Sunday, August 7, 2016

New HP Posting, House Repairs, Another Visit from Daughter Stephanie (returning from Portugal this time), Weather, Latin America, Conventions, Trump Campaign Redux

Ladders, front and back, repairing 120-year-old house after Snowmaggedon 2016

 Granddaughter Natasha, great-grandson De'Andre, daughters Melanie & Stephanie

De'Andre, age 8 1/2, far right, at football practice, heavily padded and helmeted, though I still worry, but he loves the game
Daughter Steph, second from left with 6th-grade schoolmates 30 years later

Most people in the US (and the West) have a simplistic view of Gitmo (as they have of most issues regarding Cuba and, frankly, anything else) as a terrible place. That’s one reason I was moved to write my latest Cuba HP blog, also picked up by Democracia Participativa:

In addition to closing the prison, many Americans would favor giving that territory back to Cuba. It doesn't look like either is going to happen before the end of the Obama administration. And most people don't know the history of how the US came to occupy G'tmo. The US, rather than being a voracious imperialist power, actually helped Cuba win independence from Spain and could have kept possession of the whole island, as it did with Puerto Rico, something many Cubans actually wanted at the time and which could perhaps have prevented the rise of the Castro dictatorship (then, Castro might have been directly fighting the US instead of Batista). In any case, Cubans would gladly escape now to G'tmo if they could and some have remained living there happily for decades. For Cuban rafters, while they were dismayed at first about being taken there, it turned out to be a good transition. Too bad rafters today cannot go there on the same basis. I feel sorry for the Cubans stuck in Colombia now being sent back to Cuba. But the initial hospitality or indifference of Central and South American countries finally gave way to hostility toward Cubans passing through when their numbers became too massive and the flow continued unabated. The same is happening in Europe now with migrants there. I deliberately post about Cuba on Huffington Post, as I may have said before, because it is considered fairly liberal or progressive site and that is the readership I want to reach and get them thinking about Cuba in a more critical way, and not just reaching Cuban Americans who may already agree with me. 

We have certainly been suffering from oppressively hot and humid weather in DC and along the east coast, approaching 100F day after day in July, and, once, had strong, deafening thunderstorms with pounding hail almost as big as golf balls. It was scary!  I had lost some hearing in my right ear from a thunderclap after almost being struck by lightning in Honduras, as readers of my first book know, so I am not fond of thunder and lightning. Unfortunately, because of bitter complaints by my neighbors on the attached side, who extended their house back and located their new master bedroom under my rooftop central A/C unit, I agreed not to turn on the A/C this summer until I licensed contractor was able to check it out while doing other repairs, always necessary in house over 100 years old. He pronounced the A/C unit completely normal, but I asked him to put padding under it anyway to see if that helps soften vibrations that the neighbors say were bothering them.   They were not satisfied last year when another workman said there was nothing whatsoever wrong with my A/C unit. The recent contractor thinks there may be something metal in the walls of an addition the neighbors made that is conducting the vibrations, My daughter Stephanie, visiting from Hawaii, has stayed in the basement with its window A/C unit, but I’ve had no one else staying with me lately. Two girls who were here in the spring went home to Europe for the summer, so I just left their rooms vacant, waiting for their return.
Am giving a shout-out now to my good friend Anna, who lives in RI, but whom I have known since my teenage years in Colombia and who visited me in Honduras when I was in Peace Corps there. Anna, who will soon be 79, was happily adjusting to assisted living 18 months ago when a facility vehicle ran over her, leaving her near death and in a rehab hospital ever since. She had to have a leg amputated recently below the knee because of chronic infection and now has begun walking on a prosthetic leg, already able to take many consecutive steps with a walker. She says that it feels different, of course, than walking on a flesh-and-blood leg and foot, but she should be rightly proud that she has survived and made it this far. She hopes to be able to leave the hospital finally since the accident, which occurred in Dec. 2014. Talk about a survivor, that’s Anna! She has filed a claim against the facility where she was injured, but the court date keeps being pushed back—the other side may hope she dies before they have to settle.
Congratulations to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, now celebrating their platinum or 70th wedding anniversary. Few people or marriages survive that long. And from once knowing the Carters during Jimmy’s presidency and beyond, I would hazard a guess that theirs has been a mutually faithful and close union. They’ve always had a strong religious faith and Jimmy is still teaching Sunday school in Plains.
Were you following the Democratic Convention, quite a contrast with the Republican Convention of lthe prior week, dominated by Donald Trump and his offspring? If he should win, I feel sorry for anyone having to work with him—maybe his kids will take key positions. Wife Melania doesn’t seem interested in a public role and seems inclined to stay home with her young son in NYC. In fact, Donald might decide to commute from NY to DC himself, as he is not fond of the nation’s capital, and might prefer to mostly work out of his NYC office. He seems uninterested in following precedent. The Democrats’ effort now is to make Hillary seem more human and trustworthy. As I've said, when I was in smaller meetings (gun control, health) with her as First Lady, she seemed quite responsive and personable. But when she gives a campaign speech now, she appears more strident, perhaps because she's mostly shouting and has bigger audience. I agree with her that she’s not a natural politician like her husband. The trust gap may be partly due to some of her actions during her long time in the public spotlight, but maybe also because she is a woman and we cut women less slack. Gen. Patraeus’s breach was more egregious, but he was slapped only with a minor charge and no jail time and seems to have suffered little public scorn—of course, he’s teaching, not running for president, as he might have done otherwise. For Hillary, it’s “Lock her up!” or even “Shoot her!”

