America's Stinginess is a Problem,


By Tracy Johnson

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
January 20, 2000

Talk of weighty global issues prompted thoughtful discussion, and quirky anecdotes drew laughter last night when more than 900 people crowded into Seattle's Town Hall to see former President Jimmy Carter.

He came to address the topic of progress, which he said has swept up America and the world's richest countries while it has left more than half the earth's population far behind. He said he believes the disparity between the rich and the poor has become the world's greatest challenge in the new millennium, and that America's stinginess isn't helping.

"The chasm is growing greater every year," said Carter, noting that in 1900 the richest countries controlled about nine times as much wealth as the poorest, while today the ratio is about 75-1. "As a nation, I would like to see us be generous again."

The former president, who was greeted with a standing ovation and was bid farewell in the same way, said the United States should supply more foreign aid. He advocated forgiving debts to developing countries and proposed lifting economic sanctions on Cuba. Sanctions, he said, can make things worse for people who are already suffering, and they give oppressive leaders someone to blame.

Since losing his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, Carter has helped mediate arms conflicts, promote free elections and fight disease in developing countries through his Carter Center in Atlanta.

He was invited here by the Seattle-based Progress Project, a new program sponsored by the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and Seattle Internet billionaire Paul Glaser. The project was created to get people talking about economic, technological, environmental and social progress. Since September, the organization has brought experts and leaders here to spark discussion about what global progress means. Defining global progress is key to shaping policies and programs that further it, according to David Harrison of the Evans School.

Last night, Carter answered questions posed by Hubert Locke, Evans School professor and dean emeritus, as the two men sat on stage in plush leather chairs. The former president elicited laughter with old memories. He recalled brokering the 1979 Camp David peace accord, where he had to separate the clashing leaders of Egypt and Israel and run back and forth between them. He also shared lighthearted stories about his mother and her memorable remarks. On Inauguration Day, a reporter asked her if she was proud of her son. "Which one?" she responded.

Many in the audience were enthralled by the one-time world leader. "I just came to see this amazing, amazing man," said Susan Newsome, 36, of Seattle, who was eagerly snapping pictures. "He's done so many good things for the world." Jeff Kirby, a high school teacher in Edmonds, supported many of Carter's activities in the presidency and since. He is concerned, however, that Carter's plan to shower developing countries with money will only foster their dependence on the United States.

The evening's toughest question came in the last minutes of Carter's address. It was scrawled on a note card by someone in the audience. Which Democratic presidential candidate, it asked, do you favor? Carter paused and rubbed his forehead, appearing perplexed, then gave an answer that sent a rumble of laughter through the auditorium. "I would say," he said, pausing, "either Bradley or Gore."

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