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May 20 2015 8:34 PM

From the Mundane to the Mysterious, Declassified Documents Paint Fuller Bin Laden Picture

No matter where you fall on the Seymour Hersh nailed it or is full of it spectrum, you have to admit: Calling, essentially, the entire U.S. government liars is a much faster way to get hard to reach information than FOIAing it. On Wednesday, the U.S. government declassified a trove of Osama bin Laden documents it says were taken during the May 2011 raid on the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The administration's thinking persumably goes: The new info will bolster its argument that it did what it said it did to track down and kill the al-Qaida mastermind. And the new data will surely be overlaid onto Hersh’s account of things to see if they line up or not.

The documents, dubbed “Bin Laden’s Bookshelf” by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, range from Bin Laden's letters to deputies and intimate correspondence with family members to religious texts and books, articles, and journal studies on the evolving post-9/11 world that Bin Laden helped to create. There were 39 English-language titles in the Abbottabad compound, many of which could have been found on the bookshelf of an international relations graduate student, including: Bob Woodward’s Obama Wars, a pair of Noam Chomsky titles, and The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy.

The correspondence from Bin Laden to al-Qaida leaders reveals a man increasingly claustrophobic and isolated in Abbottabad. He wrote notes composed on a computer and that were then smuggled out on thumb drives. Bin Laden writes of leaving Abbottabad and undertaking the risky venture of finding a new hideaway in a 2011 letter to one of his wives, Khairiyah, who fled to Iran. Via the Washington Post:

In the three-page document, bin Laden recounts his efforts to reunite his family, but says his proposals for doing so were rejected by Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and his brother, who were responsible for protecting the al-Qaeda leader and whose families also lived at the compound. “They are getting exhausted — security wise — from me staying with them and what results from that,” bin Laden wrote. “They have reached a level of exhaustion that they are shutting down, and they asked to leave us all.” Bin Laden wrote that he proposed compromises, including allowing Khairiyah to visit only temporarily, or having her replace one of the other residents so that the number of people staying at the compound would not increase. All were rejected by his protectors, bin Laden wrote, prompting him to consider the possibility that “I might have to leave them.”

One document found in the compound shows how mundane even extremism can be day-to-day. There have been accounts before of how meticulous al-Qaida accounting practices often are, and what appears to be an al-Qaida application form reinforces the notion that even global jihad requires a fair amount of paperwork. The application encourages respondents to write legibly and answer truthfully before asking a series of questions that is part visa application and part college application.

abbottabadapplication_1
Al-Qaida application found in Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

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May 20 2015 6:47 PM

Fox News Ends the GOP’s Debate Debacle, Will Cap Field at 10

The ever-growing number of Republicans dreaming of winning the White House now know the first bar they’ll need to clear if they're going to make it there. Fox News, which will host the first GOP presidential debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6, has decided to cap the number of candidates onstage at 10, according to the Washington Post:

The criteria set by Fox News is similar to the standards it has set for past debates. To qualify for the event, candidates must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls by August 4th at 5 p.m. ET. Such polling must be conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques and recognized by Fox News.
Debate participants must also meet all U.S. constitutional requirements to run for president, must have announced their campaign and filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and must have paid all required federal and state filing fees.

As I explained earlier this week, figuring out how to winnow a field that could be 20-strong by the time the first debate rolls around had become a serious problem for the Republican National Committee. Party officials want enough candidates on stage to highlight the relative depth and diversity of the field, but they also can’t let everyone on stage and risk having the candidates’ opening statements be made to be followed immediately by their closing ones. The situation became so fraught that the RNC scrambled to publicly pass much of the responsibility for the decision onto the network that will televise each debate. “Ultimately, it’s the networks’ decision,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said over the weekend. “There’s an obligation for the party to make sure the standard is fair. But it’s not our decision.”

Fox News, it seems, was more than willing to make the call for them.

Candidates who don’t make the Fox News cut could still be invited to the other RNC-sanctioned debates, but anyone who misses out on an invite to Cleveland will lose a golden opportunity in front of a national audience. If a candidate misses out on that, it will become even more difficult to make the case that he or she should be invited to the second debate the following month. That debate will be televised by CNN, which has the right to set its own rules.

