April 24, 2009

Memo: NSA director to head Cyber Command

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to nominate the director of the National Security Agency as the head of the Pentagon's new Cyber Command, according to a draft memorandum, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Gates has chosen NSA Director and three-star Gen. Keith Alexander to lead cybersecurity operations, including addressing network threats and cyberwarfare, the Journal reported.

Acting senior director of cyberspace Melissa Hathaway, who is in charge of a 60-day review of cyberspace issues, said on Wednesday that the White House needed to take leadership in cyberspace security, the New York Times reported.

A bipartisan group of politicians, technologists, and other experts had said last year that a White House office overseeing cybersecurity issues was necessary, the Times reported.

Any announcement is expected to come after cybersecurity policy recommendations are released next week, the Journal reported.

Cyber Command will begin within U.S. Strategic Command, which currently handles Internet and networking security issues, the Journal reported.

The Cyber Command would open in October in Fort Meade, Md., the same place as NSA headquarters, the Journal reported.

April 18, 2009

Obama friendly at Summit of the Americas

President Barack Obama was amiable in his first Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

The Globe and Mail said the Summit has been the scene of "Obama-mania."

The President mentioned ideas for new security and other cooperation efforts in the Western Hemisphere, the Chronicle reported.

Perhaps most notably, Obama shook the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez multiple times on Friday and Saturday, and also received a book from the leader who was at odds with the Bush administration, the Chronicle reported.

The book, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" by Eduardo Galeano, argues that Latin America has long been exploited by the United States and Europe, the Globe and Mail reported.

Ambassador exchange seems to be on the table for the United States and Venezuela, the Chronicle reported.

Obama said he would accept Cuban President Raul Castro's proposal for talks, the Chronicle reported.

The President also shook hands with Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, who had essentially been an adversary of President Reagan, the Chronicle reported.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said that the country has not yet experienced any change, the Globe and Mail reported.

April 17, 2009

CIA Interrogation Memos released, Obama won't charge interrogators

The Justice Department released memos on Thursday that had authorized the use of harsh interrogation methods in secret C.I.A. prisons abroad, the New York Times reported.

The four legal opinions were written under the Bush administration in 2002 and 2005 and gave approval and specific guidelines for C.I.A. interrogators to use techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, nudity and others, the Star Online reported.

President Barack Obama, who discontinued the techniques almost immediately upon taking office, said that his administration will not prosecute C.I.A. interrogators who carried out the techniques on the basis of the released opinions, and will try to protect them from facing international tribunals, the Star reported.

Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr. is among the current administration's officials who have classified over a dozen of the techniques as torture, the Times reported.

The memos were released due to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Times reported.

The Justice Department ethics office is currently investigating the legal analysis of the three men at the forefront of responsibility for the opinions: Jay S. Bybee, Steven G. Bradbury, and John Yoo, the Times reported.

April 8, 2009

Arab world reacts to Obama's first regional visit

The first impression of President Barack Obama for people in many Arab countries is that he appears to deeply contrast former President George W. Bush.

After Obama said to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday that the United States “is not and never will be in a war with Islam,” he drew praise from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Australian reported via Agence France-Presse. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi claimed Obama has broken from the "arrogance" of past U.S. presidents.

Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi of Saudi Arabia, who is on the government committee that rehabilitates militants away from extremism, said that Obama behavior makes it less likely for young Muslims to join terrorist groups, reported.

In Beirut on Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said he believed Obama's comments in Turkey earlier this week were sincere, the Star reported via Reuters. While he acknowledged optimism about Obama's difference from Bush - who he said did not have an open attitude with the Muslim world - Fadlallah said that the true test for Obama will be whether he can implement a policy in the face of institutions beyond his control.

The leading concern among Muslims in the Middle East is the U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reported. Abul Gheit and Fadlallah pointed to the situation as among the most pressing issues in the region. Fadlallah and Gaddafi were also clear that Obama's actions will still need to back up his words regarding engagement with the Arab world.

