Monday, October 5, 2015

Grandson (Again), DR Citizenship, El Sexto, Pope-mania, Cuba (Again), Haiti Elections, Nicaragua, Adios Sabado Gigante, PC Recruitment, Hafa/Hapa, Boehner, Print Books, Mideast Christians, Interpretation, Toilet Etiquette, Bulger Girlfriend, Gun Violence (Again)

If some topics are repeated throughout these postings, it’s because they are recurring, like
my new grandson Kingston, who is growing and changing daily.

On Oct. 2, on a stormy afternoon, my local Amnesty International Group 211, along with students and activists from all over the Mid-Atlantic region, participated in a series of rallies at several embassies, including that of the Dominican Republic, where we were protesting the court decision of 2 years ago that essentially stripped Haitian descendants of Dominican nationality, leaving them stateless and often unable to work or go to school.


#Rights4ALLinDR Fact-Checking the DR Ambassador to the US:
"Despite the government's assurances that no one born in the Dominican Republic or with legal documents will be deported, several media and human rights organizations have interviewed people whose harrowing experiences contradict that claim: 33% of the people forcibly removed to Haiti were Dominican-born. In one such case, Juan A. Corporán, a construction worker, was picked up by immigration officials and told he was Haitian, even after showing the officers his Dominican ID." #UncertainFate #WeAreAllDominican
Danilo Maldonado, nicknamed El Sexto, a Cuban performance artist who painted 2 piglets with the names Fidel and Raul, has been held without trial since December, placed in solitary confinement,
and on Sept. 8, went a hunger strike, having said his farewells.
We at Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience (POC) and sent out Urgent Actions on his behalf, also  supported a campaign by artists around the world, among them Venezuelan artist Carlos Luis Sánchez.

