Monday, July 11, 2011

Radio Show, July 4th, Folklife Festival, South Sudan, NM Fires, Honduras Constitution, Chavez Illness, DSK

Hope everyone had spectacular July 4th weekend.

Found out that my July 1 radio interview could have been accessed via streaming on the internet, my daughter Melanie heard it that way, but, being somewhat IT challenged, that had not occurred to me before the last posting. The interview, from my perspective, was too short, as I could have gone on much longer. Just as well that it was limited to a half hour or less. I did invite listeners to connect with me via this blog or e-mail. Finally was able to access the podcast of that radio interview--you have to listen to that day's news first (at least I didn't know how to skip it). Anyway, if you want to hear the interview, go to, then click on Joe and Gross Surreal News 310.

The annual 2-week Smithsonian Folklife Festival got underway on June 30. Peace Corps is featured during this 50th anniversary year. I noticed on the program several groups I am familiar with, including deaf volunteers who teach American sign language and Honduran Garifuna dancers. With some difficulty, because I still have pain walking after the hit-and-run pedestrian accident May 31, I made it down to the Smithsonian mall with my two visitors from Africa, where we saw the Peace Corps exhibits and a series of Garifuna dances. I also posted a note, along with others, on the Honduran wall, one of many walls representing all the countries where volunteers have served. (See photos above of Garifuna dancers.)

On July 9, some of us former Honduras PC volunteers held a party to welcome Martin Rivera, Honduras Peace Corps’ water-and-sanitation director, here on a visit with his family. Many of the young former volunteers are now married and have small children, raising another generation of future volunteers. Because of budget cuts, Martin told us that the number of Honduras volunteers has been reduced to 140, compared to over 300 when I served, and some sectors, like municipal development, have been eliminated, along with their staffs. The core programs, health, water-and-san, agriculture, and youth development remain.
The Republican presidential race is getting almost too crowded, which cannot be good for the party. Most of those folks need to be weeded out. Or let them continue fighting—so much the better for us Democrats.

Meanwhile, the budget and debt ceiling battle continues. The surge of retiring baby boomers is only exacerbating the problem. The question is: who is going to have to make sacrifices, only the poor and middle class, or everybody, including (greedy) wealthy political donors? Unfortunately, slashing budgets and saving money also means cutting jobs, lowering benefits, and reducing spending power. Now that everyone but the wealthy are suffering economically, most people have had to cut back on their buying, so the economy and jobs are not bouncing back, which further reduces spending in a downward spiral. The very wealthy, who control a disproportionate and ever-growing part of the economy, are not spending enough themselves to allow their wealth trickle down. But their increasing accumulation of ever-scarcer resources is likely to backfire if the rest of us have no jobs or income, because ultimately, even the very wealthy, rely on a healthy economy.

Many Republicans have fenced themselves in by signing Grover Norquist’s pledge. They did so also in Minnesota, hence the budget impasse there. It gives them no room to maneuver. Either everyone else capitulates or the situation remains at a standstill. Who will voters blame? If the economy continues to sputter and unemployment remains at current levels, perhaps Republicans think that will give them an advantage at election time, though that may also backfire.

Norquist, a very wealthy non-elected guy who considers himself a self-made man and has a lot of political clout, apparently would like to see little or no government, a return to the unfettered days of the wild west or the new frontier, when rugged individuals carved out their own pioneering destiny for better or for worse. Several members of the Republican Study Committee, headed by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have signed on to a Norquist-inspired “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan pledging not to vote for any debt-ceiling increase without serious spending cuts, spending caps, and a balanced-budget amendment passed by both the House and Senate, something that’s simply not going to happen. So there you have some automatic “no” votes on every conceivable proposal. Because they have so publicly signed the pledge, they can hardly bend an inch. Yet many angry and frustrated voters, ignorant of their own self-interest, may continue to support them.

South Sudan’s official independence day was July 9. However, fighting continues in the Nuba mountain region where I spent time in 2006, a disputed border area whose people want to join the south, but which the north is trying to retain. Despite fears of another Darfur, outside forces seem loathe to intervene and local people are fleeing again fearing for their lives, as they have done so many times before.

This from my cousin living near Los Alamos, New Mexico: There is a haze in the sky all the time. So far, the debris has not come our way, as winds are moving it north, NE & NW. The Wallow Fire that started in Arizona on May 29th and is now their state’s largest fire is just 200 miles from us. The winds blew the smell and debris here for over a week. It was so bad you had to have your doors and windows closed; air conditioning was important. She also mentioned the loss of many trees and that she and her family had decided to go to Hawaii for a couple of weeks until the fires and their effects had dissipated.

Honduras’s current president, Porfirio Lobo, supports efforts to change the constitution to permit a president to be re-elected, saying he has no personal plans in that regard. Official talks on the matter were to get underway on July 9. Hope they do not prove too contentious. From Hondurans, I’ve heard, not surprisingly, that contentious politics have returned, despite Lobo’s efforts at conciliation.

The Honduran ambassador to the US has signed an agreement with ICE to facilitate the deportation of Hondurans detained for immigration violations here.

In Honduras, killings of journalists, whether for political reasons or just random crime, continue, with the 12th in two years just occurring in the northern coastal city of La Ceiba.

