Monthly Archives: June 2010

World’s largest oil skimmer heads to Gulf spill

NEW ORLEANS – With hurricane-whipped waves pushing more oil onto the Gulf of Mexico’s once-white beaches, the government pinned its latest cleanup hopes Wednesday on a huge new piece of equipment: the world’s largest oil-skimming vessel.

The Taiwanese-flagged former tanker named the “A Whale” is the length of 3 1/2 football fields and stands 10 stories high. It just emerged from an extensive retrofitting to prepare it specifically for the Gulf, where officials hope it will be able to suck up as much as 21 million gallons of oil-fouled water per day.

“It is absolutely gigantic. It’s unbelievable,” said Louisiana State University environmental sciences professor Ed Overton, who saw the ship last week in Norfolk, Va.

As the monstrous vessel made its way toward the Gulf Coast, large waves churned up by distant Hurricane Alex left Alabama beaches splattered with oil and tar balls the size of apples. The rough seas forced most smaller skimming boats into port for a second consecutive day, putting many cleanup crews at a standstill.

The ship looks like a typical tanker, but it takes in contaminated water through 12 vents on either side of the bow. The oil is then supposed to be separated from the water and transferred to another vessel. The water is channeled back into the sea.

But the ship has never been tested, and many questions remain about how it will operate. For instance, the seawater retains trace amounts of oil, even after getting filtered, so the Environmental Protection Agency will have to sign off on allowing the treated water back into the Gulf.

“This is a no-brainer,” Overton said. “You’re bringing in really dirty, oily water and you’re putting back much cleaner water.”

The vessel, owned by the Taiwanese shipping firm TMT Group, was completed as a tanker earlier this year in South Korea. But after the Gulf spill, the company’s CEO and founder, Nobu Su, ordered it changed into a giant skimmer. The vessel was sent to Portugal for the refit and embarked for the Gulf as soon as it was finished.

The ship arrived Wednesday in Louisiana coastal waters, where TMT officials planned to meet with the Coast Guard to plan a tryout of the ship.

The Coast Guard will have the final say in whether the vessel can operate in the Gulf. TMT will have to come to separate terms with BP, which is paying for the cleanup.

“I don’t know whether it’s going to work or not, but it certainly needs to be given the opportunity,” Overton said.

Meanwhile along parts of the Gulf, red flags snapped in strong gusts, warning people to stay out of the water, and long stretches of beach were stained brown from tar balls and crude oil that had been pushed as far as 60 yards from the water.

Oil deposits appeared worse than in past days, and local officials feared the temporary halt to skimming operations near the coast would only make matters worse ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend.

“I’m real worried about what is going to happen with those boats not running. It can’t help,” said Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, Ala.

As of Wednesday, between 71.2 million and 139 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from the leak caused by the April 20 explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. The blast killed 11 oil workers on the platform, which was owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC.

Although skimming operations and the laying of oil-corralling booms were halted across the Gulf, vessels that collect and burn oil and gas at the site of the explosion were still operating. Efforts to drill relief wells that experts hope will stop the leak also continued unabated.

The weather delayed efforts to bring a third vessel, the Helix Producer, out to the broken well head. The ship can capture up to 25,000 barrels of oil a day and connects to the leak through a flexible hose that allows it to leave the site quickly in case of a hurricane.

Officials had hoped the vessel would be connected Wednesday, but in a news briefing Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the choppy conditions were too perilous for now. The ship was expected to get to work next week.

In Florida, lumps of tar the size of dinner plates filled a large swath of beach east of Pensacola after rough waves tossed the mess onto shore.

“The weather has hampered the cleanup. Our night crews went out there to try and verify exactly how much it was, and it’s about half a mile,” said Santa Rosa County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka.

Streaks of the rust-red oil could be seen in the waves off Pensacola Beach as cleanup crews worked in the rough weather to prepare the beach for the holiday weekend.

In Louisiana, heavy rains pounded the Grand Isle region, causing flash flooding in low-lying areas. Long bolts of lightning streaked the dark skies, keeping oil-cleanup operations locked down. A pounding surf had moved some of the boom that lines the beach.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Higgens said the booms protecting the region would probably take a beating because of heavy seas and storm surge, and workers will start putting the barriers back in place once the weather clears.

