Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Honduran Journalist Seeks Protection, Presbyterian College, More Mass Killings, Olympics, Record Heat, Paul Ryan, Nuns, Reading Matter

According to our local Spanish language press, 120,000 Hondurans live in the greater DC area. Consulates are no longer allowed to receive cash payments for transactions, only money orders or credit or debit cards. Cash is an invitation to pocket the money, so that’s a good step.

Meanwhile, local undocumented Honduran and other young people are lining up to apply for the 2-year deportation stay offered by the Obama administration, an action that may identify them for deportation if Romney wins the presidency.

The wife of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Xiomara Castro, is running in this November’s primaries for next year’s elections as a presidential candidate of the Libre Party founded by her husband.

Corruption is nothing extraordinary anywhere in the world, including in the US, but in Honduras, uncovering corruption is dangerous and sometimes fatal for the whistleblower as per the item below.

Honduran journalist fears for safety after uncovering financial corruption

(C-Libre/IFEX) - 2 August 2012, Tegucigalpa, Honduras - "Of course I fear for my life, but I know I am doing what is right," said Ariel D'Vicente, a journalist who uncovered that a million lempiras (approx. US$53,000) seized from the wife of the former finance minister, Héctor Guillen, had come out of a sum of 3.2 million lempiras (approx. US$170,000) in royalty payments collected from shrimp companies in southern Honduras and paid out to an official high up within the Lobo Sosa government.

D'Vicente told the national press that he is aware of the seriousness of his accusations, but added "it is my role as a journalist to report on corruption and as a citizen I have to speak out against financial scandals that impact my country's health and education."

Police commissioner Juan Carlos Bonilla, and the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (CONADEH), Ramón Custodio, decided to provide the journalist with the necessary support to protect his safety.

Both officials were in agreement that because of these allegations, D'Vicente's life is in danger and that the federal authorities must investigate the matter and protect the journalist. The first step, according to the commissioners, is to provide security measures for D'Vicente and his family.

The Public Prosecutor's Office announced that the journalist will be the main witness in the inquiries into the financial matter, so that at this time D'Vicente is prohibited from commenting on the investigation.

On 31 July 2012, during a routine operation at a post in El Durazno, police seized 1,125,000 lempiras (approx. US$60,000) from the wife of the then minister of finance. The woman, her son, and their driver were freed by the district attorney's organized crime office, but the money was seized by the district attorney pending investigations.


On a recent Megabus trip in Virginia (just before the recent fatal Megabus accident in the Midwest), I met a pair of young men who had just graduated in religious studies from a Nashville Presbyterian college with only 1000 students in all. Interesting to talk with young people living apparently outside mainstream youth culture, guys who don’t drink alcohol, pray daily, and believe in abstinence until marriage. They also were not sure what to do now with their newly minted BA degrees. Become missionaries? Go on to study to become church pastors? Their degrees are somewhat limiting career-wise and opportunities for gainful employment within the Presbyterian church would also be limited, although 1000 students are not a great number to be absorbed. I don’t know how many Presbyterian colleges there are overall. My father, of Scottish heritage, was raised Presbyterian, but in his day, all mainstream churches, at least in the US, had more adherents and stricter expectations, an era Tea Party folks would like to return to.

Another mass shooting, this time in Wisconsin, with a gun reportedly purchased legally. Then three killed in Texas, including the shooter. Only three, does that qualify as a mass killing? We’re almost getting desensitized, as if living a in a war zone. With so many firearms already in circulation, how do we as a nation start to tackle this problem? Are we all just sitting ducks if we go out in public? There will always be people, mostly men, with grievances and anger, who will want to hurt and kill others, and certainly copy-cat behavior is involved, as well as a desire for fame and notoriety, however fleeting. Arms intended for personal defense seem to have little impact defensively—certainly they have not had a role preventing these atrocities. Mental health professionals and criminal behavior experts say it’s hard to predict who will actually carry out a violent offense. Some guys who do so have no prior record of behavior problems and the potential pool of those with anger and other issues is enormous. Other countries seem to reduce the murder rate by reducing the number of firearms in circulation. If we don’t want to do that, then what?

Obama, true to form with the last few killings, offers prayers and lamentations but doesn’t breathe any hint of gun control. Romney has pronounced them individual acts and said that gun laws are not germane. The NRA has been keeping completely silent, although attributing a gun-control agenda to Obama should he be reelected. I certainly hope so. The other factor in the Wisconsin case is misplaced anti-Muslim prejudice because of male Sikhs’ turbans and beards, a poisonous discriminatory atmosphere fomented by Tea Party and other far-right folks. Political and media leaders who feed into such hatred and try to give it legitimacy, including those stigmatizing Obama as a Muslim and born in Kenya, bear responsibility as well.

One of this blog’s readers points out that Obama showed that he knows very little about firearms when he referred to AK47s as more appropriate as battlefield weapons: “Obama would do better to keep quiet on matters he knows little about. The U.S. armed forces don't use AKs, neither the original Russian design nor Chinese knockoffs.”

Again, in the DC area, a toddler has shot himself, this time a 3-year-old who shot himself in the chest, but didn’t die, so may yet survive. Such accidents seem to happen every week, first the boy killing his father, then one killing himself, now this one seriously injuring himself. If adults want to indulge their right to bear arms, they should also have an obligation to keep them safe from use by children or even by adults who might do harm.

The Olympics have gone well, providing a good-news distraction from the usual bad news. Kudos to the UK for pulling them off successfully. I don’t have TV, so only watched at other people’s homes. My new next-door is a sports reporter for the NY Times and went to London with her infant daughter in tow to report on the games. The US won on the medals count. Now, it’s on to the Paralympics!

With record heat this summer, the corn and soy bean harvest has been decimated and wild fires have been taking their toll. We can continue to deny climate change and do nothing about it and just continue to see these effects. Climate specialists predict this will be the hottest year on record ever and July has already been the hottest month.

Romney has energized his conservative base as well as Democratic opposition with his veep pick of Paul Ryan. Ryan has some vote-getting power. The question is whether he will appeal to moderate and swing voters. He has a little more personality and conviction than Romney and is a better speaker, but his message won’t have universal appeal. We might all agree with him that health care costs need to be curbed. Either they will be controlled, as Obama has attempted to do, through better organization, economies of scale, and supporting only outcome-based interventions, or they will be controlled, as Ryan has proposed, by putting the burden on individual consumers to shop around, try to figure out what services they need while being wooed by health care advertisers, and do without when they cannot afford care. Continued growth of this sector cannot be sustained.

Meanwhile, a large portion of American Catholic nuns are seeking “dialogue” with the Vatican, whereas Pope Benedict seems just interested imposing obedience. Ryan, a Catholic, has declined to speak with the nuns. It’s a contest of wills between the nuns and the Vatican. The nuns want to work things out, stay in the church, continue their work in schools, hospitals, and social service agencies with children, the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities. It would be a huge blow to the American church and to those constituencies and missions if a rupture should occur. Yet nuns are tired of being “put in their place” by an all-male hierarchy. They may be able to observe the vows of poverty and chastity, but obedience is proving a sticking point. The pedophile scandal and cover-up was already a huge blow to the Catholic church, which now faces this additional challenge from the nuns, something in the age of the internet and instant news that may well spread to other countries. I’m Catholic, but, as you might imagine, I side with the nuns. I haven’t abandoned the church because I think the church needs people like me. We are the church—it’s not just the hierarchy. The pope and the Catholic hierarchy, both in Rome and in the US, are short-sighted, in my opinion. Here is a church with more than one billion members in every continent and still growing, with so many dedicated lay and religious members, and yet its leaders are willing to sacrifice much of that to make a point about who’s in charge? I believe Benedict has even said something like: So what if the church shrinks in Europe, as long as it is a more faithful (obedient?) body?

I usually don’t mention the books I’m reading on this blog, but this time is an exception. I read (and write) mostly non-fiction (sometimes reading fiction in Spanish) and just borrowed a trio of books from the public library, all of them provocative. All follow a narrative of economic or power interests controlling or overwhelming ordinary people to their detriment. I would like to think that the authors exaggerate to make their point, but they end up being pretty convincing using nuances, data, and examples. From my brief description, you can decide whether you want to read them.

