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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 127727 times)
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« Reply #3765 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 07:59am »

Reuters

Euro zone 2010 deficit down but Greece and Portugal up

By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS | Tue Apr 26, 2011 6:57am EDT

(Reuters) - The euro zone's overall budget gap fell last year but deficits in Greece and Portugal were higher than expected, underlining the challenges presented by their austerity programs.

The 17-member euro zone is struggling to restore confidence in its public finances and tackle a debt crisis that has forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek emergency funding from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The European Union's statistics office said the budget gap in the euro zone in 2010 was 6.0 percent of gross domestic product, down from 6.3 percent in 2009. Public debt, however, rose to 85.1 percent, from 79.3 percent in 2009.

The data from Eurostat showed that all euro zone countries except Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Austria improved their budget balance last year, even though debt rose in all euro zone countries except Estonia.

"Collectively, the state of the public finances in the euro zone is not as bad as in the UK, the US or Japan. The problem, of course, is the huge divergence at national level," said Ken Wattret, chief euro zone economist at BNP Paribas.

Greece and Portugal were the biggest disappointments, with their budget shortfalls higher than government estimates.

Eurostat said Greece cut its budget gap to 10.5 percent of GDP from 15.4 percent in 2009. The European Commission and Athens had estimated the deficit at 9.6 percent.

Greek public debt rocketed to 142.8 percent of GDP, from 127.1 percent in 2009.

The Greek finance ministry said the higher deficit was a result of a deeper-than-expected recession and that Greece would do everything to meet targets under its EU/IMF program.

"The fact that the Greek deficit ratio for 2010 is now also in double-digit territory should further fuel the debate about Greek sovereign debt restructuring," said Ralph Solveen, economist at Commerzbank.

Some German officials have said that a restructuring of the Greek debt could be supported by Berlin, although the official German government position is that there are no such plans.

"Today's figures show that a sustained stabilization of Greek government finances is still a very long way off," Solveen said.

"While last year, Greece managed to lower its deficit ratio by just under 5 percentage points compared to 2009, many observers doubt that such progress will be repeated in the years ahead," he said.

Eurostat said that Portugal's budget deficit was 9.1 percent of GDP last year, rather than the 8.6 percent forecast by the government. The final 2010 budget balance is also well above the initial Portuguese target of 7.3 percent of GDP.

"Today's figures have reduced the chances for Portugal to in fact limit its 2011 deficit to 4.6 percent of GDP," Solveen said.

"Further austerity measures and tax hikes will be necessary - something the IMF and the EU will likely also demand in turn for their financial support," he said.

Ireland saw its budget deficit more than double to 32.4 percent of GDP last year, from 14.3 percent in 2009, and its debt jumped to 96.2 percent from 65.6 percent as the country had to borrow to bail out its banking sector.

(Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos)

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, editing by Rex Merrifield)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/26/us-eurozone-debt-idUSTRE73P1LY20110426

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« Reply #3766 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 08:05am »

Wired Danger Room

Sega Bombs, Magnet Mines: Terror Tech from WikiLeaks’ Gitmo Files
By Spencer Ackerman
April 25, 2011 | 10:49 am
Categories: Info War


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Photo: Joint Task Force-Guantanamo


Remember this the next time you plug in your Sega Genesis for some throwback gameplay: al-Qaida once wanted to set off bombs concealed in your game cartridges.

That’s just one of the baroque examples of the terror group’s experimental techniques in mayhem. More than 90 documents relating to detainees at Guantanamo Bay disclosed by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks detail several others. Allegedly, al-Qaida had a nuclear bomb as early 2004. It wanted to use magnets to set mines on U.S. Navy ships. And it thought altimeter watches would make good detonators.

Now: No one knows how much of the information contained in WikiLeaks’ “Gitmo Files” is true. Indeed, it’s best to take the files with a shaker full of salt.

Information on the detainees comes from a variety of dubious sources: fragmentary info from when they were captured, which is often a hash of battlefield confusion; Gitmo snitches looking to win their freedom; and torture, especially in the case of detainees housed for years in hidden CIA prisons known as black sites.

(Our sister blog, Threat Level, discusses why this might be the last document dump from accused Army leaker Bradley Manning.)

