Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year, Peace Corps Budget, No Snow in DC, Zelaya, Chavez, Latin Violence, Arizona Medicaid, Wiki-Leaks/Cuba

To each and every one, a very Happy New Year! It’s always good to make a fresh start with brand new year, even though we may not live up to all our resolutions or realize many of our hopes and dreams. Still, it’s a good time to take stock, make plans, reevaluate—have that tough conversation, cut up the credit card, really start on that diet, quit smoking or drinking, tell those you cherish that you love them.

On Christmas Eve, about 35 members of Communitas, all ages, races, and nationalities, celebrated Mass. Communitas is the small Catholic group mentioned in my book that meets at the Dignity Center, a gathering place for gay Catholics, though few of us in Communitas are actually gay. We begin the Lord’s Prayer “Our father and mother” and the line between priests and laity is blurred. On Christmas Eve, the sermon was given by a lay member, Chris, a man from Nigeria, who said, corroborated by my own experience as well, that Christmas is celebrated all over the world, even by non-Christians. He cited examples in his own country of Christians and Muslims laying down their arms at this time of year. However, even as he was speaking, Muslims in Nigeria were attacking Christians, which we were unaware of at the time. His 8-year-old son did the Gospel reading in a strong, clear voice. We sang a number of Christmas carols, including “Silent Night,” which brought back childhood memories. Afterward, we held a potluck supper with champagne.

Amazingly enough, while snowstorms battered and inundated the East Coast from Atlanta to Maine, here in Washington, DC, we had only a light dusting on Sunday evening. By the next morning, it was nearly all melted. I went to work in a Md. Suburb without delay.

Much unfinished business will pass over to the new year from the old. Because the federal budget was not approved before this Congress adjourned, there is a real danger that the increases the president included for the Peace Corps will be cut—or even that funding will be reduced below current levels by the new Congress in the name of deficit reduction. This, after all the efforts of former PCVs to get a budget increase. We’ll have to start all over with the new members. I’m not sure that Tea Party folks will be receptive to a Peace Corps message. Peace Corps in a very small part of the federal budget, but all those small pieces do add up. Those reading this who have congressional representation, unlike those of us here in DC, please make a pitch to your representatives about the importance of keeping Peace Corps funding at the levels included in the current Obama budget.

I’ve noticed that ads popping up on my Yahoo account are often in Spanish, sometimes even in spoken aloud in Spanish. How does Yahoo know that I know Spanish? It’s kind of scary.

WikiLeaks cables from the 2008 ambassador to Honduras, Charles Ford, reveal his misgivings about Honduran President Manuel Zelaya well before Zelaya’s mid-2009 ouster. He cites Zelaya’s suspected ties with organized crime and his manipulation of events to make it look like he was a champion of the common man and the poor. Of course, Honduran presidents, even before Zelaya, have been no strangers to corruption and graft. Perhaps what was different about Zelaya was his open alliance with Cuba and Venezuela.

Along with the sweeping emergency powers that his legislature approved, Hugo Chavez has asked for and received power to regulate telecommunications, including the internet, amid protests from media outlets and spokespeople.

In other news from Latin America reported in the local Spanish-language press, a survey of the region shows 61% of respondents supporting democracy, up from previous surveys. Quite disturbing is the finding, no surprise to me, that Latin America with only 9% of world population, has 27% of violent deaths. The only countries in the region exempt from the wave of violence are Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Peru, and Uruguay. Again, that is not a surprise. Cuba, while it has a high suicide rate, does not allow ordinary citizens to have firearms and has lots of police who take their job seriously.

Meanwhile, some 50 migrants, including women and children, from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have apparently been kidnapped by armed men off a Mexican freight train halted with rocks and tree trunks on the track. Some of the US-based families of those kidnapped have apparently received ransom calls.

Arizona is sparking a national debate by cutting off transplants for working-age adults under its Medicaid program. In this recession, the whole question of how far to go with health-care expenditures has come to the fore. Indeed, I would argue, skyrocketing health-care costs are one of the reasons for the recession. Twenty-five years ago, when writing books, book chapters, and articles for my employer’s publications (the American Occupational Therapy Association), I tried to raise questions--ever-so-theoretically--about how far as a society were we willing to go and how much money were we willing to spend on what was already becoming a potentially infinite effort to preserve and extend life? Every time I dared speculate on the topic in print, even obliquely, it was immediately edited out, since our association was trying to increase employment opportunities and reimbursement for our members, as other health professions were also doing, so such cost questions could not be raised. Yet if the task of health care is to keep people alive and, if possible, enhance their quality of life, then the possible interventions are limitless, especially if “health care” is broadly defined to include things like toenail trimming (under Medicare Part B, I believe), Viagra, and hearing aids. Not that such provisions are undesirable; the examples are meant only to demonstrate the elasticity of what is defined as health or medical care. In bygone times, the definition was much narrower.

Additionally, the range of interventions is now much broader than previously and growing every day. Which brings us back to the transplant question. First of all, everyone single one of us will die sooner or later. We will probably die later and perhaps enjoy a better quality of life if we undergo cataract surgery, joint replacement, bypass surgery, and even organ transplant. Can we afford to do that for everyone? In a debate heard on NPR, an administrator for the Arizona Medicaid program argued that state residents have refused to pay higher taxes (no income tax there, only sales and property taxes), so there is insufficient money to fund organ transplants for people ages 21-65. She pointed out that an organ transplant costs about $250,000, is unsuccessful in more than half of cases, and entails life-time expenditures if the patient survives. In comparison, interventions like childhood immunizations are much more effective and cost-effective. “We don’t have the money to do it all; we have to cut somewhere,” she said.

An Arizona resident calling into the program said tearfully that her brother, only in his 40s, will die without a heart transplant. He was on the Arizona Medicaid transplant waiting list until the transplant program was recently eliminated. “You are killing my brother,” she told the Medicaid administrator, “How can you measure the worth of a human life in dollars?” Of course, it’s tragic that her brother had been given hope by being put on the waiting list to begin with, then was shocked when that hope was taken away. But I wondered if she would be willing to sell her house, if she has one, to gamble that her brother might be saved by a heart transplant when the success rate is less than 50% (for Arizona Medicaid recipients, it’s only about 25%, as I recall)? I suspect the answer would be “no,” but she expects the rest of Arizonans to take that gamble and bear that cost.

I’m not saying that Arizona has made the right choice—that’s up to Arizonans to decide—but there are limits, whether it’s heart transplants or something else. (And, of course, someone has to die before a heart is even available for transplant.) Another option would be to cut reimbursements and payments for medical personnel, equipment, and medications, but powerful interests resist that.

Finally, if there could be an expansion of Medicare to all age groups, which would help, but, of course, that would mean less profit for medical providers and more government intervention. All the hue and cry about “death panels” and “Obamacare” are probably designed to head off that possibility—put the onus on the government, whether the US or state government, or on insurance companies. The truth is that “death panels” and health care rationing already exist, but in covert form, otherwise health-care costs would be even higher than they are already. If the family of a very ill patient doesn’t authorize a feeding tube or issues a “do-not-resuscitate” order, as often happens, then the patient will probably die fairly soon. If the intervention had gone forward, the patient would have lived longer, but the cost would be considerable and their quality of life greatly diminished. In the case of patients with severe cognitive deficits and unable to decide independently, letting them go may be best for all concerned, including themselves. The medical-care cost debate is unavoidable—Arizona is only the canary in the coal mine. And Sarah Palin, staunch defender of Arizona and opponent of “death panels,” is strangely silent on the matter in this instance.

Speaking of cognitive deficits, I’ve begun having them myself. As my readers know, I’m an on-call Spanish interpreter, going everywhere by public transportation. Usually my travel to assignments require changing from one metro line to another and taking a bus at the end. And every destination is a different configuration. Sometimes I change trains going in one direction from a particular station, sometimes in another. The other morning, before daylight (maybe I was still a little groggy?), I automatically got on a train going in the same direction as the previous morning, but it was the wrong direction for that particular day. I was engrossed in reading the free abbreviated copy of the Washington Post given out at metro stops when I looked up and suddenly realized my mistake. So I had to get off at the next stop and reverse course, after having lost precious minutes in the process. As a consequence, I missed the bus I was supposed to take at the other end and had to wait for another. So, I barely arrived on time to the hospital where I was to report, whereas I like to arrive early. As it turned out, the scheduled patient never showed up himself and no one answered his phone, so I turned around and went home again, getting on the train going in the right direction this time. However, I must definitely pay more attention and can only hope this was not the beginning of a long downward mental slide. So far, no brain transplants!

Regarding my previous comments on tax breaks for the super-rich, one reader says: The only way progressives can get shitloads of money from "the rich" is to do what Vladimir Putin did: single out a guy like Khodorkovsky, pack his ass off to Siberia, and take his billions. That works just fine, and it also throws a scare into other rich thieves who might have thought about criticizing the government. What it doesn't really do is help the proletariat; but that doesn't matter because in Russia no one is naive enough to expect "fairness." What happened in Russia is just what's been happening in this country. Goldman is still ahead, and the rich thieves the government needs to support its bond market and all like that continue to thrive.

President Obama, no doubt about it, is a smart guy, very insightful, very quick on his feet, a refreshing change after an obviously handicapped poor guy like GW Bush, for whom you would almost feel sorry if he hadn’t been president and capable of inflicting so much harm. I just hope Obama knows what he's doing, but he's not God and cannot know, anticipate, and remedy every problem single-handedly.

Cuba Jeopordizes [sic] Normalization, Publishes Wiki LeaksAuthor: Tim Paynter Published: December 27, 2010
Read more: http://technorati.com/politics/article/cuba-jeopordizes-normalization-publishes-wiki-leaks/#ixzz19Q7at03t

[Anna] Ardin, one of the Assange's alleged victims, works in Sweden's Uppsala University and is known in some Cuban exile and dissident circles. She visited Cuba about four times between 2002 and 2006 as a representative of Swedish social democrats, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, head of Cuba's Arco Progresista, a social-democratic dissident group.

Two left-of-center websites also alleged that she was close to Cuban exile author Carlos Alberto Montaner and the Ladies in White, female relatives of Cuban political prisoners.
The websites portrayed Ardin's links to Cuba as evidence of a U.S.-backed plot to smear and jail Assange. One site said Montaner had links to the CIA.

