Thursday, March 14, 2013

Adam Lanza Researched Mass Murderers, Sources Say

 The Hartford Courant

7:11 p.m. EDT, March 13, 2013

Before carrying out the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Adam Lanza conducted research on several mass murders, sources close to the investigation into the shooting have told The Courant.

The Courant had previously reported that investigators found news articles about Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik at Lanza's Newtown home. Sources now say that investigators found articles and other documents related to other mass murders in one of two bedrooms he used in the house that he shared with his mother, Nancy.

Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, on the morning of Dec. 14 before taking his own life as police closed in. Lanza had first shot and killed his mother at their house

State police gave the victims' families, Sandy Hook teachers and first-responders an update on the investigation last week in which, sources said, they discussed the theory that Lanza was trying to outdo other killers. 

The Courant reported last month that investigators found several articles about Breivik's killing spree in Lanza's room. Breivik set off bombs in downtown Oslo in July 2011 that killed eight people before moving to Utoya island, where he shot and killed 69 people, most of them teenagers attending a summer camp.

Breivik wounded hundreds. He was sentenced last August to 21 years in prison.

Sources said that Lanza's shooting spree lasted less than five minutes and that he fired 152 bullets while making his way through two classrooms in the elementary school. Lanza had hundreds more rounds of ammunition either on him or in the car that he drove to the school.

Sources said that Lanza retrieved the guns used in the shooting from a vault that his mother kept in the house. Police do not know whether Adam Lanza knew the combination to the vault or if Nancy Lanza did not keep it locked. Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to shoot his victims and a pistol to kill himself.

Lanza shot his way into the school through the glass windows at the front entrance and turned left toward the first-grade classrooms. He almost immediately encountered Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Scherlach, who ran into the hallway from a meeting room, which would have been on Lanza's right. He shot them both to death immediately.

Sources said that the two teachers who were injured were hit by ricochet bullets from that initial burst of gunfire. One teacher was in the meeting room with Hochsprung and Scherlach and was hit in the leg and crawled back into the room and called 911. The second teacher was closing the door to her classroom much farther down the hallway, where Lanza never went, when she was hit in the foot.

Lanza bypassed the first classroom that belonged to Kaitlin Roig, who had closed her door when she heard the original shots fired at the front door. Sources said that Sandy Hook Elementary had only weeks earlier had a lockdown drill and that Roig had not taken down the piece of black construction paper that teachers are instructed to place over the small window in the classroom doors so that no one can look in.

Lanza first skipped Victoria Soto's room and entered the classroom taught by substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau.

Lanza killed all but one student in Rousseau's class, where the children were massed together in a back corner of the room trying to get into a bathroom. One girl escaped because she played dead and ran out of the room after Lanza left.

Lanza then backtracked to Soto's room.

A source familiar with the investigation said authorities believe that Lanza started walking toward the back of Soto's classroom, where the bathroom was, when he noticed some of the children hiding under desks.

Lanza shot those students. At some point he stopped shooting, either because the Bushmaster jammed or he made an error reloading it, giving six children the opportunity to escape. Soto had placed another group of five children in a closet, where they were found alive by authorities.

Some bullets struck three cars in the parking lot, and police originally investigated the theory that he was shooting at responding officers. They now believe that he was aiming at a teacher who was standing near the window.

Lanza shot and killed himself in Soto's room with one of the two pistols that he was carrying as authorities were closing in.

State police have periodically updated the victims' families as the investigation has unfolded. Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky has said he hopes that the final report on the massacre will be done by the end of June.

Sedensky sealed the search warrants that state police used to remove items from Lanza's house and car. Sources said that Lanza apparently tried to destroy his computer's hard drive in a way that would prevent investigators from retrieving any meaningful information about his use of the device.

But two sources said that law enforcement computer forensic specialists are continuing efforts to obtain information from the damaged hard drive. Investigators are also using all means to obtain information from Internet service providers and any other relevant entities to obtain records showing how Lanza used his computer, including what sites he visited, what research he conducted and with whom he corresponded.

Following days-long outreach, rare kudos for Obama from GOP rivals

Trying to build support for his agenda, Obama met with members of the senate Thursday following a Wednesday meeting with House Republicans. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
By Carrie Dann and Mike Viqueira, NBC News

In the final afternoon of his three-day outreach effort to Congress, President Barack Obama got a rare thumbs up from some of his top GOP rivals after a private luncheon on Capitol Hill Thursday.

“I think we all felt that it was a very good meeting,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters after the luncheon that the group had a “great” discussion largely focused on reforming entitlement programs.

Dining on lobster salad and blueberry pie, Obama and Senate Republicans spoke behind closed doors before the president also paid a visit to House Democrats on the Hill.

Like the president’s meeting yesterday with House Republicans, participants said the tone of the Senate event was respectful and candid.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, greet President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill before he meets with the Senate Republican caucus in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2013.

McConnell told reporters after the meeting that he hopes Obama will work to win the support of his own party to reform programs like Medicare.

“He certainly understands that you can’t fix the country without adjusting entitlements to fit the demographics of our country,” he said. “We’ll see where we go from here but it was a great meeting.”

According to one senior Republican senator who spoke with NBC News, Obama said, "I can't provide the cover to get entitlement reform done without revenue."

The senator called this the "overriding theme" of the meeting, adding “To get really hard things done the president has to lead. He gets that, but he gets that in the context of, 'I have to lead, but you have to give me some things that I can say were victories.'"

The senator went on, “At one moment he said, talking about things he could do better, he said, 'Hopefully I’m a better president now than the day I started. And all of us need to learn from our mistakes.’”

Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who earlier Thursday had a heated exchange with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein over the constitutionality of an assault weapons ban, also told reporters that he was “encouraged by [Obama’s] expression of willingness” to work on corporate tax reform and other economic issues.

“I’m hopeful that this conversation today was a positive step in that direction,” Cruz said.

For his part, Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran called the meeting “bland,” adding that there were “no fireworks on either side ... it was just a polite conversation with nothing unusual.” He said that corporate tax reform is one area where both sides might be able to forge an agreement.

Obama called them “good conversations,” but added, “ultimately it's a matter of the House and Senate both caucuses getting together and everybody being willing to compromise.”

President Barack Obama comments after meeting with Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.

The president dined last week with some of the GOP caucus, holding an intimate dinner at the swank Jefferson Hotel in Washington with a dozen Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona.

The luncheon with Senate Republicans came as some of the president’s most vociferous conservative opponents gathered on the other side of the Potomac River for an annual confab-slash-pep-rally.

While the president and senators were behind closed doors, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – who led a 13-hour Senate filibuster last week in protest of the administration’s policy on drones – lambasted Obama as fuzzy on civil liberties at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

“The message for the president is that no one person gets to decide the law,” Paul said at the beginning of his remarks. “No one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to have lunch with him today,” he added with a dollop of sarcasm, earning laughter from the conservative crowd. “Maybe he can see this later on C-SPAN.”

NBC's Frank Thorp contributed to this report.

Joe Manchin fights uphill battle for gun deal

 Joe Manchin is pictured. | AP Photo

 Manchin, a life-long NRA member, says he still has a 'good rapport' with the gun lobby. | AP Photo

By: Manu Raju and John Bresnahan
March 14, 2013 06:40 PM EDT

Sen. Joe Manchin could be President Barack Obama’s best hope for a bipartisan gun package this year.

But he’s running into headwinds on Capitol Hill.

Manchin — along with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — tried for weeks to broker a compromise with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), but that effort hit roadblocks. Manchin urged Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to keep an open mind, but no dice. And he tried to persuade Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to consider signing on as a prime sponsor but was quickly rebuffed.

