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Environmental Disaster Feared as La. Rig Sinks; 11 Missing Feared Dead

The oil rig that exploded off Louisiana this week has sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, raising fears of a major environmental disaster as hopes fade for the rescue of eleven missing workers. The rig had burned for two days since exploding Tuesday night. Experts say as many as 336,000 gallons of crude oil could be rising from the sea floor per day, posing a major threat to the ecosystem of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. There are also fears some 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard the ship could have been released in the explosion, adding to the spill. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, is continuing to search for the eleven missing workers, but there is said to be little hope of finding any survivors. Over 100 workers survived the explosion. Seventeen people have been hospitalized, four in critical condition.

Inspection Found "Reckless Disregard" for Worker Safety at Massey Mine

The Washington Post is reporting a federal inspection found "reckless disregard" for worker safety at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine before the explosion that killed twenty-nine workers earlier this month. In January, a Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector reported that a Massey Energy executive told a foreman "not to worry" in response to complaints about a ventilation problem raised in an earlier inspection. The inspector concluded, "The operator has shown a reckless disregard of care to the miners" and "high negligence" that could "result in fatal injuries."

Report: Massey Bars Miners from Attending Victims’ Funerals

The Washington Independent, meanwhile, is reporting Massey Energy has prevented miners from attending their co-workers’ funerals since the explosion. Company officials reportedly also rejected plans for a makeshift memorial outside the mine site. And in at least one case, a relative of one of the victims was forced to go to work even though the fate of the victim was at that point still unknown.

Obama Urges Wall St. to Back Financial Reform

President Obama continued his push for overhauling financial regulation Thursday with a speech before Wall Street executives in New York. Speaking at the historic Cooper Union, Obama urged major financial firms to accept reform.

President Obama: "I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings. That’s part of what has made America what it is. But a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll seek a cloture vote to take up the legislation as early as Monday. Democrats will need the support of at least one Republican to avoid a filibuster.

Greece Requests $56B EU/IMF Rescue

Greece has requested a massive $56 billion rescue package in the face of a mounting debt crisis. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou issued the request to the European Union and International Monetary Fund earlier today. Any rescue aid could further tighten the austerity measures, including spending cuts and tax increases that have sparked widespread protest in Greece. Major US firms played a key role in Greece’s financial crisis. One deal created by Goldman Sachs helped Greece obscure billions in debt from European regulators. In addition to Goldman, the Greek government used over a dozen banks to manage its national debt using derivatives.

Vatican Sued for Alleged Cover-Up of Sexual Abuse

An Illinois resident is suing the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI for allegedly covering up sexual molestation that occurred for two decades at a Wisconsin Catholic school. Internal documents released last month showed Vatican officials, including the future pope, decided not to defrock the Wisconsin-based priest Father Lawrence Murphy despite evidence he had molested as many 200 deaf boys. The unnamed plaintiff says he was one of Murphy’s victims. He also says he wrote the Vatican about Murphy in 1995 — one year earlier than when Vatican officials say they were first informed.

US Envoy Meets Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

Middle East envoy George Mitchell has returned to Israel and the Occupied Territories for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It’s Mitchell’s first visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Netanyahu renewed his refusal to halt East Jerusalem settlement construction last week. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion is undermining peace talks.

Saeb Erekat: "President Abbas will be receiving Senator Mitchell tomorrow night, and we are doing every possible effort in order to give Senator — President Obama and Senator Mitchell the chance to commence and begin the proximity talks. As Arabs, as Palestinians, we have said yes to these proximity talks last month. The Netanyahu government responded with 1,600 ’no’s by introducing 1,600 housing units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem."

Appeals Court Overturns Marine Conviction in 2006 Iraq Murder

A military appeals court has overturned the murder conviction of a US Marine in the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania. Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins had been the only one of seven US servicemembers involved in the killing to receive a murder conviction. On Thursday, the verdicts were overturned on the grounds Hutchins’ attorneys were improperly dismissed before his 2007 trial. The victim, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, was dragged from his home, shot, and then planted with a weapon to make it appear he was planning an attack.

US Proposes Sustainable Farming Fund

The Obama administration has unveiled a proposal to launch a global fund to aid sustainable farming practices in developing countries. The US says it wants the fund to total around $22 billion, but has pledged less than $500 million. Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates helped unveil the proposal on Thursday.

Bill Gates: "We believe that investing in small farmers is an incredibly effective way to fight hunger and extreme poverty. History has proved many times that these are good investments, and it’s great to see that we’re putting agriculture back on the agenda."

Pentagon Withdraws Invitation to Evangelist over Islam Remarks

And the Pentagon has withdrawn an invitation to a leading evangelist after an outcry over his views on the Islamic religion. The evangelist, Franklin Graham, had been invited to speak at the Pentagon on May 6th, the National Day of Prayer. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Graham said Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion."


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