Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Daisies, GAO Cultural Day, Capitol Hill Landmark Burns, Haiti Human Rights Lawyer, Honduras Gang Truce, Cuban Refugees in Bahamas, Visa Lottery End?, FMG, Bob Dole, Turkey Protests, Full Employment?, Abortion Vs. Infanticide, Uganda Gay Rights Advocate, Breast Cancer Translation

Photos do not appear in order with the text, but you can figure them out.

Summer Daisies, GAO Cultural Day, Capitol Hill Landmark Burns, Haiti Human Rights Lawyer, Honduras Gang Truce, Cuban Refugees in Bahamas, Visa Lottery End?, FMG, Bob Dole, Turkey Protests, Full Employment?, Abortion Vs. Infanticide, Uganda Gay Rights Advocate, Breast Cancer Translation

Excuse the long interval between postings. Rest assured that I have not been simply lounging around lazily at home eating bon bons and watching TV--I don;t even have a television set. Will shortly post separately a report of a meeting here in Washington, DC, with Cuban democracy advocates Elizardo Sánchez and Guillermo Fariñas, the latter a man who has undergone countless hunger strikes that brought him to the brink of death.

Daisies are typical summer flowers in the DC area, so here's a photo.

My Kenyan visitors don’t have much longer. I attended a cultural day at GAO, where only one of my Kenyan folks was on duty.

Sadly, Frager’s Hardware, on Capitol Hill since long before I moved to the neighborhood in 1969, burned down after a fire started in the paint section. Investigation speculates it may have been ignited by a burning cigarettes butt. I had an account there and often walked over to get needed items. I certainly hope it rebuilds, but with more fire safety this time. It was a 90-year-old wooden structure, funky and cramped, but with character and charm and knowledgeable staff. Even if rebuilt, the old Frager’s will be missed. A number of neighbors my age still worked there part-time and won’t be able to get another such friendly, convenient job. The next day, the ashes were still smoldering. When I went by after police barricades were gone, the venerable store was all boarded up, as per photo.

Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer, has been nominated for the Martin Ennals award, named for Amnesty International’s secretary general until 1980. At a reception held for him on June 6 at the at the AI USA Washington office, Mr. Joseph indicated that the nomination has afforded him increased support, protection, and credibility. Earlier that day, he had made the rounds of congressional and government offices and had planned other visits to officials and NGOs the following day. He said he had been born into a poor family and, despite many obstacles, became a lawyer now working on behalf of poor people. He first worked for a Catholic agency and is now with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. He appeared to be a supporter of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (I was an election observer in 1990 when he was first elected). In conversation with me, Joseph expressed optimism that Duvalier will be convicted, even though, so far, he has avoided coming to court, claiming illness. (I don’t know if that prediction is wishful thinking or based on reality—many former dictators, such as Pinochet and now Rios Montt, have managed to evade prison sentences.) He did point out that some military figures associated with Duvalier have been sanctioned.

The two biggest Honduran gangs, 18th Street and Salvatrucha, have declared a truce, following El Salvador’s example. They have vowed not to kill each other during the truce period, which, I hope, will last a long time— at least, until their grievances against each other cool down. Their truce has been aided by the intervention of a bishop in San Pedro Sula, Romulo Emiliani. A delegate from the OAS and a Honduran government representative have also been involved in the negotiations. Gang leaders have vowed to commit “zero crimes” during the truce period.

A record number of Hondurans have been deported from the US in 2013, 15,000 so far, a 12% increase over 2012.

The Bahamas often detains Cuban rafters en route to Florida, those who wash up inadvertently on its shores. Currently, a group of Cuban detainees is alleging mistreatment and have apparently sewn their mouths shut in video and photos smuggled out. Bahamian officials have long been accused of mistreating detained migrants, but it has been hard to sort out truth from fiction in this current incident. I have someone in Bahamas trying to help me figure it out in my role as volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean for Amnesty International (AI) USA.

