditions such as heart disease.

At Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Marian Neuhouser examined carbohydrate foods that digest more slowly, or slow carbs, and those that turn quickly into simple sugars, or fast carbs. She was looking at C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation. It was lower among about 40 overweight or obese people when they were on a slow carb eating pattern.

"The source of the carbohydrate really does matter, and I would urge consumers to choose whole grains, nonrefined grains, and so forth."  (8 seconds)
The study in the Journal of Nutrition was supported by the National Institutes of Health."

REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT IN U.S. TOPS THREE MILLION


The following excerpt is from a U.S. State Department e-mail:

Three Million: Changing Lives One Refugee at a Time
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
February 21, 2012
“The number of refugees resettled in the United States topped three million on February 15. The resettlement program continues to offer life-changing and life-saving support for refugees who have been in camps or urban locations for many years. Equally important, it serves many more refugees by preserving and expanding the humanitarian space in countries of first asylum. We have seen this vividly in the past during the Kosovo crisis, and more recently in Libya.

The 1980s saw primarily refugees resettling in the U.S. from Vietnam, Laos, and the Soviet Union. The 1990s brought large numbers of Bosnians as war engulfed the former Yugoslavia. In the 21st century, we welcomed refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq and Somalia, among others, reflecting a more diverse and expansive
program. Last year we processed refugees from 69 different countries in 92 locations.
A few statistical highlights since 1975:
· Over 1.4 million refugees from South East Asian countries
· Over 605,000 from countries of the Former Soviet Union
· Over 262,000 Africans
· Over 289,000 from the countries of Near East and South Asia
· The five largest nationalities resettled are Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Iraqi, Cuban, and Somali
· The five states that have resettled the most refugees, in descending order, are California, New York, Texas, Washington, and Florida
I recently traveled to Tennessee, where I saw the strengths of the refugee admissions program in action. While the Departments of State and Health and Human Services offer initial support to refugees in the U.S., the program is designed to encourage refugees to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. But it’s the welcoming help of local communities that is the linchpin of the program’s success. Volunteers and other community members help refugees adjust to the world around them, get settled, and integrate themselves.

We understand that the current economic situation is challenging the ability of federal, state, and non-profit agencies to broadly assist refugees in need. In response, in 2010, the Deptartment of State doubled the per-refugee stipend, and raised it again this year. The refugee admissions program is a public-private partnership. As such, non-profit agencies involved have also increased efforts to raise private resources to support refugees in need. And some businesses are stepping in to assist as well.

In Tennessee, I heard firsthand the commitment of businesses to making refugee resettlement successful. Tyson Foods support to refugees is remarkable: $100,000 per year for on-site ESL, $3,500 per year for college costs, 100% reimbursement for naturalization applications, full-time interpreters on site, financial assistance, on-site banking, and tax preparation services, all of which demonstrate why the company had only a 12.5% turnover last year and has proven to be such a strong example of leadership in integrating refugees, not just into their new community, but into the wider U.S. economy.
The Nashville mayor, police chief, and director of the mayor’s office of neighborhoods were enthusiastic about the diversity in Nashville, the civic contributions of refugees, and the collegial working relationships of service providers.

I know that many other communities around the country can point to similar experiences. In the end, all Americans benefit from our nation’s open doors – the refugees, those whose lives they touch, and the communities strengthened by their contributions.
We expect the future of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to remain strong and responsive. We will continue to partner with UNHCR to provide resettlement opportunities here in the United States – and to encourage other countries to open their doors generously as well.
As we celebrate this major milestone, we would like to thank all of you for your continued commitment to the program.
Kind regards,
David M. Robinson
Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration”

FDIC SPOTS TRENDS IN PERSONAL FINANCE


The following excerpt is from a FDIC e-mail:

Message from the FDIC 
This edition of Money Smart News is being published in advance of two key events for financial educators. One is America Saves Week (February 19-26), a nationwide annual campaign through which thousands of organizations promote good savings behavior. The other is Financial Literacy Month (April), when government agencies, private organizations and community groups make a concerted push to raise consumers’ awareness about the benefits of learning more about their financial matters.

