The House has approved a spending measure that includes over $30 billion to escalate the war in Afghanistan. The war funding passed by a 215-to-210 vote after Democratic leaders combined it with around $50 billion for domestic initiatives. The new spending would come on top of the $130 billion already earmarked for the Afghan and Iraq wars this year. Hours before the vote, members of the House’s Out of Afghanistan caucus challenged their colleagues for approving war spending while cutting social programs in the name of deficit reduction. Democratic Congressmember Raúl Grijalva called the ongoing support for war spending an "essential hypocrisy."
Rep. Raúl Grijalva: "And here we are, prolonging a war that most of the American people oppose, and not paying for it. And that’s the essential hypocrisy. We are required to offset anything for education. We’re required to offset anything for jobs. And now this war is going to — reaching $280 billion of American taxpayer, all under an emergency supplemental category which doesn’t require offsets of pay-fors."
The war funding measure now goes to the Senate, where Republicans are expected to oppose the bill’s non-military provisions.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban is claiming responsibility for a deadly raid on a US contractor in northern Kunduz province earlier today. Four people were killed along with six suicide bombers who stormed a compound used by the company Development Alternatives. Another twenty people were wounded.
In Pakistan, at least forty-two people have been killed in a suicide bombing on a Sufi Muslim shrine in the city of Lahore. Over 180 were wounded.
Rough weather from Tropical Storm Alex is hampering containment and clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, National Incident Commander Thad Allen of the US Coast Guard said many ships have been grounded until conditions improve.
Adm. Thad Allen: "Onshore and near-shore skimming and recovery operations have been significantly hampered by the weather. The small vessels that do the skimming have a difficult time operating out there. We had to pull them back. The same with the vessels operating in and around the well site itself. The drilling rigs were able to continue, but we are now massing our forces to be able to move right back out once the weather will allow us to get on the water and skim."
Taking the high end of government estimates at 140 million gallons, the BP oil spill is now the largest to hit the Gulf, surpassing the 1979-1980 Ixtoc I spill off Mexico. The House, meanwhile, has passed the first major piece of legislation related to the disaster. On Thursday, the House voted to expand the ability of surviving family members to seek damages for the eleven deaths in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has wrapped up confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. On Thursday, the panel heard testimony from supporters and critics of Kagan’s bid. Kagan’s opponents included several former military officers who criticized her brief attempts to restrict military recruitment activities at Harvard Law School over the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. Kagan’s supporters included former George W. Bush administration attorney Jack Goldsmith. Outside of the hearings, the National Rifle Association came out against Kagan, accusing her of "a clear hostility" to gun ownership. The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Kagan’s nomination later this month.
President Obama delivered his first major speech on immigration Thursday with a call for congressional approval of comprehensive reform. Obama said he hopes to reach a middle ground between granting full amnesty and mass deportations for undocumented immigrants.
President Obama: "Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable. Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people."
Later in the day, President Obama signed into law what the White House has billed the harshest US sanctions against Iran to date.
President Obama: "With these sanctions, along with others, we are striking at the heart of the Iranian government’s ability to fund and develop its nuclear program. We are showing the Iranian government that its actions have consequences. And if it persists, the pressure will continue to mount, and its isolation will continue to deepen. There should be no doubt: the United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
The new sanctions target companies supplying Iran with gasoline as well as banking firms tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard or its nuclear program. They come on top of the sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council last month.
Rallies were held across Canada on Thursday to show solidarity with the over 1,000 people arrested in the crackdown on G20 protests in Toronto last week. The arrests marked the largest mass detentions in Canadian history and brought scores of allegations of police misconduct. Shortly after her release, independent journalist Amy Miller said police officers had threatened her with rape.
Amy Miller: "I was told I was going to be raped. I was told I was going to be gang-banged. I was told that they were going to make sure that I was never going to want to act as a journalist again, by making sure that I would be repeatedly raped while I was in jail."
In addition to calls for dropping all charges against protesters, the city of Toronto is also facing demands for a public inquiry into the arrests.
Four supervisors with the coal mining giant Massey Energy have been charged with federal crimes related to a West Virginia coal mine fire that left two people dead in 2006. The four are accused of failing to conduct mandatory safety drills at the Aracoma Alma Mine. Massey continues to face criminal and civil probes for the April deaths of twenty-nine workers at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.
New details have emerged on how the New York Federal Reserve under Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner helped orchestrate the "backdoor bailout" of major Wall Street firms through the insurance giant AIG. The Fed’s rescue of AIG helped secretly funnel nearly $70 billion to sixteen big US and European banks. According to the New York Times, recently disclosed documents show the government forced AIG to forfeit its right to sue several major banks, including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, for any irregularities in the mortgage securities it had insured on their behalf. The documents also suggest regulators ignored advice from their own advisers to force banks to accept losses on the AIG deals instead of paying the banks in full. One regulator personally thanked Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein for his "patience" as the Fed worked to ensure Blankfein’s company would receive taxpayer money. In a November 2008 email to Blankfein, the regulator wrote, "Thanks for understanding." The New York Times also reports the Treasury Department’s point man on the AIG bailout, Dan Jester, was himself a former Goldman executive who at the time still owned company stock.
In California, jury deliberations are expected to begin today in the trial of a former Bay Area police officer who shot dead the unarmed African American passenger Oscar Grant last year. The officer, Johannes Mehserle, was videotaped shooting Grant in the back while Grant lay face down on a subway platform. The twenty-two-year-old Grant worked as a butcher at an Oakland grocery store and was the father of a four-year-old daughter. Mehserle faces fifteen years to life in prison on second-degree murder charges. Meanwhile, Thursday, the California Assembly unanimously approved a measure to increase oversight of alleged misconduct by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officers. The legislation was introduced following outcry over Grant’s shooting death.
Here in New York, state lawmakers have given final approval to a measure establishing a landmark set of working standards for housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers. The bill requires overtime pay after a forty-hour workweek, at least one day off per week, and at least three days off with full pay per year. New York Governor David Paterson says he’ll sign the bill into the law.
And an investigative panel at Pennsylvania State University has cleared a scientist linked to the so-called "Climategate" controversy last year. The scientist, Dr. Michael Mann, was among the authors of emails stolen from the computer system of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain. Deniers of global warming had claimed the stolen emails provided evidence of an effort to silence academics who have questioned or downplayed human-driven climate change. In its probe, Penn State said it found no evidence Mann manipulated scientific findings on global warming.