June 17, 2004

rebuilding esteem

Only the most closed minded American neocon would be unwilling to admit now that America’s prestige in the world has sunk to an all time low. I suspect that situation will not last: it will sink lower still. As the revelations of misdeeds by 43’s deputies continue, our national esteem may end up in worse shape than the self-esteem of an Abu Ghraib prisoner.

There are a number of obvious things we must do to help repair our esteem beyond simply cleaning up the mess we have made of Iraq. Finishing the job in Afghanistan comes to mind. But after our martial tone and retaliatory timbre of the post 9-11 era, none of these obvious deeds has the air of the altruistic nature with which we Americans love to credit ourselves.

What we need here is a fresh idea.

My modest proposal should be obvious as well: to make a serious national effort to help address hunger and illness in the poorest nations of the world. It should be obvious, but we never talk about it in terms of national priority.

Not that I think Americans are hard hearted. Our charitable impulse is appreciated world wide by those that are reached by the numerous relief organizations whose funds are derived from American largess. We are not unique in this regard-the other wealthy nations of the world do much charitable work too, but I am suggesting that we Americans do something more aggressive than what has been seen thus far in this mortal coil.

And while I am partially making this suggestion as something that would serve as a form of penance, there are other sound reasons we should take the lead. Or at least one compelling reason: our unparalleled national wealth. Regardless of this Curmudgeon’s weak bank account, it is hard to ignore that collectively we are extraordinarily wealthy.

The extent of American wealth really hit home in a fresh way with a new statistic that I heard on the Nightly Business Report a day or two ago: if Wal-Mart were an independent nation, it would have the eighteenth largest economy in the world. And some of the countries lower on the list than Wal-Mart would just stun you. This list is a few years old, but it will give you some idea.

While what we do already as individual Americans to help relieve the poor is substantial, I am suggesting a new focus. A national priority to wield this wealth in a way that is only calculated to directly benefit the poor of this world who need our assistance so badly. This type of focus and priority can only come through direct government action and what better time than now for our government to act?

The terrifying part of what I am suggesting is my knowledge of how grossly distorted such an effort would probably become under our pathetic hyper-political ruling class’s “leadership”. I can already see “World War on Poverty” slogans and “Mission Accomplished” banners on the sides of aircraft carriers. I fear that Somalia-style bumbling may be the best we can do.

But, I am casting those fears aside for the moment and asking, “what if we try?”

There certainly is more than a bit of self-interest in the effort-indeed that was my whole premise. But this idea is big enough to in the long run overwhelm the small mindedness that might encourage such an undertaking on the basis of America First.

I’m getting excited just sitting here writing this. Imagine if we were all excited. The potential of the world changing impact there would be if a significant percentage of our GDP were diverted to simple, obvious, compassionate outreach staggers the imagination.

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone off into the idealistic deep-end just yet. There are huge practical obstacles to overcoming starvation and treatable illness in this world, and frankly, I don’t have a plan or the expertise to develop one. Somalia itself shows that we can’t just hold hands, sing “Imagine” in unison and fix much of what is wrong. Rather than rushing headlong into unwise efforts, we should take our time and get it right. Perhaps someone with experience like Bill Gates could head a commission which could develop a useful and worthwhile national plan.

Just because the task would be difficult, there is still no excuse for not trying. There are many parts of the world where we can make a difference and sitting on our incredible wealth is no longer an option for America. 43 likes to tout his Christian values at every turn and I have often called him out for not practicing what he purports to believe. Here is a chance for him, and indeed all of us to demonstrate we are different as we claim to be.

The outrage over Abu Ghraib and other human rights abuses by Americans of late will not die quickly, nor should they. An unprecedented humanitarian effort as I have described will not change that, but it would create an environment where those abuses would no longer loom as huge as they might otherwise.

And that is something that even the neocons should find appealing.


Blogger Brackenator said...

The Reagan era seemed to return us to a golden age where we could be proud of America, but what actually transpired during the era of the great communicator and what has happened since is definitely not one of America's finer moments.

Please do not get me wrong, what motivated us as a country in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 was a magical moment, it is the other deeds or rather misdeeds of the beltway bunch, those who operate inside the beltway in Washington DC, which makes those moments and events seem so far away and distant.

