A federal appeals court has rejected the Obama administration’s attempt to reinstate a six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The ban was imposed in May, but a US district judge with extensive energy industry financial ties struck it down last month. On Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans refused to stay the lower court decision. The Interior Department is expected to revise the ban order to address issues raised by the courts.
A US district judge in Massachusetts has ruled the federal ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state’s right to define marriage. The ruling came in the cases of two separate challenges to the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" of 1996. The ruling applies only to Massachusetts but could have broader implications if upheld on appeal.
In California, a former Bay Area police officer has escaped a full conviction for the 2009 killing of the unarmed African American passenger Oscar Grant. On Thursday, the officer, Johannes Mehserle, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter but was acquitted on the more serious charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, both of which carry longer sentences. Videotape of the killing shows Mehserle shooting Grant in the back while Grant lay face down on a subway platform. Members of Grant’s family immediately denounced the verdict. Scores of people were arrested in Oakland last night.
The Pentagon’s new nominee to head the US Central Command is expected to draw scrutiny for a controversial record that includes outlandish comments and alleged disregard for Iraqi civilian life. On Thursday, Marine General James Mattis was tapped to replace General David Petraeus, who took over as the top US commander in Afghanistan following the ouster of General Stanley McChrystal last month. As head of Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division in Iraq, Mattis played a key role in the two US assaults on Fallujah in 2004. The assaults killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Fallujah residents, displaced thousands more, and destroyed much of the city. Mattis later dismissed almost all of the charges against eight accused Marines involved in the November 2005 massacre of twenty-four unarmed Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. Of the eight Marines originally charged in the case, only one still faces prosecution. In February 2005, Mattis was reprimanded after he told a public event that he enjoys fighting in places like Afghanistan because "it’s fun to shoot some people." He said, "You know, it’s a hell of a hoot…I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."
In Pakistan, at least fifty people have been killed and over 100 wounded in a double suicide bombing in a northwest tribal region. Two attackers detonated their explosives outside a government office. It was one of the deadliest attacks to hit Pakistan this year.
The US and Russia have completed what’s been described as an unprecedented swap of captured spies. On Thursday, ten alleged Russian spies were deported from the US shortly after pleading guilty to charges of acting as unregistered foreign agents. In return, Russia freed four Russians who had been jailed on charges of spying for the West.
The European Parliament has approved the resumption of a controversial data-sharing program that allows the US to monitor millions of international financial transactions. The records have been obtained through SWIFT, which directs trillions of dollars in international bank transfers each day. The program has been accused of violating privacy rights since coming to light in 2006. European Union lawmakers had rejected a proposed extension of the program earlier this year despite heavy Obama administration pressure. But on Thursday, the EU parliament backed a new deal that negotiators say will allow oversight of US investigators involved in the program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wrapped up a visit to the United States following his White House meeting with President Obama. On Thursday, Netanyahu told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York that Israel "has done enough" to address Palestinian grievances and that the Palestinian Authority should drop their conditions for the resumption of peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "I decided, unlike any previous government, to freeze the construction in new settlements for a ten-month period to encourage the Palestinians to enter the peace talks. So far, seven months have passed. They haven’t come in. They should come in. They should have come in yesterday. They should have come in twelve months ago, seven months ago. But we should not waste any time."
Israel has only partially frozen settlement construction, and Palestinians have insisted on a complete freeze before talks resume. Outside of his speech, protesters said the Israeli government should be held to account for war crimes in Gaza and ongoing settlement expansion on the West Bank.
Felice Gelman: "Netanyahu should not come to New York without having to confront the possible war crimes that Israel has been charged with, both by the UN report that Judge Goldstone did on the invasion of Gaza and also with the killing of nine civilians on the high seas by the Israeli navy on the flotilla that was going to Gaza. In both cases, Israel has been asked to participate in a transparent international investigation and has refused to do so."
Mahmoud Dandashli: "President Obama tried to at least delay the settlements. However, they are trying all they can to restart the settlements again, and this is illegal, as if I’m coming to New York to tell New Yorkers, 'You know what? I'm taking part of Manhattan. You need to move out.’ Who will accept that? Why should Palestinians accept that? Why the international community will not do anything?"
