Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Fixing Islam," June 16, 2007

Politics & law

Deluged with a mail-writing campaign asking for clemency, federal judge Reggie B. Walton nonetheless sentenced vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to 2 1/2 years in prison and levied a $250,000 fine for perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame case. In an unusual move, the judge released the pre-sentencing letters, dismissing a request from Libby's lawyers that they remain sealed. Letters supporting Libby came not only from expected conservatives-former UN ambassador John Bolton, recently dismissed World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz, and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld-but from unexpected quarters: Democratic strategist James Carville, Clinton-era Mideast diplomat Dennis Ross, and former Soviet dissident and Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky. Libby, the highest-ranking official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair, is likely to enter prison despite ongoing appeals-unless his supporters are successful in pressing President Bush to issue a pardon.

Persian Gulf

Turmoil in the Persian Gulf last week came less from man-made elements in Tehran and more from a natural phenomenon. Cyclone Gonu, the Arabian Peninsula's worst storm in at least 60 years, hit the Strait of Hormuz as a Category 5 hurricane June 5, threatening to cut transportation through one of the world's most important petroleum arteries. As the storm approached, ports from Oman to Iran closed, at least 12 people were killed in Oman, and oil prices-again-were expected to spike.

Immigration

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U.S. senators worked past midnight last week to hold together a compromise immigration package one supporter, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), called "longer than the Bible." Senators struck down amendments undoing its amnesty and visa-extension provisos, but approved by a single vote in the early morning hours of June 7 an amendment to shut down the bill's proposed guest-worker program after five years-a move that could upset the delicate bipartisan balance behind the deal.

Sudan

Human-rights activists are using high-resolution satellites to monitor imperiled villages in the Darfur region of Sudan, posting the images online. The new Amnesty International website, eyesondarfur.org, launched June 6. It includes archived images showing villages destroyed since the conflict began in 2003 and hotspots where over 200,000 have been killed. "We're hoping that by shining a light that we will deter the abuse from ever happening," said Amnesty's Ariela Blatter.

Asia

In Laos, Vang Pao fought the Japanese in World War II and the Communists during the Vietnam War, recruited by the CIA for his bravery and command of local Hmong people. Now the 77-year-old faces another battle: June 4 charges that he and eight others-including a former California National Guardsman-plotted a violent overthrow of Laos' still-Communist government. Prosecutors said the group was planning to recruit a mercenary army and obtain anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers-a conspiracy "to murder thousands and thousands of people at one time," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Twiss. Vang Pao is both revered and reviled: He came to the United States around 1975 and helped thousands of Hmong to settle here, but recently split with old Hmong veterans.

Speller

Evan O'Dorney, a 13-year-old homeschooler from Danville, Calif., won the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 31 on the word "serrefine," a noun describing small forceps. But the eighth-grader says he's better at math, and to prove it is registered for a calculus class at the University of California at Berkeley this summer.

Man Knows Not His Time

Sen. Craig Thomas died June 4 after a seven-month fight with leukemia. He was 74. The Wyoming Republican, elected for a third term with 70 percent of the vote last year, began his congressional career in 1989 when he took over the state's lone House seat in a special election to replace Dick Cheney, who departed to become defense secretary for the first President Bush. In 1994, Thomas won election to the Senate, where he consistently sided with conservative policies and fought to protect Wyoming's national parks. His passing will not alter the Senate's delicate balance of power as Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal must select a GOP replacement to serve until a 2008 special election. The Senate remains evenly divided with 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans, but two independent lawmakers organize with the Democrats to create a thin majority. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota has been recovering from a near-fatal aneurism since December and has not participated in Senate activities. Thomas, a Wyoming native and former Marine, is survived by his wife Susan and four children.

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