Donald Trump has now said that he felt like punching some DNC speakers “so hard,” "No more Mr. Nice Guy," and that he’s “taking the gloves off.” The gloves were on before?? He’s still fighting mad, nothing really new there. Does he have any sort of positive program? Does he have any sort of program at all? It might also be said that Clinton lucked out in having Trump as her opponent, which actually gives her a fighting chance following 2 Democratic presidential terms. Trump’s behavior is so outlandish that it’s more absurd than fiction. Cuban and other foreign analysts must be completely puzzled. Is voting really the best way to choose a leader? The whole world will heave a sigh of relief if/when Hillary wins in November. Meanwhile, since Trump is so thin-skinned and impulsive, might he just quit the race in a fit of pique? That would surely be unprecedented and create disarray. But it might best for the Republican Party. Since he’s already saying the election is rigged, maybe he’s looking for a way out. Paul Ryan’s name is being floated—he would attract more votes than Trump and really give Hillary a run for her money. She must be hoping that Trump remains in the race. Trump is so sensitive to criticism that maybe it’s not as much fun for him to be the nominee as it was before and during the convention when he was in his glory with his wife and kids all around him. Are the kids managing his business? He could always quit without notice and go back to his business.

Here’s a funny (if the situation weren’t so serious) parody of a fake Trump announcement that he’s leaving the presidential race.

As someone who has lost a child, actually two, counting my foster son, I can say unequivocally that Donald Trump has no idea of the pain that such a loss causes. Certainly his insult to a Gold Star Muslim family does nothing whatsoever to hurt them; their suffering renders his ignorant natterings little more than pinpricks, evidence of his shocking lack of knowledge and empathy. That a fair number of voters still continue to stubbornly support him remains worrisome. I imagine that Pence, his running mate, may be having second thoughts about the commitment he has made.
Trump and Clinton do have opposite styles and could learn something from each other. Trump is all about spontaneity and winging it, saying whatever comes to mind—so no one knows quite what to expect. Ha ha! Surprise! Tricked you! Some of that unscripted quality in a candidate is refreshing. Most people like to be amused, challenged, and feel that they are seeing the real person. But spontaneity in a leader has to be combined with some specific plans that can always be adjusted for circumstances. If anything, Hillary is seen as too planful and calculating, like waiting 8 years to try again for the presidency.
But I still feel a little excited about the prospects of a female president. Hillary has hung onto Bill’s coattails, but many political wives have long labored behind the scenes to further their husband’s careers, so it’s good to see the favor being returned. (I certainly promoted and worked unseen and tirelessly for my late ex-husband—who was blind--for more than 20 years.) Indeed, there are political or other dynasties built on being the spouses, siblings, or offspring of office-holders or celebrities. Only a few very lucky or very clever people actually “make it” from scratch all on their own. And many who work very hard never find success in this always highly competitive world.
As I read Kaine’s abortion stance, he supports the law of the land in the Supreme Court decision, but not public funding of abortions, which was not required by the Supreme Ct. decision.

It was heartening to see DC statehood for the first time in the Democratic Party platform. Do we have Bernie to thank for that? And now, according to Fox News, Bernie Sanders has left the Democratic Party and gone back to being an independent. Does that mean he isn’t going to campaign with Hillary or would refuse a position in her administration?

The Democratic platform regarding Latin America and Cuba mentions the travel ban and the embargo--also human rights and freedoms, but apparently the 2 are not tied together. The travel ban is a joke--massive US tourism is now flooding Cuba. Human rights are mentioned, but how to encourage them is the unanswered question.
Americas The Americas are a region of singular strategic, economic, and cultural importance and opportunity for the United States. Democrats reject Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on our southern border and alienate Mexico, a valuable partner. We will instead embrace our neighbors and pursue strong, fruitful partnerships across the region, from Canada to Latin America and the Caribbean. We will bolster democratic institutions, promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and tackle the rise of drugs, transnational crime, and corruption. We will strengthen the U.S.- Caribbean regional relationship through economic development and comprehensive immigration reform. And we will build on our long-term commitment to Colombia and work with Central American countries to stabilize the Northern Triangle. In Cuba, we will build on President Obama’s historic opening and end the travel ban and embargo. We will also stand by the Cuban people and support their ability to decide their own future and to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms that people everywhere deserve. In Venezuela, we will push the government to respect human rights and respond to the will of its people. And in Haiti, we will support local and international efforts to bolster the country’s democratic institutions and economic development. We will also help more Haitians take advantage of Temporary Protected Status. Finally, we will close the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, because we believe that military and police forces should support democracy, not subvert it.
Meanwhile, the Koch brothers are focusing on Republicans running for the Senate, tying Democrats to Hillary Clinton there. A strongly partisan Republican Senate would certainly thwart anything Hillary tried to do.

Here’s a provocative plea for the maintenance of national borders; does that run contrary to the idea of universal human rights or can the two co-exist?

It was bound to happen. Pregnant women worried about microcephaly when I was in Honduras last Feb. are now having babies with birth defects.
President Obama is expanding the refugee program for Central Americans being screened in their own country: 
Obama to Allow More Refugees to Come to U.S. The Obama administration is expanding an effort to allow some Central American families to come to the United States as refugees, July 26, 2016,

The DR is thought to be the main source of Zika cases in the US:

Below is a provocative article about something that has puzzled me for a while, including in regard to Cuba, and would explain why so much really bad behavior by the Castros is tolerated by the world and by intellectuals. I had thought maybe it was the Cuban regime’s convincing PR and their supposed support of equality for all citizens via “socialism.” The following author instead argues that such support runs deeper, as many intellectuals identify as liberals or even “socialists” themselves— at least, sympathetic to socialist ideals of equality. This self-identification blinds them to horrors committed under the banner of socialism, since if many well-known “socialists” are tyrants. Or maybe they don’t want to believe that the heroes of socialism—such as Fidel Castro—are really not good guys and that their judgment of them—of him—has been wrong? Anyway, read it and see what you think (he argues that Mao was the world’s worst mass murderer).