A lot can change between now and the Fox News-imposed polling cutoff—particularly as the not-yet-official candidates enjoy their own post-announcement bumps—but based on the current RealClearPolling average, the top seven likely candidates have some breathing room: Jeb Bush (15.4 percent), Scott Walker (13.2 percent), Marco Rubio (13.2 percent), Rand Paul (9.2 percent), Mike Huckabee (8.6 percent), Ted Cruz (8.6 percent), and Ben Carson (7.8 percent).*

Chris Christie currently sits in eighth place (5.4 percent), followed by Rick Perry (2.4 percent) and Rick Santorum (2.3 percent). Currently on the outside looking in are: John Kasich (2 percent), Carly Fiorina (1.3 percent), Bobby Jindal (1.3 percent) and Lindsey Graham (1.3 percent).

A potential spoiler—and I hate to even say his name—is Donald Trump, who continues to make noise about actually launching a campaign. While The Donald is never going to seriously compete for the GOP nomination, if he does actually launch an official campaign it’s not unthinkable that he could find himself in the top ten heading into the Fox News debate. Because the network decided against including other factors—like campaign infrastructure or small-dollar fundraising—Trump could cause trouble for the field by simply filing his FEC paperwork.

Most pollsters tend to leave the reality TV star out of their surveys all together, but his name recognition alone normally means he beats out at least a few serious candidates when he's listed as an option. In a Monmouth University poll just last month, for instance, Trump topped Rubio, Paul, Christie and Perry. The vast majority of the GOP electorate may have ruled out voting for Trump—and it appears they indeed have—but in a crowded field, his name recognition alone could earn him the 3 percent he’d currently need to find himself onstage. Trump displacing a legitimate candidate from the first debate would be an embarrassment for Republicans. Fittingly, though, it would also make for must-see TV.

*Correction, Thursday, May 21: This post orignally misstated Rand Paul's name as Paul Rand.

May 20 2015 5:39 PM

The Administration’s Sunny Iraq Progress Reports Are Approaching Cheney Territory

On May 15, Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, assured reporters that “We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh is losing and remains on the defensive.” As the Long War Journal noted, Weidley’s timing couldn’t have been worse: That same day ISIS drove Iraqi troops out of Ramadi in the group’s biggest strategic victory of the year.

The setback has raised some doubts about whether the administration and the Pentagon have been far too sunny in their assessments of progress against ISIS. Weidley’s comments have not been unusual, even post-Ramadi.

American and Iraqi officials have described the loss of the capital of Anbar province as an anomaly, noting that ISIS fighters took advantage of a sandstorm that delayed American warplanes and suggesting that they may have been galvanized by the release of a rare recording of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi several days earlier. (If Baghdadi’s sermons are quite that inspirational, let’s hope he doesn’t start recording them more often.)

More dubiously, the Pentagon had downplayed the importance of the city in the weeks leading up to the capture, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Martin Dempsey saying, “I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of a campaign should it fall.” He also called the loss of a city that was the site of one of the hardest-fought campaigns of the Iraq war “not symbolic in any way.”

“We have seen a lot of success, but we’ve also seen significant periods of setback,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday, countering suggestions that Ramadi marked a significant turning point.

U.S. commanders have been describing ISIS as having “peaked” or being “on defense” in statement after statement since the fall of 2014—but a lot of anti-ISIS progress has been ambiguous at best. After Ramadi, reading Vice President Biden’s confident early-April proclamation that “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted and in many places has been flat-out reversed,” it’s hard not to be reminded of his predecessor assuring the country that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes” in 2005.

To be fair, Obama has stressed from the beginning that this would be a long campaign, and even his most optimistic pronouncements on the situation have been tempered with reminders that “this is a difficult mission, and it will remain difficult for some time.”

There also has been some significant progress against the group. According to figures released by the Pentagon in April, between 25 percent and 30 percent of the territory ISIS originally conquered in Iraq has been retaken. As the Daily Beast pointed out, this is misleading as it doesn’t take into account territory ISIS has gained during that period. But even so, it’s a significant change since January, when that number was only 1 percent.

Many of those gains were by Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, but ISIS’s most significant loss so far, Tikrit in early April, came at the hands of Shiite militias and Iraq’s long-suffering military. There are also reports of internal strife and money troubles within the Islamic State, and the recent Special Forces raid that killed a senior ISIS commander in Syria suggested that U.S. intelligence on the group is improving.