Montaner told journalists that he did not recall ever meeting Ardin and dismissed the CIA allegation as Cuban propaganda. Ladies in White spokeswomen Berta Soler and Laura Pollán said they did not know Ardin.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays, Human Rights Day, Son’s Death Annivers., Peace Corps on Screen, Raul Castro’s Hanukkah, Peace Corps in NYorker

First off, happy holidays to one and all. It hardly seems possible that another year has gone by. This blog entry is so long and rambling because I haven’t had time to post until now. But I’ve not been just sitting on my hands.

On Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, a number of people met at the DC Amnesty Int’l office to write letters to officials and to people in jail considered prisoners of conscience or to their families and supporting organizations. I wrote a few letters in Spanish to people in Guatemala and Mexico. Meanwhile in Cuba, human rights defenders and the Women in White had a peaceful march disrupted and suffered injuries at the hands of government-inspired groups that day, as is customary there. Eleven of the 75 arrested in the “Black Spring” crackdown of 2003, have not yet been released, though Raul Castro has promised to do so. And Alan Gross, a USAID contractor distributing electronic equipment to Cuban Jews, has been in prison is Cuba for more than a year without charges (see item below about Raul Castro’s synagogue visit).

On Dec. 11, my local Amnesty group hosted another Human Rights Day letter-writing event at an eatery popular with young people. We had a speaker who was an expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the program turned out to be about atrocities and rapes in the DRC, with slides of people there, men with AK47s, landscapes, and towns, it was very similar to scenes I had witnessed in south Sudan in 2006--even the terrain was similar. Southern Sudanese had fled to DRC and Uganda to escape the fighting there, only to be killed, raped, and forced to fight in those other countries. I had seen girls coming back to south Sudan pregnant and/or infected with HIV after being raped. I'd also heard similar stories as a board member of an organization called Rwanda Children's Fund. Somehow, to hear about it all happening again in Congo was too upsetting to me, so I had to leave. Maybe I was also feeling more sensitive because of the upcoming anniversary of my son's death and my late foster son's anniversary just past--also worried about the Sudan referendum and the possible return to civil war there.

Dec. 19, the actual anniversary of my son Andrew’s death, turned out to be OK. It was also daughter Melanie’s birthday---and I attended a holiday open house that day at a neighbor’s. Any particular day is usually not that different from the one before or after, but knowing the date of an important event does trigger feelings, as we’re culturally conditioned to recognize anniversaries and special days. Ever since my son died, I have not had a Christmas tree or sent out cards. Of course, the actual December when he died, I already had a tree up and decorated and cards mailed out, but that was the last time. Still, I do appreciate receiving holiday cards. Thanks to the senders. And I hope we are all ready to make a fresh start after New Year’s Day.

At a holiday party at the Museum of African Art, I found myself sitting next to a young woman from Kenya who is the cousin of someone who serves with me on the board of Action for Community Transformation, a local non-profit dedicated to education projects in Honduras and Kenya—small world. And while I am on the subject of the museum, if you are visiting DC, include it in your itinerary, as it really has a remarkable collection and not a huge public attendance. That evening a new acquisition was unveiled, a kaleidoscopic constantly moving artwork with sound, something positively mesmerizing by an Ethiopian artist who was introduced at the event.

I volunteered to do a review of a new Peace Corps self-published book for a writers’ website (the same one that gave me an award). It’s the second review of a self-published book that I’ve done for that website and, in both cases, the books were disappointing and not very well-written. As a self-published author myself and knowing all the hopes and efforts that went into the writing, I was reluctant to sound too critical, but felt an obligation to be honest and not lead readers and would-be buyers astray. On this last one, though I tried to be gentle and give praise where praise was due, the author was angry and upset by the overall tone of my review. If they would only write better books, I’d be most happy to praise them. It’s a thankless task otherwise.

At another recent holiday party, I was talking with a young woman from El Salvador with a son almost 3, born here, She said she had left her 6 year-old daughter back in El Salvador. As an interpreter in juvenile services, I've seen too many cases of mothers who've left kids behind, then had other kids born here, and finally sent for the older one as a teenager. The older child, observing younger siblings who not only speak English and feel at home in this country, but who have had their mother their whole life, feels resentful. Often he or she has not been to school in the interim and now is forced to sit in class with younger kids, not understanding anything. Such teens are often truant or worse, obligating the mother to take time off from work and get an attorney for juvenile court or truancy hearings, surprised that the happy reunion she has sacrificed for has turned out so badly. In Honduras, I've heard radio spots urging parents not to leave their kids, but stay in the country with them.

On another matter, in the current issue of the New Yorker, there's a disquieting article (“The Efficiency Dilemma,” Dec. 20, 2010) showing evidence that energy efficiency and more miles-to-the-gallon don't necessarily reduce pollution, because they increase consumption. The only thing that seems to reduce consumption is introducing higher energy costs.

One of my recent interpretation clients for an unemployment appeal hearing told me as we were leaving that he was from Honduras. I asked where? He was from La Esperanza, Intibuca, my second Peace Corps site!

Here in DC, it has been colder than normal, but no snow yet like that engulfing the mid-west, the northern east coast, and Canada, although we did have 2 inches last Thurs. that mostly melted.

In the local Hispanic press, I see that a deputy of the National Party, the party the current president, Porfirio Lobo, belongs to, was murdered in a carjacking in Copan Ruinas, site of the fabled Mayan ruins and of my first encounter with Honduras at age 3 (as per my book). That area is not considered particularly dangerous and is pretty well guarded because of tourism. But in Honduras, crime and violence can occur anywhere.

In other news from Spanish-language papers, UNICEF is predicting that mother-to-child transmission of HIV will be almost eliminated by 2015.

After natural disasters in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez plans to rule by presidential decree for the next year (and beyond?).

Deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya is reported to have said that he is not negotiating with anyone to return to his homeland nor has he been approached on the matter, although he calls on the US to take decisive steps in that regard.

Wiki-Leaks cables have revealed that Zelaya was smuggled back into the country in September 2009 by the FMLN, the militant Salvadoran group that had been involved in a long-standing civil war in El Salvador, with help from Hugo Chavez and his forces. Again, as with much Wiki-Leaks information, this is only corroboration of what was already known or suspected.

In other Honduras news, whereas the 35 OAS member nations voted unanimously to expel Honduras when Zelaya was first forced into exile, now all but 12 favor its return, but the 12, led by Venezuela, are blocking that prospect. A military man involved in Zelaya’s ouster, Brigadier General Romeo Vasquez, says he is writing a book about the incident.

Regrettably, a handful of Republican senators blocked approval of the Dream Act. I hope Hispanic voters will give Republicans their comeuppance in the next elections. Some fault Obama for stepping up enforcement at the border and deportations, leaving no room to bargain with Republicans, who got what they wanted. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner is quite capable of crying when he thinks about the tax burdens of future generations, but seems to have no tears for the current generation of Hispanic would-be college students and military service members who have lived their whole life in this country and would contribute to it.

Here’s a website review of an upcoming Peace Corps TV flick that we can all probably afford to miss: Brooke White, an “American Idol” Season 7 finalist, will star in Change of Plans, a TV movie presented by Fox. The 27-year-old singer-turned-actress will play a woman who becomes the legal guardian of four children after her best friend dies while serving in the Peace Corps. (Wait, a PCV with four kids?)

This is just the latest in a series of movies (and books) that uses the Peace Corps as a plot gimmick. The most famous one, and one of the first, was the very lowbrow movie “Volunteers” starring Tom Hanks years before Hanks was an Oscar-winning megacelebrity.

In this silly movie, Hanks meets and stars with Rita Wilson who Tom later married. Volunteers is set in 1962–back when the Peace Corps was all the rage–and Hanks, speaking with an unfortunate accent meant to represent aristocratic wealth, plays a compulsive gambler, recently graduated from Yale, whose father suddenly refuses to pay his debts. To escape some particularly shady characters, he joins the Peace Corps and boards a plane headed to Southeast Asia. (What no interview? references? endless emailing to the Recruiter? Medical? Hardly realistic.) But nevertheless… .
This movie, as has been written about it, is “far from being politically sensitive.” The politics of the movie are all messed up, and the movie ends as a huge indictment of the Peace Corps as a corrupt tool of the government, despite some kind words for the agency and PCVs at the end.

As more health care reimbursement is set by the government or insurers, doctors’ threats to opt out ring more hollow, because they may not have enough remaining private pay patients to stay in business. Also, consumer spending is never going to recover to its previous level, nor should it, because that level was a bubble, based on phony credit.

As for the tax cut bill, it seems entirely reasonable to me, perhaps because I’m not in that bracket, that a person earning more than $250,000 per year should not continue to get a tax break on the portion of their income over that amount, especially in light of the deficit (the thought of which, apparently moved Boehner to tears, but not sufficiently to let tax breaks for the rich expire). So why do Republican lawmakers insist on giving a break to those earners? Certainly most of their constituents are not in that category and the income gap between rich and poor continues to grow, so they are not responding to a voter mandate. Perhaps a few voters do aspire to becoming rich and so identify with the wealthy, but it seems more likely that Republicans’ insistence on perpetuating these breaks for high earners is because the latter are big contributors to their campaigns. Of course, Republicans are at least nominally against taxes and government programs in general (though not in favor of cutting military expenditures or their pet projects) and also they want to saddle Obama and the Democrats with responsibility for the debt. But even more pernicious, in my judgment, is the fierce Republican objection to taxing estates exceeding $3,500,000. Is it good policy for the nation or for the moral fiber of a single heir to inherit $5 million or perhaps $10 million from two parents, not earned and completely tax-free? Passing on inherited wealth through generations skews the income distribution even more.

An Op-Ed in the NY Times (Dec. 14, 2010) by Ray Madoff (any relation?) argues: In its first 60 years, the estate tax, along with other progressive policies, went a long way toward accomplishing this goal [of avoiding wealth concentration]. By 1976, the amount of the nation’s wealth controlled by the richest 1 percent of Americans had fallen from more than 50 percent to only 20 percent. And this greater dispersal of wealth fostered a strong middle class.
The tax policies of the past 35 years, however, have reversed the trend. Today the wealthiest 1 percent own more than a third of the country’s wealth, leaving 80 percent of Americans with just 16 percent of it. President Obama’s proposal would only accelerate this trend.

