Monday, January 03, 2005


After and before of Lhoknga, IndonesiaThe crew at Death's Door ask an interesting question, though I'd phrase it more cautiously.

talkin out'a my ass or the line starts here:

But first off let’s put shit in perspective. Like I said the Asian death count stands right now at around the one hundred twenty thousand mark, that’s pretty much the population of Topeka, Kansas. So imagine driving to Topeka, the state capital of Kansas and finding every man, woman, and child dead in the streets. Got that picture in your heads? Ok? So giving aid isn’t the question, but moving on.


As a nation we’re always helping out some muthafucker’s overseas and shit to the tune of millions, but here in our own country we got kids starving and living on the fucking street. Where’s their fucking aid? What? Oh, you cut it due to lack of funding. ...

Clearly, when entire cities (like Lhoknga in the EarthObservatory image) are obliterated, no one seriously disputes the need to aid the survivors. In the “after” part of that picture, there is still water standing on the towns agricultural fields, salting the earth for generations. The only structure standing is the mosque. I don't think Greg is arguing against aid to areas affected by these earthquakes and tsunamis.

His point is that we haven't done all that we could at home. I think partly this is the difference between a sudden tragedy and the slow, grinding tragedy that is poverty in America.

Another sign of this comes via Juan Cole's Informed Comment :

Pakistan sent money to India, its old enemy. Islamabad also sent emergency aid to Indonesia.

India mobilized its navy not only to aid its own citizens, but to help Indonesia as well.

It is very odd that nations cooperate to help each other in the face of natural disasters. But when they become angry over some minor dispute, they are perfectly happy to inflict far more damage on each other than mother nature ever did. Pakistan and India were seriously contemplating using nukes on each other as recently as 2002. Now Islamabad is sending rupees to Delhi, and Delhi is expressing gratitude.

I think that we can't divide these two patterns. Pakistan giving foreign aid to India makes no strategic sense. Militarily, they ought to invade Kashmir now. India can't afford to defend itself, it's military is involved in rebuilding the east and Indonesia, and Pakistan could probably cripple the Indian nuclear deterrent more easily now that at any other time. But instead they chose to help India avoid the sort of financial ruin that could weaken the military. God bless them all.

Greg Beck knows we respond aggressively to disasters, because a little bird tells me he works for a federal agency with some responsibilities for emergency response domestically and internationally. Why doesn't the War on Poverty bring out the same spirit of cooperation that is bringing Christian Conservative money to Muslims in Indonesia and Pakistani cash to India? It's a fair question.

Of course, there are some genuine assholes, but most people are good, and when seriously bad shit goes down, they want to help however they in a crisis. I know I didn't feel like I could talk or blog about the tsunami until my wallet was a little lighter. Kids in urban America will be starving until we find a way to get people to recognize that as a crisis. That's what brought AIDS out of the closet and onto lapel pins. Today there is real hope for AIDS patients. Progressives and pissed off bastards alike need to get out the message that every dollar coming from Medicaid or CHIPS or Social Security is a crisis.

Every homeless guy sleeping under the Massachusetts Street Bridge in Lawrence is part of a crisis. According to random Googling, 82,000 people are homeless in LA every night, and 254,000 every year. The same page says that 42-77% of them don't receive public benefits they deserve, 20% are physically disabled, 25% are mentally ill (and probably receive no psychiatric care), 33-66% are substance abusers, and 16-20% are employed but homeless. That's a crisis, and it affects more people in LA than were killed by tsunamis, though I'm sure millions are now homeless across Southeast Asia. According to the Urban Institute, 3.5 million people are homeless in America every year, 1.35 million of them are children.

The CDC estimates that 300,000 deaths per year are attributable to poor diet and inactivity. Los Angeles has 580,000 malnourished citizens. Ten percent of households, 33 million people are either at risk of hunger or go hungry.

These are crises, and we must confront them with the same vigor we are mobilizing against the tragedy in Southeast Asia.