Manchin’s efforts are growing ever more critical as the battle over gun control hits the Senate floor as soon as next month. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a sweeping assault weapons ban opposed by the National Rifle Association, as well as a prohibition on high-capacity ammunition magazines. But those proposals stand little chance of becoming law.

(Also on POLITICO: W.H. calls for swift passage of assault weapons ban)

In close contact with the NRA, the West Virginia Democrat and hunter is leading a bipartisan group crafting legislation to expand background checks on purchasers of firearms. The group is trying to lure at least one pro-NRA Republican in hopes that will open the floodgates for more. Support from the GOP will help determine how much backing the effort gets from red-state Democrats, who so far have been lukewarm. 

Feinstein, Cruz trade barbs over gun ban

Indeed, Manchin floated an idea to pro-NRA Sen. Mark Begich to combine the Alaska Democrat’s bipartisan proposal modifying gun restrictions for the mentally ill with a new background check plan in an attempt to piece together a broader coalition.

Begich’s response: Manchin needs to win over more Republican senators than just moderate Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk.

(Also on POLITICO: Wolf lashes out at violent video games)

“I know he would like to get a criminal background check completed,” Begich said of Manchin. “His challenge is, and I wait for him to finish off his discussions, he needs to bring one or two A-rated NRA Republicans on board. With all due respect to Sen. Kirk, he’s an F-rated. You need an A-rated.”

It’s the effort to more broadly expand background checks that could be the most significant gun control measure to pass a bitterly divided Senate — if a bipartisan deal can first be reached. The central sticking point is whether records of gun sales or purchases must be retained by retailers.

(PHOTOS: Politicians speak out on gun control)

Manchin, who calls himself an “eternal optimist,” is working furiously to win over Republicans and believes he’s making steady progress before he officially proposes a new bill, either with a small group of senators or with a bipartisan coalition. When a bill finally is unveiled and it hits the floor, Manchin is confident pro-gun senators will vote for it — even if they decline to sign on for the moment.

“You’ve got to be bold enough to step to the front and do the right thing, and this is the right thing for America right now,” Manchin said in an interview. “And it’s one that’s accepted from people who come from gun cultures.”

Manchin, a lifelong NRA member, says he still has “good rapport” with the powerful gun lobby, even as he has spoken up for more expansive background checks and has questioned whether hunters need assault weapons. And he’s still trying to persuade the group to support background checks — or at the very least stay neutral, a posture that could bring along skeptical Republicans and some red-state Democrats.

“It’s important for them to be comfortable and understand that it’s not a threat at all,” Manchin said of the NRA. “If anything, they could really be champions for us, to look at something that’s responsible and reasonable.”

NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox said senators like Manchin who have been allied with the organization in the past don’t have “more sway” with the group simply because of their previous records on the issue.

“That does not change our position or cause us to equivocate at all,” Cox insisted.

But now the NRA looms large over both Manchin’s efforts — and Obama’s gun control agenda.

Indeed, Manchin’s push marks a twist with his relationship with the White House: In the run-up to his reelection bid last year, the former governor refused to say whether he’d vote for the president and declined to attend the Democratic National Convention. The two men barely spoke.

Despite the spate of deadly mass shootings across the country, including in Newtown, Conn., late last year, the influential gun lobby appears poised to derail virtually all of the president’s gun control agenda, except for perhaps a couple of narrower measures.

If Manchin can’t strike a deal on background checks, the most likely bill able to pass the Senate would focus on so-called gun-trafficking, which would expand sanctions on people who purchase firearms for others not allowed to possess them and provide $40 million for beefed-up school safety programs. Prospects for any gun control legislation in the GOP-led House are even grimmer.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have yet to decide how they will structure a gun control measure when it gets to the floor, but even liberal Democrats openly acknowledge that the assault weapons ban cannot overcome an expected filibuster.

That has led the White House and gun control groups to focus on enacting broader background checks, particularly for online sales and at gun shows, yet even that proposal won’t pass unless a bipartisan deal is reached before it gets to the floor.

The Judiciary Committee approved Schumer’s background checks bill last week. That measure lacks GOP support, but Manchin and the New York Democrat both say this is only a placeholder while the West Virginia Democrat searches for some GOP partners.

Manchin is still trying to get Coburn on board despite the two sides saying last week that their discussions had essentially stalled.

Manchin has also reached out to other Republicans, including Heller, Grassley, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and the two Arizona senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake.

Yet he has run into resistance so far.

“I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a slippery slope, and it’s going to lead to registration, and I’m not going to talk to anybody about a compromise,” said Grassley, the top Judiciary Committee Republican.

Heller added that he “probably” wouldn’t sign onto a background checks bill, though he held out hope a deal could be reached on the issue.

“As far as being the prime sponsor with Manchin, it’s not going to happen,” Heller said.

Flake said he wouldn’t get behind “universal” background checks but said he’s open to “strengthening” the system “particularly” in regard to mental health.

Moderate Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who voted for an extension of the assault weapons ban in 2004, is cautious about signing on to the Manchin-Schumer effort.

“I do believe there is an awful lot we can do to improve the background checks, but it has to be done carefully in order to not produce a national registry of guns,” Collins said.

Manchin says as a gun owner, he wants to make clear that such an approach would not affect the ability of Americans to carry firearms, adding that he wants to eliminate the “paranoia” that’s out there.

“Nobody is going to take my guns away and nobody is going to take your guns away — that’s not what anybody is trying to do,” he said.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who like Begich will face voters next year, said he wants to “listen” to the “folks I represent” before making a decision.

McCain recently sounded an optimistic note that there would be a universal background checks bill, but he grew more qualified in his statements to reporters earlier this week.

“I’m always for background checks, the problem is in the details of it as to how long records are kept and who keeps them and who sees them and those are issues that continue to confront us,” McCain said, adding that he’s had “numerous conversations” with Manchin, Schumer and others on the issue. “I think there should be always be background checks that do not violate people’s constitutional rights.”

Coburn said he was still “hopeful” a deal could be worked out, as did Schumer in a recent interview.

“The problem is you have two polar opposites: You have the gun control groups and NRA and what the gun control groups want, the NRA doesn’t want,” Coburn said. “What the NRA wants, the gun control groups don’t want.”

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

Marco Rubio CPAC Speech

Contamination at NC Marine base lasted 60 years

Over the span of 35 years, between 500,000 and 1 million people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, one of the most storied Marine bases in the country. A group of men have banded together saying that their surprising breast cancer diagnoses are linked to Camp Lejeune's contaminated water. Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

By Maggie Fox, Senior Writer, NBC News

Some of the wells that supplied drinking water to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were contaminated by cancer-causing solvents for as long as 60 years, a new federal report shows.

Month-by-month calculations show that Marines and their families at the base drank and bathed in water tainted with trichloroethylene (TCE) from 1948 through 2008. Other water sources were contaminated with benzene from 1951 to 2008, the report shows.

Federal officials have known for years that the base’s water supply was badly contaminated, from fuel leaks and probably from a dry-cleaning plant as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million people were exposed to the contaminated water from 1953 to 1987, when the last of several contaminated wells were closed. The new report takes the estimates back five years earlier.

Marines have complained they and their children suffered cancer, including breast cancer and fatal leukemia, because of the contamination. NBC’s Rock Center reported on the cases in February.

The chemicals found in the water are linked not only with cancer, but with aplastic anemia, kidney disease, infertility, lupus, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. The findings mean people who lived at the base during the affected times can seek compensation and medical care from the federal government.

The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) came up with the projections after making measurements of known leakage rates and sources of the chemicals into wells that supplied the base’s Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant. It opened in 1942.

“The ATSDR is conducting epidemiological studies to evaluate the potential for health effects from exposures to volatile organic compounds [tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (1,2-tDCE), vinyl chloride (VC), and benzene] in inished water at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina,” it said. Most of the chemicals are certain or probable cancer-causing agents.

