Monday, May 23, 2016

Land of the Free? Family Values Part 2

The United States incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world.  Land of the free?  Not anymore.

What does this mean for families?

Families are without one or both of their parents.  Parents suffer the loss of their child.  Brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces lack role models and support of family members.

When did this huge rate of incarcerations start?

High rates of imprisoning started with "The War on Drugs" during the Reagan administration.  And like most wars - the perceived goal was and has not been realized ergo drugs and drug use were not reduced.

High rates of incarceration continued with the Clinton administration with its mandatory sentencing and its three strike rule.

To add insult to injury the following have also occurred:

  • Private prisons also instituted under the Clinton years mean states are compelled to keep the prisons full in order for the private corporations make profits off of the their own form of slave labor.
  • Plea bargaining seems to the the only way that public defenders have the time or the resources to help...even if the person is innocent!
  • Unpaid court fees now can result in jail time until paid...I thought we had done away with debtors prisons...not when it comes to court fees.
  • And when those in prison have served their time, they are to report on all employment and housing forms that they have been convicted of a crime.   What kind of chance do they have then?
The poor are being targeted...especially Blacks and Latinos.  Of the prison populations 40% are Black and 22% are Latinos although they only make up  12% and 17% of the populations.*  Everything is stacked against the poor.

Who suffers as well as "those paying their debt to society"?  Their families.  Their communities.  All of us.

Prisons costs $74 billion per year.  After people have been removed from society and locked away, these people** return more broken than wen they went in.  They can't find work but still have to pay court fees and housing and food...eventually so many break another law.

Poverty steers so many to breaking laws.
Poverty is like a neon sign for law enforcement to look for illegal activity.
Poverty prevents good legal counsel.
Poverty sends people to jail.

What about OUR debt to THEM?  We yank families apart.  We keep people poor with zoning laws, bad schools, not enough financial support, not enough health care support, name-calling, blaming, and tearing down self-esteem at such an early age.

If we value families then its time to not only rethink out justice system but also our economic system as well.  It is time to call for change and actually do something. IF we are "family values" people.

*20% of Whites use all kinds of illegal drugs including hallucinogens while only 10% of Blacks and Latinos use illegal drugs.
**Ex-cons is a term we need to lose from our vocabulary.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I'm Taking Back "Family Values"

May and June are the months in Nicaragua and in the United States when Mother's Day and Father's Day* are celebrated.  June 1st the International Day of the Child,  so focusing on family values may be appropriate for the next few blogs, especially in an election year.

In our May newsletter we touched on family values lightly but "family values" is one of those topics that I think in the U.S. has been co-opted by the far right to push agendas that are not family oriented at all.  While ignoring issues or even pushing certain agendas and laws, the far right actively and firmly hammer wedges into families that break families apart.  

Income inequality is one of those wedges.  Mothers and fathers are not at home because they are working more than one job.  Minimum wage is so low that parents cannot feed their families which means working more jobs instead of helping kids with homework at home.

In the U.S., federally guaranteed paid sick and maternity leave does not exist and who is opposing paid sick and maternity leaves?  The "family values" folks.

Conglomerates that make more money than God hire parents part-time in order to avoid paying benefits like health care, vacation pay.  They don't even guarantee consistent hours for their employees.  
Photo by Kolbe Charles

And yet, when "family values" are discussed, many issues don't even come up, like:

  • giving fair wages so parents have time with their children or each other; 
  • giving parents full-time work with health care benefits so that an illness does not destroy the family;
  • giving them time away from work with pay so families can bond on a vacation;
  • hiring people with set hours so they can plan care for their children; 
  • redoing the federal budget or raising taxes to support families struggling to make ends meet so they do not have to sell drugs to survive.
In the U.S., all of these things that enrich and solidify families are not discussed as a way to help families but as the single most future cause of the death of small businesses.  And to add insult to injury those families are named "The Takers."  What?!

And so far I'm only talking about the workers and parents who are U.S. citizens.

Now if you add the poor families of the world into the "family values" discussion, there are even more hindrances to families.  For example, we will pour billions into arming countries of the world even poor countries but our aid packets "should be cut, cut, cut."   

In the poorer countries around the world parents actually have to leave their homes to find work in wealthier countries so they can send money back to their families.

