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Jan. 18 2010 - 9:13 am | 185,704 views | 18 recommendations | 379 comments

Translating David Brooks

A friend of mine sent a link to Sunday’s David Brooks column on Haiti, a genuinely beautiful piece of occasional literature. Not many writers would have the courage to use a tragic event like a 50,000-fatality earthquake to volubly address the problem of nonwhite laziness and why it sometimes makes natural disasters seem timely, but then again, David Brooks isn’t just any writer.
Rather than go through the Brooks piece line by line, I figured I’d just excerpt a few bits here and there and provide the Cliff’s Notes translation at the end. It’s really sort of a masterpiece of cultural signaling — if you live anywhere between 59th st and about 105th, you can hear the between-the-lines messages with dog-whistle clarity.  Some examples:

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.
The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.
In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results.
The chastened tone of these essays is captured by the economist Abhijit Banerjee: “It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control.”

TRANSLATION: Don’t bother giving any money, it doesn’t do any good. And feeling guilty about not giving money doesn’t do anyone any good either. In fact, you’re probably helping by not doing anything.

The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organizations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.

TRANSLATION: I, David Brooks, am doing my Christian best right here at home. Look, I even used a capital “L” in the word “Lord.” And I wrote that thing about Obama’s Christian Realism a few weeks ago. So I‘m doing my part. Of course I’d volunteer to help, but intellectually I just don’t think volunteering really helps. I mean, there are studies and everything.

Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

TRANSLATION: Although it is true that Haiti was just like five minutes ago a victim of a random earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people, I’m going to skip right past the fake mourning period and point out that Haitians are a bunch of lazy niggers who can’t keep their dongs in their pants and probably wouldn’t be pancaked under fifty tons of rubble if they had spent a little more time over the years listening to the clarion call of white progress, and learning to use a freaking T-square, instead of singing and dancing and dabbling in not-entirely-Christian religions and making babies all the fucking time. I know I’m supposed to respect other cultures and keep my mouth shut about this stuff, but my penis is only four and a third inches long when fully engorged and so I’m kind of at the end of my patience just generally, especially when it comes to “progress-resistant” cultures.

Fourth, it’s time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.
These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.
It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old.

TRANSLATION: The best thing we can do for the Haitians is let them deal with the earthquake all by themselves and wallow in their own filth and shitty engineering so they can come face to face with how achievement-oriented and middle-class they aren’t. Then when it’s all over we can come in and institute a program making the survivors earn the right to keep their kids by opening their own Checkers’ franchises and completing Associate’s Degrees in marketing at the online University of Phoenix. Maybe then they’ll learn the No Excuses attitude real life demands, so the next time something like this happens they won’t be pulling this “woe is us” act and bawling their fucking eyes out on CNN while begging for fresh water and band-aids and other handouts. Maybe that will happen, or maybe we’ll just keep sending money, fools that we are, so that they can keep making more of those illiterate ambitionless babies we’ll have to pull out of the next disaster wreckage.

p.s. Did I miss anything? Because I think that’s pretty much it. One would have thought a column on the Haitian’s lack of an achievement culture could maybe wait until after the bodies were cold, but… hey, who am I to judge?

p.p.s. I’ve got to put this comment up on the main piece, since so many people seem to have missed my point.

Again, unlike Brooks, I actually lived in the Third World for ten years and I admit it — I’m not exactly in the habit of sending checks to Abkhazian refugees, mainly because I’m not interested in buying some local Russian gangster a new Suzuki Samurai to tool around Sochi in. And I’ve actually seen what happens to the money people think they’re giving to Russian orphanages goes, so no dice there, either.

But you know what? Next time there’s an earthquake in Russia or Georgia, I’m probably going to wait at least until they’re finished pulling the bodies of dead children out of the rubble before I start writing articles blasting a foreign people for being corrupt, lazy drunks with an unsatisfactorily pervasive achievement culture whose child-rearing responsibilities might have to be yanked from them by with-it Whitey for their own good.

An earthquake is nobody’s fault. There’s nothing to do after a deadly earthquake but express remorse and feel sorry. It’s certainly not the time to scoff at all the victim country’s bastard children and put it out there on the Times editorial page that if these goddamned peasants don’t get their act together after a disaster this big, it might just be necessary to start swinging the big stick of Paternalism at them.

I mean, shit, that’s what Brooks is doing here — that last part of the piece is basically a threat, he’s saying that Haiti might have to be FORCED to adopt “middle-class assumptions” and an “achievement ethos” because they’re clearly incapable of Americanizing themselves at a high enough rate of speed to please Brooks. That’s this guy’s immediate reaction to 50,000 people crushed to death in an earthquake. Metaphorically speaking, he’s standing over the rubble and telling the people trapped under there that they need more of a “No Excuses” culture, which is insane on many different levels.

Brooks’s implication that the Haitians wouldn’t have died in such great numbers had they been Americans is the kind of thing that is going to come back to bite us the next time we have a nuclear accident or a hurricane disaster or a 9/11 and we’re looking to the rest of the world for sympathy and understanding. The notion that these deaths aren’t an accident but someone’s fault, among other things someone’s fault because they practice an unhelpful sort of religion, is beyond offensive.

p.p.p.s And yes, Brooks is Jewish. So let’s say he’s doing his Judeo-Christian best. Again, this guy is saying that Haitians got killed in an earthquake because their religion makes them planning-averse. Are we really to believe that Haitians don’t live in earthquake-proof homes because of their religious beliefs? We have millions of Americans who literally believe the rapture is imminent — would Brooks expect them to blow off flood insurance?


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  1. collapse expand

    No, you didn’t miss anything except the rhetorical question, “How does he keep his job?”? When I asked this same question of my husband at the breakfast table yesterday, the obvious answer came like a hot kiss at the end of a wet fist, as Firesign Theatre once said: those readers who agree with him keep reading the Times because he cossets their ignorance. Those of us who don’t, keep reading because when we do we become so apoplectic that the frustration causes a kind of rush, a high that we keep going back for because we can’t even credit our eyes with the dreck he writes, and can’t look away from the road accident each column creates.

  2. collapse expand

    His line of thinking is being used by the Right to discourage people from helping. They’d like to keep anything positive from happening or else Obama may get credit and contrast favorably to what happened after Katrina. In the next breath they’ll swear they’re Christians of course, all about love etc, etc.

  3. collapse expand

    Yes, those Hatiians should learn some responsibility, like, say, the Boards of Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the myriad other financial institutions that saved themselves from bankruptcy at the government’s teat. When YOU make bad decisions about building materials or investing in Credit Default Swaps or Mortgage Backed Securities leveraged with subprime mortgages, YOU should pay the price, lift yourself up by YOUR own bootstraps, and not look to others for mercy, chairty, or even enough human decency to shut the fuck up while you try to find drinking water. What a grade “A” asshole this guy is.

  4. collapse expand

    Great deconstruction. The only caveat I’d add is that the timing is so callous because there’s a vague shock doctrine opportunism to this point of view. In other words: Sure we’ve ignored whatever social inequities and economic hardships Haiti’s had to endure for the decades upon decades since the U.S. ceased occupation, but this horrific tragedy presents a unique chance to teach them a lesson in hard work and the virtues of capitalistic enterprise. Surely now is the best time to stop with the handouts. Y’know, when they need it most.

