Sunday, January 17, 2010

There, I Said It

The Wind Cries Mary - The Jimi Hendrix Experience (mp3)
Requiem Mass in D Minor, K.626 - Amor Artis Orchestra (mp3)

Haiti no more needs our love and attention and money now than they did two weeks ago.

There, I said it.

A former co-worker and dear friend, a very religious woman wrapping up her seminary work to be ordained in the Episcopal faith, spent two months in Haiti a year or so ago. A young alumnus spent two weeks there in December. The experience was emotionally draining for both of them. Their stories are jaw-dropping. You simply can't witness that kind of across-the-board abject poverty for a prolonged amount of time, knowing full well what life is like on our side of the Gulf, without looking toward the heavens and hoping that a wise and guiding hand might one day explain it all to you.

It's the poorest and saddest country in this hemisphere and one of the poorest on the globe. It was a natural disaster before the natural disaster. Yet here we are, getting ourselves worked up and full of pity for Haiti because of an earthquake.

All these organizations are taking in donations, and all these donations are piling in, and we don't even know what this money will do, exactly. Maybe we don't even care.

It won't get heavy equipment into Port-au-Prince quickly enough to lift the rubble away from survivors. I doubt it will save many lives. Hell, the good ol' US of A can't even be efficient and appropriate in how it deals with post-Katrina New Orleans et al, yet I'm supposed to have faith that my money will carry the day in Haiti?? As if to rub my doubt in shit, I have to read stories that Haitians complain that the help isn't coming quickly enough when, by every report I can see, help is coming faster than it did to victims on the Gulf Coast.

Sorry if this makes me an ass, but anyone who's witnessed first-hand the continued pathetic state of the Bayou should be thinking the same thing, that we're sending money to Haiti and blindly offering our sympathies in that direction when we can't even clean up our own back yard and take care of our own people

We only rally in large numbers for earthquakes and tsunamis. Simple starvation, abject poverty at levels unimaginable, significant portions of the population suffering from syphillis and AIDS. None of that really seems to get to us, probably because it never looks as striking on the news. A tiny financial and political earthquake has hit Haiti every day for the last 20 or 30 years, but only when Anderson Cooper and Michelle Koszinski fly in with their camera crews and their tender-hearted feature stories do we think, "Hey! Let's feel sorry for Haiti! Maybe if I send them $20 I'll feel better!"

I don't want to sound all right-wing and callous here, but our last decade has more than a few prime examples of the best charitable intentions leading straight into the toilet.

The funds raised and meted out for 9/11 families and survivors. The tsunami relief funds to Asia. Katrina and The Land of The 10,000 Trailers. In each case, an unknown but certainly disturbing percentage of funds fall in greedy shyster back pockets or move in wrong directions or sink into red tape and "administrative costs" or mysteriously vanish from the process altogether.

We hesitate to hand a homeless man a $5 bill, because we're just sure he's going to use that money to buy booze or drugs. But we'll mail off a check to a church (or other) organization promising to help Haiti even though the harsh reality is that, by the time that money can be realistically utilized, the very purpose for which you gave it has long changed.

The doctors who have been hopping on planes to offer their assistance? The pilots flying those doctors and other relief workers for free? I'm all about that. Mega-kudos to those great and generous souls. And I know it costs money, so it's not like I'm violently opposed to all attempts to offer fiscal relief.

Hell, I'd love to see every penny and every ounce of good will to Haiti mean something amazing. Haiti can use all the love and hugs and financial assistance it can grab, and if it needs a few earthquakes to get it, maybe in the end that's just proof that really bad things have to happen for people to take notice. Perhaps actual rubble is required before our contemporary society is willing to acknowledge a need to rebuild, even if things were broken and demolished long before a single building collapsed from shockwaves.

As for me, I think I'll keep focusing my charitable giving towards programs aimed at helping local homeless families and battered women. And I'll feel better about my spare change going where it's intended when I hand it to a man outside a downtown bar than I will shipping it to some hastily-organized group suddenly working up pity for a long-neglected neighbor country that apparently only deserved a fraction of it before this.

Maybe when my trips to New Orleans no longer involve long stretches of road that look like they are from the outskirts of Nairobi, I'll text the Red Cross so they can charge $10 to my cell phone bill.


troutking said...

It strikes me that you've made some valid points. It shouldn't always take a disaster for us to notice when people desperately need help, though disasters certainly change the scale and type of help needed. We should demand accountability, efficacy and efficiency from charities we support, though I really don't think that's an issue with the Red Cross. We should take care of our problems at home before running off to save the world, though sometimes we can do "more" good in other places at certain times.

But, your solution doesn't seem right to me. A country's charitable giving and compassionate attention shouldn't be a zero sum game. When people's lives can be saved right now, we can't sit on our wallets and tell those in need to get in line behind Katrina victims and homeless people because WE haven't fulfilled our responsibilities to them properly. And your $10 will go farther in Haiti than it will at a homeless shelter in Chattanooga. Besides, by your reasoning, maybe you shouldn't be giving $10 for homeless shelters. Maybe that's not effective. It's just perpetuating, not solving the problem. Your $10 should go to a job training program or education or the campaign of socialist candidates to join with Bernie Sanders of Vermont to create a real safety net in this country.

So, in the immortal words of the Dude from The Big Lebowski, "You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an asshole." There I said it. But, only in this particular case. See you at the football party later, friend!

green said...

wonderful ..................................................

Bob said...

Would it not be true that, by this logic, one should not comfort a family after the loss of a loved one any more than they would have before the family lost a loved one?

I'm not in favor of sending money to a charity to be flushed down the toilet, but is there evidence that the Red Cross is doing that?

Concerning Katrina, I would make a distinction between charitable help and government promises. My sense is that the charitable help directed towards Katrina had a substantial impact; the government's larger promise of financial assistance remains largely unrealized.

Billy said...

Bob, if the loved one was a drug addict, I think it's fair to ask whether one's sympathy and presence might have had a more vital impact for the family prior to the addict's death rather than after.

Here's what I know about my own finances. My wife and I give more to non-profit and charitable organizations than the gov't gives a crap about tallying.

I'm not bragging here, because all of us could always do more than we are. But we get so moved emotionally by the power of the media that we give before we have the slightest clue where it goes or how it helps.

And yes, even the Red Cross deserves a little bit of skepticism. If you doubt it, Google "Red Cross" and "mismanage" or any other word about donations and you will see that organizations that large can "lose" ungodly amounts of cash.

Giving to Haiti isn't evil, and I respect the heartstrings being pulled. But at times like this it feels more like manipulation.

troutking said...

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.
H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

jed said...

nice quote, Troutking.