Helping Afghan Women

Letters to Insight – San Francisco Chronicle

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Helping Afghan women

Barbara Lee is right. Women’s rights in Afghanistan are not being protected by the U.S. military occupation (“Rights advocates fear for women if U.S. withdraws,” July 22) because organizations that could benefit women are, for the most part, restricted to Kabul because of the war. NGOs using a “soft” approach and respectful of Afghan culture would be much more effective without U.S. troops.

T.T. Nhu, Berkeley

The writer helped found Parwaz, the first Afghan-run microfinance organization.

“Climate Change” vs. “Global Warming”

San Francisco Chronicle – Letters to the editor

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Worse than warming

Words matter, and it is misleading of The Chronicle to frame “Climategate” as, simply, a “warming debate.” CO{-2} increase in the atmosphere results in multiple climate changes as temperature and air and water currents are affected, resulting in different and more violent weather patterns, higher sea levels, changing precipitation and failure of species (including humans) to adapt.

It is these multiple effects scientists are working to understand, and which the rest of us ignore at our peril.

Tom Miller, President of the Green Cities Fund, Oakland

Rebuilding Haiti

Letters to the editor

San Francisco Chronicle – Friday, January 22, 2010

Prayer in Port-au-Prince.

Let’s do it right

Given the long history of U.S. domination of Haiti and support of its corrupt dictators (described in detail by Dr. Paul Farmer in “The Uses of Haiti”) and its more recent direct involvement in the 2004 overthrow of its democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (documented by Naomi Klein’s August 2005 article in The Nation and author Peter Hallward’s carefully researched “Damming the Flood”), it is important that U.S. involvement in the relief effort not appear to be an occupation.

The Haiti tragedy represents an opportunity for President Obama to show how an inclusive foreign policy can result in the rebuilding of Haiti in the right way through international cooperation and, most important, with local, grassroots participation.



Haiti and Afghanistan

Provide help where it’s wanted – San Francisco Chronicle 1/15/10

The United States should end its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan, which is only producing greater and greater resentment among the Afghan people, and turn to Haiti, where it would be welcomed as a partner in rebuilding the country into a sustainable economy.

Nothing could benefit our security more than showing the world that the United States knows how to help in the right way and recognizes when it is wrong.


San Francisco Chronicle – Insight Letters 9/20/09

New threat: atmosphere of corruption in Kabul

Tamim Ansary’s conclusion that U.S. aid has failed to reach the grass roots and instead is going into the pockets of foreign contractors is a sad truth (“Finding a way out of the quagmire,” Insight, Sept. 13), but reaching the grass roots is easier said than done as the atmosphere of corruption in Kabul has become a greater threat than the Taliban.

With the help of Global Exchange and private donors, Parwaz Microfinance Organization was established as the first Afghan-run organization of its kind, employing no high-priced foreigners as it provided small loans to widows and other women in need. Alas, when an employee was caught stealing, it was the Parwaz director who fired her who went to jail. The embezzler, who had a relative who was a bodyguard to the vice president, remains uncharged in spite of meetings with the Ministry of Justice, and Parwaz has had to hire a high-priced foreigner for protection, while its Afghan American founding director, who now heads all microfinance in Afghanistan, must travel in a phalanx of armored cars to avoid being kidnapped, not by the Taliban but by thugs working in collusion with the Kabul government.

The United States needs to help dedicated Afghans save their country – but mostly from the election-stealing Karzai government it has created.

Tom Miller, General Counsel, Global Exchange

Barsky Unit Update

Thanh Nien News | Health | Plastic surgeon’s 40-year legacy lives on

The present-day National Hospital of Odonto-Stomatology in HCMC was formerly known as the Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Emily Barksy saw tears in the eyes of one of the nurses who met her and her father when they visited Ho Chi Minh City-based National Hospital of Odonto-Stomatology (NHO) 10 days ago.

“They used to work with my grandfather,” she said. Much has changed at the hospital since her grandfather, the late American plastic surgeon, Arthur J. Barsky II, founded it 39 years ago during the Vietnam War.

What was known as the “Barsky Unit” – the only plastic and reconstructive surgery unit for children in Vietnam during the 1970s – has grown into a leading hospital in its field.

“We now treat both adults and children and are the center [of treatment, research and training] for 32 provinces and cities in the south,” NHO’s general planning director Le Trung Chanh said.

For the American doctors at the Barsky Unit who were flown out of Vietnam when the war ended, it would be good to know that locals had picked up where they left off.

“Given their hasty departure, the American physicians feared their efforts to create a sustainable clinic might have failed,” said Emily, a first year student at Harvard Medical School who has written a research project about her grandfather’s work in Vietnam.

Barsky’s efforts began as a result of a series of articles published in the Manchester Guardian about victims of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.

An American lawyer, Tom Miller, was so moved by these stories that he asked Barsky to come to Vietnam with him to see what they could do, especially for the child war casualties.

Barsky was then a famous plastic surgeon in New York and had been the chief surgeon for the Hiroshima Maidens Project which provided surgery for young Japanese women burned by the atomic bomb during World War II.

Emily said as much as 60 percent of the war casualties in Vietnam were children.

“Practically, all the children’s suffering was war related ” not just direct injuries from gunfire, shrapnel and napalm, but problems such as noma, a disease which eats away a child’s face in a matter of hours and was last seen in Nazi concentration camps,” Miller recalled.

