Monday, January 18, 2010


At Muhlenberg (my alma mater), there is a Sociology professor named Christopher Kovatz-Bernat who has studied the country of Haiti throughout his professional career. His class on the country is extremely popular with students, and most of my peers came away thinking that Dr. Bernat was a little crazy to keep going to such a volatile state.

I did not take Dr. Bernat's class on Haiti, but when I did a presentation on the country, he was more than willing to sit down with me to go over details. By now, you have all heard Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemesphere, and when you learn about the recent political history of the country, it's not hard to understand why.
In December of 1990, Jean Bertrand Aristide won 67% of the vote in a Presidential election for the country of Haiti. President Aristide was looked at as a symbolic figure who would be able to bring economic stability and development to the country. However, in September of 1991, a coup was staged to overthrow Aristide. The act was led by the economic elite of the country, a long with elements of Haiti’s army.

From 1991-1994 an interim government was formed. It was not until the United Nations passed Resolution 940 where members were supposed to use all necessary force to oust the interim government. The United States took the lead in this initiative, and in mid-September of 1994 U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti. In June of 1995 local and parliamentary elections took place with a pro-Aristide contingent winning. President Aristide then took the Presidential office back in September of 1995. After that though, there were many problems with the legitimacy of future elections. In 1996 Rene Preval won the Presidential election with 51.15% of the vote that was looked at by many of the international community to be illegitimate.

Without full legitimacy, it has been hard for the international community to come together to work with the country, and harder for the President Preval to bring the country together in order to help it. And remember, this was all before the earthquake.

People were already living in unsanitary conditions. There was barely any running water, and the only way to get any was through a public filtration system. There was also no sanitation department to pick up the trash so people left it on the streets and walked around it.

There had also been law enforcement issues making the country a dangerous place to live. After the international community went into Haiti, the military was disbanded, but its members still kept their weapons. This left thousands of guns on the streets with no counter force to help keep the peace. This is a picture of Haiti's former military personel on the streets of Port au-Prince:

In 2008, the Caribbean was hit by three storms, Haiti getting the worst of it. This is how the country looked after that:

This country needed help way before the major earthquake that destroyed the little people had in the country. If any good can come out of this, its that there might be a sustained effort to build stability and economic growth to a place that has needed it for a long time.

The American Red Cross has had members going to Haiti for a long time now. They and other organizations will be conducting much of the heavy lifting that is now necessary more then ever. That link will lead you straight to a place where you can donate what you can. Large amount of funds will be necessary to carry the effort out now, and into the future.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Show Me The Money!!

I'm usually really excited to wake up Sunday, read the paper, watch Meet The Press, and absorb all the new information that's going to come out. There are times though when my political Sunday is kinda a let down. Kinda like the last week of the NFL season. Unfortunately, I have a feeling this is going to be one of those weeks.

I know exactly what's going to be said tomorrow. Jobs. Everything and anything about jobs, or rather, lack there of. In December 85,000 jobs were lost and the unemployment rate stayed at 10%. There's no way around it, it's very bad out there. Businesses are forced to cut back, and families are being forced to make extremely tough decisions such as between buying health insurance or food. Now the President and Congress are talking about passing a jobs bill which they hope (hope!), will create more opportunities for companies to hire.

Most economists are saying things are going to get worse before they get better. But of course a recent piece pulitzer prize winning economist (Paul Krugman) said: "The next employment report could show the economy adding jobs for the first time in two years." So what do they know? And as for Republicans, all they can do is say the Democrats $275 billion stimulus package isn't working. But when I looked to find out what that money was doing, it turns out its just sitting there.

According to, as of October 30th 2009, only $19 billion of the stimulus packaged has been spent, but over $158 billion has been rewarded. Only 13% of the money has been given to the states. Wyoming has been awarded over $476 million, but has only received a little over $60 million. California (the state with the most fiscal trouble right now) was awarded over $18 billion, but has only received a little over $8 billion.

So for all you fiscal hawks out there, stop complaining. While the money has been allocated it hasn't gone anywhere yet. Why? Who knows. I'm sure if you ask any member of Congress (well, maybe not McCain) they will be more then happy to get some of that money for their constituents.

My advice: spend the money! Banks aren't lending, and as we learned from the Great Depression, the government needs to be the one that creates the demand to spur economic growth. There are arguments out there that another stimulus needs to be passed. But let's wait and see what this one is actually able to accomplish. Considering our infrastructure needs a lot of work, I'm willing to bet there are plenty of roads, bridges, and highways that can use some sprucing up.

Since health care took up so much of Congress' time this year, people are frustrated they cannot see any tangible results from the stimulus or anything else. Democrats had a mandate to do something and while they can legitimately claim they got things done, none of it has taken effect yet. There have been tours here and there touting where the stimulus money has been spent (including minority leader John Boehner's district), but more needs to be done. With all the families struggling out there they need to hear it's going to get better.

From the money that had been spent, Democrats can legitimately claim it created jobs. So show me the money!