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Haiti has been devastated by a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake, causing what is being described as a catastrophe of major proportions. The extent of the disaster is still unclear, but there are fears thousands of people may have died and tens of thousands lost their homes. In the capital Port-au-Prince, thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed, including hospitals, schools and hotels. The United Nations headquarters was also reported to be severely damaged, and many of its staff are reported missing. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Haiti in more than two centuries. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has suffered a number of recent disasters, including four hurricanes and storms in 2008 that killed hundreds.
In Afghanistan, villagers in southern Helmand province say NATO troops opened fire on a protest Tuesday, killing thirteen people and wounding more than two dozen others. The alleged attack took place in Garmsir, a town in the southern Helmand province under occupation by US Marines. The victims had apparently gathered to protest a NATO raid in their town. One resident said he witnessed troops firing into the crowd.
Resident: "In this demonstration, thirteen people died, and twenty-five are wounded. The situation is very bad, and the protest is still going on. People are very angry with foreigners because they have desecrated our holy Koran. They also fired on demonstrators. I repeat that many people died and were wounded during the protest."
In other news from Afghanistan, two US servicemembers and four Afghan troops were killed in separate attacks earlier today. At least twelve US troops have died so far this
NATO, meanwhile, has announced it killed sixteen people this week in a rare drone attack inside Afghanistan. NATO says the victims were all militants based in southern Afghanistan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, a "senior US military official" said he expects an escalation of drone attacks inside Afghanistan in the coming months. The top US oversight investigator in Afghanistan has revealed only one-fourth of current corruption probes involve strictly Afghan suspects. The investigator, Raymond DiNunzio, says the remaining three-quarters involve at least one Western suspect.
The Associated Press is reporting President Obama plans to ask Congress for an additional $33 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan next year. The request would come on top of an expected $708 billion sought for the Pentagon, the first time a Defense Department budget request would exceed $700 billion.
President Obama is expected to meet with congressional leaders today for ongoing talks on reconciling the differing House and Senate healthcare bills. House Democrats have already agreed to drop a public insurance option and are now facing increasing pressure to accept a tax on high-cost healthcare plans. Labor unions have opposed taxing the plans, which workers have often won in exchange for accepting lower wages and other benefits.
As the talks continue, the National Journal has revealed six of the nation’s largest insurance companies quietly funded an advertising blitz against healthcare reform from September through last month. The companies — Aetna, CiGNA, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint — funneled an estimated $10 to $20 million through the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans. The money was sent to the US Chamber of Commerce and used for television ads by two business coalitions the Chamber established.
A new analysis meanwhile estimates President Obama received over $20.1 million in healthcare industry donations during his 2008 campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics says Obama’s health industry donations nearly tripled Republican rival John McCain, who pulled in an estimated $7.7 million.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has advanced a proposal to penalize banks that continue risky compensation practices for top executives. The move would reduce fees for firms that adopt steps including awarding bonuses in the form of stock that can’t immediately be cashed in. Companies that don’t adopt changes would face higher fees. On Tuesday, the FDIC board voted to seek public comment on the proposal.
Federal regulators, meanwhile, have sued Bank of America for allegedly hiding billions of dollars in losses at Merrill Lynch before acquiring the firm in December 2008. The suit follows a separate case over Bank of America’s alleged failure to disclose billions in bonuses at Merrill Lynch paid out after the acquisition. That case is set to go to trial later this year.
The number of Americans receiving food stamps continues to break all-time records. On Tuesday, the Agricultural Department said 37.9 million people — one in eight Americans — received food stamps in October, the ninth consecutive month to see a record increase.
Here in New York, climate justice advocates rallied on Tuesday outside a business summit on carbon trading. Participants at the annual Carbon Trading Summit include top executives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Duke Energy and other firms. NASA climatologist James Hansen called market-based carbon trading a boon for corporations.
James Hansen: "If you look at the bills in Congress, they’re giving the money back to the polluters. And the carbon trading scheme will make billions for the banks. They’re not needed. It’s a very simple problem. You need a simple, honest solution, in which you put a price on carbon, collect the money from the fossil fuel companies, distribute it to the public, so that they can have the money to stimulate the economy and to make the investments, changes in their lifestyles: more efficient vehicles, insulate their homes, etc. So that’s what we need."
The internet giant Google is reconsidering its operations in China after discovering what it calls a major cyber attack originating there. In a statement, Google said it will stop censoring search results in China and may leave the country entirely.
Japan continues to resist US pressure on relocating a US military base on the island of Okinawa. The Japanese government has said it wants to move the base completely off the island of Okinawa, while the US wants to maintain a base somewhere else on the island. Tens of thousands of Okinawa residents have taken part in ongoing protests against the base. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to reach an agreement in a meeting with Japan’s Foreign Minister.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "At the end of the day, I am confident that we will resolve this matter in a way that reflects the very best of our alliance, the strength of that alliance for the next fifty years, and provides the security guarantees that the Japanese people are looking for."
The Obama administration had been lobbying for an immediate decision on the base but now says it will respect Japan’s request to wait until May.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, two members of the Popular Committee Against the Wall have been arrested in the West Bank village of Ni’ilin. Ibrahim Amirah and Hassan Mousa are the latest in a number of activists arrested by the Israeli military for organizing against the Israeli separation wall through the West Bank.
And Miep Gies, the last surviving link to the Nazi Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, has died. She was 100 years old. Gies helped hide Frank and her family for over two years during the Second World War. Gies hid and preserved Frank’s diaries and later gave them to her father Otto, the only surviving member of the Frank family.