Friday, April 5, 2013

Get-on-the-Bus, Human Rights, Honduras, Peace Corps, Cuba, Gay Marriage & Kids, Dementia, Jimmy Carter, Social Security, White Men & Guns

Next time, I promise to post photos and a report on my Honduras trip. Just how to handle the photos is a challenge, as not every photo requires a caption, but some still do. Right now, my priority is planning for another Amnesty International event taking place on Friday, April 12, called “Get-on-the-Bus” involving a march to and demonstrations at various embassies. We don’t actually get on a bus, but walk between the embassies. Usually, no one comes out while we are there, though if they did, we would ask them about the case or issue that is the focus of our demonstration. A case for the Dominican Republic Embassy is that of Juan Almonte, who disappeared on September 28, 2009 after being abducted by four armed men, presumably from the police. I have been in touch with his wife (widow?), who now lives in New York City, but she is unable to join us.

On March 22, Ecuador, backed by Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, tried unsuccessfully to curb both the power and finances of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Honduras, according to a recent report, has 70,000 private security guards, far outnumbering the army and police combined.

Just checked in on the weather in Honduras, now that we are experiencing an unusually cold spell in the eastern United States due, apparently, to a blocking air mass. (My Kenyan visitors cannot believe how chilly DC weather is.) Well, the cold spell certainly hasn’t reached Honduras, where predicted high temperatures all week will exceed 100 F in Choluteca, rising as high as 106 F. but getting a little below 80 F at night. Whew! I remember those steamy April days and nights so well. In Tegucigalpa, it also quite warm, in the 90s, getting down to the high 60s at night, which should provide some relief. Even in La Esperanza, it is in the 80s, down to the 50s at night. April is usually the hottest month because it is still the dry season with marginally longer days. May’s rains will cool things down somewhat, but increase humidity in the south. The rainy season, with a small “Indian summer” in August, will last until November. The only time the weather is bearable in the south is in December, dry with slightly shorter days, when the high temperature may only reach into the 80s. That’s why I left there after 2+ years.

At a Peace Corps “town hall” meeting for former and future volunteers, staff, and interested parties, acting director Carrie Hessler-Radelet confirmed that the number of volunteers recruited annually will probably have to be cut by 200 to 300 because of the sequester and budget constraints. Any return of the Peace Corps to Honduras in the near term looks unlikely, even in a reduced form, because of budget constraints.

One of my daughters and her husband are indirectly on the federal payroll and facing a loss of income this year and possibly beyond because of the federal budget sequester.

While the LA Times recommended in an editorial (March 14, 2013), as indicated previously, that Cuba be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Mauricio Claver-Carone, an attorney who has been on the law faculty of George Washington and Catholic Universities, argues that Cuba still gives safe haven to representatives of the Colombian FARC and Spanish ETA separatists, as well as a number of individuals probably involved in terrorist activities, hence should not be removed from the list.

The U.S. may have trouble passing gun control domestically, but voted “yes” in the UN on the overwhelmingly-supported treaty on small arms trade worldwide. The NRA has reportedly opposed this treaty.

With all the controversy and legal challenges regarding gay marriage and arguments that gay married partners should have the same tax, estate, and survivors’ rights that straight couples enjoy, I feel compelled to speak out as an involuntarily single person myself-- but still as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother--someone who has invested and is still investing in the next generation but is economically disadvantaged relative to married or widowed persons. I don’t get the same exemption from capital gains if I sell my house nor do my heirs get the same estate tax benefits; nor am I eligible for pension benefits from my former spouse of 24 years. If the advantages invested in married couples are ultimately because they produce and raise children—the next generation—why not provide such benefits to anyone with children, whether through birth, adoption, surrogacy, or foster care? Even when those children grow up, those of us who have raised them have invested our time, energy, and resources in the succeeding generations and usually are still investing in grandchildren and beyond during our lifetime. I really don’t see why the federal government should favor couples without children, whether gay or straight, over someone like me who actually has raised children and is helping out with grandchildren and even with a great-grandchild, all of whom are the next generations. I feel that we single parents are being left out of this whole debate. We are the true second-class citizens, just struggling economically to survive without receiving any of the benefits that gay and straight couples are arguing about.

What is society’s interest in favoring marriage in terms of benefits and taxes if children are not involved? I really don’t care whether gay people get married, but if they become eligible for all the financial benefits of marriage, which is what is being argued about in the Supreme Court, then that increases my taxes as a non-married person—as is also the case with opposite sex marriages, including those without children.

There may be other benefits to society from supporting legal marriage other than investing in children and future generations, even though children are usually the main justification discussed. One benefit may be that marriage promotes better health, mental and physical, among the partnered; another may be that married partners give each other personal care as they age. However, is it fair, let’s say, when a man leaves his wife and children for another woman (or another man) that the tax and pension benefits (which everyone contributes to, regardless of marital status) accrue to his second partner, whether or not they have children, while the former wife goes without?

Of course, politics is a constant competition for the distribution of money, services, and privileges among a designated body of people. Needs and desires are potentially infinite and not all can be met in any system. Neither government nor the private sector can satisfy all demands and sometimes, tough luck, people simply have to do without. That’s a problem underlying the current budget debate, because seemingly worthy items keep being added to public responsibilities and, sooner or later, they have to stop. However desirable certain services or benefits may be, not all can be provided. I would not be opposed to doing away with special tax, inheritance, and pension provisions for anyone married or not, who does not have minor children living with them presently, which would exclude me right now. If that were the actual policy, much of the current debate about gay marriage would be moot.

I’m planning to visit someone in an Alzheimer’s care facility, a long-time friend who may or may not remember my visit or even recognize me. Does such a visit, not easy for me, actually benefit her? Is she enjoying her life, suffering from confusion, or is her mind just a passive jumble of ever-changing images and inputs? Meanwhile, her children have quietly grumbled that she is spending their inheritance without really connecting with them. It’s a situation that more and more families are confronting. Are people living too long?

While, to my knowledge, former President Jimmy Carter has not weighed-in on gay marriage, he has severed his tied with the Southern Baptists because he disagrees with the leaders of the denomination on the subordination of women.

Obviously, it’s harder to remove a benefit already being provided than to deny a new one, so, wherever possible, we should consider freezing government and private pension programs at current levels, but not keep adding to them. (Lobbyists would then be out of business.) Although I am a social security recipient myself, I do not disagree with President Obama’s proposal to reduce future cost-of-living increases. We’re living much longer which is straining the system and I also would not object to raising the age limit to 70 for regular benefits and I certainly believe the earned income ceiling for contributions should be raised.

There was a provocative opinion piece in the Washington Post (3-29-2013) by a pair of researchers and consultants on social issues entitled “White men have much to discuss about mass shootings” that points out that the gun lobby is led by white men, both in Congress and in the NRA, and that, by and large, we are not talking about mental health, violent video games, and other issues related to mass violence committed by women, Hispanics, or African Americans, because nearly all recent incidents have been committed by white men, a social group at the top of the social and economic hierarchy not accustomed to being challenged in any way.

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