Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Deaths Close to Home, Ariz. Shooting, Late Foster Son’s B'day, DC Voting Rights, Ariz. Medicaid, So. Sudan, Cuba, Honduras, Rape in Haiti

On last weekend, two days before I was due for an early morning interpretation assignment (6:30am) at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., we heard on the radio that the hospital was on lockdown, as an employee had been killed. By the time I showed up for work two days later, all appeared calm (though the killer had not been found and there were extra guards posted). Few details had been forthcoming and, quite naturally, the hospital did not want to call attention to the matter, carrying on with business as usual. Any disruption in normal routines might jeopardize patients and also result in loss of revenue. Eventually the killer was identified and captured, an employee who had gotten a bad annual review and decided to knife his boss when they were alone in the hospital boiler room.

If words could kill, then Republicans have certainly been throwing them around willy-nilly and exaggerated fashion: “Obamacare,” “Death Panels,” “Death tax,” “Anchor babies,” “blamestream media,” and the “Job-Killing Healthcare Bill.” So it’s little wonder that Arizona’s Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, which Sarah Palin had signaled online with a gun-target (she said later it was a surveyer’s mark, hardly credible, but took it down), was shot along with bystanders. Outlandish and fiery claims probably can incite vulnerable and unstable individuals, especially in a nation where “second amendment gun-rights” seem to supersede rights to life. Sharron Angle, Reid’s Tea party opponent, had said during the campaign that voters could pursue “Second Amendment remedies” if the political process did not work for them. No man is an island and if such remarks aren’t intended to influence listeners, why even say them?

Now Palin has added to the incendiary war of words by accusing her accusers of “blood libel,” aligning herself with falsely accused Jews. (Giffords is Jewish, is there supposed to be a connection there?) Palin and other right-wingers are perhaps protesting too much, defending themselves by arguing so vociferously that it’s not their overheated rhetoric or even guns who kill people and that the Arizona shooter is just a crazy lone-wolf guy, acting in a complete void, a random actor surging out of the blue. “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own” and “begin and end with the criminals who commit them,” Palin said in her prepared remarks. Let’s calm down, let’s pray, let’s not rush to judgment, she and other Republicans urge. Of course, she puts herself back in the limelight again.

Well, it’s true that it has not been proven that the shooter was incited by rhetoric and also true that Rep. Giffords was a gun-rights’ supporter, as an Arizona legislator would likely be. However, she did vote for healthcare reform and the Dream Act, which made her a target for Republicans, especially tea partiers. I hope that right-wing talk-show hosts, Fox News, the NRA, and the Republican Party in general and the Tea Party in particular all are taking a step back and reassessing their over-the-top tactics. They’ve gone too far and there is finally a backlash, so my advice to them is: tone it down, try to be more reasonable, and don’t make unfounded accusations because they can come back to bite you. As during the McCarthy era, the pendulum may have finally swung too far to the right for the majority of Americans. If so, serves Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, and their ilk right. Dick Cheney has been mercifully silent of late, perhaps because of his delicate heart condition—so much the better.

In another tragedy closer to home, on Jan. 10, just across the intersection from my house, a neighbor died when her car caught fire inside her home’s garage. She was 37-year-old Ashley Turton, a mother of three small children who worked for an energy company and was married to a White house staffer. A lot of unanswered questions. I did not actually know her, just saw her around the neighborhood with her children, but it has been a blow to us all. The burned garage has been boarded-up and I’ve seen furniture being moved out of the house, whether because of fire damage or moving, I don’t know.

My late foster son Alex’s birthday is this month. Of course, I only met Alex when he was 16, having come here via the Mariel boatlift at that age—never having planned to live in this country at all, but taken from jail on orders of Fidel Castro himself by guards who put him onto a waiting boat. For me, the shock of Alex’s impending death came in 1990, when he first told me he was HIV+. He died in Miami five years later, having gone there in his last year of life without telling me. The day he died, a young woman who had been caring for him called me at my office, saying he had asked her to call me only after his death to protect me. And here I’d been looking all over DC for him in vain. At that time, only a year after my son’s death, I was barely functioning anyway and news of Alex’s passing—not really unexpected—was just a further blow when I was already down about as far as I could go.

Not only does the District of Columbia not enjoy the same congressional representation as other jurisdictions with less or similar populations, but now the House Republican majority has stripped our non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and other delegates from Puerto Rico, Guam, and other territories of their right not vote in committee. All are Democrats, except for one Independent.

In December, while it’s hardly spectacular, Amazon sold 10 of my books, an improvement over previous months when sales were closer to 5 or 6. Every week, one or two books sell, for which I’m grateful, but it would be nice to rev that number up a few notches. I’ll be doing another interview Jan. 14—don’t recall details, but it’s a program from the west coast that, I think, is streamed on-line. I don’t prepare much for these gigs—best to be non-scripted. Will let you know when it becomes available.

Apparently at least two Arizona Medicaid patients have died after being taken off the transplants list. Obviously, it isn’t known whether appropriate transplants would have been available or a transplant would have been successful if it had taken place. As a Spanish interpreter, I have been involved in bone marrow, kidney, and liver transplants, mostly for children. These procedures are very delicate, difficult, and, of course, painful, with life-time monitoring and care stretching out afterward. I’ve often wondered how “my” transplant patients are doing now and whether they are still among the living.

