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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

    Matt, you rock. Thank you for calling out David Brooks. He’s such an idiotic self-important prick. He’s one of the reasons why I want the NY Times to die, like yesterday.

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    Wow, Matt, well done! Mr. Brooks observations, assertions, and conclusions are all predicated on a foundation of cultural, racial and social elitism, bordering on contempt. In reading his article, I find his use of the term “progress-resistant” to be the height of arrogance, and it was beautifully addressed in your response piece (excuse me… translation!) I especially appreciate that you called him out on his sickly transparent euphemism….. progress resistant = lazy n-word.

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    Matt Taibbi, is oh so right, this self righteous David Brooks can sit on his high horse all he wish. We can see through your racist viewpoints and Machiavellian beliefs.

    The era of divide and conquer has come to an end your little hopes and dreams of creating a planet that is appealing the the so called learned folks has succumb to thievery and usury.

    In the USA a financial earthquake happened but you propped up you so called valued financial leaders as experts in the know of things.

    But to the Haitians, Matt is right he decoded your subtle language and translated for all to read. He pointed out your narrow weak mind and delivered a knock out blow to your loose valued psyche.

    I am tired of so called value preachers running around flapping their gills to an audience of heartless souls!

    Maybe some of you apologetic buffoons who support DB should do more fore your common man instead of hiding behind a pen writing garbage about other race groups.

    Pointing the finger while three are pointing back at you!

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    Brooks is the poster child of conservative thought that legitimizes heartless behavior in the interest of raising corporate bottom line…

    It is only by chances that those of us who enjoy the “enjoyable” aspects of American life are/were not Haitian, born into poverty and strife. The lack of this fundamental understanding gives Brooks and Limbaugh the necessary gall to display their immense ignorance and lack of humanity in the face of such sufferings…

    Thanks Matt… You give us all hope and a chance to rethink our own selfish positions politically as well as morally…

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    I cannot help but be amused by Brooks and his fellow elks! Taibbi is correct. What crass idiocy to make such references even as human beings are dying! and If one were to draw these conclusions that Brooks has drawn, should one not pay any attention to historical facts? Are we to deconstruct culture without reference to historical presidencies and facts?

    ( Wole Soyinka deals with this very subject in the burden of memory, the muse of forgiveness oxford U press, 1999)

    To the point; and to Brooks ( facebook user; thirdparty et al). Do you think it appropriate that when we discuss Haiti, we ought to remember and comment on how its founding may have influenced it cultural development, that you so thoroughly despise. To be precise, should we not discuss that fact, that for 125 years after Haiti defeated the French army, and declared its independence on January 1st 1801, France in essence placed a blockade on Haiti, with the acquiescence of the other Powers of the day, ( The US, great Britain and others). This strangle hold was only to be lifted once Haiti agreed finally in 1825 to pay a ransom of 150, 000,000 francs ( today 21.6 billion at 5.5% interest or 4 trillion at 7.5%!).

    This money was not paid off until 1947, approximately 125 years later! ( I am not even going to touch the usury practice were France arranged the first 30 million franc payment through a French bank, and when it was all said and done Haiti owed an additional 6 million France in Interest on this initial 30 million!)

    In succumbing to this ransom Haiti in many of those 125 years paid as much as 90% of GDP to France, for having the gull to declare independence from its enslaver.

    So I ask Brooks et al the following; Forgetting for one second the share scope of thievery which this represents. The share grotesque transfer of wealth from a poor country to a rich one, what do you think this ransom did to the economic and social fabric of this society? Do you think that some of what you now describe as “lazy” practices could be as a result of laws that were instituted to by the Haitian state on its largely agrarian population to secure the payment of this “French debt”. Do you believe that such laws may have contributed to the permanent rapture of the bond between the state and its citizens. What of wealth? When you extract such an exorbitant part of the productive life of a society for 125 years! What does it do to the social fabric even if you in return provide “aid” of a few billion dollars?

    What of the motivation behind this grand theft? In Napolions words:

    “My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Saint Domingue (Haiti) is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block for ever the march of the blacks in the world.”
    - Napolean Bonaparte

    Even if we make the spurious augment that such blatant racism does not now exist ( I would disagree with this, but for the sake of this discuss lets make the leap of faith). It did however exist in the 125 years that Haiti had to pay the grotesque ransom. How did this racism effect Haiti, in its dealings with the outside world, and could this have aided in the so called progress-resistant cultural influences
    That brooks espouses?

