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April 30, 2010 at 11:59 AM   |   Comments

Oil spill menaces Louisiana coast

NEW ORLEANS, April 30 (UPI) -- The huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began moving ashore Friday along the fragile Louisiana coast, reaching the Mississippi River delta, officials said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said crews patrolled coastal marshes, looking for areas where the oil seeped in, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A senior adviser to President Barack Obama said the government won't allow new offshore drilling until an investigation is conducted into the April 20 explosion and spill and a determination is made on whether it could have been prevented.

The explosion on the oil rig and the apparent failure of an automatic safety valve resulted in hundreds of gallons of oil spewing into the gulf and migrating toward the Louisiana coast.

Eleven oil rig workers are missing and presumed dead.

"(No) additional drilling has been authorized and none will (be authorized) until we find out what happened here," senior adviser David Axelrod said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

State workers, commercial fishermen and others scrambled to fend off an environmental and economic disaster from the menacing oil slick, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday.

Oil giant BP, which was leasing the sunken rig, is heading efforts to contain and clean up the 210,000-gallon-a-day spill. President Barack Obama said the federal government is stepping up its involvement.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency scheduled a visit to the spill zone Friday to help coordinate the response.

Models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicated the crude oil could move into Breton Sound and Chandeleur Sound by Saturday, The Times-Picayune said.

Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi said at least 10 state and national wildlife-management areas and wildlife refuges were in the path of the more than 20,000-square-mile slick.

Louisiana state officials said booms were being used to protect the state's coast, but winds, high waves and high tides forecast for the next several days threatened to splash the oil over the boom lines.

State health and environmental officials asked the EPA for continuous air quality testing and monitoring.


Debate opens with promise of liquidation

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- Floor debate on the financial reform bill in the U.S. Senate began with a proposal to guarantee liquidation of firms placed in receivership.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she specifically proposed an amendment to undercut the Republicans' argument that the 1,400-page financial reform bill would continue taxpayer bailouts, The New York Times reported Friday.

After she heard Republicans complain of continued bailouts, Boxer said she approached Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., with a "simple bill" that would mandate "all financial companies put into receivership under this title shall be liquidated. No company is going to be kept afloat."

Further, the amendment proposes that "all funds" spent liquidating a company shall be recovered either from the sale of the company's assets or "through assessments … of the financial sector."

There was no vote taken on the amendment.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday he would work to "reshape the bill … so that it actually ends bailouts, protects consumers without jeopardizing our small community banks and brings transparency … to the world of derivatives, without sacrificing economic growth and job creation."


ACLU blasts national ID card proposal

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- Civil liberties advocates decried a Democratic proposal that would require all workers in the United States to carry an ID card with biometric identifiers.

Senate Democratic leaders Thursday revealed an outline to reform U.S. immigration laws, including a proposal requiring workers to carry a national card with biometric data, such as fingerprints, within six years.

The American Civil Liberties Union ripped the ID card program, called "Believe," an acronym for Biometric Enrollment, Locally-stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment, The Hill reported Friday.

"Creating a biometric national ID will not only be astronomically expensive, it will usher government into the very center of our lives," ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese said.

The immigration system needs "real, workable reform," but not at the expense of individual freedoms, Calabrese said.

The proposal would require all workers to carry a card with a digital encryption key that must match work-authorization databases.

Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who worked on the outline and helped present it Thursday, said the public has become more comfortable with the idea of a national identification card.

"For a long time it was resisted by many groups but now we live in a world where we take off our shoes at the airport and pull out our identification," Durbin said. "People understand that in this vulnerable world we have to be able to present identification."

Reform Immigration for America, a pro-immigrant group, praised Democrats for laying the groundwork for discussion, but said the framework still fell short, The Hill said.

"The proposal revealed today (Thursday) ... represents a possible path forward on immigration reform," the group said in a statement. "This framework is not there yet."


Message sent: Dont txt & drv in Mich

DETROIT, April 30 (UPI) -- Michigan became the 24th state to ban texting while driving when Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed, not texted, the bill into law.

"It is clearly a danger," Granholm said during the signing ceremony.

She said she was proud to sign the bill since Michigan is the home of the U.S. auto industry and the Big Three automakers all support the bill.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who launched a nationwide anti-texting-while-driving campaign several months ago, called the situation "epidemic" because "everybody has a cellphone."

LaHood said: "Everyone thinks they can drive" and text a message.

Starting July 1, anyone caught texting while driving in Michigan could be slapped with a $100 fine for the first offense and $200 if they're caught again, The Detroit News reported.

Daytime television queen Oprah Winfrey aired a "No Phone Zone" special Friday during a rally in Detroit. Rallies in Washington, Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles also were conducted.

Winfrey became interested in the texting issue after reading about a 24-year-old New York woman who was hit by a driver who was texting, said Don Halcombe, spokesman for Harpo Studios, which produces "The Oprah Winfrey Show."


Major Bangkok hospital evacuates patients

BANGKOK, April 30 (UPI) -- A Bangkok hospital evacuated 1,000 patients for their safety after red-shirted protesters forced their way in to look for Thai security forces, officials said.

The supporters and guards for the anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship stormed Chulalongkorn Hospital Thursday night, saying they believed the security forces were hiding inside, The Bangkok Post reported.

Patients evacuated voluntarily -- 600 stayed behind -- and have been taken to Siriraj Hospital and other hospitals, hospital director Adisorn Patradul said.

The hospital shut down services for non-emergency patients and its outpatient care and suspended all surgery.

UDD leader Weng Tojirakarn apologized Friday.

"On behalf of all (UDD) leaders, I apologize to the public and to Chulalongkorn Hospital for the incident," Weng said. "The situation got out of control. It is not our policy to obstruct hospital operations."

Another UDD leader, Suporn Attawong, said protesters would not storm the hospital again, the Post reported.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a televised address Friday Chulalongkorn officials had turned down a government offer to post police and soldiers at the hospital. Hospital leaders said bringing in the extra security could have led people to mistakenly conclude they had taken sides in the political conflict.

The Medical Council of Thailand criticized the UDD.

"All parties must refrain from exploiting hospital grounds for political gain," the council said in a statement.

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