In Nicaragua families are missing parents, sons and daughters (1 in 6 Nicaraguans live outside country, mostly in Costa Rica or the United States) as they work outside Nicaragua to send back money to help their families survive...almost $1.2 billion (15% of the GNP) comes into the Nicaragua economy from remittances. 

Foreign aid and immigration are huge issues with the "family values" people.  

People who spout "family values" want to rip immigrant families apart through deportation forgetting we are all immigrants, except those who lived in tribes before the Europeans "discovered" the "New World." 

When parents were sending their children away from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to the States to avoid death and horror, it was the far right...the "good Christians" ...who were the most horrific in their language.  And it is these same people who place irrational fear above doing the right thing with the terrified Syrian refugee families.

Why does the far right have ownership of those words, "family values"?   I think it is time to claim those words for those of us who really want to protect the family.  It is time we call the tactic of using "family values" for their own greed a sham.  

*May 30th is Mother's Day and June 23rd is Father's Day in Nicaragua.


Friday, May 6, 2016


Mike and I were with my mother in South Carolina in April.  Mama had a stroke in November while I was with her and then had two or three more.  She is doing remarkably well and working diligently on her rehab…this was after much touch-and-go with her for over two months.

We took her to see her best friend, Martha…or “Mahthah” as Mama pronounces her name.  Martha was thrilled to see Mama out-and-about and told us how much she loved Mama…

“Peggy taught me about forgiveness.”  
“Peggy is a friend you tell her anything and you know that secret would stay with her to the grave.”  
“Peggy is true.”

Mama has taught me, Kathleen, much of how to be a decent person.

She taught me kindness by her actions.  I remember her fretting because it was snowing before Christmas and the mail might not run…she had asked Daddy and us kids to give her for Christmas a child to support through the Christian’s Children’s Fund and she wanted to see the photo of that child on Christmas Day.

Mama modeled for me practicality. 

When she sat me down for “the Talk” she laid out why she wanted me to wait until marriage but ended it on “If you have a baby, it will be YOUR baby.  No more outings, dates, etc.  YOU will care for that baby…are you ready for that?” 

Smoking?  First was all the health reasons (her daddy died from lung cancer when she was 6 years old) …then, “It turns your teeth and nails yellow.  You and your clothes smell like smoke.  And it costs money.”  THAT one had me.  

Forgiveness?  “Forgiveness is for you, Kathleen, much more than it is for others.  If you forgive, hatred will not eat away at you.”

God?  “Believing in God is for me.  It is just easier to get through my life believing than not.  I don’t KNOW if there is a God or not, but it seems like believing is a better way to live…easier to be kind and good.”

Mama taught me how to be a mother.  One of the most important lessons she taught me was to learn from our children.  Parents frequently think they know it all, but we don’t.

And our children do teach me…they teach me so much.  They have their own wisdom, joy, practicality, humor, and kindness that astounds me…this may be one of her greatest lessons to me…to learn from our children.  It is because of her, I am open to listen and engage with our children and in turn whole new worlds keep opening for me. I not only love our children, I delight in them and enjoy them immensely.  

I hope as a mother, our children received from me ways to live a good life as I did and still do from my mother. 

I really hope they will learn from their children or if they do not “breed” they will learn from their nieces, nephews, and their friends’ children, because new generations have much to say.  We do well to pay attention.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (Part 2)

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world is quoted often to give mothers power, but that power rarely exists (see part 1).  This line implies that mothers raise their sons who then rule the world and by osmosis the mothers rule the world (in the 1800s daughters were not that important).

What a load of bull!  For example:

Let's say that a mother raises her son to be gentle, loving, kind and peaceful, then the child turns 18 years old and the military takes him and drills out all the gentleness, love, kindness and peace-loving because the military needs him to obey orders unquestionably and kill.

Or  a mother raises her son to be thoughtful, questioning and introspective then the educational system pumps rote facts, biases, and spewing back information that does well on a standardize test.

Or a mother raises her son to be open to all people no matter what race, religion, or sexual preference but institutionalized religion and 24-hour news spews forth hatred and the son absorbs racism, sexism and bigotry that would astound the mother.

Or a mother raises her son to have a passion for justice but his friends and peers beat him down with jeers and insecurity and he grows hopeless.

Or a mother raises her son to be engaged and active but society and circumstances reward a life of apathy and detachment.

