Saturday, August 31, 2013

Happy Holiday, Apologies, ML King Commemoration, Late Son’s Birthday, Honduras News, Egypt, Syria, Cuban Rafters, Panda Birth, Adoption Issues, Impeachment, Zapatistas

Happy Labor Day. Though not a Labor Day theme, I was intrigued by the decorated van parked across the street from my house, reminding me of decorated buses, some in Honduras and many in Haiti. The first time I tried, the bus didn't post, so we'll see on this second try. Looks like omitted photo will not post nor are there spaces between topics as a permanent feature. Will have to figure out what to do next time. Maybe this is to encourage shorter and more frequent posts? if anyone knows how to correct this, please advise here or at my e-mail address above.

Very sorry about run-on blog posting last time. It must have been a fluke that I certainly hope won’t be repeated. The failure to leave space between paragraphs and topics last time, even when I erased the whole thing and reposted it with double spaces between, may have been a one-time event. We shall soon see here. If extra space appears here now, it’s because of my exaggerated effort to separate topics. There is no one readily available that a blogger can call or write to at blogspot to find out about or fix a problem; that might take too much staff and cost money. I'm wondering this time whether at least indenting each new paragraph, if allowed, will help with readability. Will try it now.

Washington, DC, in the last several days, has been caught up in a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of MLKing’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Of course, as already mentioned, I attended the original 50 years ago with my then-husband. We had another reason for visiting the nation’s capital at the time, but had scheduled it so we could participate in the King march. Back then, I confess to not realizing that it would be such an historic event, though I do remember being very impressed at seeing so many people of all races, ages, and nationalities gathered together as far as the eye could see. The original was held on a bright sunny day, unlike the overcast sky and light rain of the anniversary event, with many, many more people and much less security. That is, 50 years ago, while there were lots of police and National Guard around the periphery of the crowd, in case we rioted, I guess, in contrast, this time, we all waited in a long line to be funneled through security gates and were wanded individually with metal detectors. Of course, back then, King was not that famous or well-known, while on the anniversary, we were hearing from the President live and two of his predecessors, Carter and Clinton. Although the air was humid and drizzly during the commemoration, it was fortunately not too hot. And this time, I could hear the main speeches much better, including Barack Obama’s, whereas King’s speech, though delivered with emotion and gestures, had been hard to hear from where we were standing 50 years ago. This time, bells chimed precisely at 3 pm, sending a thrill through the crowd, and, soon after, Obama began speaking and he spoke at length. Certainly, progress has been made over the last half century, though as Obama said, much still remains to be done to increase racial and economic equality and opportunity in the United States. Still, it was a memorable and hopeful day. A woman next to me fainted and was taken away in a wheelchair by people wearing red-cross insignias. I met several older folks who, like me, had been present 50 years earlier and we shared a special feeling of camaraderie. After the President finished speaking, there was a huge crush as everyone rushed for the exits.

September 4 is my late son Andrew’s birthday. He would have been 46. Of course, in my mind, he is always 27, the age at which he died.

For the first time recently, I had a translation of the medical records of a patient from Honduras, someone with an apparent history of kidney cancer—of course, I only have the written medical records to go on and a little data on the patient, like her birth date. These particular records would indicate that Hondurans who can afford private care get pretty sophisticated treatment, although, like those from other countries whose records I’ve translated, they apparently come to the US for the last word or a last ditch effort at finding a cure.

Here is statement from Afro-Honduran Garifuna people living on the north coast and depicted above marching for their land rights: We have occupied and claimed ancestral lands that had been taken by others, such as Vallecito Limón. We are also using international human rights law in order to guard our territories. We have a claim against the government in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Washington regarding Triunfo de la Cruz . We hope to have a decision in November or December. This will create an important precedent for all indigenous peoples, not just for the Garífuna. It’ll define the responsibility of the state to protect territories and rights of indigenous peoples. This will only be the [fourth] case ever brought that will help establish policies and mechanisms to protect the territories and resources of indigenous peoples, and all of humanity, of course. [The other three are] Sarayacu in Ecuador, Saramaca in Suriname, and Awas Tingni in Nicaragua.

