The nomination hearing of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States begins today. The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin meeting at noon in Washington. Democrats plan to question Roberts on another of issues including his attacks on affirmative action and school busing; his criticism of a proposal to equalize pay between men and women; and his narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights laws. Several national groups, including People for the American Way, have already called on the Senate to reject Roberts’ nomination in part because so little is known about his judicial views. He has only served as a judge for three years. If confirmed to this lifetime post, the 50-year-old Roberts will become the youngest chief justice in over 200 years. President Bush has yet to announce whom he will nominate to fill the other open seat on the Supreme Court.
This news on Hurricane Katrina… The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is reporting that over 1,500 children are still separated from their parents two weeks after the Hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. The center is calling for the creation of database of everyone staying in shelters in order to help re-unite children with their parents.
On Friday, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, was sent back to Washington. For now he remains the head of the agency but is no longer working on the hurricane relief effort. Brown has been widely criticized for FEMA’s slow response to the hurricane. Questions have also arisen over how Brown came to head the agency since he had no previous experience working on natural disasters.
Scores of members of the Mississippi National Guard stationed in Iraq have been denied 15-day leaves in order to help their displaced families. The commanders told them that there were too few U.S. troops in Iraq to spare them. 40 percent of Mississippi’s National Guard force and 35 percent of Louisiana’s is in Iraq. Meanwhile, for the first time, a high-ranking National Guard official has admitted that the Guard’s response to the hurricane was hindered by the high number of troops in Iraq. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told CNN that “arguably” a day or so of response time was lost due to the absence of the Guard troops in Iraq. He said, “Had that brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear.”
A top official at the Environmental Protection Agency is warning that toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade. EPA veteran Hugh Kaufman told the Independent of London that the clean-up needed will be 'the most massive public works exercise ever done in this country.” Kaufman is the former chief investigator to the EPA's ombudsman. He is now a senior policy analyst in the EPA’s Office of Solid Wastes and Emergency Response. He said “It will take 10 years just to get everything up and running and safe.” Kauffman criticized the decision to pump the contaminated flood water back into Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. He said this could endanger people using the water downstream.
Meanwhile a number of Republican Congressmen have come under criticism in recent days for comments made about the hurricane. Congressman Richard Baker of Baton Rouge was overheard telling lobbyists “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
House Majority leader Tom DeLay was heard talking with a group of young boys who are temporarily staying in the Houston Astrodome after fleeing New Orleans. Delay asked them QUOTE “Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?” The boys reportedly nodded but looked perplexed by Delay’s question.
The Washington Post is reporting that a number of companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration’s first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At least two major corporate clients of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, former head of FEMA, have already been tapped to start recovery work along the battered Gulf Coast. One is Shaw Group and the other is Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Bechtel has also been selected by FEMA to provide short-term housing for people displaced by the hurricane. On Friday, Kellogg Brown & Root received $30 million in Pentagon contracts to begin rebuilding Navy bases in Louisiana and Mississippi.
In other news… The Washington Post is reporting the Pentagon is drafting new guidelines to allow the military to use nuclear weapons in pre-emptive attacks. The Pentagon is in the final stage of updating what is known as the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations that outlines possible uses of nuclear weapons.
In Haiti, police have detained two journalists including Kevin Pina who regularly reports for the Pacifica Radio program Flashpoints. Pina was arrested on Friday as he filmed the Haitian police searching a church run by the jailed priest Gerard Jean-Juste. A Haitian journalist named Jean Ristil, who works for the Associated Press, was also detained after he tried to photograph Pina’s arrest. Haitian officials say they are being held on suspicion of QUOTE “disrespect to a magistrate” and resisting arrest.
In Australia, an American peace activist named Scott Parkin, has been detained and is being held in solitary confinement. Australian officials claim he poses a threat to national security. Parkin is best known for organizing protests around the military contractor Halliburton. He has helped lead protests during Halliburton’s shareholders meetings in Texas and worked with Greenpeace on an action during Exxon Mobil’s shareholder meeting in 2003. He was detained Saturday by six federal police and immigration officials as he sat at a cafe in Melbourne where he was teaching at peace activism workshops.
In Mississippi, A judge has ordered Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen back to prison in connection to the killing of three civil rights workers in 1964. Killen was recently released on bond while he was appealing his manslaughter conviction. The judge accused Killen of deceiving the court about the state of his health when he asked to be released on bond.
And in New York, memorials were held Sunday to mark the fourth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Relatives of the 9/11 victims read the names of all 2,749 (two thousand seven hundred forty nine people) people that died that day. It took four hours to read all of the names. Last night two blue light beams were projected into the sky echoing the towers’ silhouette.