Nothing in the documents gives any indication of what techniques interrogators used to extract specific pieces of information from a detainee. Better to read these documents for indications of what U.S. officials believed Gitmo detainees to know, rather than proof of what the detainees in fact knew.

But the documents suggest al-Qaida looked to the gaming world for terrorist inspiration. One of the highest ranking al-Qaida detainees held at Guantanamo — after a year in the CIA’s hidden “black site” prisons — is Abu Faraj al-Libi. He is believed to have replaced Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in managing al-Qaida’s foreign terror operations. One of his most potent weapons was Sega.

A September 2002 raid on an al-Qaida safehouse in Karachi, Pakistan, turned up “over 20 radio-type detonating devices,” records al-Libi’s 2008 detainee assessment, written by Guantanamo officials. “The devices were built inside of black ‘Sega’ videogame cartridges and were designed for remote activation through use of a cellphone.”

The source for that information is Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, al-Libi’s former deputy and fellow black-site resident, who was recently convicted in a Manhattan court of involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

A harder case to credit from al-Libi’s Gitmo File holds that al-Qaida possessed a nuclear weapon in 2004 — as an insurance policy against the death or capture of Osama bin Laden. He told an associate that the bomb was located “in Europe” and al-Qaida was trying to use “Europeans of Arab or Asian descent” to move it. The idea was to detonate the bomb “in the U.S.” if bin Laden went down. But al-Libi lamented that “al-Qaida currently had no operatives in the U.S.,” as of June or July 2004.

A different plot held that al-Libi wanted to use “altimeter watches” to set off explosives smuggled onto an Indian airliner. Accordingly, the Daily Telegraph reports that a “certain model of Casio watch from the 1980s were seized by American forces in Afghanistan.”

The documents also contain clues about al-Qaida’s early experimentation with homemade bombs, the signature weapons of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. They’re not what you might expect. Egyptian detainee Tariq Mahmud Ahmed, captured during al-Qaida’s 2001 escape from Tora Bora, developed “specialized improvised explosive devices” for the terror group. Those included “limpet mines” — a mine that clamps onto a ship’s hull using magnets — “to sink U.S. naval vessels and the prototype for the shoe-bomb used in a failed attack on a civilian transatlantic flight.”

Ahmed was recommended for release from Gitmo in 2007 for good behavior.

These aren’t nearly the gamut of alleged al-Qaida tactics, techniques and procedures. WikiLeaks hasn’t even released 100 out of the 779 documents from Guantanamo it claims to possess. Gitmo Files for many of the highest ranking detainees, including many inmates of the CIA’s black sites, haven’t come to light yet.

Again, some of this stuff is hard to believe. (A nuclear bomb in al-Qaida’s possession? That it hasn’t used? Really?) And none of these techniques are known to have manifested in actual attempted attacks, unless you count the shoe bombing.

But just because a terror technique cited in the documents hasn’t been used by al-Qaida doesn’t mean it’s bunk. It’s an adaptive organization, and it can be expected to jettison certain practices if their architects are captured, the better to guard against countermeasures.

It might not have limpet mines, for instance, but the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole demonstrates al-Qaida’s interest in detonating Navy ships. Think about that the next time you play Sonic.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/04/sega-bombs-magnet-mines-terror-tech-from-wikileaks-gitmo-files/

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« Reply #3767 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 08:11am »

Science Daily

Scientists Create Stable, Self-Renewing Neural Stem Cells

ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2011)

— In a paper published in the April 25 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco and colleagues report a game-changing advance in stem cell science: the creation of long-term, self-renewing, primitive neural precursor cells from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that can be directed to become many types of neuron without increased risk of tumor formation.


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Depicts cultured, self-renewing primitive neural precursors derived from human embryonic stem cells using molecule inhibitors.
(Credit: UC San Diego School of Medicine)



"It's a big step forward," said Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and human genetics at Shiley Eye Center and director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine, both at UC San Diego. "It means we can generate stable, renewable neural stem cells or downstream products quickly, in great quantities and in a clinical grade -- millions in less than a week -- that can be used for clinical trials and, eventually, for clinical treatments. Until now, that has not been possible."

Human embryonic stem cells hold great promise in regenerative medicine due to their ability to become any kind of cell needed to repair and restore damaged tissues. But the potential of hESCs has been constrained by a number of practical problems, not least among them the difficulty of growing sufficient quantities of stable, usable cells and the risk that some of these cells might form tumors.

To produce the neural stem cells, Zhang, with co-senior author Sheng Ding, PhD, a former professor of chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute and now at the Gladstone Institutes, and colleagues added small molecules in a chemically defined culture condition that induces hESCs to become primitive neural precursor cells, but then halts the further differentiation process.

"And because it doesn't use any gene transfer technologies or exogenous cell products, there's minimal risk of introducing mutations or outside contamination," Zhang said. Assays of these neural precursor cells found no evidence of tumor formation when introduced into laboratory mice.

By adding other chemicals, the scientists are able to then direct the precursor cells to differentiate into different types of mature neurons, "which means you can explore potential clinical applications for a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases," said Zhang. "You can generate neurons for specific conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson's disease or, in the case of my particular research area, eye-specific neurons that are lost in macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa or glaucoma."

The new process promises to have broad applications in stem cell research. The same method can be used to push induce pluripotent stem cells (stem cells artificially derived from adult, differentiated mature cells) to become neural stem cells, Zhang said. "And in principle, by altering the combination of small molecules, you may be able to create other types of stem cells capable of becoming heart, pancreas, or muscle cells, to name a few."

The next step, according to Zhang, is to use these stem cells to treat different types of neurodegenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration or glaucoma in animal models.

Funding for this research came, in part, from grants from National Institutes of Health Director's Transformative R01 Program, the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Eye Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a VA Merit Award, the Macula Vision Research Foundation, Research to Prevent Blindness, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research and the Richard and Carol Hertzberg Fund.

Co-authors of the study include Wenlin Li, Yu Zhang, Wanguo Wei, Rajesh Ambasudhan, Tongxiang Lin, Janghwan Kim, Department of Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute; Woong Sun, Xiaolei Wang, UCSD Institute for Genomic Medicine and Shiley Eye Center, Department of Anatomy, Korea University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea; Peng Xia, Maria Talantova, Stuart A. Lipton, Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging and Stem Cell Research, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute; Woon Ryoung Kim, Department of Anatomy, Korea University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110425153554.htm

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« Reply #3768 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 08:17am »

Blastr

Doctor Who season premiere BBC America's highest-rated show ever

By Scott Edelman
7:42PM on Apr 25, 2011


If you think you were nervous about Saturday's Doctor Who season-six premiere, just imagine how the creators must have felt. While we were worrying whether it would be any good, they were worrying whether we'd even turn up for another dose of Matt Smith.

Well, the numbers and the positive critical response show that neither of us had anything to worry about. That is ... in the U.S. The U.K. reception was a different matter entirely.

According to TV By the Numbers, "The Impossible Astronaut," the first episode of the new season, was BBC America's highest-rated, most-watched telecast ever in the Live + Same Day category, reaching almost 1.3 million viewers, which was up by 71,000 viewers from the network's previous best, which was LAST season's opening episode of Doctor Who.

The news from the other side of the pond wasn't as positive, however. According to the BBC, the first episode in the U.K. was "watched by an average audience of 6.5 million viewers," which sounds pretty good until you realize that this "was down from the eight million recorded by overnight figures on Matt Smith's show debut in April 2010."

In fact:

While final consolidated viewing figures—which include playback on recording devices—will push ratings higher, "The Impossible Astronaut" is likely to be the least watched series opener since Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005.

http://blastr.com/2011/04/doctor-who-season-premier.php

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« Reply #3769 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 09:27am »

Here's YOUR Front row seat at Cape Canaveral …

This is the stuff you DON'T
see. Do NOT turn up the volume -
this movie clip is SILENT - until the last few seconds!

Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=KZrFC988Thc


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« Reply #3770 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 10:19am »

I introduce to you a press release-testimony I have written to discuss the presumed existence of a hush-hush military Space program called "Project Redsun", carried out in the '70s of the last century to build a stationary base on Mars, the Red Planet. My source of information - named by me "bravoxsierra24" - has contacted me by email. it is possible to reproduce the pages of the press release, and the picture here presented as well.

http://www.angelismarriti.it//images/DSCN0273.JPG

http://www.angelismarriti.it//images/projectredsun-pressrelease-scantamburlo2011-page1.jpg

http://www.angelismarriti.it//images/projectredsun-pressrelease-scantamburlo2011-page2.jpg

http://www.angelismarriti.it//images/projectredsun-pressrelease-scantamburlo2011-page3.jpg


© L. Scantamburlo - www.angelismarriti.it
Reproduced by permission.
« Last Edit: Apr 26th, 2011, 10:20am by CA519705950 » User IP Logged

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« Reply #3771 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 1:55pm »

The soil on that pic rather reminds me of the Moon instead of Mars.

on Apr 26th, 2011, 09:27am, Swamprat wrote:
Here's YOUR Front row seat at Cape Canaveral …

This is the stuff you DON'T
see. Do NOT turn up the volume -
this movie clip is SILENT - until the last few seconds!

Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=KZrFC988Thc



Wow! And what a powerful crane. shocked
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« Reply #3772 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 2:15pm »

Good afternoon ya'll,

Thanks for the articles.





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« Reply #3773 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 3:57pm »

LMAO!
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« Reply #3774 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 4:21pm »

on Apr 26th, 2011, 3:57pm, CA519705950 wrote:
LMAO!


Glad you liked it CA5.
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« Reply #3775 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 4:24pm »

Wired Threat Level

FBI vs. Coreflood Botnet: Round 1 Goes to the Feds
By Kim Zetter
April 26, 2011 | 2:46 pm
Categories: Crime, Hacks and Cracks, The Courts


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The FBI’s unprecedented effort to behead the Coreflood botnet — comprised of millions of hacked Windows machines — appears to be working, at least for now. The bureau has tracked a dramatic decline in the number of pings from the botnet since the takedown operation began earlier this month, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department on Monday.

The number of pings from infected U.S. systems plummeted from nearly 800,000 to less than 100,000 in about a week after authorities began sending out “stop” commands to those machines — a drop of nearly 90 percent. Pings from infected computers outside the U.S. have also dropped about 75 percent, likely as a result of a parallel outreach effort to foreign ISPs.

The government’s efforts have “temporarily stopped Coreflood from running on infected computers in the United States,” writes the government in its filing, “and have stopped Coreflood from updating itself, thereby enabling anti-virus software vendors to release new virus
signatures that can recognize the latest versions of Coreflood.”

The Justice Department asked the court to extend authorization (.pdf) for “Operation Adeona” for an additional 30 days, through May 25, so the feds can continue to temporarily disable the malware as it reports in from infected hosts.

Interestingly, the new filing also hints that the government may soon formally seek court permission to take the next step, and actually instruct infected computers to permanently uninstall the malware. It would be the first time a government agency automatically removed code from Americans’ computers.

“The process has been successfully tested by the FBI on computers infected with Coreflood for testing purposes,” writes FBI Special Agent Briana Neumiller in a declaration to the court (.pdf).

The takedown operation began two weeks ago, when the Justice Department obtained an unprecedented court order allowing the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service to swap out command-and-control servers that were communicating with machines infected with Coreflood – malicious software used by criminals to loot a victim’s banking accounts — and replace them with servers controlled by the FBI.

The controversial order also allowed the government to collect the IP addresses of any infected machines that subsequently contacted the FBI-controlled servers and to push out a remote “exit,” or stop, command to them to temporarily disable the Coreflood malware running on the machines.

The temporary order, which expired Monday, allowed the government to seize five computers and 15 internet domain names that were controlling the Coreflood botnet. Companies operating the relevant DNS name servers were ordered by the court to redirect traffic headed for those domains to two domains controlled by U.S. authorities – NS1.Cyberwatchfloor.com and NS2.Cyberwatchfloor.com. Additionally, authorities in Estonia seized other servers believed to have been previously used to control the Coreflood botnet.

When infected computers pinged, or “beaconed,” one of the FBI servers to initiate communication, the server returned a command designed to stop the Coreflood malware from operating on the machine.