Also in Honduras, the computer system for the newspaper La Gaceta was hacked and a message from “Anonymous” appeared: Recuerden gobiernos, recuerda Pepe Lobo, es el gobierno quien debe lealtad al pueblo y no al revés. La patria no se alquila, no se presta, no se vende; corruptos de Honduras, ya despertará el país, esperad lo. (Remember governments, remember [President] Pepe Lobo, it’s the government that owes loyalty to the people, not the reverse. The homeland cannot be rented out, not lent, not sold; corrupt citizens of Honduras, the country will wake up, be prepared.)

Egypt appears to be on the verge of or already in a civil war. The extent of the bloodshed is inexcusable—the army should not have used force to dislodge people camped out on the streets provided they were not attacking others, the police, or property. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, like many political factions who win elections in a previously autocratic nation, may have felt they were entitled to act like dictators because of the vote. Of course, in many other countries, winners take advantage of their position to further their reign and reward their cronies; even in the United States, winning candidates name their supporters to important positions and try to get themselves or their party members elected subsequently. Others, like the late Hugo Chavez and some of his Latin American allies, rig the system to be re-elected continually by changing laws, controlling media, and doling out favors. But even they have not gone as far as Egypt’s military, which seems to have used excess force and created martyrs and a severe political rift that will be hard to heal. Even Mubarak does not seem to have gone that far in such a short time. However, the US is keeping its options open on aid, perhaps to maintain some leverage and also to protect American arms manufacturers supplying Egypt, as well as Israel, which has a treaty with that country.

As for Syria, both inaction and action are risky. There are bad actors on both sides and war brings unintended consequences. The American public is war weary, but still an atrocity has been committed in violation of international law. Obama feels impelled to respond, but apparently doesn’t want to take the chance of being rebuffed by the Republican Congress using a vote as another effort to thwart him. He also has the example of the British Parliament preventing UK participation in any action. At the same time, there is the sorry example of GW Bush getting our nation into a protracted war under false pretenses. I’m glad I’m not the president having to decide in this case.

In an update on the Cuban rafters being held in immigration detention and mentioned last time, two are being considered for asylum in the US, one was being considered by a third country, and what happened to the asylum offer from Panama for 19 more is now unclear. If those two actually make it to the US, they've won the jackpot, and if another gets asylum elsewhere, he won't do so badly, but those who were returned to Cuba, 24 so far and 20 more pending, won't fare too well. It's really a matter of luck among rafters who survives, who gets to the US, and who is returned to Cuba, but even the limited success of this group of rafters will inspire others to try. However if they hadn't raised such a ruckus, they all would have been sent back by now. Gone are the days of Brothers-to-the-Rescue, a group of Cuban Americans who circled in small planes, picking up lost rafters. That effort ended after the Cuban military shot down two Brothers’ aircraft and after President Bill Clinton instructed the U. S. Coast Guard to send rafters back to Cuba. Otherwise, if the Brothers had been permitted to continue their rescues, South Florida would be even more inundated with Cubans than it is already.

The female giant panda at the National Zoo in DC has given birth to her 3rd cub. The first had to be sent back to China after 5 years. The second born last fall died. Panda cubs are very tiny and delicate at birth. A twin of this cub was still born. So we are all holding our breath for it this time. Gender is still uncertain.

