Saturday, January 23, 2010

Celebrities Appeal for Haiti Relief in Televised Fundraising Concert

Celebrities lent their star power to help the people of Haiti in a telethon Friday that originated in Los Angeles, New York, London and Haiti. The concert was broadcast in the United States and Canada, and seen by hundreds of millions of international viewers on cable and satellite channels, and the Internet.

Alicia Keys set the tone for the Hope for Haiti Now telethon. Against a backdrop of grim images of the January 12th earthquake, she made a musical call for help for the people of Haiti.

The fundraiser was organized by actor George Clooney, who spoke of the suffering caused by the devastating earthquake, which is thought to have killed about 200,000 people.

"This is an opportunity to help a neighbor in need, in desperate need, and to do it with swiftness, expertise, generosity, and love," he said.

Hollywood stars recited dramatic tales of survivors and rescue workers. Leonardo DiCaprio told of a doctor from the medical charity Partners in Health, which is one of the beneficiaries of the telethon. Like many relief workers in the disaster-stricken region, DiCaprio says the doctors of this group face a shortage of supplies and need to improvise.

"They use a bottle of vodka to clean a wound, a headlamp instead of surgical lights, and a hacksaw instead of a scalpel to remove an injured leg," he said.

Many celebrities have made donations to the relief effort, including DiCaprio, who has given $1 million.

Celebrities were on hand to answer phones as viewers called to make smaller donations. The Hollywood volunteers included director Steven Spielberg, actor Mel Gibson, and actresses Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon.

CNN's Anderson Cooper provided live updates from Haiti, showing graphic video and interviewing survivors, including two children who had been pulled from the rubble.

Musical performers included Madonna, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bono and The Edge. Sheryl Crow performed with Kid Rock and Keith Urban, and Bruce Springsteen sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."

Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean has returned to Haiti since the earthquake and spoke of carrying bodies to the cemetery. With a Haitian flag wrapped around his neck, he closed the concert with a call to rebuild Haiti, singing a song in honor of the country.

Some of the funds raised in the telethon will go to Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation. Other charities that will benefit from the drive are Oxfam America, the Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations World Food Program, and the Clinton Bush Haiti Foundation, which was recently formed by the two former U.S. presidents.

Haiti Declares Search and Rescue Phase Over

U.N. officials say Haiti's government has declared the search and rescue phase over in the earthquake-ravaged country, while efforts to deliver food, water and medical care are increasing, as thousands of Haitians leave Port-au-Prince for tent cities being built outside the capital.

In a statement Friday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said international teams rescued a total of 132 people from the rubble.

Rescuers pulled out two more survivors from collapsed buildings in Port-au-Prince Friday - an 84-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man - 10 days after the earthquake that devastated the capital and surrounding areas.

The U.N. says the Haitian government has confirmed more than 110,000 deaths, though the final toll is expected to reach 200,000.

On Saturday, Haitians gathered for the funeral of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, near the ruins of his cathedral.

Up to 1.5 million Haitians lost their homes in the quake, and many are still waiting for relief.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict, sent a letter to Haitian President Rene Preval this week, calling for calm on the streets so that international aid can reach those who need it.

As aid workers battle damage to roads and other tough conditions to get relief to victims, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports the number of people leaving the capital is increasing.

Thousands of Haitians streamed out of Port-au-Prince Friday as the government promised to move more than 400,000 people into tent cities being set up outside the capital.

Life in Port-au-Prince remains grim. Many survivors have been living in overcrowded settlements with little or no water, food or sanitation.

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, returns to Haiti Saturday for a first-hand look at efforts to assist the victims.

The U.S. Defense Department says by Sunday there will be 20,000 American military personnel taking part in relief efforts in Haiti, on land or from ships offshore. They are flying in supplies, evacuating the seriously injured and protecting aid distribution.

The United States has sharply rejected accusations by countries such as Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela that U.S. troops are occupying Haiti.

The deputy permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, said Friday that the U.S. is in Haiti at the request of Haiti's government and has only humanitarian interests in mind.

Over 110,000 confirmed dead in Haiti quake

More than 110,000 people were confirmed dead in the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti last week, the Haitian Interior Ministry said on Friday.

Haiti's Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime put the toll from the January 12 quake at 111,499.

On Monday, Haiti announced that it had buried 70,000 bodies in mass graves as search and rescue personnel were continuing their efforts to find more survivors or dead trapped under the debris.

Bernanke out as Fed chairman?

The New York Times reports bad news for Ben Bernanke. He may not have the votes to be confirmed:

The confirmation of Ben S. Bernanke to a second four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve ran into further trouble on Friday, as two more Democratic senators said they would vote against him.

The White House came to Mr. Bernanke’s defense Friday, but the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is believed to be struggling to come up with the 60 votes necessary to confirm Mr. Bernanke before his term as chairman expires on Jan. 31.

In a statement Friday morning, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, came out against Mr. Bernanke, who was named to his post during the Bush administration. She said she had “a lot of respect” for him and praised him for preventing the economic crisis from getting even worse. “However, it is time for a change,” she said. “It is time for Main Street to have a champion at the Fed.”

“Our next Federal Reserve chairman must represent a clean break from the failed policies of the past,” Ms. Boxer said.

Another Democratic senator, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, also announced Friday that he would vote against Mr. Bernanke.

“Under the watch of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve permitted grossly irresponsible financial activities that led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” Mr. Feingold said in a statement.

Because several senators are using procedural methods to try to block Mr. Bernanke from serving another term, it will require 60 votes for him to be confirmed. Congressional Democrats said they do not have a firm sense of how many votes Mr. Bernanke can count on, and Mr. Reid has not scheduled a vote.