Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eggs, Volunteers Needed for IHS Medical Brigade Feb. 2015, Tiny Homes, Rhino Horn, Pyongyang, Salvadoran Consul, Israel-Palestine, Obama, Cuba Again, Prostitution Debate, Whither Hillary?

My patient readers have indulged my actual and speculative wanderings into all sorts of byways, large and small, so thanks. Among those generous readers are my kids for whom this blog serves as a sort of running diary of their mother’s life. So, perhaps, I’ll be excused for mentioning that when I was first in Honduras, I marveled that eggs were left out of refrigeration indefinitely no matter what the outside temperature, yet in the US we always refrigerate them.  It turns out that eggs here are washed with a disinfecting solution that removes a protective coating, making it necessary to refrigerate them afterward, while in many countries they are stored just as they came out of the hens.  Under both systems, eggs can keep quite a long while.

 Recruitment of volunteers is now underway for IHS ( all-volunteer medical brigades in Honduras for Feb. 13-27, 2015. (See photos above from last Feb.’s brigade.) I’ve participated now since 2005 and plan on going again for my 11th return trip to Honduras since leaving the Peace Corps there in 2003. We still need volunteer doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants, pharmacists, dentists, Spanish interpreters, and short-wave radio operators for 6 clinic sites and 3 surgery sites. Although Honduras has a well-deserved reputation for being a risky country, IHS takes very good care of its volunteers, escorting them in special buses and vans from city airports to safe rural communities where their work takes place. Interested parties may either contact me, Barbara E. Joe (, or John Kirckof, IHS communications & recruitment, 320-634-4386 or cell 320-219-0368.

 Jose Manuel is a former Cuban rafter librarian depicted in my new book, Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People. He had spent over a year in Guantanamo and stayed with me years ago when he first arrived in DC. We just celebrated his 50th birthday at a local Cuban restaurant where he once worked when he lived with me. He was 30 when I first knew him, bewildered and trying to get his footing in this new country with a different language.  He has now come out with a commemorative book displaying artwork produced by rafters when they were at the G’tmo refugee camp before President Bill Clinton finally allowed them entry into the US. (Our photo is at the end of this blog.)

 So-called “tiny” dwellings, the smaller, the better, especially in urban cities, are now in vogue. It’s become a challenge for architects and designers to come up with space-saving amenities, like pull-out beds and dining room tables. Certainly, practical living spaces no longer need to be McMansions surrounded by large yards that need to be tended, watered, and mowed. I’ve learned this myself after living since 1969 in a huge old house in Washington, DC, built before 1900 and which, at one time, housed my husband, myself, our four kids, and our faithful dog Claire. Now I live alone except for visitors mostly from abroad, none  of whom none are staying with me right now, my Argentine visitor having gone home to deal with the debt default crisis there, leaving me rattling around alone in my home right now. I’m very fond of my convenient neighborhood, blocks from the US capitol, and of my lovely unique house, if one can be said to be fond of a house, with its 4 working fireplaces, original woodwork, and pocket doors. But it needs constant repairs and upkeep and is really too large for just one person. It has three floors and its stairs are hard on my arthritic knees. Yet, I hesitate to part with it and face sifting through belongings accumulated over a lifetime. Meanwhile, during 3 ½ years in the Peace Corps in Honduras, I lived quite comfortably in a cozy space, most of the time without running water, reliable electricity, or a flush toilet. That taught me that a big house can be a liability, as well as a luxury. Media stars and other wealthy people often build an enormous “dream house” containing all conceivable amenities, then end up putting it on the market. Even they may come to feel burdened by “too much.”

Someone urgently needs to make a credible placebo for rhino horn to peddle to aging Asian men trying to recover lost strength and sexual prowess. It’s ironic and even more terrible that rhinos are being brutally sacrificed for their horns when consuming rhino horn has no actual impact on the human body beyond the aforementioned placebo effect.

 I spoke too soon last time in observing that Pyongyang’s buildings seemed well-maintained. Indeed, they may have looked well-maintained, but apparently a 23-story apartment building there has just collapsed. Someone’s head will roll for that.

 The Salvadoran consul here in DC has warned the US government that his country will only receive mothers and children being deported who are returning of their own free will, as has happened with a few already. Those asking for a judicial process must be allowed to wait for that, he said.

 On the topic of child deportations, jpmassar, who blogs on various sites, comments:
Between five and ten migrant children have been killed since February after the United States deported them back to Honduras, a morgue director told the Los Angeles Times. San Pedro Sula morgue director Hector Hernandez told the Los Angeles Times that his morgue has taken in 42 dead children since February. According to an interview with relatives by the LA Times, one teenager was shot dead hours after getting deported. Hugo Ramon Maldonado of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras believes that about 80 percent of Hondurans making the exodus are fleeing crime or violence.

