BP has at least temporarily stopped the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion nearly ninety days ago. On Thursday, BP successfully closed the valve on a containment cap placed over the ruptured well, choking off the oil. Tests will continue to determine if pressure is high enough to keep the cap in place or whether the well will need to be reopened and contained by another device. Up to 184 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf so far. BP’s chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, gave the news a cautious welcome.
Doug Suttles: "It’s an encouraging sign. In a couple more days it may be even more encouraging. But no celebrations. I mean, you know, if you go talk to these people that live here, that 'celebration' is a wrong word. But it could be — we could be very close, whether it’s through this activity or through the relief wells, to the point where we feel like — I think everyone feels like we’ve begun to turn a corner, and an important corner. But no, it’s not the time to celebrate, I don’t think."
Congress has given final approval to a sweeping overhaul of financial regulation following nearly a year of negotiations. On Thursday, the Senate voted 60-to-39 to send the measure to President Obama’s desk. The overhaul would create a consumer protection agency within the Federal Reserve, impose new limits on the derivatives market, and restrict trading by banks. President Obama hailed the measure’s passage.
President Obama: "All told, this reform puts in place the strongest consumer financial protections in history, and it creates a new consumer watchdog to enforce those protections. Because of this reform, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts, period."
Three Republicans joined the Democratic majority to push the measure through. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was the lone Democrat to oppose the bill, saying it doesn’t go far enough. In a statement, Feingold said, "Washington once again caved to Wall Street on key issues and produced a bill that fails to protect the American people from the pain of another economic disaster."
The Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has agreed to a $550 million fine to settle a civil fraud lawsuit over selling a mortgage investment that had been established to fail. The investment consisted of pools of risky mortgages that had been packaged together. It’s the largest civil fraud settlement in Wall Street history, but according to reports, Goldman had been expecting to pay at least twice as much.
At least twenty-one people have been killed and over 100 wounded in a double suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in southeast Iran. The Sunni Muslim rebel group Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for last month’s execution of one of its leaders.
A new poll shows growing US opposition to the war in Afghanistan. According to CBS News, some 44 percent of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the war, a jump from 37 percent in May. The number of Americans who believe the war is going either "somewhat" or "very badly" also increased to 62 percent from 49 percent.
New figures show a record number of US soldiers took their own lives last month. At least thirty-two soldier suicides were reported in June, the highest monthly number since record keeping began around the Vietnam War. Seven of those soldiers killed themselves while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
CNN has revealed just four countries have delivered on any of the over $5.3 billion in new pledges collected at a major donor conference for Haiti’s reconstruction in March. Brazil, Norway, Estonia and Australia are the only countries to have paid so far, accounting for just two percent of the total pledged. The biggest donors, the US and Venezuela, haven’t paid anything so far. On Thursday, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official, John Holmes, said the UN is well short of its goal for building temporary shelters.
John Holmes: "Shelter, in particular, is at the front of people’s minds, and the almost 1.5 million people who are still living in tents or under tarpaulins are, to repeat myself again, in a very precarious situation. We need to accelerate the contingency planning for the hurricanes. We need to accelerate putting in place the arrangements and incentives for people to return to their houses and, in particular, for more transitional shelters to be built. We are planning some 125,000 and have so far built a few more than 5,000."
In other Haiti news, the French government says it’s considering legal action against the perpetrators of an internet hoax that claimed France would repay the billions of dollars it took from Haiti for an indemnity dating back to the nineteenth century. France forced Haiti to pay the so-called "reparations" of 90 million gold francs up until the Second World War to cover its financial losses from the Haitian uprising against foreign colonization. In a video falsely attributed to the French Foreign Ministry, an actor posing as a French government spokesperson said the money would be given back.
Speaker: "France is repaying the historic debt of 90 million gold francs Haiti paid to France following the former’s independence at the dawn of the nineteenth century. For too long, Haiti has been saddled with the burden of foreign debt, debt that has just added to natural catastrophes to block this country’s development over the past decades. The disaster that has befallen the Haitian people is clearly not merely the result of January’s earthquake. It is in part the result of long-term economic and social policies."
The group behind the hoax, the Committee for the Repayment of the Indemnity Money Expropriated from Haiti (CRIME), provided a statement to Democracy Now! saying, "The announcement was a hoax, but the far bigger hoax is how little France, as well as the U.S. and Canada, have offered Haiti in earthquake relief, relative to what Haitians are owed in reparations."
Argentina has become the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Argentine Senate approved a measure Thursday granting same-sex couples full marriage rights and benefits. Argentina President Cristina Fernández has vowed to sign it into law. Maria Rachid of the Argentine LGBT Federation said more Latin American countries will follow suit.
Maria Rachid: Argentina is the first country in Latin America, but surely it will not be the last. A lot of countries will come after Argentina approving and recognizing the legal equality of all families."
In New Orleans, a suspected white vigilante has been charged in connection with the shooting of three African American men in the days after Hurricane Katrina. On Thursday, Roland Bourgeois was indicted for committing an alleged hate crime with a deadly weapon. Bourgeois is accused of firing a shotgun at Donnell Herrington and two others as they headed to an official evacuation site at the Algiers Point ferry terminal. Herrington was wounded in the shooting. A 2008 investigation by The Nation magazine identified Bourgeois as among a group of white vigilantes who shot least eleven African American men after Katrina in a plot to keep non-whites out of Algiers Point.
Accounts continue to emerge of the lax safety conditions for Gulf Coast cleanup workers. A former BP worker, Kellie Fellows, spoke out in an interview with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
Kellie Fellows: "I was also told before we hit that beach that at least we would have protection: we would have respirators, and we would have suits. And to not even have that, that just shows you again that money is put ahead of lives. I’ve got one check left that’s coming to me, and after that, we’re facing homelessness. And I guess, to me, the street looks more appealing than that beach does right now."
A highwall miner in West Virginia has been shut down after activists locked themselves to mining equipment on Coal River Mountain. On Thursday, two members of the groups
Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice chained themselves to equipment at Massey Energy’s Bee Tree Surface Mine alongside a banner reading "Save Coal River Mountain." The activists say they’re protesting dangers at the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment, which they say would engulf downstream communities with toxic coal waste in the event of a collapse.
The Iroquois national lacrosse team has been forced to miss the world lacrosse championships in Britain after the British government refused to grant them entry with their tribal passports. Britain has maintained its refusal even after the State Department granted the team a one-time waiver assuring their re-entry into the United States. The British government says it doesn’t recognize tribal passports as valid travel documents.
And the civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart has been resentenced to ten years in prison — nearly five times her original sentence of twenty-eight months. Stewart was found guilty in 2005 of distributing press releases on behalf of her jailed client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."