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One Year After Haiti Earthquake, Corporations Profit While People Suffer

A Haitian girl sits
© Internews Network
A Haitian girl sits in a displaced persons camp in December of 2010.
One year after an earthquake devastated Haiti, much of the promised relief and reconstruction aid has not reached those most in need. In fact, the nation's tragedy has served as an opportunity to further enrich corporate interests.

The details of a recent lawsuit, as reported by Business Week, highlights the ways in which contractors - including some of the same players who profited from Hurricane Katrina-related reconstruction - have continued to use their political connections to gain profits from others' suffering, receiving contacts worth tens of millions of dollars while the Haitian people receive pennies, at best. It also demonstrates ways in which charity and development efforts have mirrored and contributed to corporate abuses.

Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was named US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction after the earthquake. He worked this job for a few months, then immediately moved to the private sector, where he could sell his contacts and connections to the highest bidder. He quickly got a $30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) contract with the Haiti Recovery Group (HRG).

HRG was founded by Ashbritt, Inc., a Florida-based contractor who had received acres of bad press for their post-Katrina contracting. Ashbritt's partner in HRG is Gilbert Bigio, a wealthy Haitian businessman with close ties to the Israeli military. Bigio made a fortune during the corrupt Duvalier regime and was a supporter of the right-wing coup against Haitian President Aristide.

Although Lucke received $60,000 for two months work, he is suing because he says he is owed an additional $500,000 for the more than 20 million dollars in contracts he helped HRG obtain during that time.

As Corpwatch has reported, Ashbritt "has enjoyed meteoric growth since it won its first big debris removal subcontract from none other than Halliburton, to help clean up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992." In 1999, the company also faced allegations of double billing for $765,000 from the Broward County, Florida, school board for cleanup done in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

House

Over 1 Million Americans Seen Losing Homes in 2011

Image
© Reuters/Joshua Lott
A realtor and bank-owned sign is displayed near a house for sale in Phoenix, Arizona, January 4, 2011. The five largest mortgage loan servicers, including Bank of America Corp and JPMorgan Chase & Co, may be the first to settle with 50 state attorneys general who are investigating foreclosure practices, Bloomberg reported, citing Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
The bleakest year in the foreclosure crisis has only just begun.

Lenders are poised to take back more homes this year than any other since the U.S. housing meltdown began in 2006. About 5 million borrowers are at least two months behind on their mortgages and industry experts say more people will miss payments because of job losses and also loans that exceed the value of the homes they are living in.

"2011 is going to be the peak," said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. The firm predicts 1.2 million homes will be repossessed this year.

The blistering pace of foreclosures this year will top 2010, when a record 1 million homes were lost, RealtyTrac said Thursday. One in every 45 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last year, a record 2.9 million of them. That's up 1.67 percent from 2009.

On Thursday, Freddie Mac reported that fixed mortgage rates dipped this week for the second straight time, extending a sliver of hope for some home owners. The average rate on the 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.71 percent from 4.77 percent the previous week. The rate on the 15-year loan, a popular refinance choice, slipped to 4.08 percent from 4.13 percent.

People

Behind Tunisia Unrest, Rage Over Wealth of Ruling Family

Image
© Holly Pickett / New York Times
Looters took furniture from a home belonging to a relative of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Hammamet, Tunisia, on Thursday
This ancient Mediterranean hamlet, advertised as the Tunisian St.-Tropez, has long been the favorite summer getaway of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his large extended family, many of whom have built vast beachfront mansions here with the wealth they have amassed during his years in power.

But their new and conspicuous riches, partly exposed in a detailed cable by the American ambassador and made public by WikiLeaks, have fueled an extraordinary extended uprising by Tunisians who blame corruption among the elite for the joblessness afflicting their country.

And on Thursday, idyllic Hammamet became the latest casualty of that rage, as hundreds of protesters swarmed the streets, the police fled and rioters gleefully ransacked the mansion of a presidential relative, liberating a horse from its stable and setting aflame a pair of all-terrain vehicles.

That outburst was just a chapter in the deadly violence that flared around the country and in Tunis, the capital, again on Thursday, making the government appear increasingly shaky. The mounting protests threaten not only to overturn a close United States ally in the fight against terrorism but also to pull back the veneer of tranquil stability that draws legions of Western tourists to Tunisia's coastal resorts.

Arrow Down

Germany: Urinating Policewoman Art Raises Hackles

Image
© Agence France-Presse
The silicone sculpture of an urinating female police officer by German artist Marcel Walldorf at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, eastern Germany. The work titled Petra was awarded a prize by the Leinemann foundation for fine arts, but has whipped up a storm of protest.
A prize-winning lifelike sculpture of a squatting policewoman urinating has whipped up a storm of protest in Germany, where it went on prominent display last week.

The work entitled Petra by 27-year-old German sculptor Marcel Walldorf is made of silicone and metal and has pitted public officials against art world aficionados in the debate over what is acceptable in the name of high culture.

It depicts a young female police officer in full riot gear crouching to pee, with exposed buttocks and a small gelatin "puddle" affixed to the floor of the gallery at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, eastern Germany.

The work entitled Petra was completed one year ago and has captured a 1,000-euro (1,328-dollar) prize by the prestigious Leinemann Foundation for fine arts.