 At this point, whatever the possible past wrongs involved in its formation, Israel already exists and its people have a right to continue to exist. After almost half a century, Israel is a fait accompli (even though it has established itself in a hostile neighborhood), much as are here in the United States and other countries in the Americas despite having once decimated and double-crossed native populations. But Palestine and Palestinians also have the same right, including not live under the domination of a neighboring power. In a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma, does Hamas attack Israel because of its occupation and restrictions or are such Israeli measures made necessary because of Hamas aggression? The answer is probably “both,” making a solution so difficult. But at least now, while not sitting at the same negotiating table as Hamas, Israel has been forced to acknowledge Hamas’s existence, a small but perhaps significant reward to Hamas fighters.

Why does Hamas continue to fire rockets? And how did Hamas get all the rockets it has fired if Israel maintains such an air-tight blockade? (Apparently Qatar is involved.) It’s hard right now to foresee any rapprochement between Hamas and Israel, except perhaps a prolonged ceasefire. How can each side possibly trust the other? The US cannot be faulted for a lack of effort in this endeavor. Secretary Kerry has done a heroic job under impossible circumstances. President Obama rightly stresses that there are limits to American power, and that the chief executive is not omnipotent. Therefore, it’s heartening that the EU has stepped in, offering to monitor border crossings. Let’s see if the parties can accept that.

 Meanwhile, an editorial in the New York Post, not exactly a high-class rag, accuses the US of deserting its ally Israel in a time of war. The US hardly deserted Israel, having provided it with the Iron Dome and many weapons.  Still, the US and the rest of the world have a right to question the massive killing of civilians and destruction of property through the bombarding of a small, trapped population, excessive actions which expose both Israel and the US to future terrorist attacks and continued resentment from the Muslim world. Some people I know cite the US atom bombs dropped on Japan and the destruction of Dresden during World War II as precedents for Israel. First, even as a child with a father who was an officer in the American military in Europe then, I never accepted the rationale for dropping atom bombs on Japanese cities, so, for people like me, that’s no excuse for what Israel has been doing. Furthermore, world opinion has evolved since WW II and the wanton killing of innocent civilians is no longer acceptable.  Why Hamas continues to lob rockets into Israel is a mystery and probably does not have the support of most people in Gaza or the West Bank.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called on Israel to show restraint. However, disapproval of Israel’s actions must not spill over into anti-Semitism against Jews in general.

 President Obama, like the do-nothing Congress, has often been accused of inaction. Some think that like LBJ, he should crack heads and twist arms. Apart from that not being his style, he is in an impossible bind, because if he goes ahead without congressional approval, cries of “impeachment” ring out. Also, as someone of African American heritage, he may feel he needs to tread lightly because of genuine prejudice against him (many still believe him to be a Muslim), both among segments of the electorate and perhaps even in Congress. As Norman Ornstein noted in the National Journal, certainly no pro-Obama rag, “LBJ and Reagan had willing partners from the opposite party. Obama has had none.”

 Independent blogger Yoani Sánchez, who is constantly harassed and sometimes arrested by Cuban authorities, nonetheless has not been jailed for long periods, probably because of her international fame. Inside Cuban, because of blocked communications, she is not well known. In a recent column, she tells about a foreign correspondent being cited by the press police for referring to the Cuban government as “communist.”  The surprised reported asked: wasn’t the country governed by the Communist Party? Well, yes, but the term “communist” has unfavorable connotations abroad, so don‘t use it.

 Someone who does not mince words in expressing his view of communism and of the Castro regime is Antunez, an Afro-Cuban activist mentioned in my Cuba book. He has written a long, bitter, and scathing “open letter” to Raul Castro, recounting his arrest as a young man followed by 17 years in prison, accusing the Castro government of various recent murders of activists, and calling communism “the plague of the 20th century.” He closes by saying: “Raúl Castro Ruz, in the name of the Cuban people, of my imprisoned fellow citizens, and of the victims of your dictatorship, I say to you no, no, and no.” If he were ever to gain a following among Cuba’s disaffected and disadvantaged Afro-Cuban population, Raul Castro would in big trouble. Raul is making sure that never happens.

 I’m curious about how Cuban official media is reporting on Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing unrest. On the one hand, the Cuban government is always anxious to highlight American racism and other faults, but would not want to give the increasingly restless, disadvantaged, and aggrieved Afro-Cuban population any similar ideas. So maybe the regime reports about it mostly on official media aimed abroad.

