The Senate confirmation hearings for John Roberts to become Chief Justice of the United States has begun. Today Roberts will undergo a day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Monday Roberts vowed he has no political agenda. Roberts said: "Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes. I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench, and I will decide every case on the record according to the rule of law without fear or favor to the best of my ability." If confirmed the 50-year-old Roberts will become the youngest chief justice in 200 years. We’ll have more on the Senate hearing in a few minutes.
In New Orleans–relief workers have found the bodies of 45 people inside the Memorial Medical Center. Hospital officials said at least some of the victims died while waiting to be evacuated.
Michael Brown resigned as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He had come under intense criticism for FEMA’s slow response. Brown’s resignation caught President Bush by surprise. When a reporter asked him for comment, Bush said QUOTE "Maybe you know something I don’t know." 10 days earlier Bush publicly praised Brown, saying QUOTE "Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job."
David Paulison will now take temporary control of FEMA. He has served as the administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration and is the former fire chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.
A new USA Today Poll has found that 72 percent of African-Americans feel that President Bush does not care about the country’s Black population. 67 percent of white respondents said he did.
President Bush denied accusations that race played any role in the government’s handling of the disaster. He spoke to reporters in New Orleans on Monday. "My attitude is this: the storm didn’t discriminate and neither will the recovery effort," Bush said. "When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they weren’t checking the colour of a person’s skin. They wanted to save lives."
In other hurricane news, the Times Picayune is reporting that FEMA is preparing to build dozens of mobile home communities around Louisiana to house up to 200,000 people for up to five years. One FEMA official said "It may not be quite on the scale of building the pyramids, but it’s close. This is big. We’ve never done anything like this." In some cases FEMA will effectively create new towns with as many as 25,000 mobile homes complete with their own security force, utilities, government services and even schools. FEMA officials denied these temporary towns would become tent cities or refugee camps. FEMA has already gathered more than 6,000 trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and has ordered 100,000 more.
More environmental concerns are being raised in the Gulf Coast region. The magazine Solid Waste & Recycling reports that New Orleans may be facing a dramatic pollution issue related to a 95-acre toxic landfill site in downtown New Orleans that is still underwater. The landfill is a federally registered Superfund site and is considered highly contaminated requiring cleanup and containment. The flood has increased the chances that the toxic waste in the landfill could leach out and contaminate the surrounding area. Two Superfund sites in neighboring Mississippi may also have sustained water damage. According to the Washington Post, the flooded Superfund sites contain a range of contaminants that include heavy metals linked to increased cancer risk and developmental problems as well as other carcinogens.
In Iraq, at least 200 are dead in the city of Tall Afar after U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major assault on the northern city over the weekend. On Monday the Iraqi Red Crescent Society sent in aid for families displaced by three days of bombardment. It was the largest attack since the siege of Fallujah. U.S. officials originally portrayed the bombing as essential to stop the flow of foreign fighters from Syria. But the Washington Post reports the targets were largely Sunni Turkmen. According to the Post, the Kurdish militia known as the Peshmerga–not the actual Iraqi army–led the assault. Meanwhile the U.S. is denying an accusation that the military used toxic gases in the attack. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reportedly posted an audio message online claiming the U.S. was using some type of chemical weapons in the city.
Lawyers for Texas death row inmate Frances Newton has asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry for a 30-day stay to try to prove that authorities erred in linking her to a presumed murder weapon. Newton is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday night. She is set to become the first African-American woman executed in the state since Reconstruction. Meanwhile the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused on Monday to stop the execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously not to recommend that Perry commute the sentence to life in prison.
In Haiti, two journalists have been released after spending the weekend in jail. Independent journalist Kevin Pina and Jean Ristil of the Associated Press were arrested while covering a police raid on a church led by the jailed priest Gerard Jean Juste. Pina is a regular contributor to the Pacifica Radio program Flashpoints.
The Miami Herald is reporting that the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy has agreed to give a leading opposition group in Venezuela over $100,000 in funding. The group–Sumate–helped lead the effort to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez through a recall referendum last year. The recall failed. Backers of Chavez have long accused the U.S. of helping to facilitate his overthrown by financially backing opposition groups. The NED says the money will be used to strengthen democracy in the country.
And in labor news: the union Unite Here may quit the AFL-CIO as early as this week. Unite Here represents more than 450,000 U.S. hotel, casino and restaurant workers. In July, the AFL-CIO suffered a major split when the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers all pulled out of the federation.
And Israeli soldiers have officially pulled out of the Gaza Strip on Monday giving Palestinians control of the region and ending 38 years of military occupation. Israel retains control over the territory’s air and sea space and, at least temporarily, all its borders. Thousands of Palestinians poured across the Egyptian border to reunite with relatives and to buy goods including cigarettes. Egyptian forces on Monday fatally shot one Palestinian during the rush across the border.