News in Brief: Justice Department Probes Relationship Between Oil Companies and Federal Regulators, and More

A criminal probe announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) will look into whether the cozy relationship between three companies and federal regulators were a leading cause of the spill in the Gulf, The Washington Post reports. The investigation being carried out by the “BP squad” is one of nearly a dozen under way by both state and federal officials.

Under suspicion by the DOJ are the Minerals Management Service (MMS), a federal regulator; the oil giant BP; Transocean, the company that leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP; and Halliburton, the engineering firm that cemented the well only 20 hours before the rig exploded. Of concern to the DOJ is whether “MMS inspectors were bribed or promised industry jobs in exchange for lenient treatment,” a source told the Post.

Legacy of Racism Swamps Gulf Coast Cleanup Efforts

Meanwhile, a legacy of racism in the Gulf Coast is hindering the work of black oystermen in the clean up of the BP oil spill, a New York Times portrait reveals. In a profile of the African-American workers who catch oysters for a living, the Times portrays a situation where, as one worker put it, “the little guy loses again.”

Having fought decades of discriminatory rules and regulations, black oystermen are slowly seeing their line of work dry up, as younger generations move to employment with less regulation and larger pay off. After Katrina, the president of the Louisiana Oystermen’s Association points out, many families gave up and moved out. Now, with BP not hiring black oyster- and fishermen, despite their deep ties to the region and BP courses on oil cleanup, many who had not given up hope are now doing so.

“When you’re poor and black and this is all you know, what else are you going to do?” a long-time oysterman told the Times. “Was a time if a man lost his job he could always come down to the bayou and feed his family. But this here, what you got happening now, this here might finish us off.”

Nearly 20,000 Barrels of Oil Spill Into Michigan River

Water supplies in Michigan may be in danger following the spilling of nearly 200,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River, the Detroit Free Press reports. The leak was caused by a malfunctioning pump site at the Enbridge Pipeline Company Drill. Though the pump has since been shut off, newspapers report strong odors in the air and oil-coated wildlife in the affected areas. Resident fear chemicals in the air and groundwater pollution, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm declares a state of emergency and calls for more resources. The Michigan spill comes as cleanup crews in the Gulf of Mexico continue to struggle with an oil spill caused by an explosion at a BP oil well.

New York City Agrees to Pay More Than $7 Million to Settle Police Abuse Case

CNN reports that New York City agreed to pay more than $7 million to the estate and two friends of Sean Bell, the 23-year-old black man who was murdered by police in 2006. The case ends the battle over one of the more controversial police abuse cases in recent history. Bell and his two friends were leaving a club late on November 25, 2006, when an altercation with plainclothes police officers resulted in Bell and his friends, all suspected of being unarmed, being pelted with gunfire. Police opened fire and fired nearly 40 shots in a matter of seconds. Bell died at the scene and his two friends were seriously wounded.

Palestine to Reject Talks With Israel, for Now

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reject starting direct talks with Israel due to the lack of progress made in indirect talks, Reuters reports. Resisting American demands that he commence with direct negotiations, Abbas said more progress must be made on border security and the drawing of state lines. While the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Barack Obama both want to commence direct negotiations immediately, many suspect that Abbas feels he is the weaker power in a negotiation with an American-backed right-wing leader that may ultimately compromise the status of a Palestinian state.

Massachusetts Legislature Joins Growing Chorus of States Demanding Electoral College Reform

The Massachusetts Legislature easily approved a measure that would ensure the winner of the presidential election would be determined by popular vote, The Boston Globe reports. The measure is intended to bypass the Electoral College system. “Under the law … all 12 of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the candidate who receives the most votes nationally,” the Globe explains. The Massachusetts bill is part of a nationwide campaign led by the National Popular Vote. Similar bills have passed in Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland and Washington.