But Americans seem little inclined to resist wealth concentration. Efforts to impose taxes geared to the wealthy are lambasted as promoting class warfare. Moreover, because the estate tax is nominally imposed on the deceased, it has been vulnerable to the “death tax” rhetoric, which has convinced the public that it is a second tax imposed on the defenseless dead, who already paid taxes on the money they accumulated.

North and south Sudan cannot split entirely as a result of the January referendum, but must maintain a working relationship because, while oil is in the south, refineries are in the north. That’s one of the issues to be worked out, along with the location of the border. Southerners have unrealistic expectations about the benefits of the final split. Southerners now living in the north are moving back home in expectation of all problems being solved afterward, when, in fact, divisions in the south, now united for secession, will emerge when it actually happens.

No atheists in (Cuba's economic) foxholes? See http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/12/06/1960955/cuban-leader-reaches-out-to-religion.html about Raul Castro celebrating Hanukkah at a Havana synagogue. Cuban Jews there didn’t know about Alan Gross, being held in a Cuban prison for over a year now for distributing electronic equipment to Cuban Jews.
There have been riots in Haiti, protesting that popular favorite Michel Martelly had been eliminated in the presidential run-off despite observers’ claims that he came in second. President Rene Preval has declared his own favorite, Jude Celestin, second when observers say he actually came in third. No one disputes that the top spot was won by 70-year-old former first lady and law professor Mirlande Manigat. Only the top two candidates may be included in a run-off. So, again, Haiti’s problems continue. Back in 1990, when I was an election observer there, we thought progress in rebuilding the country and its institutions could begin with the first free election in the post-Duvalier era. Twenty years later, little or no progress.

And the Wiki-Leaks saga continues. Like everything else these days, it has polarized opinion. While there may have been some value in publicizing a massive leak on a onetime basis, to continue seems unwise for future diplomacy. Is it desirable to promote less-than-candid exchanges among diplomats? I know many people consider Assange a hero, but I have mixed feelings at best. And apparently two Swedish women have genuine reasons for wanting to press charges with no obvious connection with the leaks. Sweden is not known for entering conspiracies with the US government.

A new leaks organization has sprung up to rival and challenge Wiki-Leaks, namely OpenLeaks, started by disaffected Wiki-Leakers who objected to Assange’s release of the names of secret informants and his sole focus and vendetta against the US. OpenLeaks promises to be more circumspect and ideologically neutral than Wiki-Leaks. Probably leaks and their massive dissemination are inevitable in the digital age. However, I still think they are a mixed blessing at best and a real danger at worst. Of course, like many of those aghast at the time at the actions of the GW Bush government, I’m not surprised by leaks confirming that Bush approved waterboarding, for example. And some foreign leaders have been revealed to be as venial and corrupt as I and others have always suspected. I don’t dispute that it gives a certain satisfaction to have guessed right in such cases. Perhaps confidential government documents should have a limited shelf life, a certain number of years, as with copyright expirations or Freedom of Information requests.

But every individual on the planet cannot be expert in everything or necessarily will show good judgment. When we face surgery, we don’t need to be in on the pre-operative staff conference, nor do we have to be awake and observing and critiquing everything being done to us as it’s happening. We have to delegate that to medical personnel who specialize in such matters. They may occasionally make mistakes, but will do better than if we operated on ourselves and there are always second opinions, lawyers, and other expert witnesses we can call on if necessary. Likewise, we have a representative government of elected officials and career diplomats. The American people (and especially all the world’s people) don’t need to know and weigh-in on each and every conversation and decision being made in real time on their behalf by US political leaders and diplomats.

Congressional representatives, the Congressional Research Service, and the Governmental Accountability all can be our watchdogs. Most ordinary people don’t have the intelligence or expertise, nor do they have the time to devote to diplomacy and political decision making. They are doing other things: raising kids, working in other enterprises, watching sit-coms on TV. Many of them don’t even vote. And many non-citizens, even enemies of our country, are now privy to confidential information, which is not desirable. Of course, we don’t want a completely government-controlled information system like Cuba’s, but I still contend that secrecy in diplomacy is no vice. An optimum balance of secrecy and transparency may be something the new OpenLeaks can provide.

Not to get into a long philosophical discourse here, but Wiki-Leaks supporters are probably affiliated with social ecology as a political theory. Social ecology envisages a free society without hierarchy and domination in harmony with nature. The rejection of hierarchy and domination is something that social ecology shares with anarchist doctrines.
The Peace Corps’s brightest hope
by Peter Hessler DECEMBER 20, 2010

The New Yorker, December 20, 2010, p. 101

Read the full text of this article in the digital edition. (Subscription required.)

ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about Rajeev Goyal and his advocacy of the Peace Corps. In the part of eastern Nepal where Goyal served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2001 to 2003, people sometimes weep when his name is mentioned. Locals refer to him as Shiva, the god who is the source of the Ganges River. In the halls of Congress, most people have no idea what to make of him. For the past two years, he has approached the place as if it were just another Nepali settlement with a caste system to untangle. He figured out the Washington equivalent of village-well routes—hallways, hearing rooms, and coffee shops where anybody can hang around and meet a member of Congress. During the past two years, funding for the Peace Corps has increased by record amounts, despite partisanship in Congress and a brutal economic climate. In March, the Peace Corps will turn fifty years old. The anniversary is bittersweet: despite the new funding, which has allowed for a significant increase in volunteers, the agency sends fewer than sixty per cent as many people abroad today as it did in 1966. Goyal grew up in Manhasset Hills, Long Island, where his parents had settled after immigrating from Rajasthan, India. In the Peace Corps, he was assigned to teach English at a school in Namje, a village of fewer than six hundred people, in eastern Nepal. Snowcaps provide Nepal with abundant water resources, but rivers are often inaccessible in mountain towns like Namje. Describes how Goyal and others conceived and executed the construction of a pumping system that brought water to the town. Also describes the later construction of a school in Namje built, in part, with funds from Rotary International. Tells about the history of the Peace Corps, which was created in 1961 by President Kennedy.Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/20/101220fa_fact_hessler?printable=true#ixzz182pUllmX

Now I see that Sarah Palin, perhaps in an attempt regain the spotlight, visited Haiti. Palin’s second book, America By Heart, while now second on the NY Times’ Best Seller list behind GW Bush’s Decision Points, is not doing as well as her first, which sold 2.2 million copies. Maybe her star is fading and people are getting tired of her? We should be so lucky.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Reading, PC Budget, Son’s Death Annivers., Dec. Dates, Tax Cuts, Dream Act, Popular Leaders, Wiki-Leaks, Haiti

On Dec. 5, only about a dozen people came to my presentation and reading at a local arts’ venue, The Corner Store. It was a disappointing turnout, perhaps because the evening was very cold and windy. Still we had a lively exchange about Peace Corps, Honduras, and my book, as well as good refreshments, including hot cider. To my surprise, one woman brought a copy of my book bought used on Amazon. Inside was my personal endorsement to someone else completely. She insisted that I write her name and a message to her above the one I had written to the first buyer. I don’t get any profits from used copies that are resold, but wonder how often that happens? I suppose once a reader is finished with the book, it’s time to move it along, but rather tacky to recycle a book endorsed to a particular individual. From now on, maybe I should just sign my own name for buyers and nothing more.

While increases were included in the current Peace Corps budget, they have not been definitively approved and the agency is operating right now on a continuing resolution, so that’s another item pending before the lame-duck Congress and, if not finalized before January, it’s likely to be torpedoed by Republicans when they assume the House majority. Congressman Sam Farr from California, a former PC volunteer, is taking leadership on finalizing the PC budget for this year.

Dec. 19 is the 16th anniversary of my son Andrew’s death after a work accident, also daughter Melanie’s birthday. I’ve never felt very much in a holiday mood ever since Andrew died so close to Christmas and have not sent out cards ever since, although I do appreciate receiving them. Also in December, one year after Andrew’s death, my foster son Alex died of AIDS.

Another important December date is Dec. 1, International AIDS Day, that we used to celebrate in Honduras with educational skits performed by young people and a parade through town with chants and banners. Dec. 10 is Human Rights Day, which we in Amnesty International in Dc are celebrating on both Fri. Dec. 10 and Sat. Dec. 11.

In all the debate about tax cuts, I had hoped that policymakers would not exacerbate the growing divide between rich and poor. Although “income equality” dares not be put forward in this political climate, it does seem that an effort was made to avoid making things worse for those at the bottom by slashing benefits, while leaving tax cuts for the wealthy and reimbursement to doctors, drug companies, and other special interests intact. Got an e-mail message pointing out that if all the Bush tax cuts were not allowed to expire, millionaires like GW Bush himself, as well as Sarah Palin, Gingrich, Beck, and Limbaugh would benefit. Since Republicans have argued that tax cuts to millionaires spur job creation, I would have proposed giving it only to those millionaires who actually created x number of jobs. Of course, they’ve had the tax cuts for years now, but have been hoarding their money and don’t seem to have been creating many jobs, although their heavy campaign donations do support the legislators who are protecting their wealth, so maybe those are the jobs that they’ve created. But now, although the measures have not been quite finalized, it does seem that both rich and poor will benefit, but at a considerable increase in the deficit.

John McCain, once a champion of immigration reform, himself born in Panama and the adoptive father of a foreign-born daughter, has now bowed down to the donors who helped him retain his office and come out in favor of Arizona’s anti-immigrant assault. Yet, according to Census figures, without Hispanics, the group most excoriated by reform opponents, the number of young people in the U.S. would have declined between 2000 and 2010. Based on the estimates, the non-Hispanic youth population declined somewhere between 1.25 million and 2.9 million. We old people do need young people and so now we need Hispanic young people!

And we especially need college-bound Hispanics—our next generation of professionals. So, the Dream Act is long overdue and is a matter of national self-interest. Those who focus narrowly, labeling undocumented college students “lawbreakers,” have failed to recognize that a key element of any crime is intent, and kids brought to this country illegally certainly had no criminal intent or even awareness that a crime might have been committed.

