An Italian court has convicted 23 American CIA agents in absentia for their role in kidnapping a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan and then flying him off to Egypt to be tortured.  "Here, Italian law rules, not American law or any other law," the Italian prosecutor said.

Well, maybe.  Here are the details:

Judge Oscar Magi handed an 8-year sentence to Robert Seldon Lady, a former C.I.A. station chief in Milan, and 5-year sentences to 22 other Americans. Three of the other high-ranking Americans were given diplomatic immunity, including Jeffrey Castelli, a former C.I.A. station chief in Rome.

The judge did not convict three high-ranking Italians charged in the abduction, citing state secrecy, and a former head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolò Pollari, also received diplomatic immunity. All the Americans were tried in absentia and are considered fugitives.

Let me get this straight: the Italian judge was happy to convict a bunch of Americans who he knew would never pay a price since they'll never be extradited, but he wasn't willing to convict the Italians involved in all this, who would have paid a price.  You'll excuse me, I hope, if I don't exactly see this as a triumph of judicial independence.  Convicting a bunch of foreigners is easy.  It's holding your own people to account that's hard.  Wake me up when either of our countries starts doing that.

Off-Off Yakking

I understand that everyone wants to spin yesterday's election results in the best possible light for their side, but the sheer volume of yak is astonishing.  Was there this much postgame analysis after the off-off-year elections in 2005 or 2007?  I don't remember it, but maybe I'm just forgetful these days.

In any case, jeez, can we all get a grip?  Democrats lost races in two states.  That's a bummer for them, but hardly a referendum on the future of the party.  Republicans lost one House seat after a stupid primary squawl.  That's a bummer for them, but hardly a referendum on the future of conservatism.  Everyone needs to turn down the dial before this election becomes the balloon boy of politics.

Quote of the Day

From Ezra Klein, explaining modern romance:

Old modes of courtship are giving way to a faster, freer, fairer market, where transaction costs have fallen and participants have better information and competition is fiercer. In this market, supposedly rational actors make supposedly rational decisions and then reap the rewards or bear the consequences. New technologies such as cellphones and online dating are helping the market overwhelm older, less "efficient" norms.

Sounds exciting!

In 2003, CIA agents snatched an Egyptian cleric in Milan, Italy, and flew him to Cairo, where he was, predictably, interrogated and tortured by Egyptian security forces. The case of Abu Omar would have been like many of the extrajudicial "extraordinary renditions" secretly carried out by the Bush administration except that an Italian prosecutor stepped in and indicted 26 Americans involved in the daylight abduction. Today, an Italian judge ruled against 23 of the defendants, sentencing them to as much as eight years in prison. None will serve any prison time since they were tried in absentia, but the ruling is a rebuke to the US government—and the nearly 15-year-old rendition policy, which remains in place.

The policy of transferring suspected terrorists to third countries, implemented during the Clinton administration, has led to at least 67 people being detained by American agents and then taken to one or more countries where they were tortured, imprisoned without trial, and/or killed. In his investigation into the Italian case in Mother Jones' special package on torture, Peter Bergen described how the Bush administration's insistence that it was not handing over suspectes to be abused was demonstrably—and knowingly—false. The Obama administration has made similar assurances. It has not ruled out the use of rendition (AKA "transfers") but has said that it will ensure that "any affected individuals are subjected to proper treatment." And presumably, if the CIA still is playing body snatcher, it's no longer doing it on Italian soil. 

In a column about Michael Bloomberg's slow but steady takeover of New York City politics, Michael Tomasky notes that Bloomberg was aided and abetted by the slow but steady deterioration of the city's Democratic Party:

I covered its demise as well as Bloomberg's ascent. The former was far more gruesome to watch. In a city that's six-to-one Democratic in voter enrolment, there isn't really a plausible mayor among the dozens of elected Democrats who represent the city or some portion of it at the federal, state and local levels.

This sounds eerily familiar.  Here in the great state of California, there are something like 10 million registered Democrats.  It's one of the bluest states in the country.  And yet, when it comes time to find someone to run for governor, there's no one to choose from.  When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom dropped out of the race a few days ago, my first thought wasn't about Newsom at all.  My first thought was, "Jerry Brown?  Seriously?"  But yes: Jerry Brown, a 70-year-old guy who's already been governor twice is now the only Democrat running for governor.  That's the best we could do.

The GOP isn't in much better shape, either.  Their leading candidate right now is eBay zillionaire Meg Whitman, who barely seemed to know the Republican Party even existed until a couple of years ago.  But hey — at least they have two other candidates as well, even if they aren't exactly household names.

