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14 January 2010


Sini Fernandez

This one moved from one end of the spectrum to the other... wow.

Steven Frisch

Hmmmm. I don' t get it. Perhaps I am missing something.

On one hand I applaud you George for both your past and current charity. It is true that now the answer is" go write a check". Whilst suffering the pain of death and loss, their is no recourse but compassion.

But the story of Haiti is not just a story of current government corruption and dysfunction. It is the story of a nation born of slavery and revolt, treated as a pariah amongst nations in the western hemisphere for more than 200 hundred years, with a brutal military dictatorship supported by the United States for more than 30 years in the 1950-1980's, that systematically stripped the nation of its forested landscape to use for energy so that now less than 1% of its native forest remains, that bears no resemblance to it's forested island partner in the Dominican Republic, that is laid bare to the ravages of nature in the form of hurricane, flood and earthquake, where the natural landscape is so disconnected from the people that it no longer serves to shelter them from hell.

I remember more than 30 years ago, my first Haitian friend, whose family fled to the US to escape the death squads of Baby Doc Duvalier, stating his amazement at America, a nation so compassionate and so rich that it could offer his family asylum from a monster while simultaneously supporting that monsters repressive reign.

Any rational observer has to simultaneously feel two things: first and foremost how do we help a people in such need?Second, how is it that a people came to be in such need? what are the causes of such abject poverty and human suffering that we as loving people can allow it to remain as a scourge on humankind?

The alternative to real aid keeping people poor is not the absence of aid, rather it is the honest addressing of a centuries old systemic evil, that conspires to help hold a people in poverty and want.


Starting with the religious missionaries, who screwed up "poor" countries by messing with their heads and beliefs, the US constantly trys to "buy" love. Just like welfare, charity apparently fosters disrespect and furthers hatred for those who have... God put us on this earth (if indeed he did) to rise to our level of potential. If we don't take up this challenge what is the point of this life?

I have compassion (tsk! tsk!) and I have given plenty to support my own. Often either they want MORE, MORE, MORE forgetting they are giving up their own self-reliance and iniative or they 'bite-my-hand' when I refuse to give MORE, MORE, MORE. No one appreciates obligation least of all other countries.

We as citizens do have some obligations such as support of our military who have served and are serving our country at our request. Then there is the deplorable condition of education in our own state/country which is necessary for the self-reliance of our citizens. Thank the Pitt-Jolie's of this world (putting their money where their mouth is) and let them write the checks for Haiti and Louisiana, hopefully with some oversight as to how it is used...

Steven Frisch

Wow George I clearly misunderstood your original post...I thought that it was a plea for setting aside our own beliefs for a moment and acting out of Christian charity. I pity the hand that was bitten, and hope for your swift and complete recovery.

George Rebane

Steve, Your extended comment detailed the history of Haiti in a way that expanded my abbreviated summary of it. Although I do not quite see it as the America bash that you make it, your substantive comments give another perspective and build on the subject of the post.

However, your second comment seems to be nothing but the release of some witheld ad hominem vitriol. In my post I meant exactly what I said - nothing more, nothing less. My mail indicates that the points made were understood. But this is the kind of exchange that I will not promote on RR. Perhaps I have misunderstood, please explain yourself.

Steven Frisch

In my first post I was responding to what I read in your first post as a plea for unrequited charity..without judgement and without need for cause....

In my second post I was responding to what I heard as judgement, specifically about charity fostering disrespect, and the idea that we should help our own first..

In many ways I think "our own", stressed as we are at times, has quite a bit.

I think we must be having some real failure to communicate here. It seems to me that you are making the case that charity contributes to peoples dependence. Am I wrong? I guess I just don't think that when there is such need that thats a very productive.

Steven Frisch

Oh I meant to add, I was not trying to link my critique to an unrelated characteristic of your belief. I think the link between Christianity and unrequited charity is one of the most beautiful facets of the religion.

George Rebane

Thank you Steve, your first apprehension was correct.

Re "... charity contributes to peoples dependence ..." I don't make that point here, but I have made that point in other posts referring specifically to how the charities are dispensed. As we both know, not all charities are created equal. The anecdotal evidence for misapplied charity to the third world has been well known for decades.

The recent studies documented by World Banker William Easterly and African scholar Dambisa Moyo confirm and go beyond the anecdotal evidence on the effect of such aid to poor countries. Please also check my 18mar09 RR post for more detail.

Bottom line - charity can both rehabilitate and, unfortunately, debilitate. Africa has been Exhibit A for the latter.