However, the previously much-touted plan to retake Mosul, which military planners once confidently promised would happen this spring, appears to be indefinitely postponed. A month after the Iraqi government claimed to have completely retaken the oil refinery at Baiji, which Dempsey described as “a more strategic location” than Ramadi, control of the site is once again contested.

Iraqi forces have claimed to have the upper hand at Baiji for over six months, but a Pentagon spokesman conceded earlier this month that it was “difficult to say how it's going to turn out.” Even if the victory at Ramadi was just a weather-assisted stroke of luck, it’s one that seems to have given ISIS more momentum as it pushes east toward Baghdad. Whatever ISIS’s internal strength, it’s hard to make the case that the group is “on the defensive” when it continues to launch offensives.

Beyond questions of territory, the administration still doesn’t have a good answer for the much trickier question of how ISIS can be pushed back without a reliable and cohesive Iraqi military. And that’s not even getting into the situation in Syria, where ISIS continues to make gains, taking control of the ancient city of Palmyra on Wednesday.

The White House is now saying it will  “tweak the strategy” in Iraq after the loss of Ramadi, rather than upend it. This will likely mean indefinitely putting off plans to retake the city of Mosul, which had been a major U.S. priority but one that the Iraqi government had been less enthusiastic about, to focus on retaking key parts of the heavily Sunni Anbar province. The U.S. will also push for the arming and training of anti-ISIS Sunni tribal fighters, something the Shiite-dominated government has been doing fairly halfheartedly for the past few months.

I might suggest that the administration and its military commanders also try to make their progress reports a bit more believable before the Baghdad Bob comparisons start to appear.

May 20 2015 4:31 PM

Obama Makes Strongest Case Yet for Combating National Security Threat of Climate Change

President Obama took his sharpest jab yet on Wednesday against politicians who deny human influence on climate change, sending them this message: You’re a threat to national security.

Speaking at the United States Coast Guard Academy commencement in New London, Connecticut, Obama made climate change the focus of his remarks, calling the country’s failure to act to combat global warming a “dereliction of duty.” In association with the speech, the White House also released an 11-page report summarizing the government’s findings and initiatives on national security and climate change.

In his speech, Obama said that he anticipates “a rise in climate change refugees” and “increased competition for resources” over the coming decades. To these threats, Obama said, “I guarantee the Coast Guard will have to respond … you need to be ready.”

There’s evidence that this is already playing out in especially sensitive parts of the world. Obama’s speech linked climate stress to the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the civil war in Syria, with severe drought and associated food shortages seen by experts as an instigator of each conflict. A recent study by the risk analysis firm Maplecroft identified 32 countries where climate change could “amplify” civil unrest, including China, India, Pakistan, Yemen, and the Philippines.

The Pentagon now refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier.” For these reasons, Obama concluded that global warming “cannot be subject to the usual politics.” The effects of climate change we’ve already seen have been enough to convert at least one former military commander from climate change denier to climate advocate.

And responding to the president’s speech, retired military commanders issued a call for Congress to invest more resources in preparing for increasing climate-related security risks. Earlier this year House Republicans proposed a cut in the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency budgets related to climate and security.

Obama’s emphasis on the immediate national security and public health implications of climate change is part of his administration’s ongoing strategy of broadening the case for climate action beyond the comparatively far-off threats of sea level rise and species loss. He also mentioned the link between climate and security in this year’s State of the Union address and in an Earth Day speech in the Everglades. In a February interview with Vox, the president pointed toward the overwhelming evidence that the risk of climate change outweighs terrorism.

Still, it’s not totally clear how effective the new emphasis on national security is for changing hearts and minds in Congress toward broad-based climate action. For one, the Obama administration is still seemingly embracing its “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, recently reauthorizing Shell’s request to drill for oil in the geopolitically sensitive Arctic, a move that scientists say is incompatible with keeping climate change at “safe” levels. As long as the Obama administration attempts to have it both ways on climate change and energy policy, you can expect Republicans will continue their own business-as-usual path of foot-dragging.