Richard Ambrose, director of the environmental science and engineering program at UCLA, said the decision to halt cleanup and containment efforts presents two distinct threats: That much more oil will wash up on beaches, and that the storm will be strong enough to push oil farther inland into vulnerable wetlands.

“Stormy weather can bring oil places it wouldn’t have gone otherwise,” Ambrose said.

On Wednesday evening, Alex strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 mph. The National Weather Service predicted the storm would make landfall on the Mexican Gulf Coast and south Texas later Wednesday night.


Russian Spy Suspect Jumps Bail in Cyprus

Cypriot police said a man arrested on U.S. charges of spying for Russia had fled after being released on bail.

Christopher Robert Metsos, 54 years old, failed to report to police Wednesday as required, police said. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Mr. Metsos, who U.S. authorities allege was a ringleader of a group of Russian spies in the U.S., was arrested Tuesday in Cyprus as he tried to board a flight for Budapest, Hungary. Ten other people were arrested in various U.S. cities in recent days.

Cypriot authorities had released Mr. Metsos despite U.S. concerns that he might flee. Cypriot police officials said Mr. Metsos had surrendered his Canadian passport and posted bail of €20,000 and 9,000 Canadian dollars ($32,900 total). Hearings were set to begin July 29 on a U.S. request to have him extradited on charges of conspiracy to conduct espionage and of money laundering.

“Our investigation suggests he may still be in Cyprus because the only way he could leave is with a fake passport,” one official said.

Meanwhile, more details emerged Wednesday of the early life in Russia of two of the suspects arrested in the U.S., Mikhail Semenko and Anna Chapman, as commentators on Russian social-networking sites expressed skepticism about the charges.

Dozens of visitors to Mr. Semenko’s page on the Russian site professed their belief in his innocence and left messages of support. “Hang on in there Misha [Mikhail],” read one. “Everyone knows this is an American witch-hunt.”

On Ms. Chapman’s site, a visitor wrote that Ms. Chapman’s arrest had “a sole purpose, to undermine the credibility of Obama and help the Republicans regain their positions. It is our Russian girl who got into this meat grinder.”

One visitor to the site gave credence to the Justice Department’s charges against Ms. Chapman, writing, “A beautiful girl came to study in the People’s Friendship University from Volgograd. PFU has always been a ‘nest’ for the KGB. They quickly fooled her head, promising a wonderful life, fancy things, travelling, etc. It looked clearly better than going back to her native Volgograd.”

Ms. Chapman, a 28-year-old divorced Russian national who moved to the U.S. full-time last year, is alleged by U.S. authorities to have covertly exchanged electronic messages with a Russian government official, and to have accepted a fraudulent passport from an undercover U.S. agent posing as a Russian.

Ms. Chapman grew up in Volgograd, Russia, as Anna Kushchenko and finished high school there. She graduated in 2004 from the economic faculty of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, in Moscow.

For a number of years Ms. Chapman lived in London, where she worked at Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s private-plane firm NetJets Europe and Barclays Bank PLC.

A spokesman for NetJets Europe said Ms. Chapman worked as an executive assistant in the company’s sales department from May to July 2004. After that, she worked for about a year in the retail division of Barclays, where she was engaged in small-business banking, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In her profile on the social-networking site LinkedIn, Ms. Chapman says she spent the remainder of her time in London working at a hedge fund called Navigator, before she left the firm to work for Moscow-based KIT Fortis Investments in 2007. No one was available to comment at Navigator Asset Management in London on Wednesday, and a spokeswoman for KIT Fortis in Moscow said she couldn’t confirm if Ms. Chapman had worked there because of personal-data regulations.

In London, Ms. Chapman attended a gala charity event, known as the War and Peace Ball, in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The organizer of the event, Count Andrei Tolstoy-Miloslavsky, who is British born and of Russian descent, recalled Ms. Chapman as glamorous and intelligent. “When I saw this stuff in the newspaper I was pretty amazed,” he added, of learning that she was suspected of being a spy.

Ms. Chapman went on to run a Russian real-estate Web site,, which is how she met Dan Johnson, the founder of, a U.K.-based property website. Ms. Chapman emailed Mr. Johnson last August to suggest that the two Web sites collaborate on listings, and Mr. Johnson, looking to tap into the Russian market, set up a meeting.

