Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Meeting in Cyberspace & in Person, Alzheimer’s Facility B’day, Santorum Out, Non-Dream Act, Conn. Abolishes Death Penalty, War on Drugs

First, posted here is another photo from the Honduras medical brigade, a candid one just sent showing me apparently signaling villagers coming to meet us.

Just got a surprise e-mail from Omoro, a young Kenyan man who oversaw the bishop’s construction programs in South Sudan when I went there in 2006. He is still in South Sudan, but working now with a Polish NGO. The internet has really made the world smaller! Just imagine being in South Sudan in a guarded compound in very hot, desolate place surrounded by sand, baobob trees, and a few roaming goats looking for something to eat. A line of colorfully draped very dark-skinned women walk erect with water jugs on their heads and carrying bundles of firewood while a bunch of guys in sunglasses and army fatigues bearing AK-47s ride by on camels and horses. That’s South Sudan and you can actually send e-mail from such a place.

When I was on the metro going to an interpretation assignment, a woman asked me if I was Barbara Joe. Imagine my surprise! She said she had read my book and recognized me from photos there. Then, transferring from metro to bus, a woman on the bus asked me if I were an interpreter! I was wearing an ID badge with my photo, but a lot of people wear those and interpretation is a not exactly a common profession. She ended up getting off at my same stop and going into an apartment building right next to the one where I was going for a child needing occupational therapy services (right up my alley)—she said she was an outreach worker for the National Institutes of Health. It was a little spooky.

Talk about living in the moment. A friend and I visited a mutual friend living in an Alzheimer’s facility, bringing a cake and juice to celebrate her 85th birthday. Five years ago, at her 80th, she seemed OK, so has gone downhill fast. This time, she was delighted to see us, embraced us, and seemed to recognize us, but kept on asking our names. Finally, she asked us to write them down, which I did. Apparently residents aren’t allowed pens or pencils. She was recognizable as her old self, but diminished in memory and concentration. She said “shit” a few times, a word she had been too ladylike to utter before. A male resident who said he was from Korea and was a chemist (that much was intelligible) started an animated nonsensical conversation with our friend, mixing real estate terms with chemistry and she responded in equally puzzling strings of words. Although they seemed to talk gibberish right past each other and we understood little of it, they seemed to be enjoying their exchange, so that was heartening. The facility has extensive attractive grounds surround by a high fence, so we walked around out there as it was a nice day. I put a copy of my book in the library, but doubt most residents read much, if at all. Many carried around stuffed animals. Our friend was carrying a small horse, also a toy car, which she kissed a few times, saying. “I love it.” We left her sitting in a circle, listening to music with other residents and she didn’t seem to notice our departure. She may have even forgotten we had been there as soon as we left. Our heads were kind of spinning afterward, as if we had been in the rabbit hole with Alice, where nothing made much sense. I just hope my body goes before my mind.

Probably to avoid an embarrassing defeat in his home state of Pennsylvania, Santorum bowed out, using the excuse of his daughter’s illness. I don’t doubt that the little girl has a serious health condition, but I do doubt that’s why he quit. He did give Romney a run for his money. I’m not thrilled with Romney, perish the thought of his becoming president, though he may be the lesser of many Republican evils.

Marco Rubio’s attempt to win over Hispanic voters with a Dream-type Act that does not include a path to citizenship is somewhat confusing, a desperate attempt to not lose that vote. It has put Romney in a quandary. He has said he would veto the Dream Act as president, yet cannot afford to dismiss a rising star like Rubio out of hand. He still has primaries to get through, like some today, and fears alienating the Republican base, so he just says that he’s studying Rubio’s proposal. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has deported more undocumented people than any other president, not always focusing on violent criminals, as he has contended, while fewer undocumented immigrants are arriving, so that doesn’t seem to be such a burning issue any more. If anything, we could use a few more immigrants. Whatever happened to the American tradition, embodied in the Statue of Liberty, of offering refuge and opportunity to people from around the world? Public opinion seems reactive, changing only when the foreseeable consequences of a particular policy actually come to pass; then, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction.

Romney has said that while the economy is slowly improving, it’s happening despite Obama and that he has a plan to improve it even more. What specifically is that plan? All we’ve heard is that he is a businessman and knows about finances. Yes, he has inherited and made a lot of money, laid off a lot of workers, and invested off-shore. Is that a national economic recovery program? I imagine that deregulation, bring-on-the Canadian oil pipeline, and abolish health care reform are his main agenda items.