May 20 2015 3:50 PM

Amtrak Will Automatically Refund Philadelphia Passengers’ Money After All

Update, May 20, 2015, 4 p.m.: Magliari called me to say that the company was now providing automatic refunds to individuals who had not yet contacted the company to either change their travel plans or officially request a refund. “Rather than assume what people want to do .... our intention was to see what people wanted” to do in terms of changing their travel plans, he told me. The company wanted to provide customers with the option to change their travel plans on their own, if they preferred, rather than being handed a straight refund. “It’s been a couple days now, so we’re reaching out and automatically doing something.”

A notice published on Amtrak's web site on Wednesday indicated that the company would now be informing passengers of their automatic refunds: “Customers affected by train cancellations due to the May 12 incident will be notified via e-mail or phone regarding their refund. This communication will begin today and refunds will be processed automatically beginning today.” The headline has been updated to reflect the announcement.

Update, May 20, 2015, 2:30 p.m.: Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari responded with the following statement:

If Amtrak does not provide a service the passenger paid for, the passenger gets a full refund without penalty or fee, disregarding any restrictions to the contrary that may apply to the fare plan, passenger type or promotion code (unless the form of payment, such as Transportation Certificate, does not allow a refund, in which case an eVoucher applies). This is standard policy.

"Refund" means the return of spendable money to the customer in the form of cash, a credit card credit, or a refund check. 

Passenger must contact us via email at Amtrak.com or 800-USA-RAIL. Better to call if rescheduled travel is imminent.

He also said that “rather than Amtrak assuming what the passenger wants done with what they paid us for service that was canceled, we’d like to work with them by phone, email, or in person at a ticket office, without any penalty for a full refund.”

Original post, May 15, 6:18 p.m.: Amtrak is apparently not automatically refunding money for passengers whose trains were cancelled because of Tuesday’s deadly train derailment in Philadelphia.

Passengers have received calls and email messages notifying them of the service cancellations, but it seems as though you have to go through the process of requesting a refund in order to get your money. Amtrak sent me the following message on Wednesday:

Our records indicate that you are scheduled to depart on Amtrak train number 187 from New-York-Penn-Station-New-York at 9:10PM on Thursday May 14 and arriving in Washington-District-of-Columbia. 
That schedule has been cancelled due to a-service-disruption. There is no alternate service available. To speak to a customer service representative about travel options such as selecting another date or destination call us at 8772319448 at your earliest convenience.
We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for being a valued Amtrak customer.
Sincerely,
Amtrak

Amtrak also called me to tell me about the cancellation, but what they didn’t make clear in either message was that you apparently needed to speak with an Amtrak representative in order to get a refund.

When you do call Amtrak's customer service number, you hear the following message:

Customers who are holding tickets for one of our cancelled trains may obtain a refund by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL. We will honor all refund requests that we receive for cancelled service through May 19.”

A representative I spoke with on Friday confirmed for me that passengers need to request a refund in order to get one.

I might be missing something (such as how Amtrak deals with passengers who want to change their travel plans rather than get an automatic refund), but not automatically refunding money to stranded passengers seems like bad form on the part of the commuter rail company.

Amtrak’s standard refund policy states: “Cancellation or change of reservations does not generate a refund (except for eTicket reservations).”

It also says there is a time limit for the normal refund procedure. “An Amtrak ticket becomes non-refundable, not valid for carriage and has no exchange value, after one year from the date payment was made for that ticket,” according to the company’s web site.

As of publication time Amtrak’s press department had not returned request for comment on their refund policy and how it applied in this case.

May 20 2015 3:15 PM

Rand Paul Goes to Washington, Again

Start the clock!

As promised, Rand Paul took to the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon to launch his latest talking filibuster. “There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” the Kentucky Republican said after beginning his filibuster at 1:18 p.m. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

The goal of the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style stunt is ostensibly to prevent the reauthorization of the George W. Bush-era surveillance law, which is set to expire on June 1. In reality, though, Paul can only delay that legislation, not derail it. He’s conceded that he doesn’t have the votes he needs to prevent the Senate from voting on the bill. Paul can talk as long as he would like to, but ultimately even the most long-winded and big-bladdered senator must rest.

Regardless, Paul knows better than most that while old-school, talking filibusters ultimately fail, they rarely go unnoticed. The last time Paul played the part of Mr. Smith, he held the floor for nearly 13 hours in March 2013 to rail against U.S. drone use on American soil, temporarily delaying John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director and turning U.S. drone policy into a front-page story in the process. The stunt cemented Paul’s status as a civil libertarian hero, while also turning him into a national figure in only his second year in office.