  5. collapse expand

    Give all the money you want…but if you are looking to the government of the United States to turn haiti into Utopia, it ain’t gonna happen…all governments are incapable of being capable….

    You want to rebuild haiti….send some of those factories to haiti that have been sent to the mexican border and china….let the people work and everything else will follow in order

    • collapse expand

      You’re joking, right? You’re touting factories along the US/Mexican border as exemplars of good development? Whoa.

      The better way would be to 1) stop forcing our subsidized agricultural goods on Haiti (and Mexico, thank you) and therefore 2) help develop rural communities so people don’t have to leave their farm communities to move to cities. The story of Port-au-Prince is not unlike the story of Juarez and other border nightmares. Agrarian people were forced off their lands by corporatization and the flood of cheap food from the US. In the cities, they have to buy their own food and therefore are food insecure, which causes further poverty.

      I’ve just come back from seven months in Oaxaca, Mexico. We have Zapotec friends who have managed to stay in Oaxaca because they can grow their own food. They are poor, but they are not food insecure. US corn is being forced onto Mexico (including Monsanto’s GM corn) and will find its way to Oaxaca soon enough, which will put further economic pressure on indigenous folks. Haiti has been flooded with cheap, subsidized US rice and it has devastated their rural areas, forcing millions (literally) to go to the cities. Port-au-Prince grew incredibly fast and therefore in a way that left it even more vulnerable to natural disaster. Restore the rural areas by taking away forced foreign imports, and already people’s lives will improve.

      We’ve had enough exploitation by foreign masters in Haiti, don’t you think? We really don’t need to add sub-par factories to the list.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Like I said, when the (foreign)government are involved, the natives are screwed….everyone can’t work on the farms, which should be mechanized in this modern era…there is a whole industry there, self-produce and service your own farm equipment

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Yeah, because mechanized farms has done wonders for us Americans who are so fat that it’s bankrupting the economy just trying to keep us alive into old age because of the shitty food we eat. Building nice, neo-liberal factories to pen up the uneducated Haitians in sweatshops where they can help some Pseudo-American arch-capitalist turn a profit in exchange for pennies isn’t the answer.

          How do you give aid more effectively? Stop extracting $1.50 from them via ‘free-trade’ predatory capitalism for every $1.00 we send them in aid for starters. We may be shocked to see how well these developing nations developed if we stop kicking apart their nations and supporting coups every time their governments try to protect their citizens from rapacious American corporate interests.

          That’s why nations that we DON’T aid do better (if you completely disregard all of the aid successes like the Marshall plan): we don’t aid ‘enemies’ and ‘enemies’ don’t let us tell them how to run their nations – for American profit. It has nothing to do with the aid itself, and everything with recognizing OUR comfort comes as the result of vast human suffering worldwide to support our overfed, arrogant lifestyles. All that extra flesh you have to run off on expensive gym equipment is flesh stolen off the bodies of dead and starving people in poor nations.

          That’s what makes this Brooks screed so galling – Haiti HAS been doing what we say, and it resulted in shanty towns and crushing poverty for them and nice profitable sweat shops for rich Americans. If they did as we do, we would be bombing them actively.

          So don’t build factories, build schools. Educated Haitians would know enough to tell us to go fuck ourselves.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            RE:Yeah, because mechanized farms has done wonders for us Americans who are so fat that it’s bankrupting the economy just trying to keep us alive into old age because of the shitty food we eat.

            Half the world is trying to get here and he our shitty food in freedom

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    Matt, you’re one of the shining beacons of political journalism on the Internet. My eyes always light up when a new article pops up in your RSS feed. Your similes are things of ugly beauty and your fearlessness is a refreshingly honest spring to a parched truth-seeker.

    But I think you’ve rather missed the mark this time. However distasteful David Brooks’ timing is on this, he’s largely right that we don’t know what we’re doing with international aid. Since Bob Geldof got up on stage with Live Aid in the 80s, how much has Africa benefited? Not much has changed. We’re doing something wrong somewhere.

    We should still be collecting money to help these people *survive* (I don’t think Brooks says we should stop), but whatever we’re currently doing to help them *develop* isn’t working.

    And whilst I gleefully enjoy your ad hominem attacks most of the time, your over-long (no pun intended) commentary on dongs in this piece, Brooks’ and others, just seems a bit… I dunno, for shock-value only.

    FYI I’ve donated to Haiti and have regular payments set up to charities like Medecins sans Frontiers and the British Red Cross, which I disclose not to show how wonderful I am, but to show where I’m coming at this from.

    We need to continue to help Haiti and other 3rd world countries, largely because we fucked them up in the first place, but whatever we’re doing now isn’t really working. Brooks is just some minor columnist with a bad sense of timing, but he’s right about that.

    • collapse expand

      Timing is everything. It would be one thing if Brooks wrote this column a month ago. But when you choose to write a column blasting a country for its lack of an “achievement culture” ten minutes into a massive natural disaster, you have a serious empathy problem.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        A-fucking-men.

        I dream of Brooks reading this… and the immediate realization of what a soulless pinhead he is causes his questionable endowment to shrivel and fold up into his body and begin ovulating.

        Maybe then, when given the capacity to bring life into this world, he would develop a tad more respect (decorum?) for those literally going through Hell at this moment.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        On the flip side, PBS Newshour’s prescience leaves something to be desired as well. I noticed the day of the earthquake that this popped onto my podcast list the morning (here) of the quake:

        http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/social_issues/jan-june10/haiti_01-11.html

        “What a strange earthquake story!” I thought. They even used the word “crushing” in the title. You can’t make this shit up.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        When the story of the earthquake in Haiti broke my first thought was of assembling a contingency including friends who had just returned from relief missions in Africa. My second thought was of doing extra due diligence on the area, knowing that Haitians had a reputation as being among the most unsavory of characters in the Western Hemisphere.

        This notion was reinforced by stern warnings in the media for ordinary citizens not to attempt to travel to Haiti to offer assistance, and for professional relief workers with at least 10 years’ experience in specifically requested areas of rescue, medical, and engineering expertise only to apply to join officially established channels. Of course, this could have been prompted more by the physical danger involved in working in a fragile environment. Whatever the case, homework was in order.

        Here are a couple of sources. Are they authoritative enough for you? Notice the dates. This is what it was like in Haiti *before* the prison collapsed, and the inmates escaped:

        http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1134.html
        (see subheadings under “Safety and Security” and “Crime”)

        https://www.osac.gov/Reports/report.cfm?contentID=61647

        Excerpts:

        “U.S. citizens in Haiti should avoid all large gatherings.”

        “There are no ’safe’ areas in Haiti. There is a persistent danger of violent crime, which can be subject to periodic surges sometimes not obviously explained by other events or conditions.”

        i.e.: it doesn’t require a catastrophe.

        “Haiti is among the four most important countries for drug transit to the United States.”

        And the traffickers are expected to simply disappear during this crisis?

        “Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti.”

        Oh yeah, sounds like David Brooks is full of crap.

        The idea that Mr. Brooks’ column shows a lack of empathy because it wasn’t written before the tragedy is empty. He wrote the article when the subject became relevant. Effectively, though, the column was written for him before this disaster struck, by no less an authority than the U.S. Department of State. Berating David for pointing out what others lack the (in your own words) courage to say is low.

