Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Overnight - A roundup of news items that you might have missed

Does Iran threaten the US the way the former Soviet Union did? Here's an excellent discussion about that very issue: The Soviet Union was the epicenter of a coherent, persuasive political ideology which was in direct conflict with that of the United States. This ideology was adopted by or heavily influenced the governments of countries on every continent except Antarctica, and was championed for a time by significant factions in the United States and other western countries. This posed a grave political threat to the United States and its allies...

No surprises here: FBI agents repeatedly complained to their superiors that harsh interrogation techniques used on detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo might violate the law and jeopardize future criminal trials, but administration officials took little action to address their concerns, according to a report by a government watchdog. At one point in 2003, several top Justice Department officials raised concerns about the interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay detention facility with the National Security Council, which includes President Bush and Vice President Cheney and was chaired at the time by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the Justice Department's Inspector General Glenn Fine found. "But they did not recall that any changes were made at (Guantanamo) as a result," Fine said.

Everything you wanted to know about the sugarcane industry in Brazil: Just a decade ago, the giant Moema ethanol and sugar mill in this corner of southeastern Brazil covered less than half of its current 173,000 acres. It produced mainly sugar. That was before world petroleum prices skyrocketed and millions of Brazilians turned to cheaper sugar cane-based ethanol to fuel their vehicles. Now, fuels made from sugar cane have become Brazil's second most-used energy source, only behind fossil fuels. That boom has transformed Moema into one of Brazil's biggest sugar-cane mills and turned much of Sao Paulo state, where Moema is located, into the world capital of sugar cane ethanol. More than 5,000 workers now help Moema churn out about 880,000 tons of sugar and 185 million gallons of ethanol every year, working day and night, rain or shine. Nationwide, sugar-cane mills produced nearly 6 billion gallons of ethanol last year, with output projected to jump by 160 percent through 2016.

Free speech wins, sometimes: the Wall Street Journal won a complete victory in a libel case involving terror finance issues. The lead reporter, the venerable Glenn Simpson, is now 4-0 since 9/11 in these types of cases. While the victory is a testament to his tenacity and care, it is also a testament to the courage of the WSJ in willing to fight and win these cases. Most are lost simply because the will to fight has gone out of so much of the media, who would often rather settle than protect the truth. A brief summary: The Tribunel Correctionel in Paris issued a ruling in Ancienne Bauche SA v The Wall Street Journal Europe. The Journal, editor Michael Williams and reporters Glenn Simpson and Benoit Faucon were all acquitted on charges of felony and civil libel.

British citizens detained last week: BAE Systems, which has a North American subsidiary and does extensive business in the United States, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is looking at allegations that the company paid bribes to Saudi officials in exchange for defense contracts. As part of the investigation, U.S. authorities briefly detained two of the company's top leaders as they arrived at a U.S. airport. "BAE Systems confirmed Monday that chief executive Mike Turner and non-executive director Nigel Rudd were briefly detained by U.S. officials when they landed in the United States on business last week," the AP reports. "The pair were spoken to when they arrived at Houston airport, before they were allowed to enter the United States. Turner has since returned to Britain while Rudd is on vacation at an undisclosed location, the company said." The aerospace and defense company is accused of running a slush fund to secure lucrative defense deals with Saudi Arabia; the U.K. government quashed the investigation after the Saudi government threatened to end a lucrative defense deal. The U.S. Justice Department can claim jurisdiction if those funds went through the U.S. banking system. BAE Systems denies the charges.

Gee, we hope they're telling the truth: More than 30 sources of radiation were buried by debris from the massive earthquake in central China last week and all have either been recovered or safely cordoned off, state media reported Tuesday. A French nuclear expert said the radioactive sources likely came from materials used in hospitals, factories or in research, not for weapons. The Chinese government has previously said all nuclear facilities affected by the May 12 earthquake were safe and under control, but did not give any details about which sites were affected or whether any were damaged. But the quake buried 32 sources of radiation under rubble in Sichuan province, the heart of the disaster zone, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian. All but two have been recovered, and the remaining two have been located, cordoned and will soon be transported to a safer location, Xinhua said. Xinhua did not elaborate on any potential threat to the public and did not provide details on the radioactive sources beyond calling them "nuclear facilities and radioactive sources for civilian purposes."

Fossella holds on til the end of his term:
New York Rep. Vito Fossella will not seek re-election after a series of damaging revelations about a child from an extramarital affair, two people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make the announcement public. Fossella was expected to make the announcement Tuesday. Fossella, 43, has admitted to fathering a daughter with a Virginia woman. The congressman's secret relationship with the woman, Laura Fay, was revealed after he was arrested for drunken driving May 1. Fossella was stopped after running a red light, and he told officers he was going to see his sick daughter, according to police. Fossella is married with three children. The family lives on Staten Island. He has served in Congress since 1997, representing Staten Island and part of Brooklyn. He is the only Republican member of Congress from New York City. It was Fay who got him out of jail after the arrest. She is a former Air Force lieutenant colonel and worked for a time as a liaison to Congress.

Speaking of the LTC: The first official complaint against the Staten Island Republican, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), asks the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate whether Fossella violated any House rules when he traveled overseas with retired Air Force Lt. Col. Laura Fay. [SNIP] CREW’s request asks the ethics committee to focus on Fossella’s official travel, some of which occurred with Fay when she was an Air Force liaison to Congress, and to look into whether Fossella essentially took advantage of such travel to foster an illicit relationship with Fay. “Reports have indicated that the affair commenced in 2002 during a congressional trip to Europe when Lt. Col. Fay was serving as an Air Force congressional liaison officer who traveled with congressional delegations,” CREW said in a statement. “In the summer of 2003, Rep. Fossella took part in another congressional trip to Europe, during which the affair became obvious to other attendees.” Bear in mind, Fossella was re-elected TWICE since that affair became "apparent" to everyone.

Time to shut down the NBA? Disgraced basketball referee Tim Donaghy told investigators in the NBA betting probe that relationships among officials, coaches and players "affected the outcome of games," his attorney said. The league said the charges were unfounded. Donaghy's attorney made the assertions in a letter filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Monday, in which he argued that his client should be sentenced to probation because he fully cooperated with prosecutors and has been undergoing treatment for his gambling addiction. The attorney also suggested that Donaghy told investigators about the gambling activities of other NBA officials and about a referee that passed "confidential" information to an unidentified coach. The attorney, John F. Lauro, wrote that the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District agreed to plea agreements with other defendants in the case, even though his client told investigators about NBA matters outside of the government's initial investigation. Lauro said the disparity in treatment could not be fully explained because prosecutors have "surrounded this case with a cone of silence."

*****A note from BG*****Tuesday was a very hectic day and not at all conducive to blogging. Here's hoping that Wednesday is better - and if it isn't, well at least there's "Drinking Liberally" on Wednesday night!