The novelty of his filibuster isn’t quite the same this time around, but Paul has a bigger microphone now than he did two years ago. The libertarian-leaning senator is one of six official candidates in a GOP presidential field that could soon balloon to more than 20. Media outlets inside and outside the Beltway are sure to take notice. Grinding the Senate to a halt, meanwhile, lines up nicely with Paul’s “Defeat the Washington Machine” campaign pitch.

Paul’s opposition to the nation’s surveillance programs won’t make him many friends inside the GOP establishment, but his campaign is built on the idea that such views will help him keep the support of the libertarian-leaning voters who backed his father in previous primaries while also appealing to young voters who are particularly concerned about privacy issues.

Paul’s move to make government surveillance a major topic in the campaign will have repercussions for his rivals. Sen. Marco Rubio, for one, believes the Patriot Act is critical to the nation’s efforts to fight terrorism. Sen. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, agrees with Paul that the law is a violation of Americans’ privacy rights. Neither Scott Walker nor Jeb Bush has taken a formal position on the program, but Paul’s stunt means they very well may need to in the days to come.

You can watch the first 10 minutes of Paul’s filibuster below, follow along live on C-Span, and keep tabs on whether Paul has the lung and bladder control needed to crack the list of the 10 longest talking filibusters in Senate history.

Note: Since Paul began talking in the middle of an unrelated matter (the trade deal with Asia), there may be some dispute whether his current stunt is officially a filibuster or not. I’ll leave that for the Senate historians to sort out, but, regardless, his intent is clear.

May 20 2015 12:01 PM

Five Big Banks Plead Guilty to Host of Financial Crimes, Agree to Pay Billions in Fines

Well, this certainly isn’t going to win Wall Street any friends. Under a deal announced by the Justice Department on Wednesday, five major banks will plead guilty to manipulating global currency markets and interest rates, and will pay more than $5 billion in combined penalties as a result. None of the traders involved in the crimes, however, has been indicted.

Under the deal,  Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, and the Royal Bank of Scotland will all plead guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros. According to federal authorities, traders at those banks used coded messages to share customer orders via online chat rooms, while also misleading their clients about the true price of currencies. In the words of one Barclays employee cited by federal authorities: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

A fifth bank, UBS, was given immunity in that antitrust case, according to the Wall Street Journal, but will plead guilty to separate charges that it manipulated the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, a benchmark interest rate that banks charge each other for short-term loans.

The banks are expected to formally enter their guilty pleas later on Wednesday. Here’s the New York Times’ DealBook with some of the most infuriating details involved in the first four banks’ dirty dealings:

The traders were supposed to be competitors, but much like companies that rigged the price of vitamins and automotive parts, they colluded to manipulate the largest and yet least regulated market in the financial world, where some $5 trillion changes hands every day, prosecutors said.
Underscoring the collusive nature of their contact, which often occurred in online chat rooms, one group of traders called themselves “the cartel,” an invitation-only club where stakes were so high that a newcomer was warned, “Mess this up and sleep with one eye open.” To carry out the scheme, one trader would typically build a huge position in a currency and then unload it at a crucial moment, hoping to move prices. Traders at the other banks agreed to, as New York State’s financial regulator put it, “stay out of each other’s way.”

The banks say they long ago dismissed most of their employees involved in the schemes. While none of the traders is facing prison time for their role in the crimes, the banks’ guilty pleas still offer something of a symbolic victory for federal prosecutors. Until now, most banks implicated in the numerous scandals since the 2008 financial crisis had avoided directly shouldering legal responsibility by forcing their smaller subsidiaries or specific banking units to plead guilty.

Of course, Wednesday’s plea deal comes with its own silver lining for Wall Street: The banks have already obtained waivers from the Securities and Exchange Commission that will allow them to continue to conduct business as ususal. “In fact,” the Times reports, “the cases were not announced until after the S.E.C. had time to act.”

May 20 2015 12:00 PM

Netanyahu Cancels Bus Segregation Plan Amid Coalition Chaos

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped a proposed plan on Wednesday that would have prevented Palestinians from riding on buses in the West Bank alongside Jewish settlers. The pilot program would have required Palestinians who travel into Israel for work to return to the West Bank via the same checkpoints they entered and would have barred them from riding Israeli bus lines.