While these are annual events, our messages as financial educators -- in the classroom and in the community -- shouldn’t be the same year after year. In other words, because of changes in the economy or the way people do business, our messaging needs to fit the current times. Don’t dust off the same approaches and delivery strategies from last year -- and the year before last -- and assume that they are timely again this year

What do we see as being new and informative in 2012? Many of the recent trends in personal financial management involve technology. For example, as part of the U.S. Treasury’s “all-electronic initiative,” all new Savings Bonds (not including those purchased using part of a tax refund at tax time) are only being issued electronically. In addition, people eligible to receive federal benefits such as Social Security and, in certain states, benefits such as unemployment insurance, must receive their money electronically instead of by check.

At the same time, commerce has caught up with how people communicate and seek information, leading to a new term: social commerce. How so? Consumers are increasingly targeted for special offers via e-mail or smartphones, and they must be vigilant to not let the promise of a “discount” lure them into an unnecessary purchase or, even worse, a fraudulent transaction. And, trends in the falling volume of U.S. mail reflect that many consumers are opting to handle their basic financial needs online -- sometimes exposing themselves to unnecessary risks and fees. That may be the case if, for example, a consumer deals online with a third-party account manager without reviewing its security and privacy policies first, or if the individual pays substantial fees to get a money advance online.

While the ways finances are handled have evolved from past years, core financial education concepts still hold true. Among them: comparison shopping for financial services, taking steps to avoid identity theft, and using a budget to manage spending. And, from a delivery standpoint, the Money Smart curriculum is regularly updated to reflect the times and is still a great tool and catalyst for bank and community partnerships to equip consumers with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate changing financial times.

This edition of Money Smart News highlights how community depository institutions have used our financial literacy curriculum to both help local residents and create new business opportunities – important and timely topics especially given that Money Smart was rolled out in 2001 as a tool for partnerships between banks and communities.

PRESIDENT OBAMA COMMENTS ON HOME-GROWN ENERGY



President Barack Obama tours the University of Miami Industrial Assessment Center in Miami, Florida, Feb. 23, 2012. The IAC is where students learn how to become industrial energy-efficiency experts as they help small to mid-sized manufacturers reduce their energy costs. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama was in Miami today to talk about securing a future for America built on home-grown energy -- and his blueprint to help us get there.
Part of the conversation focused on fuel prices -- and the fact that they're increasing. It's a real problem for people all over the country, which the President said required a real solution, not a slogan from a bumper sticker.

You know there are no quick fixes to this problem. You know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices. If we’re going to take control of our energy future and can start avoiding these annual gas price spikes that happen every year -- when the economy starts getting better, world demand starts increasing, turmoil in the Middle East or some other parts of the world -- if we’re going to avoid being at the mercy of these world events, we’ve got to have a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. Yes, oil and gas, but also wind and solar and nuclear and biofuels, and more.
As President Obama pointed out, that's a vision toward which we are making progress:

In 2010, our dependence on foreign oil was under 50 percent for the first time in over a decade. We were less reliant on foreign oil than we had been. In 2011, the United States relied less on foreign oil than in any of the last 16 years. That's the good news. And because of the investments we’ve made, the use of clean, renewable energy in this country has nearly doubled -– and thousands of American jobs have been created as a consequence.

But there is still much more that needs to be done. The President is fighting to roll back the $4 billion in tax subsidies that the oil industry receives every year. And in the weeks and months ahead, the President will continue to finding ways to invest in clean energy technologies and innovation.

The above picture and excerpt are from the White House website:


REAL ESTATE FORECLOSURE AUCTION BID RIGGER PLEADS GUILTY


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:

“SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A real estate investor pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Sacramento to conspiring to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in San Joaquin County, Calif., Sharis A. Pozen, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, and Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, announced.

