Nine Circles of Hell!: Thursday, September 8
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Thursday, September 8, 2011, are:
FBI raids bankrupt solar company connected to Obama “bundler”
ABC News iWatch News
FBI Raids ‘Connected’ Energy Firm Solyndra
The FBI has confirmed to ABC News that federal agents are conducting a search this morning at the offices of Solyndra, the now-bankrupt California solar power company that received $535 million in federal loans under a green energy program touted by President Obama.
The raid is part of a joint operation between the FBI and the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, Public Affairs Specialist Peter D. Lee said Thursday morning. Lee said he could not disclose the reason for the raid because the matter is under seal. Karen Sulier, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy’s inspector general’s office, confirmed its part in the probe.
Beginning in March, ABC News, in partnership with the iWatch News/the Center for Public Integrity, was first to report on simmering questions about the role political influence may have played Solyndra’s selection as the Obama administration’s first loan guarantee recipient. Federal auditors had flagged the loan, saying some applicants had benefitted from special treatment.
One of the lead private investors in Solyndra was an Oklahoma billionaire who served as an Obama “bundler,” raising money during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The bundler, George Kaiser, has declined to comment. His firm, Argonaut Ventures and its affiliates have been the single largest shareholder of Solyndra, according to SEC filings and other records. The company holds 39 percent of Solyndra’s parent company, bankruptcy records filed Tuesday show.
Energy officials have repeatedly denied those allegations, saying the selection process was even handed. Until two weeks ago, the Obama administration held out Solyndra as a model for its green energy program, which was devised to create jobs and spur investment in cleaner sources of energy. President Obama personally visited the Solyndra plant last year, and his Energy Department made it the first to win approval of a federal loan guarantee. The $535 million federal investment enabled the company to build a sprawling manufacturing facility.
Last week, Solyndra abruptly shut its doors, announced it was laying off 1,100 workers, and then filed for bankruptcy. Executives with the company and federal energy officials said the company’s failure was the result of intense competition from China.
But questions about the federal support for Solyndra continued to grow. In May, ABC News and iWatch News reported that officials at the Office of Management and Budget had raised concerns about the risks of the Solyndra loan, and that the Energy Department had been forced to restructure the deal.
On Wednesday, ABC News and iWatch News reported that Solyndra had also benefitted from the terms of a loan with the Federal Financing Bank. The extremely low interest rates for its loan were the lowest of any Energy Department recipients …
Republicans in Congress launched their own investigation into the loan program earlier this year, and ABC News confirmed this week that the senate also has questions about the Solyndra loan.
“How did this company, without maybe the best economic plan, all of a sudden get to the head of the line?” said Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in an ABC News interview last week. “We want to know who made this decision … and we’re not going to stop until we get those answers.”
Chicago tells feds, “we don’t detain people without probable cause”
Chicago News Cooperative
County Breaks With Feds on Detention Policy
Cook County will stop routinely complying with detention requests from federal immigration officials under an ordinance approved Wednesday by the County Board of Commissioners.
Under federal regulations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can request that local law enforcement agencies hold people for up to 48 hours, not including weekends and holidays, after they are set to be released because charges have been dropped, they have met bail or they have been found not guilty. ICE can pick up the detainees if they may have violated immigration laws and could face deportation.
“In America, we don’t detain people without probable cause,” said Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who introduced the ordinance. “That would violate constitutional guarantees like due process and equal protection. But these detainers are not based on probable cause and they have been imposed on U.S. citizens including veterans by mistake.”
The measure, which was approved by a vote of 10-5, followed an Indiana federal court ruling in June that detainer requests by ICE are not criminal warrants. It had been unclear whether ICE could require local law enforcement agencies to comply with its requests for extended detention and proponents of the ordinance interpreted the ruling to mean that local agencies are not compelled.
Under the ordinance, the sheriff’s department will decline ICE detainer requests unless the federal government has agreed in writing to reimburse the county for any associated costs. The ordinance also prohibits ICE agents from having access to people detained by the county without a criminal warrant.
“It’s important for us to recognize that this is about increasing safety, this is about serving the taxpayers better, and this is about keeping families together,” said Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Ex-US government scientist admits spying for Israel
Ex-U.S. government scientist admits attempted Israel spying
A former U.S. government scientist pleaded guilty on Wednesday to attempted espionage for passing top-secret national defense information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer.
The plea deal calls for Stewart Nozette, 54, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, to receive a sentence of 13 years in prison. The judge said at the hearing that he would accept the guilty plea and would impose the agreed-upon prison term.
