The elegant lobby of the Jefferson Hotel in Washington D.C. is about as far from the South Sudan as you can get, literally and figuratively. Yet this is exactly where my journey to one of the world’s poorest and newest countries began.
Having been in Washington this past January to celebrate the success of fellow Republicans in the 2010 elections, it was actually my encounter with liberal political commentator Ellen Ratner at The Jefferson that would shortly lead to one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. After being introduced by a mutual friend, we sat for hours talking about a range of issues, most of which we naturally disagreed on. Our opinions intersected when it came to delivering humanitarian aide to the South Sudan, which was on the verge of voting for its independence from the rest of Africa’s largest country later in the month.
This independence came at great expense, after more than two decades of civil war led to the slaughter of millions and the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Christian and traditionalist South Sudanese by the ruling Arab-Muslims in the North. The fighting was described to me as so intense and brutal, that even the animals fled the country. The war also institutionalized poverty to such tragic proportion that according to a recent World Bank report, approximately 85 percent of the people there live under a poverty line drawn at slightly more than $1 a day.
The referendum on secession prevailed by a 99 percent margin marking a significant political victory for the South Sudan and its international supporters, The United States most prominent among them. It was now time to address the human rights crisis, especially the unfinished business of returning an estimated 50,000 slaves back from the North.
Ellen has spent years working with the organization Christian Solidarity International (CSI), which has focused on the South Sudan well before the rest of the world took interest. Through their efforts, more than 100,000 slaves have been liberated. Now, with a new nation secured, repatriation to their proper homeland has begun.
I experienced two slave liberations on my trip with Ellen and CSI. Our delegation included several leaders in business and philanthropy, film-makers, a rabbi, a musician, a registered nurse and political commentators from the Democratic and Republican parties.
Together, we witnessed the most deplorable human living conditions and at the same time the most uplifting testimony to hope and the human spirit. What the South Sudanese lacked in material comforts, they compensated for with kindness, openness and affection. We didn’t speak the same language, so our contact was often limited to a handshake, hug or understanding glance. But their embrace of us was real, and with hardly a word exchanged, they knew we were there to help.
We visited a village that housed a polio clinic. We watched ladies without legs craft crosses that CSI would then sell to raise money to rebuild a school that burned down. I saw children who could not have been older than six years of age caring for infants and toddlers from the village. Their sense of community and reliance on each other for support was awe-inspiring. The simplest act of recognition from our group elicited squeals of delight from the kids, especially when we would take their picture and show them the digital image.
Days felt as if they had no end, and every person and place began to blend together. Everyone we met needed the same basic things: clean water, proper nutrition, access to health care, etc. But there seemed to be this unexplainable abundance of hope everywhere we went. When we talked to villagers and slaves alike, all were so proud to have their own country and eager to restart their new lives.
The emotional and spiritual climax came when we attended our first slave liberation. Hundreds of freed slaves walked for weeks in the dark of night and deep into the brush to avoid recapture. This has been a regular occurrence for two decades thanks to CSI, and it was clear that they had this process down.
What made this liberation ceremony unique was that Ellen had arranged for Rabbi Joseph Polak, of Boston University’s Hillel House, to celebrate the Passover story with the slaves. Having grown up on Long Island, I enjoyed the privilege of attending many seders with friends, but never did it occur to me that people in this century would endure a similar struggle.
Until the United States involved itself with the Sudan issue in 2005, the entire world seemed content to allow the first genocide of our century to remain unconfronted. It is impossible to fathom that slavery can continue to exist in the modern world.
As I sit to write this column, weeks after our trip, I find it hard to transport myself back. Human nature helps us build walls to cope with what we can’t handle or understand, and my defense mechanism has kicked into to high gear. I think about the slaves still in captivity and the kids we saw who had illnesses that will never be addressed. “Will they live until their next birthday?” I would ask. “Probably not” the region’s only doctor casually replied. I wonder if our being there really made a difference, or was it just a little drop of water in an ocean?
Then I think of a boy named Kier. He was freed last year and now joins CSI at the liberations to reassure the slaves that they are safe. His mother is still in captivity, and before his own release, his slave-master blinded him in both eyes. Ellen has arranged for him to receive potentially life changing eye surgery in the United States, but he will need to be approved for a health visa first.
Ellen was telling me the story when I suggested that I speak with Congressman Chris Smith who represents the Fourth Congressional District here in New Jersey, and is a good friend. A true humanitarian, he serves as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa. My liberal friend turned to me and said, “Diane, he is exactly the one we need to help Kier.”
I still think of our being there as representing only a little drop of water in the effort to help the people of Southern Sudan, but instead of being a drop into the ocean, I like to think of it as being one small drop into a great bucket of hope.