This link says it all:

In a reminder of when Cuban youth and “volunteers” were sent to the countryside to work in agriculture and listen to evening indoctrination lessons, Venezuela is tackling its current food shortage in a similar manner. (Cuba largely gave up on agriculture, importing most food.) 
A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labor, said Amnesty International.
“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Venezuelan zoo animals dying of starvation reminds me of the special period in Cuba (perhaps returning now, despite massive remittances and tourism from the US?) when zoo animals could not be fed. This below is from my book:

At a beach designated for Cubans managed by the Eastern Beaches Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (according to its sign), Andrés whisked us past the overseers lest foreigners be prohibited from entering, just as Cubans were barred from tourist beaches. Though quite crowded there, we enjoyed a refreshing swim.
Walking home later, we passed by the site of the former Moscow Restaurant, once occupying a whole city block, but mysteriously burned to the ground after the Soviet departure leaving only a charred ruin. Half a dozen individuals were rummaging through nearby dumpsters.
Andrés insisted on showing us the zoo where all the animals had been removed from outside cages after several had been poached for food. “It’s really hard to keep all the animals fed anyway,” he observed. “This was once a fairly decent zoo, but, like everything else, it’s gone downhill.” The gate attendant regarded us suspiciously, saying no foreigners were allowed inside, not even by paying admission. Andrés loudly chewed the guy out. “You see why I want to leave this country?” he asked in exasperation as we departed. “As party members, they just love lording it over the rest of us.”
As the first Cubans deported from Colombia arrived back in Cuba, the Cuban government was blaming “wet-foot/dry-foot” for the surge (with considerable justification).  (Obama could probably change that by executive order, as it was first declared by President Bill Clinton.) Now, apparently more Cubans are instead contemplating the perilous sea journey, where they may drown, but also be picked up by the US Coast Guard and returned to Cuba, as has happened to some 6,000 already this fiscal year (including, I presume, the hapless folks who landed on a lighthouse, which a judge decided was not US soil).

St. Petersburg Could Become Home to Cuban Consulate By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
[That would be better than Miami, which would just become a magnate for protests.] 
 ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jul 30, 2016

As Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday approaches this month, he and his old-guard followers are reportedly redoubling their resistance to any relaxation of controls.
I'm very worried now about Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, now on hunger strike again, a hunger strike veteran who has almost died on previous strikes and has suffered some permanent health damage as a result—as he once told me on a visit here about 3 years ago. If he should die, it would be a black mark both for the Castro regime and the Obama administration, not to mention Amnesty International.
At least 17 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) on huger strike. Guillermo Fariñas on the sixth day of his hunger and thirst strike.
#Cuba A 17 asciende el número de miembros de #UNPACU en huelga de hambre. Guillermo Fariñas en su sexto día de huelga de hambre y sed— José Daniel Ferrer (@jdanielferrer)
 Miami Herald, JULY 27, 2016 Castro mediates Colombian peace deal - but won’t talk to Cuban dissidents
Cuban President Gen. Raul Castro has been applauded by world leaders for his mediation in Colombia’s peace talks. But Castro refuses to talk with his own country’s peaceful opposition
It’s time to demand that Cuba’s dictatorship abide by the international treaties it has signed, and allow basic freedoms.
I hardly claim to know the future. Nobody really does. We can map out plans, but chaos theory shows that events are not always predictable. Unexpected spikes do change the historical trajectory. This has happened in my personal life. I was married for 24 years to a husband who was blind—I worked closely with him during his successful career in politics and policy making. We had four children. Little did I expect that he would divorce me and re-marry. Even more disruptive was something that far overshadowed my divorce, namely, the sudden death of my older son, Andrew, after an accident on his job in 1994. That was followed the next year by the death from AIDS of my Cuban foster son Alex. All that is chronicled in my books. So, I have come to expect the unexpected in my own life and that holds true for national and world events as well. Who would have predicted the rise of ISIS? The migrant crisis? The plunge in oil prices? Donald Trump’s political ascendency? Or even the Obama/Raul Castro accords regarding Cuba? Will the death of the Castro brothers, especially of the father and architect of the Cuban revolution, Fidel, trigger a sea change in Cuba? It hasn’t happened yet, just small changes around the edges, mostly seeming to advantage the regime. A carefully controlled dictatorship with Fidel and his hardline supporters still influential, at least so far, has only resulted in a harsher crackdown on civil society where hopes of improvement have been dashed. Yet according to another theory, the oscillation of historical events according to a sort of Hegelian dialectic, excessive movement in one direction triggers a correction back toward the opposite side. A building up of forces working against left-leaning authoritarianism may be swinging a pendulum going too far in that direction back again. Certainly in Venezuela, that is happening, and perhaps throughout Latin America, and is also affecting Cuba, moving its leadership toward more dependence on the United States. How far does the US dare push to try to improve the lives and, yes, the freedom, of the majority of Cuban people? That might be characterized as interference in the nation’s internal affairs by the regime, but Cubans have many family members in the US who are concerned about their welfare, not to mention the growing support for certain universal human rights, as advocated by Amnesty International, the UN, and other international bodies.   

With all the terrorist copycat lone-wolf acts taking place in Europe and with ISIS egging them on via the internet, Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants is going to seem more attractive. Nor will European countries welcome Muslim immigrants. People everywhere will be afraid to gather in crowds. ISIS may be losing the ground war, but is winning the internet war, perhaps helped by leaks by WikiLeaks, calculated to mess up the political landscape and help Trump get elected, thereby to visit chaos on the US and the world. Some, without definitive proof, are calling it Julian Assange’s revenge, accomplished with the help of Russian hackers and maybe Edward Snowden?  Holed up in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy where they must be pretty tired of him and vice versa, he’s showing that he still has power to inflict harm. He predicts even more damaging leaks for Hillary still to come, an October surprise just before the election. If he had hoped for mercy, he surely won’t get it now.