Orlando Zapata, another Cuban hunger striker and Amnesty POC, did die in 2010, so it could happen again, even if we at Amnesty International, as well as the Obama administration and Raul Castro’s regime, would not want to see El Sexto die. Well on Oct. 2, the Cuban government promised to release him in 15 days if he would start eating again, which he reportedly agreed to do. Hunger strikers do take some time to recuperate, slowly taking on nourishment, reportedly usually beginning with sugar water.
Whew! The Pope left DC after 3 tumultuous days with events occurring near my home. Mostly, I liked what he said and did in the US, but in Cuba, he could and should have been a bit more forceful against the regime, especially after having gone through the “dirty war” of military rule in Argentina. He visited with US prisoners, but not Cuban ones. He might have reached out and been more accommodating to dissidents who desperately wanted to see him, though his friend Cardinal Jaime Ortega may have urged him not to do so, fearing harm to the church’s slowly growing role in Cuba. I do hate crowds, so I failed to see Francis. President Obama’s first inauguration, where we were all squished together and stepping on each other’s toes, was the last crowd I ever want to be in. I admire the pope at his age going so gracefully through such a grueling and packed schedule, first in Cuba and then immediately on to three major US cities. In general, I admire him, but on Cuba, he was uncharacteristically not up to the task. Did he have a blind spot or was his seeming indifference calculated? It’s hard to square the image of a benevolent pope, man who showed himself in the US to be funny, spontaneous, and kind, preaching forgiveness, charity, and tolerance—someone who kissed the disabled and babies, who visited prisoners here—but, in Cuba, going out of his way to ignore disenfranchised and officially reviled Cubans who desperately wanted to see him and give him a message while he met cordially with Fidel, arguably the main architect of their long decades of desperation? Maybe he said something privately to Raul and Fidel, but the beleaguered dissidents and disenfranchised Cuban people never heard it.
Nestor Campanería Angel, a Cuban exile living in Miami, wrote a letter to Pope Francis in February and has never received an answer. In the letter, he told how his older brother, law student Virgilio Campanería Ángel, age 23, was executed in 1961 by firing squad along with 7 others after a trial lasting one hour. He invited the pontiff and everyone else to visit the Cuban Memorial to 12,000 people who had lost their lives to the Castro regime.
I’ve heard that some of those gathered for the pope’s Masses in Cuba were forced to attend. A Cuban American tells me: I learned recently from a sister of a friend who lives in Cuba, that the crowds at the pope events in Cuba where composed of the military, security officers, and their family posing as ordinary citizens.  Her sister is Catholic and she said that the people in her church were not able to attend because no transportation was available (transport is controlled by the government) and they were not able to arrange anything else. She said that other Catholic churches were in the same situation. The visit of the pope was for international consumption. 
 Outspoken Archbishop Bruno Musaro, former papal nuncio in Cuba, found himself last Feb. being sent to Egypt, a country almost devoid of Catholics.
The Cuban leadership and the pope may show distain for capitalism, but both rely on it—Cuba is betting on American capitalist bounty to rescue it from the mess made by its presumably more benign and generous “socialist” policies.
Cubans brace for the American invasion, Oct. 4, 2015
Raul Castro, speaking at the UN, declared that the US embargo against Cuba is the main “obstacle” to Cuba’s development. Is there a need to reiterate here the exaggeration of such a statement? Food and medicine are exempt from the embargo, a record number of visitors are arriving in Cuba from the US—more than from any other country—and Cuba trades with the rest of the world. The main obstacle to Cuba’s development is the stranglehold that the elite and the military have on the Cuban economy, which enriches the few and impoverishes the many and has led to a country largely self-sufficient in agriculture before the revolution to one that must import most of its food. If something is repeated often enough, such as by Cuba’s leadership saying “Poor little Cuba, the giant US is picking on us”—the David and Goliath myth—people begin to believe it’s actually so.
Ideals or blueprints can never be fully realized. They have to be tweaked and modified. To his credit, Raul has tweaked the blueprint Fidel originally gave him. Clinging too strongly to an ideal can be harmful, leading to estrangement between spouses or between parents and offspring on a micro level and, on a societal level, to coercion and dictatorship—like the molding of the “new man” that failed in the USSR, China, Nicaragua, and Cuba. But a guiding set of principles is essential—democracy, human rights, women’s rights, racial equality, living wage—all those can be guides without being coercive, even though there may be divisions of opinion about their proper realization. Capitalism may be considered evil by Pope Francis and certainly by Raul Castro (except for the state capitalism that benefits him, his family, and his associates), but Raul is counting on the capitalism and relative bounty of the US economic system to rescue him and ensure his own position and hold on power. It is hard to believe that Raul, perhaps unlike Fidel, has been personally and philosophically wed to “socialism,” whatever that is, except to give it lip service. Surely he is too savvy to fail to see that what exists in Cuba today is nothing like economic or social equality and that the fault for that inequality is not the US embargo.    
Oct. 25 is the date set for presidential elections in Haiti, with a record 54 candidates vying for office out of 70 originally declared candidates. Incumbent President Michel Martelly is constitutionally barred from running for a second term.
Translation: We’ve had rain, but little, and I don’t believe it’s a good idea [referring to the Chinese canal being built through Lake Managua]. Now we don’t all have access to work; the situation here is bad and sometimes I feel like going “wetback” to your country.
Sabado Gigante (Giant Saturday), a Spanish-language music and variety show with Chilean-born host Don Francisco, now in his 70s, finally went off the air after 53 years. While for almost 2 decades, it has been broadcast from Miami, it was transmitted all over Latin America. Where I had TV access in Honduras, it was a Saturday night staple, a loud, cheesy sort of show, with half-naked women, risqué jokes, pratfalls, and simple contests, not really my cup of tea, but Hondurans loved it and many will miss that Saturday family TV-watching ritual. However, apart from the host getting older, apparently ratings in the US were falling, so advertisers considered it time to pull the plug, though advertisers in Latin America might have been more reluctant to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised to see reruns south of the border.
 More Peace Corps recruitment ads are appearing in magazines and on the radio, about 7000 volunteers of all ages serving in more than 60 countries. I do hope to be able to serve again before I get too decrepit, but am too busy right now.
Hafu is apparently the Japanese term for a mixed race person, half Japanese, of which someone half Japanese, half African American (as with a GI father) has been especially looked down upon in that purist culture due to the double stigma of African “blood” and illegitimacy. But a recent Miss Japan whose GI father was African American has helped win more acceptance for Hafus. Hawaii has Hapa-Haoles (in this case half-Caucasian), including my own daughter Stephanie, but there, being mixed race is pretty common, so does not carry any great stigma, although full Haoles (Caucasians) are in the minority (the only state where that’s the case) and, it seems, are not held in quite as much esteem at “pure-blood” Asians and Native Hawaiians. Since Haole tourists predominate, the term is sometimes applied to ignorant mainlanders untutored in local ways. (Photo shows me in 2003, at daughter Stephanie's wedding in Honolulu in 2003, an event I had to travel to from Peace Corps in Honduras, quite a trek.)
 More than 13% of people living in the US are foreign-born, the highest percentage since the 1890s. Apparently Asian immigrants are the wave of the future, projected to edge out Hispanics over the next decades.
 You can’t blame John Boehner for quitting the House leadership and Congress. I’m sure he’s sick and tired of such a thankless task. He not only cries easily, but, with good reason, always has looked to be on the verge of tears.
I love print books, holding them in my hand, turning pages, and viewing photos and illustrations. My home office holds a whole library of books old and new. But truth be told, print books are going out of style and even famous world libraries are pruning or jettisoning parts of their collections.  Many libraries no longer accept collections willed to them. More and more, only rare and historical physical books are being kept, while both patrons and libraries are going digital. What is easier and more convenient in this mobile world than having hundreds of books saved on a single hand-held device, words at your fingertips wherever you are and whenever you have time to read them?
I attended a book event in my neighborhood at the home of George Marlin, Chair of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. He was distributing his new book, Christian Persecutions in the Middle East, about a topic that hasn’t gotten much attention. After millennia of living in the area, Christians are being harassed and expelled and essentially cleansed from the Middle East. The book quotes Catholic bishop Macram Gassis, whom I met in south Sudan in 2006 and about whose work I wrote in America magazine. One-fourth of Syrians are Christians, certainly represented among the migrants now flooding Europe. The book offers little in the way of solutions, especially since the US is moving away from the role of the world’s policeman.
 Just finished reading another book called The Yankee Comandante about the life and execution by Castro forces of William Morgan, an American who first fought with Fidel, then turned against him. The co-authors worked for the Toledo Blade, meeting his widow Olga Rodriguez, who eventually ended up in Toledo after Morgan’s death in 1961, joining his mother living there. The authors had featured articles about her and Morgan in the paper in 2002. Olga herself had spent 11 years as a Cuban political prisoner after his execution. Whether they were actually married is a little murky, as Morgan already had a wife and children back in the US. In any case, he and Olga were joined in a guerrilla ceremony and had 2 daughters before he was executed by firing squad. Of course, Fidel never showed mercy to anyone he suspected of disloyalty. The book, cast as a love story based mainly on Olga’s recollections long after the events, is what I would call “faction” or novelization. It makes for an engaging story, but may be wanting in historical accuracy. Olga must have had a photographic, and indeed keen auditory, memory if she is the source for the dialogue, including conversations when she wasn’t present. “Morgan didn’t know what to say. He never expected this kind of questioning.” Morgan is dead and Olga wasn’t there, so how do we know what he expected or what was said? Another time, apparently, he buttons up his shirt and leaves the top button open. Maybe he habitually did that, so it’s a detail Olga remembers? Other people are said to have thought or feared certain things, again, how would the authors know? Then in the middle of a tale woven by omniscient narrators, there suddenly appear photocopies of Morgan’s actual FBI files, as well as traditional family photos, which is jarring and makes the reader wonder what part is actually true and what is embellished? I’m a translator, as well as an interpreter, and so am also knit-picky about Spanish grammar and usage, finding myself annoyed by the irregular and inconsistent use of accent marks throughout the book. But what annoyed me most was that Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, another Castro guerrilla fighter who fell out of favor and ended up spending decades in prison, is referred to consistently as Menoyo, that is, by his mother’s maiden name. Either it should have been Gutiérrez or Gutiérrez Menoyo, but not just Menoyo, although occasionally even Spanish speakers use the mother’s maiden name as a sort of familiar nickname. Americans seem consistently unable to fathom usual Spanish last name usage. Likewise, they habitually refer to Gabriel García Márquez as Márquez, when García was his real last name, though he used García Márquez to distinguish himself from his father Gabriel García. An article about Morgan’s life and death by David Grann that appeared in 2012 in the New Yorker seems more factual, but he also refers to Gutiérrez Menoyo, as simply Menoyo. Cubans who knew him in prison, many of my acquaintance, always refer to him as Eloy or Gutiérrez Menoyo.
I’ve started Spanish interpreting again at DC public schools at a recent Back-to-School night. I was impressed to see several fathers there. Years ago, Hispanic fathers rarely attended school events. So many public school students have Spanish-speaking parents. Only 17% of the US population is Hispanic, according to 2010 Census data, but the population of those under 18 is much greater. Thanks to immigration and birthrates among this group, the US population is not shrinking, as it otherwise would. (Europe, also with an aging and shrinking population, is now getting its own influx of immigrants.)
I've worked as both a translator and an interpreter (English-Spanish), also in rehabilitation, social work, social policy research, as a writer and editor, and as a Peace Corps volunteer. All the latter experiences have helped inform my translating and interpreting work, also given me a preference for interpretation with live people over translation of the written page. Being an interpreter means entering lives I might not otherwise know (though in strict confidentiality), often on an intimate basis. Surprisingly, when I am interpreting, the client often gets into the rhythm and doesn’t even seem to notice that I’m actually there, even when talking about sensitive subjects. But that was not the case for one memorable child welfare interpretation involving a deaf girl apparently sexually molested by her Spanish-speaking father (interpreters are not given background details, but I’ve been a child welfare worker). She and her mother were being interviewed by an English-speaking child protective services worker. The girl communicated via American Sign Language, interpreted into spoken English by a sign-language interpreter, and I, in turn, translated that into Spanish for the mother. It was a cumbersome exchange, and, so, it was rather hard to ignore the role of interpreters in that particular case. But under more usual circumstances, I keep a straight face and use a clear, but not excessively loud, voice, trying to blend into the wall paper.
Of course, more and more, enterprises are using computer translations, not 100% accurate, but much cheaper than human translation and often sufficient to convey the gist. Of course, for book translation, a human being is required. And telephonic interpretation, paid by the minute instead of the hour, is also a money saver; I don’t particularly care for it but it does make the interpreter less intrusive. Sometimes I’ve done it with a speaker phone on the other end, usually with a group of people gathered for a meeting, and I have to figure out who is talking to whom. Savings on one side, such as this, are someone else’s loss of income (mine in this case). Oil and coal workers are now feeling that pinch, while the rest of us enjoy cheaper fuel prices.

