Sunday, May 29, 2011

Blind Kids, Honduran Pts., No Rapture, Port. Med Units, S-K “Seduced”?, Sudan Borders, Bush Lecture Tour, Israeli Borders, Demographic Time Bomb

Last week, I was invited to talk to a group of blind kids from DC public high schools, including Wilson, which my kids attended, about how blind adults and students fare in Honduras, drawing on my book. One boy, originally from the Dominican Republic, and I chatted in Spanish. With one of the program administrators, whom I’d met through my interpretation work, we are trying to gather up a bunch of items for the blind to send to Honduras. There is a special provision in the US Postal Code (which PO workers always have to look up) that allows boxes of such materials of a certain size to be sent free via surface mail to blind facilities in other countries.

Last week, I also had two medical patients from Honduras, including one from La Esperanza who knows my former office mate and friend, Luis Knight. I must repeat the old cliché “small word.”

Well, May 21 came and went and we are still here. No end of the world, no rapture. God must have mysteriously postponed it.

I met a physician visiting from Florida who tells me that Doctors without Borders has perfected a blowup medical clinic that sounds cheaper and even more practical than mobile medical unit. I need to find out more about it and if it is available to other organizations. If anyone knows, please advise.

A reader tells me: John Ashcroft is now Blackwater's new head of Ethics. Lots of experience with such matters.

Apparently former IMF head Strauss-Kahn had recently predicted that false accusations might be lodged against him. Now much of the French public reportedly believes that the NY hotel maid’s accusations are an elaborate plot engineered by Sarkozy or some other nefarious enemy. Probably due to DNA evidence, Strauss-Kahn will now be forced to admit to a sexual encounter with the maid, but will argue that it was “consensual.” If so, given his prior fear of a possible conspiracy to frame him, why in the world would he have voluntarily engaged in sex with an unknown woman, a hotel maid yet, and thereby fall into a trap? Surely, a smart guy, given his premonitions, would have had better judgment. Or was he just the victim of a wily and relentless seducer? It doesn’t wash. His hasty retreat from the hotel, leaving his cell phone behind, and attempting to leave the country within hours are not the actions of an innocent man. Still, with high-powered lawyers and a sympathetic jury, he may yet beat the rap, just like OJ Simpson did. After all, a jury has to decide if guilt is proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” something open to interpretation.

The local Hispanic press has said that Manuel Zelaya would return to Honduras before the end of the month, after which Honduras will be readmitted to the OAS. The Economist says the same (see article below). I seen now that his return went off yesterday as scheduled. He was greeted by boisterous crowds arriving in a Venezuelan plane from neighbroing Nicarague.

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, whom I once met, was recently in NY City meeting with Dominican groups living there. He said that two million of his fellow countrymen live in this country.

Having been to South Sudan, including to the border area now in dispute, I’m concerned but not terribly surprised that a conflict has broken out there just prior to the full declaration of independence voted on in the recent referendum.

If I was feeling a little sorry for GW Bush in his reported self-imposed isolation, it now turns out that he’s been pretty busy after all giving paid speeches (the same one over and over?) at minor venues on topics related to finance, golf, and other matters. Public speaking wouldn’t seem to be his strong point, but he’s already raked in $15 million doing that since leaving office. So, being a former president is pretty lucrative and surely a lot easier than actually being president. Laura Bush and the president’s brother and parents also give paid speeches. You would think that someone who is independently wealthy and who enjoys a humongous pension might impart whatever wisdom he has to offer for free, but apparently not. At least Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have established non-profit enterprises with laudable goals to soak up some of their post-presidential largesse, though I realize that many non-profits offer lots of luxury perks as well. I’m sure Bill Clinton doesn’t fly around the world in economy class. The only time I myself was offered a modest speaking honorarium, I asked that it be donated to a small non-profit on whose board I serve. I would think GW could do the same (maybe he has without announcing it?).