        If you want to assert that skin color or penis length is involved here, that’s your prerogative, but it’s not anything I was ever thinking about. Maybe consideration of those things is part of David’s makeup, maybe it isn’t, but I have to question why such thoughts cross your mind so readily.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Wait, wait, wait, wait…..you mean extreme poverty and illiteracy can lead to endemic crime?

          I heard a report on the news where the Haitians were paying France reparations for the slave plantations lost to revolution until 1947!! Over one hundred years of fuckery.

          France has vampires too!

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            msinformed:

            Echoing Mr. Brooks, all we need do is reference rural China. Many orders of magnitude more poverty and illiteracy exist there than in Haiti. Yet there is no commensurate relationship with crime, with a rate lower than that in the United States.

            The difference and impetus is cultural, not environmental. Your argument holds no water.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Matt, I totally see where you’re coming from here, but I didn’t quite see it the way you did.

        It’s not a finger-wagging at Haitians for being grossly non-middle class, as much as it is a cautionary tale for the next disaster.

        Earthquake in Bam, earthquake in China, tsunami, wherever it happens — moving forward we need to rethink how we can best prepare people (and their institutions) to have the best chance for survival. All Brooks is saying is you can’t defeat poverty (and thus increase disaster survivability) by throwing money at people.

        Part of me wants to say that if Brooks waits too long to write it, there will be too much institutional inertia and we won’t see the sort of recovery that would render future disasters less debilitating.

        The other part of me wants to throttle Brooks, because not only are the bodies not cold, many are still trapped and not yet dead. You are correct that context is everything, and his timing blows.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          The problem is that Brooks blames culture. Trade policy and “anti-communist” warlords, oh excuse me, dictators, ruined that country, not culture. It’s just another example of bullshit american exceptionalism. And Brooks shows it in his uniquely elitist, douchish way.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I’m surprised Brooks didn’t say this will work out “very well for the Haitians” the way Katrina worked out “very well” for the displaced hurricane victims, Laura Bush style. It probably took a lot of restraint on his part.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Matt, I think you completely miss the mark here. Brooks is writing about our approach to poverty and aid, not our response to the earthquake. There is nothing in this piece to suggest that he is opposed to providing aid and supporting those organizations on the ground in responding on this disaster. When you interpret him as saying things like “don’t bother giving any money,” you are doing a disservice to those of us who try to think honestly about what this earthquake means in the long-term. To my mind, Brooks adds an important consideration to what is a very crowded conversation about Haiti right now: that as we go forward – not just in the following months, but in the years ahead – we need to be candid about the limits and lessons of foreign aid. It would have been nice if you directed your response to that, rather than a childish swipe at Brooks.

        On the timing issue, I don’t think it is as callous as you put it. A lot of things have been said about Haiti and the earthquake, and Brooks presents a different way to consider it. It doesn’t exclude empathy or assistance in the present period, but it takes the moment – when the public’s attention is focused on Haiti – to make a point that people need to hear. If he made the point a month ago, or a month from today, as you might prefer, it would have less resonance. I think you jumped the gun.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          thirdparty,
          In your post you miss the rhetorical strategy that Mr. Brooks so blatantly uses in his editorial. The political fatalism that is expressed by the quotation from Abhijit Banerjee, ‘It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control.’ The quotation, from another source, to buttress your own version of a kind of fatality that gives permission to passivity, that negates action: in essence a philosophical stand against any act of meliorism. A stance that reifies the bastardized Social Darwinist ethos of the post 1980’s Republican Party and its Conservative strategists and apologists. Tangentially, the Southern Strategy pre-existed as a fact of Republican’s embrace of racism as Kevin Phillips articulated in 1970.Even the final paraphrase of the doyen of American political and cultural Imperialism, Samuel P. Huntington, should be the final rhetorical clue that Mr. Taibbi is absolutely right in his critical analysis of Mr. Brooks’ editorial. Not to speak of the earlier mention of Lawrence E. Harrison co-editor with Mr. Huntington of ‘ Culture Matters: how values shape Human Progress.’

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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          hear, hear. perfect read of both David’s point and Matt’s miss.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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          ThirdParty, You miss the mark completely.

          Brooks singles out China as a counterexample. How many people died in China’s last earthquake?

          Brooks says Haiti is like DR in climate and natural resources. Has Brooks read Jared Diamond on Haiti’s geographic differences that leads to a completely different climate?

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Matt, I think I love you! Spot on as usual. You’re the only writer I find who consistently has the balls to tell it exactly like it is. Good work! We need you.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        I agree that the timing of this piece was not just insensitive, but really a signal for how detached people can be when it’s not their loved ones being buried alive.

        That being said, I don’t think everything Brooks wrote was complete garbage and I read it in a different way. I took him to be saying, essentially, that the approach in aid to Haiti for so many years has simply not worked, at least not measurably so. Is he wrong? As he stated, that’s not to knock the efforts of individuals there, and it’s certainly not to say “do nothing”. But certain things do have to be considered. And if you want to believe that culture has absolutely nothing to do with it, that’s pretty narrow-minded. Personally, I believe culture and politics are inextricable.

        You imply that for Brooks to even bring culture into the conversation is coded language for propagating eugenics or some shit like that. But I see it from the flip side. To ban culture from the conversation about politics is to deny the human impact of the politics and history of colonialism and foreign exploitation. Countries are not machines in need of repair. You can’t just buy new parts. And this is what America does everywhere. We throw money at problems. And yes, money right now is good because they need it in the most immediate, urgent way. But it is going to take a lot more than that in the long run. In the meantime, while survivors are still being dug out alive and people are applying toothpaste to their nostrils to cover up the stench of corpses, I guess all this talk is pretty fucking meaningless.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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          Well said. Brooks is being insensitive, but is not entirely off the mark. Simply put, microaid is so much little band-aids in a country that needs something monumental. But while the Haitian people wait for monumental, I’ll keep sending band-aids. Why? Because it makes me feel good to do it. Because it spreads the message that doing something is better than doing nothing. And because goodness begets goodness. And who knows? My small giving might just be the thing that helps feed, educate and care for the child who will bring monumental to Haiti.

          p.s. Taibbi – you lost me four and a quarter inches in.

          Noreen

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Too early? I am sure that the Haitians were really upset when they were reading the opinion pages of the New York Times on Sunday.

        Hmmm. A newspaper columnist writes about the big picture of a tragedy… when really he should have written a column that — if it mentioned Haiti at all — it should have been about the empathy he feels for the people.

        I think you might be on LSD again.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Yes, timing is everything and Brooks’ is egregiously bad. That said, you have to admit that any discussion on changing the way we approach foreign aid in the wake of a disaster wouldn’t get much press or government attention unless such a disaster occurred.

        I just finished reading “Stones Into Schools” by Greg Mortenson of “Three Cups of Tea” fame. While his underlying mission is to combat terrorism by building schools that girls can attend, thereby creating a direct correlation to less support for fundamentalism to take root in poor communities in Central Asia, I think a similar approach can be applied to combat the corruption and poverty cycle in places like Haiti. Yes, it’s a long term approach that people like Brooks might not have the patience for, but it’s a start.

        Haiti literally has a clean slate right now. How will we help them use it to their best advantage, once the rubble has cleared and the dead are buried?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Matt
        You are so correct on so many levels. The one thing missed that Rachel Maddow enlightened us on last evening was that France made Haiti pay reparations since their revolution and it was not paid off until the 1940s (in the billions of dollars in today’s $), which was replaced by other debt (to institutions like the IMF). Bottom line – over half their spending goes to debt (which some is now forgiven). No wonder they are poor!