    Just a few historical things to think about, or not: It occurs to me though that if you are going to discuss culture in any sense and choose not to deal with the historical facts then you may as well be a blind person driving at a 100 miles an down at night without lights!

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    The many people defending Brooks seem to be missing the point of just how irrelevant and callous his comments are.

    Is aid to Haiti, public or private likely right now to increase Haitian GDP or improve its governance? Clearly not, in Brooks’ view.

    Is aid to Haiti likely right now to ameliorate Haitian suffering? Apparently not worth mentioning. But isn’t the answer clearly yes? It’s a lot easier to distribute clean water than to build a middle class.

    But hey, until they get their shit together apparently they deserve it.

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    Gentlemen, lay down your dicks. This doesn’t really seem to be the time for comparing them. I’ve always read both you and Brooks with interest and something like pleasure. But it seems to me that if you can’t construct your argument around what people have actually said, there’s probably something wrong with it. Your argument, that is: not the one you have constructed to attack. But you have gotten to root causes: the need for one side to completely overwhelm another.

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    The author of this diatribe against David Brooks is dead wrong. Mr. Brooks assessment and analysis of these issues are grounded in fact-facts that the author and obviously a few commentators to this editorial have either ignored or are attempting to conceal. The Left and Right extremists these days sound like hysterical children rather than critical thinkers. A lot of slant and little truth in your condemnation. You make the left look bad.

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    Reading this was almost as good as personally punching out David Brooks – and his boss, Irving Kristol’s boy – live on national television.


    Took me from pissed off to laughing like hell. Thanks for the ride.

    Too bad Brooks and his Likud pals never will get the message.

  10. collapse expand

    Matt’s column is one of the most disturbing and unfair pieces of journalism I have ever read. My bona fides to comment: At 53, I have spent almost 40 years working with the poor and destitute, i.e., homeless (founding chair of 25 yr old non-profit with $7.5 million budget), affordable housing lawyer and developer; nationwide lending programs in disadvantaged communities, etc., etc. I am a protege of Allard K. Lowenstein. I care. Deeply.

    Matt’s ad hominem attack on David (the size of his penis – how mature and thoughtful) is the same type of crap spewing from the right. It promotes divisiveness and hatred, nothing more. It contributes NOTHING. David wrote a thoughtful column worthy of serious thought and dialogue. Matt twisted every word David said so he had a straw man to be the victim of his lofty pronouncements from on high. Hey Matt, step into the trenches for a few years and check out reality. Please.

    I do not usually agree with David Brooks, but I know that he is a thoughtful and balanced commentator. He pisses off both sides, which is good. I happen to believe that what he said about Haiti is most likely to be true. Yes, people do bear responsibility for their own actions. Not everything can be blamed on imperialism. Haiti is, and always has been, a mess. A group of people severely restricted by a fatalistic religious culture that does not, apparently, lend itself to producing a stable, functioning society. I’m no expert in Haiti, but I don’t believe there’s much one can do if it is true that they think Iwas mount their bodies and have already determined their fate; they have no control. Someone please educate me if what I read was inaccurate.

    Having been part of the “left” for so many decades, I am astounded at the number of “blamers” and “intolerants” who appear to have little desire to take what David wrote as intended to help us deal with reality. Instead, just like those on the right, no effort is made to view Brook’s column in a favorable, helpful light. Why do that when you can demonize him and paint him as an ignorant, cold-hearted racist? This is exactly what the Beck’s, Palin’s, Hannity’s, etc. do. It is equally offensive from both sides.

    And Matt, how long did you want David to wait before bringing these issues up? This is the time. Now. When people are actually paying attention. Like every other news cycle, “we” will be on to something else shortly. The problems of Haiti and global poverty and ineffective, corrupt governments will continue just the same, as they always do.

    What is happening in Haiti (while more pronounced these days) happens all over the world every day. The general public seems to care only when a major disaster occurs. The fact that poverty, incompetence, corruption, etc. are common and systemic in certain societies is, according to Matt, not something to be examined or, at least, not something that we should open up to ideas and thoughts that may, when not thoroughly twisted beyond recognition, cause us to think outside the box “we” liberals seem to reside in.

    So, go ahead, demonize David Brooks, tell people what an inconsiderate, racist, moronic imperialist he is. Forget that it’s completely untrue and based on what Matt “thinks” he knows David really means. (Btw, I don’t think David Brooks has any difficulty stating what he really means and am sure he does not need Matt to “translate” for him.)

