Saturday, January 13, 2018

New Year, Birthdays, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Peace Corps, Honduras, Cuba, Trump, Priestly Celibacy, Probabilities, Language

A new year, new possibilities, new problems. Let’s see what 2018 brings. Life is always a surprise. We had light snow here in DC between Christmas and New Year’s, unusual so early in the season, and bitter cold, though with my house facing south, when the sun came out, the snow all melted. I don’t remember having such a cold winter in a very long time. [photo, snow]

How do they do it? Visitors from other countries, including from some African countries recently much maligned by Trump, have called me via some sort of phone system that I don’t understand, which apparently costs nothing or next to nothing. They are not happy about the president’s remarks.

My older daughter Melanie had a birthday just before Christmas, but we didn’t have time to celebrate until afterward.

I won’t say how old she is because that makes me feel older still!!

Speaking of birthdays, I just sent a bunch of party goodies for the birthday of a great lady living in Vermont, Egyptian-born Wanda, who will be 103!  I’ve known her and her family since my own childhood. She’s able to live at home due not only to her good constitution but because her family takes good care of her, prepares her meals, and keeps her company, as they say “It takes a village.”

I signed up for Clean Choices Energy, which sent a statement showing that my electricity is coming 100% from wind and solar—take that Donald Trump!

On Jan. 10, joined a group gathered in front of the Supreme Court to advocate for the “Motor-Voter Act,” making voter registration automatic when someone gets a driver’s license.

South Sudan, where I carried out a mission in 2006 before independence, has seen a tragic ethnically motivated civil war and power struggle more recently. Now, the warring factions have signed a fragile peace deal, so let’s hope it holds. Citizens of such a raw, underdeveloped brand new country can scarcely afford to keep fighting among themselves. By the way, in my limited experience, South Sudanese are the darkest people on the globe, giving new meaning to the word “black” to describe an ethnic group. Here are two beautiful ladies I met there. Most African Americans pale in comparison.

South Sudan needs peace to recover from the effects of years of war against the north, from which it finally gained independence in 2011. See my 2007 article: Southern Sudan May Show the Way, Template for a Post-Treaty Darfur? 

When I was in South Sudan, I learned that women there typically undergo severe FGM, making childbirth difficult, among other problems. In the wee morning hours recently, I tuned into BBC and learned about the challenges of eradicating FGM, which still afflicts millions of women around the world, even secretly in this country. It is a rite of female passage and would require the substitution of another accepted rite, hard to do when FGM has been practiced for generations. In some western countries, although this is also prohibited, some girls are subjected to just a symbolic needle prick in the sensitive genital area, not as drastic as the full surgery, but not completely without risks either from pain and infection. (Male circumcision, while somewhat controversial, has pros and cons and does not affect sexual or other functioning.) I did find one tribe in South Sudan whose passage rite for both genders was pulling out the two lower front teeth, certainly better than FGM, but also not without risks and problems. Scaring and extension of earlobes and necks are other common rites and practices. Apparently the efforts focus on making a permanent change in the body, but with so many ordinary challenges to life and health, more benign rites like the Latin American quinceanera deserve wider dissemination.

Good news: Ethiopia Says It Will Free All of Its Political Prisoners
Great news! Wouldn't it be nice if other leaders followed his example? Let's hope it really happens. 

Josephine Olsen, PhD, has been named new Director of the Peace Corps. Olsen is senior lecturer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and a former volunteer in Tunisia. I don’t know her, but she sounds fine. Despite her experience and credentials, some insiders say that she is not such good news for the corps, while others who have worked with her tout her highly. We shall have to wait and see.

Post-election violence still occurring in Honduras, with fault on both sides, according to folks there. The consensus of friends in Honduras is that neither candidate was desirable and most voted for neither. There is a lot of feeling that incumbent President Juan O. Hernandez, declared the winner, should not have tried for second term. But the OAS did not call for a reelection and the Trump administration has recognized the election, while also issuing a travel advisory, one reason I am delaying making my final plans for Feb. I want to make sure the medical brigades will be going forward. Operation Smile, where I volunteer annually as an interpreter, is scheduled to take place at San Felipe public hospital Feb. 15-23, only about a block from the US Embassy where daily demonstrations are being held because the US has recognized the incumbent president. I've been back to Honduras 13 times in the 13 years since Peace Corps there and if I don't go this year, it will be the first time I will have missed. Families fear no justice for victims as 31 die in Honduras post-election violence | World news | The Guardian

Opposition candidate Nasralla Thousands march against election result in Honduras

My friends in Honduras (most voted for neither main presidential candidate) say that opposition candidate Nasaralla has threatened all-out “rebellion” if Hernandez takes office as scheduled on Jan. 20.

As if Honduras didn’t have enough problems: Large 7.6-magnitude earthquake strikes off Honduras coast - NY Daily News
And, finally, ending TPS for Hondurans is also looming. Yes, if Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans have to go, Hondurans surely are next.

On Jan. 10, the Americas advocacy director and I met at the Amnesty Int’l USA office with Felix Llerena, (above) a 21-year-old Cuban expelled from the university allegedly for his dissident views. I had earlier served as his interpreter at a meeting with GWU students where he had asked for a meeting with us at the AIUSA office. Llerena, a supporter of the Varela Project, had told the students the he was arrested in front of his mother and accused of having terrorist links, also of “pre-delinquency.” A copy of the US constitution and a book by Jose Marti were confiscated from his home and he said that the security forces encouraged neighbors to attack him with machetes if he tried talking to others about his beliefs.  At our meeting, he thanked us for all that AI has done for Cuba. Our advocacy director told him about our limitations in being unable to visit Cuba and our concerns about the embargo and other matters. He praised our Cuba report. He told us that he had been prevented from leaving Cuba, even being removed from a flight to a Latin America youth/student network meeting in Cancun and having all his documents and devices confiscated. He was arrested again in July and returned to his home province of Santa Clara and not allowed to leave the province until four EU delegates visited him there in August, after which his charges were dropped. He was allowed to travel to the US in October where he has remained since.  He is scheduled to give a talk at NY U on Jan. 19 and plans to return to Cuba in February.  He said that the regime leadership doesn’t expect him to actually return, but that he feels it is important for young people to remain in Cuba and work for a more open system. He does not know what awaits him on his return.

Tillerson tells AP that Cuba is still risky; FBI doubts sonic attack. Sen. Flake also doubts the attacks occurred--on the other hand, Canadian diplomats have also reported them. I don't know, but it's true that moving embassy functions to Colombia has certainly hampered them. Are the attacks real or an excuse?;-FBI-doubts-sonic-attack

Here’s another theory on the attacks on personnel at the US Embassy in Havana, virus attacks. That certainly seem plausible, whether intentional or not:

Goodbye Venezuela, hello Russia. Can Vladimir Putin save Cuba?

In light of its own priestly pedophile scandal, the Australian government has asked the Catholic Church to end its celibacy rule for priests. I’ve long advocated that, and also for allowing women priests. As per my Honduras Peace Corps book, Triumph & Hope,   
“I have always believed, along with many fellow Catholics, that allowing married and women priests would not only enrich and expand the applicant pool, but also reduce the risk of pedophilia and other abuses.” (pp.181-182) Not all pedophilia would be eliminated by eliminating celibacy, but it would certainly be reduced. And while female pedophilia exists, it is quite rare, usually a teacher with a teenage boy student, and, as with much male pedophilia and sex abuse, combines authority and sexual exploitation.

I cannot disagree with North Korea’s Kim that Trump is a “dotard.” Trump’s bragging that he has a “bigger nuclear button” sounds a lot like the “small hands” debate during the primaries. The problem is that in the case of nuclear threats, such talk is really scary, especially when Trump’s opponent is equally unhinged, or is he just playing Trump for a fool? Trump is easily manipulated by other leaders. Think about it, Donald, would a genuinely intelligent guy actually boast about it? It’s unfortunate for Trump and his family that he is so seriously confused and otherwise mentally and emotionally challenged; I feel especially for Melania and young Barron, though Barron is rumored to be away at boarding school most of the time and therefore not bearing the brunt. In the future, after The Donald has passed on, perhaps the family will let us know what they actually went through in their private life while the rest of us were suffering out in the public sphere. What Trump really needs is a cushy retirement to Mar-a-Lago where he can watch Fox News for hours on end, tweet daily about it to his faithful followers, and then play golf to his heart’s content, a place where folks who still adore him can come to pay homage and cheer him on wearing his signature hats, praising him as “America’s greatest president ever.”

It’s quite astonishing, at least to me, that Donald Trump is supposedly the second most admired man in American after Barack Obama. That’s according to a recent poll. Barack Obama in first place is no big surprise, but Trump—can he really be second? I’d rather see Pence, O’Connell, or even Ryan in second place than Trump. Are so many Americans really so mean-spirited and stupid themselves that they actually admire the current president? It’s so disheartening. Good that Orrin Hatch is retiring and hope Mitt Romney wins his seat to provide him a platform to counter Trump. Someone needs to shake up the Republican electorate and shake it out of its torpor! Since the Republican Party has a disproportionate advantage in how districts are drawn, then we all rely on that party to do the right thing.

Allowing states to require able-bodied adults to engage in work or volunteer activities to receive food stamps doesn’t seem outrageous, but the devil is in the details. What will qualify and how will compliance be monitored?

Trump rarely is seen out and about here in the nation’s capital, as Michelle and Barack Obama often were. And he doesn’t go anywhere with Melania except to political events or to Mar-a-Lago. The Obamas often ate at local restaurants and showed up at church services together. Michelle visited a number of public schools to the delight of students whom I know. The Obamas were and are still much loved around DC, while Trump and family would be booed if they dared appear. Tiffany, a Georgetown Law student, was spotted recently with another young woman at a local eatery, but since she is not so closely associated with her father, she is not so reviled. Trump and his supporters don’t seem to realize that most Americans don’t share their narrow racist, sexist, and overly economically oriented self-interest.

Now, since lifting regulations possibly discouraging coal production have resulted in no new coal production, the Trump administration reportedly is considering actually subsidizing coal production to make it more competitive with other forms of energy, thereby keeping Trump’s promises to coal miners that their jobs would be coming back. Meanwhile. A coal plant in Green County, WVa., which voted big for Trump, has just closed.

The new “tell-all” best-seller Trump book, aptly named Fire and Fury (Trump himself gifted that title to the author), may or may not be 100% true, but it probably is more reliable than what comes out of The Donald’s mouth. We already know Trump lies, has a short attention span, is forgetful, and doesn’t read, so all that’s nothing new. That Melania was unhappy with his presidential win is believable. In photos, she’s never smiling, looking almost grim. Trump’s lawyers are reportedly trying to get Mueller to question him in writing and to have him submit his answers in writing—or to avoid having Mueller question him at all. Certainly the Trump presidency has been the number one story of our nation and of the world in 2017 and will be again, it seems, in 2018. Donald Trump has sucked most of the air out of the rest of the news cycle.

Say it isn’t so, Oprah; we certainly don’t need another celebrity political candidate! Put your celebrity behind another woman. But if it should be Trump versus Oprah (heaven forbid!), of course, we have to go with Oprah.

Putin is certainly running circles around the US in general and around Trump in particular in terms of intelligence and political strategy. He is leveraging what might look like a weak hand into something pretty powerful and that’s perhaps why Russians will support his reelection once again. Can we hack into Putin’s on-line activity in retaliation for having given us the Trump presidency, or is Putin too clever to permit that? 

A Neo-Nazi affiliated teen has shot and killed his girlfriend’s parents in Reston, Va., just outside DC, after they told her to stop seeing him because of his beliefs and his efforts to influence her. He also shot himself in the head, but was not killed outright. Do neo-Nazis feel no obligation to stop radicalizing impressionable young people? 

An elementary fact that anti-immigration zealots like Trump ignore is that by the mere law of averages and simple chance, a few immigrants inevitably are going to do something harmful, whether that involves an accident (as the jury determined in the California shooting case that Trump highlighted) or even a deliberate act. However, on average, immigrants probably are responsible for far less harm than native-born Americans and also provide net benefits to the body politic. Unfortunately, Trump’s grandfather’s journey from Germany as an immigrant has turned out to have inflicted major damage on us now in the US, but Trump and his grandfather are outliers in that regard.

After repeated outrages by Trump, we are starting to expect them, so our own outrage has become more muted. What do we now expect from Trump? That he will do something stupid and harmful, so the shock is less. At the same time, perhaps Trump’s cries of “fake news” and his blatant name-calling are also losing their punch, even among his core supporters. We’re all getting used to Donald Trump, though it’s not yet quite the “new normal.” And Democrats, who were stunned to wake up the day after the election to a President Trump, seem to have regained their energy and equilibrium to confront him and to challenge the Republican Party that is supporting him with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Democrats are energized against Trump and the Republican agenda, though providing a temporary economic bump from the tax bill may counteract Democratic efforts in the 2018 mid-terms.

In fact, Trump’s outrages have mostly had the effect of enhancing the fortunes of anyone or whatever he attacks. Not only have opposition and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, flourished, but when he says that Vanity Fair or the New York Times is “on its last legs” and “failing,” that drives more people to subscribe, just as happened with Obamacare which has had a surge while Trump’s base actually believes the program has been repealed because he said so. And the me-too movement owes much of its momentum to a backlash against Trump’s bragging about grabbing women. However, Trump’s core supporters, predominately white men without a college education, may still identify with him, and vicariously enjoy his unfettered access to women and his ability to wield influence on foreign and domestic affairs from a place of ignorance commensurate with their own. “Yes sir,” they may be thinking, “that’s exactly what I would do or say myself if I were president.” He’s one of them.