Michael Moore is predicting a Trump victory. After the WikiLeaks leaks, plus polls showing the two candidates running even for a time, that’s no longer out-of-the-question.  Trump has foiled predictions of his demise as a presidential candidate for some time now. No matter how outrageous or unsubstantiated his pronouncements, many people are still excited about him— new face, new approach, new political language, new, new, new. Hillary Clinton is old, old, old. At the same time, you have to wonder what’s happening to his businesses and whether he might decide to quit before the election, especially if he is running behind. He is not accustomed to being criticized and challenged. He has attracted a lot of free media attention and fervent supporters with his antics, but he may not appreciate being made fun of (it’s not fun anymore for him now)—and his kids, who might be more rational, might convince him to quit.

Here’s a neuroscientist ascribing Trump’s appeal to basic and historic human instincts based on tribalism (wanting to belong), protection of home and family, insults to fire people up, and depicting life-or-death situations. He advises, “Whenever you feel angry, you have to ask yourself if you're being manipulated. Let the moment pass and ask yourself if aggression or violence is really the right way to fix a situation." 

The US effort in Cuba is a delicate one --to methodically work out agreements with the Cuba leadership to build mutual trust, starting with the easier stuff first: travel, increased remittances, and cultural and sports exchanges. The problem is that, so far, there has been no carryover to Cuban civil society. Instead, citizens, feeling more emboldened, are trying to chart a different course and are being forcibly stopped, often brutally. Given the Cuban leadership’s necessity to veer toward to the US for economic survival, can we negotiate with them to open up enough to allow others, including their own citizens, into the decision making process and thereby risk giving up their control? Could we have negotiated with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot?  Chamberlain apparently tried to negotiate with Hitler to no avail. But in South Africa, de Klerk and Mandela came to agreement. In Cuba, must we wait for the Castro brothers’ demise? (And what about a President Trump—would negotiation be possible by and with him?) It does seem that the US has made many concessions to the Cuban leadership and gotten very little in return—only that President Obama was allowed to visit and make a speech televised once and denounced by Fidel Castro. At the Communist Party Congress after Obama’s visit, the leadership doubled-down with their controls on citizens, controls both economic and on freedom of association and expression. Dissidents are physically attacked, sometimes inflicting serious injuries, as well as having their activities prevented and voices muzzled. (Those attacking are not only security forces, but such forces in plain clothes masquerading as patriotic citizens.) Would Hillary Clinton have another approach or would little Cuba, given all the hotter world challenges, even merit attention?
Elliot Abrams has a scathing article in Newsweek about the American Bar Association’s Cuba tours.
[Likewise, I recently saw a report of a tour by the American Library Association praising Cuban literacy and libraries, but making no mention of censorship and the confiscation of books from unauthorized and home libraries.]

People everywhere don't foresee and measure the likely effects of their political support and voting decisions. Many Brits are feeling the lamentable, but predictable, fallout of Brexit. Original supporters of Hugo Chavez have turned against his chosen successor Maduro who reported hearing a little bird talking to him in Chavez's voice. That's why I don't count on voters' common sense to defeat Trump. We've thought/hoped that the American public would finally wise up, but the more outrageous Trump becomes, the more a certain segment becomes more enthralled and more fervent. It's like how people threw caution to the winds to support Hitler, Mao, and Fidel Castro. Only later, when disaster actually had befallen them, did they change their minds, but then, it was too late.  

People also want a simple narrative, black and white, a shortcut without nuance or requiring any critical thinking. Many are too wrapped up in the challenges of everyday life to think before they vote.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

At Home, New HP Cuba Article, Kaine, "Electile" Disfunction, Clinton & Trump, Ginsberg, Gun Laws & Terrorism, FGM, Turkey, Haiti, Cuba, US Parents

                     Boniface from Kenya (where he has returned) giving GAO graduation keynote address

                                           Boniface with GAO graduation certificate

Morning (L) and evening vistas out my bedroom window

Neighbor mixing dirt with sand from my kids' old sandbox to fill in holes in local soccer fields

Daughter Stephanie visiting from Hawaii, by late brother Andrew's gravestone in our backyard

 Daughters Melanie and Stephanie with great-grandson De'Andre in my kitchen and home

Boniface, my visitor from Kenya, has left, but I attended his graduation at GAO, where he was the keynote speaker. There I met two Argentine fellows who knew a woman from Argentina who stayed with me a few years ago.

Civic-minded neighbors, helping me with yardwork, have mixed dirt with sand from a defunct sandbox that my kids used to play in and taken it to fill up inundations in local soccer fields.

Here’s the 5th and latest in my Huffington Post Cuba series:

All my Huffington Post Cuba articles are available at this address:

Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as a running mate seems like a safe, wise choice. Kaine has been called a “Pope Francis” Catholic. He did Jesuit service in northern Honduras in areas where I've worked and the little Spanish I've heard him speak sounds pretty good, a lot better than George Bush or even Jeb, who has a Hispanic wife, not that that is the most important qualification in a VP. He might also appeal to some of those white male voters whom Trump has been courting. Some people find him too cautious or conservative. Well, it’s hard to find candidates for office that agree 100% on all issues with a majority of voters, including with me and thee. Some voters will prefer to throw caution to the winds, shake up the entire system, and vote on faith or emotion for Trump, which, if he wins, they will no doubt come to regret.

The late Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens’ mother has a letter in the NYTimes, asking Republicans and Donald Trump to stop using her son’s name and memory in their political campaigns. Stevens was a former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, also, according to people I've met who knew him, a guy who was often independent and dismissive of advice, such the advice he was given not to go to the Benghazi outpost (not an embassy) on that fateful anniversary (we don’t like to blame the victim). 

According to some recent pollster estimates, Trump has a 25% chance of winning the presidential election, which is not zero and is actually a pretty frightening figure, especially since some other polls show him neck-n-neck with Clinton.