Speaking of both books and transplants, Dick Cheney has begun writings his memoirs (why not?). He has a new heart pump and, at 69, is considering undergoing a heart transplant before reaching the cut-off age of 70. Maybe, because the stats on heart transplants are not so favorable, he’ll stick with his current highly sophisticated pump system. Of course, unlike Arizona Medicaid patients, he doesn’t have to worry about the cost and availability of the latest medical care, including a heart transplant if he wants one, since no doubt we taxpayers are covering all his medical costs.

South Sudan’s referendum has started and if the vote for secession from the north is less than 95%, I will be surprised. There could be some people waffling in the sensitive border areas or southerners living in the north who want to stay there who might vote “no”. But when I was in the south in 2006, I never met one person in favor of staying united with the north—not a scientific sample, mind you, but probably fairly representative. As readers know, the north is mostly Arabic and Muslim, the south black (really black) and Christian or animist. On the first day of the referendum, Jan. 9, I attended a celebration in DC where people who had been working for a time in Sudan all expressed cautious optimism. Someone said that he was surprised that vote was actually going forward, me too, because it looked last year that Bashir was trying to quash the whole thing, asking for a delay and changes. Surrounding nations and the US have supported the referendum.

Points made by speakers at the event included the following: democratic transformation has not occurred in either north or south; if violence breaks out (there have been a few clashes already), it could quickly escalate; south Sudan’s infrastructure and government are very undeveloped [amen to that, I say]; don’t forget the north, which has 30 million residents compared to only 10 million in the south; the north may now move closer to sharia law; the post-referendum honeymoon may be short-lived; and north and south must share oil revenues because, although the oil is in the south, refineries are in the north. For now, southerners are jubilant.

Big economic changes are in store for Cuba, with 500,000 government layoffs announced for the near future, with another 500,000 supposedly to come. This is in a country of 11 million, where almost everyone has worked for the state for generations and where private enterprise, for most of that time, was illegal, although it always occurred under-the-table. Many analysts believe this step is being taken because the Cuban government is broke and cannot afford to pay its workforce. It also cannot afford to keep losing so much from the constant pilferage from state industries. Allowing Cubans to start small licensed businesses will also increase the remittances the country needs to survive because relatives in the US and elsewhere won’t let their Cuban relatives starve. Already, with the elimination of the 10% tax on remittances, the amount being sent by relatives from abroad has soared. The government knows it will recoup that money anyway when it’s spent in government stores. The Cuban Communist Party will be holding a congress in April 2011, so more changes may be in store. There is reportedly tension between the old-line supporters of Fidel Castro and the reportedly more pragmatic faction of his brother Raul, who took over as head of state when Fidel fell ill four years ago. However, Raul has made it clear that while economic changes are going forward, there will be no changes in civic and political life and that the Communist Party will still reign supreme. He argues that economic changes are necessary to protect and safeguard “the revolution.” Cuba will still call its economic system “socialism,” but it’s a different type of socialism—more like state-controlled small business enterprises.

Cuba has taken another significant step by commuting the death sentence of its only prisoner on death row. While the death penalty has not been abolished, this is a favorable development, in my opinion, especially given Cuba’s bloody history of executions.

President Hugo Chavez’s family reportedly has deposited $137 million in US banks—not in Venezuelan banks, mind you—and where did they get all that money in a “socialist” country?

In Honduras, on Dec. 28, another journalist was ambushed and killed, Henry Suazo, of HRN radio. This is the 10th journalist killed in Honduras in 2011, with only two men having been arrested in connection with these crimes.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has invited Manuel Zelaya to come back, saying he will not be arrested. To Latin American presidents that don’t recognize his government, he advises them to get over their anger.
In Haiti, a recount of disputed presidential election ballots is underway to determine the two top vote-getters for the runoff.

Women in Haiti’s squalid refugee camps face rampant rape
By Jade Walker, Jan. 6, 2011, Yahoo News.

One year after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, women and girls staying in the country's refugee camps live without adequate food, water, shelter and medical care. And when the darkness falls, the rapists come.
According to a report from Amnesty International, precarious living conditions and a lack of security in and around the camps have left thousands of women and girls as young as two vulnerable to sexual predators. Many of these women lost their family and community connections in the quake along with all of their worldly possessions.
One widow named Guerline was forced to watch her 13-year-old daughter being gang raped by four men. "They told me that if I talked about it, they would kill me," she told researchers. "They said that if I went to the police, they would shoot me dead." That same night, Guerline was raped as well.

The Commission of Women Victims for Victims, a women's group run by and for rape survivors from the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, registered 230 cases of sexual assault in 15 camps during the five months after the Jan. 12 quake. There are over 500 camps in the Haitian capital.

The vast majority of the women living in the camps who were interviewed reported being raped by two or more individuals. Most of those assaults occurred at night and by men who were armed.

Rapes are rarely reported to authorities because of the shame, social stigma and fear of reprisals from attackers, USA Today reported. The few brave women who have come forward to file a report with authorities were told that nothing could be done for them. Some police officers even demanded bribes to investigate the assaults, but the victims had no money.

Rape victims are also emotionally, spiritually and physically scarred by their attackers. Some become pregnant, suffer internal injuries or contract sexually transmitted diseases. Haiti has the highest infection rate for HIV in the Western hemisphere, with one in 50 people infected, The Associated Press reported.
In an effort to stem the tide of sexual assaults in Haiti's refugee camps, human rights groups are urging the government and charitable organizations to improve lighting and security in the camps, increase the number of private bathing facilities and make a serious effort to prosecute rapists. Additional tents, a more visible police presence, self-defense courses and better information about medical treatment options are also suggested.

No comments: