A “Shithole country”.

POSTNOTE Jan 14: Ruthanne notes this link, which I would also recommend. Rebecca sends this from Boston Globe.
Each morning, including this chilly day in Woodbury, as I get into and out of my car I see two lovely Haitian ladies (photos below). A member of our Fonkoze study group took these photos at a market in Ench (Hinche) in central Haiti in the spring of 2006. I had put them on a poster for a church display back then, and truth be told, they’re on display now only because I didn’t want to throw the poster away, even though I doubted I’d ever use it again. I’m very glad I kept it. These ladies help center me each day.

Haiti market 2006

Haiti market

Now I’ve scanned them, and the poster is back where I found it. They are very elegant representatives of that place less than two hours east of Miami, Florida.


I only went to Haiti twice, both on study trips, in December, 2003, and again in April, 2006. They were historical times, both of them.

In 2004, I put together a map comparing Haiti to Minnesota (many thanks to Paul Miller for his assistance), and for getting me to go to Haiti with he and five others in the first place:

(click to enlarge)

Back then, I also put up a web presence about how I was coming to understand the small and impoverished place, our neighbor in the Caribbean. The site remains there, maybe a bit dusty, but perhaps a few people might want to wander around its nooks and crannies, now many years later. Here’s the link. Yes, the link is outdated, but still pertinent.

Likewise, here’s the link to some writings I did back then….

Suffice, we Americans have a rather inglorious history with Haiti, beginning with our refusal to recognize the country when the slaves revolted against France in 1804 and declared their independence. We were rather frightened by this, and these freed slaves have been punished ever since.

Best we start seeing Haiti, and those other “shithole” countries so summarily dismissed.

In many ways, they are superior to our own.

Haitian Money 2003 and 2006

Haitian Goud 2008

from Rebecca: Thinking about you and your Haiti trip compatriots today, about Ruben, April, Joelle, etc. (our local friends) and all the beautiful people I met in Haiti with Witness for Peace back in 1992-3.

from Ezildanto: Thank you for sharing Dick. Will circulate.
Wish the headlines were about the shitty imperialism, US-EU occupation, and neoliberal plunders that contains the countries that get TPS in poverty and dictatorship. Be well, è

from Alan: We have been there three times. I don’t remember exactly what years, but the first time was when we went to a Club Med resort, it’s name was Magic Haiti, and it was truly magic. We were there a week and met the head of the largest bank of England who invited us to visit his home if we ever got to London. Lou Ann, I would say the first or second day that we were there saw a poster advertising the CITIDAL. She said that she had read about it, but there was no way to get to see it, except the poster said there was.

Now as far as a shit hole goes, I think that explains the brain of Donald J. Trump. The people that we met in Haiti were friendly. The two times that we were there we stayed at the Hotel Montana. We did have dinner one night at the Grand Hotel Olafson. Haiti had a wonderful Tomato Ketchup that was produced there and I tried to get help from our government so I could import it and sell it to grocery stores but I got no help. We both had 3 good times in Haiti meeting many of the locals.

from Paul: small gesture of resistance / donate a toilet in honor of Don Trump

(click to enlarge)

from Mark Schuller: I’m still speechless. Here’s the best I can come up with.
There are lots of powerful words already said. H-Net has compiled several, including powerful Miami Herald op-ed by award winning Haitian author Edwidge Danticat.

from David: Thanks for the post. As you know, ever since the last election, I’ve advocated that voters had many reasons for pulling the lever in favor of Trump. A vote for Trump doesn’t define a person. If Democrats hope to win those voters back, they need to offer something that addresses their needs. The Democrats have allowed themselves to be cast as the party of coastal elites who are quick to put down “non-college-educated-white males” as a “basket of deplorables.” If you question any progressive position you are immediately identified as a racist, bigot, homophobe, zenophobe, etc. At that point, conversation ceases.

That being said, Trump’s latest “shithole” remarks and the general silence from the right in response, makes me wonder where we’ve come as a country. If Haiti, and, according to Trump, all African countries, are truly “shitholes,” isn’t that MORE reason to allow their citizens to come to the United States? What’s truly being said is that we’re happy to take in white folks and keep black and brown folks out. The very definition of racism. A Fox News commentator stated that Trump was only saying publicly what many Americans believe privately. Has our country truly come to that? I hope not. In his January 12, Washington Post commentary, Philip Kennicott, makes the case far better than I when he writes about our growing indifference to human suffering.

One would think that merely pointing out the awful things that Trump has said and done would be enough to turn the electorate against him. But, we knew all of those things on election day in 2016 and he still was elected president. Clearly, the Democrats need to find a different strategy than merely, “Trump sucks, vote for us.”

from Mary T: This is appalling – don’t know whether you have heard of it yet, but this article was the first report I have seen.

Dick Bernard: Killer or Healer? A Decision We All Need to Make

Sunday’s homily at Basilica of St. Mary was a powerful commentary on a portion of the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment.” (full text MT 5:20-22A, 2728, 33-34A, 37).
Fr. Harry, a retired Priest of the Diocese and frequent celebrant and gifted homilist at Basilica, wove his message not around physical killing, but the more common, now almost ubiquitous and unfortunately acceptable practice of “killing” others by actions other than a gun or similar. He talked of a couple of old guys, once friends, who hadn’t talked to each other for decades, though they worked in the same building, who were more or less forced into contact by the marriage of their respective granddaughter and grandson…and in the process of renewal of their long interrupted relationship couldn’t even remember what caused the fracture in the first place….
So it goes.
Driving home, for some reason, I got to thinking of a homily I had heard in a Port-au-Prince Haiti Catholic Church on December 7, 2003. Six of us were in our first full day in Haiti*. The congregation of the church was financially very poor, but vibrant. The Priest, Gerard Jean-Juste**, was a charismatic preacher, and this particular day, he knew he had a target for his message in we six visitors from the United States, an hour or so flight away.
(click to enlarge)

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste and parishioners at Ste. Clare Parish Port-au-Prince Haiti December 7, 2003 (Dick Bernard)

