Short News and Commentary: A Giving People

A Giving People

Within three weeks of the Asian tsunami disaster, private donors in America had given even more than the $350 million in official assistance pledged by the U.S. government, note researchers Gary Tobin, Alexander Karp, and Aryeh Weinberg in a forthcoming study entitled “American Mega-Giving.” With private contributions continuing to pour in, and $6 million per day of relief assistance being carried out by nearly 20,000 U.S. troops, total U.S. aid for this disaster will exceed $1 billion.

And as impressive as that sum is, Tobin, Karp, and Weinberg note that it is far less than 1 percent of the total amount Americans will donate to the less fortunate this year. In 2003, the latest year for which complete data are available, Americans gave $241 billion to charitable causes. We will offer up considerably more in 2005, as our historic pattern is to give more with each passing year. “For Americans, responding to a crisis is not unusual. Millions of Americans respond to the everyday crises of life all the time.”

Americans donate like no other people, the researchers note, whether you look at total donations, per capita giving, size of gifts, or types of giving. “The European country with the greatest tradition of giving, Britain, gave approximately $14 billion in 2003. Even after adjusting for population differences, British giving constitutes less than one third of American philanthropy. And Britain’s levels are not matched in the European Union. France follows with just over $4 billion, and then Germany with approximately $3.5 billion.”

In an earlier report in Philanthropy, Tobin, Karp, and Weinberg write that, “a recent German study reports that on a per capita basis, American citizens contribute to charity nearly seven times as much as their German counterparts, and that about six times as many Americans as Germans do volunteer work…. Some 70 percent of U.S. households make charitable cash contributions…over half of all U.S. adults will volunteer an estimated 20 billion hours in charitable activities this year…. In short, American philanthropy is extraordinary by any world standard.”

Americans are distinctive not only in the level of their giving, but in its decentralized and personal nature. Europeans prefer government welfare state transfers. U.S. citizens generally like to give away their money themselves.

“Americans give at emergency levels every day,” summarizes Tobin. “When the rest of the world has forgotten about this tsunami crisis, Americans will keep giving generously to this and thousands of other causes.”

Coalition of the Sympathetic

The path of the December 26 tsunami tracked the arc of the Muslim world, from Sumatra to Somalia. The most devastated country is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. And the most devastated part of that country is the one province living under the strictures of sharia.

But, as usual, when disaster strikes it’s the Great Satan and his various Little Satans who leap to respond. In the decade before September 11, the U.S. military functioned, more or less exclusively, as a Muslim rapid reaction force-coming to the aid of Kuwaiti Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, Somali Muslims, and Albanian Muslims. Since then, with the help of its Anglo-Australian allies, it has liberated 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most citizens in the West look at the tsunami’s victims and recognize our common humanity. When a fellow is pulled down from a tree to survey the wreckage of his home and learn of the loss of his family, we see him first as our fellow man-a human in need. By contrast, Muslim leaders divide the world into the Dar al-Islam and everybody else.

And even then, the deaths of 100,000 members of the tribe in Banda Aceh alone isn’t enough to catch the eye of the big shots in Arabia. The Arab world’s principal contribution these past two weeks has been the usual paranoia: “Was it caused by American, Israeli, and Indian nuclear testing?” wondered Mahmoud Bakri in the Egyptian weekly Al Usbu. “The three most recent tests appeared to be genuine American and Israeli preparations to act together with India to test a way to liquidate humanity.”

Colin Powell was foolish to suggest that, in its response to this crisis, the Muslim world would come to appreciate the true nature of the United States. Fat chance. “It’s O.K. that aid from the U.S. is here,” said Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, spokesman for the Islamic Defender Front. “But if they open bars, sell alcohol, or open prostitution centers, then we will fight them.”

Almascaty also warned the Australian charity Youth Off the Streets that its plan to open homes for 35,000 Indonesian orphans was all very well, but on no account was it to try converting Muslim children. Jeepers, man, would it kill you once in a while just to send a box of chocolates and a card saying “Thank you, you infidel sons of whores and pigs,” and leave it at that?

One day the smarter lads in the Osama T-shirts will begin to wonder what they’re getting in return for their glorification of a multimillionaire whose followers these days spend most of their time killing Muslims-in Iraq, in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, even in Indonesia. With friends like that, who needs tsunamis?

Mark Steyn wrote a longer version of this for The Australian.

Welcome Good Men

One of them is a combat engineer who cleared the way for America’s lightning advance to Baghdad in March 2003. Another spent a grueling 15 months in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division. Still another lost a leg when his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. Two others died in Babylon so that strangers might live in freedom.

None of these men were Americans, yet they were fighting for her-and for Iraq’s future, as well as their own. They were U.S. immigrants. Their names are Hernandez Reyes (who logged the 15-month tour); Hilbert Caesar (who lost his leg); David Garcia (who helped open the path to Baghdad); Jose Gutierrez (killed in the battle for Umm Qasr); and Jose Garibay (struck down at Nasiriyah).