Wiley C. Chandler pleaded guilty to conspiring with a group of real estate speculators who agreed to rig bids and commit mail fraud when purchasing selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin County. The goals of the conspiracies were to suppress and restrain competition, to fraudulently obtain selected real estate at noncompetitive prices and to divert money to coconspirators that would have gone to the beneficiaries, the department said in court papers.

According to the court documents, after the conspirators’ designated bidder bought a property at a public auction, they would hold a second, private auction, at which each participating conspirator would bid the amount above the public auction price he or she was willing to pay. The conspirator who bid the highest amount at the end of the private auction won the property. The difference between the price at the public auction and that at the second auction was the group’s illicit profit. The illicit profit was divided among the conspirators in payoffs. According to Chandler’s plea agreement, the conspiracies began at least early as September 2008 and continued until at least October 2009.
To date, 10 individuals, including Chandler, have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in connection with the investigation. They are: Anthony B. Ghio; John R. Vanzetti; Theodore B. Hutz; Richard W. Northcutt; Yama Marifat; Gregory L. Jackson; Walter Daniel Olmstead; Robert Rose; and Kenneth A. Swanger.

Chandler was indicted by a federal grand jury in Sacramento on Dec. 7, 2011 with three investors – Andrew B. Katakis, Donald M. Parker and Anthony B. Joachim – and one auctioneer, W. Theodore Longley. Trial dates for these individuals have yet to be set.

“The Antitrust Division will continue to cooperate with its law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who undermine the competitive market for foreclosed properties and harm consumers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Pozen.

“Public auctions are meant for the public, not for an elite group conspiring together for their own profit,” U.S. Attorney Wagner stated. “The prosecution of these defendants is necessary to protect the integrity of the housing market.”
Chandler pleaded guilty to bid rigging, a violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine 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. Chandler also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

These charges arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in certain real estate auctions in San Joaquin County. The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, the FBI’s Sacramento Division and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. Trial attorneys Anna Pletcher and Tai Milder from the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg are prosecuting the case.”

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ENDORSES RECALL OF ISAF PERSONNEL

The following excerpt is from the U.S. Department of State: 


"Panetta Supports ISAF Personnel Recall After Kabul Murders

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2012 - After learning this morning of the murders of two U.S. military officers serving in Kabul, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta backed the decision to recall International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan personnel working in ministries there, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
"This act is unacceptable and the United States condemns it in the strongest possible terms," Little said.
Initial reports indicate that an individual turned his weapon against ISAF service members in Kabul City, Afghanistan, killing two service members, according to an ISAF Joint Command statement.
It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.
In Kabul, ISAF Commander Marine Corps. Gen. John R. Allen made the decision to protect forces by instituting the recall.

"I condemn today's attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today," Allen said in the statement.

Earlier today, Little said, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak offered condolences in a phone call with Panetta and apologized for the incident.

"Secretary Panetta appreciated the call and urged the Afghan government to take decisive action to protect coalition forces and curtail the violence in Afghanistan after a challenging week in the country," Little said.
Wardak told Panetta that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assembling religious leaders, parliamentarians, justices of the Supreme Court and other senior Afghan officials to take urgent steps to take such action, Little added.

In Kabul, Allen met with Afghan Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who offered condolences to the families and apologies. The minister pledged his complete cooperation in investigating the tragedy and in taking stronger measures to protect ISAF personnel.
The general said an investigation is under way and officials will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack.

"The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered," he said.
In an interview today from Kabul, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said neither the attack nor the personnel recall would deter the United States from its overarching mission in Afghanistan.
"All of the partnership and the training we're conducting with Afghan security forces continues," he said. "The very important work we are doing throughout the country in Afghanistan continues."
The nation remains committed to a partnership with Afghanistan, Allen said, and to reaching "our common goal of a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan in the near future."