Fidel Castro and Chavez, the most unpopularBy ANTONIO MARIA DELGADO, adelgado@elnuevoherald.com, 12-04-2010 [My translation from the Spanish]

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are the most unpopular leaders in Latin America, the NGO Latinobarómetro said Friday in its annual report highlighting the inhabitants of the region's growing appreciation of democracy.
At the other end of the scale are the U.S. president, Barack Obama, and the outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, both getting the highest reading, 6.3 points on a scale of 1 to 10. The readings of Castro and Chavez were 3.8 and 3.9, respectively, said the report that evaluates the perception of Latin Americans on the issues of greatest impact in the region.
About 20,200 people in 18 countries were consulted by the Santiago-based NGO to prepare the study, which placed the King of Spain Juan Carlos I, in third place in popularity with a reading of 5.8.
As for Wiki-Leaks, I understand that former PFC Bradley Manning, who had been in Iraq with access to the files, has been arrested and, just now, Assange himself has been arrested. To the extent that the leaks reveal possible human rights violations, they do perform a valuable service. Also, this sudden massive burst of information is a historian’s dream, opening up a window onto a secret world. The leaks do offer a titillating, sometimes fascinating (and sometimes tedious) snapshot into that world, and show that US diplomats and others have a greater degree of knowledge and sophistication than was otherwise evident. But the leaks also smack of voyeurism, eavesdropping, and invasion of privacy, especially since the revelations are about current and ongoing relations, not simply long-ago activities. On a continuing basis, the value of wholesale and raw disclosure of diplomatic efforts and private conversations is questionable. Do we really want to get rid of political leaders and spokespeople and leave international relations, decisions, and actions subject to an ongoing plebiscite, with billions worldwide debating and voting online on every conceivable issue? That seems the logical implication of the continuous Wiki-Leaks dumps. Do we want less-than-candid conversations to take place between world leaders? There does seem to be a legitimate place for diplomacy and secrecy in international relations. The motivation for the leaks, while expressed in the lofty terms of promoting transparency, seems based more on a desire for notoriety and for harming US interests, not only reputations, but economies and actual people—and, of course, a means of making money, since payments are collected online.

As a one-time activity, the leaks may have been valuable—and certainly have been revealing, though not terribly surprising. Few shocking backroom deals have surfaced, nor have grand conspiracy theories been confirmed. Mostly, the stuff is just reports of ordinary, day-to-day efforts. Still, the result, regrettably, is going to be more secrecy and less openness, and more double-talk among diplomats, making it harder to reach agreement, especially with so many hard feelings to overcome. Continuous leaking of every private communication among political leaders to the whole wide world is undesirable; since we now get the idea, it needs to stop. Maybe it would be worth revealing such details in 75 or 100 years, but enough for now! That’s my opinion. The internet is truly a 2-edged sword.

The leaks regarding Honduras, so far, reveal that the US government did support Zelaya at first and opposed his ouster, so the US did not engineer his removal from office, as some have alleged.

A contrary view is expressed by The Atlantic contributor David Samuels, who supports the leaks and Assange http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/the-shameful-attacks-on-julian-assange/67440/

The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange, Sunday, December 5, 2010

“Assange may or may not be grandiose, paranoid and delusional - terms
that might be fairly applied at one time or another to most prominent
investigative reporters of my acquaintance. But the fact that so many
prominent old school journalists are attacking him with such unbridled
force is a symptom of the failure of traditional reporting methods to
penetrate a culture of official secrecy that has grown by leaps and
bounds since 9/11, and threatens the functioning of a free press as a
cornerstone of democracy.”

However, in quoting what other journalists have said attacking Assange, Samuels undermines his own case. He says, “In a recent article in The New Yorker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Steve Coll sniffed that ‘the archives that WikiLeaks has published are much less significant than the Pentagon Papers were in their day’ while depicting Assange as a ‘self-aggrandizing control-freak’ whose website ‘lacks an ethical culture that is consonant with the ideals of free media.’"

And, Samuels, again: “In a column titled ‘WikiLeaks Must Be
Stopped,’ Mark Thiessen [of the Washington Post] wrote that ‘WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise,’ and urged that the site
should be shut down ‘and its leadership brought to justice.’ The dean
of American foreign correspondents, John Burns of The New York Times,
with two Pulitzer Prizes to his credit, contributed a profile of
Assange which used terms like ‘nearly delusional grandeur’ to describe
Wikileaks' founder. The Times' normally mild-mannered David Brooks
asserted in his column this week that ‘Assange seems to be an old-
fashioned anarchist’ and worried that Wikileaks will ‘damage the
global conversation.’”

Samuels seems to be damning Assange with faint praise. One thing is certain, opinion on this matter, like on much else in the contemporary world, is highly polarized.
In Haiti, the presidential elections have turned out to be quite contentious and not definitive. Someone has sent me an article from the Wall St. Journal (“Who Cares About Haiti?’ Nov. 23, 2010) alleging—nothing new—that corruption is rampant, especially at the port where crucial goods must enter, yet are being held up until exorbitant bribes or fees are paid.

I have long speculated, as possibly mentioned before, that since the cholera strain ravaging Haiti is of a SE Asian variety and not endemic to the Americas, perhaps one or more peacekeepers from Asia with asymptomatic or mild cholera (possible where cholera is common and people have developed some resistance) could have inadvertently brought it to beleaguered Haiti. Probably no one in the UN would have wanted to advertise this, for fear of provoking more unrest. My brother-in-law almost died of cholera picked up in India recently, which he developed on his flight home and led to an ambulance waiting to take him straight to the hospital from the airport when he arrived. Yet Indians sharing a meal with him before his nighttime departure did not get sick.

Haiti cholera likely from UN troops, expert saysBy JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press Dec. 7, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A contingent of U.N. peacekeepers is the likely source of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed at least 2,000 people, a French scientist said in a report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux concluded that the cholera originated in a tributary of Haiti's Artibonite river, next to a U.N. base outside the town of Mirebalais. He was sent by the French government to assist Haitian health officials in determining the source of the outbreak, a French Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

"No other hypothesis could be found to explain the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in this village ... not affected by the earthquake earlier this year and located dozens of kilometers from the coast and (tent) camps," he wrote in a report that has not been publicly released.

A blog reader comments on the last posting questioning how much the health system, and by implication, taxpayers, should spend on prolonging life a few days or months for terminally ill patients. As a society, we not only are failing to admit that life is finite, but our resources as well. She says: I agree not just in principle but in every other way with the fundamental wrongness of spending huge amounts of Medicare funds to extend the lives of terminally ill (or just plain ancient) people another few days. It seems to be wrong for the beneficiaries – more likely their families – to insist on this diversion of money from people who could or will be productive (read: capital-creating, tax-paying) citizens, given the chance to be treated with drugs or by surgery now beyond their reach. Rationing has always been countenanced in emergency situations, and we have one of those now. Pre-senescent Americans won’t like it, but I suggest that the Americans now in their 80s and 90s may well go quietly, even with relief, since their personalities were formed before the current age of entitlement was upon us.---------------------

In a NY Times column entitled “She who must not be named,” Charles Blow argues that even negative attention paid to Sarah Palin keeps her in the spotlight and rallies her defenders. “She’s the Zsa Zsa Gabor of American politics. She once did something noteworthy, but she’s now just famous for being famous. She was a vice presidential nominee. But she lost. She was the governor of Alaska. But she quit. Now she’s just a political personality — part cheerleader, part bomb-thrower — being kept afloat in part by the hackles of her enemies and the people who admire her resilience in the face of them. The left’s outsize and unrelenting assault on her has made her a folk hero.” He vows not to mention her again, good advice for us all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving, Another Honduras Book Reading Dec. 5, AI Regional Conf., Medical Costs, Sarah Palin, Cuba, Sudan

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving holiday. I spent it with my older daughter Melanie and her family in Virginia Beach. Our Thanksgiving dinner got off to a late start. I’d bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Richmond, about a 2 ½ hour drive from Va. Beach where my older daughter lives now. Her husband was planning to meet me in Richmond, because the bus beyond there stops too often. My lone housemate with a car offered to drive me to the bus station, about a mile away, but when the departure time arrived (8:45am Thanksgiving Day), I discovered he was not at home, so I set out on foot with my luggage, walking as fast as possible. The bus was due to depart at 9:30am and, miraculously, I arrived a few minutes beforehand, taking up my place at the end of the line. The bus soon filled up and the door was shut in my face—I was the only one left still standing out there and told to wait for the next bus, leaving in 3 hours. I borrowed a cell phone and called my daughter’s cell, the only number I had with me, no answer, so I left a message. I called her several times, but by the time she answered, her husband and step-daughter were already in Richmond waiting there for me. Needless-to-say, about 30 guests had gathered before we ever got to their house. Still, it was a big festive spread and much good cheer, all the more appreciated by us weary travelers.

Another event is coming up, namely my next Honduras Peace Corps book reading and discussion at a DC arts venue, The Corner Store, 900 SC Ave. SE, 4pm, Sunday, Dec. 5. Refreshments will be served. If you will be in the area, even if you already have the book, please come (near Eastern Market metro stop), phone 544-5807, cornerstorearts.org.

Now that the US seems to be inching toward economic recovery, European dominos are falling and creating a downward drag. In Europe, as in the US, the main problem has been borrowing and living on ever-expanding credit. We’ll never see the same level of prosperity as before, because it was built on a false foundation.

Our attendance at an Amnesty International (AI) regional conference held in Pittsburgh Nov. 19-21 came to about 220, not a large number, perhaps because of the distance of that city from other population centers in the region. However, AI members in Pittsburgh were gracious hosts, glad to have the meeting held in their hometown. It’s always energizing to be in contact with newly active members, in this case, mostly young people. As probably mentioned before on this blog, since my return to DC from Honduras in 2004, I’ve been volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean for AIUSA, a region consisting of about 30 small, mostly island countries (my territory also includes the three Guyanas and, inexplicably, Canada).

The conference venue, the Omni William Penn, was a beautiful old downtown refurbished hotel with friendly staff. I had not been to Pittsburgh for many years and was happy to learn that it is apparently recovering from the loss of steel jobs by becoming an IT hub. The weather was a few degrees cooler than in DC and the trees were already bare of leaves. Pittsburgh’s downtown area, with its mix of old and new buildings, reminded me of Philadelphia on a smaller scale--Philly has about 1.5 million residents and Pittsburgh only about 310,000. Both cities have lost population in recent decades, although the losses are slowing. Washington, DC, where I live, had also been losing population, but is now gaining once again. Maybe Pittsburgh will also see a turnaround as people begin to appreciate the amenities and convenience of city life.

