January 15th, 2011
The Blaze / Scott Baker / 01/15/2011
J. Eric Fuller, a survivor of last weekend’s shooting massacre in Tucson, gained national notoriety this week after claiming shooter Jared Lee Loughner got conservatives Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin their “first target.” The Blaze also brought you the story of Trent Humphries, a Tucson-area tea party leader who was warned by police to “stay away from public places” as his organization was being targeted with threats following the shooting.
On Saturday morning, Fuller and Humphries met during a town hall-style event hosted by ABC’s Christianne Amanpour that featured family members of victims, Tucson citizens and community leaders. Toward the end of the meeting, local news reports that Fuller objected to comments made by Humphries and Arizona state Rep. Terri Proud, a Republican. In response, Fuller took a photo of Humphries and told him, “You’re dead.”
Pima County police deputies immediately escorted Fuller from the room. The Sheriff’s spokesman, Jason Ogan, confirmed Saturday afternoon that Fuller has been charged with threats & intimidation and disorderly conduct.
The ABC News town hall meeting, dubbed “After the Tragedy: An American Conversation Continued,” is set to air on Sunday morning, but it was not clear whether Fuller’s comments would be included in the final broadcast.
Also in attendance for the town hall meeting were Mayor Bob Walkup, Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, and former Congressman Jim Kolbe.
January 15th, 2011
An investigation is under way after 200 dead cows were found in a field in the Town of Stockton.
The Portage County sheriff's office says the owner of the cattle has been working with a local veterinarian and it's "believed" the animals died from the IBR/BVD virus. The virus can cause respiratory and reproductive problems.
WSAW reports samples from the dead cows have been sent to Madison for testing.
Authorities say there is no threat to humans or other animals.
Tops From The Trib
January 15th, 2011
January 15th, 2011
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- There's the sweet deal for companies that make Puerto Rican rum. Or the tax break intended to promote U.S. manufacturing but that's so broad it can include the making of hamburgers.
The list goes on. Welcome to the American corporate tax code, which is front and center for a possible overhaul.
On Friday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will meet with business executives to discuss corporate tax reform. It is expected to be the first of several meetings as the Obama administration decides whether to push the issue this year.
Many business leaders and tax experts say the corporate tax code discourages foreign investment in the United States and hinders the ability of U.S. companies to compete internationally.
The main culprit: the 35% top corporate tax rate, which is among the highest in the world.
That's why one goal is to lower the top rate and in turn streamline the more than 130 business tax breaks currently on the books.
Sounds simple, but it's not. To push the top rate below 30% will require some serious slash-and-burn action. And since every tax break has its well financed defenders, there's likely to be strong pushback.
CNNMoney asked six tax policy experts which breaks they think should get the ax. Of their top picks, some are poorly targeted. Others are simply lobbyist-engineered loopholes with minimum value to the economy.
Boosting corn as high as an elephant's eye: Oil refineries can take a 45-cents-a-gallon tax credit for ethanol blended with gasoline.
"It predominantly benefits corn-based ethanol, driving up corn prices, distorting agricultural decisions, and having little if any benefit in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions or fuel savings," said Gilbert Metcalf, an economics professor at Tufts University.
Eliminating the break could save $32 billion over five years, he noted.
A misguided 'manufacturing' break: The experts flagged the "Section 199" domestic production deduction -- one of the larger breaks in the business arena.
Under Section 199 of the tax code, income from "qualified production activities" conducted in the United States is taxed at a lower rate than other domestic (or foreign) activities by U.S. firms.
The tax break, created in 2004, was intended to encourage companies to manufacture their goods in the United States. But "manufacturing" can be very broadly interpreted to include things like the making of fast food hamburgers.
"[It] ... leads to absurd efforts to characterize activities like content production as 'manufacturing,'" said Edward Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Moreover, if the point of reform is to make the United States a more attractive place to invest, "any rationale for this rule would be greatly weakened by lowering the U.S. corporate rate," said Daniel Shaviro, author of "Decoding the U.S. Corporate Tax Code."
The estimated cost of this break to federal coffers over five years is $62 billion.
Too big a bang for a deductible buck: Oil and gas companies can take a tax credit for fees or payments they make to foreign governments for access to drill sites or to other infrastructure. But the experts said such fees are not officially a "tax" but are really just a business expense.
As a business expense the fee would qualify as a deduction, which is less valuable than the tax credit they've been getting.
Recharacterizing the fee as an expense rather than a tax could save $8.2 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
A break to understate income: So-called LIFO accounting rules ("Last-In, First-Out") let companies reduce how much taxable income they report.