How many times are we expected to tolerate an official of 43's goverment to say, I have to retract the findings of that report because they it was wrong?

How many times do we need to see great intellects like Dr. Condoleeza Rice play politics instead of doing what she is supposed to be doing?

What is Martinizing? and why does it only take one hour?

Is America a melting pot, bean salad, or some other type of dish?

Well, that is all I have time for at the moment, I hope this stirs up some reading material.

Laters, Brackenator

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I don't belong here, I don't consider myself disenfranchised but here is my take. Stop thinking the world should like us. The "world" has a short attention span and no matter how many people we feed, how many countries we bomb/rebuild it will always be like that. It will always dislike our Hummers but love our movie stars. It will always have a problem with our government but love our stock market. That doesn't mean we don't mount campaigns to feed hungry people. It just means we don't do it because people will like us for it. I guess there are several differences between me, conservative-currently-Republican, with liberals, Democrats, Libertarians, et al and one of which is I don't think that doing the right thing is always on the same street as doing things to make the world like you. Look at parenting as an example of this. Look at the bible. I don't think we should choose to do things based on being liked in the world community. If my front door neighbor's wife is being beat, and I've been calling the cops on her husband for 14 years, and the cops keep telling me, wait, we'll send some investigators to see if she indeed is getting beat, and the whole block believes she's getting beat, c'mon, how much further should I take this analogy. I anticipate the flurry of responses along this line so to curtail that, I will say that the analogy does get muddy when taken too far.

I love this country too. I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. Doing the right thing is not always the popular thing but I, for one, believe we did the right thing in Iraq. I believe history will prove this. Let the people in Iraq disagree. It is now their right.


3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me state right up front that I love the idea, Tony. It's so simple, and yet addresses so many complex problems, old and new, that we currently face. That makes it particularly heartbreaking that I don't think it could ever get off the ground without some fundamental changes in today's America.

Warning: Vast generalizations to follow

Americans seem to feel so entitled to hoard wealth, as if it's a birthright of having been spawned at the right latitude. And no matter how obscene the hoarding might be to a neutral, sane observer, it's a badge of honor around these parts. That would have to be overcome, and it's so ingrained that I'm not sure how to even begin that process.

Cultural Bigotry
A lot of the resentment directed at the US before we actually gave people obvious reasons to resent us stemmed from a tendency to assume our ideas and methods are innately better just for having been American. A lot of cultures find that insulting. Further, at this point, other nations in need are going to assume that our aid comes at a price, and our agenda will be suspicious to them. "Beware Romulans bearing gifts," as Bones said. And can you blame them? I think that could be overcome, but it would take concerted efforts, time, and a primary, driving rule that we not impose our beliefs, political or social or otherwise, on a nation that we're aiding.

"We can't even feed our own people!"
This is the catchphrase that comes up every time any sort of foreign aid is discussed in the USA. I certainly wouldn't say that there's no merit to the argument, because I think the middle class is shrinking. There are plenty of hard-working, dedicated, skilled people I personally know that are a few missing paychecks from being really worried about that next meal themselves. I do think it's a completely separate issue from the notion of reaching out internationally, but plenty of people aren't willing to draw that distinction.

But man, I love the idea.

-- Gene

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curmudgeon... you already know I agree with your foreign aid proposition on moral grounds. I could add to that moral argument... but let me offer another reason to follow the path you propose... a practical reason.

"It's the only chance for us to have a peaceful future".

As weapon technology (WMD) continues to evolve... to the point where a few angry individuals could invoke mass casualties.... the price of ignoring the "have nots" is about to go up. I believe we ignore both the domestic and foreign wealth gaps at our peril going forward. It's been obvious for a long time our society has opted for a "winner take all ethos". We can't even come to a collective agreement universal healthcare matters alot more than lake homes... but that's another post. More specifically... to your post suggesting more "do-gooding" on foreign soils.

The following is from Paul O'Neill's book ... "The Price of Loyalty".

"The United States annually devoted $10 billion to foreign aid -- a total Bush had promised to increase by 50 percent with his Millenium Challenge Account. But that amount, the largest of any country, was still just 0.1 percent of GDP, the lowest percentage among the twenty or so richest nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development".

