Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

I am back from Netroots Nation and catching up at home. The conference was great, by the way. It was the largest with 2,400 people in attendance. It was the most diverse, and there were so many engaged young people that it made me optimistic about our country’s future. Next year’s NN will be in Providence, Rhode Island. I look forward to going and bringing my kids and family in New Hampshire with me.

In other news: I was excited to read in the San Jose Mercury News that non-stop direct charter flights to Cuba are coming to Oakland as early as December. I haven’t been to Cuba since 2002 so I take this as a hint that I MUST go. :)

The Thoughts of a Mommy blog ran tips on how to keep children safe around water this summer.

The Washington Post had a detailed list of all the union-busting activities Michelle Rhee is participating in. This, by the way, comes after a report showing that there was widespread cheating on standardized tests under her watch as DC Chancellor of Schools. “Students first,” eh?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Sunday Open Thread

Did you hear the latest? It seems that Halle Berry has been tapped to portray Aretha Franklin in a biopic about the diva’s life. Not only will Halle Berry portray Aretha – but she will portray Aretha in her later years. Hmmm…am I missing something? What do you think of this choice?

The Australian Dancing with the Stars will feature two men dancing together! I remember hearing that the American version of Dancing with the Stars was thinking about having a same-sex couple, with rumors of one of the dancers being Portia De Rossi. But, of course, America just isn’t quite ready for that. What do you think about having same-sex couples dancing together in a primetime television show? When do you think America will “be ready”?

According to this post, it seems that America will be easing travel restrictions to Cuba! So, if you’re interested in possibly visiting the previously off limits country, you may be able to as the U.S. is going to start allowing greater leeway for religious and educational trips.

What do you have going on today? I will be helping my mother clean her crystal chandelier, then I will hopefully make the most of the beautiful Los Angeles weather we’ve been having.

Of course, this is an open thread and you are free to discuss whatever you wish. What else is going on?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

New Hampshire was ranked the healthiest state for children, although the ranking did not include an increase in poverty rates due to the recession, according to a report covered by the Associated Press. Minnesota and Vermont ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on the list.

On the other end of the spectrum, the same foundation that issued the report, found that Texas has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The New York office of the commissioner of investigation for city schools has recommended that high school history teacher Nathan Turner be banned from teaching in the public schools for taking students to Cuba in 2007, according to the New York Daily News. The students were detained in the Bahamas for the unauthorized trip, although their parents allowed them to go.

Struggling cities in the United States are offering free land to encourage people to settle there and pay taxes, according to MSN Money.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on how technology is cutting into teenagers’ precious sleep.

PBS Kids will air a science special that features the Cat in the Hat on Labor Day, September 6. The show will air at 8 a.m. You can view a clip at Facebook.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


What We Can Learn from Cuba about Oil Spill, Conservation

A quick google search tells us that BP has failed to cap the oil spill that has spread to Florida, and by now, possibly the Caribbean. So many barrels of oil have leaked into the ocean that we are looking at long-term damage to our food supply, ecosystems, and air and water quality.

All of this can make even the least-informed parent fret, which is why I don’t make it a habit to google oil spill news. But it has had an impact on the way I, and even my children, think. We have been walking to church — almost a mile away. We make it a point to drive only when absolutely necessary. As for me, the seafood lover that I am, I have kept my crustacean appetite in check. There is nothing to kill the mood at dinner than the thought of crude-covered shrimp.

As it turns out, children can be just as concerned as their parents when it comes to the oil spill and environmental destruction. According to an excellent column in Mamapedia (sorry, you must subscribe to see the article), one in three pre-teens fears an earth apocalypse in her lifetime.

Suzy Becker, a teacher, author and writer of the column, said she made it a point to address the fears of her 2nd and 3rd graders.

