ThinkFast: January 14, 2010

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"ThinkFast: January 14, 2010"

Haiti

Officials in Haiti are fearing that “thousands — perhaps more than 100,000 — may have perished” in the deadly earthquake that hit this week. “Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,” President Rene Preval said. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.” Aid agencies have also been hit hard, with Tuesday being “one of the deadliest single days for United Nations employees.” The death toll climbed yesterday as “dozens of aftershocks” hit the nation.

Yesterday, President Obama said his administration would lead “a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save livesin Haiti. The president told his advisers that he wants to know “why it is we’re not doing more.” Former President Bill Clinton, who serves as a U.N. special envoy to Haiti, writes that “small contributions will make a big difference in the aftermath of such destruction.” To make a $10 contribution to the Red Cross recovery effort in Haiti, simply text “HAITI” to 90999. (It will be charged to your cell phone bill.)

The Obama administration has announced that it will temporarily halt the deportations of undocumented Haitians. But “there was no immediate indication that the federal government would grant Haitian nationals Temporary Protected Status.” The Wonk Room’s Andrea Nill makes the case for granting TPS.

A new U.N. survey has found that last year was the most lethal for Afghan civilians since 2001, with the Taliban causing a majority of noncombatant deaths. The report said 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009 — a 14 percent increase from the previous year. The number of civilians killed by NATO forces fell 28 percent.

President Obama and top Congressional Democrats held a marathon negotiating session” yesterday “in an effort to thrash out agreements on sweeping health care legislation.” Though no firm agreements were produced, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement that they had made “significant progress in bridging the remaining gaps.”

Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, admitted yesterday that the bank “engaged in ‘improper behavior in 2006 and 2007 when it made huge bets on a housing downturn while peddling as safe more than $40 billion in securities backed by risky U.S. home loans.” Blankfein made the acknowledgement during the opening hearing of Congress’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

President Obama is expected to call today for “taxing about 50 big banks and major financial institutions for at least the next decade to recoup all taxpayer losses from the bailout of Wall Street.” The tax, if enacted, is may raise nearly $90 billion.

A record 2.8 million households were threatened with foreclosure last year,” up 21 percent from 2008. “That number is expected to rise this year as more unemployed and cash-strapped homeowners fall behind on their mortgages.”

Lawyers for Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen “are recommending a delay of at least a year in beginning the process to repeal the ban on openly gay military service.” However, other Pentagon advisers “argue that lifting the ban would not cause unmanageable problems or divisions among the uniformed military.”

The Justice Department will announce today that they are “beginning a major campaign against banks and mortgage brokers suspected of discriminating against minority applicants in lending.” The new unit “will focus exclusively on unfair lending practices.” The department “is hiring at least four lawyers and an economist for the new unit, while about half a dozen current staff members will transfer into it.”

And finally: While full body scanners at airports have been generating significant controversy, one group is throwing its full weight behind the devices. The American Association for Nude Recreation released a press release headlined, “Airport Scanning that ‘Takes It Off‘ is Good for America,” saying that the screenings are “completely worth it.”

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