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 ( 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, (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.


1 comment:

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