    Just remember, there are liberals who do think outside the box and welcome the refreshing air of actual dialogue and actual independent thought, instead of what I can only describe as the knee-jerk, intolerant, destructive and incredibly immature and childish rantings of someone whose intolerance is just as frightening to me as the intolerance of the religious right and the tea baggers.

    Come on, Matt. You can and should do better, much better.

    • collapse expand

      WHY DON’T YOU RESPOND DIRECTLY THE QUESTION I, ( and Taibbi and presume) have posed. Namely what does historical facts have to do with this and to correct this, do we not now have to correct the historical wrong, in this instance. But since we are discussing “race”; Lets say it; MOST WHITE PEOPLE ( LIBERALS AND CONSERVSATIVE) WOULD NEVER ENDORSE THE CORRECTIVE MEASURE THIS INSTANCE CALLS FOR. The repatriation of wealth back to its original owners (NOT AID WHICH YOU AND YOUR COLEAGUES NOW SUBSIST OF OFF!!!!!).

      Talk all you want about Haiti, The fact is without Haiti ( and the many Haiti’s) Paris would not exist as storied example of stability that it is!

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

    Unfortunately, any cogent argument you are trying to make here is completely obscured by ad hominem abusive attacks. If you want to persuade people of a point you are making I would suggest in the future avoiding speculation on the size of someone’s penis as substance for a debate point. I read this article wanting to agree with you, I stopped halfway completely indifferent.

  12. collapse expand

    While we are on the topic of history, lets not forget that in the past, the farms of Haiti produced so much sugar cane and rice, they had a surplus to export.
    But the multi-national corporations decided, with the help of the U.S., toput an end to that. With the help of U.S. legislation, tariffs were created. Laws were passed.
    The results of undercutting the price that the farmers could get for their crops? Haiti now has to import sugar, and other foods, and pay the Corporations set prices.
    Haiti’s farmers, who could no longer support themselves, moved their families to the cities, to work in clothing sweatshops, and other crappy jobs, for- you guessed it!: multi-national corporations.
    And with the massive population shift to the cities, well, today the death toll in Haiti is close to 200,000.
    Brooks may be able to write a lot better than me, but he is a heartless douche bag. He could have written about the real reasons Haiti is such a poor nation, including their corrupt leaders who were essentially put into power by the United States. But that would go against the conservatives big lie- that markets are free. These days I do not even
    waste my time dialoging with conservatives. They may “think” they have hearts, but like all the B.S. that pours out of their mouths, their reality is All in their heads

  13. collapse expand

    Brooks conveniently omitted history from his diatribe. Haiti spent the first 150 years of existence paying reparations to France in exchange for winning its freedom from slavery. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day. A footnote: there is a parallel between this bit of history and the post-slavery sharecropping debacle in the US.

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    Matt, you totally missed the irony: Haiti is American, or what Brooks and other conservative Republicans think of as American: a plutocracy where a very small number of people are wealthy and run things and don’t bother with stuff like building codes because, you know, it gets in the way of private enterprise.

    Trust me, the average Haitian did not fund or build most of the buildings in Haiti. They were funded and built in a particular economic climate that favors a very wealthy few at the expense of the vast majority not so fortunate. Brooks and others wish we were that far along in this country. They’re unhappy the top .5% of people in the country only saw their incomes go up 240%+ since 1980 while everyone else only went up 30-50%. They’re unhappy builders still have to worry about stupid stuff like spotted owls instead of being able to build, build, build.

    So Haiti is America, or what Brooks and his ilk want America to become. They may not have the devastation of Haiti in mind when they push their agenda, but trust me Haiti is the inevitable outcome of their agenda.

  15. collapse expand

    I love the way people try to compare Haiti to other countries, without actually delving into what makes Haiti different. The implication being that the Haitian people are somehow at fault, when in actual fact, history dealt them a really bad hand.

    Barbados was an English colony, Haiti was a French colony. Haiti won its independence in a slave revolt. The slaves of Barbados were freed when the British abolished the slavery in 1834. As a result of winning their freedom in a slave revolt, Haiti had to make reparation payments to their former masters back in France. They paid the equivalent of $25 Billion over the period from 1825 to 1947. This was a rather major drain on their economy, something Barbados didn’t have to deal with. Imagine if that money could have been directed into the development of Haiti instead!

    What’s more, at one point, Haiti was the more developed side of the Island of Hispanola, while the Dominican Republic lagged behind. Problem was, as Jared Diamond writes in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, much of that development was not done in a sustainable manner, and ended up destroying much of the country’s environment. Today, you can determine the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the air. The Dominican Republic is the side that has trees. (At one point, a Dictator in the DR instituted the death penalty for illegal logging, which helped the DR keep their forests.) The lack of tree cover especially in a country that gets hurricanes means that much of the top soil has washed away, greatly reducing the productivity of the island’s soils.

