The White House and Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack have apologized to Shirley Sherrod, the black Agriculture Department official who was fired from her job Monday. Sherrod was ousted after a right-wing website posted a deceptively edited video of a speech she gave in March that appeared to show her admitting she withheld help from a white farmer twenty-four years ago for racial reasons. What the edited video did not show is Sherrod describing how she ended up going to great lengths to help the farmer save his land. On Wednesday Vilsack offered Sherrod another unspecified position within the department. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also issued an apology.
Robert Gibbs: “Without a doubt, Ms. Sherrod is owed an apology. I would do so certainly on behalf of this administration. I think if we learn — if we look back and decide what we want to learn out of this, I think it is, as I said, everybody involved made determinations without knowing all the facts and all the events.”
The Justice Department has decided not to file charges against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or any other officials involved in the firings of nine US attorneys in 2006. Special prosecutor Nora Dannehy concluded the firings violated Justice Department principles but did not constitute a crime.
Britain’s deputy prime minister Nick Clegg described the war in Iraq as illegal on Wednesday while he was standing in for Prime Minister David Cameron at the House of Commons. Clegg made the comment during a heated exchange with Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary at the time of the invasion.
Nick Clegg: “Maybe he, one day — perhaps we’ll have to wait for his (Straw’s) memoirs — could account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all, which is the illegal invasion of Iraq.”
Soon after Clegg finished speaking, his office issued a statement insisting that he was speaking personally, not expressing an official view. International attorneys say Clegg’s comment could increase the chances of charges against Britain in international courts.
An Algerian man who was held at Guantánamo has gone missing after the United States sent him back to Algeria against his will. Abdul Aziz Naji had been held at Guantánamo for eight years but did not want to return to Algeria because he feared persecution from the Algerian government and Islamist militants. The Center for Constitutional Rights criticized the forced repatriation of Naji, saying it was done in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and other international laws.
President Obama has signed into law the financial reform bill, saying it contains the strongest consumer financial protections in history. Obama claimed there will never be a need again for taxpayer bailouts of banks.
President Obama: “Now, beyond the consumer protections I’ve outlined, reform will also rein in the abuse and excess that nearly brought down our financial system. It will finally bring transparency to the kinds of complex and risky transactions that helped trigger the financial crisis. Shareholders will also have a greater say on the pay of CEOs and other executives, so they can reward success instead of failure. And finally, because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more tax-funded bailouts, period.”
In other economic news, lawmakers were told Wednesday the Obama administration’s program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure has fallen far short of its goals. Since the program was announced in March 2009, only 390,000 homeowners have seen their mortgage terms permanently changed, which is far lower than the three to four million borrowers who were supposed to receive assistance. A record one million homeowners are expected to lose their homes to foreclosure this year.
Stocks fell on Wednesday after Federal Reserve Board chair Ben Bernanke told Congress the US economy faces “unusually uncertain” prospects.
Ben Bernanke: “Of course, even as the Federal Reserve continues prudent planning for the ultimate withdrawal of extraordinary monetary policy accommodation, we also recognize that the economic outlook remains unusually uncertain. We will continue to carefully assess ongoing financial and economic developments, and we remain prepared to take further policy actions as needed to foster a return to full utilization of our nation’s productive potential in a context of price stability.”
During his remarks to Congress, Ben Bernanke also warned against cutting government spending.
Ben Bernanke: “The large deficits, as unattractive as they are, are important for supporting economic activity, and they were important also in restoring financial stability, and so I think they were justified in that respect, and I would be reluctant to withdraw that support too precipitously in the near term.”
The British police officer who was filmed pushing a forty-seven-year-old news vendor to the ground last year in London’s G20 protests will face no charges over the man’s death. Ian Tomlinson was attacked by the police on his way home from work; he had not been taking part in the protests. He died minutes after his contact with London’s Metropolitan Police force. Police initially told Tomlinson’s wife and nine children that Tomlinson died of a heart attack, without mentioning the police beating. The news comes on the fifth anniversary of the London police shooting of Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian man mistaken for a terrorist. De Menezes was shot seven times in the head on a full subway car in the middle of the day. No police officers were charged in his killing.
In China, more than 700 people have died in the country’s worst flooding in a decade, and the death toll could soon rise as southern China is preparing to be hit by its second typhoon in a week.
The international women’s human rights organization MADRE has condemned an Israeli court for sentencing a Palestinian man to eighteen months in prison for having consensual sex with an Israeli woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew. The court ruled the Palestinian man, Sabbar Kashur, had committed rape by deception because he posed as a Jewish bachelor. MADRE compared the ruling to now-defunct US laws against “race mixing” that were once used to uphold white supremacy. Meanwhile, a prominent Israeli rape crisis center has publicly supported the court’s ruling. Merav Mor, the director of resource development at the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, appeared on Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
Merav Mor: “I really, really don’t think there was any discrimination on any racial ground. I think this is purely a case of a man giving false information in order to fraudulently coerce a women into a sexual relationship. It’s, again, wrong to say this was consensual. If a woman or a man feels that they were given wrong information, they were raped, and this has absolutely nothing to do with the Arab situation in Israel, the conflict. The rape crisis centers see this as a criminal case of rape, and that’s what the courts decided.”
CIA Director Leon Panetta has named John Bennett the next chief of the National Clandestine Service. Bennett is the former station chief in Pakistan, where he oversaw the CIA’s Predator drone program, which expanded dramatically on his watch. Bennett also once headed the CIA’s Special Activities Division, the CIA’s paramilitary wing.
In news from Capitol Hill, the House has passed a bill to give greater local control to Native American tribal authorities to deal with crimes on reservations, including sexual violence against women. The Tribal Law and Order Act has already passed the Senate, and President Obama is expected to soon sign the legislation into law. Amnesty International hailed the bill as a groundbreaking piece of legislation that tackles the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against American Indians to continue unabated.
In West Virginia, a ninety-five-year-old former congressman has announced plans to challenge West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to fill the Senate seat held by the Robert Byrd. Ken Hechler admits he doesn’t expect to win but wants to raise awareness about the destructive nature of mountaintop removal. Hechler said, “A vote for me is not a vote for Ken Hechler — it’s tantamount to a vote against mountaintop removal.”
And the rock band Rage Against the Machine has announced plans to hold a benefit concert on Friday in Los Angeles to raise money for organizations challenging the Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. Band member Tom Morello has helped lead the “Sound Strike” artist boycott of Arizona.
Tom Morello: “We’re here today to support the international boycott of the state of Arizona in the wake of the passage of SB 1070. We’re here to use our music to unite people of all colors and economic strata in a single voice of solidarity to say no to legalized racial profiling. And we are here to rock this mother to the ground.”