An informative session was held on the stereotyping of US-based Muslims and misconceptions about them. Muslim and Arab comics seem to have helped expand understanding and sympathy. While ethnic profiling might make for quicker and less intrusive air travel for a majority of passengers, exempting certain categories, such as little old ladies, from scans or pat downs would be a surefire way to have those become the preferred “mules” for terrorist attacks. (I don’t really understand all the concern about scans—except perhaps for x-ray exposure for frequent flyers. Don’t most people have similar body parts, depending on their gender? Is someone scanning thousands of passengers anonymously in a separate room really going to become titillated? What if they do?)

I would not dispute certain stats presented at the session on Muslim-Arab stereotyping, such as that Muslims now make up 1/4 of world population; that there are 7-10 million Muslims in the US and 1.2 million Americans of Arab descent, most of them Christians; that most Muslims are not terrorists and most Muslim violence in the world is committed against other Muslims. Also, members of the audience pointed out that the Crusaders specifically targeted Muslims and that there are non-Muslim terrorists, like the Basque separatists and both sides in Northern Ireland. Yes, all that is true. However, what most concerns us here in the US, I pointed out, especially in regard to air travel, is that the 9/11 high-jackers, the shoe and underwear bombers, and even the New York failed car bomber, are all Muslims. It’s not a matter of unjust racial profiling to point out that while the vast majority of Muslims living in and entering into the US are not terrorists, lately all the terrorists seem to have been Muslim, something that cannot be ignored.

A conference highlight for me was getting to talk privately with Rodolfo Montiel Flores, a former Mexican prisoner of conscience (POC) and environmental defender, who was jailed after working against wholesale local logging by Boise Cascade. He gave a keynote through an interpreter and wore his campesino straw hat throughout. While Mr. Flores does a service by making us aware of what really happened to him and how we in AI helped, I do have some misgivings about putting survivors of human rights abuses on display to repeat what happened to them over and over, making them relive their trauma and rewarding them for doing so, which may hamper their recovery.

I’ve been an Amnesty member since 1981, so there is a certain repetitive quality to our conferences, although the mission has evolved and broadened. I’m still of the old school. While I understand the logic of working for campaigns against the death penalty, violence against women, persecution of gays, and support for indigenous rights including in the US and Canada, it’s hard to make headway without a focus on individuals, including on prisoners of conscience, of which there are still too many in the world. Such individuals may be emblematic of large groups of people in similar circumstances, but we still need to focus on each person because it’s very hard for us to facilitate change en masse, especially in other countries. A focus on individuals has always been Amnesty’s unique contribution differentiating it from other human rights organizations. Amnesty has a maternal death clock running in NYC’s Times Square, showing a maternal death occurring somewhere in the world every 90 seconds, a total of 358,000 mothers lost in one year. As mentioned in previous blogs, the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International is coming up, as is the 50th of the Peace Corps. However, it’s very hard for a worldwide grassroots movement like AI with millions of volunteer members in so many member countries to work both broadly and on individual cases. The worldwide recession has dealt a further economic blow and increased reliance on volunteers, such as myself (a 30-year volunteer), where our Amnesty work can easily exceed the time and effort we invest in paid work.

A book review and subsequent debate in November in the New Yorker questions whether Medicare or any insurance plan should spend $26,000 for a drug to extend the life of pancreatic patients only 12 days or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a drug to extend life for prostate cancer sufferers 4 months, though, of course, those are only averages, with some living for shorter or longer periods. While a patient and his or her loved ones might consider those few days or months precious and well worth the price, would they still consider the cost worthwhile if they had sell their house or business to cover it? I doubt even a patient would agree to that. Yet, they are asking the rest of society to pick up that burden. Somehow, reasonable limits have to be set if this country is not to drown in medical costs. Call it rationing, death panels, or whatever you like, but I’ve been saying it for a long time. None of us is going to live forever and maybe that $26,000 or those hundreds of thousands of dollars could be better spent on prenatal or infant care or even food for malnourished kids.

Apparently Sarah Palin has announced that she is seriously considering a run for the presidency and thinks she can beat Obama. That woman has no shame, displaying her family on a so-called reality TV show and promoting her daughter on Dancing with the Stars. We need to pray that the Republicans come up with another candidate soon, before she formally tosses her hat in the ring. If we thought GW Bush was out-of-touch and not too swift intellectually, he was a paragon compared to Palin. Do we really need to make our nation a laughing stock? Do we have to run the whole world as well as our own country right into the ground? Let’s hope the American electorate will sober up and not be so stupid, but you never know. They elected a lot of iffy characters in the mid-terms just past. When folks feel very frustrated, as many do right now, they can go kind of crazy, lashing out in all directions with little concern for consequences. They often wise up only after the fact, as they finally did with GW, but too late. Sarah Palin is such a loose cannon, she could do a lot of damage before the electorate came to its senses. And she doesn’t seem to be someone who listens to the advice of others, instead going her own sweet way in willy-nilly fashion, grabbing for all the attention and money she can get while she’s still in the spotlight (and, she does know how to command the spotlight). John McCain may privately rue the day he ever picked her as his running mate. Some Democrats consider her so ignorant and outlandish, that voters would certainly reject her, so she’d be the ideal candidate to assure Obama’s reelection. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. It could be a real gamble, as absurd as that may seem. Some 80% of Republicans are said to approve of her. Meanwhile, I recommend the article, title only below, which is both funny and scary.

Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You BetchaBy FRANK RICH
Published: November 20, 2010
Fox News is now reportedly criticizing Obama’s children’s book of American heroes for describing Sitting Bull as “A Sioux medicine man who healed broken hearts and broken promises,” when, according to Fox, he really was “an Indian chief who killed a U.S. general.” In fact, a biographer of the Lakota chief contends that he “was too old to fight at the June 1876 battle…Crazy Horse led the group of tribes, including Sitting Bull's, that defeated Custer's army.” No matter is too trivial to be used against Obama.

A blog reader has pointed out that portions of GW Bush’s memoir were plagiarized. I’d missed that, though maybe Bush himself cannot be totally blamed. While no co-author is listed for his book, he probably didn’t write most of it, though he presumably reviewed it and he did put his name on it. Still, the book seems to be enjoying brisk sales (though not the blockbuster that Palin’s books are) and Bush is enjoying being the center of attention, sitting there, chatting and signing books. He reportedly told NBC in a post-book-launch interview that the worst moment in his presidency was when rapper Kanye West shouted out that Bush didn’t care about black people. Truly, was that the worst moment during his presidency, when someone bad-mouthed him? Poor baby!

It’s discouraging for a struggling author like myself, trying to convey a truthful, sincere message: that it’s always possible to embark on a new path, no matter your age or what you have been through, and vetting every single word and sticking closely to the actual details of my own experience, to have to struggle to sell even 1,000 books (not there yet, folks), while GW sells thousands in a single day and Sarah Palin, even hundreds of thousands. Both Bush and Palin have exceeded the million mark, so no wonder Palin’s written another book (or, at least, someone did).

The other night, I dreamt that I read—or perhaps wrote—a whole epic novel, with successive generations depicted in detail from birth to death. In any case, I wasn’t part of the novel, but outside it, as either observer or author. I rarely recall my dreams, but this one lingered, like dreams during Peace Corps fueled by a malaria prophylactic, as mentioned in my book. We have a whole parallel life in our dreams, experienced as real while it’s happening. Which evokes the question of what is reality? Whatever we experience or something “out there,” independent of ourselves?

A friend has told that he dreamed my book became a movie, something I could imagine happening, but only with a complete rewrite—one of those films “based on a true story.” A lot more dialogue would be required and the chronology would have to revamped to create more drama. All my calamities would need to be bunched together until the point that I’m almost ready to quit and just counting the days until the end. But, voila! something happens to change my mind, such as saving a child’s life, and the parents and all the townspeople beg me stay (and my late son Andrew urges me on in a dream). And so I extend my term, eventually quitting when my 90-year-old mother pleads with me to come home, becoming a Spanish interpreter, and ending up returning every year to Honduras with medical brigades and other projects, etc. Or, rather, the actress playing my character does all that on screen, an idle dream—in this case a waking dream. If I had actually written the book in that more dramatic fashion, perhaps more copies would have been sold by now.

As for the Wiki-Leaks leaks, is there any speculation about or attempt to find out how they got all those documents? Was someone inside the US government the source or is there a way to break electronically into secret files? I haven’t seen any commentary on that.

Not surprisingly, given all the country’s challenges and unrest, Haitian elections held Nov. 28 did not go smoothly.

But quite surprisingly, Hugo Chavez has denounced his former ally, OAS Sec. General Jose Manuel Insulza, for “meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs” for having made a public comment on an irregular military personnel matter. Chavez is a law unto himself and brooks no criticism of any of his decisions from any quarter.

Apparent good news from El Salvador, which, according to the local Spanish-language press, has lately seen a small but welcome reduction in the rate of murders, kidnappings, and other crimes of violence that had been rising every year. Hope it’s the same in Honduras.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has won another prize that she will probably not be able to collect, namely, a $50,000 Freedom Award from the Danish think tank CEPOS (http://www.cepos.dk/english). Sanchez, now in her early 30s, has been beaten and harassed by Cuban authorities, but not imprisoned because of her large following around the world. Although barely known inside Cuba because most citizens have no access to the internet, she has been able over the last few years to send her blog outside the country, apparently on flash drives given to visitors to the island. Her cogent commentaries have afforded a first-hand look at the myriad challenges of everyday Cuban life.

In other Cuba news, Freedom House has identified Cuba as the only “not free” country in the Americas. Thirteen of the original 70 dissidents arrested in 2003 remain in prison, despite the government’s promise that they would be released, as they are refusing exile.

Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, now 70 and once a darling of the regime who served in Eastern Europe, was also arrested in the 2003 crackdown, but released early for health reasons and allowed to remain in Cuba. He is one of the mysterious bloggers able to get his writings out of the country, but virtually unknown inside because ordinary Cubans don’t have internet access. In a lengthy commentary posted Nov. 26, he states that socialism has never existed in Cuba, only “a very inefficient state capitalism” that “has tricked the people by talking about fraternity and solidarity, and promising them a bright future that never arrives.” Cuban official Ricardo Alarcon is reported to have said that Cuba is now following the Chinese economic model, opening up aspects of the economy but maintaining communist party political control. Still, that’s an improvement and may eventually give the Cuban people a little more breathing room, though the transition promises to be abrupt and difficult.

