The death toll from Haiti’s devastating earthquake remains unknown amidst fears it could top 100,000. Bodies lie in the streets amid collapsed buildings, and the cries of people buried beneath rubble continue to ring out. The situation is increasingly desperate, with no coordinated rescue plan so far and aid only trickling in. A desperate search for survivors continues, but rescuers lack heavy lifting equipment and are often using their bare hands. Much of the capital city Port-au-Prince has been leveled, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. The city’s infrastructure took a blow of incalculable proportions as hospitals, schools, hotels and markets have crumbled. The morning after the quake struck, President Obama pledged what he called "unwavering" US support.
President Obama: "I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives. The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble and to deliver the humanitarian relief, the food, water and medicine that Haitians will need in the coming days."
The Red Cross says some three million people could be in need of emergency relief.
In Afghanistan, the United Nations says more civilians were killed last year than any other since the US-led invasion of 2001. According to the UN mission in Afghanistan, over 2,400 died in 2009, a 14 percent increase from 2008. Taliban-linked attacks accounted for the "vast majority" of the casualties. The report follows figures released this week showing 3,000 civilians died in violent attacks in Pakistan last year.
On Capitol Hill, four top banking executives appeared Wednesday before a congressional panel investigating the causes of the financial meltdown. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission he had "felt good" about Goldman’s survival during the height of the meltdown and suggested its multi-billion-dollar taxpayer bailout perhaps wasn’t necessary. Commission chair Philip Angelides responded, "I’m troubled by your inability to accept the probability or certainty your firm would not have made it through the storm but for the vast array of federal assistance."
The Supreme Court has barred a federal court from broadcasting a controversial trial over same-sex marriage. The trial is to weigh the constitutionality of Proposition Eight, which bans gay marriage in California. Gay marriage opponents have opposed broadcasting the trial for the public, citing fear of harassment. The court ruling was five to four, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor joining with the court’s liberal bloc.
Peace activists in Olympia, Washington have filed a civil suit over spying by a US military informant who infiltrated their group. Declassified documents obtained by Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance revealed a man everyone knew as "John Jacob" was in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis. When Democracy Now! broke the story last July, one of the activists, Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, said Towery had personally admitted to the spying.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn: "He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which, as you mentioned earlier, was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis."
The exposure of the spying also led to disclosures of intelligence gathering and sharing about the activists by the Air Force, the federal Capitol Police, the Coast Guard and local and state police. In addition to Towery, the suit also targets various city and police officials in Olympia as well as a US Coast Guard official.
A top US climate negotiator has said he hopes to see the United Nations sidelined at future talks on global warming. On Wednesday, US Deputy Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing said the scale of the climate talks called for a rethinking of the UN’s role. Pershing cited the objections of the ALBA bloc, which he said had blocked an agreement in Copenhagen.
Jonathan Pershing: "Who were they? Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba. These are countries that are part of the ALBA group, a group that sees this process not so much as a solution to climate change, but in fact as a mechanism to redistribute global wealth. And they don’t like the fact that this did not do that. It didn’t do that, and they objected to that fact. Well, surprise, surprise, surprise, the rest of the world doesn’t want to do it that way. But they couldn’t get an agreement, because this group, this narrow group, was blocking it."
Pershing says future talks should center around the world’s largest polluters instead of trying to go through the UN process. He said, "It is…impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in all the detail."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, two prominent Palestinian organizers behind protests against Israel’s West Bank separation wall have been released from prison. Mohammad Othman had been jailed by Israel for almost four months. Jamal Juma, who has led the Stop the Wall Campaign since 2002, had been jailed for nearly a month without charge.
An American journalist, meanwhile, is facing deportation from Israel after being denied entry. The journalist, Jared Malsin, is the English-language editor for the Palestinian Maan News Agency. He was detained this week after arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists said, "Israel cannot hide behind the pretext of security to sideline journalists who have done nothing more than maintain an editorial line that the authorities dislike."
And a federal judge has ruled the New York City Fire Department intentionally discriminated against African American applicants by continuing to use a test known to put the applicants at a disadvantage. US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis had already ruled last July the use of the tests amounted to racial discrimination. New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in the United States. The fire department is about 90 percent white, even though African Americans and Latinos make up the majority of the city’s population. Legal experts told the New York Times the ruling is the first in recent memory to fault a city for discriminating against a large group of people in the workplace.