A major oil spill caused by Hurricane Katrina is threatening the lower Mississippi River region. According to the Financial Times, up to 3.7 million gallons of crude oil has leaked into the Mississippi and some of the oil is expected to find its way into the Gulf of Mexico. Officials estimate the spill is about one-third the size of the huge oil spill caused by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. The spill in the Mississippi began after Hurricane Katrina ruptured a pair of oil storage tanks.
In Washington, President Bush took to the airwaves Thursday to address the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He promised each household $2,000 in emergency funds and said individuals living in disaster areas be given evacuee status to make it easier for them to obtain benefits. The President also announced a national day of prayer.
Meanwhile Vice President Dick Cheney visited the Gulf Coast region for the first time since the hurricane struck. He was on vacation most of last week in Wyoming. On Thursday he held a brief televised press conference in Gulfport Mississippi. He hailed the relief effort as "very impressive." During the press conference, one man screamed Go F Yourself Mr. Cheney. Last year Cheney made headlines himself when he approached Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor and said "F Yourself."
More questions are being raised about the head of FEMA, Michael Brown. According to Time Magazine, Brown may have fabricated parts of his resume. Brown claimed that he worked in Edmond Oklahoma as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." In fact he was an administrative assistant to the city manager. One city official said he was essentially an intern. Brown also claimed that he was once the Director of Christian nursing facility in Oklahoma. But an administrator at the facility told Time that Brown was "not a person that anyone here is familiar with." In addition Brown claims on his resume that he won a prize for being "Outstanding Political Science Professor" at Central State University. But according to an official at the school, Brown "wasn’t a professor here, he was only a student." Time reports these revelations raise new questions about how rigorously the White House vetted Brown before putting him in charge of FEMA. Most of his work experience prior to joining FEMA dealt with horses. He worked as the head of the International Arabian Horse Association for 11 years. He became the head of FEMA two years ago replacing his college friend, Joe Allbaugh.
First Lady Laura Bush has lashed out at hip hop artist Kanye West, Howard Dean and others for criticizing her husband’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. Last week West said during a nationally televised telethon "George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People." On Wednesday, Dean said "We must ... come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not." Laura Bush said "I think all of those remarks are disgusting, to be perfectly frank, because of course President Bush cares about everyone in our country."
A group of Democratic members of Congress are proposing that survivors of hurricane Katrina be exempted from the nation’s new bankruptcy law that goes into effect on October 17. The law will make it harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy. A group of Congress members wrote, "We are concerned that just as survivors of Hurricane Katrina are beginning to rebuild their lives, the new bankruptcy law will result in a further and unintended financial whammy."
President Bush has issued an executive order that will allow federal contractors to underpay workers helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast region. Under the Davis-Bacon law federal contractors are required to pay workers at least the prevailing wages in the area where the work is conducted. It applies to federally funded construction projects such as highways and bridges. But on Thursday Bush exempted federal contractors working on the reconstruction of the region. Democratic Congressman George Miller of California said "The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities."
Meanwhile the Reuters news agency is reporting that Canadian flags are flying in parts of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana after a Canadian search and rescue team helped save trapped residents. According to one Louisiana state senator, the Canadians showed up to help five days before the U.S. military.
In other news on international aid, Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez has said the U.S. government should accept Cuba’s offer to send hundreds of doctors to treat victims of Hurricane Katrina. The State Department has so far not taken up the offer.
The chair of the Sept. 11 Commission has publicly criticized the government’s response to the hurricane and flooding. Thomas Kean said "The same mistakes made on 9/11 were made over again, in some cases worse, Those are system-wide failures that can be fixed and should have been fixed right away."
A grand jury has indicted a political action committee formed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The PAC accepted $120,000 in allegedly illegal corporate campaign contributions during the 2002 legislative election. The money helped Republicans in Texas secure control of the state House for the first time since Reconstruction. The state legislators then redrew the Texas Congressional map costing Democrats six seats in the U.S. House.
Oil giant ExxonMobil is expecting to report profits of over $10 billion over the past quarter — making it the most profitable single quarter for any company ever. This means ExxonMobil averaged making over 4.5 million dollars every hour for the past three months. During that same period gas prices shot up to record highs. Meanwhile the Energy Department is warning consumers in the Northeast to expect their winter heating bills to jump over 30 percent.
In Iraq, the U.S. military is threatening to wage an all-out assault on the town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. The U.S. said it wants to rid the town of what it describes as insurgents.
The United Nations is calling on U.S. and Iraqi officials to investigate reports of extra-judicial executions being carried out by pro-government death squads and systematic torture inside Iraqi police stations. Two weeks ago 36 bound and blindfold men believed to have been Sunni Muslims were found tortured and shot near the Iranian border. On Thursday, police said they found 14 more bound bodies near Baghdad.
At the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, more than 200 detainees have entered their second month of a hunger strike.
In Egypt, state newspapers are reporting that President Hosni Mubarak has won a fifth six-year term. The election was billed as Egypt’s first contested presidential election but opposition parties complained the election was a sham with widespread voting abuses and irregularities.
And in Nepal, at least 73 protesters have been detained over the past five days of demonstrations against King Gyanendra who seized complete control of the country in February. Some 5,000 protesters attempted to get into the capital city where anti-king rallies are banned.