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Kagan Concludes Testimony at Confirmation Hearings

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has wrapped up her last day of testimony as confirmation hearings enter their final phase. Supporters and critics of Kagan will appear today before the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on sending her nomination to the full Senate. Concluding Wednesday’s session, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy praised Kagan’s bid.

Sen. Patrick Leahy: "You demonstrated an impressive, I’d say an encyclopedic, knowledge of the law. And we can see why so many of your students — and many of whom I’ve met here during these hearings — consider you a wonderful teacher of the law. And I take so seriously what you pledged to all of us here, that you will do your best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle, in accordance with law. Solicitor General Kagan, I believe you. And we stand in recess."

If ultimately confirmed, Kagan’s addition would mark the first time three women serve on the Supreme Court.

House Approves Financial Regulation Overhaul

The House has approved a sweeping overhaul of financial regulation following over three weeks of conference committee negotiations. The 237-to-192 vote came as the Senate postponed its vote on the measure until at least mid-July, setting the stage for a final showdown over the bill after the July 4th recess. The measure would create a consumer protection agency within the Federal Reserve, impose new limits on the derivatives market, and restrict trading by banks for their own benefit. But it also lacks several initial provisions that were removed under intense Wall Street lobbying. At a speech in Wisconsin shortly before the vote, President Obama criticized Republicans for opposing financial reform. Obama singled out recent comments by House Republican leader John Boehner.

President Obama: "The leader of the Republicans in the House said that financial reform was like — and I’m quoting here — 'using a nuclear weapon to target an ant.' That’s what he said. He compared the financial crisis to an ant. This is the same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly eight million jobs, same crisis that cost people their homes, their lives savings. He can’t be that out of touch with the struggles of American families."

GOP Continues Senate Filibuster of Unemployment Benefits

In other news from Washington, Republicans have again filibustered a vote on extending unemployment benefits to millions of jobless workers. More than 1.2 million people have stopped receiving checks since their benefits expired last month.

Senate Panel Votes to Remove Spill Liability Cap

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has voted to remove a liability cap for offshore spills in wake of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The move to drop the current $75 million cap would apply retroactively, if ultimately enacted.

BP Accused of Using Dispersant to Mask Spill Size

BP is facing accusations of using a toxic dispersant to deliberately hide the size of the oil spill in the Gulf. In an interview with CNN, Dallas investment banker Fred McCallister said the dispersant has been used to sink the oil in order to minimize BP’s financial liability.

Fred McCallister: "The issue that BP is facing right now is whether to use what’s practices that are normal around the world, which is to try to cause the oil to come to the surface and then deploy the right amount of equipment and the right type of equipment to gather that oil up and get it out of the Gulf. Using the dispersants allows the oil to stay under the surface, and this accomplishes several purposes. It allows the — it makes it a lot more difficult to quantify the amount of oil that’s coming out, which has a direct impact on damages and royalties that have to be paid. It keeps it out of sight and out of mind. And it allows BP to amortize the cost of the cleanup over several years, ten to fifteen years."

McCallister says BP has rebuffed his attempts to organize a fleet of foreign skimmers to assist with the cleanup effort, saying the company is fearful the skimmers could help tally the size of the spill.

BP Fined $5.2M for False Reporting on Colorado Leases

The US government, meanwhile, has fined BP’s US subsidiary $5.2 million for what it calls "false, inaccurate or misleading" reports about energy production on Native American land. The Interior Department says BP misrepresented information about prices and royalty rates it paid to lease wells from Colorado tribes.

Senate Approves Petraeus Nomination for Afghan Command

The Senate has unanimously approved the nomination of General David Petraeus to command US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The vote came one week after President Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal and tapped Petraeus to replace him. Petraeus has vowed to review rules intended to reduce Afghan civilian casualties. Shortly before the vote, Republican Senator John McCain praised Petraeus’s nomination.

Sen. John McCain: "David Petraeus has proved that he is a winner, and we need to give him every opportunity and remove every obstacle so that he can help the United States and our allies win in Afghanistan. General Petraeus has my full support."

Petraeus takes the helm after more than 100 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in June, making it the bloodiest month for foreign forces there since the US-led invasion in 2001.

House Panel Votes to Undo Cuba Trade, Travel Restrictions

The House Agriculture Committee has voted to undo a decades-long ban on US travel to Cuba and to scale back restrictions on the sale of US goods there. The measure must now clear two other House panels before going before the full House, followed by the Senate.

Puerto Rican Police Quash Protest at State Capitol

Clashes erupted at the Puerto Rico Capitol in San Juan on Wednesday after police forcibly prevented protesters from attending a legislative session on the state budget. Officers used batons, physical force and pepper spray to block a large group that included many students seeking a voice in the Puerto Rican budget. Student organizers say over two dozen protesters were treated for injuries. The clashes come a week after University of Puerto Rico students voted to end their two-month strike against budget cuts, fee hikes and school privatization.

Palestinian Children in Israeli-Run West Bank Areas Suffer Worse Conditions than Gazans

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a new report says Palestinian children in some areas of the West Bank are enduring a worse humanitarian crisis than children in Gaza. According to Save the Children, the plight of children living in the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli administration has reached a "crisis point." The Israeli and US governments have long touted improved living conditions in the West Bank to counter criticism of the occupation.

Israeli Peace Group Calls for New Flotilla Probe

An Israeli peace group is calling for the dismantling of the Israeli government commission examining Israel’s deadly raid on the Free Gaza Movement’s Freedom Flotilla that killed nine people. Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery of the group Gush Shalom says the inquiry is too limited in scope.

Uri Avnery: "The most important one is how did the government decide on this action and how this action was actually implemented. This remains outside the terms of reference of the commission, and therefore we shall go on with our petition to the Supreme Court to disband this commission and to appoint a state commission of inquiry."

The first shipment of aid seized from the flotilla began arriving in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday under an agreement with the UN to distribute the goods.

Study: Media Stopped Calling Waterboarding "Torture" Following Its Disclosure as Routine US Practice

A new study says the US corporate media drastically altered its use of the word "torture" after its practice by the US became widely exposed under the Bush administration. Researchers at Harvard University found newspapers almost uniformly described waterboarding as torture dating back to the 1930s. But when it was revealed as a common tactic approved under President Bush, the same newspapers stopped using the word "torture" almost entirely. Whereas the New York Times had previously characterized waterboarding as torture in 81.5 percent of articles, from 2002 to 2008 it characterized waterboarding as torture in just 1.4 percent of articles.

ACLU Sues US over No-Fly List

And the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the US government to challenge a no-fly list that has in some cases stranded Americans abroad. The suit was filed Wednesday on behalf of ten US citizens or permanent residents prevented from boarding US-bound flights. Ben Wizner of the ACLU’s National Security Project said, "There is simply no legal basis for placing a US citizen into involuntary exile. And to use a secret government list without any process to accomplish that goal is…unconstitutional."

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