Since everyone is weighing on Obama’s remarks about Israel’s 1967 borders, which he was gutsy enough to repeat in a speech to AIPAC, I would just observe that it’s nothing new and nothing so shocking. Apparently, neither the Israeli nor US public, except perhaps for religious Jews and extreme evangelicals, found his statements remarkable or terribly worrisome. But Republican lawmakers and Netanyahu certainly zeroed in on them, probably for political reasons. Of course, Israel and its citizens want to survive in safety, but it really doesn’t appear to be in Israel’s interest or security (or that of the US) to keep having Israel occupy and control an ever-growing restive and resentful Palestinian population crowded into a tiny geographic area. The Arab Spring has changed the regional dynamic. Nor should Israel be so eager to bite the hand that feeds it, though certainly Netanyahu seemed to be doing that by appealing to his US constituency in AIPAC and Congress over the head of the president.

Those celebrating the recent passage in Md. of offering in-state college tuition for undocumented students brought here as children and who fulfill other requirements may have celebrated too soon. Apparently, there is a small-minded group gathering signatures to mount a referendum to reverse that decision.

Deficit analysts, among others, have pointed out that ever-increasing longevity is an important factor in driving up such public entitlements as pension and medical-care costs, whether financed by federal or state government. (Increasing medical expenditures, in turn, increase longevity, which increases both pension and future medical costs in a continuing upward spiral.) One remedy would be to continue gradually raising the retirement age; another would be to raise the income limit on social security contributions; and, finally, there is legalizing undocumented folks, who have already proved their importance to the economy, in order to keep them living in this country because we desperately need them! They are younger than the average American and are our only hope for avoiding demographic economic collapse, such as that being experienced by Europe and Japan. Dire warnings about the “population bomb” have morphed into the “oldster population bomb.” We keep finding new ways to remedy illness and keep people alive, so this is the inevitable result.

Best Memorial Day wishes. My late father, Leonard Currie, was a US WWII veteran, though Canadian-born, retiring as a Lt. Col. in the US army, among his many life achievements.
The Economist, May 24th 2011

Nearly two years after he was hustled onto a flight and into exile, Manuel Zelaya at last looks set to return to Honduras. Mr Zelaya’s presidency came to an abrupt end in June 2009 when soldiers sent him packing to Costa Rica after the Honduran Supreme Court ordered his arrest for illegally pressing on with an informal referendum on constitutional change. His ousting, which a truth commission is expected to describe as a coup when it reports next month, led to many countries breaking diplomatic ties with Honduras, and its suspension from the Organisation of American States (OAS).

See full article

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bookfest, My Kids’ Hawaii Reunion, Peace Corps Tragedies, Honduras Happenings, Osama, Haiti Cholera, Cuba Gay Pride Parade

If I were a conventional blogger, I would post more often and not include so many topics in a single post. I admit to being rather quirky and scattered, or maybe a softer word is “wide-ranging." Hope something in every post catches a reader’s eye or engages the mind.

I am loving your book, Triumph and Hope,” says a reader in Illinois who found my e-mail address through this blog. It’s always nice to hear something like that. I did write a very personal, sincere book, which I hope has some value to others, whether or not they plan on joining Peace Corps. That service, like anything else in life, has its share of common aspects, ups and downs, and unexpected twists and turns. Each individual life and each experience is unique, yet also interconnected and part of the universal human condition. I hope my book expresses that.

On Sunday, May 15, 30 authors gathered at Eastern Market’s north hall on Capitol Hill to talk with passersby at a Bookfest. A local bookstore at a nearby location was actually selling our books. Only 4 of my books were sold, but it was an interesting day. I was pleased that one of the organizers, who had reviewed my book for a local paper and had invited me, described my book as “the best self-published book I’ve ever read,” though my daughter Stephanie observed that was only qualified praise. Yes, I’m sure it was not the very best book of any kind ever published that she had read in her entire life, but I do believe she was indicating her surprise at the quality of the writing. I’ve reviewed some self-published books myself, not very well-written, for the Peace Corps Writers’ organization that had awarded me “Best Peace Corps Memoir of 2009.” But I’ve also read my share of commercially published junk. A number of best sellers fall into that category, in my opinion.

