Oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill has reached Texas for the first time, more than seventy-five days after the oil spill began. Tar balls were spotted Monday at a pair of Texas beaches. Nearly 500 miles of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Florida, have now been contaminated. Tar balls and oil sheen have also been spotted in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, the large body of water north of New Orleans that is connected to the Gulf of Mexico.
More evidence has emerged showing federal regulators failed to grasp the dangers of offshore oil drilling. A September 2007 memo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service said large oil spills from proposed Gulf drilling projects were "low-probability events." The memo also said that an oil spill wouldn’t likely affect brown pelicans, sea turtles and other animals with Gulf Coast habitats.
The Washington Post reports the Pentagon is continuing to use BP as a major supplier of military fuel. The annual value of BP’s contracts with the Pentagon stand at nearly $1 billion. In fiscal 2009, BP was the Pentagon’s largest single supplier of fuel.
The Israeli government has partially eased the blockade on Gaza just ahead of today’s visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House to meet with President Obama. Billed as a "kiss-and-make-up" session, the meeting marks the first time the leaders have met since Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in May. Under Israel’s new rules, most consumer goods will now be allowed into Gaza, but construction equipment is still barred. In addition, the sea blockade will continue, and Palestinians will still be barred from exporting anything from Gaza. UN Mideast Envoy Robert Serry praised the slight easing of the blockade.
Robert Serry: "Well, of course, this is something we have been looking forward to for a very long time. I don’t know how many times I’ve been telling the Security Council that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable and that the blockade was unacceptable and also politically wrongheaded. So, a decision now by the Israeli government to substantially ease the closure regime can only be welcomed by me. Of course, we have to see it also happen on the ground."
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said the people of Gaza will remain under siege until the blockade is completely ended.
Sami Abu Zuhri: "We demand that Obama put real pressure on Netanyahu to lift the siege on Gaza and to stop demanding simply for allowing more goods into Gaza, because this does not change anything, but rather cements the policy of the siege."
Part of President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting will focus on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. A new report from the Israeli group B’Tselem says Jewish settlements now control more than 42 percent of the West Bank. The group said the actual buildings of the settlements cover just one percent of the West Bank’s land area, but their jurisdiction and regional councils extends to more than 42 percent of the area. Much of the land controlled by the settlements was seized from Palestinians.
An investigation by the New York Times has found that the US Treasury Department is helping sustain Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank by granting tax breaks on donations to support them. Over the past decade, at least forty American nonprofit groups have distributed more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts to help expand the settlements. The Times reports the tax-deductible gifts go mostly to schools, synagogues and recreation centers, but they have also paid for guard dogs, bulletproof vests and rifle scopes for settlers.
The Justice Department is expected to file a lawsuit as early as today against Arizona over the state’s new anti-immigrant law. The main argument of the suit will be the legal doctrine of "preemption," which is based on the Constitution’s supremacy clause and says that federal law trumps state statutes. The Arizona law requires police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
In political news, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is facing calls to resign after saying that Afghanistan is "a war of Obama’s choosing" despite the fact that it began years before the President took office. Republican commentators William Kristol and Liz Cheney have called on him to resign. Sen. John McCain said Steele "is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party." Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul defended Steele, saying, "He is absolutely right — Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. During the 2008 campaign, Obama was out in front in insisting that more troops be sent to Afghanistan. Obama called for expanding the war even as he pretended to be a peace candidate."
In Costa Rica, opposition lawmakers are criticizing the government’s decision to allow as many as forty-six US war ships and 7,000 Marines into Costa Rican waters. For years, Costa Rica has given the US Coast Guard access, but under a new agreement, US war ships, helicopters and combat submarines would also be given access to help fight the so-called war on drugs.
Syria has sentenced the prominent human rights attorney Haitham al-Maleh to three years in jail. The seventy-eight-year-old attorney was jailed over comments he made on TV criticizing the lack of democracy in Syria and the excessive powers wielded by security officials. Amnesty International condemned the sentence.
President Obama has announced the awarding of $1.85 billion in loan guarantees to two solar power companies. Part of the money will go to the Spanish corporation Abengoa Solar for the construction of a large solar plant in Arizona.
President Obama: "Once completed, this plant will be the first large-scale solar plant in the US to actually store the energy it generates for later use, even at night. And it will generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 70,000 homes."
Greenpeace has accused one of the world’s largest pulp, paper and palm oil companies of destroying Indonesian rain forests and threatening Indonesia’s efforts to address climate change. A new Greenpeace report focuses on the company Asia Pulp & Paper, a subsidiary of the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas. Greenpeace also accuses Wal-Mart, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hewlett-Packard of sourcing products tied to the destruction of the Indonesian rain forest.
In India, questions remain over the death of a top Maoist leader who died on Friday alongside a freelance journalist who was interviewing him. Indian officials say Cherukuri Rajkumar died in a gun battle. But supporters of the Maoist leader, who is commonly known as Azad, said he died in police custody.
Puerto Rico has launched a probe of last week’s violent clash between police and student demonstrators at the Capitol in San Juan. Student organizers say over two dozen protesters were treated for injuries after officers used batons, physical force and pepper spray to block a large group of protesters from attending a legislative session on the state budge.
In other news from Puerto Rico, Juan Manuel García-Passalacqua has died at the age of seventy-three. He was a well-known Puerto Rican attorney, political analyst and historian. After his death on Friday, Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño declared three days of mourning.
Thousands of people are in Beirut today attending the funeral of Lebanon’s most eminent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. He died on Sunday at the age of seventy-four. In the 1950s he helped found the Dawa Party, the party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He later served as spiritual mentor to Hezbollah.