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Another Oil Rig Explodes in Gulf of Mexico

Another oil and gas rig has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles south of the Louisiana coast. The fire broke out on a platform operated by Mariner Energy Thursday morning. Thirteen workers were rescued more than two hours after jumping into the Gulf to avoid the fire. Coast Guard and company officials said there is no evidence of leaks, but there were reports that an oil sheen could be seen near the site. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said toxic dispersants could be used if an underwater spill develops.

Gov. Bobby Jindal: "They report they’ve got pre-approval to do that, but again, they’re not planning to use dispersants this time, based on only the sheen being visible. The company suspects that what is burning now is what was actually in storage. They had about a hundred barrels of condensate on the platform in storage. Again, we don’t have independent confirmation of what is burning at this time. This would also be a very important point."

BP: Denial of Drilling Permit Threatens Gulf Coast Claims

In other oil drilling news, the New York Times is reporting BP has warned Congress that if lawmakers pass legislation barring the company from new offshore drilling permits, it may not have the funds to pay for all the damages caused by its Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Calls Grow for Offshore Drilling Ban

The latest developments come as environmental activists are ratcheting up calls for a ban on offshore drilling. Earlier this week over 200 people took part in protests outside the San Francisco offices of oil giants Chevron and BP. Twenty-six people took part in a blockade outside BP’s offices, and fifteen were arrested. The Reverend Kenneth Davis of the Bay Area Coalition of Concerned Citizens spoke out as the activists stopped in front of the Chevron building.

Rev. Kenneth Davis: "It’s not a nice thing when we think about the poorest people in the world have to suffer the injustices of those that inhabit places like this. We want you to all understand that these robbers, crooks and killers, they also come in three-piece suits and ties. Here is environmental injustice. Environmental injustice, when they can pour the pollution in my neighborhood, make me breathe it, and tell me that I should love it."

US Accused of Killing 10 Afghan Civilians

The US-led NATO force is being accused of killing ten civilians in an air strike in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province. Appearing with the visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the victims were campaign workers for a candidate in Afghanistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "[According to] the reports that we get so far, ten are killed and three wounded in this operation. The nature of the operation and the presence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s personalities or activists have to be determined. But we do know that the parliamentarian, the candidate, is wounded, and ten are killed. We are investigating it. And as it turns out, we will then share the information with our allies, the United States and NATO."

Main Afghan Bank Faces Collapse

The Afghan government, meanwhile, is facing the potential collapse of its largest bank. Scores of account holders have pulled their money from the Kabul Bank this week amidst speculation the bank is headed for insolvency. Kabul Bank has faced allegations of making illegal loans to well-connected insiders and shareholders. In an interview with the Washington Post, Mahmoud Karzai, a top shareholder and the brother of Hamid Karzai, called for US intervention to shore up the bank’s finances.

Slain US Army Chaplain Is First to Die in Combat Since Vietnam War

In other news from Afghanistan, the military says a chaplain killed in a bombing this week is the first Army clergyperson killed in combat since the Vietnam War. Captain Dale Goetz of Fort Carlson was among five soldiers who died in a roadside bombing.

Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Agree to Further Talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to further talks following this week’s US-brokered summit in Washington. The two sides will meet again on September 14th and then every two weeks thereafter. Middle East envoy George Mitchell said the US hopes to see an agreement within a year.

George Mitchell: "Our goal is to resolve all of the core issues within one year, and the parties themselves have suggested and agreed that the logical way to proceed to tackle them is to try to reach a framework agreement first. We will put our full weight behind these negotiations and will stand by the parties as they make the difficult decisions necessary to secure a better future for their citizens."

Settlers: "We Are Building" All Over West Bank

The talks are being held despite Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. On Thursday, the head of the West Bank settlers council, Naftali Bennett, declared an end to Israel’s partial settlement freeze and vowed to continue building.

Naftali Bennett: "The immoral freeze on Jewish building in the land of Israel is over, and as of now, in dozens of locations across Judea and Samaria, the mountain range of Judea and Samaria, we’re building."

Bennett’s group, the Yesha council, says construction is taking place in at least eighty settlements across the West Bank. Palestinian Authority spokesperson Ghassan Khatib said although Israel has never fully stopped expanding settlements, Palestinians now expect a frenzy of settlement construction.

Ghassan Khatib: "Unfortunately, Israel has never stopped the settlement expansion, including in the so-called moratorium that they announced. But yesterday, in particular, there was a massive resumption of settlement expansion and activities in many places in the Palestinian territories. There was a very dangerous decision by the municipality of occupied Jerusalem to resume construction of homes in certain parts of occupied East Jerusalem. There was also laying ground and laying foundations for new construction in three settlements in the West Bank."

Companies Passing on More Healthcare Costs to Employees

A new survey shows US companies are increasingly pushing healthcare costs onto their employees. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 30 percent of over 3,000 companies say they’ve reduced health benefits or increased workers’ share of the cost this year. Twenty-three percent said they’ve raised employee premiums. Employees with family healthcare plans are now paying an average 14 percent more per year.

4 Accused of Coercing 400 Thai Workers into Forced Labor

A Hawaii grand jury has indicted four people on charges of forcing around 400 Thai nationals to work as farm laborers after luring them to the United States. Prosecutors say the defendants are employees of the Los Angeles-based labor contractor Global Horizons Manpower. The workers were allegedly promised lucrative jobs, only to have their passports seized and forced to pay thousands of dollars in so-called "recruitment" fees that were financed by their property and homes.

LA Garment Factory to Pay Workers Unpaid Overtime, Allow Monitor

A Los Angeles garment company, meanwhile, has reached a settlement over allegations it subjected workers to sweatshop-like conditions. Around fifty minimum-wage workers accused Seventeen Incorporated of forcing them to work twelve-hour shifts, sometimes back to back, without breaks or overtime for six days a week. The workers also say they were exposed to harmful chemicals, a cockroach and rodent infestation, with no way of leaving the factory at nighttime in case of emergency. The factory has supplied clothes to well-known retailers including Forever 21 and Macy’s. Under the settlement, workers will receive compensation for unpaid overtime. And in what prosecutors call an unprecedented provision for a US-based factory, Seventeen agreed to allow an independent monitor observe the factory for a year.

Environmentalist Sentenced to 4 Months for Accepting Facebook Friend Request

And an environmentalist with a long rap sheet for various radical actions has been sentenced to another four months in prison for having an online interaction with another activist. A US district judge in Michigan ruled that Rod Coronado had violated the terms of his parole after he accepted a Facebook friend request from fellow radical activist Mike Roselle. In accepting Roselle’s friend request, Coronado’s action amounted to one click of his computer’s mouse. Coronado was also using what his parole officer called an "unauthorized" computer.


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