I’ve been consulted on what to do about Central American migrants, especially in public parks in suburban Maryland, throwing toilet paper on the floor and not flushing. Restroom problems are something I have not confronted lately, but I know why they throw toilet paper on the floor. That's because in Latin America, the plumbing cannot accommodate toilet paper, so it's thrown into a receptacle and burned periodically. I guess, it has been drilled into them--never put toilet paper into the toilet. Since I travel to Honduras annually, I have to switch gears myself, though, really, putting it into a receptacle to be burned is not the greatest solution. Some also have habitually used latrines, not toilets, and you don't flush those. Others have only gone outside behind the bushes. I’d suggest that school kids make bilingual signs with drawings for those who cannot read, showing proper bathroom conduct: someone throwing toilet paper into the toilet, then flushing, then washing hands and throwing the paper towel in the trash. I suspect local schools that have accepted Central American migrants have to give them the same instructions.
The girlfriend of convicted Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger was indicted for contempt of court for refusing to testify about the couple's time in hiding. Catherine Greig, 64, had been ordered by the U.S. District Court in Boston to answer questions before a grand jury about people who helped Bulger while he lived on the lam for 16 years to avoid arrest. My prediction is that she will not testify, as the worst crime for a mobster is “ratting out,” considered even worse than murder. So, at least as long as Bulger is alive, she is likely to stay mum, even if it means she spends more time locked up herself.

Another mass shooting—is the unrestricted right to bear arms so sacred that it supersedes the right to life of innocent others? According to CDC figures (as reported on, US firearms deaths (suicides, homicides, accidents) from 2000-2013 exceeded those from wars, terrorism, AIDS, and illegal drug overdoses combined.  

In the NYTimes, columnist Nicholas Kristof (Oct. 3) posits ways to make guns safer, though most such measures have been opposed by the NRA: Public health experts cite many ways we could live more safely with guns, and many of them have broad popular support. A poll this year found that majorities even of gun-owners favor universal background checks; tighter regulation of gun dealers; safe storage requirements in homes; and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses. We should also be investing in “smart gun” technology, such as weapons that fire only with a PIN or fingerprint. We should adopt microstamping that allows a bullet casing to be traced back to a particular gun. We can require liability insurance for guns, as we do for cars.

Dear Readers, believe it or not, I’m trying hard to be less wordy, as there are only a few faithful readers willing to hear me out. However, I have so much on my mind and so many issues engaging my attention that putting it all down on paper helps me sort it out, so thanks for your patience. I’ve also figured out how to place photos with the corresponding text. And you can always skim and focus on bolded key words. Gracias.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late Son’s Birthday, Papal Visit, Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, DR, El Chapo, Baby Mittens, Planned Parenthood Again, Squirrel

At my last posting, made on Sept. 4, the birthday of my late son Andrew who died in 1994, I decided to make no mention of him on that date, because some people—even myself sometimes--think I should be “over” his death. It’s been almost 21 years, but seems like only yesterday. He would have been 48 on his birthday— impossible, as for me, he will always be only 27. Well, I tried forgetting and simply cannot, so I’ll mention him now after all. Andrew, we still miss you!