And our daughters?  Let's say we raise them to be strong and independent but being pretty is what is valued.

Or we raise them to be conscious of the poor and the needy but reading fashion magazines and watching commercials make clothes and shoes the biggest priority.

Or we raise them to be creative, brave and adventurous but schools and peers teach them to fit into boxes and not dare to be free.

And the examples go on and on...mothers have influence...sure, we do...but we kid ourselves if we think we have the greatest influence.  Plus society does mothers wrong if they blame them for how their children become as adults.  

But here in Nicaragua, working with poor mothers, I know that the above are problems...deep, disturbing problems but they are also First World problems or problems that the poor women of the world do not have the luxury to ponder let alone do anything about.

Here in Nicaragua,  we watch mothers struggle to put food on the tables of their families.  We watch them struggle to be mothers when they are just children themselves.  We watch them react to kids with violence because they themselves are just too worn out to sit them down and talk to them. 

These women do not rock cradles, they push a hammock and hope the kid sleeps so they can go find resources for the family.  These women do not rule the world, they do not even strive to find their place in the world...they don't have the time.  They are poor and often single heads of multi-generational families.  Every day is a struggle to survive and keep their kids healthy as well.

Do they have hopes? They do.  Do they dream of a better time for them and their children?  Always.  Do they rule the world?  No...they rule nothing, but maybe they should.  If they did, maybe many of the other problems would sort themselves out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (Part 1)

This is my original reflection for our May newsletter but I wrote something different because it sounded so angry...why does it sound angry?  Because I am...

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the World, is a poem written by William Ross Wallace (1819-1881), but it is also the recurring line that is quoted often on Mother’s Day. Gag. 

Who rules the world, really? 

Those who have power and money. And who are those with power?

They are almost entirely people who have exploited their own workers, the world’s resources, and all those brown people who farm, mine, and make things in other countries or those who have “buddied” up with people who have power and money. Power lies in the hands of white men mostly… not all white men, obviously… but mostly.* 

Women are on the low rung of the ladder. Women of color are even lower on the ladder. Women worldwide suffer more than men and yet, day-in and day-out, the decisions that affect them are made by men. Did you know that…

photo by Jen Aist
  • Women and girls make up 70% of those who live in extreme poverty. These are the world’s mamas and their daughters. 
  • Women work two-thirds of the world’s work hours (tilling the soil, feeding, hauling water, sewing in sweat shops, cleaning houses, waiting, and rocking. all. those. cradles.), but receive only 10% of the earnings and only own 1% of the world’s wealth. That is insane!! 
  • A half a billion women cannot read. If you can’t read it is easier to be abused. 
    photo by Jen Aist
  • Women and girls account for 70% of the human trafficking or slavery. Tell me, why is slavery not a nasty thing of the past?
  •  It is estimated that 35% of all women alive today have experienced some form of sexual violence (I’m one) and in some countries up to 70% of all women. 

If we care about our mothers… our daughters… our sisters… our wives… our women friends… women in general, then please, for Mother’s Day, give those hands that rock the cradles some power and rights, not just a card. 

 *I find it immensely annoying when attention is given to the exceptions instead of the norm… for example “What about Oprah?”… instead of noting generally who are the powerful, acknowledging that fact, and changing it.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Tradition vs. Love

Our daughter, Jessica, is playing Tzeitel, the oldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof with Voices of Hope, a musical group raising money for cancer research.  Mike and I will not able to see the performance so we were allowed to come sit in on a rehearsal while we were in Massachusetts.  One scene they rehearsed was the Sabbath scene...setting the table, lighting the candles, and praying for the blessings of the family.

Passover is this week and in the past our community has celebrated Seder. In the Jewish faith, many rites involved the family. Even in the long, drawn-out Seder there are rituals set in the litany that are meant to break up the monotony for the children.  

 In the Jewish faith we see a strong bond within the family.  Much of what was written in Leviticus is to strengthen the family.  The weekly celebration of the Sabbath starts in the home.  Harsh penalties were established for those who may cause threat to the bonds of family, because family was to be the corner stone of the Jewish nation.   Gleaning was written into the laws to support those who had no one to farm.  And the year of the Jubilee was established to free slaves, return land to the original owners, and forgive debts...this was to reset the clock every 50 years in order for ALL families to have a chance.

