Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cameroonian Artists, Presidential Debate, Netanyahu, Tax Cuts for the Wealthy, Venezuelan Election, EU Peace Corps, Honduran Deportees, Father at School, Bereaved Deaf Parent, Gun Violence, Aung San Suu Kyi, Cuban Five, Under Tents in Haiti, Honduran Model City, Amnesty Urgent Actions on Honduras & Cuba, Baby Panda Dies

Photos above are of Herve, a young Cameroonian artist staying temporarily at my place while using resources at the Museum of African Art. One shows him with his 4-year-old son, now waiting for him back home. The others are of him at a couple of his exhibits. He speaks French, but not much English yet. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my daughter Stephanie and her husband, both biologists, spent 6 months in the eastern jungles of Cameroon doing research on monkeys and plants, camped out in a tent among Baka (pigmy) people there. Poor Herve, his last two weeks of search here were lost when his computer crashed and he had made no backup.

Listening to the first debate between Obama and Romney, I thought Romney did pretty well; he didn’t flub as he often does. He seemed well prepared, though offering very few specifics. We shall see if he has gained momentum from his performance. He has everything to gain from these debates.

Speaking of the election, in a get-together with former co-workers from the occupational therapy association where I once worked, I was surprised when one woman said she is supporting Romney because he was a successful businessman. (Yes, successful in laying off workers and investing off-shore.) A sub-text of her support was that she is Jewish and considers him more protective of Israel. Though we thankfully didn't get into a contentious discussion, she seemed to like Romney's tough talk on Israel-Iran and his apparent siding with Netanyahu about bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. But not everyone in Israel is happy about Netanyahu's war talk, red line, and obvious efforts to affect the US election, although many American Jews (and evangelicals) still buy his arguments. Of course, nothing is certain in life, but I am sure Obama is keeping track of the Iran problem and is trying to reduce tensions and offer Iran a face-saving way out, while Netanyahu is only ratcheting up tensions, perhaps because he genuinely believes that preemptively attacking Iran is the way to protect Israel or maybe he’s only bluffing to increase his own domestic support. I thought his direct appeal to the American public and his cartoonish UN bomb graphic were a little crude and might evoke a backlash among the American public, since the US is bankrolling Israel and doesn’t need Netanyahu to be directing our foreign policy. Of course, there are quite a few Jews (certainly not all) and evangelicals who believe in the “chosen people,” biblical land rights, and in Israel’s exclusive right to have nuclear arms in the Middle East. However, others may feel that Netanyahu has overstepped the bounds and is trying to drag us into a war of his own choosing. All we need now is another war in the Muslim world, with Iran a much more powerful country militarily than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Attacking Iran unilaterally, in my opinion, will only increase the danger for Israel. It’s a very delicate situation. Obama called Netanyahu after his UN appearance and would have had to choose his words very carefully, as the Israeli leader would have no compunctions about revealing details of their conversation that he did not like. Romney also called the Israeli leader. Netanyahu believes he is helping Romney to win, but even if that happens, Romney may not be as pliable as Bibi hopes and may equally resent his meddling.

No big surprise that the Congressional Budget Office has found that tax cuts for the wealthy don’t actually create jobs or boost the economy, they just make some people richer. Some wealthy people may buy a few more things or hire more servants, making a small trickle-down effect, but mostly, they already have everything they ever wanted and are hoarding their money or putting it into off-shore accounts, as Romney has done, perhaps trying to protect their wealth to pass on to progeny, because there is only so much they can actually spend in their own lifetime.

The Venezuelan presidential election is immanent. Venezuelans in the U.S. are allowed to vote, but only at a consulate and the consulate in Miami, where most of them live, has been inexplicably closed, perhaps because most Venezuelans living here have already voted with their feet to leave during Chavez’s time in power, hence are not his supporters. Not daunted, Miami Venezuelans have organized caravans and special flights to take them New Orleans, the next closet consulate, so they can vote.

Recently, I had a conversation with a woman who told me that the EU is starting a program like the Peace Corps. She didn’t give details, but that’s good news, because the need is so great and it also provides an excellent experience for volunteers. I’ve searched on-line and see that the program still in the planning process. Like the Peace Corps, it seems mostly geared toward young people, providing them with training and experience to make them “the leaders of tomorrow.” But there should be no overlooking that yesterday’s or today’s leaders could become “the volunteers of tomorrow.”

During the period 2003-2012, more than 220,000 Hondurans have been deported from the US, with the highest number in this year, 2012. Final figures are not yet available, but it looks like there might be as many as 44,000 this year alone. It’s so difficult and perilous for Hondurans to make that journey across Guatemala and the whole of Mexico that it’s surprisingly that enough make it to allow so many to be deported. I have commented here before that I have seen the deportation flights unloading on the Tegucigalpa airport, with dejected passengers getting off a plane unmarked except for a tiny American flag on the tail. Airport employees told me that was the regular deportation flight, the exact reverse of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Recently, I commented here that in all my school interpretations, usually for annual evaluations carried out with parents of children in special ed, only mothers have appeared on their children’s behalf. Well, yesterday, I had a father for the first time and I commended him for that. “Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here except my wife died. I really didn’t want to come, but the school insisted.” He was a man my own age or older who said he had something like 9 kids and, really, it was too much to try to help them all with their education, as he himself had never attended school and didn’t know how to read and write or speak English. Accompanying him was a son in his late 20s who apparently is helping the 17-year-old special ed student, a very diffident boy, who, because of his age, was allowed to sit in the session with teachers and therapists trying to chart his future educational course.