Jeez.  Jerry Brown. A guy who almost literally won't tell you what he thinks about anything or what he'd like to do as governor.  That's it.  That's all that California's Democratic Party can produce for the 2010 election.  Yikes.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva earlier this month announced that Brazil will cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent by 2020, a move he said would reduce the country's carbon dioxide emissions by 4.8 billion tonnes. That's significant, especially given that Brazil is one of the biggest contributors to the 20 percent (pdf) of the world's carbon emissions that come from deforestation, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But what effect will reducing deforestation have on Brazil's indigenous population? As Mark Schapiro reports in our Climate Countdown issue, green initiatives often put undue strain on the indigenous population. Witness Brazil's Atlantic Forest, where General Motors, American Electric Power, and Chevron bought 50,000 acres of rainforest to use as collateral toward massive tax breaks. Schapiro writes:

Jonas de Souza is a 33-year-old farmer who grew up a quarter of a mile from the forest that is now part of the GM-funded Cachoeira reserve. His family grows bananas, cocoa, and coffee on a small plot. He remembers hunting for small prey—roast paca, a large rodent, is a local delicacy—and collecting seeds and hearts of palm. But now, signs have gone up at the edge of the forest: No hunting, fishing, or removal of vegetation. A state police force, the Força Verde, or Green Police, patrols the three reserves, as well as a larger state-sanctioned preservation area, to enforce the restrictions.
"Now," says de Souza, "I don't have the right to go out and do what I used to do when I was 12, 14, 15 years old. I'd grab my fishing rod and get a fish to bring to my family or to feed myself. You don't have the right to walk into the forest to go and cut a heart of palm to eat. I'll get arrested and I'll be called a thief."

Read the article and watch this video by PBS' Frontline World, whose team traveled with Schapiro, for more about GM's carbon trading ploy and hear the stories of how people with some of the world's smallest carbon footprints are being displaced at the behest of corporations with some of the largest.

Mark Schapiro's story from our November/December issue, "GM's Money Trees," on a controversial carbon-offset in Brazil, has just gone live online. Traveling with Mark in the Amazon was a team from Frontline/World, the PBS investigative series, which has a multimedia companion piece to this story up on its new site, CarbonWatch. Here's a sample of what they found.

 

It's official: climate legislation has zero chance of passing before the big summit in Copenhagen this December. Many observers have assumed this for a while, though some (myself included) were hanging on to a shred of hope that senators could produce something in time for the meeting. But on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a full run of studies after he combines the various components of climate and energy legislation into a single bill. The EPA says this process will take about five weeks. Copenhagen kicks off on Dec. 7, just 32 days from now.

If the Environment and Public Works committee (EPW) could approve a bill before Copenhagen, that would be better than nothing. But right now even that prospect looks dicey, since Republicans are boycotting the markup. The committee's head, Sen. Barbara Boxer, could technically forge ahead without them, since the chair pretty much gets to set the rules. And with a 12-7 Democratic majority, she doesn't actually need Republican votes to pass a bill. But some worry that this approach would widen the partisan divide over the issue, giving moderate Republicans and Democrats in the wider Senate yet another excuse to vote against the measure.

But even if Boxer's committee does pass the bill, several other panels still need to weigh in before the legislation is ready for EPA review and then a vote in the full Senate.  Only Energy and Natural Resources has passed its component so far. Finance, Agriculture, and possibly Commerce could stake a claim—and none have even scheduled any markups yet. Now Commerce chair Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is arguing that his panel should wait to do so until after the 2010 midterm elections. Without the urgency imposed by the Copenhagen deadline, any little momentum that the climate bill had could disappear very fast.

Who are cap and trade's winners and losers? Some of the companies you'd expect to suffer losses from the climate bill being debated in the Senate are actually going to fare pretty well, according to a report released yesterday by carbon-market analysts at Point Carbon.

The analysis looks at the net carbon cost to companies in the oil and power sectors, which account for 40 percent of all the emissions covered under the Kerry-Boxer bill. The legislation in both the House and the Senate would give these companies some allowances at no charge in the early years of a carbon cap, and would then reduce the number of free allowances over time. The net cost reflects the amount of carbon credits a company will need to purchase to make up for the difference between their total emissions and their free allocations.

One of the big winners would be Exelon—the country's largest utility, a major user of nuclear power, and a strong advocate for climate legislation—which would stand to gain $1.7 billion each year under the proposed legislation, according to Point Carbon. Exelon was one of the first companies to leave the Chamber of Commerce in protest at the business lobby's climate stance, and its CEO has appeared in ads backing a bill. FirstEnergy, a utility based in Ohio and Pennsylvania, would gain roughly $494 million and Edison would gain approximately $279 million. (The figures are based on Point Carbon's forecasted average price of $15 per ton of carbon for the first few years of the program.)

For many energy providers, especially those who rely more on renewables and nuclear power, "carbon regulations will have a positive impact on their balance sheets," the study found. Virginia-based Dominion stands to gain $210 million; North Carolina-based Progress Energy would gain $64 million; and Iowa-based MidAmerican would gain $69 million; Missouri-based Ameren would gain $58 million; and Minnesota and Colorado utility Xcel Energy would gain $27 million.