Here, 2 days after Andrew's birthday, with that anniversary past, I'm having lunch with friends at a local Cuban restaurant.
For almost three days, Washington was besieged by Pope-mania. Of course, the Pope visiting DC is always a huge event, but Francis is a rock star, so the frenzy was bigger than ever. I avoided the crowds, though his parade passed close by. A young Hungarian woman staying with me, though she is Protestant, made the effort and actually saw him. The closest I ever got was to the papal cut-out where you saw me before.
Benedict was here not so long ago and during the Carter White House, with my late then-husband I met John Paul II in 1979 at an outdoor reception on White House grounds. When I say “met,” it was only to kiss his ring and say “hello” because I was tongue-tied. What do you say to a pope? “Pleased to meet you”?  I will focus more the pope’s Cuba trip, as already I’m straining the eyes of my readers as usual with my wordiness.
Now, instead of blaming the US government (“the Empire”) for supporting dissidents financially and morally, the Cuban regime is blaming rightwing Cubans and other anticommunists in the US, so dissidents are still considered disloyal enemy agents. By opposing the “Revolution,” they are, by definition, enemies of the established order. Cuban officials point out that the US also seeks out and punishes those who would seek to overthrow the government and do harm. The difference is that American efforts are focused on those who seek to do physical harm, to use force to destroy, kill, or maim. Cuban dissidents are peaceful. Furthermore, our government, for all its faults and dysfunctions, is elected by the people—not so, the Cuban leadership. Also, our leadership changes at set intervals. None has lasted more than half a century.
Felipe Kast, a Chilean legislative member visiting Cuba with a trade talk delegation, joining a Sunday march of the Women in White, was arrested and briefly detained before being taken to the airport and put on a plane back to Chile.
A number of news and information outlets, including the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, and the Foreign Policy Initiative, have criticized Pope Francis for not having more forcefully and directly reached out to dissidents or mentioned the lack of freedoms and political prisoners in Cuba during his visit. He was following the pattern of Cardinal Jaime Ortega who has made slow progress by being non-confrontational. Should the Pope and the Cardinal be pushing harder or is the progress the church has made due to their less threatening approach to the regime? When I was in Cuba, the Cardinal (then Archbishop) and his associates felt the gradual approach was their only option. But some of the cardinal’s recent statements, such as that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, seem to go beyond the requirements of cooperation. For Francis’s visit, the streets were cleared of dissidents and beggars and, unlike when he was in the US, the pope apparently did not ask to visit any prisoners.
From Time:

"Pope Francis also denied knowledge of dissidents who were arrested trying to meet him. Asked if he had wanted to meet dissidents in Cuba, and what he would have wanted to say to them, the Pope demurred, declining to answer hypothetical questions. Reports have indicated that some 50 dissidents were arrested outside the Holy See’s embassy where Pope Francis stayed in Havana. Pope Francis added that he declined numerous requests for private audiences, including those from heads of state."
 Pope John Paul II was certainly more forthright when he visited Cuba.
The relationship between the Castro regime and religion has evolved, just as has the Cuba/US relationship:
From Reuters: Sept, 14, 2015

Cuba detains dissidents ahead of Pope Francis visit

Cuban police detained about 50 people when a predominantly Roman Catholic dissident group led a march in Havana on Sunday, less than a week before Pope Francis visits the communist-ruled country.

Such detentions have become common following regular Sunday marches by the Ladies in White, a group that has criticized the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega for failing to advocate on its behalf with the Cuban government.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler told Reuters the women planned to attend masses that Pope Francis will lead in Havana and Holguin while in Cuba from Sept. 19-22. The pope will also visit Santiago de Cuba.

"I would discuss with the pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public," Soler said.

Cuba's government considers the dissidents to be provocateurs who are financed by anti-communist groups in the United States as part of an effort to destabilize the government in Havana.

In their weekly rally following mass at Havana's Santa Rita Catholic Church, about 40 of the women, accompanied by about a dozen male supporters, marched outside their authorized route and down a side street where they were set upon by some 200 government supporters and police. Female police pushed, pulled and carried the women onto buses as some sat down in an attempt to resist. The men were handcuffed and shoved into police cars and vans.

Similar incidents have occurred over the last few months, with those detained soon released. Dissidents have said about 100 people are typically detained each Sunday across Cuba.

In August, Cuban police detained 768 dissidents of all stripes for political activity, the highest monthly total so far this year, according to the dissident Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Among those detained on Sunday was Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident organization. He was released about an hour later.

"The Church should be concerned about this or any time human rights are involved," Ferrer said after police handcuffed him, took him to a station and later dropped him off at a bus terminal. "It is their duty."

The Church says it advocates for human rights with the government, but cannot take up partisan political causes. Women marching peacefully and silently carrying gladioli are partisan? I suppose, just by doing that, they are defined as partisan by the Cuban government, but should the Church agree?
 Over 140 dissidents, including Women in White, were arrested in Cuba during a celebration of a feast of Cuba’s patroness, the Copper Virgin. 
Meanwhile, 64 Cuban boat people were returned to Cuba by the US Coast Guard.

