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7338: PapaBush, BabyBush, and the Haitian future of the U.S. (fwd)
From: radman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Online Journal - http://www.onlinejournal.com
03-14-01: PapaBush, BabyBush, and the Haitian future of the U.S.
March 14, 2001
Gathering up my luggage and leaving the airport building, I was stunned.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sight, sound, and smell of the
scene before me. The squalor was so intense; it was as though the bomb had
already dropped on Port au Prince. The burning from thousands of household
garbage fires and rank odors from open sewer ditches that ran alongside
the roadway assaulted my nose. The clatter of wretched little diesel truck
engines, burning oil and patched together for the umpteenth time competed
with the shouting from aggressive cabbies, ushering me toward their
decrepit vehicles, hoping for a fare.
Port au Prince is an expanse of shanties and tents as far as the eye can
see, a pit of poverty ringed by a mountainous ridge. Think San Fernando
Valley the day after. The makeshift shelters look like they were thrown
together yesterday, from the wreckage of a city. But, this is no
catastrophe. This is just the way it is, and has been for some time.
I had landed in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I think
back to my brief stint as a missionary to Haiti in the early '80s as I
search for a context from which to express my dismay at the direction this
country has taken under Bush. There is much to be learned from Haiti, and
its history, to gain an understanding of our perils here and now.
Before the scene at the airport, I looked down at the countryside from the
air. I saw an entire landscape denuded of all but the scruffiest little
trees. Great erosive ditches ate away entire mountainsides. I later
learned that this land was once a rich mahogany forest. Unsustainable
clear-cutting had pillaged this natural resource early in the 20th
century. That beautiful occasional table from your grandmother's estate?
The wood was probably taken from this land in the '20s. Rapacious
capitalists from that era took their money, and ran. Now anything worth
burning for cooking fuel is cut down and reduced to charcoal. How can you
guard a forest? Haiti's burgeoning population needs cooking fuel right
now! The quarter century it takes to grow a great mahogany tree cannot be
accommodated. There are many vicious cycles in Haitian poverty, and the
inability to regrow this natural resource is just one of them. The proud
craftsmen who made bowls, furniture, architectural adornment and art from
mahogany rely on imports if they are the top few, but are usually reduced
to the use of monkey pod, a trash wood.
Like the Haiti of 100 years ago, we are richly blest with natural
resources. And, like them, we are in the process of stripping the land for
wealth today, poverty tomorrow. The oilmen will drain our natural
resources from the Alaskan wilderness to the Gulf of Mexico, then move
from the depleted U.S., as easily as a reptile sheds its skin, to
Kazakstan or wherever else quick profits lay under the earth. Haiti is a
particularly stark example, but we could also look at Duluth, MN, or
Cardiff, Wales, after the iron or coal, respectively, had given out. See
that movie, "The Full Monty," again, this time as social commentary, not
comedy. Our fortunes are tied to the land, its vegetable, animal, and
mineral wealth. As mortal, material beings, we cannot escape it.
But, we can require our leaders to have a vision beyond the next election,
beyond the next quarterly financial report. As it stands now, if anyone
raised the issue of intergenerational sustainability at a board meeting,
or an MBA class, he would be met with blank stares and snickers. This is
wrong. We could have an economy that weren't one half-step ahead of an
environmental apocalypse. We need to require leaders to think and act on
these terms, if we are to avoid the lesson of Haiti.
Like the Haitian erosion, half of our topsoil is now gone. We'll see most
of the rest go within our children's lifetime. The air pollution in
Houston rivals Port au Prince. Our own old growth forests will fall under
the chainsaw now that the family that made jokes about the Spotted Owl is
back in power. Rachel Carson warned us. Albert Gore, a visionary
statesman, spoke of needed sacrifice to reverse dangerous pollution and
global warming trends.
Gore was punished, twice, in failed presidential bids because we in the
comfort-driven U.S. don't want to hear the truth. Our craven desire to run
from Gore's courageous truth created the media myth that Gore lies. Gore's
book derived its title from an illustration. The picture was on a booklet
about ecological priorities by Bush, Sr.. The illustration showed the
Earth on one side of a scale, gold on the other. We forget the cautionary
tale of King Midas: you can't eat gold. Earth is in the balance, and the
earth lost the presidential election of 2000. We've sold out. Shameless
rapscallions, we'd rather scold our Clinton tarbaby than face ourselves.
The monkeywrenchers are our conscience, but we'll hunt them down and lock
them up, full of righteous indignation at these so-called eco-terrorists.
I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know deep down, am I?
Because of our willful shortsighted selfishness, we're headed toward
Haitian-style ecological collapse.
