Jack On Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thanks for checking out the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, walk step by step with the President as he fights for campaign finance reform, boosts small business, meets with Space Shuttle Atlantis astronauts, commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, welcomes the 2009 Softball World Series champions, makes an appearance on The View and much more. 

Jack On

In a speech at the National Urban League yesterday, President Obama talked about the importance of getting students enthused about education and the particular importance of science and mathematics education.

Well, there is no better example of how to generate that kind of enthusiasm—all the while helping to make renewable-energy vehicles more practical—than the recently completed American Solar Challenge. Students from 13 universities in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Taiwan competed in the challenge, which requires students to design, construct, and then race a vehicle over 1,100 miles, powered only by the sun.

Over the course of one week last month—during the daylight hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.—teams traveled over the rolling hills of the West, through the Mississippi River Valley, and across the flats of the Midwest. Speed was not the main determinant of victory, as the top competitors were generally able to travel close to the speed limit for the duration of the race. The race really came down to the mechanical endurance and reliability of the student-built solar cars.

Each team was limited to the use of only six square meters of silicon or space-grade gallium arsenide solar cells. So the main overarching challenge was the relatively modest amount of energy available to run the cars. This forced students to be extremely conscientious about their vehicles’energy management. Students worked to optimize every component to be as energy-efficient as possible, by using low rolling resistance tires, highly efficient in-hub electric motors, aerodynamic body construction, and high-capacity battery packs, among other features.

First prize went to the University of Michigan’s vehicle, Infinium, which ran the course in just over 28 hours. This marks the third consecutive year that UM has won the national Challenge. The second-place team, from the University of Minnesota, finished two hours later. And the third-place team, from Germany’s Hoshchule Bochum, finished shortly thereafter.

Professional and university teams from across the Globe also compete biannually in the World Solar Challenge. This race last took place in 2009 and ran 1,800 miles across the Australian Outback. Several teams that completed the American Solar Challenge are now looking ahead to improve their vehicle designs and race against the world’s best in October 2011.

Jack On

In September 2009, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would routinely release visitor records. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were created in April 2010. Today’s release also includes several visitor records created prior to September 16, 2009 that were requested by members of the public during June 2010 pursuant to the White House voluntary disclosure policy. This release brings the grand total of records that this White House has released to well over half a million records. You can view them all in our Disclosures section.

We note that January 2010 records were inadvertently posted twice. That error has been corrected.

Jack On

Washington — Senior U.S. officials are traveling in August to East Asia, the Middle East and South America seeking compliance with obligations in the U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran and North Korea over nuclear weapons development programs.

Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said during a recent congressional hearing that the goal now is to ensure that the most aggressive implementation of the sanctions is possible. “We’re not alone; the European Union has acted strongly to follow up by endorsing a series of significant steps, as have Australia and Canada,” Einhorn testified.

Einhorn and Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, will travel to South Korea and Japan August 2–4 to hold talks with officials. They will travel later in August to China, and Stuart Levey of the Treasury Department will travel to the United Arab Emirates in coming weeks. Visits are also being scheduled for South America, they said.

Both testified July 29 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the impact sanctions are having on Iran. The sanctions have been imposed against Iran and North Korea to convince their regimes to abandon nuclear weapons development.

The United States embarked on a major diplomatic effort to engage with Iranian officials last year, a pledge President Obama had made during his campaign for president, Einhorn said. But those efforts have been rebuffed by Iranian officials and they have not demonstrated convincingly that their program is intended entirely for peaceful energy-generation purposes, he added.

“Iran’s intransigents left the international community no choice but to employ a second tool of diplomacy, namely pressure,” Einhorn said. “Our view is that sanctions are not an end in themselves. They’re a vehicle for changing Iran’s behavior.”

The Security Council sanctions adopted in June provided a first step in the campaign to force Iran to halt uranium enrichment and development. “It bans transfers of major conventional weapon systems to Iran. It bans all Iranian activities related to ballistic missiles that could deliver a nuclear weapon,” Einhorn said.

The sanctions also target directly the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is believed to be in control of Iran’s nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs, Einhorn said. These U.N. Security Council multilateral actions are supplemented by a number of important actions taken by the United States and others to increase pressure on Iran to halt its programs, he added.

“Our efforts have yielded significant results: At least $50 [billion] to $60 billion in oil and gas development deals have either been put on hold or have been discontinued in the last few years, due in part of our conversations with companies about the threat of [U.S.] sanctions,” Einhorn said.

“Our aim has been to use these tools of pressure to sharpen the choice that the Iranian government faces and to press it to negotiate seriously with the international community,” he added.

Glaser said the objective over the next few months will be to broaden and deepen the existing sanctions framework. East Asia, the Middle East and South America are the three regions where most of the work toward enforcement of sanctions is needed, he told the committee. “Recent actions have demonstrated that the international community is increasingly united in its efforts to apply financial pressure on Iran,” Glaser said.

Jack On Friday, July 30, 2010

Today the President was in Detroit visiting workers at a Chrysler plant and a GM plant that have not only survived, but found success after critics looking to score political points claimed there was no hope for them. For those critics the President offered a lesson: "Don't bet against the American worker."