My three adult kids just finished holding a mini-reunion in Honolulu today and I’ve been speaking with them daily by phone, wishing I were there too! Maybe one day we can organize a get-together like that, with Mom included. Of course, I was just in Hawaii myself in March, having gone there from Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary conference in San Francisco. My older daughter Melanie, who lives 3 ½ hours away from me by car in Virginia Beach, was in San Diego last week to showcase products made by her company, Earth Friendly Chemicals. So, as I had done earlier, she decided that since she was already that far, why not go on to Hawaii as well?

Recent Congressional hearings have exposed the occasionally tragic side of Peace Corps service, namely murders and rapes. These are terrible, but fortunately rare, occurrences and are not totally unexpected risks of living in third world countries. The Peace Corps’ record actually compares favorably with that of college campuses where such unfortunate events also occur. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, young single women volunteers should not live alone in third-world countries, but instead should imitate local single young women by living with others. That is not to say that they are to blame for whatever happens to them, but special, commonsense precautions have to be taken in countries where violent crime occurs frequently and local police are few and far between and lacking in resources.

The Peace Corps also has to do a better job with security and with educating volunteers about risks. But not all risks can be eliminated abroad, any more than here at home. In Honduras, we were prohibited from riding motorcycles, had to wear bike helmets, advised not to ride buses at night, and warned not to frequent city nightclubs. At the slightest hint of trouble, volunteers were whisked out of their sites, sometimes under protest. Better safe than sorry. The Peace Corps now has initiated a reporting system to track sexual assaults, and that data is being used to train staff. More prevebtive training is also being given to volunteers. So far, the agency says that they has seen a decline in the incidence rate of rape and sexual assaults.

Meanwhile, I just heard from Luis, my former Honduran colleague in La Esperanza’s Peace Corps regional office. Our regional office had long since been abolished because of budget cuts. After that, Luis had begun working at Peace Corps headquarters in Tegucigalpa, commuting home by bus on weekends. Now, because of the mid-year budget deal just agreed on by Congress, he is out of a job completely. His wife still works as a nurse at the local hospital and Luis is a hustler, so I hope he comes up with some plan to help sustain the family. He still has a ten-year multiple-entry visa to the U.S. and has come here before to buy used cars to re-sell, though he tells me that now, no one in Honduras can afford a car.

Notice from Jose Luis in El Triunfo that his lady friend gave birth to healthy twin girls last month, keeping him and their mother pretty busy. I hope to see his latest family addition next Feb., Primero Dios.

On the more somber side in Honduras, several journalist killings in recent weeks. Journalist killings have become an epidemic there.

I quite agree that photos of Osama bin Laden’s body should not be released. Those who demand that sort of corroboration of his death are likely to become inflamed. Of course, there will always be doubters. How many sightings of Elvis have there been? Also, all things considered, although there may be qualms about the shooting of an unarmed man, it’s best that he is dead, sparing the world a long drawn-out trial.

That GW Bush declined Obama’s invitation to attend ceremonies at Ground Zero is not terribly surprising. Bush has been the most reticent of former presidents, emerging in public rarely, mainly to sign his memoir. That he had Laura, while herself attending a small public forum, explain that he prefers not to be in the public eye is also telling. He may just be relieved to be out of the presidency, where he seemed way out of his depth. He certainly was subjected to withering criticism during his last few years. His speech difficulties, apparent need for coaching by Cheney and others, and frequent bike excursions, long naps, and early bedtimes all indicated that the presidency was not a job he particularly relished, rather something he endured for eight long years. Public life can be exhilarating and rewarding—Obama certainly seems to enjoy it—but it also must be stressful having to constantly speak to different audiences, avoid slipups, and appear perpetually strong. Bush has been there, done that, proven himself to his father, if that was a motivation; now he may prefer his naps, golf, watching TV, and chopping down brush at his ranch. Certainly he will need to attend the Republican Party convention—missing that would be a real snub to the party that elected him. Does he perhaps have an undisclosed health problem? No, probably just wants privacy and to be left alone. On an infinitely smaller scale, whenever I return from the constant activity, exposure, and personal demands of my Honduras trips, I always feel like hibernating for a few days.