 The Nation is a well-known progressive magazine to which I once subscribed and which I still often read. It treats a number of issues in greater depth than do other publications. The May 26 issue, recently passed along to me, contains a moving remembrance of the late Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez by Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-Argentine author (now a US citizen) who teaches at Duke. I’ve heard him speak at Amnesty International forums and, as a former election observer myself for the Chilean plebiscite that defeated Augusto Pinochet, I share his disdain for that late dictator. Since Dorfman was an Allende confident, maybe it should not have been surprising that Dorfman avoided mention in his fairly extensive tribute that García Márquez was a stalwart ally of Fidel Castro. The Colombian author once wrote what he described to the New York Times as “a very frank book” about Cuba that he refused to publish because it would damage Fidel’s reputation, as I report in my new book. As I have said before, it would be very enlightening to find that manuscript now and finally publish it, thus revealing inside details not otherwise available. It would also do so much more than my own book with its modest readership to enlighten the world about the true nature of the Castro dictatorship. I can only hope that the manuscript still exists and that García Márquez’s heirs will release it after Fidel’s own death.

That same issue of The Nation contains a full-page ad for a Nation-sponsored 8-day trip to Cuba leaving from Miami and costing a whopping $6,000-$6,500. Billed as an educational tour, as required by US law, presumably the profit was being shared between the magazine and the Cuban regime which collects all payments from tourists, arranging their schedules and hiring only loyalists to address and escort them.

 Below is another message from the blogosphere, about Mariel Castro, Raul’s daughter, and her unprecedented “no” vote over a year ago in the Cuban assembly.  Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro — and the niece of Fidel Castro — is making waves by voting "no" on a workers' rights bill, saying it didn't protect people with unconventional gender identities. It seems that before the December 2013 vote was publicized recently in a Cuban blog, no one could recall anyone voting against a measure in Cuba's legislation. Some say a dissenting vote has simply never happened in Havana.

In Foreign Policy, in an article entitled “Damn Yanquis-- Why is President Obama still allowing covert operations in Cuba? It's just one failed disaster after another,” USAID former Senate staffer and CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong cites slanted AP stories to bolster his main contention. It turns out that he himself planted the very AP stories he uses to make his case against USAID's Cuba democracy programs, describing them as secretive and bungled and a series of disasters (talk about a circular argument!). Armstrong was once a National Intelligence Officer who worked closely with convicted Cuban “mole” spy, Ana Montes, now serving prison time. He also once worked for Senator John Kerry. He has a reputation for being an apologist for the Cuban regime, also for the current Venezuelan government, and is speculated to be the original source of the leaks of secret USAID programs in Cuba, although that’s not an official
 allegation. However, he has admitted to being the source of derogatory articles about USAID’s Cuba missions, which are characterized by him (parroting the Cuban government) as aggressive “regime-change” efforts. Those efforts were content neutral, simply to facilitate communication. He is exactly the kind of guy spewing out misinformation about the Cuban government that I am trying to counteract with my new book.

USAID’s efforts in several other countries are also less than transparent, though USAID does not characterize them as secret, just “discreet.” USAID simply doesn't openly tout information regarding such programs, keepimg them mostly under wraps, not only in Cuba, but in Iran, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Burma. These nations don’t welcome information they don’t directly control.

 Meanwhile, the same copy of The Nation cited above features a debate about whether prostitution is an occupational choice or exploitative of women. The magazine's discussion centers on Europe, particularly Sweden, where paying for sex is illegal, but receiving payment is not. High-end sex workers there argue that theirs is an individual choice and nobody else’s business, so shouldn't be sanctioned in any way. However, a Swedish women’s advocate argues, “How can a few persons’ right or freedom to sell sex stand above the vast majority of women who are trafficked and exploited in prostitution?” I would agree that the “freedom” of a relative few highly paid sex workers should not be allowed to eclipse the genuine anguish of those who, because of trickery or poverty or drug addiction, are lured into virtual prostitution slavery. I've met quite a few of the latter both as a probation officer and in other countries. On the high-end scale, we have Eliot Spitzer and his costly dalliances, also a woman I once worked with years ago, who, by day, was a demure office worker and, by night, supplemented her income acting as an elite “escort.” The high-enders, especially with the internet, probably can remain anonymous and their earnings are tax-free, so whether or not their activities are considered legal, they are not likely to be found out.

Meanwhile, whatever is Hillary up to? She doesn’t want to peak or start campaigning too early, but she’s placed herself in a kind of limbo, perhaps waiting until after her grandchild is born and after the November elections to announce her candidacy? Quite understandably, she may really have needed a break to recover her strength from her grueling schedule and head injury and take time out to write her memoir, which, however, has not made such a big splash. Enough already! By being so coy for so long about her plans, she risks voter apathy and keeps other potential candidates from coming forward. So far, no compelling dark horse, like Obama himself years ago, has appeared on the Democratic presidential horizon. Tried and true Veep Joe Biden has expressed interest in the job, but even more than Hillary, he suffers from voters’ fatigue and is already age 71, five years older than Hillary, who is no spring chicken either.  If she’s going to try this next time, it’s her last chance.

 Here I am last night at Jose Manuel's 50th birthday.

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