Families were not just mother, father and children but were grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins...and they supported each other.   

Widows and orphans were to be supported by society...these were families at risk.
And strangers were welcomed into the family.  The Sabbath was to include people on the road.  The door was to be left open for Elijah to come in for the Seder as well as strangers.  The family was the bedrock of hospitality to all.

And yet we use selected passages in Leviticus to exclude and condemn people.  Tradition vs. love...this is the theme in Fiddler on the Roof.    Many of us hold onto old laws that have become traditions instead of leaning towards love, or as Jesus said, "holding to the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law."

We tend to take laws that were established when populations were low and at risk of being decimated* other words, passages that condemn sexual practices that would not result in babies and laws designed to give vulnerable children fathers to support them - like the stoning of women who lay with more than one man - and make them laws today, when populations are growing by leaps and bounds and paternity tests are easy.  And as far as we know, no one has ever held to the law of the year of the Jubilee.
As we become more and more global, those of us of faith need to see the world as our family.  Scientists says we all come from one mother.  If we adhere to a Divine creating us all, then this still holds.  We share common chromosomes.  We are more alike than different.  Maybe it is time to act like one giant family.  We let traditions separate us instead of support us.  We allow laws set in books of faith to condemn instead of showing us ways to love:

  • Supporting one another 
  • Hospitality 
  • Supporting the weak, the poor, the vulnerable
This is family.  These are traditions we need to have.  This is love.   -Kathleen

*There were also passages telling the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, and farm animal when they conquered a people.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Zika Virus in Nicaragua

Welcome spring!  Or I would if it weren’t so dry, hot and dusty right now in Nicaragua.  The only two things I am for which I am grateful in the hot, barren, brown, lifeless time of year in Nicaragua…I did mention hot, didn’t I?...are 1) clothes on the line dry very quickly and 2) the mosquito population is down…they at least know that the only thing worth doing these days (besides laundry…no, wait they wear no clothes!) is to lay eggs and die.

I only wish their eggs were not so hearty…eggs from mosquitoes can lie dormant for one year just waiting for that little bit of standing water to hatch bringing forth those pesky, pesky…and now, disease ridden pests.

AND we have just one more virus with which to deal, here in the tropics when the rains do come and flowers burst open and dust gets driven back into the soil.

There has been lots of hoop-la in the States over the Zika virus passed to one person and another by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito, by the way, that carries the five strains of dengue (which can have a hemorrhagic component) and chikungunya…remember that one from our blog last year?

There is much we do not know about the Zika virus, but we do know these things:
•    Symptoms when infected can include fever, mild rash, headache, malaise, joint pain, conjunctivitis (much like dengue and chikungunya), although…
•    frequently people may not know they even have it because of the mild symptoms.
•    Some studies have shown that the Zika virus is not only passed by the mosquitoes but also by semen…that’s a new one!  One man was tested to have had the active virus up to 10 weeks in his semen.  Why is all this a concern?  Because…
•    In Brazil, recently the local health authorities have observed that there has been an increase in babies born with microcephaly in the northeast part, as well as…
•    An increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome that has coincided with those infected with the Zika virus.

Microcephaly is a condition when the baby’s brain does not develop and can result in death in the early years.  Guillain-Barré syndrome is temporary, partial to more severe paralysis

What does this mean, besides that there is still a whole lot we do not know?

Guillain-Barré syndrome requires hospitalization in case the respiratory system shuts down.  Outside breathing machines are required to keep the patient breathing.

Microcephaly is a condition no parent wants for their children, but for poor countries that do not have the resources to care for special needs children, a large population of microcephalic children would be a public health nightmare as well as an extreme burden for families, most of whom would have difficulties caring for their little ones.

Patients with Guillain-Barré in El Salvador
As of publishing, the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua has reported 131 cases of Zika, of which 12 are pregnant women. 

There is no Zika virus vaccine now.  Experts think that once exposed, one becomes immune to the virus…so the best hope right now is to prevent getting bitten (almost impossible without air conditioning and bug spray), use condoms if pregnant (difficult in a machista culture),  and to postpone pregnancy, which is the strategy we are offering in Nicaragua: 

Postpone pregnancy until more information is out and/or until the woman is immune because she has been exposed or vaccinated. -- Becca