The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has confirmed parts of the BP oil slick have entered the Gulf loop current, which could carry the oil to the Florida Keys and even possibly up the Atlantic Coast. Government scientists say it could take seven days for oil to reach waters off the Florida coast. US officials have also opened talks with Cuba on contingency planning in case the spill reaches Cuban shores. Oil has already reached the fragile wetlands on the Louisiana coast. On Wednesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he had asked for intensified efforts to defend the coastline from incoming oil.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: “We’ve got to be completely focused on defending this coast. The cost — the difference between keeping this oil out and having this oil in this wetlands, it literally could be life or death for many of these species.”
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, a professor at Purdue University told lawmakers the oil spill may now be 95,000 barrels of oil, or four million gallons, per day — nineteen times BP’s estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.
The Senate has failed to advance the financial regulation bill after three weeks of debate. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 57 to 42 on a cloture motion, three short of the sixty needed to bring the measure to a vote. Democratic Senators Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Maria Cantwell of Washington voted with Republicans against cloture, each saying they want more robust provisions to regulate financial firms. Another cloture vote is expected today.
Senate Banking Committee chair Christopher Dodd meanwhile has abandoned his effort to weaken a provision that would ban Wall Street firms from acting as brokers for most forms of derivatives trades. Dodd had called for suspending the ban for two years and allowing the US Treasury to cancel it altogether. But on Wednesday, Dodd said he won’t bring his amendment up for vote.
New figures, meanwhile, show the number of financial industry lobbyists opposing an overhaul of the derivatives market outnumber pro-reform lobbyists by a ratio of eleven to one. The group Public Citizen says 903 lobbyists have worked to oppose the reform compared to the seventy-nine working for its passage.
New figures show the number of homeowners behind on their mortgage payments is at a record high. The Mortgage Bankers Association says more than one in ten homeowners missed a payment in the first quarter of this year. More than 4.6 percent of homeowners were in foreclosure during the same period, also a record. Homeowners with fixed, conventional loans now mark the fastest-growing group in foreclosure, accounting for 37 percent of the total.
The nation’s top scientific panel has endorsed a carbon tax on greenhouse gas-causing fossil fuels. In a series of new reports, the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council endorses for the first time the view global warming is mainly caused by human activity and calls on the US to limit overall emissions, in part through a carbon tax.
The mothers of the three jailed US hikers in Iran have arrived in Tehran to visit their children for the first time since their arrests last year. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were detained in July after straying across Iran’s border during a hiking trip in northern Iraq. Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, said she hopes to win their release.
Cindy Hickey: “Very grateful. We’re closer to our children, and so it’s very emotional for us. I’m very grateful to the Iranian authorities for allowing us to be here. I come with an open heart, I come with a grateful heart, and I come with a mother’s heart. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing my son and his two friends, and I have real strong hopes of the great possibility of bringing them home. I would like to plea for that.”
The founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks has had his passport confiscated in his native Australia. Julian Assange says Australian officials told him his passport would be canceled because it looked worn. Last year WikiLeaks stoked a controversy in Australia after publishing a list of websites the Australian government had been preparing to blacklist even though the sites had no links to the stated reason of child pornography. And last month WikiLeaks drew international attention after releasing a classified US military video showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians in 2007.
In Colombia, a leading activist for Colombians displaced by paramilitary groups has been killed in a targeted attack. Rogelio Martinez was shot dead near his home in Sucre province on Tuesday. The fifty-one-year-old Martinez was in the midst of a dispute with a paramilitary group over a large farm inhabited by over fifty families. It was at least the thirty-fourth killing of a displaced leader in Colombia since 2002.
The Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to appeal for increased aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Penn has run a camp for displaced Haitians in the aftermath of the quake.
Sean Penn: “I come here today in hope that we will address with bold clarity the razor’s edge upon which Haiti lies, so that all in our own country, all that our country has given in sacrifice and service, will not be washed away with this rainy season and leave bright and dancing Haitian eyes to go still in death from disease and flood and, God forbid, the man-made disaster of violent unrest.”
Meanwhile, in Haiti, President René Préval is facing increased calls to step down. Earlier this week, Haitian police fired tear gas at a crowd of over 2,000 protesters demanding Préval’s resignation. It was the largest political demonstration in Haiti since the January earthquake. Protester Lionel Etienne said he opposed the possibility of Préval extending his term beyond its scheduled end date next February.
Lionel Etienne: “Today we are here to ask him to step down democratically and constitutionally. There is enough argument within the constitution to have an election within ninety days and put in place another person in the palace to lead the country in the right direction.”
President Obama is hosting Mexican President Felipe Calderón in Washington in their first meeting since the passage of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law last month. At a joint White House news conference, President Obama criticized the law.
President Obama: “There’s a strong proposal in the Senate based by on a bipartisan framework, and it can and should move forward. We also discussed the new law in Arizona, which is a misdirected effort, a misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system, and which has raised concerns in both our countries. Today, I want every American to know my administration has devoted unprecedented resources in personnel and technology to securing our border.”
First Lady Michelle Obama, meanwhile, was drawn into the immigration debate Wednesday by an unexpected source. On a visit to a Maryland elementary school with Mexico’s First Lady Margarita Zavala, a second grade student told Michelle Obama she is concerned President Obama plans to deport people like her mother, who doesn’t have immigration status.
Student: “My mom said that — I think that she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.”
Michelle Obama: “Yeah, well, that’s something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exactly right.”
Student: “But my mom doesn’t have any.”
Michelle Obama: “Yeah, well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that. And everybody’s got to work together in Congress to make sure that that happens.”
A recently disclosed interview shows the new Republican Senate nominee in Kentucky, Rand Paul, opposes enforcing the Civil Rights Act on private businesses. In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal conducted last month, Paul said anti-discrimination laws should only apply to public institutions.
Rand Paul: “I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should be absolutely no discrimination on anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what the Civil Rights Act was about, to my mind.”
Questioner: “But under your philosophy, it would be OK for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth’s?”
Rand Paul: “I would not go to that Woolworth’s, and I would stand up in my community and say it’s abhorrent. But the hard part, and this is the hard part about believing in freedom is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example, you have to — for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things.”
Last night Paul appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, where he was questioned about his views. Paul said he favored desegregating public areas like water fountains and schools in the 1960s, but suggested he would have opposed efforts to desegregate privately owned lunch counters.
Rand Paul: “Well, what it gets into is, is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, 'Well, no, we don't want to have guns in here.’ The bar says, 'We don`t want to have guns in here,' because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each other. Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?”
Paul won the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary and has openly allied himself with the Tea Party movement. Last year his communications director, Christopher Hightower, resigned after his MySpace page was found to have a post declaring “Happy N-Word Day” and showing a photo of a lynching around the time of the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.