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HeadlinesAugust 20, 2010

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UNICEF: Aid Appeal Inadequate to Address Pakistan’s Growing Crisis

Aug 20, 2010

Aid groups are warning of an escalating crisis in flood-ravaged Pakistan as the United Nations continues to appeal for emergency aid. Flood waters are heading south through the Indus River, and more flood barriers and dams have collapsed, threatening more Pakistanis with displacement. At the United Nations, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi appealed to a special session of the General Assembly for greater international assistance.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi: “Our commitment and our resolve notwithstanding, the scale of the challenge is colossal, far too big for any developing country to handle alone. We hope that the international community will come forward in all earnestness. We trust that we shall be provided with the much-needed support to augment our national relief and rescue efforts.”

The United Nations says just 60 percent of its $460 million emergency appeal has been met. But in a new statement, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said the figure is outdated because the scale of the disaster has drastically grown in the more than one week since the appeal was made. Addressing the UN Assembly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US will increase its pledges to $150 million.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “With a new pledge that I am making today of $60 million, the United States will be contributing more than $150 million toward emergency flood relief. Approximately $92 million of that total is in direct support of the UN relief plan. These funds are being used to provide critical supplies and support operations of the Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority and other organizations inside Pakistan.”

Some 20 million people have been affected by the flooding, including over four million left homeless. The death toll stands at over 1,600 but could increase.

Global Donations for Pakistan Lag Compared to Recent Disasters

Aug 20, 2010

Although the UN has said the Pakistan disaster surpasses the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and this year’s Haiti earthquake in scale, global donations are far behind. According to Foreign Policy magazine, an effort to raise money for Pakistan through mobile phone text messages has raised about $10,000, compared to the $31 million raised for Haiti in a similar effort. An average of just $16 has been donated for every Pakistan flood victim, compared to $1,249 for every 2004 tsunami victim and $1,087 for every Haitian earthquake victim.

Scientists Confirm Gulf Oil Plume, Dispute White House Claims

Aug 20, 2010

New evidence has cast fresh doubt on the Obama administration’s claim that most of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico has disappeared. On Thursday, a team of researchers confirmed the existence of a vast underwater oil plume stretching twenty-one miles from BP’s blown-out well. Christopher Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said the amount of oil in the plume is unknown.

Christopher Reddy: “All I can tell you is that we found a plume. And I can’t tell you how much oil is in it, because we don’t have the values yet. We know there is a plume. We know its length. We know its shape. We know that we collected water samples in it. And when we have analyzed those samples, we’ll be able to constrain how much — what the inventory of those compounds are in there.”

The White House has claimed more than three-quarters of the oil has vanished from the Gulf. But speaking before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration senior scientist Bill Lehr acknowledged that only ten percent of the oil has been cleaned up and that large quantities that evaporated or dispersed remain in the Gulf ecosystem. Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald also said the actual amount of oil removed from the Gulf is around ten percent and predicted the spill will likely remain harmful for decades.

Ian MacDonald: “We really can only account for ten percent of the oil that was discharged, that 4.1 million barrels that was discharged, through burning and skimming. The balance of the oil remained in the environment. There may have been some ten percent that evaporated into the atmosphere, that is gone from the ocean, but the balance is still in the ocean. This oil has already degraded, has already evaporated and emulsified. It is going to be very resistant to further biodegradation. This oil is going to be in the environment for a long time. I think that the imprint of the BP release, the discharge, will be detectable in the Gulf of Mexico environment for the rest of my life. And for the record, I’m fifty-eight years old. So there’s a lot of oil, it’s not gone, and it’s not going away quickly.”

BP Delays Well Sealing Until September

Aug 20, 2010

The new findings come as BP and federal officials have delayed the final operation to seal the well until the day after Labor Day. The delay means the well may be permanently sealed about a month later than had been projected.

Transocean Accuses BP of Obstructing Probe into Rig Explosion

Aug 20, 2010

In other oil spill news, BP is facing new accusations from its main contractor at the drilling site, Transocean, of obstructing a probe into what caused the April 20th explosion. In a letter, Transocean said BP has refused to hand over basic information and test results related to the explosion that killed eleven people and blew open the well. Transocean’s letter says, “It appears that BP is withholding evidence in an attempt to prevent any entity other than BP from investigating the cause of the April 20th incident and the resulting spill.” BP responded by calling the accusations a “publicity stunt…evidently designed to draw attention away from Transocean’s potential role in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.”

Report: BP Settlements May Indemnify Gulf Firms

Aug 20, 2010

Meanwhile, new details have been released on the restrictions and conditions of BP’s government-administered $20 billion compensation fund for those affected by the Gulf Coast spill. According to the New York Times, claimants receiving compensation will likely have to forfeit their right to sue not only BP but all the other major companies involved in the spill. Gulf of Mexico residents who don’t live or work directly in coastal areas affected by the spill are expected to face extreme difficulty in pursuing claims.

Jobless Claims Hit 9-Month High

Aug 20, 2010

New figures show jobless claims are at their highest level in nine months. The Labor Department says initial claims rose for a third consecutive week to 500,000. It’s the first time jobless claims have reached the half-million mark since November. At the White House, President Obama urged Republicans to stop blocking a $30 billion Senate measure Democrats say will increase hiring.

