Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian-Americans Mount Emergency Aid Drive for Quake-Stricken Homeland

Fears Mount That Death Toll From Devastating 7.0-Magnitude Tremor -- the Already Hurricane-Ravaged Country's Worst in 230 Years -- Will Run into the Tens of Thousands

Thousands are believed dead following the Jan. 12 earthquake. / Credit:Haitian Times

Rescue workers make the grim search for survivors in the rubble in Port-au-Prince, Haiti following Tuesday's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left the capital in ruins. Tens of thousands are feared dead from the quake, which lasted a terrifying 35 seconds -- more than twice as long as the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck San Francisco in 1989. Unlike California, however, earthquakes are extremely rare in Haiti; Tuesday's temblor was the first major quake to strike the country -- still reeling from a pair of hurricanes in 2008 and last fall -- in 230 years. Haitian-American communities across the U.S. are mounting emergency-aid drive to help their disaster-stricken homeland, the poorest in the Caribbean. (Photo Courtesy The Haitian Times, New York)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, January 14, 2010)


Inter-Press Service

NEW YORK -- A group of Haitian-American leaders, state and local officials met late Tuesday night to map out humanitarian relief efforts as the extent of the damage from a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti became clearer.

The group will put a couple of people on the ground as early as today (Thursday) for a quick assessment. The goal is to get about 300 people, mostly health care professionals engineers to support foreign government's efforts.

A command center will be set up and then the volunteers will arrive after logistics are set up. The group is hoping to have things in place by this weekend.

"Our goal is to do humanitarian work, and not first aid," said Dr. Jean Claude Compas, a Brooklyn, N.Y. physician, during the emergency conference that drew scores of people. "The Cuban government, the American government, the Venezuelan government and the Dominican government are all doing rescue work."


The group is calling on people and/or governments to donate water and food supplies. The infrastructure of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, already precarious, is in shambles. The most telling sign is the collapse of the gleaming National Palace, the official residence of Haiti's president, once a symbol of grandeur in a sea of poverty.

Communications with the island remained disrupted Wednesday, making it impossible to get a full picture of damage as powerful aftershocks continued to shake a desperately poor country unaccustomed to earthquakes and where many buildings are flimsy.

Much of the island remained without power.


The earthquake was the strongest to rock Haiti in more than 200 years, collapsing a hospital where people screamed for help and heavily damaging the National Palace, U.N. peacekeeper headquarters and other buildings. U.S. officials reported bodies in the streets and an aid official described "total disaster and chaos."

Karel Zelenka, a Catholic Relief Services representative in Port-au-Prince, told U.S. colleagues before telephone service failed that "there must be thousands of people dead," according to a spokeswoman for the aid group, Sara Fajardo.

"He reported that it was just total disaster and chaos, that there were clouds of dust surrounding Port-au-Prince," Fajardo said from the group's offices in Maryland.

[Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said, in a live interview Wednesday on CNN, that he estimated the death toll of the disaster to be "hundreds of thousands of people." When asked by anchor Tony Harris, who thought he heard Bellerive say "hundreds or thousands," for a clarification, Bellerive answered, "more than one hundred thousand dead."]


In addition to the group's effort, many people have started Facebook pages to help in the relief efforts. The entertainment community is planning several fundraising activities at night clubs throughout New York, Florida and the Boston area.

Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph, said from his Washington office that he spoke to President Rene Preval's chief of staff, Fritz Longchamp, just after the quake hit. He said Longchamp told him that "buildings were crumbling right and left" near the National Palace. The envoy said he had not been able to get back in contact with officials.

With phones down, some of the only communication came from social media such as Twitter. Richard Morse, a well-known musician who manages the famed Olafson Hotel, kept up a stream of dispatches on the aftershocks and damage reports.

The news, based mostly on second-hand reports and photos, was disturbing, with people screaming in fear and roads blocked with debris. Belair, a slum even in the best of times, was said to be "a broken mess."


Tuesday's earthquake was centered about 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of five miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake to strike Haiti since 1770.

In 1946, a magnitude-8.1 quake struck the neighboring Dominican Republic, producing a tsunami that killed 1,790 people.

Tuesday's temblor appeared to have occurred along a strike-slip fault, where one side of a vertical fault slips horizontally past the other, said earthquake expert Tom Jordan at the University of Southern California.

The quake's size and proximity to populated Port-au-Prince likely caused widespread casualties and structural damage, he said. "It's going to be a real killer," he said. "Whenever something like this happens, you just hope for the best."


Most of Haiti's nine million people are desperately poor, and after years of political instability the country has no real construction standards.