    • collapse expand

      Isn’t 1947 quite awhile ago? Are 63 years insufficient for Haitians to move their country forward? Israel was born in 1948. Yes, I recognize the different circumstances and level of financial support, but at some point in time people have to stop blaming everyone else for their problems and/or take it upon themselves to get educated and develop an economic base. I don’t hear much discussion about the belief systems of most Haitians. Based on what I’ve read, they have a fatalistic view of the world. Iwas and dead relatives dictate what will happen in their lives. They apparently don’t have much responsibility. Correct me and educate me if I’m incorrect, but give me any racist nonsense. I don’t care if they’re purple. They have been unable to form a functional government and system. They have frightening primitive religious beliefs that appear to impede progress, education and the development of sustainable practices. At some point, it’s time to stop pointing the finger at the world and look internally. Who gives a damn what color anyone is? Let’s just deal with reality.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Absolutely right, and even worse than the reparations Haiti was forced to pay France was the US trade embargo. US officials feared revolt among their own slaves and so Southerners in Congress overcame lucrative economic opportunities to block trade and diplomatic recognition for Haiti. This is not even to mention the shameful occupation of Haiti and subsequent looting of its treasury by the US Marines in the 1930’s.
      Sending money to Haiti in the form of development aid is actually quite a recent development in historical terms, contrary to the message of Brooks’ column. The foreign policy of the US and other countries toward Haiti has been extremely counterproductive for many years before we decided we should start trying to help them out of grinding poverty.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Brook’s column doesn’t really take into account the history of Haiti, which you so well point out. The Dominican Republic isn’t such a great place either….

      There’s this idea that so much foreign aid goes to waste. Maybe because we don’t understand the culture and the economies we’re giving aid to. Our foreign aide budget isn’t that big, from what I understand. There are examples of effective help, like Greg Mortenson’s schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Thanks for pointing out why Haiti is its own worst enemy. Yes, the DR has trees–because its leadership instituted the policies that preserved the trees, and Haiti’s did not.

      Notice the difference between NOL and PAP? Not enough, and the similarities are striking–France, Africa, and self-neglect. Haiti is a failure for the same reason that individuals fail. They won’t make the right choices and follow through with consistent action. People are not responsible for where or when they are born. They are responsible for doing something about it.

      It is true that we don’t know how to strengthen our own economy over a very short period, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to do it. And Haiti’s economy would not be built in a matter of months, either. But it could be done. The question is, why would we want to? When we walked away ultimately, do you think it could be self-sustaining as Japan and Germany became economically strong after being nearly destroyed in WW2?

      Go ahead and try to make that case. You will immediately be confronted with the historic differences that make it not merely unlikely but impossible for such a thing to happen. The expectations of the Haitian people must change. Generations of ignorance must change.

      Nation-building in Iraq a bad idea? Afghanistan a waste of blood and treasure? But somehow in Haiti it is our fault that gold has not been created from lead. We can certainly help Haiti, and I hope we will, but much needs to change in Haiti for help from the USA to make a real difference.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Excellent point. I might add that (according to WHO), 64% of women in the D.R. report using birth control vs. 16% of women in Haiti. I believe you can’t fix poverty anywhere while demand on resources is so stretched. We send plenty of money, but the elephant in the room (I’m looking at you GOP) is the unrealistic requirements surrounding women’s health care issues as a part of foreign aid.

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

    Who needs Pat Roberston when we have Brooks.

    Brooks is an extremely insecure man who’s REEALLY trying hard to impress. 1st sign was his comment about M. Obama’s arms.

    Who/what would Brooks refer to as our own American brand of ‘progress-resistant cultural influences’? Hint: We’ve been dragging them kicking & screaming for about 140yrs. His ‘voodoo religion’ just makes me ask: where does one draw the line? ALL of them require a leap of faith. Are purple robes, candles, smoke,water & beads not ‘voodoo’ like in the eyes of some? Sitting in a posh suite in NYC, shaking your fingers at people who are starving & dying is just amazingly insensitive.

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    Wow, this comments thread is really depressing. With half the people making an art out of missing the point, and the other half highlighting the dick joke portion of Taibbi’s post, it’s really pitiful.

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    Right Fuckin’ On.

    Like you I have lived and worked in the third-world long enough to see that much of America is a third world country wrapped in first-world arrogance but without first-world assets.

