The scope of the Haitian catastrophe has astounded even the most grizzled disaster relief veteran: perhaps 200,000 dead, 1.5 million displaced, thousands seriously wounded. No one can deny that the international community has responded to the crisis with vigor, if some lack of coordination, and the complicated logistical challenges of feeding and sheltering thousands are beginning to emerge. Unfortunately that challenge threatens to overwhelm the entire relief and reconstruction campaign.
As surely as hungry and homeless people are soon going to press against the country’s border, the Dominican Republic will make every effort to push back and seal its borders against disaster refugees, creating a dangerous flashpoint for further tragedy in Haiti. Just as surely, thousands will take to rickety boats in precarious attempts to escape the rubble and find a safe harbor in the United States. These consequences of the disaster can be foreseen. The international community should make preparations now to create an orderly system for emergency resettlement that will prevent chaos at the border and serve as a safety valve for the relief effort. No one expected that the relief and reconstruction of New Orleans could be carried out while the desperate survivors remained in the disaster field. Thousands were resettled throughout the United States while the difficult task of restoration began.
The United States, Canada and the nations of the European Union have made room in the past for large-scale emergency resettlements. They need to step forward again as soon as possible.
To its credit, the United States has extended temporary protected status to those Haitians currently living within its borders. Unfortunately it has continued a policy of turning away desperate Haitians fleeing by boat that in “normal” times was merely hypocritical and cruel, but now appears almost pathological as desperate people leave a nation in ruins. It is hard to imagine a crisis that makes a stronger claim to the mercy of asylum.
Saving a Lunch Counter
The whites-only Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., is the centerpiece of a museum complex that opened Feb. 1—a fitting start for Black History Month. Fifty years ago, four students from a local college staged their first sit-in there. It was a move that helped to pave the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act that mandated desegregation in public accommodations nationwide. Although blacks could buy food, they had to eat standing.
The next morning, the four arrived with two dozen others. As the days passed, more took part in the sit-in, until by Feb. 5, 300 people had arrived at Woolworth’s. Tensions between blacks and whites and a telephoned bomb threat led the manager to close for two weeks. But by then, the Gandhian strategy of nonviolent resistance was spreading to lunch counters throughout the South.
In 1993, two of the original four, Melvin Alston and Earl Jones, who had become community officials, learned of plans to raze the building for a parking lot. Realizing that a part of civil rights history would be lost, they bought it and began plans to create the museum, of which the lunch counter is a part. (A section of it is preserved in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.) What happened in Greensboro half a century ago served as a step toward ending some of the more blatant forms of segregation throughout the country. More subtle forms, though, like housing discrimination, continue.
A Modest Proposal
For banks, January was an excellent month. This comes on the heels of strong earnings last year as well: Goldman Sachs reported multibillion dollar profits, thanks to low rates from the Federal Reserve Bank and a healthy mergers and acquisitions market, and is expected to pay $22 billion in compensation. Bowing to public pressure, however, individual bonuses at Goldman were reduced from an average of $600,000 last year to $500,000. Morgan Stanley, on the other hand, changed its Gilded Age ways not a whit, doling out $7.2 billion dollars in bonuses this year. Those figures are absurdly high, given that neither of those institutions, not to mention the six other money-center banks, would likely have survived without TARP funds and the public bailout of American International Group.
The bonuses are obscene. The main reason these banks did not fail is taxpayer money. Thus, excess profits should either be returned to the government or plowed into public works projects or loans to individuals and small businesses. But here’s another idea. There is a group of people who did no wrong in the financial meltdown, who did not make shoddy loans and who did not concoct arcane financial instruments that brought down the economy. Sending the money to this population would not only be easy, but would also regain some of the banks’ lost prestige. Those eight banks should send their “bonus” money to Haiti. Sometimes social justice is as easy as those with too much giving to those with nothing.