"It shows very well the difference between the public sphere and the private sphere," the jury said.

Heart - Black

US: Prosecutors: Raped Girl Pleaded She Was Only 14

Image
© Stickney Police
(From left) Vicente Hernandez, Majeed Khalifeh, Jonathan Leanos and Alex Picallo.
A girl raped by three teenagers and a 22-year-old pleaded that she was only 14 years old during an attack her assailants recorded on a cell phone camera, prosecutors said during a bond hearing today for one of the suspects.

Vicente Hernandez, 22, of Cicero, was ordered held on $600,000 bail after being charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. The three other suspects -- Alex Picallo, 16, Majeed Khalifeh, 18, and Jonathan Leanos, 19, were charged Wednesday.

Police say Leanos met the girl on a MySpace page last summer, and they met several times before Leanos took her to his house on Saturday. When she refused to have sex, Leanos raped her, then took her along when he drove to pick up Khalifeh and Hernandez, police said. They returned to Leanos' house, where they were met by Picallo, police said.

When Hernandez took the girl into a bedroom and locked the door, she told him she was only 14, prosecutors said. Hernandez assaulted her and broke her cell phone before leaving the room, prosecutors said in court.

Khalifeh and Picallo then went into the room and assaulted the girl while Hernandez and Leonas used their cell phones to record the attack, prosecutors said. Leanos then allegedly raped the girl again.

Hernandez's lawyer portrayed his client as a hard-working family man working two jobs to support his girlfriend and two daughters. He is also the primary caregiver for his 85-year-old grandfather, said attorney Marco Raimondi. He requested that Hernandez be released on $50,000 bail, arguing his client posed no flight risk.

Pistol

Belarus: Fox Shoots Man

Image
© REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
A wild fox cub lies outside its burrow near the village of Khatenchitsy, some 37 miles north of Minsk, June 26, 2007
A wounded fox shot its would be killer in Belarus by pulling the trigger on the hunter's gun as the pair scuffled after the man tried to finish the animal off with the butt of the rifle, media said Thursday.

The unnamed hunter, who had approached the fox after wounding it from a distance, was in hospital with a leg wound, while the fox made its escape, media said, citing prosecutors from the Grodno region.

"The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle accidentally pulled the trigger with its paw," one prosecutor was quoted as saying.

Info

Romania : Flying Drunk Proves Fatal for Bird Flock

There was nothing mysterious about the death of a flock of birds in Romania last week -- they were simply drunk, veterinarians said.

Residents of the Black Sea city of Constanta alerted authorities on Saturday after they found dozens of dead starlings, fearing they may have been infected with bird flu, which triggered mass deaths in avian populations in 2004-2006.

"Tests on five birds showed gizzards full of grape marc which caused their death," Romeu Lazar, head of the city's veterinary authority told Reuters, referring to a pulpy residue which is a by-product of winemaking.

"This also applies to two dead crows we tested," Lazar said. Birds are not used to alcohol but harsh winter and snow had prevented birds from finding food. Had they been able to eat some seeds, this would have diluted the poison."

Health

US: HealthWatch: Rep. Giffords And Brain Injury

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
© unknown
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
It has been almost three days since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in Arizona. Tuesday morning she remained in critical condition at a hospital in Tucson. Dr. Max Gomez reports on how she was able to survive such a devastating injury and what will determine how much function she may recover.

Giffords is heading into the most critical time in her recovery, when her brain will usually reach its maximum swelling after the gunshot wound.

"The brain will swell. If the brain is within the closed box of the skull, it has nowhere to swell, and it starts compressing or injring the normal, good part of the brain," said Dr. Philip Stieg of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

To allow the brain to swell, surgeons actually removed a large portion of the congresswoman's skull and reportedly have stored it in the refridgerated bone bank for later replacement after the brain swelling subsides.

That bone may be contaminated after the gunshot and doctors may use a prosthetic bone later.

Bizarro Earth

US: 81-Year-Old Woman Bodyslammed, Mugged In Subway Station

Image
© CBS2
Madeline Klima lays prone on the ground after being bodyslammed and mugged by an unidentified female assailant, top.
Video Shows Elderly Victim Tossed By Another Woman!

New York - She said it felt like she was flying.

That's how an elderly woman described a heartless attack inside a subway station.

And it was at the hands of another woman.

The robbery was caught on camera. As CBS 2's Wendy Gillette reports, the video shows how Madeline Klima was robbed from behind.

A defenseless elderly woman, Klima said she can't make sense of what happened to her.

"Why? Why'd she have to hurt so much? She wanted it so bad she could have asked for it," Klima told Gillette.

The video shows her falling to the ground and hitting her head as the thief runs off with her purse.

"Oohh flying. Picked me up and like, threw me. And went down, and blood, you know. But I couldn't get up," Klima said.

The 81-year-old said she was stunned by how much force the woman used. Klima fractured and dislocated her shoulder in the fall and her eye is heavily bruised. She also needed stitches.

Police said the suspect is dark skinned, in her 20s, about 5-foot-10 and nearly 200 pounds.

Ambulance

Canada: Homeless Man Accused of Killing Toronto Cop with Snowplow Charged with Murder

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says a homeless man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of a Toronto police officer who died after being hit by a stolen snowplow.