Rescue efforts have resumed at the West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch coal mine where twenty-five miners were killed in an explosion earlier this week. Search teams are seeking four missing miners in the hopes they managed to escape to an underground safety chamber. The rescue effort has faced repeated delays in order to filter out dangerous gases. On Thursday, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said the delays were needed to protect the rescue team.
Gov. Joe Manchin: “The quality of the air since this morning, since the men have gone in, the quality of the air has deteriorated. We were concerned about what conditions that air would cause with an explosive atmosphere.”
More details continue to emerge about safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine before Monday’s explosion. A Senate report says federal regulators have issued evacuation orders at the mine more than sixty times since the start of 2009. In 2007, the mine’s owner and operator, Massey Energy, was able to prevent the Mine Safety and Health Administration — MSHA — from declaring a pattern of violations, which could have led to the mine’s closure. According to MSHA, the mine exceeded national averages in eleven safety citation categories. For the most serious citation categories, the mine had more than eleven times the national rate.
In Kyrgyzstan, the deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev says he remains in office despite his forced departure from the capital Bishkek. Bakiyev fled after opposition groups seized several government buildings amidst a crackdown that killed seventy-five protesters and wounded thousands more. The opposition has declared an interim government. In Washington, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said the US isn’t taking sides in the conflict.
State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley: “There is a president who has not yielded power. There is an interim leadership that claims to be in charge of the government. We are talking to both. It’s not for us to take sides, one way or the other. Our interest here is with the people of Kyrgyzstan and a peaceful resolution of the situation.”
It’s unclear if the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan will affect the US military base there. Kyrgyz opposition groups have called for the terms of the base deal to be reevaluated. The Manas base has been a vital supply hub for the US occupation of Afghanistan.
At least three US troops and a military contractor have died in a NATO helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The V-22 Osprey helicopter is said to have gone down in the southeastern province of Zabul overnight. A Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility for the crash, saying its forces had shot the aircraft. But the US says the crash was due to mechanical failure.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled out of a US summit on nuclear security. President Obama has invited more than forty countries to Washington for the meeting beginning next week. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Netanyahu backed out over fears that a group of Muslim states, including Egypt and Turkey, will renew calls for Israel to sign the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. The Iranian government isn’t invited to the summit but plans to host its own nuclear disarmament gathering in Tehran later this month. The theme of the Tehran summit is “Nuclear energy for everyone, nuclear arms for no one.”
In other Iran news, there are new fears the Iranian government is preparing to try three jailed American hikers jailed on espionage charges. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were detained on July 31st after accidentally crossing into Iran while hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Iranian state television, Iranian intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi says Iran has “credible evidence” the three have ties to US intelligence agencies.
In Spain, a top judge is facing trial on allegations of overreaching his authority in a probe of human rights abuses during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. Baltasar Garzón is reportedly set to be accused of opening the investigation without proper jurisdiction. Garzón is known worldwide for taking on international human rights cases. His actions include ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, indicting Osama bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks, and probing the abuse of US prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. On Thursday, former Spanish prisoner Víctor Díaz-Cardiel joined hundreds of protesters to show support for Garzón.
Víctor Díaz-Cardiel: “When Judge Garzón opens a case against franquismo to provide knowledge, not only of the victims who ended up in ditches, but also the 140,000 people who disappeared, this should move every citizen of this country to be here to show support for this judge. He is one of the only people who has dared to do something like this.”
Back in the United States, two former top executives with the financial giant Citigroup appeared Thursday before a government panel investigating the roots of the nation’s economic crisis. Former chief executive Charles Prince opened his remarks to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission with an apology for the business dealings that led Citigroup to near-collapse and on the receiving end of a more than $45 billion taxpayer bailout.
Charles Prince: “Let me start by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the financial crisis has had such a devastating impact on our country. I’m sorry for the millions of people, average Americans, who have lost their homes. And I’m sorry that our management team, starting with me, like so many others, could not see the unprecedented market collapse that lay before us.”
Also testifying was Robert Rubin, a former Citigroup director and Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration. Rubin was less conciliatory, rejecting any personal responsibility for Citigroup’s woes. Rubin joined Citigroup after overseeing a major deregulatory effort that allowed banks to merge with insurance companies. The overhaul helped Citigroup become the nation’s largest financial institution. Rubin left Citigroup after collecting more than $100 million in compensation. Rubin’s testimony came one day after former Citigroup executive Richard Bowen said Rubin and other top executives had ignored repeated warnings over Citigroup’s business practices.
Richard Bowen: “I specifically warned Mr. Rubin about the extreme risks and unrecognized financial losses that existed within my business unit. I witnessed business risk practices which made a mockery of Citi credit policy.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has found that a major California waste facility linked to birth defects in nearby communities improperly disposed of hazardous chemicals. On Thursday, the EPA said Fresno’s Chemical Waste Management landfill had violated federal laws on disposing PCBs. The plant is the largest hazardous waste facility in the western United States. Nearby residents have blamed it for at least eleven birth defects since 2007.
In San Francisco, dozens of protesters took over a central transit station on Thursday to call for the firing of a police officer linked to the 2009 shooting of the unarmed African American passenger Oscar Grant. The officer, Anthony Pirone, had arrested Grant before another officer shot Grant to death.
Details continue to emerge on the extent of the false claims in the controversy that led to the collapse of the community organizing group ACORN. ACORN disbanded as a national organization last month after months of legal and financial difficulty largely stemming from the release of undercover videos taken inside its offices. The right-wing activists behind the videos claimed they showed staffers offering advice to two individuals posing as a pimp and a prostitute. But their story continues to be discredited piece by piece. A recent probe by California Attorney General Jerry Brown undermines a key claim that an ACORN staffer in San Diego offered advice on smuggling a group of prostitutes from Mexico. Brown’s probe verified that the staffer, Juan Carlos Vera, in fact called the police right after the meeting to report what he had heard. Vera has long maintained he called the police, but his claims have gone largely ignored. He was fired from his position at ACORN as the controversy reached a peak last fall.
And Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell has apologized for excluding slavery from a proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month. The initial proclamation called on Virginia residents to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” McDonnell initially said he had excluded slavery because he wanted to focus on issues “significant” to Virginia. McDonnell called the move “a major omission” and says he’s amended the document to call slavery “an evil and inhumane practice.” Critics want McDonnell to revoke the proclamation entirely, saying it celebrates Virginia’s racist past.