Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
Wednesday Night #1456
Written by Diana Thebaud Nicholson // January 27, 2010 // Aid & Development, Cleo Paskal, Geopolitics, Government & Governance, Infrastructure, Media, Reports, The Salon, U.S., Wednesday Night Authors // 2 Comments
The hate and the quake … for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1, 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption. Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti’s independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy. Must Read background
Our belief systems define and color our attitudes and, in turn, are colored by the word and picture images presented by the news media. A corollary would see an inverse relationship between a dearth of newsworthy events and extent of coverage of that which is available. This cynical view may well explain the incredible response to the recent tragic events in Haiti, but inevitably, one is moved to ask why it took a terrible human tragedy to elicit a laudable response to a country that has had the lowest per capita income of any nation in the Western Hemisphere since its independence from France in 1804 and the crushing reparations imposed as a consequence, a non-functioning government, a non-functioning infrastructure. With virtually no natural resources other than magnificent beaches, an economy based on tourism would provide some sustainability, but has been tenuous given the absence of efficient infrastructure, including roads, power, sewer, water systems, not to mention government.
Whatever the past, news coverage of the present incredible human tragedy has moved the world’s population to generously come to the aid of that stricken country. With the awakening of the collective conscience of countries around the world and the presence of the Haitian Diaspora in our midst, food, medical aid, engineering and medical expertise are being deployed in Haiti in the attempt to preserve what has remained and to build for the future and to bring order to the present chaos. Two large roadblocks continue to threaten the success of the restoration and reconstruction process, namely the greed of those who see the possibility of personal gain in the misfortune of others and the designation of a single competent authority to direct the reconstruction of a new Haiti that would be accountable for the money spent, as well as a means of measuring the progress.
The competence and intelligence of the population is not an issue. The success of the microcredit process in Haiti is a testament to the desire of the population to improve its lot and to its competence in so doing. What is lacking is an overall authority that will honestly and competently make optimum use of the human and monetary resources offered by an awakened world. Illiteracy and abject poverty remain the serious obstacles to the establishment of a truly democratic government. The contribution of the Diaspora must provide the spark in changing that situation. In the absence of a functioning local government, the identity of a single coordinating authority – normally the UN in a disaster situation, but the UN mission in Haiti is mourning the loss of almost all of its staff) – has yet to be determined according to an agenda set by contributing countries.
As the world anticipates the phoenix-like rise of Haiti, the outcome of development aid will only be be proven successful if competent, honest and sustainable government and governance is established, which implies successful defenses against the corruptors who exploit human tragedy to advance their own ends. Despite the generous outpouring of contributions large and small from anonymous donors, media stars, fundraisers, etc., we must bear in mind that we of the Western world, including our entertainers, industrialists and journalists risk corrupting the regeneration process.
The State of the Union
Politics is an unfair, unforgiving calling. Objectively, in the year that President Obama has been in office, he has successfully overcome a disastrous economic problem inherited from his predecessors, yet he faces unfair criticism over that which he has been unable to attain, either as a result of the same situation or because of political opposition. He has no option but to stick with his agenda indefinitely despite the fact that its implementation would continue to increase debt. He has succeeded in stopping the economic free-fall, albeit at great cost, but has not received credit for this. Unemployment has risen above 10% and will continue to increase. Ironically, the Republicans have been doing worse than the Democrats but are not being punished by the electorate. It would appear that not only the cynical believe that he who writes the cheque enjoys the influence.
Somewhat disappointed by the absence of the usual Obama rhetoric, his ever-faithful fans believe that he has a second speech up his sleeve and eagerly await its delivery. Others felt that the absence of oratorical flourishes made the Address more credible.
T H E I N V I T A T I O N
Undoubtedly because he is aware that Wednesday Night is vitally interested in what he has to say, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union Message precisely at 9PM this Wednesday. Will he follow the excellent advice given him by Frank Rich? Early indications are that he will. In any event, we will be watching and recording for posterity.
Our good friend Katleen Félix (Read/hear Katleen, Jeffrey Sachs and others on NPR), Project Director and Haitian Diaspora Liaison for Fonkozé, Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor, is in Montreal for the Summit on Monday. She will be with us on Wednesday Night and plans to introduce a couple of the leading Montreal members of the Haitian Diaspora.
Katleen will not only be able to give us a first-hand account of events in Haiti, but also her analysis of the outcomes of the Montreal Summit. It appears that all agree that it is Haiti that must take charge of and responsibility for the reconstruction, but the extent of the work to be undertaken – The to-do list is nearly overwhelming – is so huge that there will inevitably be many other players. One of the key questions is the role of the Haitian Diaspora. Will its members put their talents and skills to work on the long – and inevitably sometimes tedious – effort to rebuild their country and its institutions? [ Gazette: Chalmers Larose, a Université du Québec à Montréal professor of political science, said in an interview that Canada’s Haitian community has been pushing the federal and Quebec governments for a work-furlough program that would see Haitian ex-pats loaned back to Haiti, to help strengthen its civil society. According to such a program, the two levels of governments would agree to paid leaves of absence for managers of Haitian origin.]
We would also be interested to hear her comments regarding the virulent criticism of the large influx of American troops in Haiti such as this from the World Socialist Website, “With the Haitian catastrophe now in its 10th day, it is becoming increasingly clear that the response of the Obama administration and the Pentagon, which have made military occupation of the Caribbean nation its [sic] first objective, has deepened the immense suffering of millions of injured, homeless and hungry people.” Or this piece from Monsters and Critics US military deployment stirs tension in Haitian tragedy – Just Google ‘criticism of U.S. forces in Haiti’.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision on campaign financing, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has elicited predictably conflicting comment from Right and Left. We endorse the commentary by our friend and Wednesday Nighter, Rodrigue Tremblay, The United States of Corporate America: From Democracy to Plutocracy.
The World Economic Forum meets at Davos – appropriately the theme for its 40th anniversary is “Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild”. Canada’s own Stephen Harper will be there and speaking on Thursday (having prorogued Parliament, he has nothing to keep him in Ottawa). He’s expected to highlight the environment, development and global economic growth. The environment, Really?
Last week’s agenda was somewhat hijacked by the fascinating discussion of the bid for the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and National Post by a group that includes (catalyzed by) Beryl Wajsman. Those who were here were treated to an in-depth analysis of the current operations and policies of the Gazette in particular.
Thus, Katleen and her guests give us a welcome opportunity to return to several of the topics we missed, including the obscene media feeding frenzy in disaster areas. As we asked last week:
Is it necessary for every super star (think Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer) and wannabe media personality to be physically present beaming similar news and pious thoughts to the world – don’t their logistical requirements drain already hideously scarce resources? Where are all these people staying? What are they eating/drinking? How do they fuel their vehicles and helicopters in a country where the shortage of gas is critical? Can the beleaguered leaders of the rescue missions afford the time to answer the stock – and often inane – questions of every individual with a camera, microphone or laptop? We are all in favour of freedom of the press, but isn’t it time to re-think this picture? We might start the debate with this comment on the website of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and suggest that while it focuses on BBC coverage, it is equally applicable to all media organizations.
We also believe that there is reason to consider the wisdom of encouraging the plethora of specialized aid organizations – large and small – that in a crisis all raise funds for their deserving causes (try Googling “aid organizations in Haiti”). This is not a denial of their individual worth – we realize that each organization has a mission, carefully written to differentiate it from all other organizations, but there comes a time when the confused donors are deluged with requests and are unable to differentiate. We believe that this has a negative effect. How to solve the problem? Then there is the problem of whether aid reaches those who need it most. Aid reality raises many of our concerns.