Fr. Jean-Juste saying Mass at Ste. Claire Dec 7 2003 (photo by Dick Bernard)

He didn’t look at us – we really hadn’t met him at this point, but he knew we were there – but his message about the role of our wealthy society in the U.S. – to be the “killers” or “healers” of this desperately poor country – struck home. He supported the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide; and by the sundry means available to it, the U.S. was in the process of “killing” this president whose constituency was the poor. Rather than helping (“healing”) the poor. We were making it all but impossible for Haiti to compete in any way with their very wealthy neighbor, our own country. Democracy in Haiti was competition, and could not be tolerated. With “friends” like us, who needed enemies?
While there weren’t dead bodies in the street – at least not a great number of them – nonetheless, they may as well have been: farmers who had grown rice were forced out of business by U.S. undercutting Haitian farmer prices, and then dominating the rice market…things like that.
I got to thinking of a recent visit to our towns bookstore. I was looking for a book of meditations for a friend whose wife had recently died. Walking down an aisle, I was stopped short by a sign, which so struck me I went back to the car to bring in my camera and click this photo:

Book Display December, 2017

I googled the author and found quite an array of books, almost all dark topics: about killing Patton, …Kennedy, …Lincoln, …Jesus; similar about the attempted killing of Reagan; in effect, the killing of Hitler and the Nazis, and per the picture, killing “The Rising Sun” in WWII; the Next Nuclear War….
Clearly, killing was O’Reilly’s selling point for his books. There is a polarity in this country in which many enshrine the idea of killing an enemy: a political opponent, “al Qaeda”, on and on. We sort of enjoy killing. It is politically very useful to have an enemy to kill.
Similarly, I am sure, there is a “healing” niche as well, with a completely different audience….
A friend of mine, a migrant from another country, here for many years, but not yet a citizen, described us well, recently. The U.S., he said, is a polarized country, where we largely exist in “bubbles”, like those two old guys that had no relationship whatever for many years, until some unplanned event brought them together again.
I’m on the “healer” side of this polarity. At the same time, I say we have to find ways to constructively communicate with the other side as well.
“Killing”, whether physically or by character assassination, is no solution. In assorted way, the assassins described in the books ended up dying themselves, either individually (like Lincoln’s assassin) or on a larger scale (Nazi Germany).
“Killer” or “Healer”? I’ll take “healer” any time.
TUESDAY, VALENTINE’S DAY: a shining moment when “healing” held sway.
* – More about the trip, if you wish, here.
** – Jean-Juste was on the “wrong” side in the battle with the U.S. Less than 3 months after our meeting him, he was imprisoned, then deposed to the United States, where he ultimately died, effectively in exile. President Aristide was deposed and taken out of his country by the United States. It was a sad lesson for me, on my first visit to Haiti.

#1109 – Dick Bernard: Leap Year, Feb. 29, 2004. Haiti revisited.

December 6-13, 2003, I made my first visit to Haiti. There were a half-dozen of us in a group led by Paul Miller. I knew little about Haiti. We spent our time in Port-au-Prince visiting assorted persons, idealists all, enthusiasts for democracy, who were allied with the cause of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
There was a sense of tension, though not worrisome, when we arrived.
Storm clouds intensified during the last days of our visit. At least one person we had met had been killed a day or two after we met him at a school; we had possibly heard the gunshots as we drove in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace.
But all in all it was a great learning week, about the Haiti and Haitians we hadn’t known before.
Towards the end I asked our host if I could get some Haitian money to take home with me, and he accommodated me with 100 newly minted Haitian 10-Gourdes notes (approx value, to my recollection, $20 or so.) Then and now these notes represent the optimism of a nation about to celebrate its bicentennial of freedom; of breaking the chains of slavery.
(click to enlarge)

10 Gourdes notes, Haiti, December, 2003

10 Gourdes notes, Haiti, December, 2003

Back home, we watched those storm clouds build quickly, and early in the morning of February 29, 2004, leap day, 12 years ago today, President Aristide and family were spirited out of Haiti to the Central African Republic, very certainly the victims of a coup orchestrated by the United State Government with the active support of the French and Canadian governments as well.
People we met had fled, been imprisoned, or killed. And it was our own countries doing.
I remember hearing at the time that the timing of the coup was deliberate.
Haiti had just celebrated the bicentennial of its Declaration of Independence from France; and in this case, Feb. 29, 2004, it would be difficult to annually remember the destruction of Haiti’s experiment with democracy during the years of Aristide.
Now it’s twelve years later, and while I still have an interest in Haiti, I don’t follow it daily, as I did then.
But sometimes it is good to review the past, and to see what was gained, or lost in the time after we squelched democracy in our little neighbor just east of Florida.
For those interested, I offer a few personal and very modest attempts at the U.S.-Haiti history over the past few years.
My offerings about Haiti (all accessible here). Putting “Haiti” in the searchbox at this blog will find additional articles.
It is my hope that we always remember Haiti, still impoverished; still dominated by our government (which is, by the way, not simply a person…but rather an entire institution with a very long history of keeping Haiti as a subordinate state.
For me, back in my advocacy years for Haiti, this included a single anonymous person at the Haiti desk at the State Department; some invisible functionaries at U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of Defense; the public but very shadowy National Endowment for Democracy and its Republican and Democrat arms, etc.) Even the United Nations was complicit. Of course, the U.S. is the dominant state within the United Nations.
Haiti remains one of the poorest and by extension most oppressed countries in the world. Once in awhile it deserves a spotlight, and a look back.
My summary: Haiti is still very poor. The reflex response of Americans seems to be “it’s the Haitians problem”. It is a simple response, from my own experience, that’s not at all a merited response.
We created and we sustain what we see, there, today.
I like the phrase I heard back then, “Start Seeing Haiti”.

#851 – Dick Bernard: Haiti, remembering a December, 2003, visit to Port-au-Prince, and the time before the overthrow of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government February 29, 2004.

UPDATE: Yesterday my friend Jane Stillwater reported on a recent short visit to the same area I visited in 2003. You can read her comments, and see some photos, here.