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        You hit it on the nose, Matt. Empathy: The ability to get beyond one’s accumulated bias, whether social, economic or ideological,and put yourself in the other guy’s shoes because there but for the grace of God or fate go I. This is lost on pundits who are so profoundly in love with their own opinions that they see no need to look elsewhere for answers or understanding.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        “Timing is everything. It would be one thing if Brooks wrote this column a month ago. But when you choose to write a column blasting a country for its lack of an “achievement culture” ten minutes into a massive natural disaster, you have a serious empathy problem.”

        ———————————–

        OK Matt. Then let’s remove the timing and subsequent empathy issues you have with Brooks column.

        You said it would be “one thing” if he had written it a month ago.

        So specifically what “thing” would that be?

        Would you agree with him had he written it before the disaster? Basically all he’s saying is that time and again history has shown that indeed the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

        This all smacks of you feeling the need to throw some red meat to the ardent liberals here because as many of your other posts and articles have clearly demonstrated, you’re pick for President has turned out to be nothing more than a Corporatist and you’re somehow trying to make up for that reality by going after Brooks.

        And why do you keep going after him about the Christian aspect? That’s kind of a weird tack to take in light of the fact that the vast majority of Haitians are Christians.

        Talk about bad timing and lack of empathy!

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Mr. Taibbi,

        I’m surprised by this, but frankly, I find Mr. Brooks timing to be rather bold and positive. Had he written his column any time in the past ten years, it would have been ignored. Mr. Brooks isn’t particularly eloquent, and he certainly hasn’t revealed himself to be one of the “great thinkers” of our time, but your critique of his column on Haiti is shockingly reactionary and anti-intellectual.

        I’ve admired some of your writings on other topics, which appeared to be carefully researched and thoughtfully crafted, but this one makes you appear to be irrationally blinded by some rage, or perhaps by the guilt of the privileged. Perhaps Mr. Brooks is tweeting a racist dog whistle, but that’s not as clear as you claim. Development economics, at the heart of Mr. Brooks’ observations, struggles to grow in the centuries-long shadows of slavery, racism, imperialism, and religious war. Unfortunately, it’s a more modern shadow which most likely prevents success of the field.

        Positing a cultural influence in economic development has long — since the birth of the academic sub-discipline — been unpopular, and risks bringing the wrath of dogmatic purveyors of cultural relativism down upon oneself. You’ve unleashed that wrath in its ugliest form.

        Seriously, is the prospect that a cultural value for literacy and child rearing might affect a nation’s prospects for development so abhorrent to you? Is there no place in the discussion (of how to help Haiti, in the long term) for a consideration that religious influences might affect the economic and political decisions that people make, which might in turn influence a nation’s prospects for development? Sadly, perhaps not, though not due to a fear of paternalistic attitudes toward VoDou — Haiti is also Christian and Catholic.

        Traditionally, the American “right wing” fears those ideas, fears their very discussion, because we might next reflect upon the affect of religion on our own culture. e.g. Will we remain in endless asymmetrical war with Islam, until we acknowledge that one (perhaps twisted) theology drives the Taliban and Al Queda, and another (perhaps also twisted) theology may affect American foreign policy toward predominantly Islamic nations? (Other example issues abound, contributing to continual tension between our constitutionally ensconced tolerance for religion, against religion’s intolerance for other religion and difference of opinion, which shows up in a variety of purely domestic debates.)

        Must any suggestion that we are ignoring significant variables in our models for economic development be quashed immediately by accusations of paternalism and racism? Must you stoop so low as to carve the word “nigger” on a bar of soap and try to force it into the mouth of the opposition? I expected so much better, from you, Mr. Taibbi. If you’re to convince me that Mr. Brooks is motivated by racism in this matter, you’ll need to build a better case.

        Of concern, you also apparently feel superior (to Mr. Brooks, and presumably to me) from having lived ten years with the natives, further evidenced by your unabashed use of the seriously outdated, and to some minds condescending term, “Third World”.

        I admit the (scant) possibility that you’ve employed the term sardonically, as I have the term “the natives” — as a mirror in which you might see your reflection; I’m sure you know, those living outside the industrialized nations prefer to be called “developing nations”, and “people”. You accuse Mr. Brooks of paternalism, without awareness of your own such propensity.

        By the way, the field of development economics employs a curious term (which hasn’t yet entered common parlance in American political discourse) for nations like Haiti, which are not “developing” by any meaningful measure, “Least Developed Countries”. Roughly 50 other countries fall into this category with Haiti. If we, paternalistically or otherwise, figure out how to “fix” our approach to long term development aid in Haiti, right in our own back yard, the potential benefits of those lessons could be magnified tremendously, to the benefit of the entire world. If instead, we eschew the opportunity to reflect on our profound failures in Haiti and the other Least Developed Countries, we will continue to throw good money after bad, long, long after the immediate aftermath of this terrible tragedy has been swept under the rug of history.

        Mr. Brooks did not call for a suspension of immediate crisis aid to Haiti. He didn’t even imply that such aid would be wasted. He clearly stated, in sections you quoted, a concern with the longer term prospects, and on the face of it, he’s got at least one really important thing right. If Haiti is not to be forgotten or “forsaken”, then we must indeed examine directly, unflinchingly, the decades long failure of foreign aid in Haiti.

        It certainly appears that the basic claims about development economics and Haiti made by Mr. Brooks in his column are not, or at least should not be, controversial. Haiti is undeniably the poster child for the failure of development economics. A few minutes with an internet connection and Google will easily demonstrate that Haiti has been considered for some time, even by proponents of foreign aid and development assistance, to be a dramatic failure of development aid.

        Here’s a place to start:

        Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed
        http://www.napawash.org/haiti_final.pdf

        Please consider the problem of long term development aid to Haiti more seriously. It’s a thorny problem, to be sure, but one worthy of a more adroit and vigilant application of your (generally admirable) intellect, talent, and energy.

        – Gary W. Longsine

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        I agree, timing is everything. I don’t think this is a case of empathy deficiency as much as it is a deliberate attempt to generate page views through controversial, shock value garble…

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        He not only demonstrates a lack of empathy but blindly shows ignorance by implying we’re an example of their need to overcome corruption and develop a solid middle class based progressive societal structure despite the fact we’ve been bankrupted and our middle class is evaporating due to the very same practices. But maybe that’s just me looking at it incorrectly.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        I guess a lot of people went over this already, but I’ll join the chorus – I think yours was a kneejerk and kind of pointless criticism of Brooks.

        Thing is, there’s a good chance he’s right. I mean, Afghanistan is a much bigger shithole for having a culture that is based in misogynistic tribalism. I don’t see why this can’t be true for Haiti as well.

        Being from a post-Soviet country myself, I saw firsthand how even a place that has a very high level of education and industrialization can go to seed because of the lack of a culture of governance, and the people’s lack of faith in the possibility of an honest and transparent government.

        To bring it back to earthquakes, there was a massive quake in my country that destroyed a whole city to the ground and left 25,000 dead. A quake of the same magnitude in California the same year had a death toll of 2. There’s footage of buildings sinking into the ground – they were built with substandard materials because of widespread theft of construction materials by the people in charge of the projects. The culture of corruption killed tens of thousands of people.