Nozette admitted that in 2009 he provided classified information about U.S. satellites, early warning systems, defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence and key defense strategy elements.
According to the charge, he did it with the intent to hurt the United States and to help Israel. As part of the deal, he pleaded guilty to one count and U.S. government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining three counts against him.
“Stewart Nozette betrayed America’s trust by attempting to sell some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets for profit,” said Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s national security division.
The Justice Department said the criminal charges do not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offense under U.S. laws in the case.
Nozette, who had top-secret security clearances, worked for various government agencies, including the Department of Energy and the U.S. space agency, NASA.
He worked at the White House on the National Space Council in 1989 and 1990, developing a radar experiment that helped discover water on the south pole of the moon.
Drone deal becomes latest Turkey-Israel problem
Israel rejects Turkish claims of ‘disloyalty’
Israel’s defence ministry has rejected Turkish claims that it lacks “trade ethics”, saying it was still fixing drone parts that were not delivered on schedule.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had accused Israel of lacking “trade ethics” in bilateral military contracts.
“Turkey and Israel have conducted security transactions for years and despite the current developments, there are still unfinished transactions between the two countries,” a statement from the Israeli defence ministry said on Thursday.
“One of these unfinished transactions is the renovation of parts for the drones. These engines are in a process of remodelling and improvement and work on them has not yet ended.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Erdogan said: “Israel has shown disloyalty in our bilateral agreements in the defence industry area,” “For example, unmanned aerial vehicles were purchased and they were sent back for further maintenance. [The Israelis] are still delaying the delivery. Is this moral?”
Turkey and Israel signed a deal in 2005 for the supply of the unmanned aircraft, which Ankara uses in its secuirity operations.
Once-close relations between the two countries deteriorated last week when Turkey expelled Israeli diplomats and “totally suspended”defence, trade and military ties with Israel over the country’s refusal to apologise for a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Israel expressed “regret” for the loss of the lives – of eight Turks and a US national of Turkish descent – but refused to apologise for what they say was “an act of self defence”.
Tensions could further escalate between Israel and Turkey with Erdogan’s upcoming tour of three Arab countries – Egypt, Libya and Tunisia – with a possible stop in Gaza.
UK economy slowing, home prices continue to drop
The Wall Street Journal
U.K. House Prices Unstable, Industrial Output Falls
U.K. house prices fell in August, mortgage lender Halifax said Wednesday, adding that low activity is causing month-to-month price changes to be volatile, and the longer-term trend is likely to be more stable.
Separately, U.K. industrial production fell in July due to continued maintenance at oil and gas rigs and weaker electricity and water output, while manufacturing output grew only slightly, official data showed.
Halifax, a unit of Lloyds Banking Group PLC, said house prices fell 1.2% in August from July and were down 2.6% in the three months to August compared with the corresponding period a year ago—the same annual fall as in July. But smoothing the figures out on a quarterly basis, prices were up 1%, Halifax said.
“The underlying trend, as measured by the latest three months compared with the preceding three months, showed a modest improvement in house prices for the second consecutive month in August,” its housing economist Martin Ellis said.
He said that while the historically low Bank of England base rate is likely to support prices, pressures on household incomes and fears over the path of the economy will balance them out. “Overall, we expect broad stability in both prices and activity over the coming months,” Mr. Ellis said.
The BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee begins its two-day meeting Wednesday and will announce its decision on its key interest rate and program of asset purchases Thursday. Economists on the whole don’t expect any change to either, with the key rate holding at an all-time low of 0.5%.
Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, a consultancy, said the disincentives to buy a house are likely to outweigh this low borrowing rate.
“We suspect that squeezed purchasing power, tightening fiscal policy, a softening labor market and persistent serious concerns over the economic outlook will limit potential buyers and weigh down on house prices,” he said. He predicted that prices will fall 5% by the middle of next year.
Halifax’s reports of a price fall in August come after rival lender Nationwide said the average cost of a house in August dropped 0.6% on the month and 0.4% on the year. Both lenders had reported prices rising in July.
The industrial production figures are the latest evidence the U.K. economy is slowing and are likely to reinforce the view that the Bank of England won’t raise interest rates at its policy meeting Thursday and may even discuss reopening the quantitative easing policy to stimulate growth.