I put aside my lesson plan. We talked about the oil spill and the sea life for a little bit, and then I handed out some paper. I asked the kids another question: “If you were in charge, if you were the President, or a scientist, or an inventor, what would you do to clean up the oil spill?“

The kids began to write and draw. As each minute passed (maybe 15 in all), they grew less and less upset. They were “solving“ the problem. Meghan wrote, “I would get a big sponge and tie it with ropes to a helicopter. Then lower it down and soak up the oil.“ Kathryn wrote, “I would put suntan lotion on all the animals. Then take the water out, wash it in a washing machine and put it back.“

If your kid has seen any of the current crop of oil-covered marine life photos, you may want to start the conversation before the images have had a chance embed themselves in their memories without the benefit of your explanation. (A recent survey commissioned by Habitat Heroes and conducted by Opinion Research showed that one out of three pre-teens fears an earth apocalypse in her lifetime.) If you kid hasn’t seen the images, most experts (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) believe you can wait until your early elementary school-aged child initiates the conversation. After you describe the situation, explain what is being done to save the wildlife and that many people are hard at work on the problem.

Other suggestions that Becker had was to encourage the kids to collect items (paper towels, tooth brushes, mild dish soap like blue Dawn, etc.) being used in the rescue attempts of animals. Also, she suggested raising money for organizations at work in the Gulf, and to write a letter to state representatives asking for better laws to prevent future oil spills. Here is a list of all state reps.

While Becker’s column focused on small children, another suggestion for older children and parents is to conserve, to rely less on gasoline. A friend sent me a slim book published by Pacific Gas and Electric Company on 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save the Earth. (Thank you, Marlene!)

The tips ranged from the obvious like insulating the windows with duct tape and turning off the lights when you don’t need them. The harder things were to use a space heater as opposed to central heat, or a ceiling fan as opposed to central air.

Anyways, Marlene and I got into this discussion when we compared our trips to Cuba. She went in 2000 and I went in 2002. If you want to know what would happen if we ran out of oil, just look to our neighbor 90 miles south of Florida.

Cuba was forced to wean itself of oil after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-1990s during a time they refer to as the “special period.” The average Cuban lost 20 pounds and faced great hardship, even eating cats and rats to survive. They had no electricity to power anything, sending many Cubans on rafts to the United States.

And while there is still scarcity, a lack of upward mobility and public frustration, there were some good things to come out of not relying on oil. Cubans started growing their own food in the way of local, organic gardens. I got to see one in my father’s hometown of Baracoa, Cuba, in 2002, and gladly ate from the trees as I was hungry. (When I was there, sometimes, the restaurants would run out of food.) The Cubans became vegetarian by default. Their rationed yogurt, milk and “beef,” became soy. There was a vegetarian restaurant in every street corner.

Also, the Cubans were in remarkable shape, walking everywhere and riding their bikes. There were hardly any cars on the road. (One caveat: the cars that were on the road let out thick, black exhaust. Not surprisingly, many Cubans have asthma.)

But I came back from Cuba lighter, well-rested and healthier, as I had never walked so much and eaten so healthy. Also, the Cubans are very proud of their resilience and ingenuity during this difficult time. I had a family member throw in my face that the United States has frightening high levels of air pollution — no doubt due to our conspicuous consumption.

Conserving is hard, especially in America. The other day, I realized that there was practically a gas station on every block in our neighborhood. And when I am running late places, I find it easier to hop in for a drive. But when I think about the oil spill and conservation, I would rather cut back voluntarily and not be cut off as the Cuban people were.


Midday Coffee Break

What are the songs that remind you of your childhood?

I thought of this this past weekend when I was invited to a combination birthday and anniversary party that started at 2 p.m. and ended at 2 a.m.. The idea was to let people stagger in whenever.

It was on Saturday, and DH was sick, so at first I was considering not going. Then around 9 p.m., I got a second wind. I told my husband I would be gone for one hour.

Once I arrived, my friend’s backyard was crowded with some folks from Berkeley that I knew, but also mutual Venezuelan friends. A barbecue and a couple of bonfires were going on in the backyard, a table of dominoes was set up, for which I claimed a spot in the next round. Then Wilfrido Vargas’s “El Africano” started up.

Vargas (his photo is on top right) is a legendary merengue singer from the Dominican Republic. That particular song, which has been redone a zillion times but is originally his, is probably best known as “Mami El Negro.” It is a merengue with a heavy African beat, and we broke out in dance.

“Polish the belt buckle!” one Venezuelan friend yelled as he shook his hips in his chair while playing dominoes. “This reminds me of my childhood (in Venezuela).”

