White House Officials Form New Office To Further Online Security

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(STANFORD, Calif.) -- Two officials from President Barack Obama's administration visited the Stanford University campus on Friday to announce the launch of a new cybersecurity initiative.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard A. Schmidt said the Commerce Department will host a National Program Office in support of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.

In his remarks, Locke pointed out that the world does nearly $10 trillion of business on the Internet, but that, "The reality is that the Internet still faces something of a 'trust' issue."

"The president's goal is to enable an Identity Ecosystem where Internet users can use strong, interoperable credentials from public and private service providers to authenticate themselves online for various transactions," Locke said.

The initiative is focused around the implementation of the Trusted Identities Strategy, which would act as a universal, government created identity, presumably safter than anything presently available to the public. While web surfers can currently use one online identity to log in to multiple websites through services like OpenID, Locke and Schmidt say the new identification plan would be the safest yet.

"We need a cyber world that enables people to validate their identities securely, but with minimal disclosure of information when they’re doing sensitive transactions (like banking) - and lets them stay anonymous when they’re not (like blogging). We need a vibrant marketplace that provides people with choices among multiple accredited identity providers – both private and public – and choices among multiple credentials. In this world, we can cut losses from fraud and identity theft, as well as cut costs for businesses and government by reducing inefficient identification procedures, " Schmidt wrote on the White House blog.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace program will be looking for developers in both the public and private sectors to help start the campaign.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Calls Jobs Report 'Positive News,' Makes Economic Personnel Announcements

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama Friday called the jobs numbers released Friday morning "positive news," but noted there is still work to be done on the economy.  The jobs report showed a drop in the nation's unemployment rate to 9.4 percent.

“Overall, the decline in the unemployment rate is positive news, but it only underscores the importance of us not letting up on our efforts,” President Obama said from the factory floor of Thompson Creek Manufacturing in Landover, Maryland.

“We know these numbers can bounce around from month to month, but the trend is clear,” Obama said noting that this makes 12 straight months of private-sector job growth for the first time since 2006, “The economy added 1.3 million jobs last year, and each quarter was stronger than the previous quarter, which means that the pace of hiring is beginning to pick up.”

The president said they are seeing “optimistic” economic forecasts for the year ahead -- he said in part due to the tax cuts package he signed into law last month, including a payroll-tax cut for workers and tax breaks to encourage investment, innovation and hiring in businesses.

“I fought for that package because, even though our economy is recovering, we've still got a lot to do,” the president said, “So even though we've created 1.3 million jobs, we've saved a whole lot of jobs, you've still got a whole bunch of folks who are out there looking, still struggling. We've got a big hole that we're digging ourselves out of.

As expected the president made four economic personnel announcements -- all of whom stood with him on stage – which he dubbed the people who would “help America fulfill this mission,” to put people back to work.

Declaring him a man of “decency and integrity,” President Obama appointed Treasury official Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council, replacing Larry Summers.

“One of the reasons I've selected Gene is, he's done this before. This is his second tour of duty heading up the NEC,” Obama said of Sperling who headed the NEC under the Clinton administration, “And in his tenure in the Clinton administration during the late '90s, he helped formulate the policies that contributed to turning deficits to surpluses and a time of prosperity and progress for American families in a sustained way. “

Mr. Obama also elevated Jason Furman to be principal deputy at the National Economic Council, himself a two-year veteran of the White House already -- to work alongside Sperling.

The president also announced his nomination of Heather Higginbottom is currently the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, to now serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“She understands the relationship between numbers on a ledger and the lives of real people. As we make cuts that are necessary to rein in the deficit, I want to make sure I've got Heather there so that we're meeting our fundamental obligations to our people and to our economy, as well.”

And rounding out the personnel announcements the president also nominated Katharine Abraham to the Council of Economic Advisers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bernanke Warns Jobs Recovery Could Take Years

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress on Friday that if the pace of job creation continues at December’s levels -- when 103,000 jobs were added to payrolls -- the nation will not see “sustained declines in the unemployment rate.”

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing, the panel’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions, contended Friday’s jobs report represented “treading water” and produced “not really a number that we can celebrate.”

In response, Bernanke said, “It’s about what we expected, but as you say it’s not a number that’s going to -- if we continue at this pace you’re not going to see sustained declines in the unemployment rate.”

Bernanke said the fed sees improvements in consumer and business spending, but remains concerned about the housing sector and the jobs market.  The central bank boss warned that “it could take four to five years for the job market to normalize fully.”

An additional cause for concern for the fed -- something that Bernanke has warned Congress about time and time again -- is the nation’s soaring deficits. Those concerns were echoed this morning by the Budget panel’s Democratic chairman and ranking Republican.

“Facing up to the debt problem is something we must do and we must do it together,” said Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Unemployment Plummets; US Employers Add 103K Jobs in December

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The nation’s employers increased payrolls by 103,000 during December, worse than the 150,000 economists were expecting.

The unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 to 9.4 percent, the biggest one-month drop since April 1998 and takes the economy to the lowest level since May 2009.

Despite the jobs loss in the government sector, companies in the private sector added 113,000 workers during December. Economists expected the private sector to add 162,000 jobs.

There have been a net of 7.2 million jobs lost since Dec. 2007, the first month of the recession.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Homestead Pasta Company Recalls 144,633 Pounds of Tamale Products

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Homestead Pasta Company is recalling about 144,633 pounds of frozen tamale products for containing a known allergen that is not listed on the products' labels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that the San Francisco-based company's meat and poultry tamales contain whey, a known dairy allergen.  The unnoted allergen was discovered after the USDA conducted a label review.  No complaints of allergic reactions have been reported.

The products affected were made between April 2010 and this month and transported to California, Oregon and Washington to be sold.  They include cases of Garibaldi Beef Tamale, Garibaldi Turkey Tamale, Golden West Traditional Beef Tamale with Sauce in Husk, Golden West Traditional Turkey Tamale with Sauce in Husk, Casper Homestead Pasta Company Beef Tamale, and Casper Homestead Pasta Company Chicken Tamale.

Packages in question bear establishment numbers "P-4994" or "EST. 4994," which can be located inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bank of America Testing New Accounts and Fees

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto | Bank of America(NEW YORK) -- Bank of America is testing changes in its account programs, along with a new fee structure. The company will try out four new products under the pilot program beginning later this month for new customers in Arizona, Georgia, and Massachusetts, states which represent 10 percent of Bank of America's customers.

The new account structure includes a basic checking account called "Bank of America Essentials" with a monthly fee of $9.

Currently, basic checking customers can avoid a monthly $8.95 service charge by maintaining a balance of around $1,500 or by having at least one direct deposit made each statement period.

A Bank of America spokesperson said Thursday customers will not be able to avoid a monthly service fee in the new "Essentials" account, even if they maintain a minimum balance amount or by using direct deposits.

"Many of our customers choose to have a monthly fee. They like that predictability," said Susan Faulkner, Bank of America Deposits and Card Product Executive, during a press conference Thursday.

The other new accounts unveiled Thursday, called, "Enhanced" and "Premium," would apply to customers with higher balances and multiple interest-bearing checking and savings accounts, or link to its credit card or mortgage services. And a new "Platinum Privileges" account requires the use of Bank of America's investment services.

Customers choosing those accounts will have to maintain higher minimum balances than previously. Bank of America has not yet disclosed what fees will be assessed, if balances fall below the minimum.

New customers in the states in the pilot program will only have the four test products or the bank's "eBanking" program available to them, bank officials said at a press conference Thursday. Customers with an "eBanking" account can choose a monthly fee or sign up for paperless statements and make all deposits and withdrawals online or at an ATM.

The primary reason for the change in the account structure is the "economic realities" of customers and their needs, said Faulkner.

According to Bank of America, one out of every two households in the U.S. banks with Bank of America. That is about 57 million households.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mega Millions Winner: Jim McCullar of Washington

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(EPHRATA, Wash.) -- Jim McCullar kissed his wife, Carolyn, as he claimed his $190 million share of the Mega Millions lottery, part of the second-largest jackpot in the history of the U.S. lottery.

"I think $190 million is pretty good for this little old Mississippi boy," Jim McCullar said. "People have been good to me all my life. It's called pay it forward."

MCuller, 68, and his wife live in Ephrata, Washington, a town of fewer than 7,000 people, where he works as a real estate agent.

McCullar is one of two people who picked the correct numbers to earn a share of a $380 million Mega Millions bonanza. The other winner, from Idaho, has not contacted lottery officials.

It was Carolyn McCullar's idea to buy two lottery tickets last Sunday while they were grocery shopping in Safeway.

The couple's winning numbers were based upon their birthdays.

The numbers drawn in the jackpot were: 4, 8, 15, 25, 47, and the Mega Ball number was 42.

The couple's second ticket won them $150.

They've been lucky before. Several years ago, they won at least $10,000 playing the Oregon lottery.

The McCullars said that they have no plans to "blow" the money.

"What this means to me is not a jet and traveling all over the world," Jim McCullar said. "What this means to me is that the legacy is going to go generation after generation after generation. My kids, my grandkids, my great grandkids and their kids will never have to worry."

The couple has four kids together. Jim McCullar has two other children from a previous marriage.

The two, who love to golf, moved to Washington State in 2003. Jim McCullar previously worked for Boeing for 20 years as a maintenance instructor.

Washington Lottery communications director Scott Kinney said that the McCullars hand-picked the magic numbers at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Safeway store that sold the winning ticket will receive $50,000.

Washington state will use the money it makes from the lottery for higher education, Kinney said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


On Eve of Government Jobs Report, Gallup Reports Unemployment Up at Year's End

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PRINCETON, N.J.) – After a November improvement in employment, unemployment closed the year at 9.6 percent, up from 8.8 percent at the end of November, according to Gallup. Underemployment rose to 19 percent from 17.2 percent over the same period.

Those who were employed part-time and sought full-time work made up 9.4 percent of the workforce at the end of the year, also an increase from 8.4 percent at the close of November.

Despite an expected increase in hiring and firing during the holiday season, Gallup reported that their job creation index has remained unchanged over the past three months.

The data comes a day before the government is expected to make a report on unemployment and the creation of over 140,000 new jobs in December.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Coffeehouse Gambles on New Logo, Drops 'Starbucks' and 'Coffee'

Photo Courtesy - Starbucks Coffee Company(NEW YORK) -- This week, Starbucks, commemorating its 40th birthday, unveiled a new logo that loses the words "Starbucks" and "Coffee" and consists solely of the Melusine, a two-tailed, mermaid-like figure that has been part of the logo from the beginning.

The change has prompted a significant outcry from the faithful, increased chatter around the worldwide water cooler and caused marketing, media and design professionals everywhere to begin spontaneously spouting their opinions.

Some are screaming "Change it back," while others are scratching their heads trying to figure out why a company would take its name off the masthead. Judging from the initial press, a minority of people believe it could be a good idea.

The controversy is easy to understand on the surface. Starbucks is, after all, the largest coffeehouse chain in the world. There are 11,000 stores in the United States alone and another 7,000 spread throughout 50 other countries.

The brand is built on the powerful and unique relationship the company has built with its consumers by catering to their coffee nuances with an army of 150,000 baristas.

To tens of thousands of its customers, Starbucks' messing with the logo may amount to challenging a personal preference by fiddling with the familiar. But, as a business move, it is bold and defensible.

Each time Starbucks has made a significant change -- adding espresso beverages and going public -- it has updated its logo.

Now, at 40, the company has decided to position itself to expand outside of coffee and tea as a focus, perhaps even adding wine and beer after hours. In post-recession America, companies willing to take on risks to spur growth by reinventing themselves are still a rare commodity.

Many people are comparing the Starbucks logo change to the Gap fiasco of October when the retailer buckled to consumer backlash against its new logo and reverted back to the familiar blue box. The differences are significant.

The Starbucks logo was introduced front and center by CEO Howard Shultz, who explains the company's move in its website video as an evolution, pointing out that it embraces and respects the heritage of the old logo and noting how it leads changes in the company's direction.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Blue Shield Policyholders May Face Rate Hikes Up to 59 Percent

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Thousands of Blue Shield individual policyholders could see their insurance rates increase by as much as 59 percent on March 1, The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The California-based health insurer attributes the hikes to rising healthcare costs and expenses stemming from newly enforced healthcare laws.

If implemented, a total of 193,000 policyholders would have their rates increased by an average of 30 to 35 percent.  Out of that total, about one-in-four customers would be faced with cumulative increases of more than 50 percent throughout a five month time period.

Blue Shield policyholders, including Michael Fraser of San Diego, were notified of the successive rate hikes.  After reviewing the notice, Fraser learned that his monthly bill would go up from $271 to $431, an increase of 59 percent.

California insurance commissioner Dave Jones' office is reviewing the proposed increases.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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