Vietnam drug rehab centers subject inmates to abuse, forced labor
The Associated Press
Rights group: Forced labor in Vietnam drug centers
An international human rights group urged Vietnam to shut down drug rehabilitation centers that it said subject inmates to abuse and forced labor. It also called Wednesday on international donors to check the programs they fund inside the centers for possible ties to human rights violations.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Vietnam of imprisoning hundreds of thousands of drug addicts over the past decade without due process and forcing them to work long hours for little pay.
It also alleged that the U.S. and Australian governments, the United Nations, the World Bank and other international donors may “indirectly facilitate human rights abuses” by providing drug dependency or HIV treatment and prevention services to addicts inside some of the centers.
About 309,000 drug users nationwide passed through the centers from 2000 to 2010, with the number of facilities more than doubling — from 56 to 123— and the maximum length of detention rising from one to four years, the report said, citing government figures.
The report called drug treatment at the centers “ineffective and abusive,” claiming donor support for health services inside such facilities allows Vietnam to “maximize profits” by detaining drug addicts for longer periods and forcing them to do manual labor.
“People who are dependent on drugs in Vietnam need access to community-based, voluntary treatment,” Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch in New York, said in a statement. “Instead, the government is locking them up, private companies are exploiting their labor and international donors are turning a blind eye to the torture and abuses they face.”
Tensions high as hundreds of longshoremen rush Seattle ports
Seattle Times and Associated Press
500 Longshoremen storm port in Longview
Work is at a standstill at the ports in Seattle and Everett as a labor dispute that started Thursday morning turned violent.
At least 500 longshoremen stormed the Port of Longview about 4:30 a.m., broke out windows in the guard shack and — as longshoremen wielding baseball bats and crowbars held six guards hostage — others cut brakelines on box cars and dumped grain, according to Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha.
No one was injured and there were no arrests, Duscha said. Fifty police officers from Kelso, Longview, Cowlitz County, the Washington State Patrol and Burlington Northern Railroad responded to the scene.
Duscha said tensions between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and EGT Terminal have run hot for the past few months after contract negotiations broke down.
The ILWU believes it has the right to work at the facility, but the company has hired a contractor that’s staffing a workforce of other union laborers.
Quake shook US nuke plant twice as hard as it was built to withstand
Quake shook nuclear plant twice as hard as design allowed
Last month’s record earthquake in the eastern United States may have shaken a Virginia nuclear plant twice as hard as it was designed to withstand, a spokesman for the nuclear safety regulator said on Thursday.
Dominion Resources told the regulator that the ground under the plant exceeded its “design basis” — the first time an operating U.S. plant has experienced such a milestone — but said its seismic data from the site showed shaking at much lower levels than those reported by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Both the company and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have not yet found any signs of serious damage to safety systems at the North Anna nuclear plant, and the company said it is eager to resume operations once inspections and repairs are complete.
The NRC has said it plans to order all U.S. plants later this year to update their earthquake risk analyses, a complex exercise that could take two years for some plants to complete.
The North Anna quake shows the need for the nation’s 104 aging reactors to reevaluate earthquake risks using up-to-date geological information, said Majid Manzari, an engineer at George Washington University who studies quake impacts.
“The implications of exceedance could be disastrous,” Manzari said. “I would say these studies have to be done as soon as possible.”
More horrific 9/11 tapes released
Press Trust of India
New audio tapes revisit horror of 9/11
Newly released audios in the run-up to 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US offer a chilling glimpse of just how unprepared the country was for the air tragedy. A chronicle of responses by civil and military aviation to the 9/11 hijackings have now been published and include 114 recordings of air traffic controllers, military aviation officers, airline and fighter jet pilots, as well as two of the hijackers, covering two hours of the morning of September 11, 2001.
The audio recordings had been prepared by investigators for the 9/11 Commission, but were never completed or released, a report in the New York Times said.
In a recording made just after 9 am, 16 minutes after the first plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Centre, a radio transmission to the New York air traffic control radar centre noted: “Hey, can you look out your window right now?” the caller said. “Yeah,” the radar control manager said. “Can you, can you see a guy at about 4,000 feet, about 5 east of the airport right now, looks like he’s —” “Yeah, I see him,” the manager said. “Do you see that guy, look, is he descending into the building also?” the caller asked. “He’s descending really quick too, yeah,” the manager said.
“Forty-five hundred right now, he just dropped 800 feet in like, like one, one sweep.” “What kind of airplane is that, can you guys tell?” “I don’t know, I’ll read it out in a minute,” the manager said.
But soon in the background were heard voices of people shouting: “Another one just hit the building. Wow. Another one just hit it hard. Another one just hit the World Trade.”