It was contagious. A group of us were dancing around the dominoes table, when I added, “This reminds me of my childhood in Miami. I will always associate it with my mom cleaning the house on Saturday mornings while she is dancing to ‘Mami El Negro.'” I could picture my humble cinder block home in Miami, my mother in the house cleaning while my father, donning a stained blue jumper suit, is outside fixing his car. “Mami El Negro” is blaring for all to hear. Our home may be humble, but it is filled with pure joy.

After a night of dancing and playing dominoes — unfortunately, team Cuba lost — I ended up staggering home after midnight. The night inspired me to include a dominoes table for my next party.

What are the songs that remind you of your childhood? Of course, this is an open thread so feel free to discuss what you wish.


An Unimaginable Choice

This column was cross-posted at

Back on February 27, 2006, the day after my 29th birthday when I was a fairly new and sleep-deprived mother, I came across an article in Salon that made me shudder. It was a book review — a true story — about an Honduran boy who made multiple, and often unsuccessful trips, to find his mother in the United States. The book, which I highly recommend, won the author, Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize.

Here were some shocking statistics from Nazario’s book, Enrique’s Journey:

“’In Los Angeles … 82 percent of live-in nannies and one in four housecleaners are mothers who have at least one child in their home country.’ Once a fraternity dominated by Mexican braceros, America’s shadow community of illegal immigrants has been joined by an influx of women. And millions of single mothers in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, alone and unable to shelter and feed their children, find themselves facing an unimaginable choice: set out for the States alone, but with the hope of earning enough money to pull their children out of poverty — or stay put, their family intact but doomed to destitution.“

As a new mom, I had not shuddered so much at the thought of this choice as when I unfortunately watched the movie Sophie’s Choice. (Seriously, do not watch this movie if you are a new parent!)

As an American of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, I am grateful to my father and grandparents that I have never had to make this gut-wrenching decision. But I have witnessed many women who have.

My first encounter with such a mom was at a Burger King in Miami in the late 1980s. I was with my sister and a couple of friends, laughing and eating away at junior whoppers, when a Nicaraguan woman cleaning tables at BK, approached us with tears in her eyes. “You look just my daughter,“ she told us in Spanish. “That’s exactly how my daughter dresses.“

“Where is she?“ I asked her.

“In Nicaragua.“

“Why didn’t you bring her with you?“

“It’s complicated,“ she uttered the words that I would repeatedly hear throughout the years from mothers in her same situation.

As for my friends and I, we were your typical American teenagers, sporting jeans and sneakers, and without a care in the world. We just shrugged her off and did not give her a second thought. I admit, I did not think of her until I became a mother, and was horrified at the weight of her decision.

Throughout the years, I have encountered other undocumented mothers separated from their children. I often travel to El Salvador to visit my mother-in-law. (My husband, too, is the son of immigrants.) I remember one late-night conversation at the San Francisco airport with a young Honduran mother who had just gotten her papers and was going to see her little son for the first time in three years. I was cradling my one-year-old son at the time, and my heart just broke for her. What do you say to a woman who wants nothing more than to hold her own child, but has zero resources to feed him? For me, it is an impossible predicament, too painful to even ponder.

And, of course, every time I have encountered these mothers, I am so grateful to God and to my family who made the hard choices for me.

For a decade, my grandfather lived abroad while my grandmother and father stayed behind in Cuba. This was post-revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s. My grandmother said that she did not see her husband, and my father did not see his father, for up to six years at a time, while my grandfather worked in the shipyards in the United States and sent money to them in Cuba.

As a child in the United States who took for granted her intact family, I never thought to ask my grandfather how he felt being cut off from his family, his community, everything he knew. But recalling the fond childhood memories I have of him, including three-month summer vacations with my grandparents in the Philadelphia suburbs, trips to McDonald’s and late-night viewing sessions of Univision’s Sabado Gigante — one of his favorite shows! — now that I think about him, it must have been lonely as hell.

And the irony doesn’t escape me. Thanks to him, I have gotten so used to the comforts of American life — TV, the Internet, fast food — that I would, no doubt, have serious withdrawal symptoms if they were taken away from me. Would I leave my children to pursue economic opportunities if circumstances forced me? How destitute would I have to be to give up raising my family? I hope to never find out.


