Government scientists have once again sharply increased their estimate of the amount of oil gushing out of BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Flow Rate Technical Group, some 2.5 million gallons of crude a day could be spewing into the sea. It’s the fourth time the government has increased its estimate of the spill size since the disaster began.
The announcement came as President Obama discussed the Gulf environmental crisis in his first Oval Office address. Obama accused BP of "recklessness" and swore to make the company pay for the massive damage it has caused.
President Obama: "The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years. But make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy."
Obama vowed a "battle plan" to address the crisis but offered few details on what the plan entails. He did announce the appointment of former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan. And he said he’d tell BP to pay for an independent fund to compensate Gulf Coast residents.
President Obama: "Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party."
Meanwhile, the President has appointed a new head for the Minerals Management Service, the government agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil drilling. The appointee, Michael Bromwich, has no experience with oil and gas practices but has worked as a government watchdog on several occasions.
Obama is scheduled to meet with top BP executives today at the White House. Ahead of the meeting, BP America President Lamar McKay testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee along with the CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell. Democratic Congress member Ed Markey of Massachusetts prodded McKay to apologize for BP’s faulty reporting of the spill size.
Rep. Ed Markey: "Please, one final chance: apologize for getting that number wrong."
Lamar McKay: "We are sorry for everything the Gulf Coast is going through. We are sorry for that and the spill."
In one of several heated moments, Republican Congress member Cliff Stearns of Florida told McKay he should resign.
Rep. Cliff Stearns: "Do you know what, Mr. McKay, 'The buck stops here' means? You know, that you take full responsibility? Now, Mr. Markey had asked you for an apology. I really think, in light of the performance of you as a CEO and what has occurred, I really think you should be resigning as chairman of BP America. I mean, it’s really outrageous that you sit here and tell us that you’re going to punt to the Unified Command, when we’ve had eleven people killed, we’ve had a huge environmental damage, and you’re still sitting here as a CEO of BP?"
In other testimony, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson admitted that major oil companies are unprepared to deal with environmental disasters at their drilling sites. Tillerson was questioned by Democratic Congress member Bart Stupak of Michigan.
Rex Tillerson: "When these things happen, we are not well equipped to deal with them."
Rep. Bart Stupak: "So when these happen, these worst case scenarios, we can’t handle them. Correct?"
Rex Tillerson: "We are not well equipped to handle them. There will be impacts, as we are seeing. And we’ve never represented anything different than that. That’s why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring, because when they happen, we’re not very well equipped to deal with them."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli cabinet is expected to approve a proposal today to alter the blockade of the Gaza Strip. More goods would be allowed to enter Gaza. But Israel would still decide what could be barred and would also maintain its naval blockade. The United Nations meanwhile has agreed to distribute the aid seized in the Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla last month. The United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, announced the deal.
Robert Serry: "The United Nations has obtained the consent of the cargo owners of the three Turkish-registered vessels to take possession of and responsibility for the entire cargo and ensure its timely distribution in Gaza for humanitarian purposes as determined by the United Nations. The government of Israel has agreed to release the entire cargo to the United Nations in Gaza, again on the understanding that it is for the United Nations to determine its appropriate humanitarian use in Gaza."
The Israeli government panel probing the flotilla assault, meanwhile, is holding its first meeting today. At the United Nations, the Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, criticized Israel for rejecting an international probe.
Richard Falk: "I’m rather skeptical, and that skepticism, I think, is reinforced by the investigation that was carried out of the Operation Cast Lead, in which the most serious infraction that was found in the report was an allegation that an Israeli soldier had stolen a credit card. None of the serious allegations involving tactics and weapons and the attack itself were subjected to any sort of objective analysis."
In Kyrgyzstan, the death toll from several days of fighting between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks could be far higher than previously thought. The interim Kyrgyz government says the toll could be "several times higher" than the official toll of nearly 180 people. The International Committee of the Red Cross says at least "several hundred people" have died. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 200,000 people have been internally displaced, while 75,000 have fled to neighboring Uzbekistan. UNHCR spokesperson Rupert Colville says the ethnic violence has targeted children.
Rupert Colville: "Indiscriminate killings, including of children, and rapes appear to have been taking place on the basis of ethnicity. We believe this is an extremely dangerous situation, given the ethnic patchwork in this part of Krygyzstan. It’s a highly complex ethnic mix there with some eighty different groups just in the Osh region. It’s been known for many years that this region is a potential tinderbox, and for that reason it’s essential that the authorities act firmly to halt the fighting."
