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 (ihsmn.org). 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 (ihsmn.org) 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 - CSMonitor.com
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.

No comments: