Source Notes Obama Planning Trip To Korean DMZ

U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea later this month, said the Yonhap News Agency, citing a diplomatic source in Seoul.

NewsCore reported that the President will visit South Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, and is expected to tour the DMZ prior to leaving. This would mark the first visit to the infamous region by Obama.

According to the news outlet, Obama’s expected trip to the DMZ comes just weeks after the U.S. and North Korea both announced that the Asian country had “agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at [the North's major nuclear facility] Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities.”

NewsCore reported that the North Korean government also agreed to inspections by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities.

The Agence France-Presse reported that the White House proposed the DMZ visit to showcase the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance and to address a message to the regime of North Korea.

Oldest Animal With A Skeleton Found

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (UPI) — Paleontologists say they’ve discovered fossils of the oldest animal with a skeleton, between 560 million and 550 years old, in South Australia.

The age of Coronacollina acula places it in a time known as the Ediacaran Period, named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, ranging from 630-542 million years ago, before the explosion of life and diversification of organisms that took place on Earth in the following Cambrian period from 542 million to 488 million years ago, they said.

“Up until the Cambrian, it was understood that animals were soft bodied and had no hard parts,” Mary Droser, a geology professor at the University of California, Riverside, who led the team making the discovery, said.

“But we now have an organism with individual skeletal body parts that appears before the Cambrian. It is therefore the oldest animal with hard parts, and it has a number of them — they would have been structural supports — essentially holding it up. This is a major innovation for animals.”

Apart from its hard parts, it is constructed in the same way that Cambrian sponges were constructed, she said in a university release Friday.

“It therefore provides a link between the two time intervals,” Droser said. “We’re calling it the ‘harbinger of Cambrian constructional morphology,’ which is to say it’s a precursor of organisms seen in the Cambrian. This is tremendously exciting because it is the first appearance of one of the major novelties of animal evolution.”

The finding suggest the initiation of skeletons was not as sudden in the Cambrian as was thought, and that older Ediacaran animals are part of the evolutionary lineage of animals as we know them today, she said.

Senate Backs Obama In Rejection Of Keystone Pipeline

Democratic Senators voted to ratify President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipelines, leaving the oil project in limbo and ensuring that it will remain a political issue in the near future, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, Obama personally lobbied Democrats to support his decision, and reaped the rewards when 42 of these Senators sided with him in opposition of the pipeline – enough lawmakers to sustain a filibuster against a GOP-led effort to undo the President’s rejection.

“The Democrat-controlled Senate just turned its back on job creation and energy independence,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a response to the move. “President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation. When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that Republicans are eager to showcase Obama’s decision to withhold approval of the Canada-to-Gulf-Coast pipeline as proof that the Administration is not doing enough to increase the Nation’s energy supplies and generate jobs.

Oil Industry, GOP Call For More Domestic Gas Production To Curb Prices

Congressional Republicans and oil industry executives called for more U.S. gas production to counter rising prices that have been recorded across the country, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, Democrats have focused on conservation and the role of Wall Street speculators in driving up prices. Jack N. Gerard, chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute, told a House energy panel that the U.S. has a significant amount of resources that are not being tapped to their full potential.

The AP reported that Gerard noted President Barack Obama, who called for an “all-of-the-above” energy approach, has threatened the oil and gas industry with billions of dollars in tax increases.

“Mr. Chairman, this is sending the wrong message to the global markets. This needs to change,” Gerard told the panel.

The New York Times reported that the current average price for regular-grade gasoline is $3.74 in the U.S., and recent forecasts have outlined how this could rise to $4.50 in places like California. Some analysts have speculated that the price may hit $5 a gallon.

Justice Department Threatens Tech Giant Over Alleged E-Book Price Increases

The Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly working together to raise the price of electronic books, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

According to the news outlet, several of the parties have held talks to settle the antitrust case and head off a court battle that could be potentially damaging for the companies. If the Justice Department is successful, such a settlement could have wide-ranging repercussions for the industry.

The Journal reported that this may eventually lead to cheaper e-books for consumers. The five publishers facing a potential suit are CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster Inc.; Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group; Pearson PLC’s Penguin Group; Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers Inc., a unit of News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal and NewsCore.

BBC News reported that the issue has flared up because electronic books are sold according to a different formula than the one that is used to govern the sale of physical books.

Senate Comes To Agreement On Transportation Overhaul

Democratic and Republican leaders reached a deal that clears the way for a Senate vote on passage of a $109 billion bill to overhaul Federal transit and highway programs, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the agreement limits the number of amendments to be voted upon to 30, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that after a day of deliberations, the vote could occur in the coming days.

The AP reported that Reid plans to immediately send the bill over to the House, where leaders from the GOP have been struggling to corral enough votes to pass their own five-year bill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned rank-and-file Republicans that if they do not act quickly to pass their own bill, he will bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote.

The Hill reported that Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that she was thrilled to hear Boehner could put the chamber’s version of the legislation up for a vote in the House.

“I love it,” Boxer said of Boehner’s statement. “The fact is this is a proven bipartisan bill.”

U.S., Yemen Agree To Restart Controversial Military-Training Program

U.S. and Yemeni officials have agreed to restart a controversial military-training program to help the Arab nation’s new President tackle the al-Qaida militants that exist in the country, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the news outlet, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has openly turned to the U.S. as part of an attempt to get the upper hand over the terrorist group. However, this move may have a key drawback – upsetting the political balance of power in the country and making the overhaul of the nation’s security forces more complicated.

Dozens of U.S. special operations forces that are already in the country are set to resume their training of counterterrorism forces. This restart occurs after a lull last year amid a wave of new sophisticated assaults by the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida and loosely linked jihadi groups, the Journal reported.

Reuters reported that the presence of U.S. troops in Yemen has already allegedly led to the attack of an American intelligence officer, as al-Qaida said on an Islamist website that the action came as a result of the rising number of troops entering the nation.

Obama Announces Push For Vet Housing Plan

President Barack Obama announced a new plan to provide veterans and active members of the military with mortgage relief in the form of government-backed loans, his latest attempt to reinvigorate the housing sector, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the President laid out his housing-relief proposal in his first full news conference of the year. Obama specifically spoke to the veterans and service members whose deployments and mandatory moves have made them particularly vulnerable to the pitfalls of the housing crisis.

The Times reported that the President's plan reduces fees for qualifying borrowers with Federal Housing Authority-insured loans who want to refinance their home at a lower rate. This move would build on the landmark housing settlement with major mortgage lenders by the White House and 49 State attorneys general last month.

The Washington Post reported that Obama also outlined a new agreement with banks to review foreclosures for members of the military, as deals that took place since 2006 will be looked at and compensation may be provided to anyone who wrongfully lost their home. 

Senator Calls For Action From Congress On Mine Safety Bill

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has said it is time for Congress to stop delaying the passage of Federal legislation that would help to keep coal miners safe, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, his comments came on the heels of an internal review that criticized the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for its handling of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine prior to an explosion in 2010 that led to the deaths of 29 men.

The AP reported that Rockefeller noted that the depth of the agency's failures were appalling and unacceptable, saying that the MSHA must address the report's issues and help to ensure that the potential disastrous consequences are avoided in the future.

Rockefeller noted that legislation should be passed to give the MSHA more enforcement authority and increase penalties for violators.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a 308-page report from the MSHA outlined how the agency did not scrutinize parts of the mines and did not pursue aggressive policies to deter the company despite repeated violations.