About a month later, the two met in a bar underneath Tower Bridge when Ms. Chapman was passing through London. The bar was called Most, Russian for bridge.

“We spoke about contemporary affairs within the industry and about running a business and managing staff,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that he found Ms. Chapman professional and smart. “She knew her business,” he said, noting that she was very worldly and spoke refined English with a slight Russian accent. At one point she mentioned her husband, Mr. Johnson said, and she also said she had a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in New York.

The two agreed to collaborate on the websites, but the project has been held up in translation. “That probably won’t happen now unless she is not guilty and very quickly released,” Mr. Johnson said.

Ms. Chapman was reaching out to collaborate with other non-Russian real-estate Web sites as well. Mike Carter, the founder of the U.K. property Web site, extended a welcome message to Domdot on his company blog in November 2008, noting that the two sites would be working together. In a response to the message, Ms. Chapman outlined some of her ambitions for the Domdot business, noting that the site would soon be translated into English. She said, “Domdot will slowly become a place where Russian people can look for any real estate abroad.”

Ms. Chapman seemed diligent in building her Russian business, Mr. Johnson said: “She certainly counted some senior people in fairly well-established Russian portals among her contacts.”

Mr. Semenko, who was arrested in Virginia, apparently posted extensive information about himself on at least two social networking sites: and LinkedIn.

U.S. authorities allege that Mr. Semenko took $5,000 cash from an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent posing as a Russian government agent. Following the FBI agent’s instructions, Mr. Semenko allegedly deposited the cash beneath a bridge in an Arlington park.

The online profiles linked to his name say Mr. Semenko grew up in Blagoveshchensk, a city on the Chinese border in Russia’s Far East, finished high school there in 2000 and enrolled that year in Amur State University, located in the same city. The university confirmed that he graduated in 2005 with a degree in international relations. During that five-year period the profiles say he moved to China and studied at Harbin Institute of Technology from 2003 to 2004, earning a certificate in Chinese language and culture. The profiles say he also taught English in China.

From 2000 to 2003, the profiles say he helped organize Model United Nations conferences in several cities in Russia’s Far East.

His parents live in Blagoveshchensk but phone calls to their residence went unanswered Wednesday.

Svetlana Kosikhina, dean of the faculty of international relations at Amur State, said she helped Mr. Semenko apply to several study programs in the United States during his final year at the university. She remembered him as studious, athletic and sociable.

“He was a good student, socially active, a nice guy in all respects,” she recalled.

Mr. Semenko ended up at Seton Hall University in New Jersey; his LinkedIn page says he studied there from 2005 to 2008, earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations. He lists his primary areas of study as international security, Chinese foreign policy, China-Taiwan relations, and China’s energy policy in the Arab world.

After a year in the U.S., Ms. Kosikhina recalled, Mr. Semenko returned for a visit to Blagoveshchensk in 2006. “He was majoring in Asian studies, but he was not quite satisfied. He wanted to be engaged in politics,” she said.

During his studies at Seton Hall, he was a World Affairs Council intern in Washington for four months, helping to organize events such as panel discussions on foreign policy. After graduating in 2008, he took a job at the Conference Board, a New York-based nonprofit research group known for its measures of consumer confidence.

In 2009, he began working for Travel All Russia, a travel agency. At the time of his arrest, he was employed in the company’s Arlington, Va., office as a corporate travel specialist.

His LinkedIn profile says he established connections with business partners in China and Latin America. Russian news websites say his superior at Travel All Russia was Vyacheslav Shirakov, a friend from Russia’s Far East. A journalist in Amur, Yevgeny Kuzmin, confirms that Messrs. Semenko and Shirakov knew each other at Amur State University, where Mr. Shirakov majored in American studies and graduated two years ahead of Mr. Semenko.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Semenko speaks native Russian, fluent English, Spanish and Mandarin and has intermediate skills in German and Portuguese.

He has posted several articles on a blog called Chinese Economy Today. They cover such topics as Chinese currency manipulation, Chinese business communication, “Chinglish,” and Russian-Chinese cooperation. The latter article argues that the two countries have untapped possibilities for cross-border trade and investment.

Two others of the 11 arrested are a Cambridge, Mass., married couple who have lived in the U.S. since 1999, according to the government’s complaint.