        If Brooks’s point is that a country can’t rise on charity alone, and that it needs a competent government, then I can totally accept the extended argument that such a government won’t emerge till the culture changes.

        As for the deleterious effect of certain religions on society, boy, I could tell you plenty about that too, but enough for now.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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      The dong talk made it one of the greatest pieces of writing I’ve read in a LONG time! It’s dark humor, very funny dark humor.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    When your identity is defined by the need to constantly justify a quasi-religious concept like the “free market” hypothesis, I guess it’s tough to concentrate on just helping people. It is probably exacerbated by being paid to take asshole positions.

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    Leaving Brooks’ personality aside, I think it is fair for people to question the effectiveness of their donations.

    To me, Brooks didn’t say don’t help because it’s pointless. It sounded to me like he was saying that after the region is stabilized, we need to make aid more effective in actually helping people instead of lining the pockets of corrupt governments.

    It wasn’t too long ago that the South-East Asia and tsunami/earthquake hit. Six years later, just how much has the life of regular citizens improved, given the billions of dollars in aid those countries receive? I couldn’t find a single news story on it. The only thing I could find is a 2005 report by the “Tsunami Evaluation Coalition” and Wikipedia entry, which says that in Indonesia only 30% of people eligible for aid actually got it.
    source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanitarian_response_to_the_2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami_Evaluation_Coalition

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      “To me, Brooks didn’t say don’t help because it’s pointless. It sounded to me like he was saying that after the region is stabilized, we need to make aid more effective in actually helping people instead of lining the pockets of corrupt governments.”

      The problem with this argument is that, well, everybody knows this. Everybody knows that you want to give aid in an effective way — I mean, who would actually disagree with that?

      But why sit there and point out such an obvious fact while at the same time insulting Haiti’s culture? It’s “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, darnit!” in next to no time after a gigantic natural disaster has just devastated the island. It’s remarkably tone-deaf and remarkably and wildly off base.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        I don’t deny that his timing is way off and that he looks like a douche for it.

        What I was trying to say is that I think he made a valid point that rich nations need to seriously reconsider the way their aid is delivered/implemented because the current system doesn’t work.

        Cultural norms do have an impact on the effectiveness of development. I don’t know how anyone can say that without insulting any given culture. It’s insulting, just as it is culturally insensitive to say that female circumcision is not okay. People get away with doing a lot of bullshit by resorting to the explanation ‘but it’s my culture!’

        I can’t speak to the cultural component of Haiti’s poverty specifically because I don’t know much about Haitian culture.

        But I think that it’s undeniable that there is a cultural component to poverty. From personal experience, I can certainly testify to the truth of that.

        When I graduated high school, and was applying to universities, I could not get my guidance counselor or my teachers to write me letters of recommendations to “ivy league” schools. They gave me quizzical looks as if to say “Who the hell do you think you are wanting to go to there?” One of my friends, who wanted to be a stock broker, was advised by another guidance counselor that he didn’t need a university degree; all he needed to do was to take a few community college courses.

        When I did get into an ivy league college, and worked part time at a fast food place, those of us who were working students were treated with derision, especially when we requested days off to study. “Why are you going to school when you already have a job?”

        Personal anecdotes don’t make an argument, so I’ll conclude with this: don’t Americans debate the fact that supposedly too many students are going to college instead of directly into the workforce through apprenticeship programs at community colleges?

        Perhaps not so coincidentally the GINI coefficient (measure of income inequality) is lowest among the countries where it’s not culturally acceptable to be uneducated? If the GINI coefficient is too inhumane for you, here’s a human poverty map constructed by the University of Sheffield http://www.wacra.org/WORLD%20POVERTY%20MAP.pdf. Their “human poverty index” takes into account non-financial elements of poverty such as underweight children, life expectancy, adult literacy, water quality, etc.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        It’s a strange thing to me that so many people are more afraid of giving charitably and somehow getting screwed (in whatever context) than they are compelled by the humane impulse to give to others in distress. I’m sure part of this is a self-serving excuse never to give anything at all, but other aspects of it seem almost pathological in the fear they reveal of being taken advantage of on the basis of one’s own generosity, which seems to register within this mindset as a weakness or vulnerability. And then, of course, Brooks is just an effete little twat.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Carnivorousdanus, I was thinking the exact same thing. Reading Brooks’ column, I immediately thought of Naomi Klein’s writing. But, that seems to apply to countries with a lot of economic potential for outsiders. Were the beach property developers knocking on Haiti’s door before this disaster, like they were before the tsunami in Asia?

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    What neither you nor Brooks talk about is the role of the US in keeping Haiti poor, indebted and undemocratic for decades.

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    This is weird. I went in an read the oped straight through, and seems that Brooks is trying really really hard to dole out tough Christian love. Either that or he’s quite purposely slipping through the notion that God gave the Haitians what they deserved and we should let them deal with it.

    Here he is discussion Nieburh with Krista Tippett and EJ Dionne on Speaking of Faith (http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2009/obamas-theologian/transcript.shtml):

    >”Mr. Brooks: You know, to me faith plays in politics, because it embodies a view of human nature. If you, as you just suggested, have a view of human nature that human beings are born innocent and are made corrupt by institutions then a series of policies flow from that.

    >Ms. Tippett: And can’t be fixed by institutions.

    >Mr. Brooks: Right. And some of those policies will involve liberating the individual from the oppression of phonics, you know, or other educational things, or the liberation from the traditional family. If, however, you have a view of human nature that is people are born with certain tragic qualities, you could be religious or not….

    >Mr. Brooks: And so — but if you have a more tragic view, as Lincoln did, as I think Niebuhr did, and as I think Obama did, then that implies a different set of policies. And basically what it implies — and I think this is completely borne out by evolutionary theory as exemplified by E.O. Wilson and others — which is that people are born with certain naturally nasty proclivities and therefore you need institutions to civilize them, tame them, uplift them. And therefore, it’s not a question of are you using government or not using government; it’s what are you using it for.

    >And if you are using government to surround individuals with institutions, whether it’s a two-parent family or, as Obama wants to do, spread something called the Harlem Children’s Zone around the country. The Harlem Children’s Zone is a project run by a guy name Geoffrey Canada in Harlem and basically he said, ‘Education alone won’t solve the problems of the kids in my area of Harlem, family policies alone, income policies alone, food stamp policies alone, aftercare, pre-K, none of that stuff alone will work. You have to do it all.’ And so what the Harlem Children’s Zone is, is an intense all-purpose 360-degree effort to surround kids with responsible bourgeois adult institutions. And during the campaign Obama was very drawn to this model and said, ‘I want to create something like this in a lot of cities around the country.’ And I think that desire to create institutions, structures, around individuals rather than letting them be free to be you and me grows out of a certain view of human nature.”

    So Brooks can have t both ways in his world.

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      Jeez, Tippett was interviewing Brooks? There’s an example of true Christian fortitude.