A member of the Cuban Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), Sonia Garro, and her husband have been incarcerated without trial since March 2012. They have a minor daughter who says that her mother has been injured and has not received proper medical attention. Garro was reportedly placed incommunicado in a punishment cell. At the time of their arrest, Garro’s husband had thrown a tile from a rooftop that struck a military man below, not injuring him seriously. However, that would be considered an act of violence, putting into question whether the couple could be considered prisoners of conscience by AI, because, in our definition, individuals cannot have advocated or been involved in violence/

In early June 2013, among my many Spanish interpretation clients was a man from Cuba facing serious medical problems alone because his children back in Cuba, one a physician, the other working in tourism, were not permitted to leave. Instead, a nephew who had sought asylum in Canada was coming to be by his side. This man, now in his 60s, said he had been a political prisoner for 10 years in Cuba, rattling off the names of several notorious prisons where he had been held. He was a native of Holguin, the birthplace of my late Cuban foster son, also of the Castro brothers. He was among those prisoners forced onto boats during Mariel in 1980 and dared not return to see his children and elderly mother for fear of being put back into prison. He said he would never want to relive that horror, trembling as he told me.

Apparently, the immigration reform bill coming out of the Senate, which may or may not see the light of day in the recalcitrant House, ends the visa lottery system, whereby some immigrants from abroad are chosen by lottery. I wonder if it also ends the visa lottery in Cuba, where most of the 20,000 visas issued yearly come by lottery? Indeed, I know several Cuban visa lottery winners, including one whom I helped come here when he was at first denied because he had not finished high school, one of the requirements. He is now a successful carpenter living in Miami. In the 1980s, I also had three foreign visitors living with our family, all registered for the lottery, from Argentina, Japan, and Tunisia respectively. Amazingly, that year, all three won! What are the odds of that happening? Each had to return to his home country and the US embassy there to claim his visa. After that, foreigners clamored to live at my house and sign up for the lottery, but none subsequently won. It seems a shame to ditch the lottery, that big game of chance that allows people who don’t have the connections and money to jump through all the ordinary hoops to have a chance, although I suppose it is a headache to administer and the chances of winning are miniscule.

Unfortunately, female “circumcision” (more properly FGM) is still being practiced on children too young to know that they should object. This in below from Al Arabiya:

Suhair al-Bata’a, a 13-year-old Egyptian girl, has died undergoing circumcision at a village in the Daqahliya governorate northeast of Cairo, Egyptian media reported on Sunday. “We left our daughter with the doctor and the nurse. 15 minutes later, the nurse took my daughter out of the operation room to a nearby room, along with three other girls whom the doctor was circumcising,” Mohammed Ibrahim, a farmer, told Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm. “I waited half an hour, hoping that my daughter would wake up, but, unfortunately, unlike the rest of the girls, she did not,” he said. The doctor who circumcised Suhair had previously circumcised her elder sister two years ago.

When I was in South Sudan in 2006, another place where female circumcision is practiced, I encountered a girl who had to have emergency surgery to be able to urinate after such a procedure and women were also experiencing childbirth problems due to the practice. It's not something advocated in the Koran or any other religious document that I am aware of.

Bob Dole is right, in my opinion, in his warnings to the Republican Party. To be Republican is not necessarily to say “no” to every conceivable government initiative—or else why have a government and elected representatives at all? Seems like Michelle Bachman was listening, as she left before she lost a race. Four terms in Congress was not too bad, considering how misinformed and far-out she was.

Many Americans were surprised by the extent of anti-government demonstrations in Turkey, a key ally considered a model democracy in an otherwise authoritarian neighborhood. As my readers know, I’ve been a volunteer Amnesty International (AI) activist since 1981 and, since my return from Honduras, coordinator for the Caribbean for AIUSA. My counterpart volunteer for Turkey came to the last meeting of our local Amnesty group (which I helped found in 1981) to give an update on happenings in that country, a place where he (an American) has lived in years past. The demonstrations began as small, localized peaceful protests against plans regarding a shopping mall and other developments. It grew into something like a cross between Occupy movements and Arab Spring rallies. Tear gas, injuries by police and at least one death, and arrests escalated the grievances. Soon, social media spread the unrest to other cities and increased their scope. It has been called a leaderless protect, something possible in the internet age (no wonder that a country like Cuba restricts the internet). At least 1,000 people were arrested. People were protesting hypocrisy, dishonesty, and lack of transparency rather than necessarily seeking to drive the prime minister from power.