Talk about negative campaigns, Trump and his surrogates are saying, vote for Donald Trump to prevent (Crooked, Lying) Hillary from becoming president, while Clinton’s supporters are saying that it’s imperative to vote for her to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. Trump’s supporters are even saying to jail or shoot her. (If anyone has engaged in lies and crooked deals, it’s Trump.) Trump may have given diehard Republicans a reason to support him by choosing a staid conservative running mate with a track record like Pence’s. They are certainly the odd couple. But for people who genuinely feel unable to vote for either Trump or Hillary, although knowing that one of them is bound to win, yet considering them equivalent evils, can either not vote the top of the ticket or vote for a protest candidate.

Electile Dysfunction is a parodic neologism making the rounds on social media. The Urban Dictionary defines Electile Dysfunction as “The inability of voters to become aroused over any of the choices for President put forth by either party during an election year.” July 25 is the start of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Yet, I don’t consider Trump and Clinton equivalent extremes. Trump is extremely extreme, unpredictable, and uninformed, whereas (my bias showing?), Clinton, with her obvious faults, is more predictable, moderate, and centrist, more like a normal human being, although with more single-minded ambition and drive than most of us, especially than us women. I’m wondering if her alleged untrustworthiness is real or a media exaggeration, based partly on her gender? Trump is so over-the-top, showing such crass braggadocio that you almost feel sorry for him and wonder if he is compensating for feelings of inferiority—maybe impressing his late father in the hereafter, who had originally gifted him with enormous wealth, or maybe Rubio was right about a certain body part? It’s said that Hitler had an undescended testicle about which he was ashamed. I don’t know what psychiatric diagnosis might be applied to Trump; he’s certainly not normal—he seems perpetually manic, overcompensating for something, and completely lacking in empathy—he delights in tricking people, getting rich at others’ expense and bragging about it. Why do so many voters identify with him? Because they’d like to be in his shoes—or think that he help them get there? True believers don’t care if Melania’s speech was plagiarized, to an extent that if a college student did it, he or she would be out. Of course, Melania is saying she wrote every word herself--her command of English then is very good! Apparently there was a part of Donald Trump Jr.’s speech that was also cribbed—Trump should tell those lazy speech writers “You’re fired!”

Breaking news: Trump staffer fesses up: I cribbed Michelle Obama speech

Actually, listening to the Republican Convention speakers on the radio almost made me sick to my stomach—I’ve never had a physical reaction before to a political event and I’ve witnessed a lot of them in many different countries, including as an election observer. .

The choice between the two presidential candidates is not between individual unbridled freedom and strict government-controlled socialism or ironfisted communism, but between chaos and a middle ground allowing and protecting basic personal freedoms, yet still implementing restraint and organizing economic and national life to benefit a majority of citizens.

The NYTimes reported a recent poll showing Trump and Clinton running at a dead heat, which is really scary, given that Brexit polls showed a similar 50-50 pattern, with “stay” supposedly winning slightly. Was that pollsters’ wishful thinking? Do voting and democracy really provide the best form of government? An autocracy or even a dictatorship is certainly more stable and predictable, as well as more traditional throughout history. Is voting by uninformed and easily misled voters really the best way to choose leaders? Apparently a majority of Russians support Putin. Dictators like the Castro brothers, as well as the leaders of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China, and Vietnam, may have a point. At least, they provide stability and predictability.  

A Trump victory is definitely possible, as unthinkable as that may seem to so many of us. There are unhappy voters who will just say “Let’s throw all the bums out and start over completely, fresh and brand-new with Trump.” He’s exciting, certainly different—Hillary is someone we know only too well, maybe like the new suitor versus the tired old familiar spouse. Trump, with his get-rich-quick huckster message, appeals to those struggling to make ends meet, which is most people. Remember, who would have thought that the British, generally considered more thoughtful and less impulsive than Americans, would have voted for Brexit?  And that vote was not as momentous as the US presidency. 

In this election, perhaps more than in any other, many voters seem more motivated by hatred (not too strong a word) of the other party’s candidate than by love of their own.

Amnesty International USA is sending observers to the political conventions.

I must agree with the Washington Post and NYTimes editorial boards that although it might not have been illegal for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to state aloud what many of us are thinking about Trump, that he’s a faker, still, certainly it was unwise of her to do so. Maybe at age 83, she is losing some of her marbles? That’s what people often think about older folks. Or maybe she just feels free at her age to speak her mind? In light of her statement, if Hillary wins, it may be time for Ginsberg to gracefully retire. She has only given Hillary’s detractors more ammunition to use against her. However, under pressure, Ginsberg later admitted that it had been unwise to have said what she did, but she did not really retract her statement.

Leave it to a smirking GWBush to do something inappropriate at the Dallas officers’ memorial service. After giving a pretty good prepared speech in Dallas, he pulled a surprised Michelle Obama out to do a jig, not exactly called for during such a solemn occasion. The man seems to be impulsively goofy, lacking in common sense and a basic understanding of accepted political etiquette, and not for the first time either. His wife looked on horrified—she must often try to guide and calm him. Was he trying to show solidarity with black people or what? He has 2 left feet and shows a deficit of social skills—maybe the poor guy has a cognitive abnormality?

In Idaho, a man dressed as woman, who said he identifies as female, was found taking photos of a woman in a department store dressing room, the worst nightmare of the whole transgender bathroom debate. Of course, regardless of gender, a person should not be taking unauthorized photos of someone else dressing or undressing. .

The young German mall shooter looks like his was a copy-cat crime, perhaps partially motivated by his Iranian heritage. Lone wolf guys like him are very hard to detect in advance. And where did he get a gun?

