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.

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