Map of Haiti, December 2003

Map of Haiti, December 2003

Port-au-Prince Dec 2003

Port-au-Prince Dec 2003

Back in the spring of 2002 my new friend, Paul Miller, began to lobby me to join him on a trip to Haiti. He’d been there several times, and while I knew where Haiti was, and that it was a very poor country, that was about it.
Paul kept working on me, and during most of 2003 we read and talked about Haiti, and on Dec. 6, 2003, we landed in Port-au-Prince for an astonishing and eye-opening week [Basic itinerary at end of this post]. I wrote here about that experience on the 10 year anniversary.
We had a full and extraordinarily rich week, ending December 13, 2003. At the end of December, 2003, I reflected on my experience in Haiti.
Our associations that week were with people who supported then President Aristide, and were attempting, successfully, to make positive changes in the lives of the poor. We knew Haiti as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere and the world; nonetheless we saw hope and pride as Haiti prepared for the bicentennial of its achieving independence from France in 1804.
A few photos from that amazing trip floated to the top of my collection when looking for symbols of Haiti in December, 2003:
(click to enlarge)
Haiti Sculpture Dec 2003005
The Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, December 8, 2003

The Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, December 8, 2003

At Ste. Claire after Mass Dec 7, 2003

At Ste. Claire after Mass Dec 7, 2003

There are many more photos, of places and people, all conveying pride and even optimism. Nobody expected the end of poverty, but there was discernible pride and optimism, amongst the poor, to at minimum be working towards poverty with dignity; the more real possibility of they and their children becoming literate; and of being recognized as free citizens who could and did democratically elect their President and other officials, etc.
At the end of our week, we stayed the last night at the Hotel Oloffson, made famous in Graham Greene’s novel, “The Comedians”. We sat in the bar listening to RAM, the band of Richard A. Morse. It was in itself a powerful evening. You could almost feel the increasingly intense political intrigue in the bar and on the veranda.
RAM at the Hotel Oloffson, about Dec. 12, 2003

RAM at the Hotel Oloffson, about Dec. 12, 2003

The next day we left, flying to Miami, picking up the Miami Herald story about storm clouds gathering in Haiti: Miami Herald 121303001.
The building storm was, of course, a fact known to us.
While we viewed the common folks going about their lives, we were hearing from the rich assortment of people we met with about the storm clouds gathering which, less than three months later, would end with the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, being flown out of his country by U.S. aircraft, victim of a U.S. sponsored and supported coup d’etat.
“Freedom” and “Democracy” in Haiti were too much a threat to be allowed by the United States of America.
It was a harsh lesson for me, then and now: my own country could do this to not a dictator, but a democratically elected President of an independent country.
The coup happened officially on Feb. 29, 2004, denying even the ability to commemorate an anniversary at its 10th year, 2014.
Back home, as the coup happened, and the stories abounded, I tried to make sense of what I had witnessed, trying to find some facts among the sea of fictions that flowed, especially, from my own United States government.
In March, 2006, I took another trip back to Haiti. In the time period before I left, I condensed my concerns into a letter to the leaders of three major political influence entities in the United States, and even submitted a proposed op ed to the New York Times (not printed). For those interested, my thoughts remain on line here.
Life has moved on, and my several feet of files relating to Haiti have lain undisturbed for several years.
But this anniversary brings the memories back, and the lesson learned is to be less than trusting of “truth” conveyed through official or even news sources.
A healthy skepticism is deserved.
I was last to Haiti since 2006, but still keep in touch.
Keep seeing Haiti.
The travelers above Petion-Ville, December, 2003.  Leader Paul Miller is at left.

The travelers above Petion-Ville, December, 2003. Leader Paul Miller is at left.

The General Itinerary as I recall it:
Stayed at Visitation House
The entire week was jam-packed.
We saw many of the places in the booklet Chemen Kwa Pep Ayisyen, in English, here: Haiti Stations of Cross001
Sunday, Dec 7, Mass at Ste Claire’s, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste
During the week, some specifics:
Driving tour of sights in the Port-au-Prince area
Dinner at home of our driver above Petion-Ville in Mont Calvare area.
Morning and lunch at BAI, advocacy group for victims of violence, primarily women
Visit Fonkoze, then beginning to mature into the major micro-finance organization it is today.
Visit Methodist Church under construction
Lunch at one of higher-end hotels above Port-au-Prince
Visit Hospice St Joseph
Visit SOPUDEP School Petion-ville
Visit the national television station/studio
Visit Fr Michael Graves at Orthodox Church
Visit President Aristide’s international press liaison
Visit Methodist Church Guest House
Visit Orphanage some distant into the countryside around Port-au-Prince
Overnight at Olaffson Hotel
from Peter B, Mar 1 (in 2003, this would have been Feb 29, the day of the coup):

In case you still want to put something in there about this:
The evening of the Haiti Coup I got on the phone with the State Department’s “Haiti Desk” and spent at least thirty minutes talking with a guy who was of course parroting the party line written by the Noriega character (not the Panamanian drug king, the State man in charge of the Caribbean)). I tried my best to explain that everybody knew (everybody who looked beyond the Washington Post and the New York Times that is, and could spell Haiti) that the thugs on the border in the DR were about to slam into Haiti, murdering, raping and pillaging, freeing the Duvalier Tonton Macoute killer police to add to the rampage, and destroying a functioning democracy.
He was polite and uncaring through out. I was not hurried off the line. I still can’t figure out how the single phone line to State about Haiti could be tied up by a citizen for that long in the midst of a very big military operation to capture a head of state and deport or kill him. But that’s how it was.
And of course my fears were fully realized, far worse than I ever imagined at the time.
I now understand that the cultural rules of “Market Rule” require that no successful alternative economy be allowed to function, let alone achieve a reasonable life for the citizens of any country. I now understand that the punishment meted out by Washington will be destruction, chaos and unimaginable slaughter. There is no place I am aware of today that is not subject to this other than (perhaps) Russia, which as an oligarchy, plays the game quite satisfactorily with the “Western Powers.”
I further understand that we don’t have a vote that counts on this. And that our elected officials are helpless to change it, because they are immediately drummed out of the halls of government, and if they won’t shut up, they find themselves standing next to a spouse at a news conference apologizing for human trafficking.
We’ve seen it all before. We might possibly escape total enslavement, but probably because the environment will drop on the population first, and we will be once again reduced to roving bands of hunter-gatherers.
Gloomy? So what? Show me some evidence to the contrary. Hunker down. Gonna be a long hard one. The old folks hereabouts say they never have seen weather like this. When Vermonters complain about the weather you know something is up.