Two courthouse employees and the shooter were killed in Michigan—he was apparently a jail inmate trying to escape, who, though handcuffed, managed to grab a guard’s gun. In Baton Rouge, several police officers shot, three killed. A civil war with real bullets seems to be underway. A patient and a hospital employee shot and killed in Florida. A three-year-old policeman’s son killed himself with his father’s gun in Colorado. Either reduce the sheer number of guns in circulation or prevent some people from getting them, which is much harder. I foresee a time when Americans will look back on the gun culture as a historical anomaly.

States with “open carry” laws are finding that pretty frightening when it’s being practiced by a group of black men either participating in a demonstration or when just being out and about. Nor were firearms allowed inside the Republic Convention. Why not, if they are so protective and a constitutional right that the party so strongly supports? And Ohio is an open-carry state. The police asked for a suspension of open-carry for the duration of the convention, a request that was denied. Fortunately, nothing accidental or deliberately harmful happened.

Estimates are that the US suicide rate could fall by one-third if there were more gun restrictions.

Germany, even with its strict gun laws, has seen a mass shooting. And now there is a new copycat terrorist weapon, a truck, which, combined with firearms, managed to kill and injure a lot of people in France. And, of course, social media brings these ideas much closer to home. A disgruntled “lone wolf” with no direct ties to other terrorists can carry out shootings or vehicular manslaughter without any forewarning communications with anyone else, making such attacks hard to prevent. A vicious cycle is created. Young black or Muslim men are feared and feel ostracized and alienated, propelling them to plan revenge, thus, in turn, making other young men who look like them seem dangerous, causing them to feel them resentful, creating a vicious cycle. Someone who has been robbed by a young black man is going to cross the street if one approaches, so a perfectly innocent man feels stereotyped. But how is the observer to know his intentions? Even black taxi drivers hesitate to pick up young black men.

Here’s Adriano, cousin of the Dominican Espaillat family profiled in my Cuba book, who came close to beating Rangel before, but now has a good chance since Rangel is retiring. I’ve had falling out with the family over disagreement about the DR government’s anti-Haitian descendants’ policy.
ere’s the Espaillat cousin H

The UN has recognized Female Genital Mutilation, which an estimated 200 million women have undergone, typically before puberty, to be “child abuse.” It’s obviously painful, may result in death, dampens sexual pleasure which is apparently its aim, may interfere with urination, and complicates childbirth in areas of the world where that’s already complicated enough. A few female supporters of the practice argue that it’s part of their culture. If so, and a woman over 21 really wants to have it done, then that’s her right, just as some women put themselves through painful and unnecessary plastic surgery. Eradicating the practice will require convincing both men and women that a woman’s fidelity does not require FMG and that women who have been mutilated may still stray. If some other cultural marker is required, ritual scarring would be less harmful, though even that should be allowed only by a consenting adult. In one South Sudan tribe, whose members I met in 2006, the cultural marker for both genders is pulling out the 2 front bottom teeth. That seems somewhat harmful and painful, but is still better than FGM.

The number of migrants under 18 traveling alone is increasing all over the world.

As for Turkey, Erdogan has become increasingly autocratic and even despotic, but he was elected and re-elected (with irregularities and suppression?) and now will become even more so.

More bad news from Honduras:

US official confronts Haiti impasse, but friends who know Haiti say many resent such interference:

In Haiti, UN peacekeepers, post-earthquake, not only unleashed cholera, but also left babies behind, as often happens,

Article about former AI Cuban POC El Sexto:

25 Cuban migrants come ashore at the Keys (unlike those unlucky rafters who landed on a lighthouse and were ordered returned to Cuba by a judge)

On the lighter side in Cuba, daiquiri contests—for foreign visitors only, it goes without saying-

The Cuban government has opened a bulk goods store, maybe not yet Costco, but along those lines, selling toilet paper, tomato sauce, and cooking oil in quantity to small licensed home enterprises.

Article below about the reassignment (and apparent downgrading) of Cuban economics minister Marino Murillo. Incidentally, Murillo’s daughter crossed the border in Texas a while back, asking for political asylum (as per my book).

See below, about the functioning of the black market in Cuba, which has been around for decades, despite draconian sanctions against those who are caught. But it’s so pervasive

Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite US ties, Andres Oppenheimer
Story below is about Jose Daniel Ferrer, a Cuban dissident who spent 8 years in prison as one of the Cuban Five, now on the first trip he was allowed outside of Cuba since his release in 2011.

Another Black Spring prisoner recently allowed to leave Cuba for the first time, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, was here in DC with his wife, also in my Cuba book on p.171.

Parents, in polls, typically report less satisfaction than non-parents. But, as it turns out, this is true only in America, not in other countries where parents have more moral and material support.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Direct Democracy, Race Relations, Another Honduran Activist Murdered, Selected World Highlights, Hillary’s E-mail, Trump on the Stump, Gun Rights vs. Rights to Protection From Gun Violence

Can there be too much direct democracy, i.e. like the Brexit vote? That is why it might be advisable to avoid referendums (or is it referenda?). Rather, it’s usually wise for the electorate, made up of busy people certainly not experts on most issues, to elect representatives rather than trying to make every decision themselves, or so this article below argues persuasively. It would not be workable to submit every governmental action to popular vote.

In the wake of police shootings of African American men and the murder of police officers in Dallas, as well as previously with the Black Lives Matter movement, people of all races have been urged to speak directly to each other about race. Well, within my multiracial and mixed-race family, with Asian, African American, and Caucasian members (we seem to be missing Native Americans), we’ve never had such discussions. And the non-white members don’t seem to feel themselves separate and distinct. Maybe it’s something we should bring up? I did once ask my daughter living in Hawaii if she ever felt her half-Korean ethnicity. She laughed, “I know I’m hapa-haole, [half haole or white]” referring to an Asian-Caucasian mix common there, “but I don’t think about it.” Likewise, my granddaughter who is half black says she never is very aware of her race—she just is. Objectively, she knows other people would consider her African American—she’s not rejecting that racial classification—but she doesn’t feel different from anyone else or from her mother, who is not black. Perhaps the solution to many current racial problems is intermarriage producing mixed-race kids. Certainly, none of my family members considers him or herself a member of the “black” or “Asian” “community,” instead, it’s more—though not completely—like being tall or brunette. Nor is my gay nephew consciously a member of the “gay community.” Probably there are others who feel differently about those identities or are they only individual characteristics?   

