Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Japanese Amnesty Visitor, Espaillat Disappointment, Honduran 1st Lady Visits Refugees, South Sudan, Haiti, Inter-country & Agency Adoption Slowdown, Spelling “Corrections,” Garcia Marquez Successor?, Proofing While Reading, Cuba Book Sold in Euros, Witness for Peace in Cuba, Cuban POCS, Google Execs Visit Cuba, School Lunches, More on the Super-Rich, Happy July 4!

A visitor from the board of Amnesty International in Japan met with our local group, as per the above photo, reporting that AI membership in that country is shrinking and consists mostly of older members who write letters, but don’t conduct rallies or marches or engage with public officials. There are only 7,000 members nationwide in a country 1/3 the population of the United States. Most citizens support the death penalty, carried out by hanging, with a death-row inmate only informed the day of his execution. Death-row inmates don’t know when prison officials make their rounds if it will be their turn that day. An innocent man on death row for 47 years was recently exonerated, the longest-serving exonerated capital punishment inmate on record. Many Japanese apparently regard Amnesty as a western import, making them wary, not only because AI opposes the death penalty, but because of its support of the cause of aging Korean “comfort women” gang raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
            My Espaillat family friends in the DR are pretty disappointed that their cousin, Adriano Espaillat, again barely lost to veteran Congressman Charlie Rangel, age 84, who got endorsements from the Clintons and many fellow congress members.
The first lady of Honduras, Ana Garcia de Hernandez, toured South Texas immigration shelters to learn more about the plight of thousands of Hondurans, including children, who entered the United States illegally.
It’s troubling that not only is the in-fighting in South Sudan continuing, but is now involving child soldiers, some no doubt forced into fighting, but others probably eager to join with adult men in carrying and shooting guns. 
In Haiti, a country I have visited several times, including as an election observer in 1990, President Martelly seems to dragging his feet on calling for elections and former presidents Duvalier and Aristide are apparently again getting into the political fray.
Meanwhile, there has been an abrupt slowdown in foreign adoptions because many countries are not willing to let their children leave, either because of national pride, failing birthrates, and political or ideological disputes with the US (i.e. Russia). To the extent that such adoptions are still allowed, the fees have become very high, unless a child has a disability. In the US, licensed agencies, such as the local one on whose board I serve, Holy Cross, are also seeing a drop in domestic adoptions and, apparently, the same is true of other agencies, both public and private. Instead, people who can afford it are turning to high-tech fertility treatments and even surrogacy, or to high-priced lawyers who offer expectant mothers everything short of actual payment for relinquishing a baby for adoption. While outright baby buying is prohibited, expectant mothers can get rent, food, medical care, a car, and other benefits, for which adoptive parents pay indirectly through the lawyer. So adoption has become the purview of people with financial means, except for older and disabled youngsters, who are still left with traditional agencies.
I must express annoyance at how Yahoo, Facebook, and even Microsoft Word automatically “correct” my spelling of similar Spanish words into the English version, requiring me to go back to correct those “corrections.” While typing merrily along, I must be super-vigilant, or else posible becomes possible, compromiso becomes compromise, autoriza becomes authorize, Julio becomes July, and poco ends up as pocus. Thanks, but “no gracias” for these misguided efforts!
Some have compared South America’s newest literary star, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The central narrative of his novel, The Sound of Things Falling, is that PC ag volunteers were the originators of Colombia’ drug trade with the U. S. Among other events depicted, a PC staff member is murdered, presumably by drug forces. This story line has now been amplified by reviewers, via insatiable social media, to apply to Peace Corps as an institution, judging by readers’ comments. Of course, the book is fiction but do readers realize that? No PC staff member in Colombia was ever murdered and, from 1981 until recently, there weren’t any PC volunteers in Colombia.
A former PC volunteer reviewer of this book notes: “While it is fact that there were volunteers working in agricultural projects in rural Colombia, it is a mythical transformation of their presence to believe that the indigenous people they worked with were in a suspended state of animation, breathlessly awaiting since pre-Inca times the arrival of complete foreigners to awaken them to a new knowledge of how to convert coca leaf from its centuries old use in religious ceremony to a secular application in lands so distant from their own as to lie beyond their imagination.” During the period 1961-81, some 4,300 Peace Corps Volunteers served in Colombia. There is no record of any of them ever being charged with drug processing or trafficking. All the good that they accomplished over these two decades can be undone through literary inadvertence. According to Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Gabriel “is one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature.” While his narrative is limited to a small group of imaginary volunteers in ag projects, the powers of social media have now conflated that scope and erroneously applied it to Peace Corps as an institution. One Amazon reviewer recently wrote: “I had no idea Peace Corps was so integral in the growth of Colombia’s drug industry.” I hope I’m not hereby furthering this book’s erroneous message by mentioning it here. A major motion picture may not be far behind.