#838 – Dick Bernard: Poverty. Seeing Reality, and Consequences of Ignoring that Reality.

The below, above the postnote, was written Tuesday, January 28, before the Presidents State of the Union.
The public relations battle around the State of the Union of the U.S., by far the richest country on earth*, will likely be around, in one way or another, America’s middle class, the haves and the have nots, the wealthy and the super-wealthy and the 99%…. The 1% always seem to seize what they consider the high ground. Where are the 99%, and why? That’s for side discussions.
1. Sunday, we took our 9th grade grandson over to Basilica of St. Mary to help with the preparation of the Undercroft (fancy word for Church Basement) for a program called Families Moving Forward, a partnership of a number of Churches who offer their facilities for a week to give overnight housing to temporarily homeless families. This particular week, there are four families who have taken up residence there, one with four children. These are families where someone is working for pay somewhere. At least one of the families has been told, since September, that they have an apartment, but the apartment owner keeps delaying their move-in, now five months later**.
It’s the “other side of town”, literally, from us. We’ve worked on occasion with this program. Our grandson was along because one of his class assignments was to volunteer for at least six hours at something. Sunday afternoon was a part of those six hours, setting up the undercroft.
(click on all photos to enlarge)

Tubs of sheets, pillows, et al, ready for set up.  They're kept at the Church for use every few weeks.  Volunteers do laundry at end of the week.

Tubs of sheets, pillows, et al, ready for set up. They’re kept at the Church for use every few weeks. Volunteers do laundry at end of the week.

A two bed room, probably for Mom and child.  Note the privacy walls.

A two bed room, probably for Mom and child. Note the privacy walls.

The "doorway" to the room

The “doorway” to the room

Even knowing the reality these families are living this week, and some have for many weeks, and even actually being there, setting up those rooms, the exercise is still an abstract one difficult for me to fully comprehend.
Even in the worst times – and I’ve had some – I’ve never been “homeless”. And now I’m fairly ordinary retired “Middle Class” and definitely not “poor”, though I had a couple of very close brushes with that state in my adult life.
A couple of hours after arriving, we left the Undercroft for a windy, chilly, Minneapolis. A number of homeless folks, adults, were in the entrance to the Basilica, warming up before going back out on the street. They’re likely out on the street today as well. I’m in comfy circumstances here at home writing about them, all of whom will be functionally “homeless” tonight in below zero weather.
2. Ten years ago, December, 2003, I was in Haiti for the first time. Haiti, then and now, is among the poorest countries on earth, less than two hours east of Miami, Florida.
One evening, our driver invited us to his home on a hillside overlooking prosperous Petion-ville. I took the below photo from the roof of his small cement block house on the side of the hill. His wife and young child were delightful hosts. The hill neighborhood was, I would guess, reasonably middle class by Haiti standards. I don’t know how his place fared in the earthquake in January, 2010. I do know the family survived.
Hillside homes above Petion-Ville (above Port-au-Prince) Haiti December, 2003.  Taken from the roof of one of the concrete block homes by Dick Bernard

Hillside homes above Petion-Ville (above Port-au-Prince) Haiti December, 2003. Taken from the roof of one of the concrete block homes by Dick Bernard

When I took the picture, my focus was on the neighborhood around our hosts house.
Today, I’m focused on the houses you can see at the very top of the hill, separated by walls and fences from those below. Your computer may allow you to zoom in on them.
Haiti has fabulously rich people too: they move comfortably between the U.S. and France and other places and back to Haiti. They’ve made their wealth in various legal ways, and they still make the rules. Haiti in that regard is not much different than the ideal United States as envisioned by the advocates for the worthy wealthy.
The very rich live within, but harshly separate from, the very poor nearby.
3. There is seldom attention to the downside of a huge gap between rich and poor. Sooner or later, as in Haiti, the rich become prisoners with in their own country, living behind walls with their own armed guards to remove any suggestion of the rabble invading. They cannot truly live free. I’ve seen the same in another third world country.
There are a lot of other consequences like, the poor cannot afford to buy the stuff that adds to the riches of the rich…. Poverty has consequences even for the rich.
It’s not a healthy state, and we’re moving in this direction, perhaps more quickly than we’d like to imagine.
We need some perspective, soon, and serious attention to closing this gap.
Polls now show that I’m not alone in my concern. Americans don’t mind wealth. They do mind an ever more greedy approach to personal wealth and power. We’ll see in November if they act on their attitudes.
* The United States as a country has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s wealth. Haiti, referred to in #3, below, has .142% of the world’s population, and .008% of the world’s wealth. (Data from Appendix 1 of Transforming the United Nations System by Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, United Nations University Press, 2013, comparing Population and Gross National Income)
** Some years ago at the same Basilica Families Moving Forward, four of the guests were a family of four, husband, wife and two teenage daughters. The drama of the evening was the husband being criticized for causing the family to lose the chance at an apartment, where they failed to make an appointment. Listening to this, it turned out that the husband had two jobs and one car, and the apartment was difficult to reach, and they lost their chance at housing….

