Monday, June 27, 2011

Pending Radio Interview, Peace Corps Safety, Social Security, Zelaya’s Manifesto

On Friday morning, July 1, 9:15 am, I’ll be interviewed on WSLR 96.5 LPFM, Sarasota. It doesn’t have a very long range, so you’d have to be fairly close by.

Submitted June 24, 2011, a House bill, H.R. 2337, would amend the Peace Corps Act to require sexual assault risk-reduction and response training, the development of sexual assault protocol and guidelines, the establishment of victims’ advocates, and the establishment of a Sexual Assault Advisory Council. The bill, introduced by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), has thirteen original co-sponsors, including returned PC volunteer Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA).

Now that discussions on Social Security and its future deficits--borne of increased longevity--are heating up, the possible remedies don’t seem all that painful: continuing to raise the minimum age for full benefits, maybe even to 70 (while still allowing reduced benefits at age 62); raising the wage cap subject to social security contributions; and taxing benefits at higher income levels (as is already done to some extent). Those provisions would take care of that particular deficit problem. Social Security doesn’t have to be privatized, just tweaked a little, preferably on a gradual basis.

Zelaya calls for end to ruling elite in Honduras
Associated Press, June 26, 2011

Ex-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya predicted Sunday that his supporters will win power from the Central American country's long-ruling elite.

In his first major public appearance since returning from exile, he told representatives of the National Popular Resistance Front that the wealthy have held the reins of power long enough. "The oligarchy has shown that it doesn't want democracy and is willing to use force to keep their privileges," said Zelaya, who was ousted in June 2009 by a military coup that was backed by Honduras' mainstream parties, including his own.

Zelaya, the son of a wealthy timber and ranching family who took a populist tone after becoming president, predicted the "liberal-socialism" agenda he espouses will drive the elite from power and govern Honduras for 50 years. The former leader also repeated his call for Honduras to hold an assembly to rewrite the constitution. His effort as president to stage a national referendum on whether to call such an assembly led to the coup.

After his speech, the 1,600 delegates at the gathering agreed the National Popular Resistance Front should pursue legal recognition as a political party so it can compete in the 2014 elections. It needs to collect 46,000 petition signatures.
The movement, which includes political activists, workers and farmers, formed after Zelaya was removed from power.

Read more:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Climate Change, End of Weinergate, Limits of Medical Interventions, Lobo & Chavez, LGBT Hondurans, PC Safety

Progress report on my hit-and-run pedestrian injury: recovering slowly, a bit too slowly, but still have expectation of full recovery.

It’s disappointing that John McCain is pandering to Tea Party and arch conservatives by blaming recent Arizona fires on undocumented immigrants, when investigators believe that at least the major one was started by careless campers. I was glad that Obama and Boehner played a nice game of golf together. Let’s see if that has any impact on resolving the budget impasse.

We recently endured a terrible heat wave here in DC. My daughter in Va. Beach had a tornado sweep through her back yard, crushing a picnic table and umbrella, but fortunately missing the house. Wildfires in Arizona, droughts elsewhere, floods along the Mississippi and its tributaries, tsunami in Japan, tornados all over the place, and hurricanes yet to come. Always, these events are described as the worst in years, in decades, in a century. The havoc and destruction is costly and brings much suffering and death. No one seems to be asking the question or trying to find out, if possible, whether man-made climate change is a factor and whether such events make more urgent the switch away from fossil fuels, oil, cola, and natural gas? Republicans, such Tim Pawlenty who once supported exploration of energy alternatives, have moved away from that position, just as Mitch Romney has distanced himself from the Mass. health care law that most residents there support. It seems that politics follows fads—or creates them—fads that override facts and rational thinking.

Romney seems to be a master of lame statements feebly attempting humor that miss the mark, such as his telling unemployed people, “I’m also unemployed.” Apparently, he’s said that more than once on the campaign trail, so must consider it appropriate. Is it mocking his listeners or what? (He also seems to have a slight speech impediment.)

Glad Anthony Weiner finally accepted reality and quit Congress. His fellow Democrats must have heaved a sigh of relief and wish now that he would just disappear into the woodwork. His wife has declined to comment or appear with him in public. Someone who has shunned the spotlight, even before current events, she is apparently Muslim while he is Jewish. Their marriage ceremony last summer was reportedly conducted by Bill Clinton (is he authorized to marry people?). In rare photos she appears as a very slender young woman, attractive in an off-beat sort of way—no headscarf or Muslim garb. Weiner has no profession other than congressman, but his wife has a good job with Hillary Clinton. She may just decide to go it alone, have the baby, and try to get child support from Weiner. However, they were recently reported to be grocery shopping together, so maybe she will be forgiving.