They came from El Salvador, Guyana, Guatemala, and Mexico. But all of them are now Americans. Some of them took the Oath of Citizenship last Veteran’s Day, numbered among the 80 Marines and sailors hailing from 25 different countries as far away as Syria and as close to home as Canada who became citizens on the USS Midway while it was anchored in San Diego.

According to the Pentagon, almost 31,000 members of the U.S. armed forces are not yet Americans. They serve as part of a naturalization process that accelerates citizenship for immigrants who fight for the U.S. About two dozen individuals taking part in this program have recently become citizens posthumously.

Writing on the eve of the war that would end his life, Garibay concluded, “I want to defend the country I plan to become a citizen of.” Gutierrez said of his last mission in Iraq, “It’s my job. It’s also my duty.” Battle-hardened before he turned 21, Garcia says humbly, “I wouldn’t compare myself to World War veterans or Vietnam veterans.” Caesar, who left a limb on some nameless road in Iraq, vows to return to active duty.

We are a nation that others will risk everything to become a part of. Many of these newly arrived soldiers understand even more instinctively than native-born Americans the deepest mission of the U.S. military, which President Bush recently described in words borrowed from the prophet Isaiah: “Wherever you go, you carry a message of hope, a message that is ancient and ever new-‘to the captives, come out; and to those in darkness, be free.'”

After listening to POWs who had been tortured in Hanoi, President Reagan once asked, “Where did we find such men?” He produced his own answer before he even finished the question: “We found them where we’ve always found them-on Main Street, on our farms, in shops and stores, in offices, oil stations, and factories.”

And today, we find some of them in places like El Salvador, Guyana, Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, and Poland.

Alan Dowd is a regular columnist for


Nearly all agree today that the U.S. judicial nomination process is broken.

A few years ago, Democrats complained bitterly about the difficulties that President Clinton faced in confirming judges; now Republicans cite “inexcusable” delays faced by Bush nominees. Today’s long battles over judges make Robert Bork’s ugly Supreme Court confirmation fight pale in comparison.

Bush’s clear-cut win over Senator John Kerry has not solved the problem. Democrats say that nothing has changed, that they will continue filibustering to block judicial nominees whose politics are out of their “mainstream.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has discussed changing Senate rules to gradually reduce the number of votes required to end a filibuster, so that nominees would eventually proceed to an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Others are pushing for an even more dramatic solution, the so-called nuclear option, in which the presiding officer of the Senate would rule that filibusters against judicial nominees violate the separation of powers and are therefore un-Constitutional.

Democrats are threatening a Senate shutdown if the rules change. But without some change, even longer and more bitter confirmation fights will await them when they retake the Presidency.

Consider this: The confirmation rate for Presidential nominees to federal appeals courts has fallen over the last 30 years from 93 percent under President Carter, to 89 percent under President Reagan, to 78 percent under George H. W. Bush, to 74 percent under Clinton, and now to 69 percent under President Bush.

The length of time required to confirm has bloated too. During the Carter, Reagan, and first Bush administrations, the interval from nomination to confirmation averaged 87 days for a candidate to the District of Columbia Appeals Court (the second most powerful federal court, and long considered a training ground for future Supreme Court justices). Under George W. Bush that has exploded to 426 days. While almost 80 percent of Clinton’s nominees to this court were confirmed, Bush got only 33 percent through.

During the Clinton administration, Democrats made inflammatory claims about the slowing of the confirmation process, alleging to the press that “delays in approving Clinton’s minority and female judges showed racist and sexist tendencies in the Senate,” and that the “appointment system continues to favor white men significantly.” Yet Bush’s African-American nominees are taking even longer to confirm than Clinton’s did.

Longer delays, lower confirmation rates, and bitter partisan battles create backlogs in our courts as vacancies build up. And they make it harder to convince highly qualified nominees to risk a humiliating rejection.

Adoption of a new rule banning filibusters of judicial nominations is only likely to occur when the same party controls the Senate and Presidency, as the GOP does now. Will partisans give up their short-term interests in blocking nominees for a system that better serves everyone’s interests in the long run? We may see very soon.

John Lott is an AEI scholar, and Sonya Jones is a student at Texas Tech Law School. An earlier version of this was published in the Los Angeles Times.

Paying Teachers What They’re Worth

While New York City public schools face an epic shortage of good teachers, many private schools in the Big Apple have no trouble attracting candidates. The School at Columbia, for instance, received 1,700 applications for 39 teaching positions in its first year of operation.