In 1969, Miller and Barsky started the Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the “Barsky Unit.”

The center’s mission was twofold: to treat the child victims of the war, and train Vietnamese staff.

From its opening until the American doctors left in 1975, the center, with 54 beds and three operating rooms, treated around 1,200 children.

One of these was Phan Thi Kim Phuc, whose world famous photo of her running naked down a road with her back burned by napalm, shocked the world and won photographer Nick Ut a Pulitzer Prize.

The center, funded mostly by the US Agency for International Development (AID), treated the children free of charge.

The center itself is admired for its apolitical mission by those who know it.

Chanh said humanitarian work is still a big part of the hospital today.

Once or twice every year, it sends doctors to give free training and dental treatment in rural and remote areas, and neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia.

With the same three operating rooms from its early years, the hospital conducts 45 to 50 surgeries a day and many of them are free as they are paid for by the government.

But the demand is so great that NHO is building three more operating rooms.

A new 11-story building will soon be built on the site of the old Barsky Unit.

NHO’s director Lam Hoai Phuong told Emily she felt saddened to tear down the place and would find some way to honor Barksy’s memory.

Some of the equipment used in Barsky’s time like lights, operating beds, signs and plaques and patients” record card holders was still in good shape today.

And the veteran nurses still talk about the “Barsky techniques” which they are passing down to younger ones.

Chanh said only in recent years has NHO started to return to its American founder’s philosophy: to “give back a completely healed person to society.”

“For many years, we didn”t pay much attention to restoring functions [for damaged facial parts] but focused on giving patients normal looks,” Chanh said.

NHO now has a comprehensive care center which provides post-operation services such as speech therapy for children with cleft lips and cleft palates.

As for the present state of plastic and reconstructive surgery in Vietnam, Chanh said things have improved a lot with time.

When Barksy started his project, no plastic surgery unit existed in the country.

Today, in HCMC, there is one Odonto-Stomatology doctor for every 15,000 people.

“We can say Vietnam’s plastic and reconstructive surgery is almost catching up with the world’s,” Chanh said.

“What Vietnamese doctors can’t do, we invite foreign ones to come and do.”

Reported by Thuy Linh
Story from Thanh Nien News
Published: 04 August, 2008, 11:06:30 (GMT+7)
Copyright Thanh Nien News

Letters to the Editor – Berkeley (California) Daily Planet

Thursday August 20, 2009


Editors, Daily Planet:

The debate over Berkeley’s downtown plan might become more grounded in fact if the city were to follow the lead of cities like Havana, which has a three-dimensional scale model of the city, showing any proposed changes to citizens before any changes are made.  Such an important decision merits a website with images of the competing proposals which all can see.
In the meantime, more information and commentary is located at where advocates of the petition opposing the Bates plan have collected a number of thoughtful commentaries.

Tom Miller
President, Green Cities Fund

Time for Leadership – NY Times 8/14/09

August 14, 2009

Time for Leadership

To the Editor:

Re “Senator Goes Face to Face With Dissent” (front page, Aug. 12):

If there ever was a time for leadership, now is the time for President Obama to make his case to the American people in clear and uncertain terms about what changes he believes are needed in our health care system, and why these changes need to be made.

Backroom deals and a policy of letting Congress work it out have led to fear and apprehension on all sides. Americans are waiting for President Obama’s “closing argument.”

Tom Miller
Oakland, Calif., Aug. 12, 2009

July 25, 2009 at 11:37 a.m. SEATTLE TIMES

Travel to Cuba

Posted by Bruce Ramsey

A reader writes:

I’ve read with interest your July 21 column on your visit to Cuba. There are, as you noted, drab state stores where Cubans can use their currency to obtain basic necessities, like beans and rice, but the real retail market is the underground economy where, if you have the CUC’s [convertible pesos bought with dollars], you can obtain just about anything you want – usually goods that disappear out the back door of CUC stores – for a good price (at least for foreigners). There is also a thriving internet market in home swaps, since Cubans cannot buy and sell their homes. Perhaps, some day, the underground economy will become legal, but probably not while “the old man” is around. As one illegal taxi driver told me during a recent visit, “it’s against the law to work here”. If any of your readers are interested in going to Cuba now, there is a non-profit organization, Global Exchange, which has taken thousands of U.S. citizens to Cuba over the years on educational tours in an effort to allow people to get to know this “forbidden country”. If any reader wants to simply go without a license, that’s possible too simply by traveling via a third country. While illegal, the Treasury Department has been quite lax about enforcing the law in recent years, and there are attorneys such as myself and the National Lawyers Guild, who believe U.S. citizens have a Constitutional right to travel and offer pro bono legal services to citizens caught up by the travel ban. It’s a great time to go, and Cuba is full of surprises – such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade down O’Reilly Street in Old Havana, led by a well-known Cuban transvestite, and the international art (much of it very political) in the recent Biennial.

Tom Miller, General Counsel
Global Exchange

My comment:

I saw some of the art–realism, but nothing like the old “socialist realism.” I liked it. I also liked the music, the mojitos and the Cubans themselves. When Miller says, “It’s a great time to go,” it’s true for a certain kind of traveler. It helps if you’re into what Rick Steves calls “travel as a political act.”