POSTNOTES Thursday, January 30:
This mornings Just Above Sunset, always very long, gives a most interesting perspective on the general issue of rich and poor. If you wish, here.
Tuesday afternoon, we took our grandson and his Mom to “Twelve Years a Slave“, the powerful film about a free Negro from Saratoga NY who was sold into slavery into 1841, was a slave until 1853, and lived to write and speak about the terrible experience.
It is not a comfortable film. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend it. Ryan, our grandson, who asked to go to it in the first place, pronounced it good as well.
For me, watching, the film made lots of connections already known, more clear. Plantation owners felt no shame whatsoever in their entitlement. They drew their support from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), the good old days, when Masters were men and women were subordinate and slaves were slaves, property.
We were born as a slave nation over 200 years ago, and we’re far from over it today.
But neither are we going back to where we were.
My class, “old white men” tend to vote to go back to the “good old days” – last presidential election I recall President Obama lost to Mitt Romney in this class getting only 40% of their vote.
But they didn’t prevail. And their numbers will continue to decrease, at an increasing rate.
This doesn’t prevent some of them to continue to be very bitter. I get some of the “forwards”, and even some personal invective once in awhile.
But the “times, they are a’changin’ ”

#830 – Dick Bernard: Dr. Joe Schwartzberg on Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World.

UPDATE JAN 22, 2014: Dr. Schwartzberg has kindly provided the essence of his talk on January 16. You can read it here: Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg TRANSFORMING THE UN, Talk at St. Joan of Arc.
Dr. Schwartzberg emphasizes this isn’t a script, more an outline of his remarks.
UPDATES, including comments, will be added at the end the text. There is also a “responses” feature.
An earlier post about this book was published Jan 2, here.
More about Dr. Schwartzbergs work here and here.
January 16 over 40 of us had the privilege of hearing Dr. Joe Schwartzberg (Schwartzberg Bio001) introduce his new book of ideas on Transforming (rather than “Reforming”) the United Nations System. (Schwartzberg Endorsement001)

Dr. Joe Schwartzberg Jan. 16, 2014

Dr. Joe Schwartzberg Jan. 16, 2014

Schwartzberg UN Book002
How does one summarize two rich hours, during which even the author of this important new book could only scratch the surface of its content?
Best advice: buy the book (information at end of this post), and make a winter project to read it all; agree with it, disagree with it, dialogue about it, have study groups talk about it, but make it an opportunity to learn about an ever more important international institution trying to help 192 nations and over 7 billion people have a future.

The United Nations is far more than simply two simple words created 68 years ago in the “never again” rubble of WWII. The institution remains crucial to our planetary survival: a few hours after the Thursday meeting a front page headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune read “Climate risk is critical, U. N. warns”, quoting a near-final draft report of the Nobel Peace Prize winning U. N. affiliated Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: STrib Climate Change001
In its 400 pages, Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World (hereafter “Transforming”) sets about the task of describing the UN system, and making suggestions for improving its capacity for dealing with relationships between nations in an incredibly diverse and ever more tied together and dangerous world.
It is an academic work, and I predict it will get more than a cursory look at UN and other government and non-government agencies concerned about global issues and solutions to those issues.
Since the post-WWII days of its forming, when five victor nations and 48 others, led by the United States, created the United Nations, and later set up its headquarters in New York City, there are now 192 state members in the United Nations. These states are of almost unfathomable diversity: from a nation with less than 10,000 population to one with far in excess of 1,000,000,000 population; from extraordinarily rich, to very poor, all of us occupying the same speck of the small planet earth. And no longer are we separated by geographic distance or even geographic boundaries.
What happens one place, affects others….
Here are some small additional contributions to the conversation about the United Nations (I welcome your additional comments).
Only once in my life have I been at the United Nations in New York City. It was late June, 1972, and we were on a family trip.
A few days earlier we had been in metro Boston at a college, I think it was Clark College (now University) if memory serves, and we saw a gigantic globe on the grounds.
After leaving the UN that cool and overcast day in June we went down the street, almost literally, and saw the still under construction World Trade Center towers, and then went out to see the Statue of Liberty. The snapshots I took then are below, and in a way they represent the promise and the quandary of the present day world in which we live: little over 40 years ago in time, but so very far away in so many things that directly impact out future.
(click to enlarge photos)
United Nations late June 1972

United Nations late June 1972

Giant globe, Boston June 1972

Giant globe, Boston June 1972

Twin Towers late June 1972

Twin Towers late June 1972

Joni and Tom late June 1972

Joni and Tom late June 1972

New York City from the Statue of Liberty late June, 1972

New York City from the Statue of Liberty late June, 1972

We saw other places of great historic significance on that trip. Boston, Philadelphia, etc. A trip now near 42 years ago, not to be forgotten.
(Best as I can determine, from Transformation, 59 of the current 192 UN member nations have joined since my visit in 1972. The original UN nations numbered 53 in 1945.)
The United States is one of the UN’s 192 member nations, quite young at 227 years, no longer having the luxury of isolation and and the now-fantasy of our exceptionalism (though some would still wish this to be so).
In one sense the U.S. is definitely “exceptional”. In Transforming, the data on pages 338-345 show the United States as having less than 5% of the world population, and near 25% of the Global National income. No other country among the 192 even approaches a 10% share. China, at about 9% is second. We are exceedingly wealthy, and prone to lose perspective. Even our poor are relatively wealthy….
The U.S. is the most generous country in funding the UN: we provide 22% of the UN budget according to the book.
Best as I can determine, the current UN budget is about 5.5 billion dollars, not including peacekeeping and funding for several major UN agencies, which are separately organized and funded, but nonetheless considered UN projects. With world population at about 7 billion, this means less than $1 per year per person is allocated directly to the United Nations by member states.
If 5.5 billion and 22% share is accurate, the U.S. contributes about $1.1 billion to UN operations this year, meaning, divided by our 310 million people, that we each contribute about $4 per year to fund this agency. (The most recent state of Minnesota biennial budget is about $63 billion for a population of less than 6 million.)
Of course, every fact is open to argument.
But as a country the U.S. is so rich, it is difficult for even ordinary folks with ordinary income to comprehend how unequal we are.
Like most citizens, I have only limited knowledge about the world perspective. I think I’ve been to about 13 countries in my lifetime.
Since 2012, I’ve had a real gift from my sister, Mary Ann, who’s been a Peace Corps Volunteer in another United Nations member nation, Vanuatu.
According to the data in Transforming, Vanuatu, in the United Nations since 1981, has a population (251,000) about two-thirds the population of the city of Minneapolis MN, and a negligible Gross National Income.
Since her posting at Vanuatu in the fall of 2012, Mary Ann has provided regular updates on her experience there. You can view her commentary here.
More personally, my first hand acquaintance with the UN country of Haiti began in 2003 about the time the political turmoils were about to take down the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. February 28, 2014 (the actual date was February 29, 2004) is the 10th anniversary of the coup d’etat that led to the exile of President Aristide.
While Haiti has been a member of the UN since the beginning (1945), the near 10 million population island nation has both a dependence on and less than desirable view of the United Nations, and particularly UN member states the U.S., France and Canada which quite demonstrably interfered with its democracy, and officially give only lip service to helping Haiti succeed as an independent nation (Haiti is the land of thousands of NGOs [non-government organizations], coming from everywhere, to help with everything, not always constructively or cooperatively).
There are many connections between the U.S., the UN, and Haiti, not always direct, or easily sorted out, and not always negative, but always mysterious.
On one occasion on our 2006 trip we met with a French speaking Canadian police representative, a very nice man, whose job it was to train local police representatives in the interior city of Ench (Hinche). He was funded through the UN, which in turn was funded by Canada, which may have been supported by the United States. It was all a mystery.
On the same trip, while having a tire repaired on one of our vehicles, we met with some Nepalese soldiers on break in a park in Mirebelais, not far from their post. They were in a UN vehicle, and nice kids. Nepal is a poor country, and being part of a peace keeping force would be, at least, a job for these young military representatives. Likely some Nepalese soldier unknowingly introduced Cholera into Haiti; this was translated into the UN’s fault.
And of course the devastating hurricanes and the deadly earthquake in January 2010….
Between 2004 and 2006, especially, I maintained some web resources on Haiti, still accessible here.
March, 2006, Ench Haiti

