Haiti is preparing for a massive relocation of survivors of last week’s earthquake out of the capital Port-au-Prince. Some 400,000 people will be moved to camps outside the city. The relief effort has now abandoned most efforts to find people trapped beneath the rubble to focus on keeping the survivors alive. The estimated death toll remains at over 200,000, with many more wounded and some two million left homeless. Relief workers continue to report dire shortages of food, aid and medical supplies amidst fears the dire conditions will spark outbreaks of infectious diseases. Amputations continue to be performed on patients whose wounds weren’t treated in time. The US is now leading the effort to repair Haiti’s main port, which suffered extensive damage in the quake.
The Supreme Court has ruled corporations have the right to spend as much money as they like to influence the outcome of US elections. In a five-to-four decision, the court overturned century-old restrictions on corporations, unions and other interest groups from using their vast treasuries to advocate for a specific candidate. The majority opinion affirms corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government can’t limit their political speech. The decision has sparked widespread outrage amongst progressives and calls to have it reversed. This is Robert Weissman of the watchdog group Public Citizen.
Robert Weissman: “What we really need is to get the decision undone. If the court won’t reverse its own decision, the only course available to us is a constitutional amendment. We have to say the First Amendment exists to protect the rights of real people, of you and me, not artificial creations known as corporations, not for Exxon, not for Pfizer, not for Goldman Sachs.”
In a statement, President Obama called the ruling “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”
The bailed-out Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has announced a record $4.95 billion quarterly profit. The amount exceeds the combined earnings of rival firms JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America. The announcement came as President Obama unveiled proposals to 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.
President Obama: “We simply cannot accept a system in which hedge funds or private equity firms inside banks can place huge, risky bets that are subsidized by taxpayers and that could pose a conflict of interest. And we cannot accept a system in which shareholders make money on these operations if the bank wins, but taxpayers foot the bill if the bank loses.”
The regulations would restore some of the provisions lost with the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had ensured the separation of commercial and investment banking. But critics warn the new regulations could still be weakened by a loophole on how banking activity is defined.
In Afghanistan, more than 100 people rallied in Ghazni province Thursday to protest the killing of four Afghans in a NATO raid. The protesters say the dead were civilians, including three relatives.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed the private military firms Blackwater and DynCorp are operating in Pakistan. Gates made the admission in an interview with the Pakistani network Express TV.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “Well, they’re operating as individual companies here in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Because they are theaters of war involving the United States, there are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they’re contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves.”
Gates also announced the US will provide a dozen spy drones to Pakistan for the first time. The news coincides with Pakistan’s announcement it won’t launch any assaults against militants in North Waziristan for at least six months.
The Obama administration says it will continue to imprison nearly fifty Guantánamo Bay prisoners without trial. A Justice Department task force has determined the prisoners are too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release. Around forty other prisoners will be prosecuted, while around 110 others will be transferred or repatriated abroad.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the group Witness Against Torture held a protest Thursday on the eve of President Obama’s initial self-imposed deadline to close Guantanamo Bay. The group says forty-two people were arrested at the US Capitol after holding a ceremony for three Guantanamo Bay prisoners whose deaths were initially reported as suicides but now are speculated to have died from torture. Activists also unfurled banners reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives.”
New figures show the last decade has been the warmest on record. According to NASA, 2009 was also the second-warmest year recorded since 1880. In a statement, NASA climatologist James Hansen said the figures are proof “global warming is continuing unabated.”
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a measure to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Last month, the EPA determined six gases endanger the environment and public health and said it would draft regulations to curb their emissions under the Clean Air Act. The “resolution of disapproval,” endorsed by three Democrats and thirty-five Republicans, would block the EPA’s move.
In West Virginia, three environmental activists have shut down a mountaintop removal site run by the mining giant Massey Coal. The three activists are perched atop platforms on trees at the Bee Tree Strip Mine on Coal River Mountain. On Thursday, Democracy Now! reached protester Eric Blevins.
Eric Blevins: “Right now I am sitting on a platform that is hanging in a tree, attached to the tree, probably about sixty or seventy feet in the air. I’m not sure exactly. Fifty yards away or so, there’s a bunch of holes where Massey Energy has been drilling to put explosives so they can blow up Coal River Mountain, the last mountain in the Coal River Valley area of West Virginia that has not been destroyed by mountaintop removal. And they actually just started blasting on the mountain within the past year.”
Former Democratic senator and presidential hopeful John Edwards has admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock. On Thursday, Edwards released a statement retracting his steadfast denials he had fathered a child with former videographer Rielle Hunter. Edwards admitted to the affair in 2008 but has since denied being the father. He released the statement just hours before landing in Haiti to take part in relief efforts.
John Edwards: “Well, I was in Haiti about a year ago and was really touched by both the people here and the plight that they are going through. And when the earthquake hit and I saw these images on television that you and people like you brought back to America, it was just heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. And so, we started organizing, trying to figure out what we could do to help, and there is a group of us who are here, twenty-five to thirty. We’ve got supplies, medicine, brought doctors with us. So we’re just here to help in whatever way we can.”
And the radio network Air America has announced it’s shutting down and filing for bankruptcy. Launched in 2004, Air America’s on-air personalities included the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and Democratic Senator Al Franken. In a statement, Air America said it’s no longer able to sustain its 100-affiliate network in the current economic climate. The network said, “We are proud that Air America’s mission lives on through the words and actions of so many former radio hosts who are active today in progressive causes and media nationwide… We should all be proud of our passionate determination to assure that our nation’s progressive voice would be heard loud and clear.”