Although I haven’t mentioned it much on this blog, I’m a board member of a local adoption agency, Holy Cross. In a recent conversation with the director, I learned that adoption has become increasingly difficult and expensive. Also, increasingly rare. Reproductive assistive technologies have increased, contraception is more reliable, and abortion is legal. Surrogacy is also in vogue. Foreign countries have also been tightening their rules or shutting out American adoptive parents (i.e. Russia, and India and China have new restrictions), the Hague Convention designed to regulate adoptions internationally has turned out to increase costs and slow the process with excessive paperwork, and the internet has allowed prospective adoptive parents to search on line to find birth mothers. More domestic adoptions being carried out privately rather than through agencies and money changes hands, though, strictly speaking, a birth parent cannot be paid for giving up a baby but she can have lots of expenses paid, such as rent, food, medical care, maybe even a car. Our agency’s director said that one of her best and least expensive contacts is with a lawyer in Florida who charges a flat $50,000, almost a bargain in today’s market. She also works with an organization in Georgia that specializes in African American babies often sought by black couples, but increasingly unavailable through agencies as well. Such a couple in DC, after getting a home study from the local public agency, was told that now DC is only placing children with relatives, so they will have had to look elsewhere. But after a child is actually in the new home, a home study is still required before an adoption can be finalized, which is where our agency comes in these days, after, not before, the fact of placement. Adoptive parents would really have to do something terrible or to reject the child for the adoption not to go through at that point. My director friend recently approved an adoption by a high profile African American single woman who expected to be adopting a biracial baby, but when the infant was actually born, he looked totally Caucasian—the white birth mother said she wasn’t sure of the father because of having had more than one partner, but had been guessing that the father was probably African American. Apparently, he was not the one after all. But the new adoptive mother is thrilled with her pale baby and turnabout is fair play for all the black and other non-white children adopted by Caucasian couples.

Two Republican congressmen and a senator say they want to impeach the President, though their reasons for doing so remain murky. Apparently, they just want him out of office, gone, disappeared, vanished, an idea that apparently plays well with their constituents during this recess campaign season. They are Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan who looks a little like Dick Cheney in his photos, and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Maybe others will jump on the bandwagon. Interestingly enough, Republicans who made such a big deal about Obama’s supposed Kenya birth and his consequent ineligibility for the presidency are being completely mum on the fact that Senator Ted Cruz was born in Canada, nor did they raise the birthright question for McCain, who was born in Panama.

This is not a current issue, but one that has some resonance in recent Mexican history, how the Zapatistas, led by horse-riding masked man Comandante Marcos AKA Delgado Zero (neither his real name), tried to co-op the indigenous people of the southern-most Chiapas region of Mexico to start a movement to overthrow the bourgeoisie and install a socialist government. He had read Marx and fought with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Patricia, a Mexican anthropology doctoral student staying with me until the end of the month, had promised to make a presentation on the Zapatistas to my local Amnesty International group, but was unexpectedly detained in New York City. So, I had to stand in for her as best I could. The Zapatistas’ involvement in Chiapas brought in the Mexican army and while local people did not welcome the army, during the ensuing conflict, they found their own voices and did not need the Zapatistas to represent them anymore. Marcos retreated to a secret place and continues his efforts at revolution in writing. European supporters mostly left after the recession. Some communities still consider themselves Zapatistas, but they do so under local leaders.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Honduran November Elections, Peace Corps Budget, Do-Nothingest Congress, Anti-gay Violence in Jamaica, Robert Mugabe, Cuban Rafters in Bahamas, Oswaldo Payá’s Spanish Driver on Fatal “Accident,” Hamilton Quilt, American Health Care

Again, last time, as the time before, the photo I wanted from my translators’ party failed to post. I guess just doesn’t like that particular photo. Its size is something over 2 mg. but so are others that have posted successfully. OK, so I give up, cannot post it for whatever reason. If anyone can hazard a guess regarding the problem, please let me know via my e-mail address shown at the beginning of this blog. It’s quite puzzling as looks like a normal digital photo and has been e-mailed elsewhere, also posted on Facebook.

I tried making this post before, but it all ran together, no space between paragraphs or topics, and could not be corrected, so I tried to erase it all and decided to start over. This time, I'll even leave extra space. Perhaps too much. We'll see what happens. Even with leaving double space between topics, I see it still is running them together, so Blospot must be having a bad day. Sorry, folks!

In Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo is welcoming foreign election observers for the elections scheduled for November 24.

Not surprisingly, the House version of the Peace Corps budget contains 20% less funding than the Senate version, some $30 million less, which for the Peace Corps is a lot.

So far, the 113th Congress is the most unproductive in history. After nearly eight months, just 22 bills have passed and been sent to the President—worse than the famous “Do-Nothing Congress.” Even though the House of Representatives has worked for just 87 days this year, Speaker John Boehner just called for a five-week recess and left town to go golfing with Donald Trump.