The June 13 issue of the New Yorker contains an article (“The Aquarium”) written by a father detailing the extraordinary medical measures taken in trying to save his nine-month-old daughter from death from a rare disorder. After many procedures and interventions, all costly and painful to the baby, she died. Of course, when the patient is a child, often no expense and effort are spared, even more than with an adult, especially an elderly adult who has already lived a long life and who is likely to have multiple health problems. However, as an interpreter, I have also seen babies surviving extraordinary procedures who are, nonetheless, left with severe life-long disabilities requiring ongoing medical interventions, special education, and constant attention by parents or other caregivers.

I’m talking about children hooked up to permanent respirators, feeding tubes, and heart monitors whose caregivers cannot leave them unattended ever for more than a few minutes. Alarms will ring out during the night if one of their machines fails while the parent sleeps. I’m not saying that these children don’t deserve to live and don’t give positive feedback in terms of smiles, amazing playfulness, and progress, however slow, because often they do, but they do require a continuing burden of care and costly medical attention throughout their lives. I know what it is to lose a child and, like most parents, would have spared nothing to keep my son alive if offered that choice. But, there is no doubt that such interventions for a child with multiple problems, often congenital, are extremely costly and ongoing, and add to our burgeoning health care costs. And the more new treatments that are discovered, the more costly health care becomes, especially if these treatments help a patient, whether young or old, with multiple problems survive, requiring continuing costly long-term care. In a country like Honduras, where extraordinary measures are not available, children and adults are not subjected to them and they simply do not live so long.

The parents in the New Yorker article were asked at each juncture if they wanted life-saving efforts to continue and they said, “Yes,” until the baby’s heart had stopped for several minutes and it seemed fruitless to continue. Often, next-of-kin make these decisions for the patient, no matter what his or her age. With my own 92-year-old mother, who had numerous health conditions and a deteriorating mental capacity, the question was put to us, her children, as to whether we wanted a feeding tube inserted. We said, “No,” just give her antibiotics and pain medication, because when she was still fully cognizant, she had signed a statement saying she did not want extraordinary means and we were honoring that. On p. 262 of my Honduras book, I recount a Spanish interpretation case of a woman who had suffered a massive stroke, showing little brain activity. Her gringo husband gave a do-not-resuscitate order if her heart should stop, but her own Spanish-speaking family objected. The husband, being legally responsible, had the last word. These are sometimes difficult and contentious decisions that occur every day in hospitals all over the country, impacting on the over-all cost of medical care.

Someone not worrying about medical bills is Hugo Chavez, recuperating after surgery in Cuba, governing Venezuela from there. We shall see what effects his health problems have on his political future.

According to an article in the Spanish-language version of the June 16 Miami Herald,,

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo entered into a secret pact with Hugo Chavez on May 15, joining with other Latin American countries in the Chavez orbit promoting “Socialism for the 21st Century.” What this means and whether it was just a strategic maneuver to get Honduras readmitted to the OAS and recognized by other governments or whether it will have any practical effects on the ground in Honduras is not yet known. Obviously, despite waning popularity at home, Chavez still has influence in the hemisphere. Lobo is a member of the Nationalist Party, considered more conservative and pro-business than Manuel Zelaya’s Liberal Party, but a leopard can always change its spots, as Zelaya himself demonstrated, morphing from the traditional lackluster Honduran president into a fiery Chavez acolyte.

See following articles on LGBT people in Honduras and Peace Corps safety legislation.

Positive Results from Call to End Murders of LGBT People in Honduras

In an overwhelming show of support, over 1400 people responded to the Action Alert issued by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Honduran organization Red Lesbica Catracha on January 10, 2011. The Action Alert, calling for an investigation and response to the more than 31 murders of gay and transgender people that have occurred in Honduras since the coup in June 2009, has, in the two months since its issue, seen positive results.

The Action Alert responses, together with advocacy by individuals and organizations in Honduras and other actions by the international community, contributed significantly to prompting responses from Honduran authorities, and from other countries and international institutions – including calls from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for these crimes and to protect LGBT persons from violence and discrimination. Honduras has publicly committed to investigate these murders and to prevent further attacks.

