Mojo - January 2010

Need To Read: January 19, 2010

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 6:30 AM EST

To begin with, please vote today if you live in Massachusetts. Now, the must read stories from the long weekend and the morning papers:

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Day Two in Haiti: Trying to Leave the Airport

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 12:21 AM EST

I've been posting dispatches from Jon Pageler, an old friend and MoJo board member who's in Haiti with a relief effort put on by his company, Diageo. It's an interesting window into the logistics of getting aid to Hatians, as well as into the media. Apologies that these have been posted out of order, that's how I've been getting them. Read the account of his first day here. Day three is here.

Day Two in Haiti. Very long. Made much longer by the fact that oversize military craft were idling next to us all night. Not just idling, since things were moving so fast, they never powered down. Some of the guys found an open door to the jet way; they are sleeping there now. They seemed much more rested than us.

The pace of the military plane arrivals slowed dramatically during the day but is beginning to pick up again. I can't imagine that things will be as intense as last night however. Lots of private aid charters are coming in. Rented 727s and 707s by aid organizations and some governments. Other governments have either brought in 777s or used their military planes.

Many countries are here. Dominican Republic, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, UK—to name just a few. The news media is all here as well. Diane, Sanjay, Anderson, Katie, even Geraldo. Pecking order seems to have been established as CNN is staying at the Plaza Hotel. Now what that means in Port-au-Prince I do not know, but it certainly causes other news organizations to roll their eyes.

As we predicted last night, based on the cargo of all the planes coming in, search and rescue (and security) was the emphasis of the day. Although we also understand that cleaning up the streets and removing the dead was a high priority as well. Clearly some of the heavy equipment brought in last night was used for that.
 
Our day was mostly an airport day. We had a good run of dispersals although things seemed to start a bit late. Combine island time with poor to non-existant telecommunications and, well, you get the picture. But by noon we were loading World Food Program trucks in bucket brigade fashion, enabling us to move nearly 15 tons of materials in just over an hours time, all the while with cameras blazing, mostly foreign press. The shot was one of the few "shots of the day" that is until Hilary came in. Once the trucks were loaded we travelled via convoy to the UN compound and home to the Ado's distribution enter for inventory and re-packaging. We will be making deliveries tomorrow, with a focus on the affected families of NGO workers.

Afterward, we hustled back to the airport to meet a plane with medical supplies and to complete the final disbursement. Some went to the Red Cross, some to a local hospital that we will visit tomorrow, and some to Diageo's Learning for Life program.

Early in the evening last night, we got word of an orphanage that was really in need. We had directions and drivers at the ready to get us there but at the last minute the orphanage pulled the plug. They felt that the situation outside the gates was too severe to risk bringing food in, despite the dire need of the children. Then we heard that CNN did a profile piece on the orphanage's situation and soon after our attempts to communicate with them became extremely difficult. Their email was jammed and the already hopeless cell service had become non existent. But our Bridge Foundation cohort back in Miami managed to get things back on track and after many fits and starts they managed to get a driver down to us. You could see the look of appreciation on their faces—they brought several volunteers to help load the truck.  Hopefully we will be able to visit that orphanage at some point in the future.

At the airport, things have been changing. Water has begun to flow much more freely. Until early this evening everyone on the tarmac, including military personnel, were on the hunt for water but then all of a sudden it just seemed that pallets of it were available everywhere.

On the outbound side we've seen convoys of stretchers being walked into planes. Clearly they are moving the wounded to better hospitals. The search and rescue teams are back but they have their own camp on the other end of the airport from us, where we are planning to camp tomorrow night when the others arrive. But more on that tomorrow.

Clara Jeffery is co-editor of Mother Jones. Follow her on Twitter @clarajeffery.

Rosa Parks Had a Dream—and Claudette Colvin Made It a Reality.

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 6:42 PM EST

I originally put up this book review the day before President Obama's inaugural, and today seemed like a fitting one to call readers' attention to it. Every great moment in history has a backstory you don't get from your grade-school textbooks, and the Rosa Parks' story is one of them. Since that January post, Twice Toward Justice has won a National Book Award, and garnered this nice write-up in the New York Times. (Although we did it nine months earlier.)

Happy MLK Day!

Letter from Haiti: Looting? What Looting?

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 5:40 PM EST

A friend of mine (and MoJo board member) is in Haiti, where his company is bringing emergency supplies. He's sending me dispatches of what's happening on the ground from his vantage point. Read the first series of his accounts here and the second here.


Day Three in Haiti. Morning started as did the day before, waiting. Part of that is probably due to the fact that we are up with the sun, just prior to 6am. Better spirits prevail though, as sat phones are proving much more reliable, we have our Emergency Health Kit (EHK), roughly 400lbs —according to the manifest—of WHO pre-packaged medical supplies. We've also noticed other EHKs, with their distinctive banded color coding, coming in as well.

By 9am we learned that our other party will be arriving later this evening and that another EHK is enroute. We've also learned that our partner on the medical side, International Medical Corp (IMC), will be arriving shortly to pick up supplies. We've secured an SUV, a left over rental from Channel 10 News out of Miami. Our contacts from the World Food Program have also provided us with a driver, Edward, who is the driver and security for the operations director of the airport.

IMC showed up relatively on time with two trucks, which we loaded and brought the bulk of the health kits to their makeshift warehouse, an operational bakery just east of the center of the city. In a sign of the need for ingenuity, after another truck proved too big to make it through the gates of the bakery, some local kids helped chipped away at the entrance with hammers until the truck was able to make the corner.
 
After the delivery, the baker was gracious enough to offer us fresh bread. While the rolls were good, our intake was limited as we have now taken to eating MREs, which, based on calorie content, are clearly designed to feed extremely active young men and women. I'm neither of those so let's just say I'll have to reset my New Years resolutions.

From there we travelled to the main hospital in the center of town. It was here that the complexion of the trip changed dramatically. Prior to heading through the center of town, we were primarily on its perimeter, and mostly on the tarmac. We'd seen a bit of the destruction to both the infrastructure and to human life but I don't think any of us were prepared for what followed.

Despite our being encamped with the media we have not seen any of the footage on TV since Wednesday or Thursday. We've been able to read some of the stories on line and it is fairly easy to pick up what angle the media is pushing based on the questions they ask us, and frankly, it had made us, or at least me, somewhat sceptical of their reporting. For example I believe (in fact we know because we've done some if it) that aid is actually getting dispersed and we all think (as do many of the aid providers) that the reports of looting and of convoys getting jumped are exaggerated. I'm sure there are incidents but I am also sure they are isolated.

This doesn't mean that we don't take real precautions—we have security when we travel outside of the tarmac and we travel in groups or mini convoys. But our trip out today showed numerous instances of water tankers dispersing fresh water to long lines of people carrying their 5 gallon buckets. And in every instance people were orderly and waiting patiently. Granted this was a very small subsegment and we were only in Port au Prince but still, it was different than what we had been led to expect.

In cutting through town, often on back roads because many of the major arteries are impassable, the scale of the devastation truly hit  home. Concrete, the building material of choice here, homes and buildings too numerous to count, are completely demolished. Some reduced to complete rubble, some knocked off of their foundation with a wall or two missing, some pancaked as if you took the support beams out from a parking garage —each floor clearly distinguishable with no space between. It goes without saying that there would be no way to survive that. And this scene repeats itself over and over again. Yet, there are some areas, that are relatively untouched, which only brings home the arbitrary nature of it all.

The path through the city takes us past the governmental section of town, which is in ruins. From the capital or palace, to the central church, to all of the official government buildings. All completely gone or so severely damaged that they will have to be bulldozed. Still this does not prepare us for the scene at the central hospital. It was grim. The smell of the dead and the dying hung in the air like humidity. I'm not trying to be clever with words, that was precisely the sensation. The morgue was down the street and we were told, overfilled. When patients would die they would be brought out of the hospital and walked down the street and placed on the sidewalk. Not out of inhumanity but out of necessity. Needless to say, the situation inside the hospital was similarly desperate.

The first box of meds we brought in was opened on the spot and quickly utilized, literally as we were unloading more. Which, while rewarding, only brought home the fact that despite all the efforts we had made to get these medical kits here, the magnitude of the need would mean that we'd only be scratching the surface. An important scratch I realize, and one that will hopefully be replicated a thousand times over, by other organizations and by other governments.

I don't want to end on a sour note, because there were some tremendous positives to the day. First of all, this first batch of medical assistance is, according to the WHO, which put the kits together, supposed to supply the basic medical needs for 10,000 people for 90 days. And we are expecting another shipment tomorrow.

And all is not despair. There still is a sense of hope here. You can see it in the eyes of a little girl who breaks out in a smile when you catch her staring at you. You can feel it from the young street vendor who gives you a grin and a thumbs up when you pass by in a car and, most poignant for me, the wink you receive from a woman lying in a hospital cot as you're carrying a box of supplies to her doctor. 

There is much more to write but it is late. The other party has arrived and brought tents, which we've pitched on the grass near the search and rescue teams. This should make for a more restful sleep, something I should get some of, for we have an early start again in the morning.
 

MLK's Legacy Under Siege in Texas

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 4:57 PM EST

Quiz: According to the Texas State School Board, the civil rights movement was...

a) Much ado about nothing

b) Effected by a benevolent white majority

c) Actually during the 1870s

d) All of the above

According to TPM and the Washington Monthly, the Texas state school board is working to correct a number of perceived innacuracies in a historical narrative that the board claims has been corrupted by liberals. The standards up for discussion include the usual points—safeguards against the outright teaching of evolution; an emphasis on America as a Christian nation—as well as a mandate that books must devote significant space to Phyllis Schlafly, Newt Gingrich, and the Moral Majority. You know, the Founders.

What If Coakley Loses?

| Sun Jan. 17, 2010 6:02 PM EST

Democrats realized a while ago that Martha Coakley might actually lose the race to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate. That's why President Barack Obama was in Massachusetts today stumping for Coakley. The election in scheduled for Tuesday, and the GOP candidate, Scott Brown, leads in a lot of the polls. Some liberals seem to think this is a good thing. Digby paraphrases this theory in a wonderful post on this phenomonon:

[T]he only thing Democrats understand is pain and so the thing that will change this dynamic will be to deliver them a loss of their majority and perhaps the presidency to show the consequences of failure to fulfill the progressive agenda.

It's hard to see how crushing defeats for the more liberal party will somehow help liberals. The Democrats are the more-liberal party. If they're losing, the Republicans (the more conservative party) will be winning. Digby again:

[Y]ou can't ever know exactly what lesson will be taken from this sort of pain and if history is any guide, the likeliest one is the simplest and most obvious: they lost because people preferred what the other side had to offer. Obviously, that's not necessarily the case, but it isn't illogical for them to believe that. And the exit polls or whatever other data may be available rarely clearly show that it was base demobilization that caused a turnover. Often people don't even know why they failed to vote and you can't exit poll those who didn't bother.

I can't emphasize enough how right this is. I don't understand how liberals—including many people who helped develop the liberal critique of the news media—could fail to see how Republicans, conservative Democrats, and the media will spin Democratic defeats in Massachusetts on Tuesday and/or in the November midterms. It's as if people are ignoring their own beliefs about how the media operates. One last graph from digby:

[Y]ou have the ongoing, pernicious problem of the conservative Democrats who will always pimp the anti-liberal line and their friends in the media who pull the old "this is a conservative country" narrative off the shelf by reflex. Indeed, we can see it in its full glory already manifesting itself with this classic Adam Nagourney piece in today's NY Times.

If you're just arguing that the Democrats might need a wake-up call reminding them that they have to energize their base, that's perfectly reasonable. (I suggested as much on Friday.) The very fact that the race to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts with health care and everything else on the line is coming down to the wire should be wakeup call aplenty. Democrats don't need Coakley to lose in order to realize they have a base mobilization problem. If you're a liberal who's out there arguing that a Coakley loss will "help liberals," please go read the rest of digby's post right now. And remember what happened when too many liberals sat out the 2000 election (or voted for Nader).

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Obama on Coakley: Issues Do Matter

| Sun Jan. 17, 2010 5:25 PM EST

President Barack Obama just finished up a speech in support of Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts special election set for Tuesday to determine who will fill out the remainder of Ted Kennedy's term in the Senate. Republican candidate Scott Brown spoke at his own rally today, too. The contrast was illuminating. Obama's speech focused on all the issues where Brown, being a Republican, will almost certainly vote with Senate Republicans: climate change legislation, financial regulatory reform ("He'll park his truck on Wall Street," Obama said), and, of course, health care reform. The president's message was clear: voters should looks past Coakley's flaws as a candidate (although he didn't acknowlege them, his very presence in the state spoke to her failings), forget about her gaffes, and focus on her issue positions. Coakley's positions prove that she would "be on your side," Obama said.