"Basically, it's vindication and confirmation for what I've been saying for nearly 16 years," retired Marine Staff Sgt. Jerry Ensminger told the Associated Press. Ensminger, who attended a briefing on the report on Thursday, believces the contamination cause the leukemia that killed his 9-year-old daughter Janey. "The truth is finally coming out."

ATSDR director Dr. Christopher Portier says investigators will use the data to help assess the health risks to people who lived at the base. Different water sources had differing levels of contamination over the years.

The United States Marine Corps started routinely testing tap water in 1980. Officials have said it took them four years to determine which wells were contaminated, and that once those wells were identified, they were shut down immediately

“The level [of contamination] in the drinking water was the highest that I've ever seen,” said Dr. Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts. “I've been working on this kind of thing for 30 years. I have never heard of a community that's had the levels of contaminants that they had at Camp Lejeune.”

He has examined the data from Camp Lejeune and says he believes the contamination and the cancers are related. “The cluster of disease-- for example, male breast cancer-- may also turn out to be the highest that's been seen anywhere,” Clapp told Rock Center in February.

The VA has a website for people who think they may have been affected.

Under a law signed Aug. 6, 2012 , veterans and family members who served on active duty or resided at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987 may be eligible for medical care through VA for 15 health conditions,” the site reads.

They include lung, breast and bladder cancer, leukemia, infertility, kidney damage and other conditions.


Marine Corps response to NBC Rock Center story

Contractor underreported levels of chemicals

Congress probes toxic water at Marine base

Suspect arrested in connection with Benghazi attack
By Pete Williams, Chief Justice Correspondent, NBC News

A Libyan man has been detained in Libya for questioning in connection with last September's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, a federal official confirmed on Thursday. The official said that while the United States is interested to find out what Faraj al-Shibli (also spelled Chalabi), 46, knows about the attack, it is not clear that he played a central role, or that his capture represents a major breakthrough in the case.

According to Interpol's web site, al-Shibli is wanted by the Libyan authorities for "crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives."

Dozens of heavily armed men stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Ambassador Stevens, Information officer Sean Smith and two security personnel — Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods — were killed in the attack and another 10 people were injured. The apparent vulnerability of the U.S. personnel sparked a sharp debate and investigation of gaps in security.
Dow winning streak at 10 days, longest in 16 years  

JeeYeon Park , CNBC – 36 min.

Stocks closed near session highs Thursday, with the Dow logging its first 10th-straight winning streak for the first time since 1996 and the S&P 500 within a hair's breadth of its all-time closing high, lifted by a better-than-expected jobless claims report.

"This could be the greatest bull run since the '80s only because there's nowhere else for investors to go," said Alan Valdes, director of floor operations at DME Securities. "The Fed's pumping $85 billion a month into the market so there's no way for it to go down, but everyone's got their finger on the trigger because they don't know when this is going to turn."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained above 14,500 for the first time, and logged its 10th consecutive rally. Cisco and Verizon led the gainers.

The blue-chip index is up 10 percent so far in 2013, on track to logging its best first-quarter performance since 1998. Historically, a strong first quarter indicates robust gains for the year. Since 1950, there have been only 12 other instances where the Dow was up more than 8 percent in the first quarter and in each of those years, the index finished positive 100 percent of the time.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 83.86 points, or 0.58 percent, to end at 14,539.14. Hewlett-Packard and IBMled the gainers, logging its first 10th-consecutive winning streak for the first time since November 1996. The S&P 500 rose 8.71 points, or 0.56 percent, to close at 1,563.23 -- just short of its all-time closing high set in 2007. The Nasdaqgained 13.81 points, or 0.43 percent, to finish at 3,258.93.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, ended near 11, falling to a six-year low.

Among key S&P sectors, telecoms and techs led the gainers.

On the economic front, weekly jobless claims unexpectedly declined 10,000 in the previous week to a seasonally adjusted 332,000, according to the Labor Department, marking the third-consecutive week of declines. Economists polled by Reuters expected first-time applications last week to climb to 350,000.

(Read More: Bear Market to Take Hold in 2013: Expert)

Also on the economic front, producer prices increased 0.7 percent in February, gaining by the most in five months as gasoline prices spiked, according to the Labor Department.

And current account deficit narrowed to $110.4 billion in the fourth quarter, according to the Commerce Department. Economists had expected the gap to widen to $112.8 billion from a previously reported $107.5 billion for the third quarter.

President Barack Obama is expected to return to Capitol Hill for the second in a three-day set of meetings to try and reach a compromise with Republicans on how to trim the fiscal deficit. However, in an interview with ABC that aired on Wednesday, Obama warned that agreement could prove impossible. (CNBC Explains: Sequestration)

"Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide," Obama said.

(Read More: We Should Have Gone Over the 'Fiscal Cliff': Hoyer)

Men's Wearhouse surged after the men's clothing retailer hired Jefferies to evaluate strategic alternatives for its K&G division and authorized a new $200 million stock buyback program, which helped overshadow the firm's weaker-than-expected quarterly earnings.

Samsung is set to unveil its Galaxy S4 smartphone in New York City and analysts speculate that the new version will include an eye-scroll function and feature a bigger screen than the current Galaxy S3.

"Apple's status has been steadily undermined by the flawless execution Samsung has demonstrated in the more frequent iterations of its Galaxy smartphone offering," said David Garrity, principal at GVA Research. "Whether the Galaxy 4S will be the product generation that moves Samsung squarely ahead of Apple as innovation leader remains, but it clearly is a message that Samsung has been aggressively marketing."

Apple shares have continued to tumble in recent months, falling nearly 40 percent from its all-time high of $705 in September. And in the latest blow to the tech giant, research house IDC on Wednesday said shipments of tablets running the Android operating system is expected to top the iPad this year for the first time. Still, Apple edged higher Thursday after BTIG raised its rating on the iPhone maker to "buy" from "neutral."

(Read More: Apple's iPad to Fall Behind Android as Tablet War Grows)

Meanwhile, Google announced it will retire its Google Reader in July, citing declining usage. This follows Wednesday's news that Andy Rubin will step down as head of Google's Android division, and will be replaced by Sundar Pichai. declined after JPMorgan downgraded the online retail giant to "neutral" from "overweight." Meanwhile, Ebay climbed after Evercore Partners upgraded the online auction site operator to "overweight" from "equal weight."

Etrade tumbled to lead the S&P 500 laggards after the company's largest investor Citadel said it is selling its entire stake in the firm, ending a five-year relationship.

The Treasury will auction $13 billion 30-year notes on Thursday, with results available shortly after 1pm ET.

European shares traded at 4-1/2 year highs, as European Union heads of state headed to Brussels to discuss the region's austerity measures and rising youth unemployment.

"With the euro area economy having contracted in each of the past five quarters… and with countries' fiscal policy plans set to be reviewed, this summit provides an opportunity for policymakers to give permission to struggling countries to go a little easier on the austerity," wrote Emily Nicol, an economist at Daiwa Capital.