The Honduran Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Ana Pineda, met with members of LGBT organizations on 21 January 2011. The organizations asked the State to investigate the violent deaths of members of the LGBT community and to join the struggle against the homophobia that prevails in Honduras. Prior to this meeting, requests from these activists to obtain information on the progress of investigations from the Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi and Human Rights Special Prosecutor, Sandra Ponce, had gone unanswered.

On February 22, 201, the Minister of Security of Honduras, Oscar Alvarez announced that he would create a special unit to investigate crimes against journalists, LGTB people and other vulnerable groups. Members of the security forces and judicial bodies will meet with the Minister of Justice and Human Rights to discuss the creation of this unit – which will be made up of approximately 150 security officers and be tasked with investigating the deaths of women, journalists, youth, gay groups, lesbians and travestis, that had previously not been investigated sufficiently.

At the March 2011 session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Council will consider the human rights review of Honduras that was conducted in November 2010 (as part of the regular country reviews by the Council) and will finalize its recommendations. IGLHRC is working to facilitate the participation of Honduran LGBT activists at the Council session to support the recommendations to Honduras that it fulfill its obligations to protect and guarantee the human rights of all people without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Legislation backed to reform Peace Corps
By Lisa Rein, Washington Post, June 22, 2011 [partial article]

House and Senate lawmakers will introduce bipartisan legislation Thursday that would improve treatment and prevention training for Peace Corps volunteers who are victims of violent crime, after criticism that the agency has not done enough to help them.
The bill will be named for Kate Puzey, a young volunteer from Georgia who was killed in Benin,West Africa, in 2009. Her throat was slit on the porch of her home after the Peace Corps mishandled confidential e-mails she sent to her bosses asking them to let go a Peace Corps employee she believed was sexually assaulting young girls at the school where she was posted.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Rehab Progress, Remebering Maria, Commenting on: Dengue, Zelaya, Yemen, Obamacare, Weiner, DSK, IMF

Progress report on hit-and-run pedestrian injury: getting better every day, but not fast enough. I’m still walking with a cane around the house and go up and downstairs both as exercise and for necessity. I sleep with a pillow between my knees. It’s pretty darn amazing that, fueled by adrenalin, I could have hopped up so quickly after being knocked down by that car. A big challenge in the Honduras medical brigades, even when I was uninjured, has always been getting up after sleeping at ground level because of my arthritic knees. But those knees presented no problem whatsoever when I arose instantly like an acrobat from the hot pavement where I had fallen. And I was experiencing no pain when a sympathetic driver on the other side stopped to ask if I was OK. I assured her I was just fine—in fact, I felt a little euphoric about feeling so well under the circumstances, a 73-year-old lady gets decked by car and gets right up and keeps on going. But, pain and immobility began surging thereafter with each forward step. Soldiers seriously wounded in combat report feeling no pain initially, one of the body’s automatic defenses. As the pain increased, my muscles tightened, further increasing the pain.

While I’m grateful that my disability is relatively minor, transitory, and slowly improving, it has sharpened my sensitivity to the advance planning, compromises, and sacrifices that individuals with permanent disabilities must make in everyday life. I’ve simplified meals, sometimes eating standing up, leaning against a counter, because putting food on the table and clearing the dishes afterward are logistical challenges when my gait is so unsteady and one hand is gripping onto a cane. Everything takes extra time and advance planning, including taking a shower, getting in and out of bed, going up and downstairs—what we used to call “activities of daily living” in occupational therapy, though my exposure to OT has been quite helpful in finding practical solutions. Sometimes, I must depend on others, which I don’t do comfortably. I am more accustomed to being the one upon whom others depend.

Prior to my injury, I had invited my two visitors currently taking a government auditing course here, Charles from Kenya and Rheah from Zimbabwe, to attend Mass with me at Communitas, a small Catholic gathering that meets five blocks away. Normally, we would have walked there, but I knew that would have taken me more than an hour, even leaning on them. Instead, I asked someone with a car to pick us up and to give sufficient advance warning to allow me to be at the bottom of my front steps when she arrived. I have to do everything with advance planning and in slow motion, definitely not my style.

