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Thousands of people continue to flee areas of Pakistan’s Punjab province amidst warnings of new flooding. On Tuesday, residents evacuated the central city of Muzaffargarh, home to over 250,000 people. The floods’ destruction of over 1.4 million acres of Punjab’s crops has led to a scarcity of food and skyrocketing food prices. Aid groups say the need for international aid is dire. According to Oxfam, pledges from world donors amount to just $3 in aid for every flood victim in Pakistan.
The death toll, meanwhile, from flooding in China has doubled to over 700. Landslides were triggered Monday when a blocked river burst in China’s northwestern Gansu province. Over 1,000 people are still reported as missing.
Statewide primaries were held Tuesday in four states. In Colorado, a record turnout saw Senator Michael Bennet beating out progressive challenger Andrew Romanoff in the state’s Democratic Senate primary. On the Republican side, tea party favorite Ken Buck defeated former lieutenant governor Jane Norton for the Senate nomination. In Connecticut, the professional wrestling magnate Linda McMahon beat out former Congress member Rob Simmons in the Republican Senate primary. McMahon will face Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to fill the seat left vacant by the retiring Senator Christopher Dodd.
President Obama has signed into law a $26 billion measure Democrats say will save the jobs of 300,000 public sector workers, around half of them teachers. The House reconvened from summer recess to approve the state aid bill on Tuesday following Senate passage last week. To advance the bill, Democratic leaders agreed to cut $12 billion in spending on food stamps. The Food Research and Action Center says the cuts will impact some 40 million people when they take effect in 2014. A family of four that receives food stamps stands to lose $59 in monthly benefits. Democratic Congress member Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut voted for the measure, but said, “I cannot in good conscience condone what we have taken away…The bill shamefully pits these priorities against each other.”
BP has suspended work on plugging its ruptured oil well over a storm approaching the Gulf Coast. The Coast Guard says the storm could turn into a tropical depression that may delay operations up to three days. A special judicial panel meanwhile has tapped a New Orleans federal judge to oversee over 300 civil lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the Gulf oil disaster. BP and several other firms face legal action from fishermen, injured workers and Gulf Coast residents for damages stemming from the April 20th explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon. BP had lobbied for the cases to be tried in Houston, where its US operations are based.
Jury selection has begun in the Guantánamo Bay military trial of the Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr. The judge in the case has ruled that Khadr’s confessions to interrogators can be used as evidence against him, even though defense attorneys say the statements were illegally obtained through torture and cruelty. Lisa Hajjar, a sociologist covering the trial for the Middle East Research and Information Project, said the ruling will force the defense to re-air its account of Khadr’s torture.
Lisa Hajjar: “He was interrogated while he was wounded. He was subjected to protracted sleep deprivation and physician abuse. He was used as a human mop, you know, had pine cleaner thrown on him. Although the judge didn’t find that to be cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and excluded it, the jury now will have an opportunity to hear this evidence again and make their determination.”
Khadr’s trial is the first under the Obama administration’s revised military commissions system. It’s also the first war crimes tribunal anywhere since World War II to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile. Khadr was captured in Afghanistan at the age of fifteen. Jurors were told Tuesday they can consider Kadhr’s age in delivering a verdict. In a statement, the UN’s envoy for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, criticized the trial, saying it could set a precedent threatening the legal status of child soldiers worldwide.
Several human rights groups have asked the whistleblower website WikiLeaks to censor the names of Afghans who have collaborated with the US-led occupation in the collection of leaked documents on the Afghan war. The groups, including Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, say the identity of collaborators should be kept secret to protect them from violent reprisals.
The online web-blog Zero Intelligence Agents, meanwhile, has published a geospatial graphic of the escalating violence in Afghanistan. The graphic is based on the record of attacks revealed in the trove of leaked military documents published by the website WikiLeaks last month. Divided for every year of the war up until last year, the dots representing attacks increase chronologically until ultimately forming a dense ring around the entire Afghan map. According to the UN, Afghan civilian casualties have risen by 31 percent in the first half of 2010.
Venezuela and Colombia have restored diplomatic ties after a long-simmering dispute reached a crisis point last month. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez suspended ties with Colombia after the Colombian government accused Chávez of harboring Colombian guerrillas. On Tuesday, Chávez met with Colombia’s new president Juan Manuel Santos in the Colombian town of Santa Marta near the border with Venezuela. Both Santos and Chávez pledged to seek cooperation.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: “We have decided that both countries will reestablish their diplomatic ties and look to the future, in a road map, so that all aspects of the relationship can progress and advance and can deepen.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “We have established some principles. We have set the foundation stone of our new relationship. Now we must look after it with very sensitive efforts.”