Do the math... it's a practical matter... we have been incredibly stupid as a nation not seeing what's coming. We will be a globalized world... if we make it that long. Sooner or later that means "we are all in this together". It would be nice for all of us to be able to rally around that on moral grounds... but I suspect we will have to win some of the "eat your own kill laissez-faire" types over with more practical arguments. The "winner take all ethos" is going to become increasingly more dangerous going forward.

All JMO,


5:42 PM  
Blogger David R said...

JG said: "Stop thinking the world should like us"

There are so many things fundamentally disturbing about that response to the Curmudgeon's essay, it's hard to decide where to start.

So I'll just plunge right and and say that your comment is a gross oversimplification of the motivations behind this suggestion from the Curmudgeon. Clearly the point of the essay is overriding moral and ethical responsibility that we, as the richest nation in the world, should at least begin to understand we have towards all those less fortunate. He theorizes (correctly in my view) that the U.S. would receive some benefit in terms of a better worldwide image overall. Frankly I don't see how that point can be argued against. But very clearly the Curmudgeon is not proposing this benefit as the primary motivation for action.

Secondly, what a wonderful all-purpose cop out it is to believe that the world will dislike us regardless of what we do. I challenge any Curmudgeon reader to come up with a more easy rationalization, a more lazy call to inaction and self-interest, a more one-size-fits-all justification for ignoring world opinion. Very Bush-like in it's simplicity.

Regardless, I'll mentally do as you ask and "stop thinking the world should like us". It doesn't detract one jot from the sensibleness and morality of what the Curmudgeon is proposing. It's unfortunate that you are not able to comprehend the many reasons why this is so.

I wonder why, after briefly dismissing the Curmudgeon's heartfelt call to charity as nothing but a kind of wimpy wishing for the world to like us, you spend the rest of your post defending our invasion and occupation of Iraq. Seems like that is a little off-topic, don't you think? Perhaps you just have a lot on your mind.

Finally, to address the first line of your post.. "Maybe I don't belong here", I think I can speak for the Curmudgeon in saying of course you do! You may not consider yourself disenfranchised, but I think we can all agree that your first post was very curmudgeonly. Stick around, maybe you can learn something.


1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

R Well how controversial is that? Aside from the insults, about 80% of your posting is defending something I already agree to; that as the richest nation we have a responsibility to those that are hungry. But why do we stop there? Why stop at a meal? What is more important to you -- a meal or life? I dispute you believe the latter since your antagonistic and condescending approach to your response indicates your disagreement with us going into Iraq. And yes, it was quite off subject. I was quite aware of this but isn't that par for the course? Have you read any of the other threads? Quite the vast net of responses to a narrow discussion point. Look at the one on Reagan. Look at any other one. Let's cast dispersion on those that would deserve it. Let's disagree without being disagreeable. You would harpoon my dereliction of "topic response" and you risk me discounting your (potentially otherwise valid) response as hyperbole by someone who disagrees with me.

"wonderful...cop out". Perhaps it's my affinity to realism as opposed to idealism. Who is going to argue with the idea of us feeding people? Is that what this is about? Was I harpooned with being a "cop out" because you think I don't support this notion? Do you really believe, in your heart, that the US can ever, ever do anything in this world that will appease the World or bring us favor in their eyes? It's not a "lazy call to inaction." A "lazy call to inaction" is standing by as ethnic cleansing in Somalia is killing thousands. A "lazy call to inaction" is not removing a regime Congress believed should be removed in '98. A "lazy call to inaction" is allowing a Hitler-like dictator to terrorize his neighbors, torture dissidents and gas his own people. So what's at the crux of your argument? You want us to give people a bowl of beans and rice but stand by as the outer layer of their epidermis is peeled from their body? Surely I'm misunderstanding your point.

What men do you look to in history with admiration? Men who stood for something irrespective of world opinion or men who succumbed to the will of the world? What about FDR? In what category would you put him. What about Churchill? Reagan? "Tear down that wall..." That's sensible world-pleasing language? The fact is, the great leaders of this world have gone against the grain and done things that their then-present-day constituents disagreed with; not to mention those outside the circle of constituency. Sorry, off-topic again.

Winston Churchill said "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last." This underscores what I believe the UN was doing about Iraq. How do you measure threat?

