BP CEO Grilled During House Testimony

BP CEO Tony Hayward appeared before Congress on Thursday for the first time since the BP oil rig explosion that sparked the worst environmental disaster in US history. Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Hayward repeatedly denied personal responsibility for the decisions that led to the explosion and the subsequent environmental catastrophe. Questioned by Democratic Congress member Ed Markey, Hayward also continued to downplay findings of large oil plumes in the Gulf sea.

Rep. Ed Markey: "Are there plumes of oil beneath the ocean surface?"

Tony Hayward: "There are concentrations of oil of about 0.5 parts per million in the water column. Some of it is related to this spill. Other samples have been typed to other oil."

Rep. Ed Markey: "So you do not define that as a plume?"

Tony Hayward: "I think —- I’m not an oceanographic scientist, but what we know is that there is low concentration -—"

Ed Markey: "I’m going to take it as a continuing 'no' from you, and your testimony continues to be at odds against all independent scientists."

Protester Removed After Calling Hayward "Criminal"

Hayward’s appearance was briefly interrupted by protester Diane Wilson of the group CODEPINK, who called for Hayward’s criminal prosecution.

Diane Wilson: "This is what it looks like on the Gulf! This is what it looks like in the marshes! This is what it looks like for the people on down there! And I think you need to be charged with a crime! You need to go to jail! Matter of fact, I’ve got some chains, and I’m going to do a citizen’s arrest! You need to be charged with crimes! You need to be charged with crimes!"

GOP Rep. Calls $20B Compensation Fund "Shakedown"

Later in the hearing, Republican Congress member Joe Barton apologized to Hayward for what he called the government’s "shakedown" of BP in demanding a $20 billion compensation fund for Gulf Coast residents affected by the spill.

Rep. Joe Barton: "I’m speaking now totally for myself. I’m not speaking for the Republican Party. I’m not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives but myself. But I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown. In this case, a $20 billion shakedown."

According to the website Open Secrets, Barton has received nearly $1.5 million in donations from the oil and gas industry during his twenty-six years in office. Barton’s top career campaign donor, Anadarko Petroleum, has a 25 percent stake in the oil well where the explosion occurred. Democrats seized upon Barton’s comments as an illustration of Republican ties to the oil industry. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was among those to criticize Barton.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: "I think Republicans are going to have to ask themselves whether Congressman Barton should be the ranking member of a committee that’s doing what it’s doing today, given the fact that he believes we owe an apology to BP rather than BP owing an apology to the Gulf."

Barton later issued a statement apologizing for his apology to BP.

Clinton: Obama Admin to Sue Arizona over Anti-Immigrant Law

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has disclosed the Obama administration will sue Arizona over its anti-immigrant law. The measure requires police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. There has been heavy speculation of a federal lawsuit since the measure’s approval two months ago. Clinton discussed the administration’s plan in an interview with an Ecuadorian television station that was conducted earlier this month but only came to public attention on Thursday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "President Obama has spoken out against the law, because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act."

The Justice Department has declined to confirm Clinton’s remarks, saying only that it continues to review the law.

Unemployment Measure Stalls in Senate as Jobless Claims Rise

The Senate has failed to pass a measure to extend unemployment benefits to long-term jobless Americans and extend billions in aid to cash-strapped states for a second straight day. On Thursday, Democrats failed to secure the sixty votes needed to advance the approximately $120 billion package despite paring it down to win bipartisan support. An estimated 1.2 million people will stop receiving unemployment checks by the end of the month if the measure fails to pass. New figures released Thursday show jobless insurance claims have increased for the second consecutive week, from 460,000 to 472,000.

Group: Senate Climate Bill Holds Billions in Tax Breaks for Nuclear Industry

A new analysis says the Senate climate bill would deliver even more financial incentives to the nuclear power industry than previously thought. According to Friends of the Earth, the measure stands to add an additional $1.3 billion to $3 billion in tax breaks for every new nuclear reactor. The tax breaks come on top of the measure’s proposed $35.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power. In a statement, Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said, "The [nuclear] industry would be at the table playing almost entirely with taxpayer money… [with] little to lose when a reactor goes belly up." Democratic Senator John Kerry and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman are the bill’s co-sponsors. Earlier this week, Kerry and Lieberman both came under criticism from environmentalists for voting against a proposal that would have repealed $35 billion in tax breaks for big oil corporations.

Ex-Chicago Police Commander Denies Overseeing Torture of African Americans at Trial

A former police commander accused of overseeing the torture of more than 100 African American men has taken the stand at his trial in Chicago. Former Lieutenant Jon Burge is accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured anyone. For nearly two decades beginning in 1971, Burge was at the epicenter of what’s been described as the systematic torture of dozens of black men to coerce confessions. The victims suffered alleged abuses including having guns forced into their mouths, suffocation with bags placed over their heads, and electric shocks inflicted on their genitals. On Thursday, Burge denied on the witness stand ever abusing anyone into giving confessions. His testimony at the trial follows that of five witnesses who say Burge and his subordinate officers tortured them to elicit confessions to crimes, including murder.

