The first of the thirty-three trapped Chilean miners have been rescued after over two months buried deep underground. One by one, the miners are being pulled in a rescue capsule from over 2,000 feet beneath the collapsed copper mine in the Atacama Desert. They had been expected to remain trapped until Christmas, but the drilling of a rescue tunnel was completed last weekend. Earlier today, the second miner to be rescued, Mario Sepulveda, emerged from the rescue shaft and jokingly tried to give Chilean President Sebastián Piñera some rocks he had brought up from the mine as a souvenir. In a news conference, Sepulveda urged the media not to treat the miners as celebrities.
Mario Sepulveda: “The professionals that do all this publicity and television, the only personal thing I ask is for you to not treat us as artists or journalists. I want you to continue treating me like Mario Antonio Sepulveda, a worker, a miner.”
The last of the miners are expected to emerge late on Thursday.
A federal judge has ordered the US military to stop enforcing the seventeen-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that bars openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces. On Tuesday, Judge Virginia Phillips of Federal District Court for the Central District of California issued an injunction one month after ruling that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is unconstitutional. The ruling bans enforcement of the law and orders the military to immediately suspend any investigations or discharge proceedings.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has appealed a federal judge’s ruling preventing the government from enforcing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of gay marriage. The Obama administration says it opposes the law but is obligated to defend federal statutes when challenged in court.
The Obama administration has lifted its temporary ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The ban was imposed in May shortly after the Deepwater Horizon explosion caused one of the worst environmental crises in US history. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said operators of the thirty-six rigs halted by the ban can now apply to resume deepwater drilling before the end of the year. In a conference call to reporters, Salazar said the Gulf is now “open for business.”
Ken Salazar: “The policy position that we’re articulating today is that we are open for business. So I expect we will see a resumption of deepwater drilling very soon. And I can’t tell you the exact date when it will happen, but it will happen soon.”
The ban was due to expire at the end of November. Environmental groups had urged the administration to continue the ban and expand it to include shallow water drilling as well. In a statement, the watchdog group Public Citizen called lifting the ban “misguided and reckless,” adding, “We still have no way to address a catastrophic blowout in deep water… Without technology in hand to stop millions of gallons of oil from spewing from the bottom of the ocean, we are simply gambling with our environment.”
In related news, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana says she will continue to block the nomination of Jack Lew to run the Office of Management and Budget until drilling permits are granted. Landrieu used a senatorial privilege last month to place a hold on Lew’s nomination until the drilling ban was removed.
Attorneys general from dozens of states are announcing a joint investigation today into alleged fraud by the nation’s biggest lenders in forcing thousands of people out of their homes. The probe will center around allegations mortgage companies including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial made misleading or fraudulent statements and signed off on documents without proper review to approve scores of foreclosures. Also Tuesday, Ally Financial announced it’s widened an independent audit of foreclosure practices at its GMAC Mortgage unit to all fifty states. Ally and JPMorgan Chase have suspended foreclosures in twenty-three states, while Bank of America has suspended them in all fifty states. Last week, Ohio filed a lawsuit accusing Ally of fraud in approving hundreds of foreclosures. The Obama administration meanwhile has renewed its opposition to a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said a foreclosure freeze could cause “broader harm… to the housing market and to the housing recovery.”
The developments come amidst emerging details of the lenders’ practices. On Tuesday, a Florida attorney representing hundreds of homeowners released depositions of bank employees describing the frenzy to approve foreclosures on a mass scale. The lawyer, Peter Ticktin, says he deposed 150 workers who say they signed foreclosure affidavits without looking at them. Some of the workers had no experience and received no training after previously working as hairstylists, Wal-Mart floor workers, and assembly line employees.
A new congressional study says the number of people denied medical coverage because of preexisting conditions has grown by nearly half. According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, over the last three years the four top for-profit insurers — Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint — have denied coverage to 49 percent more people because of medical history. Over 257,000 people were denied last year, compared to 172,000 in 2007. All four companies followed a policy of considering pregnancy a “pre-existing condition” leading to an automatic denial of coverage. A provision of the healthcare law barring denial of coverage to adults based on medical history doesn’t kick in until 2014.
Opening statements have begun in the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantánamo Bay detainee to face a civilian trial. Ghailani appeared in a New York courtroom Tuesday on charges he was involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people. Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch said the trial of a Guantánamo Bay prisoner in a civilian court instead of by military commission is long overdue.
Laura Pitter: “It’s better than the commissions because the commissions have an enormous number of legal challenges ahead of it. There is no rules, really, of evidence. Everything is ad hoc and made it up as they go along. And as a result, it is subject to an enormous number of legal challenges. And the victims deserve justice.”
The Army major charged in the killings of thirteen people at Fort Hood, Texas last year appeared in a military court on Tuesday to seek a delay in his murder trial. Major Nidal Malik Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted. Fort Hood spokesperson Thomas Rheinlander said Nidal’s attorneys are seeking to delay the trial over the Army’s refusal to release documents related to the case.
Thomas Rheinlander: “During today’s Article 32 hearing, the defense asked for a reconsideration of a previous motion for closure. The investigating officer denied the motion. The defendant moved for a continuance until November 8th. The investigating officer gave the defense until midnight tonight to file a brief in support of its motion for continuance.”
The Supreme Court has rejected a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Denver residents who were ejected from a speech by President Bush in 2005. Leslie Weise and Alex Young were removed before Bush took the stage after White House staffers noticed a bumper sticker on their car reading “no blood for oil.” The ACLU had sued the White House for infringing on the pair’s constitutional rights, but the case was thrown out in 2008. In a statement, the ACLU said, “The notion that the government can exclude anyone it chooses from an event, just because their point of view is at odds with that of the president, is unconstitutional and un-American. We are confident that the wrong done to Leslie Weise and Alex Young will one day be righted.”
The internet giant Google has announced an investment into a proposed electronic transmission line that would carry power generated from offshore wind farms to the East Coast. The Atlantic Wind Connection would bring wind-generated power through a network of underwater cables. The head of Google’s green business operations, Rick Needham, said the project would bolster the move toward offshore wind.
Rick Needham: “Instead of multiple piecemeal connections, this will serve as a superhighway, with on-ramps for wind farms and the ability to intelligently be expanded to increase even further the amount of offshore wind that’s available.”
Portugal has been elected to a two-year seat on the UN Security Council after besting Canada in a second round of voting. The president of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, announced the tally.
Joseph Deiss: “Number of votes obtained: Portugal, 150; Canada, 32. Having obtained the required two-thirds majority and the largest number of votes, Portugal is elected to the Security Council. Portugal is elected a member of the Security Council for a two-year term beginning on the 1st of January 2011.”
The Canadian bid had come under internal opposition in Canada over the Conservative government’s policies on global warming, indigenous rights and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Other countries elected to the Security Council on Tuesday were Germany, India, South Africa and Colombia.
And tens of thousands of people marched in the French capital of Paris Tuesday in the latest protest against the wave of austerity measures sweeping Europe. Organizers say over 330,000 people turned out. French unions have organized a campaign to pressure President Nicolas Sarkozy to drop plans to raise the retirement age from sixty to sixty-two.