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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Respecting the power of people to help themselves

Chelsea's Heroic Efforts in Haiti

Sadly when I hear "journalist" my mind often thinks "hack" nowadays. There are a few Journalists who still have my respect. But not as many as too many of the ones I once relied on for good reporting have proven recently to be either sloppy, naive, dense or to have editors determined to use headlines to say the opposite of what the material they are reporting says. It's amazing. A good example of this sloppy click bait journalism was a politico article from September last year, titled: "The Clintons’ Haiti Screw-Up, As Told By Hillary’s Emails, The family still doesn't know how to wield its own power." I read this story and the text within it had almost no relationship to the headline! The Author, Jonathan Katz, is trying to make Chelsea Clinton's memo into part of a narrative about corruption and power that was just not there. If you ask me those efforts were heroic.

Katz writes:

"Chelsea Clinton authored a seven-page memo which she addressed to “Dad, Mom,” and copied their chief aides. That informal report tells a continuing story of the unique brands of power and intelligence wielded by the Clinton family in Haiti and around the world—and of the uniquely Clinton ways they often undermine themselves."

Katz notes that Hillary had made sure the Public Relations about the Haiti effort was positive. She did that because the Haiti effort was a UN driven effort where the USA was a principle player and she had to. There is always, especially in our USA efforts, a "Situation Normal All Effed Up" (SNAFU) quality to any military style or international relief effort. Some of that is the nature of disaster and some of that is human nature and the nature of official and official hierarchies. There is nothing incompatible between fighting to accomplish the goals of a relief effort and privately critiquing it. Publicly critiquing officials involved in something like getting relief to disaster victims would be counter productive to the effort. It would undermine it. So of course:

"there was the secrecy."

It was operationally imperative that they not bash their hosts! And indeed to do otherwise:

"would have obliterated the public narrative of helpful outsiders saving grateful earthquake survivors that her mother’s State Department was working so hard to promote."

There is nothing sinister about that! It also would have cut off the ability of the Clinton's and the State Department to continue to support the UN.

The Effort to Actually Help

So on the contrary, the very fact that Chelsea was on the ground seeking to help with earthquake relief and was able to write such an astute report says positive things about her!

"Chelsea Clinton was blunt in her report, confident the recipients would respect her request in the memo’s introduction to remain an “invisible soldier.” She had first come to the quake zone six days after the disaster with her father and then-fiancé, Mark Mezvinsky. Now she was returning with the medical aid group Partners in Health, whose co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, was her father’s deputy in his Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti. What she saw profoundly disturbed her."

Partner's in health gave effective aid to Haiti because they not only respected the UN but they respected the Haitian people.

"Five weeks after the earthquake, international responders were still in relief mode: U.S. soldiers roamed Port-au-Prince streets on alert for signs of social breakdown, while aid groups held daily coordination meetings inside a heavily guarded UN compound ordinary Haitian couldn’t enter. But Haitians had long since moved on into their own recovery mode, many in displacement camps they had set up themselves, as responders who rarely even spoke the language, Kreyòl, worked around them, oblivious to their efforts."

The Mind numbing incompetence of Officials

"Relief" for some ongoing concerns, including the UN, has become a business. Where the folks who need that relief are a secondary concern. And Chelsea noticed that:

“The incompetence is mind numbing,” she told her parents. “The UN people I encountered were frequently out of touch … anachronistic in their thinking at best and arrogant and incompetent at worst.” “There is NO accountability in the UN system or international humanitarian system.” The weak Haitian government, which had lost buildings and staff in the disaster, had something of a plan, she noted. Yet because it had failed to articulate its wishes quickly enough, foreigners rushed forward with a “proliferation of ad hoc efforts by the UN and INGOs [international nongovernmental organizations] to ‘help,’ some of which have helped … some of which have hurt … and some which have not happened at all.”

The author notes:

"The former first daughter recognized something that scores of other foreigners had missed: that Haitians were not just sitting around waiting for others to do the work. “Haitians in the settlements are very much organizing themselves … Fairly nuanced settlement governance structures have already developed,” she wrote, giving the example of camp home to 40,000 displaced quake survivors who had established a governing committee and a series of sub-committees overseeing security, sanitation, women’s needs and other issues."

The Mutual Respect Needed to Enable people to help themselves

So it sounds like Hillary and Chelsea were accomplishing their mission, which was to actually help the Haitian people while analyzing and dealing with the often counter-productive corporate bureaucrats of the professional "relief" business. And she observed that the folks who could help themselves best were the Haitians:

“They wanted to help themselves, and they wanted reliability and accountability from their partners,” Chelsea Clinton wrote. But that help was not coming. The aid groups had ignored requests for T-shirts, flashlights and pay for the security committee, and the U.S. military had apparently passed on the committee’s back-up plan that they provide security themselves. “The settlements’ governing bodies—as they shared with me—are beginning to experience UN/INGO fatigue given how often they articulate their needs, willingness to work—and how little is coming their way.”

the UN "relief" game often resembles the Mad Hatter's tea party or the Red Queen's chess game. But you have to play through. And yes, sometimes you have to shake the red queen until she turns back into a simple cat. But you can only do that when you've reached the end game. Chelsea did not have the power to tell the UN what to do. And for all the power and influence of the Clinton's neither to they.

The Courage to Work With others and Actually solve problems

But the author of the article understood this. I suppose it's the click bait editors who wanted to spin the story. Because this incident doesn't indicate a feckless Chelsea or confused Clinton family "screwing up" in Haiti. But a family trying to make real change and using their analytical skills to perform root cause analysis. The author ends up praising Chelsea:

"That analysis went beyond what some observers have taken years to understand, and many others still haven’t: that disaster survivors are best positioned to take charge of their own recovery, yet often get pushed aside by outside authorities who think, wrongly, that they know better. Her report also had more than an echo of the philosophy of her Partners in Health tour guides. More than five years later, her candor and force of insight impress experts. “I am struck by the direct tone and the level of detail,” says Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development."

What Haitians were lacking were the resources to help themselves. They did their best to get around this, but the lesson learned here is that sometimes the best person to trust with local affairs, is the local person. Officials from centers can advise, provide resources and assist. But when they take over they usually mess it up. Which is the real lesson of the Haiti Quake. Blaming Hillary for that is silly. This was a UN operation.

Lesson Learned

But when you dig honestly into relatively honest people, like the Clinton's, then the conspiracy theory/paranoia falls off and a human being starts to emerge. Not always a perfect human being, but usually one nothing like the one that the angry and venal portray in the media.

If you are an honest human being than something might happen like what happened as recounted in this article in Blue nation review:

"I was a Hillary Hater until I read her emails.

The idea that we Democrats are "corporatists", "in someone's pockets", "puppets" etc... falls apart when one examines it, now doesn't it?

Yes anyone involved in a contractual system or working as an executive has a lot of power, which is not unlimited and often constrained by the contracts, charters, and legislative rules they must follow. And by the nature of bureaucracy and the bureaucrats who one has to work with. We are not puppets. Even if have to live within rules that sometimes make us look like them.

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