March, 2006, Ench Haiti

Some summary thoughts:
In sum, we need each other. But relationships, individual needs and aspirations, and how to accomodate them, can be very complicated. And the UN is a part of a solution….
It is easy to kick around the United Nations, that supposedly sinister force some allege has unmarked helicopters about to force World Government on them. (These are the same types who would encourage their “sovereign” state to pull out of the United States.) “UN” can be and has been used as a convenient hate word.
But we are, like it or not, living in an interdependent world where isolation does not work as a national strategy, and then are extremely negative consequences for the strong, if we do not care a lot about the weak.
In a very real sense, the tragedy of 9-11-01, symbolized by the Twin Towers, pictured above when they were still under construction, is simply a signal that we are not isolated on a big rich island bordered by oceans; nor insulated from the rest of the world. Nor is the welfare of the rest of the world of no concern to us.
For just a few examples: man-induced global climate change does not respect borders; disease epidemics are a daily and exportable possibility from anywhere in the world at any time; the vulnerability of the internet is a reality; the possibility of dangerous mistakes or intended outcomes of genetic modification which will affect us all. These are among the things we, as citizens of this small planet, need to pay attention to.
With all its faults, the United Nations has made the world a better place, and would be sorely missed were it to disappear.
Buying Dr. Joe Schwartzberg’s book:
I can connect you directly with Dr. Schwartzberg. Just send me an e-mail: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. I’ll get the message to him. Include information such as mailing address and phone.
Or, you can order directly from United Nations University Press, here is the link.
Columnist Eric Black wrote about Joe Schwartzberg and the book in MinnPost on Jan 14, 2014: link is here.
from John B, Jan 20: Congratulations to Joe Schwartzberg for his thought provoking and visionary prescription for transforming the United nations. There is little chance for the ideas to be enacted anytime soon, but in time, possibly. One of the most moving experiences of my life was visiting the UN headquarters in New York about six years ago. I was struck by the vision of possibility and, at the same time, a sense of hopelessness as I thought about how difficult it is for powerful nations, like the USA, to share the power it has with other nations.
Joe is a treasure. He is first of all a thinker and a powerful teacher. He is an example for all educators who embrace their discipline (geography in his case) and use their knowledge and understanding to project transformational ideas into the world. Thanks , Joe.

#810 – Dick Bernard and Paul Miller: Remembering a Memorable Trip to Haiti, December, 2003

(click photos to enlarge)

Map to approximate scale by Dick Bernard; map rendering by Paul Miller.

Map to approximate scale by Dick Bernard; map rendering by Paul Miller.

Backpack, Haiti Dec 2003.  18 Mai is Haiti's Flag Day, a day of national pride.

Backpack, Haiti Dec 2003. 18 Mai is Haiti’s Flag Day, a day of national pride.

Ten years ago, early morning on this date, December 6, 2003 – a Saturday – I waited to board our flight from Minneapolis to Miami and thence on to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. There were six in our party, led by Paul Miller of Woodbury: Jeanne Morales, Andy Fisher, Jeff and Rita Nohner, and myself. Except for Paul, none of us had ever been to Haiti, a mysterious place to me.
Eight days later we returned: a life experience which forever changed me, for the better.
Late 2003 was a time of national pride but also great political turmoil in Haiti. Within three months, February 29, 2004, the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been overthrown by a U.S. backed and (very likely) orchestrated coup d’etat. We travelers apparently associated with the wrong friends (all very decent people, supporters of the Aristide administration, all doing very good things for ordinary people in Haiti.) I recall no personal times of tension, though we traveled freely to many places in Port-au-Prince. But by my count, one person we met was murdered outside the Presidential Palace two days after we met him; two persons we met ended up arrested before the coup (one of these “killed” by character assassination); at least two others went into exile at the time of the overthrow; another was killed by poisoning about a year later.
There was plenty of violence around and about in the land. In the manner of political narratives in media-rich countries like our own, the violence was falsely attached to President Aristide loyalists. “On the ground” in Haiti, it seemed to be the other way around: a legitimate government itself was under attack.
I wrote about our journey a few weeks after I returned. The writing remains on the internet here. Subsequently, I wrote about the coup d’etat, and about other things relating to Haiti, including a powerful 2006 visit to the interior of the country. Those links can be found at an outdated but nonetheless pertinent site here.
In 2008 came the summer of four hurricanes hitting Haiti broadside; and, of course, the horrific January 12, 2010, earthquake. Times have not been easy for Haiti.
Haiti's future at Sopudep School ten years ago, Dec. 2003

