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News Briefs

Agricultural Companies Pledge Assistance to African Scientists


Four of the world’s largest agricultural companies have agreed to share their technology free with African scientists in a broad new attempt to increase food production on that continent, where mass starvation is a recurring threat.

The companies, based in the United States and Europe, said they would donate patent rights, seed varieties, laboratory know-how and other aid to help African agricultural scientists who are working with small farmers to battle plant disease, insects and drought.

A new organization, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, is being set up in Nairobi to spearhead the project. In an effort to cut through the thicket of patent rights and corporate interests that complicates many research projects in biology, the foundation will aim to identify crop problems in Africa that might be amenable to technological solutions. It then plans to negotiate with the Western companies for assistance and patent licenses and seek support from African governments to help put new resources -- usually in the form of improved plant varieties -- into the hands of small subsistence farmers across the continent.

About 190 million Africans south of the Sahara, a third of the population, routinely lack sufficient food. It is the world’s largest remaining concentration of people who go to bed hungry at night.

Air Force Leaders Outline Steps To Deal With Academy Crisis


The top two leaders of the Air Force Monday outlined for the first time steps they expect to take in response to a sexual misconduct crisis at the Air Force Academy -- among them, separating the dormitory rooms of male and female cadets.

Air Force Secretary James Roche and Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force’s chief of staff, said they also intend to start providing victims of sexual assault with individual counselors who would track the handling of complaints. And they plan to grant greater authority to the school’s officers and senior enlisted personnel to monitor relations between male and female cadets.

A growing number of allegations of sexual assault and administrative insensitivity at the academy has taken Air Force leaders by surprise, embarrassing the service and stirring congressional calls for an overhaul in the academy’s policies and management. Although a special Air Force working group is due to recommend changes at the end of the month, Roche and Jumper made clear Monday in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters that they already have several broad initiatives in mind.

They said their purpose is not only to ensure more responsive handling of complaints in the future but also an academy “climate” that reduces the prospect of any sexual misconduct occurring in the first place.

Lobbyists Circumvent Spending Limits With Trips


Faced with limits on how much wining and dining they can do in Washington, interest groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to take lawmakers and aides on out-of-town excursions to deliver their pitches on legislation.

These trips, which frequently include dinner at elegant restaurants and visits to tourist sites, have become an integral part of lobbying for many organizations. Some watchdog groups question why lawmakers and staffers are allowed to accept what the House ethics committee describes as “among the most attractive and alluring gifts” they can receive.

“These are basically gifts to the members and staff,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that monitors the role of money in politics. The trip sponsors “are caring for and feeding them, both in terms of their daily sustenance and the ideas they need to buy into.”

Under rules that apply to entertaining in Washington, lawmakers and their aides may not accept gifts worth more than $50, with an annual cap of $100 from any single source.

On supposedly educational outings, however, there are no such limits on food, lodging and transportation. That’s why “educational trips” in attractive locales are popular with the recording industry, pharmaceutical firms and many other groups eager for face time with legislators and their top aides.

Mexican Consulate Decries U.S. Pursuit of Illegal Immigrants


The Mexican Consulate used harsh language Monday to criticize U.S. law enforcement agencies for their high-speed pursuits of vehicles carrying suspected illegal immigrants, after a chase Sunday ended with two deaths and 20 injuries.

Consul General Rodulfo Figueroa accused the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Border Patrol of “gross negligence” for using spike strips in pursuits that have reached speeds of nearly 100 mph.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what the consequences are going to be, even if they don’t hit the spikes,” Figueroa said Monday. “This is not the first time that something of this sort has happened.”

Sunday’s crash occurred when a Chevrolet pickup truck swerved to miss a CHP spike strip, lost control and rolled over several times, ejecting most of the 22 occupants onto Interstate 8. The driver and one passenger, both men, died instantly. The other passengers -- five women, 14 men and a 9-year-old boy -- were taken to local hospitals. Two people remained in critical condition Monday, authorities said.

CHP Assistant Chief Steven Lykins insists that the accident was caused by the driver trying to avoid the spike strip -- not the strip itself. But he acknowledged Monday that if the officers knew that there were so many people in the truck, they likely would not have made the decision to use the spike strip.