Primaries and a special election were held in four states on Tuesday in the biggest day of voting so far in the 2010 election cycle. In Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary, thirty-year Senate veteran Arlen Specter lost his bid for reelection to Congress member Joe Sestak. In Kentucky, Tea Party candidate Rand Paul easily beat Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the state’s Republican race. In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln is headed into a runoff vote against Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. In Oregon, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden easily won his party’s nomination to run for a third term. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Democratic candidate Mark Critz won a special election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by the death of former Congress member John Murtha. Critz previously worked as Murtha’s aide.
Oil from the BP rig explosion has begun reaching ecologically fragile coastal marshes on the Louisiana coast. On Tuesday, thick tides of brown oil began washing ashore in south Louisiana, raising fears of a catastrophe for the local seafood industry and a more porous defense against future hurricane storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has nearly doubled the size of a fishing ban to cover 19 percent of the entire Gulf of Mexico.
BP, meanwhile, says it’s increased the amount of oil being siphoned from the leaking oil well to around 2,000 barrels of oil a day, up from 1,000. But new video footage of the leak posted by Democratic Senator Bill Nelson shows the black clouds of oil appear to be leaking at the same levels of a week ago. The video also appears to show a new breach in the drill pipe. US officials meanwhile say they’ve begun testing tar balls found off Key West, Florida to determine whether the oil has entered a loop current that’s carrying it to the Florida Keys and up the East Coast. The news comes as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave his first congressional testimony since the BP rig exploded last month. Salazar acknowledged problems at the Minerals Management Service but said BP is ultimately responsible for the spill.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: "We have made it clear from day one that BP is the responsible party to take care of all of the costs associated with this incident, including whatever damages might arise from this incident to natural resources as well as to people and businesses and communities who might be affected by this incident."
The Minerals Management Service has come under scrutiny following the disclosure it exempted BP from a comprehensive environmental review of the project that resulted in the spill. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called for a complete overhaul of the MMS.
Sen. Ron Wyden: "Mr. Secretary, it is long past time to drain the safety and environmental swamp at the Minerals Management Agency, which of course is the lead federal agency over oil drilling. Now, my view is that this agency had been denial about safety problems for years."
Meanwhile Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked for a second time a proposal to raise the ceiling for oil spill liability to $10 billion from the current $75 million.
In Thailand, leaders of the armed opposition movement known as the Red Shirts have apparently abandoned their rebellion following a major Thai military offensive in Bangkok. Six Red Shirt leaders surrendered after Thai troops stormed their barricaded camp. At least two protesters and an Italian news photographer were killed in the crackdown, bringing the death toll over the past week to at least forty-two. The raid set off violent incidents around Bangkok, with Red Shirt supporters setting fire to several buildings and storming the offices of a state-owned television station.
The US has reached agreement with Russia and China on a draft proposal for a new round of sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program. The proposal will now go before the UN Security Council. The move came one day after Iran reached a deal with Turkey and Brazil to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for low-level nuclear fuel to run a medical reactor. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the deal won’t deter the US from seeking sanctions.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "We don’t believe it was any accident that Iran agreed to this declaration as we were preparing to move forward in New York. With all due respect to my Turkish and Brazilian friends, the fact that we had Russia on board, we had China on board, and that we were moving early this week, namely today, to share the text of that resolution put pressure on Iran, which they were trying to somehow dissipate."
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has launched one of their boldest assaults to date with an attack on NATO’s Bagram Air Base earlier today. At least seven Taliban fighters were killed, and nine NATO troops were wounded. The Taliban says at least twenty suicide bombers took part in the overnight attack. The attack came hours after the official US death toll in Afghanistan passed the 1,000 mark with the killing of five US troops in a suicide bombing in Kabul.
In Arizona, three of the four protesters arrested in a sit-in this week at the offices of Republican Senator John McCain have been handed over to immigration authorities for possible deportation. The protesters called on McCain to back the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent citizenship to undocumented workers’ children if they completed two years of college, trade school or military service. The three are each undocumented immigrants, marking the first known instance students have risked deportation to back immigration reform legislation. On Tuesday, the fourth protester, Raul Alcaraz, a Tucson resident with permanent status, said the students had initially received indications they wouldn’t be handed over to immigration authorities.
Raul Alcaraz: "After that announcement was made, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] came in a few minutes later. They came in, and they came covered, so they weren’t identifiable as ICE, but we suspected they were ICE. And then they took each one of them individually out, and then it was announced that they would be taken to ICE. It was confusing, because first, you know, in the hearing we’re being told that there’s no ICE hold on anybody, and then the next minute ICE is there questioning people through the back door, taking their stuff. It just looked — it looked shady. It looked really weird. And so, there was moments of confusion, definitely."
One of the students is Mohammad Abdollahi, a gay Iranian national who says he faces persecution if he’s sent back to Iran. Student activist Tania Unzueta also criticized the arrests.
Tania Unzueta: "We feel that it’s really unfortunate, right, that Immigration feels like they should be detaining undocumented students who haven’t done anything wrong. And, you know, the reason why they’re doing this is precisely because we’re looking for a path to legalization through the DREAM Act."
Senate Banking Committee chair Christopher Dodd is proposing to weaken the provision on derivatives trading in the financial regulation bill he unveiled earlier this year. Under the current proposal, Wall Street firms would be banned from acting as brokers for most forms of derivatives trades. But Dodd is calling for suspending the ban for two years and allowing the US Treasury to cancel it altogether.
Here in New York, dozens of protesters gathered outside the offices of the banking giant JPMorgan Chase on Tuesday. Sarah Ludwig of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project said the rally was organized to highlight Chase’s opposition to financial reform and modifying loans for struggling homeowners.
Sarah Ludwig: "We want Chase to stop blocking financial reform in Congress, first and foremost. They need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. They need to support basic reforms that have been put on the table. We also want Chase to start modifying these loans. People are desperate. Each one of these loans is a family, it’s a street, it’s a community, that we’re talking about."
The rally coincided with a meeting of Chase shareholders.
Republican Congress member Mark Souder of Indiana has announced plans to resign after admitting to an extramarital affair with a part-time staffer. Souder made the announcement at a teary news conference on Tuesday.
Rep. Mark Souder: "I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. In the poisonous environment of Washington, DC, any personal failing is seized upon, twisted for political gain. I am resigning rather than put my family through a painful, drawn-out process of which any legal question would have been clearly resolved and I would have been exonerated. But the political price to pay and the personal of my family was not worth it."
Souder has repeatedly billed himself as a so-called "family values" lawmaker. Last year, he appeared along with the staffer with whom he had the affair in a campaign video promoting abstinence education.
And in West Virginia, two activists are being held on $100,000 bail each following their arrests protesting mountaintop removal coal mining. The activists, EmmaKate Martin and Benjamin Bryant, were detained after blocking the driveway to Massey Energy’s regional headquarters. The group Climate Ground Zero is calling on Boone County officials to reduce the bail amount.