An issue of concern to me as volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty International USA is the rampant anti-gay violence in Jamaica, where it has been reported that a 16-year-old youth, Dwayne Jones, was murdered apparently because he went to a party dressed as a woman (“In Jamaica, Transgender Teen Murdered by Mob, “ AP, August 11, 2013). This is just speculation on my part, but perhaps anti-gay violence now flares especially fiercely in countries where mores on homosexuality, influenced by changes in the US and Western Europe, are just starting to change there too—is Jamaica one these countries? This violence may be an expression of resistance to that impending change and a reaction in a cultural climate where gay and cross-dressing youths are now daring to more openly express what they had kept strictly hidden before.

Robert Mugabe, age 89, has again declared himself the winner of Zimbabwe’s presidential election. The guy is tenacious, I’ll grant him that, and I don’t disparage him simply because of his age as I’m no spring chicken myself. But after decades, how about giving someone else a chance, since, quite obviously, his rule has not been good for Zimbabwe?

In the Bahamas, 19 boat Cuban people held in immigration detention there, after alleging abuse and some sewing their mouths shut in protest, and after Cubans in Miami rose up to support them and threatening to boycott the Bahamas as a tourist destination, have been offered asylum in Panama, resolving the stand-off, although some other Cuban migrants remain, awaiting offers from other countries. Obviously, their intended destination was the United States, which did not step forward. However, if some make it through Mexico, they may yet arrive in this country.

Below is the headline of an article appearing in the Spanish-language version of The Huffington Post. It refers to an article saying that the driver of the car in which Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Payá was killed was deliberately rammed from behind. The Spanish driver, Angel Carromero, in an interview with the newspaper El Mundo accuses Cuban State Security of murdering Paya. This is what Paya’s daughter Rosa Maria told us when she met with us at the DC office of Amnesty International. New UN Ambassador Samantha Power brought up the issue in a recent meeting with the Cuban foreign minister.

Ángel Carromero, entrevista en 'El Mundo': 'A Oswaldo Payá lo asesinaron' EL HUFFINGTON POST | August 4, 2013

On a visit to a friend in western Virginia, in the Blacksburg area where my parents used to live, I slept under a lovely, multicolored patchwork quilt, completely intact, every careful stitch visible. My friend said she is a descendent of Alexander Hamilton and has some quilts that were part of his estate. Imagine using a quilt lovingly hand-sewn by a woman living centuries ago. Thanks, lady, whoever and wherever you are.

Playing amateur psychologist here after seeing a woman on a bus treat her 2-year-old son with unnecessary roughness, yelling at him and yanking him to sit down beside her, “You get over here right now, or I’ll smack you, do you hear?” The child obeyed, then leaned up against the mother, hugging her, as if to reassure himself that she cared. I’ve seen children who have been scolded then seek love and reassurance from seemingly rejecting or hurtful mothers and wonder if a similar odd dynamic is in play sometimes with abused women who return to their abusers—wanting affection, but looking for it from someone close who blows hot and cold?

I just finished reading a provocative book, Catastrophic Care, How American Medicine Killed my Father—and How We Can Fix It, by David Goldhill. I won’t give you the whole story—read the book—rather just some highlights. The author’s elderly father entered the hospital with pneumonia, meanwhile acquired several hospital-borne infections, and died, one of 100,000 patients who die each year from hospital-acquired infections. The deceased’s widow received an astronomical hospital bill, which she ignored and no attempt was ever made to collect on it. Infections are not the only harm that emanates from the health care system itself, since unnecessary procedures and surgeries also inflict harm. And there has been a push by drug companies and other providers to “medicalize” conditions such as “erectile dysfunction,” obesity, and other conditions that used to be accepted as lifestyle choices, facts-of-life, or facts-of-aging, thereby to get them covered under the “heath insurance” umbrella. Advertising urges consumers to “ask your doctor” about a certain drug, apparatus, or procedure, thereby creating demand. No wonder “health care” is consuming an ever-increasing share of individual and public budgets, crowding out other social benefits that may also impact on health and well-being.