Meanwhile, W’s brother Jeb Bush has been rumored to be in the 2012 presidential race, though he denies it. I don’t know that voters would tolerate a 3rd Bush presidential candidate. At least Jeb does not suffer from the speaking impediments plaguing his father and brother and is also pretty fluent in Spanish, thanks to his wife’s influence. He might be able to capture the Hisapnuic vote. But what does he stand for? Most of us really don’t know.

Now, Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, has felt compelled to release his birth certificate in case he decides to make a run for the presidency. This whole birth certificate thing has taken on a life of its own. Jindal is a relatively fresh face in the Republican Party and it’s interesting to imagine a contest between him and Obama.

Washington, DC, seems to be bucking the oil industry and Tea Party-led trend to advocate cutting, never raising, taxes, no matter what. A poll of DC residents at the $100,000 and above annual income level has shown a majority favoring modest tax hikes on themselves in order to preserve services for the most needy. It does seem that the way out of our fiscal hole requires a combination of raising taxes and cutting spending, not making the most vulnerable bear the entire brunt of sacrifice. Of course, I’m a voter nowhere near the $100,000 income level, but if I were, I would certainly agree to a modest tax hike and I applaud my fellow Washingtonians for expressing that opinion. Taxes are not evil incarnate—they are a useful and necessary part of our system.

Going carless for a week or a month is catching on as a way to save the environment, but what about going without a car all the time, like I do? I haven’t owned a car since 1996, when the motor of my Honda burned up. I decided then not to impact the environment and my personal economy any more by replacing it. Besides, the germ of the idea of joining the Peace Corps was already starting to sprout. No more car payments, insurance, annual registration, inspections, gas, and repair bills. No more parking problems either. Of course, 2000-2003, I was in the Peace Corps and when I came home, I decided to continue without a car, traveling to my various Spanish interpretation assignments by metro train and bus, rarely getting lost because I check routes and schedules beforehand with the transit system. When public transportation goes smoothly, it’s a dream. But, when it doesn’t, passengers have virtually no control and, when a train stops unexpectedly, cannot get out in a tunnel or the middle of a track to find another way to get where they’re going.

Today, everything went wrong. A train stopped several times because of a malfunction in a train ahead. The long escalator at my destination had stopped, forcing a long climb up steep steps. My farecard got stuck in the exit machine, requiring an attendant to dislodge it. All that took precious extra minutes and almost made me late for my assignment. An interpreter should arrive early, never late. Last week, when my route took me via two metros and a bus, a delay ahead on the track meant that when I was exiting the metro, I knew my bus was about to leave. Running for the escalator, I tripped, perhaps on the heel of someone running in front of me, and fell flat on my face. By the time I got up from the floor and down the escalator, I saw my bus pulling out, requiring me to wait a half hour for the next one. Meanwhile, the side of my face started swelling up, though it didn’t look too bad until after I finished working. Serious accidents rarely happen on the metro, but when they do, they can even be fatal, as happened over a year ago when brakes failed and many were killed. After that, I avoid the front and last cars.

Another gripe is that metro doors close abruptly, sometimes leaving us outside when passengers entering in front move in too slowly. So public transportation is no panacea. Best from a transportation standpoint is telecommuting from home, which more people are doing. I could do more telephone interpretation and avoid the commute, but I still prefer face-to-face contact.

