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.”

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