Haven’t discussed it much here, but I belong to a support group of parents who have lost children, The Compassionate Friends. A new parent is the father of a 5-year-old who ran out into the street and was killed by a vehicle. This father is deaf and I have contacted Gallaudet University for the deaf here in DC to see if anyone would be willing to act as a pro-bono sign language interpreter for this grieving father during our meetings.

Another multiple shooting, this time in Minneapolis. Anyone with a grievance and a gun is a menace to the rest of society. A Conn. man shot and killed his son wearing a mask, thinking the boy was a home invader. But, quite obviously, nothing is going to be done before the election, if ever. Ryan has come out even more vociferously than ever for “gun rights.” Suicide now surpasses car accidents as a cause of death, many of those suicides impulsive acts committed with guns. In this area, apparently a man shot his wife and two children before shooting himself in a family murder-suicide. I have a reader who insists that guns protect, though I haven’t seen much evidence of that. Perhaps gun possession does prevent some injuries and deaths, though that’s harder to quantify than cases where someone is actually killed.

Burmese laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was here in Washington and because of my Amnesty work, I received an on-line ticket to hear her speak on September 20. But when the ticket was issued, it required confirmation within 6 hours and I did not see it in time to confirm, so my ticket went to someone else, much to my regret. It’s expected that most people will remain “connected” at all times, checking e-mail frequently. However, I’m an old-fashioned type, with only a fixed home phone and a desk-top computer, so I missed out. Suu Kyi’s case was one that we had worked on for years in Amnesty.

On September 17, 2012, several Americans appeared as spokespersons and among the audience for a Cuban Interests Section presentation broadcast via live webcam (a tactic adopted from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana) rallying support for the Cuban Five’s innocence and attesting to the still inspiring nature of the Cuban revolution, lo these many decades later, despite continued American government hostility. The Cuban government seized American Alan Gross 3 years ago to use as a bargaining chip for the Five's release, but probably matters will remain stalemated until after the November election.

The Cuban Five, my readers may recall, were men convicted of spying in the US who had infiltrated Miami exile organizations and notified the Cuban government of the flight pattern of 2 Brothers to the Rescue planes, which were shot down by the Cuban air force, killing 4. One of the Cuban Five has been out on parole for a year, but not permitted by a judge to leave the US for 2 more years. Interesting that the Cuban Interests Section here in DC is using a webcam, just as the US Interests Section in Havana has been doing from time-to-time, but under much more restricted circumstances there, because Cuban dissidents wanting to talk by webcam from Havana may be intercepted on their way to the US Interests Section by Cuban State Security. Amnesty International has questioned the fairness of the Miami venue of the Five’s trial and has advocated that their wives be allowed to visit, but has not pronounced them innocent.

On September 21, participants at the NYC and DC offices of Amnesty Int’l, along with many other organizations, held a joint meeting via live webcam with Sanon, a Haitian representing FRAKKA, a citizens’ grassroots effort mobilizing around housing initiatives. Speaking in French with interpreters, Sanon traced the roots of Haiti’s current housing crisis from its troubled political past, through the earthquake of January 12, 2010 that killed 300,000 people, to today when 350,000 to 400,000 people remain without permanent shelter. He gave examples of police and landowners colluding to evict squatters without due process and NGOs and government functionaries, along with common criminals, preying on helpless families, wantonly destroying their shelters, arresting, and even killing them with impunity. (Some videos of these events were shown.) The Haitian legislature and president have apparently ignored the situation. The pretext for evicting families is often environmental protection. However, the situation is not completely hopeless and progress is possible. Giving up would only make matters worse. Homeless people are being trained to plead their cases. Pro-bono law offices in the U.S. are being called upon to help. Haitian groups are touring the U.S. to raise awareness and money. One Haitian organization is able to build a decent house for $11,000. Habitat for Humanity and Taiwan are also constructing houses in Haiti, building them to withstand tremors and other acts of nature, some being built right at the quake epicenter. “Under Tents” ( is an international campaign for housing rights in Haiti, so check out the website.

Plan for Charter City to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Its Initiator

By ELISABETH MALKIN in the September 30, 2012 New York Times

Apparently the charter city idea has hit up against the very problems it was trying to address—see article.

Urgent actions issued by Amnesty International regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas.

Honduras: Killing of human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera exposes dire need for action

Human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera died on Saturday evening after gunmen shot him five times outside a wedding ceremony in a southern suburb of the capital Tegucigalpa. He had reported receiving death threats linked to his work representing the victims of human rights abuses amid an ongoing land conflict in the Bajo Aguan region in the north of the country.

Read the press release here:

Urgent Action: Cuba – Human rights activists detained in Cuba

Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) have been detained in Havana and several other places in Cuba. Some remain in detention and the authorities have failed to provide reasons for their detention or information on their whereabouts.

To read more, take action and share the information, visit:

Maybe it’s not monumental on the scale of calamities, but we here in DC are lamenting the death of our new baby giant panda, something of a surprise when it was actually born, a rare event. Years ago, at the National Zoo, I saw the playful panda born here before he was shipped back to China when he turned five, as per the agreement with that country. This cub was female, even more of a loss, as she could have been bred when she came of age, since her mother is coming to the end of her reproductive life. Panda breeding in captivity is very difficult in any case, involving calculations of when ovulation occurs and artificial insemination at the precise moment, even then, with minimal chances of success. Not like rabbits! The mother panda apparently mourned her infant’s death, judging by her vocalized laments and she has been cradling a toy ever since as if it were the departed panda cub.

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