This afternoon, just as a trial, I walked outside alone for the first time with my cane to the nearest metro stop, three blocks away. I made it there and back in 1 ½ hours with nasty biting flies attacking my bare legs and the sun beating down, though not as fiercely as on previous days. At each intersection, I looked carefully in all directions before crossing.

It’s in the nature of accidents that they are unanticipated in terms of both their occurrence and their consequences. I remember my younger son’s former girl friend, Maria, out driving with her sister and being run off the road by a truck that just kept on going. Maria was killed and her sister suffered serious injuries. Someone saw the accident, but the errant truck got away too soon to be identified. The results were the same for the girls, regardless, death and injury. No rhyme or reason, no cosmic justice. Maria’s mother later told me. “Sorry I wasn’t more supportive when your son Andrew died; I didn’t understand.” Of course not, no one really does until it happens to them.

Now, it is reported, dengue, the scourge of Latin America and the Caribbean, familiar to me from Honduras, has made its way to the Florida Keys, brought, no doubt, by people coming recently from those parts of the world. The dengue mosquito likes warm, damp places where people congregate.

Manuel Zelaya is back in Honduras and has announced his plans to run for president again and to modify the constitution which now prohibits a president for running for reelection.

I have more than an abstract interest in news from Yemen because of Ahmed, a Yemeni man who stayed here and gave me an enormous Arabic-English version of the Koran in his attempt to convert me. Ahmed eventually acquired a second wife, to his first wife’s reported and understandable dismay, and he was close to President Ali Saleh. Saleh’s departure for Saudi Arabia, ostensibly only for medical treatment, makes it unlikely that Saleh will be back, thought apparently a couple of his sons are hanging on. I just got a message from my Yemeni friend: Our problem in Yemen is that people are trying to seize power without due constitutional process. Democracy is still in the early infancy. The problem is that Western countries do not understand the real problems of countries like ours which adds to complicate the already existing problems. They only see their own interest.

An analysis in the Washington Post indicates that the GOP is more ideologically wedded to “no new taxes” than to reducing the deficit or balancing the budget. That includes not taxing corporate profits or restoring high-end taxes cut only “temporarily.” The preference, if any, is to cut benefits and government functions much more. It seems we are in a classic case of economic warfare—the “haves” want to accumulate more or keep what they have so the “have-nots” will then lose out, sharpening economic discrepancies and leading to class warfare, politically speaking. The Bush tax cuts, now 10 years old, did nothing to stimulate economic growth, rather that period saw reduced and, eventually, stalled, economic growth. That didn’t work. What to do now is the problem. Reducing benefits in this time of greatest need will only serve to further reduce consumer demand and buying power. But restoring the Bush era tax cuts will cause a hue and cry.

In DC, where a poll of high-end taxpayers showed they were willing to pay more taxes, a modest tax increase at upper levels was defeated. Even in heavily Democratic DC with its own budget deficit, the “tax” word is anathema. So the country’s economic situation is at a standstill and not likely to improve without some government action. While Republicans criticize Obama for not fixing the economy, failing to raise the debt ceiling and slashing programs is not going to fix it either.

As for opposition to “Obamacare,” designed to help control costs and extend coverage, its individual mandate, now under fire for impinging on individual freedom, would not be a problem if we had, like other western countries, a rational single-payer, tax-funded system. When American voters approved GW Bush on his second round, even after knowing what he was like, I felt, OK, you jerks, now live with the consequences. And if the health care bill, with all its flaws, is shot down instead of being improved, then let people struggle with the consequences of that and blame the politicians they voted for. Whatever happens, there will be pain—just pick your poison. What is preferable, some government “control,” or a chaotic free-for-all, where it’s every man for himself? Of course, opposition to the individual mandate is not just a matter of individual or states’ rights, there are serious economic interests involved. Obviously, Obama has not made the case in a way that the American people can understand and accept. GW Bush, for all his failings, often seemed to be on the same wavelength as the common man.