    I currently work in West Africa, the Jerusalem of “voodoo.” I know political anamism when I smell it. You said it elegantly, David Brooks should have waited toll the bodies were cold to spread his smug right-wing manure.

    If we need to examine failed cultures and failing economies in the light of this tragedy, we don’e need a boat to get to a big one. The stench of rot is right under our noses. Where’s my toothpaste?

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    So, it’s must be pure hell trying to exist in those poor places that all have “progress-resistant cultural influences.” I wonder if, in those nations, the progress-resistant cultural influences ever rise to the congressional levels of their government? Can you imagine! I’m sure glad we don’t have to put up with any of that crap, here. And,coming from a guy that carries water for progress-resistant cultural influences, that was one amazing feat of projection, David.

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    Matt, as usual, is correct. I am tired of these white mofos like Brooks who act like because these people are black or whatever, they are already morally insuperior, but then – heaven forbid!-some of them practice religions that are not christianity? Shame on these people! The fact is, Haiti is a troubled country, they have had tons of problems. If aid works, this place can blow up and have real green based technology implanted and make this place better than it was in some ways. Brooks is in asshole who lives a sheltered life like the rest of these pundits. Fuck all of them. Give money, but try to avoid using credit cards, the companies are making HUGE fees off this. We have a sick greedy ass country right now.

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    Brooks’ ignorance of Haiti’s history is astounding. The big difference between Haiti and either the DR or Barbados is pure and simple – CRUSHING DEBT. The world has not thrown aid at Haiti, it has thrown loans at it, going all the way to France finally giving up on the occupation in turn for a huge “war costs” reimbursement that was essentially protection money – monies that Haiti was still repaying until well into the last century. Of course I shouldn’t expect a supply-side defender like Brooks to understand the influence of debt on poor nations, but it would be nice if he showed any sign of knowing about it.

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    i agree brooks is amazingly callous with his timing but i also agree with other comments he makes and many of the critiques of long term aid and disaster assistance. that having been said, here is a rare positive report from the ny times about post-tsunami aid and the rebuilding of homes (especially timely given haiti’s disaster): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/weekinreview/03kapur.html?scp=4&sq=tsunami&st=cse

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    Mr. Taibbi, perhaps you make a fair point about the timing of Brooks’s column, but I think you undermine your own arguments by the ad hominem, nasty tone of your own remarks. In addition to appearing not to know initially that Brooks is Jewish, you make a number of other assumptions in your column for which I think you have no evidence whatsoever, other than your own categorical assumptions about what the type of folks who live in a certain neighborhood might be thinking–your own form of bigotry. Perhaps you might consider your own advice to Brooks and try to avoid being too fast off the starting block when you’re feeling angry. The problems he discusses are important ones for us all to consider and do our best to solve. The examples Brooks uses in making his own case are explicitly NOT racial comparisons but rather cultural ones, and certainly necessary ones to consider, even if his timing might have been a little off.

  24. collapse expand

    I agree with Brooks entirely, excluding maybe the timing, he is right. Poverty is the issue we need to think of in larger point of view, though helping now is requires.

  25. collapse expand

    David Brooks, needs to look at his own short comings than pointing out perceived negatives that supports racism and obstruction in subtle forms.

    People are much more astute to the counter cultural ways of Media writers and Pundits.

    Just because many are poor and downtrodden do not mean we cannot read between the lines of protectionism and greed of the ruling class and their Jarhead puppets who lend their name and title to print media.

    David Brooks can go kick rocks, and lick mud from the spokes of his bicycle. You sir are filth with a pen and pad or in today’s term laptop.

    Maybe someday the world will here the opinions of all and digest it for what it is worth.

  26. collapse expand

    My first feeling is that Matt is correct, but over-touchy and reading a little too much into this. But my second reaction is that is just how these RightWing Jokers do all of their work…sneaky dog whistle argumentative points that sound fairly logical but which really serve to paper over their I’m For The Rich White Corporate mindset. Always sounding so logical and thoughtful, when really they are lazy, greedy hypocrites.

    They’re always for law and order, but not government intrusiveness….read that as “please lock up all the brown and black people but do not regulate my business or banking practices”.
    They’re always for good christian “family” values, but “please overlook my wife-beating, whore-mongering, or closeted homosexual ways.” And no, I am not equating wife-beating with being gay. Just equating the hypocrisy.

    Haiti is handling this catastrophe no worse, I think, than we handled Katrina. Our infrastructure, engineering, preparedness, and government response was just as Third-World.

