You know what really grinds my gears? No, not people quoting sophomoric cartoons they watch on a daily basis like they’re a 14 year-old boy.
Senator Tom Coburn really grinds my gears. And not in any good or dirty way you might want to take that.
He really pisses me off.
Worse for Senator Coburn, he also pisses off Jon Stewart. To wit:
For those of you living copyright protected, bandwidth limited lives in far-flung, authoritarian strongholds like Vancouver and Camp Phoenix outside Kabul, Stewart starts with:
Nine months ago, Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake. America quickly promised Haiti three things: $1.15 billion in aid, Sean Penn, and Wyclef Jean. Well, good news! Two of those three came through because apparently only one of those options can die in the Senate.
You see, Senator Coburn put a hold on the bill that would have authorized Congress to send $1.15 billion dollars in aid to Haiti for relief and recovery efforts. That’s right, in our vibrant and coherent democracy, the whims of one man from Oklahoma can prevent $1.15 billion from going to life-saving efforts in Haiti because he’s worried $5 million of that—less than one half of one percent—will waste taxpayer money on a redundant coordination office. As if coordinating $1.15 billion dollars in aid might not need some redundancy.
There’s a reason the clip from The Daily Show is called “Tom Coburn: International Asshole of Mystery.”
His hold on the bill is endangering lives. Why use a hold, you ask? Here’s something boring from a Congressional Research Service report.
Today, holds are often used to stall action on legislation or nominations in order to extract concessions from other Senators or the Administration. They are also employed to “take hostages.” Senators may delay bills or nominations, which they do not oppose, so they might gain political or procedural leverage to achieve other extraneous objectives.
Would that have been more exciting if I told you CRS reports are technically secret and not meant for the public’s eye? Go ahead, read it again. I’ll wait.
Okay, so maybe it’s still not exciting, but hopefully by your second reading, you’re at least outraged—you’re pissed off, your gears, they are ground—because now you know a hold is less a moral stand against waste and more a political tool. Senator Coburn just punted $1.15 billion for Haiti like, well, okay, there aren’t any Hall of Fame punters to whom to compare his useless but well-honed punting skills. Let’s just agree that Coburn is a punter, a cad, a real git. (Watch more “Doctor Who,” is all I can say if your British slang needs an update.)
There is some good news. Just because Coburn has a hold on the bill doesn’t mean the bill is dead.
There is some bad news. No one seems to care.
Yeah, you care, you’re outraged, but where’s the rest of the outrage? Where are the advocacy groups? Where are the celebrities who purport to care about Haiti and Haiti’s future?
By this point, I have a Pavlovian response to the word “orphanage” such that I immediately reach for an alcoholic beverage and a keyboard at which to write a ranting post about Misha Collins. True story.
Directly funding orphanages instead of empowering whole communities creates an imbalance which can lead to families sending their kids to orphanages. Voila, more orphans! Don’t directly fund orphanages.
No one listens. Eva Longoria and a cadre of A-list to D-list celebrities auctioned off Twitter follows, mentions, replies, and retweets all to benefit an orphanage to be built by A Home in Haiti. This building-an-orphanage thing is a change in direction for the organization. Previously, they had been raising money to send camping tents to Haiti as shelter for those left homeless by the earthquake.
Since the earthquake on Jan. 12, humanitarian experts have discouraged the distribution and donation of tents. They are expensive to buy and to transport. They take up more space than a tarp, and ultimately, they can’t withstand the weather. Despite this prediction, many charities, particularly those in the United States, persisted in their appeals for tents.
So A Home in Haiti doesn’t really have a history of listening. Well, okay. I mean, the result of their work could speak for itself. So:
[A Home in Haiti] brought 8,000 tents to Haiti, sending their final shipment this week. Though the charity encourages Haitian recipients to add tarps to their tents, it also has done “very little” monitoring and has no staff in the country.
So they have no way of knowing what the results of their project are because they’re doing no monitoring and no evaluations. On the plus side, they’re not monitoring or evaluating their project so they won’t have to report if and when it fails! Ah, the perfect system: accountability to no one!
Where is the outrage? Where are the celebrities using their voices to demand the United States fulfills its pledge to Haiti? $1.15 billion would go a lot farther and help a lot more Haitians than $500,000 for one orphanage will.
It would take a celebrity just about as much effort to Tweet the number of the Senate switchboard or Senator Coburn’s office as it would for them to auction themselves off on eBay for A Home in Haiti, too.
When Lady Gaga did that very thing in an effort to get “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, she had Senators scrambling. Her Little Monsters were terrorizing interns and staff assistants throughout the glass hallways of the Hart building and Senators had to respond. Unfortunately, the repeal failed, but unfortunately, we also live in a country where teenagers bully their LGBT peers to their literal deaths.
Aid to Haiti is not “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” For one, no one has to fill out a survey about what they would do if they had to shower with known Haitians. We integrated the military in the 1950s. Haiti is not a wedge issue and Senator Coburn shouldn’t be allowed to make it one.
An outpouring of outrage is needed. Advocacy is needed. It’s not impossible to get Tom Coburn to say yes, to drop his hold. You don’t even need celebrities. Earlier this year, all it took was 50 activists with Resolve Uganda sitting outside Coburn’s office in Oklahoma for 11 straight days. And that’s dedication, staying in Oklahoma for 11 days.
Then, as now, Coburn was holding up legislation, a bill that would help northern Uganda recover from years of conflict and support the rehabilitation of former child soldiers. (No, there really are no redeeming qualities about Tom Coburn.) Here is how Resolve explains how they succeeded:
After two press conferences, over 10 appearances on the local news, and numerous outreach efforts into the community, Senator Coburn finally agreed to a personal phone call to members of the group in which he pledged his support for the legislation and announced his intention to accept a compromise.
So it’s not impossible.
How many of Misha Collins’ minions live in Oklahoma? How many would be willing to heed the instructions of their Overlord and call their Senator, demand he drop his hold? Demand that Congress fulfill its pledge to Haiti? He already raised $27,000 for his orphanages, he can spare a Tweet for $1.15 billion. How many of Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters are willing to act? Enough to scare Coburn out of his hold-induced power trip.
Just as there is a funding gap in Haiti, there is an outrage gap and it could end up costing us more than $1.15 billion. At the UN Dispatch, Penelope reminds us:
An investment in infrastructure development and reconstruction today might stave off the kind of political turmoil that has compelled the United States to deploy its military to Haiti three times in the last 15 years. It is way cheaper to pay organizations like CHF to hire Haitians to clear the streets than it is to send in the Marines.
Haiti’s recovery will be long and costly and yet donors are turning away from Haiti. The United States is turning away from Haiti. And, god help us, the celebrities are turning away from Haiti. Wyclef isn’t even running for President anymore. Sean Penn is off filming a movie somewhere. Okay, so maybe those are good things.
There is a serious housing crisis in Haiti. Over one million people need shelter; something more than a camping tent. Rubble still needs to be cleared. Schools need to reopen. $1.15 billion won’t solve all of Haiti’s problems, but it would be a good start. All it takes is some outrage. This is, I think, the kind of advocacy best suited to celebrities. There is a clear target, Senator Coburn, and a clear ask, drop the hold. The goal is simple.
Senator Tom Coburn’s office in Washington, DC, can be reached at 202-224-5754.