According to core Trump supporters, including those within the Republican Congress, because credible evidence comes out indicating that Trump is uniformed, confused, or doing something illegal or immoral, then ipso facto, the source of that evidence is politically biased and “out to get” Trump. Immediately, there are counter-complaints of a “cover-up” of Hillary Clinton’s alleged misdeeds and calls to investigate her. Hey folks, Hillary is not the president; your guy Donald Trump is the president and just maybe he has done something wrong. Isn’t it important to find that out?

It is a truism that the future is always a matter of probabilities, never certainty, except that we all will die. But will you or I actually wake up tomorrow morning? Chances are better than 99% that we will. That will be true for many successive mornings until, one day, we won’t wake up again.
                                                                                            Trump’s presidency is due to a series of unlucky and unlikely probabilities. That’s true as well in the rise of some other unexpected leaders, such Cuba’s Fidel Castro. As stated in my Confessions book, “History is not linear, inexorably following a smooth, predictable path. As per chaos theory, spikes, troughs, and cataclysms can and do happen. Fidel Castro’s seizure of power was such an event, no ordinary dictatorship.” (p. 42)
And Trump’s presidency is another such unprecedented event.

Would it be wise, for self-protection, for me to avoid altogether the news and the demonstrations taking place so close to my doorstep? What if I just cocooned inside my home and with my family, ignoring the outside world? Is there anything I could do anyway besides vote when the time comes to end this living nightmare? There are enough everyday challenges to confront  without adding awareness of Trump’s daily outrages on top of everything else.

In terms of probabilities, also connected with Donald Trump’s policies, if you possess a firearm, there’s actually a very small chance that it will really protect you when you need it and a far greater likelihood that you, your child, or another person will be injured or killed by your gun, either through accident, suicide, or an impulsive act. Just having a gun available or actually in one’s hand increases the odds of its use, often inadvertently, including by police. (Police reportedly killed more than 1,000 people in the US in 2017, with probably a fair number of those deaths avoidable.) If you are holding a gun and your finger is on the trigger when you feel threatened or despondent or simply curious about how it works, it’s fairly likely that you will pull the trigger even when, upon later reflection, you should not have done so. Thus police shot an unarmed man who answered the door after a false report that he was holding his family hostage. Such a shooting might later be deemed “accidental,” but it would have been a completely avoidable accident.

How many curious kids have accidentally shot themselves, their siblings, or their parents? How many parents have killed their kids in the dark of night thinking they were burglars? How many armed police have shot unarmed citizens for no apparent reason? At a New Year’s Eve gathering, a 16-year-old New Jersey boy killed his parents, sister, and a visitor using a semi-automatic rifle legally owned and registered to a family member. Was that gun protective of that family? In Tennessee, a 12-year-old girl shot and killed another girl. Human beings are accident-prone and impulsive, which is why self-driving cars are safer than those being driven by people.

Since Australia has restricted gun ownership, its gun death rate has fallen precipitously. Is the “right to bear arms” so sacrosanct that it’s worth such carnage? Not only are these youthful killers subjected to a lifetime of remorse and long-term incarceration, but their victims are deprived of the right to life. It’s even doubtful that the “right to bear arms” was ever originally intended to apply to individual gun ownership—its enshrinement was just the fluke of a relatively recent and unprecedented Supreme Court decision, perhaps influenced by NRA propaganda, an interpretation that has now come to hold sway and become sacrosanct. The Founding Fathers may never have intended private gun ownership.

An Iraq veteran killed a Colorado deputy—again, does that mean Iraq veterans are dangerous and should never have firearms? That’s the argument used by Trump and his base for keeping out immigrants, when the actions of one may have resulted in someone’s death or injury. Remember probabilities, folks!

Talk about a tongue-twister, using the term “anti-abortion-rights advocates” instead of “pro-lifers.” 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Happy Holidays, Son Jon’s Visit, Honduran Elections, Cuban Student, Trump (Alas, Still with Us), Alabama Election, Sexual Harassment (Also Still Pervasive), Catholic Voters. Abortion Wars Compromise?

Happy holidays, let’s try our best to find something to be happy about.