Steven Frisch

Actually, George you do make "that point" here, which is what I was responding to, and you were interpreting as a disconnect in communications. That is why I said I did not "get it"--your original post seemed to be torn between the need for unrequited charity and the need to prosthelytize about charity creating dependence.

"the harm our so-called aid has done to keep the poor regions perpetually poor."

This is the core of our failure to communicate...you say things that you mean and then when challenged you routinely back away from what you say and claim people are misinterpreting your words.

Nothing could be further form the truth. You say what you mean the first time. What you really said is Haiti is a cesspool and continued charity breeds dependence. That is how you wanted your readers to interpret it.

I know a lot of dedicated Christians, the vast majority of whom i respect very much, and they are uniformly striving in this week to put aside their individual comfort and provide aid to the sick, hungry, homeless and grieving. As an atheist I have supported at least a few of their religious based causes because I respect their work.

I find your need to make a point of the evils of charity in the midst of humanitarian crises reprehensible, course and opportunistic. I also think it is very un-Christian. I am disappointed.

I strive to stay polite with you, but you are so blunt in your judgements about other people at times, and so quick to label people as socialists, communists, and collectivists, that I would consider it a disservice if I did not express my opinion directly at this time.

Of course it is true that charity can be corrupted, and that is wrong. Of course dependence can be created when people get things for free, and that is wrong. Of course the dispensers of charity can be opportunists and charlatans, and that is wrong.

But is the inherent weakness and corruptibility of the human condition an excuse or rational for not embracing charity in a time of need...my Christian moral ethic, rather than my religious belief, tells me NO.

So I stand by my statement...I am sorry that those you have tried to help have bitten your hand. I am sorry that it has led to an embittered outlook on the value of charity and compassion.

It is not ad hominem. It is linked. You don't get to have Christian belief, morals, ethics and values and not have the Christian ethic of charity.

George Rebane

Well said and most gentlemanly Steve. Although I don't agree with all that you see when you peek deeper into me, I cannot dismiss that your vision is what it is.

And I do try to make both of the points you have correctly identified, arguing that now is the time to dismiss the longer term synoptic view in this time immediate crisis and humanitarian need. However, the dust will eventually settle and people will wipe away their tears. What will we do then?

I would gladly wear the mantle of being the lone critic, even one that "reprehensible, coarse, and opportunistic", if the basic message that we need to change the mechanisms of our charities would get through. Unfortunately I cannot, since wiser heads who have studied the problem at greater depths precede me, two of whom I have cited.

Because there are so many of us who are aware of the ugly side of misapplied charity, I wanted to acknowledge that worldview and then ask them to set it aside for the present. Else I would be accused by them of not understanding the ‘bigger picture’ about the Haitis of the world. But perhaps not everyone is aware that charity cuts both ways and has been wielded poorly. That debate is worth having.

Steven Frisch

I agree with you that we should always be striving to reduce the waste a inefficiency in charity.

I believe the way to do that is reform and improve charity in way that it builds permanent solutions to poverty and dispossession.

My original post, citing the historical context of the "cesspool" as you put it, is the sort of discussion we need to be having. It was not intended to be solely critical of America--I love my country and strive to recognize and understand both its grandeur and its flaws, the better to make improvement--the remainder of the European powers, particularly France as the colonizing power, and Great Britain and Spain as the perpetrators of an economic system based on imprisoned labor, bears a great deal of the responsibility. History has a long reach.

The history of Haiti is a history of slavery, revolt, intentional neglect, and in the modern world inability to leverage charity to end social ills. I AGREE with you whole heartedly that when the dust settles we should be asking ourselves, how is it that such want, poverty and suffering can be present for so long, in such close proximity, and go effectively unaddressed? If that leads to effective reform, we share the benefits of progress.

Perhaps I have been too harsh, if so I apologize.

George Rebane

Steve, it seems that we may be flying in tight formation on this issue, and I am glad. Thank you again for the clear statements of your position.

Given its currency and proximity, it might be of interest to look at the possible futures for Haiti in greater detail. How do we rebuild that country, and then nurture it in what direction? What is the best that can realistically be done with the country that serves America’s interests? Do we want it to become an un/willing ward of the United States?

These are questions that America still must answer as the world’s richest country and its remaining hegemon (whether we like it or not). I don’t think we’ll be able to walk away from there any time soon.

Here's one view just published. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703657604575004713262592800.html

Steve Frisch's follow-on comment expands the discussion to post-disaster US policy and is a guest post on RR as 'Haiti - After the Dust and Tears'.

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