      The problem with Brooks’ (implied) view that human beings have “naturally nasty proclivities” that have to be tamed and reined in by social constructs like civilization, is that those very constructs ALSO arise out of natural human proclivities, else how could they have appeared? And if one believes that, then one must concede that all human beings are also born with some very decent and moral proclivities. The problem with the conservative view, and Brooks’ view in particular, is this idea that only a certain segment of humanity has made it to civilization, while the rest hunker down in darkness and error, awaiting bwana.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    oh goodie Mr Brooks is going to tell us those pesky Negroes’ problems are because they aren’t an “achievement driven society”. Shazam, I didnt know that. I mean gee whiz Mr. Brooks “those people” would realy much rather sing, dance and F!@# than make CDO’s to flood the world finicial market with, well I guess they deserve their come uppens, because we all know the Lord is a just God and only rewards the most deserving in life.

    love the comparision that the nice educated elites make between Haiti and the Dominican Republic because they know their auidence is a bunch of ignorant peasants and Mr Brooks goes so far as to compare Haiti with China, well guess that is what all third world nations need… a good dose of Communism or at least command economy that is geared to developing the entirety of the society and not the chosen few

    hello Mr. Brooks here is a simple condenced history lesson of why Haiti is F!@$#ed UP

    http://books.zcommunications.org/chomsky/year/year-c08-s01.html

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    It’s odd that few people in the msm point out how the U.S. has had a prominent role in fucking over Haiti for a century or two. Maybe David Brooks doesn’t know or doesn’t care about it, but the fact is Haiti would have been better off if various foreign influences had left them the fuck alone. On counterpunch today there’s an article highlighting this history for anyone who is not aware: http://www.counterpunch.org/quigley01182010.html

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    You missed something Matt: you forgot to address a single fact in his column. Can you disprove anything that he said?

    You don’t have the right to spew venom at people for pointing out facts just because they violates your religion of equality.

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      If by “facts” you mean “spurious assumptions based on smug ignorance and donkey-headed stereotypes”, I’d say Taibbi pretty well nailed it. If by “facts” you mean “statements that can be demonstrated to be true by objective evidence”, well, there would have to be some in the body of Brooks’ essay in the first place.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      “The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty.”

      actually we do, we have reduced the levels of poverty amougst the elderly in this country since the 30’s via a massive redistribution campaign, which has drastically increased their quality of life and lifespan…could a similiar redistribution work for the world’s poor? maybe, but maybe allowing them to control their own natural resources and giving the equal access without penelty to the world markets would help.

      “Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world.”

      really? what study is Mr Brooks citting? IMF, World Bank? what exactly? Because those with enough intellect know that AID comes with massive amount of strings, and is used to break open societies by dominant world powers, one doesnt go into a third world nation for any other reason than to extract resources be they natural or cheap labor, the economic forces of the planet aren’t doing Christian charity because their NeoLibrealism respects no other value than maximizing returns

      “The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions.”

      they are also countries that have failed to bow before the great NeoLibrialism Paradigm

      Sorry there wasn’t many facts to dispute in Brooks column it was filled with the standard generalities and boosterism of Neolibrealism that normal accompany his works or Friedmans or others whose job it is to offer pleasing words to their and our owners…If we could just get those people back in the fields cutting cane for free their lives would be so much better.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      “You missed something Matt: you forgot to address a single fact in his column. Can you disprove anything that he said?”

      Exactly. It’s lucky for Matt that his fans consider personal insult a form of advanced commentary. What would REALLY help things would be for David to insult Matt’s penis size in return, after which Matt could say, “So’s your old man! Who, obviously, also had an even smaller penis, and who probably dressed up in women’s clothing, and who probably got beat up on the playground when he was a sissy little kid,” and so on.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Actually, Mr. Tiabbi does have the right to write what he wants to write. Just like you have the right to invoke your pathetic shame-based whine against what he writes.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    The Driftglass blog regularly vivisects the “work” of David F***ing Brooks. And the rest of the MSM “mouse circus”. Check him out at:
    http://driftglass.blogspot.com/search/label/David%20Brooks

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    I am simply in awe of your abilities. To dismantle this jackalope so cleanly, so surgically after his sanctimonious screed.
    A call for people to NOT help?? sweet.
    The callousness is rooted back in some poli-sci class with required blinders. I wonder if Brooks has ever just travelled around any third-world without a first-class ticket and a limo driver?

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    taibbistalker,

    You’re missing the point. Brook’s article is mostly a bunch of nonsense about Haiti solving it’s problems with some good xtian love, with added gumption and elbow grease for good measure. Brooks goes out of his way to ignore the possibility that maybe the treatment of Haiti from western governments, the IMF, and the world bank might have something to do with the state Haiti has been in for so long.

    More importantly, it’s the poorest country in the hemisphere dealing with the aftermath of a fucking earthquake. If everyone followed Brooks’s lead on this, Haiti will devolve into something worse than the hell on earth it already is.

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    I have to join with those who say it’s not unfair to point out there are cultures that waste most of their energy on internal conflict and seem to have little capacity for organizing the pooling of resources to build infrastructures (physical and social) to promote the public good. Brooks is merely tone-deaf and badly timed to pick NOW of all times, to bring it up.

    However, the “failure” to respond to western aid efforts is not entirely surprising. The two best things I have read on the subject are the blistering critique of african aid by former aid worker Michael Maren in his book “The Road To Hell”, summarized and critiqued here by Foreign Affairs:

    http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/52653/david-rieff/charity-on-the-rampage-the-business-of-foreign-aid

    …and a recent article in the Atlantic about getting a very simple development (a business to turn pomegranates into Body Shop essential oils) going in Afghanistan. The “aid” organizations were a hinderance, not a help.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200712/afghans

    The very short version: we’re about as good at creating industrialized societies by sending in aid workers as we are at creating democracy by sending in soldiers. Both organizations tend to go into the field with their own agendas, not so much to really ’serve’ the countries they enter…for all the good intentions and idealism of the employees on the ground.

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    Strong words, but no solutions. …C’mon Matt!!!

    I sincerely suggest you turn your penetrating gaze to where aid *has* helped. Where did it happen? What type of aid was given?

    Don’t look at me to do this for you. I’m not the one getting paid to report. All I do for free is to point out when you fall on your face but can’t see it.

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      deleted account

      Unlike Brooks, I actually lived in the Third World for ten years and I admit it — I’m not exactly in the habit of sending checks to Abkhazian refugees, mainly because I’m not interested in buying some local Russian gangster a new Suzuki Samurai to tool around Sochi in. And I’ve actually seen what happens to the money people think they’re giving to Russian orphanages goes, so no dice there, either.

      But you know what? Next time there’s an earthquake in Russia or Georgia, I’m probably going to wait at least until they’re finished pulling the bodies of dead children out of the rubble before I start writing articles blasting a foreign people for being corrupt, lazy drunks with an unsatisfactorily pervasive achievement culture whose child-rearing responsibilities might have to be yanked from them by with-it Whitey for their own good.

      An earthquake is nobody’s fault. There’s nothing to do after a deadly earthquake but express remorse and feel sorry. It’s certainly not the time to scoff at all the victim country’s bastard children and put it out there on the Times editorial page that if these goddamned peasants don’t get their act together after a disaster this big, it might just be necessary to start swinging the big stick of Paternalism.

      I mean, shit, that’s what Brooks is doing here — that last part of the piece is basically a threat, he’s saying that Haiti might have to be FORCED to adopt “middle-class assumptions” and an “achievement ethos” because they’re clearly incapable of Americanizing themselves at a high enough rate of speed to please Brooks. That’s this guy’s immediate reaction to 50,000 people crushed to death in an earthquake. Dude is nuts.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    I was appalled when I read this Brooks screed. Thank you Matt for finding the words to describe the disgust and disbelief I felt at Brooks’ smug take on a humanitarian crisis. Aside from being pure blame-the-victim it trots out conservative economic platitudes as if they are truths in order to justify the blaming. And in addition to writing this tripe so close the disaster in Haiti Brooks seems blithely unaware of the economic disaster his fellow conservatives so recently wrought by following the commandments of Reaganomics and neoliberal economics. Let us not forget other bits of recent history during which our government was complicit in economically undermining successive democratically elected Haitian governments. If Brooks and his misguided fellows have their way, our country will be looking more like Haiti rather than less in the future, and we’ll still be blaming the victims of their hubris and greed.