During the two years since the economy took its hard downward turn, millions of Americans have had to fight with everything they had to stay afloat, to keep food on the table, to keep their businesses in business – and nowhere has that been more true than in Detroit.

The President has also been fighting alongside America’s workers – from the Recovery Act that’s saved or created about 3 million jobs, to the fight today over small business lending – and of course for the workers in Detroit and across America who contribute to the decades-old craft of American cars. When political opponents said that helping the American auto industry survive was a lost cause, and tried to turn public frustration against the President, he stepped in and made the hard choices anyway. There couldn’t necessarily be a life raft for everybody, but he was not going to let a million American jobs fall by the wayside simply because it opened him up for cheap political attacks.

Jack On

NASA research project studies blow of climate change

Washington — The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy docked in Seward, Alaska, July 21 after a five-week scientific expedition sponsored by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) amassed a wealth of data about the effects of climate change on Arctic seas and the polar ice cap.

The expedition was part of NASA’s $10 million, multiyear project formally known as Impacts of Climate Change on the Eco-systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment, or ICESCAPE for short. ICESCAPE is an interdisciplinary project that combines field-based observations of Arctic Ocean biology and biogeochemistry, such as those conducted aboard the Healy, with satellite sensing and numerical modeling to produce a better understanding of the ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean.
ICESCAPE’s central mission is to determine the impact of climate change, caused by both human and natural factors, on the ecology and biogeochemistry of the Arctic Ocean.
Such research has gained increased importance with the retreat of the summer ice cap and the resulting decline of Arctic sea ice and an earlier, longer lasting melting season. These changes, already evident in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas that lie north of the Bering Strait, have consequences for the entire ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean.
“The Arctic Ocean has undergone some pretty big changes in recent decades,” said Kevin Arrigo of Stanford University in an interview with He was the chief scientist aboard Healy during its mission. “Biological productivity has ratcheted up, and the timing of many key events is shifting.” That is significant, he said, because many animals key their migration to be in the Arctic when it is at its biologically most productive.
After departing from the Aleutian Islands port of Dutch Harbor June 15, the Healy crossed through the Bering Strait, traveled across the southern Chukchi Sea, and then headed into the Beaufort Sea along the ocean shelf of northern Alaska on an expedition that totaled 5,430 nautical miles, or slightly more than 10,000 kilometers.

During the Healy’s five-week deployment, 50 scientists in disciplines as varied as oceanography, microbiology, chemistry and optical physics took samples both within and beneath the thick sea ice, captured more than 1.5 million digital images of phytoplankton cells living in the ocean, and analyzed water samples to measure temperature as well as biological and optical properties.
“I can’t imagine things going better than they did for us during ICESCAPE,” Arrigo said. “We managed to make physical, chemical and biological measurements at 140 stations, about twice the number we expected to be able to complete.” The sampling stations covered an expanse from the coast of Alaska westward to the U.S.-Russian border, and from the Bering Strait north to Barrow, Alaska.
“There undoubtedly will be many other discoveries to make, and many papers to write,” Arrigo said. “By any measure, ICESCAPE 2010 was an unqualified success.”

Jack On Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Australian dollar opened lesser today as concerns about the recovery in the US economy weighed on financial markets. At 7am east-coast time, Australian dollar was trading at 89.28 US cents, down 0.19 per cent from yesterday's close of 89.47 US cents. It also buying 78.12 yen, 68.71 euro cents and 57.22 pence. Since at 5pm yesterday, the domestic dollar traded between 89.08 and 89.76 US cents. Wall Street closed lower overnight subsequent a sombre outlook from the US Federal Reserve and orders for durable goods surprisingly fell in June.
The central bank released its regional survey of the US economy, a report identified as the "beige book." The central bank said, Economic growth had been stable during the US summer in Cleveland and Kansas City, but had slowed in Atlanta and Chicago, while economic activity was modest in other regions. Also, new orders for manufactured robust goods - items such as planes, cars, refrigerators and computers - fell by one per cent in June, the US Department of Commerce said. The Bank of New Zealand currency strategist, Mike Jones, said a mild paring of risk appetite on concerns about economic growth in the US hampered risk-sensitive assets such as equities and the Australian dollar.

Mr Jones said a lesser than expected inflation report on Wednesday had knocked the prospect of the Reserve Bank of Australia lifting the cash interest rate next Tuesday, August 3. The headline consumer price index rose 0.6 per cent in the June quarter, for an yearly rate of 3.1 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the basic rate of inflation rose by 0.5 per cent in the quarter to an annual rate of 2.7 per cent, to fall within the RBA's target band of two to three per cent. The median market project for headline CPI was a quarterly rise of 1.0 per cent for a yearly rate of 3.4 per cent.

But the local currency lost around 0.75 US cents within minutes of the CPI report as investors reduced the likelihood of RBA rate rises in 2010. Mr Jones forecast the Australian dollar to trade between 89 and 89.5 US cents through today's Asian session.