Jan. 9, 2010 is the date of the south Sudan referendum on secession from the north, which the Carter Center and other groups will be monitoring. There is some speculation now that Bashir and company in Khartoum may be willing to accept the inevitable, since sanctions are already hurting. Two questions that remain unresolved are the exact location of the border (I was mostly in the border area during my 2006 trip) and what happens to the many southern Sudanese now living in the north.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Honduran Refugee Success Story, Employer Anger During Appeal, Aung San Suu Kyi, Pittsburgh Meeting, Bush at The Villages, Recommended Reading, Cuba

Last weekend, visited the house in suburban Alexandria, Va., purchased recently by my Honduran friend Gilberto “Betio” Flores. Some readers will recall that he was an environmental activist whose life had been threatened in his rural province of Olancho. I helped him obtain political asylum in the US and bring his wife and seven minor children here. (Two daughters over age 21 were ineligible to come and remain in Honduras.) Somehow, this large, tight-knit family managed to purchase a four-bedroom house with two bathrooms and a fireplace located in a quiet neighborhood on a large lot with many trees. The elementary school, which several of the children attend, is within walking distance. The children are now bilingual and doing well in school.

Their new home is certainly a cut above the tiny two-bedroom, one-bath apartment this family of nine occupied before. Both Betio (who is now 50) and his oldest son have learned to work in construction, although the family had been subsistence farmers in Honduras. The hours are long and the work is hard, but they are grateful to have it, enjoying the advantage of being legal residents and also union members. The oldest son and daughter have both learned to drive and have licenses and second-hand cars. Betio says he has not had time to learn, what working six days a week. I’m so happy and proud of this family’s success in making a new life, despite obstacles. They still miss Honduras, but it would be too dangerous for Betio to return, as several colleagues in his environmental movement have been murdered.

Last time, I mentioned a rare interpretation client appealing a denial of unemployment benefits whose daughters were angry about my services because it was evident that their mother was probably not going to have that denial reversed. This week, an employer appealing the unemployment benefits granted to his separated employee (for whom I was interpreting), became angry during the hearing because it was fairly evident that he was going to lose and that the former employee was going to continue to receive benefits. (Of course, it can never be said with certainty what an administrative hearing judge will decide, as they always send their decision later in writing to avoid clashes in the hearing room.) The employer stood up, looking red in the face, admitting that he was getting pretty hot under the collar, and saying that the former employee did not need an interpreter. My client, who had a fairly rare skill, had announced his plan to retire at the end of the year. His employer then began looking for a replacement because it was hard to find someone with that skill and, when he found one in September, he terminated my interpretation client. The client would have done well not to announce his retirement so far in advance.

After working for years with my local Amnesty International group to free Win Htein, an associate of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year, now, I salute the freeing of the lady herself, done strategically only after her country’s elections. She seems to be trying to strike a conciliatory note now with Myanmar’s junta.

Speaking of Amnesty, will be attending a regional meeting of that organization in Pittsburgh next weekend, reporting back after my return.

The following item caught my eye because the first half of a radio show where I was interviewed (podcast at 2BoomerBabes.com, Oct. 9, 2010) had to do with The Villages, a senior community near Orlando with a Disney-theme-type layout. Former President GW Bush has also been quoted as saying that people didn’t believe he could read, much less write, a book (no doubt with a lot of help). You have to feel kind of sorry for an intellectually challenged guy like GWB, who was way out of his depth in the presidency. Maybe so many people voted for him because he was on their same level. Obama, in contrast, is much smarter than most Americans, which some of them may resent.

Bush on post-presidency: 'I miss being pampered'
AP, Sat Nov 13, 2010

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Former President George W. Bush says he doesn't miss much about the White House, just the pampering. Bush told more than 3,000 people at a sprawling central Florida retirement community on Saturday that he misses the convenience of Air Force One and never waiting in traffic jams. The 43rd president said, most of all, he misses being commander in chief of the U.S. military. In his 30-minute speech, he talked about what it was like to return the salute of men and women.
The Villages retirement community is heavily Republican. Many in the crowd waved American flags and wore hats noting their military service. Bush is on a national tour promoting his new memoir, "Decision Points."
In this posting, I’m straying far from Honduras and Peace Corps to recommend reading the following four items in full, shown in brief below. Following those are two recent articles on developments in Cuba.

Government breaks promise by keeping three "Black Spring" journalists in prisonInternational Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) - 8 November 2010, http://www.ifex.org/cuba/2010/11/10/refusing _exile/

Excerpt from NY Times, Editorial, November 12, 2010
Politics Over Peace

What Mr. Netanyahu does not seem to realize is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is not a favor to President Obama. It is vital to Israel’s long-term security. If he squanders this moment, the only ones who can celebrate are the extremists.

Joseph Wilson, in an item in the Huffington Post (Nov. 9, 2010) entitled “George Bush’s Deception Points,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-wilson/decision-points-george-bu_b_781244.html, takes apart Bush’s rationales both for his mention of “yellow cake” in his State of the Union address as a reason for going to war against Iraq and his commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence.

The Economist
Reform in Cuba
Trying to make the sums add up

Raúl Castro unveils his plan for an economy of powerful, more efficient state companies and the legalisation of small businesses
Nov 11th 2010 | Havana

Here are the two full Cuba articles.

Castro Tells Cuban Labor Union to Accept Layoffs for Revolution's Survival

By Blake Schmidt - Nov 1, 2010, Bloomberg.net

Cuban President Raul Castro told unionists to accept layoffs and reforms that open the way for private enterprise as necessary for the survival of socialism.
“To defend and explain these measures, the working class must learn and be convinced of their importance for the survival of the revolution,” Castro said in an address to the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, the only union recognized by the Communist Party. “Otherwise we will fall off the cliff.”

Castro’s speech was published in the party newspaper Granma as Cuba prepares to dismiss 500,000 state workers by March, affecting 10 percent of the workforce. The dismissed workers are being encouraged to go into business for themselves, and Granma said the central bank may offer micro-credits to new entrepreneurs as the island faces its worst economic slump since the former Soviet Union ended support in the 1990s. Economy Minister Marino Murillo said workers aren’t productive enough to merit their salaries and Cubans are consuming faster than they produce, according to Granma. The average worker earns $20 a month in addition to free rationed food staples and health care, and nearly free housing and transportation.

Castro, 79, has initiated measures to open the economy, including loosening of property laws and controls prohibiting private enterprise such as taxi and mobile phone companies, since his brother Fidel began handing over power in 2006. The state still controls 90 percent of the economy. In August the government eased controls that prohibited Cubans from selling their own fruit and vegetables. It also extended lease periods to 99 years from 50 years for foreign investors in an effort to build up tourism infrastructure and draw more visitors to the Caribbean island of 11.4 million people.

Cuban authorities cracked down on a march Sunday to pray at the tomb of a dissident whose death became a rallying cry for human rights activists.BY JUAN O. TAMAYO, Nov. 2, 2010

Cuban security agents beat and detained about 40 dissidents after the mother of the late political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and her supporters prayed at his tomb, activists reported Monday. The mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, said she was repeatedly hit on the head, thrown to the ground and gagged with a smelly rag that left her breathless as she shouted anti-government slogans. Security officers also kicked several handcuffed young men during the incident Sunday, added Marlon Martorell, a dissident who took part in the protest.

Tamayo and most of the 40 others detained were released later Sunday or early Monday but some remained unaccounted for Monday afternoon, including one of Tamayo's sons, Martorell reported. The detentions appeared to be one of the harshest crackdowns yet on supporters of Tamayo, whose son's death in February after a lengthy hunger strike became a rallying cry for dissidents in Cuba and abroad.

Tamayo and Martorell said about 40 supporters joined the regular Sunday march from her home in the eastern town of Banes to Mass at a local Catholic church and to the cemetery where her son is buried. The mother said groups of government supporters harassed them on the way from church to the cemetery, and one man "authorized by the state security" threw rocks at the marchers, hitting at least three.

Martorell also reported that a "security agent in civilian clothes" shouted epithets and threw rocks at the marchers. Some of the marchers threw rocks back, he said by phone from Banes, but kept walking toward the cemetery.

Scores of police and state security officers ringed the cemetery by the time the marchers had finished praying at Zapata's tomb, Tamayo and Martorell said. "They attacked when I set foot outside the gates to the cemetery," Tamayo told the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate. "They threw me to the ground and dealt blows and kicks to all the brothers."

Martorell said agents carried out the crackdown "with a lot of violence, with beatings for all."

Tamayo, who is Afro-Cuban, said she was forced into a police vehicle and as she shouted "Down with Fidel!" one officer shouted at her, "Shut up, you lousy black." She was then gagged with a rag smelling of gasoline that nearly asphyxiated her, the mother added.

Police threw the protesters into two waiting buses, Martorell said, and he later heard Tamayo shouting "Down with Fidel" and "Zapata Lives!" while they were held in a Banes lockup.

"Once again, there's proof that they are a bunch of murderers," Tamayo added.

"Let them kill me, but I will die with honor, dignity and valor."

The Miami-based group Cuba Independent and Democratic reported Monday that one of its members in Banes, Daniel Mesa, suffered an injury to his hand during the detentions. The cell phones of Tamayo and those of several other supporters involved in the incident appeared to have been blocked Sunday afternoon and much of Monday.
State Security agents initially blocked Tamayo's marches to the church and cemetery, sometimes with mass detentions like Sunday's. But they had been allowing the protests since mid-August, when Catholic church officials intervened on her behalf. Church officials told Tamayo last month that she and her immediate family had government permission to leave for the United States, but she replied that she would not leave unless she was allowed to take her son's remains.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

DC: No Taxation without Representation, Election Central, at Eastern Market, Interpretation Observations, Honduras Happenings, Cuba’s Catholic Church

While the Stewart-Colbert rally was being held on the national mall and election fever was sweeping the nation, we here in DC were mostly onlookers since we are disenfranchised, something most other citizens are unaware of. They take for granted their votes for governors, congresspeople, and senators, not realizing or caring that a jurisdiction about the size of some small states doesn’t enjoy that same right. Specifically, Dick Cheney’s home state of Wyoming, with two senators and a congressman, has a smaller population than the nation’s capital. Alaska, home of the vaunted Sarah Palin, boast’s a population barely larger than DC’s and Delaware’s is only slightly larger still. However, since more than 90% of Washington voters are registered Democrats, Republicans have blocked any attempt to provide our city with even a single voting congressional delegate. That’s why DC license plates sport the motto “No taxation without representation,” more of a protest than a fact.