Palestinians, Human Rights Groups Call for Full Repeal of Gaza Blockade

Palestinians and human rights groups are renewing calls for a complete end to the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip following Israel’s decision to alter the blockade. On Thursday, Israel began allowing more items into Gaza, including food supplies, toys, mattresses and towels. But Israel will still control the flow of goods and maintain both the sea blockade and the ban on vital building materials. Although Israel has claimed it will now allow all food items into Gaza, Palestinian officials say Israel appears to be maintaining its ban on industrial-size containers that would allow for food production at Gaza factories. Israel has forced the closure of scores of Gaza factories by denying key materials as part of its effort to punish Palestinians for electing Hamas in 2006 elections. The blockade was altered following weeks of international outcry over the deadly Israeli assault on a flotilla carrying aid to Gaza. Echoing many other human rights groups, Amnesty International said, "This announcement makes it clear that Israel is not intending to end its collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population, but only ease it...Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade."

Flotilla Survivors Speak Out at New York Event

Here in New York, survivors of the Israeli assault on the aid flotilla spoke out at a public forum in a Brooklyn church. British organizer Kevin Ovenden, who was aboard the Mavi Marmara ship where Israel killed nine activists, said the siege should be completely lifted.

Kevin Ovenden: "It’s very interesting when you look what they say they’ll allow in now that have not been allowed in for four years. Children’s toys are some of them. But the construction goods and, above all, the free movement of people and of goods and of capital, which is critical for the development of Gaza and Palestine as a free and independent entity, is something that they’re not allowed — prepared to happen. And we need to give a clear answer that nothing less than the full lifting of the siege will do; anything else is a redefining of the prison."

German Jewish Group to Send Two Aid Ships to Gaza

Several groups have announced plans to send new aid ships to break the naval blockade of Gaza. The German-based group Jewish Voices for a Just Peace says it will send at least two ships of entirely Jewish passengers sometime this year. The group had initially planned to send one ship but says it’s been forced to add another to accommodate a flood of volunteers.

Red Cross: Kyrgyz Violence Is "Immense Crisis"

The United Nations has doubled its estimate of refugees fleeing clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan to some 400,000. Earlier today, the interim government said it believes some 2,000 people may have been killed, ten times the current official toll. The International Committee of the Red Cross says the humanitarian situation there is an "immense crisis." The former Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has been accused of provoking the unrest in order to destabilize the country ahead of a planned constitutional referendum later this month. Bakiyev was a US ally until his removal in an uprising last April. On Thursday, Kyrgyz officials threatened to close the US military airbase there unless Britain extradites Bakiyev’s son on allegations of orchestrating the clashes.

Rwandan Court Frees Jailed American Lawyer Peter Erlinder

A Rwandan court has freed the American attorney Peter Erlinder nearly three weeks after his arrest. The Minnesota-based Erlinder is a lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. He was jailed shortly after arriving in Rwanda to help with the legal defense of an opposition presidential candidate. Erlinder was accused of violating laws barring denial of the Rwanda genocide. Rwandan government critics say the laws have been used to silence political opposition. On Thursday, Erlinder was freed on health grounds after four hospitalizations since his arrest. His attorney, Ken Ogeto, said Erlinder is free to return home.

Ken Otego: "We’re very happy about it. The bail was given without any conditions. The only condition, actually, is that he’s got to leave an address here, which means he can travel back to the United States of America. Prosecution was given the authorization to proceed with their investigations. We don’t know how they’re going to do it, but our client is willing to come back anytime they need him, absolutely no problem."

Panel Calls for US-Funded $300M Cleanup of Agent Orange in Vietnam

A binational panel has recommended the US government spearhead a $300 million project to clean up Vietnamese areas contaminated by the toxic chemical defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among millions of Vietnamese as well as American veterans. The US-Vietnam Dialogue Group says the ten-year plan should focus on twenty-eight areas around Vietnam. The US sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange on a quarter of the former South Vietnam and border areas of Cambodia and Laos between 1962 and 1971.

Number of Homeless US Families Grows to 170,000

New government figures show the number of homeless families increased to 170,000 last year, a near 30 percent increase from three years ago. It was the second straight year the number of homeless families has grown. The total number of homeless Americans fell by five percent.

Utah Prisoner Executed by Firing Squad

Utah has executed a death row prisoner by firing squad for the first time in fourteen years. Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot to death last night for a pair of killings in 1984 and 1985. It was the third death sentence carried out by firing squad in Utah since 1976. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union called Gardner’s execution "savage and inhumane."

Supreme Court: Employers Can Read Employees’ Text Messages

The Supreme Court has ruled employers can read through employees’ text messages sent on work-issued phones if they suspect wrongdoing. The unanimous decision came in the case of a California police chief accused of violating an officer’s constitutional rights by reading transcripts of the officer’s sexually explicit text messages. Critics say the decision is a blow to workers’ privacy rights.

Supreme Court Invalidates over 500 NLRB Decisions

In a separate decision, the Supreme Court invalidated more than 500 cases adjudicated by the National Labor Relations Board in recent years. In a five-to-four ruling, the Supreme Court said the decisions are invalid because the five-person panel only had two sitting members. NLRB nominees have been stalled in recent years by congressional in-fighting. Kimberly Freeman Brown of the group American Rights at Work said, "Hundreds of decisions in cases already decided will have to be re-opened, needlessly delaying finality for workers who were led to believe they already had it."

Allied Media Conference Opens Ahead of US Social Forum in Detroit

And in Detroit, hundreds of journalists and activists are gathering for the annual Allied Media Conference. The three-day conference for alternative media and social justice opens today. Thousands of grassroots activists are expected in Detroit next week for the second-ever US Social Forum. The theme of the gathering is "Another World Is Possible. Another US Is Necessary!" Democracy Now! will be broadcasting from Detroit next week.

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