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    this article reminds me of watching Tiabbi on real time, breathlessly going on and posturing as righteous, all the while missing relevant facts and glossing over details.

    tell me why now is not the right time to address why our aid to haiti has been a failure? does tiabbi support just throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away? because that is what brooks is saying doesn’t work. why can taibbi not recognize this?

    you can probably argue all day as to what the true cause of this is (lack of achievement society, religion, etc) but the differences between DR and haiti are stark. Taibbi offers no counter argument other than to bash brooks willy nilly.

    this is what he did on real time (glad they stopped asking him back) and probably in his rolling stone articles which i couldn’t bring myself to read.

    i’m no fan of brooks. but he points out that more hands on, paternal type aid programs must be implemented in order to make a difference, much like we have done here in the states in many inner cities.

    i’d like to see taibbi put his money where his mouth is and sign up to lead some of these programs in haiti. he’ll achieve so much more than this incessant bashing will ever.

  28. collapse expand

    this article reminds me of watching Taibbi on real time, breathlessly going on and posturing as righteous, all the while missing relevant facts and glossing over details.

    tell me why now is not the right time to address why our aid to haiti has been a failure? does taibbi support just throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away? because that is what brooks is saying doesn’t work. why can taibbi not recognize this?

    you can probably argue all day as to what the true cause of this is (lack of achievement society, religion, etc) but the differences between DR and haiti are stark. Taibbi offers no counter argument other than to bash brooks willy nilly.

    this is what he did on real time (glad they stopped asking him back) and probably in his rolling stone articles which i couldn’t bring myself to read.

    i’m no fan of brooks. but he points out that more hands on, paternal type aid programs must be implemented in order to make a difference, much like we have done here in the states in many inner cities.

    i’d like to see taibbi put his money where his mouth is and sign up to lead some of these programs in haiti. he’ll achieve so much more than this incessant bashing ever will.

  29. collapse expand

    Unfortunately Matt Taibi’s comments represent a great deal of what is wrong with politics these days where a liberal will attack everything a conservative says (and vice versa of course) simple because he’s of the opposite viewpoint and therefore unwilling to listen or even consider the possibility that the other person might be making some sort of a valid point at times.

    Speaking as someone who actually has lived in the Caribbean I can tell you that I can certainly see some credence to some of what David Brooks is saying.

    There is a valid argument to me made here that certain elements of the local culture within this region of the world do not help or facilitate things when it comes to trying to build a successful and modern economy and environment generally and there is simple no getting away from that.

    There is little purpose in conservatives implying that it’s all their own fault because they are backward and lazy but liberals who are not willing to admit the existence of certain problems at times does nothing to help either.

    Like it or not, whilst I do not think he has quite hit the nail on the head, there is at least some substance to what David Brooks is saying here and childishly paraphrasing what he says simply because you don’t like the man and his politics is not going to achieve anything useful at all.

  30. collapse expand


    Thanks for having the journalistic courage to call out and confront David Brook’s racist commentary towards the dead and undead people of Haiti..

    As a Black jew I am sadden by Brooks contempt for people who look like me….

  31. collapse expand

    brilliantly fearless, Matt, and, as usual, incisively on point. thank you.

    David Brooks betrays his own enslavement in this one, and those Captains of Industry behind the IMF and World Bank, the WTO and various multi-nationals all just watching and waiting for Haiti to be vulnerable enough for a good ol’ New Orleans/Post-Katrina style exploitation and annexation are raising their glasses to Mother Nature. So long as Capitalism in some form rules the exchanges of human beings on the planet, the Captains of Industry and their slaves will profit. Period. And, in the midst of that reality, we will witness again and again the cruel sadism and cruelty of men and women toward men and women. Brooks is just today’s Example. Pat Robertson filled that seat just days ago. Tomorrow, it will be another of these ignorant, rich (they WILL be Rich) and ruthless people.

    We all do well to call them out now, but we would all do even better to call them out now about other Peoples in our nation and around the globe who are being made vulnerable for such future exploitation even as we exchange these thoughts. HT to Naomi Klein and many others across the Net who stand against any “loans” being made to Haiti right now, and for Grants and forgiveness of all previous indebtedness.

    To the work then…and remember: We ARE the Hope, and the only moment we have to express it is right now.