APNewsBreak: US weighs abstention on Cuba embargo vote at UN [That would be in line with Obama’s expressed desire to loosen or eliminate the embargo.]
Cuban university students are now studying English. Not so many years ago, it was Russian.
The US State Department offered to provide a fiber-optic cable from Miami to Havana to boost internet service on the island, but the Cuban government turned down the offer. Cuba has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates in the world.
According to a recent NY Times article, Pope Francis Faces a Challenge in Opening Cuba to the Church (NY Times, Sept. 18, 2015) Pope Francis, who will arrive in Havana on Saturday, knows the complexities of coexisting with repressive authorities from his own experiences in the 1970s, when Argentina was ruled by the military.
However, in my opinion, as oppressive and murderous as the Argentine military was in the 1970s, it was nothing compared to the Cuban military back in the 1970s or even now. While the Times may not be exactly comparing apples and oranges, it’s comparing an elephant with a mouse. Certainly, the Argentine military “disappeared” people who challenged its rule and despicably placed their surviving children in the families of their supporters. However, the everyday surveillance of all citizens, 20-30-year prison terms meted out after kangaroo trials, and wholesale executions were not part of the life of most ordinary Argentine citizens. If Pope Francis uses the experience of life under the Argentine military as his guide to understanding Cuba, he will get a glimmer, but not the whole picture.
I was expecting Cuba to release prisoners before the papal visit, as that has happened before. However, those considered to have violated "state security," that is, political prisoners, were not released, for example, irreverent performance artists Gorki Aguila and El Sexto. In the past, older and ailing prisoners have been released apparently to avoid having to care for them. In any case, more than 3,500 were reportedly released.
The new rules will allow American companies to open locations in Cuba and will clarify how they can conduct transactions and finance operations there.
If, as the article states, US companies would be able to hire and pay Cuban workers directly (as happens in China and Viet Nam), that would be an enormous change. It would mean that workers would no longer be vetted through the Communist Party and would be able to keep more of their earnings. The system now, with exchange rates between dollars and local currency set by the Cuban leadership to benefit themselves and basically impoverish workers and with all outside investment, including the choice of workers (no dissidents need apply) funneled through the Cuban political elite and military, there is little benefit to Cuban workers, the majority of whose earnings they never see. The Cuban government calls this socialism; other commentators call it slave labor. I'm not sure what our stance as Amnesty would be.   
Must comment on a discussion I heard on BBC early on one recent morning. British commentators on the pope's visit to Cuba praised his role in facilitating US-Cuba relations and helping the US to jettison its "rigid ideology and the spectacle of a big, powerful country picking on a small one." That, I fear, is a common misperception of our previous Cuba policy (also held by many in Amnesty circles) and why the change has been haled around the world. Rightly or wrongly, the US embargo and democracy efforts in Cuba were designed not to punish Cuba for having a different and more generous "socialist" government ideology, but because its own rigid ideology A) was leading to economic disaster, benefiting only a few at the top, B) did not reflect the collective will of the Cuban people, C) was resulting in beatings, arrests, unfair trials, and incarceration of peaceful protestors, and D) was causing much distress to Cubans, especially to young people, propelling them to try to escape and also leading to one of the highest suicide and lowest birth rates in the world and certainly in Latin America. The US was "picking" on Cuba because its government was hurting its own people, not because of some abstract principle or a desire to exercise power. Is that so? Or am I missing something? How do you counteract a view that has become accepted and acceptable as something that "everyone" knows?
As a fellow Amnesty International member has commented: And for years the vast numbers of people escaping the island -- whether to the USA, Haiti, Bahamas or death as the Gulf Stream carried them out to sea -- has made no impression on the pro-Castro crowd.  As if all of this voting by homemade floatcraft in response to a "rigid ideology" as actually endured by human beings up to and beyond the limits of desperation has no meaning and makes no difference whatsoever. 
Cuba’s VII Communist Party Congress has been announced for April 2016. Certainly there will be a lot of current and potential changes to discuss. If Raul Castro actually throws the discussion open instead of dictating policy as he has previously, it should be interesting to see the emergence of political rifts that supposed insiders tell me do exist within the party leadership (not surprisingly).
Just copying the headline below. We already know the problem, but not how to tackle it. It doesn't help that Donald Trump, on the presidential stump here, talks about a border wall, wholesale deportations, and ending birthright citizenship. None of that is going to happen, but some Americans may feel sympathy for those officials deporting people from the DR to Haiti.
FEATURE-Haiti border crisis grows as Dominican Republic expels 'migrants'-Reuters - Sat. 19 Sep 2015
The 8 Hondurans I met after they lost arms and legs falling off a Mexican train headed north are still in DC. According to the Spanish-language Washington Hispanic, in an article headlined Mutilated by the Beast (Mutilados por la Bestia) referring to that train, they are all on a hunger strike in front of the White House, asking for more job-creation aid to Honduras. Honduras has been included in a Central America aid package, but not in the amount this group considers sufficient or necessarily destined for job-creation.
I showed this photo before of a young man who lost both his right arm and right leg, singing lustily. He is still in DC, now on a White House hunger strike.
Chikungunya, a friend in Honduras tells me his whole family came down with it and are still feeling joint pain, especially in fingers and toes. It’s a mosquito-borne virus with no vaccine or medication available. How did this disease suddenly spread all over the developing world and even the southern US?
I received photos of Santa Lucia by my friend Irma, director of the adult blind training center there, sparking nostalgic memories of its quaint cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings. Yes, Honduras has much poverty, crime, and corruption, but it also has peaceful oases like Santa Lucia.
Might the surprise resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina trigger a Latin American spring? Many area leaders, left, right, and center, have waning popular support and must be shoring up their defenses to stay in power. Only the Cuban leadership seems unworried, as it doesn’t hold competitive elections, has no free press or internet, and now feels the US is in its corner. Indeed, the US seems to be coming down harder on Maduro in Venezuela than on Cuba, whose objective record on human rights over the last half century is much worse, maybe trying to drive a wedge between them?
Now Europe is experiencing a migrant crisis similar to ours last year when Central American kids amassed at our southern border. Human compassion requires giving them shelter but also means more will undertake the dangerous journey. That many of the migrants/refugees to Europe are Muslim complicates matters further, though many of the Syrians, at least, seem fairly well educated and many speak English. Those qualities are pluses. The new arrivals may help balance Europe’s aging demographics, just as immigrants from Latin America have helped the US, Donald Trump notwithstanding. But, at the same time, the receiving nation has a limit on how many it can absorb in a short time.
For a high-security inmate like “El Chapo” Guzman in Mexico or even the 2 guys who escaped a NY State prison, my though is that each could be fitted with an ankle bracelet in addition to being locked up. That way, even when not immediately visible by the guards, their whereabouts could be tracked and any tampering with the bracelet also registered. I mention that only because as an interpreter, I’ve had clients wearing such bracelets.
I suspect that VP Joe Biden’s decision on whether to make a presidential bid depends not so much on his emotional recovery from his son’s death, as on whether the money and political support he needs is really out there. If Biden were the Democratic presidential candidate, I would not hesitate to vote for him, but, based on his past performance in presidential contests, even with the sympathy vote, I don’t see him making the cut. Of course, I’d vote for any Democrat for president except for Patrick Leahy. If Leahy ran--rather unlikely--I’d have to sit on my hands. There is no Democrat, including Hillary and Bernie Sanders, about whom I am wildly enthusiastic, but I would vote for either as none of the Republican field is appealing.  Bernie is Jewish, so that would be a first. Hillary, obviously, would the first woman president. If any Republican gets elected, let’s hope the realities of the office will moderate their actions.

In Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia except for Japan and South Korea, tap water is not fit to drink. That’s most of the world, so, no wonder my overseas visitors always buy and drink only bottled water. I assure them the water is OK, but they are hesitant. Even my son’s wife from Micronesia insists on bottle water, though the water where they live in Hawaii is fine.
While on the subject of my son, Jon, shown again above with his baby, as well as the baby alone and with Aunt Stephanie, I’ll now get on my blog soapbox again. I was horrified to see the baby wearing mittens. I fought against that as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras—it was something practiced mostly by middle-class mothers who wanted to keep their babies from sucking thumbs and fingers. Sucking, I assured them, is a normal infant instinct and survival mechanism that should not be thwarted. Most children give it up between ages 2 and 4 and unless the sucking continues constantly and vigorously at those ages, teeth are not affected. Babies need to develop eye-hand coordination and the use of their hands (as I learned after 14 years working the occupational therapists’ association), so hands must not be restricted. My son said they had been afraid their baby would scratch himself, as it was hard to cut his nails, but, he soon assured me, they had cut them and taken the gloves off.
The restrictive quality of gloves is even more pronounced for blind people, who navigate so much with their hands and use them to read braille. I still remember a totally blind girl at the residential school in Tegucigalpa who begged me for gloves, which I duly brought her and which she eagerly put on, for what purpose, I don’t know, as they blunted the feeling in her hands and certainly were not needed in the city’s balmy weather.
I actually dreamed about Donald Trump, showing how much he has entered into our collective consciousness. He is still going great guns, saying things aloud, even sometimes shouting them, expressing opinions that some Americans wished they dared to say themselves. A sort of fortress America policy vision is emerging, something that Trump himself may be making up as he goes along, as he hasn’t apparently given it much forethought. But his surge in opinion polls may force him to better define his positions. Not only does he want closed borders, but also to avoid trade, keeping production and commerce all in-house. Apparently, our military would guard our borders from attack but not venture abroad. It seems like a vision circa 1900, which is where many of his followers would like to see our nation return. He also appeals to the infant in us all, free to express whatever emotions arise without restraint or forethought. But, at last, his star may be starting to fade.
I think of another blustery media star who made it in politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected as the unlikely governor of California. He actually didn’t do too badly by having good advisers and steering a moderate course. He was not quite so flamboyant and undisciplined as Trump, but similarly inexperienced in governance, though he did have a politically connected wife and managed to learn on the job. Trump is older and, as president, would be operating in a much vaster realm, so that even the thought is scary. He seems like a bull in a china shop, so we would just be lucky if he spared some things from destruction. On the other hand, by being unpredictable, by having frequent temper tantrums and other outbursts, he would really puzzle and frighten our foes—and our friends as well—sort of like Kim Jong Un. We are all waiting for this absurdity to stop, for Trump to crash, but what if he doesn’t?
Regarding my previous comments on abortion, especially late-term abortions, fetal development experts have found that learning begins in the womb, especially during the last trimester through hearing, taste, and smell. Surely a fetus at that stage has sensation and perhaps some budding awareness and is deserving of full protection. However, a woman writing recently in the Washington Post about her abortion at 21 weeks, in opposition to a 20-week ban, reported that her unborn child had a condition incompatible with life, so she chose to have an abortion at that stage rather than wait for full term if the baby would die anyway. I suspect that post-20-week abortions are never done lightly. Of course, there could always be arguments about what constitutes a sufficiently serious situation for going ahead at that stage. I’d still like to see the national consensus on first trimester abortions put that issue beyond political dispute, but to see more restrictions thereafter where consensus goes in the other direction; then maybe we can stop arguing about abortion and Planned Parenthood? Because another government shutdown on the issue now looms. And no federal money goes to that organization for abortions anyway, to my knowledge.
Finally, and maybe this looks a little gross, but I saw something blocking a roof drainage canal outside my 3rd-floor office window. Reaching out with my hand encased in a plastic bag, I found a desiccated squirrel, one of those annoying creatures running around on my roof, chewing up pieces of wood and roof shingles—or so it appears from the debris. My workman friend tried to shut them out of one space, but they knocked down his barrier. They are determined critters, but this one had gone to squirrel heaven.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Miracle Baby, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Hungary, China’s Stock Market, DR Deportations. Salva Kiir. Cuba, Amnesty’s Prostitution Decriminalization Policy Again, Ashley Madison, Planned Parenthood Again, Gun Killings--Again

My friends and neighbors, pictured here with their older son and newest member, are celebrating the homecoming of the baby, born prematurely and then having undergone heart surgery. It’s a real miracle that he survived and is so alert after all.

Presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a border wall with Canada. If a wall with Mexico is a nutty idea, a wall along the 5,000+mile Canadian border is even more ridiculous. He’s trying to out-Trump Donald Trump.

According to a friend, in a NYorker cartoon, one guy observes to another that Trump campaign news has been moved to the newspaper’s comic section. And a recent NYorker cover shows Trump coming down in a belly-flop high dive, alarming other Republican hopefuls in the water below. But, of course, Trump supporters are not NYorker readers. It's amazing how far the guy has gotten just by being outrageous and naughty. Many voters, frustrated in their daily life, must enjoy having Trump give voice to that. It hasn't ended yet. A really scary thought is that he might actually win the presidency. We all say it's impossible, but look how far he's gotten, and he’s been having a lot of fun doing it. Of course, so far, he's been spending his own money and, at some point, he may decide to stop. Or he may stop if he is no longer getting a response and attention. Trump’s remarks seem to be unedited, flowing freely out of his mouth without thought or preparation. It must be a challenging to be on his campaign staff, which I suspect sees quite a bit of turnover. Either he or they are probably quick to say, “You’re fired!”

Jeb Bush explaining that he was actually referring to Asians in his “anchor babies” remark is not going to win many Asian American votes. Presidential candidates should know that their every remark is going to be documented, repeated, and magnified. Trump doesn’t care, as long as he gets publicity, but a serious candidate like Jeb should watch his mouth.

Meanwhile, a young Hungarian law student, with her family there over the summer, tells me about all the refugees trying to swarm across Hungary's borders and how she had been trying to help them out while the government was building an emergency fence to keep them out. She helped fee desperate families with infants and small children sleeping outside on the sidewalk around the Budapest train station. And my friend in Yemen recounts chaos and despair there. But we have enough problems just here in this hemisphere. Now all we need in the US is a President Trump and we might as well join the Mars expedition and start over again there.

News of China’s stock market crash has probably now reached actual stockholders there, as they have seen their own holdings shrink. However, while the rest of the world reacted immediately, sending stocks lower everywhere, it is prohibited to divulge such news in China either in the press or on line. So take note, Cuba watchers, a thaw in diplomatic relations does not necessarily mean a thaw inside the country. However, as awareness of the government’s manipulation of the Chinese stock market and the cover-up filter down to unfortunate stockholders, the government loses legitimacy. Over 200 Chinese have been arrested and blamed for the crash. Meanwhile, the leadership launched a massive military parade which citizens could only watch on TV, most of them forbidden to watch in person.

The DR Haitian descendants’ crisis continues because much of the public and politicians there support it, much as anti-immigrant voters here support Trump: There is also confusion in the public mind, as perhaps also among the authorities, between Haitian-born and Dominican-born people of Haitian descent. The latter are claiming “birthright” citizenship.

That Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina actually resigned under pressure is pretty amazing, that he was jailed, even more so. That’s fairly unprecedented in Latin America (or anywhere).  Richard Nixon was the only US president who resigned, saved from prosecution by a pardon from his successor.

Salva Kiir, South Sudan’s pugnacious president, finally reluctantly (and quite belatedly) signed a peace agreement with his vice president and rival. So tragic to see this infighting is such a fragile country, where I had a mission in 2006, before independence.

What President Obama has tried to do both regarding Iran and Cuba is to upset the narrative and alliances in the region, which has been happening already to some extent. Over time, with more American tourism and less Cuban government blaming of the American “Empire” for all of Cuba’s ills, maybe the Cuban people will start wondering whether their leaders are the ones actually responsible for the economic stagnation on their island and the problems they are experiencing in their daily life. (Dissidents already blame the Cuban leadership but they are not a majority right now and are prevented from making their views known to others.) The question then will be what the Cuban people might do about it in a harsh and very controlling dictatorship, an aspect of Cuba life not readily visible to tourists or outside observers. The experience of China and Viet Nam is not cause for optimism in that regard. People there are becoming more aware of government strictures and responsibility, but don’t have mechanisms for overcoming them and the leadership always has control of the military and police to stop any free expression or unrest.

Yet now, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US are a reality, so there is no going back. The US from now on must work within that framework. While Senator Leahy is wrong that critics of the Obama/Castro deal are nostalgic for Batista, many are nostalgic for a year ago, before full diplomatic relations were anticipated and some are fruitlessly trying to turn back the clock to that time. Instead, they need to think of working within the current system, no matter how much they lament it. Cuba has now started teaching English in schools, a good sign.

A blog proposes, OK, let’s flood Cuba with American visitors, as President Obama envisions, adding only a simple requirement whereby all U.S. "people-to-people" travelers to Cuba -- better yet, every category of U.S. travelers to Cuba -- must patronize exclusively home businesses, staying only at "casas particulares" and dining only at "paladares," not in hotels and resorts controlled by the government.  Could Americans of any political persuasion oppose that?

I see that the Cuban Five visited Robben Island, as if to draw a parallel between their imprisonment in the US and Nelson Mandela's. The many plantados who have served 20-30 sentences in Cuba under even more cruel conditions would be a closer parallel. Quite a few Cuban political prisoners spent years breaking up rocks on Isla de Pinos, a notorious island prison off the coast, accessible only by boat.

Cuban doctors, like other Cubans, are trying to get to the US before the door closes.

I seem to be encountering all kinds of discouraging, but realistic, news about Latin America today and, additionally, worldwide stock market fluctuations won't help any of these problems.