The school, which opened in the fall of 2002 to 100 students from kindergarten to fourth grade, is operated by Columbia University. By 2006, classes will extend through eighth grade and enrollment will grow to 650. Almost no student pays the full $22,000 tuition. Columbia foots at least half the fee for children of faculty, and about 80 percent for students from the surrounding low-income community.

Unlike public schools, the School at Columbia does not offer tenure; there is no union; there is no guaranteed salary increase each year; how much teachers make depends on their performance, not their seniority; teachers are expected to come in early, stay late, and show up on weekends to do their job well; and there are no guaranteed breaks during the day.

Those do-what-it-takes-to-succeed expectations are standard in most of white-collar America today. Yet it’s not uncommon for unions representing public school teachers to expend more effort protecting a guaranteed number and duration of cigarette breaks than on passing children to the next grade.

Columbia fourth-grade teacher Michael Seal has less disposable income than he had teaching in Hartford, yet says he does “not miss the union at all.” He arrives around 7 a.m. each day and stays until around 6 p.m. “You should be judged based on your performance, not on a certain number of years in,” says Seal. “I like the fact that if I do an outstanding job I’ll be compensated for that.”

Arana Shapiro, who taught first grade for four years in Inglewood, California, found that “in public schools there are teachers who have been there for ten years but haven’t changed one thing that they’ve done…and they’re making a high amount of money. Yet teachers who have been there five years but are constantly improving on their practice are stuck” at a low pay level.

Offering merit pay means you also have to give teachers enough flexibility to distinguish themselves. The curriculum at Columbia includes a set of skills and “key facts” that students at each grade level must master, but teachers are allowed to use their own individual methods to get students to that point. If their method doesn’t work, all the seniority in the world won’t get them a promotion. And the fact that half the kids come from a depressed inner-city neighborhood is not accepted as an excuse for failure.

Teacher assessments are done every year or two. Every instructor must put together a portfolio demonstrating student progress, including test results, videos of students reading aloud, student performances, etc. A peer evaluation team sits in on several classes and submits recommendations. School administrators consider all this information and then make a final decision.

A blue ribbon commission did recommend a few months ago that New York City public schools move to a pay-for-performance system, but also suggested teacher salaries be boosted across the board. With a budget over $12 billion and a 50 percent high school graduation rate, New Yorkers might be understandably reluctant to pour yet more money into their school system. Maybe they should consider using the money already paid to provide incentives for teachers to do a better job.

Naomi Riley is editor of the journal In Character.

Endangered Country

Is country music losing its soul? Traditional songs about love of God, nation, and family are now being pushed to the wayside in the world of country, as new tunes championing hedonism take center stage.

The latest example of this trend is Toby Keith’s “Stays in Mexico.” Previously known for hits like “The Angry American: Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” and “An American Soldier,” Keith has now shifted to warbling about adultery in the sun. His video is filled with raunchy scenes of a salesman and schoolteacher vacationing in Mexico who have one too many margaritas and end up cheating on their spouses. Cheating is not an unprecedented theme for country music, but the celebratory and jocular tone, with Mexican musicians accompanying the duo’s adultery in fiesta style throughout their sexual escapade, is. And Keith’s lyrics console, “What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico.” No one will know! Fun without consequences!

Unfortunately, Keith is not alone in introducing mod sexual values into country music. In “Here for the Party,” new country sensation Gretchen Wilson hollers that “I’m gonna get me some,” and insists that women can philander as happily as any playboy. Other new ballads like “Who’s Your Daddy?” and “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight” by Toby Keith, “Rough and Ready” by Trace Adkins, and “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” by Big and Rich continue the theme of sex as sport, wholly divorced from love and family.

Women are sex objects in these songs, as when Adkins sings: “That’s a bitch-makes me itch…Ain’t a pretty boy-toy. I’ll rock you steady. Rough and ready.” Old hat for L.A. music, but is this what we expect from Nashville?

Is country music heading down the same cavalier path as much of the rest of popular culture-trashy, secular, and coarse? If so, Middle Americans need to let the new country stars know how they feel about this changed tune.

Laurie Vuoto is a Washington, D.C. writer.

Who Cares About Muslims?

Tsunami relief donations from oil-rich Islamic nations: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, and Iran, combined: $92 million

By comparison:
Norway: $182 million
Denmark: $77 million
Japan: $500 million
Australia: $815 million

Life Was Better When Daddy Was One of the Dictators

“The Sami sisters, ages 17, 15, and 11…rarely venture outside their upscale home in central Baghdad out of fear of explosions and violence…. Their teenage world was simpler when Saddam Hussein was in power. Back then, they said, they hung out with friends at the Pharmacists Club, a swanky place with a swimming pool to which their father, the vice president of Iraq’s Pharmacists Union, belonged.”

From the Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2004. Winner of the “Bring Back Saddam Award” in the Media Research Center’s “Worst Media Quote of 2004” contest.

Published in From Alms to Ownership March 2005