Thursday, December 30, 2004

Tsunami Thoughts

You may have noted that President Bush has come under some criticism because he was too busy whacking his weeds to express concern with one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in history -- one whose greatest effect was felt in the largest islamic country in the world.

As you might expect, some bloggers had some interesting things to say. First, James Wolcott:

I was pleased to see the President of the United States put down the frigging rake long enough to put on his best Sunday-go-to-meetin' suit and issue a public statement regarding the catastrophic tsunami. "Earlier yesterday," reported The Washington Post, "White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: 'The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about "We feel your pain."'"

Clearing brush? What is he, Luke on The Real McCoys, Eb on Green Acres, or the cardboard cut-out figurehead leader of the free world?

Given the sedated performance he put on today, which resembled a clinical demonstration of "lack of affect" for beginning interns, Bush needn't worry that anyone will confuse him with Huggy-Bear Bill or accuse him of overdoing the empathy. He'll never be mistaken for a mensch.

Bush and Colin Powell were soon shamed into promising at least $35 million as a down payment. But even when qualified as a down payment with more to come, it was insulting. Or as Bob Harris says, an obscenity:

Writing from Tasmania, which is a great place I'd love to write more about and surely will someday. But I just don't feel like it right now.

I wish I knew how to do more to help the people who need it right this minute. I wish I knew how to get my government to behave without its usual level of shameless self-absorption and shortsightedness.

$35 million. Swell.

The death toll is rapidly approaching six digits -- imagine 30 September 11ths, if you wish, with all the sudden speed, chaos, and complete wreckage of human life that entails -- with the number of affected people surely ten times that high. And the richest country in the world, the one which believes itself to be singular among nations (thus ironically fulfilling the notion before the neurons have even cooled), can only muster a few dollars per life destroyed.
What's $35 million?

The amount it takes to fix up one park in Pittsburgh.It's exactly one new school in Montclair, New Jersey.

It's what Dick Cheney put in his own back pocket by ditching his Halliburton stock.

And it's one four-thousandth of what the U.S. has spent invading and occupying Iraq.
Tens of thousands of dead in a dozen countries on two continents, after a disaster so large it literally changed the map of Indonesia and completely obliterated the southernmost tip of India.

Survival infrastructures are simply gone now in many places. Famine and pestilence are likely to take at least as many lives if the rest of us fellow humans don't do enough to help right now.

$35 million. George W. Bush is telling the largest Muslim nation on Earth that the massive destruction in Aceh is worth less than the United States spends on occupying Iraq every day.


Even the New York Times chimed in with a defense of United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who called the rich countries – including the richest country, “stingy.”

Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.

The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

Bush administration officials help create that perception gap. Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.

Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disperse a single dollar.

But enough politics. If you can break away from whacking your own weeds for a few minutes, here are some good places to send some of the money you won't be using for your inauguration day festivities.

American Red Cross International Response Fund
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
AmeriCares South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund
Direct Relief International International Assistance Fund
Médecins Sans Frontières International Tsunami Emergency Appeal
Oxfam Asian Earthquake & Tsunami Fund
Sarvodaya Relief Fund for Tsunami Tragedy
UNICEF South Asia Tsunami Relief Efforts
American Friends Service Committee
Habitat for Humanity International
Direct Relief International
Save The Children Asia Earthquake / Tsunami Relief Fund

Bob Harris has some thoughts about what some of the different organizations are doing. Thanks also to Seeing the Forest and Daily Kos for suggestions. Also check out the Tsunami Help Blog.

And if you're interested in what labor unions around the world are doing, LabourStart is keep track here.