April 4, 2009

Obama to ease restrictions on Cuba

A senior Obama administration official told the Wall Street Journal that the President plans to lift restrictions on travel and remittance to Cuba, the Journal reported on Saturday.

President Obama would allow unlimited travel for Americans with family in Cuba, and would allow them to send unlimited funds to their relatives on the island, the Journal reported. An official announcement has not been made.

Obama does have the authority to change those restrictions, the Journal reported. The decision affects about 1.5 million Americans with family in Cuba.

The action would fulfill a campaign promise and could indicate greater willingness engage in relations with Cuba, but the administration official said that Obama does not plan to lift the trade embargo, the Journal reported.

Restrictions on travel and remittance have fluctuated along with administrations over the past 47 years, the Journal reported. More recently, the Bush administration eventually restricted travel to family visits by more immediate family members every three years.

Earlier this year, Congress passed the current policy, which allows family members to visit once every year, the Journal reported.

March 28, 2009

Obama pledges support to Red River Valley

President Barack Obama said on Saturday that his administration is lending a hand to the flood-affected areas of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and he is keeping an eye on the situation, the New York Times reported.

Obama has declared a major disaster in the area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and many other agencies and organizations are contributing to the efforts in the Red River Valley, and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said the government is prepared to house and feed up to 30,000 people for a week, reported via Agence France-Presse.

The National Weather Service said the River may have crested on Saturday in the Fargo, N.D.,-Moorhead, Minn., area, as the water level dropped under 40.7 feet after being over 40.8 feet earlier in the morning, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported. The level is still above the 112-year-old record of 40.1 feet, but below an earlier prediction of 43 feet.

While there is optimism that the level is declining, a National Weather Service meteorologist cautioned that it could fluctuate by up to a foot over the next week. Continuous water pressure against the levees will be a concern over the next week, the Star Tribune reported.

President Obama credited the volunteers, including many college and high school students, for their continuing efforts to aid their community, the Times reported.

March 26, 2009

Pentagon reports unease over China's military

Concerns about China's military development highlighted the annual Defense Department report on China's military power, which was issued on Wednesday, the International Herald Tribune reported.

The report expressed concern about the lack of transparency regarding China's intentions for its growing military power, the Boston Globe reported.

Pentagon press secretary said the report was a call for stronger high-level relations with the Chinese, which were suspended last October, the International Herald Tribune reported. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the report distorted the facts about China's People's Liberation Army.

The report also indicated an increase in the number of Chinese missiles opposite Taiwan, USA Today reported.

Earlier this month, there was a small incident between naval ships of China and the United States in the South China Sea, the Boston Globe reported.

While pointing out that China had the capacity to engage in short, intense conflicts along its borders, the report estimated that the PLA would be unable to sustain conflicts far from their border for several years, the International Herald Tribune reported.

The report did acknowledge that the PLA had contributed to international efforts of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.

March 9, 2009

Obama orders lifting of ban on funding of embryonic stem-cell research

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday that removed 8-year-old restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research, the Miami Herald reported via The Associated Press.

Obama also signed a memorandum calling for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to restore scientific integrity in government decisions, the New York Times reported.

In 2001, the Bush administration had restricted embryonic stem-cell research funding to stem-cell lines that had already been developed, supporting only research on lines already-developed lines, the Herald reported.

The executive order is directed at the National Institute of Health, requiring a draft of guidelines within the next 120 days that address embryonic stem-cell research, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Stem cells derived from embryos are able to develop into any type of tissue, but the embryo must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells, the Journal reported.

Advocates of embryonic stem-cell research point to the possibilities of discoveries of treatments for many diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, the Times reported.

Opponents of the research argue that the destruction of embryos is destruction of human life, the Journal reported. They also point out the progress and possibilities of research on non-embryonic adult stem-cells, derived from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow or skin, the Times reported.

Obama said he hoped Congress would pass bipartisan legislation removing further restrictions, the Times reported.

March 8, 2009

Obama suggests outreach to Taliban, Karzai agrees

President Barack Obama said in an interview with the New York Times on Friday that it could be worthwhile to reach out to some moderate elements of the Taliban as part of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, the Times reported.