In November 2008, following the collapse of a hurricane-weakened school in Petionville, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated about 60 percent of the buildings were shoddily built and unsafe in normal circumstances.

Tuesday's quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, which shares a border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, and some panicked residents in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo fled from their shaking homes. But no major damage was reported there.

The quake was felt as far away as eastern Cuba, where buildings at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay shook, but there were no reports of significant damage.

(CNN contributed to this report.)

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Volume V, Number 4
Special Report Copyright 2010, Inter-Press Service.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

Letter From the Editor: GOP Attack on Reid Over Race Is Rank Hypocrisy At Its Worst

Can You Believe Their Chutzpah? The Republicans Have the Gall to Accuse Democrats and Media of 'Double Standard' on Race Even As They Repeatedly Challenge the Authority of Their Own Party's Black National Chairman -- Who Has His Own Racial Double Standard by Sticking His Own Foot in Mouth With a Remark Offensive to Native Americans

Top Republicans called for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to step aside Sunday, accusing the Democrats and the media of holding the GOP to a double standard on matters of race. Reid was lambasted for referring to President Obama's skin color and lack of a "Negro dialect" during the 2008 presidential campaign. Yet some of those same Republicans who are accusing Reid of racial insensitivity have been repeatedly challenging the authority of their own party's African-American national chairman, Michael Steele, whose leadership has so infuriated GOP leaders in Congress that some even went so far as to plead with Steele's handlers to "make him stop." Steele, meanwhile, even as he called for Reid to step down, was forced to apologize for making a remark offensive to Native Americans. (Photos Courtesy Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Afro-American)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, January 11, 2010)


From Webster's Dictionary:

Hypocrite (ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit) Noun. 1) A person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. 2) A person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.

For a solid year now, the Republican Party has thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at President Obama and congressional Democrats in a desperate attempt to grind the majority party's domestic and foreign policy agenda -- especially health-care reform -- to a screeching halt.

To a great degree, they've failed.

Now, the Republicans have stooped to grasping at straws. On Sunday, top Republicans on Capitol Hill demanded that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to resign his leadership post over remarks Reid made during the 2008 presidential campaign about then-Senator Barack Obama that could be interpreted as racially offensive.

In comments published in a newly-released book, Reid said the country was ready for a "light-skinned" African-American president with "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The book, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, goes on sale today (Monday).

Clearly embarrassed by disclosure of his remarks about Obama and already locked in a difficult re-election fight next November, Reid quickly contacted the White House and apologized to the president, who just as quickly accepted his apology.

The nation's first African-American president -- who has tried throughout his political career to downplay racial issues as much as possible -- later issued a statement praising Reid's "passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I’m concerned, the book is closed."

Reid also drew strong support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina).


Disclosure of Reid's remarks prompted a torrent of condemnations from Republicans, many of whom remain bitter from the firestorm of controversy over remarks by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), who resigned his leadership post in 2002 after saying that the country would have been better off if the late Senator Strom Thurmond -- a former arch-segregationist -- had been elected president in 1948.

Thurmond and other conservative Southerners walked out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention in protest of the party's adoption of a civil rights platform plank and formed their own States' Rights Party -- better known as the "Dixiecrats" -- with Thurmond as its presidential standard-bearer.

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in an interview with that it would be "entirely appropriate" for Reid to relinquish his leadership post, citing what happened to Lott.


Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," accused Democrats and the media of a double standard. "What’s interesting here, is when Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough. If that had been [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Kentucky] saying that about an African-American candidate for president or the president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the [Democratic National Committee] would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott."

Yet Steele, the GOP's first African-American national chairman, is guilty of a double standard of his own. notes that during the Lott controversy, Steele, who was then the newly-elected lieutenant governor of Maryland, was quoted by The Washington Post on December 14, 2002 as saying that while he was personally upset by Lott's remarks on Thurmond, he felt that Lott should not be forced to relinquish his Senate leadership post.

"Trent Lott apologized, but he needs to keep apologizing because this is a very sensitive issue to the black community," Steele was quoted by the Post at the time.

Yet two days earlier, Steele was quoted by The Washington Times as saying that Lott's remarks were a poor choice of words but don’t reflect his own experiences with the senator. "I know Senator Lott personally and understand him to be compassionate and a tolerant statesman," Steele told the Times.


Moreover, Steele found himself under fire for making a remark offensive to Native Americans.

Appearing on Sean Hannity's program on Fox News last Monday, Steele was asked by Hannity whether the GOP needed to move toward the center in order to become more successful at the ballot box.