And the rules are disproportionately used by just a few types of businesses -- most notably, oil companies, spirits manufacturers and car dealers.
Broadly, LIFO lets companies treat their most recently produced or purchased goods as if they were the first ones sold.
Take a tire company. At the start of the year it costs the company $10 to produce one tire. By the end of the year, because of rising rubber prices, it costs $11. Under LIFO, the company can assume that all of the tires it sold that year cost $11 to produce, instead of $10. (Please see correction below.)
That helps reduce the company's taxable income. Why? Because the cost of goods is subtracted from a company's income, and the higher the cost, the lower their net income will be.
"[LIFO] is a giveaway that benefits a handful of industries and [it] is not supported by standard income tax theory or the most modern financial accounting policies," Kleinbard said.
The estimated cost of this break to federal coffers over five years is $23 billion.
Rewarding racing and rum: TaxVox blogger Howard Gleckman says there are nearly 50 dumb special-interest loopholes -- "temporary" but frequently extended by Congress.
One of note is for Nascar racetrack owners, who are allowed to write off the costs of their racetracks -- plus related facilities, improvements and acquisitions -- over seven years. That's a much faster depreciation schedule than most other businesses are allowed.
The faster a business can write off its property costs, the lower its tax bill in the near term and the more money left in company coffers -- or owners' pockets.
"It is ... hard to see how continuing to allow generous tax depreciation for Nascar racetracks will create many jobs," Gleckman wrote in one post, calling it a "windfall."
Another is for Puerto Rican rum manufacturers. They get a hefty break on a $13.50 per gallon excise tax levied on distilled spirits produced in or imported into the United States. The net excise tax on Puerto Rican rum: 25 cents.
More From CNN Money
January 15th, 2011
The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.
Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.
Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.
“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.
In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.
The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.
The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.
In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex — and ingenious — than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.
Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.
In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.
Seimens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.
The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.
The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.
“It’s like a playbook,” said Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert in Hamburg, Germany, who was among the first to decode Stuxnet. “Anyone who looks at it carefully can build something like it.” Mr. Langner is among the experts who expressed fear that the attack had legitimized a new form of industrial warfare, one to which the United States is also highly vulnerable.
Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer program, much less describe any role in designing it. But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and
In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.
By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.
The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said. Israel has long been seeking a way to cripple Iran’s capability without triggering the opprobrium, or the war, that might follow an overt military strike of the kind they conducted against nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
Two years ago, when Israel still thought its only solution was a military one and approached Mr. Bush for the bunker-busting bombs and other equipment it believed it would need for an air attack, its officials told the White House that such a strike would set back Iran’s programs by roughly three years. Its request was turned down.
Now, Mr. Dagan’s statement suggests that Israel believes it has gained at least that much time, without mounting an attack. So does the Obama administration.
For years, Washington’s approach to Tehran’s program has been one of attempting “to put time on the clock,” a senior administration official said, even while refusing to discuss Stuxnet. “And now, we have a bit more.”
Paranoia helped, as it turns out.
Years before the worm hit Iran, Washington had become deeply worried about the vulnerability of the millions of computers that run everything in the United States from bank transactions to the power grid.
Computers known as controllers run all kinds of industrial machinery. By early 2008, the Department of Homeland Security had teamed up with the Idaho National Laboratory to study a widely used Siemens controller known as P.C.S.-7, for Process Control System 7. Its complex software, called Step 7, can run whole symphonies of industrial instruments, sensors and machines.
The vulnerability of the controller to cyberattack was an open secret. In July 2008, the Idaho lab and Siemens teamed up on a PowerPoint presentation on the controller’s vulnerabilities that was made to a conference in Chicago at Navy Pier, a top tourist attraction.
“Goal is for attacker to gain control,” the July paper said in describing the many kinds of maneuvers that could exploit system holes. The paper was 62 pages long, including pictures of the controllers as they were examined and tested in Idaho.
In a statement on Friday, the Idaho National Laboratory confirmed that it formed a partnership with Siemens but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cybervulnerabilities. It argued that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit. But it also said it could not comment on the laboratory’s classified missions, leaving unanswered the question of whether it passed what it learned about the Siemens systems to other parts of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.
The presentation at the Chicago conference, which recently disappeared from a Siemens Web site, never discussed specific places where the machines were used.
But Washington knew. The controllers were critical to operations at Natanz, a sprawling enrichment site in the desert. “If you look for the weak links in the system,” said one former American official, “this one jumps out.”
the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”