Experts: Contamination from GM alfalfa certain

Contamination of organic and traditional crops by recently deregulated, genetically modified alfalfa is inevitable, agriculture experts said, despite Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's recent assurances the federal government would take steps to prevent such a problem.

Many farmers had been pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the use of genetically modified alfalfa. Monsanto developed the seed to resist the weedkiller Roundup, allowing farmers to use the two together to save time and labor on weeding. Supporters also say the use of the genetically modified seeds lets farmers grow more alfalfa on each acre and helps keep food prices low.

Opponents, many of them organic farmers, say widespread planting of genetically modified alfalfa will result in pollen from those plants contaminating organic and traditional crops, destroying their value. While alfalfa is mostly used as hay for cattle, some consumers don't want to eat foods, such as milk or beef, from animals that have consumed genetically modified plants.

Alfalfa is grown on about 20 million acres in almost every state in the U.S. and is the fourth largest field crop behind corn, soybeans and wheat.

Hariri court holds hearing to discuss law issues

Lawyers and judges at a U.N.-backed tribunal tried Monday to thrash out the question of what constitutes an act of terrorism, and other legal issues, as they prepare to prosecute suspects for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

A hearing at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon aimed to clarify laws the court will apply when trying those allegedly responsible for the truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

Tribunal President Antonio Cassese of Italy said the hearing showed that Lebanon "is set on a course for judicial accountability through the rule of law."

Prosecutors last month filed a sealed indictment to a judge who will take up to 10 weeks studying the charges and evidence before deciding whether the case can proceed.

By clarifying legal issues now, the court hopes to speed up the path to its first trial, expected to begin later this year with or without a suspect in custody.

It is widely expected that members of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah will be named in the tribunal's indictment. Hezbollah denies any involvement in Hariri's slaying and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has said his group would "cut off the hand" of anyone who tries to arrest any of its members.

Unlike other international courts, the Hariri tribunal can hold trials in absentia if suspects cannot be arrested.

Supreme Court: drugs can be forced on defendant

The state Supreme Court ruled on Friday that possession of more than 8 pounds of marijuana is a serious enough charge to warrant forcing medication on a defendant so he is competent to stand trial.

The high court's 7-0 ruling came in the case of 30-year-old Christopher Seekins of Torrington, who authorities say has been ruled incompetent to stand trial because he refuses to take psychotropic medication for bipolar disorder. Justices upheld a lower court judge's order to medicate Seekins against his will.

State law says a defendant can be involuntarily medicated if the crime is serious enough and there is an overriding law enforcement interest in determining whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. Seekins argued that possessing marijuana isn't a serious crime.

Seekins' lawyer, Richard Marquette, declined to comment on the ruling Friday through an employee at his Hamden law firm.

Seekins also made headlines in 2005 when he painted large pictures of marijuana leaves on his Winsted home with the word "hemp" beneath them after being charged with growing marijuana, saying it was in support of legalizing the drug. He later agreed in a plea bargain to remove or cover up the paintings, which caused a ruckus in town because they were visible from busy Main Street.

Justice Richard Palmer, a former prosecutor, wrote in the Supreme Court's ruling that the basis for determining whether a crime is serious is the severity of the sentence it potentially carries. Palmer noted that Seekins faces a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison if convicted of just three of the many charges he faces.

 

Conn. high court to hear immigrant benefits case

The Connecticut Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in a case where state lawmakers voted to end medical benefits for some impoverished legal immigrants. The justices are set to hear the case Tuesday.

A Hartford Superior Court judge ruled in December 2009 that a state law approved earlier that year violated the constitutional rights of legal immigrants by denying them medical benefits. The state appealed.

Lawmakers approved the legislation to save $9 million from a program serving about 4,800 immigrants who are elderly, disabled or are parents of needy children.

A 1996 federal law barred legal immigrants from receiving Medicaid until they had lived in the country five years. Connecticut had provided medical benefits to legal immigrants who'd been in country less than five years before last year's vote.

 

Feds conducting big insider trading probe

Federal authorities are examining whether multiple insider-trading rings reaped illegal profits totaling tens of millions of dollars, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The three-year criminal and civil investigation could result in charges by the end of the year, the Journal reported. A federal grand jury in New York has heard evidence, the paper said. Since the investigation isn't finished, it's unclear what charges, if any, may be brought.

One focus of the criminal investigation is whether independent analysts and consultants who work for companies that provide "expert network" services to hedge funds and mutual funds passed along nonpublic information, the Journal reported. Such companies set up meetings and calls between current and former managers and traders who want an investing edge.

The newspaper said one firm under examination is Primary Global Research LLC of Mountain View, Calif., which connects experts with investors seeking information in the technology, health-care and other industries. Chief Operating Officer Phani Kumar Saripella declined to comment to the Journal. The firm's website says Saripella and the firm's CEO previously worked for Intel Corp.

Prosecutors and regulators are also examining whether bankers from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. leaked information about transactions, including health-care mergers, to the benefit of certain investors, the Journal reported, based on anonymous sources. Goldman declined to comment to the newspaper.

The examination includes independent analysts and research boutiques. John Kinnucan, a principal at Broadband Research LLC in Portland, Ore., described a visit by FBI agents in an Oct. 26 e-mail to roughly 20 hedge-fund and mutual-fund clients. The Journal said Kinnucan confirmed that he wrote the e-mail, which was addressed to traders at firms including the hedge funds SAC Capital Advisors LP and Citadel Asset Management, and mutual-fund companies Janus Capital Group, Wellington Management Co. and MFS Investment Management. None of the firms commented to the Journal, and it isn't known whether they are under investigation for their business with Kinnucan.

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