Haitian authorities say more than 150,000 bodies have been buried in Haiti since the devastating January 12th earthquake. Haiti’s Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue suggested the death toll could rise to 300,000. Lassegue said, “Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble.” As many as 800,000 Haitians are now homeless in the capital of Port-au-Prince. To deal with the housing crisis, Haitian officials have announced plans to house 400,000 survivors in tent cities outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, but the International Organization for Migration said it could take weeks to search out sites suitable for the tent cities. The organization says 100,000 tents are still needed. An estimated 200,000 residents of Port-au-Prince have already fled for the countryside or other cities in Haiti. Up to 100,000 people have returned to the region around the coastal city of Gonaives in northern Haiti, a city abandoned by many after two devastating floods in six years. Many survivors of the earthquake have still not received medical attention. Dr. Mill Etienne is a Haitian American neurosurgeon aboard the US Navy’s floating hospital, The Comfort.
Dr. Mill Etienne: “Many of these patients, because their legs, for example, were crushed a week ago, they didn’t get immediate medical attention. A lot of them were stuck in a building or a house for two, three, four, five days before they were discovered. So what happens is, for a lot of those patients, their legs are dying. And having that dead leg there puts you at increased risk for infection. And that infection in the leg can actually kill the patient. So we are having to do a lot of amputations.”
Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others will take part in closed-door talks today in Montreal to map out key priorities for rebuilding Haiti. Oxfam is calling on foreign ministers attending the talks to cancel Haiti’s outstanding $890 million international debt.
On Friday, the Hope for Haiti telethon was broadcast across the United States. The event, organized by George Clooney, raised $57 million for relief organizations in Haiti.
So far the world’s nations have pledged some $1 billion in emergency aid to Haiti. The amount of money being sent to help Haiti pales in comparison to the US war budget. In 2007 the economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated the war in Iraq was costing the United States $720 million a day.
President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to assail the Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates. 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. Obama said his administration is working on a response with members of Congress from both political parties.
President Obama: “This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way — or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations can now get into the act. I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.”
Legal experts say the Supreme Court’s ruling calls into question the constitutionality of state campaign finance laws. Twenty-four states have laws that limit political contributions from corporations and unions.
In business news, newly disclosed emails show the New York Federal Reserve attempted to keep secret many of the details of the AIG bailout, citing national security grounds. The emails were released last week by the New York Fed ahead of a congressional hearing on the bailout. The Fed’s bailout of AIG remains controversial, in part because it secretly funneled nearly $70 billion to sixteen big US and European banks in what many described as a backdoor bailout. It was later disclosed that recipients of the AIG bailout included Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.
The New York Times reports President Obama will use his State of the Union address on Wednesday to propose a package of initiatives intended to help middle-class families. The proposals include tax credits for childcare, caps on some student loan payments and a requirement that companies let workers save automatically for retirement. Obama will also call for expanded tax credits for retirement savings and money for programs to help families care for elderly relatives.
In other economic news, Wal-Mart has announced it is cutting some 11,000 jobs. The layoffs will affect workers at Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club division.
A new report on child poverty has found more than 13 million American children now live in families with incomes below the official federal poverty level of $22,000 a year for a family of four. The number of American children living in poverty has increased by 2.5 million over the past ten years. The National Center for Children in Poverty says another 16 million children live in low-income families but are ineligible for public benefits because they live in households that earn slightly more than $22,000 a year.
The Obama administration plans to appeal the dismissal of manslaughter charges against five Blackwater operatives involved in the killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square. Vice President Joseph Biden announced the decision during a trip to Iraq.
Vice President Joseph Biden: “A dismissal, I want to make clear, is not an acquittal. And today I’m announcing that the United States government will appeal this decision. Our Justice Department will file that appeal from the judge’s decision next week.”
A new government audit has determined the State Department has consistently failed to properly monitor DynCorp International’s $2.5 billion, five-year-old effort to train the Iraqi police. Auditors said DynCorp invoices were regularly found to have errors and often lacked sufficient documentation. The report states, “As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.”
Reports are emerging from Burma that the Burmese military junta may be planning to release the imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in November. Burma’s Home Minister, Major General Maung Oo, reportedly told a meeting of business leaders and local officials that the Nobel Peace Prize winner would be released in November when her house arrest ends. Human rights activist Debbie Stothard said the promise to free Suu Kyi might be a false alarm ahead of the national elections.
Debbie Stothard: “We have to be cautious that the regime has always played a game with ASEAN and the international community by making false promises and raising expectations that Aung San Suu Kyi will be released. And they’ve always promised Aung San Suu Kyi’s release when they start to feel that the pressure is too much on them. We could see very clearly in the international community and also inside Burma that there is a lack of credibility over the election.”
The Pentagon’s plans to open another military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa has been dealt a setback. Voters in the city of Nago have elected a mayor who campaigned on a promise to oppose the base. The US has more than 47,000 troops in Japan; half of them are in Okinawa.
In Bolivia, Evo Morales has been sworn in for a second term as president after winning a sweeping reelection victory in December. In his inauguration speech, Morales promised to launch state-run paper, cement, dairy and drug companies and develop Bolivia’s iron and lithium industries. Morales also vowed to strengthen Bolivia’s ties to other leftist governments in Latin American and to Iran.
Evo Morales: “In 2002, I received visits from the US ambassador. Of course we want to have good relations with them, but they would say to me, 'you can't have relations with Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.’ Now more than ever, we are going to strengthen our diplomatic and bilateral relations with those three countries.”
In news from the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would retain parts of the occupied West Bank forever. Netanyahu made his comment just hours after meeting with George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy. Speaking at a settlement south of Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “Our message is clear: We are planting here. We will stay here. We will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity.”
Three anti-coal activists in West Virginia have entered their fifth day of a tree-sit as part of an effort to shut down a mountaintop removal site run by the mining giant Massey Energy. The three activists are perched atop platforms on trees on Coal River Mountain.
In Texas, an estimated 450,000 gallons of crude oil have spilled into a waterway near Port Arthur after a barge collided with an oil tanker. It is the worst oil spill in Texas in fifteen years. The tanker was carrying crude oil to an Exxon Mobil refinery.
And prominent Haitian community activist has been released from jail after being held for three weeks in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Jean Montrevil’s scheduled deportation was indefinitely put off after the earthquake in Haiti. Since late December, immigrant rights groups and clergy have organized a series of protests calling for Montrevil’s release.