Eleven workers are missing and another seventeen have been wounded after an explosion at an oil drilling platform off the Louisiana coast. Over 100 people were aboard the Deepwater Horizon when the blast occurred Tuesday night. Firefighters were still fighting the blaze as of early Thursday morning. Four of the wounded are in critical condition. On Wednesday, Mary Landry of the US Coast Guard said rescue boats are searching for the eleven missing workers.
Mary Landry: "We have no idea where the eleven people, the unaccounted-for personnel, are at this time, and we’re going to continue to search."
The rig was under contract to the oil giant BP, which has come under scrutiny for major safety flaws in its US operations. Fifteen people were killed and hundreds were injured in an explosion at a BP refinery in Texas in 2005. The company was fined $87 million last year for failing to make safety improvements at the refinery under a settlement with government regulators. Just last month, BP was fined $3 million for safety flaws at a refinery in Ohio. BP has also been fined for a 2006 pipeline spill in Alaska.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has advanced a proposal to increase oversight of the financial derivatives market. Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa joined the committee’s Democratic members to pass the measure by a vote of 13 to 8. Proposed by Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the measure would ban Wall Street firms from acting as brokers for most forms of derivatives trades. The trades would also be conducted on an open exchange and subject to approval by a separate clearinghouse. Traders would also be required to raise money to cover unexpected losses in the event of a default. Critics have warned the measure could simply shift the risky trading from Wall Street to commercial banks. Congressional leaders say Senate debate on the overall financial regulation bill could begin next week.
President Obama says he intends to choose a successor for the retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in the coming weeks. Obama discussed the Supreme Court search on Wednesday before a meeting with congressional leaders.
President Obama: "My hope is that we’re going to be
able to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in time for the next session. As Justice Stevens said, I think it’s very important, particularly given the important cases that may be coming before the Supreme Court, that we get this process wrapped up so that a new justice can be seated and staffed and can work effectively with his or her colleagues in time for the fall session."
Obama went on to say he’ll seek a candidate who respects women’s rights but won’t make support for abortion a "litmus test."
Nearly all European flight routes have resumed after a week of closures due to volcanic ash from Iceland. Some flight bans remain in effect in areas of Norway and Sweden where the ash continues to linger. The closures marked the worst halt to civil aviation in Europe since World War II. Airlines lost at least $1.75 billion on over 100,000 canceled flights.
The Pentagon has disavowed the comments of a top official who asserted that a US attack on Iran is "off the table" in the "near term." Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy made the statement Wednesday during a visit to Singapore. Later in the day, a Pentagon spokesperson said the US maintains its policy that an attack on Iran would be a "last resort."
In Iraq, a court-martial has begun for a Navy SEAL accused of abusing an Iraqi prisoner last year. On Tuesday, the prisoner, Ahmed Hashim Abed, testified he was repeatedly beaten while hooded and having his hands tied behind his back. The accused, Julio Huertas, is the first of three Navy SEALs to go on trial for the alleged abuse. In other testimony Wednesday, another Navy sailor testified he witnessed Abed being punched in the stomach. Abed was captured last year and accused of masterminding the 2004 attack that killed four Blackwater operatives in Fallujah.
The US has announced it will withdraw its military relief operation from Haiti on June 1st. Hundreds of US forces have been inside Haiti since the January earthquake. Haitian President René Préval, meanwhile, announced Wednesday the creation of a commission to oversee Haiti’s reconstruction.
Haitian President René Préval: "With the promise of international help and the Haitian people, though they are still in tough times, we are working to create jobs, we are working to build homes, and we are working for education."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again rejected the US call for a complete freeze to settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem. The Wall Street Journal reports Netanyahu relayed his stance to the White House over the weekend. The Palestinian Authority has conditioned a resumption of peace talks on an Israeli settlement freeze.
Activists in Washington, DC are claiming victory after the city council abandoned a proposal to attract the military contractor Northrop Grumman. The DC council had previously floated a plan to offer Northrop some $25 million in tax subsidies and grants after the company announced it was looking for new headquarters. Peace activists, small businesses and other groups responded by forming CENTS — the Coalition to End Needless Tax Subsidies — which publicly lobbied against the move.
A federal appeals court has suspended a ruling that blocked the congressional effort to defund the anti-poverty group ACORN. On Tuesday, the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan froze a decision from last year that stripping ACORN of its federal funding amounted to an unconstitutional "bill of attainder." The suspension also applies to a follow-up ruling that ordered federal agencies to resume ACORN funding. It will stay in place until the Second Circuit rules on the government’s appeal of the original decisions. ACORN attorneys say they’re considering a Supreme Court appeal of their own. Speaking outside the courtroom, ACORN head Bertha Lewis said the funding cuts have left the group "on life support."
And activists in Arizona continue to hold protests against a measure that would force police officers to determine the immigration status of someone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. The State Senate has sent the measure to Republican Governor Jan Brewer following its approval earlier this week. Opponents call it the harshest anti-immigrant measure in the country and a license for racial profiling. Earlier this week, a group of nine student activists were arrested after chaining themselves to the Arizona state legislature.
Protester: "We are chained to the State Capitol like these legislations have been chained to our people. We need to veto SB 1070. By passing SB 1070, the nation’s most extremist legislation, confirms Arizona as the engine for all anti-immigrant legislation in the country."
Governor Brewer has until Saturday evening to sign the bill, issue a veto, or take no action and allow it to become law.