Haiti’s future at Sopudep School ten years ago, Dec. 2003

Rea Dol (at right) talks about Sopudep School

Rea Dol (at right) talks about Sopudep School

Paul Miller, our group organizer and leader, to whom I will always be grateful for the opportunity to visit Haiti then, and later, offered his recollections on December 4, 2013: “As anniversaries go, this one is daunting. Ten years ago I led a group of conscientious US citizens to Haiti to see first hand the conditions that existed there. It was my 7th trip to Haiti. It was my most significant trip because we met with people directly engaged in Haiti’s struggle to have a voice in its political affairs amid very real threats to their lives. Having the right to determine your own political leadership is not a lot to ask for but it wasn’t to be. Three months after our visit, Haiti’s fledgling democracy had been usurped, again, by the country that claims to be the leading defender of freedom worldwide. It was shocking to be told on the morning of February 29, 2004 by my friend Dick Bernard, that President Aristide had left Haiti. As events go, this one is right up there for me. I remember where and when I was told, just like I remember where I was when JFK was shot in 1963 and where I was when the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010.
It’s impossible to believe in the good intentions of your government when you understand what they have done, in our names, to the least of us, our brothers and sisters in Haiti. The coup that reportedly caused thousands of deaths didn’t feature the nifty slogan that came with the USAID tents after the 2010 earthquake that stated that it was a gift from the American people. This “gift” from the American people didn’t get advertised, you had to choose to see the truth. It’s a choice most of us don’t like to make because we want to think of ourselves as a voice for the voiceless. It’s a noble illusion that most of us hold on to despite the mountains of evidence that suggests otherwise. As our friend, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, said about our government during his impassioned homily during our visit to mass in 2003, “they help the killers, they don’t help the healers”.”

As time went on, a slogan “start seeing Haiti” took on real meaning for me, and doubtless for the others as well.
Today I maintain a listserv for passing along occasional items about Haiti.
Paul Miller, who now lives in Northfield MN, remains, with his daughter Natalie, very active in Haiti Justice activities. His website is here.
Hillside homes above Petionville.  This area was among those devastated in the 2010 earthquake.  Particularly note homes of the elite, on the top of the ridge.

Hillside homes above Petionville. This area was among those devastated in the 2010 earthquake. Particularly note homes of the elite, on the top of the ridge.

POSTNOTE: thoughts in a letter written by myself some hours after the above was posted.
“There are endless memories. It was a gentle experience. The people we met were marvelous, including the poor. But it was a time of intense political turmoil. Th U.S., with support of Canada and France, was determined to get rid of the democratically elected President Aristide and ultimately they succeeded three months later. In a sense, I lived behind the sound bites that passed for “information” in the States. It was not a routine trip – perhaps a little bit like wanderng around in Benghazi, or Damascus, or Cairo today – except the enemy was our own government, determined that Aristide had to go, and bankrolling his opposition who in turn paid people to organize demonstrations or kill people, etc.
But, honestly, never did I feel the slightest personal tension.
I do remember the last afternoon and evening in Port-au-Prince.
I was resting and fell asleep at our residence, awakening with a start to a lot of yelling nearby which sounded ominous.
Turned out that next door to our residence was a soccer field, and the players were arguing about a disputed call. That was it, an argument on a soccer field.
So, life went on. The last day we had to dodge an occasional burning tire in the street. The last night we stayed in the Hotel Oloffson made famous by novelist Graham Greene in The Comedians and spent a couple of hours listening to a well known Haitian band, RAM. The next morning we went to the airport and headed home. In Miami, the Miami Herald headlined the instability in the Haiti we had just left.
I could go on and on. We had experienced the Ugly American policy first hand, and the story would continue….”

Franco-Fete Nouvelles Villes Jumelles Minneapolis September 29, 2012. Hon. Jacqueline Regis

On September 29, those attending Franco-Fete heard very meaningful remarks from Hennepin County Judge Jacqueline Regis.
Her 12-page remarks, printed here with her permission, “Serving our Community through the unique perspective we acquired through our French language”, can be seen here: Jacqueline Regis at Franco-Fete Sep 29, 2012
Her talk concluded with sustained applause.
Judge Regis, who grew up in rural Haiti, has her own inspirational story, “The Daughter of L’Arsenal”. It is accessible at a number of sources which can be seen here.
Judge Regis is profiled in the Journal, Francophone Roots in the Midwest, Vol 4, Issue 1, Fall 2012: Hon. Jacquie Regis001
At page 7ff Judge Regis comments on a personal hero of hers, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a leader in the slave revolution which led to Haiti’s declaration of independence from France in the early 1800s. There are numerous references to L’Ouverture on the internet. Take some time to take a look.

#549 – Dick Bernard: Part Two. The slow but certain suicide of Capitalism

I’m not an enemy of Capitalism. From my earliest years some deference was paid to the person who lived in the biggest house in town; who occupied a position of status or rank; the most “successful” relative…. Right or wrong, they were thought to be deserving of being a bit better off.
Today, Capitalism funds my retirement pension (unless its most ruthless advocates achieve a goal of destroying my Union which provides the funding to assure my private pension solvency.)
I also have no apprehensions about Socialism. Indeed, without very strong elements of Socialism in the American economy, Capitalism would die, and Capitalism knows it, but doesn’t have the common sense to know when to quit bludgeoning the middle class and government, which are largely creatures of Socialist largesse – public schools, health and the like.
Examples to debate are endless. The Bible quote in last Sunday’s Passion (see it here) was a most interesting one, cutting the apparent Capitalist of the day considerable slack in how she spent her money.
Oh, if it were so simple.
If I were to pick an exemplar of unfettered Capitalism it would be desperately impoverished Haiti, once the jewel of the French Empire. You can find many examples of extreme wealth there; elite families benefit by friendly laws and have destroyed competition. As one gets richer and richer and richer, defeating a potential competitor is easy.
Poor as it is, I’ve heard post-earthquake Haiti described as a “goldmine”. So, somebody has a monopoly on cement; someone else on school uniforms, etc., etc., etc. And the wealthy in Haiti can enjoy their lifestyle wherever in the world they wish, while the overwhelming vast majority of the people subsist. It is a society of, by and for Capitalism; and in the last 100-200 years it is largely of the American variety. Its cruel circumstances were imported from France and the U.S., largely.

