- - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

IMMIGRATION

ICE to audit hiring records

ATLANTA | Federal immigration authorities are beginning a new round of investigations designed to make sure businesses hire only people authorized to work in the U.S., focusing this time on companies vital to national security and other government and economic functions.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday it is notifying 1,000 companies that it will inspect their I-9s, the forms new employees complete, along with documents the workers provide to show they are eligible to work in the U.S.

The Obama administration has made cracking down on employers a key part of its immigration-enforcement policy, emphasizing employer audits more than the high-profile workplace raids done during the administration of President George W. Bush.

SECURITY

Group claims credit for CIA website hack

The CIA is looking into reports that its public website, cia.gov, was taken down by a group of Internet hackers called lulzsecurity.

At 5:48 p.m. Wednesday evening a twitter account called “lulzsec” or the “Lulz Boat” posted a message that said, “Tango down — cia.gov — for the lulz.”

An hour later, The Washington Times could still not get on the website cia.gov.

A CIA spokeswoman said, “We are looking into [outage] reports.”

Lulz is internet slang for hilarious. Their website plays the theme to the 1970s-era ABC television program, “The Love Boat.”

Lulz Security claims to be a politically motivated group of hackers.

CONGRESS

Farm-subsidy cuts dodged by Republicans

Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid.

The Republican move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest. The maneuver, along with the Senate’s refusal Tuesday to end a $5 billion annual tax subsidy for ethanol-gasoline blends, illustrates just how difficult it will be for Congress to come up with even a fraction of the trillions in budget savings over the next decade that Republicans have promised.

Meanwhile, the annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10 percent below this year’s budget.

The farm-subsidy cuts won bipartisan approval in the House Appropriations Committee two weeks ago, but as debate on the House floor began Tuesday, Republicans turned to a procedural maneuver to drop that language.

MASSACHUSETTS

Ex-speaker convicted in corruption case

BOSTON | Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi was convicted Wednesday in a scheme to steer two state contracts worth $17.5 million to a software firm in exchange for payments to the powerful lawmaker and two of his close friends.

A visibly distraught DiMasi turned to hug his crying wife and stepdaughter after the verdict was read. He was convicted of conspiracy, extortion and theft of honest services by fraud.
DiMasi, a Democrat who resigned in January 2009, was the third consecutive House speaker to leave office under an ethics cloud.

Also convicted of conspiracy and fraud was lobbyist Richard McDonough. Accountant Richard Vitale was acquitted. Both are close friends with DiMasi. A fourth man, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before trial and testified against the others.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf scheduled sentencing for Aug. 18, and allowed DiMasi and McDonough to remain free until then, with the provision that they cannot leave New England.
The most serious counts against DiMasi carry a maximum 20 years in prison.

USDA

Biomass projects planned in three states

TOLEDO, Ohio | The U.S. Agriculture Department will begin signing up farmers in four states this summer who are willing to grow a hybrid grass that can be converted into heat and electricity.

Growing and processing the grass into energy has the potential to create 4,000 jobs in Ohio, Arkansas and Missouri, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack said Wednesday.

The government will spend $20 million over the next few years paying farmers in those three states and in three Pennsylvania counties near Ohio to grow the bamboo-like grass that can grow up to 13 feet high.

It’s money well spent, Mr. Vilsack said, because the projects will create jobs, reduce dependency on foreign oil and allow farmers to use land that isn’t as suitable to growing corn and soybeans.

Agriculture officials are planning to spend $5.7 million this year to enroll farmers in seven counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Cleveland-based Aloterra Energy will operate a biomass plant in northeast Ohio near Ashtabula to process the grass into small pellets that can be burned at power plants.

Two more projects are going to central and southwest Missouri. Farmers in those areas will feed into biomass conversion plants in Columbia and Aurora. MFA Oil Biomass LLC will operate both.

Another project in northwest Arkansas will include farmers in seven counties and a biomass plant in Paragould, which also will be operated by MFA Oil Biomass.

JAPAN

NRC: Spent-fuel pool didn’t go dry in quake

Early fears that all the water was gone from a spent-fuel pool at the stricken nuclear complex in Japan were unfounded, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday.

Newly obtained video shows that the spent-fuel pool at Unit 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex probably did not go dry, as NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko insisted in March, the NRC said.

Japanese officials had denied Mr. Jaczko’s claim, which was based on information from NRC staff and other experts who went to Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Bill Borchardt, the NRC’s executive director for operations, said U.S. officials welcomed the video evidence as “good news” and one indication that the meltdown at the Unit 4 of the Fukushima plant “may not have been as serious as was believed.”

WHITE HOUSE

Obama’s golf game with Boehner downplayed

The White House is trying to manage expectations about the president’s upcoming golf game against House Speaker John A. Boehner.

“I don’t think it’s about winning or losing,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “The president enjoys golf and plays it when he can, but I don’t think that he would say that he is an expert golfer. And I hear that the speaker of the House is quite good.”

After months of speculation, Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner will play a round Saturday with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

Mr. Boehner, whose handicap is in the single digits, has said he expects to give the president “a few strokes.” Mr. Carney said the president’s handicap is “classified.”

The so-called “Golf Summit” comes as the administration is trying to reach a deal with congressional Republicans on deficit reduction.

Mr. Carney said Mr. Obama is competitive but added, “I have heard no trash-talking from the president on this.”

PENNSYLVANIA

Statue planned for late Rep. Murtha

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. | John P. Murtha’s widow has given her approval to a new statue that will commemorate the late politician in the heart of his southwestern Pennsylvania congressional district.

Mrs. Murtha was in attendance when organizers held a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for the planned 7-foot-tall tribute that will stand near the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown.

Murtha died last year at age 77 from complications of gallbladder surgery. His widow decided the statue should show how he looked a decade earlier.

The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown reported that a model of the bronzed statue depicts Murtha striding forward with his right hand extended. Work is expected to be completed by early October.

Two Johnstown regional veterans groups are leading the fundraising effort for the project.