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The recovery effort continues in Haiti amidst a rising death toll and fears of infectious outbreaks among desperate survivors. The European Commission now estimates two million people have been left homeless, up from previous estimates of 1.5 million. More than 10,000 bodies are now being buried in mass graves in the span of a single day. Aid groups are warning of outbreaks of diseases and infections amongst the hundreds of thousands crammed into makeshift refugee camps.
The US, meanwhile, is being accused of prioritizing the delivery of troops and military equipment over direly needed aid. Doctors Without Borders legal director Francoise Saulnier says a plane carrying over twelve tons of aid was turned back from landing three times this week.
Francoise Saulnier: "Now everything has been mixed together, and the urgent and vital attention to the people have been delayed, while military logistic — which is useful, but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight — this military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagement, real mismanagement of vital issues."
The Doctors Without Borders plane was diverted to the Dominican Republic, delaying the aid delivery by three days. At a Haitian hospital Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders field coordinator Pip Millard said doctors are struggling to treat earthquake survivors.
Pip Millard: "We’ve got a surgical team here who are doing surgery. We’re having to do amputations. We’ve got some really severe wounds, lots of fractured limbs, both arms, legs, many different kind of crush injuries. And also, one of the other problems that we’re really encountering is lack of supplies. We’re running out of things very quickly."
The International Monetary Fund has backed off an effort to impose new loans on Haiti. Last week, the IMF said it would provide Haiti with $100 million under an extension of a previous loan. The initial funds imposed conditions including wage freezes for public sector workers, inflation controls and price hikes for electricity. But after public outcry, the IMF released a statement claiming its $100 million loan would now come in the form of an interest-free grant.
US immigration officials say they expect up to 200,000 undocumented Haitians to apply for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. The program would grant eighteen-month work permits to Haitians who were in the US when the earthquake struck. Haitian refugees arriving after the earthquake date will continue to face deportation.
President Obama is set to propose new regulations today for large Wall Street firms. The measures would limit the size of large banks as well as the practice known as proprietary trading in which commercial banks trade financial securities from their own commercial accounts. Former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker has been a leading advocate for the proposals. He says it would help undo some of the damage of the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had ensured the separation of commercial and investment banking.
The expected announcement comes one day after President Obama signed an executive order to crack down on government contractors who avoid paying taxes.
President Obama: "I’m directing my budget office, together with the Treasury Department and other federal agencies, to take steps to block contractors who are seriously delinquent in their taxes from receiving new government contracts. I’m also directing the IRS to conduct a review of the overall accuracy of companies’ claims about tax delinquencies."
Previous government studies have found thousands of companies have received government contracts despite owing billions in taxes.
Twenty-two executives and employees working in the private military industry have been arrested in a sting operation accusing them of trying to pay bribes to win lucrative foreign contracts. The FBI says the accused agreed to pay a "commission" to an FBI agent posing as a representative of an African defense minister tendering a $15 million deal. The Justice Department says the case is the largest ever under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars the bribery of foreign governments to obtain contracts.
The Justice Department has released a report on the FBI’s illegal collection of thousands of telephone records between 2002 and 2006. The report says agents obtained information on more than 3,500 phone numbers through emails, sticky notes and even the practice of computer "sneak peeks." On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy criticized the FBI.
Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy: "This was authorized at high levels within the FBI and continued for years. I understand Director (Robert) Mueller of the FBI has worked to correct these abuses, but this report is a sobering reminder of the significant abuse of this proud authority. No one is above the law, no senator and no member of the FBI, and there has to be accountability for what happened here."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, United Nations agencies have joined with over eighty relief and aid groups to call for an end to the US-backed Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Max Gaylard says Israel’s stranglehold over Gaza is endangering Palestinian lives.
UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylard: "What is happening now as a result of the blockade, which has been going on for some years, is that all elements of the health system have deteriorated. There’s no doubt about it. The people of Gaza are getting health service care now of a standard far less than they were some years ago, and it’s not adequate."
As aid groups warn about the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Israel is renewing calls for long-term control over the West Bank. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel must retain large swaths of the West Bank under any peace deal that would establish a Palestinian state. Netanyahu said Israel must maintain troops in the Jordan Valley dividing the West Bank from Jordan, surrounding Palestinians from both sides.
The Obama administration has lifted a Bush-era ban on two Muslim scholars who were barred from entering the United States. On Wednesday, the State Department said Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan are no longer deemed a security threat and will be allowed to apply for entry visas. Ramadan was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a Palestinian charity. A South African social scientist, Habib was deported in 2006 after traveling to the US for a series of academic meetings. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union hailed what it called "a major victory" and called on the Obama administration to "retire the practice of ideological exclusion for good."
The incoming Honduran government has signed an accord calling for the exit of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. On Wednesday, President-elect Porfirio Lobo reached a deal that would grant Zelaya safe passage to the Dominican Republic. Zelaya has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy since returning to Honduras in September. Lobo was elected in a November race boycotted by Zelaya supporters. Zelaya says he will review the safe passage deal before giving his assent.
In Texas, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has been cleared of wrongdoing in a closely watched case. Sharon Keller faced five charges of judicial misconduct for refusing to hear a last-minute appeal from a death row prisoner scheduled to be executed that night. Keller reportedly denied an appeal from the lawyers for Michael Wayne Richard at 5:20 pm on September 25th, 2007, saying, quote, “We close at five.” Richard had been on death row for two decades. He was killed later that night by lethal injection. On Wednesday, the special judge appointed to hear the complaint sided with Keller and said she deserves "no further reprimand beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered."
The wife of Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain has endorsed a campaign to repeal California’s gay marriage ban. On Wednesday, photos were released showing Cindy McCain posing for a group trying to repeal Proposition Eight, the 2008 ballot measure banning gay marriage. In a statement, Senator McCain said he remains opposed to gay marriage.
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