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A federal judge has struck down California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban, ruling it unconstitutional. On Wednesday, US District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said that Proposition 8 "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license" and "does nothing more than enshrine…the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples." The ruling set off celebrations across California and around the United States. Dozens of gay rights advocates cheered the ruling outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco.
Matthew Comber: "This is a historic day. I mean, this is a great victory for us. Even though it may not be the final decision, it’s still — it’s the first time that this has been argued in the federal court, and it’s great to have that argument come out in our favor."
Walker is the first federal judge to strike down a marriage ban on federal constitutional grounds. The case is almost certain to reach the US Supreme Court on appeal.
Scientists are questioning the Obama administration’s claim that most of the oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico is gone and that the remainder poses less of an environmental danger. In a report issued on Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the "vast majority" of the estimated 205.8 million gallons of oil from the well has evaporated or been burned, skimmed, dispersed or captured. NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said scientists have accounted for all but a quarter of the spilled oil.
Jane Lubchenco: "We can account for all but about 26 percent, and of that, much of that is being — in the process of being degraded and cleaned up on the shore. I think it’s important to point out that at least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system, and most of the remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches."
Speaking on NBC’s Today Show, White House energy adviser Carol Browner echoed the claim.
Carol Browner: "The vast majority of the oil is gone. It
was cleaned up. It was burned. It was skimmed. It was contained. Mother Nature did its part. Really is good news. I think it’s a testament to the response that we launched."
Critics say that the oil has, at best, been dispersed, but not necessarily removed from the Gulf. Some scientists who worked on the report also say it contains a heavy margin of error. According to the Washington Post, the formula used for determining how much oil has evaporated is designed for spills near the surface, not deep underwater. A government scientist who helped author the report said it did not include an actual calculation of whether the dispersed oil has vanished from the Gulf. The scientist, Bill Lehr, said the report instead relied on assumptions based on previous spills. Even taking government figures as legitimate, the amount of oil in the Gulf would still be nearly five times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.
Newly revealed documents meanwhile show the owner of the oil rig that exploded at the BP drilling site had widespread safety concerns about several of its other rigs in the Gulf. According to the New York Times, the company, Transocean, found safety flaws at least three of its sixteen Gulf-based rigs — including one currently being used to drill a relief well near the BP disaster site.
The Senate has advanced a $26 billion bill that would aid states facing a budget crunch and avert the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and other public employees. On Wednesday, Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine sided with Democrats to break a long-running deadlock. A final vote is expected today. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’ll summon lawmakers back from summer recess to approve the House version of the measure next week.
The internet and telecom giants Verizon and Google have reportedly reached an agreement to impose a tiered system for accessing the internet. The deal would enable Verizon to charge for quicker access to online content over wireless devices, a violation of the concept of net neutrality that calls for equal access to all services. The deal comes amidst closed-door meetings between the Federal Communications Commission and major telecom giants on crafting new regulations. In a statement, the media reform group Free Press criticized the Google-Verizon deal, saying, "The financial interests of Google appear to have finally trumped its belief in policies to preserve the open Internet...The Federal Communications Commission cannot stand by and allow the biggest market players to create two Internets."
A right-wing group founded by the evangelist Pat Robertson has filed suit to block construction of a mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York. The suit from the American Center for Law and Justice comes one day after a New York City panel cleared the way for the mosque’s construction. The proposed site has come under heavy opposition from right-wing groups. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is refusing to weigh in on the controversy. Asked for the White House stance, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to offer an opinion, calling it a "local issue."
Robert Gibbs: "I think we have — I think you’ve heard this administration and the last administration talk about the fact that we are not at war with a religion, but with an idea that has corrupted a religion. But that having been said, I’m not, from here, going to get involved in local decision making like that."
Voters in Kenya have approved what supporters are calling a landmark referendum to alter the national constitution. Preliminary results show around 65 percent of Kenyans voted for proposed constitutional changes that would add new curbs on presidential powers and expand civil liberties. Kenyan Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi praised the vote.
Kiraitu Murungi: "It has been twenty years of painful labor. Now the baby has been born. Let us all unite and, in one accord, take care of this beautiful, precious baby. The breathtaking 'yes' vote has confirmed Kenya as one strong united nation setting the standards for the continent and, indeed, the entire world."
Palestinian solidarity activists behind the flotilla attacked by Israel in May have announced plans for another Gaza-bound aid mission before the end of the year. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition says the new flotilla will comprise up to twelve ships. Nine people were killed when Israeli troops stormed the flotilla’s largest vessel on May 31st.
Indonesia has announced it could become the latest country to ban messaging, email and internet services on BlackBerry phones. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have banned BlackBerry services because the phone uses a highly encrypted data system that makes it more difficult to monitor communications. Indonesia says it wants BlackBerry to set up a local server so data isn’t transmitted through the company’s systems overseas. BlackBerry has so far rejected those demands.
And a new study shows the Obama administration is deporting undocumented immigrants at a higher rate than under President George W. Bush. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, more undocumented immigrants were deported between October and June than during the same period ending in June 2008. The number was nearly double compared to the period ending in June 2005.
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