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Like Haiti, Like Us

how different will it be like when the Big One hits the west coast?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 20, 2010.

Although, really January 18. Normally these are written Wednesday morning, but events and, well, other events precluded this. Next week: back to normal.

Inevitably, it's about Haiti. This god awful catastrophe serves, even more unfairly for Haitians, as an illustrative example of not just bad governance, but no governance at all, none worthy of the name. It's unfair for many reasons, but primarily because Haitians deserve more than a role as a negative illustrative example for the Hemisphere.

But since it IS an illustrative example and in place, what does it teach us?

After watching video of police wheeling into an area and opening fire where citizens were 'pillaging' a collapsed building, the first lesson is to compare this to the 9-11 WTC and Hurricane Katrina. In New York where police and firemen helped themselves to jewelry store items and clothing despite the hysterical denials, it was a war zone, and pillaging is accepted in those circumstances.

In Katrina, it was immediately remarked that the media, witnessing pillaging, called it scavenging for survival if those on video were white, but theft if they were black.

In Haiti, which is hardwired in our minds as witch doctor central, it's been presented by two equally outdated templates. First, the scenes of desperate black people ransacking collapsed buildings recalls Watts and Detroit here in the Golden Days of Television News. Then, the image of out of control Third World authority as represented by the idiot police. The media adores this, along with other templates of rescue and death, because after a half century of these scenes the reporters know what to say and the audience knows what to feel.

Unremarked is that THIS country isn't so far away from the infrastructure of Haiti. Although there's plenty of aid arriving from thousands of miles away, the numerous and easily available bottlenecks that prevent any distribution through the last few, few miles are the result of corruption so total that there is no government procedure or service whatsoever. There is no gasoline and without aid, no trucks to utilize it and, in any case, the roads are few and badly maintained. The cracks engendered by the quake are not the biggest impasse.

When I was young, there was the USS Hope, a hospital ship that made a big difference around the world. Haiti today could use such a vessel, where doctors could send the desperate cases for the surgery needed, and could be berthed exclusively for service in the Caribbean. It could be kept busy just on the island of Santa Domingo. It was too expensive and retired. But in the Third World of no roads, maintenance, or sense of government responsibility, wouldn't it be more efficient than what is happening in Porto Prince now?

Infrastructure comes only from government and taxes well spent. How far away is California from Haiti in those terms? Or the nation as a whole?