As for the following item, it’s what I’ve said from the beginning of the Haiti cholera outbreak. Below that, Havana’s first gay pride parade, thanks to Raul Castro’s daughter, a gay advocate. As my book readers know, my foster son Alex, who died of AIDS in 1995, was gay, probably why he was in jail and was forced to leave Cuba at age 16 in 1980.

Independent, UN panel confirms Haiti cholera outbreak caused by South Asian strainBy Associated Press, May 4, 2011

UNITED NATIONS — The cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 5,000 people in Haiti was caused by a South Asian strain that contaminated a river where tens of thousands of people wash, bath, drink and play, a U.N. independent panel of experts said Wednesday. Although many have blamed the epidemic on U.N. peacekeepers from South Asia working in Haiti, the report issued by the panel declined to point the finger at any single group for the outbreak, saying it was the result of a “confluence of circumstances.”

“The evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the source of the Haiti cholera outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type Vibrio cholerae as a result of human activity,” the report said. It said the panel concluded the epidemic “was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested the independent probe amid reports of poor sanitation at a U.N. base housing Nepalese peacekeepers near Mirebalais, the central town where the outbreak was first reported.
Besides killing almost 5,000 people in a country still recovering from a devastating earthquake more than a year ago, the outbreak has sickened another 250,000.

The belief that the Nepalese peacekeepers are to blame for the epidemic is widespread in Haiti, straining relations between the population and U.N. personnel. Angry protests berating the peacekeepers erupted late last year, and just last week about 100 demonstrators blamed the United Nations for the spread of cholera. Ban will carefully consider the panel’s findings and recommendations, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. The spokesman said the U.N. chief will convene a task force to study the findings and recommendations to ensure they are dealt with promptly.

Haitian officials in the health ministry declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, saying they had not yet read the report. The U.N. envoy to Haiti Edmond Mulet was to deliver the report to the government Wednesday.
Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity that has treated about 130,000 cholera patients since the outbreak, welcomed the report’s release.

“We’re happy that there’s a process to ensure the origins of the epidemic can be investigated, and that the report has been made public for full transparency,” said Sylvain Groulx, the group’s chief of mission in Haiti.

The report came amid concerns from the U.S.-based medical aid group Partners in Health that an increase in new cholera patients in rural Haiti may signal a new surge of the epidemic with the onset of the spring rainy season.
Panel members said Haiti’s outbreak underscored the need for U.N. personnel and other first responders coming from countries where cholera is endemic to be screened for the disease, receive a prophylactic dose of appropriate antibiotics before departure, or both. They also recommended that U.N. installations worldwide treat fecal waste using on-site systems “that inactivate pathogens before disposal.”

In their report’s conclusions, panel members said the Artibonite River’s canal system and delta “provide optimal conditions for rapid proliferation” of cholera, that Haitians lacked immunity to the disease, and that many areas of the country suffer from poor water and sanitation conditions. It also said the South Asia strain that caused the outbreak “causes a more severe diarrhea due to an increase in the production of a classical type of cholera toxin and has the propensity of protracting outbreaks of cholera.”

“The conditions in which cholera patients were initially treated in medical facilities did not help in the prevention of the spread of the disease to other patients or to the health workers,” it added.

“The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with feces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health care system deficiencies,” panel members said.
Colorful march in Havana celebrates sexual diversity, opposes anti-gay discrimination
By Associated Press, May 14, 2011

HAVANA — Cubans have held a short but colorful parade celebrating sexual diversity to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. Dozens of people waving rainbow flags and banging drums marched through the capital Saturday. One participant held a portrait of ex-leader Fidel Castro.