Brown's speech, by contrast, had little to do with the issues. There were few GOP dignitaries or officeholders by his side. Instead, sports stars like Curt Schilling and Doug Flutie and actor John Ratzenberger (Cliff from "Cheers") joined Brown on stage. The cast of characters mirrored the substance—or lack thereof—in Brown's speech. He spoke about his "underdog" status, his truck (Brown campaigned in a pickup—a tactic Obama repeatedly referenced in his own speech, asking voters to "look under the hood"), and sports.

It's pretty obvious what's going on here. Massachusetts voters don't like Martha Coakley too much. They like the tall, handsome, hangs-out-with-sports-stars Scott Brown. But most Bay Staters aren't as conservative as Scott Brown issues or beliefs-wise (unlike Brown, they certainly don't seem to think President Obama was born out of wedlock, for example). So Coakley, Obama, and the Democrats are trying to get voters to focus on the issues. Brown's trying to get them to focus on narrative: how he's the "underdog," he's cool, he drives a truck, etc. Issue positions are what actually matter when it comes to votes in Washington that affect peoples' lives. But, unfortunately for Coakley, too often it's narrative—political mythmaking—that matters most in electoral politics. Barack "Hope and Change" Obama knows that better than anyone. It will be interesting to see what matters most on Tuesday.

From My Friend in Haiti

| Sat Jan. 16, 2010 12:06 AM EST

"I'm in Haiti." Thus began a series of emails and texts from my friend (and MoJo board member) Jon Pageler, who's in Haiti as part of a big relief/supply run being mounted by his company Diageo. For the specifics of what they're doing—45,000 pounds of food, WHO sanctioned health kits, and the participation of the Washington Redskins (true!)— I had to dig out a press release. But Jon's notes, which I've cobbled together with his permission, give a flavor of what's happening that I thought was worth passing along.

Made delivery with DHL of 2 truck loads of supplies 2 Salvation army's mission on Dumas 2 (factcheck4me). Very poor neighborhood very badly damaged. Mission is housing about 80 refugee families. Still many bodies in the street although most r covered with sheets. The smell of decomposition is beginning 2 take hold. Massive fabric shanty towns have sprung up all over the city. Airport much better controlled now. Planes r getting in, even at night. Carrier (at least what it looked like flying in) off our shore. Just said hello to Diane Sawyer. Haitians seem united. Big march today in solidarity, filled with song, emotion and resolve. Food and medical relief will soon be reaching many more.

And a little later:

All is good here. We are overnighting on the tarmac, literally. We built a fort of sorts out of the remaining food supplies and are sleeping on the bags of rice. Airport is very noisy as there is a steady stream of C-130s and C-17s coming in. Wind from the jets/props actually helps with the bugs and keeps the air circulating so it has its pluses.


Many of the newly arriving relief workers are pitching tents in the grass lawns at the end of the airport so things are pretty secure in here. Our fort will be gone (dispersed) tomorrow so we will have to find another solution to our sleeping situation. Skies are clear so that is a good thing and Mars appears to be burning brightly.

We've had more than a few relief workers and media ask if we could spare some food and we've allocated a ration of corn beef hash for that purpose. We are hoping some of that goodwill will get us on a search and rescue mission with the French team that flew in today along with their dogs—after we've finished delivering the rest of the supplies, of course. Good news about the airport and our DHL friends is that they have power, so we can get charged up. Sat phones are worthless for incoming so use email or text.
There is just a ton of activity here now. Probably 20 big planes an hour. Fuel and water are in short supply so hopefully there is a planeload or two of those. Even search and rescue have been asking us for water. And I don't even want to know how much we've been paying for gas.

Next email came a few hours later. To understand this it helps to know that Jon used to do advance for political campaigns.

Getting here was planes trains and automobiles—ok, only planes but it felt like it. We flew to Miami on thursday 6am, heard that planes were not getting in to PAP and that they were being diverted to Turks and Caicos. So we flew to T&C thursday morning to try to negotiate a ride on a plane. Problem was that the airport was way too congested and planes that had been circling for upwards of three hours were landing at our FBO. Including a Canadian military plane. So we began to lose faith and began calling fishing boat captains. When that didn't work we began considering flying into Dom Rep and driving over. We had heard varying stories of success. Some trips taking 6 hours, others taking 16. We almost took a Dom Rep flight opportunity but decided against it when a collection of Haitians arrived. They were clearly doers, and rich, and you just knew that they were going to get into PAP no matter what. At about the same time a DC3 from Missionary Flights International landed and decided to overnight and yet first thing in the morning. Sounded like a good plan as it was getting close to dusk and we didn't want to arrive here at night (although now that we have seen the situation here that would not have been a problem). We found a cheap hotel and had a truly spectacular dinner in T&C and planned for a 6:30 departure to the airport. We were told it got light around 8am and that the airport didn't open until 7.