Since a fraction of patients use 70% of health care resources and since most people’s largest expenditures are made in the last months of life, in an often futile attempt to prolong their life, these are areas where remedies should be sought. But for the large bulk of worried well who have a steady income, author Goldhill suggests putting savings aside for a rainy day of health expenditures, which patients would then finance on their own and would shop around for the best products and prices, just as they do with everything else. Then health “insurance” could be saved for truly catastrophic events.

Much interest-group and political jockeying and compromises have led to some of the complications and inefficiencies of “Obamacare,” which the author details

It won’t surprise most readers to learn that “non-profit” hospitals do make a profit, that American health care professionals have incomes far in excess of what is paid in other developed countries, and that employers factor in health care benefits when calculating what pay to offer an employee. Health benefits are not really “free” to employees; they are factored in as part of their position’s cost to the employer. But the key argument of the book is that so-called health insurance is not really insurance in the usual sense of covering rare, catastrophic, and unpredictable losses, rather it is a payment system whose workings are almost impossible for an individual patient to figure out. Everyone is going to need health care sometime in their life and everyone is going need end-of-life care, so it is not insurance against an unexpected catastrophic event, like a house fire. Rather, so-called health insurance is a complicated system of paying for health services that everyone is going to use and that shields the recipient from direct payment or even knowing what his or her own costs of care are. The author suggests a number of reforms, some as hard to understand as the current system, but he does believe that routine care should be paid out-of-pocket, with insurance reserved for catastrophes and emergencies, which would make for more informed and careful consumers. Some consumers are already seeking treatment and surgery abroad, where even without “insurance,” their costs are often lower and outcomes as good or better than in the United States.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sebastian Can Walk, Honduras Happenings, Cuban AIDS Activist, Iktar Dinner, Pope Francis, PC Response, March-on-Washington Anniversary

Making another attempt with one of the photos I kept trying to unsuccessfully to post last time from the party for translators and interpreters. If it doesn’t post again this time, I give up.

Another photo is of a Honduran child, Sebastian, for whom I had been trying unsuccessfully to get a leg prosthesis. He finally got one and is walking, as shown here above. Born with no birth defects, his leg was amputated after a Honduran doctor had made a mistake, which he never acknowledged and for which he suffered no consequences and never even tried to help the child or make amends in any fashion.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo declared a state of emergency after a dengue outbreak which affected 12,000, with 16 deaths. The rainy season—May-November—is when dengue and malaria mosquitoes are most prolific.

Xiomara Castro, Honduran presidential candidate and deposed President Manuel Zelaya’s wife, has reportedly adopted many of his mannerisms and his speaking style and even wears his signature broad-brimmed rancher’s hat.

On July 31, 2013, Amnesty International’s Washington office hosted a Cuban visitor, LGBT and AIDS rights activist Ignacio Estrada. Estrada was accompanied by Sandy Acosta Cox, representing a Miami-based organization, International Relief & Development. Estrada revealed that both he and his transgender wife, Wendy Iriepa, are HIV-positive and taking free anti-retrovirals produced in Cuba. (Wendy was ill and unable to attend the meeting.) Gay marriage is not permitted in Cuba but, Ignacio said, the two were allowed to marry after Wendy became one of 20 individuals allowed sex change surgery promoted by Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela, after which no more surgeries took place. Wendy, who once worked for Mariela, was denied female hormones after becoming an independent LGBT and AIDS advocate, but still receives anti-retrovirals. However, only 5,000 of 19,000 known AIDS patients actually receive anti-retrovirals, Ignacio said, since the illness has to be fairly advanced before medications are authorized. This policy, he alleged, has led to increased spread of infection and more premature deaths. Ignacio has documented over 400 deaths of AIDS patients, most of them attributable to the disease. At least 16 children have tested positive, presumably born to infected mothers. About 7% of infections, according to his data, occur among those engaged in prostitution, a practice whose existence the government denies, instead calling it “transactional sex.” One person reportedly being denied meds is Afro-Cuban AIDS activist Madelayne Lázaro Carballo.