(Having a very hard time posting now because blog is on an alternate gmail account and every time I try to post something, it reverts to the main gmail account where I don't have a blog. Readers, please bear with me. I'm trying)

The new tax “relief” bill is not something to celebrate. It will help some businesses and business people, as well as large estates, Republican donors, and high-end taxpayers, but do little for the rest of us, in fact, increasing the deficit for the benefit of those high-end folks. States like New York and California—and also Washington, DC—where state and local taxes can no longer be deducted will be punished for voting against Trump. The rich get richer, as the saying goes. If the tax system had been just left alone, the economy would have hummed along nicely if not spectacularly with already almost full employment, or possibly the corporate rate alone could have been lowered or tweaked somewhat without tampering with the whole system. If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? Even if Democrats pick up seats in the mid-terms, it’s hard to undo damage once it’s been done.

In short, the tax bill, in my opinion, is another Trump-supported initiative that is at best a huge gamble, likely to result in a big collective loss, as well as short-term gains for some of the electorate and long-term benefits for the Trump family and the super-rich. But by the time the longer-term negatives fall on voters, many of the original lawmakers who supported it will be out of office or perhaps have gained seniority and will be able to deflect the blame.  (I would love to be wrong.) 

I had a visit from my son Jonathan (with me above), who recently moved from Hawaii to Winchester, Va., from Honolulu. While he was here, he was thrilled to see snow again, but not so much. It melted immediately. That was reportedly the first snow fall in DC in December in 4 years.

Here below is a rather unflattering profile of the challenger in the contested Honduran election, not that the incumbent president seeking reelection is someone to admire either, but he is a known quantity.

Honduras: police refuse to obey government as post-election chaos deepens | World news | The Guardian

OK to criticize Venezuela, but turn a blind eye on Honduras? Not really

BY ANDRÉS OPPENHEIMER, Miami Herald, 12-8-2017

The State Dept. has issued a travel advisory for Honduras, but I hope order will be restored before my Feb. trip. So far, I’m still planning to go.
A few folks in Honduras have given me their opinions, with the consensus being that neither presidential candidate is particularly desirable; it’s been a matter, as is so often the case, of trying to choose the lesser of evils. If you read Spanish, here are a few comments:
1.Nasralla + Mel Zelaya + Juan Orlando Hernandez = Insuficiente para el Presidente que Honduras necesita en los próximos 4 años. Si gana Nasralla = Gobierno INCIERTO por la incompatibilidad ideológica de Nasralla con Zelaya. Gobierno del aceite con vinagre.
Si gana JOH = Gobierno INGOBERNABLE  por inconstitucional y porque la mayoría de los 
hondureños votantes estan en contra.
POSIBLE Solucion: Segunda vuelta  solo para la eleccion Presidencial (que no esta en la Constitucion Hondureña) encabezada por un Tribunal Supremo Electoral INTERNACIONAL
2.La mejor opción es JOHA pues de quedar Nasrala seremos igual a Venezuela.
3. aqui estan ocurriendo muchas cosas en lo politico las autoridades estan siendo prudentes con dar los resultados finales de la eleccion presidencial por obias razones , nosotros no pudimos votar por que martin se enfermo y estuvo hospitalizado todo el domingo. espero que esta situacin en mi pais se calme y podamos seguir trabajando como siempre
4. Hola Bárbara... Ninguno de los dos es lo mejor...pero el menos peor es el actual Presidente JOH, pues Nasralla es un títere del ex presidente Manuel Zelaya y ahorita en las elecciones volvimos a ver los mismos actores y seguidores de Zelaya que meses y años atras habían desaparecido y de ganar Nasralla volverían a posiciones importantes dentro del Gobierno...haciéndonos recordar el Gobierno de Zelaya. El Tribunal Superior de Elecciones acaba de declarar a JOH como presidente electo... Nasralla viajó hoy a Washington a denunciar el fraude ante la OEA y otras organizaciones...   creo que al final nada cambiará y luego de algunas semanas de protestas , todo volverá a la calma, similar a lo que pasó despues de la destitución de Zelaya en el 2009.

(Hernandez’s sister was recently killed in a Honduran helicopter crash.)

The following article provides a good summary on Cuba. I have long contended that lack of food production is major problem there—as per my article:

 Change Is Coming to Cuba

More than 37,000 Cubans face deportation orders. As volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty Int’l USA, I’ve helped a handful with pro-bono lawyers obtain asylum, but most will be sent back.
Some arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border only a few hours after the sudden change in immigration policy on Jan. 12. Others have been in the United States since much earlier. The majority face possible deportation. According to official figures, the number of Cubans with final orders of deportation has increased this year. Through Dec. 9, there were 37,218 facing final deportation orders. Meanwhile, the number of Cuban migrants currently in detention centers now exceeds 1,600. “As of December 9, 2017, there were 1,686 Cuban nationals in ICE detention,” Brendan Raedy, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, stated in an email.
What does the news of election postponement in Cuba means? That Diaz-Canel is out?  
Raul Castro to remain in office until April, elections postponed By Katherine Lam | Fox News (Dec. 21. 2017)
Cuban leader Raul Castro will remain in power until at least April 19, 2018 after the government postponed the historic presidential elections, citing impacts from Hurricane Irma, the official Communist Party newspaper announced Thursday. Castro, 86, had initially said he would retire at the end of his two terms on Feb. 24, Miami Herald reported. The election for the new National Assembly was also scheduled to be held then.
The official Communist Party newspaper Granma published the announcement and said the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, which struck the island in September, forced the delay of Cuba's political cycle.  Some analysts predicted Castro would extend his time in power because of recent events, including its economy in recession and the diplomatic crisis involving health attacks on U.S. diplomats in the city’s capital Havana, according to the Miami Herald. It’s still unclear who would succeed Castro, who took power in 2008 and replaced late leader and brother Fidel Castro. Cuban first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel has been seen as a potential candidate.
The upcoming election is the first since Fidel Castro, who died in November 2016, reintroduced a limited election in 1976, the Miami Herald reported. 
The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
We in Amnesty Int’l have a new series of illustrated vignettes of stories of ordinary Cuba migrants now stopped at the US-Mexico border and available to be interviewed by staff who otherwise cannot go to Cuba.
 “Your mind is in prison” Cuba’s web of control over free expression and its chilling effect on everyday life
[Individual stories can be found by scrolling down past the mid-point of the report.]
English and Spanish versions are available on the following lightbox on ADAM:

The first comic of our series Cubans Lives/Unas vidas cubanas is now available in ADAM under the tag “Cuba: your mind is in prison”. Created by Mexican artist Joan X. Vázquez, this first “Cuban Live” depicts the story of Graciela, a champion weightlifter, who was excluded from her sport because of criticism she expressed during a TV interview that was never aired.

The second comic of our ‘Cuban Lives’ series, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Nadia. Although she was never involved in politics, Nadia was friends with people considered dissidents. For that, she was increasingly harassed by authorities and ended in prison for “dangerousness”.

See comic nº 3 of our series ‘Cuban Lives’, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Carlos, trained in the military, he became a spy and infiltrated different job categories to report on workers. Many of his friends are in prison due to information he passed to state security.

Comic nº 4 of our series ‘Cuban Lives’, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Elias, after he complained of lack of support for carrying out his job as a nurse in a hospital, he started to be harassed by his employers and was forced to leave his job. Despite moving to another city he was denied new nurse job because he was seen as "untruth-worthy".

Comic nº 5 of our series ‘Cuban Lives’, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Maritza, professor of medicine at the University she had no interest in politics, but soon was pressured to do propaganda with her students and to join the state’s mass organizations. Due to this pressure, and despite this being her dream job, she resigned after a year.

The sixth (and last) comic in our series, Cubans Lives / Unas vidas cubanas will be available between 14 and 15 December on ADAM under the tag “Cuba: your mind is in prison” and on the 
lightbox. Created by Mexican artist Joan X. Vázquez, and inspired from real stories, this sixth “Cuban Live” depicts the story of Julio, a secondary school English teacher, he started to be harassed when his sister’s activism was discovered. He was accused of promoting enemy propaganda after asking his pupils to check the international English-speaking press for their school work. His salary was cut in half, he was demoted and finally offered a job as gardener at the school

I recently served as interpreter for Felix Llerena, a 21-year-old Cuban student expelled from the university for his religious and other opinions, at a meeting with an overflow audience of students from George Washington University here in DC. Llerena, a supporter of the Varela Project, was arrested in front of his mother and accused of having terrorist links, also of “pre-delinquency.” A copy of the US constitution and a book by Jose Marti were confiscated in his home and he said that the security forces encouraged neighbors to attack him with machetes if he tried talking to others about his beliefs. He was prevented from attending a Latin America youth network meeting in Mexico by being removed from the aircraft. He was arrested again in July and 4 European Union diplomats traveled to his hometown to see him there. After that, charges against him were dropped and he was allowed to leave. He plans to return to Cuba in January and encourages young people to stay in Cuba, not leave as so many try to do.

DC Amnesty Int’l members met at a local establishment for a Write-A-Thon, when we blitz certain governments with letters on behalf of selected prisoners or victims. Among the letters we wrote related to my volunteer work as Caribbean Coordinator for AI USA was one to the Jamaican government asking for justice for Shackelia Jackson whose brother was killed by police. 

  Write-A-Thon photos.