President Obama: “When Congress reconvenes, this jobs bill will be the first business out of the gate, and the Senate Republican leadership needs to stop its efforts to block it. Let’s put aside the partisanship for awhile and work together.”

Obama spoke shortly before leaving for a ten-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. As he departed, the White House addressed the findings of a recent poll showing nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. A White House spokesperson said Obama is a Christian who prays every day.

Reports: Israelis, Palestinians Agree to Hold Talks

Aug 20, 2010

The White House is expected to announce today Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to restart direct negotiations for the first time in nearly two years. Both sides are said to have committed to a one-year deadline to complete the talks. The announcement is an apparent victory for the US and Israel, who have pressed Palestinians to drop their insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze as a precondition for talks. Any negotiations would continue to exclude Hamas, the elected government in the Gaza Strip. The talks will reportedly begin on September 2nd in Washington. A formal announcement is expected today.

UN: Israel Denies Palestinians Access to 17% of Gaza

Aug 20, 2010

A new United Nations report says Israel forcibly denies Palestinians access to nearly one-fifth of Gaza Strip land and 85 percent of its naval territory. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the restrictions deprive some 178,000 Palestinians of their livelihoods. The restrictions come on top of Israel’s complete siege and blockade of Gaza, which confines the 1.3 million Palestinians there to one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

Women Activists to Attempt Gaza Sailing

Aug 20, 2010

A group of women activists are preparing to set sail for the Gaza Strip in the latest attempt to break Israel’s blockade. Organizers say the Mariam ship will leave from Lebanon on Sunday night. The nearly sixty passengers are women from Lebanon, the US and Europe. The Mariam will attempt to deliver cancer medicines to Gaza, while a second ship expected to sail days later will carry medical equipment including dialysis machines.

Report: US Claims Israel Won’t Attack Iran for at Least 1 Year

Aug 20, 2010

Obama administration officials are reportedly claiming they’ve convinced Israel not to attack Iran for at least the next year. According to the New York Times, US and Israeli officials have broadly agreed that it will take roughly a year or longer for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

Calderón: US Gun Laws Fueling Mexican Drug War

Aug 20, 2010

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has harshly criticized US gun control policy, saying it’s worsened the death toll in Mexico’s drug war. Calderón made the comments Thursday at a conference in Mexico City.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón: “The Americans began to sell arms as a voracious, ambitious industry, like the American arms industry. This often provokes conflicts in countries that are poor and less developed. Africa, due to the sale of arms, is in a very similar situation to that which is being lived by the Mexican people. For the arms traffickers, it’s a business to sell arms to criminals, and we need to mobilize not just public opinion against this, but unite with international public opinion to show the irresponsibility of the Americans, as much as it bothers them or hinders their political campaigns.”

Report: Wyclef Jean Denied Bid for Haitian Presidency

Aug 20, 2010

In Haiti, election officials have reportedly rejected the presidential candidacy of hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean. An unnamed official told the Reuters news agency that Jean has been excluded from a list of approved candidates for Haiti’s November elections due for release today. Although born in Haiti, Jean’s candidacy was challenged on the grounds he’s spent most of his life living in the United States.

Protesters Call on Trader Joe’s to Adopt Humane Conditions for Tomato Pickers

Aug 20, 2010

Here in New York, dozens of people gathered in front of the grocery chain Trader Joe’s new Manhattan location Thursday to demand humane working conditions for farmworkers harvesting tomatoes sold inside Trader Joe’s stores. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers says the farmworkers’ wages have remained stagnant since 1978, with tomato pickers having to put in ten-hour days just to make the minimum wage. Luis Gomez of the Community Farmworker Alliance said Trader Joe’s has purchased directly from fields that use modern-day slaves.

Luis Gomez: “We chose Trader Joe’s because recently it was uncovered that Trader Joe’s purchases its tomatoes from a field that recently was implicated in a case of modern-day slavery, where the farmworkers were being held to work without being paid and having to work against their will. So this is a direct connection between Trader Joe’s and where they’re getting their tomatoes and the violation of human rights. So that’s why we’re addressing Trader Joe’s to step up to the plate.”

(Related coverage: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers Tour Across the Country with the Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum)

Report: Donations Surge to Sway Judicial Elections

Aug 20, 2010

A new report says corporate and special interest groups have poured record amounts of money into judicial campaigns to influence the decisions of top state courts. According to the Justice at Stake Campaign, donations to state judicial campaigns more than doubled over the past decade to $206 million. By 2009, more than half of television ads used in the campaigns were paid for by third parties.

Homeless Man Jailed for Stealing Food Freed After 13 Years

Aug 20, 2010

And a California man has been freed from prison after serving thirteen years following his arrest for trying to forcibly enter a church soup kitchen because he was hungry. Gregory Taylor had been sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison under the state’s controversial three-strikes law. At the time of his last arrest, he was homeless and suffering from drug addiction. Taylor’s release came in part due to efforts by students working on the Three Strikes Project at the Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School. Taylor says he plans to work for a food pantry run by his brother.

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