Mariela Castro, Ignacio contended, has deliberately divided the gay community into loyalist and disloyalist camps. She has created a clinic for foreigners paying for AIDS treatment in hard currency and has created a publicity platform for herself allowing her to travel and speak abroad. Nonetheless, I argued, Cuba’s AIDS rate is extremely low compared to other Latin American countries or even the U.S. Cuba’s total is not much more than that for Washington, DC. Of course, one reason DC has such a high rate is that many of those with AIDS are being medicated and have survived as a consequence, hence increase the statistics. Ignacio insisted that the true rate is higher than the Cuban government acknowledges and that the number of known cases is growing yearly, which is cause for concern.

Ignacio shared his personal story, that in 1986, at age 15, he was arrested and spent three years in prison with adult inmates. His offense was possession of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, leading to his case being highlighted by Amnesty International. Later, he became infected with AIDS and was obligated to live in one of Cuba's 14 AIDS sanitariums. He corroborated what I had heard before, that many AIDS patients had deliberately infected themselves to live better inside the sanitariums than outside. Now, because the Cuban government no longer has the resources to support the sanitariums, all but three showcase facilities have closed. One of the latter was shown to former President Jimmy Carter when he visited recently. Instead, Ignacio reported, there are six prisons where people with AIDS typically are sent. Since HIV-positive people are considered dangerous and “dangerousness” is grounds for arrest, this is the basis for many such arrests, he alleged. Above is my photo of Ignacio. I told him maybe someday we'll have Peace Corps in Cuba, though I don't believe he’d ever heard of it--in fact, China, although a communist country, does allow PC volunteers there. HIV-AIDS education was big part of my duties as a health volunteer in Honduras (2000-2003).

Does the Egyptian constitution have any provision for a recall referendum? It seems like that would have been the proper way to remove Morsi from office rather than having the army step in.

Patricia, my only current visitor (the house seems empty!), a graduate student in anthropology from Mexico who is leaving already at the end of August, and I attended an Iktar (Ramadan) dinner at the Amnesty International Washington, DC, office near my home. The featured speaker was Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of an organization called SAALT, Strengthening South Asian Communities in America, based in a Washington suburb. She is a Muslim born in India who came to the US as a child. SAALT has only 6 fulltime staff and has been increasingly busy since 9/11, fielding such crises as the flap over the “twin Towers” mosque, the attack on a Sikh congregation in Wisconsin by someone mistaking them for Muslims (not that shooting Muslim worshippers would have been justified anyway), and the Boston bombings. Muslims not only need to organize politically, but need outside allies, she said. Her organization is also trying to educate American Muslims regarding women’s rights and domestic violence, as well as LGBT rights. She pointed out something I have long observed and lamented, that the Obama Administration has deported fare more people than any previous administrations.

A Muslim Amnesty member at the Iktar dinner, reading a passage aloud from the Koran (in Arabic) from her cell phone, was interrupted when a male voice in Arabic came from her phone, calling out a chant to inform us that the sun had set and it was time to eat, a meal that started with the traditional fast-breaking date. As I have mentioned before, I once got through 2 days of Ramadan fasting (not even water allowed), but can’t imagine lasting 40. A friend who was in the Peace Corps in Morocco recalled that many people pretty much reversed day and night during Ramadan, staying up all night and eating, then sleeping during the day.

Pope Francis, in his remarks about gay priests, seemed to be saying that a priest’s sexual orientation, whether gay or straight, really doesn’t matter, since all are expected to be celibate. He failed to address the question of gay non-priests. Must they remain celibate while straight people are allowed to marry?

Finally, I was recently tempted to apply for a Peace Corps Response (short-term) position in Guatemala involving nutrition and health, scheduled to last for 9 months and start September 1. I’ve thought of joining PC Response when I turn 80 after possibly retiring from interpreting, assuming I still have life and strength by then, but would need someone reliable to manage my house and pay the bills in my absence and would require more lead time to prepare to leave than Peace Corps typically offers. It’s a dream, like my original dream of joining the Peace Corps to begin with, so, like that, I have to make happen somehow if I am serious.

Now, at the approach of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, I’m remembering being present at the speech with my late former husband among a crowd of thousands, not realizing at the time that it would come to be considered such a historic event.