My younger son Jon, adopted from Colombia, is Hispanic by ethnicity. Obviously, he knows where he was born and once took a Spanish class in college, which he found difficult. There are not many Hispanics in Hawaii, where he lives, and where he very much blends into the mixed ethnic landscape.  

A San Francisco court has now called for the release from custody of migrant kids, but not their parents: the Where do they go? Hope they have other relatives in this country.

Another environmental activist has been murdered in Honduras after Bertha Caceres was killed in La Esperanza, this time in the capital of Tegucigalpa, where numerous murders take place daily. The government has approved certain dam projects that local people oppose, which has led to heightened tensions, which the Honduran government seems to be doing nothing to address or ameliorate.

World anger over Honduras activist Lesbia Yaneth Urquia's death

Two Spanish bull fighters killed in a single day, partial payback for the          many bulls killed. I never could stomach bull fighting or cock fighting either. Seeing each once was more than enough. I’m also squeamish about eating meat, though I do sometimes eat it, especially fish or chicken when invited out.

South Sudan’s civil war seems to have resumed. When I was there in 2006, of course, all sides were united against the north. Now that they have a country, South Sudanese keep fighting among themselves. Their tribal loyalties are stronger than their weak national loyalty. And after years—generations really—of civil war, maybe that’s what they know best.

With $240 million in upgrades planned for the Guantanamo Naval Base, it doesn’t look likely to be closed soon.

Some 500 Venezuelan housewives reportedly rushed over the border into Colombia to buy toilet paper, cooking oil, and rice. So-called “socialist” economic systems, whether in the USSR, China, Cuba, or Venezuela, whatever their other possible virtues, have not been able to provide basic necessities, especially sufficient food, to the population. I’ve said it before and will say it again, Cuba, with ample fertile land, must import 80% of its food when it was largely self-sufficient in food before the Revolution —and it’s not a lot of food available at that, just the bare minimum diet, except for what goes to tourist hotels and restaurants and to the military—and includes importing sugar from neighboring DR. No other country in the Americas has to import most of its food.

Article below about former Cuban prisoner and performance artist Danilo Maldonado, whom I fought to be declared a Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience:

Can’t remember if I shared this before, an Atlantic article featuring Rosa Maria Paya, whose father, a democracy activist, died in Cuba under suspicious circumstances. She has been to our Amnesty Int’l DC office and a photo and my interview with her appears in my Confessions book.

Cuba is the preferred destination of many American tourists—it’s been a flood. In Miami, there is a whole section of the airport for Cuba-bound tourists. Can Cuba cope? American tourism is the major source of economic growth right now in Cuba.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro has announced a period of increased austerity. Maybe he didn’t say why, but it’s due to reduced revenues from Venezuela oil, both less oil and lower revenues for oil being resold. Cubans, most of whom were struggling already, had been anticipating a financial boost because of ties with the US, but tourism cannot make up for the loss of oil revenue. The Cuban leadership needs to allow or institute an economic system that allows its citizens to become more productive, but after decades of reliance on outside support, first the USSR, then Venezuela, the powers-that-be in Cuba (the Castro brothers and the Cuban military) need to widen opportunities and unleash the people’s own potential.  

Perhaps the worldwide reduction in oil prices is partially due to increased use of alternative sources, as well as of conservation measures. If so, the reduction will persist. Although probably some of my father’s relatives in Alberta are befitting from oil revenues there, I find it ridiculous that the US is being sued for $15 billion for not approving the Keystone oil pipeline.

Thank goodness the saga of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail irregularities is over, more or less, though not in terms of the presidential campaign and certainly not in the Republican Congress, which, of course, will hold multiple hearings to highlight it all over again. The Congress may find, like with Benghazi, that voters will get tired of hearing the same accusations ad infinitum. We’ve all gotten the message: she wasn’t supposed to do that. I think she knows now how to properly handle official e-mail. She has acknowledged making a mistake, for which she is sorry. What more should she do? For convenience in a very stressful and fast-moving job, she did what her Republican predecessors as Secretaries of State had done before, mix private and official e-mail on a private server. For criminal charges, there usually must be intent and intent to break the law does not appear to have been present in Clinton’s actions (General Petraeus did much worse, with intent, but got off with a misdemeanor and probation, though he isn’t running for president, but might actually have been a candidate otherwise.) The issue of e-mail use was not raised previously and, from now on, secretaries of state will be more careful. Was Clinton careless? Yes, but that’s understandable under the pressures of the office. I’m sure that John Kerry is taking special note now.