One is Pornified by Pamela Paul, making the case that access to porn has exploded with the internet—no longer just a matter of a Playboy magazine hidden under the mattress or a seedy “adult” movie theater. Every type of porn is available 24/7 with the click of a mouse: violence, bondage, sadism, group sex, gay, straight, involving children or animals—take your pick. Most consumers are men and many, says the author, become addicted, undermining their relationships with flesh-and-blood women. Not only does internet porn occupy these guys’ time, taking away from work, recreation, and everyday activities, but it projects an image of women being not only busty and beautiful but instantly willing to engage in sexual activities of any type. It takes away from time that might be spent with a real partner and makes actual sex seem tame. It also exploits those appearing in the segments, paying them little and exposing them to desensitizing sex and STDs. However, porn producers know they have a cash cow, which they protect under the rubrics of free speech, personal liberty, and privacy.

Another is a very thoughtful book, a personal and church history, Practicing Catholic by James Carroll, a former Paulist priest inspired by the short tenure of Pope John XXIII (like many of us). He was a fan of the Kennedy brothers and became acquainted with a number of well-known Catholic writers. Like many if not most Catholics, he makes his own judgments on issues of faith and practice, observing that the hierarchy, which warns the laity against being “cafeteria Catholics” practices a cafeteria system itself, such as by protecting pedophile priests rather than molested children, emphasizing the unborn over those facing the death penalty, and opposing contraception but not war.

The third book is Wendell Potter’s Deadly Spin, by a health industry insider who quit a job in “the high six figures” to blow the whistle on the industry’s tactics to scuttle Obama’s health care reform effort while pretending to cooperate. The pretense at cooperation was undertaken because it was felt the “Harry & Louise” tactics used to kill the Clinton health reform effort would not work this time. An early tactic was to systematically undermine Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” and undermine Moore himself, portraying him as someone out to destroy the free-market health care system and the American way of life. That onslaught succeeded to a large extent. I saw the film, which, yes, was slanted and the depiction of Cuba’s health care system was pure Potemkin, but much of it was valid. Mostly, the industry pours money into Republican campaigns and gives talking points to candidates regarding the threat of “big government,” “government bureaucrats,” “a government takeover,” “Europeans-style socialism,” and increased taxes, never mind that the “free market” keeps relentlessly driving up health care costs. Eventually these PR efforts will eventually means that industry folks will end cutting off their nose to spite their face because too many people will end up sick and dying because of lack of care, or go broke, reducing the pool of people left able to pay the high premiums demanded. (That last sentence is me, not the author.) Because of industry efforts, says Potter, the single-payer system favored by most Americans was never enacted and Obama had to compromise on too many issues to gain industry cooperation, giving us a health care reform system that ends up a hodgepodge trying to satisfy all stakeholders and ending up satisfying few, especially among consumers. By successfully creating the “Obamacare” boogeyman, the private health care industry continues to undermine many of the actual benefits of the reform act, for example, by encouraging governors to go against their own constituents by threatening not to expand Medicaid. What can the increasingly impoverished majority do against the industry’s investment in anti-health-care reform advertizing and campaign contributions? We must not listen to these attempts at persuasion and use our vote to go against these moneyed interests. And maybe the conscience of some industry reps will pinch and, like Potter, they will give up their salaries and perks and attempt to alert the public, as he is doing through his book and in congressional testimony.

It took decades for the tobacco industry to finally be controlled. And many people still smoke, including two of my kids. Eventually a tipping point will come for health care, as costs cannot keep rising forever. Real and effective health care reform, Potter suggests, will only happen when voters are able to see through and resist corporate PR. So far politicians and voters have succumbed to the influence of moneyed interests. Other massive PR campaigns successful so far, Potter points out, are the coal industry, big oil, and soda manufacturers. (To his examples, we might add the porn industry, as in Pamela Paul’s book.)

There are many outfits out there promising, for a price, to make a book a bestseller through gimmicks and trickery, the same sort of PR tactics used in politics —or so it seems to me. I do want folks to read my book to get something out of it, but not to buy it out of hype. Maybe that’s naïve and certainly hasn’t propelled my book into best-seller-dom.

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