The Mexican Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriages performed in the capital Mexico City must be recognized in all of Mexico’s thirty-one states. The ruling could effectively mean the extension of full marriage rights for Mexico’s gay and lesbian couples nationwide. The ruling comes less than a week after the court upheld the law legalizing same-sex marriages in Mexico City.
Deadly wildfires sparked by a heat wave in Russia are now raising fears of the potential spread of radioactive fumes from the Chernobyl disaster of twenty-four years ago. The environmental group Greenpeace says the fires have broken out in regions still contaminated by the April 1986 explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Israeli military has reportedly destroyed hundreds of gravestones in a centuries-old Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. Palestinians say bulldozers were used to raze the graves Tuesday as an Israeli court rejected a petition to halt the demolitions. The destruction occurred near the site of the planned “Museum of Tolerance,” a project funded by the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. Palestinians have opposed the museum because of its proximity to the cemetery. The Obama administration meanwhile is continuing its effort to convince Palestinian Authority negotiators to drop their insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze as a precondition for talks. After a meeting with Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the settlement demand remains unchanged.
Saeb Erekat: “Once again, we are not against direct negotiations. Once again, we want to resume direct negotiations. And we believe that the key to direct negotiations is in the hand of the Israeli government. The minute they accept their obligation of stopping settlement activities and the terms of reference of two states on ’67 [borders], with agreed territorial swap, I think we can begin direct negotiations immediately.”
Democratic Congress member Charles Rangel of New York took to the House floor on Tuesday to defend himself against a wave of ethics charges. Rangel faces an ethics trial over thirteen alleged violations, including improper political donations and tax filings. In a lengthy speech before the House chamber, Rangel rejected calls to resign.
Rep. Charles Rangel: “If it is the judgment of people here, for whatever reason, that I resign, then, heck, have the Ethics Committee expedite this. Don’t leave me swinging in the wind until November. If this is an emergency, and I think it is, to help our local and state governments out, what about me? I don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed, awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away, too. I am not going away. I am here.”
Rangel is a longtime member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Another Black Caucus member, Maxine Waters of California, is also facing an upcoming ethics trial over allegations she sought to help OneUnited Bank receive federal bailout funds at a time when her husband owned stock in the bank and served on its board. Waters isn’t accused of any direct actions, but rather that she failed to instruct her chief of staff not assist or consult with OneUnited after she reported the potential conflict of interest. The allegation that Waters sought to help OneUnited Bank stems from the fact that it’s a member of the National Bankers Association, a group of minority-owned banks. Waters had asked the Treasury to meet with the group over concerns minority-owned banks were being sidelined during the Wall Street bailout. Speaking to the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Waters rejected the charges and said she would welcome a trial.
Rep. Maxine Waters: “I’m not guilty of any violations. And if you’re going to wrap this all around, creating these violations because I failed to supervise my staff, it doesn’t hold water. They don’t have any proof of that. And I maintain that I want to go to trial, or whatever they want to call it, a judicatory hearing, because I think I don’t deserve this.”
Waters’s attorneys also said Tuesday the ethics panel is applying a double standard in charging her despite exonerating Republican Sam Graves of Wyoming in a comparable case last year.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has sparked a controversy after making dismissive comments about progressive critics of President Obama. In an interview with the newspaper The Hill, Gibbs said critics who liken some of Obama’s policies to those of former President George W. Bush should be “drug tested.” Gibbs went on to blast what he called “the professional left,” saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.” In a statement, Gibbs declined to retract his comments, but acknowledged his comments may have been “inartful” toward those “frustrated that the change we want hasn’t come fast enough for many Americans.” In an interview with the Huffington Post, Democratic Congress member Keith Ellison of Minnesota said he supports calls for Gibbs’s resignation.
New York City’s Transit Authority has granted permission to displaying incendiary advertisements on local buses that lobby against construction of a mosque and Islamic community center near the site of the 9/11 attacks. The ads show a plane about to crash into a flaming World Trade Center, with the caption “Why There?” The right-wing group behind the ad, the “American Freedom Defense Initiative,” sued the Transit Authority last week after the ads were first denied.
And former Republican Senator Ted Stevens has died in a plane crash in Alaska, his home state. Four others also died in the crash. Stevens was eighty-six years old. He served in the Senate for forty years until narrowly losing his seat in the November 2008 elections, just days after being convicted on federal ethics charges.