The plan, proposed by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, had come under fire not just from the opposition and human rights groups but from some backers of the settlements who felt it would unnecessarily tarnish Israel’s image abroad.

President Reuven Rivlin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, warned that it “could have led to an unthinkable separation between bus lines for Jews and Arabs.”

It is, after all, hard to counteract accusations of racism when you’re proposing a plan this reminiscent of one of the iconic policies of Jim Crow-era America. Yaalon has said that only security considerations were behind the plan and he has promised to submit a revamped version of it.

The plan is exactly the sort of thing expected from Netanyahu’s brand-new coalition, which is dominated by right-wing and religious parties. With a slim majority of just 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the coalition got off to a rocky start last week, with parties arguing over appointments until the last moment before it was sworn in. The swearing-in ceremony was delayed for two hours and met with heckling by the opposition. Netanyahu is still hoping to broaden the coalition, holding the position of foreign minister open for Labor leader Isaac Herzog, but Herzog seems to have no intention of helping Netanyahu out of the mess he’s created. “You did not create a government, you created a circus,” Herzog crowed just last week.

Even Likud’s own ministers, many disappointed that they had to give up prime appointments to the smaller coalition partners, are saying the government is unlikely to last the full four years. At this point it would be impressive if it outlasted the 26 months of Netanyahu’s last government.

May 20 2015 8:54 AM

California Pipeline Break Sends Oil Into Ocean, Onto Beach Near Santa Barbara

The Los Angeles Times reports that a pipeline break Tuesday near Santa Barbara, California, sent oil into the Pacific Ocean, where it is washing up on shore in Refugio State Park. Oil from the 24-inch below-ground pipeline first leaked onto land, collecting in a culvert under the 101 freeway before spilling into the water on the other side of the road.

By late Tuesday, a thick layer of crude had begun to wash ashore, with black tar smearing the rocks as the brackish tides arrived.
"It is horrible," said Brett Connors, 35, a producer from Santa Monica who said he spotted sea lions swimming in the oil slick. "You want to jump in there and save them." [...]
During the several-hours-long leak, about 21,000 gallons escaped the pipeline, Coast Guard officials estimated. State officials and the pipeline's owner declined to say how much oil had leaked.

The pipeline was initially believed to belong to Exxon but is owned by Plains All American Pipeline. The company released a statement saying that it “deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”

State officials have closed Refugio Beach and banned fishing in the area, and the Coast Guard warned vacationers with reservations to camp in nearby state parks for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend to make other arrangements, Los Angeles CW affiliate KTLA reported. “I don’t know how long it will take, but I know the state beaches are closed now,” said Coast Guard Lt. Jonathan McCormick. “It’s going to be quite an operation.”

In January 1969 the Santa Barbara Channel was the site of what remains the third-largest oil spill in U.S. waters, topped only by the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills. A blowout on an offshore oil platform caused ruptures in the seabed, with oil bubbling to the water’s surface for days. The spill had a devastating effect on wildlife and acted as a catalyst for the national environmental movement, contributing to changes including the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

When California legislators considered a bill in 2014 to ban drilling in state waters off Santa Barbara, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams cited the 1969 disaster as proof that California “should not be drilling for oil in our equivalent of the Amazon rain forest.” The bill failed in the state assembly, garnering only 28 of the 41 votes needed for passage.

May 19 2015 10:58 PM

North Korea Abruptly Cancels U.N. Chief’s Groundbreaking Visit

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s scheduled Wednesday visit to North Korea was set to be a milestone for the country—not only would it be the first trip by the U.N. Secretary-General in more than twenty years, Ban, who hails from South Korea, was once the foreign minister North Korea's southern neighbor. On Tuesday, however, on the eve of the symbolic visit to the Kaesong economic zone, a decade-old joint industrial project meant to bolster economic cooperation, Pyongyang unexpectedly cancelled the visit.

"Early this morning, the authorities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea informed us, through their diplomatic channels, that they were reversing their decision for me to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex," Ban announced at a meeting in Seoul on Tuesday.. "No explanation was given for this last-minute change.”

“The South Korean U.N. chief's visit was intended to pave the way for increased cooperation at a time when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has purged his military, including the alleged assassination of his Defense Minister, and tested nuclear capable missiles,” CBS News reports.

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