Sorry, back to the unfortunate souls in this world. I should have started my posting saying, "Yes, I agree. We should provide assistance to the world and in light of our present blessings, $10 billion really is NOT enough. Let's have less 'duck preservation studies' in Alaska and feed more children." But what happens, as is the goal of any well organized political/social writing (as this one, and others, was), it begins to make the molecules speed up within your socio-political (that's not really a phrase is it?) being and they start colliding against each other which always makes the hamster nervous and he starts running faster and faster making the wheel turn at such a brisk rate that before you know it, you're off subject. I started thinking, "Well yeah, geeze, $10 billion, they need more. What else do they need? Well, yeah, they need freedom. If there is any absolute outside of God it is political freedom. Well, how do they get it? Well, they do it themselves? Hmm, what if they can't do it themselves? Should we really impose...but it's FREEDOM? Of course we should. A meal is great, yeah, they'll need the energy to rebuild their country...." I digress.

The hamster needs a break so I'll close with this. I won't deny that my one-liner is too simplistic. Most one-liners are. I do believe, however, that aside from food, freedom satiates the soul better than a burger.


9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David R said:

"Secondly, what a wonderful all-purpose cop out it is to believe that the world will dislike us regardless of what we do."

Do you read Thomas Friedman? I think he is "the man" regarding understanding what we are up against in the Middle East. He puts a finer point on the world "disliking us". He uses the term "undeterrables" to refer to those who can't be reached... i.e. terrorist that are filled with hate and anger. This element probably will hate us no matter what we do. I believe, however, the vast majority of populations are rational human beings wantings what most humans want... peace,prosperity, chance to raise the kids well, etc. The rational among us have to win out... and America is going to be forced to lead that fight. I have to admit I have has similar thoughts to JG regarding the middle east... this part of the world seems destined to hate us no matter what we do. Also, Crumudgeon's charity can be spread to some parts of the world easier than others. When charity has to be filtered through dictators (i.e. UN Food for Oil), it seems very difficult to reach the intended populations. At the end of the day, I don't think the US deserves the level of hate directed at it.... but you would have to be naive to not understand why other nations would view us as greedy and arrogant. I think opening up the purse strings is the right thing to do regardless of goodwill payback. If we do the right thing long enough... others will get it.

Gene... Curmudgeon can tell you we are kindred spirits on the "Entitlement" issue.... although my previous rants have been focused on our sense of entitlement within our own society. I call it our "Capitalistic Blind Spot".


10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JG... good post. I hope my buddy David R. doesn't police the OT stuff to hard, because I live "Off Topic" half of the time. :)

I want to make a comment regarding your following comment.

"Well, yeah, they need freedom. If there is any absolute outside of God it is political freedom. Well, how do they get it? Well, they do it themselves? Hmm, what if they can't do it themselves? Should we really impose...but it's FREEDOM? Of course we should."

I've learned to turn the radar up a bit when I hear someone argue for US intervention based on God or "everyone should have the same freedom-based society that we have". At the risk of going OT (is a comment about a previous blog in the current blog OT? :)... I was very disturbed when I heard a tape of Reagan last week where he made fun of the Soviet Union because they were "Godless". He wasn't making fun of their economic system or chastizing them for their imperialist desires... a sitting US president was making fun of another country's religious beliefs (or lack of). I don't point this out to slam Reagan ... but rather to point out where we tend to step over the line into the land of arrogance. It looks like this could develop into a good place to have civil debates.... so I intend to sprinkle in a large dose of (IMO's) everywhere. :)


It is an arrogant idea to think we should impose OUR GOD or OUR GOVERNMENT or OUR DEFINITION OF FREEDOM (i.e. our constitution) on another country. Those are not good enough reasons (talking Iraq here, not Curmudgeon's foreign aid) for invading another country. I originally supported the Iraq war, although I always thought it was a 60/40% call. Well... I have had plenty of time to think about that choice during the last disastrous year. I originally supported it because of the idea of democracy being introduced to the middle east (I never did buy any of Bush's lies about why he wanted to go to war. Even if the war was moral, a president lying us into it is not... but that's another post). Well... I've changed my mind... the US has no right to try and plant democracy in the middle east via military action. I say that begrudgingly, because I think a successful democracy planted in the middle east could very well be our best chace for peace and reduced terrorism.