As for the mid-term elections, I would recommend an article on the tea party movement (“Confounding Fathers,” The New Yorker, Oct. 18, 2010) written beforehand. Not to oversimplify, the article compares the tea party to historical extremist precedents and notes that Republican Party pragmatists have always tried to buck that fringe trend. Now, there seems no trusted conservative pragmatist with sufficient influence to counteract the tea partiers, although Karl Rove (who would have thought him to be a voice of reason?) has tried. While more than 70% of Republicans supported the tea party going into this year’s elections and while the scope of their current influence goes beyond that of past extremists, the article speculates they may soon wane. “Candidates like O’Donnell may prove too eccentric to prevail, or voters may simply become disillusioned by politicians who campaign on their hatred of government.” Let’s hope so.

I spent election night at a nearby residence with a group of folks watching a huge flat-screen plasma TV. I don’t have a television set, so it was really a revelation to see the crisp, bright images shown there. Everything moved so fast on the blue and red states filling in the national map—instant counts and communication, projected winners sometimes declared at the very moment the polls closed. So different from my election observer experience where ballots have been hand-counted throughout the night.

On NPR post-election, a tea party activist in Texas talked about lowering taxes, reducing government spending and intrusion, and--in the same breath--berated the failure of her state to complete an interstate highway extension in her region (!). So, does the tea party mean everyone clamoring for what they personally think public priorities should be and to heck with representative government? How does that work in practice? I don't think it does. The tea party folks talk in clichés and generalities (i.e. constitutional government, small government), but avoid specifics, or they pick and choose specifics according to their personal preferences. I’ve heard that the typical tea partier is an older white male with a high school or less education (an Archie Bunker guy, a demographic hard hit by the recession). Since tea partiers are older than average, they may be going to their heavenly reward in the next few years, leaving room for a different viewpoint to replace theirs. But, the country faces gridlock in the near term, given that Republicans have vowed publicly to obstruct the “Obama agenda” to make sure he’s a one-term president—something that sounds rather harsh, but maybe not to tea party stalwarts and to Republicans in general. Of course, the problem is the economy and that’s not likely to recover fast enough for voters. Tea partiers—and almost everyone else—is frustrated and upset over the state of the economy. Yet, I don’t expect any recovery to reach the earlier peak during my lifetime, whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge.

The health care reform measure, with all its faults and concessions, was an effort by the Obama administration to actually reign in that ever-growing portion of the economy and government spending. Rolling it back, which isn’t going to happen anyway, would certainly not help economic recovery. Improving it, with bipartisan cooperation, might help, but bipartisan cooperation may be an impossible dream. Obama may be talking compromise, but the electorate and Congress are completely polarized.

It has been pointed out that Franklin Roosevelt became president three years after the Great Depression started, after things had kept going downhill, and so, in no way, was he blamed. But Obama had the misfortune of coming into office while the Great Recession was still underway and so he is blamed, as it continued on his watch, even though he did not cause it. I do believe that the actions of this administration kept it from being worse, but obviously did not restore the status quo ante. And while the Republicans complain about the deficit, they are unwilling to let the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy expire. Is that a logical position? There is actually very little trickle-down from the super-rich, whose share of the national income has kept growing and who can only spend so much, tending to hoard, increase, and pass along their wealth from one generation to the next.

At times, it seems that voting and democracy do not provide the optimal form of government because, let’s face it, most people don’t know or understand their own interests. That is, they seem unable to anticipate consequences, only to acknowledge them after-the-fact. When I see tea party folks getting all fired up right now, I think about the adoring crowds who initially greeted Hitler, Mao, and Fidel Castro. Or, more recently, the Greeks rioting over unavoidable austerity measures, or the French striking over the increase in the retirement age, when it’s fairly obvious that if they are living longer, it’s a financial necessity.

On another topic, most interpretation clients are grateful for my help, one reason why this job is so satisfying. But one day last week, I experienced a rare reversal of that stance. It was an unemployment denial appeal made by a frail older woman who rested her head on the desk during the proceedings and had to be prodded gently by me to reply to questions, as she seemed to be falling asleep. She was also hard-of-hearing, so I had to shout, while she spoke in barely audible tones. One of her daughters was allowed into the hearing room and, afterward, as I was leaving, berated me for not interpreting word-for-word in the order spoken exactly what her mother had said. First of all, the mother’s answers were rather garbled, so I tried to make sense out of them. Second, interpretation, because of differing grammatical rules, is never a matter of putting one word in front of the other in the order spoken in the first language. The result would be unintelligible. But I did not want to argue with the daughter. Her anger, I believe, resulted from the realization that the appeal would be lost, since a key requirement for receiving unemployment benefits is that the person be able to work and be actively seeking employment. This woman said she was ill and could not possibly work, so I advised her as I was leaving to apply for disability benefits instead, but she said she had already tried and it was too complicated. So, I guess she had thought she’d give unemployment benefits another shot by appealing their denial.

Had another recent interpretation assignment that exemplified what happens when many Central American immigrants—usually undocumented—leave their children behind and finally are able to send for them later. This was a typical case of a mother (no father in the picture) who managed to take her older daughter with her when she crossed the border years ago, but left her son, only eight at the time, behind with her parents. Now the son, age 15, has arrived, but he is already a teenager, resentful that his mother took his sister with her and not him. Also, he never went to school after his mother left, so not only does he not know English, but cannot read and write, even in Spanish. However, he has been placed in 9th grade and, no surprise, cannot do the work and has been truant and getting into trouble playing hooky from school while the mother works. The court has ordered him to attend classes, but he is resisting. The family lives in Maryland where school attendance is compulsory until age 16. The mother, who, with considerable effort and expense, has been reunited with her son, is finding that it has not been the happy homecoming both had anticipated.

My efforts at book-selling last Sunday faltered because of high winds. I spent most of the time shouting over the gale and trying to hold down Peace Corps pamphlets and supporting documents, including copies of my Beacon article and a notice of my 2BoomerBabes podcast. No books were sold. However, a dark-haired young woman stopped by, who, like my younger son, Jonathan, was adopted from Colombia. It so happens that I know her parents and knew all about her, but had not actually seen her since she was a baby. She once served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua, where she became fluent in Spanish and met her Nicaraguan husband. She introduced me to him and also to their little daughter, so that was all quite a thrill. Therefore, I didn’t consider my market foray that day a total loss, as I also managed to talk to a few people about Peace Corps service, at least to plant the seed.

In the Nov. 1 Washington Post, was an item about 14 people being slain in a sports stadium in Honduras in an apparent gang attack. Later, the local Hispanic press showed a grisly photo. On Nov. 2, there was a report in the Post that five men had stolen a small plane from a Honduran military base.

A correspondent sent me a declaration from Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/10/21-0) regarding the efforts of what is called the Honduran Resistance to the 2009 “coup” against President Manuel Zelaya and its continuing protests against the administration of President Porfirio Lobo. The statement alleges that at least ten Honduran journalists have been killed so far in 2010 and other violence has been waged against activists, but erroneously blamed on gangs. It laments Secretary Clinton’s efforts to have Honduras re-admitted to the OAS.

I’m unable to judge what is behind the killing of journalists and opposition activists—it’s probably a combination of bona fide political repression (not sure by whom) and random crime. I certainly would favor the readmission of Honduras to the OAS because keeping it out helps neither Zelaya’s supporters or opponents, nor the majority of Hondurans. However, I would agree with the writers of this declaration that “Honduras has one of the highest poverty rates and gaps between rich and poor in the Americas,” an issue that has not been adequately addressed, though we in the Peace Corps, as well as USAID and many other bodies have been constantly working on it. I believe that poor Hondurans, the majority in that country, were energized and inspired by Zelaya, and were angry and disappointed over his ouster. However, in my recent observations on the ground, most seem to have accepted that he won’t be coming back and, either out of resignation or realism, have “moved on.”

Someone else sent me another document, this one in Spanish, called Compromiso Con Honduras (CCH), Commitment With Honduras, but I’m not sure who created or has subscribed to it. It looks like a fairly promising statement, though lacking in specifics. It seems to attempt to build on the spirit that Zelaya inspired and to bridge the gap between his dispirited and still-loyal followers and the rest of Hondurans—also to influence the holdouts in Latin America who still want to punish Honduras for Zelaya’s ouster. Unity, consensus, citizen participation, reduction of inequality, economic growth, attacking corruption, developing sustainable natural resources, encouraging a common national identity—these are some of the stated goals and principles. Sounds quite laudable, but I don’t have enough context to guess whether anything might actually come of it.

Cuba has been reported to be inaugurating its first seminary in over 50 years, another example of how church and state have become more cooperative there. Critics of the Castro government have criticized the Catholic church for being too acquiescent, but the church’s stance has not only won the release of a number of political prisoners, but, now, allowed a new seminary to open. Is there a lesson here for Democrats and Republicans in our own country? Surely there could have been no deeper divide than that between the Cuban communist government and the Catholic church in Cuba.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My profile in next April’s Woman’s Day? Thomas-Hill, BoomerBabes podcast, Blacksburg, Facebook Breaches, Cuba Layoffs

Had problems accessing my blog recently because my daughter Stephanie had originally set it up, using her e-mail address, which changed recently without my knowledge and somehow automatically affected my access. When I tried to find out the problem from the blog administrators, they wouldn’t answer me, because I wasn’t the designated person.

Was interviewed the other day for an article featuring "late bloomers" by a Woman's Day freelance contributor for an article scheduled for publication on April 1, 2011 (!)--so don't hold your breath. Will keep you posted nearer to the actual time.

Meanwhile, what's all this about Virginia Thomas calling up Anita Hill and asking her to apologize? How about Clarence apologizing to Anita Hill for harassing her and for lying under oath at his confirmation hearing? And now I understand that other women have come forward. I don't know whether Mrs. Thomas called Hill with her husband's knowledge, but she has certainly opened a can of worms that can’t be good for Clarence's reputation. She is also raising a lot of money for the Tea Party, but, of course, the Supreme Ct. ruled that donors don't have to be disclosed. It's very discouraging that nut cases like Virginia and Clarence Thomas have so much influence and that so many voters are also nut cases (a nut case is someone who disagrees with me, of course). I saw a number of bumper stickers in Blacksburg saying merely "Palin"--not McCain-Palin. Is Sarah Palin running for something already? Really, if she should be elected president, I would think seriously about moving back to Honduras.