                                                        Write-A-Thon photos above

Above, Jamaica panelists on police killings, including Shackelia Jackson, center. 

Getting Mugabe to retire, though cheered by many Zim citizens, is not going to result in any improvement or change, according to fellow Amnesty members in the know. The guy who replaced Mugabe and his wife is reportedly just another anti-democratic self-promoting guy who was once part of their inner circle and decided to seize power when it looked like the wife was planning to do the same. He is like Mugabe, just 20 years younger. 

Turnabout is fair play—Trump’s NYC motorcade was greeted by “Lock him up!”

Trump, who describes himself as “very intelligent,” has been advised to use spell-check, but he just misspelled one of his favorite whipping boys “Meadia” on a tweet. He also seems to have deliberately tried to put salt in the wounds of Sandy Hook bereaved parents by inviting the NRA veep to the White House on the anniversary of their murder. As for the tax bill, which he has been celebrating, as with anything, there are winners and losers, but it’s not so clear who they all are. Certainly corporations and high bracket taxpayers will benefit, also red states over blue states.

As bizarre, ridiculous, insensitive, and down-right mean as Donald Trump’s actions and polices have been, an article in The Atlantic argues that no matter what, he is unlikely to be impeached because Republican core voters have faithfully stuck by him through thick and thin, so their Republican reps will continue to do the same. Even if Democrats should gain some seats in 2018, enough Republicans will remain to block any impeachment effort, which takes a 2/3rds majority: 

So, we are probably stuck for the duration. Maybe Trump will quit after one term or be defeated if he runs again (fingers crossed) despite big Republican money, gerrymandering, and voter suppression. He doesn’t seem to be particularly enjoying his presidency (or the contempt with which he is held by most Americans and people all over the world. Melania certainly is not enjoying it.) I keep looking for his administration to do something fairly desirable, even neutral, but I’m still looking for a silver lining just for my own emotional relief. Maybe Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s replacement is OK, not someone to fume about, but there was no actual need to replace her.

Not surprisingly, Trump is reportedly pressuring bone-tired 83-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch to seek re-election so that Mitt Romney won’t run in his place. Romney would like to wrest the Republican Party from the throes of Donald Trump and he just might be able to do that. Trump is like a bull in a china shop, destroying everything in his wake, including the Republican Party and the Supreme Court. It’s not only that Trump still has supporters as stingy, ignorant, mendacious, and nasty as he is but that he reinforces their own harmful and antisocial tendencies by giving them license to continue. It’s a vicious circle or a malign feedback loop, like an adult (is Trump really an adult?) prodding children to be bullies, liars, destructive, and greedy—promoting survivor of the fittest or most devious, winner take all and screw the rest. Is that the Republican philosophy?

“By telling so many lies, and so many that are mean-spirited, Trump is violating some of the most fundamental norms of human social interaction and human decency. Many of the rest of us, in turn, have abandoned a norm of our own — we no longer give Trump the benefit of the doubt that we usually give so readily.” Bella De Paulo, Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2017 (She’s a former professor who once did a study of lying and liars.)

Nazareth has reportedly cancelled Christmas celebrations because of Trump’s decision to name Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a provocative and unnecessary act in my opinion, just emphasizing the already strong US bias in favor of the Israeli government. Do we want to prevent attacks by Muslims in the US or Europe? Is this really the best way to do that? Or what about an action on the other side, like pressing Israel to stop settlements encroaching on Palestinian lands? This was a matter of appealing to the evangelical base and letting the chips fall where they may in terms of worldwide impact.

Speaking of Christmas, the official Trump Christmas portrait shows the presidential couple standing stiffly in a doorway without son Barron, rumored to be away at boarding school. The Pence holiday card, in contrast, shows that couple appearing in a more natural and friendly pose next to a home Christmas tree. Trump and his advisers simply do whatever he/they want and don’t have an instinct about how their efforts and communications will be received. Trump especially expresses himself however and whenever it strikes his fancy without anticipating or caring about the impact on others, though General Kelly has had some success in disciplining him.

At least Doug Jones won in Alabama, whew! despite Trump’s strong endorsement of Roy Moore, something he disavowed immediately afterward. He appropriately tweeted congratulations to Jones instead of fuming, so his handlers must have been able to calm him.

Because of the “Trump effect,” many organizations, including my own Amnesty International, have seen a surge in donations.  However, probably our moral authority in sending appeals to other governments, as we were doing at this recent “Write-a-Thon,” has been diminished with Trump leading our country, though we still go through the motions. Apparently mainstream media have also been boosted financially. The Trump administration may complain that “the media” is against them, but if they would actually do something that most citizens would approve of, they would find that being reported and being received more favorably.