Rare indeed is the book, even one published by a traditional publisher for a very well-known author, that has no errors. Because I was an editor for years at an association publication, OT Week, I cannot help reading everything with a gimlet eye. On p. 99 of Cheating Death by popular author Sanjay Gupta, MD, I’m sure the word shown in red was omitted from this description of a patient’s near-death experience: “He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a warm, loving spirit of a kind he has never encountered before—a being of light—appears before him.” 
Surprise, according to my last e-report from Amazon, two people bought a copy of my Cuba book in euros! I’m curious about who and where that might have been and hope the reader will get in touch with me via this blog. I wonder how they heard about my book?
                After I gave a copy of my book to someone for her birthday, I learned that she had visited Cuba with Witness for Peace. Ordinarily, WFP protects vulnerable people from government attacks, but, of course, if they were to do that in Cuba, they wouldn't be allowed in. Instead, in Cuba, WFP shows friendship and solidarity with the Cuba government, an interesting twist, just another example of the double-standard among progressives when it comes to Fidel Castro and Cuba. Every day, independent journalists, Ladies in White, and gay people trying to meet or express themselves without government approval are beaten up, arrested, and their writings, books, laptops, and DVDs confiscated. In Amnesty, we just issued an Urgent Action for an independent blogger (very hard to be in Cuba because the internet is virtually inaccessible). He is Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez who was beaten up by a government-sponsored mob, a so-called Brigada de Respuesta Rapida, on his way to the Czech Embassy to use the internet. We also have issued an Urgent Action for three brothers who have been in pre-trial detention in Cuba since late 2012 have now been tried and are due for sentencing. They are at risk of being sentenced to between three and five years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International believes they are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. They are 22-year-old Alexeis Vargas Martín and his two 18-year-old twin brothers, Vianco Vargas Martín and Django Vargas Martín, detained in November and December 2012 respectively, tried on 13 June at the Provincial Court in Santiago de Cuba, south-eastern Cuba. They are now awaiting sentencing for the charges of public disorder of a continuous nature (alteración del orden público de carácter continuado). The Public Prosecutor has asked for Alexeis to be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and three years for Vianco and Django, who were 16 at the time of their arrest. They were reportedly subjected to a summary trial, with none of the defense witnesses being allowed to testify. The brothers, from the city of Santiago de Cuba, are all members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), a civil society organization which advocates for greater civil liberties in the country.
A delegation of top Google executives, including Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, reportedly visited Cuba this week to push for greater Internet access on the island. The team has met with officials and representatives of the Cuban technology and digital scene "to promote the virtues of a free and open internet," according to, an independent news site launched last month by blogger Yoani Sanchez. The group included Brett Perlmutter, Dan Keyserling, and Jared Cohen, a former State Department official who co-authored a book with Schmidt on how ubiquitous internet access will change society.
Moving on to a more low-key issue like the content of school lunches, even that has become more contentious lately, school administrators saying that kids are not eating the new foods, which are too expensive anyway, and with nutritionists accusing them of siding with big producers who don’t want to change over. Working as a school interpreter, even before Michelle Obama’s push for better nutrition, I’ve seen kids in lunchrooms throwing unopened milk cartons, oranges, and vegetables wholesale into the trash. Like most consumers, they prefer the usual salty, sweet, and fatty stuff.  Is that a matter of basic biology or due to advertising? I’m not sure, but I do agree with school administrators that kids don’t benefit if they are not actually eating the more nutritious food offered. The changeover, I would think, needs to be gradual and accompanied by a lot of education of kids, parents, and food manufacturers.
In a previous blog, I commented on the growing gap between the super-rich and the rest of us, that the 1% cannot possibly spend most of their wealth, no matter how many homes, yachts, and sports cars they buy. Well, perhaps I underestimated the value to society of massive wealth held in the hands of just a lucky few. In his 2012 book Unintended Consequences, former Bain Capital (Romney’s former company) executive Edward Conard argues that only those with excessive wealth can afford to take the risks of innovation and investment in new technologies and industries that move an economy forward. 
His book dissects the economic recession and gives it an unusual spin, reserving some fairly critical commentary for the responses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the housing crisis. Curious about the literal meaning of those familiar nicknames, I did some sleuthing, and found that they refer to entities dating back to 1938 and the New Deal. Fannie is the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and Freddie is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC). The nicknames have become so much a part of national discourse, we hardly ever ask what the formal names are nor does author Conard bother to define them.
Of course, someone like the now-popular French economist Thomas Piketty and others have argued that some super-rich are being overcompensated for positions heading up corporations because company success is attributed to them alone, as “great men” like other heroes in history, when, in fact, all great men, whether in business or politics, do not act alone, but in concert with advisors and a team of many others, including their workers, soldiers, or constituents.
            Have a good July 4 weekend! ¡Feliz día del 4 de Julio!

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