Castro’s niece Mariela Castro campaigns for gay rights and heads the government-backed National Sexual Education Center. She says the march is meant to raise awareness about discrimination. Cuba is far more tolerant of homosexuality than in the early years after the 1959 revolution, when many gays lost jobs, were imprisoned or sent to work camps or fled to exile. The government has even begun paying for Cubans’ sex-change operations in recent years.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mother’s Day, Family Photos, Royal Wedding, Osama, Trump, Honduras, Foreign Aid, Mobile Med Units, Mortenson, Global Warming, Cuba, Sudan

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there. For those living in the DC area, another date to note on your calendar is the literary book fair we are holding in the North Hall of Eastern Market on Sunday May 15, 11am to 3pm, one block from Eastern Market metro station. Thirty authors will be featured, including Yours Truly. However, I am told, we may not sell books at that location—buyers will have to buy the books at the nearby Riverby Bookstore. Please come by to chat and browse and then go over to buy our books at the bookstore, bringing them back for us to sign. I’m not sure how it’s going to work or why—maybe Market rules don’t allow sales because we are not pre-approved vendors? Or maybe this awkward arrangement is designed to increase traffic to the bookstore?

Will try to post a couple of photos this time around, but until they actually appear, I won’t know whether I’ve been successful. One was taken at my son Jonathan’s birthday dinner in Honolulu in late March. Jon is second from the right, next to my daughter Stephanie, far right. Next to him is a friend who grew up in Hawaii as a little blond boy, teased incessantly for being “haole,” that is, a pale Caucasian. He doesn’t look very tease-able any more. The other photo is from my daughter Melanie’s recent visit with her grandson (my great-grandson) and youngest step-daughter.

The Royal Wedding in Britain provided a moment of distraction and a day of good news. Let’s hope and pray that this union does not go the way of the groom’s father’s royal wedding. The British Royals do seem to be monarchs to the world, subjects of endless fascination everywhere, unlike those of the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain, or Thailand, for example. Indeed, my visitor from Zimbabwe was quite miffed that I have no TV set where she could watch the festivities, so I set her and her colleague from Kenya up in front of my computer, where they sat patiently through a replay of the whole event.

Osama bin Laden’s killing certainly gave a big boost to the Obama administration and is of symbolic importance, even causing a temporary rise in the stock market and in the nation’s general political mood. That Pakistani sources were not informed in advance is telling. Certainly, there was much spontaneous celebration in Washington, DC, continuing on throughout the night. I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras at the time of 9/11, witnessing most Hondurans’ total shock that the mighty USA, considered omniscient and invulnerable, could have suffered such an attack. For conspiracy theorists, whose beliefs are impervious to facts, bin Laden’s death will be just another big government fake. Let’s see now what Donald Trump does with this latest development.

Untold wealth—he’s pretty coy about the amount—is perhaps what attracts some people to Donald Trump, a man who has moved forward in life on bravado, pushing others aside by sheer force of personality. Taking advantage of voter dissatisfaction and alienation, and buoyed by name recognition (he’s mainly famous for being famous), Trump must be giving the Republican establishment fits. Veteran politicians who have been working for years to run for president suddenly find themselves upstaged by Trump, who, if he is even a Republican, has joined the party only recently. He certainly knows how to keep his name in the news. Now, after Obama finally released his birth certificate, he has taken full credit for that and moved on to questioning Obama’s academic achievements, even though the president reportedly graduated cum laude from Harvard. The president, under no circumstances, should dignify a demand to release his academic records. Enough is enough!

Meanwhile, deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, depicted next to Hugo Chavez in a photo in our local Spanish-language press, declares that the US is the major obstacle to his return to Honduras and blames the US for his ouster.

WikiLeaks files, written by U.S. military chiefs, reveal that grenades and light anti-tank weapons seized from drug traffickers in Mexico and Colombia were from the U.S. A cable entitled ‘Honduras: Military weapons fuel black market in arms’ states that the serial numbers of arms taken from drug gangs coincide with those supplied by the U.S. to the Honduran Armed Forces. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency file, the brands and serial numbers seized equipment are the same as a shipment sent to the Second Infantry Battalion in Honduras.

