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Efforts by BP to permanently plug the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico have been suspended due to Tropical Storm Bonnie. If the storm continues on its path, it could slam into the area of the BP oil spill this weekend and possibly bring more oil to shore. Many of the vessels near the site have already been moved as a safety precaution.
Two managers from BP have been named as "parties of interest," making them potential targets in the federal investigation into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Robert Kaluza is a BP employee who oversaw operations on the rig, and Patrick O’Bryan is BP’s vice president in charge of drilling. Five employees of the rig’s owner, Transocean, have also been named as parties in the investigation.
The Nation magazine has revealed new details about how BP is receiving tax credits by relying on cheap or free prison labor to help clean up the Gulf spill. BP’s reliance on prison labor has been criticized by many in the region since the disaster has left so many people out of work. But the hiring of prison labor has apparently been financially beneficial for BP. Each new prisoner hired by BP comes with a tax credit of $2,400. On top of that, BP may earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay to prisoners. Prison workers are required to work up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, and are liable to lose earned good time if they refuse the job. Inmates are also forbidden to talk to the public or media. It is unclear how many prisoners are working on the cleanup, in part because they now wear unidentifiable clothing. In the days after the spill, prison workers were seen wearing scarlet pants and white T-shirts with the words "Inmate Labor" printed in large red block letters.
The Obama administration has lifted a twelve-year-old ban on the training of the notorious Indonesian military unit known as Kopassus. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the announcement in Jarkata after meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Gates said the lifting of the ban does not "signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability." But the move has been condemned by many human rights groups. John Miller is the national coordinator of the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network.
John Miller: "Kopassus is Indonesia’s notorious special forces. Any of the major events of the last thirty, forty, fifty years in Indonesia — human rights violations by the Indonesian military from Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965 to the invasion and occupation of East Timor to ongoing conflict in West Papua — Kopassus troops have been among the leading human rights violators."
John Miller went on to say resumed US training of Kopassus would violate the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to units with unresolved human rights violations.
John Miller: "The Bush administration, which had raised the issue of training Kopassus a few years ago, even their State Department said it would violate the Leahy Law. What has change in the last two years is not clear to us."
In news from Iraq, three guards at the US embassy in Baghdad died Thursday in a rocket attack in the Green Zone. All three worked for the private security company Triple Canopy. Two of the guards killed were from Uganda, and one was from Peru. The Washington Post reports the US has long employed Peruvian guards to protect civilian and military installations in Iraq. In recent months, it has begun phasing out Peruvians in favor of Ugandans, who work for less money. The Post reports guards from third-country nations earn as little as $450 a month. Meanwhile, the State Department is preparing to field its own army in Iraq to protect the massive US embassy in Iraq once combat troops withdraw from the country. The State Department has already requested Black Hawk helicopters; fifty mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles; fuel trucks; high-tech surveillance systems; and other military gear. The McClatchy newspapers reports that in a little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents, and disposing of unexploded ordnance.
The House Ethics Committee has announced plans to put Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York on trial for allegedly breaking congressional ethics rules. The New York Times reports part of the trial will focus on Rangel’s misuse of his office to preserve a tax loophole worth half-a-billion dollars for an oil executive who pledged a $1 million donation for an educational center being built in Rangel’s honor. Rangel also faces accusations that he wrongly accepted four rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan. The eighty-year-old Rangel has vowed to fight the charges and plans to seek his twenty-first term in the fall.
President Obama called Shirley Sherrod on Thursday to apologize for her abrupt firing from her post at the Department of Agriculture. Sherrod was forced out of her job on Monday shortly after a right-wing website run by Andrew Breitbart ran a video clip that was deceptively edited to make it appear that she was racist toward white farmers. In an interview on ABC News, Obama accused Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the media of rushing to judgment on the video.
President Obama: He jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog, and everybody scrambles. And I’ve told my team and I told my agencies that we have to make sure that we’re focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through."
A new government report has accused Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, AIG, JPMorgan Chase and other financial institutions of giving out nearly $1.6 billion in unwarranted bonuses immediately after accepting billions of dollars from the taxpayer-funded bailout. The report will be released today by Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s special master for executive compensation. While the report criticizes the excessive bonuses, Feinberg has no authority to recoup the $1.6 billion. Meanwhile, Wall Street firms are expected to give out another round of large bonuses this year. Goldman Sachs is on pace to hand out an average of $544,000 per worker in salary and bonuses. At JPMorgan Chase, the average worker will take home $400,000, and at Morgan Stanley, $262,000.
In news from Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has severed relations with Colombia after Bogotá claimed 1,500 Colombian leftist guerrillas were hiding in Venezuelan territory. Chavez called the Colombian accusations a US-inspired "aggression." Last year Chavez suspended bilateral trade with Colombia to protest a deal by Bogotá that allowed US forces to use Colombian military bases.
Debt relief activists are praising the International Monetary Fund’s decision to cancel Haiti’s $268 million debt to the institution, but at the same time groups including Jubilee USA have criticized the IMF for continuing to give Haiti loans instead of outright grants. Earlier this week, the IMF gave Haiti a $60 million loan to help fund post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. Eric LeCompte of Jubilee USA said, "The role of the IMF in Haiti has been long criticized, and this new loan could set Haiti on the wrong path toward a new cycle of debt."
And a Dutch court has fined commodities trader Trafigura $1.3 million for illegally exporting toxic waste to Ivory Coast in 2006. The toxic waste ended up in the open air and made thousands ill.