Meanwhile, another aid ship could be making its way to Gaza as early as today. A Libyan state charity group says it’s preparing a cargo ship loaded with 2,000 tons of supplies to depart from Greece. The sailing would come just over a month after Israeli forces killed nine people aboard the Free Gaza Movement’s Freedom Flotilla in international waters.
In Canada, the supervisory board of the Toronto Police Department has launched a probe into police conduct during last month’s G20 summit. Over 1,000 people were arrested in the crackdown. Police have faced multiple allegations of misconduct, including beatings, unlawful jailings, improper sexual contact, and threats of rape. At least sixteen people are said to remain in detention nearly two weeks after most of the arrests. One of the jailed protesters, Jaggi Singh, is a well-known Canadian social justice activist who was forced to surrender this week. Local officials in Toronto meanwhile have acknowledged the massive "security" fence built for the summit cost double its initial estimate. The final bill for the six-mile barrier that cut off large parts of downtown Toronto was $9.4 million.
A recent study shows median wages for both high school and college graduates have fallen over the last decade. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the years 2000 to 2009 marked a "prolonged period of wage stagnation." Earnings for high school graduates dropped an average three dollars per week, and earnings for college graduates dropped an average five dollars per week. The wage stagnation preceded the current recession, with wages falling even as the nation’s economy expanded from 2002 to 2007. Speaking at a factory in Kansas City on Thursday, President Obama said he thinks the US economy is headed to recovery.
President Obama: "And I’ve said since I took office that my administration will not rest until every American who is able and ready and willing to work can find a job, and a job that pays a decent wage and has decent benefits to support a family. We’re not there yet. We’ve got a long way to go. But what is absolutely clear is we’re moving in the right direction."
A new analysis shows wealthier Americans have a higher rate of mortgage defaults than the rest of the population. According to the New York Times, more than one in seven homeowners with loans exceeding one million dollars are seriously delinquent. By contrast, the delinquency rate for mortgages below the one million mark is about one in twelve.
The US has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian television journalist to attend a fellowship at Harvard University. The journalist, Hollman Morris, has been highly critical of outgoing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a key US ally. Morris has helped document Uribe’s ties to right-wing paramilitary groups responsible for scores of human rights abuses in Colombia. Uribe has called Morris "an accomplice of terrorism" for covering the rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The Colombian government has also tapped Morris’s phone and subjected him to potential prosecution. Morris was one of twelve journalists selected for Harvard’s Nieman Foundation program beginning later this year. But US officials say he’s been deemed permanently ineligible for a visa under the "terrorist activities" section of the USA PATRIOT Act.
In media news, CNN has fired its veteran Middle Eastern editor for a Twitter message in which she says she respected the late Lebanese cleric, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah following his death last week. Fadlallah was Lebabon’s most eminent Shia cleric. In her Twitter post, Octavia Nasr wrote, "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah…One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot." Nasr had worked at CNN for twenty years.
Here in New York, protesters gathered outside the offices of Major League Baseball on Thursday to call for the cancellation of the 2011 All-Star Game in Arizona in the wake of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.
Protester: "The whole world is watching Major League Baseball, and they need to make a choice of who they’re going to stand with — the racists in Arizona or the millions of fans who support the league and come to the games and say 'enough is enough'? Let’s not reward, you know, behavior that makes it dangerous for fans and players to be in Arizona."
And newly released archives show President Richard Nixon and his then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger privately admitted to a CIA assassination attempt in Chile. Nixon and Kissinger were in the midst of a campaign to overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende at the time of the tape in June 1971. On the recording, Kissinger and Nixon joke about a CIA attempt to kill the top Chilean army commander who supported Allende. The general, René Schneider, was killed in 1970 by right-wing Chilean military forces. In an apparent reference to Schneider and the CIA, Kissinger says, "When they did try to assassinate somebody, it took three attempts, and he lived for three weeks afterwards." Kissinger has long claimed the CIA broke off contact with Schneider’s killers before the third attempt on his life. The US helped overthrow Allende three years later, leading to a military takeover by General Augusto Pinochet. In related news, other recently disclosed archives show the Nixon administration drew up plans for a nuclear attack on North Korea. Nixon reportedly ordered nuclear bombers on standby after North Korea shot down a US spy plane in 1969.