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    It would be easy enough to satirize Brooks (I already made my comment attached to his article, the same morning it came out, saying roughly what you did, in short form) by having some Haitian columnist write an op-ed after 9/11 talking about how Americans are suffering from their modernistic culture, forcing them all to work in glass and steel towers, or their foreign policy or military escapades… Or else pretending to be some French farmer or restaurant owner writing a piece about how the diet, or stress, or whatever it is that makes Americans have astronomical rates of heart disease compared to the French (or Japanese or Swiss or Italians or etc etc), or some shepherd in Khazakstan writing about the truly enormous amount of deaths we suffer from automobile accidents, clearly the result of our industrial sickness which has led us astray…

    but what would be the point, if David Brooks can’t already see how arrogant and absurd his writing is, he never will.

    My favorite part was the comparison to San Francisco, as if the earthquake safety standards of the very richest places on the entire planet should be easily replicable simply anywhere, if they’d only get rid of that voodoo and become good Christians. Because every Christian ON THE PLANET lives in a community as rich and technologically advanced as San Francisco, didn’t everyone know that?

    He just becomes more absurd, every week.

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    When I was in the Peace Corps. in Senegal, I always felt like the Senegalese people could develop if they wanted to, but don’t. I, however, don’t think it’s a culture thing, but a poverty thing. Poverty is not a very motivating thing when you have an extreme lack of natural resources. I also think American development organizations and NGOs blow a lot of smoke up people’s bums. But that’s a different story.

    I’m the first one to criticize American aid for poverty in developing nations, but I wouldn’t be absurd enough to think that the standards for surviving a major earthquake are easily accessible through the promotion of ending poverty and changing culture. Sometimes bad things just happen, and there’s no need for blame. That’s why this entire article that Brooks has written is not only a very badly timed article, but one that shouldn’t even be written. He’s making points and illustrating examples that simply don’t make sense here.

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    Haiti has been and continues to be an experiment in destroying one economic system to replace it with another. Thanks to corporate America, the IMF, and the UN, Haiti went from having a large, stable, and sustainable agricultural base, to a country that sews clothing. Never mind the IMF economic forgiveness of $1.2 billion (corporate subsidies, anyone). However, make no mistake about it, the American worker is experiencing the same abuse, as the realities of outsourcing contribute to the perfect storm that is our modern day economic depression.

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    I think you are too harsh on Broder er Brokaw er Brooks….anyway whatever..its a B….Responsibility is what we cannot teach to heathens….which is why I am organizing a group of my banker friends and we are going to Haiti to see if they are interested in working on Wall Street with us. Our recent catastrophe will be viewed by historians for years to come as a model for “responsibility”. We overcame the collapse of our ponzi catastrophe and have bounced back nice. I just can’t understand why Haitians don’t regard this calamity as an “opportunity”…..we did….and thanks O for crackin the whip on us.hehehehhehee

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    The original apologist for brutality against the poor was Malthus, the world’s first professional economist. Conservative thinkers are still trotting him out 200 years after he wrote his famous essay. Both Darwin and Wallace (who discovered natural selection independently) were reading Malthus when the great insight hit them. Problem is, Malthus based his famed calculations on seriously flawed assumptions about the rate of human reproduction. As we explain in our book, Sex at Dawn (June, 2010, HarperCollins), he was off by a factor of 10,000! (Sorry for the shameless plug, but it’s relevant.) Malthus is still famous simply because his argument is useful to those in power. The fact that his argument is utterly incontinent matters little when compared to its usefulness.

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    Matt, I am glad you took up a story related to the Haitian disaster. I watched the CNN coverage over the weekend. I really was horrified with the coverage on so many levels. I am still amazed that cameras and celebrity reporters make it to desperate people before relief workers do. Did you see the 11 year girl, talking in agony to the reporter with the camera in her face? The locals started the process of amputating her leg to get her out just as they turned off the camera. (I was thinking, “Don’t do it yet!”, do they have an available blood supply? how are they going to stop the bleeding? no medical personal whatsoever…) Later the reporter tells Anderson Cooper that she died. Despite the journalist fervor for notoriety, I could tell this strongly affected him as he (and I) held back the tears. How many times has this story been played out the last few days?

    You are right, the timing of this editorial is way out of line. The religion crap is also out of place. These are real people suffering as any of us would given the same circumstance. Regardless of the validity of many of his points, now is not the time.

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    While David Brooks is certainly a pig, the interesting thing is how stupid he actually he is. I mean this guy represents the intellectual wing of the Republican party (ie he has a job at a “newspaper” and hates morons like Palin), but he’s just not an intelligent person.

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    I blame the French,the inexcusable emphasis on soccer has deprived Haiti of the wealth and notoriety of the Dominican Republic,any two year old could see the future is in dominant left handed pitching,just ask Charley Rangle.

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    I echo someone else’s question here–just what does Brooks say that is not true? Just what does MT suggest? I have noticed that T/S is hysterical about Brooks. Why is there a problem with pointing out that Haiti is overrun with aid organizations which seem to be unable to help in any basic way?

    Sure, Haiti has been mistreated for centuries by other nations. No doubt there are many other things about the nation’s history he could discuss, but does that mean we should not take a hard look at what we might need to help, I mean after we mitigate the effects of the earthquake?

    In no way is he suggesting we should not send money.

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      To all the Right-wing know-nothings posting to this stream: The lie that aid organizations have not helped haiti is just that, a lie. There are many people who have had safer births because of Partners in Health (www.pih.org) clinics. There are many children who are not eating dirt cookies because of Feed My Starving Children (www.fmsc.org). And there are many communities where human dignity has been raised because of the information contained in publications from Hesperian (www.hesperion.org).

      Bottom line: If non-profit organizations were not in Haiti, more mothers, fathers, sons, daughters….more people….would live out their truncated lives in greater misery and would die more horrible deaths. Period.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    p.s. Did I miss anything? Because I think that’s pretty much it.

    I can think of one. Brooks failed to pontificate on why Haiti paying more in reparations to France (150 million francs) than the US paid for the whole Louisiana Purchase (80 million francs) in the early 1800s was good for Haitians.

    Plus that US economic embargo directly after the revolution in Haiti, and continuing for generations, obviously taught the Haitians a lesson they are still learning.

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    Don’t interpret this as defending David Brooks, but what he and everyone else *aren’t* saying is this: “We don’t really understand how economies work.”

    All that aid hasn’t “helped” Haitians because we have no idea how to make a successful economy, let alone fix one. Take ours for example.

    Brooks is implicitly raising us up as the White Man’s Burden example by saying, “*We* have a successful economy… what’s the matter with them?”

    In reality, we don’t have a successful economy. We’ve just f*cked what we did have beyond all recognition and apparently “nobody” seems to know how to fix it.

    “The Rich provide the economy. Send $2T into Wall St. That didn’t work? Well, we’re out of ideas.”

