Sunday, January 1, 2012

US and Iran continue war of words over Hormuz - Middle East

Source: Al Jazeera English

The Strait of Hormuz is a choke point at the entrance to the Gulf through which more than a third of the world's tanker-borne oil passes.

Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned earlier this week that "not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz" if the West followed through with planned additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. Admiral Habibollah Sayari, a navy commander, backed that up by saying it would be "really easy" to close the strait.

A US defence department spokesman said on Wednesday that "interference with the transit ... of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated".

But Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, told the Fars news agency on Thursday that "our response to threats is threats". "We have no doubt about our being able to carry out defensive strategies to protect our vital interests. We will act more decisively than ever," he was quoted as saying. "The Americans are not qualified to give us permission" to carry out military strategy, he said.

Sayari said the US aircraft carrier was monitored by Iranian forces as it passed from the Strait of Hormuz to the Gulf of Oman, state television reported, while broadcasting footage of an aircraft carrier being shadowed by an Iranian plane.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at Al Jazeera English.

Obama will free Afghan prisoners to appease Taliban

Source: Russia Today

Terrorists aligned with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, at the time in Afghanistan, attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, an action that yielded the George W. Bush administration to launch an attack on Afghanistan and bin Laden. After nearly a decade of fighting, bin Laden was executed by American troops earlier this year.

If America is awarded any victory in the lengthy bout, it was come by way of the opening of the Taliban’s first official office. The US has expressed hopes over the last few months to establish an embassy of sorts for the insurgency in hopes that it will open the door for negotiations between the enemies.

An Obama administration official speaking under condition of anonymity told the New York Times earlier this year that such a structure would serve “like a residence where they can be treated like a political party,” and would allow the Taliban’s political structure to operate “free from the threat or harassment or arrest.” Under negotiations, such an office is expected to be opened up in Qatar, a Middle Eastern state outside of the United Arab Emirates, a current crucial ally in America’s budding war with Iran.

Although insurgency remains rampant overseas, American officials are also expected as part of the deal with Afghanistan to transfer captured soldiers allegedly aligned to the Taliban from their current captivity in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to an overseas institution. The US had earlier asked if they could release the inmates to a third-party country, such as Qatar, which was met with opposition from the Taliban. Insiders reveal to the Associated Press, however, that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is demanding that the captured men be released into Afghanistan and nowhere else.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at Russia Today.

Chavez: U.S. May Be Behind Leaders’ Cancer

Source: Bloomberg

Hugo Chavez said the Central Intelligence Agency was behind chemical experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s and that it’s possible that in years to come a plot will be uncovered that shows the U.S. spread cancer as a political weapon against its critics. “It’s very difficult to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some of us in Latin America,” Chavez said in a nationally televised speech to the military. “Would it be so strange that they’ve invented technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years?” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was just diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Chavez, who was diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer in June and had a baseball-sized tumor removed in Cuba, has called for a regional summit of leaders who have battled cancer including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff , her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at Bloomberg

The NDAA: The Good, the Bad, and the Laws of War–Part I

Source: Lawfare

Editorial pages and blogs have been overrun in the past couple of weeks with analyses and speculation about the detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, which the President has just signed into law. One of the major disputes concerns whether and howi the NDAA might alter the status quo.

In the President’s words, section 1022 is “ill-conceived and will do nothing to improve the security of the United States,” and “is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty.”

Fortunately, amendments adopted late in the legislative process—particularly a change to the section 1022 waiver provision and the addition of a new provision that “[n]othing in [section 1022] shall be construed to affect the existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other domestic law enforcement agency with regard to a covered person”—will, we think, ensure that section 1022 is mostly hortatory, and will in practice allow the President to adhere to his commitments that “suspected terrorists arrested inside the United States will—in keeping with long-standing tradition—be processed through our Article III courts, as they should be”; that “our military does not patrol our streets or enforce our laws—nor should it”; and that “when it comes to U.S. citizens involved in terrorist-related activity, whether they are captured overseas or at home, we will prosecute them in our criminal justice system.”

Thanks to an amendment introduced by Senator Feinstein, the detention authorization provision (section 1021) does not “affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” For good measure, section 1022 also provides that its purported presumption of military detention “does not extend to citizens of the United States.”

This is a Suspicious News Bried. Read more at Lawfare

The End of Three Decades of US Tariffs on Imported Ethanol

I'm shocked at how little press coverage the expiration of the ethanol subsidy and tariff has gotten. As Iran and the US trade threats over blocking oil transport from the gulf, congress has allowed the tax credit for ethanol blenders to expire, along with a tariff that effectively kept out more efficiently produced foreign ethanol. The blenders’ subsidy extended a 45-cent subsidy per gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline. The tariff ended a 54-cent-per-gallon tax on imported ethanol, mainly from Brazil —which makes the stuff much more efficiently and environmentally friendly from sugar cane. Still in force is a federal mandate that requires a minimum amount of ethanol be used each year.

Source: PR Newswire -

For the first time in more than three decades of generous US government subsidies for the domestic ethanol industry, coupled with a steep tariff on imports, the United States market will be open to imported ethanol as of January 1st, 2012, without protectionist measures.

The adjournment of the 112th Congress means both the US$0,54 per gallon tax on imported ethanol and a corresponding tax credit of US$0,45 per gallon for blenders, the VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit), will expire as expected on December 31st. "With Congress in recess, there are no opportunities for further attempts to prolong the tax credit or the tariff, so we can confidently say these support mechanisms will be gone at the end of 2011," said the Washington Representative for the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), Leticia Phillips.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at PR Newswire -

'Secret' Environment Canada presentation warns of oilsands' impact on habitat

Source: Vancouver Sun

Contamination of a major western Canadian river basin from oilsands operations is a "high-profile concern" for downstream communities and wildlife, says a newly-released "secret" presentation prepared last spring by Environment Canada that highlighted numerous warnings about the industry's growing footprint on land, air, water and the climate.

The warnings from the department contrast with recent claims made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Environment Minister Peter Kent that the industry is being unfairly targeted by environmentalists who exaggerate its impacts on nature and people.
"Bitumen extraction uses between one (in situ) and three to four (mining) barrels of fresh (i.e. Not recycled) water per barrel of oil recovered," said the document. "Industry demand for water is expected to increase."

A related Environment Canada document, also produced in May and released earlier this month to Postmedia News, warned the government that the industry's economic future was in jeopardy because of a lack of "credible scientific information" required to counter campaigns and foreign regulations or legislation that crack down on products and industries with poor environmental performance.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at the Vancouver Sun.