One of them, who went by the name Donald Howard Heathfield, graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2000 with a master’s degree in public administration. Classmates remember Mr. Heathfield as likable and friendly, and an energetic networker who recently was promoting his consultancy firm, Future Map, aimed at working for governments and businesses.

U.S. authorities allege Mr. Heathfield and his wife sent messages to Russian officials based on conversations with American sources, and that Mr. Heathfield assumed the identity of a dead Canadian.

David Heathfield told the Associated Press on Wednesday that it was the identity of his younger brother, who died in 1963 at six weeks of age. “For somebody to be using my brother’s name for 20, 30 years-plus … it’s kind of scary,” he said.

An attorney for Donald Heathfield didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Looking back, former classmates say that a telling sign may have been Mr. Heathfield’s vagueness while describing the business activities of his firm. “I always thought he was hustling, putting a lot of energy into new clients for Future Map,” said Craig Sandler, Mr. Heathfield’s classmate at the Kennedy School, who now owns State House News Service in Boston. But “it was never really clear how Future Map did what it was supposed to do. It was excitement about concepts, not specifics. He never went into the specifics.”

Another classmate at the Kennedy School, Sam Delson, said he was struck by Mr. Heathfield’s networking. “That was a really good environment to make connections with people involved in government policy and security,” he said.

Mr. Heathfield appeared financially well off even though Future Map didn’t appear to have many clients, said Mr. Sandler.

Mr. Sandler said he assumed Mr. Heathfield was from France; he asked the alleged spy for recommendations for a trip to Paris and Mr. Heathfield “knew all the right places.”

Mr. Heathfield’s interest in politics and international business was well known among his schoolmates. An email Mr. Heathfield sent to classmates in August 2006 stated his intention of attending the inauguration celebrations of Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico and a former classmate at the Kennedy School, according to one email recipient.

In another email to this group in November, Mr. Heathfield congratulated a classmate who had been named a minister in Indonesia, according to the recipient. In the email, Mr. Heathfield also mentions attending a dinner event with Singapore’s former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

—Alkman Granitsas, Paul Sonne, Cassell Bryan-Low and Aparajita Saha-Bubna contributed to this article.
Write to Richard Boudreaux at

National debt soars to highest level since WWII

The federal debt will represent 62% of the nation’s economy by the end of this year, the highest percentage since just after World War II, according to a long-term budget outlook released today by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans, who have been talking a lot about the debt in recent months, pounced on the report. “The driver of this debt is spending,” said New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “Our existing debt will be worsened by the president’s new health care entitlement programs…as well as an explosion in existing health care and retirement entitlement spending as the Baby Boomers retire.”

At the end of 2008, the debt equaled about 40 % of the nation’s annual economic output, according to the CBO.

The report comes as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform meets today. The group, created by President Obama, is expected to issue recommendations in December to curb the debt – a point Democrats raised today.

The CBO report “reinforces the importance of the work being done right now by the president’s fiscal commission,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. “We simply cannot allow the federal debt to explode as envisioned under CBO’s projections. The economic security of the country and the quality of life for our children and grandchildren are at stake.”

BP didn’t consider hurricanes in its response plan

WASHINGTON — Rep. Edward Markey says BP’s disaster response plan for an oil spill doesn’t mention hurricanes or tropical storms.

Markey says the omission is yet another example of what the oil giant was not prepared to handle.

The Massachusetts Democrat’s comments came during a congressional hearing on a law to improve technology intended to prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Officials responding to the oil spill in the Gulf Coast are scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Alex, which is expected to touch the lower half of the Rio Grande Valley tonight. The center of the storm is expected to hit 100 miles south of the U.S. border.

Oil spill visits get partisan

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) wanted to fly 10 lawmakers down to the Gulf of Mexico to see the damage caused by BP’s gigantic oil spill first hand.

House Democrats said no.

Scalise’s trip was rejected for a variety of bureaucratic and logistical reasons, but it has also opened a new vein of partisan squabbling over who should be allowed to arrange a trip to view the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Republicans want to be able to take trips using their office spending allowance. But Democrats have heard from the Department of Homeland Security, which has asked that Congress organize trips through committees of jurisdiction, to avoid having to cater to a ton of individual lawmakers in a disaster zone, Democratic aides say. GOP leaders say they’ve heard nothing of this.