In our own U.S., the Capitalist impulse towards self-destruction is harder to see than in Haiti, but nonetheless it is apparent. We are killing ourselves.
The accelerating imbalance in wealth in America (and elsewhere) is apparent to anyone who cares to look. Last Sunday, 60 Minutes had a segment on burgeoning art markets for the super wealthy.
The wealthy have far more than enough. But, it seems, the more they have the more they want.
A friend of mine, a retired corporate manager and no friend of government or taxes, described this dynamic a few days ago, without intending to do so.
He and his wife spend February and March at one of those Florida Gulf Coast condominium complexes, and they had just returned home.
We were chatting, and the topic got around to where they stay each year.
They rent: $5,000 a month. Two bedroom, 9th floor, Gulf side.
We chatted: The owners of their condo have three or four homes. The 19 floors of their condo has over 100 units; only 6 are year round residents. The condo they rent cost $1.3 million when purchased a few years ago, and probably on a good day would now sell for $600,000. Monthly Association fees are $891, and my friend guessed that the place is rented perhaps four months a year. Most of the year it is empty. There are additional costs for upkeep. There are numerous other similar buildings in this community….
One can gather how a conversation about government, taxes, liberals, unions, etc., would go at dinner in one of the restaurants in this wealthy ghetto. Likely the owners pick as their legal residence the state which has the lowest taxes, and extract every entitlement that they can.
Yes, we have always had the better off, and mostly they were accepted and respected.
But like the semblance of balance necessary to keep a tub of clothes on spin cycle from ruining the wash machine, the obsession with more and more wealth – escalating inequity – is ruining everyone, including the very wealthy.
The wealthy are already a victim of their own greed – imprisoned by their own wealth – but its all they know. The rest of us will just tag along as their (and by extension, our) self-destruct mission continues…unless we decide to do something about it in our still free elections.
Happy Easter.

(Part one is here.)
UPDATE April 4:
John Borgen:
Yes, we are a country of the corporations by the corporations for the corporations. Making profit is our holy grail. So many believe they will strike it rich, win the lottery, inherit the big bucks. Consumerism is our religion. Our citizens are drunk on TV, sports, video games, alcohol, drugs, sugar, gossip, blame, selfishness, American elitism.
Ah, the rugged individual! The entrepreneur who cashes in. Only in America!
I heard on the radio,according to the Gallop organization, the top three happiest countries are Denmark, Norway and Finland. The USA
is # 11.

#526 – Paul Miller and Dick Bernard: Haiti, remembering eight years ago

About this time of year in 2002, Paul Miller and I met each other at a meeting, and we learned we lived in the same community.
Paul was already active in the cause of Justice for Haiti, and over the coming months he began to urge me to visit the island Republic with him. It took a while. Though I was a geography major, I needed to re-learn where Haiti was, and a little about it.
Finally, Paul won me over, and on December 6, 2003, we landed in Port-au-Prince, just in time to see the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide begin to fall to a foreign state sponsored coup d’etat, which ended with President Aristide and his wife being spirited out of the country in the middle of the night, early Feb. 29, 2004, aboard a U.S. aircraft, with a final destination in the Central African Republic. (I guess, though I don’t recall it, that I’m the one who told Paul that Aristide had been taken out of the country.)
Our week, December 6-13, 2003, was an extraordinarily rich learning experience, which gave lots of direct context to assess the later reporting, which left out the positives we had experienced: our context simply didn’t fit the official U.S. narrative….
For those with an interest, there’s tons of information readily available from the Aristide government point of view. Don’t stop with the “official” U.S. narrative.
Following the photo (click on it to enlarge) are’s Paul’s thoughts, and following those, a link to my own reflections written late December, 2003, on our memorable week in Haiti, December 6-13, 2003.

Group visits with Michelle Karshan, President Aristede's foreign press liaison, Dec 11, 2003. From left: Jeff Nohner, Paul Miller, Rita Nohner, Michelle Karshan, Rita Nohner, Fisher, Dick Bernard

Paul Miller, February 29, 2012:
“Seems like yesterday, but also seems like a really long time ago
Haiti, 8 years later
I remember very well where I was when I learned that President Aristide had left Haiti in the early morning hours of February 29, 2004. It was my “where were you when you heard JFK was shot” moment, although I have that memory, too. It was at Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, Minnesota and my friend, who had traveled with me to Haiti in December of 2003, 3 months earlier, informed me that news reports were saying that Aristide had left Haiti. LEFT HAITI? No way, was my first thought. I did not think that Aristide would ever abdicate his presidential term in Haiti by his own choice after the 1991 coup against him and his 1994 return. Stunned and devastated would accurately describe how I received this most depressing news.
The facts would come to show that my instincts were right. President Aristide had no intention of leaving Haiti on that night or on any night during the remaining time of his presidency. Clearly he DID NOT leave that night of his own volition. You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe about US actions on this day and about US actions towards Haiti on any given day. However, if you choose to value the truth, then you will accept /learn that the facts show that Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed by US force/s and yet another coup d’etat took place in Haiti. The only real evidence offered of an alternative scenario are the self serving statements from those at the top of our government, chiefly George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the sycophantic Colin Powell.
It’s not ancient history, like a lot of our nefarious actions towards Haiti. It was 8 years ago. Yesterday it was announced that President Aristide is being investigated for drug violations. Our hypocrisy really knows no bounds. What a coincidence that once again we are challenged to question Aristide’s integrity and ethics rather than to be reminded that there was a US sponsored coup that undermined Haiti’s hope for democracy and stability on this day, 8 short years ago.”

Dick Bernard reflections written late December, 2003: accessible here.