The interim government has accused the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of provoking the violence in order to destabilize the country ahead of a planned constitutional referendum later this month. Bakiyev was a US ally until his removal in an uprising last April.
Egypt is facing growing calls for an independent probe into the police killing of a young man who was reportedly preparing to expose police corruption. According to family members, the alleged victim, twenty-eight-year-old Khaled Mohammed Said, was about to release a video showing officers dividing up narcotics and cash seized in a drug bust. The Egyptian police claims Said died after choking on a marijuana cigarette he had swallowed when policemen tried to arrest him. But eyewitnesses say he was dragged into the street and beaten to death. Pictures have also emerged of Said’s shattered face. On Sunday, Egyptian security forces beat and arrested dozens of protesters in downtown Cairo at a rally calling for justice in Said’s case and the resignation of Egypt’s interior minister, who controls the police force. On Tuesday, Egyptian prosecutors said they’ve ordered a second autopsy to determine the cause of Said’s death.
The Pentagon has upheld its ban on four journalists from covering military commissions at Guantánamo Bay for reporting the name of a military interrogator involved in the case of the Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr. The ban was imposed despite the fact the interrogator’s name had already been widely published in previous news reports. In reaffirming the ban, the Pentagon said it would consider lifting it on a case-by-case basis should the four reporters choose to appeal independently.
A US citizen has been arrested in Pakistan while apparently on a solo mission to attempt to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Gary Brooks Faulkner of Colorado reportedly told Pakistani authorities he was aiming to take revenge for the 9/11 attacks. Pakistan says Faulkner was arrested near the Afghanistan border carrying a pistol, sword, night vision goggles, a map and Christian literature.
The Nation magazine is reporting Blackwater owner Erik Prince could be planning a move to the United Arab Emirates. According to independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, three "sources close to Blackwater and Prince" say Prince is planning a move to the UAE amidst growing legal troubles for his private military firm. Five of Prince’s deputies were indicted on weapons charges in April, and just last week Prince announced he is putting Blackwater up for sale. The UAE has no extradition treaty with the United States. A Blackwater spokesperson refused to confirm or deny whether Prince is planning a move abroad.
A preliminary government probe has provided further exoneration for the embattled community organizing group ACORN. The Government Accountability Office says it’s found no evidence ACORN or related groups mishandled the $40 million in federal money they received in recent years. Long targeted for its work on behalf of the poor, ACORN disbanded as a national organization earlier this year following months of legal and financial difficulty stemming from the release of undercover videos taken inside its offices.
The Washington Post is reporting the Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating eight lawmakers who held fundraisers within two days of voting on the financial reform bill or received substantial donations from groups with a financial stake in the bill. The probe is focused on whether the fundraising and donations create a conflict of interest. Five Republicans and three Democrats are under scrutiny in the investigation.
Twenty-four human rights activists have been acquitted on unlawful assembly charges for a protest at the US Capitol in January against President Obama’s failure to close the Guantánamo prison. The activists were arrested shortly after holding a ceremony for three Guantánamo Bay prisoners whose deaths were initially reported as suicides but now are speculated to have died from torture. In a statement, the group behind the protest, Witness Against Torture, said, "We will use our freedom to continue to work for the day when Guantánamo is closed and those who designed and carried out torture policies are held to account."
Two Massachusetts high school teachers are facing disciplinary action and possibly the loss of their jobs for holding a silent antiwar protest during a school gathering. The teachers, Marybeth Verani and Adeline Koscher of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, held up a sign reading "End War" during a ceremony for seniors about to enter the military. The teachers say they wanted to express their opposition because they view the ceremony as a military recruiting tool. The school has received dozens of phone calls urging administrators to fire the teachers. The teachers have been put on paid leave until further action is taken.
A Seattle police officer has been videotaped punching a young African American woman in the face. The woman had been stopped along with another for jaywalking. The woman is seen placing her hands on the officer as he confronts another woman before the officer strikes her directly in the face. The Seattle Police Department says it’s reviewing the case.
And in Denver, fourteen people have been arrested at a rally in support of humane immigration reform. The protesters were arrested after blocking a road in front of a federal courthouse following a march through downtown Denver.
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