So military weapons to Honduras is one item of foreign aid that might be fruitfully eliminated, but not the water and sanitation projects overseen by my sometimes housemate (she travels a lot for her work). She’s is off again right now to Afghanistan and Pakistan for USAID, an agency that has taken a big budget hit. USAID and Peace Corps are lumped in with foreign aid, which, while less than 1% of the total federal budget, has been severely slashed, in part because many voters believe it accounts for much more than it does. Also, people living overseas are not US constituents. Israel gets the biggest chunk of foreign aid and most Americans would not want to reduce support for Israel, but that leave precious little for all the rest, including USAID and Peace Corps. It’s a crisis and not really in American interests to reduce foreign aid so drastically and unilaterally.

The worst thing about the cuts in the foreign aid budget is not only that these cuts are disproportionate in terms of their impact on that one small sector, but are taking place in this current fiscal year (ending Oct. 1) for programs, including Peace Corps, already half-way through. And bigger cuts are promised Oct. 1. If folks were really serious about cutting the deficit and hurting the fewest people, they would eliminate the Bush-era tax cuts, raise the social security age, and raise the earnings limit on social security contributions, all of which would have a big impact. Of course, if we had a single-payer publicly administered health insurance program, that would also help. But none of that will happen because so many voters are willfully and stubbornly ignorant and, perhaps, because they identify with wealthy people and hope to achieve untold wealth themselves some day.

Moving on to other matters, while the following video does not depict the specific Honduras medical brigade where I volunteered last Feb., it's very similar and part of our volunteer brigade network ( Watching it, you can get an idea of what we do and where, but for all ages, not just kids.

Decided to search on-line for mobile medical units and found some used ones. One had an asking price of $19,000 for a 1991 Ford diesel model, but with a body only 15 feet long and 115,000 miles. Still, that might be one to use to test out feasibility, though, of course, we at International Health Service of Minnesota ( would much prefer that it be donated outright from an another source since we volunteers already donate time and money for medications and pay our own expenses.

As someone who has served on small, non-profit boards, worked with and for non-profits for decades, and investigated them on occasion, it’s not hard for me to see how Greg Mortenson could have gone astray. Everyone wants their own non-profit enterprise to succeed and self-help gurus are always dispensing advice about how to get publicity and donations for your particular non-profit—how to get on “Oprah” or “60 Minutes,” though in this case, it was on the latter program where Krakauer one-upped Mortenson with his own expose book, likely also to become a best-seller. (Next, will someone write a book “outing” Krakauer and his motives?) In my considerable experience, oversight of non-profits is lax at best. What’s a legitimate expenditure? A big salary, honorariums for speaking engagements, first-class plane tickets, fancy hotel rooms?

Mortenson established a celebrity organization, where it was chic to donate large sums and where even the US military cooperated in assisting him. No one questioned the donations and so his fame may have gone to his head. He was flying high. Whatever he did, money poured in, and he had a free hand. Frankly, I envied him, both in terms of his book promotion and the donations to his organization. He was a role model for my Honduras work, although I never expected to achieve even a tiny fraction of his success. Now, I’m thinking, better to be poor and honest. His example also shows the folly, as per the Republicans, of relying mainly on private charity instead of public benefits, since the latter are subject to greater oversight.

Regarding the Mortenson flap, a blog reader comments in reaction to a newspaper article, headlined below: It doesn't do any harm to summon a bit of compassion in contemplating Mortenson's sins. I hadn't realized that Obama had given CAI [Mortenson’s organization] $100,000 from the Nobel money, but apparently he and M. have quietly made far more substantial charitable contributions than Al Gore ever did, and that was one of them. But this suggests a "root cause" for the Mortenson problem that wasn't mentioned by the Monitor: namely, that many of CAI's large donations came from people who didn't really need the money. When the Obamas leave the White House, they'll be able to afford gym memberships, pay tuitions at the best prep schools and universities, and continue to feather their retirement nest without ever missing that CAI contribution. And many other big chunks of change will have been given by rich people and corporations that were as interested in the tax write-off or the publicity for their eleemosynary perspicacity as in helping Afghan kids. So perhaps to Mortenson, the huge amounts that were coming his way were "play money." He seems like a decent guy, and perhaps if his funding had come 100% from the small change and crumpled dollar bills of American schoolchildren and the sacrificial giving of ascetic former PCVs who understood the value of the mission, he'd have been a more responsible steward.