The command, however, is only a temporary measure, since the Coreflood software restarts whenever an infected machine is rebooted and then sends another beacon to control servers. Thus, the FBI’s intervention software has to resend the stop command each time the malware sends a beacon, until the victim removes Coreflood from his system. The government has assured the court that this causes no harm to computers.

When authorities executed the server swap the evening of April 12, the response was immediate. According to the documents, on April 13, nearly 800,000 beacons came into the decoy servers from infected machines in the U.S. But the next day, the number of beacons had dropped to about 680,000, and steadily declined over the week.

The most drastic decline, however, occurred on April 16, a Saturday, when the number of beacons numbered fewer than 150,000. Although the number jumped to about 210,000 on Monday — likely because some users shut down their computers for the weekend then turned them on again on Monday, relaunching the Coreflood malware — the numbers have continued to decline since that day. On April 22, the last date for which data is available, the number of beacons hovered at around 90,000.

The numbers suggest three scenarios: some people with infected computers have left their systems running and have not rebooted since they received the FBI stop command, thus reducing the number of beacons coming in; other users may have disconnected infected machines from the internet until they can remove the infection; at least some users have successfully deleted the malware from their system.

The latter was made easy by an update that Microsoft made to its free Malicious Software Removal Tool, which removes Coreflood from infected computers. Anti-virus firms have also added signatures to their products to detect the Coreflood malware and help thwart the spread of additional infections.

It should be noted that the number of beacons coming into FBI servers doesn’t directly correlate to the total number of machines infected with Coreflood, since multiple beacons can come from a single infected computer that gets rebooted.

In addition to sending a stop command to infected computers, the FBI collected the IP addresses of every machine that contacted its servers, dividing them into U.S. based addresses and foreign ones. From the U.S.-based addresses, they were able to track infected computers to two defense contractors, three airports, five financial institutions, 17 state and local government agencies, 20 hospital and health care entities, about 30 colleges and universities and hundreds of other businesses.

In one case, after the FBI notified a hospital that it was infected, the staff there found Coreflood on 2,000 of its 14,000 computers, according to court documents.

The FBI has passed infected IP addresses outside the U.S. to relevant foreign law enforcement agencies to contact users, and has been working with ISPs in the U.S. to notify infected users here and to explain the nature of the “stop” command the agency sent to infected computers.

“At no point will the FBI or ISC exercise control over any infected computers, or obtain any data from any infected computers,” reads a memo given to users.

Should users want Coreflood to continue running on their machines for some reason, they can “opt out” from receiving the FBI stop command. The instructions for opting out, however, are buried in a 2010 Microsoft document titled “Microsoft TCP/IP Host Name Resolution Order” that most users are likely to find beyond comprehension.

Users are also given a separate form to authorize authorities to delete Coreflood from their computers if they choose. As FBI Agent Neumiller suggests in her declaration to the court, this could be accomplished with a remote command similar to the stop command.

“Removing Coreflood in this manner could be used to delete Coreflood from infected computers and to ‘undo’ certain change made by Coreflood to the Windows operating system when Coreflood was first installed,” she writes. “The process does not affect any user files on an infected computer, nor does it require physical access to the infected computer or access to any data on the infected computer.”

“While the ‘uninstall’ command has been tested by the FBI and appears to work, it is nevertheless possible that the execution of the ‘uninstall’ command may produce unanticipated consequences, including damage to the infected computers.”

At the beginning of 2010, Coreflood encompassed more than 2 million infected machines worldwide, the majority of them in the U.S. Coreflood is malicious software used by its controllers to steal online banking credentials from a victim’s computer to loot their financial accounts. In one case, the criminals managed to initiate more than $900,000 in fraudulent wire transfers from the bank account of a defense contractor in Tennessee before they were discovered. An investment company in North Carolina lost more than $150,000 in fraudulent wire transfers.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/04/coreflood_results/

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« Reply #3776 on: Apr 26th, 2011, 4:51pm »

on Apr 26th, 2011, 4:21pm, WingsofCrystal wrote:
Glad you liked it CA5.
Crystal

I did indeed, thanks WoC!
Though you didn't strike me as the sort of person that would find rude language amusing shocked.
You learn something new every day!
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« Reply #3777 on: Apr 27th, 2011, 07:27am »

on Apr 26th, 2011, 4:51pm, CA519705950 wrote:
I did indeed, thanks WoC!
Though you didn't strike me as the sort of person that would find rude language amusing shocked.
You learn something new every day!