Speaking of Blacksburg, I had a disappointing turnout for my talks at Va. Tech and the public library and only sold two books, hardly worth the expense of renting a car and driving all that way. Still, it was a beautiful drive during mild fall weather when many leaves had turned and I also got to see old friends. Also, maybe I planted a Peace Corps seed among members of my audience?

When I was in Blacksburg, an old friend opined that the CIA manipulates Peace Corps volunteers and they don’t even know it. Well, if we don’t know it, it’s hard to refute. In my observation, the Peace Corps bends over backwards to avoid any association with intelligence services, to the point that anyone who has ever worked in intelligence is not eligible to join. Occasionally, while I was in service, the PC was accused of having CIA ties, but we used to laugh about it, as it seemed so absurd. Here we were, daily trying to do very basic, hands-on work under challenging physical conditions among unsophisticated rural people in a manner totally unrelated to security or secrets. If I was giving a talk on AIDS prevention, taking kids to a surgical brigade, or helping deliver a baby, I’m not sure how the CIA would figure in that.

I mentioned this issue via e-mail to a friend who is a veteran volunteer and in the PC right now. He responded: The CIA hasn´t anything to gain from volunteers. What could they get that they don´t already have in the way of information? I have found the CIA to be very professional and respectful of Peace Corps... But people will believe what they want to believe. What information would the CIA want that a volunteer has...what?

Finally heard my interview on the podcast for Oct. 9 on the Baltimore NPR program 2BoomerBabes (www.2boomerbabes.com). It’s an hour-long program and the first half was with a guy who investigated and wrote a book about the Villages, an enormous retirement community near Orlando with a Disney World-type design. It was actually pretty interesting, but if you don’t want to hear that, I don’t know how you can skip to my part, the second half hour. My daughter Stephanie says you can fast-forward, but I couldn’t figure that out. I think I did OK, you be the judge. A swirling pattern of colors is the only visual shown.

Glad Facebook is correcting its security breaches, as I had two ads put on my Facebook messages without my knowledge or consent. The first time, I changed my password, but don’t want to have to keep doing that, as my memory for constantly changing passwords is not the best.

Glad also that Haiti seems to have cholera under control, more or less. Having visited Haiti a few times and come to appreciate the people here, I have a lot of sympathy for all the recent travails of Haitians. It seems that one calamity just leads to another. If I knew Creole and wasn’t so committed to Honduras, I would turn my sights there.

In the local Spanish-language press, I note that Bolivian congress, where President Evo Morales’ party holds sway, recently passed a law setting the age of consent for sex at 12, provided that relations are consensual and there is no big difference in ages. Still, that seems rather young and, at the very least, would expose very immature kids to the risk of pregnancy and STDs. In another article, Judy Gross, a resident of MD, pleads for the release of her husband, Alan Gross, asking that he be forgiven for bringing in cell phones and electronic equipment to give to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. He was arrested last December and has been said to have lost 80 lbs. in captivity. She said that Alan loves the Cuban people and only wanted to help and that their daughter has cancer and needs to have her father by her side.

A recent issue of The Economist displays the per capita income in Latin American countries (except the Caribbean) and the rate of growth for 2000-2009. Different indices, from the World Bank to the IMF to the CIA, all give slightly different estimates of per capita income in different countries. Luxemburg seems to come out on top, at over $100,000 per year, and Burundi on the bottom, with less than $200. The US per capita in 2009 was around $47,000. That seems like a lot from my vantage point, but, of course, it’s an average of a few very rich folks and lots of not-so-rich ones. But back to The Economist’s Latin American rankings, Honduras is among the poorest countries with annual GDP below $4,000. Others in that category are Nicaragua and French Guiana. The next tier, $4,000-$7,000, is occupied by Bolivia, El Salvador, Guyana, and Paraguay. Then comes $7,000 to $10,000, with Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru. In the $10,000 to $13,000 rank are Brazil, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. At over $13,000 are Argentina, Chile, Suriname, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay, with Panama at the very top with $15,300 per capita and a growth rate of 5.8% from 2000-2009, the highest in Latin America. That does not surprise me after my visit to Panama last Feb. and seeing its relative prosperity. Yet, the Peace Corps is still working there. Honduras’s growth rate during the same period was not bad, 4.4%, according to The Economist.

In the same issue of The Economist, mainly focused on Latin America, some really horrendous murder statistics are shown. El Salvador is the worst, with almost 60 per 100,000 population in 2006. In my interpretation experience, asylum applicants here often cite gang violence directed at them as reasons why they fled El Salvador. Going down the list, next highest murder rate is in Venezuela, followed by Guatemala, then Honduras, with about 42 per 100,000. Mexico has only 11—or had in 2006; it’s probably gone up. From the chart shown, it looks like the US comes in at about 5 per 100,000, with a slightly lower rate in Argentina and Bolivia. The mother country, Spain, by comparison, looks like it had only about 1 per 100,000. Probably there are stricter gun control laws there.

You’ve already probably already seen the story, so I won’t run it again, just the headline (Oct. 1, 2010) about hunger striker Guillermo Farinas: Cuba dissident Farinas awarded Sakharov Prize by EU. ----------------------------

Czechs grant asylum to Cuban political prisoner
Associated Press, Oct 26, 2010

PRAGUE – Officials say the Czech Republic has become the second European Union country after Spain to grant asylum to a Cuban political prisoner. The Foreign Ministry says Rolando Jimenez Posada arrived in Prague on Tuesday. He's one of dozens political prisoners Cuba's communist government agreed to free on condition they leave the island.

Pavla Holcova of the People In Need human rights organization says Jimenez Posada, a lawyer, was arrested in 2003 and received a 12-year prison term three years later for subversion. Holcova said Posada arrived with his wife, brother, son and niece.
The Czech Republic is one of the strongest critics in the EU of Cuba's human rights record. The ministry says the country is ready to take 10 Cuban political prisoners.

It’s too long to reproduce here, but I refer you to an article about the proposed Cuban economic changes and one million state worker layoff by José Azel, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/04/cubas_pre_existing_condition (See also article below)

Cuba's creeping anxietyBy Nick Miroff
October 22, 2010

Jobs are disappearing and Fidel Castro is warning of nuclear war. It's an uneasy time in Cuba.

HAVANA, Cuba — For all its revolutionary slogans and radical politics, this island is actually a rather conservative place, at least in the classic definition of the word. Things tend to change slowly, if at all, as many Cubans have had the same jobs, neighbors, and of course, political leaders, for their entire lives.
Which is why recent developments have shaken this country's people and given rise to a creeping sense of insecurity.

The government has announced it will dismiss 500,000 employees from their state jobs over the next six months in a massive downsizing move that would likely spark street protests anywhere else. Another 500,000 or more workers will be laid off after that, as Raul Castro’s government attempts to shift 20 percent of the labor force off public payrolls, steering them toward more productive activities such as farming and construction.

Elsewhere too the government is trimming its social safety net, warning Cubans that the country’s cradle-to-grave entitlements — from free education to health care to subsidized electricity — can’t be sustained by current levels of economic output. Even the island’s ration book, a keystone of Cuban socialism, is being winnowed away amid rumors it may be eliminated altogether.

If such cutbacks weren’t already worrisome enough, Fidel Castro has re-emerged in recent months to spook Cubans with apocalyptic visions of nuclear war [6], warning that American tensions with Iran have put the world on track to atomic destruction.
The communist government has tried to sooth Cubans’ anxieties with promises such as “no one will be abandoned.” But many have been waiting expectantly for guidelines from the government on new employment opportunities or small business licenses, and the information has yet to materialize. Instead, official newscasts devote hours to reading Castro’s essays on world affairs or excerpts he’s selected from Bob Woodward’s "Obama’s Wars."

“There’s been a lot of talk and rumors, but nothing concrete. We’re still waiting,” said Alberto Ruiz, an employee at a state-owned restaurant who’s heard speculation that the establishment could be converted into a worker-run cooperative. Ruiz said he’s eager to find out more, but like many here, he’s in a state of suspense, aware that the country’s economy is poised for changes but not sure how the crisis might translate into new opportunities.

The government has said it will issue 250,000 new self-employment licenses in the coming months, allowing Cubans to hire themselves out as carpenters, accountants, birthday clowns and other occupations. But critical information about the new licenses — especially regarding taxes — has yet to be published, leaving many would-be entrepreneurs in the lurch.

The growing impatience has even surfaced in the pages of the communist party newspaper, Granma. “There’s a lot of interest in this new process, but we’re missing some important details, as well as phone numbers, addresses and other places where we can go for information, since the people aren’t prepared for these new changes, and they need to know — me included,” read one recent letter to the editor, signed by HM Alvarez.

Some of Cuba’s most skilled workers will likely benefit from the modest liberalization measures. But thousands of other Cubans lack the wherewithal to strike out on their own, even if their state jobs pay meager salaries that only average about $20 a month. Many laid-off workers will be offered alternative employment, but others will be encouraged to make a go of it in Cuba’s incipient private sector.

Losing a $20-a-month job can be more of a financial blow than it might seem. Often the true value of a job is determined by the opportunities it presents for theft and other scams, whether pilfering gasoline, stealing food or selling ill-gotten construction materials on Cuba’s sprawling black market. Eliminating state jobs, then, is also an unspoken government strategy for curbing workplace theft, as well as waste and redundancy. At one emergency medical service center highlighted in Cuba’s state media, 30 employees were assigned to a garage with a single ambulance. Other accounts describe similar workplaces, overflowing with useless custodians, technicians and assistants.

Meanwhile, businesses that earn hard currency, like Cubana, the national airline, or Cubacel, the mobile phone service provider, often seem to lack enough employees to answer the phones promptly or provide customer service. Raul Castro’s government aims to have at least 80 percent of state employees engaged in some productive activity. But that also means that thousands of Cubans face the possibility of long-term unemployment, bringing fears of rising crime.

The government does appear to be preparing for that possibility, too. Some 23,000 Cuban security guards are being laid off, according to Reuters, but many are being offered new jobs in the prison system and as police officers.

Source: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/cuba/101020/cuban-people-jobs-economy