(Read More: Germany Unveils Spending Cuts on Eve of EU Summit)

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter:@JeeYeonParkCNBC)

Senate Democrats Unveil Their Own Budget Proposal; Push For Nearly $1 Trillion In Additional Tax Increases

Tony Nitti

Tony Nitti, Contributor

3/14/2013 @ 11:31AM |971 views

Hey, look everybody! Senate Democrats released their vision of the FY 2014 budget yesterday!  And it should be in pristine shape, since it’s taken four years to produce.
You remember 2009, don’t you? The King of Pop bid us farewell.  UConn women’s hoops ran the table. And “Sully” Sullenberger craftily spun his inability to avoid a flock of geese into an act of heroism.
Well, 2009 was also the last time Senate Democrats released a budget proposal. Until yesterday, that is. And as you might expect, the budget put together by Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) stands in stark contrast to the one envisioned by Republican Paul Ryan, whose budget was released earlier this week.
First, let’s just take a look at the big picture:
Here are the main stats surrounding the Republican budget, (all numbers in billions)

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 14-23
Spending 3,531 3,498 3,660 3,820 3,991 4,198 4,401 4,587 4,872 4,954 41,466
Revenue 3,003 3,373 3,591 3,765 3,937 4,101 4,279 4,496 4,734 4,961 40,241
(Surplus)/Deficit 528 125 69 54 54 97 122 91 93 (7) 1,225

And here are the same stats for the budget released by Senate Democrats:

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 14-23
Spending 3,715 3,845 4,052 4,246 4,456 4,718 4,965 5,197 5,485 5,686 46,362
Revenue 3,022 3,412 3,646 3,835 4,019 4,196 4,394 4,631 4,884 5,120 41,165
(Surplus)/Deficit 692 432 406 411 437 522 561 566 601 565 5,198

As you can see, the Democratic plan has no interest in balancing the budget; rather, it seeks to reduce the deficit–and the country’s resulting dependency on borrowing — to a “sustainable” level.  And while you may argue whether that’s the right avenue to take, I’m no fiscal wonk. I cover tax policy. And to that end, here’s the most glaring disconnect between the Republican and Democratic budget proposals:

Budgeted   New Tax Revenue Over the Next Decade
Democrats $975,000,000,000
Republicans $0

While Paul Ryan’s Republican budget eliminates the deficit by 2023 solely through a $5 trillion reduction in spending, the Democratic plan seeks what they refer to as a more “balanced” approach; one that contains a 1:1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts. Or, if you’re the type who absorbs information better when it’s presented in graphical form, here’s the Democrats high-tech explanation of the parties’ differing tact towards deficit control:

The nearly $1 trillion in tax increase would be added to the $600 billion raised over the next decade through the year-end fiscal cliff deal, which increased the maximum rate on ordinary income and long-term capital gains/qualified dividends from 35% to 39.6% and 15% to 20%, respectively, on taxpayers with taxable income in excess of $450,000 (if married, $400,000 if single). Any additional hikes would also be in addition to the $1 trillion expected to be raised over the next ten years from the President’s signature Obamacare legislation, which along with other provisions, created an additional 3.8% surtax on the net investment income of taxpayers with adjusted gross income in excess of $250,000 (if married, $200,000 if single).
As with the fiscal cliff deal and Obamacare, the new tax increases contemplated by Democratic leadership will again target a specific group of Americans; specifically, the wealthy. This time, however, the additional revenue will not be raised by increasing tax rates; rather, deductions and preferences for the richest 2% will be on the chopping block. From the budget text:
It is the clear intent of the Senate Budget that the savings found by eliminating loopholes and cutting unfair and inefficient spending in the tax code not increase the tax burden on middle class families or the most vulnerable Americans who already have sacrificed greatly in recent deficit reduction efforts. These savings should come only from the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.
In defense of this approach, the Democratic budget explains why additional tax revenue should not be “off the table,” as Republican leaders have argued:
First, the projected average revenue level over the next ten years, 18.9 percent of GDP, remains well below the levels experienced the last five times the budget was in surplus. In each of those years, revenues ranged between 19.5 percent and 20.6 percent of GDP.
Second, revenues at 18 percent of GDP would not have been sufficient at any point in recent history, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, to have produced a balanced budget. In fact, spending has not been below 18 percent of GDP since 1966.
Finally, the retirement of the Baby Boom generation makes references to past budgetary levels largely irrelevant. Between 2010 and 2050, the ratio of those age 65 and over as a share of the working age population will almost double. So while we must work to preserve, protect, and strengthen our major health and retirement programs, we will also need to raise additional revenue from those who can afford it most if we are going to make good on the promises we have made to current and future retirees.
The budget proposal also rationalized its quest to generate additional tax revenue  in light of the Simpson-Bowles plan, stating, “…Simpson‐Bowles…proposed more than $2 trillion in new revenue.”
I’m not sure where the Senators are pulling their numbers from, because I had the original Simpson-Bowles plan of 2010 as creating only $1.3 trillion in additional tax revenue, while their most recent proposal, issued just last month, sought only $600 billion in tax hikes in light of the revenue generated by the fiscal cliff deal and Obamacare. But then, math is hard.
If you’re looking for more specifics regarding exactly how Senate Democrats intend to raise the $975 billion in tax revenue through base broadening, good luck. The budget proposal merely floats a couple of alternatives:
One potential approach is an across‐the‐board limit on tax expenditures claimed by high‐income taxpayers (specifically, the top two percent of income earners). This could take the form of a limit on the rate at which itemized deductions and certain other tax preferences can reduce one’s tax liability, a limit on the value of tax preferences based on a certain percentage of a taxpayer’s income, or a specific dollar cap on the amount of allowable deductions.
This, as I’ve stated many times before, drives me nuts. Why? Because both parties continue to stress the need for simplification of the Code – even within this very budget proposal – and yet to solve an existing problem they propose adding additional layers of complexity to the law. The last thing the Code needs is more thresholds, limitations, and phase-outs.
Another potential approach by which Congress could increase tax fairness and reduce the deficit is by reforming the structure of particular tax expenditures. The Simpson‐Bowles illustrative tax reform plan, for example, proposed to convert certain itemized deductions into limited tax credits, which more equitably deliver tax benefits and, because only about one‐third of taxpayers itemize their deductions, are often better for targeting tax incentives at low‐income and middle class families.
This is a plan I can get behind, provided the benefit of the credits were capped at an easily computed maximum. As stated, a credit structure adds fairness for those who don’t itemize, and more importantly, it eliminates the need for lawmakers to undergo the futile task of attempting to completely eliminate an existing deduction – such as the one available for mortgage interest –  in light of the opposition they would receive from powerful lobbyist groups.
On the business side, the budget continues the Democrats recent pursuit to eliminate tax breaks for private jets, which I find laughable given the paltry sum closing the “loophole” would generate, and to tax the carried interests of private equity and hedge fund managers as ordinary income, which I completely agree with, for whatever that’s worth.

So here we are: left with two competing budgets that nicely sum up the divided nature of our country when it comes to tax policy. One side says enough is enough, and that Washington has a spending problem, not a tax problem. The other argues that the rich still haven’t paid their “fair share.”
And in the end, everyone will likely just continue to agree to disagree.

Solar eruption may set off northern lights fury

This screenshot from a video taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft shows a coronal mass ejection (center) erupting from the sun on Tuesday.

By Mike Wall

A recent solar blast may ramp up northern lights displays this Friday, giving well-placed skywatchers a treat, NASA officials say.

The sun unleashed a huge cloud of superheated plasma Tuesday morning in a solar eruption known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). This cloud is not headed straight for Earth, but it could deliver a glancing blow to our planet on Friday, researchers said.

"There is now a 65% chance of geomagnetic activity on March 15 due to this event," officials wrote Wednesday on the Facebook page of NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. "High latitude watchers — (get) ready for possible Aurorae."

The eruption originated from a sunspot known as Active Region 1690, which at the time was centered on the Earth-facing side of the sun, they added. NASA also released a video of the solar eruption as seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Powerful CMEs that hit Earth directly can wreak havoc on our planet, triggering geomagnetic storms that can disrupt radio communications, GPS signals and power grids for days at a time. But Tuesday's eruption is not expected to affect Earth beyond possibly sparking some souped-up aurora displays.

