Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Yeah, what the hell IS going on? Think of your favorite recipe for salsa. Three common ingredients now are suspects in the salmonella poisonings that have become the nation's largest food-borne outbreak in at least a decade. And therein lies the frustration. Seven weeks into their investigation, federal health officials aren't shortening the list of potential culprits but adding to it. Now jalapeno pepper producers are being probed alongside tomato distributors, and even fresh cilantro is under suspicion, too. "I wish I could have a crystal ball and say it's one of those three things," Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration's food safety chief, told AP Television on Thursday. "This has gone on longer and has been more complicated than anything I've worked on at FDA."

Speaking of... It's been a bad year for the Food and Drug Administration's top brass. The agency's been accused by Congress of mishandling health scares linked to pet food, Heparin, Avandia and now, tomatoes, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports. But based on their bonuses, you would think it was a banner year at the FDA. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., says he was stunned to learn that 28 senior FDA executives took in a combined $1 million in bonuses last year, pushing their pay above that of members of Congress, federal judges - and even some cabinet secretaries. "They've done such a miserable job these last two years, I think they should leave! Not get bonuses of $40,000 [to] $50,000!" Stupak said. "Good grief."
For example:
$48,000 in a cash award and retention bonus went to an associate commissioner whose plan to overhaul FDA field labs was rejected by Congress as poorly thought-out.
$41,000 went to the director of the office of criminal investigations, pushing his total income to enforce one statute to $208,000 - more than the director of the FBI makes.

"The kicker of course is the person who was hired to reform the bonus system received the biggest bonus," Stupak said. "$58,000." Outrageous. And people are getting sick left and right because they have no idea how to protect the food supply.

What's going on in Damascus? The world will be watching closely this weekend as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrives for a rare visit to Paris. The question lingering: will he finally and publicly decide which camp to join - the West or Iran? The United States and its European allies have serious concerns over the Syrian government's behavior. The main issues troubling Western leaders include Damascus' strong alliance with Tehran; its clandestine nuclear program; its alleged support of terrorism - particularly allowing foreign fighters into Iraq; interference in neighboring Lebanon and a lack of internal reforms. The list goes on. Relations between France and Syria have been strained since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a February 2005 bombing in Beirut, blamed widely on Damascus.

Go read Col. Lang for some more info: This has been developing for a long time. Bashar Assad's Syria has been seeking an opening for a new beginning with the United States for many years. They have tried to approach the Bush Administration above the table, below the table, around the table, over the table, but, to no avail.

Two MIA soldiers found in Iraq: Families say the bodies of two U.S. soldiers missing in Iraq for more than a year have been found. The father of Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez of Lawrence says the military told him Thursday that the remains of his son were identified in Iraq. The stepfather of Pfc. Byron Fouty of Waterford, Mich., says that soldier's remains were also found there. The Pentagon has made no official announcement. It usually does not release news publicly until 24 hours after families are notified.

Ah-ha!The stunning rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors owed its success not just to artful deception, but also to a five-year U.S.-Colombian operation that choked their captors' ability to communicate. Known as "Alliance," it began with a satellite phone call in 2003, just weeks after the Americans' surveillance plane crashed in the southern Colombian jungle, according to U.S. and Colombian investigators and court documents. The call came from Nancy Conde, the regional finance and supply chief for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, whose boyfriend would become the American hostages' jailer. She was calling confederates in Miami to see if they could supply the rebels with some satellite phones. What Conde didn't know was that state security agents were listening.

9/11 victim put back on list: A doctor missing since the day before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was added to the city's official death toll Thursday, months after an appeals court declared there was no other plausible reason for her disappearance. The city medical examiner's office said that Dr. Sneha Anne Philip, 31, was the 2,751st victim killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. It cited the Jan. 31 court ruling in a brief release, saying the state Supreme Court's appellate division "determined that Sneha Anne Philip died at the World Trade Center. Therefore, we have added her name to the list of World Trade Center victims." Philip's family went to court to restore her name to the victims' list. She was cut from the list in 2004 by officials who said they couldn't definitively link her to the site because she didn't work there and went missing a day earlier.

Love the picture, by the way: As a rule, Karl Rove’s word isn’t worth much, but today he did exactly as promised — he said he’d blow off a House Judiciary Committee subpoena, and that’s precisely what he did. Former White House adviser Karl Rove defied a congressional subpoena and refused to testify Thursday about allegations of political pressure at the Justice Department, including whether he influenced the prosecution of a former Democratic governor of Alabama. Rep. Linda Sanchez, chairman of a House subcommittee, ruled with backing from fellow Democrats on the panel that Rove was breaking the law by refusing to cooperate — perhaps the first step toward holding him in contempt of Congress. Lawmakers subpoenaed Rove in May in an effort to force him to talk about whether he played a role in prosecutors’ decisions to pursue cases against Democrats, such as former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, or in firing federal prosecutors considered disloyal to the Bush administration. Rove had been scheduled to appear at the House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday morning. A placard with his name sat in front of an empty chair at the witness table, with a handful of protesters behind it calling for Rove to be arrested.

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