Obama said that there could be "comparable opportunities" to the efforts in Iraq to reach out to some militant groups alienated by Al-Qaida, the Times reported.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday that he the idea is "good news," and that identifying and reconciling with moderate parts of the Taliban has been the position of the Afghan government, the Star Tribune reported via The Associated Press.

Karzai said that some of the Taliban are beyond reconciliation. But he said that those who are fearful of returning to their country, or feel they are forced to stay with the Taliban, are welcome to reconciliation, the Star Tribune reported.

While Obama said that "troops are doing an extraordinary job in a difficult situation," he said the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan, acknowledging that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is complex, the Times reported.

NASA launches telescope in search of Earths

NASA launched a telescope on Friday in search of other Earth-like planets, the New York Times reported.

The spacecraft Kepler was launched from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday night, the Times reported.

Over its three and a half years in orbit of the Sun, it will observe about 100,000 stars, ranging from 600 to 3,000 light years away, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

By looking continuously at the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, Kepler will look for any blips in the brightness of stars, which could indicate a planet, the Times reported.

A project manager of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said it is similar to a nighttime observation of an insect moving across a car headlight, the Chronicle reported.

Scientists are specifically looking for planets that are comparable to the Earth's size and composition, and are within a distance from a star that could support life, the Chronicle reported. Multiple scientists said that the project could answer the question of how common Earth-like planets are in the universe.

Astronomers on the project estimate that there could be dozens of such planets, the Times reported.

The entire project cost about $600 million, the Chronicle reported.

February 27, 2009

Obama plans to end combat in Iraq by Aug. 2010

President Barack Obama announced on Friday his plan to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq within 18 months, the Star reported.

Obama told 2,000 Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that combat operations would end by August 31, 2010, with many troops being withdrawn from Iraq, where 4,250 U.S. soldiers have died, the International Herald Tribune reported.

He said he plans to leave 30,000 to 50,000 in Iraq until the end of 2011, the Mail Online reported. Their purpose would be to train and equip the Iraqi army, protect civilian reconstruction projects, and conduct counter-terrorism operations.

While following through on a campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, Obama had also ordered 17,000 troops to Afghanistan last week, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Obama's plan for involvement in Iraq spurred criticism from many Republicans. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, however, said he believes the plan is reasonable and plans to support it, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Obama said his administration would pursue regional diplomacy in the Middle East, including with Iran and Syria, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Obama shared his plans with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and with former President George W. Bush, before his address in Camp Lejeune, the Star reported.

February 25, 2009

Senate opens up D.C. Representation Question

The District of Columbia will have another chance at gaining a full representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, after the Senate voted on Tuesday to consider a bill that would add two seats to the House, beginning in January 2011, the New York Times reported.

The bill would include addition of a House seat for the District and add another representative for Utah, presumably adding one Democratic and one Republican seat to bring the total to 437 representatives, the Washington Post reported. The District currently has a delegate without full voting power in the House.

The Senate voted 62 to 34 to consider such legislation for the first time since 1978. Two years ago, a Senate filibuster blocked it from consideration, the Washington Post reported.

The District's population of 600,000 is comparable to that of multiple states, the New York Times reported.

Opponents of the bill argue that it contradicts the Constitution's statement that representatives are chosen "by the people of the several states," the Washington Post reported.

Although there is optimism about the bill's passage and the support of President Obama, a court challenge or constitutional amendment may stand in its way, the New York Times reported.

February 20, 2009

Obama speaks to U.S. mayors about stimulus

President Barack Obama spoke to the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., on Friday, saying that he expects mayors to be responsible and accountable in using money from the economic stimulus package on the local level, the New York Times reported.

The president said that, in asking for Americans' trust in its handling of the economic stimulus package, the government has "obligations to spend that money wisely, free from politics and free from personal agendas," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported via the Associated Press.

The president said that he would "call out" any federal agencies and state or local governments that propose wasteful spending, the Journal-Constitution reported.

Earlier in the week, the administration released the outline for how government agencies and other organizations will be required to report spending. Reports will then be accessible through a new website devoted to the Journal-Constitution reported.

The Times reported that two mayors said that they were focused on how to use the money, rather than on questioning the passed legislation.

Some pointed to the need for the state leaders to properly and efficiently administer the funds to the local governments, the Journal-Constitution reported.

February 15, 2009

Congress Passes Stimulus Bill

Finally settling on a $787 billion bill, Congress passed the national economic stimulus legislation Friday, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported.

Voting on the bill was partisan, as no House Republicans voted in favor of the package, and just three Republican senators gave their support, the Journal reported.

The Senate had adopted a rule that the bill would require 60 votes to pass. For that reason, the bill waited for the vote of Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who was traveling to Washington on Friday, the Times reported.

The bill includes provisions for tax cuts and credits, and spending on unemployment benefits, education and health care in states, infrastructure, and scientific and technological research, the Journal reported.

The Congressional Budget Office anticipates that nearly three quarters of the package will be spent in the next year and a half, the Times reported.

The amount of the bill will be equal to 2.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product over the next two years, as compared to the New Deal legislation of the 1930s that never rose above 1.5 percent of the annual U.S. GDP, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer told the Journal.

February 7, 2009

Sources: Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids

Sources have revealed that baseball star Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, Sports Illustrated reported.

Rodriguez, the third baseman for the New York Yankees, is on a list of 104 players (over 5 percent of who tested positive during the 2003 season, sources have told Sports Illustrated. Major League Baseball tested players anonymously in 2003 to assess the need for mandatory random drug testing that was eventually implemented - along with penalties for positive tests - in 2004. While refraining from comment about Rodriguez's tests, a statement by Major League Baseball said that 2003 testing "was intended to be non-disciplinary and anonymous."

Federal agents obtained Rodriguez's testing information in an April 2004 seizure of the 2003 test results from Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., as part of the investigation of 10 players linked to the steroid distribution activity of Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative. The list of players, however, remains sealed in California, Sport Illustrated reported.

Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and Primobolan (chemical name methenolone). As was the case in 2003, Primobolan is not an approved prescription drug, while testosterone can be taken with prescription, Sports Illustrated reported.

As the shortstop for the Texas Rangers in 2003, Rodriguez won the first of his three American League Most Valuable Player awards, leading the league in home runs for the third consecutive year.

February 6, 2009

Confirmation Hearing for CIA leadership focuses on contrasts

Thursday's beginning of the confirmation hearing of Leon Panetta as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency focused on his leadership as it would contrast to the doctrines and practices of the George W. Bush presidency, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported.

President Barack Obama has set out new rules of interrogation, but Panetta said that he would request approval from the administration to use methods outside of the outlined rules, if he believed interrogators were not able to extract information from a suspected terrorist, the Times reported.

Panetta said he believes that the CIA can collect information to protect the country and still abide by the law, the Times reported.

Panetta, a former chief of staff under President Bill Clinton said he believes waterboarding is indeed torture, although he said that government employees who carried out waterboarding upon being informed by the government that it was legal should not be prosecuted, the Journal reported.

Panetta was also asked about his flights on the airplane of an individual under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee and the Internal Revenue Service, the Journal reported.

January 29, 2009

New Developments in Bonds Perjury Case

Federal prosecutors have new evidence that will bear on the perjury trial of former baseball star Barry Bonds, according to anonymous sources.

The New York Times reported that federal authorities had obtained urine samples that would prove Bonds used anabolic steroids while playing for the San Francisco Giants.

Bonds will be tried starting March 2 for charges that he lied to a grand jury in 2003, when he said he had not knowingly used steroids.

In his testimony over five years ago, Bonds said he unknowingly used two performance-enhancing drugs.

ESPN reported that Bonds' former teammate, Bobby Estalella, has been subpoenaed for the March 2 trial. Estalella played with Bonds for the Giants in 2000 and 2001. He has been linked to steroid use.

Estalella could testify regarding his knowledge of Bonds' activity and his relationship with Bonds' former personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who allegedly provided steroids to several major league baseball players.