The auroras, which are also known as the northern and southern lights, result when charged particles from the sun collide with molecules high in Earth's atmosphere, generating a glow. The phenomenon is usually restricted to high latitutes because Earth's magnetic field lines tend to funnel these particles over the planet's poles.

Tuesday's eruption notwithstanding, the sun has been pretty quiet recently. That's something of a surprise, because many scientists had predicted that the sun's current 11-year activity cycle — known as Solar Cycle 24 — would peak in 2013.

The lull has spurred some researchers to postulate that Solar Cycle 24 may actually have a double peak — one occurring in 2011, which saw many powerful sun storms, and another coming soon after the sun rouses from its mini-slumber.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on

Earth-Facing Sun Eruption Will Likely Spark Geomagnetic Storm | Video
The Sun's Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History
Amazing Auroras: Northern Lights of November 2012 (Photos)
Sunspot Time-Lapse - February 2013 | Video

Rand Paul CPAC Specch

LIVE VIDEO: Conservative Political Action Conference

Tax Aspects Of Paul Ryan's FY 2014 Republican Budget Proposal

Tony Nitti
Tony Nitti, Contributor
3/12/2013 @ 12:19PM |1,117 views
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 07: Republican vice pres...
Earlier today, House Republican and budget chief Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) issued his fiscal year 2014 Budget Resolution, which, if enacted, promises to eliminate the federal deficit – expected to be around $850 billion in 2013 – by 2023.
Drawing much of the attention upon the budget’s release has been Ryan’s cuts to governmental spending. Ryan’s latest proposal would grow spending at 3.4% as opposed to the 5% rate currently scheduled, and as result, would decrease total spending over the next decade by $4.6 trillion, from the currently budgeted $46 trillion to $41 trillion.
To achieve the reduced spending, Ryan takes aim at many of the same programs targeted in his FY 2013 budget. Medicare and Medicaid spending is cut by $885 billion over the next decade. Adherence to and extension of the recent sequester saves another $1.2 trillion. And in what likely amounts to little more than a pipe dream, Ryan would save $1.8 trillion by repealing the President’s signature Obamacare legislation.
But analyzing spending isn’t my thing; I want to know what Ryan has to say about tax policy. And upon further review, it’s clear that Ryan’s current tax proposal has the same strengths – and glaring shortcomings – as his previously released budgets.
For starters, what’s in the plan? Ryan’s 2014 budget would enact the following changes:
  • Do away with the current seven tax rate system applied to individual taxpayers, which currently ranges from 10% to 39.6%, and replace it with only two rates: 10% and 25%. While the budget doesn’t clarify this, in the past Ryan has stated that the 10% rate would apply to taxable income less than $100,000, with the 25% rate applying to all income in excess of that threshold.
  • Repeal the alternative minimum tax as well as any and all taxes imposed by Obamacare, including the 3.8% tax on a taxpayer’s net investment income.
  • Reduce the maximum corporate rate from 35% to 25%.
  • Transition the international tax regime from the current “deferral” approach to a full territorial system.
That’s it; that’s all the budget says about tax reform.
So let’s start with the good.
The AMT has to go. As anyone who read my post from last night can attest, it reads as clear as Chinese arithmetic. This parallel tax has long since strayed from its original intention of ensuring that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers pay some level of federal income tax and has evolved into the bane of the middle class. Even worse, it requires an amount of time and expertise to appropriately navigate that is unrealistic to expect from the average taxpayer.
I’m also in favor of Ryan’s proposed international reform. I discuss the merits of both territorial systems and worldwide systems, which President Obama favors, here, but in general, I believe a territorial system is the way of the modern international market, and would greatly reduce both the complexity and exploitations that plague the current system.
Now, let’s move on to Ryan’s proposal for individual reform. As a guy who makes his living in the nether regions of the Internal Revenue Code, I, like many Americans, crave simplicity from the tax law. And while both parties often speak longingly of simplifying the Code, recent legislation, from Obamacare to the fiscal cliff deal, has done anything but. The Code has only grown more convoluted and complex, and history has shown that when a law becomes overly complicated, it raises the cost of compliance, in both man hours and dollars, and invites abuse.
Any significant plan for tax reform would have to contain two of the premises embodied by Ryan’s proposal: lower rates and fewer deductions. Clearly, a two-rate system of 10% and 25% would be a radical departure from the seven-tier system we find ourselves stuck in today, and a major step towards a system where every American can quickly estimate their federal tax liability.
While the text in the current budget fails to shed light on the nuances of Ryan’s plan, much can be gleaned from the summary tables included with the budget.  Interestingly, Ryan’s proposal will raise the exact same amount of tax revenue over the next decade as would be raised under President Obama’s current policy. In other words, much like the proposal Mitt Romney’s embraced during his election campaign, Ryan’s plan would be revenue neutral: it would not add a single dollar to the deficit.
But obviously, a maximum rate of 25% would generate significantly less gross tax revenue than the current system, which contains a top rate of 39.6% (actually, over 44% when factoring in Obamacare and the repeal of the PEASE limitation on itemized deductions). So how can Ryan’s plan be revenue neutral?
Because accompanying the reduction in tax rates would be the much-discussed and rarely clarified “base broadening,” whereby the countless deductions and preferences contained in the current version of the Code would be limited or eliminated. The theory being, if you cut enough deductions, the same level of net tax revenue can be maintained despite a nearly 20% drop in the top rate.
And that is what I don’t like about Ryan’s plan.
For starters, eliminating anything from the Code has become an exercise in futility in light of the army of special interest groups and professional lobbyists who fight on behalf of even the most narrow, industry-specific provisions contained in the law. It is exceedingly hard to believe that House Representatives and Senators would be willing to look past their own self-interests (read: reelection) and willingly alienate even a small portion of their constituents by permitting, for example, the mortgage interest or charitable contribution deduction to be removed from the law.
But let’s ignore the implausibility of sweeping tax reform for a moment. Experts have shown that there are simply not enough deductions to remove from the Code to make up for the revenue lost by dropping the top rate to 25%. Or at least, not enough to recover that lost revenue from those who will benefit the most from such a reduction: the wealthy.
When Ryan introduced his FY 2013 budget, it contained an identical vision for tax reform. And in response, the Tax Policy Center crunched the numbers and determined that reducing the rates to 10% and 25%, as Ryan proposes, would cost the government $4.5 trillion in tax revenue over a 10 year period. Keep in mind, this was when the maximum rate was 35%; now that the top rate has climbed to 39.6%, the forgone revenue would be greater.
Keeping things simple, in order for Ryan’s plan to remain revenue neutral as promised, it must raise at least $4.5 trillion in additional tax revenue through the elimination of deductions and preferences. And as the TPC proved with Mitt Romney’s plan, it is simply a mathematic impossibility to accomplish this without heavily shifting the burden from the wealthy to the middle class.
To illustrate, under Ryan’s proposal — but before considering the effect of any base broadening –taxpayers earning in excess of $1,000,000 would enjoy an average tax cut of $265,000, those earning between $500,000 and $1,000,000 would experience an average $47,000 reduction in their tax bills, and those and those earning between $200,000 and $500,000 would see their average tax bill decrease by $120,000. To the contrary, taxpayers earning between $40,000 and $100,000 would enjoy an average cut of approximately $1,000.
And here’s the rub: as was proven with the Romney plan, there are simply not enough deductions to limit or eliminate to offset the tax cuts experienced by those earning more than $200,000. The benefit from the reduction in their top rate from 39.6% or even 35% or 33% to 25% far outweighs any damage that can be done by eliminating deductions. So if you believe in basic math, if those earning in excess of $200,000 are going to walk away with a net tax cut, and the plan is to be revenue neutral, then…Voila!… there must be an offsetting increase in the tax liability of those earning less than $200,000.
Now, there is one way you could drop the top rate to 25% (or perhaps 28%) and maintain progressivity, but it requires a step Ryan appears to have no appetite for: taxing long-term capital gains and qualified dividends as ordinary income. Start taxing the Warrant Buffetts of the world at 25% on every dollar of investment income they earn over $100,000, and suddenly the landscape changes, and Ryan’s proposal would represent more than merely a windfall for those who need it least.