Christian Science Monitor -
Greg Mortenson and our false ideals about social changeGreg

Mortenson appears to have made some significant missteps. But further vilification doesn't help him or those who do similar work. Instead, we should look at what this case reveals about the state of fundraising, philanthropy, and the culture of “do gooder celebrity.”

By Courtney E. Martin and John Cary
April 25, 2011
This in from another friend and blog reader: Good News, Friends, Global Warming does NOT exist ! (Whew. I was really worried. Now, I can sleep peacefully at night.) Source: The United States House of Representatives,
voted 248 to 174, last week, to let us know.

Recently, attended another event at the Czech Embassy with a Czech friend. This time, we saw a documentary about Cuba, filmed by Colombian cameramen during the “peace concert” put on there by Colombian singer Juanes in 2009. The film is “Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution” and its executive producer, George Plinio Montalvan, a Cuban-born US-educated economist, was present to answer questions afterward. Two trailers are available on YouTube under the search term “Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution.” One difference revealed in the film since I last visited Cuba in 1997 is that young people—at least those depicted—are more willing to speak out and to appear outlandish, displaying spiked hair, tattoos, and piercings. Of course, such youth fashions have also become more popular in this country since then. That they have been adopted by some—probably only a small minority—in Cuba is truly amazing. There, they serve as graphic displays of disaffection with the powers-that-be. I don’t know how one could obtain a copy of that film, but will try to find out if anyone is interested.

See Washington Post editorial, second, below on the recently concluded Cuban Communist Party Congress.

Unfortunately, matters seem to be unraveling in southern Sudan, as per article immediately following.

At least 105 dead in clashes in Southern SudanBY PHILIP MABIOR, Associated Press Philip Mabior, 4-24-11

JUBA, Sudan – At least 105 people have died in violence between government forces and rebel militias in Southern Sudan this week, an official said Sunday, raising concerns of southern instability ahead of the region's independence declaration in July.

Brig. Malaak Ayuen, the head of the Southern Sudan's Army Information Department, said fighting on Saturday between a group of rebels led by Maj. Gen. Gabriel Tanginye in Jonglei state and southern government forces led to 57 people being killed and scores being injured. Ayuen said that five days of fighting between government forces and those loyal to another rebel chief, Peter Gatdet, in Unity state which is northwest of Jonglei, led to the deaths of 48 people. He did not give a breakdown of the number of civilians, rebels and the army killed in both incidents.

Since its January independence referendum, Southern Sudan has seen a wave of violence that has killed hundreds.

The south voted nearly unanimously to secede from the north, but there are many issues that still remain unaddressed including the sharing of oil revenues, the status of southerner and northerner minorities living on both sides of the border, and who controls the disputed border region of Abyei, a fertile area near large oil fields.

Southern officials now claim the militia groups they are fighting are being funded by the north to cause instability with the goal of taking over the oil fields in the south.

Raul Castro’s same old Cuba

Washington Post editorial, Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Cuban “revolution” has devolved into a confused gerontocracy. Raul ostensibly recognizes that the “mistakes” of the past half-century have left the country nearly bankrupt; yet this clashes with his “firm conviction and commitment of honor that the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party has as his main mission and meaning of his life: to defend, preserve and continue perfecting Socialism, and never allow the capitalist regime to return,” as the Cuban state media put it. This is a contradiction that his bid to “update” the Cuban model cannot square — any more than the previous reform campaigns that litter the revolution’s history could.

Raul Castro’s speeches at the congress were full of the usual attacks on slothful Cuban workers, inefficient party cadre and perfidious U.S. imperialism. But the truth is that Cuba’s problems are mostly of the Castro brothers’ own making. They may never end until the Castros’ regime does.