The squabbling over who gets to travel to the Gulf on whose dime is the latest sign that congressional oversight of the oil spill oversight from Capitol Hill has been bogged down by partisanship. Congress has held upwards of 20 hearings on the disaster, often duplicative ones each week, as lawmakers struggle to grasp and fully realize the scope of BP’s giant oil spill.

Scalise, who has already been to the Gulf on another codel, wants to organize a trip so lawmakers can fully grasp the impact before they vote on oil drilling regulations. And he doesn’t want to do it through a committee, because the members don’t fit neatly into specific panels — they stretch across committee, and even partisan, lines.

About two weeks ago, Scalise requested to be able to use his Members Representational Allowance – a fund typically reserved for office expenses and travel back to the district – to go to the Gulf with a group of about 10 other lawmakers.

He sought permission from the House Administration committee, which regulates office account spending and would have to approve the trip. After a few weeks, Scalise was ping-ponged between several committees. Eventually, John Lawrence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) chief of staff, told Scalise’s chief that “it was unlikely that the request would be granted” by the House Administration Committee.

Republicans, however, say Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.), who chairs the committee, has approved at least a dozen such trips in 2009 alone – something Democrats don’t deny.

“Unless there is some extraordinary reason to prohibit this trip – which has yet to be communicated to us – this is an unacceptable departure from past practices,” said Rep, Dan Lungren of California, the top Republican on the administration committee. “This is an educational trip for members using their own representational budgets to see, first-hand, the devastating impact of the Gulf spill. Our travel regulations permit this type of travel in support of our official representational duties, and unfortunately, this disaster is already having environmental and economical implications for the entire country – not just those districts represented by Members sitting on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Republicans say that Democrats are just trying to shield lawmakers from going to see the damage in the Gulf.

“Every Member should see the result of eight years of failed Bush-Cheney energy policies that have done nothing to secure our energy future,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

So for now, the Scalise visit remains unscheduled.

Read more:

Autopsy Shows Brown Jr. Used PCP Before Shooting

DALLAS (CBS 11 / TXA 21) ― Click to enlarge1 of 1
A mugshot of David O’Neal Brown Jr. from a 2003 Dallas Co. Sheriff’s Department arrest for driving with an expired license.
Dallas County Sheriff’s Dept.

David Brown Jr., who killed a police officer and another man on Father’s Day in Lancaster, had traces of marijuana, alcohol and PCP in his system, according to a toxicology report released Wednesday.

Brown Jr. is the son of Dallas Police Chief David Brown and died in the Father’s Day shootout after he killed Lancaster police officer Craig Shaw, 37, and unarmed father Jeremy McMillian, 23.

The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report outlines levels of marijuana and phencyclidine in Brown Jr.’s system, after blood tests and drug screens were administered.

Phencyclidine is a dissociative drug often called PCP or angel dust that causes intense hallucinations and erratic behavior. When Brown Jr. opened fire, he was wearing only sunglasses and boxer shorts. Witnesses reported Brown Jr. acting strangely before the shooting.

His alcohol level was revealed to be .01 and was shot nine times in the neck, head and torso, the autopsy revealed.


Man Murders 2-Year-Old for Crying During World Cup

Fed up with a crying toddler during the World Cup, a Texas man allegedly killed his own stepdaughter and jammed a screw down her throat to cover up the murder, according to a local report.

Hector Castro, a 28-year old illegal immigrant, allegedly snapped when the young girl would not stop crying during the USA-Ghana match Saturday afternoon.

He allegedly severely beat the child, cracking several of her ribs. He followed up by suffocating her in front of the television set, The Monitor newspaper reported.

When police arrived to the McAllen, Texas home, they reportedly found a screw in the child’s throat in a crude attempt to make the death seem like an accident. McAllen is located in the southern tip of the state near the border with Mexico.

Castro will be charged with capital murder, The Monitor reported.

“There are no words for this,” McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez told the paper. “It makes you want to think about doing lots of things to this guy, but he will face the criminal justice system just like everybody else.”

Former Justice Department Lawyer Accuses Holder of Dropping New Black Panther Case for Racial Reasons

A former Justice Department attorney who quit his job to protest the Obama administration’s handling of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case is accusing Attorney General Eric Holder of dropping the charges for racially motivated reasons.

J. Christian Adams, now an attorney in Virginia and a conservative blogger, says he and the other Justice Department lawyers working on the case were ordered to dismiss it.

“I mean we were told, ‘Drop the charges against the New Black Panther Party,'” Adams told Fox News, adding that political appointees Loretta King, acting head of the civil rights division, and Steve Rosenbaum, an attorney with the division since 2003, ordered the dismissal.

Asked about the Justice Department’s claim that they are career attorneys, not political appointees, Adams said “obviously, that’s false.”

“Under the vacancy reform act, they were serving in a political capacity,” he said. “This is one of the examples of Congress not being told the truth, the American people not being told the truth about this case. It’s one of the other examples in this case where the truth simply is becoming another victim of the process.”

Adams claimed an unnamed political appointee said if somebody wants to bring these kinds of cases, “that’ not going to de done out of the civil rights division.”

Adams also accused Deputy Attorney General Thomas Perez of lying under oath to Congress about the circumstances surrounding the decision to drop the probe.

The Justice Department has defended its move to drop the case, saying it obtained an injunction against one member to keep him away from polling stations while dismissing charges against the others “based on a careful assessment of the facts and the law.”

But Adams told Fox News that politics and race was at play in the dismissal.

“There is a pervasive hostility within the civil rights division at the Justice Department toward these sorts of cases,” Adams told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

Adams says the dismissal is a symptom of the Obama administration’s reverse racism and that the Justice Department will not pursue voting rights cases against white victims.

“In voting, that will be the case over the next few years, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

In an opinion article published in the Washington Times last week, Adams said the dismissal “raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler dismissed Adams’ accusations as a “good faith disagreement” with ulterior motives.

“It is not uncommon for attorneys within the department to have good faith disagreements about the appropriate course of action in a particular case, although it is regrettable when a former department attorney distorts the facts and makes baseless allegations to promote his or her agenda,” she said in a written statement.

In the final days of the Bush administration, three Black Panthers — Minister King Samir Shabazz, Malik Zulu Shabazz and Jerry Jackson — were charged in a civil complaint with violating the Voter Rights Act in November 2008 by using coercion, threats and intimidation at a Philadelphia polling station — with Shabazz brandishing what prosecutors called a deadly weapon.

The Obama administration won a default judgment in federal court in April 2009 when the Black Panthers didn’t appear in court to fight the charges. But the administration moved to dismiss the charges in May 2009. Justice attorneys said a criminal complaint, which resulted in the injunction, proceeded successfully.

The department “is committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of federal law that prohibit voter intimidation. We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats,” Schmaler said Wednesday.

But the Justice Department’s explanation has failed to appease the United States Commission on Civil Rights, which is probing the department’s decision, or Republican lawmakers who say the dismissal could lead to an escalation of voter intimidation.

The commission held a hearing in April in which Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who has led the charge for answers from the Justice Department, was among those testifying. The Justice Department did not provide witnesses at that hearing. Instead, Perez provided the commission with written remarks in May.

“At a minimum, without sufficient proof that New Black Panther Party or Malik Zulu Shabazz directed or controlled unlawful activities at the polls, or made speeches directed to immediately inciting or producing lawless action on Election Day, any attempt to bring suit against those parties based merely upon their alleged ‘approval’ or ‘endorsement’ of Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jackson’s activities would have likely failed,” he said in the statement.

The commission has repeatedly sought information from the Justice Department, going as far as filing subpoenas. Schmaler said the department has provided 2,000 pages of information in response.

But Adams said in the Times article that the department ordered the attorneys “to ignore the subpoena, lawlessly placing us in an unacceptably legal limbo.”

Adams also says that after the dismissal, Justice Department attorneys were instructed not to bring any more cases against racial minorities under the Voting Section.

Adams told Fox News that the New Black Panther case was the “easiest I ever had at the Justice Department.

“It doesn’t get any easier than this,” he said. “If this doesn’t constitute voter intimidation, nothing will.”

Obama’s Oil Spill To-Do List

The oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico gets worse by the day. Oil spews from the broken well, further polluting our water and shores. The clean-up efforts drag on with bureaucratic interference, making matters worse. And what is the Obama administration doing? It continues to push for unrelated responses that will have a disastrous effect on our economy, especially the economy of the Gulf states most affected.

In fact, President Obama summoned a bipartisan group of senators to the White House on Tuesday to discuss his climate change legislation. When Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander suggested that any such energy meeting should include a focus on the oil spill and BP, Obama responded: “that’s just your talking point” and refused to discuss the crisis.

Unfortunately, the American people are not hearing any of this. Day after day, blind allegiance to the president causes his supporters on the left to simply say the government is doing all that it can. The national media, prone to attention deficit disorder when a president they support is in the White House, have already moved on to a myriad of other subjects, offering only sporadic updates on the continuing crisis.

When the president answered questions following the G20 conference, not one reporter asked him about the situation in the Gulf. Not one question. When attention is paid, it is focused on BP, which is only half the story — the other half being government incompetence or an ideological rigidity that prevents commonsense solutions.

The Heritage Foundation has offered a great deal of research and analysis related to the current crisis. It can be found indexed here. Starting today, we will also highlight the top actions the federal government must take immediately to assist the citizens of the Gulf as they cope with this tragedy. As the government responds or acts on these actions, we will directly update this post online to reflect the news and add new actions as we deem appropriate.

Please let us know in the online comments section any other deficiencies we should be monitoring. Until this crisis is resolved, you will be able to find this post, as well as future updates, under our Foundry Features labeled: Oil Spill To-Do List. Without further delay, here are the first ten actions President Obama can take immediately to help solve the crisis in the Gulf.

1. Waive the Jones Act: According to one Dutch newspaper, European firms could complete the oil spill cleanup by themselves in just four months, and three months if they work with the United States, which is much faster than the estimated nine months it would take the Obama administration to go at it alone. The major stumbling block is a protectionist piece of legislation called the Jones Act, which requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flagged ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens. But, in an emergency, this law can be temporarily waived, as DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff did after Katrina. Each day European and Asian allies are prevented from helping us speed up the cleanup is another day that Gulf fishing and tourism jobs die. For more information on this, click here.

2. Accept International Assistance: At least thirty countries and international organizations have offered equipment and experts so far. According to reports this week, the White House has finally decided to accept help from twelve of these nations. The Obama administration should make clear why they are refusing the other eighteen-plus offers. In a statement, the State Department said it is still working out the particulars of the assistance it has accepted. This should be done swiftly as months have already been wasted.

Take Sweden, for example. According to Heritage expert James Carafano: “After offering assistance shortly after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Sweden received a request for information about their specialized assets from the State Department on May 7. Swedish officials answered the inquiry the same day, saying that some assets, such as booms, could be sent within days and that it would take a couple of weeks to send ships. There are three brand new Swedish Coast Guard vessels built for dealing with a major oil spill cleanup. Each has a capacity to collect nearly 50 tons of oil per hour from the surface of the sea and can hold 1,000 tons of spilled oil in their tanks. But according to the State Department’s recently released chart on international offers of assistance, the Swedish equipment and ships are still ‘under consideration.’ So months later, the booms sit unused and brand new Swedish ships still sit idle in port, thousands of miles from the Gulf. The delay in accepting offers of assistance is unacceptable.” For more information, click here or here.

3. Lift the Moratorium: The Obama administration’s over-expansive ban on offshore energy development is killing jobs when they are needed most. A panel of engineering experts told The New Orleans Times-Picayune that they only supported a six-month ban on new drilling in waters deeper than 1,000 feet. Those same experts were consulted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar before he issued his May 27 report recommending a six-month moratorium on all ongoing drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet. A letter from these experts reads: “A blanket moratorium is not the answer. It will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation’s economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill. We do not believe punishing the innocent is the right thing to do.”

And just how many innocent jobs is Obama’s oil ban killing? An earlier Times-Picayune report estimated the moratorium could cost Louisiana 7,590 jobs and $2.97 billion in revenue directly related to the oil industry. For more information on this, click here.

4. Release the S.S. A-Whale: The S.S. A-Whale skimmer is a converted oil tanker capable of cleaning 500,000 barrels of oil a day from the Gulf waters. Currently, the largest skimmer being used in the clean-up efforts can handle 4,000 barrels a day, and the entire fleet our government has authorized for BP has only gathered 600,000 barrels, total in the 70 days since the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The ship embarked from Norfolk, VA, this week toward the Gulf, hoping to get federal approval to begin assisting the clean-up, but is facing bureaucratic resistance.

