January 2010

I arrived Saturday afternoon in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, after a week on the West Bank and a 36-hour voyage that started in Ramallah, the West Bank city that serves as the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority, and involved eight time zones, five airports, four flights, three airlines, and two bags, which missed my connection in Sydney but arrived two days later on the Monday Air New Guinea flight. The only bright spot was when Emirates Airlines upgraded me to first class on the nine-hour Bangkok to Sydney segment, which entitled me to a private suite nearly as big as my first apartment in New York, plus as much 2000 Dom Perignon as I cared to drink.

I was in Palestine to help the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency (PIPA) develop a new strategy and corresponding organizational structure.  I am not going to talk about “the Palestinian Question” here, I promise. It’s been making people crazy for at least 3,000 years (the Arabic word for Palestine is “Philistine”), and if people as smart as Tony Blair and George Mitchell can’t come up with anything intelligent to say about it I am not even going to try. It reminds me of the old question, beloved of preadolescent Catholic schoolboys:  “Sister, Sister, if God is all-powerful can he make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” We have our answer. With respect to Israel and Palestine, He has already done so. [click to continue…]

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Help for Haiti

by Charles Krakoff on January 14, 2010

in Crisis, poverty

Even before Tuesday’s earthquake Haiti had experienced 200 years of some of the worst luck that can befall a nation. Once France’s richest colony, it was a slave economy built on sugar, coffee, and the misery of African slaves, who finally revolted, saw off an invasion of 30,000 of Napoleon’s troops, and declared independence in 1804. France conceded defeat, but only at the price of 150 million francs in gold in “reparations” for its lost property, a sum it took the Haitians until 1947 to pay off, sometimes at a cost of 80% of the country’s annual budget. It has suffered 18 years of occupation by the U.S. Marines, AIDS, the brutal Duvalier regime, rampant deforestation, years of political turbulence and violence, U.S. economic sanctions that all but destroyed its small industrial base, and Ethiopian levels of poverty, disease and hunger.

Even amidst all of these tribulations, Haiti and its people retained the capacity to inspire and delight with their music, art, and their sense of humor and fun and joy.

And now this. Estimates of the death toll have already surpassed 100,000, but with tens of thousands of people still missing, it is sure to rise further, potentially rivaling the December 2004 tsunami, which claimed over 200,000 lives. But that was spread out over a dozen countries with an aggregate population of over 1.5 billion, while Haiti has only 9 million people.

I visited Haiti in early April of last year and it was a hopeful time. The security situation had improved and some semblance of political stability had returned. Under generous market access preferences granted Haiti by the U.S. government garment exports were booming and investors – especially from East Asia – were clamoring for land to build new garment factories.  The major donor countries held a conference later that month, hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington with strong backing from former President Bill Clinton and his foundation, from which emerged a unified and substantial commitment to assist Haiti in ways that seemed to make sense.

All that is gone now, and efforts over the next months and probably years will be focused on trying to restore Haiti to what it was at the beginning of this week, never mind transforming it into something better. So far I have heard from some people I know, who mercifully are safe, but there remain others, some of them good friends, of whom I have no news.

Many of us are tempted to get on a plane, get down there, and pitch in, but the truth is we’d only get in the way of the professionals who know what they are doing. The Red Cross tell us that they are not accepting volunteers to go to Haiti, and unless you have specialist medical or technical skills all you can do is give money. Please do. My two preferences are Mercy Corps and the Red Cross.  In the U.S., you can make an instant $10 donation to the Red Cross Haiti effort by texting “Haiti” to 90999, or you can give more by clicking here. Or give to another charity or relief organization of your choosing.

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The current issue of reason magazine  publishes an article by Steven Greenhut, a former columnist for the Orange County Register, entitled “Class War: How public servants became our masters.” You don’t have to be a survivalist living in the mountains of northern Idaho to be shocked and dismayed by the data and conclusions the article presents.

Focusing mainly on California, which has experienced runaway growth of the public sector, the article also addresses the national picture. Many of us think that government salaries are lower than those in the private sector, but by way of recompense government workers enjoy higher job security and somewhat better benefits. That used to be true, but according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the average federal worker made $59,864 in 2005, compared with the average salary of $40,505 in the private sector.” In 1946, after WWII and the New Deal had swollen government payrolls substantially, the U.S. counted 3.3 million state and local government workers. Today the number stands at nearly 20 million, an increase of almost 500 percent over a period in which the population has grown by only 115 percent. We now have 6.5 state and local government employees per 100 citizens, compared to 2.3 in 1946. [click to continue…]

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