    If anyone truly understood how to make large, stable economies, they’d be doing it.

    Americans (like everyone else) are experts at destroying shit, but have no idea how to build much. A few bridges and the occasional space shuttle and we’re patting each other on the backs like we’re fucking geniuses.

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    Now we know where Rush and Pat Robertson are getting their material.

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    Omg Matt I almost leapt out of my chair when i saw Brooks mention Huntington!

    Huntington! Shit in my politics classes we read him essentially to example complete intellectual dishonesty fueled by thinly veiled racism. I mean wow. For Brooks to site him is just beyond the pail.

    Huntington is best known for his ‘clash of civilizations’ theory formulated shortly after the Cold War which was henceforth taken up by neo-cons to justify imperialist action in the Middle East.

    These guys really never learn it seems

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    Wow. And I thought the ‘culture of poverty’ argument died with bell-bottoms. I guess everything really is new again.

  35. collapse expand

    You know, one thing that annoys me about the right wingers is anytime you POINT BLATANT HISTORICAL FACTS about past actions of our government, mainly in foreign policy and trade policy, they attack you for “blaming america first.” Oddly this is the same government whose leaders can’t hand out some free imitation cheese and stale bread, but they can never do anything wrong or misguided with the best military and a well funded and trained spy services. In there mind, the only people our government could possibly oppress is small business owners the rich white people.

    Several US policies were instituted, to serve our self-interest, that fucked over Haitians. Right from the start we didn’t recognize them as a country and made imports from Haiti illegal, effectively embargoing their biggest customer. The federal government did this to make the French happy and all the slave holding pricks didn’t want their fucking property to collectively rise up, revolt, and lynch them. Wilson occuppied them during his term with marines who stayed there until 1934. They were there to make sure that the haitian national bank paid its masters at City National, an investment they made conspicuously around the time Wilson sent troops. The marines also helped build the foundation for a military that always seemed to put in dictators who were total sick fucks who stole everything from the people and used the military to ruthlessly put down any resistance, but who cares because they’re anti-communist right?!

    My favorite thing about the coverage (and Brooks does this in this article) is how people point to the DR and say “look, see that beatiful place, Haiti must be haunted because of voodoo or they are just mindless savages who can’t function” are just blind to trade policy. And it was trade policy that benefited big business in the IS at the expense of the people. “Baby Doc,” who was one of these authoritarian animals, decided to cut import tariffs of all food at some point in the 70’s. Haiti soon became over run with cheap staples like rice. Farmers couldn’t compete with the prices of SUBSIDIZED GOODS and began going bankrupt. They usually went to the city to look for a job, but ended up in shanty towns. Broke people had to use wood for fuel and started cutting down all the trees and brush. After 30 years, they’ve pretty much gone through all of, all the way to the fucking border! No farms and overcrowded shanty towns all so Cargill could sell off their SUBSIDIZED shit at the expense of the Haitian’s farmers. I’m sure Baby Doc got a nice new bently or just a brief case full of cash for that one.

    So it’s not culture, its not fucking voodoo (sorry to patronize, I’m sure no 700 clubbers read alot of Taibbi), and it’s not a phenomenon. We fucked them over with our policies and the trade policy has made their entire country unable to support itself with the most important thing people need, food. Why do you think the first food riots from the rising food and oil prices happened in Haiti? We’ve made them dependant on imports, with led to barren farmland, and a bunch of poor people who needed wood to burn, a practice which destroyed the eco-system in only 30 years. Who said Haitians don’t work hard?

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    I’m not religious and generally don’t quote the bible, but this Brooks’ article (and your brilliant, empathic interpretation) reminds me of a passage best summed up in Eccl. 9:11

    I turned and saw that under the sun, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill; but chance and circumstance happeneth to them all.

  37. collapse expand

    David Brooks writes,

    “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.”

    I suppose one could use the same sort of twisted logic to argue that if an earthquake were to strike the Hamptons, killing scores of banksters in their tracks, we could blame this on voodoo economics. David Brooks is so full of it with his blame-the-victim nonsense that anyone with a pulse shouldn’t give him the time of day!

  38. collapse expand

    Okie, to give the man the benefit of a doubt he’s probably just read Moyo’s “Dead Aid” and is just trying it on for size.

    The problem is that not all aid is well, systemic aid. The arguments against constant aid streams and for local paternalism are directed against long-standing constant streams of aid, not against emergancy aid.

    These arguments may have some teeth, and that -may- be the point being clumsily made here. However, Moyo’s work was specifically on Africa. Haiti, while similar, is not likely to be able to do any of the alternate forms of funding governments need.

    If you have no government, no stability, and no hard-egde backers (by this I mean coutries that are really willing to stick it out with you, and make good on your promises if you are unable) you need to get at least two of these three things before real recovery can occur.

    That being said I do credit Brooks with at least acknowledging that there are issues, even if he is totally incorrect the very fact that he is incorrect will get people talking.

  39. collapse expand

    Brooks ignores the brutal history – he comments on colonialism, but he should have watched Rachel Maddow today – she gave a great and concise history of the clusterfuck that is Haiti’s history of debt – beginning with being charged for “loss of labor source” for over 100 years by France – talk about starting with a deficit! That is then compounded by white supremacist foreign policy on the part of the US – once we extracted their resources (leaving them deforested and poverty stricken) we then offer “aid”? WTF!
    Thanks for posting this translation. This is often what is happening in my head when my husband insists on watching Lehrer with Brooks and Shields. I almost wrote Brooks and Dunn, but that is a crap country group, rather than a crap right wing “writer”.

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    @ Taibbi.

    That’s the problem with you liberals. There is never a good time to criticize failed programs. There was nothing wrong about what Brooks said, even contributors to the Huffington Post declared that the extreme loss of life was abetted by shotty infrastructure, poverty, and lack of health services.

    And had Brooks written the article months earlier, you’d probably still call him racist. I love the stunt people like you pull, never reflecting on the merits of controversial articles but decrying their crassness. “I don’t disagree with the truth of your statement, but because that statement made me cry, I’m going to call you a racist…” Blah blah more babble.

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    The only difference between Brooks and Limbaugh is that Brooks gets to hide his racism and ignorance behind the veneer of respectability provided by the New York Times and PBS’s News Hour.

  42. collapse expand

    Wish I had written down how I felt reading his ‘beautiful piece of occasional literature’, I could have been suing Mr Taibbi for plagiarism right now.

    Great piece.

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    Thanks Matt. I knew this backlash against the lazy brown foke was going to come. Be a bit different if the earthquake occurred in Madrid, Missouri, as it did in 1812. Plate tectonic boundaries are colorblind. At least the Earth’s crust isn’t bigoted.

  44. collapse expand

    Shorter David Brooks: Black dead bodies count as 3/5ths of white bodies. Dead black people are, at best, a teaching moment for all the failures of black folks to not rise above their own well documented inferiorities.

  45. collapse expand

    It may be very hard for those with cash and contacts to see beyond their social circle. And also hard to ‘give’ without strings.

    What comes to mind is the Earthships of Michael Reynolds – he was deterred from building them in New Mexico & eventually managed it in the Indian Ocean after the tsunami – using cheap, locally available materials [largely rubbish] & local labour. Sure that’s a vignette – but it is both hope & action.

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    I'm a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, a sports columnist for Men's Journal, and I also write books for a Random House imprint called Spiegel and Grau.

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