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Filmmaker Gerry Straub reports from Haiti

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Filmmaker Gerry Straub, who has created more than a dozen documentaries depicting the life of the poor around the globe, is currently in Haiti and will be phoning in reports during his time there.

His first report can be found under Haiti Dispatches on the front page of this site.

Straub began filming in Haiti in early December for a new documentary on the necessity of compassion. When the earthquake occurred he realized that the desperation of the moment in a country already poor beyond compare would have to be part of the story. So he hopped a plane with a group of doctors and nurses and made his way to Port au Prince on Jan. 21.

Straub has spent time in some of the most distressing locations in the United States, Latin America and Africa, but said the situation in Haiti at the moment is beyond anything he's ever seen. Each day I'll be posting the content of conversations we've had the day before. He has both a satellite phone and a cell phone and each works occasionally.

Some frank talk on Haiti

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New York Times op-ed writer, Nicholas Kristof, debunks popular, and tragic, myths about Haiti in yesterday's column. Like poor the world over, Haitians want jobs, as well as decent water, schools and health care. If Catholics want to help Haiti, our focus should be on adding jobs to the island, as the non-government organizations focus on health care and schools.

Kristof concludes:

"So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories."

Putting Your Money Where Your Senator Is

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If a relilgious group were to pour tons of money toward electing a Senator, that would be blasted as a blatant violation of the much-venerated "separation of church and state." It would be widely scorned as contrary to the first amendment of the Constitution which in essence struck a deal. You, religion, stay out of politics and we, government, favor no religion over another.

Until yesterday, the rough equivalent of that dividing line kept giant corporations from bankrolling political candidates. The Supreme Court's decision now allow the country's goliaths to spend whatever they want on politicians and parties that offer them the best deal. Favoritism, the very scourge that the church-state principle tries to prevent, thus becomes a staple of the electoral process, giving the biggest and wealthiest players an overwhelming advantage. All in the ludicrous name of "free speech."

If religions were permitted to do the same, to curry privileges by courting public figures, most of us would probably shudder until our teeth rattled. Yes, it happens even now, but to a limited degree. Imagine if the door were thrown open?

Jan. 22, Pope Benedict XV

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"I wanted to be called Benedict XVI in order to create a spiritual bond with Benedict XV, who steered the Church through the period of turmoil caused by the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and strove with brave courage first of all to avert the tragedy of the war and then to limit its harmful consequences."

--Pope Benedict XVI at his first General Audience, April 27, 2005

Today is the anniversary of the death of Pope Benedict XV, born Giacomo della Chiesa in 1854. He reigned as Pope from September 3, 1914, until his death on January 22, 1922.

Legal, yes - but a hostile takeover of our government nevertheless

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The governance of our nation has been ripped from the hands of the people and it will now rest largely in the hands of narrower and vastly more powerful corporate interests. We've sadly watch the diminishment of democracy in our nation for many years now, the popular uprising that elected President Barack Obama not withstanding. Yesterday's Supreme Court action seemingly comes as one large exclamation point to the process of corporate poltical consolidation.

As the lights dim on popular self-governance, a political process so cherished by President Abraham Lincoln and memorailized in his words at Gettysburg --

"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

-- let us reaffirm our commitment to the cheished values, embedded in our Constitution. Let us not give up in a worthy historic struggle to keep democracy alive.

The Other Winner on Tuesday

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There were two winners in the special election in Massachusetts this week. One of them, Senator-elect Scott Brown, arrived in Washington today and will soon take his seat in the U.S. Senate. The other winner comes from just up I-95 from Brown’s hometown of Wrentham, Massachusetts: Maine Senator Olympia Snowe.

Last summer, Snowe was the last Republican to leave the negotiating table when the Senate Finance Committee was drafting its bill. She had several concerns about the legislation, but chief among them was the public option, which is now no longer an option in any scenario. It was always a mistake to move forward without Snowe, and among all of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s mistakes, this was the greatest. Not only would Snowe have been insurance against the whimsies of Joe Lieberman and the principles of Ben Nelson, Snowe always brings something to the table that the others do not: the “bi-partisan” label.

Will the right oppose the court's blatant judicial activism?

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For years the political right has condemned what it calls "judicial activism," meaning virtually any ruling that defends the little guy against larger state or corporate interests, especially any ruling that overturns a precedent to offer such protection.

Mother Jones' David Korn now asks if the political right will be consistent and speak out against the precedent upsetting and potentially democracy crippling ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court today.

We'll wait with him.

Meanwhile, President Obama, back when he was senator from Illinois, seemed to understand what the nation would be getting in a Justice Roberts' led court.

Explaining his vote against the Roberts nomination, then-Senator Obama noted that Roberts "has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak."

A new Haiti: The building codes of justice

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Occasionally, I listen to C-SPAN radio’s "Washington Journal" in the morning. It features call-ins from ordinary citizens that range from the brilliant and insightful to the ridiculous and insulting.

A few days ago, I was driving my car when a caller commented on U.S. aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. The discussion had described the catastrophe on the ground, so the caller was not ignorant of the situation. Nonetheless, she said, “We’re sending aid to Haiti, but we need it a lot more aid here. We need it more here.” I was so stunned I almost went off the road. “We need it more here? More than people who are starving, homeless and injured without any medical care? More than people who have just lost everything they have in life, including loved ones?”

Priest turns pauper

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As the blockbuster show, "American Idol," has begun its 9th season this week, a new show this spring on the BBC is its polar opposite:

An Anglican priest turns pauper: A new BBC series to show clergyman living without money for eight months in return to "the simple life."

The priest, Peter Owen Jones, will be begging for food and shelter, bartering his skills for scraps and living off his own produce.

Jones previously presented the BBC series "Around The World In 80 Faiths." The new show "How To Live A Simple Life" will be broadcast in the spring.

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