Working Poor and Idle Rich
Socially, Haiti is made up of almost all desperately poor, and a
demographically tiny light-skinned Elite that have a lot of French in
their ethnic heritage. Petionville, overlooking Port-au-Prince is studded
with their stately long ranch houses, which would make any resident of
affluent Woodland Hills, CA, proud. The Presidential Palace in Haiti is
more opulent than the White House. Trends are in place that make Haitian
demographics a real possibility in the US's future.
The great Republican lie is that if you work hard, you will get ahead in
the U.S.. It then follows that the poor are lazy, and the rich (try not to
laugh) exceptionally industrious. The truth is embedded in our language,
in the commonplace terms working poor and idle rich. To rise up
economically, hard work is necessary, but not sufficient. Fair wages are
derived from an economically just society, not just output. The
underpinnings of economic justice in a free market system are strong
unions, competition for workers, steady, stable employment, and captains
of industry who are decent citizens and patriots. Every generation must
fight anew to maintain a balance between opportunity and regulation,
reward and exploitation. Under this Republican leadership, power
imbalances between employer and employee are reaching dangerous levels.
How soon we forget that every worker benefit: living wages, health
insurance, workplace safety, even paid sick time, was fought, and fought
hard by management. Only union strength prevailed against the tendency of
capitalism to sink workers to a subsistence level. But unions have not
spread into the new service and information worker class. Republicans are
hostile to unions. Reagan broke PATCO. Bush, Jr., just allowed Mexican
scalawags to compete with Texan Teamsters on U.S. highways. As I write
this, Bush is threatening to break up an imminent strike by NorthWest's
Republicans argue that competition for workers replaces unions to buoy up
wages. This too, is disappearing. Corporate compensation managers conduct
surveys and share information with competitors about wages, having the
effect of price fixing and deflating wages. When the worker's skill is
abundant, or the economy soft, workers lose more ground. Without unions,
employers increasingly have all the cards.
Time was you could retire from the company who first hired you decades
later. No more. You can move up by changing jobs, you think, but the
compensation manager will only allow you to earn a few percentage points
more. This will be offset by the loss of accrued benefits, like vesting. A
growing economy can help you advance, but the wealth you generate will go
in largest measure to the CEO's princely wage, and the shareholders. Plus,
in a downturn, or any other bad fortune like a boss who dislikes you, you
can be fired for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Employment
at will is the law of the land. Republicans have fought alongside their
business contributors to derail any Democrat initiative that would
infringe on management's right to be socially irresponsible, such as
proper notice of plant closings.
In the past, great industrialists blunted the worst capitalist excesses,
though vision and conscience.
Henry Ford so designed his wage structure that his average worker, if he
were frugal, could own the vehicle he produced. It was the only way to
create demand for a mass-produced product: make it affordable, but also
make a market for it. Today, that vision has gone. In the U.S., the
average family cannot afford the average new American car.
There are no great philanthropists in sight, like Rockefeller and
Carnegie. Today's American billionaire runs a multi-national corporation;
his loyalty to the U.S. is tenuous at best. Buchanan said of them, "they
have no loyalty to anybody." Gates is the exception that proves the rule,
marrying his conscience. Relying on the sudden remorse of monopolists
about to meet their maker is thin ice to skate on when the icy water of
Social Darwinism-taught and believed in every business school in the
country-rushes beneath. Besides, any worker would prefer a fair portion of
the wealth he generates all along, rather than the return of some of the
money robbed from him in the first place, in the form of charity. But, no
matter: the Republican repeal of the estate tax will put that bequeathment
not with organizations like the United Negro College Fund or the Nature
Conservancy, but to offspring like George Walker Bush, one of the American
Elite with a billionaire father.
Declines in union strength and worker empowerment has resulted in ever
thinner benefits like HMO coverage, and in the impoverishment of the
bottom half of wage earners in the U.S. The trend has continued for at
least a quarter century. Only Clinton's brilliant handling of the economy
raised living standards for the lower classes. The reversal was modest,
and brief. How long will it take before our social structure resembles
Haiti? With the anti-union and regressive taxer Republicans in charge, the
middle class will continue to sink. Republicans signaled as much when they
derailed the recent ergonomics initiative, preferring to reward their
corporate base and so provoke a half-million worker injuries. Facing all
these facts, it is hard not to extrapolate a two class society in
America's future: the haves and the have-nots-just like Haiti.