At the same time, I confess to sometimes getting an inkling of why some white working-class Republicans might consider liberals “effete” and “holier-than-thou.” On some issues and at some more liberal gatherings, I do get a touch of that same feeling when people express something that “everyone knows” or if they oversimplify an issue when not everyone present actually knows or agrees. Sometimes I raise objections, sometimes I don’t.  I may have doubts on a specific point as very few ideas or policies don’t have any downsides or nuances. But it’s hard to go against the group consensus or even mention caveats without being shut down. And my experiences and family are completely atypical when compared with most white middle-class folks my age. Mine is really a multiracial, multi-ethnic family dealing with multiple other challenges, something most other people I meet simply don’t have, so when they speak authoritatively on certain issues, they don’t have my firsthand experience.

Like virtually all women, I’ve certainly experienced sexual harassment in my day and been demeaned and dismissed by men in the workplace, but I’ve also been employed mostly in professions dominated by women--social work and rehabilitation—and women bosses as a rule don’t sexually harass other women. (In the current “me/too” movement, a few alleged victims of women have emerged.)  I was also married for 24 years to a man who was blind and whom I helped tirelessly behind the scenes for decades, mostly on nights and weekends, while working only part-time myself as an editor and researcher for private clients, while also raising four kids. Other men with whom I came in contact who knew my husband (a very strategic, influential, and politically oriented thinker), so, whether out of respect or fear, dared not encroach on his “territory.” Thus, for quite a long time, I was somewhat protected. By the time my husband divorced me, I was already past the prime age for sexual harassment, though I still experience it in Honduras. The sexual harassment/groping/rape accusations are losing some of their punch because of being so widespread, but I really think that’s an expression of the pervasive culture, not a sign that many accusations are bogus.

Sorry to see Al Franken (and John Conyers) gone under pressure from fellow Democrats, in contrast to Republicans, who have supported both Roy Moore and Donald Trump. Garrison Keillor at NPR and Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker are also tough losses. Lizza wrote several articles critical of Trump, so maybe the Trump folks encouraged women to come forward against him. Democrats and liberals seem to be trying to lead by example in dismissing errant members from their fold in contrast to Republicans who continue to support gropers and harassers right up to the Oval Office itself. However, since Democrats’ transgressions seem less serious, perhaps those being ejected are sacrificial lambs?

It was exciting to see TIME acknowledging harassed women on its cover. They represent us all. Anita Hill, after being vilified, can finally feel vindicated. It took time and a convergence of women willing to speak out to bring this issue to the fore. Probably some men now being “outed” feel unfairly targeted, that the rules of the game suddenly changed, as their behavior at the time was accepted as “normal,” a perk of being male and of being in charge. For every woman harassed or assaulted, there is a man out there somewhere. Since sexual harassment has been so commonplace, there are many men who still have not been singled out (yet) and may be worried.

I’m a “cradle Catholic” and continue to identify with the religion, though less so than in my younger years. (I didn’t attend Catholic schools, my father was Presbyterian, but I was married in the church.) A scholar of my acquaintance connected with Catholic University recently conducted a study comparing Catholic Trump and Hillary voters on a large number of issues. There were some differences overall, but the divide was certainly not as great as I would have expected. (Perhaps this is because religion is compartmentalized and has increasingly less influence on everyday life?)  voters

The following on-line commentary seems to be a sensible olive branch extended by a self-identified anti-abortion advocate to the other side in the abortion wars and something that perhaps most Americans could agree on, though obviously it won’t satisfy those with strongly-held opinions on either side: 

Feminists would be wise, and more powerful, if they would be willing to take the lead on compromise and invite women like me to join their ranks to advocate for common goals without abortion clouding the discussion. Liberals are always going to lose voters on the right and in the middle by pushing so aggressively for abortion on demand all the way into the third trimester. And conservatives are always going to lose voters on the left and in the middle by refusing to consider legal abortion in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. But what if we agreed to first trimester abortion and morning after pills as a compromise? It doesn't square with my views completely, but would dramatically cut the number of abortions in this country and save many lives. It certainly doesn't square with the views of many liberals, but perhaps they could find it in their hearts to accept that if someone made a mistake, or is the victim of a crime, three months is sufficient time to find your way out of a resulting pregnancy. And we could certainly all agree that if a woman's life is at risk, the decision on carrying a pregnancy to term should stay between her and her doctor. If we could agree on this, then we could all move on. If abortion is no longer the only rallying cry for women, we can gather women of all stripes to fight for workplace fairness, equal pay, family leave and a host of issues that will change the lives of women every single day.