As a foreign-flagged ship, the S.S. A-Whale needs a waiver from the Jones Act, but even outside that three-mile limitation, the U.S. Coast Guard and the EPA have to approve its operation due to the nature of its operation, which separates the oil from the water and then releases water back into the Gulf, with a minor amount of oil residue. The government should not place perfection over the need for speed, especially facing the threat of an active hurricane season. For more information on this, click here.

5. Remove State and Local Roadblocks: Local governments are not getting the assistance they need to help in the cleanup. For example, nearly two months ago, officials from Escambia County, Fla., requested permission from the Mobile Unified Command Center to use a sand skimmer, a device pulled behind a tractor that removes oil and tar from the top three feet of sand, to help clean up Pensacola’s beaches. County officials still haven’t heard anything back. Santa Rosa Island Authority Buck Lee explains why: “Escambia County sends a request to the Mobile, Ala., Unified Command Center. Then, it’s reviewed by BP, the federal government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard. If they don’t like it, they don’t tell us anything.”

State and local governments know their geography, people, economic impacts and needs far better than the federal government does. Contrary to popular belief, the federal government has actually been playing a bigger and bigger role in running natural disaster responses. And as Heritage fellow Matt Mayer has documented, the results have gotten worse, not better. Local governments should be given the tools they need to aid in the disaster relief. For more information on this, click here.

6. Allow Sand Berm Dredging: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently prevented the state of Louisiana from dredging to build protective sand berms. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser immediately sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the work continue. He said, “Once again, our government resource agencies, which are intended to protect us, are now leaving us vulnerable to the destruction of our coastline and marshes by the impending oil. Furthermore, with the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms, we are being put at an increased risk for devastation to our area from the intrusion of oil.” For more information on this, click here.

7. Waive or Suspend EPA Regulations: Because more water than oil is collected in skimming operations (85% to 90% is water according to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen), operators need to discharge the filtered water back into the Gulf so they can continue to collect oil. The discharged water is vastly cleaner than when it was skimmed, but not sufficiently pure according to normal EPA regulations. If the water has to be kept in the vessel and taken back to shore for purification, it vastly multiples the resources and time needed, requiring cleanup ships to make extra round trips, transporting seven times as much water as the oil they collect. We already have insufficient cleanup ships (as the Coast Guard officially determined); they need to be cleaning up oil, not transporting water. For more information, click here.

8. Temporarily Loosen Coast Guard Inspections: In early June, sixteen barges that were vacuuming oil out of the Gulf were ordered to halt work. The Coast Guard had the clean-up vessels sit idle as they were inspected for fire extinguishers and life vests. Maritime safety is clearly a priority, but speed is of the essence in the Gulf waters. The U.S. Coast Guard should either temporarily loosen its inspection procedures or implement a process that allows inspections to occur as the ships operate. For more information, click here.

9. Stop Coast Guard Budget Cuts: Now is not the time to be cutting Coast Guard capabilities, but that is exactly what President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress are doing. Rather than rebuilding and modernizing the Coast Guard as is necessary, they are cutting back assets needed to respond to catastrophic disasters. In particular, the National Strike Force, specifically organized to respond to oil spills and other hazardous materials disasters, is being cut. Overall, President Obama has told the Coast Guard to shed nearly 1,000 personnel, five cutters, and several helicopters and aircraft. Congress and the Administration should double the U.S. Coast Guard’s active and reserve end strength over the next decade and significantly accelerate Coast Guard modernization, but for the time being, they should halt all budgetary cuts. For more information, click here.

10. Halt Climate Change Legislation: President Obama has placed his focus to the oil spill on oil demand rather than oil in our water. Regardless of political views, now is not the time to be taking advantage of this crisis to further an unrelated piece of legislation that will kill jobs and, in the President’s own words, cause energy prices to “skyrocket.” Less than 5% of our nation’s electricity needs are met by petroleum. Pushing solar and wind alternatives is in no way related to the disaster in the Gulf. It’s time for President Obama to focus on the direct actions he can take in the Gulf rather than the indirect harm he can cause in Congress. As Heritage expert David Kreutzer opines: “Fix the leak first, and then we’ll talk.” A crisis should not be a terrible thing to waste, as Rahm Emanuel said, but a problem to be solved