The U.S. Is Looking More Like Haiti
While taking in the extreme injustice between rich and poor in Haiti, it
is natural to wonder aloud why the people don't revolt. But, be careful
what you say there, as Haitians commonly caution foreigners that the walls
have ears. Here, in Bush's U.S. we can talk all we want, but we may as
well be mute. It takes money to have a voice. We give corporations the
voice of a million citizens in our public debates, granting them a
stentorian voice through their influence on our opinion-forming media and
the purchase of politicians like Bush (R-Enron), Cheney (R-Halliburton)
and Rice (R-Chevron). Seven corporations own all mass media. If they don't
want us to know something, it doesn't get said. The corporate-owned media
lockstep is as effective at the suppression of the truth as the Tonton
The silence is deafening. How many times have stories been rumored about a
member of the Bush family, only to disappear? The NY Times was
investigating whether W had dealt cocaine during his Yale years, but all
witnesses feared to speak for the record. Disinfo.com had a page that
named names of the Flynt-claimed Bush abortion. It is gone. As
Democrats.com courageously notes, CNN censored its own transcripts on
same. Also gone is the CNN discussion board on Bush, though the Clinton
and Gore boards remain. And this is from the formerly so-called liberal
media. Bush said it outright: "there ought to be limits to freedom," and
fought to close the satirical gwbush.com. Zack Exley, the heroic private
citizen behind the website, resisted. We need many more like him if
freedom of the press is to survive. Already, the best sources for frank
reporting on U.S. politics comes from overseas, like Britain's Guardian.
In Haiti, there is a strong dose of fatalism in the public ethos.
Progress, personal betterment, and societal advancement are unimaginable
by the common people. The President is the top, Elite are in their
rightful place, as are Blancs, and everyone else at the bottom. Once, I
(I'm white) tried to get some exercise in the Haitian countryside by
walking some miles rather than taking a taxi. The common folk weren't just
appalled, they scolded me for crossing a societal line. No wonder
democracy is difficult with this attitude. This complacency finds its echo
in the U.S., where only 50 percent choose to vote, less in local or
mid-term elections. Overall, voter turnout is in steady decline, fed by
Republican negative campaigning, echoing the conventional wisdom that
politicians are just no good.
Haiti a quarter century ago saw the transfer of power in Haiti from
PapaDoc to his son, Jean-Claude "BabyDoc" Duvalier. Sound familiar? This
President-for-life didn't need elections, everybody loved him. Or, so we
were told. His picture with his pretty wife was in every shop. You didn't
know if the shopkeeper's reverence was real, or for his safety. Late at
night, the air conditioner buzzing for auditory cover, a Christian
minister confided in me that all was not well. I later learned he went
into hiding. I never did find out his fate. Finally, in the late '80s,
BabyDoc's incompetence and pressures from the still-democratic U.S. drove
him from power, and Haiti dared to hope for a popularly elected
multi-party government. May we achieve the same in 2004. But, democracy is
fragile. Aristide only lasted a year, ousted in 1991 by a military coup.
As Bush, Jr., said, "this would be easier if it were a dictatorship, so
long as I'm the dictator."
When I learned of Bush's faith-based initiatives, I had an odd moment of
deja vu. In Haiti, faith-based initiatives are about all they've got. The
infrastructure of health care delivery, education, and economic
development in Haiti comes from religious and other charities. For
examples, H˘pital Albert Schweitzer, Grace Hospital, and Habitat for
Humanity. The government does little. Charitable outreach keeps the
Haitian government from taking responsibility for its populace; the place
is so thick with missions.
Lacking nationalized health care, just like us, vaccinations and
preventative care are sporadic in Haiti. A child of 5 in Haiti is called
an escapee; diseases like tuberculosis claiming so many young. Anyone
there will give a ready confession of faith to a Blanc (white person) for
treatment or food. Making aid conditional on faith produces only cynical
parroting of that faith, not sincere conviction. Mature missionary
organizations have learned that the only way to genuinely reach a Haitian
for Christ is to help out of unconditional love, and let that alone be
one's testimony of faith. Eighty-five percent of Haitians adhere to a
religion called Voodoo. Its practices, like our rising Biblical
Literalism, are based on harsh laws of conduct and fear.
Charitable appeals from my mission on my return asked for funds for a
hefty, all terrain crew truck needed to transport workers to distant
villages. My organization builds churches, health clinics and schools. I
wondered why they needed 50 percent above the cost of the vehicle in the
U.S.. I was told this was to meet stiff Haitian tariffs on imports. I'm no
trade expert, but it seems to me that usurious trade barriers haven't
helped the Haitians, just taxed their economy and enriched their
government officials. So, I wonder, if NAFTA and WTO are so bad, how could
Clinton have improved the lot of workers, despite them?
In the election's aftermath, we were compared to a banana republic. I hope
this article has shown you how apt this comparison could be. Let us learn
the lessons of Haiti, and be moved to help those in distress. But also,
we'd be fools not to take the necessary actions to assure that we avoid
their fate. As it stands now, we are well on our way!