  32. collapse expand

    Wow…I agree that Brooks might be tone deaf and his timing insensitive, but your post makes Brooks’ column into a straw man where you could pour out your spleen against bigots and religious people (perhaps one and the same for you?)If the column would have been worth discussing on its merits a month ago, the only charge that sticks is poor timing. Brooks is a thoughtful conservative commentator; I am a moderate/progressive. Let the Right distort liberals on Fox; we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

  33. collapse expand

    David Brooks makes some very good points in his article. He is not trying to dissuade people from contributing to any relief effort in a time of catastrophe, but he is pointing out a harsh lesson in life: what you subsidize you get more of. A general reassessment of the types of aid given to poverty-stricken countries is in order.

  34. collapse expand

    It’s quite simple.Brooks is yet another pundit intent upon politicizing this tragedy for his own twisted ideological reasons.
    This piece is an absolute obscenity.

  35. collapse expand

    I am tired of closet bigots making excuses for the racist venom David Brooks employed against the people of Haiti..

    Brooks PSA on aid given to 3rd world nations is no fucking newsflash or cutting edge talking point in policy issues on foreign aid..

    Brooks is a red neck jewish racist who in part because of his white privledge and entitlement mindset felt compelled to spit, piss, and shit on the dead and undead of Haiti because he could and it is his divine right as a white male living in the USA…

    Brooks can kiss my dark skin negro dialect ass..Punk ass fucker..

    • collapse expand

      And I’m tired of losers like you who want to blame the color of your skin for every “offense” committed by any white person. You, sir, are the racist. Friends of mine who are black are usually much, much harsher in their judgment of unsuccessful blacks in America, etc. who live their life blaming others rather than making the most of their opportunities. Please, save your crying for the middle of the night. Now, how about doing something – volunteer, work, anything -rather than sounding like a f’g cry baby? Enough. I know racism exists. I fight it virtually every day. And if some white, black, or whatever else wants to restrict you and discriminate against you – then organize and do something. You’re a disgrace to the memory of Dr. King. Now, here’s a Kleenex. The world is unfair. And people hate people for incredibly stupid reasons. You can cry and plea “whoa is me” or you can go help somebody. Or are the “white” people stopping you by being such meanies and dickheads? Pathetic.

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

    My slant is on the 3rd world aspect of this, but I admit I am using this opportunity to suggest you take a look at another set of screwed up, oversimplified, condescending ideas about the country where I live, Mexico. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

  37. collapse expand

    Huh….it seems like most of us wrote David Brooks off as a bumbling butt kisser long ago? Granted, it does not mean he should not receive harsh retribution for his poorly written opeds, but if we ignore them they eventually go away. Ann Coulter is a good example….she is fading away into the lost decade. Good riddance.

    Keep up the antagonistic articles….journalism needs this.

  38. collapse expand

    I’m sorry, I like Matt 99 percent of the time, but this post makes absolutely no sense. I’m about as liberal as they come, but I thought this Brooks column was more or less right on the money: Haiti’s problems go beyond an earthquake. Where was this outpouring of emotion two weeks ago when the very same people suffering now were living on a steady diet of mud pies? I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I get this feeling that all of the outpouring of emotion over Haiti is superficial at best. It’s almost as if we as human beings have reached a point where suffering needs to exist on a massive scale with big numbers (200,000!) before it becomes serious enough to confront. Haiti’s people have been eating dirt to survive for fifteen years now, and yet I’ve never once heard ANYONE mention “helping Haiti” prior to the earthquake.

    Or maybe it’s just the footage. I remember seeing a documentary a few years ago about two competing drug lords in Haiti (not a very good documentary, by the way), and one of the things that struck me was how difficult it was for the few aid agencies in the country to interact with the society they were trying to help.

    To say nothing of the Christian influence, of course. Some of the largest Christian organizations in the U.S. were the primary proponents of installing “Papa Doc” as dictator-in-chief, so it’s easy to disagree with Brooks on that issue.

    Still, I’m wondering what’s going to happen in the next few years. I have a rather bold prediction: the money will be spent to stabilize the country. The story will get old and the news reporters will leave before the ratings drop, and people sitting at home will return to not caring. The very same people rescued from the rubble will return to their rebuilt homes and resume eating dirt to survive.

    I hope it’s not the case, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

  39. collapse expand

    Money’s great for helping bankers and Wall Street, isn’t it, but it “really doesn’t help the poor,” LOL.

    Reading Brooks, I was eerily reminded of several British writers, who argued that Britain should refuse to help the Irish during the Great Potatoe Famine. These writers insisted that the Irish “needed to learn to help themselves,” ignoring how the British robbed the Irish for centuries, in the same way Brooks ignores how the French robbed the Haitians. Some things never change.