About the many errant and erratic folks, mostly males, in high positions (most high positions are occupied by men) enriching themselves financially or just adding to their sexual conquests, I cannot avoid commenting on the previously little known, but appropriately named, Rep. Anthony Weiner. He, like other men, seemed to imagine that he had a Teflon coating, could do anything he liked, and would never be found out—despite the fact that the pecadillos and gross offenses of so many other colleagues have been “outed.” At least some of his photo images apparently showed his face and Twitter and Facebook are not exactly secure. Also, he apparently pressed a wrong button in at least one instance, sending his image far beyond one recipient. He may have done nothing strictly illegal, but he is now a laughing stock and outcaste, looking totally ridiculous and stupid, hardly enhancing the image of Congress and proving a definite liability to the Democratic Party. I’m sure his fellow Democrats wish he would just quietly disappear. His antics seem particularly creepy, perverted, puerile, and juvenile—I’d dub him a “cyber-flasher.” He apparently didn’t have enough to occupy his little mind simply by being a Congressman and a new husband (and, reportedly, a father-to-be), so he was tempted to spend furtive hours sending out suggestive messages and images. Or did the risk make it all the more thrilling?

If, indeed, Weiner’s wife is pregnant, she might well be seeking her boss Hillary’s advice, as they are reportedly traveling together. Maybe, like Hillary, she will choose to stay married, hoping the matter will blow over. However, Hillary’s future ambitions actually required her to stick with Bill, who managed to hold onto his office. A connection with Weiner would seem to offer no such advantage to his wife, since he is done, politically speaking, even if he refuses to step down and ends out this term as a pariah. Republican Senator Larry Craig, caught with his pants down in the Minneapolis airport men’s room, managed to hang on until the bitter end but without supporters. Weiner knew was being followed in cyberspace, but still he persisted and self-destructed.

Perhaps the quintessential political playboy is Italy’s aging Silvio Berlusconi, the world’s role model for corruption and sexual excesses. As for DSK, he has pleaded “not guilty,” as expected, to sexual assault since he is fighting for his freedom. It was telling that uniformed hotel workers berated him outside as he was going into court.

Don’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before on these pages, but about 6 years ago, I accompanied a young Mexican econ grad student staying with me to a holiday party thrown by the IMF. He was working on a short-term project for that institution (considered a plum assignment). The lavishness of that celebration—live bands of various nationalities, food cooked to order from all parts of the world at different stations, free drinks, elaborate nationally themed decorations and furnishings, guests dressed to the hilt in jewelry and formal wear—it all took my breath away. It was like an extravagant Disneyworld for adults. The excesses were so overwhelming, especially after having just come from my Peace Corps service, that I told Jose, my young companion, that I was beginning to feel nauseated and had to get out immediately into fresh air. He agreed that it was almost obscene for an organization ostensibly devoted to helping poor countries get on their feet to spend so much on a staff party. And, of course, such institutions are rife with internal politics and benefits for employees are by far above and beyond what any of them could expect to earn in their home countries, whether the United States, Europe, or the “global south.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bilingualism, Pedestrian Accident, DSK, Zelaya, Guatemala, Eq. Guinea, Economy, Cuba/DR, Israel/Palest.

Bilingualism reportedly delays the onset of dementia, so that’s in my favor. To get the benefit, you are supposed to use both languages on a regular basis, which I certainly do.

To enjoy the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, of course, I have to physically survive. On Tues. May 31, I was crossing Viers Mill Rd. in Wheaton, Md., coming from an interpretation assignment, 3 lanes in each direction. Oncoming traffic was stopped, but a driver was on a cross street and had a green light. He turned right and, evidently, didn't see me crossing since he hit me, knocking me to the hot pavement. He was a small elderly guy; both he and his wife looked all scrunched down low in their seats, so maybe his vision was cut off. He clipped me just before I reached the center median dividing the 2 opposing lanes of traffic. I thought I only had a skinned right arm, so I got up and kept on walking to the median. The driver had stopped momentarily, looking scared, but did not get out of his car. After I stood up and started walking, he drove off. I was stunned and perhaps in shock and didn’t get his license number. A driver going the other direction stopped and asked if I was all right. I said I was OK. It all happened so fast.

I wish I could have reported the elderly driver, as he seems a menace on the road. I remember my father in his later years, almost hitting pedestrians in crosswalks and resisting giving up his driving privileges. In the heat of the moment (in more ways than one, it was 98 F), I had let that driver get away. It was only during my 2-block walk back to the metro station to go home that I became aware of a painful injury to my right hip and groin muscles. Getting on and off the metro and using an escalator to change stations became increasingly difficult. Hobbling along home from the metro stop 3 blocks from my house, a trip that took 1 ½ hours, a neighbor saw me at the very end, hanging onto fences and dripping with sweat, and loaned me a cane, a big help going up my front steps. It was scary, but I could easily have been injured much worse. Unfortunately, I had to give some interpretation assignments for a time because I just couldn’t get there.