Good morning CA5,

I usually don't like things full of obscenity but this one was pretty funny! Obscenities are pure laziness in films. They count on that instead of writing good scripts.

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« Reply #3778 on: Apr 27th, 2011, 07:29am »

Washington Post

Obama expected to announce national security team changes this week

By Karen DeYoung
Tuesday, April 26, 9:45 PM

President Obama is expected to announce long-anticipated changes in his national security team this week, including a new ambassador to Afghanistan, according to administration officials familiar with internal deliberations.

The officials, who provided information on the condition of anonymity, said as many as four high-level appointments could be announced as soon as Thursday, a changing of the guard that would probably involve the naming of a replacement for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on what he said were “personnel” matters. Senior congressional aides said the administration has not informed national-security-related committees of any firm decisions.

But the officials said that Ryan C. Crocker, a five-time ambassador who retired in 2009 after wartime service in Iraq, is likely to be named to take over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, reuniting him with Gen. David H. Petraeus, who headed U.S. forces in Iraq during Crocker’s tenure there and now commands the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. Crocker, who has resisted several administration attempts to persuade him to return to service, met privately with Obama early this month, the officials said.

A Petraeus-Crocker reunion would be brief, however, with Petraeus due to end his Afghan tour within the next several months.

Gates’s departure this year has been widely discussed, including by the defense secretary himself. The question facing the White House has been whether to announce a series of related changes all at once or space them out over a period of months.

According to Pentagon sources and others, the leading candidate to replace Gates is still CIA Director Leon Panetta. As head of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, Panetta helped negotiate the 1993 budget bill, and he is seen as likely to continue the defense procurement and budget reforms Gates has begun.

Petraeus, who in Afghanistan has continued the close collaboration with the CIA that he began in Iraq, emerged last month as a contender for the CIA director’s job and indicated that he was interested. Marine Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, deputy of the U.S. Central Command, is likely to succeed Petraeus as commander of U.S., NATO and coalition forces in Afghanistan, officials said.

This year’s turnover will also include Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose second two-year term ends in September. But officials said that position is unlikely to be included in this week’s announcements.

The changes come at a crucial moment for Obama’s foreign policy: amid turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East, a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year and what the administration has described as a make-or-break summer in Afghanistan.

Crocker and Petraeus were widely hailed as a “dream team” that turned around the Iraq war beginning in 2007, when President George W. Bush ordered a “surge” in U.S. forces as that country spiraled into sectarian civil strife. Both men have many supporters in Washington.

But the Obama administration — which kept Gates, a Bush appointee, at the Pentagon even as it criticized Bush’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — has been reluctant to appear to be further duplicating the Bush team.

While long lists have circulated with possible replacements for Gates and Mullen, finding a new ambassador for Afghanistan has been one of the administration’s most difficult tasks. Retired Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is unpopular with the State Department and has frequently been at odds with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Crocker’s name has been floated for virtually every senior diplomatic position dealing with the Arab world and South Asia. His likely appointment as ambassador to Afghanistan was reported Tuesday by the Associated Press.

Before serving in Iraq, he was U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007 and was a senior State Department official on Middle East issues during Bush’s first term. In 2002, he was sent to Afghanistan to reopen the American Embassy in Kabul after the Taliban was ousted.

Crocker also served as ambassador to Syria from 1998 to 2001, to Kuwait from 1994 to 1997 and to Lebanon from 1990 to 1993. Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in 2009 when he retired to become dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University — a position once held by Gates.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-expected-to-announce-national-security-team-changes-this-week/2011/04/26/AF6qMttE_story.html?hpid=z2

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The Hill

Debt ceiling debate muddied by TARP vote
By Mike Lillis - 04/26/11 07:53 PM ET

The fight to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling has been made tougher by the public’s lingering disgruntlement with the Wall Street bailout.