  40. collapse expand

    What I find most interesting about white supremacists like David Brook is they don’t look into their own souls and find it black. The primary reason Haiti is in shambles and has not been able to recoup after dictator after dictator is because of foreign influences on their economy. The people have no power there — how can they when they live on so little money? How can a weak, starving and thirsty population pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they can’t even afford flip flops let alone the Chugg boots necessary to do it?

    If you want to learn who is really behind Haiti’s woes, look no further than the IMF and the World Bank, which pushes small island nation economies around. Brook speaks well of the Dominican Republic, where I was born, but he doesn’t factor in the fact that, because of the IMF and the World Bank, D.R. has been in a steep economic decline for the last decade. The only reason D.R. is nowhere near Haiti’s problem is because D.R. had a dictator that actually fought against the white man’s foreign influence and gave back to the people what was stolen from them for a century beforehand.


  41. collapse expand

    So if I follow this its not that you really disagree with Brooks you just object to his timing. Unfortunately I have to admit that this sounds a bit opportunistic as well despite your third world credentials. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news of the earthquake was that it would be devastating and that the real reason was because of how badly we had failed this country in the past. I think we need to address many of the issues Brooks raises and think about it now! If all we do is send instant aid to bury the bodies and rebuild the roads then Haiti will just wait for the next disaster – likely a Force 5 Hurricane this summer. Get off your pseudo liberal hobby horse and lend a hand. Send help now and think about how to make sure we provide the material, political and cultural help needed to minimize the damage that the next disaster will cause.

  42. collapse expand

    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.

    Never mind the U.S. ousting their democratically elected leader and sending troops right now to bar his return. Never mind that Haiti was forced to live under two U.S. supported, corrupt dictators for over thirty years.

    Matt, in order to do this story justice, you have to do a piece explaining Haiti’s history and the U.S. intervention, from their successful ousting of the french till now, in order for people to understand history and the context the Haitian people are living in.

    I would call on you to challenge Brooks to a televised debate on the subject also.

    Keep up the good work brother.

  43. collapse expand

    You write: “TRANSLATION: I, David Brooks, am doing my Christian best right here at home.”

    David Brooks is Jewish.

  44. collapse expand

    Your first couple selections from Brooks I would actually I agree with. What about Shock Doctrine? As I studied architecture for a few years, I know that earthquakes are controllable natural disasters, especially in a city like Port-au-Prince. It is something we should all keep in mind given that 50% of humanity now lives in cities. Aid should be invested before a disaster, it would be a better investment in humanity- however it seems like its more profitable to do so after the disaster has struck.
    However, do agree with you on the last bit about Brooks saying the culture is the problem. This is simply not a productive statement.

  45. collapse expand

    OK OK it took a day or so for my head to stop spinning from Brooks remarks and another minute or two to resist the urge to go hunt him down like a dog but…

    For those who didn’t get what Brooks was inferring for cripes sake Taibbi gave you the cliff notes. Yet, many are still flopping around the main point which is: for Mr Brooks and others like him the only culture is his culture all others should be the grateful recipients of “intrusive paternalism” which means occupation and modern day slavery. The pairing of these two words are scary and redundant.

    Well, it doesn’t matter that some of you don’t get it I assure you the folks who would be in the line of fire for this yet another intrusion/invasion heard the clarion call loud and clear.

  46. collapse expand

    I’ve read that The United States is largely responsible for Haiti’s poverty. They had a thriving agriculture of wheat, I believe, and sugar, which was destroyed when we forced them to take American sugar and wheat at lower prices then they were able to sell their own. That is supposed to account for why Haiti’s portion of the island is bare, while the rest of it is fertile.

    Thanks Matt for this hitting the target shot at David Brooks.

    As for the economy, here and everywhere, it is now beyond the control of the folk. The Fed, which most believe to be a government agency, is a private bank with only 20% ownership by the government and only two people allowed appointments by the pres to the board of nine, and those two are bank backed. It’s books, it’s doings and it’s stockholders, are all secret.


  47. collapse expand

    I am new to trueslant but I have read your articles on the financial mess and I admire your candor and penetrating insight.

    I want to add a comment on the issue of provide aid to developing nations. A rarely considered factor is the impact of market economy. Rich countries often dump their surplus agricultural produce on developing countries and call it aid, without any consideration of it on the local farmers, and agricultural market.

    People like David Brooks has a cultural blind spot that sees only faults in others, and blind to their own shortcoming. They should be very familiar with it; it’s condemned in the Bible more often than any other sin.

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    About Me

    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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