Congressman Frank Pallone raised $162,678 in campaign cash during the first quarter of the 2011-2012 election cycle. He spent $144,185 on entertainment, travel, salaries, an auto lease and contributions. Pallone has $3,148,393 in cash. His March 31 FEC report can be viewed here.
Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who has been positioning himself to be Pallone’s Democratic successor in Congress since 2005, raised $1500 in the first quarter, spent $155, and has $45,894 on hand.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation will broadcast a Presidential Summit on spending and job creation tonight from New Hampshire at 8PM. Mitt Romney, Michele Bachman, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum will be participating.
The Bayshore Tea Party Group will be pariticpating in the event locally from their office at 275 Route 35 North, Red Bank and will have a straw poll. If planning to attend the BTPG, plan to arrive between 7 and 7:30.
Voters approved school budgets in 45 of the of the 54 school district elections held yesterday, according to the unofficial tally posting on the Monmouth County website.
Five of the eight districts that defeated their budgets were in the Bayshore towns of Hazlet, Highlands, Keansburg, Keyport and Union Beach.
Middletown and the Matawan-Aberdeen districts, also in the Bayshore, narrowly passed their budgets. Middletown’s budget passed 3332-3207. Matawan-Aberdeen’s 898-804.
In Lake Como, voters split 49-49.
The Monmouth results appear to mirror the results throughout the state. The Star Ledger is reporting that budgets passed in 301 of the 373 elections results that were available as of 12:33 am this morning.
Hopewell Township has passed an ordinance that regulates how often roosters can visit the hen house, how much noise they can make while they are visiting and requires they to be screened for infectious diseases before visiting, according to a report in the Trenton Times.Cocks caught crowing too much will be banned from hen houses for two years.
Someone should alert Cass Sunstein, the Administrator of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House. Sunstein is an advocate of animal rights who has argued that animals should be granted standing to file law suits.
The Times reported that the Hopewell Committee has been working on this issue for three years. I wonder if they considered unintended consequences:
The State of New Jersey is a financial basket case.The recent report that the state has not set aside one dime to pay for the promised ($66.7 billion) medical benefits of current and future retirees is another example of nonfeasance on the part of our elected officials.
By failing to fund the medical benefits of state and local government workers, the state is on a road that will cause enormous economic hardship for the people of New Jersey.In short, to pay for all the promised benefits, taxes will have to skyrocket, which will lead to a mass exodus of productive individuals and businesses over time.In addition, businesses will not expand or relocate to New Jersey because of the onerous taxes that will have to be imposed to prop up the medical benefits fund.
Even if benefits are reduced for current and future retirees, which is highly likely, who in their right mind will trust the political hacks in Trenton to be born again fiscally responsible politicians?
For years, Republican and Democratic governors and members of the state legislature from both political parties have failed to perform their duties to maintain the state’s fiscal health.Now that the chickens are coming home to roost, what is being done to correct the gross shortfall in the state’s obligations?Before we answer that, another report released on April 26th reveals the state’s pension fund is $54 billion in the hole.
Can anyone say criminal indictment?If a corporation’s officials did not fund their employees’ retirement benefits, they would be fired and/or possible fined or even indicted by the federal government for failing to fulfill their fiduciary duties.In New Jersey, we just keep electing the same gang of self-serving career pols from gerrymandered legislative districts who exploit the public’s income and wealth to maintain their political careers and continue the great con, the redistribution of income.
(One legislative solution is to elect at large members of the legislature instead of from specific legislative districts. Alternatively, we could elect half of the legislature from the gerrymandered districts and half at large members. With at large members of the legislature, all taxpayers will be represented.)
The financial solution to the $120 billion underfunding of retirees’ pensions and medical benefits is for the state to invoke something like force majeure and start from scratch.That will send a strong signal to New Jerseyans and businesses, especially those from out of state that the politicians in Trenton will be fiscally responsible and not make promises they cannot keep.
Without an “extreme makeover,” New Jersey will become the Greece of the United States.
President Barack Obama released copies of his “long form” birth certificate to the media this morning. In his remarks to the press the President said the was “amused” over the last two years that questions over the country of his birth persisted. He said that he was putting the issue to rest now because over the last two weeks while he as dealing with the fundamental differences between the House Republicans budget and his own, that the issue of his birth was dominating the news cycles.
In an apparent swipe at Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, TV star and potential candidate for the GOP nomination for President, Obama said the country can not afford to be distracted by “side shows and carnival barkers.”
Donald Trump, speaking in New Hampshire, said that he was honored and proud of himself for his role in “hopefully” putting the issue of Obama’s eligibility to serve as President to rest. Trump said Obama should have put the issue to rest “a long time ago.” He said he hopes the certificate is authentic and that he country can move on to other issues.
Obama’s long form birth certificate can be viewed here.