Like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the debt-ceiling hike is seen by most economists as vital to the nation’s economy. But also like the TARP, it would require Washington to borrow enormous amounts of money, making it wildly unpopular with the public — and with a host of congressional conservatives who built their 2010 campaigns around promises of fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction.

The resulting dynamics have left congressional leaders — particularly House Republicans — to straddle the divide, hoping to protect the economy without losing favor with voters. The public’s enduring unease with the Wall Street bailout, according to voices on and off Capitol Hill, has only complicated the debate.

“It’s created a bad taste for many people,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who supported the TARP in 2008 and is now urging passage of a “clean” debt-limit hike. Welch characterized both policies as “politically unpopular but fundamentally necessary.”

“Anything that has the implication that it’s about permitting more spending, people recoil against,” he said.

Wall Street leaders are also urging Congress to pass a quick debt-ceiling bill for the sake of a stable economy.

“If the United States actually defaults on our debt, it would be catastrophic,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said recently at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “If anyone wants to push that button … they’re crazy.”

Some experts warned that having the big banks at the front lines of the lobbying push could backfire, considering the reputation of those institutions following the recession.

“It is a liability,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal policy group. “For convincing the public,” he said, “it’s really counterproductive.”

Welch disagreed, calling Wall Street’s public lobbying “very constructive.”

“These people live in the real world of the credit markets, and they speak with authority,” he said. “The more they speak out — and the sooner — the more it will temper the extreme wings of both parties.”

Baker suggested resentment over the TARP lingers.

“A lot of people felt deceived by the TARP, and they’re very suspicious of what’s happening here,” Baker said.

Since 1917, Congress has set a ceiling on the nation’s debt, allowing the Treasury Department to issue bonds to fund its deficit spending up to a certain level. The government is expected to reach its current limit of roughly $14.3 trillion in the middle of May.

The White House and Democratic leaders want Congress to raise the ceiling quickly, warning that too much delay will create a market panic that could threaten the fragile economic recovery. That also has Wall Street on edge.

“The idea that the United States would take the risk — people would start to believe we won’t pay our bills — is a ridiculous proposition, irresponsible, completely unacceptable basic risk for us to take,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Tuesday.

But a growing chorus of conservatives is disputing the notion that congressional inaction on the debt limit would be devastating. They say the bigger threat is the continuation of soaring deficit spending.

“The idea that we might say that this is a catastrophe is wrong,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “What is catastrophic is to continue to spend money that we don’t have on things we don’t absolutely need and continue to mortgage our future and not fix the very real problems that are in front of us.”

Some of the most vocal opponents of raising the debt ceiling are GOP freshmen who ran on a platform critical of the TARP in particular and deficit spending in general.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) told Fox News last Thursday that he’s using town halls to try to “chip away at the story that Secretary Geithner has been telling around the country, that the world comes to an end — which just isn’t true.”

“Just because you hit the debt ceiling doesn’t mean there isn’t enough income to cover your debt payment,” Schweikert said. “We have plenty of income.”

Brian Gardner, a former congressional staffer who helps Wall Street understand what’s happening in Washington as a public policy analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said some members “are constrained by the promises they ran on.”

Still, Gardner is confident that Congress will ultimately raise the debt limit “by necessity.” In an April 17 client note, he urged investors to “be very cynical and discount any political theatrics as the debt-ceiling vote approaches.”

“Our advice is — remember TARP,” Gardner wrote. “In the fall of 2008, the House originally rejected TARP, but days later, after the Senate passed TARP, the House reversed itself and the bill was passed.”

Ethan Pollack, senior policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal policy shop, pointed out a fundamental difference between the two debates. Many people who opposed TARP did so on principle, he noted, while many of those threatening to oppose raising the debt ceiling simultaneously concede the importance of the hike.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for instance, has said a failure to raise the debt ceiling will play havoc with the global economy and kill jobs at home. Still, he’s warned that Republicans will allow both to happen if they don’t get “something big” in return.

“Not raising the debt limit would have serious, very serious, implications for the worldwide economy and jobs here in America,” Boehner told Fox News earlier this month. “But having said that, we’re just not going to do the typical Washington thing — roll over, increase the debt limit — without addressing the underlying problems.”


http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/157891-debt-debate-muddied-by-tarp-vote

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