Meanwhile, after fervent denials, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez admitted from Cuba that he has cancer. Judging from the time he spent there and the weight he appears to have lost in posted photos, his condition must be fairly serious. He didn’t specify the type of cancer, but I’m guessing advanced prostate cancer. Probably he ignored the symptoms until they became severe. And he probably chose to have treatment in Cuba in part to protect his privacy about the nature of his condition and its seriousness. Since the Chavez government rests entirely on the man himself, with no apparent heir waiting in the wings, such as Fidel Castro’s brother Raul in Cuba, the whole Chavez project would be in doubt without him, although now there are rumors that he’s grooming his brother Adan to succeed him. Adan Chavez, like Raul Castro, is not as charismatic as his brother, but at least would keep power in the family.

If Adan takes over, he will confront Hugo’s mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy and the growing political opposition that has arisen on his watch. Estimates are that it would take a decade of proper stewardship for the Venezuelan oil industry to recover optimum production and distribution, assuming Hugo Chavez’s exit from power. Despite his failure to properly manage the oil industry and his generous oil largesse to political allies, the continued relatively high price of oil has buoyed his fortunes and allowed him to materially help poor Venezuelans on some indices, including food subsidies and medical care with the assistance of Cuban doctors. On matters such as crime, electrical outages, outbreaks of malaria and dengue, and transportation, Venezuela is not doing so well. The Cuban political elite must have been trying mightily to save him, as he has tossed them a lifeline with massive oil donations.

Cuban medicine resurrected Fidel Castro from the brink of death, so perhaps can save Chavez too. Cuban medicine at its best is very good, but the best is not available to most citizens, only to the elite and to medical tourists paying in hard currency. Chavez’s vice president had said that he might be gone as long as 6 months, but now he has suddenly returned to Venezuela, alarmed perhaps by all the speculations circulating during his absence. The consummate showman, he has already given a public address (via video), much to the delirium of his supporters. He must have realized that being gone much longer carried political risks.

On July 1, Yoani Sanchez, probably Cuba’s best-known anti-government blogger, posted the following about Hugo Ch├ívez’s cancer treatment in Havana: Over the past few weeks, panic has gripped fat-necked bureaucrats, officials who control the subsidies that come from Venezuela and entrepreneurs who resell a portion of the hundred thousand barrels of oil sent to us by what we like to call our “new Kremlin.” They are all holding their breath, hoping that, as soon as possible, he will be signing agreements, speaking to the cameras, governing by force of presidential decrees.

As for DSK, apparently the multi-million-dollar defense team in its arduous investigations has dug up some dirt on his accuser, information that either she would prefer not to have made public or might discredit her in the eyes of a jury, such as about her immigration status, associations, and past life. (Who doesn’t have some skeletons in their closet?) I sincerely doubt that their sexual encounter, which DSK cannot deny because of the semen he left behind, was consensual, but these extraneous factors may allow him to beat the rap. His actions in trying to flee the country immediately after make him suspect. But, now it comes down to “he said, she said.” If the case does not go forward or if a jury does not convict him won’t necessarily prove his innocence, only that there was insufficient evidence to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Then, he can present himself to the French public as the innocent victim of overzealous, puritanical American prosecutors trying to nail him for consensual sex. Heaven knows, maybe an anti-American backlash or conspiracy theory adopted the part of the French public will actually catapult him into the presidency of France, where his policies are likely to be hostile to the US. Meanwhile, rape and sexual assault victims will hesitate to come forward in the future.

Now a group of Maryland voters has mounted an apparently successful petition drive for a ballot measure to deny in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants brought to the state as children, so that legislative victory may prove short-lived. It’s hard to believe that so many people are so mean-spirited and short-sighted. Let’s hope for a resounding defeat at the ballot box. The same people who rail against “illegals” have no problem giving big tax breaks to oil companies and the super-rich, maybe because they dream of becoming rich themselves some day? And, while we are on the subject of immigration, I have long contended that legal immigration should be expanded and made much less arduous. At the same time, I have to agree with Obama’s immigrants’ rights critics that his administration should have focused more on deporting criminal aliens rather than sweeping across-the-board and ending up deporting more people than even GWBush. Apparently, now the administration has heard the message and is starting to focus its necessarily limited resources more on criminal aliens. Undocumented people are among us everywhere in ordinary life, as award-winning reporter Jose Vargas is trying to show by “coming out” as an undocumented alien. For a criminal conviction, “intent” is necessary and certainly kids brought by their parents had no intent to break the law. A number of studies, even those done by conservative think tanks, show a net economic gain to the country by passage of the Dream Act—that is, allowing a path to citizenship for those brought to this country as children who enroll in college or join the military.

About Zelaya’s plans to run for the presidency again in Honduras, a blog reader comments: He’s not an old man; he’s still a player. This is the only hand he’s got – for sure he can’t run on his brains.

About Chavez [prior to his cancer revelation], she says: Maybe he’s lying low, letting people worry (as well they might) about how much worse things will get without him, and then reappearing in triumph at a national holiday celebration coming up soon. Or maybe he’s really sick, in which case Venezuela may plunge into chaos the way it did when Eva Peron died unexpectedly.

And, finally, about McCain: I’m sorry, too, that McCain is pandering to the tea party about the fires. His problem is, he’s so important he doesn’t have to listen to anything he doesn’t want to hear. Everybody but him knows he’s irrelevant, though. The one daughter seems to have a spark in her; maybe someday she’ll amount to something.

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