As could have been predicted, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is pulling out all the stops by hiring a multi-national, multi-million dollar defense team that the DA or whoever the public prosecutor is on the other side will be unable to match, but let’s hope there won’t be a gullible jury and that all the defense’s histrionics will impress the jury negatively. They’re delving into the alleged victim’s immigration status (is that relevant?) and anything else that might be used to discredit her. Of course, every defendant deserves his day in court, is considered innocent until proven guilty, but here is another case where great wealth makes for unequal justice. And how did DSK amass such largesse working on behalf of the world’s poor? His American (third) wife obviously wants to keep her perks as well and is standing by her man. Apparently much of their wealth actually comes from her side. At least, they are giving a boost to the NYC economy.

Manuel Zelaya did return to Honduras on schedule on a Venezuelan plane from Nicaragua and now Honduras will be readmitted to the OAS.

In neighboring Guatemala, President Alvaro Colom has appealed to the US to stop fueling drug wars in Mexico and Central America by our incessant demand for illegal drugs, especially cocaine. But the “war on drugs” and “just say ‘no’” campaigns championed by Nancy Reagan seem to have lost priority in these difficult economic times. The drug and arms trades—with most arms coming from the US--coupled with the worldwide recession have greatly increased violence, especially in Honduras, now the murder capital of the hemisphere. And internal drug use has also grown in the drug-route countries. If marijuana becomes semi-legal in the US, could that dampen demand for harder stuff—or is it a gateway drug? So far in Cuba, internal drug use is minimal, thanks to lack of personal financial resources and heavy policing. Homicide rates are also much lower than in the rest of Latin America, only a little higher than in the US, thanks to no access to firearms—most murders, I was told when I used to visit there, are committed with knives. But, as I may have mentioned before, Cuba’s suicide rates are extremely high, especially for women.

Before leaving the subject of Guatemala and its president, he has divorced his wife to allow her to run for president, since the country’s constitution prohibits consecutive terms and also prevents a close relative, including a spouse, from succeeding an outgoing president. Pretty tricky, eh?

Will also mention an article about a country rarely in the news, but of special interest to me ever since I translated some really horrendous human rights documents from there for Amnesty International. The country is Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, ruled for more than 30 years by its 70-year-old dictator, Teodoro Obiang, who trained under the Franco regime and has been accused as using North Korea as a role model. The US exchanges ambassadors with this small country and has interests there because of its oil wealth, which does not trickle down to the impoverished population. See NY Times, May 30, 2011,” U.S. Engages With an Iron Leader in Equatorial Guinea.”

Heard an interview with TIME’s Fareed Zakaria, who in a revision of a previous book, attributes the economic recession to several serious GWBush mistakes, including launching the Iraq war, implementing across-the-board tax cuts, and instituting the Rx drug plan, another entitlement. To that Zakaria might have added Wall St. deregulation. He contends, and I fear he is right, that the deficit cannot be tackled through budget cuts alone; any serious plan must also include more tax revenues from all sectors, not just the wealthy, and probably some reductions in Social Security and Medicare. Romney, who seems like a less undesirable candidate than some on the Republican side, is not only backing away from his own Mass. health-care plan which, like “Obamacare” is designed to both extend coverage and control costs, but is also faulting Obama for not fixing the economy fast enough. Obama is trying, but he was given a huge mess to fix and is doing his best in the difficult situation and facing a recalcitrant Republican Party and Tea Party types who are stuck in a “common-sense” mentality and really don’t know anything about economics.

Obama is being blamed for not “fixing” the economy, but he’s thwarted at every turn by Republicans in trying to fix it—such as in preventing the Bush tax cuts from expiring. Nor do Republicans offer an alternative “fix.” Of course, every economic measure is a two-edged sword. Tax cuts do increase disposable income and possible spending, although people at the top have been saving and profitable companies have been hoarding their gains, not spending or hiring. Cutting programs and laying off public servants results in budget savings, but also throws more people into unemployment and reduced spending. The task is reverse the vicious circle, getting the spiral going upward and giving people optimism for the future. Nonetheless, the US and the world economy must not return to the heady days of ever-easier credit, ridiculous rises in property values mostly on paper, and credit default swaps that were simply a giant Ponzi scheme, with nothing to back them up when it all collapsed. There are limits in life--we cannot have everything we want and "need," nor can we live forever, whatever health fads we follow or medical interventions are fashioned.