As a member and activist since 1981, maybe I shouldn’t be airing Amnesty International’s dirty laundry on this blog, but concerns about the worldwide organization’s vote to support the decriminalization of the acts of all participants in prostitution has taken many members by surprise, arousing considerable pushback. Maybe paid sex is the new sexual frontier, but consensus has hardly arrived yet and is ranging within Amnesty activist ranks. It implies an inequality between men and women when it comes to sex--that women must be paid to engage in sex that otherwise they would reject.  It has been revealed that this policy was advocated most forcefully by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which gave a considerable donation to Amnesty. Allegedly, the foundation insisted on the full decriminalization policy, and maneuvered to make sure the resolution voted on at the recent meeting of Amnesty’s worldwide congress was just for that, with decriminalization only of prostitutes not offered as an alternative. I had always been favorably disposed toward Soros, but if he really pushed Amnesty into this corner, I will have to rethink my opinion. Another aspect of the problem is that at the world congress, held every 2 years, each member country has a single vote on any issue, regardless of its size, number of members, and financial support of the movement, obviously giving small countries the same weight as the US, UK, Canada, and France, all of which opposed the measure. One has to wonder what arms were twisted in small nations, much as might have been the case with FIFA. Some countries have implemented the so-called Nordic model, not only Sweden, but also Canada, whereby johns are punished, but not prostitutes, something which has reportedly had mixed outcomes. In Canada, prostitutes are disproportionately native women. See No More Stolen Sisters page on AI Canada's website:

Germany has come closest to putting full decriminalization into effect, with unfortunate results according to this article:

The New York Times has come editorially against paid sex. The Amnesty position has started a debate on the issue, perhaps more than anticipated, with few coming out in support of full decriminalization.

Here is a US Amnesty member’s comment:

The point someone made about this being an example of elitism is very much on target. I think that those who are pushing this agenda are just so convinced that they are "right" about this issue and that those opposed have some kind of backward world view and so they feel justified blasting through their pet issue over the objections of those "less enlightened" of us because of course they know better than we do, being blessed with this superior insight of theirs. But the fact is that there is plenty of research that shows that--despite what they claim in the abstract---decriminalizing the entire sex industry, as was done in Germany and the Netherlands, led to a sharp increase in trafficking and other abuses. So the facts are definitely not on the side of the know-it-alls. Also, they have rallied together with certain sex worker organizations in western countries that represent the minority of sex workers who are well off and "empowered"--and they trot them out as if they were representative of sex workers everywhere. And the tortured language used in the AI documents that I have seen to justify this new policy completely evades the issue of why the Scandinavian model cannot address the problems that are identified. Everyone seems to agree that the victims of the sex trade should not be arrested, persecuted, harassed. But the Scandinavian model addresses that problem very well--it calls for decriminalization of the survivors. What's not to like? The AI policy goes out on the limb and declares there is a new human right--the right of men who happen to have money in their pocket to exploit other human beings for their selfish gratification. We are now saying this is a basic right to their sexual expression. This in effect is like declaring that it is an equivalent right to that of LGBT people to choose their own partners free of harassment and discrimination--because the new "human rights" of johns and pimps is also based (according to the logic of the new policy) on the same premise.

Another Amnesty activist advises, please go here: to see a lengthy article that appeared in Der Spiegel--it details the utter failure of Germany's effort to implement exactly what the proposed AI policy is calling for--the results are extremely troubling. This article also describes the success of the program implemented in Sweden--the so-called Nordic model which protects the survivors of sex commerce but does NOT decriminalize the ugly commerce itself. I urge you and everyone else to read this article carefully. The proposed policy has already been implemented and the experiment has FAILED--failed UTTERLY and MISERABLY.

It’s not really so shocking to find out that many of the married men paying their dues to Ashley Madison were actually corresponding with a bot, not an actual woman. They must pay for any correspondence, not for meetings with a real person. Women can exchange messages for free. Only married men have been “outed,” no women. It would not be surprising if more married men than married women had actually signed up for that dating website and that the enterprise made up for the shortfall and kept the guys enrolled with teasers and photos from fake women. While some married women do seek affairs, usually they do so with men they already know, not via a website. It’s no secret that having greater testosterone along with cultural factors would propel more men toward infidelity.

As for the Planned Parenthood debate, I should have emphasized that in my fantasy all-purpose pregnancy assistance center, staff would absolutely have a non-pejorative attitude and sympathy for any woman finding herself unexpectedly pregnant and in a tight spot, whether through a contraception failure, having too many kids already, date rape, a health problem for her or the fetus, or being under age herself. I should have emphasized that more. And Pope Francis, by authorizing forgiveness for an abortion, has acknowledged how widespread it is. Because of ideology or political correctness, opinions on abortion have becomes excessively polarized and mutually defensive. Let’s be reasonable and follow public opinion, which supports abortion in the first trimester, but not thereafter, and has reacted negatively to some of the excesses and practices of Planned Parenthood which have overshadowed for many people the good that agency actually does. Voluntarily stopping later abortions by Planned Parenthood would diffuse much of the opposition.  Pro-lifers claim that younger people are more sympathetic to their view than older ones. I haven’t seen the data, but it’s possible that younger people, more accustomed to using contraception, see unwanted pregnancy as preventable. Also, unmarried pregnancy no longer bears much of a stigma. Certainly, the number of abortions has been dropping. However, it does seem that Hegel was right, that opinions tend to gather steam in one direction, often going too far, inspiring a retreat and a correction, with a continuous oscillation and a slow movement toward what we might define as consensus and progress. (Admittedly, that’s Hegel simplified.)

Another senseless gun killing has taken place around Roanoke, near Virginia Tech and Blacksburg where my parents used to live, ordinarily a very peaceful place—though, of course, the Va. Tech mass murder occurred there not so very long ago. Even if that fatal TV interview had been conducted with an armed guard standing nearby, probably those deaths could not have been prevented. The gun was also purchased legally, after the requisite background check. Until someone goes off the rails or accidentally discharges a gun, how can it be predicted, with no prior record of misuse, that they will use it safely? Aggressive gun rights’ advocates, especially the NRA, are putting us all in danger. Gun deaths have now spiked in DC after a period of decline. People have been shot after petty arguments, such as an elbowing at a nightclub. Without firearms, there might have been a fight, but hardly a fatal one. When is the Hegelian dialectic going to kick for gun control? While opinion is divided if the question is posed as gun “rights” versus gun “control,” polls show a majority on both sides support background checks and banning assault weapons.