Thursday, September 01, 2005

Of Charities and Entitlements.

Every person living in the US who has access to television, the radio or the internet has by now realized that the extent of the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is enormous. Well, maybe not everybody, since both the right and the left are using the Hurricane to make some political capital, but other people can write about that.

I was in the unfortunate position of having to drive many boring hours in my car yesterday, where I got to listen to talk radio. One theme that was present in a number of different shows was: ‘Should other nations pledge aid and support for the US and the hurricane victims.’

Now, everybody agreed that the international community should provide aid. So far so good. But then things got ugly very quickly. People were calling into the show and not saying things like: “We would be grateful for any international aid.” No. Call after call it went along the lines of ‘We have been the most generous nation on earth. People owe us.’ Some callers even had the audacity to suggest that the people from the regions hit by the tsunami ought to send money. Now, I don’t want to delve into figuring out exactly how much of the money pledged actually arrived in the region, but I seem to remember that for the Iranian quake in the city of Bam only a small percentage of the money originally pledged actually ended up with the victims. Over a year after the quake the town was only about 20% rebuilt with many people living in tents or ruins. But that also is for another time to talk about.

So, over and over I heard on the radio how the international community owes the US. Repeatedly the French were bashed because they had not yet pledged aid for a city with so many French ties. It seems in the end that charity is not really charity. It is actually making a deposit in the ‘Bank of Aid’ from which you can demand withdrawals in your own time of need. Let’s hope that these misguided demands for charity will not be broadcast in other nations, since I fear that would actually dampen the flow of aid that sure will come into the US.

And as a reminder to everyone who cares: Katrina hit the coast on Monday the 29th. By Wednesday the 31st people were complaining of the lack of international aid. Maybe we should remind everyone what happened in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami:

Office of the Press Secretary; December 27, 2004
Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School, Crawford, Texas
Q Trent, is there any estimate of how much money we're going to be putting up to --
MR. DUFFY: I think the State Department addressed some of that this afternoon. I mean, obviously, the first thing that needs to be done is there needs to be an assessment of what can be done. There are some initial United States funds that are already flowing through the embassies. I think the dollar amounts are $400,000 at the early outgoing, and then $4 million in the next few days. But I would refer you to the State Department for more on the actual dollars.

So, there was an offer of $400.000 dollars and then $4 million dollars of aid. But wait, you cry, that was before we realized how big a catastrophe the tsunami really was. In the end we pledged way more than that. Well, has it occurred to you that maybe people don’t know of the real extent of damage done by Katrina yet either? It seems that in terms of damage the tsunami and Katrina may indeed be comparable. And as it stands of now, both the French and German governments have pledged to give unspecified aid to the US- but no calls have gone out to accept and coordinate that help.

All this may change over time, but in the end, you do have to remember: It’s called charity not entitlement. And anybody who demands charity just looks like a big fat idiot.

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