This in from one of my correspondents: Today it was announced that Japan is planning to double its national sales tax and is imposing means testing on social security pensioners, meaning well-off people will receive less from the government. We in the U.S. will eventually be forced down the same road, leading to unrest and reduced support for the social security system. I don't think there is any way out of our economic decline except by both raising taxes and cutting government spending. Obviously, this "worst of both worlds" approach is going to be bitterly resisted by both parties.

An article below compares Cuba and the DR’s development over the past 50 years. The two countries have similar populations, Cuba, 11 million, DR, 10 million, but Cuba’s territory is more than twice as large. The DR is certainly not free of problems, but has progressed considerably during that period, while Cuba has fallen back. I once met current Dominican President Leonel Fernandez when I was in the DR in 1996 as an election observer during his first successful run. Now he is president again after a time-out, since DR presidents are not allowed consecutive terms. I agree with the article that the country still faces many problems, some derived from its common border with impoverished Haiti, as Haitians often enter illegally and some are now bringing cholera. As for the Cuban neurosurgeon referred to in the article, prevented from emigrating because Fidel Castro said the revolution owned her brain, I had the privilege of once knowing her, Dr. Hilda Molina. She was prevented from leaving Cuba for many years until international pressure and the efforts of the Cuban Catholic church finally convinced the Cuban government to free her. She then joined her son, also a neurosurgeon, in Buenos Aires.

Below that is an article from The Economist summing up the recent Obama/Netanyahu encounter.

50 years after Trujillo’s death, Dominican Republic thrives as Cuba languishes

BY ROLAND ALUM, May 29, 2011

For 31 years, Rafael Trujillo — Latin America’s bloodiest dictator — tormented the Dominican Republic until 1961. As the U.S. commemorates Memorial Day on May 30, Dominicans mark his assassination 50 years ago. This milestone offers an opportunity to reflect on historical developments there compared to neighboring Cuba.

The DR achieved independence earlier than Cuba, yet by the 1950s Cuba’s standard of living was superior. Both countries emerged from militaristic dictatorships about the same time, 1961 with Trujillo’s end, and 1959 for Cuba, after Fulgencio Batista’s flight out. Prior to Fidel and Raúl Castro’s totalitarianism, Trujillo’s despotism had no precedence in the Americas.

Cuba’s remarkable record was accomplished despite Batista’s dictatorship (1952-58) and the widespread corruption of the preceding republican epoch (1902-52). Conversely, conditions were miserable in Trujillo’s DR. The brief 1965 civil war ended with the joint OAS-U.S. military intervention that paved the way for stability and relative prosperity. While the DR moved toward an open society, Cuba went in the opposite direction with the Castro brothers’ tropical version of the Soviet mold.

Five decades after Trujillo, the DR is one of the region’s least militarized societies, with an enviable freedom of expression, religion and movement. There are no political exiles, prisoners or firing squads. Opposition — reflecting all ideologies — is tolerated, and the private business sector and the labor movement thrive. All this sharply contrasts with Cuba, a stagnant, closed society.

The 1966 Dominican constitution established a tripartite government with an executive, a congress and an independent judiciary. Since 1966, the DR has elected five presidents from three alternating political parties (two presidents won re-election repeatedly). But Cuba is still ruled by the same 1959 clique whose average age is now 80.

Dictatorships usually foster foreign apologists who extol alleged achievements. Trujillo even received an honorary doctorate from a U.S. university five years after his 1937 massacre of thousands of Haitian immigrants. Likewise, the Castro duo is continually praised in intellectual circles for supposed attainments, such as in healthcare, notwithstanding contradicting evidence. As ethnologist Katherine Hirschfeld documents in Health, Politics and Revolution in Cuba since 1898, Cuba’s statistics are largely fabricated, medical care for the masses is substandard and, in any case, it depends on generous care-packages from Cubans abroad. (These are the same overseas Cubans relentlessly maligned by Havana’s hate-mongering propaganda.)

Unquestionably, Fidel Castro enjoyed enormous initial popular support; but it soon vanished as he hijacked the liberal-inspired revolution, eliminated pro-democratic dissidents, and turned Cuba into a nightmarish Orwellian dystopia.