My Turkey specialist counterpart described Prime Minister Erdogan as charismatic, politically savvy, friendly to the US, and economically successful, someone fairly elected, but who has become more dictatorial and more Islamic over time. He has accused foreigners of fomenting unrest. During trip he made out of the country, the Turkish president stepped in and took a softer line, saying that people had a right to peacefully demonstrate—even directing police to hand out roses to demonstrators. Amnesty has protested excessive use of force, muzzling of the press and the incarceration of journalists, and the need for an impartial investigation to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

Is full employment possible in the modern world? The answer is “no,” according to Allan Sheahen.

Nobody states the obvious truth: that the marketplace has changed and there will never again be enough jobs for everyone who wants one -- no matter who is in the White House or in Congress. Fifty years ago, economists predicted that automation and technology would displace thousands of workers a year. Now we even have robots doing human work.

Job losses will only get worse as the 21st century progresses. Global capital will continue to move jobs to places on the planet that have the lowest labor costs. Technology will continue to improve, eliminating countless jobs. There is no evidence to back up the claim that we can create jobs for everyone who wants one. To rely on jobs and economic growth does not work. We have to get rid of the myth that "welfare-to-work" will solve the problems of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.

So, what’s his answer? A guaranteed basic income, which would put a floor under everyone. He says such experiments have been successful in reducing poverty and malnutrition in Namibia, Brazil, Canada, and Alaska without reducing work incentives, as people able to work and to find work still perform paid work.

Allan Sheahen is the author of Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. He is a board member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) Network.


In many developed countries, first-trimester abortions are not illegal, but newborn infanticide definitely is forbidden, though usually not punished as harshly as the killing of an older child or adult. In law, just when does protected human life begin? Two recent cases have blurred that line. One was that of a Philadelphia physician who performed late-term abortions being convicted of murder for killing babies born alive. Not many “pro-choice” spokespersons came to his defense. The other was a Salvadoran woman with medical problems pregnant with a fetus said to be non-viable. Instead of allowing her an abortion, illegal under Salvadoran law, she was given a C-section and the pre-term fetus was delivered alive at 27 weeks, reportedly dying after several hours. It was said to be missing a brain. However, if the definition of personhood is the ability to survive outside the mother’s body, then what is the cut-off? After the second or third trimester? And after that that, would the unborn be considered a person worthy of protection? If so, perhaps there should be an outer limit of gestation when an abortion would no longer be permitted. Despite my more liberal tendencies in other areas, I’ve never been an “abortion-rights” advocate, yet would not go so far as to ban the morning-after pill, criminalize first-trimester abortions, or define a fertilized, non-implanted human egg (thousands being kept in suspended animation on ice) as a human being. But at what point does it become a person and deserving of legal protection? If opinion polls on this issue are correct, probably most Americans are similar to me, wanting some restrictions as the unborn develops. Despite the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, there may be room for further definition, which, if luck would have it, would be generally acceptable to both abortion opponents and supporters and the argument would be over. Am I just dreaming on that?

I attended a recent even featuring an AIDS and LGBT activist working in Uganda, an American Episcopal clergyman who identifies as gay himself, Albert Ogle, whose home church is in San Diego. He is trying to obtain support for his new St. Paul’s Foundation,

I am totally bummed out on breast cancer after just finishing translating a 28-page (very tiny type) sheaf of medical documents going back years for a woman from Latin America, coming here after a recent bilateral radical mastectomy and lymph node removal. These papers include some ghastly color photographs and cell slides, the worst being photos of her severed breasts with tumors attached! I don't know why she is in this country now--maybe to make sure that the cancer didn't get beyond those sites. Whew! I really much prefer interpretation with live persons to staring at medical documents, especially with photos that still linger when I shut my eyes at night.