Democrats' new budget proposal: why it's balanced ... but not balanced (+video)

The Christian Science Monitor -

Senate Democrats have put forward a new budget proposal that offers balanced deficit reduction (between cuts and new tax revenue), but doesn't balance the budget.

Temp Headline Image
Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington, seen here discussing the 'sequester' on Capitol Hill in Washington last month, put forward a new budget proposal Wednesday.
(Jason Reed/Reuters/File)

By Staff writer / March 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm EDT
Senate Democrats put forward a budget whose broad outlines contrast sharply with a rival plan from House Republicans: It avoids controversial entitlement cuts but goes only a small way toward confronting the long-term challenge of a rising national debt.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, pledged to balance the budget in 10 years.
Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, used the word “balance” in a different context. Her plan blends some new tax revenue and some spending cuts to produce a more modest amount of deficit reduction – all while avoiding steep cuts to Democratic priorities.
“House Republicans would dismantle Medicare,” the summary of the Senate Budget Committee stated. “They would slash the investments in infrastructure, education, and innovation that we need to lay down a strong foundation for broad-based growth.”
What’s needed now is to reach out for potential common ground, senators of both parties said. Both sides agree on the need to replace the “sequester,” the automatic spending cuts that will remain in place for 10 years unless some alternative fiscal plan is reached.

Here’s a tour of the Democratic plan and how it contrasts with the House Republican plan put forward Tuesday by Representative Ryan.

Deficit reduction: $1.85 trillion

The plan envisions equal amounts tax revenue and spending cuts to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion over the 10-year budget window. The cuts included in this tally would replace those of the sequester.
This, combined with spending cuts and tax hikes already enacted over the past two years, would amount to total deficit reduction of more than $4 trillion, a goal that President Obama has set. That would be enough to keep the national debt from rising as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade.
But many budget experts say that, at about 73 percent of GDP, the public debt is already so high that it leaves little fiscal leeway to deal with unforeseen circumstances, such as another deep recession.
Moreover, stabilizing the debt through 2023 doesn’t mean it will remain stable thereafter. Rather, health care spending will likely push the debt persistently upward after that time, forecasters say.
The nonpartisan Committee for Responsible Federal Budget has called for $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction beyond the spending cuts and tax hikes enacted over the past two years.
The Ryan budget seeks some $5.7 trillion in additional deficit reduction.

New tax revenue: $975 million

Senate Democrats say deficit reduction should include $975 billion in new tax revenue, beyond the $600 billion or so that will be raised by the “fiscal cliff” deal in January. That agreement boosted tax rates on the highest earning Americans while keeping Bush-era rates in place for 98 percent of households.
The new revenue would come not from higher tax rates, but closing loopholes and limiting deductions that benefit “the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations,” the summary of the plan says.
The House Republicans seek to hold the line against further tax hikes, which would leave federal revenue at 19 percent of GDP. That makes it hard to bring the national debt down without a sweeping overhaul of entitlements including Medicare and Medicaid.

New stimulus spending: $100 billion

Democrats, with an eye on the still-high unemployment rate, allocate $100 billion to “start creating new jobs quickly, begin repairing the worst of our crumbling roads and bridges, and help train our workers to fill 21st century jobs.”
They call it a “targeted recovery protection plan” rather than stimulus, the traditional economic term for such an effort.

Defense spending: $6 trillion

Like the Republican plan in the House, the Senate Democrats back away from most of the sequester’s cuts to projected military spending. The Democratic plan slows the projected rate of defense spending, but only by a bit more than the Republican plan does. Both sides show total outlays for the decade through 2023 at $6 trillion, or close to that amount.

Medicare and Medicaid spending: $13.4 trillion

The Democrats in the Senate pledge to keep federal promises to older Americans and the poor, notably on Medicare and Medicaid. But those promises look costly to keep.
The Democratic budget would spend $13.4 trillion over 10 years on Medicare and other health programs. The plan crafted by Senator Murray pledges to keep in place the expansion of Medicaid coverage to more Americans under Mr. Obama's health-care reform law.
By comparison, House Republicans would spend $10 trillion on Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs.
The House Republican plan contains Ryan’s proposal to shift Medicare toward a “premium support” model, which critics say turns a guarantee into a “voucher” that shifts the burden of rising costs from the government to families. That idea is a nonstarter with Democrats.
The Senate plan seeks to pare back Medicare costs over the next decade (the plan claims $275 billion in “health savings") without cutting promised benefits. Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee voiced doubts about whether those adjustments would provide a lasting fix.
A key question ahead is whether the two sides can find a middle ground.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin said Wednesday that Obama has acknowledged, in private meetings with lawmakers, the central role that health-care entitlements play in America’s fiscal challenge. He said the president cited a statistic that Republicans are also focused on: the government is only taking in about $1 in Medicare payroll taxes for every $3 that will be spent on the typical beneficiary.

Total spending: $46 trillion

Murray's plan would see federal spending total $46 trillion over the next 10 years, compared with the roughly $41.5 trillion in Ryan's plan. In both plans, federal revenue would be near its historical average, at about 19 percent of GDP. Where the Ryan plan aims to bring spending down to that same level by 2023, spending in the Murray plan would be 21.7 percent of GDP for the period, above its long-term average.

Particle confirmed as Higgs boson

CERN/CMS/Taylor, L; McCauley, T
Collider (LHC) in Geneva, may mean doom for our universe. Here, proton-proton collisions at the LHC showing events consistent with the Higgs.

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience

A newfound particle discovered at the world's largest atom smasher last year is indeed a Higgs boson, which is thought to play a role in how other subatomic particles get their mass, scientists reported Thursday at the annual Rencontres de Moriond conference in Italy.

Physicists announced on July 4, 2012, that, with more than 99 percent certainty, they had found a new elementary particle weighing about 126 times the mass of the proton that could be the long-sought Higgs boson. The Higgs is sometimes referred to as the "God particle," to the chagrin of many scientists, who prefer its official name.

But the two experiments, CMS and ATLAS, hadn't collected enough data to say the particle was, for sure, the Higgs boson, the last undiscovered piece of the puzzle predicted by the Standard Model, the reigning theory of particle physics.
Now, after collecting two and a half times more data inside the Large Hadron Collider — where protons zip at near light-speed around the 17-mile-round (27-kilometer-round) underground ring beneath Switzerland and France — physicists say the particle is "a Higgs boson." But they can't yet rule out the possibility that other Higgs bosons exist as well. [In Photos: Searching for the Higgs Boson]

"The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is," CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela said in a statement.

ATLAS spokesperson Dave Charlton agreed, saying that the new results "point to the new particle having the spin-parity of a Higgs boson as in the Standard Model." In particle physics, "spin" refers to a quantum property of elementary particles and not to actual physical rotation.

To confirm the particle as having the characteristics of a Higgs boson, physicists needed to collect tons of data that would reveal its quantum properties as well as how it interacted with other particles. For instance, a Higgs particle should have no spin, and its parity, or the measure of how its mirror image behaves, should be positive, both of which were supported by data from the ATLAS and CMS experiments.

The scientists are not sure whether this Higgs boson is the single particle predicted by the Standard Model or perhaps the lightest of several bosons predicted to exist by othertheories.