While it was true that the airport opened at 7, it was not true that dawn came at 8am, as the morning glow through my window just before 6am indicated. And this was all the rich Haitians needed —we saw their plane climbing from the tarmac as we were loading our bags into the taxi. This was deflating as they had a huge plane we knew that they would let us ride with them. And we had no doubt they'd make it in. Even if they just landed without permission.The MFI flight also needed to take on a ton of extra fuel so they couldn't take us due to weight concerns.


Things weren't looking good so I began securing us a single prop plane that would try to pick its way to the closest strip it could find to PAP. As we were finalising that deal a pair of dual prop planes chartered by the Salvation Army showed up. They had two extra seats and an interest in us cause we were advancing a plane with medical supplies and food. This fact could help them get permission to land at PAP, which it is what it is all about these days. Well, it worked and we are here. As is our cargo plane - a 727-200 with 45K worth of supplies.

Jesus there are a ton of planes pulling in and none of them are turning off their engines.

 

Jon's next letter, Day Two: Trying to Leave the Airport, can be read here. Day Three, Looting, What Looting, can be read here

 

Haiti: Give Money, Not Stuff

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 8:01 PM EST

This article originally appeared on Global Post.

The images emerging from Haiti's massive earthquake are gut-wrenching. As usual in such disasters, Americans are responding generously. Millions of dollars will be raised.

If you're considering doing your part, that's great. But, experts say, whatever you do, don't donate anything but money. Under no circumstances should you mail care packages, toys, food or clothes. Don't even think about sending drugs. The response to prior disasters shows that regardless of your intentions, you will only be making matters worse.

That's what happened in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. The disaster was followed by an unprecedented outpouring of global generosity. This dramatically facilitated the grisly chore of cleaning up the tens of thousands of bodies left under the tropical sun, and it funded a reconstruction effort that, while far from perfect, provided roofs over the heads of many.

But aid workers joked that the real tsunami was followed by another tsunami—of misguided goodwill. In an effort to help, people shipped boxes, often following the instructions of local television news programs. And so in Aceh, Indonesia amid the trauma, hunger and devastation, care packages piled up containing everything from pajamas and teddy bears to birth control pills and Bibles—a hodgepodge impossible to sort through. There were boxes filled with half-used ointments and prescription drugs, as if do-gooders had cleaned out their medicine cabinets. And some unscrupulous corporations—exploiting tax write-offs for soon-to-be-expired pharmaceuticals—apparently shipped whatever had been lying around the warehouse for too long.

It all amounted to a mountain of materials that confounded the efforts of the pros, and made it more difficult to deliver essential supplies on the earthquake-ravaged roads.

Months after the aftershocks stopped, the French aid organization Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres (Pharmacists Without Borders) conducted a study of that second tsunami. In a world where most people lack adequate access to medicine, the results were a travesty.

To learn more about how in-kind donations can cause more harm than good after natural disasters, read the rest of this article at Global Post.
 

Murkowski EPA Block Gets Democratic Support

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 6:34 PM EST

Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski has gained co-sponsorship for her effort to block the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide from at least one Democrat, her office confirmed Friday evening.

Spokesman Robert Dillon said that one Democrat has signed on, though he was not able to confirm the identity of the Democrat. There are, however, plenty of ideas about who this Democratic cosponsor may be. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), all previously on record voicing concerns about carbon regulation, have been floated as possible sign-ons. We've put in inquiries at all those offices and will update as more information becomes available.

Sources on the Hill indicate that there may yet be additional Democratic co-sponsors for her measure, which she may offer as early as next week.

Dillon said that his office has approached 21 Democrats about possible co-sponsorship, and Murkowski herself had plans this week to meet with a short-list of possible supporters. Part of those discussions, he said, were to discern whether an amendment to the debt ceiling bill or a resolution of disapproval had more support among her colleagues.