To which Steele replied: "No, no! But that’s what’s gotten us into trouble, when we walked away from principle. Our platform is one of the best political documents that’s been written in the last 25 years. Honest Injun on that. It speaks to some core conservative principles on the value of family, faith, life, economics. Those principles don’t change."

Steele's use of the term "Injun" didn't sit well with Representative Dale Kildee (D-Michigan), co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus, who issued a written statement to the Chicago Tribune demanding that the GOP chairman apologize.

"His [Steele's] insensitive comment undermines and threatens to reverse the progress we have made to correct those wrongs [of the past]," Kildee wrote. "A cursory look through a dictionary or even some knowledge of Native American history would show Mr. Steele that the term is a racial slur for Native Americans."

Susan Power, the last surviving founding member of Chicago’s American Indian Center, told the Tribune that she was offended and outraged when she heard Steele’s comment.

"I’m really disgusted with him,” said the 85-year-old Power, a longtime activist and member of the Dakota nation. "He’s an intelligent man and I know he’s probably kicking himself all over his office for saying it, but he should know better. It would hurt if he were white; but it hurts more because he’s black. How can you be so stupid?"

Power said that "Injun" is one of two words -- the other is "squaw" -- that are as offensive to Native Americans as the infamous N-word is to African-Americans because they are throwbacks to a time when Native Americans were defined almost exclusively by negative stereotypes.


And while Republicans are crying "racism!" at the Senate Democratic leader, many of them -- particularly hard-line conservatives -- have been repeatedly challenging the authority of their own party's black national chairman to a degree unprecedented in modern American politics.

As noted by The 'Skeeter Bites Report last Monday, at least two of Steele's predecessors, Frank Fahrenkopf and Jim Nicholson, have sharply criticized what they say is Steele's attempt to personally profit from his speaking engagements at colleges, trade associations and other groups, raking in as much as $20,000 in honorariums, or speaking fees.

Even Steele's election last January, hailed as a historic turning point for the GOP just days after President Obama's inauguration as the nation's first African-American chief executive, came after a campaign within the party riven with charges of racism -- a contest that an Ohio state GOP chairman called "the dirtiest ever."

Hard-line party conservatives -- who never wanted Steele to be chairman in the first place -- fought tooth and nail in a bitter, albeit unsuccessful, campaign to defeat him with nasty innuendo.

Steele was forced to face down vicious accusations -- often made anonymously -- that he did not possess a true conservative philosophy and that he was actually a social liberal, citing Steele's past association with the Republican Leadership Council, which he co-founded with former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman.

A moderate who served as the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency during Bush's first term, Whitman's outspoken support for abortion rights infuriated many social conservatives.


Although they failed to block Steele's election as GOP chairman last January, party conservatives have waged an unrelenting war to undermine his authority in the year since -- and partially succeeded.

Steele was forced last spring to sign a secret pact with party conservatives in which he agreed to submit to controls and restraints on how he spends millions of dollars in party funds and contracts. For decades, the RNC chairman enjoyed almost unrestricted authority over how to spend the party's funds.

The so-called "good governance" agreement imposed restrictions on Steele's authority to conduct the Republican National Committee's business -- including contracts, fees for legal work and other expenditures. Steele agreed to cede some of his authority after several conservative committee members threatened a "no-confidence" vote against the chairman at a special RNC meeting in Washington that was scheduled to convene in late May.


A long-simmering feud within the party over Steele's leadership style erupted anew last week, with GOP congressional leaders complaining bitterly about not being consulted by Steele for his newly-published book, Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.

Several top Republicans said they didn't know about Steele's book until the chairman began promoting it in television interviews, according to The Washington Post,citing GOP congressional aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Post also reported that several senior aides to top Republican leaders confronted Steele's staff on a conference call last Wednesday and told them point-blank: "You really just have to get him [Steele] to stop. It's too much."

Meanwhile, the conservative Washington Times reported Thursday that wealthy contributors are shunning the Republican National Committee and donating instead to the other GOP campaign committees or directly to candidates -- in many cases because of discontent with Steele's leadership.

Steele promptly fired back, daring his critics within the party to fire him. "If you don't want me on the job, fire me. But until then, shut up!" Steele said in an interview with St. Louis radio station KTRS.

"Get with the program," an angry Steele said. "Some of my prior chairmen who are running their mouths right now, how many farm teams did you build as chairman?"

With Republicans expressing deep dissatisfaction with the performance of their own party's national chairman to a degree unprecedented in the party's history and the chairman having already said publicly that white Republicans "are scared of me" because he's black -- not to mention the chairman's own gaffe regarding Native Americans -- their attacks on Reid clearly ring hollow and reek of hypocrisy in the highest.

Talk about living in glass houses . . .

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Volume V, Number 3
Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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