Tuesday Open Thread

What’s up?

Paul Farmer wrote an editorial for the Miami Herald on what needs to be done, as Bill Clinton said, to “build back better” Haiti. Once again, Farmer reiterated the need for money and not in-kind help like food and clothes. Personally, I was overwhelmed by how much work lays ahead for workers like Farmer and the Haitian people. Also, I would have added one more point to his article: The need to build schools and educate people.

My dad, who has lived in Haiti for work, recently made a good point. What he saw in the late ’80s was many charities give to the people, but not necessarily empower them to take control of their own lives. In other words, it is not enough to give fish. You need to teach people how to fish.  

In related news from MSN: In light of the horrific images coming out of Haiti, a doctor doled out advice on how to speak to children about the news.

Also, Bono’s ONE organization is circulating a petition for the United States to pardon Haiti’s debt.

The Associated Press ran a fascinating article on Mariela Castro, Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter who is a sexologist and gay rights activist on the island. Sex change operations are already covered by the country’s national health insurance program and she is pushing for civil unions and full equality of gay people on the island.  

MomsRising’s Mary Olivella wrote a poignant column on how BPA in breastmilk may be the “mercury-fish catch 22” of our generation.

In entertainment news: American Idol contestant Michael Lynche was cut and replaced after his father revealed to his local newspaper that he made the top 24, according to People magazine. Idol contestants are under a strict confidentiality agreement to not reveal the results of Hollywood week.

Figure Skater Nancy Kerrigan’s brother, Mark, has been charged with his father’s death, according to AP. Daniel Kerrigan, 70, fell after an alleged altercation with his son who was living with him at the time.

And ooh, this sounds like something I would read. Kitty Kelley, biographer of the rich and famous, is about to release an unauthorized biography on Oprah Winfrey, according to CNN. The book is slated for an April 13 release.

As if this story couldn’t get any worse, Bristol Palin is suing ex-beau Levi Johnston for child support, according to TMZ.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

From the “duh” files: Many infomercial products are not worth buying, according to MSN Money. I want to add another informercial dud to the list: Nad’s waxing kit. After spotting it on TV, I bought it at a Walgreen’s. After practically burning off my armpit without removing a single hair, I ended up returning it. Have you bought an infomercial product? How was it?  

Now that President Obama has eased travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans, as many as 10 flights a day were leaving Miami International Airport for Havana, Cuba, over the holiday, according to Agence France-Presse. In related news: Cuba became the first Latin American country to eradicate severe infant malnutrition, according to a UNICEF study reported on by Europa Press.

The Breast Cancer Fund is looking for families of four to participate in a study that would determine whether eating only fresh, non-processed foods reduces the levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates in our bodies.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Wal-Mart has issued a recall of 4 million Durabrand DVD players, according to Salon Wires. The devices heat up and have caused fires and property damage.

Also from Salon Wires: The Academy Awards have expanded the number of best picture nominees from 5 to 10. Also, unlike previous years, it will have the judges rank their favorite best pictures from one to 10. What do you think of the changes, MotherTalkers?

In Texas, it is now illegal for teenagers under the age of 18 to use a wireless device while driving — even a hands-free setup, according to the Austin Statesman.

The Associated Press ran an article on 10 things you should know about swine flu. Also in the Associated Press: President Obama’s Administration plans to speak to Cuban officials about restoring direct mail service between the two countries. Americans have not been able to send packages — only letters — to Cuba since 1963.

Here is an interesting twist to the healthcare reform debate: American retirees are relocating to Mexico for affordable healthcare, according to USA Today.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Right-Wing Nut Jobs Bombard MomsRising

I was just checking out this MomsRising post about our current healthcare system and women’s health when the comments made me stop. I can’t believe these rants still work:

July 25, 2009 at 8:39 pm by Lori
I believe that we need a better plan for health care. However, I don’t believe that it should be on the backs of taxpayers to pay for it. We need affordable health care for all citizens of this country, but I am not willing to pay for people who are not citizens. I am not willing to pay for people who don’t have jobs for years on end, but they are able bodied. I am not willing to pay for people to have abortions as a pathetic form of birth control. There has to be some balance and sense. Everyone should have to pay something, not just get a free ride….

Chris Reply:
July 26th, 2009 at 10:31 am
@Janet, You are so misinformed if you think that government care is better than corporate insurance care. The bills in the House and Senate have created panels of political experts who will decide what you can and can’t have. This is how the plan will save money. So if a women has uterine cancer, her odds are worse than a women with breast cancer and therefore it is more likely that the uterine cancer would be treated with pain medicine, as our President proposed in a prior news address. If we don’t want the government in our privacy when it comes to abortion, why all of a sudden do we want government to make even greater choices about life-saving procedures. Wake up!

July 25, 2009 at 10:50 am by Colleen Nagel
I am totally against this whole Obama take over. Why is it that you need the government to interfere on EVERY single level of peoples lives. The health care system does not need to gouge the Americans with another huge taxing!!! Please stop trying the take care of the world at everybody’s extent. We do good things on our own as organizations. Start an organization to help others with healthcare. I do not see a problem with it the way it is! That is jsut my opinion.

July 25, 2009 at 7:21 am by cathy
The only thing I need to know about the current healthcare legislation is that all Fed. employees (including members of Congress!) are excluded.. I sure don’t want anything to do with a program that excludes those responsible for the program! Think about it..

There was so much ignorance in these posts that I could not help myself. I did reply:

July 27, 2009 at 3:20 pm by Elisa Batista
Whew! Looks like the right-wing nut jobs are out in full force in this thread, laying on poor people and Latinos. By the way, not all people with Spanish surnames are “illegal,“ so please stop it with the racism.

As for the United States having the “best health care in the world,“ nothing could be further from the truth. Cuba, for example, has excellent doctors that people from all over the world go to see. Yet, not a single Cuban lacks health care. Compare that to the United States with 47 million people uninsured — including children — skyrocketing premiums and record-breaking profits for private insurers. It sounds like the joke is on us.

As for Obama’s plan, he is not getting rid of private health insurance. In fact, like private schools, I am convinced it will always be around to serve a certain clientele. But for the rest of us — and I am a small business owner by the way — who are tired of being nickle-and-dimed by the private health insurance companies, give us a public option. No one would ever say, let’s get rid of public schools so we only have private schools. These companies simply do not want competition and considering they make bank and have ridiculous CEO compensations why should they?

Excellent post, Thao.

Someone did reply and said, “Yet another liberal mistaking name calling for a legitimate argument. If you want to ‘unleash the power of socialized health care’ may I suggest saving our county the chaos this would cause and moving somewhere where they already have it, and let America be America.”

My response:

You mean phrases like “legal citizens” living off the dole (mentioned in another comment), “unleash the power of socialized health care,” “communism,” (mentioned in another comment) and “let America be America” are not right-wing talking points? All these catchphrases sound like something I would hear on FOX News.

Fortunately, the “not real” Americans you are bashing are in the majority when it comes to healthcare reform.

Again, have you ever attended a public school? Called 911? Driven on the freeway? These, too, are “government-sponsored” programs.

There is another thread on healthcare reform here, which also includes lots of right-wing talking points in the comments. Again, I could not help myself so this is what I wrote:

Elisa Batista Reply:
July 28th, 2009 at 9:59 am
@MaryAnn, We already have a National Government Healthcare Plan. It is called Medicare and Medicaid. All the elderly people in my family who are on Medicare are VERY grateful as no private health insurance company would cover them. What is wrong with expanding it to include everyone, including mothers and children?

The only people I know against this plan are people who work for the industry and don’t want competition to lower costs. Or, they are people who are well off, already have healthcare coverage so they could care less about everyone else. Nice.

Elisa Batista Reply:
July 28th, 2009 at 10:02 am
@Elisa Batista, I just wanted to add that I see a lot of criticism of this specific plan but no alternative plan to make sure that EVERYONE in this country has healthcare coverage, including CHILDREN. It is very disingenuous to say you hate this plan, but are for healthcare reform. Whatever.

What would you say to these people who oppose healthcare reform?