Of course, the investigation adds to the notion that Hillary is untrustworthy, an image that Republicans have relentlessly fostered. What else leads to that conclusion? Bengahzi? There, I think she was as straightforward as she could be and, from what I know from Stevens’ associates, he himself was much to blame for taking a known risk. Is Hillary really two-faced and sneaky or is that just a characterization promulgated by Republicans and Donald Trump? In any case, the notion persists and feeds on itself and will hamper her ability to govern if she is elected, which I trust she will be. Trump’s unpredictability and capriciousness makes him even less trustworthy. So it boils down, as often, to the lesser of evils. What’s the alternative? Most people can identify with Clinton’s e-mail mistake, but the mind and decisions made by Trump are hilarious, scary, just in bad taste, and always unpredictable. Throwing caution to the winds and appealing to blind faith, his counterintuitive and contradictory claims, Trump’s exaggerated predictions remind me of Fidel Castro in his charismatic heyday promising that Cuba would produce enough milk to fill Havana Bay, more goose paté than France, and, in 1970, ten million tons of sugar, none of which actually happened. An occasional surprise and outlandish prediction (the Wall) piques voter interest and imagination, but a steady diet by the nation’s leader would be impossible to implement and no way to run a country or engage internationally. Constant unpredictability can lead to chaos. Another political figure who was briefly popular, but also off-the-wall, was Sarah Palin, though she seized the financial moment of her place in the sun, authoring (I didn’t say “writing”) two books about herself that were brief best sellers, soon tossed into the dustbin. Do some Republican pundits and supporters believe they can tame and channel Trump? Don’t bet on it—they may be fired if they try. Others have suggested that Donald really doesn’t want to be president, but I wouldn’t count on him resigning if he should win, though some wishful thinkers are floating that notion, that he might just quit and endorse someone else. You never know what the Donald might do next. He could say that he was bowing to pressures to quit from his family, especially from wife Melania, a private person who doesn’t want to leave NYC.

The “Dump Trump” movement at the convention is gathering steam and we will soon see if it has traction. July 18 is the start of the Republican convention. If such a long-shot Trump defeat should happen, some voters who would have voted for Hillary by default will go for this new, untested candidate. But Trump supporters will feel rightly double-crossed and who knows what they might do?

A long NYorker article about being on the campaign trail with Trump (“Trump Days” by George Saunders (July 11) indicates that the risk to our country is not only that Trump might actually become president, but that he has energized and gained support from so many fervent followers. That makes Saunders pessimistic about the continued viability of the American project and the nation’s future.

Again, I’m getting e-mails tying Hillary Clinton to the murder of Honduran environmental activist Bertha Caceres. Probably now, she will also be blamed for the more recent environmental activist’s murder. Rumors and conspiracy theories like that can take on a life of their own by being continually repeated, especially in the digital age. People like to hear sensationalist claims and enjoy being righteously and vicariously shocked.

Another I’ve heard again lately is that European migrants are being murdered for the organs—I just saw another serious internet posting on that. If that is really happening, supposedly because rich people are willing to pay for organs, where is the network of clandestine surgeons and hidden hospitals performing the very delicate and exacting transplant procedures with those organs? As an interpreter, I’ve been present for the meticulous hospital matching sessions between donors and organ recipients. You can’t just kill someone for their organs—to do what with them? Who will transport them? How? Who will buy them? That part of the story is always missing, as are the names of actual victims of this practice, whose bodies would have been found by police with their organs missing. More common in a developing country is someone selling a kidney or part of a liver, organs that can be removed without killing the donor, or women “renting out” their wombs for surrogacy. All of that is well-documented, but I’d like to see evidence of a case of someone actually receiving an organ from a donor who was killed for that purpose. It is said that the Chinese may take organs or tissues, especially corneas, from prisoners being executed, but, then all the matching has been done beforehand and the item is ready for immediate use.
Could killing someone for their organs ever happen? Yes, conceivably, if someone were kidnapped, blood and tissues then analyzed and screened for HIV and other illnesses, and, if found to match those of a given wealthy patient awaiting transplant, then the victim could be killed for the needed organ with the transplant occurring in a top-secret facility. But I think this is an “urban myth” or another popular conspiracy theory, so let’s see evidence of even one such actual case; if true, surely someone willing to tell all has witnessed it or even taken cell phone photos. It’s one of the myths that keeps on circulating. In Guatemala, false rumors of adopted children being taken for their organs led to the end of that nation’s inter-country adoption program, to the detriment of abandoned children who would otherwise have had families. The rumor also led to the murder of an American aid worker who had nothing to do with adoption, much less with organ transplant, because local people thought she had come to steal their children for their organs. I would ask people making these organ-robbing claims to think about the consequences of spreading such rumors without evidence.

Douglas Bukowski, in a letter in the Chicago Tribune, argues that the Catholic priest shortage could be solved by two simple steps: allowing married and female priests, something I argue in my Honduras Peace Corps book, p. 182

Now “trigger-happy” would seem to apply to both armed police and civilians. And are we seeing the beginning of civil war with firearms, based on race differences or other grievances? A Missouri police officer was shot by a motorist he had stopped. Now that black citizens in Texas are walking around with “open carry” firearms, maybe white people with have second thoughts about laws allowing that. It does seem that if someone feels the need for self-protection, a single, simple handgun would be sufficient, not higher powered weapons.

Still more people killed by firearms in the US in a single day than in the UK all year. Three, including a nine-year-old, were killed exiting a store in San Bernardino. Victims, who might theoretically be able to defend themselves with arms, are often caught by surprise. Just having a gun seems to make it likely to go off, even in the hands of a police officer. And with the proliferation of guns, police may fear that any motion by a suspect means he is reaching for a gun. In countries with gun restrictions, police are often not armed themselves and, occasionally, that can backfire, as with the Norwegian mass shooter—though certainly he was an outlier. Are people of color in the US being targeted by police? It would seem so, if a broken taillight was the reason for the Minneapolis police stop. Couldn’t the officer have just let the driver know the taillight was out and to get it fixed? Someone need not be killed for that. The man’s mistake, perhaps, was mentioning that he had a legal gun, anticipating that it might be found, but the officer apparently interpreted that as a threat.
Despite continuous gun sales and NRA outreach to new gun owners, such as women and, now, gays, hunting is down and the number of gun owners is static or shrinking, even as they own more guns per capita. The gun culture may be waning, but is becoming fiercer among the minority of gun owners and perhaps among ethnic minorities. I’ve proposed before paying gun manufacturers to convert to some other product, much as government has paid farmers not to grow certain crops, but that idea has not caught fire. Reduced gun production, coupled with gun buy-back programs, could reduce the number of guns in circulation. Certainly high-powered weapons, such as those used in Orlando and Dallas, are not needed for personal self-defense.