Here is a list of reasons to go to war:
1) self-defense (preemptive ok if clear and present danger)
2) imperialist actions by a country
3) ethnic cleansing... genocide... random torturing of a population.

Note: going to war to force our idea of natural rights, civil liberties, freedom... NOT OK.

Again... all JMO


11:18 AM  
Blogger David R said...

To JG, mostly:

First off, let me completely retract my off-topic remark. It was a lazy choice of expression and it clouded the point I was trying to make. I promise to never use that phrase again, although I must say that those 3 little syllables were given far more attention than they deserved. It seems to be the thing you found most "insulting" about my response, and for that I apologize. My point would have been better made thusly: I found the juxtaposition of topics to be revealing and rather unsettling.

I understood clearly that you agreed with the concept of feeding the hungry. In a most tepid, dismissive, yes-we-have-a-duty-but-it-really-won't-make-any-difference manner. It was the noticeably greater level of enthusiasm with which you then went on in support of the Iraq adventure that struck me as incongruous. The message I was getting from your post was that feeding the world is a duty somewhat akin to taking out the trash, whereas the invasion of Iraq is a noble, brave, righteous, and perhaps more effective use of our resources. Perhaps I was reading more into the lines than what was there, but the level of "usefulness" you imply for these two very different kinds of intervention seems to me to be quite out-of-kilter.

Your second post only reinforces the impression I got from the first. You are far more impressed with violent as opposed to non-violent solutions to the worlds problems. Not to put too fine a point on it, you don't seem able to think of any non-violent solutions. Feeding people is just making them a little more comfortable while catastrophe awaits. All your examples of effective problem solving seem to involve kicking some ass. You even narrow the choice right down to two alternatives: a meal or a life. And very clearly, the life choice involves taking along with saving. Not to mention, this is another gross oversimplification of the choices we are faced with in the world.

Now, I'm not against kicking some ass when it's required, and history has clearly shown that it is often required. But there are other ways, many other ways to bring enlightenment, peace, and freedom to the world, and food is a very powerful thing when you are hungry. Very powerful. And I think most hungry people in this world need, and would appreciate, food, far more than they need whatever passes for "freedom" in Iraq these days.

And yes, I do, in my heart, really believe that the U.S. can do much more for this world with our money and our food and our inventiveness and our education and our intelligence and our COMPASSION, than we are doing right now with all our military might. That wasn't really your question though. Your question was did I believe we could "appease" the world or "bring us favor in their eyes". Well, here's where I think you and I completely agree: I couldn't be less concerned with how the world thinks about it, I just want to do the -right thing-.

Other than the fact that I am disagreeing strongly with you on most everything :-), I don't see how I am being particularly insulting or antagonistic in either of my posts here. Perhaps that's just my way of being "controversial"? I should share some of my private email with the Curmudgeon with you if you really want to see insulting and antagonistic :-) If my posts really are considered insulting or antagonistic by the group, then perhaps this blog might be a little squeamish for my tastes. Please do let me know Curmudgeon, I will try to tone it down if need be. Nothing personal intended, JG


7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David R,

I also have my endless email loop with the Curmudgeon... we have been debating/insulting each other for a very long time. For me, it has become as important as oxygen. :) If there is one thing I'm sure of... the Curmudgeon will not want any of us to tone it down. The common thread is the Curmudgeon, remember ... he certainly knew his audience before he sent out the invitations. :))))))


7:25 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

On CivilityI've been doing messageboards and online communities for a bunch of years now, and one thing I've learned is that it is much easier to get and give Insult than with the spoken word. My working theory is that we don't have real effective written substitutes for things like inflection, tibre, and body language. Though emoticons are a useful idea, particularly in this type of context, they still leave a lot of room.

I for one know I come across MUCH more harshly in the written word than what I mean to most of the time. I think knowing this crew that participates in these discussions as I do, I am comfortable with saying that there isn't a mean spirited one in the bunch (certainly not DavidR or JG).

I don't know about the rest of you, but I think a little rancor is a good thing and adds to the fun. If it gets out of hand, I *might* exercise my moderator priviliges, but I seriously doubt that because the best interactive on-line discussion I have been a part of were the ones that are most wide open.

Anyway, thats how I view things.

9:17 AM  

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