Seeing how this particle decays into other particles could let physicists know whether this Higgs is the "plain vanilla" Standard Model Higgs. Detecting a Higgs boson is rare, with just one observed for every 1 trillion proton-proton collisions. As such, the LHC physicists say they need much more data to understand all of the ways in which the Higgs decays.

From what is known about the particle now, physicists have said the Higgs boson may spell the universe's doom in the very far future. That's because the mass of the Higgs boson is a critical part of a calculation that portends the future of space and time. Its mass of 126 times the mass of the proton is just about what would be needed to create a marginally stable universe that could blink out of existence in a cataclysm billions of years from now.

"This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now there'll be a catastrophe," Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., said last month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"It may be the universe we live in is inherently unstable, and at some point billions of years from now it's all going to get wiped out," added Lykken, a collaborator on the CMS experiment.

Joint Senate Cmte. Hears About Cybersecurity Executive Order

Joint Senate Hearing on Cybersecurity: Part 1 (right-click to copy direct link)

Joint Senate Hearing on Cybersecurity: Part 2 (right-click to copy direct link)

Washington, DC
Thursday, March 7, 2013
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano addressed cybersecurity issues at a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Tom Carper (D-DE) co-chaired the hearing, which examined the Executive Order on cybersecurity issued by President Obama in February 2013. The executive order seeks to strengthen the nation's critical infrastructure through increased information sharing and the development of a "Cybersecurity Framework."
The hearing also aimed to determine if legislation is needed to improve the nation's cybersecurity.
Along with Sec. Napolitano, other witnesses included: Patrick D. Gallagher, undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology; Greg Wilshusen, director, Information Security Issues, Government Accountability Office; and David D. Kepler, chief sustainability officer and chief information officer for Business Services, The Dow Chemical Company.
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:48am (ET)


- - - - - - -


By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. Repeated cyber intrusions into critical infrastructure demonstrate the need for improved cybersecurity. The cyber threat to critical infrastructure continues to grow and represents one of the most serious national security challenges we must confront. The national and economic security of the United States depends on the reliable functioning of the Nation's critical infrastructure in the face of such threats. It is the policy of the United States to enhance the security and resilience of the Nation's critical infrastructure and to maintain a cyber environment that encourages efficiency, innovation, and economic prosperity while promoting safety, security, business confidentiality, privacy, and civil liberties. We can achieve these goals through a partnership with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure to improve cybersecurity information sharing and collaboratively develop and implement risk-based standards.

Sec. 2. Critical Infrastructure. As used in this order, the term critical infrastructure means systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.

Sec. 3. Policy Coordination. Policy coordination, guidance, dispute resolution, and periodic in-progress reviews for the functions and programs described and assigned herein shall be provided through the interagency process established in Presidential Policy Directive-1 of February 13, 2009 (Organization of the National Security Council System), or any successor.

Sec. 4. Cybersecurity Information Sharing. 

(a) It is the policy of the United States Government to increase the volume, timeliness, and quality of cyber threat information shared with U.S. private sector entities so that these entities may better protect and defend themselves against cyber threats. Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security (the "Secretary"), and the Director of National Intelligence shall each issue instructions consistent with their authorities and with the requirements of section 12(c) of this order to ensure the timely production of unclassified reports of cyber threats to the U.S. homeland that identify a specific targeted entity. The instructions shall address the need to protect intelligence and law enforcement sources, methods, operations, and investigations.
(b) The Secretary and the Attorney General, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, shall establish a process that rapidly disseminates the reports produced pursuant to section 4(a) of this order to the targeted entity. Such process shall also, consistent with the need to protect national security information, include the dissemination of classified reports to critical infrastructure entities authorized to receive them. The Secretary and the Attorney General, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, shall establish a system for tracking the production, dissemination, and disposition of these reports.
(c) To assist the owners and operators of critical infrastructure in protecting their systems from unauthorized access, exploitation, or harm, the Secretary, consistent with 6 U.S.C. 143 and in collaboration with the Secretary of Defense, shall, within 120 days of the date of this order, establish procedures to expand the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program to all critical infrastructure sectors. This voluntary information sharing program will provide classified cyber threat and technical information from the Government to eligible critical infrastructure companies or commercial service providers that offer security services to critical infrastructure.
(d) The Secretary, as the Executive Agent for the Classified National Security Information Program created under Executive Order 13549 of August 18, 2010 (Classified National Security Information Program for State, Local, Tribal, and Private Sector Entities), shall expedite the processing of security clearances to appropriate personnel employed by critical infrastructure owners and operators, prioritizing the critical infrastructure identified in section 9 of this order.
(e) In order to maximize the utility of cyber threat information sharing with the private sector, the Secretary shall expand the use of programs that bring private sector subject-matter experts into Federal service on a temporary basis. These subject matter experts should provide advice regarding the content, structure, and types of information most useful to critical infrastructure owners and operators in reducing and mitigating cyber risks.

Sec. 5. Privacy and Civil Liberties Protections. 
(a) Agencies shall coordinate their activities under this order with their senior agency officials for privacy and civil liberties and ensure that privacy and civil liberties protections are incorporated into such activities. Such protections shall be based upon the Fair Information Practice Principles and other privacy and civil liberties policies, principles, and frameworks as they apply to each agency's activities.
(b) The Chief Privacy Officer and the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shall assess the privacy and civil liberties risks of the functions and programs undertaken by DHS as called for in this order and shall recommend to the Secretary ways to minimize or mitigate such risks, in a publicly available report, to be released within 1 year of the date of this order. Senior agency privacy and civil liberties officials for other agencies engaged in activities under this order shall conduct assessments of their agency activities and provide those assessments to DHS for consideration and inclusion in the report. The report shall be reviewed on an annual basis and revised as necessary. The report may contain a classified annex if necessary. Assessments shall include evaluation of activities against the Fair Information Practice Principles and other applicable privacy and civil liberties policies, principles, and frameworks. Agencies shall consider the assessments and recommendations of the report in implementing privacy and civil liberties protections for agency activities.
(c) In producing the report required under subsection (b) of this section, the Chief Privacy Officer and the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of DHS shall consult with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
(d) Information submitted voluntarily in accordance with 6 U.S.C. 133 by private entities under this order shall be protected from disclosure to the fullest extent permitted by law.

Sec. 6. Consultative Process. The Secretary shall establish a consultative process to coordinate improvements to the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure. As part of the consultative process, the Secretary shall engage and consider the advice, on matters set forth in this order, of the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council; Sector Coordinating Councils; critical infrastructure owners and operators; Sector-Specific Agencies; other relevant agencies; independent regulatory agencies; State, local, territorial, and tribal governments; universities; and outside experts.