Glad to see that Connecticut has abolished the death penalty. There are too many problems with the death penalty, in my opinion, for it to remain on the books. The world is moving toward abolition and toward substituting life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. I’ll grant that there are a few people whose crimes are so horrendous that their death would seem welcome, but the death penalty in principle and in general is not good public policy. Connecticut lawmakers seem to agree.

While the Secret Service prostitute scandal has overshadowed the substance of discussions at the Summit of the Americas, one of several issues on which there was no agreement was crafting an alternative to the “war on drugs” that the US has been waging unsuccessfully for the last 40 years. See item below.

Wash. Post April 10, 2012

Latin American countries pursue alternatives to U.S. drug war

By Juan Forero

BOGOTA, Colombia — When President Obama arrives in Colombia for a hemispheric summit this weekend, he will hear Latin American leaders say that the U.S.-orchestrated war on drugs, which criminalizes drug use and employs military tactics to fight gangs, is failing and that sweeping changes need to be considered.

Latin American leaders say they have not developed an alternative model to the hard-line approach favored by successive American administrations since Richard Nixon was in office. But the Colombian government says a range of options — from decriminalizing possession of drugs to legalizing marijuana use to regulating markets — will be debated at the Summit of the Americas in the coastal city of Cartagena. [Article continues.]

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter, NYC Talk, Other Blog’s Post, Eating Garbage, Hondo Prison Fire Again, Insecure Communities, Miss. Voters, PC Options, Pope & Cuba, Birds

Hello everybody, Easter and Passover greetings! I’m back this week from New York City and the public library with the stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, out front, although my talk actually took place in an annex across the street. About 35 people attended, most of them in their senior years, so maybe I planted a seed for their future participation in the Peace Corps. I was surprised and delighted that two volunteers from my own year-2000 training group attended, Amy and Jason, who also spoke briefly, saying, in essence, that they had joined right out of college, the most common scenario, and had no idea what they were doing for quite a while after arrival in Honduras. They did acknowledge what I have contended, namely that assigning a mix of ages in any country is best, so that we can all support each other with our different strengths.

Yesterday, with my daughter, her step-children, and my great-grandson, age 4, we celebrated my granddaughter Natasha’s 24th birthday. I remember being in the hospital room the moment she was born, which seems like not so long ago.

Mea culpa last time, when a photo of my granddaughter and great-grandson sitting in a hot tub was posted twice on my blog, making us twice as cute? Actually, to get rid of it, I would have to re-post the whole blog and photos with no guarantee of avoiding the same mistake again. Blog photos until now were posted via a gobbledygook of numbers and letters, not the actual photos themselves so it was easy to make a mistake. But, I see that my double posting has been elminiated, maybe by a blogspot good fairy, and now we can actually see the photos posted as they will appear! Thanks, blogspot! The photos posted here include the Anhinga , a bird photographed in Coral Gables by my friend Carlos; a dinner at Carlos’ home where the man on the far left is another long-time friend, former 20-year Cuban political prisoner and poet Jorge Valls; little Sebastian, a Honduran child who leg was amputated due to a medical error and whom I’m now trying to assist; and a one-lempira bill showing the visage of Chief Lempira, betrayed and killed by Spaniards long ago.

A short feature about me appeared on March 23 on the following website: http://www.thirdage.com/http://www.thirdage.com/your-career/golden-years-with-the-peace-corps-in-honduras-1
The editor put it together from an item I had submitted and further information that she had elicited from me. So there are some nitpicky details that got a little skewed, as might happen in making a smooth story line, though unimportant to the average reader. While I was 74 on March 26, I was 3 days shy of that when the article actually came out—I didn’t anticipate that it would happen so quickly. The boy friend with whom I broke up after my son’s death was not the same one who predicted that I would be home from the Peace Corps by Christmas at the latest. So, you get the idea of some of what was tweaked. Never mind, my main purpose has been to inspire other “mature” people to consider joining the Peace Corps. A viewer complained because an ad popped up, but that happens. Now that posting date has passed, it’s a little hard to find, but I did just find it once again.

The other afternoon, before entering the metro station after an interpretation assignment in affluent Montgomery County, Maryland, I noticed a pale, shabbily-dressed man about 60 with rheumy blue eyes and thinning gray hair combing through a trash bin, finding a half-filled bottle of what looked like lemonade which he drank in a single gulp before chomping down on part of a discarded sandwich. He then moved to another trash receptacle. I wondered what had driven him to such desperate measures?

Another prison fire and riot has occurred in Honduras, this time in San Pedro Sula with at least 13 inmates dead. Honduras prison authorities: you have a problem!

Speaking of fires, an American-born 10-year-old boy died in a house fire in Pennsylvania. His Mexican father, deported after running a red light, had been divorced from the mother, an American citizen who also died in the fire. His second wife was a citizen as well and he had gone back to Mexico to wait the required two years and get his papers in order to come back, but Immigration would not allow him a humanitarian visa to attend the son’s funeral. It’s so hard to lose a child and not that the funeral restores that life, but it was a really cruel decision. Again, Cuban and other Caribbean immigrants are being rounded up under the “secure communities” push of the Obama administration, targeting the deportation of criminal aliens. This seems like a laudable effort on the face of it. However, what constitutes a criminal alien is open to dispute. Old and minor convictions, such as for traffic violations, especially driving without a license (often where undocumented persons are denied driver’s licenses) are being resurrected and people are being put into immigration detention pending deportation on these charges. I don’t know who is making these harsh immigration decisions or why, because they are not going to win over any anti-immigration folks in the November elections. I recommend Amnesty International’s recently released report about immigration detention, In Hostile Terrain, on the aiusa website.

A recent poll revealed that more than half of Mississippi voters think Obama is a Muslim. What can I say? Probably they also believe he was born in Kenya. And that global warming is a crock, that the earth was made in 8 days, and that the image of Jesus Christ appeared miraculously on a pop tart. More evangelicals believe that Rick Santorum shares their faith than the percentage who realize that he is Catholic. These people are our fellow Americans, but living in an alternative universe. See item about Franklin Graham below.

This year, federal budget cuts have slashed the job of my Cuban-born librarian friend Jose Manuel, who spent over a year in Guantanamo in the 1990s after being picked up at sea and lived at my home afterward. He had worked for 10 years three days a week as a library researcher at the National Academy of Sciences only to be laid off just now due to a federal mandate to eliminate part-time workers. Despite good performance reviews and advocacy by those at the academy who relied on him, he had to go. Jose, who also has a master’s degree in art and photography earned in this country, will have to try to work full-time in that area, where he has shown considerable talent, but, it’s a crowded field and was more like an avocation for him up until now.

Peace Corps has recently initiated several new service options, such as extending short-term Response opportunities to professionally qualified non-volunteers, partnering with another organization to send one-year medical missions to Africa, and considering allowing same-sex couples to serve together in receptive countries (not Honduras!). While sitting outside at the Eastern Market on St. Patrick’s Day on a warm spring morning touting Peace Corps, although no one was interested in buying my book, I had some interesting conversations. One young woman, just returned from service in Cambodia, said a friend had sent her the book just as she was shipping out to begin her service. She said it helped her stay the course through some difficult moments and she is glad she did. Another young man told me that he had been in China when all the volunteers were evacuated due to the SARS epidemic. Some left Peace Corps, while others were given new assignments. His was in Romania, where he had to learn a completely new language, as he had been fairly fluent in Mandarin before going to China. But another volunteer, who had struggled with Mandarin, was delighted to accompany him to Romania, where the Italian spoken in his family home facilitated his learning of a closely related language. Still another market-goer told me she was a nurse, serving with a medical brigade in Comayagua, Honduras, when the prison fire broke out on Valentine’s Day and even saw it burning on through the night.

At a recent “Town Hall” meeting at Peace Corps headquarters, I went up to director Aaron Williams afterward and put in a pitch to keep some reduced PC presence in Honduras, preferably in the safer Esperanza area where we had just carried out our medical brigade. I also mentioned the name of Luis Knight, my former officemate in the regional office there and our very dependable Esperanza Red Cross helper during the medical brigade. Williams hugged me and said, “I love Honduras; my son was born there. We’re looking into it.” But he gave no hint as to what his decision might be.

Finally, we all know about the Pope’s visit to Cuba. Benedict might have been referring obliquely in his public prayers and remarks about those “not able to be here” not only to political prisoners, but also to the absent Women in White and to about 200 dissidents rounded up before his appearance. Some 80 Women in White had been arrested the week before and ordered to stay away from the pope. Dissidents’ telephones were also blocked, usually with a message that the number in question “does not exist,” leading James Burke, a researcher at Amnesty’s London headquarters, to comment regarding one such missing phone number: “The Cuban authorities would like the outside world to think that José Daniel’s mobile ‘does not exist’, and by extension that the criticism of government policies and restrictions that he and many other Cubans peacefully express, does not exist either. However, the Cuban authorities’ attempt to silence the voice of peaceful dissidence on the international stage is ultimately fruitless: the genie has long left the bottle.”

For his entire statement, see (also in a Spanish version) at http://livewire.amnesty.org/2012/03/30/smoke-signals-to-cuba/langswitch_lang/es/#more-5368.

While until now, I had been willing to give the Cuban Catholic church the benefit of the doubt, the eviction of 13 peaceful dissidents from their church sanctuary by Cardinal Ortega (whom I met in Cuba in the 1990s when he was still an archbishop) just days before the papal visit was a shock and a contrast with the actions of the church in Poland and also in Chile, where I was an election observer during the 1988 plebiscite that Pinochet lost.

Though Benedict had expressed general support for human rights, a meeting with Cuban dissidents was not on his agenda. He did acknowledge beforehand that “Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality,” and he urged Cubans to “find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.” But Cubans on the island did not hear his remarks and even when he spoke at open air masses there, many in the audience reported being unable to hear his soft voice or decipher his heavily-accented Spanish.

Days before the visit, Cardinal Ortega requested that police remove 13 dissidents from Our Lady of Charity church in Havana, an action that sparked outrage among many outside observers. According to Andres Oppenheimer writing in the Miami Herald (“Cardinal’s action clouds pope’s visit to Cuba,” March 22, 2012), “Following their forced eviction by anti-riot police clad in black uniforms, the dissidents, including an 82-year-old man, said they were beaten and taken to a police station, where they were interrogated for five hours before being conditionally released. They had wanted to submit a petition to the pope, and to voice their demands for democracy and human rights, they said.”

Amnesty International’s Javier Zuñiga commented, “The Roman Catholic Church has played a very important role in the defence of people who suffered under dictatorships in Chile, in El Salvador, and in several other countries. In those cases, the church defended them, and gave refuge to relatives of political prisoners and missing people who couldn’t express themselves in any other way. That was respected.”

The archbishop’s office issued a defensive statement: “[T]he church listens and welcomes everybody,” but “nobody has the right to turn temples into political barricades. Nobody has the right to spoil the celebratory spirit of Cuban church-goers, and of many other citizens, who await with joy and hope the visit of his Holy Father Benedict XVI.”Lech Walesa wrote an open letter to the pope, urging him to defend Cubans asking for their liberty. Certainly the Catholic church in Cuba is not playing the active role against oppression exemplified by the church in Poland, nor for that matter in Chile when I was there as an election observer in 1988. A former Cuban political prisoner told me recently, “It’s enough to make me become an atheist.”

Just before the pope’s Cuba visit, Amnesty International USA promoted an on-line action including twitter feed to Cuban government addresses, regarding two prisoners of conscience, young brothers Antonio Michel and Marcos Maiquel Lima Cruz, declared prisoners of conscience and sentenced to two and three years imprisonment, respectively, for "insulting symbols of the homeland" and "public disorder" for playing hip-hop music critical of the government at a party in their apartment. The online action is now live:http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517478

Also, see The Economist, Mar 24, 2012, for an extensive report on Cuba.

Finally, while I love most birds, every year, a pair of noisy starlings builds a nest in the crook of drainpipe on the front of my house. How long to those darn birds live? They’ve been doing it for years, spraying the house and windows with droppings, shedding down a rain of straw for days as they build their nest, and scolding constantly. All their efforts go for naught because the drainpipe crook is too narrow to support the weight of their growing offspring, who each year fall prematurely onto the brick porch floor two stories below and die. Then the mother bird really complains. The grieving parents’ tiny bird brains don’t learn from their mistake, which they repeat year after year. They work very hard, mess up my house, but are not reproducing themselves and I’m just waiting for them to retire to a birdy old folks’ home.

Of Franklin Graham, Fox News and faith's distortion
National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2012

Commentary by Douglas W. Kmiec, Professor of Constitutional Law, Pepperdine U. I haven't always seen eye to eye with President Barack Obama. We disagree on abortion, the troop build-up in Afghanistan and a recent tendency to ignore those who have his best interests at heart.That said, I have no basis to question or doubt the importance of faith in president's life or his unswerving commitment to ensure religious freedom for all.

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