There are revealing parallels between the Castro and Trujillo methods of control:
• Trujillo was a product of the army; Fidel Castro was a lawyer. But both militarized their countries; the military became a privileged caste with immense control over economic activities.
• Like Hitler, both granted themselves grandiose titles: “Nation’s Benefactor” for Trujillo, “Maximum Leader” for Fidel Castro.
• Both instituted hegemonic, single-party states encompassing spy networks (of which former collaborators became conspicuous victims).
• Virtually everybody labored for the “highest leaders” — from athletes to physicians — even if limited private sector activities were permitted. Illustratively, Fidel Castro remarked that the brain of a female neurosurgeon wishing to emigrate “belonged to the Revolution” — and, thus, by implication to Fidel the comandante.
• Cronyism and nepotism reigned. The titular power was passed at whim from elder to younger brother — to Héctor Trujillo and Raúl Castro — as each was gifted the rank of “general.” Thus, both Caribbean countries morphed into ridiculous hereditary quasi-monarchies.

The post-Trujillo Dominican journey can serve as an instructive fountain of experiences for a post-Castro Cuba transitioning to a gentler, open society. Along with lessons from former communist Eastern Europe, a new Cuba could learn from the successes, as well as the admitted faults, of the Dominican liberal-democratic experiment.

The DR still has educational, public-health and poverty issues to improve upon, but it has come a long way. Its post-1966 democratic project has outperformed Cuba’s statist economy. For example, the DR’s 2010 GDP growth was about 4.2 percent — almost three times that of Cuba’s at 1.5 percent (ranked 78th and 166th, respectively, of 216 countries). And that’s accepting Cuba’s suspect figures. Now impoverished “socialist” Cuba imports most foodstuffs — even sugar! — despite its blessed agricultural soil.

The DR is a country we rarely hear about in positive terms, other than supplying outstanding baseball players. Yet, there is much to celebrate in that beautiful country as it confidently commemorates its first half century free of despotism, as opposed to Cuba, still suffering anachronistic totalitarianism.

Roland Alum, a former Fulbright Scholar in Santo Domingo, is a consultant with ICOD Associates.

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Barack Obama mildly pleased some Arabs, annoyed a lot of Israelis and has yet to bring the prospect of Middle East peace any closer

Cairo, Jerusalem & Washington, May 26.─ It was a tricky few days for Barack Obama in his latest bid to please the Arab world in general and, more specifically, to break the logjam between Palestinians and Israelis. By contrast, Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, after frosty talks in the White House and rapturously received speeches to Congress and to the most powerful of America's pro-Israel lobbies, must have chuckled at having once again—at least in the short run—fended off an American president seeking to prod him more brusquely than usual down the road to compromise with the Palestinians.

In the end, after much brouhaha and hyperbole, there were no real winners: no sign that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would resume; no hint of flexibility from Mr Netanyahu, despite his declared readiness to make "painful compromises" in the interest of peace; no expectation that the Palestinians would talk to Mr Netanyahu under present circumstances; no promises that they would put off their quest for recognition of statehood at the UN General Assembly in September; only tepid praise from the Palestinians for Mr Obama's statements that antagonised Mr Netanyahu; and, across the Arab world, in European capitals, as well as in doveish circles in Israel itself, general condemnation of the Israeli leader for his cocking a snook at Mr Obama.

In any event Mr Obama's own speech at the State Department on May 19th was an awkward mixture. Most of it dwelt on the Arab upheavals rather than the Israel-Palestinian tangle. It was the president's first big statement on the Middle East since his acclaimed speech in Cairo two years ago, when he persuaded many Arabs and Muslims that he was genuinely determined to open a new chapter of friendship after years of toxic mistrust, failed military interventions and stalled efforts to make peace between Israel and Palestine.

This time Mr Obama sought to place America on the side of the reformers, putting democratic values above alliances with dictators. He promised a dollop of cash to help countries such as Tunisia and Egypt along the road to freedom. He reassured the Libyan opposition fighting to overthrow Colonel Muammar Qaddafi that he backed them. He took a swipe at his Bahraini ally, which hosts the American fifth fleet, urging dialogue with protesters rather than repression. He told Yemen's embattled president to quit. And he asked Syria's president to "lead that transition [to democracy] or get out of the way." Mr Obama was notably silent about Saudi Arabia, as though unable to chide so vital an ally for its patent lack of reforming zeal.
But all this was drowned out by what he said about Israel-Palestine.