Sec. 7. Baseline Framework to Reduce Cyber Risk to Critical Infrastructure. 
(a) The Secretary of Commerce shall direct the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the "Director") to lead the development of a framework to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure (the "Cybersecurity Framework"). The Cybersecurity Framework shall include a set of standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks. The Cybersecurity Framework shall incorporate voluntary consensus standards and industry best practices to the fullest extent possible. The Cybersecurity Framework shall be consistent with voluntary international standards when such international standards will advance the objectives of this order, and shall meet the requirements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Act, as amended (15 U.S.C. 271 et seq.), the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-113), and OMB Circular A-119, as revised.
(b) The Cybersecurity Framework shall provide a prioritized, flexible, repeatable, performance-based, and cost-effective approach, including information security measures and controls, to help owners and operators of critical infrastructure identify, assess, and manage cyber risk. The Cybersecurity Framework shall focus on identifying cross-sector security standards and guidelines applicable to critical infrastructure. The Cybersecurity Framework will also identify areas for improvement that should be addressed through future collaboration with particular sectors and standards-developing organizations. To enable technical innovation and account for organizational differences, the Cybersecurity Framework will provide guidance that is technology neutral and that enables critical infrastructure sectors to benefit from a competitive market for products and services that meet the standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes developed to address cyber risks. The Cybersecurity Framework shall include guidance for measuring the performance of an entity in implementing the Cybersecurity Framework.
(c) The Cybersecurity Framework shall include methodologies to identify and mitigate impacts of the Cybersecurity Framework and associated information security measures or controls on business confidentiality, and to protect individual privacy and civil liberties.
(d) In developing the Cybersecurity Framework, the Director shall engage in an open public review and comment process. The Director shall also consult with the Secretary, the National Security Agency, Sector-Specific Agencies and other interested agencies including OMB, owners and operators of critical infrastructure, and other stakeholders through the consultative process established in section 6 of this order. The Secretary, the Director of National Intelligence, and the heads of other relevant agencies shall provide threat and vulnerability information and technical expertise to inform the development of the Cybersecurity Framework. The Secretary shall provide performance goals for the Cybersecurity Framework informed by work under section 9 of this order.
(e) Within 240 days of the date of this order, the Director shall publish a preliminary version of the Cybersecurity Framework (the "preliminary Framework"). Within 1 year of the date of this order, and after coordination with the Secretary to ensure suitability under section 8 of this order, the Director shall publish a final version of the Cybersecurity Framework (the "final Framework").
(f) Consistent with statutory responsibilities, the Director will ensure the Cybersecurity Framework and related guidance is reviewed and updated as necessary, taking into consideration technological changes, changes in cyber risks, operational feedback from owners and operators of critical infrastructure, experience from the implementation of section 8 of this order, and any other relevant factors.

Sec. 8. Voluntary Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Program. 
(a) The Secretary, in coordination with Sector-Specific Agencies, shall establish a voluntary program to support the adoption of the Cybersecurity Framework by owners and operators of critical infrastructure and any other interested entities (the "Program").
(b) Sector-Specific Agencies, in consultation with the Secretary and other interested agencies, shall coordinate with the Sector Coordinating Councils to review the Cybersecurity Framework and, if necessary, develop implementation guidance or supplemental materials to address sector-specific risks and operating environments.
(c) Sector-Specific Agencies shall report annually to the President, through the Secretary, on the extent to which owners and operators notified under section 9 of this order are participating in the Program.
(d) The Secretary shall coordinate establishment of a set of incentives designed to promote participation in the Program. Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary and the Secretaries of the Treasury and Commerce each shall make recommendations separately to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, that shall include analysis of the benefits and relative effectiveness of such incentives, and whether the incentives would require legislation or can be provided under existing law and authorities to participants in the Program.
(e) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of General Services, in consultation with the Secretary and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, shall make recommendations to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, on the feasibility, security benefits, and relative merits of incorporating security standards into acquisition planning and contract administration. The report shall address what steps can be taken to harmonize and make consistent existing procurement requirements related to cybersecurity.

Sec. 9. Identification of Critical Infrastructure at Greatest Risk. 
(a) Within 150 days of the date of this order, the Secretary shall use a risk-based approach to identify critical infrastructure where a cybersecurity incident could reasonably result in catastrophic regional or national effects on public health or safety, economic security, or national security. In identifying critical infrastructure for this purpose, the Secretary shall use the consultative process established in section 6 of this order and draw upon the expertise of Sector-Specific Agencies. The Secretary shall apply consistent, objective criteria in identifying such critical infrastructure. The Secretary shall not identify any commercial information technology products or consumer information technology services under this section. The Secretary shall review and update the list of identified critical infrastructure under this section on an annual basis, and provide such list to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs.
(b) Heads of Sector-Specific Agencies and other relevant agencies shall provide the Secretary with information necessary to carry out the responsibilities under this section. The Secretary shall develop a process for other relevant stakeholders to submit information to assist in making the identifications required in subsection (a) of this section.
(c) The Secretary, in coordination with Sector-Specific Agencies, shall confidentially notify owners and operators of critical infrastructure identified under subsection (a) of this section that they have been so identified, and ensure identified owners and operators are provided the basis for the determination. The Secretary shall establish a process through which owners and operators of critical infrastructure may submit relevant information and request reconsideration of identifications under subsection (a) of this section.

Sec. 10. Adoption of Framework. 
(a) Agencies with responsibility for regulating the security of critical infrastructure shall engage in a consultative process with DHS, OMB, and the National Security Staff to review the preliminary Cybersecurity Framework and determine if current cybersecurity regulatory requirements are sufficient given current and projected risks. In making such determination, these agencies shall consider the identification of critical infrastructure required under section 9 of this order. Within 90 days of the publication of the preliminary Framework, these agencies shall submit a report to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, the Director of OMB, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, that states whether or not the agency has clear authority to establish requirements based upon the Cybersecurity Framework to sufficiently address current and projected cyber risks to critical infrastructure, the existing authorities identified, and any additional authority required.
(b) If current regulatory requirements are deemed to be insufficient, within 90 days of publication of the final Framework, agencies identified in subsection (a) of this section shall propose prioritized, risk-based, efficient, and coordinated actions, consistent with Executive Order 12866 of September 30, 1993 (Regulatory Planning and Review), Executive Order 13563 of January 18, 2011 (Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review), and Executive Order 13609 of May 1, 2012 (Promoting International Regulatory Cooperation), to mitigate cyber risk.
(c) Within 2 years after publication of the final Framework, consistent with Executive Order 13563 and Executive Order 13610 of May 10, 2012 (Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens), agencies identified in subsection (a) of this section shall, in consultation with owners and operators of critical infrastructure, report to OMB on any critical infrastructure subject to ineffective, conflicting, or excessively burdensome cybersecurity requirements. This report shall describe efforts made by agencies, and make recommendations for further actions, to minimize or eliminate such requirements.
(d) The Secretary shall coordinate the provision of technical assistance to agencies identified in subsection (a) of this section on the development of their cybersecurity workforce and programs.
(e) Independent regulatory agencies with responsibility for regulating the security of critical infrastructure are encouraged to engage in a consultative process with the Secretary, relevant Sector-Specific Agencies, and other affected parties to consider prioritized actions to mitigate cyber risks for critical infrastructure consistent with their authorities.

Sec. 11. Definitions. 
(a) "Agency" means any authority of the United States that is an "agency" under 44 U.S.C. 3502(1), other than those considered to be independent regulatory agencies, as defined in 44 U.S.C. 3502(5).
(b) "Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council" means the council established by DHS under 6 U.S.C. 451 to facilitate effective interaction and coordination of critical infrastructure protection activities among the Federal Government; the private sector; and State, local, territorial, and tribal governments.
(c) "Fair Information Practice Principles" means the eight principles set forth in Appendix A of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.
(d) "Independent regulatory agency" has the meaning given the term in 44 U.S.C. 3502(5).
(e) "Sector Coordinating Council" means a private sector coordinating council composed of representatives of owners and operators within a particular sector of critical infrastructure established by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan or any successor.
(f) "Sector-Specific Agency" has the meaning given the term in Presidential Policy Directive-21 of February 12, 2013 (Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience), or any successor.

Sec. 12. General Provisions. 
(a) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations. Nothing in this order shall be construed to provide an agency with authority for regulating the security of critical infrastructure in addition to or to a greater extent than the authority the agency has under existing law. Nothing in this order shall be construed to alter or limit any authority or responsibility of an agency under existing law.
(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect the functions of the Director of OMB relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(c) All actions taken pursuant to this order shall be consistent with requirements and authorities to protect intelligence and law enforcement sources and methods. Nothing in this order shall be interpreted to supersede measures established under authority of law to protect the security and integrity of specific activities and associations that are in direct support of intelligence and law enforcement operations.
(d) This order shall be implemented consistent with U.S. international obligations.
(e) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.